Ed has barely started knocking when Havoc opens the door.
“Oh!” Al says pleasantly—and Ed’s smiling before he can stop himself; he just loves hearing the clear, unimpeded warmth of his brother’s voice. It was worth it; it’s all been worth it; he would have given everything for this. “Hello, Lieutenant. How are you feeling?”
Al’s referring to the metal braces on Havoc’s legs. The Philosopher’s Stone that also restored Brigadier-General Bastard’s myopic vision could repair the nerve damage and mend the lieutenant’s spine, but by then Havoc’s muscles had atrophied from the time spent in the wheelchair. Al knows all about that, and Ed’s no stranger either to the agonizing shit your own body can put you through.
Havoc grins around the unlit cigarette in his mouth and raps his knuckles against the brace on the right. “Better all the time, thanks.” He then delves his hand into his breast pocket, apparently by force of habit, and retrieves his lighter.
“Don’t you dare, Jean,” Hawkeye’s voice calls from across the room despite the fact that her back is turned.
Havoc shares a slightly horrified look with the brothers before he steps out of the doorway to let them enter.
“Good afternoon, Major Hawkeye,” Al says, which is good, because Mustang’s been promoting people like crazy since the Day of Ass-Kicking (which is much catchier than “Reckoning”), and Ed can’t remember who’s what damn rank anymore. “What’s this secret mission you called about?”
The kitchen table is covered with guns. Hawkeye is cleaning one of them. Falman is winding the rope attached to a large grappling hook. Fuery appears to be testing a radio headset, and Breda is sorting out black cotton masks. Ed’s pretty sure he likes the look of this about as much as he liked the look in May Chang’s eyes when Al came back from the Gate without any clothes.
“You said it was important,” Al notes, kneeling to pet a delighted Hayate.
“It’s extremely critical,” Hawkeye says, sighting the gun barrel. “Were you at the parade this morning?”
Ed shakes his head. “Winry called, and she just got this new welding setup, so you can guess how that went. Why, what’s the problem?”
Hawkeye’s normally unreadable expression takes on a measure of pain.
“Roy grew a mustache,” she says.
There’s a long and—in the case of Brigadier-General Douchewad’s team—mournful silence.
Then Ed dares to glance over, and Al’s daring to glance back, and the mental images overwhelm them both at the same time, and they dissolve into hysterical laughter.
“Does he twirl the ends?” Ed manages after a minute or two.
“The parade!” Al gasps. “There—there must be so many pictures—”
“Does he get crumbs in it?” Ed asks. “Does he keep it neat with a tiny comb?”
“Does he stroke it when he’s thinking?”
“Does he stare in mirrors even more than usual?”
They make the mistake of looking at each other, and then they simultaneously raise their right hands to make index-finger mustaches under their noses. Ed holds out for a second and a half before he starts howling again, and Al has to lean on him, going pink from the effort of trying to breathe.
Hawkeye clears her throat as they work their way down to the occasional snicker (Ed) and giggle (Al), mostly because it’s a necessity with the way their ribs are aching.
“It’s funny at first,” the no-longer-a-lieutenant says. “Then you realize that our letting him go out in public like that essentially amounts to tacit approval from all of his friends and employees.”
…aw, crap. That’s kind of a good point.
Ed summons his courage. “So what’s the plan?”
Hawkeye brushes a last speck of dust off of the barrel of her semiautomatic, pointing it safely away from the assembled company.
“We’re breaking into his house tonight,” she says. She ratchets the barrel. “And we’re getting rid of that thing.”
“I wish you had warned me, Brother,” Al says wistfully as they stare at Mustang’s place from the bushes on the west side of the property.
Ed glances over. “What about?”
Al sighs feelingly. “About how scary Major Hawkeye can be when you’re not seven feet tall and encased in steel.”
Ed pats him on the back, trying not to grin, because Al looks genuinely concerned about the whole thing. “Guess you’ll just have to get used to cowering and following orders like the rest of us.”
“I can’t remember you ever following an order, Ed,” Havoc’s disembodied voice says helpfully.
