A/n: Welcome to my first, uh, "official" FMA fic! The alternative name for this fic is "The fic that spiraled out of my control wtf this was only supposed to be about 2000 words". I haven't got much to say about it - for the record, this is not how I imagine everything actually HAPPENED post-canon with Ed and Winry; in reality I think it was probably much more mundane and uneventful. However, once I had the idea I couldn't shake it. It had to be done. I had to fudge the accepted post-canon timeline to do it, but I hope you can forgive me (or at least give this fic a chance).
Many, MANY thanks to Izzy (bookofstars on Tumblr), who spent FIVE HOURS with me going over this fic line by line. Thank you, my dearest, for picking all my nits with your super beta powers, even though I took your headcanon and crumpled it up and stomped on it and lit it on fire.
Disclaimer: I own nothing and make no profit.
NOTE: This fic takes place in the Brotherhood universe, though with some influence from the manga.
When Winry is four years old, her father thinks she has a hole in her heart.
He catches her trying to jump rope with his stethoscope and instead of scolding her, he tries to show her how to use it. He points to each part of the stethoscope, he says its name and how it works. The circle part at the end is called the diaphragm. Its job is to amplify the sound of your heartbeat so the doctor can hear it and make sure you're not sick. When Winry asks if she has a heartbeat, too, he laughs and says of course she does, everyone does.
Her father fits the end pieces snug in his ears and presses the diaphragm over her heart. Winry asks if she can try it next, but he doesn't answer. His smile has fallen into a hard frown. His eyebrows contract, eyes wide and far away as he counts the beats. Then he picks her up and carries her to grandma's house.
From her seat on the countertop, Winry can see the tin where grandma hides cookies out of her reach. Her mother, father, and grandmother take turns passing the stethoscope around and holding the little circle over her heart (she's forgotten what it's called, but she can feel the cold through her cotton shirt). Winry keeps her eyes on the tin and hopes that maybe if she sits very still they'll let her down and share a cookie with her.
Grandma takes off the stethoscope and shakes her head. "I don't know, Urey. It might be a murmur, but even if it is, that's not necessarily something to worry about. Her color is good, breathing's fine."
"Let's just keep an eye on it," her mother says. "Unless there's a hole, there's not much we can do about it anyway."
"What's that mean, mommy?" says Winry. "Is something wrong?"
Three heads turn to face her, all three adults startled as if they'd just noticed her sitting there. Her mother smiles.
"No, honey, I don't think so," she says. "It's just a murmur."
Her parents have never spoken to her like a child. Even at four years old, Winry has an understanding that she can always ask questions and expect a grown-up answer. If she doesn't know a word they use, she asks and her parents never get mad. As Winry sits on the countertop, her mother explains that the heart feeds the rest of the body by pumping blood filled with nutrients. The way the heart works, it beats on a pattern—if you're nervous it speeds up, and when you're sleeping it slows down—but sometimes, there's a skip in the pattern where the heart doesn't pump like it's supposed to and that's a murmur. By itself it doesn't mean that anything is wrong, but sometimes it means you have a hole in your heart.
Admittedly, Winry still doesn't understand why it's bad to have your heart skipping. It doesn't sound so bad. Sometimes she even feels that way and it's a good thing. But even if it is bad, her father says she'll probably grow out of it. He tells her everything will be okay, and Winry believes him.
Her parents go to Ishval. They tell her they'll be home soon, and Winry believes them. The heart murmur goes away after a few years, just like they said it would. But they don't come back.
Winry hasn't slept since Ed returned from passing his certification. He carries around the new pocket watch in one hand and lets the long chain whip around his legs when he walks, like he's afraid to put it in his pocket. The return of his hardened determination isn't what keeps her awake at night. It's the watch. He checks the time every few minutes and she swears she can hear it ticking, once a second, every second. The sound follows her into her bedroom at night and curls up on her pillow.
Tick, Tick, Tick.
Ed and Al have three days left in Resembool. If Granny hadn't insisted that they stay for a last-second upgrade, they would have left the day Ed returned with his certification. In about five minutes they pack their entire life into a single suitcase. Unceremoniously Ed tosses in some clothes with his alchemy notes and a pen. Al brings his own notes and a few books, to fill the space when everyone else rests.
Winry should be sleeping. Winry wants to sleep, but it's thanks to her newfound disquiet that she gets out of bed for a glass of water and overhears a conversation in the kitchen. The boys are peering at the photoboard together, giving their old lives one last look-over.
"Can't we bring just one photo?" Al says. "This one's got all four of us in it."
"No, Al. We can't pick and choose what parts of the past we want to keep. We have to move forward. And besides—" Winry hears his indignant sniff from the next room over. "I don't want to carry around anything with him on it."
"But wherever he is, he's still our father. He must have had a good reason. He must have loved us, brother. He had to!"
"Well if he did, I never saw any proof. But we don't need him anyway. I say we let it burn with the rest."
Winry leaves when she feels her throat start to tighten. She creeps back to her room, sidestepping the stairs and floorboards that creak under pressure, and crawls beneath the covers with every intention of sleeping and no hope of doing so. The exchange leaves her head more muddled than ever. She hears it hours into the night, ringing with the echo of Al's armor-toned voice. There's something violent about the conversation, and maybe it shouldn't bother her that Ed speaks this way. Their father did leave them, without warning and without return. But it does bother her.
Winry spends the last days in a nervous trance. She passes time by tinkering around with automail parts, in hope that it will push the noise out of her head. It doesn't work. She's exhausted, running on anxiety and half-eaten meals. Conversation with Al becomes forced, even subdued. With Ed it's even worse. He's so eager to leave that she almost wants to scream at him. Eventually he asks her to triple check his automail, and she does, even though they both know it's in perfect shape.
Tick, tick, three days, two days, one.
On the night before the brothers' departure, Winry understands what he meant. It wasn't symbolic speech, not a throwaway metaphor Ed used to express his disdain. Winry disentangles herself from the sheets, sneaks outside, and doesn't stop running until she's reached the Elric house. Three red containers of gasoline wait on the front step in a neat line. Beside them are a pair of heavy gloves and a book of matches. She doesn't see Ed or Al, but the lack of a certain clanging noise tells her that she's alone.
The back door doesn't have a deadbolt, and a pair of bobby pins is all it takes for Winry to overcome the doorknob lock and slip inside. She has minutes, maybe just moments before Ed and Al get back, and she doesn't even know why she's here. Winry lets intuition carry her through the house until she reaches Trisha's bedroom. The air holds the fusty smell of neglect and mildew. The dresser is so overcome with dust that she can see it in almost complete darkness. Ed and Al may have lived in this house, but they left this room undisturbed. Winry scans the room until instinct brings her to the bedside table drawer. She picks the lock and grabs the first thing that looks important—a thin, square book bound in leather, like a journal. The spine cracks as Winry pries the cover open with her fingertips.
It's not a journal. But a moment later she hears the front door open and has to shove the book in the waistband of her shorts so she can climb out the first story window and escape.
Ten minutes later, the house is alight with flames. The watch is in his pocket, the chain fastened resolutely to his belt. Ed has to ask why she's crying.
