Beginning: Where Things Get Established, Mostly
Winry smashed the door with her wrench. It didn't do any damage against either the wrench or the barrier she was attacking.
"Yoki, you've got five seconds to let me out of here!" she hollered and punctuated the demand with a bang against the narrow slit that allowed her to see into the hallway.
"That won't do at all, Miss Winry." The view of the hallway was replaced by the much less appealing one of Lieutenant Yoki. She couldn't see much of his face, but the eyes made it evident he was wearing his perpetually snooty expression. "You haven't fulfilled your end of the bargain."
"It won't get fulfilled no matter what!" She glared and wondered if she could get his eyes if she jammed her wrench through the slot in the door. Even if she could, it wouldn't be an ideal diplomatic move. "Look, I was trying to build up my reputation with a little urban legend. I can't really - "
"You're too modest, my dear. I have complete faith in your abilities."
"I CAN'T - "
"Shouting won't convince me. I can always tell when someone is lying." Yoki's face disappeared as a strip of metal was drawn across the opening. "You have until tomorrow morning, dear lady."
"Oh!" She attacked the door again, incoherently fuming at the obtuseness of the man. It did no good, his footsteps and those of his coyly smug bodyguard tapped into silence.
She kicked the door with no better results than before. Worse in fact; now her foot hurt. Ignoring it, she paced rapidly, trying feverishly to think. What did she have to work with? She sprang over to the haphazard pile in the room and dug through determinedly. Nothing immediately presented itself as useful. Of course it wouldn't have been conducive if they locked her in a cell then gave her the means of breaking out of it. They had left her a wrench, but the hinges were on the opposite side of the door.
She examined the one way out, trying to determine if there were any weaknesses she could tear into or open spaces she could manipulate with tools. It was very old fashioned. It was locked by a bar on the outside and a sheet of welded metal extended from the frame on the non-hinged side, which meant she couldn't slip anything into the space between the door and the frame.
If there was one thing she was tired of, it was asking herself why she had ever made that ridiculous claim in the first place. That didn't prevent her conscious and sub-conscious self from screaming the question at each other as if the boast hadn't been made with the complicit consent of both. The likelihood, the odds, the options for ways this situation could end well had pretty much teetered off the edge of the precipice of oblivion.
Winry glanced up at the one naked bulb harshly illuminating the room. Unless she felt she'd be able to construct something in the dark, using parts from that wouldn't be an option. Who would have thought that light would have been more imprisoning than darkness? It also ensured that she clearly saw what happened next.
Blue light crackled on one wall of her cell and she sprang to the opposite one. Her sense of self-preservation ended there however, and she watched mutely and unmoving as the wall pulled back and reformed like clay. A small, long haired creature crawled in. She was shocked into saying the first obvious conclusion her mind came to.
"My, what a strange little man you are."
The creature bounced to its feet indignantly.
"YOU CALLING ME SHORT! I'VE SEEN FLEAS WITH MORE HEIGHT ON THEM THAN YOU, YOU PERCEPTIVELY CHALLENGED PIECE OF WORK!"
My, what good voice projection he had.
She stared at the fuming and bristling...boy. Huh, he looked about the same age she was. Not that she considered herself a little girl, she was an established automail mechanic, almost. Someone with the height he had didn't really proclaim 'man' -
"You just gonna stand there like an idiot or you gonna apologize?"
What was more important than this individual who had just invaded her cell was how he had arrived in the first place. With a delighted exclamation she darted toward the new hole in the wall. Escape!
There was a sharp clap and the hole was suddenly whole again, lanced with fading light and completely destroying her anticipation of vacating the premises.
"I didn't come here to help criminals dodge their sentences."
"Criminal!" she flared indignantly, giving the wall a passing poke with her wrench as she faced him.
"You're in jail, you did something."
"I'm totally innocent," she said haughtily.
"Whatever," he scoffed. "I don't do random favors for people. Exchange has to have a balance."
Exchange has to be equivalent, suddenly what should have clicked as soon as she saw the wall reform itself fit together. "You're in the Alchemy Guild."
He puffed up, which still didn't succeed in making him look any bigger. "Sure am, and I'm not about to blacken their name by aiding a worthless probation offender."
"I wasn't on probation! I've never even been arrested."
"How'd you get here then?" he drawled sarcastically. "Doesn't really matter to me anyway. What I'm looking for obviously isn't here, so I'll just leave you to your debt to society." He flicked his right hand dismissively and started walking to the opposite wall.
When he moved that arm, there was a subtle clank and whirr, and Winry latched onto it with a zipping glint in her eye. She bounded after him. He started, but she clamped onto his right arm and in one movement had the scarlet jacket sleeve yanked off his wrist and all the way up to his shoulder.
It was gorgeous. Gleaming, smooth, cool, masterfully crafted; an entire right arm of automail.
"You're fast," he said faintly over the shoulder she'd wrenched out of the way to get a good look at the arm.
"So bright!" She barely cared that she was gushing aloud. "Look at the way the elbow glides in the joint, the exact proportions of the forearm! It's so shiny! How far up does it go?"
She tried to further inch back the fabric to examine the port and determine exactly how much organic material had been replaced with automail.
With a twisting of hydraulic joints, the arm slipped out of her adoring grasp. She looked up, feeling miffed.
