Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Edward, with a quick appearance by Alphonse.
Summary: Edward enjoys a simple pleasure that can't always be had in his travels.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt of "Hot Water" at Fan Flashworks—because who doesn't love Ed shirtless and wet?
The inn had running hot water.
After a long day of travel—preceded the night before by a run-in with some shady mercenaries that had turned rather strenuous—Edward Elric was delighted with the unexpected amenity. Nilo was a tiny riverside fishing town, and the inn looked rather shabbily aged. As with most such places he encountered in his travels, he'd expected cold water at best, if not a mere outdoor pump.
Of course, as an alchemist, it was easy to heat a tub of water for soaking in. A bath of that sort was workable almost anywhere, no matter what the local plumbing offered… but Ed loved it when he could have a hot shower instead.
Leaving Alphonse to clean and oil his own armor in their room, Ed made his way down the hall, and shut himself in the second floor's common bathroom. It wasn't surprising in such a small and sleepy town, but he was glad there were no other guests currently staying there. That meant he could take all the time he wanted.
He turned the shower on first, allowing ample time for the water to heat up; something he had learned from experience, in similar boondocks where modern plumbing was new and questionable. The spray was nicely strong, he noted with satisfaction.
As the bathroom's tiny space began to grow pleasantly steamy, he unbound his hair and undressed with slow movements, wincing just a little. He'd strained his left arm in that fight with the mercenaries, and had a few bruises. It was all the more reason to be glad for the treat that awaited him now.
When he stepped into the shower, it was almost scalding—exactly the way he liked it. Ed sighed and arched his spine under the spray. The hot droplets beating down on his back and shoulders felt exquisite, relaxing tight muscles, making his skin tingle. His bruises ached a bit under the pummeling, but in a good way.
After a few moments, he turned to let the water fall on his face and chest. Then he shifted sideways and gingerly flexed his strained arm under the spray, letting the heat soak into overworked muscles; and just that easily, he felt the soreness beginning to be soothed.
It was ridiculous, really, that Al or Colonel Mustang kept wanting to push him into the ham-hands of doctors whenever he got a little scraped up. The miracle cure of hot water was all he needed.
Ed could have kept on enjoying the steaming liquid massage for hours… but even if there was no one around to wait for the bathroom, he knew the hot water would run out before long. Grudgingly he reached for the soap, and began to wash away the grime of travel.
He scrubbed most of his skin until it was redder than even the hot water had made it. Along the edges of his automail ports, he took more care, gently cleansing any trace of dirt from the rough creases of scar tissue. Those surgical wounds had been healed for years now, but early on, Winry and Pinako beat it relentlessly into his head that he had to keep them clean to avoid infection. Unlike many of their instructions, it was one habit that stuck.
Moving on, he soaped and rinsed his hair, working his fingers through long blond locks—only his left fingers, because the intricate joints of his prosthetic right hand were especially prone to get tangled in his hair when it was wet. Lastly, he wiped down his automail itself, taking pains once again in cleaning those troublesome spaces between the joints.
It was the most boring part of the shower. The brisk stimulation of scrubbing was lost upon the unfeeling steel.
But at least there was some of him that was still flesh… and that was more than Alphonse had.
A familiar flicker of guilt passed through Ed, dull now only by virtue of its familiarity. He leaned his head against the shower wall and grimaced. The burden he carried was always there, but the smallest and most mundane random thoughts could ripple it like a pond, briefly sharpening his consciousness of it.
He responded as he always did, by reminding himself that it was the reason he was here: out on the road, in a tiny backwater town, across the country from his birthplace. It was why he fought, and why he searched.
And someday, he would make everything right for his brother.
For a little bit longer, Ed was still, simply letting the water pour over him. It couldn't wash away the black marks inside that he never forgot, but it made everything else feel better… and for now, that was enough.
It was enough because it had to be. Because Al wanted to see him smile—so he could never fail to find a reason for that too. Even if there were times when it was the hardest thing of all.
Eventually, Ed realized with disappointment that the water was beginning to cool. He had taken some time. Reluctantly he reached over, turned the water off, and stood dripping for a few moments. The air in the bathroom was now heavy with steam, which felt good too, if not as delicious as the shower itself.
At last, resigned that his too-literally guilty pleasure was over, he stepped out. He dried his skin, toweled the water from his hair as thoroughly as he could, and got dressed. His clothes could use a washing themselves, but that was another chore alchemy would make short work of in the morning. For now, he still needed to ask for some dinner from the innkeeper's wife.
Farther up the hall, he poked his head into the guest room that was his and Al's for the night. He meant to ask if Al wanted to go down to the kitchen with him—but the question froze on his lips.
What he saw was Alphonse, seated on the floor at the end of one bed, polishing cloth in hand; and on the other bed, a tray already laden with fresh bread and stew.
Al looked up. Even through his impassive steel, Ed could sense the smile in response to what must have been a dumb look on Ed's own face. It always delighted Al to surprise his big brother.
"You were in there a while," he said cheerfully. "I thought I'd save time by getting dinner for you. I just hope it hasn't gotten cold by now!"
As Edward smiled and stepped into the room, he told himself the warm drop of moisture he brushed from his face was only a lingering splash from the shower.
2016 Jordanna Morgan