The whole thing had started with an accident, really.
Winry had been keeping an eye out that afternoon as she sat at the kitchen table working on a special upgrade for Ed’s leg, a kind of “welcome home, congrats on saving the nation” present. She would never tell him, but when she realized he still harbored a metal limb under the left leg of his trousers, a certain happiness thrummed in her chest. She was happy for him, she really was, for getting his arm back, and she had had only the sincerest hopes that he and Al would get all of their body parts back, but- there was something about sleek, cool metal that skin just couldn’t match.
And the leg was, she supposed as she ran a finger over a shining coil, a piece of her always with him. A part of him.
An unbidden warmth started at the base of her neck and climbed up to her cheeks at the thought. Winry looked up, flustered at the direction her mind had taken, and automatically trained her eyes toward the window. She had been glancing outside all afternoon, checking periodically that the mailman hadn’t arrived yet. She had a few letters to mail out to Rush Valley – urgent instructions on upkeep, repair advice to certain customers, as well as a letter for Paninya. Winry started, pushing back her chair as her eyes met the collar of the mailman’s retreating neck.
She grabbed the letters and a random sweatshirt on the coat hook as she dashed out the door, pulling it on over her bare arms. It was spring, but a chill still clung to the air and the last time she ran outside without a coat she had the sniffles for a week.
“S’cuse me!” she called down the road, feet kicking up dust as she ran. Luckily, the postman turned around just in time.
By the time Winry walked back into her house, fifteen minutes of pleasant conversation about Rush Valley and a free roll of stamps later, she remembered that she’d left Ed’s automail gift in the kitchen, right out in the open. She also remembered that hungry boys lurked about.
She wasn’t disappointed as she stepped into the living room to find Ed sprawled out on the sofa, crunching loudly over a book and a bowl of dry cereal. Winry didn’t stifle the urge to roll her eyes. “No manners,” she muttered to herself, closing the door behind her.
“Hm?” Ed looked up at the sound of her voice, cheeks full and spoon raised halfway to his mouth.
“I said, still refuse to drink milk?” She raised an eyebrow. “Not even with cereal? You never change, do you?”
Ed swallowed, mouth quirking into an impish smirk. “Oh, but I do,” he said, licking the sugar off his lips. “I’m a head taller than you now, aren’t I? Without the help of a single drop of that white poison.”
“It’s good for you,” Winry said with the full knowledge that she was resurrecting the oldest and most futile argument in their book. “For your bones, which, you might have noticed, you have more to take care of, now.”
Ed just gave a petty shrug and stuffed another spoonful of dry cereal into his mouth. Winry sighed with a frustration she didn’t truly feel and absently stuffed her hands into the pocket of the oversized sweatshirt she was wearing. Ed’s eyes followed the action mid-chew, and Winry was acutely aware of the way something shifted in his gaze.
She looked down, cheeks flushing, as she realized- this was his sweatshirt. The white one he had come home in, such a stark contrast to the bright red he wore as an alchemist. She opened her mouth to say something, make some stupid excuse about how she grabbed it without looking – which was the truth, not an excuse, really – but Ed looked back down at his cereal bowl, his neck just the slightest shade of pink. When he finally swallowed his bite of cereal it was almost audible.
“Right- well, don’t come in the kitchen,” she said, tone overly defensive. It was suddenly very, very hot beneath the soft material, but she didn’t make any move to take it off.
Ed looked back up, expression almost neutral save for the tiniest tinge that lingered beneath his eyes. “Why?” he said, voice slipping back into bravado. “Making something for me in there?” He quirked an eyebrow, because he’d gone in there to get cereal so obviously he knew.
Winry took three easy steps across the living room and delivered a swift kick to his metal leg. He gave an indignant yelp. Winry crossed her arms and raised her chin. “Yeah, you’re probably going to need something for that.”
His expression deepened into a scowl and he began to open his mouth, probably to argue something stupid, but she had already turned around and headed back to the kitchen. She could feel his eyes on her back.
If he noticed, fifteen minutes later as he stood outside the doorway complaining for more cereal like a child, honestly- that she was still wearing his sweatshirt, he didn’t say anything. And neither did she.
It was a new sensation, the warmth that resonated from the right side of his body now. Before, when she had found herself leaning against him on rare (or not so rare) occasions, she was met with cool, hard metal pressed into her side. Which, obviously for her, had always been oddly comforting – there was little in this world that automail couldn’t help – but it was different now. Things were different entirely.
Winry tried not to think on it too hard. She definitely hadn’t the first few times, simply glad to to sit between him and Al, there in the flesh, squished between two warm bodies.
Which had been the case earlier, as the three of them lay sprawled in the grass, an Elric boy on either side of Winry as they watched the sun dip low beneath the horizon, pale pinks and purples across candy-floss clouds. It was mid-summer and it had been warm and unusually humid that day, creating the illusion that responsibility was something vague and distant, and it wouldn’t hurt to spend a day of eating ice cream on the porch and an evening of languid conversation beneath the sunset.
As well as a night in the cool grass pressed up against Ed’s side, as it turned out. The stars had emerged hours ago and Al had turned in a short time after. Their conversation had tapered slowly to a comfortable silence and at some point the tips of his fingers found hers. Winry could feel herself growing increasingly drowsy and knew it would be fine if she fell asleep, Ed wouldn’t mind, but something kept her from giving into the temptation of heavy eyelids.
His voice was low, a gentle murmur she could feel through his skin. It was wrapped in such familiarity, such a simple word, just her name, but there had been days she had worried she might never hear it again.
“Oh, I- wasn’t sure you were still awake,” he said.
