“Human Resources just released the results of a survey,” Roy says, “and morale in the Central Command workplace is at an all-time low. To combat the detrimental effects of depression, we, team, are going to play a highly competitive game.” Before Riza can suggest that he review his plan with her first, Roy whips the cloth off of the easel he just wheeled to the outer office, revealing a piece of white butcher paper divided into columns. Each column is topped with a drawing of one of his team member’s heads, below which… oh, dear. “Welcome,” Roy says, “to Sin to Win.”
There is a long silence as everyone scans the seven familiar character flaws laid out beneath their personalized Roy-doodle.
“Did you lose a bet again, Colonel?” Edward Elric asks.
“No,” Roy says through clenched teeth. “I am not a gambling m—”
“You should know by now that you can’t out-drink Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes,” Havoc says, hooking his thumbs into his pockets. “Family man or not, he puts you under the table every time.”
“I didn’t lose a bet!” Roy says. “And if I did, it wouldn’t be because Maes Hughes cheats at drinking games and then shares photos with you when you stop vomiting long enough to raise your head out of the toilet bowl. This is a team-building exercise, and you’re going to like it, or you’re fired. Details are in the pamphlets. Dismissed.”
He pauses, realizes that he’s in their segment of the office, clears his throat, stalks back into his, and slams the door. Then he whimpers.
Hungover, Havoc mouths distinctly at Breda.
Lightweight, Breda mouths back.
Riza picks up one of the pamphlets—she’ll have to remind Roy later that he does have a printing budget—and pages through. Fuery follows suit.
“We’re supposed to confess to sinning?” Fuery asks. “Isn’t a sin-related game based on the honor system kind of counterintuitive?”
Alphonse touches a fingertip to the chin of his helmet, leaning in towards the chart to peer at Roy’s rendition of him. “How am I supposed to commit gluttony without a mouth?”
Edward pats him on the forearm, as his shoulder is out of reach. “Don’t worry, Al. Between us we’re at least six times smarter than Colonel Moron. We’ll get creative.”
“Should he really be convincing two teenagers to play a game like this?” Falman asks. “More importantly, who taught the Colonel how to draw? And why is there an extra spa—”
The door slams open, and the doorway fills. Riza thinks she hears a distant harp.
“It has come to my attention that the Colonel has staged a contest of skill!” Major Armstrong thunders. “The fire of my gamesome spirit blazes tantalizingly within my chest! Can’t you see it, Warrant Officer Falman? Perhaps I need to remove this obstructive layer of clothing, the better for my fervor to inspire you all!”
When the screaming has stopped, Riza hands the Major a pamphlet and pens his name into the empty column.
Edward peeks out from around Alphonse’s waist and sees that the worst of the posing has ceased, and all of the competitors have assembled. His eyes narrow.
“Game on,” he says.
Well before they’ve left the office that night, Breda has a gameplan. Breda almost always has a gameplan, including for games that his opponents don’t realize they’re playing, like Get In and Out of the Supermarket Faster Than the Old Lady Who Cut Me Off on Main Street Last Week (Yeah, I Remember You). Since he’s apparently been partnered with Havoc by default, today’s strategic masterwork is as well-intentioned-idiot-proof as possible.
“All right,” he says as they start down the front steps, stretching and trying to knead the cramps out of their fingers. Mustang had them pushing a downright hellacious quantity of papers, either as revenge for their amusement at his alcohol tolerance or as a method of sabotaging their energy for Sin to Win. Knowing Mustang, it was probably both—a multitasking maneuver almost certainly intended to free up time for a nap. “Hope you’re hungry, Jean, ’cause we’re going to gorge ourselves on street vendor food until we’re almost sick. That’ll be one down.” He takes out his brochure. Havoc takes out a cigarette and lights it even before they’ve reached the bottom of the stairs. “I don’t like this small print at the end,” Breda says. “‘There will be obstacles’?”
Havoc breathes out a long plume of smoke. “Roy just doesn’t trust us to get the job done, that’s all.”
