The call surprised her, coming as it did on a day with a sky so blue it seemed like, if she could just figure out how, she could go swimming in it. It had been a lazy week; too hot to work, too hot to sleep. No one wanted to even think about being fitted for automail in this kind of heat; the metal could scorch skin. Even those going through rehabilitation were reluctant to venture outside and Winry and Mr. Garfiel had often made the trips to their customers rather than the other way around.
The afternoon had sent her into a near coma, her chin tucked into her hands, her elbows on the counter. A fly buzzed in a window, the soft ‘tap tap’ of it beating against the glass one of the only sounds in earshot. She had been musing about how stupid the fly was – if it had moved down the window rather than continuously up, it might’ve gotten outside. Instead, it was trapped inside the building with her.
The shrill ring of the telephone jarred Winry from her daydreams of flying away from Rush Valley and back to Briggs and it took a few seconds for her to recollect where she was. Lifting the receiver, she greeted the caller with a decidedly unenthusiastic, “Garfiel Attelier.”
The sweat trickling down her spine seemed to turn to ice water, making her shiver at the sound of that voice. The receiver nearly slid from her sweat slick palm and her heart thudded, painfully hard, in her chest.
“Winry, it’s me.” A pause, not quite long enough for her to make out background noises. “I’m back.”
“Ed?” Her mouth formed the sound of his name before she realized she’d even spoken.
“Yeah.” Did he sound relieved? Another pause and this time, Winry could hear a bell clanging, the chuff of a locomotive engine, a conductor shouting, ‘All aboard!’ “Look, Winry, I’m coming to Rush Valley. I’ll be there tomorrow, okay? I gotta go. See you soon.” And the line went dead before she had a chance to respond.
Replacing the receiver in its cradle, Winry stared at the telephone the same way she’d watch a poisonous snake.
“At least,” Mr. Garfiel’s sweet-sounding voice came from behind her, “he’s finally learned to call before showing up.
* * *
The Promised Day had come and gone. The fight had been long and bloody but in the end, Ed and Al had won. At least, that’s what Winry told herself. When they’d finally contacted her to let her know it was over and they’d survived, she’d thought they might eventually tell her more.
What little Winry found out was not offered by the Elrics. She understood, sort of. War, after all, was a terrible thing. For all their experiences, Ed and Al were boys, even if they didn’t always remember that fact. The two young men who greeted her at the Central City train station, therefore, were a shock. While Ed had managed to get Al’s body back, his automail remained in place. “Guess this is for life, huh?” As Ed spoke, he’d given her a dry look, one Winry couldn’t decipher, but her joy over seeing Al again; over both brothers living, washed away any questions she might’ve had.
She’d tuned up Ed’s automail, replacing damaged parts, scolding him for being reckless. And Ed had just given her that same look before turning his gaze away, leaving Winry to wonder just what had happened to take away the light in his eyes.
The explanation wasn’t long in coming. Not three days after her arrival and not even a half a day after she’d completed the repairs, a visitor came to the brothers’ hotel room. Ling appeared at the door, surprising Winry, who hadn’t realized that he was still in Amestris. Ran Fan took a place outside the door though Winry urged the other young woman inside. With a sigh, Winry closed the door behind her, hearing Ling saying something to Ed and Ed snorting in response.
“Your repairs were necessary,” Ling was saying, “it’s going to be a long trip across the desert.”
The room seemed to twirl for an instant, making Winry forget that she wanted to ask Ran Fan if she could take a look at her automail. “What?” She looked from one brother to the other, Al squirming and Ed turning his gaze past her shoulder, as he had so often these past few days.
Ling hooked a thumb at the brothers. “I’ve asked these two accompany me back home and be the Amestrian ambassadors to Xing.”
Even remembering those words made Winry shiver. No one had gainsaid Ling; as far as she knew, no one had even tried. Ed and Al didn’t talk about it, though once it was out in the open, that they were going, Al was excited. Ed…Winry couldn’t tell how Ed felt. When she’d asked why someone with actually experience wasn’t going with them, Ed had shrugged broadly.
“Ling knows us. And we know him.” He’d tried to explain over dinner at a restaurant that Winry had always liked, where the servers doubled as musicians and dancers, and encouraged the customers to join in. “We can make sure…he fits in back home.”
