A.N. Based on the 1940s comedy sketch "Who's on first?" Type that title into YouTube and watch the video! It took me a minute to understand what the hell they were talking about, but once I DID it was freaking hilarious! I just couldn't stop picturing Mustang doing the same thing to Ed just to screw with him. I really hope the joke doesn't get lost in translation to writing. This sketch was always meant to be performed on a stage, and I HIGHLY recommend watching the original , but it's not necessary.
Who's The Alchemist?
"Let me guess," Ed said with a mild mixture of boredom and dread. "New mission?"
Mustang nodded, but didn't elaborate any further. He seemed different today. Quieter, and very, very smug. The colonel had an odd look in his eye as he peered at Ed over his interlocked fingers, elbows resting lightly on the desk. His gaze refused to budge and made the younger alchemist feel like a bug in a collection, helplessly pinned in place.
Great, Ed thought, now the bastard's thought of a way to call me small without even SAYING anything…
The colonel picked up a sheaf of papers and rifled through them carelessly, breaking the spell. Ed squinted at the papers, knowing better than to think he would be able to read them from this distance, but unable to help himself.
"There's no need to sound so sulky about it," Mustang said coolly. "It's a relatively simple assignment, Fullmetal. In fact, it's right here in the city."
"Better not be like your last 'simple assignment'," Ed grumbled under his breath. "The one that took an entire month to complete. You know Al and I got banned from that town for life because of you?"
"Whatever you did to get yourself banned is no fault of my own," Mustang told him. "And don't worry. This assignment won't be quite as time-consuming. In fact, I'm fairly sure we'll be able to wrap it up today."
The corner of Mustang's lip twitched up slightly, and Ed noted that the gleam in his eye had increased markedly. Was Mustang sick or something? No, he was too alert and attentive for it to be an illness. So it had to be something to do with this mission. There was a catch of some kind …but whatever it was, Mustang wasn't giving anything away. But if it really was in the city then it was likely he was at least telling the truth about the timetable. The only thing that really concerned Ed was the wording of the last sentence.
"We?" Ed said warily, his upper lip curling in disgust. "You mean I have to work with you?"
"Of course not," Mustang said smoothly. "I'm a colonel and not expected to take part in average field duty. But you will be placed with a small squad of other military personnel, and I expect you to behave in a manner that won't reflect badly on myself."
Ed huffed, crossing his arms. "In other words, this mission is something you plan to use to dig for a promotion. Bastard…why can't you do your own dirty work for once?"
Mustang didn't deign to comment, and eventually Ed simply flopped on the couch with a heavy sigh, resting his arms across the back. "Fine. What's the mission? And who am I working with anyway? Anyone I know?"
"Not likely," Mustang replied. There was that smirk again! What the hell was going on?
Mustang turned a page. "You'll be briefed on the mission itself a little later. For now, I just want you to be familiar with the members of your team. You know the structure of a basic field team, right?"
Ed pursed his lips, frowning at the ceiling in an effort to remember Falman's overview of military command. "Yeah, I think so. There's the Commanding Officer and his Exec along with at least two lower ranks, usually an alchemist and a sergeant. Then a gunman of some kind, like maybe a sniper. And a medic and a technician, if needed..."
"Right," Mustang said, nodding in satisfaction. "You'll be an additional alchemist on the team for backup. Now these men are a borrowed squad from the South, and they have some...let's say interesting nicknames that they go by. You'll have to exercise quite a bit of brain power to remember them correctly."
"I think I can handle it," Ed said with a confident smirk to match the colonel's. "Lay 'em on me."
"We'll start with the easiest," Mustang said, reading off the paper. "Who's the alchemist. What's the sniper. I don't know is the medic..."
Ed blinked, startled by the string of nonsense, and waved his hand quickly. "Wait, wait! Come again?"
"Who is the alchemist. What is the sniper. I don't know is the medic..."
"I thought you knew their names!" Ed said in hopeless confusion.
Mustang raised an eyebrow. "I do," he said placidly. "And I'm telling you right now."
"You didn't tell me anything!" Ed exclaimed. "Not a damn thing!"
"Should I start again?" Mustang said with a sly look. "I apologize if I went to fast for you're young, fragile mind to keep up..."
"You didn't go too fast for me," Ed sputtered, indignant. "Just tell me their names already!"
"Who's the alchemist, what's the sniper, I don't know is..."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Mustang flashed him a superior smile, showing just a hint of teeth, and Ed had to bite his tongue to keep from baring his own in a snarl. "Fine. Start at the beginning. Who's the alchemist?"
Ed punched the arm of the couch viciously. "I meant tell me the guy's name, moron."
"The guy that does all the transmutations!"
"The guy that's the same rank as me!"
Mustang leaned back in his chair with a frown of disappointment. "You know, I honestly expected you to grasp this rather quickly, Edward. How can I expect you to do well on this mission if you refuse to even make an effort to get to know your comrades?"
