He sulked. A downward motion of firm lips that made a face that should have been years younger, look quite the opposite. He scratched absently at an itch on his left arm, grateful for the thick metallic coolness of his right hand in easing his discomfort. He barely turned around as the dull clanking sound of his younger brother entering the room filled his ears. Instead, he focused on the raindrops that pelted against the windowpane, each tiny drop a resounding echo of the conversation he had had earlier with his younger sibling and the events that had followed soon afterwards.
Sometimes, he really wished that sleeping dogs would have been left alone...
He threw his hands up in frustration and leaned back on the wooden chair. It teetered dangerously on its hind legs, a low creaking sound signaling that it might not be as stable as it looked. Upon the table before him lay books of every size and shape—some with layers of dust upon them (which would have one believe that the librarians didn't always do their jobs properly) that contained something related to their quest for the Philosopher's Stone.
He eyed his younger brother with a wary and mildly puzzled glance, wondering why in the world he seemed so engrossed in a book that didn't even look informative enough.
"Lektionen Des Lebens...Life's Lessons? What the hell is that, Al?" he asked in bemusement as he leaned closer to poke at the book with a gloved hand.
Despite being enclosed in a suit of armor, it wasn't hard to read the gamut of expressions that could cross Alphonse Elric's metallic features at any time. Today it was no different, as he lifted a bulky arm to scratch his head sheepishly. He endured the raised brow and baleful glance from his older brother as he lowered his head to mumble something.
"Eh? Speak up, Al!" came the impatient retort. "I don't have super hearing powers, you know."
The book was dropped to the table and bearing the intense golden depths that were trained on him, the younger alchemist cleared his throat and tried again.
With silver cheeks dulling with color—a clear signal of growing embarrassment—Alphonse tried to get his message across.
"Haven't you ever thought of...well...you know..." He frowned for a moment and then gave a small cry as if he had just discovered the greatest thing in the world. "Winry! Haven't you ever thought of her?"
Edward Elric, fifteen years old, national alchemist and all around good guy (at least to himself) stared at his younger brother as if he had suddenly grown an extra head. He quirked his lips in a motion of disbelief and sneered lightly. "Yes, I do think of Winry just as you do, Al. She's the one who fixes my arm and leg remember? Of course I have to..."
"Not like that, brother," Al interrupted, as the spots of color on his cheeks grew darker. "I meant if you had ever...well..." He lowered his head and suddenly found the Book of Elements on his right extremely fascinating.
"Al...I am not a mind reader...as much as I would like to be," Edward added with a mumble. He would definitely like to pick through Colonel Mustang's mind at any time of the day...but then again, that was a different matter altogether. "Could you talk to me, please?"
Without lifting his gaze, Al responded quietly. "Haven't you ever wanted to...well...get to know Winry a bit better? I have seen the way she looks at you sometimes, brother and it just makes me think that she might actually like you."
Ed looked genuinely confused and he made no attempts to hide it. What in the world could his brother be talking about? He knew that Winry, a childhood friend who was prone to bursts of inane squeals at the sight of automail or metal in general, had always liked them. But the blond alchemist had never seen it past a mutual respect and appreciation of her friendship and skills.
He scratched his head gently and leaned back on his chair again, his expression now taking on a look of pure boredom as he closed his eyes and yawned. "I still don't know what you're getting at, Al. But we've got to finish this stuff..." He waved at the books before them. "...before the library closes. And besides, I've got to report to Colonel Asshole again this evening..."
"Haven't you ever thought of her as more than a friend?" came the almost desperate question that had Edward opening his eyes up again in bewilderment.
"She's beautiful and...and...smart and funny and....she likes you!" Alphonse cried out, uncaring of the looks of disapproval they were beginning to get from the other occupants in the large hall. "She told me the other day that she wishes she could...she could..."
"She could what? Break off my other arm?" Edward laughed heartily at his joke, but sobered up quickly as he noticed that his younger brother wasn't following suit. Geez, he had never seen Al this serious over something that sounded so mundane.
"Would you at least talk to her?" Al finally asked softly. "She says she'll be waiting for you by the pier this evening."
The National Alchemist blinked in surprise at the request but could only give a slow nod of acceptance, knowing that arguing over such a thing with his brother was bound to cause even more problems. With a groan, he lay his head upon the table and closed his eyes in weariness.
Unfortunately, in his resigned state, he had failed to see the wistful air that had come upon Alphonse's countenance.
