A slippery Homecoming
It was one of the darkest and foggiest nights Edward had ever remembered seeing. Nights like this always put him in an odd mood, they reminded him of that night. It wasn't too far off from where he was headed that the event took place. The event that was the reason that nights like this dulled his usual hot-tempered personality. Nights like this left him prone to staring off into the dark distance and contemplating all of the delicate ways that lives intertwined with others, about how one decision can lead to a life going down an unanticipated path.
As he walked up the familiar dirt road a light blinked in the distance. That's strange he thought to himself, they didn't know we were coming. The slowly pulsating light in the distance was coming from the second story window of the Rockbell's home. His childhood friend had picked up his mother's habit, it seemed, when she wanted him to come home. It was odd that all the way out here he could see the light in such darkness, her light. A small smile touched his lips as he realized that she was one of two people in the world that he would do anything for, and given his abilities, that was saying a lot. Mr. Edward Elric, state alchemist and child prodigy could do things that most adults couldn't dream of. But in the end, he was just a long lost boy on his way to a home he never admitted he still had, until recently.
Well, boy didn't really cut it, he had recently celebrated his 20th birthday. And while it was in a hospital, it was the best birthday he had ever had. It was on that day, that Alphonse, his younger brother and best friend, was brought effectively back to life. His body for years had been a large suit of armor with his soul affixed to it in desperation and blood. It was on Ed's 20th birthday that he had managed, after years of struggling, to restore his brother's soul to his body. It was a severely emaciated body, and he required several days of intensive care before everyone calmed down a little bit. They had just gotten him back, they couldn't lose him now. Even that damned Roy Mustang was worried about him, in his own way.
Really, they had both been hospitalized after the ordeal. Ed had nearly killed himself in the process, and it was a miracle above miracles that he had escaped not only with both of their lives, but with both of their bodies fully intact. Weak and borderline useless perhaps, but they were intact. Ed was given an IV drip of steroids and nutrients to help speed the healing process and the paranoid doctor ranted about possible "transplant rejection effects" even though it was Ed's own arm. Luckily, nothing ever came of that worry.
As Ed continued walking up the dirt road he realized that it wasn't really oppressive anymore, this dark weather. It would always mean something to him, he supposed, but not like it used to. He glanced down to see Al looking around wide-eyed as if he hadn't seen this terrain in years and in a way he supposed that was true. The kind and crazy friends of his at the military had created a sort of sling for Alphonse, so that Ed could still carry him and use his cane. Ed's leg and arm, while useable, were not up to carrying another human for very long, let alone really much else yet. He could walk, but he needed the cane for support, and there was just no way his arm would have allowed him to carry Al, even as light as he was.
This time, when the light in the distance flickered Ed looked down to see Al smiling like he had never been happier. Winry was on the other side of that light, no Winry was the light. Ed and Al were going home.
"We are finally home Al." Ed said with a glimmer of emotions in his eyes.
"Yeah". It was all Al could say in response. The flood of emotions he felt could not be expressed. Ed knew, and he smiled down at his younger brother who he finally could protect.
They approached the house with caution, the road surface had changed from gritty dirt mixed with gravel to full on slippery mud. Ed, with Al's feeble help, repositioned the sling onto his back so that he could lean forward and be more balanced. The uphill struggle was a bit much for Ed still, especially with the added weight and the mud.
Since the boys left on their journey all of those years ago, Winry had stood at the second floor window and flickered that light in hope. In hope that they would see it, wherever they were, and come home to her. That was all she had asked, was that they come home. She didn't care if Ed was made of metal and flesh, and she would love Al even in a suit of armor. She wanted better for him, her baby brother in all but blood, but she had little hope of it coming true. She never expected that they would really come home at all to stay, it didn't seem that she would be that lucky.
It had been just her and granny pinako for years. It was lonely and she loved Ed's rare visits and her rare trips to patch him up. He was everything to her, although she didn't think he would ever be ready to hear that. No, he was too busy trying to right a wrong that might never be able to be righted. Winry flicked the light for the final time of the night, sighed, and went downstairs to sit by the fire with a cup of tea. It was nights like this, when granny pinako was off in some distant town on business that Winry felt particularly lonely. One day it would be just her, and that thought grated on her soul. She had always thought it would be her, Ed and Al, for always. That's what she had said as a little girl, "for always". Now, it seemed more like those days never actually happened. And that she had "for always" been alone. She sighed as she warmed her hands by the fire.
A noise outside brought her out of her saddened state of mind and sparked concern. Not that it was really concern for her welfare, she could more than take care of herself. She missed Den at times like these, then Winry would have known before the sound had gotten this close. She, with her trusty weapon of choice in hand, crept toward the door and put her ear to it. What she heard was almost incomprehensible.
"Brother, go that way! It's less steep." Said a voice that sounded very familiar.
"Damnit Al! Do you want to try this? It's not easy you know!" Said the voice she dreamed of in her sleep.
Winry thought to herself that she must be going mad, the boys were no where near her. She was imagining this.
"You know I'm not strong enough for that brother." Said the first voice.
Wait a minute, STRONG enough?? Winry's heart raced and against her better judgment at getting her hopes up, flung open the door.
At the sound of a door banging open the boys looked up. On the porch stood Winry, who's eyes went from disbelief, to shock, to comprehension in about 15 seconds flat. She took two steps forward, burst into tears and then started to laugh. The boys, took a step backwards, or really Ed just slid further down the slope, and stared at her.
