“Explain to me again why we are freezing our asses off two days before Yule helping the Colonel move.” Breda took a medicinal hit from his flask and stamped his feet to try and get the antifreeze circulating enough to do some good.
“He’s a Colonel,” Fuery said, surprised. “They don’t move their own stuff.”
“Yeah, but there are Privates whose jobs are to lift and tote for officers.”
Falman corrected, “On base. Colonel Mustang didn’t want to live in base housing, so the infrastructure isn’t available to him.”
“What’s wrong with base housing?” Fuery asked. “Field grade quarters must be pretty plush.”
Breda rolled his eyes and took another tot. “The Colonel doesn’t want a record of all his comings and goings. And who he’s coming and going with.”
“I don’t imagine his lady friends would appreciate having to present their credentials to armed gate guards, either.” Falman frowned. “Are you drinking alcohol? The illusion of warmth it provides is offset by the dangers of hypothermia.”
Fuery added, scandalized, “Also, it’s 7 am.”
“Do you fellows want some or not?” Breda asked wearily.
“God, yes,” they both answered.
Havoc picked them up in a troop truck borrowed from the motor pool. Breda piled in the back with Falman and Fuery and huddled to them for warmth as the truck bumped and slid down the icy streets to Mustang’s apartment building. Once there, the crew was greeted by First Lieutenant Hawkeye, who had coffee, bless her efficient soul.
Breda’s enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by Hawkeye’s reminder that Mustang’s apartment was not only on the third floor, but also that the stairs were in the back. They would have to carry Mustang’s stuff down the hall, down three flights of stairs, and around the building to the truck. She managed to silence most of the groaning with a cool look, but Breda still grumbled under his breath. It was a god given right, under the circumstances.
“Roy’s still packing his precious books.” Lt. Colonel Hughes said brightly from the doorway to Mustang’s place. “Also, the heat is off in the entire building so I would leave any brass monkeys in the truck or they are going to be unhappy critters indeed. Fortunately, I thought ahead.” He waggled his flask and Breda held out his coffee cup for a warm up. Havoc, Falman, and Fuery were right behind him. Hawkeye huffed and stalked around them, her breath visible in the frigid air.
Breda savored the coffee, appreciating the fact that Lt. Colonels could afford a higher quality of hooch than Second Lieutenants. From the next room, he heard Hawkeye’s disapproving, “Sir, you only have half a box packed!”
“Good Morning, First Lieutenant,” Mustang responded, sounding absorbed.
“Sir, we are never going to get your things moved if you insist on rereading all your books before you pack them!” A short pause. “Sir? Are you listening to me?”
More silence from Mustang.
“Give him a kick,” Hughes called helpfully. “Always works for me.”
Falman, who was a bit of a lightweight, sniggered.
Breda rolled his eyes. “Ok, we need to get this show on the road before we all freeze to death.”
“Start with the big things,” Havoc glanced around. “Or we’ll never get all his stuff in the truck.”
“That would be the couch, the bed, and the dresser.” Hughes abandoned the coffee in favor of sipping directly from the flask.
Fuery blanched. “Not The Dresser?”
“The solid mahogany one that doesn’t fit through doors or around corners?” Falman asked, hoping he was wrong.
“The one that weighs slightly more than a battleship?” Havoc moaned.
“The one that can hide a dead body? And probably does?” Breda rubbed his forehead. His back still hurt from the last time they moved that bastard. “Can’t we take up a collection and buy the goddamn thing off him and leave it here?”
“Sorry, men, it has some sentimental value. All Roy has left from his folks and all that. He’ll never part with it.”
That sad news required another hit. Then Havoc took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and volunteered Falman to help him muscle the couch down the stairs. Breda approved his logic. No point in killing themselves off right away. Got to work up to The Dresser. He toasted their endeavors.
Operation Couch required much discussion and turning to get it around the corner in the narrow hallway and started down the stairs. This conversation had to be repeated at each landing of the three flights of stairs. At one point, Havoc could be heard wailing, “But we got it up the stairs, right? So it has to go back down somehow!”
“While they are trying to bend that heavy assed couch in half, let’s break down the Colonel’s bed.” Breda led Fuery into Mustang’s bedroom. “Just wad his bedding into a ball and pitch it into that corner.” The man himself was wedged off to the side, between a large crate and the built in bookcase.
“His sheets are white,” Fuery commented, sounding slightly disappointed. “I thought they’d be some other color.”
