pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)

Seji takes a lot of care to mix his medicines exactly. The key to a good medicine is preciseness, and catering to the patient. There are of course general things; throat soothers, headache tamers, stomach settlers, that almost anyone can benefit from but those are not what bring people to an apothecary like Seji.

 

“I am a priest, not a healer.” he says often enough as he checks heart rate, temperature and the color of a person's tongue. “I can make you some tea for the digestive issues, but you really need to discuss your diet and possible allergies with a medic.” He'll explain as he gathers various roots and leaves and boils some flower petals, grinding or cutting before wrapping up a bundle of fragrant herbage in paper sheets tied with string. “And there's no tea for a teenager I'm afraid, it sounds to me like he needs to be given some space and time to work out why he's so angry, and maybe a few inanimate objects to abuse. Cutting firewood is always a soothing, productive activity.” And the upset parent will hum and pass over some coins, leave with a bowel that's less cranky and a mind a bit clearer.

 

The bulk of his customers are like this, middle-aged to older civilians living as peacefully as they can in their small sector of the village, producing children who grow up idolizing their shinobi neighbors, and who have the mundane, boring lives of people just trying to get by. Market people, farmers, laundresses and cooks, cobblers and trashmen and great great grannies all come by. He trades relaxing incense for soup bones from the butcher, passes candies to the school kids who bring him scraggly weed bouquets and offers advice to the troubled souls that come in the small hours of the morning, tears staining their faces because the gods don't care.

 

If anyone was asked to describe the man Seji Ashouka to an utter stranger, they'd call him kind, gentle, patient and dull.

 

If anyone asked a shinobi to describe him, the first word would be 'dangerous'. At least if it was a shinobi of any actual skill or intelligence. Ibiki who used 'dangerous' to describe any human he did not know utterly to the atom of their chakra paths, would follow up with 'cunning', 'incredibly skilled and deceptive', and 'Probably ANBU level'.

 

Kakashi, who was an actual if mostly retired ANBU, agreed and felt there ought to be a word specifically for the kind of person who was better at your job than you, but also not doing your job. If there was a word it wasn't yet in any volume of Icha Icha.

 

As a mostly retired ANBU and now hopefully retired instructor of Team Seven, there was no particular reason for Kakashi to be spying on the village's most popular and successful brewer of teas and poultices, except that the Council in their infinite wisdom had made a special and specific position of Instructor for the man, for one Uchiha Sasuke the would-be Avenger. On the surface, and at least a layer or two beneath, Sasuke was supposed to spy on the man, learn everything about him, and finish what previous members of T+I had failed to do which was discover who, what, and how dangerous he really was. Digging down a bit deeper someone wanted Sasuke away from Kakashi for a while, and he had to admit that probably wasn't a completely horrible idea... they were far too similar in some ways and Sasuke was picking up all the skills and abilities Kakashi could teach, but without any of the connections to his team, or his village, that kept Kakashi from going rogue back at that age.

 

Still, assigning the Heir the Uchiha to a lowly civilian priest would put the kid's back up enough he might just go missing-nin for good. At least if he failed to connect the same dots that the Council had. Seji Ashouka had been in Konoha less than a year before the attack of the Fox. He'd been given citizenship by the Fourth directly, under 'refugee' status, and he'd earned the highest honor a civilian could by protecting the entire civilian section of village under a massive chakra Ward that had ended up with him laid out in a coma for a week. Similarly, with the attack from Sand he'd stepped in and powered a Ward to shield half the village from both released Tails, that coincidentally prevented the Snake bastard from escaping until he'd been drained near death of both chakra and blood. Orochimaru unfortunately escaped only missing most of his limbs.

 

Seji's 'house' in the civilian district was a modest two story affair with the main floor being utilized as a work shop and sales counter. The upstairs was relegated to living space. There existed a floored patio instead of a yard to the back that housed an ever increasing army of potted plants, and flower boxes under ever window. There were also wards so powerful and subtle that no whisper of sound, motion or light escaped once activated, inscribed in plaster, wood and stone and bound with blood seals. The man took privacy, and the secrets of his clients, as sacred. Because he was an apothecary as well as a priest, every windowsill and doorway to the outside was lined in a mixture of raw salt crystals and powdered cinnamon. Salt for demons, cinnamon for ants.

 

Whatever the 'gentle', 'kind', 'patient' little priest from Wave Country decided to teach Sasuke, it wouldn't be to be weak or stupid.

 

 

 

“What is that?”

“Unagi. Well, specifically unagi jerky.” Seji waved the scrap of pressed, salted, fishy smelling meat at him invitingly. “It's good for you!”

“No. Thank you.” Sasuke wrinkled his nose and reminded himself that Wave people were weird. “You make fish jerky.”

“I buy it. It's a bit more expensive than deer or hog.” Seji tore a small strip off the piece he held and popped it into his mouth. “If there was more than river fish readily available I might try my hand at smoking, but river fish are better just charred and stewed really. Unless it's salmon.”

Sasuke had never had opinions before on fish, except that they were easy when on mission or in a survival situation to find. Even in Wave he hadn't bothered really paying attention to the cuisine. There was food, he ate it, it may have had more fish than chicken. He did remember a lecture from Kakashi one evening about the cute factor of small animals and how that measured into their nutritional value, but he'd passed most of that off as more bullshit from the master bullshitter.

 

“Is that why you have a cupboard full of seaweed? To mask the fact they're river fish you're cooking?” He asked idly as he continued taking inventory of the small kitchen.

 

“Mmm, no. Not really. It's just a healthy snack and it keeps forever, plus you can cook with it, or in a pinch use it to thicken the base mix of plaster casts and clay poultices.”

 

Sasuke paused and rewound that conversation in his head to make sure he'd heard it right, then went back to the cupboard and double checked the dates on the various boxes. Sure enough not one box was over a year old, and at least one had been purchased only a few weeks ago. As far as the rest of the cupboards went there was a decent collection of pots and pans, an army of cans of vegetables only T+I would consider food outside of a crisis, a small collection of mission rations probably purchased for him, and three small sacks that looked as though they'd never been opened, purchased only because someone said they were a necessity of a kitchen; of rice, flour and sugar. In the fridge was more terrifying fish jerky, a bowl of impossibly small fish fry that had been fried crispy and salted, a jug of milk, a smaller jug of orange juice, and three small brown eggs.

 

“This is everything edible in your house.”

 

“Technically everything in my house is edible, including you and I, but cannibalism is frowned on in polite society.”

 

“You don't even have cooking sake.”

 

“I have almost two thousand ingredients to make teas and lozenges and vitamin supplements... I have alcohol but it's in the laundry room.” Seji shrugged at him, chewing on a long thin fish bone.

 

“Why is your alcohol in the laundry room?”

“Because the club soda is in there to. I keep telling myself I'm going to learn to mix the two one day but.. club soda is good for stains and doing laundry makes me want to drink.” He tossed the bone in the garbage can. “I'm not a good cook. Or house keeper.”

 

Sasuke tried to imagine living off dried seaweed and pressed fish. It made him slightly nauseous. “How have you not died of scurvy?”

 

“There's lots of vitamin C in seaweed actually. Anyway if the Council wanted me to teach you to Adult that way, they really should have done more research on my spending habits.”  

pegunicent: I'm in charge? Really? I thought I was Scape Goat Jesus. (Asylum)
 Hope Feilds Island is a small summer island far from any major log pose. It's main function for the World Government is the housing and training of accepted orphans for elite military programs, and each child has to prove themselves in a battery of tests to even get there. Those that survive to graduation are fully indoctrinated Cypher Pol agents.

Leon Liore was in the same 'class' as Kalifa, Rob Lucci, Kumadori, and the other CP9 agents. Unlike them however, he failed in one key area that no amount of training could overcome. With puberty, came the sickly-sweet scent of an un-bonded Omega.

“Obviously you can't remain here, you'll be a distraction to the rest of the recruits. Don't worry though, there's a facility for people like you as well, you'll have your own training and programs to try for.”

As children, mostly orphaned by pirates and desperate for a better future, they all chose to believe in the quick, casual lies. Before, Leon had been the one who always cheered them up. He was the bright, smiling optimist unafraid to call Kalifa pretty, or tease Lucci to try smiling, or to give Jabra a consoling shoulder to cry on when the next girl didn't want to be friends.

They all chose to believe that they'd meet up again after graduation, in one way or another.

Sommerset Island was a winter Island, clear across the Blue, and only one log pose ever reached it. The Omegas who were shepherded into the laboratory facility were given numbers instead of names, rounds of suppressants and neuro-stimulators, and put into a singular program called 'Betterment'. Some broke in weeks, but subject 104472-LL lasted years. He made friends with everyone, smiled and laughed even when he cried, and never gave up telling stories of how things were going to get 'better'. Gradually he lost his memories, he forgot his name, his past, everything except hope and how to smile.

When Kaku and Kalifa finally discovered where their missing friend was 'stationed', the person they 'requisitioned' was no longer the Leon they knew. He'd been rolled so deep Under he was like a pliable doll. One that responded only to an Alpha's push, and set command lines. When he finally surfaced, everything that occurred when he was Under was lost to his memory. A self wiping assassination machine. Incredibly useful to CP and the military.

CP9 was divided. While they agreed they couldn't allow Leon back into 'circulation' between agencies, actually keeping him in their division and caring for him themselves interfered with their own efficiency. Before a consensus was reached, Spandam brought them a long-term undercover operation to infiltrate a shipyard in search of the plans for the Pluto.

Officially they listed Leon as 'undercover' and gave him strict orders to stay in the bustling Marine port, setting him up as a janitor as his cover. It wouldn't be until almost a year into their mission they would receive word through the post that Fire Fist Ace had attacked the port, burning every ship to the waterline and killing an untold number of Marines. Leon was not among the survivors, and sorting through the wreckage left too many unidentified to be certain...

That day a World Government Bounty became something personal to CP9.  

pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
Hunter isn't sure about this at all, especially the part with Den-Mate flying the squishy thing to some strange world. The whole journey is nerve wracking and he glares at the insides of his eyelids waiting for them to die painfully. It doesn't help that Den-Mate is so HAPPY to be back in space and throws in a lot of twists and turns and skitter-jumps that make Hunter's insides feel like icy stones in his body.

He has never been so glad for land before, he's sure. He's so grateful to be out of the squishy thing and on solid rock it takes a few moments to realize half the rock is on fire and the other half seems to be a ball of Dark.

“This is where the guidance system pointed us for the trade meet up... what's going on?!” Den-Mate fills the bond with worry and Hunter sends back reassurance.

He doesn't need magic to feel the roiling powers at play, the battle of supremacy that's tearing the small island apart. //LIMIT BREAKING. TERRITORY BATTLE? ALPHAS.// He snorts, lips curling in a sneer at the grasping, greedy feeling that always comes with Dark this potent.

“We're supposed to meet up here... if the island is destroyed I don't know what we're going to do with all these Water crystals!” Den-Mate feels more concerned than a simple trade shipment calls for in Hunter's opinion. With a sigh he sends back a steady purr and grabs his blade.

//DON'T WORRY. WILL SMACK.//

//BE CAREFUL!//

Hunter snorts and grins. It's an impressive display they're putting on... for elementally driven spell work and mid-grade Alphas. Griever's snarls are utterly dismissive. He wades on in with a basic Wall and eyes the two behind all the mess, letting his annoyance fill the mindscape. They're locked fist against fist and so into each other they don't even realize he could kill them both with one shot. //MORONS! STOP MAKING A MESS! PEOPLE LIVE HERE!// He projects as he brings the flat side of his blade down crosswise on both their thick Alpha heads.

Looking down at the dazed and unconscious bodies he sends exasperated chagrin back to Den-Mate. He really had forgotten his strength while shackled by the Druid collar. At least they both seem to be breathing.

 

 

 

Smoker takes one long, deep drag off his cigars after another and tries not to imagine the paperwork he's going to have to write up in the near future. On his right Tashigi is staring through her glasses and obviously trying not to gape at the crater that was Banaro Island, a main trading hub before entering the Grandline.

On his left No Name is a silent, solemn shadow. He'd been the first to hear the reports over the Den Den, and Smoker couldn't begin to guess what the Kenbunshoku Haki Omega was feeling from the half melted and crumbling pile of rocks. He'd been getting quieter the closer they got to the Grandline, training his abilities as though afraid Smoker would abandon him in the calmer seas if he didn't prove his strength.

Stupid of course, half Smoker's crew would flat mutiny these days if something happened to the unassuming mop-boy. Still, some insecurities could only be fought with time and experience. He'd learned that from a certain fire-brand the hard way.

“Find us a safe place to anchor and ready a life-boat to go ashore.”


“What about the townsfolk?” Tashigi asked, indicating the small fleet of fishing vessels waiting just off the coast.


“Depending on what we find, we'll help set up temporary housing, or take them aboard and set off for the next island on the log pose. For now they can wait.” He growled.

“I'm going with you.” No Name's voice was soft, almost a whisper.


“Too dangerous. Teach was reported in the area he might still be there...”


“I'm. Going. Sir.”

Smoker looked, and sure enough while the words were barely loud enough to be heard, the gunmetal eyes trained on the island were hard as Seastone. And as easy for him to fight.

“Fine. It's your head after all.”

pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
Seiko despises this 'tournament'. Just as he does the entirety of the Makai and the idiot demi-deity who brokered for him to be here. As soon as they stepped through the portal he felt it, the dark energies of Hollows. Not a single, or even a pack, but an entire world comprised of negative energy, and all the creatures that had evolved to thrive there. 

She loves this place. It promises Her endless amusement, limitless strength and constant, overwhelming violence if She can just get past his iron guard. 

"This is a bad place, deza goro yo." Himura murmurs and taps his sword hilt. "The faster we are through this thing, the faster we can go home."

Seiko wonders that his student has so quickly adopted Serietai as 'home'. he'd thought that a few centuries would have to pass before the red-head lost his needy emotions for the human world. Perhaps the responsibilities of captaining Fourth have grounded him to his new existence.
 
"So you guys are like Botan right? Taking the dead on to wherever? Why are you here to teach *us*?" One of their new 'pupils' asks, voice full of the rough arrogance of youth. A minion of Koenma's, like Ichigo a soul with unique and difficult circumstances. Unlike Ichigo, he is no Shinigami, yet. Seiko doubts that one will ever bear another's spirit alongside his own. Still, unique souls are dangerous, unpredictable, so Seiko marks him as one to watch very carefully if he continues to survive. 
 
Aji thankfully knows how to speak 'thug' very well. "Botan? Oh you mean the little oar girl? Naaaaa she's not a Shinigami, man, she wouldn't pass the first week in academy. We are *Gotei* 13! Three captains and a fifth seat from 11th Division which is just as good says *my* captain. We don't ferry people anywhere. We beat their asses for going the wrong way in the first place." he proclaims with a grin. Bright as flame, fierce as eagles, Seiko hopes Aji can temper himself to a minimum of damage. 

//Please don't get hurt Aji. Don't give me an *excuse*...//

"Sometimes we deal with spirits and demons but not often, Koenma's... people are *supposed* to be handling this sort of thing." Haikada's gruff reply is characteristically democratic. Still trying to be politically correct with an insulting edge. "I suppose he got too many of you killed to be efficient any more."

Seiko wants to grin at the stunned silence and rising hostility, the young are so *easy* to rile... but Her voice is too loud, words almost distinct though he's turned his mind as far from Her as he dares. 

Aji shakes his finger, drawing their attention and ire. "So, here we are, ready to give you guys an impromptu education! Pay attention cause we're not gonna repeat anything!"

-----------------------------------------------

Hiei grunts at Aji's fire. "He's good. Very good. Probably *not* up to the Black Flame yet."
 
"You can't tell?"
 
"Shinigami aren't like demons. They rely on their sword spirits too much for me to tell who's spirit strength is which without using the Jagan."
 
"Interesting. So the sword should be a weak point."
 
He snorted "Sure. As weak a point as stealing your rose whip Fox." They both grin at the memory of the last idiot who tried that and ended up the whips meal.

----------------------------------------------

"This one is very sorry to have to hurt you, that he is. This one does not enjoy killing, or causing more pain than needed, so please surrender quickly."

