The fanart by LooneyLolita can be found in my LJ gallery (http://pics.livejournal.com/alchemyotaku75/pic/0002pdr4/g37). I've been granted permission by the artist to upload it so I could share her wonderful art with the readers!
Edit 2-9-14: Since I changed my username on LJ, plus they've changed how the scrapbook works, you can find LooneyLolita's art at the beginning of Chpt 1 of FA in my LJ. Just go here!
Chapter 1: The Interview
Winry Rockbell was grateful for the shade that fell over the pavement in front of the massive and very elaborate gate. It gave her some comfort from the mid-day sun’s penetrating heat, allowing her to cool off a bit and collect her wits before letting her potential employer know she had arrived. A glance at her watch told her she was on time for her job interview with the wealthy head of the family, Von Hohenheim, and took another deep breath to calm her nerves. She did not want to make a poor impression, especially when her family’s welfare was at stake. She really needed this job, one that entailed housekeeping, at the prestigious Hohenheim Manor.
Firming her resolve, the pretty young woman stepped up to one of the massive stone stanchions holding up the ornate iron gates. She poked at the call button set in a metal plate mounted on one of the pillars, then fussed with her modestly conservative dress, the only decent garment to her name. Winry took another deep breath and waited for someone to answer the page.
“May I help you?” came a female voice. The tiny speaker below the call button distorted the voice, making it sound hollow and tinny.
“Yes, I’m Winry Rockbell. I’m here to interview for the maid position.”
There was a brief hesitation then, “Please come to the entrance on the south side of the house. There will be someone there to greet you and take you to Mr. Hohenheim.” The gate gave a slight lurch as unseen gears ground to life then opened slowly until there was a gap wide enough for her to pass. Winry stepped forward, quickly slipping onto the extravagant grounds. She didn’t turn to watch the gates close, but if felt as if her fate was sealed when they clanged shut.
It was a bit of a walk along the side of the mansion and Winry began to wonder if she had followed directions correctly when she almost reached the back of the stone structure and still hadn’t seen anyone. Just as she was about to return to the front gate, a tall, burly man dressed in a black butler’s coat and tails approached her.
“Miss Rockbell, I presume?” he queried in a deep voice as his dark, serious eyes peered down past a square nose to passively size her up. Winry felt a moment of insecurity. This man’s demeanor intimidated her and she felt a wave of panic well up. She squelched the urge to turn and flee, steadied herself, and swallowed back her nerves.
“Y-yes,” she stammered, clutching her purse tightly in white-gloved hands.
“Please follow me,” he said, his deep voice impassive, then turned toward an archway hidden within the tangles of ivy that crept up the mansion’s outer wall. Winry tagged along behind him, too timid to get close to the middle-aged man.
The passageway turned out into a huge courtyard and Winry tried her hardest to not gape at the verdant display; everywhere she looked there were exotic flowers, flowering shrubbery, stone paths, and a gorgeous pond with a stone sculpture of a half horse-half fish creature at its center. Water spouted from the marble animal’s mouth to tumble into the pond, creating the calming, pleasant sound of falling water that filled the air. She slowed upon seeing this spectacle then hurried along when she realized her chaperone had walked on without looking back. Their journey ended at a pair of open French doors where the butler stepped through and waited for Winry to pass before continuing on.
The silence that stretched out between them was unnerving and the young woman ached to strike up a conversation, but didn’t for fear of sounding uneducated. Besides, it didn’t appear as if this man fancied idle chat and she didn’t want to antagonize him and give cause to have her removed from the premises.
Instead of rubbernecking at the simple yet richly stained woodwork, the oddly plain furniture, and the understated draperies and carpeting, Winry kept her eyes down as she followed along. So focused was she on not looking about, it startled her when the man came to a halt before a solid oak double door. She barely managed to avoid crashing into him and waited as he opened the doors with a gentle push. He gestured for her to enter.