“Yeah, no notches on the bedpost, either.” Breda scoffed. “That romance stuff is just smokescreen. You want to see the real man in action?” He pointed to where Mustang was carefully lifting a book down off the shelf. He caressed the cover before wrapping it gently in paper and tucking it in a box like it was fine china. “That’s his true love, right there.”
The next book proved irresistible and Mustang sank slowly to the floor, reading. Hawkeye marched by, a packed and neatly labeled box in her hands, and kicked the colonel sharply.
“No reading! Packing!”
“Yes, First Lieutenant.” Mustang rubbed the offended portion of his anatomy and kept turning pages, proving he liked to live dangerously. Fuery and Breda exchanged looks, impressed.
Hawkeye sighed and left Mustang there, probably because at least he wasn’t underfoot. She started folding up bedclothes while Breda and Fuery separated the headboard, foot board, and supports. They leaned the mattress and box springs against the wall to get it out of the way. Hughes ‘assisted’ by cackling like a madman and refilling his flask from Mustang’s bar.
“You are going to have to help pack,” Hawkeye said when they were done. “Or we are never going to get out of here.”
“Got to get the rest of Roy’s stuff out of storage, too,” Hughes reminded them. “He has a whole houseful of furniture.”
“When I used the generic collective term ‘you’, Sir, that included, specifically, you. Sir.” Hawkeye thrust a box in Hughes’ hands. “Don’t forget to label them.” She gestured. “There is wrapping paper here, and labels, and pencils over-”
“All under control, Riza. You handle the breakables and we’ll take care of everything else.”
She nodded and trotted off, presumably to kick Mustang some more.
“Right.” Hughes tucked away the flask, to Breda’s disappointment. “I say we each grab a box and work our way across the apartment like a swarm of field hands at an all you can eat buffet.” He opened a drawer in the kitchenette and dumped the contents in a box, which he then labeled ‘kitchen crap’.
Fuery squeaked. “Shouldn’t we, ah, wrap stuff?”
“All it has to do is make it to Roy’s new house, where, if I know him and I do, he will open the boxes and dump the stuff back out of the box and into the closest drawer or cupboard. Anyway, Yule is in two days and I have things to do back in Central, like put up a tree for my darling daughter. This is her first Yule! We have little decorations just for her room, they are pink and so cute!”
“In other words, if you want to get this done before the vernal equinox, snap to.” Breda grabbed a box. Fuery saluted and took another.
Mustang really didn’t have much and randomly cramming anything that fit in any box they could find accelerated the project considerably. By the time Havoc and Falman trudged back up the stairs, nearly everything in the kitchenette and sitting room was packed. If you could call it that.
Desperate not to help muscle Mustang’s solid oak bedstead down the stairs, Breda and Fuery went into Advanced Packing. They packed Mustang’s clothes. They packed his laundry. They packed the contents of his ice box. They packed his garbage, his mail, and his house plants.
Then they started packing the smaller boxes in bigger boxes to make them easier to carry. A box neatly titled “Contents of Highboy, top drawer” and two boxes with Hughes’ scrawled “crap and more crap” joined a box of Mustang’s meticulously packed books in a crate Breda labeled, “Damn Heavy”. He and Fuery decided that the important thing was not so much what was in the box as how much grunting and straining it was going to take to move it. They worked out a code : VH for very heavy, DH for damn heavy, working their way up to VDH and eventually, for a crate entirely filled with the Colonel’s books, VDHMF.
Hawkeye frowned at the letters. “What does that mean?”
“Don’t try to lift it by yourself if you still have plans to have children.”
Hughes rewarded all the hardworking movers and packers with a generous shot of Roy’s fine whiskey. Full Colonels could afford even better booze than Lt. Colonels. Breda decided they would pack the bar last. There would be less of it by then.
Mustang appeared, a very small carton in hand. “I am going to bring my automobile around to load up with the more breakable items.”
“Stop and get us some breakfast,” Hughes suggested. “Because we’re drinking all your booze to keep warm and I’m about half in bag already.”
“I’ll do that. I need to go to the package store, as well, and get the liquor for the Company Yule party.” Mustang slipped away like commanders everywhere, trusting his team to do all the actual work. Some men took years to learn how to delegate properly. Mustang had been born to avoid physical labor and all its incarnations; it was part of what Breda admired about the guy.
