But wait, there's MORE!? This chapter takes the place of 'Letting Go' and is the ending that was originally written for this story. Both endings were a bit 'Lady or the Tiger', but in the end I felt 'letting Go' better fit how Winry had evolved through the story...I liked this ending a lot, and even though it no longer seemed to fit the rest of the story, I didn't want it to be lost, so here it is... Please R&R, let me know what you think

.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.o0o.

(Alt) Chapter 10

Clean Slate

She opened her eyes to a view of the cavern roof, then two cherubic faces framed in gold entered her field of view.

"Ed! Al!" she cried pulling them down to her.

While she hadn't wanted to admit it to herself, she hadn't thought she would ever see them again...

"He did it! He did it! Where is he? I have to thank him" she said as she hugged them both tightly, praying this wasn't a dream.

"Where's who" Ed asked when she had let them up

"Mustang, I could kiss him! He fixed the gateway and brought you home" she said pushing herself up off the ground, it certainly must be rough being inside a transmutation circle this size when it was fired up, she felt like she'd been run over by a tank.

"Winry, are you feeling alright?" Al asked, exchanging a concerned look with his brother

"Of course I'm feeling alright, you're here! You're home! I mean I guess I got a little banged up when he powered up the circle, and just before that I tripped and scraped my knee..." Her voice trailed off.

Before this moment she'd only had eyes for the boys, but just now as she was gesturing to the knee she had scraped, she had looked down and instead of the dark blue work pants she had been wearing she saw a strange pair of baggy olive brown pants rolled up at the cuff

"I don't understand, was this some part of the alchemy? Where's Mustang? He'd better be able to explain this, that was my favorite pair of work pants!"

She looked over to the place beside the array where she had seen him last, but experienced an inexplicable pang as she saw that spot was empty, why were her eyes prickling as though she was about to cry?

"Where did he go?" she said painfully pushing herself to her feet "he can't have gone far, MUSTANG!" she called out.

The boys rose with her looking more concerned by the minute

"Winry, he stayed behind" Edward said, his tone was a bit patronizing, which had always aggravated her.

"Stayed behind where? He was just there a minute ago, see..."

She pointed to the spot where his knife still lay on the ground

"Winry, you were there for over a week" Ed said slowly, his tone was really starting to get on her nerves

"Where? Where was I, Ed? Not that you would know anyway, but I haven't gone anywhere except work in months, the rest of the time I've been here... in fact just before you got here I fell and scraped my knee trying to chase Mustang off because I thought he was some kind of souvenir hunter, you can look it's probably still blee-"

But the word froze in her throat as she pulled up the strange pant leg to reveal her wound, because there before her eyes was a dry, well healed scab that was at least a few days old...

"What's going on, where's Mustang?" she said slowly in a soft voice that had started to shake.

She wished she knew why her throat tightened up reflexively each time she said his name. She saw Ed's eyes soften into a strange sadness.

"You really don't remember, do you"

But Al answered him before she could ask what he was talking about

"No, brother, she doesn't. She hasn't even noticed that we've changed..."

"Well of course I know you've changed, but it's only been two years you haven't changed that much!" she said defensively, but the boys only exchanged another knowing glance, which she was really getting sick of.

"Winry we've changed a whole lot more than you seem to realize."

Then after rummaging in his pocket a moment, Ed said

"I think it's time we go see Riza"

.o0o.

Though she hid it well, Riza was shocked to say the least when she saw who had come knocking on her door at this hour of the night. But she had recovered quickly and ushered them into her apartment, holding Black Hayate (who'd gotten huge since last they'd seen him) back with her foot as she closed the door behind them.

The boys looked well, they'd grown into fine young men. But Winry seemed lost in a fog... she sat on the couch, starring down into her reflection on the blade of a knife, Mustang's knife, transfixed by it, as she struggled with her awful confusion.

Though the date was still the same one she remembered waking up on this morning, Ed and Al claimed she had been some where... the other side of the gate they said,... for nearly a week, and the evidence on her body seemed to support their claim.

There were wounds that had all but healed, her scraped knee of course, but also a cut she'd gotten at work this morning, that was now fully healed... and it wasn't just the wounds that had healed, a whole host of bruises, cuts, and scrapes in various stages of healing had suddenly appeared all over her body, though she no memory of receiving them... And some, like the clearly defined hand prints that wrapped around each of her upper arms, she was sure she would have remembered incurring... Finally there was her clothing... She had racked her brain but could not recall ever having owned clothes like the ones she wore...

Try as she might she could not remember anything from the moment when she saw Mustang activate the circle, 'til the moment she had woken up in it... at some point the boys had begun to babble at Riza about gates and sacrifice and time, but she was just too distracted, too exhausted, to comprehend any of it.

Her head was pounding so she closed her eyes, then without at all meaning to, she fell asleep. But her dreams were just as bizarre and disturbing as the day had been... she was relieved when Ed gently shook her awake, not only because he had released her from her dreams, but because he was not a dream himself.

"Riza is going to take us to the office"

Flashing him a weak smile, she nodded and rose stiffly from the low slung couch. It did not take them long to reach their destination, about twenty minutes was all, but when they did the cool of the late summer morning had helped to ease her headache somewhat. Though she got a chill as they entered the empty office, it had been years since she'd been back here.

They soon found what they had come for. The letter, addressed to Riza, had been right where he'd told Ed it would be, with it had been a will. That more than even the letter, spoke to the finality of his decision.

They all remained silent as Riza sat down to read them. She finished the letter first, and though she hadn't shed a tear, there was no denying the glimmer in her eyes as she passed it over to Winry.

"I think you should read this too"

She complied, sinking into a chair near one of the other desks as she began. The letter read almost like some bizarre sort of suicide note...

In it he first apologized to Riza, then expressed his intent to leave this plain, and trade himself for the brothers. He'd gone on to explain to her that there were a great many things he'd regretted doing in his life. Further stating that, as he had accomplished most everything he'd set out to do in this world, he felt duty bound to try and fix some of the mistakes he'd made along the way, and the one that came foremost to his mind, the one that seemed most possible to fix, had been the loss of the Elric brothers.

He related the story of the chance meeting with Winry in the graveyard, as a means of giving perspective to his decision, his obsession... finally, He reminded Riza that no matter how this turned out, he would not, could not, come back. He'd then begged Riza's forgiveness for not having told her in person, and expressed the hope that he might also obtain a modicum of forgiveness from Winry, should his attempt to rescue the boys prove successful.

