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Forbidden Acts

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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!”

“Thank you!”

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.

 

 

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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.

Chapter Text

While Winry knew there would be a fair amount of activity even at five in the morning, it was nothing like what she discovered when reporting to work her first day. Even before she’d opened the servant’s entrance door she could hear the bustle of activity, like a busy beehive, though the heavy wooden door. The noise grew alarmingly louder once she opened it and it took a moment for her to work up enough courage to take her first step in.

The large, well-lit foyer she found herself in was lined with wood cabinets and open cubbies, obviously intended for the staff’s use. Through the doorway at the other end she could see what looked to be the kitchen. It was then the young woman understood that what she’d heard outside was the harsh cacophony of rattling pots and pans being moved about.

“H-hello?” she called timidly. When no one answered she cleared her throat and tried again, this time more boldly.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” She winced at her own question; of course there was someone here or there wouldn’t be enough noise to wake the dead. “I’m new here and I need to speak to Ms. Riza.”

The decibel level dropped off a bit and a head silhouetted by light from the kitchen appeared around the edge of the doorframe.

“Hey there! Just wait a moment and I’ll get her!” The voice, obviously male, spoke over the din. He ducked back into the kitchen and called out, “Ms. Riza! Your new chambermaid is here!” The head returned, this time attached to an entire body that blocked the light from the door. “She’ll be with you in a bit. Make yourself at home.” He disappeared, leaving Winry alone with her growing misgivings.

She didn’t have to wait long. A twenty-something blonde dressed in a professional-looking grey blazer and knee-length skirt approached from the kitchen, hand extended in greeting.

“Hello—Miss Rockbell, correct?” She took Winry’s offered hand and shook it. Her grip was warm and firm, but not overly tight. “I’m Riza Hawkeye. I’m in charge of the help.”

Winry nodded weakly, still feeling less confident than the day before about her decision to work here. “You can call me Winry,” she corrected politely and felt at ease when Riza smiled warmly. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

Riza’s smile deepened with reassurance. “I think you’ll like it here,” the housekeeper comforted. “We’re a pretty tight-knit crew and we work together well. If you need anything, you can ask any one of us for help.”

“How many work for Mr. Hohenheim?” Winry queried. She wanted to get a feel for the work atmosphere here. The more people there were to ask, the more help there was available to her, the less her burdens would likely be.

“The number of our staff is always in flux, but at the moment, there’s a total of 19, including you and I.” Riza turned and motioned for Winry to follow. “Come with me and we’ll fit you for your uniform. There’s a changing room in the foyer—that’s the door in the far corner—and when you need to have your uniform cleaned, just leave it in your locker and hang the tag that says ‘wash’ from the handle. We send our laundry out to be cleaned.” Winry followed the older woman to the kitchen. “There’s a staff meeting every morning at 10:00 am in the kitchen. That’s when I go over the duties for the day and if the master of the house has anything to add, that’s when he will inform us.” Riza continued to speak as she passed through the kitchen and Winry took in the spacious room, the two huge stoves, numerous cabinets, a well-stocked pantry, and a very large walk-in refrigeration unit. She wanted a chance to examine it later; refrigeration was still a fairly new concept and she was itching to see how it worked. Granny only had an old-fashioned icebox and Winry hoped she could make enough to purchase one for their house. A stocky man with close-cropped reddish brown hair was setting out pots and pans, readying the utensils for the morning meal. He must have been the person that greeted her earlier.

“The Master of the house invites you to have breakfast here, but you must eat in the kitchen after he and his sons have dined. All Mr. Hohenheim’s meals are served in the informal dining room.” Riza hadn’t missed a beat as she continued into another adjoining hallway. “You will be expected to help serve meals, perform routine cleaning and dusting of the rooms, gather laundry, change linens in the bedrooms, and take on other duties as they are assigned.” Riza opened a door midway down the passage and flipped on a light, exposing neatly folded clothing filling the shelves of a huge walk-in closet. Row upon row of black, white, or grey garments filled the shelves and cubbies, some with nametags attached below the compartments. “Once we get you fitted, we’ll assign you a cubby in this closet, where your uniforms will be placed after they have been returned from the laundry.” Finally, Riza turned and looked at the young woman beside her. “I know it’s a lot, but I’m sure you’ll pick it up as you go. Do you have any questions?”

Winry shook her head, too overwhelmed to produce a sound.

Riza just nodded and smiled warmly. “Don’t worry, if you think of anything later, just ask me or any of the staff. Now, let’s put together your uniform.”

All Winry could do was nod.

 

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The breakfast rush in the kitchen was loud, fast-paced, and disorienting. Rethinking her decision to accept the job, Winry wondered how she could extricate herself from it while still retaining her dignity. The head chef, whose name she learned was Izumi, and the man that worked under her, Mr. Breda, were working quickly and efficiently to make the morning meal which consisted of fresh baked sweet rolls, eggs prepared in different styles, bacon, a cooked cereal of some sort (Winry guessed it might be oatmeal), and juice. When a plate of fresh fruit, artfully carved and arranged on a clear glass platter, was shoved into her hands, Winry’s stomach rumbled in response.

“Miss…Winry isn’t it?” Izumi addressed her.

“Yes ‘m,” she responded in a shy mumble, and gaped as another plate, this one piled with scrambled eggs, bacon and a particularly large, frosting covered cinnamon sweet roll was shoved into her free hand.

“Take these plates out to the table.” She pointed to each in turn as she spoke. “The fruit plate goes near the head of the table, where Mr. Hohenheim can reach it, and the other is to be served to Master Edward.”

Winry swallowed back her apprehension. Edward was the one person she least wanted to encounter on her first day, but couldn’t refuse a superior’s orders.

“I’ll help her out, Ms. Izumi,” a tall, pretty brunette said as she lifted two more plates from the counter. She turned to Winry and winked. “Hey! I’m Rebecca, nice to meet ‘cha, Winry!” She spun on her heel and gestured for Winry to follow. As they pushed through the door to the service antechamber, Rebecca said under her breath, “Always serve from the person’s right side, ask if there’s anything else they need, and always address the Master and his sons by their proper names and titles. It’s Mr. Hohenheim, and Master Edward or Alphonse. That will get you by until Schezka and I can teach you more about table service.”

The look Winry threw the older woman was one of pure gratitude. “Thanks,” she whispered before they stepped out into the dining room.

The table was long enough to seat at least ten diners, but only the end nearest the kitchen was occupied. Hohenheim sat at the head of it, with Alphonse seated at his left and Edward at his right. Three golden-blond heads looked up at the approach of the two servants, and their reactions varied; Hohenheim looked surprised, Alphonse smiled seeing Winry, but Edward only stared at her with that odd intensity, his bright gold eyes scrutinizing her much as he had during her interview.

“Ah! Good morning, Miss Rockbell! Good to see you!” Hohenheim greeted her pleasantly. “I hope Ms. Izumi hasn’t run you ragged.”

Winry nodded and offered a modest smile, “No, sir, she’s been very helpful.” She carefully placed the fruit plate at the center of the table, equidistant between the three diners then stepped around Edward so she could serve him from the right.

“That’s good to hear,” Hohenheim replied with a chuckle. “I know Rebecca will be teaching you all the ‘proper’ ways to serve and address us, but you may treat us far less formally.”

She could see that Edward’s glower, even from the odd angle she stood at, was aimed first at his father then at her. She shivered and retreated to a respectful distance.

“Thank you very much, but I feel it’s only right to address you properly,” Winry amended.

Rebecca, who had placed her last plate in front of Hohenheim, nodded almost imperceptivity and winked her approval. Another nod, this one aimed at Edward, Alphonse, and their father, reminded her of one more duty.

“May I get you or the young masters anything else?” She folded her hands in front of her.

`“No, this should be fine for now,” answered Hohenheim.

“I just need my oatmeal, that’s all,” Alphonse, added. “You can bring it when you have an extra moment.”

“I’ll get that for you right now, Master Alphonse,” Rebecca piped up and bounced off to the kitchen.

When Edward didn’t respond, Winry asked, “Is there anything you’d like, Master Edward?” Her throat felt tight as she spoke, but she tried not to let it affect her voice.

The forkful of scrambled eggs stopped mid-air and Edward turned his head just enough to peer at her through the strands of his long bangs. “There might be something I’d like later.” A subtle husky note, combined with the slightest hint of heat in his golden eyes, caused Winry’s stomach to do an uneasy flip.

“W-well t-then,” she stammered, now unnerved by Edward’s unwarranted attention, “If there’s nothing else.” Winry gave a slight bow from the waist.

“Of course, Miss Rockbell,” Hohenheim nodded back. “You may go. I certainly wouldn’t want to upset Ms. Izumi by keeping you from your duties for too long. She’d have no qualms about telling me what she thinks!”

Keeping her eyes down, she slipped past Edward, staying a safe distance from him, and into the antechamber. She passed Rebecca as the older woman came through the kitchen door with a bowl of oatmeal and a small pitcher of cream on a tray balanced in her hands. Winry ignored the woman’s puzzled look and hurried through the swinging doors and into the kitchen, grateful for the sense of security it offered her.

 

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Edward watched the young blonde’s retreat before picking up a strip of bacon and chewing it thoughtfully. This girl intrigued him and filled his mind with impure thoughts. Despite the fact his father had strict rules against fraternizing with the help, Miss Rockbell made him wish he could simply follow his desires.

Problem was this girl didn’t seem all that interested in him. She refused to look at him and seemed eager to be as far from him as possible, leaving the room quickly once relieved of her duties.

“Brother, you should be more friendly toward Miss Winry,” Alphonse playfully scolded. “I think your constant scowling is scaring her away.”

As if proving his brother’s point, Edward scowled across the table at his brother. “Shut-up,” he said and shoved another forkful of eggs into his mouth.

“Edward, be civil,” his father chimed in. “You’ve scared away the last two maids I hired, and I would be very displeased if you frightened Miss Rockbell away.”

“I’m not trying to scare her!” he protested then took a huge bite from his sticky pastry.

“Regardless, don’t be harsh with her,” Hohenheim scolded. “She’s the granddaughter of an old friend and she needs this job.”

“You can be pretty scary, Brother, especially considering the fact you look angry all the time.”

The elder brother’s acerbic response was muffled by his mouthful, but his family seemed to understand him quite clearly.

“Edward! Mind your language!” the older man reprimanded sharply.

Alphonse just grinned as if he’d won the fight and Edward scowled even harder and devoured the remainder of the pastry.

Hohenheim changed the subject. “Is Miss Thomas visiting you later today? Should I have Ms. Izumi make some of the tea cakes she likes?”

This jolted Edward out of his preoccupation with the new staff member. He swallowed hard, nearly choking on his under chewed mouthful, and gulped down some orange juice to clear his throat. His father just had to bring up the subject of his fiancée, something that could always tie his stomach into knots.

“No.” Edward’s voice was flat as he suppressed his anger. “She’s away with her family this week. They’re on vacation in Aerugo.”

“I see. Very well.” Hohenheim took a sip of his coffee. “We should schedule a meeting when they get back to discuss a wedding date, don’t you agree?”

The young man gnashed his teeth at his father. “The entire idea of an arranged marriage is ridiculous! Why the hell are you pushing me into this?!” Edward didn’t even flinch under his father’s cross glare.

“Because,” the elder man started slowly, as if explaining the situation to a very dense child, “you’re going to be twenty soon, and it’s time you grew up, become a man, and started taking on responsibilities. If you want to take over my position as head of the family after I’m gone, you must learn to give up being a ladies’ man and settle down. You’ve been seeing Miss Thomas for over a year now, and both her father and I think you two make a good match.”

Edward’s stomach turned at the prospect. He was quite content being a ladies’ man, living without ties and having his choice of the young women who were drawn to his unusual eye and hair coloring. Problem was, Rose’ had taken his advances as something much more serious than innocent flirtation.

“Only because you think so!” Ed snarled. “It was you and old man Thomas that decided that we should get married, not me!”

“Maybe so, but this is one of the obligations you must face when you become an adult, Edward!” Hohenheim took on an authoritarian demeanor, his already large frame seeming to grow even more formidable. “This is the proper way for those of our class to conduct ourselves, whether you like it or not! If you’ve been in a relationship with Miss Thomas for this long, then it’s time to make the association permanent!”

Ed froze with fury; his reasons for pursuing the snobby high-born girl had always been simple. She was pretty, interested in him, and he had wanted nothing more than to lure her into the sheets. But Rose’ Thomas had ended up being no more than a tease, a challenge he had yet to overcome, and their fathers had interpeted Edward’s unsavory interest as something more serious.

“It’s elitist snobbery and an outdated concept!” Ed declared. “Is that why you never married Mom?!”

“You will address me in a civil tone, Edward!” Hohenheim shot back.

Breakfast suddenly became less appealing as his anger and frustration got the best of him. Ed shoved back his chair and stood. “I’m not very hungry. I’m going to my room.”

He threw his napkin over his plate and stormed from the dining room, leaving his baffled father and sympathetic brother behind.

Chapter Text

“Ahgh! I’m glad we’re almost done!” Rebecca gave the spoon one last swipe and set it on the towel next to the other finished silverware. “Polishing silver is such a pain in the ass.”

Maria laughed nervously at Rebecca’s crude language. She picked up a knife and proceeded to clean it. “Really, Rebecca, you should learn to watch your language,” she said.

“Hmphf! Where’s the fun in that?”

When the two women burst into playful laughter, Winry eyed them with bewilderment. Even after a week of employment, she still didn’t know her co-workers well enough to know when they were joking or serious. The three women were currently camped out in the formal dining hall, cleaning the silver as part of their afternoon chores.

“So, how do you like working here so far, Winry?” asked Maria Ross, a reserved yet friendly brunette. She stopped working at a stubborn spot on a knife long enough to glance up at her. Maria was one of the other three maids, and only the second Winry had met so far.

“It’s okay, I guess.” Winry  shrugged. “It takes time to learn all the routines and schedules, but it’s no big deal. The shift rotations can be a little confusing, that’s all.”

“It’s not too bad once you get used to it,” Maria said brightly. “The schedule may seem confusing at first, but it’s really not. You just have to remember that there are at least two maids on duty during the day—today’s an exception, because there’s a rush on certain chores—and only one at night. You can find the schedule posted by the changing rooms.” She reached for another piece of silver.

“Ms. Riza set the schedule up so it’s fair. We each have to work two nights in a row, and the days we work coincide so we have the next day to sleep,” Rebecca said with a wink, “It’s not so bad when it’s only two nights in every eight days. I don’t think I could handle more than that.”

Winry nodded. “I’m actually used to staying up all night every now and then; sometimes automail orders are rush orders and I don’t go to bed before dawn just so I can get them done.”

“I’m still amazed you’re so accomplished at your age.” Maria's praise was genuine. “It’s too bad you haven’t been able to finish your apprenticeship so you can be fully licensed. You wouldn’t need this job in order to make ends meet if you were.”

“It’s this job that will give me the income I need so I can find a good mentor while helping out my Grandmother,” Winry sighed. “I hope I won’t need to be here forever, just long enough to get bills paid off and some money put back.”

“I wish you luck; and I have to say I’m a little envious.” Maria smiled warmly.

“At least I can honestly say I’m earning my wage here, there’s so much to do and so many things to learn in the process.” Winry pushed back a strand of hair that had escaped from her bonnet.

“I hear that.” Rebecca sighed back. “I’ve been here for at least five years and I’m still learning. This place needs a lot of daily upkeep; I’m just glad I’m not the dishwasher. I hate washing dishes.”

“That’s Mr. Furey’s job, right?” Winry inquired.

“Yup. He doesn’t seem to mind it much. He’s always seems to be happy, no matter what he’s told to do.”

“Unlike you, Rebecca?” Maria teased.

“Hey, I already have to put up with that brat, Edward, more than I care to. Dealing with his attitude day in and day out is tiring; if he weren’t my boss, I’d turn him over my knee and give him a good spanking.” She gave an evil laugh. “That would make me very happy!”

Winry could feel herself blushing at the mention of Edward’s name and tucked her face down to keep it hidden until she could get her responses under control. She felt so conflicted over her attraction to the handsome young man; his raw animal magnetism called to her but his harsh and angry personality frightened her away.

“Rebecca, really!” Maria shook a spoon at her in emphasis. “Be careful what you say! You don’t know who might be listening!”

“Hey, I can go toe to toe with the little ass—“

“Shhh! You’ll get us both fired!”

Wanting nothing more than to stop Rebecca’s tirade, Winry cleared her throat. A question came to mind that would steer the conversation away from her co-worker’s tirade over the moody young man. “Um…I was wondering why Master Edward and Alphonse’s last name is different from their father’s. Would either of you happen to know?” She became very self-conscious when two pairs of dark eyes focused on her.

Maria shook her head. “I don’t know, but I’ve always wondered, too. I’ve just been too afraid to ask.”

Rebecca put the finishing polish on the last knife and placed it with the other clean silverware on a cloth laid out on the table. “I’ve only heard rumors, but I’m not sure how true they are.”

“Somebody call for a ladder? And help taking apart the chandelier for cleaning?”

The three women collectively jumped. Winry turned to see a very handsome blond man carrying a long stepladder over his shoulder approach from the hall entryway. Rebecca humphed! at him.

“What took you so long?” she asked tartly.

“Now, now. I don’t recall you putting in a rush order, my dear.”

“Just to make up for that remark, you’ll have to take me to an expensive restaurant this weekend, Jean!”

The man’s face fell. He came to an abrupt halt and eyed her as if thunderstruck. “C’mon, babe, cut me some slack!”

“Remember what I said when we first met? That I would only date men that had money?” Rebecca jammed her fists onto her hips, challenging Havoc to say something else untoward.

“I don’t think there’s a man rich enough in all of Central to satisfy you, except for Mr. H, and you know about the rule against fraternizing with the employers, right?” Havoc shifted the ladder on his shoulder and smirked back with a wink.

Now Winry was becoming concerned; was an all-out argument about to break out between these two? A glance at Maria told her there was no great threat, but Winry preferred to keep her own counsel on the matter. A moment later the pair broke into laughter and Winry sighed, relieved. It was odd how some couples chose to flirt.

“Hey, who’s the new grunt worker?” Jean asked once he and Rebecca finally settled down.

“The new maid is Winry Rockbell,” Rebecca supplied. “She started about a week ago.” The raven-haired woman began placing the finished silver into the buffet drawer. “Winry, this is my boyfriend, Jean Havoc.”

Jean’s smile was bright and friendly, putting Winry at ease. “Nice to meet ‘cha, Miss Rockbell.”

“Please call me Winry,” she politely corrected then added, “Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Havoc.”

He shook a finger at her, “Uh-uh, just Jean, thank you.” He then turned to Rebecca. “Are you ready to start taking apart the chandelier yet?”

“Just finishing up. We’ll have the table cleared in a few minutes.” Rebecca went back to the topic they had been discussing before his interruption.

“Jean, do you happen to know why Ed and Al’s last name is different from their father’s?”

Havoc frowned at her. “Why in the world do you want to know something like that?”

She nodded at Winry. “She brought up the question and we were trying to answer it.”

“Hmmm….” Havoc scratched at the patch of beard on his chin. “What I’ve heard is from idle gossip, but I think the boy’s surnames come from their mother, not Mr. H. It’s no secret he never married their mother, but he took them on when she passed away about ten years ago.”

“How sad,” Winry remarked in a near-whisper, but it was loud enough for the other occupants of the room to hear.

“Maybe, but all things considered, they did pretty well,” Jean scoffed. “I wished I had a rich parent to take me on.”

“Be nice,” Maria admonished. “You wouldn’t have want to come into money like that; losing your mother at that early an age can’t be easy.”

“No, it’s not,” Winry added wistfully. “I lost both my Mom and Dad when I was only nine. They were casualties of the war.”

A silence fell over the group as the older members digested the new coworker’s confession.

“Sorry to hear it,” Rebecca soothed. “Were they soldiers?”

Winry shook her head. “No, they were doctors. Their medical facility was attacked and they were killed because they wouldn’t leave the wounded behind.”

“Wow,” was all Maria could come up with. “That’s terrible.”

“Is that why Master Edward seems angry all the time, because he lost his mother when he was little?” Winry was now eager to direct the conversation away from her past and this seemed like a good way to do it. Besides, she could learn more about her employer’s son without seeming too interested.

The three’s outburst of dry laughter startled Winry.

“I’m sure that’s part of it, but he has a lot of other issues that make him outright disagreeable.” Jean took a toothpick from his breast pocket and clenched it in his teeth. Winry had the impression this was a habit borne from obsessive smoking, but the mansion’s rules didn’t allow smoking on the premises.

A loud voice, accompanied by steady footsteps, coming from the front of the house interrupted the group and they fell silent. They turned their attention back to the chore at hand as the sounds grew closer.

“I can let myself in!” a shrill feminine voice proclaimed as it echoed through the house. “Really, I don’t need your help to get around!”

Jean offered a smirk to Winry. “As a matter of fact, here comes one of his biggest issues now.” He kept his voice low as to not be heard by the approaching guest.

Winry followed the direction he was pointing and caught a glimpse of a well-dressed young woman walking past the wide archway to the hall. Her brunette hair was long, with the portion around her face dyed pink. She walked in front of Mr. Sig, the butler that had brought Winry to the study on the day of her interview. There was a look of complete distaste on the woman’s face and she held her nose high.

“But, Miss—“ Sig started to say, only to have her cut him off.

“If you want to be useful, tell Edward I’m here!” she snapped. “Useless,” she mumbled. “When I’m mistress of the household, you’d best pray I decide to keep you on!”

Sig’s humble response was lost as the pair continued down the hall.

“Speak of the devil. Literally,” Jean chuckled when he was sure Sig and the woman was well out of earshot.

“Who...?” Winry was lost for further words.

“That,” Rebecca started with a dramatic flair, “was Edward’s fiancée, Rose’ Thomas. And one of the reasons he’s so obnoxious, if not the main one.”

Winry’s blood ran cold; Edward was promised to someone? She shook off the queasiness that bloomed in her stomach. After all, why should she care? Even if Edward was a kinder person, she was well out of his league by simply being much poorer. The wealthy didn’t hobnob with the downtrodden.

Then the question presented itself: “Why should she be the reason he’s so…” She twirled her hands in the air instead of finding another analogy for Ed’s bad disposition.

“Because her father and Mr. H. arranged the marriage between them, and that cuts into Eddie’s favorite pastime,” Jean supplied. When Winry could only gape at him in confusion, he added, “Being a playboy.”

“Oh.” Winry gave a faint nod. Now it all made sense, the heated stares, the suggestive comments, and wicked smiles that meant to seduce. “I see.”

Maria placed the final piece of silverware in the drawer and Jean opened up the stepladder and pointed at the chandelier. “Are we ready to start tearing that beast apart for cleaning?”

All three women collectively sighed and nodded.

 

 

 

 

 

%%%%%

“Brother, you can’t keep running away!”

Edward pushed past Alphonse and ducked through the gate in the hedge at the back edge of the mansion’s manicured lawn. “There’s no way in hell I’m sticking around as long as she’s here!”

“Ed!” Alphonse called after him. He could hear the exasperation in his younger brother’s voice, but had no intentions of arguing out in the open where he could easily be found.

A looming sense of dread urged him to walk faster to the stable. All he wanted to do was mount his horse and ride out into the forested part of the family’s massive estate, where he could hide from any unwelcome attention. Jensen, the stable hand, was just tightening the cinch when Edward stepped into the barn.

The older man acknowledged Edward with a nod. “He’s all ready to go, Master Edward, per your request.” Edward barely nodded in response and almost ripped the reins from Jensen’s hands. He vaulted into the saddle with ease and dug his heels into the black and white horse’s flanks. The animal bolted, narrowly missing Jensen, and Edward reined it onto the riding trail that led to the woods. He urged the horse faster, wanting nothing more than to put distance between him and the whiny, annoying woman that had claimed herself as his fiancée.

The freedom was exhilarating, if temporary. Once they reached the tree line, the agile stallion sidestepped brush and cleared obstacles with ease, all the while maintaining a brisk gallop. Edward relished the cool air washing over him. The wind whistling past his ears tugged at his long hair, and the rhythmic thud of hooves digging into the soft loam filled his senses. Still, all this wasn’t enough to drown out the memory of Rose’ shrill voice as it had echoed through the mansion.

The voice that sounded more like a death knell than one promising a bright future.

Damn that old man!

He shook his head in an attempt to clear the distressing thoughts and leaned into the pinto’s neck as they passed under a low hanging limb. It grew dim as they continued on into thicker timber. Scattered spots of sunlight that had managed to struggle through the dense canopy were all that helped them find their way and keep them safe.

Finally, horse and rider reached a secluded clearing, a bright oasis of long grass and wildflowers buried deep within the vast stand of oak. Edward reigned in the animal as they broke into the small meadow, and once the horse slowed enough, he slipped from the saddle and into the tall grass. The horse trotted a few steps more then circled back to its owner. Edward gave the animal’s velvety nose an affectionate rub then pushed at the animal’s shoulder, signaling that he was free to wander.

“Go on, Spike, leave me alone for a while.” As if the tobiano* understood, he wandered off and dropped his nose into the fragrant grass.

Edward plopped onto his back, hiding himself in the tall vegetation, and stretched out like a lion basking in the sun. He folded his arms beneath his head, took a long, slow breath, and willed his body and mind to relax, using the relaxation exercises Izumi had taught him during many of their martial arts lessons. He was only partially successful; he did manage to coax his body to release its tension, but the persistent turmoil that followed him everywhere nowadays still buzzed through his mind like angry bees.

 

 

 

 

 


Ed and Spike in the meadow

 

Too much was expected from him. He simply wanted to live his life as he saw fit, without any interference from his father or anyone else. A white-hot coal of hatred towards his father burned deep within, for never having married his and Alphonse’s mother, and over the elder man’s attempts to control him. As far as Edward was concerned, what he did with his life was none of his father’s business; he was an adult and could make his own decisions on the matter of marriage. Once more, the urge to pick up and simply leave gripped him, but he knew his younger brother wouldn’t follow, and Edward was reluctant to leave him behind.

Would he marry a woman he hated just so he could stay close to his brother? He just didn’t know. Every fiber of his being rebelled against the idea of being legally connected to a woman who would slowly extinguish his spirit.

The effort to empty his mind coupled with the sun’s warmth on his body soon made Edward drowsy and he drifted off into the peace of nothingness.

 

%%%%%

 

Edward woke to the sound of approaching hoof beats. He bolted upright in alarm, mind still groggy from his impromptu nap, and struggled to make sense of why his nerves were taut like a drawn bowstring. An instant later he remembered why he rode out to the meadow.

“Shit!” he muttered and moved to get to his feet. “Either that bitch or the old man followed me out here. How did they find—”

“Brother! I thought I’d find you here!”

His relief was immeasurable. Edward sighed and sank back into the grass. It was only Alphonse.

Spike nickered a greeting to Al’s dapple-grey mare, Gracie, as she walked into the clearing, and Alphonse brought her to a halt next to Edward.

“What do you want?” Edward growled. He threw an arm over his eyes to shield them from the sun. Its position in the sky indicated it was now mid-afternoon; it had been late morning when he had made his dash for freedom.

Alphonse dismounted and gave Gracie a gentle pat on the rump. The mare drifted over to graze with the stallion, leaving the brothers to themselves. “What do you think?

“Our old man sent you out here to bring me back.”

“No, he didn’t. As a matter of fact, I came out to tell you Rose’ went home, and bring you some lunch.” Al settled next to him and held out a leather pouch. Edward grunted as he sat up and took the parcel from his younger brother. His rummaging turned up two wax paper-wrapped sandwiches, an apple, and an insulated flask, which he guessed was filled with lemonade. Izumi knew he hated milk and would never have served it to him under any circumstances.

“Thanks,” Edward murmured with honest gratitude. He realized just how hungry he was and tucked into his sandwich—roast beef piled on homemade bread and slathered with horseradish mayonnaise. As he finished it and reached for the other one, Alphonse broke the silence.

“I managed to smooth things over with Dad and Rose’ this time.” The younger man turned a stern look upon him. “But I can’t keep this up forever. How much longer do you plan on avoiding the issue, Brother? You can’t run away every time she comes to visit.”

“I can damn well try,” Edward muttered and practically inhaled the second sandwich. He unscrewed the flask’s lid and took a long drink from it. Yes, it was lemonade, and it was sweet, just how he liked it.

Alphonse sighed. “You’re going to have to leave the country if you want to avoid marrying her, you know.” His expression softened to sympathy, “I know you don’t want to marry her, Ed.” He leaned back on his arms and watched the horses munch on the long grass at the other side of the clearing. “I wish I could change Dad’s mind about the whole situation, I really do.”

Edward smiled. No matter what, Alphonse always had his back. “Yeah, I know you do, Al. If only our old man would bother listening to anything either of us say.”

There was a long silence, then Alphonse took Edward completely off guard by asking an out of the blue question:

“If you had to pick one girl, who would you choose?”

Edward blinked at question then sneered. “Why does it only have to be only one?”

“Because it’s the mature thing to do?”

“Now you’re starting to sound like him.”

Alphonse shook his head. “Ed, I know you like to have your choice of the ladies, but deep down I know that’s not really who you are. Could it be you’re trying to compensate for Mom dying when we were so young? That you’re looking for attention, comfort, when you’re with them?”

“Oh, now you’re a psychiatrist,” Edward countered sourly and lay back into the grass. He was full, content, feeling sleepy again, and in no mood to venture into a tangled discussion about his feelings with his brother.

“It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to figure out that you’ve been angry at the world since Mom died and Dad took us in to live with him.”

Edward remained silent, staring off into the sky. It was Alphonse’s turn to be startled when he finally spoke minutes later. “He has no right to tell me what to do or who I should marry. He gave up any right to being our father when he abandoned Mom and left her to raise us on her own. All because of some stupid “tradition.” The last word was spoken with venom.

“Then I guess you should have picked someone other than Rose’ to stay with for so long, or you should not have hung around her at all,” Alphonse scolded without anger. “Why did you stay with her for so long anyway, Brother?”

“None of your business,” came the terse answer, then a sigh. “I got stupid, that’s all.”

Alphonse nodded then cautiously cleared his throat. “You do realize that Dad set a date for your formal engagement announcement. That’s why all the help has been called in to clean the house. They’re getting everything ready for a dinner party next week.”

