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Note from Sol: when this story was entered, there was a question of whether it best fit as het or non-het. After some discussion, it was entered in both, and ending up sweeping the Non-het category and tying in the Het category. It remains a perennial Scimitar favorite.

girl_starfish

Must Like Cats


Hypothesis

Roy left his office in search of coffee, only to be arrested by the strange sight of Hawkeye and Havoc leaning over Hughes' shoulder, all in silent contemplation of a page of newspaper.

"What's so interesting?" Roy asked, surprised as his presence didn't even merit a salute.

"It appears our young prodigy has hit puberty," Havoc said with a grin so wide it was a wonder he still had his habitual cigarette.

"I say Alphonse wrote it. 'Must like cats—'" Hawkeye tapped the paper, nodding with certainty. "Alphonse is behind this."

"That part is most certainly Alphonse, but I think both brothers had a part in this." Hughes read aloud. "Experience in combat and metal work a bonus." He sighed over-dramatically. "That's our Edward —so practical even in matters of the heart!"

Roy had an inkling of where this was going but refused to believe it. "Matters of the heart?"

Havoc smirked. "They've put an ad in the personals, looking for a girlfriend. Hey, do you think we're going to have to set a curfew for them? And someone's got to give them the talk—"

"Unnecessary," Roy said decisively. "Edward's never given any indication he's realised girls exist. And Al would never embark on something like this without Edward's approval - I don't know what gave you the impression that this has anything to do with the Elrics but—"

"Tall girls need not apply," Hughes read aloud, without even the trace of a smirk.

Roy shut his mouth. "Right then," he said. "I'll get right onto that talk."

Hawkeye snorted, passing him the newspaper. "They need it. Honestly, 'companion wanted for cosy nights in and note taking?' Does he want a girlfriend or a secretary?"

Roy saw an opening. "Then perhaps you could have a few words with the boys, lieutenant? Since you know what they need to learn—"

Hawkeye gave him a cool look from the doorway that let them know she wasn't fooled a bit. "For this matter, I think a man is required, sir." Her tone implied that as none were present, they would have to make do.

Roy wondered how she managed to make even a salute sarcastic. "You're probably right. Havoc—"

"Goodness, is that the time? I'm meeting Ross at the range, I'll see you all later."

Havoc had never used the word 'goodness' in Roy's hearing before. As he contemplated the bold-faced desertion of his subordinate, Hughes patted his shoulder. "It's all right, Colonel. I'll do it."

"You will?"

"Of course!" Roy decided to ignore the fact that Hughes was showing an inappropriate amount of enthusiasm for the task. "You're a bachelor, Roy, and really, the talk should come from someone with a more secure love-life, someone who knows the ins and outs of a relationship, someone married—"

"You do have a point," the Colonel conceded with relief. "I'll send for the boys—"

"And besides, I have pictures!"

Theory

Which was how Roy Mustang found himself in his office a mere hour later, watching as Alphonse shifted nervously on his leather sofa, unsure about his presence in a military base. Beside him, Edward glared mutinously.

"Now," Roy started. "There comes a time when it is necessary for a young man to learn the facts of life—"

"We know the facts of life," Edward rolled his eyes.

Alphonse nodded in agreement. Shyness at finding himself in the Colonel's office made his voice even more timorous than usual. "35 litres of water, 250 grams of salt, 80 grams of sulphur—"

"Not those facts of life. The other facts of life." Roy was beginning to wish he had left this to Hughes. "Growing up in a farming village, I'm sure you're already acquainted with the birds and the bees—" Roy looked at their blank faces with a sense of hopelessness. "Baby animals?"

The brothers shared a look.

"The Parkers kept bees," Alphonse said in a puzzled tone to his brother. "And the Rockbells used to have chickens, but I really don't see—"

"Maybe it's code? I mean, facts of life-wait, I've got it! He wants to tell us where babies come from."

Alphonse laughed. "Oh, Colonel Mustang, we already know that."

"You do?" Roy said, hopeful.

"We were then when Alicia was born, remember?" Edward flung his good arm over the back of the sofa, relaxing as the situation became something he could handle. "We know all about babies."

