Author's Note: This story is a birthday present for my friend Sarah (I also owe you some baked goods and a mixed drink!) who conceived the idea of this so-perfect-it's-not-even-a-crack pairing and asked for a fic of it. I hope you enjoy it too!
Buccaneer/Catherine Armstrong (July 20)
A Soft Spot
Buccaneer did not feel comfortable in a place like this.
While he knew that if he were to admit that to someone, they would probably deal out a sarcastic, "No, really?" or something equally as irritating, the fact was that he would never admit that this was not his scene. Survival of the fittest: if you look like a target, you will be made a target of. So instead, he stood tall and pretended he hung out in humongous mansions all the time.
Truthfully, he had never seen a house of this size; office buildings, yes, houses, not so much. Growing up in the North, he realized that he and his neighbors preferred to live practically and either way there was nothing grand about living somewhere where you would have to employ a team of hundreds just to shovel enough so you could get your oh-so-fancy car onto the street to get down to the country club or wherever filthy rich people would hang out when your city is covered by a two feet thick blanket of white. They did usually get rich tourists in North City during the first fall when the weather wasn't quite cold enough to freeze body parts in less than an hour (the cold was a harsh mistress as he knew better than anyone having lost his right arm to her when he was young) and they seemed to enjoy skiing above all other snow-based activities. Either way, the attitude of the rich seemed to rest solely in the it's-pretty-once-in-a-while-but-my-word-I-wouldn't-want-to-live-there camp.
This was probably why what had confused him even more than the sheer size and excess of the Armstrong estate was the fact that his fearless commanding officer had come from such wealth and luxury. He knew the Armstrongs were rich, everyone in Amestris knew, but damn did he feel ignorant now.
How did she become so tough and independent when she presumably had servants waiting on her hand and foot until she left for the military academy? Why did she never seem to take advantage of the monetary resources at her disposal?
The scowl on her face when she told him she would need to return to her father's house might have said it all if he had been thinking about it at the time.
Maybe it just wasn't her scene either?
Still he had grown up in the North and it was very much a part of who he was and who he would always be so he was having a hard time believing that somehow the Major General retained nothing from her upbringing, throwing it all away for a life she probably initially knew nothing about until she had seen the fortress she would run.
Perhaps there was more to the Armstrongs than he knew. He had underestimated their wealth; it was almost a surety that he had underestimated their character as well.
Either way, following the General around Central Command and then her family home was not exactly how Buccaneer was planning on spending his weekend.
On Thursday she had called him into her office and told him that she had received a letter from Central Command stating that she was being promoted to Major General . . . two weeks ago. Usually there was a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding promotions for generals involving unnecessary gatherings of as many soldiers as possible in Central, speeches, and even parades but, not one for such trivialities, the general had met the letter with only vague interest, marked the date on the calendar and forgot about it until the week of. She was supposed to have been preparing travel plans for a portion of the Briggs Brigade, getting in contact with the generals running the ceremony, getting her dress uniform in pristine shape. Instead, she decided at the last minute that she would arrive in Central early, demand that they hand over her stars right away as she has no time to waste in the capital with foolish, archaic traditions and then head back to the mountains on the next train available.
However, the General could not put her plan into action without a travelling companion since the letter had requested that someone from her own troops be present at the ceremonies and Buccaneer had been the dubious winner of that position. To him if she needed an officer to come with her, Miles or Henschel would have been a more obvious choice than himself. Henschel was like a personal aide to Armstrong and generally seen as the most amiable of the Briggs officers and Miles had a higher rank and generally instilled high command with a sense of fear and guilt because of his heritage that seemed useful in getting the General's way. But alas, Miles had to stay behind to take over for the General in her absence and Henschel wouldn't hold the same air of authority as a captain like Buccaneer so he had ended up being the General's right hand man for this mission.
Although he had to wait outside during the General's actual meeting with Fuhrer Bradley, meaning he missed her telling him in the most polite, subordinate way possible where exactly he could shove his tradition, the actual goal was achieved in a very short amount of time and when the General left his office she did so with a star on each of her epaulettes. Apparently, Bradley had been fine with her desire to not throw a big celebration in her honor as it really would save everyone's time. The high command Generals they walked by on their way out of the building on the other hand looked mildly horrified at her new rank and disrespect for the rules but the opinions of a handful of old farts who haven't been on a battlefield in twenty years because they were too busy hiding out and kissing the Fuhrer's ass meant nothing to Armstrong or Buccaneer.
