Title: The Garden Under Snow
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist (manga)
Pairings: Ed/Winry, mentions of Roy/Riza
Warnings: Spoilers for the end of the manga, lots of swearing, and the liberal bastardization of alchemy.
Summary: Ed has some figuring out to do before he becomes a father.
The room was still and quiet, with the scent of stale machine oil and sweat thick in the air. The lights had been turned out, and, even though it was mid-afternoon, the basement let in very little light, giving the room the appearance of late evening.
Winry was sitting on the bed, halfway on her knees and her shirt discarded on the floor. Her head was thrown back, exposing the delicate lines of her throat and collar bones. Ed's lips were a bit chapped as they caressed the bare tops of her breasts and his hands traced the contours of her back. Her own hands were situated on his bare shoulders, his shirt having been discarded before hers, but they worked their way downwards until they were working to unfasten his belt.
As Ed's hands moved, Winry couldn't help but marvel at the difference between them, even now, four years after his arm had been restored. As a teenager, she had sometimes wondered what it would be like to be with a man with two different hands. She had imagined his cold, steel fingers tracing down her back, touching her breasts, massaging her shoulders.
This was different. Ed's hands were both flesh and bone now, but they weren't the same. Ed's left hand had six more years of calluses and scars and the like on them, giving it a sandpaper sort of feel. Despite four years of wear, his right hand was still softer and smoother. But then, Ed didn't travel around and work the way he had back then either.
Her fingers found purchase in his belt buckle, slowly working it free, just as his fingers unhooked her bra clasp, and the straps fell loosely over her shoulders. She worked the belt loose and then went for the snap on his pants, brushing a hand mischievously a little lower than it ought to have gone. He groaned and paused for a moment, his hips twitching closer.
It was then that the unthinkable happened: the front door opened and a set of uneven footsteps clattered into the kitchen.
Winry thought she might start crying as Ed pulled away from her now bare breasts, looking up at the ceiling, his mouth forming the word, "fuck," over and over again. Just when they had finally had a moment alone—Granny had come home from the market early.
"Maybe if we're quiet," Ed murmured into her ear, his breath tickling her sensitive skin.
She shook her head no. Granny might have been old, but she still had the keenest hearing of most people in town. Winry wasn't about to risk having sex in her basement, only to face a knowing smirk on her grandmother's face throughout dinner.
Ed made a very sad noise when Winry pulled away, hitching her bra back up and clasping it. He made no move to fasten his pants again, even as she pulled her shirt back on. "Ed," she said, her voice scolding, "later. She'll need my help putting groceries away. Then I'll turn on the radio and everything will be fine."
She leaned in and kissed him lightly on the mouth. He caught her around the waist and tried to keep her from escaping, but she pulled out of his grip.
Ed didn't come upstairs to join them for another twenty minutes, and he was freshly showered when he did. Winry was somewhat amused and Granny wasn't making a comment. Apparently, Ed couldn't wait, and he couldn't have been more obvious about it. Who took a shower at four o'clock in the afternoon? He was gruff and rude—especially toward Granny—throughout the evening meal. This wasn't really surprising, and if Granny had any doubts as to what she'd walked in on, she didn't by the time dishes were washed.
Winry did make good on her promise, though; when darkness fell, the radio was playing nice and loud, and the two of them were in a tangled, sweaty mess of sheets and blankets. Her head rested on his shoulder, and his arm was slung around her waist, holding her close.
"We need to move out of here," Ed declared to the relative stillness of the evening. Strains of Al Jolson wafted through the floorboards.
Winry frowned. "Oh, come on, just because she came home earlier than we thought—"
"—and keeps us from doing it whenever we want to—"
"—Ed! I'm taking over the business for her, you know that. I don't want to go anywhere. We can deal with it for a few more years."
"Are you kidding me? That old bat is never going to retire." Ed seemed angry about this.
"Well. I hope not," Winry scoffed angrily, pulling away from him. "You're being a really big jerk about this, Ed."
"We've been married for almost a year!" Ed protested. "And I can't even screw my own wife because I don't know when Granny is going to be home—"
Winry sat up, turning to glare at him. "No, Ed, you can't screw your own wife because you're being a jerk and I don't want to," she snapped. "This is my home. This is where I want to live. This is where I want to raise my kids! I thought you wanted that too! And now you're talking about wanting my grandmother to die—"
"Winry—come on, Win, listen to me a minute, that isn't what I meant—"
"No, Ed, I think I understood you just fine."
Ed was sitting up then, his hand on her upper arm to keep her from leaving. It wasn't a tight grip; she could have pulled out of it if she wanted to. "I'm sorry, Winry. I am. Please just listen a minute."
She huffed and looked at him. He didn't apologize unless he really meant it, though it was hard to judge his expression in the dimly lit room. She would give him the benefit of the doubt—this time.
"I didn't mean we had to move away from here. I don't want to leave Rizenbul anymore than you do," he persisted, coming up behind her and rubbing her arms. He hooked his chin on her shoulder. "I didn't mean that I wanted Granny to die either. I just want—I thought maybe, you know, we could build a house of our own. Right next door. We could even build it where my old house used to be. That way, you could still take over the business, you could still help Granny with the groceries...but we'd have our own space."
Winry turned her head, looking at him. "Ed...I know it's annoying that we have to schedule our sex around when she's going to be around and all, but really, it isn't that bad," she argued. "I don't see why we should go through the trouble when we have this house."
"Because—because—well, just...just think about it, Winry," he replied. "It's...just...it's important to me."
"Having sex whenever you want doesn't really justify—"
"It isn't about that." Ed kissed her neck. "Well. Not all about that."
She snorted, but she did lean back. "So if it's not about screwing around whenever we want to, then what is it about?" she asked.
Ed was silent for a long moment, his arms slung around her waist and his chin on her shoulder. "This...this isn't my home, Winry. It never has been. It's been a place to stay in the meantime, you know? Even now, sometimes it feels like I'm just here until I go somewhere else for a while. I haven't had a home since...since, you know. Since I was eleven. I want somewhere I can walk in and say, 'Thank goodness I'm home again.'"
Winry had wanted for years to have Ed and Al consider this house their home. She had told the time and time again to come, she had made sure they were welcome here when they did come. They had even had their own bedroom upstairs. Ever since their mother had died, Granny had cooked for them, done their laundry, anything that they needed.
But she had known deep down that Ed and Al had never found it in them to consider the place their home. They were grateful for the help, and they considered the Rockbells very close friends, but it didn't go further than that. Winry had thought maybe now that she and Ed were married, that they technically were family now, instead of just in the abstract sense, that Ed at least would come around.
She should have known better, really.
"All right, Ed," she replied, sounding tired and a little sad, even to her own ears, "I'll give it some thought."
The gaping hole that Father had left beneath Central had caused some considerable issues. Structurally, Central HQ was sitting on giant subterranean cave that was sinking inwards on itself. There had been talk of alchemically restoring the ground there and rebuilding in the same location, but it was quickly agreed that HQ had to be relocated. There was naturally debate on where it would be located, as well, which was a load of horseshit, as far as Ed had been concerned. He didn't have any use for the politics involved with that.
And then there had been the debate on what to do with the hole itself. The gap had revealed that Father's lair was far more immense than anyone had realized. It stretched miles out underneath Central in all directions through winding corridors and tunneling passageways. It had numerous entrances and exits throughout the city, connected through the water pipes and the sewer lines. And it was filled with angry, hungry chimeras.
Fuhrer Grumman had chosen to ignore the problem at first, barring up any known entrances and posting guards at each one, along with making it a chargeable offense to enter the lair without permission, while he put the broken country back together. But once the Amestrian government was running somewhat smoothly, he had decided to reopen the gaping maw down to the city's bowels so that he could uncover the secrets and, with any luck, destroy them.
