"We have curtains up in ten minutes!" Fuery's voice announced in his ear, nearly piercing his eardrums. "Can we have everyone check in please?"
"This is the first balcony," Roy gritted back. "Turn it down before I go deaf, Sergeant."
The noise lessened, thankfully, as the others checked in. The tiny wire running from the thing in his ear down his neck and into the receiver on the floor itched against his skin. The other little device, the bit transmitting his voice, was right next to the top button of his shirt, rubbing irritatingly against his collarbone. It may have been the best technology, but it certainly was a pain in the ass.
"Concourse here." Breda.
"Catwalk, in position." Hawkeye.
Then there was nothing.
"Um, can we have second balcony check in? Please?" Fuery begged.
"You know," Havoc mumbled a moment later. "I could be on a real date right now."
"All comms hot," Fuery said. "Curtain up in nine."
Roy shifted in his seat again, observing the two side entrances visible from his spot on the balcony. He'd been positioned to the left side of the theater to give him a visual of anyone entering on that side, and he was placed directly across from the balcony where a very annoyed looking Havoc was seated beside the elderly Mrs. Westen.
As the various wires poked and itched him, Colonel Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist, the Hero of Ishbal, the future Fuhrer of Amestris, et cetera and so forth was furious. According to Falman's memory and with confirmation from Lieutenant Hawkeye's research, East City was home to at least 46 separate private security companies. Any of whom could have been here at the civic opera house instead of him that evening.
But no. Havoc's 'date' for the evening, one Mrs. Edison Westen, was the dear mother of Ernest Westen, the trusted treasury secretary of one Fuhrer King Bradley. And said Ernest Westen was being heinously blackmailed and his family the recipient of death threats. Not that Roy cared for the nitty gritty details of this farce, but Mrs. Edison Westen was a stubborn old bat who would see her favorite pianist perform whether she was being threatened with certain bodily harm or not. And one Mrs. Edison Westen was too well connected to be placed under the protection of one of East City's 46 qualified, certifiable private security companies. Oh no, Secretary Westen had said. His mother could only be guarded by the finest soldiers Amestris had to offer.
Roy Mustang was the best East City had to offer and because Roy Mustang wanted everyone to know he was the best East City had to offer, he and his subordinates had been tasked with the protection of Mrs. Edison Westen. But it had been a very long night.
First, Mrs. Edison Westen would not stay home. Even though that very evening she had received a letter stating 'If you attend the recital tonight, you will die,' Mrs. Edison Westen had insisted on coming anyhow. Mustang's team had been forced to change from housesitting to civic opera house assassin watch in less than an hour. They'd also been forced to rent formal clothing at the last minute with their own money since personal security detail could not be written off as a work expense on such short notice. Renting formal clothing at the last minute also meant that Roy's jacket was too large and his trousers too short. And too small. One day, he would be Fuhrer. But tonight, he would be Roy Mustang, Flame Alchemist, He of Trousers that had his Balls in a Death Grip.
Second, Mrs. Edison Westen had the best seats in the civic opera house. And, as Roy had discovered upon the team's arrival, the least defensible position from any would be assassin. The theater had dozens of shadowy balconies for a killer to hide himself. Roy himself was in one. Again, paid for with his own money. Even with the military discount, balcony seats to see Xing's greatest pianist were quite expensive, especially for a Colonel who couldn't distinguish a nocturne from a nectarine. Falman, Fuery, Hawkeye, and Breda, scattered throughout the theater to keep an eye out for suspicious persons, did not have seats and had not had to pay. And Havoc, as Mrs. Edison Westen's companion and last line of defense, had a free seat in her balcony. For all that Roy's subordinates were loyal, they did not offer to chip in to pay for his seat. For this injustice, he had decided, they would do his paperwork for the next three months.
And third, Mrs. Edison Westen was not worth the time and effort to protect. Roy Mustang, Future Fuhrer, valued human life as an abstract ideal. But the life of Mrs. Edison Westen was neither valuable nor ideal. She was, in Roy's estimations, a bitch. She would not be talked out of attending, she would not follow any of Roy's orders, and she most certainly would not sit at the rear of her balcony and out of the line of fire.
"If Ling Sho Pan is playing piano," Mrs. Edison Westen had declared, "then I shall be watching his fingers on the keys." She'd then proceeded to yank Havoc's cigarette from his mouth and put it out on the Lieutenant's jacket. "Smoking will kill you, young man."
And so, as Roy itched, and his crotch ached, and his patience wore thinner and thinner, there were six minutes to curtain and he was eager to snatch his glove from his tuxedo jacket pocket and turn Mrs. Edison Westen into a pile of ash.
