Being a part of the supply-crew had its perks
The truck was warm and shielded him from the torrential rain pouring out of a dark sky. There was no superior constantly screaming at him, ordering him to lay down his life so another old bastard could earn a shiny medal. Kept him out of the fighting too, at least for the most part, because he was still doubting that driving on the paved road directly next to the border was a good idea.
Yet, 2nd Lieutenant Herman followed the orders given to him.
It was a bit stupid to not simply order them to drive in convoy, instead sending them on their way singly. A convoy would have provided protection for the individual, especially seeing as a co-driver or even a guard was allegedly not possible due to there being a shortage of soldiers. Which he doubted, seeing as there’d been quite a lot of those, just loitering around when he’d driven off. Not to mention that picking off single trucks had to be much easier for the aerugan forces, stationed somewhere in the distance to his right.
And he had to admit that this vast no man’s land was scary, especially in the night, with this weather to add. The dug over earth belonged to Amestris still, the border clearly cut by a fence in the distance. Skirmishes happened here and there, the mood tense, but the fighting hadn’t reached these parts yet. Would soon, if it was true that an aerugan General had gotten his way and wanted to start an all-out war as soon as all of the troops were gathered.
He could do little about it though, tried to concentrate on the barely visible and narrow street in front of him. Entertained thoughts about the pretty lad he’d seen at the bar last week. He’d smiled at her through the crowded space and she’d smiled back. He’d not asked her out, the stupid reason for that one he couldn’t recall. But that had not kept his mates from clapping him on the back, telling him to go for it anyways. The voice of his mother echoing in his head, telling him that he’d be thirty-five soon and better get going with a wife and some children.
His mind suddenly pulled from the beauties black hair, seeing a light to his right.
He slowed the vehicle to a crawl, looking out of the passenger window and assuring with his right hand, that his gun was where it was supposed to be. The light flickered, changed from rapidly moving to standing still. It was flickering, more than from just the rain and rather suddenly he realized that someone was running from it.
He barely heard the sound of a gun through the rain.
The light still flickered a little, moving again and he decided to get out of the truck. The base was too far off and if he just reported a possible transgression of the border without investigating, he’d be in big trouble. Pulling the hood of his mantle over his head, he took his gun in one and a lamp in the other hand, though not turning it on.
If these were aerugan soldiers on the amestrian side of the border, trouble not only for him, but every soldier would be on the horizon.
He had only gotten a little closer, mud pulling on his boots, when he heard a second gunshot.
Clearer now than before, as he was out in the open. A squelching sound followed it, like something would make when falling into the mud. The flickering of the light in the distance stopped, as did its movement.
In the spur of the moment, he turned on his own lamp.
It was always the curses that you learned first when listening to an unknown language. And these were vicious, the people in the distance apparently not having noticed him up until now. Seeming a bit stupid to him, his truck not something you oversaw easily, yet he remembered how single-minded one could become when in combat with an enemy.
The light moved away quickly, not reacting to his shouts, ordering them to identify themselves. He moved after them, gun at the ready, but it became increasingly harder as they turned off their light. The mud not helping, seemingly trying to suck his boots off of his feet. And when he’d gotten halfway to the point where they had to have stood, it became apparent that they’d not just tried to transgress the border, that their pot-shots hadn’t been aimed at him or his truck. They’d rather followed someone, trying to catch the person. And hit their target at least once, red and brown mixing rapidly.
The mud seemed to hold onto the pitiful creature when he hoisted it up.
And the sludge held on tighter to his boots too, when he carried it back to the truck, warm, heaving breaths at least giving him the certainty of it being still alive.
Entertained the thought for a split-second, to just drop the being and drive off again, only sure that it was a human he was carrying and of nothing more. But someone running from aerugans was clever in his books and so he instead dropped the thought and laid the person down in his driver’s cabin. Produced a few blankets, a towel and a first aid kit, setting to free the person of the mud first, just so he could finally see something.
And when the face of a young woman came to light, he was a bit taken aback for a moment.
Breathing shallowly, towelling her down as best as possible, thinking that she couldn’t be much older than eighteen, maybe not even that judging from her looks. Found a bullet-hole right above her left clavicle, apparently a through-and-through wound. It wasn’t bleeding much, though he noted to bandage and clean it as soon as possible, doused in mud as it seemed. But the second sound of the gun going off made him anxious, because even though the already found wound had to be painful, it wouldn’t have been enough to throw her to the ground. Carefully he turned her on the side, taking a look at her back.
Not a bullet-hole the first thing he saw, but the puddle of blood already on the seats.
It did not take him long to find the place where she was bleeding out from, the hole so dangerously close to her spine rather unimpressive. But he set to clean the wound quickly anyways, rolled a little plug out of some gauze and stuffed it close with that, hoping for the best.
Ignoring her screaming when he shoved it in, just happy that she offered him another sign of being alive.
Miraculously it worked, staunching the bleeding long enough for him to clean her other wound. To clean her up some more, to dry her off and to un- and redress her in a uniform he pulled from one of the crates in the back of his truck. Wrapped her in a blanket for good measure too, trying not to think about the scars he saw, not numerous, but still enough to give him pause.
She did not look aerugan. Did not sound it either, when she woke up.
“Who are you?”
He should be the one asking the questions, driving again, wondering how long his makeshift-bandages would hold. Sparing a look at her he saluted as well as one could while driving a truck.
“2nd Lieutenant Ethan Herman at your service, Ma’am! Now, may I return the question?”
Saw her eyes ghost over his uniform, but also testing her mobility, trying to sit up. He put a stop to it with a firm hand on a shoulder, pushing her down again. Groaning in pain shortly, but then putting on a look like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, she saluted sloppily while horizontal.
