Set during the Golden Era of the Weimar Republic in Berlin, in a cabaret nightclub. I have derived the title from a fantastic exhibition at the Met a few years ago of Weimar-era paintings.
My sincerest apologies for any errors in the French and German language contained herein; I am not fluent in either language, and though I did my best to have them checked, unfortunately, time grew short.
One could hardly fail to feel patriotic whenever Solaris performed. 'Lust' had been Solaris' nickname among the cabaret's staff since she joined up, and a perfect Lust indeed she was.
Die Wacht am Rhein wasn't really anyone's usual idea of a cabaret number, but Zinnsoldat wasn't really anyone's usual idea of a cabaret, either. It liked to make the most of its military background. Fortunately, with her onstage it all came together nicely. Dressed in mock-uniform, the jacket painfully tailored so her breasts all but spilled out over the low top and straining its polished brass buttons, the pants altered into a tight and slitted skirt that offered the patrons closest to the stage more than their money's worth if they managed to look up at the exact right moment, she was a an image of German military that anyone would be happy to salute. With hands or otherwise. In fact, most of the hundred or so patrons crammed into the dark, smoke building were doing just that.
"Durch Hunderttausend zuckt es schnell!" 'Through hundreds of thousands it twitches quickly,' Lust sang, delivering the line with a lascivious thrust of hips and quiver of bosom that brought the cheering of the house to its highest peak yet. The proprietor of this little club took note of that, and a slow, wide grin spread across his face, sending the cigarette clamped between his teeth waggling toward the far corner of his mouth. He wore upscale but casual dress clothes and a habitual military haircut, cropped close in the back but with a mop of unruly bangs in the front that he could never keep orderly, no matter how often he clipped them. This man, Jean Havoc by name and former second Lieutenant of the ill-fated Army of the German Empire, had both a good ear for applause and a good idea for the kind of goods Solaris was so keen to display.
"That's some kind of woman we got up there, old friend," he said around the cigarette to the heavyset red haired man, one Heymans Breda, Havoc's former comrade in arms and current partner in business, sitting beside him at their usual private table. "We've got half of Berlin in here just for a glimpse of her."
Havoc felt a slight pressure against his chest and looked down. Breda was nudging him, mirroring Havoc's own smile.
"Ashes, Havo," he scolded, using the old nickname only he could get away with. "You'll set your lap on fire if you aren't careful." He pointed to a small ashtray he'd laid on Havoc's lap earlier in the evening. Havoc had understandably forgotten about it; in addition to being blindsided by the success of his show, he couldn't feel it there.
It had been Breda who'd suggested opening the nightclub in the first place. They'd met up in a Berlin soldier's hospital not long after their country admitted defeat in the Great War. It was the first time they'd seen each other since Havoc had been pulled from the front lines a year before with twenty pounds of British shrapnel scattered in the skin below his ribcage. Havoc was still in the hospital on extended recovery. Breda was having a poorly mended bullet wound to the thigh that had festered more professionally attended. By the grace of God, they were in adjoining beds in their ward, and it hadn't taken them long to catch up. After all, they'd been fast friends since the first day they'd pulled on their boots and strapped on their arms for Deutschland.
"Don't know what I'll do when they finally let me out," Havoc had said one night, after the nurses had finished rounds—administered the last doses of medications, performed the last bed checks, and offered the last chance for men like Havoc who couldn't raise themselves from the low, saggy hospital cots to piss into handheld metal urinals—and shut off the lights and left them all to try to sleep in the overcrowded, uncomfortable room.
"Not going home?" Breda's voice in the dark, low and gravelly as he tried to keep their conversation private, had been as familiar and comfortable in a way the hospital staff's brusque condolences never were.
"What's the point? Ma made it back to France; even if I could get a visa, you think they'd take me? Besides, she can't handle me on her own. She's so tiny; she couldn't lift one of my arms. Better if I stay here. Berlin has plenty of crippled soldiers; it won't notice one more."
"Got a place lined up to stay?"
"How about money?"
"Some. Never had a chance to touch what my dad left me... why?"
"You still like music and big beautiful titties, Havo, old friend?"
And good old Breda, ever the strategic mastermind, even off the battlefield, had predicted the cabaret craze that suddenly sprung up in a war-torn and fun-starved Berlin in time for them to use what remained of Havoc's inheritance to secure a long-term lease on a little building and renovate the ground floor into a small stage, complete with a tiny bar. Breda, a real genius with numbers, took over the financial and business aspects, leaving Havoc, with his friendly nature and eye for beautiful ladies, take over the hiring and artistic aspects. Zinnsoldat, they named it, the Tin Soldier, in reference to their former service and in acknowledgement of their current uselessness. Suitably ironic, Breda said, and as usual, he was right. The cabaret was a rare spot of success in the early Weimar republic, and as the nightlife culture in Berlin began to blossom and spread, their little place earned a permanent place on the tip of everyone's tongue. It was one of the places everyone wanted to go.
"I wouldn't be the only one with his lap on fire," Havoc said, returning Breda's quip and making his partner laugh. "You can practically smell the men getting hot for her..."
"The women, too," Breda grinned, motioning to his right where a few members of their small but notable regular lesbian clientele sat, sipping drinks and puffing cigarettes. Onstage, Lust was drawing breath for the final stanza, her breasts swelling out around the straining fabric of her uniform jacket.
"I can smell the women. No practically about it. Drink?" He slopped another dollop of Steinh�ger from the earthenware bottle on their table into Breda's empty glass. "I can smell out pussy at forty paces."
"I've heard that rumor," said a measured, feminine voice behind them, catching Havoc by surprise. "Pity it doesn't seem to pan out."
"Now, now, Lady Hawkeye," Breda said, as Havoc swiveled his head to check the voice's source. "You can spare Havoc the lectures. Little French country boys like him can't be expected to boast our same level of big-city German refinement."
"Well, he's a Berliner now, he should act like one." The speaker was indeed Riza Hawkeye, one of Berlin's most notable journalists. Deceptively beautiful, with her short blonde hair, huge brown eyes, and perfect classical hourglass figure, she was no one's quiet little lady. Her eyes were sharp and her pen like a gun; fast and ruthless, it took down whoever she aimed it at, and many of Berlin's more corrupt citizens lived in perpetual fear that the so-called "eyes of the Hawk," which seemed to see and take note of everything, would feature them in an article and bring them to ruin. In fact, she did most of her investigation by patronizing cabarets like this one, where ties got loosened and talk flowed as freely as the liquor.
"That is how Berliners act," Havoc replied, gripping the wheels of his chair to roll himself slightly out from their table, making room for Hawkeye. She'd been a patron of theirs since their very first show, and was now a friend to both men. "Haven't you noticed? Look at how we make our money. Don't build yourselves up so high." He gave her a friendly kiss on the cheek as greeting and turned to pour her a drink as Breda gave her the same.
"No Rebecca tonight?" Breda asked, eyeing the mingling crowd at the door for a glimpse of Riza's frequent companion.
