By D.M. Evans
Disclaimer - not mine, all characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa et al and funimation. I make zero profit.
Rating - FRT
Time line - Sort of goes AR in the mid-20's as far as the anime episodes are concerned (so certain characters don't die), Ed and Winry are about 16 during this story.
Spoilers – uh probably none since I have yet to see the whole series let alone the movie and only managed to get hold of a handful of the manga. Pretty much it follows along until the aftermath of Lab#5 and goes AR from there.
Pairing - Ed/Winry, Roy/Riza, Maes/Gracia
Summary - the Fuhrer throws a military ball but Winry has competition for Ed's attention, attention that is painfully slow in coming.
Author's Note - Written as a holiday present. Happy Holidays, Leni! Thanks to Evil little Dog for the beta.
"Who's that talking to Ed?" Winry asked Lieutenant Hawkeye as they walked down the sidewalk leading to the library. Riza had invited Winry to Central a few days before under the flimsy pretense of needing someone to help invent a way of making it snow inside for the Fuhrer's big holiday party. Winry knew there had to be mechanics in Central capable of it without her help. She was working with them, after all. She suspected Riza was looking out for Ed and Al. They had spent enough holidays alone. Winry was enjoying herself as well, something fun and mechanical to work on and then home to the Hughes's in the evening to play with Elicia.
"That's Selena. She's a research librarian volunteer," Riza replied. "She's been spending a lot of time with the brothers. I dread knowing what Edward has her researching."
Winry wrinkled her nose. The girl was just a little older than her, maybe eighteen. Her long black hair was so glossy it reflected purples and blues like a raven's wing. She was wearing the prim little outfit librarians seemed to favor but she wore it short hemmed in the skirt and open buttoned in the blouse. Even from a distance, Winry could see Selena was flirting. When they got closer, she was sure of it. And Ed, being Ed, was utterly oblivious to it. The girl was working hard to get his attention but Winry knew Ed and his tunnel vision. The only parts of Selena's conversation Ed was receiving had to do with whatever research he had asked her about, opened neck line or not.
"Hey, Ed," Winry said when Selena paused to take a deep, breast-flaring breath. The other girl turned a sloe-eyed look of death on her.
Ed brightened a bit. "Winry, you weren't shopping, were you?" He looked around to see if she was hiding evidence of a spree. He seemed surprised to see none.
Winry's mouth pinched. "Yes, Ed. I spent your entire annual stipend. I've been too busy working on the Fuhrer's pet project to go shopping."
"Yes, that's apparent," Selena said, with a dismissive flip of her thick hair.
Winry wondered if she could strangled Selena with her own hair. "Aren't you going to introduce us, Ed?"
"Huh?" he grunted, showing his rather stunted social skills. Winry figured she needed to leash the boy to Al and maybe some of Al's manners would rub off and help domesticate Ed just a bit.
"Winry hasn't met Selena yet, Fullmetal." Riza shot Winry a sympathetic look.
"Oh, right. Winry, this is Selena Draken, a student volunteer at the library. She's helping me find some things," Ed said.
"For your uh, special project?" Winry wanted to kick herself for being irrationally jealous. If Selena could help him and Al then she was all for it.
"No, something Mustang wants done." Ed shrugged. "Selena, this is Winry Rockbell, my mechanic."
"Automail expert," Winry said sharply. "Very different what with all the surgery involved." How dare he make it sound like she worked on cars all day? Did he have any idea the complexity of knowing not only mechanics but the human body, too?
"That must be where you get those nice manly arms, Winry," Selena said sweetly, putting a hand on Ed's arm
Winry was acutely aware of three things: Selena's hand was perfectly manicured and made her greased-stained and metal-nicked hands look grubby; that recognition of something feminine and dangerous happening around him flickered in Ed's amber eyes; and that she was perfectly content with the idea of flaying this girl and using her skin as a flag.
"Well, if you're done with Miss Draken, Ed, maybe you want to join me and Lieutenant Hawkeye. Colonel Mustang wants to see us all," Winry said with a proprietary look of her own.
"Uh, now? I'm sort of busy." He scuffed a toe on the sidewalk.
"Doing what? You're not even in the library," Winry protested.
