It was a big mountainside, right? Plenty of room. At least that's what Roy had told himself. And yet, somehow, he was careening toward a collision with another skier and all he could do was shout out a warning. He didn't just crash into the small blond—he completely bowled the person over and sent both of them tumbling, skis and poles and limbs everywhere.
"Sorry! I'm sorry!" He fumbled around in the snow, cursing the skis and those damn rigid boots. How did anyone move in these? He finally managed to extricate himself without doing too much damage and awkwardly reached a hand out. "Are you all right?"
The other skier didn't answer right away. From the long hair and short stature he'd been afraid he'd run over a child, but when the skier pulled his scarf down and pushed up his ski goggles he could see that this guy was at least in his twenties. That made him feel slightly less terrible.
"I think you broke my leg."
So much for that.
"Oh god! I'm so sorry! Is there anything I can do? What can. . . ."
His victim grabbed his left ankle and, as Roy watched in horror, calmly wrenched it from side to side. The limb bent where no limb should ever bend. "Yep. Definitely broken."
It took another two beats before logic broke through and Roy realized what must be going on.
The young man was grinning at him. "The look on your face, shit."
Roy closed his eyes and remembered how to breathe. "I deserved that."
"I lost it when I was eleven," he supplied as he unclipped the ski from the damaged limb. "This one is a carbon fiber composite."
Roy got himself up and crouched on his skis. "I feel like it would only be right for me to offer to pay for it, but that sounds like more than my salary can manage."
"That's okay," he said. Then, "They take installments."
Roy stared, trying not to guess just how much was going to be taken out of every paycheck.
The guy let him simmer for a good couple of seconds before he cracked a grin to let him know he was joking.
"First time on the slopes?"
"First and probably last." Finally getting his wits together, Roy yanked off one bulky glove and set about undoing velcro and zippers until he could reach his phone. "Friend of mine and his wife dragged me out here because they thought I was 'in dire need of a vacation.' I should have stayed on the bunny slopes with their daughter."
"Your center of gravity is too high," the young man he'd just effectively crippled diagnosed. "You need to tighten up your stance and lower your weight. I could show you, but. . . ." He shook his leg, the grinding and scraping muffled only slightly by the thick snow pants.
Roy winced as he finished texting for the ski patrol.
"I'm really sorry. And I'm sorry if I've ruined your vacation. I'm a menace on skis."
"I've got a spare leg back at the lodge." He grinned again, and the expression made his entire face light up. "So do I at least get your name after you run me over?"
"Roy Mustang." He allowed himself a small smile. "Now you know who to sue."
"We'll see. I'm Ed. Ed Elric."
Roy paused in the middle of putting his phone away and took another look at this small stranger. "Elric? As in the Elric brothers?"
Ed visibly puffed up. "Oh? You've heard of us?"
"I've read your papers. That last one on using microengineering to deliver retroviruses to cancer cells was fascinating."
"That has some ways to go before it's ready for prime time," he demurred. "But we proved the concept was sound. Right now Al is working on a proposal for some work with stem cells."
Roy recognized him now; the blond ponytail and short stature were hallmarks of the elder Elric. As was the attitude. "Just my luck; venture outdoors for the first time in ages and I plow right over one of the best minds in the field. I shouldn't be allowed out of the office."
"I dunno, there are worse ways to bump into someone."
"I'm having a hard time thinking of one."
"You're not thinking hard enough. I've had worse introductions." Ed unclipped his other ski. "Y'know, I could make it down the hill. Even carrying the other ski. I'm just not sure you could."
"Please no, if I ran over you again I'd probably break something a lot less easily replaced. The ski patrol should be here soon." After a beat, he asked, "Can you really ski on one leg?"
Ed made a face. "Don't act so astonished, I'm hardly the only cripple who hits the slopes."
"No—I'm sorry, you're right—it's just—I can barely stay up on two."
Ed whacked him in the chest with a ski pole and sent him sprawling into the snow. "I told you, that's 'cause your balance is all wrong. Tell you what," he continued as Roy flailed about trying to get out of the cavity made by his body. "I'll get my spare leg from the lodge, and then you and me are hitting the slopes. You're getting a crash course in how not to crash."
"I don't know if that's such a good—" Ed nailed him in the face with a snowball and he went back down.
"That wasn't optional. You owe me, Roy Mustang."
