Shopping was a tiresome activity. There was no doubt there. It was hard to believe that people all across Amestris willingly went into shops packed with people pushing and shoving each other just to be the first to purchase an item. But that was how the Christmas season always went, so Riza Hawkeye was not surprised when a gruff-looking man snatched the small doll from her hands.
“Excuse me sir,” she called after him. He turned around, ready to tell her to shut up, but withered when he noticed her uniform.
“I-I’m sorry ma’am!” he spluttered, nervously handing her back the doll. “I didn’t realize you were with the military.”
Riza’s eyebrow twitched. “Sir, I advise that you do not act like that towards any person, not just military personnel.”
The man took off his hat and bowed his head repeatedly, backing out towards the door. “Sorry ma’am, I’ll keep that in mind.”
Riza sighed. Very tiresome indeed.
She went to the cashier, and, after waiting patiently for a woman to rummage through her purse for a few more cens, finally paid for the doll.
When she pushed the shop’s door open, she was met by a blast of cold air. She dusted a few flakes off her shoulder and began her long walk back to Colonel Mustang’s office.
“Lieutenant Hawkeye? Are you in here?”
Riza turned around. “Ye-? Sergeant Brosh. I’m over here.”
The blonde-haired man standing in the doorway of Trinkets n’ Toys! -- the shop that Riza was previously in -- nearly tripped over his own feet as he closed the door. “Oh, uh, I was told you’d be in there.” He grinned sheepishly as he made his way towards her. It looked as if a passing thought flitted through his mind. Then, Denny Brosh remembered what he was supposed to do. His boots clicked together and his hand came up into a sharp salute. “Lieutenant Hawkeye sir -- I mean ma’am! I mean...Uh...I have a message from the Führer concerning you and your superior officer, Colonel Mustang.”
“From the Führer?” she repeated, accepting the piece of paper held out to her.
“Yeah, and it’s on a weird topic too -- I mean...! Sorry, Lieutenant Hawkeye, ma’am! I went off topic there!”
“Calm down, Brosh. There’s no need to be so stiff.” She read through the letter’s contents. A small smile tugged at her lips when she reached the end. “The Colonel’s not going to be happy,” she said lightly as she dropped the letter in her paper bag.
Brosh blinked at her, a bit confused, and still at attention. Some people passing by stared oddly at the awkward officer.
“Is that all?” Riza asked, her body already half-turned.
“Er, no. Yes! That’s all.”
“All right then. You’re dismissed.”
“Wait, can I ask you a question Lieutenant?”
Riza faced him again. “Yes?”
His eyes traveled to the bag held tightly against her chest. “What did the Colonel make you go to a toy store for? Everyone was surprised when he’d given you that order.”
She looked down into the paper bag, her face softening at the sight of the doll. “He wanted me to do a favor for him. He was so busy, and he didn’t have time to get a gift himself.”
“He just wanted me to pick up a little something for Brigadier General Hughes’ daughter.”
“What took you so long? I need your help!”
Riza set the bag on the Colonel’s desk before removing her jacket. She noticed the pile of paperwork placed sloppily next to him. “I see you’ve actually gotten some work done,” she said.
Roy Mustang scribbled a few words on his current sheet and threw it to the side. Riza bent down and collected all the strewn papers into a second pile.
“Hawkeye, I need to get these done by six. Could you fill out those reports over there? Argh! I can’t believe I’m expected to finish this in one day!”
“You had a week to finish, Colonel.” His pen stopped, and he looked up at her. She nodded towards the bag. “There’s the item you requested. There’s also a note from the Führer inside.”
If Roy had been drinking coffee at that moment, he would’ve sprayed it all over his desk. But luckily, he took on a shocked face instead. “Now? Why didn’t he just send it directly to me?” He eyed the bag and pulled out the doll first. Riza watched as he flipped it over and examined it. “I’ll need to wrap this later,” he mumbled as he let it fall back into the bag. Then, he took out the paper.
