Ed didn't get why people liked spring so much. He really didn't.
Al loved spring. Whenever the season rolled around, his younger brother would celebrate by getting all happy and…twittery. Quite like the birds that decided the changing seasons meant it was perfectly alright to chirp outside his window at five in the morning. On the dot. Every damn day. No matter where they were. Ed had a feeling they were doing it on purpose.
But even Ed could admit that spring had a kind of quality to it. It was the end of winter-the season of wind, water and muscle aches-and a sure omen that the sun would soon be beating down on them with all the brilliance of summer. Flowers bloomed and trees came into leaf and the wind became softer, warmer. Almost like the world was trying to make up for its previous months of cruelty by unleashing a bounty of sights and sounds and scents…
…scents that had a tendency to viciously assault sensitive noses like his own.
Ed swiped his sleeve under his nose, leaving a wet, runny trail all along the red fabric, and gave the flower stand a wide berth. As far as he was concerned, spring was a miserable old witch who had it in for guys like him. Screw the fresh air and flowers, screw the whole damn season! At least the other seasons didn't try to passively suffocate him.
He caught up to Al and followed his brother's gaze through the window of a jewelry store. "Which one do you think Winry would like?"
"None," Ed muttered, sniffing mightily to keep his nose from dripping further. "Can we go back already? We'll find her a gift tomorrow!"
And this was yet another reason not to like spring. Winry's birthday fell right in the middle of the cursed season, which meant there was no getting out of a trip to grassy, pollen-filled Risembool sometime in the near future. And Ed had learned early on that turning up on his mechanic's doorstep on her birthday with a drippy nose and no gift in sight was a very bad idea.
Ed cast one look at the jewelry store and hauled Al away. "No jewelry! Remember what happened when we brought her earrings to keep her from getting all pissy over my automail? She kept putting holes in her ears!"
"We could always get a necklace or a bracelet or something," Al suggested, resisting Ed's meaningful tug on his arm.
"Let's just get her a wrench and be done with it," Ed said in exasperation. He looked around in vain for a tool shop and caught a whiff of some nearby daffodils, setting off a series of powerful sneezes that made his head spin.
"I don't think there's any tool we can give her that she doesn't already have," Al informed him. "Have you seen her workroom? It's packed with tools. We could end up buying her something she already has or doesn't even need."
"Gah!" Ed howled, raking his fingers through his hair. "Shopping shouldn't be this freaking hard!"
Al steered him into yet another girly store that was, thankfully, devoid of flowers. "You're making it harder than it really is. Let's see…it looks like there are a lot of nice things in here. Maybe we could get her some clothes?"
Ed brightened at that notion and grabbed a blue corduroy jacket off the first wrack he saw. "Okay, done!"
"What, what?" Ed demanded, holding out the jacket. "This is fine! It's nice and, um…blue…"
"It's also five sizes too big for her!"
"Okay, okay! Where's one that's five sizes smaller?"
But Al turned down that one as well. "That one is way too small, there's no way it'll fit."
"Then we'll go halfway in between," Ed concluded with a wise nod. He dove back into the rack in search of his quarry. "Five divided by two is two and a half so, uh…two and a half sizes bigger than this is…wait, how come there are no half sizes?"
Al parted a curtain of jackets to look in at him. "Maybe clothes aren't the way to go after all," he said glumly.
Ed kicked his way free of the forest of colors and fabrics, snarling when a hanger got caught on the hood of his coat. "Well, what else is there? Ah-choo! Son of a-choo!"
"We've just got to brainstorm, Brother," Al said quickly while he was recovering. "What kinds of things do girls want aside from clothes and jewelry?"
"Winry's not a girl," Ed mumbled, rubbing his watery eyes. "She's…some kind of weird hybrid…"
Al made a noise somewhere between an impatient grunt and an exasperated sigh. Ed glared up at his brother with his hands on his hips. "What?"
"Why do you always say things like that?" Al said quietly. "Winry is a girl and she probably appreciates nice things just as much as the next girl. She liked those earrings we got her."
"Yeah, she liked 'em enough to stick five needles in her ears. I'm surprised she didn't die from blood loss."
"And it seems like you always hate it when she does things like that," Al insisted. "Last time we went back she was wearing a skirt and the first thing you said was that it made her look too leggy! Do you even consider how that must make her feel?"
"But it did make her look too leggy!" Ed protested. "It's not like I was trying to make her cry or anything."
