Chapter Seventeen

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The first rays of the morning sun hadn't quite peaked over the small town of Dublith. The sky was still blanketed with the presence of night, despite the bleeding orange color that began to brighten the dark. The people of the town were still tucked away in their beds; even the farmers hadn't dared to wake and begin their day of labor. No, not a single soul had risen from their slumber. None, except for Edward Elric.

He was roused by soft breaths puffing against the skin of his nose, causing it to twitch relentlessly until consciousness finally overtook him. He didn't bother opening his eyes at first. Instead, he wrapped his arms around the small body that rested against him, and pulled it closer. A small sigh escaped it, and Ed breathed in a clean, familiar scent and sleepily nuzzled his face into soft skin, grumbling quietly before eventually giving into the fact that he couldn't fall back asleep.

When Edward finally did open his eyes, his smile was almost wide enough to crack skin when the sight of the girl in his grasp became clear. He had stayed in Winry's room with her the whole night through; kissing her with every fiber of his being and sleeping soundly with her in an intertwined bundle on the small attic bed. The feeling of her mouth against his was still as fresh and sense-tingling as it had been hours ago, and having her nestled so closely to him only made the memory of their night together all the more heart-pounding.

He played with the ends of her long blonde hair, taking in the features of her face as she nuzzled her cheek to his chest. Her eyelashes were ridiculously long; he was very certain they touched the hairs on her brow when her eyes were open, and she had the lightest of freckles decorating the bridge of her nose, and they trickled, little by little, across her sun-kissed cheeks. Her mouth was hanging slightly open, and she let out soft sighs as the early hours turned into day. Damn, the thought of trying to leave her felt physically impossible. He knew when he woke that he needed to sneak back out and get to his own room before Izumi found him, but every nerve in his body told him to stay completely entangled with the girl that was nestled in his arms. If he didn't fear dying for being there, he'd have no problem lying in bed with her for the rest of his life.

But light began to seep into the room through the open window, and Edward let out a mournful sigh as he slowly tried to lift Winry off him. She stirred, and groaned out a sound something similar to a disgruntled pup, before her eyes blinked open and locked onto his. Even half awake with a dead stare and partially covered in drool, the girl was beautiful.

"Hey," he smiled, and she grinned back.

"Hey," she echoed sleepily, and yawned before looking out the sunlit window. "Is it morning already?"

"Unfortunately," he grumbled, and fully shifted her body to his side, resting her head on the inner part of his arm, while running his hand lightly up and down her back.

Winry wrapped an arm across his torso and huffed loudly into the skin of his neck. "When do you have to go?"

"What?" Ed sniggered, and pulled Winry closer. "Are you going to miss me, Winry? Is being apart for a few minutes just too much for you?"

"Says the sap that snuck into my room, because he couldn't sleep without me," she chided, nuzzling her nose against him.

"Tch, like you were any better off," he retorted, and pecked her forehead, then cheek, and eventually, her lips. "You know, I think this is the first time in a while you didn't cry in your sleep."

Winry' scrunched her nose. "I don't cry in my sleep."

Ed scoffed, cocking an eyebrow as he cupped her cheek. "Yeah, ya do. A lot. Ever since Liore, to be exact."

"Well," Winry started, as she began to run her fingers through his loose hair. "Maybe I was too worn out to even try, or you were too tuckered out to even hear me."

Ed grinned mischievously. "I wouldn't doubt either of those possibilities. You had me pretty far gone with that mouth of yours."

"Edward!" she gasped, and swatted his shoulder lightly.

"What?" he laughed, grabbing her hand and brushing her knuckles against his lips. "You said it."

"Or," Winry continued, in an attempt to ignore his previous comment, "it could be because it was the first night I didn't have a nightmare."

He let her fingers stay pressed against his mouth. "Really?"

She nodded. "Yeah, I think.. I think talking about everything helped get them out of me, at least for one night."

The horrors she confessed to him flooded his mind as she spoke, making him relive Kimblee's attack and the torture they both endured in that church. The memory of her being pierced through the middle by that monster's damned blade made his blood boil, while also leaving him completely terrified. He couldn't imagine the darkness that plagued her, but he'd be damned if anything like that every happened to her again. He hooked a finger under her chin and lifted her face so that her eyes met his.

