The first time Buccaneer lays eyes on the Ishvalan, all he can think of is the stories his mother used to tell him, of demons and monsters that slew them. The demons in those stories always had red eyes. Like the Ishvalan.

Buccaneer is a Warrant Officer when they meet, and the Ishvalan is a 2nd Lieutenant. Buccaneer seethes. The very idea that a desert rat could outrank him is intolerable.

The Ishvalan himself is intolerable. It's not that he acts particularly barbaric. If anything, it's the fact that he doesn't that Buccaneer simply can not stand. The Ishvalan's every mannerism are calculated for utter military precision and perfection. Nothing he does or says is in any way out of line, but there are signs, turns of phrase or slight gestures that hint that there is something roiling and dangerous under the surface.

Buccaneer considers taking his concerns to the Queen, but she won't condemn the Ishvalan without absolute proof and even if gut feelings have never failed him before, Buccaneer knows it won't be enough this time.

So he decides to deal with the problem himself.

By the time he reaches this conclusion, the Ishvalan has been promoted to the Queen's personal unit and given his own dormitory. Which works just fine for Buccaneer. The fewer witnesses, the better.

On the coldest, windiest, and most unpleasant day of midwinter, Drachma attacks. It's a small raid, barely worth mentioning. The Queen handles it personally, one petite woman against a force of fifteen rugged, sturdy men. Buccaneer almost pities the bastards.

The Drachman commander is carrying a wicked looking scimitar when the Queen damn near bisects him. He drops the scimitar and manages to stumble away.

Buccaneer claims the scimitar for himself when no one is looking. No one sees the Drachman die. Which means if he claims the Drachman killed the Ishvalan, no one will think anything of it. Death doesn't count unless there's a body.

The Ishvalan sleeps with his door locked, but Buccaneer has never been one for following rules. He picks the lock and creeps inside.

For a moment, he pauses on the threshold, taking in his surroundings. They are austere to an extreme Buccaneer has rarely seen. The only feature worth mentioning is the army cot in the corner that the Ishvalan sleeps on and the empty crate with a small lamp. The lamp doesn't even have a shade.

The Ishvalan is sprawled out on his back, snoring softly. Buccaneer looms over him, hesitating for only a fraction of a second, then slashes downward.

The Ishvalan wakes at the whistle of the blade, jerking back quickly enough to save his life, but not so fast as to prevent a long gash from opening up from his left shoulder to the opposite hip. He doesn't even seem to notice.

Buccaneer brings the blade down a second time, but the Ishvalan is already moving, a short, jagged dagger in his right hand. He leaps forward, parries the scimitar, and grabs Buccaneer's wrist. Buccaneer goes down, landing on his back with the Ishvalan sitting on his chest, holding the knife under his throat.

"Are you trying to kill me?" the Ishvalan asks. His voice is as calm and casual as ever, even as his blood drips on Buccaneer's shirt.

"I thought that was obvious," Buccaneer snarls. The Ishvalan has his arms pinned above his head. He tries to struggle, but the Ishvalan holds him down easily.

"You would think," the Ishvalan acknowledges drily. "Are you trying to kill me?" he repeats

"Aye," Buccaneer admits. "Desert rat like you has no place here."

The Ishvalan rolls his blood-red eyes. Then he stands, turning his back to Buccaneer. "Don't try it again and we'll forget this ever happened, all right?"

Buccaneer almost lets it go, but the Ishvalan's nonchalance is infuriating. No one human could possibly be so calm about an attempt on their life. He charges.

The Ishvalan manages to find the time for a put-open sigh before whirling around, catching Buccaneer's wrist again, and slicing his arm clean off.

Buccaneer stares at the severed limb. His brain doesn't really register that it's his. Sheer surprise overwhelms pain or shock even as the puddle of red grows larger.

He watches, uncomprehending, as the Ishvalan stuffs his knife under his pillow and opens the crate by his bedside. He withdraws a length of clean linen and bandages Buccaneer's new stump. Then he bandages his own chest and mops up the blood on the floor.

"Wha-" Buccaneer stammers. and his stump is beginning to burn. His vision is blurring and swaying and he just want the world to stop moving. He's not sure he's awake anymore.

"I did try to warn you," the Ishvalan says gently.

He grabs Buccaneer's lapels and steers him into the hallway. Buccaneer follows, grateful for the support and he thinks he should be angry, but he can't remember why.

By the time they reach the infirmary, Buccaneer is leaning on the Ishvalan like an old friend and he can barely see through the pain. The Ishvalan speaks in calm, soothing tones. They wash over Buccaneer and he feels like he's wading in a river. All the voices are coming to him from so very far away. Darkness is playing at the corners of his vision and he finally lets it claim him.

He wakes up in a rock-hard bed with the smell of antiseptic in his nostrils. At first, he can't remember what he's doing in a hospital, but then the events of last night filter in and he sits bolt upright. A lance of pain shoots through his right arm and he nearly falls unconscious again. He looks over at his arm, dreading what he will see. He sees nothing. Just an empty space where his arm used to be.

He looks around, just to try to get his mind off it. The Ishvalan is sitting in the bed next to him, reading a newspaper. He's not wearing a shirt, but his entire chest is bandaged. Buccaneer can see pale scars running up his arms and down across his collarbone. They stand out stark against his dark skin and Buccaneer can't help but wonder how he got them.

