It's Valentine's Day, and Lieutenant Hawkeye gets pestered about her non-existent love life, Lieutenant Colonel Archer looses track of where he put the ticking time bomb in his office, and Scheizka...
Author's Note: This is based on the anime, not the manga, so I'm afraid some of the characters names may be spelled a little differently compared to what you're used to seeing. I tried to go with the spellings that are seen in the credits of the show, as I don't personally own any copies of the manga to check for myself.
Romance (not really. I tried. That was the original intent of this oneshot, but it spun out of my control into the realms of drama)
Drama (oh boy, yes)
Action (I like to write it, so I try to include it)
Ironic Comedy (I like this almost too much)
Pairings: It's a Valentine's Day fic, of course there are pairings. No slash, but other than that, everything is open season.
Warning/Rating: PG-13 for mild Military-style cursing. Nothing more dramatic than what they say in the show.
Spoilers: SEVERE! Plenty of spoilers for all the events leading up to "The Flame Alchemist, the Bachelor Lieutenant, and the Mystery of Warehouse Thirteen" read at your own risk.
~ ~ ~
Lieutenant Colonel Frank Archer hummed the Fifth Symphony as he walked through the corridors of Central Headquarters towards his office. He liked Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. It put him in the mind of power and the might of nations. The music made him feel-the lieutenant colonel searched for the adjective, but the word eluded him at this early hour, as it would any hour during the working day. The word he was looking for was normally only found at the bottom of the first glass of whiskey, it was a word that warmed him, but did not send him spiraling to the town of Hangover in the morning. However, Frank Archer did not realize this, and kept fruitlessly searching-not happy, or elated, he decided. However, it did lift his spirits.
This was why he was humming the Fifth today. His spirits needed lifting, as he was getting nervous. The euphoric optimism induced by Beethoven's masterpiece kept him from concentrating too hard on what might be awaiting him on the other side of his office door. Rather, thinking about the state which his normally pristine office (now that he had gotten rid of those useless baby photos by returning them to Mrs. Hughes - was she still a "Mrs."? Archer wasn't certain if widows got a special title. He really would have to look it up. The address "To: Gracia Hughes" had looked foolish, when he shipped the box, but he had not dared to write "To: Mrs. Maes Hughes" as he would have if the brigadier general were still living) was in.
Would the reports that had piled up on his desk during his sojourn to Southern Headquarters still be where he had left them last night when he had come in on the train? Or would he be greeted by the smell of gunpowder, and only semi-sane laughter, accompanied by that all-knowing grin and the fully insane yellow eyes?
"Good morning, Lieutenant Colonel," Archer swung around, surprised by the cheerful voice of his own secretary coming from behind a bouquet of flowers. Two bouquets of flowers, in fact. Must be her birthday or something. He would have to get her a card. "I just wanted to tell you that Ms. Douglass said that the Fuhror would be too busy today to see you, so she rescheduled your appointment."
The military man wanted to thump the door of his office in frustration. Another day of having that walking time bomb in his office. At least Tucker was willing to stay out of sight in Archer's cellar.
However, Frank Archer was a man who controlled his temper, especially in front of a secretary. He liked secretaries; they were the grease that helped the country run, and leave him free to plan how to keep the rag-tags to the East down in the dirt where they belonged. His secretary was particularly good at getting the important information on his desk at the right time. She was not as quick as her predecessor, or as good at unearthing long thought destroyed documents, but then again, he did not have baby pictures to threaten her with.
"Thank you," the Lieutenant Colonel smiled in his quiet, colorless way, which gave his secretary the jim-jams, although he did not know it. She disliked the way that he could smile and yet still show as little emotion as the average vegetable.
"And, sir, I found a box of all the metallic objects from your office under my desk. Should I put them back?" the mousey haired woman looked up at Archer, her grey eyes quizzical.
She still was uncertain where the line of normal behavior ran as far as this zombie-like man was concerned. His old secretary had commented that he never ate or drank anything while on duty, and was always on duty. Annabelle had also never worked in the court martial office, getting speedily promoted to full secretary in the chaos ensuing Brigadier General Hughes' death and Schiezka's sudden resignation - due to grief, it was said, although there were rumors that the green eyed girl had been fired a few hours before her boss' death. So perhaps hiding the light fixtures underneath the secretary's desk was a normal security precaution.
Annabelle then looked puzzled by her own internal choice of words. Hiding? Why had she thought that? The Lieutenant Colonel could just be storing his desk lamp and other assorted metallic paraphernalia. There were thousands of things he could be doing with that box besides hiding the objects inside.
"I am sorry," Archer said gently. "I came back from Southern Headquarters on a late train, and I did not wish to get you up in the middle of the night to collect those things. I should have left a note. But no, these are not to go back up until after my meeting with the Fuhror," again, Annabelle received the vegetable smile.
"All right, sir," the secretary replied, looking perplexed, but wanting the Lieutenant Colonel and his smile to go away. Besides, she could see Master Sergeant Kain Furey coming down the hall with a cute little blush on his face, just under his glasses. This probably meant that her already good day was about to get better, if only her boss would leave.
As if reading her mind, Lieutenant Colonel Archer took out his key, walked towards his office door, and unlocked it. He opened the door partway, and then looked around the rectangle of wood, dreading the possibilities that might await him. Everything was exactly as it had been the night before when he had left. Kimbley was even still by the window, trying to jimmy the lock open with sheer brute force. The scorch marks around the inside handle hinted at his attempts on the door.
Archer breathed out in relief. So, the doorknob and the window catch had not been large enough for the former State Alchemist to make bombs out of, after all.
At the noise of breath escaping Archer's pallid lips, Kimbley swung around, his long brown ponytail cracking like a whip behind him.
"Am I free to leave yet, by the Fuhror's good grace?" he asked sarcastically, an ironic smile twisting on his face.
"No," Archer answered flatly. "The Fuhror is busy today, he'll see me tomorrow."
Kimbley's sharp features darkened. "I am not staying in this office for the entire day," the yellow eyes glittered dangerously, reminding Archer just how much like a lone wolf Kimbley was; chased from the communal pack of mankind, and more the dangerous for it.
