Building Walls

The Recovery Series #3; Spring

D M Evans

Disclaimer - not mine, all characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa et al, Square Enix and funimition. I don't make a profit

Pairing – none, Ed/Winry/Al friendship

Rating – PG-13

Time Line – manga based, no real spoilers provided you know how Ed and Al were injured, takes place soon after Ed gets his new arm

Summary – Winry is preparing to let the brothers go even though it's the last thing she wants.

Author's Note – This was written for the 4 purposes community and the prompt for this one is 'Spring' Thanks to evillittledog for the beta.

"So," Winry shot Ed a sly look as she looked up from where she was studying all the tools that went into attaching automail. She had a little pay back she owed Edward so why not combine that with a study break? "Are you going to help select the pole for the spring festival?" The barometer of embarrassment rose high in the twelve year old's face until his forehead shone so red, she thought his bangs might catch fire.

"No, don't want to," he mumbled behind his now-shiny new metal hand. Ed got more interested than natural in the book he and his brother were perusing.

"Why?" Her wicked look cranked up a step to naughty. "Feeling a little…small?"

"WHO ARE YOU CALLING SO SMALL, HE'S MICROSCOPIC?" Ed raged, flailing his arms and making Al duck.

Pinako glanced up from stuffing her pipe, almost regretting explaining the true sexualized meaning behind girls dancing around the spring pole with the brightly colored streamers and boys hunting for the hidden eggs. She thought Ed was going to die of embarrassment and all those months of automail work would be for naught. Her granddaughter, more used to anatomy and nature, handled it a lot better. Al had just made distressed little noises and rattled a bit at the explanation.

"Maybe you'll get bigger if you touch the pole, Edward." Winry smirked.

When the screaming stopped, Al broke in, "Maybe we should go help Winry pick the wild flowers, Brother. We need lots of them for the celebration."

Ed's face screwed up. "Flowers?"

"It's that or the pole, Ed. Make a choice," Winry said, still a little miffed at Ed's inadvertent insult earlier in the day when he couldn't quite make his hand do what he wanted.

Ed sighed gustily. "Why do I have to do either?"

"Because it's good for you to get out there, Ed. All our old friends have been wanting to spend time with you and you've been…standoffish," Winry said hesitantly.

"She has a point, brother," Al put in, quickly feeling the tension tightening between them all.

Ed looked away, rubbing his metal arm. Winry put her hand over his. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, Ed," she said and the disbelief and pain in his golden eyes shocked her.

"How do I explain it?" His voice was broken more so than angry. "How do I explain Al?"

"We've been going with 'accident'," Granny offered, having long decided to keep out of the kids' fights as much as she could.

"Even that military man of yours said something like that," Winry said, a hint of distaste in her voice.

"That bastard, Mustang?" Ed snorted, ignoring his brother's admonishment about language. That ass, Mustang, had yelled at him when he was still broken and bandaged in his wheelchair. Even though Ed knew Mustang had lit a necessary fire under him, he would never forgive the arrogance. "Yeah, he said I was hurt in the war out east. That's what he'll tell people when I pass my state Alchemy exam."

"You mean, if you pass," Winry corrected.

Ed huffed at her. "There is no 'if'." He got up. "So, flowers?"

"Or finding a pole," Winry reminded him.

"We could do both, brother," Al said, almost seeming to brighten. "They're going to find the pole this morning. If we go with them, we can come back to help Winry gather flowers in the afternoon," Al said and Edward appeared to shrivel. In the end, Al got his way.

X X X

"Brother, it's really not bad," Al said gently, trying to cut into Ed's four letter soliloquy as they hiked through the woods with baskets.

"Yes, Edward, you're scaring off the animals with all your complaining." Winry shot Ed a harsh look.

"We're here for flowers, remember?" he said tartly.

"I should have just left you home, sourpuss. Al and I could have had a good time," Winry replied, too tired of his bad mood to mind his feelings.

Ed sulked then stomped up to a patch of pink flowers. He ripped and bruised them with his metal hand.

"Edward, leave some heads on the flowers." Winry looked over at Al. "Was he this much of a pain when you were looking for the festival pole?"

"No, he just grumbled to himself and stumbled along behind everyone."

"Stumbled?" Winry shot Ed a worried look. "Are you pushing your automail too hard?"

"Bad word choice on Al's part. I'm fine," Ed assured her. "Honestly. It's all working fine, thanks to you and Granny. Well…" Ed looked at the mangled flowers in his hand. "I'm having trouble judging the strength in my hand."