"No Maria?" Havoc tried, and scanned the crowd hopefully. Maria Ross was his favorite of Riza Hawkeye's small group of girlfriends; not only was she clever, interesting, and athletic, her dark hair and faintly olive skin made a nice counter to Riza's fairness when the two women kissed. A picture for an artist to paint, were the pair of them.
Much to his disappointment, he saw no one he knew but two of Lust's siblings, whom the Zinnsoldat employed as bouncers. They were both round, fat men, as different from their elegant sister as night from day. Sloth, as they nicknamed the larger of the two, was lazing by the door, cracking his enormous knuckles slowly and ominously, while the smaller, whom they'd dubbed Gluttony, was munching idly on a sausage from a nearby outdoor stand. He made a mental note to reprimand the man for eating on the job, then immediately dismissed it. Gluttony did nothing unless Lust herself ordered it of him. Not the brightest of the bunch, that Gluttony.
"I can have an evening to myself every once in awhile, can't I?" Hawkeye asked, sliding into the chair Breda pulled up for her. She took a cigarette from the silver case in front of Havoc on the table and put it into her long holder. He lit it for her without being asked. "Anyway, I have a few things to go over with you, if you'd forgotten. Otherwise I'd be at the Kit Kat by now."
"Oh, Riza, don't you love us anymore?" Havoc said, doing his best to put on a hurt expression. "You haven't even stayed long enough for the men of the crowd to cheer Lust into unbuttoning her jacket."
"Nothing I haven't seen before," she said, smiling cryptically.
"Have you seen enough for me to be jealous of?" He returned, raising his eyebrows suggestively, as if he didn't already know she was joking.
"You're the one she fawns over. I hear her every time I come in. 'Oh Jean, tell me more funny stories. I can't get enough of your stories.'" Hawkeye rolled her eyes a bit. "Watch out for her; never trust a woman who flirts. It always means they want something."
"Well, you would know," Breda said, putting on an innocent smile and earning a face full of sharply exhaled smoke from Hawkeye. He coughed on it while Havoc laughed. "Anyway... ahem... something you wanted to go over, you say?"
"Yes, I—" But before she got the chance, Lust's final, brassy note was covered by the raucous applause of the rowdy patrons. Hawkeye closed her mouth, knowing further conversation was pointless until it died down a bit. It carried on, even as Lust vanished through the vomitorium in a ripple of luxurious black, wavy hair with a wink of one spectacular, violet-tinted eye.
She reappeared a moment later, not onstage but coming through the back hallway to the small doorway nearest Havoc and Breda's table, a sheer black robe thrown on over the corset and heels that would form the basis of her next act. She had a few minutes of rest in between, though; her brother had taken the stage. Not one of the two hulking brutes by the doorway; Lust was one of a brood of seven, and this brother took after his sister in the looks department. Greed was the nickname everyone knew him as, after the way he behaved offstage when wine and women surrounded him.
In fact, Havoc and Breda employed all seven siblings of this strange little family, all of whom had turned up out of the blue at the end of the war, as people often did in Berlin. It was their number, and the questionable nature of the cabaret business, that had prompted Breda, with his usual sense of mischief and humor, to offer them all their purgatorial nicknames. Besides Lust and Greed who performed onstage and the brutish Sloth and Gluttony at the door, there was the slim androgyne they all called Envy who tended the bar, called Envy because, while no one was entirely sure if the lithe little being was male or female (there was actually a long-running pool going on the outcome, and indeed, Envy did as much as possible to keep the conundrum alive, delighting in dressing as a man one night and a woman the next, wearing masks, wigs, anything to keep the patrons guessing) both sexes begrudged Envy his or her easy and alluring aesthetic. There was also Wrath, who worked out of the sweaty little catwalk near the ceiling, working lights and the stage's small fly system (he had a good eye for effects; indeed, the only eye he had, since one was obliterated by a mysterious black patch) and Pride, the youngest of the lot, who worked in the shadow of Marcoh, the cook in charge of the limited menu the Zinnsoldat served in the early evenings, peeling potatoes and running errands to the store for more bread and cheese. They were a mysterious bunch, but that was all right. One thing Havoc had learned early on; it was always better not to ask too many questions when you were running this kind of business.
"Here's the lady of the hour!" Havoc said brightly, as Lust appeared. Most of the audience's attention was already back onstage, where Greed was performing with another of the club's favored dancers, a young blonde woman named Martel whose numerous tattoos and peculiar, serpentine dances were famous in the Berlin underworld. Engrossed in watching the woman sway and swivel around Greed's body, she was able to sneak over to their table largely unremarked. Well, such was the way of life; to everything there is a season, as those more religious than he were apt to say.
"Jean!" She said, smiling her loveliest , and as always he felt the warm tightening in his throat. She was so lovely. He spent a lot of time wishing he'd known her before he'd been hurt, back when he'd been more than half a man, but of course even he knew she wouldn't have passed him the time of day had he and Breda never founded such a successful club.
She arched her legs like a ballet dancer and lowered herself into Jean's lap, pressing thick, full lips briefly against his thin ones. He tasted the thin film of salty sweat from being under the hot lights and the waxy taint of her lipstick. One of her breasts pressed against his shoulder and he felt the hardened nub of one nipple.
"Lust," he said, emphasizing the nickname so everyone at the table laughed. He threw one arm around her shoulders, plucking at the neckline of her robe with one hand as he poured her a glass of the Steinh�ger. That glass emptied it, and he signaled toward Envy a the bar once he'd passed it over to her.
"How did the military number go over?" She asked, leaning appreciatively back into Havoc as she sipped the drink.
"I think you may need to come out of your shell, just a tad," Breda replied, dissolving her into sultry laughter.
"Jean? Any thoughts?"
"Perfect," Havoc returned, a wide, dopey smile sliding across his face. He tended to lose his poise around beautiful women and revert toward the shy, desperately awkward kid he'd been as a teenager, even after all these years. He tried to step on it before it went too far.
"Good," she said, and appeared to notice Hawkeye for the first time. "Riza, dear." She leaned over, gripping tight to Jean's shoulder, and kissed each of Hawkeye's cheeks, leaving faint smudges of lipstick that looked like blood. Hawkeye smiled politely, but Havoc noticed the smile looked rather false, as though pasted on. Unwittingly, he remembered her obscure little warning about women who flirt, and shoved it back out of his head. It wasn't as if he and Lust were married or anything. She just gave him the odd bit of extra attention and he just gave her the odd bit of extra money, totally off the books, from his own bank account. Not even Breda knew about it; it wasn't hurting anything.
There was a high clinking sound as a new bottle of Steinh�ger hit the table and then a loud groan.
"Would you lazy asses slide over and make room? I'm supposed to get my break when Greed goes on, and you slave drivers've had me working like a dog all day!"
