Hawkeye remembers Ishbal. Spoilers through anime episode 36. Gen.
The train pulls into the station forty-five minutes late on the morning of their departure, throwing all of Hawkeye's arrangements into disarray and a great cloud of dust into the air. Trains rarely run on time this far south, and no one's going to fault Hawkeye if the transport reaches Central a few minutes late. But Hawkeye's own standards have never tolerated tardiness, and she's promised herself that she'll be home in time to walk her dog. So she finds herself standing on the edge of the platform, clutching her clipboard like a lifeline and shouting hurriedly revised orders at her harried subordinates.
The dust reminds her of Ishbal, and the memories of her wartime service wear at her nerves as the morning wears on. They sharpen her voice too; she can't hear the difference-she would modulate it out of her tone if she could-but she reads it in Breda's stiffness and the glances the NCOs exchange when they think her attention is elsewhere. The lieutenant is in prime form today, isn't she?
She dismisses Breda to oversee the loading of the last of the gear and checks two more items off her list. There's something ridiculous, Hawkeye thinks, about being undone by dust. When Mustang had informed her that their mission would take them to an Ishbalan refugee camp, she had prepared herself for angry words and resentful red eyes, but she had not thought to fortify herself against the relentless dust, not this far from the Eastern deserts. It's different here-finer, less coarse-but no less insidious. It still insinuates itself between uniform and skin, and it still flies into their eyes, forcing them to shed crocodile tears. And, as at Ishbal, the dust even works its way into their firearms. Hawkeye has cleaned her revolver every day since arriving at the refugee camp; this last day will not break that pattern.
There's nothing ridiculous about the other unanticipated reminder of Ishbal, the one that is sitting in Hawkeye's car of the train with plans to visit a dead man. Maes would have known how to tell her the truth; no doubt his tactics would have included the strategic application of apple pie and baby pictures. Hawkeye has never learned how to manage such things, and she has orders from the colonel. On that subject, at least, her lips are sealed.
The train leaves twenty minutes after its scheduled departure; Breda has worked miracles, but Hawkeye's still irked by the delay. She doesn't hide her displeasure when she speaks with the conductor; he quakes beneath the force of her glare and promises to make up the time well before they reach Central.
She trudges back from the engine to the officers' car, swaying slightly with the motion of the train. She passes Breda, whose attention has already been absorbed by the book of chess strategies in his right hand. Reading is also Hawkeye's favorite way of whiling away the hours of waiting that come with a career in the military. She prefers biographies to novels, histories to poetry. But she doesn't expect to read much on this trip, not with an armful of paperwork that needs to be filed upon their arrival.
When Hawkeye reaches her seat, the Rockbell girl's blonde head is bent over some piece of machinery. Her hands move quickly, confidently, like Hawkeye's hands move when they load and fire a gun. The widget reminds Hawkeye of something she found in the wreckage of Ed's automail after Scar had been at it, though she can't remember the proper term for it. Gear? Piston? Whatever it is, it's one piece of the puzzle that allows fingers to curl and elbows to bend and alchemy to happen.
The girl jumps a little when Hawkeye sits down on the opposite bench; Hawkeye pretends not to notice.
"We'll reach Central at 19:00, if all goes well," she says to smooth over the awkward moment. She begins to sift through her files. When she looks up again, she notices that the widget has disappeared, presumably into the knapsack beside the girl's hip. And the girl herself is staring out the window, at the scrub and dust and sky. The last traces of the refugee camp disappear behind a curve of the land.
Hawkeye knows that the other soldiers on the train assume the girl is one of Hawkeye's relatives; they probably can't conceive of any other reason why the notoriously strict lieutenant would offer a civilian teen passage on a military transport. Perhaps their two blonde heads make them look like sisters, or cousins, or an aunt with her favorite niece. It's not an entirely illogical conclusion. Hawkeye can acknowledge that, but she'll never understand why so many men never look past the color of a woman's hair. When she looks at the Rockbell girl, Hawkeye doesn't see anything of herself in the child's smile, or bearing, or warm affection for the Elric brothers.
When Hawkeye looks at the girl, she sees the faces of two doctors who died at Ishbal.
It's a ten-hour trip to Central. Hawkeye wonders how many hours will pass before the girl will steel herself to ask the questions that are so obviously troubling her mind.