“Hmm.” She couldn’t see his face, just the pale outline of his nose, long hair tipped back from his forehead, but there was something warm laced in his voice, something that told her he was smiling.
It’s nice, she wanted to say, that you have a right arm again. It wasn’t cool out, not by any means, but the gentle warmth that radiated from his shoulder, his fingers around hers, provided an unspeakable comfort.
Winry knew, when he left without a backward glance all those months ago, that that was how he dealt with things. That was how he faced his challenges- no reward until the work was done, until the battle was won. Watching him, a stretch of broad shoulders she hadn’t quite adjusted to yet, she had felt a shiver run through her. He hadn’t even let her hug him goodbye. Not that she had expected that; admittedly, Ed was always such a baby when it came to physical affection - but a pat on the shoulder might even have been nice.
She couldn’t let herself fall asleep, couldn’t lose this moment of closeness with the one person she- well, yes. He’d returned home weeks ago with the intention of going nowhere soon – no alchemy, no world to save – but she still wasn’t quite used to it. For all she expected, he might take off again tomorrow.
“Ed?” she heard herself murmur.
“I’m glad you’re here.” It slipped out before she had time to think about it, a confession lost to the breeze, but maybe she was too tired to regret it, to feel the hot weight of embarrassing intimacy.
He was quiet for a moment, and even if he didn’t respond, even if she only had an inky black sky to console her, she couldn’t make herself regret saying it.
“So am I.” His voice was low, quiet, and it warmed Winry to her bones. The stars overhead seemed to twinkle back at her as she pressed her lips into a smile.
Maybe she could, finally, let herself sleep.
“Don’t be such a baby!”
Winry rolled her eyes so hard she hoped he would feel it through the back of her head. He trudged behind her down the dirt path, arms wrapped around himself in the autumn chill that was slowly beginning to fade to winter.
“You know,” she shouted over her shoulder, “without that automail arm you’re probably not half as cold as you used to be. You should be grateful.” It tasted like spite on her lips and she didn’t regret it.
“Don’t use that to make me feel guilty!” he said behind her. “Because it’s not going to work!”
Winry crossed her arms and spun around. Bare trees lined the road and white clouds hung low overhead. “I should never have asked you to come with me!” Honestly, why did she? A walk into town for automail parts only took twenty, twenty five minutes tops. A journey she’d made alone hundreds of times before.
“I never should have said yes!” Ed shot back, an edge to his voice. His coat was wrapped around him, buttoned up to his neck where cold and anger had turned the skin pink.
“Then why did you!” she shouted. A vein pulsed in her forehead.
The pink in his cheeks deepened and his eyes slit into a glare so fierce it was almost comical. “Beats me!”
Winry sighed and let her head drop. They were way too old for this. Exasperation swept through her because she knew that glare. It was a signature Edward Elric “shut up you’re flustering me” glare, one that she knew too well.
She waited for him to catch up to her, arms crossed and glare still tacked on his face, before she began to loosen the scarf wrapped around her neck.
When he saw what she was doing, the glare dropped off of his face and his voice changed completely. “Wait- no, Winry, don’t take off your scarf- I don’t-”
She huffed indignantly and threw one long end around his neck. She reached up to adjust it, fingers grazing skin that reddened at her very touch and- well, that certainly was something. She tucked that piece of information away into the back of her mind as she pressed herself to his side, looping her arm through his.
Winry began to walk again, pleased that his feet fell into stride right alongside hers. She stared down the empty road ahead of them, pointedly not looking at the scarf that stretched between them, or the tinge she knew she would find on his cheeks and which probably colored her own cheeks as well.
“I- thanks,” he said in a low voice, significantly subdued.
Winry lifted her chin slightly. “You know, scarves are pretty useful. Maybe you wouldn’t complain so much if you got one of your own.”
Ed fell silent as they continued to walk along, the sky pressing in on them from overhead, and Winry wondered if it might snow.
“Dunno,” he murmured after the prolonged pause, voice so low she had to strain her ears. “This keeps me pretty warm.”
A hot wave of surprise washed over her as she comprehended his words and maybe, maybe his arm tightened just the slightest bit around hers, which was clad in the white sleeve of his sweatshirt she wore most days and he still had yet to comment on. Her neck was suddenly warm beneath the thick wool.
Her response, slightly delayed, came a moment later. She’d meant for it to be haughty, a bit shrewd, but her voice betrayed her with an unmistakable softness. “Good.”
The orange sunlight of a winter dusk slated through the windows into the kitchen, reflecting off of the cabinet handles and the silverware in their hands and the gold of Ed’s eyes.
They had found themselves with the house to themselves that evening, after Winry’s grandmother went out with some of her old drinking buddies (“Ed will sooner drink milk before I give up bar nights”) and Al had left to stay in Central for a few days. Before Winry walked into the kitchen, she hadn’t even been sure if Ed was in the house.
She heard it before she saw it- Ed, standing at the stove, humming some random tune and stirring something in a pot. Winry smiled to herself, taking the chance to watch him for a moment from the doorway. Something light settled in her chest at the sight.
“Shouldn’t you be wearing an apron?” she said, finally announcing her presence. His humming stopped as he looked around at the sound of her voice. He met her gaze with a slightly bashful look on his face.
Winry walked over and tugged on one of his drawstrings. “This sweatshirt’s a little too white for cooking, wouldn’t you say?”
Ed shrugged, one corner of his lips quirking up. “I would say my skills render an apron unnecessary.”
Winry raised her eyebrows. “Yeah?” She leaned over the stove to peer into the pot. “What are you making, then?”
