"Brother, may I come in?" Edward snapped up into a sitting position, whipping his head around to look out the window. The sun was shining brightly through the glass, casting a broken yellow beam over the bed. Birds were chirping loudly outside, and Ed wondered why he wasn't woken up by them before. He looked down to see Winry still snoozing beside him, curled sweetly into a fetal position, a slightly restless look on her face from the sudden contact with cold air against her skin where Edward had been.
Al called out through the door again, sounding slightly worried. "Brother, are you in there? I've checked every other room. You must be in here." He added the last sentences more as goaded afterthoughts, and Ed could sense his suspicion beginning to loom from the hallway. Ed bit his lip. He had to say something. And quick.
"Er…" he responded. Oh, that was good. "Yeah, sure. NO! I mean-No…wait! Wait just a-just a second." Edward struggled to shake Winry from sleep, but her response was an indifferent wave every time he tried. He jumped up and grabbed his boxers from the floor and pulled them on before opening the door just enough to peek his head through. "Whaddaya want?" he snapped, squeezing the door shut as far as it could go when his brother tried to curiously look inside.
"Why did you choose to sleep in this room, brother?"
Edward avoided the question. "Does this little visit have a point?" he asked, his impatience growing. Al seemed extremely interested by what he could see through the crack in the door, which was making Ed very nervous. He tried closing the door a little further over his face, but it was beginning to hurt. "C'mon, Al. What is it?" He asked urgently, trying to wrap it up as quickly as possible so he could remove his neck from between the door and the wall.
"Have you seen Winry? She's usually up by this time, but I've looked everywhere and I can't find her." So he hadn't seen through the door. Edward couldn't help but sigh in relief, but Al didn't seem to notice.
"Why do you need her so badly?" Edward asked instead of answering, pressing the door tighter against his jaw, just in case. It was getting difficult to breathe, and at this point, it was probably painfully obvious that he was hiding something, but Al didn't point it out. Instead he gave a shrug to his older brother and finally looked him in the face.
"Pinako wants her to help with making lunch."
"'Lunch'? What time is it?"
"It's almost one-o-clock, brother."
Without waiting for his brother to finish whatever he was about to say, Edward slammed the door, racing to Winry still lying in bed and hissing, "Winry, wake up! Winry, it's almost one in the afternoon!" Winry seemed irresponsive. Al's voice was muffled and sounded very worried through the door. He heard a hollow thump against the wood. "Brother? Is everything alright?" Al asked loudly, "Don't you usually get up about this late? What's wrong?"
Edward frowned, still shaking Winry's shoulder in an almost violently urgent fashion. "I'll be down in a minute, Al! Don't wait up!" He shouted at the hallway, hoping that would be enough to get him to leave.
"I'll be down in just a minute, Alphonse!"
"Okay…" Al mumbled, sounding only slightly convinced. There was a moment of tense silence before Edward heard the clank of hollow metal clomping down the steps. He turned his attention back to Winry.
"Winry, c'mon…" Ed hissed under his breath, still worried about his brother overhearing. "You gotta wake up." Winry mumbled something incomprehensible and turned on her other side. "Winry, c'mon, don't do this! Al and Pinako are wondering where you are!" When he finally shook her hard enough to get her to lift an eyelid, he wasted no time. "It's already one in the afternoon. Get up."
"WHA-?" Edward's left hand connected roughly against her mouth to stop her scream, afraid that Al would hear her voice coming from the same room he was in. It was already evident that he was hiding something; he didn't want to make it worse.
"Just get your clothes on, okay?" He told her rationally, slowly removing his hand. Winry nodded and got out of bed, collecting her tossed clothes from the floor and putting them on. Edward started to do the same before he noticed something. "Oh, shit." He grumbled, getting on his hands and knees and checking under the bed before repeating himself, "Oh, shit. I left my shirt and jacket downstairs. I'll have to get them in a minute. Are you finished yet?" He looked up to see Winry fumbling with a buckle on her skirt that he hadn't noticed before.
