Disclaimer: Hagaren belongs to someone else. They should sell it to me.
A/N: I can't believe I actually have to write a second author's note on this matter, more than a year after the fact.
ON THE AMESTRIS ARMY RANK STRUCTURE:
This story was written using knowledge of the rank structure of the Canadian Armed Forces, which goes as follows:
Warrant Officer / Sergeant / Corporal / Private (and so on)
Later I confirmed against the Japanese (WWII-era) structure as follows:
Warrant Officer / Sergeant-Major / Sergeant / Corporal (etc)
Finally, if you look up 'state military fullmetal alchemist' on Wikipedia (not that Wiki is always trustworthy, but diagrams of the epaulets ARE provided, and Falman has more stripes than Fury) it indicates the the structure for NCOs goes:
Warrant Officer / Sergeant-Major / Sergeant / Corporal / Private (you get the point)
Either the Amestris army was based on the Japanese army (and why wouldn't it be?), or the person who added the wiki thought it was, but I found the epaulet diagrams to be a pretty solid indication. I realize that a certain FMA website has a listing of the rank structure that indicates that Sergeant is the higher of the two, but to be perfectly honest, I do not know where they obtained their information and would much rather go with the sources I just cited. I'm quite sick of receiving reviews/emails telling me (nicely or otherwise) that I am "wrong". Unless you are Hiromu Arakawa, I'd like to see some proof.
Stand On Ceremony
"This is it...Central." The nonchalant tone of his voice belied the awe and excitement she knew he was feeling at their first impression of the grand capital city. "… It's smaller than I expected."
Day One - Interview
The hotel room was spacious and comfortable, a big change from the barracks and bunks of their usual posting in Aldebar.
"Nice place," Roy commented, throwing his duffel on one of the two single beds. "Wonder if the officers' quarters are as nice as their hotels."
"Not getting yourself an apartment?" Riza enquired.
"Hm, you're right, I might need a place to myself once I find myself a nice Central girl." He grinned devilishly and Riza frowned, unsure if he was joking. He noticed the expression and laughed again, giving her a wink. "What's that face for, Sergeant? You know my career comes before women!"
Riza did not reply right away, choosing instead to look out the window onto the paved street. She knew she shouldn't be bothered by a silly joke, not coming from him. He was too flirtatious not to expect such things most of the time.
She deposited her own duffel onto the other bed and sat down on it, enjoying the feel of a soft mattress rather than a hard bunk--which in itself was a little better than the sparse accommodations they'd had en route to Central. They had taken the train from Aldebar, which was quite far from Central City, and were expected to pay for their own accommodations. They both had settled for regular seating, Roy sleeping with his face pressed to the window, Riza wide awake all night. Still, she was fortunate she had been able to join him at all; it was only because the cadets she was training were away on a field exercise with their company that she was able to find enough time to accompany Roy to his examination. He hoped to enter Central as a warrant officer and leave as a major, the silver Alchemist watch a proof of achievement in his hand. Doing so would boost him far into the officer's ranks quicker than he ever would have climbing the chain of command manually, though even now he could exert enough power to easily extract his favourite sergeant from her already-light duties for the week to be his "travelling companion".
Riza, of course, could not complain as long as she was able to be with him--the chance to watch him take the National Alchemist Exam was more of an added bonus than she could have hoped for. She knew he was up against amazing odds (for only one or two passed every year) but she was confident that they would return to Aldebar in possession of the coveted watch.
"Of course, sir." She turned her back on him, gazing out the window onto the paved street.
A few moments of silence passed between them before he finally said, "Guess I'll get some rest, I need to be at HQ early tomorrow morning for the interview."
"Yes, of course." Riza busied herself with unpacking clothing from her bag, placing it neatly in the dresser drawers. Roy, in contrast, fished his uniform out and laid it flat on the floor before removing his shirt, tossing it onto the duffel. He then sprawled on top of the sheets, hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling.
"Not going to iron your uniform, sir?" Riza questioned.
