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The Riderless Horse

chapter 1.
After the game is before the game.—Sepp Herberger

Roy's head hurts. Except 'hurt' doesn't really seem to cover it. A tiny soccer team is bouncing tiny balls off the walls of his brain, hard. Just for fun, they have set the soccer balls on fire. He sits in the medical tent, hunched forward, teeth gritted, trying not to yell.

Roy knows approximately nothing about medical alchemy, which is probably why he didn't anticipate it was going to be this nasty. He's witnessed a lot of miracles today, even if he couldn't see most of them. Is it so unreasonable that he was expecting something a little miraculous? Perhaps a warm glow from Dr. Marcoh's finger on his closed eyelids, a red crackle of lightning he wouldn't be able to see, and then a sudden and dramatic return of sight, like someone whipping off a blindfold?

Instead, he got this.

"So, you can fix nerve damage with the Stone?" he'd asked. He might have already accepted the offer, but he was still processing the shock of it: the angry souls of Ishbal, spending themselves to fix his eyes for him. He wondered half-hysterically if they could go on strike.

"Well, I've never used it on something as delicate as an optic nerve," said Marcoh huffily. "And I wouldn't exactly use the term fix. This is still medicine, not magic. Alchemists imagine all sorts of things about the Philosopher's Stone, but it's still a form of energy, like any other: it's finite, it obeys laws. Until I transmute, I can't be certain how far into the brain the damage is."

"What do you mean?" said Roy stupidly, and then immediately hoped Marcoh wasn't going to answer him. Hearing the words damage and brain so close together in a sentence made him think that it might be better to know as little as possible beforehand.

"Open your eyes wide and tip your head back for me," said Marcoh briskly. "And please don't wriggle."

His left eyelid was gently lifted, as if Marcoh was going to look back there with a flashlight — and then a scalding, agonising drop of liquid wormed its way around the back of his eye. As Roy flinched and bit his lip despite himself, Marcoh was already lifting the other eyelid and depositing a second drop.

The first couple of moments were unbearable. Roy's brain, ever helpful, translated the feeling to a vivid mental image of a droplet of acid burrowing its way through tissue and jelly. Roy thought he got it wrong, I'm going to die. Now he realises that it could well be working just fine. He still can't see anything — but then, he's got his eyes screwed tight shut right now, so fair enough.

He's dimly aware of something being done to his hands. It really stings. Luckily, he's got the agony of his eyes being burned from the inside out to distract him.

The next time he's aware of anything, he's apparently no longer sitting in a tent, but instead lying in a room. Was he moved? Did he pass out? It seems to be some kind of doctor's office, he registers fuzzily: there are medical charts and pictures of lungs and things on the walls. He's lying on a patient bench. His headache has faded to a bearable but unpleasant throb, and he is absolutely parched. There's a jug of water and a glass on a trolley by the bench. He sinks it, feels instantly three hundred per cent better, and pours himself another.

From the other side of the room, Marcoh stands, potters over to him, and gives him a jolly, gap-toothed grin. He holds a finger up in front of Roy's nose. He moves it to the left, then to the right.

It now occurs to Roy that he can see.


Illustration by a big apple. Go leave a comment for her here!


Hawkeye's hand sits just above his elbow. She talks quietly to him, a brusque running commentary on the action. "Alphonse looks whole," she tells him, after she's guided him forward to shake a small, skinny hand. "Edward has cuts and bruises, and the right arm has been smashed to shrapnel, but he'll be all right." Roy can tell that much anyway by the fact that he can hear him from here, yelling jovially at someone or other to hand over that water canteen, and now go get his brother a sandwich.

So much has happened. There's so much to take in — which makes it easier for Roy to focus upon things other than the fact that his whole life has just exploded around him.

A low female voice says, "Colonel Mustang." There's a discernible accent; she pronounces 'Colonel' with three syllables. Is this how he's going to recognise people now?

"Ran Fan Yao, yes?"

"Yes."

