A/N: Written for the FMAgiftexchange community challenge over at livejournal- quite a fun place, go check it out! This could be read either in manga or animeverse, but as I prefer the manga, I wrote it with that in mind.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. All hail the great cow.
Shiver: 1. v. To shake or tremble with cold, fear, excitement.
2. v. (of a fore-and-aft sail) to shake when too close to the wind.
3. v. break into fragments or splinters; shatter.
The first time that Edward Elric makes Winry Rockbell shiver it is a cold day in Resembol, and it has snowed more than the Farmer's Ledger can recall in forty years. Farmers, doctors, merchants and housewives all stand outside, scratching their heads and holding out their hands to cup the crystals. Sheep glance up at the flake-filled sky with bemused expressions before resuming their search for food. Children pour out of the house, bundled up and barreling into the snow drifts with fierce enthusiasm. In previous years, there was barely enough snow to scrape together a snowman or have a two-minute snowball fight, but here, knee-deep in drifts, their creativity and war-mongering know no limitations.
Ed, Al, and Winry are among the first outside, hastily bundled up by their mothers with as many warm items they can wrestle onto them as they wriggle out the door. They call excitedly to each other across the lawn as they race towards one another. Al and Winry immediately set to making a proper snowman, complete with one of Granny's old scarves, while Edward creates something straight out of a monster movie with carrots for horns. Al's comments on the aesthetics of Edward's creation earn him a snowball to the face, and the three are soon embroiled in a vicious snowball fight, with Winry and Al against Edward.
Edward, ever the strategist, hides behind a tree to create neat lines of snowballs and sculpts a densely-packed fortress wall. However, for all his preparation, he winds up getting clobbered when Al simply takes over his fort and pelts him relentlessly with his own ammunition, to Ed's irate indignation and Winry's delight. The neighbor boys Pitt and Jared soon trundle over, their faces pink and their coats heavily crusted with snow from their own snowball fight. Pitt invites them to see the foot-long icicles on old man Mardred's barn.
Winry is standing next to Pitt and admiring the pretty shards of ice as they glitter in the sun as Pitt tells her a funny story about Nelly's cow getting stuck in their pond when Edward takes advantage of her distraction and puts a handful of snow down her back, which instantly melts into her skin with a cold sting that shudders the length of her. She shrieks, dancing around in an attempt to shake out the quickly melting snow as Al, being Al, tries to help. She hears laughter and whirls around to see Edward running back towards the house. She bellows and chases after him, waving her fists and screaming every insult that comes to mind, drawing from Granny's extensive vocabulary for inspiration.
Al, at a loss, waves goodbye to Pitt and Jared and chases after them.
It is a long way back to the Rockbell house, however, and by the time she gets back she has slowed to a walk, shivering uncontrollably. She feels more like one of the icicles on Mardred's barn than a flesh and blood little girl, but her tongue is far from frozen. Her mother (and the rest of the countryside) is treated to just exactly what Winry thinks of Edward Elric's demeanor, face, and parentage, and she is sent to bed without dessert, left to stare at the ceiling and plot endless and terrible revenges against the boy next door.
Unfortunately, her revenge has to wait. Winry spends the next day with her runny nose pressed against the window, her feverish forehead fogging up the glass as she watches everyone else enjoy the snowy day. But her father is firm- she will not go outside until her fever breaks, and, he adds, frowning at her, until she learns to use language more befitting of a Rockbell. Winry wants to reply that she was only using Granny's words, but has enough sense to know that it won't help her situation. Huffing, she watches Ed and Al as they head down to the pond, cursing Edward Elric and swearing she will never speak to him again as long as she lives.
That night her fever breaks, and the Elrics are invited over for hot cocoa and, her parents add, so that she can properly apologize to Edward. Edward's mother seems to have the same idea- Ed looks at the floor as Winry's father takes their coats, muttering an apology as Trisha prods him. At her mother's stern glare, Winry mutters her own terse apology and glowers darkly in a corner near the fire, glaring at Edward over the rim of her mug as he tries to avoid eye contact. Al looks nervously between the two; he looks like a spectator at a very hostile tennis match.
The stressed silence lasts until Edward pulls out a bag of sugar spun candy from the corner store out of his pocket, the glossy sweet spun in bright reds and greens and twisted into interesting shapes. Ed starts to explain about the process of heating sugar to high temperatures, twisting and bending the confection as it cools, and Winry's curiosity (and her sweet tooth) overcome her pout. Trisha and the Rockbells exchange amused expressions over their egg nog.
