A/N: I thought I'd bring in another perspective, just to flesh out the story and explore another of my favourite characters! This chapter was so lovely to write (a nice break from this awful September heat, and a reprieve from the nightmare of the first few weeks of school). I love working on HoF again, thanks to Francesca, my lovely beta!
As always, reviews are much appreciated.
Chapter 20: Glacia
glacia (n.): common Latin for "ice".
Olivier Armstrong forced her 10,000 tonne eyelids open. With stinging eyes, watery from the smoke hanging thick in the air, she could barely see a thing. Confused shouts rang through the air and sirens blared in the distance. But all of this was nothing to be scared of.
She was well aware of the protocol surrounding terrorist attacks, of which this must be one, and knew that someone would find her eventually. But as she gathered her senses, she became aware of the sharp pain in her side, gradually increasing every minute she retained consciousness. Still, nothing to be scared of. An ice queen doesn't bow to anything.
As her attempts to sit up repeatedly failed, she surmised that she must be pinned under some form of shrapnel. Strange that she couldn't feel it's weight, her body numb and tingling, with that sharp pain burning like a fire amid the sea of hazy sensations.
The smoke began to clear, blown away by the crisp autumn breeze, delivering fresh air to Olivier's scorched lungs. She drank in the wind like water, the deep breaths swelling her ribcage – it hurt, but it was worth it. Only able twist her head and wiggle her toes, she deemed it impossible to get a view of the injury that must mutilate her torso, judging by the location and degree of pain. She rolled her eyes. She hated being incapacitated like this, reliant on someone else to rescue her.
Stuck staring at the brilliant blue sky appearing through swaths of smoke, Olivier mulled over the explosion. The attack was obviously aimed at Fuhrer Grumman, and the auspicious timing – directly before he announced the names of the guilty high officers – lead to Sanctimonia. If these men were capable of bombings and kidnappings without remorse, then it was of the utmost importance to find and eradicate them. This country had faced enough horror at the hands of Homunculi, it didn't need another nightmare for its people to face.
Olivier jerked her head in an instinctive attempt to sit upright at the sound of her brother Alexander's booming voice. What on earth he was doing here remained unclear, but he would be able to lift this shrapnel off of her, hopefully not inflicting too much damage with his overenthusiasm.
Attempting her usual commanding and imperious tone, she called out, "Alexander, I'm right here, you imbecile," but all she could manage was a gasping, breathy whisper.
Damn it all to hell, she grumbled internally, rolling her eyes again. Perhaps she should be more concerned about her own well-being, but mostly she was just annoyed at her immobility and inability to aid in the rescue and investigation efforts she knew were taking place around her, judging by the snippets of conversation she heard and her own extensive knowledge of military procedure. Because this was just ridiculous.
Alex Armstrong's bald head, complete with tiny golden curl, appeared in her limited range of eyesight.
"Well, Alexander, are you here to dig me out or are you just going to stand there?"
The huge man froze and stared at what Olivier presumed was a leaking bloodstain, red painting the rubble around her.
"Sister, you're wounded!"
"We need to get you to a hospital!"
"Perhaps, Alexander, you could first lift this slab of concrete off of me?"
"Oh, right, of course! This technique has been passed down – "
"I'd prefer it if you didn't use your alchemy on me!" Olivier hissed. "I don't want to end up as a stain on the pavement."
"Indeed! I will lift this concrete boulder off of you with my manly strength!"
Alex heaved the slab a few feet from the ground, allowing Olivier to drag herself out from beneath it. She lay panting from her effort on the rubble-strewn ruins of the stairs, the ends of her long golden hair matted with blood.
She gritted her teeth and pulled herself up to sit against the pitted wall of Central Command. Now able to examine her injury, she glanced down at the left side of her torso. A chunk of flesh and blue uniform had been ripped from her body, exposing the white curved cage of her ribs, the landscape of muscle beneath the skin of her stomach and waist.
"Shit," she muttered, cursing the inconvenience of a wound like this. And upon healing it would scar like hell. That is, assuming she survived the blood loss, didn't contract any infections, and none of her internal organs had been damaged.
Her brother's eyes narrowed at the sight of her wound, all bravado disappearing in what Olivier might categorise as genuine concern overriding their sibling rivalry, as it often did in times of need. She could rely on him, no matter how buffoonish he tended to behave.
"Alex, I need your help getting to one of the medic stations," she begrudgingly admitted.
He nodded, but as Oliver tried to stand, she paled and would have collapsed if not for a pair of arms suddenly placed around her shoulders and on the small of her back, holding her up.
"Who – " Olivier questioned, turning quickly to get a look at the person who'd steadied her, but she briefly forgot the gaping wound carved into her midsection and gasped in pain as her injury ripped wider.
"Stop moving, General Armstrong. You'll be the death of yourself."
She raised her eyes. "Major Miles?"
The Ishvalan soldier smiled at his commanding officer, his eyes crinkling at the corners. Olivier, too, let a tiny smile slip before her mask of authority fell back into place.
"You're supposed to be stationed in charge of Ishval," she barked, voice still not much more than a raspy whisper, "What are you doing here?"
His expression turned grim. "We were doing an inventory of the documents and papers in Cornelius's office when we found a provisional plan for any scenarios exposing Sanctimonia and their members to the public. But it appears I wasn't able to get here in time. I tried to call, but I couldn't get through to any contacts in Central. I suggest someone check the telephone lines, I expect they've all been cut."