"How's the view from the catwalk, Lieutenant?" Roy asked, trying to ignore his various ailments. He let his gaze drift to the stage where Hawkeye was concealed out of his line of sight. She was on the catwalk over the stage with a sniper rifle. Ideally, an attacker would be taken out by Breda on the concourse or Falman on the steps to Mrs. Westen's balcony, but the eyes of the hawk would fill in any gaps. Decisively.
"A full house tonight, Colonel." And she was correct. Though Mustang was alone in his balcony, the others around him were already full of the oblivious East City well-to-do set, and the seats on the floor below were quickly filling as well.
"She smells like raisins," Havoc reported, and Roy looked across to the other balcony to see Havoc make a disgusted face.
"You shouldn't say that," Fuery mumbled.
"Oh, she's a deaf old bag," Havoc shot back. Roy watched Havoc lean over to where Mrs. Westen was looking through opera glasses at the folks on the floor. "You smell like raisins!" Mrs. Westen didn't even flinch. "See?"
"Are they selling raisins on the concourse, Breda?" Roy asked. Their sudden change of plan had not allowed them the opportunity for supper, and an Annoyed and Tight-Trousered Roy Mustang was nothing compared to a Hungry Annoyed and Tight-Trousered Roy Mustang.
"Let me check."
"Four minutes to curtain," Fuery said.
"Nope," Breda reported back. "Just wine and...hey, gin and tonics."
"Not on the job, Lieutenant," Roy interrupted.
"I heard that, Breda."
"So Hawkeye," Havoc said. "How's that outfit working out for ya?"
Roy swallowed, remembering the red formal gown Hawkeye had rented for the occasion, and he continued to regret the horribly tight pants he'd been forced into. Remembering the slit up the side of the dress was sending his brain into a tailspin and even a glance across to Mrs. Raisin wasn't helping. Damn you, Havoc.
"Yeah," Breda chimed in. "Can't remember seeing you in a dress before, Lieutenant Hawkeye."
"I think she looks lovely. I mean, Lieutenant, you...not that you don't look lovely all the time, but uh..."
"Fuery," Havoc laughed. "Just stop trying."
"Thank you, Sergeant Fuery," Hawkeye noted, amusement in her voice. "I don't know why I needed to wear a dress to stand up here, but..."
Roy was lost in the deepest recesses of his mind. He was suddenly somewhere else. He was on the metal grating of the catwalk, imagining Riza Hawkeye standing in heeled shoes, red dress hugging the curve of her hips, hair unpinned to fall around her shoulders, bending forward to look through the scope of her sniper rifle and...
"Huh?" he muttered, kicking the receiver at his feet in his surprise, sending a really noisy metal screechy noise into his ears, earning the horrified shouts of his subordinates.
"Jeez, Colonel!" Breda said. "The hell you doing up there?"
Roy looked up to see Havoc watching him with a leer through Mrs. Westen's opera glasses. Mustang quickly grabbed his overcoat from the empty chair beside him and laid it across his lap. Havoc was about to make a comment, and Roy pulled out one of his white gloves, waving it menacingly in Havoc's direction.
"He's just watching the exits," Havoc answered, looking glum. "Let's focus everyone."
"Havoc's absolutely right," Roy announced. "Mission first, people. Keep the chatter to a minimum." And stop reminding me that Hawkeye's in a dress right now.
"Of course, sir," Hawkeye responded seconds later, thankfully sounding oblivious of Roy's torment.
The next few minutes continued in relative silence, only interrupted by Fuery's countdown and the sounds of audience members to his left and right, conversing away in the other balconies. The curtain finally rose and the house lights dimmed, making their job all the more impossible. There was raucous applause as Ling Sho Pan, costumed in a perfectly fitted tuxedo Roy noted, bowed to the audience and approached the piano.
"Status updates every ten minutes unless you have something urgent to report," Roy ordered, settling back in the seat, letting his eyes drift between the exits he was monitoring. Mrs. Westen was barely visible across the way, and Roy was happy to be deprived of her grouchy, wrinkled leather face.
Ling Sho Pan began to play, his fingers furiously drifting over the keys. The minutes ticked by, nothing suspicious. Maybe Ernest Westen's blackmailer was waiting for a quiet moment in the second half or would use the typical chaos of an intermission to launch an attack on Mrs. Westen.
"Concourse is empty, but I'll keep an eye on the ushers," Breda whispered.
"Nobody's come to Mrs. Westen's balcony steps," Falman reported. Fuery and Hawkeye also chimed in to report that nothing suspicious was going on.
"Go ahead, Havoc."
He squinted through the darkness to see the other balcony. Mrs. Westen appeared to be complaining about something. "She has to use the ladies' room."
Roy cracked his knuckles. "I thought this guy was her favorite musician."
"Colonel, she's old. What if she wets herself?"
"Lieutenant Havoc..." Falman muttered in embarrassment.