"Yes, you are. If you ever want your name to be cleared," the Lieutenant Colonel snapped, trying to reign in this loose cannon quickly. "It takes special authorization from the Fuhror himself to reinstate a banned Alchemical usename, which Kimbley, I may point out that your Alchemical title was the first and only name ever to be banned, Crimson Alchemist. Not to mention that we will need his support to make you a State Alchemist again period, rather than firing squad bait. Unless you're interested in resuming your stay in the State Penitentiary as Number 2151513, Kimbley, Zolf J., you will stay in this office, understand?!"
The Crimson Alchemist's lips tightened in a snarl, but then he smirked, shrugging red clad shoulders. "Memorized my prison number, did you? My, don't I feel popular."
"You're a fascinating individual, Kimbley," Archer commented emotionlessly as he crossed over to his desk to look at the paper work. "Besides, I remember those kinds of things."
"I'll bet you do," the Crimson Alchemist muttered, as he went to lounge in a chair. But he perked up quickly enough. "Say, do you know what the Fuhror is busy with? Perhaps it's the kind of busy you can barge in on. Inventory report, or a date with the wife."
Archer sighed. Kimbley probably wouldn't leave him alone unless he made an effort. "I'll ask my secretary if Ms. Douglass told her why the Fuhror was busy."
He rose, and walked to the door. Opening it the Lieutenant Colonel made his way to his secretary's desk.
"Annabelle, did Ms. Douglass happen to tell you why the Fuhror was busy today?" he asked, thinking that there was something amiss with the desk in a "what's wrong with this picture?" sense. "Annabelle - the flowers on your desk appear to have multiplied. And are those chocolates?"
"Well, yes sir," Annabelle blushed as she looked for the note that Ms. Douglass had left. "It is Valentine's Day, after all."
Archer turned an unpleasant shade of green at the news, although this was not hard as his complexion tended towards green in any case. He hated Valentine's Day. As a boy growing up in a small town it meant getting laughed at by the popular children because he had gotten fewer valentines than the girl with the fishbowl sized bifocals who read too much. As a man in the State Army it meant that he got laughed at by the ladies men for getting fewer valentines than First Lieutenant Hawkeye, who had shot the last person to give her a love poem.
He gritted his teeth, and prayed that his path would not cross Roy Mustang's today. The insufferable Flame Alchemist was a walking chick magnet. And Mustang knew it. Worse, he knew that Archer had no such powers of attraction.
The Lieutenant Colonel did not understand why women gravitated toward some men, while completely ignoring others. He was polite and thoughtful when it came to the fairer sex. He always smiled and he tried to take the tough decisions off their hands. Of course, it eluded him that his smile reminded most women of a block of ice that had been taught to smile at an early age, and was now doing so out of habit, or the fact that women don't enjoy being treated as if they are children. Men don't, either, for that matter.
Whatever the reason, Archer mused, women seemed to prefer womanizing lechers like Mustang to his polite manners. Hell, they probably would prefer insane maniacs like Kimbley, given the chance, although Archer had to admit that the alchemist did have a certain flair. It was probably the way that he could murder you any time he touched you, and he knew it, and that amused him.
The alchemist, in question, however, was currently taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the open door, and Archer's spare uniform hanging on a peg near said gateway to freedom. Other than the coat being a bit too broad about the shoulders, as although Kimbley was as tall as Archer, he had been built long sleeker, more slender lines, the uniform fit Kimbley fine, and even promoted him from his former rank of major.
Kimbley threw the red blazer and pants that he had worn while working for Greed on the couch in the office, and stuck his hands in the deep and familiar pockets of the military uniform. Ah, he was /back/.
He slunk out of the office, while Archer mused over the inexplicability of women. The soft click of his boots on the titled corridor was so common place that Archer ignored it, and let his pet weapon walk away.
Kimbley smirked to himself. Although he'd never admit it out loud, it felt good to be back in the uniform, even if his version was currently stolen. He felt as if he belonged once more. Belonged to the great machine of the military; their agent of destruction. It was amazing how invigorating that feeling was.
People passed him in the halls, either ignoring him, or saying "Sir" and stepping aside, before continuing on their way. People who didn't know him, or believed him to be dead. Yellow eyes, though odd looking and rare, were not unique only to the Crimson Alchemist, and plenty of alchemists in the military went in for odder hairstyles than the long whip-like pony tail he had groomed his hair into. He was anonymous. It was a great feeling, fuzzy and warm, like bourbon and cheap cigarettes.
Unless he physically bumped into one of the five other alchemist who had gone to Ishbal with him, he was free. And that was unlikely. Of the five Marcoh and Gran were dead, with Hohenheim missing. Armstrong would recognize him, but Armstrong was easy enough to avoid. Anyone could see him coming from a mile away. Mustang, now, hmm. The former major probably would recognize Kimbley. Little Roy had been all but a boy in Ishbal, and had known Kimbley only too well, then. It's hard to forget the first devil you meet, clothed in human flesh. Yes, Mustang would remember, and probably try to kill the Crimson Alchemist if he saw Kimbley.
Well, Kimbley just had to be smarter than Mustang, and that wasn't hard. Especially since Mustang wasn't looking for him. No one else would detect him. He was the only survivor of the non-alchemical units that he had served with, mainly thinks to his need for combustibles, although a few Ishbalans had done some damage, too.
Speaking of combustibles, today would likely be his last day to have fun until Archer got his scheme for Liore under way. Kimbley picked up his pace, past several offices. There had to be a few buildings and a few people that no one would miss too much.
In one of the offices that Kimbley stalked past there was laughter.
"I can't believe it, Furey!" Breda grinned. "You can't have been giving flowers to the walking zombie's secretary."
The master sergeant sunk lower in his chair. He rather liked Miss Lee. The only problem was, so did Lieutenant Havock, and up against the second lieutenant the nervous engineer didn't stand a chance.
"Leave him alone, Breda," Havock slapped the burly orange haired man on the back with his free hand as he rearranged flowers and candy on his second of the six jammed together desks in the center of the office. "The charming Annabelle will do a better job of turning Furey down than you can, Breda."
At this there was a groan from the short master sergeanting end of life. The second lieutenant ignored it, only smiling slightly as his ratty dog end of a cigarette rotated around his mouth. "Besides, I'm off Anna. I met this gorgeous girl at the flower shop this morning when I was getting flowers for Anna, Marie, Katie, and Jolene. She said she was booked up tomorrow night, but I know she's just playing hard to get."
"You mean Grace?" The assembled company turned to see Votto Fallman standing in the door, a few flowers in his hands.