"Could you do it for me, Sergeant?" He yawned ceremoniously and closed his eyes, not waiting to hear her reply. Riza turned and opened her mouth to scold him for leaving things until the last minute, but she hesitated, observing him as he lay supine. She could not deny that she was attracted to him as more than a friend and much more than a subordinate should be. No one had ever noticed, though, least of all him, so she was never able to say what she wanted. She watched his bare chest rise and fall as he breathed, frowning slightly, a pang of something--apprehension? Fear?--sparking in her gut.
No...this was not the time or place for such thoughts. Riza unpacked her travel iron and stared at it warily, wondering if she should tell him to get up early and do it himself. "Sir?"
"Warrant Officer Mustang, are you awake?"
He did not answer. The tanned chest had begun to rise and fall steadily, indicating sleep.
Riza sighed, the unsettling feeling passing, and went into the bathroom to change her clothes. Tomorrow was going to be an exciting day.
The first test of the National Alchemist Qualification Exam was an interview, something that Roy would surely be prepared for, given his talent with words. The candidates were being taken before the judges (all National Alchemists themselves, minus the Fuhrer) one by one while the others and their companions waited in a spacious room outside. Riza sat beside Roy in full uniform, hands folded neatly in her lap.
On Riza's left was a young woman with long raven hair, her neatly-manicured nails tapping on the arm of her seat. She was in civilian dress, a white blouse with a black skirt, and she looked terribly bored, watching the clock on the opposite wall. Riza wondered if she was an alchemist or merely waiting for someone to come out of the interview room. Several times she had tried to smile at the woman, but her attention was too focused on the clock. As a result, Riza started a little when the woman straightened up and pointed at the floor in front of her. "Is that your earring?"
The young sergeant raised her hand to her left earlobe, and sure enough, her silver earring was missing. "Oh...I think so." Riza knelt and picked it up gingerly, frowning at the broken piece of jewellery. The post was bent at almost a ninety degree angle. A few feet away, the back of the earring glinted on the white tile.
"That's too bad, it looks like it's been stepped on," the raven-haired--she had strikingly black eyes, Riza noted--woman observed. "Here, let me see."
Riza handed her the bauble and the woman inspected it, turning it over in her fingers. "Pretty, isn't it? Real silver?"
"Yes, they were a gift," Riza replied. Actually, they had been a present from Roy on her last birthday, so she treasured them immensely.
"Nice." The woman produced a piece of chalk from her purse and scrawled a circle on the arm of the chair she sat in, crossing several lines through it to shape triangles. "Here, I'll fix it, it's no trouble."
"Thank you." So she was an alchemist. Riza watched the woman place the earring in the circle and initiate the transmutation almost lazily, sparks erupting from the tips of her fingers. When the process was complete she deftly wiped the circle away with a handkerchief and deposited the piece of jewellery in Riza's outstretched hand. Roy was watching from the sergeant's other side, looking impressed.
"I always carry something with me to draw circles with, so it's not like it was any trouble."
"Are you taking the exam, then?" Riza smiled, slipping the repaired earring into her earlobe.
"I am," the woman confirmed with a friendly smile in return. "My name is Gariena, I'm from Central City. And you?"
"Riza Hawkeye. I'm from Aldebar; I'm just accompanying a friend who's taking the exam."
"That must be your friend there, since you're the only two here in uniform." Gariena waved at Roy, whose face immediately fell into a suave grin. "So you're here for the exam as well, Mr...?"
"Mustang. Warrant Officer Roy Mustang."
"Oh! My my, should I be saluting? Are you from Aldebar as well, Mr. Warrant Officer Roy Mustang?"
"Please, call me Roy, Miss Gariena. Yes, I am Aldebaran, but when I pass the test I plan to make Central City my permanent home."
"Confident, aren't you!" she laughed. "I hope they decide on two people this year, because it would be such a shame for you if I passed and you did not!"
Roy and Gariena continued to talk over Riza, and the young sergeant sat back in her chair, eyes trained on the floor. Was Roy flirting with Gariena? He hadn't wiped that stupid smirk off his face since the conversation had begun, and Riza was startled to identify the feelings she was having as ones of outright jealousy. They had only been in Central a day and already Roy had met a pretty woman with more in common than he and Riza could ever have. She was young, gorgeous, city-born, and an alchemist on top of that. Riza felt dumpy and out of place just sitting nearby.
