Under Cover

For the Put Ed In A Dress challenge. Secret missions, entertaining disguises, pissed off Alchemists. Humor, I-2, no spoilers.

“The problem is that they expect you. And I would prefer you didn’t destroy half the city getting in.”

Ed paced down the hall next to the Colonel, Hawkeye bringing up the rear.

“If they have proscribed alchemical equipment in there, why can’t you just search?” Ed grumbled. “Why do I have to go?”

“Ah? You would prefer not to be involved? Giving up your search, then, Hagane?”

Ed fumed at the reminder that he did have an interest in the slightest hint of equipment that could produce an alchemical reaction without equivalent exchange.

“And the point is that we’re not sure yet just what Dalzet does have,” Mustang continued. “We need someone to check. Quietly. I’ve secured the services of… a professional… to help with that.” He unlocked a door and opened it to reveal a woman seated at a table inside.

Wheat blond hair. Sea blue eyes. A soft, warm smile when she looked up.

Ed’s jaw was hanging open and he couldn’t quite manage to shut it.


“Clara, please. I’m glad to meet you again. Edward-kun, I believe?” The rich, throaty voice was certainly hers. Ed returned her friendly nod, a bit stunned.

“We captured her some time ago, actually,” Mustang told him, leaning in the doorway.

“How did you keep her?” Ed wanted to know.

“I sent Hawkeye.”

Ed had to admit, that would probably do it.

The two women responded, each in her own way, Hawkeye with a sharp smile, Clara with a philosophical shrug.

“This is parole for her,” Mustang continued. “She knows a good deal about disguise and concealment, and has agreed to help us.”

“Well,” Clara rose from the table, “it’s difficult for me to refuse anything when a man such as yourself asks it. Mustang-taisa.”

Mustang’s eyes lit.

“It would have been a great shame for a woman such as yourself to remain confined,” he returned, coming away from the door.

Clara laughed and leaned against the table, shoulders back, chin up.

Ed’s mouth was hanging open again. He pulled in a deep, incensed breath.

Hawkeye stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. When Ed looked around she put a finger over her lips. He took a second look at Mustang and Clara, and his mouth twisted sardonically. He leaned against the wall next to Hawkeye and watched while Clara cooed and posed in a manner almost guaranteed to shut down any male brain.

If any two people really deserved each other, Ed thought it was probably these two. Clara was in fine form, directing a smoldering look up through her lashes.

“But of course I would keep my parole… for you,” she whispered, running a finger down Mustang’s chest.

Mustang caught her hand up, kissed it…

…and stepped back.

“Entertaining as it would be to continue,” he smiled coolly, “work calls.”

Clara stilled, arrested in mid-reach. Her eyes widened. Hawkeye’s smile also widened a notch.

“Hawkeye-chuui will stay to keep an eye on things, Hagane,” Mustang said, closing the door behind him. Silence reigned in the room for a moment.

“A formidable man, your commander,” Clara observed, tone suddenly clinical.

“Yes,” Hawkeye agreed.

“Nah. He just likes being evil that way. It’s his idea of fun.” Ed pushed away from the wall. Clara looked at him sideways.

“Indeed?” and then more briskly, “well, let’s get down to business.”

Ed took the seat farthest from her.

“I understand the problem is to get you past people who know who you are and that you may well be coming?”

Ed nodded, glumly.

“Well, to be honest, the most effective thing would be…”

From the room behind him Mustang heard an outraged screech echo.

An evil smile curved his lips, as he sauntered on down the hall.

“You want me,” pregnant pause, “to dress up,” smoking pause, “as a WOMAN?!”

Ed stood at bay, breathing heavily.

“Don’t be childish Edward-kun,” Clara admonished, sternly. “You’ve traveled too widely, too many people know what you look like, and the one thing you cannot effectively conceal is your eyes. If a man with gold eyes, no matter who he’s supposed to be and what kind of supporting evidence he has, shows up to this open house Dalzet’s guards will not hesitate. If he’s truly concealing proscribed equipment, they’ll shoot to kill.” She gave Ed a measuring look. “And while I can believe that you would survive that, it would not get you inside.”

After a few extremely uncomplimentary comments directed at the Colonel, Ed gave in.

“Good. Take off your shirt, then.”

Ed goggled at her.

“I need to see what your figure looks like to decide how best to disguise it, Edward-kun,” Clara chivvied.

