"You have been working on that passage for a while now."
Kimblee smiled over his shoulder and touched a hand to the piano bench. The blond serving boy (he was small, but probably around the same age as Alphonse Elric if he were forced to guess) came to join him. Kimblee had heard him play the first night he'd spent in Drachma (it was the only entertainment General Crescendev could offer that appealed to him). The boy was very good; his fingers all but danced. He could certainly pick out a tune better than the alchemist, but could he compose? "It's because I don' t know how to conclude," Kimblee meandered back to answer the boy's observation. "This is a song detailing true events, and the last word has yet to be writing concerning its hero."
"Is not an old tale? You affect very old style of song."
"The songs of today are hardly suited to such heroic happenings. They're meant to be danced to or to occupy one's mind while one's hands are filled with some trivial task. Hardly the legend-transmitting lays of old."
"You are ambitious." The boy slid a finger over the keys too lightly to raise anything but dust. "...But I hear your lyrics. Golden boy with steel limbs has gone down into grave. ...Unless I misunderstand."
"No, you've comprehended beautifully." The boy spoke better Amestrian than any Drachman he had encountered outside of the top military brass. Most of the general's household help (indentured servants? The serfs had been emancipated- for whatever good it did them) spoke only Drachman. Kimblee's knowledge of the northern language was limited to what he had been able to teach himself from a covert operations-oriented Drachman to Amestrian pamphlet during his short trip across the border. There was little interaction between the two nations that was not of a military nature.
"Then what are choice after grave?"
"It is truly a sad thing, young man, that no one has ever told you the proper stories to acquaint you with some heroic alternatives to such a mundane end. You see, if this tale is to prove a proper tragedy and Edward Elric did die in that mineshaft, the reach of this story expands- how does the new reach his devoted younger brother? The young woman who loves him? There's a certain kind of pathos in concluding with Fullmetal dying alone, but I'd prefer to include the other casualties of such a tragedy."
"Perhaps I should not have brought up," the boy sighed.
"Well, it might not be a tragedy after all," Kimblee countered, "Our hero possesses a nearly unnatural amount of determination. He is strong, resourceful, and lucky. He could very well survive his wounds and rise from the cold soil that buried him."
"No, I should not have distracted. General Crescendev is wait for you."
"No one can hurry art," the alchemist shrugged as he rose from the piano bench. The boy stayed his hand from covering the keys. "Don't worry," Kimblee patted the tiny white fingers that held him back, "If my tardiness is remarked upon, rest assured that no one will blame you."
The blue-eyed boy's only response was to put the piano keys back to work. Kimblee strode off with confidence as the music swelled behind him. He would have liked to have spent more time with both Fullmetal and Miss Rockbell- they had strong ideals, skilled hands, and that exquisite brilliance that goes hand in hand with youth. ...It felt like an inestimatably long time since he'd been young.
At least he knew that neither of them were likely to be at Briggs when he accompanied Drachma in launching their attack. The odds were against him, but he still held out hope (distant as it was, a man could dream) of a repeat performance. From his own banter it was clear that Crescendev was fond of bawdy stories, but Kimblee would have to disappoint him yet again if after strategizing he wished to hear of goings-on below the border. Even if he had not been an active participant, Kimblee was not one to kiss and tell.
* * *
He was cold and tired and hungry, so who would blame him for seeking a little bit of comfort in his memories? Even with all the crap he'd been through in his life (and the last few weeks had been especially bad offenders in the 'make Ed's life a living hell' category), there were still a few gems of warmth and rest and compassion to be dug out of the rubble. ...They just needed some polishing up. There was Winry's cautious pink mouth down by his crotch. Her tongue darting out to lick the tip of his-
"Sooo," Darius chuckled, "It looks like those doctors really were worth the price, huh, Ed?"
"It's turning out to be a pretty quick recovery," Heinkel agreed.
"It wasn't some sex fantasy dream!" Ed protested, although the fact that his face was burning with embarrassment all the way out to the tips of his ears as probably not terribly convincing. "I was reliving a traumatic memory!"
"Oh, sure," Darius dismissed this excuse out of hand, "So traumatic that you were getting hard just thinking about it."
Heinkel was pretty sure he was already tired of this subject. He wiped a tiny smear away from his glasses. Traveling with a teenager was exhausting.
"Sheesh, shows what sort of attention you two paid to what was going on back at Briggs! You were standing right outside the door!"
"Wait? When was this?" Heinkel found his attention had been recaptured.
Ed snorted. Typical old guys- only interested when they were involved in the story. "Back when we were all at Fort Briggs with Kimblee. Didn't either of you ever wonder what was going on once he brought Winry in as part of our discussion?"
They exchanged a questing glance to ascertain whether or not they were on the same page. "...Not really. Thinking too hard about whatever Kimblee had brought us there for wasn't exactly part of our orders, and at that time, that's all we were there to do- follow orders."
Ed supposed he couldn't complain too much about that. It would have been bad to find out they were listening in, or, worse, peeking- there had been a window in that door. One creepy old guy leering at Winry was already one too many. Sometimes Ed thought she didn't realize how cute she was; how much extra attention that got her- not that she couldn't handle most of it (and it figured that that would be the day she didn't have a wrench on her person), but, well, you worried about a girl if you cared about her, right? He was probably starting to blush again just thinking about...love.