She didn't even notice when Roy's name was called and he strode into the interview room, so focused was Riza on her thoughts. Gariena did not speak, having returned to her lounging position as she watched the rest of the room.
Don't be like that, Riza scolded herself, hands clenched. You don't even have the guts to tell him how you feel about him, so why wouldn't he be flirting with the first pretty, talented girl he meets? You should be ashamed of yourself! Although her logic told her to stop being envious, her heart rebelled, and she instead set her lips in a grim line and attempted to stop thinking.
"My my, does someone have a crush on their superior officer?"
Riza's head snapped up. "What?"
Gariena's eyes were calculating. "You're jealous. I can see it."
"I am not."
Instead of looking apologetic, the raven-haired beauty laughed gaily. "Oh, good! You won't mind, then, if I ask him for a date tonight? He does seem just like my type, don't you think? Not to mention the fact that I love military men!"
Riza was getting the distinct feeling that she'd been tricked. "It's none of my business whom Warrant Office Mustang dates."
"Excellent! I'm sure you won't mind if I borrow Roy for the evening then, Miss Riza. Thank you so much for your help."
Riza was suddenly so angry that she could not see straight. She stared at the white wall, reciting the phonetic alphabet silently, forward and then backward. Gariena did not speak again, humming to herself as she reapplied ruby lipstick.
By the time Roy emerged, Riza had just passed delta for the third time. Eagerly she stood. "How did it go?"
"Passed, of course." He smirked and looked at Gariena, who had risen as well. "Looks like I have to go. So when will I see you again?"
"Miss Riza and I were just discussing that," she replied smoothly. "How does dinner at 8 sound? I'll meet you at the Firkin--on 14th Street, all right?"
"That sounds great," Roy agreed. "See you tonight!"
Roy turned and left the room with a wave, Riza following a few feet behind. By the time they had left the building he was already talking excitedly about the date rather than the exam. "I knew Central girls were something different, but wow! Maes is going to be so jealous!"
Maes isn't the only one who's jealous, Riza thought darkly. Out loud she cautioned, "Are you sure you want to see her again? I found her unsettling. She was rather rude to me, too, after you'd left."
"Rude? After fixing your earring for you? Come now, Sergeant, you're too distrustful. She seems like a great person to me." As they walked back to the hotel, Roy's chin was tilted cheerfully, whereas Riza's eyes were on the asphalt the entire way. "In any case, I need to be back here tomorrow at the same time for the second part of the test. They wouldn't tell me what it was, but I'm sure it won't be too difficult."
The next few hours crawled by without much happening of interest. They returned to the hotel to change out of uniform and strolled the city streets, getting to know the area, window-shopping here and there. At one point they passed a small café and went in to have some tea and take a short rest from all the walking. Riza contentedly stirred honey into her lemon tea, finally having stopped thinking about the incident that morning and just pleased to be out with Roy. To her, it was almost like a date.
Roy, on the other hand, was enjoying his black coffee with a dreamy smile, wondering what kind of flowers Gariena liked.
"So, if you get your qualification, I guess this'll be home from now on?"
"You don't have to follow me, you know."
She knew it wasn't supposed to be unkind, but regardless, it stung.
Something must have shown in her eyes. Roy frowned. "Hey, I didn't mean it like that. I'm just saying that Central doesn't seem like your kind of place. At least in Aldebar you would have your marksmanship to keep busy with...this place is full of alchemists, and I know you don't want a desk job. You'd just be wasting your skills at one anyway."
"Sir--no, Roy--you hardly think I've followed you this far to leave you now?"
"Of course not." His eyes took on a faraway look and she watched him carefully, nervously. "I just never understood why you did...you could have climbed so high already, and yet you stay by me. Why?"
Why did she stay? She had never wondered it, herself--being with him just felt natural. They had met at training camp, when both were cadets of low rank, and one night in the mess hall had shared their aspirations over a cup of lemon tea. Roy and his best friend Maes were the closest friends Riza had ever had. "I want to see you succeed," she said confidently. "I'm willing to do whatever that takes."
"But why?" he asked softly, his onyx eyes finally meeting her amber ones. "Why have you chosen to keep lifting me up all this time?"
"Because you're going to do great things, sir, and I think you're going to need all the support I can give."
