Title: Pet Project
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G.
Characters: Ed, Al, Winry, Den.
Setting: First anime. A slightly AU spin on some early canon events.
Summary: Winry resolves to find out why Ed and Al are acting even more strangely than usual.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: A (somewhat) lighter entry in my “Things That Never Happened” series.

 

Pet Project

 

Something was most definitely up.

Of course, something was always up when Edward and Alphonse returned to Resembool—but as Winry opened the door to them on that early morning in summer, it didn’t take her long to realize something was even more up than usual.

For one thing, Ed wasn’t carrying a severed and mangled automail limb. He wasn’t even hobbling. He stood straight and strong on his left leg, his right hand grasped his suitcase firmly, and there wasn’t so much as a bruise on his visible flesh. To all appearances, he had absolutely no need of repairs or doctoring at all. That fact in itself was so shocking that Winry’s instinctive snarl of What have you done to my automail this time? died on her tongue, and she stared at him with her mouth slightly agape.

For another thing, Den was taking an inordinate interest in Al. The dog rarely gave Al’s huge steel frame more than a token sniff, given its lack of organic scents; but on this occasion, he paced and whined and snuffled eagerly around the armored boy’s lower body. He even stood up on his hind legs, causing a jarring scrape of metal as his own automail foreleg pawed at the plating of Al’s torso. Al yelped and gently pushed the curious canine away, but Den was undeterred in his attentions.

Al’s distress forced Winry to shake off her surprise, and she hurried forward. “Den, what’s the matter with you? It’s only Al…” She took firm hold of Den’s collar and pulled him back, but his forced removal from Al’s person only prompted him to start barking at the younger Elric. He fought her so hard, she was afraid he would hurt himself or her, so as a last resort she pushed him into the house and shut him in.

Breathless from her struggle with the dog, Winry turned back to the Elrics on the porch. Al looked as sheepish as it was possible for a human-shaped heap of metal to look—but Ed grinned at her with an entirely suspicious cheerfulness.

“Good morning, Winry,” he said pleasantly.

A non-grumpy morning Ed was definitely going too far beyond credibility. Winry squinted at him dubiously. “Okay, what was that all about—and what kind of trouble have the two of you gotten into now?”

Ed flushed slightly, his bright expression lapsing into a much more reassuring scowl. “Why d’you have to assume we’re in trouble? Do we look like we’re in trouble? Can’t we just visit while we’re in the neighborhood without it being the end of the world?”

Winry was still fairly certain the answer to that was a resounding no. Nevertheless, she stepped back quickly and gestured for the brothers to come in. “Okay, okay! Don’t have a fit over it, I just thought…” She paused to open the door, and deftly caught Den’s collar before the excited animal could fling himself at Al again. “Oh, wait a minute.”

Whatever the boys were doing there, and whatever Den was so agitated about, it was clear that Winry wasn’t going to get any answers while the dog was acting up that way. Reluctantly, with mixed murmurs of scolding and apology, she dragged him away to shut him in the workshop. She hated to do it—but the faint scratching that ensued from the other side of the door assured they would never have gotten any peace if he was loose.

“Alright… How about we start with something simple, like where you just came here from?” she asked suspiciously as she moved back toward the brothers, who now stood in the middle of the living room.

“From Central,” Al answered promptly, and Winry was convinced she saw Ed shoot a disapproving glare at him.

“All that way? That sure doesn’t sound like just being in the neighborhood,” the mechanic pressed. “Are you on a job for the military? Where are you going from here?”

“Can’t tell. Top-secret military stuff—but we could be here a while first,” Ed muttered darkly. His initial façade of good humor had evaporated quickly enough… and now it occurred to Winry that he kept glancing at Al with hawkish concern.

Come to think of it, Al had seemed to move rather slowly and stiffly as they came in.

The observation caused Winry’s heart to skip a beat. She had never really understood anything about the alchemy that joined Al’s soul to the armor, and if something was wrong with him somehow…

“Al! Are you okay?”

“Hmm? Yeah… Why wouldn’t I be?” Al looked down at her in a way that felt quizzical, even if he had no human face to express it.

Mystified, Winry waved a hand at him. “It’s just… I noticed you were walking a little funny.”

