A/N: Thank you, faithful readers, for sticking with me for so long. I am determined to finish this story to the end. I'm happy to say that it will only be a few more chapters until then. And it will be completed before September.
My Love, My Soldier
Part Ten: Gift of Hello
It was a spiral of answered prayers after Ed's reconciliation within himself. Despite the past, and despite his handicap, living didn't seem so bad anymore. The chaotic knot of emotions was no longer strong enough to restrict his breathing, and it echoed its sorrow only in the deepest part of his dreams. Bitterness having left, he could distinguish emotional hurt from his anger, and sadness from his self-loathing. It was strange to wake up to silence inside his mind, but Edward was so very thankful for it. He now cherished the breath that filled his lungs and for each new morning. Perhaps it sounded corny, but he was liberated.
Things between him and Winry had greatly improved; their conversations were lighthearted and their banter playful. Even more natural than when they had been fishing on the dock. The more time he spent in this new spirit, the deeper he fell in love with her— something he didn't think that was possible. He felt apprehension at having taken such a sharp dive off his precipice—after all, he had not forgotten the absence of his arm and leg and the hard life that in promised.
But there was no use in dwelling on it. He could only enjoy the time spent with her. Needless to say, he became very good at 'not' thinking about things.
It took some time but Ed managed to roll himself out of bed and into his wheelchair, eventually wheeling himself to the kitchen. The countertops were clean and bright with the morning sun's reflection. There was a note on the fridge.
I had to run into town to pick up something important. I'm not sure when I'll be back so don't worry if it's late. Muffins are on the table. Leftovers are in the fridge for lunch and dinner.
See you soon,
His eyes lingered on the "Love" before glancing at the stove where the muffin pan sat, their warmth protected by a kitchen towel. He wondered where she had gone and why she hadn't left any prior notice. He grabbed a plate for his muffins and made his way out to the garden.
Someone once said that life was just a series of hellos and goodbyes. We seem to remember one better than the other. But all Winry could remember was that she had never had the chance to say goodbye. Perhaps that's why she was nervous for a hello. And so her hands trembled as she unfolded the letter she received earlier that morning for the hundredth time.
Do you remember me? I was the little boy who used peanut butter to get the gum my brother put in your hair out. I'm Alphonse Elric and it feels like a century has passed since I've been able to respond to your letters. They've never failed to find me in the worst of times and given me hope. I'm a little bruised but, guess what? I'm ready tome come home.
I'm ready tome come home.
The letter didn't carry on much longer. It carried a brief description of his wounds and the name of the military hospital he resided in. He hadn't inquired about Edward.
She and Ed had been given another chance at a hello! The only reason she had withheld such glorious news from Ed was so she could make certain it was real. She might be able to handle heartbreak again, but Ed could not handle his brother's death twice. It would kill him to have his hope twice strangled. And he knew her too well not to realize something was going on. She would not lie to him.
The old ford hit pothole, making Winry bounce uncomfortably. Dang it! The jolt started the waterworks anew and the next hour was spent sobbing, and fanning her eyes in hopes of getting rid of the evidence.
Life after war was a war itself. Al sat by himself on one of the park benches in the hospital garden, wringing his hands and fidgeting. There was nothing to do! It was no wonder that so many soldiers suffered from depression when they returned to the states. To go from protecting millions to becoming a hospital invalid was threatening to push him into madness. It was only his gentle, reasoning nature that fought against that rashness. But until someone came to release him, or until the doctor gave him a clean bill of health, he was to stay put.
It was driving him insane.
He wanted find his brother, he wanted to find him and he wanted to go home to Winry. His life had been spared and whatever was left, he wanted to devote to becoming a family again. He was ready for home.
So caught up in his thoughts, Al jumped a little when he felt a hand rest on his shoulder. Relief flooded his soul when he realized who it was.
On the way home, Winry told him that Edward was alive.
Speechless, Al could only clench his hands around the edges of the old truck seat.
Winry glanced at him. "He's not the same, Al. But he's doing better. He was caught in the blast of a nearby zippo tank. The burns on his arm and leg were so extensive that they needed to amputate them. When he first came to live with me, Ed was real bitter. The war… the war messed him up in the worst way possible, Al."
