Disclaimer: I don't own the world of FullMetal Alchemist: Hiromu Arakawa is the creator.
A/N: And so begins my one-shots series... I'm not sure how well this will work, but I'm gonna try. This was the first one I wrote set in this time line, and I'm pretty proud of the way it turned out. Anyway, this series is pre Ed/Winry, but I'm going to make subtle hints at their feelings for one another. The first chapter is based in the first anime series, not Brotherhood (although most of my others will most likely be more second series based). Please let me know how you like the idea for a little series like this, and enjoy!
*8/9/11* I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but I accidentally intertwine the first FMA anime series with Brotherhood, and the way I do is by referring to The Portal of Truth (Brotherhood) often as The Gate. Also, as you know, Truth doesn't actually appear in the first series, but it is in this chapter of Little Wonders. Well, I'm not going to change the part where I put Truth in here, because I like the line I used; but from now on, I will be making sure to take better care of putting the right name with the right story. I've gone back and edited all my other finished ones where I misused the name already, and if anyone else ever notices a place that I forgot to edit, I'd really appreciate it if you let me know ;).
Story One: Grateful
…Because she always knows what he needs…
Before Edward even woke up, he knew he was going to have a bad day.
The nightmares were the first thing that tipped him off. He hadn't been having them as much lately, but every now and then, a glimmer of blinding black and purple lights and utter hell crept into the few precious hours of sleep he got. The nighttime horrors were always the same: his leg being torn away, the white hot pain and blood it had brought along with it; the feeling of being inside The Gate, the black, hand like tentacles clinging greedily to his body, the world's knowledge flowing directly into his mind without relent; Truth's scornful words, voice cold and inhuman, an unnatural grin spread widely across its face; that thing that had been brought to life, lying brokenly in a puddle of its own blood inside the transmutation circle, breathing labored and shallow, its hand outstretched.
His mother. Ed had seen that thing as it reached across the room to him, and even though he knew it had to have been his mother, he couldn't accept it. Not after what he'd sacrificed. Not after losing Alphonse.
Al's screams were what truly haunted him. He would see his little brother's body being ripped away, as if he was a doll being pulled apart by the seams, his terrified, tear-filled voice calling to Edward, his hand reaching. Just like the monster.
And Ed had been so close, so close to just grabbing hold of his little brother and pulling him back. But when he had reached, all he'd grasped was empty air, and then the next thing he'd known, Alphonse had disappeared and he was at The Gate.
Every time Edward closed his eyes and fell to the phantoms, he would see Alphonse, tears on his face as he screamed, always reaching, and when he'd wake, Ed would feel a mixture of horror and relief.
Because, even though Alphonse had been lost to The Gate, Ed had been able to pull his soul back, attaching it to a suit of armor and saving his life.
But Edward asked himself millions of times, the question always present in the back of his mind, did it really save Al, or just seclude him to a life of unfeeling, unsleeping metal?
When Ed finally jerked awake from visions of blood and vomit and pain and aloneness, Al's cries still ringing in his ears, he spent several minutes trying to calm his rapid breathing. He had long since stopped screaming himself into consciousness, his one good hand clawing at air and the blankets that covered him, calling out Al's name and whimpering for their mother. Now, it merely took a few minutes for him to catch his breath, to remember that Alphonse wasn't gone and that he wasn't alone. Sighing warily, Ed eyed the white ceiling as sweat cooled on his heated body, his heart beat finally beginning to return to its normal pace.
As he lay there, Edward became aware of the ache in his new arm and leg, the ones made of automail, crafted by Granny Pinako and Winry. The prosthetic limbs had been attached almost four months ago, and he was growing stronger with them every day, but that didn't mean there weren't days where the foreign appendages just plain out hurt. He sat up, grunting, and only then did he realize something else.
Alphonse wasn't there.
