"So," Roy said around his tumbler of scotch, "know anything about the Drachman Imperial family?"
The look his aunt sent him asked 'Who do you think I am?' and Roy hid a smile in his drink. "Probably about as much as your lackeys," she admitted quietly, which was as much expected as it was a let-down, if Roy was being perfectly honest. "The name of the young prince, Mikhail, and the name and a vague description of their ruler, Tsar, whatever: Ivan Petrov. That there are three princesses older than the prince, and there was a concern about who would be inheriting for a long time." Chris gave a careless roll of her shoulders, a motion that Roy had picked up from her which was as much a sign of concealed irritation as it was a shrug. "The peace delegation is arriving at Briggs in a couple days, and you're leaving on a train to greet them tonight. Are your bags packed?"
Roy's smile was harder to hide that time, tinged with resignation; his aunt made it a habit to know his movements, and it was so normal any more that it didn't really bother him. "Yes," he answered simply, letting her decide exactly what he was responding to.
Chris gave him her best unimpressed stare, developed when he'd been a boy and honed to perfection by the time he hit puberty. "You had best not be thinking to miss your train, Roy-Boy."
Sometimes, Roy wondered what the other patrons of Madam Christmas thought of her interactions with the man in the shadowy corner. It was hardly a concern now; early yet, there was only one other man in the pub, and he was being handily distracted by Dorothy's bright smile. "Of course not," he offered with a salute of his tumbler. "This is medication for those benches."
The look Chris gave him made it clear he'd be getting barley tea if he stuck around for another drink. Which was fine; if Roy'd really been intent on getting drunk, he'd have gone home to his personal stash.
The door chimed and Roy glanced over to see Havoc stepping inside, his easy smile turned on Dorothy. Roy sighed and finished his scotch, then stood as he sat down the tumbler. "Thank you for the drink, Madam," he offered in his politest voice.
Chris sighed and collected the glass. "Take care up north, Roy-Boy," she returned, quiet enough that no one else would overhear.
He flashed her his charming smile, then went to join his subordinate by the door, motioning him out before Dorothy could get it into her head to call down one of Havoc's favourites, because then they wouldn't leave until he'd been turned down.
Havoc waited until they were both in the car and he'd pulled away from the kerb before asking, "Anything helpful, Chief?"
"No," Roy admitted, casting his gaze out over Central City as they passed it by. "But I didn't expect much. That visit was more intended to make sure the madam knew I was going to be out of town."
"She already knew," Havoc replied, and Roy didn't have to look into the rear-view mirror to see his shit-eating grin. "Didn't she?"
"Of course she did," Roy agreed, allowing himself a fond little smirk. "Her fingers may not be long enough to cross over our borders, but there are no secrets from Madam Christmas in Central City."
"That's the truth," Havoc agreed, his tone as fond as Roy's smirk, and Roy would never not be grateful that his team had taken his aunt's profession in stride.
They arrived at the station to find a beehive of military activity, since the train they were taking North was also the weekly supply train. Roy sighed as he put on his best game face and stepped out of the car, leaving it to Havoc to collect their suitcases from the trunk because that was expected.
While Roy would have preferred only one member of the Central brass with one or two aides going north to meet with the Drachman delegation, given the meeting was due to take place in the military stronghold of Briggs, Führer Grumman insisted a larger force was expected, and those generals he relied upon for their input in the matter largely agreed. Roy could have fought harder, but he had been far more focussed on ensuring that none of the brass who would be likely to start another war were going north. Somehow, it ended up being his job, with Major General Vincent Vickers going to act as his command second and Drachman expert, as if he couldn't have just relied on Lieutenant General Olivier Armstrong's familiarity with Drachmans.
Honestly, Roy found relying on any member of the military without direct blood ties to Drachma for knowledge about them highly suspect, but Vickers had been quick to insist that his four years watching the border crossing in the west area made him Central City's resident expect on Drachmans, and he'd quickly gathered the support of those of the brass who didn't like that Roy was shoe-in for Grumman's seat when he finally retired.
"Ah, Mustang, there you are," Vickers called, his western small-town accent tweaking at Roy's nerves. "I was beginning to think your driver had got lost."
Roy turned a cool smile on the man and replied, "Lieutenant Colonel Havoc is a competent driver and plenty familiar with Central's streets; perhaps your own driver could use a refresher in safe driving?"
Vickers' expression could have melt the ice on Briggs' walls, but he didn't appear to have a ready response, so Roy brushed past him, eyes picking through the milling soldiers for the familiar blonde head of his adjunct.
Riza appeared at his side, ending his search. She had a sheaf of papers in her left hand, her right hand loosely holding a couple pages up as she looked at the pages under them, and Roy knew she could drop those pages and draw her gun before the sound of a shot fired could finish echoing through the crowd, if necessary. "You and Lieutenant Colonel Havoc are the last to arrive," she reported efficiently, before casting him an unimpressed look all her own, though Roy had long suspected that she'd received some pointers from his aunt after the first time they'd met. "I do hope that drink I smell on your breath was worth the delay, sir."