The now General Mustang was leading the exploration of the abyss, as Ed had taken to calling it, and he had immediately invited both Ed and Al to join the investigation. Al was slightly unreachable in Xing, and Ed turned down the offer, citing the fact that he was no longer an alchemist and would have very little use there.
The thing was, just because Ed couldn't perform alchemy anymore didn't mean he wasn't one of the most knowledgeable experts on the subject in the country. Whenever something was found that stumped Mustang and his crew, they sent it to Ed.
"It's like I'm geologist who's allergic to dirt or something," he scowled as he tore open the newest package and dumped its contents out on the table. Today's box was full of pictures and documents, nothing very interesting. Oh, it would be interesting if it was standing there, in front of him, and all he had to do was clap to feel the familiar energy rushing up just beneath his hands. Hell, it'd even be easy.
But this? This was like trying to put together a puzzle without ever touching the pieces.
Winry peered over his shoulder, looking at the disarray Ed had just distributed all over the table. "What is it this time?" she asked.
"It's bullshit, that's what it is," Ed grumbled. He hadn't taken the time to read the attached letter explaining what it was he supposedly looking at yet, but he was fairly confident that his statement was accurate. It usually was bullshit that made its way to his mailbox.
Winry laughed and leaned down to kiss him on the cheek. "I've got a couple more patients to see this afternoon. Try to get the table cleared off before dinner, okay?"
Ed, of course, did not get the table cleared off before dinner. The table was covered in pictures and documents, and Ed had a notebook out with a number of random words scrawled on it and a few half finished circles. Granny was annoyed by this, but Winry convinced her to have sandwiches that evening, which were easily brought to the den to eat. Ed didn't have a lot of room for a desk of his own, after all; their bedroom was filled with Winry's things, and Granny had quickly converted his and Al's old room into an equipment room.
Another reason they need their own house, Ed thought with a sigh as he scribbled something in his notebook. This wasn't even interesting stuff. Just some alchemical trap set in front of a door. Nothing terribly exciting. Ed just needed to figure out why it wasn't impossible (because these sorts of things supposedly were) and then how to make it stop trying to cut people's hands off.
Ed knew better than to try and explain to Winry why he wanted their own house. He knew that she was hurt by the fact that he had never been able to consider this house as his home, but he simply wasn't. It would have been nicer, maybe, and probably easier if he had. But if he had...then Al would still be stuck with his body on the other side and his soul inside of a suit of armor, and Ed himself would still have a metal arm, if Amestris was even still in existence.
And it wasn't just that he couldn't consider this old yellow farmhouse home, anyway. There was more to it than that. More having to do with establishing something of his own. He was tired of drifting in the wind. He had thought it would get better when he settled down and married Winry, but now he felt more useless than ever. Winry was the one who made the money in the household, who supported him with her job, while Ed tried (and even sometimes successfully) to keep the house in order.
It wasn't something about gender roles. Well, that wasn't totally true, he supposed. But was more along the lines of the fact that he wanted to provide for his family. He wanted to do something that helped Winry, and, without his alchemy, he had come to the realization that he was fairly useless. Sure, he could climb up and fix the roof, or tighten the water pipes, or whatever. But maybe if he could build a house for his wife, then he would feel less like he was living off of his wife's generosity.
Ed wanted something of his own, something he could be proud of. Was that really that much to ask for?
But apparently it was. At least he had something to keep him occupied, with these stupid packages being sent over every couple of weeks or so.
He gave up around nine o'clock, after Winry had plied him with a sandwich that he ate absently while trying not to get crumbs on anything. This wasn't something he could solve by looking at pictures of reading witness accounts of whatever shit had gone down. He didn't care about some stupid trap door eating people's arms. He didn't even care what Father had been hiding behind a door like that.
Winry found him putting everything back into the package it had arrived in. "Are you finished?" she asked, rubbing his shoulder. "You've been staring at this stuff forever."
"Nope. They're on their own on this one," Ed replied, making a face. "Their photographers suck, and they gave me about half the information I need. I'd have to see this one in person to be able to help. There's something...missing from these notes."
"You're heading back out there?" Winry asked him, frowning.
Ed shrugged. "I'm going to call up General Mustang in the morning and tell him he's a bastard and tell him to get someone else to look at it, one who knows something about alchemy," he retorted. "And then he's going to say, 'Well, Edward, clearly we need someone with more expertise and genius, and besides, it's rather low to the ground so you'll have a better view than my photographer did in the first place.'" Ed's voice dropped a few pitches as he attempted to mimic Roy's voice.
Winry got a funny look on her face. It was either her trying not to laugh at him, or it was her trying to fight off the impulse of pointing out that, even though Ed had grown several inches since the Promised Day, he was still shorter than the good General.
"And...then what do you intend to do after that?" Winry asked, tactfully avoiding mentioning her husband's height.
"I don't know." Ed sighed and leaned back in his chair, tucking his hands behind his head and looking at her upside down. "It's a door that eats people's hands when they try to open it. That shouldn't be possible with alchemy, but it's definitely an alchemical reaction. The General can generally differentiate that far."
"They can't open it any other way?"
"No. It's made of stone or something, and they don't really dare knocking it in. If it's an alchemical trap, it's going to be set up for that possibility too."
Winry leaned down and kissed his forehead. "Well, that's why you're the genius and not me. If you want to go, that's fine with me, as long as you're not gone long. Are you ready for bed?"
"Bed? It's only nine," Ed protested. He was used to staying up well past midnight when he had something interesting to research (this didn't qualify because he didn't have all the information), but that had ended pretty well when he had gotten married to someone who had to be up at seven every morning. Even then, it wouldn't been a huge deal, except that she turned on all the lights and made a lot of noise getting ready. And besides, sometimes she'd let him take a shower with her.
Even so, nine was pretty early for her to get to bed. She just smiled and shrugged at him. "I had a few surprise clients today, and I'm pretty wiped," she admitted. "Besides, Granny is upstairs, prepping the equipment for a surgery we've got planned tomorrow."
Was there something in her eye? Was she implying that Granny was too far away to hear? Did that mean that they could have some uninterrupted time together? Ed was suddenly no longer interested in staying up late. He shoved the package onto a counter in the kitchen and practically fell down the stairs after her.
Ed was on the phone with Central HQ, trying to get patched through to General Mustang's office, and Winry was making pancakes and trying not to worry.
They both knew that Ed was leaving for Central that day, even if Ed hadn't actually managed to talk to the General just yet. It was something they went through fairly frequently, after all. Anytime they sent something to Ed that he didn't have sufficient information on, there followed an angry phone conversation and a subsequent trip to Central that lasted anywhere from two days to three weeks. That was why Winry had felt the need to give her husband a proper good bye the night before, and that was why it was so important that the doctor had called her back that very morning.
Or, maybe it wasn't. Winry couldn't decide what to do, and that was why she was worrying. On one hand, she wanted Ed to know he was going to be a father in a number of months, but on the other hand, distracting him before he went to check out an arm-eating door in Central might not be the best idea.
It wasn't something they had planned for. In fact, it was something they had taken active steps to prevent. Winry wasn't even certain that Ed wanted children; it wasn't something they had ever really discussed, since Winry herself was content to wait a few years. They were still young, after all. There was always next year or so, and really, she was too busy to have a baby right now...
But things had changed, without either of them deciding to change them. It wasn't really a bad thing, not to Winry, but even having known Ed longer than she can remember, she had no idea how he was going to react to the news.
He was in the midst of a heated debate with the General when Winry finished the pancakes and put a stack of them at Ed's place at the table. No syrup, of course; Ed hated syrup because it was too sticky, even though he had loved it as a kid. Winry secretly suspected there had been an incident with his automail once, and he simply hadn't eaten the stuff since, though if her hunch was right, she hadn't been the one to clean it out.
