Standing in front of the innocent-looking yellow house, Joseph Mustang began to seriously doubt his decision to get automail. He unconsciously clutched the stump of his left hand, staring intently at the front door. Maybe he could just get a regular plastic prosthetic; he had heard they weren't nearly as painful, and the recovery time next to nothing compared to automail—
No. Automail was a thousand times better, or so he had been told. I want this. I—
"Are you going to knock?" his father asked rather impatiently from behind him, startling the seventeen year old out of his thoughts. He quickly raised his remaining hand and rapped tentatively at the door. Footsteps came from inside and a blonde girl a couple of years younger than him opened the door, smiling. "Can I help you?"
"Uh…I'm Joseph Mustang, and these are my parents, we had an appointment…?"
"Oh, yeah! It's nice to meet you all. I'm Winry Rockbell. If you would come in, I can call Granny in and we can get started…" She stepped aside and allowed the Mustangs into the house. It was cozy enough, Joseph decided, warm and inviting. Winry showed them to a sitting room before running to an adjacent room, yelling to "Granny."
Meanwhile, Joseph occupied himself with a bulletin board nearby. It was full of pictures of what looked like a younger Winry and two blonde boys. Her brothers? But they were all so close in age…
His parents, meanwhile, were glaring around the room, apparently trying to find fault with it. Joseph could see nothing incriminating about the house, and apparently they couldn't either; they sat back on the couch with a huff, waiting for the Rockbells to reappear.
After a moment or so, Winry returned with an incredibly short old lady. The two of them sat in the chairs across from Joseph and his parents, looking friendly. "I'm Pinako Rockbell," the woman introduced herself. Her tone was businesslike, formal. "I understand that you need a new left hand?"
"Er…yeah," he said, surprised, wondering how she had known, before remembering that he had called earlier in the week. "If it's not too much trouble…"
"Give me one good reason for him to get automail," his mother demanded, cutting to the chase quickly. She and his father had been the source of most of Joseph's apprehension; they were dead-set against having a chunk of metal attached to their baby boy. It's my hand! he wanted to scream at them, but of course they never would have listened.
"There are plenty of reasons," Winry said, surprise flitting across her face. "It's like getting your limb back, nearly, and—"
"But is it worth it? The surgery and rehab? Especially just for a hand! He could get along well enough without it—"
"If he wants to go through all of that, it's his choice," Mrs Rockbell said sharply, looking over at Joseph. "You do want automail, yes? That's why you called?"
"Of course I do!" he said indignantly, waving dismissively at his parents and glaring at them. "They just don't think I can handle it!"
"He's only seventeen!" his mother said defensively. "I've heard grown men can't handle this surgery, and the rehab is horrible! Why would anyone go through with this procedure?"
"So they can live normal lives," the old lady shot back, looking a little irritated. "Even if you get a plastic prosthetic, the motor skills wouldn't be nearly as refined. If you ever want to use your left hand again, automail is the only way to go."
"But he's so young…!" his mother said weakly in retaliation, obviously losing steam. Joseph found himself very grateful to Mrs Rockbell for supporting him. But then, it's also more money for her.
"We've had younger," Winry chimed in, waving her hand. "An eleven year old came in a few years ago. He was the first person I worked on myself, actually…"
"Eleven?" Joseph's father asked faintly, looking at them in horror. "Why would you ever agree to put automail on someone that young?"
"He wouldn't take no for an answer." Winry shook her head. "And, he's got much more than you'll ever need. If you put it in perspective, it really won't be too bad. If Ed could do it—"
"Oi! Winry! Where are you?"
Pinako sighed, and Winry made to stand up, looking irritated. "Speak of the devil…"
Joseph sat up a little straighter in spite of himself. He wanted to see this person who had supposedly survived automail surgery at the age of eleven. The thought seemed ridiculous to him, but the Rockbells had no reason to lie…
Strangely uneven footsteps echoed from the adjacent kitchen, and finally two figures appeared in the doorway. The first, immediately visible, was the man in the enormous suit of armor. Towering at what had to be at least seven and a half feet, the man was distracting enough that Joseph barely noticed the boy leaning precariously against his side. He wondered at this situation for a moment before he saw that the boy didn't seem to have a left foot. I thought Winry said he already had the automail…?
"Oh. Uh…hey," the blonde boy said, pushing away from what could only have been his father and hopping on his own to a nearby chair. Joseph suddenly recognized him: he was an older version of one of the boys on the bulletin board. "Hope I'm not interrupting much."
"No, the Mustangs are just here for an automail hand," Winry said, gesturing to them. She threw the boy a black look all the same.
The boy's eyes snapped to the three of them in interest, and he grinned. "Related to Colonel Roy Mustang?" he asked casually.
"Uh, yeah. He's my cousin," Joseph said in surprise. Sure, he knew Colonel was a pretty high rank in the military, and it helped that Roy was the Flame Alchemist, but how would this little kid know of him?