"You won't ever have any nightmares again, if I can help it," he told her earnestly.

Winry chuckled and cupped his jaw, bringing him closer to her mouth. "Well, then, I guess you have to stay here with me every night. Just to make sure."

"If only," he breathed in between light kisses. "I got to get going. Izumi will be up any minute."

Winry pouted, causing Ed to laugh, and he reluctantly rolled off of the bed.

"I don't think she'd kill you for being in my room," she chided, watching Ed tie back his hair and readjust his clothing. "She seems like a nice woman."

Edward's lip curled up in both fear and the complete shock at how little Winry knew of Izumi. "You have no idea what she's capable of doing, and I'm not stupid enough to try and find out."

Winry huffed in annoyance, but Ed merely rolled his eyes in response, and pecked her cheek before heading towards his escape route. He barely got one leg out of the window before Winry sprinted to his side, cupping his face with both hands and pulling him in for a long, breath-stealing kiss. Ed nearly lost balance, but regained it by wrapping an arm around Winry's waist and bringing her to his side. Both were grinning wildly as their lips stayed locked; small bubbles of laughter filled the air behind their tongues as their grips on one another tightened, both too fixated on one another to really let go.

"Damn it, you're going to get me caught," Ed said into her mouth, and Winry grinned wider against his.

"Oh, you'll be fine," she whispered back, but Ed pulled his head away as she tried to go back in to the kiss. "Big baby."

Ed flung his other leg out the window and set his feet into the vines. "Better that than dead."

Winry laughed openly, the sound clear like a bell, and leaned against the windowsill. "I'll see you at breakfast?"

Ed smirked as he looked up at her. "Yeah, you bet."

She smiled, and dropped her head to give the boy one last kiss before slipping back into the room and shutting the window. Edward took a moment to gape at the window, then the sky, and smile embarrassingly wide to himself as he continued his descent. He never would have believed life could turn out to be so incredible. Perhaps equivalent exchange existed in more than just alchemy; it was proving to show that the years of anguish and pain he had fought through since the loss of his mother was being paid back with an unfathomable amount of happiness, due to his brother waking, and love, thanks to Winry. Lightness began to brew in Ed's stomach, making him feel as though, if he fell from his spot on the vines, he'd drift through the air like a feather, and land safely on his feet. He knew it was ridiculous; hell, if he weren't the person feeling such strange emotions, he wouldn't even be able to comprehend the idea. At this point, however, he was beyond the point of caring. It was strange, but then again, everything he knew about love was strange, and if it meant having nights like last night, and mornings like this one, he was more than fine with it.

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Mustang was jolted awake by what he thought was the sound of an attack. Rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hands, he stood from his cot and darted towards the barn door, stopping only when he noticed Hawkeye swinging hir feet aimlessly as sie sat perched atop a high beam.

"You were dreaming about war again," sie stated, hir eyes never leaving the small opening at the top of the doorway, showing hir the outside. "Don't worry. The town is fine. The people are safe."

The panic that had begun to swell in his belly started to calm. Sie was right, he was dreaming about war. Ever since he had arrived in this small town, flashbacks of his time in battle stung the back of his mind, bleeding into his every thought. What made it worse, was the way he noticed the slight change in looks of the townspeople as he and his men helped Izumi and Sig with house work to pay for their stay in the barn. It was apparent that his men were not of this country, and despite the motley collection of ethnicities he spotted throughout the day, he could tell they all feared the pale skin of his soldiers. It made him worry for Winry, as he knew how painfully she and Edward would try to make Dublith her home.

A twinge of nerves pulsating through his body as the memory of their fight from the night before came flooding back to him, and Mustang sucked in a breath. "I see."

Sie looked towards him, hir face blank as sie said. "Seems Edward is attempting to sneak out of the cottage's attic window."

Mustang's brow furrowed as he stared back at hir. "And what might that mean?"

Hawkeye smirked, unsettling Roy slightly, and turned hir head back towards the cracked door. "I saw Winry opening said window late last night."

