Thanks again for all reviews, faves, etc. - I can update more regularly now that school's out, so expect more soon! All concrit is greatly, greatly appreciated, especially relating to characterization.
Trisha's favorite place was at the kitchen table, when the midmorning sun shone through the wide window (she'd never put curtains on it for that reason) and the light pine glowed warm in the light. It was a simple table - four uncarved legs, four pine chairs around it, one a shade darker than the others from years in the back of the closet, all resting on wood floor - but she liked white walls and good smells around her when she just wanted to let her mind wander. Her mornings at the kitchen table were one of the few escapes she allowed herself anymore.
The morning after Ed and Al found the soldier's gloves, she went down early - so early only a corner of the table was yet illuminated by brightening sunlight - and sat in the fourth chair, nearest the small spot of light. The stairs were still dark; no sound came from the boys' room. But she could hear the soldier's bedsprings creaking in the loft, and she wondered how much he had slept last night. Or any night.
She didn't mind the sound. The first day of his stay she had gone up to turn the mattress and heard the squeaks as it landed on the ancient bedspring and wondered how she would sleep if he got up in the night - in the quiet country, the sound would be enough to wake the whole house. But days had gone by, and she had found herself beginning to listen for it. It had been so long since she had waited for someone else to wake up, since she had heard heavy footfalls on the stairs in the morning and heard a deep voice ask for breakfast.
Hohenheim was restless at night, toward the end. She remembered waking countless nights to see him sitting on the edge of the bed, hair hanging around his shoulders, eyes closed but unable to sleep. She remembered the countless nights she had tried to comfort him and how, on the last night, he had kissed her deep and let her fall asleep in his arms. And she remembered that the look on his face that last night - the weariness, the eyes full of hurt and aimless purpose, the distance in his gaze - had been just like the soldier's. And the next morning he had been gone.
When the bedsprings creaked in the night, she dreamed of Hohenheim.
The soldier came down when a third of the table was illuminated, shaking sleep from his eyes and trying to comb a stubborn cowlick from his hair with his fingers. He was dressed in civilian's clothes that obviously had not seen the outside of a traveling bag for some time, but he did not look so harsh as in his uniform. He halted when he saw her in the kitchen.
"Morning," he said.
Trisha smiled. "Good morning." She stood slowly, bracing one hand on the table, and moved to the cupboard, withdrawing a pot. "Would you like some tea?"
"Please." He sat, stretching his legs out under the table. The movement did not seem to pain him. "You were right about this being a good place to heal. It's beautiful here. More peaceful than anything I've seen in... a long time." The rising sun shone on the lower half of his face, illuminating a small smile.
Trisha wondered if her face looked as peaceful as his did when the sun shone through the window and painted the air gold as it did now. Or as weary. "If only the boys would let you heal in peace, right?" She shook her head. "I'm sorry about yesterday. They just don't understand that curiosity can't always be satisfied."
For a brief second, Roy's eyes joined his mouth in the smile and he waved a hand noncommittally. "They're kids. I'm sorry I told them off like that. It wasn't my place, as a guest."
Bubbles rose to the surface of the water in the pot and Trisha stretched up to take down the teapot and a small bag of loose-leaf tea. "No, they were definitely in the wrong this time," she said. "But I'm sure Al will be knocking on your door before the day's out, tears in his eyes, begging you to forgive him and looking like he wants to hide behind something."
"But not Edward?" Roy asked, turning his head away from the sky outside to look at her with one eyebrow raised.
Trisha shook her head. "He might appear over breakfast, mumble a sorry, and run for Winry's," she said, "But he won't act contrite. I know he feels badly, though."
"They're good kids."
"Thank you. They truly are." She poured the tea, carried the cups to the table and sat across from him, her back to the window. The steam rising from the tea combined with the light from behind to make her seem to glow from within, a halo surrounding her and masking the tiredness in her face.
Roy took one of the cups and sipped, breaking eye contact. The sudden shift from the light all around her to the depths of his teacup nearly blinded him. "Do you need any help today?" he asked. "Around the house, I mean. I have nothing else to do today; I might as well earn some of this hospitality."
Trisha opened her mouth to refuse as good manners dictated - no, you're a guest, you're wounded, thank you so much for the offer but I have it under control, just relax today, Mr. Mustang - and said, "Would you like to help me hang the laundry?"
The kitchen was empty when Edward padded down the stairs, rubbing sleep from his eyes and blinking in the sunlight that now lit up the entire table. "Mom?" he called. There was no answer. Figuring she was in town or at the Rockbells', he crossed the room and stood on tiptoe to reach for an apple from the fruit bowl on the counter.
That was when he saw them.