Eighty-five percent. That's the amount Winry agrees to give—that she wants to give—but with Ed away more often than not it's almost impossible. The shock of his absence strikes her harder even than ever, even more so than the first time he and Al left. At least then she'd been a child with friends and school to keep her occupied. Now that she's spent two full years of her adult life with him, sharing quiet breakfasts every morning and talking through the day, she feels the empty space like a wound.
Ed spends weeks to months at a time in Creta, Aerugo, and the war-torn borderlands between them. They go months without speaking. Al she never sees—he's out in the far East somewhere, stuffing his brain full of language and culture—but at least he calls. Ed seldom calls her, usually only when he needs repairs or maintenance advice, and he never writes. This is Ed as she's always known him, and to a point she's glad that he hasn't changed to suit her needs better. The trouble is that before she knew their feelings were mutual, she hadn't even realized that she had needs.
Winry feels like eighty-five percent of her life is out of her control eighty-five percent of the time. It was nice to mutually open up, except now these feelings flutter like months in the distance between her and Ed and she can't contain them all. She can't take back what she's given, and she can't collect what she's due. And what's worse, his trip is scheduled to last for three years. Winry knows for a fact that she can't hold out for three years.
The only logical solution, then, is to use what little time they have to exchange as much of that promise as possible.
When Ed shows up in Rush Valley carrying part of his automail leg, she clocks him over the head with a wrench. Then she jumps him.
Ed has always struggled with expressing himself. Outside alchemy, he chokes and stammers because feelings can't be mastered like chemistry. There's no scientific formula for the composition of a relationship. Winry, however, has never had trouble trusting her feelings once she confronts them. Her resolve can't take away all the awkwardness, but it does help—being each other's first everything means they have to start from scratch, with open communication as their only resource. Winry stumbles across the unfamiliar schematic of his body, Ed starts off too aggressive and has to learn to pace himself. His infrequent visits become impromptu reunions where they reacquaint their bodies almost as much as their minds.
They move at a much quicker pace than either of them could have predicted, but they haven't got time for a meandering courtship. They haven't got the patience for it either, not when their time together is measured by hours instead of days. It's when she meets him in West City for repairs several months later that they quit pretending to care about pacing and just go for it. The result is unpleasant. Winry is in pain, Ed is mortified at having put her through it, and both become so flustered that they're almost relieved when the front desk interrupts them with a phone call. Luckily they're both more stubborn than they are shy, and over time their perseverance pays off.
This is not how Winry expected things to go. Most of her time she spends tending to her clients in Rush Valley, content with her toolbox and her apartment smelling of axle grease. She wakes up feeling glad to be alive, and sometimes Ed is almost an afterthought in her day. She misses him, but not actively, because doing so would be a waste of time and she hasn't got any to spare. And anyhow, he always calls eventually. He needs her too much to give her any rest.
Sitting cross-legged between her parents' headstones, Winry can't think of any easy way to tell them why she's here. Her visits have dwindled some since she made Rush Valley her permanent home, and when she comes she doesn't bring flowers anymore. Several years ago she planted a crocus bulb that still yields bright lilacs every spring, which works because while planting is forbidden at the graveyard, it's a wildflower that could have popped up anywhere.
Winry sighs and folds her hands in the dip of her skirt. "I'm pregnant," she says. "I'm not sure how it happened—we were always very careful. But I guess there's no point in wondering."
No response. She had been hoping for a breeze to pin her hopes on, that they might be watching from wherever the dead go, but the air is calm and damp with winter cold.
"You're the first to know. I didn't tell Ed. He was here for a whole week and I just couldn't do it. He's going to Drachma for six months and I—I've been up that way once. It's dangerous enough when you've got your head together."
Winry bends in assent, plucking a brown blade of grass from the patch of green. It dissolves when she rubs it between her thumb and forefinger, one of the season's first victims. Resembool almost never sees snow, but for at least one month a year the cold snaps sharply over the town and forces its residents to wear a sweater when they go out. The southern climate is so much more merciful than the north.
"I'm actually not upset, just a little startled," Winry says. "The timing's not great, but everything else… I've got a big apartment and plenty of savings. I love my job, I love helping so many people; it's like every day I get to make a difference in someone's life." She pauses, then looks up from her lap. "And you know what? I should probably be scared, but I'm not. I'm gonna be a great mom. And Ed'll be there, when he's done with his research. He knows what it's like."
The decidedly one-sided conversation is starting to tangle up in her throat. Since the age of twelve she's forbidden herself from crying at her parents' feet, and so far the results have been admirable. If loved ones of the past really do feel the tears of the present, Winry hopes they can at least tell that she's happy.
"I'm sorry, mom and dad." Winry catches the wetness on the back of her hand before it can fall. "I don't mean to be selfish, but I am a little bit. I already know everything's going to be okay. I have Ed and Al and Grandma, and Garfiel and Paninya, a-and a home, and food, and everything else. The only thing missing is you."
When Winry was four her parents told her that everything would be fine, and they had been right in at least one major way. This knowledge doesn't stop the little ache that follows her always, tucked between her ribs so she can feel it when she breathes. All she has left of her parents is the suitcase that went with them to Ishval. In it are some clothes, books, and at the very bottom, her father's stethoscope. Every few years she takes it down from the attic, fits the earbits of the stethoscope on snug, and measures the beats against her chest. Just to be sure.
Winry doesn't have a hole in her heart, but if she did, she imagines it might feel a bit like this.
The train makes a sharp turn , smacking Winry's head against the windowglass and startling her awake. She hadn't slept through the night because she doesn't sleep much at all. She'd started off in general seating, on the notoriously hard benches where her best hope was to avoid developing pressure sores. Luckily, after only an hour of travel she'd been rescued by a woman in a two-piece suit who offered to share her compartment in business class. Apparently Winry had looked just as uncomfortable as she felt—her feet propped up on the opposite seat, she'd wedged herself against the windowpane with her toolbox clutched on her lap like an overlarge purse.
Despite their different backgrounds the businesswoman and Winry had gotten along fine through the evening, and as they step onto the platform Winry thanks her again for sharing her compartment. In turn, the woman waves and disappears with one final wish for good luck.
Winry doesn't put much faith in luck, but this time she'll take it when it's offered. Traveling overnight is stressful enough on its own, and when she considers the other factors Winry almost turns around and gets back on the train: there's the muted tone with which Ed had asked her to meet him at Central, which suggests that he's more damaged than he'd let on. There's also the fact that she's about to walk in seven and a half months pregnant, when last they met he had no reason to suspect she was expecting. With Ed's health below its peak, one good look at her might actually send him into cardiac arrest.
She tries to force the thought out with a deep breath and peers around the crowded station. Ed explained that Captain Hawkeye and Brigadier General Mustang would give her a lift from the station, as their train from East City would arrive only ten minutes before hers. It takes Winry a moment to spot Hawkeye standing a few cars down. Unlike Winry, whose sundress bears the wrinkles of a long train ride, Hawkeye looks as pressed and pristine as ever in her uniform.
Winry finally catches her eye, and though the look of surprise does dart across Hawkeye's face, it disappears with well-trained haste. They meet halfway and exchange a handshake.
"It's great to see you," says Hawkeye. "Can I carry something?"
"Yes, please," says Winry. She passes off the knapsack and keeps the toolbox for herself. They begin the walk to the main road. "And it's nice to see you, too, but this may be the last time. I'm pretty sure Ed's going to kill me."