“Maybe,” Breda says. “Anyway, once we’ve finished gluttony, let’s just keep it simple. We’ll go check out some chicks for lust—”
“I have a girlfri—” Havoc begins indignantly. Then his face falls directly into despair without bothering to visit rationality en route. “Oh, that’s right. She dumped me last night for that bastard at the hardware store—you know the one?”
“Nope,” Breda says. “Bet he’s a tool.” He clears his throat. “We can get envy and pride just by talking about what we’re jealous of each other for, and then what we’re not. That leaves greed, sloth, and wrath. Let’s stop at a store and get their cheapest whiskey, then laze around my place raving about how much we hate our jobs.” He tucks the brochure back into his coat. “Perfect plan.”
“He wears these awful horn-rimmed glasses that make him look like the lovechild of an owl and a toad.” There are honest-to-God tears standing out in Havoc’s eyes. “It’s my own fault—once we stopped in so I could buy a couple of lighters, and when she was browsing around the rope, he looked at me and then at her and said ‘How long and thick do you want it?’”
Breda’s glad they haven’t eaten yet, or he’d probably throw up. “Okay, she’s clearly off her rocker if she’s voluntarily spending time with that guy, so you’re better off without her.” He buys Havoc a very large falafel at the first vendor, which has the added benefit of occupying Jean’s capacious mouth, and then drags the poor sap by the elbow around a circuit of the rest of the carts.
“Stuffed?” he asks after a while.
Havoc tears up again. “I saw them outside a vegan café the other day, and he got her matching glasses—”
Breda gets him another hot dog.
“Right,” he says, which he’s more-than-pleasantly-almost-woozily full, and Havoc’s carb coma has finally stemmed the flow of angst. “Where do you usually go to pick up girls?”
Havoc looks around, realizes they’re at the biggest intersection in this quadrant of the city, and points. “That’s my favorite bar.”
That is without a doubt the seediest, grungiest, gnarliest joint Breda has ever had the misfortune to lay eyes upon.
“I think I figured out the root of your girl problem,” Breda says.
Havoc somehow manages to sob without losing his cigarette. “The problem is that I’m not good enough!”
Breda grabs his shoulder and hauls him towards the Dive Bar of Doom. “Let’s skip to the part of the plan where you’re outrageously drunk.”
At first, the gameplan proceeds flawlessly. Despite the fact that this place is sketchier than a rough pencil drawing of a foreboding back-alley, it’s populated with a surprising number of unobjectionable women—most of whom meet Havoc’s rigorous criteria of busty and not in love with Roy Mustang (yet).
“Ten,” Havoc says of the blonde that sashays past them where they’re sitting at the bar. “Ten,” of the brunette. “Ten,” of the redhead, and the next blonde, and the next two brunettes, and the…
“Maybe you should raise your standards a little, Jean,” Breda says. “Aren’t women into confidence?”
“Huh?” Havoc says. “Oh—I wasn’t rating them.” His eyes well. “Ten is how many minutes they’d spend actually caring about me before they went off with some kid in stupid glasses—”
Breda buys them another round of beers. His wallet likes this game even less than he does. He cranes his neck a little to watch the progress of an extremely fine passing ass—partly for the sake of completeness and partly because it’s seriously nice—and then flips to the part of the brochure with the list of sins in order to cross off their first two.
“All right, Jean,” he says. “I’m goddamn jealous that you do nothing but smoke and drink beer and cry, and you still have such a great physique.” Maybe it’s the crying—could be good cardio. “What about me are you jealous of?”
“You’re ginger,” Havoc sighs piteously. “Girls love gingers.”
Breda lets that sink in for a minute. “In what universe, since when?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Havoc says, and puts his head down on the bar again.