“Meanwhile, I’ll make coffee.” Hawkeye hunted around Mustang’s tiny kitchen. “Did you pack the coffee pot? Did you even wash it out first?”
“His new place has a sink, doesn’t it?” Breda shrugged. They’d not only packed the pot, but also the wet grounds and egg shells.
“You sure you don’t want a tot, Riza? You are going to freeze to death.” Hughes passed over his flask. Hawkeye shook her head and handed the silver hip flask to Breda. The coffee cups were lost someplace in the boxes so Breda just took a swig. The whiskey would kill any germs, anyway. He gave the remains to Fuery.
Havoc came puffing in from his third trip up the stairs, Falman at his heels. “A little exercise will warm you guys up. You could, you know, lend a hand.”
Fuery offered the booze instead, which derailed further bitching.
“You know,” Breda drawled, “There is a little balcony thing here, and it over looks the front of the apartment building, where the truck is.”
“Yes,” Falman confirmed. “We noticed you watching us work as we were loading the Colonel’s headboard.”
“The Colonel’s extremely heavy, ornate and solid oak headboard,” Havoc clarified.
“Work smarter, not harder,” Breda said. “Why don’t we lower this stuff over the rail? It will save 92 trips up and down three flights of stairs.”
“No,” Hawkeye said firmly.
“I think if we pitch Roy’s stuff over the balcony he will roast us all, which while briefly warming, will end unpleasantly.”
“No, no, listen, there are ropes in the truck, right? We can secure the stuff and lower it down. You and I can man the guy ropes up here, Lt. Colonel, and Havoc, Falman, and Fuery can catch them and load the truck. Lt. Hawkeye can spot. We’ll be done in half the time.”
“No,” Hawkeye repeated.
“At the risk of sounding like a pantywaist, I really don’t want to muscle that mahogany dresser down those narrow stairs. The couch was bad enough.” Havoc lit a cigarette as Falman nodded agreement.
“Fine, do it your way,” Hawkeye said, giving them her patented ‘You are all idiots and I won’t be cleaning this mess up for you’ look. Breda felt honored, usually only the Colonel rated that one.
With some elbow grease, tools from the truck, and colorful language, they managed to get one of the casement doors off. The other was either purely decorative or had been welded in place by endless coats of paint. “Doesn’t matter,” Breda said. “We’d have to get stuff out the front door anyway, and this is just as wide.”
“The front door leads into a hallway,” Hawkeye pointed out, determined to be a killjoy. “This opens to an 18 inch balcony with ornamental iron railings.”
“That’s what the ropes are for, to keep the stuff from falling.” Hughes was tying said rope around the footboard of Mustang’s bed.
“And when you go over the balcony, too?”
“Give us some credit, Hawkeye,” Breda said. “We’ll just let go of the rope.”
She glanced down at Havoc, Falman, and Feury, standing in the snow. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“The really sad thing is,” Hughes said, dusting off his pants, “I think having the door off actually made it warmer in here.”
Operation Over the Rails worked perfectly for the footboard and supports. Hawkeye was impressed enough to leave them and go start cleaning the Colonel’s bathroom.
Breda and Hughes had to angle the box springs a bit, and shove, to get it through the open doorway and over the rail. They didn’t bother with the ropes, it was light enough for Havoc to catch easily. Next came the bulky horsehair and cotton mattress, with its feather filled topper.
“Damn, the mattress weighs more than the rest of the bed together.” Breda shoved at the awkward square, with was refusing to pass through the rectangular doorway.
“It’s just horse hair and cotton, surely we can bend it a little.” Hughes braced his feet and pushed with his shoulder. The mattress moved just enough to wedge itself diagonally in the door, caught on the jamb and the fancy wrought ironwork outside.
They pushed, they shoved, they cursed. Muffled shouts of encouragement drifted up from the snowy yard below. Hawkeye paused on her way to the bedroom, arms full of Mustang’s toiletries. “Keep it down, the neighbors will complain.”
“Tell them to come help,” Hughes commanded breathlessly. He sank down on the floor, resting his back against the mattress.
Breda joined him. “It has to go out. The box springs did!”
They shared a shot of Mustang’s brandy and thought it over.
“Okay,” Hughes said. “How about if we rush it, like a football dummy? Run at it, hit it hard, that should pop it loose.”
Breda agreed, and they tucked the bottle safely in the corner and took up position.
“On three,” Hughes said. “One, two… three!”
