Chapter 13: Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer, Do
Tony Heubner rocked on his feet, his hands shoved in the pockets of his trousers. The morning sun gleaned over the clean streets of Conway, the heat bringing out the sweet scents of flowers, and sending them drifting along like perfume on the soft breeze. Tony watched the front of the building, waiting for some sort of sign.
It came in the form of a giant suit of armor, pushing a wheelchair. A young man sat in the chair, his expression dark and angry, arms folded tight. A bandage wrapped around his bright yellow hair. Beside him, a young woman paced, grinning and obviously saying something that made the young man twist his body to snap something off to her.
"Brother," Alphonse Elric sighed, as the nurse followed the trio out of the hospital. "Can't you wait a few minutes before you and Winry start sniping at each other?"
"I'd like that," Tony said, smiling as he walked over to meet them.
"It's you." Edward gave him a look that said he didn't really expect – or want – Tony there.
Tony ignored him to grin at Winry. "You two look like you're doing pretty well."
Winry shrugged a bit as the nurse encouraged Edward to get out of the wheelchair. He all but darted out of it. "I'm so glad to be out of there!" He bounced in place, trying to hide a wince from his brother and Winry, stretching his arms over his head.
"I wanted to thank you both," Tony said. He took a deep breath when Edward turned a narrowed look his way. "You went through a lot, and you found out about Anne. And all those other women, too."
"You're welcome," Edward said, sounding suspicious.
Winry nodded her agreement. Her eyes were haunted by something, Tony couldn't quite read. Maybe regret. "I wish we'd found her before," she murmured.
"At least I know." Tony couldn't keep meeting her eyes, dropping his head to break her gaze. It was too emotive, and if he looked at her, he knew he wouldn't be able to go on. "I understand the M.P.'s are taking all the credit." He looked up at Edward, seeing a sudden flash of surprise on his face, hidden as soon as he realized Tony was looking at him.
"They can have the credit," he said, waving his hand. "We didn't really do much. Got kidnapped and banged up some." His shrug was both eloquent and signified the end of the discussion. "If there isn't anything else?"
"Not really. I just wanted to thank you, again." Tony stretched out his hand.
Edward gave his hand a split-second look, then took it. His glove didn't quite disguise the automail gripping Tony's palm. Winry and Alphonse shook his hand in turn. "Is that it?" Edward asked.
"Brother," Alphonse tsked, somehow giving the impression of rolling his eyes. Edward ignored him.
"Yeah. I just. Like I said. I wanted to thank you. For everything." Tony took a step back to allow them to head off on their way.
Alphonse put his hand in the center of Winry's back to guide her away, while Edward gave him a lingering stare. Something in his face softened, and he moved closer. "Look, there are reasons we don't want our names associated with this. There are people…" Edward glanced over his shoulder at the others, then back at Tony. His blazing eyes met Tony's. "People who'd hurt Winry if they knew where she was. We're doing our best to keep her safe."
Tony turned to stare after her. "Seriously? Who'd hurt a sweet kid like her?"
Edward's voice was bitter as he muttered, "You'd be surprised." Shaking off the dark expression, he went on. "It's safer for her if they don't know where she is."
"I get it." Tony raised his hands at the look Edward shot his way. "No, really," he said. "You'd do anything to protect her. I get it."
Scratching at the back of his head, Edward turned his head, a hint of color in his cheeks. "Yeah, well." His embarrassment was almost…cute. "You're welcome," he added, still not looking Tony's way. "Wish it had been better news."
Tony nodded. "Thanks, Ed."
He started to follow the others, raising a hand in farewell. Tony watched as he picked up speed, catching up to Alphonse and Winry. They all stopped for a second, maybe having a discussion, Tony wasn't sure, then they continued on their way, turning the corner and disappearing from view.
Tony whistled a couple of notes, tucking his hands in his pockets. Tomorrow, he'd claim Anne's remains, and take them home to bury. It wasn't what he'd expected when coming to Conway, having planned on proposing to her, but at least now, he knew. He walked away from the hospital, heading for his hotel. Someday, maybe, this would make sense. Now, he'd just have to mourn his loss, and be thankful Steinkuhl had been stopped, and couldn't kill any more people.
"Winry, are you ready to go?" Edward rapped his knuckles on the door to her part of their suite. "The train's going to leave in about forty-five minutes."
"I'm coming, Ed," was the muffled answer. Winry sounded cross, and Edward took a reflexive step back from the tone of her voice. It was a good thing, as the door swung open, and Winry stood on the other side of it. She had her toolkit slung over one shoulder, and her bag on the other. "I'm ready."
"Yeah, okay." Edward moved out of her way, since she seemed likely to stomp over him to get out of her room. "You ready, Al?"
Grabbing his suitcase, Edward opened the door, gesturing Winry through it. He couldn't help but remember the time Alphonse and he had walked her to the train station after Scar had nearly killed all of them. This time, it wasn't his fault, Edward reminded himself, but it didn't help the guilt lodged in his stomach. Winry had been so quiet since he'd gotten out of the hospital.
