Ed and Al are finally fixed and spend some time in Resembool.
"Ready? We'll start," Pinako said.
Ed, who was presently sitting on a chair, immediately clenched his teeth. He knew quite well the sort of pain that would come next and he didn't like it one bit.
Please, let it not be so bad this time, Ed thought, bracing himself.
Ed yelped and jumped as though hit by an electric current.
It was as bad as always!
Fortunately, the pain soon subsided, much to Ed's relief. A weary sigh escaped the young alchemist's lips and he slumped against the chair.
"Are you okay, Ed?" asked Pinako, making sure all the connections on the automail leg were in place.
"Yeah," Ed answered. "I just always hate the moment when the nerves get connected."
"Don't whine," Winry said briskly, working on the final touches on the automail arm. "Try moving your fingers."
Edward complied and moved his mechanical digits one by one, before he carried on as if never interrupted. "But I'll probably be able to say goodbye to this pain. Once I get my hands on the philosopher's stone, I'll restore our bodies and life will be great." He smiled at that kind of prospect.
"That's too bad. You're our cash cow, after all," Pinako said.
"Yeah, don't bother restoring your bodies. Isn't it nice to have automail?" Winry asked. At the mention of her life-long obsession, her gaze softened and became dreamy. "The smell of oil, the squeaking of artificial muscles, the humming of spinning bearings; an ergonomically designed strong, beautiful form... Who needs natural when you've got automail?"
"Loser automail junkie..." Edward muttered under his breath.
"Alchemy freak!" Winry yelled, wielding her wrench threateningly.
"All set!" Pinako announced, putting an end to the escalating argument. "Tell me how it is, Ed."
Ed hesitantly stood up and tested both mechanical limbs by making all sorts of stretches and motions.
"Feels good!" he finally announced, smiling happily.
But Winry felt that something else needed to be said before she considered anything finished.
"I figure you're going to skip out on the daily maintenance anyway, since that's what you always do. Know that the steel you're using now had its chrome ratio raised and it's more rust resistant. Also this new automail will make you faster but it's easier to break too, so don't be reckless."
However, Ed hardly paid attention to what Winry said. Leaving a trail of dust behind, he rushed outside instead, crying exuberantly: "Al, sorry to keep you waiting!"
"Why do I even bother?" Winry mumbled indignantly. Still shaking her head at Ed's immaturity, she started helping her grandmother with the housework.
"Do we have everything, Al?"
Al looked at the heap of metal pieces before him. "Yup, everything's here."
"Will you fix him now?" Armstrong asked Ed curiously.
"Yeah, but there's a trick to it," Ed said. He leaned close to Al. "See the seal on the interior back?" he asked Armstrong, pointing to where there was an intricate alchemic design.
"This seal is acting as the medium between Al's soul and his armour," Ed explained. "I have to make sure that it doesn't get erased whenever I have to fix his limbs."
Armstrong nodded his understanding, his gaze still locked on the red array. It was then that he frowned, because he noticed something odd about it.
"It seems like it was written in blood," he said thoughtfully.
"It was written in blood," Ed replied. "My blood."
Armstrong's beaming aura sparkled brilliantly at those words and tears streamed down the burly man's face.
"The power of brotherly love!" he exclaimed, voice cracking slightly at the touching moment. "It's such a wonderful thing!"
"Swell," Ed groaned, not being the kind of person to appreciate such poetics. "Now can you move? You're in the way."
The sparkles crumbled as quickly as they had appeared, but Ed didn't really notice. He just clapped his hands and placed them on the armour. In a matter of seconds, the light from the alchemic reaction had subsided to reveal a complete Al once more.
"Yes!" Al cried happily, checking himself.
Ed grinned and then tied his hair to a braid with experienced skill. "Okay. Now let's start!" he announced.
At the next instant, they attacked each other with many a kick and punch, engaging themselves in an almost dance-like, yet fierce, combat.
