|The Pen is Mightier! (penismightier) wrote in pandorauniverse,|
@ 2020-04-27 11:09:00
[Winry Rockbell; PG] 4 - Rainy Night
Character/Series: Winry Rockbell; Fullmetal Alchemist (2003; Pandora's Universe)
Notes: Written for the 30screams theme #4 - Rainy Night
I'm sorry, I'm trying really hard to get more done, but grief takes time to work through, and having two ESAs get sick in the last year and a few months since losing my partner, and a stressful move in there, it's slower going than it should be.
Please forgive me for taking so long, and know that I am working on getting Hephaestus done. I promised I'd do it for her, and it's too late for her to read it, but I'm not breaking that promise, any more than I broke the promise to be holding her hand when it was her time.
Title: 4 - Rainy Night
Word Count: 5105
Summary: She was starting to think her grandmother was wrong, that Ed was never going to come back to them, that she really had lost both of her brothers that night.
Losing her parents hadn't hurt as much.
So thunderstorms had become her boogieman, her regular nightmares given a physical form, and they always woke her.
Thunderstorms tended to wake Winry from even the deepest sleep. They hadn't always, not until that night a storm had swept in the stranger in a military uniform, carrying the broken and dying body of her best friend, and not long after that, the news that her other best friend was gone completely. That was the night they'd lost the two boys that had grown up as honorary Rockbell children, had made her an honorary Elric child, had been her brothers as much as she'd been their sister. Al was gone completely, all trace disappeared in their stupid attempt to bring their mother back from the dead.
Part of Ed disappeared with him, some deeper part of him than just the missing limbs and voice.
Her grandmother tried to explain, put it into words what she'd seen but never fully understood about the Elric brothers who'd taken her into their hearts as their family, that Ed and Al seemed more like one person split between two bodies. Ed had been a fussy child that suffered from colic and regular illness when he was born, right up until Al was born a little over a year later. Then he'd turned into a happy and healthy baby, as if he'd never had any problems to begin with.
"It's like Ed was just waiting for the other half of his soul to hurry up and be born," Grandma had said. "It's hard to understand from the outside. It never made you less their sister, but that's why we lost him that night. That gravestone didn't have to be there for us to have lost him. The best we can do is stand back and let him figure out how to live with half his soul missing, and be there when he figures it out. Whatever the military did, they're not half the problem, and he's obviously still using them to try to rebuild himself. It hurts, but the best we can do for him right now is keep his automail strong enough to let him do his work. He'll come back to us."
Every time Ed came back for more surgeries and repairs, he seemed to be further and further away from them, closing off more and more. Whenever Winry would try to ask him questions, he'd get snippy, and when she tried to talk about the good times, try to remind him that even if he'd lost one sibling, even if that sibling was his own other half, he did still have one sibling who loved him more than the world and still needed him, he'd simply go silent and seem to close some door in his mind that she could see in his eyes.
She was starting to think her grandmother was wrong, that Ed was never going to come back to them, that she really had lost both of her brothers that night.
Losing her parents hadn't hurt as much.
So thunderstorms had become her boogieman, her regular nightmares given a physical form, and they always woke her.
Her clock on her nightstand said it was after midnight, and a glance out the window showed that the wind dragging the storm that came with the thunder that woke her wasn't going to sweep that storm out as fast as it came in; the storm was going to stick around, probably all night.
With a weary sigh, Winry sat up in bed, pushing herself against her headboard for back support and pulled her knees to her chest, resting her chin on them and hugging her legs tightly. It was too late in the spring for that to be a cold rain out there, and it flashed through her mind to take advantage of the fact that she had a rare chance to stand out in the storm and scream her grief out at it without freezing her tits off for her trouble.
But Ed was home right now, undergoing what was hopefully the last expansion surgeries he'd need, if she was going to spend time awake that she would otherwise be getting much-needed sleep, she'd be better off putting that time into whatever she could to help him, in the dying hopes that he'd find whatever it was he was looking for to fill in that hole where Al used to be and finally come home to stay.
A couple of minutes passed before she got herself woken up enough to not give in to the urge to cry over her brothers, one dead and the other half-dead, and with another sigh, her only concession to those tears, she pushed aside the covers and got up out of bed. The house wasn't cold, but it wasn't exactly as warm as her bed had been, so she grabbed her housecoat and slippers and pulled them on.
The house was silent as she made her way downstairs to the kitchen, footsteps muffled by the slippers, fuzzy and purple with the Flamel cross on them; Ed shut both her and Grandma out a lot, but he still remembered them on their birthdays and the winter holiday, the only time she really got to glimpse the boy she'd grown up with, and those slippers were something he'd made for her for Solstice.
