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Small Favors

Another fanfic I wrote and posted over on Fanfiction.net , but this time it’s for the Fullmetal Alchemist anime/manga series.  I started watching FMA on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim on Saturday nights until they rearranged their schedule, and am now in the process of collecting the DVDs for the anime series (only need the last five, discs 9-13 to complete my collection).  I’ve also picked up the 10 manga volumes so far released here in the US for Christmas and have already plowed my way through them all.
The storyline of the anime completely diverges from the manga about halfway through the series.  This story follows the manga-verse after chapter 38. 

She stared at the letter blindly, unable to take in the words written there. 

He was injured in the line of duty three months ago.

Three months.  He’d been injured three months ago, and she was just finding out now.  If it wasn’t for his mother, would she ever have found out?  How nice of the military to keep her up-to-date on the status of her “family” members.

The train racheted through the night, heading east towards Central.  The hard seats made it impossible to sleep, or even sit comfortably for any length of time, so she passed the time gazing into the darkness outside.  Why is it that the easiest memories to recall were always the worst?

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“Give it back!”

The blond boy just grinned and tossed the stuffed dog higher into the air, laughing at her attempts to grab it from him.  He was taller than she was, even though they were the same age.  He caught the toy and held it out of her reach.  In retaliation, she stomped on his foot as hard as she could.  He yelped and used the dog to smack her in the head.

The blow probably wouldn’t have fazed her at any other time, but the two children had been playing on the sidewalk, too near the edge of the street.  Her foot slipped off the curb, her head slapped the pavement and it was pure luck that no cars were passing by. 

A slight concussion was the doctor’s verdict and bed rest for a week.  She missed him getting yelled at by both sets of parents and he ended up grounded for a week.  She still remembered look on his face as she was falling backwards, the surprise and shock.  She did share her ice cream with him though.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

The announcements were lost in the noise of Central Station, and she looked around for a clear space on the platform.  People seemed to crowd every available space but she found a spot against some freight where she set her bags down for a second.  Travelers rushed to and fro, but there was an underlying tension to all the talk going on. 

After a brief time, the platforms emptied out somewhat, and she thought the crush of people would be easier to navigate now.  Looking around, she located an officer and asked for directions to Headquarters.  The walk would feel good after spending so long sitting and brooding.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“I bet you can’t climb to the top of the wall!”

“Bet I can!”

“Can’t!”

“Can to!”

“Can’t!”

“What’ll ya gimme if I do it?”

“Uhh, I dunno.  Whatcha want?”

“Draw me one of those circle things you and your sister are always makin’.”

“Deal!”

She watched him jump up on the cans next to the wall, and reach to grab the spiked bars sticking up on top.  He was strong and managed to pull himself up to a precarious stance.  Striking a pose, he called down her in triumph.

“Nyah!  Toldja so!  I get to pick the circle you gotta draw now!” And he leaned over to stick his tongue out at her instead of paying attention to his grip on the bars.

CRASH!

This time it was his turn to miss her getting yelled at by their collective parents.  She did follow through on her promise draw him a circle though, even if it was done on a plaster cast.  Still, a broken leg was worth the look on her face as he tumbled off the wall and into the cans.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“Major Erika Rovallo to see the Colonel.” 

The others in the room paused to stare before returning her salute.  Oh yeah, she ranked them all, except for the Colonel, of course.  Things out west were much more formal in many ways.

“Major Rovallo, how… interesting… to see you here.  What is the occasion?”

“Sir, I’ve come to Central on personal business.  I received a message that a member of my family was injured so I’ve come to pay him a visit.”

“Indeed.  And that involves needing to see me as well?”

“Sir, yes it does.”

Silence fell over the room.  She wasn’t willing to say more with so many people in the room and he seemed content to let her stand there.  If it hadn’t been for the fact that she’d worked with him before, she might be inclined to think he was letting her wait on purpose.  As it was, she knew that’s exactly what he was doing.

