Chapter 1: Branded
Rating: R – for language
Character/Pairing: EdXWin… or is it WinXEd?…
Disclaimer: I don't own these people, they own themselves and are just nice enough to let me spin them around the page now and then.
Summary: In which Edward finds something on his automail that should not be there…
Warnings: profanity, some kissy-face stuff, nothing explicit; higher rating in later chapters…
A/N – OK, so I need to do some Repost ‘Splainin’: This is the very first chapter of a long-ass series I’ve been working on since before, I suspect, some of you were even born… For reminder’s sake, those chapters are Branded (in which Ed finds…well, see above), Kiss and Tell (in which Alphonse tries to get his brother to…um, tell) and the mammoth (58 pages and counting) Learning Curve (in which Ed and Winry finally get some alone time and… the course of true love runs anything but smoothly…) I…am… now…close…to…(so…hard…to…get…these…words…out…)
“Nii-san!!! Nii-san, will you slow down!! What’s the big rush?”
Al’s voice rumbled after him as Ed steamed down the road from the train station. He could hear the usual ‘what’r-you-up-to-NOW, Nii-san’ tone in his brother’s hollow armor voice, but was in no mood to stop and explain himself.
Ed pumped his legs faster, sending clouds of dirt drifting back the way he’d come. He could hear Al clanking away about twenty feet (thirty feet, forty…) behind him, but now that he was finally off that goddamned train and on his way, he wasn’t slowing down for anything.
He’d been so impatient to move, he’d barely waited for the engine to stop, jumping from the car as it pulled into the station and leaving his befuddled younger brother on the platform to grab his suitcase and, no doubt, contend with the prying townsfolk he’d spied there before sprinting off down the road.
He could just hear them now…
‘Is that you, Alphonse? Have you gotten bigger, while your brother is getting smaller?’
‘Does he always run that fast? With those tiny legs of his, I bet he has to just to keep up with you.’
‘He sure is a grumpy little guy. Is he always like this?’
He was sure Al had made all sorts of excuses for him and he was friggin’ glad he hadn’t been there to hear them.
‘Nope, he doesn’t always run that fast – sometimes I carry him – and then he doesn’t have to run at all….’
‘No, ma’am, I haven’t really grown … um, much and Nii-san’s actually an inch taller than he was the last time we came home… No, you’re right, an inch isn’t very much…’
‘Edward? You know, he can’t help it. And really, he’s a nice guy. No honest! It’s just that Fullmetal Attitude of his.’
Actually, that one wasn’t half-bad. Edward liked to think he owned his ‘fullmetal’ attitude… And anyway, it was way better than Al’s fave to toss out in a fight – the down-right-mean ‘Fullmetal Asshole….’ (Alphonse had a million of ‘em. He should take his act on the road. Oh, yeah, they were already on the road…)
Ed could no longer hear the sound of armor pounding on dirt behind him and he pictured his little brother, exasperated, kicking Ed’s lone suitcase in front of him, cursing him and vowing revenge. (The last time Al had been inspired to torture his brother, he’d woken up to find his flesh hand in a bowl of warm milk (ugh!! that was torture enough) and his sheets and his shorts wet…
Oh, yes, they'd had a good laugh over that one...
Ed felt a tiny, miniscule (tiny!? miniscule !?) twinge of guilt about ditching his brother at the train station, but it’s not like he didn’t know where they were going or anything. He’d make it right with Al later on, after he’d settled things with…
T-that little…that little bitch!
Turning his thoughts back to the reason he’d jumped from a still-moving train, body-slammed a crowd of helpless, if prying townspeople, and left his big ‘ol little brother in the dust, Ed put a fresh edge on his mad…
Who the hell did she think she was?! Did she think he wouldn’t notice? Did she think he wouldn’t mind? Did she think she…
Ed continued up the road at a run, huffing and puffing, but growling the whole way.
Thing was, he wouldn’t have noticed. Or rather, in the last four years, he hadn’t, anyway. If he hadn’t fallen asleep on the train, head in hand, if he hadn’t taken off his glove because he’d gotten melon on it and it was drying on the window sill, if he hadn’t been jostled by a rough patch of track, if he hadn’t opened his eyes while his head was still this close to his palm, he might not have seen it…
But there it was. Plain as friggin’ day.