He'd actually been home for Solstice this year, came in a couple of months prior for the expansion surgeries. As usual, he'd put them off, though not nearly as long this time; his chest and shoulders had hit their biggest growth spurt quicker than he- or any of them -had expected, and it was starting to become painful. Winry had long-since given up scolding him about his tendency to take on more pain than necessary, knowing it was a losing battle before she even started. He'd been stupidly working through pain before Al died, that wasn't something that had changed over the years.
But at least he wasn't as stupid as he could've been. He'd come in this time before the steel was starting to bite into skin enough to bleed, and surprisingly hadn't put up too much fuss when he was told that he was going to have to plant it a few months and have the external casing on his arm port removed to let his growth go without interference. They'd put him through the far less invasive expansion for his leg port- most of his teenage growth, when it came to his leg, was going to be in the leg length, and his bones and muscles had already done most of their growth that the port would have to be expanded around anyway. Then they let his body recover and start going through rehab exercises with the expanded leg port over the last couple weeks of December, meaning he was lucid for the holiday.
It'd been a week before the holiday, early afternoon the day he made those slippers; Winry had been sitting on the couch, Ed in the chair closest to her, a side table pulled over and transmuted to be an unnatural number of inches higher to make it an effective workspace, with mugs of tea and coffee- he could keep that coffee, thanks -keeping silent company with each other. It was quiet and peaceful, Winry sipping her tea and watching Ed flip through pages upon pages of notes on whatever research he was doing for the State. It wasn't the long conversations about a lot of nothing they sometimes had before they lost Al, but he wasn't closing her out, seemed as content as he ever was with having her sitting so close while he worked on what he said was classified work.
He'd been dressed in house clothes that she personally found to barely be warm enough, though- like all of his clothes -the shirt covered his neck and hid the tracheotomy scar from the night their worlds fell apart. And he'd been barefoot.
"How is your foot not cold?" she demanded.
He looked up at her blankly, like he wasn't sure she'd spoken to him, his pen gripped tightly in his teeth, lacking his right hand to hold it, the arm and casing removed and the delicate tissue wrapped to let his growth go unimpeded. After a second, he set the paper he'd had held up- looking back and forth between it and the one on the table in front of him -down, and removed the pen from his mouth. "Because it isn't cold."
Like every time he spoke out loud instead of using that field sign that he'd learned from the military and she'd studied from his field buddy, she had to resist the urge to cringe at the cracked and hollow remains of his voice. But signing one-handed was sloppy at best, impossible for regular conversations, and with his port removed, he didn't have much of a choice.
"You're kidding, right?" she said. "It's fifty-five degrees out there."
He gave her that flat look he usually sported, though it was somehow given from miles away than it usually was, far enough that she'd been able to see a ghost haunting behind it. "It was colder where I served with McLaughlin."
Whenever that place came up, that ghost started haunting his eyes and his voice, and prodding at it had always made him snap at her and go completely silent, and it made her temper want to completely run away with her and put her on the first train to Central to scream and swear in a fashion to make any automail mechanic proud at the colonel who was supposed to take care of her brother and failed in some spectacular way. She had to forcibly grab her temper and pull it under control, releasing it with a sigh that pretended to be disgusted that the battlefield had apparently made him immune to what she considered cold.
"Well, fine, so your foot grew callouses to the cold. It's still cold in here and you should have something on your foot."
He shrugged, put his pen back between his teeth and started to grab the top sheet of his notes again before he paused and looked back at her, then down at her slippered feet. The slippers she was wearing were a couple of years old at that time, the same shade of rose as her bandanna she usually wore while working to keep her hair safe from getting caught on machinery, open-heeled with a thin rubber sole for her to wear around the house during the warmer months that he'd made her for her birthday. He frowned slightly, taking the pen out of mouth again. "Is that the only pair of slippers you have?"
She looked down at her feet. "I outgrew my winter pair," she confessed. "And I like these. You made them for me."
The only reason the noise he made at that couldn't be called as impressively rude as what Grandma made was because of the condition of his voice. "Stupid girl," he said, putting the pen down and getting up. "Sentiment isn't a good enough reason to not dress warmly enough."
"I didn't have much choice," she grumbled at him, staying very still and watching him drag his suitcase that he kept partly packed and nearby at all times, like he was perpetually braced to run away, out of the corner and open it up. She never felt in danger of him hurting her, but when he got upset, his body language became aggressive- tightly controlled, but still aggressive -and she didn't dare see what might happen if he lost that control. So she always kept as still as possible and not doing anything that might accidentally set that aggression off. Just because she might not get hurt, didn't mean he wouldn't.
