Chapter 1: Petrol Soaked Papers
The decision to cut her hair had been an easy one, almost natural, in fact. It had been in the way that day; sticking to her sweating face, whipping over her eyes in combat, dripping with her very own blood until it crusted like dried batter. And frankly, the heat of the deserts of Ishval had never quite left her flesh. Cutting it short again would be her only control over some semblance of coolness, and at least in the nights, when the dark winds would brush over her bared neck, she’d be given a blessing.
However, now that eight months had passed, she finally began to notice its length again. The overwhelming attention needed by both her general and Ishval forbade her from noticing things so trivial as hair length, but staring at herself in the mirror then, fingers curiously touching the ends of her blonde hair, she realized how long it had become. The tips brushed the lapels of her uniform jacket.
Tensions in Ishval, though high they once were, finally began to stabilize. The testimony of Scar and the refugee roamers he’d befriended, though smoothing, were hardly enough to render Ishval contained or even convinced. They needed more than just promise from she and Brigadier General Mustang, two of the most high-profiled mass murderers of the Ishvalan War of Extermination, before this stabilization could have ever come to fruition.
Reflecting on the months prior was a common routine for her, and she continued to do it as she pulled back her hair and pinned it to her head with the help of a few pins. She actually rather liked the look of her hair down on her shoulders, but by the time the sun was fully risen and sweat was inevitably streaming down her face, she knew the hair would be up anyway.
The return of Ishvalan citizenship, the Trade of Land Equity Act, the right to own businesses and participate in commerce and trade; these were only a few of the bids General Mustang had fought and won for the Ishvalan people. However, the big one, the one that seemed to truly convince these people that they were on their side wholly, had only recently wrapped up three weeks ago. The one which held council of five Amestrian officials, and seven Ishvalan representatives.
Roy Mustang, who held the title of Major and State Alchemist during the Ishvalan War of Extermination, you are irreparably guilty of war crimes and inhumane acts of alchemy which resulted in the insurmountable loss of Ishvalan life.
Riza Hawkeye, who held the title of Cadet Private during the Ishvalan War of Extermination, you are irreparably guilty of war crimes and obeying the orders of evil men capable of a moral compass, resulting in the loss of, as records show, over 350 Ishvalan lives.
With consideration of your contributions to the country of Amestris, and the sacrifices you made to protect it, in addition to testimonies of Ishvalans who have witnessed your efforts towards their land...you are cleared of charges.
With consideration of your contributions to the country of Amestris, and the sacrifices you made to protect it, in addition to testimonies of Ishvalans who have witnessed your efforts towards their land...you are cleared of charges.
The sand-bidden hurricane seemed to have quelled since then. The Ishvalans no longer openly glared at them, or watched them leerily as they walked down the streets. The newly built stone huts hadn’t been slamming their shutters once they heard the unmistakable rustle of boots on gravel. A few have even waved, even smiled , at them. Her hand unconsciously grasped the necklace beneath her black undershirt, feeling the outline of the small sun that hung from it.
After all, Riza surmounted, it was the Ishvalans who chose to spare she and Mustang’s lives in the Ishvalan War Trials when they were under no obligation to.
The air outside smelled of straw, fresh and robust. Howar, the local herdsman, must have harvested it at dawn. This small piece of her day was a favorite, for it was quiet, the air still crisp from the night, and whispers and dottings of pink teased the outline of the distant mountains as the sun debated its waking. She missed her dog, though she knew he would never survive the worst of the heat. Safe with Kain, in the more considerable climate of Central, Hayate was happy.
The walk to the center, as it had been coined, reminded of her the past. When she walked from her apartment to Central each morning; when they had no idea of what was awaiting them.
A pair of boots joined her from her left and fell in sync beside her.
“Good morning, Captain.”
They gave one another a knowing smile as they came upon their shack of a building. ‘The Center’, as Mustang so lovingly called it, was really no more than a few rooms with an abundance of filing cabinets, papers, and maps nailed up on walls. 2nd Lieutenant Falman snapped to attention as they filed through the door.
“Captain, General,” he offered with a salute. They returned it, and Falman relaxed.
“Sir,” he said to Mustang, who stopped to look at him. “You’ve been sent a letter from Central headquarters.”
“Oh?” asked Mustang curiously as he took the envelope from Falman’s hands.
“Yes. It’s addressed to you and Captain Hawkeye both.”
