It was just another day at Eastern Command.
As the staff scurried about on their various errands, they rarely stopped to ask or even think about what was causing the ruckus on the first floor, somewhere in the vicinity of the office of a certain Colonel.
"Are you sure you looked through every nook and cranny of the defence system? That shouldn't be difficult for you, since you can practically wriggle into them..."
"WHOM ARE YOU CALLING SO SMALL THAT EVEN AN AMOEBA CAN STAMP ON?!"
The staff gave a collected sigh—of course, it was the infamous Fullmetal Alchemist back to submit his report.
Nothing to worry, all was well.
Edward was struggling in his younger brother's armoured grip, trying in vain to rip out the Colonel's throat with his transmuted automail.
"Brother! You surely don't want to harm the Colonel now, do you?" Alphonse admonished, reproach dripping in his usually calm voice.
"URGH! I WILL RIP YOU TO SHREDS AND FEED THEM TO BLACK HAYATE, YOU JERK!" Edward yelled, still flapping his limbs like a fish out of water.
Mustang smiled, sending the young blond into more hysterics. He loved infuriating the young alchemist, and even looked forward to the day he would be returning just so he could entertain himself with his favourite pastime.
"Now come on, Fullmetal, your inspection assignment was important, I cannot risk any faults just because of the fact you are small—"
"WHOM ARE YOU CALLING SO SMALL THAT HE COULD GET LOST IN HIS OWN SHOE?" Edward yelled again, his amber eyes screaming murder.
"Colonel, I think you have antagonized the boy enough for one day," Hawkeye said, her hand innocently hovering around her trusty pistol.
Mustang blanched at that not-so-subtle warning before hastily changing track and drawing another folder from the obscenely high pile on his desk.
"I have another mission for you..." he began, only to drowned by the blond's tirade.
"I am not going on another mission, Bastard," he huffed, crossing his mismatched arms across his chest. "We haven't been able to research substantially since the last three months."
Mustang waved away his interruption like something inconsequential.
"Sypheros is one hundred and fifty miles north-west of the Eastern Command. And I am sure I have heard some rumours of a strange red stone floating around in that area."
Mustang smirked at the way Edward's expression changed from furious to surprised to curiosity to downright disbelief.
"How can I be so sure you are not sending me on a yet another wild goose chase?" Edward asked, gnashing his teeth.
Mustang leaned back on his chair, looking up at the ceiling thoughtfully.
"I am your commanding officer, Fullmetal. It is in your best interests that you believe me," he said slowly, the previous traces of malice and mirth all but disappeared.
If Edward was surprised at this sudden change of mood, his face didn't show.
But Al, bless his soul, was the ever perceptive and with a slight tilt of acknowledgement towards the Colonel, he dragged out his older brother, running a soothing commentary on how the weather was extremely nice today.
"Sypheros, sir?" Hawkeye quirked up an eyebrow.
Mustang nodded, suddenly interested in the paperwork for once.
Hawkeye gave a knowing smile before she stepped out of the room. Men could be such idiots sometimes.
After she exited the room, Mustang let out a sigh that had been slowly building up in his throat. He checked the military-issue calendar hanging on the wall. Yep, tomorrow was the day that obnoxious shitface of a General would be visiting.
Brigadier General Richard Kailun. Everyone who had been in the military blues for at least six months knew of the veiled enmity between the Flame Alchemist and the Brigadier General. For instance, Kailun was a failed alchemist; meaning, he failed in the State Alchemist exam twice in a row before digesting the fact that the pocket watch would remain forever out of his reach. He then entered the conventional way, as a soldier and then got promoted up the ranks by licking a posse of boots squeaky clean.
It was an open secret that Kailun targeted the Fuhrer's seat. Well, so did Mustang.
Mustang was everything Kailun wasn't—suave, smart with words, somewhat good-looking and the biggest of all, Mustang was an alchemist.
Kailun didn't hate Mustang. He loathed him. Abhorred him like the harbinger of death itself.
And since he was in a rung above him in the military ladder, he loved making the Flame Alchemist squirm.
Mustang just prayed that God, Truth or whoever played with their fate-strings would kick Fullmetal out of East City before Kailun troops in to make his life miserable.