"Yeah, Grace at the flower shop," Havock grinned. "Looks like you've somehow hit a jack pot. Who gave you the daisies?"
"Grace," the Warrant officer replied, before realizing what Havock was getting at. "Oh, no, these aren't for me! I bought them from that nice Grace girl this morning. I'm planning to send them to Scheizka on my lunch break."
There was a sudden studying of ceilings and floors at this remark.
"Wow, I completely forgot her," Furey began, while Breda and Havock chimed in with variations on the theme.
The older officer shook his head. "Well, it doesn't matter. It's not like she works here any more, anyway. I just thought I would do something nice for her since it is Valentine's Day. Anyway, I'm putting the flowers on my desk until lunch time, so don't crush them."
"Yeah," Havock said, trying to calculate whether he could get to the flower shop or a candy store between now and before lunch happened. From the expressions on the faces of the other two men they were thinking the same thing.
"What am I not supposed to crush?"
They all turned to see Lieutenant Hawkeye standing with her arms crossed in the office doorway. The men all hid their gifts from and to various admirers behind their backs, but there was no disguising the pile of flowers, candy, and cards that already littered Colonel Mustang's desk. The female officer frowned.
"Oh, it's that day, again, is it? And he's not even in the building yet. If any junk falls on my desk I'll give it to Black Haiate to eat," she told them stalking over to her desk, the black and white mongrel trotting at her heels, his plume of a tail waving.
"Wait? What do you mean he's not in the building yet?" Furey asked. "He's always late, but not usually this late. It's already been two hours since he was supposed to be here."
"He's seeing Major Armstrong about something and picking up some flowers," the First Lieutenant told the Master Sergeant, her tone in no way implying that while she admired the Colonel she thought that his activities in the flower arranging department should be curtailed.
"Oh well --," Kain was interrupted by someone knocking on the open door.
"Excuse me," a young boy in the uniform of a delivery man said from under a mountain of flowers, "But I have three bouquets of roses, red, for a Colonel Mustang?"
"Put them on the desk," Hawkeye sighed.
"And two bouquets of roses, pink, for a Second Lieutenant Havock?"
~ ~ ~
"This is quite a nice place," Major Armstrong commented a little too loudly, even for his normal almost too jovial tones.
Colonel Mustang didn't bat an eyelash as he browsed over the flower laden shelves. "I'm quite attached to it. The woman who runs this place is very friendly. She said she'd take me out to dinner tomorrow. So, get in touch with me after that if you can. Now, have you decided what you would like to get for your mother yet?"
"No," the Strong Arm Alchemist admitted. "None of these have the elegance and grace for mother's good taste, I feel, and the roses are almost sold out. I don't think tulips could substitute for them in Katherine's eyes, either. She's very shy and doesn't get a lot of valentines, you know. I think that I will have to transmute my familial valentines this year. However, as for the departmental valentines, I believe Lieutenant Ross could have a rose, and as for Lieutenant Block --," Armstrong paused to consider the rather dim witted second lieutenant.
The Major made it a policy to give everyone under his command a personal Valentine's Day Gift in order to foster the spirit of camaraderie. He really believed in that sentence and sentences just like it. It was the Armstrong family tradition, after all.
Colonel Mustang left the Major to his ruminating, as he fished in his pocket for his wallet, taking his choice of Valentine's Day gift to the register. Armstrong was a good fellow, but apt to go over the top. Now, should he go across the way to get the cherry liquors that he knew-
"Oh, the flame red orchids, Colonel Mustang? Those are very nice," Grace smiled at him from across the counter, as she opened the register ready to make change. "Are they for anyone special?"
The Flame Alchemist smiled back, making Grace the center of his world for just one moment. It was honestly in the tone of voice, he thought. They didn't care what you said as long as it was you who was saying it. "Just a girl I know. Could you add in one of your crimson lilies, too? She's a little unorthodox when it comes to gifts."
"Really?" Grace was still basking in his smile, but she wasn't certain that she liked the idea of the dashing Colonel Mustang giving flowers to anyone but her.
"Yes, I need to apologize to her for something," the State Alchemist gave her another smile, and turned away from the counter to see if Armstrong had finished deciding how his genteel decorum was going to shine upon his subordinates today, when out of the shop window Roy Mustang saw a ghost walking out of the past. A very unpleasant past that woke him up at two AM on windy nights.
The Flame Alchemist's brain snapped into overdrive, and he slammed his wallet down on the counter, as he raced away, yelling something that only Armstrong would understand.
In the street the Crimson Alchemist turned at the sound of his name. He looked shocked as he saw Roy Mustang cannon out of a flower shop behind him. Then his face twisted into a smirk, and he saluted the Colonel before turning to run like a jack rabbit.
He dodged left instinctively, and felt an explosion go off where he had been standing. Well, well, the Flame Colonel must have taken the metaphorical gloves off when he put the physical ones on. Kimbley smiled; there was nothing more thrilling in life than death.
He made a sharp right, and over turned a fruit stand, which exploded as soon as his hands left it. Yes. It felt good to be alive, and able to do that. Breaking down things almost without bothering to determine the chemical make up. He was fast, and he was just that good at restructuring on the fly. A war will do that to a man. Prison had taken away that edge, but now, he was /back/ with the uniform and everything.
He grinned, seeing a shocked plump woman in her late forties. Perfect fuel. He lunged, hands working on instinct. A little gift for Mustang. One more jolt of freedom.
Flame leaped up and surrounded him, making Kimbley stagger backward, his fingers singed, rather than clutching at well filled out skin, chemicals bubbling under and around it as the deadly tattoos on his hands allowed him to operate. The Crimson Alchemist looked down at the blistered skin on his hands, and grinned insanely as the fleeting memory of one of the volunteer doctors in Ishbal came back to him. "One day, Kimbley, you'll get too close to one of your bomb blasts, and you'll lose those hands without anyone there willing to sew them on again."
Not today. Not today, he promised silently. Oh well, by the end of the day Archer would have him free again. Hakuro was already in the lieutenant colonel's pocket, and after the General, the Fuhror was sure to follow. Too much was going to be happening soon for Roy or his loyal soldiers to interfere.
"All right, Mustang, you've had your fun," Kimbley's dead yellow eyes looked beyond the flames watching the black haired colonel striding towards him, murder in the normally unreadable black eyes.
