“Rian, where's the alarm clock?”
“I put it under the bed so you actually had to get out of bed to turn it off, colonel.”
“...I hate you so much in this instant, I just want you to know.”
“Have a good morning, I'm going back to sleep.”
“... and now I hate you even more.”
Alphonse closed the office door behind him. “Brother, we need to talk about your sense of humor.”
Edward Elric did not even look up. He had several pages spread out over his desk, pen clutched tightly and a smear of ink under his left eye. “Al, I've got Russell's intelligence briefing, a meeting with Colonel Neuhaus, and a two-hour budget meeting with the finance department that I've been pushing off for three days all scheduled for the next hour. Do you really want to talk to me about my sense of humor right now?”
“You can't insult the brigadier general to his face. He has the power to make our lives very miserable.”
That made Edward look up at his brother, eyes narrowed. “I didn't insult him.”
“I was right there, Ed.”
“You said, and I paraphrase: that 'his dick was so small that it couldn't pleasure a rat.'” Alphonse did not look impressed.
Edward bit his bottom lip as he thought. “I said that out loud?”
“In Cretian. But yes, out loud.”
“Well, what are the chances that anyone there besides you spoke Cretian?”
Alphonse put both of his hands on the desk and stared at his brother. “Ed, Brigadier General Spencer's wife is Cretian!”
Edward blinked at Alphonse. “Huh. I think I knew that, and that was why I brain-switched to Cretian.” He shrugged and put his pen in the inkwell, then looked up at the door as Riza Hawkeye opened it.
“Russell's here,” she said.
“Okay, you, out.” Edward pointed at Rian, and pointed to the door.
“What, why?” Rian had been lounging on the couch, reading some of the reports Edward was behind on. “I'm cleared for most of the Intelligence ops, the Lieutenant Colonel read me in a while ago.”
Edward turned his attention back on his brother. “Again, Al?”
Alphonse shrugged. “He gets involved anyway, might as well keep him in the loop.”
“You don't even keep me in the loop,” Edward exclaimed, as Russell Tringham followed Riza into the office.
“Are you really that fucking stupid?” Russell asked. Edward's gaze shot to him, and his fist closed on the armrest of his desk chair. “I mean, really, can you be more of an idiot? Is there a wager on how quickly you can get assigned to a backwater garrison because you can't keep a reign on your fucking temper?”
“Russell,” Alphonse said warningly.
“No, Al, let him keep going,” Edward said. “I want to see how long he can keep at it when I break all the teeth out of his head.”
“Boys,” Riza said sharply. Edward and Russell both looked at her, and Alphonse sighed deeply. Satisfied that tempers had at least been temporarily quelled, she collected the folders sitting on Edward's desk. “You have probably five minutes before Colonel Neuhaus will come looking for you,” she reminded Edward.
“Right,” Edward said. “Rian, go stall Neuhaus.”
“What, why me?” Rian sat all the way up and scowled. Riza shook her head and wordlessly let herself out of the office.
“Because, I dunno, he likes you or something.”
“He doesn't like me, he looks at me like I'm something he scraped off of the bottom of his shoe, colonel. What the hell am I supposed to do to stall him, anyway?”
“He looks at us all like he scraped us off the bottom of his shoe, welcome to the club,” Alphonse said.
“We have a club now?” Russell asked.
“No,” Edward said. “No, you are not invited to our club. There is no club, but if there was you wouldn't be invited. Rian, please.”
“All right, all right.” Rian dropped the packet of papers he had been reading on Edward's desk. “I'll go stall Colonel Neuhaus. You owe me for this.”
“Yeah, yeah, I owe you one,” Edward said. “Thanks.”
“You owe me twelve,” Rian muttered as he closed the office door behind him.
“I'm still hazy on the requirements of this club,” Russell said to Alphonse.
“There is no fucking club,” Edward groaned.
“There should be. We'll call it the “cleaning up after Ed” club. We'll have cake.” Russell pointed at Edward. “You can't have any, not until you learn how to not screw the goddamn pooch when it comes to dealing with fucking brigadier generals!”
“You have to apologize,” Alphonse said.
