AN: A short piece in honour of two of the fiercest ladies of the FMA universe (and incidentally, my absolute favourite friendship). And all the love in the world to Arakawa for creating such splendid characters. Set post-Brotherhood, right after the Promised Day.
Warning: mentions of miscarriage.
Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist and its character belong to Hiromu Arakawa; I own nothing.
by Miss Mungoe
Don't you wish you had kids when you had the chance?
Hah! The Northern Wall of Briggs, a mother? Please.
It's probably for the best. Woman hasn't got a maternal bone in her body from what I've heard.
Heart like a glacier, that one. Not suited for motherhood.
"Something on your mind, Major General?"
She glanced up at the voice, drawn from the depths of her thoughts to find herself back in the drawing room of her family's estate, a cooling cup of disgustingly tame coffee in the curve of her hand. Across the table, Izumi Curtis regarded her curiously, and she wondered how long she'd been idle.
Shifting her weight, she threw one leg over the other, careful not to jar the arm still in a sling around her neck. "Nothing of importance."
The snort would have earned any other person a solid fist to the jaw, but the woman sitting across the table simply crossed her arms as she leaned back in her chair, ostensibly uncaring of her own audacity (which, incidentally, was probably why Olivier tolerated her presence in the first place). "Your baby brother could manage a better lie than that."
The remark winked at her invitingly, but she did not rise to the bait. "Alex could not lie to save his life, as you well know."
A dark brow quirked in response. "But you can. Which leads me to wonder what's got you so pensive all of a sudden."
"I'd rather not discuss."
"Oho? Afraid this old housewife will run to the papers with your secrets?"
There was a clear challenge there, and once again she was tempted. As far as the alchemical principle of equivalent exchange went, she knew more secrets about the woman before her than she'd rewarded in return.
But Olivier Armstrong was no alchemist, as Izumi Curtis well knew. "My thoughts are for the fallen," she said instead, because it was not a full lie.
Izumi snorted. "Half-truths, now? And here I thought we were past this stage." But she didn't push the subject, and the silence stretched wide and heavy between them like a gulf. The coffee tasted like piss, but she drank it regardless. Sounds of construction drifted in through the open window, and she heard her brother's voice clear over the din. He had a mind to lure the estate out of her hands, putting it back brick-by-brick where she'd torn it down.
"I was pregnant, once," she said then, because she'd never really been one to beat around the bush.
Dark brows travelled all the way into Izumi's hairline, before her expression settled, not on the pity or disbelief she'd expect from anyone else, but on an honest recognition borne of a shared experience. "Ah." She was silent a moment. "I won't insult you by asking if you want to talk about it." Then she smirked. "Or tell you I'm here to listen. You're a big girl, and I'll take what I get."
Olivier sighed, before a smirk tugged at her lips. "You're the worst kind."
Izumi shrugged. "I've about as little patience for weeping waifs as you have," she admitted. "But I'm not...unfamiliar with the subject at hand, as you well know." And there was a world to gather from that utterance, and a promise of a secret kept once told. A courtesy few in her acquaintance outside her own men would have granted quite so readily.
Olivier didn't bother with condolences, knowing as well as the woman across from her the futility of meaningless platitudes. A shared lament between would-have-been mothers, mutual despite their personal feelings on the subject – she the woman who'd have given everything for a child, and her, who'd never even thought she'd wanted one.
She sighed, and the action carried with it the full weight of all her years. "It was ten years ago. An accident, admittedly, but..." she shook her head, and opted for a different approach. "I wasn't young or foolish. It was cold as all hell, it was sex, and a mutual respect you won't find south of Briggs on a good day." She looked down into her cup. "I got it confirmed after I had some suspicions. Fourteen weeks."
Izumi said nothing at first, but sipped her coffee. "The father?"
She shrugged, but the word clung like an ill-fitting garment to shoulders too rigid for the warm Central temperature. "Never knew. Never needed to." She regarded her fingers where they circled the cup in her grip. "Drachma attacked the same day. One well-aimed kick to the lower abdomen, and that was that."
It was a staggeringly straightforward answer, hiding more than it revealed, but the sharp inhale told her it had conveyed the message clearly enough. The myth was getting such things out in the open would clear the soul – a perverse catharsis for those who lingered too long in their own grief. She'd not told anyone outside her physician before this moment, but it didn't make her feel much better now that she'd revealed it, this secret of secrets. The coffee still tasted like piss, and the hollow space nestled beneath her ribcage felt no different. It was still her wound to carry – it had been, for the last ten years, and she saw no reason that would change. A chat over a cup of coffee wouldn't purge the image of blood on her hands – her own, from a wound that had baffled her men because aside from bruises there hadn't been a scratch on her at the time. There was no cure for this – no automail-replacement for the phantom war-wound that she carried within.
"Would you have carried it to term?"
The question was blunt like a physical blow, but Olivier Armstrong had always considered herself better suited for brutal honesty than verbally complex questions-wrapped-in-banal-pleasantries. And so she gave as good as she got.
