A walk in the park turns out to be anything but as mechanical failures occur and the implications of his choice finally become apparent to Edward Elric.
Afternoon sunlight filtered into the small main room and glinted off the carefully polished metal of Edward Elric's right hand as his fingers drummed in an unconscious rhythm. "It's a nice afternoon, isn't it?" Al asked, dangling a bit of string in front of the uninterested grey cat sprawled out on the floor.
"Hm?" Ed answered vaguely, his attention absorbed by the book opened in his lap. "Yeah, it's great, Al."
Alphonse Elric looked up and frowned at his older brother. "We're going to the park," he announced, picking the dozing ginger cat up off his lap and depositing her gently on the floor. When Edward merely turned a page in response to his pronouncement, Al's frown deepened and he crossed the room. The older Elric did nothing until Al grabbed the book from his hands and held it above his head.
"Al!" Ed protested, glaring into his younger brother's smiling face. "Give that back!" He stood up and his glare strengthened, annoyed that his brother's growth spurt had surpassed his own and the book was several inches out of reach. "I am not jumping up for it," Ed said darkly.
The grin on Alphonse's face widened, "Well, it got your attention. It's a beautiful day outside. Let's go to Central Park." Al lowered his arm but kept a firm grasp on the book, knowing Ed would try to snatch it back as soon as he saw an opportunity. "I'll give you the book back once we get there," he promised. "You can read outside just as well as you can in here."
Edward sighed but consented when he glanced out the window. It was a beautiful day, and it was hard for him to deny his brother such a simple request. "I'll grab my gloves and coat," he said as he disappeared into his room. "Just make sure the cats don't get out this time, will you, Al? I don't want to go chasing after that stupid grey cat again."
The cat in question was still sprawled in a patch of sunlight and seemed inclined to stay right where he was. Al smiled to himself as he checked the latch on his camera case; Ed had protested loudly when he'd brought home Mustang as a companion to the ginger Hawkeye, but, despite all the dark looks and snide comments, Al knew Ed had a certain fondness for the two cats.
"And you say I work too much," Ed remarked as he came out of his room, gloves on his hands and his coat over his arm. "You're bringing your camera!"
"At least I can take my work outside," Al retorted as he opened the door. "You're always cooped up in that lab. I worry about you, Brother."
Ed smiled as he locked the door behind them. "I'm older than you, Al. I should be the one doing the worrying." Alphonse met his eye and shrugged before hurrying down the stairs without a word. Ed stood for a moment to watch the younger man bound down the stairs before following.
"You're getting slow, Brother!" Al called as he leapt backwards to avoid the punch. Edward growled in response as he recovered his balance, and Al took advantage of the moment to rush at his older brother, letting loose a flying kick as he neared Ed.
Nimbly, Ed vaulted into a one-handed back flip, watching as Al's foot encountered empty air where his head had been just a moment ago. "Slow, eh?" he demanded, diving at Al's stomach. The younger man braced himself and executed a complicated turn a moment before Ed reached him, grasping his older brother's arm and flipping him in a neat arc.
Ed suddenly found himself flat on his back on the grassy slope, staring at the sky. "Damn it, Al," he wheezed as he regained his breath. "I hate it when you do that."
"I told you you were slow," Al teased as he peered down at Ed, a wide smile on his face. "Guess it's because you're getting old." He extended a hand to help Ed up, but was swatted away with a reciprocal grin.
"I think I'll lie here for a while and catch my breath. Getting beaten by you three times is enough for one day," Edward replied, pillowing his head with his arms and closing his eyes.
Al smiled to himself at the sight of Ed lying on the grass, then returned to where they had left their belongings and unpacked his camera from its case. "Do you two do this often?" a familiar female voice asked.
"Sara!" Al exclaimed, surprised. "How are you?"
Sara Rockbell placed her bag on the ground and smiled. "I was just on my way home when I saw you two going at it," she explained. "I'm guessing you're not trying to kill each other?"