"To do that, he'd have to be capable of catching you."
Winry flinches at that. "What kind of shape is he in, exactly?"
"It could have been much worse. He was discharged from the hospital early this morning and moved into the hotel." Hawkeye shrugs her shoulder to keep Winry's bag from slipping off. "He can tell you more about that. From my end, I can tell you that he was accused of being a saboteur and the Drachmans tried to take him hostage. Obviously that didn't work out, especially since he was traveling with a band of Briggs soldiers. But he's safe, now."
"So what does that mean for the military?"
"Paperwork, mostly. Just a regular day for international relations with Drachma. Neither of us can afford a full-scale war right now. Here we are."
General Mustang's car idles for them at the curb. Mustang himself is seated in the driver's seat with several rectangles of paper in his lap.
"I got six parking tickets," he announces when Hawkeye reaches into the passenger window to unlock the door. He holds up the paper slips like a hand of cards as proof. "Six!"
"Well sir, you did park in the fire lane," says Hawkeye, opening the passenger door so that Winry can slide into the back seat.
"I had to catch a train for a military event!" Mustang shakes his head incredulously at the tickets, muttering as if they've offended him. "Fifty thousand cens. Ridiculous. I'm going to have to talk with that chief of police."
Unfazed by the event, and expressionless save for a tiny smirk that Winry almost misses, Hawkeye climbs into the passenger seat and closes the door. "In the meantime you should probably pay your fines, sir. They'll never let you become Führer with so many outstanding parking tickets."
Mustang grumbles and crams all the tickets into the glove compartment. After a pause he seems to remember why he's still in park, and is halfway through asking Winry how her travels went when he turns around. To his merit he does recover fairly quickly, but he lacks the staunch composure of his captain and can't stop a stunned "whoa" from spilling out.
All Winry can do is give a little half-wave and an awkward laugh. "Uh, hello, Brigadier General."
Winry spends the short ride watching pedestrians from the backseat window, half-listening to the banter taking place up front. Anxiety broils freely now that she's so close. The baby must be able to feel it too; it kicks against her insides with such enthusiasm that she's afraid she might put herself into labor.
It wasn't for lack of trying that she's in this position. On both occasions when Ed called during his trip (twice in six months, and just to check in — a record, to be sure) she almost told him but didn't. In part she'd wanted to, but allowed herself to fail under the pretense that it might keep him that much more focused, and thereby that much safer. Only now does she acknowledge that this reasoning was just cowardice behind the façade of an excuse. Ed at his most focused is just as prone to disaster as he would be walking blind into a firing range. This visit only proves it.
Her hopes of devising a plan dissolve as Mustang pulls up along the front of the hotel. Hawkeye has her feet on the pavement and Winry's bag on her shoulder before Winry can clamber out. Winry declines Mustang's offer to carry her toolbox because it is her only source of comfort at the moment, and gripping the handles gives her hands something to do besides shake.
"All right then," says Mustang. "I'd just as soon stay out of the blast radius."
Winry falters. The toolbox slides down her arm as her shoulders droop and she has to push it back up. "You really think he'll be that upset?" she asks in earnest.
"Oh, right! I guess there's that, too."
"Don't worry, Winry, everything will be fine," says Hawkeye.
Winry feels a hand on her shoulder and lets Hawkeye steer her off without the opportunity to think through the exchange. The hotel lobby is exactly as she left it. The desk attendant greets her with the same wave as he did last time. Winry wonders if she's the only thing in this city that's changed at all. The thought of checking in to a room does occur to her, but Hawkeye draws a line straight for the staircase as if she were an idiot to consider it. Winry follows her up two flights of stairs and down a corridor. The smack of her slippers against the heels of her feet sounds almost invasive.
Hawkeye stops outside Ed's room and turns to nod her encouragement. Winry doesn't knock.
A single moment passes where Winry takes in everything at once. Ed is sitting upright in bed, mid-way through biting into a sandwich. He actually looks better than she'd expected—the white edges of sterile wrap peek out from under his shirt collar, but aside from that and a black eye he looks about the same. Relief passes over. The real destruction she sees a moment later, when she automatically turns her head to assess his automail leg and it's not attached to his body.
Several things happen in a very short span of time. Ed turns at the sound of the door, his mouth full of food which he promptly inhales when he spots her. Winry's bag drops as Hawkeye darts across the room to stop him from choking. It's her fist against his back that forces the food out of his trachea, knocks him face-first against the mattress, and saves him from a wrench that would have otherwise clocked him squarely between the eyes. The wrench bangs into the wall, leaving a shallow dent on contact. Ed gasps for air while Hawkeye asks him if he's all right. And all of this commotion falls into the background against the scream of "You idiot!" that is so loud it might shake the windows of Mustang's car out front.
Her greatest pride, her most amazing piece of mechanical genius, lies in no fewer than six pieces on the bureau. Yet the destruction of her life's work does give Winry something that she hasn't had in months; for a few blissful moments as Winry hollers ("What kind of research trip is this? I thought you said it was safe! What did my beautiful automail ever do to deserve this recklessness?!"), she's forgotten all about the guilt and anxiety. It doesn't matter how Ed feels about seeing her now, or if he had never known at all. Because Winry is going to kill him.
"My automail. It's ruined!"
Eyes brimming, she drops the tool box unceremoniously to the floor and scurries over to examine what remains of Ed's prosthetic. Someone had attempted to tie all the pieces together with medical tape and failed, leaving a thin, sticky residue and white fibers as added insult. Winry pulls apart two pieces that clearly do not belong together and studies each of them. This is easily two full days' work in custom trimming alone. Four if she sleeps. Plus assembly, and she'll have to order parts. The first thing she needs to do is call Garfiel and cancel her appointments for the next few days (he had suggested she do that to begin with, but she had insisted on returning home in time to make them). She turns to Ed again with the intent of telling him this news, but he saps her of her words.
Sometime after ensuring Ed won't suffocate on his sandwich, Hawkeye must have fled from the room. They're here alone now, just the two of them in what suddenly feels like a tiny space, and he's still panting slightly from his latest escape from death. His expression is beyond bewilderment. Her bloodlust fades.
Winry raises her hands in a surrendering half-shrug and winces. "I meant to tell you sooner. There was just never a good time."
"How—" Ed's interrupted by a coughing fit and takes almost ten full seconds to recover. Grimacing, he presses a hand to his throat. "How far?"
"Seven and a half months," she says, and bites the inside of her lip to stop its trembling.
"Seven and a half…"
He's just parroting her words, as if they only go as far as his mouth. But she can see him thinking them over as he stares right past her into the wall, counting back in his head. Winry can follow them aloud. His brows twitch together, his chin dips half an inch—yes, he was there, he remembers that, but—but they were careful, and it wouldn't be impossible, but at the least it's—
"Extremely unlikely, I know," she says, finishing his thought. "I've gotta make a phone call. I'll be right back."
Winry goes back to the lobby to call Garfiel. When she returns a few minutes later, Ed is exactly where she left him. There are several things she would like to say, and others that she should say, but instead she dons her gloves and outfits him with a spare automail leg procured from her toolbox.
"Remember this old thing? You grew out of it ages ago but I keep it for parts."
