Disclaimer: Clearly, I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist. Enjoy!
Havoc looked up from his doodles to see the dark eyes of his superior glaring at him in the expectant way of someone who has been trying to get his attention for quite some time. Colonel Mustang had been in a foul mood from the start of the week and things went downhill sharply from there. Most of this was more or less a direct result of one pivotal moment: he discovered a grey hair on Tuesday morning and was obsessing over it ever since. No one would argue that Colonel Mustang wasn't a man prone to the occasional mood swing.
Havoc dropped his pen on the desk before answering lethargically, "Sorry Boss, what can I do for you?"
"Have you see my hat?" Mustang asked, stressing each word as though talking to a child.
"No sir." He answered, causing his superior to groan and lean against the door frame. Havoc continued, "Have you tried Hawk-"
"Useless!" His superior said in a tone somewhere between an exclamation and a whine before disappearing into his office with a flourish.
Havoc looked dumbfounded for a moment before the thin line of his mouth broke into a smirk, then a giggle, then a full on howl of laughter. The others in the office followed suit, trying their best to stifle their amusement. Breda's red face was showing behind his sleeve trying to muffle his laughter, Falman let out a long, punctuated burst and Kain Fuery giggled wildly in the far corner of the room, glad to be in on a joke for once.
Somewhere behind the polished oak of the office door they could hear their superior fretting, drawers being flung open, books being shifted out of the way, at one point there was an agonised 'hat!' All of this only served to heighten the giddiness of the office until Breda actually had to remove himself. Havoc turned to Falman wiping a tear from his eye.
"Hilarious. The guy's touching thirty, what's there to get uptight about?" he asked Falman directly. Something told Havoc that to Kain Fuery, thirty still seemed an awfully long way away.
"And why won't he just ask the Lieutenant? She manages the Colonel to within an inch of his life." Fuery put in between giggles.
"Indeed. I once asked her if she had a clean handkerchief. She replied in the negative but informed me that the Colonel had several. Most odd." Falman added.
Havoc had emptied enough pints with Mustang to know what the whole circus was about. "Two reasons, Fuery my friend -" He began, pausing to enhance his knowledgeability and gather his audience's attention. "First off, the man wastes, like, fifty per cent of his energy on trying not to look like the fool he is. He knows what everyone says about Hawkeye babysitting him and would rather die than ask for her help - let's remember the time she floored Ol' Soggy Gloves with that nifty little tackle." They shared a chuckle at that. "Second, is this damn quasi-marriage they're both so keen on ignoring. He wants to be her Mustang, not some grey old mule. Not that either of them wouldn't shit themselves if you said it to them." He let out a long, amused sigh. "Three things actually, he is the vainest creature this side of Briggs."
"I have to say I'm quite affronted by the whole display." Falman replied, running a hand through his full head of grey hair by way of demonstration.
"Ha! Of course, sorry man." Havoc said, taking Mustang's hat from his bottom drawer and placing it on the hat rack. "It could be worse -" Havoc started.
"Yeah, imagine a bald Mustang!" Fuery piped up just as the outer door swung open and Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye stepped in with a suspicious glance at Fuery.
She circled the office and leaned an ear to the Colonel's door, hearing him mumbling and banging about inside. She made her way to the window and leant against it with her arms folded, foot tapping.
"Well?" Her amber eyes fell on Fuery, knowing full well that Falman and especially Havoc were hardened, time worn cheaters, liars and practical jokers. "Something worth sharing?"
Havoc stepped in to save Fuery, "Hey Hawkeye – is the Colonel going bald?"
Riza's foot stopped tapping. Falman stared opened mouthed at Havoc, Fuery swallowed a lump.
"What? I thought you would have known, Havoc?" Riza said. The others leaned toward her. "The Colonel's been bald for years, he scalded himself in Ishbal and had a wig made from the tail of an Ishbalan pony. Expensive. Very glossy, is it not?" She shrugged. "I thought everyone knew that."
