Fullmetal Alchemist Fan Fiction ❯ Underneath it All ❯ Blindsided ( Chapter 7 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Underneath It All 7 Blindsided
The dinner with the Hughes clan was wonderful as per usual. The only difference from the norm was the fact that Maes and Gracia took turns singing Ed's praises and, in their own polite way, encouraged Roy to ask Ed out. Roy's response had been to change the subject rather quickly each time. After a while, the couple got the hint and let the matter die in peace.
What Maes somehow failed to see was that Edward's relationship with the blond Lieutenant had Ed smiling, laughing, glowing and happy. It was those reasons, especially the last one that had Roy unwilling to do anything that might disrupt the new balance Ed had found. The younger blond alchemist was seldom seen without a smile on his face and in his voice now.
Each time Maes caught him looking at Ed for one moment too long he would just shake his head and say, “You need to make a move. If you don't do it soon you're going to run out of time.”
Roy appreciated his best friend's advice, he just couldn't see himself taking it. He spent time with Ed-just as friends of course-but that just seemed to make the ache that had taken up residence in the Flame Alchemist's soul that much harder to endure. Every now and again when Roy forgot himself and was caught blatantly staring at Ed and Ed alone , he simply put on that fake smile he was so used to wearing these days and said, “I never thought I'd see you like this.” In return Ed would nod and say “Me neither.” Roy would then waste no time shifting the subject to something that hurt a lot less than the idea of Ed with someone else.
* * *
Weeks rolled by, and on a particularly warm Thursday word reached Roy's office that the Führer had become greatly displeased with the Military's current letterhead as well as various other forms of correspondence, forms and stationary. Now this may not seem like a big deal but if one ever had the pleasure of meeting and working under Führer Oswyn Cross, they would understand. He had reformed the Amestrian Military's lackluster image into one that was respected by most of the known world. He took great pride in every decision he made and if he was displeased with something…well. It was usually fixed-immediately.
“So none of the local shops have given any samples that the Führer deems worthy?” Kain asked of Falman. The stoic man simply shook his head no.
“I don't see what the big deal is,” piped Breda, “it's just paper, you would think what's written on it would be much more important than what it looks like.”
“To a degree you have a point, Second Lieutenant. But as one of the most powerful countries out there we have an image to uphold, not to mention the fact that anything coming from the military, especially the Führer's office, is a direct reflection on Cross himself.” Falman answered. Breda didn't comment further, simply turning back to the stack of paper he was working on earlier.
Roy looked out of his open office door at Edward. The young alchemist seemed to be lost in thought. A moment later his head shot up and he began to write furiously on a sheet of paper. Curious as to what had inspired such actions in him Roy beckoned Ed into his office. Ed replied with, “Give me one moment, General.” a few sentences or so later Ed gathered up what he had been writing, as well as some blank forms off his desk.
When Ed entered Roy's office, he was looking rather smug.
“What do you have up your sleeve now Ed?'
“Heh. Do you remember Preston?”
Roy thought for a moment and slowly striking green eyes floated up from his mind and images of the town of Hayden sprang forth.
“Yes I do, wasn't he the young man from Hayden?”
“Yes, and if you recall he ran a print shop. I have written him a couple of times since we went to the fair…”
Roy cocked an eyebrow at Ed, and a devious smirk played across his features.
“Not like that.” Ed growled out in frustration but Roy noted that the tips of the blond's ears were scarlet. “Anyway,” Ed continued, “I figured he might be just the one to provide the Führer with what he wants. It won't hurt to try at any rate.”
Roy nodded and held out his hand, wanting to see what Ed had gathered up to send to the print shop owner. Ed handed it over and Roy flipped through the stack and appeared to be impressed with the examples and notes Ed had chosen to provide. The last thing Roy came across was the letter Ed had penned in haste that read:
How are things in the beautiful town of Hayden? Well, I hope. I can't wait until I can make it back there. Only this time I hope to spend more than a day; the countryside there is simply breathtaking. Sorry this letter is so short but I have something you might be interested in. The Führer is rather displeased with our local print shops and is on a quest to find someone who can redo letterhead, permission slips, leave forms, etc.
I have enclosed some examples of what we have now so you would have some idea of what is expected. I have to speak with the Führer tomorrow about the upcoming Peace Talks and will try to get a better idea from him concerning what he's looking for in his personal stationary. I will mail that as soon as I have the details. I just wanted to send this so you can start working on it now if you're interested.
Ring me if you have questions.
PS- Give Aggie my regards and tell her yes, Roy is still single.
