He sighed and leaned back against the trunk of the oak tree, his feet dangling lazily on either side of the broad limb. He'd been there all afternoon, perched high above the grassy, windswept plain of Risembool's outskirts, lost in meandering contemplation. Reaching up with his right hand, he spread his fingers against the azure sky; the steel shell of his automail blazed orange, reflecting the warm hue of the setting sun and shimmering with flecks of fire in the afternoon light. How bitterly ironic, he thought, that after the human limbs he acquired from Edward Elric were mercilessly ripped off and taken back into The Gate, he should be fitted with automail designed and built for the same young alchemist. Wrath had once believed that he could become human by taking all the humanity Edward possessed, piece by piece, but now he wondered if perhaps the Fullmetal Alchemist had taken the place that had been meant for him in Izumi Curtis' life and instead his fate was to live forever in Edward Elric's shadow.
The young homunculus blinked away a tear and looked down to the ground far below as Alphonse Elric's gentle voice jolted him from his melancholy musings.
"I thought I might find you here…" Al continued, straining to look up into the high branches where Wrath lounged, "There's something I need to ask you…"
Wrath stared at Al for a moment as a cool breeze rustled the leaves of the ancient oak and played in the sable strands of his hair. He smiled to himself in amusement that the powerful, menacing suit of hollow armour that he had known before had in fact been the vessel carrying the soul of such a soft spoken and ordinary seeming young man. With a resigned shrug, Wrath leaned over and let himself slip off the limb, plummeting toward the grass below.
Al gave a yelp of surprise and jumped back, half expecting Wrath to land on him in a tangled heap, but the homunculus twisted effortlessly in mid fall and landed gracefully on all fours like a nimble housecat. Rising to his feet, Wrath smiled humourlessly at Al from behind the wild black hair framing his face. Al thought he looked intimidating, a lot like Izumi when she smiled that way, but he quickly pushed that thought from his mind.
"What can I do for you, Alphonse?"
"You know the way to the underground city, right? The one Rose mentioned?"
Wrath nodded, his dark eyes probing Al curiously now.
"I think I know what I need to do to bring brother back, and I need to go there to do it."
Wrath was shocked, though his face betrayed little emotion; was the fool planning to sacrifice himself again, even after his brother did the very same? It seemed too cruel, too farcical to be true, and yet he had an overwhelming feeling that it must be what Al had in mind.
"Listen, Wrath, I know you don't owe me a thing, and there's probably nothing you want that I can offer in exchange…" Al looked pensive as Wrath watched him, his eyes downcast, his arms hanging limply by his sides.
"I'll take you there." Wrath interjected curtly, cutting Al's sentence short.
Al was taken aback; he hadn't expected that response at all, "Bu..but you really don't have to go, I just need you to tell me how to get there…"
"I said I will take you there!" Wrath snarled, bearing his pointed teeth slightly.
"Okay…" Al conceded, surprised by Wrath's adamant reaction. He watched as the dark haired homunculus strode past him and wandered off onto the shimmering plain.
Several hours later, the full moon hung high in the night sky as Winry sat at the kitchen table sipping on a mug of hot chocolate. Al had returned hours ago, saying nothing of what he'd wanted so urgently to talk to Wrath about. The only thing he ventured was that Wrath would be back sometime later.
She grumbled to herself in annoyance. What the hell was she doing waiting up for him? Not like there was anything in quiet Risembool that a homunculus like him needed to worry about. She shrugged and smiled to herself, taking another sip of hot chocolate as she resigned herself to waiting until he returned.
Just then, the front door swung open and Wrath stepped inside. He stopped short and glanced at her abruptly, startled to see her waiting at the table. He found himself unwilling or unable to look away; she was sitting in one of the wooden chairs, leaning back with her hand wrapped around the warm mug sitting on the tabletop, her golden hair falling freely around her shoulders and shimmering in the pale moonlight that flooded through the front windows. She was wearing an old white collared shirt, the first three buttons left undone to reveal just a glimpse of soft, supple skin, and a pair of Ed's boxers that he'd forgotten on his last visit. Below that, her curvaceous legs and delicate feet were bare, her radiant skin glowing in the moonlight.
Something stirred in Wrath as he stood transfixed by her, something he'd never felt before. He found himself studying with admiration every feature of her face, every line and curve of her skin. She was breathtakingly beautiful in a way that made his heart ache just a little, if it could be said he had one.
"Nothing to say for yourself? Been waiting here for you all night, y'know!" she said peevishly, breaking the silence.
Wrath shook his head, mostly to break the trance she'd put him under. He closed the door behind him and smirked at her in his impish way, "What were you worried about, a mob of vicious dairy cows attacking me?"
"Oh, ha ha! Smartass." She retorted, then after a sip of her drink added, "So, you going to tell me what it was Al had to talk to you so urgently about?"
Suddenly Wrath looked grim, "It was nothing…"
She knew, of course, that this was code for something dangerous or unpleasant, or both.
