The old halls of the Amestrian military headquarters at Central City were cold and drafty in winter—having been designed several decades before and fitted at the time with central administration in mind, and not central heating—and by the time Christmas rolled around, one was more likely to see the soldiers strolling the halls in full dress uniform than not, just for the precious warmth of the enormous overcoats that they included. But anyone you asked would be sure to tell you that the coldest place in the whole echoing building was the offices of Colonel Roy Mustang, and not just because of the pathetically small size of the fire in his fireplace.
Colonel Mustang was a cool, collected, and very efficient man, and there were few things he liked less than stupid displays of superstition and wastefulness. It was a well-known fact, therefore, that the subject, celebration, and general trappings of Christmas were never brought beyond his office door. Insubordination, loud and off-key attempts to sing, and hot beverages with so much sugar in them that they made his molars ache might have outdone Christmas among the rankings of things Mustang hated, but beyond that, there was little that competed—and anyway, Christmas inevitably brought with it an extra heaping dose of all three.
Yes, the Mustang of the holidays was a cold, cruel man, a tight-fisted man, a man known to send sparks scurrying up the hallway to shut up any outbursts of caroling within his hearing distance, and to slam the door in the face of any coworker seen wearing colorful scarves or brandishing holly wreaths or mistletoe. To enter a room where he sat at any time from November to New Year's was to feel a tangible drop in temperature, as he suspiciously looked you over for any sign of reindeer-knit sweaters or traces of sugarplum on your chin.
He was, to sum up, a pretty unpleasant guy to have at the head of your department in the holiday season.
Nobody knew this better than his unfortunate subordinate, Edward Elric. Every year Mustang seemed to take out his disgust with the season openly and unabashedly on the younger alchemist, by devising ways to keep him in the building as late as possible on the fateful eve itself. This year, on grumbling his way into Mustang's office to answer the usual summons, Ed had found himself presented with a gargantuan heap of paperwork, and strict instructions that he was not to clock out until he had filled out every page.
"The hell, Colonel!" he'd yelled, staring at it in disbelief. "I can't do all that today, it's nearly as tall as me!"
Mustang had smirked, somehow managing to look at Ed down his nose despite the fact that he was seated at his desk and Ed was standing angrily on his own two booted feet. "Oh, come now, Fullmetal. That's not saying much, is it?"
"WHO ARE YOU CALLING SMALL ENOUGH TO STUFF A STOCKING WITH?!" Edward had howled—and realized a second too late that he should never have picked such a festive metaphor, as Mustang's gaze went from bored to cold as ice.
"Modulate your tone, Fullmetal," the colonel sharply said, an unbecoming frown tugging at the corners of his mouth. "My ears are aching as it is from all that infernal carrying on in the halls. If you hadn't failed to file your own reports properly for the last three months, this paperwork would not exist. Now, get to work, before I decide to dig up some more of your backlog and keep you here until New Year's."
It was only knowing that Mustang was fully capable of making good on that threat that made Ed shut up and sit down. Several hours later, there were long shadows growing in the corners and up the walls of the office, and the sounds of his fellow officers merrily wishing each other a happy holiday on their way out of the building was making Edward's mind wander eagerly and prematurely out the front door after them. It didn't help that Mustang hadn't added a log to the fire since before he'd come in, and the room was starting to feel like an ice cave.
Scribbling what felt like the five thousandth copy of his signature onto the dotted line at the bottom of a page, Ed scowled as the line of ink petered out. Holding up the fountain pen, he shook it—never a wise idea—but even that act of supreme daring and blatant stupidity failed to produce the usual messy spray of ink. Curiously, Ed removed the nib and peered down the barrel of the pen...
"Colonel," came the half-disbelieving voice, "my ink is freezing."
"That's nice," Mustang said absently, doodling in the corners of his own paperwork and stubbornly ignoring the snatches of laughter and caroling filtering in from the hallway. "Finish your work, Fullmetal."
