Keeper of the Doors
The young woman awoke slowly, moaning as she opened her burning eyes. It took a second for her to regain focus, for her head felt muddled and weak. All she could hear was the ragged hiss of her own breathing, and she shivered as she felt her bare skin goose-pimple, as though each breath was returned by a cool breeze.
She tried to sit up, only to realize that she was not actually lying on anything solid. Rather, she was suspended in the air. She gasped, her hazel eyes wide with shock.
"Where am I?" she croaked to the deep, inhuman blue which surrounded her. Her voice felt as if it had lain dormant for millennia.
"Peace, Akira Satomi," replied a deep voice which seemed to resonate all around her. "You are in the World of Doors?"
"The World. . . Of Doors?"
"Yes. The home of the Between, the space of Those Who Should Never Be, and the Worldless Ones."
She glared into the darkness. "And what am I, then? Are you saying I should never have existed?"
The voice chuckled, drawing closer. "In a manner. You are a piece which does not fit. Your existence brings nothing but destruction. And that, Akira Satomi, is why you are here for all eternity."
"What?" she gasped.
"You are a prisoner here."
A form appeared before her, a glowing orb so bright that she was blinded like a noon-rising bush baby. Gradually, as her eyes adjusted, she saw it wasn't an orb at all, but a tall man with long hair as red as flame. He stared at her with eyes the shade and glint of polished silver, smiling coolly.
"A prisoner here. Just like me."
"Who are you?" She blushed. "And more importantly, why are we both naked?"
He laughed hollowly. "There is no need for embarrassment, I assure you. I have no interest in such trivial physical matters." His eyes burned brightly. "As for my name, I doubt it matters all that much."
"But what am I supposed to call you? It's not fair that you know who I am, and I have no idea who or what you are." She glared at him like a petulant child.
He sighed. "Fine. You're no fun, you know that?"
"I've been told that once or twice."
He smiled, offering her his hand. "My name is Hope."
She giggled. "Isn't that a girl's name?"
He blushed angrily. "No, it isn't," he muttered. "Stupid humans and their stupid gender roles."
Hope grabbed Akira's arm. Immediately, her feet fell from suspension, slamming to the ground so hard that she felt the shock in her ankles. She wiggled her toes, smiling to discover she could move again.
She punched her companion in the arm.
"Ow! What was that for?"
She glared at him. "Why didn't you do that right away?"
"I would have, if you hadn't asked so many questions." He rubbed his arm gingerly.
She ignored the jab, staring at him with greater curiosity. "So, what's your story, anyway?"
"You mean, why am I here?" Hope sighed, flicking his hair out of his face. "Some stupid human woman named Pandora locked me up here."
"Why'd she do that?"
He chuckled bitterly. "Because she was a curious moron. You remind me of her, actually."
Akira glared at him. "That eager to get punched again?"
He glared back. "Sorry. But you really ask far too many questions for your own good."
"Well, can I ask another one?"
Hope sighed. "Not like I can stop you."
"Are we alone here?"
He smiled. "No. Though you're the only human here right now. My sister is here too, and our master."
"The Truth. We're his aides."
Akira gasped. "The Truth is here?"
"Well, naturally. The World of Doors is his domain."
"Can I meet him?"
He smiled condescendingly at her. "No. Not just yet."
She frowned. "Why not?"
"You aren't ready yet. I have to show you something first."
Before she could respond, Hope's eyes began to glow with power. He held out his right hand, palm out, and clenched his left.
An orb of white light balled against his palm, expanding to fill it. He gasped gently as the orb flew from his palm, exploding against the nebulous blue wall in front of them. Where it hit, a small hole formed.
Akira's eyes lit up as she recognized the chirping of birds.
"What is this?"
Hope relaxed, smiling at her. "It's a window between worlds. Not large enough to crawl through, but it'll show you what's been happening on your home world without you."
She gazed through the hole, stiffening in shock.
The snowy-headed mushi master squinted in concentration as he measured the small bamboo beams with his fingers.
Hmm. These should do the trick. Maybe the chickens won't escape this time.