"You're awake." The Queen is standing in the doorway, sword at her hip. She looks angry.

"Aye, sir," Buccaneer says and his voice shakes. The Ishvalan sets his newspaper aside and looks at her impassively.

"Lieutenant Miles," the Queen snaps. "Care to tell me what happened?"

Buccaneer holds his breath. If the Queen find out he attacked a fellow officer, he's a dead man.

The Ishvalan-Miles, apparently-holds the Queen's gaze without flinching. "No, sir."

She stalks closer with an irritated huff. "What happened, Miles?" she growls and Buccaneer leans away from her instinctively.

"The matter has been resolved, sir. There is no need for you to concern yourself with it."

The Queen leans down to look in his eyes and considers him for a long moment. Buccaneer half suspects that she's about to slap him. But then she straightens up. "One more question, Lieutenant, and know that if you lie to me, I'll mount your head on my office door. Will keeping your secret compromise this fort's security?"

There's a long pause.

"No, sir," Miles says finally.

The Queen nods sharply. "Is there anything you'd like to add to that, Captain?" she asks.

"No, sir," Buccaneer chokes out.

She turns on her heel and strides out. Once she's out of sight, Buccaneer turns to Miles.

"Why didn't you tell her?" he hisses. "You could have gotten rid of me easy."

Miles glances at him over the top of his newspaper. "You really think I'm going to let you die after I went through all the trouble of dragging your sorry ass to the infirmary in the first place?"

"Why'd you do that?" Buccaneer asks.

Miles raises an eyebrow. "Don't think I did it for you."

He tosses the newspaper to Buccaneer's bed. "Ishvalan Child Slain By Soldier" the headline reads.

It all goes to hell from there.

Buccaneer doesn't see Miles again for three and a half years. Three years for automail surgery and recovery. Six months for red tape and paperwork to get him back on active duty.

By now, Miles is a Major and the Queen's adjutant. He moves with the same easy grace he always did, but there's a hard line of tension in his shoulders that wasn't there before. With a civil war growing bloodier by the day, Buccaneer can't blame him.

A week after his return, Buccaneer is sitting alone in the mess hall. He's grown tired of people asking how he lost his arm. He tells a new story every time, but they keep coming. Luckily, he's large and intimidating and he can scare off all but the most hardened veterans.

Which means he's more than a little surprised when Miles sits down across from him.

"I didn't expect you to return to Briggs," Miles says. His voice is as smooth and level as ever.

"I could say the same about you," Buccaneer shoots back. "I thought they got all of the Ishvalans out of the military." He puts enough venom into his tone that Miles knows it's not an innocent question.

"They did," Miles affirms. His face betrays no emotion. "I'm actually only a quarter Ishvalan. My grandfather's blood runs strong."

One of the new recruits wanders over. He's young and fresh-faced and smirking like the cat that caught the canary. He won't last more than a week.

"Hey, Miles," he sneers. "Did you hear the news? There was an attack on the Daliha district. Thirty Ishvalans were killed."

"Is that so?" Miles asks mildly, taking a sip of his coffee.

"You aren't upset?" the recruit asks. He looks like he got hit over the head with a wrench.

"We're at war," Miles reminds him and Buccaneer is sure he's the only one to hear the danger in that gentle tone. "There are often casualties in war. Please only bother me with relevant information from now on."

The recruit sputters, but backs down.

"You can't really be that calm about it," Buccaneer says, half to himself.

"Captain Buccaneer, this fort is the only thing standing between Amestris and a four-front war. Do you really think I have time to worry about anything else?" Miles chastises.

"I think you have time to grieve your kinsmen," Buccaneer offers.

Miles stands up. "If I took the time to grieve, I would do nothing but grieve. If I took the time to hate, I would do nothing but hate. If I took the time to avenge my country, I would have to kill my way through half of Amestris. I only have time to survive. And I intend to."

They're pretty words, to be sure. Poetic, even. But it's not until months later that Buccaneer learns how fierce Miles's loyalty is, even to a country that slaughters his people.

It's a routine patrol beyond the wall, still within sight of the fort. Miles takes point and Buccaneer holds the rear. A few fresh cubs are sandwiched between them. Only one of them has ever been over the wall before.

Just as they're heading back, a Drachman force bursts from the snow. The fighting is fierce, but it's over almost as soon as it's started.

"Give me a headcount!" Buccaneer orders once the dust has settled enough.

"Miles is missing, sir!"

Buccaneer's mind stutters to a halt. This is his chance. He could declare Miles dead, head back to Briggs, get revenge for his arm. It would be so, so easy. But he's a soldier of Briggs and Briggs never leaves a man behind.

"Return to the fort," he orders. "Tell the Queen what happened. I'm going after him."

"But, sir-" one of them-Henschel, maybe-starts.

"That's an order!" Buccaneer roars.

He marches off into the blizzard, not even bothering to make sure they've obeyed him. Backup would be nice, but he doesn't want to drag the cubs into it.

