It was a bright morning, incongruously bright in Ed’s opinion, since he was facing a dire trial today and having to muster all his endurance to withstand it.
He was shopping.
She had declared that he was spending too much time indoors and was about to turn into a mushroom. When Ed pointed out very reasonably that that was one of her grandmother’s lines, she had punched his shoulder hard enough to send his chair over backwards. Realizing that his friend and housemate was in an unstable frame of mind, Ed had chosen to humor her in hopes her sanity might return before too long.
When she dragged him out the door he had thought they might at least go shop for reasonable things, like a supply of screws in thirty-one sizes or a new lathe. But no.
They were shopping for clothes.
Ed was deeply disappointed in Winry; she had always seemed so sensible.
Of course, they weren’t shopping for clothes for her.
“Oh, Ed, here, try this one on!”
Ed looked at the brilliant blue pull-over in silent horror. “You’re joking, right?” he asked at last.
Winry put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “What? It doesn’t have puffy sleeves, it doesn’t have anything glittery, and it doesn’t have dancing animals on it anywhere, what are you complaining about now?” Her eyes softened in reminiscence. “Those rats were cute; it would have looked good.”
Ed buried his face in his hands with a pitiful moan. He was sure he heard a muffled snicker from the hovering attendant.
“Winry, I’ll say this one last time, and track me this time, I am not wearing anything like that. I’ll look like a complete twit! I am not making a spectacle of myself just because you miss dressing up dolls!”
“No, you like making a spectacle of yourself by acts of ‘secret’ altruism so obvious you might as well hang out a flashing sign,” Winry riposted with the devastating accuracy of someone who’d known him since he was one.
“The point,” Ed gritted through his teeth, “is that I like what I usually wear.”
“You only ever wear black,” Winry complained, “it’s boring. The only way anyone can tell whether you even changed since yesterday is to sniff you.”
Ed attempted to ignore the choking noises now coming from the attendant. “I like black,” he said firmly. “It’s simple and easy and I don’t have to think about it.”
“Excuse me, Madam, Sir,” the attendant intervened tactfully, “but if you prefer a classic look perhaps you would care for the selection over here.” She led them through an archway and into a different room.
Ed looked around, a bit reassured. At least there weren’t any colors that made his eyes ache in here. He muttered thanks to the attendant, who faded discretely back, only her sparkling eyes giving away her amusement.
“I don’t know why you dragged me on this trip, anyway,” Ed grumbled as Winry started browsing. “Al likes variety in his wardrobe, you should take him along.”
“Al doesn’t need any help with his wardrobe. And besides,” Winry seemed fascinated with a pile of sweaters, “he has better dress sense than I do.”
About to get some of his own back with an admission like that, Ed paused and took a second look at Winry’s expression. Hm. Maybe Ed wasn’t so much a torture victim here as a practice run? He concealed a smile.
“Tell you what, Winry,” he offered casually, glancing around, “I’ll agree to try some of this on if you will too. There are women’s styles in here, right?” he called to the attendant, cutting across whatever Winry had opened her mouth to say.
“Oh, yes, Sir. Just over here. I’m sure we have something that would suit Madam very well.” Anna, according to the small badge that Ed finally got a look at, led them a few racks over, clearly enjoying the little drama immensely.
“Oh, but…” Winry half protested.
“Exchange,” Ed pronounced with great finality.
Anna, if no one else, had a wonderful afternoon. Ed was glad someone did. After extensive negotiation he ended up with several button-down shirts (black); one pair of tailored pants, and only one because he refused to stand still for two fittings (also black); and a handful of sleeveless pull-overs (black!). Winry carried off a long-sleeved dress (blue); two snug, low-necked cotton shirts (different blue); and a jumpsuit that looked a lot like a classier version of her work overalls (dark rose, very pretty, actually).
About to escape at last, Ed paused by a stack of coats. “Now there’s something I actually kind of need,” he murmured, fingering a sleeve.
“New coat?” Winry asked, trying to keep her bags from knocking anything down. “The old one is getting pretty worn out; you’ve had it longer than most haven’t you?”
“Headquarters life is easier on the clothes.”
“Oh, Ed,” Winry breathed.