Roy smiled as he read that last line, even as the ache that seemed to accompany any thoughts of the man in front of him crept up his spine. When he looked up at Ed with that grin still firmly on his face he asked, “Trying to play matchmaker here, Colonel?”
“No, that's my brother's gig, not mine; she just asks about you a lot.”
Roy nodded, as a certain coolness settled over him to keep the ache company, and handed the papers back to Ed. “I think this actually is quite a good idea, Fullmetal. If the Führer likes what the young man has to offer this could be a great influx of business for Preston.”
Ed's eyebrows knitted in puzzlement when the title “Fullmetal” passed Roy's lips. It had been quite a while since Roy had called him that and it sounded foreign, and a bit frore, when it passed the man's lips. Ed just stood there staring at the man, whose facial expression gave away nothing, leaving Ed wondering what had changed in Roy so suddenly and why. Ed would have asked him if something was the matter if a gentle knock hadn't sounded behind him right then.
Roy looked away from that intense amber gaze to find both Riza and Havoc standing in the doorway.
* * *
Riza had no idea what the two alchemists were talking about but the tension in the room was undeniable. From her desk, she had heard what seemed to be a pleasant conversation; but from the time it took her to go over Ed's approved vacation request and walk to Roy's office door, things had apparently changed.
“Pardon the intrusion sirs, but I was headed to lunch and I'm off for the remainder of the afternoon so I wanted to let the Lt. Colonel know the status of his vacation request.”
Havoc looked over at Riza, obviously as confused as Ed and Roy were at her overly informal tone and said, “I'm glad you're off for the rest of the day Major. Sounds like you need it.”
At that, the remaining tension in the room completely dissipated as everyone but Riza broke into reserved laughter. “Thanks, Hawkeye.” Ed said as he took the sheet of paper out of her hands. His smile broadened as his eyes scanned the document. He looked up at Riza; she simply saluted and left Roy's office.
“I take it you got the time off, then.” Havoc said in response to Ed's grin.
“Yeah, I guess Al and I are headed south here in a few days.”
“Good, I know you both have been missing the Rockbells'.” Havoc said as he gave Ed a warm smile. “Not to rush you babe, but you ready for lunch?”
“Aren't I always?” Ed replied good-naturedly as he waved goodbye to Roy and left with Havoc.
Roy sat there for a few minutes before he decided to go for lunch himself. It wasn't like he could get anything done with his brain this addled anyway. When he stepped out of the building a familiar voice asked, “Care to join me for lunch, General?”
“I thought you were off for the day Major?”
“I am but I still need to eat, so join me.”
“I…” Roy began.
“I insist, sir.” Riza cut it firmly.
Roy knew better than to argue and followed the Major. They grabbed a couple of sandwiches from a street vendor and took them to one of the small parks not far from the office. They only just started making idle chitchat when Riza asked, “What happened between you and Ed in the office today?”
“What do you mean?” Roy asked, honestly confused.
“You two were talking just fine at first but by the time I got to your office door there was this odd tension hanging between you two.”
Roy was startled that she had picked up on that slight shift between them. He wouldn't have thought it was noted by anyone else, but Roy should have known that Riza Hawkeye would notice.
“It was nothing, Riza.”
“`Nothing' doesn't usually make two people stop mid-conversation and stare at each other, Roy.”
Roy didn't answer.
“Now that I think about it moments like that happen between the two of you quite often.” She went on to say.
Roy chewed on his lunch slowly.
“If I'm not mistaken, ever since that night at Fidel's the two of you have been acting a bit strange.”
“What do you mean Ed's been acting strange?” Roy said around his current mouthful.
“I take it I have your attention now.” Riza declared smugly.
“What do you want from me Riza? Blood?”
“No, but I am concerned for you Roy. You just haven't been yourself lately; and really, neither has Ed.”
“What are you referring to there?”
“You need to be honest with yourself and him, Roy. To someone that really knows you it is painfully obvious that you are attracted to Edward.”
“Been talking to Maes I presume.”
A soft smile spread across her face as she took the last bite of her sandwich.
“Look at it this way Roy. What good would it do for a Restaurant to have two new dishes but not add them to the menu?”
“Not much good at all, but what does that have to do with this?”
“Maybe Ed's not considering you because he doesn't know that you are available at all.” She said as she gathered up her trash and tossed it in the bin beside the bench they were sitting on.
Roy was looking down at his own lunch as if it held the answers to the secrets of the universe. He wished that it did. What he wouldn't give for this turkey and cheese on wheat to hold the answers to his current dilemma. Roy had indeed never thought of it the way the Major was putting it, but that still didn't solve the whole Jean situation.
