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The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: everyone shall be put to death for their own sin.
- Deuteronomy 24:16

 

The first few days afterwards Mustang insists on putting the antiseptic on her back himself; though he was true to his word and the wounds are fairly superficial there's still a risk of infection. He dabs the iodine onto clean gauze and sighs quietly enough that he must think she can't hear, presses it to her skin with hands still soft as a scholar's. She clenches her teeth hard against the pain.

He always wishes her goodnight with his eyes trained firmly on the ground.

The withdrawal from Ishval is chaotic. There was a train out of Riesembul for the generals, trucks for the wounded, and she's sure that someone, somewhere, knows the official plan for their full removal and reassignment, but for now the rest of them are still crawling back through ruined villages at the pace of the slowest supply cart, officers and enlisted alike on foot. Riza carries her duffle bag slung over one shoulder and her Karabiner on the other and tries not to wince when they rub against the bandages.

"You're Riza Hawkeye, right?"

She blinks. A stranger has appeared on her right, tall and red-haired; her nose is crooked as if it's been broken at least once. She grins at Riza.

"'The Hawk's Eye', isn't it? You saved my life twice out there." She tugs on the straps of her pack with her thumbs. "Sergeant Hana Lockheed."

"I'm still a cadet," she says. "I'm sorry, I don't remember you."

"Idalia, a month and a half ago? My squad were doing a final sweep, we got ambushed."

She remembers now, though she couldn't have told Lockheed from any of the other soldiers there. The view through her rifle sight is far too intimate. She had long since lost count of how many she'd killed at that point but it's the faces of the two Ishvalans that afternoon that she does recall, the fierceness and desperation turning to shock in a bright snap of blood. The older one took several minutes to die.

They were only trying to survive, all of them.

When they make camp that evening something bright catches her eye in the ruins of a building, and kicking away shattered bits of furniture she finds it's a large shard of mirror, pointed and sharp and gleaming in the fading sun. She carries it back to her tent as covertly as she can, not wishing to be suspected of vanity.

When Mustang comes in later he stares at it as if he's never seen one before.

"How are you?" he asks, pulling off his gloves.

"It's less painful today." It's not really what he's asking but she's in no mood to answer the real question. She starts to unbutton her jacket and he ducks his head and turns around.

"They're healing well," he says a little while later with the iodine bottle in hand. "I probably won't need to do this again after tomorrow."

"I want to see," she says, inclining her head towards the mirror. Mustang hesitates for a moment then puts the bottle and gauze down and goes to pick it up, holding it carefully around the sharp edges. Riza cranes her head as far around as she can.

In the mirror her father's words are strange hieroglyphics, the sigil broken and ruined by the harsh red wounds that criss-cross it, the inked layers of skin forever burned away. She exhales hard.

"Thank you."

"I'll do the bandages." His hands flutter against her spine like nervous wings. When he's done and she's put her shirt back on he stands just inside the flap like always, head bowed, and says, "Really, I'm so-"

"No," she says. "Thank you."

He meets her eyes for the first time and there's a spark there, an ember still burning. "I will do everything I can to stop this ever happening again. I promise you."

In the morning she leaves the mirror by the side of the road, facing east and filled with the early light of dawn.

 

Eventually she ends up being sent back to the academy for her graduation and commissioning; it's almost wholly unreal. Somebody makes a little speech about her 'accomplishments' at the front as if they were a well-fought simulation or a particularly excellent essay and not human body after human body, shattered skulls and shredded muscle and blood spilled on hot, dry sand.

Alone, she touches the epaulettes gingerly, the light glinting off each little metal star. Second Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye. In her first station, the abandoned tower near the campsite, she had resolved to quit as soon as it was over, to throw the uniform away and find whatever other life she could, but the war is in her bones now, marked on her skin.

This is what you wanted, she tells herself, and the thought is sharp and bitter. To be part of something important, to protect the vulnerable and the weak. To be like a heroine out of a novel, bright and certain with unstained hands.

It was a child's dream and she knows that now, and feels the real weight of the choice across her shoulders along the lines of fresh scar tissue, like the tug of a rifle sling across her chest. She has taken her father's sins and wrought her own out of gunmetal and fire.

It is hardly heroic, but it's the burden she has chosen to carry.

When she's summoned to Mustang's new office her second day at Eastern HQ her boots echo down the quiet corridor outside. She doesn't hesitate at the door.

"I want you to watch my back," he says, every syllable loaded, and she supposes it's a fair exchange- he is, after all, an alchemist. Riza bows her head, the sunlight streaming through the tall window across her face.

"I understand."

If they're both bound for hell she may as well leave her mark on the way.