1Chapter Nine

"Al, where did you move Ed to?" Winry asked, finding the young man in the small kitchen Halia kept for the staff to have snacks and for heating medicines.

Al's armor clanked loudly as he whipped around. "Nowhere. Don't tell me he's gone!"

"Why did you leave him alone?" Fury and panic warred on her face.

"He said he was queasy and wanted ginger tea." Al slammed a hand against the stove, showing more frustration than Winry was used to seeing from him. "He was getting rid of me."

'The Dew Drop Inn!" Winry snarled. "I'm going to kill him."

The way Al stomped out the door suggested to Winry that she would have to stand in line to kill Ed. I 'Provided Sabrin hadn't beaten us to it /I ,' she thought miserably then shoved the thought out of her head. Ed was tough and she knew it.

"Winry, stay back," Al ordered as he ran down the street.

"No way. I'll be all right," she said and to his credit, Al didn't waste time arguing with her like Ed would have.

Her heart stopped as Al barreled his way into the Dew Drop and she followed on his heels. Stopped dead, she was sure of it, her heart hurt so much. Pinned to the floor, Ed resembled an exotic butterfly on display and Sabrin was gloating about how she was going to shape the killing stake slowly so he'd feel every centimeter of it.

"No!" Al bellowed. It was enough to startle Sabrin. Al crossed the room in a flash and batted Sabrin away from her bar.

Winry ran over and tried to pull Ed off the spikes impaling him.

"Winry, get out of here!" Ed screamed at her.

"I already want to kick you for trying this alone. Don't give me more reason to." Winry scowled at him, shaking a fist. "Ed, this is a mess."

"Could be worse, could have gone through flesh," Ed said pragmatically then Sabrin screamed.

The teens looked over to see Sabrin caged within rock and wood pulled from her inn by Al's alchemy. Within a hairsbreadth of the ceiling, Sabrin rattled her cage, hurling obscenities at the brothers and Winry.

"Can you free him, Winry?" Al came over to see to his brother.

"I'll need help." Winry scrubbed a hand over her face, trying to ease the intense emotional stress out of her muscles. "Ed, can you move any part of your automail?"

Ed managed to wiggle what was left of his fingers and moved his ankle. "You make the best automail, Winry."

Winry's smile practically glowed. "Give me a hand, Al."

Together they got Ed off the spikes and Al scooped him brother up, cradling him against his expansive metal chest.

"This isn't over, you runt," Sabrin taunted, yanking at the bars.

"Who are you calling so small-" Ed's rant was cut short as Al's big hand clamped over his brother's mouth. Ed's eyes nearly spun like angry suns.

"You have no idea how important I am to certain people. They'll never stand for this," Sabrin said venomously.

"You killed how many people?" Winry asked. "I think it's the people who won't stand for you. Al, let's get Ed back to the clinic. Ed, you might need to talk to whoever worked for Leatherby or Dance. We'll talk to Clare. She might know who we can trust to put these three in jail until the military gets here." Winry purposely turned her back on Sabrin, steering Al for the door.

"We'll have to get Leatherby and Dance into the jail before night fall or they'll freeze to death," Al put in, his usual worry for his fellow man sneaking into his voice.

Ed just nodded wearily, his injuries catching up to him. "I'll deal with it."

Al carried him outside and Winry shut the door on Sabrin's ravings. Winry glanced over at the brothers. "Take him, Al. I'll have to stay here to make sure no well meaning towns person sets Sabrin free."

"We can't leave Winry here alone," Ed protested, slapping his flesh hand against his brother's chest.

"You won't, son."

The teens swiveled around to see a few men heading their way. Tyler was with the bearded man who had spoke.

"This is my dad, Winry," Tyler said, holding the beared man's hand as he waved wildy to Winry.. "I told him all about it."

"You're a good boy, Tyler," Winry smiled at the boy and Tyler beamed at her praise.

"We'll make sure Sabrin stays put," Tyler's father said. "You go with your friends, young lady and take care of them."

"We left Leatherby and Dance in the woods. We have to go back and get them," Ed said, almost sounding as if he didn't care if they froze. "They're a part of this."

"We'll take care of that ourselves," another man called over the sounds of the gathering, angry crowd. "Just tell us where to find them."

"I'll take you there," Al said. "Just let me get my brother to the clinic."