"No, it's just exercise." Al sat down on the grass, his camera in his lap, and Sara joined him, tucking her legs beneath her skirt. "Were you at the clinic on a Saturday?"
With a nod, Sara answered, "People don't stop needing doctors just because it's a weekend. How's your brother Edward doing? I hope you were right about nothing being wrong with his arm."
"His arm's fine," Al affirmed, neglecting to explain that a shard of wayward glass was not going to cause Edward Elric's right arm any damage. "He had a slight fever that night but was well enough the next morning to be grumpy when I tried to make him have milk with breakfast." With a laugh, Al shook his head, "You'd think by now I'd stop trying since he hates it so much, but it's good for him."
The young woman beside him sat in quiet contemplation for a moment, staring at the blond not too far away. "You try to take care of your younger brother, don't you, Alphonse?"
Al glanced over at Ed to see if Sara's comment had carried, but there was no reaction. "Ed's the older one, actually," he corrected. It felt strange to correct the simple mistake; even though he knew Sara had only met him and Ed several days ago, Al still could not shake the feeling that this was something the blonde woman should have known. "And I can't help looking out for Ed," Al continued. "After all, he gave up so much for me."
"Oh?" Sara asked, her curiosity obviously piqued. "What happened?"
Pausing to gather his thoughts, Al mulled over how best to explain Ed's sacrifice in terms that would make sense to Sara, who did not know of any other world beside the one she lived in. "Our mother died suddenly when Ed and I were young," he began. "She'd been sick for a long time, but she never told us. Our mother meant the world to us. Since our father left when I was just a baby, our mother was the only family Ed and I had ever known."
When he looked up, Al saw that Sara was looking at him in understanding, and he wondered just how extensively Sara Rockbell's life mirrored Winry Rockbell's. "But after our mother died, Ed and I..., we did some very stupid things," Al continued. "There was an accident, and I was hurt badly. Ed blamed himself because he was older even though we were both children and didn't know any better. For four years, I was in a state where I didn't have very good control of my body." Al felt a little guilt for the deception, but he realized that the idea was one Sara understood and let the lie stand.
"Ed did everything he could to make me better. He did research, he found people who knew more than he did, he risked his life for the chance to make me well. And he did, but it took a huge toil on him. I didn't see Ed for years afterwards; I thought I'd lost him for good. I only found him again four years ago." Al paused in his narration and fiddled with his camera before continuing, "We both gave up something very dear to us to be reunited. I can't help looking after him; he's the only family I have." His lengthy narration over, Al picked up his camera again and snapped a picture of Ed lying on the grass. With a sheepish smile, he turned back to Sara and said, "So, enough about our life. What about you? What made you become a doctor?"
"My parents," Sara explained, a shadow falling over her face. "They were doctors. During the Great War, they were in Belgium; my father had been studying with a man there, trying to do research. When war broke out, my father wanted to come back to the States so that our family would be safe, but my mother insisted it was their duty as to help the people who were getting injured."
Sara drew her legs up to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. "I was here in the States with my grandfather at the time. I was nine, but I understood the letters they managed to send home. That the fighting was worse than they could describe, that the machines that had been created for the Great War were awful things that burned the lungs of the people, that guns left hundreds of soldiers with bloody stumps where their limbs should have been-"
Sara, whose voice had gotten steadily softer, visibly shook herself and continued in a matter-of-fact tone, "When Germany invaded Antwerp, my parents were killed. I stayed with my grandfather, and for the longest time I blamed my mother, I thought she was foolish for not wanting to come home. One day, I was upset, and I told my grandfather that if my mother hadn't been such a fool that I would still have my parents. He got so angry then, because my mother had been his only daughter and he knew she had done what was right. I realized then that even though I had loved my parents, I hadn't known them very well before they died, and so I started learning about them, learning about the kind of people they were." Sara turned and met Al's eyes with a shrug. "And I fell in love with what my parents did, what they thought was the right thing to do. I became a doctor, and I started going by Sara, my mother's name, instead of my first name."