Edward straightened in his seat. “Oh no. No, no, no way in hell am I apologizing to that uptight prick of a brigadier general. Do you have any idea what he was saying?”
“It doesn't matter what he was saying, he's a brigadier general,” Alphonse said. “The only reason that this isn't a bigger deal is because he hasn't made it a bigger deal. If you take the initiative and apologize first you can play it off easier.”
“Play it off how, that he's an idiot? Because I can vouch for that,” Russell had his arms crossed. Alphonse gave Russell a dark look.
Edward propped his elbow on the desk and put his chin in his hand. “Do I really have to apologize? It's possible this won't be a shitstorm like you think it's going to be. Spencer doesn't hate me that much.”
“No, but Neuhaus does,” Alphonse said.
Edward made a noise that sounded like a typewriter jamming. “He's a rat-fucker too,” he muttered.
“You know I do have other things to do then hang around Central City cleaning up after an idiot who was too damn young to be promoted to colonel in the first damn place,” Russell scowled.
“You can leave at any time,” Edward pointed out. “I won't miss you. In fact, I might even throw a party.”
Alphonse ran a hand through his short blond hair in aggravation. “Brother.”
“Didn't you have something for me?” Edward asked Russell.
“You mean, besides the fact that you're a lunatic?”
“For someone in the Intelligence department, you sure show a severe lack of.”
Russell snorted through his nose. “Remember Aylward?”
Edward frowned as he thought about it. “That's the Shadowsilk Alchemist, right? The one who uses strings and stuff.” He sighed. “Ah, shit. Did he go off the reservation?”
“Checked out about three weeks ago.”
“Great. Ah, he was in Larsen's command, I think. Any news?”
“So glad you asked.” Russell held up the folder he had been carrying. “A small farming village in the northwest thought that they had a problem with wolves preying on their livestock. At least, that's what they thought until the very large spider chimera started carrying away the villagers.”
“Spider chimera? Really?” Edward rubbed his forehead. “All right, give it to me.” He held out his hand for the folder.
“You can't possibly think of tackling this right now,” Alphonse said.
“I do have other people I can farm the work out to – what, Al, you don't think I could handle a few measly spider chimera and a State Alchemist who tipped off the fence? I can do that in my sleep.”
“That's not what I meant and you know it.”
“I'll delegate. I can do that now.” He looked down at the folder and then back up as Rian opened the door.
“Okay, good news bad news time,” Rian announced. “Good news is that Neuhaus has been effectively stalled. Bad news is you might have to make a formal apology to him later.”
“Formal apolo- what did you do?” Russell asked, agog.
“I didn't do anything,” Rian said defensively.
“Hey Rian, are you afraid of bugs?” Edward asked.
“No.” Rian gave Edward a suspicious look. “Why?”
“I've got a mission for you.” Edward held up the same folder Russell had just given him. “Take Bailey, or Cushler or someone, I don't want you going solo on this one.”
Rian took the folder from Edward. “Can I take Tony?”
“He's not a part of our unit.”
“He's between missions right now, and I'm not taking Bailey or Cushler. Bailey's weird and Cushler has a crush on you and that's just awkward.”
Edward rubbed his forehead again. “Fine, fine, take Tony. Have Hawkeye vet him first. Has he graduated yet?”
“Next spring, and are you sure you want Captain Hawkeye to-”
“Yes, have Hawkeye do it. She'll scare the piss out of him and frighten him off from the military and then your mother will have one less thing to be mad at me about.”
Rian rolled his eyes. “That's not what I'm worried about.” He waved the folder in the air. “I'll be back later, sorry about the Neuhaus thing.”
Alphonse watched Rian leave. “I wonder if we should be worried about that.”
Edward shrugged. “Neuhaus already hates my guts, I don't know what Rian could have done that would make things any worse. Besides, look. I delegated it.”
Alphonse raise an eyebrow. “What, do you want a cookie?”
“Actually, yes. A cookie would be nice.” Edward glanced back to Russell. “Was Aylward it?”
“Well, Aylward and that whole 'you're going to get us all dishonorably discharged if you keep being YOU' thing.”
“Don't you have somewhere else to be? Like, Aerugo or something?”