“He's happy, Riza. What if I ruin that for him? What right do I have to take that away from someone who deserves it so much?”
“Soldiers are happy to receive MREs in the field too, that doesn't make them tasty though.”
Roy's head snapped up and when he looked up into Riza's warm chestnut gaze, he sighed heavily. She had a point; he knew that but with so much involved it still seemed like a bigger risk than he wanted to take. He would be crushed if he took Ed away from what he had now only to end up making the young blond unhappy. When he voiced this fear to Riza she smiled at him and said, “Are you listening to yourself Roy, he's so precious to you that you would be willing to be without him rather than take the risk of you possibly hurting him yourself. He means so much to you already and you aren't even dating yet.”
Roy just looked back down at what was left of his lunch and willed the sandwich to answer him. It didn't. When had Ed become so important to him? Not that it was a problem, exactly, but it felt slightly odd to Roy once Riza pointed it out.
“I've watched how you two interact and whatever is between you is wonderful. It takes no more than a look to get the two of you laughing and it seems that the world along with everyone and everything in it disappears when you're together…you should embrace that Roy.”
“I…I can't.” Roy mumbled eyes never lifting from his sandwich.
“Can't or won't?” Riza asked and Roy didn't answer.
When the silence dragged on, she bid Roy farewell and left him to his thoughts.
Well after the workday had drawn to a close Roy sat in his den sipping scotch as his interest in Ed came into a new light. As the sound of the rain picked up outside the Flame Alchemist snapped his fingers and lit the logs in the hearth. Roy watched the golden flames dance and his mind wandered to eyes of the same color. He now knew he was beyond intrigued by Ed and as a long slow swallow of the clear liquor burned its way down his throat, he realized he was infatuated, captivated…smitten.
* * *
The evening found Edward Elric sitting in the windowsill of the music room watching the rain fall. He had left the office to go to lunch with Jean but his mind kept drifting to Roy. He knew it was probably nothing but it sure as hell hadn't felt like nothing. So he called me by my title, big deal. Ed thought; he used to do it all the time. A metal finger rose from its resting spot to trace circles on the window. Lightening flashes and Ed is reminded of the spark that flares right after Roy snaps his fingers. Why did it feel so wrong in some way for him to call me that?
Frustrated, Ed turned only to find Al standing in the doorway watching him.
“What's up Al?”
“Shouldn't that be my question to you?” the younger Elric responded as he moved into the room. Ed didn't reply and he kept his focus on the falling rain. “Talk to me, brother. Is it the trip home that's got you worried? Do you not want to stay for that long, is that it?”
Ed's shoulders slumped and the hand on the window curled into a fist. “No, Al, I'm looking forward to seeing Winry and Auntie Pinako.”
“Did something happen between you and Jean?”
“No, everything's fine between us.” Ed murmured.
Al was more than a bit lost now. Ed had come in from work and seemed fine but as the hours passed by it became obvious that he wasn't. Ed hadn't even come out of the music room to eat dinner. When his brother missed out on food something was definitely amiss.
“Is it Roy?” Al asked tentatively, and if he wasn't mistaken, Ed flinched.
“It's stupid really,” Ed started still not taking his eyes away from the window, “`Fullmetal' is my State Alchemist title, so if my commanding officer wants to call me that then it's perfectly okay for him to do so.”
“True.” Al said, but at this point, he was very perplexed. He was happy his brother was sharing his thoughts like this with him but he was clueless as to what he was getting at.
“But it didn't feel ok.” Ed whispered. “It felt strange and impersonal and… You know what; just forget I even said anything Al.”
Initially Al honored his brother's wishes and remained silent. And for the longest time the two of them sat there in the shadows and watched the rain fall. Then just before the younger Elric turned to leave the room he said, “Why don't you call him and talk to him and work it out before it gets too late.”
“No, he'll just think I'm crazy.”
“He knows that already, brother and if he hasn't cared about your lack of mental stability in all this time I doubt it's going to bother him now.”
Ed laughed at his brother's words and replied, “I might just do that Al.”
Al nodded, yawned and told his brother goodnight.
Once Al was upstairs, Ed rose from his seated position and made his way through the house and to the phone.
* * *
Roy was looking into the dying embers of the fire when the phone rang. Hoping it was nothing urgent, he answered it with, “Mustang residence.”
“My name is Ed.”
“I know.”
“Not Fullmetal…”
“I'm sorry I don't know why I said that. I…” Roy stuttered out and he vaguely realized how juvenile they both sounded. Ed had been disturbed by Roy's use of his state title enough to call him at this hour over it. At least that let Roy know he wasn't alone in feeling awkward in the office today.