I’m gonna kill her.
The house loomed large and yellow and sun baked ahead of him and knowing she was probably in her workshop, stroking her own blond ego as she put together some poor schlub’s arm or leg out of spare parts (probably his), he put on a fresh burst of steam and sprinted the rest of the way to the house.
Leaping over the sleeping dog on the front porch, he slammed the front door open and charged into the kitchen.
“Where are you, you conniving idiot?!! You’d better have a good explanation for this!! Forget that - there can’t be one…” He glanced at his hand again, got himself wound up even further and just started screaming at the rafters, flailing his arms around like a windmill. “Just who do you think you are, you egomaniacal grease monkey!??”
Granny Pinako stood at the stove, nonplussed, clearly unruffled by his presence, his decibel level or his vocabulary. Having known Edward his entire life, she’d heard it all…
“Ah, Edward. You boys are early,” she said in her calm, old-lady voice.
Old lady, my ass!!
“We weren’t expecting you for a couple of hours.” She was stirring something foul-smelling – Ed hoped it wasn’t dinner.
Old and calm or not, Granny Pinako was not someone to screw with. She could be pretty scary and Ed only had time for one fight right now.
“Where is she, Granny?!” Ed sputtered, making an attempt at restraint. He clenched and unclenched his hands, at once grateful his right was made of metal – had it been flesh, he’d have two bleeding palms right now…
“Goodness, boy. She’s out back hanging clothes on the line.” She looked him up and down then grabbed his automail arm, turning it over in her hand. “You look in good order – I thought this was just a tune-up. Don’t see any emergency here. What’s the big rush?”
Wanting desperately to explode, Ed was having a hard time keeping all his various parts in place; he was practically vibrating and had turned a lovely shade of eggplant.
“That’s between me and your goddamned granddaughter,” he said through grit teeth.
“Watch your language, young man,” Pinako said calmly, turning back to the stove. The pot’s contents had turned an even less-appetizing shade of gray and were sputtering threateningly. “Stop your fuming and go out back…”
Al arrived as Ed stomped off down the back hall.
He heard Pinako ask what the ‘little pipsqueak’s problem was this time’ (he’d deal with her later!) and then his brother’s embarrassed reply, “Oh, you know Nii-san. It could be anything…”
By the time he hit the screen door – and had imbedded it into the back of the house –
his vision was red and he was imagining what it’d be like to transmute the porch swing into a catapult and launch her over the nearest hill…
And there she was, cool and relaxed in some flowing white whatchm’callit, hair shining in the sun, hanging up sheets and socks and Granny’s underthings like she hadn’t a care in the friggin’ world. He could just… he could …
Speak, moron! Make her explain herself so you can kill her…
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice!” He finally managed, his jaw tight and his hands in fists at his sides.
She looked over from the line as though she hadn’t heard him destroy the back door, as though she hadn’t heard him screaming obscenities to her grandmother, as though she didn’t know exactly why he was destroying doors and screaming obscenities, as though she didn’t know why he was so… so fucking pissed off….
Smiling sweetly, she carefully finished hanging what appeared to be a tent with two holes at the top.
“Oh, hello, Ed. Have a good trip? Where’s your brother?”
Hello?! Have a good trip?!
“Where’s my brother?” he squeaked, apoplectic. “Never mind my brother! I wanna know where you get your nerve?!”
“Explain this,” he bristled, shoving his automail hand in her smug, sun-tanned, freckled face.
Winry just sighed. “You want me to explain how automail works? I’ve gone over neural theory with you before, Ed. Honestly, you’re supposed to be such a genius, but sometimes, I just don’t see it…”
Ed sputtered and spun in place a few times. “Not the damned neural theory! Explain thiiiis…”
Opening his palm, he forced it closer to her wide-blue eyes.
Why do you keep doing that, you freak?! You’re supposed to be pissed off at her, one step away from making her a skinny, blond memory – there! you did it again! – so why do you keep noticing shit like what she’s wearing or how many freckles are sitting on the end of her stupid little nose? (It’s five, by the way, but who’s counting?)
Screwing up his temporarily derailed resolve, he pushed until his metal palm was touching those freckles, … er, her nose.
“What? Oh, you mean the signature?” She pushed her bangs out of her eyes. “What’s the big deal?”