“Noodles,” he said with as much pride as someone who had once messed up a fruit salad could say. Winry swore his teeth sparkled with the smile he gave her. It softened into something a bit less certain when he went on. “There’s enough if you’d like some.”
Something golden blossomed in her chest at his words, because she had made lunch so many times before; so had Grandma, and Al had been learning how to make everything since he got his body back, but Ed had never-
“Winry?” he said, brow furrowing. His cheeks reddened slightly. “I know it probably won’t come out all that good, if I’d known you were here I would’ve, erm-” He faltered, looking increasingly uneasy.
“Oh!” she looked up at him. “No, Ed, it’s fine. I’d love some. Do you have anything to go with it? To put on it?”
Ed blinked and she could tell it hadn’t even occurred to him to make anything else. She tugged on his drawstring again and smiled. “I’ll make something.”
She walked over to the closet, grabbing some spices and oil and a large mixing bowl from a cabinet. She hipchecked Ed on her way to the table and he matched it with a devious smile and a wet noodle flung her way, and suddenly the kitchen was filled with the sound of their laughter and the aroma of a dinner made for two.
The thing was, it was fun. Fun in a way that it hadn’t been for so long, a way filled with laughter and stupid jokes and sparkling eyes that had once come easily, fun in a way that was growing increasingly familiar again.
“Not so fast!” He grabbed her wrist from across the table as she reached out for the pot of noodles. He’d overcooked them, of course, but Winry was so hungry and so achingly happy that she didn’t even care. He quirked an eyebrow, an edge of pink sunlight glinting in his eyes. They had never looked so gold.
“Let me get it for you,” he said, letting his fingers slip away as he took the spoon to serve some into her bowl. Winry blinked, watching him.
It didn’t even matter that the noodles were a bit too sticky, or the sauce she’d made was a bit too strong. It tasted better than anything she’d had in ages, and it was, she thought, one of the most satisfying meals she’d ever had.
She hooked one of her ankles around his beneath the table. “Who knew Edward Elric would turn out to be a chef.”
Ed snorted. “Al didn’t get me my hand back so I could waste it. Since I can’t use it for alchemy, maybe it was meant to cook.” He held up his right hand and snickered, hair dropping over his eyes, and something warm and bright danced behind Winry’s ribcage. When he looked back up at her, his eyes were sparkling.
Winry sat back in her chair, a lazy smile coming over her face. “I won’t complain.”
They fell silent, legs tangled beneath the table, the low light of the sunset highlighting the golden strands of Ed’s long hair. Without really thinking, Winry reached across the table and grasped the fingers of his right hand lying empty beside his bowl.
“Is it still strange?” she asked. She didn’t mean to bring up such a serious topic, but her tone was light, curious. Nothing like the conversation they’d had when he had first returned, when he was still adjusting to two arms of flesh that could never again have the power of alchemy.
“Sometimes,” Ed murmured, watching the way she slid the tips of her fingers along his palm. “I- it’s nice. Having my own arm, never having to worry about repairs.” His eyes gleamed as he glanced at her. “Sometimes I still wake up and- mostly it’s the alchemy. It was worth it, though. I don’t regret it.” He’d said those words so many times before, complete surety shining through. “Worth it for Al. And I don’t mind this leg.” He nudged her foot under the table and she could feel the hard metal against her calf. “Doesn’t need upkeep as much as my arm did, but when it does...” he trailed off, giving her a private smile. She could feel heat behind her cheeks.
“You’ve still got an excuse to come back,” she finished for him.
She wasn’t looking at his face, but she watched as his fingers curled around hers. Warmth crawled up her arm and she sat, frozen.
“I wasn’t saying I needed an excuse, Winry.”
Winry licked her lips, mouth suddenly dry. “I know.” She chanced a glance up at him. He was watching her, eyes wide and face cast in gentle shadows, lost in the waning light.
Her heart was beating entirely too loud in her chest. “Thanks,” she added. “Er- for dinner.”
Ed nodded and looked away, a small smile playing on his lips. “You too.”
They fell into silence again, her fingers still lost in his, as the last of the remaining light of dusk filtered through the curtains. The kitchen was cast in an orange glow and though the air was cold outside Winry felt so, so warm.
It was spring again, right on the cusp of summer and Winry couldn’t sleep. The night was too warm and she couldn’t get comfortable no matter how much she tossed and turned. Her skin was sticky from the humidity, and the air was so still and quiet that all she had to focus on was her heart beating out its own frustration.
Unable to stand it any longer, she sat up, tossing her meager sheet aside and padding across her bedroom in her bare feet. Even the wooden floor was sweating. Quietly, she opened her door and slipped into the hallway.
Air; she needed air and something cool. A cold glass of water had never sounded so appealing. She tiptoed down the stairs into the kitchen.
Cool glass of ice water in her hand, she slid out of the kitchen and across the living room. When she reached her hand out for the front door she was surprised, and a little alarmed, to find it already open a crack.
“Oh,” she breathed in relief when she pulled the door open anyway. Winry was met with the back of a familiar blonde head, hair down, barely visible against the dark, cloudy night. He jumped at the sound of her voice and turned around.
“Winry?” he said, surprise evident in his voice.
“Ed.” She pulled the door shut with a quiet click behind her. “What are you doing out here? I thought someone had… gotten in or something!”
Ed shrugged and turned back around to face the long, dark road leading from her house. “Couldn’t sleep.” He looked at her sideways as she sat down beside him on the front step. “What are you doing out here?”
Winry sighed, any annoyance or shortness of temper draining out of her. “I couldn’t sleep, either. Too hot.”
