"I," says Rebecca Catalina, with stirring conviction, "would totally tap that."
Riza raises an eyebrow, noncommittally. She looks over to the opposite side of the field, where Major Miles is organising his troops into a neat little box formation.
"It's the arms," adds Rebecca. "Check out those guns." She hands over the field binoculars.
Riza looks, as much to get a bit of peace as for any other reason. "He's wearing a greatcoat," she says. "How can you even tell?"
"Please," says Rebecca, in tones that suggest she sees Riza as the rankest of amateurs. "Look, you can see from how the material hangs how he fills it out all nice. It's like you're not even trying."
Riza gives Rebecca the duty face. Rebecca can't see it, because she's reclaimed the binoculars, and is now looking at Colonel Mustang checking his gun. She puts her head on one side.
"Tightest ass in the East," she says cheerfully. "Shame about the personality. I'm not giving you these back now, you get to look at that every day."
She hasn't even lowered her voice.
The North-East joint training this year has been scheduled, thanks to some bright spark, just far north enough to be freezing, and just far east enough to be politically unstable. Perhaps if it wasn't Teams Mustang and Armstrong here, this would deter them from fully enjoying the downtime at the training's end. But it is them, so it doesn't. A hotel has been taken over to put up the officers. Roy is somewhat annoyed that Brigadier General Armstrong, as highest ranking officer, has snagged the Presidential Suite. It's not just the symbolism of the thing, it's that she's such a stoic that all that fancy-hotel luxury is wasted on her. As they stand at the bar, he has just seen her down two glasses of excellent vintage champagne in ten seconds. Had Roy's mother been there, she would have clipped Armstrong around the ear for her lack of respect for a fine vintage. It makes Roy want to engineer a meeting between the two of them, just to see what they'd do.
"Your team," she says, "aren't as slack as I thought."
Roy takes a moment to savour the compliment, and roll the champagne around his mouth, appreciating it the way it deserves. "Yours showed some strategic ability. I was rather expecting them to just put their heads down and charge like bulls."
"Havoc and Hawkeye were very good in action. I'm thinking of stealing them from you."
She is, of course, not joking. Roy frowns for a moment, then laughs and wishes her good luck with that. Hawkeye isn't going anywhere. It did, however, occur to him that Havoc might be tempted for a moment. Most of the team hadn't encountered the Queen of Briggs in person until this trip, and her more superficial virtues are having quite the effect. Then he remembers first that Havoc hates the cold, second that he's aware that Armstrong permits no slacking whatsoever, and third that he repeated a rumour about her bedroom hobbies last night which made Havoc declare that he was never going to turn his back on her.
"Miles keeps his head in a crisis," Roy offers.
Armstrong nods curtly. "Still, I doubt yours would last a week up on the Drachman frontier."
"And I doubt yours would last a week in East City. In an urban engagement, verbal persuasion can be as important as adeptness in a firefight."
Armstrong folds her arms. "Saying my team aren't sophisticated enough for the big city?"
Roy raises an eyebrow. "Just that if you can read people, work out what they want and offer them it, you can sometimes negotiate your way to a result more quickly and cleanly. Social graces can be surprisingly useful to a soldier. That's a skill I doubt you get much chance to practice in Briggs."
"That's what I'd expect to hear from a man who believes in flirting and charming his way to the top."
Roy sees an opening for a good innuendo, and takes it. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't have the substantial skills to back up the charm."
Olivia Armstrong snorts. "So — think my men aren't as persuasive as yours?"
"In a nutshell."
"Care for a wager? Loser pays this bar tab."
When they shake on the deal, her grip is so firm that the bones of his hand creak.
Falman looks horrified. Fuery looks nervous. Havoc and Breda look like their birthdays have come early this year. Riza feels weary.
"Don't look so downcast!" orders Mustang, grinning maniacally. "Our honour is at stake! Don't let me down! Sometimes you just have to take one for the team!"
The Colonel has, somehow, managed to rope the five of them, and himself, into a slightly ridiculous contest. Riza should have known that once Mustang and Armstrong got together, they'd behave like a pair of teenage boys seeing who can piss the farthest. They have picked each five members each of their teams. Whichever team manages to score most tonight wins. "And by score," says Mustang, "I mean score." Then he cracks his knuckles, and walks off in Brigadier General Armstrong's direction with an annoying bounce in his step.
"We," says Havoc with great confidence, "are going to rock this." He and Breda high-five.
"Symptoms of genital gonorrhoea in women," says Falman, "frequently go undetected. Symptoms in men include a pus-like discharge from the urethra, painful and frequent urination, and swelling of the glans."
Breda flips out a condom tin from his inside jacket pocket, waves it briefly and shakes his head.
