The next day, the doctor declared that it was time for Ed to be up and moving at last. After the third time Ed used his newfound independence to come into her workshop and nag her about the arm, she put away her tools and declared it was time for a picnic. She packed a basket (which Al carried), and found a blanket for them to lie on. Ed tried to pretend that he was healed up, but Winry could see how tired he still was. He made excuses to stop and rest twice on the few blocks' walk to the park. When they arrived, he flopped back on her blanket with a sigh of relief. "Whadja bring, Winry?" he asked, his voice rough with exertion. "I'm starving."
She opened the basket, and began pulling out the food. "You're always starving," she said, rolling her eyes. She passed him a plate with some salad and sliced meats. He frowned, looking at the greens, but started eating.
"How's the arm coming?" he asked.
She laughed. "You really are in a hurry to get out of here, aren't you?" she said.
He sighed. "I hate just sitting here. It feels like we should be doing something."
"Brother's just upset because we couldn't find Mei," Al said.
"Mei?" Winry asked, her voice teasing. "Have you met someone, Ed?"
Ed rolled his eyes. "She doesn't even like me," he said. "She's got a crush on Al, though."
Al's armor managed to cringe, somehow. "She does not!" he said, and turned away uncomfortably. "Um. But, anyway, Brother thinks that Xingese alkahestry might help us get our bodies back, and Mei is Xingese and knows alkahestry, so we were trying to find her."
"Her and that stupid cat of hers," Ed said, cryptically. He scowled.
"But no luck," Al said, mournfully. "She left, and we can't find her. Maybe we'll have to go to Xing."
"We can't go to Xing," Ed said, rapping his knuckles against Al's armor. "Besides, I bet she hasn't left Amestris yet."
"You might be right, Brother," Al said, dubiously.
"Of course I'm right!" Ed said, brash and confident. Suddenly, he relaxed, frowning, leaning his head back. "I wish we weren't stuck here right now, though."
Winry wanted to take offense at that. This picnic felt very normal, very relaxed. If she didn't look too closely at Ed's missing arm or at the white bandages peeking out from underneath his shirt, she could almost tell herself that they were regular kids on a regular outing with no cares in the world. If they were regular kids, the implication that Ed wanted to be somewhere else than here with her would sting. They weren't regular kids, though. Winry had known for years that even though Ed might come home for maintenance, he'd never stay- not as long as Al was still trapped in that big metal body. "I could have your arm done by tomorrow if I stayed up all night," she offered. "But you're not ready to travel yet anyway."
Ed stretched, then winced, putting his hand to the wounds on his chest. "I guess not," he said, frowning.
"Eat your liver," Winry told him, pointing to the plate she'd given him.
Ed stopped with a slice halfway to his mouth. "You're feeding me liver?" he asked, looking horrified at his fork. "What's wrong with you, Winry?"
"What's wrong with me?" she echoed, tartly. "I'm just trying to feed you some of the foods that Doctor Hess said would help you recover. I thought you were in a hurry to get out of here!"
"That doesn't mean I want to eat liver," he protested.
"Don't be stupid," she snapped at him. "You ate half the plate before I told you what it was."
"She's right, Brother," Al put in, sensibly. "It must taste okay, or you wouldn't have eaten it. And the doctor did say it would be good for your injuries."
"Fine," Ed said, scowling. He put a bite in his mouth, chewed and swallowed. "You don't want to put this on your list, though, Al," he said, darkly.
"I don't know," Al said, loftily. "If I was injured, and Winry made me liver to eat, I bet I would like it a lot."
If Al could get injured, Winry could see Ed thinking. If Al could eat. "I bet you would," Ed said, cheerfully, putting a hand on Al's armored leg. "At least she didn't bring milk, huh, Al?"
"Who says I didn't?" Winry asked, slyly.
"Winry!" Ed whined. "I hate that stuff! I won't drink it!"
