The snow was crisp and fresh, sparkling in what little light the North possessed. Most evenings, the chill was so harsh no individual would be capable of surviving for very long. This evening, however, was especially cold, but that didn't stop the fierce commanding officer. Due to the thick fabric she wore, and adaption to the temperature, she was untouched by the cool breeze.
Most officers were aware of the woman's favourite place at the Fort, but they had no desire to disturb her. Only a fool would dare invade her privacy. Whenever she did venture to the roof, it usually meant something unfortunate had occurred. If not, she needed to be alone to think. No one had to ponder for very long. It was clear why she was up there.
One man, nearing his late thirties, wasn't hesitant to disturb her. Out of all the men who occupied the Wall, Major Miles was the officer she was the most open with. She wouldn't mind his company too much. If anything, he would be able to understand her grievances the most.
... grievances. Olivier Armstrong didn't grieve, weep, or pity. His reasons for such an assumption were valid, though, and it honestly frightened him that his hunch was most likely correct.
'I trust you've finished your work, Major.'
Work sounded very broad. Miles was never done with work. However, he knew what she was referring to: 'Yes, ma'am. I should be in contact with Colonel Mustang shortly–– he has good news, apparently.'
She said nothing, her sharp eyes set ahead. Miles stepped a little closer, but kept his distance. No matter how close to her he felt, Olivier would always possess some sort of repellent about her. Almost like a warning. His gaze dropped to the sword strapped to her hip, then up past her waist, to the back of her shoulders.
Miles wondered if she ached at all, if she had rested since the events of the Promised Day. If she had stopped and had a moment to herself. To not think of anything. To just do nothing. Yet her mind was always alert, always turning, always thinking. Pondering. Torturing.
'Does he request you tomorrow?'
'No. In fact, I imagine Colonel Mustang won't be needing my assistance for a little longer. The preparations for Ishval shall take a while, and I think I'll be heading there before him.'
'Good,' she said at once. 'I don't want that man taking all the credit.'
Very rarely did Olivier speak such a compliment, and he smiled to himself. Receiving a flattery from the Queen of Briggs was certainly an honour. 'I assure you I won't let that happen. Many of us are working together on this.'
'When do you leave?'
'I must ask for your permission first.'
'You have it. So?'
Miles swallowed, not sure how he felt about her response. It was quick and blunt, uncaring. 'Hopefully I'll be gone before Monday.' He was aware of her behaviour, though, of her stoic tone and pride. Not even to those she loved would Olivier reveal emotion to.
They melted in silence. Neither shivered by the freeze, both were accustomed to it by now. In fact, Miles took pleasure in the chill, which he hoped wouldn't affect his tolerance in Ishval. The land he once belonged to was hot, the sand burning flesh, and foolish men dying of thirst. The land of death, some called it, but such a vulgar name was an exaggeration.
Ever since the war, Ishval had fallen, though. It had become rotten and disease-ridden, plagued by ghosts and hunger. Infected with rebellion and a loss of hope. Miles was desperate to offer his people a gift; the type of gift Olivier had given him a long time ago.
When she rose to her feet, Miles clicked his heels together and stood to attention. Yet when she turned to face him, no command escaped her lips. Instead, he saw exhaustion and fatigue. But not defeat. Never would Olivier fall. Even after everything, she was still strong.
This was one of the reasons why he would always admire her. Because she could manage. She could adapt, and she didn't need. The woman was fiercely independent and he wanted to be like her: to be a commander who could control unruly men, to be undisturbed by blood and death. Undoubtedly, Miles was getting to such a level, but no one could match the Queen. No one.
'Tomorrow you will accompany me to Central City.'
'May I ask why?'
A daring question, and he had half a mind to believe she wouldn't respond. She answered instantly, tone steady, eyes focussed: 'We lost some of our men that day, and I must see their families, give my condolences and tell them they didn't die in shame like so many believe.'
Unfortunately Fort Briggs didn't possess a positive image. Many believed the soldiers within to be aggressive, out-of-control freaks. Of course they weren't. Briggs soldiers were the strongest in all of Amestris. The peoples' defence.
Olivier had taken these men and trained them.
Their wings were ripped and snapped horns stuck out from their foreheads. They did not belong in Hell, to the Devil, and they didn't necessarily walk side-by-side with the angels. They were outcasts, feared yet strangely admired. They were the monsters dressed in blue, and painted with blood.
'The Captain,' Miles said.
Her eyes flickered towards him. 'They aren't aware yet.'
