It's always hard, and she wishes she could say it still makes her sick. [Hawkeye character study]
She was good at it, though; when her father joined the military during the East area civil war, he told her when she could handle a pistol she should come join him. She'd listened to those, his last words of advice to her, with a seventeen-year-old's rapt reverence. He was her hero.
When he was killed, four months later, there wasn't a question of what she was going to do. However much her mother pleaded, she wanted to honor his request, and when a poster showed up in the window of their neighborhood grocer- "Sharpshooters needed, apply to your local army headquarters," there were hardly any tearful goodbyes before she left home for a military life.
It wasn't long after that she killed her first man, in one of the Ishbali rebellions; he came at her, instinct possessed her arm: she drew her gun quickly, and fired. That was it. It wasn't elaborate, wasn't dramatic, just an automatic movement she'd been making for years. It shocked her how he jerked and fell, blood bubbling at his mouth.
She hated how easy it had been.
The next time she shot someone, it was harder. A raving soldier, spreading dissent among the troops- probably post-traumatic stress, but he could have been an implant meant to sew unease. Her commanding officer placed her on the firing squad, when the man deserted and was caught. There was too much time, that long countdown from five, to think about whether a man wanting to go home really deserved to die. She wasn't sure, and her hand quivered as it came up to draw a bead on his head- the cleanest shot. Her finger cramped. Froze for a second before clamping down hard on the trigger, She tried not to look.
No one understood when she got her first promotion, why as soon as the medal and rank had been presented to her she left the ceremony. They all wanted to congratulate her, tell her how wonderful it was that she was receiving honors for shooting people. Her father was probably horrified that she'd come so far on the lives of other people.
She'd never wanted to be good at this.
Four years later, Riza Hawkeye transferred to Lieutenant Colonel Roy Mustang's division. He rubbed her the wrong way from the beginning: smug, power-hungry, and womanizing, everything to be deplored in a man. She thought of asking to be moved again.
Without a word, she filed the papers with the Colonel; for some reason, a reply never came.
To her, he seemed slovenly, lazy, a disastrous combination of both. It wasn't uncommon that she found herself staying late, night after night, to bully him into doing paperwork he'd forgotten or that had piled up during one of his unexplained absences. Honestly, how the man could still be in his position was a mystery to her. Once she thought a document had her own handwriting on it. A transfer request. He assured her it was something she'd filled out for one of their new recruits.
It was on such an occasion of overtime, sluggish with lack of sleep and wanting nothing more than to go back to the officers' barracks, that she found the Colonel passed out on his desk, an empty bottle of whiskey toppled next to his hand.
She shook him awake and informed his she would have to make a report of his negligent behavior. He didn't seem to care. "I shot him," he whispered hoarsely. "Just like that. A kid. Like you..." he reached out as though to touch her face, maybe to make certain she wasn't some nightmare delusion, but missed and fell into her arms. She hefted him over to the water fountain, woke him properly. He let her take him home.
The report never showed up in the stacks of paper she handed to him with a stern look the next day- or the next week. In fact, he had no choice but to assume she'd forgotten. Understandable, or course; the girl had a lot on her mind.
Their unit moved out, briefly, to do some field work. Most of the soldiers rejoiced at a chance to gain some battlefield glory, and Riza let them dream. She killed when she had to, didn't want to be noticed. Colonel Mustang approached her with a proposition. Advancement; she declined. It was one thing to refuse the Fuhrer- that she could not do. It was another thing to politely suggest that if Mustang wanted her out of his unit, he might as well have put through the application she filed a year ago. She thought he might deny her the choice of refusal.
What might have been insubordination, he seemed to wave off with a wry grin.
No more offers on the matter were made.
They stood together over a corpse in Central's main street, waiting for the medical team to arrive. It had been a simple matter, a crazed anti-military activist had attacked the Colonel: she protected her commanding officer. The trigger stuck horribly again, shying away from a civilian target, but she forced down the guilt and bile and breathed in sulfur as the shot came off, clean and perfect. Still, Mustang had noticed. He put a hand on her shoulder, more familiar than what she'd expected.
"You're a soldier, Hawkeye. A damn good one."
"Sir?" She wasn't clear of his reasons or his meaning.
"Don't worry, there's nothing wrong with you if you have a hard time taking a life."
It would have been a waste to wonder how he knew.
Hawkeye was cleaning her gun, methodically, wondering where her slacking Colonel had gotten off to, when he materialized over her shoulder. A different look was in his eyes when she held up her handiwork, peered down the barrel, aimed an empty gun at no one. He put a hand over hers, lightly tapped her trigger-finger with his own.
"It doesn't get any easier, does it?"
"No, sir, it doesn't."
No one understood. They wanted to congratulate her. They wanted to heap promotions upon her. They didn't care that she hadn't joined the military to kill or rise in rank. They couldn't understand that it was hard to point a gun at a man who wasn't a soldier, had never tried to kill you, and shoot.
"I met a woman who was dying once," her Colonel confided in her over a stack of papers she had promised to help him sort out. "I asked her if she would make peace, knowing that her end was coming."
Hawkeye looked up. He surprised her sometimes.
"She told me, 'I can't make peace, only hope that's I'll get a little of it.'" He smiled almost ambiguously, but his eyes were sad.
"Sir?" she prompted, as often happened when he thought more than spoke in their conversations. That was common, lately.
"How do you know when someone's dying? When they're sick? When they tell you? I asked her whether she was certain the news had been right, because I hoped for her sake it wasn't. She said it didn't matter whether or not it was true."
"But she was dying!" The response was automatic, out before she could stop herself saying it.
He gave her another humorless smile. "That's what I said. She just looked at me and replied, 'Aren't we all?'"
The men had accosted her in the street. One drew a knife; she drew her gun. They thought she wouldn't use it.
They died more quickly than some others, but in the end, whether you were shot or terminally ill or passed away peacefully in your sleep, everyone had to die. Even knowing that, it never got any easier.
Knowing that she was simply helping someone die faster when she killed them, pulling the trigger and being a medium for death never got easier.
But at least someone believed it shouldn't.