"It takes time, Ed. Why don't you practice more?" Winry pointed to a patch of white trillium.

Ed sat down and concentrated on plucking them more delicately. "I feel like such a girl."

"Then you'll need this." Al tucked a flower behind Ed's ears. The flower patch didn't survive the outburst. The brothers sparred until Winry intervened.

"Winry! That was a pine cone!" Ed whined, rubbing his head.

"You're lucky it's not a rock." She jabbed her fists into her hips.

"You're so violent," he yelled at her.

"Tell it to the flowers you just killed. Now you'll behave and go pick flowers." She pointed to an undisturbed patch. "Or else."

Even Ed wasn't in brave enough to argue.

X X X

Winry tossed her basket of flowers down on the kitchen table. Pinako glanced away from the chicken she was basting. Winry shoved her bangs back. "Are boys always so stupid?"

"Yes." Pinako pushed the bird back into the oven then sat down at the table. "What did Edward do now?" she asked knowingly.

"He whined the whole trip then he ruined I don't know how many flowers. I should have just tripped him into the lake and let him sink." Winry crossed her arms over her flowered blouse and slammed herself back in the seat.

"And lose all that automail?" Pinako's eyebrows climbed. "Child, you can't force people to do things they don't want to do. It just makes them miserable. Ed didn't want to go."

"I know but…he just stays holed up here in the house, Granny." Winry scowled at the thought. "That can't be good for him. He needs to start acting normal again." Winry traced patterns on the glass-ringed table, her lips down turned.

Pinako put her strong hand over her grandchild's. "There is no normal any more, Winry, not for those boys. Their lives are different now."

Winry's head dipped, her hair swinging forward to veil her face. "I want them to be happy, Granny. Maybe things can't be like they were just like when Mom and Dad died but they can get better. I just want them to get better and things won't if Ed just hides here."

Pinako made a soft sound of encouragement and wondered what she could do to help.

Winry continued her thoughts before her grandmother could interject anything. "They're going to leave. That's why Ed doesn't want his friends to get close again, because it'll make leaving harder. Ed just practices his walking and using his hand so much, pushing too hard, so he can get out of here faster. He can't wait to leave." She dashed the tears from her eyes, looking as if the wound was too deep to bear.

Pinako got up and embraced her grandchild, pulling the eleven year old closer. "It's not that, Winry. Ed and Al don't want to leave but the things those boys did…there isn't an easy answer as to how to fix that. Their best chance doesn't lie here in Resembol."

Winry's fingers tore at her pale hair. "I know. If it were in his books, he and Al would have found it by now. They've been through them all at least twice. I know they need those books at that big library the military man promised them but I don't want them to join the military and die, too." Fat tears poured down her face and Pinako took Winry's hands out of her hard and wrapped her hands around her grandchild's.

"No one wants them to die. I don't think that colonel would put boys where they could get hurt," Pinako said gently

Staring at her, Winry wasn't sure if her grandmother believed what she was saying. Winry wasn't sure she believed it either but she wanted to pretend to. It was easier than thinking she could lose the brothers. Deep down she knew to protect herself she would have to distance herself from them and she hated it.

X X X

"If you keep eating like that, Brother, you'll make yourself sick," Al fretted as Ed powered his way through even more maple candy. He had already consumed some sorghum hard tack, honey buns and several helpings of strawberries and cream – which as he pointed out loudly was entirely different than milk.

"It's a sight to behold," Winry agreed, straightening the crown of wild flowers she wore. The blue and purple streams spilled down over the young girl's back. Ed thought she looked cute in her bird-egg blue dress but he'd never tell her so.

"I'm fine and don't look if it bugs you," he told them and stopped at a spun sugar stand. "After this, I want to find a fried dough stand." Ed slapped a coin on the counter for a stick of spun sugar.

"There's more to the spring festival than eating, Edward," Winry informed him, rolling her eyes.

"Yeah, games!" he said. "Be nice or I won't share." He held the spun sugar out to her, a hint of blush on his cheeks.

Winry plucked off a tuft and popped it in her mouth. "Thank you. I wonder if it's time to go dance around the spring pole."

"Winry, should you be doing that?" Ed fretted, blushing even harder.

Winry's pale eyebrows climbed, amusement dancing in her eyes. "Ed, isn't not like I'm going to be actually asking to be fertile this year. Besides, what are you worrying about? It's not like your parts work anyhow."