Riza exchanged a glance with Mustang, who shrugged and sliced open the envelope as he fell into his chair.
The room was messy, Riza thought as she looked around at their workspace. She and Mustang’s desks were perpendicular, and Falman’s was in the corner hardly six feet behind Riza’s. It was a cramped space, and there was little time for organization or cleaning. Maybe, she mused, there would be now that the water had stilled.
She heard Mustang hum from his seat and she turned to look at him, waiting for him to comment on the letter.
“Interesting…” he commented.
“What does it say?”
“We’ve been summoned to attend a council tomorrow, Captain.” He flicked the letter upwards. “1100 hours sharp.”
Taken aback, Riza stared at him. Seeing this, he nodded.
“Why?” she asked somewhat incredulously, though she knew he must have as little clue as she. He just answered with a shrug as his eyes swept over the paper again.
They’d only left Ishval once, and it was to attend their court trials. Granted, although it was recent, leaving again so soon felt odd, even wrong. Ishval was a commitment, not a casual engagement.
“Guess we don’t have much of a choice,” pursed Mustang as he flashed two train tickets that he’d fished from the envelope. Riza eyed them and offered a small sigh.
“I suppose not,” she reasoned, mostly to herself. “If the meeting is at 1100, what time is our train?”
His eyes flicked to the tickets, searched them, and chuckled airly.
Having the sudden urge to groan, Riza distracted herself by taking her own seat and pulled a few files towards herself.
“Then I suppose we have two days of work to finish in one.”
“Actually, this theorizes we may be in town for several days,” he said, his eyes roaming the letter. With an unhumored smile, Riza picked up a large, overflowing file from her desk and pushed it onto his.
“Don’t forget to stretch your wrist once in awhile.”
The smile he returned to her was a bitter one.
Chapter 2: A Fight Worth Losing
Remember when I said I'd post at least bi-weekly? Me neither, let's forget about that.
It would mean the world to me if you let me know how you felt about this story -- life is difficult for us all. I'm trying to find the importance and satisfaction in the little things.
Though she expected a struggle, waking at 0400 to meet General Mustang at 0435 was rather easy. Unable to sleep well the night prior, a racing mind battling with an overactive dreamstate, she’d found herself entirely awake by 0335 and spent the freetime reading over hot tea, the mug allowing the drifting wafts of steam to warm her tired face.
She once fantasized that the dreams would lessen after giving back to Ishval, and after earning the people’s trust. The night terror that had accompanied her that first sleep however, the memories more vivid than they had ever been before, forcing her awake with such violence as she felt phantom blood coating her shaking hands and her turmoil so fresh it manifested itself in the form of a sheet of sweat --- she realized that that had been a child’s wish.
She kept her belongings -- just a few pairs of clothes and toiletries -- in a small briefcase and shut the door behind her, stepping out into the desert night. She, Falman, and Mustang were the only constant Amestrans in Ishval, and their quarters were practically across the dirt path from one another. Scar, who acted as the Ishvalan Grand Cleric, wished to live among his people in the neighborhoods. A few empty shacks which were used for visitors or temporarily stationed officers sat gathering dust. Since the Trials, the following peace demanded only the three of them and the empty shacks welcomed nobody.
To her surprise, and impressment, Mustang was stood as a dark shadow outside her door. She’d convinced herself that her fist would be knocking on his door, for since she had known the man, departing his bed before the sun rose was a task he never quite mastered.
“Hey,” he said with a tired smile. She noticed the buttons of his long-sleeved shirt were one off-center, leaving an inch of material hanging clumsily at the bottom.
“Wow…” He blinked away the sleepiness in his eyes and leaned forward several inches.
She stared back at him.
“What is it?”
“Your hair!” he almost exclaimed, truly surprised. “It’s gotten so long.”
With eyebrows perched upwards, Riza lifted a hand. So exhausted from the lack of sleep, she’d entirely forgotten to do anything with it. Actually, she then realized, she hadn’t even bothered looking at it, and she suddenly felt somewhat self-conscious that it was standing on end or tangled into knots. She stopped herself from toying with it.
“It’s nice,” he said casually, easing her worries, as he motioned his head over his shoulder to suggest they begin walking.
“Thank you, sir. Actually, I’d just noticed its length the other day myself.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen it down for awhile. We’re always in uniform.”
Yes, they were. It seemed as though they lived in them, actually. Twelve hour workdays were common, and seeing one another outside of work hours was rare when work hours constituted an entire day.