He smiled to himself, hoisting them onto his shoulder.
I'd better get these home before nightfall, or Rina will skewer me on them.
She was indeed waiting for him in the doorway of their humble cottage, one hand on her hip.
Rina Ishitaka was as lovely as ever, though her long raven hair was streaked with fine lines of silver. She had lamented this at first, but was content that she was able to age once more. The transmutation of her brother Rue's body had been almost perfect, after all. She could live with a few grey hairs.
All that remained of her brother, in fact, was the eye that graced her left socket. It was comforting, in a way, to see the world through her cool violet eye and his fiery amber one. She would never have to worry about forgetting her beloved twin.
It was with these eyes that she glared in the aftermath of worry at her husband.
"And where have you been? Your dinner is getting cold."
He smiled sardonically. "You know where I was."
She giggled like a little girl as Ginko dropped the bamboo unceremoniously on the front step, sweeping her into his arms and kissing her passionately.
"Welcome home," she murmured.
He was about to reply when a shrill voice cut him off.
Ginko looked down as a small body flung itself at him, gripping his knees for dear life. He chuckled as his daughter beamed up at him, her emerald eyes sparkling with delight.
"Hello, Akira. How was your day?"
She pouted. "Boring. Can I go with you next time?"
He looked over at Rina, asking her with his eyes. She smiled gently, nodding.
"Yeah, ok. But my job's not all that exciting either, you know."
She giggled. "Anything's better than making mushi repellent. Yuck!"
He smiled warmly. "I know. That's why I let you and your mother do it."
"Gee, thanks," muttered his wife sarcastically. "It's not like that's all we do, Ginko."
He nodded, sighing. He knew what they were up to.
"Ginko, I'm scared. Akira's been. . . She can talk to them. I can tell."
"What? You mean she's. . ."
"Yes. Our daughter is a Mushi-Hime."
Ever since that realization, Rina had been training Akira as a Mushi-Hime, a last-ditch effort to prevent her from fusing with a mushi. But it was a losing battle, and they both knew it. By the time the vivacious little eight-year-old hit puberty, they would most likely lose her forever.
"Did you talk to him?" Rina asked, pulling Ginko back to the present.
"Huh? Oh. Yeah. He's coming along quite well. I think he should be done with his training soon."
She smiled thoughtfully. "You could have brought him with you for dinner."
He shook his head, frowning. "No. You know as well as I do that Master Shino won't let him come home until he's done with his apprenticeship. It's distracting."
She sighed, looking at the empty cushion next to her. "I know. I just don't think it's fair that you're the only one who gets to see our son, Ginko."
"But, Rina, I'm a mushi master. I have an excuse."
"And I'm his mother! I miss him too, you know."
"I know." Ginko sighed. Why did I have to be traditional and let someone else train Toro?
He knew the reason. They had chosen their son to take care of Akira, to be her Mushi-Shi. And they had been afraid that their bond would grow unhealthy if they were raised under the same roof. After all, Rina was proof of what could happen in that case.
So, as soon as their daughter had shown signs of becoming a Mushi-Hime, they had sent their son away.
But Rina's right. Six years without seeing her son is a long time.
She looked up at him, bicolored eyes brimming with tears.
"Want to go visit Toro tomorrow?"
Akira pulled back from the window in shock, turning to her flame-haired companion.
"Hope, how long have I been here? I'm pretty sure Ginko didn't have kids when I saw him last."
He stared at her blankly. "Fourteen years or so."
"What?" she cried angrily. "How? That's ridiculous!"
"It takes souls a long while to become self-aware here in the World of Doors," he explained, his silver eyes scanning her face objectively. "Some do not regain consciousness for centuries, if at all. You should be grateful your stasis was so short."
"Grateful? My friend has a fourteen-year-old son! And Roy. . ." she gazed at him, eyes wide with concern. "Roy's been waiting for me to come back for fourteen years?"
"I would not know," he replied calmly. "That particular world does not fall under my jurisdiction. My task is merely to show you the life you left behind, to reassure you that your friends are safe."
