|Risembool and Rush Valley
Author: Yellow Mask PM
Edwin series of oneshots. 7th Story Up! In this life, only three things truly matter how deeply you've loved, how much you've trusted...and how gracefully you've let go.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Winry R. & Edward E. - Chapters: 7 - Words: 24,652 - Reviews: 204 - Favs: 153 - Follows: 67 - Updated: 02-13-07 - Published: 09-06-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3143672
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
By Yellow Mask
Part of the 'Risembool and Rush Valley' series
Disclaimer: I do not own FMA, and am making no profit from this story
Spoilers: None overt
AN: Just to make it clear, that quote in the summary (also used later in this fic) isn't mine. I can't remember where I read it, but I thought I better make it clear it wasn't my work.
Winry heard the screams as she rounded the corner. For a moment, her blood froze, thinking someone was in desperate need of help. Then she realised that the high, trumpeting screeches weren't human, and while she calmed somewhat she didn't simply turn away and try to block them out. An animal only screamed like that when it was in pain.
Winry broke into a trot, her bag bouncing against her side as her sandaled feet beat a rhythmic tattoo against the dirt like a tribal drum. The scream came again, high and defiant, but with a note of defeat and pain in it as well.
Winry forced her body into a flat-out run, churning dust in her wake to blow behind her in the autumn morning like a rocket's plume. She knew she was getting close, and as some part of her mind registered she was approaching Risembool's animal stockades, she shot around the corner and finally spotted her quarry.
Her first thought was that she hadn't known horses came in that colour. The stallion's coat was the vivid, blazing red of the setting sun, but his mane and tail were pale gold. He was standing in the stockyards, surrounded by five men with ropes and whips who were circling cautiously. Their wariness made Winry think that the horse hadn't been broken in yet, and they were trying to train him.
But then she saw the blood on the stallion's foreleg, and all kind, charitable thoughts went out the window.
"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"
A lion's voice wouldn't have had that much roar in it. The stallion's head jerked up, his nostrils flaring as he scented her. It was then she noticed he was tied to a post with a halter and several ropes around his neck. Another rope looped around his hind leg, forcing the hoof from the ground and making his balance precarious at best, inches away from overturning at worst.
Now that she was closer, Winry could see that blood on his right foreleg came from a deep gash in the horse's shoulder, almost deep enough to expose muscle tissue. Whip weals marked his crimson coat, and his left ear was split open, drops of blood flecking his mane and neck
As none of the men seemed prepared to answer her question, Winry tried again. But this time, her voice was colder, deadlier.
"What do you think you're doing?"
When one of them – obviously the ringleader – stepped forward with a broad smile on his face, Winry fought to suppress the urge to fling something hard and heavy at his head.
"Why are you abusing this animal?" Winry didn't shout, but her voice carried the same sting as the whip coiled in the man's hand.
"Now, Miss, wild horses need some rough handling at first-"
The man tried to look contrite, but she could practically taste his disdain. He thought she was just a stupid girl who didn't know the first things about breaking in horses. While she would admit she knew little about it, she was certain injuries like the ones the stallion were sporting weren't necessary.
"How much did you pay for him?" Winry blurted before she'd truly thought about it. Sometimes she could learn to despise her impulsiveness.
A gleam entered the man's eye. "How much are you offering?"
Winry considered herself a good judge of character. And she could tell this man hadn't actually paid for the stallion. Recalling his earlier comments, she realised he had probably captured the horse from the wild herd that sometimes passed through here in the spring and autumn.
Considering it was the beginning of fall now, she didn't think her assumptions were that much of a stretch.
Winry checked the bag at her side, filled with money from her grandmother. A birthday gift, for her to go into town and buy whatever she wanted. For a moment she hesitated, questioning the wisdom of buying a wild horse and thinking how angry her grandmother would be with her.
But then she looked at the horse again, saw his trembling muscles, saw the fear in the white-rimmed eyes...and found she couldn't do anything else.
Cash changed hands, all her birthday money gone in an instant. The men left on the spot, obviously not troubled in the slightest by unloading such a problematic animal on her. She could see they didn't care what happened to her or the horse.
Winry waited until they were gone, then stepped towards the horse. She knew precious little about livestock, but she did know she needed to get the stallion back home. She just hoped she wasn't about to get her skull broken open for her trouble.
She kept her movements slow and casual, trying to keep her body language non-threatening. The stallion's nostrils flared and his ears lay flat against his head, but he made no move to back away.
Winry wasn't sure if that was a good thing, or if he was simply waiting to attack her.