Wild panic immediately tried to set in, but Edward pushed it away, even as his heart lurched slightly. Al was probably just busy helping Pinako with something, or maybe Winry had convinced him to spend the morning with her outside, enjoying the breeze (though she knew Al couldn't feel it). But what really surprised Ed was the fact that this was the first morning his brother wasn't there when he woke, just as he'd been every morning since Alphonse had first carried him, half unconscious and covered with his own sticky blood, in through the Rockbells' door front.
Edward knew that since Al no longer had a real body, he didn't require things like sleep and food, and from what he'd come to understand, his little brother found it a comfort to stay beside him as he slept. For the longest time, when the nightmares were the worst, Edward would wake on the verge of sobbing, eyes wild and desperate as they'd searched for Al's hulking form. He had always found him, sitting right next to his bed, a large hand placed soothingly on his head. "I'm here," Alphonse would murmur, voice soft and so full with love, pain evident there at having to see Edward hurting so much. And every time, Ed would latch onto his brother's gauntlet, squeezing it tightly with his left hand until his breathing finally settled, the pain of losing Al and his limbs slowly fading away. Before falling back asleep, he would pull Alphonse's hand close to his face and nuzzle into it, and Al would gently rub his cheek until Ed finally fell back to sleep.
He hadn't needed that reassurance in almost a month though, and while he'd told Al before that he didn't need to worry about staying with him the entire night, his little brother had simply shaken his head and said, "This is where I need to be."
Secretly, Edward had been extremely relieved to hear his brother say that, and it meant more to him than Al would ever know.
Edward got out of bed and hissed, glaring down at his automail leg. If the pain had just bothered his stump and thigh, it wouldn't have been so bad, but it was going all the way up into his hip as well. His arm wasn't quite as pained, but Ed could feel the beginnings of the burning ache as it traveled closer to his neck. Careful as to not cause any further pain, Ed stretched, starting first with his back and shoulders and wincing at the sting that it caused his recovering shoulder, then slowly reaching his arms up, releasing any tension from them. He followed, even more delicately, by extending his legs.
Wobbly, he walked across the room and out the door, rubbing his eyes as pale gray light flowed in through one of the windows of the house. The usual sounds of breakfast were absent, and when Ed walked into the kitchen, he realized that Pinako wasn't there. There were no dirty dishes, so he knew he hadn't missed breakfast, and after he had walked back into the hall and glanced out of a window, he realized that it wasn't even quite daylight yet.
Scowling and now irritated, Ed cursed his nightmares for waking him up when it wasn't even actually daytime. It would still be another half hour before the sun was actually up, Pinako along with it, and Edward usually didn't rise until at least eight, the sounds of breakfast cooking waking him. Now, though, he couldn't fall back asleep; not only because he was wide awake, but from the worsening pain in his leg and arm.
Edward walked toward the front door, grumbling as he went, and cracked it open slightly. He shivered when the cool air hit his exposed skin, then looked out across the yard and neighboring areas, searching for any sign of Alphonse. When it was obvious he wasn't at least in the surrounding vicinity, Ed shut the door, a little more loudly than he'd hoped, and he cringed at the scraping of wood, followed by the loud clacking sound the metal made as it slid home into its latch.
Once the house was silent again, Ed listened for the accustomed clanking noise that Al now made when he moved, but hearing nothing, headed back toward the kitchen to sit down before his leg gave out. When he was finally sitting in one of the chairs, he pulled the pants leg of his shorts up and placed his hand against the heated flesh and icy metal that was his leg.
The area surrounding the automail port was scarred over, darker than the rest of his skin, and was now pulled tight. It was hot to the touch, feverish like it had been the first weeks after attachment, and when he placed his hand on the automail, it was a stark contrast; the metal was cold and hard and smooth.
Moving his hand from his leg, Edward reached over and grabbed onto his right shoulder, squeezing it tightly, trying to take the ache away from it. His head was beginning to hurt now, right along the back of his skull and above his eyes, and along with a headache he could have done without, Ed was still worried about where Alphonse was.