Roy thought he was going to choke on his own tongue. "W-what?!"

With a bounce of hir leg, Hawkeye dropped the front of hir body toward the ground, flipping hirself around the beam and landed quietly on the ground. Roy could see a chuckle building behind hir blank expression.

"Don't worry," sie replied, walking past him towards hir cot. "Nothing of an impure nature occurred."

"I'm offended that you'd imply that to be my first concern," Roy remarked, but looked to the ground as he said. "How do you know?"

"My sight isn't the only sense that's heightened," sie answered, and pointed to hir ears as sie grabbed hir cloak, "and of course it was. I can tell by the increase in your heartbeat and the way your eyes dilated. They do that whenever you think of something impure."

Roy felt a blush dare to tint his face. "I see."

Riza draped the cloak around hir shoulders and pulled the hood over hir head. "I don't believe you really do, because I know that you're still planning on taking her back, despite what you see happening."

Sie grabbed hir bow and quiver, and placed them on hir person as sie continued, "They've already professed their feelings. If you take her away now, you're going to destroy her."

"This isn't a decision I can easily make, Riza," he retorted, doing his best to keep his voice at a hushed tone. "I can't just leave the only heir to my kingdom in a place that considers her a monster!"

"And where do you see such convictions here?" sie exclaimed moving dangerously fast towards him. "Where are the people who damn her for the color of her skin? Did you not see her enter town and be embraced with love? She is safe here!"

"For how long?" Roy replied, his fists clenching. "You say your eyes are sharp, but you're not seeing the lingering stares that follow her. I saw disproval in the eyes of Edward's caretaker, and I'm certain there are others who will persecute her just by looking at her! She is alone here!"

"She has Edward," Hawkeye seethed, hir chest bumping into his.

"Like you had me?" Mustang replied, and hir aggression slipped. "Riza, they're going to find out about her power if she stays. Do you really think they'd accept her after that?"

"I…" sie began, and dropped hir gaze to the floor. "I do not know."

"Do you think Ed wouldn't sacrifice his happy home here to keep her safe?" Roy asked hir, placing a hand on hir shoulder. "That he wouldn't jeopardize his life to give her sanctuary when people finally learn how Alphonse woke?"

Roy stared down at hir, seeing the revelation in hir fire eyes. "She won't ever be safe here, Riza. She needs to be guarded…"

Riza scoffed. "No more, Roy."

Sie brushed his hands away, and walked towards the barn doors. "I'll be leaving tonight. Alone."

Roy felt a lump grow in his throat, straining his chest. "Is that truly what you want?"

Riza didn't respond. Instead, sie slipped out the doors without another moment to pass. Roy stepped backwards until his heel brushed the side of his cot and dropped into it, running his hands down his face as he cursed himself for not thinking this plan through more precisely.

How could he not see those two falling for one another? How did he not factor that in the first time he saw them together, that fateful day in the woods? Edward had nearly died by the bite of his flames, and he did it to save Winry. Even if they hadn't recognize it, he should have known it was happening. They were no different than him and Riza at that age.

"Sounds like you're in a middle of a rock and hard place, eh, boss?"

Roy looked up quickly, spotting Jean Havoc sitting up in his own cot, smirking as he lit his tobacco pipe and took a long puff. "Wonder how the kid'll react knowing he's been trying to court royalty."

Roy didn't respond. Instead, he stared down at the hay beneath his feet. He had no idea how Edward or Winry would take it, and he deeply feared the outcome.

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Riza practically fled the barn in a heated, emotional whirlwind. Sie breathed deeply through hir belly, demanding hir heart and lungs to calm before sie could no longer hold back hir anger. He was a fool, a complete and utter fool. Yet, at the same time, so was sie. Perhaps, deep down, sie wished for them to stay together so that, in some odd way, sie found happiness in hir inability to be with Roy. Through Edward and Winry, sie could let hir hopes for a day where sie and the boy from the burning village could be together free. To know sie helped those two overcome their horrors and let them come together in a peaceful resolution, it would have been enough for hir. Sie could let go of the dream of letting hir love shine, knowing that sie was able to help another brighten the world with theirs. Now, sie feared sie would never be free of that damned heartache. The elders of hir clan were right; love was for the weak, for children that knew nothing of sacrifice.