"Easy, boy," she crooned, her voice dropping to the soft, soothing murmur her grandmother had often praised her for. She didn't know what was so special about it, but her voice, in that pitch and tone, had quietened patients in the throes of automail surgery. Pinako had told her it was a gift. A voice she could slip into that washed away pain and fear, and left nothing but the soft, thrumming lilt of her words.
"Easy, boy," she repeated, then realised she didn't even know the stallion's name. "I don't know what to call you, boy," she admitted, never once changing her soft tone. "What shall I call you, hmm?"
She looked at the blazing, fire-like coat, at the soft golden streams of mane and tail...
"Firefly," she breathed, "I'll call you Firefly. How'd you like that?"
It might have been her imagination, but she thought she could see Firefly's trembling easing slightly.
"Easy, Firefly, easy now."
Slowly, gently, she untied the rope holding his hindleg off the ground. With an almost audible sigh of relief, the hoof touched the dirt once more. Firefly's tight muscles relaxed a little more.
Careful not to startle him, Winry untied the ropes around his neck, careful not to touch the gaping shoulder wound. She took hold of his halter rope, and tugged gently, trying to urge him towards the stockyard gates.
He obeyed her urging, but Winry suspected his easy acquiescence was only gained from his sheer exhaustion. Firefly's head dropped, his feet dragged...every line of his body seemed weary. His movements were still jerky, and his nostrils still flared.
He didn't trust her, but she wasn't actively trying to hurt him – at this point in time, she was just the lesser of two evils.
Pinako had not been pleased when she saw her granddaughter approaching the house, leading an injured, skittish stallion beside her. But then she saw the look in Winry's eyes, the light that preceded some foolish bout of self-sacrifice and generosity...and she understood.
She didn't know the details, but with the horse's injuries, Pinako would bet that Winry had surrendered all her birthday money to save the animal from cruelty. Sometimes, she thought she could burst with pride at how selfless her granddaughter could be. She wondered if that quality could be credited to her son and his wife, or even herself, for raising her the way they did...or was it simply inherent in her being?
The horse – Firefly, as Winry had named him – was currently in the field behind their house. The ramshackle stables in it had long ago fallen into disrepair, but Winry was determined to fix them up, if only so Firefly could have some proper shelter.
The vet had been called to see to their new charge, and the treatment for Firefly's injured ear and shoulder had been paid for out of Winry's own pocket. Apparently, she was determined not to burden Pinako with her own decisions.
Firefly had tolerated the vet's treatment for the same reason he had tolerated Winry's attentions – he didn't have the strength to truly object to contact that didn't hurt him. His ear and shoulder had been stitched up and treated with antiseptics, and the horse was currently standing in the paddock, under the shade of one of the tress, watching Winry work on the stable while cropping the grass.
Winry sighed, wiped sweat from her face and surveyed her work. It wasn't bad. The stables were finally beginning to look like stables, instead of some ramshackle pile of rotting wood. The blonde mechanic stretched, feeling her spine pop satisfyingly.
She was tired. There was still a lot of work to do, but Winry didn't see anything wrong with taking a short nap in the shade. With another sigh, she stretched out in the grass, pulled her hat over her face and closed her eyes...
She awoke to the feeling of soft felt rubbing against her cheek. For a moment, Winry stiffened, then she smelt the musky horse-scent and knew it was Firefly's nose that was touching her. She lay still, letting him investigate her. Letting him sniff at her clothes and nibble at her hair, as though trying to work out what she was.
When his hot breath gusted over her ear, she was unable to hold in a giggle. Firefly jerked away, and Winry heard his snort of alarm. But when she continued to remain motionless, he approached once more.
Winry didn't know how long she lay there, letting Firefly nose at her inert body. Eventually, the horse drew away, and when he didn't return Winry assumed he'd found something more amusing. But when she pushed herself into a sitting position, Firefly was still there, a few feet away, staring at her the way a horse would eye a wounded predator. Dangerous, but not pressingly so.
Winry blinked at him, wondering what she should do. Firefly didn't look like he was about to charge her, but you could never be too careful with a wild horse...
When several minutes passed and nothing happened, Winry shrugged and turned back to the stable. She was almost finished...just needed to patch hole here and there...
Firefly's lips tickled as he lifted the apple pieces from Winry's palm. The blonde mechanic held still, stifling a reflexive laugh at the sensation.