He didn't answer, pulling out his coat that had become famous across the country and associated to the informal title of the 'attack dog of the military,' a title she staunchly refused to believe was one he'd actually earned; she refused to believe that any of the deaths she'd heard about that were blamed on him when she'd be studying in Rush Valley were something he was actually guilty of. He tossed the coat over his shoulder and snapped the suitcase shut again, then walked back over to his chair.
"How old is that housecoat of yours?" he demanded as he dropped the coat on his work table, unmindful of the notes now buried under it.
"About as old," she said softly, wondering where he was going- wondering, and hoping that her guess was right.
There was that noise again, followed by a long and disquieting moment when he studied her in a way that made her uncomfortable before he pressed his hand gently to his shoulder stump and then to the coat. The coat seemed to more shift than fully change the way most things he transmuted did, shortening and thinning and changing cut to a woman's house coat, the extra material that was trimmed from the length turning into a pair of fuzzy, closed-heeled slippers that matched the housecoat, both of which he'd made a bland shade of grey. "Here," he said, handing over the slippers. "Happy Solstice."
She took the slippers, examining them, then the house coat as he handed that over so he could go back to his notes. He never bothered trying to design anything fancy with the things he gave her, knowing full well that his sense of design left something to be desired. He always waited for her to tell him what she wanted.
He'd gone back to his notes before she finally worked up the nerves to look up at him. "Can you make these purple?" she asked.
He froze, refused to answer for a long few seconds where his hand was visibly trembling, then set down the paperwork and took the pen out of his mouth again. "Why?"
She held out the slippers. "Because that's your color." She had to shake her head very quickly and just as firmly when he'd opened his mouth, determined to stop whatever protests he was about to give her. "I've heard the rumors, and I don't believe them," she said, scowling at how closed off his expression became. "And if they're true, I know that there was a good reason behind them. You drive me crazy by refusing to tell me anything, and it hurts when you shut me out, but I know that even if you hate me like you act sometimes, if those rumors are true, you'd do some of those things to anyone who'd hurt me. I'm not going to be going around town or anything wearing my slippers and a house coat, but someone would have to be damn stupid to hurt someone wearing the attack dog's color and matching Flamel." She softened her expression, trying to not go into straight out pleading territory, holding the slippers out to him. "Even if you hate me, I know you'd still protect me. It'd help me remember that."
Ed's jaw was so tense that Winry almost worried he was going to start grinding his teeth. His eyes looked angry, but she could see the hurt and guilt behind that anger, could still recognize that, though it was a question of if even Grandma could've seen anything but the anger. It gave her just the tiniest bit of hope that he hadn't completely abandoned her as nothing more than his automail surgeon/mechanic.
With a weak-sounding snarl, he pressed his hand to his stump again and touched the slippers, and again the house coat when it was offered, to match her request. He didn't say anything, before, during, or after the transmutation, turning immediately back to his work, shoving a couple pages around and resting his forehead on his hand, pointedly refused to acknowledge her quiet 'thank you,' burying himself in his work.
She'd gone over that memory in her head numerous times in the last few months, while Ed finally was put under the surgeries to rebuild his new arm port casing, completely replacing his scapula and right clavicle with steel replicas, as well as getting thicker plating over his sternum and a couple ribs. They'd worried early on that they'd be replacing his sternum with steel as well, which was going to be a tough trick with how it connected to the ribs on both sides, but they'd gotten lucky and it hadn't turned out necessary.
Every time it played in her head, she found herself hurt less and less by his behavior and attitude when he'd changed the house coat and slippers' appearances at her request, and angrier and angrier at whoever had changed him so much, who'd hurt him to make him change like that. Ed got angry when he was scared, and while most things, he'd gone flat and stony-faced at, when it came to even perceived threats to her safety- from nature or from people -he went from flat and vaguely hostile right to barely contained anger, and his anger seemed to scare him even more than he already was.
Maybe he hated her for giving up on Al. Maybe not. But he was still her brother enough that he'd protect her if something happened. So Winry would keep doing what she was doing, making sure his automail was strong enough to protect him.
The kettle on the stove started making hissing noises, water more than hot enough for the tea she was making to get her through a night in the workshop, but not quite boiling enough to make the kettle whistle; she rescued it from the heat, pouring the water into her mug that had an infuser ball with some berry-flavored black tea in it, then put it on a cool burner. She hadn't wanted it to whistle and wake up the household. Ed needed his sleep, and so did Grandma.