Edward stretched out on his bed in the dorms, working the kink out of his muscles. He had long shed his coat and clothes, opting for a loose shirt and shorts—unlike the south, the east was hot and humid, a potent combination that could make even the most cultured and genteel members of the society curse like a sewer rat. His last mission wasn't dangerous in the least, but tiring all the same. Who wouldn't love to sleep a week after trudging through fifty floors of god-knows-what machinery and inspecting every crevice for fault?
Al sat at the corner, poring over a map of the Eastern Province.
"Sypheros seems to be an automail hotbed, Brother. Can't we take Winry along?" he suggested.
Edward groaned at the mention of his violent mechanic.
"You know how she gets at the mention of those metal stuff, Al. I don't want another Rush Valley there," he muttered.
"Oh come on, Brother," Al chided. "It is her birthday next week, think of it as giving her an early present."
Edward cringed at the thought, fingering his forehead as a ghost of a pain bubbled up there. He had forgotten her birthday last year and had been greeted with an extra-heavy version of her wrench when he dropped over for repairs.
"Maybe you are right, Al," he gulped visibly. "I guess I should go and give her a call."
"Hey Winry," Edward said, twisting the telephone cord around his flesh finger unknowingly.
"Hello, Ed. You never call, what happened? You busted up the automail again?" said the voice from the other end of the phone, with a subtle yet dangerous stress on "again".
Edward was glad he was in one piece for once.
"No, it's not that. Actually, Al and I are going to Sypheros for a mission and since it's an automail town, we wondered whether you would like to tag along with us," he said.
A surprised "Oh!" came from the other end before going silent.
"Winry, you there?" Edward prodded.
A bustle and shuffle later, he could hear some heavy breathing on the line.
"Yeah...but I need some time though. There's this order I need to sort out. You can hang on till the day after tomorrow?" she asked, delight lacing her voice.
Edward did a little mental calculation. Yeah, the mission report did explicitly state that he was supposed to depart tomorrow but then again, when did he start listening? Besides, two days would give him enough time to rest and get his energy back.
"Okay, meet you at the East City Station in two days," he said finally.
The next day was as gloomy as it could be, as if the heavens themselves wanted to reflect the state of Mustang's mind.
"Goddammit! Of all days, it has to rain today!" Mustang hissed, tearing through his paperwork like an angry cat. The others in the outer office could hear his disgruntled mumbling through the shut door, but refrained from saying anything out loud.
"Say Fuery, how long till he loses it?" Havoc asked, inhaling the smoke from his cigarette deeply. Fuery shrugged as he tinkered on with the switchboard.
"But I am glad that Ed and Al are out of the way—we all know how General Kailun practically hates Colonel," he said thoughtfully.
Breda nodded in agreement, looking up from his paperwork.
"Not to mention the fact that Kailun would try to sway Ed and make him leave us and join his team," he said darkly. Havoc gave a slow nod.
"You have got a valid point there, Breda," he said.
Hawkeye kept an eye diligently trained on the door. Any minute now...
An hour or so later, the door opened to reveal a tall, well-built man with short brown hair and beady blue eyes standing at the frame, taking in the office with distaste. The group stood up quickly, hands at their temples for a perfect salute.
"Yeah yeah, at ease at ease," he said, sounding bored as he stepped in. A mousy looking man followed in his wake, thick glasses perched on a weak looking nose and muddy brown hair which looked like it has seen better days.
"Good morning, Brigadier General Kailun. Welcome to Eastern Command, sir," said Hawkeye in her most professional and clipped tone.
"Is the Colonel in?" he asked, taking in Hawkeye's form with an unflattering look in his eyes.
The others noticed it too, as low growls filled the room.
"The Colonel has been expecting you sir," she continued, her russet eyes as hard as glass as her hand brushed past her pistol. Apparently, Kailun had some sense in his head as he suddenly became interested in the light bracket near to the door of the inner office.
"This way, sir," she said, leading the way. She rapped the door smartly with her knuckles.
"Colonel, General Kailun is here for a visit."
A muffled response came from within, allowing her to open the door and let him in.