“It felt wrong.” Ed whispered.
“…it won't happen again.” Roy said as a lump formed in his throat at the dejected, desperate tone of Ed's voice. In truth, he felt the same way, like he had violated something between them by reverting back to his old habit of calling the alchemist by his title. But it was something, Roy realized, that made him feel more in control of this damnable situation he found himself in.
Maes' words, Riza's advice, hell, his own inner thoughts were begging him to say something to let Ed know how he felt. Every time some words of expression came to mind, they lodged in his throat and the silence prevailed. When he finally did manage to say something it was in no way truly reflective of how he felt. “I was having an off day.” Roy choked out finally.
To his surprise, Ed started to laugh. It was a nervous and odd kind of laughter but it was there nonetheless. “I take it I am forgiven?” Roy asked.
“I suppose.” Ed replied sounding a lot more like his usual self.
“Thank you, Ed.”
“Goodnight Roy.”
“Sleep well, Ed.”
Once Roy hung up he had to admit that had to be one of, if not the, most awkward conversation of his adult life. He was glad it had taken place; yet he was disappointed in his own cowardice… but such is life.
* * *
By the time the next week rolled around and the days wound back around to Monday, the Elric brothers were preparing to make their trip to Resembool. Ed and Al had put in for two weeks' vacation at their respective places of employment and were headed to their hometown. Ed stopped by Roy's house the night before he left and the short blond was all but bouncing around in excitement. He said it had been almost a year since they had seen the Rockbells and the trip was long overdue. Roy asked his guest if Jean would be joining them at some point since he had time off as well. Ed said no, because Jean had planned on visiting his mother during his five days of vacation.
Following that, there wasn't much conversation between them. Instead of it being awkward, it was a comfortable and companionable sort of silence. After a while Ed said, “I guess I need to get going, the train leaves at 7am.” as he got to his feet and stretched before moving out of Roy's den toward the door.
“You two enjoy yourselves, then. I'll be looking forward to your return.”
Roy said as he opened the door for his guest. Ed stepped across the threshold and onto the porch. “Will you now?” Ed asked coyly as that devious smirk he was starting to become known for slid across his face. Roy's response was a smirk of his own. As the two alchemists stood there staring at each other, Roy's mind spiraled in a dozen different directions. He wanted to say something, but much like that never spoken of night on the phone, words failed him.
The unexpected sound of a cat screeching in the background made Roy break eye contact with Ed and look towards the source of the noise. In that instant Ed moved forward and wrapped his arms around his friend. It was a gesture Roy returned readily. “I'll miss you too Roy.” Ed mumbled into the man's shoulder where his head had settled. When Ed extracted himself out of the embrace, because Roy couldn't bring himself to end it, the General smiled at the blond and said, “Have fun Ed.”
“We will.” with nothing further Ed strode off the porch and into the evening, leaving the older alchemist staring after him until he begrudgingly shut the door.
Once that door was, closed Roy gazed down at his now empty arms until they almost seemed to ache with Ed's absence. Roy cursed himself again for his lack of action.
Sleep would not come easy to him tonight.
* * *
Ed left Roy's house but instead of heading home he ventured into an empty park and sat down on one of the swings. Mindless of his swaying to and fro Ed had his head tilted skyward and gazed at the stars, almost pleading to them to define what he was feeling, regardless of how unscientific that was.
* * *
Early the next morning the phone rang at the Rockbells' and once Winry fell silent from her seat on the couch Pinako called into the kitchen and asked, “Was that a customer on the phone, Winry?”
“No Granny, that was Ed calling to tell us he and Al were headed to the train station and that they would be here Thursday morning or early that same afternoon.”
“That's good,” Pinako replied, “it's been ages since they've been here for a proper visit.”
Winry was all smiles when she entered the living room and took a seat beside her grandmother.
“I know you enjoy seeing Ed and Al but why so excited this time?”
“I think it's finally going to happen Granny.”
“What is, child?”
“I think Ed's finally going to ask me to be his.”
Pinako's eyes widen at this. She has long since known that her granddaughter has had more than a crush on the eldest Elric for years; but to the best of her knowledge he had yet to express anything of the like in return. “Why do you think this?” the elderly woman asked gently.
“Well he said he was going to take me shopping for one; and we all know Ed has never volunteered to do that.”
“I see.” Was Pinako's reply, not at all impressed with the younger woman's logic. It must have shown because Winry's face grew determined and she went on to say, “That's not all Granny, he also told me to make us a reservation at whatever restaurant I wanted to go to because he had something he wanted to share with me and we were long overdue for a sit down over coffee.”