The three friends spend the rest of the night sprawled out in front of the fire with Den, playing with metal miniatures that Granny Pinako has fashioned for Winry out of spare automail parts and eating candies and drinking cocoa until their stomachs swell to taut, contented balloons. Winry forgets that she was ever angry with Edward as he separates the candy into exactly equal piles, carefully counting out her and Al's fair share. The children fall asleep in front of the fire, their limbs tangled and their breath soft against each other's skin. Winry will learn to miss this rhythm later, the soft sigh of their breath, the warm crackle of the fire, and the low, soothing murmur of adult voices above her.
It is the winter before her parents leave for Ishval. It is the winter before Trisha falls ill.
It is the winter before everything changes.
The second time Edward Elric makes Winry Rockbell shiver, he is unconscious.
Winry does not leave his side except to sleep and eat- Al does not leave his side at all for the first few nights. There are nights when she can feel Granny Pinako's small, strong grip around her arm, beckoning her to bed.
"They'll be there in the morning, Winry. You need your rest," Granny says, but Winry is wary of such grand promises.
Her parents had promised they would be right back, and they will never come home to her now.
The boys have left her, too, since their mother died. Not in the same way her parents did, perhaps, but it is no easier to visit them and see what they have become than it is to stand before the cold and indifferent gravestones of her mother and her father. The boys are as remote as stone, Al turned inward in a prison of steel and Edward a captive of his own guilt.
The simple truth of it is that Winry no longer trusts that the world will be the way she leaves it when she wakes, that the things she loves will stay because she loves them. And so, after Granny has gone back to bed, Winry sneaks out of her room, tiptoeing down the stairs and curling into a chair beside Ed's bed. She thinks of Al, of the way he used to sit for hours and play with the kittens in Nellie's barn, the way he smooths over his older brother's rough edges with grace and kindness beyond his years. She thinks of Ed, how he used to pull her hair and put frogs under her pillow. She thinks about the boy that brought her a jar full of fireflies when she had chickenpox and the boy who stuck up for Al at school, even when it got him thoroughly pummeled by the older boys.
After the first few nights, Al comes and goes. He is restless in the body that never rests. He sometimes reads the books she brings him, and sometimes sits so still she thinks he has gone to sleep, even though she knows he can't. She wants to throw a blanket over him, as she does for Ed, but knows that it will only make her feel better. He can't feel it at all.
She tries to sit up and talk with Al for as long as she can, but eventually she always nods off in a chair or on the couch used for the patients. As the nights pass Pinako gives her up as a lost cause and starts leaving a blanket downstairs for her to use.
She listens for Alphonse in the next room, and puts Den in with him for company. She mops Ed's forehead and makes sure his bedpans are clean. She feeds him ice chips between fevered dreams. She is careful to shed her tears where they can't see them, because, as Granny says, "Those boys have enough to deal with right now without seeing your tears." And that is true. They never could stand her crying.
She loves them both, and the love she has for them is no less equal because it is different. Al is sweet and sensitive and wonderful, and Ed is brash and argumentative and gets under her skin like nobody else. They will leave different voids in her heart, equal but dissimilar in their depth. She does not know it yet, but this will be true throughout her life, if for entirely different reasons.
As the nights wear on, color starts to return to Ed's face, and his fever breaks. He is getting better. Soon, he and Al will leave Resembol; Ed will become a dog of the military, and Al will follow.
Sometimes the irony of the situation strikes Winry even in her young mind: she has made Edward an arm and he will use it to reach out to a world beyond her reach; she has given him a leg and he will use it to leave her.
Winry is filled night and day with a lump of anger in her throat- a knot of helpless agony that twists and turns her in circles. She has done all she can do and it is not enough, not nearly enough- her own helplessness burns in her and it keeps her moving. She tries to content herself with what she can do rather than wish for what she can't. However, what little she can do is of small comfort, to her and to them both.
When she is sure Edward is asleep, she reaches out a hand to rest against the cold metal of his arm, placing her hand over his. She remembers the look of determination in his tawny eyes, the way he seemed to look past all of them into a future only he could see.
"One year," he'd said.
In one year, they will leave her.
The automail's chill seeps into her and she shivers. She knows this moment marks the end of something- she can feel it dying even as the boy beside her opens his eyes and gazes listlessly into hers.
The third time Edward Elric makes Winry Rockbell shiver, they are watching his house burn to the ground.
Fireflies bob across the lawn- Winry can remember arguing with Ed that they were really magical fairies and Ed, being predictably scientific and boring, argued that they were arthropods with photic organs.
It seems a long time ago, now.
