Chapter 8- Home Sweet Home

A high-pitched woosh cut through the air like scissors slicing through paper as the crafts came tumbling downward, closer and closer to the ground leaving trails of smoke in their wake. Winry continued to watch as two of them made impact with the cracked pavement side by side and another landed with a screeching, crashing halt enveloped by giant clouds of smoke and fire. Soon, a third aircraft followed, landing a distance from the first two. The moment the aircrafts made contact with the floor, a massive sound, almost like an explosion, rang through the air and shook the ground with decent, but swift force. Great clouds of smoke billowed after they collided into the underground city, and small flames could barely just be made out near the wreckage. The smoke and debris were so thick that it caused Winry and the three military officials to choke from it's coalescence.

After recovering from their coughing spells, Riza spoke up, not sounding the least bit amused. "Nice going there General. The moment you broke down the boulder hiding the Gate, something just had to come through didn't it?" the Lieutenant interrogated, staring up at the man clad in blue towering over her. "Would you get off of me please?" she added, a hint of irritation in her voice.

Mustang obliged, lifting his body off of the older blonde's and smirked at her. She failed to hide her face as a light blush raked her cheeks the moment she'd realized he was trying to protect her from being hit by any flying pieces of rock and metal. Instinctively, the Lieutenant placed her hand on her gun and withdrew the weapon, holding it out front of her and eyeing the smoking area, her finger placed comfortably against the hammer.

"Like I knew something was going to come busting in the moment the boulder was taken down," Roy replied in mock, agitated tones, rolling his ebony eye. "Besides that Lieutenant, we were focusing on getting the Elric brothers home weren't we? We had everything all planned out, so of course I was going to destroy the thing Major Armstrong made to hide the Gate. How else were we supposed to go through? I didn't break it down for that particular reason, you know. If I had known something would come through the moment the portal was unsealed, I wouldn't have opened it back up."

"Yes, but don't you find it strange that not long after you broke down the boulder, something was just aching to come through it and did? How do we know this isn't going to be another uprising like we had last year? How do we know that something else isn't going to come flying through that Gate again any moment now and attack us again?" the Lieutenant questioned, piercing her crimson orbs into his dark one, keeping her firearm pointed towards the explosion.

"Now now Lieutenant, relax," Mustang told her, placing his hands on her shoulders. "You're thinking on too large of a scale here. I think if anything was going to attack us it would have by now, don't you agree?" he questioned in his usual haughty way, flashing pearly, white teeth at the woman.

The two sat and bickered back and forth slightly before they were harshly cut off by Armstrong raising a massive hand. "I don't mean to be rude General, Lieutenant, but that's enough for now," he stated, grasping both Riza and Roy by the collars of their uniforms and standing them to face towards the wreckage. "What do you think they are?" he questioned, squinting his tiny, blue eyes trying to catch a glimpse of the aircrafts in the midst of all the dust and smoke that still continued to idley billow upward. It was slowly seperating and revealing what was left of the aircrafts and what was laying on the ground that had been just presently inside of the flying machines.

Winry felt the breath being sucked from her lungs. Her hand instinctively flew to her mouth as two figures came into view laying almost side by side. She recognized that bronze, ponytail that lay stretched out across the ground and the figure dressed in gray-blue, very dusty clothing, was laying on his side. The person next to him however, she did not recognize. The mechanic's eyes frantically scanned the area in search for the person that should have been next to the brunette boy. Her hand stayed clasped around her mouth, and the blonde found she couldn't move, as if she were frozen solid or her feet had been glued to the ground. She opened her mouth to try and speak, but no words came out. Winry had been rendered suspended to the spot, not able to move or talk, even if she wanted to. Alphonse?? That's really Alphonse but...but who is that beside him and where is Edward!?

"Well, I'll be damned," came Mustang's bemused voice just from the left of Winry. He was standing with both hands on his hips, shifted into a presumptuous position, clearly gazing down at something in front of him. "Well, at least we don't have to go and get you ourselves now, Fullmetal. Looks like you managed to make one hell of a mess yetagain," came the General's cheeky voice as he stared down at the fallen victim in front of him.

"Jeeze, I haven't even been home for five minutes and you're already starting your crap with me? What a way to be welcomed home," came a grumbling, hoarse voice followed by a small bout of coughing that Winry couldn't see but certainly recognized.

Edward!? Please say that really is you! Please tell me you guys aren't playing tricks on me! I swear I'll beat you all to a pulp if you're screwing with me! She tried hard to speak, but all that came out was a faint squeak. Never in a million years did she expect the Elrics to come bursting through the gate so unexpectedly. Mustang stepped back, revealing Edward's figure, laying on his stomach with a piece of rocket laying over his back. "Hey General.," the alchemist began, raising what he could of his torso up on his hands. "Do you think, you could do me a favor...oh I don't know, STOP STARING AND GET THIS DAMN THING OFF OF ME!?" Edward bellowed, glaring up at Mustang who just stared back with his insolent smile that young blond had come to both like and loathe at the same time.

The raven-haired man lowered himself to the ground to lend a hand, shoving the piece of metal off of Edward's back. He felt the weight being pulled off of him and instant relief flooded through his body. The older Elric fell back down against the ground on his stomach, his arms and legs sprawled out across the ground breathing heavily. "Damn, I'll be feeling that tonight. Thanks, General," the older Elric stated, staring up at the contemptuous Flame Alchemist who just waved a hand at him in a bored fashion in a 'don't mention it' sort of way.

After collecting himself and finding the energy to sit up, Edward gazed around the derelict city in search of his brother, hoping that he was safe and didn't get injured too severely from the crash. His eyes came to rest a good twenty feet away from where he was currently sitting, where Alphonse and Curtis had landed. The two figures that had been laying on the ground were slowly pushing themselves up and sitting up on their haunches, attempting to gather their bearings and figure out where they were. They were covered in scratches, dust, dirt and fragments from the rockets they'd taken to get here. The aircracfts had pretty much been completely obliterated upon impact.

"Owwww, we should have learned how to land these things properly before we decided to fly them," moaned Alphonse has he rubbed his backside. Curtis nodded his head in agreement, rubbing his hand on his side. "Do you see Brother anywhere?" the younger Elric questioned, turning his head and squinting his silvery-brown eyes. "Oh! There you are! Are you okay Ed? You didn't get hurt or anything did you?" Alphonse inquired, worry imminent in his tone.

"I'm fine, Al. Just a sore back," Edward replied, placing his hand on his lower back and wincing slightly. "What about you? You two okay over there?"

"Yeah I'm fine. Curtis got a bump on the head, but nothing major and we have a few cuts, but we're not bleeding to death," Alphonse replied. "Now, let's get out of here and-," the boy's voice trailed off as his eyes met soft, azure ones.

She stared into the familiar face of the younger Elric not sure what to feel or really even believe. It seemed almost too good to be true. Her heart was throbbing so heavily against her sternum that she felt as thought it could burst out of her chest at any given moment. Her stomach did excited but nervous flip-flops. The automail technician continued to just stand in shock, not quite sure what to make of all the happenings at the present time. Winry was trying to piece together everything in her head. The Elric brothers were home. They were alive and in the flesh, laying just feet away from her. Their aircrafts had been destroyed. There was no way for them go back. This wasn't just another one of her dreams where she'd wake up and find herself alone, cold and in bed, right?