“Sergeant Major Olivier Mira Armstrong! Thank you for excavating me from the mud, Sir!”
He felt a grin pull at his lips, not sure why. Maybe it was the gal of the kid, putting up so much cheek in front of a superior officer? Or her great comedic timing, even though gravely injured? He didn’t know and though interested, it wasn’t the first thing he wanted to know.
“Now tell me kiddo, what are you doing at the heavily guarded Amestrian – Aerugan border? And why did you get yourself shot? Shouldn’t you be still in school or something?”
A raised eyebrow he got for his question and wording of it, as well as another pained grunt when they drove through a pot-hole and a snort.
“Would you believe me if I told you that I killed the highest ranking Aerugan General about…What time is it?”
She was a few ranks lower and yet asked so honestly, he couldn’t help himself.
“Twenty-three hundred hours on the fourteenth of March.”
Without a hitch she picked up where she left off.
“…the highest ranking Aerugan General about fifteen hours ago?”
It was his turn to snort, feeling like he was in a movie now. Not knowing how to reply, not even sure if he should. Either she was deranged, or crazy from the bloodless, maybe booth. Before he could formulate a reply, she answered his second question too.
“And I’ve turned eighteen about a month ago, so don’t call me kiddo!”
He laughed, looked away from the road again, into blues eyes and blonde hair, caked with mud. Remembering that he’d seen her body not half an hour ago, extensive training clearly visible. Sighed inwardly, because if they send eighteen-year-olds to war under the freshly appointed Fuhrer, the future would probably be a dark one.
If her words were even remotely true, he’d not know for whom though.
“Nah, I’ll stick to kiddo for now.”
Did that plenty of times when they’d arrived at the base, him carrying her inside, not trusting the make-shift bandages. Snorted at the leader of the base, when she requested to make a phone-call to a rather high-ranking officer. Snorted at the man’s face when a visit from the man was immediately confirmed. Snorted when he told her jokes, visiting her in the infirmary.
Snorted when a Brigadier General asked if she’d consider working together with him of all people. Telling her that she needed a reliable person to pick her up when she was shot again.
“He’s already adopted me, so I guess it’ll be fine.”
It had been his turn to snort and he’d followed the General and her out of the building, not yet knowing that picking her from the dirt and treating her wounds would keep him busy for the next four years.
Only sparing the black-haired beauty at the bar one more thought, hoping that one of his mother’s saying rang true.
“You always meet twice.”
Half a year he and Scar had spent at the Wall before traveling to Ishval.
Plotting and planning, gathering resources and choosing soldiers they wanted to take with them. Conversing with the General about how to approach certain issues and how to get extra funding. Making sure that Scar had a new identity by the time they left and that he’d packed up all of his things.
Sitting on the train to Central City, from where they would travel east, Scar had shown his incredible talent at reading people for the first time.
“Why didn’t you tell her how you feel?”
He’d almost choked on his own spit and even when he was breathing steadily again, he couldn’t answer.
After a year she came to visit for the first time, let herself be shown around by him.
He’d been proud, still was, of what they’d achieved in such a short time. The first refugees could move from makeshift-tents to makeshift-houses, schooling and several infirmaries underway too. Had listened to him intently, offered creative solutions when he mentioned problems and was met with open arms by the Ishvalans, not only after helping a young girl when a few merchants cornered her, but more.
And when he’d brought her to the convoy, time for her departure having come too soon for him, Scar was next to him again. Seeing her hooded gaze too, when she climbed into a seat, looking at Miles from afar. Who’d offered his brother a second slice of insight into the matters of his own heart.
“Why didn’t you tell her now, when she already knows that you are never coming back to the North?”
He’d sputtered again, said something about Ishval one day being rebuild, but knowing it to be a lie.
In her second year she’d come with the train, the station very nearly in mint condition.
She’d worn her uniform, though Miles had known that she wasn’t here as a member of the military, instead having filed for two weeks of vacation. Let herself be shown around again, admired the work done in another short year. Helped with building houses by day, let herself be taught more words of the language by every person that passed her. Discusses with elders in the evenings, ate with them, talked with them and honoured them. Thought a duel with Scar in the sands, blades clashing, the first dance of death Ishval had seen since the war. No blood wettened the sand that day, only sweat, showing that not all traditions were lost, even the oldest ones surviving in the most uncommon places. He admired her from afar, so easily slipping into this community, so seamlessly fitting into it, all the while never giving any of the things away that made her herself.
Heart pounding in his chest.
And when the time for departure came yet again, he’d almost flinched when an un-gloved hand had cupped his face in an unobserved moment. Blue eyes burrowing into red, soft lips finding his in a tender kiss that left him breathless.
Seemingly like a flash she’d been gone afterwards, though Scar had told him how slow she walked, how you could see her fighting with herself. Waiting for him to come after her, to ensure her that everything she felt was mutual.
This time not his words, but hers ghosting through his head.
“I wish you’d told me that you’ll never come back to me. I wish you’d tell me to stay.”
And when she came back the third year, he kept his distance.
There was a celebration when she came, though not held especially for her, but the young girl celebrating her coming of age dedicating it to her too. Kept her distance too, when she felt his hesitation. Looked a bit thinner, a bit paler, like lost sleep and a cracked heart. He looked the same, at least according to Scar, who sat down next to him. The past year full of regrets for him, a year of no letters and no talk through the radio. Words simply not coming to him.
Watched her talk with Hawkeye from afar, looked on when she shooed away Mustang after the man tried to whisper to her. Saw her step up to Alphonse Elric, tall and lanky, a hint of pride showing on her face. Saw the young man laugh, hand at the back of his head, looking a bit embarrassed. The girl next to him too, Mei, who’d come back from Xing sooner than everybody had thought. Claiming she missed Scar dearly and moving in with him, soon referred to as Scars xingese daughter.
