Lieutenant Hawkeye walked, sedate and steady, down the hall. It was two minutes till the pre-appointed time for the Führer's tea and she prided herself on her prompt fulfillment of orders. The door of the president's office opened and his previous appointment exited. A man, not too tall, in a white suit, carrying a white hat. A man she gave a slight start, the tea service clattering to the side, to see. Major Solf J. Kimblee. Well, scratch that "Major." Unless he had just been reinstated in this meeting with the president, he was still just a civilian now. Of course, he was also still supposed to be in prison. Everyday since coming to Central, it seemed like she wound up seeing something unusual. How was it then that she kept on being surprised?
"Lieutenant Hawkeye." He would customarily have doffed his hat, but because it was already in his hand, he dipped his head in a low nod instead. Riza had long hair now. He hadn't expected that. It looked nice. Feminine. He liked that kind of thing. "Fancy meeting you here!" Of course, he had heard about her already from the lips of the president himself, so this statement was truthful only in the sense that he had not expected to actually run into her. But that was how he meant it, so he saw no harm in saying so.
"Um," she was at a loss for words, "Kimblee." He was older, and looked it, but only in small ways- the slight retreat of his hairline, the emergence of some wrinkles around the eyes... From his dangerous yet friendly expression she assumed he was the same old Kimblee. When had she ever heard of a turn in Central's prison changing a man for the better? "I'm sorry," she gathered her wits together and addressed him politely, "As much as I'd like to give you time for a proper conversation, the Führer is waiting for me to deliver his tea."
"Yes, you can't keep him waiting," Kimblee agreed, always one to promote that strange notion of manners he favored despite his other less-than-gentlemanly interests and behaviors. "Perhaps you could call me later then. I'll be in Central a bit longer. Oh, wait!" Something dawned on him. He blinked softly through his confusion, "I don't have a number. I don't know the line of the place I'll start working out of either. Shall I call you then?"
This was a tricky spot to navigate. Riza wished the lack of a telephone number on his part could be an out, but that looked unlikely. She did harbor some questions regarding the nature and terms of Kimblee's release, particularly as it included appointments with the president and some sort of work. If she was going to be forced into fraternizing with the worst criminal she had known of their anti-Ishvalan cohort (they were all criminals in her eyes), she could at least try to use the situation to her advantage and find out something of what was going on. She drew on her strong store of natural courage. She didn't have the time to fret overlong.
Kimblee was waiting, and, worse, the Führer was as well. "Please," she said, although it was easy to imagine bile rising in her throat at the very idea. She told him her number. She knew he wouldn't need to write it down. His memory was eerily precise.
"I look forward to it, Lieutenant," he capped off their first encounter in years. Riza was relieved to move on and attend to business as usual. Later she would look back and reflect that this might have been the only time she was less stressed upon entering Führer Bradley's office than on leaving it. In his own way, Bradley was also toying with her, Riza supposed (mainly toying with Colonel Mustang through her), but it simply didn't affect her the same way Kimblee's predatory method did. Perhaps it was the bitter dregs of memory that so turned her stomach at the verbal caress of the Red Lotus Alchemist. After all, in Ishval, not only had his words chilled her to the bone, but one night he had... She banished the thought, relegating it once again to her dead letter silo of bad memories. The hastily-made mental construction was far too full.
Still, among the times where Riza would fully count herself as a victim, it stood out as especially vivid and disturbing. Thinking of such unpleasant things had a tendency to only render them stronger. Instead of saying, "there was no such dark night," she would think of sunny days on the parade ground. Instead of blocking the warning tune of Kimblee's waltz-ish humming, she would recall the Craig Sisters' New Optain Herbal Soup jingle so frequently sent tumbling these days across the radio. Instead of seeing tattooed hands snaking, sneaking, snatching out of the dark, she would see the papers on the desk before her, the pattern of the Führer's china, Colonel Mustang's determined face. It didn't matter what had happened back then. She was the ruler of her mind, not Kimblee.
He called at five o'clock sharp (eighteen hundred hours) and Riza felt oddly compelled to keep the phone a slight distance from her face as if Kimblee could somehow contaminate her with his biting ill will over the telephone. Would he be able to come by and pick her up for dinner tonight or would she prefer to make plans with him for the following day?
An evening encounter seemed to her to increase the odds of unpleasant attentions, so as nice as it would have been to get their exchange over with, Riza opted for the daytime option. She chose to maintain control over her own transportation as well, not relishing the idea of Kimblee walking her to her door or having her trapped in the confines of his car (she assumed if he was, either officially or not, back in the such good graces that he had acquired his own vehicle).