Ed nodded silently. The air was quiet and still as ever, but at least it was cooler out here and she didn’t feel quite as constrained as she had inside. She let out a slow breath, feeling the knot in her shoulders unravel slightly.
“I thought you’d be exhausted,” she said, feeling a need to fill the silence. The crickets were unusually quiet tonight. Winry looked up at the dark sky and couldn’t find a sign of the moon or stars. Maybe a storm was coming. “You know, after all the work today.”
If it was hot now, the day, with the sun out and shining, had been positively sweltering. Al had been inconveniently away, leaving the two of them responsible for heaving all the leftover automail that had gathered over the years out of the cellar. They’d been working at it for three days and today, with the heat and the absence of Al’s alchemy, was certainly the most trying.
The work and the heat had prompted both of their short tempers into more arguments than they’d had in a while, as well as…the other thing. That other tension prompted by the heat and sweaty skin and Ed’s very broad, very tan, very bare chest. And it didn’t help that she’d been wearing her old black tankini top.
Arguments and accidental touches that came far too often to be quite accidental, coupled with carrying loads of metal parts up the cellar stairs and across the yard and sweaty golden skin and Ed’s muscles- well. Winry had been quite ready to expire.
Except there was one thing. One thing she wanted to ask him about but didn’t quite know how, because any way she put it would say, I was looking.
“I could say the same of you,” Ed said, glancing back over. She could hardly see the gold of his eyes, the night was so dark.
“I am exhausted,” Winry sighed. And she was. Her eyes itched and her muscles ached terribly. It was just- “Too hot.”
“Hm,” he said, tugging on the collar of the blue t-shirt he always wore to sleep. “It is, but I was… dreams, you know?”
Winry glanced at him. She’d heard the stories, seen the pictures that were taken that day… heck, she’d had her own soul taken away. But she knew there were things he’d seen that she couldn’t even imagine, wouldn’t want to imagine, and he wouldn’t want her to. He still had dreams about that day, all the time. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d found him up in the middle of the night, or heard him wake up screaming, or found him in a shivering ball of tears. The tears were always the worst.
She nodded slowly, but the words slipped out of her mouth before she could think more about saying it. “Ed, on your… below your chest, I saw… was that a scar?”
She half expected him to quirk an eyebrow and say something along the lines of, “I knew you were checking me out today” or “couldn’t keep your eyes away, could you?” but instead he only stared at her, expression strangely distant and unreadable, before lowering his eyes to his feet.
Winry bit her lip, wondering if she had overstepped some boundary. The scar, a faded bruise of angry flesh, rested just below his left ribcage, something she had noticed before and anyone else would have noticed, too, but maybe it led to a particularly painful memory and- well, he’d already been having bad dreams that night. She was probably scratching an open wound.
“You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to,” she added quickly. “I mean- it’s none of my business anyway.”
To her immense surprise, Ed laughed. The sound seemed to bubble out of his mouth despite himself, an awkward sound in the quiet darkness. Something about it was off- just slightly, something only a person very familiar with his laugh might notice.
“Winry,” he said, chuckle fading into the inky black shrouding the road. “Of everyone, you might be surprised.”
She stared at the vague outline of his face. “What?”
“You’re very cute, do you know that?”
A wave of warmth washed over Winry that had nothing to do with the oppressive heat. She felt her mouth open into a slight, possibly unattractive gape. A fond smile lingered on his face. Where on earth was he going with this?
He set his hands in his lap and looked down at his fingers, smile fading. “It’s not a very pretty story, but, ah, I guess the short version is, well, a pole went through me and I pulled it out and used my alchemy so I wouldn’t bleed to death?”
He said it fast so it took her a moment to comprehend his words, ending it like a question he was waiting for her to answer. She felt the blood drain from her cheeks. “What?”
“Yeah, uh, it was Kimblee’s fault. Two of his men helped me, good guys. You know, the chimeras? Pulled it out while I used my alchemy to stop the bleeding. Took a lot of energy, a few years of my life, but…”
A sudden cool washed over Winry, only it carried none of the relief she had been longing for earlier. Instead, it rolled over her in waves of horror. He had used years of his life to- to-
“I almost gave up, too, you know,” he pushed on, looking up and meeting her eyes. “I- I almost let myself just- give up.”
Winry felt her body give an involuntary shiver. She felt nauseous. She didn’t want to picture it- Ed, a metal pole driven through his middle, collapsed in some dark building, pale and bleeding and on the brink of- no, she didn’t want to think of it. She clasped her hands together in her lap as her eyes begin to well with tears that felt like glass to her eyeballs.
“But then I thought of my promise.” Ed looked away again, licking his lips as if he might lose his nerve to say what he was going to say next. “That I made you. I thought it would be a really stupid way to break my promise.”
Winry felt her tears well over, out of the corners of her eyes and down her cheeks to her neck, and she itched suddenly, so badly to- to- engulf this boy, this stupid, wonderfully idiotic man sitting beside her. Who found the will to live because he’d promised her tears of joy. Who gave up years of his life to live for… her.
“It’s a promise I still intend to keep, you know,” he murmured quietly, and Winry felt the warmth of his hand on the side of her face as he brushed her tears away with the pad of his thumb. She sucked in a breath.
“I- I know, I’m not sad, I’m-” she cut off, throat too thick. She took another breath, blinked back more tears. “I- I’m happy you didn’t give up.”
Ed was quiet for a moment, staring at her with quiet intensity. “Me too,” he finally said, letting his fingers brush her ear. “Had to give you back your earrings, you know.” His eyes glinted with a tiny grin.
