And so we have it: the final chapter in the Little Wonders series. It's kind of fitting that the last update in this sequence is also the longest; that made me smile. Can you believe that I actually began this last story back in August? That was only two months after I started working on this series. I got the idea for this from something I wrote in my story Cleansing Rain:
The night they left for their journey, her smiling miserably, thinking at best, they would come back in a few years; at worst, they wouldn't return at all. He'd somehow found himself hugging her for the first time in years at that moment. He remembered the way her body had felt so large against his, yet so fragile, as he found himself hugging her with a painful longing he didn't know even existed.
I can remember trying to come up with an idea to end this series with, and then those lines popped into my head, and I began work as soon as I could. I left it alone for months, but the idea was still in my head, and over the months that followed (and mostly in the past week), it morphed into what it is now, and I must say that I am extremely proud of it, and this entire series as a whole.
The title for this the last chapter came as a surprise to me, as I had originally planned on entitling this "Valediction" (or farewell), as this was the end. However, as I became immersed in the story and with the plot that I was creating, I realized this wasn't going to fit along with the chapter. After discovering this and knowing what I wanted the theme to be, I searched through thesauruses and synonyms, until I found the perfect word, a word that means 'temporary'. Also, as a side note, I threw in some brotherly fluff, which came naturally and was not intended at the start, but I decided to go on and put it in anyway.
I want to thank everyone who has stuck with me these last seven months, June through December, and found reading Little Wonders worth your time, and a special thanks goes out to everyone who reviewed; you guys kept my hopes up. It's sad, ending this project, but it's also giving me a chance to begin new series, and I'm looking forward to the new year and the stories that will crop into my head.
But hey, who knows? I might decide to come back to this series one day; it depends on if an idea strikes me, which I have a very strong feeling it will. So don't be too surprised if you see this has been updated, even after being marked 'Complete' ;).
Story Ten: Transient
...Because this is not goodbye...
Today could turn out to be two things: the beginning or the end.
Edward chose to believe the first.
For the last several months, it had been as if time wanted to taunt him, to move slowly and force him to get over the restlessness and anxiety, to at least try and learn some patience. And he had lasted through it, possessing more endurance and strength than he'd ever thought possible, both physically and mentally. It had changed you, watching your younger brother disintegrate before your very eyes, to see him being pulled away and not being able to do a damn thing to stop it, his screams radiating in your ears and into your dreams, turning them to nightmares. It made Ed remember things he'd rather forget, see things he wouldn't find in the goriest of horror films, haunted him until he was a pitiful mass of sobs and heaves and shivers and wails, good hand clawing at the stumps that had once been his limbs to take on at least some of the pain Alphonse must have felt during his time in The Portal.
But he'd pulled through those first few months, only by the knowledge that Al was, for the moment, still alive and still with him, his little brother's presence the most calming thing he had ever known besides their mother's. Over the last year, most of his time had been consumed with adjusting to two automail limbs at the same time (a task difficult for even the strongest of men) and searching through alchemy texts, scanning fable after fable, formulas and theories, until he had found their one shot; a long shot, maybe even nothing more than a legend, but Edward was determined to prove whether the Fifth Element—The Philosopher's Stone—was real or not. His suitcase was packed, a few last minute things needed to be taken care of, and that was it; he was ready to go.
What worried him was if Alphonse was.
Edward walked down the dirt road, his back to the Rockbell home—his home for the last thirteen months. His movements were slow for once, unrushed and even somewhat relaxed, the sound of his automail foot creating a louder thud through the thick soul of his boot than his real one as he trumped onward, golden eyes scanning leisurely over everything in sight; the sky, clouded and gray but without rain, the trees that were just beginning to change colors, their leaves fading from soft green into fiery reds and yellows. Hills rolling with green, sheep out in the distant fields…this was Resembool, and he felt a pang in his chest at what—and who—he was leaving behind.
Edward shook his head as if to clear away the fog that tried to wrap around him, to keep him here, and he quickened his pace, shoving his hands deep in his pockets as he looked ahead, toward his destination. He wouldn't let himself be tempted into delaying their search for the Stone, not when he had Alphonse to think about, not when his brother was a constant reminder at just how badly he had screwed up, not when his own metal limbs only made him think of what he had lost instead of what he'd gained.
When his target came into view, Edward couldn't help the nervousness and shame that tinged his consciousness, and his movements stilled so that he was standing in the road, chewing at his bottom lip gently. He hadn't come here in months, and that in itself was enough to make him feel horrible; it was worse because he had been afraid to, and even now he could feel the dread creep up on him. But he couldn't hide from this forever, wouldn't try to, and so he resumed his trek, already able to feel his heart trying to lodge itself his throat.
Along the fence that had been present farther back than Edward's memory carried him, two tall, wooden posts loomed in front of him as he stood before the entrance to the cemetery. He took a deep breath in the hopes that it would calm him at least slightly and then slipped into the graveyard, lifting his left hand to brush his fingers over the aged wood of one of the posts. The sound of grass crunching beneath his feet, the feel of the cool air of his face and hands, entering his lungs, the blood pulsing through his veins and heart, they grounded him as he traveled through the stone markers, and Edward, though glad that he had finally come, was unable to get rid of the weight in his chest.
He passed where Winry's parents rested, pausing just a moment to give Urey's grave a nod and Sara's a tiny smile, and then he moved down one, then another, and stopped.
Standing there in front of the hard granite with the name Trisha Elric chiseled into it, Edward looked down tenderly at his mother's headstone.