With a small smile, he went back to reading the papers on his desk and in response she let her spine relax somewhat, no longer standing at full attention.  She was willing to wait him out as long as necessary.  Standing still for long periods of time wasn’t exactly unknown out west.  Besides, anything felt better than sitting down after that train ride.  It took another 15 minutes though before he relented and ordered the other three men out of the room on various pretexts.

“Major, please sit down.  You’re making me tired just looking at you.  The lieutenant stays though.”

“Thank you, sir.”  At least the chairs in his office had padding on the seats.  Small favors could be found in the oddest places.

“Now, explain to me what you are doing in Central, especially since I know quite well that you were forbidden to ever come back after your last assessment.  Are you looking to be court-martialed?”

“As I said, sir, I’ve come to see someone, and to be honest, I need to ask you were he’s staying.  It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Central and I’d prefer to get exact directions instead of stumbling around and wasting what little time I have to be away.”

“Very well, I’m sure we can make some arrangements.  It will take a while to finish my work here, but I’m sure you can use that time to check into the officer’s dorms, if you’d like.  This must be very important to you, Major.”

“It is, sir.”

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

First Lieutenant Hawkeye watched as the other woman left the room before turning back to her commanding officer.  He had already applied himself to the paperwork on his desk again, which only made her even more suspicious.

“Was she wearing a pocket watch, sir?  I thought…”

“There are a few.  Very few.”

“I see.  Do you know who she came to see?  And why would she be banished from Central?”

“You’d have to ask her about how she got banished, although I’m surprised you don’t recognize her name.  Try looking up ‘Teacup’ in the archives sometime, you might be surprised.”  He replied with a smirk.

“I’ll be sure to do that when I have a free moment, sir.  That doesn’t explain who she’s here to see though.”

“Hmm?  Oh, she’s here to see Lieutenant Havoc, of course.”  Mustang would have laughed at the expression on Hawkeye’s face if he’d thought his newest scars would let him.  It was a small bit of amusement in a very chaotic time though, so he savored it while he could.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Maia Louisa Rovallo
1883 – 1899
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.

The rays of the setting sun snuck beneath the rain clouds like thieves, stealing away the lingering gloom.  She knelt beside the grave holding a bouquet of daisies.  Her sister had always loved the white and yellow blooms.  She heard him come up behind her but didn’t react when he placed his hand on her shoulder.

“Eri?”

“Go away, Jean.”  The rain soaked her hair and clothes, and if some of the raindrops were salty, he wouldn’t be able to tell.

“No.”

“Why did you stop me?  I hate you.”  She didn’t mean to let out a sob just then, because she wasn’t crying.

“I know you do.”  The boy knelt down and wrapped his arms around her to hold her close, being careful of the bandaged wrapped arms.

The rain continued falling onto freshly turned dirt.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“The military has provided a house for the time being.  He’s staying there with his mother until he’s recovered.  I’m sure you’ll make your visit to Central a short one though since there is much going on here that you don’t know about and that you don’t need to know about.  Do you understand me, Major?”

“Yes, sir, but I’m unable to say how long I’ll be staying.  That depends on several factors, I’m afraid.”

“That wasn’t a suggestion, Major.”

“I know it wasn’t, sir.”

He held the gate open for the two women to precede him up the stairs, and knocked once they’d reached the door.  Footsteps echoed hollowly behind the door, and it was opened by an older blonde woman.  Her resemblance to her son was obvious.

“Colonel Mustang, First Lieutenant Hawkeye, this is a surprise.  Please come in.”  Mrs. Havoc gestured for her guests to enter and stepped back into the doorway.  Her voice was tinged with sadness as she continued speaking, “Jean is outside in the garden at the moment.  I think he likes to just be alone sometimes.”

She closed the door behind her and turned to follow the others down the hallway.  Mrs. Havoc hadn’t noticed her third guest yet, which was fine.  Even though they exchanged letters regularly, it had still been over five years since they’d spoken in person.