There's a rustling of cloth, and Hawkeye says, "No, no, I'll take it." Metal jingles. Coins? After a moment, she says quietly, "These are Major General Armstrong's dog tags."

"I found her in an underground chamber with a circle on the floor." Roy nods; of course he knows the one. "She killed the creature Bradley, at the cost of her own life. I was with her in her last moments."

Roy thanks her quietly. There's another rustle of cloth, and her quiet footsteps: off to deal with her own business, presumably.

He and Hawkeye are silent for a moment. So, Armstrong did exactly what she intended to do and slew a monster. He wondered if she regretted the price at all? Probably not.

Roy thinks of their conversation yesterday. It's his, but it isn't. The country is his, and it's just out of his reach. He could try, knowing his enemies will try to take advantage of all the open weaknesses of a man newly rehabilitating from blinding, of all the things he hasn't yet learned to compensate for or to work around. Or — he could hand the country over to the only other person he'd trust with it: Lieutenant General Grumman. Then — he doesn't know what he'd do, if that. There's a tight ball of blazing emotion in his chest, waiting to unleash itself upon him, and he's dreading it. He remembers Havoc in the hospital bed next to him, staring at the ceiling and saying quietly, as if he didn't know Roy was listening, "Now what?"

"Lieutenant, where is Major Armstrong?"

Hawkeye's fingers tighten a little around his arm. She's always had a kind heart. "He's talking to the Elrics. He's brought them a loaf of bread."

Roy listens hard through the noise of the throng, and hears Armstrong's rumbling exclamations, Fullmetal's nervous laughter. "Take me to him."


What has just happened to Roy is unbelievable, and vastly unfair, and he's desperately grateful and somehow furious with himself — and he can't let himself think about any of this just yet.

"How long is this going to take?" asks Roy. Marcoh gives him a look. "That sounded rude. What I mean is, I've got a lot to do and I need to do it now. Could I come back for the medical exam later?"

"I can't stop you," says Marcoh in a tone that implies he really wishes he could. "But I wouldn't recommend it. You've just regrown a quarter inch of optic nerve on both sides, right before where it enters the brain tissue. I've never done this procedure before — obviously — and so I wouldn't advise —"

"Thank you!" says Roy, hopping down from the table. His words feel ridiculously inadequate. He shakes Marcoh's hand vigorously. "Ishbal — I'll keep my word. Thank you for your trust."

Behind the mask of scars, most of the irritation seems to have dropped from Marcoh's face. He puts both his hands around Roy's and bows his head for a moment. Then he says, "Careful with those hands. No writing and no heavy lifting for a few days."

Roy flexes his hands and thinks suddenly, stupidly, those too. He glances down: each hand has a long shiny pink scar now, both on the back and on the palm. There isn't even any real pain, just a vague ache. He blinks.

"I'll be back later," says Roy, "and I promise then you can do all the tests you want. Thank you."

Outside the clinic doors, Roy immediately recognises the tall, red brick buildings of Mercer University Hospital. He's in the grounds. It's after dark. How the hell long was he passed out for? He looks around and, by the street lamps lighting the hospital campus, he makes out a few soldiers, but no one he recognises. The hospital itself, thank goodness, seems to have escaped the destruction of the day.

Right. He needs his people, and a telephone.

Behind him, the doors to the clinic swing open. It's Breda, and Lieutenant Catalina. They jog towards him.

"Chief! Sir!" Breda comes to a halt, and snaps a salute that's only vaguely sloppy. Catalina does the same.

"Is that coffee?" says Roy, pointing to the paper cup in his hands. "I'm requisitioning that."

"How are the eyes, sir?" says Breda drily, holding out the cup. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

Roy gives him a big, annoying grin, and confiscates the coffee.

Breda digs a crumpled, folded piece of paper from his pocket and hands it over. "Briefing, sir. Sorry about the chickenscratch, I didn't know you'd have to read my handwriting."

He needs both hands to unfold the paper, so he instinctively goes for the caffeine first. The coffee is lukewarm and crappy, but it's black and strong. Roy gulps down about half of it in one go. That's not going to do you any good, says Hawkeye in his head. You need fruit, protein and a glass of water.