"But isn't Roy my friend too?"
He laughed. "Indeed, Akira Satomi. But he is more than that to you as well. You wish to return to him, do you not?"
"Yes, but. . ."
"I believe that what my brother is trying to say," intoned a soft, rich, feminine voice, "is that Hope looks after those we have left behind. What you need now is me."
Akira turned to see a tall, thin woman with long sapphire hair that flowed like a river down her back. Akira noted that she was also naked, and crowned with a simple coronet of silver, from which hung a single teardrop pearl.
"Who are you?"
The woman smiled, her sea green eyes warm. "My name is Faith, chief aide to the Truth, guardian of the Three Desires of the soul."
Akira turned back to Hope. "This is your sister? You don't look very much alike."
He sighed. "Yeah. I know."
Faith coughed gently, drawing her attention back to her. "Are you going to stand here talking about me, or do you want to see your beloved?"
Akira beamed. "Of course I do! Can you do that?"
She laughed. "Who do you think you are dealing with?" She grabbed Akira's hand and dragged her out into the hall.
The walls were the same half-realized blue as the room they had just left. Akira ran her hand across one, noting how springy and sponge-like it was. Along both walls of the seemingly endless hallway were doors; some were simple and others quite ornate, some old and some sparkling as if they had just been installed.
"Where do they all lead?" she asked Faith.
"That's not important right now," she replied. "Come on."
She dragged the young alchemist around a corner into a room like the one they had just left. Then, she walked sensuously over to the far wall, pressing her body against it. As Akira gaped at her, Faith kissed the wall passionately, her body glowing with a pale blue aura.
As Faith leaned away from the wall, Akira could see another window begin to form. She ran towards it eagerly.
"Is Roy in there?"
Faith nodded, smiling. "But be forewarned, you may not like what you see."
Roy Mustang sat alone - as he did every night - watching the flames die in the hearth, their struggle for survival reflected in his remaining eye.
He sighed, throwing another log on the fire.
"It'll be cold tonight, Akira," he said to the dust in the corners. "I hope, wherever you are, that you're warm and safe."
Outside, the winter wind was howling, tossing icy powder about at near-lethal speeds. It was not a good night for guard duty.
Roy got up from his rickety chair, grunting softly at the stiffness of his muscles. He pulled a kettle from the hearth, filling a chipped ceramic basin with hot water. Then he lifted the large black eye patch that covered nearly half of his face, leaning in close to the bowl.
The gunshot which had taken his eye had done a number on his face as well. The rippled scars beneath the empty socket where pieces of his own skull had torn through the flesh would never fully heal. He sighed. He could no longer be called handsome, he thought.
"At least now I don't have to keep up that playboy masquerade," he muttered.
As he washed his face, he stared down into the basin at the image painted there. Apparently the last soldier stationed in the Northern Outpost had possessed a rather morbid sense of humor.
It was a tarot card, crudely painted but still recognizable. A grim reaper on a horse clutching a tattered banner. The Death Card.
Roy knew very little about fortune telling, but he did know that card pretty well. He also knew that it rarely meant death in a physical sense, referring rather to sudden and unavoidable changes.
He snickered bitterly. "Things change. But nothing ever really changes, does it Akira? Nothing ever really dies." Roy sighed, his shoulders hunched in misery. "Everyone, all the people I've killed, they're all still here with me, aren't they? Even you."
He climbed into bed, not even bothering to change his clothes. "All the people who've abandoned me," he whispered to the shadows that enfolded him, "why can't I abandon them as well?"
The next morning, Roy awoke early, pulling on his coat and fir hat.
"Time to go protect Amestris from the threat of icicles," he muttered.
He had grown so used to standing guard outside that he hardly noticed the snow piling up around him. Within minutes, everything but his eye was covered in a cloak of white.
"At least the snow will keep me warm," he mused, determined not to abandon his post. This was his Purgatory, and he was bound to make the most of it. Besides, for all he knew, today might be the day she returned.
"General! General Mustang!" cried a familiar voice. He looked up to see two snow-blown figures approaching. Breda and Havoc. It had been a long time since he had seen them.
