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7. The Hitch Part 2
Another rock feels the wrath of Winry Rockbell and Ed is glad that he's not walking in front of her.
"Winry, would you please slow down." He calls after her and quickens his step. She ignores him and he tries to reason with her. "Look, we've got a lot of miles to go and if you keep up this pace you'll wear yourself out." More silence, "Look, you said that she wouldn't make it far anyway, remember? Something about the gas cap being rigged so only you can open it."
Again he is ignored. Sighing, he takes off at a jog, quickly covering the twenty some feet between them. "Winry, wait." Frustrated he grabs at her hand, stopping her in her tracks. "Is it the money? I can get more. I mean, I don't get another check until next month but at the next town I can have them wire me an advance and-"
"It's not that." Winry's voice is soft, cutting off his ramble. Ed still has a hold on her hand, but it felt like she was miles away; their hands hang limply between them like a bridge connecting two distant land masses. "It's not about money, Ed."
"Well…then what's wrong? I told you we'd get the car back." Of this fact Ed was confident. After noticing the car gone, the two had taken off in the direction they had been heading, following a faint dust trail and Ed's intuition. If memory served, this road was a pretty straight shot to Ellisonville. From there, many roads branched out in different directions. Ed and Winry had planned on gassing up and following the southernmost one to Dublith. Ed figured that there was just enough gas in the car to make it a little past Ellisonville, so they would probably be able to find the car abandoned a little outside of town. In his opinion, finding the car would be one of the easier things he'd done in his life.
"You wouldn't understand."
Ed felt as if he had been slapped in the face. He had thought that they were establishing a bit of rapport, that after all these years they were finally really beginning to communicate and understand each other on an entirely different level. It was nothing like what he had with Al, even so, it was something, and it made a whole lot of difference in his new world of nothingness. He lets her hand drop.
Winry watches the action with sorrowful eyes. She must have seen something in his face because she turns away from him and says, "I just don't want to talk about it, okay." She swallows thickly and begins to walk away, slower this time.
Ed wonders if that was an attempt to soothe his feelings. He itches to say more but can think of nothing concrete. Instead, he shoves his hands in his pockets and follows her down the road.
Ed follows at a comfortable distance and every once in a while she can feel his eyes on her. They are silent for hours, and Winry feels just about ready to drop before Ed breaks that silence.
"It'll be dark soon. We should find someplace to camp."
She stops and he stops with her. She turns to him and gestures to their surroundings, a dirt road with a field on one side and a forest on the other, "Any suggestions?"
Ed turns toward the forest and is silent, thinking, "Well, we crossed a bridge about an hour ago, if we head into the forest we can probably find the river."
"I don't know about you but, I'm starving and I can probably catch us some fish there."
"Yeah but, don't you think it'll be colder down by the river?"
"Nah, I can build us some shelter. I can even use alchemy this time."
Ed is grinning at her but Winry doesn't get the joke. Briefly, she wonders if he's only in high spirits for her benefit.
She follows him into the woods and the trail is considerably rockier than what they've had so far. They step over fallen trees and duck under low branches as their feet shuffle through the dried leaves that carpet the forest floor. Eventually the trees grow less dense and they come out by a river that was little more than a creek. The water is calm and trickles gently between the riverbanks. The sound relaxes her in an instant.
Ed stops at the riverside and places his hands on his hips. He turns to her with a proud smirk on his face. The boy sure does love it when he's right.
"This'll work. Now all we need is the right ingredients. I'll be right back."
He brushes past her and Winry asks, "What should I do?"
"Wait here. I'll call you if I need your help."
Winry's never been too afraid of getting dirty and plops down right in the sand. She figures that it is a good enough place to think. She watches the river, her gaze far beyond the surface of the water. Several times she hears Ed return, dragging behind him logs and bark and leaves. Briefly she wonders if he plans on homesteading out here and doesn't think that is such a bad idea. All this time on the road and she is only now realizing that she needed to get out of that house just as much as Ed did. If Ed chose to head back after they reached Izumi's, she'd most likely object.
They had lost Al and Granny so close together that it's hard to remember the in-between time. First Al wasn't there, and then it felt like just the next day Granny wasn't there either. She knew that wasn't the way it was. In truth, Granny had passed almost a whole month after Al. The ironic thing was, she had seen Al's death coming more than she had Granny's. Al had been sick for almost a year and in the end, she was a little relieved to see him pass, if only so he wouldn't feel any more pain. Even though Granny was older, she always seemed so strong – like she would live forever. But just one day, Winry woke up and she had died in her sleep.
It's hard to judge which was the most tragic. Which loss was more significant? A young boy and only sibling suffering from sickness, or an old woman who was a single care-giver?
Winry mourned, but not like Ed did. He was quiet and thin, moving through the house like a specter. Truthfully, she wondered if Ed even noticed that Pinako had died. The past two months were probably like a dream for him. Winry was glad he was finally waking, but it just made her grief all the more resolute. She hadn't grieved like Ed did. There was too much to be done – customers to keep, automail to fix, a house to keep up, and an Ed to think of – always an Ed to think of. With so much to do, she didn't' have time to grieve properly.