He meekly claimed not to know if any of his old preferred places were still open (he could have found out easily enough, leading her to peg this as an act). However, he had long claimed a greater allegiance with South City than Central. She couldn't entirely find fault with this. So, Riza chose the place, a modest street cafe within walking distance of her apartment.
Kimblee met her beneath an unlit streetlight in front of the cafe. He looked much the same as he had the day before. He was still attired in an impeccable white suit. The vest was the only appreciably different item of clothing. He had brought her a red rose. "You look lovely, Lieutenant."
"Hello again, Mr. Kimblee." She reluctantly accepted the rose. It was long-stemmed and elegant, but it didn't match her mood at all. She wished she had the nerve to drop the titles entirely and just call him "Kimblee" like he deserved, but old habits were hard to break. It was difficult enough to substitute "Mister" for "Major." It was kind of scary how easily she could fall back into the past just by meeting him. Apparently it wasn't just the killing and such that lived on within her.
He offered her his arm and she accepted this just as reluctantly as the flower, laying her hand on him as lightly as possible. He noticed and perhaps this excited him, knowing she didn't feel quite as neutral as she tried to present herself. Fortunately there wasn't far to go to enter the cafe and be stead. They took an outdoor table. Kimblee pulled the chair out for her. The waitress clearly found this charming. "You want him? You can have him!" Riza was tempted to offer. It would be nice to shrug off her unwanted burden, but ultimately she couldn't wish Kimblee on anyone.
The menu provided an effective barrier against his piercing eyes. She wouldn't have minded the Walls of Briggs instead.
Riza ordered tea and he chose coffee, which she felt to be expected of him. As he flipped over the laminated menu to see the other side, she got another glance at his palms. The tattooed arrays were as brilliant as she remembered they had been years ago. Armed and dangerous. Well, so was she. Her weapon just wasn't where he could see it. Whether or not he was aware of its presence depended on how well he understood her.
The generous amount of sugar he added to his coffee was less expected. He stirred it in vigorously. "I didn't know you had a sweet tooth, Mr. Kimblee," she ventured. She hoped that striking first would allow her some level of control over their conversation. Otherwise she wouldn't have spoken at all.
"I wouldn't say that exactly. I was only quite recently released from prison and I'm longing to put a certain amount of zest back into my life."
"That must be an interesting story- why you were released. I don't mean to be rude, but I don't imagine you served your entire sentence. Why you didn't end up on death row- that might be an interesting story too."
"Oh? I didn't realize you'd wish to discussion such matters." He looked somewhat hurt. Riza assumed he was acting. She figured that if she had to chat with Kimblee she could try and collect some intelligence. She couldn't imagine after seeing him speak to the president that this was the last she would hear of him. "Personally, I think the story of how you became an aide to the president would be an immensely more scintillating tale. Of course, I'm not going to insist you tell it..." He trailed off into his coffee mug as he took a sip.
How much did he know? She couldn't help but suspect he already knew the details of the whole situation and was only bringing it up out of some perverse desire to see how she would tell it (with lies? the truth?).
They both had things they'd rather not discuss. The waitress' return to take their order provided a brief respite from the gradually escalating stakes of their conversation. Once their orders were set, Kimblee resumed speaking in his usual style, like broken glass sugar-coated with pleasantries. He asked about Colonel Mustang and Hughes and several other colleagues Riza remembered, as well as a number of people she did not (whether this was another indicator of the excellence of his memory or whether Riza herself had never actually known these people, she couldn't say). He had the perfect response to the situation of each and every one she could report on. It was disgusting and fascinating at the same time. He even managed to display an appropriate degree of respect and disappointment at the news regarding Brigadier General Hughes (if there was any part she didn't expect him to pull off, that was it).
"I'm really happy you were able to find time in your busy schedule for me. I feel like I've been out of the loop for so long. I particularly missed hearing about the Flame Alchemist's heroic exploits. What little new I did receive always arrived in pieces. No one spoke directly to me of such things."
Was she supposed to feel sorry for him? Kimblee had brought that prison cell exodus upon himself. The firing squad would've been too good for him... She couldn't imagine she'd had any choice of avoiding a meeting with him, so why did he always have to talk like this- like she had a choice.
"Here you are," the waitress interrupted again, bringing Riza her soup and sandwich.
