The Promise of Snow
D M Evans
Disclaimer – Not mine, all rights belong to Hiromu Arakawa, no profit made, just fun being had
Rating – PG-13
Summary – Winry wants to help ease the pain of facing the holidays after the loss of a loved one
Pairings – Ed/Winry, Roy/Riza
Time line – spoilers past manga #38, manga based, sort of shoehorned in between Ed's return from the East and Scar's return.
Author's Note – written for the edwinry community holiday challenge, the prompt was 'cinnamon'. Thanks to evillittledog for the beta
Some of Winry's earliest memories were of all the good food the woman of Resembol turned out as part of the gift giving tradition for the longest night of the year. The whole town seemed alive with the scents of pumpkin and sugar and most especially cinnamon. Even now Winry's mouth watered when she remembered Aunt Trisha's pumpkin pie topped with cinnamon whipped cream or that fresh apple and walnut torte she would make, speckled brown with the spice.
Her own mother would whip up pumpkin soup made savory with cinnamon or, better yet, the pumpkin gooey butter cakes, rich with Mrs. Sebold's farm fresh eggs. Winry could almost taste the drink Granny would make for the adults, coffee spiked heavily with rum and cinnamon liquor with thick swirls of caramel and topped with Aunt Trisha's cinnamon whipped cream. Winry remembered the time while Ed was recovering – such a dark holiday that year – when Granny had made the potent potable for her friends. Winry had stolen some of it for her and Ed. She remembered Al propping them both up so they didn't fall into the toilet once the vomiting commenced after the fourth drink of the sweet, heady stuff. Al even sat on the bed with her and Ed, a hand on each of them holding them down when they were convinced they were going to spin right out of it. Granny had just given them knowing looks the next day but let the hangover be their punishment.
Winry's head dipped as she thought about the way the season was sneaking right past them this year. Mr. Garfiel didn't mind if she took off time to be with her family but she couldn't go back to Resembol just yet. Ed and Al needed her in Central. Besides, she had been trapped by limited funds while Ed had been mysteriously away and she was grateful to Mr. Garfiel for being understanding about that, even if his suggestions for handling Edward put images of Ed's hairy butt in her head. The things they were up to were just so dangerous. Her mind called up images of Havoc and Mustang lying in hospital beds; Al armless and jawless and Riza looking on with such pain in her eyes. Winry wondered just what she could do to at least give them all a day of ease.
She looked around the hotel room, searching for a sense of belonging, egg shell walls, a battered but clean pale oak dresser, a door-less closet and a comfortable bed with a comforter in colors she couldn't imagine anyone thinking could possibly look good together. She could get nauseous looking at Ed sleeping there on the bedspread's swirl of vivid colors. The steam radiator banged and hissed its way to life. Soon the room would be stifling then eventually cool off to a bone numbing chill before starting the cycle anew. There was nothing of family here barring the three battered young Resembolians themselves. Ed had finally paid the bill and fixed Al's armor – still refusing to tell her where he had been without Al, who usually was his large shadow.
All too soon after Ed's return, they got notice that Scar was back. Winry remembered what he had done to the brothers last time. This wasn't fair. They were too young. Life shouldn't be this hard. "We need to do something," Winry blurted out suddenly and it seemed to echo in the hotel room. Ed's head jerked up off his pillow. He had slipped into one of his hard naps while she and Al had been talking. Ed's questions about the past and what memories Al had that Ed wouldn't know about had opened a floodgate. Al pressed and probed, testing his memory. It had been exciting for her, too, remembering all the fun times. Those days seemed so distant now.
"What was that, Winry?" Al asked.
"We need to do something fun. I know what you're going to say, Ed, but it's okay to have a little fun time to time. The holiday is coming. We should do something," Winry said, her face slowly lighting up as she warmed to her idea.
"Like what? We can't leave, not with Scar here," Ed said, rubbing the pillow lines from his cheek. "But you should go, Winry." His golden eyes dimmed like a setting sun.
Winry swept her hair back. "I will be going, Ed, soon enough. I have to get back to my training but not before the holiday. And I know the next thing you're going to say, that I'm not safe."
Ed sat up, crossing his arms. "You aren't, Winry."
"No one ever really is. Edward, I want to stay. More importantly, you can't make me go." Winry's jaw jutted out, a stubborn look settling in her eyes.
"She has a point, Brother," Al said gently, hoping to keep the peace.
"Al, you know I'm not wrong here. Winry should go someplace safe," Ed said, looking to his brother for help.