"Oh, I don't think I've even started yet," Mustang snarled. "I've learned a lot of control since Ishbal. Want to see how far that control goes?"
Kimbley smirked. Amazing what hate could do to a guy. Not that Mustang could hurt him. Okay, the ring of fire was a new trick, but Kimbley knew how Mustang operated. The fool believed in justice and making things right. That was his weakness, as well as his ambition.
"Come Mustang," the orange flames lit up the insides of Kimbley's eyes making them glow, "that's not your style. Out here in the middle of a crowded street? And what of your pretty boy faÃ§ade? What of the great legend of the Flame Alchemist, hero of the Eastern rebellion? Besides, aren't I supposed to get a trial, first?" The Crimson Alchemist grinned, pitching his voice so that the large bulky figure of Armstrong coming up behind Mustang couldn't possibly forget his military up bringing, much less let Roy get blood on his gloves.
"So? Animals don't need trials in order to be slaughtered, and some how you managed to slip though the system last time," Kimbley could see the salamander on the Flame Alchemist's transmutation circle, as the colonel held up his gloved hand, ready to snap his fingers and turn Kimbley into impure charcoal. Well, well, little Roy wasn't taking any chances with the devil this time, was he?
The Mad Man Bombardier of Ishbal smirked, not dropping the act of nonchalance. He put his hands in his pockets, and stood back. "Hey, Alex-Louis," he addressed the bald wall of a man behind Mustang, reading emotional warfare behind the Strong Arm Alchemist's eyes, "got a last cigarette for a condemned man, have you? I can ask little Roy here for a light when he's finished playing judge and jury."
Something clicked behind both sets of eyes, blue and black. Kimbley smiled. Bingo. You're about to commit murder here, and you know it'd be a breach of honor. Luckily for him, the Crimson Alchemist was not weighed down by such restrictions. However, Mustang was still on the edge, so best not to make any sudden moves.
The Colonel lowered his ignition cloth covered hand. "Major, get to the nearest telephone. I want Hawkeye and one of your squads here on the double. And do see that Grace is paid for those flowers. I'm not going to let one piece of filth disrupt my Valentine's Day."
"Of course, sir," Armstrong rumbled. "And you are?"
"Going to stay and chat about old times until the back up arrives. And warn them, I want those hands bound together palm to palm. If Kimbley wants to blow up something today it can be his own damn skin."
~ ~ ~
Archer looked around, praying that his office wasn't empty. However, a twentieth inspection didn't provide any explanations, other than the decided lack of Kimbley and his spare uniform. Damn it!
Feet pounded past his door, and he saw Mustang's cavalcade running for the nearest supply room. Archer stepped out into the hall and caught Breda as the overweight officer pounded past by the expedient of sticking out his arm.
"What's going on?" the lieutenant colonel asked, calmly trying to stay detached.
Breda brushed the arm away, and glared, before shrugging. "You'll know soon enough, anyway. Colonel Mustang just caught a rogue alchemist. Hawkeye and one of the major's squads have been called in."
Archer looked forward, his icy gaze unreadable. Mustang and Kimbley. When they worked together in the Eastern Rebellion-before the night of the red stone-they had been nearly invincible, with Mustang providing the control, and Kimbley providing the chaos. They were well matched, but of the two Mustang had the edge of not having spent seven years in prison.
Archer let Breda go, and walked off swiftly. As he turned the corner he saw Hawkeye loading a second pistol with a grim expression. If Breda didn't know the name of the so-called rogue alchemist, Hawkeye did.
~ ~ ~
At 1042 hours Lieutenant Hawkeye and the squad arrived on the scene. Second Lieutenant Havock was the driver of the van. Major Armstrong finished noting down his report, and then turned to Mustang in the back seat of the van.
"You realize, sir, that we can't bring him to the military jail until he's had a hearing with the Furhor-technically he isn't even alive," Armstrong pointed out, wanting to hang all bureaucrats.
Across from them, his hands duct taped palm to palm, Kimbley smirked. "Oh yeah, it's Valentine's Day, isn't it? The Fuhror's taking a holiday, is he?"
Colonel Mustang, sitting with his back against the van wall opposite from the convict nearly snapped the fingers of his upraised hand. Anything to wipe smug smile off Kimbley's face.
"We can still hold you on government property indefinitely until your hearing," Lieutenant Hawkeye commented, her guns not budging an inch. "Attempted assault. Disturbance of the peace. Right now you're loitering."
Kimbley's smile slowly drained away. While he was used to the idea of people trying to kill him, having an attractive blonde with a flat voice point a loaded pistol at his head, and another at his bound hands was not the most encouraging situation he had ever been in.
"Where are you thinking, Hawkeye?" Mustang asked, just because he liked the effect that she seemed to have on Kimbley. She was much better at intimidation that he was. Probably the way she looked so deadly serious. It also helped that she wasn't holding orchids and a lily tastefully wrapped up in white tissue paper.
"We can keep him in the office until we can contact the Fuhror," Hawkeye told Mustang. "He could fit in the corner that the extra valentines have been piling up in. We'd have to get rid of them, of course."
"Just because you're jealous of the amount of girls that swarm after me and the boys, doesn't mean that you need to attack their gifts," Roy smirked, glancing out of the corner of his eye at his female subordinate. "If you like, I could introduce you to some of the more interesting ones."
Lieutenant Hawkeye glared, as Armstrong looked shocked, and Kimbley chuckled. However he stopped chuckling when his seat partner pressed the barrel of her magnum gently into his cheek. The truck started with a lurch and a roar, and when they could speak again, Hawkeye replied civilly to her commander.
"I'm not interested in any women that you can't handle, sir."
"Well, I'd give you some of the men," Mustang jibed, he couldn't help but enjoy needling Hawkeye, "but most men I know aren't too interested in being treated like Black Hiate."
"Now see here!" Major Armstrong looked affronted that the colonel was being so unprofessional in front of a lunatic mad man, and so rude to the first lieutenant.
"You are supremely funny, sir," Hawkeye told him dryly.
"How many years ago was it? When Private Sachs sent you that love note you stood him up against the wall in the officer's mess, and fired a full round right around his head in a happy half circle," Mustang reminisced.
"Heh. I remember that one," Kimbley added, grinning with the memory. It had been one of the most entertaining lunches on Valentine's Day he ever had. "Nine years ago, Roy."
"Eight," Riza's voice bordered on menacing.