After striking out envy (and making a note in the margins to the effect of ginger?! really, Havoc?!), Breda tells a few of his best shogi victory stories, but Havoc is mostly unresponsive. It seems like their drinks keep refilling themselves somehow, although Breda kind of stops noticing that after a while; and then Havoc sits up and goes on a lengthy and unintentionally hilarious ramble about a time he won a girlfriend back from Mustang. Before long, a hand protruding from a uniform sleeve—Breda doesn’t think it’s his, but it’s hard to be sure—knocks over a nearby glass and spills beer all over the brochure, which makes the letters blur so much Breda can’t figure out what their next one was, and he’s having a hard time trying to remember.
When he wakes up on Havoc’s couch at eight-thirty the next morning with a raging headache and the words “Fine Ass Girl” above a phone number written on his palm, he determines that even losing at Sin to Win makes for a pretty damn good night.
“Compatriots!” Armstrong bellows. “The hour of our victory is nigh!”
Fuery has a moment to pray, and then a huge hand curls in the back of his collar, and Armstrong drags him and Warrant Officer Falman out of the office by the scruffs of their necks.
“Prepare yourselves, gentlemen,” Armstrong rumbles as he hauls them down the front steps, their ankles smacking the edge of every stair; “for the finest and most sinful night of your heretofore unenlightened lives!”
Fuery and Falman exchange a glance. Fuery thinks their expressions would be identical if they were approaching the gallows, rather than being towed through the streets of Central to…
…a nice restaurant?
“Now—” Armstrong can’t lean over and whisper conspiratorially to both of them at the same time, so he grabs each of them by the closest ear and yanks them in to listen. “We will glut ourselves on magnificent fare, and then we will romance lustily. That’s two of seven; a tremendous start to the evening!”
Fuery and Falman look at each other again. The consensus is clearly Actually, can we try the gallows part of the comparison instead?
Unsurprisingly, Armstrong bulldozes past that silent plea, plucks them up by their uniform collars again, and pops them into two of the chairs at a table with the nicest linen Fuery’s seen this side of Colonel Mustang’s handkerchiefs.
“Eat!” Armstrong booms, perching on his own chair and clapping each of them on the back, so heartily that the force displaces Fuery’s glasses and sends them tumbling to the tabletop. “And be merry! Well, sinfully merry. Merrily sinful. What a legendary night we shall have!”
It turns out it’s very difficult to gorge oneself on food that arrives in staggered courses, served in tiny portions, on delicate china plates, presented like a series of strange modern art installations that one might incur a fine for disturbing with a fork. Speaking of forks, there are exactly sixteen utensils bristling around Fuery’s place setting, all of them seemingly miniaturized versions of recognizable cutlery, plus an assortment of surgical tools and torture devices. He can’t believe none of the delicate objects have snapped between Armstrong’s giant fingers.
Fuery catches Falman’s eye and sees his own helpless despair reflected. He raises one shoulder in a subtle shrug, and Falman starts to salute his agreement, then remembers to nod.
Operation Token Effort to Achieve Gluttony by Eating Massive Quantities of Buttered Bread mostly just results in a slew of empty butter dishes, but Fuery’s glad that at least they tried.
The glad feeling dissipates in the face of unmitigated horror as dinner winds down, Armstrong puffs up, and roses start appearing from Fuery-never-wants-to-find-out-where.
“White for you, my lad,” he says, presenting a snowy bouquet to Fuery; “and pink to fire your blood, Warrant Officer!”
Falman manages to prick himself on a thorn just accepting them in mortified amazement.
“And now—” Armstrong is suddenly surrounded by blooming red roses, and the lighting of the entire restaurant has narrowed to a spotlight focused on his chest. “—we woo with vigor!”
The shirt comes off. The sparkling starts. The screaming isn’t far behind.
Under the table, Fuery raises his head from the duck-and-cover position enough to consult with Falman.
“What are we,” Vato asks, “point-five for seven?”
“It’s too bad ‘losing the will to live’ isn’t one of the deadly sins,” Fuery says.
Falman folds his arms on the floor and buries his face in them. “Don’t alchemists believe that the whole world operates on the principle of Equivalent Exchange? So what did we ever do to deserve this?”