"You can't make her decisions for her, Ed. Mostly you do that and sometimes it's necessary because we have to do what we must do," Al wagged a hand at his brother then turned to Winry, "And Winry, you can't come with us to those places."
Winry nodded slowly, her face pinching. "I know, Al. Sometimes I wish I could but I'm more use to you if I train and improve my skills. And I will go back to Rush Valley as soon as the holiday is past but for now I'm staying with you." She sat down on the bed next to Ed.
"Winry, I really want you to go." This time Ed's tone was pleading instead of demanding and Winry almost considered it.
"Ed, I'm staying. You'll just have to learn to cope." She touched his shoulder. "I want to spend the holiday here."
Ed's expression matched the resolve in hers. "But Granny…"
"Can come here!" Winry clamped a hand over Ed's mouth, vaguely surprised her hand was big enough to do the job. "Ed, this is Elicia's first time without her father." Winry paused, her throat suddenly tight as her hand fell away. Ed's eyes clouded with pain and fury while Al seemed to shrink in on himself. "I'm going to check with Gracia and see if she thinks it would be better to be alone or if she thinks company would help. We could help her make the dinner and what about your friends?" Winry leaned against Ed and he shifted his weight to accept hers. "Poor Riza looked so tired worrying about the colonel and that other lieutenant? Al's told me how the colonel's men look out for you two. Wouldn't it be nice to take him real food? Patients always tell me how awful hospital food is. I won't be alone, Ed. I'll be with all of you. If Scar knows enough to hurt me in order to hurt you, then I would be no safer on my own."
Ed flinched at that, the color of his skin going waxen. "I guess so…do you think Mrs. Hughes would like that?" he asked quietly. Al shuffled closer to Winry as if to protect her.
Winry ran a hand through her long hair. "I'll ask."
"She might not want to see me," Al said softly, his armor clanking as he hunched up further.
Ed's gaze snapped around as Winry asked. "What do you mean?"
"We're doing this all for me to get my body back. The homunculi killed Lieutenant Colonel Hughes because he was in the way or he knew too much because of us," Al replied miserably.
Winry caught her lip in her teeth then jumped up and embraced him. "Remember this and we'll do it again when you're able to feel it, Al. This isn't your fault. For all you know, the homunculi had other reasons to kill Mr. Hughes. His life was a dangerous one. You and Ed already take on too many burdens. You don't know this one is yours, too."
Al's big hand smoothed down over her hair as she hugged him. "Thanks, Winry. I think asking Mrs. Hughes is a good idea. It would be nice to just have family around for a day," he said wistfully.
"I guess it would," Ed relented then his lips thinned. "But don't expect me to act like Colonel Shit is family."
"Of course not, Brother," Al replied and Winry swore she could see his eyes rolling.
"So, will there be lots of food at this party?" a muffled new voice asked, startling them all. Ling perched on the window sill, his nose pressed to the glass.
Ed stalked over and drew the curtains. "Not for you!"
"Edward!" Winry said. She put a hand to her forehead. Why she liked such a rude boy, she'd never know.
X X X
Winry wiped her palms on her skirt. She was nervous, waiting on the Hughes' porch. Icy winds chilled her legs, rustling under her skirt. She really ought to just give up on Ed noticing her legs and wear pants or at least a longer skirt. Gracia's eyes went wide when she opened the door. "Winry, what brings you out on a blustery day?"
"There was something I wanted to talk to you about, if you don't mind," Winry replied, lacing her fingers together.
"Of course not, come inside. You must be chilled." Gracia stepped back, waving her in. "Would you like me to make tea?"
"No, that's okay. Elicia's not napping, is she? I'd hate to wake her," Winry said, looking around for the girl.
"No worries. She's playing with her doll house in the living room." Gracia beckoned Winry to follow.
A nice fire crackled in the fireplace and Elicia played several feet away with her doll house as promised. The little girl dropped her doll as she caught sight of Winry. She squeaked and raced over, latching onto Winry's leg. Winry ruffled the girl's hair. "Hi, Elicia. Boy, that looks like fun." She pointed to the doll house.
"It is! Mommy got me a new doggie." She held up the wooden toy that went with her doll house family.
"Aww, he's so cute. What's his name?" Winry asked, trying to make it as far as the couch, dragging Elicia along with her. She could get warm there.
"Her name," Elicia corrected sternly, still clutching tight with one hand to Winry's knee. "Is Flower."
"Nice to meet you, Flower," Winry said to the dog, managing to sit down. Elicia climbed right up into her lap.