“Is there anything I can get you to drink… Oh!  Erika, you’re here!  You got my letter then?  It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you, too, mom.  How are you doing?”  She moved forward to give her second mother a hug.  Their families had lived next to each other for years and when growing up, sometimes the children even forgot just which family they belonged to.  She smiled to remember the expression on Mrs. Havoc’s face the first time she’d accidentally called her ‘mom’.  “I took the earliest train I could.”

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“I’ve decided to join the military.”

“What?  Why?”

“Why not?  You joined up last year, didn’t you?”

“That’s not a reason for you to join though.  Don’t be stupid.”

“I’m not being stupid.  They give state alchemists a research budget.  And I’m sure I can pass the certification exam easily.”

“They don’t let women become state alchemists, you know that.”

“So I won’t tell them I’m a woman.  I doubt anyone will notice; it’s not as if I were built like those women you like to try dating.  All boobs and…”

“Shut up!  That’s still not a good reason to join.  What good will becoming a state alchemist do?”

“It’ll give me access to the libraries, for one thing.  Maybe I’ll be able to figure out what was missing from the circle that night.”

“Eri, haven’t you forgiven yourself for that yet?  It wasn’t your fault.”

“You’re wrong, it was my fault.  And I still haven’t forgiven you either, Jean.”

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

The garden was well laid out despite its small size.  Near the back wall, you could hardly see the house with how the plantings were arranged.  She followed the path to the clearing, her boots clicking against the paving stones.  He was sitting facing away from the path, the dull red glow of a cigarette visible in the darkness.  What light there was glinted off the metal wheelchair.  She walked to the bench and sat facing away from him, looking back towards the invisible house.

“Heya, Jey.”

“Go away, Erika.”

“Heh.  Did you know that we tend to not use nicknames when one of us is mad at the other?  I realized that on the train ride to Central.  Guess I never paid attention before.”  The only response was a brighter glow to the cigarette.  Several butts were lying on the end of the bench already; he’d obviously been in the garden for a while.

Neither was aware of the others in the garden.  The colonel and lieutenant had silently followed her progress before stepping into the deeper cover of a tree; close enough to hear the conversation.

“Why did you come?”

“Your mom and I write regularly, you know that.  She told me you’d been injured in her last letter.  That’s all she wrote though, no details.  Just that you’d been hurt.  I came as soon as I could.”

“So you came.  You should go again before you get in trouble for being in Central at all.”

“Doesn’t matter,” A brief shrug before she continued, “I figure I have about three more days before someone realizes I’m gone.  I’ll worry about that later.”

Colonel Mustang jerked slightly before whispering “I knew it.”  Hawkeye looked at him but all he did was hold a finger to his lips.

“Are you trying to get court-martialed?  I thought you joined the military to get access to all that fantastic alchemical research.”

“They haven’t court-martialed me for anything I’ve done yet; I highly doubt they’re going to start now.  Not for coming to visit an injured family member.  They need my research too badly to get rid of me anytime soon.”  There was bitterness in her voice then, she didn’t bother to try hiding it.  Things had a way of changing over time.

“So you still have me listed as next-of-kin?  You should change that; it’s pretty useless to have some cripple listed as being able to take care of you if needed.”

“You and your mother, yes.  And I really don’t see any reason to change my paperwork.  Unless you’re not planning on learning to walk again.  I can’t imagine you’d be that lazy though, it’s not like you.”

“Erika, really, just go away.  I don’t need you here.  I definitely don’t need your pity.”

“Pity?  Is that what you think I’m here to offer?  I finally told you two years ago why I’m here now, Jey, before I was banished from Central for my last assessment.  So far I haven’t noticed anything to make me change my mind about what I said back then.”

“Oh, so I’m supposed to feel better over that?  You’re an idiot.”