The end snaps cleanly into his barren outfitting. No nerve attachment on this one — she's stripped it down so much that all it does is swing on the spring knee hinge like a regular prosthetic. Ed doesn't look relieved, but then, it's hard to tell.
"Can you walk? I need you to come with me to order parts."
This isn't completely true. Winry knows the blueprint of his automail by heart, every piece involved and every measurement to the millimeter. But while she doesn't need him present at the shop, she does need his gears running at full power. A late morning stroll might reboot his brain.
That, and she has no recollection of where to even find the hardware store.
The direct question snaps Ed out of his wide-eyed coma. He nods diffidently, almost to himself, then uses the crutch to boost himself up. He stumbles at first, bracing against the apparent pain in his right leg and shuffling awkwardly on his left. She waits with a fist propped on one hip as he learns to walk. After a few moments he nods again, this time at her.
"Great, let's go," Winry turns for the door. "I hope you know the way."
Reaching out and grabbing her wrist, Ed spins her around to face him. Up close, the bruise beneath his eye seems much darker, much wider. He tugs off her suede glove and drops it to press her bare hand between his palms.
"It's good to see you," he says.
The afternoon dwindles into evening with their return to the hotel. Winry doesn't like the bustle of Central City. The constant crowd presses on her like a blockade in a way neither Rush Valley nor Resembool can accomplish, but she stays close to Ed and that eases the anxiety a little. They're a slow-moving pair, the two of them—with Ed on his crutch and Winry's toddling gait, it takes them almost twice the time it should to get a few blocks down the road.
Ed slowly emerges from the fog of shock, but not with confidence. His questions start in trepidation: When did you find out? What was it like? What else has to be done before the time comes? At first Winry is impressed at how quickly he accepts what has happened. But then, this is the same man who discovered that his father was an immortal made from half a million stolen souls and believed it right away. His only direction is forward.
Winry puts a rush order on the parts she needs to repair Ed's leg. The store manager shakes her hand and tells her he'll have them tomorrow—every automail engineer in Central has heard of Winry, he tells her. She does beautiful work, and with such dexterity that she must be a genius. Winry leaves bemused and humbled, Ed smirking as he limps out alongside her. They speed through dinner and get back to the hotel so Winry can start on repairs.
Someone came by while they were gone and left a small mountain of books that takes up an entire corner of the room. Winry lifts her brows at it en route to her work station, thinking that she has definitely got the better of two jobs, but Ed doesn't appear half as daunted as she feels just looking at it. He takes a book from near the top and sits on the floor.
No matter how viciously she reacts when Ed wrecks his automail, the welts she leaves behind are punishment for his neglect, not so much for the work that follows. She's never had to force herself to keep working. As soon as she claims the desk, she disappears into the puzzle and doesn't resurface until she's done. There's not much she can do without the replacement parts, but still, several hours pass before she loosens the knot of her apron.
Ed has fallen asleep. Slumped against the wall with an open book shielding his eyes from the overhead light, he looks much tinier than he would appreciate her noting. He starts at the scrape of her chair against the floor.
She offers him a tired half-smile. "I'm gonna try to sleep now. I'll be up all night tomorrow with your automail."
"Oh, okay." Ed glances down and blinks, as if he's surprised to find a book in his hands. "What should I do?"
"You should come to bed."
Winry tries not to turn around. She swaps her sundress for shorts and an oversized shirt, crawls into bed and tucks her body close to the wall. It's not a bed for two, but she leaves as much bare mattress as she can. She's not particularly concerned. Aside from a stray elbow, Ed doesn't take up much space.
After a pause, Winry hears the chafe of a turning page. "I think I'm gonna read for a while," he says, quietly.
She yawns. "All right. See you tomorrow."
Not long after, once Winry should be asleep but isn't, Ed closes his book. There's the dull thump of one boot pulled off and tossed aside, then another. He sighs as he stands, and stretches until his back cracks. The lights click off following the sound of rustling clothes. His footsteps waver at the bedside before he, too, climbs in.
The knock on the door might actually be a dream. It's far off enough that she can dismiss it without thought, but the drowsy groan that follows is too close to ignore. Winry opens her eyes and is surprised to see strips of light peeking through the blinds. There's something else, too, and it takes her five full seconds to realize that she's pinned against the wall.
More knocking, three quick taps and a fourth that rests against the door. "Hey, Ed, you in there?" Winry has to first remember that she's in Central before First Lieutenant Havoc's voice matches up with his face. "I've got some stuff for you to read and sign. It's from the Brigadier General."
Ed's arm tightens reflexively around her waist as Winry stirs. He's tucked flush into her frame, so close that when he grumbles something that sounds suspiciously like "Make him go away" his words are hot and muffled against the nape of her neck. Winry has to wriggle out from the entrapment, climb over Ed, and pry his fingers from the hem of her shirt before she can answer the door.
Havoc greets her with a too casual "Afternoon, Miss Rockbell" when she invites him in. A faint ashtray smell follows him through the door and over to the bed, where Ed has flopped over on his belly to take up Winry's vacant space.
"This is the final incident report." Havoc addresses Ed as if the latter isn't determinedly ignoring him with his head submerged beneath the pillow and his nightshirt creeping up the small of his back. Havoc scans the cover sheet of his packet before dropping it on Ed's backside. "We need it with your signature as soon as possible, all right?"
He leaves after receiving Ed's groused assent, and Ed heaves himself upright with the close of the door. Winry watches him flip through the packet.
"What happened in Drachma, exactly?" she says. "I thought you were there to do research."
"I was, but, well, it's kind of complicated." Ed doesn't look up, speaking with half his attention focused on the write-up. "Basically, the Drachman government didn't believe that I was there to do research and took me into custody. I guess I can't exactly blame them for being suspicious. Our government did use their people to carve out a blood crest."
"But… I thought things were better now that Brigadier General Mustang was handling international relations."
Ed flips to the last few pages. "Yeah, well, that's Drachma for you. They think everyone's out to get them. It's lucky I was with Briggs soldiers, or else—" He stops, as if realizing that he's speaking to Winry and not some official. She holds her breath as he glances up from the document, catching her eye, and sees something like alarm flit over his face. He returns to reading. "It doesn't matter. Everything worked out."
Winry leaves to shower and he's gone when she gets back. She's standing with her hair streaking wet lines down her clean dress when she decides to visit the Hughes family, and once the decision is made she has to remind herself to put on her shoes before hurrying out the door.
She hasn't seen Gracia or Elicia in well over a year, and knocking on the apartment door seems as strange as if she's never done it before. A bigger part than she would like worries that they won't be happy to see her, that Elicia might not even remember her, but the shrill scream and the arms flinging around her knees dispel that concern. It startles Winry to see how big Elicia has grown in such a short time. She's shot up a head taller, swapping out baby-faced chubbiness for a body that's growing faster than she can keep up, and Winry wonders if next time she visits the child will be gone. She wonders if they all grow so quickly.
After catching up over lunch, which comprises mostly of Elicia telling Winry everything she's learned in school during the last year, they make their customary pilgrimage to the military cemetery.
