Salt and Pepper
length: 6 pages
Thanks to Stacy for looking it over!
Edward Elric jumped off the train in a blur of red and strolled down the platform with an unusual spring in his step. His brother Alphonse clanked down the stairs and onto the concrete platform, lugging the suitcase Ed had forgotten about. He hurried after his brother, grateful for his longer stride. They were back in East City after a three-day research trip. The Philosopher's Stone had eluded them once again and now Ed would have to go report their misadventures to Colonel Mustang. On any other day, he would be dragging his heels and complaining about it nonstop, but Ed seemed happy. Al might dare say he seemed excited.
Ed was checking his silver pocket watch. "I think I'll go see if the Colonel is still in the office," Ed told him when Al fell in step beside him.
"You seem unusually... happy about that," Al observed. "I mean, we failed again, nii-san."
"Yeah, I know," Ed shrugged.
"And we totally demolished that laboratory."
"Well, it didn't have anything useful in it anyway."
"And your bill was outrageous at the restaurant."
"Oh, it wasn't that bad," Ed rolled his eyes.
"And they really weren't too happy when the alchemist followed us and chased you through the kitchen," Al reminded him as they stepped out of the train station and onto the busy rush hour streets of East City.
Ed frowned for the first time all day.
"I'm sure they'll want to be compensated for all those dishes."
"Probably," Ed shrugged again.
"And the countertops."
"They did get pretty scratched up," Ed agreed.
"And burned," Al added.
"Well, there was that explosion," Ed nodded. "So it's a good thing the water main got severed when I took out that alchemist. I really handed that loser his ass, didn't I, Al? On a silver platter practically!"
"Yeah on a silver platter – because you clonked him over the head with one!" Al shook his head.
Ed snickered to himself.
"It’s just too bad the place had to get flooded," Al said.
"But it stopped the fire!" Ed pointed out.
"Nii-san, the Colonel's not going to like this one bit," Al sighed.
"Nope, he sure isn't," Ed grinned.
"Isn't that going to cause problems for you?" Al asked wearily.
"Don't worry, it's going to be completely overshadowed by the other thing I have to tell him," Ed nearly cackled. His grin bordered on dangerous now.
"Other thing?" Al asked weakly.
His brother stopped and turned and faced him with a truly terrifying expression. "You see Al, I noticed something before we left..."
Al had quickly decided he wanted NO part in his brother's plan, so he went back to the dorms to put their things away. Ed strolled into East City Headquarters and waved at the ladies behind the reception desk as he passed. He hummed happily to himself, taking the stairs two at a time.
"Good evening!" he greeted everyone as he swung the door to Colonel Mustang's anteroom open.
"Edward, you're back," Lt. Hawkeye noted, giving in to a smile when she noticed his demeanor. Ed truly had what could be described as an infectious smile, she just rarely saw it.
Havoc perked up from the table by the window. "Must have gone well for once," he said.
Breda just peered suspiciously at the young alchemist, wisely not trusting such a happy face.
"Is the Colonel still in?" Ed asked, moving towards the man's office door.
Havoc and Hawkeye glanced at each other. "He's been on the phone all afternoon," Hawkeye told Ed. "Something about a Chez Jerome in Busenville?"
"Less for me to explain, then," Ed said cryptically and knocked on the door. "Colonel," he sang as he entered.
Colonel Mustang was indeed on the phone. He glanced up and pointed to the couch when he saw Ed enter his office.
"Yes, I understand your concerns," Mustang said patiently to the receiver. "I assure you, we're investigating the incident."
Ed sat down on the couch and flung a booted ankle casually over one knee, looking for all the world like the cat who ate the canary, which only caused the Colonel's frown to deepen. "Yes, I'll have someone contact you soon," he finished and hung up the phone. He leaned his elbows on the desk and pinned the younger alchemist with a glare. "Damage control," he said tightly.
"Oh?" Ed asked innocently.
"I'll be generous and let you explain before I rake you over the coals," Mustang allowed.
Nothing could shake the smile on Ed's face, not even the promise of a full scale dressing down. Not this time. After years of teasing, sarcasm, and jokes at his expense, little did Mustang know that HE held the trump card this time.
Mustang was a pacer and he finally ended his lecture over by the bookcase, hands clasped behind his back. "Is that understood?" he asked.
"Yeah, yeah. Subtlety, discretion, appropriate fighting, not dragging civilians into it, don't eat so much. I got it, sir," Ed repeated with a wave of one gloved hand.
He received a withering look from the Colonel for his indifferent summary. He propped one boot heel up on the coffee table and then the other.
"Fullmetal," the Colonel said in a warning tone that was blithely ignored.