"I can't," Ed repeated, a bit louder. "My ink is frozen. Have you not noticed that we've been able to see our breath for the last hour?"
"Fullmetal, if you've got a weak constitution, that's no concern of mine," Mustang drawled. "I'm not about to waste fuel just because you can't take a little winter weather."
Ed glared at him, particularly at his heavy and cozy-looking dress overcoat, supplemented as it was by shirt and trousers and warm boots—and, unknown to Ed, by thick wool socks and flannel longjohns as well. When Mustang felt like causing discomfort, he planned well ahead. "You could power up the damn fire just by snapping," Ed muttered rebelliously.
"When I decide to use my honed and battle-ready alchemical skills for your personal comfort, Fullmetal, I shall let you know," Mustang informed him dryly. "Now, if you're not going to stop wasting my time with useless banter and get back to work, I—"
Ed was not to discover what Mustang would do, as a matter of fact, because it was at that moment that the office door crashed open and a broadly-grinning oasis of holiday color came waltzing into the room.
"Heya, Chief!" Jean Havoc sang out, striding across to his superior officer's desk and planting his hands atop it, the better to lean in and puff a cloud of smoke into Mustang's startled face. "What's with all the doom and gloom in here!"
Coughing and waving his hand in front of his face, Mustang squinted up at Havoc in befuddled annoyance. "Haven't I told you not to smoke those things in my office, Havoc?" he snapped. "You look ridiculous."
Adjusting his brilliant red stocking cap, which was trimmed generously in white fur, Havoc laughed cheerfully. A fluffy scarf knitted with snowflakes was thrown around his shoulders, and a small sprig of greenery bobbed above his head, apparently attached by a wire to his already very festive hat. "Aw, have a little holiday spirit!" he scolded. "I brought you something, yanno!"
Without further ado, he pulled a large pine wreath wrapped round in bright red ribbons from behind his back and plopped it onto Mustang's head like a crown. It was a bit too large, however, and immediately settled onto the colonel's shoulders as he jerked away in surprise, like a collar of greenery on a prizewinning racehorse.
"What in god's name—!" he started to sputter, as an outbreak of snickering came from the couch where Edward was delightedly watching the proceedings. Havoc clapped him heartily on the shoulder, making the wreath shake.
"Merry Christmas, Chief!" he shouted. "Looks good on you!"
"Christmas?" Mustang spat, struggling to pull the wreath off without poking himself in the eye with a needly twig or five. "Bah! Humbug! What's it to you, besides an endless string of dateless parties? Nothing but an excuse to take a day off and get drunk on the military's money!"
"Aw, you don't mean that!" Havoc exclaimed, looking a bit taken aback. "It's the best time of the year! It's the season when all the lovely ladies come out of the woodwork in the dozens and there's mistletoe over every doorway! Hell, it's the only time of year you back offa them and hole up in your office—I owe you one for that, anyway! Oh, speaking of which," he sailed on, undaunted, "the boys and I are going out to the Lion and Laurels tomorrow night for a little holiday cheer! You want to come along, Chief?"
Mustang snorted. "You've obviously already started drinking," he said, giving Havoc's flushed cheeks and sunny grin a disapproving look. "I swear, Havoc, if I could convince the brass to transfer the paid leave of every enlisted officer who was already up to his eyeballs in wassail by the time he left for the day to the ones who actually stay in our offices and do our work, I'd have enough of a bonus by this time tomorrow to bribe the Fuhrer to cancel the holiday!"
"Chief!" Havoc sputtered.
"Second Lieutenant!" Mustang shot back, finally managing to extricate himself from the wreath and tossing it over his desk to skate to a halt near the door. "Keep your Christmas in your own way, if you have to, but leave me alone to keep it in mine!"
"But you don't keep it!" Havoc protested. "You never do!"
Mustang snorted. "Exactly! And next time, kindly remember to keep it far away from me!"