Their eyes met when Alphonse and Mei left again and he flinched away at the contact.
Scar, who’d watched the whole time, offered him advise again, not caring if it was wanted.
“Mei told me once, that when things break in Xing, they’re not thrown away. The cracks instead are filled with gold, in part to show that everything has a history. That going through the trouble to repair something broken, is rewarding.”
He took the hint, understood.
From avoiding her, to keep on acting like the fool he’d been, nothing good would come. Instead he had to at least try, mend what he could. Had he not cherished their friendship for years? Gone with her through thick and thin? He knew everything, even the things blacked in official reports. Her true opinions, her true motives. She’d trusted him with everything and in turn he had too. Loved her with all his heart for almost a decade, just to miss the moment to tell her time and time again.
And when she’d put her heart at his feet, in her very own way, he’d left it in the dirt.
Looking at where she sat, finding the place empty, he got up, ready to search for her.
Hoping that there was enough gold to mend the cracks.
“He will be tried when it comes to that, for resisting a direct order and withholding information!”
She’d known the second the Fuhrer had requested her presence, that he wanted something from her. A favour, information, to touch her bum, she didn’t know. But she’d always known better than to trust the man’s facade of a quirky old man.
“I ordered him to stay at the Fort, so the blame should be loaded onto me, shouldn’t it?”
Stepping into his bureau saluting, rigid like the good soldier she was, her heart had sunken. He’d chattered about useless stuff, a sure-fire sign that whatever the man wanted, was going to hurt. And for Grumman to use Miles as a weapon against her, or rather his well-being, gave her an idea of the scale of things.
“The order was a direct one, issued by Fuhrer Bradley at the time. You cannot protect him from this.”
He was right with that. Had never thought about it actually, as she’d never have expected for the new government to bring it on the table. Miles had resisted orders when he’d followed hers and stayed at the Wall, not coming forth about his heritage. With a pang she noticed that she’d made his live more difficult again, without even aware of it.
“Then why have you called me here, Sir? Such an information could have surely been sent in a telegram?”
Yet, it disturbed her that Grumman was using this now. Was sure that plenty of such files would never see the light of day, people concerning them of no use for him. Wondered, how long he’s been holding onto it by now.
“To propose another possibility of course. Files get lost all the time, especially when they’re of such an age. They are over a decade old and some years ago one of the biggest libraries and archives in the country burned to the ground. They could’ve been in there.”
It was no use wondering though, because she’d made it so clear what she wanted, made it so clear that she cared. Whether he wanted it or not, she’d not let him come to harm.
“And how would we know that for certain, Sir?”
He looked at her with a big smile, which made his moustache lift in faux bliss. She’d always hated being toyed with.
“Tell me General Armstrong, how’s the situation in Drachma?”
Having anticipated the seemingly turn of topic with his sudden smile, she took only a moment to voice the facts.
“A council republic has been proclaimed, parts of the old government and new forces mixing. It seems to be rather stable, the country is recovering from the iron fist of the Czar. The armistice is holding and a peace-agreement underway.”
The situation at the border was calm, more so than it had been in years. She’d made her own end out of that, had made decisions, though he seemed to ignore them for now.
“Thank you, an excellent rendition of the current going-ons, but tell me, does the name Polikarpov ring a bell?”
It took all of her concentration to keep her cool, to not spit, or scream or punch the still smiling man in the face.
They’d tried to rescue four Briggs Bears from a tiny drachman outpost, only one of them still alive. The body’s spoke of more than just torture, of deeds so dark she hardly wanted to think about them, yet had to. Tillingham had been the only survivor, deeply disturbed. For two years the only thing he’d said, had been that name.
“He killed or maimed fifteen of my men personally over the course of my posting at Briggs, Sir! Albeit not a tactical genius he’s renown to be a charismatic leader with a wide reach and a lot of influence. For almost half a decade he led Drachman Gorky, causing constant conflict at the time.”
She knew her enemy, had fought against him for a long time now, though they’d never been closer to one another than a hundred metres. Regretted to this day to not just have sprinted over, killing him and being done with it.
“Yes, he is really quite influential. Even now from what I hear?”
And Grumman acting like all of this was news to him, began to tick her off. She’d known he was a dangerous man even before enlisting herself. He was an old comrade of her fathers, a man who never spared time for anybody but important people. His ability to play coy, was uncanny.
“He has a seat in parliament and heads one of the councils as far as we know, Sir.”
Where this seemed to be going was clear to her, yet she dared to hope otherwise. For the first time in her life she’d made reaching plans. Had handed over letters and a suitcase almost fully packed.
Desperately wanted for Grumman to get to the point, already tired of standing at attention.
“Yes, very right. But are you aware that he is planning a coup?”
It felt like he dropped a bomb on her, revealing not only himself, but his intentions also. And worst of all, though she remained standing straight, face still stoic, she’d probably do whatever he asked of her. She’d not back down, not with Miles freedom on the line.
“My spies have told me of no such things.”
There was a hint of disbelieve in her voice. Over this new information. Over the man’s plan becoming clearer to her. Over her own naivety.
“But mine have, a remnant of Bradley they are. Disgusting, but useful. He is planning a coup and I take it that I don’t have to explain to you what will happen if he comes out on top, do I?”
Death was the short answer, gruesome death the long one. Their northern neighbour would fall back to chaos and war.
“Good. So, you’ll understand he needs to die. I only know excerpts from your early years of service, as well as a few quips from former comrades, but what I heard will be enough. Will you take on this mission and liquidate the man?”
She was in a corner with only one way out and wavered for a second, not sure if she just should climb over the walls instead. She remembered red eyes, kind words and her aching heart.