Thinking the mission was complete, Buccaneer was all ready to tell their driver to take them to the train station when the newly appointed Major General held up her hand to stop him.
"We have to make a brief stop first," she said with a tone of distaste, turning away towards the front seats. "To the Armstrong estate."
Buccaneer had tried to cover his surprise at her change of plans but he was more confused than anything. He wanted to ask why she needed to go to her family estate when, from what little he knew, she was kind of estranged from her family but after weighing his options for a second he decided that he valued his life more than an answer to his inquiry and sat silently the rest of the ride there.
After passing through the gate, the ride up the driveway (Ha, driveway; this road needs an official street name) felt longer than the whole trip from North City to Central. Buccaneer glanced over at the General to see that she was staring straight ahead, her hand clutching her sword like she was prepared to jump out and attack at any moment while he tried desperately to not gawk at the front gardens of the mansion, instead looking out of the corner of his eye every few seconds and holding an ambivalent face.
The car stopped in front of the aforementioned mammoth building that supposedly served the function of a house and the door on the General's side was opened by a rather large man in an elegant suit that was trying desperate to hold itself together against the man's hefty physique.
"Welcome back, Miss Armstrong," the man said with a deep bow as he offered his hand to her to assist her out of the car.
She scoffed at him and stepped out herself, starting towards the building at a brisk pace, her long, blonde hair and winter coat flowing behind her.
Realizing he was already being left behind, Buccaneer opened the door on his side, hopped out and marched in line with his commanding officer up to the front door which she opened with a bang before the bodyguard-like valet could bolt to the handle and open it for her.
The room they entered, the foyer supposedly, was the size of a ballroom with a sparkling chandelier above them and a staircase in front: red carpeting with gold railings. The only time Buccaneer could remember seeing something that even vaguely resembled the scene before him was the last time he had a long leave and had decided to see a movie, the film playing in the theater being a historical drama (Amestrians loved their historical dramas and war epics, God, did they love war epics) where the film's president's estate had a similar feel to it. Actually, it almost looked like those scenes could have been shot inside this mansion.
He could imagine getting lost in the house; direction was actually one of his weak points that he refused to admit to. The foyer itself was the size of the house he grew up in albeit it was more forgiving to his size than his own parents' place.
Not giving him much more time to digest his location, the General started walking off to the right down a long hallway, stopping in front of a set of doors that were similarly large and imposing like the front door had been.
"Wait outside here," she commanded, finally turning around to acknowledge her subordinate. "I won't be long."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, stepping aside to stand to the right of the door. Although she hadn't given him a specific location or instruction, he habitually stood on guard and she didn't correct him.
The General whipped open the door again like she had the front door and the last thing Buccaneer heard before the heavy door slammed shut on its own accord was an annoyed, "Hello father."
Five minutes passed. Then ten minutes. Then fifteen and Buccaneer was starting to wonder what the General's definition of "won't be long" is. Deciding that could very easily be hours, he resolved to stop trying to keep track of time. He was used to waiting around for things to happen, usually while hiding under piles of snow, and he hadn't exactly been expecting this excursion to Central City to be a vacation so he really didn't mind. Of course, instead of waiting for something like an attack, he was waiting for his commanding officer to finish talking to her family which was infinitely less exciting and really didn't require the same amount of concentration and calculation he was used to. So, he allowed himself to relax slightly against the wall and let his mind go blank a bit.
His moment of relaxation was rapidly broken when he saw the far away image of someone making their way down the hall he was standing in and he straightened up immediately, not wanting to ruin the General's image of professionalism and strength by having a sloppy representative.
From a distance the person looked like a man, a nearly seven foot tall, incredibly muscular man who Buccaneer could only assume was her brother, Alex. He had never met the man but he had heard him mentioned before and would not have been surprised to find that he still lived at his parent's house in spite of his age.
As the figure got closer however, he could make out the fact that the person was wearing a dress.
He had heard Alex was a bit . . . flamboyant but . . .
Now he could make out hair, long curled hair piled up in a way he would assume a woman of the nobility would prefer and breasts proportionately suiting their staggering height and shape.
