Mustang had taken to watching Ed, which meant either that he was planning something unpleasant for him, or that he just wanted to drive Ed insane by making him imagine what Mustang might be planning for him. The insane thing seemed to be working, all right, because Ed found himself becoming increasingly twitchy and paranoid.
He also knew that confronting the Bastard Colonel about it was pointless, as pointless as it was trying to catch a slippery eel, or pin down an electron mid-transmutation. Hell, Mustang was the very personification of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Just looking at him filled Ed with the same peculiar, frustrating buzz he felt whenever he looked at an incomplete array – too many unknowns, too many goddamn parameters, impossible to decipher and impossible to ignore until he figured them all out. And he had no illusions about ever being able to figure Mustang out.
He couldn't understand why Mustang stared at Ed's hands, sometimes, when Ed was shoving yet another shorthand report across Mustang's desk. (Was it the gloves? Some inferiority complex about Ed not needing transmutation circles?) Or why he stared at Ed's shoulders, or even his hair. (What, was the braid suddenly against military regulations? It wasn't, before. If it was, Hawkeye would be sporting a crew-cut by now.)
Whatever Mustang was up to, Ed wished he'd just reveal his nefarious plans, already. It was getting difficult for Ed to concentrate, even in the middle of mission briefings, what with those shadow-dark eyes fixed on him like he was an experiment on the verge of yielding results. The question was: What kind of experiment? And what kinds of results?
He tried to tell Al about his suspicions, but Al only sighed and shook his head, the way he did whenever Ed brought up the Colonel, these days. Which was unfair, because it wasn't that often, right?
"Just go to sleep, brother," Al huffed, and Al was obviously the most inconsiderate and oblivious sibling in the whole world, because how was Ed supposed to sleep when conspiracy theories about Mustang's stupid eyes were crowding his mind?
"I'm not going crazy," he muttered into his pillow – and Al must've heard him, because he snorted disbelievingly from across the room.
But then Mustang sent them on yet another wild-goose chase in the North, involving a bunch of rogue alchemists hell-bent on creating an army of Abominable Snowmen (ice-bound chimeras, really). There was this nunnery and an ancient relic that Ed might have kind of accidentally melted, and he might have misplaced a train or two, but he did save those nuns from hordes of ravening Yeti, so Mustang could take his complaint forms and shove them where the sun didn't shine. Mustang could needle him as much as he wanted about 'great' responsibilities and 'small' alchemists, but Ed wasn't about to give in.
Or at least, that's how it was supposed to go – but Mustang had mysteriously neglected making any puns about Ed's height, which was weird enough in itself to almost put Ed off his food (almost – thank god for Hawkeye bringing those sandwiches to the Colonel's office, anyway), and what was even weirder was that despite wearing his usual poker face, Mustang was still watching him. Ed wished Al were here, just so he could point at Mustang and say: 'There! See? I'm not crazy!' But Al was still outside, begging Fuery to adopt the latest stray kitten he'd found.
Great. Ed was stuck in here, being subjected to some sort of freaky stare attack, and his brother wasn't here to back him up.
It made Ed antsy. He complained about the complaint forms, kicked Mustang's desk to illustrate just how tiny the dent in the nunnery's wall was, and generally kept his hands in his pockets (and out of staring range), but Mustang. Kept. Looking at him.
It started a hot itch between Ed's shoulder-blades, possibly because he was allergic to all things Bastard, but hey. He'd have to suffer through it until he invented a hypoallergenic anti-Mustang spray. (Item #43 on his To-Alchemize list – quite high up, considering that the list was 672 items long, and the first 40 items were all Al-related.)
But enough was enough. He'd had it with this.
"What?" Ed finally snapped at the Colonel.
Who merely raised an eyebrow, the bastard, as if he didn't know what he was doing. "Yes, Fullmetal?"
"You." Edward could feel his veins starting to pop. But no, he wasn't going to give the son of a bitch the satisfaction of watching Ed lose it. Sadistic creep. "You're the one staring at me! And you've been staring at me for... for weeks!"
The Colonel raised his other eyebrow, too. "You noticed," he murmured, and seemed oddly pleased.
"Anyone would notice if the Flame Alchemist was staring at them hard enough to burn holes into them, yeah."
"Hm. Subtlety does tend to be lost on savages."