These words came courtesy of Edward Elric, one of the cabaret's three waiters and its youngest; though he'd been cryptic about his age, Havoc placed him at no older than fifteen, and he was small for his age. Sometimes he also doubled as backup in during singing numbers, where he could hide halfway behind the band. In addition to being young, Edward was also short the usual number of limbs by half. He had a rudimentary prosthetic instead of a left leg that he maneuvered surprisingly well, and the long sleeves of his dress shirt hid a long length of metal piping held to the stump of his right shoulder by a complicated system of leather lacings. He was good at hiding it, though; he could balance his tray on the false "arm" and serve all the drinks one-handed so fast you never even noticed the discrepancy, and he moved around faster on his wooden leg than most people did on flesh ones. Havoc had met him at the soldier's hospital a few years ago, and hired him on the spot. A damn hard worker was the Elric boy, with a streak of independence a mile wide.
He lived in a small attic garret in the cabaret house, above the bedrooms where Breda and Havoc slept, with a younger brother, Alphonse. Havoc didn't know what kind of terrible accident had lost the kid his limbs (he'd asked only once, and gotten an obscure non-answer about a fire, and decided not to push it; again, it was always better not to ask too many questions) but whatever it had been, it had been even less kind to the younger brother, who was all but catatonic. He slept most of the time, and even when he was awake, he didn't talk, just stared soullessly out of confused, frightened eyes. He didn't seem to respond to much but animals, and he kept a little blue-and-white kitten in the garret for company when Ed was working. Havoc had only seen Alphonse a handful of times; he himself couldn't manage the attic ladder, and Alphonse didn't come down unless Edward brought him, and usually when he did, Havoc was already in bed. Still, he liked both boys, and it damn near broke his heart listening to Edward talk about "getting his brother back to normal" one day.
"Should be plenty of room for a little pipsqueak like you," Breda said, but moved over to let Edward sit beside him on the little banquet bench against the wall on the far side of the table.
"I'm taller than I look," Edward snapped, and Havoc knew at once that the boy must be damn near exhausted. He usually didn't take any perceived slight, real or imaginary, without getting in a couple of good lumps himself.
Edward collapsed onto the banquet, declined a drink of the Steinh�ger he'd brought over with a wave of his remaining hand, caught Hawkeye's glance and smiled. He'd always been partial to journalist. The blonde hair, Havoc thought. The kid seemed partial to blondes, if the photo of the young, smiling girl wielding a wrench at arm's length he sometimes pulled out of his wallet when he thought no one was looking was any indication.
"At least there's one bright spot at this table," he grinned. Hawkeye returned him a faint but utterly genuine smile. Havoc felt Lust stiffen a little under his arm. She did not like to be ignored.
"Edward hates watching you dance, Lust," Havoc said, smiling and nodding at Edward, hoping to make him deny that and in doing so remind him to pay her some attention. Unfortunately, as many of Havoc's tactics regarding the fairer sex did, it didn't work. Edward just offered a distracted shrug of his bad shoulder.
"I dunno; Envy had me working the tap and you know how I am with that. Likes to laugh at me when I spill the suds too, the sarcastic little fuckup. Didn't really notice what was going on onstage."
Breda, ever the strategist, sensed the impending disaster, glared meaningfully at Havoc to shut him up, and tried to head it off.
"The lady with the hawk's eye was just about to give us some news, if I remember correctly," he said, reaching around the sudden forest of arms about the little table to pour Lust another drink, offering her an charmingly rakish smile that soothed the broody look in her eyes. People didn't expect it of Breda at first glance, but he could turn on a species of endearing charm that almost always earned a positive response. "What is it, oh gunslinger of the written word? Political scandal? Tax corruption? Have you intuited a way out of our current economic slump?"
"Nothing so large scale," Hawkeye said, taking another sip. Edward reached over to refill her glass for her when she set it down again, and she gave him another little smile. The boy's ears pinkened slightly under his long blond bangs. "It's about your new overlord."
"Overlord?" Breda looked amused. "There's something grand, eh, Havo? I've always wanted an overlord."
"Your landlord, at least," Hawkeye continued, ignoring him. "Maes Hughes left him the lease to this building in his will."
"Will?" Lust said, her large purple eyes widening even further in surprise. "When did he die?"
"Where the hell were you?" Edward blanched. "It's been a month! They find the guy dead in a telephone box not two blocks from this place, and you're acting shocked? It was in all the papers; no clues, no motif, local lawyer just found dead!"
"I must've missed the news. How horrible for him. What about his family? How tragic."
"Off to Sweden, 's what I hear," Havoc supplied. He ran his palm over Lust's thigh, which was crossed over his wheelchair's armrest, liking the silky, slidey feel of the dressing gown over her skin. "His wife had family there; better for his little girl."
"Mmm," Lust said, shaking her head at the tragedy. "I see. So, we're ownerless? Are you going to buy the building around us, Jean? Keep us nice and safe forever?"
"We might rake in, but we're not that successful," Breda said. "No one in Berlin is that successful right now."
"He could've left it to you," Lust continued, glancing down at her long fingernails. "It's only our lot living here anyway. If he was content to take our rent, he could've—"
"Well, he didn't," Hawkeye said, cutting Lust off. "And with good reason. He was a very decent man. He's left it to an old friend of his. A man by the name of Roy Mustang."
There was a momentary lull in the conversation as they all struggled to see if that name made any connections in their mind. The sound of Greed and Martel singing, the piano plinking away, and the faint whoosh of the beer tap in the corner flooded their consciousnesses at the momentary hush.
"What the hell kind of name is Roy Mustang, anyway?" Edward finally asked. "Is that English? Going to have a bunch of limey fruits running the show in here?"
"I think his mother might've been English originally, but he was raised in France."
Breda poked Havoc's cheek from across the table. "Here that, Havo? French like you. We'll have more frogs around here than a pond in Paris."
Havoc smiled dutifully at the old joke. "I'm German now. How many legs does a man have to give up for the Fatherland before he's an official German?"
"Well Havo, how many more legs you got?"
"Just the one," he said, faking a loud sigh, taking one of Lust's elegant, long-fingered hands and using it to point down to his crotch. "Biggest one of the lot, too," he added over the loud chuckles from Breda and Edward.
"Shame it doesn't work," Lust said, with a soft little smile toward Havoc that made his chest feel odd. The laughter went to uncomfortable smiles. She spoke like that from time to time; little bursts of pointless cruelty, especially when those around her seemed lighthearted. He never understood it, but maybe such was just the way with impossibly beautiful women. Some kind of sense of humor he just couldn't fathom.
"Well," Hawkeye continued, clearing her throat to vanish the breath silence. "He's living in France now, I know. Some kind of low-profile government post."
"How did Hughes know this guy?" Edward asked. "He'd never left Germany! He told me so himself; almost as proud of that as he was of his little kid, the weirdo." His brash voice faded a bit near the end of the sentence, but he ended before he could let himself go too far and get too emotional.
"Herr Mustang was here for university years ago, at Humboldt, when our Hughes was. They met there." Hawkeye looked down into her drink for a moment, appearing to think deeply for a short moment. "I met him then, too."
"He was at Humboldt with you?" Havoc asked, and received a short shake of her head.
