—and sat up with a start in his own armchair, as the clock on his mantelpiece struck nine.
"Augh! Who-where-what the hell...!" Mustang shouted, flailing his arms before his face. Something bumped his waving hand and toppled from the side table, shattering with a tinkle of breaking glass. The sound broke into his confusion, and he froze and glanced down to see the remains of his brandy snifter littering the floor.
The whole sequence of events came rushing back to him then, and he grabbed his shirtfront, frantically feeling his own chest to make sure his hands didn't pass through it, then pressing two fingers to his neck to take his own pulse. It thudded rapidly against his fingertips, and he let out a sigh of utter relief.
"I'm still alive," Mustang gasped, looking wildly around the room as if daring any more spirits to come bursting out at him. "I'm still alive..."
Light was streaming through the gaps between the curtains, he noticed, and leapt to his feet, the shards of the snifter crunching forgotten under his boots as he ran to the windows and flung them wide. Brilliant morning sunlight flooded the room, along with the sounds of chattering and bustle.
"Hey! You!" Mustang called, and one of the passersby looked up. He recognized the boy instantly as the caroler in the green hat, and gave him a wave. "What day is it?" he shouted.
The boy gave him a bewildered look. "Why...Christmas Day!" he called back, uncertainly.
Mustang let out a whoop of delight. "Christmas! Ha HA!!" he jubilated. "All that in one night! Hughes, your ghosts are miracle workers!"
Pausing for a moment, he frowned. "So...was it all a dream, then?" he wondered aloud, but the answer was bubbling up from inside him regardless. "It doesn't matter!" he declared joyously. "It's Christmas Day! I'm still alive! There's still time!"
Leaning out the window, he called down to the boy again. "You there! What's your name?!"
"Uh...Fletcher!" the boy replied, looking more puzzled by the minute. "Fletcher Tringham!"
"All right, Fletcher Tringham, you wonderful child!" Mustang shouted. "If you can get to the bakery down the road and buy the nicest Christmas cake on display for me, out of this—" he dug in his pocket and produced a crumpled banknote, waving it out the window—"you can have whatever's left to buy as many cookies as you like!"
The boy's eyes lit up, and he glanced eagerly up at his older brother, who was standing arms crossed beside him.
"Can we, Russell?" he asked, hopefully. "We're going to the bakery anyway..."
"Where's this cake supposed to go?" Russell asked suspiciously.
"To the Fullmetal Alchemist and his brother! Tell them to deliver it to the main barracks under that name, it'll find its way to them! And if you come back here within half an hour with the delivery receipt, there'll be more cens where that came from!"
The boys exchanged a strangely startled and amused look, but the nod Fletcher gave him was a solemn contract. "Okay, Mister!" he called, and Mustang let the note float down from the window, then slammed it shut again. He had a few more errands to run on his own, and he would need to get spruced up before he showed his face at the Lion and Laurels that night...
It was a fine Christmas indeed, but you can guess the details for yourself. Suffice to say that steins were drained, toasts were made, a mysterious and unsigned cake was gawked over and eaten with great relish, the fellow officers of Roy's department were very impressed by the colonel's impression of a swordfish, and a certain Lieutenant received the largest bouquet of Christmas poinsettias she had ever seen, as unsigned and mysterious as anything else that Christmas.
The next day, Mustang arrived at work first thing in the morning, as usual, seated himself behind his desk, steepled his hands severely, and waited. The clock ticked past eight am, the minute hand creeping past the five, then the ten. It was eight twenty-three by the time a breathless Edward Elric rushed into Mustang's office, his folder of papers in disarray under his arm.
Mustang frowned delicately. "You're late, Fullmetal," he observed.
Still flushed from his run through the cold streets, Ed nodded. "Yeah," he gasped. "Sorry—I was up late last night, and—"
"Your excuses fall short of the mark, as usual," Mustang interrupted him, and as Ed's mouth opened for an angry retort at the height crack, Mustang pushed away from his desk, his chair falling over behind him with a crash. "I will not tolerate this kind of behavior from you, Fullmetal!" he roared, the air around him crackling with full Mustang fury.
Ed gulped and took a step back, fumbling with his papers. "Uh—" he started to say, but Mustang cut him off with a sharp slashing motion of one hand.