Roy didn't cringe, though it was a near thing. "A last drink before a long night on hard train benches is always worth the delay, Colonel," he returned.
Riza let out a vaguely disbelieving sound as she let the pages she'd been holding up drop, then she held the sheaf of papers out for him to take. "Please read and sign those before we get to North City, sir, since I know you won't be sleeping on those hard benches," she said, and he grimaced as he took the papers. "I'll see about rounding everyone up." Then she was gone.
Havoc whistled, announcing his presence a step behind Roy. "Shouldn't have had the drink, Chief," he pointed out, his grin obvious in his voice.
Roy sighed. "Thank you, Lieutenant Colonel," he returned drily, and Havoc let out a bark of laughter. "Let's find our compartment before this crowd starts descending on the few decent benches."
"Decent benches?" Havoc repeated sceptically, even as he joined Roy in slipping through the crowd towards the nearest open car door.
"There must be some," Roy agreed, "otherwise how could Fullmetal always sleep on them?"
"Maybe Al made a comfortable pillow?" Havoc suggested.
Roy didn't think that deserved a response.
They quickly found the officer compartments and picked one out for themselves, Riza, and Falman. Roy would have liked to have had his entire team with him, since he had to go and certain events had left him with a lasting dislike of letting his team out of his reach, but there was no real reason for Fuery to tag along up to Briggs, and Breda was neck-deep investigating a lead Chris had passed on the week before. He'd almost had to leave Havoc behind to watch the office – and probably should have, honestly – but Riza had helpfully insisted that Roy needed two bodyguards if he was going to meet the delegation of a nation they'd only ever had hostile relations with, and no one could argue that Falman – who was going along because he was familiar with Briggs and North City – had the necessary qualifications to serve as a bodyguard.
Roy sighed as he settled into the hard wood of the benches. He vaguely considered pulling out the heavy winter coats they'd brought with them from supply, but previous experience said they wouldn't help pad the benches, even if they were effective at keeping them warm up north. "Find me a pen, please," he asked as Havoc hefted one of their suitcases into the overhead.
Havoc nodded and pulled open the other suitcase – a fresh pack of cigarettes front and centre told Roy whose it was – to hunt down a pen, which he handed off to Roy before closing the suitcase and shoving it up to join Roy's. The coats followed as Roy started in on the paperwork, then he settled in across from Roy to stare out the window at the men and women forming up on the platform, following the orders which – Roy had little doubt – Riza was giving.
By the time the train was loaded with military personal and Riza and Falman had joined them, Roy was finished with about half the stack of papers, and he held them out to his adjunct without a word.
Riza took them with a small, approving smile, and Havoc joked, "Maybe we should invest in a train bench for the office."
"Was that a request for your own desk?" Roy returned, and Havoc managed a short laugh before Riza helpfully pulled out paperwork for herself, Havoc, and Falman. Roy blinked at her as she closed the nearly empty suitcase and asked, "Did you bring anything other than paperwork, Colonel?"
"I bought two suitcases, sir," Riza replied as she settled down with her own paperwork.
Roy glanced at Havoc, who pulled a face, then hurriedly turned his attention back to his paperwork before Riza could pull out her gun.
Probably the only good part about an overnight train, was that no one expected Roy to make polite conversation with them. Which, well, Roy was quite content to avoid Vickers' compartment, but after he'd checked his watch for the third time in a row, unable to find a comfortable position to sleep, he gave it up as a bad job and slipped out of his compartment, grabbing one of the coats on the way. He stopped in the hall just long enough to switch out his trademark gloves with the ones that were in the coat pockets and make sure his coat was hiding his rank and the bars noting his medals and honours, then he slipped into the train cars.
It was hard to go unknown in Central Command, given his visibility and the fact that there weren't that many members of the military with Xingan ancestry, but on the train? With the lights dimmed and everyone teetering on the edge of sleep? He was just another dark-haired soldier.
It didn't take him long to find a group of four soldiers playing poker, and they were happy to let him join once he proved he had some cenz to throw in the pot.
Roy had never been a particularly good poker player, despite, as Maes had always complained, having the 'perfect poker face'. Roy insisted poker was too much a game of chance, too dependent on which cards you got handed. Maes had always laughed at him when he pulled that complaint, and then proceeded to take him for all he was worth.
Being a bad poker player worked out in his favour on the rare occasion that he could slip into a game with enlisted men, because people seemed genuinely more trusting when they realised they were better than you. So, Roy got some pointers – he didn't mention that Maes had told him all of them at various points – and got caught up on the gossip.