He stood outside the door that led to Colonel Mustang's office with that familiar cold feeling of dread forming somewhere in the pit of his stomach. It wasn't that he was afraid of the older man—oh, no not by any means. It was just the thought of having all his hard work and diligence at writing a detailed report was going to be spit right back at him in verbatim.
It was a rather irritating ability of the Colonel and to be honest, Edward was getting sick of it. Why he bothered to put up with this stuff anyway was beyond him.
"And how long do you plan on standing outside here?" a firm but feminine voice asked, causing Ed's already slumped shoulders to sag a little more.
"Lieutenant Hawkeye," he greeted with as much enthusiasm as one eating sand. "Is he around?"
The blonde officer nodded with a wary glance at the pale boy beside her. "He's just returning from a visit with the Brigadier. You might want to be careful. I hear he's not in a very cheerful mood."
Great. Just what I needed, he thought with an inward sigh. He allowed the woman to knock and at the tense and rather curt response of 'Enter', Edward was ushered into the Spartan but relatively comfortable office of Colonel Roy Mustang.
As usual, the dark-haired man was sitting behind his desk, eyes closed and with his chin resting upon a pristine gloved hand. There was an air of nonchalance about him, but both visitors knew and could sense the underlying tension within those broad shoulders. Edward swallowed a bit nervously, but maintained his scowl. Perhaps, he hoped that his expression would give him the boost of confidence that he needed to...
"Your report," came the lazy drawl as Roy Mustang held out his other hand to receive the sheaf of papers within Edward's. He gave a small nod towards Hawkeye's salute and greeting before lifting heavy-lidded lashes to pin intense dark depths on the flustered looking teen before him.
"Looks like you have a lot on your mind, Full Metal," he said with a light smirk as he thumbed through the papers absently. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
Edward bit back a retort and counted inwardly to ten before beginning the carefully rehearsed speech he had planned for the older man. "The chaos at Lior was started by a group of..."
"I didn't mean the report, Edward." The Colonel flicked his fingers and gave a quick wink that had the young alchemist's face flaring with even more color. "Lieutenant Hawkeye, would you be kind enough to give this to Major Armstrong? Thank you."
The woman looked skeptical at the sudden request but was astute enough to know that her presence was no longer needed. Accepting the report with another smart salute, she spun on her heels and left the room with a decisive click of the door behind her.
Edward slumped into a couch and crossed his legs with a light snort. Closing his eyes he threw his head back and tried to make sense of what his superior could be up to now. Trying to read through Mustang's mind was like trying to decipher an ancient code that really had no meaning. His earlier wish to be a mind reader came back to haunt him and he made a mental note to seek for that ability as soon as he discovered the secret to the Philosopher's Stone.
His eyes snapped open in surprise as he sat up to gawk in disbelief at the smirking officer.
Roy leaned back on his chair and swiveled around to stare out the window and into the rather gloomy skies outside. He was hiding a smile and he didn't need to turn around to know that the younger man was all but out of his seat in curiosity. There was something so...fulfilling in getting a rise out of the genius alchemist. It might sound selfish, but Roy did truly enjoy teasing Edward. His reactions seemed to be the only genuine thing around here to keep him entertained.
Ed grit his teeth and hissed out coldly. "Yeah? What about her?"
Mustang snickered. Edward's tension was so evident it was laughable. "I hear she's in town again. She seems to be visiting a lot recently." He cocked his head to the side to eye the flushed boy with amusement. "You wouldn't be hiding something from me now, would you?"
"Eh?! No! No! No!!" came the flustered reply as Edward rose to his feet quickly in defense...defense of what exactly? Just what was this self-centered bastard up to? "She's just here to help me fix up my automail and then she's leaving tomorrow morning..."
"Alphonse tells me you two have a date tonight."
Roy was grinning from ear to ear. It was as if he had hit the jackpot and was enjoying himself immensely with his winnings.
As for Edward, he wasn't particularly sure of what a 'date' was per se. He just knew that he had to meet Winry at the pier in...
"Damn it! I should have been there by now!" He glared at the older man with a forced nod of respect. "Would you excuse me, sir? I promised to meet her by the pier in about an hour." He lifted his gaze as if daring the Colonel to deny him the right to do so. But to his mild surprise and yet chagrin, he was dismissed with a wave of a gloved hand and another self-effacing grin.
"Do tell me the details when you return, Full Metal. Now that is a report, I wouldn't mind listening to."