"I thought he said all his family lived in the west. This is pretty far away just for automail," he said lightly, stretching out an arm and a leg. Joseph realized with a jolt of surprise that most of his left leg and all of his right arm seemed to be absent.
"Roy was the one who referred us here, actually," Joseph's father said. "He said one of his best subordinates had automail from here, so we figured it had to be a good shop."
The boy looked vaguely surprised at this pronouncement. A high voice that Joseph couldn't place said, "See, Brother? He doesn't hate you!"
"Who's that?" Joseph's mother asked, looking around wildly for the source of the childish voice.
"Uh…over here, ma'am," the armored man waved as he sat down next to his—brother? What a large age gap! But the man's voice was so high…Joseph realized with a start that that was probably why he wore the armor: to make up for his lost masculinity. But it seemed pointless to wear such a thing in the obviously peaceful town of Risembool.
"Oh," she replied, looking thrown off, then turned to the blonde boy. "Well, I thought Mrs Rockbell said you already had the automail? Where is it?"
"It broke," he said, somehow anticipating and ducking a lethal-looking whack from Winry.
"This stuff breaks?" Joseph's mother nearly shrieked, and the boy rolled his eyes.
"Not usually. Ed just doesn't take good care of it," Winry cut in, glaring some more at her friend. "He gets into…dangerous situations."
Joseph wondered what sort of danger a small kid like him could possibly get into.
"What could break a steel arm?" Joseph's father demanded of the boy, who looked totally unconcerned by the man's threatening tone.
"Let's just say I work for Colonel Ba—Mustang."
"You're in the military?" Joseph asked incredulously. "But you're so young! You can't—"
Ed's eyes narrowed ominously, but before he could speak, his brother put a hand on his shoulder. "Calm down. You know everyone has that reaction when they hear you're in the military—"
Ed shrugged off the hand and continued glaring at the three of them. Joseph's mother, however, looked very angry. "How dare you disrespect your elders like that?"
He raised an eyebrow, obviously working very hard not to punch her. "The hell are you talking about?"
"Your older brother! You just ignore him like—"
Ed growled again, and the armored man had to stop him from standing up once more. "I'm the older brother, dammit! Al's the younger!" the blonde boy spat out, glaring murderously at the Mustangs. Joseph cowered a bit in spite of himself. "How many times? For Truth's sake…"
Joseph could only stare. The person in the armor—more than two feet taller than Ed—was the younger brother?
"How old are you?" Mr Mustang asked in a strangled voice.
"I'm fourteen. Brother's fifteen," the man—boy—named Al answered. "Really," he added at their disbelieving faces.
Joseph's only thought: Well, that explains his voice.
"But you're not here to talk about Ed and Al, right?" Winry's cheerful voice cut in. Joseph jumped; he had almost forgotten that the Rockbells were there.
"Right. Well, I don't think we're interested. Thank you for your time," Mrs Mustang said, making to stand up. Joseph growled, and he was surprised to hear that he wasn't the only one.
"You just need a hand, right?" Ed asked Joseph. He nodded quickly. "Why not go through with it?"
"The product isn't worth the trouble," Mr Mustang shot back icily. Ed's scowl deepened.
"Are you happy living the rest of your life without it?" he directed at Joseph.
Truth be told, the boy had no idea what to think anymore. He had almost been convinced by his parents that automail was not worth the effort, but this one little boy was beginning to change his mind. "No, I do want the automail," he decided loudly, glaring at his parents until they sat back down.
"What have you done with it, then?" his father asked Ed rather unkindly. The boy glared right back, his eyes burning with anger.
"I moved forward. There are things I have to do, and Winry's automail is helping me. I wouldn't be here without it. Just ask the Colonel." His face suddenly became very solemn. "It's worth it, I promise. And with just a hand, it won't be nearly as bad. I've got a shoulder and thigh port, and if I could do it four years ago, you can do one little wrist now, right?"
None of the Mustangs had anything to say to that. "So buy Winry's and Granny's automail. Or I'll come out west and kick your asses." He stood up precariously, leaning on the chair for balance. "Winry, you got any pie?"
Al stood up resignedly as well, bowing slightly to the Mustangs before walking with his brother to the door. The blonde boy had a strangely familiar symbol on the back of his coat…maybe Joseph had seen it in one of Roy's books…?
Suddenly, it clicked.
"Wait—Ed—you're not the Fullmetal Alchemist, are you?" It seemed ridiculous, but if he really did work for Roy…he was the right age, and with the automail, his name made sense…
The boy turned around at the doorway and grinned almost demonically back at him. "Yep, that's me! Shows how good the automail is, huh? It's the best out there!" And he disappeared through the doorway.
Joseph stared after him, rather stunned. He knew, from their lack of response, that his parents had similar reactions. Pinako cleared her throat loudly, bringing the three of them back to the present. "If you're not interested, then by all means, go," she said, gesturing to the door.
His parents hesitated. "Maybe we'll hear a bit more about it," Mrs Mustang said slowly. A barking laugh carried in from the kitchen. Joseph knew that he had won.
Hero of the people, indeed.