Two of the men – Hadrian and Omar – were transferring from cities in the west, the only woman – Sabine – was transferring from South City (they all offered sympathies, because that was a nasty change in climate), and the last man – Wright – was transferring from one of the cities in the central area. He heard all about their previous postings, mostly good, but there was a corrupt Lieutenant Colonel in the northern part of the west area that he would have investigated as soon as he could send the orders to Breda. When asked, Roy gave Maes' name and admitted that he was part of the group headed up to Briggs, which opened an entirely new topic to talk about: the two generals on-board.
None of the soldiers had ever worked with Vickers or Roy, but Hadrian had heard stories about Vickers, having been posted relatively close to the border crossing where Vickers had been posted by Bradley before the Promised Day, and Omar knew Vickers' son, a sheriff in Wellesley. Vickers was reportedly a fair man, though the death of his wife a few years before the Promised Day had changed him, made him more distant, even with his own son. He still cared about his people, which Roy knew, but he kept a wall between them and himself, and he had a habit of refusing to have women in his command. (A comment which sparked a few lecherous remarks and a side-eye towards the only resident female, to which she responded by winning the next hand and practising her aim by bouncing cenz off the foreheads of the perpetrators, until one of the nearby soldiers who was somehow managing to get some sleep woke up and snapped at them to settle down before they brought one of the commanding officers down on their heads and they all got tossed in the stocks.)
When Roy pressed for their impressions of the infamous Flame Alchemist, he got back mostly the rumours that sprung up around him, some of which, he knew, had been spread by his own team to make his life more difficult. The only non-rumour response he got was from Wright, who had been in the perfect position to hear his and Vickers' exchange on the platform; after repeating the exchange for his audience, he added, "They clearly don't get on, but I think Mustang's got the sharper wit."
"Sounds like a fun guy," Omar added, "if you can get past his cold face."
"I don't think he's that cold, though," Sabine pointed out as she dropped a card and picked up a replacement. "You said he specified the name of his driver, Wright?"
Wright nodded, scowling at his hand. "Yeah. Rank and last name." He tossed down his hand. "Fold."
"Not many of the brass know that much about their drivers," Sabine insisted. "Browning only ever made note of rank. I mean, he was nice enough and all, but he didn't make a habit of learning the names of anyone below lieutenant colonel."
"This guy was a lieutenant colonel," Wright was quick to point out, before adding, "but I can see your point; Central's a different place than South, way more soldiers to keep track of. I mean, Mustang's a three-star general, right? You can't expect him to know the names of anyone below a colonel, I'd bet."
Roy coughed. "In fairness," he offered, "Lieutenant Colonel Havoc is part of his office team, not a carpool driver."
"Okay, so, it's not your average Tom, Dick, or Harry on the side of the street. But still, the rumours paint him as this absolute dick, right? Wouldn't stop to help you out of a pit unless you're a woman–"
"So, you," Hadrian interrupted.
"Shove it. Point is, he stood up for his man. You don't see that often enough in the military."
"Hear, hear," Omar agreed before throwing down his hand with a flourish. "Four queens. Read 'em and weep."
Roy blinked once at his hand of hearts, let out a surprised noise because he honestly hadn't been paying attention, and set it down on the pile of suitcases they were using as a table. "Straight flush."
"Holy shit," Wright said as Sabine laid down her full house. "You actually won, Maes. Didn't you say you'd–"
"Never won before in my life?" Roy finished for him as he swept the three crumpled bills, two 500 cenz coins, and two ration slips off the suitcases. "I may have lied a little bit: I have now won three games. And I'm pretty sure my best friend lost on purpose for one of them."
"Yeah, I'm still liking those odds," Sabine decided before collecting their cards and shuffling the deck. "You still in, or you gonna skip while your luck's high?"
Roy stared down at the two ration slips, neither of which he had any use for, then shrugged and agreed, "Deal me in again. Let's see if I've actually learnt anything, or if that was just pure luck."
The other four chuckled and they settled in for another game, the topic turning towards what they knew of the command at North City.
(As it turned out, Roy's winning hand had been pure luck, and he lost the two rations slips both rapidly and without complaint.)
He stuck it out for another couple hands, before leaving them to hunt down the military's sad excuse for a food car. It was brighter there, though largely empty due to the still-early hour, and the captain handing out the rations came to attention and saluted almost as soon as he stepped through the door, stammering out a disbelieving, "General Mustang, sir!" The other two people in the car, both corporals, jumped tiredly to their feet with salutes of their own.
"At ease, Captain, Corporals," Roy soothed with an easy return salute. He waited until the two corporals had fallen back into their seats before striding across the car to where the captain was watching him with wide eyes.
"Sir," she said uncertainly, "I was told there was food for you and Major General Vickers in your compartments. Was there something wrong with what you were given?"