"Captain Himura, stop wasting your breath and aim for the nads, they'll surrender fast enough!"

"That is a vulgar blow!"

"But it works!"

"Only if their genitalia are in the same place, Aji-san. That is not something you can count on with Makai creatures." The tiny girl rebuked lightly from the book she was reading.

"What really?"

"This is why you should read the mission notes Aji-san."

------------------------------------------------

He can't block Her words now. Three days of mindless violence, blood shed as a sport for *entertainment*. He tucks himself in close to his companions, tries to focus on their voices and the steady, supportive touch of their hands. Aji plays with his hair, Haikada grips his arm or shoulder, sometimes the nape of his neck. 

Tamashihane tries to drown her out with her own soothing songs. Cool breeze lullabies and the chilling howls of wind through stone. His sword is fond of him, she finds him worthy despite Her presence and he is ever so grateful of that connection. Aji takes most of the fights, it is his gift. Haikada steps in when he decides that it would be prudent to give Aji a rest, or when he wants a particular opponent to live. In chains. Himura volunteers when he is sure he can win with little blood loss at all. 

Seiko they let sit, and read. Sometimes he takes out his kit and patches up whatever has become ripped or bruised, but Himura is the healer, Seiko is there... Seiko is there. She is so. Loud. 

--------------------------------------------------

"Did he actually *arrest* one of his combatants?"

"There *is* a warrant out for Rikudo..."

"There's warrants out for almost everyone *in* this stadium!"

Koenma rubs his face while the female Shinigami Seiko happily binds the demon up in Kido chains and the announcer's voice fills the stadium.

"Well... uh, that round goes to the... Shinigami... I guess..." A shushed whisper over the microphone to the another announcer makes everyone sweatdrop. "Is taking prisoners *allowed*? It is?!" then louder she continues "Shinigami team are advancing! They're advancing Rikudo... right on out of the arena! Don't get lost guys you have a few more rounds left! Now, our next match up is... team Urumeshi's Kuwabara against Team Gensuo's... Frogget? Frogget!"

"About time I'm up! Semi-finals here we come!"

"Be careful Kazuma-san, they know you're only human."

"So what? I can take on anyone!"

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

The call him by name, he has to fight. He dare not call his blade, Tama is strained enough keeping Her at bay. He must be quick, he must be precise, he must *not* give Her a single negative emotion to use against him. 

"Hello! Thank you for being my opponent today, I will be as merciful as possible!"

Somewhere many souls are either laughing hysterically or shuddering in terror. The creature he faces only grins mockingly from a face built like an alligator. 

"Fight!"

He spins with his hands free and empty, shaping the Kido more with instinct and Will than the actual incantation. Fast, precise. "Disintegrate, you black dog of Rondanini! Look upon yourself with horror and then claw out your own throat!" 

His opponent has no time to escape, the red violence of the spell takes hold of every muscle, paralyzing. Seiko is Force. There is nothing that withstands. 

She screams for more, for blood and pain. She wants him to kill. With a shuddery breath he bows, then walks away with a smile. It's a gritted smile, She is sandpaper under his skin, but he smiles. He can still defy Her for now. 

------------------------------------------------------------------

"So she *can* fight."

"Did you really doubt?"

"I wasn't sure. They might have just needed another member. She has been acting as a healer until now."

"That doesn't preclude knowing how to take someone apart."

"True enough I suppose. Though why hold her in reserve for so long? Even if three out of four don't want to kill, and I'm not so sure how true that is, it's suspicious."

"Maybe they're waiting for a big enough target to unleash her on."

--------------------------------------------------------------------

He makes sure to only use Kido. Kido are teachable, even the demons could learn Kido if they worked at it long enough. 

Himura pulls his hair. It's a dull pain, compared to the one *inside* his head, but it is Himura and that means he's worrying his student and he mustn't do that. Not more than the younger soul can bear. Aji's arm is around him but he has stopped feeling it, his nerves are dulled to anything but pain and he knows this is dangerous because sooner or later he will stop feeling even that. The agony inside will blind him to *every* sensation beyond his mind and leave him a vulnerable, hollow shell She can easily take over. She does not need to convince him, or strike him down all at once, She can wear him down and grind him to dust if She just has enough time. Tama can not hold her at bay forever. 

He uses Kido to buy Tama time, for himself and everyone else alive.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

"Seiko... you're reading that backwards."

"And upside down deza goro yo."

"It's a challenge." She's too loud, he has to drown her out somehow.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

"Just stay *down* dezo goro yo!"

"Like *hell*, I can take you old man!"

Kenshin sighs because it is so familiar, he's faced so *many* young men filled with drive and power and rage and always they think they can win by sheer brute force. By being in the *right*. The right has nothing to do with who wins. But it is a lesson he must teach, time and time and time again. 

A lesson he'd had to learn himself, more than once. 

Seiko-sama had been a *thorough* teacher, unafraid to break his student if it meant the lesson was absorbed. In that regard at least he'd been superior to Hiko-sama, who somehow expected an angry teenager to just *grasp* what a grown man had known for so long. Oh if only Hiko-sama had taken him by the scruff so many years ago and *shaken* and refused to let *go*... there would have been resentment of course, and possibly hatred and rebellion, Kenshin was aware enough to acknowledge that, but perhaps lives could have been spared. 

He would not take Yusuke's life, but he *would* show him his own limits. Otherwise he'd be a poor teacher indeed, wouldn't he?

"This one is sorry deza goro. Truly. Ryukansen Kogarashi!"

------------------------------------------------------------------

"Urumeshi-san be *still*. Please. You need to rest..."

"Old... hag...."

"There's nothing you can do for her now. Please.... Yusuke.... you need to heal. After you can avenge her."

"Bastard.... cheated...."

"No, Urumeshi-san... no he didn't. He tried very hard to leave you *alive*. He wanted you to *live*."

"Why?"

"I don't know... but I think.... because that was Justice. I'm not sure. Human motives are still a bit strange to me."

"You're more... human... than you... know..."

-sad smile- "No Urumeshi-san. But humans are closer to demons than they'd like to admit."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Aji likes brawling as much as the next guy from 11th, but even he's getting a bit bored of the constant smack down on demons. The guys are decent against themselves, but not all that inspiring facing trained killers. For all the hype that the Makai is full of dangerous feral madman and berserk barbarians intent on cannibalism... the place isn't all that bad. 

He saw the same kind of bloodshed in Rukongai, they were just better at hiding the bodies in back allies instead of scattering pieces all over a sports arena. 

He hasn't even had to pull his sword yet. His fists are working just *fine*. Okay, so they aren't in the final rounds yet, just the semi-finals finishing off the riffraff, but he'd hoped to at least break a sweat. The Spirit Detective and his gang hold their own pretty well, but Aji's not so sure how much they're really *learning*. A tournament isn't the place to *train*, they should be hauling these kiddies back to the Academy for a decade or two but the PTB swear there's no time or maybe no funding....

One thing's for sure they haven't learned *humility*. Himura *said* he was sorry, the twit should have just taken his beating like a man and stayed down!

"Here come the Toguro brothers!"

Those two give Aji the creeps. Something about the way the big one never smiles, and the little one never *stops* just makes his teeth grind. That, and the way they keep giving everyone stare downs like they want to *eat* someone. Aji gets some demons do that but those two *were* human. Gross!

The big one points a finger across the space of the stadium and Aji smirks, feeling the fire in his veins flare up. "You want a piece of this tough guy?"

Except the finger, he realizes, isn't pointed at him. his voice is the only one in the air but the words are lost and meaningless, unheard. 

Seiko flips another page in his book. "Did you know, there's over 900 distinct demon races listed in the Makai census? And that's before you get into clan varieties and inter-marriage offspring? Sadly there's no specific identification class for humans that achieve racial symbiosis. I'll just have to vivisect one and write a paper for the scientific journals." 

There's a cold wind tamping down Aji's fire. His girl shouldn't sound like that. Like she's *enjoying* the thought. 

The rough swell of jeers and cheers and screaming fans is nearly deafening but Aji's too busy worrying to listen.

---------------------------------------------------------

 

pegunicent: Zoro makes the Devil cry (Keep Knocking)

Though Sephiroth grated a bit at leaving his Pet at home, he needed Strife to focus. For whatever reason the other Blondy despite his penchant for *gratuitously* female Pets, had a fascination with Zack that bordered on rude obsession. 

Strife was JENOVA's key breeding program specialist for the betterment of non-Blondy races. While that meant he was shunned in the higher circles for his daily involvement in the slum reproduction center Guardian, he had more knowledge about the workings and runnings of the mongrel populace than nearly any other Blondy. He was the final decider for which males down there were left fertile, and which were sterilized before reproductive age. Many attempts had been made on his life and property, in order to ascertain the lists and criteria filters he used, and to prevent JENOVA's steely grip on the future of the Cere's population. 

Under Strife's guidance, the mongrels of Ceres were steadily loosing their more tedious and unflattering qualities, and the lighter shades of brunette and carmine had flourished to nearly a forty percent mark. It was impossible even for JENOVA to completely prevent unwanted male specimens from making their way in to Guardian, but fewer undesirable products were coming *out* of it. 

Bright blue eyes regarded Sephiroth curiously from beneath nearly golden blond spikes. "General. What brings you down to the labs?"

"A threat to the security of Midas." he replied, ignoring the scantily clad mongrel Pet Strife currently favored. "A terrorist cell known as 'Garden'." 

"Garden?" Strife blinked and stood up from his desk. Though not of Sephiroth's height or build, he was still the best of his generation, intelligent enough for a direct wetware interface and strong enough to bend titanosteel. "You're sure that's the name?"

"It was the name given to me by Rufus, who seemed certain enough."

Strife snorted, idly stroking the long black strands of his Pet. "Well, he would know, wouldn't he? I haven't heard of a *cell* by that name, and I hear all *sorts* of things from the Clans..."

"But you have heard of it." Sephiroth pressed.

"You know of Ceres's 'wealth' don't you?" Strife asked, arching a pale brow. 

Tanagura. The reason Ceres was allowed to exist at all, its only true value in the eyes of JENOVA. Sephiroth tilted his head in acknowledgement of the grotesque lab beneath the city. While he'd never been there himself, he'd read the reports from the likes of Muraki to get a good idea what 'experiments' went on. 

"There's a little song going around the Clans, about Guardian and its Garden. Tifa, why don't you sing it for us?" Strife murmured with a smile that failed to reach the ice in his eyes. 

The female's voice was low and husky, any emotional inflection long beaten or brainwashed out. "Guardian spreads its seeds and roots to make a garden. From the tears and blood shall grow, all the colors of a rainbow. Guardian spreads and conquers with life and death. From the shit and piss shall the blossoms unfurl. Guardian beats and breathes and dies so the Garden will rise."

Sephiroth arched a brow of his own. As far as *music* went it was probably the best a bunch of mongrels could manage, but for a terrorist rallying cry... "You say this is spreading?"

"It's very popular. Makes one wonder if the wealth of Ceres's Guardian isn't being spent inappropriately. None of the Clan's have come forward though, and the Kugars, well they're almost bred right *out*." Strife sighed, pacing a bit. "There's just so *few* breeding females down there."

So, not just mongrels, mongrels that had been 'improved' by the science of the lab. Mongrels that could, perhaps, be so improved as to pass for Blondies? Or, if not that far, to effectively disguise themselves as citizens of Midas. But without PAM's how would they get access into Midas? 

Could a PAM be faked?

"Thank you for the enlightening discussion Strife."

"Of course, anything to help JENOVA's favorite." Strife's smile still didn't reach his eyes. "Next time bring that pretty Pet of yours, I wouldn't mind checking him for compatibility with my Tifa here."

"Perhaps." If ever he needed to *replace* Strife, he'd have to burn everything the Blondy touched. 
pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
Sometimes in the nightmares he smells burning wood so strongly the campfires the next day make him dry heave. He makes sure he wakes earlier than the others so no one sees. They rustle up well, soldiers must he supposes, but he thinks he beats them all still. The captain is usually last to nod off, the large silver-maned Nord reluctant to sleep with work still to do and without a bottle of mead at ready hand. 
 
Idhronn has smelled the stuff. They claim it's made of fermented honey and water, but he has his doubts. Mostly he doubts there is anything a human would make that *could* be Pact worthy. The captain is a good man though, hard and fair by the elf's reckoning and after those first few frustrating weeks they've reached an accord. The captain requires only his skills, his loyalty, and his actions to the letter of the law. Accommodating Idhronn's religious stipulations is easy enough, and means that the elf is the one bringing in the game he's so picky about consuming.
 
It takes much more game to feed an Imperial unit than a lone wood elf, but Idhronn is one of the best archers in the Empire. He's a Bosmer in his thirties, barely out of the Vale. He still files his teeth to sharp points, and has a rack of fine antlers kept polished and sharp though he knows he'll likely never bother making a true headdress. 
 
 
 
"I have a question about your Qun." The Iron Bull doesn't quite have to strain to hear the words, but he almost asks the Inquisitor to repeat himself anyway. Idhronn of Bosmer doesn't go around *asking* questions when he can let the answers come to him in their own damned time Bull has observed. 
 
"What do you want to know Boss?"
 
"Have any of you ever *spoken* to a dragon? Even in legend?"
 
The Iron Bull blinks and wonders if any qunari was ever so brain dead as to try. They'd likely be culled from the creches and smothered before their insanity had a chance to grow to puberty. "Not to my knowledge Boss, we're not suicidal. Have the Chargers given you that impression? Really, it's just enthusiasm for the battle."
 
"Hm." The elf breathed what could have been a sigh of frustration or sorrow and shook his head, coarse curls shifting behind the pointy ears. "Your language, qunari, it's almost Dhov, so I wondered."
 
"Dhov... Your word for dragon right? Huh." Bull scratched at one horn, pondering that. "The oldest legends say we're descended from dragons, a kind of kin I suppose, hense the horns. Don't really see how that would work though and we've massacred pretty much all the dragons we've come across since." he grinned fiercely. "Those are the Best fights Boss."
 
"A whole race of dhovakin..." Bull's blood tried to head straight for his pants but he forced himself to breathe and walk normally as the tiny Inquisitor murmured to himself, head bent just enough to bare up the lovely bronze nape of his neck. "...but with no history of the Thu'um and your mages can not speak..."
 
"They do plenty of damage anyway Boss, the saarebas aren't to be underestimated." The Iron Bull warned, trying to figure out what was going on in the elf's head. 
 
"With magic, yes. Not with Thu'um."
 
The Iron Bull parsed what he knew about mages, the saarebas, and the Inquisitor and felt a dangerous notion forming. "Never heard of thume. That your word for Lyrium?"
 
"Thu'um is why I am dhovakin." Idhronn replied, in a tone that told Bull the brief conversation was over. Which was alright by the mercenary captain, really, he had a lot to think about. Like how many pieces they'd find the first guy in who tried to gag the inquisitor.
 
 
 
 
The Iron Bull doesn't often need to find his pleasure alone, there are always those willing and adventurous enough to try and ride him if he provides half an offer. Despite that, often times he sleeps alone, more frequently now that he has joined the Inquisition. 
 
Dorian is proving himself a pleasant challenge to break down, but The Iron Bull finds that at least part of him isn't really invested in the affair. A part that has never given him any issue before. He writes his reports to the Qun while absently rubbing at his chest and when he realizes he's tracing the scars there, gives up entirely with a frustrated snort. 
 
The Inquisitor is barely taller than the dwarves working in the forge and half as heavy. Even if Bull could entice him to an illicit encounter, he's not sure he could *fit* and while there's plenty of other ways to go about things... It's not what he wants. It's certainly not what the elf wants.
 
Idhronn of Bosmer is a terrible liar. Bull knows Asala-taar, he was in Seheron. The Inquisitor is healing, slowly, but he carries the scars and Bull knows that at least one of them has a name. A few quick fucks, rough and dirty sex the likes of which The Iron Bull is famous for, won't ease the ache of loss. The elf is looking for someone who *isn't* going to leave him alone again, and Bull can't make that sort of commitment. 
 
Neither can anyone else in Skyhold, except maybe Cole. 
 