“Don’t know what I’d do without my earrings.” She felt her face dissolve into a watery smile. They looked at each other for a beat, until-
“Oh, Ed!” She lost it, threw her arms around him, and buried her face in his shoulder. It was hot and sweaty but to feel that, to feel the heat his skin gave off as he pressed himself into her, to hear the sound of his breath and the cadence of his heartbeat, to know he was here, living and breathing because of a promise he made to her, was something entirely too big for her to even comprehend.
“Thank you,” she said into the fabric of his shirt, voice muffled, “for keeping your promise.”
“Hmm,” his chest vibrated as he hummed. “Seemed more appealing than the alternative.”
Winry knew, when his choices were either fading to an early death or pulling a pole out of himself with monstrous amounts of pain- that it meant more than she could grasp.
It was autumn again and things were changing.
Al had regained all of his strength back, and he and Ed had settled into a wonderfully comfortable life in Winry’s childhood home, and they were happy. Winry was happy to be with her two favorite boys, happy that they’d come home and stayed home.
Yet she could feel it, the restlessness creeping into the house.
Winry didn’t quite know what to do. She continued to work on her automail and spend time with Ed and Al. Sometimes they went out. They’d taken a few trips to Rush Valley to visit her customers, her mentor, Paninya. They’d been to Central a few times as well, had been invited to Furor Mustang’s swearing-in ceremony.
But Winry could feel it- the itch for, well, something. Could see it in Al’s eyes when he fell quiet at meal times, could feel it in Ed’s skin when he moved close to her. Winry told herself to be patient. After all, nothing could be like all the previous times they had left.
The three of them had gone out to pick apples that day. If there was one thing Winry could never deny them – Al especially – it was her apple pie.
“Your apple pie helped me gain half of my weight back, Winry,” Al liked to say every time she made it, and honestly, Winry wouldn’t be surprised if that turned out to be true.
The three of them stood in the middle of an apple orchard, a basket in Winry’s hand as the other two wandered to the best trees. The sky was a clear blue and the air carried a sweet, crisp chill.
“You know, Al, if you use your alchemy this will go a lot faster,” Ed shouted over at his younger brother as he struggled on his tiptoes to reach a particularly red apple. Winry giggled. Ed froze, looking over at her as a tinge of red bloomed on his cheeks.
“What’s so funny?” he demanded.
“Nothing,” she said, covering her mouth. “Just reminded me of older times.”
Ed’s face deepened into a glare and he lifted his chin. “I’m a head taller than you now, you know-”
“Yes, yes, I know,” she said, trying to fight the smile twitching at her lips. “Taller than all of us.”
“Not quite!” Al said, swooping in and snatching the apple Ed had been reaching for right out of the tree. He grinned, holding it, red and shining, in his hand.
“You idiots,” Ed said, crossing his arms and looking affronted. Al walked over and dropped the apple in Winry’s basket, giving her a wink. Winry held back a laugh.
“And why would we use alchemy, brother, on such a nice day like this? Apple picking is so relaxing,” Al said.
Ed narrowed his eyes again in obvious disagreement, but he didn’t say anything as Al carried on to another tree. Winry rolled her eyes, a smile playing on her lips.
“How about this one?” she said, pointing to an apple just a bit too high for her. It hung directly over her head, ripe and ready for the taking. “Think you can get this for me, Ed?”
Ed made a quiet noise of assent and walked over, feet crunching on leaves and fallen apples. When he stepped in front of her, something stopped Winry from moving away.
Ed didn’t even hesitate as he reached right over her and snatched the apple easily. He lingered for half a second longer than would have been natural, their fronts nearly pressed together, his chest against the white sweatshirt he still never, ever mentioned her wearing.
And then his feet were flat on the ground again and he was rubbing the apple on his shirt. He held it up, perfectly red and glinting in the sunlight. Winry took it, and there was no real reason for her to brush her hand against his, but, well. Yes there was.
“Thank you,” she said, and times like these, when they found themselves alone and close to each other, new things had started to happen. Before she could think about it, because when she let herself think the moment tended to pass to soon, she leaned up and kissed him on the cheek.
Besides hugs and hand holding that happened more often than not now, sitting close together and tangled arms- there were cheek kisses. Lots and lots of cheek kisses. They were lovely, so, so lovely, and they warmed Winry right down to the tips of her toes. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like if she kissed him on the-
Lips. Lips suddenly, lips on lips and the jolt of heat that shot down her spine was enough to steal her breath and turn all her thoughts to utter nothingness except Ed, Ed, Ed-
He pulled away entirely too fast, face red as flames and eyes impossibly wide. He looked like a toddler caught stealing from the cookie jar and Winry would laugh if it didn’t feel as if she had been doused by a bucket of lava. An egg could probably be fried on her cheeks.
“Uh,” he started, blinking wordlessly as his eyes flickered to her lips and oh, Winry wanted to do that again. She was just about to close the gap once more when a voice broke through the air.
“Brother! Winry! Where are you? The trees down here are so much better!”
“Ah- we’re coming, Al!” Winry yelled back, his voice jolting her memory on how to speak words. She looked back at Ed. He was staring very intensely at the fallen apples scattered at their feet.
Winry sighed, suddenly impatient with all of this. “Oh, come on.” She grabbed his hand and laced her fingers between his, pulling tightly.
Ed looked back up at her, eyes suddenly bright. “Right,” he said. He squeezed her hand as they dashed from beneath the apple tree to find Al.
He hadn’t complained much, but Winry could tell Ed’s leg was bothering him. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, and when the blizzard blew in, he gritted his teeth in such pain she was certain he would grind them to dust.
“Come on,” she grabbed his hand and hauled him up from where he was sitting on the couch and staring at the fat flakes falling outside the window with such resentment that one might have thought the snow had personally wronged him. Ed looked up in surprise, but followed wordlessly as she led him up to her room.