Edward fought down the sick feeling coiling in his gut. “That figures.” He turned to watch Spike drift a few steps, trying his best to hide his panic from his brother.

After another long pause, Alphonse changed the subject with yet another unexpected question, and Ed knew he had done it in order to distract him from the painful situation. “ Speaking of the help, what do you think of the new maid? She’s nice, isn’t she? She’s also very pretty, and smart, too.”

Edward chuffed derisively. “I hadn’t noticed.” He could feel the younger man’s stare bore into him. Just like Alphonse to pinpoint his dark vices and drag them into the light of day.

“Yeah, right, Ed. I see you ogling her whenever you think no one else is looking.”

He rolled his eyes to glare at Alphonse. When he couldn’t come up with a valid argument to put his brother off the trail, Edward simply said, “So?”

“So,” Alphonse said with pointed emphasis. “You like her. Wouldn’t you like to know her better?”

A low, sinister chuckle answered him. “Yeah, I’d like to know her better, all right.” Edward left the rest of his statement unspoken; I’d like to know what she’s like in bed. “But I don’t think she likes me much.”

“Ed.” Alphonse’s warning tone went unheeded. “Maybe if you were nicer? I think you scare her.”

“Shut up, Al.”

Alphonse shook his head and heaved a sigh. “Fine, Ed, whatever. Let’s go home. If we’re late for supper, Sensei will beat us senseless. Besides, we’d better face Dad and get the lecture over with.”

They climbed to their feet, brushed the dust and grass off their clothing, and retrieved their horses. The ride home was in companionable silence.

 

 

*A tobiano is a pinto that is more dark coloring than light.

Chapter Text

Morning dawned, casting a merciless light through the opening in the heavy curtains, and woke Edward as it fell across his eyes. He groaned and rolled away from the offending brightness, craving a few more moments of sleep. Just as he was dozing off, a knock came at the door.

“Brother, it’s almost 7:00; you’d best get up before Ms. Izumi comes looking for you.” Alphonse didn’t open the door, very aware how foul his brother’s mood could be this early in the morning.

“Go away,” Edward moaned, his voice muffled by the pillow. “I’m still tired.”

“Ms. Izumi won’t take that for an excuse, you know. You shouldn’t have stayed up so late.”

This only made Edward cross.

“GO. AWAY. I’ll get up when I feel like it!”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” came Alphonse’s glib response, and Edward heard him retreat. Certain his brother wouldn’t be back, he nestled back into the comfort of his pillow and drifted back to sleep. His extended rest didn’t last long. The door suddenly burst open and the covers were whipped back, exposing him to the cooler air of the room.

“GET UP NOW AND GET YOUR LAZY ASS OUT TO THE COURTYARD!!”

Edward was still half asleep as he scrambled out of bed and tumbled to the floor. When his sight cleared he found Izumi Curtis looming over him, her eyes glowing with fury.

‘It’s Saturday already?!’ the terrified thought raced through his mind. He leapt to his feet and was grateful he had remembered to wear pajama bottoms to bed last night. Often, it was only his boxers or less.

“Yes, Ma’am!” he sputtered and sprinted to his private bath.

 

%%%%%

The pair faced off, circling one another while crouched in a defensive stance. Alphonse feigned a charge and Edward answered with a graceful sidestep. Alphonse then aimed an open-handed chop at his brother when Edward left himself open. Edward ducked Alphonse’s swing and responded with a roundhouse kick. Alphonse captured his brother’s calf and turned, pulling Edward off balance. He landed hard on his backside.

“Shit,” Edward mumbled and lay back to wait for the pain radiating up his spine to subside.

“Done already, Brother?” Alphonse taunted and offered a hand up. Still panting for breath, Edward only stared at it before taking the assistance.

“I wish,” he groaned, rising to his feet. He took a moment to brush dirt and bits of grass from his clothes.

“I did warn you.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“You idiot!” barked Izumi. Edward tried not to cringe as she approached. “Never let your guard down! I would have thought you would’ve learned something as simple as that by now!” She stopped only inches from him and bent forward, hands fisted into her hips. He couldn’t help but lean away and force a swallow as she glared daggers at him. Izumi Curtis was the only woman on the planet that could intimidate him, yet despite his momentary fear, he respected her.

From the first day that Edward and Alphonse had been brought to the mansion to live, Izumi Curtis had, in a round about way, taken the place of their mother. She had welcomed the two small boys wholeheartedly, helping them feel secure in their time of loss, and filling the void their mother had left upon her passing. Izumi and Sig Curtis had made the large, empty mansion feel more like home, giving them a sense of family in a place that would have otherwise been devoid of warmth.

In spite of the fact she often used tough love on him, he cared deeply for her, even if he couldn’t admit it out loud or to himself.

“Sorry, Sensei! I’m just a bit tired, that’s all!”

“No excuses, Edward! I don’t accept excuses!” After a short staring match in which Edward offered no defiance, Izumi backed down and slapped the side of her protégé’s head. He yelped in protest and rubbed at the resulting sting. With a tired sigh, she turned away. “Take a few minutes to rest, then we’ll work on your alchemy lessons. I’ll bring us some refreshments.”

“Yes, Ma’am!” Edward and Alphonse chorused and relaxed as Izumi returned through the kitchen service entrance. Edward made sure she was gone and shuffled over to the fountain to sit on the stone rim.

“You really have her riled up this morning,” Alphonse remarked, facing his brother, “What had you up so late?”

Edward hesitated, reluctant to tell him he had snuck out to a nightclub on the opposite side of Central the night before. It was a good thing Alphonse hadn’t detected the scent of perfume still lingering on his skin that his late night shower had failed to completely eliminate. The memory of making out with a redheaded beauty in the darker recesses of the noisy, crowded establishment momentarily returned to him and Edward held back a sly smile. He opted for a white lie, instead. “I was working on a project and lost track of time, that’s all.”

Alphonse regarded him with skepticism, one eyebrow arched high. “I might be way off base, but did this project involve something soft and pretty and female.”

‘Damn it! How the hell does he do it?!’

Edward’s actual answer was to offer the middle finger of his right hand.

Alphonse took no offense and simply laughed. “Don’t worry, Brother, your secret is safe with me!”

“How did you know?” Edward muttered crossly, tired of Alphonse always ferreting out his deeper motives. “How do you always know?”

“It’s your eyes,” Alphonse replied as joined his brother on the rim. “You can never look me in the eye when you’re lying. That, and you blush; not much, just a little on the bridge of your nose, but enough for me to tell.”

All the older brother could do was curse under his breath.

“You’d just better hope no one recognized you or knew Rose’.” Alphonse admonished. “If word got back to her, there’ll be hell to pay.”

Edward snorted. “I could care less if she found out.” A devious smirk crossed his face. “Hell, it might be one way to get out of this stupid engagement.”

Alphonse shook his head. “Ed, trust me, you don’t want her to find out. Word would certainly get back to Dad and it worries me to think what he might do to you. You know how concerned he is with our image, considering we’re ‘new money’ and not part of the old aristocracy. If he knew how you were acting, he might disown you and throw you out on the street.”

Edward came close to saying ‘Fine with me, then I’d finally be free of both his bullshit and that crazy broad’ but refrained when he remembered that would mean leaving Alphonse behind. “Whatever,” he said after a long moment and heaved a sigh of defeat. “That’s his issue, not mine. I could care less about his ‘image’.”

“Honestly, Ed, you can be so reckless sometimes!” Alphonse scolded. “You could think things through once and a while instead of just acting out.”

Eyes flashing with anger, Edward spun on his brother. “What the hell do you know?!”

“I know you want out of this situation badly enough that you'll do something really crazy. You always act first and think later, and you’re not above doing something stupid to get what you want.” Alphonse’s scowl softened. “What would you do if you left here, Brother? Without Dad’s money, how would you survive?”

Another shrug. “I could join the military as a State Alchemist. I understand the salary is decent, and since Amestris’s borders have been quiet, I wouldn’t be expected to fight.”

Alphonse sprung to his feet. “No way, Ed! You can’t do that! I know you’ve heard the rumors, what they call State Alchemists?! Dogs of the military! You would be expected to do horrible things, even not in wartime!”

“Okay, okay, I won’t join! Happy?” Edward placated, holding his hands out in front of him. “I just wish I could get out of this mess, that’s all.”

“You’re smart, Brother, I know you’ll think of something.”

“One of you boys come here and help with the tray!” Izumi commanded, interrupting the uneasiness that settled between them. The brothers spun to find her standing at the kitchen entrance, holding a tray with three glasses and a pitcher of lemonade.

“I got this.” Alphonse stood and trotted toward Izumi, who was now tapping her foot impatiently. Edward slouched with a groan. How on earth was he going to get of this nightmarish situation?

 

%%%%%

‘I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!’

Winry squeezed through the gate when it opened enough for her to fit through, and sprinted toward the back of the mansion.

‘I shouldn’t have stayed up so late working on Mrs. Webber’s automail! I was so tired I never heard the alarm clock go off! I’m so in trouble!’

She flung the door open and dashed into the main servant’s entrance, nearly crashing into Schiezka in the process.

“Sorry, so sorry!” Winry brushed past her and headed for her locker.

Schiezka, a demure woman about Winry’s age, and the fourth maid employed at the mansion only smiled knowingly. “Good morning, Winry! Ms. Riza isn’t in right now, so I don’t think you need to worry. Besides, a formal breakfast generally isn’t served on Saturdays because Ms. Izumi has other things to attend to.”

After a cursory glance about, and seeing no one, Winry started to undress in front of her locker. “Thank goodness! I was so worried I wasn’t going to be here for the morning service that I ran all the way from the bus stop!” She pulled on her maid’s dress and Schiezka helped her tie her apron. “I didn’t have a chance to eat or even get some coffee,” she bemoaned, closing her locker and slipping into her shoes.

Schiezka pointed in the direction of the kitchen. “Ms. Izumi set out some pastries, fruit, and finger sandwiches just in case any of the staff needed a pick-me-up. There’s also fresh coffee on the stove. We can grab something to eat before we go finish our work in the main ballroom.”

Of course! In her hurry to get to work this morning, the engagement party had completely slipped her mind. “That’s right, there’s a big party tomorrow night,” Winry sighed and followed the other woman into the kitchen. “What’s left to do?” She pushed aside the fact the party was intended to announce Master Edward’s engagement. It was something she still preferred not to dwell on.

Schiezka poured coffee for both of them and took two plates down from the cupboard, “Mostly just setting up the service, like putting tablecloths down and putting out the glasses, silver, and dishes besides our normal duties. Rebecca, Maria, you, and I did most of the cleaning and polishing last week, remember?”

Winry nodded and took the plate and mug Schiezka offered her. “That’s good. I’m so tired I don’t think I could manage anything more than that today.” The rich scent of coffee reached her and she took a tentative sip. It was hot and bitter. She generally preferred adding sugar, but was grateful for the dose of caffeine, sweet or not. A bright red apple amidst the other fruit in the bowl on the counter called to her, as did some of the finger sandwiches that were neatly arranged on a plate next to the bowl.

“Are you working the party?” Winry asked her co-worker and bit into the apple. It was sweet, juicy, and very crisp.

“Yup!” Schiezka took a generous bite of her doughnut. “Are you? I know Rebecca and Maria are, but hadn’t heard if you were.”

Winry nodded as she swallowed the bite of sandwich she had taken. “Yes, I’ll be here, too. Even if I hadn’t been required to work, I would’ve volunteered.” She picked up another finger sandwich. “I need the cash and the more I work, the faster I can pay down my expenses and help my grandmother.”

The pair chatted and snacked for a while, and was in the process of cleaning up after themselves when Izumi came in the service entrance from the courtyard, carrying a tray with an empty pitcher and glasses.

“Good morning, girls! I’m filling in for Ms. Riza today. You know what chores need to be done?”

“Yes ‘m!” they said in unison.

“Good! I might also need some extra help in the kitchen later, so if you find some free time, would either of you be interested in putting together some of the hors d’oeurves?” She set the tray near the sink and added the glasses to the dishwater.

“Of course!” they replied, again in unison.

Izumi nodded in approval and smiled warmly. “Excellent! Just come back here when you’re done with your chores.”

Winry couldn’t help but smile back. She hadn’t known Ms. Izumi for very long, but found the woman very likable; strict, yet fair. There was also a warm, caring side to her, what was often referred to as ‘a mother’s touch’, and Winry likened the way she cared for the younger members of the staff to a mother’s affection for her children. Once she found out Winry’s parents were deceased, Ms. Izumi had taken Winry under her wing and tended to favor her.

The young women excused themselves, and were nearly to the Great Hall when Winry noticed something absent from her uniform. She halted and frantically patted her head.

“Oh no, I forgot to put my bonnet on!” She turned and darted back toward the kitchen. “I’ll be right back!” Schiezka nodded and continued.

It was a quick trip to the servant’s quarters. Izumi was no longer in the kitchen, Winry noted on her way to her locker, and that the door to the courtyard was ajar. She retrieved her bonnet, but decided to put it on while heading back to her job.

As she came back through the kitchen door, she crashed into a very solid body, one that was warm and wore an open shirt. Winry was shocked into silence and flushed beet red. At work for less than an hour and she had nearly knocked over her second victim.

This just wasn’t her day.

“I’m so sorry—!” The rest of her apology died as she followed the smooth chest up to a face and found out whom the warm, solid body belonged to; Master Edward. The remainder of a finger sandwich hung from his mouth and his eyes were equally wide with surprise as he looked back.

Winry’s mind went blank. Where had he come from and why was he standing in the kitchen half undressed? His close proximity was disconcerting yet exhilarating, and she found herself momentarily mesmerized by the heat radiating off his body. It was then she became very aware that both her palms were braced against his sweaty and very muscular chest. Winry gave an undignified ‘eep!’ and jumped back, very conscious of where her hands had just been. She tucked them against her breast and backed away.

“M-my apologies, Master Edward, I meant no offense!”

The faint blush left his cheeks and he quickly dispatched the sandwich with a quick gulp. “None taken. However, you are out of uniform.” He smirked and pointed at the bonnet dangling from her hand. “You are aware the house rules state that you must be dressed properly for the job at all times, don’t you?”

Winry shifted away as he continued to press into her personal space. “Yes, sir. Again, my apologies—it won’t happen again.”

Edward leaned in close and held her nervous gaze in his. “Perhaps we should take time to review the house rules, Miss Rockbell. Maybe we could…discuss them in private?” he asked, archly. The smirk shifted into a knowing and cocky smile.

Her deep blue eyes went wide with dismay. Was he serious? His leer answered her question quite clearly and she instinctively stepped back again as he bent closer still. “No, sir, I know the rules quite well. I promise to be properly dressed from now on. If you’ll please excuse me, Master Edward, I have chores to attend to.” Without waiting to be dismissed, Winry scurried past him, careful to not make contact with him as she did so.

 

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Edward watched his very pretty prey slip into the antechamber and scowled as his presence of mind returned. What the hell was up with this girl? Any other woman would have melted under his charms, but this one seemed resistant to his charisma. It didn’t help that her recalcitrance frustrated him and left him feeling confused, a bit insecure, and very cross. Why did she continue to turn away his advances?

He could still feel the warmth of her palms where they had made contact and ran a hand over his chest. This young woman stirred a multitude of conflicting emotions within him, ranging from curiosity to longing, and a few others too uncomfortable to confront. It also didn’t help that her beauty was beyond compare, drawing him like a moth to a flame. Non-fraternization rules be damned, he wanted her, although he wasn’t entirely sure in what capacity.

It also irritated him that Miss Rockbell was inconsistent when it came to the house rules. Edward expected a certain level of decorum and obedience from the help, because he was one of the masters of the house; she had been working here long enough to know the rules by now, yet only seemed to follow them when it suited her. This exasperated him to no end. What would it take to weather down her independent streak and make her conform to the mansion’s code of conduct?

‘Wait…didn’t she start working here because she was in financial trouble?’

It took a moment for Edward to recall the interview that led to her hiring; she had mentioned her grandmother was ill, and that she needed the income… Wait, hadn’t Alphonse mentioned in passing there were back taxes due on her home?

A grin lit Edward’s face. The more he thought about it, the more assured he became that he could make this information work to his advantage. All he needed to do was wait for was his father’s absence, make a few well placed phone calls, and set everything in motion.

Feeling much better, Edward left for his private chambers to freshen up for the day.

Chapter Text

“Prepare more of the lobster puffs and be sure to put more of the caviar on toast points and take them out as soon as possible! Keep an eye on the mini quiche; I don’t want them over done!”

The kitchen was a whirlwind of activity, a loosely controlled chaos with Izumi standing at the center of it, barking out orders. Hymens Breda and Cain Fuery were in attendance, along with a small army of cooks and servants that had been hired as additional help for the evening. Still, even with the extra hands, there was an overwhelming amount of work to be done.

The chief cook turned her attention to Winry and Rebecca as they entered the kitchen. “Have all the guest been offered champagne? Has the buffet table been replenished with cold hors d’oeurves?” The pair shook their heads and Izumi pointed toward the cold storage room, “You know where everything is at, so hop to it!” The maids nodded and slipped through the activity and into the refrigerated room.

As they crossed back through the antechamber, Rebecca heaved a sigh. “This is going to be a long night. I’ve already had some old geezer grab my ass, a clumsy broad spill champagne on me, and nearly had the tray knocked out of my hands more times than I care to count. I could only imagine what hell I’d catch if I dumped booze on some aristocrat.”

Winry grinned, nodded. “The way some of these people act, you’d think they’re the riffraff, not us.”

“Ssshh!” Rebecca cautioned. “The walls have ears, especially with as many people as there are here tonight! Be careful what you say!” She grinned and winked playfully. “We can make fun of them all we want later!”

Winry quietly giggled. Rebecca never failed to help her feel at ease, which was nothing short of a lifesaver right now. Upon entering the Great Hall, they allowed their expressions to go neutral, and separated as they wandered into the large gathering of Central’s well to do.

 

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The sweet strains of a waltz filled the Great Hall as Winry wove through the well-dressed men and women, offering champagne as she went. It had taken several trips back to the kitchen for refills before most of the partygoers were in possession of a glass, and Winry jumped at the chance to take a breather. Grateful to have a precious moment to herself, the young woman retreated unnoticed to a shadowed corner of the room to collect her senses and assess her surroundings. All around, there was so much finery in the form of tuxes, furs, and jewelry, yet Winry found herself unimpressed with the show of excessive wealth.

‘Is this all rich people have to do, is throw parties, just so they can show off to one another? It feels like such a shame to squander resources in this way….’

Winry wanted to frown, but kept her expression even. All the exorbitant trappings seemed so wasteful, especially when even one of the diamond necklaces on display would most likely pay off the taxes and the remainder of the mortgage on her Grandmother’s house.

A familiar flash of golden hair amongst the more mundane hues of black, chestnut, and blond caught her attention. Winry could see Alphonse, standing on the other side of the room, nearly towering over the adults around him. He seemed to be deep in conversation with someone out of view, and it wasn’t until some of the partygoers shifted that she could see whom it was.

A young Xingese woman stood there, raptly listening to the young man. Cheeks flushed pink and her hands clasped against her, the look in her dark eyes unmistakably one of adoration. She was dressed in a patterned blue silk garment that Winry recognized as a traditional full length Xingese dress, and her hair, shining black, was done up into two buns with braids falling from them.

Winry smiled; it appeared that Alphonse was equally as smitten, judging by the huge smile on his face. His eyes never left the girl’s as he spoke, as if she were the only other person in the room.

‘Wasn’t there something in the paper about some Xingese dignitaries visiting this week? I wonder how Mr. Hohenheim knows them?’

The ringing of a knife tapping against crystal quickly quieted the room. Winry pulled herself from her thoughts to find Mr. Hohenheim at the end of the expansive room, standing on the raised platform next to the string quartet.

“I’d like to thank you all for coming tonight,” his voice carried easily, “and to celebrate with our family, the engagement of my eldest son, Edward, to Miss Rose’ Thomas. May they find the arrangement a good match!”

A round of applause broke out. Winry saw Hohenheim subtly scowl down at someone in front of him, and seconds later a very sullen Edward stepped onto the stage to join his father, barely bothering to help Rose’ up as he did so. Even from this distance she could see Edward was very unhappy, and a wave of empathy swept over her. Being at the center of attention obviously made him very uncomfortable, judging by the stiff set of his shoulders and the nervous way he shifted on his feet. He also didn’t seem very attentive to the woman who was supposed to be his fiancé, moving away from her touch when she tried to take him by the hand.

‘His fiancé…’

The realization that the announcement made the engagement official started an odd fluttering in her stomach, the same one that had happened when she had first learned of Edward’s engagement. For some reason, it made her uneasy. Why did it bother her, why should it bother her?

Rose’ finally captured Edward’s hand despite his evasion and cast an artificial smile upon the room full of onlookers like a queen indulging her subjects. To Winry, she seemed so conceited, so insincere, and very unlike anyone that might be a good match for the young man’s personality. If Edward were fire, Rose’ would be water. Very cold water. In spite of Edward’s undesirable traits, it was that fire that made him who he truly was, made him so interesting. Winry was saddened to think this woman might snuff it out.

“Psst!”

Winry jumped when Rebecca appeared behind her, holding an empty tray. The older woman nodded at the exit.

“Time to head back to the kitchen and get more food for the buffet table.”

With one last, lingering glance at Edward, Winry followed.

 

%%%%%

Edward was never so glad as when his father finished the announcement and he was allowed to leave the stage. The only thing he wanted right now was a tall drink to numb his senses and calm his nerves, and made way for the nearest servant to ask for vodka and lime over ice. His focused attempt to reach his destination was stopped when he practically crashed into a raven-haired man with piercing dark eyes. Furious, Edward glared at the person obstructing him, and was not one bit amused when he realized who it was.

“Well, well, if it isn’t the sawed-off runt.” The man smirked.

“Now, now, Roy, he’s all grown up,” the slightly taller green-eyed man beside him said in a ridiculously cheerful tone, “Ed’s also taller than you now, and besides, he is getting married!

“Really, Hughes, ‘grown up’ is a rather vague term when it comes to describing Edward. I mean, yes, he’s taller, but is he more mature?

Ed gnashed his teeth, but managed to bite back the choice words that sprung to mind. He ached to punch this smug moron and wipe the smirk off his face.

Commissioner Roy Mustang and Detective Maes Hughes, both of the local police force, were well acquainted with Edward, enough to be on a first-name basis. Hughes was, at least. Mustang only used such familiarity to bate and irritate. Edward had a long list of alternate names he preferred to call the annoying police commissioner, none of which were fit to use in mixed company.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” Edward growled through clenched teeth. “How nice of you to come.” It sounded more like a threat than a greeting.

Mustang’s smile bordered on antagonistic. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world! Edward Elric, finally getting married. I never thought I’d live to see the day!”

“You still might not,” Edward muttered under his breath. His hands bunched into fists at his sides and his body language spoke the promise of violence.

“Now, now, Edward, don’t go making a scene. I’d be forced to arrest you if you started a ruckus.” Mustang chuckled. “It’d be just like old times, wouldn’t it?”

“The difference between now and when I was sixteen is that now I can easily kick your ass! It’d be worth getting arrested again!” Edward toyed with the idea that it might be one way to get out of the party.

“Still the contentious one, aren’t we?” Mustang tapped a gloved finger on his chin. “You certainly kept us busy back then. I can still hear your foul mouth carrying all the way down the cellblock, up until your father came to bail you out. You used to pick a fight with someone almost every weekend.” Mustang patted Edward on the shoulder, “Ah, those were good times! I really do miss them!”

Edward tensed and took a step forward, a murderous glint in his eyes.

Hughes chose this moment to step in before the banter got too far out of hand. “Ho-kay! C’mon, Roy, let’s go find us something to drink before you two cause trouble!” He grasped his fellow officer by the arm and steered him away from the smoldering younger man. “Congratulations, Edward! Be sure to send us invitations to the wedding! Stop by the office sometime and I’ll show you new pictures of my little Elisia!” With that, Hughes tugged Mustang away.

Watching the pair disappear into the crowd, Edward took a calming breath and let it out slowly. Refocusing on his original goal, he made one more attempt to obtain alcohol, only to be blocked again as someone else stepped in front of him.

“Congratulations on your engagement, Master Edward! Have you set a date yet?”

Edward merely scowled at the balding, middle-aged man that took his hand and shook it vigorously. Stanley Cornello, a conceited industrialist, was one of his father’s many business associates that he had never cared for. The man, despite being a bloated gasbag, was a ruthless businessman that wasn’t above using underhanded means to get what he wanted.

Rose’ chose that moment to sidle up to him and twine her arm possessively around his. Unable to make his getaway, Edward surrendered. He shuddered with revulsion at her touch, but kept his composure.

“We haven’t set a date yet, but plan on having the ceremony soon,” she said smoothly. “We were thinking about sometime late-October, though.” She smiled mawkishly at Ed and added, “Right, dear?”

Cornello didn’t notice the dismay that flickered across Edward’s face. “My, that’s only three months away! How in the world will you manage to have all the arrangements completed in time?”

She turned her saccharine smile back to the businessman, “That’s what servants are for, to do our bidding, no matter how daunting the task. Besides, they can be easily replaced by others that are willing to work twice as hard for less money.” She innocently batted her eyelashes at both men. “After all, they are expendable, am I correct?”

The two laughed at her condescending joke, but Edward remained stoic. Inside, he was seething. Normally, remarks like this would have been beneath his notice, but this time they cut him to the quick. Rose’ had been hinting for weeks that if she were to become lady of the house, she would replace most of the staff, starting with Sig and Izumi. It was inconceivable to think she would toss away the very people that were like family to him, as if they were no more than trash.

Suddenly, the combination of her perfume, her touch, and the crush of the crowd overwhelmed his senses. Edward choked back a gasp as his chest constricted, and he fought back the wave of nausea that swept over him when the room began to close in. An acute need to escape the stifling atmosphere and fill his lungs with fresh air gripped him.

He frantically eyed his surroundings for an out, and his gaze fixed on the doors leading to the terrace.

Edward pulled brusquely from Roses’ grasp and stepped back. “If you’ll please excuse me, there’s something I need to attend to,” he addressed Cornello, barely taking the time to be polite. Despite Roses’ scathing glare, Edward left, ignoring her even when she growled his name in anger. He waded through the people filling the Great Hall, doing his best to put as many bodies between him and the woman he loathed. By sheer luck he managed to avoid notice, and was relieved when he finally pushed through the double doors leading to the terrace.

The air felt refreshing despite being warm and humid. Edward drank it in greedily, cleansing the taste and scent of Rose’s cloying perfume with each breath, and continued to breathe deeply until all traces of it were gone. A glance about told him he was alone; he needed space, to get away from the sense of oppression brought on by his father’s announcement, from Roses’ clinginess, from the situation altogether. Grateful to find a moment to himself, Edward forced himself to relax, and leaned against the stone railing. He tilted his head back to lose himself the star-filled sky.

He despised Rose’. He despised her possessiveness, her vanity, her priggishness. Once again Edward wished he could turn back time and dump the conceited young woman shortly after it became obvious she wouldn’t be easy to seduce. The only thing their relationship managed to do was to keep other women out of his bed and trap him in an impossible situation.

He longed for a casual encounter to distract him from his growing anxieties and as an outlet for his stress. Recent visits to nightclubs hadn’t yielded the outcome he wanted, and this only left him more frustrated and annoyed. As Edward reflected upon the last few months’ incomplete conquests, his thoughts eventually wandered to the new maid with hair the color of sunlight, deep blue eyes, and the figure of a goddess. Oh, how he would love to break his dry spell with her, and a faint smile tugged at his mouth as he entertained himself with a vision of her lying in his tangled sheets as he took her with wild abandon.

Happily lost within his imagination, long minutes passed as Edward continued to stare blankly at the night sky, seeing the naked form of Miss Rockbell instead of the points of light above.

“Ed? Are you out here?”

Jolted back to the present, Edward ducked behind a potted shrub before he realized it was Alphonse calling out to him. “I’m here,” he hissed cautiously, “Please tell me you’re alone.”

“I am. Stop being paranoid. Where are you, anyway?”

When Alphonse didn’t immediately locate him, Edward leaned around his makeshift camouflage and waved. Shortly, Alphonse joined him on the railing.

“Didn’t we have this discussion last week? About you running away?” Alphonse only grinned as Edward glowered at him. “You know if Dad gets wind that you disappeared---”

“I know, I know, and I really don’t give a shit what he thinks,” Edward growled.

“I’m well aware of what you think. But if you embarrass him in front of his business associates, he might not go so easy on you.”

“I had to get out of there, Al. I felt claustrophobic, with all the people and her clinging to me like glue.” Edward sighed and loosened his tie. “Rose’ made a snide remark about the help. Even if she didn’t mention Izumi and Sig specifically, they’re part of the help, which means she insulted them.” His eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted into a grimace. “She did it in front of that pompous ass, Cornello, no less, and he played right along with her. If I hadn’t left when I had, I might have done something far worse than disappearing.”

Edward had not told Alphonse about Roses’ tentative plans to dismiss Sig and Izumi once she was lady of the house, and had no intentions of doing so now. He didn’t want to upset his little brother if there were no good reason to.

Alphonse nodded. “I understand, but I also know Sensei would beat you senseless for defending her honor; you know she doesn’t care what others think about her. She still may thump you a good one if she finds out you’ve ducked out of your own party.”

“I’d rather take a beating from her than marry that crazy bitch any day.”

Alphonse nodded, smiled, then the brothers looked up at the sky in unison.

“I met the most amazing woman tonight,” Alphonse started quietly. “She’s from Xing. Her and her brother are here on behalf of the Emperor, to talk to Dad about opening trade routes with Amestris.”

“Sounds fascinating,” Edward said flatly.

“She is,” Alphonse replied, misinterpreting Edward’s disinterest.

Edward turned to his brother and blinked in confusion. He grimaced when he finally realized what Alphonse was referring to. “Lucky bastard,” he grumbled. “You get to choose who you want to be with. There’s no pressure on you to marry a woman that benefits the family’s business interests. You lucked out by being the youngest.”

Alphonse chuckled. “Well, it’s far too soon to talk about marriage, Brother. I just met her tonight.” He sighed, a wistful little sound. “Although I can say I’m definitely interested in knowing more about her.”