"She housebroke her dog in the same way, too," Mustang commented, before realizing whom he was talking to, and glaring.
"I'm not surprised," Yellow eyes flicked towards Riza, a grin dancing in the insane depths.
The truck lurched to a halt, and Armstrong was the first out. Then Kimbley, with the hand gun pressed to the back of his head in a very uninviting way. He hated to think where the First Lieutenant's second pistol was pointed. He suspected that she had taken the joke about her dog rather personally.
Mustang followed the party in a leisurely swagger, his hands, and their gloves, hanging free at his sides. One of the officers brought up the rear, carrying the Flame Alchemist's purchases, as well as Major Armstrong's. He tottered back and forth under the pile of flowers, and was only too glad when the burden was relieved, as the Major took his flowers.
They didn't meet many people on the way inside, which Mustang thought was just as well. The arrest of a supposed lieutenant colonel (where had Kimbley stolen that uniform from? He supposed that they would find out when the smoking hole in the ground was discovered. At least Scar left bodies to bury) would send rumors flying, and that was the last thing he wanted.
Kimbley had to wait in the door as the Valentines were moved, and a chair was thoughtfully provided by Fuery.
"Sit," Colonel Mustang ordered unnecessarily.
Kimbley sat without protest, however, smirking. If his hands, and subsequently his arms, had been free he would have flung one over the back of the chair and gone into a disobedient slouch. As it was he looked at his (now) superior officer with a look of amused contempt.
"All right, these are the rules," Mustang began.
Kimbley batted his eye lashes at Roy just to annoy him. "Yeeeeees?"
Mustang's face darkened, and his gloved fists clenched. "New plan. You tell him the rules, Lieutenant Hawkeye. I'm going to do paperwork."
"Little Roy do paper work? Oh say it ain't so," Kimbley protested, and Roy rounded on the Crimson Alchemist angrily, his hand looking ready to strangle the escaped convict. "Ah-ah-ah," Kimbley's grin was shifting from triumphant to insane and back again. "Remember, Mustang, I knew you when you were a fresh faced little state alchemist, still with the shine on his shoes and no Alchemical use name. Just imagine what I could tell these fellows."
"Like the time that Lieutenant made you think that the needle used in those tattoos gave you gangrene?" Lieutenant Hawkeye asked Kimbley blandly. "I've been in the army longer than either of you, so shut up. Which conveniently brings us to the first rule. Don't talk unless you're spoken to. You also will not move from that chair until someone from the Fuhror's office comes to pick you up. Third rule: Don't do anything suspicious or I'll blow your head off."
"Yes ma'-," Kimbley shut up as he watched Lieutenant Hawkeye's finger begin to push on the trigger. "Sir," he corrected himself, sitting back in the chair and deciding to relax.
The rest of the office decided to get back to work. Colonel Mustang was already setting a wonderful example by sitting at his desk and reading valentines. The flowers he had bought were sitting in their own special vases. Meanwhile, the pile of gifts on Havoc's desk was fluctuating as more were delivered via courier, and Breda stole the chocolates as they came. Kain had a modest pile on his desk, and he smiled at each new letter, no matter how small. Fallman was placing the few cards he received in his desk drawers, although the small bouquet of daisies for Scheizka was prominently displayed.
Occasionally the courier coming in and out gave Kimbley-possibly the only man ever to sit at perfect ease with Hawkeye marked death looming over him-a few uncertain glances. However, he never said anything, just going in and out.
On a couple of his trips out of the office, various members of Mustang's staff went with him. Second Lieutenant Havoc was the first one, and he brought back a small tub of marigolds. Breda returned with a lacey card which was passed around the rectangle of central tables. Kain Fuery quietly dropped a pocket book of romantic poetry next to the daisies.
It was actually quite fascinating to watch how the neat pile on Fallman's desk became larger and slightly sloppier in the mere space of minutes when Fallman left to use the telephone. Even Riza looked vaguely interested.
"What was that card about, Breda?" she inquired, still keeping her eyes on Kimbley.
"Oh, just something nice for Scheizka," Breda said, before looking guilty.
Hawkeye glanced at the desk that commanded the view from the windows of the office. Mustang had fallen asleep.
"This isn't third grade, soldier. It isn't as if I was going to make you sit in the corner," Lieutenant Hawkeye pointed out, as Fallman walked back in, and saw the small heap on his otherwise orderly desk.
"Well, I'm about to take my lunch break," he told the room at large, heading to his desk and scooping up the hastily arranged gifts. He paused for a moment, looking warily at Hawkeye and the sleeping figure of Mustang. "I said I was going on my lunch break," he added a little louder, making the Colonel snort slightly and wake up.
"Mmm? What? You go ahead and do that. We'll join you once the mass murderer is off our hands," Colonel Mustang muttered, beginning to sort through valentines again.
Kimbley chuckled, and Lieutenant Hawkeye immediately pressed the cold steel of her gun to his forehead. The alchemist winced. "Just appreciating the Colonel's pun, Lieutenant. Jeesh, what happened to you on Valentine's Day to make you so jumpy?"
"I believe that holding a war criminal at gun point is perfect reason to be prepared any day of the week," Hawkeye responded coolly.
"Yeah, because both you, Mustang and Havoc are oh-so-much purer than I am," Kimbley laughed sarcastically. "What was it you told me, Roy? That night you were so drunk you," yellow eyes flashed towards the rest of the room and the lupine grin spread. "Well, you remember that night. War criminals are war heroes without medals, but far more truth. Not the most elegant phraseology, but you were smashed at the time."
Mustang leaned forward, black eyes full of intense anger, even as he held up one hand to stop the blow coming from the butt of Lieutenant Hawkeye's magnum. "The second difference, Kimbley, is that we don't start killing our own men when there aren't any more enemies around."
"Perfectly good point," Kimbley conceded. "I find it amazing that you can sleep easily with someone like me in the room and only Lieutenant Hawkeye watching."
Riza just gave Kimbley a look, as her second gun went back into its holster, the first never wavering from his face. The Colonel, having gone back to the card, did not look up from a piece of paper that would have made a better doily than card. "I think you'll find, Kimbley, most people, who know you, do not find you all that intimidating."
"Ouch," Kimbley pretended to look wounded. "Revenge for my little mouthy outburst, Roy? And here I was thinking you'd say something about how you trusted Hawkeye. Guess not."