"Elicia, sweetie, Winry doesn't need you clinging all over her," Gracia scolded gently.
"It's okay." Winry patted the girl's back. "Your mom and I need to talk but I'll come look at your doll house before I leave, okay?"
Elicia beamed. "Okay." She slipped off Winry's lap and scurried off.
"Are you sure you don't want any tea, Winry?" Gracia sank into the chair across from the girl.
"No, I'm fine. It's a nice fire, feels good," Winry sighed happily, stretching her legs toward the flames.
"Roy showed me how to build it. I didn't have the heart to tell him I'm originally from the north. I know all about keeping warm." Gracia smiled gently then a sadness flooded her green eyes. "He feels so guilty."
"So do Ed and Al," Winry said without thinking and Gracia shot her a startled look. "That's sort of what I came to talk to you about, not guilt." Winry leaned forward, lowering he voice as she looked over at Elicia. "I know this holiday will be hard and I wasn't sure if you'd want company or not. But if you did, I'd love to come with Al and Ed. We could cook dinner. You wouldn't really have to do anything. I thought maybe Miss Hawkeye and the colonel would like to come…or aren't they allowed to do that?" Winry fretted, wishing she had thought of that before. She didn't want to get them in trouble.
Gracia's smile was as warm as the fire. "They would like a legitimate excuse to spend time together." She folded her hands and stared over at her daughter, falling silent for a moment. "I've thought about what you just asked me and I have no idea which will be easier." Gracia picked at imaginary lint on her skirt. "Maes was all about family. He adored me and Elicia. No matter what else he was into, I never had to doubt that. I think about what he'd want me to do." She sighed and Winry almost interjected something when it looked like Gracia wasn't going to expound. "I think it would be good to have people here. I'm not sure I could make it through alone. If it was just me, I could live with that but I don't want Elicia to be sadder than she already is."
Winry offered her warmest smile. "I'll help you. I can make the dinner and everything. I could help you clean the house if you think it needs it." Winry blushed, wondering if that were rude. "Not that it looks like it's…I mean."
"I know," Gracia broke in, holding up a hand. "And you don't have to do all the work, Winry. I'd like to help with the cooking. And I'm sure Riza would, too."
"Oh good. Maybe my grandmother could come." Winry bounced on the cushion. "She'd stay at the hotel with me, so that wouldn't be a problem…if you don't mind that is."
Gracia nodded. "That would be fine. It would be nice to have family around. I know this might sound selfish but I'd like for everyone to bring Elicia a little gift. I want this to be a good day for her."
"I don't think that's selfish at all. I'll go tell everyone," Winry said, getting to her feet.
"You take care of the boys, Winry. I'll tell Riza and Roy." Gracia got up as well.
"Okay." Winry spared a little time to play with Elicia then headed back outside. She walked one block then said without turning around, "You had to get awfully cold out there spying on the house, Edward."
"How did you know I was there?" A sulky tone slipped into Ed's voice as he cantered up to Winry.
"Because I know you. I'll be all right." Winry turned and caught his living arm. "Your body has to be cold with all that chill radiating up your automail. Let's get you inside and warmed up. Is there a tea house or diner nearby? I'm sort of hungry."
"This way," Ed said reluctantly and she knew he wanted her inside and safe like a piece of fine glass. "Tell me what she said."
"Time for a party," Winry said triumphantly.
X X X
"I still say this is a bad idea," Ed pouted, stomping his boots on Gracia's porch trying to warm up his toes. He eyed the sky. "It could snow. It's cold enough."
"You'll be inside, Brother. What does it matter?" Al asked wearily. He carried several bags of groceries while Winry hauled the gifts for Elicia.
"Me and Colonel Shit in the same spot has to be like a big beacon for Scar," Ed grumbled as the door opened.
Mustang stood there, his almond eyes mere slits under his thin, arched eyebrows. "If you don't quit calling me that, Shortmetal, I'm going to gift wrap you for Scar."
"Like to see you try." Ed eyed the injured alchemist, brushing past Roy to go inside. "Weren't you still peeing in a bed pan the last time I saw you?"
"Brother!" Al groaned.
Winry winced, slapping his shoulder. "Edward! Be nice. It's family day!"
"I'm wondering where is the furthest place I could assign you," Roy said through gritted teeth.
"Roy!" Riza called from the kitchen, surprising the brothers by being so informal. "Quit tormenting Edward. Dr. Pinako needs to know where you put the whiskey and you need to get marinating the venison steaks."
"You cook?" Ed snickered.
