Title- - Tangled Web
Disclaimer - not mine. All rights belong to Ms Arakawa
Rating - FRT
Characters/Pairing- Roy/Riza, Ed/Win, Al/OC
Timeline/Spoilers - future fic and contains spoilers right up to the very end
Warning - violence but no more than the manga,
Summary - Father and Bradley were defeated but not everyone has gone quietly into that good night. Someone thinks Ed and Al were responsible for the death of General Raven and is out for revenge.
Author's Note- Originally this was started for evil_little_dog and Mjules for the holidays. I thought they'd enjoy where this story will go eventually. It was adapted and completed for Fmabigbang evil_little_dog for the beta. THANK YOU to the lovely art I received from my artists, Seeshelle & Yoporock. I'm so happy with it all.
Author's Note #2 - This is alternative reality. I started it two years ago long before we knew Roy's exact relation to the Madam so that is different. Also, when this was started, I had no idea what would really happen with everyone at the end of the manga so there are some obvious deviations.
"Thanks, Al, for coming with me," Winry said, stepping into the newest Resembool clothing shop. She tried to get the door shut before the autumn wind whipped in leaves. "I can't believe your brother wouldn't come. He's such a…"
"Jerk? You can't believe Brother didn't want to shop?" Al's gold eyes twinkled. "Are we talking about the same Ed?"
Winry snorted, shrugging out of her jacket and handing it to Al. "I know he's an idiot. This wasn't just about shopping."
Al shook his head. He'd known the invitation had been a romantic overture but Ed was dense. He'd always thought that Ed had ignored the sensual, emotional aspects of life in order to concentrate fully on restoring their bodies, but now that they had succeeded – at least on Al's part – Ed still didn't seem to notice. Al found himself siding with Mustang; Ed was dumb as a stump about romance. "I know."
"So I'll treat you to lunch, Al," Winry said, smiling softly.
"You don't need to do that. I wanted to go for a good walk." Al glanced at the stout cane he still needed to use as his muscles slowly strengthened. The handle was currently shaped like a dragon in flight. "I just wish Ed would quit transmuting my cane."
"I did notice you gave up on setting it back the way it should be." Winry grinned.
"He just keeps changing it to the scary things he sees in his head." Al sighed. There were times, upon seeing Ed's 'art,' that he really had to wonder about his older brother's sanity or lack thereof. Add that to Ed's reluctance, or whatever it was, to notice Winry practically under his nose, and Al decided then and there his brother was nuts.
"You can wait over there." Winry pointed to the one chair near the dressing room. He always assumed that one lonely yet ubiquitous chair was reserved for the poor sot getting dragged along shopping to appease his girlfriend.
Al dutifully claimed it. He didn't really even mind clothes shopping. Ed should have known better, really, instead of acting like Winry wanted to boil him in oil. It was fun seeing Winry in new outfits, and even more fun imagining her changing into them. He glanced back at the room, his imagination catching fire.
"You girlfriend looks like she's enjoying my selection."
Al startled at the sound of a feminine voice in his ear. He looked up into a set of very dark, almond-shaped eyes. The young woman smiled at him, her long, straight black hair flowing down to her very shapely hips. She was one of the most exotic and delicate women he had ever seen. She reminded him of Ran Fan or Mei, only shapelier. "Oh, Winry isn't my girlfriend, more like a sister." Al knew that Winry loved Ed and vice versa, even if they were both dense about it. Al cared for Winry, but he didn't love her like that. He could have, maybe, if not for his brother. This was one battle he'd gladly lose to Ed.
"Oh." The shop keep's eyes lit up and she gazed at him with such interest, Al blushed. "I'm Snowdrop Winthrop. I know, I know, my parents hated me." She laughed. "You can call me Snow. I just moved here."
"Alphonse Elric. You have a very nice shop."
"Thank you." Snowdrop gestured to her stock. "I hope to get some of the locally woven wool sweaters to sell in Central, too. My sister has a shop there."
"That's a very good idea." Al hoped he didn't sound like an eager puppy. Pretty women didn't usually talk to him, but to be fair, he had been nothing but empty armor for so long and armor was oppressive. And having spent months in Resembool, Al was reminded that pretty women often didn't remain unattached in his home town for long.
Snowdrop smiled at him. She had a very nice smile, Al decided. "I hope so. I'd better go help your friend."
"Of course." Al snuck a book out of the lightweight autumn jacket he wore. He had planned ahead for just this event. Winry could take her time and he wouldn't be bored. He glanced up every so often when she called his name and Al would give his opinion on the outfit she was modeling while giving some thought on how said clothing had been drawn up over her skin. Ed didn't have a clue what he was missing.
"So, she's really not your girlfriend?" Snowdrop remarked, coming back over to him as Winry went to change back into her own clothes. She didn't look like she believed him entirely. Had he watched Winry a little too closely?
"No." Al shut his book, smiling up at her.
Snowdrop rested her hands on her hips. "I can't believe that of a cute guy like you."
Al flushed. "Thanks. I don't have a girlfriend, period."
"That's even harder to believe," Snowdrop said and Al's face turned a deeper shade of ruby. "Would you like to go to lunch with me?"
Al's eyes widened. He hadn't expected that. His brain and mouth froze for a moment before he pried it open enough to say, "That would be nice, though my brother doesn't let me out of his sight much." He frowned, realizing how weird that sounded. "I've been very ill so Ed's a bit overprotective."
To his surprise, Snowdrop didn't seem particularly put out by that confession. "I'm sorry to hear you were so sick." Her dark eyes flicked to his cane as if wondering what role that might play. "I've a friend who works in town. Maybe he'd like her company."