Breda never actually played football, as he had an aversion to sports that allowed large sweaty men to fall on him, but he understood the tactics and logic of the game. So did Hughes, as he let the Second Lieutenant take the lead. Breda hit the mattress with all his considerable strength and bulk, and it flexed and popped free like a slice of bread leaving an overly enthusiastic toaster. It sailed up into the air, turned a graceful arc, and plummeted towards the cheering crew below. Hughes grabbed Breda by the collar just in time to prevent him following the mattress over the side.
“I got it!” Little Kain Fuery shouted. Then he was flattened by 150 pounds of horsehair and cotton.
“Is he dead?” Hughes called down, leaning over the rail. Beside him, Breda clutched his heart and tried to get his breathing under control.
Falman and Havoc pried the mattress off Fuery, who was pressed into the snow by the weight. “Still alive!” Havoc hollered back.
They tossed a medicinal bottle down for Fuery and celebrated his narrow escape with another hit. Now that the ground crew also had access to whiskey, each successful transport required a toast. By the time all the DH, VH, and VDH boxes were lowered, they were all feeling pretty good. It was decided that Havoc and Fuery would join Hughes and Breda upstairs to lever the VDHMF and The Dresser down. Falman would stay below to organize the boxes in the truck, since with his memory he was the only one who would remember what ended up where. Havoc kindly left him the bottle.
There were still lots of small cartons filled with breakables. Hawkeye had been carrying them down one at a time, but since she was unwilling to hurry down the frost coated stairs, she hadn’t made much of a dent. Running on the tide of quality liquor and the rush of accomplishment, Hughes and the others decided to test Hawkeye’s packing abilities by simply throwing the remaining containers off the balcony. Below, Falman ran around trying to catch the boxes, rescue the boxes stuck in the snow, and not be hit by bombs made of plummeting boxes. Upstairs, Hawkeye berated them and finally succumbed to a swig of brandy to settle her nerves.
Eager to prove their competence, Breda and Havoc volunteered to move The Dresser out into the sitting room. Hughes sat on the kitchen counter, holding the brandy. Fuery flapped around trying to be helpful and generally getting underfoot. Hawkeye stood off to the side with the expression of one watching a train wreck. Hughes tried to get her to take a second drink; after all, she had several hours of tippling to catch up on.
Havoc and Breda rocked the heavy dresser back and forth and were finally able to tip it enough to get a grip on the damn thing. Even with the drawers out it weighed as much as your average Armstrong pocketbook and they were forced to inch it across the bedroom floor. They had just breeched the bedroom door when Havoc gasped, “What was that?”
“My spleen shooting out?” Breda guessed. He had the upper portion and was still in the bedroom, walking forward at least, while Havoc had the lower bit and was walking backwards.
“No, it was a mouse!”
“Mouse?” Hawkeye and Fuery said simultaneously. Fuery sounded hopeful. Hawkeye pulled her gun.
“What makes you think there was a mouse?”
“Because,” Havoc said, his voice strained, “it just ran up my leg.”
Hughes snorfled. “Just shake it off, Lieutenant.”
“I can shoot it,” Hawkeye offered. Breda wondered if she’d had more brandy than they suspected. Or maybe she just didn’t like Havoc.
“No!” Both Havoc and Fuery said together.
“Jean,” Breda reminded him, “We are holding a heavy goddamn dresser here. Focus.”
“Don’t hurt it, Lieutenant!” Fuery pleaded.
“It ran up my leg! As in up my pants! On the inside! Oh god!”
“Jean! Don’t let go of…”
Havoc released the dresser and danced in place, trying to shake the mouse out. Hawkeye moved to the side, her revolver trained on Havoc. Fuery hovered in front of her, trying to block her shot.
“It’s just scared, it’s harmless!”
“God, it’s not coming out, it’s heading for my -” even panicking, Havoc couldn’t get around his upbringing enough to mention his unmentionables in front of Hawkeye. “It’s traveling north!”
“Jean!” Breda bellowed, sinking slowly to the floor as his knees gave out, “Grab the goddamn dresser!”
Havoc whipped open his belt and dropped his trousers, deciding that protecting the family jewels from mice was more important than flashing a superior officer.
“What the hell are you doing?!”
Mustang stood in the hallway entrance, crushing a bakery box in his hands. He looked at Hawkeye, who was holding a gun on Havoc. Havoc, who had dropped his drawers and was frantically kicking them away. Fuery, who was nearly in tears, pleading with Hawkeye, “Please don’t shoot!” Breda had collapsed to the ground, The Dresser settling on top of him and crushing the air out of his lungs. Hughes, still sitting cross legged on the kitchen counter, laughed until he cried.
