Sometimes connection and understanding happen between two human beings that others might think were the two most unlikely people in the universe. A crackfic in the "Balance of Power" universe.
Author's Note: I swear, when I originally came up with the idea, Mustang had nothing to do with it! However, good storytelling required that I explore the relationship between these two characters. For anyone unfamiliar with the character "Heist," I can only direct you to an ongoing story called "Balance of Power," written by the writing team of Crackbunny Syndrome, of which I have recently become a part. Hold on to your drinks, everyone, because there's more crack where this came from!
This story is dedicated to L.C.
"Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality." - Martin Luther King Jr.
The Structure of Reality:
by: Roaming Fool
If there was one fact about Heist that most people upon meeting her would never believe, it was that she was incredibly shy.
It didn't show, normally. To the world at large she was loud, gregarious and flashy. People never knew quite what to make of her, which was fine with Heist. If she was honest, most of time, she didn't know what to make of them either. It was a comfortable quid pro quo. And if there was one thing that Heist disliked, it was being outside her comfort zone.
Brigadier General Roy Mustang always managed to destroy her equilibrium. When she had first tumbled out of the Gate and into this would, her first thought upon seeing him was oh my god, he's gorgeous, he looks just like-
He was still beautiful. He was also cold and arrogant, his formal behavior only occasionally broken by a sarcastic quip, or if Ed had done something to piss him off.
Sitting on a hard backed chair, holding her report and wincing at the dull pain that burned across her back, Heist watched the closed outer door of Mustang's office and sighed. She could hear the low rise and ebb of voices muffled by thick wood and she tried not to imagine what the officer who had accompanied her from Western Headquarters could possibly be reporting.
Heist wasn't normally accident-prone, but she had begun to think that the infamous Reilly luck had jumped to her. It only got worse when she was in the capital - her last stunt had sent Mustang to the infirmary for stitches across two of his fingers. Hopefully, she thought, this concept of "equivalent exchange" would kick in and the current wound across her back would be a fair trade for an incident-free week..
Knowing Mustang, it would only be a week before he found another "urgent" assignment in a remote area as far from Central as he could find.
The heavy wood door finally swung open and a distinguished-looking, older officer who had accompanied her, one Lieutenant Sam Gage, stepped out with a half smile.
"The General asked me to send you in, Miss Heist." Sam extended a hand to help her out of the seat and Heist sighed. Even after six months of living in Amestris she still wasn't used to the careful, polite manners that everyone displayed toward each other, especially toward women.
Experience had taught her to take it in stride however, so Heist simply took Lieutenant Gage's hand and allowed him to help pull her to her feet. She was actually grateful for his help at the moment but she couldn't resist quipping, "Aw, and I thought chivalry was dead."
Lieutenant Gage shot her a look, but only replied mildly, "I would hope not. It would be a shame if it were true, Miss Heist." His words, his voice, his manners, all of them were very different, but the tone of voice he used sounded so much like her father that, for a moment, she could imagine that he was standing in front of her. A wave of homesickness washed over her and she was horrified to feel the hot sting of tears welling in her eyes.
She inhaled sharply and blinked hard, beating the tears back. "Thank you for all your help, Lieutenant Gage."
"It's nothing, my dear. In fact, I believe the thanks are really all on our side, even if your methods are somewhat . . . unconventional."
Heist grinned at him. "Well, it's good to know I'm appreciated. Have a good trip!"
Rather than the formal military salute she had almost become accustomed to, the lieutenant lifted her hand, brushing a feather-light kiss across the back as he pressed it reassuringly. Heist prided herself on not allowing her twenty-first century feminism rear its head and took the gesture in the spirit it was intended as.
"It's been a pleasure to meet you, Miss Heist."
She offered him a brilliant smile. "Good-bye, Lieutenant Gage. Stay cool!"
Lieutenant Gage glanced quizzically at her. "It hasn't been that warm out. But I'll do my best."
Heist attempted to restrain a chuckle at the confused expression on his face before he walked away down the hall, his boot steps becoming fainter and fainter as he disappeared from sight.
The smile faded from her face and she squared her shoulders before she walked up to the door and pulled it open. Mustang's men might not know what to make of her, but she could never accuse them of being imperceptive. The last thing she wanted to do was explain her injury to any of them or have one of them mention it to, God forbid, Tom, Reilly or Ducky.
"Mornin' gentlemen!" she called, putting her best "hick" accent to use.
Silence fell as five heads looked up from various piles of paperwork at her greeting. "Good afternoon, Heist," Captain Hawkeye greeted her as the others schooled their expressions into something more sober and dignified, befitting officers of the Amestrian State.