"Yeah, yeah. You'd better be the one to pick me up from the station. One more fucking military escort who wants to hear my life story, and I'll—"
Ed's pancakes were going to get cold while he sat there talking on the phone. For some reason, this really annoyed Winry. She had put a lot of effort into those pancakes, after all, and she still had a full day's work ahead of her.
"Get off the phone and come eat breakfast," she called, carrying her own plate to the table. Granny managed to have eaten already and was out getting the last couple of things they would need for the surgery they would be performing later today.
"—yes, damn it, I'll call you from the station. Look, you're getting me trouble with my wife. No—no, like you don't get henpecked—shut up. Fuck you, Mustang." Ed hung up the phone and made his way to the table, looking at his stack of pancakes with a good deal of appreciation. "So—"
"He thinks that I'm henpecking you?" Winry snapped.
Ed had the good graces to look baffled. "What?"
"You think it's annoying when I try to give you your breakfast warm?" she continued. "I just thought you'd appreciate it if your pancakes weren't stone cold when you started eating. If I'd known you were going to call him before I was finished making breakfast, I would have waited, and then you wouldn't be so henpecked."
"Winry, that wasn't—I mean, no, it was perfect, I'd been trying to get off the phone with him for ten minutes," Ed protested. "You gave me the best out—"
"By telling him that you were in trouble with me and making me out to be some sort of harpy queen," Winry retorted, glaring at him.
Ed frowned. "You know that isn't what I meant."
In reality, Winry did know that. She knew that Ed had strange ways of showing affection, but that he really and truly loved her, and if he did think he was being henpecked, he would probably turn around and show her what exactly she was doing to him. And really, if she had ever been henpecking him about something, it was probably what she was doing right now.
She was nervous, she was edgy, and she was...a little nauseated. Ugh. So she wouldn't be one of those lucky women who bypassed the whole morning sickness thing.
She sighed, pouting a little bit. This really wasn't fair.
"I know it isn't. I'm just..."
Ed may have been surprised by her conceding defeat, but he jumped on it quickly. "You're just upset that I'm leaving again," he provided.
"Don't put words in my mouth." Winry glared at him.
He gave her his saddest face. "You're not upset that I'm leaving again?"
Still glaring, she retorted, "I shouldn't be, you big jerk."
"But you are. You are, because I'm so loving and wonderful and handsome," Ed continued, reaching over and grabbing her hand in a dramatic, distinctly un-Ed-like fashion. "And I'm such a pleasure to be around that they're just dying for my company in Central. Plus, I'm so good in bed, and..."
Winry snorted, and Ed looked genuinely offended for a moment.
And then she laughed, confirming that Ed's stupid little show there had had its desired results—she felt better. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "I guess you are sort of cute," she admitted. "Hurry up and eat, and then get your train schedule. I have a surprise for you before you leave."
The funniest part of the way Ed was suddenly shoveling down his pancakes as though his life depended upon it was the fact that Winry hadn't even implied sex on purpose. Only after he nearly choked himself to death, he was eating so quickly, did she realize exactly what she had said sounded like. She didn't feel bad—the surprise wasn't sex, but it was related to it quite closely.
She smiled at him and put the rest of her own pancakes aside. She wasn't too hungry anymore. She remained in the kitchen, cleaning the dishes and such, until Ed was on the phone with the train station, getting information on ticket prices and schedules. Then she winked at him and went downstairs. She may as well have a little bit of fun with this, after all.
To his credit, he took his time coming downstairs. Maybe he realized that she hadn't said anything about sex, or that the little spat they had just had wasn't really worth make up sex. Whatever the reason, though, he still looked confused when he realized that she already had his suitcase open on the bed and was putting a few pairs of folded socks into it for him.
"How long are you going to be staying there?" she asked from across the room, pulling a few more socks out of his drawer. He only wore one, since they wouldn't stay up on the automail leg, but she folded them anyway. They were harder to lose like that.
"Um, I'm not sure," Ed admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. He looked a touch disappointed. "I, uh, thought you had a surprise for me."
"And you naturally thought it was sex, right?" Winry asked, smiling to herself.
"W-well, we were talking about sex, and then you said you had a surprise and went into our bedroom...was I supposed to think differently?" Ed replied, looking sad.
He did have a point, she supposed. "Well, I actually didn't even realize it sounded that way until you were trying to eat four pancakes at the same time," she admitted, shrugging a little. "And I guess it sort of has to do with sex, but..."
He came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her middle and resting his chin on her shoulder. "I like things that are sex-related," he told her.
She took a deep breath. No time like the present, right?
"Have you ever thought about having kids?" she asked him, fussing with a couple of socks that had come unfolded from one another. "Like, maybe in...eight months or so?"
She felt Ed freeze in place, his arms going very still and all she could hear was the sound of his breathing. "Um," he finally said, "I thought it took like...nine months, normally." It was almost cute, the way he was hoping she just wanted to get started on this.
"It's actually closer to ten, if you do the math," Winry said absently. She abandoned the socks and took Ed's hands, still around her, adjusting them so they were resting on her flat belly. "It's just, there's already one started in there."
"But we—we haven't—we always take precautions—"
Winry sighed. This was not going as well as she had hoped. "We don't always. There was that time in the shower—"
"You said you were safe!"
"I thought I was! It might not have even been then!" she snapped, pulling away from him and turning to look up at him. "Besides, there is no form of contraceptive that is completely effective except abstinence, and I didn't think you were interested in that one!"
Ed's face bore a heavy frown, and the tips of his eyebrows were turned up, more worried looking than angry. "Well—I'm just a little surprised."
"I am too," Winry scowled. "Believe me, I was more surprised than anyone. Look, I know we weren't planning this, but now it's a there, okay? So we're going to have to deal with it. I'm sick of arguing the semantics of how it happened—it doesn't matter now! It happened."
There was a moment of silence between them, and she could practically see the thoughts going through her husband's head. There was an expression that clearly read, oh shit oh shit oh shit, and then that was over, and he began to realize he had screwed up in the handling of this pretty badly. Winry hadn't expected him to be happy, necessarily, but she had been hoping for, oh, maybe supportive or something.
"Win—shit, I didn't mean—I just, you surprised me is all," he said plaintively, holding out his hands toward her in an apologetic gesture. "It's—it's not a bad thing, I just didn't—"
"You didn't want it. I should have guessed."
"I didn't say that. I wouldn't mind having kids. I just thought that we'd—"
"Well, we didn't. Okay? We didn't plan it, we didn't try for it, and now we have it." There were tears in Winry's eyes, and she wanted to blame it on the range of new hormones flowing through her body, but she knew that wasn't entirely it. "I'm sorry the contraceptives didn't work, or that I wasn't safe, or whatever happened—"
"Winry." Ed's arms were suddenly around her, and she stiffened in his grip, unsure she wanted anything to do with him right now. "Winry, look. I feel a lot of things right now. I'm shocked, I'm—I'm terrified, I'm confused—but I am not at all angry. Okay? I don't know how I feel yet, but it's not angry."
She melted against him with a shuddering sigh—now that he said it, she understood that that was exactly what she'd been afraid of. He rubbed his hand up and down her back comfortingly a few times.
Neither of them said anything for a moment, and Winry was secretly glad she couldn't see Ed's face, and vice versa. She wanted to believe he had that determined face he always got when he had decided to see something through, maybe a glint of excitement in his eye or something. She didn't really think his face looked like that, but she was going to imagine it.
"When does your train leave?" she finally asked, addressing his shoulder.
"...an hour and a half."