Edward snorted and tipped his head back again. “I’d be ecstatic to know other women, myself. Anyone other than Miss High And Mighty.”

“Speaking of, if you don’t want to be found, you might consider heading for the side entrance right about now.”

“Huh?” Edward knew what his brother meant when he caught a flash of pink in his peripheral vision. Through the tall windows, he could see Rose’ working her way through the crowd, heading for the doors in the process. Fortunately for him, many of the party patrons were impeding her progress, frequently stopping her to offer their platitudes.

“Good call,” he said and slipped past his brother to escape down the length of the balcony. Edward knew of a rarely used entrance not far from his private study and hurried toward it. He kept a few bottles of liquor hidden away there, which made it the ideal destination to seek out a quiet drink, and perhaps chase it down with a few more.

 

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Winry stacked the clean trays and placed them into the sideboard, careful to not make too much noise. Several hours had passed since the last patron had been escorted to the door and Rebecca, Maria, and Winry were in the dining hall, finishing the last of the clean up.

Maria put away the final pieces of silverware and closed the drawer. “Finally! I’m beat! I’m glad I’m off tomorrow!”

“So am I,” Rebecca added, pulling out a chair to sit on. “I think I’ll spend the day soaking my feet.” Pulling off a shoe, she winced and rubbed at her toes.

“You did a great job tonight, ladies! Thanks for all your hard work!”

The women looked up as Riza Hawkeye entered, carrying a clipboard.

“Your bonuses will be reflected in your next check; Mr. Hohenheim wanted me to let you know he’s paying everyone triple rate for the extra hours. Be sure you thank him next time you see him.”

“ Yes, ma’am, we will,” came the exhausted chorus.

Riza stopped next to Winry and smiled warmly as she affectionately squeezed her shoulder. “You did very well for your first big event, Winry. Both Mr. Hohenheim and I have been quite pleased with your work.”

Humbled, all Winry could do was mumble, “Thank you.”

Riza glanced down at the top paper on her clipboard. “You can come in a little later than your usual time tomorrow. Schiezka can cover for you until you get here, but she needs to leave early in the afternoon. Can you handle everything from then on?”

Winry nodded. “Yes ‘m. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Good! I’ll see you at about ten in the morning!”

After the housekeeper left, the three women sighed and gathered up the towels they had used to make sure the silver was dry before storing it away.

“Where’s Schiezka off to?” Rebecca asked. “She disappeared about the same time the temp help left, but I don’t recall her saying anything about needing to be somewhere tomorrow.” She started toward the hallway and the others trailed behind, heading for the kitchen.

“She’s going to visit her mother, who’s in a hospital out in West City.” Maria yawned. “I think she said she’d be back in time for her regular shift the day after tomorrow, so the schedule shouldn’t be too messed up. I do know she offered to stay tonight so she could cover the morning hours.”

They passed through the now darkened kitchen and entered the servant’s area. Too tired to carry on further small talk, Rebecca and Maria wasted no time changing into their street clothes, but Winry lagged behind, taking time to lay out her clothes before undressing. The two older women were nearly finished when Rebecca barked, “Oh!” startling her companions.

“Winry, do you have a way to get home?” she asked.

The young woman nodded as she slipped out of her maid’s dress. “I’ll take the bus like I usually do.”

Rebecca shook her head. “Uh-uh. The buses stop running after nine. It’s almost midnight now.”

Winry felt a moment of panic. “Now what do I do? Granny doesn’t have a car, and even if she did, she wouldn’t be well enough to drive!” She clutched her dress close in a nervous gesture.

“Jean has a car and is coming to pick me and Maria up. I know he won’t mind if we give you a ride home, too.”

“But I couldn’t trouble you—”

“It’s no trouble at all!” Rebecca waved her off and slipped into her shoes. “As a matter of fact, once he knows you don’t have a ride, he’ll insist on it.”

Winry was too exhausted to argue. She smiled with gratitude and relief. “Thanks Rebecca. I really appreciate it.”

“We’ll wait out at the front gate for you.” The brunette stood and picked up her overnight bag, “Catch up as soon as you’re done changing!”

With that, Rebecca and Maria left Winry to finish dressing.

Minutes later, Winry stepped into the courtyard and took a moment to stretch the kinks out of her back. She was bone tired. It had been a long night of hard work, and it was nice to finally be free; she looked forward to a glass of iced tea and her soft bed. At least she could sleep in a bit longer than usual, which would be a rare treat.

She readjusted her shoulder bag and started toward the archway leading out of the courtyard. Due to a sore spot on her heel, she was reduced to a mere shuffle, but still managed to keep moving. With all the walking she had done coupled with the fact her maid’s shoes still tended to chafe, Winry was certain she had developed a blister.

She had nearly reached the passageway when an odd noise coming from somewhere in the courtyard startled her. She fell still to listen; were there intruders? Animals? Seconds later she heard it again, faintly echoing off the mansion’s walls. It was then she recognized it as a woman’s voice.

‘Are Rebecca and Maria waiting for me here? I thought she said they’d wait for me outside the main gate.’

The unseen woman giggled.

‘No, that doesn’t sound either of their voices.’

Next she heard a man’s voice, one that sounded familiar, but couldn’t immediately place due to the murmured words.

‘Are there still guests on the grounds?’

Curiosity piqued, she waited until either person spoke again. It was nearly a minute later before the woman gasped and sighed; Winry’s attention was drawn to a line of hedges that grew along the mansion’s walls, not far from the cobblestone walkway. With cautious steps, she moved toward the source of the voices.

“Very nice.”

The breathy but slurred words sounded like Master Edward’s.

Winry was struck dumb; Master Edward was out here? The last time she’d seen him had been hours ago, standing outside his study gulping down a drink. After that he had disappeared, so Winry automatically assumed he had retired once the party ended.

“You always did like them,” came a soft reply in the unfamiliar woman’s voice.

Finding a spot in the hedge where the foliage was thinner, Winry gathered her courage and squinted through the breach in the leaves. There was a couple standing against the mansion’s wall, but she couldn’t positively identify either of them due to the poor light. All she could tell from this distance was that the man had his back to her, and appeared to be pinning the woman against the wall with what looked like a kiss. When he pulled back and slightly turned his head, Winry could see a ponytail, gathered high on the back of his head, illuminated by the dim light of the waning moon.

‘I-It is M-Master Edward?! Then that means...him and…someone…’’

Mortified at her discovery, Winry spun and scurried away as quietly as possible, the pain in her heel forgotten.

 

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Quite pleased with himself, Edward squeezed the young woman’s bosom.

“Very nice,” he slurred, and leaned in to kiss her neck.

“You always did like them.” She drew in a deep breath as he carefully raked his teeth over her skin.

When stepping out to clear his scotch-fogged mind, Edward had happened upon one of the departing temporary maids. She was one of his former conquests, a pretty blonde that reminded him of the new maid that so intrigued him, and it had taken very little effort to make her receptive to his advances. Right now, all he wanted was an eager partner to help him work off the tension he had built up after hours of fantasizing about the Rockbell girl, and this young woman fit the bill perfectly.

Another quick, heated kiss and Edward shifted back to tug at the tails of her blouse, pulling it up along with her bra to expose her plump breasts. He tipped his head down and tasted one of the dark points, only to have her moan of appreciation fuel his hunger further. His body ached for an immediate resolution to his building need, and when an ideal solution leapt into his mind, he whispered into her ear.

“I seem to recall you had a wicked little mouth, and knew how to use it. Why don’t you indulge me, for old time’s sake?”

The blonde thought for a moment and chortled. “Of course you’d remember that. You were very fond of my…technique, weren’t you?”

He answered her with a wicked chuckle and shifted to unfasten his fly.

Much to his delight, she nodded in agreement. He trembled in anticipation as she lowered herself to her knees and freed him from his trousers and boxers. When she took him into her mouth and carefully tasted him, Edward drew a breath through grit teeth.

“Yes!” he hissed. He wound his fingers into her hair and roughly pressed her head closer, forcing her to take more of his length in. After waiting for so long, he would finally find the pleasure he’d been denied. Edward dropped back into his earlier fantasies, intending to savor every second building up to the satiating rush of release. He let out a deep and guttural moan as he imagined it was the true object of his desires that was pleasuring him, not the woman currently kneeling at his feet.

“Edward! Are you out here?!” Hohenheim’s angry voice boomed throughout the courtyard.

White-hot panic struck him, breaking his trance.

“Fuck!” Edward spat and pulled away from the person that had been in the process of making him very happy. She fell back onto her bottom, her expression nothing short of astonished.

“Why did you stop me?!” she hissed in a whisper. “Your father can’t know we’re out here.”

The sound of a door closing reached them, but it was too late. He was no longer in the mood.

“Leave!” he barked, his face twisting with anger as righted his clothing.

“At least let me finish—”

“Are you deaf? LEAVE!!” he ground out, keeping his voice low. “Or do you want me to have you forcibly removed from the premises!”

His unexpected fury left her speechless. Finally, she pulled her clothes together and climbed to her feet. The glare she cast Edward was filled with pure malice. “You’re an ass! Don’t come looking for me next time you want someone to help you get off!” she spat then stormed off.

Swaying slightly on his feet, Edward watched until she disappeared from the courtyard. “Stupid bitch,” he muttered and tottered back the way he came.

Denied gratification yet again, all he wanted to do now was retreat to his study and drink himself into oblivion.

Chapter Text

“Good morning, Granny! Did you sleep well?” Winry swept into her grandmother’s bedroom with a tray balanced in her hands.

 “I slept fine, dear.” Pinako Rockbell sat up and reached for her glasses sitting on the nightstand. After slipping them on, she squinted at her alarm clock. “It’s late. Why aren’t you already at work?”

 “I worked late, so I don’t have to report until ten.” Winry set the tray table across Pinako’s lap as the elderly woman shifted to sit against her pillows.

Pinako took the pills her granddaughter offered and chased them down with some juice. She looked over the breakfast Winry had prepared and bit into a piece of toast. “That was kind of him. I’m glad Hohenheim is so good to you.”

Winry sat on the edge of the bed and took a wedge of toast for herself. “Actually, it was the head housekeeper, Ms. Hawkeye, who gave me the morning off. She’s very nice, too.”

The women ate in comfortable silence until Winry thought of a question.

“I never did ask; how do you and Mr. Hohenheim know one another?”

Pinako took a sip of her coffee. “It was back in my younger days, when I was asked to be a speaker at a seminar at the medical college. They wanted someone proficient in automail surgery and attachment. Back then, it was a new science and I was one of the few technicians who performed both.” She cackled as she recalled something funny. “The students and professors were expecting a man. It boggled their minds that it was a woman, not a man, who was most talented in the field of automail prosthesis!”

“But I digress; he Hohenheim was an eager young medical student who was very interested in my research, so we struck up a friendship or sorts.”

“Of sorts?”

“We were drinking buddies. I spent many weekends drinking in a local pub with Hohenheim, the newbies, and your grandfather, who I was engaged to at the time. We were pretty close friends back then.”

Winry nodded slowly in an ‘ah-ha’ moment. “If you were such good friends, why haven’t you kept in touch all these years?”

“I got married, started a family and a business. After Hohenheim graduated, he decided to go into the pharmaceutical side of medicine.” She tasted her oatmeal and nodded in approval. “We got busy with our lives, took on more responsibilities, and eventually went our separate ways.” Pinako chortled. “That, and Hohenheim got too big for his britches.”

“Did you know he had sons?” Winry took another wedge of toast from the tray; she had made only one slice for herself, but could grab a quick bite at work if she were hungry later.

“I had heard he was living with a woman for a few years and that they had two boys, but he never married her.” Pinako grimaced at this, which only piqued Winry’s interest.

“Why didn’t they marry? I mean, they had kids together, and the sons are now living with their father, so why—”

“Because Trisha Elric came from a poor family, and Hohenheim was new to high society. He was new money, and wanted to be accepted by the elite. It’s hard enough to break into the upper class as it is, and if he married a poor commoner, it would be impossible. Trisha was too far below his station. She would have only brought him down if he married her,” Pinako growled. “That’s the way it is with the wealthy.”

Winry nodded in understanding, even if she didn’t agree with the mindset of high society.  While she understood why Hohenheim hadn’t made a commitment to the mother of his sons, it still felt like a poor excuse to abandon two innocent children.

“It seems silly to me,” she sighed, and absently gazed into the room. “If you care enough about someone to have children with them, why wouldn’t you marry them?” Long blonde locks tossed lightly about her shoulders as she shook her head. “I feel so bad for Edward and Alphonse.”

Pinako’s knowing grin taunted her when she turned back. “What?” she asked becoming defensive.

“Seems like you’re fond of the boys.”

Winry thought for a moment and found truth in her Grandmother’s words. She was very fond of Alphonse, so sweet and kind, and in her own way she was even fond of Edward, despite his foul temperament.

Yes, she could find some good in Edward, even if it took a bit longer to locate. In her mind, she pictured the handsome young man with the mesmerizing gold eyes and very muscular chest, and found herself daydreaming about him, only as a much kinder and gentler person.

The memory of finding him in the middle of a tryst rushed back. Winry had spent the better part of the trip home wondering if it were his fiancé or another woman she had caught Edward with. He hadn’t seemed terribly interested in Miss Rose’ last night, but maybe that was due to being in the spotlight. It had to have been Miss Rose’. After all, they were engaged, so it would only be natural for them to be doing…things…

The thought of Miss Rose’ and Edward making out in such a public place brought heat to her face.

“You’re blushing, my dear. I take it you like one more than the other? You should be around the same age.” Pinako cackled as Winry’s eyes shot wide.

“Huh?! What makes you say that?!” She could feel her face practically glow with embarrassment. “Besides, that’s not what I was thinking about!”

“Suit yourself!” The old woman just laughed harder.

Pinako’s words did give her pause for thought. Was it possible she was attracted to either of the young men, particularly Edward? Winry blocked the thought, refusing to delve any deeper into the subject. It was all a moot point. She was from a different social class than the Elric Brothers and Edward was engaged.

“You’d best be on your way if you want to make the next bus in time,” Pinako pointed at the alarm clock setting on the nightstand.

Winry panicked when she noticed the time and sprung to her feet. “I’d better hurry!” She started for the door, but paused to look back at her grandmother. “It’s my turn to stay at the mansion for two nights, so I’ve already done the shopping. I’ve also done a few other things around the house to help make it easier for you to be alone that long. Is there anything you need me to do before I go?”

Pinako just laughed. “I’m fine, dear! As a matter of fact, I feel better than I have in a long time, thanks to those new medications you picked up for me! My old bones move better than they have in years!”

“Okay, Granny! Just call and ask for Ms Izumi if you need anything. She’ll give the message to me.”

“Git, young ‘un! I’ll do just fine! I’m not that decrepit yet!” Pinako shooed her with her hands.

Winry waved as she disappeared around the doorframe. “See you in a couple of days!” With that, she stopped by her room to grab her overnight bag and left for work.

%%%%%

Hohenheim paced in front of his desk, gaze fixated on the expensive Medesian carpet at his feet. His entire posture spoke of tightly controlled outrage as he walked back and forth, hands clenched on his hips, and mouth drawn in a harsh line.

Edward followed his father with his eyes, doing nothing to hide his own seething anger. If the old man had something to say, he wished he would just speak and get it over with. A fierce hangover still plagued him and he longed for some aspirin and a tall drink of water, or maybe even some ‘hair of the dog’. Either way, he wanted to be anywhere but here.

As if he read his mind, Hohenheim abruptly stopped and spun to face his son. “Just what were you trying to accomplish by disappearing last night?! No one could find you until this morning, when you finally crawled out of bed! That was your engagement party! I invited several people important to our business because I wanted to introduce you as the next head of the household!” He threw his hands into the air. “You completely humiliated me!” His eyes blazed with fury, pinning Edward to his chair.

Edward was not intimidated. “The engagement was your idea, not mine, so as far as I’m concerned the party meant nothing!” He leaned forward in his chair, readily challenging his father’s authority. “I’ve already told you this whole thing is bullshit and I want no part of it!”

In an uncharacteristic move, Hohenheim stepped forward and grabbed the front of Edward’s shirt, lifting him to his feet as if he were no more than a rag doll. “Edward, I’m tired of your complete lack of respect! For me, and for the family name—”

“YOUR family name! Mine’s Elric, not Hohenheim!” Edward cut him off, violently pushing away from his father’s grasp. “Maybe if you had been less worried about status and more worried about doing the right thing, like marrying Mom, I’d show more respect for you and the name!”

Hohenheim lashed out, striking Edward with an open hand. The younger man reeled, but only for a second. He came back, straight and true, facing off his father’s anger with solid determination. “Feel better?” he growled. Even though his cheek stung, Edward refused to show weakness by touching it. “Did that help ease your guilt?”

Hohenheim pinched the bridge of his nose. Once composed, he turned back to his son.

“I need to go out this afternoon and offer my apologies to our esteemed guests,” he said in a tightly controlled tone. “When I get back, you’d best be in your study looking over the papers I left on your desk. Familiarize yourself with the contracts for the Armstrongs and Mr. Yao, because we will be discussing them this evening.” Hohenheim’s glared into his son’s eyes, “And you had better be here. If you run off again, I will make sure you will never again make a move without my knowing it. You’d also better be sober and upright.” With that, he strode out the door, closing it behind him.

Edward stood, staring blankly at the wall for a long moment. His thoughts swirled with pent up rage until he looked down at his father’s desk. There, on the corner, sat a framed photograph. Four faces looked out from the picture; two were of very young golden-eyed and haired boys, one a beautiful chestnut-haired woman, and Hohenheim. The later was holding up the year and a half-old Edward as if offering up a doll, very unlike the warm embrace Trisha Elric held infant Alphonse in. In an eruption of blind fury, Edward snatched the picture up and flung it against the wall. The glass pane shattered spectacularly and the pieces fell to the floor, where the picture finally settled face up. A piece of broken frame covered Hohenheim’s face, leaving only the children and their mother visible.

As Edward stared down at the ruined image, memories of his childhood before his mother’s death flooded his mind. A loving and gentle woman, Trisha had never spoke ill of their father despite the fact he had abandoned her with two small children. Edward could still recall the shadow of sadness that passed over her face whenever Alphonse would ask when their father would come home, or how she would wistfully gaze out the window when she didn’t think she was being watched. She waited for years for the man she loved to return, but never had, not even for her funeral. She, Edward, and Alphonse had been tossed away like trash and Hohenheim hadn’t given them another thought, at least not until after the boys had lost their mother.

He pushed back a wave of melancholy. The room was quiet, except for the ticking of the pendulum wall clock and his deep, shaking breaths. Finally, he shifted on his feet, turning away from the wreckage.

 “You bastard! You never loved us, not even Mom, did you?”

Still angry but calmer, he left for his study. Much of his life might be beyond his control, but he remembered one thing he still could. With his father gone for the afternoon and his brother out for the day, he finally had the perfect opportunity to put other plans into motion.

%%%%%

 There seemed to be no end to the dusting, although it shouldn’t have surprised her, considering the mansion had close to thirty rooms, not including the kitchen or baths. Thankfully, Mr. Hohenheim seemed more inclined to collect larger objects over small knickknacks, which made the job go much faster and easier.

 

Winry was grateful for that as she wiped down a 7-foot tall suit of armor on display in a corner of the library. She wiped away a trickle of sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her uniform then removed the last haze of polish from the metal chest plate. She longed to be dressed in her coveralls and bandeau top, the clothes she typically wore when working with metal. Even to be able to wear a bandana around her head would be more practical and comfortable than the frilly maid’s bonnet, which did nothing to keep the sweat out of her eyes.

She gave one last buff to the spikes that adorned the shoulder cuffs and stepped back to admire her work. The burnished metal gleamed even in the modest light, lending the fearsome looking helmet a more positive impression. Why the artisan had placed a single spike in the forehead and gave the ‘mouth’ a row of jagged teeth was anyone’s guess, but Winry liked to think it was meant to intimidate the enemy.

Winry wiped her hands using one of the clean rags from her cleaning kit, then placed the cleaning paraphernalia in the bucket. As she stood to leave, the glint of light off glass caught her eye.

She followed it to one of the photo frames sitting upon the mantel and Winry approached the fireplace to look them over. She passed over several photos; those of Hohenheim with what appeared to be business associates, others of him standing in front of a humble country cottage with a very pretty brunette woman, and a few of the brothers as young boys. Winry stopped in front of one with Hohenheim and the woman with very young children. He was holding a golden haired boy of about eighteen months out in front of himself, and the woman was holding an infant in a loving embrace. 

The woman, who Winry quickly guessed was Edward and Alphonse’s mother, seemed quite content to be in the picture, but Hohenheim looked as if he’d rather be elsewhere. The boy in his grasp, obviously Edward, was smiling, oblivious to his father’s unease. Alphonse took more after his mother, with only his coloring telling of his paternal lineage. Edward was almost the mirror image of his father, his features and hair strongly resembling the tall, handsome man’s.

‘Edward looked so cute and happy when he was little. It’s so sad they lost their mother when they were so young.’

 “Hi there! You’ve new here, aren’t ‘cha?” A friendly and very exuberant voice broke the silence of the library, startling Winry from her thoughts. She turned to find a coverall-clad woman standing in the doorway, a relaxed smile on her face. Her dark eyes sparkled with mischief as she rocked back on her heels and thrust her hands deep into the pockets of her cargo pants.

Winry instantly felt at ease.

“Hello. Yes, I’m new here. I started just about a month ago.” Winry wiped her hands on the black skirt of her uniform and stepped forward, “I’m Winry.”

“Hey, Winry! I’m Paninya. Welcome aboard!” The two shook hands.

“You’re not a maid, right?” Winry asked with a crooked grin. She felt somewhat envious of the other woman’s more comfortable clothes.

Paninya’s laugh was light and carefree, lifting Winry’s mood. “Nah, I’m the one who does all the repairs around here. I guess you could call me the ‘fix-it’ person.”

“Your job sounds so much more interesting than mine!” Winry all but gushed. “You wouldn’t happen to need of an assistant?” She cocked an eyebrow at the dark-skinned woman.

Paninya chuckled and shook her head. “Sorry, nope. So, you’re handy with tools?”

“I’m an automail mechanic, but I’m working here to make some extra money. Business has been slow and my grandmother and I need the income.”

“An automail mechanic?! That’s awesome!” Paninya beamed and tugged at her pant legs to expose two artificial legs. “If I need some repairs on these babies, I’ll come to you! That’ll help you out!”

Winry kneeled before the other woman and ran wistful fingers over the cool metal. “The design is so simple yet elegant. Who made them?”

“The guy who adopted me when I was little. My parents died in a train wreck, the same wreck I lost my legs in.”

“Sorry to hear about your parents—“

“Don’t be, it’s okay. I was so young when they died that I barely remember them.”

Winry felt a twinge of sadness; here was yet another orphaned soul.

“Why can’t your adoptive father do the maintenance and repairs for you?” Winry asked as she stood, “I mean, he did make them, after all. He’d know best how to work on them.”

“He lives about a day away by train. Sometimes it’s difficult to get time off when I need some work done on them.” Paninya let her pant legs drop and smoothed the fabric to cover her legs again.

Winry nodded in understanding. “I’d be glad to take a look at them. Just let me know when you want to come over, and I’ll clear my schedule for you.”

“Hey, maybe we can get together on our day off and go for some sodas and shopping in the hardware district, too,” Paninya offered.

“Great! Sounds like fun!”

“PANINYA!! Why are you standing around?! Don’t you have something to do, like fix the window in the sitting room?!”

Winry quailed at the gruff and very loud voice that bellowed from the end of the hall. Edward had never sounded so angry. It set off alarms in her head and she instinctively backed into the library a few steps, hoping to stay out of Edward’s line of sight and unnoticed.

Nonplussed, Paninya turned in the direction of her antagonist. “Hey, little Eddie! Chill out. I’m headed that way now.”

Edward stepped into view and thrust a threatening finger at the repairwoman. His expression was dark as he threw her a murderous look. “How DARE you call me that! You’re to address me as either Mr. Elric or Master Edward. NOT Eddie! And ESPECIALLY not LITTLE!!”

Paninya was still unimpressed. Her response was a casual shrug. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever,” she sighed.

“Show me more respect or I’ll have you fired!”

“Fire me and your father will serve your balls to you on a platter.” Paninya pinned the red-faced man with a pointed glare. “He knows I’m the only repair person in the Central that can be trusted.”

Edward trembled with rage, but held his tongue. Finally, he spat, “Just get back to work! My father isn’t paying you to stand around and make friends!”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t get your knickers in a twist!” She threw up her hand in a lazy wave at Winry. “Catch ‘cha ‘round!” Paninya strolled off, ignoring Edward’s barely controlled fit.

With Paninya gone, Winry felt exposed standing in the middle of the library with nowhere to hide and no one else to distract her employer’s son. Even if there were a way for her to slip away, she didn’t dare move.

It was too much to hope that Edward would move on; her blood ran cold when the enraged man turned his attention to her.

“What are YOU looking at?!”

“M-my apologies, Master Edward. I-I’m just finishing up,” she stammered and spun on her heel to put some distance between them. Paninya’s blatant disregard for his authority had apparently wounded his pride, and he seemed to be looking for another target to unleash his frustration upon. Winry knew she needed to get out of there, fast.

The young woman retrieved her cleaning kit and started past Edward. In a lightning-fast move, he reached out and seized her arm. She yelped in pain and surprise as his fingers dug into her flesh without mercy and he roughly spun her about. Both astounded and offended at his rough treatment, she dropped the bucket and gaped up at him in shock. The naked rage distorting his face sent a shiver down her spine.

His voice turned deadly quiet, making him sound even more menacing than when he was roaring at Paninya. “Don’t you dare turn your back to me when I’m speaking to you! Unless you’ve been dismissed, you never turn away from me. My father put me in charge of the housekeeping staff, which means I’m the one who decides who stays or goes! I don’t need his approval to throw you out on your pretty little ass!”

Her fear of him quickly became anger. There was no way Winry would allow herself to be treated or spoken to so callously, especially by this rich, spoiled, womanizer. Outraged, she glared back at the dangerous, unchecked fire in his eyes, and scowled in defiance. She held her ground despite the pain, even when his grip grew excruciatingly tighter.

“I beg your pardon, Master Elric, but it was your father who hired me, not you!” She struggled against his hold. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me go!” A strange mixture of fear and exhilaration coursed through her veins as she said this, raising her pulse and quickening her breath.

Edward’s eyes shot wide with disbelief. At first he seemed too astonished to react. Then his pupils dilated down to two tiny discs in a sea of gold as his face twisted with unspeakable fury. His next action took her completely by surprise; he slapped her with such force that it didn’t register she had been struck until the numbness in her cheek faded into a sharp tingling. Stunned, all she could do was gape up at her aggressor in shock.

“You insolent little bitch!” he hissed through clenched teeth, his face only inches from hers. “If you ever speak to me in that tone again, I’ll make sure you regret it!” He shook her arm to emphasize his point, causing her to gasp and fight against his hold. “Let me remind you, I am head of the household when my father’s away, and what I say goes! And I can fire you for loafing on the job or disobeying orders!”

His leer sent a chill of foreboding down her spine.

“As it is, I have more than enough reasons to fire you right now.” His voice went calm with sinister confidence, “I’m tired of you flaunting my authority. You’re either not dressed properly for the job, or don’t wait to be dismissed. Also, you have a tendency to talk back to me.” He viciously thrust her away. Winry stumbled and fell against one of the high backed chairs, clutching at it and causing it to rock dangerously as she stopped her fall. Edward gave her no time to react and was upon her in an instant. She backed away reflexively, struggling to keep some distance between them.

“Just what how far would you go to keep your job, Miss Rockbell?” Her retreat was halted by the writing desk against the far wall. He savagely grasped her chin and forced her to meet his gaze, giving her no other choice than to look into his eyes. Dark promises glowed in them, making her heart flutter, but a glare was her only answer.

At first, the implied meaning behind his words escaped her as she continued to glare back. When Edward leaned in closer, understanding crept into her like cold water into a sponge; the realization struck her like another slap to the face.

“No,” she said through grit teeth. “I’ll quit first.”

Edward clucked his tongue and wagged a finger as if scolding her. “No, you won’t do that.”

Winry’s anger flared. “And why wouldn’t I? There’s nothing to stop me from walking out and never coming back!”

“Because if you do, you won’t have a place to go home to.”

She frowned in confusion. Of course she would, this job had allowed her to keep up with both the mortgage and the taxes, and when she found another job she could continue to do the same. 

Her perplexity caused Edward’s smile to turn smug. “I understand that your family is having financial problems, so I called around to the banks. I’ve generously paid both your mortgage and taxes in full. This is only a loan; if you want to have a place to go home to, you’ll have to pay off the loan by working for me. If you quit, I own everything.”

Winry sat back on the desk as the full implication of what he had done sunk in and her legs went weak. At first she refused to believe him; he couldn’t have, there was no way it was possible.

Or was it?

Edward released her chin and bent over her. Winry attempted to move away, but was pinned between him and the desk.

 

“Let’s discuss your duties. You’ll have all your usual chores, that won’t change. However, there may be some extra ones you’ll be required to do.” Edward slipped a hand behind her knee and lifted her leg. He caressed it, running his palm over the white stocking as he allowed his splayed fingers to creep higher onto her thigh. “I’ll tell you what those duties are on a need to know basis.” He leaned closer, a hungry look in his eyes. “If you refuse to do even one of the tasks I’ve given you, or tell anyone about this arrangement, you’ll be out on the street without a home. Do we understand one other?”

“Y-yes.” She ground out in a whisper.

His eyes turned hard. “Yes, what, Miss Rockbell?”

Tears of anger burned her eyes, but Winry held them back. “Yes, sir.”

This seemed to placate him, and bared his teeth in a feral smile. “Much better.” His hand slipped higher, causing her skirt and petticoat to bunch up. Winry steeled herself against his touch and where it might lead.

A voice reached them from a distant corner of the mansion and Edward stepped back, startled. The madness left his eyes and he turned away.

“Go about your normal chores for today. We can get more acquainted another time, when there’s less people around.” Without looking back, Edward left the library.

Winry stared after him as he left, too numb to move. Tears of anger and distress streaked down her face. All she knew was that her life had taken a very distressing turn for the worst and she was furious about it.

