HAGANE NO RENKINJUTSUSHI
HAGANE NO RENKINJUTSUSHI
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Tin Soldiers, a roiai based on an old song...
hagane_no_tokage
post Jan 24 2005, 12:16 AM
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Author’s Note/Disclaimer: okay, I came up with the idea for this fic kind of on a whim… It started out as some pre-series drabbles that I then found went nicely with an old song I learned a long time ago, so a quasi songfic was thus born. (I say quasi- because it's considerably more fic than song lyrics...)

The information I have to support it comes from both the manga and anime for HagaRen…and, in that, conflicts a little bit, so I sort of had to fudge a few things. There was information in the anime that was not mentioned in the manga (yet?) and many scenes in the manga that didn’t make it to the anime…so unless you are familiar with both of them, some things may leave you scratching your head. Also, there were a few discrepancies between the two, such as who was responsible for the death of the Drs. Rockbell. So if you haven't, go read the manga, kids, it’s good stuff. The anime isn’t the whole story by a long shot. Heh, just FYI.

This story is set mainly during the war in Ishbal, so some scenes may contain passages that contain graphic mental images. Also, like anyone presented with ambiguous holes in the information given, I have taken some liberties with events in the storyline that were left unexplained or partially so. All events/characters/situations are copyright Arakawa Hiromu-sensei, BONES, and any other rights-holding companies, 2002-present. Song lyrics copyright Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter, 1969.

This story will contain spoilers for episode 25 and manga chapter 15. Also, ranks will be written in japanese when people are being addressed. i.e. taisa instead of colonel. i just think they sound so much better that way. u__u

While this is really set up as a one-shot, and the divisions aren't really offically *chapters*, there are four *sections* to the fic, so i figured it's better to break them up than to post the whole thing all at once.

dry.gif Yeesh...even my oneshots are novels... i'm so incorrigible...

Many thanks to quis for being my beta on this fic! Persimmons for all! XD

sate~ ikimashou ka?




Tin Soldiers



It smelled like death. The air was thick with the mist of fog and the stench of blood and gunpowder; the bittersweet perfume that was both victory and defeat at the same time.

He hated that smell.




---------------
Listen, children, to a story
That was written long ago…

---------------



Victorious or not, he would never get to like the smell of blood. Even now, it was making the inside of his stomach churn uncomfortably, and he could feel the bile rising in the back of his throat. No matter how many promotions it promised to earn him, no matter how many stars it would put on his shoulder…Major Roy Mustang would never be fond of the smell of the spilled blood of the enemy.

He slowly, methodically removed the gloves from his hands, scowling at the black soot and tacky blood that had stained them. Dammit, that was the third pair he’d gone through that week. When was this going to end? He was tired of sitting at the riverside scrubbing until the fibers wore thin and the delicately sewn transmutation arrays inlaid in the filament became warped and misshapen from scouring. But he refused to wear them stained. His hands were bloodied enough; he didn’t desire his wardrobe to be.

After all…clothes could be washed…bleached… The blemishes could be removed, or the garments discarded.


Not so his skin…or his soul. He needed no further reminders of his sins…


How did one wash the blood from their conscience? he wondered absently, shoving the gloves into the pocket of his black overcoat. Or then…perhaps it was easier just to fashion up a new one…?




---------------
'Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley folk below.

---------------



Roy shook his head slowly, a few strands of his pitch-black hair falling over one eye.

“Come now, come now,” came a raspy voice, and Roy winced, “is that fitting posture for someone who just triumphed the day’s work?”

Roy’s onyx eyes flashed in the fading purple light of dusk, and he lifted his head to see a tall, painfully skinny man standing before him, long hands in his pockets, lean face stretched in an ear-to-ear grin. The man’s perfect white teeth seemed out of place against his sunken eyes and sallow complexion, and Roy fought the urge to curl his upper lip in a scornful grimace.

“Kimblee,” he growled softly, “to what do I owe the honor of your presence…?”

Major Zolof J. Kimblee snorted a laugh and ran one spindly hand through his long, stringy ponytail. He shoved a large rock onto its side with one boot and took a seat upon it, his spidery legs drawn up near his chest. Pulling a cigarette from behind his ear, he tucked it into one corner of his mouth and patted the left pocket of his uniform trousers.

“Are~…? That’s odd,” he mumbled through the cigarette, “I could have sworn I had a…”

His thoughts trailed off, and he lifted his beady yellow eyes to meet Roy’s. There was a smirk hidden behind them.

“Got a light, Shousa?” he asked with a sly grin, and that sneer Roy had managed to keep at bay before slithered over his face.

“That joke was old the first time you did it, Kimblee,” he snarled, folding his arms over his chest. “What makes you think it gets any funnier as time passes?”

Kimblee chewed on the end of the cigarette and tried his other pocket.

“Everything gets funnier over time, Mustang,” he assured the younger man, “you’ll see.” His golden eyes lit up briefly. “Ah! There it is…”

He pulled the lighter from the hidden pocket of his trousers and brought it up to his face, flicking the igniter twice before success. He lit the end of the tobacco stick and sucked on it a moment before shoving the lighter back into his pocket and pulling the cigarette from his mouth to puff a smoke ring toward his associate.

“In time, even this war will be humorous,” the skinny man said, sticking the cigarette back into his mouth and poking the end of it with his tongue. “Just wait. One day, you’ll look back on this and laugh.”

Roy gave him a venomous look.


“Maybe you will.”

Kimblee gave a long, thin smile and tilted his head.

“That’s your problem, Mustang,” he said, rising to stand again and taking a somewhat menacing step toward Roy, “you ain’t got no sense of humor.”

Roy scoffed.

“I just fail to see humor in the unnecessary loss of life,” he corrected, and Kimblee laughed aloud.


“It’s us or them, Mustang,” he said, removing the cigarette again and leaning his face in close to Roy’s. He reeked of tobacco and cheap vodka, and Roy took a step back. Kimblee chortled and breathed a small cloud of smoke out from between his teeth, making Roy cough lightly before the younger officer took another step away from his peer. “Better these freaks than us, right?”

Roy’s face scrunched in disgust.

“And just what makes you better than them?”


Kimblee’s tapered eyes narrowed, and he reached into his pocket again, removing his silver State Alchemist watch.

“This does,” he said simply, swinging it in circles and advancing on Roy again. “Those bastards don’t even believe in alchemy. What do they know?” He chewed on the end of the cigarette. “What does their great deity know that we don’t, huh? How can a god forbid a natural science? What kind of god is that? They don’t know anything! How can we not, therefore, be better?”


“Is that for us to decide?”

Roy’s voice was acidic.

Kimblee lifted his eyebrows and put his watch back into the pocket of his trousers.

“Perhaps not,” he replied, scratching the back of his neck, “but we’re under orders to annihilate every last one of them… So it’s rather unwise to question authority, unless you’re looking to get court-martialed.”

That long, thin smile stretched across his face again, and Roy had a sudden overwhelming urge to punch the daylights out of Kimblee.




---------------
On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath the stone…

---------------



The taller man took a long drag off his cigarette, then held his breath a moment.

“But, then…” he began slowly, exhaling in a stream of silver smoke, “I suppose there’s a greater objective in this…” He snickered. “Everyone knows the Ishbalites are of no threat to the military.”


Roy squinted.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”


Kimblee shoved his hands back in his pockets and chewed in the shrinking cigarette.

“Think about it, Mustang, if you can,” he said slowly, moving in a deliberate circle around the younger major. “The Ishbal people barely hold the technology to survive in this world…much less launch an attack on the military running it.” His yellow eyes glinted as the sun sank below the horizon and plunged the camp into indigo darkness. “It’s just like in nature… Animals in the wild don’t attack a lesser creature unless they intend to eat it. Likewise, the military wouldn’t waste its manpower and resources on a non-aggressive adversary unless there was something to gain from it.” He removed the cigarette and clamped it between two bony fingers. “Touka koukan, right?” he asked slowly. “They must have something the Daisotou wants…else what would be the point of attacking and destroying them, hm?”


Roy sighed in contempt.

“Shut up, Kimblee.”


A harsh guffaw.

“You’re such an ass, Mustang,” the elder man jeered, wrapping his tongue around the cigarette again. “You ignore what you know is true even when it’s right in front of your face.”




---------------
And the valley people swore
They’d have it for their very own…

---------------



Roy drew a breath, forbidding himself to speak the stream of obscenities that were just itching to roll off his tongue, and was about to select a few choice words from the string to send Kimblee’s way when the sound of soft footsteps halted him.
Oh, thank God… He’d know those footfalls anywhere.


“Mustang Shousa, there you are…”


Kimblee snickered softly and lifted his golden eyes as a young woman with short blonde hair flickered into view in the rapidly fading light from the sky. She was youthful, slim; prettier than one would expect from a military woman, but Riza Hawkeye was not one to be taken lightly. For a second lieutenant to be sent to the front lines of an inter-border conflict, she had to be damn good at what she did. Kimblee had never seen her in action…but the rumor around the camp was that she could shoot the wings off a fly from 300 yards.