Roy quickly shook his head. Riza had mentioned that one of the other compartments in their car had food and drinks for them, and he would probably head that way directly, but that wasn't why he was back here. "Nothing like that, Captain. I was just wondering if I could talk you into sneaking me four cups of coffee?"
She still looked confused. "Did they not provide any?"
"I have no idea, but this isn't for me; I'm afraid I lost a hand too many of poker and owe some soldiers payment." A minor lie, he'd been good for every hand he'd lost, but he wasn't about to admit that he was grateful for their unknowing honesty and suspected they'd need the caffeine as much as he did.
The captain looked relieved to have an explanation for Roy's step outside the norm and wasted no time in pulling out four paper cups to fill with the sludge the military called coffee.
"Shouldn'ta gone playing with the troops, General," one of the corporals called, and Roy glanced back to see his tired smile. "Anyone coulda told ya they're brutal with their cards."
"Richard!" his fellow corporal hissed, his eyes going wide.
"A lesson I won't soon forget," Roy agreed, amused. "I swear they were nicer when I was a private, but maybe I just played with nicer players."
"Or worse ones," the chatty corporal suggested, and his partner groaned.
"Or worse ones," Roy agreed, turning back to collect the cups the captain had set on the counter. "Thank you for this, Captain."
"Any time, sir," she said.
"Gentlemen," Roy offered to the two corporals with a nod as he started towards the door.
The more uptight corporal jumped to his feet and hurried ahead to get the door for him. "Did you need help with that, sir?"
"I should be able to manage on my own," Roy said, having no interest in being followed up two cars by this jumpy man, "but I appreciate the offer."
The corporal nodded and held the door opened for Roy, closing it behind him once he was clear.
Juggling the cups and the doors while on a gently rocking train was an adventure, but there were enough soldiers who were awake and willing to get a door for him – rank notwithstanding, you saw another person with four cups in their hands, you opened the door for them – that he managed it without spilling more than a few drops.
The poker game was still going when he returned to them, but the hands were quickly set down when Wright spotted him and his handful.
"There's only four," Omar realised, his cup held tight between his hands and pressed close to his face, as though the mere scent of the military-grade coffee could wake him back up. (Knowing how strong the stuff was, Roy wasn't too certain it couldn't.)
Roy shook his head and flapped a careless hand in the direction of his car. "I need to get back before the generals wake up," he explained. "Anyway, the captain back in the rations car mentioned the generals have their own food, figure I'll see if their coffee is any less likely to scour away my stomach lining."
All four of them let out knowing laughs and waved him away, so Roy made his way back to his car.
It didn't take him long to find the compartment with the food. The coffee was the exact same stuff as the regular soldiers got, which made him feel a little bit better about the privilege in not having to hand over a rations slip to get a cup, but the food was far better than the dry ration packs he knew everyone else got, and he sighed to himself as he found a bag of crisps and settled into the open space on a bench to have his snack.
Once he was finished with his crisps and coffee, he slipped back into his own compartment, where Falman and Havoc were both clearly sleeping. Riza cracked a tired eye open as he slid the door closed behind him and murmured, "How's the coffee?"
He offered her a tired smile. "Sludge. How's the bench?"
"Hard." She closed her eyes and shifted her shoulders a bit. "Please don't go out into the regular cars alone again, sir."
Roy sighed and made his way back to his spot next to the window; of course Riza had known he'd left their car, probably could make a guess about what he'd been doing beyond the confines of his rank. "Understood, Colonel."
Riza nodded and, by all appearances, went back to sleep.
Roy turned his attention to the passing countryside and settled in to let his body and mind relax as much as they could for the rest of the trip.
When they disembarked at North City, Roy and Vickers found two women waiting for them, one smiling widely, the other wearing the stiff expression of a soldier who wasn't looking forward to their assignment but wasn't willing to say so. Roy recognised the smiling woman as Andrea Kozlova, the Stardust Alchemist, and, given the similarity of their faces – the only part of them that could be seen around their northern uniform – judged the displeased woman to be her twin sister, Major Francine Kozlova. He'd known Andrea during the Ishval Extermination, though they hadn't seen much of each other since then, other than Maes' funeral, but he'd only ever heard about Francine from Andrea, who had painted her as 'way too freaking serious, she's going to develop a permanent scowl one of these days, just you see'. The twins were half-Drachman, on their mother's side, which made them a far better guide than Vickers, and Roy was honestly glad to see them, if only because of that.
"General Mustang, Major General Vickers," Francine greeted with a perfect salute.
"Majors Kozlova," Roy returned, and caught Vickers startle out of the corner of his eye; clearly, he'd known as much about who would be meeting them as Roy had, though at least Roy's familiarity with Andrea let him pretend he had known. "Perhaps we can dispense with the formalities and retire to the cars?"
Andrea muffled a laugh while Francine levelled a bland look on Roy. "Is our northern wind too biting for the great Flame Alchemist?" she asked flatly.