"The lieutenant!" He's an idiot for forgetting, even for a minute. He doesn't even know how badly off she was at the end of the battle. She claimed she was fine, but she always lies like a dog about things like this, and he couldn't see her to check for himself. "What's Lieutenant Hawkeye's condition?"

"She's doing okay, sir," says Catalina. Roy must look sceptical, because she adds, "No, she is, I've been with her. They fixed up her neck. She's pretty worried about you."

Roy resists the urge to sprint to her room. She's fine. She's fine, and so he can do what she'd want him to anyway and keep moving. "Lieutenant Catalina, go give her an update."

"Yes, sir!" Catalina's salute is sharp this time, and then she turns on her heel and sprints off herself in the direction of the main building. Roy finds himself suddenly liking her a little better.


In an empty office, Roy leans on a desk while the trooper holding the field telephone stands to attention. Breda stands at the door, watchful.

"Fuhrer Grumman's office," says a tinny female voice at the other end of the line. Roy doesn't like the sound of that. The old man has moved surprisingly fast. He's on the verge of retirement, though — surely he'll be glad to relinquish the responsibility? Roy knows already that with Grumman, you can never tell.

The phone is fumbled at the other end for a moment. Then Grumman's voice, far too jolly for a day like today, says, "Hello, Brigadier General."

Roy blinks. "No, it's me. It's Mustang here."

"I know it is, my boy. I promoted you," says Grumman, sounding highly amused with himself.

Something about this doesn't fit. "Weren't you told? I was planning to retire."

"I know you were. So, how are you feeling this evening?" So, someone has told Grumman about Roy's recovery already?

Roy sighs. "Slight headache, but I'm back to twenty-twenty vision." This is an exaggeration. It's a painful effort to focus, but this is improving already — and something he can't pin down tells Roy he shouldn't show any weakness right now.

"I'm delighted to hear it. I'm going to have a lot of work for you to do."

Shit. That's it. Grumman knew Roy was going to recover, but he has started settling himself into the Fuhrership anyway. He's definitely not intending to step aside in Roy's favour, then. Shitshitcrap.

"Yes, about that," Roy begins.

Grumman cuts him off. "I've had congratulations pouring in from the understudies, you know."

Grumman has just done perhaps the worst thing he could have done: he's said something Roy knows to be true. The understudies are their code word for the lower ranks of the brass. The top tier are almost all gone, Roy knows from Breda's scribbled briefing. What Grumman means is, I can unite the old guard and the reformers. I can sneak reform through and still look like a good old boy. You can't.

Grumman giggles into the silence on Roy's end of the phone line.

Roy tries again. "Look," he says, "this isn't exactly how we planned things."

"Actually, I think this arrangement's going to work out nicely. You're terribly young, don't you think a twenty-nine year old Fuhrer would be a tad unnerving for us old people?"

"I'm thirty-one this summer," Roy says, and then realises he sounds exactly like the petulant little kid Grumman's treating him as. Roy has known Grumman since he was four years old. That's what he blames for this nonsense. To be honest, that's exactly how Roy feels like acting now. He wants to stomp his foot and whine about this to his mother, and have her say something sharp to him, but intervene on his behalf anyway.

"Don't be disappointed, my boy," says Grumman cheerfully. "You've got a long and illustrious career ahead of you. Why not pace yourself a bit, eh? And let Amestris pace herself too, while you're at it."

Irritation throbs at Roy's temples — but he catches the hint. Grumman's pushing seventy now, he wouldn't be Fuhrer forever. Roy's considered the slow route to power and change before, and decided he didn't like it. But he didn't see this coming. The old man believes he's right, and he has a solid case for it.

More to the point, possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Roy exhales heavily. "We'll need to discuss this properly. Do you have time to talk now?"

"Goodness me, no! Don't worry, everything's quite under control with the country. And I think we've both achieved quite enough for today, don't you? I'm going to have a hot dinner, a long bath and a good night's sleep. I suggest you do the same."