“Evenin’, Shoui,” he greeted softly, bowing his head, and Riza’s mahogany eyes narrowed slightly.

“Shousa,” she acknowledged, and then without further attention paid to Kimblee, she gave Roy a chiding look. “They’re looking for you in the mess tent,” she told him, and her brow knit. “Gran Junshou wanted to commend you on your…”—her eyes darkened a little—“actions today.”

Roy sighed, then shook his head.


“I don’t believe it’s anything to be praised for,” he replied, and Hawkeye’s shoulders sagged a little.

“Then at least come have something to eat,” she urged. “It’s getting cold now that the sun has gone down. You shouldn’t be out here like this.”

Kimblee chortled in the darkness and pulled out his lighter again, flicking the igniter switch and illuminating the little scene with a tiny orange flame.


“How cute,” he said. “Even in the throes of war, romance can blossom on the battlefield.”


“Shut up, Kimblee,” Roy said again, and the older man lifted his free hand.

“All right, all right,” he snorted, “I can tell when I’m not wanted.” He flicked the lighter closed and shoved both hands in his pockets, chewing on the tiny stub of cigarette that remained. He ambled slowly past Roy and paused a moment alongside Hawkeye. “Can I interest you in a smoke, Shoui?” he offered jovially, and she gave him an icy stare.

“No, thank you, Shousa,” she replied, deadpan. “There is enough smoke in the air without you and the other men contributing to it. I feel I must decline.”


Kimblee made a squealing noise at her biting remark, then laughed aloud—a brassy, unpleasant sound—and sauntered slowly away from Roy and the lieutenant, humming softly to himself. Roy chuckled quietly, and Riza gave him a sidelong glance.

“Was that amusing, Sir?” she asked, genuinely curious as to what he found entertaining about the exchange, and he waved a hand dismissively.

“No, no, I wasn’t laughing at you, Shoui,” he assured her gently, moving to take a seat on the rock Kimblee had overturned. “It’s just funny to me how you always know when to make an appearance.”

“Sir?”

He grinned and rested his chin in his hands, elbows perched on his knees.

“I was just thinking to myself that I wished someone would come put Kimblee in his place,” he told her, and then chuckled again. “And then…there you were.”

Riza gave a small smile.


“Always glad to help, Sir.”


Roy sighed, and Riza shuffled her way through the darkness of nightfall to move to his side.

“Something wrong, Sir?”

“Is anything not?” he countered, and she cocked her head in confusion.


“Pardon?”


“This whole thing reeks,” he told her. “I just…can’t help thinking I’m aiding in the making of a horrible mistake…”

Riza placed a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up at her.


She smiled.

“Sir, mistake or no, I’m with you no matter the path.”


He looked back down at the sand beneath his feet and then shut his eyes.

“Then I suppose it can’t be all bad,” was all he said, and Riza chuckled and reached into her pocket.

“Here, Sir,” she said, holding her hands out, and he looked at her.

“Hm?”


She placed something soft into his palm and smiled.

“You stained your gloves with soot again, didn’t you?” she asked knowingly, and he laughed.

“Nothing escapes your hawk eyes, does it?” he chortled, admiring the stitching job she had done on the new pair of gloves.


She smiled—“I do my best to live up to my name, Shousa,”—and nodded her head back toward the mess tent. “Come, Sir,” she urged, “it’s gotten dark. Let’s go inside.”


Roy nodded, and she turned to head back. He hesitated a moment and glanced up at the black sky above him, squinting as if to try and see the stars that floated so many millions of miles beyond the layer of clouds that hung low over the earth.

He wondered absently if the eyes of the people whose lives had been lost in the war were somewhere squinting back at those who had lived…?




---------------
Go ahead and hate your neighbor
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of heaven,
Justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowin’
Come the judgment day…
On the bloody morning after…

One tin soldier rides away.

---------------


and that concludes section one. there was only one thing that really bugged me about this one... was Basque Gran a Brig. Gen. during Ishbal or was he promoted thereafter? I couldn't recall... O_o

so...thoughts, anyone?



also, the song i have based this on is called "One Tin Soldier". it's a really pretty old war song i learned when i was a kid at girl scout camp, and it always stuck with me cuz it always made me cry. happy.gif;; i'm a sucker for a song with a moral. anyway, all the vocal versions of the song i was able to find were cheesy, but here is a nice instrumental converted MIDI (thanks for that link hitokiri!!) for anyone who is interested in hearing it. apparently attachments cannot exceed 2MB, so i had to trim the mp3, so it's only one verse's worth of it, but it's all repeated after that, so this should give you an idea of the melody. happy.gif enjoy! laugh.gif

Attached File(s)
Attached File  One_Tin_Soldier.mp3 ( 1.12MB ) Number of downloads: 47
 


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Quistis88
post Jan 24 2005, 12:26 AM
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Amazing work, as always. biggrin.gif I've already read it once, and I'll probably come back to read it again when I have more time. Great work, and thanks for the persimmons! And thanks to hitokiri for giving her the link. Now I can have it in mp3 format, too. biggrin.gif *is a leech*

Post the next part soon, furukage-sensei. smile.gif


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hagane_no_tokage
post Jan 28 2005, 03:21 AM
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this is the shortest of the pieces... this whole story actually wound up being longer than i was expecting, but this one piece was pretty short... O_O hope you enjoy this part! laugh.gif



Riza scowled down at the blood on her fingertips, then lifted her eyes to the man standing above her; shook her head.

“He’s dead, Sir,” she said almost inaudibly, and Roy swore under his breath.

“You’re sure?” he asked, and Riza nodded, but checked for a pulse in the man’s neck once more. She sighed and wiped the blood off her hand onto the dirt where she knelt.


“Yes, Sir,” she reaffirmed, rising slowly to her feet. “He’s…quite dead.” She folded her arms over her chest. “Considering how cold his skin is and the fact that there has been no gunfire since we arrived, I’d say he’s been dead a few hours, and that the people who shot him have already fled.”


“Dammit!”

Roy scrunched up his brow in anger and guilt, shoving his hands into the pockets of his uniform jacked and pacing like a caged animal beside the corpse.

“Dammit! The entire platoon!? They’re all dead?!” he howled, and paced faster. “Unacceptable! Unforgivable!”


His words trailed off into angry grumbling Riza dared not attempt to make out.


She cleared her throat.

“Sir, it wasn’t your fault,” she ventured. “This was an accident.”


He whirled, his eyes virulent.

“Accident??” he barked. “Was it? These men were shot before they even got to the Ishbal grounds! That doesn’t sound like an accident to me!”

“But your not being here didn’t impact the enemy’s method of attack.”


“That’s not the point,” he snarled, baring his teeth. “The point is that we didn’t get here in time. If we’d only been faster, maybe we could have helped hold them off…”




---------------
So the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill;
Asking for the buried treasure:
Tons of gold for which they’d kill…

---------------



Riza frowned.

“You can’t be in two places at once,” she reminded him. “If we’d been here in time to save Riley Chuui and his squadron, who’s to say someone else wouldn’t have been killed in a different place? Would you not have then blamed yourself for those deaths instead?”

Roy turned his back to the Lieutenant, his hands fisted at his sides. He shook his head.

“They sent his group here without any alchemists in their party,” he said in disbelief. “What were they thinking?”

“Of conserving their resources, perhaps, Sir…” she said realistically, and he grit his teeth.



“‘Let’s send scouts ahead to the next area,’ they said,” he recited mockingly, “‘to make sure it’s safe.’…” He snorted crassly. “Funny how the higher ranks never volunteer for the scouting jobs themselves, ey?”


She didn’t miss a beat.

“Would you have, Sir?”


Riza’s guileless and forthright retort hit Roy like a sack of lead, and he nearly doubled over, feeling as if he’d been slugged in the gut.


Would he have?


What a ridiculous question!







Unfortunately…he couldn’t seem to come up with an honest answer for it.



He took a deep breath to compose himself and cast a look back over his shoulder at Hawkeye. He squinted at her, and she regarded him coolly.



“It’s only natural for an animal being hunted to make a pre-emptive strike at its predator when the predator approaches, unconscious to the imminence of attack,” she said. “Riley knew that… It’s not your fault we didn’t get here in time to back him up. If a large group attacks a smaller group…even if the smaller group is more prepared, the large group has an obvious advantage…”

Roy’s posture deteriorated a little.


“You make it sound like this is some big nature walk, Shoui,” he scolded, and she looked at him reproachfully.

“Isn’t it, Shousa?” she countered, emphasizing his title. “How is war between two races of human beings any different than the animalistic battles for control of wild territory?”