Falman appeared in the doorway behind the Colonel, and made a surprised noise, pointed to something along the baseboards. “You have mice in a nice apartment like this?”
Hughes eventually wiped his eyes and got everyone calmed down. They pried The Dresser off of Breda just about at the point where he was going to go ahead and confess to being a witch. Havoc got dressed, Hawkeye put her gun away, and Falman and Fuery determined after a short investigation that the mouse had wisely fled to a neighboring apartment. Mustang made everyone, including Hawkeye, eat something and warned them all to lay off the sauce.
With some effort, Hughes managed to talk Mustang into letting them drop The Dresser over the side of the balcony. It took four of them to man the ropes while Hughes shouted orders and Mustang trotted back and forth in the snow below making mewling noises over every bump and scratch. Hawkeye was able to drag him back out of the drop zone once they actually got the heavy bastard over the railing, and the operation went smooth as could be expected, if you over looked the fact that Mustang had to come back upstairs and transmute the ornamental railing back together. Then he confiscated his bar – or what was left in it – loading the contents and a few boxes into his car. Since Mustang knew his men well, most of the back seat and trunk of his vehicle was already full of liquor purchased for the company party set for the next night, Yule Eve.
“The First Lieutenant and I will head over to the house,” Mustang said. “Are any of you lot sober enough to drive to the warehouse and get the rest of my furniture out of storage?”
Falman and Hughes didn’t have much hope of convincing the man, but Havoc really hadn’t drunk nearly as much as the rest of them. Fuery had, but you’d never know it by looking at him. Breda personally was half gone but didn’t feel one needed to be sober to lug furniture.
“I’m fine, Sir,” Havoc said, eager to redeem himself after the mouse in the pants situation.
Mustang scrubbed his face with his hand. “All right, Lieutenant. Be careful. The rest of you… Hughes… oh, never mind. We’ll meet you at the house, hopefully we can get this done before it gets dark.”
Breda helped Falman and Fuery secure the contents of the back of the truck while Havoc struggled to get the engine to fire in the bitter cold. Hughes walked Mustang to his automobile, probably hoping to be allowed to ride with them. Or not, as Breda watched Hughes lean in while chatting with Mustang and Hawkeye, and deftly snitch a bottle from the back seat. Breda brightened. The milk, coffee, and orange juice Mustang provided with the sandwiches hadn’t gone down nearly as well as the brandy. Nor was it half as warming.
Hughes was right, Mustang had a whole houseful of furniture waiting in the storage warehouse. It took some rearranging in the troop truck, and Havoc whimpering like a sissy about axels and weight limits, but they got all the stuff crammed into the back. Since anyone riding back there with the crates would be squashed like a bug if the load shifted, the officers piled into the cab. Hughes, who was riding shotgun, took pity on Falman and Fuery and hauled them in, too. It was warmer that way, but the quarters were too tight to pass the bottle, so he kept it.
Mustang’s new house was two thirds down a steep hill, just above a small shopping district. The road had been broken into a series of slopes and small flat spaces to prevent a headlong rush straight down and into the storefronts. The whole area was covered in ice and snow and many local children were taking advantage by sledding up and down the road. Havoc had to brake hard to avoid some tots and the truck spun around, slid down one incline backwards and skidded across the flat cross street area to teeter at the next drop.
“Right, we’ll try that again.” Havoc downshifted, but Hughes dived out the door. Fuery followed him, managing to crawl over Breda while simultaneously dragging Falman out of the truck by his hair. Breda soon joined them by the side of the road, mussed and glad to escape.
“What?” Havoc, said, offended by the implied criticism of his driving.
“Look, it’s all in crates, right? Pull over and we’ll bring the stuff down to it on a sledge.” Otherwise Breda could see them, the truck, and the furniture careening down the road, through the shops, and ending up in a ditch on the other side. And Mustang would make them carry that heavy assed dresser back up the hill to his house.
Falman and Fuery picked a box that didn’t look like its contents were too valuable while Hughes and Breda bribed a kid to let them rent his sled for the afternoon. Havoc leaned against the truck and sulked.
First attempt went okay, the tricky part being controlling the speed of decent. For the second try they decided to station Breda and Hughes at the foot of the hill to catch the sled.