‘What did I do to deserve being struck or having my home taken hostage?’

Only just that morning she believed Edward had some good in him, that he was acting out because of the loss of his mother when so young and not because he was inherently malicious. Those beliefs evaporated the instant he had slapped her. Now she saw him as cruel and cold hearted, attacking and ensnaring her in an impossible situation for no other reason than his own selfish desires. As if he wanted to control her. It almost felt as if he wanted to own her.

This thought incensed her. There was no way she would just roll over and simply cede to his whims. She didn’t know how, but knew there had to be some way out without losing her home or her self-respect in the process. She would not let this predicament or Edward get the best of her.

Wiping away her tears with the back of her hand, Winry briskly patted her cheeks, mindful of the one that was still tender.

‘I’m a Rockbell woman! I’ll figure out something, I know it!’

All she could do for the time being was avoid Edward as much as possible and endure until she could come up with a way to regain control of her home and her life. She picked up the bucket and its scattered contents and returned to work. She would ask Ms. Hawkeye or Ms. Izumi if there were something to do in a part of the mansion Edward rarely visited.

%%%%%

It took monumental effort to not slam the door shut behind him.

Edward crossed his study and sank into the armchair near the window. Gritting his teeth, he propped his elbows on his knees and rested his forehead against his entwined fingers. The hot cauldron of adrenaline surging through him gradually faded, leaving behind nagging regret and guilt.

What had possessed him? He had never gotten so out of control that he considered striking a woman, or forcing her against her will. He wasn’t sure what, but something had gone terribly wrong when he had confronted Miss Rockbell in the library.


After being chewed out by this father, Edward had spent the rest of the morning in his study. When he felt well enough, he had sought something to eat. However, his lunch had turned into another scathing lecture about being absent from his party, this time from Izumi. Still hungry and even angrier, he made for his father’s study to pick up additional documents. On his way, he caught Paninya standing in the door to the library, chatting as if she hadn’t a care in the world. She had never respected his authority, but this time her attitude drove his anger and frustration to dangerous levels. It had taken everything he had to bite back his rising hostility.

Then he saw her in the study, without so much as a broom in her hand; she had been socializing with Paninya while on the job.

He didn’t have authority over the outside hired help, but he did over the housekeeping staff and he needed to be in control of something. He had only wanted to berate and assign a difficult and dirty task to make her think twice about loitering on the job, but when she turned away, and defied him, something had snapped.

In that white-hot moment, Edward lashed out, striking Miss Rockbell. He wanted...no, demanded her complete obedience. She owed him. He had acquired her property so that he could coerce her to his will, but everything had changed when she acted as if he had no authority over her. Rage pulsed hotly in his veins and suddenly he wanted her more than he had ever wanted any woman before. The only thing that had stopped him from assaulting her then and there on the reading desk was hearing the voice of someone else nearby in the mansion.

Now that he had had enough time to cool off and think about what he had almost done, his exhilaration was turning into a feeling of ignominy.

‘What the hell came over me?!’

He dropped his hands between his knees and hung his head.

’I really want her, but…not like that.’

Edward shook his head, dispelling the thought. He was the future master of the house, and there were certain rules the staff had to live by. Insubordination was frowned upon and the Rockbell girl continually tested his patience. ‘I was within my rights to punish her for not doing her job. Maybe I shouldn’t have slapped her, but she did have it coming,’ he rationalized. ‘She will come around; she doesn’t have a choice now that I own the deed to her home.’ He smiled. ‘And she will eventually come to my bed. She won’t have a choice in that matter, either and that way I’m not really forcing myself on her.’

There was still paperwork to be gone over. If he didn’t want another haranguing from his father, he’d best get to it. Edward spent the remainder of the afternoon at his desk, immersed in the legalities of foreign trade, and refused to dwell further on the girl with the eyes the color of the clear fall sky and hair the color of sunlight.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art by Sofie3387

 

 

“Thanks for covering for me again, Winry. Are you sure you’ll be okay on your own?” Schiezka hovered near as Winry sorted the clean clothing, nervously wringing her hands. The two were in the central laundry closet, folding clothes that had been returned from the laundry that morning.

Winry nodded. “No problem. I can manage.” She smiled at Schiezka and set a stack of neatly folded clothing into the laundry basket. In truth, she was a bundle of nerves. With Schiezka leaving for the afternoon, it meant there would be one less buffer between her and Edward. Even though he had not made any new advances since the confrontation, he left no doubts about his unspoken intentions by watching her whenever she was near. It always raised the hair on the back of her neck when those golden eyes would track her every move and he would smile a knowing, crooked little smile.

“Winry, you’re the best!” Schiezka threw her arms around her in a hug. “I can’t tell you enough how grateful I am!”

She returned the hug warmly. Schiezka was so sweet and kind that Winry found she couldn’t be upset with her.

“How much longer will it be before you can move your mother to Central?” Winry asked, resuming her task.

“It won’t be much longer now. I found a good care facility for her to stay at that will give her some of her independence back, yet she’ll have medical care when she needs it.” Schiezka shifted the other stacks of folded laundry across the counter so Winry could better reach them.

“That’s good. It will make it easier for you to visit her more often,” Winry said cheerfully and put the last of the clothes in the basket.

Schiezka glanced at her watch and made a sound of distress. “I’d better get going or I’ll miss the train! I have to change yet! Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

Winry waved her off. “Go! I told you, I can handle it!”

“Thanks!” With that, the young woman hurried down the passageway to the kitchen.

Swallowing back her rising anxiety, Winry watched her go. She really wasn’t looking forward to spending the rest of the shift on her own, but there was no other choice. Over the past three weeks she had been able to avoid being alone with Edward and convinced herself that she could do the same today. After all it was Saturday, which meant Edward and Alphonse spent most of the day together, plus she believed Mr. Hohenheim was also home. Winry knew Edward wouldn’t try anything with his father about.

The young woman heaved a sigh. She hoped she would soon find a way out of Edward’s treachery. Even though she had been successful keeping a safe distance, the stress of constantly avoiding him was starting to wear her down. If only she could talk to someone, seek help, and dig up some information that would return her freedom and her family’s home to her, the burden wouldn’t lay so heavy on her mind

Winry pushed away the distractions and picked up the basket; she needed to stay alert and be mindful of Edward’s location. It was less likely she would run afoul of him if she kept moving and hurried through the upstairs chores.

As she turned to leave it occurred to her: this was the morning Izumi, Edward, and Alphonse usually worked out in the courtyard. Izumi always seemed to know what was going on in the mansion and she would have the best idea as to their whereabouts. Leaving the laundry basket on the counter, she went in search of the one person here she truly felt comfortable around.

 

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Winry found Izumi in the kitchen, putting away the washed pots and pans. The cook turned and smiled at her as she entered.

“Good morning, Ms Izumi.” Winry tried her hardest to sound cheerful.

“Hello, Winry! I understand you’re on your own for the rest of the afternoon.”

“Yes ‘m.” Winry glanced around and didn’t see either Mr. Breda or Mr. Fuery; apparently they had the day off, also. Was there anyone left working today? “Have you seen Master Edward or Alphonse? I need to put their laundry away.”

Izumi shook her head. “I haven’t seen Edward since early this morning, but I do know Alphonse went into town.” She stored the last pan in the cabinet next to the stove, “Maybe they went together.”

Winry frowned. She’d hoped for a more definite answer.

Izumi noticed her uneasiness. “Just knock. If there’s no answer, stick your head in to see if anyone’s present. There shouldn’t be, because it’s past two in the afternoon. Even Edward should be long since out of his room by now.” Izumi smiled reassuringly, “Is this your first time putting away laundry and cleaning the bedrooms?”

“No, ma’am, but it is the first time I’ve done it on my own. I’ve usually done the work with the help of one of the other maids, but I should be able to remember everything I need to do.”

“Just go by the list posted in the linen closet and you won’t have any problems.” Izumi crossed to the servant’s quarters, but hesitated at the door. “There’s a few things I need to pick up at the market if I want to make supper tonight. I’ll be back in a while.”

“Thanks,” Winry called after her, disappointment tingeing her voice. It sounded as if the entire afternoon would be a guessing game, trying to figure out who was home and who was away.

 

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Winry stopped in front of Edward’s bedroom door and tapped on it. Butterflies flitted about in her stomach at the thought she had to go in alone, but she had already stalled as long as she dared by putting away Mr. Hohenheim and Alphonse’s laundry first.

“Master Edward, are you there?” When there was no response, she balanced the laundry basket on her hip with one arm and opened the door far enough to peek in.

Winry was always amazed at the stylish simplicity of Edward’s room. Except for the occasional embellishment of garish demon-esk heads and dragons in the pattern of the red and black fabric that covered the short sofa and high-backed chair, the furniture was rather pedestrian. The chest of drawers and armoire were absent of embellishment and stained a dark mahogany. A large four-poster bed graced the far wall, its wood posts as well as the flanking nightstands the same color as the other furniture in the room. A thick black comforter, now thrown back and rumpled up with the crisp white sheets, covered the bed; that would need to be remade when she finished putting away the laundry. Lamps were the last of the décor, one each on the nightstands and two on tall stands that perched near the sofa and chair. All the lampshades were a rich red, matching the color of the fabric on the chair and sofa.

Winry frowned at the dirty clothing piled in front of the room’s only other door. Honestly, why couldn’t Edward even try to put them in the clothes hamper like his father and brother always did? Much to her relief, there was no sign of Edward. Perhaps he was out for the day with his brother, like Izumi said.

Feeling more relaxed, she moved to the chest of drawers and set down the basket. Quietly humming to herself, Winry placed the neatly folded clothes in the correct drawers with brisk efficiency, until she came upon Edward’s boxers at the bottom of the basket. She hesitated, a bit put off over the fact she was handling Ed’s under things. Winry couldn’t even recall when she had folded them; it seemed her conversation with Schiezka kept her so distracted that she hadn’t even noticed. With a shake of her head, she quickly put them away, refusing to dwell any further on the subject.

She was placing last pair in the drawer when she heard a door creak open behind her. Startled, Winry glanced up at the large round mirror hanging above the chest of drawers. In the reflection, she saw Edward stepping out from what she had always assumed to be the closet door and froze in surprise and anxiety. His hair and torso were dripping wet, and he wore nothing but a thick, fluffy white towel wrapped about his trim hips. In an instant of sheer panic she realized that the door actually led to an attached bath. This was her worst nightmare: she was alone in a bedroom with a nearly naked Edward. She had to stay calm and extricate herself from the situation in a manner that wouldn’t upset him, yet would allow her to leave unmolested.

There was an awkward moment when Edward noticed the young woman in his room, gawking at him from his mirror. His eyes went wide for an instant then a cocky grin stretched his mouth.

“Well, well. If it isn’t Miss Rockbell.” His tone was condescending. “Do you like handling my underwear?”

His voice snapped Winry out of her panicked stupor and she clapped the drawer closed. “I-I’m sorry Master Edward, I was p-putting away your clean clothes. I-I didn’t know you were here. I’ll leave—“ She bent to pick up the basket. By the time she straightened, she found that Edward had moved to stand between her and the door, blocking her exit. He pushed it closed, careful to be quiet.

He playfully shook a finger at her. “Remember our little discussion about you not waiting to be dismissed? I’m not ready to let you go just yet.”

Winry’s anger flared at his audacity.

‘Oh no you don’t. You might own the deed to my home, but I am not going to let you lay a finger on me without a fight, you conceited brat.’

He advanced upon her, pinning her with those bright gold eyes that held her like a fly caught in a spider’s web. As he came too close for comfort, she backed away, first glancing over her shoulder to make sure her escape route was clear. She had to distract him, get him away from the door while not making him angry in the process.

“You’ll have to excuse me, Master Edward, I need to get back to work,” she reminded him. She stumbled into the loveseat, but continued to move around it, using a hand to feel her way.

‘There’s no way I’m turning my back on you, pretty boy.’

Edward was undeterred. “Why, Miss Rockbell, are you frightened? I thought we might take this opportunity to get to know one another better.” His smile bordered on lecherous as he continued to stalk her.

Winry resisted the urge to scowl at his clichéd line.

‘But I don’t want to know you that well.’

“I really need to get back to work, sir.” Winry flailed as she bumped into the lamp, catching it before it hit the floor. She moved around the chair, hoping it would serve as a wall between them; she tried to pull it around by its back, and found it too heavy to move one-handed.

“What’s your hurry? I can assign the rest of the afternoon’s chores to someone else, if that’s your concern,” he purred, easily moving the chair aside as Winry continued to edge away.

Winry furiously tried to think of some excuse that he might accept and allow her to leave the situation untouched. What came out of her mouth was less than helpful.

“Please, sir, I’m the only maid on duty today. There’s no one else to cover for me.” Winry would have slapped her forehead if she could.

‘I can’t believe I just said that! Now he knows there’s no one else on the floor!’

Winry’s journey abruptly ended when her legs made firm contact with the footboard and she almost tripped backwards onto the bed.

‘Not good! That’s the last place I want to end up!’

Edward looked like the cat who ate the canary. “Good. Then we won’t be disturbed.” He rushed her as she wavered on her feet, but Winry deftly sidestepped like a bullfighter dodging a bull, avoiding him just as he came within reach.

‘Look who’s talking about being disturbed. I’d give anything to have my wrench and put a dent in your thick skull, you letch!’

Please let me go back to work, Master Edward.” It was difficult to keep from sounding desperate. She was almost to the door when her back came against another hard surface. She blindly reached for the doorknob. Her fingers found a flat, smooth surface instead, and her heart sank as she realized the door wasn’t even remotely close.

Edward didn’t hesitate to take full advantage of the situation. Before she could escape, he swooped in. She shoved the basket between them as a barrier and they grappled as Edward tried to pull it from her grasp. He quickly became frustrated that he couldn’t take it from her easily.

“Miss Rockbell, are you resisting me?”

Winry stuck to her excuse. “Sir, I really need to get back to work.” She held onto the basket even tighter, refusing to let him take it away.

“I have a more important task for you right now! Your chores can wait until later!” The dangerous light returned to his eyes as he pulled harder at the basket. A close quarters tug-of-war ensued, Edward determined to remove the troublesome object from between them and Winry hanging on to it for dear life. What came free at last, was not the basket, but Edward’s towel. Loosened by his pursuit, it slipped heedlessly to the floor.

Both of them froze in place; one too surprised to act, the other too stunned to do more than gape. Edward’s eyes flew wide and his cheeks tinted pink in the awkward moment that followed. Winry, although the basket hid the full extent of his nakedness, also blushed. If she hadn’t been so aghast over the fact that she was alone with a completely naked Edward, she might have found his blushing almost cute. Seconds later Edward shrugged off his discomfiture and regained control of the situation by yanking the basket out of Winry’s now lax grip. He quickly closed the small gap between them, fencing her in by placing his hands on the wall at either side of her head. Winry was still too dumbfounded to react when he leaned in to loom over her and smiled that wolfish, infuriating smile.

He chuckled, the sound resonating deep in his chest.

“My, my, isn’t this cozy.” His voice was deep and smooth.

His proximity made it difficult to think. Winry found herself speechless, her mind blank as she watched water droplets fall from the ends of his long hair and dance down his chest. At these extremely close quarters Winry could see his defined musculature move under his tanned skin with his every motion, and a number of light scars crossing his shoulders and pectorals. A brief flashback came to her of the day she interviewed for the job, when she recalled wondering what his physique was really like beneath his clothing. Now that she had seen it, she found him magnificent; even their brief, accidental contact when she had collided with him months before hadn’t come close to revealing just how well built he was.

Edward’s breathing deepened, and Winry chanced a glance at his face. She found his pupils dilated and large, turning the gold to deep amber. Something primal stirred deep inside her, and she unexpectedly found Edward’s pure animal magnetism very appealing. She next focused on his lips, now parted and moving closer to hers, and absently wondered what it might be like to kiss him.

An instant later her sensibilities returned in a rush, along with her anger. She turned away when Edward’s lips were only centimeters from hers.

Edward clucked his tongue in irritation. “Why are you turning away?”

Adamantly holding onto her returning anger, Winry remained silent and refused to look at him. Interacting with him in any way would only encourage him, which was the last thing she wanted to do.

“Fine. Suit yourself,” he said flippantly.

His lips touched her neck, and he pressed her against the wall with his hips, rocking them as he did so.

Heart pounding, she shivered as gooseflesh prickled her skin. Winry could feel him there, his heat and hardness obvious even through the ridiculous amount of fluffed petticoat and heavy cloth. Her guard dropped as her insides went liquid, hot, and fluttery. For the briefest of moments, she imagined what it would be like to kiss those eager lips and touch those solid pecs again.

Winry’s indignation reignited. No. She couldn’t allow this to go any further. She lifted her hands to push him away, only to hesitate when she realized her touch might be misinterpreted as a sign she was welcoming his advances.

Then it came to her that there was one last card she could play: guilt.

“Mr. Elric,” she started, finding her courage, “what would Miss Rose’ think about what you’re doing?”

Edward stiffened before pulling away a fraction. Out of the corner of her eye she could see him frown.

“Are you talking back to me?” It sounded more like a threat than a question. Winry flinched when he lifted her chin with a thumb and forefinger. His eyes blazed into hers as tipped her head up and forced her to meet his gaze. “Miss Rose’ is none of your concern.” His breathing, once deep and slow from arousal, was now fast and sharp with irritation.

“I meant no disrespect, sir.” It was risky to address him in such an insolent tone, and there was the possibility of getting slapped again, but she hoped this tactic would break him from his lecherous intentions and allow her to leave. “But I don’t want to run afoul of my future mistress.”

A long, intense moment followed in which Edward remained frozen, his chest rising and falling with each weighty breath, and his annoyed gaze locked with hers. Finally, he rumbled, “And what makes you think she would find out? Do you plan on telling her?”

Gathering her courage, Winry met his arrogance with calm assurance. “No, sir, it’s not my place to say anything. She would know, Mr. Elric. A woman always knows when she’s being cheated on.” She resisted the urge to stick her lower lip out at him in defiance.

His face grew deep red with either a new burst of anger or embarrassment.

His dry laugh took her completely by surprise.

“Then she’d have to get over it. You owe me, remember?” The salacious smile returned to his face. “And I’m thinking it’s about time for your first payment.”

His impassive statement infuriated her.

‘Edward Elric, you are an unbelievable ass!’

Sparks flew between them as they stared each other down, and just when Winry believed he might give up, Edward moved in. His mouth firmly covered hers, but she refused to part her lips and grant him entry.

Pulling back he muttered, “This would go a lot easier if you’d just relax and enjoy it.” His obvious aggravation belied his glib words.

Winry only glared back. For a brief moment she wondered if her and Granny would be able to start over somewhere else, even though she knew it was impossible. They were already financially strapped, and there was no way they could pick up and restart their lives. Still, she didn’t want to simply hand over her virginity to Edward. That was something she wanted to do with a man she loved, and she was most certainly not in love with the selfish man currently pinning her against the wall.

“Maybe you need a bit more encouragement,” he said, “Like a reminder that if you don’t cooperate, the house is mine. Or…” Edward gathered her breasts in his hands and gave them a gentle squeeze. “…maybe a taste of what’s to come might change your mind.”

A gasp caught in her throat and Winry shivered as her body flashed with heat. This was the first time a man had touched her in this way, and Edward was being surprisingly gentle for someone who was often impulsive and forceful.

Her reaction encouraged him to lean in and kiss her neck again. He carefully sucked at her earlobe, his tongue toying with her earrings, and his warm breath in her ear sending new chills down her spine. She was still reeling from his initial touch when he began to explore her body, his hands wandering over her curves. Her head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, muddled and fuzzy, and she barely noticed as he untied her apron and lifted the neck strap over her head.

Cold reality sunk in when he began to work at the top button of her uniform, and Winry wavered between slapping him or taking him out with a right hook.

Of course she couldn’t do either because it would mean her instant dismissal and the loss of her home.

Winry turned her anger inward; she was frustrated with herself that she couldn’t fight back, quit her job, or even tell Mr. Hohenheim of the situation without making things worse. She turned her hostility upon Edward, livid that he would do such a thing to her. When he finally lifted his head and made eye contact again, Winry poured every ounce of anger she could muster into her gaze, letting him know beyond a doubt how she felt about him.

As if he’d been doused with ice water, Edward flinched back, a reaction she certainly hadn’t expected. Winry held him in her deadly glare, even as his expression turned confused and his hands faltered. Something subtle shifted in his demeanor and Winry swore she could detect a hint of pain and sadness in the depths of his golden eyes.

“Damn it!” he roared suddenly, causing her to flinch. He turned away and retrieved the towel from the floor to cover himself. “Get the hell out of my room!” Edward barked over his shoulder as he disappeared into the bath and slammed the door shut behind him.

Winry wasn’t about to argue with him. Now free, she snatched up her apron and the laundry basket and made a hasty exit. She sought refuge in one of the changing rooms, and it was a full hour before she was able to control her trembling enough to venture out and continue her chores.

 

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Edward released his hold with a sigh of relief and fell against the damp shower wall. Breathing deeply, he cracked open an eye to examine the milky spatter across the tiles of the shower enclosure. When the seduction had suddenly gone sour, he had been left high and dry again, leaving him in such an intense state of arousal he felt as if he were about to explode. He would have much rather found gratification with Miss Rockbell instead of resorting to pleasuring himself. Why did this particular woman make him so crazy, why wasn’t she swooning over him like all his other conquests had in the past?

What baffled him the most was her continued defiance. Why was she fighting back in spite of her situation? Even though she knew it could cost her her home, she still had the audacity to rebuff his advances.

Chasing her around his bedroom had been fun. He even thought at one point, when she responded favorably to his touch, she might give herself over to him, but the fury in her eyes had surprised him. So did the guilt that washed over him when he realized if he tried to press her any further, it would be against her will.

He had never done that; forced himself on an unwilling woman. In all his conquests, it had never been necessary and he really didn’t have it in him to do such a thing.

What was truly odd was he found her strength of will and her lack of fear admirable. Another part of him actually wanted her to like him, be attracted to him for who he was and not just because of his looks. This confounded Edward to no end; since when did he need the sincere respect and affection of any woman?

Either way, she was definitely a challenge to his intellect and his skills at seduction, and he wasn’t about to give up his pursuit easily. There would need to be a change in his tactics if he were to succeed.

Straightening, Edward started the water and stood under the spray to rinse himself and the soiled tiles. It wouldn’t do to have the object of his obsession find the shower stall in such a state.

Chapter Text

Edward scowled at the exceptionally noisy truck as it rumbled by and took another sip of his coffee.

“That was ridiculous,” he grumbled. “You’d think he’d replace the muffler before it got that bad.”

 Alphonse chuckled. “It was pretty loud wasn’t it?” He sipped at his tea. They were enjoying a late morning break at an outdoor café near downtown Central.

 The elder brother tipped his head back to look up into the deep blue September sky and breathed in deeply. Edward could detect the scents of the oncoming autumn even over the coarse smells of the inner city. “It won’t be too much longer before the leaves turn,” he sighed. His stomach twisted as he realized this meant his fated wedding was just over a month and a half away.

 He dropped his gaze. “So, why do you think the bastard wanted to meet up with us here? Wouldn’t it be easier for him to yell at me in the privacy of his own study?”

 Alphonse leveled a frustrated look upon him. “Dad had to go out on some business today and said it would be easier to meet up with him here for lunch. He needs to tell us something that couldn’t wait until he got home later this evening.” Alphonse tasted his tea again. “Ed, could you at least call him Dad, or Father, or something more respectful than bastard? If you must, call him Hohenheim, but please stop using such derogatory words when you refer to him. And I don’t think he plans to dress you down this time around.”

 Edward bit back the anger that flared in his gut. “Fine, but only around you. To me he’ll never be a dad, or father, or anything resembling that title.”

 Alphonse’s harsh sigh set Edward’s teeth on edge.

 “Edward, stop being such a child.”

 “What? Now you’re starting to sound like him.” Edward gripped the cup’s handle so tightly that it rattled against the saucer and coffee threatened to spill over. “Does this mean you’ve turned against me, too?”

 “No, it means you need to re-evaluate how you think about Dad. Be grateful for what you have, not what could have been!” Alphonse leaned forward, meeting Edward’s challenging stance. “I’m beginning to understand why he’s so upset with you all the time.”

 The brothers exchanged heated glares, neither willing to back down. Edward didn’t want to be angry with him, but losing Alphonse’s empathy stung. If his brother no longer sympathized with his point of view, it meant Edward would be on his own, without Alphonse to turn to for moral support.

 The thought froze his heart with fear.

 “My, my, why do you two look like you’re so angry with one another?”

 This abruptly ended the animosity hanging in the air between them. They turned to see their father approaching the café, briefcase in hand. Alphonse smiled and stood but Edward didn’t budge, choosing instead to glower off into the distance.

 “Hi, Dad,” Alphonse greeted. He threw one last disapproving glance at his brother, which Edward ignored.

 Hohenheim settled into a chair and shuffled it closer to the table. “Is something wrong?”

 Sitting, Alphonse shook his head. “Nothing serious. Just a difference of opinion, that’s all.”

 Hohenheim only nodded and waved the waiter over. Once their food was ordered he shrugged out of his suit jacket and hung it over the back of his chair.

 “I need to return to work as soon as I’m done with lunch, so I’ll come directly to the point as to why I asked you two to meet me here.” Hohenheim shifted when the waiter returned to set down a cup and saucer before him. “I’m leaving for Xing at the end of this week to meet up with the country’s Minister of Health. My intent is to discuss the first purchase agreement with him and learn what medical supplies are most needed.” The silence stretched out as he added cream to his coffee and stirred it in thoughtfully.

 Edward eyed his father with suspicion, knowing that Hohenheim rarely discussed trips with either he or Alphonse in a public place. There was something else his old man wanted to bring up, and Edward guessed Hohenheim most likely would ask him to accompany him to Xing.

 A glimmer of hope flared: if he went to Xing, there was a good chance he could slip away from his father’s side and disappear. It would be easy to hide and not be found unless he wanted to be in a country so vast. While still unsure about his brother’s loyalties, Edward loathed the idea of leaving Alphonse behind. The only thing that could supersede this was his increasing anxiety over his future. 

 Hohenheim took a sip and returned his cup to the saucer. He cleared his throat. “By all rights, Edward should be the one accompanying me, considering he will eventually take over the business.”

 Edward’s heart sank. Hohenheim hadn’t said ‘by all rights’ just to hear himself talk.

 “However, Edward, in light of your upcoming wedding, you should stay here and attend to any problems that might come up,” Hohenheim finished firmly, crushing any illusions of escape that Edward might have entertained.

 His next words brought a smile to Alphonse’s face. “I would like you to go with me, Alphonse, not just because you can learn a thing or two about the business, but because I understand that there’s a young Xingese princess who would like to see you again. A…Miss Chang, is it?”

 Alphonse beamed at the mention of her name. “Mei?!”

 Defeated, Edward remained silent, not daring to speak for fear of saying something unkind to his brother or sparking his father’s anger. It would do him no good to provoke his father’s ire in a public place.

 “You can go on the next trip, Edward, after you and Miss Thomas have settled into married life.” Hohenheim’s tone brooked no argument.

 “Whatever,” Edward muttered, blankly staring past them both.

 The waiter arrived with their food, ending further conversation. Hohenheim and Alphonse tucked into their sandwiches, discussing plans for their trip to Xing as they ate. Edward forced himself to pick at his lunch even though his stomach was twisted into knots, all the while trying not to think about his impending marriage.

 

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“What would you like for a souvenir, Brother?”

 The days before the trip had passed quickly and Edward watched in moody silence from the front stoop as Denny Brosh, their chauffeur, loaded Hohenheim and Alphonse’s baggage into the trunk of the sedan. He shifted his attention to Alphonse, doing his best not to let his disappointment show. Edward tried to come up with something glib, only to find there was nothing he could say that wouldn’t sound bitter or sarcastic. He settled for indifference.

 “Whatever. You don’t need to bring anything back for me.” He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and refused to meet either his father or brother’s eyes.

 “Certainly there’s something—” Hohenheim started.

 “I’m good.” Edward cut him off with an icy stare, “I don’t want anything, especially from you.”

 A tense moment followed with father and son glaring each another down and Alphonse was about to step in when Brosh spoke up.

 “Sir, if you want to be on time for your train, we really should leave now.”

 Hohenheim cast one last withering glower at his eldest son and climbed into the back seat as Brosh held the door for him. Alphonse offered a sympathetic smile to his brother. With a farewell wave, he got in on the opposite side, not waiting for the chauffeur to usher him in. Edward waited until after the car exited the gates before going back inside.

 With no one to bother him, the afternoon seemed was a prime opportunity to drink himself stupid. It was unfortunate that the Rockbell girl wasn’t working today; at least she could have been a distraction to pass the time, even if Izumi, Sig, or the other maids’ presence would have prevented him from doing anything more than ogling her.

 So an afternoon of drinking it was.

 His stomach rumbled in complaint.

 Maybe he’d drink himself stupid after a bite to eat.

 

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Izumi was wiping down the huge butcher’s block prep table in the center of the kitchen when he entered. Even though Edward wasn’t trying to be stealthy, she didn’t look up as he approached.

 “I’m hungry,” he announced churlishly. “What the hell is there to eat?”

 In a burst of motion, Izumi spun and drew her knee up, readying her attack.

 Ed threw his arm up to block the kick he knew was coming, but her heel smashed down onto his forearm and hooked it, pulling him off balance. Without even pausing, Izumi pulled back her still raised leg and sent out a second kick to his head, neatly connecting to side of it with the top her foot. He stumbled back and soon found himself sitting on the floor.

 “Are you nuts?!” Edward rubbed at the welt developing above his ear.

 Izumi was unimpressed by his indignation.

 “Is this how I taught you to ask for something?!” Izumi stood over him like an impenetrable wall. Arms crossed over her chest, she peered down her nose as if challenging him to speak out of line again.

 A tense moment followed, with the two opponents sizing each other up. Suddenly she bent down and Edward cringed, throwing up an arm to defend himself from his sensei’s next strike. When none came, he opened an eye to find her offering him a hand up.

 “Never let your guard down, Edward.” Izumi’s tone was calm, almost chiding. “And always show respect for your elders.”

