"Fragments of Memory, Whispers of a Dream"
Blond hair caught in the wind, streaming behind her like a banner. The sun glinted off of it, making it look spun of pure gold. Her open white shirt flapped back hard as she walked against the wind toward the river, revealing the black cropped tank beneath. Reaching the bank she stopped beneath her favorite tree. This tree was so full of memories. She gave a melancholy smile as she rested her hand against the bark, feeling the texture, remembering. The wind caught her hair once more, this time blowing it across her face before settling it back behind her. She took a step away from the tree, standing beside it now, overlooking the water as the sunlight danced upon the surface. She sank to the cool grass, stretching her legs out and leaning back to stare at the leaves.
She sighed softly.
Days like this were the hardest – calm, sunny, carefree, like a picture taken from her memories. She had spent so many days like this out under this tree, sitting beside this river with her two closest friends. That was why days like this were the hardest. It was on days like this that she remembered him most.
The wind brushed her face and she could almost feel the warm caress of his hand on her cheek. Not that he had done that often, even when he was around. But memories weren’t perfect and were nearly always romanticized. People tended to remember what they wanted to. She was no different.
Maybe that made it worse; maybe she was just making it harder on herself remembering those few moments of tenderness, the few moments where she really thought she was more to him than just a friend. Her memories were a quilt pieced together with fragments of moments like that. Maybe she was making it harder on herself. But she didn’t care.
She had loved him all her life – she couldn’t stop now.
They said she should lay the past to rest. He wasn’t coming back. She knew that.
She didn’t care.
They said that she should move on, that she would find someone else. But she always shook her head. She didn’t want there to be anyone else.
She only wanted him.
Her eyes drifted shut on a sigh.
If she closed her eyes she could almost see him beside her.
“Hey,” Blue eyes met gold and she almost melted under that crooked grin. He was so close, sitting right beside her. “What? No welcome scolding? I haven’t been away that long, have I?” a laugh in his voice as he reached out to tuck her wayward hair behind her ear, but the wind soon caught it again. His expression softened as he watched her, “It’s good to see you again.”
She dissolved into tears, launching herself up and into him arms. He stiffened with shock and then relaxed, clumsily wrapping her in his warm embrace, tucking her head under his chin. He was probably blushing, he always did, but she didn’t care if it made him uncomfortable – she needed this.
“Easy now,” he soothed, rubbing a hand over her back in a gentle, comforting caress, “it’s alright.”
Her fists clutched the sides of his shirt as she sobbed, not caring what anyone might think, “don’t you scare me like that again, you hear me!” she yelled into his chest, and then softer, “I missed you so much.” Her words were muffled as she pressed her face into him, needing to be closer.
He rested his cheek on her head, “I know.” He whispered.
She clung to him, afraid to let go, afraid to move, afraid to breathe, knowing that in the space of a breath he could be gone. She didn’t want to lose him again.
He walked through the streets, head down, hands thrust in his pockets. He didn’t need to see to know where he was going. He was going to the only place in this world that reminded him of home.
He kicked a pebble before him disinterestedly, absently noting the feet that moved out of his way as he passed. No one said anything, they knew him, they knew better. They wouldn’t get any answers anyway.
He left the paved streets, heading into a small square with a large tree in its center. He slid to the ground, his back resting against the solid trunk. This was familiar, this didn’t change. This was the same in both worlds, and they couldn’t take that away. So many changes in his short life. He was only twenty two, but he had seen so much.
So much was so different here, but not the trees. Those never changed. People never changed either, not at their core. But faces changed, hearts changed. Yes, people did change even if humanity did not.
He was glad Al had decided not to come with him. He enjoyed his brother’s company, but for now he just wanted to be alone. To think.
Here, on the other side of the gate still lived all the people he had lost – perhaps living the lives they should have had – would have had – had it not been for the stone. Each meeting of a familiar face here was bittersweet. Remembrances of a life lost forever. There were moments that this life seemed so much better: here Hughes was still alive, still with his beloved Gracia. Here the man he had known as Scar and the woman he loved – who in his world had become the basis for the homunculus Lust – were alive and happy. Here Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye were free of the constraints of duty, free to act on the love they shared.
But it was also painful to remember how much was lost in that other life. To see little Nina and know that another Nina had died long ago. To be at the birth of Elysia Hughes and know that he had seen this once before at another time in another place and to know that that other child had grown to see her father taken from her too soon. Each living person a constant reminder of another who’s life had been taken by the tragedy that was the search for the stone.
It hurt to see those who still lived on both sides as well. It hurt to see Armstrong, Havoc, Fury, and the others, and know that they didn’t know him – that the people with whom he had shared so much were forever just beyond his reach. It hurt to speak with Roy and know he had never told General Mustang how much he had meant to him.