“Oh. That.” Steel plates quivered. “I, um—”

“His joints need oiling, that’s all,” Ed cut him off quickly, seizing his arm to steer him toward the stairs. “C’mon, Al, let’s get up to our room and take care of that…”

The excuse was yet another fragment of this entire exchange that felt slightly off. Ed may have been reckless with his own automail, but he was positively obsessive about keeping Al’s steel in perfect condition. He would never let the care of it lapse for so long that Al’s joints would get that stiff.

Then again… this was the Elric brothers. Winry couldn’t honestly put any level of stupidity past them.

With a sigh and a shake of her head, she started to follow them toward the stairs. “I’ll come do it. The way Ed drags you from one side of the country to the other, you probably are overdue for some decent maintenance…”

“No!” Ed objected quickly, all but planting himself between Winry and Al. Then he seemed to realize the force of the outburst, and collected his composure. He grinned and rubbed the back of his neck, in his little-boy way that Winry still found dangerously disarming.

“I mean… I’d really appreciate it if you could fix up some breakfast instead. We did have to travel a long way, and I’m starving. All night on the train, I was dreaming about pancakes—and sausages. Uh…” He actually hesitated, fluttering his long gold eyelashes at her pleadingly. “Lots of sausages?”

Sometimes, there was nothing to do but give in to the ridiculousness.

Winry let out an impatient huff, and her eyes narrowed as she jabbed a finger at Ed’s chest. “Don’t you think for one second that I’m not going to figure out what you idiots are up to.”

She turned on her heel then, and marched toward the kitchen, fully aware of the boys scrambling for the stairs behind her… or at least, as much of a scramble as possible when Al was moving with the gingerness of a rheumatic old man.

Oh, yes… Something was certainly as up as it could possibly be.

 

The next several days were altogether maddening for Winry.

Each morning, the Elric brothers disappeared from the house before daylight, giving no clue as to where they went. A few hours later, Ed would come sauntering back alone, to collect his breakfast and carry it away—and his already infamous appetite seemed to have not just doubled, but tripled. Still more strangely, where his diet had always been robust but well-balanced in the past, he now insisted on being served a completely inordinate amount of meat. When Winry at last grew concerned with his excessive intake of sausages and bacon and ham, and made him a light breakfast of oatmeal and fruit instead, she later discovered that a leg of lamb had vanished from the icebox in his wake.

Not that these newfound carnivorous urges seemed to be fattening Ed at all. If anything, Winry thought he was looking a bit more gaunt and stressed than usual on this visit, and that only made her more worried.

Evenings were no less vexing. The boys did not return from their undisclosed location until well after dark, at an hour when dinner was nearly cold. Only then would Winry get her one glimpse of Al for the day, on his way from the front door to the stairs—as he hurried to escape Den’s ongoing fuss over him. Not only was the dog still fixated on him, but Al himself continued to move with unusual slowness and care, making his brief passage noisy and awkward. Meanwhile, Ed would enter the kitchen to fetch his plate and reheat it with alchemy, piling it yet again with over-large portions of mutton or chicken or beef. Then he followed Al upstairs, where they remained sequestered in their room until sometime before dawn… and the whole process would repeat itself.

After a week, Winry decided she had put up with enough secrecy, and resolved to unravel the mystery.

Her plan was simple enough. She woke early and dressed, in the small dark hours of the morning, and sat listening in her room until she heard Al’s unmistakable tread in the hallway. As the boys made their way downstairs, she crept after them, to watch their departure from between the banisters. Den always stayed in the house at night; it was necessary for Ed to restrain him until Al got through the door, his steel hand clamped over the dog’s muzzle to keep him from barking. Then Ed slipped out into the night himself, and through the window, Winry saw the bobbing of hazy lantern-light as the brothers set off across the yard.

Winry worked quickly. Until this visit from the Elrics sent him into fits, Den had always been too obedient to require a leash, but now she tied a short rope onto his collar as a makeshift lead. As she gave it a few tugs to assure herself it would hold, he must have caught the general drift of her plan, because he whined eagerly and pulled her toward the door—and she let him lead the way.

Den would be her accomplice in sleuthing. In his current obsession with Alphonse, she was certain he would track the armored boy, even if the brothers escaped her sight in the dark. After that, when girl and dog had traced the pair to wherever they were hiding out… well, if mere spying didn’t work, Winry could always use the threat of unleashing Den as leverage to get some answers.

