It was kind of ironic, and kind of inconvenient, that Rush Valley, the capital city of automail, was also hot as hell for half the year.
Most people coped. In hot places, there's a different rhythm of life. People seek shade in the day, nap after lunch, work and stroll about town in the cooler hours of the evening. In Rush Valley, when you see someone walking in the full midday sun without a hat, you can tell they're a tourist.
On her first afternoon off as an apprentice, at the height of summer, Winry had not known this yet. That afternoon, she'd got herself a good dose of sunstroke from just a stroll around town. She had felt like such a rube, lying in the workshop's back room with her feet elevated while her boss fussed over her with cold towels and made her sip about a gallon of cold water. She thought he'd chalk it up against her for sure. Thank goodness Mr Garfiel had turned out to be such a sweetheart.
After that incident, she'd learnt to treat the midday sun with more respect. These days she was brown and freckled, she put on thick sun cream after every morning shower, and she walked in the shade like a local.
Her boyfriend, unfortunately, was a stubborn jackass from out of town who refused to learn from the benefit of her experience.
"I'm fine," slurred Ed for the twentieth time, as she held out another cup of water.
He was lying in his boxers in a bathtub full of ice-cold water. The automail had actually hissed and steamed when she had manoeuvred him into it. That morning, he'd declared that he was going to take a walk while she worked her first shift at the shop. He'd refused a hat ("dorky"), a bandana ("it's yours! It's a girl scarf!"), cotton shorts ("If people see the leg, they're just gonna follow me around trying to get my business") and a flask of water ("quit nagging me, woman!"). Then he'd stumbled in at lunchtime, pouring sweat and looking bleary and drunk. Obviously, he'd ignored her warning to walk in the shade, too.
Her immediate reaction was more exasperated concern than anger. Ed had punished himself too effectively for her to give him the crack on the head he deserved. She liked to think she was harsh but fair; she wouldn't hit a man when he was semi-conscious in a bathtub. No, she'd wait until he'd recovered enough to run — but she'd aim for the element of surprise.
There was also the fact that thanks to this incident, right now he was helpless, semi-naked and wet, and those white boxers were pretty much transparent. That kind of helped to take the sting off things. Perhaps, if he recovered enough to liven up in a little while, she could salvage something positive from this dumb situation?
Just then, Ed gave a very loud snore. Oh, well. It had been a nice thought.
Winry sighed, and looked down at her beautiful, dumbass, genius boyfriend, asleep with his mouth open. She felt irritated and affectionate, reluctantly tolerant and tight-chested with love. And oddly enough, kind of turned on. All part of the magic rollercoaster ride of life with Ed. She kissed him on the forehead, popped a flannel behind his head for a pillow, and reached down to let the water out of the tub.
"This spider in the john — Al, it was big as your head! I'm not kidding you!" Ed put his hands apart two heads' width to show what he meant. Despite the fact that he was on the phone.
It was the day after sunstroke-gate, and Winry had finished up with her last customer of the morning twenty minutes late. She felt sticky, filthy and cooked with the heat. All she wanted in the world was a shower, a glass of water and a bowl of Garfiel's tomato salad from the icebox. Somehow, though, seeing Ed, she still wanted to hang out with him more than she wanted any of those things. Apparently, love made a person pretty stupid like that. She poured herself a glass of water and one for Ed too, then sat down at the kitchen table next to the fan.
"No, they definitely bite! Paninya said she knew this guy who got bit right on the ass 'cause he sat down without checking the seat first, and his butt swelled up about a foot wide." Ed was still in full flow. "And he had to get the pus drained out in the clinic, and it left this big hole in his butt-crack, and they had to plug it with cotton wool! No Al, there's no way she's exaggerating. If you saw one of these things, you wouldn't doubt me. Nah, I don't know the species. Enormous ass-bitingus spiderus. Paninya calls them crack-jumpers." The young prodigy, huh. What had Winry done right in her life to score with such a towering intellect?
"Hi, Al," said Winry, and waved at the phone. She caught Al's voice, faint and crackling, saying "hey, Winry", and then just a lot of muttering. Al had evidently regained control of the conversation. Those two really could talk forever when they wanted. She settled herself in for a long wait. The heat was ridiculous today. The fan wasn't achieving much more than to recycle some of the dry, hot air and waft it back in her face. Winry wet her face with a little water and put her head down on one side on the table. She closed her eyes and exhaled. Now, if you could have a fan with some sort of mechanism built in to cool the air ... Maybe you could fan it through a little chamber of ice cubes — but you'd have to find a way of insulating the ice from the electrics ... It was too hot to think.
