The car door shut and the engine roared to life, the lights flickering on and creating a tunnel of illumination before them. After the bustle of the celebration, the night cloaked road seemed ghostly silent. Neither of them said a word as she pulled his car away from the curb. They were some of the last to leave. Roy was tipsy enough that Riza would not allow him to drive, and insisted on taking him home. She was pretty sure she knew the way, but Central City was still new ground to her.
It had been an odd night for Riza. It was New Year's Eve, now New Year's Day, and Roy had invited the whole team down to his favorite bar in Central. When Riza arrived at the gilded, glowing establishment, much higher class than anywhere she had been in a long while, she had been immediately greeted not only by Roy and the rest of the team, but also by a large groups of very friendly girls, many of whom she could have sworn she had seen before, but could not place at first.
Roy had then introduced her to Madame Christmas, the woman who apparently owned and tended the bar. She was a large, gruff looking woman who looked Riza up and down in a way that made her rather uncomfortable. But somehow when her eyes met Riza's, she found them to be kind.
"You must be-" Madame Christmas had said.
"First Lieutenant Hakweye." Roy supplied, and Chris stopped as if that was not what she were going to say. Before she could continue they were interrupted by one of the other girls, Christina her name seemed to be. It was then that Riza realized where she had seen some of these girls before. They were women whom Roy had taken on dates.
Riza did not know how Roy managed to get a date at least three nights a week for the past two weeks, each with a different woman, starting not two days after coming over from East City, but he had. And now, it seemed, they were all together. At first, Riza was concerned that there would be some conflict between them but she was wrong. These girls seemed like the best of friends, and it was very obvious that they all knew of each other's feelings concerning Roy – whatever those feelings might be. Many of the girls worked at the bar, it seemed, and were all very friendly to Riza.
"So you've finally got a real date?" Christina had teased Roy. Riza remembered how he had blushed as he tried to explain that Riza was not his date, saying something about fraternization laws and things. Christina did not buy it. Riza was still wondering what she meant by 'real date', as if the Colonel had not been on at least six or seven since he came to town.
Riza had retreated not long after into one of the darker corners from which she could see the rest of the bar. As the party progressed Riza watched him, and watched them.
Before midnight had struck Roy had managed to say a fond hello to every woman there. The longer she watched him the stranger it seemed, the way he interacted with these women. He flirted with them, yes, but they laughed it off and so did he. He hugged them, kissed some on the cheek, and smiled with them, apparently catching up on old times. Each of the girls obviously knew that Roy had dated all the other girls, but there seemed to be no jealousy, no regret between any of them. Riza sipped her drink and kept watching.
He was not trying to impress them. He was genuinely interested in each of their lives, and seemed to have a past with each of them, often stories that involved him and several of the girls. Riza knew more about Roy and his past than arguably anyone else on the planet. But somehow, she did not know who any of these girls were. All she knew was that they were more than his dates. Riza had not seen Roy this relaxed with anyone since before the war.
Occasionally he would look up at her, and she would look away. Sometimes the girls Roy was with would look up and see her too. They smiled at her, like they knew something she did not, but also like they wanted to tell her and not keep it a secret. Who were all those women? And who were they to Roy?
"Lieutenant?" Roy's groggy voice from the passenger seat drew her mind back to the moment.
"Yes sir?" She did not take her eyes off the road.
"Thank you for coming tonight." He sat up from his slouched position, but was soon slouching again. "Did you… did you have a good time?"
Riza considered the night again before she answered. He had come over to her just before midnight chimed, and seen to it that she did not spend any more of the night in the corner. After leading them in a toast at midnight, Roy had asked her to dance. True, he went on to dance with several other girls there, but it was the first time in a long time that they had danced. That she had been that close to him, and so relaxed. He had made sure that she was smiling by the end. Did she have a good time?
"Yes, sir. I did. Thank you." Riza was still watching the road, but she could feel that Roy was staring at her intensely.