Out of the twenty-six men who had been defeated, Buccaneer's death scarred Olivier the most. Fortunately, she was able to mask her shock and sadness before the world, but once alone, she released the anger and frustration. The cold and bitter loathing she held for the creature who killed him. She had shook with rage and let her heart explode, but she didn't cry.
The Wall never crumbled.
When Miles first came to Briggs, filled with the most ugliest of emotions, Buccaneer was already there, a constant at Olivier's side. They were close friends, more than just colleagues, and while the Captain didn't see Olivier like Miles did, he knew the bond between the Queen and Rook was unbreakable. Miles didn't know how long they had known each other, but he was aware the day they first laid eyes on each other was a long time ago.
Buccaneer was the man who welcomed Miles with open arms. He was the first individual Miles loved as a friend, and he was the first individual to understand what Miles had been through. Olivier was more distant and reserved, yet she inspected and studied him like a hawk, judging him fairly. They both found trust in each other around the same time.
So when Olivier stated Buccaneer's family didn't know about his death yet, he honestly couldn't respond. There was a reason why Olivier had stationed herself on the roof, had needed to think and even, at least for a moment, worry.
Morning wasn't warm.
Olivier awoke at 0530 hours, and dressed herself, but this time more slowly than usual. It irritated her that she couldn't let her head rest. The woman always slept, could always push through the horrors and sleep. Last night she couldn't even bat an eye. She was kept awake, kept alert, but not because she feared of an enemy.
The military uniform felt especially heavy on her shoulders. Watching herself in the mirror, she noticed black rings hanging below her eyes, and she did not look herself. Then she chuckled, almost mockingly, amused yet disturbed she was slowly, slowly surrendering to an emotion. A crime she would never dare commit.
As she expected, Miles was at the doors, waiting for her. Leaving Colonel Hicks in charge of the Fort, the two left and ventured down into North City. All the while, Olivier was silent, not a word escaped her lips and she knew Miles was growing concerned. Typical of the man; Miles could be extremely sensitive about others.
It was only when they were on the train did the Major speak.
'You probably don't want to talk about this, but when is Buccaneer's funeral?'
Olivier sighed. She should inform Miles about what was happening to the man's body. They were close, after all. 'We're on our way there. It should be the next day.'
'The next...' Miles widened his eyes. 'Wait, and his family don't know?'
Maybe it was irritation, but Olivier started to show symptoms of restlessness. 'I lied. They do know of his death, of course, but the circumstances and... reasons–– I don't know, Miles, okay? I don't know what they know right now, so that is why I am going. To, at least, pay my damn respects and not seem heartless. I don't want them to think I used him as a weapon.'
'Do you honestly believe they see you that way?'
'I don't know.'
You always know. 'Ma'am...' Miles leaned forwards, and she rested her eyes on him, but didn't move. 'I am aware you hate doing this. I'm not fond of it either, but surely Buccaneer has convinced his family you are a good person.'
'That's such a general term, isn't it? Good.'
'I think you're a good person.'
At first he thought she would leave that statement hanging. Yet she shrugged and said: 'Why?'
He was caught off guard. Why? A brilliant and short question. Why do I think you're a good person? There were so many answers, and he wasn't sure which one to pick. It took him a while to respond, and he hoped Olivier didn't assume he hadn't an answer. 'You brought me happiness.'
When he said those four words, they sounded childish, but she didn't laugh at him. Olivier cocked a brow. 'Oh.'
And that was it. She focussed her gaze outside, watching the hills roll past, and the trees become a blur. The sky was blue, empty almost. Miles watched her, sighed, then inspected the scenery. His eyes flicked to her reflection. Anyone would think her expression was just stoic as usual, expressionless, but Miles recognised a tint of dread.
She doesn't want to do this.
One forgot how human she truly was. The fact she actually felt emotions, and feared like the rest of them. When she was placed in a vulnerable position, it became clear just how young she was.
'It'll be okay.'
Then she looked at him and smiled a little. It was more a twitch, but it reassured him she heard. Whether or not she believed was an entirely different matter.
A command. No begging or plea.
They had to barge their way through the crowds. Central City flocked with men and women, most on their way to work, others off to buy supplies. Surprisingly, the area didn't look that worn down after what had occurred. Clearly Central was in the process of being recovered, but it didn't appear bad. Nothing like how Ishval was by the end of the war.
Miles didn't ask where she intended to head. Knowing Olivier, she would want to get the worst deed out of the way as quick as possible. He knew she was eager by how speedy she walked. Olivier was naturally quick, but he had trouble to keep up this time, and his legs were relatively longer than hers.