“It wasn’t our idea, Winry,” Al had said, covering her hand with his own. Distracted by her own thoughts, she almost forgot to wonder at the sensation of his soft skin touching hers.
“Al could stay here but it’s a military posting.” Ed rolled his shoulders in disgust before picking up a stuffed grape leaf and devouring it in two bites.
“We’ll be back soon, Winry.” Al had squeezed her hand then. “It’s just a year.”
“Yeah, busy as you are with your clients, you won’t even have a chance to miss us.” Ed’s smile was half-hearted and distant and Winry wondered if that statement was supposed to convince anyone in particular.
Their time together in Central was far too short, just another two days before the brothers had to be ready to leave. Winry traveled with them as far as Rezembool and offered to go on but the brothers – and the homunculus – refused to let her go any farther. “Don’t worry.” Ling had been in control then, somehow, Winry could tell. “I won’t let anything happen to them. I’ll send them back to you soon.”
Communications between Amestris and Xing were difficult at best but Winry knew that Ed would have to file reports to Fuhrer Armstrong. He and Al had managed to send things to her, too; a letter from Al with little sketches of the palace and the people in it, then, from Ed, a packet containing a silk scarf that was twice as long as Winry was tall. A dragon carved out of creamy green stone and a matching necklace of gradient beads came months later, just a few weeks late for her birthday, along with a letter from Ed, grousing about how stupid politics were, no matter what country you were in.
And then, nothing.
A year passed. Winry supposed that the brothers were right – she had been busy with her clients, and she really hadn’t quite gotten used to having Ed and Al in her life regularly before they left it again. She loved Ed but that didn’t mean he loved her back. She’d never shared her feelings with him, thinking they’d be a burden more than a comfort when he was trying to get Al’s body back and then, the last time she’d seen him before the Promised Day, it hadn’t been the time. Apple pie promises notwithstanding, Winry understood that some opportunities never actually happened.
Waiting was something Winry did well. She hated it but she could set aside that emotion, just like she could set aside her feelings for Ed and the way she cared for Al. Her life wasn’t so inextricably wound up with the Elric brothers that she couldn’t make her way without them, after all, and she did – honing her skills and building her reputation.
In her second year of apprenticeship, Mr. Garfiel told her she’d exceeded all expectations he’d had for her. Winry thought that meant there was still more she had to learn. She wanted to be the best, known for her name, not just because she happened to be the mechanic for the Fullmetal Alchemist.
Now, Ed was back in Amestris, would be in Rush Valley in a day. Winry couldn’t help but wonder why. She supposed she should feel flattered but instead, she felt impatient. It’s been too long for you to just drop back into my life, Edward Elric.
* * *
Long before dawn, Winry was awake. She wasn’t even sure she’d slept. She gave up trying to find a comfortable spot in her bed, getting out of it and heading downstairs. Who knew what train Ed would come in on and she wasn’t going to be at the station waiting for him. Sheer stubbornness would keep her here, even if she was too wound up to actually work. Cleaning the shop counted, though, and Winry set to it with a vengeance, taking her irritation out on cobwebs near the ceiling and dust in the corners. If water were more plentiful, she would’ve scrubbed the floors.
“Honey, what are you doing?” Mr. Garfiel gave her a quizzical stare, leaning on the counter, a delicate teacup in his large hands. “Is this about that boy?”
“No.” Winry attacked the windows with vinegar and newspaper, intent on making them shine.
“Should I call Craig?”
That helpful idea was anything but. “No.” Winry didn’t want to talk to Craig, the young man with auburn hair and broad shoulders, who had started hanging around, started asking her out. Craig didn’t know Ed. Ed didn’t know Craig. Winry thought that was probably for the best. It wasn’t like she was dating Craig or anything, he was just a guy she saw every once in a while.
“If you’re sure.” Mr. Garfiel had that fretful tone to his voice.
With a little sigh, Winry turned to face her master. “It’ll be all right.” She managed a smile. “Ed just…probably needs a tune up. Or a new arm.” Rolling her eyes, Winry turned back to the window and swiped the newspaper across the glass. “I’ll fix him up and he can,” she caught her lip in her teeth, biting it to keep from saying the words that threatened to spill out.
