...Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments,
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures...
—from King Richard III
Yesterday had been a day of national celebration. The induction of a new Fuhrer was historically a cause for revelry, but this Fuhrer, especially, had come to power amid a torrent of adulation and joy. King Bradley's rein of subterfuge, terror and war was at an end, and the people, military and civilian alike, greeted his successor as a triumphant general and a princely saviour. Yesterday had been a day of speeches to the general staff, of addresses to the multitudes, of appearances in Central's great Memorial Gardens and on the steps of National Headquarters. There had been vows to make and policies to announce, glistening medals to pin onto proud chests and promotions to mete out to the faithful few who had paved the new Fuhrer's rise to greatness. Yesterday had been a festival of joy and of victory.
Today would be just another day in the office. A larger office, granted, and one all her own, adjacent to the palatial workroom of her new Commander in Chief, but still a day at the office.
Why, then, was the newly named and lavishly decorated General Hawkeye so nervous?
She looked at her reflection in the looking glass, eyes critically taking in her smooth, athletic body. The regulation military undergarments were not the most flattering of lingerie, but they were comfortable and practical, and the bleached white set off her creamy skin nicely. She looked at the broad, strong shoulders that had helped to bear the burden of revolt, at the sleekly muscled arms that had sworn to serve and protect and had executed both duties exquisitely. The soft swell of her breasts, the hallmark of femininity that had been denied and set aside again and again in her pursuit of the goal that she and her Fuhrer had shared for so many long, bitter years. Her sylph-like waist, usually hidden beneath bulky layers of practical indigo wool. Her long legs, roped with the muscles of hard work and even harder training. Her feet, neat and attractive in their black shoes. She smiled, pleased with what she saw. This was the body that had guarded him for so long. This was the body that had stood by him against all danger and adversity, and had helped at last to lift him up to the quintessence of his noble ambition.
Then she turned back to the garment box lying on her narrow bed, and her pleasure ebbed away.
The lid bore the hallmark of the most expensive (and most discrete) tailor in Central City. She lifted it off, revealing delicate layers of silver tissue, protecting the garments beneath. Carefully, like a field engineer brushing dust from a live land mine, she peeled back the covering, piece by piece, until the sober military blue stood out like the centre of an enormous, mystical flower with ruffled argent petals.
She lifted out the jacket with care. Her fingers brushed the epaulettes, bearing the insignia of her new rank. General Riza Hawkeye. Second-in-command of the nation. The right hand of the Fuhrer himself.
The right hand of Roy Mustang himself... and that meant more to her than all the titles and triumphs in the world.
She laid the garment out on the bed. With practiced fingers, she began to pin her medals onto the breast. Not the ribbons that served for daily wear, but the small, perfect medals that adorned the chests of decorated soldiers during formal events and public appearances, for the Fuhrer had made it clear that he wanted his staff to look their best on this, his first day of truly ruling the nation that he loved so well. With practiced fingers, she formed the neat rows, beginning at the bottom and ending with the new line at the top: the honours bestowed upon her yesterday, by the Fuhrer and his newly enfranchised parliament.
Each medal had its story. Her spear and sword from the Eastern Academy. Captain of the Cadets in her first, second and third year. Her Ishbal veteran's star. The Military Cross for bravery above and beyond the call of duty. Five Green Dragons, for each grave wound sustained in battle. The Scarlet Heart for selfless acts in combat. The bronze disc affectionately called the "Sniper's Piper", after the fife-player raised upon its surface. Five and ten-year service medallions. The Diamond of Courage. The McFarland Knot. The Sigil of Janus, for demonstrated brilliance of command. On and on the list went.
At last the fruit salad was all in place. She looked at it with a critical eye. Behind her, there was a soft padding of paws against the floor, and a querying sniff from her faithful companion. She turned around and smiled ruefully at the small dog.
"Well, Hayate?" she said softly. "Do you think I have the courage that this is going to take?"
Her loyal hound wagged his feathery tail. He thought she did. His mistress was the most wonderful person in the world. She could do anything, even keep Roy Mustang alive. Even help to save the world from the machinations of demons. Even this.
Not certain whether Black Hayate was a blind optimist or a deluded fool, Riza nevertheless began to dress.
Yesterday's decorations still adorned the courtyard of Central Headquarters. Streamers in military green, banners in red and orange and gold to honour the Fuhrer's special talent, wilting balloons that the staff really should have cleared away. General Hawkeye passed through this gaudy festival of colour with as much dignity as she could muster. She knew that she was turning heads as she made her way up the stairs to nod curtly at the corporal at the door.
In the broad atrium it was worse. The morning crowds were gathering, and all wanted to stare at the beautiful young woman who was now the youngest general in Amestrian history – an honour that Riza knew was envied and even perhaps resented by another recent ascendant to the rank. Eager faces looking to see the deadly Hawk's Eyes in all her military splendour quickly slackened in amazement. As much as they might have anticipated this moment, no one had expected the figure that General Hawkeye cut this morning.
She kept her shoulders squared and her chin high, in bearing at least the perfect image of a military prodigy. She ascended to the first floor, where the presidential offices were located. The officers she passed saluted crisply, and for each she had a reciprocating gesture and a formal but bracing word, which they returned with astounded stammering and indiscrete gawking. She had worked hard to learn each and every one of their names during the week leading up to the inauguration. Knowing the Fuhrer, it would take him a while to familiarize himself with his massive new staff. It was her job, therefore, to liaise between these fundamental parts of the military machine and the mastermind who would lead them to glory and prosperity.