Compared to her parents' stones in Resembool, which foster grit and moss faster than she can scrape it off, Mr. Hughes's looks almost new. The caretakers do incredible work on maintaining the yard, but the lack of wearing makes Winry uneasy. Stripping the headstone of its passed time works like picking a scab before the wound is fully healed. Maybe Gracia doesn't think of it this way, but Winry can see it in the downturn of shoulders. Ten minutes ago she was a woman at the end stages of recovery—she's finally started seeing somebody new, the earnesty has returned to her laugh—but at her husband's feet, he may have died yesterday.
Gracia smiles when she catches Winry watching. "I am better," she says.
"I know you are."
"Somehow I convinced myself that because he made it back from Ishval, we were bound to be okay. Then suddenly, all I had left were his empty clothes and a wedding band. It does get better, but sometimes I still catch myself waiting." Gracia sets a hand atop her daughter's head and smoothes her hair down. "I guess love's just funny like that."
Winry thinks of Mr. Hughes's back retreating down the hallway, of her relief at seeing the dark bruise below Ed's right eye, like someone cupped his face and drew a bloody smudge with their thumb.
The visit leaves Winry feeling more unnerved than before, instilling her with a chill as they part at the gates and head in opposite directions. Luckily the only thing she has left to do today is the only thing she wants to do, and walking to the hardware store takes all of twenty minutes from here.
The shopkeeper has her order packed into a box with little handles on the sides. He gleefully reviews the order and even more gleefully rings up her toll. Winry has seen worse, even without the rush order fees (which she intends to charge, plus interest). She thanks the shopkeeper, and when she turns to leave with her purchases, she nearly crashes straight into the man behind her in line.
"Whoops, sorry!" By the time she's used to taking up more space than usual, she'll be back to her normal size.
The man steps back to give her passing room. "It's nice of you to pick up your husband's equipment," he says, smiling, "but no mechanic should send his pregnant wife to carry his tools. You should tell him to take care of his own business."
Behind her, the shopkeeper gasps so loudly that his embarrassment practically bounces off the back of her head. But Winry isn't in the mood for punishing naïve patrons, not after her visit with the Hughes family and especially not when said patron is buying a drill bit two sizes too small for the drill in his hand. She answers his grin with a crooked smirk of her own and brushes past.
"I would, if he knew a spanner from a hand-saw."
Soon after Winry returns to the hotel, an attendant knocks and tells her she has a phone call. She picks up the call with mild resignation—no call from Rush Valley is a good call today, and unless it's an emergency severe enough to bring her home, she'll have to disappoint whatever client is on the other side—
"Winry! How are you?"
Winry blinks down at the phone in her hand. "Oh, hey Al. I haven't heard from you in a while."
He doesn't take the comment as accusatory. They both know that no matter how seldom Al calls or writes, he still does so with more frequency than his brother.
"I haven't had access to any phones since we've been traveling in some pretty rural areas. We've only been in the capital a few days; while we were gone, they put telephones in the hotel rooms so you don't have to go to the lobby. Isn't that neat? But anyway, the reason I called is to say—" She hears him pause for breath before his bright voice exclaims, "Congratulations!"
It only now occurs to Winry that this is the first time she's been congratulated on becoming a mother. Up until now the closest thing she's received to praise was a surprised "Wow, cool!" from Paninya. Granny's had plenty of encouraging things to say, but she skipped the pleasantries, as she was the one to call Winry out on it when it was a secret. Those who don't know her personally just ask politely vague questions, and those who do know her (and thereby know that Ed is more often than not in another country) are usually too confused to respond properly. On the plus side, nobody has felt the need to ask how she's going to manage both raising a child and running her business.
Of course Al would be the first to find the unplanned pregnancy a cause for immediate and exuberant celebration. Or maybe he just knows exactly what she needs to hear. Either way, the effect works, so much that she feels as if his words physically warm her.
"Thanks." She smiles against the receiver. "When did Ed call you? I haven't seen him all day."
"A few hours ago," says Al. "He's at the library now. He said it didn't really hit him until this morning, but after he threw up he felt much better, so he went to go find out as much as he can about parenting."
"Oh, that's good. I think."
Al starts to say something else, but a second, feminine voice calls out from the background. The muffled sound of his answer tells her that he was kind enough to cover the receiver before shouting back—it can't have been for privacy's sake, because Winry doesn't understand a word of his response. Al mutters a quick "Hang on, she forgot her towel", the phone rustles as he sets it down, and Winry hears more rapid Xingese in the background before Mei Chang calls out a clear, "Hi Winry!"
Winry's still giggling when Al returns to the phone. "Sorry about that!"
"Well, listen to you! You're really getting the hang of that language."
"You think so?" She can practically see him perk up from across the line. "I have a pretty strong accent, but Mei says I'm getting better. It helps that she won't speak to me except in Xingese." More background chatter from Mei. "Hey, listen Winry, I've gotta go. But I'll be seeing you soon."
"You will? You're coming home?"
"Yeah, big brother and I have some work to do in Amestris. And even more important… I can't miss becoming an uncle!"
He's so positive that she almost can't handle it—the unappeasable urge to hug him is overwhelming to the point of pain. Leaning against the front desk, Winry feels at ease for the first time since arriving at Central.
"All right," she says, "Tell everyone I said hello. Safe travels, Uncle Al."
He laughs that light titter he saves for when he's caught off guard. Winry hangs up and smirks into her palm, feeling foolish for the lump in her throat but not foolish enough to regret it.
Ed returns a while later, balancing two paper to-go cups and several more books. With the drill whizzing in her ears and her attention fastened to work, Winry doesn't realize he's in the room until he's set one of the drinks down in front of her. She lifts her goggles to look at the cup, then at Ed.
"You're not sleeping tonight, right?"
"That's right!" Winry picks up the cup and gives its contents a wary sniff. Green tea, pomegranate. The tart smell makes her taste buds cringe and water. She takes a sip. No sugar. So he does know. "Mmm, thanks," she says, holding her goggles up so she can eye him over the brim while going for seconds. "How was the library?"
"Educational." If he's wondering how she knew his location, he doesn't show it. His says it almost dismissively. Had she not known him better she may have mistaken his dryness for boredom. "Though they didn't have any copies of How To Do Better Than Your Rotten Father."
"Last I checked you weren't a philosopher's stone, so that's a good start."
Ed utters an irritated laugh. "You don't even have to go that deep into it; all I'd have to do is care enough to stick around and that'd do it."
"So why bother with the book, then?" Winry deadpans.
He grumbles something indistinct and she takes it as an invitation to return to work. She takes intermittent sips of her drink, reveling in the sweet force of caffeine. Ed sits upright on the bed and scribbles in his notebook. For several hours they do not speak, instead letting the clank of hand tools and muffled street noise fill the space between them. It's a sharp jab in the ribs that finally pulls Winry out of her labor.
"Hey, knock that off. I'm working," she mutters. Winry presses down on the spot in a futile effort to quell the kicking. In turn, she's rewarded with an even harder kick in the bladder. "Oh, you are so grounded!"
"Did you say something?" says Ed from across the room.
She laughs, still bent over her work with two fingers stuck between her ribs. "No, just arguing with the—oh!"
Winry stands so fast that Ed drops his book in alarm and cries, "What is it?"
"I forgot—here, quick, give me your hand."
