Riza tried to fight the nauseating worry that was currently tearing her stomach to bits. Yes, she and Vanessa had agreed that things had gone too far, that it was time to put an end to this and do what they knew Roy would have wanted them to do all along, but that had been words, an agreement based on logic and not the emotional reality of what this would require.
Riza remembered Roy’s words to her all those years ago… to kill him if he ever strayed from the right path. Somehow she always knew she’d have to do it; she would not make Vanessa kill her own brother.
This was assuming that Al didn’t get to him first. She found this thought even more horrifying than the prospect of having to do it herself, already disturbed by Rebecca’s description of how angry and desperate the kind and gentle boy she knew had become.
And yet… she could hardly blame him. She remembered, almost with shame, sinking to the laboratory floor mere weeks ago, overcome with despair and that desperate anger when the first Lust has told her she had killed Mustang. How foolish of her to be so overcome with grief when he would have needed her most to live in his stead. How unavoidably human of them both, to break when they needed desperately to be whole.
In the distance, there was the unmistakable clamor of steel on steel, of violent forces that could surely only be procured using alchemy.
“Do you think it’s going to be much of a match between Bradley and this kid?” She heard Vanessa ask Rebecca from behind her. When Riza had first briefed her on everything Roy had told her about what the homunculi had been doing in Amestris, Vanessa had taken the news that their leader was a monster extraordinarily well, which perhaps was not as surprising as it seemed, given that her career was one built on learning the deepest inner secrets the government had to offer.
Rebecca speculated. “I’m not sure. I wore Bradley out pretty bad earlier and he wasn’t exactly in peak condition then either. I don’t know how much of a fight he’s going to be able to put in.”
Riza paused for a moment, analyzing what her friend had said. “Hold on. You don’t mean—”
“Oh yeah,” Rebecca said curtly. “I’m giving this fight to Al 100%.”
Riza considered this. You really would have thought that, after everything I’ve been through, the one thing I would have learned would be to not underestimate alchemy.
“Al,” Rebecca said in a way that at once seemed very quiet and very loud as they came upon the scene.
Rebecca had been right.
What an invincible thing a soul forged from metal could become, what a dangerous thing when given the right power. She had underestimated Al for years, Riza realized; they all had. How easy it was to overlook cool steel when always right behind Edward Elric’s raging fire, but this was Alphonse Elric uncontained. This was the unbridled soul that threatened to burn through any flesh or metal that tried to withhold it, the anguish that consumed its surroundings rather than burning out.
How sickeningly familiar it was. How like another boy whose hope Riza had seen consumed by fire and rage.
But now it wasn’t too late. This one could be saved.
“Al,” Rebecca said again, and this time he heard.
Riza didn’t know exactly what state Bradley had been in before this fight, based on Rebecca’s account it wasn’t a good one, but she imagined he had probably looked spritely in comparison to his condition now.
“Rebecca?” Al said, looking up from the flurry of aggression and alchemy that has moments before surrounded him. It was a moment of a distraction a more able opponent would have taken advantage of, but Bradley stayed weakly on the floor. This really was the end. “Lieutenant Hawkeye! So you’re okay.” He didn’t acknowledge Vanessa because he didn’t know who she was. This wasn’t really like him, but he wasn’t really like him at the moment either.
“I am,” Riza acknowledged carefully. “Al… we can go now.”
He looked to Bradley darkly. “Lieutenant you should know that I’m going to finish what I came here for.” His words were quiet, but there was a heaviness filling the room that was almost deafening.
“Is it only revenge if I’m bringing down people that will only bring more suffering if they live?”
“You’re fourteen!” Rebecca interjected. “No one’s saying that—” She looked sharply at Bradley, who, despite his predicament, gave her a cool smile. “Wrath here shouldn’t die. Or any of the other homunculi. But Riza and I— Vanessa, are you in the military?”
“Not exactly,” the brunette said. “But we work very closely,” she added, almost as a private joke to herself.
