When he’s sixteen, Roy Mustang uses his foster mother’s contacts to cross the territories in a series of dren-standard rust buckets at a paltry hetch in search of the Eye. He’s full of dreams as big as the space between the stars of a universe remade by the secrets of wormholes and his own hands.
The most optimistic word he’d been called since he announced his intention to leave was greebol, which he’d thought was frelling rich, coming from the Nebari runaway his mother had employed and dubbed ‘The Avaricious.’ His mother, naturally, was blunter - he supposed it came of cycles running networks of tralks, both genuine and as cover for informants, but calling him a thoddo narl was still impolite.
He goes, because he was always going, and Madam tries hard not to think of how many thousand metra beyond her help he goes.
A cycle later, Roy Mustang doesn’t find the Eye.
He has an argument with a man with the ego of a dominar on a green and dusty planet off the main trading routes of the territories. It lasts three microns - if that - before he’s kicked out on his eema, curses falling from his mouth in a way that makes him homesick for a place he doesn’t have currency pledges to get back to.
A girl his age or younger tilts her head and looks at him like a curiosity. Her blonde hair brushes her shoulders as she asks him what he’s doing sitting on her doorstep.
So begins his apprenticeship to Berthold Hawkeye. He never finds out why the reclusive scientist consents to take him in.
It’s not as rich a house as it once was: they eat more food cubes than fresh. Riza manages the budget with unnoticed skill and buys with a mix of currencies from fennik to crindar. Her sources make themselves unavailable when peacekeeper regiments pass through and so, with quietly plausible excuses, do they.
Any surplus credit goes on trad to power the research and paint for the walls when they finish covering it in glyphs and formulae.
The work; the wormholes.
When Roy asks Riza why her father is beginning to shut him out of the research, she doesn’t have an answer. At least, not Roy wants to hear. She’s never been in the work to know why her father would pull away.
The weight in the house shifts from one foot to the other: Riza and Roy sitting up in the kitchen, Roy teasing Riza into talking, Riza quizzing him about his galactic travels. He embellishes liberally if it makes her smile. When he runs out of misadventures, she grills him on the people, the horrors and the ways millions are eking out a living across the stars. And the peacekeepers. Roy doesn’t ask the question: why do you want to know so much about the peacekeepers?
All the while, Berthold covers walls with wormholes and Roy traces numbers on the table with his fingertip.
Roy offers to go to the market for the food arns after waking on the fourth day of one of Berthold’s lock ins in the study. Riza fixes him with a steady look before nodding and handing him the bag of credits.
He’s almost done when an elderly florist in a purple dress turns his wrist and reads the scar where his translator microbes were injected with a scanner.
Roy does not panic as they put him in a commandeered room in the village guest house. When the peacekeeper asks if he’s in town for work, he answers, ‘Yes.’
The peacekeeper raises an eyebrow after a beat of silence. ‘Most would go on to detail that work.’
Roy folds his arms and grins. ‘Yes.’
Admiral Grumman laughs - an odd sound from a peacekeeper, but nothing about this is anything other than boll yotz.
Six arns later his bags are packed and Riza stands by the kitchen table.
'I could have told him the Admiral was threatening you two if I didn't join.'
Riza's gaze is direct enough to unsettle him. 'You didn't.'
'Because it might be true,' Roy answers, 'but it's not the reason. I think this is how I make a difference.'
Riza doesn't watch him leave.
Six cycles pass.
Roy is a Sub Officer in a war-torn planetary system. Their war - the peacekeepers have torn these planets asunder, disrupting the flow of debris and matter in planetary rings on the third planet.
He's a Sub Officer with a reputation, with exactly one friend (which is one friend more than Command would rather he had) and has perfected simultaneously pretending to be one of the peacekeeper-born and raised soldiers while publicly not giving a frell about his lack of military childhood. Hughes, marked out already for his sub-standard eyesite among the Sebaceans, but raised as a peacekeeper, becomes his sole friend and ally.
They fight hard and ruthlessly but the Ishvalans have the advantage: their planets are in a close orbit to a particularly hot star and the Sebaceans are losing as many peacekeepers to the heat delirium as to the Ishvalan resistance. Their architecture and city planning presents the Marauders and Prowler ships with no target: its emphasis is underground, away from the beating sun.