When Trisha had died and left him hardly old enough to care for both his toddler brother and himself, all he had been able to do was sit before her gravestone and sob salty, hot tears, and when the grief wasn't quite so great, simply stare at her name, his thoughts wrapped around conjectures and notes he'd read in his father's books, probing his memories for anything he'd ever read about humans and life and death. He'd been desperate, frantic to hear his mother's voice and see her smile and simply feel her again, and so he had dragged Alphonse along after him into that hellish nightmare, resulting in the situation they were in now.
Edward wasn't going to back down; he would see this through and get Al's body back, even if he died in the process.
That didn't mean he wasn't scared, though.
Moving somewhat carefully even though his automail was perfectly fine and no longer difficult to control, Edward sat down cross-legged in front of the tombstone, hands resting in his lap as he halfway smiled, his eyes woebegone and feeling older than time itself. "Hey, Mom."
Garbed in all black, hair now long enough to have in a lengthy braid, he wondered what his mother would see if she were alive; however, he knew it would not be her little man. That Edward was dead, having been consumed in purple lights and black tentacles, mocking laughter and heart piercing cries. He was a sinner now, and Edward Elric, careless child and Al's protector, Winry's bodyguard, was gone. Now, he was Edward Elric, the FullMetal Alchemist, a dog of the military, the one who had condemned his brother to a life of cold steel and had brought his mother back to life, only to murder her; he had given up all ties to childhood, and while he had done it readily, it left a sore spot in his heart when his mind slipped away to days long ago, cavorting through tall summer grass, Alphonse and Winry at his heels, reading stories with his mother late at night and making her laugh.
He inhaled deeply, the faintest of trembles discernable, as his eyes slipped shut, and suddenly, even with youth long gone, he felt like a little kid again, talking to his mother and not even sure if she could hear him or not. "Sorry I haven't come in a while. Everything's just been…well, you know." His pinched at the screws in his right hand, metal cool between the pads of his digits, lungs constricted as if he couldn't get enough air. It was like drowning, and he knew good and well what drowning felt like, but this was different; there was no water, and yet it was hard to breathe, his chest so tight and heart aching as it pushed against his ribs. He looked off to the side, away from the gray stone and over the green knolls, able to see his old home, the house he had grown up in with his brother; the house where he had killed his mom.
Edward couldn't escape the guilt, both from his sins and from avoiding conversation about his mother with anyone save Alphonse, and even then the dialogue had been sparse. He knew she was gone, but he could almost imagine her watching him, listening and—to his surprise—not judging.
"I was scared to come here," he said softly, trying not to cringe at how little he sounded, at how defenseless he really was without her, even now, seven years later. "I couldn't come and face you, not after what we did…what I did." It was hard to speak now, his chest squeezing in on itself, and he felt the back of his eyes burn as he sighed wobbly, gazing at her name, the curves and sharp points of the letters. "But this is the last chance I've got, at least for now. I need this. I need to talk to you, even if you aren't there.
"You know what I did to Al. And that's why I'm the only one who can fix it, get him back to normal." Against his will, Ed felt wetness creep into his eyes and slightly obscure his vision, blurring the letters. "We're leaving, Mom. I'm getting Al's body back, and if I can, I'll try to get my arm and leg back. Al worries about me, even though he tries not to show it too much. Sometimes, I honestly think he might want to get me my limbs back than his own body." Edward laughed thickly, a slight, fond smile tugging his mouth up. "He's so selfless, and I can't say no to him.
"I…I have to do this. I know that, but still…I'm afraid. Something could go wrong, and then I could lose Al again, for good. I…I'm not ready to risk that. I never will be. But I have to try. I made a promise to him, that we would gets our bodies back, together, and I'm not breaking it." He closed his eyes and tried to fight back tears, throat hot and words breathy. "I don't expect forgiveness; I don't deserve it. But I just wanted to be here one last time before we leave, to talk to you like I used to and feel like I used to, and just remember you. So I came to say goodbye. I don't know when we'll be back, or even if I will. But I will definitely bring Alphonse home, safe and whole. I swear." Edward bit back a whimper. "I miss you, all the time. And please, please just know I love you."
When Edward opened his eyes, he was no longer the State Alchemist he had just days ago been made. He felt old and nakedly young at the same time, like the child he was if his age was considered and like the adult he'd become through the horrors he'd seen and the sins he'd committed, taboos broken and blood spilt, flesh torn and bones ripped from their hinges, screams shattering his sanity and puncturing his soul. He was in an in between state; his past self mixed with his present, future entity unknown and untouchable.
But he felt different, not in the way he'd grown accustomed to; this was something softer and less burdensome, almost like the innocence and ignorance he'd sacrificed that night a year ago. Edward blinked slowly at the emotions churning within, trying to understand what this was and what it was doing to him.
Ed felt…peaceful. Oddly enough, even with the looming departure and the possibility of losing everything he had, he felt, for the first time in a long time, calmed, if only slightly. It was enough though, and he smiled softly, knowing for the first time that somewhere, in a way that was far beyond his understanding and maybe past mankind's, his mother had heard him, her blessing like a soothing balm on his heart, spring warm and blue sky beautiful.
"Thank you," he said, barely above a whisper.
It was at that moment he realized he wasn't alone.
Slowly, Edward looked up to see the hulking mass of armor that was Alphonse, and immediately, something twitched in his chest, painful and yearning. He felt no anger at being eavesdropped on, even when he would have with Al if it had been a year ago; now, he felt warm, unsure and afraid and strong and loved, all because of his brother.