“Colonel, I believe there was a purpose in relaying the order to me.” Roy was reading through the letter. A scowl was slowly forming on his face. “And,” she continued, “I think you should accept.”
Colonel Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist, glared at her from over the paper. And then with a snap, the paper was in flames. She frowned as he chucked it into the nearby trash bin.
“I’m not going to do it, Hawkeye. Why would someone of my rank do something as pointless as that?”
“Because you’d be the perfect test subject for the program,” she said calmly.
“So I’m a guinea pig?!”
“Colonel,” she sighed. Mustang could be so thickheaded. “You didn’t read the letter thoroughly, did you? This program will help the public become more comfortable with the presence of the military. It will only be an asset if the common people take a liking to you.”
Roy continued giving her an icy gaze, but Riza simply returned it with a doubly icy one of her own. Finally, after a few more seconds of scary staring from the Lieutenant, Roy sighed in resignation. “Fine then. But I won’t forgive Hakuro for this!”
“This was probably his idea, so he could make me the laughing stock of Central! And then, after proposing this program to the Führer, he suggested me, out of all people, as the first candidate. And--”
“Get to work, sir. You have a deadline.”
“I wish I could just burn all this paperwork!” Riza couldn’t help but smile as Roy rushed to complete his reports.
This particular part of Central was essential for running the main headquarters, for all the energy produced here by the workers was routed back to the large building and to various other parts of the city. Behind this industrious area lived a community of people that weren’t entirely poor, but weren’t a bit wealthy at all either. It was the perfect place, Roy noted as he strolled along side Riza, his hands shoved in his pockets, to befriend the common people and to reinforce that the military are the good guys. At least most of us are, he added unconsciously.
Despite knowing that completing this assignment would increase the happiness of this family, Roy didn’t want to go through with this. Still, had had agreed to it yesterday, and he needed to keep his word. But he was sacrificing a great deal of his pride just to please Hawkeye...
“Today’s supposed to be my day off,” Roy grumbled uncharacteristically. His eyes were half-closed, not because he was tired, but because he was bored out of his mind. “Maybe we should go stop for some coffee. What do you say, Hawkeye?”
Riza pulled ahead of him. In her hands were two bags: one, a red sack; the other, a gift bag covered with snowman-prints, a small doll for a certain little girl inside.
“Let’s stay on task, Colonel. Look. The house is over there.”
Across the street stood a fairly tiny home, squeezed between two equally tiny shops. The pair of officers stepped off of the sidewalk and into the snow-filled street. Mustang muttered something incomprehensible as his boots sank into the cold slosh of ice. Riza, on the other hand, walked across briskly without any trouble at all.
Roy eventually made it to the door, although his steps now sounded squishy. Riza looked him up and down. “Practice your Santa laugh,” she ordered. Roy cocked an eyebrow.
“I don’t believe in such nonsense as Santa!” he snapped, a little too loudly for Riza’s liking.
“I’m not asking you to believe. And keep your voice down, sir. The children might hear you.” As a precaution, her eyes darted to the frosted window. The last thing Riza wanted was for her superior officer to accidentally reveal to the children that Santa Claus didn’t exist. Satisfied with the closed curtains, she turned back to the Colonel. “Sir, just practice.”
Roy tried hard not to show his disgust for this request. He really did. But he couldn’t help the extremely bored tone that accompanied his words. “Ho ho ho. This is so stupid!” The red jacket and pants, all the white fur, the darned cap with the puff ball hanging on the end...Roy had been forced to wear the attire of that myth of a man, suit and all. Unbeknownst to him, Riza had mentioned his new assignment to Havoc, and the miniscule detail that he was required to at least don the outfit of old St. Nicholas. Poor Roy didn’t know what hit him when Havoc and the crew blasted into his bedroom at six a.m. Fortunately, Riza allowed him to take off the beard until they reached the home. Wearing that itchy white tangle the entire day would add even more to this torture.