“Think about it this way,” Fuery says, raising his voice as dishes smash, a woman shrieks, and Armstrong laughs thunderously. “Have you ever met a sane alchemist?”
In moods like this, Brother doesn’t walk so much as attack the pavement.
“Mustang thinks he can put us at a disadvantage in his stupid little game, huh? We’ll see about that. We’ll see, Colonel Doesn’t-Respect-My-Baby-Brother’s-Alternative-Body-Style. Maybe I’ll file for discrimination.”
“I think that would be overkill,” Al says, which is an understatement. “I’m sure he didn’t mean for it to be offensive. I’m actually kind of glad—it probably means that he forgot I’m even different and was treating me like a regular person.”
“He’s still a slimy, smarmy, no-good asshole bastard piece of shit,” Ed says without taking a breath.
Al sighs. “So… what’s our first deadly sin, Brother?” Maybe they should come up with some code words for this project; people give them enough funny looks as it is.
“Greed,” Brother says. He stops in mid-pavement-assault and plants his hands on his hips. “Starting here.”
Al blinks. “How are you planning to commit greed at the library?”
“Knowledge is the only thing I’m really greedy about,” Ed says, swaggering up to the door. “Watch and learn, Al.” He saunters over to the front desk, slaps his flesh hand down on it, and grins wickedly. “I want all of your books on elemental alchemy.”
The young woman’s eyes go very large. “But—there—there are over seventy-five of—”
“Most of them are on a twenty-four-hour loan—”
Ed flashes an even brighter grin. “I’m gonna read ’em all tonight.” At her bewildered blinking, he amends, “Well, most of ’em.” He plucks out his pocket-watch and lets it swing by the chain. “Just bill the late fees to my commanding officer—Colonel Mustang.”
Suddenly the young woman’s eyes start to sparkle like Armstrong on a good day. Or any day, really. “Colonel Roy Mustang?”
Ed grits his teeth. “Just get the books, lady.”
She giggles, looking at the empty air above his head. He twitches, but then she skips away towards the alchemy section, catching up a sizable rolling cart as she goes.
“We may need to call for a car, Brother,” Al says.
Ed looks unperturbed. “I’ll bill Mustang for that, too. And for all of the time we waste whenever somebody goes gooey-eyed at nothing but his name.”
Half a dozen librarians of both genders stampede from the direction of the alchemy section. “Your C.O. is Roy Mustang?” a young man squeals.
Ed strikes his forehead with his metal hand and then winces heavily.
The afternoon is still relatively new when they’ve deposited a grand total of seventy-eight books in their room, at which point it’s difficult for Al to maneuver in there without upsetting any of the stacks.
“That’s one count of greed,” he notes from the hallway. “What next?”
“Easy,” Ed says, climbing over Earth-Binding and Tectonic Activity, Aqueous Arrays, and Practical Applications of Fire Sigils. “Follow me.”
As if he has to ask.
Al does not expect them to end up at the hardware store, where a slightly surprised young man in glasses that are somewhat too large for his face sells them every single jar of Al’s favorite polishing wax.
“There,” Ed says, handing him the shopping bag as they leave. “Don’t you feel greedily satisfied?”
“No,” Al says. “I feel worried that someone else who likes this brand as much as I do won’t be able to find any.”
Ed wrinkles his nose. “Yeah, this is a shitty game. But we still have to win so we can rub it in Mustang’s extremely overrated face. Envy’s a cinch.” He glances around the bustling street, and his eyes darken a bit. “Yup. Done.”
“Really?” Al says, trying to determine what he was looking at.
“Sure,” Ed says. “I’m envious of every person in this city—in the world—who takes it for granted that their body’s intact. And of people who can just go about their business and lead safe, normal lives.”
“I think you mean ‘boring, normal lives,’” Al says. Ed blinks at him. “You’d hate a normal life, Brother. I don’t exactly relish our encounters with bloodthirsty monsters and serial killers and people who are kind of both at once, either, but… I mean, would you really want to get up in the morning if deciding what to eat for breakfast was the most exciting thing you’d get to do all day?”