"I'm good at it. You have a problem with that?" Roy growled, tugging on the hem of his colorful sweater.
"No, he doesn't," Winry answered hurriedly, pulling Ed out of the line of fire, hoping he'd just behave. "So my grandmother got in okay. You should have let me meet her at the train station."
Roy waved her off, holding out his hands to take the gifts from her. "Fuery didn't mind playing chauffer. I promised him a dessert. There's surely to be plenty once you ladies are done."
"Well, it's still very much appreciative." Winry smiled warmly at him then took a deep breath in. "Smells so good in here already and dinner is barely started."
"Venison, I love venison." Ed's eyes narrowed after a moment's thought. "You better not mess it up, bastard, and I thought we were having turkey."
"That, too. Gracia has it in the oven. Dr. Rockbell is making drinks and whiskey-smashed sweet potatoes," Roy said. "It's going to be a good feast."
"Going to smell like a pub in here." Ed wrinkled his nose.
"I'm going to marinate the venison in gin and port," Roy said wickedly. "And the cranberry sauce for the meat also has port. If you're a good little boy, Ed, we'll even let you have Dr. Rockbell's cinnamon roll punch."
"Who are you calling so little he'll drown in a cup-!" Ed ranted before Al's gauntlet wrapped around his mouth.
"I think Elicia's napping, Ed," Al said, realizing the little girl hadn't come to greet them.
"Not any more," Winry said ruefully, glaring at Ed who looked unrepentant.
"Roy, didn't we just say no tormenting Ed?" Riza came out of the kitchen, a big wooden spoon in hand. She swatted him with it.
"Ouch! Watch it. You'll open up my wounds," Roy protested his rough treatment.
"Then get in the kitchen and get to work." The spoon punctuated every word.
"That goes for you three as well," Pinako added, peering out of the kitchen, cleaning her hands on a towel. "The baking isn't going to do itself."
Winry followed her grandmother into the kitchen. There it was; the smell of the season, the one that just made her smile; cinnamon. Even Gracia's smile seemed less strained and freely given as she glanced up from her work.
"What can I do?" Ed asked, looking a little lost.
"You can help me, Ed. I want to make some bread pudding and Gracia, do you need help cutting apples for the pie?" Winry asked.
"I would love that." Gracia patted Ed's shoulder.
"Two desserts." Ed's eyes were little newly minted gold coins.
"Three," Riza corrected. "I'm making my burnt sugar custards."
"Try not to drool on yourself, Edward. You might rust," Roy snickered, splashing a liberal amount of gin into a bowl.
"My automail does not rust!" Winry informed the colonel with a sniff. She gave Riza a curt nod and the woman laid the spoon across Roy's backside. He yipped and muttered an apology.
"Winry makes the best automail anywhere," Ed said and she beamed at him.
"What can I do?" Al asked, a hint of dejection in his voice. "I'm…well, there's not really room enough for me in there, too." He eyed the modest, crowded kitchen.
"Alphonse, you can help me get the wood in for the fire as soon as I'm doing mixing the marinade. I'll supervise you," Roy said, more than a hint of weariness in his voice. "That's what a good colonel does," he added jokingly to cover how weak he felt.
"And Elicia will be getting up soon. She adores you, Alphonse," Gracia said, seeing his distress. "I'd love it if you kept her busy and out of the kitchen. That would be a huge help."
"I can do that," Al replied, sounding very grateful to be included in some way in the activities.
Once both Al and Roy were gone, Winry set Ed to tearing up day old bread and slicing apples. Granny and Riza eventually filtered out of the room and Gracia was too busy rolling pie dough to pay them much mind. Winry covered Ed's hand with hers. "Thank you, Ed, for doing this."
Ed squinted for a moment as if he had forgotten what he had done. "Still think you should have gone home but…" He smiled faintly, a hint of pink kissing his cheeks. "This is nice. It's worth putting up with Colonel Jackass to spend a little time making you smile."
Winry looked over her shoulder and caught Gracia's wink just before the older woman turned her attention to the turkey in the oven. Winry leaned over the table and kissed Ed's cheek. He reared back, looking at her in surprise. "That has to be the sweetest thing you ever said to me, Edward, just when I thought you couldn't get sweeter than sticking up for my automail."
He smiled, ducking his head, blushing brighter. "It's true."
"I appreciate hearing it." Winry took the knife from him. "I think we have enough apples. Why don't you go out into the living room, Ed? We women have things handled here and Elicia would probably like to see you."