There was a metallic scrape as Alphonse nodded. "Mommies and Daddies make them."

Roy who had been about to smile in relief paused. There was something about the way Alphonse said that—

"I still haven't figured how the baby gets inside though. Chemical reaction, do you think, Al?"

"But non-alchemists manage it all the time, so . . ."

"Must be something that occurs naturally then."

Just as he'd feared. This time Roy did massage his temples. "Actually," he said. "That's what we need to talk about." He took a deep breath and started again. "I'm sure you've noticed that, as time passes, your bodies are changing—" His gaze slid from Al's blank stare to Edward's hostile one—'make my brother sad and you're history, Colonel' —and sighed. He tried again. "As you grow up—"

Edward, predictably, exploded. "Who are you saying is overdue a growth spurt?"

"Niisan! Calm down!" As Alphonse restrained his brother, Roy pondered the wisdom of letting them believe procreation happened through a chemical reaction. However, he had not become Colonel by taking the easy option.

He made one more attempt. "I hear you're looking for a girlfriend."

Alphonse stopped stock still, Edward slipping from his grasp. This was okay, because Edward had stopped struggling. He'd also shut up.

Roy would have to remember this.

Feeling in control once more, he smirked at the brothers. "Well?"

Edward and Alphonse exchanged a glance and then Edward picked himself off the floor, massaging his shoulder in a way that was supposed to be nonchalant. "Maybe," he hedged.

"Maybe?" Roy raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah," Edward sprawled on the couch. "So maybe we've been researching the matter—"

"The National Library didn't seem to have much helpful stuff though. Neither did the branch libraries—"

"Doesn't help that all the books on tantric sex were on the top shelf. What, does sex have some kind of height restriction? You must be this high to have a girlfriend?"

"You could have used a step, Niisan."

"I DO NOT NEED TO USE A STEP TO REACH BOOKS."

"Of course not, but you could have asked me to get them down—"

"Al, you're missing the point. The point is that—" Edward paused and tried to remember what the point was.

This gave Roy time to intervene. "You researched girlfriends in the National library? The National alchemist library?"

"We used other sources too," Edward said defensively. "We're not stupid."

"Newspapers," Alphonse offered. "And we've been making observations. We came up with the formula last week."

Roy wasn't sure he wanted to know, but he asked anyway. "Formula?"

"These are the ingredients for our girlfriend." Alphonse removed his helmet, and fished around inside his armour to draw out a list.

Roy took it with a frown. "Ingredients?" Surely they weren't thinking of transmuting a girlfriend —hadn't they learned that lesson?

"Maybe 'necessary prerequisites' is a better term," Edward said, carefully not watching his brother reattach what served as his head. "You know, stuff she's got to have—"

"This is a long list," Roy said, as it unfolded, reaching to the floor and then some. "A very long list." He scanned it briefly. Cute, not fussy, good with spanners , sings while she cooks, knows how to peel apples, non-violent —he looked from the list to the brothers. "What's wrong with Winry?"

"She's cute and all but—" Alphonse sighed. "She's like a sister."

"A freaky, violent sister—"

"She's nice to me—"

"Yeah, but you've always been her favourite." Edward slouched. "Anyway, Winry's definitely out of the question."

"You've already tried?" Roy was intrigued. Forget professional concern, this was interesting. "Did she turn you down?"

"She's allergic to cats," Edward said bluntly.

Allergic to . . . ? Roy opened his mouth to point out that surely if she was Edward's girlfriend that wouldn't matter so much, but the way Alphonse hesitantly rubbed his metal arm, and Edward's sullen expression proved that it did matter. Apparently, getting a girlfriend was, like everything the brothers did, a joint project.

"Ah," he said intelligently. "Well, then—"

"Colonel, how do you find the right woman?"

Roy was taken aback both by the faith in Alphonse's question, and the earnestness of the armour staring trustingly at him. How the hell did he manage that expression?

"Please tell us! You must know —I mean, everyone's always saying you've got a way with girls, and you have a new date every week—"

"Idiot," Edward snorted, resting his boots on Roy's sofa. "If he's so good with women, why does he go through them so quickly? He wouldn't need so many girlfriends if he knew what he was looking for."