Edward still didn't remember everything that had happened while that Steinkuhl guy had held them captive. He'd gotten as far as the not-date, and walking home. But even that memory was mixed up with something else, going out with Alphonse and meeting Tony. The doctor had warned him that it might be days, or even a few weeks before it was all sorted out and he had his memories back. Some of them might not ever return, that bothered him more. Winry hadn't wanted to talk much about it, besides what she'd said at the hospital, and the M.P.'s had taken their statements separately. Edward wasn't privy to whatever she'd told them, though he figured if he really wanted to, he could request a copy of her report. That seemed kind of underhanded, though. Sighing, Edward hoped he could eventually recall everything else that had happened. Alphonse said he hadn't been there for any of it, though Edward figured his thinking Alphonse had been was part of the mix-up of the different times in his head.
"It was all Winry," Alphonse had told him, when she was busy packing. "Just ask her, Brother."
Some part of him didn't want to, though. Edward was almost afraid what she might tell him. But Winry deserved better, he thought; to know that he was worried about her, too. He mulled it over as they walked to the train station, buying their tickets, and leading the way onto the train. Their bench seats were as uncomfortable as always, though Edward slouched against the window, leaning his cheek against his hand, his elbow propped on the armrest. Alphonse sat across from the both, while Winry stared down at her knees, her hands clenched into fists and resting on her thighs. Once the train started, Edward cleared his throat.
"I…uh…got us tickets to Dublith," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Once we get there, I'll get you a ticket to go back to Rush Valley, Winry."
She nodded, not raising her head to look at him. Alphonse glanced at him, and Edward raised one shoulder in a shrug. "Winry," Edward said, trying again, "ummm…do you want to…talk about what happened?" A slow, sick realization came over him, and he turned to her. "That bastard didn't…didn't do anything to you, did he?"
"No!" Horror splashed over her face, and Winry shook her head, making her bangs swing. "No, not…he didn't…I mean, he knocked you out, and…" Winry swallowed and lifted her head. "It's my fault, Ed. If I hadn't distracted you, maybe we wouldn't have been in that mess. You wouldn't have a concussion."
Edward knew that expression well, having seen it in the mirror after a particularly bad night. "Winry," he shook his head. "I don't blame you. You shouldn't blame yourself."
"Yeah, Winry," Alphonse said, leaning across to lay his gauntlet over her fists. "It turned out okay."
"You've smacked me harder with your wrench before," Edward teased. "I'm going to be fine. And," he tilted his head, trying to make eye contact, "I may not remember everything, but I remember you were doing your best to keep me safe."
"I tried," Winry said softly, finally meeting his eyes. Sorrow and guilt lingered in hers, making them dark and dull.
"You didn't try," Edward told her, "you did! You, you carried me out of the basement, didn't you?" He could almost hear her telling him to stay awake and count the steps for her. "I must've been really out of it."
"That's why Brother's leg was down in the basement," Alphonse said, awestruck.
"I couldn't carry all that steel, Ed."
"You carried me, though." Edward set his hand on top of Winry's head, giving her a pat. "Out of that basement." If she'd left him – no, no, she hadn't, because she would never leave him. Not like that. "Thanks, Winry."
"Yeah, Winry, that's amazing!" Alphonse squeezed her fists. "You're amazing."
Winry smiled, though Edward thought it half-hearted, more for their benefit than out of any joy. He rumpled her hair and dropped his hand back to his thigh. "When we get to Dublith, you'll have a chance to meet Master Izumi," he told her, "and she'll tell you about how dumb Al and I were when we were kids."
"You're still pretty dumb, Brother," Alphonse said cheerfully.
"Nng! Not that dumb, Al!" Edward snarled at him. "Nor brain damaged!" Pointing at Alphonse, he shook his finger at him.
"If you don't get your memories back, you're brain damaged," Alphonse parroted a speech he'd been reciting for a few days now.
"No, I'm not!" Ed snarled, but risked a peek at Winry, to see how she was dealing. The corners of her mouth turned up a bit, and he let himself relax. If she was smiling, she had to be doing better. Everything was going to be okay, he was sure of it.
Winry jerked awake with a gasp, slapping hard at the hand on her shoulder. "No!" she started to cry out, but a hand clasped over her mouth, making her jerk back in an attempt to escape. She could see the glint of steel, bracing herself for the knife blade that swung down at her.
" – inry!" Edward was hissing at her, his face close to hers, and Winry realized suddenly the knife wasn't real, it was the glint of light on the space between his jacket and glove on his automail arm. "Are you awake?"
She nodded, her body slowly relaxing for the terror that had held her stiff just a few seconds ago. Edward dropped his hand from her mouth, letting out a puff of air, and sitting down on the floor between the bench seats with a thump. Winry remembered Alphonse saying he was going to move when Edward fell asleep, so she could lie down and rest, too. "Unhh," she moaned, brushing her hand over her eyes. They felt wet, and she wiped them quickly, hoping Ed hadn't seen.
"Winry," Edward was watching her. He'd seen everything, she knew it. "You were having a nightmare."
"Mm." She sat up. Unable to avoid Edward's eyes, not with him crouched almost at her feet, Winry wasn't sure what to do with herself.
Edward nudged her knee with his knuckles. "I don't want you to have bad dreams, Winry."