A small radio attached to Alex's uniform crackled, and voice said "Fuhrer Grumman…is confirmed dead."
Olivier bowed her head. Then, back to business, stated, "Then we have work to do."
Miles raised his eyebrows at her.
"What is it, Major?"
"It seems you've forgotten that you're in critical condition, General Armstrong."
"Right…well, we'll deal with that late – "
But before she could finish her sentence, her giant of a brother scooped her up in his arms and carried her to the nearest ambulance, where medics aided the injured laid out on stretchers.
"What are you doing? This is gross misconduct. I demand you put me down!" she commanded.
"That was an excellent idea, Major Armstrong. I'll make sure she doesn't up and start running the country until she gets proper treatment."
Olivier grumbled under her breath until a nurse came over and applied a stinging antiseptic to her wound. She gritted her teeth as the stinging liquid bubbled and fizzed on the bleeding flesh, then again as the nurse peeled off her jacket, plastered to her skin with a glue of congealed blood. After she had been bandaged tightly and told not to move – or else, I don't care that you're the highest ranking military officer in Amestris, you're to stay put, I won't have anyone dying on my watch – she set her eyes sharply on Alex, and queried, "Have you seen the others? Mustang? Hawkeye? Rosalie?"
"Last I heard, General Mustang has a mild head injury and Colonel Hawkeye passed out from smoke inhalation, but they're alright now."
Miles answered this time. "I saw her helping with the injured. She has some prior medical experience, so I expect they need all the hands they can get."
Olivier's shoulders dropped with relief to hear that the others who'd stood with her at the top of the stairs, nearest to the blast, had escaped relatively unharmed. Casting a glance around, she confirmed that she was one of possibly hundreds in a crowd of bleeding, bandaged soldiers, reporters, and distinguished civilians who'd come to hear Grumman speak. A parade of ambulances ferried as many of the wounded as possible to hospitals around Central, sirens blaring lamentations.
"General Armstrong, we have room in the next ambulance for you," a young nurse told her, timidly approaching the trio of decorated officers.
"If you can fit another civilian in there, do it," she replied. "I'll wait until everyone else has been given a hospitable bed."
"But General – "
"Miles," she warned, "I can't take someone's place when there are so many who need it more than me. Besides, I can't very well just leave the scene of a terrorist attack for something so trivial as this scratch."
Miles jaw tightened, but he didn't respond. He knew she was right, and he knew better than to argue when her voice grew sharp and hard as ice.
Alex saluted his sister, "My strength is needed elsewhere. Be careful, sister. Don't die, alright?"
"I don't plan on it," she bowed her head, acknowledging her brother respectfully for perhaps the first time. He marched off to join the military personnel rescuing survivors from the debris.
"If Grumman really is dead…" Olivier started, shaking her head in disbelief. "If he really is dead, I have some duties to see to."
"Oh no you don't," Miles said, easing her back down on the stretcher as she tried to stand up.
"Major Miles, as your commanding officer I order you to let go of me."
"And as your friend, I decline."
She raised an eyebrow. He shrugged. "I'm not going to let you go off and kill yourself just because you order me too. You can't honestly think I care about you that little."
Olivier looked down at her lap, smiling sadly. "Honestly, Miles…" she trailed off, wishing she could tell him that he was the only voice of reason she listened to. Instead, she clasped his hand in hers and gave it a warm squeeze before letting it fall. She hoped he knew about the volumes of things she thought and never said to him. He probably did.
"General Armstrong!" Roy Mustang's voice cut through the babble as he approached, flanked by Riza Hawkeye. They were covered in soot and grime – as Olivier realised she too must be - and General Mustang sported a bloody bandage wrapped around his head, but otherwise, they appeared alright.
"We were told you had a serious injury..." he trailed off, eyeing the already-soaked gauze wrapped tightly around her middle.
"I'm alright," Olivier lied. True, the injury had gone numb, but she didn't think that was necessarily a good sign.
"She's not, but she will be if she doesn't do anything stupid, like walking," Miles informed Mustang and Hawkeye, whose expressions of worry deepened. Olivier glared at each one in turn.
"I need Rosalie over here. Now."
"I'll go find her," Colonel Hawkeye offered.
"No need," Rosalie chimed in, appearing from the dense mass of people surrounding the ambulances.
Olivier looked at the collection of people arrayed around her. Roy Mustang, the passionate idealist. Riza Hawkeye, the loyal deputy. Rosalie, the woman hell-bent on helping her people. And Miles, her conscience and comrade-in-arms.
"Being the highest ranked military officer in Amestris, the title of Fuhrer has passed to me with Grumman's death."
They all nodded.
"I intend on keeping all his policies the same, especially concerning Ishval. Miss Rosalie, it is of the utmost importance that you return to Ishval as soon as possible to assume your position as head of Ishvalan Command. General Mustang, Colonel Hawkeye – I am assigning you two to hunt down and eradicate Sanctimonia. You can use any resources or personnel you want to help you, but you need to track them down before anything else happens. Any more turmoil and this country will fall apart at the seams. Miles, you'll be relocating to Central with me."
"Yes, sir!" the group answered in unison, saluting.
"Good luck to you all."