Sie brought hir hand to head, feeling hir eyes grow heavy, when the sound of voices filled the morning silence. They sang in a hauntingly beautiful tone; their voices harmonizing together in a language that sounded foreign to hir, yet, at the same, incredibly familiar. It felt as though sie were reliving a childhood memory. Riza walked towards the front of the cottage, following the sound of the voices that tantalized hir, practically pulled hir to them as sie tried to find their source.

From a distance, a cluster of people weaving in and out and around each other moved through the street, belting that strangely beautiful chant like it was as natural as breathing. They swayed between one another as fluidly as water moved through a stream; not only singing, but playing instruments and dancing in such a captivating way.

Sie was so fixated on the performance, sie barely noticed the presence that moved beside hir, and looked to see Edward, grinning widely to himself as he took in the very same sight.

"I haven't watched an Ishvalan song of celebration in a long while," he said. "Still as awesome as I remember."

Riza remained quiet, watching in awe as the group of Ishvalan paraders finally reached the small cottage. They sang with a vitality that left hir completely astounded, but what struck hir deeply was when the melody altered, and a lone voice began a new piece. It was raw, but beautiful as it held out the beginning notes of a hymn Riza was startled to realize sie knew. It propelled hir back decades in the past, to when sie was a young child, still learning the ways of hir people. One of the elders that watched over the younglings would chant the very same piece; ensnaring hir and all the other children with its beauty. That chant… did it belong to a people that hir clan eradicated? Was that one, soothing memory bathed in the blood of innocents? Did that elder truly sing that song in celebration, or was it an attempt to cling to an old way of life that had been ripped away from them?

A small child from within the group ran around the edge of their parade, their open-mouth baring a toothless grin as they clumsily twirled and swayed by their feet. Their large, bright red eyes reminded Riza of hir youth; and hir heart sank deeper. How many people had hir clan destroyed in the name of the Xerxian king? Was sie the result of their expedition to further Xerxes? Was sie the product of their crusade?

An old man bounded before them, pulling Edward into his arms and hugging him tightly.

"Praise Ishvala!" he bellowed. "Our prayers have been answered! Young Edward, you are home!"

Edward rubbed the back of his neck as the man released his hold on him. "It's good to see you again, Master Logue."

The old man cupped Edward's face and pointed it towards the light, eyeing his features closely. "Ah! Just like your father, you look! But your nose, it is your mother's, indeed!"

The boy smirked awkwardly. "Thanks?"

"You've grown well, boy!" he replied. "Now, your brother! Where might he be?! We are celebrating the miracle of his awakening!"

"Your 'miracle' is still in bed," Ed laughed. "But no worries, he'll be up soon."

The old man scurried back towards the parade. "He'd better! We hope to see both of you in the town square tonight! We must honor Ishvala for answering our prayers, and celebrate young Alphonse's arrival back!"

He turned and looked at Riza, who was taken aback as he shouted, "You too, my child! Join us to honor our creator!"

"We'll be there," Edward exclaimed, and shook his head as he chuckled, watching the old man bounce back into the cluster of his people, still singing and dancing in honor of their god.

Riza replayed the man's words in hir head, completely baffled by his assumption. There was no doubting that sie bore the same eyes as those of Ishval, but that did not mean sie was of their blood…did it?

"Tonight looks like it's going to be one hell of a party," Ed stated, lifting his arms in air and folding them behind his head. "You and the bastard are still going to be around, right?"

"Truthfully," sie began. "I was planning on leaving before the sun completely rose."

Edward's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I see."

His arms fell to his side before turning towards his home, and he added. "Look, I'm not going to tell you what to do or anything, but I think you deserve a night to just relax and enjoy some fun. You should try sticking around for one more night."

"Perhaps," sie responded. "Though, having me stay could be bad."

"How so?" Ed said.

Riza smirked as sie adjusted hir quiver. "I could let it slip to your caretaker that you nearly ruined the greenery on the house, trying to sneak out of Winry's room."