"That looks good," Kimblee remarked in the interim as the red-haired girl provided another distraction from conversation. Riza had never really watched Kimblee eat. He had perfect table manners. She found herself reaching unconsciously for the rose. She twirled the stem around in her hand. When she realized what she was doing, Riza was glad that the rose lay out of sight in her lap. She still hadn't come to a solid conclusion regarding Kimblee's actions. She wasn't about to add fuel to whatever bizarre fantasies he was indulging by taking her out. He had already insisted that this would be his treat- she had decided not to argue or to ask where he got the money from.
In the end, he did relent a little, speaking vaguely of his prison time ("Unfortunately, I don't really have much else going on in my life yet to talk about.") and she did likewise, giving out some personal tidbits she decided were harmless enough ("I have a dog now," "I'm still only half unpacked from my latest move because I've been so busy.") Riza wasn't enjoying herself by any stretch of the word, but it might have actually become the easiest conversation she had ever had with Kimblee. He was frightening and he set the butterflies fluttering all about in her stomach, but she knew now that she preferred Kimblee off the battlefield to on it.
She didn't want to order any dessert. Kimblee might have acted slightly disappointed- like he couldn't order any because she didn't- but, then again, she might have imagined it. He settled the bill as he had said he would and left a very generous tip (she wondered about the money- of course he might have had funds accruing interest in the bank the entire time he was imprisoned). Riza hoped that red-haired waitress never chanced upon him again because she was getting far too many positive signals regarding his class and character sent her way.
They stood together on the sidewalk outside the cafe under the afternoon sun. Kimblee put his hat back on. Riza awkwardly held her purse in one hand and the rose in the rose in the other (her gun was inside her purse). "Thank you for treating me," she reluctantly went along with the situation, saying what was expected of her and what Kimblee no doubt wanted to hear.
"You're welcome." He glanced up along the street past her in the direction that led to her apartment as if he were remembering something. She didn't like the look of that at all. "You live near here, don't you? Shall I walk you home?"
"I don't need an escort," a hint of the sincere coldness in her heart crept into her voice. "It's the middle of the day and it's not far."
"Well, it's not that I thought you were in any danger, Lieutenant. Even if it were distant and the dead of night I don't imagine I'd fear for the safety of a capable woman such as yourself. This is about proper manners."
Why did he have to persist in being the last gentleman in Central (excepting Alex Louis Armstrong, of course)? She had hoped to use their separate arrivals to engineer separate partings for them as well, but Kimblee seemed determined to spoil her every stratagem. She imagined he was most likely aware of this and if he was, he was enjoying it. That did not make it any easier to uncover an escape hatch in this diabolical gambit. Riza forced a smile. "You're too kind. Really."
At least this time he didn't offer his arm. She initially thought this was because he didn't know where she lived and, thus, could not lead. However, as they cut through the middling, shuffling afternoon crowd, she could see that as much as he struggled to remain gamely at her side, he fell ahead more often than he rushed behind. He knew where he was going. So he knew where she lived now. "That too," she muttered like a curse under her breath. "He knows that too." Facing an opponent with so much information, one should...
"This is the place, isn't it?" he spoke up, slicing through her thoughts.
"Yes." So much for pretending she lived in some other building, then doubling back without him. She had to end it here.
"Well, Mr. Kimblee..." 'It was nice to see you again?' It wasn't. 'I hope we can do this again sometime?' She didn't. 'Let's keep in touch.' Let's not. Knowing what to say to end this was proving more difficult than expected. Why couldn't he have just allowed her to depart at the restaurant?
"Which floor do you live on?" he slid slickly past her and opened and held the door.
"I am not going to let Kimblee into my apartment," Riza thought firmly. He kept slipping agilely past each hurdle she set before him, but her doorway was the line in the sand he absolutely could not cross.
They climbed the stairs together. Riza was glad that none of her neighbors ventured out at that moment to see them. This encounter was bad enough without anyone else having to know about it. When she reached into her purse to take out her key, she was slightly reassured by the firm, cold metal of her gun as it brushed against her fingers. She ignored it for the moment, in favor of her keys. She took them out and put the right one in the lock, but resolved not to turn it until Kimblee was headed away. She could hear the click of Black Hayate's nails as they tapped against the floor. His presence was an additional source of comfort. Her faithful dog would do anything in his power to protect his mistress (though Riza knew that facing Kimblee, this would work only as nudge of dissuasion, not as an actual deterrent).
"It was generous of you to walk me home," she lied. That was it. They were here. There was no reasonable excuse of good manners Kimblee could use to push himself on her further.