“Of course I’m an idiot.  It takes one to know one, in this case.  You’re being an even bigger idiot though, just for the record.”

A sigh from him.  She glanced over to see him looking up into the sky.

“Jey, why else would I have come?  I meant what I told you, even if you don’t want to believe me.”  She stood up to pace around the small clearing, her arms clasped around her chest.  “You can’t push others away just because of this.”

“This?  You can’t even say it, can you?  Because I’m crippled, useless.  I couldn’t even remain in the military.  What am I supposed to do now?”

“I have no idea, maybe try living?  You aren’t dead, you just can’t walk.  That doesn’t mean the rest of you stopped working.  Stop trying to act as if it were the end of the world.  Have the doctors said there’s no chance of you ever walking again?  Because unless they have, you should concentrate on your rehab.  Sitting around feeling sorry for yourself isn’t helping.  And I’m sure it’s not helping your mom to see you like that.”

“Oh, that was a low blow.  Bring my mom into this, why don’t you?”

“If it works.  How about the rest of your friends, the ones you always wrote me about?  What about the Colonel and Lieutenant Hawkeye?  I could see a mile away she was suspicious of me on the way over here.  Unknown person coming to see an injured friend, she went into automatic protect mode so fast it was funny in a way.  Good thing I’ve at least met the Colonel before, or I’m not sure how I’d’ve found where you’re staying.”

“I’ll have to remember to thank them next time I see them.  Anything else?”

Now it was her turn to sigh.  She paused her pacing to face his back, speaking quietly.

“What do you want me to say, Jey?  I meant what I said that day.  I don’t know what to say to make you believe me.  I don’t know what you want to hear.”  There was no reason to cry.  None at all.

“I don’t want to hear anything.”  His voice didn’t hide the pain though.

“I know you don’t.  It’s something I’ve been trying to tell you for years though.  I wish I did know what to say to make everything better.  I wish I could tell you that everything was going to be all right and you’d wake up tomorrow and this was all a dream.  Or that you’d be able to walk again just like that,” a snap of her fingers.  “I wish I knew what you wanted to hear, but I don’t.  I’m an alchemist, not a mind-reader.  I can only say what I mean and what I know.

“Don’t push your friends away.  Don’t you think they’re hurting as well?  Don’t push away the people who care for you.  I’d say don’t push me away, but I think it’s too late for that.  I can’t remember a time when you weren’t around, causing me trouble, or getting me in trouble, or letting me get you in trouble.  Hell, you even cause me trouble in your letters.  I honestly can’t imagine not having you part of my life in some way.  At least after eight years, I can’t easily pass as a man anymore.  I’m still not up to the standards you looked for, I guess.”

Another sigh, but from which of them it came from the listeners couldn’t tell.  Silence fell over the garden and only the distant sounds of the city could be heard.

“I’ll probably be heading back west tomorrow.  I did have to come see you though.  You were always there for me at the worst times of my life, it’s only fair that I return the favor and be here for you.  As a friend if nothing more.  I’m sorry it’s not what you want.

“I’m going to stay and talk to your mom for a while, she’d expect that and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen her.  She’s the only mom I have left as well, you know.  I’ll send the Colonel and Lieutenant out to talk if you want.

“Bye, Jey.  I love you.”  With that, she turned and headed back up the path towards the house, leaving him sitting alone in the dark.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

The freshly fallen snow blanketed everything, turning the landscape into a sterile field of unrelenting white.

“Eri?”

“Jey?  Why do we keep meeting like this?”

“Because you’re a freak?”  His voice was gentle.

“Well, if I’m a freak, what does that make you?”  Hers was filled with pain.

“A freak’s freak?”

“Yeah, I guess so.  Takes one to know one, right?”  This time she couldn’t keep the tears from falling, and just like before, he wrapped his arms around her while she cried, two soldiers in blue standing in a snow-covered graveyard.