Winry laughed. "That's why you'll stay a shrimp forever, Ed," she told him, and that was enough to start the screaming. Twenty minutes later, they were still shouting, breathless with anger and laughter both.
Al pulled them apart from each other, holding the scruffs of their necks with his big black hands. "Are you done yet?" he asked, mournfully.
Winry collapsed into a fit of giggles. "I'm done," she said. "Ed?"
Winded, Ed waved his assent, and collapsed back onto the blanket. "I'm still not drinking it," he said, stubbornly.
"I didn't even bring any milk," Winry confessed, grinning.
"What?" Ed asked, incredulous.
"Don't start again," Al said, pleading.
"I'm sorry that you were injured," Winry said, suddenly. "But I'm not sorry you're here. Both of you. I can't think when we last got to just-" she broke off, not sure how to phrase it. "I'm having a good time," she tried. She laid back on the blanket, looking at the sky.
"It's nice out here," Ed agreed. "The weather is really nice." He wrinkled his nose. "Fine, the liver is okay, too."
"I know you'll be leaving again as soon as you can," Winry said, softly. "But I'm enjoying this for now."
"We are too," Al said, earnestly.
Winry smiled. "I'll tell you what I did bring, though," she said. "I made an apple pie."
Later, lying on his back, eating pie from a plate on his stomach, Ed grinned. "I think it might be better than Miss Gracia's," he said. Winry blushed.
"It's definitely going to the top of my list," Al agreed.
Ed slept well past noon the next day. It was a long time to be unconscious, but at least it wasn't the still and motionless sleep of the seriously injured. He slept like he usually did- turning all around and getting himself twisted up in the covers. Al watched him with helpless affection. "Brother seems better," he commented. Ed ate a mountain of food when he woke up, and Winry had to agree.
That night, there was a lightning storm. Rain pounded on the roof and windows of Atelier Garfiel, and the sky was lit by flashes of light. The three of them gathered in Winry's room. Al sat next to the window, and Ed and Winry flopped on the bed, watching the rain fall. "It looks like alchemy," Ed said, wistfully, as the lightning arced through the sky. His good hand curved unconsciously into the shape of a transmutation circle.
Winry looked out the window, watching that sheer power lance through the sky. "I guess it does," she said. And what does that make you and Al? she thought, That you can make lightning with your fingertips? She shivered.
"It makes me think of the night that baby was born," Al said, thoughtfully.
"This storm isn't nearly as bad as that one was," Winry said, remembering that night- the fear, the exhaustion, the wonder and joy. She smiled.
"That was amazing," Ed said, and she knew that he was remembering those things, too.
"Winry was amazing," Al said. "Sometimes, when I'm scared, I think of that night and how brave you were, Winry."
Winry blushed. "It wasn't brave," she said. "Satella was the one who had to be brave. I was just trying to help."
"Still," Ed said, looking at her, his expression thoughtful.
They were quiet for a little while, then. Ed and Al watched the lightning. Winry watched Ed, the light flashing against his pale eyes. He looked sad, and restless, and contemplative. "We can fit your arm on tomorrow," she said, reluctantly. She knew that Ed would be off as soon as his arm was reattached, no matter how wounded he still was. Part of her wanted to drag the repairs out, to keep him here a little bit longer. She shook her head. She could support Ed in moving forward, or she could try to keep him safe. She couldn't do both, and she had made her choice years ago.
"Good," Ed said, and she wasn't sure if it was her imagination that he sounded a little reluctant.
"I can finish your leg repairs then, too," she added. "But don't go getting into any big fights! You really will damage your ports if you keep taking hard hits on your automail. And you're still not really healed, so you better take it slow, anyway. And-"
"Fine, fine," Ed said, waving her off. He flopped back on the bed so that his head was next to her lap. Looking at her, he held his hand up to her face, almost brushing her cheek with his fingertips. "I'll take it slow," he said. "You can even pack up some liver to send with me, okay?"
"Okay," she said, almost a whisper. "Okay."