Once Miles had visited Buccaneer's family. They lived in a small, cosy home, right in the centre of the city. It was two apartments on top of the other, a vine trailing up towards the roof, flowers growing on the vine. Homely and very pretty. Inside, there were four small rooms: a kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom. Nothing extravagant; simple.
They reached Buccaneer's home, and Olivier didn't hesitate to knock at the door. The two waited, and Miles wanted her to say something, maybe give him an order, but her back continued to be turned, and when the door opened Miles' heart was in his mouth.
Buccaneer's wife wasn't bad to look at. She was young, younger than Olivier, with coal black hair, pale skin, and the darkest eyes. Her name was Alice, and she had met Olivier before, but obviously not like this. Miles wished he could see his commanding officer, wanted to know if she was okay. He remained standing.
'I apologise for arriving without warning.' As always, Olivier didn't let her tone shake.
Alice's expression contorted in agony. Miles wondered if she would start shouting at her, and for a moment it looked as if she would slap the woman in her doorway. Then, a few tears escaped her eyes, and she wiped them away. 'No, it's okay, General,' her voice cracked. 'I–– I'm grateful you're here. Please come inside, and M–– Miles too.'
The Ishvalan inhaled deeply and followed his commanding officer. A dark red carpet dressed the floorboards, and there was the sound of two children playing upstairs. Miles bit his lower lip. He completely forgot about Buccaneer's "squirts" as he liked to call them.
'General, may I ask you some questions?' Alice queried, guiding Olivier into the kitchen.
'Of course,' Olivier said. The two women stopped and Alice faced her.
She hesitated with what she wanted to say, rubbing her cheek, and letting a few more tears slip. 'Can you tell me what happened?'
Miles could hear the clock ticking, could hear Alice sniffling, could hear himself breathe. Olivier had come to a complete stop. She was frozen. For once, she was at a loss with what to say, but whatever had stunned her began to fade. 'Buccaneer was, undoubtedly, the strongest soldier there that day. Without him, we wouldn't be standing here. I assure you his death wasn't for nothing.'
'No, I know. I just–– It just seems...'
'Yes. Why him?' Alice swallowed, scrunched her eyes closed. Opened them again. This time she didn't wipe away the tears. They poured from her eyes, and Miles noticed she was struggling to stay calm. 'Why him? How many soldiers were there? Was he all alone?'
'No, I have heard he was supported well. A man, a warrior from Xing, sacrificed his life alongside him to be rid of the man once claimed Führer.'
'You weren't there? Where were you?'
'As his commanding officer, I'd expect you–– to know he was in danger.'
'Please don't think I avoided that opportunity.'
'How long did it take you to realise he was dead?'
'... approximately, three hours.'
Alice shivered and hugged herself, then she shook her head. 'Three hours.' It was clear how this appeared to her. Where was Olivier?
'I was unable to have any communication with him at the time. Please believe when I say I would have done everything in my power to make sure he survived.'
'Well, he's gone.'
Olivier looked away. Something pierced her heart: guilt.
Alice sharply turned to the doorway, and Miles recognised a small boy hovering there. He stared up at the Ishvalan, mouth slightly ajar. The boy looked a great deal like his mother, but his eyes... his eyes were an exact reflection of his father's. Daring and rebellious.
'Darling, what are you doing?' Alice said, wiping away the tears and hurrying over to her son.
The boy continued to watch Miles, and when his mother held her to him, he spoke: 'What did you to my Papa?'
Miles said nothing. What could he say? Alice looked at him, then sighed. 'Ben, go upstairs and I'll be with you in a moment. General Armstrong and I are having a very important discussion.' She kissed his forehead, and the child obediently hurried back upstairs.
'Are you attending his funeral?'
Olivier hadn't turned to see what was happening. 'I would, but if you'd like me elsewhere, then I shall keep my distance.'
Miles almost widened his eyes. Never had he seen Olivier so... acquiescent. Somehow, Alice had moved her, allowed the last spear to fall.
'You should. If he didn't die for nothing, then at least prove that.'
Then Olivier looked at her. 'Thank you. I shall leave you be. I apologise––' Olivier cut herself short, not sure what she was apologising for. There were so many reasons.
Alice shook her head; she didn't want an apology. She needed a friend, someone to talk to, and Olivier could never become her friend. Politely, the widow escorted the two officers towards the door and let them out. Without a word, they left, and Olivier didn't speak again for a while.
'What is it, Miles?'
'You haven't drank any of your coffee.'