Glancing around the room, from the guttering spark of a fire to the frigid-looking teenager watching them with the unabashed delight of someone bored to tears all day, his jacket hood pulled snugly up over his head against the cold, Havoc drew himself up in all his festively bedecked glory and pointed a finger dramatically at his superior officer.
"You know what?" he proclaimed. "Maybe you're right! Maybe a week from now I won't be any better off than I was before Christmas! But just for today, there are parties to go to, and there is caroling to do, and there is food to eat and beautiful women to hang out with and...and silly hats to wear...and...fun to have!" he finished up emphatically. "So I'm going to go have my Christmas, and go to those parties, and eat that food, and talk to those girls, and get as drunk as I feel like getting with as many of my best friends as wanna come along, and if you're too busy getting frozen into a popsicle in here with that stick up your ass, I say, eff you, Chief!"
It was into the flabbergasted silence that Mustang produced after this speech that there came the sound of Edward bursting into appreciative laughter and applause. Grinning, Havoc took a bow in the direction of the sofa.
"Fullmetal! Quiet! Havoc! Out!" Mustang shouted, standing up and holding out a hand in snap-ready position. Havoc gave him a cheeky salute.
"Yessir!" he said, tossing the trailing end of his scarf over his shoulder. "And Merry Christmas, Chief, whether you're merry or not!"
"Out!" Mustang repeated loudly.
"And a Happy New Year!" Havoc added irrepressibly, heading for the doorway.
"Good night, Havoc!" Mustang bellowed.
Passing the couch, Havoc winked down at Edward. "Merry Christmas to you too, Boss!" he said gaily. "Don't let the bastard grind you down!"
"You too, Havoc!" Ed said, looking about fifty times more cheerful than he had when Havoc first entered. "Merry Christmas!"
"Oh, spare me," Mustang muttered to himself, propping his chin on his hand. "I'm surrounded by idiots and madmen. As if Fullmetal of all people has anything to be merry about this Christmas. A cold room in a cold barracks and only his brother to celebrate with. Humbug!"
But he didn't have time to ruminate further on the state of Edward's holiday cheer or lack thereof, because there were now two more uniformed figures coming in as Havoc left.
"Oh, hey, Second Lieutenant Ross!" Ed called jovially, waving them inside. Mustang looked up in mild interest—Maria Ross was an attractive young woman, and quite efficient as well—but if it was a comrade in humbugging he was looking for, the colorful cardboard boxes that Ross and Brosch were holding melted that hope like a snowflake on a child's tongue.
"Ah, Maria! Merry Christmas!" Havoc said eagerly, catching the arm of the lady officer as she went past and pointing triumphantly up at the sprig of leaves wobbling on its wire over his head. Maria's eyebrow twitched, but she let out a little chuckle all the same.
"Well, 'tis the season, I suppose," she said, and stood on tiptoe to plant a quick peck on the cheek of the considerably taller officer. "Merry Christmas, Havoc."
Havoc's face lit up like a string of electric lights, and he sailed off down the hallway, humming 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' in an unidentifiable key and oblivious to the look of combined dismay and covetousness Brosch was giving his hat. Sighing in exasperation, Maria caught her partner's arm and dragged him resolutely across the room.
"You sure this is a good idea?" Mustang heard Brosch muttering nervously in Maria's ear as he trailed behind her. "I don't think the colonel's going to be very—"
"Colonel Mustang!" Maria interrupted him, snapping to a neat salute in front of Mustang's desk with her cardboard box tucked smartly under her arm. "The sergeant and I were just making the rounds for our department's yearly holiday charity, and we thought to inquire as to whether you might be willing to...ah...donate a...small...donation...?" she finished lamely, even her crisp demeanor wilting under Mustang's scathing look.
"Give me one good reason why I should be more inclined to 'donate a donation' at this time of year than any other, Second Lieutenant, and I will gladly feed my hard-earned cens to that laughable-looking cardboard snowman of yours," Mustang said, leaning back in his chair to regard the pair disapprovingly.