For years she hadn’t felt the emptiness that followed after accepting such an assignment, but it now coming back with full force left her dizzy.
“Fantastic. You’ll travel to Ishval soon. From there a caravan will pick you up and get you to Xing. We’ll get you to Drachma from there and will give you all the details of the plan when you left the country. As soon as I hear from Polikarpov’s death, the files are gone.”
She’d worked with less, would get herself what she needed and saluted again. Not daring to think about anything else but the mission. Not daring to listen to her own heart beat.
She turned to got, foolishly, seeing as the Fuhrer had not yet dismissed her.
“And one more thing before you go!”
Immediately she turned back to him again, awaiting his words.
“Your letter of resignation is not accepted as of now, you are acting as a military official still. But come back alive and we’ll set a date to honourably retire you.”
She waited, still poised, saluting.
The memory came unbidden and left her breathing shakily.
He’d flinched and she’d fled. Had not been able to take it, not even willing too. Scar had written her, the first letter she’d gotten in a long time. Had been giddy when the officer on mail-duty that morning had handed it over with a smile and a happy “news from Ishval”. Had felt sick when she’d not seen the hoped-for handwriting.
Left the letter where it was, unopened, trying to clear her mind first.
Trained with her sword, yet feeling off while doing so. A condition that started after she returned to her Wall the last time, her equilibrium gone. Tried to jump, tried to dance, but today not even imagining the sands of Ishval helped. Red eyes came to her mind unbidden, silver hair, and her concentration slipped.
It was embarrassing to cut yourself with your own sword and she’d bandaged the wound on her left thigh herself, not wanting to visit the Doc with it.
She’d know, understand and that was something she couldn’t bear at the moment.
Yet, in the evening she returned to the heavy envelope, ripping it open after doing every sheet of paperwork on her desk.
And the words written had hit her somewhere deep, the man formerly known as Scar putting into words what she felt. How it had to hurt, offering someone your heart and them not taking it. Like living a perfect live, just to wake up and find out you’ve only been dreaming.
But he’d tried to give her hope also, told her of the pain Miles felt. That the man had just been overwhelmed, loved her with all his heart. Couldn’t sleep a week before she came to visit and only talked of her when she was gone.
She’d taken that hope and hidden it inside the cavity where her heart had been before, waiting for the right moment to show it.
And after Grumman told her about his plan, about what was on the line, she decided not to act on it. Aware of the possibilities, should there truly be a trial. They could shoot him, probably would, Bradley still the highest authority inside of the military, dead or not. And so, she’d decided to visit Ishval, had to if she wanted to travel to Xing.
Set on simply looking at him from afar for a bit, to take some more mental pictures of his face and never to return again when her task was done, just to safe herself the pain.
Planned to tell him of the threat against him, what she was about to do against that and that he had to go into hiding, should everything fail.
Was not prepared for him finding her quiet so fast.
She’d hidden in a wooden watchtower, erected by the military during the first year, when the camps weren’t fortified and bandits a viable possibility. Climbed up, heights always something that had calmed her. The thrill of the edge, the deep, something that had other emotions so easily pale in comparison. Had come here to forget and now she heard him huffing while he climbed up the leader. Eyes looking onto hers when he climbed over the edge, a look in his eyes she couldn’t read.
There were no shades in Ishval, not in the night. Never to hide your eyes here, only to shield them from the blazing sun.
“Praise Ishvala, I’ve found you!”
She remained sitting, did not return the smile, the happiness. Just waited, wanting to know why he was searching for her. Observed his nervousness, his indecisive movements when she did not give him a lead at what to do.
When he got onto his knees in front of her, the cavity in her chest started to hurt.
“I’ve done something stupid Olivier, the last time you were here.”
Took her hands in his, looking into her eyes.
“I should have told you how I feel, should’ve taken you in my arms and never let you go. Instead I stood there like a dumb sheep, letting you get…”
He was rambling on and on and somewhere in the back of her mind she registered, that he tried to tell her how he felt for her. That he did not cast her aside, that he in truth wanted her just as much as she wanted him! It overwhelmed her momentarily, this wave of new feelings.
It had taken her years to admit to herself her feelings and a couple more until she’d been ready to confess them to him, however stunted. And now he was returning them, telling her in more words than she ever knew that he wanted her to be in his life, that he wanted her to stay. She couldn’t breathe for a moment, felt lightheaded and when he noticed her eyes growing hazy, loosing focus, he stopped his rambling.
“… Olivier, are you alright?”
She was at a loss for what to say, couldn’t think straight and for the first time in many years, her brain surrendered and left control to everything else.
His face was soft underneath her fingertips, seemingly freshly shaven. The other hand burrowed into his hair, playing with the white locks like she’d so often wanted to. His lips a bit coarse, the desert wanting a tribute, moving against hers. Would’ve burned into her brain how his skin looked up close, had she been able to open her eyes at this moment. Only drew back when there was no air left in her lungs anymore.
Let her forehead rest against his, both breathing hard, a flush spreading on his cheeks. Wondering where the wetness on them was coming from, until she noticed that it was her, that there were tears pouring from her eyes.
Felt immediately why, as a weight seemed to have lifted. There was simply not enough pressure to keep them in, thus finally spilling.
His thumbs brushed the remainder of them away, took great care while doing so, gazing into her eyes that spoke volumes, though no word was leaving their mouths.
With a very sudden pull she felt anchored in reality again, kissed him like there was no tomorrow, wishing for there to be no tomorrow. Just wanted to be with him forever like this, sharing kisses, breathing hard and being close.
And looking up at the stars, his hand on the small of her back, he spoke of the ancient xingese tradition, to repair broken things by filling the cracks with gold.
It had sounded compelling, beautiful even and she’d been sold on the idea. Wanted to try with him, wanted to find out if this truly was possible. Deciding not to remember for the reminder of the night, that she’d just destroy everything again, come morning.