"Okay," Ed said, hesitating momentarily as if he didn't want to leave her side. Finally he drifted into the living room, passing Riza and Pinako who were heading back to the kitchen. Al was on the floor with Elicia being made to take tea, the little cup looking ridiculously small in his enormous hand. Mustang was on the couch with a bowl of chopped up, Ed didn't know what, that the alchemist was centering on tiny round dough pieces and folding into half moons. "What are you doing?"
"Making steamed dumplings. They're a Xing specialty," Roy replied, glancing over at Ed.
Ed realized the man looked worse than he had expected. He almost felt guilty about his comment earlier. Mustang probably should still be in the hospital. Always pale, the man looked like old parchment now with bruises under his eyes. His hands shook as they delicately pinched the half moons shut. "How'd you learn to make them?"
"My mother," Roy replied without further elaboration. Ed realized he wanted to know more since this was the first hint he had about Mustang's life. Foolishly he had never even wondered how the man had learned his alchemy. Roy glanced over at him. "Riza said your Xing friends were hovering around outside to 'protect us,' just in case. Gracia wants them to come in and get warm but so far no luck."
"Ling and Ran Fan?" Al asked in surprise before Ed could.
"I didn't see them," Ed said, going to the door.
"That would defeat the purpose of guards of their sort. They're stealthy according to Riza," Roy replied, something in his eyes that said he hated relying this much on his aide.
Al had told Ed the reaction Hawkeye had had when they thought Lust had killed the colonel. As romantically stunted as Ed knew he was, he knew there was more between the colonel and his sniper than boss and subordinate. Winry had seemed to know that instinctively. He'd have to ask the shit just how he managed to kill a homunculus since Ed had never heard of anyone doing that. Oh, how he hated that Mustang had beaten him to it. He poked his head outside. "Ling?" Ed called softly.
Ran Fan, mask and all, spiraled down from above on a rope, like some outsized, horrific spider. Ed jumped. Her dark eyes blinked at Ed as if to say, 'what do you want?'
"Why are you here?" Ed recovered his pride.
"The young master desires to protect his future wife," she replied simply.
"HIS WHAT?" Ed thundered then slammed the door in her face.
"Brother, you didn't ask them in," Al chided and Ed waved him off abruptly.
"How do you get so much volume out of lungs that little?" Mustang smirked.
"Roy!" Riza's reprimand cracked from the other room before Ed could explode further.
Roy pouted in her general direction but kept on folding up the dumplings as Ed stalked back to the couch and flung himself down next Mustang. "He can't marry Winry."
"A Xing prince? Why not? Oh, she couldn't be his first wife, being foreign, but that won't be a problem." Roy's eyes canted Ed's way. "What woman wouldn't want to live in a palace?"
"Winry!" Ed said sharply. His glare could have steamed the dumplings on the tray.
"First wife, sir? How many wives can a prince have? Ling told us about the emperor and his wives," Al said curiously as Elicia pretended to pour more tea.
"The emperor gets one per clan at the very least. A prince tends to have several, as many as he can afford to keep." Roy sighed then smirked at Ed. "Almost makes me wish my family never left the empire."
"I can believe you were a prince. You're a royal ass, that's for sure," Ed sniffed then looked over at his brother. "How do you handle more than one wife?"
"You couldn't. You can't even handle one lovely automail mechanic," Roy said, finishing the dumplings.
"I don't know what you mean," Ed huffed, crossing his arms.
"Al, come on. Help me bring down my stuffed animals," Elicia said, bored with the adult talk, tugging on Al's arm. The teen obligingly got up and followed her up stairs.
"Oh, I think you do," Roy said, his eyes on Al's retreating back. "Why do you keep her at arm's length?"
Ed favored the older alchemist with his patented hostile look to no avail. "Maybe for the same reason you do with Hawkeye."
Roy shook his head, a hint of sympathy in his dark eyes. "The outside world sees only what we want it to, for both our safety but there is no doubt in her mind how I feel. Can Winry say the same?"
Ed refused to look at him. "None of your business. Besides, there's not just me in the equation."
"Do you think it'll be easier if you wait until you get your brother's body back? Then you'll be in direct competition, provided she even waits for you. Might it not be easier on Alphonse if it's clear now that you care for the girl? It might sting less than getting rejected later, provided he's still interested in her. I'm betting you never talk to him about it," Roy said softly.
Ed's fists clenched, servos whining. "Why do you even care?"
Roy snorted. "You've known me how many years, Edward? I'm a romantic at heart."