Being in civilian clothes, as they were then, was a pleasant thing. Black slacks and a tan blouse, though simple, was the most comfortable thing she’d worn in what could have been a lifetime.
“Yours is getting a little long too, sir,” Riza teased dryly, her eyes roaming over his unkempt head. “You may want to consider a barber.”
“Don’t you think I should grow it out like yours?”
This earned him a genuine smile.
“I really do not, no.”
“Alright. Seeing as we’ll be in Central, I suppose it isn’t the worst idea. God knows there’s nowhere for me to get it done when we come back here.”
“I bet Kira would do it if you asked nicely.”
“Aroe’s five year old?”
“I hope you find yourself funny, Captain.”
Her teeth showed in a silent smile. He looked over at her, his eyes taking in the grin.
“Oh,” he pronounced. “Good. You do find yourself funny.”
“Only sometimes,” she assured him. A kinyee chattered in the distance, and its pack answered a moment later. “How do you think Vato will find having this place to himself?” she asked as their boots scraped across the road. Mustang chuckled.
“He’s never been given much opportunity to run anything himself. I think he’ll like it. Maybe it’ll get him to test for 1st lieutenant when January rolls around.”
“I doubt it,” said Riza fondly. “He’s never found much interest in rank. Just as long as he’s contributing, which he’s done enough of already, he’s satisfied. At least, that’s my theory. Power isn’t his supplier.”
“Well,” he looked down at her and gave her wink, which she ignored to notice how it seemed to warm her fingertips. “He is alone in that.”
They came upon the general’s car and drove to the station in the neighboring town of Khao. Ishval itself didn’t have a train depot, though that was another object of affection they’d been vying for.
“By the way, General,” Riza said, turning her head over her shoulder as she climbed up the steps onto the train. “You may want to re-button your shirt.”
His head jerked downwards, then returned to her with equal speed.
“How long has it been like that?” he yelled, though the cry was barely heard over the sound of the whistling engine.
“Well, probably since you put the shirt on, sir.”
“Damn you, Hawkeye. You could have told me in the car.”
“Honestly sir, I forgot. I figured now was a good time as any.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
The journey from Khao to Central Station was one of five hours. After failing to hypothesize the reason for the council, Riza and her general soon fell into a mutual tired silence and Riza’s eyes became heavy. She fought it for some time, but the car was warm and General Mustang was quiet in thought as he stared out the window, the glass framed in condensation. The image was a peaceful one. For so long, she had been surrounded by tension in the form of every figure she passed, every step she took, every grain of sand that blasted into her cheeks. Every anxiety, every day. Sitting there silently as the train rolled through the countryside, the autumn air stopped by the glass and mirrored by warmness inside, Riza felt, not lightly to say, comfortable.
It didn’t take long for her to surrender into a relaxed sleep.
“Captain…” he said gently. It failed to wake her, and he found he truly did not wish to. He placed his palm on her shoulder. “Captain, we’re here.”
Finally, her eyes peeled open, and she seemed to register his presence. Awareness filled her features.
“Oh, sorry, General,” she said quietly as she sat herself up.
“You must have been pretty tired.”
“Weren’t you?” she asked as she stood and gathered her briefcase. She followed him out of the car.
“But you don’t regularly have the capacity to sleep on trains,” she said behind him.
It wasn’t a question or an accusation, but only a statement. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling to himself as he stepped off onto the platform, greeted by the natural sunlight streaming through the many open windows and the exposed roof of the station. Birds flew around overhead, transferring from one steel beam to the next.
“That’s right,” he answered, though she couldn’t hear him over the bustle of the crowds, people flowing off the trains and wading towards the exit like a herd.
Central Station was near to Central headquarters, and they found themselves inside the building with 25 minutes to spare to change into uniform and give a quick hello to Lieutenant Havoc.
“Well, come by afterwords and let’s grab lunch or something!” Havoc said as they turned to leave. Roy, without looking back, lifted a thumbs up into the air.
“Will do, Jean.”
The council was scheduled to begin in ten minutes in a conference area on the second floor. Neither of them felt privy to being late, so they agreed to arrive early and await the remaining seat holders. After all, they wished to make a positive impression. Should this pertain to Ishval, many Amestrians, molded by prejudice, needed a progressive nurture. Roy opened the door for them both and he followed Hawkeye into the room.