“Where did he find this place, anyway?” Breda asked, sampling the bottle Hughes offered.
“It’s been on the market a while, no one wanted it because it’s old fashioned. Roy will have to do some repairs, and lay in electricity and telephone lines. Since he’s an alchemist, he didn’t seem to think it would be any big deal. Plus it will give the chance to ah, customize.”
“Makes sense. What do they call that, a fixer-upper?”
There was a shout as the sled, heavily loaded with a large wooden crate, got away from Havoc, Falman and Fuery and shot down the hill. Breda weighed the likelihood of Hughes and him stopping that against them being flattened like his granny’s ironing. He jerked Hughes out of the way, causing them both to fall backwards into a snowdrift. The sled hit the side of the porch, dislodging a considerable amount of snow from the roof, most of it on top of them. The crate skidded across the porch and right through the wall. There was a second crash as it fell through the floor of the room inside.
“Or even a tearer-downer.” Breda amended, taking a calming slug.
Havoc, Falman, and Fuery ran up, white faced with horror. From the other side of the house, Mustang called, “What was that?”
Hughes scrambled out of the snow and took command while dusting himself off. “Right. I’ll distract Roy, you guys fix this.” He sprinted off.
“What was it?” Breda asked, resigned.
Falman peered into the hole. “I think, a piano.”
“Fix it? How?” Fuery asked plaintively.
Havoc rolled his cigarette to the other side of his mouth. “We’re gunna need the Boss for this one,” he said gloomily.
“I heard a crash,” Mustang said, hidden by the house.
“It’s nothing,” Hughes said. “You owe me a drink.”
“Maes, you’ve been drinking since six this morning. What was that noise?”
“Ok, you need a drink, then.”
Suspiciously, Mustang said, “How is a drink going to help with whatever just happened?”
“It won’t. But lots of drinks, now, that will help.” Hughes dragged Mustang down the icy sidewalk towards the pub.
Hawkeye came through the house, wiping her hands on an apron, and spotted the hole in the wall. And the one in the floor. She covered her mouth with her hand. Breda passed her the bottle. She took a swig, coughed, and said, “What have you done?”
“Look, Little Boss can fix it and the Colonel doesn’t even need to know.” At Hawkeye’s aghast glare, Breda added, “It was Lt. Colonel Hughes’ idea.”
It was decided that Hawkeye would go and fetch the Elric brothers, since she had the keys to Mustang’s automobile and refused to give them up. Also, she was the only one sober enough to transport little kids. They unloaded the booze from back seat and trunk to make room for Alphonse.
“He’ll be in the library,” Havoc said. “For a 13 year old boy, he’s damn hard to pry out of there, too.”
“This is an emergency. Just haul his little ass out.” Breda advised.
Falman pointed out, “Technically, that would be assault on a superior officer.”
“Yeah, the Colonel will have conniption fit if he has to deal with court martial paperwork on top of everything else.” Fuery nodded.
“And have you seen him fight?” Havoc shuddered. “It would be like trying to tote a wolverine under your arm.”
“I will appeal to Edward’s better nature.” Hawkeye put on her coat.
“And when that doesn’t work?” Falman asked.
“I’ll appeal to Alphonse’s better nature.”
“Good idea,” Havoc said. “Let him haul Fullmetal’s little ass out.”
“God, do any of you even have siblings?” Breda reclaimed the bottle.
“I have five sisters,” Fuery confessed. That explained a lot, in Breda’s opinion.
“Well, I have three brothers. Older brothers. And I can tell you it takes at least an hour of concentrated whining for an elder brother to cave to a baby brother. A hour we can’t afford.” Breda took out his wallet. “There’s a bakery across from the Library, get a dozen snickerdoodles, you can always bribe Elric with food.”
Hawkeye nodded and accepted the money. She drove off, leaving them with a precariously placed truck, two gaping holes, a busted piano and a whole lot of booze.
They decided to unload what they could, on the assumption that they may as well break everything before Little Boss got there to fix it. Plus, Hughes would not be able to keep Mustang at the bar indefinitely, and it would behoove them to have accomplished something before the colonels got back. Assuming Mustang and Hughes weren’t too tanked to make it back up the hill.
The local kids were fascinated by carrying boxes via sled and several offered to help. Breda let them take the small boxes of breakables and many actually arrived intact. He decided not to worry about the other ones. That’s what Alchemists were for, to fix broken stuff. Several of Mustang’s neighbors came out to watch and when they noticed the large amount of liquor on the lawn, a few of them volunteered, too.