Ed opens his mouth, closes it, opens it, closes it, and then slowly grins. He taps a metal knuckle on the side of Al’s chest. “I’m also envious of the fact that my little brother’s wiser than me.”
It’s a good thing armor can’t blush. “Well—well, which one next?”
“Call me you-know-what,” Ed says.
Al looks at him. “Brother… are you… feeling all right?”
Ed draws himself up to his full height (such as it is) and flattens a hand over his heart. “I’m mature enough now to accept the fact that it’s the fastest route to wrath, and I’m willing to stand for the injustice in order to further my progress in this ridiculous endea—”
“Move it, you little punk!” a broad-shouldered man shouts as he reaches the spot where Ed is pontificating in the middle of the sidewalk.
“Who are you calling a microscopic twerp whose growth is stunted to make room for his giant ego and even bigger brain? I can still destroy you—”
Al catches the back of Brother’s coat and holds on until the flailing stops. “Wrath,” he says; “check.”
“All right.” Ed adjusts the lapels of his coat when the dwindling flow of expletives has allowed Al to release him. “Let’s get back to the room, and I’ll eat everything in the fridge and then rest on my laurels all night. Gluttony, sloth, pride—bam.”
“What about me?” Al asks unhappily. “I can’t exactly eat until I feel sick.”
Ed grins and starts pulling him by his elbow. “Got you covered, Al. Gluttony doesn’t have to be about food, does it? Technically it’s just a matter of seeing something you want and putting way more of it than you should into your stomach, right?”
Al looks at him uncertainly as they walk. “Isn’t that the same thing…?”
Ed draws them up sh—um, quick—in front of an alley, leads Al a few steps into it, and shifts a large piece of cardboard aside to reveal…
A mother cat and seven tiny kittens.
Ed bangs his fist lightly on the plates of Al’s abdomen. “Fill ’er up, Alphonse. We’ve got a whole lot of sinning left to do.”
Al can’t find the words to speak, but judging by Brother’s grin, he gets the message anyway.
The rest of the evening passes fairly sedately. Ed and his appetite work their way through the entire contents of the refrigerator, including a few batches of leftovers that Al deems questionable. As Ed’s finishing up by emptying the peanut butter jar one spoonful at a time, he settles on the bed and tells a lot of stories that start out “You remember the time…?” Al doesn’t plan to mention it, but for someone supposedly demonstrating pridefulness, Brother gives an awful lot of people credit for their help. By the time he’s finished relating all of the escapades that include explosions, he’s yawning, so it appears to be time for sloth.
“Hand me one of those books,” Brother says.
Al pauses in stroking his finger very gently along the runty kitten’s spine. “Which one?”
“Any one,” Ed says. “I’m going to use it as an eyemask like Colonel Lazyass. Next time I have a progress meeting, I’m going to list inappropriate power-napping under ‘Skills Learned from My Superior Officer.’” Al passes him a book that looks like it can handle the abuse. “Thanks, Al. I can’t wait to see his face. Actually, I can. And he’ll probably be asleep during my meeting, too, so it doesn’t matter. G’night, Al.”
“Goodnight, Brother,” Al says. The little kitten meows. “Did you brush your teeth?”
“Can’t hear you,” Ed says. “Sleeping.”
Al supposes he can let it go just this once, in the name of Sin to Win.
Unsurprisingly, Ed reads three of the books cover to cover before he passes out with his hand on his tummy and a kitten in the crook of his elbow.
Just before Al usually wakes him, one of the kittens pukes all over a pile of books, which necessitates some hasty alchemical cleanup and a brief medical evaluation. Brother brushes off Al’s apologies, unbothered by their late start for Colonel Mustang’s office to report their results.
“All we’ve got left is lust,” he says as they mount the steps. “That should be easy. Who can we lust after?”
“Winry?” Al asks after a while.
“Al,” Ed says in the This Is My Rational Voice voice, “if we lusted after Winry just to get points in a stupid game, wrenches would materialize out of the air and break our heads open.”
