There is a shocking lack of Olivier and Buccaneer in this section. It's most distressing. Unless I'm the sole shipper of these two. Poo.

The Exception

Major General Armstrong stood in front of the simple stone marker with her feet slightly apart, sword point stuck into the ground. Her palms were steady, holding the sword upright in front of her. Surrounding her were many stone markers, all alike, all well-kept and unblemished, not an errant weed in sight. The grass was freshly mown and the grass clippings carried off. Only the utmost respect shown for those who died on the Promised Day.

This marker was her last stop on her way back to Fort Briggs. It wasn't often she got to travel to Central—being the leader of a vast fort on the border of a country with whom you have a tenuous truce at best does not afford you much opportunity to travel—but when she did, she always managed to stop by the cemetery before she left. This semi-annual gathering by all of the military's commanding officers to make a formal report to Fuhrer Grumman was the only opportunity she was ever able to take advantage of to leave the north.

Typically, Buccaneer or Miles would be her escort in a situation like this. Miles had gone off to the East three years ago to oversee diplomacy with the Ishvalans. Buccaneer was lying dead at her feet. She was all too aware of the presence behind her, waiting for her to finish so that they could go home.

First Lieutenant Rebecca Catalina stood stiff and at attention, watching the major general. They'd been standing there for about a half hour. Her back was killing her, the light was fading fast, they had a train to catch, and it seemed to Rebecca that the major general wasn't even breathing, she was so still. However, if there was one thing she had learned in the year since being promoted and transferred (so many men to choose from at Fort Briggs!) it was this: you don't rush Olivier Mira Armstrong.

Armstrong kept her gaze trained on the stone, eyes tracing the letters of Buccaneer's name, wondering why it came to be this way. Armstrong had never been the type of woman to be weak over a man, never the type to dwell on a comrade's death; these things just happened, and you had to accept them and move on. So why had Buccaneer's death been so hard for her to swallow?

She asked herself these things with every trip she took to this cemetery, and every time she came, the answers fell into her mind like fat drops of rain crashing down on her: he had been the only one she allowed to call her Mira. Those stolen moments, the way his mouth formed her name against her ear .. her eyes closed at the memory. He had been the only one allowed to touch her in any way other than a firm handshake. She could almost feel the ghost of his large hands, one a hard steel and the other warm flesh, as they gripped her hips. A shiver worked its way up her spine and she fought to suppress it.

Was it love that they had shared? Probably—possibly—not. But they had shared something. It was heated and passionate and made her feel like a woman, probably the only thing she wanted to make her feel like a woman. Sometimes she wanted a break from being the ice queen; wanted someone to look at her with fondness rather than fear; wanted to be intimidating in ways that didn't require a sword or military uniform or any clothes at all, for that matter.

She had wanted to shed her ice queen persona, and Buccaneer had been the one to let her do that. He hadn't taken advantage of that one weakness; hadn't pushed her too far. He was there when she needed him, and in return she allowed him to become the exception to her impervious ice wall. Her only exception.

Rebecca watched as Armstrong sheathed her sword and saluted the stone. Every time they came to pay their respects, this was the routine: no flowers, no tears. A period of silence and a solemn salute. Anything else would have been highly out of the ordinary for Major General Armstrong, and as everyone knew, Armstrong never deviated from her strict personality.

"Come along, lieutenant," Armstrong said as she turned, tucking her hands into the pockets of her long coat. "We have a train to catch."