“I can only wish,” Russell muttered. “Stop making our lives difficult, would you? It's not just you you're fucking up.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Do you really want to be here when Neuhaus catches up to me?”
“Nope.” Russell glanced at Alphonse. “When are you going back to East City?”
“Tomorrow,” Alphonse said. “After I make sure that brother doesn't turn this into a bigger fiasco.”
“This isn't a fiasco,” Edward muttered sullenly, staring at the papers on his desk and picking up his pen again. “If you want a fiasco I can deliver a fiasco.”
“I can do without, thanks,” Alphonse said dryly.
All three of them heard the door to the outer office slam. “Colonel ELRIC!”
The voice echoed through the closed door to his office. Edward put the pen back into the inkwell before his grip shattered the barrel and groaned. “Warning,” he said. “Here comes the fiasco you didn't want in five, four, three....”
Edward stared at the little carton of milk that had come with his box lunch from the officer's mess. It sat, deceptively silent, and was completely nonchalant for being a purveyor of pure evil.
He was so absorbed in his disgust that he did not notice First Lieutenant Havoc open the door to his office and hesitate, seeing that his commanding officer was engaged in a staring contest with an inanimate object. He also did not notice that Havoc very quietly closed the door again.
Edward stared at the cow piss.
The carton of milk did not stare back, as it was just a carton of milk.
“I don't want you to go,” Edward whinged. His head was on Rian's lap, legs dangling off over the edge of the couch's arm rest. Rian had been absent-absentmindedly running his fingers through Edward's hair, let loose from his normally-immaculate ponytail.
“Mm, you gave me the job in the first place,” Rian said. He had the packet of papers about the Shadowsilk Alchemist in one hand and was reading it carefully. “Someone's gotta deal with him.”
Edward made a whining noise in his throat and Rian looked down at him finally, bemused. “What, are you a dog now, colonel?”
“I've changed my mind. I'm giving the mission to Cushler. Gimmee.” Edward made a half-hearted grab for the packet of papers that Rian held easily out of reach. “Gimme, dammit, I'm your commanding officer.”
“I'm sorry, it's very hard for me to take yous seriously when you're saying 'gimme,' colonel.”
Edward screwed up his nose and glared up at Rian, who still wore that same bemused expression. “You don't respect my authority.”
“Your head is in my lap.”
“As well it should be.” Edward crossed his arms and proceeded to move his glare to a dark spot on the wall across them them. “I've had a bad day.”
“I heard. Sorry about the Neuhaus thing.”
“You know, Al's gonna skin you alive for insinuating that Neuhaus has a creepy old man crush on the Fuhrer's teenage daughter.”
Rian made an offended noise. “I didn't insinuate anything, the old bastard made it all up in his head like he does a lot of things. Besides, he won't skin me alive. He'll light in to you for being a bad influence on.”
“Ain't that the truth.”
“He makes eyes at her, you know. It's creepy.”
“Besides, didn't he try to spread that nasty rumor about you in the mess earlier this year? I need to let him know who's got the real power here.” Rian turned a page over as Edward snorted in amusement.
“Which rumor, the one that I'm sleeping with my underage subordinate?”
“Yeah, I mean. How off-base can you get? I've never enlisted underage, I was seventeen when we started sleeping together.” Rian looked down at Edward and smiled, shifting his fingers from Edward's loose hair down to his jaw. “You cut yourself shaving again,” he murmured, his fingers running over the nick.
Edward captured Rian's hand and turned his head, just enough so he could gently kiss the tips of his fingers. “I don't want you to go,” Edward said softly.
Rian smiled, a little brokenly. “I know.”
“Colonel, you have that meeting with finance you were supposed to go to this morning.”
“SHIT! Where's my ledgers?”
“Left corner of your desk.”
“And Havoc? Where's Havoc, he's supposed to go with me to this thing-”
“I'm right here, boss, breathe.”
“Okay, okay. I took a nap, I should stay awake for it this time.”
“Yeah, about that? General Jacobs said that if he catches you sleeping in a meeting again he'll be assigning us to weekend shifts for the rest of the quarter.”
“Whatever, fuck him. C'mon, Havoc, let's get this over with.”
“You should probably put your boots back on first.”