"Lunch break," Selena said, clasping her hands behind her in another 'look at my chest, Ed' move. Ed wasn't really paying any attention.
"That counts as not being busy, Edward. Come along, please," Riza said, sounding weary.
Ed scowled. "Let me get my research and I'll meet you there."
Winry watched him head back to the library with Selena then glanced over at Riza, seeing sympathy there. "What are the penalties for accidentally running over Selena?" she asked as they headed for Colonel Mustang's office.
Riza laughed. "I don't think it would be considered accidental since you're planning it."
"So what would count as justifiable homicide?" Winry sighed.
"I know the feeling, trust me. If it's any consolation, I doubt Ed even notices her, unlike others I could name," Riza said bitterly, a faraway look in her eye that Winry wondered about but the lieutenant didn't elaborate.
They were quiet until they got to the office. Winry thought something was bothering the slightly older woman and it became evident quickly what it was when they entered Mustang's office. A woman sat across from Mustang's desk wearing a perfectly tailored suit so short in the hem that Winry didn't know how the woman crossed her legs without flashing her panties. Her sloe eyes and long black hair were familiar and even more stunning than Selena's for the sheer length of her mane.
"Oh good, Hawkeye, you brought Miss Rockbell. Where's Fullmetal?" Mustang asked, barely tearing his gaze away from the woman.
"Having a snit, sir. He'll be along shortly," Hawkeye replied honestly, "no pun intended."
"Are we about done, Roy?" the woman asked, surprising Winry with the familiar way she addressed the colonel. The woman slowly uncrossed and re-crossed her legs as she shifted her writing tablet on her lap. Red lace panties, so that answered how didn't she flash them. She did and wanted everyone to know. Lace itched, Winry thought, remembering the lace-necked gown Nelly had gotten her for her sixteenth birthday. The nightgown was sexier than anything else she owned, sort of Nelly's way of telling her she was entering a new chapter of her life. Winry wasn't sure she was quite ready for it.
"Yes, I think so, Miss Draken."
"Draken? Are you Selena's mother?" Winry asked, wondering if Riza would help her exterminate the Draken line. From the look on the soldier's face, Winry guessed, yes, she would.
Miss Draken's face darkened. "I'm her older sister. Could you honestly think I'm old enough to be Selena's mother?"
"I'm sure it was an easy mistake to make," Riza said and Miss Draken jumped to her feet
"Bryony, I need to speak to my officer and Miss Rockbell alone," Mustang stepped in before a cat fight broke out all over his office.
"Of course," Bryony said, gathering her decorum like cotton.
Winry was surprised Riza didn't keel over dead from the look Bryony gave her. Riza turned a death stare of her own on Mustang once the other woman was gone.
He shrugged. "What?"
Hawkeye's mouth pinched. "You know what, sir."
"I have to be nice to the Fuhrer's newest liaison, Lieutenant Hawkeye. You know politics." Mustang leaned back in his chair.
"And I know you and apparently so does Miss Lace Panties," Hawkeye said cuttingly
"Hawkeye, not in front of the ki...civilian," Mustang said, a hint of pink on his pale face.
"I noticed them, sir," Winry said in an embarrassed tone, feeling her face flush.
"Noticed what?" Ed asked, slouching his way into the office.
"That you're slow in responding to orders, Fullmetal," Mustang said, giving Ed a stern look.
"I was finishing up your research, Colonel," Ed snapped back. "What do I have to do now? And why do you want to see Winry?"
Mustang leaned forward, cupping his chin in his gloved hand. "Has he always been this rude, Miss Rockbell?"
Winry looked at Ed, grimacing. "Do I have to answer?"
Ed wrinkled his nose at her, his body tensing.
"Edward," Mustang said before Ed could erupt. "I wanted to see how Miss Rockbell was coming along with the preparations for King Bradley's ball."
"Just fine, sir. We'll have everything ready for the party," Winry assured him proudly.
"Oh, good." Mustang looked as pleased as Winry sounded.
"So what does this have to do with me? I'm supposed to be working," Ed said, glancing back at the door.
"You were going to eat lunch," Winry said. "I'm sure Miss Draken can wait a few minutes."
Ed's eyes widened as her tone took him by surprise.