Eight men sat waiting, each looking up at the arriving officers in unison like their heads were connected by string. Confusion was quick to find he and Hawkeye both, though she did not display it like he surely did.
“Oh,” said Mustang quickly. “My apologies, sirs, we were told to arrive at 1100…”
“That’s correct, General Mustang,” said General Fillbin at the head of the table. “Don’t worry, you’re not late.”
A familiar face shined like a light, and Roy’s eyes landed on Fuhrer Grumman. The Fuhrer, to only deepen Roy’s state of confusion and rising suspicion, looked troubled.
“But,” continued Fillbin. “We’ll actually only be needing you for this council, General, so please take a seat.”
Fillbin looked at Hawkeye and gave her a smile that seemed almost patronizing, though innocent enough, and something not too foreign lit up in the center of Roy’s chest. Not being one to follow the orders of any man but one, Roy saw her turn her head to look at him, confused, but awaiting his word regardless. Roy did not meet her eye, and only stared at the three star general.
“My captain was summoned as I was, General Fillban.”
“I understand that, but she will not be needed for this discussion.”
Finally, Roy looked down at her. It seemed as though the decision was made; perhaps there had been a mistake or a change of plans, and there was no way to notify them on short notice. Perhaps it was something else. Accepting this, Roy nodded to her. Her boots clicked as she snapped to attention, offered a salute to the board, and turned on her heels to leave. The door shut behind her, and he moved to sit.
“How was the train ride, General Mustang?” asked another officer, a major general named Foy Bakers. This was a kind man, one of stature and smiles. Roy always liked him as a person, though his non-confrontational demeanor was not well suited for his position. Still, Roy felt more at ease as he lowered himself in the chair beside him.
“It was very smooth, thank you, General Bakers.”
Roy flicked his eyes to Grumman’s again, but they were on the officer who sat across from Roy. He dared a glance before giving his attention back to Fillban. It was a man he did not know.
“Mustang,” said Fillban. “I’ve called this council for a very, very important reason. We’re having some...obstacles, in Roxwell Post.”
“Roxwell Post? That small town in the West?”
“Alright...what kind of obstacles?”
“There is a pastoral nomadic group out there, wandering and herding cattle, hunting in the forests. Creating a lifestyle, a small community.”
“Yes?” he prodded, agitation beginning to creep into his knuckles.
“Well, there is something very disconcerting about them, and who they are.”
Something was perplexing about this council. Had they summoned him from his incredibly important post in Ishval for this? For a group of wanderers?
“Yes, General Fillban?” he pressed. Could this conglomerate collection of decorated generals not handle this without him? Anger began to simmer, and he suppressed his still fresh agitation at the dismissal of his adjutant so as to remain cordial.
Fillban, unaware of his fumings, continued.
“We’ve received intel that a group of Drachma spies have infiltrated this group, and are possibly grooming them for an attack on West City.”
Roy’s spiteing monologue halted, and his mouth parted as he prepared, and failed, to say something. He leaned back in his chair and blinked away the surprise.
“Uh...okay.” He glanced around at the faces sat round the table. “Does everyone know of this? Am I alone in just learning this information?”
“General Mustang,” Fillban said soothingly, an attempt to calm Roy before answering. “This wasn’t of your concern until we learned of new details only two days ago. And unfortunately...this is of your concern now.”
“Well,” Roy laughed without a trace of humor, “dammit, Fillban, fill me in here because I am quite obviously missing some key point, as a couple of gullible shepherds is hardly my goddamn specific concern considering I have other very important things going on right now. Don’t you have some other general putzing around here that needs something to do? Because I assure you, that man is not me.”
Roy was leaned entirely forward, his elbows square against the wooden table as he locked eyes with the general at the head of it. The absence of his captain was a blessing, suddenly, for if she heard him speak to a superior officer in such a manner she would have berated him for hours.
“Roy,” pushed Fillban sympathetically, matching his lean forward with a slow shake of his head. “The pastoral nomads are Ishvalan.”
Quite suddenly, Roy forgot anything he’d been thinking. Hot breath stuck in his throat like a rock, his annoyance blown out like a candle.
Ishvalan? That simple detail suddenly changed everything, and his place in the meeting became entirely apparent.
“We’re not completely certain why there’s a small community of Ishvalans all the way out in the West,” continued Fillban. “But we believe it’s possible they were refugees who escaped during the war, traveled as far as they could, and found a way of life in the pastures. The Drachma…”
Fillban sighed deeply and put his hand up to his forehead, his eyes glancing down at the wood.