Ed slept late again the next day. He wandered downstairs sometime in the early afternoon. Winry was busy adjusting Mr. Porter's arm, but Ed didn't interrupt; he just sat quietly in a chair in the corner of the room.
"There you go," Winry told Mr. Porter when she was done. "You shouldn't have any more problems with the elbow clicking. Just try to keep up on your maintenance better!" He sheepishly agreed, flexing his newly-repaired to test the range of motion.
When he was gone, she looked over to Ed. He was slumped against the wall, his arm wrapped around his torso and his head down. His golden hair hung loose around his face; he'd apparently not bothered to pull it back this morning.
"Ed?" she said, softly, not wanting to wake him if he was asleep.
He stirred. "I'm awake," he said, opening his eyes and yawning. "I'm just trying to get in as much sleep as I can before I go."
"Are you headed back to Central after this?" she asked, putting her tools in order.
"East," Ed said. "We got word that Mei was sighted at the East train station. Maybe if we go there, we might be able to pick up her trail."
Winry nodded. "You're leaving tomorrow, then?"
Ed shrugged. "As long as I've got an arm that works," he said.
"You can lie down then, if you're ready," she said. "I can do the installation now." She started laying out the tools she needed for the job.
He unbuttoned his shirt. It was awkward one-handed, but Winry knew that he had enough experience not to need help. He shrugged out of the shirt, set it on the chair, and laid down on the table. Winry pulled the light over. Automatically, she started the physical checks. She needed to make sure that the automail port wasn't putting undue strain on Ed's spine, that his muscles were strong enough to bear the weight, that there were no stress fractures in his shoulder or rib bones. He submitted to her prodding without comment, staring off into the distance. "You've been keeping up with your exercises," she said. Automail users had to do physical therapy the rest of their lives or risk having the weight of the automail damage them.
"Yeah," he said. "I try to keep in shape."
He was. His chest was lean and well-muscled, the result of lots of practice and far too much fighting. The bandages on his chest were also the result of that, she supposed. "I'd like to look at your chest," she said. Ed shrugged.
Carefully, she unwound the gauze over his wounds. They were still weeping a little, she noted, but not too much. The stitches were ugly and black against the paleness of his skin. She examined them closely. The edges of his wounds were puffy and red, but not more so than was usual for this stage of healing. At some point, weeks or months from now, this would all be healed. He'd have another set of scars to show for this adventure to match the sword-cuts on his shoulders, and the rake-marks across his belly, and the cut over his eye. She sighed. "I asked Doctor Hess to come check on you this evening," she told him. "He won't take your stitches out, though. You'll have to get someone in East to do it."
"Or take them out myself," Ed said.
"Don't you dare!" Winry scolded, brandishing a wrench from her table. "Edward Elric-"
"Fine, fine," Ed said, raising his hand in surrender. "Can we put my arm back on now?"
She glared at him. "Let me bandage you up again first," she said, putting the wrench down. She set about rebandaging him, careful not to touch his wounds or contaminate the clean new dressings. Then she went to the shelf and picked up Ed's new arm. She'd put the finishing touches on it early that morning. it was gleaming, beautiful- the best work she'd done yet. She and Ed were quiet as she put it into place and made the first adjustments. She wondered what he was thinking about, with his eyes so distant.
"I'm going to connect the nerves now," she said. "Hold still, okay?" She had seen adult men scream and weep through this process. Ed never did; she was grateful for that. Even without having a screaming client, this was the hardest task an automail mechanic had to master. If done improperly, it could mean that the client would have numbness, or tingling, or loss of function- or chronic pain. To make things harder, it not only had to be done perfectly, it had to be done quickly or the nerve arrays would never synch properly. It was a difficult, delicate art. Winry had been practicing since she was 11 years old.
Ed gritted his teeth, his body tense, trying to keep still so that she could finish. "Could you hurry it up?" he complained.