Buccaneer's lived his whole life in the shadow of Briggs, so it's easy to follow the Drachmans' trail. They must have been gunning for Miles specifically, because they're moving fast and they've got a decent lead. Tiny droplets of blood mark their path and Buccaneer can only hope Miles isn't too injured to move. It's a dim hope. Drachma is not well known for its compassion towards prisoners, especially not prisoners who hold as much valuable information as Miles.

Buccaneer has to be much more careful than his quarry, so he doesn't catch up to them until the moon is high in the sky.

They're hiding out in a shallow cave. It doesn't provide much shelter from the elements, but it's the only thing for miles that might provide any. Buccaneer pauses at the entrance, listening carefully. There's a lot of babbling in Drachman, which Buccaneer could understand if he bothered to pay attention. But that's not what he's worried about.

"How many tanks in fort?" a thickly accented voice demands.

"None," Miles replies cooly.

Given that the Queen sent out three tanks just last week, there's no way the Drachman could buy it. And he doesn't. There's a sound of something heavy striking flesh and a pained grunt.

"How many tanks?" the Drachman snarls.

"None," Miles repeats and then there's a strangled scream.

Buccaneer creeps closer, silently dispatching guards as he goes. The interrogation continues.

"How many men?"

"None."

"How many guns?"

"None."

"How many horses?"

"None."

Each time, Miles sounds more and more pained and the Drachman sounds angrier and angrier.

"How many ways in?"

"None."

"How many cannons?"

"None."

"How many alchemists?"

"None."

That one is actually true. The Queen thinks alchemists are for the weak and refuses to employ any. Of course, it's not like the Drachman is going to believe that now.

Buccaneer is close enough to see Miles. He's half-standing, held up by two burly Drachmans, who are wrenching his arms back in a way that's not exactly designed to be comfortable. His head is bowed and there's blood trickling down from a wound to his temple. His snow glasses lie at his feet, probably knocked off at some point.

Miles is not a small man, but the Drachman leader is easily twice his size and red-faced in rage.

"Tell me, or I cut your throat." He unsheathes a scimitar, almost identical to the one Buccaneer had once attacked Miles with. The blade glitters as the candlelight reflects off it. Miles's eyes widen at the sight and flick over to where Buccaneer is hiding in the shadows.

Buccaneer nods and tenses, praying Miles understands the message.

"If you cut my throat, where will you get your information?" Miles asks. It sounds more like he's asking for a cup of coffee than his life.

The Drachman backhands him hard enough to send him sprawling. And Miles rolls with it, grabbing onto one of the men supporting him, bringing them down together, elbowing the other guard in the gut as he goes.

All three of them fall in a tangle of limbs as Buccaneer pulls out his pistol and puts a bullet in the leader's brain. He turns to help Miles, but it's damn near impossible to get a clean shot off.

Miles has gone from helpless captive to berserk warrior in a matter of seconds. He's moving fast enough that, with the white stealth uniforms all three of them are wearing, Buccaneer doesn't even know whose limbs are whose.

He watches in awe as Miles fights like a man possessed. Finally, there's a sickening crunch of bone and Miles pushes free of a Drachman corpse whose neck he'd snapped. The other soldier scrambles away and gets on his knees.

"Mercy," he begs. "Please, mercy."

Buccaneer lowers his pistol. Miles snatches it out of his hand and shoots the soldier dead.

"What was that for?" Buccaneer demands. "He surrendered!"

"He asked for mercy," Miles corrects, breathing heavily. "And I gave it to him. I spared him an interrogation. Don't tell me you think the Queen would be any more merciful than them." He gestures to the dead Drachmans at his feet. Buccaneer hates to admit that he might have a point.

"Let's get moving," he says.

Miles nods. He moves as though he's never been injured in his life.

"I thought they'd beat you pretty bad," Buccaneer says.

"Acting," Miles explains. "The worse they think I'm hurt, the fewer security measures they feel the need to take." The wound on his temple is still bleeding freely.

"Clever," Buccaneer says.

Miles shrugs. "It works."

The sun is just breaking over the horizon when they get back to Briggs. The Queen is waiting for them, coiled fury in every line of her posture. Buccaneer resists the urge to hide behind Miles.

"We ran into some trouble, sir," Miles reports. "It was my fault. I apologize."

"Come," the Queen snaps.

Buccaneer and Miles follow. She leads them to her quarters. Aside from the four-poster bed, there's nothing to indicate her wealth or status.

"Sit down," she orders. "Tell me everything."

Buccaneer takes the only chair while Miles settles down on the bed like he owns the place. They take turns reciting their accounts of the day. Even Miles leaves out no details. The Queen stands over them the whole time, watching them impassively.

When they finish, she nods. "I see," she says. Then, "Miles. How badly were you injured? The truth this time."

"I wouldn't consider my injuries severe," Miles answers cautiously.

The Queen raises an eyebrow. Miles sighs and pulls off his shirt. Even after years in the military, even after his own automail surgery, Buccaneer still has to bite back a shocked gasp.

Miles's entire chest is one mottled bruise interspersed with pale blade scars and dark burn scars. Blood oozes sluggishly from scrapes under his ribcage. The scar Buccaneer left runs from shoulder to hip intersected by short, thin lines like someone had sewn it up and left the stitches in. It hits Buccaneer that Miles must have done it himself. And that isn't even the worst of the damage.