Ed's mouth dropped at that as Winry turned red. She tried to cover it and sashayed off. "Winry! How could you say that?" Ed bellowed and turned to his brother. "Did you hear what she said to me?" He shook the spun sugar in Winry's direction

"I can't believe she said it," Al replied, astonishment highlighting every word.

"You can't?" Ed shook all over. "What about me?"

"What's wrong, Bean?" Pinako asked, sauntering past, puffing on her pipe. "You're loud enough to hear all the way in Central."

"Winry said my boy parts don't work!" Ed said, too angry to be embarrassed.

Pinako nearly choked on her pipe. "Do I want…no, no, I don't. Boy, you have a couple years before those parts work. It's a little thing called puberty."

Ed's face screwed up. "DID YOU SAY LITTLE?"

Pinako ignored Ed's outburst and made a mental note to talk to her granddaughter about things not to say to boys even if they were true.

Ed just glared then stomped off. Al followed him. Ed's arms flailed wildly, the spun sugar nearly impaling festival goers too slow to get out of Ed's way. Al yanked his brother to a stop. "Brother, slow down! You're going to hurt someone," Al scolded. "You know Winry wasn't trying to be mean. She's just clinical."

"She said I don't work, Al!" Ed sagged onto one of the wooden benches strewn about the down town. "This isn't about puberty and stuff. She said I don't work." Ed looked at his metal hand as it gleamed in the spring sun. "I'm a failure. I don't work. If I don't work, then what does she think of you? Does she blame me? Hate me?" Ed's voice shook and his eyes glistened but the boy refused to cry.

Al couldn't fit on the bench so he knelt in front of his brother. Even like this, he felt huge, lumbering. "Brother, you know she doesn't think any of that. She doesn't blame you and you do work, Ed. Look at you. Winry knows just how well you work, better than expected. You push too hard, expect too much of yourself. You shouldn't have been able to walk yet or do anything with your hand. And you are. You aren't defective, Brother. I think Winry thinks you're amazing."

A smile, almost more sad than anything else, touched Ed's face. "Thank you, Al. That…that really helped."

"Good." Al sounded satisfied. "Because you're just fine, Brother."

Ed shook his head. "I'm not fine but one day I will be." He sighed. "Think Winry is mad at me?"

"If she is, it's probably more for you being such a pain looking for flowers than anything else," Al replied wryly.

Ed made a face. "Let's go find her. I still have this to eat." He brandished the spun sugar then a look of intense pain echoed across his face. "I'm sorry, Al."

"For what?" the boy asked, surprised.

"For eating…for enjoying it so much in front of you." The spun sugar's stick sagged in Ed's hand.

"Yes, Brother, because you starving and being miserable is what I want," Al said more sardonic than Ed had ever known him to be. Ed eyed him sourly but kept too quiet for comfort. Al put his hands on Ed's shoulders. "Brother, please eat as much as you want, enjoy it. I like seeing you happy. It makes me happy, too. It gives me hope that there'll be a day when we both can be like how we used to be."

Ed sighed and rubbed his red but still dry eyes. "I'm trying, Al. I can't help but feel guilty."

Al patted Ed's back. "I know but try. Winry's here to help us, Brother. She's so full of sunlight, I can't feel sad when I'm around her."

Ed smiled fondly at that. "Yeah.," he said, getting up. "Let's go find, Winry."

"Any idea where she is, Brother?" Al glanced around their section of the festival grounds, trying to spot her.

"No, but I know there's fried dough down that way." Ed grinned, pointing.

Al just shook his head.

X X X

By the time they found Winry in 'game alley,' Ed had the fried dough in one hand and spun sugar in the other, not to mention the clove suckers in his pocket, and was desperate to find Winry to share the goodies.

"What are you looking at?" Ed asked, thrusting the spun sugar at her.

She plucked off a wilty piece of fluff. "Those stuffed toys." She nodded at the large cats and dogs. "But I think these games are rigged."

Ed eyed the game where he'd have to knock down three milk jugs to win the top prize. Several older boys were trying to win one for their girlfriends but the jugs seemed almost cemented in place. "I can win you one," he said with more confidence than he felt.

"You probably shouldn't waste your money, Ed," Winry said dubiously, her eyes flicking to his arm. Ed tried to believe she wasn't judging him.