Ed bristled, but Mustang was still looking at him, at nothing but him, with the kind of uncanny focus that made Ed's skin crawl. Or tingle. Or something.
And what made it worse was that Mustang's voice had gone all silky and smooth, as treacherous as quicksand. "You're turning sixteen this Friday."
"Yeah, so?" Ed had nearly forgotten, actually, except that Al had recently started his usual pre-birthday hijinks of 'secretly' disappearing somewhere – as secretly as a giant coat of armor could, anyway – and he only ever did that when he was looking for a surprise birthday present. "What's it to you?"
Mustang's eyes were cat-like, dark and heavy-lidded and insufferably smug. "Oh, nothing. I just thought I ought to convey my congratulations to you in an appropriate fashion. Say, a rare alchemical treatise from the 16th century? Followed by an intelligent discussion about said treatise, possibly over dinner."
Ed blinked. "What?"
"Of course, I understand that you might wish to spend the actual day celebrating with your brother – and subsequently with Maes, as he and Gracia will likely have something planned on Saturday – but you might want to keep your Sunday open."
Mustang was spouting absolute gibberish. "My. What?"
"Your Sunday, Fullmetal. Surely you've heard of the concept? Sabbath, the day of rest?"
"If it's a day of rest, why should I spend it with you?"
"I simply want to give you a token of my appreciation, for your many years of service to the military."
Ed snorted. "For my many years of wrecking public property and running up your bills, you mean? What're you gonna do, poison my food?"
"Poison, no – but perhaps a good sprinkling of Xingian spice. I've heard that you quite enjoy it."
"How the heck do you know that I...?"
"Alphonse told me."
"Why would Al tell you?"
"Because I asked." Mustang had the gall to look amused. Bastard. And since when did Al talk to the Colonel without Ed knowing about it, anyway?
"What the hell are you up to, Mustang?" Ed didn't have time for this. He had to get back to the library, and read more about Item #9 on his To-Alchemize list – the restoration of human organs, sans skin. (Skin was #10.)
"A birthday celebration. For my most vaunted Fullmetal Alchemist."
"I'm not your – no, you know what? Never mind. It's just about the book, right? This 16th-century thing. Just hand it over, then, if it's a birthday present. I don't see why I have to go out to a Xingian restaurant. For dinner. With you."
"Not a restaurant, Fullmetal. My home."
Ed's jaw dropped. "Your home. You're inviting me. The guy you say destroys every building he walks into. To your home."
"It's something of a gamble, yes." A slight quirk at the corner of Mustang's mouth, quick to disappear. "But I believe that the winnings will be worth it. And my cooking really is par none, Fullmetal."
Okay, now that Ed had established that Mustang had gone completely mad, all he had to do was figure out why. Or maybe this really was just a... formal thing. A show-your-appreciation-to-your-subordinates-to-maintain-their-morale thing. But that was stupid and fake, and not at all like Mustang's usual brand of fake (which was never stupid – that, at least, Ed had to admit).
Or maybe... oh.
Oh. A treatise. A historical treatise from the 1500s, when Dobler and his coterie of alchemists had formed a secretive organization that no one had ever discovered the purpose of. Except that maybe Mustang had. Could it have something to do with the Philosopher's Stone? And was that why the Colonel was inviting him over, under the pretext of a 'birthday celebration', so he could hand over the treatise in the privacy of his own home, without raising the military's suspicions?
Now that was more like Mustang's brand of fake. And it sort of even made all the weirdness okay. The weirdness of actually having a home-cooked birthday meal with the Colonel. Ugh.
Mustang had been watching him all along, seemingly entertained by whatever was happening on Ed's face. Ed hated it when Mustang looked at him like that – like he was some sort of sideshow, or maybe a puppet show, and Mustang wanted to be the one holding the strings.
"All right," Ed grated, adopting a mock-formal tone. "I gratefully accept your invitation, sir."
"Excellent!" Mustang pretended not to notice Ed's sarcasm. He even looked kind of happy, but this was Mustang, so who knew? Maybe that smile was just a random facial tic, or maybe he was genuinely thrilled at the prospect of making short jokes for an entire evening. Because he might've held off for today, but there was no way he could hold off indefinitely. "Sunday it is. I'll be expecting you at eight."
on to next chapter.
Up next: Ed's first ever date!
Not that he knows it is a date, but still...