Eames wears his hair slicked back these days, carefully smooth, and his uniforms ironed, starched in clean straight lines with gleaming rows of metal on his chest. He is genial and politic, and an excellent wit at dinner parties, where he limits himself to flame alchemy that amount to no more than parlor tricks. He lights generals' cigars and charms generals' wives, and never says no to wine, and never drinks the wine, and comes when they say "come" and sits when they say "sit" and heels when they say "heel", so that they do not see the ambition burning bright in his eyes, brighter than any of his fires in Ishval.
Arthur waits in the car, outside, for Eames who is never the first nor last to leave: some unremarkable middle number, he taps on the passenger window and Arthur unlocks the doors. The gel in Eames' hair is already loosening, his collar points wilting, and he tosses his cuff-links at Arthur with a casual, "Thanks". But the smile that accompanies it is still too edgeless, and the way he sits too straight and at attention: Arthur starts the engine and says, "I'm hungry."
"You are the worst adjutant I have ever had," replies Eames, shoulders lowering a little. "You couldn't have eaten before you came?"
"Sir," replies Arthur, with impressive insincerity, to which Eames mutters, "Worst ever," again; and they argue over the possible barbarity of Arthur's eating habits as Arthur drives them to some hole in the wall pub still open at two in the morning. There, Arthur has a shepherd's pie, Eames has a steak and half of Arthur's pie, and Eames' shoulders come down the rest of the way. He smiles sharper, fiercer, like the the night winds Arthur remembers from the desert. Arthur pushes over the rest of his pie.
Yusuf calls the office every so often, twice or thrice a week, mainly to gloat about the new glassware he has purchased for his laboratory and gleefully inquire as to how behind Eames is on his paperwork. "I hope your flasks shatter in transit," hisses Eames.
"I will be reimbursed and just buy more then," replies Yusuf. "Have I told you about the new distillation apparatus I just set up last week? I have taken pictures; I will show you the next time I am out East--"
"I don't care about your--"
"Now, now," says Yusuf, "I know you don't mean that. It's just the jealousy talking. You are regretting not staying in Research, I understand, but I have sent you a letter, and you can vicariously--"
Eames hangs up on him. He stares at the piles of administrative paperwork on his desk, and then at Arthur who is coming in through the door, loaded with more paperwork.
"Go away," says Eames. "I don't want that. You're not welcome here."
Arthur sets down the pile and says, "These are due at five this afternoon, Colonel. I will be coming in at four-thirty to check on your progress. Please, let's not have a repeat of last time."
"It is de jure criminal to shoot at your commanding officer," replies Eames, but undermines his reprimand by reaching for the newest batch of papers. "I should have stayed in Research."
"I am sure you would still be terrible at it," comforts Arthur, and leaves Eames to his work.
Once, in Ishval--not just desert-Ishval, but Ishval-proper, Ishval the city, Ishval with Ishvalans, Ishval the battleground, Ishval the abattoir--once, in Ishval, Eames said to Yusuf, "Five more minutes."
Yusuf replied, "They are waiting for you, Major."
"I can't--I don't want--" said Eames. "Two more minutes."
"Eames," said Yusuf. "Eames, you're already late."
Eames pulled the blanket further over his head, and closed his eyes, and saw fire blooming over the horizon like the sunrise.
"Two more minutes," sighed Yusuf. "I'll let them know--you're, you're finding your gloves."
He went out through the tent flap, and gave Eames five.
"I went through the figures," Yusuf told Eames, one night in the desert over a bottle of whiskey, the whisper of sand outside almost like rain.
"What?" asked Eames.
"You're a Major, right?" said Yusuf. "You get a company, so that's like, what--two hundred men? Who've been all told to give their lives for you, if need be, right? So, major to private, one to two hundred, yes?"
"Yusuf," said Eames.