“It’s only intel, but it is trustworthy. Their intentions, their methods, their entire mission is a mystery to us. However…” The look he gave Roy was a serious one, and Roy finally saw a general who seemed almost as exhausted as he was himself. “These Ishvalans, living in seclusion, avoiding the public eye, may not be aware of a great deal of things, including the Promised Day or the current efforts to rebuild their land. And the Drachma clearly have no allies within our border. Befriending these people for the purpose of a mutual attack is not something I would disconsider.”
Roy’s mouth was fully open, his chest still and his body even moreso. Images spat at him like a loaded slingshot, pictures of what he one day prayed to see: Ishvalans having families, growing their population, temples being erected in every major city so the people were free to express their faith in any place of the country, watching dark skinned people with red eyes shopping in markets and smiling with their children, letting them pick out candies or fruits and shaking the hands of the Amestrian vendors...he prayed for a time when one day, Ishvalans not only trusted the rest of Amestris, but the rest of Amestris disposed of their prejudice and trusted Ishvalans.
The words that had come from General Fillban’s mouth put all of those hopes into jeopardy.
He thought of how this news would so greatly disappoint his captain.
“Before you fret too much, General, we have begun preparing a team to deploy and intercept the Ishvalan nomads, in hopes of severing their ties and arresting the spies.”
Roy cleared his throat and gathered himself.
“Good. I’m certain if I spoke with the diplomats in Ishval, one of them would be happy to accompany. Having one of their own support our claims would prove monumental.”
“We’ve already employed an Ishvalan Shi’eq, actually. His name is Imam Klayton.” Fillban took a moment before adding, “But I’m glad you mutually understand why he is on this very important team.”
“Of course I would,” Roy countered, his head tilting. The comment seemed out of place. “Why wouldn’t I? In fact, a Shi’eq is the best possible person to send. A religious leader is more prone to trust and immune to lies, in the eyes of the Ishvalans. With luck, they will believe him. Who else is apart of this team? I intend on speaking with them before they leave, and I’d like their names and serial numbers.” This, he realized, was of absolute, paramount importance. He and Hawkeye would spend the night researching these people, reading any transgressions, studying references, and preparing lectures on what and what not to say to the Ishvalan nomads once they made contact.
“Of course,” indulged Fillban. “Leading the squad will be,” he motioned to the man sitting across Roy, “First General Joshuayne Boswick.”
Without moving his head, Roy glanced over at the man and gave him a nod.
“As I previously mentioned, Shi’eq Imam Klayton, a first lieutenant named Chile Spellman, a major named Borin Temstral, and,” he seemed to take the smallest precautionary sigh, “Captain Riza Hawkeye.”
A beat passed, then Roy’s head jerked backwards as if he were physically struck.
“I understand her adjuncy is of importance to you, but her skills are well suited for---”
“No, absolutely not. I’m sorry gentlemen,” he lifted a hand to the man across from him, “General Boswick, but she is not available for commission. She stays in Ishval with me.”
“General,” reasoned Fillban. “It’s been decided by the council. All of these people were specifically chosen for this mission.”
“I do not give a damn, find another marksman.”
This caused the eyebrows of Fillban to shoot up to his hairline.
“If I may say, General Mustang…” said a new voice. Roy slowly turned his head to look at the unknown man, Boswick, across from him.
“Your captain can be a turning point for this mission. Although true her skills as a marksman and soldier may prove invaluable should we cross paths with the Drachma, it’s her relationship with Ishval that’s really selling. Her, in combination with the Shi’eq, could sway these people in a matter of minutes.”
Logically, Roy could not contest this.
However, it wasn’t logic that was making his stomach churn. He could not quite place what was; perhaps it was his anger, unbidden, and unmistakable.
“I’m sorry…” Roy pronounced without a hint of apology, his voice a staccato. “Was it decided, without my input, that a critical component of my Ishvalan efforts would be stripped of me? Is that what I am gathering? That you decided to put Riza Hawkeye on your list without even consulting me? Her direct superior?”
“We only just learned that these nomads were Ishvalan the other day, General,” cautioned Fillban, his hand moving as he spoke. The lines on his face were deep. “We only just contacted Imam last night.”
“You reassigned her without telling me, General Fillban, and that is a direct violation of our chain of command.”