His face closed up at her words and he looked down into his coffee, watching the distorted reflection of his features. They did not speak again.
Roy left the hotel with little more than a good-bye that evening, and Riza stayed behind, alone. She had brought precious little on the trip, for her bag was heavy enough with her boots and uniform as well as the few pieces of civilian clothing she owned. Instead she lay face down on the bed, doing something most people would have classified as "moping", but only Riza Hawkeye could pretend was "thinking".
No, she most certainly would not go back to Aldebar without Roy. He had been her dearest friend since joining the military, and if he did not want to reciprocate the feelings she had for him, that was his decision. That did not mean she would not continue supporting him, backing him up with her knowledge and shooting skills, right up until he had climbed to the top of the military rankings. Returning alone meant giving up, and she had promised him long ago that she would stay by his side.
Riza thought about Maes Hughes, whom they'd had to leave behind at the base. He was training for a spot as an intelligence operative, something he hoped would one day bring him to one of the major cities, maybe even Central. He had entered the military at the same time as Roy and they had received almost identical promotions until Roy had begun learning alchemy. Riza, the top marksman on base, had taught shooting to classes of new cadets, but even that had been unfulfilling for her. Aldebar was far too confined.
She wondered what Maes would really think of Gariena. The easygoing man was extremely devoted to his girlfriend, Gracia, and Riza had suspicions that he would frown on Roy for picking up a random girl and arranging a date after ten minutes. Then again, Maes was always pestering Roy to find someone for himself, both men overlooking the obvious possibility.
Riza wondered if talking to Maes about her feelings for Roy would do any good. Almost before she had finished that thought, she wondered what it was about her that Roy found uninteresting. Was it her looks? She was not particularly beautiful, but had never believed herself ugly. Maybe I should grow my hair out. I know he likes long hair.
Short blond hair, amber eyes. She was nothing special compared to the elegant and exciting city girls. What man could possibly be interested in a woman whose interests were, not cooking or dancing, but shooting pistols?
Silently she cursed him, cursed him for his obliviousness and lack of sensitivity, but she knew it was not his fault. She had never been outright honest about her feelings for him, and even when he seemed like he might be about to make a move, professionalism took over them both. She was his subordinate, and until one of them left the service, that would not change.
Day Two - Practical
Riza awoke the next morning in the same position she had fallen the afternoon previous, on her stomach on the bed, face turned away from the brightly-lit desk lamp. She did not have to lift her head to know that Roy had not come home last night. Anger and hurt bubbled up in her, but she squashed it, blinking away tears.
She rose, showered, dressed in civilian clothes and was seated in the armchair looking suitably irritated when the key finally turned in the lock. "You're late."
"I know." Roy did not sound apologetic in the least. He looked rumpled and tired, and she could smell the alcohol clinging to his jacket. He had obviously been out partying with that woman all night.
"How was your date?"
He stiffened, halfway into a fresh shirt. "It was fine. Gariena is really very charming."
"I see." Riza inadvertently let some of the disapproval she felt leak into her voice, not taking her eyes off his handsome face for a moment. His stony expression did not change as he fished clean pants out of the duffel and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving the smoke-and-alcohol stained jacket on the bed. Riza picked it up and hung it by the window to air out, irritated at the scent of women's perfume locked in the fabric.
Moments later they were walking through the streets of Central at a brisk pace, Riza following Roy like an impatient shepherd. Roy, for his part, continued to look sullen. She wondered, fleetingly, if perhaps Gariena hadn't lived up to his expectations after all.
Fortunately for the young alchemist, the exam had not yet begun, and the rest of the candidates were milling about the entrance of HQ. Gariena spotted them almost immediately, arriving in an excited flurry to give Roy a peck on the lips. "Darling, you made it! I was getting worried!" Gariena seemed to notice Riza almost as an afterthought. "Oh, and Miss Riza too! What a pleasant surprise!"
"Where else would I be?" The same perfume Riza had smelled on Roy's clothes hung in the air, cloying at her nostrils.
"Well, you're not an alchemist!" Gariena proclaimed with a twitter.
"As people have constantly been reminding me."
Riza sensed Gariena was preparing to say something else she wasn't going to like, but she was pre-empted by a booming voice announcing the beginning of the testing.