"I noticed Al had a pair of train tickets in his coat pocket when he came back today…"
Wrath didn't say anything; he knew Winry probably had at least a vague idea of what Al had planned. She persisted, "Ed and Al never told me anything about what they were involved in, and now Ed's gone goodness knows where and Al's convinced he can bring him back somehow using Alchemy…I'm sick of being left in the dark! I need to know what's going on…please Wrath?"
She pleaded to him with her eyes; it was more than he could stand, "Alphonse thinks he knows how to bring back Edward from the other side of the gate. I think he's going to sacrifice himself again the way he did before, and the way Edward did for him. Don't worry, I won't let him…I'll make him transmute me instead."
Winry was shocked, her eyes wide. Wrath looked down at his automail hand, clenching it into a fist, then slackening it, "I don't want to see Al sacrifice himself again; I want him and Edward to be together. Maybe it's because I want to atone for what I've done, or because I want to be with mom, or maybe I just want to know my worthless existence had some good use in the end…"
He smiled a little, raising his mechanical fist, "Thanks for this. It never let me down, even after I beat the hell out of it." He turned to head upstairs to bed, but she was across the kitchen in two steps, her hand wrapped around his wrist before he could make it to the door.
"You think it's just that simple, huh? Your life is worth so little you can just throw it away without a second thought," her voice was cracking, her sorrow for him reflected in her pale blue eyes. Wrath pulled his wrist away, clenching his fists and sneering defiantly at her, "Don't give me this routine! It's the same crap she tried to pull, then Edward did the same, showing me so-called compassion! Do you think just because I wear this face, that makes me human? That I deserve your mercy? Why didn't he just destroy me when he had the chance, sacrifice me instead of himself, WHY?!"
Winry felt her eyes burning; she could feel the guilt and anguish in Wrath's voice, "Ed's not the type…he doesn't have it in him to kill even a homunculus like you in cold blood…not lying there helpless like you were. As for Izumi…is it so hard to understand a mother's love for her son?"
"SHUT UP!" Wrath raged, grabbing Winry around the throat and pushing her against the wall. The synthetic muscles of his automail arm creaked as the metallic fingers tightened on her neck, "Don't mock me! You were there that day on the island, you saw what I did to her! You know what I am; I'm a monster!"
Winry choked, her fingers tugging desperately at the vicelike grip of the hand she forged, "Wrath…please…!" she whispered.
A look of horror washed over his face as Wrath realized he was one small squeeze away from killing her; he released her and stumbled backward, looking at his mechanical hand with dismay and disgust. Winry slumped over, coughing and gasping fitfully as she reached out a hand to steady herself against the wall.
"I…I'm sorry, I didn't mean to!"
She looked up at him and smiled weakly, "Do you really think Izumi didn't realize what you were from the first time she laid eyes on you? Didn't know she created you? Even after you changed, she couldn't kill you, because you are her son and she loved you…"
Wrath shut his eyes, half turning away and covering his face with his palm; his teeth were gritted tightly, his body faintly shaking in the moonlight. Winry stood up, steadying herself before moving closer; her voice was steady now, cutting through the night time quiet and Wrath's unbalanced mind with crystal clarity, "You said your life was incomplete that day, not worthless…so find what's missing instead of throwing it away!"
"How can you talk like this…" Wrath whispered, watching her through parted fingers, his eyes locking with hers, "You're in love with Edward, aren't you?
She stopped, shocked to hear someone say it out loud, especially Wrath. She crossed her arms over her stomach, seeming to shrink away a little, "I…yeah…I guess I am."
"So then why…" Wrath persisted, his voice a low growl, his fist clenching in his hair, "would you stop me from doing this if it means he'll come back to you?!…WELL?!"
She shook her head, clenching her fists and meeting his stare unafraid, "I don't want it if it means you have to die! Ed would say the exact same thing!"
Wrath shut his eyes, "How can you be so stupid…"
"You're stupid!" she cut him off, "You think nobody cares, that nobody would cry if you died, that your life would have no meaning?…well I would cry for you, Wrath!"
The homunculus looked like someone had hit him in the gut with a sledgehammer; his mind emptied and the only thing he saw was the image of Winry alone before a gravestone marked with his name, shedding tears for a child of sin, the spawn of the damned, and mourning earnestly for him despite his unworthiness. That image shook his world to its foundations and he was left speechless before her.
She reached out a hand to him, but he suddenly found himself trembling; he couldn't bear to be the object of such selfless compassion any longer, to be in the presence of such unconditional mercy. He ran, flashing past her and dashing out the door and into the moonlit night. The door slammed behind him, leaving Winry alone with her thoughts once again. She knew better than to go after him; it had been too much for him just then. She sighed resignedly and turned to head to bed. She was met in the hall doorway by a dour, unimpressed looking Panako, "And just what was all that racket I heard a little while ago? Do you have any idea what time it is? What in the world is going on with you, Winry!?"
Winry just smiled and shook her head. "It's all okay," was all she offered, then moved past Panako and upstairs to bed, leaving her confused grandmother scratching her head and grumbling to herself in confusion and annoyance.