At least he took food from her hands now. It had taken nearly a week for Firefly to become accustomed to Winry's presence, to the point where he no longer ran to the opposite side of the paddock when she entered it. He allowed her to touch him now, and seemed to have no problems letting her run her hands over his glossy coat.
Almost a month into his stay, it was hard to tell he was a wild horse. In fact, with the way Firefly was acting, Winry thought he couldn't possibly have been wild all his life. Perhaps he had been born tame, and somehow gone wild later. Or perhaps he had been caught beforehand and broken in, and had somehow gotten free again.
She supposed she would never know.
Firefly whickered, nosing her pockets.
"Sorry, Firefly, I don't have any more," she chuckled, dusting her hands for emphasis. "Go eat some grass instead."
He didn't move. Thinking he wanted to be petted, Winry scratched his forehead and caressed his neck, fingering the swiftly-healing ear. When Firefly butted her in a bid for more attention, Winry was so shocked she nearly lost her balance. Firefly had never actually sought her attention before.
With a soft, secret smile, Winry gave in to the stallion's pleas and tickled his nose.
"Firefly!" Winry called as she opened the gate and stepped into the paddock, grass crunching underneath her boots.
A shrill whinny split the air, and the red stallion came charging towards her, stopping just in front of her and rubbing his head against her shoulder. Winry laughed and scratched his ears.
Pinako watched from the gate, puffing on her pipe thoughtfully. To look at them, one would never think Firefly a wild horse. Yet Pinako knew Firefly was far from being tame. Only Winry had earned his trust, and the horse behaved like that with no one else. Pinako had tried to call him over once, and the horse had ignored her.
He only came when Winry called.
Pinako watched her granddaughter chuckle to herself as she combed the tangles out of Firefly's mane. Sometimes, she found it almost frightening how both people and animals just seemed to trust Winry, as though somehow sensing her inherent compassion. It hadn't taken more than a few months for Firefly to trust Winry, and considering his past experiences with humans, that was certainly saying something.
But as Winry continued to groom the wild horse that stood perfectly still for her administrations, Pinako wondered if she was imagining the way Firefly seemed to be looking past the fence and into the horizon.
Winry tugged at the branch, muttering various mutinous phrases under her breath. The branch had broken in a cold snap (which were becoming increasingly frequent as winter set in) but hadn't actually fallen out of the tree. That made it dangerous – it could shift and fall on Firefly's head at any given time. So Winry had climbed the tree in an effort to lever the dead wood out.
Firefly whickered from below, his nose snuffling at her feet. He had taken to following her about the field like an overgrown dog, and while Winry found his behaviour endearing, it wasn't making her job any easier. For one, if the branch fell out at the wrong angle it could hurt him, which was exactly what she was trying to avoid.
For another, his nose was tickling her ankles.
Winry yanked again at the branch, growling in frustration when it refused to move. She shook her hair out of her eyes, took a better grip and tried again...
The branch ripped free, but unfortunately for Winry, so did her feet. For a moment, time seemed to slow as she realised she was going to fall, then gravity took hold and she began to drop. Leaves and sky spun together like a ruined painting, her hands were outstretched, scrabbling desperately for some kind of purchase...
She hit something large and solid, stomach first. The breath rushed out of her lungs as the object jerked beneath her, and her arms locked around whatever had saved her. As the world slowly swam back into focus and her panic ebbed, Winry was completely floored to find what had broken her fall.
She had landed on Firefly's back. Considering the stallion had been underneath her, that in itself wasn't too far out of the realms of probability, it was his reaction to it that had her so surprised.
He hadn't moved. He hadn't made to buck her off or throw her to the ground or tear around the paddock like the devil was on his back. He hadn't taken a single step. And as Winry's breathing began to return to normal, Firefly twisted his head and peered at her with one dark, liquid eye.
She could almost hear him asking what she was doing.
Winry prepared to slide off his back, when a sudden, impulsive, reckless thought occurred to her. Half-expecting to be thrown from his back at any moment, Winry eased herself into the proper riding position.
Still, Firefly didn't move.
Without saddle or bridle, there wasn't much Winry could do except tangle her hands in his mane, shift herself into a firmer position on his back, and tentatively tap her heels against his side.
Firefly took a few steps forward.
That settled it. He had to have been trained before – no horse would respond like this if it weren't. Gaining confidence, Winry urged him forward once more.
Steel-hard muscles bunched under her thighs, and Firefly shot forward like a bullet from a gun. Winry yelped, clinging for dear life as the stallion tore across the field. She was sure she would fall..