Roy resists a powerful urge to throw the telephone receiver across the room. He pushes his lips together and breathes in through his nose. "I'd like to talk terms."

"Yes," says Grumman, "I know you would." He laughs again. "Dash, dash, dash — I have no idea where you get the energy! Look, I always find the telephone a terrible medium for this sort of discussion. And I couldn't possibly travel tonight, today has been terrible for my digestion. I'm going to be on a private train to Central first thing tomorrow morning. I'll be with you before nine."

Roy leans more heavily against the desk — and then suddenly Breda has left his station at the door and is holding out a chair for him. Roy sinks into it, nods his thanks, and tries to summon up just a bit more energy from his dwindling reserves. This is workable. This is a position from which he can move forward. Grumman's coming to Central, and then — they'll talk.

"Goodnight, Brigadier General," says Grumman, gently but firmly. "Get some sleep."

"Good evening — your Excellency."

God-fucking-dammit.


Hawkeye has her own room. When he knocks on the door, he half-expects to find her out for the count. She is, of course, sitting up in bed, barking into a field telephone. Hayate sits by her, resting his head on her thigh. Roy catches her say, "No, you can afford adequate guarding for men who endangered the whole country. Ten more men on it, minimum. Yes, Captain, I will tell you how to do your job if you're not d-"

His appearance at the door shuts her right up. Which is amazing, and gratifying, and he'll have to tease her about it later — but right now he's too full of the utter flood of joy and relief at seeing her like this. She has a thick dressing on the side of her neck, and an adhesive bandage on her chin, but she's practically whole, full of life enough to be telling off a superior officer over the phone. When he last laid eyes on her, she was covered in her own blood, dangerously weak. As she supported him and led him through that last battle, as they held each other up, there was a constant pang of fear at the back of his mind: how injured was she really? He was dizzyingly relieved when she stayed standing after the fight was done.

"Ten more men, Captain," she says, and drops the phone back on its cradle without taking her eyes off Roy. He gets across the room quicker than he knows how, sits on the edge of the bed and wraps her into a tight hug. They stay like that for a while. "Riza," he mutters.

She starts at hearing her first name. Hawkeye doesn't do first names with many people. Back when he was her father's apprentice, he was always Mr. Mustang, even when they were fumbling together in the garden shed. He was Mr. Mustang after the funeral, when she was still Riza to him and he copied a circle from her naked back. And in the army, he's always been "sir."

"What do I have to do," he murmurs, "to merit first name terms?"

"How are your eyes?" she asks, face still pressed into his shirt.

"Better." Then there's a whine and a small canine nose pressed into his side at a ticklish spot. Roy jumps and lets Riza go. Hayate is turning in tiny circles on the bed, making high, excited noises. Roy puts a hand out for him to sniff, and then plays with his ears.

"Rebecca brought him from the radio station," she says. "I'm fairly sure it's against hospital rules." Hayate jumps in her lap, bounces, then curls against her, his entire rear end wagging. Roy shakes his head and laughs.

"So," says Roy, "how far did Catalina get you up to speed?"

"Lieutenant General Grumman has taken the Fuhrership." Master Hawkeye was not on speaking terms with his father-in-law, so Riza didn't meet him until she was grown. Roy's never once heard her call the old man grandfather.

Roy nods. "Grumman isn't letting his prize go. But I'm thinking about this. It might not be a disaster. You've got Breda's list of who's been cleared out of the brass, right? We're looking at a new bunch. The young and the second-stringers."

Riza frowns. "Quite a few old-fashioned types. But I think there are some we can win over."

"Grumman thinks he can impress as a safe pair of hands. You see where I'm going with this?"

"With General Armstrong dead " Riza pauses to consider. Her eyelids droop, and she visibly shakes herself. "When Grumman retires, you'd be the obvious candidate to succeed him. You've been his protg for years."