When Bull thinks about the Qun, his mind rushes back to that first dragon together. The sound of its wings pounding the air and the rush of its breath as it prepared to flash fry them all, right as Idhronn snarled. The sharp world twisting crack of the elf's voice sang through The Iron Bull's nerves. The power of that sound yanked the lizard right from the sky, where they could lay into it with ax, sword and spell. 
 
He'd been too focused on the fight to bother thinking much about *how* it all happened. Later he wasn't sure what he'd seen or felt. The Qun didn't worry so much about things that couldn't be proven, and until Bull had another Qunari around to tell him he wasn't a maddened pervert... 
 
But he couldn't promise he'd be able to stay after this business with the Veil was done. He was a Ben-hasrath, he would go where he was sent. 
 
Maybe though... he could convince the touch starved and lonely elf to throw in his lot with the Chargers when it was over. He'd even offer to still call him Boss in private.
 
 
 
 
"So what's with the wolf and bear talk?" The Iron Bull asks Cole, because it's been bugging him a bit and the spirit child is *there*, strange and incongruous and making Bulls horns itch. 
 
Pale eyes peer at him from under the shade of Cole's hat. "They don't like you." 
 
Bull arches a brow. He knows he doesn't get along with Everyone, but so far no one in the Inquisition has been bold enough to come right out and tell him where to shove his ax. "Because I'm a Qunari spy?" 
 
Cole carefully relocated the spider he'd caught in Leilana's rooms to a bare tree branch. "They trust you to take care of him, so they rest, but the bear doesn't like sharing. He doesn't like the way you look at him." 
 
"I haven't seen any bears around to be looking at kid, but I *would* be staring if one found it's way into the hold without ending up a rug,"

"The way you look at Idhronn." Cole says, tone never changing from his slow, soft acceptance. It's a tone Bull associates with the dead and dying. "He wants Idhronn to be happy, he doesn't like that you help. I've tried to talk to him, but he always fades when I get too close."
 
"Wait." The Iron Bull thinks he ought to be commended for not going straight for a drink at the idea trying to hammer it's way into his head, but he *is* standing in front of a Spirit possessing the corpse of a murdered mage. "You're saying that the inquisitor is being *haunted* and the ghosts have opinions on how the elf should conduct his life?"
 
"Yes." Cole seems surprised that Bull is surprised, in as much as Cole seems surprised by everything else a body and people present to him. 
 
Mages are closer to the Veil of course, they have to deal with the Fade in their dreams and demons whispering in their ears but while Bull had nightmares enough of some strange malevolent power taking control and destroying him from the inside out, the *dead* had never given him much worry as long as their bodies weren't still shambling around. Now he was going to wonder how his employer kept anything like sanity at all. 
 
 
 
The Inquisitor didn't often slow *down*, much less stop whatever he set about doing just because one of his advisers got in the way. They were there to *advise* and Idhronn listened. When he felt like it. The Iron Bull respected that. The Qun chose their leaders based on who could make the hard decisions and live with them for the better of the Qun. The Inquisitor's decisions were for the better of the *world*, and the elf wasn't afraid to make the hard calls. 
 
All the same he wasn't a complete hard *ass*. It wasn't like Bull had set out to eavesdrop, but since he was in the best location anyway...
 
"Herald..."
 
"You're doubting yourself. People are not arrows, you can't just make more of them when you need them. You did the right thing, ordering retreat."
 
"At what cost to the greater good?"
 
"There is no 'greater good' at the price of wasted blood. It's all well and good to *pray* for guidance but the choices are still your own to make. This was a good one."
 
"....Thank you."
 
"You're welcome, now stop looking at me like I have all the answers. I'm just an elf."
 
"You're not 'just' anything, High Inquisitor Idhronn of Bosmer."
 
"Hmph."
 
Yeah, Bull respected the guy for making the hard decisions and standing by them, but he was also glad those hard decisions weren't played out like some nobles chess game. The elf didn't just see the larger picture, but all the little detailed pieces that made it up. If he decided that Bull and the Chargers were going on a suicide run, he'd do it because there just wasn't any other option to save the world, and that warmed a bit of The Iron Bull's heart. Among other body parts. 
 
 
 
 
Taking care of the Inquisitor during his 'glut' was far more educational than Bull had first presumed. He'd figured the elf would be completely vulnerable, which was the leading cause for him to force himself to forego the entire thing as long as possible. The second main reason being he'd be completely *useless* for at least four days and who knew what would cause the entire place to fall apart around his pointy ears when that happened. 
 
The Iron Bull hadn't been sure even on the day of the feast come competition that he'd get the elf to agree. The Inquisitor liked him, respected him, took him out to hunt down dragons and drank with the Chargers frequently but he still didn't seem to *trust* anyone. Not that much. 
 
Except, apparently, he did. Or the sight and smell of all that meat had finally tipped the scales of perpetual starvation and the elf couldn't restrain his own hunger anymore. Only Bull had seen Idhronn face down demons so his own stomach couldn't have overridden his brain that much. He was trusting The Iron Bull to be the body guard he'd claimed, to watch over him and keep him safe and above all *not* try to subvert him and manipulate him for the Qun while he was defenseless and pliable. 
 
The Iron Bull was many things, but even he found the idea of breaking the powerless to be disgusting. He had a lot of things to think about, a lot of feelings to categorize and put in their place about the tiny archer and those four long days gave him the time and opportunity while he watched the soft distended belly slowly contract, the dark brown flesh bulk and fill out as muscle and fat layered themselves over the thin bones. The Inquisitor is a confusing guy.
 
He's scarred from a long life of dragon hunting and who knows what, the skin of his back is a slick waxy mantle shades lighter than the rest. It could have been dragon flame, but for a hint of curling green vine near the elf's sharp hip bone. The Bull knows a thing or two about removing identifying marks. There's a few easier ways to do it of course, than have yourself flambe'd. At the very least the elf could have used a decent healer on hand to make sure his range of motion didn't end up compromised by the scar tissue. 
 
He burrows under the blankets even as he rages fever hot, like he's forgotten what it means to be warm. Besides the bone beads woven into his hair and the ring on his thumb of antler, the elf sleeps naked. Mostly naked. A leather cord holds a ring about his neck, usually hidden and safe. Its sized to fit the thin fingers, of a dark red banded metal Bull first thought was stone. There's no engravings, no sign it's ever been worn. Archers rarely wear jewels on their hands of course, the thumb ring is a means to protect from the biting tension on his bowstring. 
 
It's a mystery, that band of metal. One that The Bull thinks might end up unraveling more than just a tragic story. 
 
 
 
The Bull sighed as low growls and a frantic female voice rapidly uttering apologies came over the courtyard. He liked Sera, wouldn't mind having her in the Chargers if she could learn to take orders. Her pranks were hilarious, and Idhronn actually unbent from his savior of the world stoicism to laugh and play merry havoc with her on occasion which could only be good for the elf's blood pressure. However, sometimes she failed to plan for just how pissed her victims would be and when it was the Inquisitor....
 
"Where. Is. It." 

"I'm sorry, geeze, it's hidden in your room I swear I didn't *take* it I just hid it!"

"WHERE?!"
 
Boss sounded fit to kill, which meant that he was a few hairs short of blasting someone off the mountain. Bull couldn't remember ever hearing that tone out of the Inquisitor and hoped they wouldn't loose anyone they couldn't spare. 
 
 
 
 
Holding the trembling form close, Bull stroked over dark hair the way he would a wounded animal. Whatever terrible magics he'd wrought on the apostate, they'd very nearly broken him. Idhronn of Bosmer was no frail mage to collapse after a battle. Then there was the screaming to consider. 
 
Cole had made himself scarce after Bull's growl. The spirit child had been part of the mess, Bull didn't trust him not to see Mercy in ending Idhronn's pain forever. 
 
The elf lay tucked under Bull's chin, wrapped tight in the warmest, furriest blanket the Qunari had. At full sprawl he'd still resemble a sea star latched onto a whale, but now Bull's mind ran more to the image of abandoned kittens. 
 
The hitched, wrecked sobs had died down leaving the copper cheeks tear stained and blotchy. 
 
Stroking slowly over Idhronn's tense back, The Iron Bull made a discovery that set his already foul mood nearly murderous. Beneath the waxy sheath of warm scars, his callused fingers felt two long, deep pockets. The kind of fluid filled hollow muscles made when they'd been torn apart and not stitched back together. Trying not to pay any more attention to them than the rest of the elf, he casually and carefully mapped them out. Beneath the shoulder blades, four inches or so long, bone deep if he had to guess. The Ben-Hassrath knew what made wounds like that, and why. 
 
Someone, at some point, had put *his* boss on meat hooks and let him hang like a waiting roast. 
 
 
 
Tal-Vashoth. Cut loose and left to run wild, of no use or importance. The Iron Bull lived for the Qun and without it... he still had the Chargers. He still had a duty to the Inquisition, and one stubborn, confusing, frustratingly enticing elf in particular. The Inquisitor wasn't much for giving orders but when he did Bull felt something settle in ease. 
 
He may not have the words and faith of his people to fall back on anymore, but he had Idhronn of Bosmer to guide his way and if the guy was reluctant and uncomfortable as the Herald of Andraste, he was still the best damned leader they had. Without the Qun to provide a sense of order, Idhronn is all that stands between Bull and madness.
 
Bull had followed him into the damned Fade after all. He'd do it again if called to. Who needed the Qun for purpose, when he had men to lead and a feral, beautiful, terrifying elf to follow?
 
 
 
The green and gray woolen coat hugged the Inquisitor's trim form, the leather pants cut tight enough Bull could tell which way the elf hung without said coat in the way.  The painted vasselin was strange, kept catching Bull's eyes and making him frown. He was used to seeing the elf serene, or smiling that dangerous little smirk that bared so many sharply filed teeth. Dolled up and poised, he seemed more like a prop than a person. 
 
"Boss. You look good."
 
"How are you a spy, you're a horrible liar." Idhronn muttered, clawed toes wriggling in his open toed heels. They added a whole inch to his height and put him still at Bull's sternum. 
 
"Aww Boss, don't be like that. The makeup is a bit much but otherwise you're very pretty." Bull grinned at the flick of thin fingers telling him to do something physically improbable. 
 
 
 
 
He's never felt possessive over a lover before. Of course, he's also never *thought* of them as a lover, as opposed to a friendly bit of fun or a target for seduction. What he feels for Idhronn is closer to the tangled emotions he has for his men than any mark for his bed. Protective, defensive, and proud, but with a charge of animalistic lust and the primitive draconic urge to *hoard* the elf. He found himself dreaming of tight leather straps and locked doors when he went to bed sober enough. 
 
Those were the dreams that had him waking up hard and leaking, imagining hot hard hands like a vice on his dick and a voice whispering power straight into his blood.



Idhronn's slight weight only makes Bull more aware of the elf's position on his lap. 



"Qunari do not marry." It's not a question, even in tone, but Bull knows what the Inquisitor is asking. Ever since the debacle with Sera hiding his ring, the elf has been pensive and snappish. The Iron Bull gets it, Idhronn was starting to trust, to let himself really get attached to the unlikely band of followers called the Inquisition, and now he's back to thinking maybe living alone in the cold desolate mountains was the better idea. 

"Nah, that's not our style. Doesn't mean we don't have the same kind of feelings, but the Qun comes first. Besides, marriage is supposed to be about raising kids right? That's the Tamassran's job." Waving his mug for a refill, The Iron Bull watched the elf sip at the gruesome concoction he'd pulled down from a secret stash in the Skyhold rafters. Rotmeth, Idhronn called it. To Bull it looked like something scooped from a latrine and smelled like a mass grave packed into a pickle jar. 

"How do you tell the other person how you feel then, if not with a ceremony?" 

Bull shrugged. "Screw them through the floor a few times and say it?"

"Says the professional liar." The elf was quirking that smile that didn't meet his eyes and Bull laid odds he was thinking about who ever he'd buried wearing a matching band of red banded metal. 

The Bull grinned as Krem's favorite barmaid (and thus the only one Bull was reluctant to lure in for a tumble) swished over and refilled his mug with a wink. Krem had excellent taste of course, pretty polite thing didn't even bat an eye or wrinkle her nose at the Inquisitor's fermented sepsis. "Want a bottle of mead Inquisitor?"

"Not tonight, thanks."

"No problem, you need anything just wave me over okay?" She managed not to ruffle the elf's hair, but it looked like a near thing before meandering over to the next rowdy table. 

"To answer the question you're not really asking there Boss... we have something of a tradition ourselves. More private than what you guys get up to I guess." The Iron Bull drank down some of his ale and leaned back in his chair casually. "When we want to tell someone they're our Kadan, we go out, hunt down a dragon, take one of its teeth and split it in two. Then we give half to the person we want to know is at the center of our chest. It's not a promise or anything, just a reminder, something to hold onto when you have to go your separate ways." 

The inquisitor seemed to ponder that over as he drank, quiet as ever in the chaotic company of the Chargers. After he'd eaten and chewed about half his pickling jar he gave Bull a look that called pure nugshit. "I think you just want me to take you after another dragon."

Bull let himself laugh uproariously, because it got the elf to finally smile and *mean* it. "Well I'll never turn *that* down Boss!"
pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
 Sydney is working on his homework (Roosevelt's first term in reflection) when the Young avengers descend on the Tower. He idly note's their progress through the community kitchen and 'den' while highlighting a passage about the 'pit of proposed taxation' the famous president had set forth. He's AFK on the joint modded server he shares with Boro, Ash and a few of their selected friends. He's helping one of them stress test the server by keeping the most particle heavy chunk loaded. 

Teddy and Billy are not so much hanging on each other as propping each other up, exhausted and stressed. They take up one of the love seats and promptly curl into each other the way of the emotionally bruised. 





He is not what they want in a Padawan. He is not easily calmed, he does not accept their rhetorical answers; little pleasures are not reward enough nor extra chores punishment enough to stop him thinking. Questioning. Fighting. 

He runs away from his lessons often. He hides from the creche minders and basks in sunlight filtered through smog and cloud bank. He ruins his tunics with dirt and green plant stains whenever he can find something growing strong enough. 

They sheer off his hair, trim away his claws and lose pair after pair of shoes that he tosses out the tower windows. 

He refuses to acknowledge the name they give him. He is more than a string of round vowels and hard consonants. His name is a reflection of himself, and he finds it in the harsh, soothing growls of Shri-Wook. 

He is not what they want, but they are not what he *needs* either, and until the day a man smelling of death and sour sickness and Force comes through the creche. The Force sings around him, even as the air gets fouler and fouler. When neither the man nor the care takers seem in any mood to do something *about* the stench, he does the honors himself of giving the man a bath from the vase of Alderan lilies. 

This is how he comes to know Knight Auron, who shows him the truth of what it means to be a Padawan and a Jedi. He is fearless and wild compared to his creche siblings. Reckless, impulsive, *animalistic*. He is more than they desire in their city-planet but he is still a Jedi. 

He is Hope. 






Her parents were sensible people, in a sensible town in a country known mostly for its goats, rope and weavers. Her sisters wove rugs from wool and made cheese from goat milk while her brothers herded the goats and hunted rabbits and foxes. 
pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
 It takes most of a year for Sasuke to realize that there's a pattern to the way the priest is training him. It takes him most of the evening after to figure out why, and how he felt about it, and if it was a detriment to his goal. 

Kakashi is no longer his jounin instructor, but the man still takes him aside once a week for advanced jutsu lessons. On occassion Sasuke will take on solo D-rank missions for the chance to practice something and give himself a break from the old men pretending to be paternal figures in his life. 

The council could have assigned Sasuke to Kakashi. the man had the only other Sharingan in the village after all. 

It's only halfway through the second year that Sasuke becomes grateful they didn't. He's ashamed it took him that long to understand the priests 'underneath the underneath'. Of course Liam isn't going to teach him advanced jutsu or ways to awaken the magenkyo. Certainly he won't teach Sasuke how to kill or poison. Priests don't do these things. The good ones at least. 

They heal. They preserve. They counter the agents of sickness, depression and evil and in doing so Sasuke learns so much more about how venoms and toxins work, how the bod reacts over long term stress, how the mind can break down and the soul crumble when faced with the imballance of hope and possiblility. 

Liam teaches him wards and seals, ways to purify or contain evils, ways to shield and protect. once Sasuke master these, he turns the lessons around in the relative privacy of his family compound. He re-engineers the wards as traps, he learns how to dissable or bypass the seals, he creates new jutsu to counter the chakra pattterns and develops compounds that mask themselves as benign medicine. 