But as Firefly galloped on and nothing happened, Winry's fear slowly melted away, replaced with exhilaration. There was something so primal and thrilling about feeling the wind in her face, her hair streaming behind her as they powered across the ground...
Winry came to a sudden realisation. How was she going to get him to stop?
But then soon realised she needn't have bothered. Firefly slowed as he reached the fence, finally halting in front of it, his neck outstretched as he let loose with a loud, ringing cry that echoed off the hills.
Winry paused, then slid from Firefly's back, stroking his neck as the stallion stared past the fence at the setting sun, his muscles quivering beneath his skin. There was sheer, wild longing in every line of his body as he stared at the horizon.
Hardly knowing how she knew, Winry nevertheless understood.
Firefly wanted his freedom.
"So what are you going to do about it?" Pinako asked, her eyes sharp as Winry explained the situation over dinner.
Winry shrugged. "I can't set him free – not now, at least. Winter's setting in and he hasn't healed properly yet...but when spring comes, and the herd comes back here..."
Pinako stared at her granddaughter, noting the wistful expression in her eyes. She adored Firefly, and here she was talking of giving him up like it was the most natural thing in the world...
"Are you sure?"
Winry nodded. "He's not really happy, grandma. And I want him to be happy..."
The snow was a cold, crisp blanket on the ground. It crunched under Winry's feet as she opened the gate. She could see the stallion standing under a barren tree; a drop of blood on a sheet of white.
Firefly's head went up. His ears swiveled towards her and he came at her beckoning with a ringing neigh of greeting. She hugged his neck tightly, pressing her chilled cheek to his warm coat. He rested his head on her shoulder and pressed his chin into her back, lipping at the corner of her jumper.
Her breath steamed in the air as Winry scrambled onto his back. She never tried to put a saddle or bridle on him – not even a rope – and while riding like this was practically inviting disaster, Winry didn't want to restrain Firefly in any way. She didn't want to do anything that might disrupt his fragile trust in her.
She suspected he'd only tolerated her presence at first, his injuries leaving him unable to do anything else. Then as he learned that interactions with her were beneficial to him, he began to accept her company. Gradually, he began to welcome her and actively seek her out.
And now, he was even willing to let her ride on his back.
But she was the only one he behaved this way with. Pinako's overtures were met with distrustful stares and flattened ears. And he wouldn't let anyone but Winry touch him.
Winry knew that Firefly loved her, in whatever way horses felt love.
But he loved his freedom more.
She hugged him a little tighter, and tried to sniff back a few mournful tears. She wanted to keep him...but that would be selfish. He wanted to be free.
She would miss him. But she knew that when you really loved something, you had to be willing to let it go.
The air was fresh and crisp, still with the slight chill of winter, but gradually surrendering to the new season's warmth.
Ed took a deep breath, marvelling at how wonderfully clean the air was in Risembool. Spring was just around the corner, and while the air was warming it still held the sharp tang of winter. As he and Al approached Rockbell Automail, a flurry of barks rang out as Den announced their presence.
"Back again?" Pinako laughed, opening the door for them.
Ed looked around, but the usual flying wrenches were conspicuously absent. "Where's Winry?"
"Outside," Pinako pointed at the window.
It say Ed was surprised was an understatement. Winry was in the field behind the Rockbell house, and it looked like she was riding a horse! The horse's coat was a strange, blazing red, but the mane and tail were the same colour as Winry's hair, long streams of gold ribboning behind the pair as they surged across the grass.
As they came closer to the house, Ed came to the abrupt realisation that the horse Winry was riding didn't have a saddle. Or a bridle, either, for that matter.
"Is she trying to get herself killed?" he hissed, staring as Winry turned her mount (how, he wasn't sure) and urged the horse to jump a fallen branch.
They flew over the branch like Pegasus launching into flight. Winry laughed, raising her arms to the sky as they landed smoothly and cantered towards the gate.
"Hey, Ed, hey, Al," Winry greeted.
The horse's nostrils flared as they approached the brothers, and there was a look in the animal's eyes that reminded Ed of a wild dog. As though the horse was sizing them up, considering whether or not he and Al could be a threat.
"Easy, Firefly," Winry cooed, stroking the horse's neck as she dismounted. "Easy...these people are my friends."
There was something about her tone of voice that rang a dull bell in Ed's memory. A voice he could remember from the time he had to undergo automail surgery, a voice that called from beyond the curtain of unconsciousness, a voice that somehow, in its own way, made the pain more bearable. Had Winry spoken to him like that when he was wracked with the pain of automail surgery? Had she soothed him with a voice like that?