Cogs are beginning to turn in Roy's mind. He paces, feeling his own energy levels starting to drop. "Grumman wouldn't turn things upside down immediately. He likes to move slowly and steadily. He would be more of a transitional figure. He's right that the old guard like him. He speaks their language. They would accept him, and he'd get the country ready to accept me. It could work."

"And there's a promise attached to your sight, isn't there? You don't have to wait until you reach the top to take care of it. If you were to take charge of the East — if you were to propose to him this rebuilding of Ishbal "

"Yes. We make that our first task, and meanwhile, we plan for the future."

"But we're assuming that Grumman is thinking along the same lines. Isn't that a big if?"

"A succession deal " Roy turns the idea over in his mind. He sits on the end of the bed. Sitting feels good right now. The room is starting to swim a little.

"As in, five years and then he retires and hands over to you? You'll need to negotiate."

Roy nods, and rubs his temples. "We'll start tomorrow, then, as soon as he arrives. He's coming to Central by a private train first thing in the morning."

Riza raises an eyebrow. "I say, we meet his train, take the long route to Central Headquarters and talk in the car."

The adrenaline rush is finally leaving him. Roy is starting to realise this really can't be done tonight. "I'm exhausted," says Roy. "Breda got a cup of coffee from somewhere, but I should make him find me another."

"That isn't going to do you any good," says Riza. "You need fruit, protein and a glass of water."

Roy snorts at her. She swats at his arm. Roy has rarely seen her so relaxed. Then she yawns hugely, and fails to suppress it.

"Shape up, soldier," says Roy. "You've only been awake for thirty-six hours, staged a coup, fought a bunch of monsters and nearly died a few times. It's not as if you've had a tough day."

Riza gives him that sneaky smile of hers. Then she yawns again, openly. "Right," she says. "I suppose bed."

"Mmm." Roy nods.

Riza returns the nod, absently stroking Hayate's ears.

Roy stands, trying not to wobble, approaches the head of the bed and hugs her again. She returns the hug. "Thank you " he mutters. "Did I say thank you? For everything."

"Yes, back at the tents," says Riza.

"Once more can't hurt. I can't say it enough. I can't " Roy cuts himself off. He can see the point at which he's going to become sappily incoherent, and it's really right now.

He lets her go and waves from the door. "Goodnight, Riza."

"Goodnight. Mr Mustang." She's far too witty for someone who's been awake so long. He chuckles, and closes the door to let her sleep.


Illustration by almost british. Go leave a comment for her here!


Roy intends to go straight to bed, in fact he can't imagine having the energy for anything else. But then he hears a familiar, gravelly little chuckle coming from a nearby room, another voice answering it — and he finds he has the energy for one last call.

Like Riza, of course they couldn't be asleep. The soldier on the door nods to Roy, and steps aside.

One bed is empty. Fullmetal is sitting cross-legged on the other bed, no worse than Roy has seen him after too many other fights: festooned with dressings and right arm gone. That's it, then: he'll have automail for life. Edward doesn't look remotely dismayed by this outcome, though, and Roy can see the reason right next to him. Sitting up in the bed is a boy roughly Edward's height but only about half as broad, with the same big amber eyes and mane of blond hair: Alphonse. It's unbelievable.

When Roy enters the room, Fullmetal looks at him and gives a soft little snort, with no malice in it, and his mouth quirks up at the corner. Alphonse just stares at him with those enormous eyes, and smiles.

"I see Alphonse turned out better looking than you," says Roy.

"Hey, you can see!" says Al. His voice is scratchy, and deeper than Roy was expecting. It doesn't sound like him at all.

Fullmetal is looking at his face sharply, assessing, cogs turning in his mind. "Marcoh?" he guesses.

Roy nods. For some reason, he finds he wants to justify himself to the brothers, to explain why he and Marcoh did what they would not.

Alphonse nods himself, firmly, and says, "That's good." It's surprising: but then, there's always been something about Alphonse that's hard to predict.

"I see you managed to trash the arm, again," says Roy to Fullmetal. "I swear that thing spends more time off than on."

"Asshole smashed up the brace, too," says Ed casually, as if the Homunculus was just some street thug he'd got into a scrap with. "My mechanic's gonna kill me."

