“You’ll just love my Gracia; she makes the best meals anyone could ask for!” Hughes told the boys, nearly skipping down the corridor with delight. They were making their way out of Central Command quickly; Hughes had stopped dragging Edward a few corridors back and had taken to babbling to the brothers instead. “Oh! And my daughter Elicia is the cutest bundle of joy you’ll ever see! Look!”
Hughes shoved a picture of a smiling kid in front of Edward’s face; Edward looked at it, and then handed it to Al. “Yeah, she looks cute.” He told Hughes as Al handed the photo back.
“She is! You’ll love her! She’s been learning how to read herself and she’s just so smart!” Hughes continued babbling as they left Central Command, some soldiers looking sorry for the boys as they heard what Hughes was talking about, others were just thankful it wasn’t them he was chatting to. When they were back in the cold, nippy air of spring, Edward looked over to Hughes who was still talking amiably about his family. He thought about the easy way Hughes had interacted with the Colonel, even when she had looked ready to fry him.
“Hey Hughes,” Edward started, getting Hughes attention as he stopped mid-flow, turning his eyes on Edward. Al also looked at Edward, wondering what his brother would ask now. “How do you know the Colonel so well? I mean, you guys seem to be good friends.”
Hughes nodded, serious now. “Yeah, me and the Colonel have known each other a while, whole way back to the academy. Hated each other back then but a lot has changed since then.” Edward could see the memory in Hughes face as he remembered his rather adventurous time at the academy with the Colonel.
“I didn’t think alchemists went to the academy” Alphonse said thoughtfully, interrupting Hughes’s happy memories.
“She didn’t go to the academy as an alchemist; in fact we didn’t even figure out that she was an alchemist until a few months into her stay at the academy.” Hughes told them, pushing his glasses up his nose from where they had slipped down, knowing the full well the Colonel’s reaction if he spread stories about her time in the academy, still he realised he didn’t care and considered it payback for not buying him a coffee earlier.
“What happened to make you figure it out?” Edward asked, suddenly interested in the Colonel’s past. He couldn’t imagine someone like the Colonel keeping her alchemy a secret, especially since it was flame alchemy.
“Well, she joined at sixteen, the youngest recruit there, honestly I still have no idea how she got in but she did. As you’ve probably noticed the Colonel doesn’t look especially tough or strong, and because of her age, many of the recruits picked on her, teasing her about different things. Emily however, she didn’t pay any attention and I hate to admit, I was one of the ones who teased her. Anyway, she made a friend, an Ishbalan-”
“An Ishbalan?” Edward asked, surprised. “But I thought they weren’t allowed to join the military.”
“They were before the Ishbalan rebellion, they were considered Amestrian citizens then” Hughes informed them. “The Ishbalan was a quiet man, never spoke out against people being cruel about his origins or got into fights about it. The Colonel however, well let’s just say she lost her temper a bit one day and set those current offenders’ shoes on fire, using a circle she’d drawn in class and the flame from the ovens. Right in the middle of the canteen she set fire to their shoes. Those idiots couldn’t walk for a week. The fuehrer was visiting the academy at the time and before she could be reprimanded properly, called her for a meeting to offer her a place as a state alchemist, as long as she could create the flames again. After the canteen incident she was still pretty volatile and sent flames straight to the fuehrer’s face, stopping inches away from his nose before walking out, taking the huge flames with her. She was immediately granted the title of state alchemist, being granted the title of Major the second she left the academy. After that people pretty much stopped making fun of her and the Ishbalan.” Hughes finished his story, amused at the looks on the two boys’ faces. “What? Didn’t think the Colonel would do something like that, believe me, I could tell you some stories about her.”
Edward blinked. “I just couldn’t imagine her doing something like that, especially to the fuehrer; I mean that could be considered treason, right?”
“Possibly, depends on what mood the fuehrer’s in” Hughes answered thoughtfully, looking at a payphone as they passed, the red standing out against the green grass.
“But Hughes, you still haven’t told us how you two became friends” Al pointed out, still carrying Edward’s suitcase, the group had moved from the park and were now walking down a long street going into the city. They passed shop owners closing up their stores, probably heading back to their families, similar to Hughes.