The clothesline outside hung between the great tree in the front and the side of the house, clearly visible from the window through which the morning light streamed. His mother and the soldier stood under it, each holding up one end of a sheet, and though they stood three feet apart Edward kept seeing them as they had stood that first day - so close they almost touched, so close their hands or their hearts might have been reaching for each other--
The apple rolled across the floor and bumped against the wall as the back door slammed. He could not face them, would not watch them turn at the same time to see him go past, maybe smiling at him, maybe sharing that look of sadness that should have belonged to his mother alone. He would not look at them next to each other and be reminded of his father. Ed ran the whole way to Winry's and did not look back.
Roy hung the sheet carefully, aware of the wound at his shoulder, but it did not hurt him so much today. The weather was warm and his collar was open, his sleeves rolled up. Trisha wore no shoes. She was a beautiful woman, he thought, looking at her across the sheet they hung together. She had peace in her face - she looked in place, standing in the kitchen or with her hand on one of her sons' heads or sitting at the kitchen table staring into the sunlight. It had been too long since he had seen a pair of eyes not wide with terror, or narrowed to squint down a gun barrel, or squeezed shut against the flash of oxygenated air igniting--
He had dropped the sheet.
He stared at it dumbly for a moment, then bent slowly to pick it up. His hands were shaking. He clutched the linen tightly to hide it. "Sorry," he managed to say. "My shoulder."
Trisha smiled, and he realized that there was more than peace in her face. There was sadness there, too, as deep as his own.
She asked no questions, but turned to fix the sheet to the clothesline. "Thank you for your help," she said.
"It's no trouble." His voice was dead weight. He had thought he was forgetting. He had thought that those images were relegated only to nightmares. He raised the sheet, reached for a clothespin. They worked in silence, and when the sheets were hung, she gave him a smile and returned to the kitchen, leaving him to stand under the tree and stare at the sky.
After so long surrounded by smoke and flame and screams, this clean quietness felt like a lie. How could they exist at the same time? And how could you switch so quickly between them without breaking?
Roy didn't know.
Edward stayed at Winry's as long as he dared. The sun was already beginning to sink when he trudged home, sure that a scolding waited for him there. He'd missed lunch, skipped his chores, and not yet apologized to the soldier as his mother had told him to do. The thought of going back to that attic room made his stomach twist. He didn't want to be near the soldier. He didn't want to smell battlefield smoke anymore. He didn't want to know that the gloves were there, faded and full of secrets, and feel curious about them when they belonged to the man who thought he had the right to make his mother smile. Scowling, Ed kicked a rock down the hill to the river, but it stopped short of the water and even the satisfaction of the splash was denied him.
Al had fresh tear tracks on his face when Ed climbed the stairs to their room, still smarting from the scolding he'd gotten. He was wiping them away with a corner of his blanket, looking miserable and relieved at the same time.
"You apologized to him, huh?" Ed said, throwing himself down on his own bed.
Al sniffed and nodded. "He said it's okay. He's only going to stay another week or two. He said thanks for putting up with him. He's really not so scary, brother."
"What'd you expect him to do? Bite your head off? Use fire alchemy?"
"I don't know… I was scared he was going to yell at me again."
"He wasn't scary even when he yelled." In truth, though, the thought of going up to apologize frightened Ed almost as much as it repulsed him. The soldier's eyes were so empty, even when he yelled. He lay and stared at the ceiling for a moment longer.
"Are you going to go up and apologize?"
"Yeah." Ed sat up, hopped off the bed, and left the room, hands shoved in his pockets, scowling as convincingly as he could.
He climbed the stairs to the loft room quietly, somehow afraid of disturbing the soldier even though he was about to walk into his room. The door was slightly ajar, the light apparently repaired. Ed rehearsed what he would say in his mind - Sorry I looked at your gloves, sorry I went in your room, I won't do it again, sorry. Honestly, he wasn't all that sorry, but the more one said it the more adults seemed to think you meant it. Maybe because of kids like Al who really did.
He stopped in front of the door. The bed inside squeaked slightly. Ed steeled himself, took a deep breath, held a hand up to the doorknob - and at the last second couldn't bring himself to open the door.
Feeling foolish, he glanced around, as though afraid someone had seen his moment of cowardice, then leaned forward and peered through the crack in the door.
The soldier sat on the bed, in profile from where Ed stood, staring down at his hands. He held a gun.
Edward did not dare to move.
The soldier turned the gun over, looked at it from a different angle. He brought it close to his face and pointed it away from himself. He turned it around again and held it to his temple, but then his hand began to shake and he returned it to his lap. The light of the desk lamp made the circles under his eyes deeper, the trembling of his jaw more pronounced.
"The safety's off," he whispered to no one.
Edward swallowed hard, then turned and crept down the stairs even more quietly than he had come.
He'd apologize tomorrow.
Al looked up and smiled as Ed entered their room. "See, Brother? It wasn't so bad, right?"
"...Go to sleep, Al."