"Uhm, Winry? We're home." Ed said tentatively. "What's wrong?"
"Your home!" She said with tears streaming down her face.
"We're sorry Winry." Al said, gripping Ed's shoulder to peer over it and coming into full view for the first time.
"Human!" Al said with tired enthusiasm.
"You were always human stupid" Ed interjected. "Do you think we could have this conversation inside Winry? I'm kinda stuck here."
Winry gave one final laugh before taking a closer look at the situation. "Wha- Yeah, ok." The bizarreness of the situation stunted the normal humorous interaction between Ed and Winry. Winry started down the muddy slope and within an arms reach of Ed, slipped and fell, sliding into Ed and knocking him over. Ed fell over Winry in an attempt to not fall on Al, who really didn't get dislodged much from his sling in the process. He just giggled. Al had been laughing so much these past few weeks. Ed smiled. Winry smiled. The three of them made eye contact and before they knew it, had all fallen into fits of hysterical laughter.
"He-Hey Winry." Ed gasped between giggles. "We're home!" This sent them all further over the edge and Winry laughed so hard she slammed her hand down into the mud involuntarily, splashing Ed in the face with mud. She let out a sound that sounded like a hiss and an attempt to stop laughing. Ed wiped the mud off of his eyes, looked at her with playfully burning irises, and purposefully splashed her. Winry, not taking a moment to lose, continued the mud fight and all out war ensued. Just like when they were kids. The odd position that Al was in allowed him to fling small bits of mud but to not really hit anything. While he wasn't a part of the mayhem, he still enjoyed seeing the bliss on the faces of the two people he most loved in the world. Finally able to have some fun after years of hardship.
The clock tolled 11pm and it stilled Winry's hand. Ed landed one last plop of mud in her hair before he realized she had stopped.
"Let's go inside and get you cleaned up." She said, smiling. She wiggled out of her position and plucked Alphonse from his nest. He was easy to lift for the strong mechanic and she even had the strength to offer Ed a helping hand. She didn't really want to hear the stories about how they had gotten their bodies back. It was bound to have been too dangerous, but she was happy they had all the same. A small spark of electricity shot through Winry at Ed's touch and she smiled, almost bashfully at her childhood friend as she helped him to his feet. With Al effectively cradled in her right arm, she used her left to steady Ed and make it the final few feet to the stairs. The three of them were covered in mud.
"Ed, how strong are you right now?"
"Not very, why?"
"I hoped you could help me out, but we can do it together."
"Can you hold Al for a minute?"
"After all of that? Probably not. I can't stand much longer either Win."
She set Al on the porch, leaning him against the wall for support. He smiled a tired smile and watched her move to Ed.
"You sit too, I'll be right back."
"Do you really want to get the house covered in mud and force me to spend my first night with you cleaning it??" A small bit of their normal banter seeped through.
"No Ma'am." Ed said smiling, taking a hold of her hand to help himself down gently. Ed and Al smiled to each other, not saying a word while Winry went to business. She stripped off her clothes, flinging them into a pile and ran inside. The boys were blushing so hard they could barely think. Five minutes later, a reasonably clean and decent Winry came back with some towels.
"Both of you need to strip off the dirty clothes, we can wrap you in towels if needs be, and you are both going to take baths."
"Together!?" they said in unison.
"No you idiots. Al goes first and then Ed." This would have gotten an argument from Ed in the past but he honestly didn't even think of complaining now. Winry stooped down to help Al out of his clothes, only his shirt really needed to come off. Then she scooped him up. Ed slowly managed to get down to his boxers. Winry couldn't help but notice how attractive he was, even with his mismatched limbs. She blushed but in the darkness no one could tell. The clothes all lay forgotten on the porch as the three of them made their way slowly to the bathroom.
Winry had the tub already filling and set Al down on the toilet seat to undress him. Ed had followed in behind slowly and leaned against the wall. The two boys started to protest at the indecency of what Winry was proposing to do but she cut them off.
"Under the circumstances, it would be ridiculous to worry about this. You both need baths and I am the only one strong enough to help give them to you."
"You are NOT honestly thinking of doing that to me too are you Winry! I can do it myself…"
Winry blushed at the idea.
"If you say you can, then I'll believe you, I'll sit outside in the hallway in case you need help. But Al needs help, and you aren't strong enough right now to do it. You sit right here and rest."
"Winry…" Al began softly.
"You kind of remind me of Mom right now." It was the kindest thing Al could have said to her and she smiled the happiest sad smile she had ever smiled and picked up the naked teenager and slowly lowered him into the warm tub.
"Thank you Al." She whispered into his ear as she let him go.
As Winry helped Al bathe, Ed told her of places she would never see. Al chimed in details occasionally but stayed happily quiet for the most part. Sometimes the three of them just sat in silence as Winry scrubbed and rinsed her baby brother. They were together again, and that's all that mattered. Finally the bath was done and a sleepy Alphonse was wrapped in a towel with Edwards help. Winry carried him into the room just down the hall where the beds were always made in case the boys ever came home. Clothes were always stored in the drawers there, and she quickly found some comfy looking pj's for him to rest in. She got him dressed, brought him a glass of water and told him to lay in the bed until she was done waiting to see if his stubborn brother needed help. Al giggled and said ok. It took mere seconds for him to fall asleep, even though that was not his intent at the time. He wanted to spend all night with them but his broken down body had other plans. He was, effectively, dead to the world while his body healed itself slowly in his sleep.
Ch 2: Their First Night Together