Al half-gasps, and Ed jumps halfway out of his skin. “Where the hell—”
He picks out Havoc’s twinkling eyes from among the dark cloth that’s blended with the shadows. Ed cannot believe that the man moved so quietly with metal braces on his legs. “Right here, kiddo. The major needs you at the front of the house.”
Ed wrinkles his nose. “I thought we were on surveillance. What does she want us for?”
“Probably to distract the attack dogs,” Havoc says.
Apparently it’s not too dark to make out their mortified expressions.
“Joking,” he says hastily. “Just joshin’ you. I think we’re mobilizing, that’s all.”
“I hope Mustang’s awake when we find him,” Ed says, eyeing the darkened windowpanes. “He’d better cherish that mustache’s final moments.”
“I’ve divided the house into quadrants,” Hawkeye says. “Lieutenants Breda and Falman, you’ll be taking the lower floor; Lieutenant Havoc and Alphonse, you and Edward and I will split the top floor, as I suspect that’s where the Brigadier-General’s bedroom will be found.”
“You mean you’ve never been in it?” Falman asks.
Hawkeye gives him such a Look that Ed’s blood runs cold even though he’s standing three feet away off to the side.
“Aaah!” Falman cries, waving both hands frantically. “No, Major, I didn’t mean it like that! I just meant—because you’re the only person he trusts—”
Hawkeye’s eyes soften just enough that the assembled company can recommence breathing without fear of retribution in the form of well-aimed bullets.
“Put these in,” Fuery says, rather diplomatically, as he hands out earpieces. “I’ll be out here with the transistor, and I’ve got a basic blueprint of the house if anybody gets lost. I’ll also be warning you if and where any lights go on.”
Breda hands Ed and Al black masks like the one that turned Havoc into a bush-faring phantom.
“Is this gonna ruin my hair?” Ed asks.
“Blood and motor oil don’t ruin your hair,” Havoc points out, “and you practically bathe in them.”
“Not on purpose,” Ed mutters, but he pulls the mask on. It’s itchy. His hair is not pleased, and it registers its discontentment by poking at his face.
“Here, Brother,” Al says, shifting the window in the mask to let Ed’s antenna pop through and perk up.
“Way better,” Ed says, and it is. “Thanks, Al.”
Al beams and settles his own mask so that only his bright tawny eyes show. You can still tell he’s smiling.
Hawkeye surveys the crew and nods sharply once. “All right, men—move out.”
“What the hell does he need all this space for?” Ed hisses as they creep up the huge staircase in the middle of the foyer.
“Maybe he needs room for flame-target practice,” Al whispers back. “Do you think there are booby traps?”
“Mind out of the gutter, Jean,” Hawkeye says.
It’s too late; Havoc’s gone hazy-eyed and started swaying a bit.
Hawkeye’s hands twitch. Whether she wants to strike her own forehead in exasperation or put a bullet through Havoc’s is a toss-up as far as Ed can tell. “Oh, for the love of—” She takes a deep breath. “Come in, Fuery. Should we go left or right when we reach the hall? Over.”
There’s a buzz of static and then Fuery’s voice. “Hard to tell, Major; the place is virtually symmetrical. No lights visible on the north side of the house. Your guess is as good as mine, over.”
“Copy that. Thanks, Kain.” Hawkeye sets her jaw as they top the stairs, her hand ranging towards the pistol at her hip. “Lieutenant Havoc, you and Alphonse go left. Edward and I will take the right. Route a message through Lieutenant Fuery if you find the Brigadier-General.”
“Yes, sir,” Al says, voice trailing off a little as he realizes he’s speaking alone. Havoc sighs happily, gazing towards the ceiling. “Oh, dear,” Al says. He grasps Havoc’s sleeve and starts pulling him down the hall. “Come on, Lieutenant; you can fantasize later.”
Hawkeye mutters something that sounds suspiciously like, “One look at the mustache will wake him up in a hurry.”
Ed’s starting to imagine the quasi-mythical mustache as a small, hairy monster stuck to Mustang’s upper lip, peering out at the world and growling at intervals. The problem is that it’s getting progressively harder to find the mental image hilarious instead of horrifying.