"Sara isn't your real name?" Al asked in surprise. "I mean, it's real, but it's not what your parents named you?"
The young doctor shook her head, a faint smile on her lips as she watched Alphonse speak. "No," she answered, "my parents named me Winry." She paused, a sudden thought occurring to her. "The day your brother had his accident," she marveled, "he called me Winry. I just remembered."
Alphonse's eyes darkened, as if the shadow that had fallen over Sara's face had shifted to his own before he explained, "We had a very good friend named Winry. You look a lot like her."
"It's not a very common name," Sara observed pensively as she stared into space. "I've never met anyone with it before. And to think there's someone out there that looks like me and shares my name. How many people in this world can there be with the name Winry?"
At her words, Al felt a faint lump rise in his throat and he forced himself to swallow hard past it. "Not many," he agreed, unable to keep the melancholy out of his voice. "I don't think there's more than one in any world."
The warm sun on his face and the feel of grass beneath Edward had left him drowsy, his mind drifting about in that nebulous boundary between sleep and wakefulness. He smiled at the sound of a soft thump near his head, and spoke without opening his eyes, "On a day like today, I can almost imagine we're at home, Al."
"And where would that be?" a feminine voice that was definitely not Alphonse asked. At the sound, Ed's eyes flew open and he leapt to his feet. The sudden motion caused his tired muscles to protest, but Edward ignored it, his attention drawn to the fact that his right arm was hanging at his side even as he tried to bring it up to his chest.
"I thought you were-" Edward began, giving himself a shake. Almost immediately, he was able to bring his arm up to his face, to run the cool metal fingers through his hair in an attempt to calm himself.
"Alphonse," the blonde woman sitting next to his book supplied. "I figured as much." She gave him a calm, pleasant smile that made Ed feel more than a little foolish for his reaction, and he awkwardly sat back down, just out of arm's reach. "I was on my way home from the clinic when I saw you and your brother fighting," she continued. "I thought I would see how you're doing. Some people don't take well to stitches."
"I'm fine," came the automatic reply before Edward could help himself. His left hand reached up and brushed the bandage still covering his cheek before he admitted, "It itches a little."
Sara gave a smile at his answer, and Ed couldn't help but return the gesture. "The itching is normal," she assured him, "but just in case, will you take off the bandage so I can take a look to make sure?" With a nod, Edward carefully peeled the gauze from his wound, trying his best to ignore the sluggish response of his right arm as he did so. Leaning close, Sara peered at the line of tiny black stitches on his face and probed them with a light finger. "They're healing fast," she remarked, "a bit faster than I expected. You can come by the clinic on Monday for me to take them out."
Ed nodded as he replaced the gauze bandage. "I heal fast," he explained, flexing his fingers. The strange unresponsiveness of his automail seemed limited to when he moved his forearm; fine motor function of his fingers did not look or feel different. Still, the thought of his automail malfunctioning sent a chill up Edward's spine. He was alone here; there was no violently caring blonde mechanic to help him.
Misinterpreting the look of concentration on Edward's face, Sara asked, "Is your arm alright? When I asked Alphonse, he said you were fine, but you look worried."
Blinking rapidly, Edward had to remind himself that the blonde in front of him was not his childhood friend despite the striking similarity. "It just fell asleep," he lied, forcing a smile on his face. "Nothing a little time won't fix."
Finding nothing in the answer to object to despite the worry in his eyes, Sara nodded and stood. "I should be heading home," she said, an eye on the reddening sky. "It's getting late."
Edward followed her gaze and his eyes widened in surprise; he had not noticed how low the sun had gotten until she mentioned it. "You don't live too far from us, do you?" he asked as he waved to Al, who had his camera pointed at the two of them. "Al, will you walk Sara home?"