"Buccaneer, would you consider his injuries severe?" the Queen asks.

"Seriously?" Buccaneer chokes.

"I am only capable of judging his injuries by my own standards and a serious injury for an Armstrong is very different from a serious injury for a normal person," the Queen explains. It's clear she thinks it's bad even by Armstrong standards.

Miles gives him a pleading look and a very slight shake of the head.

"Sir, truth be told, I'm amazed he's conscious, let alone walking around," Buccaneer admits and tries to ignore the fury in Miles's eyes.

"Wait here," the Queen orders. She strides off, presumably to get the Doc.

"You didn't have to tell her," Miles snarls. "I'll be fine."

"Which means you aren't now," Buccaneer retorts even as he wonders how many other injuries Miles has shrugged off. "What the hell happened to you?"

Miles gives him a grim smile. It's the most emotion Buccaneer's ever seen him show. "You think you're the first to take issue with an Ishvalan in the military?"

"So what, do you just go around hacking people's arms off?" Buccaneer asks. The mental image is more funny than anything else, which is a bit worrisome.

"Hardly," Miles says primly. "Most people are smart enough to back down after the first time."

Buccaneer bristles, but lets the matter drop. He has more important things to worry about. "What do you have against getting your injuries treated?" He's hidden wounds a couple times before, but never that bad and definitely never bad enough to piss of the Queen.

Miles snarls. "I can take care of myself.

"That doesn't mean you have to," Buccaneer says.

Miles laughs. "Yes it does. I'm Ishvalan enough to look it. My very existence is enough to get me killed right now and you're not the only person here who wants me dead. If I see the Doc, she'll put my on painkillers, which means I can't protect myself. No one is stupid enough to go after me while I'm strong, but if I'm lying in a hospital bed-" He cut himself off, breathing heavily. "Do you have any idea how many little things there are that could go wrong in a hospital? How many slight errors, accidents that are really nobody's fault, that could get me killed?"

"Do you really not trust the Doc?" Buccaneer asks.

Miles shakes his head. "It's not her. I trust her. It's everybody else that's trying to kill me."

"Now you're just being paranoid," Buccaneer accuses.

"Am I?" Miles demands. "Am I really? My people are being slaughtered right now, even as we speak and you think I'm paranoid because I say there are people who want to kill me? Hell, you're one of them."

It hurts more than Buccaneer expects. "No, I'm not," he says. "I don't want you dead."

"You tried to kill me once already," Miles points out.

"Nearly four years ago," Buccaneer retorts.

"And since then everyone has come to love and accept Ishvalans," Miles taunts. "You don't have to lie to me. I'm not even offended any more."

"I'm not lying!" Buccaneer shouts, springing up from his chair. Miles jerks back in shock. Buccaneer is just as surprised. "I'm not lying. I don't want you dead. I saved your ass today, remember?"

Miles laughs bitterly. "I thought that was just paying me back for the time I saved your life."

Buccaneer frowned. "When was this?"

"When you lost your arm," Miles says as though he's speaking to a small child.

"You cut my arm off," Buccaneer points out.

Miles waves a hand. "Details. Point is, I don't need to see Doc."

Buccaneer sighs, rubbing his flesh hand over his face. It's been a very long day and fatigue is starting to catch up to him. "How about I watch over you, make sure no one tries to kill you."

Miles slumps forward, exhaustion plain on his features. "All right. Fine. But I'm telling the Queen. If I die, it's your fault."

"Fair enough."

A few days and a few dozen assassination attempts later, Buccaneer has to admit that Miles has a point. About a lot of things. He spends most of his free time by Miles's bedside, partially to protect him and partially because he's curious.

By the end of it, they've become friends.

After that, they're an unstoppable team. Buccaneer quickly becomes the Queen's third-in-command, even if Central refuses to promote him past Captain. There's a running joke that between the three of them, the rest of the Briggs soldiers are just there to stand around and look pretty. The Queen refuses to confirm or deny it.

Eventually, the attempts on Miles's life stop. Even the most committed bigots find themselves ensnared by his quiet charisma and quieter menace. And if that's not enough, Buccaneer is more than happy to teach them a lesson. His stump still aches when a storm comes, but it's often the only warning they have.

For a while, everything seems perfect, even with the war raging away in the East.

Then Order 3066 happens.

The news comes over the radio. It's an emergency broadcast, sent to every working radio on every military base in the country. Miles and Buccaneer are down in the weapons bay when comes, declaring every Ishvalan alive a military target to be eliminated.

In unison, every single eye turns towards Miles. He doesn't move throughout the entire broadcast and the second it's over, he puts on his snow glasses and walks away. Not a trace of emotion shows on his face.

"Everyone back to work!" Buccaneer roars before going after him.

He find on top of the wall, staring out over Amestris, his face completely blank.

"Are you alright?" Buccaneer asks, although the answer is obvious.

"Of course," Miles says. "I just needed a breath of fresh air."

"Are you sure?"

"The day of reckoning will come," Miles declares. "Someday there will be justice for the lost children. But not today. Maybe not in our lifetimes. But someday it will come and I can wait until it does."