The Lieutenant took out the beard from the sack and handed both items to the much annoyed man. He pulled it on, slung the sack over his shoulder, and put on a determined face. Even if he was to look like a fool in front of civilians and any other military officers that caught wind of this ludicrous errand, he might as well do it to the best of his ability.
Riza knocked on the door and then stepped back. They waited in the frigid air. Both could see their breaths, but only Roy was tempted to snap the surrounding snow into melted puddles. But of course, he held himself back. Nobody wants to see a man in a Santa suit shooting fire at their doorstep.
The door creaked open, revealing a young girl of about four or five years. She gaped at Roy, baffled and confused. Riza cleared her throat. Roy was jolted back to the assignment. “Uh...Ho ho ho?” he said lamely. If Havoc or Fullmetal were there, they both would’ve slapped their foreheads and jeered at Mustang’s inability to be a jolly old man. Riza just shook her head.
“Da...” The girl struggled to get her mouth working again. “Dario! C’mere! Santa’s outside our house! And he has black hair!” The girl whipped around and ran as fast as she could to the living room, slamming the door in Roy’s face in the process.
That irritated feeling started to come back again. Kids these days!
Seconds later, the door opened again. This time, a man and woman -- probably the parents, Roy mused -- stood there. “I’m sorry for my daughter’s rudeness. She can get excited sometimes,” the man said, grinning in his child’s direction. “You must be Colonel Roy Mustang. A soldier stopped by yesterday and told us what you’d be doing for us. Thank you so much for coming. The children will be very happy.”
The woman pulled the door open wide enough to let them step through. “Please come in. You must be cold, standing out there.”
Oh, you think? Roy thought smugly as he entered the home. Riza followed and, unlike Roy, remembered to wipe her wet boots on the mat.
The couple led them into the living room, where a boy and that girl sat, looking thrilled. A few furniture pieces were situated by the fireplace, including a large sofa and an armchair. Roy was instantly grateful for the heat emitting from the crackling flames.
“Wow! Santa! You got younger! And you’re not chubby anymore!” Roy turned his head to the side, and nearly jumped when he saw the little girl clinging to his fur-trimmed coat. When did she get here?
“Uh, actually, I’m Santa’s apprentice,” he said quickly. The girl ooed before scrambling back to her brother’s side. The young boy, a bit older than her, looked delighted as well.
Riza coughed and pointed towards the sack. The children caught this as well. They bounced up and shot to him like magnets. Mustang was sweating, nervously looking to Riza for help. “I don’t know how to handle kids!” he mouthed. Her face softening yet again, she nodded and crouched down to be at the young ones’ eye level. Roy was already starting to look relieved.
“Hello. What are your names?”
“Dario,” the boy said flatly, while the girl squeaked, “I’m Delia!” at the same time.
“Dario and Delia. Those are pretty names. Do you want to see what’s in that sack?” She took this moment to glance at the red bag, but caught Roy’s eyes instead.
“Yeah! Um...If that’s all right with Santa’s apprentice.” The girl fidgeted and looked at her brother guiltily. “I was naughty last week,” she muttered in a confidential voice to him.
Riza returned her eyes to Delia. “I’m pretty sure it’ll be okay. But first, you have to stop smothering him. Santa’s apprentice gets nervous when passing out gifts.”
The girl’s eyes widened. “Really?” She let go of Roy, and the brother followed suit. Roy, meanwhile, loosened up and straightened out his jacket, trying to regain his composure.
Riza stood up and held out her hand. “I’ll take care of this, sir,” she whispered. Mustang took this to mean the sack. He handed it over, and watched as she stooped down again.
“There are...” she dug into the sack and pulled out a wrapped package. “Ah. There are two gifts for each of you. This must be for you, Delia.” The girl was absolutely beaming when Riza placed the box onto her small hands. She fingered the gift tag, then looked up at Riza with her big brown eyes.