“Actually,” started Boswick. Something about the man made Roy clench his jaw repeatedly, and he chomped down on his teeth as he looked back at him once more. “In times of crises, should the decision be time sensitive and/or critical to human life, chain of command may be overruled when agreed upon by a council.”
Boswick looked at the other men, at Fillban, Bakers, and the ever silent fuhrer, before returning his gaze to Roy.
“And this council agreed on the reassignment.”
“I understand your resistance, General Mustang,” Fillban interjected carefully. “But know that the decision did not come lightly. And what’s done is done.”
Roy pulled his lips into a tight line, his chest threatening to implode.
“And when does this squadron deploy?”
“Before the sun sets tonight.”
The churning inside his stomach was nearing a whirlpool of madness, and it took every ounce of restraint not to scoff in the faces of these very high ranked men.
“The summon you sent me said to pack for several days?”
“That was for your captain. Although, her absence will surely be longer than that allotted time. I’m sorry, we couldn’t elaborate in writing.”
“She’s to report to the armory by seven.”
To this, Roy said nothing.
“I expect you will wish to debrief her?”
He suffocated his rage in order to answer flatly,
Fillban offered him a weak smile, then glanced around the table.
“Well, gentlemen. This meeting is adjourned.”
Chairs scraped as they were pushed outwards, and several pairs of boots thumped against the wooden flooring. Baker’s sympathetic hand squeezed Roy’s shoulder before he, too, vacated the area. Soon the room was empty, save for he and the highest ranking official in the country, both sitting in a mutual silence, both knowing the following conversation that was about to take place.
“You let this happen?” asked Roy finally, his arms crossed tightly against his chest as he found the nerve to finally look at Grumman. “You allowed this to happen?”
“Roy,” began Grumman lowly. “I know you are distressed. But you cannot refute the reasoning.”
“I have a phone, dammit,” Roy spat back at him. “There’s a working telephone in my hut of an office. Did no one have the sense to call me?”
“My boy, you ought to know better than anyone that telephone lines cannot be trusted. What if the militants knew we were coming?”
“I can’t believe this decision was made like this,” Roy fumed, not bothering to answer. “Beneath a layer of dirt and over my head. ”
“You speak with your heart, and not your brain, Roy. There’s no crookedness going on here, there’s no corruption to be overthrown. This is an unfortunate, but necessary, thing to be done.”
Roy’s lip twitched as he inhaled sharply.
“It hasn’t even been a year,” his fist slammed onto the table, “Grumman. Not even one single damned year, and the trials just finished three weeks ago! She deserves a break , not some shitshow that could put her right back in danger!”
“Do you think I don’t know that?” Grumman whispered back harshly. “I am fully aware that both you and your captain have put your necks out far too many times, but this is, by every definition, a crisis. Imagine what would happen if the Drachma got into those Ishvalan heads. If the people in the West saw Ishvalans raging in with torches and bombs, right alongside the country’s oldest enemy, killing people in revenge of a war we’ve been trying to repent for...everything you and your captain have done in Ishval would be in ruins.” His voice suddenly became remarkably calm. “It would be for nothing.”
“She isn’t just my captain, Fuhrer Grumman,” he snapped back, not bothering to let his voice quiet. “She’s your granddaughter.”
Grumman stood and shook his head woefully, tucking in his chair and pulling his hands behind his back.
“I was never in her life. I don’t have the privilege of calling her that. She is a skilled soldier, and has a well earned place on this squadron.” Finishing himself of the conversation, he walked around the edge of the table to leave. “I have learned to relinquish my love, though it will always be there, for the betterment of my country. It is time you do the same.”
Taken aback, Roy said nothing as Grumman walked past him and out the door, leaving him alone to listen to the sound of the distant birds outside the french-lined windows.
He whispered a curse to himself as he sat there, hands folded together and eyes lasering into the wood. Finally, he stood and opened the door himself, stepping out to see his captain standing dutifully beside it
On her face, though, was worry.
“Is everything alright, Col--uh, General?”
She hadn’t made that slip in some time. Though, he thought, she probably had taken count of the faces in the room when she was inside before, and had probably taken count of their exit, except for his. It was apparent that she knew something was peculiar, and, he thought with a drop of his heart, his old rank was said many times in many terrible situations. It was only natural to utter it now.
“Walk with me, Hawkeye.”
Mustang longed for his old office, where he could lead them inside, shut the door, and speak with her openly. Where he could be familiar with her in a familiar space.