Hughes laughed, continuing his story “Well, after the ‘flame incident’ as we’d called it. Most of the teasing had stopped but the group of soldiers she had destroyed the shoes of weren’t happy, they were sons of army big shots and planned to become better than their fathers. I hung out with them for a while and they were completely full of themselves, convinced that they were going to become big shot generals and they all wanted revenge on Emily. After all because of her passing the state alchemy exam, she would graduate a higher rank than them. They couldn’t do much though, due to Emily’s Ishbalan friend, he was a strong guy, good in a fight, even though the only fighting he did was in training. Even the Colonel herself was much stronger than they had first thought, her small skinny frame lean with muscle that they hadn’t seen because of their arrogance. She could take an upperclassman on in training no problem, so she was a hard target, especially if she had a transmutation circle and a spark. The soldiers’ only hope was to get her alone and off guard and that’s what they did, she was reading while walking, not paying much attention to her surroundings, her friend was doing extra training and she hadn’t had a theory class that day so there was no transmutation circle doodled on her hand. The soldiers grabbed her as she walked past an alley and two of them together managed to hold her back from ripping someone’s face off. She still managed to kick one of them before they started beating the crap out of her. Winded and bruised, the two soldiers holding her let her go as she struggled to breath and then, stupid as she is, she got up and punched the leader straight on the nose, it bled badly and before the other’s could retaliate and fight some more, I appeared holding a gun I had borrowed from the shooting range. They left her alone pretty quickly, laughing as they tried to persuade me to shoot Emily. Instead I lit a match, and suddenly their feet were burning again, they ran off before she could burn anything else. Her nose and lips were bleeding badly and I’m pretty sure she fractured her ribs but you know what she said to me,”
Hughes paused, smiling as he remembered.
“She stood up, looking like she was about to fall over and like the idiot she is told me ‘I didn’t ask for your help, Hughes’ I must say I was slightly surprised that she knew my name, but then I realised we were in some of the same classes and looking at her then I smiled at her and replied ‘You didn’t need to’ and she gave me a strange look as she wiped the bloody transmutation circle off the back of her hand and turned to walk away, the opposite direction to the infirmary might I add and then promptly collapsed right there in that alley, leaving me to haul her sorry ass into a hospital bed, something I’ve had to do a lot since then.”
Hughes stopped walking, noticing the two boys had stopped a few seconds ago, they both looked confused and slightly shocked. “What?”
“Nothing, it’s just,” Edward paused, unsure of how to continue, he didn’t want to make it seem like he had a lot of respect for the Colonel already. “The Colonel seems so...”
“Invincible? Yeah, she wishes. She gets injured more than anyone I know, once she came into the office after being shot and no one noticed until after I slapped her on the back and the blood seeped through her uniform, honestly I’ve never heard her swear so much, she had no concern for her wellbeing whatsoever, it’s ridiculous.” Hughes explained, laughing slightly at the Colonel’s distinct hatred for any type of medical facility. Ed and Al, looked at each other, neither of them being able to imagine that happening but neither questioning the circumstances.
They reached a tall apartment building and Hughes led the way inside, back to chatting about Gracia’s amazing cooking and Elicia’s adorableness. Alphonse joined in on the easy chatter but Edward stayed silent, lost in his thoughts. Hughes pretended not to notice as they rode the elevator up and got out at the fifth floor, knocking at the first door they came to. After a few seconds, a pretty woman with short, light brown hair and kind eyes answered the door and smiled at them as a small bundle of energy hurled itself at Hughes. He caught the ball of energy, laughing as he did so.
“DADDY!!” The kid yelled, hugging Hughes tightly, he hugged her back then set her down, giving his wife a quick hug. Edward and Alphonse couldn’t help but admit to themselves that the kid was adorable, with cute pigtails and a 100watt smile. Although Edwards smile quickly turned into a snarl as Elicia made the decision that he was the younger brother.
“Hello Elicia, I’m Edward and this is my little brother, Alphonse, get it? Little brother” He said through gritted teeth. Al held Edwards hood tentatively, in case he decided to attack the small child, which would definitely get them kicked out of Hughes’s apartment.
“Nu-uh,” the kid said stubbornly. “Younger means little, you’re little.” Edward looked like he was about to start foaming at the mouth when Elicia smiled again and Edward found himself softening a little. Elicia grabbed Al’s large hand and dragged him into the apartment, similar to how Hughes had dragged Edward from the Colonel’s office and Al couldn’t help but wonder if Elicia was taking after her father. As Gracia smiled warmly at them she told them to take their shoes off before also disappearing inside to tend to the delicious smells wafting out, leaving Hughes and Edward to close the door. Edward took off his coat, hanging it on the coat stand, Hughes doing the same, although Hughes’s black military coat was a lot longer than Edwards red leather one. As Ed removed his gloves Hughes noticed the automail arm and nodded quietly to himself, he would ask the Colonel about them tomorrow, he told himself, knowing that she would have squeezed the information out of the two boys.
“Hey Hughes,” Edward said, turning to the older man, glad that they were alone. He had wanted to ask him this from the minute Hughes had finished telling him and Al the story. “What happened to the Colonel’s friend?”
Hughes looked at him for a second before looking away, he was quiet for a few seconds before answering, his voice hard to hear against the racket in the dining room. “He died”
Turning on his heel, Hughes made his way into the dining room, leaving Edward alone in the hall, listening to the loud sounds of Hughes’s family and wondering if he’d ever be as happy as the man who loved his family with all his being.