Whenever the questions come, they'll come too soon.
Hawkeye's the second of four children, the only one whose fair hair lingers into adulthood. As a teen she envies her siblings' plain brown locks; she feels as if she's been excluded from some rite of passage, and she dislikes the attention her hair attracts, especially from men.
On her thirteenth birthday, her elder brother teaches her how to handle a firearm. It's only a few weeks before her marksmanship surpasses his own. When she beats him in a shooting contest for the first time, he punches her fondly on the shoulder, as if she were a boy.
Few from their village enlist in the military when war breaks out in Ishbal; the eastern front is too far away from their village to seem real, let alone important. But Hawkeye's brother signs up, seeing the war as his ticket out of the northern provinces; two years later, over her parents' protests, Hawkeye follows.
Her brother, by now a second lieutenant, is transferred to Ishbal shortly after she arrives in Central for officers' training. By the time she receives her first commission, her brother has already come back in a box. Hawkeye doesn't go home with her brother's body; she only sends a brief note to the parents who have disowned her. If they deign to reply, the letter is lost in the mail.
The powers that be send her to Ishbal for her first assignment; snipers are too valuable at times of war to be assigned to any sort of desk duty.
Hawkeye doesn't bother to write to her parents before she's shipped out.
The train is still five hours away from Central when the Rockbell girl finally speaks up. "Lieutenant."
"Call me Riza," Hawkeye answers, not raising her eyes from the pieces of her firearm on her lap. As she suspected, the dust has found its way into everything again. She runs a soft cloth over each piece, the rhythm of the cleaning as familiar as breathing.
"Ms. Riza, have you ever shot anyone?"
It's not the approach Hawkeye expected, but it will still bring them to the same place. "I have . . . a lot."
"Did you know of the doctors named Rockbell?"
Hawkeye has never been naÃ¯ve; she's not shocked by what she's ordered to do. Her commanding officer is almost apologetic when he explains her first mission, as if he's reluctant to send a nineteen-year-old girl out to the front lines. She only salutes crisply and promises to do her best. His face falls a little when she does.
It's not long before her targets change from soldiers to civilians. They're all leaders of the rebellion-priests and elders and politicians-and their eliminations represent important military objectives. But it feels different. Hawkeye continues to pull the trigger, but she finds that her hands, which are so steady when she's centered a target in her scope, begin to shake in the privacy of her tent. It's especially bad in the eveningss when she disassembles her rifle to clean out all the sand that's been blown into it during the day.
Later, she'll ask herself why it took so long to feel different, why her hands didn't shake after her very first kill.
For the rest of her life, her dreams will be filled with flashes of Ishbal-of the heat and sun and sand, the masses of blue uniforms, and the smells of blood and gunpowder.
Hawkeye knows the Rockbells' story long before the day Scar destroys half the streets in East City, long before the day that Ed throws his own knowledge of the affair in the colonel's face. The military's responsibility for the Rockbells' deaths is an open secret among the forces in Ishbal, as is the Flame Alchemist's role in it.
That gossip reaches Hawkeye in the mess hall a fortnight after the Rockbells' deaths; it's whispered from table to table, everyone's voices just loud enough for the story to spread. Hawkeye refuses to react to the news; she turns the pages of her book and keeps reading. It's not hard to ignore the murmurs. All snipers have a special sort of tunnel vision; it's one of the qualities that separates an average marksman from an elite one.
From the beginning, Hawkeye understands that Mustang's part in the Rockbells' deaths is not very different from what she has been doing for months as one of the army's best snipers.
"But you are in the military."
Hawkeye pieces together her gun as she responds; each part slides into place with a reassuring click. "I am because there is someone important that I must protect. I was not influenced by anyone else to think that. It was my decision. I pull the trigger on my own will, for the sake of the person I must protect." She pulls up her arms, aims the reassembled weapon at the enemy they still do not know. "Until I fulfill that goal, I will pull the trigger without any doubt."
"What if that person isn't worth protecting?"
Hawkeye's eyes stay on the sight lines of her gun. "That is for me to decide."
After Ishbal she's sent back to Central to wait for her next assignment. Hawkeye is leaving one of the administrative offices, where another polite secretary has told her to check in again in a few days, when a shout catches her unawares.
"Second Lieutenant Hawkeye!"