“Please make yourself comfortable, Miss. An aide will be along shortly to take you to Mr. Hohenheim’s study.”
“T-Thank you.” The words came with some difficulty and she longed for a glass of ice water to soothe her dry throat. Winry stepped in and paused when the doors clicked shut behind her.
The room was comfortable, the walls painted in a calming sage green and the furniture, while obviously not cheaply made, was uncomplicated in design. There were several high-backed armchairs arranged in a broken circle upon a rich tapestry carpet woven with geometric designs and one wall was covered in tastefully draped windows, while the opposite was lined with shelves of books. At the end of the room stood a fireplace, the mantel over it cluttered with framed photos, family photos, as far as Winry could tell from her vantage point. Everywhere, there was warm oak woodwork, from the mantel, to the polished floor, to the trim that adorned both the ceiling and baseboards.
For a brief moment Winry debated whether or not she should indulge her curiosity and wander to the mantel to look over the photos. In the end, common sense won out, and she drifted to one of the chairs to nervously perch upon it. Now, in the relative quiet of the room, the young woman’s mind began to race as the realization that she was inside the mansion of one of the wealthiest men in Amestris struck her. Doubts rose up to gnaw at her mind, causing Winry to question her decision about applying for the job. She was so young, only nineteen, and even though she was a decent mechanic in her own right, she didn’t know one thing about the upkeep of a mansion. How would she learn everything necessary to perform the job, just what would all of her duties entail? Her mind spiraled deeper into the rabbit hole of her thoughts, causing panic to rise in her chest again.
“Your face will freeze if you keep frowning like that,” came an amused voice from the hall door.
Winry jumped in fright, barely catching herself from slipping out of the chair. She spun about to find a tall young man leaning casually against the doorframe, smiling at her. His short hair was the color of bright wheat and his dark gold eyes twinkled with humor; he was quite handsome and very non-threatening. Winry found herself returning his smile in like.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. My name is Alphonse. Hohenheim is my Dad. Are you here to apply for the maid’s position?” he asked, standing straight and advancing into the room.
She stood and grasped his offered hand. “I’m Winry. And yes, I’m here for my interview.”
They parted and Alphonse gestured at the chair she’d just risen from. “Please sit.” He took the chair opposite hers and hunched over to prop his elbows on his knees, a very casual posture for the son of a wealthy man. Winry obeyed his suggestion and sat once more.
“Dad’s a pretty nice guy, so don’t be nervous when you meet him,” Alphonse said conversationally. He sat back and folded his hands in his lap. “Did you have to come far?”
“It’s a bit of a walk, but not too far,” Winry responded, relaxing a bit. This young man was warm and friendly, talking to her as if he’d known her all his life. “My Grandmother and I live on the edge of town, and I can pick up a bus that brings me within a couple of blocks of here.”
“That’s good, especially considering our winters can get cold. ” The young man smiled as he sat back in the chair, “Have you ever done this type of work before?”
Blonde locks swayed about her face, as Winry shook her head. “No, I’ve only ever worked at my Grandmother’s automail shop.”
Alphonse’s eyebrow shot up. “Wow! An automail mechanic! I’m impressed!”
“Well, not exactly,” she admitted. “I’m still learning. I don’t have my license yet.”
“Still, wouldn’t you make enough money, even as an apprentice?”
Winry resisted a sigh. “It’s my Grandmother they come to see, not me. I haven’t proven myself yet, so people are a bit reluctant to have me build their prosthesis.”
“Certainly your grandmother makes enough to support you both…” Alphonse trailed off and blushed ever so slightly. “I’m sorry. I’m being nosy. My apologies if I’ve gotten too personal.”