"Winry!?" Alphonse exclaimed as his eyes rested on the blonde's stiff form. "Is that you? And General Mustang! Major Armstrong! Lieutenant Hawkeye!" the boy exclaimed as his eyes came to rest on the familiar forms in front of him. "Brother! Winry's here!"

Before Edward even had a moment to catch a glimpse of the woman he'd been longing to see now for over a year, he was abruptly cut off by a familiar, emotional, booming voice, followed by the sounds of heavy thudding feet.

"OH ELRICS!! HOW WE'VE LONGED TO FIND YOU AND SEE YOU AGAIN! WE DID NOT KNOW IF YOU HAD LIVED OR DIED! OH HOW HAPPY WE ARE TO DISCOVER THAT YOU SURVIVED!" exclaimed Major Armstrong as he thundered towards both of the brothers, his familiar purple stars soaring around his head like flies, tears flying like streams from his squinty, blue eyes.

Amrstrong gathered Edward in one arm and then rushed towards Alphonse and gathered him in the other, squeezing both of the brothers with his muscle-bound arms. Fountains of tears were pouring down the Major's cheeks as he blubbered nonsense that Edward couldn't make out. He was just desperate to be released from the Major's sweaty grip. The older Elric felt his face being pressed into the shirtless Major's chest, and the alchemist did everything he could to keep himself from completely and utterly gagging from the contact.

"OH WELCOME HOME EDWARD AND ALPHONSE ELRIC! WELCOME HOOOOMEEEEE! WE'RE JUST SO HAPPY YOU'RE ALIVE AND WELL! OH IT IS SO GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK! YOU WERE DEARLY MISSED BOYS! DEARLY MISSED!" the Major told him, his voice shaking with dramatic emotion.

"I...CAN'T...BREATHE...MAJOR!" Edward tried to squeeze out as it felt like the man were crushing his lungs, and Alphonse waved a wobbly hand across the air in defeat. Their faces began turning red from lack of breath, and both brothers had gone frigid in Armstrong's grasp.

"Alright Major, that's enough. Put them down, or they won't be alive much longer if you don't allow them to breathe. Let them go before you end up killing them," Lieutenant Hawkeye demanded gently with amused tones. The body-builder of a man released the brothers who collapsed on their knees, clutching their chests and breathing heavily, gasping for air. Armstrong grabbed the brothers by their backs of their coats and stood them on their feet, using his giant hands to dust them off the best he could.

"There now! It's not as good as a nice, hot shower, but this shall do for now until we get back up to Central!" the man enthused before putting his hands back down at his sides. Edward noted just how strange it was that the Major could go from a billowing pile of emotion at one moment to a relatively calm man the next. "Now that you're back, we have somebody here who was anxiously been wanting to see you boys again," the Major told them, his tones placid now. The man pointed towards the blonde mechanic who stood solitary while he withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket and was dabbing at his light blue eyes with it.

"Winry," Edward breathed as his pools of molten gold came to rest on her figure, taking in every inch of her feminine allure.

The alchemist tried to catch a glimpse of her face, longing to gaze into those gentle, azure-blue orbs of hers, but upon seeing her he furrowed his thin, golden eyebrows slightly as he took in her appearance. Something wasn't right. Last time he'd seen her, the girl had jumped into his arms and hugged him tightly. Her face had been filled with color and full of life. This time she seemed almost pallid and even a little more thin than usual. Last time, she'd been overjoyed at seeing him again and he'd been aching for her to do it again, only this time he was going to wrap both arms around her, hold her close and never let her go. He ached to bury his face into the silk-like locks of light blonde and drink in every precious bit that was Winry. However, it was different this time. What was wrong with her? Where was that familiar sparkle in her eyes? Where was that beautiful smile always placed so delicately on her coral lips that she had saved just for Edward, and furthermore why wasn't she looking at him?

Just a little over a year ago she couldn't take her eyes off of him when she first saw the older Elric for the first time in two years and even had trouble concentrating on the automail she'd fixed to him that day when he arrived with a broken appendage and not able to stand. Edward had wanted to stay with her longer that day, but there were so many more important things to do that the present time, such as getting rid of the ships coming through the Gate, causing a war and threatening his home and friends. He just didn't want Winry or any of the people he dearly loved to be killed in the disaster. Looking back now, Edward wished he'd done it, and now looking at her standing here, this wasn't the Winry he remembered from a year ago. The mechanic was completely fixed to the ground with her head hanging. Her long, light-golden bangs casting her lovely face into shadow. Alphonse stood up, followed his brother, and remained behind him, features filled with worry.

"Winry, it's us," Edward tried again. "We're home." He gazed down at his right arm, ready to show her that he even still had his automail. He pulled back his coat and shirt sleeve when he noticed that the top half of it had been completely busted up. It must have happened when I made that collision from the rocket crash. Damn, Winry's going to be pissed! If she isn't already... Immediately feeling guilty, Edward pulled the sleeve back down to hide the automail, uncertain if his mechanic had seen it or not.

"Winry, why won't you talk to us?" Alphonse questioned, standing next to his older brother now. "We're home! We missed you so much!"

"Yeah! We're back Wi-," Edward began, but he stopped, promptly cut off as a glint of familiar silver flashed through the air in front of his eyes. Before he even had the chance to run or move out of the way of danger, he felt the cold, metal, hard familiar crack over the head sending stars dancing in front of his watering eyes.

"Win-," began Alphonse as he progressed towards her, holding both hands up admitting defeat, but just as Edward had, the large, silver wrench made a nasty collision with Al's head, sending the boy stumbling backwards a few steps.

Both Elrics clutched their heads, staring at Winry through brimmed eyes. They were taking in hissing breaths through clenched teeth from the throbbing pain their skulls were currently enduring.

"Do you...," began Winry, advancing towards the brothers, wrench raised. "HaveANY," she cracked them both over the head once more, sending them falling backwards and landing roughly on their behinds. Edward squeezed his watering orbs shut, peeking one eye open so he could look at her. Despite the fact that she was furious with them, he felt he really did need to explain. He didn't get a chance to. Winry just continued on with her interrogation. "IDEA...," the young blonde seethed, raising the wrench threateningly once more.

Her blue eyes, that once held a soft and tender look, blazed like the fire in the very pits of the underworld. "...OF THE HELL YOU TWO HAVE PUT ME THROUGH THIS PAST YEAR! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA AT ALL HOW WORRIED I WAS WHEN ROY MUSTANG TOLD ME THAT YOU TWO LEFT TO GO OFF TO THAT OTHER WORLD!? YOU LEFT ME HERE ALL BY MYSELF! YOU DIDN'T BOTHER TO SAY ONE WORD TO ME ABOUT ANYTHING! JUST TOOK OFF AS I WERE NOTHING TO YOU! SO IS THAT IT!? AM I NOTHING TO YOU! IS THAT WHY YOU LEFT ME WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A GOODBYE!?" the petite blonde declared at the Elrics, causing them to cower in fear, still clutching their pounding heads where the wrench had previously made contact. Her teeth were clamped so tight that Edward thought if she clenched them any harder, they might crack. Heaving, hissing breaths issued from the girl and her chest was rapidly rising and falling with each one.