Her mouth thinned. "I don't think you get that choice, Ed."
He sighed, bending his legs and folding his arms over them. "No, I guess not." Resting his chin on his arms, he seemed to stare at her knees. "I have nightmares," he said, soft and low. "Sometimes, I can't sleep at night from them."
Winry sucked her lower lip between her teeth. "I know," she said, just as quietly. She remembered him crying sometimes, during the time when he was recuperating from his automail ports being installed. It wasn't always from the pain.
"Yeah, I remember." Edward glanced up as a rattle of metal announced Alphonse's return. He clambered up off the floor, sitting next to Winry again. Alphonse sat across from them. "I never thanked you for that, did I?"
"You didn't have to." Winry shook her head. "We're friends. Family. We take care of each other."
"Yeah," Alphonse said, "we do."
Edward mumbled his agreement, "Try to, at least."
Winry sighed softly. "That's all we can do, really." She dropped her gaze again, tightening her fingers into fists. "I don't think I should be traveling with you guys."
"It can be dangerous, Winry." Puffing out a breath of air, Edward gave her a sidelong look. "We don't want you getting hurt."
"I'm not the one getting hurt!" Winry thumped her fist on her thigh, the sting of it feeling good. "You're the ones getting hurt. I'm just dragging you down. I'm a liability! Look at what happened with Scar. We could've been killed, and because I distracted you, that man Steinkuhl," her voice faltered. "He could've killed us, too, like he did all those women."
Edward turned to her, catching her hand before she could hit her thigh again. "He didn't. And you…you got me out of there. You carried me up the stairs, Winry. And took care of me. You could've ran, but you didn't. That's amazing, it's brave, and you should've left me there, but I'm glad you didn't." He rubbed her knuckles with his thumb, the fabric of his glove rough on her skin. "Thanks, Winry."
"You take good care of us, Winry," Alphonse said, the metal of his armor squealing as he shifted his weight on the bench. "You always have."
There were no recriminations, nothing in either of their voices to tell her they regretted her being with them. Alphonse seemed to radiate affection. Edward's smile was hopeful, even, and his thumb still roughened her knuckles. A part of her still felt guilt over her hand in their capture. Winry thought she might always feel that. But the brothers were right – Edward and she had survived, and managed to stop a murderer. Maybe she should be concentrating on that. She took a deep breath, and managed a smile, a real one, for a change. "We take care of each other," Winry said, and was rewarded by Alphonse's nod and Edward's huge grin.
The newspaper article had been carefully clipped and forwarded to Roy in a plain envelope. Fuery had been the one to open it, and the soft, questioning noise he made alerted Hawkeye. She'd held out her hand to Fuery, read the article, and brought it to Roy's attention.
"What's this? More paperwork?" Roy gave her a lazy look.
"No, sir, something that might be of interest to you." She set the article on his desk and left the office.
Roy dragged his attention from her backside to the paper, picking it up to read.
Serial Killer Caught in Conway, the headline read.
A spate of disappearances of young women were solved by the capture of Devon Steinkuhl in Conway. Steinkuhl, a florist, had been kidnapping women and it is believed torturing them prior to murdering them. Thanks to the efficiency of the Conway Military Police…
Roy stopped reading after the reporter's tongue-in-cheek praise of the M.P.'s got too blatant to stomach. He pulled the top left hand drawer of his desk open, taking out a manilla file folder. Flipping the cover open, Roy studied the photograph of a woman inside. She smiled out of the picture, her dark, wavy hair framing her face, and her left eyebrow quirked up. Roy set the article on top of her photograph, took a large envelope out of his desk, and slipped the file inside. Sealing the envelope, Roy addressed it to Madam Christmas, care of the Calico Girlfriend Tavern, Central City, Amestris.
"One file down," he whispered, looking at the other three files nestled inside the drawer before pushing it closed again.
It had been a long trip in the back of a van. He hadn't been awake for all of it, but long enough to know time had passed. The light through the front windows changed, though the man who sat in the back of the van next to his gurney never did.
He woke again when the van slowed and doors opened. This was different, there was an energy to the man as he left the back of the van that hadn't been there before. His gurney was hauled out of the van and dropped to the ground with a jolt. He blinked up at the dim dusk sky, which disappeared almost as soon as he saw it, blotted out by a cracked ceiling.
The gurney rolled along a corridor, shoved hard enough to push through a pair of swinging doors. The man strapped to it rolled his eyes, tugging at the bonds. Thrashing his head, he grunted as he tried again to free himself.
A bright light flipped on overhead, blaring down into his eyes and he winced, squinting at it. The man who'd pushed him spoke, a susurrus of noise that echoed around the room. It made no sense to him. He fought against the straps holding him down, his rage erupting out of his throat.
Someone moved into his vision and he stared up at the man, dressed in white, his grizzled hair cut close to his head. The man held up something that sparkled and gleamed, like a red rose petal, turned into a gem. "I know you can't wait to get free again, Mr. Steinkuhl," he said, "and don't worry, you will." He smiled showing a gold tooth embedded in his mouth. "With a little work, I'm sure you'll make you a perfect member of our society."