He brushed the snow off, inviting them inside to warm up. Really, he just wished they'd leave him alone. He had exiled himself to get away from everything. Why did his old life insist on coming back to haunt him? He was in no mood for chitchat, which his former subordinates eventually picked up on.
As they left, he heard Breda mention something about Hawkeye. Havoc responded that she wasn't the one Roy was waiting for, and he couldn't help but smile at that.
"You're smarter than I gave you credit for, Jean," he muttered, then turned to the fireplace to make another cup of tea for himself, letting the door slam behind him.
Akira turned to Faith, her cheeks stained with tears.
"How can he still be waiting for me," she asked, her voice shaking, "through all that hell? Why is he still so strong?"
Faith laughed gently. "Faith, my dear girl. He has faith." Her sea green eyes suddenly grew serious. "Surely, though, you noticed that it is waning."
She nodded. "He's running out of time, isn't he?"
She frowned, her brow furrowing as she struggled to hold back another onslaught of tears. Faith awkwardly placed a hand on her shoulder, then removed it as Akira tensed up under the touch.
"I have to get back to him," she whispered miserably. "He needs me. How could I have been so selfish?"
She turned her head, meeting the eyes of the immortal that glared back at her.
"You cannot call yourself selfish. It was a selfless act that brought you here, remember? You sacrificed yourself for a woman you had not even met, to restore life to someone who had lost it. Do not forget the happiness that Hope showed you."
"But what about Roy?" shouted Akira, balling up her hands into fists, clenching them at her side. "I sacrificed his happiness too. It was not mine to give away!"
"Nor was it your fault that he found his happiness in you." Faith smiled compassionately. "Akira, guilt and regret will get you nowhere. They are the weak impulses of a weaker will, the indulgences of the mediocre and the self-victimized. Such a person is now able to help someone like Roy."
Akira cried out in frustration, punching the springy wall with all her might. "I know that, damn it! But what am I supposed to do? I love him!"
Faith chuckled, her teal eyes sparking like lake water. "Ah! Now that is it, is it not?"
Akira stared at her, confused. "What do you mean?"
"You do truly love him, yes?"
"Of course I do," she replied, her eyes fiery. "I have ever since he was a shy, awkward cadet. I have loved him through kidnappings and comas, misunderstandings and misadventures no ordinary person could have survived. I love him still, though his world has changed so much that I doubt he would ever accept me back into it. And if I had to remain here without him for a thousand years, I would love him still. Because he is Roy."
Faith turned away from her and began to walk out of the room, humming softly to herself.
"Wait! Where are you going? Aren't you going to help me?"
She grinned at her over one shoulder. "I do not need to. Do you not know the Truth when you have found it?"
"The Truth?" Akira gaped at her.
"You have held it within you all this time, and yet still you do not know?"
"The Truth is. . . Love?"
"Exactly." Faith chuckled as she turned the corner into the endless hallway. And then, Akira Satomi was alone.
Riza Hawkeye stared up at her beloved friend, her face grim and soot-stained from the recent battle. About the remnants of the battalion was strewn the rubble that was once Central Command, shattered grey stone interlaced with the blackened armored corpses that had invaded the city, tattered scraps of green and blue fabric, and chunks of strange flying machines never before seen in Amestris.
"What are you going to do now, sir?" she asked him, brown eyes deep with concern.
Roy smiled grimly at her, his hear heavy. Just moments before, he had closed the permanent gate to the strange other world, his only lead on how to get Akira back. And he had been forced to sacrifice the two young men who had become like sons to him in order to do so.
What have I done to those boys? He sighed. I should have never returned from the North.
"I suppose," he replied, brushing a stray lock of raven hair out of his face, "that I'm going to go back north for a while."
"No offense, sir," Riza scoffed, "but what exactly do you hope to accomplish there? The Council is in shambles. We need to rebuild Central City, and we could really use a strong general here."
He laughed bitterly. "I'm hardly the man for the job, Riza."
"But Roy. . ."
He spun on his heel, stalking off towards the remains of the main building.
