Winry hadn't wanted to stay at the Hughes' house. All of the memories of Lt. Colonel (or would that be Brigadier-General now?) Hughes still filled that now empty house, reminding her of when her own parents were killed. So instead of staying, she visited occasionally. This particular time, Lt. Hawkeye insisted on driving her. Winry had just sighted the Hughes' house when Hawkeye spoke up.
"You love Edward and Alphonse, don't you?" Hawkeye's voice as calm, even. Nothing about her demeanor gave away what she meant by it, or if she was even teasing in a very twisted way.
Winry considered the question, then looked out the window. "I grew up with them," she said, answering and not answering.
"That's not the same, Miss Rockbell."
"It... is, a little. I..." Winry winced, and decided to be completely honest. "I love them like a sister, you know? But they don't see me." She shook her head, embarrassed. "Sometimes, I do stupid things. Weak things."
Hawkeye pulled over, coincidentally next to the Hughes' house. "They are a bit blind to the fact other people actually care for them."
"Yeah. Um, thank you. For the ride."
As she got out, the lieutenant said softly, "If you have a free hour, I would like to talk with you at a later date."
Winry turned, her face only slightly strained in its pleasantness. "I should be free in a few days. Earliest, day after tomorrow."
Lt. Hawkeye was quite beautiful when she smiled. "Day after tomorrow, then. I look forward to it, Miss Rockbell."
Winry didn't forget about the promise she had made to Lt. Hawkeye. While she had acted slightly surprised when Hawkeye appeared while she was playing with Elysia, she had hoped that the promise wouldn't come true. The night before, she had wondered what Ed and Al were doing. That thought quickly turned to the memory of Hawkeye asking her if she loved them.
It made her feel weak. Next to Lt. Hawkeye, who was willing to shoot and kill for her love, her methods seemed stupid and childish in comparison. She had hoped that the older woman would forget, so she didn't have to reveal that childishness to such a strong woman. The car and Hawkeye's calm presence ended that hope.
"Winry, please, Lt. Hawkeye. I'm not old enough for 'Miss Rockbell.'"
Another small, beautiful smile graced Hawkeye's face. "True. Is this a bad time for a cup of tea?"
"Um... I kinda promised Mrs. Hughes I'd watch Elysia."
Hawkeye looked down at the young girl. "Hello, Elysia."
"'lo, Miss Hawkeye," Elysia muttered, yawning. She pressed herself into Winry's leg, looking up at Hawkeye with wide and adoring eyes.
"You've certainly grown. Are you and your mother doing well?"
"Mama still cries at night," Elysia informed her, serious. "And I miss Papa."
A spasm of pain crossed Hawkeye's face. "I do too, Elysia."
Winry noticed a similar look of relief on Hawkeye's face when Mrs. Hughes stepped out of her house. "Lieutenant. I wasn't expecting you. How has everything been?"
"Mrs. Hughes. We are... surviving," she said, her smile turning wry.
"Of course," Gracia murmured, gathering a tired Elysia into her arms. "And Colonel Mustang?"
"The colonel sends his well wishes," Hawkeye told her, almost coming to attention. Winry had to fight a giggle at the sight of Lt. Hawkeye practically saluting a civilian. "Mrs. Hughes, permis..." Winry had to fight the giggle harder as Hawkeye coughed, blushing. "If I may, I wish to borrow Miss... Winry for the day."
There was only one out... "Elysia..."
"Will be taking a nap. Won't you, Elysia?" Elysia answered this with a drowsy nod, already half-napping on her mother's shoulder. "See? And... we have something to do."
All parts of Gracia, from the pain and loss on her face to the raw emotion in her voice, said where they would be. Winry nodded, suddenly feeling the lack of overwhelming fatherly pride. "Tell... him hello for me."
Gracia smiled, a brave and shaking smile. "Go on, Winry. We'll be fine."
Winry hesitated, then bowed slightly. "Thank you." She turned to Lt. Hawkeye, not even dredging up a smile. "Shall we?"
Hawkeye said her goodbyes as well, and walked the girl over to the car. Apparently, this time, Hawkeye had drafted one of the men of the office to drive them. A man almost as short as Ed with black hair and glasses sat at the wheel. He smiled at them, his cheeriness unforced. "Miss Rockbell, hello."
Winry sighed heavily, sinking into the rear seat. "I am not old enough for 'Miss Rockbell,'" she muttered. "I am not."
The "cup of tea" was becoming almost ritualistic. Winry couldn't see why. They talked about inane things, like a new policy for the women (all women were required to wear skirts exactly one inch below the knee at all times. The women scared the men in power into revoking that one) and Winry's line of business. While Winry loved to talk about machines, she could tell it bored Lt. Hawkeye. Why Hawkeye kept asking about it was a mystery.
"Lieutenant," Winry said abruptly, putting down her cup. "Let's stop dancing around this. You know Colonel Mustang killed my parents."
Hawkeye took another sip, outwardly calm. "During the war, many soldiers were ordered to kill innocents. Colonel Mustang is only one of them."
"He was promoted for it," she shot back, aghast.
"So were many." The disgusted note in Hawkeye's voice caught Winry's attention.
"Then why do you follow him? Why do you..."
"Love him?" Hawkeye set down her own cup. "Because he hates it too. Because he wants a place where promotions don't come at the blood of innocents. Make no mistake," she added, "love alone will not have me follow him. His devotion to both his staff and to a better world is what causes me to follow."
Winry knew she was gaping, and she couldn't stop. "So if he was just a rank-grubbing bastard who didn't care who he stepped on to get to the top, you'd leave him? Just like that?"
The honesty in her answer took Winry off guard. "Love shouldn't make you weak, Miss Winry," Hawkeye added. "But rather, it should help make you strong."
"How can you say..."
Hawkeye picked up her cup, sipping the now lukewarm tea. "Everyone is blinded from time to time by love. It doesn't make them weak." She fixed Winry with a sharp glance. "Even if she takes Edward's watch from him."
Winry flushed. "I... I'm not..."
Hawkeye's gentle fingers lifted her chin. "A weak woman wouldn't have gone as far as you have, nor would she had lived as long as you." Very gently, very calmly, Hawkeye pressed her lips against Winry's brow. "I worry about the Elric brothers. About how they're alone. My paperwork... much of it is about them. Sometimes, I need to know I'm not the only one worried."
That caused a blink. "Lieutenant."
"Even I get scared, Winry."
"That's rather hard to believe, Lieutenant," she croaked out.
"I know." Hawkeye enveloped Winry in a firm hug. "About as hard to believe that you think you're weak."
Kissing her wasn't the natural thing to do. There were so many other options, like hug her back, cry, push her off... but the surge of wild emotion spurred Winry into kissing Lt. Hawkeye deeply.
And what surprised her was a similar wild desperation in Lt. Hawkeye's answering kiss. "Lieutenant."
"Riza, please. Or... just Hawkeye." The unvoiced plea of not wanting to be a military woman rang in both their ears.
Which Winry was more than happy to comply with.