"Morning, afternoon, what's the difference?"
Havoc tipped his chair back on two legs and drawled, "For some of us? What time the alarm clock goes off."
Heist smiled at the lieutenant and pointed to the ever-present cigarette hanging from his mouth. "Still smoking the cancer sticks, Havoc?"
He deliberately inhaled and blew the smoke into the air before he looked directly at her. "Oh, yes."
"Those things will kill you, you know."
Havoc grinned. "But I'll be oh so happy before I die."
Heist wanted it noted in whatever records that Divine Justice kept that she had tried. She really had. But Havoc was unrepentant as he smoked and Reilly had been no help in imparting the wisdom of twenty-first century science, as she had picked the filthy habit back up.
And Heist didn't dare bring up the subject up to Reilly. As a matter of fact, she wished Mustang would hurry up so that she could get the hell out of here and go to bed. Her back throbbed and she desperately wished for some Tylenol or, if she thought better of it, Demerol. She would have to settle for an ice pack and some sleep when she got home.
"What are you so worried about, Heist? If we listened to everything that was 'bad' for us, according to you, we'd be sitting on our asses all day. Loosen up!" Breda smirked at her as he twirled a pen.
Heist resisted the urge to smack him. "Can I help it if I have the benefit of almost a hundred years of research to back me up?"
"Did that research also teach you how to turn your hair that obnoxious shade of blue? I think I can actually begin to see what your hair really looks like, by the way."
She began to put a hand up to pat at her hair, self-consciously, but a sharp twinge from one of the stitches reminded her that lifting her arms higher than shoulder level was a Bad Idea. She also noticed that Falman and Fuery's gazes were on here, waiting for the next round of the sparring match.
The trouble was that Heist didn't want to play verbal tennis. Her back hurt and Breda's jibes had stung more than she wanted to admit.
Impatient, she turned to Hawkeye and tapped her foot once or twice for effect. "Can I go in yet or is he still repressing the urge to burn me to a crisp?"
Hawkeye's eyes narrowed as she looked at her and Heist wondered if it had been something she'd said
"If you want to take a seat, Heist, you can make your report in a few minutes." Hawkeye gestured toward a chair. Heist wanted nothing more than to sit down for a few minutes but, if she did, she would need help getting up again.
She walked over to stand by a window instead. "No, thanks." The window provided a pretty view into a nearby park and Heist busied herself with people watching. It hadn't been a normal habit of hers before coming through the Gate. In the absence of readily available computers and an internet connection, however, she had found it to be instructive and somewhat comforting.
Maybe Breda is on to something? I could dye my hair to something a little more natural; the blue was a dead giveaway in the warehouse . . . maybe red this time? That could work, a bright scarlet . . . She watched two teenage boys run across a patch of lawn, smiling to herself as the sunlight turned the one boy's hair a bright orange.
"Heist? You can go in now." Hawkeye's voice broke her idle musings and she saw the captain holding the door to the inner office open with one hand.
She offered Hawkeye a smile and a flippant "Thanks," as she did her best to breeze her way past, into the lion's den. She thought it was a fitting description of the general's office.
Mustang's hands were folded beneath his chin and Heist's stomach lurched. She had really stepped in it this time, she thought. Almost every other time she had made a report in the past he had been pacing around the room, yelling, but this time he was quiet, solemn even.
"Have a seat, Heist."
She hesitated, not wanting to have to ask him to help her up after they were done, but he had used his You Will Obey Me tone of voice and she didn't have the energy to argue with him. She sat in one of the chairs across from the desk and did her best to suppress both her sigh of relief at sitting down and the wince as the high back of the chair brushed against her back. Attempting to forestall the upcoming yelling match, she handed him the written report she had been holding.
Mustang took it, his eyebrow raised as he scanned the traditional, neatly written report. Anticipating a more combustible reaction after Western Headquarters had placed the initial phone call, she'd had Lieutenant Gage help her put it together on the train ride home.
"Why don't you tell me what happened?" Mustang set the report down on his desk after he had tapped the edges so the papers would lie neatly.
"Everything is in the report," she replied, surprised that the yelling hadn't begun yet.
"And I'll have time to look it over at my leisure. But I'd like to hear what happened in your own words, if you please."
Heist squirmed in her seat. "You wanted me to see if Colonel Jack Off - "
"Whatever his name is, you wanted me to go see if he'd been selling 'state secrets' over the Drachmian border." She made sure to give the word "state" its proper emphasis.