“You’re so nice!” She switched her grinning to Roy, who was getting unusually warm inside from witnessing the scene. “Mister...Is she your girlfriend?”
Roy choked on the air he was breathing. Hawkeye? His girlfriend? If he didn’t say the right thing, who knows what the Lieutenant would do to him. “N-no, of course not! She’s just my subordinate. That’s all...”
Riza froze, already in the process of handing the boy one of his gifts. But she quickly shook it off. But as she passed out the rest of the boxes, and she listened as the girl asked her what a subordinate was, she couldn’t help but feeling...sad. But why should she feel sad? She was just his subordinate, after all.
After a few more holiday activities, Roy was allowed to escape into the kitchen while Riza wrapped things up with the family. Of course, Roy was permitted into the kitchen only because the children found out that he could make and combine things, and that they insisted that he combine foods. So, Roy was stuck sitting at a table, his only companions being a red crayon, a pad of paper, and a few fruits and vegetables. Oh yes, and let’s not forget Delia.
“Ooh! Do the apple and orange!”
Roy scrawled down the array and placed the two fruits atop it. The little girl giggled when a blue light flashed. In the two fruits’ place was a single red one, similar to the apple, except with the orange’s hide. “That’s an orangple!” she said proudly. Roy scrutinized his creation. He concluded that it would be safe enough to eat, and put it in their fruit bowl.
“Here!” The girl dropped a tomato and potato in front of him. “Do these!”
Mustang wrinkled his nose. “Are you sure about this? You should pick a different set.”
“No! I want these!”
Oh well. At least he tried. He touched the paper. He was momentarily blinded when the light flashed again. Maybe that was a good thing? But Roy was not blessed enough. His eyes still fell on the lumpy red thing that lay before him. And it looked nasty. He seriously hoped that the girl wouldn’t try to eat it.
“That’s a pomato!” she declared.
“Colonel.” Riza was standing by the open door. Behind her, Roy could see the boy chasing his train around the living room. “We’re finished here.”
Mustang shifted in his chair, then pushed himself up. The girl looked up at him in awe. “Colonel? Santa’s apprentice is a soldier person? Wo-ow! Now I love soldier people!” Roy looked to Riza, and they both nodded. Mission accomplished.
It was already dark when they left the warm home. Roy didn’t realize how fast time had flown. They had one more stop: Gracia’s. Hawkeye was still holding Elysia’s gift. Hopefully they’d make it there before the girl’s bedtime.
It was too quiet. The people probably slept early on this side of town. But that wasn’t what was bothering Roy. Yes, he could hear the snow crunching under his feet, the random meowing, ice falling on the pavement. What bothered him...was Hawkeye. She was quiet at times, but not this quiet. After they’d said their goodbyes to the children, she didn’t say a word. And the whole time, she was walking ahead, much farther than usual, without so much as a glance at him.
“Hawkeye.” He quickened his pace and strode up next to her. “Is something the matter?”
Her face remained resolute. What did it matter? Why did she want to know if he really thought that?
Roy narrowed his eyes. It was irking when people ignored him. “Hawkeye--”
She halted. “Colonel...Am I really just a subordinate to you?” she asked, her voice so low yet demanding to be answered. She wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to hear him say. Or maybe she did. Did he just regard her as a lower-ranking co-worker? Why couldn’t he just tell that girl something else? Something less...cold.
Roy was taken aback. “No. Why?” Then, he remembered. “Oh. I only said that so I wouldn’t insult you.” He took a step forward, then turned to smirk at her. “Really, Hawkeye. You think that I’d really think of you as just that after all this time?” He chuckled, then took the gift bag from her. “After we drop this off, let’s stop for some coffee.” Riza...I think of you as much more than that.
And Riza smiled that gentle smile, the one that he loved so much. “Yes, sir.” I’d love to...Roy.