It started with a piece of paper attached to the Colonel's office door.
Brother likes to pretend that he doesn't care what goes on in the military unless it directly affects him. Or, you know, directly offends him. One or the other. I think it helps him feel less a part of the whole thing, if he can just wander in and get the Colonel's instructions and wander out and do his best to thwart them down to the letter and otherwise act as much like a civilian as he can. As Brother's fronts go, it's a pretty harmless one.
That day, though, I could see him sneaking curious glances out of the corner of his eye at each office door we passed as we walked down the hallway. I didn't blame him. Every single one had an identical piece of paper taped on it, with the merlion caduceus symbol of the military surgeon general printed at the top and an official-looking seal stamped at the bottom. In between was a lot of typed text, which I could see Brother sternly forcing himself not to go over and read.
It was just as well that Colonel Mustang's door had an official paper of its own. I think Brother would have wasted a lot of time trying to deviously maneuver his way into knowing what was going on if he hadn't been handed that easy out. Or, you know, kept it up until he had a minor aneurysm from the curiosity.
He did, of course, roll his eyes dramatically to make sure anyone in the hallway knew what a pain this was before he paused with his hand on the doorknob to eagerly read the paper. Oh, Brother.
I read from behind him. It's awkward being so much taller than him most of the time, but it is nice to have a good angle from which to see things. Brother tends to not think much about whose sightline he might be blocking when he's focused on getting a good look at something.
He's also a very fast reader. "The hell?" he yelled, before I was two-thirds down the page, and shoved the door open, barging into the office as usual. I also wasn't surprised to hear the familiar thump of him planting his hands solidly on the Colonel's desk. "What do they mean, 'report to the infirmary'? I'm not sick!"
I debated trying to finish reading, but I figured I'd get just as good an explanation if I listened for a few minutes. Besides, in a mood like that, Brother tended to eventually need restraining. I followed him inside.
Colonel Mustang was just looking up from his paperwork with a long-suffering expression. "Neither are Breda or Havoc," he pointed out. "Yet, in your no-doubt meticulous examination of that notice, you may have come across their names as well. In fact, they have already reported in, and if you want to leave headquarters on time today, you really should do the same."
"Why?" Brother demanded, with his eyebrows knitted up in irritated confusion. "I already had my physical this year!"
The Colonel sighed wearily and leaned back in his chair. "So have Havoc and Breda," he said. "Don't ask me to explain it, Fullmetal. I keep tabs on most areas of headquarters, but the infirmary has remained outside of my notice. Though I may amend that practice if it makes a habit of abducting half of my staff," he added thoughtfully.
"So what am I supposed to do about it?" Brother asked.
"Try investigating it yourself, Fullmetal," the Colonel suggested blandly. Sometimes I think Brother's bluntness is an affront to him on principle. He seems to enjoy sidling around questions the way some people enjoy a favorite hobby. "For example, by reporting immediately, so that I can check you off and call at least this sheaf of papers completed. Dismissed."
Brother made a medley of sputtering noises and no movement towards the door, let alone any sign of removing his hands from the Colonel's desk. Recognizing the signs of him working himself up for a long argument on principle—the grinding teeth is always a good cue—I caught him under both arms, gave the Colonel my best attempt at an apologetic look, and helped Brother firmly out of the room.
It wasn't hard to find the infirmary, even though I'd only been there once or twice myself, accompanying Brother to his yearly physical. (He needs a lot of accompanying sometimes.) There was a line of soldiers in uniform stretching halfway down the hall, chatting and looking bored while they waited to enter the main office. Second Lieutenant Havoc was already there and must have been for a while, since he was just being ushered inside by an orderly as we walked up.
"Oh, look, Brother," I said, waving hello across the hallway. "It's the Second Lieutenant."
"Yeah, great," Brother grumbled, wrenching free of my other glove. "Lemme go for a second, Al, I can get in line myself."
I followed him anyway. It's always better to have someone who knows him on hand when Brother enters a doctor's office. For someone who's been through as many major surgeries as he has without turning a hair, he's awfully twitchy about minor procedures.
The line was moving along pretty quickly, and Brother was even more or less behaving himself for once. We were a few places from the office door when the Second Lieutenant came out again. He had his uniform jacket slung over his shoulder, and the only sign of injury or illness I could spot on him was a patch of gauze taped on his left arm, just visible at the hem of his undershirt sleeve.
"Hey, Boss," he said, giving Brother a broad grin and lounging conversationally in the doorway. The Second Lieutenant is really friendly, not the kind of person I expected to meet in the military at all. Someone inside the infirmary made protesting noises, and he obligingly shifted out of the way to let her pass, then went back to lounging. "Guess they hauled you down here too, huh?"
Brother snorted. "Yeah, you think? What's going on, anyway?"