Just one night, she told herself.
His hands followed the markings of her body, the many scars left by a life of war.
The long ridge spanning from shoulder-blade to hip, the marks of a bear’s claw, on her right shoulder blade. The circular scar next to her spine, a testament to the luck that took part in the law of survival of the fittest. Two buttons on both sides above her clavicle, a shot clean through all the layers. The tattooed Briggs paw on the right side of her ribcage, not a scar but still beautiful to behold.
He touched over the little nubs where two of her toes once had been and inspected the faint lines on her calf, where cracking ice had once cut her a thousand times at once. Touched the angry red line on her thigh, the only one that still had to hurt. Wondered where she’d gotten it from and asking her, trying to remember when she’d last cut herself during training after receiving a gasped answer.
Kissed those parts of her, while revelling in the feeling of her fingertips moving over his own skin.
Ghosting over the many circular scars, knowing the origin of every bullet that had hit him. Kissing each, even the one on his thigh, so awfully close to where he was aching for her. Felt her breath over him, teasing, sighing out her name in a needy manner.
His eyes opening when he felt her finger on his lips, silencing him. Gasped when her bare body brushed alongside his, leaving a trail of fire in its wake, her lips coming to rest next to his ear.
“Call me Mira!”
It was an order, not needing to be shouted to be complied.
Immediately followed when her hands found his need, fingers dancing over glans, leaving him a sweating moaning mess.
Satisfied with what she heard she slipped lower again and he felt her lips close around him. Felt her tongue explore every nook and cranny, fingers not idle either. Suddenly felt her mouth drop lower, felt himself enveloped in a different kind of feeling and moaned out, feeling her tongue at his base. Eyes opening, trying to keep his hips still with every ounce of his strength, watching her watching him. Releasing him with a small popping sound, smiling like the cat that ate the canary, he felt the last drop of blood he’d left in his brain slither away.
“Oh my god! Do that again, please?!”
He tried to keep his eyes open, watched as she did something he hadn’t thought possible and yet failing miserably. The pleasure was driving him crazy, paired with the sweat burning in his eyes leading him to close them tightly. Tried his best to concentrate on the feeling, holding it together all the while, cupping the side of her face when she released him again with a breath.
Pulling her to him, sharing open mouthed kisses and letting his hands travel her body until he could slip them through still foreign folds, eliciting a gasp from her.
You’d not think Olivier Armstrong to be needy and yet she was crying out his name. Still, he was wanting more.
“My first name!”
He spoke into her ear, biting the lope and dipping into the wetness again and when she next moaned loudly, it was his given name rolling from her tongue.
With a satisfied smile he pushed her onto her back, taking control.
Loving her in every way he knew and she doing the same for him. Getting to know each other’s flaws and each other’s perfections. Cries escalating in pitch, pent up feelings released as long as they needed to be, until sleep finally claimed then.
And when the sun started to set, she slipped out of bed unbeknownst to him.
Left her sword and uniform on the stool in his bedroom, instead putting on the change of clothes she brought. Wrapping her head in a scarf she brought, looking at him one last time.
The gentle rise and fall of his wide chest. Loose silvery locks, falling around his head. Empty hands searching where she’d lain just a minute ago, already wondering where she’d gone.
He’d told her that he wanted her to stay forever before he’d fallen asleep, blissfully unaware yet that she couldn’t.
The irony not lost on her.
Before the tears stinging her eyes could fall, she set out to search for her caravan.
The man led her to the door of a hotel room, inspecting her with one last look.
She’d not opposed the plan, had understood that it was the best chance she had at getting to him and getting out alive again. Was disguised as herself, ironically, leaving her to muse about her enemies’ tastes.
He wants girls that look like the Northern Wall of Briggs, the madam had explained to her in heavily accented drachman. Joked that the women apparently didn’t look like a horse’s backside after all, which the Czars media had made word of mouth. That she’d been given a picture, not a photograph, but a sketch. And she looked the part, the madam told her proudly, she’d seen that the second she’d seen her beg for a crust of bread.
Would have laughed at it all herself, if it weren’t so dangerous to the plan.
Grumman’s contact had tinted her hair black, so she wouldn’t be too obvious. She herself had applied those make-up skills she’d learned from her mother. Exaggerated some of her features, while hiding others, making herself look like a copy of herself. And she felt like one too, after the contact trained her to speak a bit less clearly, with a distinctive accent from west-Drachma. Felt foreign in her own body.
Yet, she’d put her mind to the plan, shoved everything else aside, only sometimes feeling it bubble below the surface. Had rather been amused, when she was dropped off near a brothel, the one where members of parliament apparently got their entertainment from. Knew who to beg from, at whom to look and after only two days of kneeling in the street, she’d been in.
“When he hits you, you scream, understood?”
She nodded, tried to look scared and demure and not like she was about to kill a person she hated with all her body and mind. Had nicked the knife from the madam; plenty of girls had told her that those girls sent to Polikarpov never came back. Suspicion would fall onto the brothel anyways, whether she was successful or not, so she decided to make it a bit more believable. Let the girls dye her hair blond. Talked with them, waiting until her time had come. When a date was set and clothes handed to her, she asked the other girls what they were up to tonight, glad that not one of them was planned to be near the hotel.
The things she’d done so many years ago always caused a ripple. But she’d always tried to stay professional, to prevent collateral damage if she could.
The man with her knocking on the door, it was soon opened and she shoved in.
Polikarpov was uglier then she remembered, which meant something because he’d been capable of looking awful from a hundred metres away.
Leered at her, while she looked onto the floor demurely, trying so desperately now, not to be herself.
Let herself be walked around, Polikarpov all the while commenting on how close to the original she was.