Ed unhurriedly stood and faced Alphonse, trying to discover what his brother was thinking and unable to, and he hated it, not being able to see Alphonse's expressions, the ones that had long ago made it so easy for him to read his little brother's emotions. He smiled weakly, sad and weary but completely and wholeheartedly real, a welcoming gesture better than any words, inviting his brother to speak freely.
There was a strangled sound that exited the armor, the closest thing Al could get to a sob, and Edward felt his smile falter, wobble and try to slip into trembling lips as Alphonse's soft cry perforated his heart and turned him inwardly to mush. His little brother looked at him, soul bright eyes intense and gripping, gaze shuddering. "Edward," he choked out, gauntlets rattling as they began to shake. The visor revealed nothing, Al's internal feelings hidden by a mask of metal; but it didn't really matter, because his words told Ed everything he needed to know.
Something sun bright hot burned within Ed, his soul deliciously on fire and the heat inside him blazing out through his eyes, and a delicious shiver traveled down his spine at his brother's voice, the way it caressed his name and said it with such openness and strength and ardent love. His felt feverish almost, a fierce longing scorching through his veins and pumping his heart faster. He wanted to see Alphonse again; not his soul, but his flesh and blood body, his honey eyes and beautiful smile, the same as their mother's. Edward wanted to reach out and place his fingers to Al's skin, to feel the heat of it beneath his fingers, warm and soft and blessedly alive, to hear his voice without the harsh echo. But it was impossible for Ed to say that he did not feel love for this armor, this body that housed his baby brother's soul and kept him living.
He grinned, blinking back moisture, and laughed tenderly.
And he knew Al could see the sincerity in his gaze and smile, could tell he understood everything he wasn't able to say aloud.
Hands still shaking, Alphonse asked softly, tears in his voice, "Brother…you…you're sure…?"
Of course he'd ask that, Edward thought, inwardly rolling his eyes affectionately. Even though Al knew Ed wouldn't shy away from this, he had to ask, just to make sure it was really what he wanted. And it was, because Ed couldn't imagine living, life normal or not, with Alphonse stuck in that empty shell for eternity.
So he softened his smile, a smile he saved just for Alphonse, and gently, surely, nodded.
Al didn't moved, but his frame seemed to relax slightly as he looked back at Edward. In return, he nodded his own head. "Okay then."
There was still a fragility to his tone, and it worried Ed, making him once again wonder if bringing Alphonse along was the right thing to do. He looked inquiringly at him, trying not to feel too nervous. "Are you?"
A chuckle, wet even without real tears. "Brother, we've discussed this. I'm going with you, and we're getting your arm and leg back, and my body."
Edward, not as concerned with himself as with Al, knew his brother had heard what he'd said, and he didn't like the way Alphonse tagged the last bit on, as if he felt the same way Ed did; determined to restore what his sibling had lost and throw care for himself to the wind. He cocked an eyebrow just slightly but was unable to stop from smiling. "You just don't want to be left behind," he teased gently.
Red-white eyes bore deeply into his. "No, I don't."
Breath catching for just a moment, Ed swallowed at the newfound thickness in his throat and blinked. "And I don't want you out of my sight. But I'm…" He trailed off, feeling a little self conscious.
"Scared?" Alphonse offered softly. "So am I."
"But I'm not worried about what might happen to me," Edward argued somewhat desperately, looking at the grass.
Al was quiet for a whole three seconds. "Oh," he said, and Ed could hear just by that one word that he understood exactly what he was referring to, and he looked back up at his little brother, bottom lip sucked under his top. "You mean me."
"I'm…nervous…that something might happen to you," Ed clarified, deciding not to use the word 'afraid'. "Al, I can't lose you. I can't."
Alphonse would have been smiling, Edward knew it. "Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere. But you…you do know I feel exactly the same way, right?"
Of course he did; Ed knew how his brother thought, and he smiled crookedly, giving a thick chuckle and basking in the soft glow inside his chest. Edward walked forward to where he was standing just before Alphonse, looking up at his little brother, just like always, and not able to be mad about it at the moment. He lifted his automail hand and gently knocked it against his brother's chest plate. "I'm not going anywhere," he said steadily, repeating Al's words.
When Alphonse spoke, Ed could hear the satisfied smile in his words. "Alright then. So we're sticking together."
"Just like always," Edward affirmed.
When he pulled his hand back, a thought occurred to him. "Did you come here to say goodbye too?"
Al looked from him to their mother's grave. "Yeah. But then I heard you and…oh, I'm sorry about that, Brother," he stuttered abashedly, turning back to Ed.
He grinned, actually laughed. "Don't be. But don't make a habit out of listening in on my private conversation," he joked.
"Right. Um, listen," Alphonse began quietly, "would you mind if…?"
Edward understood what he wanted immediately and smiled, knowing Alphonse wouldn't be able to bid their mother farewell with him listening; it was different for Ed, who hadn't even heard Al walk up, and so he nodded, already beginning to move. "Not at all," he answered, taking a quick moment to slide his left hand against Al's arm, over the icy metal and harsh edges, and was unable to dislike the feel of his brother's substitute body.
"Thanks," Alphonse said gratefully, and Edward heard turn him to watch him leave.
"I'll be at the house," he called over his shoulder.
Ed turned, cocking his eyebrows in a 'fire away' expression.
"Maybe you should talk to Winry."