As she had somewhat expected, she didn’t see the lantern’s light by the time she stepped outside, but that was no obstacle for Den. He set off immediately toward the back of the house and the fields that sprawled behind it, straining hard on the rope leash and almost forcing her to run. Fortunately, he refrained from barking.

It soon became clear that the trail led to a dilapidated old barn at the back of the Rockbells’ property. Winry’s late grandfather had once kept a few cows, but they were long gone by the time she was born, and since then the barn had been heaped with broken-down machinery and other junk before being forgotten and left to slowly decay. In their youth, Winry and the Elrics found its landscape of rotting timbers and rusty metal a forbidden wonderland to play in; Al’s flesh body had even carried a small scar on the left leg from falling out of the precarious hayloft. Those days, however, seemed like a distant past. Winry hadn’t ventured out there since before the boys went away with their alchemy teacher.

Now the barn was no longer abandoned. Light glowed faintly around the edges of the double doors and the two shuttered windows—and the fact that the light inside only escaped there was proof that the once-gaping holes in the walls and roof were sealed. Whatever they were using it for, the brothers had obviously repaired the structure with alchemy.

Den whined and pulled against his leash. Winry whispered to him to be quiet, and slowly advanced.

The soft, dew-damp grass that silenced their steps was marred with furrows where the barn doors had been repeatedly dragged open, showing further evidence of use. Almost holding her breath, Winry drew closer. She faintly heard the scrape of Al’s armor as he moved about inside, but no voices spoke. If Ed was with him, neither of them were talking.

Upon reaching the front of the barn, Den jerked forward and began to snuffle at the crevice between the doors. Winry hastily pulled him back, shortening the leash to hold it more firmly in one hand, and braced her other hand on the door as she leaned forward to peek through the crack herself.

As her eye adjusted to the soft light within, the first thing she made out was the bright metal-glint of Al’s steel. His back was turned to the doors, one gauntlet reaching around to his side—searching for the fastening of his chestplate. A few feet beyond him, Edward stood with arms folded, watching his brother’s movements intently. The lantern they had carried sat on a crate, illuminating a broad cleared space. Old blankets and canvas covered the remaining clutter that had been pushed back to the sides of the room, and the floor was padded with a layer of straw that looked and smelled fresh.

Al’s unfeeling hand located the leather straps at his side, his oversized but well-practiced fingers releasing them with surprising deftness. He grasped the edge of his chestplate and began to ease it open, his other gauntlet reaching for something inside his hollow trunk…

Winry was certain she heard a small sound then, and that must have been the trigger that pushed Den’s patience past the breaking point.

Uttering a deep whulp in his throat, Den suddenly threw himself against the door, and some weak spot in the strained leash finally gave way. The rope snapped as the door swung inward under the force of his weight—causing Winry, who had been partially leaning against it, to fall to her hands and knees just inside the threshold.

Den sprang like a lion. Black-and-white fur hurtled toward silver steel; and Alphonse, startled and overbalanced, hit the floor with a yelp and a metallic crash as the dog collided with him.

Al!” Edward gasped, skidding to his knees beside his brother—and angrily shoving aside Den, who was nosing at the prone suit of armor on the floor.

Winry was both mortified by her exposure, and a little frightened by Ed’s unusual concern for Al. Quickly she rose, red-faced, and stumbled over to seize Den’s collar. She dragged the whining canine off of his victim, pulling him back a few steps, and Ed spared her only the briefest of disgusted looks before he leaned down to help Al right himself.

Al shook his helmet, pushed himself up slightly, and reached down to probe somewhere around the hollow of his belly, where his loosened chestplate had slipped free in the impact. “I think we’re okay…”

We?

The question never had the chance to make it to Winry’s lips. With her hands wrapped white-knuckled around the struggling Den’s collar, she watched as Al very carefully sat up on his knees—to reveal two wriggling, keening figures on the straw-covered floor beneath him, and a third still hanging halfway out of his open armor.

The Elrics’ secret, it seemed, was puppies.

Three pudgy, funny-looking puppies, with sparse coats of short blond fur over pink skin, and ridges of a much darker brown hair running down their hackles and spines. Beneath the baby-fat, their builds promised they would grow into large dogs. They looked a bit like yellow retrievers, but there was something strange about them: their bright brown eyes gazed out from peculiarly rounded, short-muzzled heads, and their paws ended in abnormally long toes that seemed to have extra joints.