“The hair is a shame though, if it were really blonde, you could almost have been her.”
She supressed a shiver, watched as he laid down on the bed. Gesturing for her to come over and straddle him.
It was her job, so she did, still trying not to let her true feeling show, feeling less like a snake poised to strike at the right moment with every second passing, and more like bear, ready to tear limb from limb.
And when he leered at her again, one hand behind his head, the other on the swell of her hip, following the red line on her thigh exposed by a too short dress and asking where she got that, she snapped.
Not suddenly, but slowly, reaching behind her, which had his grin widening. Producing the dagger, from where she’d slipped it in the back of her dress, sheathing it inside his chest with all of her might.
Did barely register his hand travelling further up, closing around her ribcage and pressing down. Did barely feel two ribs break for the third time in her life, was too preoccupied with pulling the knife from this disgusting mountain of flesh, just to thrust it into him again.
Only for a fleeting moment aware that she was foregoing professionalism by far, was letting something else take the reins.
She’d never cried during something like this, just worked towards the designated goal grimly.
But now she felt manic, was stabbing Polikarpov’s hairy chest with the small, almost dainty, knife.
Each stab was a name hurled at the man. Fear in his eyes, shivering, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth.
Saw realization hit him.
The smell assured her that he was as scared as a man should be before his life ended, emptying his bowels.
She heard screaming, not aware that it was her own.
She stabbed him again and again and again and again and again and again and again.
And when he was finally dead, a mess before her, she counted.
Fifteen times she’d struck him with the knife, only now understanding what she’d done. Who she’d done it for.
She climbed off of the man, breathing hard, not noticing the tears falling from her face.
Gripped the knife tightly, knuckles white, hurtling it into the man’s flesh only once more.
Handle sticking out, while she breathed the last name from a list of revenge she couldn’t remember keeping.
If it weren’t for him, she’d be at Javed’s side now.
Left the room through a window, moving quickly, aware that this had been no clean kill.
That she’d let emotion take over when it was the turn for her cool.
And slipping down a ladder, she found that the car set to pick her up, hadn’t come.
Moved without thinking about it too much, stealing clothes, food and supplies. Bound back her hair and smeared the make-up on her face, adding some dirt for good measure. Started to walk south, the terrain you knew the best choice in such a situation.
Caught a ride on a lorry with a sad look, cutting the journey much shorter.
Bound her ribs at the first chance she got, ignoring the strain that came with breathing now.
Wandered through the mountain range she knew, goal set, avoiding every outpost she could. Swerving patrols and guards, ducking into caves when the weather worsened.
The wound on her leg had re-opened even before her run-in with the bear.
A wound thrust upon you by an enemy, will not heal easily.
It rang true even if the enemy was yourself.
Noticing too late that she had stolen everything she needed for the journey, except for a weapon. Felt the claws of the animal slash at her, tearing her leg open further. Wished for her traitorous sword, instead running and hiding, using her small frame to hide in a crack, too small for the bear.
Bleeding and bleeding, the temperatures dropping when night fell and the bear finally let up. Bandaging her leg as best as she could, ignoring the pain and the cold. Ignoring the numbness that soon spread from the bandage downwards.
Ignoring the fever too, that had her walking onwards only slowly, to worn down to truly see, only knowing that she had to push on.
Blood on snow having her think about red eyes again, making her smile inanely.
Face first she fell into the snow.
When he’d been transferred to Briggs, it had felt like a punishment at first.
Walking up the mountain leading to the fortress, he’d been attacked by one of the men, ponytail lashing around in the wind. Only learned later that it was the usual welcoming committee. Did icicle-duty even before meeting the leader, by name probably a sibling or distant relative of the blonde devil he’d babysitted for so many years. It felt like an eternity ago, but at the same time the years were too short to attain such a rank, to work so far up.
And when he’d billowed after being brought to mess-duty, without even having met his superior officer or seen his quarters, that he demanded to see the leader of this shit-show, to which they had shrugged and brought him to a bureau.
Looking at him like he just billowed a death-wish.
When the door opened and he looked at the person sitting behind the table, he uttered what had to sound like another death-wish to the man standing next to her.
“You’ve grown older kiddo, but you haven’t grown up!”
Was met with a laugh, even got a hug, which led the mouth of what he supposed to be her adjutant hanging open. And then he’d cheekily saluted, but with an honest smile on his face.
“Captain Ethan Herman reporting ready for duty, Sir!”
He made friends at the Fort quickly.
Knew to behave himself when others were around, yet could not supress the occasional quip when he found himself alone with her.
Felt proud, like he supposed a father would, seeing what’s become of her.
Went to a bar in North City at his first free evening, the crew leaving for the city big that night, General and her adjutant, but also the bear-like Captain Buccaneer among it. Turned beet-red when kiddo handed him a number on a slip of paper and pointed at a black-haired beauty at the other end of the bar.
Ordered him to go over and ask her out, or she’d have Buccaneer kill him.
Named his daughter Mira when she was born, proud beyond believe.
And walking the perimeter just now, he was circling back to these old memories. By now there was a second child born, a third on its way, a new government installed and the restoration of the razed Ishval in full swing.
Also, General Armstrong had gone missing after a visit to the aforementioned region, no doubt visiting her former adjutant.
Had prided himself in noticing right away, what they’d still denied at that point. She never once played favourites, but he was still aware how much Miles meant to her, how much she pinned for him. The way she walked the corridors after he left, the usual spring to her step missing. The way she looked when returning from visits to the land, coming back sunburnt and wistful. The last time coming back downright broken, though she vehemently refused to talk with him about it.
Here too, he’d felt a bit like a father, though now he could compare.
And he still felt like one over the two-month period she was now missing, no searches going on, the top-brass extremely tight-lipped.