He goes back inside and refuses to let anyone else bring it up ever again.

For nearly a month, Buccaneer watches helplessly as Miles goes through the motions, the perfect soldier to the core. He never mentions the war, never gives any indication that something outside of the ordinary is happening, but Buccaneer can feel him crumbling from the inside. His every movement, down to the tiniest gesture, is taken directly from a military handbook. It's one of the most terrifying things Buccaneer has ever seen.

Finally, Buccaneer pulls Miles aside and brings him up to his room. Buccaneer has always had a lot of stuff and it litters the shelves. Almost every surface is covered in knick-knacks. It's a bit embarrassing when he compares it to the Queen or Miles and how little they need. He's been meaning to get rid of them for a while.

"Get it out of your system," Buccaneer orders.

Miles just stands there, maybe staring at him, maybe it not. It's hard to tell through the snow glasses.

"Go on," Buccaneer prompts. "I don't need all this junk anyway."

For a moment, Miles doesn't move and Buccaneer thinks he might have to walk Miles through it. Then Miles grabs a small glass figurine and hurls it at the wall with enough force to shatter it.

It's like a dam burst. Miles screams like a wild animal and throws another statue at Buccaneer's head. Then another hits the wall. Then another. Miles roars and screams and destroys everything he can get his hands on for what feels like hours until there's nothing left to break. He stands, breathing heavily, in the center of the carnage, laughing bitterly. After a minute, he pulls himself together, straightens up, and looks around.

"Sorry about the bed," he says.

"I can afford a new one," Buccaneer says.

Miles nods and walks off.

"What are you going to do now?" Buccaneer asks.

Miles stops in the doorway. He doesn't turn around. "Survive," he says. "I only have time to survive. And I intend to."

He leaves. Buccaneer lets him.

Slowly but surely, signs of hope start appearing. A group of Ishvalan refugees come North and hide in Asbec Village. Orders follow from Central Command to destroy them. The Queen takes one look at them, tosses them in the fireplace, and calls it an administrative error. Rumors start appearing of more camps of survivors. Miles never reacts to the news, but he gradually comes out of his shell, although he never takes off the snow glasses.

Eventually, the war ends. There's a brief celebration, until the Queen finds out and yells at them for drinking on duty. It's pretty bad. A couple of soldiers piss themselves.

Things start to return to normal. Or at least as normal as they're ever going to get. Drachma is still hostile, new cubs are still morons, the Queen starts talking about a bid for the Fuhrership. There's still bloodshed and violence, but no more than usual. A few weeks after peace is declared, Miles cracks a joke. It's not much of one, but it's progress.

One day in summer, Major Comanche, the Silver Alchemist comes to Briggs for an inspection. He's a tiny man with a peg leg. That's enough to make Buccaneer suspicious.

There was no way a State Alchemist wouldn't be able to afford automail. Even if he decided against the surgery, he should have a standard wood prosthetic. The fact that he doesn't implies that he had been refused service. It takes a lot of hard work to make enough people mad enough that no engineer would accept your money.

But Comanche's a State Alchemist and he reports to the Fuhrer so they all have to play nice.

Miles misses that memo.

It all goes well enough at first, at least as well as can be expected. Comanche putters around the fort, gets in everyone's way, and then has the gall to criticize their efficiency. He makes no fewer than eight subtle digs at the Queen's gender and easily twice as many blatant insults at Miles's heritage and Buccaneer's brains. He reminisces fondly about the Ishvalan War in front of Miles and wonder aloud if the Queen's is suited to her post, given her choice of subordinates.

Through it all, Miles maintains his trademark stony silence and Buccaneer thanks the gods that he's stereotyped as an overly-aggressive moron because it means he can get away with anything.

It comes to a head just as the inspection is wrapping up. They're sitting in one of the board rooms while Comanche criticizes everything from the Queen's organization of her staff to her taste in interior design.

Miles is the first to recognize the twitch in the Queen's forehead that signals oncoming doom.

"All this talking must be thirsty work," he interjects with a polite smile. "Perhaps you'd like some coffee?"

"Ah, yes, of course, go fetch some," Comanche orders.

Miles's smile freezes. "Pardon me?" he asks and his tone is borderline insolent.

Comanche looks up from his papers. "Coffee," he says like he's talking to a child. "Go make some."

"I'm sorry, I am General Armstrong's adjutant. Not-"

"And the duty of the adjutant is to provide whatever one's superior might require," Comanche interrupts. "And right now your superior requires coffee. Now go fetch some."

The temperature in the room drops a few degrees.

"General Armstrong did not request coffee," Miles explains patiently. "You and I are of equivalent rank. You are not my superior."

Comanche shoots to his feet. He comes up to somewhere around Miles's navel, counting the stupid hat, of course. "I am a State Alchemist," he roars. "And I will not be insulted by a mongrel who should have been put down years ago."

Buccaneer steps forward, ready to rip Comanche apart, but Miles holds up a hand to stop him.

"I see," he says, his tone back to neutral. "And you think because you're a State Alchemist, you are my superior?"

"Of course," Comanche blusters.

Miles nods. "Ah, yes. I see your point. I apologize. I am accustomed to the Briggs hierarchy. You see, I'm second-in-command here. I'm not used to being ordered about by anyone but General Armstrong."