The mug was cold by now, and the liquid inside untouched. Olivier shrugged. 'I'll be fine.'
Her response was an answer to a different question, one which had lingered in his mind ever since they left Alice's home. Are you all right?
At the moment the two were at a café, retired from work and just sitting there. Miles wanted to open a discussion with her, wanting to divert her away from everything else, but Olivier was terribly stubborn. He could see the exhaustion and defeat showing in her usually clear eyes. He could see she was upset, but she refused to show it.
Miles looked at her clenched hand on the table, and then he claimed it with his own. The warmth of his touch brought her body to life and she flinched.
'What happened was unfair.'
'What happened was reasonable, Miles.' She yanked her hand away. 'That poor woman has lost her husband and father to her children. How can you blame her for how she reacted? You would be the exact same way.'
And he would. Honest to Ishvala, Miles would feel and act how Alice did. 'What I meant was, to both of you, it's unjust.'
'Miles...' Olivier narrowed her brows. 'Miles, that's life. People come and go. People live and die. It's sick, but it's what we do.'
'That doesn't mean you can't miss him,' he said softly.
'I don't miss the dead.'
'He may be dead, ma'am, but his spirit certainly lives on.'
'I know you two were close. Of course you were. When I first met him, he spoke to you like a friend, and no other officer spoke to you in that manner. You saw him as a friend, you liked him. That's nothing to feel ashamed about.'
'Are you done?'
Miles exhaled slowly and leaned back. 'I am. But that doesn't mean you are.'
'I came here to speak to his wife, and attend the funeral. I came here expecting to receive bitterness from her, and I was prepared for it.'
'Were you ready, though?'
'You know her child? The one who came down while we were discussing?'
Miles nodded. He could still remember Ben, the way he looked, how innocent and sweet.
'His father is dead. That's something I'll never understand. I'm so lucky, Miles. Have you seen my family? Have you seen how big it is? Buccaneer had a wife, and two children. They're babies, Miles. They're barely children yet.'
'Why are you beating yourself up?'
'Because no one else is doing the job for me.'
'No one needs to! You did everything right that day, ma'am. I–– If anything, I should have been there more.'
'You were following orders.'
'Following Grumman's. I wanted to be with you.'
'You weren't with me. What happened happened.'
'That's right. Ma'am, that is exactly right: what happened did happen. So there is no point in killing yourself about this. People still need you. The Fort, Amestris needs you... I need you.'
Olivier stood to her feet. 'I don't want to talk to you. You're annoying me.'
'Where are you going...?' Miles asked when she began to walk away.
And she was gone, and he all alone.
The Armstrong Manor had never rejected Miles' presence, but this was mostly due to the fact he was close to Olivier, and no one messed with Olivier. When he entered later that evening, the butler informed him Olivier had already arrived (which was reassuring) and guided Miles to a spare bedroom. There, Miles was left to himself.
Whatever room he stayed in, it always looked fantastic. The bed was big enough for two people, a bedside table on either side, lampshades, and either an en suite! However Miles didn't stand and gawp. Instead he stripped himself bare and fell into bed.
His thighs and arms ached, and his eyelids felt heavy. Yet his mind raced, remembering Alice's face while she wept, the look on her face when Ben suddenly appeared, how Olivier looked–– how broken and beaten. How tired.
Never would she want anyone to sympathise her.
... but all Miles could do was think about Olivier, and wish he was with her now, holding her, keeping her sane.
As always, he was powerless.
Someone was talking. Words slipped between his lips, but they were muffled and empty. Miles couldn't hear him. Instead, he watched. Inspected. Studied the wood, the polished bark, how smooth it was and even beautiful. Simple. Very much like Alice's home. Then, suddenly, the coffin was lifted and Miles lost sight of it when four men carried it away.
Miles remained standing, and turned to his commanding officer. His heart skipped a beat when he realised she was with Alice Buccaneer, but there was no ferocity in her voice this time. A tissue was in her slender hand, yet she wasn't crying. She smiled sadly, crookedly, and Olivier's usually cold gaze had softened somewhat.
'I'm sorry for how I behaved yesterday. It was out-of-order.'
'It was understandable,' Olivier replied.
'Thank you for paying all of this.'
'It was the least I could do.'
Olivier's answers were brief, not harsh, but almost automatic. Soon one of Alice's friends appeared and held the woman close, and Olivier realised this was her time to step away. Miles dropped his gaze to one of the children there. Ben stayed by his mother all the way, holding onto a part of her dress, eyes wide and observing.