Silence hung in the air between them for a long minute after that. Silence was rarely uncomfortable between them, they had known each other far too long for that, but this time somehow it was. It was as if Roy was waiting for her, knowing what she was going to say.
"Sir, I… I was going to ask…" She could feel her hands sweating, though she was not sure why. "Those women." She said at last.
"Yes?" Roy responded quicker than she expected, as if he had been waiting for the question to come.
"Who are they?" Riza tried to ask with confidence, but still would not look over to him.
Roy smiled. She could not see him, but she could tell. Riza's brow knotted as she heard him give a little tipsy laugh. "Are you jealous, Lieutenant?" He joked. Riza hoped that in the dark he could not detect the sudden flush of heat that filled her cheeks. She looked sternly ahead and kept her mouth resolutely shut. Roy seemed as relaxed as ever, and Riza was quickly reconsidering how drunk she believed him to be. As she held her silence however he sobered up quickly. "Lieutenant?" He sat up and asked seriously, leaning forward in the hopes of catching her eye.
"Sir?" Riza responded harsher than she meant, her grip tight on the wheel. She was not quite sure why she was reacting like this, but at the moment she did not want to stop.
Roy stared at her for a while longer. The streetlamps sped by, each passing shadow like the ticking of a clock counting down until Riza's patience broke.
"You… are. Aren't you?" Roy sounded genuinely astonished. He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes, and Riza finally turned to face him.
"Sir?" She snapped. Roy's eyes softened immediately.
"I'm sorry, Lieutenant. I should have introduced you properly." He sat up and seemed as sober and serious as ever. "Those women you met today, they are…" The thought passed through Riza's mind that she already knew who they were, and she regretted asking. But Roy's answer was the very farthest thing from her mind. "They are my sisters." Roy said.
For a heartbeat, Riza's mind went completely blank. She had to quickly look back to the road to make sure that she did not damage either Roy's car or its occupants. As soon as she was certain she looked back to him, her knotted brow enough to spur Roy into answering her unvoiced questions.
"When we were younger I told you that my parents had died when I was only an infant." Roy's eyes were distant, looking over the dark road before them. He was pretty sure that they were taking the longest route possible back to his apartment, but he did not blame the Lieutenant for being distracted or not knowing the way. "I told I live with my aunt, my foster mother. You met her tonight: Madame Christmas." Roy smiled. Riza glanced over at him, her eyes a bit wide, but kept her peace. She was trying to reconcile what she knew of the man sitting beside her with the large, world-worn woman behind the bar.
"Chris is far more than she seems. Tonight was primarily a holiday celebration, but also to introduce her to the team." Roy was in full mission-focused mode. It was a tone Riza was much more comfortable with, and helped to calm her own nerves. "Madame Christmas taught me everything I know about information networks, keeping secrets, how to keep your weaknesses invisible. Her bar is the best safe house we have, and I trust her with my life. I owe her more than I can say, and I'm not the only one who does."
"You'd never guess it – and that's the way she likes it of course" Roy continued, "But Madame Christmas runs far more than a bar. Behind the scene, that place is not only a safe house but a safe home. When I was a boy there were three, then five, then seven of us. Nine by the time I left. Chris made it her mission to help those she could. Mostly girls. Girls that had nowhere else to go; orphans and urchins and those who were just lost. Not all of them, not by any means, she never set out to help all of them. But those she found, and those who came to her, those who were ready to accept the help she offered, were made part of the family. I was the only boy." He gave a bit of a laugh "The man of the house, as it were." His voice was farther off now than ever as he recalled. "And she taught me how to be the man I am now." He finally looked back to his Lieutenant, who was glancing at him but facing the road.
A hundred questions raised in Hawkeye's mind, wondering how she never knew, why she never asked, and so much more. But in the end, only one voiced itself. "So those girls-"
"My sisters." He smiled again. "A few of them I've known since childhood, a few I met more recently. But Madame Christmas is a mother to all of them. And to me. I'm sorry I never told you, Lieutenant-"
"So your dates…" Riza was still trying to process the information.