But now, sitting by the river, stripped of the car – the last piece of her Granny she had left – she had nothing physical to hold on to anymore, nothing that would stem the flow of her grief.
By the riverside, tears finally come.
Winry had been silent all night and Ed couldn't find the words to ask why. In the morning, they dismantle the alchemically made camp and begin walking toward Ellisonville. By midmorning Winry is still quiet and luck fortunes them with an old pickup truck rumbling down the road. The driver graciously offers to give them a lift.
Ed makes small talk with the driver through the window in back of the cab. Winry sits off toward the back, hugging her knees to her chest as the wind blows her hair around her face. Ed frowns.
They made good time to Ellisonville and their driver drops them off at the local police station. While Winry fills out a report, Ed bums some change off an officer and goes out to use the payphone.
He thinks that Winry is concerned about the loss of their valuables, so one of his calls will be to Central. One of the best things Mustang ever did for him was make sure all the arrays he invented during his time in the state were patented in his name. Mustang had told him that he didn't think Ed wanted to spend the rest of his life in the military and so he made arrangements to provide for him in the future. As a result, he received a very nice sized royalty payment every month. He'd have to call and get an advance on the next one, and have it wired directly to Ellisonville.
Hopefully, they can find the car quickly and be back on their way to Dublith.
Ed picks up the receiver and drops a coin into the slot. His fingers pause over the keypad and he begins to dial his Sensei's number instead. The other line rings three times and Ed is about to hang up when Sig's rough voice answers.
"Sig? It's Edward." Ed knows he's a man of few words, so he doesn't wait for a response. "I'm…uh, going to be in the area in a few days and I wanted to make sure that you and Sensei would be there."
"A few days?"
"Yeah, I'm in Ellisonville now."
"Take the train. You can be here by tomorrow."
Ed hesitates, thinking over why Sig would rush him this way. "Why? Is something the matter?" His stomach clenches tightly and he starts to feel a bit cold.
"…take the train. I'll see you tomorrow." Sig hangs up and Ed is left clutching the receiver tightly, eyes staring off into space.
"Ed?" Winry comes up behind him and Ed is shocked out of whatever weird state he had found himself in. "I'm done."
He slams the phone back on the cradle and runs past Winry, grabbing her hand. "Let's go."
Winry squeals and makes a confused noise in the back of her throat. "Ed-!"
"There's no time to explain. We have to catch a train now."
"But we don't have any money!"
The train is just pulling out of the station and going slow enough for Ed to grab onto a ladder rung on the side of one of the box cars. He hoists himself up and holds out a hand. Winry grabs on and he pulls her up beside him. He is able to wrench the side door open and maneuvers himself inside the car. The train is gaining speed steadily and he grabs on to a rope attached to the side of the car, normally used for securing cargo. Quickly, he loops the rope around his chest, makes sure it is strong and leans out the side of the car to see a distressed looking Winry holding on for dear life as the wind whips her hair about. He grabs one hand and slides his other arm around her waist. His leg wraps around the door to keep his lower half in the car. With a strong tug and excellent upper and lower strength, he is able to yank her inside with him.
Relieved, Ed laughs and looks down to a disheveled Winry on her knees, trying to catch her breath. She glares up at him and for the first time in a long while, Ed feels like himself again.
"Mind telling me what that was all about?" She pants and glowers at him.
"I called Sig. He sounded…I don't know, but he told me to catch a train and I did." He finishes with a shrug and begins to search the car for anything that will make the trip more comfortable.
"I don't think this is exactly what he had in mind." Winry frowns and starts to pick at her ruffled hair. Her fingers catch in a knot and she grimaces.
The car is only half full of cargo, and Ed remorselessly begins opening crates. "He said that I should be there tomorrow. It would have taken two days for my check to be processed and who knows how long after that to find the car. Plus, even if we had found it immediately after entering the city, there was no way we'd make it to Dublith by tomorrow."
"Okay, I get it. Still, why do you suppose he needs you there tomorrow?"
Ed shrugs and looks thoughtful as he places the lid back on a crate full of dolls, "I don't know, but Sensei has always been sick, and when he answered the phone he didn't say the name of his business, as if they shut down."
"You don't think Izumi's…" Winry stopped picking at her hair and fixes a meaningful look at Ed.
"I don't know." Ed says softly and looks away.
There is a pregnant pause. Ed resumes his looting. Winry sighs, "What happens if they find the car?"
"We'll call them and tell them where we'll be." There is more silence and Ed walks up to stand beside her, holding out a couple of padded chair cushions as if they were a peace offering, "About the car. I'm sorry I lost us all our stuff."
Winry sighs and takes the cushions. She moves to the side of the car and props one underneath her and one against the wall. "It's not that. It's just…that car is one of the last things I have left of my Granny. I don't know what I'd do if I never saw it again."
Ed pulls up next to her, arranging his own cushions in the same manner. He smiles over at her and says confidently, "Don't worry then. They'll find it."
Winry smiles at him and Ed finds himself in the middle of a moment he didn't realize he'd walked into. Winry looks at him softly with a touch of awe and something else in her eyes, "Ed…Thank you."
Ed smiles and clears his throat uncomfortably. He fidgets against the wall. "Well, we've got a long ride, right? We'd better make ourselves comfortable."
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