Title: Nettle Soup
Author: Tiamat's Child
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist manga
Word Count: 2459
Summary: Breda's mother wants her to bring some nice young person home, but Breda's never bothered to go looking.
A/N: Written for fma_fic_contest at Livejournal, Prompt 33, "Genderswitch". It took second place. (And, yes, features AlwaysAGirl!Breda.)
Breda wasn't sure if she was surprised it had taken her mother seven years after she moved out and cut off all her hair to bring up the possibility that she wasn't attracted to men, or just surprised that they were discussing it openly at all. "No, Mum," she said, "I haven't got a nice girl to bring home to meet you."
"I want you to be happy," her mother said. "I don't want you to be lonely or hide a relationship because you think I won't approve."
Breda thought of the last time anyone had expressed anything that might remotely be described as a romantic interest in her. It had been a long time ago and had involved a secondary school dance and, as it turned out, the loudspeaker system. Bit of a fizzler of a prank, really, as all Breda had said in response to her invitation was, "You do realize that the little bulbs on the board light up when you plug a microphone in, right?"
"I think," she told her mother, "I can safely say that will not be a problem."
"Your mother sounds like a decent sort," Falman said, when she told him about it.
Breda shrugged. "She's my mother. We're all a bunch of ruthless manipulative bastards, really, but we stick together."
Falman tilted his head. "So. This was… a bid to get you to…"
"Settle down with a nice specimen and raise a family. And also use my leave for visiting, instead of saving the world. What do you say to that one?" She nodded to the billiards parlor across the street, its broad plate glass window gleaming with the last of East City's monsoon season.
Falman stuck his hands in his pockets and tried to look knowing. Since Falman spent most of his time looking taken aback, put upon, or taken aback and put upon, it was not an especially practiced look. Falman had a perfectly satisfactory slow, dawning smile of profound understanding, conviction, and conspiratorial slyness, but experiments had shown that he was incapable of producing it on command. The best he could do was the attempted knowing look, which mostly made him look like a sucker. Breda'd never mentioned it. It was much easier when people underestimated both of them.
"Looks like a good place," he said.
Breda smiled at him. He had no idea. He didn't know anything about billiard parlors, but she could rest assured that if someone tried to cheat, he'd catch them. He probably had the entire set of international tournament rulings going back to 1679 in that wildly encyclopedic brain of his. "Let's go fleece some sheep," she said.
She was, of course, brilliant at billiards. Breda had yet to meet a game she wasn't brilliant at. She'd led the field hockey team at school, she could make wizened old men who had spent years at their craft sit up with a new spark of life in their eyes when she played go, she regularly demolished the Colonel at chess, Havoc had declared that he would beat her at origami football if it was the last thing he did on this cold, cruel earth, and Fury still swore she had to somehow be cheating at Which Cocktail Will The Colonel Make First On Friday?
Luckily for her, and for Falman, who she was going to treat to supper with her ill (but legally!) gotten gains, and for the Colonel as well, she did not look like she was brilliant at games. She did not look like she was brilliant at much of anything. She supposed that this must have bothered her at some point, but she couldn't remember it. As far back as she could recall, she'd enjoyed it, loved the fierce burst of vindicated pride when her opponent or prospective team mate leaned back and looked at her with a new, surprised respect. "How did you do that?" was an everlasting delight to her, and she'd heard it a lot that afternoon. She whistled as they walked.
"Get what you needed?" she asked eventually, after they'd rounded several blocks and taken a lazy meander down a residential alleyway strung with laundry lines. One of the residents had some very cheeky lingerie. She wouldn't have expected lace knickers in that particular shade of chartreuse, but now she'd been exposed to the idea she was thinking it wasn't a bad one at all.
Falman smiled at her, and there it was: the warm, pleased smile of a man with a remarkable, well trained mind who has just done a job uniquely well. She smiled back. She loved that smile of his. Smug suited him. "Think so. I'll make my initial report and then - "
"And then," Breda interrupted, "you are coming to the market with me and helping me cook supper." She slid her hands into her pockets and swayed lazily into her stride. "We should be able to get something good with the money I made."