By the time she had finished she too had teared up, though she was not nearly so shy about them as Riza had been. They were streaming down her cheeks when she looked up to find the rest of them looking at her expectantly

"But I already forgave him" she said quietly, as she failed to stifle a sob. "I forgave him a long time ago..." she wept openly, heart aching at the thought that she had been the cause of this...

A heavy mantle of silence descended on them as the brothers each in turn read the letter as well. Brushing her thumb across the well worn, embossed cover of the watch, Riza absorbed the implications of it all, then finally broke the silence, as she turned and fixed the brothers in her gaze.

"So what will you do now, Ed?"

"Well I had thought of handing in my resignation, effective immediately, but that might be a bit difficult, considering my CO is now MIA and won't be able to sign off on it..."

"Don't worry about it, Ed"

"Huh"

"This letter is dated three days hence, so for now, as far as I'm concerned he's just out sick, but I'm sure he will be happy to sign off on your resignation"

"How?"

She laughed

"Oh ye of little faith...I've had years of practice forging Roy's signature, if I hadn't, he would have been court marshaled long ago, he never was the paperwork type..."

.o0o.

She stood looking out across the array, still pondering what could have happened on the other side... They had come back to the place she'd called home for so long to pack up what little belongings she had. They would be headed back to Risembul in a few hours, to finally begin a life that had been put off for so long.

She heard him approaching from behind, she still recognized that shuffling gait, even after five years of it's absence. He wrapped his arms around her waist, and rested his chin on her shoulder. She expected him to speak, but he did not, so finally she decided to break the silence herself.

"You're different since you came back, you know... You seem calmer than you did... More patient."

He sighed giving a small introspective smile, as his eyes seemed momentarily to loose focus.

"I think I finally understand what my father went through, to live so long yet appear unchanged, it gives one... a unique perspective..."

Turning his head, he studied her face for a moment, then a large grin broke out across his face and he laid his head against hers, nuzzling his nose into the hair beside her ear.

"You don't know how much I've missed you" he sighed softly into her ear, the brush of his warm breath across it giving her goose bumps...

"No, but I know how much I've missed you" She answered, then leaned into his embrace.

.o0o.

Now she sat cross legged at the edge of the circle, carefully clutching his knife like an amulet not far from where they had found it discarded, and again tried desperately to remember. It had been over a year and a half, but as she looked out on one of the last views Roy Mustang had ever seen of this world, she found it vaguely disturbing that so little had changed.

She still had no memory of the events leading up to Ed and Al's return, just a lingering sense that something great had been lost... Something that translated into a tightening of her throat and a prickle at the corner of her eyes, whenever she thought or spoke of him... And while she knew instinctively that it didn't come from their dark shared past, she could not put her finger on a reason for the intensity of her grief. Only that some nights her dreams supplied fleeting answers that faded maddeningly away the moment she woke, leaving her even more perplexed.

But now as she sat trying again to puzzle out the mystery of it, she felt her son begin to squirm in the cradle of her lap and arm, wishing to be let down to employ his newly discovered mobility and the freedom it granted him.

He was beautiful. The wisps of golden hair he got from her, and she was sure that look of determination in his dark eyes came from his father. Just like Ed, he was adventurous, and willful. He made his opinions clearly known even though he could barely speak yet. All of which entertained his father and doting uncle to no end, though it sometimes exasperated her. Most of all, though, he filled her with joy, helping her to let go of the past, and leave confusion and sadness that lay there, behind. Whenever she began to feel muddled, he was there wriggling into or out of her lap, giggling devilishly, giving her tiny hugs and reminding her to keep looking forward, not back. She only wished that his name sake would have been able to see him just once and known the good he had done her...

Finally giving in to her son's ennui, she rose and walked to her husband who stood waiting a touch more patiently than her son, at the edge of the square. He smiled drawing them both into a tight embrace as they approached, then as she glanced once more across the array, she knew that this was the last time.

Sure they would return to Central for visits from time to time, Aunties Sheska, Hawkeye, and Gracia would have nothing less, to say nothing of big sister Elycia... but they would not come here again. He was not here, and she no longer wished to associate this place with his memory... This was a tomb after all, and a tomb is no place for the living...

.o0o.

As the weight fell away from his chest, he opened his eyes, and saw his would be attacker slump to the floor. Then footfalls rushed towards him, and he was looking up into the faces of the two men he trusted most in this world.

"That's the last of 'em I think... Ay, Mustang, what's with the look, he didn't brain you first, did he?"

He gave a weak smile

"Perfect timing as usual, Harper, I owe you one" he said quietly.

They glanced curiously around the now empty room

"You owe me a lot more than one, where's Winry and the Elrics?" Harper asked.

Both men were looking around as though they expected them to hop out of a shadow at any moment, and with a start, Roy remembered they had no reason believe any differently.

"Gone." He said simply.

"Gone? Gone where?" Harper asked, regarding him seriously, but mustang remained silent.

"You're not going to tell us, are you?" Carter said, clasping his wrist and pulling him to his feet

"No" mustang said softly after a long pause.

He kept his tone neutral as he used his uninjured hand to brush the dust from his knees. Despite what they almost certainly represented, he knew these particular men were not in any way his enemy.

"Well then at least tell me this, are they safe?"

Mustang felt the weight of both men's eyes on him as they waited for his reply.

"I hope so..." He answered quietly, then looked up.

Harper was moving off into the room scanning the ground to take in every detail as he went. Momentarily alone, Mustang stepped closer to the Sargent

"Carter, I know it'll force your hand, but I'm not going help you get them back. I saw an opportunity and I helped them escape. It was something I had to do, and I don't regret it..."

"I expected as much... Roy, I might be able to hold them off for a little while, but eventually I will have to turn you over to army intelligence, there's nothing I can do to stop that"

"I understand and I won't impugn you for it, I knew the consequences of this going in."

Carter sighed, looking older than his years.

"Alright, will you a least point me in a direction they didn't go so I can start some semblance of a search...?" he asked, then leaning still closer carter mumbled through gritted teeth in a voice so low, mustang could barely hear it "and do me a favor, will you? Make that the last time you say you helped them escape. You heard an enemy soldier approaching, and you told them to run while you stayed here to hold him off. You don't know what happened to them after that..."

Carter gave him a meaningful look, and briefly tilted his head to indicate Harper. It was clearly meant as a reminder that he wouldn't be the only one hurt by careless words, even if they were the truth. Closing his eyes he nodded his understanding of that unspoken warning. Carter mirrored it then stepped back to a more comfortable distance. As he did so Mustang looked up at his friend. Harper, unaware of their conversation, had made his way to the center of the circle and now crouched near the point where Winry and the boys had stood just moments ago, brushing his fingers along the chalk line.