Ed's eyes grew wide, and he gulped nervously before saying. "On second thought, do whatever you want."

Riza grinned under the cover of hir hood. If their love was ill-fated, sie would at least do what many elders had done to hir and Roy: tease relentlessly while they could. At least he'll know sie knew, and that sie kept it secret for as long as sie could, despite hir slight taunting. It was immature, but it was light-hearted fun. Sie needed a little of that before things turned for the worse.

With that, hir and Edward parted ways; him going to the cottage, and hir heading towards town. Something ate at hir about the Ishvalans and their songs, something sie needed to figure out.

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Izumi watched the parade from the front window of the cottage, smiling to herself as the Ishvalans sang their songs of praise. She loved seeing the town care so deeply for others, even if they differed in race, religion, gender, or any other thing. The festival that would be held in town, however, made her rather nervous. She still needed to find out just how deep Edward's relationship with the Winry girl had become; she hoped she would be able to confront him before a huge town celebration.

She watched Edward as he approached the front door, openly it as quietly as possible, and slipping into the front room as though he were trying to sneak in.

"Good morning," she announced, and sipped on her glass of tea while he nearly jumped out of his boots in shock.

"Ah!-uh, Izumi! Good morning!" he rattled off, laughing nervously.

"What are you doing up so early?" she asked him, and it was blatantly obvious how nervous he had become.

"Uh, just…listening to the singing," he started. "Hadn't heard songs like that in a while."

Izumi squinted her eyes at him. He wasn't quite lying, but she could tell he wasn't giving her the entire truth. She sat the glass down on the dining table and walked towards the boy, crossing her arms as they stood toe-to-toe. She was rather shocked to see that they were at eye level; he had grown so much in the years that he'd been gone.

He sucked in his lips as she stared at him, which she recognized immediately as his tell sign. It hadn't changed since he was a little boy.

"What else have you been up to?" she began, but was interrupted by the sound of feet running down steps.

Winry came bounding into the room, practically glowing as she grinned from ear-to-ear. "Did you hear the music in the streets this morning?!"

"I think we all heard it," came Alphonse's voice carried out from within the boys' room, soon followed by his sluggish figure.

"Don't get cranky, Al," Ed laughed. "That singing was for you."

Al yawned as he sat at the table, stretching his arms high above his head as he said, "But why would they do it so early?!"

"Maybe it was meant to be a wake up call to get the celebration started!" Winry piped, taking a seat beside the younger brother. "I'm really excited for it! What are festivals in Dublith like?"

Before Izumi could even try to get another word in, Edward had taken off to the table and began, in great detail, to inform the girl about the many festivals and celebrations the town had from his youth. She nearly snatched the boy up by his damned braid and force him to answer her question fully, but as she watched the three of them at the table, she saw a liveliness in the brothers that she missed so dearly.

She uncrossed her arms and wrapped them around her middle tightly, as she watched Edward and Winry move closer to one another, little by little. This was a bad omen, she just knew it. She felt her insides grow cold as she thought about the awful news she would have to give to the boy eventually, but how in the world was she going to tell him?

The front door of her cottage burst open, revealing the young girl Mei as she came running in, almost jumping out her skin as she squealed towards Alphonse and the others.

"There's going to be a celebration tonight!" she exclaimed. "Oh! It's been so long since the town has celebrated anything!"

Mei quickly took a seat in between Edward and Winry, much to Ed's dismay, and turned perkily towards the latter. "This will be your first festival in Dublith, yes?"

"Um, yeah," Winry laughed, and Mei let out an ear-piercing squeal.

"Ah! You must get ready with me!" she demanded, clapping her hands in excitement. "There aren't many girls our age around here, and it'd be so much fun!"

Winry's smile grew as wide as Mei's, and she nodded her head. "Okay, sounds great!"

"AAAH! Let's be off, then!" she shrieked, grabbing Winry's hand before she could protest, and leading her towards the door. "Good-bye, Alphonse! I'll see you in town tonight!"

"Good-bye, Mei!" Alphonse said. "I can't wait to see your dress!"