Angela Marie Rovallo, neé Charter
1863 – 1908
Beloved wife and mother

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“Are you sure you have to go back tomorrow, Erika?”

“Yes, mom.  I was lucky to get the leave I did.  I can try to get transferred back to Central and help you out if you like, but I’m afraid the higher ups don’t care for some things I’ve done in the past.  I’m not sure how well my request will go over, but I’ll put it in as soon as I return to the west.”

The Colonel and Lieutenant Hawkeye had been calmly sitting in the living room when she returned to the house, chatting with Mrs. Havoc.  Judging by the looks the Colonel had given her though, they’d heard at least part of the conversation outside.

“Major, why do you call Mrs. Havoc ‘mom’ if I may ask?”  Hawkeye was actually sitting at attention, if that was possible.

“Hmm?  Oh, our families have lived next to each other for years, before my siblings and I were even born.  There wasn’t a fence or anything between our yards, so all the kids played together and we were disciplined by whichever parent caught us doing something wrong.  I guess we all grew up just thinking of each others moms as our own.  I think we separated out the dads more though, but moms were just ‘mom’ to all of us.  My younger sister still lives in the family home with her own family now.  Keeping the tradition alive.”

“Yes, her children call me grandma, it’s so nice to hear.  You should come out to visit them soon; they’re getting so big now.”

“I see, that makes sense really.  May I ask you something else?”

“Sure.”

“Why were you banished from Central?” 

“Erika, you were banished from Central?  You never mentioned anything about that.  What happened?”

“Ah, yeah.  Sorry about not mentioning that, mom.  It was because of my last assessment about three years ago.  I went a bit overboard proving some of my research and it upset the powers that be.  They decided that assigning me permanently to the west was an appropriate thing to do.”

“But what did you do, Major?  I’m guessing it was something serious, but the only thing I can recall from three years ago was a freak snowstorm we had in July.”

“Uh-huh.”

“That was you?”

“Well, me working with the Colonel actually.”

“Sir?”  She turned to her superior officer.  “You were involved in that incident?”

“Yes I was, Lieutenant.  It was quite an interesting experience.  Why don’t you tell them the story, Major?”

“If you insist.  Lieutenant, I’m going to assume you noticed the chain to my pocket watch.  I’m one of the few female state alchemists.  It’s bad enough that male alchemists are used in combat, but the women are kept as far away from actual battle as possible.  We’re mostly researchers and theorists.   No idea why it worked out that way, a few of the women would be much better suited to combat.  And I know some of the men are much more interested in research.

“My specialty is working with arrays; the transmutation circles.  Basically creating new ones, refining ones in use, researching new ways of doing things with alchemy.  The most recent line of research I’ve been involved in is medical related alchemy.  Ironic considering my own alchemy has about as much finesse as a sledgehammer.  I’ve never had the need to refine it or learn to use a delicate touch.  Oddly enough, that’s something you learn in combat.

“Three years ago, one of the generals asked me to teach several other alchemists how to use the special combined arrays that I created for my own use.  I refused and kept on refusing until he finally left.  A few months after that, I was called here to Central to do my assessment in person.  I knew the general was behind it, especially after I was told I had to work with another alchemist to prove that my theories were valid.

“I was so mad at first.  The general thought he was being clever by pairing me with someone whose specialty is fire, especially since my element of choice is water.  They gave me a week to prepare before calling me before the assessment committee.  In that week, I managed to create the array I needed and to talk the Colonel here into trusting me enough to make it work properly.”

“Why did you need the Colonel’s help to make it work?”

“Because of how I can do alchemy.  I can put other alchemists into my arrays and use them as part of my transmutation.  Use their power I mean not use them as a component.  It means some really complicated alchemy can be done but it’s not quick and easy to do.  It takes a lot of study and a lot of concentration to pull it off.  That’s what got me accepted as a state alchemist.