To say that Armstrong was surprised at this would be an understatement.
"What?! Why are you fighting?!" he exclaimed.
"No, no," Ed said with a chuckle, landing on his feet after a particularly powerful push from Al. He retaliated at once with a right backhand and a left kick. "I'm combining a performance check for the new limbs with some sparring."
"And because I wasn't able to move my body for a while, I have to restore its sense of feeling," Al said, successfully blocking his brother's attacks.
Armstrong beamed at once - not always a good sign when it came to his case.
"Then I shall also help!" he declared, his gigantic muscles shredding his shirt again. "I shall go all out!"
Naturally, Ed and Al did the only reasonable thing to do.
They ran away from their very enthusiastic escort before he could come near them.
It was proved that Armstrong wasn't to be underestimated in determination and fighting ability. And so, just when the sun was at its highest point in the sky, three very dusty alchemists made their way to Pinako's house - and one of them was /starving/, as he so eloquently put it.
But there was no need to worry, because Pinako and Winry had already taken care of everything. In less than a quarter of an hour, everyone was sitting around a large table with all kinds of food on it, eating quite hungrily. Well, except for Alphonse, that is; he settled with polishing his helmet.
It was then that Winry decided to ask something that had been puzzling her for some time.
"What were you guys doing anyway? I kept watching you from the window fighting like crazy!"
"Our teacher used to say: 'To train the mind, first train the body'," Al answered.
"That's why we usually have to train ourselves like this," Ed completed amid two food-filled gulps.
"You mean when you have free time you spar?! That'll break the automail right away!" Winry said with a huff.
"Well, I'm making money!" Pinako said with a cackle, drinking some more of her beer.
"However, they are correct," said Armstrong. "A healthy mind lives in a well-trained, beautiful body. Behold my body!" And with that, Armstrong flexed his arms - yet again.
"Al, pass me that sauce," was all that Ed said, not impressed. However, a huge grin soon formed on his lips as another thought occurred to him. "Tomorrow, we'll get on the first train in the morning to Central," he announced.
"Oh, really?" Pinako said. "This place will be quiet again."
Ed nodded. "And then, when we restore our bodies, we won't need you or Winry, Aunt Pinako!" he added, his grin broadening.
"You jerkface can't even do anything without us mechanics!" said Winry, laughing.
"What do you mean by jerkface?!" Ed exclaimed.
"Well said!" laughed Pinako, approving Winry's words.
Ed just rolled his eyes and resumed eating. He would get his hands on the philosopher's stone. And then there would be no more automail, no more punishments with the wrench for mistreating it, nothing. He would be able to do anything he wanted! He'd fix Al and then help Beregond to return to his home and...
He instantly froze. Oh no. Three days here and I didn't call him once!
"Aunt Pinako... Is it okay if I can use your phone after we finish lunch?" he asked.
"You needn't ask. Is it something serious?"
"Not really. I just want to check up on a friend."
Al put his head back in its place. "Can you tell him I said 'hi', too?" he asked happily.
Ed smiled. "That will be the first thing I do, Al."
"And tell him that he doesn't have to worry as long as you're under my protection!" Armstrong said, beaming brightly.
Winry and Pinako exchanged a puzzled glance. Just who were those three talking about anyway?
Riza Hawkeye was certainly surprised to hear the phone in Edward's office ringing. Holding the papers that Beregond had left for her on the desk in one hand, she picked up the receiver.
"Hello, this is 1st Lieutenant Hawkeye speaking."
"Lieutenant Hawkeye?" Ed sounded from the other end of the line. "I thought I took the number of my office."
"You did," Riza said. "I was just close enough to answer it."
"Beregond isn't there then?" There was a small pause. "Is he still at the hospital?"
Riza, being the observant woman she was, noticed the slight tone of concern and apprehension in Edward's voice when he made the last question. She couldn't help but smile a bit. "No, don't worry. He's just not here at present. He's gone to the library."