Mustang was unimpressed. He had resumed his original position of leaning slightly forward with his elbows on the desk, hands laced together to prop his chin as he gave Heist his undivided attention. "And what did you find?"
"Other than the fact that you were right? Well, when I broke into his office I found out that kinky sex isn't exclusive to the twenty-first century."
She didn't think she had ever seen Mustang's eyebrow shoot quite so high, but he didn't take the bait. "And why did you break into his office?"
Heist sighed. "How else did you expect me to find out? Give him puppy-dog eyes and ask sweetly, 'Oh, and by the way, have you committed treason today?' I thought the whole point of sending me was that I could get into his office?"
"You had the support of Western Headquarters to fall back on, but you chose to go in alone. Why?" He was definitely staring at her now.
"If it hadn't been just him, he could have been tipped off - "
Mustang's eyes narrowed. "Wrong answer. Try again."
"You want me to be clearer? Bullshit. Tell me why you really went in alone." He rested his hands on the table top and a quick glance reassured her than his gloves were neither on, nor were they within arm's reach.
Heist hadn't seen this side of Mustang since she had first arrived in Amestris. She hated it when he looked at her with this cold expression in his eyes. She especially hated how he reminded her of -
She cut herself off, unwilling to think about those left behind.
"I didn't need their help."
Mustang just continued to watch her and Heist felt herself saying more, unwillingly. "It was a one person job and a hell of a lot quicker for me to just go in on my own."
"You have injuries across your back, arms, and legs, ranging from scrapes and bruises to a couple of cuts deep enough to need stitches." Mustang's voice was so studiously calm that Heist's danger sense prickled, even as he picked up a second report that had been lying next to him. "Would you like to explain to me just how you fell though the floor?"
Heist felt a rush of heat in her face and realized that she was blushing. "It was an accident!"
"It was an accident that could have been avoided!" Mustang shot to his feet and Heist began to feel like she was back in familiar territory as he paced behind his desk, hands clasped behind him. "After six months, I'd have thought you knew better."
"What the hell is your problem? I succeeded, didn't I? Between his office and that warehouse, you've got enough evidence to put him away for a long time."
Mustang glared at her. "My problem is the completely unnecessary risks you took. You deliberately did this the hard way. And it's not the first time, either."
She felt her gut twist and her palms dampen. This was a dangerous direction for this conversation to go. She didn't want Mustang's attention drawn to her, dammit! "What, exactly, is that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I've been going back over your missions and I don't like the trend I'm seeing. I'm shocked that this is the first time you've been seriously injured."
Heist choked. "Are you saying that you think I'm /suicidal/?"
"Are you?" Mustang stopped pacing to look at her.
She closed her eyes and groaned. She'd walked right into that one. "No."
"No?" Mustang's voice was just ever so slightly mocking and it managed to piss her off.
She opened her eyes and saw him still looking at her. "Well, well, look who's turned out to be an amateur pop psychologist?"
"I've noticed that what you and the others call 'psychology' is merely a combination of observation, intuition, and common sense." He walked around his desk to lean one hip against the edge as he folded his arms loosely across his chest. "Nor am I the only one to notice your rather dangerous proclivities. Lieutenant Gage waxed quite eloquently about you."
Heist's eyes narrowed. "Oh, really?"
Mustang seemed vaguely uncomfortable. "He's of the opinion that if you can't be persuaded to marry and settle down at your age then your superiors, namely myself, should do a better job looking after you."
"I already had a family, thank you; my father, not to mention four overprotective older brothers in addition to my mother and sister. You aren't obligated to do a damn thing about me - just do your job," Heist retorted, heat coloring her voice.
"I intend to. The well-being of my staff is part of my job and a responsibility that I take very seriously. You're not adjusting, Heist, and that's a problem." Mustang's voice had softened slightly, but Heist stubbornly refused to look at him, preferring to stare out the window behind him instead.
A knock shattered the tense silence that had arisen after Mustang had declared her his responsibility. The door opened behind Heist and Captain Hawkeye's voice came from behind her. "General, Specialist Thibodeaux is here to see you."
Heist met Mustang's eyes and cocked an eyebrow, waiting for him to dismiss her in favor of the undoubtedly important report Ducky had ready for him.
"Reschedule his appointment, Hawkeye. And I don't want any more interruptions, please." Mustang's eyes never left Heist's face as he gave the order.
"Yes, sir." The door creaked slightly as it shut again with a depressingly final sound. She could hear Ducky's exuberant tones behind the door as he protested not being able to barge in to see the General and she listened for a moment, wishing desperately for things that were no longer possible.