"Any idea what these markings are?" he asked aloud to no one in particular, as he stood to take in the complexity of the immense circle "I don't remember them being here before, and what was that blue glow just now?"

He now fixed his gaze on mustang, who gave a lopsided smile and replied.

"You wouldn't believe me If I told you."

He saw Harper glance down at the edge of the circle where a partial hand print marred the chalk line.

"You can't be sure of that until you've tried" he said, crossing to stand before mustang.

Taking him by the wrist, he turned Mustang's left hand palm up and studied it, noting the smudge of white chalk across it's bloodied surface.

"What really happened here, Mustang? Does it have anything to do with those markings?"

Despite his clearly stated intentions on the subject, he could see Harper was not going to let it go.

"Yes" Mustang grudgingly answered with a sigh.

When it became clear that he was not going to continue on his own, Harper pried.

"Care to explain?"

A touch of frustration colored the curiosity in his voice. The man did not give up.

"N-... Maybe,..." he finally relented with a slight smile curling the corner of his mouth "but not here, and not now...I doubt you'll believe me anyway..."

A smile spread widely across Harper's youthful face

"Then you might be surprised. Come on," he said clapping Mustang on the shoulder "Let's get out of here, so I can take care of that hand"

Mustang looked down at his injured hand and smiled sadly at what it represented... This world was his home now, his alone.

"Alright, lets go"

.o0o.

They interrogated him on and off for more than a week, trying to poke holes in his story from any and all angles. At one point in a joking manner, he'd told them the truth, the Whole truth, or at least as much of it as he could get out before they cut him off... He'd made it about a third of the way through an abbreviated saga of transmutation circles and alchemy and alternative universes before the interrogator had lost his patience and screamed at him.

But aside from that one laps of composure due to the tedium of telling the story over and over, he'd stuck to the outline carter had laid out for him. Eventually albeit, reluctantly, they'd reached the determination that he'd done nothing wrong...

It had been a great relief because he knew that if he was off the hook, then Harper was as well. But they'd been left worrying over carter's fate for a few more days before it was determined by the investigating body that no blame should be assigned to him either.

He had done everything in his power to protect the prisoners by removing them from the initial site of the ambush, and mounting a direct assault on the troops that tried to flank them. Considering their resources, or the lack there of, nothing more could have been done to maintain or protect them.

And though it went unrecorded because they did not wish to sully the name of a dead man, Carter was privately informed by the lead investigator that they laid any blame for what had gone wrong on General Buxton's lack of field savvy and failure to follow protocol. He had then been released from custody posthaste with a commendation for his actions.

.o0o.

Mustang had only been half right about whether they would believe him... A few days after Carter's acquittal and two weeks to the day after Winry and the Elric's disappearance, they met at a table in front of a place that might once have been a bistro. Sitting quietly, the two men listened attentively as former Colonel Roy Mustang told the tale.

Carter had accompanied Harper, it seemed, simply out of curiosity... and from the look on his face when Roy'd finished, he was clearly of the opinion that his story had more to do with taking a rifle butt to the skull, than it had to do with reality... Kindly he had kept that opinion to himself, but true to his word, Harper actually seemed to have believed him...

After carter had departed, Mustang asked Harper why he'd been so quick to believe.

"Two things, the first being that there is no place here called Amestris, I know, I checked. And army Intelligence couldn't make heads or tails of those emblems and insignias Carter took off your jacket. They weren't like anything anyone had ever seen..."

"And the second?..."

"I told you before that I was a tracker, and since I got over here, being able to track saved my ass more than a few times. So when I scouted the perimeter of that ruin I should have seen your tracks leading in, but I didn't, nor did I see any scuffs or brush marks or any other indications of track covering. So I could not for the life of me, figure out how you two had gotten there, with out leaving a single trace any where else in or out side the building... Then at the camp, the floor was dusty and you four were covered in mud. But even though you said they ran away, Winry's tracks only led to the center of that circle then just stopped, with no signs of back tracking, and no tracks at all that led out of the room... but even that isn't the real reason I believe you... do you know why we searched that ruin the day we found you?"

"I always assumed you had orders to"

Harper shook his head

"the night before we found you, we were camped in the woods down below. I had the second watch, and the rest of the men were asleep when light up on the bluff caught my attention. I bearly had time to register the circle hanging in mid air before it vanished again, and I knew the rest of the guys would never believe me so I only told them about seeing lights up there, but the image of that circle stayed in my mind... a circle suspiciously like the one drawn in chalk on the floor of that room... the circle, the blue-white light, the fact that in one case you two seemed to have dropped out of the sky without the aid of a parachute, and in the other three fully grown people seemed to have vanished in the middle of a room. As strange as this must seem to carter, you know that old Sherlock Holmes quote about 'what ever is left, however improbable' being the answer? Well, that's why I believe you... Your explanation, as improbable as it seems, is the only one I've heard so far that fits what I know to be true..."

He finished with that same unassuming cockeyed grin that had first drawn Mustang to him, and mustang couldn't help but smile back.

.o0o.

Now a little over a year later, he sat at that same table as he did most every afternoon, sipping coffee. The war was over and the region was healing, the bistro had finally reopened just a few months ago and for the moment seemed to survive mostly on the patronage of servicemen still stationed here, but the local economy was slowly improving as the rebuilding continued. He finished his coffee and dropped a few coins on the table.

He'd been lucky... with both Carter and Harper's help, not only had he been cleared, but he'd also been able to establish an identity and even secure a job with the provisional government here. The word of the two men had been enough for them to overlook his somewhat hazy past, and as it turned out being fluent in both English and German, along with having a military background, seemed to make him something of an asset.

So he had become a liaison between the government and the locals, for the most part that meant simply acting as a translator and occasionally resolving minor disputes. Fairly Menial, compared to his past duties, but to his vast astonishment, he found that he'd come to quite enjoy it.

It had been hard at first, as winter set in. Supplies had run low, exacting a heavy toll of suffering and misery, and as a liaison he'd been there to see it first hand... It had been the only time he'd ever questioned his choice to remain here.

Finally, thankfully, the cold had broken, and spring had crept onto the land carrying with it hope and the promise of renewal. Now as winter again stole silently toward them, things were far from perfect, but it could hardly be said that they were not much improved... and he derived a great deal of satisfaction from his part in it.