"Could've fooled me…"
Ed shot him a wrathful look and stalked further into the store, not really looking for anything except for room to pace. Other customers darted out of his path with affronted looks as they wove between shelves filled with makeup and various other assorted chemicals.
"What's she trying to prove anyway?" Ed said, eyes falling on the containers of lipstick with a scowl. "Why's she wearing earrings and skirts all of a sudden?"
"Because she wants to…look better?" Al suggested, sounding a little lost.
Ed poked at some sample eye shadow and glared at the powdery stain it left on his glove in distaste. "Girls only put that stuff on to look good for other people. And we're the only people she sees and we don't give a damn. Just saying…seems like one big hassle for nothing…"
A moment of silence passed. And then that moment was broken when, for no apparent reason, Al began cracking up. "Oh-Oh I get it, Brother!"
"Get what?" Ed faltered.
Al pointed one large finger at him, still chuckling. "You don't want other people to see her wearing earrings and skirts. Because then other people might notice her. Other guys might notice!"
Suddenly, Ed was feeling very hot around the ears. "Th-That's not it at all! Where do you get off-?"
Al reigned in his laughter with difficulty and set off in another direction. "Fine, Brother. I'll find her something nice and you can stand there and stew in your own denial."
"I'm not in denial!" Ed roared, but Al was long gone. He whirled around and stomped in the opposite direction, determined not to let Al's words get to him. Because Al didn't know what he was talking about! Winry was his friend and his mechanic and there was nothing else there to notice.
Although the earrings and the skirt made it awfully hard not to notice.
Okay, Ed thought uneasily, so he was guilty of looking once or twice. So what? It wasn't like he could help it. The silver earrings in particular had a way of catching his eye, and that in turn usually brought his attention to other things in proximity to the earrings. Like her hair. And eyes. And lips. And then that black skirt Winry had taken to wearing was so short. Ed hadn't seen that much of her legs since their mothers bathed them together as toddlers.
Ed groaned at the direction his thought were taking and banged his forehead against a shelf lined with perfume bottles. It was hormones, plain and simple! That was what he told himself. His body was merely lusting after the most convenient and familiar feminine body at its disposal and giving his rational mind absolutely no say in the matter.
Come to think of it, maybe that was what bothered him so much. Winry was his friend and deserved his respect. Yet his most recent, unguarded thoughts about the mechanic tended to be anything but respectful.
And if he was thinking like this, Ed thought darkly, then he could only imagine what other guys were thinking when they looked at her…
Ed raised his head to see Al peering at him from around the shelf.
"Does Winry wear perfume?" Al inquired innocently. "Have you noticed any on her when she was fixing your automail?"
"How should I know?" Ed scoffed. "She smells like grease! Lots and lots of grease. Why?"
Al held out a sample bottle. "I thought she might like some perfume. But I can't tell which ones smell good, so…"
Ed gulped. "You want me to…pick out perfume for her?"
Al tilted his head and his next words held a teasing note. "Unless you're afraid other people will want to smell her because of it…"
"Gimme the bottle!"
Studiously ignoring Al's quiet chuckle at his agitation, Ed twisted the cap off roughly and took a quick whiff of the yellowish liquid.
"Wait, Brother! I don't think you're supposed to-!"
Ed jerked his head back with a yelp and cradled his stinging nose, holding the bottle as far away from him as possible. "That's disgusting! How can people wear this? Gah, that probably destroyed half my sense of smell right there!"
"Well, you're not supposed to smell the whole thing at once!" Al admonished. "The lady at the counter said girls only put on a tiny bit at a time. You've got to spray a little on your arm-"
"I ain't spraying this on anything."
"Then I'll spray some in the air and you try to smell it."
Al eased the fragile bottle out of his fingers and put the cap back on, spraying a small amount before him. Ed eyed the cloud of mist in distrust before closing his eyes and leaning forward to give it a timid sniff.
Ed sneezed. "Nope. Don't like it."
"Really?" Al asked in confusion. "The lady at the counter said this one was the most popular…"
"It's too sharp," Ed insisted crossly. "I can't even tell what it's supposed to be. Pick something else."
Another bottle was chosen, this one with red-tinted liquid. The best thing Ed could say about it when Al sprayed it was that it didn't burn off all his nose hairs, but it still took a minute for his allergy-fogged brain to decode what it was.
