Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Ed, Al, Trisha, Pinako, Winry.
Setting: During Ed and Al's early childhood.
Summary: As it turns out, taking a pair of alchemic child geniuses to a seafood restaurant is not a good idea.
Disclaimer: They belong to the genius of Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for KristenSK, who requested Ed and the prompt word "lobster" for an alphabet fic meme. This is definitely one of the weirdest prompts I've ever worked with, and the resulting idea turned out to be kidfic, which is not my forte, but... here you go. (And incidentally, take note of my passing reference to a certain rooster. He will be better introduced in forthcoming fic. *g* )
It was Aunt Pinako's birthday, and she wanted a seafood dinner.
The village of Resembool was far from any coastline, and fish was rare in the local diet, except for a few small freshwater varieties from nearby rivers and lakes. However, Pinako had tasted more exotic seafood dishes during travels when she was young, and lately had a craving for it. As a birthday treat, Mother had arranged for dinner at a restaurant in the next town - one that specialized in fish imported from the distant seaside. It wasn't cheap, but after all, this was an occasion.
Accordingly, Mother dressed Edward and Alphonse in the suits she made them wear for the most important events, and the three of them met Pinako and Winry at the train station. An hour's journey delivered them to the larger neighboring town, and after some wandering and gawking at shop windows and just a little bit of getting lost, they finally came to the restaurant.
Ed and Al had never seen the inside of a seafood restaurant before. The foyer was decorated with nets and glass floats, and in the corner stood a carved mermaid that might have once decorated the prow of a ship, just as they had seen in books...
And off to one side stood a long glass tank full of water, writhing with the strangest creatures the boys had ever seen.
There must have been dozens of them, and even the smallest was bigger than Ed's entire arm. They looked like insects, with mottled red-black carapaces and numerous legs - all spindly except for the foremost appendages, which ended in huge jointed pincers. They had long antennae, and small black eyes, and curling tails with fan-shaped tips. Had they been any larger, they might have been a little frightening; as it was, they were only strange.
...And a little sad-looking, as well. They were passive, sluggish things, laying piled on top of each other in the corners of the tank, or scooting slowly along the bottom with their little stick-like legs. Their menacing pincers were tied up with string.
"What are those things?" Al asked breathlessly, his nose pressed against the glass.
Mother regarded the alien creatures in the tank with a wan smile, as if she was a little sorry for them herself. "Those are lobsters."
"Are they some kinda bugs? They've got hard shells like a beetle."
"Well... in a way, I guess they are an underwater sort of bug. And those shells do the same job as an insect's exoskeleton on land - they help protect them from fish that would eat them." Mother chuckled. "It's kind of like that old suit of armor in your father's study."
"Wow," Al murmured wonderingly.
Ed frowned at the starkness of the crowded tank. "If they wanna keep those ugly things as pets here, why don't they at least give 'em a nicer-looking aquarium?"
That question made Mother pale slightly; with chagrin or dismay, Ed couldn't quite tell. However, before she could answer, Winry chimed in.
"Silly, lobsters aren't pets. They're here because people eat them!"
Ed gagged violently at the thought - but that was insignificant compared to his brother's reaction. Alphonse spun to face Winry, with a look of scandalized horror. "What?"
Mother sighed, in the beleaguered manner of a woman forced to confess an unpleasant truth to her child. "She's right. Lobsters are considered a very fine food, and people pay a lot of money for them."
"Oh, that is so gross," Ed muttered.
Al didn't say anything. His eyes darkened, and his lower lip quivered, and he stared at the ill-fated creatures with a look of grief.
Presently, the Elrics and the Rockbells were shown to their table, which stood beneath a portrait of a sailing ship that appeared to be chasing a whale. The waitress handed out their menus; and then, with a smile and a wink, she produced several crayons from her apron pocket.
"I'll leave these here so you can draw while you're waiting," she said, and dropped the sticks of colored wax on the paper placemats.
Ed and Winry were content to draw pictures of fish and boats - but Al was still clearly upset by the revelation about the lobsters. He sat with a blue crayon in his hand, staring down at the blank paper with a pale, stiff-lipped face, as if tears might start to well up at any moment.
Typical, Ed thought, pressing his crayon harder against the paper. Al and animals...
It was just like the time they overheard that one of Pinako's chickens had stopped laying eggs, and was destined for the dinner table. Ed still wasn't quite sure how Al had talked him into a stealth chicken-liberating escapade in the middle of the night. After climbing two fences, badly miscalculating their transmutation of the coop's wooden walls, and being attacked by a maniacal rooster named Buck, Al was lucky to have gotten away with nothing worse than ripped pants. Big Brother Ed took the brunt of the misadventure, as usual, and he had no good excuse for his black eye and scratched-up arms the next day.
With a will, Ed ignored Al and his black cloud of a sulk. This was supposed to be a good day. Pinako was telling stories about her visits to the sea, when she had eaten real seafood like this before, and soon Ed would get to taste some of it himself - and Mother had even said that before they left this town, they might visit one or two of the shops they had passed along the way.
All three children hardly gave the toy shop a glance, and Ed took a certain precocious pride in that fact. His and Al's eyes had lit up at the sight of a rare-books dealer, and Winry... well, she made ear-splitting little squeaking noises when she looked in the window of the hardware store.