"Well, you'd best get used to it," Comanche says. "While I am here, I am your superior."

Miles nods again, like he's accepting it. Then he drops his thin veneer of politeness. "Why?"

"Why, what?" Comanche demands.

Miles smiles thinly. "Why are you my superior? We are the same rank."

"I am a State Alchemist," Comanche growls.

Miles smiles wider. "My point exactly. You see, since you joined the army, even with all your connections and advantages and bribes, you have managed to move up exactly zero ranks. I, on the other hand, started from nothing and I climbed my way to this rank through nothing more than sheer competence. So. I'll ask again. What makes you think you're my superior?"

Comanche splutters for a few moments. "General Armstrong, discipline your subordinate," he huffs.

"Oh, I assure you, I will," the Queen says, her voice heavy with menace.

As soon as Comanche is gone, she bears down on Miles.

"I am very disappointed in you," she says. "You are not allowed to have dessert tonight."

They all crack up.

"In all seriousness, though, watch yourself," she continues. "I can bribe my way out of this one, but he's got a grudge now."

Miles nods soberly. "I will," he promises.

That night, Buccaneer asks Miles about Ishvala's stance on same-sex unions. Miles gives him a sly grin. "Wouldn't you like to know," he says.

The very next day, reports of dead State Alchemists in East City appear. It sends most of the country into a panic. The State Alchemists are all high profile and extremely dangerous. Whoever's killing them off has to be even more so.

It seems like the only one who isn't worried is Miles. Even the Queen has been insulting her little brother with increasing regularity as the death toll mounts.

Buccaneer asks him about it on a quiet day in late fall.

Miles just hands him the newspaper.

"State Alchemist Found Guilty Of Unethical Child Experimentation, Murdered By Alchemist Killer," it reads.

"I'm not entirely sure I'm not on the killer's side," Miles admits.

"Neither am I," Buccaneer says.

That's the last they speak of it.

It's only the first in a long list of increasingly disturbing reports. Before long, the Queen has to cut off contact with the outside world to prevent panic from spreading.

"We've got enough trouble to deal with on our own without inviting more in," she says.

Trouble invites itself in the form of a fifteen-year-old State Alchemist with two automail limbs and an armor brother.

Before Elric can be persuaded to give up his intel, a monstrous creature attacks Briggs from underneath. It's the first time an enemy has set foot inside Briggs territory in twenty years.

To add insult to injury, the Crimson Alchemist shows up at the local hospital.

Miles is sent to interrogate him while Buccaneer and the Queen handle the Elric brothers.

What they uncover is worse than anything Buccaneer could have imagined. The entire country is a transmutation circle designed to harvest human souls.

And then, right after a search party goes missing in the tunnel, General Raven shows up with the Crimson Alchemist in tow.

"I thought he was supposed to be critically injured," Buccaneer whispers where the Elrics won't hear as he passes Miles in the hallway.

"He was," Miles says and only the slightest twitch of his fingers betrays his desire to bury a knife deep in Kimblee's back.

Not much later, Miles leaves Briggs for the first time in years. Buccaneer wants to stop him, to remind him that Briggs is the only place he's safe, but Miles brushes his fingers against Buccaneer's automail and he remembers what happened last time someone tried to cross Miles. It reassures him, but not much.

While Miles is away, the Queen is called down to Central. Some deep-seated, irrational part of Buccaneer's mind is convinced that it's because Miles left, that things go Wrong when Miles isn't there.

Her replacement is one of the least competent men Buccaneer has ever met. It's obvious from the moment they meet that he has orders to maintain the status quo and keep Briggs under the Fuhrer's thumb. Which would be much easier if Briggs was under the Fuhrer's thumb to begin with. The general, whose name he can't be bothered to remember, immediately decides to review every single member of personnel and determine whether or not to keep them.

If Buccaneer had any respect for the man to begin with, he would have lost it now.

When Miles returns, Briggs is thrown into an uproar as people continue to panic about his eye color. Sometimes, it amazes Buccaneer that he had ever been one of those people.

Finally, the general gets in Miles's face and declares, "If I ever catch you making any sort of trouble, I'll have you killed."

Buccaneer's last shred of half-assed respect shrivels up and dies.

Miles smiles and every Briggs soldier takes a step back. "If you try to throw the lives of my men away, I'll kill you myself."

The general's hopes of control die a pitiful death as Buccaneer escorts him to his room. He is allowed out only to ensure Central that everything is completely under his control. Miles is the one actually running the show.

To Buccaneer's dismay, he's usually so busy that they only get to see each other every few days, and never for more than a minute or so.

About a month into Miles's reign, Point P is attacked by a housewife. It's one of the strangest things that's ever happened to Buccaneer. Once she has their attention, the housewife, Izumi Curtis, turns herself in and announces she has a message for Buccaneer and Miles from Alphonse Elric.

It's the first time in over a week Buccaneer's seen Miles. He thinks Miles looks stressed, but it's possible he's reading too much into perpetual silences and neutral expressions.

Mrs. Curtis grins when she sees them. "Can we talk somewhere privately?" she asks. She's a petite woman, unassuming that Buccaneer would have discounted her if he hadn't known the Queen.