"What? You're not sitting up here with her!"
"Fuery, come up here and take my post," Hawkeye announced. "I'll be there in a minute, Havoc."
Everything was going to hell fast. They'd finally gotten everything under their control, and now Mrs. Raisin's bladder was going to screw everything up. "Nobody's going anywhere!" Roy hissed into the transmitter, earning a 'ssh' from the balcony to his left. He could have them arrested, but then again, he didn't have the time or the manpower.
"Colonel!" Havoc's voice was strangled, and that was because Mrs. Westen was choking him. "Colonel, seriously..."
"Turning off my comm," Hawkeye said, and Roy's ears were greeted with static.
"Damn it, Hawkeye." The old lady could piss herself and put Havoc in a choke hold so long as she didn't leave that damn balcony. "Nobody else move." Roy had an insubordinate officer in a dress wandering around, and they hadn't even secured the restroom facilities. Someone else had to go down there.
Roy yanked the transmitter and receiver cords off, tossing them to the balcony floor in a huff. He hurried from his own position, down the steps and through the concourse around to the other balconies. Breda was too busy chatting with one of the coat check girls to notice him hurry by. Hawkeye was waiting for him when he arrived.
Falman frowned. "The Colonel's here," he mumbled over the transmitter to whoever was still listening.
Hawkeye shook her head at him. "You're compromising the mission, sir." Had she always had hair this long? "Falman or Havoc can accompany me."
"Who's in charge here?" Falman and Hawkeye exchanged a look Roy decided to ignore, as he did every time they made such faces. Which was far too often, he realized. "Falman, go get Mrs. Westen."
Falman obeyed, leaving him alone with Hawkeye for a moment. He focused on an ornate candelabra on the wall just past her shoulder. It was so much easier to stay focused when she was in uniform. It was easier to ignore the fact that she had cleavage, for one.
"If I might speak freely, Colonel?"
"You always do, whether you have permission or not," he smarted back.
She dared to grin at him. "You should have worn black socks."
"Huh?" He looked down. In his hurry to change from civilian clothes to his recital-attending best, he'd apparently chosen brown socks. His black as night trousers stopped a few inches shy of his ankles, revealing the brown eyesore between his pant leg and shoe. "Damn it."
Hawkeye chuckled as Falman arrived with Mrs. Westen. She was pretty spry for an old woman, and she immediately grabbed Hawkeye by the arm, hard. Roy winced. "Enjoying the show, Mrs. Westen?" Hawkeye asked as kindly as she could.
"What? Speak up, you hussy, I can't hear a word you say."
Roy coughed to conceal his own laugh. "Mrs. Westen, if you'd allow me to escort you ladies to the powder room."
Falman took his position at the foot of the stairs once more as Mrs. Westen clung to Hawkeye and Roy trailed them to the nearest washroom.
"Don't you dare follow us, you filthy pervert!" Mrs. Westen said with a scowl, and Roy did his best to smile and nod.
"I'm only here for your protection, ma'am."
"Then protect me and stop gaping at her. You never seen a behind before, Colonel?" And before he or Hawkeye could react to that, Mrs. Westen pulled Riza into the washroom with her. He leaned back against the wall and sighed. If he incinerated the woman in her washroom stall, would anyone miss her? He slouched, tugging at his pant leg in hopes of concealing his mismatched socks.
Minutes passed, and all Roy could hear was the piano echoing from the theater, the music floating through the halls. He could be at home, dreaming of his next scheme to infuriate Edward Elric. He could be on the town, in his own clothes, buying drinks for a pretty informant. Hell, he could be practicing his speech for the day he became Fuhrer, anything but this.
Breda came running up moments later, and Roy was furious. "Why aren't you on the concourse?"
He was handed an envelope. "They just delivered a telegram. I'll get back to my post." Breda's eyes went from Roy's face, down to his too short trousers and back up to his face. "Sir." Breda turned swiftly on his heel and walked away.
What could it be? Roy's imagination ran wild. Maybe it was a kill order. Maybe Mrs. Westen was actually a spy or a traitor. A blonde woman approached, giving him a strange look. Oh. He was blocking the bathroom door and dressed like an idiot. He stepped aside and tore open the envelope as the woman scowled at him and entered the bathroom.
Great. It was a telegram from Hughes.
Roy! Heard about your big night out STOP
Elysia got some new blocks so remind me to
show you some pictures the next time we...
Roy skimmed the next several lines since they detailed Hughes' daughter's architectural achievements with building blocks. He didn't even want to know how much his friend had had to spend to send this particular telegram. He finally found the real meaning of Hughes' note way at the bottom.
And one more thing STOP Did some digging
and found out that Ernest Westen's sister
Claudia up and disappeared from an insane
asylum in East City a few weeks back STOP
Turns out she hated her mother for having her
committed STOP Probably the assassin you
should be looking for STOP
And beneath that, Hughes had included a detailed description of one Claudia Westen. Blonde hair, blue eyes and...