"Oh... Did he say when he'd be back?"
"I'm afraid not. But from what I understood, he didn't intend to return anytime soon. He meant to study there," she answered. She had seen Beregond taking his journal and a file with him, after all. He also seemed very troubled when he told her where he would be going, but she decided against telling Ed that last part. She didn't want the young alchemist to worry. "I can tell him to call you back though," she offered.
"No, that's all right. We'll be on the move by tomorrow anyway," Ed said quickly. "Just tell him that Alphonse and I had our limbs fixed. And that Al and Major Armstrong send their regards. And tell him that..." Ed paused momentarily. "Tell him we'll return as soon as possible and with a solution to his problem as well."
Riza nodded. "I'll tell him. Goodbye, Edward." And with that she hung up. She could almost picture Ed putting down the receiver with a sigh, whispering: "Hopefully I'll get to talk to you next time, Beregond."
"Let's see now," Sarah Abbot said, scrutinising the top shelf on one of the huge bookcases that surrounded her. "Leslie S. Graves... Matthew Lewis... Ah, here it is. John Ronald Syndow, /Book of Mythical Tales/." The librarian grabbed a large book and handed it to Beregond.
Beregond looked at the book curiously, feeling the texture of the hardcover and skimming through a few select pages. "That's all?" he asked.
"No," Sarah answered. "There are about five volumes of this work. You're just holding the first and shortest."
Beregond swallowed hard as he looked at the other four volumes that Sarah was now pointing at him.
They were huge!
But Beregond was never the type of person to avoid hard work. He would just grit his teeth and see through it. "Then if I'm to begin from somewhere, I'd better start with this," he said, patting the book he was currently holding.
"Very well," Sarah said with a nod. "But please, be careful with it. It's quite rare."
"Don't worry; I'll take good care of it. Thank you, Mrs. Abbot."
"You're welcome," said Sarah, smiling. "When you're done, just tell me."
"I will," Beregond promised and then settled on a desk nearby to start work.
He didn't stop reading once before Sarah's familiar voice made him look up.
"Yes?" he asked, not really understanding what the librarian wanted.
"It's closing time. You may continue tomorrow with your research, if you like."
Beregond blinked and looked outside the window. He was quite taken aback to see the black night, studded with stars. Still not believing that it could possibly be that late, he looked at the great clock at the other side of the room, only to finally admit that it was late. He smiled at Sarah wearily.
He stood up and, after picking all his research material, he walked out, bidding Sarah goodnight. And, figuring that it would be no use to return to Edward's office to catch up with any paperwork that could be done tomorrow anyway, he decided to go straight home. Besides, he needed some time by himself to think.
He took a deep breath to smell the fragrance of the night and he instantly felt invigorated. His step became more brisk and, soon enough, he was lost in his thoughts, hardly paying attention to anything or anyone anymore.
Beregond had to admit that, though the book he was reading so far had nothing to do with what he had meant to read at first, it was still interesting. It was an introduction to Amestrian Mythology, a term the author used quite a few times. Namely, it was explaining the origin of those myths; how they were formed through the ages by word of mouth in camp-fires and by old-wives; as well as their importance even in the modern society of Amestris. Because, as the author said at the end of a particular chapter: "All these myths aren't just of historical interest, offering the reader a glimpse on how our ancestors regarded their world through their extinct culture, but they serve as simple lessons of moral to the common man who isn't acquainted with the high art of philosophy; to learn to praise the ethical and condemn the sinful."
Though Beregond couldn't agree more to that, he still felt he had to find out more. Because, what wasn't explained in that book was where did the author find those myths and what kind of research did he go through to collect all of them.
There was nothing for it though. All Beregond could do for the present was to read all the books to see what kind of information he could get from them.
With that last thought and realising where he was now, he mechanically searched for the keys in his pocket to unlock the door of his house. Once the door was open, he walked in with a sigh, wanting nothing more now than to rest a bit.