"Yes," Roy agreed, allowing a hint of a smile to show through, remembering many times when Andrea had complained about the Ishvalan heat. "I'm afraid some of us are simply better suited for the eastern desert."
"You can have it," Andrea was quick to reply, before turning to her sister. "Come on, Ci-Ci. Let's go before everyone else finishes offloading."
Francine let out a resigned sigh at the nickname – Roy expected that anyone else who tried to use it would have found themselves skewered on the sword she wore – but agreed, "Fine. If you will all follow me?" She turned and led the way from the platform which was, indeed, getting a bit crowded.
Roy let Vickers take the lead, giving himself a chance to glance back over the milling crowd of soldiers. He saw Sabine first, Omar at her shoulder, on the edge of the crowd. They were both staring at him with wide eyes, though Omar's appeared more awed than anything else. He tipped his head in acknowledgement, then fell in behind Vickers' adjunct, a tired-eyed Colonel by the name of Gordon Blenheim.
"Poker friends, Chief?" Havoc murmured, just quiet enough to be kept between Roy and his team.
"Shut up, Jean," Roy sent back just as quietly, and Havoc muffled a laugh.
There were two vehicles awaiting them, and Roy relaxed slightly when Francine directed Vickers and his adjunct into the second vehicle and slipped into the driver's seat herself, leaving Roy and his team with Andrea.
Andrea flashed him a knowing smile, then cast her eye over the group. "The cars aren't that big," she warned. "One of you can go with Francine, or you can squish up a bit in the back."
Roy cast his gaze over his team, and Falman was quick to offer, "I'll ride with Major General Vickers, sir."
"If you're sure," Roy allowed.
Falman gave a sharp nod. "I have a passing acquaintance with Major Kozlova," he offered.
"Right." Roy had actually sort of forgotten that Francine had been stationed at Briggs before the Promised Day. "Good luck, Major."
Falman was too professional to grimace, but Roy knew him well enough that he could see the urge to do so in his eyes. "General," he said to Roy in response, before nodding to Riza with a quiet, "Colonel," and leaving them to settle into the passenger seat of the second car.
Andrea led the way to the first car and Roy made a point of taking the passenger seat before Riza or Havoc could, which earned him a quiet laugh from the latter. Andrea flashed him a grin as she slid into the driver's seat and said, "It's good to see you again, Roy."
"Likewise," Roy agreed as the other two got in and closed their doors. "I hadn't expected to see you or your sister, though it makes sense to involve you two."
Andrea shrugged as she started the car, the heater letting out a blast of frigid air. "I don't think you would have, but Lieutenant General Armstrong insisted Ci-Ci be involved. When we got word that we were going to need two cars and you were one of the generals coming up, she dragged me away from my research and told me you were my job." She flashed him her most troublesome smile. "Told her I was happy to."
Roy snorted, casting a distrustful look towards the heat vent in front of him and wondering how long it would take it to warm up. "I'm afraid I'm only here on business, this time," he offered.
Andrea sighed. "Please stop being responsible on me."
"It's the broad stripe," Havoc offered, leaning forward and tapping Roy's coat-covered shoulder. "Soon as he made brigadier general, he stopped going out every night."
Roy shot an unimpressed look over his shoulder while Andrea laughed. "Sneaking peeks into my date book, Lieutenant Colonel?"
"Nah," Havoc returned with a wide grin. "Got a rotation set up to keep tabs on you when you're not in the office."
Andrea nudged Roy. "Introductions, Roy."
Roy sighed. "Jean Havoc, Andrea Kozlova. And you know Riza."
Andrea's eyes flicked up to the rear-view mirror and Riza must have made some sort of acknowledgement, because she inclined her head in greeting, then cheerfully agreed, "Yup! It's nice to meet you, Jean. Good to see someone's around to give Roy a bit of good-natured hell."
Roy closed his eyes, resigned to his life. "I should have ridden with Major Kozlova."
"She'd have kicked you out partway up the road," Andrea informed him, sounding far too cheerful about the idea.
"A woman who hates you, Chief?" Havoc commented, his tone dry. "That's a new one."
"Olivier," Roy returned.
"Well, yeah, but I'm pretty sure she's half ice, so I'm not sure she counts."
"Lieutenant General Armstrong?" Andrea clarified, and Roy nodded. She snorted. "Yeah, I'll give you the half ice. Pretty sure Ci-Ci idolises her. Not sure why."
"I can think of a few reasons," Havoc murmured.
There came the sound of a gun being cocked.
"Please try not to put a hole in the car, Colonel," Roy requested. "It's only just starting to get warm in here."
"I'll do my best, sir," Riza agreed evenly, and Havoc started spewing apologies and promises to keep his eyes on Olivier's face.
Andrea shot Roy a half-disbelieving, half-amused look. "I want to work in your office," she decided.