Mustang was the one to break their private stalemate. "If you're having trouble I need you to tell me, so I can help you."
Heist felt herself begin to shake slightly and realized that she was beginning to chuckle bitterly. Taking a deep breath to get herself under control, she clenched one hand into a fist. "General, my problems are beyond your control."
"You don't know that."
This time, Heist did laugh. "What are you going to do? Order your staff to like me? Tell Reilly and the rest of the gang that it's time to stop being mad at me?"
Mustang stared at her. "Has there been a problem with how my staff is treating you?"
"No. They're very polite." The implication of to her face was left unspoken as Heist rubbed her eyes.
"I see." Mustang's tone of voice indicated plainly that he didn't understand at all. "And what is the problem between you and the others?"
"You mean Reilly and company?"
His eyebrow lifted at her obvious stalling. Heist desperately searched for words before finally blurting out, "Have you ever done something . . . unforgivable?"
Mustang's entire expression tightened and became distant, his mouth slightly puckered while what looked like an old pain flashed through his one good eye. His voice was steady, however, when he quietly answered, "Yes." Bringing himself back to the present moment, he scrutinized her face. "Bond?"
Tears stung her eyes again and she clenched her fist tighter in an attempt to keep from breaking down in front of him as she nodded.
"Were you in love with him?"
Heist gasped in shock. "No!" Mustang continued to watch her and she repeated firmly, "No, I wasn't in love with him."
"But you were infatuated with him." She opened her mouth to protest but Mustang raised his hand to cut her off. "He played on your sympathies. I'm not surprised. Bond was always very capable of being charming when he needed to be and, despite his brutality, he's not stupid. He got you right where he wanted you."
She felt a hot tear spill down her cheek. "He killed my friend, Kitten. He tried to kill Ducky and the others and he almost succeeded because of me. I heard my stupidity reiterated for me from everyone. Reilly and Tom shouted and even - even Ducky was so cold when he found out . . . "
A white handkerchief appeared in her line of vision and Heist took it as she dabbed her eyes. "Who is it that can't forgive, Heist? Is it that Reilly and Ducky and the rest can't forgive you? Or is it that you can't forgive yourself?"
She gave Mustang an ironic, watery smile. "Both." She looked at the crumpled handkerchief in her lap as ghostly images played across her vision. "I hacked into the police database after I found out. I had to see - " her voice broke and she took a deep breath. "Kitten . . . she'd been cut almost in half," she recited almost monotonously. "There wasn't enough of her body left to make a whole person. I made myself look at the pictures."
Heist looked at Mustang and saw something in his face that she had never seen from him before, sympathy and genuine comprehension. For once, they completely understood each other. "Does it ever go away?"
He answered sympathetically, but honestly. "It's like any other pain. It fades over time, but it's always there. You're not quite in the same boat as I am, though."
Her face must have shown her puzzlement, because Mustang elaborated. "In my case, the people I need forgiveness from are, for the most part, dead. Reilly, Tom, Ducky, they're all still here."
"And what about forgiving myself?"
Mustang offered her a tight, pained smile. "I suspect that forgiveness of the self is helped along by others forgiving you first. Maybe you'll be luckier than I was."
Neither of them seemed to want to break the almost comfortable silence that had settled over the office, but Heist finally asked, "So, now what?"
Mustang raised an eyebrow at her. "Well, for one thing, you're grounded from any field work for the next month."
He leveled her protests with a pointed stare. "You are not going out in the shape you're in. I want you where I can keep an eye on you to make sure you start to adjust. You can help Ducky with the technology program while you recover."
Heist wondered if he had been listening at all. "I'm not sure I'm up to - to facing Ducky and the others on a daily basis."
"I'll give you a week's leave to rest and get used to the idea." Holding up a hand to forestall any protests she might have made, he continued, "You can't hide from them forever. Sooner or later, you'll have to face them. It might as well be now." Mustang's voice was encouraging, but firm.
By now Heist knew a direct order when she heard one. "Yes, sir."
He offered a hand to help her to her feet and Heist took it, grateful for the support. She didn't bother suppressing her wince this time and Mustang frowned at her. "Didn't the doctor at Western Headquarters give you something for the pain?"
She could feel her mouth set in a tight line. "Yes. He gave me laudanum."
"Why haven't you used it?" Heist shot him a look of surprise and Mustang smirked at her. "Lieutenant Gage was quite talkative."
"So I see." Mustang waited and Heist realized that he wanted an explanation. "It's not safe. We'd found other painkillers in the twenty first century, and besides, the pain isn't that bad. An ice pack and some sleep, and I'll be just fine."
