A.N. Blame SammyQuill. It's all her fault! While beta-ing her fic, Almost Here, I made one tiny little comment about such-and-such would make a good fic, and her response was "Do it, do it, do it!" And that's how this nonsense fic came into being. So enjoy, and go read Almost Here while you're at it!
Roy Mustang's shoulders stiffened. It was a testament to the unconventional and utterly strange relationship he shared with Edward Elric that those two innocuous words and the friendly, offhand way they were spoken actually sent a chill up his spine. A proper greeting would have contained a sarcastic insult and the airing of some petty grievance or other. It just wasn't right that such a peppy and normal salutation should make his instincts surge into survival mode and his fingers itch with the need to reach for his gloves.
Very cautiously, he turned. That was Fullmetal alright, standing in the middle of the corridor behind him. Nothing unusual about that. Ed's presence in headquarters was a fairly normal occurrence. No, what really set Roy on edge was his posture. Not the usual teenage slouch and flippant glare. Edward stood straight as a rod, feet snapped together and hand raised to his forehead in the most perfect salute Roy had ever seen. And the mere sight gave him another little thrill of fearful apprehension.
He blurted out the first words that came to him. "What are you up to, Fullmetal?"
"Why do you always assume I'm up to something?" Ed said ingenuously, not faltering in his stance in the slightest. "Can't I show some respect toward my superior once in awhile?"
Respect? Superior? Since when did Edward use words like that? Unless...
"Oh hell," Roy groaned, dread eating away at his soul. "What have you done now? Did you make another sandcastle lair out of some poor general's office? Or...oh dear God, the Fuhrer's office—!"
"No one's office," Ed protested. "Look I had a talk with Lieutenant Hawkeye, and well, I've been in the military for awhile now and I figured it's about time I cut the kiddy act and started acting my age. You know, to set an example for Al. And according to her, this is the best way to start."
Lieutenant Hawkeye had condoned this? Surely she must have known how much it would freak him out? Roy's thoughts raced back. Now that he mentioned it, Hawkeye had said something about teaching Ed the basics of military courtesy. Roy hadn't really been listening at the time except to scoff at the notion of teaching Ed any kind of courtesy.
Ed frowned at him. "Well, aren't you going to salute me back?" he said petulantly. "According to Hawkeye, I can't lower my hand until you do."
Roy hesitated for a moment longer, his suspicion slowly ebbing. Fullmetal seemed serious. He took a steadying breath and quickly returned the salute while part of him braced itself for some kind of ambush. But Ed merely smiled and let his hand drop back to his side, still standing at attention.
"At ease, Major," Roy said without thinking, amazed at the instant obedience as Ed set his feet apart and neatly folded his hands behind his back. "Not bad, Fullmetal. Now if we could just break you of those pesky tantrums..."
"Ha ha," Ed said dryly and strolled away. "Later, Mustang."
Roy watched the kid until he was out of sight around a corner, a satisfied little chuckle escaping him. So Fullmetal had finally decided to grow up a little bit. He wondered wistfully how long this newfound maturity would last. He only regretted there hadn't been anyone else around to see that display. Roy continued on his way to his office, but he had hardly taken ten steps before he was once again stopped by Ed.
Who was saluting him. Again.
"Mustang," Ed deadpanned.
"...you know we just saw each other fifteen seconds ago," Roy pointed out. "There's no need to salute me again in that span of time."
It came as a slight relief when Fullmetal rolled his eyes. At least something was normal today. "Hawkeye said I'm supposed to do this every time I see you," he explained. "I can't help it you practically followed me."
"I'm pretty sure we went in opposite directions, actually," Roy said slowly. "Where are you heading, anyway?"
"Um, hello?" Ed griped and wiggled his fingers. "Arm falling asleep up here!"
Roy sighed and saluted for a second time, thus setting Ed free. "Keep this up and my arm's going to fall off. And unlike you, I actually have some important people that I may need to salute."
"Did you just call yourself unimportant?"
"Goodbye, Fullmetal," Roy said firmly, and this time he was the one to walk away as quickly as possible. And all the while he tried to figure out how Edward could have possibly gotten ahead of him. He had been sure Ed was going the other way so unless he had run all the way downstairs and taken the back stairway—a feat that would have taken a full fifteen minutes, not seconds—there was just no way he could have gotten there that quickly.
But this was the Fullmetal Alchemist. It would be easy enough for him to transmute a hole in the wall. Still, Roy was fairly sure someone would have raised a fuss about that, or at the very least, he would have heard the transmutation himself...
