Title: Too Many Cooks
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Winry, the Elric brothers, and the Tringham brothers.
Summary: Winry's kitchen is besieged by rival alchemists.
Disclaimer: They belong to the genius of Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Letter X in my alphabet fic meme is for A_Big_Apple, who prompted me with the Elrics, the Tringhams, and xanthan gum. I astonished myself by knowing what I was going to do with the stuff five minutes after I read up on it. (I do apologize for the fact that Al and Fletcher don't have a more prominent presence in the story, but they had the good sense to be afraid of Winry, and refused to get involved in their brothers' foolishness.)
"So, uh... how did you guys meet?" I asked, not entirely sure I wanted to know the answer, as I watched three teenage boys and one huge suit of armor unpacking a pair of suitcases in the guest room.
"Well, the short version is that those two broke into private property to spy on our research."
"Hey, you two had stolen our names to work on that research - and by the way, you were poisoning an entire town!"
Okay, too much information. A simple We met while studying alchemy would do... Well, actually, coming from Edward, it would be a useless, evasive answer that drove me crazy, but at least it wouldn't have made me feel any more foreboding about the next few days.
The phone call Granny and I got from Ed that morning was the first shock of the day, because Ed never calls. He just shows up on our doorstep with his automail smashed to pieces. The last time that happened was only two months ago, so if he'd already gone and busted himself again, I was ready to start plotting a murder.
But then he dropped the second bombshell: he didn't need fixing. He was just coming back for a nice, quiet weekend in the country.
And oh, by the way, could we have the spare room ready - because he and Alphonse were bringing a couple of "friends" with them.
Obviously, something was up, but I knew better than to ask any questions over the phone while Ed was in one of his paranoid moods. I just agreed to meet them at the train station, and spent the next several hours wondering what kind of friends the boys were going to drag home. Considering that weepy muscleman of a State Alchemist they brought around before, I didn't know whether to hide all our sharp tools or stock up on tissues.
So it was the third shock of the day when Ed and Al stepped off the train with a pair of blond-headed boys about their own age.
Ed managed to introduce me to the Tringhams with halfway decent manners. Russell was the older one, tall and slim and wearing a permanent smirk that he could have learned from Ed. His little brother Fletcher reminded me of how Al used to be, all big eyes and shy smiles. They were both so utterly normal-looking that I was surprised when Al told me they really were alchemists, after all.
It was only after we walked out of the train station that Ed relaxed a little, and started giving me the real reason for this visit. Apparently he and Al had gotten their hands on coded research notes that were written by some dead alchemist. The Tringhams used to know the guy from their work in agricultural alchemy, so Ed and Al had enlisted their help in cracking the code and studying the information. Now the four of them were planning to hole up in the peace and quiet of Resembool while they worked on it.
What Ed didn't say was that he didn't want his superiors in the military to know about those notes - but I got the hint. And it was something I really wanted to think about as little as possible.
In spite of how blithe Ed was about the whole brilliant plan, it became obvious within five minutes that Al must have talked him into involving the Tringhams, and then only by some kind of miracle. Because the whole way home, Ed and Russell...
Well. It wasn't cat-and-dog. It was more like two alleycats, facing off over the last fish head in a trashcan.
And on top of that, I was pretty sure Russell was flirting with me.
I already had a headache by the time we got home. Which, in hindsight, just made it stupid to ask any more questions - but I never learn, do I?
"Are these the notes?" I asked, idly flipping through the thick sheaf of papers Ed had left on the desk. It looked harmless enough. Disguised as a manuscript for a book about botany, it was filled with sketches of flowers and long scientific names. No one would ever have guessed it had anything to do with alchemy at all.
Halfway perched on the edge of the desk, Ed jerked the notes away from my hands with a glare. "Don't touch."
Right. Paranoid Ed again. That meant those notes were going to be treated as if they might conceivably have the potential to destroy the world.
Which, you know, I really hoped they didn't.
I folded my arms and glared back at Ed. "So you're going to do nothing but huddle over these papers for the next few days?"
"That's what we're here for," he muttered laconically.
Russell cut in with that charming smile of his. "Well, Ed may find his hometown boring, but it's a new place to me - and I'd love to see more of it while we're here. If you have the time to show us around, I mean."
If he was trying to score points with me by making Ed's face turn that shade of red... Come to think of it, he might have been onto something.
"Of course!" I answered cheerfully. "Not that there's much to see... But with such hot weather, we could go down to the pond tomorrow for a swim." The peak of summer in Resembool left a thick, muggy heat clinging to the hills, and the pond was a perfect place to cool off.
Also, I thought it might help me decide whether or not to nip that flirting thing in the bud - depending on the reaction I got from Russell when he saw me in a bathing suit. (Or vice versa...)
"That sounds like fun!" Fletcher chirped, as Al chuckled and nodded enthusiastically. Of course, he couldn't let the blood seal inside his armor get wet, but I knew he still wasn't one to turn down an afternoon of relaxing by the pond.
Ed growled and made his this-is-not-funny face at us, even though it really was hilarious. But he knew he was too far outnumbered to argue, so he just shrugged helplessly and switched tracks to more important things. "What's for dinner?"
"Granny's fixing a lamb roast," I said, ignoring his tone of voice that was as short as he was. "And I'm making my apple pie for dessert."
Ed's expression brightened a little at that, but Russell frowned.