He tries to step delicately in order to minimize the soft sounds of metal-on-metal that always emanate from the automail. Not too surprisingly, this is one of those nightmare-hallways—forbiddingly long, forebodingly dark, lined with indistinguishable doors. Ed is starting to suspect that Mustang designed this place down to the last square inch of uninspiring carpet, with the specific intent of giving house-invaders the willies. And forget this half-assed disguise; his hair will give him away regardless, and he might as well be able to see in the meantime—he pulls off the mask and jams it into his back pocket.
Gun raised in her right hand, Major Hawkeye carefully tests door handles with her left; when they yield, she pushes the doors open just wide enough to glance inside. She’s so ruthlessly efficient that Ed’s beginning to wonder exactly why he’s here—why any of them are, really; perhaps this is Hawkeye’s way of distributing the responsibility evenly when Roy wakes up, conspicuously lacking a mustache-shaped demon, tomorrow morning.
“So far, I’ve got nothing, Kain,” Hawkeye mutters, touching the earpiece, when they’re most of the way down the hall. “Has anyone else reported in? Over.”
“Negative, Major,” Fuery’s voice says, “unless you count Lieutenant Falman having to talk Lieutenant Breda out of raiding the Brigadier-General’s cookie jar, over.”
Then a toilet flushes, the door to their right opens, and a pale-blue-pajama-clad Roy Mustang shuffles out of the bathroom and stops to stare at them blankly.
“If this is another one of those dreams,” Mustang says, “this time I insist that you let Major Hawkeye take my clothes off, Edward; the automail always leaves oil stains.”
The silence stretches. Then Fuery whimpers.
“There is no God…”
“Sir,” Hawkeye says slowly, “this is not a dream.”
Then Ed sees it—lurking in the shadow, menacing Mustang’s entire face where it squats beneath his nose, sharp, thin, and sinister; Ed can’t decide whether it’s tragic, horrific, or hysterical.
The vacillation is probably what makes the laugh that bubbles out of him slightly high-pitched and a little bit unhinged, but once it’s free, he can’t stop. Within seconds, he’s become intimately acquainted with the carpet, because he’s collapsed to it in the throes of hilarity.
Mustang prods him with one fluffy white sheep-face slipper. “Major Hawkeye, would you mind explaining to me what in the blazing hell is going on here?”
Ed gasps in a few deep breaths and drags himself back to his feet using an extremely ugly bronze trophy that Mustang presumably won for being the biggest asshole in his squadron during basic training.
Hawkeye clears her throat. “It’s… there’s something we need to talk about, sir. Something of grave importance.”
Mustang’s eyes narrow a little bit. “What’s that?”
Hawkeye’s mouth works soundlessly for a moment, but the trajectory of her gaze is unmistakable.
Mustang lifts a hand and—there’s no other word for it—pets the abomination defensively. “This? Please don’t be preposterous, Major.”
“I have never been more serious in my life,” Hawkeye says, sounding it. “Please shave, sir. All of the photographs today were bad enough.”
“The parade was in honor of our hard work,” Mustang says indignantly. “I wanted to look nice.”
“With all respect, sir,” Hawkeye says, “you look like an actor in a porn film.”
Mustang blinks. “One that you’d watch?”
“Well, I like it,” Mustang says, and from the way he squares his shoulders, Ed knows this is a My stubbornness is the reason donkeys are called ‘asses’ moment in the making. “I think it’s distinguished, and as such, I intend to display it on special occasions.”
“Can the next one be your funeral?” Ed asks.
Judging by the glare Mustang shoots him, he should start carrying a water pistol for defensive purposes.
“Sir,” Hawkeye says, “you’ve given me no choice.”
Mustang blinks. “Wh—”
Hawkeye touches her earpiece. “Lieutenant Fuery, notify all units—second floor, west corridor, target has been sighted, over and out.”
Mustang’s eyes widen now. “You staged a full-scale mission to get me to shave?”
An unruffled Hawkeye checks the safety of her gun. “You seem surprised, sir.” She levels the firearm at him. “Edward, will you get the razor out of my pack? I advise you not to go for your gloves, sir.”
It’s a bit of a pity that Ed’s so busy digging through Hawkeye’s backpack for the shaving kit she brought; he really wants to write down some of the beautifully elaborate expletives pouring out of Mustang’s mouth so that he can use them later.