"He's older. He was a chemistry student of my father's." She gave them all a look that warned any questions on that front were strictly off-limits. Hawkeye's childhood was a nebulous void to all of them, and she liked it that way.
"You say you met him? This new...overlord...of ours?" Lust said, voice all honeyed silk, before anyone could think to cut her off. "How did you meet him? Were you friends?"
"He was a student of my father's." Hawkeye said firmly.
"Well, what's he like?" Havoc said quickly, banging a hand on the table to refocus attention. "Oh, sorry, Lust." Banging the table had caused a chunk of ash from the smoldering cigarette in his mouth to fall and spot Lust's gown with a dot of grayish white. He began to brush it away while she sighed in annoyance.
"Clever," Hawkeye listed, shrugging absently. "Very politically adept. Good at talking the talk, as they say. But he's very honorable, too. Quite likeable. I believe he served in the French military after he left Germany, and he writes me that he has a small government post now." A strange smile touched her eyes. "A bit hardheaded as well."
"Sounds like an asshole," Edward, himself famously hardheaded, remarked, and looked a bit put out when the assembled company laughed.
"And how does he look?" Lust grinned, displaying her mouthful of perfect, if a tad sharp looking, teeth. For a second, Hawkeye actually appeared to squirm under her gaze. Havoc blinked; sure he'd imagined it. He hadn't known Hawkeye to ever be out of the romantic company of other women; he'd been sure she wasn't the slightest bit interested in men. This Mustang character was shaping up to be a real turn up for the books.
"Handsome," she said, matter-of-factly and not missing a beat. "Exotic. Women like him."
"How interesting,," Lust purred, looking down at Havoc and smiling as though she knew something he didn't. Havoc gave her an affectionate smile in return.
"Well then," Breda said, "back to the business side of things; we've got this exotic hardhead with the background in political chemistry coming in to take us all over; when can we expect Herr F�hrer Mustang, and what are we going to do with him?"
"You can expect him on the eight-oh-seven train on Saturday next," Hawkeye said. "I wired him to let him know I'd meet him and bring him here. What you do with him is up to you, but from what I understand, he might be short on cash and the prudent thing would be to offer him a place to stay while he's here."
"Who isn't short on cash?" Breda mused, but he reached over to take Havoc's arm, distracting the blond man from the little ringlet of Lust's hair he'd been twirling through his fingers. "What you think, Havo? We could put him up."
"We have room," Havoc shrugged. "No one's using that room at the end of the hall, not since that Armstrong fellow and his sister moved out."
"Thank god they did," Edward murmured with a little shudder. "Every time he saw me, 'oh, Edward Elric! So tragically hobbled at so young an age! So caring for his young unfortunate brother! So dedicated to his bar training!' Enough to make you run for the hills."
"Shall I wire him he's welcomed, then?" Hawkeye asked. She reached for the little clay bottle again and found Ed pouring it for her before she could pick it up. "Thank you, Edward."
"Don't mention it."
"Yeah, go on and welcome our new overlord to the fold," Breda continued. "If he's going to be our new de facto leader, he may as well get to know us. How long will he stay?"
"He didn't specify. Not long, I think. If I remember correctly, Berlin didn't suit him well in the past."
"We'll get him to like it," Havoc grinned. "Anyone can get to like Berlin in the right set of company."
He didn't know why he was suddenly so ill, when he was usually the paramount of good health. It might've been simple motion sickness; after all, he'd been on and off trains for the better part of two days, trying to reach the old building his friend had left him. It might have been stress; a lot of effort had gone into the trip, settling up affairs now they were in between sessions in Assembly so he could be free for several weeks should the need arise, hiring someone to keep his apartment in order while he was away, trying to go through the necessary paperwork with an attorney over the little house he'd suddenly found himself in possession of. It might've been the long overdue detoxification after his long weeks of drinking. Or it might've been his pure aversion to ever setting foot in Germany again.
It had been a horrible shock to find that Maes was dead. It was days before Mustang felt himself again; he'd spent whole sleepless nights wondering back and forth through his little apartment, drinking steadily and wondering if things might have turned out better if he hadn't left Berlin. Of course, he'd had no choice; he hated Berlin, hated all of Germany, and if he hadn't gotten out when he did he would've ended up on the wrong side of the lines when the war hit, but... well, Maes had almost been enough. He'd been so close to enough that Mustang sometimes wondered if he really had been enough and he'd made a horrible mistake. And now, to be back there, knowing his friend was dead? In the very same building where they'd once lived together for all those long, delicious, deeply confusing months?
He'd tried to get Maes to come back to France with him. Of course, it hadn't worked. Say what you will about Germans, he thought, but they're certainly admirable in their patriotism. They'd sworn to stay close, but of course, distance does funny things to people, and the few times they'd seen each other in the flesh since his departure had all related to Maes' sudden intense desire to form a family. His wedding. The birth of his little girl. The little girl's christening, with Mustang as godfather. What a joke of a ceremony that had been; promising to steer the precious little thing in the righteous path of the Lord, and inside only counting the minutes until he could flee the country again, away from all the painful bursts of longing that every on of Maes' smiles that wasn't for him brought to his chest.
And now he was dead.
He took another sip of brandy. The headache from his recent bout of sobriety after the almost constant binge that had immediately followed the first wire from Berlin was back with full force. The rattling of the seating compartment around him wasn't helping much, either. German trains for you, he thought dismally. Substandard, slow, out of date. What a disaster of a country. He tried to remind himself why he was bothering going back in the first place. That little building. The first bedroom by the stairwell. He could've sold it off, quickly and painlessly, but he owed Maes more than that. He hadn't really left him the building, that was incidental. What he was really bequeathing his friend was a last chance to live through his memories of them.
Mustang gritted his teeth around a convulsive shudder in the back of his throat. He didn't want to embarrass himself by meeting Riza Hawkeye for the first time in all these years with vomit drying on his lap.
She was another tarnished bright spot from his few years in Berlin. So quick and lovely and fifty times smarter than even her genius chemist of a father in her own right. It still amazed him how abysmally wrong everything had gone between them; there was the taint of her father's death and his petty tyranny over them both, the guilt over Maes, the sexuality. They'd tried. They'd liked each other and they'd tried. It still amazed him that a man and woman could find it so impossible to be together, but they'd still tried, even when all he could see when the lights were out and he was pressed against her on her narrow bed were his roommate's strong arms and faint stubble, and she was pretending his hands were the softer, more elegant ones of her childhood best friend. At least between them, they'd had the sense to call it off before it went far enough to spoil their friendship. With Maes, he hadn't been so lucky.
The voice of a porter beside him, a tall young man with sweeping blond bangs and bright blue eyes, stirred him from his musings.
"Can I take your glass?"
Mustang looked down and realized he'd drained the snifter without realizing it.
"How far are we to Berlin?" He spoke in French without meaning to, and quickly corrected himself when the porter looked puzzled. The German felt brutal and rusty on his tongue; he hadn't spoken it in ages. He'd even taught Maes French, expanding on the other man's half-forgotten old boarding school lessons. They'd spoken it when they were alone; J'aime baiser votre peau, j'veux etre avec toi, j'veux t'baiser...