I'm sorry, Riza. But I have to be selfish for just a little while longer.
Havoc approached the distraught blonde cautiously, his blue eyes warm with compassion.
"Are you alright?"
She smiled back at him sadly. "I'm fine, Jean. It's just really difficult to see him like this, so hopeless. I'm worried that he's going to do something stupid."
He touched her arm gently, and though she stiffened at the sudden contact, she did not slap him away.
"I have an idea."
Yes, Akira Satomi was alone, but she was at the same time not alone. Even as she took a breath, she felt a strange warmth surround her, casting the room in a soothing golden light.
Her eyelids felt heavy as though a hand was pushing them closed, and she did not resist the urge to lower them. Even with her eyes shut, the golden glow felt as if it would blind her. It reminded her quite a bit of the river of light she had known many years ago, a vision that could only be seen with closed eyes.
"Traveler," intoned a deep, familiar voice, "do you know me?"
"You are Truth," she murmured. "You are Love."
"And what would you have from me?"
"I wish to go home to the man I love."
"Open your eyes, Traveler."
She complied slowly, wincing at the overwhelming light as it seeped into her eyes. As they adjusted, she gasped in surprise.
Standing before her, smiling kindly, was a young boy. He could not have been more than nine years old. His golden hair was parted over his shoulders and played about his knees like a cloak of liquid light, and his large innocent eyes burned like a raging fire. His skin was so pale that it seemed to gleam like silver, as though he were the child of the sun and the moon.
"Are you surprised?" he asked, his voice as deep as it had been.
She chuckled nervously. "Yes, honestly."
"It is alright, Traveler." He slipped a tiny, warm, slightly moist hand into hers. "Do not fear me. Come."
She smiled to herself. Like I'd be afraid of a nine-year-old, no matter how powerful.
He led her out of the little room to a massive, ornate door covered in inscriptions and humanoid statues that gleamed horribly. He pointed to it.
"That is your way home."
She stared at it, shuddering slightly. "And all I have to do is open it?"
Love nodded at her. Then he let go of her hand, folding a small object into it.
"What. . ." she looked down to find a small silver ring inscribed with two blue teardrops.
"That will protect you when you pass through the gate. It contains the blood of my guardians, Hope and Faith. For, you see, blood is what opens the doors between worlds. Wear it always."
She nodded. "I will."
She pulled open the door, looked back once more at the Truth, and then walked through into the tangible darkness that reached out for her.
As the train to the Drachman border left the station in a belch of grey smoke, Roy glanced about the compartment anxiously.
Am I really making the right decision? Maybe Riza is right. Maybe it is time for me to forget about her. I'm not a schoolboy any more. So much has changed. I've changed. I should stop acting like everything that happened doesn't matter. Especially after what happened to Edward and Alphonse. Damn it!
He stood up to move out into the aisle, hoping to get off at the next stop. But as he rose, a small boy with dark hair and eyes ran into his leg and began to cry. He sighed.
I really hate kids.
A young blonde woman with glasses retrieved the boy, smiling apologetically. She returned him to the window-side of the train car. Next to her sat a grey-haired man, his nose buried in a book of Aerugian poetry. He looked up every once in a while to glare at another young child who seemed to be after his wallet.
On the other side of the compartment, a man in a fedora and trench coat seemed to be falling asleep, his head lolling against the chest of his rather annoyed, burly companion. On the stocky man's other side was a young dark-haired woman in a powder blue dress who appeared to be slightly uncomfortable and was self-consciously readjusting herself.
Roy coughed indignantly. "Come on, guys. I may be half-blind, but I'm not stupid. Those are the worst disguises ever."
"Oh, thank God!" exclaimed the brunette, reaching down the front of the dress and removing a pair of buns he had stored there. "Crumbs are really itchy." Feury, whom it was, handed one to the man next to him.
Breda shot the young Master Sergeant a dirty look. "Kain, I'm not going to eat your breast bread. Sorry."
Havoc removed his fedora and held out a hand. "Give it here. I'm not picky."