Edward and Alphonse clutched their hands over their heads and squeezed their eyes shut tightly, almost curling up in balls, trying to protect themselves from the oncoming wrench blow. They sat, waiting with bated breath for the next bound of tool assault from the mechanic, but it never came. Instead a soft clang was heard as the wrench had obviously fallen out of Winry's hands and hit the ground. The older Elric slowly opened one eye to look at Winry who'd also dropped to the ground. She was on her knees, her lands laying limp in her lap, her blonde head lowered once more so they couldn't see her face. Edward watched cautiously, not sure what type of move the automail tech would make next, but he felt his heart clench slightly in his chest as he saw two crystal drops fall and hit the ground from behind Winry's bangs. Her shoulders were starting to shake lightly as the girl was being overwhelmed by silent sobs. She brought one hand up, placing the back of it over her face, followed by the other one and wept.

"Winry, " Edward began as he got up from the ground and approached the girl. He knelt down on his knees and took her by the shoulders. "H-hey, Winry talk to me. Why are you crying?" The alchemist always hated seeing her cry and knowing that he'd been the one who caused it, made him feel even more horrible than the cracked skull he was sure he had retrieved from the blows on the head. He wasn't angry this time at the mechanic's actions. Edward felt he more than deserved them.

"Why?" was the only word she could produce in a cracked voice. That one word grabbed his heart with a cold fist and squeezed it just a little tighter. It was a few moments before she found the will to speak again again. "Edward...why did you leave me? Why did you leave without so much as a goodbye? You and Al both just...left and didn't say a thing to me. Why did you do that?" the mechanic questioned, raising tear-bright eyes at him.

Hawkeye, Mustang, Armstrong and Curtis all turned away from the Rockbell girl and the older of the Elrics, evidently feeling that they were intruding on something of a private moment between the two. The Lieutenant gathered the younger Elric to tend to his head, and the others moved a distance away to talk and not disturb them. It was just Winry and Edward now, and she had questioned him. He felt she deserved an answer to everything, but just as soon as the answer hit him, it seemed like nothing but a pitiful excuse that he would be using to try and claw his way out of the danger zone.

"That was the second time you left me alone to wonder, Edward," the mechanic told him, grasping onto the front of his brown, dust-covered coat with tight fists and gazing a him, eyes wrought with many different emotions that Edward had trouble discerning them all. Had Winry really and truthfully suffered this much because of his idiocy?

The alchemist was finding it hard to look into her tear-filled eyes. Just seeing her like this, knowing that he'd been the cause of Winry's anguish was nearly tearing him apart from the inside out. This wasn't exactly how he'd pictured his reunion with Winry at all, but really should he be surprised that she was being this way with him right now? The golden-haired young man lowered his head, allowing his blond bangs to shield his face from view, his long ponytail falling over his shoulder, and he closed his golden orbs, swallowing a a lump of burning guilt in the back of his throat. "I'm sorry, Winry" he told her hoarsely, but the alchemist wasn't sure if she'd even heard him.

"You left me to wonder if you would ever come back home. Why? Why did you leave last time anyway!" she demanded sounding desperate for answers. Her voice was still thick with tears, and she did not seem to care that the older Elric wasn't looking at her anymore. "Did you find somebody more important there than all of us here? You didn't even say goodbye to me, Edward. You let me fix you with automail and then you just up and left me here all alone to constantly worry about you and wonder if you were even alive anymore. Why did you do this to me, Ed! That's all I want to know!" Winry cried out, burying her face into his coat, succumbed by fresh sobs.

Edward lay his face against her soft hair, closing his golden eyes and, breathing in her familiar essence of automail oil and sweet scented shampoo. The silkened touch of her hair caressed the older Elric's face as he struggled to find the answers to tell her without sounding like he was just trying to weasel his way out of trouble. He tightened both arms around the trembling mechanic and held her close, allowing the girl to release all the pent up tears of frustration, confusion, anger and elation at seeing him again. Winry's grip let up on Edward's coat and she returned the gesture, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist and hiding her face in his shoulder.

"Winry. I...I don't know what I could possibly say to justify my decisions I made back then, so I'm just going to try and explain it all to you the best that I can," the alchemist began when he found his nerve. "When all of those ships from the other side of the Gate began coming through and threatening my home, I couldn't allow it to continue to happen. I had to stop them all and break the gate on the other side," he tried to explain, gently taking the girl by the shoulders and willing her to look at him. He placed his left, gloved hand on her chin and lifted it up.

Her tears continued to slide down her cheeks in twin streams, dripping off of her chin and falling onto his glove, soaking it to his skin. Winry's azure irises found their way to look up into his amber ones. God how it killed him to see her like this. "I honestly don't know why I left without saying goodbye, but Winry I swear, every single day I have regretted it," Edward insisted, unable to keep the tremulous tones out of his voice that had crept on him without warning.

He swallowed the many rising lumps in his throat and composed himself. "There probably is no apology that would ever be fitting enough for what I put you through, but I do want you know that from the bottom of my heart I truly am sorry," he told her, trying to prevent his voice from cracking. "It's just...my main reasoning for it was to protect you and everyone else here from ever being hurt by those insane people on the other side of the Gate," he insisted, piercing her with an intense stare and smiled with his teeth slightly clenched. His glistening, amber eyes searched hers and he pleaded with them for Winry to at least try and understand. She stared back momentarily before sighing and pulling back from him.

"I...I guess I understand. You left to keep me and everyone else safe. I think Roy must have tried to tell me that, but I was too upset to listen. Or maybe I was just too hard-headed and stubborn," the girl admitted, her cheeks blushing a great deal now.

"So can you accept my apology then?" Edward inquired in a hopeful voice, his golden irises pleading with her.

Damn Edward and his giant puppy dog eyes... "Hmmm, I don't know. I suppose we'll have to see later on," Winry told him as she stood back up on her feet, trying to regain her usual Winry-ish composure. "Besides, you probably need a maintenance check-up, don't you? C'mon, let's go tell the others so we can head back up to Central," she added as she stalked away from Edward and headed towards the group.

He was slightly dumbfounded, not quite sure what to say really. Edward couldn't help but chuckle and shake his head slightly as the older Elric rose to his feet as well to join the rest of the group. Winry had strange ways about herself, and while he was almost certain that the girl wasn't going to forgive him for what he'd done, she had. Edward couldn't help but admit to himself how incredibly lucky he was for Winry's forgiveness. The blond approached the military officials, his brother, Curtis and Winry, taking his place at her side, but at the same time feeling strangely awkward. The young man couldn't help but wonder just how much they'd overheard or at least watched. He fought back the urge to ask if them if they enjoyed the show but bit his tongue and refrained. He felt a slight blush creeping up on his cheeks and averted his gaze towards the ground, digging the toe of his shoe into it.

"Well then Fullmetal, are you ready to go back up to Central?" Mustang questioned, his hands in his pockets and staring at the alchemist.

"Yeah, I think it's a good idea. I could really use a shower," Edward replied with a nod of his head.

"That's fine. If you'd like, you and Alphonse can come back to my place and clean up there. If Winry wants she can come out there and wait for you as well," the General proposed, causing Edward to raise an eyebrow casually.