The bottom dropped out his stomach, chest constricting just slightly and filling with cold shards, and Edward looked away, already uncomfortable. "You know it won't do any good."
"Just try. For her."
For Winry. The idea of starting a conversation with her right now was not desirable, especially after the last few days, Winry having been remote in her actions and rare in appearances and hardly saying anything, even when Edward had tried to speak to her. Albeit he himself hadn't said much since he'd gotten back from East City with his silver pocket watch and certificate of authentication, but it was as if she was finally realizing that they were, in fact, leaving, and had shut him out. Even Al received little response, although it was more than she gave Ed.
Still, she was his friend, his mechanic. She had made his arm and had helped with his leg, and while he would love to have his original limbs back, he couldn't help but feel a little proud of her when he looked at the automail she had made. He already kept so many things from her; a goodbye shouldn't be another thing to add to the list.
He sighed slowly, damming up his emotions, not allowing himself to be sad. "I'll try," he promised.
And he would. But whether he succeeded would be up to her.
Edward knew exactly where Winry would be.
He knew the way she worked, as much as he could understand a girl; she liked the familiar, but was not entirely afraid of the unknown. In times of hardship, she sought comfort and solitude, peacefulness. Which is why he knew she would be in her parents' bedroom.
The walk home had flown by, unfortunately for Edward, the sky calm and somewhat drab in its grayness. He had quietly snuck back into the house, somehow managing to avoid Pinako and her knowing eyes, and had crept up the stairs and down the hall, so that he now stood in front of the closed, wooden door that led into Urey and Sara Rockbell's old room. All was silent, but she was in there; she had to be.
Winry didn't enter this room very often, only when the weight on her shoulders grew too heavy a burden and she could no longer handle the problem alone; or it could be a simpler reason, as when he and Alphonse had found her slipping on dresses and wearing lipstick a few months ago, trying to, as he had dubbed it, "get in touch with her girly side, if she even had one".
But seeing her in that red dress and somehow knowing she would be able to wear it one day and look good in it, staring directly into her large eyes and watching them tear up, watching her smile her lipsticked smile at him…maybe she did have a feminine side. Edward highly doubted she would have been able to make him blush if she didn't.
Just thinking about that day made his face feel hot, and he frowned, not the least bit happy with the heat at the moment. True, she had looked…pretty. And when she wasn't fooling with tools and automail and didn't smell like grease and oil and sweat, she smelt…nice, he admitted, maybe even boarding on good. So what if she had the biggest, bluest eyes he had ever seen? That meant nothing.
Edward sighed softly, hanging his head. Who was he kidding? It meant everything.
How in the world was he going to tell her goodbye?
Looking back at the wooden door, he lifted his hand and softly gripped the knob, slowly taking a breath as he tried to keep levelheaded and regain his cool composure. He opened the door.
Musty old air filled his nostrils, but it wasn't unpleasant; beneath the age, he could still smell sweet lavender and strong muck, the smell of the room's deceased occupants. Curtains drawn, pale gray light flooded the room, making it seem a little less inviting than the bright afternoon sunlight he had felt the last time he'd been in here. The air was colder in the bedroom than downstairs, or even out in the hall, the closed door having blocked whatever heat flowed up the stairs.
A blonde haired girl in a pink dress was sitting on the large bed, just as she had most likely been for hours, her back to him and face to the windows.
Ed, eyes narrowing faintly, realized she had watched him leave. She had known where he was going, and she was watched him come back. She had been waiting.
He said nothing; the quiet creak of the door hinges had been his introduction. But she was silent, gave no sign she had even heard him, and he did not enter, his heart beating somewhat unsteadily in his chest and feeling caught between sadness and annoyance at her for ignoring him.
Was he scared? No, not really. Uneasy, however, was another matter entirely, and he felt it in his veins like adrenaline, hot and jumpy. This was just Winry, so why was he so panicky?
Because it wasn't just Winry, and he knew it. This wasn't just a quick chat, a verbal exchange that was abrupt and simple, short and without honesty, and she wasn't the same girl she had been a year ago; she had grown along with him, the only difference being that she still retained purity, and Edward saw this plainly; the way her eyes sparkled when a new tool was placed in her hands, her bashful smile when she was caught picking flowers, the bubbly laughter she always produced when truly happy, that honest, ringing sound that made him smile against his will. She wasn't simply his mechanic, or the girl next door: she was Winry and so much more.
And he would not, under any circumstances, screw this up with her.
Edward took a hesitant step inside the bedroom, then another, until he was standing somewhat awkwardly with his hands uselessly at his sides and staring expectantly at her back, feeling too large for his skin, itching and tense, trapped. Even though he didn't want to, he would begin the conversation if need be, and when she still remained silent, he knew it would be him starting off. So he left the next few moments empty, trying to decide how he should begin and flexing his flesh fingers out of habit, attempting to take even enough breaths to calm his still racing heart.
This shouldn't be this hard, Ed argued to himself, steadily growing more and more irritated at how he was unable to relax, to obtain an indifferent air, to gain enough control so that he would come off as unconcerned, just as he had been for most of his life with her. He kept her at arm's length, and often even farther than that, but that was simply to keep her safe.
Edward felt something jerk within him at the question that popped into his head, spoken in such a soft voice and asked with terrible sincerity, but before he had time to even lightly consider what had just occurred, Winry spoke.
"What took you?"
Ed blinked, then blinked again, taken aback. "Sorry?" he asked, beyond confused, his hands going slack.