"But, but," continues Yusuf, "you're a state alchemist, so it's not just that, right? You're a state alchemist, so your company doesn't have a artillery unit, do they? Of course not, the Flame Alchemist is the artillery, isn't he? You know how many men a cannon is worth, Eames?"
Eames reached over and tugged the whiskey from Yusuf. He thought about putting it away, and then looked at the too bright sheen of Yusuf's eyes. Eames took a drink, and asked, "How many?"
"About fifty, yeah? Depending on--on the range and firepower and caliber, of course, but--" He broke off. "You know how much I'm worth? Of course you don't. You don't know what I do. They sent me an entire regiment, today, of Ishvalans. To go through, as I'd like. Which--Ishvalans, I know, the exchange rate with our soldiers isn't one to one, but--"
"At the lab?" asked Eames.
Yusuf said, "Yeah, at the lab."
Yusuf said, "When I came, y'know--I mean. I can barely transmute, I figured. I figured they wouldn't weaponize me, right; I mean, I'm not you, right--"
Yusuf said, "But when people dream, they're so open--you can just take, whatever you want, you can take, you can sacrifice, you can--"
Eames took another drag of whiskey, and handed the bottle back.
Eames never asks what Yusuf did in Ishval, because it's classified-classified-classified; and Yusuf never asks what Eames did in Ishval, because it's public and common knowledge how the Hero of Ishval earned his title.
Eames doesn't ask what Yusuf does now, because he doesn't need to: Yusuf waxes unsolicited romantic about dream alchemy and its commercialization and its expansive market. "People want to--pretend. Forget," says Yusuf, and doesn't expound on the what implied by that sentence. Yusuf doesn't ask what Eames does now, because he doesn't want to know: Eames' job is for all intents and purposes mind-numblingly boring. Arthur sometimes has to stand guard with a rifle to make Eames do his paperwork.
Once though, between Ishval and now, in that twilight of celebrations, Yusuf glanced over and saw Eames staring up at the Fuhrer on his podium. The set of Eames' mouth was hard, and there was a new tightness around his eyes, like desperation or guilt or hate, too fervent to contain in the depths of his heart.
"What are you going to do?" asked Yusuf, smiling and quiet. "You are not pleased with this victory."
"Victory," said Eames, low. "This was not a war, Yusuf."
"That's true," agreed Yusuf, mildly. "They are calling it an uprising in the history books, already."
"Not that either," said Eames. He was silent, for several long moments, as the Fuhrer congratulated his troops on their valor and courage and sacrifice. Finally, Eames said, "This was not what I joined the military for."
"What did you join the military for?"
"To protect," said Eames. "The nation. The entire nation. Everyone."
"Huh," said Yusuf. And then, "I wanted funding, when I joined. So--well, at least you're noble, aren't you?"
"You're getting your funding, though," said Eames. "Who did I protect, here, Yusuf? Who'd I protect?"
"Your men," answered Yusuf, solid.
"They are so few," said Eames.
Yusuf laughed, "Well, then it's obvious isn't it? Idiot. What are you going to do?"
Eames looked at the Fuhrer again. He thought about fire, and blood, and how it was all the same color in the end. He said, "I have to make them all my men. Everyone."
"That does sound interesting," agreed Yusuf, and laughed again.
When Eames left the speech, Yusuf followed.
Ariadne is tiny and brilliant and easily creeped out by Yusuf's tendency to anthropomorphize his laboratory glassware. "Do you know he named his rotavap? 'Elise', but he calls it 'sweetpea'. Seriously, 'don't leave fingerprints on sweetpea.' He says that. Who says that?"
"Did you come all the way from Central to complain about this to me?" sighs Eames, who still has a good six inches of papers to wade through and is now nervously watching the hour hand on the clock creep closer to three.
"Oh, well, Yusuf also gave me his notes on the Philosopher's Stone but it's all in code and I can't make head or tails of it. It's okay though: Arthur's looking it over."