His reputation as the greatest lady-killer the military, or indeed Central City, had ever seen had just been summarily dismissed by someone who was barely legal?

Ouch.

"There's a lot to be said for a policy of no attachments—" Roy said, running his hands through his hair and flashing Edward a charming smile.

"Uh-huh." Edward clearly did not believe him one bit. "I bet the Colonel never thought of making a list."

Well, he hadn't, but that wasn't the point. "A list isn't going to help you find the right girlfriend! Love isn't something that you can predict or cause —you meet someone you like, say the right lines, and if she likes you, she says them back, and then it's dinner and drinks somewhere and you go back to her place for coffee—"

"None of our sources mentioned lines, Niisan."

"Blackwood mentioned something about lines in his fifth treatise, but in respect to arrays—"

Roy massaged his temples and counted to ten. "Edward. Alphonse. This is not an alchemical matter. Stop thinking like alchemists and think like humans. That is an order."

"I'm not military—"

"I don't care."

Alphonse eeped and shut up.

"Look, there is no way to meet the right girl, no perfect solution out there. Chances are you'll find someone you like and who likes you, but it takes a lot of trial and error, and really, at your age the most you should be worried about is scoring."

"Scoring?"

"Fullmetal, tell me you're not taking notes."

Edward clutched the notebook defensively. "Its not like there's a lot of sources out there—"

"Will you listen? There are no sources! None! The only way to learn this is to go out and do it for yourselves!" Roy had lost patience. "Talk to girls! Kiss a couple! Find out what you like and stick with it! Now get out of here before I make something explode!"

The brothers didn't move. Alphonse tilted his head pleadingly towards Edward, who looked about to argue, then changed his mind. With a sigh he turned back to Roy.

"You going to give our list back or what?"

Research

Safely out of military headquarters, the Elric brothers panted, leaning back against the compound wall.

"That was close."

"Says you. Man, I hate to say it, but there are times when I kinda wish I had your armoured skin, Al."

"The Colonel gets scary sometimes, doesn't he, Niisan?"

"Yeah." Edward hadn't quite recovered his breath yet, but already his mind was at work, turning over possibilities. "He said there were no sources, right?"

"Yeah." Alphonse waited. "Does this mean we're going to be the first to research this?"

"Apparently so," Edward shrugged, trying to remember what the Colonel's words after that had been. Go out and kiss some girls? They didn't want kisses, they just wanted a girl —although, something about that thought—

Maybe Mustang was right. Maybe some practical tests were required—

"Come on, Al. We're going to need a new plan."


The Elric brothers were nothing if not dedicated to their projects. It wasn't a day later that operation 'First Kiss' was launched.

From careful conversation with Hughes and the browsing of a few romance novels one of the librarians stashed under the issuing desk for her lunch breaks, Alphonse and Edward had gathered that first kisses were meant to be special. Further research suggested kisses meant more if you had an attachment to the person already. There weren't that many girls they knew, and Winry was definitely out of the question.

However, there was one who fit the criteria of being capable, knowing them already and having long hair. She even had the added bonus of being old enough that she should have experience with kisses. Edward was sure this was a good thing. After all, it should make the research easier if the other person knew what they were doing. On the minus side, it was hard to imagine Lieutenant Hawkeye in an apron, and there was the matter of her height.

Research suggested that asking a girl to stand still while you found a chair to stand on was not romantic, and Edward had thrown a book at Alphonse when he suggested platform shoes. In the end, they decided on a more subtle approach.

Practical.

Lieutenant Hawkeye looked up at the sound of shifting metal and smiled a greeting. "Alphonse, Edward, what can I do for you?"

The two of them exchanged a look, and then shrugged. "We were wondering if you'd mind if we sat with you," Edward said carelessly, scuffing a boot against the mess hall floor.

"Pull up a seat," Havoc said, doing so. "You don't need permission to sit with us, you know."

Hawkeye nodded, trying to remember if she'd seen Alphonse in the mess hall before. Probably not as he wasn't technically military —and why on earth did he need a tray? It wasn't like he'd be eating anything. Maybe it was for Edward?