He gave a small wave to the owner as he stepped out onto the sidewalk, it was lonely here... Though cleared of any and all charges, in the minds of his coworkers, the possibilities that were left open by his hazy background, kept any associations closer than bare acquaintance from forming, and despite his actions on their behalf, his association with the provisional government made him less than trustworthy in the eyes of the locals. He often found himself missing Carter's squad, and looked forward to the letters that arrived every few weeks from Harper, who'd safely returned home to his wife seven months ago... According to his last letter, they were all well and expecting their second child sometime around Christmas. A smile curled his lips. He certainly didn't waste any time.

He resisted the urge to pull out the photo of a family not his,... the one of a man with an easy smile and youthful face holding dark haired toddler who's eyes were so like her father's, and a serenely smiling, very pregnant women... it had arrived with the last letter, and for reasons he couldn't even begin to explain to himself, had immediately made itself at home in his wallet. Even more surprising still, was the relative ease with which Harper had managed to secure a promise from him that he would visit them the moment things settled down here enough for him to get away.

He shook his head in wonder at how different his life had become. He realized now that what he'd seen in her that day, almost two years ago, may well have been an apparition, the reflection of himself lost in her eyes.

Only drink, or devotion to his mission, had ever been able to quiet his demons. Having completed his mission back then, he'd lost his purpose and foundered... unable to keep the ghosts of his past at bay, he'd become a ghost himself, drifting aimlessly through life as he waited numbly for its end... but that morning near the grave of his closest friend, he had found a new purpose.

Still, even that might not have been enough, for he doubted he would have succeeded in this had she not been there... by falling with him she had kept him from falling apart. It was the one truth that had been evident to him for some time, and it was undeniable... She had saved him.

God how he missed her... Thought about her just about every waking hour of every day... Completing his mission hadn't cured him of that. Sometimes (if he was lucky) he would dream of her, relive their one perfect day together, it was painful and sweet, and from these he always woke up aching anew.

But in others, ones that had begun to come in recent months and felt oddly similar to the ones he'd had leading up to the outworlder invasion, he saw her cradling a small boy, barely more than an infant. A child with gold hair like his mother's and dark eyes he was strangely certain came from him... A son, their son, and the knowledge that he would never meet the boy, or touch him, or hear him laugh hurt more than anything.

He'd gone a little crazy then... He believed he would have worn his fingers down to bloody stubs, in an attempt to scratch his way through the gate with his bare hands, had it been possible. For several days he'd teetered on the precipice, that black bottomless pit that threateningly occupied the center of his life, yawning wide, ready to swallow him once again. But he'd promised her... and keeping his promises meant more than anything to him, so slowly he'd wrested back control.

Besides what good would it have done to go back now... he couldn't hope to recreate the circumstances that had brought them together, and if all had gone as he believed it had, she and the Elrics had been safely returned to Amestris. She would have no memory of their affair and the brothers hadn't had any knowledge of it to begin with. So she could not possibly know the child was theirs, and they would have no reason to suspect it. The boy would likely be raised by Ed, and he supposed he found that knowledge comforting, because despite how impulsive he could be, he knew Ed would make as good a father as he had a brother.

He'd reminded himself that, by giving up his future he had insured their survival... By trading their love, he'd agreed to carry this burden, the loss and sorrow of their parting, alone. And more than anything else, he believed that was as it should be... He'd finally managed to stop hurting her... he'd traded it all not just for their survival, but for her well being...

No, the only thing he regretted was not having just a little more time, but days, months, even years would still not have been enough, and he knew it, so he'd pushed these thoughts of things he could never have away... choosing instead to focus on the good he could do in this world, there was plenty to be done, and he had plenty left to atone for, even if their faces were not as starkly focused or contrasted in his head as the Rockbell's had been...

Hands deeply in his pockets, he quickly made his way down the street, as the mid afternoon sun lit everything with a golden glow. The walk might have been have been more enjoyable, had he not managed to make himself late for his next appointment by lingering over his coffee at the bistro. It had been some time since he'd passed this way, here and there he saw concrete evidence of the reconstruction effort, shoppes that had sprouted up during the last few months.

When he first heard it, he'd brushed it off as coincidence combined with his lonely imagination, but that notion too was quickly brushed aside as he drew closer... what cemented the realization for him was the location that the voice emanated from... A garage...

He felt a sudden surge of irrational anger that mixed with blind hope and the fear of almost certain disappointment, as he came around the corner and spotted an overall clad figure shoulders deep under the hood of a truck... The voice alone would have been enough to convince him, but he had also caught sight of a blond ponytail tucked underneath itself, it was too much...

"Just what the hell do you think you're doing back here!?"

The figure before him stood up quickly in surprise, too quickly to remember or avoid the edge of the hood above her... letting loose a very unladylike oath in German, she dropped her wrench and brought her hand to the already forming knot, then spun on him, fire sparking in her eyes

"What the HELL is your Pro-"

Her voice cut off as she focused on him and froze. Looking at her, he felt the hairs on the back of his arms and neck rise up in goose bumps.

...But it wasn't her,...

It was, but it wasn't, was it..? This girl before him was older... She was suddenly tense, and now there was a real fear in her downward cast eyes but no signs of recognition... What the hell was going on here... Her voice cut through the turmoil playing out in his head.

"Please except my apology, I didn't realize who you were, forgive my impertinence..." This she said quickly in heavily accented English, though she was clearly uncomfortable with the language.

All the wind went out of him... He knew this song and dance, He'd grown uncomfortably accustomed to experiencing it whenever he dealt with the locals, but from her, it was too much to bear, Even if it wasn't Her... Gathering his composure, he found his voice.

"No, you were right to be angry, after the way I charged in here"

He spoke in German, keeping his tone as neutral as possible. He hoped it might ease some of her fears of him... The fates must not be through punishing him yet... and they were indeed crueler then he had thought possible, to place her before him like this.

"I really made an ass of myself, I'm sorry" He continued.

Doing his best to hide the sadness in it, he gave her a sheepish apologetic smile, and after a moment to his immense relief, the stiffness in her shoulders began to ease.

"How's your head?" He asked after a moment.

He'd caught himself glancing at her hands, an odd relief flooding through him as he saw the there was no ring there, nor the evidence of one ever having been there, no pale line or girdling at the base of either third finger... Realizing he would understand her, she reverted to her native language

"It Hurts" she said, screwing up one side of her face as she gave it an experimental rub

"Sorry about that..."

She glared at him

"You said that already"

He nodded his acknowledgment.

"Yes, but I am..." He said, looking quite sorry indeed

Realizing after a moment that he really was, she sighed and her anger fell away

"Don't worry about it too much, that's hardly the first time it happened, and its unlikely to be the last either..." she said reaching down to where her wrench had fallen

"You're a mechanic." he said softly, he'd almost said 'too'.