"Sir, I'm afraid I have more bad news to report to you," Ed said without any hint of contrition or regret.
"Wonderful," the colonel said sarcastically as he sat back down at the desk. "That is not what I wanted to hear right now, Fullmetal," he added, shuffling a stack of papers.
Ed got up from the couch and moved to lean on the desk. His behavior today was, in every sense of the word, bizarre and even the Flame Alchemist knew to be wary of the Fullmetal one when he didn't seem himself. “What is it?” he asked brusquely.
Ed's smug grin clearly conveyed the relish he was feeling about whatever it was he had on his mind. "Perhaps you haven't noticed, sir," he drawled, "but you're getting grey hairs."
Grey hairs? What? The Colonel sat wordlessly for a long moment, trying to figure out just what the hell kind of code Fullmetal was speaking in. What did grey hairs have to do with exploded laboratories and flooded restaurants? "Grey hairs?" he asked in confusion.
"I understand it must be hard to accept," Ed sighed exaggeratedly.
"I'm getting grey hairs?"
"Yes, Colonel, you are," Ed informed him.
"No, I'm not."
"Denial will get you nowhere, sir," Ed reminded him.
"I'm really not."
"Yes, you are."
"Here, I'll show you!" Ed said as he whipped a mirror out of his red coat. He leaned over the desk with the mirror. "Ok, bend forward a little. Uh huh like that. Turn your head to the left a bit. Yeah. Yup, right there. Do you see them?"
Mustang snatched the mirror away so he could get an even better look. "Well, I'll be damned," he muttered.
Ed stood back, smug as he'd ever felt in his life. The man was so vain, this was probably excruciating for him.
The Colonel was still looking at his hair. "How many do you suppose that is?" he asked. "Three?"
"At least five, sir," Ed corrected him happily.
"Five, huh?" the man pondered.
"And you know what they say about spies and battalions," Ed gloated.
"Five grey hairs," Mustang repeated. He leapt of his seat, pumping his fists in the hair. "FIVE GREY HAIRS!" he exclaimed gleefully.
"Wha-?" Ed blinked, face falling.
"YES! Finally!" Mustang rejoiced. "Now they'll HAVE to take me seriously! I'm well on my way to being distinguished-looking! I'll be promoted to brigadier general in no time! YES!!"
Ed gaped, watching the man practically dance around behind his desk.
The Colonel shouting "Yes! Yes!" while Fullmetal was in his office must have been alarming to his staff because Hawkeye poked her head around the door. "Sir?" she asked, eyes scanning the room carefully.
"Lieutenant!" Mustang exclaimed and waved her over. "Look!"
She came over and he bent his head so she could see.
"Grey hairs, sir!" she gasped. "Congratulations!"
"Five of them!" Mustang added giddily as he puffed his chest up and put his hands on his hips.
"Bu-" Ed stammered.
"What's going on?" Havoc asked from the doorway.
"The Colonel has grey hairs!" Hawkeye announced.
"No!" Havoc said, removing the cigarette from his mouth.
"Yes!" Mustang crowed. "Right here!" he said, pointing.
Havoc came over to see. "Shit, I think some drinks are in order!" he said, barely believing his eyes.
Ed stammered, glancing between the three of them.
"I thought I was going to have to start dyeing it grey!" Mustang sighed in relief.
"The Colonel is finally going grey?" Breda asked as he entered.
"Way to go, sir!" Fury exclaimed as he loped in behind Breda.
Farman just saluted him from the doorway, lips trembling with pride.
"We have Fullmetal to thank for this!" Mustang told everyone.
"HUH?!" Ed squawked.
Mustang came around the desk and took Ed's gloved right hand. "Thank you for being such a pain in the ass, Edward," he said earnestly as he gave Ed's hand a hearty shake. "None of this would have been possible without your penchant for getting into danger, show-off nature, talent for pissing people off, foul mouth, crappy luck, and all the bullshit you give me on a regular basis. Really, I cannot thank you enough. This is a proud day for all of us. I can only hope you know how much this means to me. Keep up the good work!"
He was still shaking Ed's hand and his staff all gave Ed slaps on the back until he thought he was going to fall over.
"Drinks on me!" Mustang shouted and his staff gave a loud cheer as they shoved and manhandled Edward out the door with them.
"But - but I'm underage!" Ed protested as he was swept along.
All smiles, Mustang seemed to ignore his complaints and proposed, perhaps optimistically, "Let's see what we can do about some wrinkles next, hm?"
- - - - - - - - - - -
'Spies and battalions' is actually a Shakespeare reference. In 'Hamlet,' Horatio says something like, "When sorrows come, they come not in single spies but in battalions."