Disclaimer: Nothing but what the plot bunnies deposit in my mind belongs to me and my only profit being the reviews of my dear readers.
Also much thanks and love to my Beta, the wonderful and talented ehxhfdl14
Underneath It All
Chapter 01: Sudden Awareness
As per usual, the day found Major General Mustang toiling away at an unusually high stack of paperwork. He often took lunch in the presence of other officers of his rank, but today he wanted something a bit more low-key. Not wanting to be bothered with the ins and outs of military life this afternoon, he decided to take lunch at a local café. He walked across the street to a spot he heard Havoc recommend on several occasions. When he entered he found the atmosphere likeable enough to decide to stay. The entire eating area was a complex series of high booths separated by latticework. He sat at a booth and was staring at the menu when he heard giggling from the booth next to him.
"Well, at least he is in your age range, Sciezska." That sounds like Riza, thought Mustang.
"Oh quit acting like you're so old, you know you would do him in a flat minute!"
"That may well be, but it doesn't erase the fact that he probably sees me as somewhat of a mother figure."
"HA! So you admit it!"
"No one is denying that Fullmetal is the hottest thing on two feet, Sciezska. It's just getting to him that is the problem."
"Yes, not all of us have been on dates with the infamous Fullmetal Alchemist- two at that, might I add."
Sciezska sighed and replied. "Two and only two. We haven't been out since, and that was months ago." Following her statement, an audible thump was heard.
"At least you got close to the promised land; I'm almost a decade away." Riza chimed with amusement heavy in her voice.
"Hey, I don't even happen to be in the race. Not that I want to be…" said Gracia.
"But?" countered Ross.
"But nothing. It's just, well …they sure didn't roll out like that five, ten years ago!"
"No kidding. With looks like his, I would say that Mustangs are on their way out and the Elrics are in. His brother is not half bad either, a bit more on the adorable side as opposed to downright sexy, but attractive nonetheless." chimed Riza.
"True, true." agreed Sciezska. "Ed also had a complete change in attitude once everything was situated with Al. He even smiles now; I mean a real smile and jokes too. I really never thought Ed would be one to date around either but it seems like a lot has changed for him and about him since they accomplished their goals."
"Resuming our conversation about Roy, when was the last time that the dear Major General received flowers or cards, Riza?" Questioned Gracia.
"It's been quite a while; most things like that come for Ed now. I am really surprised Roy hasn't noticed."
"I think he just assumes that it's because of his new rank, since most of his incoming mail is sorted and filtered now." answered Maria Ross.
"Poor Havoc is dying to rub it in his face but I talked him out of it." Giggled Riza.
"Did your 'talk' include a pistol by any chance?" asked Gracia.
The three women chatted off and on for a bit then left the restaurant. Shortly after that the waiter came over and took Roy's order. When his food arrived a baffled Roy ate his lunch in silent contemplation when certain thoughts began to invade his mind. So Fullmetal has become the topic of feminine confabulation, I see. Was anyone planning on letting me know? How the hell have I missed it in the first place? Was Riza being sincere when she stated that my ardent female followers have abandoned me? When have I fallen out of the office gossip circle?
Suddenly his lunch lost its appeal, and the Major General sat still, staring out the café window. Who knows how much time had passed before he snapped out of his stupor and decided to head back to the office? He had every intention of being blind no longer. He was going to make it a point to notice what the Fullmetal Alchemist was into. When Roy returned to his office, he left the door open, deposited himself behind his desk and waited. It seemed like an eternity before Fullmetal was heard entering their section of the building. Now, Roy's ears were open and waiting.
"Good afternoon Major." Was Fullmetal's greeting to Riza.
"Same to you, Lt. Colonel."
"You started it, Edward." she said with a soft smile.
Riza was smiling. During work hours.
Now I know something's up! How was all of this happening right underneath my nose?
The conversation continued on, the participants oblivious to Roy's distress.
"Touché, have you seen Jean?"
"Yes, but I believe he is rather occupied. Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Now that depends completely on you and your mood, Major." Roy could see Ed smirking in the most devilish way he'd ever seen. Outside of his own, of course.
Roy could see Riza's blush from all the way across the office, and that alone had him floored. He noticed Fuery sitting there, watching the entire scene with a rather hard to read expression on his face.
"Well, to answer your initial question Edward, I think it is Havoc's turn to sort and distribute the mail, so he is probably in the basement."
"Oh for crying out loud, has no one decided to give the mail personnel their raise yet?" Fullmetal responded.
"I am afraid not, so it looks like it will be your turn again before you know it."
"Do the people that decide these things have any idea the work involved in doing that job?"
"Apparently not, sir." Fuery answered.
Fullmetal gave a long exaggerated sigh as he turned toward the hallway that led toward the basement.
"Where are you off to?" questioned Fuery.
"To help Jean sort the mail, or at the very least convince him to give it a rest until we get back from lunch-I'm starving!"
"No offense, sir, but isn't that always the case." Riza chimed in. And Roy watched as she suppressed what might have been a giggle.
"As true that may be it still does nothing to alleviate my hunger."
And Mustang watched in stunned silence as the both of them shamelessly gawked at Fullmetal's backside as he strolled off down the hall. Not one to let any opportunity, especially one this golden, pass him by, he decided to clear his throat loudly and it had the desired effect of snapping them out of their trances and putting an embarrassed blush on both their faces. Roy could feel the self satisfied smirk on his own countenance and carried on about his business until he heard the sounds of laughter coming from the hallway.