At that statement she came to an abrupt halt, hunching her shoulders and bowing her head as though she expected to be struck

"Yes,...Is that a problem?" she said weakly not looking at him

"No, not at all" He answered, his voice sincere, but mildly perplexed, having forgotten for the moment where he was and the fact that some people here took a dim view of women in a trade like this.

"Why would it be?"

Cautiously she looked up at him, forgetting the wrench on the floor for the time being.

"You really don't mind that I'm a mechanic?"

Still confused by her demeanor, he answered honestly.

"No," he answered, smiling ruefully "actually I would have expected nothing less of you."

That answer clearly surprised her and she cocked her head

"Really?..."

Her face a mask of disbelief, then for a brief of moment, it was replaced by the slightest stirrings of a smile, but before it could bloom, it was quashed as something else occurred to her

"Then why did you yell at me?"

He looked down for a moment, and sighed.

"It's stupid really,you see... I-"

He licked his lips and started again

"I thought you were someone else..."

He looked back up at her, with a sad half smile.

"You remind me very much of someone I knew..."

But before he could really focus on her, the clock on the wall behind her drew his attention, and a quick check of his wristwatch assured him that it was correct.

"Shit" he swore under his breath.

She gave him an odd look. Of all the times for this to happen.

"I'm sorry, I really have to go, but it's been very nice talking to you."

He almost turned to leave, then on instinct, and before the courage could fail him, he began to speak.

"Could I... Would you...?"

Squeezing his eyes shut, he pursed his lips for a moment to return some order to his mind, then with a deep breath he continued.

"Could we meet here when I'm done? It shouldn't take long..."

Finally opening his eyes he looked hopefully at her. She blinked at him for a second, clearly surprised by how forward his request had been, but finally she gave a hesitant nod. A grin broke widely across his face, and he nodded in reply as he turned toward the sidewalk to go. Abruptly he halted mid step and turned back.

"I never asked your name?"

She cocked her head slightly then answered

"Gwen"

He repeated it silently to himself, then to no one in particular he said.

"That's a nice name..."

After a moment he shook himself out of his reverie

"Be seeing you" he said with conviction and a genuine smile, before he disappeared around the corner and down the street.

.o0o.

For nearly a minute after he was gone she stood there agog, then finally she reached down to retrieve the fallen tool. Feeling the lump at the back of her head begin to throb as she straightened, she walked back to the truck.

"That" she said to her self as she leaned under the hood "Was one of the stranger conversations I've ever had..."

With out knowing it she allowed a smile to creep out onto her lips

"At least he was handsome..."

Her uncle, who had remained silent through the entire exchange now finally spoke up

"You'd better watch your self, Wendy, I think he likes you"

She let out a snort clearly indicative of how likely she thought that was.

"Yeah," she replied in a sweetly sarcastic tone "I've always heard that men go for a girl with grease on her nose..."

.o0o.

It was already dark by the time Mustang escaped his meeting with the local builder on contract with them to rebuild the old city hall. It had been nothing but one long tedious rehash of whether or not the deadline set by the provisional government was reasonable or even possible... the same argument, almost word for word, they'd had two months ago, but this time Mustang found it nearly impossible to concentrate.

His mind kept wandering back to thoughts of that strange yet familiar girl he'd met in the garage. Finally, claiming he was feeling unwell, he'd excused himself and beat a hasty retreat, it wasn't as if he had any control over the deadline anyhow.

Now as that garage came back into view, he saw that it was all but dark inside. Sighing, he stopped to look up at the face of the newly occupied building, hoping she was still inside.

"So you came back..." said a voice to his left thickly accented in German.

Startled he spun to see a man who reminded him a great deal of Izumi's husband, standing at the mouth of the narrow alley beside the garage. Vaguely he remembered him as the quiet figure sitting behind the counter in the garage earlier

"She's still in there, but I thought you and I ought to have a little chat before you take her anywhere" the man continued apparently not expecting an answer to his first statement

"Alright."

Mustang spoke in German, keeping his tone friendly,

"I know your type, soldier. Just looking for a little fun before you go home, and you don't care if you hurt some defenseless local girl getting it"

His eyes were dark and accusatory. Feeling things immediately begin to slide fast in the wrong direction, Mustang attempted to defuse this line of conversation.

"Wi-Gwen, is hardly defenseless, in fact I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't been in uniform, we both would have been going home with a headache tonight..." He stammered, holding out his hands in supplication, then dropping one as he ran the other through his spiky black hair. He shot the man what he hoped was an ingratiating smile, but his face did not soften. The usual Mustang charm wasn't working... Dropping his arm to his side, he tried a different tack, his face grew serious and his voice became quiet and sincere as he spoke

"But that's beside the point, I think you've misconstrued my intentions... at the moment I want nothing more than to talk... where things go from there should really be up to her... don't you think?"

The man gave him a long look, thinning his lips he seemed to take Roy's measure before he finally spoke.

"I hope for your sake and her's that you mean that, she's a sweet girl,... to good to be used for the amusement of some bored soldier, and don't think for a second that your uniform will matter a damn to me if you hurt her, she's already been hurt enough..."

That brought Mustang up short, as his mind ran through the numerous possible ways a girl like her could be hurt in the course of a war and its aftermath, he shuddered to think, but he knew he must ask

"What do you mean hurt enough?"

The man gave him a calculating look then with a deep sigh he answered

"Her mother and father were-"

Shot by a soldier his brain supplied, before the man could complete his sentence.

"-Killed in the allied bombings. When they died, I took her in, I'm the only family she's got left, and I will protect her no matter what the cost..."

The clear implications of that last statement were not lost on Mustang, but he did not allow his gaze to waver or move away

"I see"

Instead for the first time during this exchange, the man looked away, down at his hands that had of their own volition curled into fists

"I hope that you do,..." he said softly

He turned and began to walk away, then paused. Over his shoulder he said

"You never gave your name..."

Mustang realized that was true

"It's Mustang, Roy Mustang."

The man nodded once then spoke again

"Well Roy Mustang, my niece may appear happy and strong, but it's a facade... behind it is a fragile girl who's been badly hurt... try to keep that in mind when you're with her... Now go, she's waiting for you inside."

With that he continued up the road without another backward glance. For a long moment, Mustang stood watching him go as he absorbed what the man had said, then finally he turned and knocked at the small door beside the garage's larger main roll-up door. In short order he heard the latch click, and fell back a few paces as she stepped out in front of him and locked the door behind her. Glancing back at him, she looked nervous, and fidgeted with her key for a moment, it was eerie how similar she was to Winry.