“Don't you think you're being a little presumptuous my dear?” Pinako asked carefully. She had no desire to hurt her granddaughters' feelings but she didn't like how sure Winry was of Ed's intentions.
“You just wait and see Granny.” Winry chimed as she bounced off the couch and up the stairs.
* * *
On a southbound train, the Elric brothers were playing cards, “Gin!” Al cried as he placed his cards down on the bench between them. That was his third win in a row. Al was fully expecting his Brother's usual tirade when the elder Elric shocked him by simply picking the cards up and shuffling them.
“Anything on your mind, Brother?”
“Would you believe me if I said no?”
“Not likely.” Al said honestly as he gently took the playing cards from his brothers' lax grip and tucked them back in their box. As he waited for his sibling to gather his thoughts he glanced around the train car they were riding in. There weren't many passengers still on board, most having gotten off in South City. In fact there was only three other passengers in their rail car: Two men that sat together near the front that appeared to be traveling salesmen and the little old lady that sat across from them.
Al looked back to his brother and said, “It can't be that bad Brother.”
“It's not that anything's wrong or bad, it's just confusing.”
“What is?”
Ed turned his gaze towards the window and replied, “Jean is great to me, he makes me smile, I enjoy his company, hell, I even miss him when he's not with me…”
“But…” Al said because it was obviously there.
“But, there's some odd, indefinable, feeling that comes over me at times when I'm with Roy.”
“I was wondering when this was going to resurface.”
Ed's head slowly turned until he faced his brother. He narrowed his golden eyes and said, “What do you mean by that?”
“Because you two have been acting a little odd ever since that night at Fidel's. One moment you two are all wrapped up in something only the two of you are part of, then the next moment there's this weird tension between you.”
Ed's face twisted in thought. “What are you getting at Al?”
“Nothing, that was simply my voiced observation.”
“Humph, thanks for nothing Al.” Ed said as he folded his arms across his chest and leered at Al.
“Oh don't get cross brother. What you're going through could mean a lot of things or nothing at all.”
“Enough with the vagueness Al.”
Al sighed and said, “Look at it this way, just because you two might be attracted to each other doesn't mean you have to act on it. It doesn't have to mean you are unhappy with Jean nor does it have to mean either of you want to be more than good friends…”
Now it was Ed's turn to say but.
“It could be that you are more attracted to the General than you are to Lt. Havoc, you and the General certainly have more common interests. He could be keeping his distance because you are involved with the Lieutenant. I know you and Havoc aren't necessarily committed to each other but it's been a while since either of you have shown interest in another person. Also you could be unaware of your own attraction to the General because this whole dating thing is new to you.”
Ed just blinked at his brother somewhat mystified at the mouthful Al had to say about his situation. “Well that thoroughly covers the `a lot of things' portion Al.” Ed said as he considered the possibility of Al having missed his true calling. His brother had presented both sides of that scenario so well he practically sounded like a lawyer. “What about this nothing at all part, then?”
“Well…let's face it. The closest person to you is me and Winry-the three of us have been this way since forever,” Al began and Ed nodded in agreement to his words, “and the General has had Miss Hawkeye and Mr. Hughes as friends for nearly as long. It might be that the two of you are reaching a new plateau of closeness as friends and since it's been so long since you've had anyone new in that respect, not to mention how fast you two buddied up, you might not recognize the feeling for what it really is.”
Al had given Ed a lot to chew on. He was thankful for his brother's insight and told him as much. Shortly after their conversation, both brothers ended up taking a nap. They had a long trip ahead of them and Ed had things to figure out.
* * *
When they arrived in Resembool that Thursday morning Pinako had quite the breakfast waiting for them. After eating, they all sat around exchanging small talk until Pinako ran them up to their room to get settled. Al was eager to catch up with his friend Howard and Winry was more than ready for Ed to take her out shopping and to dinner like he'd promised.
Ed and Winry had spent quite a bit of time, and money, around the growing town of Resembool and the two were now headed home to get dressed so they could drop off Winry's bounty and head out to dinner. Winry had chosen one of the nicer restaurants in town and Ed was all for it. He missed talking to her and he couldn't think of someone who deserved the treat more.
Ed washed and dressed in no time. When he took a look in the mirror that hung on the back of the door in the room him and Al shared when they visited he was pleased with what he saw.
When he walked into the living room, Granny let out a wolf whistle that had Ed laughing in response. “Thanks for the compliment Auntie.” She adjusted the pipe between her lips and nodded at him. “You sure you won't come with us?” he asked.