"Hey, Elric, what are you doing here?" one of the older boy's snickered. "Heard you managed to turn yourself into a gimp. Looks like it's true."

"I heard war or farm accident. Which dumb thing was it?" another added.

Ed looked at his metal hand, trying to hide the hurt. He knew these boys. His mother always warned him away from them. Pinako had echoed it. Alvar and Lonnie Beck, bad fruit from bad seed, everyone said. He and Al and most of the other young boys in town had been bullied by them. He decided ignoring them was better than blowing up. He shoved his desserts into Winry's hands. "I'll take a chance," he told the barker.

"You get three shots, little guy." The barker put the balls on the shelf that kept the players back.

"Little?" Ed's eyebrows twitched. Why was it harder to resist yelling about being called 'little' than it was holding his tongue about the honest insult the Beck's levied at him.

"Give it up, Elric," Alvar said. "This isn't a kid's game."

"Technically, it is," Ed shot back and the ruddy-faced boy scowled at him.

"What do you think you can do, gimp?" Lonnie grabbed Ed's wrist, yanking the metal arm up. "What's this good for anyhow?"

Both Al and Winry shouted something rude but all Ed heard was the rush of blood in his temples. He pulled away from the older boy. He was dimly aware of the barker telling the boys to shove off. "This arm is perfect," he informed the Becks. "The best mechanics anywhere made it and I'll show you what it can do!"

The Becks harsh laughter made Ed want to slam his metal fist into them just to prove it but his fury was eased by Winry sidling up to him and asking, "Thank you, Ed, but are you sure you have enough control over your arm for this?"

"We'll find out." Ed cast an angry glance over at the Becks who showed no signs of leaving before he humiliated himself at the game. Ed had thought, before the Becks, that he would try with his other arm but he knew he wouldn't win that way. It was hard enough learning to write with his non-dominant hand. He probably didn't have the dexterity to win the game. Then again, he was still getting the hang of moving his automail arm. He only hoped he didn't accidentally maim anyone with the ball. Hell, he was barely tall enough to reach over the shelf.

The first ball went wide, just missing the barker and didn't even get close to the milk jugs. Ed hunched down on the ground, embarrassed. The Becks howling and pointing at him and inviting others to watch the debacle wasn't helping. Winry threatened to let Al pull them apart, which only hushed them slightly.

The second ball grazed the milk jug but barely rocked it. Ed went back into his squat, his hands resting on the ground and an idea hit him. Ignoring the Becks taunts, Ed picked up his last ball and winged it, dropping immediately into the squat. Palms touched and flattened to the ground giving it a focused shake. At least the ball hit squarely so it didn't look too weird when all three jugs toppled.

The Becks shut up and Winry squealed, nearly knocking Ed into the dirt. Even the barker looked shocked and Ed had to wonder if Winry was right, the games were rigged. Ed straightened up and flexed his automail arm. He slapped a hand on the metal biceps. "Told you, best in the world. Looks like I did better than you two," he taunted then swept Winry up to the shelf. "She gets to pick a toy, right?"

"She sure does. What would you like little lady?" the barker asked.

While Winry studied the toys, Ed shot the Becks a hot look but they had lost interest and moved on to easier kids to bully. Winry selected an enormous green stuffed cat. "You carry it, Ed." Sighing, Ed gathered it up while Winry proclaimed, "Let's find more games."

"Sure," Ed said, wanting to find at least one more food stand, too.

Winry laughed. "Ed, you're smaller than the cat!"

"I AM NOT!" he growled.

"Yes, you are, brother," Al put in then leaned down as Winry skipped on ahead. "You cheated."

"Shh, don't tell her. Look how happy she is because it was the automail that did it," Ed said and Al nodded.

"Oooo!" Winry stopped and pointed to huge floppy stuffed dogs. The game they went with involved a sledgehammer and bell atop a tower.

"My turn," Al said gleefully and Ed didn't protest.

X X X

"Looks like you boys were busy," Pinako said, sitting down on the makeshift bleachers that had been set up around the Spring Pole. She eyed Ed on the top row just above her. Ed looked lost between the big stuffed dog and cat he had, not to mention the smaller stuffed horse and something that looked like a hedgehog. Al stood behind the stand, peering over the top. She took of sip of her spring wine, sweet woodruff-imbued white wine floated with strawberries, a treat she looked forward to all year.

"Winry wanted us to win games for her." Ed scowled. "Now I'm stuck with all this sissy girl stuff."