"Thank you," Alphonse said, sounding very flustered as he sat in the chair Havoc drew out for him. The chair was slightly too small for his armour and as he shifted he knocked against the table, sending a salt shaker off the edge. It rolled to land near Hawkeye's foot and she lent over to pick it up.

Edward lent over at the same time, and as she straightened up, he placed a hand on her shoulders, fluidly pulling her into him. Hawkeye had just enough time to register surprise before hesitant lips brushed hers.

It was warm and unsure and so entirely unexpected that it didn't even occur to her to draw back. She may even, though she would deny it later, have sighed softly into the kiss, her eyes fluttering shut in a moment of weakness.

When Edward drew back, staring at her with eyes that were wide and awed, she couldn't even imagine what her own expression was like. She simply stared, trying to work out just what had happened —until the metallic squeak that was Alphonse shifting nervously drew her back to her surroundings: The middle of the mess hall.

At lunchtime.

With a good third of the Central Military present and staring at her with identical expressions of shock.

Edward saw her expression change and decided this was as good a time to leave as any.


Roy heard the gunshots, but they didn't really register. He was reading the Elrics' list again, trying to see if he could guess which brother had added which attribute and just why 'doesn't cheat at cards' was a quality worth having in a girlfriend.

What got his attention was Edward Elric ducking into his room without permission and transmuting the door into the wall.

"I wasn't aware we had an appointment, Fullmetal?" Roy drawled, putting the list away. This should be amusing.

Edward jumped. "Don't you eat lunch out of your office like everyone else?" he demanded, spinning round to glare at Roy.

"So you didn't come to see me? I'm hurt."

"Don't look so amused! This is all your fault!"

"My fault?"

There was a sharp knock on the . . . wall.

"Colonel Mustang sir? Is Fullmetal in there?"

"Actually, Lieutenant, he just left, via the window. Did you want him?"

"As a matter of fact, sir, I do. Which way is he heading?"

"He seems to be making for the dormitories. If you head for the infirmary, you might just be able to cut him off."

"Thank you, sir."

There was a distant thud, presumably the door shutting behind Hawkeye as she left the office.

Roy waited a few minutes more, then raised an eyebrow. Fullmetal had yet to emerge from behind the sofa. "What happened?"

"Research."

Did he want to know?

Curiosity got the better of him eventually. After a good quarter hour without Edward leaving his hiding place, Roy left his desk to see what he was doing. He should have expected him to be making notes.

"Research?"

"I took your advice. Go out and kiss girls, you said." Edward paused, looking up at him balefully. "You never said anything about firearms."

"Fire—" Roy blinked and then understood. "You kissed Lieutenant Hawkeye?"

"Yeah." Roy was treated to the rare sight of the Fullmetal Alchemist blushing.

"You kissed Lieutenant Hawkeye," Roy repeated faintly. "Lieutenant Hawkeye . . ." Lisa Hawkeye never kissed anyone! She'd ignored all of his lines for years and the one time Havoc had tried - well, he'd seen the x-rays and they were not pretty. "Lieutenant Hawkeye . . ." And Edward, Edward Elric, had just kissed her and there were no bones broken and since the wall of his office was still intact she couldn't be that angry. "Hawkeye . . ."

"You're starting to get repetitive, Colonel."

Roy blinked, realising that at some point Edward had stood up and was now eyeing him speculatively. For some reason, that look made him nervous. "Fullmetal," he began, and then Edward kicked him in the shins with his metal leg.

Roy gasped and doubled up in pain. "Fullmetal!" he gasped, clutching his shin. "Need I remind you that —mmph!" He was effectively silenced as Edward placed his hands firmly on Roy's shoulders and pulled him in for a kiss.

It was clumsy, true, and a little rough, but there was something in there of the fervency and drive that Edward was known for, something of the boy's zest for life and his hidden kindness and warmth. Roy was truly sorry when Edward let go.

"Huh," the young alchemist said with a frown. "Interesting." He opened his notebook.

Roy cradled his leg and tried to work out what just happened. "Interesting?"