Alphonse seemed so charming and polite that Winry found herself fond of him even though they had met only moments before. She smiled in reassurance. “It’s okay. It’s not a state secret or anything. My grandmother hasn’t felt well lately and hasn’t been able to keep up with the automail orders. Which means she’s fallen a bit behind on the taxes on our house, and she also needs some expensive medications, so I thought I’d help by working outside the shop.” She shrugged. “I have the skills to help with the automail orders, but not all our customers are crazy about an apprentice working on their limbs. It would also be nice if I could put some money back so I could find another master automail mechanic to apprentice under and refine my skills.” She wasn’t about to tell him her family’s financial woes were much more dire than she had described; she didn’t want to seem too desperate.
Alphonse’s eyes glowed with admiration. “Now I’m really impressed!” He gave a light laugh. “Such high ambitions! I bet you’ll go far Miss Winry!”
The young couple laughed, then fell into an easy exchange. They talked about casual subjects until a tall, tanned-skinned man with sunglasses and an odd haircut appeared at the door. Alphonse halted the conversation and turned to the older man.
“Miles, is Father ready to see Miss Rockbell?”
“Yes,” came the simple reply and he nodded at the young woman. “If you’ll please follow me, Miss, I’ll take you to Mr. Hohenheim.”
Winry smiled at Alphonse as she rose from her chair. The young man scrambled to his feet in response. “It’s been very nice talking to you, Mr. Hohenhe—“
Alphonse laughed, cutting her short. “No, no, my last name is Elric, and besides, you can just call me Al.”
Lost for words, Winry could only cock an eyebrow in confusion. He was Hohenheim’s son but his last name was Elric? She found this fact intriguing.
“Okay…Al…nice to have met you.”
“Miss?” the man named Miles prompted, and she followed after.
Von Hohenheim’s study was even more understated than the library, with rustic furniture in the form of bookshelves, chairs, and notably a large oak desk near the back of the room. Winry noticed this only in passing: it was the strikingly handsome middle-aged man sitting behind it that immediately caught her attention.
Golden blond hair, pulled back into an informal ponytail, crowned a kind face with chiseled features. Whiskers lined his jaw and chin, but it was his eyes, like two bright gold coins, that drew her gaze like a magnet. Hohenheim’s smile was warm as he looked up from his paperwork, putting her at ease.
“Hello, Miss Rockbell. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.” He gestured at the two chairs in front of the desk. “Would you please sit down?”
Winry moved to one of the richly upholstered chairs and carefully tucked her dress beneath herself as she settled onto it.
“You’re here to apply for the opening in housekeeping, correct?”
Winry smiled back, “Um, yes sir, I’m—“ Her sentence was cut short as the door opened again, then closed with a firm yet dull ‘thud’. She ignored the impulse to turn around; it would be rude to turn away from her potential employer.
“Edward, could you please be more timely? When you didn’t show up at the time I specified, I had this young lady brought in to start her interview,” Hohenheim scolded mildly, frowning at the person who walked past her and carelessly pulled the chair next to hers around to the back corner of the desk.
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever, old man,” Edward muttered as he threw himself down into the chair in a haphazard jumble.
It was then Winry got a better look at this Edward and managed to catch herself in time to keep her jaw from dropping open; he was gorgeous! Not in a girly way, but a very virile, masculine sort.
An Adonis level of gorgeous.
Edward’s hair and eye color was identical to Hohenheim’s, and his features bore a strong resemblance to the older man. Not even his clothing of dark brown trousers and vest over a white shirt could hide his well-developed physique, leaving Winry to ponder what wonderful things the cloth might be concealing.
She flushed at having such indecent thoughts about a man she only just met.
“Miss Rockbell, this is my eldest son, Edward. He acts as the head of the household when I’m away, which means you would answer to him in my absence.”
Winry just nodded mutely, still unable to tear her eyes away from the vision before her.
“Edward.” Hohenheim continued with the introductions. “This is Miss Winry Rockbell, our next candidate for the maid's position in housekeeping.”
Edward untangled himself from his careless slouch and finally looked at her. “Yo.” He fell silent, his own eyes going wide when they fell upon her.