Ed rolled his eyes. Girls...
The minutes passed. The waitress came by the table again, to deliver their drinks and take their orders. Mother and Pinako chatted, Ed and Winry's pictures took shape... and Al sat like a stone.
Finally, just when Ed had begun to draw the cannons on his mighty battleship, his little brother spoke up.
"Mom? I need to go to the bathroom."
In response, Mother began rising from her chair to escort him - but he made a face at her. "Aw, Mom, I'm not a baby anymore. Can't you let me go by myself?" He shot Ed a glance that was just a little too calculating. "Or let Ed go with me."
"Huh? Hey, I don't need to go, why drag me into it?" Ed whined.
For a second or two, Mother considered Al's plea... and then she gave Ed that certain look. The one that turned him into silly putty.
"Ed, go with your brother," she said gently; and along with The Look, it was the way she said it. The way that was really not a command at all, yet it caused him to melt nonetheless, oozing out of his chair in worshipful obedience.
"Do you know where it is?" she asked him. "Just down that hall to the left of where we came in..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Come on, Al." Ed grabbed the hand of his brother, who by this time had slid off his own chair, and longsufferingly began towing him toward the restrooms.
However, as they reached the foyer, Al sharply shifted course and pulled Ed in the other direction. "Brother, c'mere!"
Baffled, Ed let himself be pulled - until he realized Al was making straight for the lobster tank. Then he dug his heels in, yanking back his hand. "Al, what?"
"Please, Brother... we gotta save 'em!" Upon reaching the side of the tank, Al anxiously started to run his fingers over the glass, as if searching for weak spots.
Ed gaped. "Are you crazy? You heard what Mom said about how much those things cost. Do you know how much trouble we'd get into?"
"But they're gonna be killed!" Al whimpered. He turned to face Ed, bringing to bear all the wide-eyed pleading he could muster. "They're not even like farm animals that get raised to be eaten. They were just minding their own business when somebody dragged them out of the water and brought them here to be cooked. It's not fair, Brother!"
Taking two steps closer, Ed folded his arms. He refused to look at the lobsters. He knew every one of them had its beady little eyes focused on him, with the same begging look Al wore.
"...So how are we supposed to do that?" Ed challenged. "We can't even reach the top of the tank - and if we use alchemy on the glass, all that water'll flood all over the place."
Al fidgeted. "Well, I thought... with the right transmutation, we might be able to open up the glass, and turn the water into vapor at the same time. I'm just not sure how to do that. I... kinda thought you might know."
Against Ed's will, equations ran through his mind. He wasn't entirely sure about the array he envisaged in his head, but it made sense...
"And what are we supposed to do with them then? It's not like we could just open the door and let 'em run away. What if they're like fish, and they can't even breathe out of the water?"
That stymied Al; but only for a moment, as his frown of concentration suddenly lightened. "There's the lake in that park we saw. It was just up on the corner of the street. We can put 'em there! It might take a few trips, but..."
Ed finally glanced at the lobsters, with a tremendous grimace. "You seriously expect me to touch those things?"
Al's eyes welled up, and he slowly stretched out his hand toward Ed. The blue crayon he had brought from the table lay in his open palm.
There was a long moment of silence.
Then Ed snorted out a violent sigh, snatched the crayon from Al's hand, and began to draw a circle on the smooth glass surface of the tank.
"Don't you think the boys have been gone too long?" Pinako asked, eyeing Trisha Elric cannily above the rims of her spectacles.
"They are taking a while." Trisha's expression was briefly shadowed with maternal worry; but then she smiled and shrugged. "But if they can do the things I've seen them do with alchemy, they don't need me fussing over them every second. I don't want to embarrass them by hanging over their shoulders all the time."
Pinako grunted. "Might do 'em some good to be watched a little more closely now and then. You remember what happened last year with my chicken coop." She paused suddenly, her wrinkles deepening in a scowl. "Trisha, you don't think - "
At that moment, there came from the foyer a loud, sharp crack, followed instantly by a sound that could only be described as a sploosh.
Waitresses, cooks, and even other diners went running to investigate. Trisha and Winry ran too - but Pinako hesitated. She knew exactly what everyone was going to see, and she wasn't in a particular hurry to see it herself.
She finally went, though. It was like they always say about gawking at train wrecks.
In the foyer of the restaurant, the lobster tank was now split open and deformed, almost as if it had been melted. Telltale crayon marks were still visible on the remaining glass. The carpet was covered with ankle-deep water... and squirming lobsters were everywhere.
As for Edward and Alphonse, the soaked-to-the-skin boys were finding out the hard way that the string had come loose from a number of the lobsters' claws.
Aunt Pinako didn't get her seafood dinner that day. The Elrics and the Rockbells were summarily banned for life from the restaurant.
They didn't do any shopping on the way home, either - except for some dry clothes for Ed and Al.
It took a week for all of the claw-pinch marks to go away. On the other hand, paying off the damages by means of afternoon chores in Pinako's workshop took a lot longer than that.
Six lobsters were never accounted for. Not counting the small one that was accounted for back in Resembool the next day, when Mother went to clean the boys' suits...
Which was how Aunt Pinako got her seafood dinner, after all.
2010 Jordanna Morgan