"Almost…" she answered, smoothing out her skirt and nodding, "Yeah."
"Great. Now you're going to have to jump out the window."
"Jump out of the-are you insane?"
Edward shook his head, pulling the sheets off of the bed. "Just gimmie a second." He mumbled distractedly, tossing one end of the bed sheet over the window and tying the other end to the nearest bedpost. "There. Climb down."
"Why can't you do it?"
"Al saw me in here."
"When he asked me where you were"
Winry got the hint and started to lower herself out the window. "Edward?" She whispered suddenly, poking her head back over the wooden sill. Edward spun around, grunting to show he was listening. Instead of speaking, Winry leaned over and gave him a final kiss before repelling down the wall. Edward watched her softly hit the ground and run around the side of the house before fixing the sheet and leaving the room himself.
Winry checked over her hair and clothes before entering the kitchen, where Pinako was already starting lunch. She tried to think of an excuse as she sad down at the table. "Sorry, guys, I didn't realize how late-"
"Did you sleep well last night?" Winry was startled by this interruptive question, but completely thrown off by who asked it. She could swear there was a knowing smile on that stupid suit of armor.
"Erm…yeah." She grumbled quietly, looking down at her plate and wondering where Edward was. As if on cue, the Fullmetal Alchemist appeared, tying his hair behind his head. He grumbled something in welcome at the people around him and sat across the table from Winry, not even looking at her as he shoveled food onto his plate and began to scarf it down. She knew it was to avoid suspicion and wasn't to be taken personally, but felt a pang in her heart nonetheless.
Al decided to change tactics and turned his attack on the older Elric. "How about you, brother?" Ed looked up from his lunch, his mouth too full to ask what he meant. "Did Winry keep you up very late last night?"
"WHAT?" said Ed and Winry in unison, Edward gagging on a mouthful of leftovers. Winry failed miserably at hiding her shaking hands as she felt her grandmother's eyes penetrating her right side. This was not how she wanted to confess last night's events to her granny. Come to think of it, she hadn't planned on confessing them at all.
Al's voice was menacingly ominous as he waved a giant steel hand and murmured, "Oh, just curious." Edward's eyes narrowed dangerously over his younger brother, warning him to quit while he was ahead. Al seemed to take the message perfectly well and excused himself from the table to go play with Den. Winry wished she could throw her wrench at the dinner table, because she had a perfect view of the back of Al's head from where she was sitting.
Pinako, however, was not settled. For a long time she simply stared at her granddaughter, waiting for her to crack, which, by the looks of it, wouldn't take very long. Winry looked as if she were on the verge of tears, sweat trickling down her bright red neck as every muscle in her body tensed under the older woman's gaze. Edward got to his feet. "It was my fault." He admitted plainly, taking his plate into the kitchen before anymore questions could be asked.
Pinako looked after Edward, placed her pipe in her mouth and nodded, as if having it be his idea made it acceptable. She stood up and quickly followed Edward into the kitchen with her own plate. Winry sat frozen in her seat, a bit dazed at what had just transpired. Questions whizzed through her mind so quickly she was getting dizzy. What would her grandmother say to her? What was she saying to Edward? How did Al know what had gone on?
Winry heard a hushed whisper, most likely from her grandmother-Ed wouldn't lower his voice. It didn't sound angry, but it sounded very rough, like a strong warning. The voices fell quiet, and Winry strained to hear if her granny had only lowered her voice. She heard Edward grumble something that sounded slightly apologetic, almost kind, and then there was nothing.
Winry felt sweat trickle down into her shirt and soak the back of it. I hope you didn't say anything stupid… Winry thought to herself, hoping for any sort of noise from her grandmother. A shattering sound broke the silence, and Winry looked up at the howl of pain that sounded as if it were from Edward. That wasn't the best of signs.