"You do that and thank you for helping us with these monsters," Tyler's dad said, relief evident in his eyes.

"We were glad to do it," Al said then carried Ed toward the clinic.

"At least it's over," Ed said wearily, shuddering a little in his brother's arms. This was so embarrassing, to be carried like a child.

"You do anything like this again, Brother, and I'll…I don't know what I'll do," Al fumed. "You knew you couldn't do this on your own. I'm so mad I could leave you in a snow bank."

"Sorry, Al," Ed said, looking as contrite as he sounded.

"You should be," Winry scolded, then ran ahead to open the door to the clinic for Al.

Once he held Ed up so his brother could make another call to headquarters, Al put Ed on an exam table and went to lead the townspeople to round up the killers. Winry fussed over Ed, examining the new damage to his automail.

"That was stupid, Ed. You were in no condition to fight Sabrin," she said, peering into the hole in his metal leg..

"Someone had to stop her before she disappeared," Ed said in his defense, wiggling on the table

"And Al proved he was more than capable of handling it," Winry retorted, clamping Ed down with a firm hand.

Ed looked away. "He shouldn't have had to."

"You need to trust us, Edward," she said and his gaze snapped back over to her.

"It's not a matter of trust," he whispered.

Winry scowled at him. "Then what?"

Ed sighed. "I'm very tired, Winry. I made a mistake."

"At least you admit it," Winry said softly then leaned over him. She brushed her lips over his. Ed startled. Winry deepened the kiss, feeling him beginning to melt against her. She stood back up, smiling. "That was nice."

Ed smiled back then sighed quietly. His eyes fluttered shut and when they didn't open back up Winry realized he had slipped away into slumber. Beaming, Winry covered him up gently then kissed his forehead.

"You rest now, Edward. I'll look out for you." Sitting on the doctor's stool, Winry studied Ed's battered body. Silent tears streaked her face as the fear at how close she came to losing him set in.


Ed stretched, slowly coming awake. He felt like one solid bruise and the swaying of the car didn't help matters. For a moment he was confused, then Ed remembered being bundled onto the train by his brother in the middle of the night. Smacking his lips, he sat up and rubbed his eyes, realize he wasn't alone in their private train cabin. He didn't know where Al and Winry were but he suspected the other occupant had asked them to go. He also wasn't surprised to see Hawkeye sitting near the door to the cabin, watchful as ever. Ed barely recognized her without her uniform and her hair down. She was prettier than he had realized.

Mustang sat across from him, reading the newspaper. He folded it aside, seeing Ed was awake. Ed wasn't used to seeing his commanding officer out of uniform. Even without his uniform on, Ed suspected Mustang attracted attention. It didn't escape even Ed's stunted fashion sense, that Mustang's smartly tailored black suit and deep blue shirt would catch the eye. Who was Mustang trying to impress? Surely it wasn't him. "Sleep well, Fullmetal?"

"What are you doing here?" Ed asked, wanting more to head for the rest room and maybe the dining car than to talk to the bastard Colonel.

"I came into town yesterday but Miss Rockbell said you slept through most of the day. Are you feeling any better?" Mustang looked honestly concerned.

Ed touched his forehead. His headache wasn't so bad today. "A little."

"You did a good job in Waukrio," Mustang said, his concerned expression not fading. "If I had any idea something like that was going on, I wouldn't have sent you alone with just your brother and your girlfriend."

"She's not my girlfriend," Ed replied, hotly, his cheeks rouging.

Mustang's onyx eyes slotted. "Are you sure?" At Ed's glare, he added, "More the fool, you then. Well, at any rate, you did very well, even if you managed to damage yourself pretty badly."

"I'm just glad Winry and Al weren't hurt," Ed said, his whole body unwinding with relief. He couldn't think about what had nearly happened. He couldn't lose Winry or Al like that.

"Yes, about that, Edward, can I give you some advice?"

"Doubt I could stop you," Ed grumbled, bracing himself for another boring Mustang lecture.

"Miss Rockbell told me what you did with Sabrin. That was foolish and you know it," Mustang said critically. "While I admire your desire to protect your brother and your friend, no man is an island unto himself. We all need help and we need to understand that those important to us can help. More importantly, they need to assist any way they can. Sometimes we have to put aside our instinct to keep them locked away like precious treasures and trust in their abilities to help us, even if it's hard to set aside those protective feelings."