"Ehh, s'far as I heard, some private in the barracks came back from vacation leave with something contagious, and the brass is running in circles trying to test everybody who might have got it so they can keep it contained." The Second Lieutenant twirled one finger in the air, I suppose to illustrate the frenzied scurrying of his commanders.
"But I don't live in the barracks," Brother said, frowning up at him suspiciously. "Neither do you. Why aren't they just testing the people who were in close proximity?"
"Maybe they're trying to cover all bases?" the Second Lieutenant suggested. "'Sides, Fury's in the barracks, and Farman and Breda, and we work in the same office as they do. Coulda got it that way."
"If it's that widespread, then they ought to be testing everyone in the base, not a select list. And why isn't Fury here? Or Mustang?" Brother insisted. (I had a feeling that last one was what mostly annoyed him—the Colonel getting out of whatever this was.)
The Second Lieutenant opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, the conversation was interrupted by a loud throat-clearing noise, and he fell silent and moved quickly aside to make way for a bespectacled orderly with a clipboard.
"Major Edward Elric, S.A.," she droned, looking less than thrilled, and turned to lead Brother inside without checking to see if he followed. I suspected she'd be just as happy if he didn't. She must have had to help treat Brother before at some point. I gave the Second Lieutenant an apologetic shrug goodbye and made sure Brother did in fact follow, careful to duck under the doorframe as I did.
The staff was used to me shadowing Brother by then—somewhere on his chart there's probably a scribbled note to warn new orderlies and nurses not to worry about the very large person in the suit of armor—and they didn't protest when I followed him into the nearest of a row of small curtained-off cubicles.
"Major Elric?" asked the doctor waiting inside, the sleeves of his crisp white scrubs pushed back in a businesslike manner. I hadn't met this one before. He was broad-shouldered and slightly bald, with a placid, no-nonsense face that reminded me of the old bull that used to graze in a field halfway down the valley from our house. The orderly had left the cubicle the minute Brother was safely in it, so I hoped he was half as tough as the bull he resembled.
"Yeah," Brother agreed shortly. I could already see his shoulders tensing up. If the doctor did, he took no notice, directing him to take off his shirt and sit on the small metal examination table that filled up about half the cubicle.
I wished it was a little more spacious, as I took up about another quarter of it, even edged as far as I could go into the corner. The doctor didn't seem to mind that either. He was busy giving Brother a quick, impersonal examination that seemed just like a more cursory version of the one for the yearly physical. Brother sat uneasily on the edge of the table, gripping it with both hands; but he allowed himself to be peered at and gauged with assorted lenses and tools, put up with the usual baffled poke or two at his automail, and opened his mouth obligingly to have a light shone in at his tonsils.
After a few minutes of that kind of thing, the doctor nodded his satisfaction and flipped back through his clipboard to frown at a particular page. "So, Major, you haven't had your tuberculosis immunization."
Brother shook his head, his shoulders going from tense to downright rigid. "It was optional at my school," he said, and I smothered a laugh. 'School', if by school he meant the clapboard country building we'd spent two deadly boring years in before convincing all necessary adults that we were doing a better job educating ourselves; and 'optional', if by optional he meant that objecting students had the 'option' of kicking up such a hysterical fuss when the nurse came at them with a needle that their mothers had to take them home unvaccinated and in disgrace.
His euphemism satisfied the doctor, anyway, who made a note on his clipboard and set it down, then moved to a tray of instruments and began clattering them around in an efficient, preparatory way.
"You're, uh...not going to try and give it to me, are you?" Brother asked, nervously. The doctor shook his head, obviously missing the operative verb, 'try'.
"Oh, no, you're just getting the routine test," he said mildly. "Have to make sure the troops are healthy. Can't have an epidemic on our hands."
Brother relaxed a little at that reassurance, releasing his death grip on the table to lean back casually on his hands. He even put on his favorite devil-may-care look of confidence as the doctor wiped a patch of skin on his left shoulder with a disinfectant pad. "So how long is this test going to take?" he asked, very brave and composed now that no syringes were looming on the horizon. Typical Brother.
"Oh, just a second or two," the doctor said, and reached over to the instrument tray to pick up something cylindrical and a bit too large to hide in one hand. I caught a glimpse of glinting metal.
So did Brother.
"Waaaaaait a minute," he bleated, flinching right back into defensive mode. Brother has excellent reflexes under stress. "What the hell is that?"
The doctor frowned, and then proved without a doubt that he'd never been warned about Brother by flourishing the contraption out where his patient could easily inspect it. This was a very bad move. Even I had to admit the thing was ominous-looking, a shiny silver cylinder packing a spring-loaded plunger and six narrow sheaths, each one tipped with a sharp, glinting protruding point.
"It's a Haef gun," the doctor said, placidly.
I'm pretty sure I could see Brother's skin crawling up his neck.
"It's a needle gun," he corrected the man in tones of aghast trepidation, leaning away from it so hard that his knuckles went white on the edge of the table.