“What the fuck’s your signature doing on my hand? It’s … it’s like you branded me, or something.”
And then she did it. She really did it.
Winry started laughing.
It was the single-most infuriating sound on earth, one that grabbed every nerve in his body and pulled, hard.
He wanted to… he wanted to grab her and toss her onto the grass and…
…and he was going for ‘stomp that stupid grin off her face!’ but what actually floated to the top of his head was, ‘kiss that stupid grin off her perfect face…’
Whoa... Where the fuck did that come from?
She was still laughing when the short circuit in his brain righted itself. The red returned to his vision and he felt himself slam back into (non)control.
“What’s so freakin’ funny?!”
“Oh, god, Ed, I’m sorry,” she panted, wiping the tears from her face. “I just can’t believe this is what you’re so upset about. Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”
I am not over reacting – this is exactly the right reaction for finding someone’s name friggin’ etched on your body!
If she’d yelled back, that would have been one thing – even playing field and all. That she was so calm about it was … was maddening. And if there was anything Edward Elric hated, it was being out-done. By anyone.
Reining himself in, Ed made a concerted effort at maturity, dialing back the decibel level a smidge.
Putting his hands together primly, he smiled a toothy at her. “So tell me, Winry. Why exactly do I have your name scribed into my hand…”
He was very proud of himself for not finishing that sentence the way he’d wanted to, punctuated with a rousing, chanted, ‘you bitch!’
She went back to pinning unmentionables to the line.
He hadn’t noticed the pink flowered sling shot before… Head lolling to one side, he watched it flutter in the breeze and felt the blood start to leak from his nose…
Shoving his hand in his pocket and pinching a thigh between metal fingers, he managed to shake it off.
Winry hadn’t noticed.
“To be honest, Ed, I’m actually a little embarrassed to tell you.”
Damned if she wasn’t blushing…
He couldn't cream her now, not if she was gonna be all cute and sorry...
“It’s sort of like when an artist signs a masterpiece…” she went on quietly.
“I am not some goddamned painting, Winry!”
The flush spread to her neck.
Before his rage stepped up and smacked down the winged cherub that stood in for Ed’s heart, he’d been thinking she looked really, really cute like that…
Then rage poked him in the ribs, stomped on the pinkie toe of his right foot, and he found his growl again.
Which lasted exactly two seconds.
“You’re my masterpiece, Ed,” she said, turning those wide-blue eyes on his sorry pansy-yellow ones.
After all of that, is that the best response you can come up wth?
Ed started huffing and puffing, trying to remind himself of that pristine moment when he’d first discovered her curly handwriting etched into his hand.
He sputtered in place, face glowing red. “…er, I…”
Ed sighed. Apparently, it was.
Winry plopped herself down on the porch swing, pushing off and letting the breeze make her white skirt flutter.
“I don’t understand why this is such a big deal, Ed.” Her tone, and the way she couldn’t meet his gaze said different.
Ed huffed once, then gave up. Kicking puppies was no fun…
He sat himself down next to her, momentarily annoyed that his feet didn’t touch the porch…
“Maybe if you’d told me you were gonna do it, it wouldn’t have been such a shock…”
Rocking them back and forth, Winry bit her lip.
Not her lip!
“I was embarrassed and I thought you’d yell at me…”
Wait a sec!
Why should she be embarrassed about signing her work?
Unless…unless that’s not why she’s embarrassed…
Ed’s voice came out in a tight, controlled tone through grit teeth. The last time he’d used that tone, he’d just discovered that Bastard Colonel had sent him off to the far end of the country through snake-infested marshlands to get him a box of freaking cigars …
When she wouldn’t look at him, he knew he’d nailed it.
“You didn’t put your signature on my automail so people would know it was your work…” His decibel level started to rise again, in sync with the pitch of his voice.
Is it warm out here or is it me?
His mouth continued talking of its own accord, even though his sanity was screaming at it to just shut up.
“You put your name on me so anyone getting … getting close enough to see it would know you—you owned me!”
“That’s ridiculous, Ed. You paid off that automail a long time ago.”
Stop! Don't say anything else! You can still run! You can still get away!!
“That’s not what I meant, Winry.”
His anger was clearly in cahoots with his mouth, despite all of sanity’s efforts to the contrary.
“You did it because you friggin’ wanted to scare off other girls!”