 “Yes, ‘m,” he mumbled contritely. Taking her hand, he climbed to his feet. He brushed himself off and stepped up to lean against the counter. He eyed her warily as she entered the refrigerated room.

 “Let’s see…” Izumi’s voice echoed from the insulated chamber, “I can make you something from last night’s leftovers, or I can make up something fresh, such as those spicy sausages you like.”

 His mouth watered. Sausages laid out on a bun and liberally smeared with mustard sounded great, and would definitely tide him over until supper.

 “Would it be too much trouble to cook a couple of the sausages?” He touched the sore spot on his head again, expecting to find blood. His fingers came away clean. An ice pack would feel good against the tender bump right about now.

 “Not at all! As a matter of fact, I’ll cook one for myself!” She returned with a short string of the delicacies in hand. In very little time, the savory scent of cooking meat filled the kitchen as Izumi braised them in a skillet.

 Edward pulled up a stool to sit at the island counter and watched as his foster mother set out the makings for their sandwiches. She brought out plates and cut open some buns, her efficient movements, so effortless and precise that they mesmerized him. He found himself envious of her ability to move so fluidly.

 She retrieved a jar of mustard from the cold room and set it on the countertop next to the plates. “I’ll make up some quick meals that the girls can heat in the oven for you. That should tide you over for a few days.”

 “Hmm?” Edward sat straight at this. “What do you mean?”

 Izumi took the skillet from the stove and placed the finished sausages inside the buns. “Didn’t your father tell you?” She set the pan aside and pushed a plate across to Edward. “Since he and Alphonse are going to be gone for two weeks, he gave Sig and I some vacation time.” She spread mustard on her sandwich and slid the jar over to Edward with a quick flick of the wrist.

 Edward blinked, still confused. “Vacation? No, he never said a thing to me.”

 Izumi chuffed around her mouthful. “That’s probably because you never talk to him, and least not in a productive way. We’re leaving for Dublith in two days.”

 Edward only grunted. It didn’t matter to him if he were to be the only one in the mansion for a while. He would be free of his father’s scrutiny, which would allow him to go out whenever he pleased to seek food and other entertainment.

 And maybe even plan an escape…

 “Will you be able to manage on your own?” Izumi asked, then mumbled, “I forgot to get us something to drink.” She retrieved two bottles of orange soda. Opening them, she handed one to Edward.

 “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” He took a deep drink.

 “You be nice to the staff while we’re gone. Miss Hawkeye was given time off, too, as well as most of the staff, so there won’t be anyone around to keep you from harassing the girls. I think there will only be one maid per shift until everyone is home again, so go easy on whomever’s working.” Her tone, while stern, was not without warmth.

 “I won’t bother any of them,” Edward grumbled. “I can take care of myself for a few days, I really don’t need any extra help.” He took a huge bite of his sandwich and chewed with enthusiasm. “I can go out to eat, so you don’t even need to make my meals,” he said as soon as he was able to speak again.

 “If you’re sure,” Izumi said around her sandwich.

 Ed nodded. “Yeah. Besides, I could use some time to myself.”

 The realization hit him in the next instant, shooting through him like a bolt of electricity.

 ‘If everyone is gone except the maids…and there’ll only be one per shift…’

 “Who’s working the rest of the week?” Edward asked casually, wolfing down the remainder of his first sandwich.

 Izumi looked thoughtful. “Jensen will be here, and I think Denny will be in during the day. For the maids, I think Maria and Winry are working this afternoon, and Winry is on tonight through tomorrow night. Let’s see, who else…”

 Edward didn’t hear the rest of Izumi’s listing of the maids on duty; he’d already heard what he wanted.

 The Rockbell girl was working the next two nights and the day between. Alone.

 A plan flashed to mind and Edward knew that this was the perfect opportunity to seduce the pretty maid without interference from others.

 “Edward? Edward, are you all right?”

 “Huh?”

 He refocused his eyes to see Izumi eyeing him with suspicion.

 “Pay attention when someone is speaking to you! I said I’ll leave out the shift schedule so you know who’s working when.” She scowled. “Is everything okay?”

 Edward nodded and bared his teeth in a grin. “I’m fine. Just thinking about some tasks I need to attend to.” Deciding he was being too obvious, he shifted back into casual mode. “Since you don’t need to cook, why don’t you and Sig go out for the evening and leave for vacation tomorrow.”

 Now it was Izumi’s turn to be surprised. She scrutinized Edward for a time, her eyes wide. Her surprise soon turned to skepticism.

 “Why am I thinking you’re up to something?” she growled, “What is it, Edward?”

 Panic seized him. He waved his hands frantically and hoped he wasn’t blushing.

 “I’m not up to anything! I just thought you might like to get a head start on your vacation, that’s all!”

 Her coal black eyes drilled into him as if looking into his very soul, and Edward had to fight down the urge to squirm. How the hell did she do it? Both Izumi and Alphonse seemed to have some sixth sense when it came to reading his intentions.

 Izumi relaxed with a sigh, yet didn’t let up her scrutiny.

 “Thank you, Ed, that’s very generous of you.” Her frown returned. “But you’d best be here when everyone comes back home.”

 Edward nodded obediently. He finished his second sandwich as Izumi put away the mustard. When she went to collect the dishes, Edward stopped her.

 “I’ll finish up here,” he offered. “Go on and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.”

 Izumi, now placing the dishes in the sink, hesitated and looked over her shoulder. Her raised eyebrow spoke volumes about what she was thinking.

 He scowled back at her. “Crap, can’t I do something nice for you without you thinking I’m up to no good?!”

 Izumi turned off the tap and dried her hands on her apron. Approaching Edward, she smiled warmly and did something that took him completely by surprise: she affectionately kissed the top of his head.

 “See you in two weeks, bean sprout.” She left behind a speechless Edward, who was too stunned to rant about being called small.

 It didn’t take him long to recover. There were plans to be put into motion and there was much to be done. Considering that coercion and outright aggressive tactics hadn’t worked before, Edward wanted to try a lighter touch.

 That, and a bit of liquid encouragement.

 Edward hurried through the task of cleaning up, eager to return to his study in order to start making arrangements for what he hoped would be a successful and productive night.

Chapter Text

Winry resettled the tray and frowned at the richly grained oak door before her. It led to Edward’s study, the last place she wanted to be, especially with the mansion being otherwise empty. She’d rather be in her temporary quarters relaxing until she could turn in for the night, and would be if it hadn’t been for Denny Brosh bringing Edward’s evening meal in from a restaurant. The tray in her hands, laden with numerous white, lantern-shaped take-out containers and greased-dotted bags, was her responsibility to deliver to Master Edward whether she liked it or not.

At least she had a chance to change into her informal uniform before Brosh had returned with the food, a simpler dress without the apron, petticoat, or the long white stockings.

She shook her head in disbelief at the mountain of food. ‘How in the world is he going to eat all of this? Oh well, the sooner I give him this, the quicker I can go back to my room.’

Winry attempted to balance the tray on one arm to knock on the door. Panic seized her when the tray tipped precariously and threatened to slip from her grasp. Her quick reflexes prevented disaster and she secured it with both hands again.

This left her in a quandary.

‘Now how do I knock? Would it be rude to simply call out to him?’

Her unspoken question was answered when the door suddenly opened on its own to reveal Edward. Winry gasped in surprise and almost dropped the tray again.

“Ah! Miss Rockbell! I thought I heard someone come up. I see my dinner has arrived.” The golden-haired man stepped aside, allowing her to pass. “Please bring it in.”

Heart still racing, Winry refused to meet his eyes as she entered. She kept her expression neutral and maintained a professional demeanor, even after he closed the door behind her.

“Please set it down on the table between the couches,” Edward said.

As Winry turned to take the tray where he instructed, her steps faltered. On the low, long table between the settee and méridienne* sat two glasses. One was an empty wine glass, the other an Old Fashioned tumbler that contained a clear liquid over ice. Next to the empty glass an open bottle of red wine sat chilling in an ice bucket. With the finishing touch of a cheery fire in the fireplace that graced the wall at the end of the couches, it was all a very romantic setting.

This led Winry to automatically assume that Edward might be expecting his fiancée.

“Will Miss Rose’ be joining you tonight? Should I expect her to arrive soon?” She set the tray down, careful to not upset any of the items already there, and backed a safe distance away. Idly, she wondered if Edward had given up his pursuit. She’d been here since yesterday and yet this was the first time she’d come face to face with him, even though they’d been alone in the mansion during most of that time. That, coupled with the current setting, made her hopeful that he may have finally become bored with her.

“No. I’d like to ask you to join me.” He approached the nearest couch and motioned with an open palm for her to sit on the one opposite. “I’d like to offer this meal as a peace offering.” He smiled warmly and made no effort to move toward her.

She found Edward’s invitation both disconcerting and highly suspect. This wasn’t intended for Rose’? On top of that, he wasn’t going to chase her around the room or be his usual oafish self? Winry still wasn’t comfortable with the situation. Edward couldn’t be trusted and she knew better than to take him at his word.

“Thank you for the invitation, sir, but I’d really like to return to my duties—”

Edward held up both hands in placation. “Miss Rockbell!” he cut her off, “It’s just a meal!” He tipped his head at the tray. “Do you like Xingese food?”

Winry studied his face for a long moment, looking for any sign of deceit. Edward simply smiled again, casually pushing his hands into his pockets as if showing her he meant no ill intent. When she continued to hold her ground, he arched an eyebrow and gestured at the méridienne again.

Please join me,” he implored, “it would make me very happy.”

While the whole scenario seemed preposterous, Winry also believed his bad temper might return if she didn’t accept his invitation. Nodding guardedly, she edged around him, watching to make sure he kept his distance. She carefully tucked her dress under to perch on the deep red satin cushions, then quickly evaluated the situation: outside, the sky was deepening to dusk, but the light at his desk and near an armchair had the room lit well enough, especially coupled with the glow from the fire. Edward appeared to be more interested in eating than in her, paying her no heed as he sat opposite of her. As he began to open the cartons and tear apart the paper bags, Winry relaxed a little.

It seemed safe enough for now.

“Let’s see…steamed dumplings, sweet and sour pork, rice…” Edward absently looked through each container until he tore open the last bag to reveal several almond cookies. “Looks like everything’s here.” He glanced up at her. “Don’t be shy. Help yourself.” Edward tucked into a container of some dish that consisted of noodles, beef, and vegetables, using two sticks of wood as eating utensils.

Her stomach rumbled. Watching him eat made Winry realize she hadn’t had her evening meal yet and that she was getting hungry. Looking over the variety of food before her, she was at a loss as where to start or how to go about it. Winry feared she would be ridiculously artless trying to eat with the unfamiliar utensils, and rather not look foolish in front of someone she disliked.

‘Wait, didn’t I add silverware to the tray before I brought it up?’

Relief swept over her as she remembered putting a knife, spoon, and fork on the tray, and moved some of the containers around until she found the fork. A random sampling turned up sweet and sour pork, another fried rice. Both were delicious, and Winry surrendered to her hunger.

The pair ate in an uncomfortable silence for a time, and Winry eventually became so involved with the choices before her that she almost didn’t notice when Edward poured wine into the empty glass and pushed it toward her.

This set off alarm bells in her head.

“Oh, no thank you, sir! I don’t drink.”

Edward smiled. “It’s just wine. It’s like grape juice, that’s all.” He picked the glass up and offered it to her. “It’s not that strong. Go ahead, try it.”

Winry eyed him skeptically. She couldn’t tell if he were up to no good or if he was just being cordial. Even though unsure, Winry took the glass anyway, careful not to make contact with his fingers. A sip revealed it was very sweet and fruity with almost no alcohol aftertaste. Liking it very much, she took a deeper taste. Maybe with a little due caution she could enjoy the wine and not end up intoxicated.

“See? Nothing but grape juice.”

Winry set her glass back on the table, pointedly ignoring his comment. She tasted another dish.

“So…” Edward started, almost too casually, “how’s your grandmother doing?”

The bolt of anger that seized her was surprising in its intensity. Since when did he give a damn about Granny?

“Mr. Elric, just what is it you want with me?” she demanded tightly, struggling to keep her temper under control. She took another swallow from her glass to hide her nervousness. Being so brash might not be the best tact to take, but Winry refused to participate in Edward’s mind games.

Edward seemed genuinely surprised by her directness. He finished chewing his mouthful and swallowed. “I just want to enjoy your company. And maybe learn more about you.”

‘Is he really being honest or is this some new ploy?’

“I believe you know more than enough about me as it is,” she shot back, daring him to take exception with her tone. Not wanting to risk meeting his gaze, she absently sampled a beef dish from one of the cartons. It was very tasty, but by the time she swallowed it, discovered it was far too spicy for her taste. Painful heat swelled over her mouth and lips and she greedily drained her wine glass in an attempt to find relief.       

Edward seemed oblivious. He put the chopsticks down and sat straight, folding his hands in his lap. “I understand why you’re so upset with me and why you don’t trust me, but my only objective at the moment is to simply share a meal with someone and maybe some small talk.” He arched an eyebrow at her expectantly, as if waiting for her to challenge him again.

Winry was too busy searching for something else to drink, preferably water. A scan of the room turned up nothing, and her eyes watered as her mouth painfully burned. Beads of sweat broke out on her face and she fanned herself with a hand.

“Is everything alright?” Edward inquired innocently.

She jabbed a finger at offending carton. “Too spicy! Need water!” was all she managed to say.

“Here, drink more of this,” he offered, refilling her glass.

In too much discomfort to argue, Winry tipped the glass, draining it once more. It did help a little, but not as much as she would have liked. Edward refilled the glass as soon as she set it down. Despite the distress she was in, Winry didn’t take another drink.

“You must have gotten a hold of the shredded beef,” Edward commented smoothly. “That dish has super hot chilies as part of the ingredients.”

“You could have warned me,” she scolded hoarsely. Her mouth watered profusely, her body doing its best to clear the irritating substance from her sensitive tissues. She eyed her wine glass again, sorely tempted to gulp it down again.

“My apologies. I didn’t think to.” Edward sampled the spicy beef and nodded. “Yeah, the cook made it a little hotter than usual. He knows I like it hot so he doesn’t hold back on the peppers. Sorry ‘bout that.”

A string of curses ran through her mind, all aimed at her antagonist. Had he done this on purpose?

The need for liquid overtook her caution and Winry took another generous swallow of her wine. She refrained from emptying the glass even though she dearly wanted to.

“Here. Eat something else. That might help.”

Winry flinched back when Edward held his chopsticks to her lips. It was difficult to tell at such close range, but it appeared he was feeding her a steamed dumpling. Begrudgingly, she took the morsel with her teeth, making sure she didn’t touch the chopsticks with her mouth. She thought she caught a fleeting look of smugness on Edward’s face but ignored it when the savory taste of pork and vegetables filled her mouth. He was right: by eating something else, it did help ease the pain, especially when it was something this delicious.

“Better?”

When Winry nodded in answer, the room shifted in her vision. She shook it off and searched the tray to find the container of dumplings. Her body felt oddly warm, relaxed, filling her with a sense of contentment and complacency. For some reason, this didn’t alarm her. Right now her main objective was to find the rest of the dumplings and hoard them all to herself. Once located, Winry held the carton close and proceeded to eat each of the delectable morsels.

“Not sharing, are we?”

Her glare left no doubt to her feelings. “I’m hungry.”

“Obviously,” he taunted. “It’s a good thing I only ordered a half dozen. I wouldn’t want you to lose your figure.” He spoke the last words in a low timbre and Winry felt a different kind of warmth course through her body.

Edward chuckled and leaned to pick up another container. “Mmm, orange chicken.” He offered her a taste. “I think you’ll like this one, too.”

Again Winry eyed him with suspicion, but relented and accepted the bite, this time less cautiously. It was wonderful combination of sweet and citrus and she immediately longed for more.

“Like it?”

Even though Winry nodded carefully, her head swam. She reeled back in surprise when the chopsticks reappeared under her nose with another sample. Edward purposely locked his gaze with hers as she closed her mouth around the nugget. She shuddered at the heated look in his eyes.

Damn it, those gold eyes were nothing short of hypnotic!

Winry tore herself away, refusing to acknowledge her feelings of attraction. In her haste to swallow she started to choke, and gulped the rest of her wine to clear her throat. Edward filled her glass again despite her sputtered protests.

“So, I understand you’re a mechanic.” He sipped his own drink. “That’s a rather unusual occupation for a woman,” he said dismissively and returned to his meal.

No one questioned her abilities as a mechanic or as a woman. “Not really,” she replied tartly, her anger rekindling. “At one time, my grandmother was the top automail expert! She taught your father when he was in college! I’d say women are perfectly capable of being automail mechanics!”

A fleeting moment of annoyance crossed his features. He promptly regained his composure and smiled without emotion.

“It must not pay well if you’re working here.”

Edward’s flippant attitude rankled her.

“For your information, it does, but since I’m still looking to apprentice, I don’t get paid as well as if I were fully licensed.” Winry’s temper was starting to get the best of her again. Edward was getting on her last nerve and she considered risking his choler if she left without being dismissed.

“I would think that men would be frightened off by a woman that works with tools.” Edward leaned back into the settee’, tucking his hands behind his head. The amused set to his mouth wasn’t helping matters any.

‘I’d make you afraid of me if I had my wrench in my hand, you jerk! Besides, it hasn’t frightened you off yet!’

She fought the urge to leap across the coffee table and beat some sense into this sexist buffoon’s head. Instead, she steeled herself and took another drink from her glass. Putting something in her mouth seemed preferable over going off on her employer and subjecting herself to dismissal or worse.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” His smile was taunting, almost…victorious?

“Azz if it was any of yurr business, no!” She covered her mouth with a hand; were her lips numb? When did her mind begin to feel as if it were wrapped in cotton?

“Have you ever had a boyfriend?” There was no denying his smirk this time.

Winry grit her teeth. “No.”

“That only proves my point,” he mocked. “Which is a shame. Beauty such as yours shouldn’t go unappreciated.”

Between her dwindling facilities and her building rage, Winry knew it was time to leave, consequences be damned. Since leaving without being dismissed would put her in jeopardy anyway, there were a few things she needed to get off her chest first.

“Yoo haf to be the most arrogant, self-serving ass ahv ever had the displeasure uf knowing!” She jabbed a wavering finger at him as long held back emotions broke free. “Tha only person in the world yoo give a damn ‘bout ss yerself, and gods help enyone ’round yoo, because tha only thing they mean ta yoo is wha yoo can get out of ‘em! Do wha yoo will, buh I’m goin’ back to ma room, Misser Elric!” 

Unimpressed by the flurry of emotions that played over his face, she sprung to her feet to leave—and the room spun wildly, throwing her off balance. She flailed, desperate not to topple over the table.

“Whoa, there!” Edward was instantly at her side, placing a steadying arm around her shoulders. “Let’s sit down before you fall down.” His mouth was set in a stern line, but there was no anger in his voice or demeanor.

Despite his unexpected calmness, Winry was exceedingly uncomfortable with his proximity. “Ah wan ta leave! Let me go!” The room continued to spin and her tongue and lips refused to work properly. Too late, she realized that the wine was much stronger than it tasted.

“Sit,” he commanded, easing her back onto the méridienne, sitting beside her as he did so. He leaned across to retrieve her glass, effectively blocking her escape route. “Here, take another drink.”

Winry turned away when he held it to her lips. “I dohn wan anymorh,” she insisted. She made a vain attempt to shrug his arm off her shoulders.

Although, his arm around her did feel kind of feel nice...

“Okay, okay,” he sighed, returning her glass to its original position. It was only another ruse; as he straightened, Edward dove in and pressed his lips to hers.

Winry was so astounded by his brazenness that she tried to gasp, giving Edward the perfect opportunity to capture her mouth. She made a noise of protest as his tongue invaded, flicking against her own and encouraging her to respond in like.

‘He stole my first kiss! I can’t, this can’t…’

She pushed out at him, trying to break free, only to have Edward cage her in with his arm and press deeper. When he started doing amazing things with his tongue, her attempts grew weaker and weaker until she was tentatively returning the kiss.

Lost to the moment, she couldn’t believe she was actually sharing a kiss with this handsome, very virile man. It was everything she’d ever fantasized and more.

‘I shouldn’t…’

Her feeble internal protest died away as his hand slipped to the nape of her neck and tipped her head back slightly. He shifted so he was over her, dominating her, and Winry melted.

Suddenly, fighting back didn’t seem so important.

Time stretched on as they traded kiss after kiss, with Edward never pressing further, yet never allowing Winry a moment to regain her senses. He held her captive under his spell until she couldn’t remember why she wanted free of him in the first place. Her entire world became him, his scent, his taste, the heat of his hand on her neck, and the warmth of his body.

Finally, Edward eased back, their lips parting noisily. He stayed close, fixing her with his intense gaze.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” He softly stroked the line of her jaw with his thumb.

Winry shook her head, the movement barely noticeable. The heat in his eyes sent a thrill down her spine, where it settled in her core. As the alcohol wore down her reservations, she found herself longing for more of his kisses, more of his touch, more of…something.

“Would you like me to kiss you again?”

“Y-yess.” It came out a near whisper. Wait—had she just given him permission to kiss her again?

Edward bared his teeth in a wicked smile. He leaned in again, and she felt this kiss all the way to her toes.

Winry felt outside herself when his hand slipped down to fondle a breast. His touch brought back the hot, liquid sensation deep inside and, unlike before, she allowed herself to enjoy it. An involuntary noise slipped from her throat as he gently squeezed, prompting him to increase his pressure incrementally.

Breaking the kiss, Edward nuzzled behind her ear and lightly blew into it. His chuckle when she shivered was dark and dangerous.

“You’re a responsive one, aren’t you? Would you like to explore other possibilities?”

He never gave her a chance to reply. The hand on her breast inched to the top button on her dress and Edward worked them all open with astonishing speed. Her brain still hadn’t caught up by the time he placed a line of kisses from her neck downward, placing a kiss on each breast above the lacy edge of her brassiere in turn. The quiet cry of surprise that broke from her only served to draw his attention; his eyes burned into hers, setting her entire body on fire.

“Hmm, you like to make noise. I would have never thought you’d be so vocal in this type of situation, Miss Rockbell.” He chortled. “You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?” He moved in again, burying his face in her neck.

It crossed her mind to say something scathing and put him right, but she couldn’t find the words. His mouth felt wonderful on her heated skin, and it was curiously erotic when he nipped at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. His hand dropped to her knee and she tensed with anticipation as it slipped under the hem of her dress. Light fingers moved up her thigh, trailing fire as they went. However, nothing could have prepared her for the sensation that rippled through her when he made contact with the thin fabric of her panties and traced the crease beneath. It was like she’d been struck by lightning, a shock running from between her thighs to every corner of her body.

“Judging by how wet you are, I’d say you’re enjoying yourself,” he said in a seductive tone. “See, I told you you’d like it if you relaxed.”

In that instant, Winry realized that Edward had carefully planned the entire situation and she had blindly fallen for his deception like an idiot. Yet even though she was still reluctant to give herself over to him, a large part of her wanted to let the scenario play out to the steamy conclusion. Torn between these feelings, she cursed Edward, cursed her gullibility, and cursed her body’s betrayal.

“W-why? Why…me?” she panted.

Edward froze, his brows pinching together as if he were puzzled over why she’d asked a question with such an obvious answer. He didn’t reply right away, confusion crossing his handsome features. Finally he shrugged.

“Because I can,” he said nonchalantly. “Because you’re such a beautiful woman.” Edward leaned into her, pushing her back against the curved armrest. “But most of all, it’s because I like a challenge.” There was an odd note to his voice, as if he had left other things unsaid. He resumed his exploration of her neck and collarbone with his mouth. This time when his fingers caressed her intimately, it didn’t have the quite the same effect as before.

‘So, I am just another conquest?’

Righteous indignation, albeit watered down by the liquor, returned.

“Ah’d like to goh back to mah dutiess.”

He laughed into her neck. “I think you’re a bit too drunk to do any more work tonight. Anyway, isn’t this way more fun?” He drew his tongue along her jaw and nibbled at her earlobe. His fingers moved with more insistence and Winry found his touch very difficult to ignore.

“Ah really shood goh!” She feebly struggled against his weight.

Edward slumped against her with a frustrated groan. Sitting straight, he released a controlled breath. “If that’s what you really want. But I don’t think you’re able to get to your room on your own.”

Winry sat up and gathered her dress closed. “Yes ah’mm!” She struggled to her feet, only to drop back onto the couch when the room tilted and whirled violently around her. Determined to make her own way she tried to stand again. She’d crawl to her room if she had to.

This time Edward intervened. Looping an arm around her waist and drawing her arm across his shoulders, he helped her up.

No, you’re not. Let me help you.”

Seeing no other easy option, Winry relented. She needed his help to get to her overnight quarters. It was either that, or a very long crawl down the hallway in a three-quarter-length dress, which would be next to impossible in her present condition.

After all, she didn’t have to invite him in. Right?

Edward was extraordinarily gentle and considerate, allowing her to set the pace as they worked their way out of his study and down the long hall. It was a tricky process to put one foot in front of the other when the floor kept moving about, and she nearly knocked Edward off his feet a few times, but Winry was determined to keep moving. When he eased her to a stop in front of his chamber door, she balked.

“Dooh yoo take meh forr ahn idiot?! Ah tol’ yoo to take me to mah own room!” she protested. Did he really expect she’d continue to fall for his nonsense? 

“You’re too heavy to carry that far!” he shot back, “Sleep it off in my bed and I can sleep in Al’s room.”

“Dih yoo jus call me FAT?!”

Edward shoved the door open with his foot. “No, that’s not what I said! Don’t put words in my mouth!”

Unbidden visions popped into her head of what else he could put in his mouth and she flushed for reasons other than inebriation. While she was drunkenly pondering this, Edward practically dragged her into his room, careful not to run her into the doorframe. He closed and locked the door behind them.

“Yoo really are ahn ass!” Winry shoved him in anger, but the effort was only half-hearted.  Deep down she wavered between keeping her self-respect or answering the thrumming that was building inside her.

Edward held onto her tightly, refusing to let go. “You’re a real spitfire, you know that?” The lecherous smile returned. “I like it.”

She gave little resistance as he maneuvered her tightly against his chest. His kiss was fierce, unrelenting. Winry found herself responding in like as the last of her inhibitions dropped away and she surrendered to long denied desires. Somewhere in the back of her liquor-addled mind, Winry knew she would regret this choice when she was sober, but this was what she wanted now.

When Edward finally released her from the kiss, she took him by the collar and pulled him down for another. 

 

 

To be continued in Chapter 10

 

 

*méridienne: A short sofa of the Empire period, having arms of unequal height connected by a back with a sloping top. An early form of day bed, or récamier.  A picture of a méridienne can be found here.

Chapter Text

When Miss Rockbell grasped him by the collar and pulled him down, Edward knew he had won.

His surprise deepened when she slipped her arms about his neck and intensified the kiss. Edward took this as a sign of her consent, but he needed to be sure. Moving his hands to her round, soft bottom he drew her tightly against him, making her fully aware of his intentions. Much to his astonishment and delight, she pressed back and upped the ante by sliding her leg along his. Edward couldn’t help but chuckle. This was the answer he hoped for and the only one he needed.

There had been many times over the course of the evening where the situation could have gone either way, but despite, or in spite of them, Miss Rockbell had caved. She was right where he wanted her, and all it had taken was a little planning, bit of determination, patience, and a very expensive bottle of desert wine.

He eased her dress off her shoulder, suckling at her pale skin. She whimpered, tipped her head, inviting him to shift his attention to her neck. Edward eagerly fulfilled her silent request, running his tongue along her skin until he reached her ear. He breathed into it again, and she mewled softly in response.

Arousal flared, white hot and demanding, urging him to hurry things along. It had been so very long since he’d been with a woman and all he wanted was to sate his aching need as soon as possible. His ardor cooled somewhat when he remembered that Miss Rockbell had all but confessed she was untried. Pushing her too fast might spook her, and he’d rather not be left high and dry like previous attempts had left him.

Edward reined in his impatience, bringing both his mind and body under control. The situation required supreme restraint on his part, along with careful measures to keep her enraptured. There was a certain allure to an inexperienced woman, especially since he’d never been with one before, and he knew it would be foolish to rush an opportunity this rare. She was like an exquisite gift that needed to be slowly unwrapped, in order to extract every moment of anticipation before the final unveiling.

She staggered and Edward steadied her. He slipped her dress down until he could push it from her hips, and the garment crumpled about her ankles. Miss Rockbell lost her balance again, falling against him when he helped her step out of it and her shoes. She giggled at first, but seemed confused an instant later. When she looked down at her fallen dress, Edward noticed she was still wearing her bonnet and felt a moment of indecision; should he remove it too? Since it was taboo for him to have intimate contact with the female staff, letting her wear it would lend an element of excitement to the tryst. On the other hand he wanted to see her beauty unmarred by anything, not even a simple scrap of fabric. In the end he untied it, pulled it free, and removed the pins holding up her hair. Startled by his touch, she looked up, allowing her hair to fall like a waterfall of sunshine about her shoulders and down her back. Edward was pleased with his choice.

Her creamy shoulders begged to be tasted again, so he indulged himself, easing the straps of her brassiere down her arms until their connection to the rest of the lingerie impeded his efforts. A quick twist of his fingers behind her back unhooked the brassiere and he eased back just enough to pull it away. Miss Rockbell, even though intoxicated, blushed and quickly crossed her arms over her bust. She huddled forward, preventing herself from being exposed when he attempted to remove it.

Her innocent charm was beguiling. Even drunk and divested of her common sense, her sense of modesty was still strong. To ease her fears, he slipped out of his vest and stripped his shirt over his head, not bothering to unbutton it. He tipped her chin up with a finger and turned his most charming smile on her.

“Your turn.”

Unreadable emotions flickered in the depths of her bleary eyes as her gaze wandered over his chest before returning to his face. After a long hesitation she slowly lowered her hands, silently granting Edward permission to continue. Although her face blazed a deep pink, she appeared undaunted, neither backing down nor turning away.

Unveiling her perfect bosom would be a memory Edward would treasure for a very long time, just as when he gathered her naked flesh in his hands for the first time. Her startled gasp, and the weight and warmth of her breasts, made his blood run hot and fast and the throbbing ache in his groin escalate. In a calculated move, he passed his thumbs over her stiff peaks, and was rewarded when she panted and leaned into his touch.