Mustang put the doily card down and began to rifle through a box of chocolates. Kimbley sighed. So much for conversation. What he wouldn't give for something real to do. Antagonizing people was no fun when they wouldn't rise to the bait.
"What was Fallman's thing about going to lunch anyway?" Mustang yawned to Havock.
"Oh, he just told us he was delivering a Valentine to a friend while you were asleep," Jean replied easily enough, although his eyes didn't leave the desk.
There was a lot of blank silence, but Mustang didn't ask which friend.
~ ~ ~
Scheizka gripped her brown shopping bag nervously. The sack cloth bunched comfortingly under her grip, reminding her that she was just on her way to buy groceries. She had stopped in because Fallman had asked her to meet him in this nice cafÃ© for coffee, but that certainly wasn't her only reason for coming out of her house.
Green eyes darted this way and that, looking over the other patrons from her window seat. Either Fallman was running late, or she had been early. She wasn't certain, and she hadn't been waiting long, so it didn't really matter. Except-this cafÃ© was obviously for couples. She felt alien in her singularity. And the excess of pink streamers and heart shapes at the windows, and the red ribbons every where made her blush any time someone caught her eye.
The door swung open, the little bell tinkling merrily, and a blue uniform stepped through. Scheizka sighed in relief, seeing the silver hair surmounting the uniform. Fallman looked around and winced at the romantically themed atmosphere, before spotting Scheizka and hurrying over.
"Hi, I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't realize Crumbs was quite so," Fallman rubbed the back of his clipped hair in embarrassment, as he searched for a word that expressed his horror at the unprofessionalism of the cafÃ© (/Cookie Crumbs and Coffee/), but didn't degrade it or the proprietor in any way, "garish during the holiday season."
"Well, it's quite tasteful," Scheizka had been brought up to always say something nice about things. Unfortunately a streamer swayed at that moment and dumped confetti in her hair.
Fallman smiled, and sat down, putting the various gifts on the table. "Well," he began, not knowing what to say, "we got these for you. I mean, everyone up at HQ-Jean, Kain, Breda, everyone. We thought, well, what with everything, well, we thought you might like something from us."
Scheizka beamed, picking up the various gifts, and restraining from leaping across the table to hug Fallman only with a great amount of effort. "Oh, thank you, thank, thank you! I've never gotten so much before for Valentines Day. I mean I always exchange cards with my mother, and my land lady will sometimes give me a book, but this is so wonderful. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Oh," her face fell. "I didn't get anything for you-"
"Don't, please," Fallman waved it off. "We've got more Valentines than we can use back in the office. We just wanted to let you know that we missed working with you-er," Scheizka's face threatened to fall even further at that mention. "Well, I mean, it's great to see that you're doing well," Fallman tried back pedaling. "How's your mother, by the way?"
"Oh!" Schiezka adjusted her glasses. "She's great. Even though I resigned, the military was kind enough to let me keep the health insurance benefits. I was really lucky there. They are all saying that I was such a great help," she trailed off.
"Well, that's good," Fallman replied, feeling an awkward silence descend. He snapped is fingers to grab the attention of the waitress, who came forward and took the order for two regular coffees, black.
As the teen walked away with her pad, Scheizka surreptitiously wetted a paper napkin in the water that had arrived when she first sat down. Wrapping the daisies in the damp napkin, she set them next to the flowers, and opened the card. Her eyebrows drew together in a frown after a moment, but her countenance quickly brightened.
"What is it?" Fallman asked, trying to peer over the top of the card.
"Oh, one of the guys asked me to meet him after work in the rebuilt library," Scheizka replied. "Only they squeezed the message in around the names, so I don't know who it is."
"Probably Fuery," Fallman told her. "He was in on the architectural engineering of the new building. Even though it was really alchemists that put it up he's been showing it off to everyone."
"So they've actually got it up?" Scheizka looked enthusiastic.
"Yeah. The records are being stored there as we speak. It's not filled up to full capacity yet, that could take a lifetime, or more," Fallman pointed out.
"It took three head librarians to fully stock all the shelves of the first first branch," Scheizka nodded, before laughing. "The first first branch, isn't that a little redundant? What do you call it?"
"I don't know," Fallman looked thoughtful.
They spent the next ten minutes discussing the possibilities, and finishing the coffee. Both rose, and Fallman sighed as they headed out the door, Scheizka balancing the gifts in her arms, tried to look up at the older man around the marigolds.
"Excuse me, sir, is there something wrong?"
"Don't want to go back to work, that's all," Fallman shrugged, and straightened out his military jacket.
"There can't be that much work today. I thought HQ kind of went crazy on the holidays. Lieu-Brigadier General Hughes always did," Scheizka looked away, biting her lower lip.
"Yeah, it was supposed to be pretty relaxed today," Fallman agreed. "Just we now got-," he paused, realizing that Scheizka was not cleared for the information that a supposedly dead war criminal was currently being held at gunpoint in Colonel Mustang's office. "Lieutenant Hawkeye started spitting nails when she saw the number of valentines in the room," he finished quickly. "The lieutenant isn't big on holidays."
"Really, why?" Scheizka asked as they walked down the street.
"She says it's hard enough to keep the Colonel on task without gifts pouring in the windows," Fallman replied. "And I do agree-Colonel Mustang is pretty lazy when it comes to paperwork. But Lieutenant Hawkeye takes things a little too seriously on Valentine's Day. Sometimes you have to be able to relax."
Scheizka nodded, seeing the intersection that she needed to turn at in order to get to the grocery store. "I think that's a good way to do things. I've got to turn here. And thanks for the coffee, and tell the boys thanks for everything. That was really nice of all of you."
"No problem," Fallman nodded. "It's nice to do something that doesn't have to do with murder or civil war for a while."
"Take a break when you can," Scheizka agreed whole heartedly, wondering why Fallman mentioned murder. Was Colonel Mustang-no, he wouldn't be doing anything about Brigadier General Hughes' death. He was a dog of the military and only barked on command. She waved, and then turned down the street.
Fallman turned his head to check for traffic, and was soon joined at the curb side by Lieutenant Colonel Vegetable Face Archer, papers clutched under one arm, and several MPs at his side.
"Warrant Officer," Archer nodded curtly.
"Lieutenant Colonel," Fallman replied only because he had been addressed by the superior officer.