Maes Hughes introduces him to a bottle of raz'lak on a clear hot night and confides that he's worried about his chances of promotion if command finds out he's not just recreating with Gracia. Roy has known this for the better part of six cycles,
Roy does his best to tease Hughes back to a good humour, but the conversation turns to their childhoods - Roy's with Madam C, Hughes with the peacekeepers.
'I never expected to be the one to frelling grudge it, you know? Narls belong to us all, not the parents,' Hughes says, shrugging, though Roy can see his hands are shaking. 'It would just be drad to know her a little. See her for a nano moment.'
'The draddest,' Roy agrees and pushes the bottle at him.
The High Command and Vice Chancellor visit the front. They are the most disciplined troops in the territories. No one suggests it could be a sign that they are not winning.
Not out loud.
Another desert night with a bottle as the campaign stalls.
'Don't look - didn't I say, no, don't, she'll see you looking-' Hughes hisses to him drunkenly as Roy raises an eyebrow and looks. 'There's a nixa watching you and yotza, Mustang, I say, yotza. Not a patch on Gracia, obviously -'
Roy elbows him and turns to find -
and drops the bottle into the fire in a crack of fire.
He ignores the shouts and catcalls and moves with Riza Hawkeye to a hill away from the gathered group.
'Zarking shilznat, Grumman went back for you - what are you -' Roy swears and hopes the sands absorb the sounds. 'Frelling son of a hazmot, I'll-'
‘Do you still believe the peacekeepers can be a force for good?’
Her question stops him. His first thought is: did I do this? His second is to laugh at his own arrogance upon realising the full scope of it: Riza Hawkeye chooses her own path.
‘Yes,’ he replies. ‘Yes.’
‘If we carry the bodies of the dead across a river of blood,’ Riza says quietly, a force of will behind each word.
Roy thinks about those words later. How she had honed the sentence like training her sight - sharp-sighted in all ways, even for a Sebacean. He assumes that sight - hawk’s eye - had overridden her non-peacekeeper roots, though she’s always been quiet, contained and sharp enough to pass among them in a way Roy finds more difficult.
He thinks. He assumes.
He is wrong.
Riza stares at the tent before unzipping it.
She hasn’t made the decision yet. She can still decide another way. Recreating is a thing that happens, though it’s a measure of the stakes that sex with Roy would be the easy option.
Riza wakes him. He blinks slowly, then rolls to with a look of confusion. His eyes widen and he swallows, two fingers reaching out to rest on her wrist in the dark.
Dren, Riza kicks herself, remembering he isn’t peacekeeper-born.
The thing is: she is.
‘I have to talk to you about Admiral Grumman.’
Roy blinks in the tent and shakes his head. ‘That’s the least erotic thing you could say right now if-’
He is not disappointed, even though he’s heard that she doesn’t normally participate in recreation, even though he thought she might feel-
Though if he has to tell himself he’s not disappointed-
‘Admiral Grumman,’ he prompts, sitting up and folding his legs under him as she does the same opposite. Roy doesn’t put on a shirt - it’s too warm for that. He doesn’t know how Riza manages in her high-necked undershirts: they usually save that gear for colder star systems. She would have had to request the preference with supplies, and they would have had to like her enough to grant it.
Roy squints and shakes his head. ‘Then Berthold -’
‘Not my father’s side.’
You’re not meant to know that.
Roy puts a hand on his knee and stills himself. When he speaks it’s flat and not question: ‘You were raised peacekeeper. When I met you, you were in hiding.’
Riza raises her chin and meets his gaze straight on. Now that he knows, he doesn’t know why he didn’t guess before - Grumman visiting the village in disguise, the way Riza carries herself. ‘My parents loved each other.’ You’re not meant to know that, either. He’s barely absorbed that when he hears her say, as if from a great distance, ‘my father is dead.’
She reaches for the hem of her shirt and stills, then waits until he meets her eyes. ‘Roy - can I trust you with my father’s research?’
The campaign ends quickly after that.
Roy takes no notes: the others assume they have the same reason as everyone else to retire to a tent discreetly and are reassured that Hawkeye and Mustang can participate in the promiscuous workings of peacekeeper life like the rest of them. Roy realises at last why Hawkeye has never been one to satisfy those particular urges as they are encouraged to; he’s had his share of military sexual partners, as protocol dictates, but he doesn’t have the secrets of weaponising the energy of the Rantath Flux Variance into flame inked on his back.