"Every flower needs to blossom," the Colonel continued with a dramatic look of long suffering on his handsome features. "And who knows, by the time you come face-to-face with me again...I might be talking to a man."
Edward, honestly, wished he could make sense of the innuendo behind Roy's words, but for the life of him he couldn't quite understand why and how the situation was so funny. And what did he mean by blossoming flowers and he being a man? Had Roy finally lost it?
I wouldn't be surprised, he thought ruefully as he spun on his heels to make his way out of the room. He would have to run all the way to the pier though. It looked as if it was about to rain and the last thing he wanted was to be caught in it.
She shuffled from one feet to the other, trying hard to ignore the hustle and bustle of the townsfolk getting ready to leave their places of work for the night. The winds were beginning to pick up and she had to lift a hand every other minute to brush away her blonde locks from her eyes. The simple white tunic blouse and long black skirt she wore complimented her young body quite well. And with the added bonus of applying light make-up this evening, she looked quite breathtaking to the many young male admirers that passed by.
Having to ward them away was becoming quite a pain and with each man that dared approach her, she all but swung her black handbag into their faces with growing irritation. She wished Edward would show up already...although it didn't help that she had come here a bit too early herself—okay over an hour early, but that didn't count, right?
She stared down the road again, pursing her lips.
He isn't coming, she suddenly thought with a decisive inner nod even as a bitter well of disappointment rose within her heart. Trust him to always have something more important to do besides keeping such a simple appointment. She would bet he was locked away in some library or in his room reading away. She was sure Al must have reminded him about this, but yet...
"Damn you, Ed," she mumbled with a mixture of frustration and yet anger. It was hard keeping up with this 'sisterly' act towards him when her intentions and her heart were quite far from anything remotely close to that. She had always admired the two brothers but none more so than the brash, loud-mouthed Edward who had done more to hurt her over the years. She guessed she did bring it upon herself in a way. She was always the one going after him, hoping that he would see her as more than just a tomboy.
She kicked at a rock on the ground, ignoring the dull pain that flared through her dainty foot. She watched it roll around the wooden deck for a while before it disappeared into the gray depths of the waters below. With a heavy sigh, she lifted her gaze to the early evening sky. Despite the growing dark clouds, a few stars did their best to sparkle through the gloom as if trying to stake their claim with their role in the universe.
I need to stake my claim with him, she thought wistfully as she lifted a hand to 'cup' a few twinkling constellations. I must...must tell him how I feel before it's too late...
"If only...if only you knew..."
"If only I knew what?"
She gave a soft cry and spun around quickly, blue eyes widening in disbelief at the panting blond (and slightly shorter) boy before her. He looked a bit dishelved, but then again, it would be because he had run all the way from Central Headquarters to be on time. The sharp retort she had been ready to give him at surprising her, died into a small but warm smile as she nodded happily.
"Nothing, Ed. Are you ready?"
He pushed himself upright and blinked at her in confusion. "Ready? Ready for what?"
She stared into the bemused golden eyes that were and had always been so beautiful to her with a light snicker. "We are going on a date, Ed!" she said firmly. "Now let's go."
She placed a firm hand upon his arm and began to lead him towards an ice-cream shop while doing her best to ignore the bewildered look on his face.
I have to stake my claim now, she thought decisively as she began to place their order. And make him remember as well...
Two bowls of vanilla ice cream and two bottles of lemonade later, both teens strolled lazily along the pier neither saying much as they remained in companionable silence. Before long, the first few drops of rain began to fall and on instinct, Edward began to lead Winry out and into safety...which turned out to be beneath an awning of what looked like a Cobbler's shop.
He tried the door and saw to his dismay that it was locked. "Damn it...I guess I have to..." He clapped his hands together in readiness to open up the door with transmutation only to find the soft but firm hands of his friend stilling his actions. He tried to glare at her but ended up blinking in surprise at the flushed look on her visage.
"Winry..." he began softly.
"No, it's okay, Ed. I like it here. It's...nice."
Nice? Standing under the rain was...nice? He eyed her for a moment longer before shrugging and tucking his hands into the pockets of his red coat with a heavy sigh. They both fell silent again, but it wasn't an uncomfortable one.
Suddenly, Winry began to giggle causing Ed to glance at her in wariness. "What's so funny?"
She tried to stifle her laughter. "Oh, I was just remembering the time when we got caught in the rain back at home. Do you remember?" She cocked her head to the side to eye him with a faint look of desperation in her blue depths. "You kept saying you didn't like getting wet yet you were the only one who wasn't running when we were trying to get back home."