"You're being awfully nice for a bastard you know," Edward told him with a cocky grin on his face.

"Well I figured, considering you just crash-landed under Central, that it could at least be one nice thing I could offer. Unless of course you want to go and shower in the main dorm area at the HQ so anybody that comes in can see you and you won't have any type of warning what-so-ev-," Roy replied in a haughty manner, but stopped as he saw the horrified look on Edward's face. He grinned in triumph. "Alright then it's settled. The brothers can come back to my place and clean up there. Winry's more than welcome to stay as well. It's the least I can do."

The mechanic nodded her head with a smile. "Thanks, Roy. I'll come there and wait for them then."

Edward turned towards Curtis who'd been strangely quiet throughout their whole conversation. "What about you, Curtis? You can tag along with us if you want. It's not like you know anything about where you are in the first place," Edward remarked.

"Well, once we get up to Central I'll be fine on my own," Curtis insisted. "Besides, how will I ever learn how things work here and my way around the place if I don't venture out on my own?"

Edward and Alphonse exchanged glances before turning back to the brown-haired man. "Well, alright then, but you don't even have any money on you. Where are you gonna sleep, outside on the ground?" The older Elric questioned, the skepticism still imminent in his voice.

"Oh I'm sure I'll be fine, really!" Curtis replied, waving a hand. "Honestly, I've always been the loner type. I don't like hanging around a bunch of people and I like to learn to do things on my own. This is a whole new start for me and I want to accomplish new goals in this world on my own."

"I understand his point, Brother," Al stated with a nod of his bronze head. "I still have a lot of money in the State Alchemist Treasury from when you disappeared. It should still be there, shouldn't it General?" the boy questioned, turning to look at Mustang. He nodded his ebony head in confirmation. "We can loan him some money so he can at least sleep at an Inn until he decides what he wants to do, couldn't we?" the younger Elric proposed. "What do you think, Ed?"

Edward rubbed the back of his head with a gloved hand, brows furrowed in thought. "Eh, alright then. I suppose it couldn't hurt," he sighed, giving in with a shrug. "Just give him enough so he can stay at the Inn for a week. That should give him enough time to figure out what he wants to do and where he wants to go, shouldn't it?" the older Elric stated, placing his hands on his hips, still looking at the man suspiciously. Edward couldn't quite put his finger on it, but he had a really strange feeling about this man and it wasn't good. Then again, maybe he was just being over-skeptical considering he'd only known the guy long enough to help the brothers prepare the rockets, discuss Alfons and come back home.

"Oh yeah, more than enough time!" Curtis told him with a generous nod of his head. "I really appreciate it a great deal!"

"Fine, then. When we get back to Central, we'll go and take out the figure he needs and he can be on his way!" Alphonse enthused, clapping a hand on Curtis's shoulder who was smiling in an almost overjoyed way.

"Well, you can take him to the Treasury. I'm going to back to Mustang's and taking a shower," Edward told his younger brother. "I'm filthy."

"You're worse than a girl sometimes, Brother," Al told him rolling his eyes as the group began making their way up the familiar flight of stairs and back up to the surface.

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Nearly an hour later, Major Armstrong was back in the HQ attending to other duties he said he had to do; Alphonse had taken Curtis to the Treasury and gave him funds for food and boarding. Edward, Winry and Al had all ridden in awkward silence with Roy and Riza back to the General's apartment. Edward had seen the posters of himself hanging all over the windows in stores and demanded to know why his face was plastered everywhere. It had landed them in a silly, petty argument, with a brooding alchemist in the backseat.

The moment they stepped inside, Roy pointed Edward towards the bathroom so he could shower and offered Winry to change her clothes considering how filthy they were. The mechanic thanked him, slipping off into the bedroom with her bags. She pulled on her purple coveralls that she usually wore when working and a blank tank top with a zip up front, just barely exposing her tummy. Once dressed, the girl took a seat at the kitchen table, waiting for Edward to complete his shower. Riza had taken to making some tea while Roy poked around behind her, playfully doing things with his hands, causing the older blonde to slap them away and threaten him with a pistol if he didn't behave in front of Edward's mechanic. Winry decided she would rather not witness or know. She and Al had exchanged strange glances over the two's antics. Roy disappeared from the kitchen to get changed out of his uniform, leaving the girls alone.

"So...you guys are together now?" Winry questioned, breaking the silence as Riza went to bring her a cup of tea.

"Well, I don't really know. I mean, I suppose you could say that, but it's kind of hard to date while in the military. Yet at the same time, he's always being so...well you know, and sometimes I stay here with him, and...," the Lieutenant stammered, a slightly nervous tone in her voice. Her eyes swivled back and forth between Winry and Alphonse and the mechanic came to understand. Riza was most likely uncomfortable in discussing her relationship with Roy in front of Alphonse.

"It's quite alright," Winry replied with a slight laugh. "You don't have to explain. I understand."

"Well, I think it's about time," Alphonse piped up, placing his cup on the table. "You know, when Brother was in the military, there was always word going around that you guys were attrac-," he continued, but stopped as Winry place a hand over his mouth, giggling nervously.

"That's enough, Al," she told him through clenched teeth.

Riza blushed, her crimson eyes staring down into her cup of tea when the door burst open and in walked Edward.

"My turn to shower!" the younger Elric exclaimed as he lept up from his seat at the table and headed towards the bathroom, disappearing from the room.

It was all she could do to keep her mouth from gaping open the moment he walked into the kitchen. His golden locks were still slightly damp and hung loosely over his shoulders. He was wearing a pair of black dress pants and a black tank top to accompany it, accenting each individual muscle as it clung to his damp body. Down his shoulders were little beads of water glistening like dew on a flower petal, from his shower, and his face was slightly flushed from the obvious heat the water and steam had given off. Resting at the back of his neck was a towel. There was no other word for it as came stalking across the room. Ed looked positively hot. Winry had seen him bare-chested many times and just in boxers, but now that he'd grown so much, his body had taken on a very manly-esque shape, and all she could do was marvel in the eye candy. His golden eyes scanned the room before coming to rest on Winry and smiled at her sheepishly, completely oblivious to Winry's apparent noticing of bare, damp flesh. Her eyes then found their way to his right arm and they narrowed as she took in the busted wrist plate.

"Ehehe, I didn't know you'd still be out here, Winry," Edward told her nervously, quickly placing his automail arm behind his back. "Ummm, so what's going on?"

Winry stood up from the kitchen table, pushing her chair back and crossing the room. "Let me see your arm," she demanded, grabbing at his right arm, but the alchemist backed up.

"It's fine! Don't worry about it!" the blond insisted, laughing apprehensively.

"Don't lie to me, Ed. I saw that the wrist plate was broken. I've got some parts here to replace it and brought my tool kit along. At least let me fix it for you," the mechanic told him, grasping his arm and pulling it out from behind his back. She gazed it momentarily, holding his wrist and moving his hand up and down. "You can move your fingers and everything alright, can't you?" she questioned, not removing her eyes from the broken automail.