The Red Lion was mostly deserted for a Tuesday night. Edward tugged at the shoulders of his heavy dark greatcoat, it was just a touch too warm for the material during the day. Alphonse was already there, seated in one of the large round-table booths tucked into the corner of the pub.
“No, really,” he was saying. “And I come home and Thomas has this piece of metal, and it's nearly as big as he is.” Alphonse was talking with his hands again, giving an approximate size that had to be at least somewhat of an exaggeration. “And of course his mother is in her workshop and I've just got home and have no idea what's going on.”
“You never have any idea what's going on, Al,” Edward said, hanging his greatcoat on a coat rack beside the booth.
“Shut up, brother. Anyway, it turns out that he's decided that Sarah's doll that the dogs chewed up needed automail and he neglected to tell anyone else about it. Of course Winry thinks that's hilarious, until she realized that he ruined two of her screwdrivers and a good hack-saw.”
Havoc was sitting beside Alphonse in the booth. “You let your six-year-old play with a hack-saw?”
“Hahaha, 'let',” Edward said. “The kid's a demon.” He glanced to Rian, who sat near the edge of one side of the circular booth – his adopted brother Anthony was sandwiched between Havoc and Rian and looked about as pale as a ghost. “What happened to him?”
“He's scared of everyone,” Rian said. “Also, I think Captain Hawkeye traumatized him. But he's not saying much.”
“Get a few beers in him, that'll loosen his tongue.” Edward squeezed into the booth beside Rian, forcing everyone over some. He looked at the empty space beside Alphonse suspiciously. “You didn't invite Tringham again, did you?”
“I can't believe you still have such a problem with Russell,” Alphonse snorted. “He's saved your ass countless times, I think it's time to let it go, brother.”
Edward ignored Alphonse and reached around Rian, to flick a startled Tony in the head. “You,” he said severely. “Had better take damn good care of Rian, or anything that Hawkeye threatened? I'll make that seem like children's theater, got that?”
Anthony's eyes shot to Edward. “Y-yes sir!”
Rian shoved Edward's arm away. “God, stop freaking him out, Colonel. You're buying the drinks.”
“What? Why do I gotta-”
“Because,” Rian said firmly. “You are buying the drinks, Colonel.”
“Fine,” Edward muttered. Rian crowed a little at this achievement.
“Man, he has got you whipped,” Alphonse murmured into his beer.
“Shut up, family man,” Edward said. “I could kick your ass for that.”
“You really couldn't,” Alphonse said. “For the sake of your pride and saving Rian and Tony the hassle of dragging your injured ass home tonight, you know you won't win, so don't even start.”
“Hey Al,” Havoc said. “You should ask me what embarrassing thing Edward did at the budget meeting today.”
“Oh, you mentioned you had a story,” Alphonse said with a huge grin.
Edward groaned. “Havoc, before you go any further I want you to think very hard on the fact that I pay your salary.”
“You don't pay my salary boss, the taxpayers do.”
“Okay, fine, but I sign the damn checks.”
“Fair enough.” Havoc shrugged. After a moment's pause, he continued. “Anyway, so there are like fifteen people in this crowded little room ....”
“Seriously, the train leaves at 1:15?”
“It's a military train, colonel.” Rian yawned. “The supply ones usually leave during the off-hours.”
Edward groaned and looked at the clock on the wall. “You do know I have to get up four hours after it departs, right?”
“You know, you don't have to see us off, sir,” Anthony said. “We can certainly ride the train on our own.”
“Yeah,” Edward said, his arm around Rian as he dozed on the train station's bench. “I know.”
The buzz of the alarm cut through the room and there was no warm hand poking his side to make him roll over and seek out the alarm clock, and no warm feet kicking him out of bed. Edward dragged himself downstairs blearily, he wasn't awake enough to be truly melancholy yet.
Beside the coffee pot set on the drainer was a piece of paper folded over once. Edward turned the pot over in the sink and turned on the water, then opened the note.
It simply said “Love you – be home soon.”
And underneath, in smaller print, it said “don't leave me a sink full of dirty dishes again colonel, seriously, that's just gross.”
Edward smiled and tucked the note into his shirt pocket. It was new day.