Though, their old office was occupied by someone else now, the desks filled by strangers and the carpet gaited by no one of his team. They had been there for years, he and his men. And it almost saddened him to know they would never go back.
It was by good fortune that Jean Havoc knew of a colonel who’d left for the week, off on holiday with his wife. It was in that office that Roy told Hawkeye of the council’s content.
Silence passed between them when the words left his lips, though not a silence in shock or uncomfortableness or anything unsavory. She was thinking, absorbing the information presented to her.
“Well,” she finally said slowly. “I’ll be sure to get those Ishvalans back to their people, sir. As soon as I can.”
To this, Roy sighed deeply and hung his head. This was typical of her, to never compromise the soldier she’d been committed to being.
“General,” she implored. He lifted his head to watch her eyes search his. “It will be alright. We both know Imam, he’s a good man and very personable. If he’s with us, I have no concern about turning the nomads away from the Drachma.”
“Hawkeye,” he said with exasperation. “I---” He stopped, unable to finish.
She stared at him attentively, leaning forward in her chair with all symptoms of her earlier tiredness entirely gone. It was quite obvious his stress was not translating for her. He swallowed and shook his head, letting air push out from his nose as witness to his still seething thoughts.
“How am I supposed to run Ishval without you?” he asked, a change of direction.
“Like any day, General. Falman is there right now without both of us, I think you can manage.”
“You’re an equal part of this campaign. Your deficit will be a tremendous loss.”
She tilted her head and gave him a knowing smirk.
“You’re being a little dramatic, General. You and Vato are more than capable without me breathing down your necks. Maybe you’ll even like the break.”
A hand lifted to his face, a thumb pushing into his lip, as his eyes turned away in a shake of his head. Her prediction was entirely untrue, the coiling of his insides testimony to that. The rolling uncertainty was speaking to him in a different tongue, ailing him for reasons he couldn’t be sure of -- until the ailing gave him sense of only one thing. A childish thing. There was a soft thud as his hand dropped back onto the desk and he looked at her with intensity.
“I don’t want you to go,” he admitted harshly.
The silence that followed was a little different than the one before, and he was sure the acuteness in her eyes was in response to his own.
Something about her demeanor changed. Her shoulders loosened so they sat heavy, like weights on her body. A melancholy teased the dull crows feet at her eyes. The person who sat across from him was no longer his adjutant, but his friend that he’d known for so very long.
“Well I don’t particularly want to go,” she admitted herself. “But knowing what we know now, that those people whom we have vowed to protect need our help and guidance...there’s no way I can’t go. Even if I had the option not to, I would still go. It’s because of us that they were displaced from their homes in the first place.”
The tempest at the walls of his stomach stilled, and was replaced instead with a drifting kind of acceptance. She was right, and a swirl of pride blended jaggedly with the negativity.
“Well who the hell is supposed to watch my back?” he asked. Who the hell is going to watch yours? he wanted to say.
She lifted a shoulder in a sort of shrug.
“Jean seems a little bored over here.”
Roy smiled for a brief moment before it fell.
The truth was undeniable; he couldn’t bear to be separated from her. Having her in a different part of the country would be to rip him in half with a pair of scorching tongs. For witnessing her near death had been his purest torture, and it had nearly destroyed him, and since then...well, he thought, he hadn’t quite recognized it until now, but he wanted her within his sight every moment of every day. It was a sick thing, and selfish. Beyond inappropriate within light to their professional dynamic. And, he reminded himself, the woman didn’t need him to stay safe. After all, he couldn’t keep her safe that day.
Yet still, letting her go made him nauseous.
His heart nearly broke the walls of his chest as it thudded at the sudden contact of her hand over his. His fears quelled as he looked at her with alarm. The gesture was almost intimate, and entirely uncommon for her. Her skin on his was almost painful in the way that it ached.
“When I come back,” she started softly. “You had better be in one piece.”
His thumb twitched, asking him permission to brush over her hand.
“The same goes for you,” he said instead, quieting the want in his fingers. She raised an eyebrow slightly, slipping her hand off his as she leaned back in her chair.
“When I come back, I had better be in one piece? Wouldn’t me coming back default to being in one piece?” she clarified with a tease. His gentle smile returned, his eyes softening, as the storm inside finally passed.
“Just come back.”