Riza frowned from the other side of the car. "That is nasty, Lieutenant."
In spite of himself, Roy couldn't help but laugh at his companion's antics. "Where did you get those kids, Riza?"
She pointed at Falman, who smiled awkwardly. "Candy can do wonderful things," he stated blankly.
The others stared at him, horrified.
He chuckled. "It was a joke. They are orphans, sir, whose parents died in the battle. I am bringing them north to live with my brother and his wife."
"Ok," replied Roy, "so I understand what you're doing here. But why are the rest of you here?"
Havoc beamed at him. "We transferred, sir. To North City."
"All of you?"
Feury nodded, blushing. "Well, there's no jobs for us in Central while they clean things up, so why not?"
Breda shrugged. 'I just came along because everyone else was."
Roy turned to his female friend, smiling bemusedly. "And you?"
She grinned at him. "I have someone I need to protect."
He sighed, rolling his eyes in mock-annoyance. "Seems I can't get rid of you jackasses, can I?"
"Not if we can help it, boss," replied Havoc with a chuckle.
Akira stood in the snow, naked and shivering. "Seems like this happens to me a lot," she muttered to herself, looking around for shelter.
She spotted s small cabin not far off, and made a run for it. She was anxious to find some clothes and maybe even a warm meal.
After all, she mused, I haven't eaten in fourteen years.
Her frenzied pounding on the cabin door was answered my a small boy, whose dark eyes grew wide as he took in her nudity.
"Who is it?" inquired a gentle masculine voice from inside.
"There's some naked lady at the door, Uncle Jean!" bellowed the little tyke, tearing back into the house like a skittish dog.
A man with light brown hair appeared, muttering to himself. "Naked lady? What kind of nonsense. . ." He looked up, his vibrant blue eyes alight with shock.
"Wow. There really is a naked lady at the door."
Akira smiled sardonically at him. "Nice to see you too, Jean. You haven't changed very much."
Havoc's eyes widened suddenly in recognition. "Akira?"
He tackled her, dragging her inside. "Holy crap! You're alive!"
She patted him on the back awkwardly, and he pulled away, embarrassed. "Here," he stated mechanically, his face beet red. He handed her a thick grey blanket which she quickly wrapped around herself.
"Thanks." Akira moved towards the fire. "I guess you really saved me this time, huh?"
He chuckled, then suddenly looked at her in what appeared to be alarm. "Wait here, ok?"
Before she could reply, he dashed out of the room.
She could hear male voices talking in the other room. She assumed the excited one was Havoc. The other, which seemed to be angry, was barely audible over the howling wind outside.
Then the door on the other side of the cabin swung open and Roy burst through it, staring at her as if she'd grown wings.
"Ra?" he asked hesitatingly, as if fearing her to be a mirage.
"Sparks," she replied calmly, smiling at him as if she'd never left.
He returned the smile sardonically. "What took you so long, Major?"
"Why do you ask?" she replied patronizingly. "Did somebody get impatient? And what's with the pirate look?"
He crossed the room in two strides, sweeping her abruptly into his arms and kissing her passionately.
"God, I missed you," he whispered against her lips.
"I missed you too," she sighed, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him again.
A feminine cough interrupted their reunion. They turned to see Riza smiling at them. "It took you long enough, Akira. Do you have any idea what I had to put up with from him while you were gone?"
Akira chuckled. "I'm not so sure I want to know."
"At least you're back now, so he's all your problem."
"Thanks, Riza," hissed Roy through gritted teeth. It was obvious that he did not believe he needed looking after from either woman.
It was at that moment that Havoc, in his infinitely good timing, chose to reenter the living room. He squeaked in fear as Riza grabbed him by the collar and pulled him into a violent kiss.
"What was that for?" he cried, obviously confused (but not unpleased) by this development.
"Well, now that Akira's back," she replied slyly, "I can start living my own life. So there."
She kissed him again, a little bit calmer this time, and it was obvious by his blush that he enjoyed it very much.
"Well," said Roy to his fiance, "I didn't see that one coming."