Al tried not to laugh at the idea of Ed out on a double date, but it was such a ludicrous suggestion that he couldn't help himself. He held up his hands, apologetically. "Somehow, I don't see my brother doing that. Then again, I was lucky enough to escape with Winry. He could surprise me." Al decided not to enlighten Snowdrop on how the lunch might go; them trying to eat and talk, Ed glaring and swearing. "I'd love to go regardless of what he does."
"Can I call you after you talk to your brother?" Her enthusiasm made Al's pulse jump.
Al couldn't help beaming. "Sure. I'm staying with the Rockbells. The operator can put you through. We're living there right now with Winry and her grandmother."
"Oh, aren't you from Resembool?" Surprise splashed across her face.
Al shrugged. "Originally, but our house burned down a few years ago. Not really sure where we'll end up in the long run."
"That's very sad." Snowdrop looked up, hearing the dressing room door open, her long hair swinging. Al liked how glossy it was. He wanted to touch it and see if it was as silky as it looked. "I think your friend is ready to buy."
Al went up to the register with Winry so he could say goodbye to Snowdrop and promise to call her at the shop with when he'd be ready for lunch. After a brief argument with Winry about carrying her packages for her – he lost – they headed out. The wind blew briskly, kicking up multicolored leaves and tugged at their hair with angry fingers.
"You liked her," Winry said lightly before they had gotten to the end of the block.
Al blushed. "Yeah, I did. She's pretty. She wants me to go to lunch."
Winry looked at him levelly. "You said 'yes,' I trust."
"Sort of. You know Ed will fuss. That's why I'll be calling her."
"Al, don't tell your brother I said this, but you can do what you want." The seriousness of Winry's expression surprised Al. She nudged him with a shopping bag. "You don't always have to listen to him."
Al laughed. "I know, but it'll be less traumatic all around if I pretend he has some input in this."
Winry shook her head but didn't protest. She knew the truth. Al glanced back toward the store. His first real date, he couldn't wait. Hopefully, Ed wouldn't be a real pain about this. At least their father was back in Central working with President Armstrong and Mr. Mustang. Al wasn't sure he was ready to hear what his father might think of him dating.
X X X
Snowdrop headed into the small apartment above her store, a sharp contrast to the spacious place she grew up in. It reminded her more of the squalid places she lived in with her real mother and her horrible stepfather. She squeezed her eyes shut against the memories.
She didn't want to take this apartment, let alone have to share the small space with someone, but Resembool offered little in the way of housing. Apparently people didn't move to this bucolic place. You were born here and lived in your family house until you married or even after. Everyone knew everyone else. It was a shame the client couldn't wait until the Elrics returned to Central. She and her companion, Belle, would have been less noticeable there. So far, she was the only one with Xingese blood that she had seen.
Snowdrop didn't know who or what had been in this apartment before her but they must have been a fan of color, too much of it, or maybe color-blind. The living room had once been an eye-searing yellow, now cracked and peeling in places. The cramped bathroom was the same pink as tincture of bismuth for sour stomachs. Her bedroom was orange and purple and Belle's was more of the virulent yellow and hounds tooth wallpaper. Someone owed them both for putting up with this. She wouldn't have expected such a place in a buttoned down little town. Snowdrop considered it was possible that this apartment had last been occupied by an artist who went mad.
Flopping on the couch, she picked up a book but didn't try to read it yet. She wanted to relax a little first. Snowdrop wondered, not for the first time, if coming here was a mistake. Her brother always said she wasn't made for this, that her strengths lay elsewhere. She had volunteered in part to prove her brother wrong and Snowdrop was proud to get the assignment. It could be a very important one, a little scary even.
Snowdrop just wondered why she had unexpected misgivings about this. Someone could get hurt, that had been drilled into her since she was young, however, it was taking on more meaning now. She opened her book, trying to lose herself in the volume of Xingese alchemy her brother had given her. Snowdrop didn't have his skill with it, but she enjoyed what she could do nonetheless.
The front door opened, Belle hurried in, shivering. Her wavy blond hair rippled. "The temperature is dropping." She sat down opposite Snowdrop. "How did it go at the shop?"
"Better than expected." Snow sat upright. "Of all people to walk in, Alphonse Elric came with a friend, that Rockbell girl from the files. I didn't even have to start investigating to find a way to get closer to him."
Belle leaned forward, eager for more news. "Amazing. What's he like? Do you think it will be hard to work your way closer to him?"
"Not hard at all. I have a date with Alphonse." Snowdrop wrinkled her nose. "I think."
Belle rolled her eyes. "How could you not know?" She flopped onto the old overstuffed chair, yanking the afghan down over herself.
"He's been ill and his brother has him on a tight leash," Snow set her book aside. "I'm trying to get them to go out with the both of us but Alphonse didn't seem to think his brother would go for that."
"Well, so far the older one hasn't set foot in the bar I'm working at. Our client said Elric was smart but very odd, maybe from drinking. I'm thinking the client is wrong about the drinking." Belle pried off her shoes, fanning her toes. Snowdrop figured her feet probably hurt from standing on them all day. "It does sound like he's odd," she said dubiously. "I hear he screams a lot and has this insane smile."
"I haven't got a good sense of him yet since Al hasn't told me much about his brother yet other than he's overprotective." Snowdrop shrugged. "I guess we'll see."
"That is our job." Belle offered up a flat smile.
Snowdrop nodded, trying not to smile. This was her first job like this. How could she not be excited? Her earlier apprehension dissipated in the storm of exhilaration doing something like this generated.