“The general that I pissed off decided to stick me with the Colonel as my partner for my assessment probably in order to see me fail.  Unfortunately for him though he wasn’t as clever as he thought.  And the Colonel helped out.  I think it amused you when I explained what I was planning to do, sir.”

“Oh, it proved to be quite amusing and educational.”

“Anyway we went to the parade ground that morning and I drew the arrays and got everything set up.  It worked exactly as I’d planned too.  In the span of about two hours I managed to dump four feet of snow on Central Headquarters and only there.  Six feet outside the buildings it was a beautiful and warm July day.  Then I left it there for three days until we went back to get rid of all the snow.

“The general was upset of course, because it had been obvious that the Colonel had worked as part of the combined array.  To add insult to injury, when we went back to get rid of the snow I made sure that this time the Colonel was in charge of the arrays instead of me.  That’s why it took three days; I had to teach him what to do.”

“You let the Colonel focus an array with you in it?”  None of them had heard him come back into the house but it was obvious he’d been listening to her story.

“Yeah.  It wouldn’t have proven my point quite so effectively if I hadn’t.”

“I didn’t know you would ever do that.  You swore you wouldn’t after that night…”

“I know.  But since you were listening remember that I was the focus the first time.  I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.  I knew I could trust him to handle it.” 

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“Maia, mom and dad are going to be gone all weekend, why don’t we try it Friday night?”

“You think we should?  I wanted to go dancing.  I think Gregor is thinking of asking me out.”  Her sister was sixteen now and old enough to go to dances with boys now.  She’d started spending more time worrying about which boy to date instead of helping research transmutation circles.  What a difference three years could make.

“Come on, we’re not going to have another chance.  And besides Anna told me that Gregor already asked Shirrel to the dance.”

“He did what?  Hmpf!  Fine let’s try it Friday night then.  If it doesn’t work though we’re not going to try Saturday. Just the one attempt, deal?”

“Deal!”

The sisters made their plans and on Friday waved good-bye to their parents.  As soon as the car was out of sight they ran to the workroom they used and began setting up.

“I’ll draw the circle you get the notes and lay them out for us to use.  What array of yours do you want to use?”  Maia asked.

“I’ll use the simple one.  We don’t need anything complicated, do we?”

“Doubt it.”

Drawing out the array correctly took several hours since both girls had to keep referring to different notes they’d each taken.  In one case they disagreed on how to incorporate some of the symbols needed for what they meant to do.  The sun had been down for hours when they finished their work and stood back to survey their creation. 

“OK, you ready to get started?” 

“Yeah, but how come you’re the focus and I’m in the array?”

“Because I’m older than you are.  Just get in the circle and let’s get started.  Everything’s ready.”

“I can’t wait to tell Jean about this tomorrow.  He’ll be so jealous.”

“He’s coming over?”

“Yeah, I have his pocketknife and he wants it back.  Said I stole it from him but I say he gave it to me fair and square.  Then I think we’re going to ride into town to help out at his parent’s store.”

“OK, you ready?”

“Ready!”

“Begin.”

The whirling lines and circles symbols and figures began to glow.  She initiated her own array first and then watched as her sister keyed it into the larger array.  She had the easy part – just feed power to the arrays.  Maia would control the actual transmutation using the amplified power being channeled from her.

She wasn’t sure when they realized something was going wrong.  The power wasn’t a gentle flow within the arrays anymore; it felt more like a storm ranging through the lines.  Her sister looked scared.

“Erika, pull your array out of the circle, something’s not right.  There’s too much power coming through.”

“I’m trying, it’s not letting me though.  You’ve got the arrays locked together too tightly.  Let mine go!”

“I’m trying!  Pull out of the transmutation!”

“I can’t!  Maia!  What’s wrong?”

The glow kept getting brighter and brighter blinding them both.  The last thing she remembered seeing was the silhouette of her sister being erased by the light.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“Why should that have made a difference, Major?”

