Discount Holidays

Roy Mustang sometimes dreaded that Fullmetal would never go through puberty. Oh, sure, he'd always have short jokes to piss the kid off with, but it was that voice that really got to him. That whiny, scrawny, bratty, 'I'm better than everyone and know exactly what I'm doing' voice that really got to him, especially when it was late, he had papers due the next morning, and Hawkeye had confiscated the coffee.

"Fullmetal," he interrupted. "Did you give me your report?"

Fullmetal gave him the tolerant look old ladies used on their cocker spaniels. "I gave you my report the minute I stepped into this office, Colonel." He pointed at Roy's desk. "It's there," he said, and raised his eyebrows. "Man, you're not losing it, are you, Mustang?"

Ah, yes. The thirty-page report, stacked proudly on top of all the others. Roy stared at it—he could see Fullmetal's messy scrawl even from here, good Lord he had told Fullmetal to type it up from now on—and felt very tired. "Not losing it," he said from between his teeth. "It's just such a small report, the others were obscuring it from my view."

Fullmetal twitched.

"Now what was it that you wanted? I don't think you're here for the pleasure of my company, for some reason."

Fullmetal huffed and looked away, drumming his automail fingers on his knee. "I have a favor to ask you," he said, voice just as tight as Roy's, eyebrows twitching—Roy had had to schedule him an appointment with a medic last month for his tension headaches. "A very... big favor."

Roy swallowed the obvious joke. "Yes? And what would that be?"

"Well—" Fullmetal leaned over and handed him a piece of paper. "I got assigned to do an investigation in Claremont tonight. But that's five hundred miles from here, and with the travel time plus the time spent there, I'd never make it back for...." He trailed off, sighed. "Christmas."

"And the significance of that is—?"

Fullmetal pursed his lips. "It's Christmas."

Roy hmmed and tapped the paper on his desk. "You worked last Christmas, too, and I didn't hear any complaints from you. Other than what's par for the course, I mean."

"I didn't complain! And anyways, yeah, I was on assignment last Christmas, but Al was furious. Made me promise I wouldn't work this Christmas. I mean, not that there's much I can do about it, but still." Fullmetal hunched his shoulders and looked up at the ceiling. "I thought I might ask, that's all."

"Fullmetal, are you asking me for paid leave tonight? When you've already given prior assent to being assigned elsewhere? Do I have this right?"

"It doesn't have to be paid leave," Fullmetal muttered.

Roy really wanted Fullmetal to go through puberty, because he was so damned small. He treated Edward like he was an adult because most of the time he acted like one, and because it made things easier on both of them to pretend that Fullmetal was older than he was. But when he had Fullmetal curled up on his couch like this, glowering up at the ceiling, looking like a kid who hadn't gotten a trainset for Christmas, well. It made Roy feel somewhat grinchish.

"Fine," Roy said, scribbling a note to himself on Fullmetal's assignment sheet. "I'll talk to the higher-ups. I know how frightening your little brother can be when he doesn't get his way. Almost as bad as you, actually."

Fullmetal sat up, blinked at him. He pulled a skeptical face. "Are you kidding me?"

"Give me that look for five more seconds and I will be."

Still, Fullmetal's eyes narrowed. He stood and turned in the direction of the door, casting a suspicious look back at Roy. "Fine," he said over his shoulder. "I'll just... be on my way then and pretend that you're serious, and giving me a vacation for Christmas. Okay? Sound good to you? 'Cause it sounds good to me."

Roy waved him off. "Merry Christmas, Edward."

The door slammed; Fullmetal hadn't wished him Merry Christmas in return. Only natural, Roy thought, skimming over his report and stamping it, then filing it away with the others. Kids were always so ungrateful.

Well, the doctor had said that Fullmetal had grown an inch last time he'd seen him. Maybe his body was just... easing him into puberty, very slow-like. Roy put his fingers on the bridge of his nose, squeezed and sighed. God, he sincerely hoped so.

For half an hour after he left Mustang's office, Edward kept expecting to be tracked down by Havoc or another of Mustang's minions and dragged back to the complex. And then Mustang would loom over him, fires burning behind him, grinning at Ed and taunting him about how short he was—"I heard you gained an inch, Fullmetal! What an amazing feat, your best yet! Well, I suppose child prodigies have to sacrifice something—equivalent trade, you know—"

"Are you looking for something, sir?"

Ed blinked and found himself staring into a shop window: a Christmas shop, with little elves and stuffed bears and tree ornaments decorating the window display. A grizzled old man with a salt-and-pepper beard stood in the doorway, eyebrows raised at Ed. "Uh," Ed pushed away from the window. "No, thanks, I was just... thinking about something."

"Are you sure? We sell everything here, if I may say so myself, if you're doing last-minute Christmas shopping." He smiled and tweaked the end of his beard.

Ed remembered that most of his last paycheck had gone to automail maintenance, and shook his head, regretful. It was his first Christmas off in three years and he'd planned on getting Al something nice, but some jerk had practically hacked his automail off two weeks ago. "I haven't got much money. Thanks, though."

"Our Christmas trees are on discount," the man said hopefully.

Ed paused. He turned around and looked back into the window, rubbing his chin, then slanted a glance at the old man. "What's your lowest price?"

The old man grinned and gestured him inside.

There were no lights coming from their dorm room, and the lock was stuck again. Ed kicked it twice, then leaned against the door and practically fell into the room when the knob gave way. "Damn," he muttered, kicking it shut, "I've gotta get that piece of shit fixed."