"Oral transmission," Falman continues, undeterred, "can result in a sore throat and pus-like discharge on the tonsils."
Havoc slaps him on the shoulder. "Fine. Wait until the third date like your mama taught you. We only have to score. Making out counts!"
"For sure," says Breda firmly.
"Mononucleosis," says Falman sourly, "otherwise known as the kissing disease. Highly infectious, caused by a type of the herpes virus —"
Havoc pulls a face. "Do you ask for a doctor's certificate on the first date? I bet that's popular."
"I notice you're not exactly married," says Falman.
"Low blow, man. It's in no way my fault that Sophie dumped me. Back me up, man —"
"Good job," said Breda. "She was insane."
"Hey! Don't talk shit about my ex!"
"Dude, I'm your best friend, my job is to talk shit about your ex with you —"
Riza sighs pointedly at the lot of them. She's damned if she's going to go around wiggling her hips at random strangers tonight just so the colonel can win a very stupid bet. Any overtures to herself, she decides, she will take on a case-by-case basis.
Someone taps Havoc on the shoulder. It's a woman. She has frizzy ginger hair, she's wearing the Northern uniform, and she's only about fifteen foot tall. "Excuse me," she says. "I couldnae help but hear ye suggestin' something aboot the women o' Briggs an' venereal diseases." Or at least, that's possibly what she says. Her northern accent is so thick that it's difficult to be quite sure.
"It was him," say Havoc and Breda at the same time, jerking thumbs at Falman. "We're heading to the bar!"
Falman stands there, open-mouthed and sweating lightly. Havoc gives him a thumbs-up sign and a big grin as he retreats to the bar at fifty miles per hour.
"Oh look," says Riza, "there's Rebecca over there." She walks off. She feels a little bad for Falman, but she's staying well out of this one.
Rebecca is at the bar. Of course Rebecca is at the bar. Riza heartily wishes that it was her who had been roped into this contest instead of Riza herself, she seems to thrive on this sort of idiocy.
"Jeez, I'm bored," says Rebecca. "Turns out that Miles — dude with the arms — is freaking married, and as for the rest of those Briggs guys — well, the odds are good, but the goods are odd."
"Mm. Guess what I'm supposed to be doing this evening," says Riza.
"Hot tub in the boss's suite?" says Rebecca, without missing a beat.
Riza narrows her eyes.
"Hot tub in Brigadier General Armstrong's suite?"
Riza doesn't justify that with a response. Then she realises Havoc, standing a few feet from them at the bar, has turned around, cigarette half-hanging from his mouth. "No," she says loudly and firmly. He turns back to the bar and resumes waving a hundred cen note hopefully at the bartender. The bartender, a pretty girl with brown cropped hair, doesn't seem to hear him.
Rebecca glances over at him and raises an eyebrow, then she too goes back to trying to attract the bartender's attention.
Riza looks from Rebecca to Havoc, and back again. For a moment, she gets a very dangerous thought. Then, for the good of her own sanity, she squashes it.
"So," says Breda, "you work in the infirmary, huh?"
The girl with glasses sips at her drink through a straw and nods. Hey, nurse. Nice. Breda wonders if she's the shy type or one of those cute little things who turns into a total animal once she's into it.
"So, what do you do there? Bandaging wounded soldiers, huh?" Breda is leading up to a whole string of jokes about her mopping his brow which is going to make her giggle like crazy.
"Officially, medicine and emergency treatment, but we're quite isolated up in Briggs, so in practice I'm a surgeon too. Amputations, internal trauma, that sort of thing. I did an appendectomy the other week." Breda is starting to realise his whole sexy nurse idea may have been a bit of a misfire. "I was in Central before, in recruitment, mostly. But telling skinny seventeen year olds to turn their heads and cough gets old after a while, so I retrained in emergency medicine and came up to Briggs. It's tough, but it's much more stimulating." On the last word, her eyes take on a worrying adrenalized glint.
Why are girl nurses hot, yet girl doctors not hot? Breda considers it for a moment. Whatever it is, it's absolutely, definitely not that they make him feel threatened. Who says they make him feel threatened? No way. Actually, maybe it's the way they all seem to never adjust their conversational settings? Breda dated a doctor this one time. She told a funny anecdote about gangrene when he was halfway through a plate of cheese noodles. In a crowded restaurant. He did not request a second date.
"What the hell is that stuff?" asks Captain Buccaneer. He points with the automail arm. The current model is an eagle's claw.
"Tea," says Miles. "And don't point with that thing, Captain, unless you're actually trying to take someone's eye out."