“Because it gave me a chance to see how strong an alchemist you are, sir.  If I’d thought you wouldn’t have been able to handle it I would have been the focus the second time as well.  It has to do with how powerful an alchemist is, sir.  With how strong they are at transmuting and the amount of control they have.  I’m sure you know that some alchemists are stronger than others.”

“Yes Major.  But I fail to see how that is a factor.  I’m considered one of the strongest alchemists in the military.”  He even managed to say that without sounding too boastful.

“That’s true, sir.  However, in terms of sheer power I’m much stronger than you are.  What I don’t have is any fine control over my own alchemy.  I’m too used to being a sledgehammer, for example.  The reason you are a much better alchemist than I’ll probably ever be is because of the amount of control you have.  I’m sure part of that is because your element is fire but it’s also because you’ve been in combat, sir.  That provides a sense of finesse that is difficult to acquire otherwise.

“If I hadn’t felt you were strong enough to control a combination of my power and yours I wouldn’t have allowed you to be the focus.”

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Dawn had come and was long gone before she woke up again, sitting up to stare around her in surprise.  The workroom looked like a windstorm had rampaged through it.  Objects were scattered all over and furniture was overturned, shelves ripped off the walls.  All they’d planned on doing was raising the wind and moving it around some.  They hadn’t planned on doing anything like this!  The circle though – there wasn’t a scuff anywhere.  It still looked perfect.  She stood up slowly looking at the lines surrounding her. 

There!  We should have used this symbol instead, she thought to herself.  And this should have gone here.  And in this spot….  It was as if she could see exactly what had been left out of the drawing, what safeguards should have been included to control the flow of power through the arrays.  Neither girl had even thought of using any of those symbols at the time but now she knew just what was missing.

Her sister was on the other side of the circle lying there as if asleep.  It was obvious though that she was dead.  No one just laid there with their eyes staring at nothing no one.

She didn’t remember falling to her knees or grabbing the pocketknife from her pants.  It wasn’t very big as knives went but it would do the job just fine.  Her mother was a doctor and she knew all sorts of odd things about how the human body worked.  Things like the best way to slit your veins open so you would bleed to death quicker.  She didn’t expect it to sting like it did though.  The blood ran down her hands to drip off her fingers staining the lines of the array.  It was so beautiful to watch.

“Eri?  Erika you in here?”

He stared in shock at the tableau before him – a room in shambles, one girl lying on the ground and the other kneeling in the middle of a transmutation circle, blood running in waves down her arms.

“ERIKA!”

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“And how could you determine if I were strong enough?”

“By working with you through the arrays, sir.  I found out the hard way what happens when someone isn’t strong enough to focus the circle.”  She bowed her head staring at the hands clasped in her lap.  He’d moved his chair to the back of the couch where she was sitting and leaned forward folding his arms along the back.

“The hard way?”

She didn’t respond, continuing to stare at her hands.  Before the silence grew too heavy he answered for her.

“Her sister was killed, sir.  The first time they tried to use a combined array like that.  She was in the array and her sister was the focus and wasn’t strong enough to control it.  Maia died and Erika… didn’t.”

“Some brat who knew first aid came along and bandaged up my arms to keep me from bleeding to death.  Then he got a hold of his parents and I was taken to the hospital.”

“Why were your arms bleeding?”

“I’d slashed them with a pocketknife, sir.”

“I see.”

“I never did forgive him for doing that.  For saving my life.  I thought I deserved to die because I’d talked my sister into trying the combined arrays that night.  Sometimes I still think that.”

“That’s not true and you know it.  It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know that now but I still hate you.”  Her voice was calm peaceful.

“I know you do.”  His was gentle in return.  “And you stole that pocketknife.”

“Did not, you gave it to me.  I still have it, you know.”

“You do?”

“Yeah.”  She unhooked the chain from her belt and handed him her silver pocket watch.  He took it with a smile and looked at the small pocketknife hanging from the chain.  “I kept it as a reminder of what happened.  Plus it comes in handy sometimes.”