There was a slight hesitation and then, in his most gentle voice, Mr. Garfiel asked, “Would you like some tea, honey? It’s chamomile and lavender.”
Winry nodded, afraid to trust her voice, hearing her master walk further into the shop. Outside the streaked windows, the sun rose, gilding the streets with its harsh glare. Winry squinted, half shading her eyes with her forearm, then went back to her self-imposed chore. She’d started this job, she’d finish it.
And so it went. After the interior of the shop met with her approval, Winry went to work outside, sweeping the sidewalk, cleaning the windows, shining the doorknob. She oiled the hinges in the door. By lunchtime, the building was beautiful, gleaming and clean, and Winry was filthy. Still, she felt a certain satisfaction, staring at the front of the building. If she’d had time, she would’ve painted the letters advertising Mr. Garfiel’s shop. They could use a touch up, she thought, studying them.
“It’s enough, girl. Come inside.” Mr. Garfiel pouted at her, holding the door open. “Have something to drink and eat.” Beckoning, he gestured her inside, wrinkling his nose as Winry walked by him. “And perhaps a shower.”
“I’m not fresh as a daisy, huh?” Winry realized, now that she’d stopped, she was drained.
“No.” At least he smiled as he said it. “You go get cleaned up and I’ll have something for you to eat. Go on,” Mr. Garfiel shooed her off when she hesitated and Winry took to the stairs and the living space on the second floor.
Catching sight of her reflection, Winry nearly frightened herself. Her face was streaked with dirt, her eyes staring out of a mask made of cobwebs and dust. Beneath that coating of grime, freckles were starting to pop out on her nose from being in the sun. With a groan, Winry stripped, turning the shower on, climbing in and letting it sluice the dirt from her body. She soaped her hair and her body, rinsing both carefully, washing all the morning’s work down the drain. Why can’t your memories be like that? Anger bubbled up inside her now that she had no the activities to keep herself distracted. Leaving the shower, Winry braided her still damp hair into a pair of pigtails, nearly taking them out again when she realized she’d done it from a half-remembered comment from Craig about thinking they were cute.
She almost chose a sundress rather than her usual work clothes then remembered that Ed was most likely in need of a tuneup, if not a complete overhaul. A sundress would be impractical. That didn’t stop her from tying the arms of her coveralls around her hips, her half-top bright against her Rush Valley-darkened skin. She told herself it wasn’t because she wanted to flaunt her body; Ed had seen it before, after all.
Starting down the stairs, Winry could hear voices, her fist clenching around the banister. No matter what, she wasn’t really ready for this meeting. Her stomach tightened further into a knot, the thought of eating anything making Winry nauseous.
Hesitating outside the nook, Winry rested her fingers on the door frame. The back of a sun-yellow head greeted her, Mr. Garfiel sitting across from Ed. Mr. Garfiel smiled, nodding at something Ed must’ve said. Winry swallowed hard, pressing her palm into her stomach. She realized that Ed had said nothing about Al being with him. Why wouldn’t Al come, too? Had something happened to him? “Ed?” Her voice nearly broke on that one syllable.
He turned, the beginnings of a smile frozen on his face. “Winry, what’s wrong?” The chair tipped but didn’t fall as he stood up, moving across the tiny room to her. Ed caught her shoulders, squeezing them. “What is it?” Concerned, he searched her face.
“Al.” Winry wheezed in a breath. “Where’s Al?”
“Oh.” Ed’s worry vanished like ice shavings on a hot day and he glanced sideways, his brow knitting together for a few seconds. Thumbs, one calloused, the other smooth metal, brushed her skin before his hands fell away from her shoulders. “He’s still in Xing.”
“Why?” She nearly stumbled without Ed’s support, grabbing the door frame to keep from falling. “He’s okay, isn’t he?”
“Yeah.” Jaw tensing, Ed still refused to look at her. “Just fine. He’s…okay.” He tilted his head, indicating the table. “C’mon, sit down. Mr. Garfiel told me you did a lot of work today and you didn’t eat anything.”
