To Recap: Broken from war, Edward finds himself under the watchful eye of Winry. Healing comes slowly, and so does his hope. Alphonse's whereabouts are still unknown. As of last chapter, Ed and Winry share a lighthearted day at the lake until Ed finds a letter addressed to Alphonse with the words "Return to Sender" on the front. Their day has suddenly taken a turn for the worse.
Author's Note: Hello, faithful readers! This one is for you. And to prove it to you, I'm determined to finish this story during the summer. We're reaching an end, and I have to say the jouney has been fun. :)
Chapter Nine: Those Who Wait
He had become angry. So very angry that Winry felt herself emotionally cornered as the former soldier raged.
"When did you get this?" His voice trembled and in the effort to contain his anger he crumpled the letter beneath his hand, shaking it accusingly at her.
Winry stood to gain her ground. Ed followed her movements and she saw that he became even angrier with the deliberate change in height. This was not Ed but the man that had become part of him courtesy of the war. Knowing this and therefore understanding it, she would not let him demean her in any form, especially when he was overreacting.
"It only just arrived." She told him quietly. "It hasn't been long."
"Then why the hell didn't you tell me!"
"Because I knew you would assume the worst."
"Al's my brother!"
Winry stood there, motionless, allowing him to rave against her. Her face became stony, and she held it so knowing it was her only defense. It was pride that kept her from showing her hurt—and even her anger. She felt tears burn her eyes.
"And you don't even care." His words were seething. Her were becoming glassy, her face showed something else entirely.
"Don't," she raised her finger against him to silence his words. And to accuse. "I have loved Al as a brother. I have written him every week since he left, and I will continue to do so until he returns. Just as I did for you." Listening to the silence hurt. "And I can count on two hands the number of letters I sent to you that returned." Winry snatched the crumpled paper from his loosened fingers. "This is part of the waiting process so buckle up.''
The smell was what brought him to, that horrid, acrid smell that stuck to hospital walls and beds and people. It made his stomach tighten. The smell of open and rotten flesh always did make him sick. Sight was second to come; blurry images and scattered thoughts, nothing around him made sense. It was like trying to wake up but not being able to. It wasn't until later he realized it was the drugs in his system. He had never experienced the light feeling of the drugs he used on others—he froze. And he remembered.
Screams, gunfire and blood and war. Alphonse knew he had been shot but couldn't feel anything at all on his left shoulder.
"Medical Officer Alphonse Elric," The voice was female; firm but kind. "Welcome back."
His mouth was dry and his eyes were blurry. And with a floating head, Al didn't trust himself to make a coherent response. The nurse must have realized this because she quietly hushed him and put a cool hand to his brow. It was a foreign feeling… but not a bad one.
"You'll be back soon enough," she said. "I'm certain you'll be hungry."
And he drifted. That seemed to be all he was doing lately.
It was different, he realized. For years he remembered waking up to an aching hunger in his belly that he knew could not be satisfied. It was the smell of eggs frying on the stove that coaxed him back into the world of the living. Or maybe it was the drool he felt sliding down his chin that finally made him move. At least he knew his body's response system was still in check. His medical training had him going down a checklist, wiggling his toes first, then his knees, legs, fingers and hands. He went to move his shoulder but found it had begun to throb, though it didn't hurt overly. Al opened his eyes; the room swam and he closed them again. It took another half hour to fight against the medication to wake up his body. Sitting up felt like an accomplishment.
"Officer Elric, you're awake." The soft voice of a nurse came from behind. He remembered that voice.
"I bet you're hungry." It had been so long since he had seen beauty that he was struck motionless by it. The nurse's skin was naturally tanned and he wondered where her family was from. Dark brown eyes were a striking compliment to that complexion, and brown hair fell softly on her shoulders.
"Oh, I'm sorry." She smiled sheepishly at him. "I'm Noah, assistant head nurse to this hospital. You're back in the states, Officer Elric. Main, to be precise."
