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"Are you sure you don't want to go with us, Granny?" Winry hesitated near the door.
Pinako puffed at her pipe, sending up a smoke ring. "It'll be a nice, quiet day without you kids around. You go on."
"Yeah, Winry, come on." Edward swayed from side to side, glancing toward the dirt road.
Alphonse sighed at his brother's impatience.
Two pails were packed with lunch; another dangled, empty, from Winry's hand as she stepped off the porch and into the brilliant sunlight. Edward grabbed one of the other pails and Alphonse took up the third. Pinako waved them off with a reminder not to stay out too late and they were off, Den leading the way toward the nearby hilltops where the blackberry bushes grew.
Mr. and Mrs. Culbertson waved at them from the field where they weeded their crops and Winry promised them some of the berries when they came back from the hills.
"If Brother will leave enough to share."
"Shut up!" Edward shoved Alphonse the way boys will and they chased each other in circles down the dirt road. Clouds of dust heralded their passage and Den barked an accompaniment to their shouting. Winry finally had to scold them like they were children, reminding them they'd nearly dumped their food and the lemonade she'd carefully bottled for their lunch later. The trio fell back into step, Edward taking the lead though not without backward glances and exasperated whines at their slow progress.
They finally made it to the hills where the berry bushes grew. As they had when they were kids, they put their bottles of lemonade in the nearby stream and shoved their lunch pail up under a tree to stay cool. Den eyed the lunch pail but was almost instantly distracted by the chittering of a squirrel and darted off to hunt it.
"Crazy dog," Edward said, grabbing the now empty lemonade pail.
Making their way out of the shade and up toward the brambles, Winry led the way, the sun gilding her form. The brothers had to shade their eyes at the sight before them, both of them hoping Winry wouldn't turn and realize they were staring at the shadows of her legs through the skirt of her dress. Alphonse nudged Edward, giving him a grin. Edward pretended jealousy and chased his brother up the hill, the pair of them roaring past Winry, who shook her head at the inexplicable weirdness of boys.
Bees droned around the bushes, collecting pollen from the few remaining flowers, while wasps and butterflies ate from the too-ripe fruit. The berries gleamed, almost as if polished, their purple-black skins tearing easily and staining fingers, clothes and lips. The soft plunk, plunk of berries dropping into the pails was interspersed by delighted hums at the taste of the fruit.
Bramble scrapes didn't really hurt and bees and wasps were shooed away before getting a chance to sting. Mosquitoes were slapped at absently, though Winry thought they'd regret not using some tansy oil later. The morning edged its way into afternoon, with the sun climbing higher into the sky. Berries did little to soothe dry mouths and the trio turned away from their harvest to eat lunch.
"If Brother didn't eat every other berry, both pails would be full by now." Alphonse retrieved the glass bottles from the stream. He tugged at the cork of one, passing the open bottle to Winry.
"Me? Your mouth is so black, it looks bruised." Edward pitched a walnut hull at Alphonse, grinning madly when it struck then ducking when Alphonse threatened to throw the lemonade bottle.
"Yours is, too, Ed." Winry pointed the mouth of her lemonade bottle at him and Edward took that as an invitation to swipe it, taking a hearty swallow from the bottle. He held it out of her reach when she squealed, trying to reach around him for the bottle. "You brat! That's my lemonade!"
"Let him have it, Winry. I've got the other two right here." Wagging the bottles, Alphonse grinned at Edward's jaw flapping open. Winry stuck out her purple tongue at Edward and took one of the bottles from Alphonse.
Lunch was almost quiet, the three of them sharing hard, crusty bread, summer sausage and cheese between them. Den appeared halfway through lunch, begging for her portion of the meal. Edward nearly got clocked when he ran the cool glass bottle up Winry's bare arm.
"Stop stirring up trouble!" Winry yelled, though Edward just laughed.
Alphonse remembered feeling drowsy and lying down, with his head pillowed on Den's side. He realized he'd slept when he started awake, hearing soft voices nearby. As if in a dream, he watched as Winry offered Edward a berry and his brother lipped it out of her fingers, then leaned forward to kiss her. Alphonse rolled onto his side, closing his eyes and breathing in the scent of dog and summer.
The sound of his name woke him the second time and Alphonse thought he might like to wake up like this more often, with Winry's sweet smile beaming down on him. "C'mon, sleepyhead. Those berries aren't going to pick themselves."
They picked berries until the three pails were full and the sun had fallen halfway down in the west. Shadows stretched along the road as they walked back home, Den ambling ahead of them, carrying one of the empty lemonade bottles in her mouth. Stopping at the Culbertson's, they dropped off one of the pails, with Mrs. Culbertson promising to return it filled with fresh eggs in a few days. The remaining berries they carried between them, the handles of the pails linking them together in a chain. The setting sun threw their shadows ahead, gangly things with no defining points.
The yellow house finally came into view and Den ran on ahead, standing on the porch and barking at them as if to tell them to hurry up. Edward said, "Crazy dog!" but with a fond note in his voice.
Pinako opened the door to welcome them home, the scent of the evening meal wafting out of the house. "I thought you kids might've gotten lost out there."
"Oh, Granny. How many times have we gone to pick berries?' Winry rolled her eyes at Pinako.
The old woman humphed in reply. "Go get cleaned up. Supper won't wait much longer."
Winry climbed the steps, leaving the brothers to carry up the pails, not realizing the light from the house gilded her form. Alphonse hoped she wouldn't turn around and realize he was staring at the grass stain on her backside.
"Ow!" The thump on the back of his skull made Alphonse jerk and glare at his older brother's smirk before Edward lunged up the stairs after Winry. With a yell, Alphonse followed, Den racing after and barking at the excitement of the screams echoing within the house.
Pinako stood on the porch, taking a deep breath of evening air. "It's a nice, quiet night."
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