Miles sends the guard from the cell. "Here will do," he declares.

"The walls have ears," Mrs. Curtis warns.

"I'm well aware," Miles says drily. "I assure you, it's been taken care of."

Mrs. Curtis gives him an impressed look. "The homunculi's plan will be put into effect on the Promised Day, the day of the solar eclipse," she reports. "We have time to plan a counteroffensive. I suggest we use it."

"And how do you know Alphonse Elric?" Miles asks.

"I'm his Teacher," Mrs. Curtis laughs. "We're as close as family."

"You're an alchemist?" Buccaneer asks.

"Oh, no. I'm just a simple housewife," Mrs. Curtis insists. "I know a thing or two about alchemy, but I wouldn't go that far."

"What's the difference between an alchemist and someone who just happens to know alchemy?" Buccaneer asks.

"Well, that's simple," Mrs. Curtis says brightly. "I know a little bit of alchemy and I sometimes use it as a tool for things I can't do with my bare hands. Alchemists, on the other hand, are people who have sold their soul to the point where it consumes their life and they can't do anything without a transmutation circle. Like how soldiers can never fully readjust to civilian life once they've gotten a taste of power."

Buccaneer and Miles share a look.

"I suppose that proves you aren't allied with the Fuhrer," Miles concedes.

They let her and her husband out and begin laying plans.

"If we're going up against Central Command, we don't need more than a battalion of the best," Buccaneer says.

"Except that the joint training is being held in the East this year," Miles says. "Which means we need a battalion for Central, a battalion for the East that's competent enough that the Fuhrer doesn't suspect a trap, and enough left over to hold the fort."

"There's also the issue of getting the troops into Central," Mr. Curtis points out.

"My darling husband makes a good point," Mrs. Curtis says with a sappy grin for her husband. "It's not as though you can just waltz them down the streets."

"Why not?" Buccaneer asks. "It'll get them out of the city. It doesn't really matter where we fight them, not such a pathetic force."

"True," Miles agrees. "If the Homunculus Pride can only operate within Central and the tunnel, it makes more sense to keep the action away from it.

"That would leave Mustang's forces vulnerable," Mrs. Curtis interjects. "And General Armstrong."

"Then what do you suggest we do?" Miles demands. "How are we supposed to sneak an entire battalion into Central."

"Disguise," Mr. Curtis says.

"Exactly," Mrs. Curtis says. "I don't know if you've heard, but a couple days ago the Armstrong siblings dueled for control of the family. The general won, of course, but the fight destroyed the mansion. You could easily fit a battalion in the basement."

Buccaneer grins, imagining the terror on his enemies' faces when his troops emerge from the middle of the city. "Works for me."

They finish the meeting and agree to wait until they have more information to finalize their plans. Miles leaves first to check on the supply train. He did that when the Queen was in command too, but he refuses to trust anyone else with his old duties. Mr. Curtis goes with him out of curiosity.

Buccaneer lingers a little while longer to put away the map and clean up.

"You should tell him," Mrs. Curtis says.

Buccaneer freezes. "Tell who what?" he asks, even though he's almost certain he knows.

"You should tell Miles that you're in love with him," Mrs. Curtis elaborates, a teasing smile on her face.

Buccaneer refuses to look at her. He tries to deny it, but what he ends up saying is "Is it really that obvious?"

Mrs. Curtis winks and walks out the door. "Only to me, dear. Don't worry. Your secret's safe with me." She pauses in the doorway. "But tell him while you still can. You never know what the future holds."

Buccaneer stares at where she was standing for longer than he's comfortable admitting.

He also refuses to admit that he avoids Miles after that. They have more important things to worry about than romance. The government is evil, the world is ending, Miles has a wife. All very good reasons to mention it.

Mrs. Curtis give him a disapproving look every time their paths cross. He avoids her too.

Finally, the Promised Day draws near and their plans start to come together.

Buccaneer goes to Neil to get his automail changed out. If he's gonna overthrow the government, he's gonna do it with the Crocodile. Miles comes in while Neil is in the back, making last-minute adjustments.

"So," he says. "I'll see you soon, I suppose."

Buccaneer offers him a smile. "If we survive."

"Yeah," Miles says. "If we survive." It's possible Buccaneer's imagining things, but it almost seems like Miles is awkward around him.

"Have you talked to your wife?" Buccaneer asks, mostly to fill the silence.

"Yeah. I, uh, I mentioned things might get ugly. I'm heading East though. It shouldn't be bad on my end."

The silence stretches uncomfortably long.

"You know, it's funny," Miles says.

"What is?" Buccaneer asks, not looking at him.

Miles hesitates. "Well, my wife. It's more of a marriage of convenience. Tax reasons." He laughs a little bit. "She actually prefers women. I don't think she'll be that worried. I mean, she's a great woman and all, and we're friends, but, it's not..."

He stops, looks at his feet.

"It's not what?" Buccaneer prompts.

Miles's jaw works soundlessly for a few moments until Neil returns.

"I got the chain working again," he announces, completely oblivious to the tension. "It should be working properly now." He reattaches it quickly and efficiently. Buccaneer barely flinches. In fact, Miles winces more than he does.