There! I said it.
His sanity was currently staring at him in opened-mouthed shock and the cherub was laughing its winged ass off.
Peals of demented laughter echoed through his head.
“D-did it work?” came a tiny voice from under a curtain of spun silk.
“Yes!! No!! I mean, I don’t know…”
Shit! Said too much!
Still without looking up, she slid her hand over on the bench and found his where it rested, covering it tentatively.
He felt some tension ease at the warmth of her smooth palm, then abruptly pulled his hand back and sprinted from the swing.
“Look!! You don’t own me, Winry!!”
Now it was her turn to get mad and for a second, Ed grabbed his head, looking around frantically for that damned wrench.
“Are you sure?!” She screeched, stomping across the porch. “Are you sure, Edward?! Because you own me!” She stabbed out with a pointed index finger, pushing him back a few paces with every poke. “Do you think I spend 12 hours on a train to rebuild automail – in the field – for all of my customers?!” Poke, two steps. “Do you think I feed chicken soup and potato chips to all of my customers when they bust up my automail because they’re so goddamned reckless?!” Poke, two steps. “Do you think I do this to all of my customers?!” Poke – wall.
Pressing him against the house – and herself against him – she grabbed the front of his road-worn red coat and cut short anything he had deluded himself into thinking he was going to say.
At this point, the following thoughts careened through Edward’s dumbfounded brain:
The first was, simply, 'Yowza!!!'
The second was, 'D-did I know her lips were that soft?' and was accompanied by a surprised little moan in the back of his throat.
The third was the ever-meaningful, always-good-in-a-pinch, pretty-much-sums-it-all-up, ‘Mmmmm…’
He was still mad, he wanted to push her off, he wanted to shut her up (but she wasn’t saying anything at the moment), but his mouth had taken control of his brain again and for once, it had some pretty good ideas…
She’d slid her tongue tentatively between his lips and deciding he most certainly did not mind that, he’d opened wider and let her explore.
Yes, very mmmmm...
He also let her slip her hands behind his head, and in the spirit of equivalent exchange, he slid his around her tiny waist, pulling her closer.
It was her turn to ‘Mmmmm…’
Somewhere in the back of his mind, sanity was holding its hand up, not-so-patiently waiting to say something.
Over here, idiot! We’re not done with this.
Growling in the back of his throat, a sound that only spurred Winry on, Ed reluctantly pulled himself away from her.
“T-this doesn’t mean you own me, you know,” he said, voice somewhat breathless, probably from the lack of breathing…
Her face was flushed and her lower lip was swollen slightly.
Smiling, she nodded her head slowly and she was so close, he could hear her hair sweeping against his face.
“Call it whatever you want, Ed…”
She leaned into him and he felt his eyes bulge wide.
Needing no further hint, he spun her around, pressed her back against the house and covered her mouth with his.
‘Need to find another word for it,’ his fuzzy mind thought, returning the favor and tracing the roof of her mouth with the tip of his tongue.
The silly cherub threw up a suggestion, but for some reason, the letters refused to resolve into sense.
What does l-o-v-e spell?
He could figure that out later. Something told him she’d been thinking about it a while.
And if he was being honest with himself, and if you can’t be honest with yourself, what was the point in telling the truth, he’d been thinking about it, too…
They say the more you care about someone, the madder they can make you.
By those standards, the cherub’s suggestion was starting to make more and more sense….
Deciding that for the moment he didn’t care about words or cherubs or friggin’ signatures in strange places, Ed wrapped his arms more tightly around her, shuddering at the feeling of her tight against him, and put all higher thought processes on hold. Indefinitely.
In the kitchen, Alphonse was standing on a ladder waiting for Pinako to slop paste on the next piece of wallpaper so he could hang it.
They’d both paused when the yelling had stopped and now that the not-yelling had turned into not-talking, Pinako had tip-toed down to the back door for a look see.
She stepped back into the room, nonplussed as ever, and returned to the wallpaper, chewing at the stem of her pipe.
“’bout time,” she said matter-of-factly and Al, who would have gaped if he could have, just stared off in the direction of the back door.
Al was a bright guy, but realization took a little while to dawn.
“Ohhhh,” he finally said, giving himself a hollow little smack in the head “So that’s what all the yelling and wrench throwing has been about all these years.”