"We will now begin the practical exam," instructed a tall man in military garb. "Please come this way."
They were led on foot to a large field inside the perimeter of the Central Base buildings, further enclosed by trees, hills and a small river. As the exam began, Riza hung back alone, watching with veiled interest. The test was simply to use alchemy on their surroundings in any way they wished, and she knew that Roy was probably planning a spectacular fireworks show.
Gariena looked cool and confident, her eyes trained on the Fuhrer, making more announcements about the nature of the test. Several examinees were already looking around excitedly, taking stock of the raw materials available to them. Roy was picking up rocks and tapping them together, inspecting them, seemingly unhappy with the sparks they produced. Riza was momentarily worried, but then a lighter came out of a pocket somewhere, and he was soon twirling it in his fingers and looking smug.
One young alchemist had begun the test and was using a stick to eagerly draw a transmutation circle around a small tree, before throwing several ink pens and a piece of fabric into it. Riza applauded, as did the Fuhrer, when the young man transmuted the contents of the circle into a large, nicely bound book and presented it to the team of judges.
An older man transmuted a tree and some berries into a wooden table laden with desserts. Roy looked extremely interested. The other alchemists came forward quickly and presented their creations--a boat, a sculpture, a huge origami star. The Fuhrer seemed impressed with them all, but Gariena looked disgusted.
Finally Gariena and Roy were the only candidates remaining. Roy gestured at the young woman, smiling. "Ladies first."
"Certainly, Mr. Mustang...might I borrow your lighter for a few moments?"
"As long as you're careful with it, I'll be needing it for my light show." He winked.
"Don't worry." She accepted the lighter and dropped it into her breast pocket before kneeling on the grass, placing her hands on the earth. Sparks erupted from the ground, dazzling Riza's eyes with their intensity, and a bright light washed over her. When her vision cleared, she saw that the grass where everyone but she stood had become coated with a thick layer of glass. Under it, on the grass, were faintly visible black lines that reached out for at least fifty metres from where Gariena knelt--a pre-drawn transmutation circle.
The clear material rose from the ground around more than half of the alchemists and the General, encasing them in cages of glass. Major Basque Gran, one of the judges for the test, was already pounding furiously on his extra-thick clear box.
"You sure took a chance, General, being out here in the open like this," Gariena drawled to the Fuhrer, who looked shocked inside his cage.
"What is this?" he demanded, looking out at the untrapped candidates, who were gathering behind Gariena. Riza stood in the shadow of a tree, wishing she too had alchemical powers, or at least a long-range pistol. Fortunately, Gariena seemed to have forgotten she was there, but Roy was looking her way, shaking the bars of his cage. Riza noted with interest that only the more dangerous-seeming alchemists and the judges had been completely enclosed--many of the examinees, Roy included, had only been barred in. The reasoning for this was discovered fairly quickly when some of the judges, who had transmutation circles tattooed permanently on their hands or other body parts, tried to escape using their more conventional methods. A judge who clearly specialized in electrical alchemy cried out as his own transmutation reflected off the walls of his box, electrocuting him. Many were trying to use Gariena's own circle, with little to no effect; the boxes were raised slightly from the ground by pillars of glass and they could not come in close enough contact with the circle. Others tried to draw on the floors of their cells using chalk or ink, but the lines smudged and ran together before the circle could be completed. Roy glared angrily at Gariena--they both knew why she had asked for his lighter.
"This is very obviously a coup, General." Gariena smiled winningly at the boxed Fuhrer. "How could we miss out on capturing the leader of the military and all these annoying National Alchemists at once? We," she gestured at herself and the team of four examinees standing behind her, "are taking hostages. You'll be coming with us to our base."
"A rebel group?" Roy spat. "I should have known."
"How rude, Mr. Mustang. I wasn't going to take you unless you wanted me to. How about it?"
"No fucking way."
Riza slowly knelt and picked up several stones from amid the grass, inching backward around the tree, away from Gariena's patronizing voice. "Suit yourself."
She circled the line of foliage on her hands and knees, cringing at the sound of another transmutation taking place. When next she peeked around the side of a bush the rebels had produced a wagon from somewhere and were loading the now-coffin-sized boxes into it, stacking the trapped judges on top of one another.