She stops and turns without thinking, prepared to tell the caller that they've made a mistake, don't they know her brother is dead? Even after all this time, her rank doesn't feel like her own. She recognizes the officer running up to her as one of her brother's friends, though she's forgotten his name after all this time.
"Maes Hughes," he tells her, extending a friendly hand. "You are Riza, aren't you? We met a long time ago, when you were still a cadet."
She nods, then notices his rank and raises her hand to salute. He catches her wrist before she can complete the gesture. "You've been transferred back to Central? Come with us for a drink." He gestures toward his companion, a major, who has joined them after coming up the path at a more sedate rate. "This is Major Roy Mustang, though you might know him as-"
"The Flame Alchemist," she says, recognizing the name. The dead look in the major's eyes is far too familiar to her from her own mirror. She tries to salute again, but Maes' grip on her wrist is firm.
She never agrees to join them, but Maes drags her toward the nearest bar anyway, talking a mile a minute about his darling Gracia and their upcoming wedding. His friendliness suffocates her. She glances over her shoulder just before Hughes begins to tug her down a flight of steps. Mustang is still following, but his expression is wavering between boredom and loathing.
Neither man blinks when she matches their whiskies with her own. Mustang doesn't talk much, though he drinks plenty. Hughes's conversation quickly turns serious. "I was sorry to hear about your brother," he says when the bartender has stepped to the other end of bar.
Hawkeye flattens her hands against the polished wood to keep them from shaking. They are capable hands, callused and scarred from years of hard use, their fingernails trimmed to the quick. "Thank you," she manages to say. "It's been so long, but it still doesn't feel quite real."
"I know," Hughes says. Oddly enough she believes him; he's lost someone too, though she won't ask when or how. "Will you be staying in Central then? A lot of officers are surrendering their commissions now that the war is done."
"No, I'm just waiting for my next assignment. Everything's just stalled over at HQ; it may be months before they have all of us Ishbal veterans sorted out. But I'll go where I'm sent."
Hughes nods; it's a common story, and Central is overflowing with officers on half-pay. "I wish I could do something for you, but my word doesn't go very far, I'm afraid."
"Please don't trouble yourself on my account. My turn will come sooner or later."
On the other side of Hughes, Mustang's head falls on his arms. Hawkeye wonders how much time the major's spent in such dives since his own return from Isbhal; from his pallor, she guesses it's been a long time since he's seen much of the sun. Hughes notices the direction of her gaze and spares his friend a single gentle look, full of pity, before he says, "Roy was also at Isbhal."
"I didn't know him there," Hawkeye says. "Junior officers don't see much of the state alchemists."
"You know his reputation."
"I do," she answers cautiously. "He's a war hero."
"Doesn't look it, does he?" Hughes's mouth quirks in amusement at his own joke; then, instantly, he's serious again. "Neither do you. You've probably also been a hero, Second Lieutenant. But now that you're back at home, your hands shake." All the mercy has drained from his voice.
"That doesn't interfere with my work."
"I'm sure it doesn't." Again, he nods toward his drunken friend. "He's not much to look at right now, but he's going to change Amestris. What are you going do?"
She answers without fully realizing what she's saying, without guessing the words will change her life. "Take everything apart, and then put it back together."
When he clinks his glass her against her, she knows that somehow, against all logic, he understands.
When they reach Central, the Rockbell girl mumbles her thanks, then disappears into the swirling crowds. Hawkeye does not watch her go; there is work to be done. But from time to time Hawkeye must remind herself not to dwell upon what the girl will learn when she reaches the Hughes home.
Unloading the train takes longer than expected, but finally Hawkeye's walking home through the mild dusk. She hurries, knowing that the light won't last long. When she unlocks and opens the door to her apartment, Black Hayate greets her warmly.
"No jumping," she tells him before he can even think of putting his paws up on her knees. He sits back on his haunches obediently, but his tail thumps the floorboards with unfettered joy.
In her bedroom, she drops her traveling bags on the floor, and changes into civilian clothes. Tomorrow she'll have to file the last of her paperwork; perhaps she'll also visit the firing range, to keep her aim true. And on the way home she'll stop at the market, so she can restock the cupboards she left bare when she left for the South.
Tonight, however, her only plan is to walk her dog.
Her hands don't shake as they reach for his leash.