At the request, Al lowered the camera from his face and smiled. "Sure, but why don't we both walk with Sara?" he called back.
"I forgot a book at the lab that Professor Roberts wanted me to read by Monday," Ed answered, looking uncomfortable, "and it's already Saturday afternoon." A loud sigh came from Al as he packed up his camera, and a quiet chuckle from next to him reminded Edward that Sara stood next to him. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "I should have asked if you wanted company before I offered Al as an escort. Do you mind?"
"Not at all," she answered, blue eyes laughing. "In fact, I'd be very glad of the company."
"Great," Al added as he joined them, camera case in hand. "Let's go."
Walking briskly, it didn't take Edward very long to reach the laboratory where he did research. As he unlocked the door and entered the building, Ed couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt; he had lied to Al about the reason why he'd needed the book, though he had done it to keep Al from worrying about him. The book he wanted was a manual about machinery, which he found on the professor's bookshelf. Edward couldn't deny that his automail was acting strangely, and, without Winry, he was going to have to learn how to fix it himself.
Alphonse couldn't help but smile as he followed Sara down the street. "So your brother's some kind of scientist?" Sara asked.
"Well, he's a student of Professor Roberts," Al explained. "He also assists the professor in his research of aerodynamics. Ed has always been an al- a scientific mind."
"What about you?" she continued, gesturing to the rectangular case in his hand. "Is that camera you carry just a hobby?"
"No, I'm a photographer for the Times," came the answer. "It's not as impressive a job as Edward's, but I like it. There's something about photographs. They just freeze a moment in time; it doesn't matter who the people in it were before or after the photograph is taken. They can convey so much about people. I love the idea of being able to show people moments that make them feel different about the world around them." Catching himself rambling, Al stopped and smiled self-consciously. "Sorry for rambling, but I like what I do."
Sara shook her head and patted the younger man on his shoulder. "Don't worry, I'm the same way," she reassured him as she slowed her steps in front of a dark brick building. "Well, thank you for walking me home, Alphonse. And thank your brother for offering."
"I will," Al promised. "I'll make sure he comes by your clinic sometime next week for you to check on his stitches before he tries picking them out himself."
Sara's responding laugh was so similar to Winry's that Al felt goose bumps form on his arms. "He does seem the type to do that," she said. "I told him they should be ready to come out on Monday, so I suppose I will see you two then." Al nodded, and she added as she unlocked the door, "Good night."
"Good night," Al echoed, waiting until she had disappeared safely inside the building before he continued down the street towards his own home.
After a simple supper of bread and cold chicken, Edward retreated to his room and opened the book. Admittedly a curious and scientific mind, he had never before concerned himself with machines or how they worked, despite his reliance on one, and he found that the manual confusing with its diagrams of parts and wiring. Though he knew that this world had nothing like automail in terms of technology, he hoped that the manual would at least give him a rudimentary understanding of the way machines worked and keep him from destroying the intricate mechanisms within his automail.
It didn't take long for the blond to sigh in frustration and turn away from the book. Rolling his sleeve up, he stared at the dull silver plating on his forearm, imaging the mass of motors, sensors, and wires within, wondering if he dared to remove the plate and just start poking around. For about the hundredth time since the afternoon, Edward wished Winry was with him, or, at the very least, that he had paid attention during those numerous times when she'd gone on tangents about the way his automail worked.
Nearly squinting in the light of his single lamp, Edward rationalized that even if he wanted to open up his arm and take a look, it was too dark to see anything. With a sigh, he pushed the book away and began to undress for bed, doing his best to ignore the fact that he was having to exert more force than usual to make his right arm move where it was supposed to. Tomorrow. Tomorrow morning, when sunlight would allow him to see the minute details of his arm, tomorrow he would attempt to repair his automail.