“Riza and I are in the military. We can take care of this, it’s what we do. Killing someone like this, in the heat of revenge, that weighs heavily on a person, on a soul. No one knows that better than us. You’re a kid—”
“That never mattered before!” The ice to his tone had thawed and now each word threatened to burst into flame. “The universe didn’t care I was only a kid when Mom died, it didn’t care when I lost my body, it didn’t care when my dad left, and it sure as hell didn’t care when it took away the only person I had left! And now that I have nothing, I’m supposed to worry about preserving my innocence or something? To suffer in silence in a body that isn’t real instead of using what I have to try to fix something.”
“Al,” Riza started. “I know how you must feel—”
“NO YOU DON’T.” There was something powerful, alchemical and electric, that seemed to dance beneath their feet. “None of you know what it’s like to lose your brother!”
“You’re right. I don’t.” The calm voice seemed out of place in the midst of all of this. “But I think I’m about to find out.”
“Who are you?” Al said to Vanessa. He sounded more tired than anything else.
“Vanessa Mustang.” She said and understanding dawned on Al’s face. “Yeah.”
He didn’t say anything to the woman, but he stopped and regarded her.
“I’m not going to tell you that your way of dealing with things is worse than mine,” she said. “Because honestly, I don’t think I’ve really even let myself deal with things yet. But this anger, it’s only tearing you apart. When you left Rebecca behind today to go on your revenge quest? She got captured by the homunculi; they were going to turn her into one of them.”
Al started. “Rebecca—”
Rebecca shook her head. “It’s fine, Al. It wasn’t your fault. I’m okay now.”
“No it’s not,” he said miserably. “I… I was so upset about my brother I almost let something worse happen to you.”
“No one blames you for that,” Vanessa said carefully. “But this needs to end. Understand?”
Al looked to the ground, to the ceiling above him, anywhere around him almost as if he was searching for any answers but the ones he had been presented with.
“I just…” His metal fist clenched. “Dammit. Dammit!”
“I know,” Vanessa said, and her voice shook. “I know.”
“I can’t even cry in this body,” he admitted. “I’ve lost everything I have and I haven’t been able to cry once in three years. I guess… I guess there are other ways of breaking down.”
“That’s fucking twisted,” Vanessa said, but it seemed almost comforting.
“Yeah.” He looked at her, as if the frankness of it, the acknowledgment that this was not okay, was exactly what he had needed to hear. One desperate animal howling into the unforgiving night to listen, to hear the sound returned, to know it was heard.
He took a breath and a step back. “Lieutenant Hawkeye? You can finish this.”
Riza looked at Wrath, who had managed to collect himself just enough to attempt to stagger onto his feet.
He stared at her coolly. “Lieutenant.”
She nodded sharply. “Sir,” she acknowledged as she shot him in the head. And that was all it took.
Consciousness had become a fleeting thing. Or perhaps—was this what control had always been like? The blur of memory and reality, past and present tied together by a red string of blood and barely recalled purpose?
It had been a while since Roy Mustang had been human, but he was fairly certain that it had not been like this.
Perhaps during the worst of it; he could imagine Ishval had felt much like this current battle with Pride did: instinctive, empty, all-consuming. It was a fight Roy Mustang could not have won, not against the strongest of the homunculi. It was certainly one that Lust could never have hoped to win. But in this state of in between— the black talons, one last remaining gift of the process that has robbed Mustang of his alchemy and most of his soul, slashed through the homunculus one final time.
He watched the thing that had looked like Selim Bradley disintegrate.
He didn’t have long left.
What should his next move be? Or more importantly, how to approach endgame? It was the last thing he wanted to contemplate in this state, in these final agonizing hours of freedom, so instead, he moved onto his next target, searching for Wrath to take him down as well. That was the important thing, to do as much damage as he could before the end—
A memory flitted to the front of his consciousness, as they were prone to do in this creature that had become little more than a memory himself.
He pushed it away. Not here, not now. There was no excuse for sentimentality in these final critical moments. The loss of his humanity had rendered him a being of pure purpose and how desperately the world needed that now—
But he could still feel the lingering excitement of the memory of her hands on his skin.
A gunshot rang out somewhere beyond stone corridors and darkness. He quickened his pace, nearly losing himself in the aftermath of the silence. But it was brighter up ahead and so he emerged upon the scene.
“Mustang?” This was Rebecca.
“Roy?” This was Vanessa.