Ed cast a look at Hawkeye, but she had her gaze fixed steadfastly out the window. And a hand over her mouth, but Ed did his best to ignore that. He pulled off his jacket and shirt, and attempted not to blush as Clara walked around him.

“Hmm,” she mused, tapping a fingertip against her lips, “your shoulders are too broad for something fully fitted. Perhaps on overdrape of some sort.” She advanced with a tape measure. “Hold still, now.”

In point of fact, Ed froze. For a while, at least.

“Hold still, Edward-kun, I need the hip measurements too.”

Hawkeye coughed a few times, not very convincingly.

“There. You can get dressed again.”

Ed had never dressed so fast in his life. He glared at Hawkeye, whose shoulders were shaking, and she lost it.

Admittedly, it was the first time Ed had ever heard her giggle.

Clara ignored them both, returning to the table and sketching quickly on a pad of paper, pausing every now and then to chew the end of the pencil. By the time she finished both Ed and Hawkeye had regained some measure of composure.

“How about something like this?” Clara held out the pad.

Ed looked. It was a high necked, fitted dress with a flared skirt. Fabric draped over the body from shoulder to waist. Loose sleeves were swagged to just past the elbow, over long gloves. There were no ruffles, lace or frills anywhere.

“All right. I guess. For a dress,” he muttered. “You’re absolutely sure this will work?”

“No question of it,” Clara declared with confidence. “If you manage to stop scowling that evening you’ll make a stunning woman. And if you don’t,” she paused, smiled, “you’ll make a stunning bad-tempered woman.”

Ed growled.

“Now, the last thing. How precisely can you re-configure your automail?”

Ed cocked his head. “Fairly. What are you thinking of?”

“Can you smooth the outlines?”

Ed narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “Maybe. I’ll work on it and let you know.”

Two Weeks Later

Ed paused, pulling the bodice up, and poked at it suspiciously. “This,” he remarked very flatly, “is padded.”

“Drape or not, you need the proper silhouette,” Clara told him.

Ed grumbled, but finished pulling the dress on. The zipper was the next challenge, and after several gyrations trying to tug it up he had to let Hawkeye zip him.

“Good, it fits,” Clara said, satisfied. “Now, let’s do something about the hair.”

Ed suffered having his hair unbraided, brushed and drawn up in a twist at the back of his head.

“I feel like a complete idiot,” he informed Clara dourly.

“Nonsense, you look charming. Even with the scowl, just like I said you would. With a touch of makeup everything will be perfect.”

Ed paled. “…what?”

Clara set out an array of arcane boxes, tubes and cases, unassisted by Hawkeye who was leaning on the wall again trying to stifle her laughter.

“Makeup,” she told him without a hint of sympathy, “only a bit, don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry?” Ed’s voice spiraled up.

“A little color for your lips to start with.” Clara advanced, remorseless.

After a brief scuffle with his personal fashion Nemesis, which reduced Hawkeye to tears, Ed was trapped against the door and color duly applied.

“This is absolutely ridiculous,” Ed sputtered.

And then his attention was caught by a sound from the other side of the wall. A sound that greatly resembled someone laughing into their sleeve. Someone with a low voice.

Ed flung open the door to find Mustang leaning on the wall, eyes sparkling. He straightened and smiled winningly. “Why, Edward-chan, you look most charming.”

Mustang had to dodge smartly after that, and Ed’s fist made a hole in the wall.

“Edward-kun, do not tear that dress!”

He gave Clara a fulminating look.

“On the other hand,” she allowed, “with your color that high you hardly need any other cosmetics. It’s really quite striking.” She eyed the grinning Mustang thoughtfully. “You know. It would be no bad thing if Edward-kun were to have an escort. A pretty woman alone at these affairs is the center of attention. A pretty woman with an escort is the object of more distant appreciation, and could slip away more easily.” She ignored the choking noises coming from Ed. “Are you free this evening, Mustang-taisa?”

Mustang raised his eyebrows at her. “I follow your reasoning, but perhaps Hughes-chuusa would be a better choice? He is more accustomed to covert work of this sort.”

Clara shook her head slowly.

“Very few people actually know what you look like. You’re remarkably elusive for such a well-known figure. In addition, you value Edward a great deal and will care for his safety in a place where maintaining his disguise may leave him at a disadvantage. Besides,” she added, offhand, to Ed, “he thinks you’re attractive in that. It can only add veracity.”