A moment later, Pinako returned into view, smiling. "You have my blessing." she said, almost sympathetically, and with a hint of sarcasm as she patted Winry on the shoulder and left the room. Edward appeared shortly after, rubbing the side of his head and holding a piece of broken plate. Winry didn't have to ask. Edward passed his scowl from Pinako to Winry, as if telling her I see where you get it.
"Backwards old bat." He huffed to himself, chucking the shattered plate into the garbage. He looked to Winry again, still scowling, as if waiting for her to say something. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, but was still so confused by what Pinako said to form words. Edward shrugged. "The woman gets crazier every time I come down here." He grumbled snidely, shaking bits of pottery out of his hair into the trash.
Winry gave him a weak, nervous smile. Finally her vocal cords connected with her lips again. "She didn't seem too upset." She offered lamely. Edward snickered.
"You didn't get hit with a plate, I take it."
"What'd you say to her?"
Edward hesitated. "Erm…I don't-" He trailed off instead, pretending to still be preoccupied with picking broken plate from his hair. Winry wanted to know, but didn't push it. She decided to spring it on him later when he had thought about it a while. "Did she say anything to you?" He asked thoughtlessly, his eyes not focused on her.
Winry was shocked when she felt a pause catch in her throat. Should she lie about what Pinako said? Her simple phrase had gained nearly a thousand pounds with Ed's simple question. It suddenly made it seem as if they were engaged to be married. Winry looked up to see Edward looking at her expectantly, his left hand still absently combing through his hair.
"No." She finally said, "Not yet." Edward shrugged this off as if ignoring your granddaughter after finding out she had a sex life was a perfectly natural reaction that he, of course, knew everything about. Winry watched him finish inspecting his bangs before getting to his feet. There was a long awkward pause between them, and Winry wondered if he was feeling the same sudden nervousness that she was feeling lately.
Winry tried to ignore the self-doubt that seemed to be eating at her since this morning, but was only getting louder and stronger. Had Edward meant what he said? Did he really love her? Knowing Edward, he'd probably never say it again-especially not where someone else could hear him in broad daylight. Besides, he seemed to be abruptly distant, as if he wished the night before hadn't happened at all. Winry shook her head, trying to shake the thoughts out of her brain. She tried to say something to break the tension, but couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't make it worse.
Edward coughed uneasily, bringing Winry out of her dreamland. His forced attitude made Winry feel painful goose bumps spring up and prick at her skin. She rubbed vigorously at her arms, but they didn't go away. She felt as if she was about to cry. Apparently, it showed on her face, because glancing at Edward, she saw he looked at her contritely for a moment before snagging his coat from its resting place on a nearby chair and turning on his heel. "I'm gonna go find Al." He said over his shoulder with the slightest hint of uncomfortable sympathy as he shrugged into his jacket.
Winry felt something heavy settling on her chest, like an evil little creature that was whispering more and more uncertainties into her ear. She ignored it, nodding and continuing to massage warmth to her numb limbs. "I guess I'll finish cleaning up here." She said as brightly as she could muster. Instead of answering, the alchemist swished through the door, calling out his brother's name. Winry watched him go, surprised that she didn't feel like releasing a fountain of tears like she did just a moment ago. Instead she tied her hair back with her red bandanna and collected the dishes in her arms.
For a while Winry busied herself with other customers' orders, but she couldn't concentrate on Mr. Pukanam's stupid auto-mail foot with Edward on her mind. She clicked her screwdriver listlessly against the metal toes as she let her thoughts run away with her. She'd hoped he didn't stay this distant toward her. A sigh escaped her lips. The thought of sex not being a good idea had flickered into her mind at the time, but had flickered out almost as quickly. Now, however, the thought was back, and sticking. After being friends with him for nineteen years, she let it all shatter with one foolish mistake.
But was it a mistake? She didn't like to think it was. She'd always thought she loved Edward––maybe even loved him enough to wait for him to stay with her. But what if he didn't really feel that strongly about her? What if what he had with her was just another… Winry shook her head before letting the thought finish. Edward wasn't like that. Especially not to her. The worst part of her heart cleared its throat and whispered, Maybe he is. After all, he's changed a lot. "NO HE HASN'T!" Winry shouted aloud, slamming her screwdriver down and leaving a small dent in Mr. Pukanam's heel.