“Colonel?” This was Al.
“Lust.” This was Riza.
“Not quite,” he replied, smiling despite himself. He really had thought he would die without seeing her again, that that desperate kiss would be their final memory together. And Vanessa—too much had happened since he had last seen his sister. He couldn’t make himself look at Al.
“Are we really supposed to believe that?” Rebecca said crossly, with a kind of bluntness that came with being the person in the room who decidedly cared about Roy Mustang the least. “Because I just saw you a few hours ago and you were distinctly not Roy Mustang.
Riza shook her head. “No. This is him.” A thousand memories, a hundred kisses, infinite meaningful looks and chaste but electrifying touches rebounded through Roy’s being. This was what was left and the agony of it destroyed him.
Tears had not yet begun to well in her eyes but he knew they were there. They both came into this knowing how it ended. They had, years ago, when they made that promise in his office.
“I killed Pride if that’s any proof or consolation to you,” he told Rebecca.
“And we just killed Wrath,” Vanessa told him. “Always a step ahead of you, baby brother.”
He laughed despite himself. “Gotten in over your head yet?”
“Hardly. Haven’t had this much fun in years,” she said wryly.
“How long before Lust takes over?” Al asked. Roy knew Al well enough to know the boy wouldn’t necessarily blame him for what had happened, but that didn’t mean he was hurting any less.
“I—I’m not sure,” he admitted. “It’s different this time. I have him pretty much subdued—it’s difficult to explain but he’s still here, just assimilated into me for now, instead of the other way around, but it’s not long until the,” He struggled for the words. “Roy-ness of this existence runs out and then that will leave whatever I’ve left of him.”
Rebecca blinked. “That doesn’t sound good.”
“I don’t think it’s supposed to be. I don’t imagine the core being of any sin is particularly pleasant company.”
“And how much longer until then? Ballpark number.”
He thought about the exhilaration during his battle with Pride, about the memories that replayed themselves with every brush of a reminder. This was decomposition, this was his mind breaking itself down into the merest sum of its parts. “An hour, maybe, before it’s over. Things will get bad before then.”
Vanessa opened her mouth as if to say something, but slowly closed it again. She understood. There was nothing left to be said.
“Should we…” Rebecca started, clearly feeling that it was her duty, as the one with the least emotional attachment to the situation, to figure things out. It wasn’t a good position to be in and Rebecca had never been known for her sensitivity and tact to begin with. “Do you think it would be better to end things now?”
That was a blunt way of putting it.
“Doubtlessly,” he said.
He and Riza exchanged a look, the acknowledgment of the promise she had made.
“Now?” she asked.
It couldn’t be now, not before he had made things right with Al, before he was able to have one long last talk with Vanessa, before he had taken Riza in his arms and kissed her one last time. But time seemed to be moving unbearably fast and he could feel what was left inside him, the impressions of memories past, fading and unraveling. This was the end.
He nodded. “Now.”
Carefully, as if she was handling something sacred, she pulled her gun from her holster.
“No,” he breathed, his hand catching hers, skin brushing against skin, two tender things with death in their hands. “Not like this.”
Her eyes held a question she already knew the answer to.
“It’s not fast enough.” He said the words slowly, a schoolboy reciting a poem he had never allowed himself to find meaning in. “Nor inhibiting enough. When I'm… well, incapacitated, Lust might gain enough control to make this a great deal more difficult for you.”
“Then what?” she asked warily.
He looked at her.
“No,” she said hollowly. “No.”
He didn’t say anything.
“I don’t even remember how. I… I’m not an alchemist, Roy.”
“Aren’t you?” He reached into his coat pocket for the old pair of white gloves. She blinked back something like tears as he slid the glove over her hand, one final memory playing through his soul. Riza, you’ve always had alchemy inside you from the day I met you. You don’t have to be an alchemist, but it’s a natural talent that can’t be forced. But right now I…” His voice trailed off as he grasped her hands, his thumb outlining the edge of her gloved palm. “I need you right now, Riza. We need you right now.”
The gloved hand dropped. “Show me then.” He looked at her softly, like she had all those years ago. “It’s pretty simple,” He said, as she had. “Just remember to do it as soon as you snap your fingers. Take the sparks from the gloves and alchemize it with the oxygen in the air surrounding it to expand the flame.”