Winry cringed at another loud clap of thunder, stopping mid-turn from the stove and tensing until the aftershocks had rumbled away behind the howling of the wind. She let out a slow breath and went back to her workshop, flipping on the light as she entered. Another rumble of thunder made her pause to let her stomach finish flip-flopping, then she stepped over to her workbench and started to set her mug down.
Her stomach managed to fall into her feet as she stared at the empty workbench, mug hovering a few inches from the surface.
The arm that she'd been working on for Ed was missing. A quick look around showed no sign of it; it wasn't fully assembled, but close enough that it would be hard to overlook if it'd just fallen to the floor somehow. A large, mostly-in-one-piece full right arm would stand out, but it wasn't there.
Another clap of thunder startled her enough that she strangled a scream into a weaker cry, dropping her mug and spilling near-boiling water on the floor. She jumped back out of the way of the worst of the spill, having to kick off her right slipper before the water soaked through it enough to burn her foot. She bent down and picked it up, staring at it in dismay, letting her thoughts latch onto the strange shade the purple took on with the water to try to calm her mind past it to figure out where the fuck that arm went.
It was the slipper that snapped the answer into her mind, the way the water was concentrated on the right side of the slipper, the strange shade of purple warping- what the hell did Ed do in that transmutation to cause that? -and she looked out the window as another flash of lightning and accompanying thunder illuminated the world outside.
Up the hill, the lonely form of the Elric house stood out, dark against a sky as angry and violent as it had been that night.
Without thinking, Winry dashed out of the workshop, running down the hall to check Ed's room, just in case her imagination was running away with her.
The door was open, the room empty.
Ed. He'd gone back to his house, he had to have. And for some reason Winry couldn't fathom, he'd taken his half-finished arm with him. He shouldn't have even been lucid enough past the painkillers he was on to have acted on whatever nightmares the thunder caused for him. But somehow, he was, and Winry knew in her gut that he'd taken his arm and gone back to his house.
Slipper clutched tightly in one hand, one foot bare, she ran out of the house, fighting against rain and wind and an increasing crescendo of nature's fury, up the hill to Ed's house, the muddy ground making her feet slide out from under her more than once. Every time, she got up, made sure that slipper was still tight in her hand, and made her feet get moving again, fighting the elements to get to her brother.
She wasn't going to let him sacrifice any more of himself to try to bring back the dead. And if she couldn't stop him, he wasn't going to be doing it alone.
"Ed! she screamed, willing him to hear her over the storm when the lightning illuminated him; he was on his knees, head bowed, and holding his automail arm against the wall of his house. She could see his lips moving when she fell to her knees beside him, but whatever he was saying was lost to the shrieks of the skies. "Ed, don't, please don't leave me!" she begged, trying to wrestle the heavy, half-finished steel arm from his grip. His attempts to fight back were weak, protests that she couldn't hear on his lips and in his drug-hazed eyes.
Ed Ed tried to pull away, toppling onto the ground instead, and Winry threw herself on him to get the arm away from him and reach past whatever nightmares had him trying to offer it before he set off any transmutations that'd take him away from her. "Ed, please, don't, stay with me!"
Past the raging storm, so close to him, she could hear the ghost of his voice pleading "one more minute, just one more minute, give him back," over and over. He didn't put up a fight when she shoved the arm away from him and scrambled over him to put herself between him and that temptation. He gripped her housecoat tightly when she pulled him to herself, shivering and clinging to him like he might disappear anyway if she didn't hold on tight.
Winry sobbed, burying her face in his hair. "Don't leave me, Big Brother," she whispered. "I still need you here."
"Winry, he's in there, it took him, he's not dead." Ed's voice cracked and broke over the words, against tears and fear and drugs that had him trapped between sleep and the waking world. "I have to get him back for us. He's not dead."
Nothing she could say would be able to reach him past the medicines to convince him that he was wrong, so she forced herself to step into the role of a doctor tending to a patient caught in a medicine-induced delusion, to put aside her own fears as his sister and the strange feeling in her chest at his odd wording. She leaned back from him, arms still cradling his head and shoulders, and gave him a smile that she knew was weaker than she was trying to give. "Then we'll do it together," she said. "We'll get you through these surgeries so you're strong enough to go against this thing. You're not strong enough to survive it right now, so let's get you inside to rest and we'll see what we can come up with tomorrow."
His expression crumpled, and his grip on her housecoat managed to get a little stronger when he buried his face against her legs, wretched sobs wracking his entire body, the empty and broken sound almost lost to the storm.