The damage seemed to jog Winry's mind into noticing how unproductive she was being. She put away her tools, deciding work was for another day and went to help her grandmother with the afternoon chores.
It was getting late, and Ed and Al had still not returned from earlier. Winry stared nervously out the window, her fear growing as the sun sank lower and lower beyond the horizon. Pinako waved her worry away as if it were a begging puppy. "They'll turn up." She'd told her, as if they were simply a wrench she'd lost somewhere in her workshop, "Eventually, Ed will get hungry."
When dinnertime came and they still hadn't shown up, Winry insisted on standing at the balcony with a light she flashed repeatedly into the darkness, waiting to see the two Elric boys racing down the walkway. As the minutes ticked away, she squinted; trying to see past the shadow of night for any sign of either Edward or Al, but it was no use. It was far too dark. She was about to give up and go look for them on foot when she heard a familiar shout.
"You don't have to worry so much!" Edward's voice rose to her ears like relief wafting in the air. "You should know we wouldn't leave without getting some food first!" Winry ignored the sarcasm of the statement and let out a happy sigh and turned the light out, taking the steps two at a time to meet them at the table. By the time she reached the dinning room, however, Edward was already helping himself to a mountain of rice and vegetables. He turned and gave her a cheeky smile before turning back to his food and digging in.
Winry chose to write his mannerisms off as the idiocy of being male and retrieved her own plate. She hadn't really eaten since Edward had arrived, so dumped a little more than usual on her plate and, for the first time in days, ate slowly.
The meal, unlike all the others since the Elrics returned, was calm and peaceful. Pinako and Alphonse both acted as if neither of them knew anything about the secret the other two shared, and showed no signs of even remembering the discussion over breakfast. Al simply talked to Pinako about how much he missed being here, and how he couldn't wait to return again for good. Winry noticed a small tick in Edward's eye every time his brother mentioned permanence, but she did not call attention to it. She didn't want to make the sudden chasm between them any wider.
When they'd finished eating, Edward actually helped her collect the dishes and bring them into the kitchen. As he dumped his armful into the sink he paused and looked at her, as if wanting to say something, but all that came out was a soft grunt. He smiled hesitantly and left, using the lame excuse of wanting to clean off the table.
Winry frowned, part of her wishing she could take everything back. Now he didn't even want to be alone with her for longer than a minute. She wondered how much longer this could go on before the Elrics disappeared completely from her life. Winry shook her head. That wasn't going to happen. She wasn't going to let it end over something stupid like this. Not after nineteen years.
By the time Winry had finished washing the dinner dishes, she'd been informed that the boys had gone upstairs to sleep. Winry had the not-so-sneaky suspicion it was so that Edward could continue avoiding her, which only made her angrier. Without hesitation, she marched up the steps and knocked lightly on Edward's door. "Ed?" She called softly, "Are you awake?" When there wasn't an answer, she pushed open the door and stuck her head in to see Edward snoring quietly under his blankets. She wondered if he was faking or if he had trained himself to fall asleep that fast. She decided on the latter when she heard him release a funny little snorting sound that he would only allow in slumber.
She wondered if she should just go to bed herself and wait to talk to him in the morning. She turned to follow through with this new plan, but stopped. Then, she reasoned, he wouldn't talk. He'd be too afraid that Alphonse or Pinako would overhear him and would be the same distant person he was all day. It was now or never. "Edward?" She repeated, her voice still too soft to ever wake even the lightest sleeper. Her mouth, apparently, was still having doubts about the whole situation.
She took a deep breath and cautiously tiptoed to his side. Edward was curled on his side; his hair released from its daily braid and fell like a gentle curtain over his peaceful face. For a moment, Winry simply watched him sleep. It seemed as if he were a completely different person while he was unconscious. He was usually very quiet and content in this state. It was so different from the boisterous, overly-proud person he was in his waking hours.