"As I said earlier- of course. You're welcome. I wouldn't dream of doing otherwise." He doffed his hat and at the slightest turn of his heel, Riza smiled. The ordeal was over. He was a man of his world in the end- even if she didn't like what he said. Relief flooded over her. She opened the door. It's gentle arc of movement was stopped by Kimblee's hand. The deadly deep blue design of his array peeked out around the edge of the door. She had not counted on unreasonable excuses. Or, in truth, no excuses at all.
Riza backed away from him into the apartment. A single bead of sweat formed and began to lose the fight with gravity and slide down her brow. Kimblee closed the door. He removed his hat at the same time as he turned the lock. Slowly, cautiously, Riza reached for her gun.
Kimblee read her mind. He moved too fast. He wrestled the weapon from her grasp. It fell to the floor with a sharp clank. He kicked it aside under a cabinet, out of her reach. Hayate approached, growling and baring his teeth at the strange man threatening his mistress. Two pairs of eyes- one brown, one yellow- fell on the dog simultaneously. Riza paused in her struggling. "Kimblee," she dropped the honorific now. All pretenses were torn away. "Kimblee, don't." She couldn't imagine a man who had mowed down innocent children would bat an eye at snuffing out the life of a troublesome dog.
The thought hadn't even crossed his mind until she brought up the possibility. It was funny how people had such a tendency to reveal their own weaknesses if only you afforded them the opportunity. "Well," he considered the idea aloud for Riza's benefit and mortification, "It would be a pain if I were forced to listen to such threatening sounds for the entirety of my visit... But if I were to deal properly with this annoyance according to my preferred standards, I would attract far too much unwanted attention to be able to proceed according to my desires. ...Decisions, decisions..."
He liked the look of fear in her eye. She was accustomed to exhibiting calm and competence. The feeling of power that came from being able to take all of that away from her was intoxicating. He remembered perfectly the last time he had seen her look like this. Certainly, even now, Riza was thinking of some way to outwit him- a woman of her caliber could only be paralyzed for so long. Even if it were her deepest desire to prevent him from killing the dog, he doubted she wanted to beg him for mercy if it could be avoided.
"Fine," he declared at last, having worn out the thrill of watching her squirm, "He means too much to you for me to kill him. That would be unnecessary. Also," he smirked at the sudden realization, "He reminds me a little of Mustang. So," he released her wrist, "You take him and close him up now- no funny business. I'll be following after you."
Riza nodded mutely. She understood. "Come, Hayate." She coaxed her watchful dog to follow her, despite his continued protests at Kimblee's threatening presence. Hayate spared several glances, guarded and confused, back at Kimblee as the alchemist tapped along after them. Riza reluctantly closed Black Hayate in the bathroom. He didn't understand what she was doing and he definitely didn't approve.
She sighed, gazing at the closed door. It seemed there was no waking up from this nightmare. "Now what, Kimblee? What do you want from me?" There was one small potential benefit of Kimblee's nature she might be able to exploit now- his blustery tendency toward talk and philosophizing. She was still not about to surrender herself without a fight. Her mind flickered back, against her will, to a time when she was younger, and it was night, and he was not so sharply dressed as now...
"Well, I was hoping our lovely rapport today, as well as the weight of our mutual past, would be enough to convince this fine lady to invite me into her bedroom. But," he held his hands out, palms up, "Ah, look! I was not properly invited, but here I am!"
She hated that mock-wonder that punctuated his words, as if he had no active part in these foul proceedings. "Now that you've accomplished that," she stalled, "What do you plan to do?"
"To finish what I've started." His tongue darted out for just a second to touch his lips. The only way to any of the items she might use successfully to fight him was around him. Through luck or stratagems, he had managed well. Riza looked at him, from his tense, ready posture to his slick dark hair, its taut, pulled-back style slightly mussed on top from several rounds of putting on and removing his hat. He was not very big, about the same height as Roy, but he was still strong. The power he exerted when he gripped her wrist led Riza to believe he was likely about as well muscled now as he had been during the war. Wasn't that one of those things convicts were reputed to do anyway? Work out in the silent solitude of their cells?
Of all the things in the world, there were two images that resonated in her mind when she looked at him. He had the predatory air and posture of a wolf. He had the care and obsession and drive of her father.
"Come, sit with me," he tugged her over to the bed. If he was really going to rape her, she wondered, why didn't he just do it? Why all this pretense and play-acting? They weren't old friends. They certainly weren't lovers. She found him handsome, but decidedly unattractive. He was sick- a criminal and a creep. His touch made her flesh buckle with goosebumps.