"Do you spend all your gambling winnings on food?" Falman didn't sound censorious, just curious.
Breda considered this. And then she turned her head on the side and considered some more. "Yes."
Falman shrugged. "As good a use as any, I suppose."
"And better than most," Breda said confidently.
Breda kicked her heels against the wainscotting in the Colonel's hall. She hummed to herself, low tuneless notes that had no purpose or motivation beyond keeping her from overhearing even the muffled edges of Falman and the Colonel's conversation. Whatever it was, she would let it alone for the time being. Falman had asked her simply to do this for him, and Breda trusted Falman. She trusted the Colonel too, but the Colonel wasn't the one who'd asked her to provide cover without giving her any information on what she was providing cover for. Falman had done that, and she had said yes to him. She let her head fall back against the wall, baring her throat.
She didn't regret saying yes. She trusted Falman. There was nothing about him she couldn't trust. He was the same way in mind as he was in body, whip cord strong, focused, solidly alive and warm.
And habitually harassed, you couldn't forget that.
"So, we on for next weekend?" Breda asked as she and Falman ambled back into the city proper. They'd decided to cut through a park, and Falman had hunched down into his high collar against the late afternoon drizzle.
"I'm game if you are."
"Hey, as long as you want me," Breda said, and stopped. Falman carried on for half a step and then stopped too, straightening warily.
"See something?" he asked.
She shook her head. "It's nobody, but." She grinned at the glint of early green in the underbrush. "What do you say to nettle soup for supper?"
"Nettle soup? I've never had that."
"City boy," she said, and fished a folded bag from her jacket pocket. "Hang on, I've got gloves here somewhere, too."
"Gloves do sound important," Falman said. "How do you eat nettles? Isn't it uncomfortable?"
"It's fine if you cook them. The toxins come right out with a little blanching, and then it's even nicer than spinach."
"That wouldn't sound promising if you hadn't fed me spinach last week." Falman watched her produce her gloves with a triumphant flourish and put them on. She was looking at his face, but he was looking at her hands. "You are definitely expanding my horizons."
Breda rarely cooked for people outside her family. It usually didn't lead to good places. Generally, it led to stupid places, and if there was anything Breda didn't have a lot of tolerance for, it was otherwise intelligent people inflicting stupidity on her. But she was enjoying feeding Falman, whose response to everything she gave him, from recipes she could have cooked half dead and possible all the way dead, propelled only by electrical jolts to muscles, to brand new experiments that she really didn't think had turned out as she wanted them, was delight mixed with a sort of befuddled wonder.
Sometimes she wondered about that. She was a good cook, her mother had made sure of that, but she wasn't that good. Had Falman grown up eating nothing but plain oatmeal and cheese sandwiches? He did have that weird response to grilled cheese, like it was something exotic.
"This is amazing," Falman told her, gesturing with his spoon.
She smiled. "Turned out pretty good, yeah."
"Amazing," he said again. "I'm eating nettles!"
"A bit of heat'll take the bite out of most things," Breda said. It was pretty good. And cheap, too, which was nice, gambling winnings or no.
"Or put it there," Falman said. He frowned. Breda raised her eyebrows.
He studied her. She looked straight back at him. There wasn't any point in flinching away from that kind of scrutiny, or trying to change the angle someone was looking at her from, because the view was really pretty much the same anyway you looked, and besides, the part about not giving anyone the satisfaction of seeing her self conscious or discomfited didn't apply to Falman, since she knew perfectly well he wasn't after that. She didn't know what he was looking for, but it was fine if he wanted to look.
"Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to stare."
Breda shrugged. "I don't care."
They finished the soup in silence after that. It was good soup. It didn't really need leavening with conversation.
"Can I help you to wash up?" Falman said when they'd finished, as Breda stood to clear away.
