The Hidden Agenda
Written for the Fire and Ice 2009 Fanfic Challenge
Prompt: Ice: Curl Up Before the Fire
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: Off on a fools' errand and trapped with Winry in a mountain shack in the middle of a blizzard, Edward realizes that even the object of blackmail can have an agenda... Not really in the "Branded" arc… I will only say that no geeks were harmed in the writing of this story...
None of this was his idea.
He just wanted to go on record as saying that, should anyone ask, (and they were bound to, weren't they? If he survived this, that is. And if he didn't, well, then They might ask, but there wouldn't be anyone to tell them…. Which could lead Them to think that he was the one responsible for them shuffling off the mortal coil in this particularly humiliating way, but if that happened, he'd make damn sure he found some way of leaving a statement or a last will or something that said he wasn't; maybe muster up all his alchemical might to reach out from beyond the frickin' Gate – or wherever he ended up – to make sure They knew that), THIS WAS NOT HIS IDEA.
It wasn't his idea to make a trip to the northern region in the dead of winter. He'd done it once. He wasn't nutty enough to suggest doing it twice.
It wasn't his idea to leave Al back in Resembool, either. He might have a problem with his armor getting filled up with snow, but he was still t-t-taller than either of them and that could be very useful when you were looking for, say, a good place for lunch or the right path to take through the mountains.
Speaking of which, it wasn't his idea to zig when the path clearly, clearly called for some zagging, some very definite zagging, but nooooo, she'd insisted this was the way she'd come the last time and if they were going to get where they were going to before the storm hit, then they had damn well better get to zigging and fast. And so they'd zigged when all logic demanded they zag, when any sane person could have seen it, when a tiny newborn baby covered in its own birth slime could have seen it.
And that was why, when they should have been snug in the comparatively warm embrace of the imposing (and allegedly) heated Fort Briggs, they were instead, shivering their heinies off in this poor excuse for a man-made structure. Shit, it would be a poor excuse for a natural formation, too, but there at least, you could have blamed the random nature of weather, eroding water and, heck, the occasional earthquake for the "condition" of the natural formation you'd been forced to take shelter in, because, really, did anyone actually maintain something like a cave in the mountains? No, they did not. They left it to nature and weather and the occasional earthquake because they didn't care about the condition of a cave in the mountains and why would they? Why would they when they had buildings and forts to take shelter in? Why would they when they built houses and restaurants and hotels, all for the express purpose of taking shelter in? Why would they when they had all of those, and then some, and could simply ignore a sorry little pile of sticks and rocks masquerading as a "cute little cottage." (Her words.) Shit, this cute little cottage was such a sorry excuse for a shelter that he was pretty sure he'd been warmer outside. He even thought the snow might be deeper in he—
"Are you just going to sit there while we freeze to death or are you going to d-do something?" Winry clutched her quilted jacket around her, cheeks a bright pink, and stamped her booted feet against the dirt floor for warmth. "Sometimes, I have no idea how your mind works, Edward. Here we are without shelter – in the middle of snowstorm – and you're just sitting there doing what – contemplating your navel?"
Edward paused here while the various power centers of his brain drew lots to see which one of them was going to spout steam from his ears and which was going to radio the geek downstairs to crank open his mouth and clench his teeth, when they were all calmed by the head geek, rushing back from his snack break to see what the commotion was.
Seriously, though. How dare she act like this was his fault? Hadn't this all been her idea? She was the one that had wanted to come up here in the dead of friggin' winter to test some new winter-issue automail she'd designed – test it on the one guinea pig she could always convince, which is to say blackmail, into going along with her ridiculous plans.
As much as he wanted to start screaming, though, (the linguist geek excitedly cracked open his Big Illustrated Book of Elric Curses and Rants), he knew she was, at least on this one point (but just this one!)…right.
He needed to transmute this pile of debris into something resembling a shelter, and fast, or they would not live to annoy each other another day.
And so while it might have been satisfying to plot her frosty demise in his head, alas, said plotting would have little to no affect on the condition of the roof… Or the half-missing side wall… Or the big, round hole in the floor inside which some species of rodent had clearly and recently made its home…
It was while he was gauging the composition of the materials on hand and calculating the formulas he would need for the transmutation that he saw it, or rather that he actually calmed down enough to see what had likely been there all along.