She did not turn around, but even then, Edward could hear the almost smile in her words. "You've been back a while. How long were you standing out there?"
Slightly unnerved with how conscious she was of him but a bit glad of it as well, he felt a quick half smile lift one side of his mouth. "About four minutes," he answered honestly. "I, uh…I just didn't know how to, um…"
"Talk to me?"
He cursed silently at the way she had phrased it, like he thought her not worth his time, but kept himself from scowling. "Yeah."
"I see," she said softly, and he could detect no venom or malice in her voice, only faint regret, and, for reasons he could not yet comprehend, he felt something twist in his gut, almost like displeasure. "Could you close the door, please?"
Edward was not fond of the idea; one because then he really would be alone with her, and when that happened, there would be no quick escape, and two because of the way she had asked it, not demanding or with any real force, but leaving it up to him to decide whether to comply or not. Part of him, the part of him that was unable to help lashing out at her and losing his head when she got under his skin, wanted to keep the door wide open, just in case she decided to start throwing crap and he needed to run. But there was another part to him, one he wasn't quite as familiar with but had steadily developed over the course of the last year, that wanted, strangely enough, to do as she had asked, and that made him a bit more unnerved than it should have.
He turned back and closed the door, waiting until he heard the soft click so that Winry would know he had, in fact, shut it, before looking back at her, waiting.
It wasn't too long of a wait, for Winry stood a moment later and walked to the window, Ed watching as she placed her hand against the chilled glass. Reflected back at him was the dulled image of her face, pale skin and eyes that seemed, at the moment, far too large as they gazed out into the front yard, her lips neither a smile or a frown, the soft mist of her breath fogging the glass over.
And then Edward realized that maybe she was waiting too.
He had never been good with words; she knew this, as did everyone. He wasn't the best at handling situations like this, and he felt his palm begin to sweat, the other without sensation and forever frozen in its metallic state. Balling his hands into fists, Ed's eyes slipped shut against the image of her, and he swallowed past the lump that had somewhere along the way formed in his throat.
Edward drew in a steadying breath, eyes flashing open, and he took a few steps closer to her before stopping, keeping the distance between them still intact. "Listen," he began, trying to sound firm and almost succeeding. He softened his tone just slightly, staring down at the floorboards. "Winry, we—"
"You guys are leaving today, aren't you?" she said, more of a statement, still not looking at him, her voice soft and a little raw sounding.
Edward's hands relaxed from their fists and he looked up from the floor, able to feel his eyes widen as he was caught by surprise at her question; but it was only for only a second, and then his eyebrows and mouth turned down in a small frown. She had known from the beginning they would leave, but he hadn't actually told her when they would, and so he wasn't entirely sure what had tipped her off that their departure was, in fact, that day. But maybe she just knew him well enough to understand these things. This was Winry, and over the last few weeks, she had seemed almost like she was waiting for the moment of their leave-taking. Maybe it was because she was so in tune with Edward that she could feel his emotions and know when he was restless, as he was now. Of course she would know.
Still, that wasn't going to make telling her goodbye any easier.
His throat felt funny, like he couldn't get enough air and was choking on how much he inhaled all at the same time, and it hurt to swallow. Trying to keep his voice as even as possible and only just failing, he took a breath and answered, "Yes. Tonight."
They stood there in painful silence, Winry contemplating and Edward caught between sadness at leaving home and excitement at the thrill of being on the road, just him and Al. Neither spoke for a time, their minds whirring, although Ed quickly began to feel anxious and uncomfortable, a strange smothering feeling filling his chest as he stared nervously at her back.
Just as he was about to break the awkward silence with a lame excuse to leave, he heard Winry give a small, shallow sigh that was filled with something Edward could only identify as acceptance. She turned around to face him, and he felt his eyes go round as she looked at him and he looked back.
He had barely even seen her any this morning, so it came as somewhat of a shock to realize just how pale she really was at the moment, face wane and tired and, for the first time since he could remember, not giving away any signs of the way she felt. Her big blue eyes were tearless but were swimming, like they could mist over at any moment.
Winry's lips lifted to the right for a fraction of a second in an attempt at a smile. "Alright then," she said.
Ed felt his mouth drop open slightly, golden eyes large and pupils shrinking as he watched her give him another weak smile that did not light up her eyes in any way. Confusion and a strange grief pushed at his gut, making his voice come out a little strangled when he asked, "Huh?"
"I said alright." Winry walked away from the window slowly, until she was standing a few feet away from him, fingers laced together as she held her hands in front of her. She gave a half sigh, as if trying to decide how to choose her words. "There's nothing I can say to make you change your mind, to make you stay. And even then, I don't think I would."
"But why?" Edward asked, throwing his hands out at his sides for emphasis, not even able to care about the roughness of his voice; he was too consumed with that horrible constriction in his chest as he looked at her, heard her voice, that made him want to, strangely enough, reach out and feel her, touch her skin or hair, to remind himself she was real and, for this moment, he was still here.
A strange tone sunk into her voice, one Edward couldn't understand at first. "Because I want Al back too, and he's the most important thing to you. That's the way it should be."
Ed felt his lips part, watching her with a foreign appreciation. This wasn't the same Winry as before; it was still her, but at the same time, she was different. Winry, this Winry, was understanding and knew his every flaw yet liked him even then, maybe even more at the times when he was weakest or made mistakes. She was a comfort, and while he still didn't plan on telling her the darker secrets he kept deep inside his heart, maybe there would be something he could share with her one day.