“On the bed,” she said, shutting the door behind her and pushing him across the room. He froze and turned to look at her, his mouth hanging open. Winry felt her face flush.
“I mean- ugh! I’m going to fix your automail for you, you idiot!” she shoved him hard on the chest and he fell back on her bed. She turned to gather her tools and could feel him watching her as he chuckled.
“I was almost impressed there for a moment, Winry,” he said as she pulled her chair over. She smacked him on the arm.
“One more word and I’ll leave your metal joints to freeze to ice.”
Ed visibly shuddered and made a zipping motion across his lips.
They had never been very chatty during these automail sessions, always falling into a comfortable silence as Winry concentrated on her work. It was different – of course it was different – from any other customer Winry had worked on. She knew Ed well enough to know that he was one of the most impatient people in the world, but when she actually worked on him, made him sit for hours at a time as she fixed or enhanced his automail, he always grew quiet, hardly ever complained.
It had changed, slightly, the last few years. Sometimes, coming out of her haze of concentration, she would look up to find him watching her. In his eyes she might find warmth, or interest, or something akin to affection. She never let herself dwell on it until later, when she didn’t have to focus on screws and metal and could let her mind wander.
Winry was stupidly, foolishly, selfishly glad Ed still had his automail leg. If she ever had to look back on the quiet moments of her life, these sessions would be some of the best ones. Metal skin and warm gold eyes.
She thought, sometimes, of when he had peeled that gun out of her hand, finger by finger. She had cried and cried, unable to comprehend what she had wanted to do, what had been done to her. It was Ed, it was always Ed, that brought her back.
Ed’s jaw was clenched in pain and he looked pointedly at the window. She had forgotten she had opened it earlier, just a crack, but enough to send his metal joints into icy agony.
“Oh! Sorry!” She crossed the room and slammed the window shut to cut off the cold air.
“Why did you have that open, anyway?” he asked as she walked back over to the bed.
“I wanted to look when it started snowing this morning.” Winry bit her lip. It felt a bit foolish saying it out loud, but it was only Ed. “See the snowflakes up close.” It hardly ever snowed in Resembool.
Ed looked at her curiously. “Hm. Reminds me of when Al and I traveled to Briggs for the first time. We hadn’t seen snow in ages.” He raised his eyebrows. “Forgot how it affected my automail.”
“Hauled me all the way up there to fix it.” She paused beside the bed and put her hands on her hips.
“Not my fault.” Ed grinned.
It was funny, how something that had been so terrifying at the time could almost turn itself in a fond memory between them. It was the only easy way to deal with those things, sometimes.
“I don’t think I’d ever seen you look so horrified to see me.” Winry quirked an eyebrow.
“You were their hostage!” Something in Ed’s eyes changed, and she could tell it wasn’t quite so fond a memory anymore. She walked to the top of the bed where his head rested on her pillow and pushed a hand through his hair. His expression softened at her touch.
“I was fine,” she said. He smiled for a moment until a shudder ran through him and he clenched his jaw, glancing down at his leg. The cold really did affect him quite terribly.
Winry did it without even thinking. That’s how it was, these days. The need to think twice before leaning in for a kiss was unnecessary, a waste of time and thought, really. If the heat that crawled up her spine when their lips met was anything similar to what he felt, he should be warm in no time.
And they were alone. They were alone in her room and he was on her bed and there was a blizzard outside, and Winry would be lying if she said she’d never had a fantasy that started out this way. A curl of golden warmth unfurled in her stomach as his lips worked against hers.
It was almost scary how natural this was between them, that once they’d crossed a certain barrier everything seemed to just fall into place. Kissing Ed was as natural as breathing, and much more fun.
His hand slid down her arm and came to rest on the curve of her waist, and even through the thick fabric of her sweater she felt the heat of his touch. She pushed her fingers into his hair, nails digging into the pillow, and kissed him harder. She wanted to kiss him for hours, for days, until she couldn’t feel her limbs and her brain had gone to mush. She wanted to kiss him until he was stupid, until their lips were so sore they couldn’t talk.
That was how they surfaced, nearly a half hour later, her sweater off, pillow on the floor, and his hair free of its ponytail, tangled messily on the sheets. She was pressed between his body and the wall and both of them were flushed, breathing heavily. Ed’s lips were raw and red, eyes half-lidded and cheeks a lovely shade of pink. Winry didn’t think she had ever seen him look more beautiful.
“Uh,” she started. She glanced down at his leg. Ed put a hand to the back of her neck and she looked back at him.
“Later,” he said, and pulled her lips back to his.
When Winry woke up that morning, she wasn’t quite sure how to feel.
She wasn’t sad, exactly. Nor was she apprehensive, or anything she used to feel when Ed and Al left, but then again, this wasn’t like all the times before. Besides, Al had already taken off for the east two weeks ago.
“Eager to see the princess, hmm?” Ed had needled him as they waited for his train in the bright spring sun. They could hear it approaching from the distance.
Al didn’t so much as bat an eyelash. “And I wonder why you’re staying here an extra two weeks, brother.” He looked pointedly between the two of them, a glimmer of mischief in his eyes. Winry felt herself flush as Ed turned tomato red beside her. The train was chugging into the station.
“I’ll miss this tension between you two, it was a lot of fun!” Al said as his train came to a stop, and the doors opened. With a wide grin and a bright “See you!” he hopped aboard and disappeared into the compartment.
“Idiot! Get back here!” Ed shouted, nearly clambering onto the train after him. Winry grabbed the back of his coat and held him back. Other passengers turned to watch, curious.