Ed tentatively lifts one hand, staring at it like it's moving of its own volition. Winry eases down across from him on the mattress and tucks one leg in. The creak of the added weight almost tips him over.
"It happens so often, I forgot you've never felt the kicking."
Ed looks from his hand to her midsection, as though she's cuffed him upside the head and he's too dazed to process her words. "Are… can I?"
"What? Yes! Come on, before he stops."
"He?" His reply is far off, an afterthought.
Winry grabs the hand that froze halfway between them and guides it to her midsection. "I know, it's silly to guess. There's no proof that intuition means anything, but the feeling's still there. And technically, it's a fifty percent chance I'm right, right? Just a coin toss."
Ed has stopped listening. She drops off, too, upon realizing that the look on his face is something she's never seen before. He brings a second hand alongside the first, lines them up along her midline and slowly travels along the curve of her belly until he finds the place where the kicks are strongest. His face pales, jaw hanging slightly, but his hands are steady.
When he finally speaks, he sounds almost short of breath. "Wow." He glimpses up. "Does that freak you out?"
"It used to, a little bit, but not anymore. We're used to each other."
"Wow, that's… it's amazing." He pauses, considering his words. "All my life I could study Alkahestry and never come to anything worthwhile, but this—this is the coolest thing I've ever made, and I didn't even know I did it! Human procreation is so awesome. It's so beyond our understanding but it happens without us even thinking about it."
Winry chuckles. "Don't sell yourself short. There's some thinking involved."
"Not as much as you might think," he says, answering her laugh with his own. Then, without warning, Ed turns sober-faced. He turns his attention back to his hands. "I'm sorry I missed it. I wish I could have been there."
"Don't be sorry. You'll be there for the more important parts."
"Yeah, I will."
The warmth she'd felt while on the phone is back again, curled up in her chest like it's trying to fill the gap she carries with her. It's the close it's ever come, and she's in no hurry to chase it away. Ed seems to be sharing this sentiment, but he looks pensive rather than content. Apparently this little glimpse of his family's future isn't enough.
"Let's get married," he says, and before Winry has even processed his words she answers, "What? No!"
Ed gapes at Winry. She stares back, and it takes a long beat of silence for them both to grasp what has just happened. A second later, it hits them so hard that they both cry out in panicked mortification.
Winry flings her arm out and points at him. "Did you just propose to me?" she shouts.
"Did you just turn me down? Agh!"
Ed topples backward across the bed with a second, more strangled yelp as the back of his head smacks into the footboard. Winry can feel her face glowing, her ears burning. Frantically, she tries to think of something to say that can salvage whatever remains of the peaceful moment, but she's lost it. Ed has lapsed into a semi-conscious state, repeating broken phrases like "didn't even consider it" and "way too easy" to nobody in particular.
Winry buries her face in one hand. "That didn't come out right. Listen, Ed—" she says, but he's still strewn across the bed, unresponsive. She has to grab his knee and shake it to get any reaction, and even then he merely makes a low-pitched whine that may or may not be his soul escaping through his mouth. "Oh, snap out of it! You know that's not—come on, let's talk a second."
It takes a fair amount of coaxing, but soon he's sitting upright and more or less coherent. Ed is flushed and flustered, but with his sanity no longer in question Winry knits her fingers together and sighs.
"Look, marriage isn't just—" All of a sudden she feels like she's lecturing. The fact that he won't look up from his hands isn't helping quash the image. This is something that's made sense in her head for months, yet trying to vocalize it is like trying to speak with a numb tongue. She sighs again, annoyed by her unexpected clumsiness. "Ed, you know I love you. You know that. But that's not enough."
Aside from the red tinge that rises high in his cheekbones, neither Ed nor Winry points out that this is the first time either of them has used that word. He does meet her eyes, though, a sign that he hasn't tuned her out yet. "What're you saying?"
"Do you remember the last time we saw each other before you went to Drachma, and you asked me to come with you?" He nods once, cautiously. "Tell me why I wouldn't go."
"Because—" Ed pauses, clearly trying to remember her exact words. "Because I'm not your only client. It wasn't fair of me to ask you to leave your whole business behind."
"Exactly! Now you have an obligation to finish this project that you and Al have started. You still have almost two years to learn as much as you can about Alkahestry. And if you do plan on coming home for good after, that means this could be your last chance to go and see the world. For me to ask you to give it all up, it wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be…"
The word 'equivalent' comes to mind, but Winry catches herself before she says it. Instead, she lets the rest of her sentence slide off.
"But what's that got to do with marriage?" says Ed, after waiting for her to continue. "It doesn't matter where we are, does it? We'd be just as married after I got back as before. It's not like… it's not like I want to be with anybody else!"
"Yeah, but I don't want to be married for the sake of married. It needs to mean more than that. I want it to mean that our family—" Here she gestures to her belly, to Ed, and then herself, "—will always be together. Small trips aside, I mean, I can't expect you never to travel again."
He's thinking of the Resembool train platform. Winry knows this because she's thinking of it, too, and how from the moment they agreed upon that eighty-five percent the rest just followed in the details. She intends to follow through on that promise—wants to, unbelievably so—but not without meeting certain conditions.
"Then you'll marry me when I'm done traveling for this project."
"Yeah," says Winry, and then, with more confidence, "I will." She's satisfied that he understands, but then he frowns and her assurance drops again. "What's the matter?"
"So while I spend two more years out west, you're going to have this baby and wait around until I get back?"
"Well no. It's not waiting around, exactly," Winry says hotly. She'll be lucky if she gets a moment to sit down in the next two years, much less waste precious downtime on waiting. Even the mention of it jolts her with such urgency that she fights the urge to stand and get moving. "I'll keep working as much as I can, and we won't be waiting, but we'll be here for you when you get back."
Suddenly Ed shakes his head and swings his legs off the side of the bed. He stands, strides to the door, whips around. "I've already missed so much. Ever since I found out, I've been thinking that something needs to change. Hearing you say that just solidifies it in my head."
Winry shrugs because she has no brilliant alternative to offer. "This might be the best we can do with what we've got."
"That's not good enough."
She's almost surprised that Ed doesn't slam the door when he walks out.
Just as planned, Winry works straight through night and into the following day. At some point Ed returns from wherever he stomped off to, but she pays him little heed and he doesn't interrupt her. And though she senses that he's trying to stay awake with her, when she glances over her shoulder just before sunrise he's passed out in his day clothes. He doesn't sleep long into the morning, and peeks over her shoulder first thing when he wakes up.
"Have you eaten at all?" he asks, all too casually for someone who didn't know what to do with his hands just hours before.
Winry lets him drag her down to the dining room for food and extensive amounts of caffeine, if only because it makes him feel marginally useful. She picks at her eggs and toast and listens to him rant about an alchemist he met the other day who claimed he could transmute gold from dust bunnies. With her brain taken hostage by ball bearings and lower leg physiology, she grasps well below her usual threshold for alchemy. Luckily, for the rest of the day he's kind enough to leave her to her drilling and trimming and outfitting. He returns around noon with lunch, leaving his jacket behind when he goes to deliver the Drachma report to Brigadier General Mustang's office.