Ed turned six shades of red in as many seconds, and his head snapped around to look at the expressionless Mustang. Mustang touched two fingers to his chest and bowed to Clara.

“It’s nothing to worry about Edward,” she finished, “I’m quite sure your trust in him is not misplaced.”

Ed retreated precipitately and slammed the door.

Mustang and Clara locked gazes.

“You are a dangerous woman,” Mustang said at last, softly, “to steal such truths. Not only from me but from him as well.”

Clara smiled a sad smile and shook her head. “No. Not him. Or, at least, I could never really use it to harm him. His heart is too pure for that.” Her smile turned sharp as she looked up. “So have a care, Mustang-taisa. I have no doubt that you are an accomplished hunter. But Edward captures people without ever trying to.”

Hawkeye stuck her head out the door.

“Clara, I could use some help here. Edward-kun is being difficult about the high heels.”

“Evening wear and less obtrusive gloves should do for you,” Clara told Mustang, moving back toward the dressing room. “Come back in about two hours.”

“Confident, isn’t she?” Mustang noted.

Hawkeye shrugged. “It’s worked so far. She even taught him to dance earlier this week.”

Very dangerous.”

Mustang handed Ed out of the rented car. Ed kicked at the wretched skirt to make it fall straight and tried not to think of how conspicuous he was. Clara had chosen beautiful material, brilliant cobalt figured with white and gold, but, while he could appreciate it in the abstract, it made Ed twitchy to be wearing something so eye catching.

Mustang’s hand on his waist wasn’t helping the twitchiness any.

“Is that really necessary,” he gritted out.

“I’m supposed to be your protective escort, preserving you from unwanted attentions,” Mustang murmured.

Part of Clara’s intention was working perfectly, as the high color in the cheeks of what appeared to be an elegant young woman drew admiring stares all down the entry hall.

Since Dalzet was throwing an open house to show off for his well-to-do friends and clients there were visitors wandering just about every hallway, but the general movement was toward the ballroom. Ed stiffened as Mustang guided them in that direction, though.

“It will be more reasonable for you to wander off after we establish our presence,” Mustang pointed out.

Ed fumed, but went along.

Mustang cast a measuring eye over the roomful of brilliant lights and equally brilliant clothing. Ed relaxed a bit, deciding that he would blend in reasonably after all.

He was almost right, nor was he really to blame that it escaped him that his dramatic coloring and confident bearing eclipsed nearly every woman in the room.

“Hm,” Mustang mused, “two dances, a drink, and another dance, and I think you’ll be able to slip away without anyone remarking on it. Adele.”

Mustang caught him adroitly as Ed tripped and nearly fell.

Ed knew that he was blushing, which only infuriated him more. “What?!” he hissed between clenched teeth.

“You don’t like the name? I can hardly call you Edward-kun here.” Mustang looked down with his most infuriating half-smile, eyes mocking.

“Fine. Fine, it’s fine! Now let go!”

“Of course.”

Ed collected himself, grateful that, for whatever reason, most of the stares directed at him seemed to have been withdrawn.

Mustang’s smile became satisfied.

A new dance was starting. “Come on, let’s get this over with,” Ed growled.

Ed’s twitchiness grew as Mustang held him closer to dance. It was just possible that the Colonel finally decided to have some uncharacteristic mercy, because the next thing he said was actually reasonably neutral.

“How did you manage to change the line of you right arm so much?”

Ed calmed a bit, focused on professional questions. “Some reconfiguration, some transmutation. It took a little experimenting.”

“I’m impressed with your dedication to this assignment.” Mustang spun them lightly.

“Try to dip me and I will find some way to make you regret it,” Ed promised with something that a person who couldn’t see his eyes might mistake for a smile.

“I wouldn’t dream of offering such an indignity to a lady.”

Ed reminded himself that he did not want to attract attention by, say, screaming with rage.

By the end of two dances he needed a drink very badly. It might, however, have been a mistake to finish it so quickly. For one, that just meant that Mustang drew him back onto the dance floor that much sooner. For another, it went to his head rather fast.

“For someone so capable of forethought and clever plans, you are very given to impulse, aren’t you?” Mustang seemed amused.

Ed, having to lean a bit more heavily into Mustang’s arms than he would have preferred, didn’t answer.

At last Mustang extracted them from the dancing at one of the stairways.

“Will you be all right, climbing stairs in those shoes, and in your current condition?” he wanted to know.