“Because humans should know better!” he cried, turning to face her, flapping his arms at his sides in frustration. “We’re the top of the goddamn food chain, aren’t we? The most highly evolved creatures on this planet, right? Why should we resort to such crude and brutal means to solve conflicts?”


“Because wisdom and evolution do not always travel together.”


He bared his teeth and lashed his arm out as if to strike at something in the air that neither of them could see.

“That’s no excuse!” he bellowed, and whirled away from her. “Shit!!”


How could she be so calm?? How could she just stand there and accept what was happening? Their comrades were dying all around them, their enemy was everywhere, their nerves were frayed and their patience was beyond thinned…so how could Riza Hawkeye remain so collected in the face of death the way she always did?




---------------
Came an answer from the kingdom:
“With our brothers we will share
All the secrets of our mountain;
All the riches buried there…”

---------------



“Hawkeye—! I don’t get you at all!” he yowled. “Don’t you feel any remorse??”


Her brow furrowed in compassion and empathy—emotions few other than Roy had seen on her stoic features.

“Sir, you can’t take everything upon your own shoulders,” she told him gently, and he straightened, frowning at her. She shook her head. “If you take it upon yourself to bear the guilt and responsibilities of everyone above you, you’ll break.” She looked at her feet. “Bad things happen that you can’t always avoid… If you blame yourself for them all the time, you’ll lose your mind.”


His mouth slid ajar.



“The Ishbalites can’t win this war,” she went on, looking back up at him, “and they know that as well as we do. What do you expect them to do, though? Just stand there and die? Surrender? Leave them their pride, won’t you? They lack the forces to properly fight back, they lack the strength to unite against us, and they lack the bloodthirsty nature this military wields to just kill without provocation.”

“Speak for yourself… Perhaps you would…” he grumbled before he realized what he was saying. He immediately regretted it when Riza’s eyes narrowed to wounded slits.


Uh oh… She looked upset…

Roy started to apologize, but she didn’t give him the chance.


Against her better judgment, Riza reached out with startling speed to grab the collar of his jacket and jerked him toward her.


“Do you think I enjoy this any more than you do, Roy Mustang?” she hissed, and he was so shocked at her words that he couldn’t even think of a reply. “Do you think I want to use my skills to destroy lives? Do you think I’m in this for fun?” She yanked his face a little closer to hers, their noses now almost touching. “I’m not! I’m in this for you! I’m here because I want to help you! Not because I want other people to suffer!”


Roy was dumbstruck by her words. She had only addressed him by his first name a few times…but never in anger like this. And what was more…she had never lost her temper with him… In fact, he couldn’t recall Riza Hawkeye having ever lost her temper…


She released his collar and took a step back, lowering her head as if to apologize for her insubordinate actions.

“Sir…” She shook her head. “I know. I know it’s awful… I know you hate this. I know this isn’t what you wanted. I know that you find no more joy in taking a life than I do…” She met his eyes. “But if you want to make through in this war…through this life…you have to learn to let things go.” There was sadness in her voice. “If you hold onto every memory of death and hardship, you’ll go crazy.”


She sighed heavily.

“Put yourself in their shoes…” she suggested glumly. “I know that if a troop of soldiers from enemy lines came to infiltrate our camp…I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot every last one of them to ascertain your safety…Sir…”



Roy blinked.



He…hadn’t really thought of it that way.

He had been so busy condemning the Ishbalites for slaying his companions needlessly…that he hadn’t taken into consideration what he would have done in the same situation.


Gods… Why the hell couldn’t they all just get along??



His eyes softened a little, his shoulders sagged, and he sighed gustily, casting a look at Riley’s body, then slowly taking to a knee beside it. He removed the white glove from his right hand and ran his fingers down the younger man’s face, closing the deceased’s eyes as he spoke a short, almost inaudible recitation of last rights. Then he sighed and rose, turning to Riza.


His face hardened in resolve.

“Come on,” he said, taking her shoulder and turning away from the body, “let’s go before someone misses us.”




“Or shoots us,” she added darkly, and he gave a start.




She made a face, meeting his horrified eyes.


“Kidding!” she yelped, putting her hands up in front of her. “I was kidding!”


There was a moment of heavy silence in which Riza felt all resolve drain into her feet. Then, despite the lack of humor in the overall situation, Roy laughed, and Riza sighed in relief.



She hesitated a moment, then slung her arm around Roy’s shoulders as she walked beside him down the dusty road back toward camp.

Even if they couldn’t do anything to stop the bloodshed around them…at least they could watch each other’s backs. And for them, that was enough for the time being…


After all, if two friends couldn’t depend on one another in the face of adversity and warfare, then what was left for them to believe in?




---------------
Go ahead and hate your neighbor
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of heaven,
Justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowin’
Come the judgment day…
On the bloody morning after…
One tin soldier rides away.

---------------




ah, that was a shortie... O_O *ducks in case Ed was listening* anyway...the story's complete now, so the remaining two sections of it will be posted soon...ah, depending on my level of laziness this weekend. got some errands to run, so if i don't end up running them all... heh, the nesxt piece will be up sooner. the next one is the longest, so look forward to it! XD thanks for reading!


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Quistis88
post Jan 28 2005, 10:15 AM
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Beautiful. biggrin.gif I am quite glad that you got this finished. I shall wait patiently for the next part. smile.gif


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Hex-Sama
post Jan 29 2005, 12:07 AM
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@Tokage: You just keep suprising me with your amazing talents biggrin.gif . I love the story and the song. My mom would sing that song to me when I was younger, and when I think back on it now, it's such a sad song sad.gif . Keep up the good work as usual, and I'll patiently be waiting for the next chapter smile.gif .


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Guest_Guest_*
post Jan 30 2005, 05:19 AM
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wow!thats really good
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hagane_no_tokage
post Feb 2 2005, 03:58 AM
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Ah~! sorry for the delay on this, gang! i...forgot... sleep.gif this is the longest chapter... enjoy! happy.gif

and hex! i'm so happy! i thought i was the only one who remembered this song!!! XDDDD *glomps hex and dances about*

ah, this chapter gets a bit graphic. just a heads up. u_u






The day was almost done… One more village to flush out and they could go home for the night. Just one more town and Roy could push all the blood and nonsense from his mind for a few hours and try and get some sleep before having to do the whole stupid thing over again. Roy glanced back over his shoulder and unconsciously poised his right hand to snap his fingers together should the need to defend himself arise. The flames he could wield had intensified with the atmosphere of the war, and now even other platoons had come to seek out the young Major’s company in tight situations. He hadn’t wanted to make associates in such a manner…but he supposed that so long as he had them it didn’t matter the method. The more people to cover each other’s backs, the better.

“Oi, Mustang,” Kimblee’s uncouth voice reached Roy’s ears, and he winced.


There were some associates he would have gladly done without…


He glanced to his left and shot Kimblee a questioning eye, and the older man jerked his head to crack the kink out of his neck.

“Get the left side with the Lieutenant,” he said, and that sly smile split his features. “I’ll take the right with Armstrong and the other juniors.”


Riza was indignant.

“Why should you take so many?” she demanded, waving her arm. “The Major and I can go it alone, but can’t you?” She scowled at him. “Let the others fan out. There’s still the other side of town to cover before we’re out of here today.”


Kimblee looked at her reproachfully.

“I fear I have not the steadfastness of you and the Major, Shoui,” he said with mock injury, covering his heart with one long hand. “Surely the two of you are capable on your own, but I…”—he shook his head and said no more, snapping his arm up to motion his small squad forward and to the other side of the street.

Riza made a noise somewhere between a scoff and a growl, and Roy chuckled.


“How in hell did that asshole get himself in charge of the new recruits, anyway?” Roy asked, and she shrugged her shoulders with a piqued shake of her blonde head.

“The dog who sucks up to the master gets to sleep at the foot of the bed,” she snarled, and Roy clicked his tongue.

“Now, now, Shoui,” he chided with a wag of his finger, “show a little respect…” He gave her a confused look. “I thought you liked dogs…”


She chuckled.

“True. Wouldn’t want to insult the canine species by grouping Kimblee with them…”


Roy sighed and cast his dark eye in a slow arc around them, then gave Riza a serious nod.

The time for jokes was over. Now it was time to get their job done.





---------------
Now the valley cried in anger,
“Mount your horses, draw your swords!”

---------------





He dipped his chin, tilted his head toward the nearest establishment—the small, run-down remains of what had once been a convenience store—and waved one hand sharply toward it. Riza reached into her jacket and closed her hand over the butt of the pistol she had strapped to her left shoulder, drawing it slowly, silently, and lowering it methodically to her hip before moving in front of the major and sidling up to the front of the store. Roy followed and covered the other side of the door. She cocked her head and pressed her ear up to the wall of the building, held her breath a moment to listen, then narrowed her eyes at Roy.

Let’s go, she mouthed silently, and spun, ramming her shoulder into the door to bash it open, her pistol primed, safety unlocked, and ready to fire at a second’s notice. She whirled in a rapid 360, sweeping the room with her sharp eyes, searching for signs of movement, and then felt Roy at her back, his gaze covering the blind spots she couldn’t see on the other side of the room.