Once at his office, Roy took one last peek up and down the corridor. Ed was nowhere in sight, and he breathed easier as he turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open. Then he yelped and jumped backward with his heart in his throat.
"What's up with you?" Ed inquired from his place in front of Roy's desk. From his place saluting in front of Roy's desk. "You having a heart attack or something? Cause I ain't giving you CPR."
"How did you get in here?" Roy demanded. "The door was locked!"
"No, it wasn't."
"Yes, it was!"
He snapped his mouth shut, irritated beyond all imagining by Ed's continuing feigned innocence. "Why in the hell do you keep saluting me?" he barked.
"Duh, because it's regulations!" Ed retorted as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Roy threw his hands up and cast his eyes to the ceiling. "Two years in the military and you decide now to start following regulations? What next, a uniform?"
"Sure, I could go for that."
Something about that sentence made Roy snap his attention back to his subordinate, and for a moment he felt faint. In the two and a half seconds his eyes had been off the kid, Edward had somehow made the switch from black clothes and red coat to full dress uniform complete with rank insignias and a formal sash. He even had the silly blue cap tucked under the arm that wasn't saluting. Roy's eyes darted around the empty office in search of an explanation or accomplices or both, but there were none, and now he was thoroughly horrified.
"And believe it or not, they did have one in my size," Ed said with a hint of smugness. "I seem to remember you making some snide comment about that back when I first joined up."
"But how did you...?"
"Well, Colonel? Aren't you going to salute me back?"
"No!" Roy asserted, smirking when Ed scowled at him. "You see, Fullmetal, unlike you, I am not required to return a salute from a lower rank. If I don't acknowledge you, you'll have no choice but to salute indefinitely until I walk away."
"Well, that seems kind of rude," Ed remarked adroitly.
"It's equally rude to demand that your superior salute you back!" Roy snapped and turned to go. "I don't know what game you're playing, Fullmetal, but I won't have any part in it! I'm leaving!"
"But Colonel, don't you have work to do?"
That voice hadn't come from behind him, but in front of him. Roy gaped like a fish when Edward stepped into the open doorway and saluted smartly. He spun around. Ed was still behind him, saluting and smirking. He retreated in a panic when both Eds approached him with their hands still at their foreheads and their identical faces equally expectant.
"Just go ahead and salute us, Colonel."
"Come on, Mustang, don't be a prick."
"There can't be two," Roy mumbled to himself, nearly babbling. "It's impossible! One of you must be an imposter!"
"No, we aren't," Edward and Edward said in unison. "And we're still waiting..."
"I told you, I'm not saluting...either of you! So put your hands down! That's an order!"
Neither of them obeyed. Which just proved that Ed—whichever one he was—hadn't turned over a new leaf after all. Roy shoved past them and bolted for the door, sprinting away from his office as fast as his feet could carry him. He reached the staircase and yelled in alarm when he saw three Edward Elrics ascending the steps side by side, all of them in uniform and all of them with their hands lifted in a universal gesture that was supposed to be respectful but had now become something dangerous and fearsome.
"Hey Colonel, don't ignore us..."
"We're just trying to be nice..."
"Don't we look awesome in this uniform...?"
"Stay back, all of you!" Roy cried. He patted his pockets anxiously for his gloves with some vaguely formed notion of burning each Edward until he found the real one, but for some odd reason his gloves were nowhere to be found. Roy whirled around and fled past his office, narrowly avoiding mowing down the first two Eds. The hallway stretched out before him, and despite having spent years traversing these same passages, Roy was hopelessly lost in a matter of minutes. And meanwhile the doppelgangers' footsteps gradually increased in number, booted feet clomping along at an unhurried pace. As if they knew he would never escape.
The eerie cry was repeated over and over, and Roy felt an overwhelming urge to find someplace small and dark to curl up with a blanket over his head. He kicked a door down and found himself in the audience chamber where Ed had first taken his State Alchemy exam. And the place was packed with Fullmetal clones. Roy gulped down a pathetic whimper as he backed into the nearest corner. The doppelgangers converged on him, an endless sea of blue uniform and gold eyes and mocking grins.
And they were still saluting.
"No, don't come near me!" Roy howled, arms over his head. "What do you want from me?"
The answer came back multiplied a thousand-fold. "We just want you to salute us back..."
They were mere inches away from him now. In a matter of seconds, they would all come crowding in and smother him with their numbers alone. Nowhere near enough time to salute them individually and send them away. If he could just find the real one! Fullmetal would kick the crap out of these fakes in no time and save Roy without breaking a sweat. But how to make him reveal himself...?