Edward blushed, finding it hard to look at the blonde. "Ah, y-yeah. I can move them just fine, see?" the older Elric told her, wiggling his fingers, opening and closing his hand. "I'm sorry, Winry. I honestly didn't mean to break your automail. I swear I didn't. I had no idea it was even going to-," the golden-haired man began apologetically, but Winry cut him off as she placed a finger to his lips, causing him to blanch slightly and blush even more.

"Don't worry about it. I'll let it slide this time. Besides, it's not like it could be helped, considering you crash-landed," she added with a chuckle and a shrug. "Since you seem to be moving everything fine, I don't need to remove the shoulder plate and check the wires, but I do need to replace the wrist plate and make sure none of the wires got tangled or snapped there," she explained, carting him over to a seat at the table and pushing him down into a chair.

Winry picked up her tool kit and placed it on the wooden surface. She opened it up, removed a large, thick white cloth to lay down across the tabletop so as not to get any oil or scratches on it. She pulled on her thick, brown gloves, brought out some bolts, screws, a wrench; which Edward eyed nervously; and a screwdriver. Carefully, the automail technician set to work on removing the busted wrist plate from the alchemist's arm, to which he was gazing at with a somewhat timid expression on his handsome face.

"What?" Winry asked him as she unscrewed the bolts holding the plate in place. He didn't speak out loud. Instead, he spoke to her with his eyes. "Oh, don't look at me like that, Edward. It's not going to hurt, and I'm not going to hit you with a wrench again, alright?" she sighed in an exasperated manner. "Just hold still so I can do this."

Edward remained still while Winry set to work on his arm. Only mere moments after she began her maintenance on him, Roy came walking back into the room dressed in a loose, white, button-down shirt and a pair of gray slacks. He had his hands placed comfortably in his pockets. "Be careful not to get oil all over my table, Fullmetal," Roy teased as he seated himself across from the two blonds.

"Oh shut up, Mustang," Edward shot back, rolling his eyes. He turned to face the haughty General, pulling his arm from Winry's hold. "Unless you've recently gone blind in your other eye, you should be able to see that I have a cloth under my arm. Don't worry, the oil won'tstain your precious table."

"Ed! I said hold still !" the mechanic growled, grabbing ahold of his metal arm and snatching it back towards her, causing a small yelp to issue from the blond. She laid it back down on the table to resume maintenance. "Unless of course you'd rather me just remove the arm and work on it like that, and reattach it," she added with a devlish smirk crossing her pretty features.

The older Elric flinched and shuttered at the mere thought of it. "Nah, that's quite alright," he told her, sighing and resting his chin in his free hand. "You know how much I hatereattachment. Plus, I still think you like causing me pain," he mumbled into his fingers.

"Then I advise you not to move. What part of hold still do you not understand? Good grief, Edward. Stupid one-track minded...," Winry mumbled incoherently, turning back towards her work.

Mustang laughed as he tilted the chair back on it's hind legs and placed his arms behind his head. "Well, that's Fullmetal for you. He never could just stay still in one place at a time or sit still beforehand. What makes you think he'd be any different now?" Mustang sized up the younger man for a moment, smiling a toothy grin. "Come to think of it, you haven't grown much at all, have you? No, I suppose nothingis really different."

Edward inclined his golden head, a strange grin on his face and glared at the General. "Pardon me General? What did you say? I didn't quite hearyou...You know, I really should see if they have a patch to fit the size your big mouth," he remarked in an irritated tone, teeth clenched. "Though they probably don't make them in extra extra extra large sizes."

"Sorry sir, just ignore Brother. You know how he is," came Alphonse's voice from the doorway to the kitchen as he reappeared freshly showered. He was towel-drying his bronze hair and had dressed in a pair of brown pants and a white shirt, so he could remain comfortable as well. "You know how he tends to go off on little tangents like that, especially if you're still making remarks about his height." Alphonse snickered and looked over at his older brother.

"Thanks Al," Edward muttered bitterly, glaring at his little brother who'd taken a seat next to him. "You're a reeeeeallybig help."

"So is anyone hungry?" Riza questioned them, changing the subject. "It's getting close to dinner time and I figured we could go ahead and make something to eat."

"I'm starving," Edward drawled, as Winry finished untangling a wire in his arm. She had to tug on it a little harder than usual to get it to come loose. "Tch!! Tell me when you're going to do that next time, dammit," he growled through clenched teeth, staring at the lovely mechanic from behind his bangs. I think this payback for the hell I put her through...I wonder how long this will last? The alchemist thought timidly to himself, as he watched the girl replace the tangled wire.

"Almost done!" Winry told him cheerfully, ignoring his little outburst, as she placed a new wrist plate over his arm and screwed the the bolts back into place.

Once she was done, she removed a small oil can and oiled his joints, starting at the back of his shoulder and working her way down his arm. Winry was unconciously, tenderly tracing her hand slowly down the steel of his automail as she worked. Her azure eyes were glazing over with what could have been adoration and affection for the blond man in front of her. She continued this gesture before realizing what she was doing. Riza, Roy and Alphonse were all staring at her and Edward with mixture of amusement and awkwardness on their faces. The alchemist just stared back with a bewildered expression tracing his features, his expressive, golden eyes somewhat widened. Winry swiftly removed her hands from him, jumping back a few feet away.

"O-o-okay! All done!" she squeaked, dashing around Edward and back to the table. She began cleaning up her mess, lowering her face just enough so that her long hair would curtain it from view. She was determined not to look at the others or allow them to see just how lobster-like she'd gone.

Edward stretched his arm out and flexed his hand. "Hey, niiiice, Win! The joints don't feel so stiff anymore and the plate looks great! Thanks!" he told her enthusiastically, praising the mechanic for her hard work. Winry just looked back with a blushing smile. Edward pulled his arm across his chest and then brought it back behind his head, stretching and loosening the joints, allowing the oil to make their usual tracks through the steel.

"So? What do I owe you for the maintenance job?" he asked with a cheeky grin, leaning his elbows on the table and trying to get the girl to look at him. Edward was completely oblivious to the fact that Winry had almost allowed herself to become completely enthralled by touching him in front of everyone. "Helllooo? Winry?" he continued, placing his hand on top of her head.

"You don't owe me anything, Ed!" She told him, trying to keep the embarrassment out of her tone. "It's the least I can do!"

"Huh? Well that's not like you, Winry...you're being a little too kind for your own good," the alchemist pointed out, raising a thin, golden eyebrow at her.

"No no really! I insist! It was no big deal at all! I'll just charge you the next time we decide to fit you with a new arm or leg!" Winry replied almost shrilly. Edward just shrugged and laughed, feeling slightly confused by the blonde's strange actions. The mechanic finished clearing up her mess, and then quickly offered to help Riza with dinner. The Elric brothers and Roy made a departure for the living room, leaving the women to themselves now.

Once she was certain the boys were out of earshot, Riza turned towards Winry who bad begun chopping potatoes on a wooden cutting board. Riza was pulling out baking dishes from the cupboard. "You seemed to be enjoying working on his arm a little more than usual," the Lieutenant pointed out, still staying in her usual calm, collected posture.

"W-what?" Winry asked, her blue orbs widened as she stared hard at the vegetable she was slicing into bits. "I-I have no idea what you mean, Riza!"

"Oh c'mon now, Winry. You remember what we talked about in the office earlier. How long are you going to go on about hiding your feelings for him?" the older blonde questioned her.