He leaned back into his chair looking at the watch and knife in his hands.  A small click sounded when he opened the watch itself to look inside.

“This is old.”

“Hmm?”  She twisted to look over the back of the couch to see what he was talking about.  “Oh that.  I forgot I had it in there to be honest.  I rarely open my watch anymore.”

“I remember that day.  How long has it been in there?”

“I put it in there the day after I passed my certification exams eight years ago.”

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“Okay Jey stand between your parents for a second.  And stand up straight you bum!”  His mother was laughing up at her tall son and his father stood proudly on his other side.  He looked so handsome in the blue military uniform.

“Here Erika, give me the camera for a while and you go stand over by Jean.”  She handed over the camera and walked over to his side smiling at his groans.

“Haven’t you taken enough pictures yet, Mom?”

“It’s not every day that my favorite son…”

“Your only son you mean.”

“…Is accepted into the military.  These will be the last for now, dear.  Besides I don’t have any nice pictures of you and Erika together.”

He responded by draping himself over her shoulders bending down to bring his head next to hers.  She laughed at the feel of his bangs tickling her cheek.  Her darker blonde hair mixed with his and she turned her head slightly to smile at him.

“You bum, don’t squish me!”  She said with an attempted elbow to the stomach.

“Aw you love me, Eri!  Admit it!”  He responded by picking her up and spinning around trying to make her dizzy.  “Say it!”

“Hahaha!  All right, I give up!  I love you” she said breathlessly laughing.  He let her feet drop to the ground and she smacked his shoulder lightly.  “…more than I love slugs at least!  Nyah!”

“No fair!  I was supposed to say that!”

His parents laughed at their antics while his mother clicked a few more pictures.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

“It’s late we should be leaving ma’am.  Colonel, Major, are you both coming?”

The three guests stood up to leave.  As she walked past he grabbed her wrist.

“Can you hold on a second, Eri?”

“Sure.”  She turned to the others.   “I’ll be outside in a minute.”

Lieutenant Hawkeye smiled at her as they headed down the hallway, Mrs. Havoc following behind them.

“Thanks Eri.”

“For?”

“Coming here.  For everything you said earlier.  For… believing in me enough to still love me I guess.  You were right.”  His hand slide down to grip hers, fingers softly brushing along her scars.

“What made you realize this?”

“Finding out that you let the Colonel lead one of your arrays.  I’ve followed and supported him for quite a few years and now I’ll have to catch up because he’s going to go ahead without me.  I just needed to remember that the journey will be worth it.  I’d told myself that when I retired but it gets lost some days.  And I think I’d like it if you asked to transfer to Central.  Just so you’ll be closer and all.  I know my mom will like having you around.”

“Just your mom?”

“I’d like it as well.  Sometimes you don’t always know what you have in front of you.”

“You know, I think I lied earlier.”

“About what?”

“When I said that you’d always been around for me in the worst times of my life.  It’s always easier to remember the bad times for some reason.  But you’ve always been around for the best times of my life as well.  Like now.”  A smile.

“I’ll ask for the transfer as soon as I get back.”

He didn’t notice until afterwards that she’d left her pocket watch with him.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Epilogue – two days later.

“Lieutenant, I need you to do some research for me please.”

“Yes, sir.”

“We need to find someone who will approve a transfer from the west for a researcher and is able to take on a new staff member.  Oh and we’ll need to get a banishment order rescinded.  That shouldn’t be too difficult; the general who originally ordered it is no longer around.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Lieutenant, please try to keep our names out of it.  I’d hate for her to be caught up in anything by mistake.”

“Agreed, sir.  Now you have paperwork to be taken care of.  I’d suggest you begin if you’d like to leave on time tonight.”

Fin.

 

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Author’s Note:

Eri is pronounced like “Airy” and sounds like “Jay”

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” means “Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord.”  From the Requiem Aeternam (Latin mass for the dead).

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