"Tea," repeats Buccaneer in tones of dripping disgust. "Drachman dishwater! You've been getting more effeminate by the day ever since you got hitched! Throw it down the drain and have a proper man's drink!"
Miles takes a pointed sip and ignores him as usual. "Aren't you supposed to be charming the girls of East? Orders are orders."
Buccaneer snorts, and gulps down half a pint of stout in one swallow. "I don't have to charm them! They're so used to these candy-assed southern wimps they've forgotten what a real man looks like! But I'm going to remind them!" He waves the claw again. Apparently, real men prefer their automail looking like it fell off a stone gargoyle.
Miles checks his watch. "Well, I'll be off."
"Got to make your telephone call home to the old ball and chain?" Miles doesn't bother to deny it. "Bah! You're involved in this too! Don't tell me you're chickening out! A man should be free to roam! If Brigadier General Armstrong wants you to score, you'll score, dammit!"
"Who says I won't? The Brigadier General's given me permission for a private phone line in my room to call home. It's for the honour of Team Briggs, after all." Miles shrugs on his coat while Buccaneer works that one out.
A moment later, he bellows with deafening laughter, which is his way of indicating mild respect. Armstrong is not known for permitting her officers this kind of perk, even for slightly underhanded moves towards winning bets. "How the hell did you manage that?"
Miles shrugs, and grins sharply at him. "Maybe I charmed her into it?"
Fuery is sitting at the bar, looking distinctly as though he might be moping. Riza sighs to herself. She really needs to keep an eye on this weakness of hers for stray puppies, or one day she's going to find herself with a hungry dog on her hands.
When she hops up on the next barstool along, he looks up at the movement.
"Don't take it to heart," she says. "There's no need to feel pressured to join in with this ridiculousness."
"It's not that," he mumbles. Then, even lower, "I already scored." Then, in a whisper, "but I'm not sure I should mention it, because É" He trails off entirely.
Riza frowns for a moment, confused. Then enlightenment dawns. "Ah," she says. "Hypothetically, would it help if I told you that everyone in the team has known since a week after you joined?"
Fuery stares at her, awestruck with relief. "But how did you all guess?" he breathes, clutching his vodka-cranberry in both hands.
Breda is moving on up. He's found a girl who works in the secretaries' pool in Briggs. Apparently, even shredding Drachman tanks with your teeth necessitates paperwork, and cute little blonde girls to shuffle it around. She's actually self-conscious about having a desk job, about not being big and tough. It's adorable.
Breda does the decent thing: he offers to show her some self-defence moves in the hotel parking lot.
The girl has removed her high heels, and stands opposite him, shivering a little bit.
"Here," he says, and tosses her his coat. It's charmingly big on her. This is going so, so well.
"Right," he says, "show me what you've got and we'll see if we can improve your technique. Come at me."
"Oh, I can't! I might hurt you." She waves her hands.
Breda grins reassuringly. "Don't worry about it." He drums a hand on his chest, to show her how in fact, it's totally solid. "You won't hurt me."
She laughs nervously and shakes her head. "But I can't possibly hit you! I mean — I just met you."
"Aww, come on." He stands right in front of her. "Just try from here. It's cool. I've taken hits from much bigger guys than you and not gone down."
She's starting to get a bit flushed in the cheeks from the cold. "If you're sure?" She giggles again. "Okay, here's my best shot —" She pulls her little fist back.
Then it seems that Breda lost a few seconds, because now he is lying on his back with the damp of the ground soaking into his jacket, his jaw hurts like fuck, and there are a whole bunch of people chattering around him. Among the voices, he can make out the little secretary saying over and over again, "I'm so sorry, sir! He told me to! He wouldn't take no for an answer! I didn't mean to hurt him!"
Something is set down next to him. Breda winces, and cracks his eyes open. The thing is a gladstone bag. The doctor chick from earlier is rooting about in it. "Hello again," she says cheerfully.
Roy cannot quite believe this is happening. Conditions were perfect: both he and Armstrong hate to lose, and both of them can take their team one more step towards victory by scoring. With each other. By rights, they both ought to be naked on the Presidential Suite's bed making undignified noises right now.
What are they doing instead? They're having an argument. About constitutional law.
"I'd hardly say the Cretan model causes political instability. On the contrary, most of their presidents serve out the maximum term —"
"Rubbish!" bellows Armstrong. She drains her vodka glass and tops it up again in one motion.
Roy takes a sip of his wine, and attempts not to feel completely emasculated. If he lets her win the argument, it's possible that this might butter her up enough to drag him back to her suite. There, he could give her the good seeing-to she probably needs — or, if the rumours he's heard about her tastes are true, she can give him a good seeing-to he'd very definitely like. He's actually not sure which of these options appeals to him most.