“I made sandwiches, Winry. Watercress and chicken salad.” Mr. Garfiel got up from the table. “You two can sit and talk. There’s iced tea, too, and I think I might have something for dessert, when you two are ready.” He guided Winry into the chair he’d vacated, easing it up to the table. “You two have a nice talk.” A broad hand stroked her shoulder and Mr. Garfiel left the nook.
Winry stared at Ed blankly as he sat down, picking up a glass and drinking from it. His larynx bobbed and she couldn’t help but be fascinated by that, her wondering gaze slowly drifting up. Ed still had his silly antenna but his hair…“Why is your hair so long?” Winry wagged a finger at the braid, slung over his shoulder, nearly reaching his thighs.
“Eh.” A shrug answered her then Ed said, “The men in Xing wear ponytails. The shorter your hair, the less manly you are.” His eyes rolled. “So it grew.”
“Oh.” For lack of anything to say, Winry picked up a sandwich, biting into it. At the taste of bread, chicken and mayonnaise on her tongue, her appetite returned and she had to stop herself from wolfing down the food. “Sorry,” she mumbled around the food, catching some of the chicken salad with her finger as it started to fall out of the bread.
Ed waved his hand at her. “Eat, Winry. It’s just me.” He sprawled in his chair, right arm resting on the table, left flung over the back of the chair next to him. Seeming to be staring out the window, Winry thought Ed wasn’t really looking at anything. There was a shout outside, then another, vocal evidence of kids playing, but Winry saw Ed’s muscles jump and his jaw muscle tighten. As if he felt the weight of her gaze on him, he turned back, his expression dark. “I guess you want to know why Al’s still in Xing.” Ed picked up one of the watercress sandwiches, biting into the peppery mix. “He got married.”
Winry choked on her sandwich, coughing and wheezing, thumping at her chest with her fist. Ed’s chair clattered back as he pushed to his feet but she waved him off, grabbing her glass of tea and taking a swallow. “Startled me,” she managed to get out, coughing again, then taking another drink. When it seemed like her throat wasn’t going to spasm any more, Winry wiped her eyes with the side of her hand, peering at Ed blurrily. “Al got married?”
“Yeah.” The corners of his mouth turned down, Ed straightened out his chair and sat again. “To the bean girl.”
“Mei?” Winry blinked a couple of times, turning that idea over in her mind. While she’d teased Al about Mei, she hadn’t really thought he’d liked the girl, despite Mei’s obvious crush.
Ed nodded once in response to the girl’s name, his mouth twitching. “So he stayed in Xing. He thought about asking you to come for the wedding.” Picking up his sandwich, Ed bit into it, chewing for a few seconds before swallowing. “Asking that bastard, and Granny, and Mrs. Hughes and Elicia.” He shook his head slightly, obviously lost in thought. From the way his brow furrowed, the thoughts weren’t pleasant. “We talked it over and thought it might not be a good idea.”
“Why not?” She really wanted to know.
“There was enough going on with Al, a commoner,” Ed sneered in his own particularly virulent way, “marrying a princess. Her clan wasn’t too keen on that. We thought maybe it would be better if none of you came because it might be too dangerous.” The grim set of his mouth answered the rest of Winry’s questions effectively.
Still, she had to ask. “But Al’s okay?”
His expression softening, as if he realized he was scaring Winry. Ed nodded, his braid slithering across his shoulder. “He’s fine. He sent you a present.” He started to stand but Winry waved him back down.
“It’s okay. It can wait.” Picking up a sandwich quarter, Winry made short work of it. If she ate, she didn’t really have to talk to Ed, so she took another sandwich and began eating it, too. Once she finished, her stomach almost uncomfortably full, Winry took a long drink of her tea, finally turning her attention to Ed. He stared at the table, a few crumbs showing he’d eaten, too, and had some tea. “So, I guess you need a tune up. Or is your automail trashed?”
“It’s good. Probably got some grit in it, crossing the desert.” He raised his arm, twisting his wrist and flexing the elbow and fingers. “My leg’s okay. I’ve been taking good care of it.” An uncomfortable silence lay between them and Winry thought that Ed would’ve had to take good care of it, since his mechanic was a whole country away.
“What about Ran Fan? How’s her automail holding up?” She wondered at the way Ed stiffened at the mention of the other girl’s name.