“Ed, stop, people are watching!” she hissed, turning red again. Ed dropped his arms and huffed.
“Come on,” he muttered, grabbing her wrist and pulling her from the platform. On the way home he pulled her into an alley and she shoved him against the wall and they made out for twenty minutes. Winry was left with lovebites that didn’t fade for days.
It had been, truly, a wonderful two weeks with Ed. They talked about everything; where he was going, why he was going, what he would do in the west when he got there, who he would meet, what he might change.
“Tell me if you meet any automail mechanics,” Winry said one sunny afternoon as they sat beneath a tree off the main road. Sunlight slated through the leaves and warmed their faces. “Oh! Especially if they have any new technology, or tools, or methods, or-”
“Yes, yes,” Ed cut her off, rolling his eyes. There was a hint of a smile playing on his lips. Winry was sure that even if he did meet a mechanic, he wouldn’t know what was new from old, even though he’d been wearing automail most of his life. It was okay, though, because that was her job.
“This will be good for you,” Winry said instead, deciding to change the topic. “You and Al weren’t meant to stay in one place for too long.”
“Hm,” Ed said, eyes falling to his hands. “We’ve been here a while though, two whole years.”
Winry’s face melted into a smile. “Yeah, more than I could have hoped for.”
Ed looked up at her, eyes curious and unreadable. “Winry, you know…you know I like being here, right? With you?”
Winry felt herself flush. They didn’t normally verbalize their feelings, at least, not straight forward, anyway. Ed had been acting funny those last two weeks, taking more chances to randomly tell her that she was funny, or cute, or that she looked pretty, or was smart, or fun. She didn’t quite know what to do with it all, but she locked his words up, each one in its own small place in her heart, something she’d been doing for years and hadn’t even realized.
“Yeah,” she finally said. “Yeah, of course, Ed. I know that.” She was surprised at the mollified look that settled in his eyes at her words.
“Good,” he said. “Because you know I’m not…leaving you, right? This is just something…”
“That you have to do.” She nodded. “I know, Ed.”
His eyes seemed to melt, just looking at her, into something warm and fond and Winry simply didn’t know what to do with it. She looked down, fiddled with her hands. “I’ll probably do some traveling of my own, too. Go back to Rush Valley for a bit, check up on my customers. The like.”
“I’m glad,” Ed said, and he sounded so earnest about it Winry wanted to dissolve into a puddle.
“And then…” she started, simply for something to say, trailing off and leaving it for Ed to answer before she realized exactly what she was implying.
Ed froze, looked at her, opened his mouth like he was about to say something and closed it again like a deer caught in headlights. He’d been doing this the last couple of days, would start to say something, or ask a question, then freeze, clam up, shut his mouth and look away. Winry was deadly curious about it.
“And then we’ll see each other again!” she finished quickly in an attempt to override the awkwardness of the moment. Ed gave her a tight smile.
Now today he was finally leaving and she still didn’t know what he’d meant to say all those times. Winry glanced at the clock. They still had time before his train came, but Ed was impatient, standing in the living room with his suitcase packed and his new traveling coat on. He’d been unusually quiet all morning, and Winry supposed he was just eager to get started on his newest journey.
“Wait, Ed, don’t you want this?”
Ed paused where he stood in the open doorway, suitcase in hand. Afternoon sunlight streamed in from behind him, illuminating the gold in his hair. His eyes fell to what she held in her hands.
“Ah, no,” he said, and looked away.
“Are you sure?” Winry asked, brow furrowed. “You might get cold, it hasn’t been very warm yet, and I know in the west winter lasts a bit longer-”
“I’m sure,” he cut her off. He pulled at the coat he was wearing, a dark trench coat. “I’ve got this, haven’t I? You keep that.”
Winry blinked, glancing down at the white sweatshirt in her hands. “Yeah?”
Ed nodded shortly. “Sure. You wear it more than I do, anyway.” It was true, but at least he’d still worn it enough that it still smelled like him.
Winry felt herself smile. “Okay.” And she pulled it on, right then and there.
Ed cleared his throat, cheeks reddening slightly. “Let’s go, then.”
Ed was quiet the entire walk to the train station, and while Winry did like a good companionable silence, today was not one of those days. She chattered away the whole time, trying to get in every word she could think of, every bit of advice, every reminder. She was excited for his trip; excited to see what he’d accomplish and what he’d learn and what he would do to change the world. She was ready to be proud of him.
Ed needed this, that much she was sure of. He needed to have one final journey before… before whatever journey it was that was coming next. He still hadn’t been able to get past the look of deer in the headlights.
They sat on a bench at the station, the only people on the platform. Ed sat with his legs stretched out in front of him, a look of disinterest on his face that Winry chose not to take note of.
“And you need to oil it every day,” she said, even though she knew he did, knew he’d been taking care of his automail for years now.
“And check to make sure all the screws are tight.” She knew he did.
“Dry it off after coming out of the shower.” She couldn’t make herself stop.
Winry felt a stab of annoyance. Why was he being so quiet, so disinterested, so indifferent? He stared at the ground, a slight scowl on his face, and Winry leaned forward. “Hey, are you even listening?”
She sighed in frustration, and the sound of the train whistle blew in the distance. This was it, she supposed. Whatever the cause of Ed’s weird mood, it was time for him to ship off to the west, and Winry hoped, at least, that he might seem a bit cheerful about that. She stood up. “Well, here it is!”
The train rolled into the station, and when Winry turned around to look at Ed again. The look on his face was drawn into a deep scowl. “Ed?” she said.
His eyes dropped to the ground.