"'Rubbish' isn't a counter-argument. Actually, it sounds more like you're covering up for the fact that I obviously know a lot more about this subject." The whole sentence has rolled smoothly from his mouth before Roy even considers whether he wants to say it or not. Apparently, he'd rather win an argument than get laid. No, that makes him sound like a nerdy teenager. Perhaps defending democracy means more to him than meaningless sex? That's a better spin. Or, his brain whispers insidiously to him, it's possible that he's a little bit scared of what she might do to him up in her suite? No, it's definitely not that last one either. It's got to be democracy.
When Riza comes back from the bathroom, Havoc is standing against a wall, deep in conversation with the red-haired Briggs girl who'd punched poor Falman earlier. Riza wishes she could say she's shocked.
Havoc waves his hand from the top of his head to the top of hers, to indicate that they're exactly the same height. "Jeez," he says, "What do they feed you on up there? Does Armstrong spray you with manure every night?"
The girl just looks at him like he's nuts.
"Like for fertiliser? To make you grow? 'Cause you're all so tall? Not that it doesn't look good on you!" Havoc finishes his conversational flat spin by tailing off into that dirty laugh of his. It sounds a little nervous around the edges.
"You're a right idiot," says the girl as Riza walks past. "But you're sae pretty I dinna think I care. Ye'll do."
"What was that?" shouts Havoc over the din of the bar. He's obviously decided it was complimentary, because he's now grinning so broadly you can nearly see his back teeth.
"Never mind, sonny," she says, putting a hand to his ass and starting to walk him out.
The honour of Team Mustang seems to be doing better than their dignity, thinks Riza. Ah well. One more drink and she'll have made a respectable enough effort to retire to her room. "Dry sherry, please," she says to the bartender. "The fino."
The girl pulls a bottle out of a bucket of ice and pours out a glass. "Nice taste," she says. And then she winks at her.
Roy's coffee is taunting him. When he sniffs it, it smells delicious, but when he takes a sip, it makes his stomach try to turn itself inside out. The current goal is to get his hangover to calm itself enough to accept some fluids. From there, the strategy is copious amounts of coffee, followed by fried food, followed by a Bloody Mary. He just hopes he can get through all that before he has to get on the four hour train ride back to East.
Still, this morning has its consolations. All right, his head feels like people are poking it with chisels from the inside — but on the other hand, Olivia Armstrong is going to be paying the bar tab.
"Team Mustang: four, Team Briggs: three," he announces smugly to the breakfast table.
Havoc gives Roy a thumbs-up. He's non-verbal right now because with his other hand, he's stuffing a sandwich into his mouth made out of three sausages and two pieces of toast.
"So É" Breda starts counting on one hand. "Me with the doctor chick, Havo with the ginger giantess, Fuery with that skinny dude in munitions" — Fuery goes a bit pink — "and I guess that last one would naturally be you, sir? So who was the lucky party?"
"Out of sheer respect for those involved, I couldn't comment on the specifics, Lieutenant. What goes on on joint training, stays on joint training." More importantly, Hawkeye made it clear that she would brain him if her own contribution to the honour of Team Mustang became known.
Havoc puts his sandwich down and replaces it immediately in his mouth with a lit cigarette. "So who scored out of the Northern guys?" he asks.
"Who with is the real question," says Breda. "Our men better not have been handing the enemy points."
"So," says Roy, "you all remember who Brigadier General Armstrong's nominated five officers were?"
"Sure," says Havoc. He digs the list out of his jacket pocket and waves it.
"And it goes without saying that we were all polite enough to ask our conquests' names beforehand?" Roy props his chin on his hands, and gives Havoc and Breda a very special grin.
Breda snorts and says "But why would you need to know — ah. Crap."
Havoc's mouth drops open. The cigarette falls onto his sandwich.
Roy makes very sure to be at the bar as Olivia Armstrong counts out notes and hands them to the bartender. She doesn't make eye contact with him, so doesn't get to see the intentionally aggravating grin he's plastered all over his face. As she sweeps out of the room grandly, her greatcoat sadly obscuring any view of her butt, she raises her voice. "I warn you, Mustang, I'm going to pay you back for this next year. I hope you'll be prepared."
Olivia Armstrong does not forgive an insult easily.
Roy will bet she'll spend the next year awaiting her chance and getting steadily more riled up. He can help the process along with an irritating little dig whenever he gets the chance. Then next year, she will presumably trounce him in whatever ridiculous competition she devises for the purpose. With any luck, winning a bet will make her far more inclined to drag him off to the Presidential Suite than losing an argument did. And with any luck, some of those rumours about her bedroom hobbies will turn out to be true.