Winry was really cold.
And not just really cold, she was dangerously cold.
She had dressed for the north, that was true, but she had dressed for a walk from the train station to the transport that would take them to Fort Briggs which was not the same thing at all.
Because of the storm and all the snow on the tracks, their train had been delayed by hours and when they'd arrived, there was no transport waiting for them. Instead, they'd had to attempt the mountain path on their own, maybe not the best plan, but she'd insisted she'd been this way before with Kimblee and that she remembered it like it was yesterday, like it was the back of her hand, like it was the back of his hand, which, btw, she'd made and so, yeah, she would remember that pretty well, and she was absolutely certain she could get them there quickly and didn't he trust her after all these years, didn't he trust her to know what she was talking about, couldn't he just believe her this once and…and did he just go along with it to get her to stop talking?
Shit, this was his fault!
Well, maybe not the being-up-north-in-the-dead-of-winter part, but certainly the part where he-didn't-insist-they-get-rooms-at-the-inn-and-head-for-Briggs-after-the-storm-had-blown-over part…
She wasn't prepared to be out in the wilderness like this. She might be a tough girl, but she was still a girl. Heck, she was a real witch with a wrench in her hand, a bag of insults at the ready, but no matter how quickly she could strip down an engine block and turn it into an arm and a leg and then some, when it came to things like cataclysmic weather – she just didn't have the tools. She was used to being looked out for and taken care of, even if she wasn't aware it was being done.
That job was his and he'd muffed it royally.
He stole a glance at her face, and though her brow was furrowed with impatience and she seemed ready to let go a stream of Winry-styled invectives, she was clearly and quite alarmingly, beginning to turn a rather frightening shade of frozen.
Shit, this is serious.
The first pangs of real fear began to rush through Edward's nervous system, fear that she was in real danger, fear that he'd failed her, and he knew it was time to stop indulging his imagination and get to work fast.
And so while he attempted his usual, patented crabby retort, "Couldn't you have picked a place with more materials to work with?" the gears in his head, and the geeks that manned them, had shifted into alchemical overdrive.
In the end, all he had resources for – once he'd subtracted what they'd need for fuel – was a tiny, one room cabin. It was simple and lacked furniture – again, because he couldn't spare the wood – but it would protect them from the wind, snow and cold and once the now-abandoned-mouse-colony-turned-fire-pit was fully ablaze, it was actually a fairly cozy shelter.
They made a meal of what was left of the train snacks she'd bought and he'd even pulled out his secret stash of chocolate bars, but it wasn't until they'd hammered out a plan for the next day – he'd gotten her to agree to stay behind while he went off for help – and the heat and food had worked their magic, that he finally allowed himself to relax.
So maybe it was the euphoric affect of all that chocolate mixed with the total relaxation that usually occurs when a thoroughly chilled body suddenly finds itself utterly, pleasantly, and completely warm, or maybe it was something else entirely, something that couldn't be explained by science (or chocolate)…but for some reason, the glow of the firelight illuminating her face, playing with the strands of blond that draped her shoulders, was doing funny things to his heart. At least he thought it was his heart. (It was in the center of his chest.) Or it could be the chocolate. Who knew how long those bars had been in his pack…
Thinking a poke and some verbal sparring might alleviate that funny prickling sensation in his chest, he reached over and kicked her rump playfully with a bootless foot.
"You're kind of a nit-wit, you know that," he said, his teasing tone muffled by his mouth making short work of his fourth crispy chocolate bar.
She looked up from her potato chips, pausing to lick salt from her fingers, and peered sideways at him with one eye squinted. "Takes one to know one," she said, mouth a salty grin.
Edward found himself momentarily distracted from their regularly scheduled banter by the sudden urge to see if chocolate and potato chips were the great combination people were always telling him…
What the hell? Where'd that come from?
Looking away quickly, he found some salted meat strips and tore into one forcefully.
"No, I mean it," he said thickly, mouth full of dried meat, hoping for casual, but succeeding only at bad table manners. "What made you think coming up this way in the dead of winter was anything even remotely resembling a good idea?"
"As I remember it," she said, wiping her salty hands on their one blanket. "You agreed to come 'up this way' with me – and without too much negotiation."
He'd been too full of chocolate and warm fire to remember why she annoyed him so much, but there it was.