Riza heard someone call her name. "Oh, Miss Riza! Where have you gone?"
Roy, very close to where she hid now, stiffened and pulled at the bars agitatedly. "Don't you dare touch her!"
"Darling, that's not nice. I'm already hurt that you like that subordinate of yours more than me."
"You bitch," Roy snarled, reaching between the bars to swipe at her leering face.
"Hear that, Miss Riza? It's true. He drank so much, babbling and lamenting over you all night, and even though I tried to keep him sedated, he still insisted on going back to the hotel. 'Sergeant Hawkeye is waiting for me.' What a loyal little puppy he is."
Roy's face turned crimson. Riza's did, too, but she shook the hopeful feeling away and concentrated on stealth. Gariena had gone back to the area where Riza had been at the beginning of the test, just beyond the outer ring of the circle and was investigating the bushes, looking angry. "Did she run away? Wow, I didn't expect that."
"She may have went for help. We should get moving," one of the other rebels advised.
Riza removed the stones from her pocket and threw them gently, watching them skitter across the glassed-over ground. Several came to a stop within arms length of Roy's cage. He did not turn, but his shoulders straightened. Instead, he slowly drew a pen from his pocket and uncapped it.
"I heard something over there." One of the rebels pointed directly at the bush where Riza hid. She smothered panic and inched backward, trying to decide what to do next. Attack them? Run? She had no weapon, but she was trained in hand-to-hand combat. That was probably her best chance against anyone else, but against six rogue alchemists standing on a giant transmutation circle?
Roy solved her dilemma, yanking a derringer out of his belt and tossing it in her direction, where it slid across the glass and landed at her feet. As a warrant officer, he was permitted to carry a weapon when leaving base, though he usually did not. Alchemy had proved, of late, to be a most effective form of self-defence. "Take it!"
Riza snatched up the tiny gun, aimed, and shot. The single bullet pierced Gariena's stomach, felling her instantly, a look of shock upon her exquisite features.
The other rebels converged angrily into a group, advancing on the young sergeant. Riza stepped backward, knowing she was still on the transmutation circle, but unsure where to run. Behind her were hills; to the sides, trees. Trees are better cover. I can get back to HQ and--
Pain shot through her and she cried out, falling to the ground. Fresh blood spread across the glass in waves, drenching Riza's clothing, an incredible pain in her side the apparent source. A stalagmite of sharp glass had impaled her, issuing from the dying alchemist lying opposite. Gariena still, apparently, had enough left in her to laugh at her felled opponent, and she was doing so quite loudly.
"-keye! Sergeant Hawkeye! Answer me, now!" Roy's voice was snapping from somewhere distant, and she tried to answer him. I'm here...
"Sergeant Hawkeye! Are you alive? Sergeant! Answer me! Riza! Riza!" Roy's voice broke in mid-call, accompanied by a frantic rattling of the tiny cage. He seemed very far away.
The stones, she tried to tell him, for within her blurry sight was the rocks she had carried to him. I brought the stones for you to escape.
He could not have heard, but his voice quieted, allowing her to take in Gariena's final words. "Now, Roy honey, whose fault was that? If you hadn't had her shoot me, I wouldn't have needed to kill her at all."
Roy did not answer, reaching through the bars of his cage to grasp the two closest stones. Deftly he struck them together and flame erupted from the air, shattering the bars of his transparent cage almost instantly. He stepped out of the ruins of the prison, onyx eyes smoldering almost as much as his bare hands, black with burn marks and smoke. "I'll finish you off myself."
The other rebels backed off several steps, looking defiant. Roy struck the rocks together once again and produced more flames, skimming over the coating on the ground before him and leaving a heavy stench of burned flesh in the air. The rebels screamed and ran as the fire took root in their clothing. Gariena had already seemingly stopped breathing, a smug smile on her soot-smeared face.
The searing heat had been enough to weaken the walls of several of the cages, and the occupants began to attack the bars until they broke in small explosions of glass, freeing Major Basque Gran and two other alchemists. They stepped out of the coffin-sized boxes and advanced on the traitors as Roy stumbled backward, almost tripping over his subordinate's body. Blood still flowed freely from the wound and he tore strips from his shirt, wrapping them around her midriff, saying something to her that should could not connect enough with reality to hear. She remained maddeningly conscious, forced to watch his burned hands shake as they tore the cloth, blood and tears and soot marring his handsome face. She wanted to hear what he was saying to her, but it was just out of her range.