By the third year Sasuke understands what his strange teacher has been trying to tell him. He knows that his goal, his purpose, can not *end* with his brothers death. He needs answers. He needs truth. If the truth behind Itachi is only that he never cared at all, went mad and ended the clan to test his strength... it is still not the entirety of the truth. Like the truth that one poison can be nuetralized with another is not the whole truth of either substance. 

The council could have given Sasuke to Kakashi. They are both Sharingan, and they are both powerul, genius, and fundamentally broken. Sasuke can imagine he would learn many things under the Copy-Nin. He can also imagine those things would not be *enough*. they would be shallow lessons with a shallow goal and Sasuke would become frustrated, bitter and possibly forsake the village entire to find a *true* teacher who would give him the power he needed. 

Sasuke has no loyalty to the village that holds him as a hostage. The Third and Fourth do not inspire him. His 'team' has scattered. 

Yet, the council, for whatever reason, gave him to Liam. Liam who is no ninja and can not teach him anything *of* ninja, anything of Konoha or the Uchiha or the Sharingan. Liam who teaches him to spy through kindness and community, who teaches him to kill and torture through medicine and healing. The priest who gives him candy and wards and seals expecting him to find ways past them, through them, and praises him for his creativity. 

Sasuke will know one day why that choice was made, if the council were wise enough to predict the future or foolish enough to hope he cold be weakened and controlled more easily. He is learning all the ways to see underneath the underneath, and to create his own layers. He has no loyalty to Konoha, but he has ties within it and they give him strength, though he did not always know it. His loyalty can not be purchased with coin or pretty words, but with a currency it has taken almost his entire lifetime to comprehend. 

The true lesson, underneath all the layers of pain and death and healing and shielding, is about trust. though Liam does not like ninja, and has no love for teaching, he trusts Sasuke. He trusts that Sasuke *will* learn, and will learn more than Liam can teach, will learn to think and observe and utilize what he knows for a good purpose. He trusts that Sasuke will do *more* with his life than merely kill his brother and avenge his clan. He trusts a child he does not know, on the words from a council he does not like, in a village of ninja he does not agree with, because he knows more about Sasuke than any of them from a single half seen battle. 

"How could you agree to this so easily, you don't even know me!"

 

"I heard from your teacher that you had a battle on a bridge once. That you took a blow meant for your comrad. Why would you do that?"

 

"I... i don't know! My body just moved!"


"Because your body is smarter than your brain, Sasuke-san. You are trying to rationalize a desicision you have already made. The fact is you made it, and now you must live with it. One day you may even get around to figuring out what it is."

 

"Would you stop talking in riddles?!"

 

"I'm not, yet."

 

The disicion Sasuke had made without realizing, the reason his body knew more than his brain, was because he was trying to seperate the two. He believed, and then he tried to hide that belief in concious logic. Now, looking back, it was obvious to him that he'd decided to trust Naruto from very near the beginning. Naruto would never betray him. Naruto would never lie to him. If, one day, Naruto killed him, it would be because Sasuke had become someone who needed to die and so, Naruto had Sasuke's trust. Deeper, beneath the beneath, he had Sasuke's loyalty. Because he *believed* in Naruto, where he believed in nothing and no one else at all. 


"Ah!!! Sasuke-bastard! I'm back!"

Looking down from the north wall at the bright orange blob of dusty genin, Sasuke crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. 

"Dead last, you're still alive. What a pity."

"Come down here and say that to my face, I'm gonna kick your ass for old times sake!"

"That would imply you've ever beaten me before. At anything. Ever. Besides title of world's dumbest."


Maybe the priest couldn't make him stronger, but if it had been someone's intention to slow Sasuke down the severely miscalculated. Liam didn't need to teach Sasuke strength. He taught Sasuke many ways to teach it to himself.

pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
 he sits in the chair patiently, waiting, a small quirked grin on his face because he's won.

The trial had lasted a year. 

Deliberations almost two months. 

The verdict came down just as he wanted. Guilty. Execution. 

The obituary was already typed up, the headstone read 'Loving husband...'

She loads the first syringe and her hands don't tremble. She'd argued, she'd *plead* but there was too much circumstantial evidence against her. 

The youngest, and last Fuher of Amestris will meet his god under her needles, because that is *justice* and someone else might screw it up. 

//I've never killed anyone before.// She confides quietly, loading the second syringe. //I can't tell you how much I *hate* you for making me do this.//

//I'm sorry.// He says, and she almost believes it except that he's put up no resistance, no defense and his eyes are s *clear*... "Blame the parliament. I didn't give you the order."

For a moment her vision blurred to much to find the last syringe. "Bastard! You made Parliament! All your fault! All your fault! I'm doctor! I HELP! I help..." she bit back the sob as her whole body shook.

"Then help Amestris. Help the nation heal." 

It took her five deep breaths before she could scrub her eyes clear and force her hands steady enough to load the last syringe. The IV was already in place. She stepped up, the members behind the glass window had their nice clear view of her breakdown and how she still took each needle and dutifully injected it into the man she'd followed for years. First the muscle relaxer, enough to paralyze. Then the blood thinner to aid the last, final shot of painless death, enough morphine to kill a man three times his size. 

"Thank you... Doctor..."

pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
 She stares at the collection of children before her and snorts. //let's move//

"Uh, I don't... know you..."

//The sun will set soon and the world will become a frozen waste. I'm not dying, do so if you chose.//
in the end they all introduced themselves in a cave that was half ice, half stone. A girl attacked and Zhu alchemized her into the ice. A boy who could have been her brother tried to make deals and Zhu alchemized him into a set of ice chains simply because that was what she had on hand and she couldn't be bothered to play psychiatrist on less than a cup of coffee. 
 


"Avatar."

"Yes, that's me!" 

Zhu's non-plussed stare must have given away some of her feelings because the boy cringed back after a few moments. "What does that mean precisely?"

"Uhm... I am the arbiter between the spirit world and the mortal?"

The woman gave the world around her a hard glare, as though daring any spirits to come forth and make trouble. "No need."
pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
 The hospital in Konoha is not that different from the hospital in central, for all it's *larger* with it's own library and a wing dedicated to 'bloodline issues'. Zhu settles into a routine of studying, aiding the various 'medi-nin' in their tasks, giving demonstrations of her medical alchemy, and training with Alex. She eats at the shinobi equivalent of the mess-hall and sleeps in her appointed 'ambassador' suite. 

Alex is the diplomat, and she leaves it to him. She is here because their leader is a doctor, and medicine is something their countries have agreed to share. She bites her tongue when she has to, but her feelings for Konoha are plain. That they seem no more inclined to like *her* is only bothersome to Alex. Zhu has spent her whole life (that she can recall) ignoring the looks and voices of people she loathed. She is not *expendable*. She is an asset too important to *dismiss*. 

Killers are easy to come by. Skilled healers *willing* to piece you back together are decidedly not. 

She does not mind sharing her knowledge, so long as the exchange is mutual. She's a doctor, medicine is meant to be *shared* and *used*. They have left their libraries open to her and she spends as many hours transcribing and memorizing as she can afford. She's an alchemist, long hours of intense study are nothing *new* to her. Alex often comes to collect her for meals and spars to 'shake the dust off'. He sets up the telephone and the mail carriage. 

She doesn't like to admit it but if this year is going to be fruitful in an alliance, it's almost entirely on his broad shoulders. 

Everywhere she looks, there are children who look like Alphonse and Edward or younger being encouraged to kill. They learn poisons, chi strikes, how to break bones and 'complete the mission' before they learn anything like human empathy, nursery rhymes and times tables. 

Konoha is a land she would like to see *burn*. If Roy succeeds in making an 'alliance' here, she may well never speak to the man again. 



Sasuke hates when his teacher drags him out for 'practical demonstrations'. He hates more when he *fails* these demonstrations which means he tries extra hard to pass and be perfect and yet... It's when he tries his hardest to be perfect he usually ends up sending the man into the medical ward. 

Today he was showing how he figured out how to counteract the Water of Life... only he hadn't tested the counter-agent fully, only on the original sample Sakura gave him and assumed it successful. Then when he tried to show off his progress by using the counteragent on the vial that his teacher had made the man went into cardiac arrest. He'd jutsu'd straight to Kakashi sensei who had justu'd to the Hokage and from there everything was a series of doors and excuses for why he couldn't be allowed to know what was going on.



Sasuke was sure he had the compound correct, he'd tested five on the small sample Sakura had given him, and he *knew* his seals were correct. That meant that either his proportions were off, he'd miscalculated something intrinsic to the creation process or there was an elemental *difference* between the Water of Life his teacher had made and the potion Sakura had provided. 

He really, really didn't want to believe the last one, because that meant that not only had *Sakura* misled them into creating a forbidden medicine, but that Priest-san had risked his *life* teaching them a forbidden art that was patently *worthless* in the long run because Sasuke couldn't undo it! Well he could undo one but not the other!

Rubbing at his temples he kept one ear tuned to the upstairs in case Priest-san woke up early. He'd be very surprised given the man's chakra drain. Surprised, not *concerned*, even though the man was by profession *not* a shinobi and therefor *not* expected to throw his life away on a moment's notice for Hokage and village. 

Sasuke knew why he was assigned a mere civilian priest when both of his team mates were sent to the Sannin. It wasn't just that he was a variable they couldn't calculate, there was no one they could *admit* to having the knowledge to teach him. He was too valuable to throw away but not so threatening they had to tell even a good *portion* of the truth to. 

It was one of the few things he appreciated about the damned priest. The man had no concept how slippery and treacherous the word of shinobo could be and so honestly tried to teach Sasuke everything he could, and hen pointed to the things Sasuke could teach himself. Liam oly wanted him to live a long and *happy* life. 

Even his parents hadn't bothered putting to words that kind of thing.
pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
 Alex contemplates the tumbler before him. He doesn't drink as a general rule. A glass of wine at family dinners perhaps, or the occasional champagne on a holiday. Part is pride, alcohol destroys the body and he has worked hard to create a body worthy of the family name! The other part is... aversion. Too often he has seen the bottle become a crutch. He refuses to *escape* reality, he is an Armstrong, he will *face* the enemy and persevere!

If Olivier were here, she'd give him one of those scornful looks and tell him he was a fool and a coward for allowing himself to be a fool. Some days he misses his sisters like severed limbs. Olivier's decisive bedrock surety, Amue's warm hugs, Strongine's solid advice and Catherine's *cheer*... They would never let him sit here and *brood*. 

The golden liquid mocks him. No, his own mind mocks him, the whiskey is just a tool he's using to mock himself. He doesn't want to drink, and he won't, because if he does he'll be forced to admit that what he really *wants* is to find whoever twisted Zhu up as a child, and *kill* them. No fair battle, no arrest, no warning for a chance to explain or escape, just one broken bone after another.

It wasn't the war, he watched helpless as his friends went in full of optimism and pride and came out hollowed, broken people. Hawkeye's smiles gone, Roy's eye's forever watchful and flinty, Hughes's words now a shifting code. Zhu came out of Ishvar as she went in though; fierce, proud and passively suicidal. The war changed nothing except who she followed out of it. Barely a teenager then and a prodigy, any family would have shown her off as a jewel...

They should have been proud of her, whoever they were. 

Someone should have protected her, loved her, shown her how amazing she was so she would understand, would love *herself* even just a little. 

"Ah, *whiskey*." 

He slides the tumbler to her and watches as she tosses back the drink with obvious relish. Whiskey is her prefrance, though he's never seen her turn anything down. Despite being a doctor and knowing the cost, she finds her way back to the bottle time and again, chasing away her troubles. Dying slow. 

"Alex? You okay?"

He gathers up a smile, rueful and fond, and tucks the worry back down behind his breastbone. There was nothing to be done for the past after all. Now is what matters. "I was contemplating a drinking challenge, but I'm afraid you have an unfair advantage of experience against me!"

"Ehh!? Are you calling me alcoholic Alex? I can beat you in *anything*!"







Ibiki bows and folds his hands behind his back. The Hokage has a frown on her face, one of their 'guest's' elixer offerings on her desk. "Ibiki." She says, and the tone is both a question and an order. 

"Armstrong is broken. If he were shinobi I'd put him to pasture teaching, he's mentally unfit for active service. The raw potential for ANBU without a scrap of psychological conditioning. If he hasn't disobeyed orders to 'show mercy' it's only because they were smart enough not to trust him that far." He reported dutifully. He wasn't judgmental, the man was a spy and a defender but not a shinobi, he couldn't *be* judged on the same scale. 

"Diplomacy isn't exactly the safest position in a military government, but it does take him out of the front line." She nodded. "If everyone was ANBU, we'd have a very different and sad world to live in."

This was true. 

"And the woman?"

Ibiki frowned. "I have not been able to get as close to her as your ladyship. From observation and dealing with Armstrong, she is reckless, possibly suicidal, a genius level medic and tactician. I believe she is also far more capable of direct combat than she projects, but chooses not to engage."

Tsunade-sama tapped the small glass vial holding what to Ibiki's senses was an inert green fluid. "Suicidal I can confirm. *Devious* as well. That woman is holding back in many ways, many things..." She tapped the vial again, giving him a hard look over he wasn't sure what to do with. "How fond are you of your scars?"

He blinked. "I'm a shinobi." He replied. "They are no imparment to my duties." Truthfully they helped a bit in the initial breaking of soft targets at times, but that wasn't what she was asking. 

"Good, because until I need you under deep cover, I'm not bothering to mess with them. This 'gift', it might as well be a challenge. Tell me, what would you do if an unknown quantity came to the gates, offering peace and intel, and a direct line to their chakra paths?"

He arched a brow, causing the scars in question to twist. "Assume it's a trap."




Sasuke blinked, arms full of wet linens for the clothes lines. "Sakura?"

She gave him a small smile, looking even more awkward than usual. He's gotten resigned to the fact that even *she* has surpassed him in training. Working directly under one of the Sannin? She and Naruto will be the new legends of their generation. He's just lucky *not* to have fallen in with the crazy snake bastard, like his *brother*. 

"Sasuke... I uh.. I was hoping for your help." Her voice is pitched not to carry, and he looks around, world layers of grays and blacks as he identifies the ANBU hiding in the shadows *there* and *there*. They've taken to following her a lot lately. 

"Let me hang these up for Mrs. Habi." He stalls, watching the world and taking in the routes for kunai, wire, teleport jutsu... the linens are a favor for the old lady who grows Priest-san's ginger. She's one of the most amazing gossips for being near ninety and deaf as a post. 

"Oh, uh, here, I'll help!" Sakura volunteers, more practiced than he is at getting all the folds out before pinning the sopping sheets. It's a bright day, they'll be dry by late afternoon when he'll return to take them down, collect a basket of ginger and the news of the day. Between the two of them the laundry is up only a few minutes. 

"What's wrong?"

"Can we talk back at the shop?"

Priest-san's shop, with its air tight wards and cunning seals where even the top Junin would have to shed quite a it of blood just to eavesdrop. "Sensei is in." he warns. Sasuke had cracked seven ribs in their last spar, failing to pull the strike at the last minute. It's not the first time he's injured the man who took him in and offered to teach him. Those first months they were mutual wrecks of abuse. Now though, Sasuke has to re-learn his own limits, which seem to be changing every day, and he has nightmares of killing the man on *accident*. Running errands and doing chores is nothing to repay the lessons and pain that just being his student seems to accrue the man. 

"Oh, good." 

That's not the response he's expecting and he finds it more difficult to turn the Sharingan *off* in the face of her discomfort. 

The civilian sector is clearly divided from the rest of Konoha, the achitecture not as friendly for sandles and window entrances. Priest-san's apothicary is a two story shop near the wall, with living quarters above and a humble affair below, counter, outdoor awning and walls of cabinets with tiny drawers all carefully labeled and locked with preservation seals. The man himself is at his out-door table, bandages hidden under worn white robes. Sasuke watches him move carefully, a cup of pale tea, probably willow bark, near his elbow. 

"Ah, Sasuke-kun, and Sakura-san, a pleasure to see you again." 

