Roy hated it when generals got promoted. Not out of envy—only a bit of that, really—but because any such event called for a state function. Which meant an evening of a half-dozen hours of sweating officers in full dress, medals clanking, officers' wives dressed to the nines with masks of makeup and helmets of hair, insipid conversation, overloud music, understocked buffet. And Roy absolutely, without a doubt, hated the entire affair.
Hughes wasn't even there to protect him. Gracia could still fit into her dresses, but that didn't stop him from telling absolutely everybody, bouncing from knot to knot of conversation. He was just a shadow to limpid turquoise eyes and the plain pale sweep of Gracia's hem, no good at all to Roy. Instead, much to his dismay, Roy had been taken over by Gran instead, who kept introducing him as the hero of Ishbal. "Major General, you have of course met the Flame Alchemist—I don't think we could have won the war without him—genius with combat alchemy—why yes, yes—I sponsor the Sewing Life Alchemist as well—" and up would come Tucker, on cue, like a mouse in a tuxedo too expensive for him, and they would share a moment of put-upon sympathy as the heavy iron stare fell from one to the other, even as the fellow still disgusted him, and he would, perhaps, for a moment be safe.
Armstrong, at least, offered a measure of sanity. At least until he broke out the sparkles.
The women were almost all married, of course, or the occasional officer, and it was a mad relief when he saw one without either a uniform or a ring on her finger—the size of the stone directly proportional, of course, to the rank of the man when he'd proposed. And pretty, with soft dark hair, a plain but elegant dress. And at least, if he were dancing, he wouldn't have to talk to men who thought what he'd done was good. Who'd rather have him sending some other helpless country up in flames than sitting sane behind a desk in Central.
Her grip was unusually strong. In the waltz, she allowed his hand demurely in the small of her back; he allowed it to stay exactly where it belonged. They spun until he was dizzy, until they drowned in the whirling world. He balanced her weight easily, though her skin seemed strangely malleable.
Her eyes were as blank as deep rivers in the north. He welcomed their coldness; it was better than fire.
Her name, she told him, was Juliet Douglas, and for a moment he could only stare at her and think, you started it. You started that goddamn fucking war.
But that was propaganda. Wars did not have only one cause. He took her home anyway
Her hands were very cold. He sprawled sweaty in the sheets, red-faced from sex and and the good chardonnay, and she rode above him like icy waves. Her cunt moved around him like water, like the sea, more liquid than any he'd ever felt. In the half-light of the soft lamp on the bedstand he kept just for such times, her skin was very pale, her hair dark as sin, her eyes frozen purple musk. But when she brought him to a shattering climax, he did not much care about that either. A trick of the light. Seeing things. The madness of wine and loneliness and late night exhaustion, bodies coming together at random in the blessed silence of his flat.
They kissed only once. She tasted like ashes and brine.
He felt neither hurt nor relieved. He'd never expected more than a night. And emotion was not required nor desired in the face of those eyes.