"Fine." He scooped up a handful of snow and lobbed it back. "Then the next catastrophe's on your head."
"Challenge accepted!" He punctuated the statement with another snowball. "And I never back down from a challenge."
"Was that a dare?" Roy packed a better snowball and nailed him in the shoulder. "Might want to be careful with those."
Ed hit him with a double handed shot. "Make me!"
When the patrol found them he remarked that he'd never seen a skiing accident look like so much fun.
* * *
By the time evening set in, Roy was reasonably confident in his ability to get from one end of the slope to the other without disaster. At least not any that involved other skiers and broken limbs. This was thanks in no small part to what had to be one of the most infuriating, obnoxious ski instructors ever.
Roy couldn't get enough of him.
And as soon as Maes found out, he was doomed.
But right now Ed was the one getting an earful. When his friend—a blonde girl of the same age who was evidently the engineer behind the prosthetic—saw the state of his limb she lit into him, and was now treating everyone in the lodge to a lecture on responsibility and cost and her opinion of Ed's attitude toward both. Roy was huddled in his chair with his hot cocoa and hoping that he stayed under her radar.
"Don't feel too bad," the younger Elric, Alphonse, told him. "There's a reason we brought a second leg."
"Does this happen often, then?" Roy couldn't take his eyes off the spectacle in front of him.
Alphonse shrugged, grinning. "Brother is . . . 'reckless' isn't the right word, but . . . he's always charging right into everything. Sometimes it catches up with him."
Still, it didn't really seem fair for Ed to take the wrath when Roy had been the one to charge into him. But he wasn't going to say that too loudly.
"Uncle Roy, Uncle Roy!"
He had just enough warning to sit back and get his mug out of the way before an exuberant five-year-old climbed into his lap.
"Uncle Roy, I made it all the way to the bottom! By myself!"
"That's quite an accomplishment!" he said without any trace of irony or condescension.
"My ski instructor's name is Maria," Elysia continued, kicking her heels against the cushion (and occasionally Roy's shin). "She's really nice. And pretty, too. Do you want to meet her? Maybe she could teach you to ski, too."
He hadn't quite gotten his cocoa back to his mouth and so was saved from doing a spit-take. He glanced down at his niece-in-all-but-name. "What—what makes you think I need to be taught?"
Big green eyes stared up at him. "I saw you come back to the lodge. You were covered in snow."
Roy was gearing up to defend himself—being covered in snow didn't necessarily mean he'd fallen, in fact there was a perfectly good explanation—when on the other side of the fireplace Ed burst out laughing.
"I like this kid. She's got you pegged."
Roy sighed. "Ed, meet Elysia Hughes, investigator in training."
"Oooooh. . . ." The little girl's eyes widened and she pointed at this new person. "I saw you, too! With Uncle Roy! Are you Uncle Roy's new friend?"
"Something like that."
It was nothing more than a quick, split-second glance and a flush that could have been from the fire. But it was enough.
Unfortunately Roy wasn't the only one who noticed it.
Maes leaned over the back of the chair and poked Roy's shoulder. "Soooo tell us—how'd you meet? Having a bit of an adventure on the slopes?"
Mischievous grin in place, Ed jumped in with "He broke my leg."
Ed's engineer friend—Winry, if Roy had caught her name right—whacked him over the head. "It wouldn't have broken if you hadn't already stressed it so much."
That made Roy feel a little bit better.
Winry caught sight of Elysia's open-mouthed expression of shock and flapped a hand to try to dispel the horror. "Ah—no, no it's a false leg, sweetie—see?" She brandished the cracked prosthetic. "Ed's just fine! In fact he's already got a new leg on."
"It's like a peg leg, only better," Ed added.
Winry's smile took on a strained quality. "That's—one way—of putting it. . . ."
"I dunno, Roy," Maes mused. "Causing bodily harm—I didn't think you were that desperate."
This time Roy did choke on his cocoa. He slapped a hand over his mouth and force himself to swallow, knowing full well that if he got anything on the little girl in his lap he was a dead man.
"That's okay," Al said as Roy coughed and sputtered. "Sometimes that's the only way to get Brother's attention."
"Al!" Ed protested. "I am not that oblivious!"
"Yeah, Ed," Winry muttered as she inspected something on the prosthetic. "You really are."
"I stand corrected," Maes said. "It sounds like you might have been just desperate enough."
Roy was well and truly doomed.