She closed her eyes briefly, focusing her energy. It was sort of a ritual for her… She entered the room, swept the area for immediate threat, sensed Roy was at her side, and took a moment to center herself. Once her mind was set, nothing could shake Riza Hawkeye’s steady hands.

Roy’s gaze flicked back and forth across the far side of the room, and he leaned back briefly, tapping his shoulder blades lightly against Riza’s—a signal that the scene was clear—and then stepped away, his right hand gloved and his left hovering near his sidearm. Silently, he moved around the counter of the store, his head bobbing ever so slightly as he moved; his eyes constantly in motion. The back of the registers was empty, the shelves that had once held material goods and foodstuffs now broken and splintered across the floor.

It seemed theirs was not the first squadron to hit this little town recently.


Riza had remained in the middle of the room, her eyes still scanning the walls, her ears listening for any hint of movement nearby.

She didn’t like this…something didn’t smell right. It was too quiet…too still. Every other house, building, and vehicle they had apprehended had been occupied, and the inhabitants had at least shared a few choice words with the soldiers who had captured them. This place was unnervingly silent; alarmingly static. It seemed that not even breath other than Roy’s and her own broke the stagnant air of that little store.


It was unnatural, and Riza didn’t like the bitter taste it left in the back of her throat one bit.

Something was very wrong here, and she didn’t trust the atmosphere.

Roy, be careful, she urged silently, and turned slowly to see what he was doing.



Roy had moved away from the counter and was now cautiously inspecting the area behind the first row of low shelves beyond it. His boots crunched softly over the splinters of wood that littered the floor, and his heartbeat pounding in his ears was the only other noise that he could hear. No breathing, no frightened whimpers or pained cries like he had been hearing all day… Not a single sound of another living being had reached his ears of yet…and that had him troubled.

Nothing was this quiet on the front.


Nothing…




The lieutenant turned her eyes from Roy for a moment to glance up at the crumbling ceiling, then over and across to the large windows at the back of the store. Rows of shelves lined the floor, stacks of crates and boxes cluttered the corners… Plenty of places for someone to hide. Plenty of opportunities for a well-placed ambush to be carried out against a young pair of soldiers with no backup.

Riza was about to call softly to her commander to ask him to join her in a quick sweep of the back of the building when a feeling of electricity raced up her spine.


Trouble.


She could feel it for certain now.




This wasn’t right.

The tension in the air had reached a critical point, like the crest of a wave just before it broke.



Riza wasn’t going to let this wave break upon them.



Whirling back to Roy, she didn’t even have time to shout his name before an alarmed bleat somewhere between surprise and pain escaped his lips as something heavy and hard was brought down upon his left shoulder. He doubled over and spun to kick the legs out from under the Ishbalite man who had appeared from behind a second line of low shelves to his right, but down again came the wooden beam in the man’s hand, this time aimed for the back of the young major’s skull.


“Shousa! Left!!”

crakk!!




Without question, Roy threw himself to his left and felt the airstream from Riza’s bullet graze across his face as it whizzed past him and tore into the soft flesh below the Ishbal man’s ribs. There was a grunt of pain from the man, and he pitched to his knees. Roy somersaulted backward and rose to one knee, drawing his sidearm and pointing it at the man.


The dark-skinned man’s red eyes flashed dangerously, and he bared his teeth at Roy.

“You bastards,” he growled, cradling the gunshot wound in his side with his arm. “What gives you the right to come in here and run us out of our homes? Our towns?”

“Don’t move,” Roy said stonily, ignoring the man’s question.


“What gives you that kind of empowerment??” the man roared, and lunged for Roy.

Roy leveled his gun, then vacillated for just a second when he saw there were angry tears in the man’s eyes.


Tears?

This man…wept…? For the loss of his homeland and comrades, this man…wept…


How was Roy supposed to take this man’s life…?


He paused, openmouthed—





crakk, crakk!





---------------
And they killed the mountain people,
So they won their just reward…

---------------




Roy jumped when two gunshots rang through the air, zooming past his ear. He flinched when a small spatter of blood hit his face as the bullets buried themselves in the man’s chest, felling him instantly into a crumpled heap on the floor in front of the major’s feet. The man coughed once, twice, a few drops of blood leaking from the corner of his mouth, and then he fell silent, one arm outstretched toward Roy’s feet as if in one final attempt to shake a fist at the military driving him from his abode. Roy gave a rather undignified yelp and backpedaled away from the body, flinging the blood off his face and swallowing the nausea that roiled through his gut.


No matter how many times he saw someone die, he would never get used to it.

How could he? It didn’t matter how many lives were taken, it didn’t make it right…


Riza was instantly behind him, her small hand on his shoulder.

“Sir, you all right?” she asked urgently, and he nodded wordlessly, all of a sudden unable to find his tongue. He took a few deep breaths, then patted the back of Riza’s hand and moved to rise.

“I…I’m fine,” he told her, steadying himself on the battered counter of the store. He shook his head. “I…didn’t want to kill him…”

Riza’s eyes were solemn.

“Me either, Sir…” she admitted, “but he gave me little choice.”


Roy met her gaze, straightened his back, the adrenaline subsiding, and she gave him a look of disappointment.

He lifted an eyebrow.

“What?” he asked, confused by her expression.


“You still hesitate, Sir,” she scolded gently, and he frowned.

“Huh?”

She glanced at the dead Ishbalite at their feet, then lightly brushed her fingers over the Major’s left shoulder. He grimaced and recoiled.

“Ow! Dammit, Hawkeye, don’t poke it, that hurts!” he complained, covering his shoulder with his hand.


“Don’t be such a baby,” she chided. “Let me make sure nothing’s broken.”

“What difference does it make?” he wanted to know, a pout in his tone, and Riza tightened her lips. “There’s no med tent nearby.”

“I can set the bone if it is,” she reminded him, and he rolled his eyes heavenward.

“We haven’t got time for that,” he told her, deftly avoiding her fingers as she moved to prod the painful contusion again. “I can still move, so it’s not a top priority right now.” He moved away from the countertop and paused a moment in front of the dead man. Then he cast his black eyes back at the lieutenant. “Uh…I think you were scolding me…?” he prompted, and Riza almost laughed.


“Yes, Sir, I was,” she said. “I was scolding you for hesitating.” She shook her head as he walked around the counter back to the middle of the room and dropped to a crouch to relax and calm his nerves a moment. “You’re still clumsy with your sidearm.”


“Insubordinate!” he coughed good-naturedly, shoving his pistol back into the holster at his hip, and she narrowed her eyes.


“Sir…” There was a warning tone in her voice, and he suddenly became very interested in the ceiling. She gave a gusty sigh and leaned on the counter, further eradication of the enemy momentarily forgotten in the wake of the little incident. A shake of her head, then, “Roy, I’m being serious…”

He glanced at her.


Her brown eyes were troubled.

“I’m not saying that an outright bloodlust is necessarily a good thing,” she acknowledged, “but you’re far too reluctant to make a kill shot. You know as well as I do that we don’t have the luxury to be merciful anymore. It isn’t a matter of who’s right or wrong…”—she looked at her hands—“it’s a matter of who lives and who dies…”


Roy frowned, then furrowed his brow and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“That…doesn’t make it any easier…”


Her hands slammed down hard on the counter.

“Isn’t the preservation of your own life important to you?” she demanded, and he stood, straightening his back.



“Everyone likes to think that, put in a situation of life or death, they will choose wisely,” he told her shrewdly, and he lowered his head a little, obscuring his eyes in the shadows cast by his hair, “but who decides what the wisest decision is?”

She blinked.


Roy glowered, then looked sadly at her, gesturing with his uninjured arm at the dead man on the floor.

“What makes my life more important than his?”



Riza had no answer.



“In war there are no victors, really,” he continued, putting his hands in his pockets and slowly making his way to the far side of the shop to lean against the wall. “Even if your side wins, per se…what about all the men and women who died so you could…? Did they win…?”

He shook his head again.

“No… No I don’t believe they did…”



Riza started to reply (though she honestly wasn’t sure what the correct and prudent response was) when a sound caught her attention and she whirled, her gun drawn, her shoulders tight.

“Dareka--?!”




Footsteps in the doorway. Then,


“Papa?”


Riza inhaled sharply and nearly dropped the pistol out of her hand when she saw the form of a young girl in the doorway of the shop. She couldn’t have been much more than ten or eleven years old, with the bronze skin and crimson eyes that were trademark to all the Ishbal race. Her sepia hair was long and thick, divided into two braids that fell down her back.

But it was the look of absolute horror and anguish in the little girl’s ruby eyes that caught the lieutenant most off-guard.


Oh, God… What have I done…?