“It’s good. Not as good as yours.” Ed watched his digits as he bent them sequentially. “Nobody’s is as good as yours.”
There was no smile when he said it, no hint of teasing. Winry thought if he’d said something like that a couple of years ago, she’d have reacted almost as if he’d been flirting with her. Now, she just nodded an acknowledgement. “Do you have a place to stay while you’re here?”
His attention focused on her again and Winry felt like she’d been scorched by the sun. “I know it’s an imposition but Mr. Garfiel offered me one of your recovery rooms, since he said no one was using it right now.”
Edward Elric, staying here. Winry wasn’t sure what to think of that. Her master had a weird sense of humor or romance, she wasn’t sure which. Considering the way he tried to push Craig and her together, she’d bet on the latter.
Ed gave her a hopeful look and Winry wondered what sort of expression must be on her face to cause that reaction. “If that’s okay. I mean, I can probably get a room at the military hotel or something. I didn’t ask.” That last sounded tacked on, almost pleading, and Winry narrowed her eyes sharply. Ed didn’t beg for anything, well, he begged for the last piece of pie or another bowl of stew. But not for a place to stay.
“It’s okay.” The words sounded short and harsh, even to her own ears, but Ed just nodded, turning his gaze back to the tabletop. “I’ll go get your room ready.” The chair scraped back over the flooring as Winry stood. Ed glanced up at her then away before he got up, too.
* * *
After his room was made up, Ed disappeared into it, pleading fatigue. Winry was just as glad to see him go. With him out of the way, she could pretend he wasn’t here and she kind of liked that. It wasn’t healthy, not at all, but right now, Winry needed to find some way to cope with Edward Elric interjecting himself into her life again. Her brain buzzed with questions that she wasn’t sure she really wanted answers to, except for one: How long was he going to stay this time?
“You keep frowning,” Mr. Garfiel told her as they started supper.
She had no real answer for that. Winry knew she was frowning. Her head had started pounding, not to mention the tension gathering in her back, neck and shoulders.
“Maybe you need a massage.” He laid a finger on his cheek, giving her a coy look.
“If you’re thinking about suggesting Craig give me one,” Winry trailed off, the throb in her temple warning her against losing her temper.
Mr. Garfiel chuckled, shaking his head. “No, honey. I wouldn’t do that.” His eyes told a different story.
She really didn’t want to explain Ed to Craig. Or vice versa. And Ed had the annoying habit of popping up when she least expected him. She could see it now, Ed wandering into the room, scratching his bare belly, wearing those drawstring shorts, something foodwise dangling out of his mouth, whining at her to get to work on his automail. Craig was used to her customers but not Ed. “That,” Winry told her master, “would be appreciated.”
Dinner was going to be cold; pumpkin soup, which tasted good either hot or cool, and cold chicken. Winry was in charge of the vegetables, making pickled tomatoes out of some she’d canned with Granny last year when she went to Rezembool, and honey glazed carrots. It wasn’t a feast and Winry wasn’t sure she’d count it as a ‘welcome home’, either. Winry almost wished Paninya would pop in for dinner. It might be good if she did show up, though; give Ed someone else to concentrate on.
If he wakes up at all. He hadn’t come out of the room since earlier in the afternoon. Winry almost wanted to check on him but restrained the impulse. If Ed needed anything, well, he was a big boy.
Ed hadn’t left his room by the time dinner was ready so Winry and Mr. Garfiel ate without him. Their conversation was subdued; the headache that had been building all day draining any desire Winry had to talk. She wasn’t sure she wanted to get into the speculation of why Ed had returned to Amestris – Al getting married wasn’t enough to chase Ed back here. Winry didn’t flatter herself that he came just to see her. She might’ve been his best friend, once upon a time, but thinking that she still might be wasn’t something she would even contemplate. Before Al got his body back, Winry understood the brothers being too busy to stay in touch. Afterward, well, Xing was a good distance away or at least she could tell herself that, when she thought about it. The thing was, she’d managed to not think about it for a very long time. Ed being here, under the same roof, made her think about it again.