Just as the masses threatened to crush him, Roy threw his head back and screamed one word. "PIPSQUEAK!"
"Why do I have to learn how to salute?" Ed complained for the fifth time. "It's not like I'm ever planning on saluting that bastard."
Hawkeye put her hands on her hips and gazed down at Edward sternly, a trick she had learned long ago that instantly made both the Elric brothers shut their mouths and listen quietly. Neither of them even seemed aware of it. Even now Ed's shoulders dropped in a wordless show of submission, and his grumbling subsided until the only sign of his defiance was a faintly grouchy look. "You do need to learn this, Edward," she insisted. "Ordinarily, alchemists who are accepted into the military are put through the same basic training as normal soldiers. You were exempt because of your age, but that excuse will only work for another few years, and then you will be expected to know these things. It's best to start practicing now."
Ed muttered something along the lines of "not planning on being in the military that long anyway", which Hawkeye tactfully ignored. His bad-tempered attitude was most likely due to the fact that she had pulled him away from his lunch in the mess for the lesson. But this was the only time during the day she could guarantee that the colonel's office would be empty. She didn't doubt Edward would appreciate the privacy. Many new recruits were self-conscious when they were first learning to salute.
"Now watch me," Hawkeye instructed him. "When two soldiers meet, the subordinate always salutes first and is acknowledged with a returning salute from the higher ranking officer. In our case, I would salute first and you would acknowledge me."
Ed's mouth twisted a little as he absorbed that. "It's weird to think I'm a higher rank than you," he mentioned. "Since you've been in the military longer...doesn't it bother you to be saluting a kid?"
"Believe me, I've saluted plenty of people who deserved it far less than you," Hawkeye remarked, earning a quiet snort from Ed. "For most cases, the hand motion is enough, but in more formal situations you would also bring your feet together and stand straight with your shoulders pulled back."
Hawkeye demonstrated with a sharp salute, holding the pose for Edward's benefit. He frowned a little and experimentally lifted his arm to his forehead with his hand held over his eyes like he was shielding them from the sun. "Like this?"
"Move your hand further to the right," Hawkeye told him. "Just so your forefinger is just touching the outer edge of your eyebrow. Keep your elbow at a forty-five degree angle and your arm rigid and your hand flat. I doubt it will matter to the colonel, but a sloppy salute will almost certainly offend most other officers."
Ed readjusted, seeming a little more confident now that he knew Hawkeye wouldn't laugh at him. "Okay, I think I've got it!"
"It's better," Hawkeye said as she lowered her hand. "Keep practicing the entire motion all at once. From your side, to your head and back down, and remember to—"
Both she and Ed jumped at the muffled shout from the inner office followed right after by a loud thump and a miserable, "Owww..."
"Was that the colonel?" Ed said curiously.
Hawkeye let out an impatient huff. "He must have fallen asleep in there. He claims that power naps help him not to procrastinate."
"Sure they do," Ed snickered and continued with his practice while Hawkeye crossed the room to the inner office. When she opened the door, it was to find Roy looking up at her bemusedly from his place sprawled on the floor, having fallen out of his chair by the looks of it. He yawned hugely.
"Damn, I didn't mean to fall asleep. What time is it, Lieutenant?"
"About 1:30, sir," Hawkeye informed him, arms crossed.
"Lunchtime!" Roy cheered, suddenly filled with energy despite her disapproval. "I definitely need some food after that dream I had. You won't believe what I was—GAH!"
Hawkeye jumped when her superior recoiled from the doorway, staring into the outer office in abject horror. Edward, for his part, had frozen in mid-salute with a startled look. "Colonel, w-what...?"
"EDWARD ELRIC, DON'T YOU EVER SALUTE ME AGAIN!"
Hawkeye couldn't help it. She gaped. Edward blinked once, and an elated grin split his face in half. "Cool! Thanks Lieutenant, but I guess I won't be needing those lessons after all!"
"S-Sir," Hawkeye stammered once Ed scurried out the door, utterly baffled. "What was that all about?"
Roy shook his head, running an agitated hand through his hair. "No, it's nothing. But, ah...if you happen to notice me nodding off at my desk again, wake me up, would you? With force, if necessary."
"Certainly, sir," Hawkeye agreed, still not quite understanding his odd reaction. But like Edward, she was not inclined to look a gift horse in the mouth. "I'll make sure you never fall asleep over your paperwork again."
"Good, good," Roy muttered distractedly. He cleared his throat, regaining a small modicum of dignity. "Lunch, then?"