So this was one of Major General Armstrong's sisters?
He was a bit hesitant to accept that the thing passing by him was female but in some capacity, he had to admit that she did carry herself like a woman of good breeding, or at least what he assumed one would walk like.
As she passed by, he nodded to her in greeting, noting that she was taller than him, but she paid no heed to him as she disappeared down the hall.
Buccaneer furrowed his brows in thought. He and the other men of Briggs never really looked at their leader as a woman as her personality really lacked any shred of femininity but now there was something he could take back to the fortress: at least Armstrong family genetics had made her look like a beautiful woman and not like, well, her sister.
Not that he had ever considered the General's looks outside of the first time he met her. It became clear right away that the General was not to be seen as a woman, which really made the men of Briggs long for some bit of female presence, but now he knew he would never take for granted the fact that it actually could have been worse.
Or, you know, she could have been a terrible leader. That would have been worse too.
Another five minutes passed without any sign that the General's meeting would be over soon, particularly since he could now heard the muffled, but raised voices of the General and a gruff male voice who could only be her father that seemed to indicate a heated argument. Soon loud comments started to occasionally get punctuated by crashes and he started to wonder if they were having a furniture fight, initially smiling slightly at the thought and then realizing that the joke to himself could actually be true.
Suddenly, the muffled shouting was broken up by the sounds of a piano coming softly from a room on the other side of the hall. It wasn't anything he had heard before, classical piano music wasn't really something he knew anything about, but after being in this imposing mansion with potentially violent family disputes, valets that look like wrestlers, and women that look like muscle men it was an oddity to hear something so gentle.
Contemplating his situation for a second, the Captain looked at the closed door. The argument inside didn't appear to be letting up and since this was a family issue, the odds that she would end up calling him in for reinforcements were slim. With the exception of his presence there, the General paid great attention to keeping her family separate from her work even with her father's famed military influence.
If he were to investigate the sound for a second, it should hold no effect on the mission.
Know your surroundings, as they say in training and clearly an anomaly like this placid melody warranted the need for understanding.
He walked down the hall as stealthily as he could, trying to make the usually loud steps he produced in his snow boats a bit more muffled as to not alert the mystery piano player to his existence. As he got closer to the door he realized that the reason the music had come across so clear was because the door was ajar, allowing the music to stream unreservedly into the hall. Quietly, he leaned towards the opening to peer inside.
The room inside was smaller than the other ones he had seen so far but with a lot of floor-to-ceiling windows making up the back wall and framed by heavy curtains that were currently drawn back to let the sun in and give a good view of the backyard. The décor matched the rest of the mansion: simple but expensive looking.
The real focal point of the room was the piano, a large and beautifully kept black instrument in the center of the room and, even more notably, the girl playing it.
She was a small wisp of a girl, well, by typical standards she was average height and build but she really looked petite compared to everything else in the mansion, probably in her early twenties, with blond hair with a soft curl at the ends, and big blue eyes that were highlighted by the blue dress she wore: floor-length with short, puffed sleeves, and elaborate silver and navy beading on the bodice; the kind of dress a rich girl would wear. She kept her eyes trained on the music in front of her as her fingers floated over the keys with evident practice and every once in a while she would scrunch up her face slightly as she fumbled over some difficult notes and then would try to recover and move on.
God, she was cute.
It had been so long since he had seen an actual girl being so cloistered in the Briggs fortress that it was like finally sitting down in front of a fireplace after working in the snow all day.
As if sensing a presence, the girl glanced over the edge of her music, noticed the man standing in the doorway of the room and quickly stopped playing with a surprised, "Oh!" her hands flying to her face in embarrassment that she had an audience.
Afraid he had spooked the girl, Buccaneer searched for something to say to diffuse the situation as he took a small step out of the doorway and into the room.
"Uh, I don't know anything about the piano but I like the way you play it," he spat out, trying hard to smile but it hurt his face and he wondered if it somehow made him look scarier to the girl. He didn't need to be told more than once (although he was told often) that he was an intimidating presence from the tip of his mohawk to the spiked bottoms of his ice-slippage-preventing boots.
The girl looked at him with wide eyes, her hands slowly lowering on her face until he could see her flushed cheeks fully. She looked away for a second, bringing her folded hand to her lips before glancing back at him shyly and standing up from the piano bench.