When Ed looked back up, he found the two chimera side-by-side peering down at him. Together they were as thick as a wall. And, even though he was definitely feeling better, it wasn't as if he were back in tip-top fighting shape. If Heinkel and Darius wanted the truth out of him, they were going to get it.
"You and Winry and Kimblee...?"
It was probably better to tell them the truth before they drew too many of their own conclusions. "Kimblee didn't touch her," Ed growled, "Well, " he was quick to amend the slightly faulty statement, "Not like that- creepy, sure, but not," his voice cracked (only a change in who he was telling this story to could possibly make the scenario more awkward), "Not like what he had the two of us do."
"That's right, jerks, there's nothing funny about it," Ed thought as he watched their expressions change.
"Eew," Darius shuddered, "Creepy."
"...Kimblee likes to watch, huh?"
Ugh. Whatever they were imagining, Ed was ready to put a stop to it. "Hey, you guys, we were supposed to be looking for a good place to settle down for the evening, so could we maybe forget about how sleazy Kimblee is for a while and get a move on?"
"Sure, fine. ...But you know you're already obligated to tell us the rest of the story when we find a place."
"I don't think-! I couldn't- Why would you want to hear about that anyway?! " Ed flailed about for a reasonable excuse, "It's not fair to Winry!"
"Aww, don't you worry, kid. Winry will never hear a word."
* * *
Clack. "Scene one! Take one!" And with a whir the lights went up and cameras started rolling and she was looking out at Kimblee, flanked by the men and women who worked the lights and shifted the scenery and worked the cameras (and some of them looked kind of familiar, like the chimeras who'd accompanied him, and the nice men from Briggs, but their faces were sort of indistinct with the way the light was shining into her face so it was impossible to say for sure).
Kimblee passed the script in his hands to an assistant standing at his side and held up his hands, one tattooed palm turned toward her, the other facing him, creating a rough rectangle. He peered through his simulated camera-eye at her and at first it seemed innocent enough- he was sitting in the director's chair, he was picturing the shot- and then she saw more clearly, his less-than-artistic interest in the tableaux set before him.
He was leering. "All I want to do is watch."
She was completely naked.
"Winry, when I thought about this...I mean, I never thought about it like this," Ed stammered. He was as bare as her.
"The camera's rolling. There are time constraints involved here, Fullmetal," Kimblee urged, calm and cool as ever, waving one hand in a languid hurry-it-up gesture.
Winry awoke nervous in a bed she barely remembered. It was Rose's. That was right. She was in Liore now, staying with Rose.
It was good to leave the northern cold behind. The temperatures were bad enough. There were people there who, with a look, could chill her to the bone (and she thought her instincts were strong enough that she would have known- that she was careful enough to have sidestepped Kimblee's pretty words that turned barbed and casual touches that morphed into chains- but they had exchanged promises and she had believed in them).
If Rose could tell that there was a sea of electric eels of worry and doubt wiggling about the edges of her mind, she didn't go so far as to say so. The two girls simply proceeded along the ordinary morning routine they had established. Winry made the bed, Rose started breakfast. She knew an impressive amount of quick and easy tight-budget recipes. That probably said as much about Liore as it did about Rose.
Pancake batter was hissing in the frying pan as Winry came down to stand beside her. "I'll set the table."
Working alongside Rose made her wonder what it would've been like to have a sister. A brother, now that she could picture (she'd come pretty close as it was), but what were sisters like?
Rose had had a boyfriend before. A pretty serious one, Winry inferred, from the things she'd said. So, she'd definitely kissed a boy before (Winry's mind went to Ed's lips, as chapped as hers had been, during that first kiss, the way he set his hands on her hips, but still looked so distracted and sad), but what, if anything, else. "Serious" must have meant something, but she just wasn't close enough to Rose at this point- and something unfortunate had happened to her boyfriend- it just wasn't polite to ask.
She probably couldn't relate to what had happened to Ed and Winry anyway. Actually, Winry hoped she couldn't relate. Being threatened into giving a sort of a part blowjob - more handjob to the boy who was pretty much the love of your life up through now was not something that usually happened to people. A lot of things that had occurred through the course of Winry's life were probably not normal things that happened to most people.
"Are you thinking about Ed?" Rose turned and smiled at her.
"Y-you can tell?" At least Winry wasn't so jolted by this remark as to blush. If someone had said the same to Ed, he probably would have. Winry wasn't as bold when it came to talking about attraction as Paninya, and definitely not as much as Mister Garfiel (the frank things he said about sex were about equally shocking and illuminating), but she could hold a non-stilted conversation on the subject.
"I know that look. It's definitely the look of love. And I bet, wherever he is right now, Ed is thinking about you too." The way she said it, Winry got the feeling Rose's feelings were mixed- her approval of Ed and Winry's relationship intertwined with bittersweet feelings of loss and loneliness reflecting her own romantic experiences.