"One last ride, huh?" Pinako asked.
Winry nodded, and to Ed and Al's astonishment, she seemed to be on the verge of tears. As though sensing her mood, Firefly whickered softly, rubbing his head against Winry's side. Enchanted by the beautiful stallion, Al stretched out a hand to touch his head...
Only to have Firefly jerk away, ears pinned back and neck stiff.
"Don't try to touch him, Al," Winry admonished, calming Firefly once more. "He's a wild stallion, he doesn't take well to being touched."
"Wild...?" Ed repeated faintly. "But he was letting you ride him!"
Winry shrugged, and it was Pinako who answered. "Winry is about the only being on this green earth that Firefly trusts. No one else is even allowed to touch him."
The old woman laughed a little. "I always thought one-person horses were a myth. I figured a good rider could do anything with a horse, the same it doesn't matter what metal a good mechanic works with. But Winry really is the only one who can do a thing with Firefly."
She gave a her granddaughter a shrewd look. "Are you sure you want to let him go?"
"You're letting him go?" Al yelped.
Winry nodded. "He's a wild horse – he wants to be free. It would be selfish to keep him here. I mean, yeah, I love him," she hugged Firefly's neck briefly. "But part of love is doing what will make them happy."
"There's no guarantee he'll stay happy," Pinako pointed out. "He might be captured later, by someone not as kind as you."
Winry shrugged. "Life is a risk, Granny, but life's also about people making the right choices. And I have to know that I, at least, made the right choice."
Winry couldn't help but think it was similar to what happened with Ed. Whenever he left, there was a risk he would never come back, a risk he would find another mechanic, one he liked better...but she had to let him go. Because it was the right thing to do.
Just like letting Firefly go was the right thing to do.
She hugged the huge red neck tightly, burying her face in the golden strands of his mane. He curved his neck until his nose touched her back, sensing her sorrow but not knowing its cause. Tears swam in her eyes as she stroked the rough coat, only just beginning to lose the thicker hairs that had kept him warm during winter.
But now it was spring, and the wild herd would be passing through. If she was to let him go, it had to be now.
With a sniffle, Winry stepped away. She opened the gate to the paddock and stepped back, leaving his path to freedom open and waiting.
Firefly snorted uncertainly, as though not quite sure what she was saying. He took hesitant steps towards the open gate, glancing at Winry as though waiting for instructions. Slowly, achingly slowly, he passed through the gate and into the open fields. He paused, looking back at Winry.
Everyone knew that Winry could stop him. If she called, Firefly would come. He would turn his back on the hills and the sunset, forsaking his freedom to live the rest of his life with her...
But Winry didn't call. She stood where she was, just watching as Firefly slowly walked out of her life, tears hovering on her eyelashes.
Gradually, in stops and starts, Firefly drew further and further away. Eventually, with one last backward glance, he disappeared over a hill, vanishing into the distance.
"You feeling okay?" Pinako asked.
"In this life, only three things truly matter," Winry quoted with a tremulous smile. "How deeply you've loved, how much you've trusted...and how gracefully you've let go."
Her laughter was bittersweet. "I don't remember where I read that, but I think it's appropriate to this situation."
Ed and Al couldn't find anything to say.
"He would have stayed with you," Pinako said quietly.
"He probably would have," Winry murmured. "But he would always want his freedom. He would never be truly happy. But if I let him go, there's a chance he can find that happiness."
Ed couldn't help wondering if horses could forget, or if Firefly, running wild and free, would feel a twinge in his heart as he remembered Winry.
It was in that instant that Ed was suddenly struck by how strong Winry seemed; standing there, gazing after Firefly, the crystal shimmer of tears on her cheeks. Strong and tragically beautiful, watching something she loved fade into the distance.
"He probably wanted to stay," he found himself saying. "Firefly, I mean...he probably wanted to stay."
Winry smiled at him. She saw the wistful look in his eyes, and knew Ed wasn't just speaking of the stallion. It occurred to her that Ed was rather like Firefly – he didn't want to leave her, but he had to answer a more pressing call. In Firefly's case, it was his bone-deep yearn for freedom. In Ed's...it was his quest to restore his brother.
"He probably did," she agreed. "Firefly loved me...in whatever way horses feel love. And I loved him...enough to let him go."
"That's sounds sad," Al said mournfully.
Winry shrugged. "It's what people do. We love, and we risk getting our hearts broken...but if we refuse to take that risk out of fear, then our lives are empty, our loss the greater. Because love is what make an existence into a life. We love, and it hurts – sometimes it hurts so much you can't breathe – but the happiness it brings can be matched by nothing else."