"No, you don't," Roy insisted, and Andrea let out a disbelieving snort. "Your sister might actually murder me if I stole you away to Central."
"Ah, right, there is that."
Roy glanced back to see if Riza had put her gun away – she had – then asked, "What were you studying when Major Kozlova dragged you away?"
The following alchemy discussion got them through the rest of the drive without Riza having to pull out her gun a second time, and helpfully served as a way to keep Havoc from further thoughts of Andrea as a potential bed partner; something about women who could go on about alchemy for hours always seemed to turn him off, said it reminded him too much of the empty space that Ed and Al had left when they'd left for Resembool with no intention to come back to the military after the Promised Day, six years previous. Which Roy understood; there wasn't a single member of his team that didn't miss the Elrics, Roy included, for all that not a one of them would ever wish to see the brothers tied to the military again. At least Al kept in contact, especially now he was back in Amestris, but no one had heard from Ed in four years, and Roy knew that empty space in his office bothered him all the more because of the silence.
As Briggs came into view, Roy leant forward to stare up at it, feeling his expression fall into his best impassive mask. He'd never actually been to the fort before, himself, but Falman had provided an excellent report once Grumman had informed him he would be going, so he had a general idea of what to expect. That said, nothing could ever quite prepare one for the sheer scale of the wall.
"Are the Drachmans here yet?" Roy heard himself ask from a distance.
"If they are, it wasn't called down to North City before the train got in," Andrea replied quietly as she turned onto the thin track leading past a barbed wire fence up towards the fort. "Now, give me quiet until I've parked."
The car was silent as Andrea made her careful way up the track, and it was only because of Falman's report that Roy knew the area to either side of the track was reportedly riddled with mines. He'd honestly expected to have to walk from the road, but it was clear that someone thought himself and Vickers too warm-blooded to survive the walk. (Roy appreciated it. He could have made the walk if he'd had to, but the wounds on his hands would have made them useless for a few hours after, and Havoc would have been stumbling by the time they reached the fort.)
Andrea parked in a small section of cleared dirt, next to three other vehicles. Before any of them could climb out, she warned, "Stay within the cleared areas."
"We were briefed on the dangers," Roy offered.
Andrea glanced towards the other car as Francine pulled into the last cleared space in the lot. "The white-haired man?" she guessed. When Roy nodded, she mused, "I wonder if Vickers got briefed," as she stepped out of the car.
Roy traded a glance with Riza and Havoc; if Vickers hadn't been warned, he suspected Francine wasn't going to remedy that. He sighed and stepped out of the car himself, almost immediately shoving his hands into his armpits as the cold cut through the thin ignition gloves. "I'm demanding a desert posting as soon as we get back," he muttered, and Havoc choked on a laugh, the only one close enough to hear him. "How are you holding up?"
Havoc grimaced and touched the spot on his coat over where Roy knew the homunculus' claws had pierced him. So far as Roy knew, the wound itself didn't bother Havoc when it got cold, but something about lowered temperatures played havoc on the healing alchemy Marcoh had performed, which none of them had realised until they'd been transferred back to Central at the start of the year, during the tail end of winter, and Havoc had only barely made it into the office the first couple days. Roy had eventually figured out that if he put in an order for a car to be sent around for him every morning, Havoc managed much better. In truth, dragging Havoc north probably hadn't been the best idea for the man, but between the comfort of having his people at his back and Havoc's own stubbornness, Roy had done so. "Not stumbling yet," he offered, and Roy nodded in acknowledgement. "You?"
"Wishing I'd brought thicker gloves," Roy admitted, and Havoc shot him a knowing grin.
They joined the rest of the group at the hulking doors that served as the entrance into Briggs, and Roy fell in next to Vickers, their entourage ranging behind them, while the Kozlovas banged on the doors for someone inside to turn the mechanism to open them, which was quickly seen to.
Inside, they found Olivier Armstrong awaiting them. Her mouth turned up with an approving smile when she saw the Kozlovas, which vanished as she turned her attention to the rest of the group. "Mustang," she said by way of greeting, her tone bland. "Hawkeye, Falman."
At Roy's side, Vickers stiffened at the blatant disregard, and Roy couldn't quite keep the amusement out of his voice as he replied, "Armstrong. I'd say it's lovely to see you again, but I'd be lying."
Olivier's eyes glinted with a smile that didn't touch her lips. "Likewise." She cast a quick glance over Vickers, clearly found him lacking, and turned back to Roy. "We got the report from the lookout about five minutes ago that the Drachman convoy is on their way; they should be here within twenty minutes."
Roy nodded, turning his thoughts to the coming negotiations. "Right. How do you feel about having Major Falman act as a guide in your facility?" he asked, because the fastest way to get on Olivier's bad side was to start giving orders in Briggs, and they needed her in a good mood, since the Drachmans had requested that the negotiations be held in the fort.