“Papa!!” the girl cried again, and dived past Riza to the fallen form of the Ishbal man behind the counter. “Papa! Papa, wake up!!”


Riza’s brown eyes darkened, and she quickly moved out from behind the counter as the little girl fell to her knees and clutched at the body of her father, sobbing. Roy still stood in the center of the room, hesitant to move from that spot.

What were the supposed to do about the child they had just made into an orphan?



The girl’s bright red eyes suddenly snapped open wide, and she lifted her head to glare daggers at Riza. She saw the gun in the lieutenant’s hand, and bared her tiny white teeth.

“Did you do this?” she demanded, her voice thick with rage and dripping with misery. “Did you shoot him? Did you kill him, you monster??”


Riza felt her stomach lurch toward her feet.

Monster? Was she really a…monster?


“I…”

Riza’s tongue wouldn’t work.

Roy’s face softened into an expression that wavered between remorse and indignation. He lifted his chin, but didn’t move from his position.

“And if he had slain one of us instead, who would have wept then, little girl?”


The child’s eyes flashed like flame.

“Nobody cries when military dogs die,” she snarled. “Who would weep for a jackal?”


“Even jackals have families.”


Her face crumpled and she began to sob again.

Riza’s maternal instincts couldn’t bear the sound of the child’s cries. Though the young lieutenant had no children…had no immediate plan for any…she dared not think there was a woman on earth who could stand by and allow a child to shed tears unfazed by them.

She took to a knee where she stood.


“Shoui?”

She raised her hand to silence Roy’s query, and he closed his mouth.

What the hell was she doing?


The lieutenant extended her hand toward the child.

“Come on, little one,” she beckoned gently. “You can’t stay here. Come with us and we’ll take you someplace safe—”


The girl’s head jerked up and her stony eyes bored like lasers into Riza’s. “Like the safe places you’ve run out the rest of us?” she hissed. “Death is the safest place of all, right?”

Riza was taken aback by the girl’s jaded perspective…then had to take into consideration the situation in which she had grown up. After all, the conflict in Ishbal had been raging for years. This child had probably barely been old enough to recall when it began… The lieutenant shook her head.


Children weren’t meant to be raised in the arms of war… Combat presented an awfully cold bosom… Riza hated to think what the future of the Ishbalites would have in store with their upcoming generation reared within the embrace of warfare.


“No, you’ll be killed if you stay here, child,” she said, and reached a little further.

“Get away from me!” the girl howled, clutching her father’s head to her chest. “I won’t let you take me away to die like the others!”

“We can take you outside the city,” Riza offered, “to a refugee camp—”


Red eyes flickered with black fury.

“I would rather die here with my father,” she growled dangerously, “than be an exiled gypsy!”




“Why, you ungrateful little—”

“Shousa, please…”


Roy bit his tongue and swallowed his curse.



Riza’s eyes turned back to the girl.

“Do you mean that?” she asked gently. “Do you really mean that? Because that’s what will happen if the others find you here.”

The child’s eyes were bitter and suspicious.


“And what makes you so different?” she demanded. “You killed my papa, but you won’t kill me?” She snorted a laugh. “You’re a liar, just like all the rest of them.”



“One more word out of you, you little brat, and I’ll—”

“Take the glove off, Shousa…”



Roy balked. How did she know he had…?

He scoffed and put his gloves back in his pockets.


He hated how she always knew what he was going to do just a millisecond before he did it.




Riza tried once more to appeal to the girl.

“Come on, now,” she implored, and reached a little further. “You’ll be safe at the camp. They won’t hurt you there. We don’t want to hurt you… We have orders to get you all out of these cities though.”

“And you haven’t got the courage to disobey an order and leave us in peace?”



Roy forbade himself to reach for his gloves again.



Riza shook her head.

“It’s not a decision we’re permitted to make,” she said slowly, and the girl shifted.


“I won’t go,” she said firmly. “Leave me here to die with my papa. I won’t go.”



Riza paused.


No, that wasn’t right. This girl had her whole life in front of her… She refused to let that life end here. And, before she had time to second-guess her choice, Riza had lunged forward and made to grab the child to take her away from this hollow of death.





---------------
Now they stand beside the treasure,
On the mountain, dark and red…

---------------





“I said I wasn’t going to go!!”



Riza halted where she knelt, too shocked to move further when the child reached behind her back and removed a gun.

A gun??


Where would a child get a—?


Wait… That was a…





Roy inhaled sharply.

A semi-automatic pistol… The child had a military-issued weapon…

That child had stolen a gun from a fallen soldier.

And now that stolen pistol…was aimed right at his subsidiary’s head.



His heartbeat quickened, and his eyes widened in alarm.

He weighed his options… Surely a child didn’t know how to wield a firearm very well. But Riza was in point-blank range of the handgun. Even if the shot wasn’t perfect, any shot to the head was likely to be a lethal one.


If Roy made a move to apprehend the child, Riza would be shot.

If he didn’t make a move to apprehend the child…Riza would be shot…


A cold sweat broke out on his brow.


Oh, shit… What am I supposed to…?



Riza’s tongue was dry; her mouth felt like it was clogged with cotton. She dared not move, for even if the girl didn’t know what she was doing, she obviously knew well enough that a gun was a weapon for killing…and that a simple yank of the trigger was enough to do it. A bullet in the eye wasn’t something people walked away from.


The child licked her lips, her hands shaking.


“I said I wasn’t going,” she repeated. “I won’t be run out of my home…of the shop my father worked his whole life to build… I won’t let you push me out because you think you’re better than me!”

Riza held up her hands, her own pistol clattering to the floor.


“Look, little girl, I…” she stammered, words failing her. She swallowed, and resisted the urge to look at Roy. If the girl had forgotten Roy was there, then all the better. She took a deep breath and held it a moment, then released it. Shook her head. “I don’t want you to…”


Her red eyes were slits of ire.

“I bet my papa didn’t want you to shoot him, either…”


Riza suddenly had a horrifying thought.

Was she going to die here…? At the hands of a little girl who was barely old enough to know what a gun was…?


Her right hand moved slowly down toward the holster at the small of her back. Of she could just get to her weapon, maybe she could fire a warning shot and get the girl to give up. But she was going to have to be very careful. The slightest wrong move would leave her with a shell in her skull.





Roy reached for his holstered sidearm.





The girl’s hands quavered again.

“I’ll… I’ll kill you…” she threatened, tears trickling from the corners of her eyes. Tears of grief or tears of fright, Riza wasn’t sure. “I’ll k-kill you…just like you killed my papa…!”

Her finger tightened on the trigger.





Roy slowly circled the room, moving into a position directly behind the lieutenant and the child. His motions were slow, cautious, almost liquid in their grace as he slithered, unnoticed, into place.




Riza knew she had to move now or she would never have the chance.


Her hand dropped to her side and snapped behind her, her fingers closing on the familiar base of the pistol at her back. Drawing it with speed that made her peers’ heads spin, she thrust her index finger into the trigger hold, and drove her arm forward, pressing the barrel of her gun directly into the girl’s shoulder.

“Drop the weapon,” she ordered, and to her credit, her voice only shook a little.

The girl smiled darkly, and it was the look of a creature who feared no death beyond the horrors she had seen alive.


“I’m not afraid of you, onee-san,” was all she said, tears now streaming freely down her brown cheeks, and her little finger tightened on the trigger of the stolen handgun.




Riza gasped.



Roy drew his gun.





“Shoui--!!”


crakk, crakk…crakk crakk!







Riza felt her heart skip a beat when four gun blasts jarred her ears, and the heat of the bullets singed the shoulder of her uniform as they raced past her. With a cry, she threw herself to the ground and covered her head with her arms.


crakk!



One final shot rang out.



She gasped and looked through the space between the floor and her arms.



Wait…Roy had only had four shells in his pistol! Two of the six bullets in his spare magazine had been fired before they had reached the village.

So that meant the fifth shot must have been from—


A stab of fear raced thick and cold through her veins as she watched in slow motion as the child’s hand fell limp around the pistol, three gunshots to the side of her face and another in her neck. The girl was dead before she hit the floor…but not before she had time to make one…final…choice…



…to pull the trigger of that gun in her hands.




“Shousa!?”




She whipped her head around, her hair falling over her eyes as she cast them upon Roy, who seemed frozen in place. There was an instant where time stood still, and Riza watched in horror as the bullet that had been intended to end her life missed its target by a long shot…



…and drove itself into the left shoulder of her commander.





“Roy!!”





Roy let out a cry as the bullet tore into his shoulder, a white-hot stab of agony streaking down his left arm and making his hand fall limp. Gritting his teeth, he let the momentum of the gunshot spin him as he pitched to the cold sandy ground of the store.





He hit the floor hard, and his breath left him a moment. Gasping, he grabbed his left shoulder with his right hand, feeling blood pool beneath his palm as it poured from the wound.


Riza scrambled to her feet and raced to where Roy fell. She dropped to her knees beside him and reached to cradle his head in her hands.