"I hope you don't mind what I'm wearing, I didn't have time to go home and change"

He forced a smile as he tried to stop himself from again comparing the two.

"You look fine, and there aren't many places open this time of night anyway. I'm afraid I didn't think this out very well, but if you want we can just go back to my apartment-"

They had begun to walk but at this, she faltered mid step and came to an abrupt stop. Clearly startled she looked up at him, a suspicious cast creeping into her eyes. Realizing he had made a complete mess of it yet again, he exclaimed

"For coffee,... or tea if you like, and if you're hungry I don't have much, but I'm sure I could whip up something. We could even invite old Mrs. Reinhardt over if you like!"

But still she didn't seem convinced and as reluctant as he was to let her go, he knew trying to force it would just scare her more, so with a defeated sigh he said

"I'll walk you home"

But instead of agreeing immediately, she replied to his offer with a query of her own.

"Who's this Mrs. Reinhardt? Is she she a friend of yours?"

despite his disappointment, he couldn't help but let out a brusque laugh at the irony of her question.

"She's the widow that lives next door, and hardly... In fact, I'm pretty sure she hates me..."

"Then why on earth would you want to invite her?" she asked incredulously, seeming quite confused.

At this his laughter subsided and he replied in all seriousness.

"Because if you were worried about me minding my manners, you couldn't ask to have a better ally than her..."

"But wouldn't she refuse?"

"And pass up a chance to protect a local girl from one of us vultures, perish the thought! Besides, I'm making tea, and she never turns down tea."

"Vultures?"

"Me- Us- The people who work for the provisional government. She's convinced we're only here to pick over the carcass as it were, and take advantage of the locals for our own benefit."

"She sounds like my uncle"

"From what I know of him, I would tend to agree."

She stopped dead in her tracks at this and stared up at him. The action causing him to do the same, though it took him a step and a half more to react. A look of mild horror graced her disturbingly familiar features.

"Wait, he talked to you!?" she asked, sounding surprised.

He nodded, hoping that was an acceptable response, but was left wondering for a moment as she let out an aggravated groan. Then, much to his relief, she said.

"I told him to go home, but I should have known he'd just wait for you outside"

This she said out loud, but it seemed to be directed more to herself than him, then with a heavy sigh, she said

"Alright, let's go"

"Where do you live?"

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" she said quirking an eyebrow wickedly

"You mean you'll come?"

"You sat through one of my uncle's 'chats', coffee's the least I can do. I owe you"

"You owe me nothing."

"Now there you go pretending to be a gentleman again, lead on vulture."

"It's Mustang."

"Pardon?"

"My name, it's Roy Mustang. Your uncle informed me that I'd failed to mention it."

"Alright, let's go Mr. Mustang and don't forget to extend an invitation to that neighbor lady of yours, she sounds like a pistol. Can't wait to meet her."

"After spending an evening with her, I think I'll probably owe you."

.o0o.

They walked down the second floor hallway of his building, and came to a stop at the door of 1B. He tapped politely and after a few moments the door cracked open a few inches revealing a dour faced older women modestly dressed with her silver streaked steel gray hair pulled tightly back into a bun.

"What do you want?" she demanded, glaring suspiciously out at him.

"Good evening to you too, Mrs. Reinhardt..." He said in a friendly tone, but her eyes only narrowed, so he continued. "My companion and I," he said indicating her with a quick sweep of his hand. "Were going to make some tea, and we wondered if you would care to join us?"

Seeming to notice Wendy for the first time, she sized her up for a moment, then with a nod she said.

"I'll just go get my purse."

And with that the door closed. Sighing he turned to Wendy and asked if she would wait for her while he went ahead and tidied up a bit. She nodded and without another word he hurried a little farther down the hall, leaving the next door ajar as he entered. She could see why he'd needed to when she entered a few minutes later, trailing Mrs. Reinhardt. Clearly he was not accustomed to having company. Papers covered nearly every flat surface some were notes or documents that likely pertained to his work, but the majority were sketches, mostly of the same small child, a few of which he had even tacked to the wall. He'd looked up sheepishly when they came in, pausing for a moment in the act of laying a neatened pile of them on the sideboard.

"I must apologize for the disorder, I don't usually have people over..."

The child seemed hauntingly familiar, it's eyes appeared to follow her as she moved into the room.

"Who is this" she asked, a bit mesmerized as she brushed a fingertip lightly across one of the pages.

"My son,... as I believe he would look now."

She read between the lines of that statement and did not press further. Still she was sure she'd seen the child somewhere before...

"He looks so familiar..." she said faintly, unaware that she'd said it out loud.

He looked around for a moment then promptly made his way into the kitchen at the rear of the apartment, taking the stack of papers he'd been neatening with him. Though whether he had done it intentionally, or just forgotten they were in his hand, she wasn't sure... Mrs. Reinhardt did not stand on ceremony, settling herself into a chair at the small square dining table, she set her handbag beside her.

Wendy looked from her to the door at the back where the light had just gone on. After a moment's consideration she decided that if this room was any indication, he could probably use some help getting things ready. So after hanging her coat on the hook next to his on the wall beside the door, she turned and headed to the back. She found him hunched over the counter, hands pressed flat on either side of the pile, holding up his weight, his face blank. He didn't seem to really be looking at them but rather into the past they represented, though he recovered quickly, straightening as she entered his field of view.

"I thought you could use a hand..." she said softly, he answered her offer with a weak smile.

As it turned out the kitchen was in better straights than the other rooms, it was clean and neat as a pin. She could barely contain a sigh of relief as he reached into the cupboard in front of him, drawing out first three matching teacups then, three saucers of the same design and finally a ceramic teapot. From the drawer below he took a metal tea ball which he filled from a canister on the counter, and then placed gently inside the pot. These she took out to the recently cleared table, setting out the cups and saucers, one in front of Mrs. Reinhardt, and one each before two of the other three remaining empty chairs, the teapot she set at the center of the table.

Throughout this, the older women had not said a word, or even given a nod of thanks when she was given her cup. To this women, she might as well have been the hired help. Realizing where the better company lay, Wendy returned to the kitchen, already beginning to regret her insistence that the women come. He had already filled the kettle, setting it to boil on the burner of his small stove, the sulfurous smoke of an extinguished match hanging heavily in the air between them. He now leaned against the counter across from the stove with his arms folded over his chest, she followed suit, leaning against the opposite counter, so that she faced him somewhat. He gave her a distracted smile, but his mind was elsewhere.