Pinako snorted. "You'll survive. You going to go down there and dance?" She nodded toward the Spring Pole. The girls and women were next to the pole, ribbons in hand ready for the band to start. The men ringed out around it several paces away.

Ed went redder than the strawberries in her wine and shook his head. "No!"

"What? Afraid a little pipsqueak like you couldn't cut it in a fertility dance?" Pinako shot back.

"WHO ARE YOU CALLING SO SHORT THE OTHER DANCERS COULDN"T SEE HIM?"

"Brother, why don't you dance? I'll run these stuffed toys back to the house so we can enjoy the bonfire later without them in the way," Al said diplomatically.

"Al! You're supposed to be on my side," Ed whined.

"Edward, go have fun. It's not like anyone really thinks the dance makes you fertile anymore. Besides, you don't even know how to do that," Al reasoned and Ed's eyes bulged. Pinako choked on her wine. Oh the things coming out of their mouths today.

Ed's blush could have set the bleachers on fire. "I do, too!"

"I have to hear this explanation." Pinako grinned.

Ed just glared and shoved the toys at his brother. He stomped down the bleachers and took his place in the circle of men.

Al shook his head. "He's so temperamental."

"That is not news, Al," Pinako said. "You will come back after you take those home, won't you?" A hint of worry that the boy might not be fitting in well snuck into her voice.

"Oh yes, I'm having fun, Granny!" Al assured her then headed off.

Pinako turned her attention back to the kids at the Spring Pole. How could they already be eleven? In just another few years she would really have to worry about them practicing fertility rites. She was getting too old for this.

X X X

Winry yawned and leaned against Al's big arm as they watched the bonfire crackle. "I can't believe Ed's still eating."

Ed looked up from his strawberry-rhubarb pie. "What? It's good!"

"You've had so much sugar, Brother, you won't sleep for days," Al said.

"You'll vibrate right out of the bed," Winry added then giggled. "That would be funny."

Ed eyed her sourly. "I'm beginning to regret winning those toys for you."

Winry caught his shoulder and ruffled his hair while Ed shielded his pie from falling. "No, you don't."

"Oh, I do now," he assured her.

Winry stuck her finger in the pie made off with a dollop of strawberries and rhubarb. "Let's just be sure of that!" She popped her finger in her mouth. Ed growled at her and Winry wrapped her around Al's thick arm, melodramatically crying, "You'll protect me right, Al?"

"Of course, Winry."

Winry balled up a fist. "Then again I know just where to hit you to make it hurt the most, Ed!"

Ed hunched up over his pie, crossing his legs.

"Why is Edward in the universal pose of male protection?" Pinako asked, coming up to the kids with a lumpy looking cake in hand.

"He needs to be," Alphonse offered brightly.

Pinako snorted then held out the cake. "Lumpy cake."

Each child broke off one of the lumps. It was tradition. Inside each lump was a bean and that bean was the effigy of things troubling the holder of the hunk of cake. Flinging it in the fire was supposed to help for the year to come. Once the kids had their pieces, Pinako moved on, like many of the other old ladies of the town, offering it to others.

Ed held his piece in his metal hand then whipped it into the fire. "Fire take all the obstacles between me and me using my automail right."

Al said nothing but flung his in, thinking, "Fire take my brother's temper and fill him with patience."

Winry shut her eyes for a moment, cupping the cake before committing it to the fire. Fire take the pain when Ed and Al leave me.

"Hey, you're supposed to say something first." Ed wrinkled his nose at them.

"Some wishes are private," she informed him loftily.

"Exactly, Brother."

"But that's not the spirit of it," Ed pouted as if he suspected the silent wishes were about him.

"You're too nosy," Winry replied.

Ed sighed sonorously then looked around at the revelers. A wicked gleam entered his eye and it wasn't a trick of firelight.

"Uh-oh, you're thinking about trouble," Winry said, knowing the look.

"I was thinking I could sneak us some honey mead, Winry." Ed cracked the knuckles on his living hand.

"Oh, no, Brother! That's for grown ups!"

"Bet you get caught," Winry added.

"Will not." With that, Ed was up and away.

Winry watched him go, his thin young back straining under the weight of his shoulder and arm, probably in ways Ed was only vaguely aware of. Something told her she needed to get used to this view of Edward. She resigned herself to it. In the meantime, she would enjoy all of the time she had with the brothers, no matter how much trouble they could be.