Hawkeye pulled up and the ever-flamboyant Elric brothers bailed out of the automobile. Edward munched cookies from a sack and Alphonse trailed behind with an armful of library books. They picked their way across the porch, and peered in through the broken wall.
“Wow, it’s just like in the moving picture shows.” Alphonse sounded impressed.
“This part will be easy, but there’s some structural damage to the porch supports.”
“Dry rot, too, that’s probably what happened to the floor.”
Ed nodded and they went inside to stare down at the mess in the basement. Breda and Hawkeye followed them, as did a few of the more curious of Mustang’s new neighbors.
“You’d figure Mustang would have something prissy like a piano.”
“That’s a lot of stringy stuff… and hammers?” Alphonse guessed.
“Good thing I’ve seen the insides of a piano before. Not all over the room, though. I gotta say, it takes some skill to mess up this bad.” Fullmetal tested the floor and then jumped down, light as a cat. Alphonse lit a lantern and handed it down before following just as gracefully, if a tad more noisily.
“It really is just like the Saturday matinee.” Alphonse sounded thrilled. He offered his brother a book on piano building and took one on the history of pianos and harpsichords. They both sat down to read.
People crowded to see what was going to happen, which seemed to be a little boy and a guy in armor reading books in the middle of a busted spinet. Breda stepped forward but the floor creaked ominously and he skittered back. “Boss, we are on a schedule, here.”
“Al and I are not piano tuners, you know. You do want this thing to play?”
“I just want it together. Mustang can hire a professional later to tune it up.”
Edward shrugged and put the book aside. He conferred briefly with his brother, chose a page from the book for reference, and clapped his hands. The mess on the floor rearranged itself into an upright piano complete with bench and music stand. Breda suspected that the former version had lacked the ornamental dragons and skulls, but they really weren’t in a position to quibble over details. Alphonse drew a circle on the basement floor and a column of stone rose up, bringing the Elrics and the restored piano back to the ground level.
“Well, that answered that question,” Hawkeye commented.
Ed nodded to Al and clapped again. A rush of blue light flowed over and around them all as the floor and wall grew themselves back together. Alphonse sketched a series of quick arrays and his transmutation chased Ed’s, reinforcing and adjusting the house. Sagging joists straightened, windows resealed, and dry rot vanished.
“All right then,” the Fullmetal Alchemist said, dusting his hands. “Anything else needs doing or can we get back to the Library?”
Hawkeye’s method of dealing with the crew was to do her own thing and let the men go to hell in the hand basket of their choice. Fullmetal, however, was one of those creepily organized kids who found it hard to ignore incompetence. Once he realized they had an entire truck to unload, and that there might be food after, Edward turned into a little martinet. He allowed the crew no time to sneak drinks or rest.
“The sad thing is, Little Boss is as strong as Fuery at least and he never gets tired.” Havoc shook his head wonderingly.
“The sad thing is, that little monster outranks us. And we’re out of cookies to bribe him with.” Breda did have to admit things went easier once Ed transmuted a proper sledge – with brakes- out of a packing crate. It didn’t hurt to have Alphonse around, either.
“Next,” Falman said with a sigh, “we need to get this big bastard of a dresser out of the truck. It’s solid mahogany, which weighs 3.9 pounds per board foot.”
Alphonse picked The Dresser up. “All right. Where do you want it?”
Havoc dropped his cigarette and was unable to reply. Fuery suggested Alphonse carry it upstairs to Mustang’s bedroom, and the boy trotted away.
“Why did we not have those kids this morning?” Breda moaned.
Word got out that an Alchemist had moved into the neighborhood, and people flocked over, bringing small items to be repaired. Ed and Al were good humored enough to use their alchemy help out, especially as a lot of folk also brought Yule cookies and other snacks.
Women arrived with housewarming gifts of pies and fruit. When they found out that their new neighbor was a bachelor war hero and alchemist, many went home and returned wearing nicer clothes and more make up. They came bearing casseroles, fresh baked bread, and pots of soup. Fuery got the kitchen stove going and Hawkeye located enough dishes to serve everyone. Breda set up Mustang’s bar.
Falman put up the meager decorations that had been tucked in with the liquor. These were augmented by donations from a pitying community. Soon the house was festooned with garlands of greenery and winterberries, as well as myriad candles and lamps and collections of little tinkling bells.