Apparently this doctor believed in a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact approach to aichmophobes. "Essentially," he agreed. "It's going to inject the tuberculin under your skin." That said, he started to move it toward the patch he'd just sterilized on Brother's arm.
This was a very, very bad move. Brother scooted back along the exam table, clamping his automail hand protectively over his bicep, his eyes wide and intently focused on those six wicked little points.
"Ohh, hell no!" he announced, with panicked fervor. "That thing is not injecting shit anywhere near me!"
The doctor, as it turned out, was as stubborn as Brother and had nowhere near his common sense; which is saying something. "Now then, it'll only hurt for a second," he insisted, making as if to push Brother's automail hand out of the way. Like that was going to happen. "You're going to contaminate the site if you grab it like that, and I'll have to resterilize—"
"NO!" Brother howled. I couldn't help remembering him as a panicky six-year-old on the school nurse's table. "Get the hell away from me!"
Growing up with Brother has made my sense of other-preservation as good as, if not better than, my sense of self-preservation. Like I said, I know the signs. Brother's eyes were wide with horror, his entire body was wound tight as a spring, and he was giving off the kind of frantic energy that you normally only feel in the air before certain kinds of lightning-storm. He was going to be leaping off that table and making a break for it any minute, and heaven help anyone who got in his way.
And, from the thunder of approaching feet, there were a lot of orderlies who were planning to do just that. They were responding faster than I remembered. I wondered for a second if Brother constituted an emergency drill of his own by now.
This was not going to end well, no matter what. And as the one who usually ends up cleaning up Brother's messes from this kind of thing, I really didn't want to deal with a trashed examination cubicle and a dozen battered orderlies; but things were moving in that direction really quickly.
Luckily for almost everybody involved, there was an expert on hand. And Brother, as that expert doesn't need to remind you, has excellent reflexes under stress.
"BROTHER!" I shrieked, sudden and sharp, putting as much fright into my voice as I could. It wasn't hard to do, considering the potential mess I was going to be left with if this failed.
And, as I'd been hoping—as it nearly always does when I scream that name in that way—Brother's head whipped around instantly, his grip on his arm and the approaching needles of death both forgotten for a split second as he instinctively looked to see what was threatening me.
For all his faults, the doctor was at least quick on the uptake. He seized the moment of distraction like a pro, shoving Brother's hand out of the way and bringing down the plunger with lightning speed...
"I hate doctors," Brother grouched, as we strolled out of the infirmary a few days later, rubbing the ink-circled spot on his arm that had just been pronounced harmless. "Especially military doctors. Bunch of goddamn backbiting obnoxious sadistic..."
"Whatever you say, Brother," I said, carefully neutral. He'd eventually moved on from cursing me in particular to cursing everyone responsible for his 'stabbing' in general over the last few days, and I was enjoying the change.
"...crazy vicious sneaky malpracticing quacks..."
"At least you're not sick," I pointed out, trying to cheer him up.
"Hurray," he grumbled. As luck would have it, Second Lieutenants Breda and Havoc picked that interval to come around the corner and spot us.
"Hey, Boss!" the taller officer called amiably. "How'd you come up?"
"Clean," I said cheerfully. Brother glared at me again; he wasn't speaking to the Second Lieutenant at the moment. I think he was still mad at him for not giving him a warning.
"Hey, let's see your war wound," Breda teased, chuckling. "You know, I think you bellowed your way into military legend, Major. They're talking about it all over the headquarters...'The Shot Heard 'Round The World,'" he quipped, grinning wickedly.
"Piss off," Brother snapped, quickening his stride. Their laughter followed him down the hallway, and I hurried in its wake, trying to catch up.
"You know, Brother, they're only being friendly. They were just as bad when they found out the Second Lieutenant is afraid of dogs, remember?"
He gave me a baleful look over his shoulder—hazel eyes are really designed for that kind of thing, ask any cat—and continued to storm down the hallway. "Who the hell cares? All that hassle, and it was totally pointless!"
Remember when I said my sense of other-preservation is sometimes better than my sense of self-preservation? Here's a textbook example. That obvious pun that just occurred to you?
Mmyup. It just kind of slipped out.
And I had barely finished saying it, when Brother's head ricked instantly around on his neck to pin me with a look that promised ultimate tribulation, and possibly flaming death.
That deficient sense of mine finally kicked in.
Just for the record, running is not usually the best way to get away from Brother in a rotten mood. He's got a lot of energy packed into his frame, thanks to years of endurance training provided half by Sensei and half by having about fifteen kilos of metal bolted to him, which means he can chase you for pretty much forever. I've gotten the whirlwind tour of plenty of places with Brother on my heels.
But, y'know, there's one major perk about being sealed to a suit of armor...
You never, ever get tired.
And wow, did I see a lot of Central that day.