It is the night before he and Al are leaving. Winry does not want to say goodbye, Edward doesn't know how to, and Al is wise enough to know that nothing fitting can be said, and stand in silence, watching the fire grow and lick at he starry sky.
There is no happy chatter in the dark. There is no laughter, and no plans made for the next day. Where once flesh touched her shoulders, there is only steel, and she feels a void where there once was warmth, despite the blaze in front of her.
Winry lets her tears fall freely, despite Granny's warnings. She can't help it.
It is too much: her parents, Ed and Al's mother, the house seems to hold all of them as it collapses- the groan of the walls and the sight of pictures and cabinets and old papers curling in the flame, it is all going, going, gone, and there is nothing she can do to stop it.
"There's no going back," says Edward, and Winry can only think about the warmth of his and Al's bodies next to hers in front of that fire, years ago, and the rubble they will leave behind.
Ed is right…there is no going back. Burned houses do not grow from the earth…the dead can never return to the living.
The last piece of wall crumbles down in a spray of sparks and flame, and she shudders with it as it falls.
The fourth time that Edward Elric makes Winry Rockbell shiver, it is a hot summer day. Winry is walking around the back of the house, wiping a layer of grime and grease from her face with her forearm. She can hear the heavy sound of Al's clanking in the backyard as he runs in circles and Den's joyful bark as she chases him, and it makes her smile. She has stripped down to her tube top and a pair of shorts- the air is hot and humid, and there is no wind to strip it away.
She is so caught up in the sound of Al's laughter that she does not hear the backyard shower running. She shouts something at Al over her shoulder and turns the corner-
-and there is Ed, clad only in a pair of boxer shorts, his head tilted up to let the cold water hit his face. His hair is down, plastered to his back, and the glint of his automail in the sun is nearly blinding. He runs a hand over his face, and she notes the quiver of his muscles with every movement: serratus anterior, rectus abdominis, external oblique- she has mapped the human body in graphs and charts and metals, and yet she has never seen them in this light before. Edward's body is hard from years of being on the receiving end of Izumi's fists, muscles firm and tanned and supple and covered in a sluice of water from the garden hose. His hand pushes his hair back from his eyes, and suddenly, she is wondering what that large, calloused hand would feel like on her face, her arm, her-
A long, slow shiver runs the length of her- it is a kind of chill Winry has never felt before, exhilarating and frightening and alien in its intensity.
Edward seems to sense her suddenly, and cracks open an eye as he turns his head away from the spray. "You need something, Win? 'm almost done."
She opens her mouth, closes it, and promptly turns and rounds the house again at record speed without answering him.
Once she is in the house, she feels ridiculous. This is Ed. Ed, the little boy that throws tantrums when anyone mentions size, the insufferable idiot that uses his automail like a doorstop, the moron that can't be bothered to call before a tune-up-
But his body is no longer a boy's, and his eyes…his eyes are more intent now, purposeful, with a kind of draw that pulls in rather than out, and she finds herself, parts of herself, now pulled to the backyard…
She sighs, her back against the door. Ridiculous.
Maybe she is coming down with something, she thinks, but when she takes out the thermometer, her temperature is normal, and she detects no other sign of illness, no stomach pains or runny nose. She takes an aspirin to be sure.
She fixes herself a glass of lemonade to go with the aspirin and drums her fingers on the kitchen table, staring at the wall and beyond and feeling foolish. She can still hear Al playing with Den, and from the backyard, the sound of the water valve closing.
She feels his eyes on her at dinner- no doubt he is giving her a quizzical look, wanting to know why she ran off that afternoon, why she avoided them the rest of the day, but she has no explanation for her behavior, either. She wants to tell him to stop looking at her, that she isn't feeling well, that she has a fever, (to brain him with her wrench), but she says nothing, which is unlike her, and she feels Al and Granny's gazes glance over her during the course of the meal, too.
She finally glances at him during dessert- they are having home made ice cream, and Al is lecturing Edward on the merit of dairy products when Winry's eyes meet Ed's across the table. There is no question in his eyes, and no answer, either, there is a push and pull and give and take that she does not understand, a new tension that has never been there before. But she does not look away, and neither does he.
Al begins noisily clearing plates and Granny breaks the silence by asking Ed to retrieve a box of bolts from the highest shelf in the storeroom. When that doesn't get his attention, she makes a comment about his height, with the predictable fireworks ensuing, and just like that, things are back to normal again.
Still, she lies awake that night and thinks about Edward Elric, her old friend, the source of her professional frustrations, the very epitome of rash and callous and rude-
And then she thinks about him under the water, about the hard lines in his hips that disappear beneath the waistband of his shorts, and there is that shiver again.
Winry pulls the pillow over her head.