"I wasn't aware you even had one," Ed shot back irritably. "Tell me, how did you beat that homunculus," he demanded, desperate for a change of topic.
"I have to get these dumplings into the kitchen first." Roy got up, wincing. His hand went to his side.
"I'll do it." Ed got up and picked up the tray. Maybe if he helped out, Mustang would leave him alone about Winry.
"Thanks." Roy settled down, sweating from the effort of trying to stand.
Ed carried the dumpling into the kitchen where all the womenfolk were gathered around the table drinking coffee that smelled like freshly baked cinnamon rolls. "I have no idea what to do with these."
Riza got up. "I'll put them away until we're ready for them. Have a seat, Edward. Have something to drink."
Pinako poured him a drink. "Easy on it. Not all the alcohol boiled out." The old woman grinned.
Ed sat next to Winry and sipped the drink, like a melted cinnamon roll. It was delicious.
"What was all the caterwauling about this time, Ed?" Winry asked.
"Did you know Ling thinks he's going to marry you?" Ed took a bigger drink at the mere thought.
Winry laughed. "Yes. He proposed right in front of Al."
Ed's eyes went wider than his face could conceivably contain. "And no one told me?"
"Because we knew you'd have a fit," Winry replied, waving him off. "It's not like I'm going to run off and marry the first passing prince."
"Wonder if he would move us both into the palace, Winry." Pinako's eyes flicked over to Ed. "It's not like you've any better offers."
"Winry has a lot of better offers than him!" Ed snapped then felt overwhelmed by all the feminine grins, realizing he had been trapped. He turned beet red and considered clapping and opening a pit to fall into. "I think I hear Al calling." He hurried back into the living room, ignoring all the laughing women. Al and Elicia were back with an outlandish number of stuffed toys. Al was lying on the floor while Elicia used his chest plate as a mountain for some story she was inventing as she went. She had her father's ability to chatter nonstop. In spite of all the noise, Roy was asleep on the couch Ed thought Mustang had to be uncomfortable the way he was having slumped over. He sat down next to his brother then glanced back at Mustang. "Elicia, do you know where your mom keeps her make up?"
Al's helmet rotated and he took in the sleeping colonel and knowing his brother would be the sort to paint up a sleeping man's face, snapped, "Don't even think it, Brother!"
Ed pouted as Elicia paused in her narrative long enough to give them both confused looks. She roped Ed into voicing one of the bears and a horse so long as he was willing to accept criticism and directions when he failed to anticipate her storyline.
Eventually, Riza came back out to wake up Mustang. Ed couldn't help noticing she looked good in her dark green sweater, which clung to her curvy form in all the right places. Riza had her hair down as well, letting it play over her strong shoulders.
"Roy, do you want me to cook the roast for you?" she asked softly as he came awake. "You can sleep a little more."
"Wasn't sleeping," he protested groggily. "Just resting my eyes."
"Of course," Riza humored him.
"I'll come put the roast in, in a minute," Roy said then gave her a hopeful look. "Is there dessert ready yet?"
"Not before dinner," Riza scolded and stepped back without offering to help him up. It would only insult him. She headed back into the kitchen. Ed watched her then realized Al was, too.
"You two done ogling Hawkeye?" Roy asked, getting to his feet. Al startled, knocking animals off his chest to Elicia's protests. Ed flushed and sputtered an 'I wasn't.' Roy snorted. "Of course you were. She looks good in a sweater." Roy nodded appreciatively. "I think sweaters might be my very favorite thing about winter."
Ed rolled his eyes but thought about Winry in a clingy sweater and decided the bastard wasn't wrong. "Just not used to seeing Riza with her hair down."
A happy expression danced over Roy's face. "I like that she grew it out, even if you can't see her earrings as well."
"Winry found a way around that. I had to quit giving her earrings. I was afraid of where she'd stick the next hole," Ed said ruefully.
"Brother!" Al took the last of the animal off his chest and sat up. He gathered Elicia into his arms for a hug in apology for ruining her tableau. Her hands explored his metallic face. "Winry liked Riza's earrings so much that's why she wanted her ears pierced," he told Roy who laughed.
"What's so funny?" Ed asked.
"What's why Riza grew out her hair. She liked Winry's long hair that day when I first came to recruit you," Roy replied.
"Why did you come?" Ed asked, wondering why he never had before. "No one knew then what we had done. You were the one to discover it, outside of Granny."
"I got a tip there were a pair of brothers good in alchemy. You were supposed to be in your thirties," Roy replied, wagging his head. "I was worried about you taking an officer younger than yourselves seriously. Instead I get a couple of kids."