"I guess we need to finish packing then, don't we." She pulled away from him and went back to the socks. There was more to be said, a lot more, but she understood that it needed some time. She had to think about it, he had to think about it. It might have even been a good thing that he was leaving for a little while; Winry hadn't even told Granny her news yet.
Forty-five minutes later, the suitcase was still standing open on the bed as Winry went through a bunch of things she thought he might need. "You did put extra boots in there, right?" she asked him.
"I don't know why you think I'm incapable of doing this on my own." Ed pulled out a spare pair of boots from the closet and tucked them into the suitcase. He closed the lid with a snap. "I did travel a bunch on my own for years while I was in the military, you know."
"Yes, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Al did all your packing back then. How about a jacket? You do realize it's October, right? It's going to be freezing in Central this time of year," Winry chided, heading over to his quarter of the closet.
"Um—Winry, I'm already late—"
"And you'll freeze to death while you're there." Winry grabbed the first jacket she could find on his end of the closet. "You at least remembered your hairbrush this time, didn't you?"
Ed opened his mouth to object, and then closed it again. "Shit." He stormed off toward the bathroom.
Winry sighed and opened the suitcase again to stuff the jacket within. They went through this on a regular basis, really. Anytime General Mustang had something he just had to have Ed look over, Winry would help Ed pack, because if she didn't, he would come home with a brand new wardrobe to replace the things he had forgotten. She had found that out the hard way.
Eventually, Ed made it up the stairs, lugging his suitcase with him, and Winry shortly behind him. "I have a client in twenty minutes," she told him as he headed for the front door, "so I can't see you off at the station."
"It's all right." He put down the suitcase for a moment. "You should, um...take it easy, I guess."
Winry didn't reply. She folded her arms across her stomach and tried not to think about all the things that were going to change between them because of this.
He hugged her anyway, and she didn't resist him. He was, after all, going away for some indefinite amount of time. It was her fault that this was awkward at all. She could have waited until after he'd come home to tell him, after all. Now it was too late, and...
"Don't forget to call when you check into your hotel," she told him.
"And don't forget to oil your leg. I'll be pissed if you come home with it all mucked up."
"Yeah, I know."
"And be sure to call Mrs. Hughes while you're there and thank her for the basket she sent last month."
"And...and don't do anything stupid."
She looked up at him, and she wondered if she looked as miserable as she felt. He kissed her forehead. "I love you, and I already miss you," he murmured.
"Huh. Get out of here before you miss your train, or I won't miss you at all," Winry replied, giving him a half smile and pushing him away.
He picked up his suitcase and headed for the door, looking at her.
"I'm serious about taking it easy, you know," he told her, lingering like he didn't quite believe she would.
"And I'm serious about you calling when you get there."
"Yeah, yeah." Ed was notorious for forgetting that sort of thing. He headed out the door, pausing only to pat Den on the head as she got up from her bed on the porch to meet him.
Winry waited until he was halfway to the road before she ran over to the front door. "Hey, Ed!" she called after him. He turned slightly. "I love you too!"
Even from this far away, she could see that cocky grin she loved so much lighting up his features.
She sighed. It was going to be a long couple of days.
Despite the tentative peace they'd managed to achieve between them before Ed had left, the phone call they had shared once Ed had checked into his hotel was clipped and tense. They both had a lot on their minds, and Ed had just had a ten hour train ride in which to think it over. Repeatedly. And, of course, it was too late to do any investigating when he got there, so he also had an evening alone in an enormous (half empty) bed to think about it as well.
Winry was pregnant.
His mind was still reeling from the news—not because he was angry or anything, just as he had assured Winry before he had left. And it wasn't even that he didn't want kids. The idea of raising a couple of kids wasn't a bad one. He'd always figured he'd be a father at some point. But Winry hadn't ever brought it up, and he wasn't feeling his life was empty without the pitter-patter of tiny feet or whatever, so it had never been talked about. Sure, there were the constant overly nosy people demanding to know when they planned to procreate, and Winry had been content to shrug and say she was focused on the business right then. Ed had just figured she'd bring the topic up when she was ready.
But she wasn't ready, and neither was he. Winry was throwing all her time and energy into following in her grandmother's footsteps, and she wasn't slowing down anytime soon. And Ed...what did he do? He solved stupid mysteries for stupid alchemists who couldn't tell a circle from a hole in the ground. He washed the dishes and did laundry, because he sure as hell wasn't doing anything else useful. Was he ready to be a daddy? Was he ready to support a family?
Fuck, no. They still lived in his grandmother-in-law's house.
Now, it was true that between the automail business and Ed's military pension, they were in no way hurting for cash. But Ed was not meant to sit around and do housework all day. He didn't mind it so much, as long as no one outside the house was aware of the fact so that they could tease him about it. But he felt restless and worried, and now, he was going to have a kid and who the hell was going to take care of that if Winry was working in the shop all day?
He was. He understood that. And it should have been okay, except for the one nagging fact in the back of his head: he had no idea what being a good father entailed.
All in all, that was the problem. He didn't want his kid to grow up feeling for him what he had felt growing up for his father. Even if, in the end, van Hohenheim hadn't been too bad of a guy, there was nothing changing the fact that he had been a terrible father. Ed might be the best guy in the entire world, and he could still raise a bunch of children who couldn't stand him.
Needless to say, he didn't really sleep very well that night.
In the morning, he discovered that his wife's dire predictions of the weather had been correct—it was freezing outside. Rizenbul hardly ever got this cold, even in the middle of February. One step outside, and Ed bade the cabbie to wait and hustled back up to his room to retrieve the coat that Winry had packed for him. He had his arm through but one sleeve and he knew something was wrong with it.
"What the fuck," he said to his reflection in the mirror. His hand didn't reach the end of the sleeve, and the back of it was dragging on the carpet. The jacket's shoulder was resting partway down his bicep. The jacket he was holding had been made for a giant.
He took it off savagely, annoyed by this, as the cabbie honked impatiently outside. The mistake was evident pretty quickly. This was his father's coat, the one he'd been wearing when he died, in fact. They'd had to burn most of what he was wearing, since it had been so tattered and torn. But the jacket had been mostly intact, and Al had even fixed the worst damage. Ed couldn't quite bring himself to get rid of it, so there it had hung, unused and forgotten in the back of his closet.
And Winry had somehow mistaken it for his.
Since fate was working against him in every way possible this week, Ed was fairly certain that his cab would be gone when he got back outside. When it wasn't, he expected it to crash or get lost. When it didn't, he expected to be locked out of HQ or that Mustang had called in sick or something.
Or maybe, he was just hoping, because he really didn't want to go down into that stupid hole without a jacket.
But none of these eventualities came into play, fortunately or unfortunately, and eventually, Ed was standing in General Mustang's office, still shivering.
"Edward, your lips are blue," Mustang said.
"Shut up, you stupid bastard," Ed growled, showing the General his favorite finger.
"It's splendid to see you again as well. Didn't you bring a jacket?"
Ed glared at him with as much rage as he could muster. It was really pathetically little. He was too cold to be enraged. "I forgot it. The temperatures aren't sub-zero in Rizenbul this time of year."
"And...you didn't think it a good idea to buy a new one before coming in this morning?" Mustang asked, raising one eyebrow slightly.
"Actually, I was running late, because I was searching through my suitcase for my jacket for five extra minutes this morning," Ed replied darkly. "It's a downward spiral."
"Indeed." The corners of the Bastard General's mouth turned up slightly at the corners, which signified that he was about to make Ed want to punch him in the face. "I would lend you my spare coat, but I'm afraid the tail would drag on the ground behind you."
