Edward Elric could barely contain his excitement, for the day he and his brother Alphonse had dreamed of was finally upon them. After all their hard work, they felt certain they had the knowledge and confidence to succeed in their precious, secret plan.
In order to carry it out, they had returned home to Resembool. After their train arrived from Dublith, they discreetly visited a number of shops in town to buy the necessary materials. Now they were on their way to their own house with everything they needed, and soon… soon now, they would surely be in their mother’s arms again.
Despite the weight of the bags he carried, Ed had to restrain himself from skipping on the way up the hill to their home—because soon it would be a home to them again, and not a sad, silent, empty house. Al followed him a little more slowly, equally laden with their purchases. He looked thoughtful; one might have said worried, but Ed wasn’t going to let him worry. There was nothing to worry about. They knew what they were doing, and everything was just right.
Thick clouds were just beginning to build overhead as they reached their doorstep. Ed shifted his burdens to his left arm, slipped the key to the front door from his pocket, and reached out to insert it in the lock… but at his touch, the door swung gently open.
Someone had been in their house—and maybe that someone was still there.
At Ed’s side, Al started and looked at him anxiously. “Brother…?”
The older boy’s momentary shiver of fear quickly gave place to indignant anger. Even if they hadn’t been staying there since their mother was gone, this was their house. More than that, soon it would be Mother’s house again, and he was furious at the thought that she might return to find anything damaged or missing.
If the invader had the bad luck to still be inside… well, they were just going to regret it forever. That was all there was to it.
Setting his jaw, Ed firmly pushed the door open the rest of the way (and tried not to jump when Al jumped at the door’s creak). When nothing sprang at them from the darkness inside, he bent down slightly to set his bags and bundles on the floor at the threshold, and stepped forward. “Come on, Al.”
With a small whimper, Al followed him. “Brother, don’t you think we should—?”
“What? Run for help and let everybody in town know we’re back, so they can stop us from what we’re planning to do?” Ed gave a grim shake of his head. “No. We can take care of this ourselves—and then we can get on with it.”
Slowly, with every muscle braced for an attack, Ed moved deeper into the house. The electricity had been cut off for months with no one living there, but enough late-afternoon daylight still filtered through the windows for him to see. As far as he could tell, the place hadn’t been robbed; nothing seemed to have been touched. Nor was there any sign that the intruder was still present.
At least, not until…
In the hallway that led to their father’s study, Ed froze. The room was closed up, just as they had left it—but a flickering yellow light shone from underneath the door. It was the light of candles burning in the wall sconces.
Ed’s anger was refreshed by the apparent violation of that most sacred sanctum. Ignoring Al’s frightened whine from halfway behind him, he strode forward quickly, and flung open the study door that had also been unlocked.
Almost everything about the room itself remained in perfect order. The only discordant note was the out-of-place stack of books on the floor. Ed’s heart skipped a beat when he recognized them as the human-alchemy books—the forbidden books—that were previously hidden behind a row of encyclopedias on the shelf.
A single book lay open beside the illicit stack… and a small blonde figure sat cross-legged before it, head bowed over the pages, fists clenched.
“Winry?” Alphonse gasped.
Winry Rockbell, the intruder into their den of secrets, looked up slowly from the ominous book. Her eyes were narrowed and her jaw was tight. She was absolutely seething with…
With what, exactly? Beyond the mere fact of her presence here, Ed was taken aback by the realization that he couldn’t quite read her feelings. He knew Winry’s anger better than just about anyone, having provoked it often enough, and there was that… but something else, too. A dark, ugly emotion which, for a moment, made him more scared than infuriated at her intrusion into the brothers’ mysteries.
After a moment’s hesitation, he recovered his wits. “What are you doing here?”
He didn’t need to ask how she had gotten in. After all, she was in the constant habit of carrying a small tool kit on her person, and this was hardly the first time he’d seen her pick locks.
“I know what you’re planning to do,” Winry hissed, her voice colder than ice, as she slowly rose to her feet.
Still quailing behind Ed’s shoulder, Al gripped his brother’s wrist in a sudden, fearful squeeze. Ed himself blinked; but he did not let himself flinch.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he muttered angrily.
“Granny asked me to pick something up for her from the druggist. When I was there, Mr. Brendt told me you’d just left… and he told me exactly what you bought from him.” Winry folded her arms over her chest, glaring at both of the brothers. “I guess you thought you were being smart, buying things at different shops—but I’ve read enough of my parents’ medical texts to figure out what you wanted with those chemicals. So I came looking for you here… and now that I’ve had a look at these books, I know for sure.”
“N-no, you’re wrong!” Al stammered, reflexively bluffing. “We’ve never even seen those books before—they must be our Dad’s! We’re not—”
“Al,” Ed ground out, without taking his gaze away from Winry’s.
For a long moment he stared at her, and she stared back, her face hard and her eyes dark; and the silence stretched so taut, it felt as if it would shatter.
Winry did know what they intended. She knew, and there was nothing to be done about it.
“Are you going to tell on us?” Edward asked tersely.
If she said yes, he had no idea what they would do. Suppose she ran to fetch help? The transmutation circle for Mother’s resurrection was far too complicated to complete before adults came to stop them. Of course, he and Al could tie her up, or lock her in a closet… Or they could seize the raw materials they had bought and run away themselves, to hide somewhere and perform the transmutation before they could be found.
“I should tell,” Winry said harshly, after a moment. “I know this crazy idea of yours must be the most stupid and dangerous thing you’ve ever dreamed up. I know it’s probably impossible, no matter what you think.” She faltered, dropping her gaze. “But… I also know how smart both of you really are. I know you can do amazing things. And that’s why…”
A deep breath rasped in and out of her. “It’s why I won’t tell—on one condition.”
Ed knew he wasn’t going to like whatever she had to say next; but he asked the question anyway. “What is it you want?”
Winry looked up at him. Her expression hardened with resolve, and she planted her hands on her hips, as the first rumble of thunder echoed in the sky outside.
“Instead of your mother… I want you to bring my parents back first.”
© 2012 Jordanna Morgan