Al trots up, towing a slightly-less-dreamy Havoc behind him, just as Ed manages to sort the kit out from the small arsenal in Hawkeye’s bag. “Good evening, Brigadier-General!” Al says brightly.
“Good evening, Alphonse,” Mustang grits out through tightly-clenched teeth.
“Wait for us!” Breda calls from the foot of the stairs, and then they’re all crowded around and jostling a little as Ed hands Hawkeye the razor and the small can of shaving cream.
“Keep him immobilized,” Hawkeye instructs the assembly, holstering her gun to accept Ed’s offerings. “This could get messy if we’re not ca—”
Mustang bolts so fast that his abandoned sheep slippers actually twirl in the air before they fall.
Ed claps his palms together, but the softness of the right one reminds him, and the slender cord coiled around his heart tightens suddenly—
But it wasn’t an echo that he heard; it was Al, pressing his perfectly, wonderfully human hands together and then dropping into a crouch to slam them down on the carpet. The carpet in question rises serpentlike from the floor, a huge hill leaping into being in front of Mustang, knocking his footing from beneath him so that he tumbles backwards. Before he can scramble upright again, it wraps itself around his lower half, twisting in tightly around his waist, holding him securely despite his immediate struggles to pull himself free.
“You’re all fired!” he shouts, writhing fruitlessly. “And when I get my damned gloves back, you’re all going to be on fire!”
“That’s illegal, sir,” Hawkeye says.
“Like that facial hair should be,” Ed says.
“Do you want me to pin his arms, Major?” Al asks, sounding like he’s discussing some unexpectedly pleasant weather.
“That’s all right, thank you, Alphonse,” Hawkeye says. She steps up to the furious general. “Sir,” she says quietly, looking him in the eyes—and Mustang’s eyes have always been dark, always been quick, always been keener than you realize until it’s too late; but the gleam of age in them is new, although Ed can’t tell whether it was conferred by the red stone or by the red that they all spilled fighting their way here. “If you insist upon maintaining that… thing…, I may be forced to request reassignment.”
That’s a dirty trick, but Ed supposes that she learned from the best.
Mustang’s eyes go soft and start to glimmer with something else entirely. “Riza,” he says piteously, “when did I ever do you wrong?”
“Would you like the alphabetized list, sir?” Hawkeye asks calmly. “Or the chronological one?”
“Come on, General,” Breda puts in. “It’s not every day that a beautiful woman gets her hands all over your face.”
“For him, it probably is,” Havoc mutters. “Other people’s beautiful women, no less. And probably not his fa—”
“Lieutenant Breda has a point,” Hawkeye says loudly. “What’s it going to be, sir?”
Mustang cringes. He agonizes. He laments. He curses the heavens.
Ed makes a point of looking at the gold pocket-watch Al and Winry made for him.
“Major,” Mustang says after two minutes and seventeen and a half seconds, “I hope you know how highly it speaks of you that I—”
“Excellent, sir,” Hawkeye says.
Mustang angles his face towards her, apparently suppressing a smirk. “It is a rare privilege to have such a lovely woman’s fingers on one’s skin.”
Ed’s going to barf.
“It is a privilege,” Hawkeye says. “And privileges are best earned, which is why Alphonse will be doing the honors.”
“Me, Major?” Al sputters before Ed can get anything coherent to come out of his own mouth, what with the way his jaw just dropped. “But why…?”
As Ed would have expected, Hawkeye doesn’t bat a long, curving eyelash at the reaction. “You and Edward are the only individuals here who are not in the general’s employ. I suspect that Edward might be moved to do something problematic—given the temptation of an immobilized general and a sharp object—so I’ve selected you as the candidate least likely to incur undesirable retribution.”
The worst thing about Riza Hawkeye is that her logic is so straight-up reasonable that it verges on cruel.
“Oh,” Al says in an adorably small voice. “That does kind of make sense.”
“None of this makes a damn speck of sense, you pack of housebreaking traitors,” Mustang hisses.
Everyone ignores him.
Hawkeye pushes the razor and the shaving cream at Al. “Have you done this before? I suppose you haven’t had a face for very long.”