There was nothing he could say to that, nothing that had any real meaning at least. So he blinked, clearing his throat and looking away. "Yeah," he muttered, and instantly regretted having said anything, the word dumbly ringing in his ears.
Winry seemed not to notice, or chose not to. Her expression remained a steady mask, but she was unable to hide all emotion from her eyes; Edward saw the slight hurt in them, the dullness that was threatened to be overcome by moisture at any given moment. And then his thoughts were pulled back to what she had just said and the tone she had spoken it in, the way she had seemed the smallest bit distant and upset, words uttered quickly.
And it hit him.
Edward had often heard people say figuratively that when you got an idea or realized something, a light bulb lit up above your head. If that had been an actual occurrence, he knew one would have just blinked aglow over him, because, to his utter shock, he realized that Winry had actually sounded a bit jealous, her words slightly clipped and the tiniest bit bitter.
He couldn't smile, not yet, even as that knowledge filled him with a strange delight that he didn't understand, one that normally would have made him angry. But he felt the smile in his eyes, sincere and almost joking, as he gave a half laugh that came out far too strangled. "You're not gonna miss us too much, are you?"
This was clearly the wrong thing to say, because Winry's eyes flared up and flashed with anger, and her eyebrows drew downward severely as she gave him a very pronounced frown. "That's not funny, Ed. Don't…don't joke about this."
And then his own control snapped, and he glared right back at her, scowl matching hers in anger. "Then what would you have me do, hmm?" he asked, tone biting. Who was she to get made at him? She'd known this was coming; she accepted it. So why was she being such a brat now? "You want me to pretend like leaving doesn't bother me? Well, I hate to disappoint you, princess," he sneered, "but I can't. I figured you'd rather have me be honest than lie anyway, that's what you always say."
"You don't have to be a jerk about it!" she snarled back wrathfully, using her height as an advantage to tower over him.
Unfortunately for her, Edward wasn't daunted in the least, and he pushed himself up closer to her, eyes dangerous in their glare, and he saw something in her own waver; her determination. "I wasn't being a jerk!" he hollered back. "I was asking you a question and trying not to make this any harder for you than it already is!"
"Well, it's not working!"
"I think I've figure that out."
He didn't even see her arms shoot up, and it shocked him enough so that he couldn't think of anything to say when she shoved viciously against his chest and managed to push him two steps back. "Good, so why don't leave already, alchemy freak? I don't even want you here!"
He stared at her for a moment, watching her hair fall in front of her face as she lowered her head, hands still pressed to his chest, her fingers gripping his shirt tightly. Her body was heaving for breath, as was his, and, slowly, he felt his frown begin to lessen, even as his eyebrows remained furrowed.
Edward felt a faint jerk over his heart, and when he looked down, his lips parted in a jagged breath as he saw Winry's petite hands trembling, hands that no longer looked like the strong ones that grafted his arm or took hold of his own hand as she led him from one place to the next. His hands lifted unconsciously so that it looked as if he were about to touch her shoulders. "Winry," came his choked whisper.
When she lifted her face, she was glaring at him with bright cerulean eyes filled with wetness, eyebrows quivering, biting at her bottom lip. Tears were evident as they filled her eyes, but they did not fall, and Edward realized with half pride, half heartache that she refused to let them. "What?" she asked cynically, more of a sob than a growl.
At the sight of Winry this miserable and afraid and refusing to cry in front of him, something blazing shot up his back and through his entire body, and his hands twitched, wanting to reach out and, strangely enough, squeeze her so hard she disappeared.
He couldn't move, too shocked was he, and he stared down into her eyes and she up into his, her entire body beginning to shake now, his hands several inches from her arms and her hands gripping his shirt so tightly her knuckled turned white.
"You don't mean that," he said softly, voice hitching. "You don't. Please tell me you're not serious."
The affect her words had on him was disturbing, and it occurred to him that if this had been a year ago, or even three months ago, they wouldn't have bothered him. Now, however, they made doubt flash in his mind and something swell up in his stomach that was almost fear.
She couldn't mean that, could she?
Winry gave a harsh, fragile laugh, glare alleviating just slightly. "Of course not," she replied wetly, honestly.
As he watched her, Ed saw one solitary, crystal tear streak her left cheek, blue eyes glittering with more that were ready to fall.
And for Edward, everything snapped into perspective, clear and obvious.
He was suddenly aware of each breath that entered his lungs and exited them, hands that ached in their longing, the thudding of his heart, the pounding of blood in his ears…
And then…something changed. Changed in him. Changed him.
It was subtle, barely even noticeable, a strangely delicate thing that made his heart skip a beat and his constricted chest tremble into a captivity he found himself not wanting to break free from, breath exiting his lungs in a soft exhalation. He felt…different. Not bad, but…altered, like he was no longer entirely himself, like there was something else inside of him that hadn't been there before, and he couldn't decipher what it was. He was only sure where it came from, what caused this change, and that was the girl in front of him; her eyes and voice and her smile, all so welcoming and, bizarrely enough, perfect, summing up Winry so well that it nearly hurt, this alien inside of his heart.
And, to his amazement, he realized he didn't want to leave her.
Then next thing he knew, Edward had his head resting on her shoulder, hands on her biceps and gently pulling her to him, not quite conscious of what exactly he was doing and yet fully aware that it felt right.
A surprised squeak from Winry, and then silence. Her frame spasmed against his body, and he felt himself stroke his thumbs comfortingly along her arm, rubbing soothing circles along the bare skin.