It hurt to think that somewhere in this world there might be a woman who resembled his mother, but was not her.
Somewhere here there was a Winry too, much like his Winry.
But she wouldn’t be his Winry.
She would look the same; she would probably be very similar. She might even have the same hobbies. But she wouldn’t be the same. They had two different souls.
What would it be like to see her, and to know that he had said goodbye to his own Winry forever?
He could almost imagine what it would be like to see her again. She’d probably scold him, or maybe hug him. Probably both… and he would blush, but it would be a good blush because it would mean he was with her again. He let the scene play out in his mind. Her sobbing into his shirt, him awkwardly smoothing her hair. She always cried when she was worried, even though she swore afterwards that she hadn’t. He almost chuckled, and then his face fell.
It had been so long.
She had probably forgotten all about him.
Except that she wouldn’t have – she couldn’t have. He hadn’t forgotten her.
He raised his arm above his head, tracing imaginary features with his fingers, “Do you still think of me, Winry?” a broken whisper, released on a sigh, almost a plea.
How could he ask her that? He was all she thought of. She burrowed deeper into his warmth, longing to keep it forever.
“Always, Ed.” Tears welled in her eyes once again, “Every moment. There isn’t a time you aren’t on my mind.”
He smiled down at her. Time in that other place had changed him. He was taller now, finally taller than she, but then, he had been the last time she saw him as well, she just hadn’t taken the time to notice. She had thought she would have all the time in the world, but she had been wrong.
Stupid Ed and his stupid responsibilities. But then, that was part of what she loved about him. Ed didn’t wait for other people to do things, when he saw a problem he did all he could to fix it. He had always been like that. Maybe that was what had drawn him to alchemy all those years ago.
“Don’t cry, Winry.” Warm fingers moved up to gently wipe at her tears. She smiled bravely, forcing them back. She didn’t want to ruin their time together with tears.
“So, how have you been, Ed?” she pulled back, but not away, and he let her remain pressed against his side. He crept his hand down to hers and clasped them together, staring at them as he spoke.
“Alright I guess. It’s … different.”
She nodded, “Yeah, I guess it would be.”
“I missed you too.” He confessed, and she realized that he was responding to her early outburst. She blushed, unable to meet his gaze. His fingers brushing along her jaw line, catching under her chin to turn her gaze to his, “More than you’ll ever know.” He whispered.
He was so close to her, his eyes trained on hers with breathtaking intensity. Her gaze traced his features slowly, as if trying to memorize them, but she had long ago committed every detail to memory.
His thumb brushed her bottom lip and she drew in a shuddered breath.
“Edward?” her voice was unsteady, breathy and light, a bit uncertain. He smiled softly at her.
“It’s okay.” He murmured, tracing her features tenderly. “I promise.” And then he was leaning in, closing the gap between them, his eyes closing as he brought his other hand up to tangle in her hair. And she just let it happen, her own eyes drifting closed as well, eager to feel his warmth against her.
The touch of his lips to hers was electric and she wondered why she had never told him how much she loved him. She should have told him – every moment of every time they were together, she should have told him. Maybe then he would have told her as well. Maybe then they wouldn’t have held back until it was too late.
He pulled back, easing his forehead onto hers, trying to regain his breath.
“Wow.” He grinned, “we should have done that earlier.” An unconscious echo of her earlier thoughts. She laughed softly on an exhalation.
“Does that mean we can’t do it again now?”
His smile widened and he shook his head before covering her mouth with his own once more.
At twenty two Winry Rockbell had been a woman for four years, but at this moment, with his lips on hers and his hands tangled in her hair, feeling his heartbeat against her own, she realized she finally felt like a woman. This was epiphany. This moment… was everything.
She didn’t want it to end. But they both had to breathe.
Pulling back once more Ed cradled her face between his palms and traced her features with his gaze. He leaned in, brushing his cheek against hers as he brought his mouth to her ear, so close that she could feel his warm breath against it.
“Remember this Winry, always.”
“I will.” She promised, fisting her hands in his shirt once more.
“I love you…”
He pressed a kiss to her ear, and then the underside of her jaw, working his way back to her lips before dropping his forehead to rest on her shoulder, drawing her close to him as his arms slid around her waist.
She had a horrible feeling that he was slipping away and she clung to him, knowing it would do no good.
“I love you too Ed!” she cried against him, “I always have, I always will.”
He brought his head up to smile at her as his hand caressed her face one last time, “I’m so glad you haven’t forgotten.” His voice was low, husky, and it made her tremble almost as much as his gaze.
