"Issues, my dear, you have issues," replies her first boyfriend when she tries to reject his offer of shell earrings. It is all the rage in West City to have beautiful shell earrings, and it is a shame she doesn't care.
She is sixteen, and thinking of what is beyond the walls of this tiny suburb of West City.
He isn't unattractive. Long black hair, brown eyes, sometimes freckles, and wants to open a shop. Taller than her by a hand's breadth, and lanky. The first adventurer to brave the girl who gossip says heads straight to the shooting range every day after school. They say leaves the target after an hour and an entire round of shots with only one or two holes in the target's chest.
She laughs. "They're so expensive. I don't need them."
He folds an arm around her shoulders.
"You have your ears pierced."
"I would hope you would want earrings then."
"I appreciate the thought."
She kisses him, pushing the earrings back in his hand.
She thinks about joining the military.
It's not hard to spot Alphonse Elric, or hear Alphonse Elric for that matter; the clink, clink, clang! as the armor grates against itself and hits the ground are easily distinguishable in the hustle and bustle of the Central street market. If Liza doesn't see him towering over the multi-colored crowd, she'd still be able to hear him.
Black Hayate attempts to relieve himself on yet someone else's freshly-cut grass and she jerks the blue cotton leash slightly. The two black eyes look up at her and pout, and she points to a tree in the park.
"You'll be able to go over there."
The suit of armor moves past her without a greeting, and she turns around.
"Good morning, Alphonse Elric."
A meow answers her and she could swear the armor registers an embarrassed look. She's studied a bit of alchemy, wanting to know exactly what it is her commanding officer pays more attention to than his real job, and doesn't think even soul alchemy would allow inanimate objects to move and twist, display emotion. But she doubts the theories of alchemy, prefers the solid physical world and alchemy in practice if anything, and if Alphonse Elric-as-armor displays emotion, well, he does!
"Umm...yes, no? I'll get rid of it by the end of the week, I promise!"
She scratches her head. "I don't mind if you keep it."
The armor relaxes, or seems to—this is just confusing her. She hasn't talked to Alphonse alone before. "Miss Hawkeye, you're so nice. But Brother, he claims we can't take care of it, he invokes the principle of Equivalent Trade—"
"I'm not an alchemist. That means nothing to me."
He begins to explain and she cuts him off. "I know what it is, I just don't believe in it."
His "face" falls. Equivalent trade is his world; he's rarely ever been around someone who isn't an alchemist, she realizes, and decides to make the subject less dangerous.
"If I believed in your equivalent trade I probably wouldn't have picked up this little one here," and she gestures to Black Hayate, who twitches his back leg nervously. "Oh, right. Can we walk a little farther? Otherwise, I think this little guy will explode."
"I just-Brother's not going to let me keep this for that long, and I don't know what to do..."
They reach the same conclusion that instant and she sighs.
"All right, I suppose I can keep him for you. Black Hayate needs to learn that the world doesn't revolve around him anyway."
She would swear before the Fuhrer himself that the suit of armor is smiling.
"Just find someone else to foist the next cat on, please."
"Who was it?" she demands.
"What?" mumbles Breda, while being rather fascinated by his desk.
"It was a dare!" squeaks Fury.
She glares at Falman, who winces.
"We were all trying. Whoever got it gets—"
"Money, right?" The betting and the daring is rampant in this office. The favorite was always "let's blackmail the Colonel", but they must have decided on a new target this time.
She idly wonders how much money's in the pot this week.
"I still don't know what you're talking about," mumbles Breda in some semblance of courage.
The door pushes open; one annoyed and three scared faces turn toward the door.
A laugh. "Come here, boys, it took quite a while in a tree but you'll see how a master photographer—"
The door is fully open and the Colonel stands with his mouth agape, a picture in his hand. The picture is a beautifully detailed and centered one of Liza Hawkeye's naked back.