Sasuke catches just the slightest slurring, the fainest haze to the man's eyes. Grabbing the cup he manages to swipe a finger through the dregs and taste it before either stop him. "Lotus root."

His teacher glares and coughs deliberately. "Why yes, Sasuke-kun, I am self medicating a bit, there is *wor* to be done and *I* am the one making the medicines."

Sakura looks back and forth between them a moment then jostles forward, fingers touching lightly over pulse and chakra points. Sasuke snorts and stops trying to turn *off* his eyes, his nerves are just too tight. 

"Priest-san, I can help if you like, I've mastered basic osteo-regeneration which help your discomfort quite a bit..." She says, offering up a smile. "I... need to borrow Sasuke and I was hoping for your insight as well..."

The man gives them both a long measuring stare, but gives in easily enough. He's a soft touch for 'children' no matter that they're both Genin with double digit body counts. Sasuke makes a point to find where the ANBU have settled themselves now, while Sakura's warm chakra dances over and through the messy tangle that is his teacher's pathways 

"Oh my... that is *much* better, Sakura-san you're becoming quite a master medic!"

The change in his teacher's voice is enough that Sasuke feels another twinge of guilt. "What do want from us?" He asks harshly, fingers twitching for a kunai but settling on cleaning up the powders and grindstone on the table. He has no target, he can at least be *useful* until one presents itself.

"Ah..."

"How about some cookies and tea? Inside?" Priest-san pats his shoulder and Sasuke knows that's his cue to set up the 'OUT' placard and secure the travel chest beneath the table with a quick blood seal. Inside is cramped and smelly, but he's gotten used to the odors and the open windows shimmer to his Sharingan with a rainbow of wards. Closing the front door seals them within a cocoon of seals that ought to be claustrophobic but instead feel like *safety* and something Sasuke refuses to call 'home'.  A blink and his world is filled with colors again, the simple facade of reality with all it's strange edges.

Priest-san sets out cookies and tea, plain jasmine tea this time, and Sakura pulls *something* from her pocket. 

"I know what this is, but... I need to know how it's *made*, and if there is a counter agent." She says, all seriousness, the awkward girl swept away by the compitent kunoichi.

pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
1) He's ten years old, and his parents are dead. His guardian is a whore. His teacher is insane. There is nothing in this world that Luo Jong-Ma does not want to destroy. His anger and sadness are all encompassing and being called 'Roy' does not make it better. Knowing that the woman who has taken him in *cares* about him does not make her family. His family is *gone* and they are not coming back. His alchemy is not that good. 

His teacher will not teach him *enough*. Earth and air and chemical reactions are not *enough*. 

His teacher's daughter is the only one who calls him by name, who looks at him without pity, who *understands* that the world is awful. 

She wants to fix it. 

She smiles, and holds his hand, and watches him manipulate the air with his arrays and shrugs when he gets it all wrong. "Things get better when you try." she says. He wants to tell her that he loves her, but he can't because the people he loves die and he won't do that to her. 



2) He's seventeen and watching her pack up her duffle bag, eyes hard and set, the angry shouting between her and her father still echoing in the tense silence of the small house. She's leaving, joining the army, taking her talents and skills and putting them to *use*. She's going to make the world a better place, while he sits here in a crumbling workshop with a crumbling alchemist trying to put together the last pieces of his theory. 

He wants to follow her. He wants to be there, at her side, helping her reach her goals and watching her shine like the star she is. He wants o tell her that she's the closest thing he has to a sister, she's his family, he loves her. 

Instead he helps her pack, tips the taxi and makes her promise to write him when she gets her commission. 

He'll be there beside her as soon as his alchemy is worth-while.



3) "What good is alchemy when it does *this*?"

He's twenty-one, in the trenches of the Ishvar desert and she's breaking to pieces in front of him. He can't offer her anything but his silent heart ache as well. His alchemy was supposed to make things better, her father always taught him Flame Alchemy was for the good of the people...

Of course, he also said that Roy was a fool and worse for joining the army and now he knows the old man was crazy, but right. There's nothing good about it except that he doesn't have to *see* anything but ashes and char. The screams are bad enough, he adds more oxygen to cover the sounds with percussive blasts but nothing covers the smell. He's always going to smell of smoke and burning meat. He'll carry it to his own grave. 

'I'm sorry. I love you. I never meant for it to be this way.'

"Please... Please get rid of this, so no one can ever use it like this again..."

'I never wanted to hurt you.' He's careful when he snaps, so very careful, and she still screams and sobs while his eyes are dry, they have to be dry, he has to *see* what he's doing to make the scars as small and surgical as possible. 'One day I'll pay for this to.'



4) He's thirty-two and she's dying in his arms. Deep in a tunnel under the city that's been a trap and a lie she's bleeding out and even his fire can't save her. She's dying and he can't make the words come out. 

Too many years holding them back, too many lies, too much dependence on the steady trigger finger at the back of his head. Of all the things he owes her, he can't give her this. The words won't come. He chokes them down, prattles about 'It's going to be alright', The Xinganese girl manages to do more with an ounce of blood than he does with all his years of study. 

Looking down into walnut brown eyes he almost has it. "Don't leave me Lieutenant."

'I love you too much.'

The swords go through his hands before he gets the words past his lips and a treacherous part of his heart is grateful. 



5) He's thirty-eight and the youngest Fuher of Amestris. Changing the country takes time, effort, and more diplomatic skill than he's ever possessed. Trying to end two wars, prevent a third and bring the stubborn minds of the populace around to new ways of thinking gives him ulcers. 

Having the support of Fullmetal, the People's Alchemist helps. 

Culling the sycophants, psychotics and warmongers from the ranks has helped even more. 

Letting General Hawkeye handle initial delegations has meant a lot less polite death threats over the dinner table with visiting ambassadors. 

She's more beautiful than ever of course, strong and righteous and the scars on her throat make their enemies shudder sometimes. When he comes in to the 'office' in the mornings his eyes are drawn to her, making sure she's there, alive, well. He needs that subtle reassurance before he can get on with another day of trying to subtly grind the world onto a new track. 

Every morning he finds those words tucked behind his teeth, shining from his eyes, and he swallows them down and blinks them away because in her eyes he can read the brilliance of her reply. 

'I love you too.'

pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
5) Roy basked in the simple pleasure of a desk entirely free of paperwork. It was lunch time, so he had about thirty minutes to appreciate the sheer novelty before it was over. Still, after months of battle, the feeling of satisfied conquest was hard to dampen. Pulling one of his personal projects out from the bottom drawer, he settled into his chair more comfortably to read the untranslated version of the Xinganese classic 'Fifty Clans'

So enthralled was he in the imagery of the battle between Red Rebel General Chang Yunzha and Gan Ye that he completely missed Maes's entrance until the man thrust a series of baby pictures over onto the page he was reading. 

"Isn't she adorable?!"

"Give me a moment to adjust my mental imagery away from dismembered guerrilla fighters and I'll have a better reply for you." Roy answered, putting a bookmark into the volume.

"You and your disgusting hobbies, really, you need to get a wife already." Maes laughed, tossing himself into one of Roy's 'guest' chairs. Thankfully not the one Edward had tampered with. Roy was waiting to 'fix' it until he thought of an appropriate punishment for the boy. 

Roy tucked his book back in his desk and steepled his fingers. "The world at large trembles at the notion of my reproduction Hughes. What brings you here besides a lack of victims?" 

"Aw come on, you'd be, well, I wouldn't say a *great* father but I'm sure you couldn't be any worse at it than anyone *else*."

"Such confidence in my parental abilities."

"Yeah, I can see you leaving the poor tyke to your minions for watching already!"

"And Havok teaching them to smoke. Truly, you inspire me old friend."

"It's almost September." Hughes pointed out, as if that was relevant. Roy's train of thought clanked, shuddered, and switched tracks abruptly though he only allowed himself to blink once. 

"It is. Should I be concerned about possible untimely vacations again?" He leaned his chin onto his fingers, watching the conflicting emotions flitter across Hughe's face. The man was loyal to a fault, the fault being when he was loyal to people *other* than Gracia, Alecia and Roy. 

"Well September is when school usually starts, and the Elric's, look I know that they don't *have* to go to school but it seems like they ought to have more than a basic education from alchemy tutors you know? Maybe someone to look after them and make sure they have the basics all the other kids their ages would get. Phys Ed, History, Maths..."

"Unless you are volunteering yourself to this exercise in futility Captain, I'm sure we needn't waste resources and effort making sure our youngest State Alchemist can *read* and *add*." Roy snorted, trying not to imagine a crater where a school had once stood. 

"Okay, maybe more advanced sorts of subjects. They're smart boys. Alphonse likes biology right?" Now Maes's face had that distinct expression Roy had come to associate with dangerous schemes and clandestine plots. Usually at the expense of the military repair budget. 

Alphonse. Alphonse was a bit of a tricky thorn that Roy had to work *around* while running Edward at problems. If the boy's secret was ever revealed... ever revealed to people who had the power to do something *about* it... And it was only a matter of time, truly until that happened... 

He'd lose them both, and probably his own life for harboring them. Conspiracy might get him imprisoned, but conspiracy alone wasn't nearly as damning as outright betrayal of the government. When he'd recruited them, he'd set his own timeline for events in fast motion, because there *would* come a day when he could no longer be their secret guardian and whether they found the stone or not, everyone in Roy's little cabal of mutineers would fall under the sword of the Fuher. 

"I suppose," He said slowly, weighing the pros and cons of the idea before him, "That you're going to next suggest that Alphonse be privately tutored by someone well versed in the subject, who has no small amount of free time coming to her in the form of earned vacation, and who typically takes her vacation right here in the city." 

Hughes shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands. "It's not a *bad* idea! We could always use more alchemists trained in medical alchemy right? It keeps the kid learning and out of trouble as a delinquent!"

"It will also cut into Major Spitfire's personal research time you realize." Roy pointed out.

"What research? She passes her annual exam every year based on field martial aptitude, and consistently fails to use more than a third of her grant funds." Maes waved his hands as though dismissing the entire thing. 

It was true of course, but even if she set out to fail and turned in nothing but Alecia's finger-paintings for research, she'd still be a Major. The government would no sooner turn her out than they'd give Roy the boot, or send Edward back to the family farm. Some alchemists really were worth more than others.  

They might however, finally flex their authority muscles and chain her down in a lab somewhere. Some place Roy couldn't *reach*.

"I'll let *you* be the one to deliver the paperwork to her then." Roy said, grinning just a bit at the sudden shift of panic white in his old friend's complexion. 

-------------------------------------

"What this?! I not babysitter! I doctor!" Spitfire slammed the folder onto Roy's desk so hard the wood gave a muted cracking noise. 

"I believe that is Captain Hughes's suggested course of evaluation for Alphonse Elric in regards to the medical certification requirements. As you are the head of the State Alchemist Medical Program it is your duty to oversee all the candidates evaluations." Roy replied calmly, flipping idly through the finely typed legalese. 

"I evaluate State Alchemist! Alphonse not State Alchemist!" She argued, bristling like a cat in a room full of poorly leashed canines. 

Roy nodded. "He is not *yet* a State Alchemist, however he has shown great promise and a distinct inclination to medical alchemy. It would behoove the Army to no end to ensure that he receives the education and training he will require in order to pass the exams *when* he is able to take them. Since I have here already your requested leave papers, I see no reason not to indulge the Captain on the matter and give Alphonse the best private tutor the state can afford."

"My vacation not for teaching! My vacation for research!" She shouted. He watched her clenched fists, just in case she decided to use them for more than disfiguring his furniture. 

"If you needed research time, materials, or space, there are five laboratories in the city all set up for those express purposes, and a number of forms I can provide for those express reasons. There is no reason you should have to waste your vacation time on private research when the government is willing to sponsor it, *Major*."

She was nearly vibrating with frustration, his own shoulders were beginning to ache in sympathy with how tightly she was holding herself. "Labs always in use! Research take long time! No food, no water, apartment make more sense! I know what I do, I not need babysitter!"

"No," He agreed. "You need *help*. I will not condone a repeat of September 1910." He said softly, the steel in his tone finally breaking through.

---------------------------------------

He was just getting used to the idea of an office. Someplace with four solid walls and a window overlooking actual grass and trees instead of sand and dust. Sure it was small and filled with someone else's left over messes, but it was still better than a tent and mortar fire. East City was an entirely different world from Ishvar, even if it failed to hold his friends. 

Hughes and Spitfire were both back in Central, far enough away to make him worry, placed well enough to give him a measure of Intel he could *use*. 

The phone ringing brought him back from daydreams of Madam Christmas's warm shop to the reality of his (disorganized, filthy, possibly mold infested) new office. "Yes?"

"Cheer up! Guess who has the most beautiful, wonderful, intelligent wife in the whole world?!"

Roy smiled despite himself, holding the receiver far from his ear. He'd managed to retain most of his hearing through the war, he'd rather not lose it now because of his friend's 'enthusiasm'. "Why she ever agreed to marry *you* when there are so many richer catches in the sea..."

The outraged squawking was only his just due he supposed for missing the big day in question. 

Shifting through the mountain of his predecessor's overdue log books, he wondered if setting the place on fire could somehow be made to look accidental.

"Anyway, I actually called for a reason you cold-hearted playboy." Hughes sniffed dramatically over the line. Roy could almost picture the spectacle he must be making in order to clear the room. 

"Is that so, I was beginning to think you'd forgotten in your fit of matrimonial madness." Roy replied blandly. Hawkeye gave him, and his gloves, a pointed look from her own desk across the room. 

"Well my wife is just so *wonderful* she deserves to be appreciate even by the uncouth masses! If you'd hurry up and get hitched yourself old man you might get to experience a *fraction* of my bliss!"

"Say that loud enough and the Fuher will outlaw the practice for State Alchemists on grounds of national security."

"You're not the only one getting long in the tooth either. How long of a vacation did you give Spitfire again? And I only got a three day honeymoon?"

"She has twenty days for travel and research Captain, your leave papers are not my jurisdiction and if they were I'd have put you on two days alone in case you lost so many intelligence points you needed transferred to the infantry." Scribbling his signature across a handful of requisition forms he didn't even read, Roy shoved the bundle into his overflowing 'out' box. 

"Twenty huh? You alchemists and your 'research', she's probably just out at the beach enjoying a martini."

"If she can pass off the report as scientific, she can *keep* the cabana boy." He wondered what his friend's angle was. Twenty days wasn't actually that long for a research vacation, not with the state of the trains lately and the fact she'd put a small town called 'Valienfell' as her destination. He'd had to actually look on a map to find it, tucked in the mountains of the West Area on the line south of West City. 

"I'll tell her you said 'Hi' when she comes back then. After Major Armstrong of course."

Alarm bells rang through Roy's mind but for once he utterly failed to understand his friend's code. With trepidation turning his blood cold he stared at his papers blindly. Had she finally decided to *run*? Had someone dug deep enough to discover that Dr. Marcoh's 'discoveries' were nothing more than creative ways to murder? Had the old man been *found* and thrown her to the wolves?

"Tell her I expect a full and *readable* report as well." He said finally.

------------------------------------

"How bad?" He asked, staring at the photos Maes had slipped in with his weekly packet of 'Look how gorgeous my wife is' material. Fuery had assured him the phone was as secure as it could possibly be, and the mail had been delivered by one of Major Armstrong's personally vested Lieutenants. 

Hughes voice sounded... old. "She was in a coma for two days. Raging fever and delusions for three. She's fine now, lost about about five to eight pounds she didn't *have* but... fine."

One of the pictures showed Spitfire as she'd been found, curled over the toilet naked, one hand limply holding a broken pen, a mess of scribbled notes on the floor. Another picture showed her half dressed in a tub of water, staring blankly at nothing. 

"The cure?" 

"Fully viable, it just requires more than one dose. Four, to be exact. She managed to create a vaccine as well, from herself... the hospital is already working on synthesizing it for mass production." 

Of course she did. She'd probably planned it all out that way. 

"You were aware of her plans, and didn't see fit to give me any warning?" He kept his voice level, almost idly curious, as he studied the picture of Armstrong holding her in a gentle and thorough pin. The man looked beside himself with worry and shame, while Spitfire simply appeared murderous. "That implies that this is not a *new* habit of hers, Captain. I should sincerely hope your secrecy *is*."