“I'm sure.” was all she got out before Winry appeared at the top of the stairs. She looked beautiful. The simple black dress she had on fit her perfectly and her blue eyes seemed to sparkle with their own light. Ed was almost at a loss for words.
“You look wonderful Miss Rockbell.” He said as he gave an exaggerated bow and kissed the back of her hand. She let out a girlish giggle and flushed at his antics.
“Why thank you Mr. Elric.” she responded doing her best impression of a southern belle.
When he straightened up, he crooked his arm and asked, “Shall we?” She took his offered arm and said, “We shall.” The happy duo waved to Pinako and made their way into town.
Once they were seated at the restaurant and had given their orders Winry grew impatient at all of Ed's talk about the Military and peace treaties. “So,” she began when she caught Ed taking a sip of his wine, “what's this news you wanted to share?”
Ed had given a lot of thought to everything Al had said to him on the train and decided that he was happy with Jean and that Roy probably fell in the category of a new best friend. Ed also knew his brother was right in the fact that he and Jean had been seeing each other exclusively for months now and some sort of commitment was probably not too far off. It was well past time he shared this with the person he thought of as one of his best friends- Winry might as well be his sister.
“Well I know I don't talk about what's going on with me personally a whole lot so I've decided to fix that.”
Winry tilted her head to the side in slight confusion.
“A few months back I started dating Jean Havoc and…”
“Who…what?” Winry stuttered in shock and disbelief.
“You know the really tall blond guy that works in…”
The echoing sound of her hand connecting sharply with the side of his face rang through the dining area like a bad omen. The unforeseen attack almost knocked Ed out of his seat. After the initial shock wore off his hand moved up to his wounded face and when he finally turned his head back to its original position he was met with furious blue eyes.
“HOW COULD YOU!?” she shouted at her confused dinner companion as she jumped to her feet and pointed an accusing finger at him.
“Winry, what… I don't…”
“How dare you come here and ask me out then…then tell me this crap!” she continued to yell. The entire restaurant was now focused on the obviously troubled pair seated in the middle of the dining area.
“Winry, will you please sit down?” Ed asked trying to calm his irate friend.
“I won't… I don't care if you're embarrassed Edward Elric, it's the least you deserve!”
“For what?” Ed said his own voice rising a bit in confusion. “What the hell did I do to merit any of this?”
With fists clenched at her sides Winry simply stared at him, her angry blue eyes boring into his confused golden ones. She then violently shoved her chair back and walked around the table. When he called her name and reached out to her, she smacked his hand away and screamed, “LEAVE ME ALONE! I have nothing to say to you!” Before he could react, she turned and bolted from the restaurant. Ed sat there in stunned silence for a few moments before he dropped a few cens on the table to cover their bill and chased after her.
By the time he reached home Al and Pinako were waiting for him in the living room. They told Ed that Winry had barred herself in her room and refused to come out. Al reached out to inspect Ed's inflamed cheek and the blond flinched at the contact. He swiftly grew tired of his brother's scrutiny and brushed Al's hand aside. Ed went up to her bedroom door and knocked on it and pleaded for entrance.
All he got in return was harsh anger.
“Winry, please talk me.” Ed called through the closed door.
“Just go away Ed! I don't want to talk to you!” was the shouted reply. He could tell she had been crying from the way her voice wavered. He hated seeing her like this. He wanted to fix this-whatever this was.
“Tell me what I did wrong.” He begged.
He was met with the sound of muffled sobs and silence. He stood there for what felt like hours pleading with her to talk to him. A weird sort of stressed out exhaustion swept over him and he rested his forehead on her closed door and said. “You're my best friend Winry; I can't stand it thinking I've done something to hurt you. Please, please say something…anything.”
There was rustling behind the door and when she did speak her words stung like venom. “What part of go away don't you understand? I don't want to talk to you, not now and not ever!” he could tell she was crying again and at that moment, he felt like he would give damn near anything for her to stop. “Winry I…”
“Just shut up!” she screamed, her voice high and loud to the point of sounding unnatural. “I hate you, Edward Elric! I don't care if I never see you again!”
Ed stumbled back from her door on shaky legs. Her words caused a cold chill to run down his spine and settle in his veins. If it hadn't hurt so damn much Ed would have thought he'd gone numb.
Unexpectedly Ed felt a hand on his shoulder and when he turned around he found Al and Pinako standing there looking at him worriedly.
* * *
Ed was crying.