"Not far; half an hour." Said the young man.
"Then bring me one more glass."
The young porter nodded and went to fetch it. Mustang closed his eyes, knowing he was going beyond the medicinal effects of the brandy and edging back toward drunk, but he found he didn't care much. The burn of the liquor against his palate made the sickly feeling seem to pale.
By the time he was greeting Riza Hawkeye with a warm hug and several kisses to each cheek, his pale face was flushed and warm, the scent of brandy thick and burning on his exhales. He found it made him feel a good deal safer.
He nudged Breda, who had a bottle of good champagne all ready to uncork in honor of the occasion, and waved Hawkeye and their new landlord—Herr F�hrer Mustang, as Breda had not-so-amusingly taken to calling him—over. The boys began negotiating the heavy trunk up the stairs.
Lust was onstage along with her brother tonight ("racy as a train bound to hell," Breda had said, "but damned if the people don't love it...") along with several of the more popular dancers, all in various states of erotic dress, but Havoc felt her looking toward them, sizing the man up.
Mustang walked toward their table with a faint smile, looking back and forth around him at the club's interior. The black cloth hangings. The German flags. The scattering of tiny tables and the lights around the bar in the back. The painted tin soldier, the club's namesake, saluting from above the little proscenium. The dancers onstage in their black leather and white silk. Havoc fancied the man looked impressed, and that pleased him. He was proud of this place that he and Breda had put together out of a dusty old unused townhouse.
"Hello to Hawkeye and the new overlord!" Breda said, laughing and giving Mustang a jaunty little mock salute. "Herr F�hrer Mustang!"
"Don't mind Breda," laughed Havoc, seeing Mustang's expression go confused. "He likes jokes and he thinks he's funny. We tell him he isn't, but he doesn't believe us. Would you like a cigarette?" He was just lighting up a fresh one for himself, and offered the silver case with a friendly smile.
"Ah... thank you," Mustang said, reaching forward to take one and letting Havoc light it for him. "I don't usually smoke, but I think I will this time." His German came out sounding bizarrely clipped, reminding Havoc of a gate that hasn't been opened in so long it balks on its hinges at the first swing. The accent was good, thou; he'd been expecting something insufferably French that would lead to an insurgency of frog jokes at both their expenses.
"Always a good time to smoke," Havoc said, approvingly, and stuck out his hand to shake. "Jean Havoc. How do you like our cabaret? I'd stand up to greet you, but you'll have to excuse me." He knocked a fist against one large wheel at the back of his chair. "It's just not worth the effort."
"Havoc gave Germany his legs and they still didn't have the good grace to win us the war. Bloody ungrateful of them eh?" Breda said, ushering Mustang into a small seat beside Havoc, leaving Hawkeye a space across the table from him on the banquet bench. Havoc saw her give Mustang a light, reassuring touch to the shoulder before sitting down.
"You were in the army?" Mustang asked, sliding into the small space left him and sitting down.
"Both were," Breda grinned. "We both got as high as Second Lieutenant before we got tossed out. Everyone was in the army here. What about you, was it the same in France?"
"I was an army Colonel," he said, "though they kept me behind a desk most of the time. I finished my education at a military academy after I left Berlin." He shrugged a bit. "It's good for politics."
"So we have the brass here with us! We're moving up in the world, Havo, old buddy. Have you been to many cabarets, Herr Mustang?" Breda asked, reaching across the table to slide the ashtray in from of Havoc so it was between he and Mustang. "They must have some fantastic ones in Paris, if the rumors I hear about Parisian women are true."
"Ah, thank you... no, I'm afraid I'm rather new to the culture." Mustang tapped the ashes carefully and took another drag. He smoked like someone who had long ago given up the habit and was looking to take it up again. "It certainly seems exciting, though."
"How about Breda's rumors about the Parisian women?" Havoc said, with a racy smile. "Can you enlighten us further on those?"
Mustang's smile went a bit odd. "Ah, I wouldn't know, I'm afraid."
"No need to be cryptic; our Hawkeye told us how well you get on with the ladies."
Mustang offered her a strange look, which she answered with a cool smile.
"I told them how much women like you," she said.
"Ah." He looked vaguely more at ease. "Well, I suppose she told you right. Riza Hawkeye never lies, if she's still the same woman I remember. But a man likes his modesty, after all."
"Modesty, pshaw. Well, in any case, you'll have your pick here," Breda went on, gesturing around them. "The girls are beautiful here. Everything's beautiful here. The girls, the orchestra, the dried vomit on the street corners after last call... and the liquor, of course. The liquor is always beautiful." He reached for champagne bottle in its little ice bucket. "Shall we celebrate? Colonel Mustang?"
Mustang's smile widened. "Please. But call me Roy; the formality is just too—" a sudden surge of catcalls and wolf whistles drew his attention off the table and up to the stage. Lust had emerged from backstage in another mock-military getup, this one based on the same leather design as her fellows onstage, brandishing a riding crop. She began to "drill" the other girls and Greed in a burlesque-styled military march.
"If only the army were really like that," Mustang said, sending Havoc and Breda into peals of appreciative laughter. "Well. Libations all around?"
"Let's get to it," Breda agreed, but stopped suddenly. "Wait, we should show you an amusing little trick... ever seen a one-armed man uncork a bottle of champagne?"
Mustang, as is the case with most people, had not. So, a rather irate Edward was summoned from the bar, where he'd been pouring drinks while Envy ate dinner. He gave 'Herr F�hrer Mustang' a quick once over, seemed to decide he wasn't impressed, and quickly set about opening the bottle so he could get back to filling his many drink orders.
He had it down to a science. He'd slide his shirt collar over, just enough to demonstrate the handicap; the smooth, empty socket and the straps of the immobile prosthetic. He never did this otherwise; he preferred it if no one knew what he was missing. But he'd learned that by demonstrating it during this trick, he always at least tripled his tip. Once he'd given the customers that little glance, he'd tilt the bottle backward, leaning with it, holding it against his cheek with his empty shoulder, and place his hand backwards over the cork. The final motion was so quick even Havoc and Breda, who had hired him on the spot when they'd seen his little trick and had watched it a hundred times since then, had no idea exactly what it was, but the bottle always finished uncorked, foaming into the patron's glass with not even a drop spilled on the table, the cork caught neatly between Edward Elric's parted teeth. The impressed clapping of the table drowned out the sound of the liquor fizzing.
Havoc was surreptitiously slipping an extra fifty-mark note into Edward's pocket as he filled the rest of the glasses when Mustang spoke up.
"Those are chemical burn scars on your shoulder, aren't they?"
Ed spilled three drops of champagne. No one would've noticed at all, but Havoc and Breda eyed each other. Ed never spilled. It was a matter of pride with him that he was the best waiter in Berlin, missing limbs or no missing limbs.
"What makes you say that?" He said sharply, jamming the champagne bottle back in the bucket and clutching his stump protectively.