"Thirty." Ed snorted. "Who thought we were so old?"
Roy's lips pinched at the idea of thirty being old. "Hawkeye suggested a time warp or clerical error. I've often wondered…if we all weren't set up." Ed's eyes widened at that and Al's head snapped around to study the older alchemist. "But that's a depressing, disturbing thought and this is a happy day. I'd better get in there before they decided to cook my roast for me."
"We'd probably be safer that way," Ed retaliated.
"I think you should go outside with that Xing prince and guard the house. Send him in to eat your share," Roy said, glaring at Ed.
"Please, he'd eat mine and yours and be looking for more," Ed scoffed, knowing Ling's appetite.
"Maybe that's why he's a tall, strapping young man." Roy smirked.
Al clamped his hands over Elicia's ears just in time.
X X X
"I'm not sure I could eat another bite," Ed groaned, putting a hand across his bulging belly. He had made a considerable dent in the pumpkin soup, venison, turkey, two kinds of potatoes, dressing and even tried the dark greens. The whole dining room smelled of cinnamon and spice.
"You have to, Ed. There's apple pie, bread pudding with whiskey sauce, not to mention Riza's burnt sugar custards," Winry said and Ed moaned but his eyes were lit up brightly at the reminder of dessert.
"Speaking of which, we'll need you in the kitchen, Roy," Riza said.
Roy levered himself up, looking as stuffed as Ed even though he mostly picked at the entrees delicately. The boy wondered how the man lived, eating so little. Al and Ed helped Gracia, Pinako and Winry clean off the table. Riza coated the tops of the custards in their white ramekins with sugar while Roy slipped on his array glove. With a snap, the tops of the desserts were on fire, crisping into hard shells of burnt sugar.
Elicia clapped. "Do it again, Uncle Roy!"
"That's all the show for tonight, sweetie." Gracia ruffled her daughter's hair. "Trust your uncle to know how to make the most flamboyant dessert ever."
Riza laughed. "I can remember the first time Roy saw me and my father make this dessert. He was as excited as Elicia, practically dancing around the kitchen."
"I was not," Roy pouted as his lover picked up the tray of desserts.
"Your father was his mentor?" Al asked curiously from his spot in the doorway.
"How'd he manage to draw that short straw?" Ed asked then winced as his own usage of the word, 'short.'
"The same way Mrs. Curtis got stuck with you," Roy replied tartly.
"He begged," Riza elaborated.
"You are so lucky I'm injured, Hawkeye." Roy's expression was pure wounded puppy. She just raised an eyebrow at him.
"Why don't you go sit on the couch, Roy? You're looking tired," Gracia said diplomatically. "We can get this. Elicia, you entertain your uncle Roy and Alphonse, would you and Ed like to take plates of foods to our guardians and invite them in again?"
"Sure," Al said enthusiastically, missing the evil glint in Ed's eye.
The brothers carried out plates of food while everyone else retired to the living room, proclaiming that the dishes could wait a little longer. Riza and Gracia carried out the desserts as Pinako poured out more of her potent coffee. Winry carried it in for her just in time to see Al dragging Ed back inside.
"You nearly broke Gracia's plates, Brother," he chided, hauling Ed by his collar.
"Flinging food at the Xing prince, Edward?" Roy smirked.
"How'd you guess?" Ed muttered, glowering.
"Edward, why would you do that?" Winry crossed her arms over her chest.
Roy put a hand on her shoulder. "It's called marking territory, Winry. Now would be the perfect time to make a move," he whispered.
She spared an irritated look for both men and Roy plopped heavily onto the couch then winced, holding his side. Riza shook her head then handed him the custard ramekin. "He might have a point, Winry. Sometimes we have to ignore their more bizarre behavior because men are…strange creatures."
"I've noticed," Winry said, wryly sitting in front of the fireplace with a custard and a little pie and bread pudding. Ed sat next to her and stole her desserts. She sighed then broke the sugar crust on her custard. "Mmmm, Riza, this is delicious," she said as the velvety cinnamony custard dissolved on her tongue.
"Thank you, Winry. Everything was so good tonight," Riza said, settling next to Roy on the couch.
"I'm so glad everyone could be here," Gracia said. The light in her green eyes was so warm and content, Winry was proud she had decided to do this for the older woman.
"Present time," she suggested and Gracia nodded.
Elicia cheerfully ripped into the gifts and immediately set about playing with them, selecting the colored pencils and paper Roy have given her. "Draw wiv me, Al!" she demanded.