But that feeling was quickly being taken over by panic as he began to fade in her arms.
“So glad.” He murmured tenderly.
“And you, Ed?” she needed to know that he hadn’t forgotten either. That he would always love her, no matter what separated them. But he didn’t answer, only smiled at her as he continued to fade away.
“Ed! Edward!” her shouts were lost, snatched away by the wind as her fingers clutched nothing but air and the face she loved faded out of existence.
Winry woke with a start, shocked to find herself laying alone beneath the old tree. Ed was gone, only the sound of his voice remained, a whispered promise carried by the wind.
“I haven’t forgotten…”
She sank back down, throwing her forearm up to cover her eyes.
Only a dream…
When had she fallen asleep? She hadn’t meant to fall asleep. She pressed the fingers of her other hand to her lips.
It had felt so real… she could still feel the heat of his skin on hers. She had wanted it to be real.
“Winry!” the voice of Sceizka calling to her forced her to her feet. She straightened her clothing, trying in vain to brush away the wrinkles.
“Coming!” She called, throwing a last glance back over her shoulder at the old tree standing beside the river. So many memories there, and now she had one more.
As she approached the house she saw Sceizka waving enthusiastically. What was her friend doing back here? She had rejoined the military after that last incident…
And then Winry saw that the young woman wasn’t alone. Behind her stood General Mustang – yes, General, after his daring rescue of Central the council had all but begged him to come back, and he had accepted, after all, he didn’t need to wait anymore – and Lieutenant Hawkeye. Winry noticed they were standing a little closer than normal. She wondered if they would ever realize how much they cared for one another. It was sad; they were so close and yet so far. Too blind to see.
Like she had been.
She stared out toward the river. Funny how some people never realized what they had until they lost it. That thought stirred sadness in her. It was too late now…
She didn’t mean for it to show on her face, but it must have because a moment later she felt a hand on her arm.
“Thinking about him again?” Sciezka shook her head; she was the only one who knew. Or, at least, she was the only one Winry had confided in. Other people had probably figured it out by now. “I know he meant a lot to you, but he’s gone. You should move on.”
She shook her head softly, a small, sad, smile forming on her face. Mustang watched her, a knowing sympathy in his eyes, but Winry just stared into the setting sun, unmoving.
Sceizka was wrong about that. They all were. All her doubts and uncertainties faded under the memory of those stolen dream moments. Ed had loved her, she was certain that he had. He had known that she loved him too, and wherever he was he still loved her – just as she still loved him.
He was gone; alive, but separated so far from here that she could never see him again except in her mind. But that was enough for her at this moment. Because as long as he was in her memories, in her heart, he was never really gone.
“Hello!” a cheerful call roused him. He sat up quickly, surprised to find it was already late. How long had he been asleep? He ran a hand over his face; trying to rub some life back into it, bring himself back to the waking world even though he longed to return to the dream.
It had felt so real. He could still feel the ghost of Winry’s lips pressed to his own; his arms ached to hold her. Why hadn’t he ever told her? Now he would never have the chance. He could only love her in his memories, in his dreams.
“Are you alright? You really shouldn’t sleep out here.” The voice sounded half-laughing.
“Aww, quit nagging Win-“ he turned, the automatic response dying on his lips as he found himself staring into a pair of sky blue eyes, “-ry.” He finished softly. It had sounded so much like something Winry would say. She was always scolding him. And with thoughts of the dream so close, with his memories simmering just beneath the surface of his mind he had acted without thinking, responding as he would to Winry.
And now here she was… only it wasn’t her, not really.
Her head cocked to one side as she studied him with clear blue eyes, her face open, her blond hair swaying with the slight movement.
“Do I… know you?” she asked.
He was staring. He shouldn’t be staring. She’d probably think he was going to assault her. That’s all he needed, a run-in with the police. But she was so much like her…
He shook his head, willing his face to relax into a normal expression.
“Uh… no, not really. Sorry about that.” He laughed, “you just startled me is all.” He looked around nervously, running his real hand over the back of his hair, above the ponytail. “You’re right, it’s pretty stupid to fall asleep out in the open like this. Well, guess I’ll be going now.” He strode past her, determined not to look at her again.
“But then… how did you… you said my name.” she persisted softly, in confusion.
He turned, his smile so wide his eyes squinted completely shut, he gave a nervous laugh, hand going to his head one more, “Oh – did I? Umm… lucky guess I guess… you just, reminded me of someone I used to know.”
“Oh…” she didn’t sound entirely convinced, and he couldn’t really blame her. What were the odds that she reminded him of someone who just happened to have the same name she did? Pretty high if one knew what he did – but she didn’t.