He pursed his lips and lifted his gaze to the roof of their shelter with a thoughtful frown. "Aaah. And I remember that you kept crying just because I said the rain monster might come and get us..."
"I did not cry," came the indignant huff. "I cried because you had pushed me down the slope!"
"Hey! I did not push you down the slope," he retorted with a wave of his hand as he glared into her similarly annoyed visage. "You fell because you couldn't catch the ball!"
"How was I supposed to catch something that you threw that high...?"
"It's not my fault that you make a lousy catcher, Winry...!"
"Look who's talking! If it wasn't for Al, I would have beat you hands down in that game!"
They both snorted and turned away from each other, both aware that their cheeks were now dark with color as a sudden memory of just what had happened after the 'fall' came rushing back to their minds.
Edward sunk his hands deeper into his pockets and shuffled his feet from one side to the other as he struggled to say something to break the sudden tension that was now between them. Geez, it had just been an accident and it had meant nothing. So why in the world was remembering the 'accident' causing him to feel this confused now?
"You remember, don't you?" she finally asked quietly as her fingers tightened around the strap of her handbag. "You do remember, don't you...Ed?"
He mumbled softly and ran fingers through his bangs while staring at the wet puddles on the ground in seeming fascination. "I remember," he finally admitted with a soft sigh. "It was the day that I told you to..."
"...catch the ball, Winry!!" He cried out as he watched the girl try to run up to the floating round object. He snickered and nudged his younger brother, who looked perpetually worried. "She's never going to get it, Al. Hehe, we've won this round, that's for sure."
"But it's dangerous down there, brother," the slightly taller boy whimpered. "There's a slope there that leads into a ravine and if she falls..."
"She's not going to fall!" Edward bragged confidently as he placed his hands on his hips and laughed heartily. "She's like a boy so she can handle it!"
"Don't worry, Al," he grinned and slapped his younger brother's back playfully. "She's going to be just ...?"
"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! HELP ME!!!"
Both boys gaped at each other in growing panic before running towards the edge of the cliff. From their vantage point, they could see the blonde girl trying desperately to hold on to a jutting piece of rock. Her beautiful blue eyes were wide with panic and fear as she continued to scream for help.
"Brother..." Al began with worry etched in his tone.
"I know! I know!" came the flustered reply as Edward began the steep climb down to his friend's position. He wasn't too confident in his transmutation skills yet and the danger of creating something that wasn't stable enough only did more to make him more nervous. Why did Winry have to go and fall down the ravine? He thought she was stronger than that!
"Hold on! I'm coming!" he screamed back, now feeling a swell of panic fill his being as he glanced up to see how small his brother looked from his new vantage point.
I won't panic. I won't panic. I can do this!
He placed his foot against a piece of jutting rock that looked sturdy enough and tried his best to balance his weight upon it. With a light grunt, he stooped as carefully as he could and held out his hand to her.
"Grab on to it, Winry!" he yelled. "I'll try to pull you back up!"
"Ed? I...I'm scared..."
"There's nothing to be scared of!" he all but bellowed at her. His left hand, which was supporting him, was beginning to slip from its hold. If he didn't get her to hold on to his right, they would both be dead in a heartbeat. "Grab on to it, damn it!"
She gave a light grunt and stretched as far as her hand could go. Their fingertips brushed together for a moment and she almost screamed out in frustration and rising fear as her delicate hold on the rock almost wavered. She closed her eyes and prayed fervently to whomever was in charge of all living things around them to aid her as she stretched one more time.
I believe in you, Ed. I believe...in...you!
This time she felt the warm but strong grasp of Ed's hand around hers and for a moment—just one brief moment—allowed herself to dream of being held in this way under very different circumstances. However, her small daydream came to a crashing halt as she heard something crack. She opened up her eyes quickly, vaguely aware of the loud cries from the two boys...and herself? She couldn't be sure...but what she did know was that everything seemed to be falling around her at a very rapid pace. Surprisingly, the feeling of weightlessness and gradual descent towards her death didn't seem so bad now. For one thing, she was still holding on to Ed's hand and they would both die together. It all seemed worthwhile at this point.
With a loud 'oof!' they both fell upon lush grass that cushioned a fall that might have been potentially deadly.
However, there was only one little problem...
The girl's eyes were as wide as they had ever been. Her cheeks were gradually turning redder and her body grew hotter by the second. She lay prone on the floor, unable to move or believe what was actually happening at this very moment.