He didn't see a lithe form moving in the shadows, watching him curiously.
Resembool was also covered in darkness and the lights in every house started going out as every villager was going to sleep. In fact, there was someone in the little village that had already fallen asleep. In the closest and hardest surface he found - and in the worst position according to his brother.
"He fell asleep with his stomach exposed again!" said Al, his tone of voice betraying the scowl that his face of iron hid.
"You act just like his guardian, Al," Pinako pointed out teasingly.
"But I've really had enough. It's a pain to have a high-maintenance brother."
Winry laughed as she brought a blanket to cover Ed. "It's hard to tell who is watching over whom!"
Suddenly, Al's body twitched in amusement. "That's exactly what I thought when I had to travel with Ed and Beregond at the northern borders!" he said with a small, childlike chuckle.
"Who?" Winry asked, confused.
Pinako's expression showed that she was just as curious.
"A friend of ours," explained Al. "He's the one brother phoned in the afternoon."
"Oh, that's nice!" Winry said with a smile. "But why didn't you bring him, too? I would have definitely liked to meet him."
"He couldn't come. He got hurt in his attempt to protect us in a fight. He was still in the hospital when we left."
"Protecting you?" Pinako asked thoughtfully. "So he's not just a friend, am I right?"
Alphonse nodded. "He's also Brother's secretary and escort in the military."
Winry blinked. "I never expected Ed would befriend anyone from the army."
"It's a long story," Alphonse said, scratching his head embarrassedly.
"I'm curious enough to endure it," said Pinako.
"So am I. So let's hear it, Al."
And so Alphonse told them everything: how they heard of someone being accused of murder that he probably didn't commit and their first encounter of him at the hospital. He told them of the first time that the man spoke to them and how Beregond came to share a room with them. In fact, he told everything up to the point that Beregond came to their aid when the brothers were in danger. The one thing that Al didn't say was just where Beregond was from. He just said that an alchemic accident made the man lose everything and he was brought in Amestris.
"So now we're helping each other," Al concluded.
Winry nodded. "He sounds like a good man. You should have brought him here."
Al laughed. "It would be difficult. He hates travelling by train. He's scared to death of it. The first time that we all three had to travel on one, all of us ended up on the floor as Brother and I tried to get him in it."
Winry laughed, too. Pinako, on the other hand, seemed quite pensive at those words.
"You sound to be very fond of him, Alphonse," she said.
If Al could blush, he would have. "It's just that these past few months he became a big part in our lives," he said. He looked briefly at Ed, who was still sleeping. "Brother didn't like that at first, to be honest, and he was rather cold towards him for a while. But then, as we taught Beregond alchemy and he in his turn told us his story, Brother came to understand him better."
"It was the 'loss' part, I suppose," Pinako said. She looked at Al. "The pain of losing something as a home to go back to must have really hit you hard."
"Yeah. That's why we're always grateful to you and Winry for being here for us like a real family," Al said.
However, the mention of a home stirred in Al sorrowful feelings and that was quite audible at his next words.
"But still, the reality is that the house we were born and raised doesn't exist anymore. I don't regret burning our house down, but there are times that I really want to cry." He looked out the window, as though trying to find some comfort in the peace that the silence of the night offered. "You know, the first night that I was looking after Beregond, he cried. He didn't make a sound, so I didn't realise what happened until the next morning; yet he had cried long and hard. I didn't understand why at first, but now I do.
"Still, he never gave up. He got up and moved forward, like Brother would say." He sighed and hanged his head. "I'd probably break down if I cried just once. But I can't cry with this body."
Winry turned at Ed's direction, a rueful smile tugging on her lips. "And there's a dummy who doesn't cry even if he has the body and every reason for it," she said softly.
Al and Pinako nodded, whole-heartedly agreeing.
They never noticed Armstrong overhearing the conversation, crying quietly at the sadness of the conversation.