The girl blushed as she ran out, pulling Winry along with her like a rag doll.

Once the room quieted, Edward let out a snort and leaned back in the seat. "I don't think that bean girl even noticed I was here."

"There's not much to notice," Izumi chided, as she walked by. "Alright, I guess now is the best time to start breakfast. Boys, go get started on chores."

"Chores?!" they said in unison, and she shot a deathly glare. "GOT IT!"

They both scurried out of the house within seconds, and Izumi chuckled proudly. Nice to know she could still scare the little brats senseless.

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Riza stared at the outside of the Ishvalan temple, contemplating whether or not being there was really a smart idea. After everything sie went through in Liore, hir instincts should be screaming at hir to stay as far away from holy places as possible. Yet there sie was, standing only a few feet away from the entrance. Did sie really need to go to this place? What kind of answers was sie expecting to find in this house of worship? What kind of questions did sie even have? This all was beginning to feel so foolish.

"May I help you?"

Riza nearly jumped as an Ishvalan man walked up beside hir. How in the hell was sie letting people sneak up on hir?

Sie turned and look at the man, and realized from his robes that he was one of the temple's monks. "No, sorry. My apologies. I think it was a mistake coming here."

Sie moved to walk away, but the man's voice caused hir to stop once more. "You're of Ishvalan blood, aren't you?"

Riza turned towards him, hir eyes fixated on the ground. "How do you figure?"

The man's face was stern, and his features sharp, but he wore a kind smile as he pointed to his eyes. "I can see the red, even under your cloak."

Damn it, Riza thought, and, with a sigh, removed hir hood and let hir eyes flicker up to the man.

He nodded slowly, taking in her lighter complexion and dark gold hair. "So you are both Ishvalan and Xerxian. From where exactly do you hail?"

Riza remained stoic. "I have no home to hail from. I… I thought I knew my people, my heritage, but now I am unsure."

The monk's lips pursed in thought as he continued to nod his head. "I have to do my daily duties in the temple, would you mind keeping me company?"

"I don't think it'd be wise of me to step in such a holy place," sie stated.

"None are without sin," he responded. "No matter the wrong you've done, Ishvala does not look down on their children with disdain."

Riza turned away from the monk and the temple, shaking hir head fiercely, as though sie were trying to shake out the thoughts from hir mind. "Thank you for your kindness, but I don't think your god could look past the things I've done."

Sie began to walk away before the monk could say another word.

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Winry had to sprint across the town in order to keep her arm in tact with her body. This Mei girl may have been small, but she had a tight grip! She had nearly yanked her wrist clean off several times from twists and turns they took as they dashed towards the small hut she called home on the opposite side of Dublith.

Mei let go of her as they walked through the hut's small door. Winry rubbed her wrist as she watched the girl scurry about the front room, taking in the simple, but lovely features of the home.

"Is it just you here?" Winry asked, and the girl laughed as she shook her head.

"Oh, no! My brother and our guards live here, too!" Mei replied. "They're not usually here, though. The three of them act as a few of the town's protectors, but they'll be taking the night off for the festival!"

"I can't wait to meet them!" Winry said honestly.

Mei chuckled as she pulled out a large trunk into the room. "I'm sure they'll love to meet you, too. Though, I should warn you, my brother may try to betroth you."

Winry's cheeks flushed, causing Mei to only laugh harder. "But don't worry! It'd be a joke more than anything. He's quite in love with his personal guard."

"Oh," Winry sighed, and smiled softly; she'd had enough unwanted proposals for a lifetime, she hoped she wouldn't receive anymore.

With that, Mei opened the trunk and pull out several vibrantly colored gowns, all made of a gorgeous silk. She laid them out onto a clean mat, taking care to make sure none of their edges or sleeves touched the floor. Winry was in awe of the detail embroidered into each gown; how much time did the maker put into them?!

"Now, lets see!" Mei piped, bouncing her index finger off her bottom lip inquisitively. "I think I'm a little partial to the lavender… What about you?"

Winry pulled her eyes from the dress made of pale pink silk and gaped at the girl. "What do you mean?"