It was a sign of his age and maturity, and possibly a lack the of proper destructive forces to destroy the Bastard's desk, that Ed reacted the way he did. A vein popping out of his forehead, he reached over the desk and grabbed Mustang by the collar and pulled him close with a feral grin. "Then your spare coat obviously doesn't fit you either, since you've only got about three inches on me now, jackass."
"Ha." Mustang was the picture of calmness. "I suppose you might try it on and see."
The coat ended up not dragging on the ground at all, thank you very much, although it was loose in the shoulders and came down past Ed's knees. Whatever, he didn't care. It was warm and it didn't belong to a dead guy. Ed's hands even made it out of the sleeves.
He really wanted to be able to march down into the crevice, down to that stupid, man-eating door, and immediately be able to name what was wrong with it, though he knew it probably wasn't going to happen like that. He was all too aware of everyone's eyes on him as they descended down into that pit, climbing over bits of rubble as they made their way toward the door in question. He was used to it. They stared when he was a kid, too, but for different reasons.
Now, he just felt impotent somehow. They were watching him to see if the alchemical genius still had anything left in him.
It was insanely frustrating in some ways to help them like this. Back before, all he had to do was clap, and the circle he needed was there, in his mind, waiting to be used. To actually transcribe the circle for someone else to use took time, and sometimes, he made mistakes. He drew characters sideways. He missed lines. And then, when the circle didn't work, they frowned and murmured and wondered what had happened to his genius.
His brain wasn't any different than it had been back then. It was just that his mistakes were more obvious because he was unable to test them. If only Al hadn't gone so far away...
Ed shook his head. It was useless worrying about it now.
The door looked just like it did in the pictures, and it didn't immediately offer up any information that Ed hadn't seen in the photographs. The door itself was fairly standard for Father's tastes in design—tall, basic, and giving off a somewhat creepy vibe. He wasn't sure what it was; it was just a door. Okay, maybe it was the fresh blood spattered on the handle and the base of the door itself.
The handle was one of those types that was on a big wheel that you had to turn to release the latch, and the door itself was a thick, dusky steel. The handle itself was the standard type of wheel, with spokes poking out of the rim to serve as handles and descending down to the center of the wheel itself. A second support piece connected the spokes together a second time. There was nothing terribly special about it, no alchemy circles or anything—not that something like that could be activated without touching it anyway. Ed picked up a stick and poked the door handle. Nothing happened.
Over the course of the next few hours, all the investigating in the world didn't find any hidden circles, alchemical traps, or anything that might cause a door to eat someone's arms spontaneously. Ed was eventually forced to give up and head back to his hotel room.
He didn't have much to do there, though; he had left too quickly to pack any reading material that he hadn't already devoured on the train, and it was barely six in the evening. As he lay there on his bed, still wearing the Bastard General's stupid coat, there was one thought on his mind, and it wasn't that stupid door.
It was babies. It was his own impending fatherhood, which he was treating like a disease or something, and that wasn't right. It wasn't right at all.
He didn't even know who to go to for advice. The best father he had ever met was Maes Hughes, who currently resided in Central City Military Cemetery. He didn't remember Winry's dad very well. Who else did he know that had kids? Maybe Ling had a couple dozen by now, but that didn't really count. The most likely candidate for a discussion was actually the Bastard General himself, as he had one coming in...well, Ed wasn't sure when it was coming, just that it was.
Ed wasn't so keen on talking about anything with Mustang at the moment, though. And really, he hadn't visited Hughes' grave in a long time. Maybe he could pay his tribute today.
An hour's time found him walking through the biggest cemetery in Central City, carrying a bouquet of flowers he had bought from a street vendor. He wasn't completely sure where the grave was; he'd only been here a few times. But he had a general idea, and it wasn't hard to glance at the names on the stone memorials decorating each row. He found it soon enough, remembering the name at the end of that row.
Hughes' grave was well kept, as always. A fresh wreath of white flowers was propped up against it, and Ed's lilies seemed inadequate in comparison. He put them down anyway, crouching in front of the stone. They weren't allowed to personalize the military gravestones, so it just had his name and the years of his birth and death. Ed imagined that, if they could have personalized it, it would say 'Beloved husband and father.' Rather cliché, maybe, but truer than any other stupid stone that might say it.
"How did you do it, Hughes? What made you the best goddamn daddy in the world?" he asked the stone.
"I've asked him that a few times myself," came a voice from somewhere behind him. It was Mustang's voice. Who else would it be? "Funny how he never answers."
Ed sighed a bit, not quite ready to turn around yet. The sun was setting behind him, slowly, and the light would throw the General into the shadows anyway. He had been found out, whether because Mustang was following him or Mustang needed fathering advice himself. Who the hell knew?
"Winry's pregnant," Ed said, without much inflection.
A hand landed on his shoulder. "Congratulations."
"I'm fucking terrified."
"You are not alone in that department." Mustang's hand tightened a little on his shoulder, and Ed brushed it off, standing up. He turned to face the General, studying what he could of the other man's face. There was nothing teasing there, for once. "Just wait until she starts talking about names, or when she feels the baby moving."
Ed frowned and turned away. "This wasn't something we were planning for. Can you believe it? We've never even talked about having kids."
"It isn't much easier if you do talk about it, I'm afraid," Mustang told him, a faint smile on his lips. "Have you eaten yet?"
"...no," Ed replied, frowning and glancing back at the tombstone. "Didn't you come out here for a reason?"
"The dead will always wait for the living, Edward. Come on, there's an excellent Cretan place just down the road from here," the General told him.
Yeah, sure. Ed wasn't accomplishing much of anything, standing out here, talking to someone's tombstone, after all. "Your treat?" he asked.
"Short on change, Edward?"
"Go to hell."
"...and it's not like I've got a role model or anything. My own dad was shit. Worthless." Ed frowned as his Cretan cuisine. It wasn't as good as Mustang had promised, but it wasn't terrible either. "I mean, as a dad. As a guy, he was okay. As a dad, he was shit. And Win—you know about her parents, right? Died when she was a kid. Right after my mom died, actually. She's freaking out too, you know?"
Mustang was stirring his tea with one hand: a slow, methodical stir that clinked against the edges of his teacup in near perfect time.
"Riza's mother died shortly after she was born, and her father was a genius, but a mad one. My own parents died when I was very young, and I was raised by my aunt." He took a sip from his teacup. "Neither of us is exactly well equipped to deal with the particulars of parenthood. We decided to try it anyway."
"So what makes it so much scarier than saving the country from some asshole in a weird tunic?" Ed asked.
"It's...the unknown. The possibility of shaping another life. The responsibility of how that life is shaped. You want what is best for your child, and then you wonder if you are the best for your child." Mustang shrugged a little. "We have no paths to follow, so we have to make our own. We both know what not to do."
"No dying, and no wandering off, trying to figure out how to die, got it," Ed remarked, rolling his eyes. "Any other tips?"
"We still have examples to live by, you know. We both turned to the same man, didn't we?" The Bastard paused for a few bites of his couscous. "He might be gone now, but he certainly set the tone. For the record, Maes' father wasn't around for his childhood either. I think he did a pretty good job, don't you?"
Ed shoved a piece of meat around his plate with his fork absently. "I get your point. Reluctantly."
"It didn't help much, I take it." Mustang frowned.
The younger man lifted a hand, holding his forefinger about a half inch from his thumb to indicate how much the General had helped.
Mustang smiled minutely at the reaction. "Edward, it isn't about role models or having good parents yourself. You are not your father, just as I am not my father. We have a choice. That's what I keep telling myself. I have the choice to give my son or daughter a better life than I had."
"You're not worried at all? You're not scared you're going to accidentally fuck up little Mustang Jr.?" Ed inquired glumly, leaning his elbow on the table and his chin on his hand.