Edward felt a breath sob against his neck, and then she had her arms wrapped firmly around his waist, holding onto him with a strength he had not known she possessed, her body shaking with tears. He could feel them soaking into his shirt, and he didn't care, too caught up in the way his own arms were now wrapped around her shoulders, automail hand pressed more gently to her back than his left, and the way he had impulsively hidden his face in her shoulder just moments after she had in his. E felt her bite down on a cry, her hands fisting in the back of his shirt, and a sputtering laugh made its way out of his mouth as he blinked his own eyes against their sudden wetness; this made it twice now that he had nearly cried today.
He would never have imagined Winry reducing him to tears, never even thought it possible. Not many people could; Alphonse, definitely, and his mother long ago, but Winry? It was sad to watch the big tears falling down her cheeks, and even painful, but it never hurt like this. Then again, he had never been this breakable around her, this open and unsure and tired, even while he was still trying to move forward. More than that, though, was the fact that he had never had Winry openly crying into his shoulder, her taller body feeling so utterly small and weak against his, and he found himself once again being the rock, comforting and sure. He'd been Alphonse's for years; now he would be Winry's, and he didn't dislike it.
"I'm sorry," he murmured hoarsely, flesh hand catching momentarily in her ponytail. "I didn't mean to make you cry."
He felt more than heard her strangled laugh, and she gripped him tighter. "You stupid ass," she returned thickly, and this time, he was truly able to laugh, though it was filled with the oncoming tears he was just barely managing to gain control over. "You don't need to apologize," she continued. "I should be."
"No. It's fine."
Winry sniffed, her head twisting against him as she attempted to look up, and Ed followed suit and looked down so that they were gazing at each other. Her face was smeared with saltwater, eyes swollen and gleaming as more tears made tracks down her cheeks, but she didn't release him to wipe her eyes. She looked tired now but somehow better, as if crying had helped her vent her troubles and fears.
An epiphany came to him then, the answer to the question asked minutes ago in his mind, one he hadn't been able to understand then. He had said he kept Winry at arm's length to protect her, but maybe it was the other way around; maybe he did it to protect himself. From what, he didn't know yet, but it couldn't be holding onto her, actually being truthful, giving her the comfort she wished for and receiving it himself in turn; it couldn't be this. And he realized that even if it was, he didn't want it to be. He wouldn't let it be.
Edward had no clue what his face looked like, but he could feel the weak smile slipping over his features, the stinging of his eyes, and he pulled lightly at her hair. "Honestly, Win," he began, stopping to clear his voice. "Don't you know how much I'm going to miss you?"
She blinked, more tears sliding out from the corners of her eyes. "You…you mean that?"
He tried not to roll his eyes and instead pushed his forehead to hers reassuringly. "Of course. I try not to lie too much, remember?"
Blue eyes were troubled. "But what…what if you and Al…"
He cocked an golden brow. "What? Don't get out bodies back?"
Winry's eyes slipped shut against his, and a trembling breath fanned out over his face, briefly knocking him senseless. "Don't come home," she whispered, voice catching.
Edward closed his own eyes, smile slowly tapering sadly, and he sighed. So that's what has her worried, he thought warmly, forlornly, releasing her hair and placing both hands soothingly to her thin back, able to feel her shoulder blades. He opened his eyes. "Do you trust me?"
Her eyes shot open wide, bewildered and wet, and she pulled back slightly. "What?"
He brushed his left hand up her spine, briefly cupping her neck, then traveling to the back of her head. "Do you trust me?" he repeated gently, not quite smiling.
Winry looked at him fixedly, gaze certain and sincere. "You know I do."
"Then tell me you do."
She sighed and took a deep breath, then watched him with big, beautiful blue eyes, eyes that, for some reason, he found extremely fascinating at the moment. She nodded, giving him a watery smile. "I trust you."
The feel of her head against his palm, her chest against his, her arms steady in their hold, it was all enough for Edward to find himself flushing, to feel a goofy smile working its way onto his face. But it was her eyes and the surety in her voice that made him feel like he was floating.
He grinned at her, hand sliding quickly through her hair, ruffling it. "Then believe me when I say we will come home. Both of us," he elaborated, filled with a determination he hadn't felt before, one he had a very good idea came from Winry. He would come back with Al, limbs restored or not. He felt his face grow hot again, and he tried to calm the blush covering his cheeks as he asked roughly, "Why wouldn't we when we have you waiting for us?"
Edward watched her blink and found himself waiting nervously, trying not to frown at how he couldn't stop blushing. But then she finally smiled at him, eyes gentle and affectionate, tears still spilling from them. "You'd better," she said as she lifted one of her hands and gently butted her palm to Ed's head, no threat whatsoever in her voice. "Or I might just have to hit you."
He laughed, removing his hand from her head and gently resting it over the one that rested against his forehead. "I don't doubt that."
Winry smiled softly back, giving a small chuckle. Something, however, glazed her eyes over, and before Edward could ask what was wrong, she had quickly pulled herself back to his chest, receiving a startled, flustered yelp from Edward.
"H-hey! Winry, what…?" He trailed off, able to sense a faint shudder throughout her frame.
"I'm going to miss you," she admitted softly, keeping her face hidden.
Ed blinked, then smiled, surprised and slightly pleased and a little sad and the smallest bit exasperated with her. But more than anything, he couldn't get over the amazingly bright, fervently hot feeling in his chest, like he'd just won a prize far greater than the Philosopher's Stone, if that was even possible. God, she's incredible.