Winry sighed again. Just what was his deal? All she could do was bring it back to his leg. “With this attitude, you’re just going to end up breaking it and having to come back again soon.” She didn’t mean to turn it into a statement about him coming back to see her again, but.
Ed turned to the train, exasperation coating his voice. “Yeah, yeah, I know.”
“When you need maintenance, be sure to call in for an appointment.” Call me. Be sure to call me. To tell me about everything. For no reason at all. Just so I can hear your voice. Don’t forget.
“Sure,” he muttered one more time, walking away, every step taking him closer to the train and away from her. Winry bit her lip as he stepped onto the train.
One foot in, and he froze.
He muttered something to himself, something that sounded strangely like “appointment” and spun around again. He stared at her, silent.
She quirked her head to the side, giving him a gentle smile. He looked so serious.
“Winry…” he finally said, like it was just a struggle to get her name out. He fell silent again.
“What is it?” she said, a shade of impatience coloring her tone. If he didn’t hurry up, the train would leave him without a chance to finish. “Just speak up if you’ve got something to say.”
For the space of a second he seemed to fight some horribly intense internal battle. Then his face turned the brightest shade of pink she’d ever seen and he raised his finger to point at her.
“It’s equivalent exchange!” he nearly shouted.
Winry blinked in surprise. Her eyebrows shot up to her hairline.
“I’ll give you half of my life, if you give me half of yours!”
And then he fell silent again, face so red and strained he looked as if he might pass out. His eyes were wider than she’d ever seen them, pupils contracting with absolute terror.
Winry stared. Then, like a massive wave, his words washed over her. Her mouth fell open and she felt the air, the words sucked right out of her. He was still pointing at her, waiting, frozen.
Winry sighed in frustration and smacked a hand to her forehead. “Why do alchemists have to be like this?” she groaned. “‘Equivalent Exchange’? Are you an idiot?” Yes, yes he was. This man standing in front of her had saved the nation and his brother’s soul, but he couldn’t understand exactly what he meant to her.
“What did you say?” he said defensively, balling his hands into fists.
She gave him a dirty look. “You really are stupid.” She put a hand to her chest and looked him right in those golden eyes of his, hoping her words might make him see. “Half? I’ll give you all of it.”
Ed froze, turned positively statuesque. He stared at her, mouth falling open slightly, as a long silence stretched between them.
As he continued to stare, Winry’s words suddenly caught up to her, and she realized exactly what she’d said, exactly what she’d agreed to and holy hell she wanted it so badly and for so long she felt the ache of it in her bones.
And she’d just said it, right to his face.
Embarrassment washed over her in hot waves as she began to babble. “W-wait! Maybe not all of it!” She looked at her fingers, as if they might help her out. “Ninety percent! Or maybe…eighty percent?” She was staring at six fingers and could hear nothing but the blood rushing in her ears. “A bit more than seventy…okay then, eighty five percent?” She had no idea what she was saying, what she was even counting. “Sure! I can give you that much!”
And then he laughed.
Laughed. Bent over and absolutely guffawed. She felt a cringe worthy mixture of annoyance and total embarrassment rush through her as she turned to face him again, face flaming. “W-what?!”
He only laughed harder, threw his head back and snorted as if he’d only just discovered what humor was, and she had half a mind to push him right onto the train tracks.
“Ed!” she said in frustration, curling her hands into fists.
“My bad, my bad,” he gasped through chuckles, trying and failing to stifle his laughter. He was holding his stomach, the idiot. He dissolved into more chuckles.
“Ed!” she said again, ready to shove him into the compartment and hope he would never return. How did this turn into her humiliation?
He took a deep breath and looked up at her, golden eyes crinkled in mirth. “You really are amazing.”
And- there he went with the compliment, right out of nowhere, coming right at her quick enough to give her whiplash.
“You’re able to overturn the law of equivalent exchange so quickly,” he continued, looking at her with bright eyes.
“What do you mean by that?” she said quickly. He still had giggles in his voice. She narrowed her eyes. “Are you making fun of me?”
He stood up straight. “I’m not.” His voice was calmer now, and he took a step forward so that he was standing right in front of her. His eyes were so warm, so very happy that everything she’d been yelling about before flew right out of her mind. He lifted a hand to her face, fingers warm and leaving a trail of illuminated skin along her cheek. He pulled her into a hug.
“That cheered me up,” he murmured into her hair, pulling her close against him. “Thanks.”
Winry was still so stunned, still thrown completely off- wait, was this what he had been trying to say, been trying to ask for the last two weeks? Winry’s eyes widened against his shoulder.
“I’ll be off now,” he said quietly.
No, wait, she thought blindly. He’d sprung that on her, just to leave? To make one more promise? Her arms were still hanging limply at her sides and she lifted them up, wrapped them tighter than she ever had around his waist, pushing her face into his chest. He’d grown so much.
The train whistled.
He had to go, he had to do this, and she was happy, she was so incredibly happy she was unsure if her body could actually contain it all. She lifted her head, smiling into his shoulder. “Safe trip!” she said.
He pressed a kiss to her forehead, leaving a trail from her hair to her eyes to her nose to her cheeks and finally, to her lips. Winry closed her eyes, toes curling in her shoes, intending to savor every part of it.
He let go, glanced at her once more with a private, sunny smile on his face.
He boarded the train.
She watched it go, eyes on the wheels as it lurched away from the station, left with the lingering warmth of Ed’s arms, his kiss on her lips. She pulled the white sweatshirt tightly around her, the soft fabric engulfing her shoulders. If there was one thing she’d learned every time he left, it was that there was always a part of him he left behind.
And he always, always came back.