After cleaning everything up, Mr. Garfiel announced he was nipping out for the evening. Winry wished her master was better at keeping secrets that didn’t have to do with automail plans. Ed’s reappearance would certainly be news to Rush Valley but Winry hoped that wouldn’t be wagged all over town. There were still people who remembered him from his last visits here, destroying part of the town both times, and sometimes people had a hard time forgiving the past.
Winry shook her head to clear it of uncharitable thoughts on that matter, worrying over something else. Al, married. She wondered if she could send a gift and congratulations. Would he get it? Maybe he and Mei would come back soon to visit, since Ed was here. Maybe he’d never come back. No, Amestris was Al’s home, he’d be back eventually, probably with a kid or two. Winry couldn’t help but grin at that image, a flock of cute kids trailing in Al’s wake. Granny would be disappointed she hadn’t been at the wedding. She’d rap Al’s skull with that pipe of hers.
Taking out a teacup, Winry boiled water to make herself a cup of Mr. Garfiel’s chamomile and lavender tea. She needed something soothing but there was something else she could do, too.
The roof of Mr. Garfiel’s shop was easily accessible from the second floor and Winry climbed out her bedroom window, walking softly across the roof to one of the chairs she’d built late last year. The chair adjusted with a little bit of coaxing and Winry knew she’d need to run some bee’s wax in the joints soon. Settling on the wooden lounge, she sipped at her tea and stared up into the night sky.
Rush Valley’s nights were nothing like Rezembool’s. The sky was clearer than back home and the stars shone more brilliant here than anywhere Winry had ever visited, not that she’d gone all that many places. Home, Rush Valley, Central City. Even that was a lot of traveling for a Rezembool girl. Winry knew that some of the people back home envied her for going out and making her own way. There were others who thought the only reason she’d gotten as far as she had was because of Ed’s influence. She knew different. Her customers came to her because of who she was, not because she was the Fullmetal Alchemist’s mechanic.
There was a sharp noise, the sound of an automail foot hitting the rooftop. Winry tilted her head in time to see Ed climbing out of the window. His hair, loose and wet, hung nearly to his thighs, strands of it sticking to his bare skin. “Brrr, it’s chilly up here.” He shivered, nose wrinkling. Barefoot, wearing just a pair of trousers and a towel around his neck, he walked across the roof. Ed sat in the second lounge chair, silence stretching between them as he worked at drying his hair.
The silence between them got to him first. “I know,” Ed hesitated, looking at the ends of the towel in his hands, “I know you’re angry with me. Hell, I’d be pissed, too.” He laughed shortly but it wasn’t a humorous sound. “I asked you to keep an apple pie ready for me and then I just take off to a foreign country.”
Winry took a sip from her cooling cup of tea. “It’s okay, Ed.” She almost thought she sounded believable. “I know there were things you had to do.” The ‘there always are’ when unsaid.
“Yeah, but,” Ed closed his eyes, shaking his head. “I didn’t get to explain why this time.” He draped the towel around his neck, taking a deep breath. Winry tried not to look at his chest, at the stellate scar that described a wound that could’ve killed him, nor the other marks on his body. Some she knew all too well, having helped make them. Others wrote stories Winry didn’t want to read. “I thought about sending it to you in a letter but I realized that anything I sent was likely to be read. And those little codes we had back in school were too easy to break.” Ed made an abortive gesture toward her and curled his hand back on his thigh instead. “I couldn’t figure out a way to tell you while you were in Central – there were always people listening in.” Another of those dark laughs. “Our rooms were bugged, Winry. Mine and Al’s; yours. It wasn’t safe to tell you anything. The less you knew, the better. That’s why…why I treated you like that. Didn’t tell you anything. Ling got Al and me out of the country because there were people who wanted us dead for helping overthrow the current government.”
Winry pressed her fingers to her mouth, feeling sick to her stomach. “You’re joking.” Her protest came out weak and breathless, knowing all too well that she’d been Ed’s hostage before.
“I hope you believe me, Winry, because it’s the truth.” Ed’s face was set in grim lines. “I treated you that way to throw them off your trail. I never wanted you to get hurt because of me. I couldn’t…there wasn’t any way to take you with us, either. I mean, you could’ve come, but you already said you weren’t leaving Amestris. You were right. Your other customers needed you and Xing,” he took a deep breath, “it wouldn’t have been safe for you in Xing, either.”