It's upon returning from a trip to the toilet that she spots his notebook sticking out of his coat pocket. Naturally, Winry has to take a look. Ed is protective of it, but mostly just on principle—flipping through it, all she sees is a detailed travelogue that she knows is a code for his alchemy notes. After halfheartedly trying to decipher a passage on Resembool (in which Rockbell Automail is mentioned, along with the annual sheep festival), Winry turns to the center crease and finds that he's started a new section labeled, quite bluntly, 'parenthood'. These notes are more like scribbles, written in a hastier hand than the carefully-transcribed formulas in the front of the book. She skims them, curious more than anything. The first pages are all about embryonic development, the next about the birthing process (she turns these over a little quicker than the rest), and the last group is bullet-point list of miscellaneous tips and advice (including one line that says, 'do not shake infant (?!)'). With a nervous laugh, Winry returns the book to its home in Ed's pocket. Hopefully this research means that at least one of them will feel prepared when the time comes to deliver.
She tightens the last bolt around suppertime. Her shoulders ache and her joints protest at movement, but she nevertheless stands and stretches her arms over her head. All that remains is the final tinkering that comes after she affixes the automail onto Ed's outfitting. In the meantime, Ed is still out and the smell of axle grease has fused itself to her hair (more than usual, though no amount of scrubbing can shed all the signs—years of mechanical engineering has pervaded oil stains into the grooves of her palms like a tattoo).
Winry takes a long shower, standing beneath the spray until her skin burns red from the heat. She expects to find Ed stationed on the bed with his notes or on the floor with a book, but when she opens the door he's not in either of those places. It takes her a blink longer to spot him over by the desk, kneeling in front of her open bag with a book entitled Man Machine: A History of Drachma's Automail by his side, and another to spot the object in his hands—the revelation stops her as if she's walked into glass.
"Where did you get this?" Ed doesn't turn around when he says it, and he's so quiet that Winry almost thinks she's imagined his strange tone.
But no, with that thin leather book in her sight there's no sense in trying to convince herself otherwise. It opens easily in his palms, without cracking as it did the day she found it in Trisha Elric's bedside drawer, the spine loose and pliant from years of Winry looking through it. The decision to stow it in her bag had not been a conscious one. Like her parents' box from Ishval, sometimes these things wind up in her hands and she doesn't know why.
Over his shoulder she can see that he's exactly halfway through, on her favorite page of the whole album. In most of the photos Hohenheim looks almost sad, like he knew from the start that he wouldn't get to stay with his family—it's clear that he didn't like having his picture taken, the reason being obvious in hindsight. But in these it's different, as if Trisha caught him before he had a chance to think about the future. There's no crease between his brows, no distant sadness in the downturn of his mouth. On the left page, he has one infant son cradled in each arm, and he's actually smiling. The photo on the right is Hohenheim sprawled out on a couch in their old living room, his long legs sticking up awkwardly over the armrest and Ed sound asleep on his chest. Ed's only a few months old, no more than half a year and tiny, so small that his father only needs one hand to hold him safely in place.
"I took it from your house," Winry says. "The day you burned it down, I broke in and took it."
Ed leans in closer to inspect the photo on the right, as if he doesn't believe that he's seeing himself in the image. There can be no doubt, though. Like Ed of the present, little Ed sleeps with his tummy out and his mouth wide open. The one stray lock of hair that shoots straight up is a giveaway.
"I've never seen these before…" She can't see Ed's expression with his back turned, but his shoulders are tense enough to tell her that he's frowning.
"I know." Winry remembers the overheard conversation from the kitchen, the bitterness in Ed's voice as he renounced the only photograph of his father. "I think she—your mom—kept it locked up. When it's all you have left of someone you love, you keep it safe."
There's a snap as Ed closes the book in one hand. Winry winces at the whip-sharp sound, and for a fleeting second she thinks he might throw it across the room. He lifts the photo album in one hand, raises his arm and taps the corner against his chest, just once, before holding it out and dropping it unceremoniously into Winry's bag.
"That bastard," he says, but his voice is taut in his throat.
Once she's affixed the newly repaired automail onto Ed's fitting, the toll of the all-nighter wallops her over the head and sends her to bed without supper. When an hour passes and she still can't doze off, Ed shows her the book about Drachman automail that he'd been stashing in her bag when he discovered the photo album. It's printed in tiny letters, with Ed's careful notes written in the wide margins. She tries to read, sitting up in bed with her ankles crossed on Ed's lap. And when her eyes prove too strained from three full days of nonstop engineering, she passes the book to Ed, who reads it aloud until she falls asleep.
They linger in the morning. By afternoon they shower and pack her workshop back into her toolbox, and they have just enough time for brunch before Ed walks with Winry to Central station.
"I'll be home soon, so try to hold out," he says. "This is one thing I don't want to miss."
Winry rolls her eyes, but she can't hide a crooked half-smile. She drops her bag so she can hug him with both arms.
Two weeks of bed rest has Winry feeling less rested than she's felt in years. She's energized with nowhere to go, bored because Paninya keeps chasing away her clients, and after several days begins to suspect that work was the only thing keeping her emotions in check. One week in, her grandmother calls from Resembool to follow up on Winry's progress and instead finds her weeping over a jar of olives. After that, Granny calls the local doctor and hollers at him until he modifies Winry's care plan to allow light exercise and however much automail repair she can accomplish from her bed.
Two weeks in, two weeks until delivery. Winry wonders if anybody has ever died of aggravated boredom. To keep from feeling sorry for herself, she thinks of Al sitting awake, alone, every night, for five years.
It is on one of these nights, when Winry's flirting with sleep and glumly contemplating all the things she won't do tomorrow, that she hears a key in the lock of her apartment. There are exactly three keys. One is hers, the second belongs to the landlady who lives on the first floor (and whose snores Winry can hear at this moment, drifting up through the air vent), and the third—
The mismatched sound of Ed's footsteps travels to her bedroom. Before Winry can sit up, his silhouette is leaning over her.
"Oh good, you're awake," he says, not bothering to whisper. "C'mon, we're leaving."
Winry heaves herself upright, pressing a hand to the side of her head to quell the spinning that follows. Maybe her imagination's had too much time to get creative, or maybe it's just the shock of his nighttime arrival after a month of watching the door, but for some reason she immediately assumes that something awful has happened. "What's going on? Is everything all right?"
Ed laughs, the anxiety fades. "Yeah, everything's fine. Here—"
In the dimness she sees him reach into his pocket and withdraw with a closed fist. He takes her hand and presses something into her palm. There's a tinny clink, and before Winry looks down she knows that sound. The petite silver rings are hot from traveling in his pocket.
"Really?" she gasps. "You finished your project? But how?"
Ed shakes his head, plucking the rings back up and stowing them in his pocket. "The project isn't done, but Al and I figured it out. He's going to do the footwork in the West so I can do my part from home."
"That man…" She pauses when she notices her lip trembling, and has to take a long breath. "I'll have to call him today and thank him." When Ed's only response is a quiet chuckle, Winry turns her attention to the window, where presently the only light is a weak reflection of the lamp post outside. "What time is it?"
"Early. The sun won't be up for a while, but I thought…" Ed clears his throat. "No sense in wasting time."