Al looks like he’s going to die of chagrin, and it will come as a relief.
“Just transmute it,” Ed says. “Into… I dunno, a very small doily or something.”
“A doily made of the general’s facial hair?” Al asks faintly.
Ed scowls. “Just trying to help.”
“No,” Al says, still barely audible. “No, that’s actually a good idea, Brother; thank you…” He swallows once, steps forward to face Mustang, presses the tips of his index fingers together, and then tentatively reaches out to touch one to Brigadier-General Dumbass’s farcical facial hair.
At this point, the mustache sort of… poofs. It’s not quite right to call it an explosion, but the component hairs burst outwards from a central point, float a little, and then coalesce into a tiny sculpture in the shape of a flower.
Al plucks it out of the air. “Do you want to keep this, General?”
“He doesn’t,” Hawkeye says before Mustang can articulate himself. “Because that would be disgusting, sir.”
“Maybe I should retire,” Mustang says distantly. “Find a villa somewhere sunny. Bask in the silence. Grow a beard.”
“Good luck,” Havoc says, rubbing at his goatee, at the same moment that Hawkeye says, “I’ll see you dead first, sir.”
Al hands the hair-flower to Ed, who hands it to Havoc, who hands it to Breda, who hands it to Falman, who stares at it in abject horror and then shoves it into an extraordinarily tacky vase to his right.
“You can’t retire, you pansy,” Ed says. “Unless you never want those 520 cens that you can’t have back until you make Führer.”
“Keep them,” Mustang says. “Buy a conscience.” He twists against his carpet confines again. “May I go now, Alphonse?”
Al looks to Hawkeye, who gives the general a long, meaningful dose of her namesake before she turns to Al again and nods. With the air of one baiting a rabid animal, he leans down and touches the carpet with both hands; in a crackle of blue light and tingling alchemical energy, it lies down flat again, releasing a thoroughly unimpressed Roy Mustang.
“When I’m Führer,” he says, folding his arms across his chest, “tampering with a man’s facial hair will be an offense punishable by death.”
“It was for your own good, sir,” Hawkeye says.
“And for ours,” Havoc notes.
“You just got those eyes back, General,” Ed says. “It’d be kind of ungrateful if you went around scarring them with that thing every time you looked in a mirror.” He considers. “Which I can only assume is pretty much all the time.”
Mustang frowns at him, which is comfortingly normal after all of this chaos. Then Ed remembers something.
“Wait a damn second,” he says. “What was that about a dream with me and Major Haw—”
Fuery’s voice wails in his ear. “Don’t remind me!”
If Ed is not mistaken in the dim light of the hallway, pink flares in Mustang’s cheeks. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. And you should all get the hell out of my house now, because I’m going back to bed.”
“Hold on,” Al says. “What?” He looks even more puppyish when he’s concerned; it’s a wonder no one’s offered him a biscuit yet.
“Don’t worry about it, Al,” Ed says, reaching over to pat his shoulder. “He’s just being a lecherous old man again. Now that we’ve exorcised the mustache, maybe it’ll stop poisoning his thoughts. And anyway, I don’t really care; as long as he’s not violating you in his mind, I’m not obligated to castrate him with a scrap of rusty metal.”
Mustang swallows audibly.
“Perhaps the general has a point,” Hawkeye says, rather tactfully, “and we should leave before anyone gets tetanus in an unfortunate place.”
“I think it’s safe to say that our work here is done,” Havoc agrees.
“Shut up and clear out,” Mustang says. Hawkeye gives him a searing look. “Uh… please,” he says.
“Sleep well, Brigadier-General,” Al says warmly. “Although I hope you only have very innocent thoughts about my brother from now on—who knows what you might wake up and find in your bed if you don’t? Beetles, perhaps. Earthworms. A gallon or two of sour porridge. The shreds of your sheep slippers.” He flashes a sunny smile and starts for the stairs, waving cheerily. “Sweet dreams!”
Ed takes a moment to appreciate the sheer terror painted all over Mustang’s face and then runs to catch up with Al, throwing an arm around his shoulders.
“I love you, Al,” he says.
“I love you, too, Brother,” Al says contentedly.