If Havoc had a cigarette in his mouth, it would have fallen out. Falman, made a sad, resigned face – bubble suddenly burst. Fuery giggled again nervously. Mustang: the tramp, the devil, the cad. Stone faced and raven haired. Dashing, dangerous and charming. All hips and swagger, prowling and with enough charisma to bottle. Bald. A wig. The image of a hairpiece danced around the inside of their heads. Stuck to a pillow, on a bedside table, combed out every night, washed tenderly. They would have thought it funny, but it was horrifying. How could they commit themselves to a man who got upset over a grey hair in a damn wig. Talk about closing the gate after the horse has…
"Wait a second -" Havoc began but Hawkeye cut him off with an uncharacteristic burst of laughter.
"You should try not to be so excitable boys, it's very unbecoming." She laughed, and doubled up a little with her hand over her eyes. Soon they were all laughing at the idea of a bald, vain, rampaging Colonel. Occasionally Falman would throw in a cautioning 'shh'. It was all she could do to keep herself upright, leaning heavily on the window frame to offer some support. There was a fleeting sense of guilt before she began a second bout of laughing. The Colonel had it coming. She thought this obsessing over a few silly hairs a little ridiculous. She looked across the office and they all shared a cheeky exchange of glances. Havoc spun the Colonel's hat once on the stand and made his way back to his seat with a swagger. Fuery hiccupped and got back to his scribing. Falman looked a little unsettled by the whole affair, funny as it was. Shaking the giddiness out of her head, Hawkeye made her way to Mustang's office, knocked, and entered.
Mustang looked up from his desk, his fingers wound tightly in his hair. His look said a very clear and unimpressed What now?
"Edward Elric and his brother have just arrived in Central, Sir. Hughes met them and requested they report to Intel before liaising with yourself about their findings back East." She said, her tone clipped and revealing nothing of her previous conversation.
Mustang looked at her for a moment. Something about her eyes wasn't quite right. "Thank you, Lieutenant." Something about them, certainly. Were they moist? "Have you a cold Lieutenant?"
"You're feeling quite alright?"
"Affirmative sir." She straightened her shoulders.
He stood up and walked toward her with a scowl. He took a closer look. "You haven't been ... upset?"
She resisted the urge to smirk. "No sir."
He leaned closer, she could see herself reflected back in the darkness of his pupils.
"Your eyes are watering." He said flatly.
She gave herself a moment before answering. "Must be all the dust in here, sir. Why is it so unsettled? Have you been looking for something?"
He opened his mouth and made a short 'ah' sound. His eyes narrowed. "Dismissed Lieutenant. Make sure the brat reports to me immediately after speaking with Hughes."
"Yes Sir." She saluted and made to leave before stopping with her back to him. "Oh and sir?"
"Mm?" She knew from his tone he didn't bother to look up.
"Your hat is on the hat stand. A hat stand should be the first place to look for one's hat."
Mustang stared open mouthed after her as the door was pulled quietly closed. Still watching the door, he reached into his top drawer and pulled out a small mirror. He drew his eyes from the door for one moment to check that new grey hadn't replaced those hairs he so painstakingly removed. Satisfied, he started back into his paperwork with something of a coyness in his face and the occasional glance at the wake of his Lieutenant.
On the other side of Headquarters, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes, Ed and Al Elric strolled through the bustling halls of the Intelligence Department. Ed and Al, not natural 'strollers' had to temper their speed to keep in pace with Hughes' relaxed gait. As they walked they chatted about Hughes' family, about their journey, about what's been happening in Central. Conversation like this seemed oddly alien to the brothers, simply because it was all so ordinary. Life with Hughes had such an enchanting normalcy to it that it was easy to forget what had brought them all together in the first place.