"If you let me get it out, Fullmetal, I was going to say I've received a communiqué from King Bradley. Everyone holding the rank of major and above is expected to attend the holiday ball. Junior officers are welcome of course," Mustang directed that to Riza, "but the higher ranking officers are required to attend."
Ed's jaw slackened then tightened with an audible snap. "I don't want to go."
"That would be where 'required' comes in, Fullmetal. You don't have a choice. And you have to wear your dress uniform." Mustang looked highly amused.
Ed's fists curled. "It's not fair, sir. I shouldn't be going to parties while my brother..."
"Has nothing to do with this. It's one night, Fullmetal. Alphonse will survive it without you," Mustang said. "Dress uniform. Better go get yours tailored. I don't think the standard trousers come short enough."
Winry clamped a hand over Ed's mouth, almost smothering some of the explosion.
"And it's suggested that you bring a date, Fullmetal," Mustang said, his eyes twinkling. "But it's not mandatory."
"A date?" Ed paled, his Adam's apple bobbing. "I don't have time for this. How am I supposed to finish-"
"Fullmetal, just do it," Mustang said. "Whine later."
"Fine. Am I done?" Ed spun around, his braid nearly whacking Winry as he headed for the door.
"Apparently you are," Mustang said, still amused. "You can go too, Miss Rockbell, if you'd like."
Winry nodded and followed Ed out into the outer office. Her eyes narrowed, seeing Selena waiting for Ed presumably. At the moment she was hunched up on a chair, trying to avoid Lieutenant Colonel Hughes' latest barrage of photos. Good for you, Mr. Hughes. Torment her some more.
"I can't believe I have to go to a stupid military ball," Ed grumbled to anyone who might be listening.
"Isn't it romantic?" Hughes said, snapping his photos back into a pile and heading for Ed. "Gracia can't wait to go but who do we find to baby-sit our beautiful Elicia?"
"Well, Edward was fretting over leaving his brother alone. Why don't you get him to baby-sit for you, Maes?" Mustang suggested, lounging against his door frame.
Ed spared a hostile look for his commanding officer. "My brother is not a babysitter!"
"Why not? I can't imagine anyone Elicia would be safer with. I'll ask him immediately," Hughes said. "I have more photos of her playing with her first kitten."
"I have a meeting," Mustang said, retreating into his office, locking the door behind him.
"This is so dumb," Ed said, not showing any signs of self preservation in avoiding Hughes.
"Ed, are we going to eat or not?" Selena broke in petulantly.
Winry really wanted to say something ugly to her but decided she had to be above that sort of thing. She didn't like being jealous. It was scaring her, truthfully. More over she wanted to say something to Ed about the party but she couldn't make herself in front of an audience.
"Huh, yeah, I guess." Ed's mouth pulled into a frown. "I don't want to do this. Where am I supposed to find a date?"
Both Winry and Selena just looked at him stunned. Winry couldn't remember feeling so crushed. Was he this much of an idiot? How could he not see her? No one could possibly miss Selena, for that matter.
"I think I'll skip lunch today," Selena said, stalking out of the room.
Ed turned puzzled eyes to Winry. "What's her problem?"
"Oh, Ed, you are so frustrating," Winry said and stormed out herself.
"What did I do?" Ed asked, looking totally lost as he cast his gaze to Hughes for help.
Hughes put an arm on Ed's shoulder. "You have a lot to learn about women, Ed."
"Listen to the Lieutenant Colonel, Edward. You just had a young lady here who would have loved to have gone to the ball with you," Riza said with a sigh.
"Two of them actually." Hughes held up two fingers in Ed's face for emphasis.
Ed's shoulders slumped. "Oh damn."
"I suggest flowers, lots of them," Hughes said. "Or else you'll spend your life alone and miss out on joys like this." Before Ed could move, photos were in his face. "Isn't she the most adorable girl ever?"
Winry took a deep breath in once she was outside the building. She almost didn't want to go back to the workshop and get started on the snow machine for the party because she was more than ready to grab the nearest drill and take it to Ed. Were all men this frustrating? No, she was sure Al would be much more attuned. Winry spotted Selena just ahead of her and was going to go the other way just to avoid her when the older girl turned around.
"He might be a little dense, but he's mine," she said.
"In your dreams. I've known him forever," Winry shot back, deciding she was not going to back down to this girl.