He winced, wary of that tone after the day he’d had.
“Look at this one.” Winry pulled a long coat away from the others and held it out.
Ed’s first thought was It isn’t red, but it did look comfortable and that was a major point. He pulled it on and shrugged to settle it.
“It suits you very well, Sir,” Anna told him.
Ed glanced at one of the mirrors lining the shop walls. This coat seemed to have more fabric than his old one, but it also looked like it hung closer to his body. Clearly, tailoring was some kind of arcane art that defied the laws of modern science.
He brushed his hand down the white fabric. It’ll do.
He and Winry carted their haul home.
“Now will you let me back in the library?” Ed asked as they maneuvered the bags through the front door.
“I guess so,” Winry allowed in a lofty tone. “Until dinner, at least.”
“I’ll take all the bags upstairs and put them away if you come out for dinner,” Winry offered.
Ed figured that was the best deal he was going to get. He had his doubts about whether anything actually got put away, though, because when he went to look for the new coat it was nowhere to be found. He figured it had ended up in Winry’s bags, probably stuffed in the back of her closet.
He thought that for three days.
On the third day, Winry walked into his room with an armful of white.
“Um. Here. It’s something… Well, here.” She handed him the coat.
As it unfolded Ed saw a flash of red. Shaking it out he found, appliqued on the back, his favorite symbol.
“There was a lot of good material left to the old coat, and it seemed a shame to waste it,” Winry said, sounding nervous. “Um. It’ll be easy to take off, if you don’t like it. It just seemed…” She trailed off, chewing her lip.
“Are you sure you haven’t been reading the alchemy books?” Ed asked softly, tracing his fingers over the cross, the serpent, the crown. Still the red, still the perfection; that’s always what we’re seeking. But not so that it completely encompasses my life any more. Now… I’m learning how to move through all the potentialities.
“What?” Winry blinked.
“It’s perfect.” Ed looked up at her. “Thank you.”
She relaxed and smiled back. “Good. Well, then, I made these too, while I was at it.” She held out a handful of red cloth ribbons. “You go through hair-ties faster than anyone else I know.”
Accepting them Ed noticed the symbol again, in black this time, stitched into the ends. He grinned up at Winry. “So, you’ll do fancy work for the fun of it, but won’t patch your own overalls…”
Winry swatted at him.
What was it about women and changing the way a person looked?
Al had decided that they should have the Hughes family over for dinner. Well and good, Ed was perfectly happy for his brother to show off his cooking skills. It was even a rather nice and cozy feeling to have guests in their house.
Elysia had begged for Winry to show her the workshop. Winry had let her use the second-best wrenches to disassemble a dead motor. Even better. It meant that the small perpetual motion machine was completely occupied, a rare thing.
But Ed had forgotten that he had been in a hurry this morning and had simply scraped his hair back rather than braid it properly. Hughes noticed. Of course. Hughes noticed everything.
He also drew Gracia-san’s attention to it.
Less good. Moderately embarrassing, in fact.
“New hairstyle, Ed-kun?” Hughes ribbed him. “Going for the distracted-scholar look so the girls will chase after you and save you the trouble? Good plan, good plan! I bet you’ll get any girl you set your sights on. Except my daughter, of course.”
Ed didn’t touch that last bit. There was nothing remotely safe that he could possibly say. “It’s just easier,” he muttered.
Gracia-san looked thoughtful. “It is very becoming, though, Edward-kun. Of course, it would be more so if it were a little smoother.”
Ed bit back a protest as she produced a comb from her purse and started combing his hair back and up. If it had been anyone else he would have pulled away, but Gracia-san’s hands were… motherly. Gentle and brisk at the same time.
He remembered his mother brushing his hair like this.
He sat quiet until he felt the tug as she re-tied the ribbon snuggly and patted his head. “There.” She turned him to face her. “Yes, that looks very handsome.”
Ed fought down a blush, and glanced sidelong at Al and Winry half expecting them to be muffling laughter. Instead they had nearly identical expressions of soft-eyed memory. He had a feeling he’d looked much the same while his hair was being fixed. They didn’t say anything, though.
They didn’t say anything the next morning, either, when Ed came to breakfast with his hair drawn back in a high tail.