Silently climbing into his cold bed, Edward couldn't help thinking that he had never once believed he could miss the blonde mechanic as sorely as he now did. It had been his thoughts of her expertise that he had initially missed, but now, as he lay in bed, his mind couldn't help but conjure up the memory of pale blonde hair, of dark blue eyes, of soft skin and of gentle hands.
Early afternoon sun streamed through the glass of Ed's window, filling his bedroom with light and glinting off his automail arm resting on the desk as he stared at it, his nervous apprehension betrayed by the way he continued to bite his lip. He took a deep breath and tightened his grip on the screwdriver in his hand; though he knew that he was only going to take a look at the way his limb worked, Edward still couldn't shake the feeling that he was about to blindly operate on himself. With another deep breath, he began loosening the screws holding the front plate.
It took Ed longer to remove the plate than he recalled it ever taking Winry or Granny Rockbell, but he attributed that to his lack of experience. Carefully setting aside the front plate and the screws, Edward stared, wide-eyed, into the heart and soul of his automail. Ropes of twisted wires ran through the length of the forearm, with connections branching off into what appeared to his untrained eye to be motors, as well as other things he couldn't even begin to describe, much less hazard the functions of.
Ed clenched and unclenched his hand, watching in fascination as certain motors whirled soundlessly at each motion. When he was satisfied that he had at least figured out which particular motion of his fingers caused which motor to activate, Edward turned his attention to the larger motor at his elbow joint. With the utmost care, he bent his arm at the elbow and watched the motor. Like the smaller ones that helped with his fine finger movements, the motor turned smoothly and soundlessly though he felt resistance in the joint.
With a cautious finger, Ed probed the area around the joint, feeling nothing beneath his fingertip except well greased metal. A frown spreading over his face, Ed continued his search until his finger encountered something sharp wedged into the joint. With a bit of prying, he fished out the foreign object and was surprised to find that it was a shard of glass. "Must have been that flask," he mused to himself, dropping the shard on the table and testing his arm. The reactions were again as he expected, and he picked up the metal plate to replace it.
As he aligned the plate, Edward couldn't help but marvel at how intricate a system his automail was. He had no words to describe half of what he saw beneath its metal surface, and he doubted he would ever understand more than a fraction of the way it worked. A melancholy smile spread over his face as he replaced the screws, thinking of the countless hours Winry must have spent on the two pieces he now wore. As he tightened the last screw, the faint smile on Ed's face faded as a thought he had never before considered came to mind.
The automail Winry had greeted him with in Central had been near-perfect, though, according to his younger brother, there had been scant days between the earthquakes in Lior and Central and the day he returned. It couldn't have been enough time to craft two full automail limbs, even for Winry Rockbell. "She didn't know," Ed breathed in amazement, his eyes fixed on his metal limb. "She couldn't have known what the earthquake meant. She must have made them before then." Edward fell silent again, as if the epiphany he had been unable to keep bottled within his thoughts was still too large to fully comprehend.
"She did this for me, without knowing whether I would ever come back," he said to the empty room, finally able to boil his thoughts down to a single sentence. "She-" As if the single thought had broken some dam around his heart and mind, realizations about the past ten years of his life flooded through Edward's mind, leaving him drained of energy and full of understanding. "She loved me," he whispered, finally understanding the small gestures of his childhood friend that he had thought strange, the words she said that he had misunderstood, and the tears she shed that he had never before comprehended. "It was all because /she loved me/."
Unbidden, his mind conjured again the memory of her, this time of her weeping form during their visit to Rush Valley. The memory was so strong that Edward swore he could still hear her stifled sobs as if they came from the corner just outside his field of vision. His heart clenched in his chest, and he had the distinct feeling that he might sick up. "I left her," he continued in a bare whisper, as if the idea was still too large to be thought silently but too frightening to speak out loud. "She loved me, and I left her. I left her without so much as a goodbye."