"Well, if he's got the time, I hope so. ...But usually I think he's too busy getting out of trouble by the skin of his nose to think of anything else."
Rose laughed. "You two are a wonderful pair!"
* * *
"Yeah, apparently, when he said 'Take her,' the kid didn't even understand what he meant!"
"Perhaps the context obscured this Kimblee's meaning," Ling suggested (rather generously, in Darius' opinion). "However, it's not all that surprising, considering Ed. He's been oblivious to enough of the double-entendres I've sent his way. ...Unless," the prince considered it for a moment, "My Amestrian is not so skillful as I initially thought."
"Nah, you're really good. I don't think it's you. Ed may be like a genius when it comes to alchemy and fighting and stuff, but in some ways, he's pretty immature."
"Aww, c'mon!" Ed groaned. Here he was being all helpful, taking care of a task that was way below him- anyone could gather firewood- and as soon as he was out of earshot they started swapping weird stories about him. "This had better not be exactly what I think it is! Ling finally makes an appearance, and what do you idiots do but start telling him a story I thought we were going to keep secret!"
"From Winry," Heinkel clarified. "We weren't going to tell Winry."
"And you don't think Ling is going to let this slip?!"
"You know, Ed, Winry was there," Ling tried to calm him down, "It's not like you were fooling around with some other girl- or boy. You're very faithful to her."
"That's not the point! It- it wasn't even supposed to happen! And then it was at least supposed to stay between me and Winry and Kimblee!"
The chimeras ignored him. "I suppose he doesn't have to worry about Kimblee telling anyone- he likes holding onto his secrets as well as the next guy. And Winry, well, you know girls- she probably wouldn't tell more than one person- someone she trusted."
"Even if he doesn't talk about it though, you've got to bet Kimblee's getting off on the memory-"
"If he isn't dead by now."
The men exchanged a grin. "I hope he's dead."
"Winry is very brave. I'm even more disappointed that she turned down my proposal now," Ling remarked.
"You owe me an awkward or embarrassing story about yourself," Ed threw down the armful of branches and left building the campfire back up to someone else. "Actually, I think you all owe me stories."
But as much as he complained (there had to be a million other things four guys could talk about out in the woods!) and as much as the circumstances of their encounter had bothered him, in the silence of his own thoughts, Ed found in that incident the promise of something better to come. Someday when this was all done, he and Winry- well, he owed Winry. She'd been the one to put on the majority of the show that day. All he'd managed was to be a huge jerk about it because he was so worried about her.
That was part of why he knew. He didn't get so stupid about worry when it came to anyone else, except maybe Al.
When the day finally came, he was going to be ready- really ready, the way he prepared for all the other serious stuff in life. He just didn't know exactly how he'd learn yet. ...Winry'd been awfully good. How had she learned?
Maybe girls talked about that kind of thing. How the hell should he know?
Maybe he should ask Ling...? Ling seemed like he might know how to please girls that way.
...Maybe... But not now. All the running and scavenging (and arguing) got to a guy after a while. Even a tough guy like Ed. Leaning his head against Ling's shoulder, he could almost picture it was Winry's- she had strong arms too from her work, although he didn't imagine she was likely to smell like leather and dead leaves under most circumstances and sooner or later Greed was going to be in control again and he'd probably unceremoniously shove Ed away.
Every day, he told himself, brought him closer to the "some day" he had promised her. In his half-dreaming mind, Kimblee and all the other bad parts were gradually edited away, until his senses were filled by a happy haze. Winry's gentle face, flushed with passion- fingers intertwining- the salt of sweat sticking between them- something wonderful between them. Just the two of them.
"Some day." Ed wasn't sure if he whispered the words aloud or only dreamed they left his lips, but it was the intent, not the action, that was important.
* * *
The cold within Fort Briggs was nothing compared to the gelid nightmare beyond in the mountains that made up the Amestris-Drachma border. To the best of Kimblee's knowledge, out of all the men who had accompanied General Crescendev to attack the impenetrable fortress, he was the only one who had survived.
The same skill he had drawn upon to call down the avalanche in the first place had kept him safe from its fury, but if he was to make it back to civilization without drawing a fuss, he would have to maintain a low profile from here on. It was going to be extremely slow going, but what was Kimblee if not patient?
By the time he made it back to Amestris, whoever he met there (Pride, most likely, but there was still a chance it could be Envy) would surely be able to tell him whether Edward Elric had lived or died, solving at least a little of his current song-writing dilemma.
On a related note: would that boy at the general's manor be out of a job now? Was he part of a set with the general or the house? Well, in practice it didn't often work out this way, but a skilled musician, Kimblee believed, should always be in demand. A worthy soul would always manage.
He thought about cute little Winry Rockbell and the intense devotion she had shown Fullmetal even under terrible stress. He thought about the admirable strength of Fullmetal's ideals. Those kids and their friends or the Homunculi? If Fullmetal had survived, he'd split the odds fifty-fifty.
Kimblee kept on moving, one slow step at a step, beginning to hum his newest tune. The wind tugged at his hat and flecks of snow clung to his clothes, but he trusted his memories would keep him warm.