He looked up in time to see Fullmetal and Havoc emerge from around the corner. He had to admit that he was a bit taken aback at what he saw next. Fullmetal was sitting on Havoc's desk speaking rather animatedly to Riza about something he didn't really care to focus on. His focus was on how close Havoc was standing to the blond alchemist. Roy could have possibly dismissed that as some sort of chance occurrence if he hadn't also noted the fond faraway look in the Lieutenant's eyes as he watched Fullmetal. Just as he was about to dismiss the entire thing as a product of his overactive imagination, Havoc reached out and pulled on the long blond braid that was now more than halfway down Fullmetal's back. Edward didn't grumble, snort or complain as he usually did when someone dared to do that. No, instead his response was "I guess that's my cue to get going." as he bounced off the desk, all smiles.
"Hey, you're the one who rushed me out of the basement like you were dying of malnutrition." Havoc replied.
Off they went, joking and laughing as they exited the office. Roy debated with himself for quite a few minutes before he gave in and let curiosity get the better of him. He summoned Riza into his office and motioned for her to shut the door behind her.
"Is something wrong sir?" she asked
"No, no. I am just…honestly curious about a few things."
"Oh-I see." Riza replied as the corners of her mouth curved upwards.
"From your expression, I infer that my eyes were not deceiving me and my assumptions are indeed correct."
"Whatever do you mean, sir?" she asked, and he knew then he was going to get no answers without flat-out asking.
"Just when did Fullmetal and Havoc become so friendly?" he asked.
"I believe it was about two months ago."
"TWO MONTHS AGO!"
"Ah…yes, is there a problem with that, sir?"
"No, it's just…well, I…."
"Allow me to clarify, sir. It was about two months ago that most of us were made aware of Jean's attraction to Edward. Now, they are not officially an 'item' yet."
"Yes, I feel that those two becoming a couple is something that will be happening in the near future."
"Oh, I see."
"Is there anything else, sir?"
"Sir, how about we take a stroll around the grounds? You look like you could use some air."
Without another word, Roy stood and headed for the door.
Their walk started out in comfortable silence, but Roy quickly grew tired of it and began to query Riza for more information.
"When did the entire office staff become such a social bunch?"
"I really can't say exactly when, but I do know that I noticed it shortly after Edward returned to active duty."
"That long ago?"
"Yes, the day that sticks out the most in my mind is the day Edward loudly announced that he could no longer take the monotony, as well as the cafeteria's food, and decided we all needed to go out for lunch. Then it all just kind of snowballed from that point."
"All this from just one day out to lunch? That's hard to believe." Roy shook his head in disbelief.
"Yes and no. All of this is not the product of one day out to lunch. That is simply the catalyst. We all go out to lunch as a group at least twice a week now."
"Every week? Even now? I had no idea."
"Well, we invited you each time we went in the beginning, but after a few months of declinations we quit asking." She replied.
"Oh." Replied Roy, intelligently.
Riza then proceeded to tell him about how once they all got out of the office and got to talking about things other than work, about how they all realized they had quite a bit in common. They made plans do it again later that same week, and it has been a ritual to gather every Monday and Thursday since then. Roy didn't know what was more shocking, the fact that all of this was going on right under his nose or the fact that all of this socialization started because of Fullmetal.
Riza then recounted how this whole thing developed between Fullmetal and Havoc. She said that after a few months of them all going out together, Havoc had all but begged everyone in the office to be 'too busy' to go to lunch one day so he could get some time alone with Edward. It became a regular occurrence a couple of months ago for them to take off to lunch together on days when it wasn't a group outing. Roy then made a comment about not knowing when Fullmetal became so popular, and that effectively stopped Riza in her tracks.
"Not to be rude, sir," she stated as she gave Roy a look that made him inwardly cringe, "But, do you know anything about Edward the person, as opposed to Edward the State Alchemist?"
Roy stood there, watching her watching him, and he knew she was waiting on a response. And that this conversation would not continue until he gave one. Roy tried hard to scrape up any knowledge in his brain about Fullm…Edward the person. Fullmetal adored his brother, but that was basic knowledge- what personal information did he know about Fullmetal, if any? All of the information on Fullmetal that came to mind was related to his military career, his intelligence and his prowess as an alchemist.
Roy lowered his head in resignation.
"I see. Maybe you should try to make an effort to get to know him; he is actually quite the conversationalist these days. Believe it or not, he is one of your biggest fans. He does not stand in awe of your presence like Fuery, mind you, but he has always been the first to defend you when someone speaks ill of you."
Just when he felt the day couldn't get any more shocking, she drops this on him. He hated to admit it, but he did find that hard to believe, and said as much.
"Major, I am to believe this of the same individual who used to address me as 'Colonel Bastard' as though it was my given name?"
"In all due respect sir, that was years ago. Edward isn't a kid anymore."
"A few inches and a couple of years does not a man make."
"Perhaps he is an exception to that rule, like he is to most others. And perhaps a life altering journey and six years, to be precise, would do the trick." she said in a tone that was just this side of condescending.
Forced into quiet contemplation by Riza's tone, it slowly dawned on him that it had indeed been far longer in reality than it had been in his thoughts. That meant Fullmetal was now…what? Twenty-two years old now, far from the high-strung, precocious brat he began to command at the mere age of twelve.
"You may be right about his mindset these days, but I am still hard-pressed to believe that I am in Fullmetal's good graces."
"All right, I suppose an example is in order. When an acquaintance, that shall remain nameless, was quick to get rather opinionated with why they felt you never wanted to join us all for lunch, Edward's response was to say, 'Hey, cut the General some slack. He may have his reasons not to join us, since he is actually pretty busy these days, and it may not be the best for a man in his position to be seen socializing so casually with his subordinates during office hours.'"
"Indeed, sir, so now maybe you can extend him the same courtesy and cut him some slack." She responded with a smile.
With that said she checked her watch, saluted and left him alone with his thoughts.
Thanks to all for reading and I hope everyone enjoys this revised and Beta'd version much better.