"I can crack code too, you know," sniffs Eames, hurt. "Why didn't you ask me?"
"Arthur said not to disturb you," replies Ariadne.
Eames stares at her for a long flat moment. He asks, "Is this why you are here disturbing me, sweetheart?"
"Arthur!" calls Ariadne, "He's calling me sweetheart!"
The door opens, with hardly a creak: Arthur doesn't really need foreshadowingly ominous sound effects. "Major, please stop disturbing the Colonel," at which Ariadne, the little troll, grins at Eames and scurries out of the room. Arthur turns to Eames. "Colonel," says Arthur.
"Ah ha ha," says Eames. "I didn't mean it, Arthur; you know you're my best girl."
Arthur says, "Hm," and the temperature in the room drops by about ten degrees.
"Yes, yes, sorry. I'll go back to work now."
On a train, once, with Ishvalan sand still in his hair, Eames sat down next to a young lieutenant and said, "Hey, I never had the chance before now, but. Thanks."
Arthur looked up, his face startlingly young. "Sir?" he said.
"I'm Eames," offered Eames.
"The Flame Alchemist," said Arthur. "Yes, I know." Then, as if remembering, "Sir."
"Ah, you do? You know what they used to say about me?"
"Well, they say that I am very handsome and very clever and very much going places, of course," smiled Eames, to which Arthur carefully did not respond. Eames laughed at that. "And that it was a miracle I wasn't killed. They said I had the God of Death watching over me." He slouched down in his seat, legs stretching out in front of him. "Of course, I figured that was a figure of speech or something. But--well, thanks for your care these past two years."
"Oh," said Arthur. "I wasn't--" He looked at Eames, and then amended, "that is. You're welcome."
"And it probably was a miracle that I didn't die," smiled Eames, but his eyes were more wistful than anything. He was quiet for several moments. Then Eames glanced back Arthur, and smiled again, though this time with his eyes as well. "Made your job harder, sorry 'bout that."
"No," said Arthur. "No. I was in the belltower of the old church in the western sector--"
"Is that where you were sniping from? It freaked us out, no one ever knew." Eames made a satisfied noise. "The belltower. Of the -- haha, of the church? You really were the Death God, weren't you?"
"It was a good location," said Arthur. "A lot of the state alchemists passed through there. And of all of them, you --you were the only one I saw out front." Arthur paused, and then said, more softly, "Aren't you the miracle?"
As promised, Yusuf has sent a letter listing in excruciating detail the particulars of his new glassware set: the circumference of his new Erlenmeyer flasks, the length of hashmarks on his graduated cylinders, how curvature of the meniscus formed by his new pipettes. Eames goes through the letter again, and tells Arthur, "Our shadow Homunculi. It's Mal."
"The Fuhrer's wife? Yusuf say that?" Arthur looks up from where he's cleaning his frightening gun collection. "And you. You're not dressed yet."
"I can't find the cufflinks," says Eames.
"You'd lose your head if it weren't attached," grumbles Arthur, disappearing into the bedroom.
Eames calls, "Hey, remember that time you called me a miracle?"
"It's a miracle you're still alive," floats Arthur's reply through the open door. He appears several moments later, with cufflinks. Eames simpers a "thank you" and goes to finish getting dressed. Arthur looks at his guns arranged in clean lines on the kitchen table, and then goes after Eames, before he strangles himself with the tie.
"But seriously," says Eames, lifting his chin while Arthur fusses with his collar. "We have to go to Central, then, if it's Mal."
"Stop talking," says Arthur. "Don't move."
Eames reaches up, and takes hold of Arthur's hands, stilling them. He says, "You'll come with me?"
Arthur sighs, but at the way Eames' eyes start to go wistful, he says, "Remember that time I called you a miracle?" Arthur bats Eames' hands away, and returns to his tie. He tells the second button on Eames' dress shirt, "I'll go with you. Into hell, if you'd like."