The rest of the day had been spent discussing tactics with one another, with the occasional pipe-in from Jean. With no thanks to the board and their lack of communication, they had little evidence to send with Hawkeye to show to the nomads. The necklace one of the midwives had crafted for Riza, a hand-woven line with a solar pendant at the crest, was all she had, tucked comfortably beneath her shirt.
Hours passed before Jean stood from his chair, stretched, and announced he had to leave to meet a girl for a date. With prodding, he only mentioned it was another officer and that she was entirely out of his league. Isn’t every woman out of your league? Roy had asked. Jean answered with a smack to the back of his head.
“Stay safe,” Jean said to Hawkeye as he pulled her in for a hug. “Good luck out there. We’ll see you soon.”
“Of course,” she smiled back at him. He waved goodbye.
Soon the sky turned violet, the sun pulling downwards to sleep. Roy glanced at his pocket watch; quarter til seven.
The walk to the armory was quiet.
“General, the train ride is long,” she had said after Jean had left. “You don’t need to stay.”
“I know that.”
Quicker than what seemed normal, the day was nearly dark by the time they arrived. The before colors of the sunfall had flitted away into twilight. It was chillier in Central, despite it being early August. Summer was fading; autumn teased the land like a ghost. Men were passing boxes to each other and piling them into a large covered cargo vehicle, the tarp a washed out green and the tires taller than a child. Roy spotted Boswick speaking with another man near the passenger door, and he eyed him warily before stopping his captain with a touch to her shoulder.
“I don’t know who any of these men are besides Imam,” he said when she turned towards him, “but remember that you’ve got authority here.”
She gave him a look.
“Oh?” she asked doubtfully.
“Yes,” he replied sharply, an attempt to convince her. “They’ve probably never even stepped foot in that desert. You know who the Ishvalans are, you know their plight. I know I don’t need to tell you not to let these guys walk all over you, because God knows that won’t be an issue.” She smiled. “But just remember that if you’re ever in doubt, listen to your gut. Not them.”
“Boswick is a major general, sir. And his number two is a major.”
“Doesn’t matter. Your gut is fuhrer on that truck.”
Her smile turned to a quiet laugh, and the corners of his own mouth pursed at the sound. He found that he coveted hearing it one more time.
“Captain Hawkeye,” called Boswick, seeming to finally see her. “You ready to roll out?”
She turned towards him and snapped to attention, her hand whipping up to her right eyebrow in salute.
“Good. Let’s get going.”
Boswick lifted himself into the cab of the vehicle as the other three men put the last of the boxes into the bed. The two soldiers helped Imam up onto the ledge, and the Ishvalan man parted the tarp to enter the back. Hawkeye’s hand dropped as she turned to face Roy.
“I’ll see you soon, General Mustang,” she said with a thin smile, gripping her briefcase tighter as she turned on her foot and set off towards the truck.
Without thinking, in no way planning was he was about to do, Roy grabbed her wrist and stopped her, allowing the spark between them to shock them both. She halted immediately and glanced back at him with wide eyes and an open mouth, her bangs fluttering about from the sharp turn of her head.
He quickly reached into his pocket with his free hand, wrapped his fingers around what was inside, and deposited the contents from his hand to hers. The hold he had on her wrist slipped downwards to her fingers so the materials were thick between their palms. He gave her hand a strong, formal shake.
“Come back,” he ordered sternly, quiet so only she could hear. Feeling the flex of her muscles, he knew she had a grip on what he’d given her and he slipped his hand out from its hold. She lifted her wrist, the darkening skies giving her little light to see, and unraveled her fingers to display what was in her palm.
Roy deliberately took several steps back so she couldn’t return them. By the time she finished digesting the gesture, her face was lined with something he couldn’t quite read. Perhaps it was his distance from her, or how the setting sun had bathed the land in a deep blue, but the look he could make out on her face made his throat grow tight.
He looked at her fiercely, any emotion buried under a layer of severity. To a stranger, he may have even appeared angry.
“Hawkeye, let’s go!” yelled a voice somewhere behind her. This seemed to pull her from her statuesque state, her face faltering at the shout, though she still hadn’t blinked away from her locked gaze with Roy. He swallowed and tilted his chin downwards.
He watched the shadows of her face adjust as her nostrils flared and her mouth closed, and she gave him a single nod as she pocketed what he had given her. Then she turned on her heels, walked several steps to the truck, grabbed onto the handlebar to the right, and hoisted herself inside so she disappeared beyond the tarp.