"Smells like roses," Ed said slowly, taking another sniff. "And…cinnamon, I think."
"Oh, I bet that smells nice!" Al said eagerly. "Let's go buy it-"
But Ed shook his head vigorously before Al could finish. "Forget it! Anytime I smell that, I'll get a mental image of her pulling roses out of the oven and sprinkling cinnamon on them and calling it 'dessert'. Knowing her, she'd probably throw milk in with it."
Al's shoulders slumped and he moved on to a lavender perfume. Ed lingered over that one for a full minute before declining. "It's too flowery. Flowers and machine geeks don't mix."
"Brother," Al said slowly as he reached for another bottle. "You do know we're looking for something that Winry will like, right? It doesn't necessarily have to be something that you like."
"Well, it had better be something that I like!" Ed muttered. "I'm the one who gets closest to her anyway…"
Al barely choked off a giggle and Ed flushed when the meaning of his words penetrated. "I mean because of the automail! She's like right there for repairs and I don't want to suffocate and die while she's working!"
"No, of course not," Al snickered. He took a pink perfume off the shelf and sprayed it. "Here, try this one."
"Smells like watery cherries. She can get those at the market for half the price."
"Brother," Al whined, finally losing patience. "Please, just pick one. I'm sure they're all fine!"
Ed crossed his arms in mutiny. "None of them are right! They don't-"
Ed looked away so Al wouldn't read the traitorous thought in his face. They didn't smell like her. He hadn't ever noticed Winry wearing perfume and he was of the opinion that she didn't need it. He honestly didn't mind the stink of sweat and grease that hovered over her for hours after leaving her workroom. It was the aroma of hard work and success and pride, and that in turn made him proud to wield the automail she busted her ass to make on a daily basis.
No perfume company in the world could recreate a scent that held all that and more.
Ed's eyes went wide at a sudden epiphany. "Oh…oh! Al, I've got it!"
"Finally!" Al exclaimed. "So which one are we going with?"
"All of them."
Al froze. "All of them?"
Ed started scooped up bottles in his arms. "Definitely. We'll need every single one for the research stage. Once we've got the basic structure of the chemicals, we'll be able to experiment with different scents and-"
"Brother, what are you talking about?" Al said nervously. "We can't even afford to buy all these!"
"I'll put it on the colonel's tab. He can have the leftovers for all his hussies once we're done."
"That's not a very nice thing to say about the colonel's…lady friends…"
The next week was a grueling one for Ed. Endless experimentation with perfumes in addition to spring's cruelty had not been kind to his ailing respiratory system. His sinuses felt like they were packed to the point of exploding and somehow his nose had gained a tendency to whistle when he tried to breathe through it, a source of endless teasing for Al. The brothers only just managed to finish Winry's gift on time and they arrived in Risembool right on her birthday.
Winry was at the door to greet them as they trudged up the path, earrings and smile both in place as she tied her work overalls around her waist. "Ed, Al! I was worried you wouldn't make it back for my birthday…oh, still have allergies, Ed?"
Ed snorted and shoved a tiny box into her hands. "Here ya go, enjoy."
Behind him, Ed heard his brother give a little huff of disapproval. "He means, 'Happy birthday, Winry! We brought you a gift and we hope you enjoy it.' Loosely translated."
Ed tossed his coat over the back of the couch and sank onto the cushions, resting his aching head in his hand. "Better like it, machine geek."
Winry lifted the lid and blinked at the glass bottle nestled in the tissue paper. She looked up at them with something akin to amazement and then down at the bottle. "This is…"
"We, ah, made it ourselves," Al told her. "But it was mainly Ed's doing. I mean, I don't even know what it smells like, so I'm not quite sure how it turned out."
"You're telling me you two made a perfume?" Winry said uncertainly. She held the bottle up to the light, giving the grayish liquid within a dubious look. "From scratch?"
"Go on, try it," Ed insisted. "Al and I went to a lot of trouble to make it."
Winry shot a decidedly nervous look at them, which irritated Ed to no end. He hadn't sniffed harsh chemicals all week just so she could say something polite, stuff it away in a closet and forget it ever existed!
"Not to be ungrateful or anything," Winry said fearfully, "but did you even know what you were doing? It's not toxic or anything, right?"
"Just try it on already!" Ed snapped. "Trust me, it came out great! Nothing at all like batch twenty-two. Remember that one, Al?"