They widened the circle of their patrols, simply because they could, to feel like they were doing something. It had been his idea, after the news reached Briggs that General Polikarpov had been killed by a prostitute in a fit of rage, who’d managed to escape.
Was remined for a second of the olden days, when he’d be ready to pick her up at wherever the plan had led them to. Wanted to be ready now too, felt the need to happen upon her body, just to have clarity.
He knew that she’d turned in a letter of resignation shortly before her disappearance, wanted to be free of it all she’d told him. Get on with her life. He’d postponed his own when she’d gone missing three weeks after a meeting with the Fuhrer, suddenly wondering if the things she knew were maybe deemed too dangerous.
Wondered if she’d be really denied a bit of happiness now, after having given so much.
The tracks he saw pulled him out of his musings.
Not deep, clearly human. Fresh too, the slight snowfall not even having filled the soles partially yet. Whoever that was seemed to be clearly injured too, one foot apparently dragged. He followed in the direction they led, hand on the butt of his weapon.
Drachma was calm, the death of Polikarpov not celebrated, but not met with angry mobs in the street either. But maybe there was a soldier wanting to topple the armistice, or a refugee? Maybe one of the tribespeople of the region, injured and searching for help?
Finding the body in the snow, wearing no uniform, but a mix of clothes, he pushed the snowfall from the person carefully. Saw that they were breathing still and went to hoist them up.
When the hood slipped back during that movement, he very nearly let her fall again.
The face was unmistakable, full lips and high cheekbones. Hair looking weird, blonde but somewhat off. Left leg a mess, the claws of a bear unmistakable after a few months of service. Eyes fluttering open he saw blue, readjusting her in his arms when the first sound escaping her was one of pain. Saw the faintest of smiles stretch her lips, face tinted red with fever.
Carrying her towards the Fort with urgency in his step, he had only one thing to say to her.
“What are you doing here kiddo?”
She answered, however faintly, but still pulling a smile from his lips.
“Would you believe me if I told you, that I killed an important Drachman General about … what time is it now?”
As soon as she learned that he was coming, nervousness took a hold of her.
She’d lied, said that she’d stay forever by his side and left just the morning after. Betrayed him basically, with promises not kept. Told him nothing of what she was about to do, because if he’d known, if he’d told her not to, she would have complied. Had felt so weak and disgusting when she’d stood under the rising sun, pulling on some neutral clothes and leaving her uniform, her sabre, for him.
Desperately wanting him to remember her like that, the dutiful woman, not the person that very nearly stayed by his side, even though it could mean the death of him.
The woman who was willing to trade an eternity, for a few hours of love.
Felt her hands start to shake when he stepped through the doors of the Fort, striding towards where she lay with a sure step.
She could not run, frostbite and sword-wound and bear-claws and gas-gangrene having damaged her leg beyond salvation. It was gone, though a port already in place and she wondered how much time must have passed by now. How long they waited before telling him where she was.
How many months he had to endure, maybe wondering if something had happened to her, pushing away the thought that she lied? Then burdening him with the knowledge that she indeed had, had gone on her own free will, when he wanted her with him the most.
She’d not wished upon him what she’d felt in the year in which he hadn’t answered her affections, the slow breaking of a heart, part of her soul reducing itself to rubble. And yet she’d done it unto him, knowingly, with every intention.
He’d just hesitated, had taken everything into consideration. Hurting her without meaning too.
She’d done the opposite.
The doc seemingly vanished when the door to the infirmary swung open, knowing that what was to come only concerned Javed and her and no one else.
Wondered how he’d done it, tearing down all of her walls in just one night, gnawing the flesh off her bones and leaving her vulnerable to every chill.
Because she was already crying when he entered the room, without even noticing when it started. Tears falling from her face in desperation, one at a time, but also in relief, because he was here and he was in one piece, but also because he wasn’t in Ishval, he wasn’t at the place he considered home and now she was keeping him from that too.
Watched him as he crossed the room, back ramrod-straight, every step deliberate.
He’d forgone the glasses, red eyes burrowing into hers and she could barely stand it. Felt guilty on top of guilt, could not find a shred of herself and understood rather suddenly, that he was holding her hostage.
Not knowingly of course, but when she’d left from his side that night, she’d left herself behind. Gave him her strength and her shield, left every decision as to what happened after in his hands.
One year without him, without even the knowledge of him, had sent her through a swirl of emotions.
The thought that he could take it from her for forever, that she’d induced that herself, sent her mind into overdrive. She wanted to have herself back and to have him too, but she wasn’t sure that she’d get even one of those things.
She averted her gaze, could not hold it anymore.
“Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you trusted me?”
There was the pain she’d anticipated, his voice speaking of nothing else. Small in its hurt, quiet.
“I talked to Grumman, I know what went down. Mira, please, why didn’t you tell me?”
His hands found hers and a quiet sob escaped her. Felt the warmth he provided spread through her fingers, her arms, her whole body, attacking her heart.
How to tell someone that you love them so much, that you would die protecting them?
How to tell someone that you would kill whoever dared to hurt them?
How to tell someone that after so many years of holding back, the love granted being taken away again was a concept she couldn’t even handle as an idea?
One hand let go again and she mourned its loss already, when it instead cupped her face, caressing her cheek, taking some of the tears with it.
The silence that stretched on was almost unbearable and somehow the most violent thing she ever had to endure. You heard everything, the whirring in the piping, machines beeping in the background, soldiers walking by.
The sound of the mattress expanding again, when he got up from it.
The sound of skin slipping through skin when he pulled his hands back.
The sound of his boots on the floor, when he left the room.
The sound of the door falling shut.
Now that he couldn’t, he suddenly wanted to hear Scar’s insight on the matter.