A rooster signalled the dawn of a new day, though four forms were already stirring from their slumber. After all, Ed, Al and Armstrong had to catch a train, whereas Pinako Rockbell wanted to see them off. By the time Ed had put on the final touch on his attire, his white gloves, the sun was already up, brightening everything with its light.
"Thanks for taking care of us, Aunt Pinako," he said as they all walked outside. He placed the suitcase right beside him.
"No sweat, kid," said Pinako, smiling. "It was good seeing you again."
Al, however, noticed that someone was missing from the picture. "Where's Winry?"
Pinako let out a smoke ring and took for a brief second the pipe off her mouth. "Still sound asleep since she stayed up the whole night. Do you want me to wake her up?"
Ed immediately waved his hand dismissively. "No, it's okay. She'd blab on and on about taking care of the automail or something like that if she were here." He checked himself one more time to make sure that he had taken care of everything and then picked up his suitcase again. "Well, see you. Take care."
And with that, all three visitors started walking away.
"You boys come back once in a while and eat some breakfast, you hear?" called Pinako.
"Yeah, we'll drop by some time!" Al called back.
"Who'd drop by this far into the mountains just to eat?" Ed muttered under his breath. Suddenly, Armstrong chuckled loudly in his rumbling voice. "What?" the young alchemist asked, not getting the joke.
"I was just thinking what a wonderful thing it is to have a place to return to and a family to welcome you," explained Armstrong.
Ed snorted. "Really. We're the wandering sort of people who go from journey to journey." Yup, he wouldn't miss being in Resembool at all. He was a nomad. No home could keep him, because home was always in his heart.
Edward and Alphonse instantly turned at the sound of Winry's voice. The girl was indeed in her balcony, still sleep-tussled and drowsy. It was obvious that she had put a great effort to wake up and see her friends off.
"See you later!" she called.
Okay, Ed hoped that he didn't have to go through with that. It was always difficult for him to say goodbye, no matter how detached he'd make himself from the person he had to say goodbye to. He scratched his head and then turned around once more, making just a brief motion with his automail hand in a wave.
Moments later, he and the others were gone.
That small wave made Winry smile. Acting tough or not, Ed was still a softie. She went back into her room, stifling a yawn, and down the stairs to find Pinako.
"'morning, Granny," she said, stretching herself.
"What do you mean by 'morning'?" Pinako asked, raising an eyebrow. "It's late!"
Winry blinked, confused. She looked at her alarm clock and gasped at the time she read there. "I slept all day!"
Pinako nodded as she carried a basket full of dirty laundry. "And you have plenty of work, too." She motioned her head at the direction of the workbench, showing Winry the mess of bolts, wrenches and screws that were lying in a scattered manner there.
"Oh, I left it like that after fixing Ed's arm!" the young girl said.
"You sure did. And now it's time you cleaned it up." A phone suddenly rang, almost startling the grandmother and granddaughter.
"I'll get this," Pinako said, and let Winry be.
Winry waited to see who called, only to hear Pinako saying: "Hello? No, I'm sorry, you've just missed him. He's gone to Central, I believe..."
/Okay, it's not for me/, Winry thought; so she resumed with her job.
That is, until Pinako hanged up and muttered: "Nosy parkers..."
"What's the matter? Who was it?" Winry asked.
"A young man; he said he wanted to talk to Ed," answered Pinako. "Sounded like military to me."
"That's a surprise. They know the number here?"
"That's what being in the military means. Know more than they let on," Pinako replied and picked the basket with the laundry again. "I'll be upstairs if you need me."
Winry only nodded. Humming softly, she picked up her wrench and got ready to put it back in the toolbox.
It was then that she saw something odd.
A bolt that shouldn't have been there.
A bolt that should have been in Ed's shoulder - right now!
Winry just hoped that that slip-up would go unnoticed until the next maintenance check.