"Lensbridge, stay here," Kailun instructed his mousy assistant before entering the inner office and closing the door behind.
Mustang was busy with his paperwork, signing some reports that were long overdue. He didn't raise his head as the General entered, though he could see his movements from the corner of his eye. He knew it was a massive breach of protocol to not salute an officer of higher ranking immediately once he entered the office but then again, he could always say he was busy.
Work came first, didn't it?
After the papers were signed up, he lifted his head to see the General perusing the photographs kept on the bookcase. Mustang stood up and gave a stiff salute.
"Good Morning, sir," he said in a deceptively cordial voice.
"You seemed to be having a fun time out in here, Mustang," Kailun said, dragging out his name like a pickaxe on dirt. He held aloft a picture which Mustang recognized immediately; it showed him, Hughes and the rest of the team along with Fullmetal and his brother when they visited the Annual Fair last year.
"Fun is necessary to make work productive, sir," Mustang replied easily, though anger coiled deep in his belly eager to strike that man down.
"Hmm...interesting way to put it, Flame Alchemist," Kailun purred, making the hairs on the back of the alchemist's neck stand up in alarm.
"There is this mission down south, about a serial killer who is only interested in killing young teen-aged girls. Preliminary investigations say that the suspect is an alchemist. I suggested your name, and the higher-ups agreed readily—a nice way to show Central how dedicated you are to your country, right?"
Mustang gritted his teeth at the obvious implication. The case, famously known as the Tyler Knowles murder case, was a hot topic in the Southern province. The Southern Command had been driven mad by this case, petitioning for help in Central last month. He knew that a team of State Alchemists stationed at Central were ready to move out—God knew how many strings Kailun pulled to get him dragged down.
This man was a certified lunatic.
"And of course, since you are dealing with a rogue alchemist here, I don't think taking your team with you would be favourable; they would be dead weights," Kailun said, sadistic mirth dancing in his eyes.
Before Mustang could answer anything, the door to his office was flung open.
Only one person opened the door that way.
Mustang could only gape at the short blond who stood at the doorway, a really evil smirk on his lips.
Alphonse sat in the outer office, wringing his hands in his lap as his soulfire eyes looked at Hawkeye for some explanation. The man who accompanied the Brigadier General now sported a large bruise on his head and was currently knocked out. He was sprawled over a couch at the far end of the room. Edward had landed a fist to his face just because the man had the gall and the idiocy to say out loud "This is not the place for children, kid. The kid's area is downstairs."
Alphonse was a little behind, and thus couldn't stop the assault by his older brother. And by the time Havoc even got up, the deed was done. And before anyone could say anything, he had marched into the inner office.
"So that's why the Colonel wanted us to go away," Alphonse said it as a statement.
Hawkeye sighed, shaking her head. The two most unpredictable people in the entire Amestrian military, both in one room.
"A wager that Kailun leaves that room in a stretcher," Breda whispered to Havoc. The blond man spared a glance to the shut door of their superior's office before turning to Breda.
"Agree with you, completely," he said.
Fuery looked a bit troubled when asked, saying that stretcher was taking it a bit too far. To the sergeant's horror, even Falman voted in Breda and Havoc's favour. But he was a soldier, and so he stuck to his ground though his assurance dropped a little. He glanced at the door again.
A stretcher? Seriously?
A rare smile graced Hawkeye's face as she returned to her paperwork. Maybe not all rainy days are that bad.
"So you are the prodigious alchemist Edward Elric," Kailun said, his tone going a complete 180 degree as fake warmth dropped from his voice.
Edward nodded, his amber eyes slightly confused.
"Yeah, who the hell are you?" he countered, stuffing his hands into the pockets as he eyed the man warily.
"This is Brigadier General Richard Kailun from Central. He is here for the semi-annual inspection," said Mustang, his eyes narrowing.
You weren't supposed to be here, you idiot!
"Just dropped in to say that I would be leaving for Sypheros tomorrow. Winry is coming too, said that she wanted to have look at my automail," he shrugged.
So that's why you wanted to kick me out.
Mustang gave him a terse nod, but he knew that the damage was done. He had tried to keep Kailun from meeting him as much as he could—and today his efforts came to naught.