Winry groaned. Enough stalling, she thought to herself, let's get this over with. She tugged childishly at his sheets and nudged his shoulder. When he didn't wake up she peered closer at him; pulling irritatingly at his hair until he finally opened his eyes, looking rightfully annoyed until he focused on who was looming over him.
"Winry? What's wrong?" He asked, propping up on his elbow with a generally concerned bleariness replacing the frustration on his face. Winry almost laughed at his question. It seemed absolutely ridiculous that he wouldn't recognize the answer already. When she opened her mouth to tell him, however, she realized she didn't know, either.
She lingered a moment before asking, "Erm…Could you scoot over?" She wasn't sure what she saw flash over Edward's eyes, but within an instant it was gone and he shifted to the side nonetheless, making room for her. When she crawled in, she felt his left hand fall almost automatically at her waist and pulled her near him. His confidence made her face go red, though she wasn't entirely sure why.
When she felt him about to ask her what was wrong again, she blurted out "I couldn't sleep." This seemed to be an answer enough for him and he was too tired to press the question. Within a minute or two, his breathing had evened out against her shoulder.
Winry was afraid he'd fallen asleep, and was suddenly a little nervous. She felt a knot begin to tie in her stomach. Unexplainably wanting to keep him awake, she felt the urge to talk to him. The words tumbled out of her mouth before she really had a chance to think them out. "What did you tell granny this afternoon?"
To her surprise, Edward answered her smoothly, "I promised I'll make you happy one day." His voice was thick with sleep and Winry had to strain to decipher his words as he attempted to speak through her back. Her lips stretched into a sheepish smile. That explained why Pinako had given her blessing. She didn't even want to know why the good china was broken over his head for such an answer, so she didn't ask. Instead she nuzzled back into his chest.
She wanted to say something to him, but nothing really came to mind. At first, she'd opened her mouth to thank him, but then decided against it. What kind of response was 'thank you' to something like that? Not that it mattered. Not even a minute after he answered her, it seemed Edward had gracefully slid out of reality.
Winry absently took his hand and ran her fingers delicately over his palm. He let out a content murmur against her skin, sending a pleasurable chill to her senses. For once, the silence between them was comfortable again. The nagging suspicions seemed to have been subdued by Edward's confession, leaving her feeling worn and tired. Finally letting out a loud yawn, Winry drifted off to sleep.
"You're leaving?" Winry cried, watching him pack his things without looking at her from her perch on his bed, "But…but you haven't even been called back to Central yet… Have you!" Edward shook his head, throwing in his final garments and shutting the case.
"We have to get going, Winry. We don't get vacations that often. We really need to make the best of it." He still hadn't looked her in the eye, and was starting towards the door, hoisting his heavy suitcase onto his shoulder.
Winry was beginning to feel a little hysterical. She had to keep him here. She just had to. When he was here, she wasn't staying up all hours of the night, worrying that one day Roy Mustang would come to her door, breaking the devastating news to her and Pinako. Tears began to well in her eyes. Here we go again, she thought, you won't see him for another six years, do something about it.
She watched him grab the door knob before what he'd said actually reached her ears. "So I'm just a waste of time to you?" she snapped, her eyes dangerously narrow. Edward stopped and turned his body toward her, but his face was still pointed at his boots.
"Al needs…" Ed trailed off for a moment before finally looking up at her face. "I'll come back, Winry. You know that. I promise, one day I'll come back for good."
"Well, what am I supposed to do until then, Edward? Just sit and wait for you?"
Edward frowned, and an obvious memory of his mother and father's relationship flickered on in his memory. As quickly as it appeared, his frown vanished. He grinned widely and obviously, looking up at her but still avoiding her eyes. "At least for a little while before turning around and marrying one of these damn locals." He said, trying to laugh.