By this time Ed's mouth was hanging open, ready and waiting to pour out dozens of oaths in a vile string of abuse directed at his commander. But...Mustang looked so serious. Was there something important about these guys that Ed was completely missing because of his own frustration?
Ed took a deep, deep breath and shoved his fury back ruthlessly. "I'll ask you one more time," he hissed. "What is the name of the alchemist?"
But Mustang only shook his head, tapping the paper with his hand. "No, you've got it all wrong. What is the sniper."
"Are you even listening to me, Colonel? I'm not asking who's the sniper!"
"Who's the alchemist."
"One soldier at a time!" Ed howled, tunneling his fingers through his hair. "Quit screwing around, Colonel! Damn it, this isn't funny!"
"Calm down, Fullmetal," Mustang said evenly, gracing him with a sympathetic look. "I understand this is quite a lot for you to grasp all at once..."
"You're just being too damn vague!" Ed barked. "Are you ever going to tell me the name of the alchemist?"
"I just said, the alchemist! Who's the alchemist?"
"That's right," Mustang said evenly. "And he's a damn good one, too."
"But what's his name?"
"What's the sniper," Mustang said promptly. "For God's sake, Fullmetal, we just went over this..."
Ed jumped to his feet. "But I'm not asking about the sniper! Who are you talking about? Who?"
"Who's the alchemist."
"I don't know!"
"He's the medic, we're not talking about him."
Silence. Ed didn't trust himself to speak right away, knowing it would be nothing but incoherent screaming. His face was already burning with the effort of holding back his temper, and he was positive the colonel was having a good, silent laugh about that. But this was getting ridiculous! If he didn't know better, Ed would say the old man was having a stroke.
"When the hell did we get to the medic?" Ed demanded harshly.
"When you mentioned his name," Mustang replied, still the epitome of composure.
"No, who's the alchemist."
"What's the sniper. Did you forget that already?"
"Who's the alchemist."
"I don't know!"
"He's the medic."
There he went, right back to the medic! Ed was many things, but he wasn't stupid. The colonel had to be messing with him somehow. Ed just had to do some fishing until he figured it out. He paced around a little, not even conscious of clasping his hands behind his back just as Mustang sometimes did when he was thinking. "Forget the alchemist!" he snapped. "Is there a technician in the group?"
"Of course," Mustang said, sounding pleased with his astuteness. "Every group needs a good technician, and this man is one of the best."
"Okay," Ed said definitively. Finally, some straight answers! "Tell me his name."
Ed stopped, affronted by the brusque reply. "Sheesh, Colonel, you don't have to be so rude about it. I just thought I'd ask you!"
"And I just thought I'd tell you, Fullmetal," Mustang said with equal offense.
"Then who's the technician?"
"Who's the alchemist."
A swift kick to the couch with his automail helped expel some of the murderous intent, but not much. "Stick with the technician, damn it!"
"Alright," Mustang said pleasantly, all offense forgotten.
"What's the name of the technician?"
"What's the name of the sniper."
"Back to the sniper again? I never even asked who-!"
"Who's the alchemist."
"I don't KNOW!"
"MEDIC!" Ed roared. "Fine, I get it! Stay off the medic, will you?"
"That'll be a bit of a challenge considering you keep bringing him up," Mustang pointed out. "Do you have a problem with the medic, Fullmetal?"
"I've got a problem with the whole damn squad!" Ed countered furiously. "Just tell me the name of the technician, you piece of crap!"
Mustang's expression brightened. "Oh, so you've met the Sergeant!"
Another kick to the couch. Mustang's bland smile didn't even twitch when Ed shot him a wrathful look. His fingers positively itched with the need to close around the colonel's neck and throttle the answers out of him.
Calm down, calm down, Ed thought desperately. He could not, under any circumstances, let the bastard beat him! Especially when he didn't have a damn clue what game they were playing.
"The Commanding Officer," Ed ground out. "There's a CO in charge of the whole squad, right?"
"And everyone knows his name, right?"
Slowly, painfully, Ed's shoulders started to relax from their bunched up position, and he unclenched his fists. "Okay, okay. So the CO's name is…?"
Ed's eyebrow ticked. "...you don't want to tell me today?"
The colonel's lips twitched again. "I'm telling you now, Fullmetal."
"Then go ahead!"
"What time what?"
"What time tomorrow are you gonna tell me who's the CO?"
"Who is not the CO," Mustang chided. "He's-"
Ed rushed forward and slammed his palms on the desk hard enough to make the wood crack beneath his automail. "I'LL BREAK YOUR ARM IF YOU SAY 'WHO'S THE ALCHEMIST'!"
The colonel's face remained perfectly blank, and his mouth was hidden behind his hands. But that did nothing to hide the trembling in his shoulders, which Ed had a sinking feeling wasn't from fear or anger.
"In that case, we may need the medic sooner than we thought," Mustang said tightly, unable to erase the humor from his voice completely.
A lingering suspicion was building up in the back of Ed's mind, and he sincerely hoped he was wrong. Otherwise, it would mean he had been made a fool since the very beginning of this meeting. No, he had to be wrong...