In the antechamber stood her the woman who should have been her doppelganger. She was clad in a crisply pressed field uniform, and like Riza she wore her full array of commendations above her left breast. At her side hung her prized weapon – as dear to her as Riza's trusted sidearm was. The katana's hilt was polished to reflective perfection, and the scabbard was new, bearing the military dragon in gold at its lip, and the general's family crest below it.
The two women saluted one another.
"General Hawkeye, good morning," said the platinum-haired snow queen. Though technically of equal rank, it was understood that Riza's position was the higher one. She was, after all, the Fuhrer ad hoc, and would assume command should the country's undisputed leader be in any way incapacitated.
"General Armstrong. Good morning," replied Riza. Then she lowered her salute, the other woman mirroring her action. They exchanged a small smile... and then Olivier Milla Armstrong's eyes widened almost imperceptivity as she took in more than merely the face of her compatriot.
"I would have thought that you, of all people..." she began, blue eyes snapping with annoyance, but then she thought better of it, schooling her expression and saluting once again. "Good luck to you, ma'am," she said stoutly.
Riza smiled a little, nervously. Somehow this very military encouragement was more frightening than comforting. She thrust her shoulders further back, keeping her hands resolutely at her sides as she approached the door to the Fuhrer's office.
It was opened by a mountain of humanity wearing the stripes and stars of a Lieutenant General. Alex Louis Armstrong, resplendent – as were all the others – in his new regalia. He saluted, and Hawkeye did the same, trying not to notice the wiggling of the Armstrong Family Brow as he, too, processed what he was seeing.
The Fuhrer was at his desk, as she had expected, onyx head bent uncharacteristically over some paperwork. Hawkeye's sharp eyes picked up the familiar typeface, and her heart fluttered fondly beneath the encrusting medals. It was his Child Protection Act, a piece of legislation whose initial drafting predated any other plans for an ascent to power. Smiling approvingly down at his blood-brother's handiwork was the photograph of Maes Hughes, a companionable arm thrown around his unsmiling friend. This was the moment for which both of them had worked and one of them had died. Triumph at last.
The moment of bittersweet nostalgia dissolved into dismay as Riza realized with dawning horror that the Fuhrer was not alone in his lavishly enormous office.
Colonel Heymens Breda was standing behind him, rocking a little on the balls of his feet. When he spied Hawkeye, his contented grin – the expression of jovial bliss that he had worn constantly since the news of his beloved commander's election had come through – vanished into a look of stupefied wonder.
Lt. Colonel Vato Falman had been rearranging some books on one of the gargantuan shelves that lined the walls of the chamber. He turned, saw her, and paled, jaw slack.
In the corner by the sideboard, Captain Kain Fuery, his small form dwarfed still further by the heavy trappings of his newly acquired rank as a commissioned officer, set down the telephone that he had been tinkering with. The sunlight streaming through the enormous windows reflected off of his glasses, robbing Riza of a clear view of his expression... but she would have bet a year's salary that it was one of astonishment.
A low wolf-whistle came from behind her, and she looked over her shoulder. Annoyance dissolved when she saw the source. Erect in his wheelchair, clad once more in his soldier's garb was the member of the team who had not made it through to the finish line intact. She saluted him with the solemn respect that serving officers gave only to battered veterans.
"Honourable Brigadier General Havoc," she said, addressing him by the rank with which he had been commended yesterday. "It's good to see you."
The blonde soldier grinned rakishly, the unlit cigarette that dangled from the corner of his mouth twitching as his face moved. "It's good to see you, too, General," he said with a saucy but fond disrespect to which he, as a very old friend and a fallen comrade, did have a certain right. "Though I never thought I'd see quite so much of you."
She couldn't reply, for at this comment the Fuhrer raised his head from his reading. Hawkeye turned, saluting crisply as he rose and reciprocated the sign of respect that, while generically universal, was for them also intimately personal.
"Good morning, Fuhrer Mustang, sir," she said, and the words echoed through the room. Behind her, she knew that the two Armstrongs had joined the audience watching this encounter with avid interest – one frowning in obligatory disapproval, and the other already sniffling sentimentally.
"Good morning," her commander said, ever the consummate pillar of military dignity. "At ease, General."
She dropped her salute and looked him squarely in the eye, carmine meeting charcoal. His all-seeing orbs danced over her body in its indigo trappings, glittering with amusement. A familiar smirk crept across his face.
"You know, General," he said; "that particular amendment is still pending. I have as yet given no such order regarding changes to the garb of my female officers."
He was being facetious. They both knew that he had no intention of passing that absurd regulation: it had always been a convenient quip to silence those who had questioned his motives for such lofty ambitions. The response, however, was precisely what Hawkeye had hoped for. Suddenly she was smiling, too: a smooth, reserved smile that nonetheless shone with all of her delight and the exaltation that could only come with hard-earned triumph.
"I felt, sir," she said as formally as she could; "that it was clearly implied."
Then he chuckled, unabashedly eyeing her legs in their smooth silk stockings... and the tiny blue skirt, its hem level to the tip of her smallest finger, standing at attention as she was. His grin this time mirrored the rapturous joy bursting from Riza's heart.
"It's very nice, General Hawkeye," he said earnestly, and despite the use of the title his words were overflowing with personal connotations. "But I expect you back in uniform tomorrow."
She looked saucily back at him, and it was her turn to smirk. "Oh, I had the commissary send my uniform to my new office, sir," she said impudently. "With your permission, I'll go and change at once."
He opened his mouth to deny any such permission, but she whipped a hand beneath the tightly tailored jacket and drew out her trusty Glock. She twirled it with a flourish, her crimson eyes flashing with challenge and enchantment.
"Then we'll see about your schedule for today. Do you have any idea how much paperwork a Fuhrer President is expected to do, sir?"
His melodramatic moan of despair was proof enough of her victory.