"Lieutenant, weren't you on break..?" he asks as he hurredly tries to shove the picture in his jacket. She snatches it out of his hand and leans in so close she can see that he didn't do a great job shaving this morning.
"You were in that tree all night, weren't you?" she asks, and he looks around, laughs nervously, and nods.
"If you weren't my superior," she says, "I would punch you right now."
She whirls around to face the others. "Now, I think I deserve a little monetary compensation for this...insult."
Liza bends over the withered plants in front of Central headquarters and frowns. The mid-summer sun beats down in Central today, and only the military personnel wear more than a small shirt and shorts.
"What's wrong, Lieutenant?" asks Havok, late to work as usual, customary cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
"Someone isn't taking care of these plants. We haven't had any rain in a week and now these poor things are dying." She lifts up a nearly-brown leaf of a germanium to demonstrate.
Havok scratches his head. She sighs and motions him inside the building. Up the stairs (two flights) and in the third door to the right, she pulls out a watering can. Down the hall in the kitchen she runs into the Colonel, who is making his customary lunch of oatmeal on the stove.
"Gardening isn't your job, Lieutenant," he says, slightly amused.
"Someone isn't doing their job and the plants are suffering," she says and fills the watering can to the brim.
"Do you intend to go around the entire building and water all the plants?" he asks, and she affirms. He gives her a little nod, and takes his finished oatmeal back into his office where she can hear the Fullmetal Alchemist and his brother stomping around.
Central Headquarters is rather large, and there are a lot of plants that range the building. She works for nearly an hour, and refuses to acknowledge the faces that keep poking out of a certain window in the building. She's taken off the heavy blue military jacket, and sweat runs down her face from the heat. But she continues to bend over and let the water flow forth on the dying—or perhaps not so much dying, anymore—plants. She smiles; at least she can help this way. She'll find out who neglected duty tomorrow, and make sure they accomplish the job from now on.
She pretends not to see the blue dot topped with black that watches her from the top of the building. But her eyes are drawn to the window as an alchemical flash resonates through the windowpane, and right above her there is a little grey cloud that sends little raindrops to bounce off her skin. The water mixes with the sweat, and she feels a little cleaner.
Three heads look out the window this time: one metal, one almost too short to fit in the window, and the black-haired one from before. This time, she acknowledges them.
"It's a very welcome rain," she calls upward.
She toasts Major Mustang's promotion with a speech that moves the Fuhrer to tears. It is a general formal celebration for Ishbar.
She does not believe her words and berates herself for the lack of understanding. Lack of understanding, of. Herself. Her new position under a man who wants to subert himself into being the ruler of the military. How many houses fell under flames? How many hearts stopped by bullets? She's so practical and so stupid.
In flames. In bullets. In death. In shadow. In earth. In nothing.
This is what she would think, if she had the capacity to understand.
Gunshots from Isbhar still echo in her ears, and she does not understand why.
Somehow, at some point, she has moved outside. Somehow, at some point, she has lost her silver bracelet and silver hairclip.
And here is Hughes, all formal, suit and even tie.
"Liza, what's wrong?"
"There's nothing wrong," she says in an even tone and he takes the wine glass (she just used it to make the toast, just used it to make the toast) away from her.
Here's Mustang, who was jubilant with flushed cheeks and a wide grin only a few moments ago. She is too enveloped in her un-understanding to even see what lurks malignant behind the smile, now a frown.
"I don't understand," she says, and raises the glass she snatches back from Hughes. To the moon, that just a few weeks ago hindered her shooting eye. "To Central in ruins. I don't understand that I don't understand."
The brown-haired young recruit with glasses abruptly stops speaking when she walks into the courtyard.
"Excuse me," she murmurs as she pushes through the black-coats, and notes the whispers behind her. "Scary", "brilliant", "sharpshot".