"I'm going as fast as I can," she said automatically, her focus on the automail. "Stop whining!" The complaining, she knew, was Ed's way of coping. Telling him to shut up was her way of letting him pretend she didn't know how much it hurt him. She slipped the last connector into place, tightened the collar, and synched the array. Ed sighed, his body relaxing as the pain faded. Experimentally, he held his arm out, rotating the wrist and bending the elbow. "It's a little lighter," he commented.
"I redesigned the exoskeleton," Winry said. "It should be a little more efficient now."
"Huh," Ed said, appreciatively, bending and stretching the arm.
She did the needed repairs on his leg then, too. It took her most of an hour. She and Ed spent the time in companionable silence. She was focused on the machinery, and he was focused on... whatever it was that was preoccupying him, she supposed. She refused to worry about that. Right now, she had automail, and she had Ed, and she had the both of them warm and safe and here, and she wasn't going to think about tomorrow at all.
Mr. Garfiel came over that night, accompanied by Paninya and several bags of groceries. He cooked them some of the spicy Southern food he'd grown up with. "At least we can send you off with a decent meal in your bellies," he told Ed and Al while he sashayed around the kitchen. "You're taking the leftovers, too- no arguments!"
Mr. Garfiel was entirely charming through dinner, and even though Ed inevitably got into a fight with Paninya, it was a short fight with only minor property damage. Winry took a moment to look around the table. Al was gleaming, newly repaired by Ed's alchemy. Ed was smiling, and eating, and arguing. Mr. Garfiel was sipping his wine and laughing, leaning back in his chair. Paninya was leaning forward, both elbows on the table, debating some point with Ed. Winry smiled. She was an orphan, she thought. An only child. She could have been alone in the world, but somehow, she was surrounded by family.
"You boys," she suddenly realized Mr Garfiel was saying, "You had better look after yourselves. If you don't, you'll have a whole town full of people angry at you."
"This whole town is angry at me anyway," Ed said, grinning, his teeth sharp.
Garfiel waved that away, pointing at Ed emphatically. "Not nearly as angry as they'll be if they think you've upset their Winry," he said.
"Mr. Garfiel," Winry said, scandalized, laughing.
Garfiel looked seriously at her. "Oh, don't think I'm joking, Winry. If these boys make you cry, I won't be responsible for what your clients might do to them." Mr. Garfiel's eyes were sparkling.
Ed scowled. "Who says I'm going to make Winry cry?" he asked, belligerently. Winry blushed a little at his tone.
Mr. Garfiel gave up and laughed. "Brothers, you're welcome back any time. Just try not to get so banged up!"
"I do try, Mr. Garfiel," Al said, his tone put-upon, "But Brother can't stay out of trouble."
"I can't stay out of trouble?" Ed groused, and then they were off again.
Winry looked at Mr. Garfiel, and he smiled at her. "Honey," he said, leaning over. "At least you picked an exciting one."
Their train left before lunchtime the next day. Winry walked with them to the station. She couldn't keep from watching Ed's gait, looking for any residual problems with his automail. He still looked more tired than she would have liked, but at least he was on his feet and moving. When they reached the platform, Ed and Al turned to her.
"Thanks again, Winry," Al said.
Winry smiled, and embraced him. "It was good to see you, Al," she said.
"Yeah," Ed put in. "Thanks, Winry."
She turned, and hugged Ed too. She buried her face in his shoulder, not letting go for a long moment. He smelled like machine oil and ozone and sweat and dust, and she breathed him in, trying to burn that scent into her memory. "Hey," he said, pulling away, "We'll be back before you know it- and in our real bodies, too!"
"I know," Winry said, and she smiled at him, as broadly as she could.
"Winry?" Ed said, as they were getting into the train car.
"Yeah?" she asked.
"Watch yourself, okay?" he said, and scowled. "Just... be careful."
She frowned, not sure what to make of that. "You too, Ed," she said.
She waved goodbye as the train pulled out of the station. She walked back to Atelier Garfiel, her hands swinging at her side. She had a lot of work to catch up on.