Maria frowned, puzzled. "I should think that would be obvious, sir," she began. "The Christmas spirit of charity towards others—"
"Are you referring to the same spirit of charity that made you take pity on a sad case like Jean Havoc just now?" Mustang inquired. "Because, if so, I will have to respectfully decline your undoubtedly well-meant offer to take my money. Thank you for that spectacular display of utter humbug, and good evening, Second Lieutenant."
A flush rose into Maria's cheeks, and she looked for a moment as if she was going to give her superior officer what for. The impulse visibly swelled her shoulders, but she held it down, snapping him a very crisp salute instead and turning on her heel to march out of the office. Following her, Brosch offered a lame, "Good evening, sir," as the door clicked shut behind them.
Quite satisfied with himself, Mustang was relaxing back into his chair, when a heavy stack of paper thumped down in front of him.
"There's your paperwork, Colonel," Edward told him flatly, hands on his hips. "I melted the ink myself, thanks for nothing. Can I go now, or do I have to stick around and watch you annoy the hell out of everybody else in the building, too?"
Mustang pursed his lips. "Well, fair's fair, Fullmetal," he admitted, casting a look at the window, which was now quite dark and being dusted lightly with snowflakes. "I suppose you'll want tomorrow off?"
"Well, duh," Edward muttered, crossing his arms. "No way in hell am I coming in to this igloo tomorrow. I promised Al I'd be free."
"And I suppose you'd think it horribly unfair of the military to withhold that privilege, and yet consider it perfect equivalent exchange to be paid a day's wages of your exorbitant State Alchemist's salary in return for doing absolutely nothing?" Mustang asked mildly, steepling his fingers in front of him and smiling blandly at the boy.
Ed gave him a nervous look, obviously anticipating some new devilry and yet afraid that running off his normally unfettered mouth at this particular moment might bring his free Christmas crashing down around his ears. "Well...it's, uh...it's Christmas. Sir."
Mustang sighed, rubbing his temples. "Yes, Fullmetal, I'm aware of that. Fine. I'll postpone your next mission until the twenty-sixth. Now, get out of here, before I change my mind. And take this folder with you, I'm going to want the preliminary forms in it filled out when you next report in. Don't be late."
"Yessir," Ed said, sketching him a messy salute and hightailing it out the door with the folder tucked under his arm. The door slammed behind him, and Mustang could hear him calling his brother's name long before his voice faded out in the direction of the staff lounge where Alphonse often waited to walk him back to the barracks.
The Elric boys would celebrate Christmas Eve by running and sliding down the icy sidewalks all the way to their barracks room, whooping and hollering as they went and throwing snowballs in the parade grounds with several of the other young officers until it got too dark to aim and they turned in for the night.
Mustang, on the other hand, remained in his office, morosely shuffling and reshuffling his various paperwork until he had no further excuses to avoid heading home. Buttoning up his overcoat snugly as he strode down the quiet streets, he frowned at the deepening snow, which had piled up over the course of the evening until his footsteps were reduced to a soft shushing sound. In the crystalline quiet of the snowy night, he heard the joyous sounds of a group of carolers long before he reached his apartment building, and was disgusted to discover that they were situated right outside the front door.
"Merry Christmas, sir!" a small boy in a green hat with the earflaps tied snugly under his chin exclaimed after him as he pushed his way past them and up the front steps.
It was one more Merry Christmas than Mustang could take. "Oh, shut up, all of you!" he shouted, waving an arm dismissively at them as they goggled at him in shock. "The sane people of the world are trying to sleep! Bah, humbug!"
With that, he slammed the door, bringing down a showering of snow from the lintel. The carollers milled about briefly, then headed off down the street, starting up a stubborn chorus of 'Here We Come A-Wassailing' that faded gradually into the distance as Mustang climbed the stairs to his floor, grumbling all the way.