"And he never even thought of you to go to the ball with." Selena flashed her a little smile that Winry wanted to slap off her face.
"Ed's just a little...preoccupied," Winry said, thinking she should say 'A little shit.' Granny Pinako had called him more than once. She was probably right.
"You don't have what it takes to catch his eye. Why don't you run along and go play with your tools," Selena snarled.
Winry held her tongue. She wouldn't descend to this level. "I intend to and Ed will take me to the ball."
"Even if he does, I'll be there to take him from you. I always get what I want and I've decided I want him." Selena gave her another superior smile then whirled around and sashayed off.
Winry quivered with the effort it took to suppress her rage. Selena might be able to do it. She was beautiful and knew how to make use of it. Winry had always been concerned about other things. What did she know about being girlie after all? Hearing footfalls behind her, she turned around. Lieutenant Hawkeye was there. "How much did you hear?"
"Enough. Her sister is just the same," Riza said and Winry knew that Riza was facing the same thing if she wanted her chance at Mustang.
"Even if Ed does smarten up and ask me, I don't know anything about being a lady," Winry said regretfully. "I've always been one of the boys."
Riza smiled. "I know the feeling. Don't worry. It's hard to tell with the uniform, but I know a little about these things. I can help you."
Winry smiled back. Maybe things weren't as bad as she thought. " I'd like that, thank you."
"You're in a bad mood, brother," Al observed cautiously.
Ed flipped over on his bed and buried his nose deeper into the book Selena had found for him. It smelled faintly like her perfume. Winry never wore perfume. She always smelled like motor oil and metal. Why did he have to go and think of that?
"What's wrong, Ed?" Al pressed, shifting through some of the books Ed had brought home.
"I got a new assignment." Ed pushed the book onto the floor.
"Where are we going now?" Al asked, resigned. "We haven't even had any time to visit with Winry."
"We're not going anywhere." Ed sighed. "I have to go to King Bradley's holiday ball."
"And?" Al prompted but Ed didn't answer. "Are you looking for someone dangerous there? Or someone who knows about the stone?"
"No, it's just a stupid party." Ed buried his face in his pillow.
"And this is a problem why?" Al asked, perplexed. After all, Ed was lying down and missing dinner, which was why he had assumed something near apocalyptic was weighing on his brother's mind.
"I'm supposed to be working, not running around having fun," Ed grumbled into the feather pillow.
"It's just one night, brother," Al said, comfortingly.
Ed rolled over and put the pillow over his head. "That's not the point, Al. You and I, we're not like the others. We have things we have to do. It's been too long as it is."
"And one night really won't matter," Al said. "It is the holiday. You could go with Winry. She'd probably like it."
Ed threw the pillow at Al. "Don't be stupid. Al, don't you get it, I get to go to a party. You don't. Just like all the other things you don't get to do until I make things right."
"Oh," Al said softly, picking up the pillow. After several excruciating moments of silence, he added, "I don't mind that you go, Brother. I just want you to be happy."
Ed scrunched up on the bed. "Going to this ball doesn't make me happy."
A knock on the door spared Al from having to comment to that. Seeing Ed wasn't going to stir himself from his sulk, Al lurched up and opened the door.
"Oh, hi Winry, Lieutenant Hawkeye." Al stepped back. "Is there something you need, Lieutenant?"
"I just have to give this to Edward. He left the colonel's office before Colonel Mustang could give it to him." Hawkeye held up a creamy vellum card.
"What is it now?" Ed didn't move.
"Told you he's still be in a snit," Winry said, giving Al a long-suffering glance that Al would have returned if he could.
"And I said I wasn't betting against it," Hawkeye said, rustling the paper she held.
Ed rolled to his feet and stomped over to get it. "I'm not in a snit." He glared at everyone including Al as if daring them to say something. "What is it?"
"Your invitation to the ball. You need to R.S.V.P. with your selection for an entree and for your date's meal as well," Hawkeye said.
"You probably don't have to worry about that part, Ed. You don't know where to find a date, after all," Winry said, squeezing in every iota of sweetness she could as she rocked back on her heels.
She could have smelted metal in the heat of Ed's gaze. "This is stupid," he muttered, his metal hand rumpling the expensive invitation.