“Roy, are you--?”


He grinned through the pain in his arm.

“I’m fine,” he said, still grimacing. “It’s just…my shoulder… The same one, I might add, that got hit with a board fifteen minutes ago…” He scowled and moved his hand a little to try and look at the hole in his shoulder, but couldn’t see it clearly. He dropped his head back, resting it on Riza’s upturned palms. “I have no luck…”


She frowned and gently slid her hands out from beneath his head. He glanced at her a moment, trying to read her face…but with no success. He couldn’t tell if she was just worried, or if she was angry on top of that…or what!? His eyes narrowed.

He was no good at interpreting female facial expressions.


So, needless to say, he was a mite taken aback when Riza suddenly dropped her head onto his chest and let it rest there a moment.

He blinked.

“Uhm…”


“I’m so glad, Sir,” she breathed, clutching her fingers around his shirt as if afraid he would fall away from her. “I…was afraid you might…”


Roy’s eyes widened a little. Of all the reactions he had been looping through his mind…this had definitely not been one of them. He knew she was a good, caring person who would have done anything for someone close to her…but he would never have guessed she would be willing to show such openness with her sentiments.


Hawkeye was loyal; she was fiercely devoted to those she cared for… She was stalwart and dedicated; a gem among her fellow junior officers and a credit to her squadron. She was also a good friend…to Roy if no one else… Good-tempered, sure; quick-witted, indeed…

But affectionate? Seldom… And emotional? Never…



He wasn’t quite sure what to make of this…


Collecting herself, Riza realized that she probably looked pretty foolish about then, and lifted her head, sitting back on her haunches and taking Roy’s wrist to move his hand out of the way to try and inspect the wound.

He swatted at her.

“No, no, no!” he complained, then winced and grit his teeth again when the movement made his shoulder burn painfully. He sucked in a breath through his teeth, but didn’t move his hand from where it possessively covered the injury. “You’re too rough when you bandage wounds.”

She folded her arms.


“I am not,” she countered huffily, then knit up her face when he cringed again as he moved to sit up. “At least let me help you…”

She put one hand in the middle of his back and eased him into an upright position, casting worried eyes to the blood on the floor.

The wound hadn’t been fatal…but the loss of blood could turn out to be if something wasn’t done. She looked at Roy’s broad hand over the wound, and placed hers on top of it.


He felt an involuntary blush snake across his cheeks, and made a wordless sound of fluster.

She chuckled.

“Put pressure on the wound,” she instructed, still grinning at his pink face. “It’ll help slow the bleeding.”


“U…umu…” he stammered, and obeyed, wincing as he did so.


Riza sat up straight and glanced around. There had to be something she could use to dress the injury. Her eyes moved from the doorway to the counter, then to the back of the store.

Nothing… Nothing but broken wood, shattered glass, and the promise of ghosts…


She looked down at her hands, and her eyes focused on the coattails of her uniform.

The coattails of her…





Roy made a face as she repositioned herself and reached into the top of one of her boots. Confusion flooded his features when she withdrew her hand and had something small and silver clasped between her fingers. The expression intensified to one of shock when he realized what it was.

“Sho…Shoui, that’s one of…” he spluttered, pointing, and she smirked cleverly.


“Yes, it’s one of Hughes Shousa’s little daggers,” she affirmed, holding it up near her nose. “He gave it to me before we left, said it might come in handy keeping you in line.”

Roy blanched.


“Wha… What are you planning to do with it…?” he asked feebly, clutching his shoulder. “If you’re gonna use that to remove the bullet, Shoui, please bash me over the head with that wooden block first…”

Her brows lifted.

“Sir, I am not qualified to do that.”


He squinted.

“To bash me over the head?”

“To remove a bullet.”


“Oh. Phew…”


“But if you still want me to bash you over the head…”



Roy cocked an eyebrow at her, and she snickered. Then she turned her attention back to the task at hand.



She stabbed the kunai into the excess fabric of the tails on the uniform pants, and Roy made a sound of protest when she drew the blade all the way down the length of it and then started back the other direction.

“What are you doing??” he cried. “Your uniform—”

“—can be replaced,” she interjected sternly, still working on making a long, slender strip out of the fabric. She gave him a piercing stare. “But what are we going to do if you bleed to death here, Sir?”


He looked at her reproachfully.

“You think I’m that fragile, do you?”

A soft smile crossed her lips.

“Not at all,” she said honestly, “but no sense taking unnecessary risks, right?”

He nodded once, and watched her work.


He would never cease to be amazed by her steady hand. No matter what the situation, her hands never wavered. Even in the toughest of trials, Riza Hawkeye’s grip was firm and her movements precise. She sliced the fabric like a baker would cut strips of dough: fast, clean, and even. Roy thought to himself that so long as Riza was beside him, there wasn’t anything they couldn’t get through…


…not even this blasted war would stop them.



“Move your hand,” she said, and he did. She rolled the long strip of dark blue fabric around her arm to keep it from tangling, and didn’t meet his eye as she added, “And take off your shirt.”

He balked.

“I beg your pardon?”


She gave him a flat look.

“Sir, I cannot bandage the wound over your shirt…”


He flushed again, embarrassed by his own insinuation.

“Oh.”



Riza couldn’t help herself.

“Don’t worry, Shousa,” she assured him, “I wouldn’t take advantage of you while you were wounded.”



His eyes snapped open wide.

“—nda to??” he cried, and she bit her tongue to keep from laughing aloud at his reaction.

“Nothing, Sir.”



She bandaged the wound quickly, neatly, and tied it off with a final yank that made Roy grunt and cringe as pain throbbed through his shoulder.

“Sorry…” she said, and he looked at her ruefully, putting his hand over the injury again.

“I told you you were too rough…” he chided, and she just shook her head. He slid cautiously back into his shirt, leaving the left sleeve to dangle at his side, fearing the pain that would be forthcoming should he attempt to fit his arm back into it. He decided to forego the jacket. It was too much effort. Riza apparently concurred, because she had already picked it up and slung it over her arm to carry it away with them.



She rose to a crouch and looked anxiously at Roy.

“Can you walk, Sir?” she asked, and he snorted.


“Of course I can walk,” he insisted, pointing to his shoulder. “I got shot in the arm, not in the thigh…”

Riza looked a trifle deflated.

“Yes, of course, Sir…”

And she stood.


Roy dithered a moment, trying to figure out how to get to his feet without jarring his shoulder further, and was silently grateful when Riza extended her hand to assist him in the endeavor. Pulling him gingerly to his feet, the lieutenant watched him straighten his back slowly, carefully, as if testing to make sure he hadn’t knocked anything out of place when he had fallen hard to the floor.





---------------
Turned the stone…
---------------




Roy stood still a moment, and cast his dark eyes back toward the corner where the Ishbal man and his daughter now lay dead. He shook his head.


“Why…?” he mused aloud, and Riza lifted her eyebrows inquiringly. “Why did they have to die…?”

She squinted.


“They didn’t,” she replied. “In the end, they chose to…”





---------------
…and looked beneath it…
---------------




He absently kneaded the bandaged shoulder again, still grimacing a little, though he wasn’t really doing it on purpose. His black eyes lingered on the shadowy forms of the two bodies in the corner, and a shiver crept up his spine.

How many more lives was he to leave in his wake?

He kneaded the shoulder a little harder.


Then he made a small squeaking sound when he felt Riza sidle up next to him and slide her arm around the middle of his back.

“Don’t,” she scolded, reaching up to swat his hand away from the wound. “You’ll make the bleeding worse.”

She eased his left arm around her shoulders, cringing along with him as he bit his tongue to keep from gasping as the bullet within his flesh screamed in protest at being shifted. Once his arm was repositioned to her satisfaction, they sighed in tandem, and she felt him sag a little where he stood.

He looked at her appreciatively, and a brief moment of flustered agitation flashed across her face as she quickly assured him it was only because the less pressure he put on the arm right now, the better the chances were the shoulder would heal completely…

He scratched the back of his neck with his right hand.


“If you say so,” he chuckled. “You’re the boss.”

“Actually, Sir, you outrank me.”


He sighed and shook his head.

“That’s what made it a joke, Riza…”



She was momentarily startled by his use of her first name, then smiled softly.

“And that’s why you’re a soldier and not a comedian, Roy,” she shot back, and he laughed.




While she had never once been guilty of insubordination…Riza Hawkeye never missed an appropriate opportunity to give her commanding officer a hard time.




They started slowly for the door, and Roy paused a moment in his steps to cast a glance at the father and daughter one last time.

Ironic how they had fallen in their last moments… The father, his hand outstretched, and the daughter, on her back, her fingers just brushing his. Perhaps it was a sign that they would find one another in the next life…?

Or perhaps it was a sign that Roy was thinking too much into things…



“Wait,” he implored gently as Riza started to move forward again.

“Sir?”