She is definitely coming down with something.
The fifth time Edward Elric makes Winry shiver, it is the annual Spring Sheep festival, and she is ankle deep in hay and manure.
Winry has loved the festival since she was a child- the buzz and heckle of the sheep shearing contests, the smell of spiced lamb roasting on spits all day, and the bright bazaar of toys and trinkets from the local merchants spread out across the streets. She can remember sitting high on her father's shoulders, holding a bright red balloon. She remembers her mother holding her in her lap as she petted the baby lambs. She remembers chasing Ed and Al through the crowds, a stick of spiced lamb in her chubby fist. The fair is a collection of happy memories of the people she misses most, and so, she never misses it.
There is always a livestock show and auction at the festival, and this year, Winry has volunteered to help Nelly get her family's livestock ready. She stands in one of the fair pens and runs a rice root brush over Nelly's prize cow Hiromu, the gentle animal calmly chewing her cud as she watches people pass her pen.
"It's so nice to have help, Winry!" says Nelly, beaming at Winry from a stall away. "Dad and Gideon are always so busy with the sheep, and mom's got that bazaar selling wool this year, so it's usually just me handling the auction and the show now that Seth's enlisted in Central."
"I just can't believe you're selling her," says Winry, petting the docile cow's fat flank with affection, remembering how she and Nelly used to braid her hair on hot summer days. "You raised her from a calf, I can remember staying up with you nights, bottle feeding her after the mother died-"
Nelly grins. "Oh, we're not selling Mu," she replies, her brown braids swinging as she drags a bale of hay into the stall. "She's here for show, just like every year. We just bred her to Sev's bull, Uno, remember the one?"
Winry pauses in her brushing. "Wasn't that the one that Ed tried to ride?" It had been a stupid dare of Pitt's, but Ed had puffed out his cheeks and his chest and stalked to the field, his fists balled in determination. He had staggered off the field, his knees and elbows raw, his pants around his ankles and a chunk of his undershorts hanging from the tip of one of Uno's impressive horns.
Nelly laughs. "Yes, that's the one! I'll never forget Edward cutting across the field, face red, with-"
"-his pants around his ankles, yeah," says Winry, and the two girls burst into laughter, causing a collection of nearby animal ears to twitch at the sound, Mu's included. Winry reaches around down to pat the cow's round side, and realizes that the animal is indeed fatter than normal. "You're going to be a momma, Mu!" she tells the cow excitedly.
The animal chews its cud and looks unimpressed with Winry's revelation.
Nelly swings her leg over the fence and drops into the stall with Winry, then proceeds to fix a pink bow around Mu's twitching tail. "How's that look?"
"Like a ribbon on a steak, what else?" comes a voice from behind him, and both girls turn to see Edward Elric leaning against one of the pens, his trademark red jacket slung across his arm.
"Hey Edward!" Nelly exclaims.
"What! Did you break it?!" Winry says, almost on reflex.
Ed's expression darkens. "No, I didn't break it, you machine geek," he says, waving her off with a flex of his steel fingers. "And hello to you, too."
"Sorry," she says, bracing her hand on Mu's side as she walks towards the gate. "But why are you here? Where's Al?" her stomach drops. "Is there something wrong?"
"No, Al's fine." Edward mutters something about cats and looks irritated. Winry just smiles. "We had business in East City, and Al wanted to visit. When you and Granny weren't home, we figured you'd be here."
"Yeah, Granny's probably at the tent, soliciting business," replied Winry. And beer, she adds to herself. The old woman is probably drinking them all under the table.
"You and Al going to be here long, Ed?" asks Nelly, leaning over the rail.
"No, just passing through," replies Ed, and Winry feels a spike of disappointment surge through her. They're like tumbleweeds, in and out of town in the blink of an eye, off to exciting Central city with its pristine white buildings and libraries and-
-she realizes suddenly that she is ankle deep in manure and wearing her oldest pair of coveralls, the one with the button missing. An image of Central's streets flashes through her mind, the women with their petticoats and their shiny boots and heels and their pretty spring dresses-
-and instantly, Winry wonders why she cares. It's Ed, for God's sake.
"Hey Winry, Nelly!" calls a pair of voices across the tent. "You wanna come down to the lake with us now?" It's Salem and Pitt, looking sweaty and tired from cleaning pens all day, their shirts already unbuttoned in preparation for a long, cool swim.