"Get off, you tactile - " he was scrambling back, his feet colliding fairly solidly with the floor in an effort to get away. They were making slightly different sounds on impact.
"- oriented psycho - ack!" He uttered a squawk trying to jerk back as she gripped his left ankle. She lifted the leg off the floor and he was left momentarily flailing for balance on one leg while she ripped off his boot-style shoe.
"Your leg too! Not everyone would put this much definition onto a foot, all the toes are individualized! It's been replaced up to your knee, past your knee - "
The leg flew up out of her hold, and she blinked for a moment at how he had eluded her before realizing that rather than fighting gravity he must have just worked with it and bent completely backwards before flipping himself away from her. Understanding didn't mean that she could actually see what he was about, and all she saw of him was a swiftly moving blur before he suddenly settled with both feet against the wall. He hopped to the floor and cornered himself between two walls, scowling darkly.
What annoying agility.
"Automail junky," he muttered.
"Alchemy freak!" she shot back, because she didn't know enough about him to come up with a more apt insult. Then, just as before when realization took her longer than it should have, something clicked into place as she longingly scanned the metal that clothing hadn't yet slipped over again.
"Hey, I recognize that style." She started to rise from her kneel, but settled again when she saw him tense. "Did Pinako design your automail?"
"Yeah?" he affirmed with aggressive curiosity.
"Figures she'd get an order like that after I left," she grumbled.
"You know her?"
"She's my granny."
He gave her a blank stare, and then a cursory up and down look before saying decisively, "I don't see it."
"Being related to someone doesn't make you like them."
"I'll agree with you there," he snorted, while still seeming to convey that he'd grown bored. "I'll be sure to let her know about your current residence the next time I run into her."
"Wait, you're STILL just going to leave!"
"Obviously, why wouldn't I?"
"I know Pinako! She's my grandmother!"
"Don't you at least have any respect for her?"
"As someone said not too long ago, 'being related to someone doesn't make you like them'. Any towering virtues of hers don't automatically transfer to you. Besides, I wouldn't put it past her to have had some arrest-worthy patches in her life."
He was showing every indication of taking off again, and then she'd be left with her original pile of odds and ends in the middle of the room as her only means of making a break out. How could she get him to work with her, what did she have to bargain with? If she could get him to stay, it leveled the chances for a way to transmute the odds into evens in her favor. The Alchemy Guild was founded upon the principle of equivalent exchange, what kind of deal could she swing?
"If you won't help because of my connection to someone you trust," she said slowly as her plan coalesced into cohesion and he gave a snide grunt that confirmed what she'd just said, "how about a trade?"
His stance unwound slightly as he asked, "What kind of trade?"
"One that's equivalent."
"Toss me back my shoe and we'll count that as the exchange for hearing you out."
She lobbed it at him, and started outlining her idea while he slipped it back on. "I can service your automail and you can help me get out of here."
"I don't need any repairs, and there are plenty of non-incarcerated mechanics I could apply to if I did."
"Shows what you know, one-trick alchemist. Your ankle joint is getting gummy, your forearm needs to be opened up and cleaned out, and I don't know how you did it, but the ACL and PCL bands in your knee are respectively tighter and looser than they should be. That's just what I can tell from a quick once over."
"Now I just have a list of what needs attention. Why should I let you take care of it?"
Exasperation swirled in her gut, and she stood up despite how he tightened and eyed her suspiciously.
"Pinako is my grandmother, she's the one who trained me. I know her techniques, her style, how she puts automail together, and how she intends for it to work. Barring Granny Pinako herself, there is no one better to fix up your arm and leg than me."
Her eyes narrowed in satisfaction, she could tell he thought she'd made a valid point. He seemed to relax minutely, and leaned casually against the wall while studying her.
"Your entire stock of tools seems to constitute one wrench and a pile of scrap. That's not exactly par for the course for automail repairs."
"So what. If I tell you what they look like, you can transmute the tools I'd need, right?"
He exhaled and gave an, "I guess," that implied he was only answering affirmatively because it'd be an insult to his pride to deny his ability. "I'm still not busting you out of jail though."
"That's not what I had in mind," she smirked. "You can help me make good on the conditions I need to meet to be released."
"What kind of requirements are we talking about?"
She hesitated, trying to think of a way to favorably phrase what she wanted him to do, and the least ridiculous way to explain the admittedly ridiculous task she had inadvertently set for herself. Not completely inadvertently, she just hadn't expected anybody to take her literally.
"When I first came to this town, it was very important that I made a good impression," she said carefully, watching him to make sure they were on track so far.
Shoving his hands in his pockets, he glared at her impatiently.
"I wasn't established yet. There's pretty stiff competition from the mechanics around here, and I figured getting an edge in advertising couldn't hurt."
"You made some massively overblown statement about your abilities you can't actually follow through on," he summed up brusquely.
"It - well - essentially."
He gave a self-satisfied huff. "What kind of outrageous claim was it?"
"That I could make automail that was as gold."
A/N: This is purely for fun, and purely because several criticisms of the original fairy tale came to mind while I was reading it to a younger sibling. I couldn't decide if I thought it worked better for the characters of FMA or FFVII. In the end, I decided to do a version for both and see if one of them was wildly more popular than the other. Don't worry about skewing my results if you want to read both, I was just wondering if there would be a significant difference in the popularity of FMA vs FFVII. Both stories will have three chapters, following the beginning, middle, and end format.