"Yeah," Edward didn't look up, busy scribbling in his notebook. "I kind of expected kissing a guy to be, you know, weird."

"And it wasn't?" Roy touched his mouth absently, considering that. It hadn't been weird, a bit more forceful than most of his kisses, with the exception of that very confident barmaid over at the Horsefly Inn —now that had been an interesting evening . . .

"Not really. I mean, weird in the same way that kissing Hawkeye was, except that I didn't feel, well, melty after your kiss."

"Melty?"

"You know. Warm and dizzy and soft inside," Edward was blushing again, and trying valiantly to hide it. "I wonder if that means she's the better kisser?"

Roy straightened. This was the second time Fullmetal had cast doubt on his illustrious reputation, and this time Roy wasn't going to let it slide. "I believe it means," he purred, reaching for Edward. "That you didn't get the full experience of my kiss."


Hawkeye didn't see Edward anywhere, but sooner or later she knew he would return to the dormitories. It was only a matter of time. She leaned against the Elric brothers' door, and waited, shutting her eyes as she tried to sort out whether she was angry, concerned, or both.

She hadn't come to a conclusion when she heard heavy metal steps approach the door, pause, and then try to edge away quietly.

"Not so fast, Alphonse," she said, opening her eyes. "I want to talk to you."


They ended up in the park by the river a few minutes walk from the military sleeping quarters. The sun warmed the bench and a slight breeze whispered through the trees behind them and over the lazy river surface. Alphonse told her quietly about being homesick sometimes and lonely, though she mustn't say anything to Edward, not when he tried so hard to be everything to his younger brother. "Niisan's lonely too," Alphonse confided. "Even if he doesn't admit it. He misses her."

"Winry?" Hawkeye asked, thinking of the girl that was practically their sister.

Alphonse shook his head with a tinny echo. "Mother."

The Lieutenant was startled to feel something catch in her throat. "Is that what you're looking for?" Really, the bit of her mind that wasn't stricken with sympathy for the brothers said, do I look like a mother? I'm not that old, am I?

"No," Alphonse explained, leaning back to look at the clouds. "We can't bring her back and we can't replace her. And well, I always wanted a little sister —someone I could take care of like Ed takes care of me."

"And you think that if Edward got a girlfriend . . ."

Alphonse nodded. "He said we could share her. Obviously I can't hug anyone like I am now, but Ed said he would take care of that side of things, and she could keep me company when he's doing military stuff. We'd take turns, you see."

The Lieutenant was trying to think of the kindest way to tell Alphonse that this wouldn't work, but stopped at the expression on his metalled visor. He was just so happy—

"All I really want is to be a family again," Alphonse finished softly. "Wouldn't that be nice?" He looked anxiously at Hawkeye. "So please don't be mad at Edward. He did it for me—"

"I'm not mad at him," Hawkeye said and she wasn't. "Just surprised." She leaned back, watching the clouds too. "So I was his first kiss, huh?" Even if he was just a kid, and there would never be more than trust and camaraderie between them, it was nice to know she'd been chosen that way. It made her feel warm and special, something she hadn't felt since the day she'd been accepted into the military and had chopped off her hair without a second thought. It had grown back, but her feelings of youth and romance had never returned.

Alphonse nodded, and his expression looked rather wistful.

Hawkeye smiled, and leaned up to plant a gentle kiss over the metal visor where Alphonse's mouth should have been. As the younger Elric squeaked and turned pink, she pulled away. "You two do everything together, right?" she said with a smile. "Well, we can't let that brother of yours get too far ahead, right?"

She smiled as she returned to base, well satisfied with her efforts. It had been immensely gratifying watching Alphonse's armoured face turn red, even if she was quite sure the mechanics of it were impossible. Humming softly, she went looking for the Colonel, unaware that she left a trail of stunned soldiers behind her.

If a cool and collected Lieutenant Hawkeye was attractive, a smiling one was devastating.

Results.

Roy sighed as he knocked on the Elrics' dormitory door, thinking grimly of how Hawkeye had talked him into this. He was impervious to threats and blackmail, and had even managed to withstand that look of hers on several memorable occasions. But when she'd smiled at him—

No answer? Roy pushed open the door, finding the occupants of the room deep in conversation.

