War comes to Amestris, and that is when he goes to enlist: not out of any patriotic duty (though he fakes it well, and is young and bright-eyed enough to pull it off), but because he is bored.
The small town he was born and raised in is stifling, and he thinks that if he is going to die, he would rather do so on the battlefield in a blaze of glory, rather than slow suffocation by boredom. They give him a uniform and boots and dog tags: welcome to the army, soldier — your country is proud of you.
When they find out he can do alchemy (it was a little thing, an accidental thing, where he had been doodling a design on a napkin and found it reacted to his touch), that’s when things get interesting.
These are troubled times, they tell him, and Amestris must utilize any resources she has, including her alchemists, though it seems to him that is what caused all this in the first place. He can’t complain, though; he and a handful of others are field-promoted at once, and on top of everything else he now has a fine silver pocket watch.
Now wherever he goes, everyone gives him a wide berth: even his fellow State Alchemists never look him directly in the eye. He sees them glance at him and glance away and thinks ah, this is true power. Every boredom and slight and monotony is worth having this.
Contrary to popular belief, he is not drunk the night he tattoos his palms. He is, in fact, stone-cold sober, as is the sweating Ishbarite POW whom he volunteers to do the actual work.
They itch and ooze when the work is done. He flexes his fingers carefully, then lays his palms on both sides of the prisoner’s head, watching with interest as the reaction takes place, and the man’s eyes bulge before smoke pours from his ears and mouth, and blood from his eyes.
They’ll hurt for a while, he thinks, but at least they work.
If he could have one wish, he would ask that the war continue on indefinitely, because he has never been as alive as he is walking amongst the dying. A man clutches at the hem of his jacket and begs for water, but there is water enough in him to make a lovely explosion, and the feeling is glorious.
They arrest him in his sleep, the disapproving solemn men who’d been so grateful for his application seven years ago, at the beginning of the war. He thinks this is monstrously unfair: after all, hasn’t he been a loyal soldier? He’s fought and bled for the damn country, surely he’s entitled to a little bit of forgiveness for his trespasses.
Ah, he thinks, when he wakes to find soldiers standing over him with guns aimed, this is unfortunate. Kill a thousand innocents and the country doesn’t bat an eye, but the moment you get careless and take down “your own,” then suddenly you’re a monster.
But, he also thinks, as he sits up to look at them, it’s better to be a monster than to be blinded — better to create the haze of gunpowder and smoke, than be blinded by it.
Major Zork J. Kimberly you are under arrest for the murder of Lieutenant Carl Menders, Lieutenant Bridgett McLane, Sergeant Robin Kinders —
He puts his hands on the talking man’s chest and smiles when he trails off, sweating. In the cold desert air he stinks worse than the dead.
“I could kill you like this,” he says. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”
The man stumbles back with a squeal, and then they put the handcuffs on him — only it’s more like a wooden board with circles cut through; it makes him think of stockades, and he swivels his wrists idly. His fingers can touch, tip to tip, and nothing else.
You’re under arrest, they say again, and he is led out of his tent just as fireworks go off in the distance and for a moment he stops to watch them, wondering how many of those are human lives. A knee to his kidney sets him moving forward again, and he walks slowly, and the other soldiers still give him a wide berth as he passes.
There are no windows in his cell and he is grateful: the sight of the sky could not match up to his imagination, and he doesn’t want the conflict. He rests his head against the cold stone and counts heartbeats, and though the guards jeer at him through the bars of his prison door, they don’t mean much either. He touches his fingertips together and imagines being warm again.
Panic comes to the prison, and there’s a man with shark teeth and inhuman eyes who offers to take him along for the ride. The air behind him is smoky and he smells a little like ozone, like steel.
He doesn’t take the man’s hand — that’ll be later, because he’s learned his lesson, and he won’t destroy the cards until he’s certain he can escape safely — but when the man goes, he follows.
It’ll be enough for now, this and a blue sky turned black with smoke.