Olivier cast a sharp look over Roy's shoulder, and he could feel Falman coming to attention behind him. "Stay out of the east wing, floors fourteen through sixteen; negotiations will be held in the mess."
"Understood, sir," Falman agreed.
Olivier nodded to Roy. "He'll do."
Roy allowed a faint smile. "Did you have quarters set up for our party?" he requested.
Olivier looked to Falman again and told him, "West wing, fourteenth floor. Names should be on the doors."
Roy glanced back in time to see Falman's acknowledging nod. "Major, take the lieutenant colonel up to stow cases, then meet us in the mess. Colonel Hawkeye–"
"Major Falman has my personal suitcase," Riza interrupted smoothly.
Roy flashed her a quick fond glance, then turned to Vickers. "Major General, you can keep your things with you, send Colonel Blenheim up with them, or both go up, as you choose."
Vickers' expression was tight, anger a raging fire in his eyes, and Roy expected that, were Olivier not of a higher rank, he would have already laid into her about her conduct. "Blenheim!" he barked, and the colonel at his shoulder came to attention. "Go with General Mustang's men."
"Yes, sir," Blenheim responded, and wasted no time in joining Falman and Havoc in escaping from his boiling superior.
Roy turned to the Kozlovas. "Majors, you're our Drachman experts here–" Vickers cleared his throat, but Roy ignored him "–is there anything in particular we should do to welcome the delegation?"
The sisters traded uncertain looks before Andrea admitted, "I could tell you how to exchange greetings between family members, and I think I remember how to greet neighbours, but I don't know anything about greeting diplomats." She glanced quickly back at Francine, who shook her head, her expression pinched. "Neither of us do."
"Kozlova," Olivier called, and Francine straightened, immediately turning to face her, "what was the first thing you said to me when you joined Briggs?"
Francine glanced to one side, her brow furrowing, before saying, "I believe I asked you why it was so warm in here."
Olivier's eyes glinted, and Roy could already see where this was going. "Please don't force us to negotiate in temperatures that require us to break the ice on our cups every time we want a drink, Lieutenant General."
Andrea laughed. "I don't think it needs to be quite that cold," she offered.
Francine huffed. "The entranceway is a little warm by Drachman standards," she explained, "but no one expects the mess to be equally cold. If we lower the temperature in here a bit, slower increments of warming up, I think they'd appreciate that." She pinned Roy with an assessing look while Olivier called for the changes in temperature and Vickers made a displeased noise. "You actually care about this treaty," Francine murmured, clearly only just realising that.
Roy pressed his lips into a thin line. "I'm tired of people dying for a conflict that should have been laid to rest six years ago."
"Drachma's not your only enemy," Francine pointed out.
"They're the first one to have responded positively to envoys of peace," Roy replied, before allowing a grimace. "Creta sent back our ambassador in pieces."
"That is gross," Andrea announced.
Roy nodded. "Anything else?"
Francine stared at him for another moment, then glanced at Andrea, who widened her eyes comically. Francine sighed and nodded. "Yes. You're going to be tempted to talk to the translator at times, because they're the one who understands you; don't."
"Look at who you're speaking to," Andrea added, meeting and holding Roy's gaze when he looked at her. "In Drachma, when you won't meet someone's eyes while you're speaking to them, it's a sign that you're either weak or lying. If you're checking a fact on a sheet of paper, stop talking while you check, then resume once you're looking up." Then her eyes glinted with mischief and she said, "If you're lucky, they'll send a beautiful woman and you can imagine–"
"Thank you, Andrea," Roy interrupted and she laughed.
"General," one of Olivier's men called from over by a phone next to the hallway that Falman had led Havoc and Blenheim down earlier. Roy, Vickers, and Olivier all looked over, but it was clear the man was speaking to Olivier. "They'll be here shortly."
Olivier gave a quick incline of her head. "Your show, Mustang," she offered, a hint of mocking in her tone.
Roy shook his head. "Our show," he corrected. "This is your fortress, Armstrong; I'm as much a guest as they are."
Approval glinted in Olivier's eyes and she motioned for him to join her as she started off down the hall towards the massive doors leading to the Drachma side of the fortress. "You're learning," she murmured as he fell into step next to her.
"That lesson I already knew," Roy murmured back. "It's learning not to compliment how lovely you look that I'm still working on."
Olivier let out a delicate snort. "I hope they do send a woman," she retorted. "It'll be interesting watching you resist the urge to flirt."
"It's not my fault that I'm naturally charming," Roy insisted, earning him another snort.
"Mustang," Vickers hissed as they came to a stop a reasonable distance from the Drachma side doors.
Roy turned slightly, so he didn't have to look over the bulky shoulder of his coat, and looked enquiringly at the major general. "Vickers," he responded coolly.
