((My first multi-chaptered, serious fanfic for any fandom; my first fic period for the FMA fandom. Plot suggested by furvacatta, who's also beta-ing. This is entirely anime-verse. Concrit much appreciated; I own nothing; please enjoy!))
The soldier has bandages around his head and bulging under his left sleeve. There are scorch marks and bullet holes all through his blue coat, faded from sand-scrubbing, and though they're clean, no amount of polish will make those black boots shine again. His unhealed wounds are gruesome under layers of gauze. But somehow, it's easier for Edward to look at them than to meet this soldier's eyes.
The day is clear and the air smells of impending summer mixed with gunpowder. Before the soldier climbed the hill to the house, it only smelled like summer. Edward stands in the shade of the tree he had been playing under, his expression wary. He's seen soldiers before.
"Hey, kid." The solider makes a weary attempt to smile, but it only serves to deepen the circles under his eyes. "Is your mother around?"
Edward hesitates, nods, backs up a few steps, then turns and pelts for the house. He's only nine, but not too young to recognize the smell of battlefield smoke in the man's clothes, the smell that somehow sharpened when he smiled.
He's seen soldiers many times before, but the smell has never been so strong.
"Mom!' The back door slams against the wall as Edward dashes in and slams again behind him as he comes to a screeching halt in the kitchen, where his mother peels potatoes by the window. "Mom-- outside-- a solider--"
Trisha Elric frowns, sets down her knife, and leans to look out the window, around the side of the house. She can just make out a patch of blue, now sitting beneath the tree in the front yard. "Ed," she says, and though her eyes are worried her frown does not reach her voice. "Get him a glass of water, would you? He must be tired." She goes out, not noticing the potato still in her hand. She's been forgetful like that lately - Ed figures it's the war. It makes Aunt Pinako sad and forgetful, too.
He runs to the pump behind the house with a tall glass he climbed on the counter to reach (he's not supposed to do that, but Mom forgot to give him one) and fills it, wishing Alphonse would come back from Winry's so he could affirm the uneasy feeling in Ed's stomach. Al usually feels the same way about people that Ed does. Maybe it's just his little-boy way of making Ed feel better; but right now Ed wants someone else to smell the smoke coming off the soldier and get the same chilly tingle down his spine that he did. He wants someone who will hide behind their mother's skirt for him, because as much as the soldier makes him want to, he has already made a subconscious promise to himself that he never will. (Funny, that sense of permanence - he'll look back on that later, not that the thought crosses his mind now.)
Suddenly, his mother laughs. The sound echoes over the trickle of the pump, real and a little surprised. He stands paralyzed for a moment - when's the last time she laughed like that? - and as soon as the laughter turns back to the murmur of conversation he trots to the front as quickly as he can, balancing the soldier's glass of water.
They're standing close together - not quite close enough to touch, but enough that Ed breaks into a run when he sees them, not caring if the water sloshes onto his feet. He squeezes himself between them, all but forcing the soldier back a step, and holds the glass up. He glares up with all the tiger-like protectiveness he can, bare toes curling defiantly in the grass. "Here," he snaps. "Drink it."
The soldier takes the glass with his uninjured arm and smiles his weary almost-smile. "Thanks." He drinks slowly, and does not return the glass to Ed when he is done; he turns it absently in his hand, looking at Trisha, waiting for her to reply to whatever Ed now realizes he interrupted. Ed frowns up at him, about to demand the glass back, but his mother's hand on his head quiets him.
"We have a bed in the loft," she says, "And there's a doctor in the town. You can stay here until you're ready to travel all the way to Central." She smiles, but there's no trace of the laughter of before in it; it's sad and far away, the smile that Ed knows best. "It's peaceful here. A good place to heal."
The solider nods. A little of the weariness has already gone out of his face. "Thank you, Mrs. Elric. I shouldn't stay more than a week... but if Central insists, I could be gone in two days." His mouth twists a little at the corner, as if to say What can you do? and Let them try at the same time. He looks down at Ed, whose face registers pure dismay, and hands him the empty glass. "So, shrimp, what should I call you?"
Trisha covers her mouth with one hand, hiding a smile as Ed's mouth opens and closes with soundless rage. By the time he finds his voice, the soldier has picked up his single carpetbag and is following Trisha to the house, his smile a little wider at the shrieks from behind him.
"Did I hear him say his name is Edward somewhere in all that?" he asks, and Trisha chuckles.
"Yes. That's Edward. His brother Alphonse will be home at suppertime." She looks back and beckons to her son, and he grudgingly begins to follow them - at a distance. "He's headstrong, but he'll be used to you soon enough."
"Thanks again. I'm sorry to impose."
"Not at all, Major. You're welcome here."
"I'd prefer if you left off my title, ma'am." His smile has faded. His mouth is set in a rueful line, and he stares at the path with eyes as far away as her smile. "I'll get enough of that from my men back in Central."
She looks at him with sympathy he does not notice. "Mr. Mustang, then...?"
He shakes his head, glances up, and puts his weary smile back on. She's struck by the pain in his face - but not pain like his wounds are bothering him or even pain like he's seen something terrible, though they are evident in the premature lines between his eyes and the circles beneath them. He looks as though he has lost something precious - or like something precious has given him up. She knows this pain well. She sees it every time she looks in the mirror.
"Just call me Roy," he says.
Her hand moves a little, like she wants to rest it on his head as if he were one of her boys. But she transfers the movement to smoothing her skirt and gives him a smile of her own, soft and gentle and endlessly wistful.
"Call me Trisha," she says.
Ed watches them as they walk into the house side by side. He hopes Alphonse comes home soon. He needs someone else not to understand.