Ed spends the next week tensed and ready for Mustang’s vengeance, expecting to get tackled to the street and have the words “I AM A MUSTACHE-HATER” singed onto his back or something. Instead, though, it’s just unsettlingly quiet for seven days—which Ed supposes is probably a better reflection of Mustang’s style, if the word “style” can ever again be applied to a human being who would bear that mustache willingly.
On the morning of the eighth day, two missives on cream-colored military stationery drop in through the Elrics’ mail slot, identical except for the addressees. Al calls them “invitations”—which makes sense, because they say Please assemble outside my office at 8:00 AM sharp tomorrow. –M.—but Ed calls them “a goddamn obvious trap.”
They go anyway, of course, if only to see what sort of goddamn obvious trap it is.
As Ed had been anticipating, Major Hawkeye is already waiting by Mustang’s door, her hands folded behind her back, her heels together. Ed would wager that she’s positive Mustang is planning something, but she’s decided that retribution is his due, and she’ll accept it no matter what form it takes.
Momentarily, Lieutenant Havoc arrives, and Ed has to get interested in his coat to hide his look of stunned surprise that the man has already figured out how to saunter with leg braces on. Falman, Breda, and Fuery arrive together, comparing invites somewhat grimly, and then the minute hand of Ed’s pocket-watch twitches to strike the hour.
“What do you think it is, Major?” Fuery asks, worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth a bit.
Falman’s expression is one of barely-suppressed anxiety. “We’re not getting dismissed, are we?”
“Certainly not,” Hawkeye says. “If there weren’t seven of us, I would consider the likelihood of our having cream pies thrown at our faces, but I think we make too many targets for that. There’s a small possibility he intends merely to drag us out of bed early and have us wait here indefinitely, but I think it’s more probable that he’s spent the past week jury-rigging some sort of environmental hazard, especially given that I have very rarely known him to work late in the past, except when he’s using the phrase ‘work late’ as a euphemism for ‘sleep at my desk.’”
“Environmental hazard?” Breda says slowly. “You think he’s going to drop something on us or something?”
Everyone looks up, so Ed looks down.
“Hey, hang on,” he says, kneeling. He starts to part the carpet fibers with his hands, trying to get a clear look at the marks beneath. “Is this an ar—”
The doors are flung open from within. Mustang bursts out and slaps both hands violently down on the floor, summoning red-orange light along the lines of a complex array that spans the entire hall in front of the office.
“Good morning, traitors!” Mustang shouts, and then he’s off like a shot—cackling, if Ed’s not mistaken.
Before Ed can think of something cutting to say, the light rises and overwhelms them, and everyone cries out.
When the air clears, Ed rubs at his eyes, trying to erase the last of the bright spots dappling his vision. He pauses, knuckles pressed to his eyelids, when he feels the tickle.
The tickle doesn’t go away.
With a dawning horror, he raises his head and looks around at the assembled company.
Every single one of them has been endowed with a small, black, wicked Mustangstache.
Al is patting at his in great alarm. “Brother, does this clash with my hair?”
“It would kind of suit you,” Ed says, fairly honestly, resisting the urge to cover the lower half of his face with both hands, “if it suited anyone. Which it doesn’t, because it looks like crap.”
Al heaves a sigh.
“Can you deconstruct these with alchemy, too?” Havoc asks him. “I’d really rather not be seen wearing this all the way home to shave it off.”
Fuery is cradling his head in both hands. “So many nightmares…”
“I believe so,” Al says to Havoc.
“And then,” Ed says, “we should leave all of the mustache hair in a pile on Brigadier-General Twisted-Inside’s desk.”
“Or in his bed,” Al says.
Ed isn’t sure where this new thing with Al and leaving horrible stuff in people’s beds came from. He is sure that he’s going to be extra-nice to his brother for a while.
Breda snickers at Falman’s mustache, prods at his own, sobers a little, and turns to Hawkeye. “We did kind of deserve that, though, huh, Major? I guess this means we and the general are even.”
“On the contrary,” Hawkeye says, “Brigadier-General Mustang has just declared war.” With a completely straight face, she reaches up with both hands and twirls the ends of her mustache. “And we, gentlemen, are going to give him hell.”