After the whole "Scar in the rain" incident, Breda informed her with a smirk, rumors started about her having insane power and designs for Fuhrer. The Colonel must know—Hughes is a very efficient set of ears—but is surely silent due to his...embarassment about the whole event. It was a helpful lesson for him, she thinks, and thankfully came at a time when it was not a life-or-death matter. Though it could have been, had she not interfered.
She turns around, slipping the ever-present gun out of its holster at her back as she does. The recruits freeze.
A quick survey of the area reveals that there's a perfect-sized tree branch on the ground; ban-ban-ban-ban-bang! Five shots burrow into the wood in the shape of a heart.
The group cringes and stares. One foot in front of the other, slowly, she steps back to and into the building.
In several days the Colonel will pull her off to the side, ask her to stop scaring recruits with the unspoken pouted your reputation is becoming bigger than mine behind the conversational tone. She'll look up at him, eyes wide, and say "I was just giving them what they wanted."
Now, she can't stop laughing.
Liza sits on a spare chair in the hallway outside the mess that is and will soon cease to be the East City Office of Mustang, and writes a letter on a clipboard.
Dear Mom and Dad,
How are you and Jessica? I'm well.
"You look like death," says Breda; the first one in this morning other than her and the Colonel.
"You're always so charming," she says, and jots down a couple more words.
"Really, Lieutenant, you should go home," he says, somewhat nervously, and she shakes her head. Waves one hand.
"Keep working; this stuff needs to be loaded up, and I'd be helping if the Colonel hadn't ordered me to stop."
I'm taking a break from packing. Our entire office is moving back to Central. I've been helping since six this morning, but the Colonel told me to stop and take a break so he could force the others to work harder, so here I am. He never thinks Breda or Fury work hard enough. They do. He's just a perfectionist.
She had been packing since seven the night before. There was a methodology to it, a quiet use of strength and logic in placement within boxes that pleased her. The Colonel had ordered everyone out at midnight, but she pretended not to hear. After Fury, Breda, Farman and Havok had all gathered up their coats and left, he turned to her across a mess of paper, office supplies, and boxes.
"I said leave, Lieutenant."
"I'm not making you pack all this up by yourself."
"Everyone will be back to help in the morning. You need to go home and sleep."
"No more than you do. Not to mention..." she hesitated, looking away.
"What?" he demanded, and she looked him straight in the eyes.
"There have been concerns about your mental state this past week."
He didn't react for a moment, as if even the idea was foreign.
"I could mirror those concerns right back at all of you. It's wonderful that you all have so much faith in your leader," he snapped, and she was silent.
He didn't bother her about leaving anymore after that. She wondered about it for a few minutes, but before long was entranced in the rhythm of wrapping and taping, and did not think other than that in such a sleepy haze.
All these boxes around me remind me of when we moved from the village to West City. We couldn't take all my books and I cried so hard. But you promised to buy me more books after a few months there, and you did.
When the clock in the hallway chimed seven, the Colonel did not turn as he spoke:
"Take a break, Lieutenant. I don't care what you do with it. That's an order."
"Yes, sir," she said, coldly, violently saluting, and felt horrible about it as she trudged out to the hallway with a pen and paper.
There's not much to pack in the office. The majority of the boxes are filled with intelligence files, from-
The other three file past her, shouting and laughing and stopping to salute before heading inside the room.
Havok pokes his head back into the hallway.
"Hey, the Colonel's asleep." She stands up with the wall as support, straightens her uniform, walks into the maze of boxes. He's slumped on the floor, resting his head and arm on a taped box, blue overcoat thrown in a corner.
"I'd tell you to move him, but then he'd wake up and start making a fuss," she whispers.
"He hasn't been sleeping much since..." trails off Fury, and all the men suddenly tense and look away.
"You're right," she says. "Another good reason why we shouldn't try move him. I suggest you all return to work as quietly as possible."
-well, we lost Hughes, who was always an informal member of our team. It was a murder (a shock to us all) and is still under investigation. The Colonel is especially distraught and tries to hide it for our sake. Hughes was a wonderful man and a loyal officer. We miss him dearly.