"Of course I am." The older man shook his head. "But that isn't the point. Every new parent is afraid of doing something wrong. But a wise man once told me that, at the base of all of it, only one thing matters. You love Winry, and, you might not know it yet, but you love your baby. I have no doubts about that. And, while that alone doesn't make you a good parent, it certainly helps.
"You see, all of us who grew up without our parents—you, me, Alphonse, Winry, Riza, Maes...we all turned out all right. We all had plenty of love growing up. Maybe not all from our parents, I suppose. You and Winry and Alphonse had Ms. Pinako. Maes' mother had the biggest heart of any woman I have ever met. Master Hawkeye had a strange way of showing it, but he did love Riza. And my aunt loved me like I was her own."
"So you're saying it doesn't matter who does the loving, as long as someone does it," Ed quipped.
"I am saying that love is the most powerful force in a child's life." The General looked up at him, his dark eyes calm and intense. "I have seen you love, Edward, and I have no worries for your child."
The words were a strange compliment, especially coming from the mouth of this particular man. Ed looked at him for a moment, silent and considering. Mustang was rarely entirely serious with him, leaving their relationship one mostly comprised of friendly banter and an occasional deep conversation concerning one of the finer points of alchemy. He treated Ed as an equal and didn't offer advice unless Ed asked for it. On those rare occasions, Ed found himself trusting Mustang's judgment. If Mustang thought he would be a good father...
Well, maybe he'd have a chance.
"Eh," Ed muttered, adverting his eyes to poke around at the remnants of his meal again. There was a touch of a smile playing on his lips. "I've got plenty of worries about yours. Poor thing, it's half you."
Mustang snorted. "At least my child's feet will reach the floor before he's twenty."
Ed leaned forward, scowling. "Whose kid is so tiny that he is comparable to a speck of sand?" he growled. And then, suddenly, he thought about Winry's flat stomach, about the fact that she had something like eight months to go. Actually...
"If I understand correctly about how far along your wife is...," Mustang started, looking amused.
It was a sign of his age and maturity that Ed reacted the way he did. He started to laugh.
Ed dreamed about circles that night. He dreamed about Winry, lying on her back with her belly exposed and a human transmutation circle etched in red lines over her skin. He pressed his hands to her stomach and used power he didn't have to activate the circle. She smiled up at him as her belly began to grow, but he knew there was a monster inside, that his child wasn't human.
He dreamed about circles, and drawing them on the dark, elastic walls stretching around him. He pressed his hands to the walls and pushed. Someone on the other side pushed back. His circles did nothing, or maybe it was his hands, not being able to reach the power deep within himself.
He dreamed about circles, round, wheel-like doorknobs, unlocking the way into darkness when he put his hands on them. In the dream, the door ignored him and let him pass for some reason, and inside the darkness of the inner sanctum of the room, he found his mother's silhouette beckoning for him to join her in the little kitchen of a house that didn't exist any longer. He closed the door behind him, because he was afraid to let the light hit her, lest she revealed she wasn't really his mother but the creature he had created all those years back.
When he woke up, he was more tired than when he had fallen asleep.
A few hours time found him back in that damned hole in the ground, wrapped in Mustang's stupid spare jacket, and glaring at that irritating doorknob. Once again, he was acutely aware of the crew that they had taken down with them, watching him, waiting for his genius to 'kick in' and figure out how to open the goddamn door.
"This," Ed stated, gesturing to the door, "is infuriating."
He had studied this inside and out. He had seen the pictures of the unfortunate man who had been mauled by the door. He had thought and studied and pondered and paced. He'd even brainstormed with Mustang over breakfast, and they'd come up with no solutions.
"If there's nothing but a pile of dog shit in this room or something, I'm going to be incredibly pissed off," Ed announced, glaring at the door. "Remind me again why you can't just transmute the door itself?"
"Because the door nearly ate one of my subordinates, and we're still not sure he's going to be able to keep his arms," Mustang chided gently. "I'm not in the mood to risk anything else being inside that door that could so easily maim my men."
That was why Ed was here.
It was a perfect plan, really. Bring a tired, stressed out ex-alchemist who can't even transmute to look at a door for two days. Ed wasn't sure why no one had thought of it sooner. Oh, wait. They'd called for him as soon as the door had tried to eat someone.
Lunch break went about as well as the rest of the day had. Ed was irate and not in the mood for tuna fish, even if Lieutenant Breda had a good recipe. He chewed his sandwich savagely and thought about how much more wonderful it would be if he was in Rizenbul.
"You know, I've been having dreams about that goddamn door?" Ed commented to the group at large. They were breaking for lunch in a little cleared away room nearby. There were no chairs, of course, so on the dusty ground they sat, eating their goddamn tuna fish sandwiches.
"I did too, actually," Breda admitted cheerfully. "Except in my dream, the door was covered in gemstones, and the solution to opening it was to turn the wheel backwards. Doesn't make sense, though—poor Lyons didn't even get the opportunity to turn anything."
How had Ed gotten through the door in his dream? He just remembered walking up to it and putting his hands on it, and then it had turned as easy as could be in his grip. The door had ignored him, just like alchemy circles did.
Lyons had only put his hands on the doorknob. There was no way to accidentally activate an array like that, even if your hands did touch the edges of the circle. One had to willingly activate it, unless there was someone else setting off the arrays, maybe through the purification arts or something. Circles didn't just activate themselves. Circles didn't...
But one of them had, hadn't it? Van Hohenheim's circle, cast by the shadow of the moon. What had he done? He had marked the points with pieces of his philosopher's stone. When the moon's shadow had created the circle, what had happened? Even that shouldn't have been enough to activate the array. Circles needed alchemists to power them, not just stones. Otherwise, all Ed would need was a stone, and he'd be able to transmute again. It could have been anyone, really—anyone who still had the ability to perform alchemy. It wouldn't have to be an alchemist, just someone with two hands. Van Hohenheim probably was able to activate it himself without that, because of his stone, but...would it really even need activation, if it had the philosopher's stones to amplify it?
Could that theory be reversed?
He thought about the gemstones on Breda's dream door, and he wondered. If anyone could figure out a way to do this, it would probably have been Father.
He barely even saw the looks of confusion on the faces of his group as he stood up, tossing aside what was left of his sandwich, and matching back to the room with the stupid door in it. He didn't take notice of Mustang following him on his heels, or the rest of the crew quickly packing up to follow.
The knob was the circle. The support bars over the spokes were the points. If he was right, there were tiny philosopher's stones in each point, and all it would take would be someone to put two hands onto anywhere on the edge of the circle, and it would activate. In this case, the circle turned the steel into a flesh-eating beast for a moment.
The answer was obvious. Goddamn it, he'd been looking in all the wrong places! He marched up to the door and leaned in close to inspect the points. Sure enough, there was a slight glint of red visible there.
There was only one way to open this door.
Ed reached up his hands.
He figured, if he was wrong about this, Winry wouldn't be too sad to give him a few more pieces of automail anyway. He put his hands on the wheel before anyone could stop him.
He took a moment to look over his shoulder and give the very surprised group a smarmy grin before slowly turning the circular wheel clockwise to open the door. He had to turn it all the way around three full turns before something heavy inside of the wheel unlatched, and the old steel door was swinging ponderously open.
"What just happened?" Breda asked.
"It's simple. It's so simple, it's stupid," Ed commented plainly. "The knob's the circle. These things here," he gestured to the supports, "those are the points. There are tiny philosopher's stones in there, and because of that, you don't need an alchemist to activate it. It just activates with two hands, like a regular circle appears to."
Breda was still frowning. "But then—why didn't it activate when you—"
"Because he can't do alchemy," Mustang explained as the light bulb went off in his head. "Every human being in this world is capable of at least the most basic alchemy...except for Edward."