"The one that made you pass out?" Al inquired.
Winry gave the bottle an alarmed look and then forced a strained smile. "Um…why don't I try it a little later, okay?"
Ed muttered a curse under his breath and dove for the perfume. Winry squeaked when he managed to get a good grip on the bottle, but she refused to let go, and before he knew it they were wrestling around on the couch for possession of the perfume.
"You're not getting off that easy! Put it on already!"
"Brother, it's fine if she doesn't wear it now!"
Ed gave one hard yank and the perfume flew out of their hands completely. The bottle twisted once in the air above their heads and Ed barely had time to register that the cap had come off before he and Winry were both doused in perfume. The liquid seeped into Winry's hair and left a huge, gray stain on Ed's shirt.
Two seconds later, the aroma hit them both and Winry's appalled look reflected Ed's own revulsion.
"Oh my God, Ed this smells disgusting!"
"Holy crap, it must have been fermenting in that bottle!"
"So…you don't like it?" Al asked timidly.
Ed was already sprinting for the bathroom by the time Al finished talking with Winry right on his heels. They hit the door at the same time and got jammed together in the doorway, scrambling over and around each other to reach the sink. Ed turned on the sink and started splashing water in his face, but Winry shoved him aside a moment later and stuffed as much of her hair into the sink as possible.
It only took Ed about five seconds to work out that two people at one sink wasn't going to cut it and he ripped aside the shower curtain behind him. Winry followed him into the shower just as he turned the nozzle and they both yelped when icy water rained down on them and drenched their clothes.
"This is awful!" Winry wailed as she poured a generous dollop of shampoo on both their heads. "It's never going to come out. What made you think I would like this?"
"I didn't make it smell bad on purpose!" Ed roared, scrubbing at his eyes. "Something must have reacted badly with something else after I put the cap on. How the hell was I supposed to know it would turn out like this?"
As he spoke, Ed yanked his shirt off and rung it out under the water. He would probably end up throwing it away now that it was forever stained with the vile perfume. Winry ducked under his arm to get under the falling water, jabbing an elbow into his ribs in the process, and raked her fingers through her hair brutally. She sniffed a few tendrils carefully to see if the odor was gone and elbowed him again.
"What gave you the idea to make the perfume anyway?" Winry cried, once more reaching for the shampoo. "You couldn't just buy me some like a normal person? Or does everything have to be an experiment these days, alchemy freak?"
Ed spat some shampoo out of his mouth and turned so he could glower at the back of her head properly. "Hey, I tried to find a good perfume! I must have smelled every damn perfume in that store and nothing was good enough, so don't tell me I didn't try!"
Winry stopped scrubbing abruptly, heedless of the white foam still covering her head. Slowly, she turned back to him with wide eyes. "You tried them all? You went through all that effort just for my birthday?"
"Well, yeah," Ed muttered. "So what?"
The mechanic gave him an appraising look and finally shook her head with a hopeless laugh. "I…I just can't picture you testing out a bunch of different perfumes. I can only imagine what you smelled like when you left that store!"
Winry leaned back against the wall with a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter. Ed scowled at her reaction at first, but eventually sighed and propped his arm on the wall, striking a casual pose. "You can't say I ain't dedicated," he retorted smugly.
Winry nodded with a quick smile up at him. Then her eyes drifted down to his chest briefly and a dark flush spread over her cheeks. Ed looked down at his shampoo-lathered chest in bewilderment. What was she blushing about? It wasn't like Winry hadn't seen him without his shirt before.
But not in a tiny shower with barely six inches of space between them. And thinking of that only brought to mind how close they actually were. The water was just beginning to warm up, heating the air between them and sending little clouds of steam spiraling throughout the bathroom. Ed could see every little droplet forming on Winry's silver earrings and clinging to her eyelashes. Her hair was thoroughly saturated and plastered to her shoulders and chest where little globs of shampoo were still dribbling down her skin…
…and vanishing under the scanty tube top.
Ed lifted his eyes up to the ceiling hastily. Nope, he was not looking in that direction or thinking of how badly he would like to follow those trails of shampoo. And he was definitely not thinking of how this was practically the embodiment of last week's fantasy involving water and legs and-
"Edward," Winry asked hesitantly, "do you want me to start wearing perfume?"
Ed looked back at her face, keeping his eyes away from those perfect lips with difficulty. "What? What are you talking about?"