"I-I'll tell him...sometime," Winry whispered, peeking over her shoulder to make sure none of the boys had decided to sneak up on their conversation. "It's just...maybe it's too soon. I mean he just got home and all. The last thing I want to do is go pouring a bunch of girly issues on him. He needs some to relax and get settled back in."

"I understand that, but if you don't express your feelings for him to him, then you might not have another chance. Edward has quite the flock of girls that are big fans of the Fullmetal Alchemist in both here and East City. Once they find out he's back in town, they'll probably go haywire," Hawkeye explained.

Winry cringed at the mere thought of another woman having her hands all over Edward, touching his stomach, touching his chest, his arms, his legs. No way, those were her arm and leg...no other woman would ever get their hands on Winry's Edward if she had anything to say about it. The automail tech grit her teeth together, setting her jaw stubbornly and stared pointedly down at the potatoes she was slicing. He...wouldn't...dare...He wouldn't DARE let another woman TOUCH my arm and leg! I'll strangle him with a wire and bash his skull in until that damn wrench breaks! I'll kick his ass down Central and back if he even tries!

"Winry?" Riza spoke up, trying to break the girl from her furious thoughts. "Hey, Winry? Are you still with me?"

"He...wouldn't...dare," Winry breathed through her teeth, pure venom resounding in her voice.

"That's great, but Winry, you're ruining the potatoes," Hawkeye sighed, removing the knife from the mechanic's hand. The younger blonde stared down at the pile of potatoes she'd been cutting and realized she'd cut about three of them into mush.

"Oh...gosh, I'm sorry," the mechanic apologized, blushing furiously, snapping out of her reverie. "I suppose I should have paid attention to what I was doing," she continued, a small sweat drop making it's appearance on her face.

"And I rest my case," Riza told her, staring knowingly into Winry's eyes with her crimson ones. "You need to tell him."

"I know, I know...I'll tell sometime. It just needs to be the right time," she mumbled while switching places at the counter with Riza.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

After dinner, Edward, Winry, Roy, Riza and Alphonse had all taken seats in Roy's living room. Winry and Riza were sitting on the couch. Edward was down on the floor in front of Winry, Roy was reclined in his chair, and Alphonse was stretched across the love seat, dozing. Winry absentmindedly ran her fingers through Edward's long, golden locks as he sighed and closed his eyes, leaning his head back in pure contentment. Winry started just behind his bangs and slowly raked her fingernails down his scalp. She pulled her fingers through thick locks of gold, allowing strands to fall silkly off her fingertips and back onto the couch.

"Well, it looks like Al's ready for bed," Roy pointed over to the boy who had curled up into a fetal positon on the love seat, snoring lightly. "He must have been really exhausted."

"Yeah, we barely got any sleep from the time we got off of the ship, to the time we arrived in Munich," Edward explained, stifling a yawn himself. With Winry sitting behind him and playing with his hair the way she was, was making him feel even more sleepy. "We caught a couple of hours of Zs on the train ride back, but not much. I'm not surprised Al is so tired though. His body is still continuing to grow at a decent pace. He tends to take a lot of naps, which I'm sure is normal, considering his body has a lot of catching up to do with his age," the alchemist pointed out.

"Well if you all want, you can sleep here tonight?" Roy offered them. "Winry and Riza can take the bed. I can sleep out here in my chair and you can take the couch, Edward. We can't just leave you guys all alone on your first night back home," he added, a touch of parental tones in his voice.

Edward couldn't help but smile and appreciate the General at times. As brutish as he could be, Roy Mustang had always held a soft spot for himself and his brother, and Edward knew that. Despite all their teasing, bickering and insulting, Edward and the General were surprisingly close. Mustang had always looked at the Elric brothers in a fatherly sort of way and even after all this time, it was more than obvious that he still continued to do so.

"Yeah that'd be great, General," Ed sighed as he spread his arms out across the couch, accidentally brushing Winry's leg with his flesh hand. He paid no mind though, and Winry didn't flinch either only proving how much the two had matured in a course of time. Edward had long since gotten past the freaking out point whenever he accidentally touched her elsewhere aside from her shoulders. "It really does feel good to be back home. I never thought we'd make it back, but we did." Great complacency and ease could be heard in the alchemist's voice, and Winry couldn't help but smile. She had to fight back the urge to lean down and wrap her arms around his shoulders and hug him close.

"Alright then, if that'll be the case I'll go prepare the bedroom for you girls," Roy told them, leaning up in his recliner and pushing down the foot stool.

"I'll come help, General," Riza told him, getting up from the couch. It was more than obvious that the two were leaving Edward and Winry alone so the two could talk, and maybe do a little talking alone themselves.

Once the General and Lieutenant were out of the room, Winry commenced tracing little patterns on Edward's scalp with her fingertips. "So it really does feel good to be home?" she asked curiously. "There wasn't anything in Munich holding you back, was there?"

"Nope. As a matter of fact, something happened in Munich that made us move out of the country. We moved to another country called America and into a state called New York. It was me, Alphonse and a girl named Noah," he began explaining.

Winry instantly dropped his hair and felt as if a brick had just landed in her stomach. She fell back against the couch. So there was another woman...

"Winry?" Edward questioned, inclining his head to gaze back at his mechanic's horror-struck face. "What's wrong?"

"A girl?" Winry spoke in a muffled voice. "You had a girl living with you, Edward?"

The alchemist sighed and mentally kicked himself for saying the wrong thing. Dumbass! He shook his golden head back and forth. "It's not what you think, Winry. She and Alphonse had taken a liking to each other and she was an outcast in her country, so we brought her to America with us. There was never anything going on between me and her...i-if that's what you're getting at," he added, stammering slightly and hoping that was what Winry had been trying to say, otherwise he'd probably just made a huge ass out of himself.

"Oh...I see. So if she and Al had really liked each other, then why didn't you bring her back with you?" the mechanic inquired, leaning forward once more to continue playing with Edward's hair.

"We didn't know what was waiting for us here and so we told her to stay behind and live her life. She had a lot of friends where we lived and so I wasn't worried about her being alone. Plus, Alphonse agreed. He didn't want Noah coming along with us, for safety's sake," the alchemist continued as he felt Winry's nails brush through his scalp once more. "I liked Noah as a friend and nothing more, but she had betrayed me, Winry."

"Betrayed you? How so?" the girl asked. She couldn't help but enjoy this conversation between her and Edward. She wanted to know all about the other world and what he'd done throughout his years on the other side of the Gate.

"Well, you remember a year ago when I came back through and Central was being attacked?" the blond asked, leaning back once more against the couch. Winry replied with a yes and allowed him to continue. "Well, there was a group called the Thule Society who wanted my knowledge of alchemy so they could use it to try and break open the portal and make a permanent gateway. They had planned on coming through to our world and taking our advancements and weapons back to theirs so they could create weapons of mass destruction for war. I wasn't about to cooperate with what they wanted and so they used Noah. You see, Noah is what you'd call clairvoyant. She could see into a person's heart with just a touch to the hand, or shoulder or arm. Noah ended up seeing a lot of things that I never wanted her to see. Things that I didn't tell anyone about," Edward told the mechanic.