"My hands can't activate the array," Ed expounded, grinning. "I'm the only person on this goddamn planet who can open that door."
"You little shit," Breda said, and then he laughed.
In the end, it was more the pats on his back, the "good job, kid" comments, and the murmurings of, "He really is a genius isn't he?" and "Couldn't have done it without him," that made Ed happy than his success in actually opening the door.
For so long, he had felt so useless. He had felt like a scholar robbed of his ability to read, or a painter without a canvas. He still had the knowledge, and it raged through his mind like a river of information. It was all there, waiting for him to use it, and he simply couldn't. He didn't have the ability. Solving the military's stupid little problems was not satisfying, because he couldn't actually do anything to repair it.
It wasn't that he regretted the decision. He could live five hundred years and he would never regret his decision to give up his alchemy. Without Al, there wouldn't be a reason to do alchemy anyway, so it didn't matter.
It just got a little frustrating at times.
Therefore, Ed felt justified reveling in the attention he was receiving. He had not only solved the problem, but he had actually gone and fixed the problem too, and moreover, no one else in the world could have done it without losing a few limbs in the process. For once, Ed's greatest sacrifice was his greatest asset.
Ed almost didn't even care what was behind the door, but curiosity won out. It wasn't dog shit, and it wasn't a room full of crown jewels, but an incredibly extensive library, containing information about military personnel, intricate maps of every military base in the country (including some things that were not on any original blueprints), and compendiums of meticulous war strategies and the like. It seemed Father knew more about this military than even King Bradley had.
The information had been precious to Father, if not rather useless to a new, peace-embracing country. The lock and key the room was under had proved to be far more trouble than the information within was worth. But for Ed, this entire trip had proved useful.
He got to back to his hotel room too late to call Winry and let her know what time his train was due to arrive. Mustang had asked him to stay longer, but he really wasn't in the mood to get roped into yet another stupid alchemy mystery. Besides, his wife was pregnant, and she probably needed a little extra support right now. It was Ed's job to make sure she wasn't dragging heavy shit around and things like that.
He began packing up his things slowly, mostly because he was exhausted from the long day. He went about his business—there'd be a little time before the train tomorrow morning, so he didn't have to get it all done. Still, he definitely wouldn't be wearing his dad's old coat, still discarded over the chair. He picked it up and folded it over his arm. As he did so, a small piece of paper fluttered from the pocket and landed on the floor. Curious, Ed laid aside the coat and leaned down to pick it up.
It was a photograph that had once belonged to Granny; he could tell by the pushpin hole in the top center. He knew this picture. It was the one and only family picture ever taken of the four of them. The edges were frayed a little, and the picture itself was a bit crumpled. It seemed almost like it had been closed within someone's fist at some point. Like the old bastard had been clinging to it at some point.
Ed wondered about this. For a man searching for a way to end his own existence, he sure was fixated on his family. It didn't really seem to make sense. His family had been just budding with life when he had gone. Al didn't even remember the time before he left, and what Ed did remember, he had been aloof and distant for most of it. Why would that man carry a picture of his family that he left behind?
It wasn't that Hohenheim hadn't come through for them in the end. His lunar eclipse circle had been part of what had saved the entire country, after all, and he had used his power to protect them during the fight itself. But he hadn't come back for Ed and Al. He had come back out of guilt, because, in a way, Father had been part of him, and really, he had the best chance of anyone to keep the Promised Day for ending the way it almost had.
"Idiot," Ed muttered, putting the photograph on top of his suitcase. He stripped out of his clothes and pulled on a t-shirt to wear to bed.
He laid in bed a long time, bothered by that photograph dredging up so many unanswered questions and annoyed that he was letting it bother him.
His father's actions didn't make sense, and he couldn't parse it out. Sure, he understood about preparing for the Promised Day. That had to have taken some time. But, how long had it been? Thirteen, fourteen years? That was ridiculous. Hohenheim had gone searching for a way to die. Ed had no doubt about that—his mother's last words had been an apology that she was dying first. He hadn't wanted to watch her die, Ed could understand that. He couldn't imagine watching Winry die either. But wouldn't he have wanted to spend as much time with her as he could?
He had almost been a real father once, back before Ed had thought of what he could exchange for Al's soul and body. He had offered himself in exchange for Al, not because it had been the 'right' thing, or the only thing, or even the responsible thing. He had offered himself because, as he said, he was their father. He wanted to be a father to them, in the end.
He'd never been a father before that day.
With a pang of regret, Ed remembered how feelings of how badly he had wanted a father had welled up inside of him when the bastard had made his request. He remembered the sting of angry tears, the rage bubbling up to the surface and wanting him to demand, Why couldn't you have been a father before?
Hohenheim had cared, hadn't he? If he hadn't, he wouldn't have had a reason to leave. He wouldn't have taken that photograph and clutched it in his fist to give him courage.
And Ed suddenly needed to know if there was anything else in those pockets.
He pushed back the covers and switched on the lamp, going over to his suitcase and yanking it open. He shoved his hands into the pockets of that stupid coat. He came back with a single folded piece of paper.
It was a newspaper article, not old enough to have yellowed, but old enough that the creases from the folds had erased whatever letters had originally been there. The paper was brittle and slightly torn in a few places, and Ed was careful when he unfolded it.
What he found was a picture of his face, nearly ten years younger, glaring back at him.
'Edward Elric Becomes Youngest State Alchemist in Amestrian History,' read the headline. The article went on to talk about how strange it was for a young backwater boy to rise to infamy at such a young age, and wondered if the military might corrupt such a fragile, young mind. The picture had part of Al's armor torso in the background; the photographers clearly hadn't been taking a picture of him.
Hohenheim had kept this article for...how many years? Four? Five? Something like that. But why? What would make him keep something like that?
Did he miss us?
There was nothing else of particular interest in the pockets of the jacket, and Ed found himself carefully tucking the article back, along with the picture. He climbed back into bed.
It didn't make sense—these tiny bits of memorabilia in his pockets were evidence that Hohenheim had cared for his family. So why would he leave? No, Ed needed to consider this from a different angle. If Hohenheim cared for his family, he wouldn't want to leave. What had forced him to leave?
And there was only one answer that made sense there. Fear. Hohenheim had left because he was afraid. Maybe he was afraid of watching them die, maybe he was afraid of what Father was going to do to Amestris. Fear had taken him away from his family, and nothing was ever going to fix that.
Hohenheim wouldn't have kept these things if he hadn't loved his sons. He wouldn't have offered his life in exchange for Al's, or stood between Father and Ed to save his life.
But love hadn't been enough to keep him home. There was something missing from the equation.
And Ed finally knew what it was.
Ed had bought a ticket in a sleeper car, opting to get a later train so that he would have time to finish up some things in the morning before he left. He ended up with twice as much luggage as he arrived with, and his new suitcase was considerably heavier than the one he had come with.
That was the one he was making Mustang carry. The old bastard had offered to see him off on the train, so the heavy suitcase he got. It was his own fault.
"What the hell have you got in this thing, Fullmetal?" Mustang groused, looking annoyed as he dragged the thing along with him.
"Just, you know. Some things I'll need. And a few presents."
Mustang groaned and dropped the suitcase on the platform.
"You need to work out more," Ed stated, grasping the handle and picking up the second suitcase. Okay, he was pushing it—it wasn't really as easy for him to pick it up either, but he was good at faking it.
"Edward—there's a reason I asked to accompany you out here," Mustang said suddenly, probably just changing the subject to try and preserve what was left of his pride or something. "Fuhrer Grumman has been speaking with me about opening a new university here in town, one that would offer some specialized training for aspiring alchemists. An alchemical college, if you will."
"Terrible idea," Ed mused.