"Just so long as she does it when I'm out of the room," says Al. He's lost his permanent poker face now, so instead he's wearing a mischievous, tell-tale grin. "If I hear moaning through the door, I'll just leave you guys alone."

Fullmetal pulls a magnificent face. Roy laughs. Then Al joins in with a scratchy little chuckle, and Ed gives Al a look of outraged betrayal.

Alphonse's eyelids drop for a moment, then flutter up. He makes a small, confused sound and looks inward for a moment, and then says slowly, "I think I'm falling asleep again." He sounds fascinated with the whole idea. "Sorry about that, Colonel."

"Brigadier General," corrects Roy as Al nestles himself down into the blankets, now smiling blissfully.

Ed looks at him sharply. "Why isn't it Fuhrer?"

"Grumman gazumped me. Don't worry, though, in due course I still fully intend to make you pay back what you owe me." Roy will tell Fullmetal about the deal another time, he thinks to himself. Then he wonders why he feels such a need to explain himself to Ed? What's the power of that odd little promise between them? Is it because to him, Ed is the next generation whose happiness they're struggling for? Or is it the man himself? It's an unfamiliar thought, but it can't be denied. Edward is no longer a scrappy, blustering little creature sadly shouldering a grown man's responsibilities. When did he grow up? It makes Roy feel old.

Ed himself just looks at Roy while he thinks all this, and after a moment, Roy realises he's sizing Roy up with quiet concern. "You sure you're all right?"

Roy wonders if Fullmetal is referring to the eyes or to the Fuhrer's seat. Roy nods his head vaguely with a hum of affirmation.

After a few moments, Ed says, firmly, "Good. How's Lieutenant Hawkeye?"

"Energetic," says Roy. Except for the part where she's sleeping soundly now, and the thought of it, together with Alphonse's even little snores, is making Roy remember his own exhaustion.

"Get some rest," says Ed, "you look like shit. I bet you've got an assload of stuff to do tomorrow."

"Your concern moves me," says Roy. "You should rest up yourself. You're going home to a pretty girl, you'll need your energy." Ed's lower lip sticks out, but he doesn't even bother denying the innuendo. "You should take her something," Roy adds. "A souvenir from the battlefield. It's not tasteless, she'll think it's meaningful."

"I'm taking her Al," says Ed.

"That'll do," says Roy cheerfully. "I'm granting you some leave, by the way." In case Fullmetal thought he'd somehow automatically quit. Roy can think about whether to really release him from his contract later on, when he knows if he'll need his help.

Ed's mouth drops open. But instead of snapping off a comeback, he just shakes his head and laughs. Roy catches his eye and finds himself laughing too. Then he fails to suppress a yawn, so he just raises his hand in farewell and wanders out the door. Ed's chuckles follow him out.


When Roy is woken by a nervous trooper at six o'clock in the morning, he realises that first, he's still dressed, and then that he has no memory of even going to bed. He evidently got as far as taking his boots off before collapsing. He scrubs a hand through his hair and makes a mental list of things he has to do before Grumman's arrival at nine. Breakfast and conference with Riza, then he'll get a car to HQ, a shower, a shave and a fresh uniform, run a comb through his hair, attempt to look a little more like a human being. Riza and Breda will get messages to his people. He'll collar Miles in person when he arrives with Grumman, take the temperature of Briggs. He'd be a natural for the Ishbal rebuilding programme, if he'll accept the transfer.

As he knocks on Riza's door, he realises it doesn't even hurt to use his hands. The headache remains, but he can't exactly complain.

"Come in," she calls. He takes the breakfast the trooper has found him, and enters.

Riza evidently hasn't been awake long, which is good because it suggests she's slept properly. There's a tangled puff of blonde hair on the crown of her head. Hayate is curled at her side.

"Private Fieseler found a worker's caf that was open for the rescue crews. He's going to be getting transfer papers to my team." Roy puts two paper cups on the table by Riza's bed, sits in the chair next to it, then opens up the paper bag he's been holding under his elbow. "Two bacon sandwiches with ketchup. That's fruit and protein." She gives him a look. "Ketchup counts as fruit."

