Come winter, the river would freeze, and come spring it would thaw again. And every year, on that first day when the morning dawned with the cacophony of monstrous creaks and groans and growls that meant the ice was falling apart and falling away, he would be one of several dozen who would strip to next to nothing and take a potentially fatal plunge into the glacial water. Even as snow still stood on the riverbanks, even as the wind still sliced sharp, he would stand, trying to suppress his shivers and watching Riza on the opposite bank until whichever general had chosen to brave the weather in order to participate in the tradition called for them to start.
Then he'd dive in headlong, sharp himself and graceful, and she would watch from the other side, wrapped in coats and scarves and hats under hoods, holding her breath against the fiery cold air, as his dark head surfaced, coughing for breath as the frigid water struck the air from his lungs. Every swimmer paused for their breath while the observers on the opposite shore jeered at the lack of progress, but he was the only one she watched. And he was among the first out, with long, tightly controlled strokes, tension the only thing keeping his arms from shaking loose.
And he was among the leaders of the group until those last moments, when he was nearing the opposite shore and reared up from the water to search for her. He lost moments and distance finding her, changing his course so that she was the one to whom he swam, and when finally he clambered out onto the bank and collapsed against her, when she wrapped him in the towel she'd been holding and pulled off a glove to clasp his hand, so cold it no longer felt human - by that time, he had lost.
The general handed out awards for the performances of the swimmers as she got him coffee spiced heavily with brandy, as she returned to him and he accepted her gift gratefully, drinking deep as the life came back to him and she pulled a coat over his shoulders, wrapped a scarf around his neck, chiding him for the inevitable cold he would catch.
Every year he came to her from the frigid deaths of the mortal river. No one commented. If it was she who tended to him every year, it must have been coincidence; for he wouldn't give up the chance to win just so his adjutant would be the one to tend to him. He wasn't like that, wasn't the sort of man who would smile joy to stop the world or stop her heart just because her fingers brushed against his in giving him libation, and she wasn't one to pull off a glove and face the cold of the air, of his skin, just because she craved the reassurance that he before her was no illusion. Neither, of course, was that sentimental.
(A/N: Just barely under 500, which, I believe, makes it still technically a drabble. Of course, this author's note puts it well over the 500 mark. DAMN YOU, YAHWEH!)