When he turned to look at Al silent tears were running, down his face; and he looked like warmed over death. Ed was pale, shaky and he had a vacant look in his eyes. Al turned to Auntie praying she would have some idea of what to say or do because he sure as hell didn't.
Ed staggered like a drunk down the steps through the living room and into the kitchen. Once he sat down at the table Auntie put what looked like a hot cup of coffee in front of him and tilted Ed's chin up so she could get a good look at his now swollen cheek. “She left quite a mark. Al, get your brother some ice.” She ordered and Al happily complied. He never knew what to do in situations like this and it was nice for him to have some direction. Al wrapped the ice in a towel and watched sorrowfully as his brother winced when he brought it up to his face.
Pinako let Ed's nerves settle before she asked him what happened. As he told her she sat there and listened patiently. Al was stunned at the tale Ed told. It made little sense to him and both males looked at Pinako expectantly once Ed fell silent.
What she had to say, explained everything.
“I didn't know.” Was all Ed had to say at first once Auntie finished.
“I know, child. There was no way you could have known. She never did or said anything that would have made it obvious.”
“But Auntie,” Al began still somewhat floored at the revelation, “Brother can be dense at times; we all know that, but even I had no clue Winry felt this way.”
Ed glared at his younger brother for calling him dense, but as he sat there with an ice pack on his face, looking like a kicked puppy the glare had little effect. Pinako sighed and said, “I'm sorry for what she said to you Ed.”
Ed's gaze dropped down so he was staring at the coffee cup in his automail hand. He looked like he wanted to let go of himself all over again. His grip on the coffee mug tightened until Al thought the mug would crack under the pressure. “So, there's a good chance she might have meant some of what she said.”
“She will be hurt for a while but she will get over it. I doubt she even realizes all of what she said, not to mention how it affected you.”
“I can't stay here.” Ed mumbled.
“Brother…I'm sure by morning-”
“By morning what?” Ed almost yelled at Al, and his brother took a step back to distance himself from the barely contained rage and hurt emanating off his sibling. “She will either a) be still be holed up in her room feeling like a prisoner in her own home because she doesn't want to face me or b) she will walk around here ignoring me and giving me the cold shoulder like I don't exist!”
Auntie put a comforting hand on Ed's shoulder and said, “Give her some time Ed, she'll come around.”
The last of Ed's strength faded at this and the hand that was cradling the coffee cup moved up to massage his temple. “I'm taking the Red Eye back to central tonight.”
“I'll get my stuff together and…”
“No Al, you stay here and enjoy your vacation. It's me she's mad at, there's no reason for you to leave too. Besides if I know you at all, once you get back to Central you'll go back into work and not vacation at all.”
“Like you won't do the same.” Al mumbled in frustration.
“No…I think once I get back I'll head out on a road trip or something, you don't have to worry about me going to work. I won't even venture down to the lab. Besides once she comes out of that room she'll need you.
Al eyed his Brother warily and said, “Fine Brother, I'll stay.”
A thin smile graced Ed's lips. “Thanks Al.”
* * *
He rang the train station as soon as Pinako had left to try and talk to Winry. The person on duty said the there was a train headed out to Central at 11:20 pm. Ed asked if there was room on it and the response was, plenty.
Ed didn't really have much packing to do since he hadn't really gotten the chance to unpack as it was. It was strange how life threw curveballs at a person. Ed thought that his time in his hometown was going to be relaxing and happy.
It turned out to be anything but.
Al insisted on walking him to the train station and Ed didn't argue. Once he had his luggage together and moved downstairs, he said his goodbyes to Auntie and with a sorrowful expression, his eyes turned upstairs. Ed felt like he had to try one more time, if she wouldn't talk, he at least had to say goodbye. They always said goodbye, he wouldn't feel right if he didn't.
With a heavy heart, he ascended the staircase and made his way to her locked door. He stood in front of that door with a hundred different things flooding through his mind. There were so many things he wanted to say. He didn't want her to feel like she had to come out and face him. He had no desire to upset her more than he already had. Ed decided he would just tell her what was on his mind and in his heart and leave it at that.
“Hey Winry, I realize you're upset with me right now but I want you to know that despite everything, I want us to always be friends. I know now that friendship is not all you wanted from me but I hope you will accept my offer of it anyway. You're part of my family and I'll love you always. I hope you'll realize that nothing will ever change that.”
Ed stood there waiting for some sort of response from her until Al came up and said they needed to get going. Ed shot one more remorseful look at Winry's locked door before he followed his Brother.
He had a train to catch.