"Which one do you like?" Mei giggled.

"Oh," she started, and looked at the dresses again. "Hmm.. I think the deep purple would look best on you."

"Really?" Mei responded, and lifted the garment up to her chest. "You know, I don't think I've worn this one yet!"

"All the more reason to!" Winry replied, and Mei twirled in place with the dress.

"Then it's settled!" Mei proclaimed, with a nod of her head. "Thank you, Winry! Now, like I said before, what about you?"

Winry raised an eyebrow in confusion. "I told you, already. The purple one."

Mei laughed loudly and shook her head. "No, silly! Which one do you want to wear?"

Her mouth dropped slightly. "W-wear? Mei, I couldn't-"

"Nonsense!" Mei interrupted, waving her hand in the air to dismiss Winry's worry. "I have so many, and most of them are too long for me! Please, I insist!"

"Are you sure?" Winry asked, and Mei nodded fervently. "Okay then, um…"

With sharp eyes, she analyzed each dress as closely as possible, taking in the length and waist line, as well as shoulder span. She didn't think she could fit the dark blue or lavender, so she decided to mark them out. The weather that day was rather hot, and the deep green and tangerine colored dresses both had longer sleeves. She'd died from heat in those!

Mei stepped beside and tilted her head to the side as she stared at the collection as well. "I think the pink one would look incredible on you."

Winry brought her eyes to the first dress she noticed in the collection. "I think that one is my favorite."

"Perfect!" Mei said with a clap of her hands. "We'll wear the purple and pink!"

Winry laughed openly, and helped place all the other dresses back into the trunk. Placing the two gowns they chose in the center of the mat, Mei pulled Winry to another room and prepped small tubs for a bath. Winry had attempted to protest; the girl had already allowed her to wear a gorgeous dress for the festival, she didn't want to make her do more! However, she insisted that they both enjoy a soothing and beauty amplifying soak, saying they needed to "look and feel their best". After what may have been an hour of going back and forth, Winry stripped down to nothing and climbed into the steaming bath. Mei sprinkled bits of mint leaves and lavender into both of their tubs before stripping down herself and climbing into her own, and both girls sighed happily as they submerged themselves in the hot water, and breathing in the amazing mixture of scents between the flowers and oils.

"This is incredible," Winry said, as she rested her head against the tubs ledge.

"Mhmm," Mei replied. "Thank you for joining me today, Winry."

"Thank you for inviting me," she exclaimed. "I hope I can repay you for all this kindness."

"Please, this is nothing," Mei sighed. "I just wanted to give you thanks for helping wake Alphonse."

Winry smiled at the comment. "You're rather taken by him, aren't you?"

The girl giggled. "What can I say? He's as kind as he is handsome."

Both the girls laughed aloud together, and fell into a comfortable silence. The air in the room tasted floral and sweet, Winry felt like she could drown in the smell. After several minutes of peaceful quiet, Mei shifted in her tub and glanced over at the blonde.

"Hey Winry," she began. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," Winry said, eyes closed as she continued to enjoy the warmth of the water.

"How," she began, "how exactly did you heal Alphonse?"

Winry's eyes shot open, and Mei continued. "It's just.. I tried everything I could to help, and none of it worked. If you can't tell me, I understand. I just.. I want to know."

Winry remained quiet, suddenly finding her bath to be less warm and comfortable as it had been previously. Could she trust Mei? Sure, she had shown her great kindness, but did that warrant that much trust in such little time?

You'll never know if you can trust someone until you take the chance, she told herself, and sat up from the tub.

"I can't tell you," she began, "but I can show you."

Mei's eyes grew wide and she nodded her head in response. "I'll grab our robes."

They moved back into the main room of the hut, both girls kneeling beside the mat cloaked in their festival dresses. Winry asked Mei if she could borrow a knife, as it was needed in order to show her secret, and Mei obliged. Breathing heavily, Winry stared down at the weapon in her head, contemplating if showing the girl her power was really a smart idea.

"You don't have to do this," Mei told her. "If you aren't comfortable, we can-"

"No," Winry said. "I want to show you."