“Well, like I said,” he turned away again, intent on making his escape, “I really should be going. I have a lot of work to do before tomorrow. Wouldn’t want to show up for my lecture on rocket theory without my notes.”
“You’re going to that lecture?” she asked, suddenly sounding interested, even excited.
He opened one eye, watching her with feigned boredom. “No, I’m giving it.”
She gasped and brought her hands to cover her mouth.
His arms fell back to his sides, “What?” he asked in confusion.
“You’re Edward Elric?”
He nodded dumbly.
Her eyes were starting to get a funny shine. An oddly familiar shine and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
“The Edward Elric!”
She squealed, clasping her hands against her chest as her eyes grew big and sparkly and threatened to envelop her face. “I can’t believe I’m finally meeting you! I’ve read all your articles on rocket theory! And fuel theory! I saved up all my money for a year and a half to come to this conference so that I could hear your lecture! I can’t believe I’m actually speaking to Edward Elric!”
“Ah, huh.” That was definitely familiar behavior. Familiar and tiring. How could she have so much energy all the time? But then, mechanics had always gotten her excited.
He stopped cold. His Winry always got excited over mechanical things, over the latest in automail design. He remembered her begging him to let her take apart his State Alchemist watch. He had said no, of course. Looking back he wished he had said yes. It wouldn’t have mattered much in the long run. He had lost it long ago. Besides, she had taken it apart when he wasn’t looking anyway. He looked at the girl before him, her eyes transfixed, her expression comical. The features were the same, the expression, even the reaction. But this wasn’t his Winry. She never would be.
This girl didn’t even know what automail was.
Looking at her closely he could see other obvious differences. This girl had no piercings in her dainty ears. She was dressed conservatively in a grey skirt suit, the hem almost brushing her ankles. She wore the typical woman’s hat. She wasn’t as toned as Winry, not as tan either. She probably hadn’t spent her days lazing by rivers, playing with dogs, or sneaking through ventilation shafts in secret laboratories.
His expression softened as he watched her continue to rant. Yes they were similar, but not the same person at all. He smiled softly at that reassuring thought.
“Well, right then, I’ll try not to disappoint with tomorrow’s lecture.” He waved, though he doubted she noticed, and walked away, leaving her to her raptures. Usually he wouldn’t leave a woman alone on the streets when it was so late, but things had been pretty peaceful recently. And there were plenty of police around. She would be fine.
As he walked he thrust his hands in his pockets, absently rubbing the fingers of his automail hand together. He had gotten it the last time he had seen Winry. It took some work, but he and Al managed to keep it going. It was a good thing he had stopped growing now. There wasn’t a person alive in this world that could have adjusted those limbs for him.
He found himself smiling again as he thought of the girl standing in the square.
So he had met this world’s Winry, and it wasn’t so bad at all. He had found her very similar, but also very different, and he felt strangely relieved. Maybe it was because seeing her, he had seen his Winry, and yet he hadn’t. There had been a moment when the memory was so strong he almost thought she was standing there. But it had faded and he could see clearly that they were two different women.
Maybe that had been what he had been most afraid of. Maybe he had been afraid that this world’s Winry would somehow replace the Winry from that other life in his mind. He didn’t want a substitute Winry. He was content with a memory.
But it was alright, because that girl would never be his Winry. If he never saw her again, he would be alright. And if he did see her, even if it were every day for the rest of his life, she would never take the place of the other Winry.
How could she?
Winry was his first love. He would never love another. And he knew she felt the same. It didn’t matter that they had never spoken the words. It didn’t matter that they had never shared something as simple as a kiss. Their love was a tapestry woven of hardships and laughter, joy and pain, fragments of memory that would never fade. When he was alone he could feel her with him, living in his memories and in his heart. As long as his memories remained, she would never really be lost to him. And he knew she felt the same.
In the end all they had were their dreams of each other.
And it was enough.
A/N: Are you wondering if they had the same dream? I could be mean and make you guess, but I won’t. Yes, the idea behind this story is that Ed and Winry were both asleep at the same time and were sharing a dream. It was real, in a sense. How is that possible if Ed fell asleep after Winry? Well, the “scene” Ed was imagining was the same one Winry was dreaming. So his daydream sort of flooded over into her actual dream, and then continued in his dream as well. I got the idea from the part in the movie where Al talks about dreaming of Ed in a strange world. This implied to me that if people were really close maybe they were still connected through their dreams. I thought it was a great idea and would be really sweet for Ed and Winry. So are they going to continue to meet in their dreams? Probably. Will they ever figure it out? I don’t know. I guess I’m leaving that up to you. Whether they do or not, they’ll neither one ever find another love and they will cherish their dreams. And if it is enough for them, isn’t that enough for us?