“Cover her with my jacket…” he entreated her, and she tilted her head.

“She’s…dead, Sir,” the lieutenant reminded him. “She won’t feel it.”

He closed his eyes.


“I know… Just…please…?”




Without further asking, Riza noiselessly slid out from beneath his arm and walked over to the fallen family. Taking the bloodied jacket from where it hung on her arm, she draped it lightly over the little girl, covering her face, which was still twisted in rage and fear, even in death. Letting her hand linger over the child’s body for a moment, Riza bowed her head, then rose and returned to Roy’s side just as silently as she had left it.





---------------
‘Peace on Earth’ was all it said…
---------------




Slipping beneath his hurt arm again, she nudged him toward the door. Outside, she could hear the loud, raucous shouts of Kimblee and some of the other officers; a few snide laughs and a whoop of triumph, and assumed that the day’s mission had been completed.

Another Ishbal village had been eradicated.

She absently wondered if Roy was the only one who had been injured…? Or if some of the squad hadn’t even come back…?


It didn’t really matter, she guessed. Worrying about it wouldn’t change the outcome…nor regretting it alter the results. In the end, what happened…happened… And no amount of ruing would bring the dead back, or help heal the injured. She deduced it was best to roll with the punches and just hit the ground running, as they said.

She jumped when she felt Roy’s head list against hers.


“Sir…?” she beckoned, and he sighed. “Roy, what are you…?”

“I don’t want to do this anymore, Riza…” he said, his voice low and cheerless. “War is one thing… Killing to defend your rights is one thing… But this…?” He scoffed bitterly. “This is just slaughtering a race of free people because we think we’re better than they are…”


She frowned.

“I know,” she said, her fingertips rubbing the center of his back lightly. “It’s not right…but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

His eyes darkened.


“Not yet, maybe,” he said, and didn’t elaborate.

Riza didn’t ask him to.


She didn’t have to.




After a moment of walking in silence, she inhaled briefly, opened her mouth to speak, closed it again, and then gnawed on her lip.

“Say it,” he chuckled, and she ‘hmm?’ed at his request. “You want to say something…so say it.”


“Sir, I…” she began, and then shook her head. “No… Roy…” she corrected, and gave him a small, sad smile, “thank you.”

He pulled his head away from hers a little to give her an odd stare.

“For what?”

Her smile widened a little, and she turned her eyes forward again.

“For not hesitating,” she said slowly. “That was the first time you fired your gun without second-guessing…”


He puffed a short laugh.

“I think I’m finally starting to understand how you think, Riza,” he admitted.

“Oh?”

He nodded.


“When it was my own life in danger, I was still reluctant to take that of another,” he said, and shook his head. “But when it was the life of someone important to me…nothing else mattered.” He glanced down at her. “I…think I understand you a little now.”

She straightened her back a little, and looked at him sidelong.

“I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks,” she quipped, and he clunked his head against hers again.


“Somehow,” he said, “I think maybe things will start to go up from here.”

“Think so?”


“I do.”

“Why’s that?”

He rubbed his chin with his right hand.


“Because…now I know that I’ll have eyes in the back of my head everywhere I go.”

“Haven’t I been telling you that ever since we got here?”

“But now I am sure I’ve got the power to reciprocate.”

“I never doubted you did, Sir,” she said honestly, and then shook her head. “Not that I would ever have asked for reciprocation.”


“And I never asked you to do it in the first place.”

“You didn’t have to.”


He grinned.

“So…how about…I’ll get your back,” he proposed lightly, “so long as you’ve got mine?”

“Way ahead of you, Sir…”





---------------
Go ahead and hate your neighbor
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of heaven,
Justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowin’
Come the judgment day…
On the bloody morning after…
One tin soldier rides away.

---------------


one piece to go. whaddya think? happy.gif i love pre-series roiai! XD


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Quistis88
post Feb 3 2005, 09:20 PM
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Keep the goodness coming, sensei. biggrin.gif


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hagane_no_tokage
post Feb 3 2005, 10:03 PM
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thanks quis! here is the last piece. enjoy! XD






Brigadier General Roy Mustang stared silently at the marble headstone before him, frowning at the letters that were etched across it, and thought back to that day.

That was the day he had first decided… Decided that the only way he was going to be able to reprieve himself of the blood upon his hands was to put himself in a position where he would never again have to follow the order to take another life. That was the day he had decided he was going to become the daisotou.


The ghostly red eyes of the little girl who had died so long ago still haunted him to that day, and he unconsciously lifted his right hand to his left shoulder.


The bullet wound had healed long ago...he had regained full use of his shoulder with minimal recovery time. It hadn’t been, in the long run, nearly as bad as it could have been.

But it had left a scar.


It was small, round, about the diameter of an acorn and slightly concave…barely noticeable unless one was looking for it in particular. More so than its visibility, Roy had always been troubled by how it still seemed to ache from time to time. Every once in a while, just for a moment, his shoulder would twinge…as if the ghosts of the people who had died by his hands so long ago were pawing at him from wherever they had gone… Reminding him, in a way, that his sins would never fully be forgiven.


He had never expected them to be…


His black eyes moved back to the headstone by his feet, and then swept upward to the wide field beyond it.

Alabaster snow had coated the grass in a think blanket of white, the hundreds of other gravestones poking up out of the icy powder and breaking the flat surface. They all stood stoically in lines, as if in one final salute; their regal rows of marble and stone guileless reminders of those who had been lost in the line of duty.


His eyes drifted back down to the marker before him, scanning the lines etched into the stone.


“How long has it been now, Old Friend?” he asked softly. “You know I’ve meant to visit you more often… But, well, things have been kind of busy.” He smiled a little. “I’m sure you understand. But I still feel rather guilty. I missed your birthday and everything…”

He scratched the back of his neck.


“I…have been doing a lot of thinking recently,” he added, “about some of the things you always told me before you left.” His eyes shifted nervously.





He restlessly cleared his throat.

“I’m…sure you’ve noticed I still don’t have a wife…”

Another dark chuckle.

“But you know how hard it is to find a good woman nowadays…”





The wind blew past, and Roy hunched up his shoulders a little but, his hands clutched near the collar of his blue uniform jacket. He inhaled sharply and shuddered a little, then rubbed his palms together.

Damn…maybe he should have taken his coat after all…



He blew on his hands and sighed softly before addressing the grave again.

“But things have been pretty good lately,” he admitted. “Though I must say the paperwork never stops piling up.” He tilted his hat. “It’s damn tough to do it all by myself, you know…?” A shake of his head. “But it’s not like you ever volunteered to help out pushing papers for me anyway…” he laughed, and then shoved his hands in his pockets, his eyes suddenly a little sad. “I still miss you, Maes,” he said slowly. “Everyone tells me that it will stop hurting one day…but I really don’t think it will.” He shook his head again. “You were there for me when nobody else was, and I haven’t forgotten that. I never will…”


Roy’s head lifted slightly when he thought he caught the faint sound of a voice on the wind, calling to him. He glanced left, then right, and then back at the tombstone.

“Are you messing with me?” he asked jokingly, and stopped to swipe the snow off the top of his friend’s headstone. “Because I would have thought we were past all that by now…”


His hand lingered atop the stone a moment. It was so cold beneath his palm it made his skin ache.

“I’d have brought some flowers for you,” he offered, “but I know you’d scold me for wasting money on something that would only last a day or two.” He chortled, putting his hands back in his pockets. “You did have your logical moments…”



Confusion flashed across his features as he once again thought for certain he heard someone calling out to him. Squinting, still leaned over the tombstone, he cast his eyes to either side, then straightened.

“Hughes, you still delight in getting the better of me, don’t you?” he laughed, certain now that he was losing it. “You’ll keep toying with me till the day I join you, huh…?” He smiled fondly. “No rest for the eerie, perhaps…?” He lifted an eyebrow in the direction of the headstone, as if he could give Hughes a reproachful look for his ethereal antics.


The nerve… Playing with the brigadier general’s mind like that… Hughes didn’t outrank him anymore, so Roy wouldn’t stand for his games any longer…

He folded his arms and turned away for a moment.





“Junshou~!”





Roy whirled back, and contemplated flinging a snowball at Hughes’s gravestone, when it dawned on him it had been a woman’s voice that had shouted.

Lifting his head, he glanced over his shoulder to see Hawkeye hurrying toward him, one hand lifted in a sort of beckoning wave. Her long hair wasn’t pulled up in its trademark bun today… Instead, she had opted to leave it long, fastened in a low ponytail at the base of her neck, and it sashayed behind her as she jogged up the long path through the cemetery to where Roy stood.


Roy suddenly rolled his eyes skyward and sent Hughes a quick apology for the previous accusation of haunting.


Then he looked back to the lieutenant, his eyes tracing the lines of her silhouette against the snow.

She was wearing a long, steel blue trench coat over her uniform, her small hands covered by soft black gloves. Roy smiled a little at the pinkish tint of her cheeks—her fair skin always rouged a little when the air was this cold.