* * *
Gracia Hughes sat on her living room sofa listening to a late night radio program. It was Saturday night (almost Sunday morning), Elysia was at a slumber party and Maes had left much earlier to go out with Roy. She was just about to turn off the lights and radio when a soft knock sounded at the front door. Nervous about whom it could possibly be at this hour, she went to the kitchen window so she could see who it was and the sight that greeted her made her stomach knot in apprehension. She made haste to the front door, and unlocked it.
“Ed, my goodness! What brings you here at this hour?”
He tried to answer but his words were jumbled. Gracia took in the forlorn look on her sons face offered up a warm smile and said, “Where are my manners this evening… come on in Ed.”
When she stepped out of his way, he moved into the house like a wraith. Shutting and locking the door, she then moved to guide the dazed looking youth to the couch she had been lounging on earlier. He sat down and just stared into space looking like he was lost and had no hope of finding his way. From her knowledge, both of the Elric brothers were supposed to be in Resembool. This did not bode well.
Gracia sat down beside the troubled young man and waited patiently for him to tell her what was upsetting him. She knew him well enough at this point that if he came over here at this hour he was ready to talk, she just needed to wait for him to find the right words. Ed and Al-for all their differences-were remarkably alike in this respect. Neither of them was ever one to do anything to impose on someone so for Ed to just show up here, unannounced, at this hour something had to be horribly wrong in his world.
Ed started telling Gracia what had happened. All while focusing on the floor, his voice flat like he was reading the script to some twisted play he wanted no part of. It wasn't until he got to the part of Pinako's revelation that he looked at Gracia for the first time since he started speaking. Silent tears were making their way down his face and he looked like a man that had just lost a piece of his soul. It was then that she got a good look at his face and noticed the slight bruising on his left cheek. Ed and Al had always said Winry should have been a baseball player, and she could now see they were not exaggerating.
She knew that Winry was a big part of his world, Al's too, and to have her say such things and behave like she did had no choice but to be somewhat devastating to him.
“How,” he began shakily his eyes pleading at her for the answer to the unfinished question, “how was I supposed to know? How am I supposed to fix this, Gracia? How?”
Gracia Hughes wanted to have the words that would make all of this go away but she didn't. All she could do was open here arms and when he fell into her offered embrace, she let him cry it out like any good mother would. She rocked him back and forth, petted and comforted him until the worst of the emotional storm passed.
When he got himself together somewhat she moved into the kitchen and made them both some tea, green tea for her and chamomile for him. After all, of this, he needed a good rest and from the looks of him, he hadn't slept since this all took place. When she held the cup out to him he accepted it with a quiet thank you and it was gone within minutes.
He laid his head on her shoulder and apologized for dumping his woes on her at such an ungodly hour. She laughed and said she would have it no other way and assured him that that's what family was for.
Less than an hour later the tea had kicked in and Edward Elric was fast asleep.
Gracia was running her fingers through Ed's hair-which she had taken it upon herself to unbraid-when she heard footsteps on the porch and the key in the door. It sounded like Roy was with Maes and the two of them were carrying on while laughing about something. Gracia had her finger up to her lips when they walked in and immediately both fell silent and their eyes traveled to the sleeping blond's head on her lap.
The confused looks on their faces would have been laughable if the situation were any different.
“I'll go fix the bed in the guest room.” Maes said and his wife nodded.
“Roy, do you think you could carry him in there?” Gracia asked, “I put two bags of chamomile tea is his cup, I don't think he'll be waking anytime soon.”
“Of course, Gracia.” Roy answered as he slipped one arm under Ed's torso and arms and the other under his knees.
Roy lifted the younger man and when he looked down at Ed's face, he noted the troubled expression that was on it even while he slept. Roy pulled Ed closer to his body and walked through the room and down the hall until he found Maes. Reluctantly, Roy laid the sleeping alchemist down on the bed and started taking off his shoes.
“I'll go make some coffee,” Maes whispered, “I'm sure there's quite a tale behind this.”
Roy said nothing as he continued on with his task. Once he was done, he kneeled down so he could get a good look at Ed's face and he could see what looked like a fading bruise and dried tears. He didn't like the look of either of them. He brushed a few stray strands of hair behind Ed's ear and mumbled, “What happened to you Ed…you were supposed to go have fun.” Roy leaned forward but halted as soon as he realized what he was about to do. He fought with himself internally for a while before he gave in to part of his temptation and gently kissed the blond on the forehead. When Ed didn't stir, Roy got to his feet, pulled the blankets over him and turned around… only to find Maes leaning against the doorframe.
To Roy's surprise, Maes said nothing and simply turned and left the room.