The beginnings of the dirty thirties hadn't been kind to Munich. Every store on the block had been closed, except for a few hotels and bars here and there. Everything seemed grimy. Children wandered around the streets aimlessly, digging through garbage cans for food, it was disgusting to watch. For such poverty to strike at even the most innocent.
There was no money, and even those that had it couldn't spend it. Which meant the person behind you at the soup kitchen could have been a wealthy businessman at one point.
Edward, Alphonse Elric, and Noa weren't any better off. Their only advantage being that they were used to these conditions, and they tried to help others in the same situation. Glacier-san could no longer give them sleeping quarters, as she was forced to move out onto the street after selling her flower shop. Noa spent a great deal of time talking with her, advising her on the ways of the streets. While Alphonse and Edward exchanged stories on the curb outside, Noa tried to fill the woman's head with useful tips. Where to sleep at night, what to eat, and how to keep warm… There was much to learn, and for most- it was important they be educated for what was to come.
It was about midday and Al sat with Noa outside the steps of a museum, silently spooning cold soup into their mouths. It didn't taste very good, but it was better then what they would get from the trash. After a moment of silence, they turned to watch Edward running towards them. Waving as he struggled to hold on to a newspaper, soup bowl, and loaf of bread. Mist rose from his open, smiling mouth it was so cold.
"I got the paper!" he exclaimed excitedly as he slowed to a stop in front of the two. Laying the bundle on Al's lap and turning to his own feeble meal. Noa took the bread and broke it into three pieces, saying nothing, her lips turned up slightly at the edges in a faint smile. Scanning the front page, Al grunted.
"I don't think things are going to improve anytime soon," he said with distaste, "We're going to have to find a place to stay before long, brother. We can't sleep outside when it's snowing."
Edward stared into at the broth of his soup, amber eyes clouded with thought, "We can't afford to stay anywhere. But we're the Elrics. We'll find a way to scrounge up some money."
Al laughed, "That's true, and I thinkI have a some ideas..."
The next few weeks were busy ones. Edward worked part-time as a newspaper carrier, but the three's main source of income came from street performances. Noa would dance and read fortunes, while Edward would show off his metal limbs. They learned quickly that people loved the strange and mysterious, and automail was pretty unusual sight in Munich at this time. It just wasn't normal to have a metal arm and leg.
Stunts, such as jumping off buildings, drew in many bets from bystanders.
Ed would climb to the roof of a high building and Al would challenge others to bet money on whether he lived or not.
"Come on folks! Will Mr. Elric survive this terrible fall? Or will he plummet from the peak of the building to his death? Place your bets here!"
Al bellowed into the streets, his voice imitating that of a radio announcer as more and more astonished people came to watch." How long until he meets his end? Come on people! You have a chance to win some cash!"
Soon men were throwing coins into the hat Alphonse would pass around, while Noa pretended to grieve over her 'husbands' madness'.
Then Edward would fall backwards, spread-eagle, and twist in the air. Always landing on his feet softly, to the roaring applause of the crowd, while many men and women swore under their breath and stalked away.
It was late in the evening when Ed pushed open the door to the small hotel. His comrades following close behind. They were exhausted and grateful to spend the night off the street for once. They had checked in earlier that day, so they went straight into their rooms. Edward and Al collapsed into their beds and fell fast asleep within minutes, but Noa sat on the edge of her cot. Her eyes sharp and awake. There wasn't much chance of her sleeping tonight. Bittersweet guilt swam amongst her thoughts this night.
I betrayed him. Her eyes burned with tears that would not come. I sold him- his life- for my freedom. And yet, he welcomes me back with open arms.
Edward Elric. One of the few people in her life to even consider taking her in. She owed him so much, and what did she owe her? Nothing. It was mere weeks that she had known this Edward... But in that time...
Hands clutched at the covers, as she attempted to grapple with the guilt she felt. It seemed wrong; she was the last person who should be around him. She had thrown his life away so that she could have a chance of living.
Noa rose slowly from the bed and walked over to the door, peering through the crack at Edward's door.
With a sigh, she pushed through and entered the man's room.
There he was, glowing in the moonlight upon the white linen.The fool hadn't even changed out of his clothes, or crawled under the blankets. Then again, niether had she. Except for the fact that he had just gone straight to sleep, exhausted from the long day. It wasn't like he had to worry about what she did.
Noa flinched, taken aback. She had heard that name before...This Winry. Edward often called out to her in the night, and she wondered what this woman meant to him. His mouth turned in a smile, as if reminiscing of some past occasion. Noa felt a strange sense of- what was this- envy? Yes, she was jealous of this Winry, this woman she had never met. What sense was there in that? It was so unjustified!