Ed squirmed closer to Winry. "I brought you a little something," he whispered, an unusually shy look on his face.
"Ed, you didn't have to. This was mostly for Elicia," she whispered back. "I didn't…"
"That's okay," he broke in. "You already do so much for me and I know I'm bad. I never write. I never call but I have this." He slipped a small box out of his pocket and handed it to her. "I shaped it out of that wrench you bent when you tossed it at my head."
Winry looked at Ed in surprise then opened it. Inside was a choker necklace of bizarrely curled metal filigree. "Ed, it's so different. I love it."
"Do you?" Ed asked hopefully.
"I do. Put it on for me," she said, seeing Pinako going for the kitchen with Gracia and Riza who shimmied out from under Roy who had promptly fallen asleep against her.
Ed complied. "There." He looked at her neck. "I think it looks good."
"Thank you, Ed." She leaned forward and kissed him.
Ed jumped a bit, shocked. His eyes flickered around and saw Al was engrossed with Elicia and Roy was sleeping. He put an arm around Winry and leaned into the kiss. Her tongue slipped into his mouth, quick, probing then was gone all too fast. High color rode her cheeks and she moved away.
"I should help the others with the dishes," she said, smiling at him. She leaned down and kissed the tip of his nose before disappearing into the kitchen.
Ed grinned after her.
"So, Edward, tastes like cinnamon and sweetness, doesn't she?" Roy asked lazily and Ed went pink to the tips of his ears.
X X X
"I think it's snowing a little," Gracia said, looking out the window.
"At least Granny got back to the hotel," Winry said, having slipped Ling some more pie in return for escorting the old woman home.
"Think it'll snow enough that we'll be stuck here?" Riza asked, a hopeful tone in her voice as the ladies finished putting away the dishes.
"There's a guest room," Gracia said and Winry realized why Riza was hoping for a blizzard. She would have a reason to spend the night with the colonel. It was so romantic and it gave Winry a warm feeling deep inside.
"I think the colonel might have to take you up on that. He could tear his wounds open out there if it's icy," Riza replied with a hint of a smile.
"I'll get some bedding," Gracia said. "Winry, do you think you and the boys can get home or would you like to sleep on the couch?"
"Let's talk to Edward." Winry wasn't surprised to see Al still coloring with Elicia but was surprised to see Edward playing some sort of card game with Roy. "It's snowing," she said.
"Gracia is going to make up a spare bed for you, Roy. It's getting too bad for you to tempt fate," Riza said and he smiled at the women.
"And you, young lady, it's past your bed time," Gracia said to her daughter.
"Look Mommy," Elicia held up a piece of paper. "Just like Uncle Roy's glove." She displayed her take on his array.
"Hey, that's not bad. She might have a future in alchemy," Roy said and Gracia eyed him sourly. "Or not."
Gracia wagged a finger at him. "We'll talk about that another day."
"Maybe we should go home," Ed said, "before it gets too bad."
"Gracia said we could stay on the couch but I think we should be okay," Winry said, glancing out a window. "It's not that far of a walk. Besides, I like snow at night."
"I remember that." Ed turned to his brother. "Ready to go, Al?"
Al picked himself up off the floor. "Sure."
"Thanks for having us here, Gracia," Winry said, going to give Elicia a hug goodbye.
"Thank you for suggesting it, Winry. It made all the difference," Gracia said with a warm smile. "Come by tomorrow and we can take that plate to Lieutenant Havoc."
"I will. Bye, Riza, Mr. Mustang." Winry waved to them as Al handed her her coat.
Once outside, Winry tilted her head back. It seemed so peaceful and quiet outside, stars and snow seeming to mix in the black velvet of the sky. Winry loved the snow, so fresh and clean as if it held the promise of new, brighter times ahead. The cinnamon cleared from her head, leaving only the clean smile "Beautiful," she murmured.
"It really is," Ed said as Winry nearly slipped. He put an arm around her to steady her. "Sometimes I forget to take the time to just sit back and enjoy things."
"I know, Ed, but one day you'll have all the time in the world for that." She leaned against him as they walked.
If either of them noticed that Al had fallen back just a bit to give them space, they didn't say. For a moment, there was nothing but the silent beauty of nature and all their cares forgotten for a night.
Author's Note – While written for a Christmas challenge, I took some liberties especially in the light of the fact the Elrics' world isn't Earth and has no Earth-based religions. However, many cultures have so kind of solstice rites and holidays and I borrowed heavily from them for this.