The girl slid to the edge of the seat, her voice guarded by a blend of curiosity and anticipated revulsion.
"Call me Riza."
She always urged civilians to address her by her first name. It reminded her of her own humanity, so often hidden by her army plumage or the snappish formality of military speech.
"Riza-san," she began uncertainly. "I've heard from Ed and Al that you're a good markswoman." She hesitated, then, swallowing, continued: "Have you ever, um... killed anybody?"
The lieutenant's revolver lay in neat pieces across her lap. She began to clean it, quickly and mechanically, with a minute focus that prevented her from meeting the girl's eyes.
"I'm in the military, Winry."
The girl swallowed, inching closer. "Oh. Have you... a lot?"
"Oh," Winry repeated, glancing away for a moment. "You must be very good."
The lieutenant proceeded with her cleaning. "So they say."
In the days before it was classified, the laboratory had a rooftop garden. Scattered amongst its low-maintenance shrubs and golfgreen stretches of turf, tastefully hidden between bushes or beneath the fan of a miniature tree, the cages were kept. Only a portion of the lab's extensive menagerie was housed on its roof: those animals whose habitats could not be replicated properly inside, who could stand the climate, and who would not immediately bolt for freedom when they were removed for experimentation.
Apart from its function as on-campus zoo, the garden also served as a recreational facility for the lab's staff. Long hours pressed between microscopes and fume-hoods starved the scientists for sunlight. During lunchbreaks or between procedures they would flee to the garden for a gulp (or several) of fresh air. Consequently, the green between the cages was dotted with foldout chairs, coffee tables, and the occasional furtive golf hole. Most of the staff used it as an escape. They went to forget the pressed, sterile darkness of the lab and its guilty claustrophobia of sounds. They went to play, to talk, to sleep.
They mostly avoided the animals caged on the roof. Their shame drove them away. It was an uncommon man who could visit the menagerie with a free conscience, withdraw a bird from its shady cage and allow it to perch on his arm, untroubled by the knowledge that tomorrow he must sacrifice it to science.
Such men are rare for a reason. In the military, though, they are less so. And among the highest officers, they are an overwhelming majority.
When the Fuhrer visited, he went straight for the mews.
"They're beautiful creatures, aren't they, colonel?" he murmured appreciatively. He stood at the far end of the garden, a foot's breadth away from the roof's edge. His right arm, sheathed in a tough pad of leather, balanced a slim, fierce harrier. He had removed her hood and jesses, and her sleek body had curved defensively about his arm, oriented so that she could monitor both the Fuhrer and his companion. "So swift. So precise."
The man beside him cast a dubious look at the hawk. She glared straight back at him, unafraid, vengeful. He had the unsettling feeling that, had the Fuhrer allowed it, she would have relished testing her talons on his face.
"Yes, sir," he agreed after a pause. "But dangerous. And disloyal." Her eyes, the same color as his own, grilled into him daringly.
"That depends on how you define loyalty." The Fuhrer turned his arm; with a dissatisfied hiss, the harrier repositioned herself, her talons scoring white scars across the leather. "Hawks are like horses, or like men. They serve the one who breaks them, and once they have given their loyalty, it is eternal and exclusive." He smiled brightly at the scowling hawk. "You don't like what I'm doing, do you, my dear?" he asked softly. He rotated his arm again, and again she adjusted, growling. "But you won't fly away. And you'll do what you're told, tomorrow." His smile grew thoughtful. "You would make a good soldier."
The colonel raised an eyebrow. "Tomorrow—?"
"Yes." The Fuhrer broke eye contact with the harrier—brave, the colonel thought—and met his own. "Your assignment, colonel. It's my own little personal experiment."
He blanched in surprise. "Sir, with all due respect, I've got neither the training nor the experience—"
The smile returned, imperative. "But you have talent. And discretion." The Fuhrer turned back to his hawk, a touch of wryness souring his voice. "One of our POWs has a child, a little girl. We obviously can't have her stay in the prison with her parents." He paused, lifting his arm the barest fraction. The harrier responded instantly, streamlining her body to a torpedo and snapping her wings into preflight position. "She's from strong stock. With the right training, I think she would fly well."
The colonel's eyebrows creased as he watched the hawk anchored there, talons bound by discipline and wings quivering with repressed flight, eyes savage with as-yet unfocused loyalty. He shivered, stomachless. The Furher was indeed a rarity among rare men. He lacked the scientist's caution and the humanist's conscience, but his confidence compensated for both.
The colonel could not say the same about himself. When the golden eyes swiveled to probe him again, he bowed his head like a fleeing rabbit and murmured, "Yes, sir."
"Very good, colonel." There was a pause. "Please remember that there is a reason I am entrusting this assignment to you, and only to you. I expect you will keep its every detail under control. Especially should it succeed." Though he could not see him, the colonel heard his superior wheel and begin to stride away. The hawk still clung to his arm. "Remember that hawks are loyal only once. It would be a pity for someone else to hold our bird's jesses."
The muffled click of his retreating boots; a last farewell hiss from the harrier.
It was only when he was certain the Fuhrer was gone that colonel Hoenheim Elric lifted his head and wondered, for the indeterminable time, why he had chosen to enlist.
She knew what question would come next.
"Riza, have you heard of the doctors named Rockbell?"
The lieutenant did not look up from her gun.
"I knew them," she replied quietly. "I don't know what you know about the military, but I won't try and convince you that most of what it does is not absurd. Killing itself is absurd, as are the soldiers who do it."
"But you're a soldier!"
She accepted the label and its implication without argument, lifting the revolver and sighting along its barrel. Her eyes were hard and golden and guiltless.
"Yes. I was born and raised into the military, Winry, but that's not why I stayed. That would have been the logical thing to do. And it takes something stronger than logic to make one person to kill another." She twitched her finger, and the gun's empty rounds clicked mechanically. "I chose to stay because there is someone important I must protect. I will kill for that loyalty, as many times as necessary."
The girl's eyes quivered in pain and horror. She was all too human.
"What if your precious person isn't worth protecting?" she spat.
The lieutenant lowered the gun. Her fierce, clear eyes met Winry's, sympathetic but unapologetic. "I have decided that he is," she replied simply. "That is where my loyalty lies."
Seeing that her words had failed to have the intended effect, Winry cried:
Hawkeye reloaded the revolver, her hands swift and precise.
"I know," she said.