"What kinds of things?" Winry asked, anxious to know more. She and Edward had never really had a lot of chances to be so open and talkative with one another and the girl was relishing every moment. He truly had matured a lot as opposed to his 16 year old self had been, and the last time they were together barely gave them a moment to talk to each other.

"Well, like when I bound Al's soul to the suit of armor. We were coming down the steps of the apartment one day and she just happened to see a tall suit of armor walking beside me. I'd never told anyone about that, ever. She saw...a lot of things precious to me. She saw Mom, Resembool, and you...without even trying, she just did," the alchemist explained. "But when the Thule Society learned of Noah's clairvoyance, they used her in my stead. Without me even knowing, somehow Noah managed to get inside of my head and see my dreams, read my thoughts and steal all of my secrets in regards to my life here and alchemy."

"Wow, so a woman, who has some kind of strange telepathic powers or can see the past or into a person's heart just by a touch, used you to her advantage so they could open the portal that leads to our world?" Winry inquired aghast, her fingers had stopped working through Edward's hair.

"Where Noah was from, she's what is called a gypsy. I suppose you could compare her to an Ishbalan woman. She was an outcast and people hated the gypsies because of their tendencies to steal a man's heart and then his wallet. Noah wanted a place to belong and in her own selfish gesture, used me so she could try and come back through the gate with me and live here, so people wouldn't hate or distrust her. I've never really forgotten about what she's done," Edward added with a sigh. "I know she's seen more inside of me than she should since she'd been living with us, but after that day I just lost all trust I had for her as a friend. I always wondered if she was staring straight into my soul anytime she looked at me. It was rather unnerving at times, to be honest," the alchemist admitted with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Well, that was really wrong of her to try and do something like that, Ed. Yet at the same time, I can understand where she's coming from. I mean look what all those Ishbalan people suffered through because of hate and lack of trust. Noah must have been feeling the same thing back then," the mechanic pointed out.

"Yeah...I guess I never really tried to look at it so deep in perspective, but I understand she just wanted to fit in. It was just...never really of great importance to me. I had other things on my mind," Edward sighed and then found himself blushing as he realized what he was about to say to his dearest, childhood friend.

There was a loud snore from the love seat, snapping the alchemist and mechanic from their discussion and sentiments. Alphonse rolled onto his back with his hand over his stomach, a silly grin on his face, and he mumbled something incoherently in his sleep. Edward and Winry placed their hands over their mouths in silent laughter, determined not to wake the younger Elric up.

"He does that sometimes," Edward told the mechanic, snickering. "I can't help but laugh. After all these years, it's just so amazing to see my little brother back in the body he was born with, eating, talking, crying, laughing, sleeping, everything that he should have been able to do for those years he was trapped in that armored shell. I'm just so grateful every single day that he finally has a chance to live now."

"I know, Edward. I felt that way when he came back to us three years ago. He's growing so fast too. He doesn't seem like he'd be only 14 years old. He seems like he'd be 18 now, but at the same time his mind frame sort of borders on 14 or 18. It's sweet to watch him and listen to him," Winry replied with a sigh as she gazed over at the sleeping Elric. "Edward, I'm just so happy you guys came home. I know I have Granny, Scieszka and Den, but it still gets really lonely without you."

Edward couldn't say anything. He didn't know what to say as his moment of slight elation turned into cold anxiety and guilt. That familiar, freezing hand seemed to clench at his heart once more. He truly did feel guilty for everything that had happened. A long stretch of silence pierced the still of the room before Winry finally spoke up.

"You know...Roy and Riza have been in that bedroom for a long time. I don't want to disturb them with our chatter. How about we take a walk?" she suggested, untangling her fingers from Edward's golden threads. "It's been a long time since we've just gone outside and looked at the stars."

"Yeah, well, we might not be able to see much considering we're in the city," the alchemist pointed out as he followed the girl.

Winry was already standing at the door of the apartment, waiting with her coat on and Edward's long, brown one in her arms. "Put this on," she demanded, holding it out. "It's probably cold outside, especially since autumn is just around the corner."

"Damn, really? What month is it?" Edward inquired as tied his hair back into a long, golden ponytail. He took his coat from Winry's arms and pulled his arms through the sleeves, tugging the coat forward until it rested comfortably on his body.

"It's September. The leaves are probably just starting to change too, back in Resembool," Winry told him with a sigh as she tugged on his sleeve. "Let's go!"

"Alright, alright, I'm coming!" Edward told her, following the impatient mechanic.

The two stepped out into the crisp night, onto to the quiet street in Central and headed towards the outskirts of town. It was the place closest to where there were no burdening lights to shine on them and it was clear as you could get when it came to seeing the stars, but they were still visible, just not as vibrant as it was back at home. Edward gazed around the city as he and Winry walked, not speaking a word to each other. Incomprehensible silence had fallen over them, and Edward wasn't sure why as he shoved his mismatched hands into his coat pockets. Since the assault and earthquakes that had taken place in Central last year, the city had been rebuilt, no doubt thanks to Armstrong and some skilled alchemists. Edward felt a small swell of pride rise in his chest for all the good that some alchemists really did.

After what seemed like forever, the two had finally, reached a small hill with a white, rickety fence surrounding it and a tree perched on top of it. The wind was a bit stronger as the two climbed with upturned heads to gaze at the stars when something struck Edward hard. This was almost nearly identical to the re-accurring dream he had every single night of himself and Winry. The alchemist could feel his heart pounding against his ribcage now, and he couldn't help but wonder if the same thing was going to happen out here tonight, just like in his dream.

"It's a bit more chilly out here than I expected it to be," Winry told him, her arms hugging herself and teeth chattering. "At least we can see the stars though." She was standing right next to Edward and found herself moving closer to him, shoulder to shoulder. That was when she came to realize he was actually taller than her now and the girl stifled a giggle.

The wind was coursing through the trees, causing the branches to sway heavily. Edward's long, brown overcoat was flowing out from behind him in ripples. Winry's hair, that had been clipped up, was pulled down from it's hold, remaining in just a ponytail, blowing wildly behind her like a flag caught in the breeze. Upon impulse, the alchemist reached out and grasped her hand in his as the wind blew his golden ponytail out from behind him. Her long blonde hair whipped around her face as he tugged on her hand, pulling the girl around to face him.

Winry's azure orbs had widened like saucers as she stared into Edward's welcome, warm golden gaze. All cold seemed to evaporate as she felt herself melting in his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Win...," was all he could say. "I'm really sorry for everything." He reached his metal hand up, to brush back the hair hiding her face.

The blue eyes gazed back into his golden irises that were filled with so much remorse. "You don't have to be sorry, Edward," Winry insisted as she allowed herself to step closer to him. The man had dropped his head, his golden bangs flying across his face from the wind that was now slowly dying down. They shielded his face from view. "Edward, look at me," Winry told him tenderly, lifting his chin with her hand. "I've just realized something," she stated, her lips twitching at the corners. "Your hair."

"Huh?" Edward questioned, slightly dumbfounded. Why on earth would his childhood friend be talking about his hair at a moment like this? "What about it?"

"Your braid. The last time I saw you, you had your hair tied back into a ponytail just like now. When you showed up back home today in that underground city, your hair was still in a ponytail and just now, you put it back into a ponytail. Why don't you braid your hair anymore, Ed?" Winry asked, as she moved closer to him, their bodies almost flush with each other.