Breda whispers jokes to the others and they snicker while carting boxes through the door, down the stairs, to the waiting coal-black military van. She writes the last lines of the letter using a box in place of a desk. She wonders whether things will ever be completely all right again.
I have faith that we will find the murderer and bring him to justice. The Colonel is a great man, and he will be able to overcome this tragedy. We all will.
May things be well in the next month.
"I've never been to the ocean," she says to the soldiers near her. They are sleeping after another day of raining bullets upon Ishbar.
"Not many of us have," laughs a soldier with glasses she has forgotten the name of. "I went once with my family, when we were all very little."
There's a pause, filled with the popping and crackling of the campfire.
"Was it pretty?" she asks, a little awkwardly, attempting to foster some conversation among the troops. Morale is low, as it logically would be after seeing so many comrades die. She has numbed herself. Most have not. The group around this campfire is from various platoons and everyone is tired or sleeping. Except her.
The man next to the soldier with glasses sits up. He scurries to cover himself with the blanket but before he does she notices a silver chain that must lead to a National Alchemist pocketwatch. She salutes. He looks downward.
"You don't have to salute, not here. Let's pretend, Miss I-Don't-Know-Your-Name, let's pretend that we're at the ocean, where everything is warm. That thing we did when we were children, you know?"
She gathers her blanket further around her; the major paradox here is that they are in the desert, and yet the nights are cold enough to freeze water.
"It would be wonderful to be somewhere warm," she says. The National Alchemist's friend gently tells him to lay down, but he keeps talking in a whispy, near-monotone voice.
"Okay, Miss, so we're at the shore. Maybe the Southern one, that's nice and warm most of the year. There's sand everywhere, like this sand but softer, so hot it can burn your feet if you're not careful until you reach the water. There are little children, happy little children everywhere, building sand castles and treading water with their parents. And the ocean itself, it glimmers blue—"
Who is this National Alchemist, she wonders, who is this alchemist (by deduction a scientist) that can talk in such poetics?
They dream together for what is likely an hour, him supplying the situation and her answering questions of his so he can elaborate the story for her. Make it her story.
A question finds its way to the center of her thoughts. "What does the sea sound like?"
"It's very hard to explain," he says, very slowly, and smiles at her. "The roar of the sea is like....the opposite of the crackling of fire. It's very beautiful and strong. Like the sound of your voice."
She tries to figure out what to reply, and just as she is about to speak the National Alchemist's friend with the glasses (2nd Lieutenant Hughes, that's who he is, she remembers) motions downward. The alchemist who tries to hide his rank has slowly sank downward during the midst of their conversation, and is now asleep.
The second Lieutenant shrugs at her, and smiles, and she wonders why he has remained silent all conversation. He arranges himself on the ground to sleep, she does the same, but she doesn't sleep for maybe another hour. The picture of the sea is too vivid.
Havok's very happy today, whistling and not slouching like the usual. There's a bouquet of roses hidden in the closet; she found them and was rather puzzled to discover he hadn't put them in water. She found a little bucket to stick some water in, and muttered to herself about plant-ignorant boys.
So he has a date, she figures. Well, that's at least one of them other than their Bold and Fearless leader with his Conquest of the Week.
Aforesaid Colonel saunters in the door, stretches his arms in his coat. "Ahh, I just had the most wonderful date with this beautiful girl, I'll have to call her again. Briana, Briana! What a pretty name."
Havok's face falls; he has the bouquet of flowers halfway out the closet. Liza realizes the situation immediately; it's happened too many times before, and the Colonel never seems to notice.
"What's that you've got, Havok?" The Colonel pulls the arm and flowers in the hand of the arm out of the closet. "Flowers? So you've got a date too!" He grins, and then stops when he realizes Havok isn't grinning back. "What's wrong?"
She steps forward, and gently pries the bouquet from Havok's hand.
