So. There is a happy ending.
Complete, flawless. Al eats the apple pie she made for him, and Ed wiggles his toes under the table incredulous of their very existence, and there are Winry's tears of joy.
It is a happy ending.
But not an ending at all.
There are no more battles to fight and still Winry works hard to find new ways of making automail harder and lighter, more resilient. She is protecting an Edward that doesn't need to be protected anymore.
She knows why she is doing this – the extra hours in the workshop late at night, it's a bit like being with him without him ever finding out.
Al is taller than both of them – she still finds it strange and wonderful to look at his face, even after months – and Winry has to tiptoe to ruffle his hair when she and Ed come pick him up from school one day. Yes, Al has gone back to school, he wants to study, he wants to go to university perhaps, doesn't know exactly what for.
`Have all the girls in your class fallen for you yet?´ Winry asks.
He rests his chin on his hand and gives her a coy smile.
`Of course. Teenage girls are so impressionable.´
`Poor Ed,´ she teases him, but her arm around Ed's – he looked surprised – is only half a joke. `Are you jealous because now Alphonse is so much better-looking than you?´
Ed sneers at her, `That's nonsense.´
He is a bit lost these days, Ed is. She realizes this.
Winry has her shop and Al has his studies but Ed only has a peace won with blood and tears. He has two legs and two arms but he doesn't have a father. He has telegrams from Mustang asking how he is doing, but Ling has gone back to Xing and so has Mei. For years an alchemist's watch and a very clear purpose had been Ed's life entirely.
He is figuring out where in all this he fits. And he is not succeeding completely.
She invites him to spend some days with her in Rush Valley. (over the phone: "Why would I want to go to that automail freaks' place now?" and it's the now that hurts)
If he is just going to mope around the house and worry Pinako he might as well come visit, she reasons. Ed grunts and hangs up but two days later he is on her shop's doorstep.
But the heart of the matter is that him being on her doorstep is only half the truth because Winry comes to pick him at the station, even though Ed had said she didn't have to. And she didn't have to. She wanted to.
She bought grapes on the grocery store next to the station and now she carries them carefully in her hands, the brown paper crumpled.
Ed wakes up one night and he hears her working in the back room.
She doesn't notice him looking at the line of back, how she arches over the task at hand, for a couple of moments before he calls her name. Winry wipes her cheeks before turning around, the light of the lamp harsh and plain.
`Are you crying?´ Ed asks – meaning, Have you been crying?
She shakes her head, `I have work to do. It's all right.´
`At three in the morning?´
Winry doesn't reply.
Ed rushes to her and grabs her by the shoulder, fingers heavy and damp over her skin. It surprises her. His eyes are now clear, but rests of sleep show in his manner, and the mess of his hair.
`What's wrong?´ He demands.
Winry looks down.
He puts both his hands on her shoulders; the absurdity of it. She never thought she'd be held by Edward with his two arms. Something missing here. He repeats her name once, twice.
`Some days I wish you had never got your arm and leg back,´ she says quietly.
It takes him a second or two to process but he does and then he lets her go, withdraws his hands as if he'd been burnt, unexpectedly, with the shock of repulsion.
`What the hell, Winry?´
She is quick to fix it; she is used to fixing things. Tiny wheels and strips of metal and screws and every bit of machinery put in the right place, in the right order. Over the years her work has somehow given Winry a false idea of her own omnipotence.
`It's not that I'm not happy for you. I'm very happy for you. But...´
The eyes she meets now are gentler. Of course, Ed must be thinking, there must be an explanation.
`What?´ He asks.
She locks her hands in front of her.
`But I was really glad that I could help you before. With the automail I made. Like there was a special connection between us. And now that it's gone, it makes me feel like-´
Once again Ed steps closer, wanting her next words to reach him as clear as they can. As if hungry for them. Of course she notices his closeness and it makes her shut herself in, cowering embarrassed of thinking he's taller, thinking his smell, thinking Ed...
A long, resigned breath between them, and it's hers.
`It makes me feel like... you don't need me anymore.´
It's how quick he is moving what surprised her. She hasn't finished uttering those words when his arms are around her – and this time, when she feels them around her shoulders, and his hands clutch at her arms tightly, Winry is honestly happy that he got everything back.
And yes, he is so much taller now, not as tall as Al, but that doesn't matter, for Winry it is the perfect height, Ed's height, the world reduced to this moment of her burying her face under his chin and Ed touching his lips to the side of her head.
`You idiot. I still need you,´ he says into her ear.
She can feel the heat on Ed's cheeks as he doesn't let go. Her small hands twist into the fabric of his t-shirt.
As Ed holds her Winry thinks about the embarrassment of her work clothes, the smell of lamp oil on her skin, dried sweat on her forehead. Ed bends down and touches his lips to hers carefully, a memory of all those times she smashed some tool against his head insinuates between them. Winry shudders at the touch.
Idiot, idiot, idiot he keeps calling in the breaths between kisses.