"—just slip cats into a conversation, Al. That's all you have to do."

"I couldn't!" Good heavens, was Alphonse blushing? Chalk up another alchemical marvel to Fullmetal. How on earth did he manage that? Roy shut the door behind him.

"You ask her, Niisan!"

"What, do I have to do everything?"

As Roy followed Edward's voice across the room, he got another surprise. The Elrics had been granted one of the newer dormitory units thanks to their long hours at the base, and it included, as well as the bedroom, a small kitchen-living room space, complete with basic cooking facilities and sink. That wasn't surprising.

What was surprising was that Edward was at the sink, washing dishes, wearing an apron over his black tank top. An apron. And he had his hair down.

"Look, Al, she already has a puppy—" Edward turned around at the sink, waving a scrubbing brush and froze as he saw Colonel Mustang leaning against the door. Alphonse spotted him at the same time and the room fell deathly silent.

"If you're wondering," Roy said slowly, wondering at the surrealism of it all, "whether Lieutenant Hawkeye likes kittens, I imagine the best person to ask would be Maes Hughes. There is a phone down the hall."

Alphonse brightened and glanced at his brother. "Niisan?"

"Sure," Ed's suspicious glance did not budge from the Colonel. "But I'm not the one who's going to listen to Hughes spew nonsense about Alicia's first tooth, got it?"

When the metallic tread of Alphonse's steps were no longer in hearing, Edward turned back to washing the dishes, his back taunt and wary. "What do you want?"

Admitting that Hawkeye had sent him there to talk to the brothers was probably not the best thing to do. "You left your notebook in my office. The list too." Roy took them out of his jacket.

"Thanks," Edward said grudgingly, still not looking at him.

Roy hesitated, then stepped closer. "Edward—"

"What?" Edward jumped as a gentle hand suddenly rested on his flesh shoulder.

"Did your mother wear her hair down?"

"None of your business!"

"She did, didn't she? She probably sang as she washed up, wearing her apron—" Roy blocked Edward's furious swipe easily. "Calm down Fullmetal!"

"Mother is none of your business!"

Roy surprised both of them by pulling Edward into a tight hug. "Edward," he said, stroking his fingers gently through hair that was surprisingly soft. "It's not enough to be older brother and father to Alphonse, now you have to be mother as well?"

Edward stayed tense in his arms, until suddenly as if Roy had unlocked something inside him, he fell into Roy. Fingers curled in the Colonel's jacket and Roy mused on that, the greatest admission of need he'd even seen Edward show. He'd often marvelled at the boy whose pride would never allow him to seek help, to trust anything other than himself or his alchemy, but he'd only ever guessed at the cost. Even such a small gesture cost Edward, and Roy wondered if he would ever tell him how much it meant to see it.

Edward mumbled something incoherent, hiding his face against Roy's chest. The Colonel thought he caught the words 'my fault' and gently rubbed Edward's shoulders.

"Edward," he said softly, and with more gentleness than Edward had ever known in his voice. "You don't have to do this alone."

As the youth blinked at him in surprise and incomprehension, Roy smirked. "I'm not allergic to cats," he said. "I have been known on occasion to hum while I cook, and I'm familiar with the basics of mechanics. I'm not fussy, am exceedingly attractive, and I would consider wearing an apron for you and Alphonse."

Edward stared at him with eyes that could not be wider. "Colonel?" He squeaked as Roy ran a gentle finger down the side of his face.

Roy smiled, savouring Edward's expression. "Of course, it's too bad about the height difference, but I don't see a way around that—"

He should have been expecting the kick to his gut.

Conclusion.

If Alphonse was surprised, when he returned, to find the Colonel at the sink, wearing Ed's apron and finishing the dishes, while Ed, his hair now in a plait and the tips of his ears suspiciously pink, ignored him, he didn't comment. And although he spent the next month blushing whenever he saw Lieutenant Hawkeye, he never asked her about cats. He didn't have to.

Roy Mustang might not have been the perfect girlfriend, but he was close enough.