"He bought me these to make up for a date that stood me up last night."
There's a pause. She knows he attempts not to look at her, to flaunt. It's uncomfortable, like when she has a performance review and they ask her if she wants a promotion—with a transfer. In the corner of her eye, Havok relaxes an inch.
"Sorry, Lieutenant," the Colonel says. Another pause. "I have an idea! Why don't we all go out for a group dinner later?"
"We can all be your dates!" says Havok, handing her the flowers, and he smiles at her in relief. Whatever the office already thinks about her love life, it's probably better than the actual situation. She hasn't been on a date in a little over a year, not for lack of offers but for lack of interest. There are more important things for her to do.
"Yeah! Food! On the Colonel's tab!" Fury says. The Colonel raises an eyebrow but doesn't object.
"I would be honored to go out to dinner with you all," she says.
The flowers—an assortment of pearly pink alstromeria and red roses—sit on her desk when she lifts her coat off her chair and heads out with the boys to dinner.
"Time is the biggest, loudest, noisiest bitch you'll ever know and you'll hear her in your most despairing moments," the Major who trained her and 20 others always used to say while they ran their morning "six at six" miles. She fell into bed exhausted every night in those days and was pulled up again at six the next morning by his bellowing.
Funny how both those things prepared her for where she is now; in a hospital, waiting. There wasn't much time for sleep before the mission in the first place, and then the mission ended up being...much more complicated than they expected. So she sits on a bench, one room on either side of her, and does not dare sleep. There's a light wood grandfather clock at the other end of the hall ticking, ticking, ticking. She fights an urge to yank her gun out of its holster and shoot the clock a million times until it just shuts up and leaves her alone.
She never prided herself on imagination but it's making up for years with a date and flowers by alternately giving her the good, and then the bad, and then the good, and then the bad, and then the horrible.
After a day of particularly harsh training ten years ago, she cried at the moon while the other trainees (who were all male) snored. Self-hatred flooded her after that incident, because she knew that she had the capacity to be stronger than that. Where is that strength? Where was it an hour ago? Little Alphonse Elric has more strength than she. Lust's words were in the end just words.
(You were tired. You had almost died and your brains would be digesting in Gluttony's stomach had it not been for Black Hayate and Fury.)
Tick, tock, which does the clock say? Life, death? Would you like death for two? Should've gone down fighting, more honor than in this.
(I wouldn't want that.)
They're dead now, it doesn't matter. And she's so tired. The doctors pulled her into a room, examined her, found nothing wrong. Said things she doesn't remember. The Major told her to always listen, keep her ears open. But listen to the words of an enemy and have a breakdown? Surely not.
Hopes die or spirits sink. Or both.
(You can continue the work. This has become more than a matter of you or me. You MUST continue the work if the worst is true.)
Tick, tick, tock, squawk!
Her eyes ease open. It's morning and there is a mysterious blanket draped over her. She's captured, what did the Major teach her about being captured? There's a nurse bending over her.
"The Colonel and the other Lieutenant—they're out of danger. The Fuhrer sends his regards."
She blinks. Sunlight streams through the open windows, it must be near noon.
It takes her almost a minute to process the words, but she's not sure of the exact time. She can't hear the click, click of the second hand in the daytime noise of the hospital.
Ed looks at her. She looks back at him. They stand in the middle of the hallway before a very familiar wooden door, oddly locked.
"So, he kicked us out."
She studies the green flower pattern on the wallpaper. "He has important people to meet with today. I'm not ranked high enough."
"Where are the others?"
"Errands, or days off. Where's Alphonse?"
"Talking with Hughes."
A pause. She doesn't know how to talk to him, it's never been her job. They look at each other again, two blonde pawns on a giant Amestris chessboard. She winces to think about Ed like that, because he is and is too young to be at the same time.
But he is old enough to know when situations are awkward. "Do you have anything to do right now?"