"So, I've been meaning to ask you for a while," Buccaneer starts once Neil is safely out of the room.

Miles's head shoots up.

"Why didn't you kill me when you cut my arm off?"

Miles just stands there and Buccaneer wishes he could see his eyes.

"If I killed you, they'd kill me. Self defense laws don't apply to you if you're Ishvalan," Miles explains. He sounds apologetic. "Besides, if I killed everyone who tried to kill me, there wouldn't be many people left alive."

Buccaneer tries not to be disappointed. He reminds himself how much he'd hated Miles back then. They've come a long way since then. He opens his mouth to speak.

"Captain Buccaneer, sir!" Karley calls. "We need to leave now."

Buccaneer springs up from the bench. "I'll see you when this is all over," he says with what he hopes is a cocky grin.

"Come back alive," Miles says. "That's an order."

Buccaneer salutes him as he leaves.

They pile into a passenger train that the Curtises had commandeered earlier that week. Buccaneer doesn't ask how. He doesn't really want to know.

Through some trick of ill fate, he ends up sitting next to Mrs. Curtis.

"Did you tell him?" she asks.

"I didn't get the chance," he lies.

"That's alright," she says reassuringly. "You can tell him after the Promised Day. It's more romantic that way, don't you think? The triumphant hero professing his love on the field of victory. Sweetie, don't you think it's more romantic that way?"

"Definitely," Mr. Curtis agrees, not looking up from his magazine. "Listen to Izumi. She knows what she's talking about."

"Oh, honey, you're too kind," Mrs. Curtis simpers.

Mr. Curtis puts down the magazine to kiss her. "There's no such thing as too kind for you, my love."

"Yeah, but that's only if I survive the Promised Day," Buccaneer interrupts, desperate to avoid the lovey-doveyness.

Mrs. Curtis flashes him a worrying grin. "Oh, don't you worry about that. If you die, I'll drag you back from the grave so you can tell him and then I'll kill you myself for being stupid enough to get yourself killed." She goes back to kissing her husband.

They don't talk about it anymore after that. They're all too caught up in the preparations for the Promised Day that looms ever closer.

When the Promised Day comes, everything goes really well until everything starts going really bad. Buccaneer tries to take on the Fuhrer and ends up with a sword in the gut for his troubles.

He lies on the ground as the battle rages around. An old Xingese man joins the fight.

"So, this is the man who took my granddaughter's arm," he says.

Buccaneer watches him through the haze of pain and blood loss. He moves like a man a third his age. No, that's not right. He moves like a man with nothing left to lose.

The old man rips off his shirt, revealing the bombs strapped to his chest, a last-ditch suicide effort to land a blow on the Fuhrer.

It doesn't work, but it gives Buccaneer the opening he needs. He rips the sword out of his gut and stabs through the old man's body.

"Thank you," the old man whispers and Buccaneer knows he did it. He injured a Homunculus. Not bad. He collapses again and blood is pouring freely from his gaping wound. It's probably mortal. That's a shame.

"It's alright," one of his cubs whispers. Buccaneer is so tired now. He can't be bothered to remember his name. "It's alright. You did it. You can rest now." His cub is crying, tears streaming down his face.

Buccaneer thinks of the Queen working herself to the brink of exhaustion and beyond to keep all her cubs safe. He thinks of the cubs working long hours in the bitter cold to guard the fort. He thinks of Miles and the network of scars covering his whole body, each one given to him by the very people he's sworn to protect. He thinks of Miles and his unflinching devotion to Briggs, to Amestris. He thinks of Miles and all the pain he's suffered and the fact that he still has the strength to get out of bed and face the world.

He thinks of Miles, who ordered him to come back alive.

And then there's no time to think. He plunges his remaining hand into his gut, holding his organs together, clinging to consciousness by sheer force of will.

He's not sure how long he waits as his whole existence narrows to forcing his lungs to move, push air in and out.

It could be hours later, maybe even days, when a scarred and mangled face appears in front of his.

"Hold on," the face says. "I'm a doctor. I'm here to help you."

Took you long enough, Buccaneer wants to say. Red lightning dances in front of his vision, then it all goes black.

When he wakes, the first thing he notices is the pain. Then the silken sheets. Then the sunlight. He opens his eyes carefully, but he can't hold back a soft cry at even that slight movement.

"Oh good. You're awake."

Buccaneer glances to the side. Miles is there, sitting by his bedside, reading a newspaper.

"Wha-" Buccaneer groans.

"You gave us quite a turn there," Miles says, sounding as casual as ever. "When Dr. Marcoh got to you, you'd almost bled out. The Promised Day was four days ago, by the way. We weren't sure you'd ever wake up. Well, the doctors weren't sure. I knew you'd be alright." He's trying to act calm, but Buccaneer can see the bags under his eyes and the worry in every line of his posture.

"Couldn't die," Buccaneer whispers. "Had to tell you something."

"Oh?" Miles sounds amused. "And what's that?"

"I'm in love with you."

Miles doesn't move for a long moment. Then he takes off his snow glasses and his eyes are dancing and sparkling like Buccaneer has never seen.

"Nice to know the feeling's mutual," he says.

That's the first time they kiss, but Buccaneer will be damned if it's the last.