The house had no central heat, but Havoc got the boiler going for hot water and Falman built a roaring fire in the front room. Fuery circulated with trays of goodies. Hawkeye made coffee and a neighbor made punch. Breda spiked both heavily in the spirit of the season. People chatted, laughed, unpacked and got drunk. Someone discovered Mustang’s gramophone and several people ran home to collect their phonograph records.
Edward and Alphonse found a box of Mustang’s alchemy books and settled in the corner to read. Relieved that the pressure was off, Breda set two cups of hot apple juice and a plate of gingerbread near them and joyously left the brothers to it.
By the time Mustang appeared in the front doorway, exhausted from carrying Hughes up the frosty hill, the party was in full swing. The colonel was greeted like a long lost cousin and invited into his own home to join the fun. “What…?”
“We rescheduled the Yule party, Sir,” Havoc said cheerfully. He offered Mustang a cup of heavily fortified hot cider.
Hughes broke away from Mustang and staggered over to claim a proper drink from Breda, who was acting bartender. He fixed him a double, on the theory Hughes needed it.
Hawkeye appeared, swaying slightly. By the time she realized the coffee was spiked, too, she’d had enough that she no longer cared. The First Lieutenant pointed at the gaudy piano. “Play that song.”
“Play?” Mustang looked at the piano and blinked. He glanced around the room until his eye fell on a golden antenna sticking up from behind a fort of books. Alphonse nodded politely as he stepped over the piles to offer his brother a fresh plate of homemade cheese biscuits.
“That song,” Hawkeye said, tugging his sleeve. “The one you used to sing when we were kids.”
Mustang’s expression softened and he shook his head, giving in. “Ah, that song. As you wish, First Lieutenant.” He sat down at the piano, wincing at the new decorations. He ran his hands over the keys and cringed before playing a honky tonk version of a popular old Yule ballad. Breda was shocked that his commander had a surprisingly good voice, as well.
Partiers drifted over, making requests and singing along. Someone produced a fiddle and another a guitar and they rolled back the rugs so folks could dance. In a house filled with warmth, laughter, music and the bright smells of food and greenery, Breda sat down on the floor by the bar and was at peace with the world.
From where he had been napping behind the bar, Hughes said, “This moving shit isn’t too bad.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Breda said, and did.
The next morning Breda was awakened by a herd of elephants tangoing through his head. Dimly, as from a great distance, he could hear Hughes, Mustang, and the Elric brothers talking.
“Brother took Miss Hawkeye home in a taxi cab around 1 am,” Alphonse was saying. “I cleaned up the kitchen since there wasn’t anything else to do.”
“Thank you, Fullmetal, Alphonse. I really appreciate it.”
“Eh, consider it your Yule present, Colonel. We’ll be in Central for the next week or so if you hear anything useful.”
“You sure you don’t want to come, too, Roy? Gracia ordered a turkey that must be over twenty pounds, you know we’ll have plenty of food.”
“No, she’ll have enough on her hands with the three of you plus Elysia. Give her my love.”
“That I will. C’mon boys, Yule at the Hughes’ awaits. But first, I need a fist full of aspirin, a gallon of water, and about a day’s more sleep. I’ll buy lunch if you promise not to wake me before the train stops at Central.” Hughes sounded inhumanly chipper despite his confession of being hungover.
They said their goodbyes and Breda heard Mustang moving around, poking up the fire and making coffee. He pried open an eye and blurrily noted the sprawled forms of Havoc, Falman, and Fuery amidst the leftover party clutter. They seemed to be covered, like he was, in blankets transmuted from packing padding and excelsior. Ed must have done the ones with the flamels on them. Or Al, Breda amended, noting his own had a pattern of interlocking skulls with tongues sticking out.
Mustang lounged in a large wingback chair, sipping coffee. He smiled at Breda.
“Merry Yuletide, Breda.”
“It will be if there is more coffee.” Breda forced himself to sit up and eagerly clutched the cup Mustang offered.
“I’m glad you are awake, because you men have a busy day ahead of you.”
Behind them, Havoc rolled over, moaned piteously, and crawled towards the washroom.
Warily, Breda asked, “Oh?”
“Oh, yes.” Mustang leaned back in his chair and his smile became pure evil. “You see, I don’t own a piano. In fact, I’ve never seen any of this furniture before in my life.”