tobu ishi

Between the Lines

Lazy summer sunlight slanted through the outer offices occupied by Lieutenant Colonel Roy Mustang and his staff, gilding the deep mahogany of the desks and bringing out the shimmer of their wood. Leaning back in his chair until it balanced expertly on two legs, his own lanky legs propped boots and all atop his desk, Jean Havoc could have cared less about the state of the finish. His thoughts were much more concerned with the state of the lieutenant across the way.

Leveling a covert glance from beneath his thatch of blonde hair, Havoc observed his superior officer's conduct with the experienced eye of a man much used to gazing at ladies unawares. But as lovely as Riza Hawkeye was, in her own stern, strait-laced, often terrifying way, this particular gaze was not appraising or appreciative.

It was, in all honesty, curious.

Uncharacteristically oblivious to her watcher, Hawkeye leaned on one elbow, her forearm shielding the pad of paper in front of her from casual glances. Her other hand skimmed a military-issue ballpoint across the page, the end of the pen bobbing efficiently as she wrote. Hawkeye's pale eyebrows were drawn together in a tiny frown, her lips pursed; periodically, the pen would pause, the end of it disappearing into her mouth to be nibbled absentmindedly as she thought.

Watching her come to the end of one of these spates of concentration with a little release of breath and begin writing again, Havoc felt a frown creasing his own brow. He'd known the Lieutenant for years now, but he'd never seen her behave quite like this. Not until...

A stocky hand descended on Havoc's desk, and he looked up to find the substantial rest of Heymans Breda leaning casually upon it.

"Lend me a pen?" Breda drawled. "Mine's outa ink."

"Yeah, sure," Havoc said, pulling open a cluttered drawer and rummaging in it.

Ducking his head down close, his fellow officer jerked his chin at their entirely absorbed superior officer, ruddy eyebrows raised.

"Y'hear that?" he muttered, almost inaudibly quiet.

His hands paused mid-rummage, Havoc blinked up at him, then across the aisle at Hawkeye. "No," he whispered, bemused. "Hear what?"

"Exactly," Breda shot back. "We haven't heard a peep outta her since she came in this morning. Just sat down, blew through her paperwork, and pulled out that pad again."

About to answer, Havoc flinched, falling instantly silent as the Lieutenant suddenly pushed back her chair and stood. Flipping the pad closed, she tucked it into a desk drawer and walked briskly out of the office, a look of faraway distraction on her face. As the door swung shut behind her, Havoc caught a brief glimpse of her turning in the direction of the ladies' room.

The latch clicked.

In the next moment, Havoc's desk was flocked with fellow officers, Fury and Farman rapidly hustling around the group of desks to exchange bewildered looks with the two already there.

"She's been like this all week!" Fury exclaimed, pushing his glasses up his nose. "What do you suppose she's writing?"

"Whatever it is, she's up to her neck in it," Breda said, smirking down at Havoc. "Our boy here hasn't done a lick of work since eleven am, and she hasn't noticed at all. D'you think she's in love? It could be letters."

Havoc snorted. "Yeah, right, as if she's the moon-in-June type," he chuckled. "Nah, our Lieutenant is—"

"It's a romance novel."

Three heads swiveled instantly towards Farman's calm countenance.

"A what?" Breda snapped, expressing the general sentiment. Farman frowned vaguely, as if somewhat insulted by his friends' doubt—as a matter of principle—but aware that it wasn't unfounded.

"A romance novel," he repeated. "I had the opportunity to glance over her shoulder as I passed on my way to the supply closet, and the Lieutenant happened to be too absorbed in crafting a passage of stirring tete-a-tete to notice my casual perusal."

"A passage of what?" Havoc asked, sitting up straight in sudden interest.

"Bull," Breda scoffed, crossing his arms. "The hell would a tough lady like her be writing pulp romance for? You misread something, Farman."

Fury cleared his throat with a nervous squeak. "Actually," he said, shyly, "the Lieutenant does like to read romance novels..."

This time it was Havoc and Breda whiplashing their heads around to goggle at their youngest coworker. "No way," Havoc murmured.

"It's true," Fury said stalwartly, turning red in the face under their disbelieving stares, but evidently determined to back up his case. "I helped her organize some papers a few months ago, and there was a book in a pink dust jacket tucked behind one of her file folders in the bottom drawer."

"You're sure it was a romance novel?" Breda asked, skeptically.

Fury nodded. "It had the same logo on the spine as the romances my sister used to read. I didn't tell her I saw it," he added, a bit uneasily.

Breda whistled. "Well, I'll be," he said. "The Lieutenant, reading a dime-store rag. And writing one of her own!"

"Well," Farman mused, "leading psychologists do speculate that the human mind takes particular pleasure in living out a fantasy alien to its usual daily behaviors—perhaps, in Lieutenant Hawkeye's case, the abnormal experience being—"

"Getting swept off her feet and treated like a lady?" Havoc suggested, grinning. "Pampered by a knight in shining armor? Dressing up and going to the ball?"

"I guess every girl likes that sort of thing sometimes...?" Fury said, sounding rather floored by the idea of this concept applying to even Hawkeye.

A smirk crept across Breda's face. "This I've gotta see. What was it about, Farman? Princesses? Pirates? Adventurers?"

Farman frowned. "I was unable to examine more than a few sentences without lagging my steps in a manner significant enough to attract—"

Approaching footsteps sounded down the hallway, and the men scattered, assuming poses right out of a work-ethic pamphlet as the door swung open and the Lieutenant glided through. Primly taking her seat, she fetched her pad out of its drawer once more and uncapped her pen, poised to write.

Then, she paused.

"Gentlemen," she said, mildly, into the thick prevailing silence. "When discussing the affairs of higher-ranking officers behind their backs, kindly remember that while curiosity killed the cat, extra paperwork could certainly do the same trick, and do it slower."

The scratching of diligent pens suddenly filled the office.

Hawkeye allowed herself a small smile, then added the sound of her own pen to the rest once more...

The last assailant crumpled to the dirty pavement with a groan, and she rushed forward, not bothering to holster her smoking sidearm. "Councilor, are you all right?" she cried, dropping to her knees next to him. Her silk skirt fanned out around her, darkening rapidly in the rain. Amazing how little she cared for it now.

He raised his eyes to hers, brushing a strand of sopping-wet auburn hair out of his eyes. "Elizabeth," he murmured, and stretched out a hand to touch the droplets of blood and rainwater that clung to her hair. "What do you know...jewels suit you after all. Though I must say, I prefer the diamonds to the rubies, my dear."

Deftly checking the wound in his shoulder, she let out a sigh of relief as she realized it wasn't serious, and rested her cheek briefly against his.

"For you, sir," she whispered, "I'll wear both forever."

His hand cupped her chin, gently. "If we're lucky, that won't be necessary," he replied, with a quirk of one eyebrow, and drew her close to cover her mouth with his...

It was easy writing, she had to admit, especially with the advantage of experience lent by the eventful life she'd led so far; and it helped pay the bills. Another novel or two, published under the same pseudonym as the last one, and she might be able to afford rent on a place where the shower didn't bleed rust and make clanking noises at night. And as long as her work got done and her subordinates stayed on task, there was no harm in mixing business and pleasure, was there?

Leading psychiatrists might have had a lot to say about Riza's choice of heroines, or the twists of her plots; though their deductions might not quite have been what her coworkers expected. But Riza highly doubted any leading psychiatrists were reading her books...

And if one was, she was willing to bet he'd be the sort who'd understand.