“Junshou,” she said, leaning over a little, slightly winded from rushing to meet him, “I thought I’d find you here…”

He gave her a look.


“Is…it a problem for me to be here?”

She lifted her head and glowered at him, then thrust her arms out at him.


“It is,” she said, “when you don’t wear your coat in the snow.” She puffed a sigh. “Honestly, Sir, how are you ever going to catch up with all the paperwork you have to do if you come down with pneumonia?”

He paused, openmouthed for a moment, and then chuckled, taking his long black coat from her outstretched hands.

“You’re right,” he said, sliding into the coat with a grateful nod in her direction, “what was I thinking…?”

He shivered—the lining of the coat was so cold!—and then folded his arms across his chest tightly.



Riza sighed gently, watching her breath rise before her face in a cloud of condensation in the cold air. Winter had snuck up on them this year, she mused. It usually didn’t snow in Central for another month or so… She wondered if it was some sort of sign of things to come? She glanced at Roy, and a flicker of contemplation crossed her face.


“Something wrong, Sir?” she asked lightly, catching the far-off look in his eyes.

“Hm?” He turned his eyes to her, and she lifted her eyebrows. “Er…nothing, Chuui,” he replied. “I was just…thinking.”

She chuckled.

“A dangerous pastime, Sir.”

He grinned, despite himself.


“I like life on the edge.”

“Aa, sou…”



He glanced at her, his eyes narrowed slightly.

“Na~, Chuui,” he spoke up abruptly, and she tilted her head to look at him. “Why do you suppose it is so in human nature to fight…?”

“Sir?”


He sighed.

“All throughout the history of this world, humans have been plagued by wars,” he told her. “We learned all about them growing up, and now that we are adults, we participate in them, and then the next generation will only have more wars to read about…” He frowned. “Why is it that humans are the only creatures that settle their affairs with guns and tanks…?”

Riza pondered this a moment.


What an unusual question coming from him… While he had never agreed with the reasons behind the conflict in Ishbal and the subsequent war that had erupted around it…he had never really questioned the motives of war in general. As a soldier, he hadn’t really the luxury of such idealistic thoughts…

She gave him a sidelong look.


“It is in human nature to fight, Sir,” she said. “As arguably the most intelligent and evolved creatures in this world, we seek more flamboyant ways of working out our differences…” She pursed her lips. “I believe the reasoning behind it is…the bloodier the war, the more it feels like a victory for the winner…”


Roy scoffed.

“How twisted is that…?”


“But, Sir, the principle remains the same,” she reminded him. “Whether it’s humans fighting over religion and belief or lions fighting over control of the prime hunting grounds…the attitude is the same. He who leaves with the most men, winner or loser, has won by default.”

“But the method is different.”


“Not really…” she countered, sensing frustration in his voice. “Both species use every resource available to them in order to win. A gun and a tank are, in effect, not so different from claws and a bite to the jugular when you think on a rudimentary level…now is it?”

Roy scowled comically.


“Stop mucking up my complaints with your logic,” he scolded, and she laughed.


He shook his head, all silliness gone from his eyes again, and furrowed his brow.




“I just…fail to see how the children who grow up playing with tin soldiers…end up becoming them so easily. How can a boy who fought such righteous wars against injustice in his own juvenile world of make-believe…grow up to take part in such a pointless and unwarranted confrontation like what happened all those years ago in Ishbal…?”



“Perhaps, Sir,” Riza spoke up after a slight pause, “those boys who grew up playing war games with toys believed that the same rules applied in real life…?”


He looked at her, and her brown eyes were soft.


“I think that all children want to be heroes, Roy Mustang,” she said honestly, “and perhaps they don’t realize right away that sometimes the heroes have to make hard decisions, too…”

“But how can someone who is responsible for so much death be called a hero…?” he asked sadly, and she reached out to take his hand between hers.


“I have taken lives for the sake of yours, Sir,” she told him slowly, her voice quiet as she stared at the back of his ungloved hand. “But…I do not feel as though I did something so wicked.” She lifted her eyes to him. “What kind of heroine would I have been if I had let my commander die in action because I was unwilling to take the life of someone else?”

He jumped, and his mouth fell ajar.


“Chuui…”


She shook her head and let go of his hand, turning to Hughes’s grave with a heavy gaze.

“I did what I had to do to ascertain your safety, Sir,” she told him. “And if that meant taking the life of someone else, that was what I did. I don’t think that makes me any more commendable than anyone else. I did what anyone would do to safeguard someone important to them.”


Roy was momentarily lost for retort, her words having struck a chord somewhere deep within his core.

Somehow…no matter the situation…everything Riza said had a point he had yet failed to realize.



“People die, Junshou,” she reminded him sincerely, no gloom or sadness in her voice, “and there is nothing we can do about that but accept it and move on.” She met his ebony eyes and her face was shaded in empathy. “That goes, too, for the ones who died by our own hands…” Hey eyes flashed like chestnut flame, her expression passionate and determined. “Don’t think I don’t understand what you’re going through, Sir… I know. I was there, in case you’ve forgotten…”


He shook his head.

“I haven’t…”


She smiled gently at him.

“In the end…we’re all going to die some day,” she said. “We know that…the Ishbalites knew that… The choices we make in life are only stepping stones across the ocean toward what’s beyond a horizon we can’t see… You never know where the end of it will drop off…but you can’t just stop walking.” She spared a brief look back in the direction of the tombstone. “I’m sure even Maes agrees with me.”


He laughed smoothly.


“Maes could never argue with a pretty face.”


An impish sparkle of brown eyes.

“And what about you, Sir?”


His gaze glittered mischievously and the corners of his mouth twitched up into one of his signature smirks.




“I plead the 5th, Chuui.”




She rolled her eyes, then nodded her head back toward the towering HQ building just over the hill.

“Come on, Sir,” she urged, “let’s get back… I could go for a nice hot cup of tea, how about you…?”


He stuck out his tongue and fell into step beside her as she headed off the cemetery grounds.

“To this day I have no idea how you can drink that lemon crap,” he told her frankly, and she lifted one golden eyebrow.

“As I will never understand how one can drink his coffee black…”


He laughed.

“Perhaps some things are not meant to be understood?”

“A few ambiguities between comrades are permissible, I suppose, Sir…”


He put his arm around her slim shoulders.

“Ah, but of all the things I don’t understand about you, Chuui,” he said, and she stiffened slightly at his sudden close contact, “the one I fear I will never fully comprehend…is how you got to be so wise…?”


She grinned, relaxed, and—what the hell?—slung her arm around his middle.


She absently noted that he didn’t seem startled at all by her actions in turn to his own.

“Because sometimes, Sir,” she began, and her voice trailed off softly.


He glanced down at her.

“Sometimes…?” he prodded.


She rewarded him with a genuine smile and leaned her head against him briefly.




“Sometimes, Sir…wisdom and evolution…do travel together…”






fin.




the end! laugh.gif thanks again quis, for all your help! i hope you guys enjoyed the story! ♥ ♥ ♥


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Quistis88
post Feb 3 2005, 10:05 PM
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No problem, kage. And you've already heard everything I have to say about this entire piece. But I'll sum it all up again with one word: Splendid. biggrin.gif


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hagane_no_tokage
post Feb 3 2005, 10:19 PM
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wub.gif awww, you're the best, quis. hey, if things don't work out with your...*snerk* girlfriend, you can always call me. laugh.gif


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Hex-Sama
post Feb 4 2005, 10:18 PM
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@Tokage: ohmy.gif I'm kinda speechless. It's another one of the best Roy/Riza fanfics I've read. Chapter 3 is were that little girl got shot right? That was sad sad.gif . Thank goodness Riza and Roy made it out okay. The last chapter made me cry. Seriously sleep.gif . I started crying when Roy was talking to Hughes. I'm such a sissy laugh.gif . Then after I cried for 5 minutes,and then I lmao from the comments Roy and Riza made about different stuff. You like jerking around with my emotions, don't you biggrin.gif ? This fanfic is a 10 out of 10 in my book. Once again, you reign supreme as the fanfic master laugh.gif !


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hagane_no_tokage
post Feb 4 2005, 11:07 PM
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awww, gosh, hex, you're far too kind. wub.gif heh, but yah, you caught me. i love playing with peoples' emotions. think it makes for good drama, don't you? happy.gif glad you enjoyed it. working on another one already, otanoshimi ni~!


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Fullmetal Fangir...
post Feb 5 2005, 04:15 PM
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*sniff* that was beautiful...ah...is thr going 2 be a sequal?


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hagane_no_tokage
post Feb 5 2005, 09:00 PM
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er...not exactly a sequel... but ah...i am working on another pre-series roiai for valentine's day...thanks to a request from someone. ^.^ please look forward to it! XD pre-series is so fun. it leaves so much open to my overactive imagination.


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