"Are you kidding?" replied Akira. "Jean's been in love with her since our academy days. I just never expected her to make the first move, that's all."
They walked into the kitchen, arms wrapped about each other, giving their friends some privacy.
After a drawn-out kiss that left them both breathless, Roy pulled away from Akira, staring at her in concern.
"What?" she asked jokingly. "Did I do something wrong?"
He shook his head. "It's not that." He sighed. "It's just. . . You haven't changed at all."
"You mean I'm still the same age I was when I left?" She chuckled. "An unfortunate side of where I was, I suppose."
He glared at her. "Can't you be serious for once?"
She stopped laughing, looking at him apologetically. "I get it. You think you've changed too much, is that it?"
"Well, yeah," he replied. "Look at me, Ra. I'm 34 years old now. I'm not exactly a young man any more."
"That doesn't matter. You're still you, Roy."
"But, fourteen years is a long time! I'm not the kid you knew any more. And I'm not even good looking. I'm missing an eye. How can you even look at me?"
She laughed, tilting his eye patch up and kissing the scars beneath it. "Not the first time I've fallen for a cyclops, Sparks."
"But. . ."
She shushed him, wrapping her arms around his waist and snuggling against him. "Don't you get it by now? I came back for you. Not for who you were, not for the man you might have become if I had stayed. For you. You are the man I love, and none of that other shit matters. Yeah, you're twelve years older than me now. I'd still love you if you were thirty years older than me. All that matters is that we're together again, ok now?"
He sighed, tilting her head up to meet her loving gaze. "You're right. I'm sorry. It's been a hard fourteen years, you know? Especially the last four."
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him gently. "I know. I'm sorry. Thank you for waiting so long."
"For you? I'd wait another fourteen years."
She frowned. "You'd better be joking. It's been long enough."
Roy chuckled. "I know." He pushed her away to stare into her eyes, clasping her hands in his own. "So, um, do you still want to get married?"
"Sure," she replied, grinning at him. "But can I at least put some clothes on first?"
It was a small, simple ceremony in the main hall of the old military base in North City. Both bride and groom were dressed in their formal uniforms, though the bride had substituted a white lace veil for her military cap.
There were no flowers or decorations of any kind, save the simple bouquet of yellow roses the bride clutched stiffly in her pale hands. She wanted a "no fuss" wedding, she had said, and thus had made due with few frills.
Still, she was very eager, and no sooner had the general declared "you may kiss the bride" than she grabbed her groom and planted one on him before he even had the chance to react.
As Riza Havoc dragged her blushing new husband off, Akira smiled awkwardly from the side of the altar at the man she loved.
Maybe that will be us someday after all, she thought. But I'm not so sure it'll ever happen now.
Roy walked over to her, putting an arm around her shoulder. "Shouldn't the Maid of Honor at least try to look happy?"
She glowered at him, and he smiled knowingly at her, a glint in his hematite eye.
"I suppose you're upset because I haven't let you set a date yet."
She nodded slightly, annoyed that her disappointment was that obvious. Though, she knew from past experience that Roy was incredibly observant, so maybe no one else had noticed.
"Come to my office, Ra."
She followed him to the back of the building where he had set himself up a few weeks ago. He gestured to the chair in front of his desk as he settled into his own. She shuddered, remembering the time Bradley had made the same gesture to her all those years ago.
"What is this about?"
He smiled grimly at her and handed her a dossier. "Fireball Alchemist. I need you to go on one more mission for me. Unfortunately, due to the time-sensitive nature of this operation, I cannot marry you until you complete it."
"You asshole!" she screamed, throwing the folder back at him. "What's wrong with you? I just got back from another dimension, and you throw this shit at me?"
He sighed. "I know. I'm sorry. But that's kind of why you have to be the one to do it."
"What the hell is so important that. . ." she trailed off as she noticed a photograph that had fallen out of the folder.
He stared into her eyes, obviously pained. "Please, Major. Just hear me out."
She nodded. "Ok."
He handed the folder back to her, and this time she looked at the front cover carefully. It was labeled awkwardly with a piece of paper taped to the front. On it were two words: