Title: Conversations in Winter
Author: Rhyssa Fireheart
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Disclaimer: Don’t own it, never will. Just like to play around with it in my mind.
Summary: Her voice reminded him of the last time they’d spoken in Ishbal. There was a sense of finality in the quiet words, and she walked away without looking back, shoulders slumped. He caught up with her and walked by her side, the sounds of their footsteps echoing ahead of them as they walked the hallways of their world.
I’m sure there is rampant OOC-ness in most of this, but since there isn’t a huge amount of “official” canon to go by, I’m making it up as I go. A companion to my story “Conversations by Starlight.” This one is also manga-verse, after chapter 67.
Also posted here on Fanfiction.net.
National Border of Amestris and Drachma, Briggs Mountain Fortress
She checked in at the first guard station, telling them to mark her return but not to notify the guard stations further in. It was her usual routine when returning from a mission and after five years everyone was used to it by now. Her goal was to get inside the fortress without being seen and to make note of whichever guards she’d gotten past. Even after all this time she could still easily count the number of times she’d been discovered before checking in with her superiors.
Tonight was made more difficult by the presence of guards in an unexpected location, apparently standing watch over a large mound of something out in the snow. She managed to dance along the edges of the light until she reached the massive doorway inside, and then her true work began. Most of the men there knew she’d been away and until her return was announced, anyone seeing her could turn her in for a reward of sorts. Usually it was something extra like rec time or something from the commissary. She never minded paying for the rewards herself and it helped everyone all around to have a goal to work towards. Her job was made more difficult by having to find one of her superiors to report in without knowing ahead of time where they were located.
Tonight she decided to find Major Miles first, if only because she would spend enough time working with the Major General when giving her report. Her quarry wasn’t in his office, nor did he seem to be anywhere on the administration level. She finally found him on one of the residence levels, waiting impatiently outside a conference room. He gave no indication he was aware of her presence when she stepped up behind him to salute.
“Hello, Miles. Miss me?” She didn’t bother to keep a note of triumph out of her voice. Once again she’d won and the others would be disappointed to hear she was back.
“Ellorie, how nice of you to join us. Wonderful timing by the way, you missed all the fun earlier. We have some guests you should meet as well.” Major Miles turned around and returned her salute casually.
“Is it related to the extra guard details outside? Those held me up for a few minutes.”
“Somewhat. Ah, here’s one of our guests now. Maybe you can escort him around while I check with the Major General. Let me introduce you. Major Sandersen, meet Lieutenant Colonel Kimbley.” She was already turning to greet the newcomer before the Major finished his introductions, but she halted in shock at hearing his name. He recovered first, holding out his hand in greeting.
“What a lovely place this is.” He took her hand and bent over it, lightly placing his lips against her fingers. “The skies are so clear up here, aren’t they?” His copper eyes met hers over their clasped hands.
“Indeed.” She replied slowly, “You could almost reach up and pull down the stars.” They remained in that position for several seconds, neither moving. Miles finally cleared his throat to break the scene. She pulled her hand back and turned to the other Major.
“Sir, I’m afraid I need to make this report to the Major General as soon as possible. I should begin before I forget any details.” With that, she turned and walked down the hallway in something approaching a run. Miles didn’t bother watching her leave; he was more interested in the expression on Kimbley’s face instead.
“Major, I think I’d like you to show me to a room. I’ve seen all I care to today.”
Later that day, Major Miles found his commanding officer in the medical offices in front of the restraining cells. To keep up appearances and alleviate suspicion from Lieutenant General Raven, the Elric brothers were being kept locked up for the time being.
“Sir, Major Sandersen has returned from her mission. She’s gone to begin her report to you.”
“So she made it in without being caught again? I’m sure the men will be disappointed.” Major General Olivia Armstrong seemed satisfied to hear the news that her spymaster had returned safely. “But why is she worried about writing up her report already. She usually doesn’t bother until after she’s given a report in person.”
“I’m not sure, sir. She reported in with me while I was taking the Crimson Alchemist around. She seemed surprised to see him and what they said to each other was very strange; it almost sounded like a code. He said the skies were clear and she replied that you could pull the stars down.”
“A code? That doesn’t make sense. Sandersen’s been stationed here for five years now and he’s been in prison since the end of Ishbal, when could she have met the Crimson Alchemist?”
“It was in Ishbal, if you must know, sir.” Her words made everyone in the room jump. No one had noticed her entrance.
“Ishbal? Why would you have met…? Oh! So, he was the one? You never mentioned a name.”
“No, I didn’t, sir. I didn’t feel it was necessary to do so at the time.” She stood at attention, looking past the group arranged in front of the cell door without seeing them.
“This will not be a problem, will it, Major? I don’t want to have to worry about your response if I give you an order.”
“No, sir. I’m a good soldier. I follow orders.” She paused while turning away, “Even if I don’t understand or agree with them.” She walked out of the room without saluting. The Major General looked thoughtful; the other people in the room just looked confused at the exchange.
Plots and plans moved along on all sides, and the residents began to talk among themselves about the ghost that had returned to the fortress. Those who’d been there the longest weren’t worried, but even they knew something was bothering their spymaster when she began acting like this.
“General Armstrong, she’s starting to scare some of the newer men since she came back two weeks ago. They’re not used to seeing her like this and the old-timers can’t get them calmed down. And now that alchemist has taken to following her around when he can.”
“Damn it. Spread the word that she’s under orders for now. Maybe it’ll calm the men down. Do it quietly, I don’t want Raven asking questions. Then find her and tell her to report to me. I will not have her causing problems like this.”
“Sir, why not let her continue as she is?” said Captain Buccaneer. “Right now, he’s concerned with whatever is going on between the two of them. Just let her keep him occupied and out of the way and it might help us out.”
“Hmm, you have a point. Miles, relay that to her. She’s to keep the Crimson Alchemist distracted for as long as possible. Maybe her nervous habits will pay off for us after all.”
He found her leaning against a pillar, overlooking the entrance. Leaning back against the railing, he crossed his arms and stared back down the hallway he’d just come through. They stood there for what seemed like hours, neither paying attention to the glances directed their way. He finally broke the silence.
“Seven years.” He kept his voice even, expressionless.
“Seven years.” Her voice was tired, resigned. “I’m a good soldier, Zolf. I follow the orders I’m given, even if I don’t like or understand them.”
“That doesn’t explain anything, Ellorie. It explains exactly nothing!”
“It’s all the explanation I can give, Zolf. I’m sorry.” Her voice reminded him of the last time they’d spoken in Ishbal. There was a sense of finality in the quiet words, and she walked away without looking back, shoulders slumped. He caught up with her and walked by her side, the sounds of their footsteps echoing ahead of them as they walked the hallways of their world.
The residents soon became used to the sight of them wandering all over the fortress at all hours of the day. She still scared some of the newer arrivals by suddenly appearing in odd places at odd hours of the day, but for the most part her activities were confined to normal working hours. Snatches of their occasional conversations drifted through the air.
“Well of course it’s different up here. No sand, for one thing. All this snow, for another. I don’t miss having to strain my tea some evenings.”
“Yes, but having to put on layers and layers of clothes just to stay functionally warm isn’t much fun either.”
“But there’s a limit to how many clothes you can take off without being arrested. At least up here, I can pile on several blankets and curl under them to sleep. I hated having to sleep during the day back in Ishbal. Do you know what it feels like to try to sleep in a tent baking in the sun with no breeze?”
“Do you know what help keep me sane in that damn prison?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because that’s what helped keep me sane over the years as well.”
“Look, Zolf. I already told you! I was given orders when we returned to our base. Why would I question something that came through the chain of command?”
“How do you know it was official? Claiming that someone gave orders for you to stay away from me makes no sense.”
“Of course it makes sense, just not to you or me. Normal people are scared by us purely because we aren’t normal. Didn’t we already have this conversation once before?”
“So you just accepted the orders as valid and went on your way?”
“I’m not an alchemist. I have to work for my position within the military. Besides, it’s not as if I have an overabundance of useful skills to live on. Oh yeah! I’m really good at spying and killing people. That’ll get me far in some small town.”
“So what happened to the rest of your squad? Why aren’t they here as well?”
“About three months after we were sent back to East Headquarters, they stationed us back at our base. We were there for another six-seven months and then suddenly, they just disbanded the squad. No reason given. I was sent down to South City for the next two years before getting assigned up here to Briggs. Now I just need West City to complete my tour of the country.”
“What was it like down in South City?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Why not? What happened there?”
“Nothing, Zolf. I’m just not going to discuss what happened down there. Go look up the records if you’re that bored. You rank me now; they’ll probably let you read all the fun details if you ask nicely. Or threaten to blow something up. I’m sure that works well also.”
“For a while, I tried to pull all the stars from the sky. It was so beautiful.”
“I heard. I’m sorry I missed it.”
“So this Scar criminal is wandering around up here in the North somewhere? If he’s Ishballan, he shouldn’t be too difficult to find.”
“I’m not having any luck finding leads on him or his companions though. I don’t think the men assigned to search are doing a very good job.”
“Have you noticed how big these mountains are? There are little valleys and caves hidden all over the place up here. You could search for years and never find someone unless they wanted to be found. And if he knows the area at all…”
“So what do you suggest instead?”
“Sometimes, you make deals with the devil in order to get power. Even if you realize you’ll lose in the end.”
“Just talking to myself.”
“I told you to watch your head walking under the icicles, didn’t I?”
“I was. You just dropped that on my head on purpose.”
“Should have been paying attention. These are getting bad around here. I should go grab a pole and knock them down. I’d hate for someone to get hurt walking through here. Wait here a moment.”
“Why did they let you out of prison to chase him though? They let you rot for seven years and then suddenly you’re released, cleaned up and sent on a wild goose chase to the North. That seems more than a bit odd to me.”
“I’m sure they have their reasons. Besides, I remember this particular Ishballan. It’s only right that I chase him down.”
“Ah, the one that got away, hmm?”
“Twice now. I was too soon out of prison to stand up to him on the train. That’s why I got injured. Stupid of me, really. So I’m rather looking forward to our third meeting.”
“So he’s dead?”
“Well, I wasn’t about to leave him alive after what he did. Can’t believe we were partners for so many years and then he went and did that. Bastard.”
“Such a pity though.”
“I think I would have liked killing him for you.”
“Miles, how is Major Sandersen doing keeping the Crimson Alchemist distracted?”
“Rather well, sir. They tend to wander all over the fortress, usually talking. He’s not been near the lowest level where the break-in occurred or the development layer. I’m fairly sure he doesn’t suspect that she’s deliberately keeping him away from certain sections. From the reports her people are passing along, all they do is walk. He’s not tried anything when she’s been around and he’s rarely gone wandering off on his own so far.”
“Good to hear. I wish I knew what was going on between the two of them though. It bothers me to know one of my people is associating with the mad bomber of Ishbal.”
“Well, they ain’t lovers, I can tell you that much, Sir.” The others in the room turned to stare at the doctor. “What? It’s pretty obvious really.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Body language is all wrong. It’s not even that of former lovers either. There’s a tension between them, but it’s not completely sexual. Not sure what you’d call it, really. But if you watch them, they never touch. I don’t think it’s conscious either. They just avoid doing something that would involve them physically touching.” The doctor shrugged unconcernedly.
“And you came to these conclusions how?” Captain Buccaneer asked gruffly.
“I’ve been the doctor here for how many years now? You learn a few things just by watching people. It’s a doctor’s job to figure things out about her patients when they’re hiding pain and discomfort. Not that much harder to see other things as well.”
“Wait,” Major Miles interjected. “They shook hands when Kimbley first arrived here.”
“Yeah, well, maybe so. But they probably haven’t touched at all since. I mean, there’s a certain amount of casual contact between people. Two people reach for the door at the same time, their hands touch. I watched those two do that once. Somehow they managed to both grab the handle and not let their hands come in contact. It was kind of freaky, really. And then she walked through the door without brushing up against him. It’s become a bit of a hobby for me to watch how they interact and I’m not the only one watching either. I think there are a lot of people wondering about our spymaster when we aren’t worried about that hole in the bottom of the fortress.”
“Do you have some time? I’d like to show you something.”
“I’m not doing much besides following you around and waiting for the searchers to find the information I need about Scar. At least all the walking keeps me warm. I hadn’t realized keeping this great hulk of a place heated was so difficult.”
“Actually, some of that is because it’s easier to work in cooler environs. People tend to get sleepy when they’re too warm. But you’re right; this place isn’t easy to keep warm. We’ll be outside though, so go grab anything else you might need for that while I tell the guard where we’re going.”