"You have a nice place here. Has Mustang had the good fortune to live so well?"
"His place is tiny," she admitted, with a wistful hint of fondness slipping into her voice, "But it suits him. He has his own car too."
"Sounds like something Mustang would value. All the girls will like that."
"Hmm." Riza nodded. She wasn't sure how much Kimblee knew about the colonel, so it was best to remain tight-lipped. Hopeless as the situation was, she could protect the colonel- even if she couldn't protect herself. There was only one thing she was still hoping to keep from Kimblee- the scarred remains of the tattoo on her back. If he saw it, due to Roy's handiwork, he wouldn't be able to glean any destructive knowledge from it, but he would undoubtedly know what it was and what it generally meant all the same.
He pounced. Kimblee grabbed Riza and tossed her down so she lay on her back on top of the bed. He straddled her hips and pressed her wrists against the blue bedspread, using his hands like manacles. "Do you want me to be gentle...or rough?"
"I have a choice?" Her brown eyes were serious, but wide. An unspoken remark, "You didn't give me a choice last time," hung in the air.
"I'm not completely without a heart, Hawkeye."
She struggled slightly, testing the strength and determination of those imprisoning fingers. Kimblee must have understood the meaning of her gesture because he allowed her this questing without comment. Riza was still considering his question. She didn't want to be hurt, but she couldn't stand the idea of Kimblee touching her with false softness. There was no point in his pretending there was anything over than this between them. That he even made the suggestion made her wonder... Did he offer the privilege of kindness so he could turn around and revoke it...or out of some sick longing for real tenderness between them? Could Kimblee sincerely care for anyone but himself? "Can't I have something inbetween?"
His leering face crinkled up into a smile, full of pleasant surprise. She said she didn't want to play his game? Then what was this? "Of course. I can compromise." He leaned closer and whispered into her ear, one long free strand of his hair sliding across her face. "I can understand that you wouldn't want to feel you were giving in to my advances too easily."
She swiftly flipped her head to meet his eyes again. His lips presented a perfectly reasonable picture of enjoyment, but his eyes were bright and cold. He was poison coated with honey.
He moved her wrists together so that her fingers met over the top of her head. If she were an alchemist, Riza thought, that might be a dangerous decision. But since she was not, she could only assume it was a slight altercation in his plans for hanging onto her and holding her fast. She was glad for this unwanted closeness even as she was frightened by it. Even this cold-blooded killer was a creature with warm breath and blood. Even Kimblee had a mother. He must've been loved by someone.
He held her wrists awkwardly now with a single hand as he reached into a pocket in his jacket and pulled out a condom. There was something soothing about this indication of continuity in Kimblee's behavior. He hadn't killed her last time (it hadn't been until afterward she had become fully aware of how easy it would've been for him to do so). She believed he wouldn't kill her this time either. He kicked off his shoes and hiked up her skirt.
Staying mostly clothed would be another small victory her. She was certain she hadn't smiled at him, but something positive must have been communicated by her traitorous eyes, because he took his gaze away from the tented fabric of his white pants and he leaned his face down and kissed her. Such a chaste kiss in comparison to his other actions. Long ago, Riza remembered, before he spoke of taking pride in killing- before he cornered her just past the latrines one night- she had thought she might be able to like him. To speak to him. She saw him frequently enough near Roy. But that was a trick. He was a Venus flytrap.
"We could've been friends." She struggled a little again, approaching their relationship from a different angle. It was frustrating. He was good at using his own body to pin her.
"We still could be," he replied, cool as a cucumber. He pushed her legs further apart. She shivered as his deadly hand reached in to touch between her legs.
Of course, even the initial exploration and guidance of his hand could not properly prepare her the fearful excitement that crept over her at the brush of latex against her entry. She closed her eyes and clenched her teeth. He proceeded carefully, but without hesitation. "You're scared," he said, his warm breath tickling her cold cheeks.
Riza wanted to open her eyes. She wanted to see his expression as he did this to her. Why would she want that? She resisted the urge. "You scare me," she answered honestly.
"Nothing else is going to happen. Nothing you haven't already guessed." He stroked her cheek. Her eyes snapped open. Their faces were just as close as she had thought. Close enough to kiss. The flush of desire had brought color, like life, to his face. She could almost imagine he was a real person now, not a monster. That he could love her. That he did.
"Don't be scared any longer," he said. Again, but deeply now, he kissed her.