He practices on empty sands with Hawkeye as his witness. He tries to ask her to stay at the camp the first ten times.
‘I think beside me might be a dangerous place to be.’
She continues looking ahead across Ishval. ‘I’m aware of that, sir.’
Roy doesn’t have to demonstrate his new powers very often to bring the resistance to a shuddering frelling halt. He carves destruction out in ways that were only possible with exploding Chakan Oil.
He has one friend, one Hawkeye and a lot of new things to atone for.
His powers are a deterrent invoked often enough. He and Hawkeye both try to think of the lives saved by bringing the war to a hollow, expedited end - before an order for genocide could be issued by High Command.
It’s not enough.
The Vice Chancellor becomes the Grand Chancellor.
Roy becomes a Senior Officer, with Hawkeye as his officer.
He’s still headed in the right direction.
Hawkeye tells him to get his head out of his mivonks and get on with his paperwork.
four cycles later
‘It’s a good thing you’re cool under pressure, Senior Officer Hawkeye,’ she hears him shout as they fall back to back in the firefight against the rebels.
Eema, she thinks. Of course, with fahrbots like him around, firefight becomes all-too accurate in under a microt, and the air threatens to heat to a couple of thousand klances as the whips of starfire melt stolen pulse weapons while they sit between Sebacean hands.
(But there is no one like him. She knows this because she made him.)
He throws out a gloved hand and she moves behind him. Disruptor Mustang is the one with the heat-shield gloves; she has no interest in being rendered weak by heat delirium on this solar day or any other.
The rebels, on the other hand -
With an enforcer like Disruptor Mustang, it’s not execution the traitors and the contaminated fear. It’s the living death of fatal overexposure to heat.
Then, the inevitable:
Of course, it can’t happen again.
They’ve become much too close for that, though it was a useful fiction when she asked the him to bring the worst of his abilities to bear on the secrets on her back so that there could be no more made of him.
It both doesn’t matter and is exactly the point that everyone assumes it’s been going on for cycles. They are so glad to have a visible point of attacking the Flame Disruptor and the Hawk’s Eye that they wouldn’t have been sanctioned for continuing to recreate unless it was politically convenient.
They’re on their way back to Central when they’re redirected to the Hohenheim retrieval. Roy is on the bridge of the Pantak-class Vigilante.
‘Hawkeye, stay with me, I have the command - Commander Hughes is revisiting his glory days in a prowler.’
‘Yes, sir. I’ll look forward to impressive manoeuvres.’
‘No doubt,’ he leans down so that the others won’t hear, ‘ready the immobilizer pulse. In case.’
He doesn’t have to tell Hawkeye to protect Hughes as if it were him out there: she would, just about, in any case.
Nearly an arn of patrolling for the lost Leviathan later, Roy is about to call Hughes and give him an earful about getting back to the landing bay when he’s called by a Sub Officer on the bridge.
‘Disruptor, Senior Officer, we’re reading fluctuates and energy-’
They turn in time to see an event horizon of a wormhole spill onto the black of space.
Roy slaps a hand on the comms. ‘Commander, time to come in. Now. Get out of the way of that thing.’ Silence. ‘Hughes.’
He exchanges a look with Hawkeye, who initiates a scan of the area again.
‘It’s this signal - it’s blocking our messages out.’
‘Let’s hear it.’
fdklaufmd ldgyesiigbj Edward Elric ksdjas ifhnelll smmma youoooo IASA sjfmens aug
elllosds? Taeds ow Edward Elric sljf akhdslk youoo IASA. ellosds?
‘Mustang, are you and the Hawk’s Eye seeing this? What is that thing?’
‘Hughes, we see it and you. Get back in here.’
‘Must be new Scarran tech. Let me get a closer look at the fekkik.’
‘With respect, Commander, bridge advises against,’ Hawkeye transmitted, ‘until further analysis of wormhole capabilities.’
‘Get in here, Hughes,’ Roy muttered. ‘Does I think I can create fire in a vacuum?’
‘Erratic frelling flightpath - that was close, can you see the wing has -’
A flash on the screen and a gasp from the technician.
Roy blinks as Hawkeye stands sharply. He can see her eyes are bright and her hands are clenched behind her back. He needs to do the same. He needs to do the same.
‘Yes, Senior Officer Hawkeye?’
‘The command is yours. What are your orders?’