"So young Fullmetal, why don't you have a seat? I have a proposition for you," Kailun purred.
Edward sat down on the proffered seat, bewilderment swimming in his eyes. What was going on?
"You see, Central has a dearth of alchemists in its ranks—" Mustang snorted and tried to disguise it as a cough. Edward gave him a glare though Kailun ploughed on, blissfully unaware. "—and you too know that to grow in power, Central is the place to be."
"Cut the chase, old man," said Edward haughtily, though his eyes were narrowed and his lips set in a frown. "What do you want?"
"You could transfer to Central. I am sure Colonel Mustang wouldn't mind and I would be delighted to help you ease in. As far as research goes, the Central Military Library is the best in the country and I know how much you alchemists love researching," Kailun added.
Mustang gave a mental groan of defeat. Unwittingly, Kailun had hit the bull's eye with the research thing. He could see Edward's eyes grow slightly round and his head tilt a little towards the door where faint sounds of Al talking could be heard.
Who was he kidding? Edward had joined the military to get his brother's body back, not become his lapdog. Besides, everyone knew that there was no love lost between them.
Kailun, you sure know where to hit.
Mustang closed his eyes, prepared to listen to Edward's answer.
"Gee, thanks for the offer," Edward replied. "But you see, unlike Central, the East is quiet and the clamour and noise of the metropolis is all but absent here. The air is fresh and the scenery beautiful. Besides, I prefer to travel to actual sites for research. And as far as the library is concerned, if need be I could always travel to Central. It is just a one-night journey away."
Mustang's jaw threatened to drop on the floor but he controlled the urge. Barely.
Kailun's eyes narrowed. All the geniality vanished from his face.
"So, you wouldn't take the quieter way? How about I order you, twerp?"
Edward frowned, and slowly grew outraged as he honed on to the taboo word.
Mustang slapped his hand to his forehead. Alphonse wasn't here to hold Edward back.
The General was finished.
"WHOM ARE YOU CALLING SO SMALL THAT HE COULD LIVE IN A PENCIL BOX, YOU JERK?!"
Outside the office, everyone heard the shout with a dangerous sense of foreboding, all the more intensified when they heard a too-familiar clap and the zing of an alchemical reaction. Hawkeye opened the door gingerly, heaving a microscopical sigh of relief as she found the Colonel safe, albeit a bit shaken. Then she swept her eyes all over the room.
A giant fist from the floorboards had apparently knocked the General into the far wall, a big tennis-ball sized bruise glowing a happy red right in the middle of his forehead. The person responsible was nonchalantly brushing off the dust from his clothes, glowering at the unconscious man.
"Who made this pansy a Brigadier General?" he asked to no one in particular.
Fuery looked on with a flabbergasted look while Breda and Havoc looked at each other with barely-suppressed glee. They won the bet!
The Eastern Command staff knew at once what happened when the Brigadier General was taken away in a stretcher to the hospital. When the Investigations Department went to interview the General for the report, the very sound of the name "Fullmetal" made him blubber like a toothless baby.
"That cannot be possible," the Investigation officer said, shaking his head. "He might be an alchemist, but he is just a kid. Besides, not even an adult is capable of this much damage, sir."
The officer left, leaving the man mutter away "short complex", "freak", "metal" and "devil" in one large, disjoint sentence.
The man was new to the Investigations department, thus unaware of the quantity of truth in the General's ramblings. Thus, after four months, Kailun applied for voluntary retirement and disappeared out of sight. They say he was never seen in the East again.
As for Fullmetal and Roy Mustang?
They had nothing to discuss about that incident but something unspoken was conveyed, to which both of them agreed.
Try and keep those creeps away from me, bastard. I am not on sale.
Yeah I would, but you are very well capable of doing it on your own, pipsqueak.
WHOM ARE YOU CALLING SO SMALL THAT HE COULD GET LOST IN HIS OWN CLOTHES?!
Team Mustang knew better than to step in between their battles, both verbal and the non-verbal versions. And from the small smiles that graced their faces, they knew that the young blond would never leave them even if the world was served to him on a silver platter.