"You know," Ed said with forced tranquility. "I'm a pretty good alchemist."
"Really," Mustang said flatly.
"Yeah," Ed said curtly, pacing again. "Let's say, hypothetically, me and this squad of yours get together and go out on whatever the hell our mission is. We can't wait till tomorrow to do the mission, so me and the other alchemist jump right into the fray to get it over with. And since I'm the better alchemist, I'll probably have to watch his back, and when he inevitably does something stupid, I'll go get the CO and tell him to penalize who?"
"Now that's the first thing you've said right all day."
"I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!"
Mustang actually had the nerve to chuckle at this. "Is that a fact? I had no idea you could bullshit that effectively."
"Takes one to know one, you bastard!" Ed ranted. He sank to the couch weakly, out of breath and still utterly lost by this conversation. "So I tell the CO to lecture who..."
The younger alchemist raised his head. "Naturally?"
"Naturally," Mustang repeated.
Ed positively beamed at the revelation. Now he knew the colonel's game! The soldiers didn't have names per se, or at least not names that were easily recognized as names! If he could just unravel the soldiers' names from the scant clues Mustang was giving him…
"So I tell the CO to lecture Naturally," Ed said carefully.
"No!" Mustang said right away, deflating his enthusiasm. "You would tell the CO to reprimand the other alchemist."
"So Naturally gets reprimanded!"
"Who gets reprimanded."
"Now you've got it."
"But that's what I said!"
Mustang only shook his head sadly. "You're making this far harder than it actually is, Edward."
How was he making this harder? Ed glared at the floor to avoid looking in his superior's direction, thinking. Mustang must have told him the alchemist's name early on, same with all the others. Was there a code he had to figure out in order to understand the names? No, the colonel had said it was easier than that. He had to backtrack. Was there a word or a phrase that Mustang had said more often than any other?
Who's the alchemist, Ed thought. He said that a lot. Who is the alchemist, who is the alchemist, who is...wait...WAIT!
Not a question. A statement! And that meant...
Oh, that damn colonel has a sick sense of humor...
"So," Ed said softly, "Who gets lectured by the CO?"
"He'd BETTER be!"
Mustang knew he was on the right track. Even Ed could see that the colonel was two seconds away from busting out laughing at his expense. And Ed was two seconds away from making good on his mental threat to throttle the answers out of his superior.
"So Tomorrow chews him out," Ed went on, back on his feet and stomping around in an effort to expel his rage in a harmless manner. "And whoever is the alchemist decides he's got better shit to do and walks away! Then, for no apparent reason, What and Because go with him and leave us three men short! Why? I don't know! He's the medic, and I don't CARE!"
"What was that, Fullmetal?"
"I said I DON'T CARE!"
"Oh, he's the Executive Officer!" Mustang said innocuously.
Ed snatched the papers on the desk out of Mustang's reach before the other would stop him. Once he got a good look at the bundle of blank forms, he screeched in outrage. "This isn't even a real mission, you jackass!"
Mustang folded his hands behind his head with a wolfish grin. "Fullmetal, I make it my daily mission to piss you off."
In the outer office, four grown men were slumped over their desks in silent hysterics while the only woman in the room looked on in exasperation and a very agitated suit of armor wrung his hands.
"Are you sure I shouldn't go in there?" Al pressed worriedly. "Brother sounds like he might really hurt him this time…"
"Edward has more restraint than that," Hawkeye said composedly, though she cast a concerned look at the door when a particularly nasty string of curses reached them. "At least, I think he does…"
Havoc slumped back in his chair and wiped the tears from his eyes with the heels of his hand, still choking on his own laughter. "Oh God, I can't believe how well the colonel played him! The Boss dropped right into it!"
"I really thought Ed would get it after the first exchange," Breda snorted. "Being a genius and all. Havoc, I owe you a drink after work."
Falman was the first to sober, narrow eyes watching the door. "You know, hearing Ed and the colonel argue is fun and all, but I'm still not quite sure I get the joke…"
The office door exploded outward so quickly that the room's occupants couldn't tell if it was the product of an alchemical explosion or just a very strong kick. Ed stormed through the mess and seized Al's hand, yanking him toward the exit with hardly a glance at the startled soldiers around him.
"Edward," Hawkeye said cautiously.
"I'll fix it later!" Ed snapped over his shoulder, bodily shoving Al out the door. "And tell Colonel Bastard that next time he'd better either have a real mission or a death wish!"
"E-Ed, wait a minute!" Fuery called nervously. "I j-just have a quick question!"
Ed paused on the threshold, and the Sergeant visibly quailed under the fire in his eyes. "Yeah?"
"Who's the alchemist?" Fuery blurted out, grinning widely despite himself.
Ed paled, eyes darting from one wide-eyed face to another.
Then he turned right around and swept out of the room, jerking the door shut behind him. Which was just as well because, when the laughter started, not even Lieutenant Hawkeye could hold herself in check.