The silence on the other end of the line spoke volumes. Roy tossed the photos (not the ones of Gracia) into his bin and set them ablaze with a single snap. Hawkeye gave him a very bland look from where she was pointedly polishing one of her pistols. 

Finally Hughes sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't think she'd let it go that far. I can't, *we* can't, blame her for her ethical integrity you know." 

"No, we can't. However, her suicidal tendencies and utter lack of self worth can not be allowed to cost the Military its best medical alchemist. From now on I want *reports* Captain, and an eye on her." Briefly he remembered Kimbly, the mans psychopathic delight in murder, his almost paramount need for attention. How the Crimson Alchemist had ever passed the psychological battery exam to qualify for rank Mustang had never figured out... until the fighting started. 

Spitfire never would have passed either, but then, she'd been officially drafted. 


----------------------------------------------

"As I see it Major, we have a compromise before us. You wish to do your research, and I wish for you to have on hand an *assistant*. If you really object to the younger Elric, then all you need to do is find a suitable candidate you trust to replace him. Until then I'm not granting leave for any period of time greater than three days." Roy flicked the folder shut and sat back.

She glared at him for a few long moments then turned on her heel and stalked out without a word or even a slam of the door. 

It was their first argument without some kind of property damage, but he didn't think that was a particularly good sign. 

"Lieutenant, pass along to the men that for the foreseeable future, we're on emergency drills. No extended leave."

He could be petty, or he could be *fair*, and he knew what kind of Fuher he was going to be one day. 

"As you say, Sir."

------------------------------------------------

After the first week passed, he was slightly optimistic. By the end of the second, that optimism had been replaced with cynical realism. Alchemists as a whole tended to be a paranoid and secretive lot, State Alchemists doubly so since funding and promotions went hand in hand with finding better ways to kill someone else. 

Add to that the language barrier, the cultural divide, and the fact that Spitfire was a woman in a field dominated by men and who really would she ask to be locked in her room for days on end with an infectious disease? 

Her friends could be counted amongst the nurses she had personally trained, Roy's own staff, the Armstrong family and the Elrics. Of the alchemists she might allow to see her work, to study it while she was at her lowest point, who even had the basic knowledge to understand it? Major Armstrong's illustrious family rarely dabbled in alchemy outside of advanced artistry and pugilism, and the Elrics while both geniuses, were *children*. Alphonse might be the most logical choice owing to his immunity but he was also only 13!

He wondered if she had even considered the joy of having Roy sick and helpless as a perk, or if his name had never crossed her mind. 

After all, there was no reason for her to trust him. He'd given her to a government she hated, gift wrapped her alchemy for a man that perverted it, then chained her to a cause that required her serve a man and nation she utterly loathed. He'd sent her to the front lines to patch men back together multiple times to keep her from testing on herself, and perhaps most damning, he hurt the one person in the world she genuinely *loved*. 

She might forgive him the rest someday. Never for the scars on Hawkeye's back, asked for or not.

No, she had no reason to trust Roy to take care of her while she tried to cure something virulent and lethal with her alchemy.

Roy grinned ruefully to himself. She wouldn't let that stop her though, not forever.

---------------------------------------

"I teach Alphonse. Not on vacation. Vacation for other thing." She growled, pacing around his office. Her jewelry was of a distinct butterfly motif today, the chopsticks vibrant orange and black. 

"Alright, I'll see what sort of schedule I can set up between your hospital work and the Elric's missions." He murmured. "That means you've selected someone else to be your research assistant?"

She glared at him, long nails tapping on her jacket sleeve with a canvas sort of rasp. "You have basement?"

He didn't smile. If he smiled, she'd hit him, and he liked his teeth. "I do."

"You help me. *This* time only. I find better, smarter person next time."

"Of course. I'll even make us dinner." He offered generously, hiding his grin of triumph until she'd left his office with a slam so hard it broke the door jam. 

pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
5) Roy sighed and stared at the mountain of paperwork trying valiantly to collapse his desk. With power, came forms in triplicate and security clearances and expense reports. Every time it seemed he'd conquered a pile and set it to be taken away, someone usually Hawkeye, set another one on top twice as high.

More than half of course came from his predecessor for whom the words 'efficiency' and 'backlog' had never been explained. If the man ever returned from commanding troops near Creta he'd enjoy transmuting General Bernard into a decorative paperweight.

When he became Fuher, this would be a task he gave the people he didn't like. The ones he didn't drop right into a cell somewhere. Surely if there was a Hell as so many religions claimed, the desk of a Colonel was part of it.

"These are the most current." Hawkeye told him as she interrupted his day dream of Gran Basque covered in papercuts with another stack.

With a sinking feeling in his stomach he realized the top sheets were in Xing. 

"Extra strong coffee please Lieutenant." He sighed, picking up the packet that constituted Spitfire's weekly 'report'. Not only was it in Xing, it was in double code. Sometimes triple. When he wasn't cursing her for a foul-hearted harpy shrew he was taking notes to improve his own journals. 

This time not only was it written Xing style from right to left, but she'd done it back to front as well, bottom to top. In the style of poetry. Warrior death poetry about bodies and blood and the futility of war. After a few hours cracking that he mostly got ranting about how stupid the commanding General Margras was and how she'd like to dump him and Mustang both in a cesspit. Intermingled with questions of their ancestry and dubious sexual prowess were the hard numbers of men wounded, killed or captured. Aerugo had no intention of surrendering an inch of blood drenched soil, and as the years ground on that soil was getting steadily more crimson. 

Transcribing the most useful of the numbers into something he could actually present, a pattern caught his eye. Spitfire typically made something of a point never to repeat her insults, and yet he'd seen the term pervert and bastard at least five times... 

Going back to the original Xing characters he fought down a shiver. //I Need Help. Send M-Stone. Supply Line Compromised.//

She was only two months into the six month tour he'd assigned her. How bad could the lines be, that she was asking for *those*?

"Lieutenant, get me Captain Hughes on the line please, and requisition forms 9140 A and C."

Hawkeye's brows went up for just a moment, then she was back to her bland stoicism. "Sir."

It was a day for drinking and bets when Mustang asked for *more* paperwork. Damn that little witch.

------------------------------------

"Compromised?" Hughes eyebrows went almost through his hairline before he became serious. "Did she specify if it was just alchemy or medical supplies?"

Roy shook his head slightly, dedicating himself to his coffee. "Nothing, but considering who she is and what she's asking for..."

Maes eyes went flinty for a moment. "Things are getting desperate. More desperate than usual for a war that's been going on since we were our parent's imaginings."

"Could anyone have ever imagined you Hughes? I find it terribly improbable."

"You flatterer, I can see why the ladies all swoon. What would *she* need *that* stuff for anyway? It's not for use on like... people right?"

Roy stared at his cup, but all he saw was the past. 

---------------------------------------

//M-stones. All this suffering and... and *killing* people is for some damned M-stones?//

//Philosopher's stones. Incomplete ones but... it's the first time anyone has come close to even producing that. Marcoh is a genius. A twisted murdering genius maybe but...//

//So what?! They're just M-stones! They're worthless against people's *lives*! He's murdering people for power! Borrowed power!//

//And you gave him the idea.//

//What?!//

//Well, no you gave him the insight to make it *work*. What you did with your potions, the way you refined your materials... that was the catalyst for his Crystal Array. He already had the idea... this war is his laboratory but...//

She was so pale, so horrified, he almost felt sorry when she started to vomit, if he could have felt anything through the numbness.

---------------------------------------

"They boost any alchemy, including the alchemy she uses to create her medicines. She's either running herself into an alchemist's exhaustion, or she has enough people who will die without the most powerful curatives she can create that she's desperate enough to use the very things she despises." 

Maes still looked worried. No, he looked more worried. "Can you.. I mean can we even *get*..."

Roy couldn't keep the grimness from his tone. "There's stockpiles."

His friend blanched nearly white before he managed anything like control. Thankfully no one at this hour paid attention to anything but their breakfasts. "What?"

"Marcoh's research wasn't complete, not by a long shot but the process for *those*... we couldn't keep it enough of a secret from the higher brass. What was left over from Ishvar got locked up, studied, and replicated. I don't know all the details but... every State Alchemist since the war has been issued a few. Requesting more is just a matter of forms."

"But *who*..."

"Maes. There are some questions it's not safe to ask until one has no enemies of power *left*." Roy cautioned, still staring into the past. "I need you and the boys on this one, the supply lines have to be kept clear."

"Right... right. Let me make some calls. Why did you send her to the front lines any way? *Again* I mean, this is her third tour if you count Ishvar." And none of us ever care to see another battlefield since then he doesn't say with anything but his telling silence. 

"Captain, there comes a point where she's safer tending to immediate triage, than letting herself get strange ideas in the safety of a civilized hospital." I can't keep her from trying to kill herself, Roy said with his bleak eyes, but I can give an honest enemy the chance to do it for her.

----------------------------------------------

The report from Major Armstrong three weeks later indicated that his Second Lieutenant Ross and Sergeant Brosch had successfully delivered the shipment of supplies to the commanding medical officer on the ground, aka Major Spitfire. They were stopped not by brigands and rebels or even Aeruga hijackers, but the General himself, one General Carcano. The General had not issued the supply request and was therefor quite surprised to find it there. 

He had also not approved any requests since coming into command ten months ago, except for food and ammunition.  

The General did not 'approve' of the 'look' of Second Lieutenant Ross, and made rather suspicious commentary regarding Major Spitfire's abilities due to her ancestry and gender. 

Major Armstrong had apparently, at that point, made a few comments about his own elder sister Major General Olivier Armstrong, and her strong friendship with Major Spitfire, as well as a point to the fact that while Major Spitfire was not the combat alchemist General Carcano had hoped for, General Carcano had not *been* in Ishvar. 

Nor had he dealt with the likes of Doctor Knox and Doctor Marcoh. One who was there simply to study the dead and one who was there to kill, and ended up running. 

Somewhere about that point, the report says, Major Spitfire had come out of the tent, grabbed the shipment entirely with a clap of hands and hands alchemized from the round, beamed at Major Armstrong as 'if they had been separated for years and wished only to test their mighty warrior spirits and fighting fervor in a beautiful spar'. Roy assumed there'd been sparkles and even fewer clothes involved at that point. 

Roy had never personally met General Carcano, but he was already wording a polite letter reminding the man that Major Spitfire was on *loan* and he could keep her for the price of a good bottle of vodka. He was also planning on asking Brigadier General Grumman if there weren't a way to *audit* the man and make sure that supplies weren't going 'missing'. It wouldn't be the first time after all a supply line to the troops became a piggy bank to a man's pocket. 

Five more months until the Harpy was here trying to claw out his eyes again, he'd try to savor it and get some actual work done. 
pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
 4) Roy's phone rang and he blinked. It was the weekend, he was off duty, and Maes was supposed to be fixing up the house in an effort to do something actually *productive* for his wife and their anniversary. 

Wiping his hands on a towel, he turned down the heat on the eggs and reached to pick up the receiver. "Hello, Colonel Mustang."

"You're Colonel Mustang, I'm Long Zhu!"

Snorting into the phone he allowed himself to roll his eyes, the tension in his shoulders melting away. "Major, I know I have explained the etiquette in phones and their usage. Obviously you've figured out the later, the former is just manners. Something I'm sure you'll get accustomed to *eventually*."

He smirked through the frustrated blistering of Xing curses, focusing on turning his eggs and adding his preferred omelette fixings. Diced ham and bacon, some shredded cheese, onions and peppers and as she wound down he flipped, folded the eggs over and poured just a few chopped tomatoes on top so they'd warm but not cook. 

"Besides insulting my ancestry and choice of partners was there a reason to interrupt my breakfast Major?" He ignored the jabs about his intelligence, after all, *she* was the one who took vacation in order to experiment on herself with highly infectious diseases. How she managed not to fry her own brains from the rampant fevers he still didn't know and hoped never to have to mitigate again.

"I can't bake cake. I need help." She sighed in defeat. 

Plating his breakfast and leaning against the counter to eat, he pondered the problem. "Are you following the directions in the book?"

"All Amestrian book! I follow, I bake! First cake explode, second I put in twenty five minutes, in five minutes is fire!" 

"Sounds like you're mis-measuring your dry ingredients, flour is exceptionally flammable." He muttered around a bite. Light and fluffy, just as he liked it. "You didn't try to alchemize them together did you?"

"Only first time. Second I follow book!"

He hummed thoughtfully. "Are you using white flour or cake flour?"

"Flour is flour!"

"That's like saying sugar is sugar and a vaccine is a vaccine, Doctor." He grinned, methodically polishing off his pate. "Why are you attempting the fine arts of the kitchen anyway?"

"For anniversary party. No fair Gracia make her own cake."

He nodded and set his dishes aside. "Alright, I'll be over in a bit, try not to destroy anything important."

--------------------------------------

Despite being her commanding officer since the war, he'd never actually been to her living quarters. He knew her address simply because it was on file. The building was plain gray brick, blocky and inelegant. Cramped in between other buildings of the same stripe, he almost walked past it. There was no doorman, and the lock on the front entrance had been removed, probably because the property owner couldn't be bothered to locate a key. 

The stairs were solid, and when he looked, appeared alchemized into the walls. The top story, only four floors high, showed water stains on the stair well ceiling and peeling paint on the door numbers. The hardwood floors were cracked, splintering and gray. For all that it was within walking distance of the hospital the tenement screamed poverty. 

Shaking his head he knocked on number 414, the one door that gleamed with fresh paint in military blue with sharp silver numbers. 

"Come in!"

Letting himself in, he realized that again there was no lock, but considering she could simply transmute the door into a wall, it hardly concerned him. In stark contrast to the rest he'd seen, her walls were thick and plastered with a sea-green tint. her windows were glazed panes, rainbows flickering over the polished dark wood floors. The air smelled of incense, lemons, and burning sugar. 

Looking around he realized she must have taken the dividing walls and transmuted them into the double thickness of her perimeter ones, only two doors at the far end of the single room indicating where her toilet and sleeping rooms were. On one side of the main room was her kitchen, on the other a wall of book shelves and large pillows on the floor for sitting, with a low table obviously salvaged from someone's yard sale. 

Zhu herself was in the kitchen wearing her low slung loose fighting pants and a white undershirt, the black ink of her tattoo peaking up from the sloping back neckline. The kitchen itself, he realized, looked far too polished and shined. Looking into the trash bin he chuckled at the blackened form of something sort of cake shaped, hastily buried under a lot of other charred flotsam. 

"You come help cook or snoop?" She asked with her arms crossed defensively under her breasts. Arching a brow he looked over the set up.

"You are aware that 'cup' is a unit of measurement, not a container of choice?" He pointed out, seeing the glass he would bet good money she used only for alcohol rimmed in white powder in the sink. 

"Why not measure in weight? All alchemy in weight!" she argued, gesturing to the perfectly standard scale on the counter. 

"Baking and cooking in general may be the birthplace of alchemy, but it is considered an *art*, not a science." He countered, idly opening and examining her cupboards. There was an unfortunate but unsurprising amount of alchemy ingredients, all carefully labelled and stored, from aconite to lead to Jacob's root. He didn't find actual food until the refrigerator which was stocked with milk, eggs, mess hall left overs and the bleached white flour for some reason.

'Because it's food' his brain tried to tell him but that couldn't be true. Her cookware seemed to consist of a set of dishware, a single fry pan, and a much abused now cake tin. "Where are your teaspoons?" He asked, dreading the answer.

She made a noise of frustration, scratching at the stained bandana covering her hair. "I make Xing tea. No spoon Xing tea!"

That was the answer he feared. Running a few mental calculations, he headed straight for the back rooms. 

"What you doing? Toilet on left! Left!" She hurried after him, but he got her bedroom door open and took it all in, in its painful starkness, before she could grab the handle and pull it shut. "Pervert horse! I no give permission go there!"

"It's sterile. You sleep on the *floor* on a mat, Major, and your closet has no doors, with nothing more interesting in it than your uniform. Your kitchen is barren, your furniture second hand, your personal possessions decidedly few." Ticking off his fingers he continued. "You hardly date, rarely eat out, and other than splurging on the Lieutenant, alchemize almost everything you need rather than buy it. You make a decent salary, I seem to recall signing off on it every month, so where exactly are your funds going?"