His mind reeled. He was back in the states? "If I knew all I had to do to get back here was get shot, I would have done it sooner." His laughter was as dry as his humor. He had wanted to come home more than anything, but he had also decided to take up the fight on behalf of his family and country. He regretted neither. Home takes on a whole new meaning when it's something you'll see maybe once a year. He wondered how Winry was doing. And Ed? He prayed he was okay.
"Would you like some breakfast?" Noah asked him.
"Yes!" He was feeling odd. Was this happiness? "It's been a while since I've had an American Breakfast."
With the hunger in his belly sated, Al began to pay attentions to the wounds on his body and the ones in his mind. He found he seldom slept without nightmares. Despair and pain never lay far beneath the surface.
"Ms. Noah," he asked the next morning. "Will you send a letter for me?"
Her eyes studied the address on the front of the envelope he handed her. "Of course. Is this to your sweetheart?"
Al smiled a little. "No, ma'am. She's a childhood friend of mine."
She smiled at him and he found he was beginning to look forward to that smile. "Okay, Mr. Elric, I'll be sure to send this right away."
"And one more thing…" he added, handing her another piece of paper."I know it's difficult, but if there is any way possible, can you track down the location of this officer for me? He's my brother. I need to find him."
This is part of the waiting process, so buckle up.
Edward looked out at Winry's work shed. She had been in there all afternoon, running the table saw and hammering away. He gritted his teeth and turned away from the window. He knew he shouldn't have snapped at her. It had been a long time since he had become that angry, and in turn he became angry at himself for unleashing it on her. Winry had always been in his life and he somehow always managed to hurt her. It was his defense for his heart, he realized, a way to keep her out. Even now at his weakest, he was hurting her, and she was loving him.
Loving me. He tested the thought and he felt his chest constrict with pain that seemed almost physical. She didn't love him. How could she love what was broken? Winry was a natural healer of any person's spirit. It only made sense she'd want to help him. This same old war raged within him and he feared if he would ever be able to let it go.
He wondered if Al was alright. He was his brother and it felt as if a piece of himself was lost. They jointed the fight together with the intention of living and dying together—whichever one came first. Not much thought had been given to the possibility of only one survivor. After the death of their parents it had just been the two of them. He shuddered at the thought of it just being him. Ed wasn't even whole so why should he be allowed home and Alphonse lost somewhere in enemy land? His hands raked through his hair to hold his head. Damn frustrating! How people like Winry and Elesia spend most of their lives waiting for answers, he didn't know. Waiting led to thinking which led to dwelling which fed the well of anxieties he had created inside his spirit. His body began to shake as he began to realize that if his body was broken, then his spirit was shattered.
For the first time in his life, Edward Elric prayed to a God he thought had abandoned thought of him long ago.
"God, please help me…"
Sitting on her garden bench, Winry breathed deeply. It felt wonderful after working nearly all afternoon. She loved the smells of Jasmine and of her Roses in the summer time. They soothed her heart and helped her relax. She seemed to be needing both in abundance lately.
She tensed, unprepared for another emotional bout with the broken soldier.
"Winry?" he said again. His voice was tentative and she wondered at his change of tone. It was unlike any she had heard since she had been here. She looked over her shoulder and stood at what she saw. Never in all of their lives together had she seen Edward cry. He was a proud child who grew into a proud man; an emotion like sadness wasn't allowed. His eyes showed everything he had never been able to say.
"I'm so sorry, Winry." His voice was hoarse from holding back. "For everything. I-I'm worried about Alphonse. He's all I have left."
Months in the same house and never had Ed come to himself so fully. Her heart was moved by what she saw and she grabbed the hand of the broken soldier and kissed it. She stepped closer and placed Ed's only arm around her hips, and drew his head close to rest on her stomach, much like she would a child. His arm tightened around her and again he wept, for he found that once he started, he could not stop. The flow of twenty years of lost tears was not easily stopped.
"Edward," she said quietly, "You've never been alone. You'll never be alone." Her fingers were feather-light on his hair. It reminded him of his mother. "We're in this wait together."
A funny thing how the mind works for it never occurred to him that he didn't have to do this by himself.