"King Bradley doesn't seem to think so and I'm working hard to make the party fun so you could at least try to be appreciative," Winry said, narrowing her eyes at him.
"Alphonse, did your brother tell you Lieutenant Colonel Hughes would like you go baby-sit for him the night of the ball?" Hawkeye asked.
"Elicia has the cutest new kitten," Winry said, smiling as Al seemed to brighten.
"A kitten? No, brother didn't say," Al said, a hint of reproach in his voice. "I'd be happy to."
"Al, they only asked because you can't go to a military ball," Ed chided.
"I know but I'll have fun watching Elicia. I don't mind," Al said.
Ed flopped back down on his bed. "Do whatever you want," he said in a tone guaranteed to show how much he didn't approve of it.
"Don't be like that, Brother." Al looked at the ladies. Winry could swear she read apologies in the metal of his face. "Winry, it's not fair that you have to work on a party you can't come to without being asked." His head craned back to his brother who just glowered.
"Don't worry about it, Al. I'll be going. Major Armstrong will make a wonderful date," Winry said then turned to Hawkeye. "We'd better go give Colonel Mustang a progress report, Riza. Bye boys. Have a good night. Maybe I'll have time to visit once I get that snow machine going." Winry wiggled her fingers at them then flounced out with a smiling Hawkeye on her heels.
"Armstrong!" Ed bellowed at the now-closed door. He jumped to his feet. "She's going with Armstrong? He's old enough to be her father! How can she possibly go with him?"
Al sat on his bed out of the path of the furious pacing his brother launched into. "It's your own fault, Brother. Did you actually tell Winry you didn't know where you'd get a date?" He wagged his head.
"I didn't mean it that way. It just slipped out." Ed kicked the couch with the wrong foot then hopped around until the pain in his toes subsided to a dull ache. "She and Selena were doing this...I don't know...I was expecting them to kill each other at any second and I was mad at how stupid this all is and it just came out wrong." His arms wind milled around telegraphing his frustrations.
"Selena heard you, too? Oh, Brother." He just shook his head in disbelief.
"It's not my fault, Al. This whole idea is just dumb. I don't want to go and now everyone is mad at me." Ed collapsed back on his bed. "Armstrong!"
"Maybe if you wouldn't see everything as an attack on your time, Brother, maybe people wouldn't get mad at you. It's okay to have a little fun. It's good for you. What's the point of living if you're never having any fun?" Al asked.
Ed looked away so his brother wouldn't see the sheen of tears in his eyes. "I'm doing this for us, Al."
"I know but you need to believe me when I say I don't mind if you go to the party and that I'd enjoy watching little Elicia. She treats me like I'm a kid, too. She's not afraid of me," Al said sadly.
Ed bit his lip, concentrating on the pain to help rein in his emotions. "Well, I'm going so I guess that's settled." He laid down, flinging his living arm over his eyes. "Armstrong! How dare he even ask Winry?"
"Brother, if you don't want her to go with the major, maybe you should tell her you want her to go with you," Al suggested. "Or ask Selena. Pretty girls like that...someone always asks them to dances." Al rubbed his metal chin. "Don't ask Selena. I know she helps you, Brother but she seems so...I don't know. She just seems nice on the surface but there's nothing below it."
"I know," Ed whispered then thumped his leg on the bed. "I'll kill him if he touches Winry."
Ed let his arm fall to the mattress. "I know what you're trying to say, Al. I'll talk to her tomorrow. Tonight, I just don't want to think about it any more."
Both brothers knew that's all Ed would obsess on this all night but Al wisely let his brother lapse into another full on brood session. Al just hoped his brother did the right thing. Al liked Winry and he knew Ed did, too. He didn't want to see her hurt, especially by his brother. Of course encouraging Ed more than he had wouldn't help. Most of Ed's problems with going had to deal with the fact Al was still trapped in his metal body. It wouldn't help matters much promising that he really didn't mind if Ed went to the ball. Al glanced over at his sulking brother, remembering the fights they had had over getting Winry's attention and felt jealous of Ed's chance to be with her and even more furious that Ed had hurt her feelings. Al settled back on his own bed. No, he wasn't sulking too, he assured himself. He was just taking time out to pondering things.