"Catching up on old times," he said "and learning about new ones. Most of those girls are some of the best sources for information in the city. The traffic that comes through that place has no idea that they are being observed by some of the keenest minds and sharpest ears in town. I'm very glad they're on our side." He looked back to her and stopped, before daring to press her again "So if you were jealous-"
"No, sir." Riza answered quickly, though she was unsure. Perhaps she was jealous, somehow, but in a different way than she thought. She did not even know anymore.
"Well," Roy was the one who seemed nervous now. Riza glanced over at him and wondered yet again how tipsy he was. He adjusted his collar and looked out the window. "All of my…'dates', as you called them, they all know that there is only one woman whom I…love… like that. Not as a sister, I mean as…" He stammered.
"Sir?" Riza could neither deny nor believe what his words and tone were doing to her heart in that moment. Only to crash down in the next.
"Her name is Elizabeth."
It was the second time he had said something that utterly shocked Riza during that drive. Who in the world was Elizabeth, and why did she not know this already, if all of Roy's date- er, sisters - knew?
"She…" Riza began, and Roy looked at her somewhat expectantly, almost waiting for approval. It was approval Riza did not want to give. "She must be nice." She said at last.
"She is." Mustang answered in short.
"Was she there tonight?"
"Hmm?" Riza wondered if she was already supposed to know who Elizabeth was. "Oh, yes." Roy continued, "But she's not one of Madame Christmas' girls."
"I see." Hawkeye's answers were becoming even shorter than his. Why was he telling her this? Why now?
"But I've known her for a while, almost as long as some of my sisters." Roy continued. Riza wondered how many people he had known for 'a while' that she did not know about. She did not often think about either of their pasts before the time when they first met. Riza tried to distract herself with driving as she took two turns in silence before Roy continued with a sigh that could only be described as 'dreamy'. "Yes, Elizabeth is quite something." He smiled, the tipsy jaunt returning to his voice. Sometimes Riza wondered if he faked being drunk.
"Sir, I didn't mean to-" She was getting more frustrated than she would like to admit by where this was going.
"She's loyal and brave and..." Roy continued, his head sagging a bit as he slumped further into his chair. "And beautiful."
"Sir-" Riza's voice grew more stern.
"Tonight was nice." Roy told her happily. "It's been waaay too long since I had a drink with my Elizabeth." He droned a bit. His last words hit the woman beside him harder than she had expected. 'His' Elizabeth?
"Sir!" She insisted, trying not to sound outraged.
"Even though she doesn't drink much an' all..." Roy continued as if he hadn't heard her.
"Sir." Riza tried to pull herself together as she at last shifted Roy's car out of gear and pulled the parking break a little more forcefully than necessary. "We've reached your apartment."
"Oh?" Roy looked up as if he had forgotten where they were going. In automatic reaction to seeing his building he let himself out of the car and came around to her side quicker than she thought the somewhat intoxicated man could.
"Thank you, Lieutenant." He told her as he opened her door and offered her a hand, which she denied. Roy pouted for a moment at this and she ignored him, handing him his keys. "You can keep the car until tomorrow if you want, drive yourself home. It's a holiday and the whole team is off, so I won't need it for a bit."
"It's alright, sir." She tossed the keys to him anyway, forcing him to catch them. "I enjoy the walk."
By Roy's reckoning it was somewhere around 3:30AM by now, and significantly colder than was comfortable, even in a jacket. He could see his breath before him as he began to protest, but all at once all he could think about was the way that the moonlight was reflecting off of his subordinate's golden hair.
She walked past him with a stiff "Goodnight, Colonel."
"Goodnight." He caught her hand by the wrist and pull her back to face him. Cheeks still rosy from the whisky and the brisk wind, Roy took his chance, leaned in close, and placed a quick kiss on Hawkeye's cheek.
"Happy New Year, Elizabeth."