"It does if you're an eight year old boy, sir."

"Here," says Roy, digging some paper sachets of sugar from the bag. "Put some of this in your tea: you need it. And you don't have to 'sir' me, we're in private."

Riza sighs, and tips some sugar into her cup. "You're not going to let this go, are you? Sir." There's an impish little smile on that face as she says the last word.

"Nope. How did you sleep, Riza?"

"Decently. The neck didn't bother me much, I suppose I just needed the sleep."

He passes her a sandwich, then digs out his own and takes a big bite. He's starving. "Last thing I had to eat was that apple Ross gave me in the truck yesterday morning. You?"

Riza considers it for a moment. "I have no idea. I had some toast when I fed Hayate " She puts her head on one side. "The day before yesterday." Hayate investigates her sandwich, and she lifts it out of his reach. "Hayate, stop. Go lie down." The little dog follows her finger, and goes to lie at the end of the bed. His eyes are appealing. "Ignore the begging," she says. "Apparently the night nurse gave him some stewed steak."

Roy laughs. "He got fed before we did. Did Grumman promote him to general in the night?"

"Ah, yes," says Riza. "I'm a captain now. I forgot to mention yesterday." She takes a big bite of her sandwich, without adding 'sir'.

"Nepotism," says Roy.

"Business," says Riza. "Do we know what time Grumman's train gets in yet?"

"It hasn't left yet, I'm expecting Miles to call and confirm any minute. Grumman's probably made them late fussing about something or other, he hates travelling."

Riza gives him a look that says plainly stop sulking. Roy sighs.

There's a knock on the door. The guard says through the door, "Sir, Corporal Patterson with a delivery of flowers."

"Come in." He reaches into his pocket for the spare gloves Breda found him, and sees Riza's hand sneaking under her pillow. But it is indeed a soldier carrying a fat bunch of purple flowers. "Why, Patterson," says Roy, "I didn't know you liked me so much." He sees the guard at the door repress a snicker. "Or are they for the lovely captain?"

Patterson keeps his poker face. "They're for you, sir, there's a note. Delivered by an old lady a couple of minutes ago," he says. Olivia Armstrong, Roy thinks automatically. This was their established way of communicating in code. Then he remembers that she's dead, so this can't be from her.

Roy gets up, takes the flowers and notices the small white envelope poking out of the bouquet. Then he looks up to see a sergeant standing in the doorway, with a field telephone on his back. He's holding the receiver. "Major Miles for you, sir," he says, proffering the receiver. Roy walks over to him, takes it, and motions the sergeant back into Riza's room. When Riza sees them entering, Roy stepping backwards into the room, the sergeant shuffling after him, her mouth twitches.

"Mustang," says Roy.

"Sir," says Miles. His voice sounds horribly strained. The loss of Major General Armstrong must be hitting him hard. "Sir, Fuhrer Grumman was found collapsed in his office a few minutes ago and couldn't be roused. The medics have just pronounced him dead."

Riza's mouth has stopped twitching.

"It's a suspected heart attack," Miles continues. Riza hops out of bed and walks towards Roy.

"No named successor?"

"No, sir." Riza has taken the envelope from his hand. She holds it up in front of him, so that he can see the small, stylised rose printed in the corner. He pulls in a breath.

The card reads: Congratulations on your promotion. Take care of the girls and make sure that they get well soon. My love to your mother, Maria x

It's a message from the dead after all. Maria is Grumman.

"Oh god," says Riza very quietly. "He knew."

And people don't generally send words of farewell just before they drop unexpectedly dead of a heart attack, do they? Grumman sent this message knowing, or guessing, that he was about to die. And he filled it with code.

There has been a murder, says the voice of a radio detective in Roy's head. He sags against the wall, and imagines Grumman's chuckles joining Roy's own quiet, hysterical laughter.


Illustration by dreamer1789. Go leave a comment for her here!