The resulting surge of lust nearly overtook his senses, almost breaking down his carefully maintained composure. The ache in his groin bordered on painful. An internal battle raged; he longed to take her voraciously, feel her body around him, to move within her until he exploded with glorious sensation. He also wanted to enjoy every second he could because another opportunity like this might never come his way again. Edward finally decided that this was likely the only chance he would ever have to have his way with Miss Rockbell, and that he should make every effort to savor it.

He craved to taste her perfect breasts, and lifted her by her thighs until he could reach them with his mouth. Startled, she threw her arms about his head and wrapped her legs around his waist for support. He vigorously suckled at a stiff nipple, relishing the sweet taste and warm scent of her skin. Miss Rockbell gave a quiet yelp and Edward wished he could plunge into her this instant, patience be damned. She tipped her head back and shifted her weight, forcing him to readjust his grip so that he was supporting her by her bottom. This put her most intimate of places within reach, and he slipped his hand farther, pressing his fingers into the damp heat beneath her panties.

 

 

 

Sofie3387 illo for FA chpt 10

Art by Sofie3387

 

Edward almost lost his grip on Miss Rockbell when she squirmed. He let her slip within his grasp enough so he could kiss her again. He moaned at the sensation of her breasts pressed against his bare chest and the heat between her thighs, which was now grinding against his arousal.

Unless he was completely mistaken, Miss Rockbell was ready to continue to the next stage.

No longer willing to wait, Edward carried her to the bed. He planted a knee into the mattress and gently laid Miss Rockbell toward the center of the red satin sheets. If he could, he would have patted himself on the back at having the forethought to make the bed ready ahead of time, even though his original plans hadn’t included them ending up in his room. He slipped her panties down her legs and tossed them aside while the muddled woman was still struggling to come to terms with her abrupt change in orientation. She blushed even deeper when she realized she had nothing on, her cheeks perfectly complimenting the sheets beneath her, and moved her hands to cover herself again. Edward captured her wrists before she could, and took in the view below him.

Her beauty took his breath away. Her sublime figure was flawless; from her long, bright blonde hair and cream-colored skin, to her long shapely legs. He wanted to rush, to bury himself within her depths and lose himself; it was going to be extremely difficult to pace himself and make the most of this auspicious event.

Miss Rockbell struggled against his hold in a feeble attempt to free herself, pulling him back into the moment. He was too close to victory to risk her being uncooperative again, which was likely to happen if she felt threatened or afraid. Releasing her, he crawled to poise himself on hands and knees over her, lingering long enough to appreciate her figure a bit longer. She looked up with a mix of curiosity and anticipation, boldly meeting his gaze. He dove in for another fierce kiss, which she returned with equal vigor. Edward abruptly pulled free to draw his tongue over her belly; she tasted wonderfully forbidden.

He explored her body, using the knowledgeable touch of both his hands and mouth, learning all he could about her body, seeking out its most responsive places. Miss Rockbell’s reactions were everything he had hoped for and more, her gasps, moans, and whimpers music to his ears. As his fervor rose, Edward expanded his exploration, dipping his fingers between her thighs to tease at the fluid heat there. She jolted, moaned as he cupped and firmly pressed against her mound, curling his fingers into her slick cleft to tease the firm button of flesh beneath. The young woman cried out, jerking her hips to meet his touch. Edward smiled. If she were this sensitive, she would certainly be active and enthusiastic during sex.

No longer able to hold his desire back, he forced himself to retreat to the side of the bed. He paused long enough to fish a small tin from the depths of his trouser pocket and quickly divulged himself of the remainder of his clothing. The mattress shifted as he crawled onto it again, and Miss Rockbell turned to watch as he straddled her leg and balanced himself on his knees. Edward eagerly anticipated her reaction when she rolled an appreciative gaze over his body to take in his solid build. There was a silly grin on her lips, a distinct contrast to the heat in her eyes, but her eyes went wide as they reached his groin. She lifted her head and squinted as if trying to focus. Edward couldn’t help but grin with self-satisfaction; women had always expressed their appreciation for his generous endowment either by body language or verbally, and it was certain Miss Rockbell would be no different. He puffed with pride as her face scrunched deeper and she pointed a wavering finger toward his member, nearly touching it in the process. Certainly, the expected words of awe were sure to come.

Instead, her words knocked his hubris down several notches.

“Is…is tha thing furr real?”

‘What the hell?! What did she mean by that?!’

Now self-conscious, Edward reeled back. He felt his face glow hot with embarrassment and glared down at the naked woman sprawled against the pillows, completely flabbergasted by her audacity. Was she making fun of him?

“And why wouldn’t it be?”

She playfully poked at it, drawing a horrified gasp from him. He covered himself protectively; even though her brief contact sent his senses into overdrive, he wasn’t so sure he wanted her to repeat her action.

“Hey! Be careful of that!”

“It duzn’t look real,” she declared drunkenly. “In ahny picturrs ahv seen in mah medical books, mehn dohn look like thah!”

Now Edward was really confused. Was this her off-handed way of complimenting his size or was she being derogatory? He didn’t like the fact he was loosing control of the situation, or the sense of insecurity that knotted in his gut. “What the hell do you mean by that?!”

Her answering giggle only confounded him further. He was building himself up to quite the angry, and was about to give her his best rant, when her head dropped back onto the pillows and lolled to the side. Shortly, a soft, gravelly snore emanated from the back of her throat, and Edward realized that Miss Rockbell had passed out cold.

His anger instantly evaporated and he blinked in surprise. This unusual change of events left him uncertain as what to do next, or at least until he thought the situation over. Here she was, the woman he’d been lusting after for months, naked, vulnerable, and open before him, and she was his for the taking. Did it really make a difference if she were conscious or not? She had been eager and willing just before, so if he continued, it wouldn’t be considered against her will.

Would it?

Deciding not to over think his good fortune, Edward retrieved the tin from where he’d left it on the sheets and took a condom from it. Once it was applied, he shifted her legs over his thighs and eagerly lowered himself.

A tremor crept into his limbs. At last the moment he had longed for was here. It would have been more fun if she had been an active participant, but he could avoid a host of difficult issues with her being unconscious. It would be frustrating if she were to change her mind while in the middle of sex, or if she didn’t reach her peak. As aroused as he was, there was a good chance he wouldn’t be able to hold out long enough to see her through, and Edward hated to disappoint. This was like a free pass to enjoy himself and not worry about his partner for a change.

Expectations running high, he eagerly positioned himself at her entrance. Edward anchored his knees into the mattress and gathered himself for the first penetrating thrust.

What he didn’t expect was the sudden attack of conscience; it blindsided him, stabbing through him like a knife, and he pulled back.

‘She was willing before she passed out! That means she would have done it if she’d stayed awake!’

He repositioned himself again, only to have his sense of what was right or wrong stop him once more.

‘No…this isn’t right. This is no better than forcing myself on her.’

Then her angry words came back to attack him, felling his ego with a final, decisive blow: “You have to be the most arrogant, self-serving ass I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing! The only person in the world you give a damn about is yourself, and gods help anyone around you, because the only thing they mean to you is what you can get out of them!”

The epiphany that swept over him stole the breath from his lungs.

'Sh-she’s right… And if I do this while she’s passed out, without her knowledge, without her participation, I’m…I’m exactly what she said I am.’

Edward sat back onto his legs. Falling helplessly to the guilt that consumed him, he buried his face in his hands and took several harsh breaths.

“DAMN IT!” He sat on the edge of the bed and swung his fist against the bedpost.

‘I can’t. I can’t do it. She…she deserves better.’

The next epiphany hit him even harder.

‘I respect her too much to use her like that. I respect her and…because…. I think I might even…

‘NO.’

He just couldn’t go there. Edward rose with a defeated sigh. He took his time dressing, afraid to look back at the woman in his bed until he finished. Upon seeing her tangled in the sheets, exposed and helpless, an unexpected wave of protectiveness swept over him. Without a second thought he returned to her side, carefully eased her into a more comfortable position, and pulled the comforter over her. She shifted restlessly, burrowing into the warmth, but did not wake. Edward stood for a time, taking in her beautiful features as many unfamiliar emotions waged war in his mind.

In spite of all his plans and schemes, he couldn’t bring himself to harm this girl. She had taken all his bad behavior in stride, with grace. He had come to admire these qualities, along with her strength of spirit and intelligence.

And at some time, he wasn’t sure when, she had become meaningful to him.

With one last sigh, he left, leaving her to sleep in peace.

 

%%%%%

Winry came awake.

She turned her head and moaned at the blinding pain that shot through her skull. What the hell was wrong, why did it feel as if her head was about to explode?

Something shook her, renewing the pain. The outside world slowly intruded and she became aware that she was lying on an unfamiliar surface. She felt a hand on her shoulder: it was a ‘someone’ that was shaking her.

“Get up,” a masculine voice insisted. “You need to go to your own room before someone finds you here.”

Go to her own room?

Winry cracked an eye. A fresh wave of pain bolted through her head at the morning light that streamed through the parted curtains. She moaned again. Her throat was dry, her mouth tacky, and her tongue felt swollen. The surroundings looked strangely familiar although she couldn’t exactly place where she was.

“Good, you’re up.”

It sounded like Edward’s voice.

‘Edward?’

It took monumental effort to roll onto her back. She tracked the voice; Edward stood at the side of the bed, peering down his nose at her without emotion as he tightened and adjusted his tie.

Why was Edward standing next to her bed?

“C’mon, get up. You need to go to your own room. Brosh is supposed to be here within the hour to take me into the city.” He shrugged on his vest. I’ll bring you back some breakfast. You’ll feel better after you eat something.” Edward picked up his suit jacket and slipped into it. An indecipherable emotion flickered across his face. “I’ll let it slide if you don’t make it down for chores today. Rest as long as you need to, but do it in your room, not here.”

With that he left, closing the door behind him.

It took a few more minutes to process where she was and why Edward had woken her. Bits and pieces of the evening before flashed through her pounding head.

The impromptu meal.

The wine.

The kisses.

His hands inside her dress.

The unsteady trip to his room.

His touch and his mouth on her bare skin.

The last hazy memory she could recall was of a naked Edward hovering over her.

'Edward? Naked?!’

She scrambled upright, ignoring the queasiness that bloomed in her stomach or the renewed throbbing in her head. A quick scan of her surroundings revealed that she was in Edward’s bed, with silky red sheets wrapped around her naked form. All the pieces clicked together in a horrifying instant and Winry panicked.

“No,” she murmured. Her and Edward had…last night?

Try as she might, she couldn’t remember.

“No, no, NO!”

Winry stumbled out of bed. Her arms and legs felt heavy and her head spun, making it difficult for her to locate her clothes. It took her much longer than she wished to find all her things and even longer to slip into them. All the while, she struggled to recall just what happened between her and Edward the night before. Tears were further clouding her vision by the time she was able to pull on her dress.

‘It couldn’t have happened, it can’t! What have I done, how could I have been so stupid, how could I have just let it happen!’

When she was finally decent, Winry collected her shoes and lurched toward the door. She struggled with the doorknob, her hands still not properly obeying her mind, and felt a rush of relief when the door finally opened. Queasiness threatened again as she shuffled down the hall toward her quarters. She stopped to press her face against the wall, it was cool, soothing, and she found it helpful in calming her stomach and easing the pain in her head. When she’d recovered enough to continue, it also offered support for her wobbly legs. Only when she had reached her room and locked the door behind her did her mind began to race again.

Her inability to recall last night’s events filled her with distress. The belief that she may have lost her virginity to Edward hammered against her psyche, chipping away at her confidence and her spirit until it was replaced with anguish. How could she ever face sweet Master Alphonse, her trusting coworkers, or her grandmother, who was always so proud of her, without feeling overwhelming shame?

How could she return to work day after day and face Edward, thinking of what they might have done? It would be unbearable to see his self-satisfied smirk every time they encountered one another and impossibly difficult to cover her distress when in his proximity. Did this now mean he would expect regular sexual favors from her?

The resulting sense of hopelessness brought a surge of bile into her throat. Winry made a dash for the attached bath, barely making it in time. When the meager contents of her stomach had been purged and her dry heaves subsided, she dared to rinse her mouth and splash cool water on her face. Weak, exhausted, she changed into her nightgown and crawled into the simple white sheets of her bed. The thick blankets lent a sense of security, allowing her to lower her guard and let her emotions work their way free.

She cried into the pillow until she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Edward readjusted his tie as he trotted down the stairs. He leisurely arched his back in a deep stretch when he reached the floor, causing several vertebrae to pop in the process. It felt good to be moving about, especially after spending most of the morning at his desk.

“Edward.”

Edward turned at the sound of Sig’s voice; the older man was standing at the end of the hall, dressed in his street clothes, a suitcase in each hand. He didn’t correct him for not using the honorific of ‘master’. After all, Sig and Izumi were part of his ‘family’.

“Welcome home. When did you get back?”

“Late last night. We were careful not to disturb anyone when we came in.” Sig nodded in the general direction of the kitchen. “Izumi made breakfast, but you didn’t show.

“I forgot you were supposed to be back yesterday or I would have come down.” Edward shrugged. “Sorry ‘bout that.”

“Don’t tell me your sorry, tell Izumi.” Sig’s mustache shifted with a grin. “After all, I’m not the one who made breakfast.” He turned to leave, hesitating as something else came to mind. “A telegram came for you this morning.”

Edward’s yawn was cut short. “What did it say?”

“You’ll have to ask Izumi that. She’s the one that signed for it.”

Dread crept up his spine. Like it or not, he was going to have to face his surrogate mother sooner than later. “Thanks, Sig.” With a wave, he passed by the older man.

He went over the tasks he needed to take care of that afternoon on his way to the kitchen. ‘I should contact the one supplier about the mistakes they made on the last order. I also need to go over the papers for the Armstrong deal again. They have to be done by the time the old man gets home tomorrow or he’ll have my ass.’ A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. ‘That also means Al will be back. It’ll be good to have him home again.’

Edward was still lost in thought as he passed through the antechamber, but Izumi’s voice on the other side of the kitchen door brought him to a halt just before he entered. He was reluctant to interrupt the conversation between the cook and whomever she was talking to. If Izumi was already irritated and he intruded in the middle of something important, it wouldn’t go well for him.

“We left for home on Thursday and just got back last night. I found the perfect souvenir for you in Creta. I’ll bring it down later.”

A woman’s voice answered, but it was so soft he couldn’t tell who it was. It had to be one of the staff, which meant the conversation could go on for some time. Too hungry to wait, he pushed into the kitchen—and froze under his sensei’s hard glare. He was considering backing out when a quiet gasp drew his attention. Much to his discomfiture, Edward found Miss Rockbell staring back at him from the door to the servant’s quarters, looking very spooked. A fierce, defiant glint quickly replaced the distress in her eyes and she shuffled away a few steps; her blatant contempt drove a knife of guilt through his heart. It had been days since he’d last seen her, even though she’d worked some shifts since their night alone, and he really hadn’t expected her to be here now.

“Well, well, nice of you to show up for lunch, Edward. Where the hell were you for breakfast?”

Tearing his eyes away from the maid, he faced Izumi again.

“Hello to you, too. And welcome home.” It was dangerous to provoke her anger by using such an impudent tone, but Edward couldn’t help himself. Miss Rockbell’s disconcerting reaction to his unexpected appearance had broken down his self-control. “I wasn’t aware that you and Sig were back until a few minutes ago.”

“Ah…um. Pardon me.”

Both Edward and Izumi turned to Miss Rockbell though her icy tone made Edward look away immediately, too conscience-stricken to chance meeting those hate-filled eyes.

Miss Rockbell shot a look at the door to the antechamber before lowering her eyes. She clutched her hands together uneasily; it was more than obvious that she wanted to be anywhere but here. “May I be excused.”

“Of course, dear,” was Izumi’s immediate response.

When Miss Rockbell remained in place, Edward glanced to see her bowing her head to him, but there was a tense set to her shoulders. It was becoming more and more difficult to face his shame or the internal conflict he now felt when around her. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbled, not liking the unpleasant sensation churning in his stomach.

With that, Miss Rockbell quickly slipped past him and through the door.

“Edward, what did you do?!”

He winced under Izumi’s burning scrutiny. “What in the hell are you talking about?!” Twice within minutes, he had spoken to his sensei without due respect. His lingering remorse was making him careless with his words.

At that moment, Sig entered the kitchen. He shook his head at Edward as he carried a box to the pantry. “Edward.” His voice carried a warning note.

Izumi ignored her husband and slammed a cooking pot down onto the preparation table. “Don’t play stupid with me! Tell me, what did you do to her?!”

Although he knew whom she was talking about, Edward didn’t want to acknowledge it. He thumbed over his shoulder at the door. “What, you mean the Rockbell girl?” He knew he had pushed too far when Izumi stormed up to him with hands on her hips and fire in her eyes.

“Of course I mean Miss Winry!” She slapped the side of his head in a motion too quick to dodge. Stunned, all Edward could do was gape. “She wasn’t upset until you came into the room! And considering she’s never acted like this around you before, I can only assume you’ve done something despicable!” She slapped him again.

“Ow! Stop doing that!” Edward rubbed at his stinging scalp and tried to back away.

Izumi wasn’t having any of it. She followed him and leaned in until her nose nearly touched his. Edward cowered under the weight of her proximity and a sweat broke out on his brow.

“Answer me, Edward!”

Survival instincts kicked in: “I didn’t do anything, I swear!”                   

It was more of a white lie than the truth, and Edward hoped Izumi couldn’t see through it. Putting on his most innocent face, he met his sensei’s dark stare without blinking.

Izumi stared him down, her coal black eyes piercing him like she could see into his very soul and ferret out the truth. Finally she straightened.  Edward believed he was off the hook until she jabbed a finger in his face.

“I know you’re lying! And when I find out what it was, I will make you accountable!” She shook her finger at him for good measure. He flinched back, going cross-eyed at the digit only centimeters from his nose. She then turned back to the abandoned cooking pot.

Maybe changing the subject would be a good idea.

“I understand I have a telegram?” Edward ventured. Izumi plucked a bit of yellow paper from her pocket and whipped it under his nose. He drew back again and snatched it from her fingers. “Could I also get some lunch?”

Izumi froze in the middle of moving the pot to the stove. She slowly looked over her shoulder to drill him with a deadly glare.

“N-never mind. I’ll go out for something.”

Edward beat a hasty retreat.

 %%%%%

 “It looks like rain, sir.” Brosh stepped to the side as he opened the rear door of the sedan.

Edward paused before getting in and examined the sky. The clouds had thickened considerably since he’d entered the café. Now dark and threatening, they looked heavy, almost low enough to touch.

“Looks like,” he grunted, and climbed into the back seat.

“Anywhere else you’d like to go, Mr. Elric?”

At one time, Edward would have instructed Brosh to take him to a pub or some other establishment that served alcohol, but all he wanted now was to return to his study and stay out of sight. He no longer had a taste for liquor since the failed tryst. Hiding in his study was easier than a chance meeting with the young maid, or confronting the tumult in his mind and stomach whenever she was near.

“No, thanks. Let’s head back.”

Brosh guided the sedan away from the curb and into traffic where he picked up speed. Edward shifted to get more comfortable and settled in for the drive home. In the middle of a daydream, he remembered the telegram he’d stuffed it into the inner pocket of his vest. He’d planned to read it when he could find a quiet moment; now was as good of time as any other. He pulled it out, smoothing the square of yellow paper open.

 

TO: EDWARD ELRIC,  HOHENHEIM MANOR, CENTRAL CITY, AMESTRIS

 

EDWARD,

STAYING IN XING LONGER THAN PLANNED. NEGOTIATIONS RAN LONGER THAN EXPECTED. EXPECT US BACK JUST BEFORE YOUR WEDDING.

VON HOHENHEIM

 

“Shit,” he muttered.

“Sir?”

Edward glanced up. Brosh was looking at him expectantly from the review mirror. “Nothing. Al and the old man won’t be back right away, that’s all.”

Brosh only nodded in answer. A polite silence fell between them and Ed spent the remainder of the trip brooding over the fact Alphonse wouldn’t be home as soon as he’d expected. The chauffeur didn’t speak up again until they pulled through the gates and up the drive.

“It seems like you have a visitor. Were you expecting someone, sir?”

Pulled from his thoughts, Edward squinted through the windshield. There was a late model sports car parked near the front steps. The roadster’s dark gray color caused the vehicle to blend in with its surroundings, matching not only the gloomy afternoon, but also his dark mood. Edward grimaced. He wasn’t up to entertaining whomever the car belonged to.

“Not that I’m aware of.” Edward shrugged. “There were no meetings listed in my appointment book for today.”

Brosh brought the car to a stop behind the roadster and hurried to open the door for his employer. A deep rumble of thunder sounded overhead as Edward climbed out, and the first few drops of rain started to fall. It was followed by a cold gust of wind; the unusually warm weather was finally being replaced with more fall-like temperatures.

“Perfect. Just one more thing to piss me off today.”

When Brosh trailed him up the steps to open the front door for him, Edward glanced over his shoulder and nodded toward the car. “You’re excused. Put it away before the weather gets any worse.” He barely acknowledged Brosh’s ‘Thank you’ as he continued up the steps. It was a relief to get inside where it was warm and dry. Edward nodded at Sig when he appeared to take his coat and gloves.

Edward thumbed over his shoulder at the door. “Who’s car—“

“You have a guest, sir.” Sig’s emphasis on the word ‘guest’ and his pained expression told Edward exactly who was in the house, even before the sharp voice confirmed it.

“Where have you been?!” Rose’ approached him from the parlor, her expression venomous.

‘Fuck. Not Rose’, not today.’

“Out!” he snapped, walking past her. “I don’t have to tell you everywhere I’ve been! And why are you here? Don’t you have something better to do?”

Rose’ followed him through the foyer and into the parlor. “You forgot?! It’s October 3rd!” Fuming, she glanced at her watch. “And we have an appointment at the church in thirty minutes! Do I have to keep track of everything for you? Honestly, you’re such a child!” She hovered over him when he sat down in one of the high backed chairs, not allowing him to brush her off so easily. “The wedding is only two and a half weeks away, and we need to talk to Pastor Falman. You know we’re expected to have our pre-marriage counseling session with him today!”

Edward’s derisive scoff only fueled her anger farther. He cut her off before she could start another heated diatribe. “I’m agnostic! You know that!  I don’t believe in anything as intangible as God!” He picked up the newspaper that Sig had left on the side table for him, hoping to use it as a barrier. He barely had time to flick it open before Rose’ batted it from his hands.

“You are going to the appointment with me, and you are going to do it willingly.”

“Yeah, right. I haven’t been willing about any of this,” he growled. He retrieved the paper from the floor and snapped it open under her nose. She tore it from his hands this time, shredding it in the process.

“So, I guess you want your family’s business to go under?”

Confusion left him speechless, but only for a moment. “What has that to do with my family’s business?! 

“I’m saying that if this marriage doesn’t happen, your family’s business goes under. And if you don’t go to this appointment, and willingly, then this marriage won’t happen.

“Wait; what has this to do with my family’s business? I thought this was some crazy scheme set up by our fathers to increase the families’ status!”

“Is that what your father told you?” She huffed at Edward’s baffled stare. “You can be such an idiot.”

Seething fury surged through him and Edward was on his feet in an instant. “You’re making that up! My family’s business is doing fine—!”

Rose’ seemed less than impressed with his display of temper. “Everyone who is anyone knows. Your father has been losing business like crazy for the last couple of years. He’s relied on word of mouth to bring in new clients, but that approach just doesn’t work in today’s business world. You need to see the way to the future, advertise using newspapers, direct marketing and billboards, and your father just isn’t willing to do that. That’s why his competitors are taking all his customers. He’s being eaten alive.” Her smirk was self-satisfied.

Edward still couldn’t quite believe her; she had never been above telling lies to get her way, so how could he be sure she was telling the truth now? He bared his teeth. “You’re just trying to manipulate me into doing what you want.”

Rose’ burst into a humorless laughter. She cleared her throat when she finally managed to compose herself. “I’ve seen the paperwork myself. Your father’s books are in the red, by a fair amount I might add, and without funding, Xerxes Pharmaceutical will definitely go under!

“And how in the hell did you get your hands on this supposed paperwork?!”

“Lord Hohenheim sent copies to my father, along with the proposal.” She tipped her nose up. “Daddy trusts me with such details; he knows I’m a genius at business. That’s why he won’t invest in your father’s company unless we’re married.”

“This makes no sense. Why would he even want to invest in a company that’s failing? Wouldn’t it make better sense to let us go bankrupt, then pick up the pieces afterwards?”

“But then I wouldn’t be getting what I want.” She grinned in an almost predatory manner. “You.”

Edward was dumbfounded. “Me? What the hell do you want me for?!”

“You’re very handsome, well-built, and unusual.” She ran a lock of his hair through her fingers and Edward jerked back at her touch. “I like things that are unusual. And I always get what I want.”

He couldn’t help but shudder at her wicked smile.

“Our fathers arranged this marriage so that Lord Hohenheim could have the financial backing of the Thomas estate and the benefit of our business sense. If this marriage doesn’t happen, your father will lose everything; his status, his business, the estate. Everything.”

“I could care less what happens to my old man.” Edward growled, but without his earlier bluster. This revelation had deflated his bravado and replaced it with a growing bubble of doubt.

“What about your dear brother? Where will he end up if your family were to lose it all?”

He ached to knock some sense into this spoiled brat, and lifted a hand to do so, only to freeze in mid motion. It galled him, but Edward knew she was right. He could survive on his own, but what about Alphonse? Could he live with himself if he put him out on the street with nowhere to go?

Teeth clenched, Edward struggled to calm himself. He dropped his hand and swallowed back a knot of resentment as Rose’ smiled at him with supreme smugness.

“Now hurry up!” She slapped her gloves onto her palm. “We’re already late and we have miles of country roads to travel before we reach the church!” Rose’ marched to the front entrance where Sig offered to help her on with her coat. “I’ll wait for you in the car,” she said, slipping into it. “I’ll drive. My new car is a stick shift and I doubt you have any idea how to work a clutch.” Her words burned him like acid, eating at the last of his pride. She flipped her hair over her shoulder as she looked back at him with a burning glare that warned him not to dawdle.

Edward watched her exit, rooted in place by defeat, rage, and impotence. Without him ever noticing, Rose’ had caught him up in her web of deceit. He was already so deeply entangled that there was no way out. This had to be his punishment for his selfish, women-chasing ways; he was losing the very freedom he cherished to a woman who only viewed him as part of a collection. If he believed in karma, this would be the payback for his iniquitous ways.

“Your coat, Master Edward.”

Stiffly, Edward turned toward Sig. The huge man offered him his coat, but it was the look of sorrow in elder man’s eyes that clutched at Edward’s heart.

“Thanks, Sig,” he mumbled, taking the garment from him.

“No matter what, Izumi and I will always be here for you.” Sig patted Edward on the shoulder and smiled. Edward could only nod in answer.

Slipping into his coat, he stepped outside, and flinched at the huge raindrops that struck him in the face.

‘Just. Fucking. Perfect.’

The blast of a car horn urged him down the stairs and he threw himself into the passenger seat of the roadster.

 %%%%%

 By the time they reached the outskirts of town, the rain was coming down so fast that the car’s wipers had difficulty keeping up. The cold wind certainly didn’t help matters as it lashed the water against the windshield.

Edward squinted out the side window, trying to make out landmarks through the driving rain. Rose’ had been rattling on non-stop since they left, and looking out was better than granting her any of his attention. He tensed as he felt the car hydroplane through a puddle, the back end slipping for a heartbeat before the tires found purchase again.

“Slow down,” Edward barked, cutting her off in the middle of a detailed description of how the church would be decorated for the ceremony: white and pink. It sounded like they were getting married inside a giant wedding cake. The very thought was nauseating.

“Shut up,” she snapped back, “I don’t need a back seat driver to tell me how to drive!”

“If you know how to drive, then you should know enough to slow down in these conditions!” When the car slipped sideways again, Edward swallowed down his panic and braced himself against the dash.

“Oh, like you know what you’re talking about! And I can’t slow down because I don’t want us to be any later than we already are! If you’d been home when I stopped in, we would have almost been there by now!” Rose’ struggled with the steering wheel as the wind caught the car for an instant.

He clamped his mouth shut, giving up on the argument. If she was yelling at him, she wasn’t paying attention to her driving. Edward preferred they not end up in a ditch; he didn’t want to walk back home in this downpour.

She moved on to another topic. “I been meaning to talk to you about some changes I’m going to make once I’m lady of the house, but you’ve been absent. Now that I have you here, I’d like to discuss the matter of the staff.”

Edward furrowed his brow. “What about them?”

“I plan on bringing my own people with me.”

He became defensive. “We already have a full compliment. What would we do with two sets?”

“Oh, there won’t be two. I’m replacing your people with mine.”

Even though Ed suspected that had always been her intention, he was still infuriated by the idea.

“Why the hell should I fire everybody?!”

Rose’ threw a glare his way. “It won’t be your staff, it will be mine! The lady of the house does the hiring and firing. You won’t have anything to say about it!”

Of course, she was right. Since only men had been in charge of the mansion up until now, the duties of managing the household had always been handled by either he or his father. Edward had automatically assumed he would be in charge.

He still wasn’t going to just let her toss Sig and Izumi out onto the street without a fight. Or anyone else for that matter.

“I have no intention of letting go of anyone! I don’t give a damn if you will be in charge!”

She gave an annoyed huff. “Fine! I’ll let you keep one person, but only one.” Another gust of wind tugged at the car and Rose’ paused to concentrate keeping the car on the road. “And it won’t be the new maid your father hired, that little blonde thing! I bet you’ve spent a lot of time ogling her. I won’t have such a temptation in my house!”

“Since when have I ever…ogled…! Why should it matter, anyway?!” He was shouting now, venting his frustration and anger. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing his surrogate family, and for some reason, the thought of never seeing Miss Rockbell was almost as distressing as losing Izumi and Sig.

“Don’t you dare yell at me!” she returned his anger in like. “I’ve known right from the beginning that you’re a philanderer. That will stop immediately! From now on, I’ll keep tabs of where you are every moment of the day, which means I’ll be keeping you on a very short leash. I’ll make sure you won’t ever be tempted again! So that means that blonde hussy will not be working under my roof!”