"I was in training to become a chemist, I know the pattern the burns leave. Were you in a lab accident? Your was father a chemist, maybe?"
Edward's large, catlike yellow eyes were slit in anger and glowing with mistrust.
"I've gotta get back to the bar," he muttered to Havoc. "If Envy gets back and finds out I let the orders pile up, we'll be punching each other our with the empty whiskey bottles again."
"Certainly doesn't take you long to antagonize the wait staff," Hawkeye remarked as Edward bolted off, the discrepancy in his limbs all the more notable in his hurry.
"I'm sorry," Mustang said, looking blindsided. "I didn't realize..."
"No worries, that's just Edward," Breda reassured. "He's just not himself if he isn't grumpy about something. To new overlords and grouchy underlings! Drink up!" The four clinked their glasses together.
The three Zinnsoldat regulars were barely a third finished with their glasses when Roy Mustang was pouring himself another, and he helped himself to a third soon after. Breda was signaling for another bottle of something, a whiskey this time, when Hawkeye leaned carefully over, taking a cigarette from Havoc's case.
"Try not to let him drink much more," she murmured, carefully concealing her words from Mustang. "He was practically staggering when he got off the train; I'm afraid he'll be sick if we let him carry on too far."
Havoc nodded, and reached over to grab Breda's hand companionably.
"Let's switch to beer," he said companionably. "We'll have Lust over here as soon as she finishes this dance; she'll need something to cool her off." He offered Breda a concealed, meaningful glare, and Breda nodded. When one of the waitresses came over (Edward was nowhere to be seen) he put in for five pints of their session bitter.
"Lust?" Mustang asked. His pale cheeks had gone rather splotchy, Havoc noticed, and he was glad Mustang hadn't objected to being cut off.
"Our hauptdarstellerin," Breda said proudly, smiling up at the stage. Mustang looked vaguely puzzled.
"Hauptdarstellerin?" He repeated, stumbling over the word. "I'm sorry, my German is rusty, it's...?"
"Premier r�le feminine. Une c�l�brit�," Havoc said at once, the French flowing easily off his tongue. "The star of the show."
Mustang's face went from splotchy red to white, eyes wide with surprise. Then he brightened, his face splitting into the widest grin he'd worn all night.
"Vous parlez Fran�ais!" He said, delighted. Havoc frowned slightly, feeling Breda turn toward them with the beginnings of a mocking grin.
"Je suis n� en France," he muttered, hoping the tone would dissuade him. Mustang only smiled harder.
"Vous �tes parti quand? Vous �tes venuen Allemagne quand?"
"Quand j'�tais petit."
"Vous �tes souvent rentr�? On, pourrait parler Fran�ais?" He barreled ahead, growing less formal. He reached out and took one of Havoc's hands. Breda snorted amused laughter.
"Actually, I'd prefer to speak German," Havoc said, rather more harshly than he'd intended. Mustang's smile didn't die, but it suddenly lost its realness and became a pasted on facsimile. He gave Havoc's hand a little squeeze and let it drop. Havoc felt a small ripple of guilt an scolded himself. After all, it must be nice to hear your home language in a foreign country, and Mustang didn't know how sick Havoc got of having to ascertain his nationality to everyone.
"My apologies, Mr. Havoc," he said.
"No, no, I mean, it's fine. I just thought it might be a little rude to the rest of our friends, to have us prattling away in French while they sit and nod along like pigeons." Actually, he was reasonably sure both Hawkeye and Breda knew at least enough French to follow their conversation, but he didn't care.
"You could've kept on; that's the prettiest thing I've ever heard come out of Havo's mouth in years." Breda attested, smacking Havoc's shoulder. He almost caught the waitress, a pretty little Arab girl they called Ros�, in the face as she set the tray with their beers onto the table. Mustang grabbed for his at once and took a long draw.
"At least you can't say anything bad about German beer, eh, Herr F�hrer?" Breda joked.
"He was just asking me about leaving France," Havoc explained. "We had a little cottage in the Southern countryside. I left when I was a kid when Ma remarried a German man she met through a newspaper advertisement. She went back after he died; I wanted to stay. I'm a German citizen now; I don't even think they'd give me a visa if I applied for one. Nothing the French hate like a turncoat, eh?"
"Not true," Mustang said, offering an indulgent smile, but he didn't seem entirely convinced.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't out honored guest." A sultry voice behind him startled him into almost choking on his beer.
"Here's our Lust!" He said, reaching back to take her hand once he'd quelled his coughing.
"Whatever happened to sniffing out a pussy at forty paces," Hawkeye muttered, so matter-of-factly that Breda dissolved into laughter, leaving Mustang to stare at them all, puzzled.
"It's probably better if you don't ask," he sighed. "Herr Roy Mustang, Fr�ulein Solaris Dant�, but we usually call her Lust."
"I prefer it," she said with a sultry grin, reaching across the table to offer Mustang her hand. He took it, with a quick glance down at her long and heavily lacquered fingernails, and kissed it.
"Fr�ulein, yet," he said, smiling. "How fortunate for us all."
"So they say," she laughed, settling herself onto her usual seat; Havoc's lap. He put an arm around her waist and squeezed.
"Particularly fine dancing tonight," he smiled.
"Thank you, Jean. And you, Herr Mustang? Any thoughts?"
"Any compliments, she means," Hawkeye warned, but Mustang merely laughed.
"Unfortunately, my attention was claimed by this group. Introductions all around. I was most robbed, I fear, judging by the intriguing few glances I caught."
"Robbed indeed. You'll come down tomorrow night as my special guest. You can sit in the front, where the view's better."
Havoc's stomach twisted. His arm went more tightly around her.
"I'll look forward to it, Mademoiselle Dant�."
"Lust, please. It suits me so much better, wouldn't you say?"
"If you insist."
"I do insist."
Havoc's stomach twisted harder. His free hand seized one of his wheels and began to pluck at it. This had replaced the now impossible nervous tick of jiggling his knee once he'd gotten used to the chair.
"Well, you're integrating well," Breda laughed. "Lust loves you, and you've antagonized yourself to our chief waiter and made fun of Havoc for being a French expatriate. All you have to do now is say something corrupt Hawkeye can print against you in the evening edition and you'll be a real Berliner."
"It's like I never left," he agreed. He put down his now empty stein of beer and looked around for a potential refill. Lust nudged her untouched glass toward him with one foot, sending her shapely calf over the table for all to see. He took it with profess thanks while Havoc and Hawkeye stared daggers at her.
"Jean, you've got to stop that," she whined, bringing her foot back and grinding her toe briefly down on his hand toying with the wheel. "It sends us rocking back and forth. You'll make me get sick!"
"I'm sorry," he said, dropping his hand away at once.
"Maybe I'll go sit with Herr Mustang instead," she threatened, playfully, but the jealous twist in Havoc's stomach did nothing but increase.
"Now now, don't start a lover's spat on my account," Mustang said, chuckling a little more manically than he had when he'd come in.
