Over the relative quiet of Amestris Eastern Command came the now-familiar sound of a shouting teenage boy…
"What do you mean you think I can't cook?!" Edward Elric glared across Roy Mustang's desk, seething. Behind him, Mustang's staff and Alphonse watched the scene unfolding with resignation, and amusement.
"Just that," Mustang smirked, chin resting on his hands. "We know you can eat, Fullmetal. I'm just saying it takes more than a passion for eating to make a good chef."
"We'll just see about that!" Edward scowled. "What would you know about it anyway, Mr. Know-it-all?"
Mustang stood and shrugged as he came around his desk to get a file. "They say I know my way around a kitchen."
"Oh really?" Edward snorted. "Than how about a little competition, Mustang?"
"Umm, Brother?" Alphonse cut in. "Do you really think that's a good idea?"
"Of course it is, Al!" Edward turned as Mustang moved, still glaring.
"A cooking competition?" Mustang looked amused at the idea. He turned around, smirking in that way that always got Edward's blood steaming. "I accept. I'll arrange for the use of the Mess kitchen."
"Great," Edward turned, and left the room, grabbing Alphonse's arm as he went. "Come on, Al. We've got preparations to make."
Mustang looked at the time. "I've got a meeting. Back to work everyone. Keep it up," and strode out only a few seconds behind the Elric brothers.
Breda leaned over to Havoc and Hawkeye with a worried expression. "Can either of them actually cook?"
"Nearly a decade ago a man's fantasy became reality in a form never seen before; kitchen stadium; a giant cooking arena. The motivation to spend his fortune on creating kitchen stadium was to discover new cuisines which could be called true artistic creations…Unfortunately, we are nowhere near that facility, so instead, we have to make due with the 'fantastic' – please note the lack of sarcasm, really – facilities here in Eastern Command's own mess hall!"
"Hughes!" Alphonse approached the man with the microphone standing just outside the kitchen. "What are you doing here?" He ignored the bemused soldiers actually sitting in the mess hall, looking with interest through the large opening that was the buffet line into the kitchen beyond.
"Hello, Alphonse," Hughes grinned. "Ol' Roy told me about this little wager a couple of days ago, so I thought I'd come and help out. Good morale for the troops you know," he winked, and went back to his narration. "Our chefs will have one hour -- yes just one hour folks! -- To make at least four dishes all using the ingredient of the day! They will have the use of assistants, and all the ingredients available in the kitchen."
Alphonse scooted around back to stand with his brother. He would be assisting Edward in this little endeavor. On Roy's side, he had the assistance of Riza Hawkeye. "Are you really sure about this, Brother?" Alphonse asked softly.
"Of course," Edward shrugged, sounding supremely confident.
"But you're not really that great of a cook," Alphonse pointed out, hoping his brother wouldn't get too defensive on him.
To his surprise, Edward shrugged. "I don't have to be. I just have to be better than he is. Besides," he grinned up at Alphonse. "Cooking's just like alchemy. How hard can this be?"
Hughes had apparently finished his opening narration because he gestured back towards Edward and Roy again. "Today's Chefs are none other than the Flame Alchemist, Colonel Roy Mustang, and the Fullmetal Alchemist himself, Edward Elric!"
There was a mix of cheers, boos, and amusing cat calls from the soldiers sitting in the mess. "Don't burn the place down, Mustang!" "What's on the menu, shrimp?"
"Who are you calling a shrimp!"
"Umm, well then," Hughes chuckled while Alphonse got his brother back under control. "Before I reveal the secret ingredient, I'd like to show you all a little something else that you don't get to see all the way out here at Eastern Command." He whipped out a large glossy photograph. "My beautiful daughter Elicia! She's two and isn't she darling?"
"That's enough Hughes!" Roy called out.
"All right, all right." Hughes put the picture away. "Today's special ingredient is…. " he gestured to the counter where Fuery yanked kitchen towels off the container. "Milk!"
"What!" Suddenly Edward had a sinking feeling. Rats! He hated milk! What was he supposed to do with this?
"What now, Brother?" Alphonse asked.
Edward forced a grin to his face. It looked slightly feral. "We improvise."
For an hour the kitchen was a flurry of frantic activity on both sides of the kitchen.
"I need those potatoes chopped now, Al!"
"What do you mean we don't have truffle oil?"
"I'm done kneading the dough, Brother!"
"Don't catch the entire kitchen on fire, Sir."
"Are you sure you want to add that much sugar?"
All of it punctuated by Hughes' amusing attempts to narrate the entire process. Finally, slightly flour-covered but triumphant, Edward stood in front of a collection of dishes. On the other side, Roy – much cleaner – did the same.
"Today on our panel of judges," Hughes picked up, pleased to have full attention again. "We have the indomitable mountain of muscles, a culinary expert in his own right, Major Alex Armstrong! Beside him, brought in especially for this competition: the woman formerly known as the Leopardess of Resembool; the automail mistress and wiz in the kitchen, Pinako Rockbell!" Armstrong looked stalwart, Pinako amused.
"Pinako's here?" Edward and Alphonse both looked up startled. Now that was weird!
"And that's not all," Hughes continued, never losing momentum. "We also have one of our own, a man who well knows a good meal when he eats one, Heymans Breda! And, of course, no panel is complete without my lovely wife, the finest cook I've ever met, Gracia Hughes!" Gracia smiled, and blushed slightly.
"Gentlemen," Hughes turned to the Alchemists. "Please present your dishes. Ed, you're up first."
Edward swallowed as he and Alphonse served up the dishes he had come up with. The first, the one thing he knew was fantastic with milk, his best attempt at stew! The comments were positive.
"Very nice, Edward," Gracia smiled. "Quite tasty."
Breda shrugged. "Good stuff. Needs more salt."
Pinako nodded. "Not bad at all, Ed."
"It's like a sonnet on the taste buds!"
"Gee, thanks Major."
The next two dishes consisted of a large round sheet of dough cooked up and covered in melted cheese and cooked vegetables, and rolls made with cinnamon and cream cheese icing. Both of which were universally declared quite tasty.
"But…where's the milk?" Hughes asked, looking closer.
Ed shrugged and grinned. "I transmuted it into cheeses. There's no rule against that, right?"
"Well… no." Hughes clearly hadn't thought of that. He grinned. "Very clever."
The last dish was really a glass; chocolate milkshakes!
"All right Roy," Hughes smirked. "You're up."
Roy Mustang presented a very different set of dishes; a seared beef roast with a cream sauce, a cream soup with mushrooms, a milk and spice marinated chicken that he flambéed right there on everyone's plates, and 'fried' ice cream.
All of his dishes also received fairly complementary statements.
"Our judges will now take the time to score our chefs' dishes based on taste, presentation, and use of the critical ingredient," Hughes explained as they all began to write. It only took a couple of minutes.
"All right then. We have the results!" Hughes held up a piece of paper. "Apparently both of our boys are pretty good cooks after all. Aside from the fact that no one died of food poisoning," he ignored the glares from both Edward and Roy. "They have both received scores of sixteen out of twenty. It's a tie!"
"What?" Edward started to seethe. He had really wanted to see the smug smirk wiped off of Mustang's face!
"Oh let it go, brother," Alphonse replied. From the tone of his voice, Edward could tell his brother was smiling. "Why don't you just enjoy yourself? There's plenty of food left to eat."
This was true. "Good point, Al," Edward chuckled as he joined the rest of his friends. "Let's eat!"