Winry could hear the servos in his automail whine from how tightly Ed clenched his fist and wondered what had happened in Xing. Before she got a chance to ask, Ed went on. “I’m sorry I hurt you, Winry, but I couldn’t think of any other way to keep you safe. If I’d told you something….”
“At least I would’ve known, Ed.” The words came out sharper and sounding more hurt than Winry wanted them to. She didn’t look away from him, meeting his gaze. “You guys dropped out of my life once before and I hated it but at least I knew why you were gone. Ambassadors to Xing?”
“We were,” Ed protested. “Unofficial.” He shook his head again, damp bangs flopping in his face. “Al wasn’t up to keeping himself safe. He might’ve looked okay, Winry, but his body…he still hadn’t gotten his strength back by the time we left Amestris, and I couldn’t protect both of you, Winry. Not unless we were together all the time. I knew you’d hate that, not being able to make your own decisions. I figured you’d hate me, too.” Ed jerked his head up, staring at her, his eyes burning. “But I’d rather you hate me than be dead.”
“You just decided this on your own?” Winry gave him a disgusted look. “Ed, what makes you think I couldn’t take care of myself?”
“Don’t be stupid, Winry! They had snipers. How are you going to defend yourself against someone who could’ve shot you from a building three streets away?” Ed flung out his arm in emphasis, the moonlight shining down the steel like oil down a gun barrel. His hand swung around to point at her in the symbol of a gun, finger miming pulling a trigger. “You would’ve been dead and I…” He did look away then, the muscle in his jaw jumping.
I’m not that important, Winry wanted to protest but from what she could see of Ed’s face, he thought she was. If he thought that, then she would’ve been his hostage, all over again. Or worse, she realized grimly, made an example of so Ed would toe the line someone wanted him to. “What changed?” The question hung between them for a few seconds before Winry realized she’d been the one to ask it.
“Mustang sent me word. They finally eradicated,” Ed’s mouth twisted distastefully at the word, “the last of Bradley’s supporters. Well, the ones who would’ve caused problems.” He sighed gustily, his shoulders sagging. “I’m tired, Winry.” Massaging his temples with his fingers, Ed mumbled, his words dragging, “I just wanted Al back and then to see everyone’s smiling faces. The last thing I wanted to do was to hurt you.” He shot her a glance through his bangs before dropping his gaze. “I’m not military any more, Winry. I’m out. I’ve got no house and no job. My brother lives in another country. I don’t know how to make a life out of what little I have left.”
Blinking hard, Winry got to her feet. She shuffled across the roof, dropping onto the chair with Ed. Wrapping her arms around him from behind, she leaned her chin on his shoulder. The damp of his hair soaked into her shirt, chilling her, but Winry didn’t let go. Ed stiffened in her arms then, almost painfully slow, relaxed. His hands came up to cover her wrists.
“I’m sorry.” The apology came almost as soft as a breeze against her skin. “I never make good decisions when it comes to you.”
“You came back.” Winry tightened her embrace. “That was a good decision.”
The relieved rumble of Ed’s laugh shook them both. “I figured you’d brain me with your wrench.”
“I may still do that.” She dug her chin into his shoulder for emphasis.
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “When you didn’t, I thought I’d lost you.”
Winry didn’t like the way her heart thudded at those words. It hurt too much to trust him, to think that this time, he wasn’t going to do something stupid. “I’m still mad at you,” she said lightly, sidestepping the opening Ed had left for her.
“Don’t blame you.” Ed squeezed her wrists. “I’m mad at me, too.” She waited for him to say that he had his reasons but instead, he ducked his head. “I’m freezing. Can we go inside now?”
“Yeah.” Winry loosened her arms, letting Ed pull free. He stood, offering her his hand, and she stared at it for a few seconds before slipping her fingers into his and letting him pull her to her feet.
She could build an arm and a leg out of pieces of metal, hydraulics, gears and wire. She understood how things fit together. Her own life had been shattered more than once but she’d managed to patch it and move on. Ed was an alchemist, able to take broken things and make them right with his ability to transmute objects. He could make new things out of scraps, just like her.
Tonight, she’d start showing him how.
* * *