If Ed hadn't been so focused on the pain that was eating at his body, he would have heard the soft pat pat of bare feet as they pattered down the worn steps of the house. It wasn't Pinako, who was never seen without some type of shoes on a day in her life, and it wasn't the clonking of Al's armor, so there was only one other person it could have been.
Edward, whose eyes had been previously closed, now looked up to see a sleepy Winry, one of her hands rubbing over her eyes in a very childlike manner. Her bangs were sticking out over her forehead, her hair tousled from sleep, down instead of held back; Ed hadn't noticed when it had gotten so long. Her eyes looked heavy, like she was still half asleep, and when she yawned, it was wide enough so that Ed could faintly make out the black space in her mouth where a tooth would soon be coming in.
As he watched her, this little tomboy whom he'd grown up with, wrestled with, and had gone on countless adventures with over the hills of Resembool, he realized that even though she tried to act mature and grown up, she was still just as much a child as he was.
But was he even a child anymore? He decided not to think about that.
Sitting up a little straighter, he asked, voice taking on its usual derisive tone, "Who else would it be?"
Winry, whom he realized was still a bit too sleepy to take up a chance at arguing with him, slightly nodded her head. She walked through the archway and into the kitchen, heading for one of the cabinets that held the glasses and drinkware. Reaching up, she removed a small glass, then, as if remembering Edward was sitting there, asked, "Do you want some too?"
Ed nodded his response, then watched as she got another glass out and moved to the sink, turning the faucet on and filling one glass, then the other. When she was finished, she walked toward him, her extended hand holding his drink.
He took it without giving any sign of thanks, and since Winry didn't chide him about being nice, he figured she must really be drowsy.
She pulled a chair out from under the table, then sat down beside him. Edward took a long swig of liquid, wiping the remaining off his top lip with his arm. It was nice, the way the water ran down his throat; if only it could make the rest of his body feel that way. Looking out the corner of his eye, Ed watched Winry as she swished the water in her glass back and forth, then as she lifted it to her lips and took a small sip.
They sat like that for a while, both drinking their water, neither talking; Edward had to admit it was nice, the silence, because Winry hardly ever stopped talking; but something felt off as well. She was never this quiet, even when she was trying to wake up.
Taking another sip, Winry asked, voice soft, "You okay?"
Of course, she would ask something like that. "M'fine," he murmured, looking anywhere but at her.
He growled and was about to retort with a nasty comment about her minding her own business, when he realized that she wasn't arguing or trying to ebb him on; she was just stating a fact, a fact she knew to be true.
Because he wasn't fine; his automail was on fire, burning away at the skin and nerves. The water, which he had hoped would make his head feel better, had instead simply cleared the grogginess from his mind so that he could feel the pain full on. He felt clammy and hot, afraid he might collapse if he stood for too long, but this was how he always felt when the automail flared up.
Instead of responding the way Winry would expect, Edward asked instead, "Why are you awake?"
She didn't look at him, but he saw the corners of her mouth turn up slightly. "Just couldn't sleep." She finished her water, then looked over at him. "You too, huh?"
"I never said that," Ed replied, but his conviction wasn't in it; if he used too much energy and spoke too loudly, it hurt his head.
"Whatever," she said.
Edward crossed his arms, ignoring her as he looked out into the living room, eyes glued to the window as silver rays of light poured in. He patted his foot against the floor, shaking his leg up and down; his good leg, not the one that was aching. Even as he tried to ignore the hurting, a stab of sharp pain that went up into his thigh caused him to nearly whimper. Somehow, with Herculean effort, he managed to lock his teeth and was able to hold it back for the most part.