"Thank you," she said softly, her hand still covering her mouth as she moved away from the bench allowing him to get a better look at her as she gave a little curtsy. She was a bit taller than he had initially thought but still a rather normal height. He could also clearly see the resemblance between the girl and the General though where the General's face was harsher with sharp eyes and features, this girl's face was soft and feminine.
"I'm actually better at lifting it," the girl admitted, her cheeks growing red again.
Buccaneer's forced smile faded into a smaller, realer one.
Aw, wasn't that . . . wait, what?
Suddenly, the girl bent over slightly and lifted the piano that she had been playing over her head with one hand, the other one still serving the purpose of a shield she could hide behind.
Buccaneer's eyes widened at the display. Apparently he had been wrong to assume that there wasn't some connecting thread between everyone in the Armstrong family because even if this girl had inherited nothing else, she certainly had the freakish strength down solid. But truthfully, a girl that sweet and adorable and refined who also possesses strength enough to lift a piano over her head with one hand? Well, that was just . . . awesome; the power of a warrior but the beauty and class of a lady.
As if remembering something, the girl rapidly put the piano down with a bit of a crash and looked away again in shame.
"Oh! My mother told me not to do that anymore when men are around. It scared away the last one," she said, peeking at him to see how he would react.
"Last one?" he asked in confusion, taking a few more steps into the room so that they wouldn't have to keep carrying on the conversation from a distance.
"You know, suitor."
Buccaneer grew red in the face at the suggestion and started waving his hands in dismissal.
"Oh, wait, I'm not . . . I'm here with your sister, the Major General. I work with her at Fort Briggs," he corrected nervously, feeling a heat in his face that he really, really wasn't used to.
"Oh," she said gently, a note of disappointment prominent in her tone.
In an effort to ease the tension in the room after the confession, Buccaneer did the only thing that seemed to make sense and stuck out his hand towards her.
"I'm Captain Buccaneer," he said strongly, a small grin on his face doing his best impression of a gentleman.
The girl looked from his face to his hand, with wide-eyed fascination.
Buccaneer wondered if shaking hands wasn't actually proper etiquette in high society since she seemed so startled by the concept. Was he supposed to bow? Is it too late to take back the handshake? Would that be even ruder? He was trying so hard not to scare her away (of course, after seeing what she could do, he doubted she scared that easily) but as long as she was still standing there, it was okay.
Then, in a flash of stupid revelation, he looked down at his own hand and remembered the automail. That's what she was staring at!
At least I went with the normal hand model today.
Just when he was ready to throw in the towel, he felt a very light weight press down on his hand that became very strong, very fast.
"Catherine Elle Armstrong," she said meekly, shaking his hand with a force that made him glad it was made of automail because there was no doubt this girl could crush flesh fingers if she so desired.
As the shaking ceased, she moved her hand under his so that she was holding his hand palm-up as she leaned in to inspect it.
"You have an automail hand," she said with interest as she started moving the metal fingers with her other hand as if she was trying to test the joints.
"Arm actually," he corrected with amusement. "It goes all the way up to my shoulder," he said tapping the port with her other hand, making a distinct metal clank.
Catherine's eyes grew wide in surprise and then in a timid voice she asked, "Can I . . . see it?"
"Oh, yeah!" Buccaneer shouted enthusiastically, taken aback by her interest in something that had often caused people to fear him. Of course, he usually wasn't wearing a normal prosthetic but still.
He shrugged off his military-issued winter coat, letting it drop to the floor without thinking and then let his uniform jacket follow in its place, a heavy clunk sounding each time as the metal stars that indicated his rank hit the floor. Underneath the jacket he was a wearing a white sleeveless shirt that he usually wore under his uniform. He was used to the cold so he didn't require the same under armor most of the Briggs soldiers wore and it wasn't really conducive to automail arms since tight fabric would often get caught in the joints. Now that he was in Central, he had spent the days walking around overheated but he stubbornly refused to take off his winter coat, partially so it would be clear where he was from and partially because he had no intention of staying long.
Catherine blushed a deep red when he took off his jacket and he remembered that this was probably not proper by any high society definition.
But she had asked!