“Pleased to meet you,” Winry managed to say without stuttering, then shifted her focus back to Hohenheim when he continued on.
“So, tell me your qualifications, Miss Rockbell.” Again, he graced her with a calming smile.
“Uh, I’m an apprentice prosthesis technician and quite good with my hands. I-I don’t really have any experience as a maid, but I’m a fast learner.” Her words spilled from her the longer she spoke, “My grandmother, Pinako, hasn’t been well lately and we could really use the extra income—“
“Whoa, slow down young lady,” Hohenheim chuckled. “Did you say your grandmother is Pinako Rockbell?”
Winry blinked in surprise. “Yes, sir.”
Hohenheim gave a hearty laugh. “The moment I learned of your surname I wondered how you were related to her. Pinako and I go back a long way; we were very good friends years ago.” He rubbed at his whiskers. “Actually, I was a fellow colleague, back when I attended the University. I’ve been out of touch with her for a good number of years, though.” He frowned. “I’m sorry to hear she’s under the weather.”
“Thank you, sir.” Winry nodded graciously and lowered her gaze to the front of the desk. This bit of news came as a great surprise. She would have never guessed that her grandmother and the wealthy gentleman had at one time been good friends.
“My dear, if it’s money you need, I can help you and your grandmother.” Hohenheim pulled open the center drawer and took out a checkbook ledger. “Please allow me—“
“No!” Winry blushed at her own assertiveness. She cleared her throat. “I-I mean, no thank you, sir. We can’t—I can’t take charity.”
The golden haired man froze, pen hovering over the blank document. He blinked, then his eyebrows pinched together in confusion. “My dear, I don’t want to see you or your grandmother go without the things you need. If Pinako needs medical care or you need funds for other necessities, it would give me great pleasure to help you. I owe her so much for all the things she’s done for me in the past.”
Winry wet her lips nervously. Hohenheim’s help would buy the medication her grandmother needed and pay the upcoming property tax bill, but she didn’t know if she could bring herself to take his money without giving something in return. What did the alchemists call it? Equivalent exchange?
“I appreciate your offer, I really do, but I must decline. I would be happy to work for you and earn a fair wage, though.”
Hohenheim sighed in resignation, “You are quite the stubborn young lady; you’re just like your grandmother in that respect.” He closed his checkbook and placed the quill back into the ink well. “You also have her firm sense of ethics, which is something I admire in a person.” Easing back into his chair, he turned to his son. “Well, Edward, what do you think? She may not have a lot of experience at being a maid, but if she’s anything like her grandmother, I don’t think it will hold her back.”
When Winry looked to Edward, she found those penetrating gold eyes boring into her with an odd intensity. His eyes then wandered over her form slowly, as if he were undressing her with them, before locking his gaze with hers.
“Sure. She should be able to…learn...fast enough.” The tip of his tongue wet his lips as he regarded her with a hungry look. Winry felt a coil of fear settle into the pit of her stomach, which tightened when he added, “If she has any questions, I’m sure I can acquaint her with her duties.”
“Excellent! Congratulations, Miss Rockbell! You can start as soon as tomorrow!”
A shiver ran down her spine as Edward continued to scrutinize her like a panther sizing up its prey. Suddenly, being employed here didn’t seem like such a good idea after all, but she had made a commitment and couldn’t back out now.
“Thank you, sir,” she mumbled, ignoring Edward’s stare, which disturbingly remained fixated on her.
Hohenheim stood and extended a hand to her, which she in turn stood and returned his handshake. “I’ll have my aide, Miles, give you the information you’ll need to report for work in the morning.”
Hohenheim called for his aide, and Winry followed the silver haired man out of the study when he appeared, keeping her gaze turned away from the intense young man. Relief washed over her once they were in the hall, and once the aide gave her the instructions for the next morning, he took her back to the butler who led her to the front gate.
It was a long, thoughtful trip home.