He pulled his arms back around her and shoved his face in her shoulder, smiling against her somewhat sorrowfully. "I know. I'm going to miss you too."
"How long…how long do you think you'll be gone?" she asked tentatively.
Edward sighed, closing his eyes. "I don't know." He felt her shoulders droop slightly, and he intensified his hold on her, lifting his head to look at her. "Don't be sad. Please?" he asked somewhat worriedly.
She sniffled into his shirt. "How can you expect me not to be?"
She was right, of course. Still, he couldn't let it go. "Then don't think about it time wise," he told her softly, fingers playing with the tips of her hair.
He watched as she hesitantly looked at him, eyes filled with tears once again. "What do you mean?"
Edward didn't smile, instead watching at her with intense eyes, serious and heartfelt. "It's not gonna be forever. It's just for now. We can go off for a while, but we'll always come home." Instead of looking away like he wanted to, he forced his eyes to stay locked with hers, ignoring the hotness of his cheeks and the way his voice tried to catch. "I'll always come home."
He watched her eyes widen, saw a tears slip down each cheek, and then she was smiling brilliantly up at him, eyes honest in their sparkle. She straightened up so that she was once again having to gaze down at him, but he didn't mind, not when she was looking at him like that, with eyes bluer than any ocean he'd ever seen and smile pretty enough to make angels cry.
"For now?" she asked quietly, leaning forward to press her forehead to his, arms holding onto him tightly, hands pressed flat to his back.
He chuckled, deep in his chest, as he looked back at her. Even now, cheeks streaked with tear tracks and eyes puffy, her hair disheveled, Edward knew he'd never seen her look more dazzling. "For now," he agreed.
Later, when daylight had long ago vanished and the blackness of night was upon the earth, four people stood before a burning house, red hot flames licking and swirling in the wind. October 3, 1911; the date that Edward Elric had carved inside his Sate Alchemist pocket watch just hours before, the day him and his brother were burning their home to the ground and leaving everything behind. He watched as flame licked at the windowpanes, charred through support beams and devoured everything within reach, heat blasting against his face. Not looking at his hand, he gripped the torch tightly, then lifted it and tossed it into the inferno.
"Well, there's no going back for us now, brother," he said softly to Alphonse at his right, keeping his eyes locked on the burning structure.
"Yeah," Alphonse replied without hesitation, voice confident and filled with sorrow and determination.
At that moment, Edward felt pride surge through him at his little brother's strength, but he said nothing; he knew Alphonse was already aware of how he felt.
As he watched the house that had long ago been his home crack and sizzle in the orange flames, a deep sadness filled him, one that would always be present. Edward realized what he was giving up, and he knew they couldn't turn back; but that did little to soothe the ache in his chest as he saw the glass of a window pop outward.
To Al's right, Pinako was silent as she watched blaze, and Ed had no idea what she was thinking; but he was glad she had come, even though he and Alphonse had originally planned on doing this alone.
Winry had changed that. After the soft moment shared between her and Ed in her parents' room and when Edward and Alphonse were together, they had explained to her what they were going to do. She, before they had barely even finished, had immediately told them she was coming as well.
"Winry, that's alright," Alphonse had argued gently. "You shouldn't have to see that."
"Al's right," Edward had said, looking at her with kind but firm eyes.
But it had done little to dissuade her, and she had looked imploringly at him rather than his younger brother. "Please? If you don't want me there, that's fine. I can understand why you wouldn't. But if you'll let me come, I want to. I…I want to be there for you two."
Ed's resolve had held out for about six seconds. But then he had sighed, rolling his eyes upward. "Fine," he'd relented, trying to sound mad but unable to, secretly glad she would be there to support him.
Now, he found himself looking to his left, turning to see how Winry was fairing.
Unsurprisingly, large tears were rolling down her face as she looked steadily at the scene before them, her hands shaking fists, tears dripping off of her chin.
Edward couldn't help it; he felt a tired, genuine smile pull at his lips, and laughed softly.
Winry looked up and, realizing she had been caught, promptly rubbed an arm over her eyes, trying to wipe away her tears.
He felt his smile grow tender. "What are you crying for, Winry?"
She hiccupped quietly, trying not to let Al or her grandmother discover that she had broken down, Den sitting faithfully at her feet and watching her with concerned brown eyes. "B-because," she replied quietly, not choosing to complete the thought.
It wasn't needed. Edward understood, and his smile fled him slowly.
She was trying, attempting to be strong and handle this as best she could, and Edward felt his eyes soften with respect for her. Winry would miss them, maybe him more than his brother, he realized.
And he would miss her. Terribly.
His heart hurt at seeing her like this, at knowing he probably wouldn't even get to see her at all for a long while. But instead of letting that sadness overcome him, he gave a thick, low chuckle and placed his hand on the top of her head.
Lowering her arm, she looked at him tearfully, bottom lip quivering. He felt himself smile crookedly.
"Don't forget," he said affectionately. "This isn't forever: it's just for now. Right?"
Through her tears, Winry smiled, placing her fingers to the back of his hand. "Right," she acquiesced, nodding.
A warmth flooded him that had nothing to do with the fire, but he said nothing else, instead lowering his hand and looking back to the flames. But he didn't miss the small fingers when they twined through his, and he gladly accepted them and locked his own around hers, gripping her hand with just as much strength as she did his, flesh on flesh.
This wasn't goodbye, not really. He would be back.
And she would be waiting.
Today, after all, was just the beginning.
What's your little wonder?