Perhaps the knowledge that he would never again see the world he called home and the people within it sharpened Edward's mind, or perhaps it was simply the fact that he was older than he had been, with the richer understanding of maturity, but for the first time he felt as if he understood Winry Rockbell. He had thought her no more than a childhood friend, but she had loved him. She had waited for him despite the knowledge that he ran headlong into danger, that there had been no room in his mind and his heart for anything or anyone except the quest for the Philospher's Stone and his brother's body. She had waited with the blind hope that he would return even after his sudden disappearance. She had waited, so steadfast in her conviction of his return that she had crafted limbs perfectly suited to him even after two years of growth.
And for the first time Edward understood how much he had relied on her, had drawn hope and strength from her constant presence. It had been her smile, her warmth that kept him sane during the dark hours when he'd doubted his abilities to fulfill his promise to Alphonse. It had been the thought of her tears and anger that kept him from tumbling headlong into destructive fanaticism over his quest. It had been the knowledge of her waiting presence that sustained him, just as his fervor and conviction had sustained Alphonse. In his own way, he had loved her, though he had never before been able to admit it. He had loved her, and he had left her without a thought, having been too blind, too young, and too emotionally preoccupied to understand the magnitude of his actions.
Ed felt the heat of tears well up in his eyes and found himself unable to swallow past the lump in his throat as he thought of what he had left behind. Biting his lip to keep the sob that threatened to escape at bay, he drew his left hand over his eyes, dashing away the tears that threatened to fall. Perhaps it was his curse to always learn the truth too late.
A knock on the outside door cut through the silence in the room, surprising Ed. He stood up and attempted to gain control of his emotions, but the knocking ceased and he heard Al's voice greeting whoever was outside. "Ed! Come on out!" Alphonse called, his voice muffled by the door. "I invited Sara over for dinner and she came early. Come out and say hello!"
Pain blossomed in Edward's eyes and he took a deep shuddering breath. "I'll be out in a minute," he promised, forcing the waver out of his voice. The prospect of seeing Sara felt like a blow to the stomach; her every feature already reminded him of Winry, and now he would be reminded of what he had done, of what he had lost. With slow, methodical movements, Ed rolled his sleeve back down and pulled on his gloves, covering the silver automail. Steeling himself, he opened the door to his room and stepped out to face his brother and the mirror image of the woman he loved.
Al and Sara were sitting on the floor when Ed emerged from his room. At the sound of his footsteps, Sara looked up from the dark grey cat lounging in her lap and smiled. "Hello, Edward." Something must have changed in his face at her words, for her expression turned concerned and she continued, "Are you feeling alright?"
Ed forced a weak smile onto his face and waved his hand at Al, who had jumped up at Sara's question. "I'm fine, I'm fine," he reassured, "just been studying too much. I'm going to take a walk around the block and get some air. I'll be back soon." Without waiting for a response, he slipped out through the main door.
Once safely separated by the thick wooden door, Ed rested his forehead against the wall and slid to his knees, his breathing ragged. He thought he had been prepared for Sara, but when she had smiled at him with Winry's smile, it had been all he could do to stay upright. Her smile, her look of concern, were all too familiar to him, each a painful reminder of the one he'd left behind. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself back to his feet. He had to keep his distance from Sara Rockbell, lest her smile and his memories drive him insane.
October 9, 1914 - Antwerp, Belgium falls to German troops after the German army invades Belgium on August 4. The invasion forced Great Britain to declare war on Germany for disregarding a treaty that guaranteed Belgium neutrality. The fort of Antwerp was beseiged from August 20 until its fall on October 9, and was only defended by its own garrison after Belgium soldiers retreated to avoid being trapped by enemy forces.
Aerodynamics research - The period 1918-1939 is considered the "Golden Age of Aviation" for both the innovations achieved during the period and the grand prizes that were awarded for said innovations and achievements. However, it is important to note that aerodynamics research is not the same as aeronautics research. Aeronautics research concerns lighter-than-air vehicles such as zepplins, while aerodynamics research during this period focused on developing wing shapes and materials.