AN: Olivier/Buccaneer, rated T for mentions of adult shenanigans. It can be read as anything from romance to comradeship with a lil' something-something on the side – whatever works for you. Spoilers for the end of Brotherhood.
Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist and its characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa; I own nothing.
by Miss Mungoe
Winter in Briggs was a fierce thing, cold as all hell and with little to no respite from a penetrating frost that seemed to go straight to the marrow. And in long hours on watch atop the wall, no amount or quality of fur or insulation could guard completely against the staggering drop in temperature.
For the soldiers of Briggs the climate left a feeling of permanent cold – like a cover of rime across the skin, and it made the bones ache in a decidedly unpleasant manner that only got worse with age. But the soldiers of Briggs were notorious for their resilience, and there are always ways to keep the cold at bay, if only for short intervals. Continuous exercise did it for most, and for others there were more...intimate solutions.
"What would you say if I were to proposition you?"
It was testament to his sharp adaptability and his rare breed of good humour that he didn't so much twitch at the question, asked out of the blue as it was. Olivier didn't take her eyes off the endless white spanning the land before her, from the foot of the Wall and stretching far and wide towards North City in the distance. The looming shape at her side stood rigid like a stone pillar against the wind, but her question remained unanswered. She didn't doubt that he'd heard her; hers was a voice that carried, after all.
Then, after a pause during which she heard him adjust his stance ever so slightly, a near imperceptible straightening of the back and shoulders easily distinguishable to the ears of someone with years of leadership at her back–
"I'd be honoured, ma'am."
The low rumble betrayed no emotion, save a gruff honesty with which she was well acquainted. Now she glanced over her shoulder, and found a spark of humour in his dark eyes and a smile curling along his mouth that made her wonder if her idea had not been completely far-fetched after all. She'd entertained the thought before – she was, contrary to her reputation, a hot blooded woman with desires just like any man. Her position had not rendered her celibate. The issue lay with the choice of partner, and if all her years in the military had taught her one thing, it was to pick wisely.
Which was why it had taken her years to get to where they were now, establishing and nurturing a mutual respect as impenetrable as the Fort of Briggs itself. He was an honourable man, and one she'd trust her own back to without question, but there was a line there, regardless. Not the obvious boundary between subordinate and commanding officer, but an unspoken one between comrades-in-arms, and one not to be crossed lightly. She was not blind to the camaraderies-turned-liaisons amongst her men, but at the same time, was not blind to the devastating results that followed in the wake of some. But so long as such relations did not interfere with their work, she would not deprive her men what comforts they could find.
However, as one of the very few women stationed at Briggs, and the highest commanding officer to boot, the path she was considering was a slippery slope with hard ice at the bottom. She was a grown woman well past her prime, and she was well aware of the consequences – and the folly of her own humanity luring her to the edge.
"And what about after?" she asked then, voice cutting through the wind, singing like a blade. "Would you view me as property? An object to be owned?"
It was a clear challenge, and she might as well have proffered her sword, but the man at her side was not known for shying away from confrontation. She threw a glance over one shoulder, and found him looming, large like a bear at her back.
But she was no snow-rabbit, as he was well aware, and so she did not cower.
Buccaneer smirked. "I could sooner claim ownership of the winter, sir."
She smiled – a slow curl of the lips that chased some of the cold away from her skin. "A good answer."
He shrugged, and she heard the clank of his automail over the wind. "It's the truth," he said simply.
Olivier was silent a moment as she considered the nature of their conversation, the lightness of which he spoke but the underlying severity as hard as the ice clinging to the fort beneath them. "And do you think less of me for asking?"
He snorted. "Would I think less of you for being human, sir?" he countered, and she smiled at the challenge.
She shrugged. "As I am aware, I am not widely considered to possess human feelings." There was no bitterness there, for she deemed it unnecessary. She was proud of the name she'd made for herself, quite disregarding the nicknames the fools in Central so readily appointed her. They could believe what they wished – she remained who she was, and had no patience for catering to fools who could not see past their own pointless labels of sex and gender and archaic concept of femininity to judge a person for what they were.
"Then they obviously don't know you very well, ma'am."
She smirked. "And do you know me, Buccaneer?" she challenged, although she already knew the answer.
He grinned – the gesture feral like that of a wild animal, but the underlying candour unmistakably human. "Like I know the winter, sir."
She laughed at that. "You're full of good answers today. Where have you picked up this shit?"
"It's part of my natural charm," he retorted easily. "Ma'am," he added cheekily.
She snorted. "Natural charm, my ass." But she didn't question him further, and nodded towards the empty space beside her. "You going to stand there all night?"
He had the audacity to raise a brow. "Is that an order, ma'am?"
Her eyes glittered. "No. It's a proposition, and I'll judge your actions accordingly."
She wasn't surprised when he came to take a seat beside her, acting entirely without hesitation, because she knew her men, and she would not have asked him in the first place if she'd harboured doubts of whether or not he would have accepted. Cold to the core or not, she harboured no intentions of pulling rank for matters of the flesh. He would come if he so wished, and if not she would let him go.
"Bold choice," she asserted, and he grinned.
"I'm not known for being meek."
"Ha," she laughed. "No, you are not."
She heard him draw something from within his thick coat, and looked down to find him proffering a flask with his good hand. She took it, and quirked a brow at the engraving on the side. "A Briggs bear," she mused with a smirk. "How fitting." Raising it to her lips, she took a swig. It burned a pleasant trail down the back of her throat. "Good stuff," she admitted.
