It was a terrible tragedy, but at least, the soldiers at the Central branch told each other, they were safe at last. No more ambushes with photo albums in the cafeteria. No more enraptured outpourings of family affection in the hallways. No more sneak attacks of wallet sizes in the bathroom. No more unexpected interruptions about potty training over the PA system. Finally, they breathed in collective relief, it was over.
They were wrong.
"...an' this is Kei-kei having a baff!"
Sergeant Broche smiled in frozen panic at the miniature devil that had cornered him in the officer's mess. Alicia Hughes may have been only one meter tall, but she still possessed the most dangerous weapons that the soldiers at Central had ever had to face; a pair of bushy red pigtails, enormous blue-green eyes, and a smile that could turn even the bravest man's gut into jelly.
Far worse, and far more deadly; she also had a small plastic camera that some fool had given her for her birthday, and a new kitten.
"Kei-kei doesn't always need baffs," the little terror continued, holding up yet another picture, "because she can lick herself all over to get clean. But Mama says that I can't do that yet, so when I get baffs, Kei-kei does too."
Broche wondered dazedly if there were any blunt objects nearby that he could use to knock himself unconscious.
"An' this is Kei-kei when she's sleeping!" Chubby hands shoved yet another photograph in his face. "Isn't she the cutest thing you've ever seen? Hey, hey, HEYYYYY! Aren' you listening to me?" She scowled.
"She's a very cute kitten," Broche assured her hastily. "Er, why don't you go show your pictures to Warrant Officer Farman? I'm sure he'd club, I mean, love to see them."
"I already showed them to Offi'er Farman," Alicia pouted. "He said that for reasons of the s'curity of the state, he wasn't supposed to look at any more, an' I should go show someone else."
"Well, now I've seen them," he tried again, "so you should go find somebody new to..."
"Oh, I gots more!" Alicia dimpled up, and started digging around in her little backpack, to come up with a fistful of glossy papers. Broche was just dazedly grateful that she hadn't quite mastered her father's trick of producing them from thin air; but then, she still had time.
"This is Kei-kei on the stairs," Alicia continued, peeling the photos apart one by one. "This is Kei-kei asleep on Mama's lap. This is her chasing a dust-bunny. This is her climbing over the phone. Mama says she must have been trying to calls somebody, and that she must be a born ge-nee-us kitten..."
"Alicia-chan?" A familiar, female voice interrupted her, and Broche could nearly have cried from relief. "What are you doing, wandering around this big building all by yourself?"
"Auntie Hawkeye!" Alicia's face lit up as she saw her. "Yaay!" The little terror bounded away from Broche to hug Hawkeye's leg, leaving Broche pinned against the wall.
A brief smile tugged at the corner of Hawkeye's mouth, as she bent down to address the little girl. "Is your mother here today?" she asked. "Shouldn't you be with somebody?"
Alicia nodded fiercely, pigtails bouncing. "She came to see Uncle Roy," she said, "and Uncle Roy asked Offi'er Farman to look after me for a moment, so I was showing him, my pictures, only then he said he had very important state business to look after, and went off with a bunch of other guys into a place called the Officer's Mess."
"Oh, he did, did he?" Hawkeye murmured, and the gleam in her eye did not spell well for Farman. Then she turned to pin Broche against the wall with a glare. "And has Sergeant Broche been looking after you since then?"
"Yeah!" The pigtails bounced again. "He loves looking at my pictures!"
"In that case, maybe I shouldn't interrupt the two of you," Hawkeye said, perfectly deadpan.
"No!" Broche burst out, looking desperate. "Errr... I mean, shouldn't she get back with her mother, ma'am?"
"Of course." Hawkeye saluted him without a hint of a smile. "Thank you for looking after her, then." She reached down and took Alicia's hand, and the two of them headed off up the corridor together towards Mustang's office.
Saved! Broche drew in a shaky breath, and straightened his jacket from where Alicia's insistant tugging had skewed it. He heard Hawkeye's voice murmuring a question, and Alicia's bright reply. "Yeah! She's so cute! She's the cutest, bestest, cleverest kitten in the whole wide world!"
Some things never changed. And for the rest, at least you'd have pictures.