Al makes sure his internal wince is audible. “Good point.”
“How about the Lieuten… ugh,” Ed says, going slightly pale.
“At least we have a track record of surviving Winry’s vengeance,” Al agrees.
“Man,” Ed says, scrubbing a hand at his hair as they turn into the final corridor. “We just don’t know very many women, do we?”
“Good morning, boys!” a familiar voice calls. Al stifles a sigh. Once he’s spotted you, it’s too late to run—they’ve tried. “Don’t know many women, eh? Well, you’re in luck, because I’ve got seventeen all-new, never-before-seen photographs of a paragon of womanly beauty!”
Ed waves his hands and rolls his eyes. “Lieutenant-Colonel, we really don’t have time for the update today; we’ve got to beat the crap out of everybody at Sin to Win. Gracia is way too much like our mom to lust after, anyway, okay?”
There’s a very ephemeral moment in which Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes looks struck, startled, and kind of touched. Then the cheesy grin is back, and it’s joined by a dozen photographs fanned out like playing cards, the blank sides facing the brothers.
“Lust, you say?”
A vein is throbbing in Ed’s temple. “Yeah, so would you—”
Hughes flips the photos, eyes sparkling. “Why don’t you lust after the sheer, unparalleled domestic bliss incarnate in my adorable baby girl?”
“Come on, Brother,” Al says. Dragging a ranting Ed the rest of the way to Colonel Mustang’s office by the back of his coat—with a rambling, photo-waving Hughes in tow—uses up the last few minutes of the twenty-four hours they were allotted for the game.
The office, Al sees as he holds the door for Brother and Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes, is somewhat subdued. Armstrong is sparkling to himself contentedly, but Falman and Fuery look like they had to drag their tortured bodies through a hurricane of misery to arrive, and Falman actually has a lost sparkle stuck in his hair, which glitters halfheartedly when he moves. Breda’s and Havoc’s clothing is extremely wrinkled, and their eyes are extremely red, and the tall glasses of water and the handful of painkillers that Lieutenant Hawkeye has just set before them are extremely telling.
The Lieutenant herself, who moves up to join Colonel Mustang next to the fateful easel, looks no worse for the wear. Al has a moment to wonder how he and Brother appear, beyond typically disheveled and entirely uninterested in more of the Lieutenant-Colonel’s family photos.
“Is that everyone?” the Colonel asks. “Excellent. Yes, hello, Hughes; put them away. Lieutenants Breda and Havoc, report.”
The rather disjointed tale of misadventurous drunken woe very abruptly terminates all of Al’s tentative plans to experience tipsiness as soon as he recovers a body susceptible to alcohol. Since Ed has his “What the crap did you do that for?” eyebrow raised, Al thinks he’ll probably approve of the amendment.
More importantly, however, when the report winds down to a hesitant “And then we… dunno… eventually got back to Jean’s place for a couple hours of sleep,” the Lieutenant only crosses out a few items on their sin lists. Al doesn’t really care if there’s a prize for Sin to Win; not having to listen to Brother wail about injustice and rigged rules and being you-know-what-changed—a tirade from which he will be spared only if they are victorious—sounds like reward enough.
The Lieutenant turns to Fuery and Falman, who gaze at her dully and shake their heads. Accordingly, Armstrong launches into an extremely elaborate narrative that seems to involve a great deal of gourmet food and gourmet women and an improbable quantity of roses. Falman appears to undergo some kind of trauma-related trembling halfway through, and Fuery pats his arm sympathetically and whispers something about possible transfers to tropical islands.
The Lieutenant looks to be struggling to keep a straight face as she crosses out a few lines in Armstrong’s column. Then she turns to Al, so he turns to Ed, who turns to Hughes—and then realizes what’s going on, clears his throat, plants his hands on his hips, and dons a broad smirk.
“Read ’em and weep,” he says. The tale leading up to their arrival is somewhat desultory in its events and in its articulation, but it does involve Al removing his breastplate and earning a squeal from Hughes at the lump of intertwined kittens (the squeal, in turn, earns a wince from Breda and Havoc), and Ed looks very, very pleased with himself when he’s done. “That’s six out of seven. Way more than anybody else. Do I get a raise, Colonel?”