She couldn't help it, she tried to resist the urge to pry. But her curiosity forced her hand to brush his forehead lightly, her troubled mind longing to dip into his conscience for a while. To see what he saw for a time. To share. As soon as her palm met with his skin, she was overwhelmed with visions and feelings. Noa took a deep breath, and allowed them to wash over her, enveloping her in dark wings...
It was her, Winry, a blood red bandana keeping her long, honey locks back and out of her face as she worked. Noa felt feelings of affection that were not her own, and a warm sense of protection... until all thoughts were wiped clean and replaced with blinding, white hot pain. Noa pulled back a little, not desiring to share in the agony. But once the pain subsided she dipped back in.
The memories suddenly changed... From a sunlit workshop to a dark cellar. Animal carcasses hung from meathooks, drippingonto the stone floor. It was icy cold in this room, and she came to the conclusion they were in the backroom of a butcher shop.
She felt fear, terrible fear. Not only for herself but for the girl chained up several feet away. Winry... once again. Noa saw what Edward had seen, a man with a terrible glint in his eyes. Longfingers at worksharpening a knife. He kepteyeing the girlin a manner that made Noa want to slap the man hard across his creepy face.Her fears collided to one conclusion- this man was a rapist... or worse. Her eyes shifted to the keen edge of theblade.A knife told a story in itself.
Biting her lip, the gypsy pushed out of Edward's dreams. He didn't even notice her attempting to catch her breath as he turned over, his shoulders shaking with the weight of nightmares. His face was a mask of dismay as he relived what Noa couldn't. Oh, how she longed to wake him, to allow him to escape, but... No.
No. This was the night she did what she should have done along time ago.The moment Edward returned from Shambala, why did she hesitate then? Was it his beautiful, forgiving smile? Foolish girl, you owe him your life. Why take more? Why rob him of his adoration when he has given you plenty?
Thief. So many people had called out to her in that manner, and she thought them to be wrong. But now...
"Farewell Edward Elric," she whispered. Placing an envelope beside his ear.
Tears welled up that she refused to shed, her throat tightening with the effort, and as she turned her back on him to walk away-she froze. Not believing what she heard.
Was he calling her out in his sleep? Or was he aware of what he said? She didn't want to turn around and see. Instead she kept walking, almost passing through the doorway until his strained voice stopped her.
"..What is this?"
She half-turned, watching as he sat up and opened to letter. It was printed neatly upon the parchment that she was leaving- in the kindest way possible. It wasn't her right to stay, she was just a burden. She couldn't bear to be near him because of the weight of her guilt. She had resolved to leave...
Turning on her heel she flew through the door. Blocking out his tone of voice from her head, denying the fact that he would stop her if he could. All she could hear was her own ragged breaths and her footsteps hard on the stairs.
Don't turn around. Just run. Get away. He will suffer if you stay.
Panic rose up in her chest as she grabbed her coat and threw open the door, grateful for the cold night air rushing to meet her flushed face. With a small smile, Noa ran to meet the night. Sweet sorrow washing over her like a wave, she welcomed the feeling. It was familiar, to be alone.Without Edward or Alphonse to make her feel wanted. Though it made her want to cry for what she had lost.
There he was, Alphonse. His chest stained with blood. Noa, who had been cradling his lifeless form in her lap, turned now to face Edward in wonder. Her voice caught in her throat, it was too much.
"Why? Why did you come back Ed…?" Noa spoke softly, her voice thick with disbelief.
The memory was still there, lingering in Edward's mind. To find that his friend had been shot dead and the only person he had now was a woman who had betrayed him. It felt as if he was the one who was lying there, enveloped in a circle of his own blood. Then, for his brother to show up at the best of moments was a blessing. He felt so relieved then. Relieved to be home, or to at least have a home, but yet… He felt empty. As if he had left a piece of him back in the other world, and now- he could never go back.
But he had forgiven Noa. It was not her fault, though she couldn't seem to shake the guilt. She didn't admit it, but he could tell she was wounded. The way her eyes were downcast, the way she spoke to him, it was all so cautious. As if she would break him if she said the wrong thing.
She cared. It was that one small sharp of hope that made him follow her as she ran off. Blinking in the lamplight as he barreled through the door out into the street.
"Noa!" he called, scanning the street. It was empty, though he could hear distant footsteps.
Every hair on the back of his neck suddenly stood on end as he heard a scream split the air. His face turned into a mask of fear as he made towards the noise.