"'Negotiation?'" he blurted out. "What negotiation?! You blackmailed me!"
"Blackmail?" she echoed, scoffing.
Hands, metal and flesh, flew to his waist. "You threatened to repossess my right foot! I paid off that retrofit months ago, and now you claim you never got the check?!"
Eyebrows raised, she seemed contrite. "Oh, that check? I got it."
"You got it?!"
"Oh, yeah," she said, nodding, grin lopsided and cheeks a pink no fire or chocolate could have inspired. "I had it all along."
Every geek in Team Elric flew to battle stations while the head geek struggled to maintain control of his frantic crew.
"Then why the hell'd you say you didn't have it," he screamed, steam beginning to sputter from his ears.
She reached over and kicked his left calf. "Because, nit-wit, you wouldn't have come up here otherwise."
The utter, shameless honesty of her response rendered Edward, for a moment, wholly and completely speechless, and so maybe he could be excused for the lag in his reaction time that left him wide-eyed and slack-jawed as Winry swooped in, cat-like, and draped herself over his stunned, lifeless body.
He got control of his muscles back just as she had pressed her still-salty lips against his ('hmmmm, they're right – chocolate and potato chips are great together'), but in the confusion of argument and hormones, instead of throttling her silly, as she plainly deserved, he found his automail buried in long strands of gold up to his knuckles and his lips chasing all trace of salt from hers and when that was exhausted, beyond…
Moments later, as she was settled against him comfortably and he'd finally gotten used to the feel of her there, finally gotten over the strangeness of it, the gentle weight of her body pressed against his, (after years of running in the other direction at the concept, he realized he actually liked having her body pressed against his), with a start he also realized that she was beginning to shiver again.
Before the panic could set in, the geeks helpfully supplied an idea that might have been mistaken for a "move" coming from anyone else, (Mustang, for instance), but was one that in this situation…and particularly after the last twenty minutes, he knew she would take no offense at; she raised an eyebrow when he told her, but complied without hesitation.
This was a matter or survival, after all.
Having each peeled the outer layers of their clothing off – parkas, sweaters, pants, but neither oftheir under things! – they now lay buried beneath a thick layer of insulation made up of their combined clothing and their one blanket, and they were pressed closely in each others arms, touching (for survival's sake, of course!) in as many places as was possible.
It was there in that chocolate and potato-chip scented cocoon of warmth and softness, her arms held fast around him, the feel of her every breath tickling his chest, that he made a rather startling realization, one that actually reassured him of his craftiness and reaffirmed his claim on the word "Genius…"
He knew something like…like this would happen.
Maybe not exactly this, because who would plan to be trapped in the middle of a north country blizzard with no real shelter but what your alchemy could come up with, but maybe he'd been hoping for the kind of situation where a) it would be cold and b) he would find himself, and by extension, her, in just this sort of arrangement.
Cold and close and so, therefore, (and in many ways) warm…
And it that was true, then this agenda he'd had had been so well hidden, he'd actually managed to hide it from himself, which either made him brilliant or crazy, but at this particular point in time, with her wrapped tightly around him, pressed softly into his side, and her hair, which always smelled of almonds and motor oil, a rather pleasing mix if you could believe it, tickling pleasantly under his chin, he found himself hard pressed to care which it was.
Brilliant? Of course.
Crazy? [Here a shrug.] Probably.
One of Pinako's old saw's floated to the front of his brain (the history geek was thrilled to finally be called up to the majors) – "crazy like a fox…" – but all Edward could really think was this:
This had definitely, most assuredly, beyond the shadow of any doubt, been his idea.
And he would argue that point to his grave…
The Hidden Agenda: Coda
Snuggled in closely, the heat of Edward's broad body seeping into her bones now, his scent of cinnamon and motor oil, a heady mix even if you weren't a machine geek, filling her lungs, all Winry could think was that as plans go, and this one was pretty convoluted and had thrown some curves at her (snow on the tracks! Briggs transport not waiting! where was that pesky trail?!), it had turned out just as she'd expected.
That he never quite got the real depth of her control over him – he thought being blackmailed into this trip was the real manipulation! – was an endearing and encouraging and ultimately exploitable trait.
Because really, did you want the fish to know he was hooked before you reeled him in?