"Look, I don't want to spoil anybody's plans here, but there's something you should know. Fletcher's allergic to gluten. He can't eat anything made with regular wheat flour." He affectionately ruffled the hair of his blushing little brother.
I frowned. "Well - "
"So we can use alchemy to extract the gluten," Ed interrupted. Then it was his turn to frown. "But you'd need something else to act as a binder for the dough..."
"Xanthan gum," Russell said promptly. "That's mostly what's used."
"Okay then, we can pull together some of that. Xanthan gum is a thickener in a lot of sauces and dressings, right?" Ed unhitched his hip from the edge of the desk and started for the doorway.
Sensing trouble, I went after him. "Ed, really, I can just go into the village and get - "
"Hey, no need to bother! I'll have you a batch of one-hundred-percent gluten-free flour in a few minutes."
"If you're expecting my brother to eat it, I'm not leaving the job to amateurs!" Russell sniped from behind me, as he, Al, and Fletcher followed us out into the hallway.
"Who're you callin' so tiny he'll blow away in a breeze?"
Yeah... I really should've seen that coming.
We reached the kitchen amidst Ed and Russell's hail of insults, and Granny looked up from the pots on the stove with the same expression as a beachcomber facing a tsunami. She quickly yanked off her apron and tossed it at me.
"Wouldn't dream of stealing any of the fun from you, Winry," she said glibly - already through the doorway and fading fast.
Meanwhile, Ed's familiarity with the kitchen gave him the advantage over Russell, and he attacked the spice cupboard where he knew we kept most of our cooking sauces. Russell went for the more obvious target of the icebox, searching for salad dressings.
Al and Fletcher very sensibly sat down at the table, and became carefully neutral spectators.
"What is it with you two? Why does everything have to be a contest?" I snapped at Ed and Russell, but they both either ignored me or didn't hear me. The latter was seriously possible, as obsessed as they were with ingredient labels at that moment.
"It's no use, Winry," Al informed me resignedly. "They've made each other crazy from the instant they saw each other. Actually, before that, in Ed's case."
I stared at Al for a moment. Then I sank down onto the chair beside him and propped my chin on my hand, stupidly mesmerized by the flashes of blue and green alchemic light that started sparking in the kitchen.
Ed called out over his shoulder. "Hey, I just remembered... Winry, is there any spare toothpaste in the house?"
He dodged the empty decanter I aimed at his head. It broke against the opposite wall, but that was okay; I knew that without even being asked to, one or another of the boys would fix it.
Because alchemists are crazy idiots, but sometimes they do come in handy for certain things.
It was almost midnight when I finally got a pie on the table, made with the highly suspicious stuff that Ed and Russell promised me was perfectly safe, alchemized gluten-free flour. I knew it tasted a little off, but nobody else complained, and nobody - including Fletcher - ended up having any bad reactions to it.
Finally, after everyone had gone to bed, I laid awake and plotted my revenge.
In the morning, I went down to the kitchen bright and early. I set bacon and eggs to sizzling on the stove, and began filling a picnic basket with sandwiches and snacks.
Awake as always, Al came to help as soon as he heard dishes rattling, and Fletcher joined us a few minutes later. Once the basket was packed and breakfast was almost ready, they sat at the table, quietly comparing some ideas about those research notes. Apparently Al had been going over them again all night.
Their older brothers continued to slumber in blissful ignorance upstairs... that is, until the kitchen chores were done, and the scent of food had started to waft through the house.
Finally, stomping on the stairs and a full-voiced argument forewarned us that the lazy bums were coming. The catty commentary got louder as it descended on us, and then they appeared in the doorway, jamming themselves through it side-by-side like some kind of comic-opera duo.
I couldn't help myself; I was forced to choke back a laugh as I quickly turned to the eggs on the stove, stiffening my shoulders in my best pose of cold, silent fury.
"Good morning, Miss Rockbell," Russell said smoothly.
"Hey Winry... What's for breakfast?" Ed poked his nose into the picnic basket. "Is this for lunch at the pond?"
Ed couldn't have given me a more perfect cue. I rounded ferociously on the boys, glaring at them, my spatula held high like a scimitar - and had to stifle another snicker when they both physically shrank back.
"Al and Fletcher and I are going to the pond. You two are going shopping!" I dug into my apron pocket, yanked out a folded piece of paper, and shoved it at Ed's chest. "Here."
With a pricelessly dumb expression, Ed unfolded the paper, and stared at the litany of kitchen products written on it. "What's this?"
"It's a list of all the stuff you ruined last night, by taking it apart in your alchemy frenzy." I waved the spatula threateningly at them. "Neither of you had better show your face at the pond until you come home with everything on that list. You got that?"
Russell and Ed both backed away. They wouldn't call it cowering - but we know better, don't we?
The boys slunk away to the table to join their little brothers, who promptly got berated because they were struggling not to laugh. I turned back to the stove to hide my own smirk, filled with a happy glow of satisfaction.
I still got it.
Fletcher, Al, and I had a great time at the pond that afternoon; but Edward and Russell never did show up there.
When they finally straggled home just before dark, arms laden with grocery bags, they both looked as if they'd been dragged through the fields for a mile or two. Ed had a beauty of a bruise on his left cheek, and Russell was limping on his right knee.
They claimed they had trouble helping one of the neighbors with a cart stuck in the mud - even though it hadn't rained in days.
And for the rest of the weekend, they were desperately nice to each other... at least in front of me.
2010 Jordanna Morgan