He gazed at her for a moment, as if looking for something. "I'll take your word on that. We'll see you in a week." Mustang escorted her to the door, one hand hovering just above the small of her back. "Take care of yourself."
She smiled at him. "Yes, sir," she murmured.
Mustang opened the door and gestured for her to precede him. "Lieutenant Havoc?"
The lieutenant glanced up from a stack of paperwork. "Yes, sir?"
"Drive Heist home and escort her inside. You," he addressed Heist, "will report to Captain Hawkeye next week."
She sketched him a sloppy salute and her eyes sparkled as she saw his eye narrow in frustration - and then soften as he understood.
Havoc followed her from the office, closing the door behind them softly, careful not to let it slam back into the doorjamb. His face set in polite lines, he gestured and said coolly, "After you."
Heist smiled as he fell into step behind her.
She could still feel the warmth of Mustang's broad hand carefully hovering above the small of her back. Take care of yourself.
She could hear the soft lilt of a Welsh accent in the back of her mind. Take care of yourself, love.
For the first time since she had tumbled through the Gate, leaving nearly everyone and everything she had ever loved behind, Heist didn't feel completely alone in the world.
Mustang watched Havoc escort Heist out of the office, the lieutenant's expression carefully schooled blank.
"Hawkeye, what did you do to end up with /her/?" Breda sneered ever so slightly.
Mustang saw red. "Lieutenant Breda!"
"Sir?" Breda snapped to attention in his seat, his eyes wide at the venom in Mustang's voice.
He noticed that he had the attention of everyone in the room as Hawkeye, Falman, and Fuery were all staring at him as well. "Heist is a part of this staff. Whatever your personal opinions may be, you will keep them out of the workplace, is that understood, Lieutenant?" he snapped.
Breda's swallowed audibly, but he answered crisply, "Yes, sir!"
Mustang nodded and turned sharply toward Hawkeye. "Captain, I'd like to see you in my office. Now." He spun on his heel and left his aide to follow him into his office, before he shut the door firmly behind them.
Mustang tasted guilt and bile in his throat. "Captain Hawkeye, Heist will be reporting to you after next week for an indefinite period of time. She'll be assisting Ducky with the technology program while she recovers from the injuries sustained on her last mission."
Hawkeye's eyes widened. "Injuries, General?"
He looked at his aide, raising an eyebrow. "Yes, Captain." He walked over to his desk and picked up the report from Western Headquarters. "Injuries. In addition to this report, I also got a rather colorful dressing down from a man who isn't even half my rank and was almost twice my age about the risks I've been allowing Heist to take."
'Sir, in your defense, Heist is - "
Mustang rubbed a hand over his face and through his hair. "Heist is a young woman who's not only been torn away from everyone and everything she's ever known, she's isolated from everyone, including the people she should be closest to."
Hawkeye looked mollified and Mustang continued, "I'm well aware that Heist is strange, even more so than the others. I'm guilty too, but the kind of behavior that I just saw out there was not acceptable and is only making the situation worse. After myself, you are their commanding officer, Captain. I expect you to put an end to that type of prejudice, not encourage it by saying nothing."
His words stung with all the force he had intended them to as he saw Hawkeye's flinch at the rebuke. To her quiet acknowledgment of his order he only gave her a tired, "Dismissed" before she turned on her heel and left the room.
Once left alone in his office, Mustang turned toward the window that looked over the park. He watched the people, his attention caught by three little girls at play, all of them about Elysia's age, he thought idly.
He could still hear Heist's quiet question whisper in his silent office. Have you ever done anything...unforgivable?
Before he could stop it, the image of two doctors lying face down in a pool of blood flashed across his vision, followed by a young woman's wide, accusing blue eyes as she cried Is this the kind of devotion you showed when you killed my parents? They were followed by more images, mental pictures of fire and stone scorched black while blood splattered the streets.
Had Ishbal taught him nothing? Over ten years later, he had still made the same mistake; not with a race of people, but with a single girl.
He was fortunate that his shortsightedness hadn't caused more damage already. Heist was right. He couldn't order his staff to like her. He couldn't order Reilly and the others to forgive her.
But he could insist that his staff behave appropriately and he could allow her to simply be herself, without any judgment from him.
And he could have a little chat with Hughes. He remembered Hughes' definition of "tough love"; a philosophy his friend had doled out in spades after his return from Ishbal all those years ago, Mustang thought it was high time he returned the favor.
He couldn't order forgiveness...but he could certainly encourage it.