Winry held him tightly, stroking his wet hair and whispering "it's okay, Ed, it's okay Big Brother," over and over again until her words and the drugs finally combined to settle him down. She pulled back and shook him slightly to keep him from falling asleep. She was strong, she might be able to get him back down to her house, but it would leave them both bruised and beat up. He was functional enough to have gotten up to his house with that arm, hopefully he could get back down.
"Come on, sleepyhead," she said, gave him that attempt at a smile again when he pried his eyes open. "You need to get back to bed. I can't carry you that whole way, and you won't want me to just roll you down the hill."
Ed mumbled something indistinct, though she had a pretty good feeling it was meant to be an obscenity, but with effort and a lot of help from her, he managed to get to his feet. More effort and even more help got him back down to the Rockbell home, up the stairs to his room. He'd have to transmute everything clean tomorrow, but she wasn't going to even let him try to do it now. It felt like too much to chance him using any alchemy just then.
Once he was settled in his bed, wet and muddy and a complete mess, Winry let out a slow breath of relief. Ed's breathing was already evened off into sleep, and he'd hopefully stay that way this time.
He'd better, Winry had to go back to get his arm and see what kind of mess she had to clean up.
After a few heartbeats, watching Ed to make sure he was asleep and wasn't going to disappear, Winry left the room and softly shut the door, took in a shaky breath, then headed back downstairs and outside into the wind and rain. The lightning and thunder still flashed and rumbled, but not as often or as loudly as it had before, and the wind was a little slower, fought her less as she made hef way back up the hill to fetch the automail arm she probably would have to disassemble to clean thoroughly.
The ground in front of the house was a mess of torn up grass and smeared mud from the struggle against the night terrors, and the automail arm was right along the edges of the worst of the mess. Her slipper was abandoned next to it.
She sighed, crouching down to pick up the slipper and gather up the incomplete arm. The slipper was slimy from wet mud in her hand, and she stared at it in dismay. It was so muddy she couldn't see any purple to it left.
If she wanted that to look how it did before, she'd have to ask Ed to clean it.
How it looked before.
Something in that thought made her stop, switch her gaze from the slipper to the house, watching lightning reflect off the windows.
"Winry, he's in there, it took him, he's not dead. I have to get him back for us. He's not dead."
Ed's words echoed through her mind as she stood, clutching her slipper against her chest, and walked through the front door. Ed would seal it up again before he left, he always did, but while he was there, it was open.
"He's not dead."
Human transmutation was impossible, even a gearhead with little personal interest in alchemy like her knew that. But his words had her walking into Hohenheim's lab, which looked undisturbed from how it would've been before that transmutation that destroyed Ed and Winry's worlds. It was dusty but otherwise clean, and very dark. There were no windows in there, the only light coming in through the open door to the library behind her. She almost went to the text she saw on the workbench, but she didn't want to make Ed mad by dirtying up more than she already was with her muddy feet.
"It took him, he's not dead."
Human transmutation was impossible, because what could be equivalent for a life?
A life. A life for a life.
Winry sank to the ground, holding her slipper to her chest like a child with a stuffed animal.
Was that why Aunt Trisha wasn't back? Was it possible, just maybe, that Al really wasn't dead? Did Ed's missing arm have something to do with that? He was asking for one more minute, clearly offering the automail arm to... what? What was this 'it' that took Al? And what was the first minute that Ed was asking for another of?
Could Ed be somehow right about Al?
A fear and a certain sense of truth crawled up Winry's nerves, up her spine, and left her feeling breathless, like her heart had stopped and the sudden silence from outside was drowning out her thoughts from following that further.
Human transmutation was impossible, and people who tried it always suffered. Al was dead, Ed was just drugged and having nightmares. Winry was being silly.
She stood back up and walked back outside, slapped in the face by the storm that started howling again. She jumped at another crack of thunder, then gathered up the incomplete arm and started the slow and careful walk down the hill, mindful of her step and how slippery the ground was.
"I have to get him back for us, he's not dead."
Thunder rumbled again, stopping her at her front door, and she looked back at the Elric house. It was a lonely dark stone structure silhouetted against the stormy skies, lit up by flashes of lightning. There were no lit candles in the windows, no signs of life within.
"If he's right," she said quietly, a prayer to the memories of the past, to the spirit of the woman all this sadness was for, "then I'll help him. He won't do this alone. I'll make his automail strong enough to stand up to the cost to get Al back, so Ed doesn't have to lose anything else. Two of us together is worth one person. It has to be."
She wasn't sure why she said that out loud, but it felt like something that needed to be given voice, a promise that Ed couldn't hear, but one she made for him all the same.
If Ed was going to try to bring Al back, he wasn't doing it alone.
"He's not dead."