Al groaned, placing his head in his hands. He hurt for his brother—he knew that Ed was a prideful man. Such injuries could have very well destroyed him.
"But he's had a recent change of heart." A small smile played at her lips. "Don't underestimate him. Ed has always managed to excel in the worst-case-scenario." Then her tone changed to a warning, surprising Al. "And whether you want it to or not, your presence will remind him again of what he's lost. You need to remind him of the life that he still has."
"Yes ma'am." He could only smile at Winry's protectiveness. And with that, conversation about Ed was tucked neatly in the back pocket, and Al mentally prepared himself and the nervous energy inside his gut for their fast approaching reunion. His brother was alive! And he truly couldn't have been any more thankful. They really would be a family again soon.
Some of the tension eased from Ed's chest as he heard the old Ford start down the driveway. He didn't understand why he was so nervous, only that he was. It wasn't like her to be gone all day without telling the details. She knew he was still prone to bouts of paranoia and usually helped him avoid it. He hated being a worry-wart of an old man!
The screen door opened and Winry shouted; "Ed, are you awake!"
"Yeah, in here!"
She walked hesitantly around the corner, smiling, out of breath and crying. "I have a surprise for you... I promise… this is not a dream."
His confusion only lasted until a man stepped in from the hallway. 'It had to be dream' was his only coherent thought as Alphonse Elric stood in their living room in a fitting white T and green army pants. His smile and his eyes were the only things that appeared to be the same.
"Commander Elric, Alphonse Elric at your service!" he saluted and fell to the ground before his brother, clasping his arm and pulling him into an embrace. Neither man attempted to hide his tears or his scars, both overwhelmed by the unexpected gift of hello.
Neither soldier had gone to bed that night. Instead they chose to stay on the porch, talking about the time missed together until the sun returned to the wake the world for a new day. Ed had not been able to talk about the war so openly since his accident, and to do so with Al… Breathing was becoming easier. Joy was indeed a good replacement for heartache.
"'Morning, boys!" Winry stepped out from the screen door and onto the porch where they sat; two cups of coffee and a plate of muffins balanced between her hands and arms. The hunger in his belly made Al quick to relieve her of her burden. After all these years… she was still making muffins for breakfast. Al wondered if she could make anything else. "I'll be in the garden if you two need anything." She smiled prettily at them both and left, spade and a big floppy hat in hand.
"So…" Al smirked, clearly noting Ed's attentiveness to Winry as she knelt in the dirt of her garden, removing stubborn weeds and trimming back roses. "Are you going to ask her out any time soon?"
He was quick to glare at his brother. "Shut up, Alphonse. You don't know what you're talking about."
Some things would never change. "Brother, since I came home, you've done nothing but give her doe-eyes." He snorted. "And I thought it was bad when we were kids. You're in love with Winry. And she's in love with you."
Ed's face became pained with the words that he would not say. "You've been here less than a day and you're already bossing me around. Winry needs a man that can protect her. She needs a man who can at least walk."
"Winry doesn't care about that!"
"But I do!" Ed snapped. "Look, Al, just leave things where they are. You're home and so am I—for the first time in a long time, we're a family again. I've screwed up a lot of things when I was younger and I'm not going to anymore." His tone held finality and his eyes warned that Al should go no further into this conversation. And, with a heavy sigh, he wheeled himself into the house, leaving a troubled Al.
Unable to hear their conversation from where she was at, but noticing Ed's passionate exit, Winry dropped the pile of small weeds she had collected in her hand and went to stand at the foot of the porch. "Have mercy on him, Al." She shielded her eyes with her muddy glove. "Ed has gone through a lot… but he's gotten a lot better lately. And with you home I think it will help."
Winry smiled. "I know that look. What are you thinking?"
Enthusiasm made him scoot to the edge of his seat. "Winry, you're good with mechanics. I'm good with wood. Between the two of us we just might be able to make this a reality."
"Okay?" She was clearly confused.
"Let's help my brother walk again."
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