"Hawkeye!" he shouted, hurriedly pulling on his gloves and turning to charge into the ladies' room behind him. The little lounge was empty, but way nicer than any men's room he'd ever been in. He found them in the next room, full of marble sinks and fancy wooden-doored stalls. The same blonde woman who'd given him a dirty look in the hall had a handgun trained on his lieutenant, who was standing between Claudia Westen and her mother. Roy knew that somewhere under that red dress, Hawkeye had a handgun strapped to her leg, but there was no way she could get to it before Claudia pulled her own trigger.
"You pervert!" Mrs. Westen shouted angrily, apparently more disgusted that Roy had dared to enter the washroom than by the fact that her crazy daughter was there to kill her.
"Make one move, pervert, and I shoot," Claudia screeched.
"I'm not a pervert!" Roy protested, holding up his hands in innocence. He saw an immediate change in Hawkeye's face, awareness of the white gloves with the red array. Her eyes said Be careful not to burn us all, Colonel.
Did she have so little faith in him? Well, he couldn't tell black socks from brown, but otherwise...
"Claudia, you've always been jealous of your brother! And why? Because he's not a crazy person!"
"Shut up, mother!"
"Don't tell me to shut up! You're making me miss Ling Sho Pan!"
Hawkeye held up her own hands. "Mrs. Westen, you are not helping."
"And you should watch your tone around your elders, you slattern!" Hawkeye smarted at that, and Roy wondered if his lieutenant would simply duck and let Claudia Westen's crazy ass finish the job.
Claudia screamed. "I swear, mother, I will shoot you right here!"
Hawkeye didn't blink, only briefly fluttering the pinky on her left hand as a signal that she was ready if he was. As mother and daughter Westen kept shouting, Roy concentrated on the stale bathroom air and prepared his strike. Before Claudia Westen knew what was happening, there was a flame dancing in front of her face.
She screamed and Hawkeye hurried forward, shoving Claudia's arm up. The gun discharged into the bathroom ceiling as Roy watched his lieutenant knock the other woman to the floor, pinning her. She was on her knees over the other woman, a shapely leg visible where the dress was slit. Her spare sidearm was holstered to her thigh just where the slit stopped, and Roy's mouth felt dry.
Hawkeye looked up, giving him an annoyed look. "Well?" Aren't you going to get the others, her eyes asked.
"Pervert!" Mrs. Westen shouted, launching to hit him with her handbag.
"How did we miss the daughter?" Roy shouted angrily as the East City police got Claudia Westen into their car. He waved the telegram from Hughes in Hawkeye's face. "How do we miss something like that?"
Hawkeye's face gave nothing away. Fuery was quietly putting all of their comm equipment back in one of the cars they'd taken over to the civic opera house. Breda and Havoc were engaged in a furious game of rock-paper-scissors for the 'privilege' of escorting Mrs. Westen back to her home. From the agonized scream seconds later, it appeared that Havoc had lost.
"We'll talk about this tomorrow," he decided. He was definitely annoyed, but what he wanted more than anything was to get out of these disturbingly tight trousers. Roy Mustang, Future Fuhrer, yanked open the back door of one of the cars, arranged himself inside and slammed the door. A few moments later, Hawkeye got into the driver's seat and waved to the others as she started the vehicle.
"If you don't mind, Lieutenant." He saw her smirk in the rearview mirror. "Word of this will get back to Central. We'll be a laughingstock."
The car started to move as Hawkeye tucked a bit of hair behind her ear and pulled into traffic. "We still captured Secretary Westen's blackmailer. The person just wasn't who we expected."
"And how would you suggest we mention that in the report? That I just let the woman follow you right into the washroom?"
Hawkeye shrugged. "I'll be creative with the wording."
"Good." He closed his eyes, letting the sounds of the city outside the car soothe him. Anything was better than hearing Mrs. Westen screech at him.
He sighed. "I just want to get home and change, Lieutenant. I don't have time for small talk."
"I just wanted to say...if you hadn't been the one waiting outside the washroom, things might have turned out differently. I highly doubt Falman or Havoc could have provided the appropriate distraction to take Claudia Westen down."
Was Hawkeye actually complimenting him? Had the world turned on its axis? He waved his hand. "Ah, it was nothing." She pulled up to his apartment block. He got out of the car, leaning on the driver's side door to smile at her. "Thanks for the ride."
She returned his smile. "Off the record, sir?"
He let his eyes drift down below her collarbone, and he nodded. "Of course, Lieutenant."
"You really can be a pervert."
Roy stumbled and nearly fell into the street as Hawkeye pumped the accelerator and sped away.