"Oh, Jean and I aren't lovers," Lust said at once. "He can't, you see." She smiled, dazzlingly beautiful, in the face of the cruel words. "Such a pity."
"I was telling Roy in the cab over here," Hawkeye broke in suddenly, catching Havoc's hastily suppressed sudden crestfallen expression. "He wouldn't believe what the two of you had done to this little building. It was nothing like this when you used to live her, was it Roy?"
"Not a bit," he agreed, taking another long draw of beer. The splotchy redness was coming back into his cheeks, despite the low alcohol content of the session beer. Quantity could always trump quality, after all, and he was working his way to the bottom of Lust's pint.
"I didn't know you lived here," Breda said.
"I lived here with Maes Hughes when we were both... students." Mustang interrupted himself with a stifled burp, excused himself, and went on. "His father owned this building then. There was a textile shop here in the bottom floor. We lived above."
"Where did you sleep?"
Another stifled burp, this one coming on the tail of a peculiar tightening off his eyes.
"The first bedroom off the staircase," he muttered.
"Well, that's Havo's room, now," Breda explained. "Sorry for that. But we've got you in the room at the end of the hall. It's very comfortable when it's cold like it is now, near the furnace pipe and all. I'm jealous."
"Maybe you should go up now," Hawkeye said. "You said you weren't well on the train. An early night tonight?"
"Maybe a good idea," he agreed, putting down the second newly emptied beer stein.
"I'll go up, too," Havoc said at once. The sickly, jealous feeling that had crept up listening to Lust and Mustang flirt had spoiled any remaining pleasure he had in the night ahead. The idea of watching Lust dance her second set made him positively ill at the moment. "I'll show him around. Can you spare a second to help me up?"
"Sure," Breda replied, getting up at once. "Can you excuse us, ladies?"
"Of course," Hawkeye said, and Lust offered them all a sultry grin by way of parting.
"I can manage myself," he'd explained when Mustang asked, "if I'm on the ground. I can pull myself up a step at a time if I hold the rails. But it's a hassle."
"Damn right, hassle," Breda agreed. "Whenever he does it, we have to get one of the waitresses up here with forceps to dig the splinters out of his boney ass."
Once Breda had come down again, he waved Mustang up.
"Unless you're too far gone; then I can carry you, too." He joked. "It's good to have you here. Maes Hughes was awfully good to us; it's an honor to meet his friend."
"Thank you," Mustang said stiffly. He wasn't feeling well again, and didn't know whether that was more the fault of the alcohol or simply being back in this house, about to walk up the little stairway for the first time in so many years. The memories it contained felt almost solid, as though they were stacked and mortared into a solid wall, and walking into them would be painful.
"Any idea what you'll do with this place now you're here? Hold onto it, sell it? Might make good vacation property, when you need a break from France."
"I haven't decided yet. Excuse me; I'm afraid I really do need to call it a night. Train travel has never agreed with me."
"I understand. We've got a WC upstairs—that's new, to you, Maes had it put in for Havo—but no bath; that's down through the kitchen if you want it. Havo can show you where things are, he's waiting upstairs." He gave Mustang a quick punch to the shoulder. "See you later; I'm going to go keep them from rioting back there." He disappeared back behind the black hanging curtains that lead to the cabaret.
Walking up the stairs, stomach swimmy after the bizarre combination of drinks, head full of memories uneasy memories, he seemed almost to be walking backwards in time. He remembered being helped up his staircase before, drunk after a long night in a beer hall that had once been just down the street, pressed against Maes' shoulder as he struggled to walk, smelling cologne and sweat and beer. Being gently laid out on Maes' bed because it was closer, having his shoes pulled off and his shirt unbuttoned, turning his head at the last moment so that Maes' simple kiss to the cheek turned into something deeper...
"Hey," said Havoc when he finally reached the top, and he looked up to take stock of the younger man. It seemed he had another wheelchair up here, this one smaller and lighter. It looked less comfortable but more maneuverable, which, Mustang supposed, was a sensible trade-off for what he needed it for up here. He was in front of a small, opened hall closet and holding a large folded quilt in his lap.
"I got this out for you," he said, motioning to the blanket. "We had the cleaning girls put blankets on your bed for you, but it's colder up here than I thought. It should get warmer as the furnace heats up, but just in case... what's on your mind?"
Mustang was staring right past Havoc, toward the closed bedroom door nearest the stairs. Havoc followed his gaze and offered a thin smile.
"Oh... that was your room, right?"
Actually, that was Maes' room, Mustang thought but didn't say. His own bedroom had originally been the one next to this one. The third room, the one they'd made up for him this time around, had once been full of battered old tables covered with their textbooks and lecture notes. But after a few months, Maes' room had become Mustang's room as well. They'd shared the large bed, skipping early classes so they could open the little window and watch morning darken to noon, talking, sipping coffee, and kissing themselves into passionate frenzy when they ran out of things to talk about.
Since he couldn't say any of this to Jean Havoc, Mustang merely nodded.
"It's not that different... want to have a look?" Havoc closed the closet and wheeled himself over, turning the knob and letting the door fall open. "See? He left most of the furniture, so it's probably your same bed. Comfortable, right? It's nice and low, too, so it's good for me, and the posters are good to grip in the morning. We put in some stuff to help... hey, are you all right? You look terrible."
The sudden d�j� vu of the bedroom, almost utterly unchanged—even the pattern of the bedclothes was almost identical—was abruptly too much for Mustang's overloaded mind. He pictured Maes, shot to death in a phone box somewhere nearby, lying dead and cold in his arms in that very bed and was overwhelmed by a sensation of powerful, ultimate loss. His stomach rolled and sour saliva flooded his mouth.
"...I'm going to be sick," he managed to croak.
"Right behind you, there," Havoc said at once, motioning with his palm.
Mustang turned, barely registered that where once there'd only been a little closet with a sink and mirror there was now a full water closet, widened to accommodate a person in a wheelchair, before sank to his knees in front of the commode and vomited high-pressure streams of amberish liquid that still fizzed faintly in his throat and nostrils from the champagne's carbonation.
When he finished he sat up, feeling weak and humiliated. He realized he'd never gotten around to eating any dinner and supposed he should be grateful he'd been sick; at least the hangover tomorrow wouldn't be quite as unbearable.
He heard water running beside him and turned to see Havoc filling a toothbrush glass with water. He wheeled in a little closer and handed it to Mustang, who marveled vaguely at how well he could operate the chair. Almost as dexterous as a person on legs. He felt a rush of admiration and gratitude.
"Vous sentez-vous mieux?" Havoc asked, do you feel better now?, and smiled at the relieved look on Mustang's face at the sound of the French.
"Oui," Mustang said, sipping the water and standing up to pull the chain.
"It's good you came up when you did," Havoc said, continuing on in French. He moved out of the way so Mustang could rinse his mouth at the sink. "The wait staff never would've forgiven you for vomiting on the floor. They have to clean up at the end of the night."
Mustang spat and splashed his face. Havoc passed him a towel. "Thank you."