Winry holds out her hands and asks him to help her stand. The present is finally catching up with her, the reality of what's happening seeping under her skin in a swoop of energy. If she's going to get married today, when her joints ache like hell and she can't see her feet when she looks down, she at least wants to feel clean. Ed doesn't protest when she announces that she needs to shower before they leave, which means they must have at least some time to spare. He takes her arm when he sees her struggling and walks her to the bathroom.
"What can I do to help?" he says. They pause so she can grab her ankle and stretch. She leans heavily on him as she sighs and shakes her legs out.
"The purple dress in my closet—it's one of the only things I can squeeze myself into. And maybe a sweater if you think it's chilly." And then, because she can't help but tease: "Gee Ed, it's not like you to be so romantic."
"I'm not. I'm just fulfilling our agreement," he says dismissively, but he's smirking, which means he's pleased.
Ed leaves her blinking in the bathroom light to undress and shower. In the last two weeks, this familiar path around the apartment has been her only path, and the hum of hot shower spray her only source of peace. Where she usually dwindles, though, this time Winry hurries to wash up. She hears the click of the door. Covertly she peeks out around the curtain and catches Ed trying to slip out after hanging her dress on the towel hook.
"Hey." Ed glances back at her voice, turning around when she beckons him with one finger. He looks like he's about to ask if she's okay, but before he can stop looking concerned, Winry grabs the collar of his shirt with one dripping hand and pulls him over for one long, slow kiss. Color is rising on his face when they resurface. Winry lets go and ducks back behind the curtain.
"It's good to see you, by the way," she says. "I'll be out in a few."
Ed blinks and nods and leaves without comment. It tickles her that he's still so easily ruffled. A small part of her hopes that he'll always blush like this.
Within minutes she's dried and dressed and shuffling back down the hallway. The hot water eased some of the stiffness from her muscles, woke her up a bit, and as she wrings her hair out she realizes the obvious flaw in Ed's plan.
"I hope you know that town hall doesn't open until almost noon today," she calls out, unsure of where to find him.
His reply comes from the kitchen. Winry has to come to a complete stop before turning around and starting towards his voice. "Yeah, but you repaired the notary public's automail for free once, so I pulled a favor and he agreed to meet us in half an hour."
Winry stops just outside the doorway and spots Ed sitting in the closest kitchen chair, munching on the apple she'd planned to have for breakfast.
"I don't remember him," she says, but then again, she does a lot more free repairs than she'll admit (especially to Garfiel). "What model does he wear?"
Ed shrugs, swallows the bite. "Dunno. It's a pretty sweet deal, though, he's not charging us or anything. The only condition was that I had to bring my own witnesses."
Grinning, Ed jerks a thumb over his shoulder. Winry steps forward and, puzzled as to how he could have found two people awake enough at this hour to recruit as witnesses, cranes to look around the doorframe. Then she shrieks.
Until now all of this has seemed so surreal, like she might still be in that hazy space between wake and sleep where her dreams are the most vivid. But seeing him there, sitting across from Ed with one hand raised in a wave, suddenly makes everything very real.
Al meets her halfway, catching her around her middle when she throws her arms around his neck. The year's been kind to him; his shoulders feel broader and stronger and he's once again outgrown his brother. Aside from that he's just the same; he greets her with the same wide grin, the same laugh and the same mannerisms. And, bless him, he even asks permission before touching her belly (as if he weren't on the short list of people who don't need to ask).
"Witnesses," she says, stepping back from the embrace to give him room. "Does that mean Mei's here?"
He's already kneeled and pressed his ear against her stomach, but once he's done he stands up and brushes the dust from his slacks. "She's bringing our stuff to the hotel, but she'll meet us at town hall."
"Great! You have wonderful timing. After two weeks of being stuck with bed rest, it's nice to finally get out. Let's go!" Winry pulls her jacket off the coat hook and throws it around her shoulders, over her sweater. But when she turns around, both Ed and Al are staring at her like she's struck them over the ears.
"Did you say 'bed rest'?" says Ed.
"Maybe we ought to bring the clerk here instead," Al offers.
Winry waves them both away and transfers her keys from their home on the countertop to her pocket. Even the weight and jingle of the keys heightens her mood further. "Just a little false labor, I think it was a fluke." Her dismissal only draws more apprehension. The brothers exchange a nervous glance. "Oh, come on, a few hours out won't change anything. The worst case scenario is my water breaks and one of you has to carry me to the hospital, but don't worry, it's practically next to town hall."
The news takes a bit of the thunder from Ed's stride, and it's only with extra encouragement and persuasion that she gets them out the door. They flank her on either side like they're braced to catch her should she suddenly faint out of nowhere, but Winry's too smitten and eager to get annoyed by a little hovering. Outside the air holds the damp, cold smell of morning. A mist hovers over the lamp posts, echoing their light like tall, yellow-orange matchsticks lighting the sidewalk. Winry holds the air in her lungs, lets the freshness fill her up, and thinks that it's a worthy day to be married.
The whole process takes only a few minutes. They arrive at the town hall to find Mei standing alongside the clerk—a man who Winry vaguely remembers repairing for free after Ed damaged his automail during an arm wrestling match. The man lets them into the office, guides them through the forms, and has all parties sign. Ed takes the rings out of his pocket and slides one onto Winry's finger, then gives her the other to return the gesture. His face is oddly blank, but when she takes his hand and fixes the second ring onto his finger she feels him tremble. The wedding bands hang loosely, both clearly too wide for their respective owners, but Ed's apparently planned for this too. Gently, he takes hold of her wrist and sets her hand atop his, fingers to wrist, and presents them to Al.
"Try not to cut our fingers off, little brother," he says.
Al shakes his head in false disappointment. "Have a little faith!"
He claps once and presses Ed and Winry's hands between his own. Winry startles at the flash of blue, almost surprised when the band tightens to a perfect fit around her ring finger. The clerk signs and notarizes the document, giving a copy to all parties, and the job is done. Afterward, the four thank the clerk and go scout out the only place to get food at this hour, which happens to be a breakfast café.
Neither the wedding nor makeshift reception are particularly formal affairs. Of the two of them, Ed is the one with flashy taste—Winry had never put much thought into what her wedding might be like, especially not once her parents passed—and yet here they are, crammed into a lumpy booth just before sunrise, eating waffles with cream and syrup and fruit. The reasons are always simple; it follows that the course is simple, too. Winry is content to share it with her little family, and in that way it feels more gratifying than any wedding party could ever be.
"So what's it like, you two?" Al says, after setting down his empty milk glass.
Ed shoves his mouth full of waffle and answers between bites. "What d'ya mean?"
"Being married!" says Mei. "Does it feel any different?"
Winry doesn't answer, instead watching Ed pull a face and swallow his bite too quickly. He coughs and takes a long swig from his coffee mug.
"Technically we're not married yet. The paperwork can't be officially filed until town hall opens at noon."
"Oh, brother, don't be so dismissive!"
"What?" Ed says, defensively. "It's not like anything's changed now, right? We even kept our last names the same!"
This answer launches Al, Ed, and Mei into a debate over what constitutes marriage, effectively leaving the question behind. Winry shakes her head and takes another forkful of breakfast. Ed could relent, just to tell her that it means as much to him as it does to her, that for all the little trinkets that signify it—a pair of rings, a piece of parchment—there's something even bigger behind the symbols, but he doesn't have to. He finds her hand under the table and squeezes it, and she knows.