Archer didn't seem to notice the coldness in Fallman's tone. He was staring off into the distance in the direction that Schiezka had gone, humming something vaguely classical under his breath. Obviously his mind was miles away and his body was on autopilot. The only thing out of place was the single long stemmed white rose held in his paperless hand. There was a red ribbon tied neatly around the bright green of the stem.
Votto raised an eyebrow, seeing it, and one of the MPs shrugged. "The Fuhror wouldn't let him talk unless he did something festive to celebrate the day. One more plant for his secretary, I guess."
"Oh," the warrant officer nodded knowledgably, and then blinked. Why would Archer have business so pressing that he needed to get a hold of the Fuhror on one of the few days Bradley took a personal holiday? He glanced at the Lieutenant Colonel-Kimbley had been caught wearing a Lieutenant Colonel's uniform that was just a little too big for him across the shoulders, perfect for Archer's military bearing, however. Fallman's eyes darted to the papers under the blue clad right arm.
I, Fuhror King Bradley, hereby reinstate the usename and rank of
That was all Votto needed to read. He quickly glanced at his watch, and then muttered: "Damnit, I'm late!"
He crossed the road at a dead run, horns blaring in his wake.
~ ~ ~
"So, betting pool," Breda turned in his chair to face Havock, as the second lieutenant stuck the reports he had been working on in a drawer. "Have we got anything up for this week?"
"Well, it is Valentine's Day, why don't we put someone's love life on the line?" Havock suggested, cigarette dangling from his lips.
"Alright, but whose?" Furey asked, looking up from a telephone cable that had become mouse food. "I don't have one, and Breda's been really quiet on that front as well."
"And who would want to date Fallman?" Havock agreed.
"Hey, it's not as though between you and the Colonel we have problems finding something to bet on," Breda pointed out.
Mustang looked up from his current attempts at paper airplane manufacture, and chuckled. "Really, Breda, why pick something so easy? Try challenging yourself this week. Pick someone who not only doesn't have a love life, but entirely rejects one altogether. Isn't that right, Lieutenant Hawkeye?"
Three sets of eyes fearfully riveted themselves to the long barrel of Riza Hawkeye's gun, expecting it to swing from Kimbley's face to point at them for even having heard the Colonel's suggestion.
"I am certain that you have better things to do with your time than lose money to one another," the lieutenant told them dryly, her chestnut eyes not leaving Kimbley's face.
"Not today," Mustang shrugged. "In fact, I'll make the first bet. Twenty dollars says that tonight on the day of love, you won't even get a kiss from someone. Give me the odds on that one, Fuery."
"Pretty obvious, sir. I'd say one to one point five," Kain replied nervously. "You wouldn't make much money if you won. "But we play for all here, no odds. I say, um, five dollars that she gives Black Haiate something nice for dinner, though."
"Yeah, and after dinner she'll sit back with some ice cream and watch a movie," Havoc suggested. "Ten dollars."
"Why's Mustang the only one of you brave enough to put money down on romantic intrigue?" Kimbley snorted. "There's twenty bucks in my outer pocket. Put that down for the fact that not only will she not get a kiss, she wouldn't kiss anyone in this room."
"Didn't you steal that uniform?" Breda asked before he could stop himself.
"I don't like to lose money," Kimbley shrugged. "So I bet on sure things and bet with other people's money. Besides, it'll be fun to watch Roy try to keep me from getting the kitty-I'm remembering the first rule, sir. I'm remembering it!" he told Hawkeye, as the barrel tried to bore a dent into his forehead.
Breda quickly leaned over and nipped the twenty dollars out of the breast pocket as Kimbley tried to lean away from the gun. He slapped it down on Fuery's desk with the rest of the stack of crumbled bills. Hawkeye glanced at it coldly.
"Anyone else placing bets about me that you feel certain you'll win?" She inquired, glaring around.
"Well," Mustang was fishing in his wallet when the doors burst open and Votto Fallman arrived, breathing hard.
"I've-Archer's spare uniform," he pointed wildly at Kimbley. "He-the Fuhror made him major again. Crimson Alchemist-,"
"Is no longer a banned alchemical usename," Archer said smoothly, striding through the door with the MPs behind him. "In fact, in return for his co-operation in routing out the corruption in the military that kept him alive long after he was sentenced to death, the Fuhror has decided that Zolf J. Kimbley may be returned to his former rank and station as sanctioned state alchemist. It was obvious that he merely snapped under the mental pressures of war-just like Major Armstrong. After all, no one who is so willing to help the Courts Martial Office in their investigations could truly be a criminal. Merely misguided," Archer turned a vegetable-like smile on Mustang. "Thank you for keeping such an important witness to atrocity safe from those who don't wish the secret of corruption to be revealed. You may cut his palms free, First Lieutenant."
Kimbley smirked, as Hawkeye reached for a Xing Army knife, and sawed the duct tape through. Kimbley coolly pulled the tape off his left hand and then his right, wadding it into a ball and throwing it casually onto Mustang's desk. He winked at Mustang, his unfeeling grin in place, and rose like a viper, blue tattoos reaching out for Hawkeye's face.
Riza moved like lightning. Her magnum fell to the floor as she grabbed the backs of Kimbley's hands and forced them back onto Mustang's desk and it's collection of valentines. Before either startled alchemist could react, she pushed the rest of Kimbley's body against the desk by kissing him forcefully. The desk exploded under the Crimson Alchemist's hands as Riza wrenched her mouth away.
"Twenty dollars, and if you ever try that with me again, dog of the military or not, you'll be scraping your guts off the walls," She told him coldly, as Fallman, Havock, Fuery, and Breda snapped out of their daze and pulled guns on Kimbley.
Archer, Mustang, and the MPs were still blinking in the shock of the moment, as Lieutenant Hawkeye straightened up and stood aside. "Now go back to Archer like the dog you are."
Kimbley shot her a mischievous glance with his yellow eyes, and then pecked her on the cheek, and booked it for the hallway. "Tell Roy he owes you twenty more!" the Crimson Alchemist yelled from the doorway.
"I'd bill him for the desk, sir," Lieutenant Hawkeye replied, scooping the winnings off Kain's desk.
Mustang looked at the mess of charred cards and chocolates. At least his flowers had been moved to a different corner. "I hate Valentine's Day."
"I know how you feel, sir," Lieutenant Hawkeye told him blandly.