When Olivier stood beside him, Miles' eyes cast towards her, then away again. Carefully his hand brushed against hers: he wanted her to know he was here, like he said on the train. He would always be here, and it would be fine.
The funeral had been brief, and very few attended. Miles was most impressed with how the children behaved, they were quiet and well behaved, but they knew what was happening. The youngest, Charlie, only started to cry several minutes afterwards.
After the short conversation with Alice, Olivier kept her distance. Miles was dragged away from her when one of Buccaneer's friends went over to talk to him. By the time they were done, Olivier had disappeared, but it didn't take him long to find her. The General was facing a gravestone, one hand in her coat pocket, motionless.
He walked over to meet her, then inspected the stone.
Here lies General Maxwell White. A hero, husband and father.
'This was the strongest man I ever knew,' Olivier said quietly. 'When I joined the military, everyone thought me as inferior due to my sex. Except him. He became my commanding officer, introduced me to how corrupt Briggs was. Back then, the Fort didn't have an efficient commander. The man in charge was weak and helpless. General White convinced me I was more than capable of having order.'
'He was right.'
'He was always right. The General was infallible.'
'You've never spoken about him before...' Miles said.
'I never found a reason to. For years, I have wanted to be like him. He was the person I looked up to, and when he passed away, I couldn't believe it at first. The man just seemed so... unbeatable.'
Miles looked at her and softened his gaze. Unbeatable. There was another man they knew, who was just as strong and mighty, stronger than any man Miles had ever met. When he heard of Buccaneer's death, he couldn't believe it. How could he? Buccaneer wasn't a man who surrendered to death. He was a force, a brutal weapon that could never be shattered.
'I could feel their hatred. They hated me at the funeral, because I seemingly ordered the Captain's death. General White would have avoided such a consequence happening.'
'Anyone would have done worse in your position, ma'am. You did the best you could. You're tired.'
'His wife was right, Miles,' she looked at him, angrily. 'He didn't have to die.'
'... You do miss him. I can see. I know you do. But you can't let his death tear you apart like it's doing right now.'
'It wasn't just him who died either, Miles. Many other men, with families too. Because of me.'
What he did next would forever scar them. Miles claimed her collar and shook her. He shook her, fury in his eyes, but he was begging. He was figuratively on his knees and begging her to come back, to come back to her senses.
'Stop this! You stop this! Don't talk like that. Don't you ever blame yourself for someone's death. Buccaneer would have wanted to die, he would have wanted to die, okay? You know him. You know him better than I do. I cared about him, I cared about him so damn much, but I understood why he left us. Soldiers die, Olivier. You know that. You always say to not mourn the dead and now I can see why. Because those who do suffer! They become weak and useless. That is what you're turning into, and I can't let that happen. I can't–– I won't let you go. Not like this. You're too much to lose.'
As soon as he said his last words, Miles blinked, then realised what he had just done. At once he let her go, suddenly ashamed and guilty. That was awful. That was unprofessional and out-of-line.
However, Olivier didn't scold him. She didn't speak for a while, and he waited for his punishment. A punishment which would never arise. Silence. The gentle wind hugged the two, and then she lowered her gaze.
'Give me five seconds.'
Miles exhaled, took one step back. 'Five.'
In these five seconds, a span of two decades passed. Of a little boy, daring and fun, childish even, always getting himself into trouble. And then a teenager, older, larger, but still just as daring, laughing more, picking on her, teasing her. He grows, now has facial hair, loves to inspect himself in the mirror and put on a posh accent. Then he's almost an adult, he taunts the boy with black hair, but sticks by the blonde girl, and then he's hearing her say she's joining the military and this upsets him because he will miss her.
... so he follows her. Together, they push past discrimination and are bloody by the end. Ghosts enter their lives and haunt them, but he clings to her robes and they still walk. They walk on and on, and then she's removed from him, faced with the giant, monstrous Wall. Somehow, he has followed her here too, and he stands by her. A constant. The Rook to the Queen.
And he promises that he will sacrifice his life for her...
Captain Buccaneer never broke his promise.
Olivier opened her eyes and could see. Snow was gently falling, and she turned, faced Miles and he was watching her, patient. The exhaustion was gone, the sympathy vanished and mourning disappeared into nothingness and dust.
Miles followed her, one step behind, and he breathed. The air was fresh, and the snow cold and beautiful at his fingertips. His armoury was heavy, the shield piercing his back, blood trickling down his torso to the ground. A Knight continued to stand, wait for the day when the sword stabbed his heart. For her. For what he stands for.
The Ice Queen never Falls.