She’d been gone so suddenly and when he’d woken up to an empty bed, his heart had broken. Had she not said she loved him? Called out his name? For so long they’d danced around the other and when finally the damn had broken, hadn’t it been wonderful?
And when it became clear that she’d not left just him, but was nowhere to be found, his hurt changed to worry.
Maybe she’d been abducted, or an enemy of hers decided to exact revenge?
Asked everybody he could if they knew something, many aiding him in his quest. But there was no lead, nothing but wait and see and when he’d been called to Central a week ago, he’d expected the worst.
And instead he was presented with the fact that his very own well-being had been used as a bargaining-chip.
Had forgone curtesy and good upbringing at that, asking the Fuhrer why the fuck he would do something like that?
Getting the rather cold answer, that it was the only way for General Armstrong to go on a mission to kill a possible enemy of Amestris. Which, by the way, she’d succeeded at, being at the Northern Wall, recovering from her injuries as far as it was possible. If he travelled up there, if he could ask her if she still wanted to resign?
He’d left, with the knowledge renewed that Grumman was a Fuhrer by the book. He did what it took to keep his country save. At whatever cost.
Travelled up to the Fort with only one question on his mind: Why?
Why not talk to him? Tell him of the mission?
It was secret yes, but their mutual trust had long ago, before any broken hearts and the notion of love, forgone such words. He knew who she killed in the past, what and whom she sabotaged as part of the special forces. Was probably the only person in the world who could offer future historians a complete list. And in turn she knew all of his secrets, everything there was to know.
And even more, seeing as it was only her that carried the knowledge of the danger he was in.
Hurt the most by the fact, that she would leave him behind without even a goodbye.
Hurt by her silence, by the way she averted her gaze, silent tears rolling over her cheeks.
He’d left, leaving her to the silence she seemingly craved, to think in the quarters assigned to him. Wondering what his Ishvalan brother would say, if he would think him a fool.
The man had claimed once, after he’d failed to answer her silent question before leaving, that he was a man in the possession of two hearts now. And when he’d confided his fears to him, after her leaving that fateful night, his pain bare to the other man, he’d gotten an equally simplistic answer concerning her love.
“Maybe she’s given it all to you, nothing left for herself?”
The knowledge that the answer had been so close, baffled him.
Had him jump into pants and coat again, had him tie the laces of his boots quickly. Feet finding the infirmary on their own.
Pace slowing down when he entered the station, lights dimmed. Caught at the door by the Doc, face stern and angry, holding onto his arm like a vice.
“The hell you think you’re doing?”
He tried to get free, feared to lose the truth he kept to himself for far too long, unknowingly or not.
“She’s heavily injured and your little stint this afternoon did her nothing good either! Your prying for a why, your constant questioning why she didn’t trust you with the truth. Did it ever occur to you that she loves you beyond reason? That there maybe is now why?”
He stopped squirming, listened instead. Felt even more like a fool.
What would he have done if she`d told him? Probably asked her not to go, however dangerous that really was. Not caring that she could lose him, as long as he couldn’t lose her. And when she’d been presented with the decision who to endanger, she’d chosen herself, something so decidedly her that it was hard to be mad at.
Not asking him, not telling him, because her heart could overrule her brain, even when he kept it for himself.
“Please let me go.”
His voice had her stir in her bed, off the far end of the room. Had her sit up, though there were no tears this time, no shaking.
The Docs head turned too and upon registering a curt nod from her patient, she let him go. With one last scrunched up look, telling him what an idiot he’d been in the first place.
She could speak again, was looking at him through the darkness.
“I’ve never loved before Javed, not like that.”
He came to a halt in front of her bed, not saying anything, waiting.
“When I arrived in Ishval that day, I had every intention of telling you, really. But then you’d talked to me, kissed me, made love to me and told me that cracks could be repaired with gold. Started right away with picking up the pieces.”
His hands found hers and they intertwined, sitting himself down softly on the side of her bed.
“And I couldn’t say no, even though I knew I would shatter it all again just a few hours later. Had not expected you to love me at all, when I arrived. Hadn’t know that I wanted you so much, until I finally got you.”
Noticed that his heart was beating erratically, his breathing quick. Waiting for her to come to a close and at the same time never wanting her to stop.
“I decided not to tell you the truth, because I didn’t trust myself to make the right decision. You I trust with all my heart.”
Before she could turn away, avert her gaze again, he caught her face in his hands and turned her to him. Looked her in the eye before closing the gap, pressing his lips to hers. Felt her hands fist into his uniform jacket slightly, kiss only ending when she pulled away to draw breath again.
Wanted to say so many things, explain and excuse, but was lost in the feel of her hands around his, of the sound of her breathing.
Lost in her eyes, truth and love so clear to see.
Many things he could’ve said, but decided that everything up until now had been complicated enough.
“I love you.”
The first time she set foot into Ishval again, she landed flat on her ass.
Miles had been gone for weeks on end, just to return for a few weeks and then be gone again. Had been with her for a large part of the recovery, had been at her back when she learned walking again. Had brought her here, helping her up after a rather ungraceful fall, laughing alongside her.
A telegram had travelled ahead that he’d be bringing her, that she’d stay longer and so he and a few others had made good use of the key he owned to the man’s house, setting everything up accordingly. And when the others had gone, they’d thanked him.
Honestly and quietly, which he’d replied to with a rather brusque wave of his hand. Telling them to keep it down, the neighbours had children.
But he watched nonetheless in the mornings, when she trained with her sword again, dancing upon the sand. Not as fleet-footed as a few years ago, but still impressive considering the short time. Noticed him watching too, the only person that always did, whether she had a good or a bad day.
And only months later he himself, called the guru by Armstrong, understood that neither Miles nor the General had come back to Ishval.
But Javed and Mira instead.