Winry dropped her gaze. One callused finger began twisting a bit of hair around. "It's just…you don't normally get things like that for me. And you seemed really eager to have me wear it. I thought…"
"No!" Ed blurted out. "I mean-I don't really-I kind of-"
Winry fixed him with a penetrating look that held nothing but honest curiosity. "So you don't want me to wear perfume?"
Ed swiped his bangs out of his face awkwardly, looking anywhere but at her. "Um, only if you want to, I guess. I don't care either way, but…well, if you're going to start going all girly on me…"
"All girly?" Winry repeated, sounding affronted. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Ed leaned forward and pinched one of her earrings between his finger and thumb. "This. The earrings and the girl clothes and stuff. What's a mechanic need all that for? I guess I figured if you're going to start wearing it anyway, then we should give you something that would remind you of us, and that way you wouldn't forget that you're still just a machine geek inside…or something like that…"
He probably should have stopped talking somewhere in the middle of all that because now she was looking outright insulted and ready to elbow him again. Winry spun on her heel and shut off the water, peeling the curtain back to step out on the linoleum. Ed watched her towel the last of the shampoo from her hair at a loss.
"Ed, dry off your automail," Winry said sharply.
Ed glanced down at his arm and grimaced. His pants were thoroughly soaked and would be hell to peel off his metal leg. He reached around Winry for the other towel and ran it over his arm. Without warning, Winry took his automail hand and began rubbing a corner of her towel between the fingers to dry the joints. Ed swallowed dryly at the sudden close proximity.
"Edward," Winry cut in, meeting his eyes. She skimmed her palm over the metal of his arm. "My work is always going to be the most important thing in my life. This is the most important thing. I won't ever lose sight of that. But...I can like other things too, right?"
"Yeah, sure you can," Ed said with a slow grin. "S'long as you don't start dolling yourself up and going out for a night on the town when you should be working on my automail."
There was the elbow. Ed rubbed his ribs as he stepped back away and pulled the towel over his head, drying his hair vigorously.
"And just so you know," Winry added, "I think of you and Al every time I put on my earrings. That's why I'm wearing them, not to be all 'dolled up' as you put it."
"Huh," Ed mumbled from under the towel. "Well, good then! Wouldn't want to think you're putting holes in your ears for some stupid girly reason like wanting to look sexy or-"
A little whooshing sound made Ed snatch the towel off his head and blink at Winry in shock. He had become very well acquainted with that sound last week in the perfume store and it still made his stomach turn. Sure enough, Winry was in the middle of spraying a tiny bit of perfume on her neck. Ed's jaw dropped open at the sight of the bottle, much smaller than the one he and Al had given to her. The perfume inside was shaded with only the lightest tinge of peach.
"You've gotta be kidding!" Ed spluttered. "You already have perfume?"
Winry set the bottle back in the cabinet with a superior smirk playing out on her lips. "I've had that for years. My mother used to wear it. I just don't use it very often because it doesn't mix well with the oil I use on automail. But since you're not here to get your automail fixed…"
"Uh, right," Ed muttered.
Winry took a brush from the cabinet and set about getting her hair back in order, that damnable smile still in place. Ed hung back with the towel still slung over his shoulders, narrow eyes switching from the bottle to the spot on her neck where she had sprayed the perfume. Sure, the bottle would be far safer, but…
"What?" Winry asked warily, staring at his reflection.
Ed felt his mouth twist into a grimace. Quickly, before he got a chance to back out, he took one step toward her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pulling her back right up against his chest.
"E-Ed?" Winry exclaimed. "What-?"
She fell silent when he pressed his nose against her neck and inhaled deeply. The fragrance that flooded his senses was…interesting, to say the least. It didn't smell like flowers, thankfully, but it still had a bit of a natural feel to it. Winry's perfume was more like newly grown tree leaves mixed with peaches. But it was the combination of that perfume and her that Ed liked best. The two came together in a heady aroma that made him at once lightheaded and energetic.
This was what spring should smell like.
Ed smiled against Winry's shoulder, not daring to look at her face in the mirror. The way her cheek had suddenly grown unbearably hot against his own said it all. "Smells good," he said huskily.
He retreated from the bathroom as quickly as honor would allow and made his way up the stairs to his and Al's room. And he thought that maybe, just maybe, he could learn to like spring after all.
An explosive sneeze as he passed by an open window changed his mind.