He heard a creak from the corner, and Alphonse was turning on the lamp and standing up. "Brother," he said, "you're late—what were you doing? The train leaves in barely an hour!"

"Oh, yeah, yeah, I forgot." Ed sunk his hands into his hair and shook out the snowflakes. "Brr, it's damned cold out there. And snowing."

"Snowing?" Al's voice cracked on the last syllable. While Ed peeled off his boots and looked around for the towels, he ran to the window and pulled up the blinds, peering outside. "Oh—!" He went still.

Ed hid his smile in a towel. "Nice, huh?"

Al sighed tinnily. "It'll be bad traveling, though. You won't be able to sit very close to me—I'll be cold. Trains never keep heated properly when it's snowing."

"Yeah," Ed said, "about that...."

"What about what?"

"About traveling, Al."

"Oh." His little brother was still gazing out the window; Ed could practically see the wistful tinge to his thoughts. He was thinking about Christmases at home, probably: Mom making popcorn strings for their tree, sipping hot chocolate with them, sitting next to them as they opened their presents.... "Well, what about traveling? Aside from the fact that we should have left half an hour ago?"

"Aside from that fact." Ed waved dismissively. "What if I told you that I wrangled a vacation out of Mustang? And that my trip to Claremont has been postponed? Ehhhh?"

Al turned around; he was clutching his hands, and Ed could hear in his voice that he was trying to be skeptical, trying not to get his hopes up. "Are you kidding? Why would Mustang do that? He's never that nice to you!"

"Damn, rub it in," Ed said under his breath.

"C'mon, brother, if that was a joke, that's mean."

"Hey, why're you always so suspicious of me?" Ed held up a finger. "Hold on a sec, lemme go get something." He towelled his hair off one more time, then opened the door and grabbed the bag he'd stashed outside. He got a good grip and began dragging it inside.

"Brother," Al whispered, "is that—?"

The tree was wobbly, but with a few kicks and shoves Ed got it to stand up in the corner by the window. "There—we—go," he said, breathing heavily, then shook out the bag. "Got a few ornaments, too. It would suck to have a naked tree, after all. You wanna help me put them up?—Al?"

Al shook his head, clanking a bit rusty. He sounded stuffed up. "Brother, I can't believe you... I can't believe Mustang gave you...."

"Tell me about it." Ed patted the tree, a little lost. "Hey, you're not going to cry, are you?"

Al sniffed. "I can't!"

"Aw, hell, Alphonse." Ed bit down on his knuckle, sighed, and went over to him. It sucked—having a little brother he couldn't hold, or at least hug, without it feeling weird—not that Al could feel it anyway. He knocked his knuckles against Al's breastplate instead and looked up into his face. (Sucked that he was so tall, too.) "I didn't screw it up or anything, did I? It's the tree, isn't it?" He glowered over at it. "I know it's small, but it was on discount. I admit it. I got us a discounted tree. But I didn't have much money! The ornaments really took it out of me. I tried to get nice ones, though... see, I got an angel and some, uh, snowflakes—"

"Brother." Al set a hand on top of his head and, when Ed blinked up at him, ruffled his hair. "I'm not upset," he said, a smile filling his voice. "I was just—overwhelmed. I didn't even think we'd be in one place for Christmas, I thought we'd be on a train. And the tree... it's beautiful. I can't believe you got one. Thank you. Thank you, brother!"

He removed his hand, and Ed smoothed his hair back into place and coughed into his automail hand. "I didn't get you a Christmas present, though. Didn't have enough cash, after the tree."

Al shook his head. "The tree is good enough."

Biting down on a smile, Ed looked over at the tree. "Well—good. What do you say we start decorating, then?"

He couldn't make hot chocolate like Mom, but he tried. Ed navigated his way carefully through the messy kitchen subset of the dorm room, then sat down next to Alphonse and blew on his cup. "Ahhh," he said. "Not bad." He thumped Al's arm. "Soon you'll be able to smell this, and it'll be the best thing you ever smelled. I promise you, Al."

"I believe you," his brother said. "And I trust you. Listen—can you hear the carollers outside?"

Ed cocked his head to the window. "Yup," he said. "Damn, is one of them tone-deaf or what?"

"I think it's very Christmasy."

"If an alto trying to be a soprano is your idea of Christmasy, hey, whatever floats your boat."

"Brother," Al sighed.

"Just kidding." Ed sipped his hot chocolate and gazed up at their tree. It wasn't big, but they'd strung the ornaments and the lights and it was the brightest thing in the room, and the warmest. He sighed and stretched his toes out to it. He liked the angel on top particularly; it reminded him of the one Mom had had, that she'd gotten from her own mother. It must have been in the house when they'd burned it down.

"I'm so glad you did this," Al said quietly. "Went to the trouble of getting off, and buying a tree, and...."

"Hey." Edward shrugged. "You wanted it, right? Anything for you."

"Merry Christmas." Al's voice was tremulous—but in a happy way. Ed could almost see the kid he'd been, opening up his favorite present and sitting there with a big smile on his face, trying not to cry.

He swallowed past the lump in his own throat and set down his hot chocolate. Getting onto his knees, he put his hands on Al's helmet and pressed his lips to the cool metal. "It's okay," he said into it, and wrapped his arms around Alphonse. "I'll make you perfect, soon."

Al's arms slid around him, carefully. "Even if you didn't, this is perfect, brother."

Ed laid his cheek on Al's helmet and smiled. "Merry Christmas, Al."