She glared at him fiercely, shoving him away from her door. "Not your business bastard equine."

He settled back on his heels, eyes hard. "I could make an inquiry into your financial records, but that makes it official. If I'm asking the questions, chances are someone else probably is as well."

She stared at the floor for a long moment then sighed. "Hospital. It goes hospital. Patient can't pay, nurse needs classes, equipment old..." She shrugged. "It goes hospital."

He knew better than to touch the issue of paying for civilian patients, and taking care of her nurses was her own business. Equipment on the other hand... "You need to run equipment purchases past me first Doctor, the hospital has a budget it needs to account for." He made a mental notes to delve into those records and find out who, if anyone, she'd managed to flag with her expenditures.

"None of this is cake! You here to be helping make cake!" She argued, dismissing him and his orders out of hand. He bit back his own frustration, knowing by now how to work *around* her self destructive tendencies. 

"You have neither the equipment, nor the proper ingredients." He grinned and this time she edged away in latent survival interest. "I believe my dear, it's time to go shopping."

------------------------------------

Roy smiled charmingly at the shop girl as her geriatric father dragged the Green Alchemist around by the wrist and ranted about the merits of copper over steel in baking dishes. 

"So, you must appreciate a lovely dinner. What's your favorite meal?" He purred at her, watching her blue eyes go wider and a faint blush highlight the freckles over her cheeks. 

"Ah... uhm.. my mother makes good casserole..." She stammered. Mentally he downgraded her probable age to a little bit more than legal. 

"Hmm, I don't suppose she'd share her famous recipe then?" He asked with a feigned sigh. Somewhere in the shop a series of loud bangs resounded among some muffled Xing swears. 

She startled like a woodland creature. "I should... uh grandpa..."

"I'm sure he's fine, Doctor Spitfire is just a bit clumsy outside of her natural environment of the medical ward." He reassured her, letting his voice drop to a throaty rumble. 

From the sudden flush from her ears down the neck of her blouse, he hadn't yet lost his touch. 

"You know," he continued, enjoying the way she bit her lip in apprehension and torn impulse, "I've been told I make an adequate chicken parmesan, if you'd ever care to... rate my skill."

----------------------------------------

"Sadistic pervert Pony Colonel." Zhu muttered, carrying the sacks of her new cookware with the air of an angry cat. 

"With a new phone number and hopefully an interesting Friday night next week." He agreed with a grin. 

------------------------------------------

The frosting wasn't quite right, but then he'd had to explain that buttermilk was not an alchemy of salted butter and milk. Still, it was edible, and somewhat pretty, and Zhu's kitchen was only moderately destroyed. 

It was a success. A moderate, underwhelming success, but given that Gracia hadn't had to make it (or deal with the furious ranting and raving of a Green Alchemist who thought duck eggs and chicken eggs were interchangeable and buttering a dish meant melting the butter and pouring it in) he felt satisfied. Zhu being the perfectionist she was kept grumbling about alchemizing something better, but he refused to participate in *that* experiment. 

"The party is tomorrow, I assume we can put this safely in the fridge... wait, no, there's no room in your fridge for actual *food*." He grimaced tiredly.

"I have food!"

"You have mess slop. You know we're at peace, you can eat real food. You could learn to *cook*."

She waved a hand tiredly, rummaging through the fridge and pulling out various take out containers and shoving things around to make room for the cake. "Mess make food, why not eat?"

"The mess makes *slop*, hense the term. It hardly qualifies as food." He countered, folding his arms over his chest and watching her backside wriggle half interestingly. "You're very poor wife material you realize, barely a house keeper, can't cook, zealous overworker who's hardly home, and can't even drive." She glared at him over her shoulder. "I'm just saying Major, you're going to make someone very unhappy someday."

"You cooked your brain instead of cake. Get out of my house."

"It's not even a house. It's a *repository*." He muttered. "Maes should be hounding you not me."

"Maes want to *live*." She pointed out, shoving the cake into the fridge with enough force to dent the frosting. He'd fix it tomorrow. Maybe. 

With a smirk he relaxed back against the counter, looking her over the way that would get him brought up on fraternization charges if that were a thing among State Alchemists. "If you killed me you'd make Riza sad, so I consider myself quite safe *Major*."

Her lips twitched into a vicious smirk, a similar assessing heat in her expression as she closed the fridge with her hip. "I make it up to her. I make *her* Fuher."

She'd be terrifyingly competent at it. 

With a sigh he let the challenge drop. Riza was there to guard his back, Zhu was there to watch *hers*. 

"Until tomorrow, Major."

"Get out stupid horse."

-----------------------------------------------------

Gracia's smile and Maes crow of delight made up for the actual *taste* when they finally got around to cutting the damned thing and serving it. 
pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
3) Roy looked up and blinked at Falman's sudden shout, glancing at the clock. Of course the woman would decide to pester him before any decent *waking* hour. 

Before he could come up with something witty to say and still hide his yawn, Spitire was seating herself on his couch and plopping a take out carrier of coffee cups on his desk. Good coffee from the smell. The paper cups had a stylized chimera on them from the cafe he chose to frequent when he resolutely wanted a day *away* from military intrigues. 

Then she put a tin of biscotti on the desk. 

"Alright, look, I know when I'm being bribed. I'll listen to whatever hair-brained archaic none-sense you want." He sighed, pulling one of the cups closer to inhale the wonderful steam. 

Riza shook her head from the doorway, which was when he realized there were in fact three cups. "You're hopeless Sir." She muttered, taking her own cup and three of the cookies before leaving and purposefully shutting the door. 

Zhu took her time, letting him drink and savor one delightful cookie before saying anything. "You know what is next week?" 

He scratched at his memory, then checked the calendar on his desk. "The Lieutenant's leave?" 

"Riza's birthday!"

He nodded, not sure what she was getting at. "Yes, she has a week's leave and a chitty for five hundred spare rounds at the range of the caliber of her choice. Same thing I give her every year. Why?" He also had an unspoken understanding with her that he wouldn't do anything too dangerous or idiotic while she was supposed to be relaxing and enjoying some time away from Colonel sitting. 

Zhu glared at him then flopped back in disgust. "I need help. I need idea for birthday gift!"

"I thought you gave her spa tickets."

"Spa closed this year, renovations. I no find other good one." She started ticking off her fingers. "She no want jewelry, no perfume, no clothes, already have dog." Here she paused and gave him a look he ignored in favor of carefully dunking another biscotti. "Already vacation no go anywhere, I no have authority for chitty, last time I give bath things she give homeless!"

"The Lieutenant is particular in her bathing accessories I suppose, and the homeless are in need." He shrugged. 

"I need idea!"

With a sigh he set his coffee to the side for a moment. "Major, there are few things in this world that Lieutenant Hawkeye *needs* and fewer still she *wants*, that I am aware of. Nothing that she is not in a position to acquire for herself at least. What she *appreciates* are quality firearms, time to herself, well mannered subordinates, and clear targets. Outside of those things it is neither my place, nor in my interest, to *poke*." 

From the stubborn set of her chin, Spitfire believed him about as much as she believed the Fuher when he claimed something was 'in the interest of the nation'. 

"If you want an idea on what to give the Lieutenant that she will enjoy, use and be grateful to receive, I'd look in the latest issue of 'High Powered Survival'." He said finally. "Now... don't you have a hospital to terrorize?"

The slump in her shoulders as she left wasn't defeated, but he still felt like he'd kicked Black Hayate off a bridge.

-----------------------------

Riza gave him a look later, as she brought yet more paperwork to the mountain trying valiantly to collapse his desk. She said nothing, merely glanced at the tin he'd been unwilling to finish. It was on the tip of his tongue to apologize, instead he waved distractedly at it. "Go ahead Lieutenant, I'm a bit busy to appreciate them at the moment."

It was the closest he'd allow himself. It wasn't his fault she'd been raised by a man who never appreciated her, idealizing a military that ended up failing to match those ideals. She was who she was, who he needed her to be. Sometimes he wondered what they'd be like, to each other, for each other, if circumstances were different. Then he'd remember the scars on her back and set aside such pointless meanderings. 

"Thank you Sir. The Major has excellent taste." 

He smiled ruefully, staring at the military letterhead of whatever report he'd grabbed. "Yes. She certainly does."

--------------------------------

"So... what does Tianshi mean?"

Roy fought not to blush or stammer, coughing instead and searching for something that wasn't quite a lie. He doubted she'd appreciate the truth, just as she didn't truly appreciate the calf eyes or worshipful attention of their newest Xing ally. "It's a title of respect, for someone you feel has saved your life. Very old fashioned. Once she can properly pronounce her 'r's' I'll stress the importance of using your name and rank."

Riza's brown eyes glared at him knowingly but he refused to give in. It was hard enough on her being a women in the army, and with a General as her grandfather. The rumors of her relationships would just be... 

And damn that little witch for not knowing how to be discrete! Just because he was the only one who could understand her sighing about her 'angel' didn't mean everyone else in uniform was *blind*!

"I see." she said finally, and Roy really really hoped that for once she didn't. 

----------------------------------

Locking the doors to the office, Roy settled his hat firmly down over his brow and started the long walk home. He'd sent them all off hours earlier, determinedly finishing the impossible workload that came with anticipating an entire week without his right hand. 

Ignoring the glowing ember from Havok's lit cigarette, he bypassed the unspoken invitation of a ride and let his feet take him down the paved and swept sidewalks towards the officer's housing district. State Alchemists had their own little sublet, each building set just far enough apart that random explosions could be ignored and fires hopefully contained rather than spreading to the adjacent building. 

By right Major Spitire could have had one, but when she'd applied for her housing allowance, she'd listed an address in the poorer, and much closer, district of Laboratory four. Minutes walking from Central Hospital. One day, Roy feared, he might have to call the Elrics 'neighbors'. 

By then he hoped his living arrangements would include the Fuher's mansion, just so he wouldn't have to deal with Edward pounding on his door in the middle of the night to declare something *else* Mustang's personal fault. 

His own home was a standard affair, two stories and most of the upper level given to an office and library with a second library hidden behind doors that existed only in potential. He lived here, brought back some of his dates and did the bulk of his research in the basement but there was little about it he'd call 'home'. 

Home was somewhere you went to be with the people you loved after all. 

Letting himself in and locking the door behind him, he wondered what a home with Riza and Zhu in it would look like. Impossibly neat and steril probably, with two used bedrooms. A kitchen with a lot of alcohol. A yard for the dog, and a room for Riza's armory, with little potted plants all about the place. 

Snorting away the image he went for the refrigerator and reminded himself that they'd both starve without a mess hall.

------------------------------------------

"Maes, hold on, we're almost there." Roy grit out, half carrying his friend up the hill. The white and red cross of the med-tent flag snapped in the wind, a beacon of grim hope. 

"I'm fine Roy... it's a clean shot... they won't have to take the leg... they won't have to take my leg right Roy?" Hughe's voice was nearly hysteric from pain and blood-loss. Roy refused to look away from the tent, gripping the taller man tight as he stumbled and dragged. 

"You'll be fine Maes." Riza replied instead, covering their backs and firing short, precise shots down into the front line fray.

Steps from the tightly lashed canvas Roy called out //Forsaken witch! We need help!//

Blood soaked uniform nearly purple in places and black in others the small Xing girl rushed out, hands scrubbed raw and sleeves cut off entirely. //Stop yelling! Everyone needs help, you canine bastard. Here, in here I have a free cot in the back...// She guided them through the sudden darkness of the large tent to a mattress hastily flipped to hide the gore from it's previous occupant. All around nurses scrambled with moaning and crying soldier's, scurrying water, bandages and other supplies to wherever they might make a difference. //Lay him down here.// "Nurse!"

Roy didn't realize until he'd been shoved roughly aside that Riza was still outside. Feeling lost, he backed to the wall, watching as his best friend groaned and cursed, small hands determinedly straightening and assessing the damage to his leg. "Strap!" //You, hold his hand, this will hurt, I have to set the fracture!//

"He was shot..." Roy fumbled, composure lost. 

"Roy! What the devil is she doing?!"

"Strap!" //Hold his goddamned hand soldier!// She snapped and Roy obeyed, grabbing Maes hand like a lifeline as a nurse shoved a thick strap of canvas and leather between the man's teeth. Staring past cracked lenses to terrified eyes, Roy found himself praying. There was a sickening wet crack and Hughes *howled*, the grip he had on Roy grinding the alchemist's bones together. 

Snapping his gaze down to the wound he had just enough time to flinch himself before the sadistic woman poured steaming hot water over the ragged bullet wound. "Are you crazy! You're supposed to help him!" 

If she heard him at all she didn't give a sign, hands forming a circle with finger tips to wrists. A flicker of green lightening, the sign of an alchemic reaction, erupted briefly over the wound as she planted her hands on the furry skin. Blood and liquid metal welled up and away as she watched. "Potion!"

The same nurse holding the strap delved into her apron and came back with a tiny vial of glowing blue fluid. "In or out doctor?!"

"Both!"

In confusion he caught the nurses steady eyes right before she yanked away the strap and poured half the vial of liquid into Maes's mouth, clamping down with her other hand to force the man to swallow and passing the remainder to the girl who dumped it right in the bullet hole. Coughing and sputtering Maes shook, then convulsed, flesh knitting itself rapidly back together at impossible speed.

//What did you do? What... *how*...//

//Xing magic. My potions are very strong, it will save his leg. I don't have many, you stupid horse, so if someone else dies because I didn't have one...// She glared at him briefly, then at the cursing, shuddering form of Maes. //Get him out of my tent. I have people to treat in here.// "Water! Scrub!" She turned away, already gone back to the world of the dying and broken as he pulled Maes close.

"She didn't take my leg. Oh god that hurts so bad Roy, I never want to be shot again. Fuck that sucked so bad." 

Roy closed his eyes and gave himself a moment to bask in the tearful babble.


------------------------------------------

Roy contemplated the glass of whiskey. If he drank, he'd remember more than he wanted to. If he didn't, he'd brood on things current that brooding couldn't fix. 

He'd never appreciated Doctor Spitfire much before that day, when hostilities at the front erupted in more than a threatening standoff. He'd seen her as someone in the back, mostly unnoticeable except when she made his life in particular difficult. 

He thought it might have been the same for Hawkeye. Certainly after those events, the two women had seemed to reach a more friendly accord. At least, a warmer one on Riza's part. 

He'd been the one tasked as her translator and teacher of Amestrian, even though he already had a duty to guard Doctor Marcoh whenever he wasn't sent out to burn Ishvarites. He should have known, should have realized sooner, that Doctor Marcoh spent little time comparatively, actually saving people's lives. Roy should have recognized the older man's passion wasn't for healing. At the time he'd been over-awed by Marcoh's brilliance as an alchemist, and at the speed from which he took Spitfire's unique talents and bent them to creating the amplifier stones. 

Roy had gotten over his immature, adolescent resentment of the woman. Against all odds he'd managed to salvage something of a friendship with her. A mutual respect. She in turn had learned the art of discretion, or at least the basic skill of not bringing too much attention. It was small and petty of him to be relieved that Riza returned as much affection to the doctor as she did him, seeing, if he had to guess, something of an enthusiastic little sister at most in the woman. He should want them both to be happy, and perhaps to be happy together, if that's where things went. If he was a better person, he would have told Zhu that Riza like sunflowers, and the strawberry cheesecakes at the diner near the canal and fresh apples.

With a sigh he set aside his drink and headed to bed. He wasn't in the mood for more memories.

---------------------------------------------

"What is it?"

"Dunno, it's big though."

"Think she'll open it here?"

Roy arched a brow at the whispering in his staff room and walked in with a stifled yawn. Saturday, a mere six hours of desk work if he didn't drag his feet, and already there were mysteries to tackle?

"What's up boys?" He asked, watching the men guilty edge away from the Lieutenants desk. 

"It was here when we unlocked the door Sir!" Fuery said with a salute. 'It' was apparently a large brown wrapped package taking up the bulk of Hawkeye's desk. 

"The Elrics aren't due in are they?" Thinking of who might have the audacity to break into the office. 

"Not for at least another month Sir, you ordered them off to Liore and the train back has a two week turn around." Falman confirmed. 