"It's all right. Would you like to go lie down now? They put your trunk on the floor there for you; I can get out your night clothes for you if you need me to."
Mustang nodded, not quite feeling up to speaking much, and let Havoc lead hit to the end of the short hallway. He restrained himself from putting a hand on the back of Havoc's chair to steady himself, even though he felt increasingly lightheaded. He felt a sudden desire to cling to the other man and tried to fight it. It was only misplaced affection, after all; after all, how many times in the past had it been Maes helping to soothe him when he'd had too much to drink?
He flopped over onto the mattress, only dimly aware of Havoc unlocking his trunk and rummaging through it, until the other man was wheeling over to his side and depositing his blue pajamas at his side.
"Can you manage from here?" He asked, still speaking French. Mustang found it hard to believe the man hadn't been to France since childhood; the accent was perfect. He himself had only spent about a decade away from Germany and all his skill in the language appeared to have been leeched away.
"Yes," Mustang said, feeling steadier now that he was lying down and in a room that looked so completely different than it had that he could keep the uncomfortable flood of memories well at bay. "Thank you, Havoc."
"You can call me Jean, if you like," the younger man said, spinning himself around to point toward the door. "I'll be at the end of the hall if you need anything; just come knock, it takes me a while to get up. Sleep well."
He was halfway out the door when he stopped again. "Listen, Roy... I'm sorry I snapped at you earlier. They give me a lot of shit for being a Frenchman in the German army. I prefer to forget I ever lived anywhere else. I like living here."
"Ich verstehe," Mustang said, I understand, taking the strides of mental gymnastics necessary to switch back to German while he was in this sleepy state. "We can have German from now on. I promise. I should practice, anyway."
"You must forgive me," he murmured sleepily. "I used to teach Maes French while we were living here... I suppose missing him makes me want to hear it again."
"You were good friends."
There was a long, considerate pause. "I'm sorry he died. He was kind to us."
"He was kind to everyone."
"Although he'd never bring his little girl within shouting distance of our club."
Mustang smiled. "No, he wouldn't... well, I've got to sleep. Thank you, Jean."
"Yes. Guten nacht."
Mustang reached down to at least pull his shoes off before he faded to sleep, and managed to catch sight of Jean Havoc's profile as he reached up to turn off the lamp. His arms were large and muscular, his jaw surprisingly strong when devoid of the cigarette Mustang had seem clamped between his teeth all night, his face serene and handsome in the low, yellow light. He caught Mustang's eyes on him and turned back, giving him a gentle nod.
"Guten nacht," he said again, pulling the cord and plunging the room into blackness, leaving Mustang with only his afterimage, which pulsed on the backs of Mustang's eyelids to the muffled thrum of music below as he sank into welcome sleep.
His dreams that night were sweet while he dreamed them, but they left him guilty and cold the when he woke, thirsty and headachy, a few hours later.
It was just the French, he reasoned to himself, shaking the remaining images of Havoc from his mind as he got up to find a drink of water. It had to be nothing more than the French.
But at least he no longer felt sick with memories when he walked past the closed door of the bedroom that had been Maes'.
Her brother, Tyler Dant� that was and now simply called Greed, which he preferred as she did with her nickname, was leaning against the sink, dressed down to a pair of pegged Italian suit trousers and his winter boots.
"Well, what kind of man is he?" Greed said, hunting through the dress hooks for the coat that matched his pants. "You don't say much, sweet sister, about what all the rest of us want to know."
"I don't know what kind of man he is," she said, as the last eyelid slipped open, freeing her waist. She stretched, long and languid as a cat, and took a deep, unfettered breath for the first time all evening. "I can't get a read on him. Turn your head." She instructed, and lowered the garment the rest of the way down, standing there in nothing but her garter belt and hose. Her breasts, heavy and taunt, slipped forward as she bent down to find the simple, short dress she'd wear for their short walk home. It was delicious to be naked again, after the tight and restrictive burlesque costuming. She would've performed nude if they'd let her, but Herren Havoc and Breda were against it, though, preferring to keep their establishment "classy." Actually, she felt reasonably sure she could've talked Herr Havoc into letting her, if it hadn't been for that interfering fat business partner of his. She'd been trying to think of a way for months now to have Herr Havoc accidentally catch her nude, wanting to see the look on his face. Just a simple boy really, was all he was. Manipulating him amused her. And now it seemed things were only going to get better.
"Bullshit," Greed said, turning out from the corner he'd turned into at her command. Seeing her naked didn't really give either of them any qualms, not after all their years working cabarets, opium dens, traveling gypsy shows, and the like. A regular troop of vice was the Dant� family. Not that that was really their surname. Or that they'd ever really been a family. More a conflagration of like minds, swirling together to make something ultimate, picking one member up here and one member up there. Although she thought she remembered being told, years ago in the Moroccan whorehouse where she'd been conceived, carried, and born, that she and Greed, through two unlikely birth control failures, actually had the same set of biological parents. No matter, though.
"Whatever do you mean?" She asked calmly, pulling the dress over her bare body and turning to hunt out her shoes and coat.
"I mean, you're not the type who doesn't get a read on men. A man takes one look at your tits and you know everything about him there is to know. Or a woman, too, if she's that kind of woman. Now what's he like?"
"I'd like to wait and see. I'll tell you when I know more about him," she said, slipping into the last shoe and grabbing up her handbag. "Let's collect the others and go home. I'm absolutely exhausted."
He glared at her, but couldn't argue in the end. They walked silently through the deserted cabaret. Even most of the wait staff had cleared out, but they could hear Edward Elric and his catatonic younger brother in the kitchen, having a very late supper. The brother's kitten was there, too; Lust could hear it sloppily lapping up a tray of milk. Honestly, she thought, how could such a small thing be so loud?
"You know," Greed said, once they were out in the freezing street and wind smelling of approaching snow was sending her hair into artistic swirls and tendrils. "You might as well let me know. You think you're interesting when you're enigmatic, but in fact, it just makes you boring."
"You think I'd fall for that? I know you; as greedy for information as you are for everything else. I told you. I'll let you know when I do, my precious little brother."
In fact, she thought she had got a solid read on Herr Mustang. His carefully controlled flirty. The pain behind his eyes. The way he kept taking short looks at the room around them and taking his long gulps of beer. The half-glances, not at her tiny waist and full, half-bared breasts, but at the strong, masculine arm that had been wrapped around them. She'd gotten a good read on how Herr Havoc was reacting, too. Oblivious. Jealous. Possessive; his arm had been so tight around her waist by the time that meddling bitch Riza Hawkeye had succeeded in getting her away from them both that she'd been beginning to have difficulty breathing.
She smiled slightly. The Zinnsoldat had been nothing but business as usual for so long. This development promised to stir things back to interesting. She could manage the fun on her own for awhile, once she needed help, then Greed could be called in. He was almost as good at this sort of thing as she was.
The first snowflake fell, settling itself against one of Lust's perfect lips. It stayed there for a moment, lovely in its absolute mathematical perfection, before her warm exhale reduced it to nothing more than an ordinary drop of murky water.