"I don't know," she said honestly, the words like a conviction. She snorted softly. "There's probably a social expectation somewhere that I'm supposed to have realized the folly of my choice of career or some such nonsense, but..." she shrugged. "I'd known about it less than a day," she said, as though it explained everything. And for her, it did.
Another woman in Izumi's shoes might have felt insulted at her callousness regarding the little life she'd carried within, but another woman never would have been granted her honesty in the first place. And so Izumi merely nodded. "Circumstances aren't always ideal," she said instead. "And we have no sure way of knowing where our paths might lead us. All we can do is work with what we've got."
Olivier cast a glance towards the open window. Her family's estate. Or hers now, despite her brother's less-than-subtle attempts at usurping her position. The one Armstrong without an active desire to continue the family line and tradition.
She regarded the woman across the table – a housewife for all intents and purposes, but with a will even the Briggs winter would have a hard time bending. And yet for all her sharp edges and her callous down-to-business approach, there was a maternal grace about her, blunt like a contradiction but no less fierce in its sincerity.
"Do you regret?" she asked then. She was not blind to the superfluous nature of the question, but she saw enough of herself in Izumi Curtis to know she would see it for what it was. This housewife who was at once everything Olivier dreaded, and everything she was. A woman shamelessly proud of her station, and who wielded her conviction like a weapon – who fearlessly loved her husband, and who longed for motherhood as fiercely as Olivier dreaded it. They were two sides of the same coin – wills wrought in the same fires but shaped in different moulds.
A wry smile tugged at the corners of a severe mouth. "I regret a great many things, but loving my children is not amongst them."
Olivier's brows furrowed, and Izumi shrugged. "There's no competing with the mother they lost, and I've never tried to, but...those two boys are a little mine, regardless." She smirked, and winked. "But don't tell them I said that. I've got a reputation to keep."
Olivier shook her head. "Those reckless brats. Although," she mused. "A child with that kind of spirit...would perhaps not have been the worst thing imaginable."
Izumi grinned. "I find it hard to imagine you producing anything else," she said honestly, as she raised her cup. "But keep that as a reminder rather than a regret – it's easier to carry that way."
Olivier looked down into her cup, before downing the contents, and thought about a fierce little girl with eyes blue as the Northern skies and an adamant will passed down through generations.
The coffee still tasted like piss, but the thought rested a little lighter now, a gemstone at the heart of her being, wedged deep into a fissure in the impenetrable rock surface.
The conversation lurked at the back of her mind the following days, until she found herself, inexplicably, outside the hospital room of the Elric brothers.
She hesitated, because she'd never been good with children (even her brother, for all his ardent respect for his aneue, had never been coddled), but she was also no coward, and so she paused only a moment before pushing her way inside.
The former Fullmetal Alchemist startled at her sudden entrance, and for a brief moment looked torn between making a break for the open window or the door at her back. She closed the latter deliberately, and fixed him with a look. From the bed opposite, the younger brother watched her curiously, golden eyes bright in a gaunt face.
"Runt," she said, and the brat started, before his brows furrowed impetuously.
"What did I do now?"
She smirked. "Nothing. I simply came to pay my respects. You did well." She looked at the younger brother propped against the pillows – an odd sight out of the armour, but not unwelcome. "Both of you."
His brows remained furrowed, and the suspicion reeked like a visible thing. The younger of the two seemed less inclined for misgivings, and offered her a bright smile. "Thank you, Major General Armstrong. We're both very honoured – isn't that right, brother?"
Edward Elric didn't second the sentiment, and settled for glaring. Olivier smirked. Spirited, indeed.
Then she turned to leave, her departure as brisk as her entrance, and her hand was on the doorknob when the indignant yell had her stopping, "Oye! Wait–that's it?"
She glanced over one shoulder, a single brow raised in silent question. The suspicion had lifted off his shoulders, replaced by disbelief. She met his fearless gaze, but he didn't so much as flinch – a testament to a fortitude disguised by a deceptively small stature. A Wall in his own right.
She smiled. "Briggs always welcomes back its own. Keep that in mind if you're ever up North."
Then she turned, and left before she could see the expressions on their faces, striding out of the room and the hospital with her head held high.
'Maternal' was a word few would dare apply to her, but motherhood had been a prospect, once. For a single day – hardly anything, for some, but for others...it was enough. But it changed nothing in the end, and could-have-beens were meaningless for a Briggs soldier. There would never be a girl with eyes blue like the Northern skies and a will strong as the mountain.
But there were two children set to inherit the world, and though she wasn't maternal in any sense of the word, she could do her part in preparing them for the legacy left by her own labour. She might not be sentimental, but she was by no means unfeeling; she carried the stories behind her scars along with the scars themselves, and it made little difference whether or not they were visible to the naked eye. There was no cure for her phantom wound but time and patience – like melting snow in the spring wearing away at the mountain, carving gentle routes in the surface of the stone.
Or the identically mischievous grins of two boys, eyes not the blue of the Northern skies but golden fire like the sun, warmth slowly thawing the rime of an impenetrable heart.
AN: Please feel free to drop a word if you've got the time! Feedback fuels the fires.