Weather like this made his legs ache. February in Central was not good for anything save the coal industry.
Lieutenant Havoc's hand closed tighter around the polished head of his cane. He winced minutely from the feeling of his cold-tenderized fingers tensing, and he distantly savored the feeling.
"Over by the orchestra, the number in blue," Havoc said just low enough to slip below the cover of the music.
"Catherine Fisher," replied Havoc's partner in eschewal, Brigadier General Mustang. "Junior year at the academy."
The two men made a rather ironic tableau in their self-made hermitage by the open bar. There had been a time when they had be something bordering on infamous. Havoc and Mustang, in what appeared to be a race to an unseen finish, racking up one-nighter points and keeping tally in little black books.
"Her, the one jitterbugging in red," Mustang said.
Havoc chuckled mirthlessly. "Sonya Taggerty. Kept her company at her bachelorette party... spring of '14."
Armstrong galas had once been hunting ground, armed with reputations like rifles and charm like shells. Only the highest of society found their way to that ballroom, making for hearty game that promised an entertaining chase.
But, as it would seem, no more.
Havoc scanned the crowd for a moment. "The redhead sitting with Falman."
"Cynthia Falman. Bring your Daughter to Work Day, three years ago." Mustang's smirk was audible.
Now, with the addition two canes and an eye patch, the prowl had been truncated and whatever game they were playing had been called. Neither of them imagined being a hero would have such a dampening effect on their social lives. Every woman in the ballroom knew their names undoubtedly, knew their sacrifices and nobles acts, and, without fail, knew the price they had paid. And somehow, half-men, even in the wake of nigh-martyrdom, were not nearly as attractive as whole men.
Havoc was on the tail end of a year and a half of physical therapy. Walking was once again an option, but just watching the younger couples dancing fervently made him sore to his very bones and resentful to his core. His next appointment was in two days; he would be practicing moving his toes.
Mustang was not much better; reconstructive surgery had pieced his right kneecap back together but left him with the bitter promise that walking with a cane was probably they best he could hope for. The back brace had been removed over six months ago when x-rays proved that the transverse process of his second lumbar vertebrae had healed after being snapped off by a passing bullet. It still twinged sometimes, but that he could overlook; in fact, most of his injuries he could learn to cope with. The frequent disorientation and mild dementia due to the bullet lodged in the frontal lobe of his brain was far less excusable.
"Imogene Teller," Mustang said, drawing their attention to a willowy woman by the balcony door.
"Christmas, two years ago," replied Havoc.
Mustang raised his eyebrows. "Really?"
The Brigadier General snickered. "New Years Day of last year."
"Think she was on to us?"
They mused quietly for a moment, and almost simultaneously, resolved that the topic was probably better left unexamined. "Thirsty?" Mustang asked.
Havoc looked down at his empty glass and tilted it, making the ice clink. "Always," he replied.
"Good," Mustang said. "You're closer to the bar."
Havoc frowned. "You can walk faster."
"I might get lost on the way," said Mustang sardonically.
"Aren't you supposed to have a girlfriend at you beck and call?"
Mustang furrowed his brow. "You mean Hawkeye?" he asked. Havoc nodded. "I would hardly call her that, and you know as well as I that she wouldn't be caught dead at one of these things."
Havoc furrowed his brow and leaned past Mustang to look down the bar. "Then who is that?" he asked, gesturing to a blonde woman with her back turned to them.
Mustang turned and looked. "I have no idea, but that is not Hawkeye."
The woman wore a slinky gray dress with narrow straps and long evening gloves of the same color. Her dress was rather matte and unadorned compared to those of other women, and her hair was twisted and clipped back in the style Hawkeye favored. Though it was an attractive fashion, it was very simple and rather inelegant when surrounded with the curls and tendrils and jewels of the others.
She ordered a drink and was handed a champagne flute, which she pinched awkwardly in her gloved hand. The flute disappeared from view presumably as she took a sip. She then, very gradually, turned and looked out over the crowded dance floor where sweaty swing dancers were being replaced by more subdued waltzing couples.
With the woman's face in full view, both Havoc and Mustang hummed in thought.
"I wonder what brought her here," Mustang said as he shifted and leaned heavily on his cane.
"An invitation, I would imagine," replied Havoc.
Mustang snorted. "Thank you, Havoc. I hadn't considered that," he said sarcastically. "What, I wonder, inspired her to accept?"
"It's February in Central," Havoc said as he shrugged, "There's nothing better to do."
"Winry Rockbell," muttered Mustang. "Do you suppose she is old enough to drink?"
"She isn't an Elric, yet?" Havoc asked, "And why do you care how old she is?"
Mustang turned back to Havoc and frowned. "I don't know what you're insinuating, Havoc."
Had he been able to put up both hands without falling over, Havoc would have put his palms forward in surrender. Instead, he smiled disarmingly. Mustang narrowed his single eye and glanced back at the girl at the bar.
"I imagine she is planning on changing her name as soon as she has a man to share it with."
"That must be one hell of a wait."
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, look at her," Havoc said. "She's at a party, and she looks about as happy as you and I do."
"She is happier than us; she has a full drink."
"I'm being serious."
Mustang looked back down at his glass and the weak, watery mix at the bottom. "She's obviously unhappy. I have no sympathy. She walked away from the ordeal unscathed."
"I disagree," Havoc said, watching the girl as she gazed at the swaying couples.
"She's not a cripple, is she?" Mustang asked succinctly, an edge of resentment in his voice.
"I don't know," replied Havoc. "She looks pretty crippled to me."