"Oh, uh, I didn't know you had plans," said Ed, looking sheepish. "I mean, it's not like we told you we were coming or anything. If you've got things to do…"
For an instant, Winry seriously considers taking up the boys on their offer, and letting Ed experience a small taste of what it's like to be left behind. She pretends to consider, already knowing what the answer will be. She does not stretch it out, though; though she has a formidable temper, she has never had much of a vindictive side. Granny says it is because she lacks practice.
"Oh hey, is that Ed?" calls Pitt. "Hey Ed, sorry, I didn't see you over there behind the-"
"WHO ARE YOU CALLING A BEAN BOY MIDGET THAT'S SMALLER THAN A SPECK OF SAND!" bellows Edward, lunging at Pitt. Winry and Nelly manage to catch the collar of his shirt just in time and yank him back.
"I'll pass this time, thanks!" calls Winry. "See you later!"
"Me too, I've got to finish getting Mu ready for the show at one o' clock!" says Nelly, waving at the boys as they slip outside. "Winry, you've helped me out a lot. There's nothing much else to do here, why don't you go catch up with Ed and Al, and maybe I'll see you guys later?"
"They've got a pie eating contest at twelve," says Winry, checking her watch. "And old man Mordred's entered." (Old man Mardred was famous for falling asleep in the pie). "Want to go watch?"
Ed grins at her. "Yeah, sure." He holds out his hand to help her out of the stall, and she accepts it gratefully, hoping down beside him. And there it is again, that strange, sliver of glee that works its way up her body in a quick tremor that feels a little like electricity. She makes a mental note to check his automail, to make sure the carpal wires are properly attached.
Nelly is smiling again. "Say hi to Al for me!" she calls after them.
They walk side by side for a minute, and as they walk, both grow increasingly aware that neither has let go of the other's hand.
"Uh…you, er, it, that is-" Ed stammers.
Edward jumps, snatching his hand back from hers as if it's caught fire.
Al is jogging up towards them, something small cradled in his hands. "Winry, guess what I found?"
"I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count," says Ed under his breath, and Winry laughs as Al's gently cupped hands start to purr.
And just like that, they are just Ed and Winry, Ed and Winry and Al at the Spring sheep Festival, three old friends together again.
Granny Pinako is a woman of absolutes, of 'yes' and 'no' and 'can' and 'can't'. She does not abide by 'almosts'- Rockbell women, she says, are made of metal, and there are no 'maybes' in metal. Winry digs down within her sense of self, past Pinako's strength, past the pictures of her father and mother, their eyes kind but determined. She tries to find the metal, but it is only so far a hopeful alloy.
She is standing outside on the balcony, with only a lantern for warmth and night. The sky is speckled with stars, and by the milk pale light of the moon, she can just make out the empty path that leads to down.
She isn't sure why she's out here, what she wants from the night and the stars and the empty yard. A revelation? A promise fulfilled? She has been waiting so long, it seems that she has forgotten exactly what she is waiting for.
The wind picks up and for a moment, Winry sways with it, wanting nothing more than for it to catch her up and take away all the heaviness in her body. There are calluses on her hands and her back is aching from hauling the new parts shipment into the work room by herself. She is young and she is strong but more than anything she is tired and she is older in her heart than most people will ever live. Cracking her knuckles and leaning against the banister, she lets her mind wander, something Granny has repeatedly warned her against.
"Don't look ahead of you or behind you, Winry," she has always said. "Look around you, at what's here, now, in front of you. Not what might be, or what could have been, what is. Everything else is a dream, and dreams are only for the very young and the very old."
And she knows Granny is right, that the world is made up of concise and definite truths, that everything in her life has always been simple and precise and a matter of yes and no and can and can't and never and forever and that it does no good to walk against the wind, but though she has her heart and her determination, her fierce loyalty to her craft and her ability as an automail engineer, Winry has never had her grandmother's eyes or her resolve where the brothers are concerned.
She thinks about the brothers. She thinks about Al and his cats and his light golden gaze, so soft, so gentle compared to his older brother's.
She thinks about a look and a sigh and a shiver and an almost-
But then she remembers that there are no such things as almosts. They are wisps of nothings whose touch burns…her parents 'almost' coming home and Trisha 'almost' getting better. They are something that has surpassed possible but rebukes impossible with a tantalizing gleam. Almost. Almost.
But almost is never and forever balanced on a wish, less than something and worse than nothing.
Despite what Granny thinks, Winry wants to the world to be terse and truthful, in that she wants it to be the way she dreams it can be, the way she believes it should be. So tonight Winry lets the ghosts of 'almost' swirl around her, knitting between her clasped fingers and twirling in her hair, and for an instant, she can see a figure making its way down that long, dark road, coming back, coming home, and she shudders with the hope of it-
But it is only a maybe.
It is only the wind.