He put a hand to her cheek and caressed it, mouthing something that could have been her name. He had called her Riza earlier, too, something she had not heard him say in years. It made her happy, despite herself.
She closed her eyes.
They presented him the watch during a small ceremony, along with his promotion to major. Roy wished Riza had been there to see it, but the victory left a sour taste in his mouth, and so he did not delay the affair, instead accepting the silver watch and the new epaulets and shoving them into the pocket of his dress uniform.
She had insisted that he bring the dress uniform, just in case. It was wrinkled from the trip and his boots needed desperately to be shined. He didn't care.
She, too, had received a promotion--to warrant officer, the very rank Roy had just vacated. The name sounded foreign in his head, too on-ceremony. Warrant Officer Hawkeye. It sounds so...pompous. He thought it too long; for even when he himself held that rank, she had rarely called him by it. It was always "sir", coupled with a sharp salute or a reprimanding look. Depending on what he had done.
Hughes arrived just in time for Roy to get his promotion, heckling him and congratulating him in Riza's place. Roy appreciated it, and knew Riza would have too--after all, she had often said in exasperation that he was "completely useless without her". Well, now Roy was finally forced to admit that it was true. It was Hughes who forced him to eat, sleep, bathe, and occasionally leave his seat to get a breath of fresh air. He never wanted to, just in case she awoke, and he wanted to be there. He had to apologize.
He sat by her bed for three days in the military hospital, sleeping in the chair (often slumped over on the foot of her bed), and thinking often about the comfortable hotel room they had shared. Roy hoped, not for the first time, that the officers' quarters at Central were more inviting than the hospital.
Besides, if something happened, who was going to save her? He didn't trust these city doctors.
She woke up late in the evening of the third day, sore and confused. Her body ached all over; her vision wobbled dangerously. Her side was swathed in bandages and she was in an unfamiliar room.
But he was there, head pillowed on his arms, resting against the side of her bed. His breathing was soft and rhythmic. Dared she believe that they both were alive? "R-Roy...?"
His eyes remained closed but he stirred slightly, shifting in the chair. She peered around the dimly-lit room as her vision began to clear. Hospital, she deduced. That's right. I passed out...but he's okay now... Somehow, she still could not keep from placing his welfare before hers. He looked unhurt, if a little tense, only the muscles of his handsome face relaxed in sleep. He had stayed here with her, watching over her, as she had so often done for him. Riza was flattered and a little nervous.
On the night table, the watch glinted, proof of his victory. Under it was a stack of papers and she leaned heavily on her unhurt side to read them, able to make out only the flowing scripts with his name and the new title awarded by the Fuhrer. The Flame Alchemist. How fitting.
Roy looked so very content. Riza lay her head back down on the pillow and gently took his hand in hers, interlocking their fingers. For a soldier, he was a surprisingly heavy sleeper. She was used to this. She closed her eyes, the heat of his hand spreading through her arm and into her body, warming her. She was not afraid that he might wake in surprised revulsion, only that he would panic, feel guilty that he had missed her when he had so clearly been watching over her so vigilantly.
His hand slackened a bit, and then shifted, sensing hers. His breathing became slightly uneven, but he did not speak or even move, perhaps believing her asleep.
She tightened her handhold, ever so slightly, feeling his tense in return. I was waiting for you.
Well, that was fine, he deserved it, she decided. After all, she had been waiting for him for a long time.
They lay like that until morning, far from what they had been before, far from "officer and subordinate". No one mentioned it, not the doctors who entered excitedly the next day, nor Hughes, who was forced to abandon his quest to make Roy eat. He did not release her hand, even when she had finally sat up, fully aware of her surroundings.
It was not quite a lover's embrace, but it was enough.
A/N: No, not a sequel...just a reference.
Thanks to Cyber for the advice when this sucker was being written, and his suggestion for Galiena/Gariena's name. Thanks also to Pyo and Gai for their numerous title suggestions. ;)