The Colonel looks oddly unruffled by the prospect of Ed having more disposable income to spend on things like canes with giant red skulls at the top that he’ll try to bring to government functions to “look sophisticated; isn’t that what you wanted?” He holds up a hand.
“Lieutenant Hawkeye?” he says. “May I have your report?”
“Certainly, sir,” the Lieutenant says, inclining her head slightly. She brings her heels together and folds her hands behind her back. “After reorganizing the paperwork that was disturbed during the exodus at five—”
“We’re sorry!” Fuery and Falman cry in perfect unison.
“It’s perfectly understandable given your mode of transportation,” the Lieutenant says, and if Al’s not mistaken, Armstrong sparkles a tiny bit brighter. “In any case, after fixing the files, I changed into plainclothes—”
“In the office?” Havoc asks, shooting what he seems to think is a sly look at Colonel Mustang.
When he’s shifted his head back, he discovers the look that Lieutenant Hawkeye is giving him, which would melt a lesser man’s eyes. He whimpers.
“…in one of the numerous appropriate venues for such an activity, and then I went to the grocery store. I observed that they had stocked my favorite flavor of ice cream, which they usually do not carry, and decided, given the circumstances of the game and the difficulty of obtaining this particular flavor on most occasions, to purchase every single carton available.”
Colonel Mustang uncaps his pen and crosses out greed.
“I also selected a promising-looking specimen from among the romance novels by the tills as I bought the rest of my groceries. After preparing dinner for myself and for Hayate, I sat down with an entire carton of the ice cream, which I duly demolished—”
Colonel Mustang strikes out gluttony, looking terribly pleased.
“—and then read the book. In fairly short order, I was envious of the fact that the greatest difficulty in this Jenneline character’s life was figuring out which of her innumerable rich suitors was the most enjoyable to spend time with; and of the author for making a living pouring unadulterated drivel like what I was reading onto page after page.”
Colonel Mustang makes short work of envy.
“I had hoped that the book, given its genre, would inspire some feelings of lust, but due to the fact that both protagonists were sniveling, spoilt wretches who got off on their own entitlement—and the fact that the chosen male was a sexist snake whose only redemptive quality was that, as the strong, silent type, he did more ‘soulful’ leering than speaking—it instead sent me into a fit of rage potent enough to end in my hurling the book at the wall.”
Colonel Mustang puts an even line through wrath as well.
“The whole process was discouragingly tiring, so I spent the remainder of the evening lying on the couch, petting Hayate and advising him never to couple with a whiny gold-digger.”
Colonel Mustang covers what sounds like a snort and crosses off sloth.
“I got up early, however,” Lieutenant Hawkeye goes on, “in order to spend some time in the shooting range downstairs before this meeting. Under ordinary circumstances, when Captain Farrell commends my accuracy after a round, I tell him that I am merely doing my job, but today I allowed myself to thank him and indulged a bit of pleasure at the very aesthetic demolition of my targets.”
Colonel Mustang seems to be suppressing the beginnings of a dance as he strikes out pride. Beside Al, Brother is twitching concernedly. That, or he’s twitching because of all of the coffee he chugged this morning, but Al is fairly sure it’s trepidation this time; Brother’s caffeine tolerance is becoming somewhat legendary.
“As you can see,” Lieutenant Hawkeye says calmly, “that left me with one deadly sin unfulfilled, so when the Colonel arrived this morning, I imagined him going about his business stark naked but for a few decorations made with melted chocolate.”
There is a very, very long pause. Brother makes a sound that Al recognizes from the time he came down with food poisoning on the train and spent the entirety of their two-hour journey trying not to throw up.
Lieutenant Hawkeye plucks the pen from an insensible Colonel Mustang’s fingers and draws a line through lust. “The pathetic excuse for a book cost me a thousand and four-hundred cens exactly,” she says. “The expense report is on your desk, sir.”