A surge of rage-induced adrenaline pulsed through his blood at this. “She is NOT a hussy!” The knowledge that his every action would be controlled rankled him, but Rose’ calling Miss Rockbell something so vile was unacceptable. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered why he was defending a mere maid, especially one that now detested him, when it would be so much easier to just let her go.

The car bogged down as it went through a deeper expanse of water on the road. In spite of the danger, Rose’ pushed on even faster.

“I. Don’t. CARE! I won’t have her in my house!”

The car started to shift sideways again and Edward dug his fingernails into the dashboard. “SLOW DOWN, YOU CRAZY BITCH!”

“WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME?!”

He turned to scream at her to slow down again, and his blood ran cold. Like a ghost gliding out of the mists, a large delivery truck appeared from the curtain of rain; it was only meters away and speeding toward the driver’s side.

“ROSE’, LOOK OUT!!!”

 

 

 

 

Art by Arielphf

 

Edward had barely gotten the words out when the vehicles collided with a deafening crash. He lost his grip on the dash when the roadster lurched sideways. Then the vehicle tipped precariously and careened toward the ditch. In the next instant it rolled. He was violently thrown about the small space and all sense of orientation left him. The air became filled with shards of glass and rainwater. Objects seemed to strike him from all sides, confounding him further. Roses' scream rose over the sound of breaking glass and groaning metal, only to be cut short.

In a moment of pure horror, Edward realized he just might die.

A sharp pain blossomed as something struck the side of his head, numbing his senses and interrupting the thought. Time seemed to stretch out for an impossibly long period, snapping back into place as he perceived mud and wet grass against his face and cold rain soaking his clothes.

‘So, this is it?’ was the last thing that crossed his mind before the world went dark.

 %%%%%

 Mustang pulled the collar of his slicker closer around his neck as he walked up to stand next to Hughes. He nodded in greeting and squinted up at the sky. It seemed as if the rain was finally letting up, which was good. It would allow him to finish his tasks here much faster than he expected, which meant he could return to the station sooner to grab a cup of hot coffee.

Looking down the road at the mangled vehicle in the ditch, he clucked his tongue. It was a mess; there was a car wound around a tree near the crossroads and box truck lying on its side in the opposite ditch. There was a bustle of activity around the remains of the car as the medical team worked feverishly on one of the victims.  An ambulance with its back doors open was parked nearby.

“Run it down for me Hughes.”

Hughes shook his head, flinging rainwater from his cap. “This is a bad one, Roy, a T-bone accident, truck vs. car. The car ended up in an altercation with a tree and lost. The truck has some major damage, and the driver’s pretty banged up, but he’ll live. The occupants of the car didn’t fare as well. Considering how heavily it was raining earlier, it probably happened due to poor visibility.”

Mustang frowned. “What’s the extent of their injuries?”

“One dead, one gravely injured. He’s lucky he’s still alive.” Hughes nodded toward the ambulance. “They’re loading him up now.” He paused, tucking his chin under. “Um, Roy, it’s someone we know.”

Mustang watched the medics lift the stretcher and carry it to the ambulance. Although the person was covered up to his chin in a bloodied sheet, the man’s gold hair stood like a beacon, even in the encroaching gloom. A chill swept over him as he dared to think the impossible

“Edward?”

Hughes nodded. “It’s bad, Roy. One of his legs is badly mangled and he’s lost a lot of blood. They’re not sure if he’ll make it.”

This galvanized Mustang into action. “Then we’ll escort the ambulance to the hospital!” He started toward his car. “Radio ahead and let them know we’re coming, then follow up at the rear.”

Hughes barked, “Yes sir!” and hurried away. Climbing into his car, Mustang waited until the ambulance pulled away from the accident scene. Flipping on his lights, he took the lead.

Edward Elric wouldn’t die if he could help it.

 

Chapter Text

Rain clattered against the window, filling the silence between the anxious couple. It had been raining off and on since the day of the accident, fitting the gloomy mood of recent events, and bleeding over into the closeness of the hospital room.

Izumi wrung the cloth out into the basin setting on the side table. She carefully dabbed it over Edward’s fevered forehead, careful to avoid the bandages. Sig hovered on the opposite side of the hospital bed, silent as always, but she could see the worry and exhaustion in his dark, expressive eyes. She knew how he felt; neither of them had slept well during the past three nights. Only stolen naps here and there had kept them going. They didn’t want to leave Edward’s side for more than a few minutes, afraid they wouldn’t be there if he took a turn for the worse.

She looked Edward over again; his appearance was alarmingly grim.

Bandages encased his torso and right shoulder. His right arm, in a cast, was held immobile with a sling. Another bandage encircled his head, covering up a nasty cut on his forehead. Bruises bloomed from beneath the gauze strips on his body in stark contrast to his sickly pallor, making him look more dead than alive. The only the telltale signs of life was the slow rise and fall of his chest and his breath fogging the oxygen mask; he was still with them, at least most of him was. By some miracle, his left arm was mostly uninjured, except for a few cuts and bruises. Intravenous lines inserted into that arm dripped medication and glucose into his bloodstream.

Izumi had to force herself to look further down his body, where sheets and blankets covered his legs. There, the cloth draped over one limb, leaving its form undefined yet left no doubt that the leg was there. However, his left leg now ended just above his knee. This gave her great concern, and not just because it had been necessary to amputate his leg. Edward might be strong willed, but she wasn’t sure how he would react to the loss.

“When did Mr. Hohenheim say he would be back?”

Izumi shook her head to dispel the dark thoughts that had crept into her mind. She cleared the huskiness from her throat. “According to his telegram, he and Alphonse should be back either today or tomorrow.” She nodded as her eyes wandered back to Edward’s face. “It’s been three days now, and he still hasn’t woken up.” She couldn’t keep the concern out of her voice.

Sig’s grin was more of a grimace. “Dr. Marco said it might be some time before he comes to. He took a pretty bad blow to the head, Izumi. He needs time to recover, that’s all.”

She glanced down the length of Edward’s body again. “Of course. He’s young and strong. His injuries will heal eventually.” Izumi nodded at where his leg should be. “The obvious injuries will heal fine. It’s the ones we can’t see that I’m worried about.” She suppressed the anxiousness that ate at her and moistened her foster son’s forehead with the damp cloth again.

When she turned to freshen the cloth in the cool water, a movement caught her eye and she froze. She blinked as the fingers of Edward’s left hand twitched once more; it was the first movement he’d made since the accident.

“Dear?”

Izumi didn’t look up at her husband. “He moved.” She nodded at Edward’s left hand. “He moved his fingers.” She leaned over him and stroked his forehead with a gentle touch. Her concern intensified when she found his skin hot and dry, even just after being dampened with ice water.

“Edward, can you hear me?”

His eyelids flickered, but didn’t open.

“Edward, it’s Izumi. Wake up.”

Impossibly long seconds ticked by as Izumi continued to stroke his brow. His eyes rolled behind his eyelids in jerky movements, suggesting he was dreaming. This was a good sign; if he was dreaming, he was rising from the coma.

A tremor shook him, startling her, and Edward’s breathing became quick and deep. He mumbled something that sounded like ‘no’.

“Ed, can you hear me?” His non-responsiveness worried her. He might be coming out of the coma, but he was waking into a nightmare. Izumi jumped when Edward shouted.

“No!” The word was distinct this time.

“Wake up, Ed, you’re safe now.” Her voice was uncharacteristically soft, soothing.

It did not have the calming affect she expected; Edward began to thrash, swinging his unbound arm wildly and nearly pulling the IV lines free.

“Edward! Calm down!” Izumi captured the flailing limb, only to have him become even more agitated. When he began to writhe, Sig took over for her. Her husband was more successful holding him down, at least until Edward also started kicking and his mumbled words became shouts, then screams.

“Go find a nurse or Dr. Marco! Hurry, before he hurts himself even more!” Sig struggled with Edward as he nearly twisted himself out of the big man’s hold and onto the floor.

Izumi sprinted from the room and down the hall toward the nurse’s station. She had been a strong-minded, confident person all her life, but it took every bit of her will to keep tears from flooding her vision.

 

%%%%%

 

Mom?

Warmth. Darkness. A sense of security encompassed him, giving him a profound sense of peace. He was a baby, cradled in his mother’s arms. Looking up, he saw a familiar face, one he’d not seen for many years. Joy filled him at the sight of his mother’s loving smile.

She gently stroked his forehead and began to sing, her voice soft and sweet; it was a lullaby, one she’d always sung to he and Al when they were little. He settled against her, at ease and contented to be with her once more. A chestnut strand drifted across his face and Ed drew in a scent he had never thought he would experience again in this life.

A shadow strayed into his mind.

But…this isn’t right. She died a long time ago.

The spell of comfort faded as doubt welled up around him.

Does this mean…I’m dead?

Everything twisted out of focus and morphed around him. He was standing in front of Izumi, who was smiling at him warmly. She was crouched down with her hand held out to him in a gesture of greeting; he took it in his own small one and shook it. He had become a little kid again.

“Hi, Mrs. Curtis.” An even younger Alphonse stood next to him. He shook Izumi’s hand, too. “Are you going to be our mom now?”

A surprised laugh. Her smile grew wider. “I can be whomever you want me to be.”

Somewhere along the way she had become Mom to them.

“C’mon, Ed, let’s go! "

An older Alphonse waved goodbye; he was leaving, going somewhere Ed couldn’t follow. He struggled to catch up him, but it was like his feet were moving through quicksand, slowing him down and holding him back.

His father scowled down at him, eyes flashing with fury.

“You have responsibilities, Edward! You have to stay here and marry Miss Thomas!”

Rose’ appeared at his side, twining her arm around his elbow. Her plastic smile seized his heart with fear.

“I’ll be keeping a short leash on you from now on!”

He fought to break free but her grip tightened, encircling him like a climbing vine covered in thorns.

No!

“Your part of my collection now, Edward, and I’ll be keeping a short leash on you from now on!”

Her grasp was unbreakable. He clawed at the collar as it tightened. Rose’ laughed, hard and cruel.

No! NO!

“Here, let me help you.”

He saw simple black shoes before him. His gaze trailed up to the hem of a black maid’s dress layered with a white apron. An open hand came towards him, offering assistance.

“Don’t be afraid.”

Blue eyes. Miss Rockbell’s eyes were brighter than he remembered, filled with a novel kindness he didn’t recall her ever showing.

Win…Winry?

Her dress melted into a dazzling white. She helped him up, then turned and walked away.

Wait!

Miss Rockbell didn’t seem to hear him. A door appeared and she stopped before it, smiled over her shoulder, and stepped through.

In a fairytale he’d once heard, a girl in white had followed a white rabbit down into its hole. He recalled the tale and fell toward the opening she’d disappeared through. The door grew larger the closer he got, until it towered over him. He slowed to a stop in front of the massive panels. Upon them were carved designs, unlike anything he’d ever seen before. They seemed familiar, yet at the same time didn’t.

The feeling that this was something important nagged at the back of his mind, but he couldn’t recall when he’d ever heard of anything similar.

The doors opened a crack, and he remembered why he was standing in front of them.

He didn’t know why, but it seemed important to follow her. He dug his fingertips into the slight opening and attempted to pry it open. She had something of his, something he needed to free his soul, his heart. The doors resisted, but at last groaned and began to open. He allowed them room to swing. She was not waiting on the other side as he expected. Instead, the doors opened to reveal an infinite, inky void.

Where had she gone?

A huge, ringed purple eye snapped open in the middle of the darkness.

Black tentacles snaked out of the void, reaching for him with tiny, clawed hands that opened and closed greedily as they approached. Before he could react, the tentacles wound around him, holding him tightly as they lifted him off the ground.

No, no, I DON’T WANT TO DIE!

Screaming in terror, he thrashed against his monstrous captor as it pulled him in.

The doors slammed shut, leaving him in utter darkness.

 

%%%%%

 

The rapid clack of shoes striking linoleum echoed off the pale green walls, turning heads and drawing nurses from doorways along the corridor. Alphonse held back the urge to run. He wanted to find his brother, to see with his own eyes just how badly Edward was injured. He refused to believe the words printed on the telegram he and his father had received four days before.

 

 

TO: VON HOHENHEIM, IMPERIAL PALACE, QONGHAI, XING

 

PLEASE RETURN HOME ASAP. EDWARD RECEIVED GRAVE INJURIES IN AN ACCIDENT. HIS PROGNOSIS IS UNCERTAIN.

 

IZUMI

 

 

Alphonse hadn’t liked the cryptic tone, but he also knew Izumi couldn’t give a full account of what had happened in a telegram. The trip back across the desert had been torture as endless worst case scenarios raced through his mind, and the train ride from the eastern border of Amestris to Central couldn’t be over soon enough.

He reached the nurse’s desk, halting his momentum by bracing himself against the counter’s edge. The nurse sitting behind it snapped her head up in surprise.

“Where can I find Edward Elric’s room?” he panted, keeping his voice down enough so as to not disturb other patients on the floor.

The middle-aged brunette blinked as if rousing herself out of a daze, then her hazel eyes softened with pity. “You’re family, right?” When Alphonse nodded, she pointed down the hall, in the direction he’d been headed. “All the way down the hall and on the left, room 305.”

He mumbled his thanks then added, “My father will be along shortly. Would you please let him know where he can find us?”

“Of course.”

He resumed at a more sedate pace even though every nerve in his body was screaming at him to run again. Alphonse slowed as he reached the door, and froze just before stepping in; now that he was here, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the truth, to see his brother broken and maimed. He became fixed in place, his gaze locked onto a single speck in the flooring at his feet.

“Al?”

Alphonse looked up. His surrogate mother was standing in the door with her arms held wide; he hadn’t heard her approach. He fell into her arms, and hugged her back as she gathered him into a fierce hug.

“Welcome home.”

Fear coiled in his gut at the tremor in her voice.

He pulled away, meeting her eyes, still fearful to look past her and see the reality of his brother’s condition. “How bad is he?”

The sound of confident steps drew near, interrupting her answer.

“Izumi! I’m so glad you’re here!” Hohenheim stopped next to Alphonse, slightly out of breath.

She studied their faces for a moment. “Come in and sit down. I think the news will be easier to take that way.”

Father and son nodded, but Alphonse didn’t immediately move forward. Hohenheim grasped his shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

“Come on, son. It will be all right. Everything always seems worse in the light of day.”

Alphonse drew in a steadying breath and moved to the chairs located at the back of the room. As he turned to sit, he dared glance toward the bed, and was alarmed by what he saw. His brother was covered in gauze bandages, wrapped around his torso and head, and his right arm was set in a cast. Intravenous lines ran from two bottles hanging from a tall metal stand down to his left arm. Clear fluid dripped from the bottles and down the lines, where they disappeared beneath bandages encircling his forearm. There were bruises seemingly everywhere on his body, in colors ranging from angry black to dark purple.

“Ed…” He was drawn to his brother’s side. Edward didn’t stir as he approached. Alphonse was struck with how pale his face looked beneath the oxygen mask. He noticed Edward’s hair was in disarray, the brilliant gold dull and dirty. Dried blood streaked through several locks near the injured side of his head and eyebrow, tinting the filaments brownish red.

“He’s heavily sedated, Al,” Izumi said softly as she came to the opposite side of the bed. “He was in a coma for three days. This morning, as he started to come out of it, he was delirious and became very agitated. Dr. Marco thought it best for him to stay asleep until his concussion healed more.”

“Concussion?” Alphonse felt as if he had stepped out of his own body and was merely observing the macabre scene before him.

“What happened, Izumi? Your telegram didn’t say much except to return home immediately.” Hohenheim joined her at Edward’s bedside.

“It was a car accident. Tuesday afternoon, Edward left with Miss Thomas to go to some meeting. Sig said it was with the pastor residing over their wedding. The weather was bad—a heavy rainstorm—and they didn’t see an oncoming truck at an intersection. They were hit in the side. The car went off the road and rolled before hitting a tree, at least that’s what Detective Hughes believes after he investigated the accident site. Edward was thrown free of the car, but not before striking his head, tearing up his arm, and…” She trailed off for a second, swallowed, and nodded at the foot of the bed. “His leg must’ve been crushed under the car at one point because it was shattered. The doctors couldn’t save it.”

Alphonse felt like he’d been struck in the stomach with a fist. Against his will, he looked at where Edward’s left leg should be under the covers, but it was missing from above the knee down.

“Brother.” It came out as a whisper.

“He has some internal bruising, some cracked ribs. His right arm was fractured in two places. There’s also several cuts and deep scrapes all the way up to his shoulder on that arm, but Dr. Marco thinks those will heal with time.” Izumi sighed and stroked Edward’s forehead. Everything will heal in time, but I’m afraid for his mental state when he learns about what happened. He’s not only going to be distressed about his leg, but he’ll blame himself for what happened to Miss Thomas.”

“Speaking of, how did she fare?” Hohenheim ventured.

“She died at the scene. She was driving, and the truck struck the driver’s side door.”

“Dear gods.” Hohenheim squeezed his eyes shut.

Alphonse was too busy dealing with mixed emotions to react; his brother would live, but to what end? Recovery would be a long, arduous journey, and while Edward was strong willed and not prone to self-pity, he didn’t know how his brother would feel about losing a limb. He did feel remotely sad that Rose’ had lost her life, but right now all he could think about was Edward’s welfare.

“Has the funeral been held yet?” Hohenheim asked.

Izumi nodded. “Yes. It was yesterday.”

Hohenheim pulled a hand down over his face. “I’ll need to send my condolences as soon as I can. Right now, I don’t want to leave my son’s side.”

Alphonse was struck by the worry in his father’s eyes as he looked down at Edward. Their father and Edward had always been at each other throats, for as long as Alphonse could remember, and it was startling to see Hohenheim expressing such compassion and concern for his eldest son.

“He’ll need a new leg. And I know just the person who can build him one.” Hohenheim’s face hardened with determination, “Pinako Rockbell.”

“No.” Alphonse turned to his father, his expression equally determined, “Winry.”

Chapter Text

“Miss Rockbell, I’d really appreciate it if you would consider taking on Edward’s case.”

Winry shifted away from the two men before her, her stomach churning with resentment and anxiety. Hohenheim and Alphonse had appeared on her doorstep to specifically offer her a position as Edward’s automail technician. She found it difficult to appreciate their earnest interest in her skills.

“Why me? Granny has more experience.”

Pinako, standing at her side, slipped her a surprised look, but said nothing.

“Because you and Edward are of the same age. He might respond better to someone he knows,” Hohenheim said. “I know your Grandmother has trained you well, so I have no concerns about your abilities.”

She looked away, arms crossed over her breasts. She didn’t really want to hear praise for her talent, not when it meant she’d be working on Edward.

“Child you’ve done this before. You know it’s a two person surgery, so I’ll be there, anyway.” Winry shot a glance at Pinako as she touched her arm and saw that her grandmother’s brow was wrinkled with confusion.

Winry longed to blurt out why she didn’t want to be in charge of the elder brother’s automail attachment, or the pre- and post-surgery care, but the looming threat of losing her home kept her silent. It rankled her to be pressured into accommodating a man that treated her with such disrespect, and who only viewed her as another conquest. She wished they had gone to someone else to give the vile, loathsome man the care he needed.

“I couldn’t possibly keep up with two jobs,” she pointed out, desperate to not get involved with the situation. “The maid job keeps me busy enough as it is, plus I have other automail orders I need to fill.”

“You misunderstand; you would no longer work as a maid because you would be his full time caretaker,” Hohenheim countered. “I’d pay you handsomely for your time and talent, so you and your Grandmother won’t need to worry about making ends meet.” She was struck by the desperation in the tall man’s eyes. This was very unlike his usual stoic personality.

“I’m feeling better now, so I can handle any of the existing or any new orders that might come in.” Pinako’s smile was more of a grimace. “My old bones don’t hurt like they used to now that I’m taking something that helps.”


Winry felt cornered. If they had been aware of Edward’s deceitful ways, they wouldn’t have expected her to take on the responsibility of his care. When she didn’t answer right away, Alphonse took a step forward.

Please, Winry. Help him.” Alphonse clasped his hands before him, pleading to her with his eyes. “I know he can be a jerk, but he’s my brother. I want him to be able to walk again.”

Ever since she was a little girl, Winry had wanted to help people regain their mobility and their lives by building automail, but this was one patient she wanted nothing to do with. She looked to Pinako and almost imperceptivity shook her head, hoping her grandmother would see her reluctance and send both men away. Pinako raised a questioning brow but said nothing.

“I’d really like his surgeon, automail mechanic, and caretaker to be you.” Hohenheim’s voice broke subtly. “Your family has always been first in the field of automail attachment, and I only want the best for Edward.”

Winry stared at him for a long moment, trying to sort her swirling emotions. It was disconcerting to see Hohenheim’s eyes bright with tears. In that moment, she knew there was no way to refuse the job without looking like a horrible person.

“All right.” She had to force the words from her mouth. “I’ll come to the hospital to evaluate his injury. It’ll be easier to do the examination and measure him for a fitting while he’s still under.”

“Thank you, Winry! I knew I could count on you!” Alphonse took both her hands in his and squeezed them firmly.

She forced a smile even though she felt sick. It was almost as if she had been manipulated, though she knew Alphonse was nothing like his brother. Why couldn’t she break free of this family’s influence? Why was it the more she wanted to be free of Edward, the more they seemed driven together.

Hohenheim’s smile was one of pure relief. “I’ll talk to his doctor and find when’s the best time for you to examine him. I’ll send along a car to pick you and your grandmother up when I know.”

With a grateful smile from Alphonse, the two men left. Winry remained in place, staring blankly at the closed door until her grandmother spoke.

“All right, missy. Spill the beans. You’ve never worked so hard at turning down a job before. There’s something up, and it has to do with Hohenheim’s eldest, doesn’t it?”

“Everything’s fine, Granny.”

The wily woman saw through her deflection. “Everything’s not fine!” Pinako shook a finger at her. “You’d best tell me what’s going on.”

She turned away and shook her head. “I-I can’t tell you.”

Pinako turned steely. “Yes, you can. If you won’t tell me, I’ll go ask Hohenheim myself.”

Fear sliced through her. It horrified her to think her long kept secret might be exposed.

“No, Granny, please don’t!”

“Then tell me, child! Maybe I can help.” There was concern and compassion in her grandmother’s voice.

“But…but…if I say something, and it gets back…” Please, Granny, just drop it! Winry wanted to break for her room and hide from her grandmother’s scrutiny.

“Whatever comes, we’ll deal with it. I’m sure it’s nothing we can’t handle.” Pinako jammed her fists onto her hips. “After all, we’re Rockbell women, we don’t run from anything.”

Caught between two losing scenarios, Winry relented. Perhaps it was time to come clean; at this point, she had nothing left to lose.

She wilted. “It’s a long story.”

“Good! I like long stories! They tend to be the most interesting.” Pinako started for the kitchen. “I’ll put a pot of water on for tea and you can tell me all about it.”

%%%%%

 

Two cups of tea and three cookies later, Winry finished her tale of Edward’s deceit. She told her grandmother everything, from his unhealthy fixation on her, to how he had used their home against her in order to attempt to coerce her into his bed, and of his physical and verbal abusive. Pinako sat quietly, taking it all in as she puffed on her pipe, her face impassive.

The only thing Winry didn’t tell her was about the night she couldn’t remember, and the possible loss of her virginity. The shame was still too fresh and she couldn’t bear to say the words that might break her grandmother’s heart.

Pinako continued to puff her pipe, deep in thought as she stared off into space. Winry toyed with her teacup nervously, keeping her anxiety in check as she waited for her grandmother’s answer. She focused on the ticking of the clock in the other room to distract her from the fact her grandmother wasn’t responding. It was a relief when the Pinako finally spoke.

“I was wondering why I hadn’t heard anything from the bank for a while.” She fixed her granddaughter with a frown. “He’s quite the little shit, isn’t he?”

Winry was surprised by her grandmother’s low-key reaction. She had expected a more robust outburst, not a thoughtful observation. “That’s…an understatement.”

Smoke curled around Pinako’s head as she exhaled. “If he were my grandchild, I’d have bent him over my knee a long time ago and put a switch to his backside. That brat needs to be spanked until he can’t sit down.”

“What do I do, Granny? I didn’t want the job because I’d be in close contact with him all the time.” Tears sprung to her eyes. “I don’t know how long I can stand it, especially if I have to touch him and be near him for long periods of time. What if he tries something again?”

Pinako cackled. “You’re not seeing the big picture here, my dear. You won’t be working for him and his father; you’ll be working for Hohenheim only. Hohenheim is putting you in charge. You will be in control. Do you catch my drift?”

The revelation struck her like a thunderbolt; with this new job, Edward would be at her mercy. The irony of the situation was very appealing.

“And don’t worry about Edward’s little extortion scheme. I’m going to have a chat with his father about his bad behavior.” Pinako grinned around the stem of her pipe. “I have this feeling Mr. Elric’s life is about to become even more difficult.”

The new implications of her changed situation gradually dawned on her. The huge weight she had been carrying around for the last few months lifted. Winry wiped away the tears, and a tentative smile crept onto her face. At long last, the tables had turned in her favor. She would finally in control of her own life again.

And also his.

“However, I’d completely understand if you don’t want to take this job.” Pinako drew on her pipe and let the smoke out slowly. “I can tell Hohenheim to look for someone else.”

“No need.” Winry turned a confident smile on her grandmother. “I’ll take the job. Now that I think about it, it could be…enlightening.” Her grin broadened.

"For both Mr. Elric and myself."

%%%%%

 

The first thing Edward became aware of was excruciating pain radiating throughout his body. He licked his lips and tried to swallow against the dryness in his mouth.

Shit. What…the hell happened?

New pain erupted in his side when he took a deeper breath. He tried to moan, but it came out as a hiss. The air had a distinct, almost metallic odor. There was something covering his mouth and nose.

“Ed?”

“Is he waking up?” That was a different voice. He couldn’t immediately identify either one. The thought passed through his drifting consciousness that he should know them. Eventually the name Izumi came to him, then Al.

Al’s home? Isn’t he was supposed to be away?

Edward tried to open his eyes. His lids felt so incredibly heavy that he only managed to open them to a slit. Light seared his senses. He squinted and managed to produce a moan this time.

“I’m here, Ed.” Someone gripped his left hand snugly. It was oddly cold and trembling.

“Al?” The word was barely perceptible, but Al responded.

“Yeah, Brother, it’s me.”

He tried to swallow again. “Thirs—thirsty.

“Here’s some ice chips.” It was Izumi.

He felt the mask being lifted then a cold spoon held to his lips. Edward opened his mouth. Moisture from the ice melted over his tongue. When his throat was soothed, he asked, “Where…am I?” His voice was unrecognizable to his own ears.

A heavy silence followed. He was wondering why everyone was so quiet when Alphonse spoke.

“Don’t you remember, Ed?”

“Uh-uh.” Fatigue set in. The process of thinking, of being aware became taxing.

“Go let Dr. Marco know he’s awake.”

“Yes, ‘m.”

Exhaustion muffled the world. Edward was just drifting off to sleep again when a deep, unfamiliar voice brought him to.

“Edward? I’m Dr. Marco. How are you feeling today? Do you know where you are?” His head throbbed as his chin was shifted up. His eyelid was forced open. He hissed in protest. At least this intrusion had the effect of making him more lucid.

‘Feel like crap, don’t know where I am, and get that fucking light outta my eyes!’

“Lemme ‘lone,” he slurred instead. His other eyelid was pulled open. He tried to lift his arm to brush away the offending hand. His arm felt incredibly heavy and wouldn’t respond properly to his brain’s commands. 

“Don’t try to move your right arm, okay? You have a cast, and you might hurt yourself further if you force it.”

Marco released his eyelid, much to Edward’s satisfaction, only to start poking and prodding him instead. He endured it until Marco palpated the left side of his abdomen. The dull ache the touch caused caused him to draw a breath.

“Still a little tender there, are we?” Marco’s coat rustled as he moved. “Good news is, there’s no rigidity in your abdomen, so you’re healing on the inside, too. We’ll take some X-rays to confirm it.”

“What…happened?” It was real work to get the words past the pervasive pain. Silence followed his question and Edward drifted, almost escaping into sleep.

“You were in a bad car accident. Remember?” It was Alphonse.

“Ac…accident?” He strained to recall but his memory would not cooperate. The effort brought on a throbbing headache. It intensified the harder he tried to remember. The last recollection he had was of an argument with…the person’s name eluded him…in the front parlor.

“You…and Rose’. You were on your way somewhere when a truck hit you.” Izumi’s soft voice carried a sorrowful note.  

That’s right! It was Rose’ he’d had words with. What had they argued about? A foggy image emerged of them yelling at one another in her car. It had made him really angry. Then something had made him really frightened.

“It…was raining?”

“Yes, Brother.” Al’s voice was quiet. And sad?

The pain in his head now outweighed any other he felt. Edward grit his teeth against it.

“What hurts, Edward?” Dr. Marco asked.

“My…my head is killing me.”

“That’s due to the concussion you sustained during the accident. I’ll have the nurse bring in a cold compress and give you some additional pain medication to help with your headaches.”

Edward barely moved his head in a nod. “What else...happened to me?” he said, barely above a whisper. “I feel like...like two big guys beat the crap out of me.”

“Dr. Marco, should we tell him, or should you?” Why did Alphonse sound so sad?

“It’s your choice, really. He might take the news better if he hears it from you,” Marco said.

Cold terror crept over him as another thought came to mind.

“ Am I...dying?” Edward swallowed back rising anguish.

“No, no!” Izumi reassured him. “That’s not it at all! You’re going to live, Ed, it’s just that…”

Irritation sharpened his focus. Edward had finally had enough of the silent pauses.

“Tell me.” When there was no immediate response, his temper flared. Disregarding the intense throbbing in his head, he growled, “Tell me, now!”

Izumi made a choked sound and shook her head.

Marco laid a comforting hand on his forearm. “Edward, you’re injuries are extensive.” It was Marco. “Besides your concussion, your right arm is broken, you have a few cracked ribs, and some minor internal injuries.”

Something was still being left unsaid. “And?” he pressured.

“It’s your leg, son. It was so badly damaged that we had to amputate.”

This news brought this mind into even sharper focus.

“Fuck that! I can feel both of them! Especially the left one; it hurts like a bitch!”

“That’s phantom limb pain you feel. I assure you, your leg is gone. I’m so sorry.”