He turned to the side so he was presenting his arm to her and she slowly ran a hand up the metal extremity. Buccaneer, who was truly proud and fond of his automail, could not recall a time when he had wished stronger that he had a flesh arm instead so that he could actually feel her hand against him.
"It's so shiny," she said with a bit of amused glee. Her face dropped slightly to a look of sadness. "Does it hurt?" she asked with concern, running her hand up to his bicep that had been sized appropriately to match his other arm.
"Only when I change it or get an adjustment," he assured her.
"You have other arms?" Catherine asked in amazement. She probably didn't know much about automail, he could tell, fancy-type people probably don't lose limbs often, which was why he was pleased to see that this pretty girl was so intrigued and un-intimidated by his.
"Yeah , this here is my normal automail, the typical thing you would see anyone wearing although as with most models my mechanic, Neil, had to build it from the ground up so that it would fit the port and not look wrong with the rest of me. I don't wear it much except when I'm going to bed or if I'm doing something like taking leave or meeting people where I will need a normal hand. My favorite pieces are actually weaponized automail. I currently have a M1913A model which I like to the call 'The Crocodile.' It's pretty much a chainsaw with an upper jaw so, you know, it looks like a crocodile. I really want to get a M1910 Mad Bear Grade, it's a hand with diamond-tipped claws, but I don't really have the funds for it yet." He admitted the last part a bit sheepishly as he remembered he was talking to a girl who could probably buy Amestris, or at least a part of it if she wanted.
Then he realized he was rambling about automail to a girl who knew nothing about it.
When he looked down though, he saw that she was watching him with rapt attention.
"That sounds dangerous. Have you ever accidently hurt yourself with them?" she asked curiously, taking her hand off his arm to his disappointment.
He laughed a hearty laugh that he hadn't in a while. He could almost see the looks on the faces of his men if they had heard her dare to ask such a thing.
"Don't tell anyone but yeah, every once in a while," he admitted in as much of a whisper as he could muster.
Catherine giggled discreetly behind her hand and smiled up at him.
"So do you have any other hobbies?" he asked, pointing quickly at the piano.
"I like to paint," she said, motioning to a blank easel that he hadn't noticed when he first entered because he had been distracted by the piano and its player.
"What do you paint?" he asked, truly wanting to know more about something he had never thought about much before.
"Mostly the gardens outside," she said pointing to the huge windows and the view of the backyard that looked more like a tropical forest that just happened to have a swimming pool in it. "I don't go out very much," she confessed sadly. "I wish Olivier and I were closer so I could go stay with her sometimes so I could try painting the mountains. I've only been up North a few times on skiing vacations."
Hm, he had been right about wealthy people and skiing.
"Well, maybe sometime . . ."
Both Catherine and Buccaneer turned to look at the oldest Armstrong sister standing in the doorway with her arms crossed and her usual sour expression. The talk with her father must not have gone well.
"I was wondering where you went," she said monotonously, not mad or annoyed, just stating a fact.
"Sorry, ma'am," Buccaneer said, snapping to attention a bit late.
The General looked from him to her sister.
"Hello, Catherine," she said with the same flat tone as if she was just saying something out of formality.
"Hello, Olivier," Catherine said back, her shyness returning.
The General furrowed her brows in confusion as she glanced back at Buccaneer.
"Captain, why aren't you wearing your jacket?"
Humiliated to have been caught in such a dishonorable way by his commanding officer, he reached down to grab his clothes as he spat out, "I was just showing your sister my arm, ma'am!"
Without any response from her, he dressed as quickly as possible.
"Are you ready to go now?" the General asked when he was finished, clearly more than ready to get as far from Central as possible. She didn't seem particularly annoyed with him for his decorum but he rarely ever did anything she found disagreeable so even if he had this one time, she surely was trying to be fair. That was something he respected about her: she was harsh but fair.
"Yes, ma'am," he answered, back to his usual role of tough, scary soldier.
She started walking away at his affirmation, leaving him with no real chance to properly say goodbye to Catherine before he would be left behind.
He turned around to wave goodbye as she blurted out nervously, "It was nice to meet you!"
He smiled and blurted out, "Well, if you're ever up North!" before he ran to catch up to the General, the rare grin not leaving his face as he left the curious estate, hoping that he would be able to get rid of it by the time they got back to Briggs but not sure he could make that promise to himself.