But it was happening all right. There was no denying the warm feel of his lips against hers or how good it felt to have him laying upon her like this. She wanted, oh-so wanted to wrap her arms around him and to keep his way for as long as she could. But it finally dawned on her that he too was looking at her in shock and disbelief. Those amazing wide-golden eyes were fixed upon her flushed visage even though he was really making no attempt to release her yet. His cheeks were a bright red too and if it wasn't for the loud cry of 'Are you guys alright?!' from a very concerned Al, only goodness knows what would have happened next.
But Al had cried out and that had broken the spell over the two children like shattering glass. With a small cry, Ed pushed himself up and away from Winry, his cheeks still flaming red as he began to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand as quickly as he could.
"Ed?! Winry?! Can you hear me?!"
"Fin...Fine!" Edward screamed back in reassurance as he took a deep breath and forced himself to glance over at his silent companion. "Uum...are you alright?"
She sat up slowly and gave a small nod, a bit upset that he was so eager to wipe away their kiss that quickly even though it had felt good to her. But hell would freeze over before she admitted it.
"I'm fine," she snapped back rudely as she slapped his offered hand away. Giving a light snort, she turned her face away and folded her arms across her chest. "I just hope you don't think I'm supposed to like you now for doing that to me."
Ed somehow managed to look embarrassed and upset at the same time as he waved his hands about in exasperation. "What are you talking about?! It was an accident! An accident! I didn't mean to do it! Honest, Winry! I didn't..."
She smiled inwardly to herself as she listened to his tirade, still feeling giddy and quite happy at what had transpired. He might not have meant it, but it was her first kiss and somehow, deep down in her heart, Winry knew she would have it no other any other way.
She chuckled softly and brushed her hand through her long blonde locks, aware that they were trembling a little.
"We were both young and foolish back then, weren't we, Ed?" she said lightly as she held out a hand to feel the cool raindrops against her heated skin. "Somehow I just remembered it all today when I woke up this morning. Isn't that strange?"
He said nothing, preferring instead, to stare at the growing puddle of water on the ground.
Winry, ever optimistic and not one to let Ed's sullen attitude get to her, continued as cheerfully as she could. "It was my first kiss. Did I ever tell you that, Ed?"
He stubbornly remained silent.
"Haha...and to think I had to get it from someone like you, ne?" she gave a dramatic sigh and then giggled, trying hard to stop herself from giving in to the shattered remnants of yet another heart break. She was doing the best she could. She really was. But...
"It wasn't meant to be...ne...Ed?" she finished quietly as she turned away again.
They stood beneath the awning in the middle of the pouring rain—so close and yet as far apart as they could be. She sniffled softly. He jerked as if stung but still he could not get himself to look at her. What could he say? The kiss - that entire moment had not really meant anything to him back then or now. To him, all memories of he, Winry and Al as children were just that...memories—things to keep at the back of your mind to share with each other when you grew up and became older and wiser. He had hurt her again, he knew that only too well and he bitterly wondered if there was any redemption for him this time around.
"I have to go back to my hotel," she finally whispered softly as she cocked her head to the side with a small but weary smile. "I just wanted to say...thank you...for the memories, Ed. I know it might not have meant much to you, but..." She placed a hand against her chest and lifted her gaze to the crying heavens with a wistful smile. "...it meant the world to me. I will never forget that moment, Ed for as long as I live."
And without a second glance, she stepped away from him and began a slow jog into a darkness that seemed to consume her within its blackened embrace.
The cold rain must have become warm, Edward thought as he lifted his gaze to the sky. Ah yes, it was a very warm rain tonight.
Al dropped the book he had been reading upon his lap and turned to see what his brother was up to now. Ed had been surprisingly more quiet than normal since his return and he hadn't failed to notice the angry glare he had gotten from him earlier.
He still wasn't sure of what had happened between he and Winry, but Al had the feeling that it must have hurt his older brother very much for beneath the angry glare had been undeniable pain and helplessness.'
He rose carefully to his feet and walked slowly towards the window. Placing an arm beneath the strong legs and another behind Ed's back, he lifted, cradled the sleeping boy against his armor and led him towards his waiting bed.
Perhaps someday, Ed would be able to tell him just what had happened between he and Winry in the ravine on that day...or even what had happened tonight. He was a patient boy and he knew that it would only be a matter of time until he learned the truth.
For now, he would watch and protect his brother with everything he had and maybe someday he would finally be able to break through the wall that Edward Elric was gradually beginning to build around his heart.