Al, somewhat detached as they moved through the rabbit warren of Intel, understood perfectly why such a man as Colonel Mustang would want a 'Hughes' in his life. He was a harbour of sorts, something still in the middle of all this chaos. Al supposed that the man to his left possessed what no one else known to the brothers had. He had a family, and therefore, perspective. People, flesh and blood who existed totally outside the world of Homunculi, raging alchemists and the shadow hands of his nightmares. When he thought about it, everyone else in the arena had really only each other to rely on. It seemed the closer to the stone you were, the more isolated you became. Aside from Hughes, only Armstrong ever mentioned family. He knew something vague about Hawkeye's father, Havoc's family were miles away and Mustang could have fallen from the sky for all he knew. So Hughes, with his snapshots, paint stains on his uniform and litany of Elysia stories stood out as something really very special in his ordinariness. Al didn't covet what the man had, it was just something pleasant to aspire to.
"You have fun, Alphonse?" Hughes asked, breaking Al from his reverie.
"Fun sir?" Al took a moment, humming while he collected his answer. "It was definitely productive sir. I don't know about fun."
"Al's just sore because he tried to smuggle a pregnant, mangy cat onto the train." Ed sighed.
"She looked sad." Al said quietly and slowed in front of Hughes' office.
Hughes smiled and held the door open for the boys.
"So does Hawkeye but I don't see you trying to shove her in your belly" Ed said and gave a couple of knocks on Al's chest cavity, the dull 'thunk' ringing out across the small office.
"So long as she doesn't look sad for the same reasons that cat did, I think we're all doing okay." said Hughes.
Ed grinned. Al played with his hands.
Hughes gestured to the seats opposite his desk before propping himself against it, facing them.
"So boys, I know that Roy has given you something or other to report back on from your time in Poyntzpass -" Hughes began.
"Yeah -" Ed interrupted before putting on his best Mustang impersonation: "A very important text has come to light way out East, Fullmetal. Any Alchemist worth his salt would want to have a look at it. I would love to go myself but I've just got the sand out of my boots and couldn't bear the slow train past Eastern. Can't trust a courier without flagging something up to you know who. What we need is someone small enough to slip through the net. Oh! You have a quiet spell just now if I'm right – be a good Major and have a look around, see if you can't find me a copy. I can even throw you the bones when I'm finished with it." Ed tutted. "Ass."
Both Hughes and Al looked a little flummoxed by the outburst.
"But -" Hughes started again. "I was hoping you had a chance to have a look at my thing?"
Ed nodded and opened his bag pulling out a bundle of tattered newspapers, dossiers, roll sheets, jotter pages and hand written letters. He passed them to Hughes. The man's expression dropped when he felt the weight of the material and sighed.
"Is everything okay Mr Hughes?" Al asked.
"Look boys – I know that Roy, the Colonel, isn't your favourite person -" Hughes said. Al looked like he was going to object but Hughes held up a hand to quiet him before continuing. "It's okay. I understand. He's on the wrong side of a desk to be liked by you -"
"He's on the wrong side of my boot to be liked by me." Ed mumbled.
Hughes gave a small, consenting smile to Ed before continuing. "You see, I've received some information … " A pause. "Someone is -" He stopped again, took a long breath. "My thoughts are -" He took another long moment before beginning with fresh fervour, gesturing freely. "Okay. Everything regarding the Colonel that's come my way recently, everything is pointing towards something strange, or fishy I suppose you could say." The boys' attention was squarely on Hughes now. "I don't know what or who it is, but someone is doing an awful lot of digging around him and I don't like it. When Madame Christmas approached me, I have to say I thought her a little paranoid, but she's right. Someone is taking more than a healthy interest in him. They broke into her house and ransacked it but took no money. Christmas has a lot of money. All they took were a few old journals from her time East, a few letters and a photo album. What this all means, I don't know. Maybe it's just the press and I'm just jumpy, or the brass trying to secure a little dirt on him. Could be someone is onto his vision and is hellbent on stopping it -"
"Or stealing it -" Al said, thinking of the shapeshifter, Envy.