He took it as she handed it back, taking a large swig himself. "I've had it since I was first stationed here. It was a gift." He didn't elaborate, and she didn't ask.
Her eyes glittered like ice in the waning light. "And is that your secret to keeping warm, then?"
He grinned. "Aa. Though if you're serious about your proposal, sir, I might change my mind."
She hummed, the sound low under her breath. "Such a smooth-talker, Buccaneer. You do know it's rather unnecessary?" She'd already asked, and her proposal did not rely on petty conditions.
He met her look with his own, unflinching under her gaze as always. "You are worth the sentiment, General Armstrong."
She raised a brow at that, but didn't question him, unduly pleased at the honest admission. She made no secret of her aversion to men of Mustang's ilk, who sugar-coated pretty words and served them on silver platters, but there was something to be said about the brutal honesty of the man seated beside her.
"Am I now?" she mused, voice low against the howling wind. She cut a glance towards him, his hulking shape like a crag jutting out from the wall. And then, because she'd never been one to be swept off her feet, she grabbed hold of the collar of his coat, gloved fingers curling around the fur lining, and when she tugged it was a mute command that he responded to with a wry smile. The smell of alcohol was sharp on his breath, and his nose cold where it pressed against hers, but it wasn't half bad, and by his keen response he wasn't about to treat her as something breakable. There was nothing gentle about a man like him, but then there was nothing remotely gentle about her, either, and she made no point of hiding it. But from their years spent serving side-by-side, he knew her for what she was, and a shrinking violet was not it.
A hand large enough to cover the entire side of her face came to tangle roughly in her hair, and she had half a mind to slap it away, but decided against it. She'd heard the wanton murmurs amongst the men – speculating how it would feel like to run their hands through the hair that was her one feminine vice in this world of male pissing-contests and survival of the fittest. She'd grant him the courtesy of intimate knowledge, for the discretion his honour would award her in return. An equivalent exchange, though she would never willingly stake her life on an alchemical principle. But this was the silent pledge of two soldiers of Briggs, and in Briggs, honour given equalled the honour earned.
The wind cut sharp against her back, and she drew away to tug the collar of her coat closer, and found him studying her with eyes reserved for the battlefield. A smile curled along her mouth, and she wondered idly if his notorious stamina extended to the bedroom.
"What do you say we take this somewhere warmer?" she asked, as she rose to her feet, golden mane falling around her shoulders as she moved. He followed the movement with his eyes, before bringing his gaze to meet hers. Then he grinned wickedly, and the rumble that followed was a shot of scotch straight to her core.
The winter that settled the after the Promised Day was the worst Briggs had seen in decades.
Of course, Olivier Armstrong wasn't prone to superstition, and didn't see much sense in making it out to be anything but the freak bout of weather that it was. She knew cold, and the cold of the North could not be tamed, and if the cold wanted to come back with a vengeance, it damn well would.
Her thighs were turning numb through the thick fabric of her uniform, but she paid it little mind as she kept her gaze resolutely on the slowly darkening horizon in the distance. The soft flurry of snow was getting thicker, and she had half a mind to go back inside. But for once, the cold beckoned – the numbness a different sort than the one haunting her at present, and fiercely welcome.
She considered the flask in her hand, clutched between gloved fingers. A soft dusting of rime clung to the rearing form of the bear engraved on the front, and she snorted softly as she unscrewed the cork to take a swig. The scotch burned a familiar path down her throat, and she breathed a little easier.
"Humans are selfish creatures," she said then, and snorted at her own petty lament. "Avarice is a vice that doesn't escape the best of us." She looked down at the flask in her hand. "I told you once that people didn't believe I was capable of human feelings." She snorted again. "Joke's on them, now."
She shook her head, and then shook the flask. "You did well," she said to the howling wind, watching as it took hold of her golden mane, the strands fluttering wild against the flurry of snow – like gold against crisp white bedsheets. A frivolous, wanton memory, but it gripped like a vice around her windpipe. He had so treasured her hair.
"You lived well, and you fought well," she continued, pressing ever onward in her stubbornness. "Now rest well, old friend." She raised the flask in silent salute, then to her mouth, the metal cold against her lips, and drank the last drop. The numbing buzz that followed chased away some of the cold, but there was rime on her heart yet – the memory of her fallen men; their names engraved on their Queen's solitary throne.
She held the flask over the edge then, resolution simmering in the pit of her stomach with the alcohol, but the fingers around the cold metal were unyielding even to their own master. She scoffed at her own ineptitude, but pulled her hand back regardless, eyes on the trinket – this silly possession of another's that had somehow found its way into her battle-worn hands. It wasn't hers to hold on to – nothing of his was, the same way nothing of hers had ever been his. And yet. And yet.
The thought brought on a rare smile. "Ownership of the winter...huh?" she mused, before she shook her head. "You damn bear of a man." She tucked the flask back into the confines of her coat, the weight of it heavy against her heart despite its symbolic emptiness. Then she rose smoothly to her feet, and with a last look at her winter kingdom cold and silent before her, made to retreat back inside.
In the end, her bed is cold, and her throne a lonely seat at the very edge of the world. But the flask sits at her nightstand, the bear rearing proud and fierce against the metal, and the after-effects of the scotch clings like a pleasant fog to her tired mind.
And for a little while, the memory of warmth is enough.
AN: Ahahahahahahaha /throws self off the Wall of Briggs.