Chapter 1 – The News of the Decade
That morning, Central City was a powder keg. Riza sighed as she made her way to the barracks while walking in the shade, trying to protect herself from the incipient heat. There were only two days left for the celebration of another anniversary of Amestris; the three hundredth sixty-seventh, to be precise. The second since the country had opened its eyes to a new era.
The young military woman closed her eyes and smiled, inadvertently running her fingers over the silhouette of her left jugular―she could still feel the warmth of his kisses as she climbed the stairs of the renovated building.
It had been two years of hard work; but, as she ran her hand over the gray concrete wall, Riza Hawkeye felt again as if she had just left that place; as if only that touch could bring back the dark memories of that fateful Promised Day.
Two years… Has it been that long?
Noticing that her breathing was speeding up and not only because of what the ascent entailed, the young woman forced herself not to let her mind fly as she stepped on one step after another. Hardly a day ago they had been summoned to Central City for the celebrations and had not had a moment of respite; although in Eastern City and Ishval, Roy and she had been able to give more free rein to their feelings, far from the supervision of the superior dome of the army, putting a foot in Central had meant an extra workload that separated them from the first minute. Riza had long since been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel –at Mustang’s purely professional request, to be honest– but that had also meant more duties in her day-to-day life. Something that, whether she wanted to or not, became even more evident when they arrived in the capital.
The corridors of the barracks continued to be as austere as she remembered them; but, for better or worse, Riza still knew the way to the area of the high command. Nightmares about that time still haunted her from time to time, especially when she was separated from Roy for long periods. Unwittingly, she was forcibly removed from him with many different arguments, all derived from her greatest terrors―that they would be expelled from the army; that they would be executed for their crimes at Ishval or even for fraternizing; that Bradley would never have died and she would be his slave forever, while any horrible misfortune would befall her beloved…
The young woman shook her head with conviction.
What nonsense, she repeated over and over again as she was assailed by doubts and fears, none of that is going to happen.
Both were very aware of the good and bad in their relationship. They had resigned themselves to a modus operandi and to not having any illusions; but, as long as they could manage it well, did it matter?
However, what was not her surprise when she turned a corner and saw two strangely familiar figures embracing in a very innocuous position.
“Lieutenant Ross!” Exclaimed Riza almost unwittingly, surprised.
To which the young woman alluded, with her dark eyes shining with fear and shame at being discovered, jumped backward and squared herself almost in one movement; the object of her attention, on the other hand, kept his head covered with ashen blond hair crouched while he stood halfway behind Lieutenant Ross, hand in front of his forehead.
“Lieutenant Colonel! I apologize, ma’am. Sorry!” Ross apologized with obvious embarrassment. “We didn’t know you were here!”
Her superior, on the other hand, was so shocked that, for a second, she did not know what else to say; instead, she immediately began to shake herself with such a fit of laughter that her two subordinates did not know if it was good or bad for them.
“Lieutenant Colonel Hawkeye?” Denny dared to ask, cautiously. “I mean…”
“Alas,” she wiped away the tears of laughter, trying in every way to recover her seriousness. “But, for God’s sake, what are you doing?”
“Uh…”, Denny tried to answer, but he was caught in a false sense.
Luckily, Lieutenant Ross was a lot more self-confident, so after regaining her composure, she went out of her way naturally.
“Hey, cheer up, Lieutenant Colonel Hawkeye! Sergeant Brosh and I,” she smiled, “well,” she clasped her hand over her short black hair, “we’re just celebrating how much we love each other on a special day like this.”
“Special? What do you mean?” Riza smiled, amused. “The anniversary isn’t until the day after tomorrow” ―a strange silence fell between the three of them as Maria and Denny looked on incomprehensibly―. “What’s going on, Lieutenant?” Asked Riza, as a strange tickle ran down her spine.
Maria and Denny had chosen to stay at Central after Bradley’s fall, so she had rarely seen them. But she had to admit that finding them so sugary had broken all her schemes. Mainly, because if that was allowed at Central, then…?
“What…? Didn’t you hear?” Wanted to know Maria Ross with caution, something that suddenly brought a confused Riza back to reality.
“Hear…about what?” She asked quietly.
After exchanging another indefinite glance with Maria and receiving her approval through a brief nod, a crestfallen Denny Brosh extended something to the lieutenant colonel who until that moment had remained hidden behind his back.
Hawkeye frowned in surprise before unfurling the morning newspaper.
How many hands has it been through already? She wondered, increasingly confused. And why?
The cover, at first sight, did not show anything out of the ordinary. A huge headline announced with great fanfare the activities that were taking place and those that would take place throughout the week: before, during, and after the big anniversary. Riza made a gesture as if browsing through the newspaper, but not knowing exactly what to look for.
But then, just when her two interlocutors had almost given up hope that she would discover it, a single line, highlighted in bold in the lower right-hand corner of the front page, made Riza stare at it with a racing heart. Slowly, she turned the newspaper over until it was closed in front of her, opened her eyes wide, and forced herself to continue breathing normally until she finished reading the headline.
“Anniversary Announcement: Grumman Surprisingly Overturns Ban on Military Marriage”
Panting unavoidably and feeling her head spinning, the Lieutenant Colonel dropped the newspaper from between her fingers as she leaned against the wall, trying to regain her composure without success. The words kept turning in her mind.
‘Repealed. Prohibition. Anniversary.’
Grumman, she repeated in her mind, without apparent logic.
How was it possible…? And why so suddenly? Riza shivered unwillingly. Had they known all along?
Don’t be a fool, she reproached herself. You’re not the center of the universe, and neither is Roy.
Besides, Grumman was fond of the new general, but they thought they had been discreet enough… Had they made a mistake?
Riza, pale as a sheet, barely managed to lift her chin and focus on the person trying to help her balance.
“Maria”, she managed to get it right, her mind still blurred in a whirlpool of confused emotions. “But…”
Maybe it was because of them? Riza swallowed and gasped unwillingly as she realized something―how many clandestine couples, like her own, could there be in the army? How many had been given over those five centuries? The young woman inspired deeply, trying to think clearly. Of course, how could she have been so foolish and self-centered to think that she was the only case in the military history of Amestris?
“Lieutenant Colonel! Do you need us to call someone?” Denny was overwhelmed, looking in all directions as if he could summon help out of nowhere. For better or worse, in those minutes the corridor was deserted except for the three of them. “Dr. Marcoh perhaps…”
“No,” said Riza immediately, Carefully, she massaged her temples and slowly opened her eyes, checking that the dizziness was easing. “I just need to talk to General Mustang, do you know if he’s here?”
Her alarms went off when she saw Maria and Denny shaking their heads.
“No, ma’am,” Ross replied simply, “he hasn’t been here all morning.”
Hawkeye, though nervous as a schoolgirl inside, accepted that answer and invited the two subordinates to break ranks, something they did almost in a hurry. But Riza was no longer paying attention to them.
She knew that, by that morning, while he was taking care of other business, Roy had asked her on behalf of Grumman to take care of some preparations for the parade in Sector Eight and she had come early to work, almost before he got up. For a military man, it was surprising how capable he was of sleeping soundly if he set his mind to it… But what scared Riza is that he had not yet appeared in the barracks. And she quickly found that Grumman was not in the vicinity either. Surrendered, she sighed.
Anyway, all I have left is the mountain of paperwork that is sure to be waiting for me in the office.
It was going to be quite a long morning…