Momentarily stymied, he contemplated the package. The likelihood it was a bomb was low, because no one with any self preservation at all would try and blow up *Hawkeye's* desk. Then there was the fact that her birthday was Wednesday, the office would be closed Sunday and her Leave began Sunday night... "One of her suitor's has taken the adage, go big or go home' to heart it seems. Back to your posts, if she feels like gracing us with her present, I'm sure she will."

He didn't even make it to his own desk before the bets were being placed.

--------------------------------

He made a point of getting his own coffee when she came in, watching from near the pot as Black Hayate sauntered past Breda to sniff at his bed. 

If Riza was surprised at the state of her furniture, she didn't show it. There was no card on the outside of the package, merely an address label postmarked the day before. They all watched and waited as she took a boot knife to the twine, then to the paper itself, expertly slicing away the layers like a bomb diffuser. After carefully pulling off the lid however, her expression changed to one Roy hadn't seen in years. 

Childlike delight. 

"The Mos-Nag Carb 1920!" Reaching into the box she pulled out what to Roy's eyes appeared the mechanical chimera of an automatic pistol and a scope-less sniper rifle. "Five round magazine, auto eject, rear line sights..." She stroked a hand down along the stock and they all s one shivered. "...and a bayonet."

Roy coughed into his fist. "Let's hope you don't have cause to use it any time soon, Lieutenant. Any idea who would know you so well?"

She blinked and looked around, then cleared her throat, setting the gun back in it's box with obvious reluctance and pulling out a small white card. "It says here that I should thank you, Sir, for giving Doctor Spitfire the advice."

Smiling softly he saluted her with his coffee mug. "Well, that's what friends are for. Happy birthday Lieutenant."
pegunicent: Default Setting (Default)
Roy looked up at the tentative knock on his door, pulling on a smile for the nervous looking young nurse wilting under Riza's hard stare. "Good evening, is there something I can help you with miss..."
 
"Greta. Uh, Colonel Mustang Sir. I was... that is it was shift change and Dr. Spitfire asked me to tell you she can't make it to dinner tonight..."
 
Roy sighed then turned his most charming smile on her. "See how she is? I don't suppose you'd be free this evening..."
 
Greta's cheeks went bright pink and she looked ready to bolt. Almost painfully shy, nothing like Roy's type at all. 
 
Letting her stammer her regrets and flee, he turned over the message. He'd been planning to eat dinner alone after an evening trip to Madam Christmas, as usual. As far as he knew, Zhu ate at the evening mess when she didn't occasionally splurge at the one half decent Xing themed restaurant in the city. 
 
So Zhu needed to speak, at the hospital, after hours. "Lieutenant, it seems my date has abandoned me. Could I convince you to share a drink this evening?"
 
Riza's dark eyes held a glimmer he couldn't decipher. When it came to Hawkeye, he tried not to reach too deeply, he'd already asked more from her than anyone ever should. "I suppose Sir, that I do not have prior plans." 
 
-----------------------------------
 
Since Zhu only kept a bottle of that terrifying plum 'wine' in her desk for 'special occasions' where she wished to horrify and shorten any visit with an unwanted superior, Roy picked up a bottle of Joose Honey Whiskey on his way over. They'd drank a lot in the war, most of it too quickly to appreciate for flavor. 
 
The night clerk blinked at him, and smartly saluted. "Colonel Sir!"
 
"Now now, none of that, we're all off duty by *now* aren't we? Well, some of us at least. Is Doctor Spitfire in her office?" He chided gently, playing up the tiredness in his voice. 
 
The man flushed a bit but shook his head. "Sorry Sir, I don't think so. Last I saw she was still in the emergency ward... do you want me to go find her?"
 
"Over working herself as usual. No no, I'll just wait in her office if that's alright. Nothing's more important than saving lives after all." Roy waved the man off and made his way upstairs to the 'offices', rooms that made his seem practically luxurious. With rank came space, apparently. 
 
Doctor Major Long Zhu Spitfire read the small brass plate on the door. It was a point with her, which title came first. The door was unlocked, practically an invitation. Riza made herself at home, secreting out the small formal porcelain-ware set Zhu used and pouring a few fingers into two small, black butterfly patterned cups. The Lieutenant wasn't off duty then he noted. 
 
The desk was buried in files, the walls in bookshelves stuffed with both Xing and Amestrian texts. She didn't even have a window, the spare space on the walls holding her certifications, and a single silkscreen painting she'd done herself. It hung in prominent display as soon as you walked through the door, a black inked flame with a circle of Xing writing so stylized he could barely read the upside down and backwards bits. 
 
"Shuǐ dī shí chuān, shéng jù mù duàn". He read aloud, snorting and shaking his head. 
 
"Sir?" 
 
He gestured to the painting. "Dripping water pierces stone, saws of rope cut through wood. It's an old proverb Lieutenant, about patience." With fondness he recalled the last 'conversation' he'd shared with the Major on the subject. 

//Those serpent kissing monkey balled spineless seahorse fucking *Generals*!// She ranted wildly, coat and vest so spattered with blood he started searching for wounds. //And you fucking obey them! Dog!// 

He'd blame the alcohol later for letting her grab his pistol from the table and the bottle from his hand. Purely drunken reflexes, not the sharp stab of guilt and shame. He let her get three long swallows before stealing the bottle back. "Shooting them won't fix anything. They're just generals. The Fuhrer can get as many of those as he wants." 

//Then I'll kill him!// She snarled and even though he was the only one for a thousand miles who spoke Xing, as far as he knew, he still looked around for eavesdroppers and the execution squad. //No one who orders this... this genocide deserves to live anyway!// She glared down at the pistol like it personally offended her, pointed it blindly at the wall and pulled the trigger spastically. Roy thanked all Hawkeye's persistent lessons for remembering to put on the safety.

Reaching out to take the gun back he murmured, "Don't pull the trigger unless you intend to kill what you're aiming at." He let her steal the bottle again as he secured the pistol at his hip. "Killing him won't do any good either, we're a military government, the next in line will just step forward to take up the reins."

//Then I'll kill however many it
takes!// The tears in her eyes made his guts churn. //We'll still have less graves! You know I'm right!//

An idea, a drunken, desperate idea was swimming through his mind. "There's a difference between being right, and making things right. One gets you buried the other... would take a very long time I think."

//I'm not patient.//

He smiled, a dark flame of hope and resolution settling in his heart. "No... you just treat them."

She glared at him, the rotgut finally sinking in, and promptly transmuted his uniform to shreds. He cursed her for a humorless harpy, the desert was *damned* cold and there was no way he'd get his drunk hands to make a decent array for hours. 


"Some people need reminders." Her voice cut through his reminiscing. She looked, in his honest opinion, like rough hell. Except for lacking the bloodstains and her hair being long enough to pull back in a sloppy bun, she was the same bruised and sallow too-skinny woman with more energy than mass. "Greta found you."

"Your nurses seems overly nervous of my presence, Doctor, whatever are you telling them about me?" he moved away from the desk and watched her shut the door. She moved with the exhaustion of someone who'd not only been on their feet all day, but on their feet in a place as depressing as a hospital. 

"Only truth, you a pervert horse likes being ridden to bed by anyone." She murmured, taking one of the cups with a small smile and sipping appreciatively. "Riza, you lovely tonight." Roy let the sarcasm slide over him and refrained from defending himself too strenuously. 

"I do have *standards* you know." 

"Thank you, Ma'am." 

"If you're done trying to woo away my Lieutenant?"

Zhu's eyes fell to the stacks of files, and she moved to sit down, pulling a set from the rest. "I need help."

"I can refer a few psychiatrists..." 

//Moron equine, I'm serious.// She pushed the files at them, so together Riza and Roy started looking though the clinical, detached facts. "Eight cases come to me in year. All same. I ask other hospitals, clinics, find five more. I call to police, they no call back."

"Most immigrants are hesitant to trust the police enough to report abuses from men in uniforms." Riza pointed out, tone grim. 

"And many Xing are still so backwards that a 'used' woman will be shunned for a decent marriage." Roy grimaced, staring at a picture of a girl who couldn't be more than twenty. 

"Tonight was worst. Tonight..." Zhu took a long, fortifying sip of sweet amber fire while Roy watched. "Tonight twins. One, coma, one, morgue. I do all I can. I repair.. damage. //That monster used them both!// Soul pain... I can't fix. Make want live... Make want wake up... //He has to be stopped Mustang, he *has* to be//."

"He will be Doctor. I promise."

----------------------

"Racial tensions in Amestras have improved since the war, haven't they Lieutenant?" Roy asked as he pulled on his gloves. 

"You could say that Sir." She agreed tonelessly, checking her sidearms. 

"All soldiers go through basic non-hostility training now, don't they? A requirement to pass uniformity and community care classes?"

"Current enlisted are required Sir, no one commissioned or drafted during the war however." She corrected. "Or State Alchemists."

He shook his head and stared at his glove for a long moment. "I think, Lieutenant, we'd have found less evidence if we were dealing with an alchemist of any skill." 

They shared a knowing and bleak look. The only evidence at all were traumatized women who would likely refuse to give statements, and a single body.

"Early meeting in the morning, call everyone into my office."

"Yes Sir."

--------------------------

"What we have, gentlemen, is a serial rapist and now murderer loose in Central City. His victims so far have been primarily Xing immigrants and their descendants, girls with very specific facial features ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-four. Normally this would be a matter for civilian police, however, we are given to believe that the perpetrator is a member of the Amestras Army, which means he's breaking the fundamental laws of governance and sowing racial and civilian unrest in the populace! For the sake of continued peace I am assigning you to the duty of investigation. Anything you see, or hear on the matter is to be reported straight to Captain Hughes or myself."

Roy looked them over, eyes hard, and saw nothing but grim resolution and righteous anger. They were good men, the best. "Are there any questions?"

Fury raised a hand. 

"Yes Sergeant?"

"Are we authorized to make an arrest if we find sufficient evidence Sir?"

Roy shook his head. "The victims were all civilians, while technically you could make a case for an arrest, it would hold more weight with the court if the arrest came from an officer, rather than an off duty enlisted." 

"Understood Sir."

"I will, however, make sure the judge and jury know *everyone* was involved in the criminal's apprehension." 

-------------------------------

Roy and Hughes split the personnel files between them. Even looking only at those commissions signed during the war and previous, the sheer number of enlisted in Central City was staggering. 

They were finding more and more were assholes every day as well. After the first week, they'd managed only to eliminate the ones who'd been re-assigned during the attacks, or in the infirmary themselves. Many commanding officers were reluctant to file harassment reports, having an old boy's club sort of accord. Roy blessed Riza and her bore-sight stare that kept so many otherwise sexist pigs from making comments that would require him to turn them into briquettes. 

"You know, I think we can rule out anyone that Spitfire treated in the war." Hughes murmured over coffee. The cafe they met up in was cozy, well-lit, and tended to a younger crowd. 

"Why? *You've* been treated by her, you think that sort of thing can't turn you to hating all Xing witches?" Roy arched a brow, sipping at the wonderful dark brew. 

"When she's got a vaccination in hand? What I'm saying is... she treated a lot of guys. Kept them whole, saved their limbs and commissions. Their lives. That tends to garner a feeling of loyalty, Colonel."

It was true, other than Marcoh she'd been the only medical alchemist on the front lines. At the time her Amestrian consisted of pointing and shouting simple words like 'That. give, now!' and 'Live!'. Her skill with medical alchemy was unsurpassed, except by Doctor Marcoh who had his own reasons for letting some patients close to the edge *wait*. Who had his reasons for not trusting Mustang as far as the Flame Alchemist could spread his *ashes*. 

"Someone who never saw the med-tents from the inside then?" There were many who came out completely unscathed, physically, because they stayed *behind* the State Alchemists. 

"And probably joined up near the tail end. Never saw the real action, never saw their buddies being patched back together from pieces." Hughes voice was his 'I'm hunting a snake but I've got bigger fangs' one. "Someone who wouldn't recognize the Green Alchemist."

Roy gave his friend a hard look. "You can't want to use her as *bait*." 

"Well, they haven't exactly targeted guys yet..."

Roy dismissed the jab, as he did Madam Christmas's derogatory 'Roy-boy' and the whispered remarks of 'far too pretty' from people who thought his alchemy was more flash than substance. Zhu would go with the idea, she had enough of a martyr complex she'd *volunteer*, and not understand his reluctance to use her when he'd pointed her more than once at men of rank he needed 'sensitive' intel on. "We're not talking about some blackmail material or a chance to get ahead of an idiot, this man is a rapist and a murderer who drugs his victims and leaves their bodies in filthy alley ways." Roy argued, keeping his voice quiet. 

"And he targets pretty young Xing women. Now, Spitfire's a little outside his range, but... can you think of a better hook?"

"She's only *half* Xing."

"And with glasses or something to hide her eyes you'd never know that." She's closer to Xing than *you* hung unsaid in the air. 

Roy never missed his parents and grandmother more keenly, than when he was faced with how little he knew of their homeland. How little he'd bothered to learn in all the years since, because he was Amestrian, in Amestria, fighting it's wars. 

"After we've identified who we're actually suspecting... then we'll ask her."

-----------------------------

He wasn't used to seeing her in make up. Watching her seduce Lieutenant Chavez, the fourth on their list so far, he contemplated the phenomenon. Of course in the war there'd been little point. Afterwards they saw each other infrequently, for all that she was officially still his subordinate. It was subtle, enough to highlight the slant of her eyes and the sallow complexion of her skin. Fresh lacquer graced her nails, dark red like her dress. she still had her coat and semi-sensible shoes, as though this was something casual she'd like to turn less so, and Chavez was utterly caught.

She laughed brightly at something the man said and hid her mouth shyly behind those scarred fingers. After a few moments she excused herself to the restroom. Roy ate his chicken. After three other dates that ended in nothing more dangerous than extreme boredom, he was starting to consider a new approach.

Chavez reached into his pocket and pulled out *something* that he summarily dumped in the Major's coffee. Since she took it as black as the Fuher's heart, Roy highly doubted it was *sugar*.  He entertained a brief fantasy of lighting the man like a human torch. 

Even knowing Hawkeye and Fury were laying in wait, that Hughes *would* find enough for a hanging or firing squad, his blood still went cold as she came back and took a deep sip. There'd been two more rape's since Zhu'd come to him. The twin had never woken up, passing in her sleep. 

The ice was a comfort in a way. Riza wouldn't have to shoot him yet. 

He couldn't hear what they were saying, tried to keep from being noticed as picking at his plate. 

Chavez actually reached out to touch a long lock of dark hair. Artfully she turned into the caress, the small smile on her face one Mustang recognized. She was fantasizing about harming someone very badly indeed. Leaning into the table she took a longer, deeper drink. Chavez leaned in as well, caught like a moth to flame. 

They made it all the way through desert before she started looking off. Roy called over for his check and made his way outside, pulling on his gloves. When they came out she was hanging off his arm and stumbling, eyes barely open. 

"You know, you're not usually my type Doctor... I'm so glad I came out with you though." Chavez said, Roy's hackles rising from where he stood in the shadows. 

"Saa? Good date yes? Ah, sorry, feel strange..."

"Yes, it was very good. I was surprised, you know. Your eyes are pale. That means you're what, a half breed?"

"Eh? //Fenghuan help me from racist assholes// I don't know, I don't remember parents. Oh my head..."

"They probably left you like the trash you were." Chavez's tone never changed from sickeningly besotted as he maneuvered her drunkenly to the mouth of a nearby alley. "Half-breed garbage."

"Makes me wonder why you find her so attractive then Lieutenant." Roy murmured, hand up and fingers set to snap.

From deeper in the alley Riza stalked forward, pistol centered between the man's eyes. "Because she's Doctor Major Long Zhu Spitfire, Sir."

"Well said." 

--------------------------

"I understand commendations are in order." Basque sneered. Roy felt sure the man's face was actually built that way. "Perhaps a promotion or two."

"I wouldn't go that far." Roy replied, keeping his expression politely neutral. "Most of the credit should go to Captain Hughes. After all, he discovered what was going on."

"And *you* put your own subordinate in the line of fire. Here we all thought you had something going on with the little butterfly."

Roy arched a brow of his own and shrugged. "She volunteered."

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