"Coming in late to work! Bringing me papers in that sorry condition! Spending quality time with your loved ones when there is pointless busywork to do!!" he shouted, stalking around his desk and advancing on the younger man in a livid rage.
"But, I—that is, I-I—" Edward stammered, papers slipping out of his grasp as he backpedaled across the room. "Wait...p-pointless busywork?"
"It is unacceptable!" Mustang bellowed, towering over the young alchemist as his back ran up against the office door with a thump. "It is irresponsible! It is exactly what you ought to be doing on Christmas, and that—!" He poked one gloved finger into Ed's chest sternly. "—is why I am giving you the next week off with paid leave!"
"Oh, yeah?! Well, I—" Ed started to shout back angrily, then checked himself as the actual words sank in. "Wait a minute...paid leave?!"
"Did you not hear me, Fullmetal?" Mustang demanded. "If I see your face once in my office between now and January third, there will be hell to pay! Is that understood?!"
Edward's mouth gaped, working helplessly for a moment, combining with his saucer-round eyes to make him resemble a beached goldfish. Then a brilliant smile spread across his face, still bewildered but not about to question fortune, and he snapped to attention in the smartest salute Mustang had ever received from him.
"Understood, sir!" Edward barked, and dropped his papers then and there. Standing back, Mustang gave him room to open the door and take off running down the hallway, nearly bowling over a startled Lieutenant Hawkeye as she turned the corner with her arms full of clipboards. "Sorry, Lieutenant!" he called over his shoulder, without pausing his headlong rush. "Guess what, I got paid leave till New Year's!"
"Did you?" Hawkeye shouted after him, startled. "That's lovely, Edward!"
"Yeah, I know!" Ed yelled back. "See you next year, Lieutenant! And watch your step, I think the colonel's finally snapped!"
Gazing after him in confusion, Hawkeye frowned faintly, and turned to enter the office—only to be confronted with a smirking Mustang.
Wearing a brilliant red stocking cap, trimmed generously with white fur.
"Ah," Hawkeye said, raising both delicate eyebrows. "Is that the Second Lieutenant's hat you've borrowed, sir?"
Mustang's smirk spread into an unabashed grin. "Very astute of you, Lieutenant. Yes, as a matter of fact, it is."
It was, indeed, a very merry Christmas. As for Alphonse Elric, he received every assistance Mustang could arrange, and between that and the Elrics' own unceasing hard work and searching, it was not long before a flesh-and-blood boy was sharing Christmas cider with his family in Resembool. And as for Mustang, he was a changed man from that day forth, and whenever Christmas was mentioned in the halls of Central Headquarters, it was always remarked that Mustang was a man who kept it uncommonly well.
And now we come to the end of our tale, and only one thing is left to be said.
A very Merry Christmas, and as Alphonse Elric would say...God bless us, every one!
And, just for fun...the full cast list!
Bob Cratchit—Edward Elric
Scrooge's Nephew—Jean Havoc
Charity Collectors—Denny Brosch, Maria Ross
Ghost of Christmas Past—Nina Tucker
Scrooge's Sister—Young Maes Hughes
Scrooge's Sweetheart—Riza Hawkeye
Ghost of Christmas Present—Alex Louis Armstrong
Mrs. Cratchit/Martha—Winry Rockbell
Tiny Tim—Alphonse Elric
Scrooge's Nephew's Friends—Cain Fury, Heymans Breda, Farman, Scieszka
Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come—The Truth
Ignorance and Want—Wrath and Envy
Carolers—Russell Tringham, Fletcher Tringham, Kyle of Youswell, Rose Thomas, Clause, the little ailing girl from Xenotime, Gracia and Elysia Hughes, Paninya, Dominic, Garfiel, Sig and Izumi Curtis, Mason, Yoki, Scar, Barry, Pride, Sloth, Lust, Gluttony, Dante, Lyra, Dorchet, Law, the lizard chimera, Kimbley, Archer, Ling, Lan Fan, Fuu, Mei and Xiao Mei, and anybody else who didn't get a speaking role—just imagine them all decked out in scarves and hats and singing 'I'm Dreaming of A White Christmas' in front of Mustang's apartment building...
THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH! MERRY CHRISTMAS!