She held up the gloved hand apprehensively, hesitantly snapping her fingers. Two sparks, ironic points of light in an enveloping darkness, burst into existence only to quickly fade.
Things I really loved about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 in earnest
1. Yondu’s “I’m Mary Poppins y'all!” after Peter says he’s cool. Because yes, it’s a hilarious line, but it’s also such a DAD thing. Like, who can’t say that their dad wouldn’t be so proud to be considered cool by their son and it’s so unexpectedly sweet because of it.
2. The fact that Baby Groot cries like an actual baby once. Because it’s like it’s stabbing you in the heart, but it’s so effective because you really forget that he really is a baby with all the things he can do until then, and that brings you right back.
3. The symmetry in Yondu’s redemption. Yondu is damned because he brings Ego’s children to Ego and his planet to be sacrificed, and he’s redeemed by sacrificing himself to save Ego’s child (who really is HIS child) and bring him away from Ego’s planet.
4. Drax’s interaction with Mantis, especially him holding her while he drowns in Ego’s planet. Because Drax is like this big murderous comic relief character, but his screen time with Mantis was this lovely way to remind the audience that Drax has this soft side and this tragic past without shoving it in your face. Drax might laugh at your pain, but he’d also try to save you even as he was drowning, and it’s a perfect way to frame his character.
5. Ego’s “For the first time, I am truly not ALONE!” and his alieness in general. Because don’t get me wrong, Ego is absolutely a non redeemable wonky bonkers genocidal jerk off, but he’s got this great alien quality to him that I feel this series really needed. It’s not in how he looks, but his motives and how he acts. Ego is a millennia old being; a god in a world of mortals. His view point of the world and his actions are so very true to that idea that we almost can’t relate because no one can imagine what it must be like to be that old or that powerful. But when he yells that one line out, we really get it. Ego, for all his power, is just like us; he just doesn’t want to be alone. Coupled with his god like alien superiority, his ego - get it? ;) - he sees the expansion as the way to answer that feeling. If everything is him, after all, then he can’t be alone, see? What makes him a great villain is that he actually had the real answer all along - love, family - but he chose to destroy it because he felt it was beneath him; because of his subconscious disgust at his own desire to be “just like the rest of them.”
6. Nebula’s “You wanted to win and I just wanted a sister!” And how it turns the tables on how we view her relationship with Gamora. Because Nebula is clearly set up to be the ‘bad sister’ to Gamora’s ‘good sister’ and that one line really throws that on its head and shows that neither one of them are good or bad. I also love how it’s Gamora that ends up apologizing to Nebula, after everything, and Gamora who finally returns Nebula’s offer of sisterhood after all of those years.
7. “You shouldn’t have killed my mom and squished my Walkman!” Like, this line right here; the essence of Peter Quill in 10 words. Perfection.
8. The batteries as they relate to the parallel of Yondu’s and Rocket. Because them as a parallel is basically smashed over our heads, but I liked the subtle batteries parallel in that Rocket steals batteries he doesn’t need and Yondu steals Peter, who is used as a battery by Ego. It’s just a little thing but I found it really neat.
9. Rocket’s “I can only afford to lose one friend today,” line and how although it’s clearly framed to be about Peter, it’s also possibly about Yondu. Because no matter what, Rocket is losing a friend and it’s a great line to add to his character development from a guy who started trying to push his friends away to a guy who can’t lose them.
10. The contrast between how Peter reacts to the death of Ego and Yondu. He holds both as they die but he’s just silent and unaffected by Ego and he’s distraught and trying desperately to save Yondu, trying to pull off the suit to give to Yondu and save him instead. Can you say tears?
11. Don’t even talk to me about the Ravager funeral.
12. That the movie really was truly about family. Drax and his family and Mantis, Gamora and Nebula, Rocket and the Guardians, everyone parenting Groot and Peter realizing that the dad he’d wanted all along was actually the one he’d had. Often these superhero movies pull the “we’re family” card and it doesn’t feel earned, but man it does in this one. This movie is like Marvel’s “The Fast and The Furious IN SPACE” and it’s just great.