Evidently unhurt, the two pups on the floor clambered to their misshapen feet, while the third leaped out of Al’s abdominal cavity and plopped down beside its siblings. They sorted out their short legs, and with one accord they wobbled toward Edward, making raspy little grumbling noises.

It took a few seconds for Winry to decipher exactly what those noises were… and when she did, the bombshell burst.

Mama,” the puppies were grunting softly, as they gathered around Ed’s knees. “Mama.”

Their voices were rough and throaty and entirely inhuman, and their blunt muzzles formed the word with difficulty. Even so, it was as clear as day to Winry’s ears. The pups truly were saying Mama—and they weren’t simply mimicking the sound, as Winry had once seen a dog trained to do. Frightened by the fall and by Den’s agitated presence, they were calling out with deliberate intent for their protector.

Winry managed somehow to keep her grip on Den’s collar, and keep from falling to her knees; but she couldn’t stop herself from shaking.

Ed reached down. With a tenderness Winry had never imagined seeing from him, he gathered all three of the pups into his arms. They snuggled under his chin, quieting instantly when he kissed their little heads, and Winry had to bite her lip to keep from breaking into tears… and then Ed looked up at her, and his eyes were so terribly dark.

“Put Den outside.”

Mechanically, Winry obeyed, dragging Den to the door and shoving him out. He began to scratch and whine the moment she closed the door behind him, but she ignored the sounds. She turned back to the Elric brothers, and the pups in Ed’s arms, with bewildered astonishment on her face.

“These… these are—?” she stammered, having some idea of what she was trying to ask, but not quite finding the appalling word.

Heaving a deep sigh, Ed lowered the pups to the floor. At once their eerie refrain of Mama started anew, but when he slipped his coat from his shoulders and tucked them into it, petting their heads with his flesh hand, they settled down.

“You remember what I wrote to you about the Tuckers?” he asked quietly, without looking up.

For reasons she couldn’t explain, a new kind of uneasiness coursed through Winry, but she nodded slowly. “That was the State Alchemist and his little girl—the ones you stayed with when you were studying for the State Alchemy Exam.”

She remembered the letters Ed had written to her at the time. They gave her a feeling that those were good days for Ed and Al, full of hard work but also optimism, a confidence that their success in the Exam would swiftly open the door to their becoming whole again. He had described the Tuckers as well, and between his terse lines about “babysitting”, she could see how much little Nina had touched him… but after he passed the Exam and became a State Alchemist, he suddenly stopped writing about the girl and her father.

Winry assumed Ed and Al had simply been discharged from Shou Tucker’s mentoring, left his house, and had less time for contact with the pair after Ed’s official duties commenced. Even so, when she went to see the brothers in Central shortly afterward, she had hoped to meet Nina; but immediately upon her arrival, she was kidnapped by Barry the Chopper, which decidedly changed the entire tone of her visit.

Afterward, in the brief time she got to spend with the boys before duty took them away, she had sensed something was troubling Ed. No, more than that: she could feel that Edward had changed. He was still the determined, irascible, good-hearted boy she knew, but something inside him was irrevocably hardened, in a way that hadn’t happened even after the boys’ human transmutation. Considering the terror Barry the Chopper had just put them both through, she naturally thought that must have been the cause.

And yet…

“Shou Tucker specialized in making chimeras.”

The words were hard, flat, and ugly, making Winry’s heart skip a beat. She glanced up at Ed sharply, her eyes wide.

“Oh, Ed,” she breathed, looking down at the pups. Now the reason for their slight deformities, as well as their freakish capacity for speech, was becoming clear. “You mean… he made these things?”

“He didn’t make them. But he was responsible for them.” For a moment Ed had been watching her face, but then he closed his eyes and turned his face away, his fists tightening.

“We never told you. Tucker—he took Nina… he took his own daughter and her dog, and he…”

Ed’s voice caught raggedly, forcing him to falter into silence. When he did not continue, it was Al who completed the statement, very softly.

“Tucker transmuted Nina and her dog into a chimera.”

A trembling whimper escaped Winry. She pressed her fingers hard against her mouth, gulping to stifle the sudden wave of nausea that twisted in her stomach.

Now she understood what it really was that had hardened Edward.

As horrific as the consequences of the boys’ human transmutation had been, their deed was only a mistake, committed with the very purest of intentions. But for Shou Tucker to have deliberately taken his daughter, his own flesh and blood, and used her as just so much raw material for an experiment… In Ed’s mind, that must have been close to the ultimate disillusionment. Alchemy was practically his religion, the great power he had put his faith in, even after it exacted such a price on him and his brother. To see it willfully used for something so monstrous would have devastated him, and made him face painful questions about the science all his hopes were still pinned to.