Mustang looked surprised. "I thought you would be in support of an...institutionalized alchemy program. It would displace common misconceptions and get it through to people exactly why the rules of alchemy exist and what happens if you break them, and—"
"Oh, I agree with all of that." Ed shrugged. "I just think it's a terrible idea because you came up with it." He offered Mustang a winning smile. "So, what's this got to do with me? I'm not an alchemist."
"No, but you're still probably the most knowledgeable on the subject who is currently in the country," Mustang pointed out. "You've proved that yet again yesterday. Even in a lecture hall, without demonstration..."
Ed turned to the other man, genuinely surprised by the proposal. He had thought maybe Mustang wanted advice on curriculum or something, not a professor. He set his suitcases down for a moment. The proposal was interesting, and he could still be involved with something he loved, even if he was somewhat removed from it. It was intriguing.
But there was one little problem.
"You should talk to Al about it," Ed finally said thoughtfully. "I bet he'd be a good teacher, and that's something he'd like doing. He needs to be closer by, anyway."
"You're not interested?" Mustang sounded a little disappointed.
"Of course I'm interested, but I'd probably just flunk all my students who were taller than me," Ed commented. They would be boarding his train in a minute. "And besides that, I've got a home in Rizenbul. Winry has a successful business there, and it's a great place to raise a kid."
The General nodded reluctantly. "I understand. But you know, Edward...there is one thing you could still do if you support the idea so much."
Ed raised an eyebrow. "I'm all ears, General."
Winry didn't meet him at the train station, but Ed didn't mind. That was an awful lot of walking, and then she'd want to carry one of his bags, and Ed didn't really think she ought to. The suitcase with his clothing in it wasn't so bad, but still. Winry was pregnant! She shouldn't be exerting herself like that.
She did come out to meet him on the porch, though, when she heard him climbing up the wooden steps. Her hair was down, and Den was at her heels, looking expectantly up at Ed. Her smile was a little tentative; they had parted ways on somewhat shaky terms, after all, even if the phone calls had been all right. Ed, however, dropped his suitcases with twin thumps on the porch and embraced her in a full body hug, grinning widely.
"Hello, beautiful," he said cheerfully.
"...what did they feed you on that train?" she asked, laughing a little.
"They had this coffee drink, but it wasn't really very coffee-like," Ed explained. "They mixed a bunch of cream with it—I know I don't like cream in my coffee, but this was totally different. It was like this vanilla flavored cream stuff, and then they put whipped cream on the top of it, and it was delicious!"
Winry laughed. "Sugar and caffeine, that is a wonderful combination for you so early in the morning."
"Forget about that, how are you? No throwing up today?"
"Not yet. And anyway, it was only once that day I told you about it."
"No matter. Let me get my shit inside." Ed grabbed the handles on his suitcases again and hauled them into the house. He headed straight for the basement steps.
"Wait a minute, is that a new suitcase?" Winry asked, trailing after him. "What did you get that you needed a new suitcase to carry?"
"Oh, just this and that. I'll show you in a minute."
Ed spread both of the suitcases on their bed. He opened the first one, the one with his clothes. "First of all, this is my dad's old jacket, and he was the size of three normal sized people put together, so it didn't fit me." He pulled it out of the suitcase and went to hang it in the closet.
He knew as soon as he turned his back, Winry would open the other suitcase, and he wasn't disappointed. "...what is all of this?" she asked.
Ed looked at the stacks of books filling the second suitcase. There were about twenty of them, all different sizes and colors and lengths, but they all had one thing in common. "They're books about babies and stuff," Ed explained, picking up one of them. "I don't know much about this kind of thing, and I figured I'm going to have to learn."
"You're going to read all of these while I'm pregnant?" Winry asked, looking somewhat surprised by this.
"Sure. You can read a few too, if you want to," Ed suggested. "Oh, there's something else in here too." He put the book aside and rummaged around in the suitcase for a moment. And then he pulled out a tiny pair of baby pajamas. They were yellow in color and decorated with tiny orange lions. He held it up to her belly and nodded in approval. "I think it'll fit just fine. Oh, there's a matching hat too. See?"
"Ed..." Winry looked baffled. "You're a lot more excited about this than you were when you left."
Ed laughed. "I'm not, really. I'm just not as terrified as I was. See, I've figured it out, Win. I know what my dad did wrong, and I know how to fix it." He moved closer, discarding the pajamas and sliding his arms around her. "I'm going to make you three promises. And then I'm going to keep them.
"First of all, I'm going to love you and the baby and any other children we might have. I'm going to love you forever and ever, and nothing will ever stop me from loving you.
"Second, I am going to make sure you and the kid know that I love you. I'm going to tell you that I love you ever day, until you're sick of hearing it, but you'll never, ever have to wonder.
"And third, I'm going to make decisions based on what's best for you and for baby, and I'm not going to leave you hanging. Even if I'm scared or worried, I'm going to do what needs to be done, because you two mean that much to me."
Winry was hugging him back now, and tightly. He thought she might have been crying too, but he couldn't quite tell. If anything, he figured they were happy tears, and he didn't mind those so much. He brought a hand up to cradle the back of her head gently. "We're going to be just fine, Win."
"Yeah," she whispered. "I know."
After a moment of silence between them, Ed kissed the top of her head affectionately. "You know, Mustang offered me a job while I was there."
"What?" Winry looked up at him. If she had been crying, her eyes were dry now. "What sort of a job?"
"They're making an alchemy college sort of a thing for further education. It's funded by the government, but I know Mustang wouldn't be supporting anything that would churn out little state alchemists. He wondered if I wanted to be a professor."
A shadow of something crossed Winry's face as she looked at him, and Ed couldn't quite tell what it was about. "The college is in Central, right? So we'll have to move?"
"Hold on a minute. We're not moving to Central." Ed looked at her. "I told him no."
"You...didn't want teach?"
He shrugged. "It was rather tempting, actually. But you said you didn't want to move to Central, and I'd like to raise my kid around here anyway," he explained.
"We could have worked out something," Winry put in, frowning. "I don't want to be the reason you turned down something you wanted to do. You should have told him we'd talk about it, and—"
"Nah, it's all right," he assured her. "I think Al would be better suited for the job, don't you? And besides, Mustang found something else he wants me to do instead. Something I can do from here. I mean, I'll probably have to travel around a little bit, but..."
Winry looked at him. "What's that?"
Ed grinned a bit. "He wants me to write the textbooks."
It was a great idea, really. Ed could still flaunt his alchemical wisdom, and this way in a step by step process that would involve explaining why each symbol was the way it was, which would eliminate most of the mistakes. Mustang or someone would go over the books when he was done and test his circles. Ed could still be a part of something he loved so dearly without being in the middle of it.
"You...as a writer. That is not something I would have thought of before," Winry mused thoughtfully. "I think you'll be really good at that. And you can do it...from here?"
"Yeah. Like I said, I might have to travel around a little bit for research, but I'll keep it as brief as possible."
"But you know, Ed...we're going to have to move anyway. I was thinking about it while you were gone. It's probably not really very fair to Granny to have a baby around here, and we haven't any room for a nursery anyway," Winry pointed out. "I could have been content to be at home with the baby while you taught."
"You don't have to be content with that," Ed replied, looking down at her. "Did you forget? I own the property next door. You can still keep your automail shop, I can write still be a part of Mustang's college, and we can still raise our kid in the same place we grew up in."
Winry focused on his face for a moment thoughtfully, not saying anything as she let the information sink in. "You," she finally said, "are a genius."
Ed had heard that many times in his life from many different people. But as he leaned in to kiss his wife on the mouth as the pieces of their lives fell together accordingly, he reflected that it had never meant as much to him as it did when she said it.