"I came because I am the foremost expert on Drachma–" Vickers started.
"No," Roy interrupted, sharpening his tone, because they didn't really have time for Vickers' wounded ego. "You came because you managed to bully and cajole enough of the brass back in Central to take your side, because none of you like the fact that Armstrong and I took all the credit for dealing with Father and the monstrosities he and the old command created. Armstrong has sat at Briggs' head at least three times as long as you watched the border in the west, and Majors Kozlova have very obvious and far less bloodthirsty ties to Drachma. You are here to observe only, and if you question me while the Drachmans are here, I will have you demoted as soon as we return to Central, am I clear?"
Vickers' mouth snapped shut and he gave a tight nod.
"Good." Roy turned back to face the door. One of the Briggs soldiers was standing at the winch for the doors, clearly waiting for Roy to finish his dressing down before letting in their guests. Roy put on his most charming smile and nodded to the man. "At your leisure, Sergeant Major."
The man grinned, clearly approving, and heaved on the winch. The doors opened, letting in six people from the snowfield, each of them tightly bundled against the cold. About the only part of them visible were their eyes, and Roy felt his own widen as he caught sight of the familiar bright gold eyes of the person in the lead.
"Edward?" he heard himself whisper, and Olivier and Riza both drew in startled breaths beside and behind him.
Those eyes glinted and their owner made quick work of undoing his hood, revealing the rest of his face, including the shit-eating grin that had taken over. "Colonel Bastard!" he called back, and one of the Drachmans behind him let out a choked sound. "You're a surprise," he added, before his eyes swept over the rest of the welcoming committee. "Major General Armstrong, Lieutenant Hawkeye, good to see you both again."
"Fullmetal," Olivier returned drily.
Edward winced just before most of the Drachmans broke out in loud questions, and he quickly turned to respond to them in Drachman.
Roy turned to where Andrea was standing just behind him and off to one side, raising both eyebrows at her in a helpless request for translation. She took a quick step forward and murmured to him, "They had no idea he is the Fullmetal Alchemist. Well, most of them. One, the taller woman–" she pointed towards the group, all of whom had removed just enough of their cold wear to make out faces and genders "–apparently already knew, but didn't tell anyone else. The others aren't happy. That one, the guy with the crooked nose, he's calling Fullmetal a traitor, that he should be shot against a wall somewhere, and the guy with one eye is sort of agreeing with him, but he also thinks Fullmetal should be allowed to–" the woman who had apparently known who Ed was started laughing "–fight for his honour? The woman thinks that's funny."
Roy closed his eyes; how was it that Ed just attracted trouble? "Fullmetal!" he barked, using his best commander voice.
Ed spun on the spot, gold eyes flashing with barely contained anger, and snarled, "That's not my name, bastard!"
Faced with that expression, so familiar, Roy couldn't stop himself from drily suggesting, "We can throw all of you back out into the snow if you need an hour to cool down." And then, acknowledging the reprimand, he added, "Edward."
"Fuck you," was Ed's immediate response.
The woman who had known Ed's second name let out a bright laugh and said, in accented Amestrisan, "I like him. What is he called?" And Roy couldn't help but notice that she had a lovely face, though it was slightly weather-worn, making it hard to judge her age.
"Please don't like him," Ed muttered, and the other woman, who had stayed largely quiet during the arguments, let out a quiet snort. "That's Colonel–"
"General," Roy corrected as he met the woman's dark eyes. "General Roy Mustang, Flame Alchemist. If I might make introductions?"
The woman's lips curled with a faint smile. She turned to Ed and ordered, "You will translate."
"Da, da," Ed muttered grudgingly before turning to the other Drachmans and quickly explaining who Roy was, and Roy felt his eyebrows raise; who was this woman that she could get Edward Elric to listen to her. (Though, to be fair, Ed had always been far more likely to listen to a woman than a man, in Roy's experience.)
The woman turned back to Roy. "Please."
Roy recalled Francine and Andrea's warning about eye contact just before he turned to motion to each person as he introduced them. He bit back a grimace before offering, "To my right is Lieutenant General Olivier Armstrong, the commander of Fort Briggs; just behind us is Major General Vincent Vickers; to General Armstrong's right is Major Francine Kozlova; to my left is Major Andrea Kozlova, the Stardust Alchemist; and behind her is my adjunct, Colonel Riza Hawkeye."
The woman nodded her thanks before looking between the Kozlovas. "You are from Drachma?" she asked them.
Francine stepped forward. "Our mother was Drachman," she explained. "We were raised by her sister in Amestris."
The woman inclined her head in understanding, glanced between Roy and Francine twice, then settled on Roy to explain, "I am Tsesarevna Anastasia Petrova."
Roy recognised her last name as belonging to the royal family, but it was Andrea who, after letting out a gasp, explained, "She's the crown princess!"