~ ~ ~
At the end of the day Archer discovered that Annabelle had gone home before he got around to giving her the Valentine's plant the Fuhror had made him buy. He sighed. At least Kimbley was out of his office now. One headache gone. He was almost ready to prosecute the man for impersonating a military officer. However, Archer needed the weapon that the Crimson Alchemist was.
He rose from his desk, determinedly humming the Fifth Symphony, and headed out the door. Outside the sun was setting, streaking brilliant oranges and yellows all over the sky. The colors of war. The thought made him feel better.
Outside the newly built library he saw Hughes' former secretary, waiting on the steps with her nose buried in a book. The idea that had been plaguing him since he had seen her retreating figure came to the fore.
"Excuse me," he walked up to the brown haired young woman. "You're Scheizka, aren't you?"
"Well," Scheizka looked nervous.
"I'm Lieutenant Colonel Archer. I took over in the Courts Martial Office after Brigadier General Hughes died. I hear you did a wonderful job," just as he had planned Scheizka looked flattered by the compliment, although troubled. "Are you looking for work?" Archer continued, pressing his advantage.
"Well, I have plenty saved up, sir-," Scheizka began.
"Yes, I understand. I am talking about free lance stuff, to help pay the bills. Nothing permanent," the Lieutenant Colonel replied gently. "Perhaps you could stop by one day. I'll call you."
He turned to go, leaving her flustered, before stopping. "Oh, I realize a pretty girl," okay he was stretching the truth on both counts, "like you probably has many valentines, but would you like this rose?" He turned, and handed her the white bloom with its red ribbon.
Scheizka took it automatically. Archer smiled quietly to himself, and walked off. Once the lieutenant colonel was out of her line of vision Scheizka breathed out. That was weird. She hoped that Kain would show up. She'd been itching to see the inside of the new library, but had waited outside so Master Sergeant Fuery could show it off.
Schiezka jumped out of her skin as a shadow fell across the page she was reading and the quiet question ambushed her. She looked up into Colonel Mustang's black eyes. Shutting her book defiantly she stood up, glaring at him.
"Yes, in fact it was! Now leave me alone. I am allowed to hang out around the first branch, still, right?!" she inquired accusingly. "Or has the military decided that they should spend their valuable resources on felonies like knowing too much. Such a better way to spend their time than investigating petty murder!"
Mustang leaned against one of the statuary gryphons gracing the steps as Scheizka yelled at him. "Actually, you're not allowed to hang around here. It's called loitering, and it's against the law," Mustang smiled at her red face. "But I came here to give you a valentine," he continued, bringing the orchids out from behind his back.
Scheizka's eyes widened. "Another one? I've had two other people give me-thank you?"
"You're welcome," Mustang nodded, before looking at Scheizka seriously. "And there is such a crime as knowing too much, Scheizka. They execute you for it. Be careful who you yell at, okay?"
Scheizka stood there, holding her two flower gifts dumbly as the colonel walked down the street in the opposite direction than Archer had taken.
~ ~ ~
Riza picked up the single blood red lily on her door mat after Black Haiate had sniffed it thoroughly. She looked at it thoughtfully, and then stuck it in the damp mud of her untended garden.
"They die when you do that, Lieutenant," she heard her boss sigh behind her.
"I'm not usually a flower person," Riza replied levelly, turning around.
"Listen Lieutenant," Roy said, looking her directly in the eyes, "about today-,"
"I was being totally unprofessional, and you would have every right to impanel a jury and have me court marshaled," Riza told him without an ounce of inflection in her voice.
"You know I'm not going to do that, Hawkeye," Roy snapped.
"Then there isn't anything more to talk about, is there?" Riza inquired.
Roy glowered but was silent. Riza waited for the storm that was brewing in his face to break. Finally: "Damnit! He's a mass murderer! Why didn't you kill him when he went for you?!"
"And become party to a crime that you know Archer would prosecute? You still need me, Colonel. You need me at my job, doing my best. Besides, Kimbley's going to die. You know he is. It's only a matter of time," the lieutenant replied.
"But how much longer before millions more do at his hands!?" Roy growled.
"Colonel," Riza's voice was like ice water. "There are bigger things to think about than Kimbley. You need to focus! We all have demons. But you can't let yours control your life."
Roy shook his head. "The man-I still have nightmares about what we did to those people! How can he-Does he regret one thing that he's one with his life? People like that should be slaughtered-if only it didn't turn you into them."
"And if only they didn't make you want to be them," Riza finished for Colonel Mustang quietly. "But you're not the Crimson Alchemist, Flame Alchemist. You don't see people as walking weapons. You don't think about people as walking weapons. Which is what makes you better than the living demons of this world. So don't, don't let them get to you."
Roy looked down, breathing out slowly. "You really think he's going to die?"
Riza nodded. "Once word gets out that he's still alive I'll bet anything that Scar-or someone just like him-will come out of hiding, and putting that particular demon to rest for you."
"Then the war will do it," Riza turned to look at the setting sun.
"Another war?" Mustang laughed bitterly. "Maes hasn't even had time to decompose. Ink isn't even dry on the treaty we had the Easterners sign. I wanted to make an end to them, Hawkeye. I wanted-you know what I said to Maes once? We were talking about the rebellion thing in Liore, and the Elric brothers not knowing what they had caused there. I said: "They'll find out the hard way. We always do." But, I thought-I thought I could put an end to all of this before they had to find out the hardest way of all."
"You don't believe that you can, sir?" Riza turned back to look at Mustang.
"No," Mustang replied quietly. "They'll find out. One way or another. Another generation gets to see the true horrors of this world. And meet the men without a trace of human compassion or need."
"You think there will be more Kimbleys?" Riza asked.
"Certainly, Lieutenant," Mustang replied matter-of-factly. "But even Kimbley needs something. No. I mean people like Archer. People who can use the Kimbleys of this world because the only thing they need is destruction. It's not a human wish."
"You think they'll meet people like that?" Riza asked.
"They'll get to know that devils walk. And angels fall," Roy looked at his gloved hands. "We all learn it the hard way. That it transmutes you into something ruinous. And we're going to be putting them in the thick of it. They'll watch innocents die because they were told they had to die. They'll kill."
"Then let's make certain they don't have to for long," Riza said. "Come inside, Colonel. I'm having spaghetti with meatballs."
Roy smiled wearily at Riza. "Yeah, I'll do that."