Ed didn't miss how Mustang's eyes cut back towards Hawkeye when he said that. "I don't know."

"I suggest you learn. Sometimes that instinct is more hurtful than harmful. Believe me, I know about putting feelings aside for the greater good and how difficult it is." His black eyes flicked back to Hawkeye again.

Ed just sighed. Let Mustang think he was getting through or the lecture might go on all day. "Yesterday is hazy to me. Did I ever wake up long enough to tell you that Sabrin seemed confidant that important people would free her?"

"No, you did, however, tell me about your favorite stuffed toy, some horse called Thunder and then you raved about the goodness of stew." Mustang smirked as Ed gaped, a blush mantling his cheeks. "Winry said it was the concussion talking."

"Damn it," Ed sputtered.

"Alphonse told me about Sabrin. Here." Mustang handed Ed the newspaper.

Ed glanced down at it and saw one of the headlines. His lips pulled down as he read about how there was a mysterious fire at the jail and how Sabrin and the others couldn't be rescued in time. It was assumed that the first was set as an act of revenge by irate families of victims of the Waukrio trio. "Was this your doing?"

"What makes you think that?" Mustang scowled. "They served their victims to their own relatives as meat pies, I think the town was due a little justice. It's for the best that way. We couldn't risk someone thinking Sabrin's line of research was worth exploring." There was a darkness in the alchemist's eyes that chilled Edward and he was more sure than ever that Mustang had set the fire.

"True." Ed tried to maneuver so he could get his nonfunctioning leg under him. "Excuse me. I have to go…you know." His cheeks colored. This was so embarrassing and to have the bastard witness his clumsiness and his basic human needs. Ed couldn't get enough leverage against the cushioned seat to stand up.

Mustang got up and slid an arm around Ed, helping the boy to his feet. Ed could feel Roy's shoulder holster digging into him, surprised by that. He hadn't realized Mustang carried a gun and even more surprised that the suit was tailored so well that he couldn't see the bulge of it under the older man's arm. "There you go. Can you make it on your own or would you like Hawkeye to fetch Alphonse for you?"

"I can do it," Ed said, hoping that was true. He could hang onto the seats to move in the aisle but moving from car to car would be tricky. "I was out of it when we boarded. Where are we going?"

"Resembool so you can get fixed up. Hawkeye and I will see you all safely there. I trust Miss Rockbell can keep you out of trouble once she gets you home," Mustang said, a smirk emblazoning across his face.

"I wouldn't bet on that," Winry said, coming into the car with a tea service tray in her hands, Alphonse behind her. "Where do you think you're going, Ed?"

"To the lavatory car," Ed said, swaying into Mustang as the train went around a bend.

"Here, Brother, I'll make sure you don't fall," Al said, reaching for him.

Ed let his brother keep a hand on his shoulders to steady him.

"Don't forget what I said, Edward," Mustang said as Winry sat down in Ed's vacated seat. Hawkeye sat next to Mustang and started fixing tea. Ed assumed it was for the colonel.

"I won't," Ed said, too weary to keep his attitude up. He staggered toward the door.

"I have your riding quirt done, Miss Hawkeye," Winry said, over her tea. "It's in my bag."

Ed gazed back just to steal a look at Winry and caught the exchange of glances between Mustang and Hawkeye. If Winry ever found out what that quirt was for, he didn't want to know. He studied her briefly then started hobbling again. Maybe Mustang had a point but Ed just didn't know how to not be overprotective of Winry. He cared so much for her. If life was different maybe she really would be his girlfriends and Ed like the idea of that.

"What did the colonel say, Brother?" Al helped Ed onto the platform and into the next car.

"Just said we did a good job, all of us as a team," Ed replied. "He reminded me how much I need you and Winry."

Al contemplated that for a moment. "That's good."

Ed looked up at his brother and smiled as he thumped Al's back. "Yes, it's very good." It might kill him to admit Mustang was right, but Ed had no choice. He really was a better man for having Alphonse and Winry in his life. He wouldn't know what to do without them and for now, he was content to put himself in their capable hands. When he was fixed up, he'd pick up the mantle of protector again. Things would be as they should be; of that Ed was confident.