"I'm going to turn down a hand?" Breda asked.
Falman laughed. "Shall I dry or do you want to?"
"You dry, I'll wash."
They did. Every time Breda looked up from the sink as she passed another dish to Falman, he was looking at her with that same evaluating stare. It was a little disconcerting. She'd seen him do that before. He did it all the time. It was his usual expression when going over documents, or meeting people he expected to have to remember after short acquaintance, or seeing a crime scene, or noticing something, anything at all, that he could use.
That wasn't strictly it, though. There was something else in this particular look. Breda passed over a plate and tried to figure it out as she scrubbed at a wooden spoon.
Falman put the plate down. "Can I kiss you?" he asked.
"Right, sorry!" Falman said hastily, picking the plate back up again. "Sorry, I'll just put this away."
Breda blinked. It seemed like the entire rhythm of her heart had changed. She was having trouble getting her breath back and her elbows felt loose and weak. She could see, because she knew him, that Falman's hands were very close to trembling. Only the plate he held was letting him keep them still.
"I didn't," she said, after a moment where she worked out how to get her lungs to cooperate again, "say no."
"Oh," said Falman. He turned back to her. She stayed where she was, her hand braced against the sink, because if she leaned forward she would only make their height difference unmanageable. "Oh," Falman said again, and swallowed hard. "I think I need an actual yes, if that was, in fact, a yes."
"It was a yes."
"Oh. Good." And then he was leaning in and she was tilting her head up and it was awkward and they had disappointingly incompatible noses, but it was nice anyway, although Breda didn't actually know what she was doing and Falman only pressed his lips to the side of her mouth, softly, too softly, but he was very warm and very close, and Breda was thankful for the rim of the sink.
He pulled back. She blinked. Falman was staring at her like she was a puzzle he'd never seen before, and she raised a hand - not the hand on the sink, she needed that one - to touch her lips, which was exactly the sort of embarrassing gestureal non sequitur she didn't like, but she only remembered that once she'd done it.
Falman looked a little more lost than usual. "I -" he said, and squared his shoulders, lifted himself to his full height with a slight, almost elegant sway as his spine straightened out. "You're something else, you know? I like spending time with you. And you've got great eyes. I thought we might be seeing each other."
Breda had a nasty suspicion she looked more lost than Falman did. "Seeing each other?"
"I know you providing my cover was my idea," Falman said, hurrying along his words as if he was relying directions to the train station, and hers was due to leave in ten minutes. "And I meant that in an entirely professional matter although I would much rather you than Havoc, because let's face it, our lieutenant lives up to his name, but you've been feeding me. Every Sunday for a month now, and you never feed anyone, and you never invite anyone over."
Breda held onto the sink a little more firmly. "I like you," she said. "You're smart, and you're funny, and you keep making bets with me, even though you always lose."
Falman shrugged. "I like a hopeless cause."
She snorted. "You sure do. I didn't think anything was ever going to happen. But I like the way you eat."
"Do you want something to happen?"
Breda wanted to look away from him, but she didn't. She didn't know. She'd never had to consider whether she wanted something to happen or not before. It had always been a foregone conclusion that nothing ever was. The prospect of something being on offer was making her higher functions freeze up.
"It's all right if you don't," Falman said. "You're a great friend, Breda. I don't want to be a lousy friend in return, and I like the idea of seeing you, but I like you being my friend - "
"Yes," Breda said, cutting him off.
Falman froze. "Yes what?"
"Yes, I want something to happen. With you."
"With me?" Falman looked about as staggered as she felt, though she didn't know why, since he was the one to whom the possibility that they might be seeing each other had occurred.
"Have I been feeding someone else nettle soup?"
"Not that I've heard of." He smiled at her, not the smug smile, but a similar one. This one was new. It made the corners of his eyes crinkle. "I'd like that. In case I haven't made that clear."
"I think," said Breda, and reached out to take his hand, "I'm beginning to get the picture."