Winry’s gaze returned to the innocent, helpless creatures curled up together on Ed’s coat, and with an effort, she managed to draw a breath for words without choking. “Then… then these things are—”

“The military tried to take Nina,” Ed interrupted curtly, his voice hard and dark. “I stopped them, but she ran away. We spent the next few days trying to track her down before Basque Grand did, until one of his search parties found—remains. He showed us what was left of the body, and we really thought that it…”

Ed trailed off. He swallowed hard, shook his head, clenched his fists.

“But Grand had staged it all, to hide the truth: he had captured Nina alive. Al and I… we never knew. We were too stupid to even think it was a trick.” A shudder passed through him. “They took her away to study her at a secret lab. And they found out that in those few days while she was loose in Central, some stray dog must have… been with her.”

One of the pups whined softly. Edward rested his left hand on its back, his fingers scratching absently through its thin fur.

“Nina didn’t survive the birth,” Al added somberly. “There were two more pups, but they only lived for a few days.”

Winry sank to her knees. She had to, because she felt a little faint. She stared at the pups, dazedly watching Ed’s hand caress them each in turn, and took a long time to find the voice for the next logical question.

“How did you get them?”

“It was Colonel Mustang.” Ed drew a deep breath, and appeared to recover his composure. “I don’t know how he learned the truth—but when he did, he was just as disgusted that Nina and her pups were only lab animals to the military. So he told us, and he arranged everything for us to steal these pups that had survived from the lab. He gave us all the security plans to the place, and started a fire as a diversion for the guards. He changed the records to show that we’d left for Resembool two days earlier than we really did, and after we got away, he had us snuck out of Central in a supply truck. Nobody knows we were even in the city when the lab was broken into.”

“Could anyone find out he helped you?”

“Not a chance.” With those words, Ed actually cracked a humorless grin. “Trust me, Mustang knows how to cover for himself.”

The smallest pup fidgeted under Ed’s hand then, bumping its wet nose against his palm—and it offered its own contribution to the discussion. “Mama. Food?”

Winry couldn’t help blinking at the appearance of a second word in the creatures’ vocabulary. Ed must have noticed her reaction, because as he reached up to accept a bowl Al had produced from somewhere, a more pensive smile crossed his lips.

“They’re only using a few words now. Less than when we came here—and that’s another reason we brought them to Resembool.” He set the bowl in the midst of the clamoring pups, all three of whom had taken up the chant of Food. They happily buried their noses in their breakfast of chicken scraps from the previous night’s dinner.

In the act of refastening his chestplate, Alphonse elaborated. “We were hoping that if we kept them isolated out here in the country, and if they never heard us talk, they’d forget about using the words they do know as they grow up. Then maybe they could live out the rest of their lives as normal dogs.”

“And I guess I really threw a setback into that plan now.” Winry frowned. “But if their mother was… Then doesn’t that mean some part of them is human, too?”

“Maybe genetically, but it’s… complicated.” Ed grimaced, and his flesh hand crept to his automail arm. “Using alchemy on humans—you’ve seen how ugly it can be, Winry. Even as advanced as his work was, Tucker couldn’t perfectly balance the transmutation. What he made of Nina was… much more dog than human. Add to that, the pups’ father was just an ordinary dog.” Ed gazed down sadly at the survivors of the litter. “Whatever is human in them would only cause them to be hunted down as lab specimens. It’s better for them to grow up as animals, instead of being caught in-between as mutant freaks all their lives.”

“I… guess I can understand that,” Winry whispered.

The biggest pup had eaten its fill, and toddled away from the bowl. As it began to stray across the floor, Al picked it up gently and set it back on Ed’s bundled coat. Rather than respond to the armored boy with speech, the pup merely struggled and made a small growling noise.

“They don’t call me Mama,” Al said somewhat ruefully, causing Ed’s cheeks to redden. “They don’t react to me much at all… I guess because I don’t smell like something alive. But at least I can keep them safe and hidden inside me when we take them back to the house at night.”

“So now I know why Den’s been going crazy over you… And why you’ve been making Granny and me cook so much meat.” Winry eyed Ed a little reproachfully, but then her expression softened. “Why didn’t you just tell us?”