"I'm afraid I don't have any cookies or crackers to serve along with the tea, do you think some chocolate might be appropriate?" he asked.

Not waiting for her reply, he pushed off the counter and turned to rummage through the cabinet behind him. With a grimace, she instantly thought of the awful pseudo-chocolate bars that American soldiers, thinking her ignorant, had offered her... She decided to head him off before he did the same.

"I swear to god if you offer me a d-ration, we're going to find out if it's possible to beat someone to death with a spoon!" She said, grinning to lighten her meaning, even as she brandished the proposed weapon she had taken from the counter beside her.

"No really, it's good I swear, Look!" He said returning her smile as he pulled the yellow paper and foil wrapped bar from the cabinet, and held it out at arms length as if to ward her off.

By the time he'd finished breaking up the chocolate and laying it out on a matching plate he'd taken from the same cupboard as the cups, the kettle had begun to wail, signaling it's readiness. A moment later she returned to the small kitchen with it, after filling the teapot and setting out the plate of chocolate.

"You know, I do still have some D-rations around here somewhere, only I've been saving them in case I needed to patch the roof" He laughed, as he turned to take the kettle from her outstretched hand, but she hadn't heard him.

With her free hand, she had picked up a sketch from the pile that caught her eye, and now stood frozen by the image. It was of a women who looked very much like herself, cradling a child in her arms, the same child that occupied the rest of his sketches, and she suddenly realized why the child seemed so familiar...

She had seen him in her dreams, cradled in her own arms, much the same way this women in the sketch held him. But she could never tell him that, he'd think she was crazy... Her hand had begun to shake, when he suddenly pulled the drawing from her grip, breaking the trance.

"Please don't touch that" he rumbled softly, looking guiltily away as he dropped the hand that held it to his side, partially obscuring the sketch behind his leg.

But it was already to late... What she'd seen could not be unseen.

"It's her isn't it, she's the one I remind you of" She said quietly.

Then in another flash of inspiration, she thought she understood.

"You lost her too, didn't you?"

Suddenly with out warning, he walked out of the room, but she did not let him go, she followed coming up behind him when he finally came to a stop before the fireplace in the front room. His one hand on the mantle seemed to carry most of his weight, while the other hovered shakily at the mouth of it, still holding the sketch of the woman and child. It looked as though he was contemplating tossing it in.

Mrs. Reinhardt who'd been in the process of helping herself to some tea, had come to her feet at their abrupt passage through the dining room, and had warily begun to make her way toward the two when Wendy noticed and waved her away. Her body language seemed suggest she didn't appreciate being left out of something that might be juicy, but she returned to her seat and her tea without further argument. Turning her attention back to the matter at hand, Wendy laid hers gently on his shoulder, while the other reached out taking the sketch from his surprisingly lax grip and setting it safely aside.

"Hey, I understand..." she said gently as she could. "I lost family in the war too..."

He nodded but said nothing. Then she looked up into his face, as the rapid play of jagged black shadows and golden firelight crisscrossed it... His eyes were closed but she saw it gather at the edge of his jawline, then glistening fall to splash down, evaporating almost immediately on contact with the hot hearthstone. In that instant she knew it was time to bid Mrs. Reinhardt adieu, and send her on her way, before she too noticed his tears. This had become a private matter between she and him, and the widow needn't be involved any further. Excusing herself from him for a moment, she went to stand in front of the older women who had been watching them both from the corner of her eye, and now looked up at Wendy without the slightest trace of remorse for her snooping.

"Come along Mrs. Reinhardt, I think we've prevailed upon Mr. Mustang's hospitality long enough, it's time to go."

"I haven't finished my tea" she stated archly and showed no indications of moving.

At this she plastered on a large but less than genuine smile.

"You can take it with you. In fact" she said cheerfully, as she slid the plate with the chocolate toward her. "You can take this with you as well, just return the dishes in the morning."

For the slightest moment the older women looked as though she'd bitten down on a lemon, but it passed in an instant and then with the utmost poise and grace she rose tucking her handbag under her arm then gathered up the plate along with her teacup and saucer. Head held high and back straight, she glided toward the door that Wendy already held open for her, only hesitating when she saw that Wendy had no intentions of leaving with her.

"What about you, my dear?" she inquired haughtily as her confidence wavered.

"Oh, don't you worry about me Mrs. Reinhardt, I'll be leaving shortly" Wendy said smiling sweetly, then promptly shut the door, and leaned her back against it. From the other side she heard the woman begin to grumble loudly about youth and their lack of manners these days. The voice faded down the hall, and she breathed a sigh of relief as she heard the other woman's door close, though she was fairly certain she would shortly be pressed against the adjoining wall with a glass to her ear. Looking over, she saw that he'd regained a bit of composure and now stood looking at her in gratitude, then a wry smile lit his features as he spoke

"That's three dishes I'll never see again..." He said, giving her a look of mock consternation.

Then pushing away from the mantle, he stepped over to a chair that stood adjacent to the small couch, and sunk heavily into it. When he looked up a her again, though the sadness had returned to it, his smile was genuine.

"I told you after an evening with her, I'd owe you, and I do. Thank you."

She pushed herself away from the door, going to stand by the table in the dining room.

"I was wrong" She said leaning down to pour tea into the two remaining cups. "She's not a pistol, she's just a mean spirited old busybody."

She picked up the two cups, and walking over, she handed him one which he thanked her for. Then she took a seat at the end of the small couch nearest him. Grimacing at the bland bitter taste as she took a sip from her cup, she set it down on the coffee table. Trying to clear the remnants of it from her mouth, she swallowed a few times then looked up at him.

"So tell me, Mr. Liaison officer, will we ever have cream, or lemons, or God forbid, sugar, again?"

He laughed, his face clearly showing relief that she had chosen to change the subject for the moment.

"The supply shortages won't last forever, once the rail lines and roads are fixed, things will get better. The reason things are in such short supply now is because everything has to be trucked in via long, and thanks to all the damage, sometimes circuitous routs... add to that the fact that fuel itself is in short supply and you start to see the reason for the shortages."

"That and the fact that you provisional government folks always get first crack at whatever comes in. You know that's the only reason I agreed to go out with you..." she said, again raising that eyebrow wickedly.

"Then you've bet on the wrong horse, I don't like to take advantage-"

"I was joking, but what about the tea?"

"That is a matter of life and death... I use it to keep Mrs. Reinhardt, from poisoning me." he said grinning impishly

"And the Chocolate?"

At that, his grin softened and his eyes took on a far away look

"I'll admit I've had a weakness for that particular type, ever since Bailey shared some of it with us..."