Colonel Mustang blinks, shakes himself, and glances over at Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes. Hughes mouths Marry her, and then he rubs his hands together and grins.
“Well!” he says. “The terms of the bet were that the winner of a game of Roy’s choosing gets to treat him as their personal slave all weekend.”
Ed gasps loudly. Al can imagine a number of the ways in which Brother would abuse that power. He does not care to try to imagine the rest; some things don’t bear contemplating.
Lieutenant Hawkeye picks up her clipboard again. “Excellent,” she says. “I was thinking it’d be nice to have someone around this weekend.” Hughes, who looks like a kid in a candy store, keeps giving Colonel Mustang glances that include suggestive eyebrow acrobatics. “My floors need to be washed.”
Hughes looks stricken and then hopeful. “Is that a euphemism for something?”
“No, sir,” Hawkeye says. “If you’d like to help, I think the garden could use a bit of work.”
Hughes turns to Colonel Mustang, grimacing now. “Good luck, buddy.”
“Do just give me a call,” Armstrong rumbles, “if any tasks remain after the Colonel’s stint of servitude. Using a combination of beautiful alchemy and elbow grease to ameliorate the conditions of the domestic sphere is a talent that’s been passed down through the Armstrong family for ge—”
“Thank you, Major,” Lieutenant Hawkeye says.
Everyone else appears to be stunned into silence, which wouldn’t be remarkable except for the fact that everyone includes Brother.
“Ed?” Al asks carefully, concerned by the sheer size of his brother’s eyes. “Are you okay?”
“Why?” Ed whispers, seizing Al’s nearest gauntlet and squeezing it until it creaks. “Why would you sully perfectly good chocolate by putting it on Mustang?”
Colonel Mustang clears his throat loudly. “Meeting adjourned,” he says.
Hughes was giving him pitying looks all through lunch yesterday, but Roy, leaning on the mop and looking for elusive dirt, really doesn’t mind this repercussion. He used to have to scrub the whole barroom floor on his hands and knees every Monday, and the Lieutenant’s floor wouldn’t get that disgusting in a thousand years of muddy boots and little pawprints.
The Lieutenant reemerges from the kitchen, carefully navigates her house slippers along the small trail of dry flooring, and hands him a glass of ice-water.
“Thank you,” he says.
She nods acknowledgment. “If you don’t mind my saying, sir, I think it might be wise of you to abstain from drinking with the Lieutenant-Colonel in the future.”
He wants to argue, but the prevailing evidence indicates that Hughes will still be able to drink him under the table when they’re ninety-five and sneaking whiskey during snack-time at the retirement home. “I suppose you’re right,” he says.
She looks at his handiwork for a moment and purses her lips in a way he recognizes by now.
“What?” he asks.
“I can’t help thinking,” she says, “that you planned this.”
He pauses. “I planned to spend my weekend washing your floors, Lieutenant?”
“You planned for me to win,” she says. “It sounds to me like you sabotaged Lieutenants Havoc and Breda at the bar; and you didn’t expect much from Falman and Fuery, but you saddled them with Armstrong just in case. Additionally, you guessed that the Elric brothers would leave one of their sins to the last minute and sicced Hughes on them in the halls.”
Roy tilts his head. “All of your evidence is quite circumstantial, Lieutenant.”
“You are also the only individual involved who has played enough card games with me to know about my competitive streak.” She takes the empty glass, and then she points to a patch of floor. “You missed a spot, sir.”
Roy tugs the cleaning rag out of his pocket, dips it into the soapy water, and gets down on all fours to scour at the stubborn bit of grime. He glances over his shoulder and confirms his suspicion that the Lieutenant is watching him rather more closely than necessary.
“Enjoying the view?” he asks. “Or does it need less clothes and more chocolate?”
The Lieutenant’s cheeks go pink, but her thin smile is composed. “The view needs cleaner floors, sir.” She starts back into the kitchen. “And maybe some whipped cream.”