“You didn’t need to know about something so terrible.” Ed fidgeted uncomfortably. “Besides, General Grand knows how much we cared about Nina. He could still get suspicious that we were involved, and come asking questions. The less you and Pinako knew about the situation, the better off we’d all be.”

“I’m sorry. But you know I won’t tell anyone.” Winry hesitated. “What are you going to do now?”

Ed sighed. “Keep trying to wean the pups off of talking, I guess. But eventually… we will be going back to Central, and I’ll return to my duties as a State Alchemist.” At the girl’s startled look, he added, “We still haven’t found what we’re looking for, Winry. And besides, if the military is hiding more secrets like this—the best way for us to do something about it is from the inside.”

That was the Ed Winry knew: determined, spirited, good-willed. Knowing full well that she couldn’t talk him out of his resolve—nor Al, for that matter—she only smiled thinly and nodded in acceptance.

The bowl of chicken was empty. Winry reached out to the smallest pup as it wobbled toward her, and was forced to blink back the heat in her eyes when it sniffed her hand, cocked its head at her, and queried in its scratchy burble: “Mama?”

“…Let me take care of them, Ed.”

She said the words without even thinking about it. The brothers stared at her in surprise, and she gave them an awkward shrug.

“That way, you can leave them here and go back to Central whenever you’re ready. I’ll try to make sure they grow up as ordinary dogs, just like you planned…” A thought struck her. “And maybe Den can help that happen, too.”

Ed gaped. “That big lug? He could crush them!”

“Oh, give him a chance, Ed. I know he never meant any harm—he was just excited by the smell of puppies, and he wanted to see them. I’m sure he’d be gentle with them. After all, if you want them to act like regular dogs, they’re going to need one for a role model, aren’t they?”

That logic gave Ed pause. He frowned, glancing from Winry to the pups and then to Al, who shrugged.

“…Okay,” Ed finally allowed, reaching out to gather the pups. “You can let him in, and we’ll see what he does—but if I even think that mutt is about to hurt them, he’s gonna be minus his teeth.”

Although Winry rolled her eyes a little at the threat, she rose and went to the door. Den was still whining outside, and the moment she cracked the door open, he tried to launch himself into the barn. She quickly seized his collar, restraining him in his eager push toward the pups in Ed’s arms, and let him shuffle forward only with great slowness.

For their part, the pups were unsettled by Den’s return, with the excited sounds and smells he put off. They whimpered “Mama” and burrowed against Ed’s chest. He encircled them firmly in his arms, making small soothing noises, but Winry could see the tension in him. He was ready to snatch them away in an instant if Den tried to bite, and Alphonse looked equally poised to intervene.

Two paces from Ed, Winry pulled Den up short, bracing herself against his pulling. She let him lean in the rest of the way very gingerly. Just close enough for the tip of his nose to poke forward, to sniff at one little hind paw that stuck out beneath Ed’s elbow…

Den snuffled and whined anxiously, but did not tug any harder or try to jump up on Ed. Cautiously Ed lowered his arms just a little, giving the dog a better look at the pups. They wriggled and whimpered, but they had stopped calling out for Mama, and the two larger ones were looking back at Den instead of trying to climb away from him.

Winry smiled. She relaxed her grip a little more, and Den tucked his chin up over Ed’s wrist, sniffing at the pups’ round bellies. He brushed his nose against sparsely-furred skin—and Winry could have sworn one of the pups made a noise like a ticklish giggle.

Then the biggest one twisted in the crook of Ed’s arm, and faced Den nose to nose.

Mama?”

Ed’s breath caught at that. Winry noticed the glossiness in his eyes, the twitch in his throat as he swallowed hard… and she kindly pretended she didn’t.

With only a little hesitation—which the girl suspected had nothing to do with fear for their safety now—Ed carefully set the pups back down on top of his coat. Winry allowed Den to scoot closer to them, and he laid down, his body curled around their makeshift nest. He thrust his big blunt snout in among them with astonishing gentleness: nuzzling their ears, using his warm wet tongue to bathe their little faces.

Unobtrusively, Edward pulled away from the dog and pups. As he sat back on his heels, he quickly swiped the side of his flesh hand against the corner of his eye; but when he looked up at Winry and Al, he was smiling softly.

“Maybe this could work after all.”


© 2012 Jordanna Morgan