Winry couldn't help thinking that this was a definite first. Ed had never woken her up to say goodbye before. She blinked sleep from her eyes and listened to him tell her that Al was downstairs, they were ready to leave, he was grateful to her for fixing his arm and leg...
She could see in his eyes that there was something else, something that he wasn't saying. Without actually realising it, Winry suddenly and abruptly decided she wasn't going to hide the way she felt anymore. Not when she was almost certain he felt the same way about her.
It was when he started to stumble over the words of the actual goodbye that she sprang into action. Winry leaned up and kissed him quickly on the lips.
She grinned broadly at his astounded expression.
"Three things, Ed," she whispered.
Without even waiting to see his reaction, she flopped back down to her bed and rolled over, closing her eyes and already preparing to go back to sleep.
"Three things, Ed."
Winry's voice was still echoing in his ears as Ed stared out the window of the train. Al seemed to sense his brother's sombre mood, and remained silent as Ed quietly brooded.
"In this life, only three things truly matter. How deeply you've loved, how much you've trusted...and how gracefully you've let go."
Ed gently touched his mouth, trying to remember the feel of Winry's lips on his own. He squashed the sudden, irrational urge to run back to Risembool just to kiss her again and refresh his memory.
"In this life, only three things truly matter. How deeply you've loved, how much you've trusted...and how gracefully you've let go."
In a sudden rush, Ed understood what Winry was saying. She was saying that she loved him, and she knew he loved her...and she was still letting him go.
In that instant, Ed thought about the principal of Equivalent Exchange, and wondered what he had done to deserve Winry. This was swiftly followed by the realisation that he had never done anything that good, and his stomach twisted at the sudden feeling of being unworthy, of not being good enough for Winry...
"In this life, only three things truly matter. How deeply you've loved, how much you've trusted...and how gracefully you've let go."
If she was going to let him go, the least he could do was come back to her.
A year after Winry released Firefly and she and Ed shared their first kiss, the blonde mechanic and her lover were sitting on the back porch in the warm spring night, embracing and trading kisses.
"How long can you stay?" Winry gasped out as Ed switched his attention from her lips to a small patch of skin just below her earlobe.
"Don't know," Ed muttered, his voice muffled against her neck. "At the moment...don't care..."
Winry giggled, but it soon turned into another gasp as Ed's hand began to roam across her back, caressing slowly.
Something shifted in the night.
Both Ed and Winry turned, their eyes squinting as they tried to pierce the formless darkness beyond the soft glow of light that came from inside the house.
Another shift...something moved in the blackness...
Something that whinnied softly.
Ed could feel Winry stiffen with shock in his arms.
Firefly stepped into the circle of light, red coat aglow, flaxen mane and tail drifting behind him like gold smoke.
"Firefly?" Winry whispered hoarsely.
Firefly whickered. Winry leapt from the porch, rushing to throw her arms around the stallion's neck, laughing and crying at the same time.
Ed smiled from the porch, feeling a spark of sympathetic happiness at her obvious elation. Firefly nibbled at her hair, in what Ed assumed was the horse-equivalent of a hug. Winry sniffed back tears of joy and just squeezed him tighter.
Something else nickered in the darkness.
Winry's eyes widened in shock as shapes moved behind Firefly – a small group of mares and foals. They were nervous, whickering and snorting uncertainly, but the fact that Firefly seemed so at ease with the blonde woman seemed to reassure them to the point that they didn't immediately bolt off into the night.
Firefly swung his head around to look at them, then back at Winry as he nuzzled the mechanic's cheek.
Winry knew it meant nothing, but something inside her thought the gesture was almost as though Firefly were asking her what she thought of his family.
"They're beautiful," she whispered against his neck. "Just like you."
She stayed like that for a long time, embracing Firefly as Ed waited on the porch and his herd moved in the night behind them. Two very different creatures from two very different worlds, drawn together by the love each felt for the other, the bonds they forged one winter, long ago.
Then Winry kissed the golden mane and stepped back to the porch. Firefly bobbed his head, almost like a gesture of farewell, then vanished once more into the darkness.
"He came back," Ed observed. "With a family, too."
Winry nodded, hugging him tightly.
"It's funny," Winry murmured into his shirt. "If you let something go, it can still come back."
Ed smiled, pressing a quick kiss to her temple. "With the way you love us, how can we do any less?"
AN: Yes, almost unbearably sappy and sentimental. I make no excuses.