Mei quieted after that, allowing her more time to prepare. With a deep breath, Winry closed her eyes and wrapped her hand tightly around the blade, and sliced it across her palm with a one quick swipe. Mei shrieked as she pulled the knife away, revealing a deep cut that covered her hand. Winry winced as the pain struck her, but with another deep breath, she balled her hand into a fist, and a red glow encompassed it. Mei's jaw dropped as Winry opened her hand once more, to reveal that the wound had been completely healed. Her large eyes jetted back and forth between her hand to her face, and she let out a faint squeak.

"How?"

Winry shrugged her shoulders and wrapped her arm together. "I don't know. I've always been able to do it, but I never learned how."

Mei's face was void of all emotion. Her jaw remained slacked as she stared at Winry, and the girl began to feel a panic grow inside her. With a small gasp, Mei closed her mouth and brought her hands to her lips.

"That.." she whispered. "That is… incredible!"

The girl began to bounce up and down in her place, clapping excitedly. "What a gift! Oh, we must try and figure out how you do this, Winry! So long as you're okay with it, of course! But oh! If this talent can be taught, it could stop all disease! Think of how extraordinary that could be!"

"Does this make us friends?" Winry asked, and Mei laughed so hard she snorted.

"Of course it does!" she said, without hesitation.

Winry let Mei's response play over and over in her head as she continued to ramble. This was the first person she had told willingly of her power, and the response wasn't life threatening or sinister. It was positive, and caring, and it made her eyes swell up with joyful tears. She really could trust this girl, she thought, as she wiped away a tear. She really could trust these people.

"Winry, are you okay?" the girl asked, noticing her sniffling.

"I'm fine, Mei," she stated, smiling, despite her tears. "Actually, I'm more than fine. I'm wonderful!"

Winry grinned widely at the girl, and without a thought of hesitation, dove in and wrapped her arms around her. Mei squeaked as they toppled over, but hugged her back just as fiercely. Both girls began to laugh loudly as they sprawled out on the floor, filled with a light-heartedness that one girl had never known, and the other hadn't felt in a very long time.

Friendship truly was a beautiful thing.

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Humans were such foolish creatures. It amazed Envy how easy it was to manipulate them. All they had to do was wear a face, and they could get anything they wanted out of them. Like today, for instance: they snatched a nameless face from the streets of Liore, did away with the body and took their form, and in no time at all, the face's spouse was hanging from their arm and giving them all the information about the strange people in the church that they needed! How stupid! How gullible!

"Where did she say they were heading?" Pride asked them, while they continued to enjoy torturing the face's bride.

"What was that?" Envy asked, grinning sinisterly as the woman's screams filled the air inside of the home she led them to. "I couldn't hear you."

Pride sighed. "The location, Envy."

"Oh, right!" they sniggered, and turned to back to their victim. "Tell me, dearie. Where was the group of soldiers heading, again?"

The woman could barely catch her breath as she lied on the dirt floor, sobbing loudly. "Please…stop this.. why are you hurting me?"

Envy rolled their eyes and knelt down beside her. "Tell me, and I promise to let you go."

The woman coughed as she sucked in a breath. "Dublith. I-I think they were going to a place called Dublith."

"And where is Dublith located?" Envy asked, but the woman shook her head.

"I don't know," she began. "Please, please let me go. You promised."

Envy groaned loudly as the woman began to cry louder, and, without even blinking an eye, transfigured their hand to a blade and swiped it across the woman's neck, silencing her permanently.

"Could you try not to make a mess?" Pride droned. "We still need to find out where this 'Dublith' is."

"What for?" Envy groaned, in a bored tone. "By the time we get someone in here, they're going to be dead anyway. Who cares if there's splatter?"

Pride flicked their small wrist lazily. "Have it your way, then."

"Well, I'm off," Envy said, as they stood, and, as they walked towards the door, emitted bright red sparks throughout their body, taking the phsyical form of their latest victim. "I've got to find us directions."

"Don't be gone long," Pride sighed.

Envy grinned wickedly, the smile distorted the woman's pretty face to something monstrous. "Oh, don't worry. I'll be back in no time."

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