From somewhere behind the fan, she heard a decisive, ringing slap. A moment later, a blast of chilly air hit her in the face.
She opened her eyes. Ed was off the phone, standing by the fan and grinning at her smugly with all his teeth.
"Ed! How did you do that?"
He plastered on an expression of false modesty and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "It's just a simple change of state. You looked kind of cooked. Feel any better?"
"Yeah." She yawned, not bothering to cover her mouth. "It's tough working in the summer."
Ed leaned in, suddenly full of energy, and almost yelled, "Now get yourself up — we're going out!"
"Oh, Ed." She felt bad for bursting his bubble. "Really, it's a nice thought, but I'm so tired and hot, I really don't think I'm up for a walk right now."
"We're not going for a walk. I called a cab already to take us out of town."
Ed grinned, broad and sharp. "Someplace. Not telling."
Winry resigned herself to whatever frenetic, supposedly enjoyable activity Ed had planned. "Okay. But if it's a strip joint or a bookseller -" Winry waved her wrench hand descriptively. "And I wish you hadn't called the cab already, I gotta shower and change first."
"No, you don't." Ed brandished a bag. "You can change where we're going. You'll see."
"Ed! I'm covered in machine oil, and I stink."
Ed wrapped his arms round Winry's shoulders, and buried his nose in her neck. Then he leaned his face to hers and muttered, "You smell pretty good to me." She could feel his smile on her cheek. "Trust me on this."
From out front, Winry heard the faint beep of a taxi horn. She huffed out a little laugh. "Okay."
Fifteen minutes later, Winry was getting seriously curious about where they were headed. As the taxi had headed out of town, into the parched open countryside, Ed had refused to answer her questions. He just grinned at her annoyingly, every time. She couldn't bear to rain on his parade, since he was obviously attempting to do something nice for her, however it was going to turn out.
With no warning, the taxi pulled up by the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere. Wait, was this it? They hopped out and Ed paid the driver, then the car departed to leave them by the edge of the road, with a gorge on one side of them and scrubby fields on the other. Winry continued to bite her tongue, somewhat surprised at her own reserves of patience. Ed hefted the bag, held out a hand to her, and started down a little trail down the gorge side. Winry followed him down, feeling increasingly dusty, sweaty, and intolerant with every few steps. Then they turned a corner and everything changed.
They were standing just above a little water hole filled with clear, slow-flowing water. It was fed by a small waterfall coming from a stream above. At the edges of the pool, plants were growing. It felt like they were the first green things Winry had seen since the end of spring. And better than that, the place was deserted.
Winry realised that she was smiling broadly. She was as overheated as ever, but some of her energy had returned just at the sight of the pool. She hopped up on the balls of her feet a couple of times, then turned to him and just said, "Ed." He was grinning back at her, clearly delighted with himself, or with her reaction, or with both.
Together, they went down to the water and began to take off their dusty clothes. Ed stripped himself naked in a few smooth motions, and then launched himself into the water before Winry could say wait a minute, you idiot, your automail, you'll sink like a stone, don't blame me when you drown. His head popped back above the surface, and he sighed in theatrical relief. Winry said it all anyway, just to get it off her chest.
Ed laughed at her. She laughed in return, and stepped slowly into the water.
It was freezing but delicious. She tried not to squeak as the water rose up over her skin. Once she was fully immersed, she and Ed held hands and waded towards a low rock which formed a natural seat under the water at the pool's edge. They settled on the rock, and curled their bodies together in the cool water. The sun felt gloriously warm. Winry leant her head against Ed's shoulder and stretched.
"You didn't know about this place, huh, did you? Who's the tourist now?" Ed looked down at her, puffed up with triumph and obviously unable to resist any longer.
"Ed, is this about oneupmanship?" She cuffed his arm lightly. "I thought you were being sweet! Why can't you just -" She stopped, mid-rant, because she realised Ed's expression had changed to a serious, cute little frown.
"No, I just — Look, you work all the freaking time, okay? And the girl at the cafe said how great this place was, and I asked Garfiel and he said you hadn't been yet because you're working all those weekends, to make up for taking half the summer off to spend with me and Al when he was getting better, and -" He paused and looked away. His ears had gone pink. "And I thought you'd like this."
Winry looked at Ed's mortified expression, at his flushed, handsome face, and she felt a sudden and vast rush of tenderness. Don't cry, she ordered herself, don't make it into a thing. So instead, she leant forward and kissed him.