"Because...," he began, feeling his face burning. Edward was grateful it was dark, so Winry couldn't see the blush that unmistakenly risen on his cheeks. "You were the last person to braid my hair, Winry. I've never let another person touch my hair since the day I ended up on the other side of the Gate and I've never once braided it. Asides from me, you the were the last person to have touched it and braided it. It was...a painful reminder of you, of what I lost...that's why I don't braid it anymore," the golden-haired man admitted, in hoarse tones.

Winry felt her heart swell and spill over with a bought of emotion. "Well you're home now. So let me braid it when we get back, okay?" Edward didn't speak, he just lost himself in Winry's crystal pools of blue. She could remember that day. She'd seen it clear in her mind. Despite the fact that he'd alchemized his hair coal black, her fingers still threaded through those fine, familiar locks, separating them into three parts and slowly placing one piece over the other in a beautiful braid. She hadn't wanted to stop that day. She'd wanted to linger there and just keep braiding, in hopes it would make him stay. Her hope had been lost the moment she saw the sorry in his eyes and the end of the train as it descended down the tracks, leaving a puffing cloud of steam it's wake. He smiled at her, tracing his fingertips down her cheekbone.

"Oh, Edward," she murmured, buring her face into his shoulder and allowing her fingers to once more wind themselves in his ponytail.

Edward sighed, placing his arms around Winry's waist and pulled her close to him. The two hugged and held onto each other for the longest time, their hearts pounding against one another, in synch with the other. He was about to say something to her when a sharp pain ascended through his shoulder and down to his elbow. Just as fast as he'd grabbed onto the mechanic, Edward's hand went flying up to his shoulder and he clutched it, gritting his teeth and breathing through them. The pain was so intense it sent him to his knees.

"Edward!?" Winry exclaimed, dropping to her knees in front of him and placing her hands on his shoulders. "What is it!? What's wrong!?"

"Winry...I...," Edward tried to say, but couldn't. His voice was trembling and his body began to shake. "It...hurts," he managed to spit out through grit teeth. "Really...bad."

"C'mon! Let's get back to Roy's. Oh I am so so sorry, Ed! I should have taken your shoulder plate off and checked to make sure the wires were still installed properly. This is all my fault," Winry cried out as she placed a supporting arm around the alchemist's waist and helped him back down the hill.

Edward tried to protest, but was in to much pain that he could barely even speak. They hurried as fast as they could across town, though it seemed like ages before they finally reached Roy's apartment. They barreled inside, trying to be as quiet as physically possibly, but Edward was now issuing quiet whimpers, trying to hold back his agony through squinted eyes and clenched teeth. Winry helped him across the kitchen and back into the living room. She removed his coat and helped him to the couch where he collapsed and placed his left arm over his eyes. Winry wasted no time and pulling out her tool kit and removing the plate that covered his shoulder. She gasped at what her eyes met.

Four of the many wires attached to his nerves were tangled and one was completely snapped in half. The inside of his arm was caked with dirt and debris, Winry assumed, from the crash. She pulled out rags, pliers, a set of chrome steel cutters and oil. Winry set to work, taking the the pliers to the inside of his arm and pulling out all the debris as swiftly and carefully as possible. Every once in awhile, the alchemist would flinch, cringe, whimper or suck in a breath through his teeth as she worked. Winry knew how much pain this was causing him and so she tried to get the job done as quickly as she possibly could, wanting to release the man from his pain.

"Ssssss, Winry!" Edward moaned, cringing as she tugged at a stray piece of rock.

"Just hold on, Ed. I'm almost done," Winry assured him as she finished removing all the debris from his arm.

She managed to untangle the wires, but had to go rather slowly with them and tug somewhat hard to remove the wires, causing him to blanch and whimper again. Winry hated hearing that sound come from him. It was like the whimper of a wounded animal, and she cursed herself for not checking his automail when she should have. She gazed up at his face which was covered in a thin sheet of sweat. Why he never allowed himself to cry just once from the pain, Winry didn't know. The mechanic brought a clean cloth to his face and wiped him down. "It's okay, I just have to reattach one more wire and you'll be okay. Does it hurt as bad anymore?"

"N-not as a bad," Edward told her shakily. "It's like...an after shock now or something." He removed his wrist from his eyes and opened them to gaze over at his shoulder while the mechanic worked. She gathered a single wire from her kit and replaced it with the snapped one. After that, she oiled the hinges and joints inside of his shoulder.

"There we go, all done now," she told him gently, brushing back his golden bangs that had clung to his forehead from the sweat. "You'll be okay now. Just rest here for a few moments. I'll go get you a glass of water and a cloth for your head." Winry rushed into the kitchen with the cloth she'd used to wipe his forehead and turned on the faucet, allowing the water to run cold before she drenched it. She wrung the cloth out in the sink and then filled up an empty glass with water. The mechanic turned off the faucet and hurried back into the living room. Kneeling next to him, she handed Edward the glass of water. He leaned up and took a sip from it and fell back against the cushions once more. Tenderly, Winry placed the washcloth on his forehead and heard him sigh in relief at the cool touch.

"I'm...not in so much pain anymore," Edward assured the girl who'd been completely frazzled and upset by not performing proper maintenance. What would Granny say if she knew about this?

"I'm so sorry, Edward. I didn't maintain your arm properly like I should have. It's all my fault you ended up in so much pain," the girl told him dejectedly.

With a grunt, the alchemist sat up on the couch and removed the cloth from his forehead. The pain was rapidly disappearing and he was already starting to feel better, but he was not going to have Winry getting upset over something so minor.

"Winry, it's not your fault," the alchemist told her. "It'd just been a really long time since I've had anything like this happen. I just wasn't prepared for it is all. I'm fine, really I am," Edward insisted, smiling at the girl, but she just turned away, cleaning up her mess.

Edward shook his golden head and sighed. "C'mon now, Winry," he began lowering himself down to help her. "Just don't sit here and blame yourself over it. It's not your fault."

"If I wouldn't have been so stupid," she began, clutching a wrench in her hand. She turned to look at Edward with shimmering, sky-blue eyes as though she were on the verge of tears. "If I would have done the job like I was supposed to-," the girl stated, turning away from the alchemist again. As she turned, she was abruptly cut off by his flesh hand grabbing her wrist. Winry gasped as she felt his automail arm snake around her shoulders to cup her chin.

"That's...enough, Winry," Edward whispered, tilting Winry's face towards his. They were close...so very dangerously close now. Their noses were only millimeters apart. Edward's pools of molten gold had gone stern as he gazed at her. "It was an accident, that's all."

His eyes softened as he leaned in closer and Winry found she couldn't move. The wrench fell from her hand, as she felt the alchemist's warm lips capture hers in a kiss. She turned her body towards his, tangling her hands in his ponytail and kissing him back. The wrench landed on the carpeted floor with a soft thud and lay there unforgotten.

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Oh my goodness, I am so sorry it took me so long to update guys!!! I provided you with an extra-long chapter this time. Thank you so much for all the reviews for this story! I hope you all keep continuing on reading and reviewing! It's such a huge inspiration! Thank you!!