"Not really. And to be quite honest, I'm not sure what to do. I had paperwork but he locked it in the office with him—"
Ed laughs. "Good, you seem like you deserve some time off. You're always working. Hungry?" Before she can think up an excuse he grabs her arm and pulls her down the corridor. "Let's get some food! I'm in the mood for some rice, myself—"
It's Wednesday, not Friday and 1:00 PM, not 5—not the time or day to mess around, not when there's always work to do. She could demand to kick the door down if the Colonel doesn't let her retrieve her work, or she's sure they could use help in the telphone switchboard rooms, they always need it-
She drags her feet on the floor and he looks up at her and pouts.
"But Lieutenant, I'm not used to eating alone. Please? And you could drive, maybe, in one of those cars?"
But she might as well go with the Fullmetal Alchemist. Maybe some of his energy will rub off on her.
"Colonel, cut it out."
The rest of the troop looks up and then down, embarassed by the Lieutenant's public declaration. It has always been protocol to say such things in private—and only Lieutenant Hawkeye has enough of the Colonel's respect to say such things to him anyway.
She hasn't been this angry in a long time, but even in anger her tone of voice doesn't change, her body is straight and relaxed.
He looks up from the papers he's in the midst of signing. He came in late this morning after leaving early yesterday, to bars, no doubt. She knows what the red eyes mean, she's seen them often enough lately. Ever since the transfer back to Central.
He's caught the sickness circling through the military and tries to hide it. She's already walked past the bathroom and heard him throw up this morning.
"Go home. You're hungover and sick."
"Can we discuss this in private, Lieutenant?"
He's not getting out of it that easily.
"No, we cannot, because this is a matter not just of you, but of your subordinates as well. You are obviously unfit for work today, and if we do not send you home where you should be, we are shirking our duty to protect you. Sergeant Fury."
The boy squeaks a "Yes, sir?"
"You were with Colonel Mustang yesterday when he was inspecting some safety measures downtown. How was he then?"
She is a little guilty about incorporating the others, but her point is more important than Fury's nervousness.
"He-he was very prompt, did his job. Well-he did keep sneezing everywhere, though."
"Not only are you making yourself worse by continuing to work, but you are also contaminating the rest of the city. It's shameful, sir," she says, and he looks up with the lines in his forehead that always indicate that he is more than slightly annoyed.
"Lieutenant, we can discuss this further outside," he says. His hand closes on her arm. She doesn't protest. The others snicker behind them.
He shuts the door just a little harder than he normally would.
"What was that all about?"
"What I said."
"I am your commanding officer, and how I choose to lead my life is my business." Now they're both angry, but in hushed tones. The occasional military personnel does walk down this hallway lined with windows, though it is mostly quiet.
"Someone has to tell you to take care of yourself, and it might as well be someone who's both your co-worker and your friend. Are you going to work and drink yourself to death? You have an example to set, not only for your subordinates but for the Fullmetal Alchemist and his brother."
"They're not here right now, are they?"
"The point is that you're not taking ca—"
He tries to cover his mouth and run to the bathroom in time but fails and throws up anyway. What is all over the floor is clear and watery. Liza knows the significance from similar cases in wartime; he has thrown up many times already today, so much so that there's nothing left in his stomach.
He sits down against the wall and takes a small scrap of paper and a paper out of his pocket. Before he marks anything with the pencil she snatches it from him.
"Absolutely no arrays. We'll have the janitors clean this up. Or I will. Just go home."
Sheepish he is as he eases up with the wall as a support, like a little boy embarassed that he's thrown up in a public place. Some of her anger melts away. Some.
"Make an example for everyone else," she says, and pulls him up into her arms. "I would say I know that it's hard, but you haven't talked to me about anything other than work in a month. And now you're getting drunk every night and losing weight. I can't do anything about it except get mad. I can't do anything."
"You know—" he starts, and stops. And begins again. "You know, if there were gods, you would be queen of them all."