He refused to accept the doctor’s words. It couldn’t be true, it just couldn’t! Braving the light, Edward opened his eyes to find three very concerned faces peering down at him. Tears stained Izumi’s face and Alphonse looked worried. He looked down the length of his body, certain they were wrong. There was the suggestion of his right leg under the blankets, but his left looked markedly shorter. His mind couldn’t grasp what his eyes told him.

“No! This has to be some sort of joke!” He tried to struggle upright, ignoring his physical agony and the exclamations of dismay from the people around him. Unable to rise further than his elbows, Edward fumbled with the sheets, pulling them back to see for himself. His stomach twisted with horror: even though he wore a hospital gown, it was plain to see that his leg now terminated just above the knee. Dots of blood colored the white gauze that bound the wound.

“No…” He shook his head. A wave of vertigo swept over him at the motion, and his stomach protested as the room swam before his eyes. “NO!”

“Lay back, Edward,” Dr. Marco said calmly. “It’s not good for you to be moving around so much.”

“No! No! What the fuck did you do to me?” Blood pounded in his ears. He tried to reach for his leg, to confirm what his eyes told him, but he was too weak and dizzy to sit up.

“Ed, please lay back.” Izumi touched his shoulder. He tried to shrug it off. Deaf to their pleas, his entire being was now focused on the fact that his leg was gone. The sense of loss was overwhelming, pulling him down into a vortex of despair. He wanted to scream, to curse the circumstances that had robbed him of the last of his freedom and pride. He fell back with only enough strength left to choke out a sob.

“Brother?”

Edward didn’t meet his younger brother eyes, hoping beyond hope that this was nothing but a horrible nightmare that he would wake from and find himself whole.

“That’s not everything, Ed. There’s something else you need to know. Rose’ died when the truck hit.”

His muddled brain barely wrapped around the fact that his leg was gone. What had they said about Rose’? A truck hit them? There was a flash of remembered terror before his momentary clarification of mind faded. A cold numbness filled him. The pain, the room, and the people in it receded from his consciousness. Darkness swallowed him and the pain went away.

 

%%%%%

 

Alphonse stirred in his chair at the sound of someone approaching. It was his father, walking lightly as he entered Edward’s hospital room. He glanced at his brother; Edward remained asleep, oblivious to the other occupants

“Dad.”

“Sorry to wake you from your nap, Alphonse. I know you haven’t had much sleep lately. None of us has.” Hohenheim pulled up a chair to sit next to him. “Did the Curtis’ go home?”

Alphonse nodded and rubbed at his tired eyes. “About a couple of hours ago. Ms. Izumi said they needed to get some rest. She’s hardly slept since the accident.”

Hohenheim nodded. “She cares about you boys, as if you’re her own. So does Sig. But Sig watches over Izumi, and I’m sure it took a lot of persuasion on his part to get her to leave.”

Alphonse didn’t reply. He knew his father’s words were a statement of fact, not an attempt at assurance.

“How’s he doing?” Hohenheim asked after a space of silence.

“Like he was yesterday. Catatonic. All he does when he’s awake is stare out the window.” Alphonse watched his brother sleep for a moment. He noted that Edward’s hair was a tangled halo around his head, and that the bruises on his face seemed darker in the dim lighting. “He won’t even respond to me when I talk to him. It’s like there’s no one else in the room.”

“I was afraid he wouldn’t take the loss of his leg, or Miss Thomas’ death very well.”

Alphonse started to say that it was more about the amputation and less about Roses’ passing, but held his tongue. His father wouldn’t understand, and while he was sure Edward was feeling some emotion over the loss of Rose’, she had never been that important to Edward’s overall scheme in life.

Background noise filled the following quiet between them. Nurses talked and moved about in the hall, the clink of metal against metal could be heard as well as the grating sound of squeaky wheels on carts and gurneys. During the lapse in conversation, a thought which had been bothering Alphonse for the last two days resurfaced.

“I’m glad Miss Winry decided to make Ed’s automail, but it seemed to me she was kind of reluctant to help.” Alphonse leaned forward, elbows propped on knees. “I know Ed can be really difficult, but I wouldn’t think he could be so bad that she might refuse to help him.”

His father’s heavy sigh surprised him.

“I wasn’t going to tell you, but I think you should know what your brother’s been up to.” Hohenheim’s face pinched with pain. “I had an interesting conversation with Pinako Rockbell earlier today.”

“Mrs. Rockbell?” Alphonse frowned, unable to see the connection between Winry, Pinako, and Edward. “What did she have to say?”

Hohenheim paused, his gaze fixed on Edward’s face. “It seems Edward’s been up to no good, and Miss Winry is at the center of it.”

Alphonse spun to face his father. “What?!” Despite his shock, he kept his voice low.

 “I don’t want to discuss it in front of Edward, not yet, anyway. You’ll have to wait until later for the details. For now, you need to go home and get some rest.” Hohenheim clapped a hand on Alphonse’s shoulder. “We both do.”

“But…but what if Brother wakes and there’s no one here?” As much as it distressed him that Edward might have done something unethical, he still didn’t want to leave him alone. He and Edward had always shared a close bond, and his love for his brother kept him from abandoning him in a time of need.

“He’ll be fine. I talked to Dr. Marco, and he’s going to keep Edward sedated for the night.” Sadness colored his features. “Your brother is an adult now. If he is capable of doing to another human being what he’s done, then he can manage on his own for a short while. It’s time he learned there are consequences to his actions, and that he needs to accept responsibility for them.”

The direction and the tone the conversation had taken made Alphonse uneasy. What had Edward done that caused their father so much anguish?

“C’mon, let’s go home. Mr. Brosh is waiting out front.” Hohenheim stood, and waited until Alphonse did the same. As they walked out of the room, Alphonse looked over his shoulder at his brother.

 “Ed, what did you do?”

Chapter Text

Hohenheim shifted into a more comfortable position and crossed his legs. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Reginald.” He sat in the parlor of the Thomas mansion, across from its owner.

Reginald Thomas leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees and gave a solemn nod. “It’s no trouble, especially considering recent events.” There seemed to be more gray sprinkled throughout his hair than the last time Hohenheim saw him.

“May I offer my condolences over the loss of your daughter. I’m very sorry I couldn’t attend her funeral, but I was away on a business trip.”

“Thank you, Von.”

Hohenheim felt a wave of sympathy for the other man; how terrible it must be to lose a child. As much as Edward got under his skin, he was very glad his son had survived the horrific crash

“I’m also sorry I haven’t stopped by sooner. When I returned, I found my son in critical condition.” Hohenheim paused. When he spoke again, it was with a wavering voice. “I couldn’t bring myself to leave his side until I was sure he was going to recover.”

Thomas appeared markedly older than he had at the engagement party and seemed to shrink as he rounded his shoulders. “That’s understandable.” When he looked up, Hohenheim saw how red the other man’s eyes were, with dark circles beneath them. “It’s nothing short of a miracle that he’s still alive.”

All Hohenheim could do was nod in agreement. He knew there were no words he could say that wouldn’t add to the other man’s pain.

“Speaking of Edward, how is he coming along? I understand he was in a coma for a few days, and that he lost a leg.” Thomas said flatly.

“He’s healing nicely. The doctor said it’s possible Edward can go home in a few days.” What Hohenheim didn’t say was; If only he’d come out of his shell and start talking to us again.

“That’s good to hear.”

Hohenheim reminded himself that the man had buried his only child just days ago. The indifference in Thomas’ tone was understandable. It was certain the man felt little joy over the fact that another man’s child was still alive while his own was dead, but it still irritated Hohenheim.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” he offered.

Sitting up straight, Thomas shook his head. “There’s nothing to be done for it at this time.  Thank you for your kind offer in any case.”

There was a long break in the conversation, and Hohenheim was about to excuse himself to leave when Thomas spoke.

“Tell me, Von, do you know if Edward and Rosė were happy?”

The question was completely unexpected, leaving Hohenheim speechless. After all, how could he tell him that during the last several months Edward and Rosė had fought every time they were together, and that Edward had avoided her every chance he could. Deciding on a neutral answer, he shrugged. “I suppose as happy as any two people could be in an arranged match. Edward can be difficult, but I’m sure he was satisfied with the arrangement.”

“Good,” Thomas sighed. “I’m glad to hear it. I know Rosė was very fond of him and was looking forward to their marriage. She had never really warmed up to any other man before then and I was quite surprised when she asked me to consider asking you for Edward’s hand in marriage. She had several suitors before, but it wasn’t until she met Edward that she became quite serious about getting married.”

Hohenheim caught himself before he raised an eyebrow. Rosé had been the one to broach the subject of marriage? This put a whole new light on things. Granted, he’d had other reasons to agree to the match, like the infusion of money into his company and the class equality, but he’d believed Edward was honestly interested in the young lady. It had been a safe assumption at the time, considering he’d been seeing her for nearly a year, and that she was the first woman Edward had stayed with that long.

“Edward and I don’t often talk openly about certain subjects, and his engagement to Miss Thomas was one of those things we never discussed.” Hohenheim offered Thomas a wan smile, unsure what to say next. He wasn’t going to discuss Edward’s disillusion with him with someone other than family, and Thomas was not family.

“Perhaps, when Edward is feeling better, I could talk about Rosé with him. It would be nice to know how he felt about her,” Thomas said quietly.

I don’t think you’d like the answers you’d hear, knowing my son, and knowing a little about the animosity between them.

“Of course. I’ll ask him to contact you when he’s feeling better.”

“Thank you, that would be nice.”

Hohenheim eyed the other man with skepticism. Something about Thomas’ request to talk to Edward felt off. Granted it was possible he simply wanted to hear more about his daughter through the eyes of her fiancée, but the man’s body language and calm demeanor did not speak of a man searching for another way to honor his daughter’s memory. It simply seemed strange that Thomas wanted further contact with Edward even though there was no logical reason for him to want to.

He smiled and nodded. “If you wouldn’t mind my taking my leave, Reginald, I need to get back to making arrangements for Edward’s return home.” Hohenheim stood. “There’s still much to be done.”

Thomas mirrored the motion. “I understand.” He rang for his assistant and shortly a balding man with a black mustache entered the room. “Yoki, would you please show Mr. Hohenheim to the door.”

“Certainly, sir,” Yoki responded with a bow. He reminded Hohenheim very much of a skulking rodent in the way he moved, his squeaky voice, and the set of his beady eyes.

Yoki nodded in his direction.“If you would please follow me, sir.”

Hohenheim shook hands with Thomas. He left with a nod of respect and no small measure of relief. As Brosh drove away from the mansion, a tension he hadn’t been aware of drained from his shoulders. He hadn’t realized how tense the meeting had made him.

%%%%%

A pigeon paced the window ledge, its dark grey head bobbing as it snapped up breadcrumbs. Cooing and a furry of wings announced the arrival of an additional pigeon joining in on the feast. Edward barely noticed, his unfocused eyes brooding on the cloudy sky beyond them. A brief memory surfaced above the fog in his mind; Al had put out bread for the birds.

Five days had passed since he’d awoken, although they had gone by without him realizing it. The headaches, thanks to time and medication, had dropped to a dull throb; it was only when he moved too quickly that they would flare up and blind him with pain. The pain from his other wounds, while still noticeable, wasn’t nearly as intense as when he’d first come out of the coma.

Despite the continued progress of his physical recovery, Ed preferred to retreat into the comforting numbness of a half conscious state where his thoughts seemed to drift about like a leaf on the surface of murky waters. One thought flowed into the next as a persistent voice in his head kept whispering, accusing and cursing him, falling silent only when he slept

Over time, little things caught at the edge of his consciousness and pricked at his psyche. Bright lights bearing down and the sickening scream of a woman’s terror smothered by the sound of crunching metal. Tumbling about in a melee of broken glass and the thick dullness as his head struck something unyielding. Cold rain striking his body and running off his face in rivulets. The broken memories snagged at his drifting mind and anchored him, unwillingly, bit by bit back to reality. The world was starting to make more sense, though Edward wasn’t sure he wanted it to.

His left leg ached. As he absently reached for it, another thought resurfaced: It’s gone. There was no longer a leg to rub.

In a gesture of hopelessness, he dropped his hand back onto the bed.

Facing the future felt just as hopeless. How could he possibly pick up the pieces of his shattered life and go on? What use was he as a cripple? Even though Marco had removed the intravenous line a few days before and had reduced his pain medication, it was still difficult to think clearly. His presence of mind might be slowly returning, but along with it came the stark reality of his situation. Deep down he knew he should feel rage over his situation yet he still couldn’t muster the energy or focus to do so.

Maybe it would have been better if he had died. Why hadn’t he perished in that horrific accident too?

His wandering thoughts drifted back to the fact that Rosé was dead. This was also something he didn’t have the focus or energy to dwell upon.

A fight broke out on the ledge as another bird showed up and challenged the others for a bite of food. Feathers flew and dark eyes flashed as the avian combatants squared off. Distracted, Edward didn’t notice when the door opened and closed.

“Hello, Brother.”

Edward didn’t bother to turn his head or answer.

“I see I had some takers for the bread I put out yesterday.”

Edward remained silent.

“Mr. Sig and Ms. Izumi will be coming by later.” Al stopped at the foot of the bed, talking like he expected him to answer. “They had a few chores to finish before they were free.”

Edward wished Alphonse would go home; he was in no mood for company. It was nice when the morphine had kept him in a fuzzier frame of mind because it made it much easier to ignore the outside world, including his brother.

“Dad will be up later. He also had some things to take care of.”

The mention of their father made Edward frown. The last thing he wanted was Hohenheim hovering over him like a vulture.

“Has Dr. Marco been in yet today? I didn’t see him on my way up.”

As Alphonse continued to talk, Edward tuned him out, listening instead to the self-denigrating voices in his head. It was a while before Alphonse stopped his one-sided conversation and huffed a harsh sigh.

“Ed, if you don’t say something, I’m going to tell Dr. Marco that you’re still shutting everyone out, and he’ll bring in a psychiatrist.”

A spark of defiance flared then guttered. Edward had no use for psychiatrists, professional or otherwise.

“What the hell do you want me to say?” His voice was so gravely from disuse that he almost didn’t recognize it.

“Now, that’s the Ed I know.” Alphonse came into this field of vision and sat in a chair next to the bed. Alphonse was smiling brightly but there was a tense set to his shoulders. However, it was the look of pity in his brother’s eyes that Edward noticed. He instantly despised it.

“If you’re going to look at me like that, then just go away.” Edward turned back to the window.

“Okay, Ed. I won’t. But you had better snap out of this, because I won’t put up with you feeling sorry for yourself.” Al’s voice was firm and a touch angry. “Neither will Dad.”

“Fuck him. It’s all his fault in the first place.”

“And how do you figure that, Ed?”

Edward struggled to formulate what he wanted to say. It had been on the tip of his tongue a moment ago; oh, right, that was it. He deliberately made eye contact with his brother for the first time in days. “If he hadn’t insisted I marry that crazy bitch, then I’d still have my leg.”

Alphonse met Edward’s anger with his own. “And if you weren’t bent on conquering every woman you meet, you wouldn’t have been involved with Rosé in the first place! So in reality, the one at fault is you, Ed. Not Dad.”

Edward cursed Alphonse under his breath. Instead of unleashing his anger on his brother, he turned it inwards, falling back into his self-loathing. It was easier to hate himself than to admit Alphonse was right. If he couldn’t hate his father or his brother, at least he could curse his own existence.

“Go home, Al. Just leave me alone.”

“No, I won’t!” Alphonse no longer held back his frustration.

A sharp stab of pain shot through his head at the increased volume of Alphonse’s voice. Edward rubbed at his temples. “Fuck, let it go, already! My head is starting to hurt!"

Alphonse pushed a harsh breath through his nose. “Fine. But we’re not done talking about his yet.”

“Well, I am.” Edward grimaced against another flash of pain and settled deeper into his pillow. It seemed that thinking and talking was more than his head could handle right now.

A tense silence fell between the brothers, Edward with an arm draped over his eyes, and Alphonse staring at the floor. It startled Edward when Alphonse finally spoke again.

“Dad will be bringing up an automail mechanic to look at your leg today. They need to get measurements so they can start work on your new prosthesis.”

Edward grit his teeth in irritation. “Don’t want automail.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’ll turn me into even more of a freak than I already am.” There. He was finally able to voice his buried fears.

“Ed, it will give you a chance to live a normal life.”

Edward couldn’t hold back a bitter laugh. “So my choices are a wheelchair or a chunk of crappy metal hanging off my leg. The ladies won’t be able to resist me.”

“Now you’re being ridiculous! Stop feeling sorry for yourself and accept that there’s more to life than being a skirt chaser!” The frustration had returned to Alphonse’s voice, finally triggering Edward’s.

“Shut up! You have no idea how I feel!” Edward struggled to turn away from his brother but found his mobility limited; it was difficult to turn onto his side with a leg missing and a cast on his arm. The throbbing in his head was exacerbated by his effort.

Alphonse was unrelenting. "No, I won't shut up. It's time you faced how you've hurt both yourself and everyone around you! Ever since Mom died you've gone out of your way to be difficult! I've watched you fight Dad at every turn, and use others to suit your needs!" He was startled when Alphonse took him by the shoulders, forcing Edward to look him in the eye. "And Rosé. Don't you even care that she's dead? I know you didn't like her very much, Ed, but she was a human being, and you were engaged to her."

"Get out!" Edward hissed, his voice laced with pain. "Get out and don't come back if you're only going to pick a fight!" With this, he returned his focus to the window, his eyes watering against the light filtering in. He was not going to talk about Rosé; he had yet to sort out his feelings over her death and had no interest in exploring them at the moment.

“Ed, don’t shut me out again,” Alphonse warned.

Edward ignored him and closed his eyes. He was done talking. All he wanted to do now was retreat back into his mind and pretend, if only for a little while, that his life wasn’t in shambles. He longed for Marco to appear and increase his pain medication so that it would be easier to shut out the world again.

"Ed?"

When Alphonse finally fell silent and sat down, Edward relaxed. The pain in his head abated almost immediately. Relieved, he willed himself back to sleep before his brother could start up again.

%%%%%

Winry readjusted the toolbox slung over her shoulder as she followed Hohenehim down the pale green hospital corridor. Fighting down the knot of anxiety that sat in her stomach, she concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. She glanced at her grandmother. Pinako's smile was confident and even a bit sly as she walked along side, reminding Winry that they were the ones now in control.

"Here we are," Hohenheim announced, slowing to a stop in front of a closed door. He turned to her with a smile. "Ready?"

“Yes, sir.” Winry nodded hesitantly. She was uncertain about coming face to face with the man that might have forced himself upon her, but felt reassured by the support her grandmother’s presence offered.

“He probably won’t offer much resistance,” Hohenheim said quietly. “He’s hardly spoken since the day he woke from the coma and found out his leg is gone.” He shook his head.

“I see.” She nervously fingered the strap crossing over her shoulder.

Pinako patted her arm. “It’ll be all right, dear,” she said under her breath. I’m gonna be right there with you.”

Hohenheim's smile was warm. “You have my word that Edward won’t cause you any more trouble. I’ve been meaning to talk to him about his misbehavior, but I’m waiting until he’s more emotionally stable. The lesson would be lost on him if I were to bring it up now.”

A mixture of panic and expectation welled up inside her. Winry couldn’t decide if she was frightened or happy that Edward’s father would eventually chew him out. Of course, it would only be about Edward’s acquiring the deed to their home and only a few details of his indecent behavior; both she and Pinako agreed that Hohenheim didn’t need to know all of his son’s improprieties at this point in time.

Winry set her shoulders with a firm nod. “Let’s do this. The sooner I get my measurements, the sooner I can draw up the plans and start fabricating the leg.” She followed Hohenheim as he opened the door and pushed into the room.

Once inside, the first person Winry noticed was Alphonse, sitting a chair next to Edward’s bed. He looked up and smiled in greeting upon seeing her. The figure in the bed drew her attention next, her eyes were drawn to him almost against her will. Winry knew Edward had suffered severe injuries, but she was still taken aback by what she saw. While she had expected to find him bruised and bandaged, that wasn’t the most unsettling thing she noticed.

Edward lay unmoving, staring out the window with vacant eyes. Winry was surprised by the wave of empathy that came over her; he looked so broken, so beaten, that she couldn’t help but feel a tinge of pity for him. This wasn’t the Edward Elric that had bullied her or might have taken certain liberties with her. The essence of who he was was gone, leaving behind a spiritless husk.

“Dad—” Alphonse fell silent as Hohenheim held a finger up to his lips.

Hohenheim stopped at the foot of the bed. “Edward."

Irritation crossed Edward’s face, but it quickly faded. He continued to stare out the window. “Go away,” he said, barely above a whisper.

“Ah, we’re speaking today.” Hohenheim approached the side of the bed. “You must be feeling better. That must mean you’re up to having visitors.

“Well, I’m not. Get the fuck out.”

 

 

“Don’t be rude. I’ve brought your automail mechanic so she can measure you for your new leg.” 

Edward finally turned a steely glare on his father, face twisting with rage. Winry’s blood turned to ice when his eyes focused past Hohenheim and settled upon her. There was the spark she remembered, the one that made him Edward Elric. She shifted on her feet, discomforted by Edward’s attention, while at the same time, mesmerized by the incandescence in his golden eyes. At least until his rage turned into utter shock.

“No!” Edward shouted and struggled to push himself up with his good arm. “Get out! All of you! GET THE HELL OUT OF MY ROOM!” He snatched up the empty tin water pitcher sitting on his beside stand and flung it at his father. Hohenheim batted it aside easily and it clattered harmlessly to the floor.

So much for her expectations of Edward not offering much resistance.

“Edward! You will show Miss Rockbell and her grandmother some respect!” Hohenheim scolded as if Edward were a vexatious child. “I’ve hired them to build you a new leg, and I expect you to behave and not cause them any problems."

Edward panted as he worked himself across the bed. The railing arrested his movement and he huddled against it like a beaten dog. “No,” he moaned miserably. “Please. Not her.”

Hohenheim loomed over the bed, capturing Edward’s attention, if only for a second. “Why is that, Edward? Is there a reason why the Rockbells shouldn’t be here?” It was obvious that Hohenheim was stringing Edward along. Winry felt a moment of self-righteous satisfaction, which she quickly squelched. Part of her wanted to see Edward squirm, to feel the same sense of helplessness that he had forced upon her. The other part saw him as a patient in pain, and in need of her help. Her first duty was to help.

There would be time for retribution later.

“Well, Edward?” Hohenheim persisted when his son didn’t answer.

“Dad?” Alphonse rose from his chair, a look of concern on his face.

“I want you to find Dr. Marco and tell him Edward needs something to calm him down,” Hohenheim instructed firmly, making it clear that Alphonse was not to interfere.

Alphonse nodded meekly. “Yes, sir.” He passed Winry, transmitting his worry to her with his eyes. All Winry could do was offer him a wan smile.

“Now,” Hohenheim turned back to Edward, “can you give me a good reason why Miss Rockbell shouldn’t be your mechanic?”

Many indefinable emotions played across Edward’s face as he frantically searched the room with his eyes, looking for a way out. He pushed himself tighter against the safety railing, giving up when he could go no further.

“I-I don’t want automail!” came his answer, hissed through grit teeth. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead and he squeezed his eyes shut.

“Don’t be ridiculous! You seriously can’t prefer to be wheelchair-ridden the rest of your life, especially when an automail prosthesis can offer you a normal existence.” Hohenheim gestured with an open hand at the women standing behind him. “They are the best in their field! There’s no one else I would even consider to build your leg!” There was no anger in his voice or actions; Hohenheim seemed unusually calm, considering the situation.

Edward remained huddled over, eyes closed, and clutching at his head.

“Please. Just go away.” His voice was brittle.

Winry couldn’t bring herself to watch as Hohenheim continued to bait his son. This wasn’t the time or place for confrontations. They needed Edward’s cooperation. She placed a gentle hand on his arm. “Mr. Hohenheim?”

He turned to her, startled by her touch. “Yes, Miss Rockbell?”

She nodded toward Edward, who was now curled over digging tense fingers into his tangled hair. “Please, let’s wait for Dr. Marco.”

His brows lifted with confusion, then he nodded in understanding. “Yes, I believe you’re right. Why don’t you take this time to set out the things you’ll need.”

Winry laid her toolbox across a chair next to Edward’s bed and set herself to the task. At first she felt uneasy being this close to him, but quickly dismissed as she remembered that she had the upper hand. She became so wrapped up in her excitement over the chance to build new automail that she almost didn’t notice when Dr. Marco entered with two male orderlies in tow.

“Hello, Mrs. Rockbell!” he greeted Pinako, it’s been some time since I last saw you.”

Pinako chuckled. “If I remember correctly, it’s been close to ten or so years. I came in to do the initial nerve attachment surgery on a young man who’d lost a foot.”

Winry tuned out the continuing conversation between her grandmother and Dr. Marco. She was setting out the last of her instruments when a low sound came from the bed. A glance found Edward peering at her with pain-glazed eyes, imploring for her to intervene on his behalf. Winry felt a touch of pity but mentally pushed it away and answered him with a cold, impassive glare of her own. There was no way she was going to show him weakness in any form.

Edward’s expression turned hard. He turned away, sweat trickling down his brow as his face pinched tighter.

Marco approached, dispelling the silent confrontation.

“You’re still dealing with severe headaches, aren’t you, Edward.” He smiled kindly and reached for his arm. “This shot will help you rest and will also help minimize any pain you might experience when Mrs. Rockbell examines you.”

Edward jerked back at his touch. “Leave me alone!” He glared at Marco, teeth bared.

“Edward.” Hohenheim voice was filled with authority. “Let the doctor treat you.”

“No!” Edward shot a heated look at Winry. “I don’t want her here! I don’t want her touching me!”

The irony of his words didn’t escape her. After all the times he had connived to get her into bed, now, when he most needed her help, he didn’t want any contact with her at all. She stood defiant against his anger and rejection. “It doesn’t matter if you want me here or not. Like it or not, your father hired me as your automail mechanic.”

Edward’s disbelief was plain. It was possible that he had never been in a situation where he wasn’t able to get his own way. Just like a spoiled child. He definitely wouldn’t like what she would be doing to him in the coming months, but his comeuppance was long overdue, and there was nothing he could do about it. Winry smiled and braced herself for his vitriolic retort as Edward drew a breath.

Marco didn’t give Edward a chance to speak. “Edward, this can go easy or difficult,” he told him firmly. “If you’re going to be difficult, Mr. Heinkel and Mr. Darius will hold you down so I can give you this shot.” He held up the syringe, already loaded with a dose of clear fluid. “So, how will it be?”

For the first time Winry realized just how huge the two orderlies were, looming head and shoulders over everyone in the room except Mr. Hohenheim. The blond smiled through a full mustache, and the dark-haired man’s eyes twinkled with anticipation as he cracked his knuckles.

Panic flashed across Edward’s face as he desperately surveyed the room. Once it seemed he had evaluated his options, he sagged, and turned his anger upon his father.

“Why are you doing this to me!” he snarled, voice breaking. Marco’s touch caused him to flinch away. At this, the doctor nodded at the two orderlies. They hurried to either side of the bed and restrained the angry young man by his shoulders. Edward roared in frustration as he struggled against them and lost.

Hohenheim reseated his glasses. “Because whether you want to face it or not, this is what’s best for you. I know you think I don’t care about you, but I do. You’re my son. I want you to live a fulfilling life.”

Winry had to turn away. The depth of emotion in Hohenheim’s voice and on his face was utterly heartbreaking. He truly did love his son, even if that love wasn’t returned in kind. In a moment of weakness, she experienced a pang of envy. Why was Edward so ungrateful? At least he had a parent he could turn to. She would never see hers again, or be able to tell them how much she loved them.

“Ow!” Edward wrested his arm away when Marco and the orderlies released him. He glared at them as they stepped back.

“I hate you,” he spat at his father. “First you abandoned me, Mom, and Al, and didn’t bother with us until she died! Since then you’ve tried to control everything I do! You’ve never let me make my own choices, and you’ve never listened to anything I have to say!”

Hohenheim didn’t respond, keeping his expression even despite the turmoil in the depths of his eyes.

“That’s enough, young man!” Pinako interrupted Edward’s rant. Surprisingly, he fell silent, gaping at her as if she were an alien from another world. She moved to his side, shaking a scolding finger at him. “Behave, or I’ll turn you over my knee!” She pointed at Darius. “Would you please help him move to the center of the bed so we can examine him without crawling in with him?”

The huge man nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

Edward offered no resistance as Darius easily resituated him on the mattress. By now, his eyelids were starting to droop, and Pinako cranked the bed to lay him flat.

Pinako leaned in as best as she could manage with her short stature and whispered something into Edward’s ear. Winry strained to make out her words, but her grandmother kept her voice low enough so only Edward could hear. Curiosity tugged at her when his eyes glazed with something other than the medication’s effects; there was fear there, too.

She stood straight and grinned. “You’ll remember that, won’t you,” Pinako said out loud. Edward nodded dumbly in answer, and she finished with, “Good.”

Winry observed Edward as her grandmother returned to her side and picked up a pad and pencil. She could see he was fighting the sedative, blinking in effort to stay awake. Just before the drug took hold and his eyes fluttered shut, he gave her one last groggy glance. Of all the expressions she might expect from him, contrition and regret were not ones she expected to see.

What could her grandmother possibly have said that had drawn such an unfamiliar emotion from him?

“Everyone out,” Pinako ordered. “He may be asleep, but he does have the right to keep what’s left of his dignity.” She shooed them with a wave of her hands. Everyone exited without questioning her orders and Pinako closed the door behind them.

The two women set to their task, first evaluating his amputated leg and taking careful measurements of it. Winry worked quickly,  calling off the measurements so her grandmother could record them. All the while her curiosity hammered away at her mind, until she couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Granny?” Winry took another measurement. “What did you say to him just before he fell asleep?”

Pinako looked supremely satisfied. Not looking up from her notations she said, “I told him if he ever laid another hand on you in an inappropriate way, I’d change him from a stallion to a gelding right quick.”

This gave Winry pause. She straightened and considered her grandmother with surprise.

“Oh. O…kay, then.”

She couldn’t contain the grin that lit her face as she turned back to an unconscious Edward and began to measure his good leg.