After he returned from his rooms, she led the way up a series of staircases, ending in a small landing before a sealed door leading outside. The balcony was surrounded by a solid waist-high wall, providing some protection from the winds that swirled around the huge fortress. She walked over to the railing, leaning back against it and looking at him standing next to the doorway.
“What’s the matter? Don’t tell me you’re afraid of heights, I remember seeing you on some of the buildings back in Ishbal.”
“I’m not really, but there is a huge difference between a two story building and a small balcony stuck a few hundred feet up on the side of a fortress. I’m fine right where I am, thanks.”
“If you say so,” she laughed softly at him. “I come up here to look at the stars before I leave on a mission. I found that sitting under the stars like this was one of the few really good memories I had from Ishbal. The little ritual was always missing something though. I realized what it was earlier today though.” She’d turned around again, looking out over the empty blackness below them. Her voice was quiet, soft and dark. The sound took him back to the warm nights on their hillside in a war zone.
“What was missing?”
“You.” He stared at her back, surprised to hear her actually say it. Shifting along the wall, he could see the edge of her face, her eyes looking up towards the night sky. Her eyes dropped until she was looking at him again and with a sigh, she walked over to lean against the wall next to him.
“You don’t seem as surprised to hear that as I was to realize it though. We never discussed our missions back then, but just talking things out or just talking about common anything helped me get ready to go to work. Probably the same reason I was upset I couldn’t see the stars that last night. Like I said then, it doesn’t have to make sense. So little in this life does, after all.”
“I think I knew what that time meant to you. It turned out to mean a lot to me, but I never knew that until you were gone. I went to the hill once after you left, but it didn’t feel right. I never went back.” He leaned back against the wall as well, feeling the bitter cold of the metal begin to leech through his clothes. Tipping his head back, he stared at the diamond clarity of the stars above them. Something she’d said nagged at his thoughts. “Wait! You said you still come up here before going on missions. You’re leaving again?”
“Yes. I found out this afternoon, otherwise I would have said something earlier. After a briefing with the Major General in the morning, I head back into Drachma. There are some troop movements that I found out about in my last mission that we need more information about. Usually I don’t get sent out again this quickly, but we can’t take the chance that the Drachmans are up to something.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“No idea. My missions don’t usually have end dates built into them. I could be back in a month or I could be gone for six while getting regular reports sent back here. I’d prefer it was the former though.” She avoided his eyes, choosing to stare at her mitten covered hands instead. Her voice was once more part of the night, wrapping him in velvet and blackness. “I’ll miss you.”
He couldn’t answer, choosing to instead to look up at the stars again and wondering if he would have to try pulling them down once again.
She stirred after another few minutes, standing up to head inside out of the cold. He followed her back down the stairs and through the halls until they arrived outside his rooms. He opened the door and stepped inside, turning to look at her. With a smile, he held out his hand in invitation.
She offered her own smile in return, reaching out to take his hand and allowing him to pull her inside the room. She picked up his coat from where he flung it on the bed and placed it on a hook, hanging hers alongside it. Her uniform jacket was next and he watched as she removed the harness holding the knives along her spine. She then bent gracefully to take another knife from the side of her right boot and removed those as well. He dropped into a chair, watching as she raised her arms to pull out the two long picks holding her hair in a bun.
She walked over behind him, her hands resting briefly on his shoulders before moving to his hair. He felt her loosen the tie holding his hair back and then her fingers slid through the strands, spreading them across his shoulders. He took her hand and pulled her around before him, standing up so she was pressed against his chest. Reaching around, he took up the long braid of hair and began to unravel it, using his fingers to separate the dark tresses. When he was finished, he gently cupped her face with his hands.
“It’s been a long time.”
“For me also.”
She looked into his eyes and with another smile, pulled him down into a kiss.
Yeah, ok. Not entirely sure where I was going with this one. I guess it’s more relationship building of some kind. It ended up where I wanted it to (me no write smut, sorry), but I’m not sure I’m entirely happy with how I got there. Eh, maybe it just sounded better in my head. I thought about adding something about the next morning and how the doctor saw the change in their relationship, but that felt even more contrived. Oh well. R&R if you feel like it. I still have a middle story about this OC, but it’s not going to involve Kimbley (it’s about the two years in South HQ she wouldn’t tell him about, kinda).
Enjoy and thanks!