"Edward…" Winry smirked, shaking her head, "You're a local." He waved his hand and let out a flippant sound, as if to say he was a local to no town and should never be considered as such. "I don't want to wait forever." Winry said, meaning to sound strong about it, but it came out like the winy voice of a child who was told to wait for her birthday presents.
"You won't, Winry. I've yet to ever break a promise." Winry knew this wasn't true, but the way he was smiling made it seem as if he were the most trustworthy person ever birthed on the planet. He leaned over to kiss her on the cheek, but as she closed her eyes, she didn't feel anything. She opened her eyes to find the room was empty.
"What, just like that?" She called out, tears skating down her cheeks, "You're going to leave just like that and expect me to wait for you until the end of your stupid expedition, Edward Elric? Until the end of time?"
There was no one, but as she went to close the slightly open door, she almost heard the wind respond, "Won't you, though?"
Furious, she opened her mouth to scream, NO! I HAVE BETTER THINGS TO DO THAN WASTE MY LIFE WAITING FOR A SHRIMPY IDIOT ALCHEMIST! But instead she felt herself lose control of her own voice as it twisted free of her mind and answered, "Of course I will."
When Winry awoke the next morning wiping tears from her eyes, she found herself to be alone.
"Edward?" She shouted, jumping to her feet and storming into the hallway; down the stairs, finding no one. "EDWARD?" She reached the front door and swung it open to reveal the retreating backs of two figures walking down the path. "JUST LIKE THAT?" She screamed, tears clouding her vision as she fully remembered the dream she'd just woken from. "WITHOUT SAYING GOODBYE!" She saw the smaller of the two figures visibly halt and go rigid, but after a moment he kept walking. "GOD DAMNIT, EDWARD!" She sobbed, her voice cracking to a whisper before she could finish. She clasped her fingers around the wrench she held in her sleep, her shoulders shaking with every breath. She suddenly felt a small hand on her shoulder, and wheeled around to face her grandmother looking solemn.
"They got an urgent call this morning." Pinako stated plainly, "He didn't want to wake you." Winry wanted to say something, but all that came out was an angry, strangled cry. Pinako seemed only slightly sympathetic, every line of her face saying, you brought this upon yourself.
"He left this." She added, almost begrudgingly, as if wishing she kept it to herself while brandishing a folded sheet of paper. Winry smiled at the messy, hurried handwriting despite her tears and took the note from her grandmother.
I'm sorry my promise is going to have to wait, but I need you to understand I've made a previous promise to Al that I can't break. It doesn't mean I don't intend to keep mine to you as well. Hopefully, the next time I return will be my last.
I didn't want to wake you, saying goodbye is always so hard, I didn't want to even try this time. It was hard enough to do just seeing your face. I know you probably hate me for it. I hate myself for it. Please forgive me. I love you.
Winry felt a tearful smile tug at the corners of her mouth when she noticed how many times he'd erased rewritten the last line, as if he wasn't sure how to write it any more than he was sure how to say it.
She heard her grandmother tisk loudly. "Those boys…" She grumbled to herself, sticking her pipe in between her lips. "Winry dear, did you finish Mr. Pukanam's foot? He should be coming to pick it up this afternoon." Winry glanced up from the note and folded it again, holding it in her hand like a child clinging to pocket money.
"Almost." She answered sheepishly, remembering the dent she'd left in it just yesterday. "I still have to…fix some final little details."
"Well, get moving, then." Pinako ordered, her voice somewhat light, but with an air of seriousness, "He could come by early. You don't want him to have to wait for you, do you?" Pinako didn't turn to face her granddaughter and await an answer. Instead she continued to stare out into the horizon, even though the Elrics were both long gone from view.
"I'll get right on it, grandma." Winry murmured, flashing a smile and running into her workshop. She placed the letter gently on a shelf next to her ragged old doll. For a moment she felt a sense of reminiscent bliss sweep around her as she looked at the two treasures side by side. Then the moment was gone, and Winry pulled out Mr. Pukanam's order, letting life return to normal as she continued to wait.