Hughes' response was a you see gesture at the younger brother. "It's no secret that Roy isn't from round here, that he's adopted. Until now though, no one ever bothered to care much, least of all Roy – or so he says." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Most people assume he's of Xingese extraction – now I'm not so sure. Whoever it is that's so keen on getting to the quick of Roy Mustang certainly isn't sure. Their view of his past is much more – open minded, distant even."
Ed laughed, "Sorry sir but come on. The Colonel? Isn't he obviously some ways back Xingese?"
"Have you and the Colonel ever spoken about his past?" Al asked politely.
Hughes regarded them both. "This is very hard for me. I hate going behind his back like this. I'm sure he wouldn't be very pleased that you're in on this, Edward -" he flicked idly through the first newspaper on his lap. "I'm very glad that I have your utmost confidence in this matter." He looked hard at them both. "I'm being clear, aren't I?"
They both nodded.
"I'm sure I don't need to tell you that Roy is very close to my heart. And don't worry, you're not alone in thinking me mad." He smirked. "My Gracia has never lost a lot of love over Roy – but she understands, and I need you to understand too. I've known Roy for longer than I care to tell you two kids, and like him or loathe him, you've got to admit he carries a tremendous aura of purpose, of history." He smiled at the blond haired alchemist. "Like you Edward." He became sombre again. "If anything happens to him, I know in the very deepest part of me that we'll all be a lot worse off in a very big way."
A heavy mood fell over the office. Al's armour could be heard shifting uncomfortably. Edward looked deep in thought.
"We're clear on our little smokescreen for him? Why I needed to speak with you?" Hughes asked.
"The extra curricular activities of the district warden, yeah. The Colonel's going to be pissed we couldn't find that damn book of his though." Ed answered.
"You're lucky that this tied in with that text the Colonel wanted, Hughes sir." Al said.
"Luck had nothing to do with it – there is no book." Hughes said with an apology. "Roy's been prattling on about wanting to read up on some alchemic mumbo jumbo for an age now so all I had to do was let the right people know that a little known alchemist from the East had uncovered a paper about it. Worked quicker than I thought."
Ed's mouth hung open in a gaping smile. "You played Mustang?" He laughed. "Mustang was duped! What a sucker!"
"We kind of got duped too, Brother." Al said.
"Yeah, Hughes. What the hell do they teach you in the academy? How to be manipulative assholes 101? Straight As for Colonel Shithead." Ed said, a little calmer now.
Suddenly upbeat, Hughes smiled and slapped his knees, flinging the materials aside one by one, leafing through them as he went.
"Wow boys. You two have done really well: list of all registered births from 1883-1888, all police reports of human trafficking for same period, photos, contacts, accident log from the customs house at the Xingese border, obituaries concerning deaths in child birth 1880-1900 -" He looked up with a naughty smirk on his face, "Come on Edward – 1900? You're being very kind … you've heard the news haven't you?"
Ed looked at Al and then at the Lieutenant Colonel. "Eh – no?"
Hughes grabbed Ed by the shoulders, sniggering like a maniac. "We're having a little impromptu celebration for dear old Roy this evening at my place -"
More clueless glances were exchanged.
"Edward – I'm about to make you the happiest man in Central." He picked up Ed's empty satchel and handed it to him, a grin halving his face. "Roy thinks the party's over as far as he's concerned, and it's just killing him – that is to say, Mustang's going grey and everyone knows it. Happy Birthday Roy!"
A young secretary was passing Lieutenant Colonel Hughes' office with reams of type copied work piled precariously in his arms. A deafening, excited, squeal came thrilling from Hughes' office causing the secretary to jump a foot high and drop two weeks worth of annual leave policy documents on the floor. With a groan, he bent to pick them up, incredulous at the howls of laughter from the other side of the door.