Winry was watching him, he could feel it, but he didn't look back at her; he simply frowned as he stared into the den without really seeing, trying to force the pain away. He wouldn't take any pain pills, he told himself. He didn't need them anymore. He'd only taken them during the first month, when the pain had nearly made him cry, but after his body began to accept the new limbs, he had refused them. It was weak to have to take them, even if they did make the pain go away; you were still aware of the burning ache when you took the pills, but it dulled your senses and nerves and made you more relaxed, able to sleep.
Even as Edward pretended Winry wasn't there, he could still feel her gaze on him, and he was about fed up with it. Hands balled into fists, he turned to her and said, voice scathing and hard, "What are you looking at?"
A tinge of guilt immediately filled him as her eyes widened, looking almost like he'd slapped her, but he didn't dwell on it; he was more focused on what she wanted and, more importantly, trying to find a way to get his nerves and muscles to relax.
Winry watched him, blue eyes extremely dark in the light but containing a strange little knowing gleam, and she sighed. Standing from her seat, she sat her glass on the table, then gently reached out and took Ed's as well. He watched her as she went back to the sink and filled him another glass, then returned and handed it back to him.
Confused and more annoyed with his pain than her, he asked, "What are you doing?"
Instead of answering, Winry left the kitchen.
Edward sat, thinking. That's it? What the hell? But when he heard the sound of a cabinet opening, he listened carefully. He could hear Winry digging around, then the door squeaking quietly shut, and Winry's footsteps were suddenly coming from down the hall.
When she came back in, Winry had a small bottle in one hand, the cap already off, and two white pills cradled in her palm. She stopped in front of Edward, then reached down at took hold of his flesh hand, dropping the tablets from her hand to his.
"Winry, what are—"
"For the pain," she said, giving him a very serious look. "You honestly thought I wouldn't notice?"
"I had hoped," he muttered quietly, but Winry heard and sighed. "Look, I don't need them," he lied, wanting nothing more than to just swallow them down with the water. "The pain's not that bad."
She gave him a look that said she didn't believe a word he said.
"I don't need them," he said, voice dropping to an almost snarl.
"You're just too proud to take them," she said, her tone even and, surprisingly, not even holding a trace of anger. "Well, if you won't take them for yourself, take them for Al."
Ed felt his breathing catch as she said this, but before he ask what she meant, she was talking again.
"Do you think Al likes seeing you in pain? It hurts him; even though he can't feel physical pain, I know he still feels it somehow. You know it, too."
Edward looked away from her face to the pills, frowning at them. Of course, Alphonse could still feel pain; Ed knew that better than anyone. But did he have to take medicine to keep Al from hurting for him? "But they make he tired," he complained to her.
Winry sighed softly, and when Edward looked at her, a crooked little smile was on her face, something similar to understanding in her eyes. "These aren't the ones you took last time," she said. "They've got the same dosage that helps numb the pain, but they also keep it away longer, and you don't get as sleepy."
This sounded wonderfully temping to Edward, not being able to feel the spasms that were traveling up his thigh and shoulder, into his chest. Still, his pride held him back.
"Please?" Winry asked, voice sounding tired and concerned and, if Edward was correct, slightly scared and sad, her pale hand curling over his into a fist, the medicine against his palm and fingers.
And that did it, that one little word and the way she'd asked it.
"Okay." Pulling his hand back quickly, he popped the pills into his mouth, then took the water and swallowed half of it after them. He looked back up at her. "How long does it take?"
"About half an hour before you should start feeling real relief," she said, smiling down at him. She put the cap back on the container, then turned around and began heading for the door.
Winry nearly missed Edward's soft call of "Thanks" as she was leaving. Still, she had heard it, he noticed, and even though her back was to him, he could somehow tell she was smiling. Oddly, he felt a wave of satisfaction at having put that smile on her face.
"Next time, let me know when they're hurting you," she said without turning around, but Edward knew she realized just how much her act of compassion had meant to him.
And it had meant a lot to him, even if he didn't exactly realize why it meant so much.
He smiled softly to himself as she left.