“I’ll be fine,” Ed declared, tight lipped, and set off with a stiff back. As soon as he reached the top of the stairs he kicked off the shoes.

“Not here. Nothing there. Can’t these people put this stuff in a reasonable place?” Ed tip-toed from room to room, muttering.

Finally, in one of the first floor sitting rooms, he found it.

“Arrays, materials, a ton of chalk…” He flipped through the notebooks sitting on the worktable. “Hm. Um-hm. Hm?” He paged more slowly. For a while he simply sat and looked at the notebook in his lap. Then he rose, crawled with some difficulty under the worktable and started tapping on the floor.

Something clicked.

“Got it!” Ed whispered, and pushed back a recessed opening in the floor. After taking a long look at what was underneath he closed it again, dusted himself off and strolled back to the ballroom.

It was of a piece with the whole night that he ran into a very drunk guest halfway there.

“Ah, the beautiful lady! And you’ve gotten rid of that possessive bastard, too, I see!”

Ed didn’t waste time wondering about the “possessive” part. “Bastard” was enough to tell him who the drunk meant. “Yyyyees, actually I was just going back to catch up with him…” Ed tried to sidle around the man, who leaned against the wall to block him. Or, possibly, to keep from falling down. The fumes on him were enough to make Ed a bit dizzy. He back-pedaled quickly as the man reached for his shoulder.

“No, no, you don’t want a cold bastard like him…”

A sharp shnick came from beyond the man, and he was wrapped in blue-edged flames. He collapsed with a hoarse cry, smoking.

Mustang was standing behind him.

“Cold?” he repeated, very soft.

“Thanks,” Ed managed, after a moment.

There was an odd glint in Mustang’s eye, but his voice was perfectly calm. “Trouble with your shoes?” he nodded toward the footgear in Ed’s hand.

“It was quieter with them off,” Ed mumbled, wedging the wretched things back on his feet. He accepted the arm Mustang offered him without thinking. Then he paused. “Wait a minute.” Ed turned over Mustang’s hand. There was no circle on the glove.

“It’s on the inside.”

Ed snorted. “And you said Hughes-san would be better at this undercover stuff.”

“He would not, at least, have left such a distinct calling card,” Mustang returned. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

Ed was silent a moment. “I suppose.”

“Ah. Then let us go.”

Back in the moderate security of the car, Ed flopped over the seat wearily.


“It’s a scam,” Ed told the Colonel dully. “The notebooks are all nonsense. There’s all sorts of stuff stored in the basement under the room where he does business, ready to be raised though the trap and slipped onto the table; probably makes some kind of flash to cover it. Lots of gold down there.”

Mustang looked out the window. “I thought that might be the case.”

“Then why did you get me to do this?” Ed snapped.

Mustang gave him a long look. “Can you really see Havoc in a dress?” he asked, seriously.

Ed blinked once. Twice. Pictured it.

Collapsed laughing.

He was still snickering when they got back to headquarters.

Mustang hauled him back to his office, where he, the rat, could get rid of his gloves and coat and tie, to draw out the location of what Ed had found before letting him go. About to make his escape, Ed considered logistics and paused.

On the one hand, he could head back to his rooms and get Al’s help getting out of the damn dress. But then Al would see him in the dress, something Ed had managed to avoid so far. On the other hand, he could ask Mustang for help now and simply have Al hand him his bathrobe through the door when he got back to their rooms. Mustang had, after all, already seen the worst.


“Hm?” Mustang looked up from the drawings.

“Can you unzip this thing for me?” Ed felt the tiniest bit revenged for the evening by the utterly blank look on Mustang’s face.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I can’t do the zipper by myself. And, frankly, women are nuts to put up with this kind of thing all the time.”

The Colonel’s smile was a slight bit unnerving, though Ed couldn’t pin down why. “Of course, Edward-kun.”

Ed turned his back and let Mustang work the zipper down. Finally, he was almost free!

Mustang’s hands slid over his bare shoulders. Ed froze.

“Truly, you were very beautiful tonight, Edward-kun.”

One hand started to brush the dress off his left shoulder and Edward Elric saw red. Every frustration of the past two weeks and this crazed night came roaring up. He seized Mustang’s wrist, turned, heaved and threw the Colonel over his shoulder and into the floor with a deeply satisfying thump.

Head high, dress falling half off him, wobbling on high heels, Ed stalked out of the office, slamming the door behind him.

Mustang lay on his office floor, laughing breathlessly.