"Us?"

Swallowing, he looked down pensively, his smile still held, but tenuously.

"Winry and I, she fixed something for him so in thanks he gave her a bit of chocolate he'd gotten in trade from another soldier. After having eaten k-rations for a few days, it seemed like just about the best thing we'd ever tasted..."

He pressed his lips together, then the corner of them began to tremble and his smile disappeared altogether as he stared down into his clasped hands.

"That was her name, the women in the picture?" she asked gently.

He nodded sadly. She wanted to reach out to him, but it wouldn't be proper, and she'd already committed enough social taboos for one night, so she opted instead to try and comfort him another way.

"I'm sorry... When did she die?" she said softly, leaning closer.

He looked up then and met her eyes. His smile had returned, but it was a pained bitter mockery of the one he'd worn just moments ago.

"That's just it, she's not dead." he said matter-of-factly, though that clearly was not how he felt.

He looked back down at his hands as he began to explain

"It's a long story, but basically I wound up working as a translator for the Americans, and she as a kind of nurse. While I was working for them, I learned that two men, brothers from her village, were being held. She'd been very close to them both, and I believe she was in love with the eldest, so their imprisonment was hard on her. Then by some stroke of luck- though good or bad I'm still not sure- she and I were assigned to assist in their transport from one camp to another. The convoy was ambushed, but during the attack, I saw a chance and I helped them escape. I made sure they made it to safety, while I stayed behind to keep anyone from following them. The battle was brutal and truth be told I didn't think I'd survive. I figured if the troops that ambushed us didn't kill me, the Americans would for helping their precious prisoners escape... that's why I made her go with them..."

"Is that why you were so angry this afternoon? You thought she'd risked her safety and come back." she asked, still absorbing the implications of this story.

He nodded looking once more to the hands now laying folded in his lap. She leaned back against the cushions, and stared into the fire as the pieces fell into place.

"So he must be the young man with the golden hair and eyes..." she said softly to herself.

Then realizing she had spoken aloud, she clapped her hands over her mouth, but it was too late. She looked on in horror, as his head shot up, and he came forward in his chair. Pinning her with a narrowed gaze so intense it frightened her, he asked, no demanded.

"How did you know the color of his hair and eyes!?"

Truly regretting having sent Mrs. Reinhardt home now, she glanced around but it was no help, all the sketches in view were black and white, not one had been colored, in fact not one included more than a blurry smudge in the background to indicate the man was even there. Leaning closer, he demanded again.

"How did you know about the man's hair and eyes, and why did you say he was young?! Just who are you and what are you playing at!?"

Shrinking deeper into the couch, She blurted.

"I'm not playing at anything, I swear! I saw him in my dream!"

He seemed to freeze at this, but she continued.

"... When I first saw them, I thought the child in your sketches looked familiar... well when I saw that one" she said, pointing to the one laying on the side table that he'd almost burned "I realized why... In my dream I'm always holding him, he begins to squirm so I stand up and turn around, when I do the young man with the golden hair and eyes is there. He wears his hair in a braid, and his eyes are kind... he embraces us and though I felt sadness before I feel better now..."

He remained frozen even as he asked his next question

"And...? What then?"

"And nothing, that's where the dream always ends,

"But why does she feel sad?"

"I don't know, and the strange thing is that I'm pretty sure she doesn't either... Look I know you don't believe me, but I swear it's the truth! Please don't be angry."

Finally he let out a breath and suddenly it appeared as though someone was letting all the air out of him, as he slowly collapsed back into the chair. His hand came up briefly to cover his eyes, as he massaged his temples with the thumb and forefinger

"No, I do believe you, and I'm sorry I frightened you... I'm not angry, I just... I'm sorry..."

He said letting the hand slide slowly down to his chin as he spoke. But his sober gaze was almost as unnerving as his outburst had been, and after shifting uncomfortably in it for a few moments she abruptly stood. Folding her hands in front of her to keep from wringing them, she said

"I think I should go."

"Please don't"

"Roy, I'm not her, and I won't try to be her"

"I know, I don't expect you to"

He sighed and looked down for a moment at his hand. There dividing his palm in two, was a scar she hadn't noticed before. In a seemingly unconscious gesture, he closed his fingers slowly, letting them brush across the protruding ridge of thickened tissue, as he appeared to carefully choose his words.

"I admit, the similarities between you two are a large part of why I asked you here tonight, but there's more to it than that..."

He looked up at her and the sadness in his eyes spoke volumes about the truth of his next statement

"I've been so lonely here, no one trusts me, it's like being in a life boat in the middle of the ocean, and dying of thirst. Hell, take that little speech you memorized in English to deal with us uniforms... I've heard that same thing almost verbatim so many times I've lost count. I've gotten pretty used to it, but that doesn't mean I don't hate it... To hear it from your lips, looking as much like her as you do, it was like being kicked. But at the same time, most of the people I deal with on a daily basis, would have seen the weakness I showed tonight, and crowed it to the heavens, but you didn't... you're the first person I've met here who found it in themselves to treat me like a person and not a uniform, and you don't know how much of a relief that is. I'd really like to get to know you better... Can't we at least try to start over again?"

Biting her lip, she shifted uneasily from one foot to the other and then back again. Both were nervous habits her late mother had reprimanded her for often in the past. It made her heart ache just thinking of her mother, the memory of those times, of all she'd lost tore at her soul. She wanted to go home. She wanted to sleep, and perhaps dream of those better times. Though if she was honest, it was likely she would only be haunted by the specters of his women and their child, as she had been every other night in recent memory...

"It's getting late, and I really should be going..."

His face, during her silence, had held a trace of hope but it fell as she finally spoke. Then she saw the acceptance in his eyes, as he nodded, rising slowly from his chair.

"I'll walk you home." He said gently, as he went to fetch their coats from the hooks beside the door.

As he passed her, she saw the same specter of resigned grief that lurked in her heart, rise up in his eyes. It burned her like a brand and shocked her from the pit of her own self pity. She thought she might finally understand why the women in her dreams was so sad, even if she was still certain the women herself did not. But more importantly she realized that if she refused him now, only chance would ever cause their paths to cross again. He would not pursue her... As obsessive as he seemed, he would let her go, as he had let her go, and she found that fact to be strangely comforting. It bolstered her courage enough to take a chance...

"Perhaps..." she said, a little too loudly, then faltered.

He'd turned back when she spoke, and it was clear the intensity in his eyes when he'd done so had almost made her lose her nerve, but after a moment she persevered.

"Perhaps you could come by the garage tomorrow? We could start off on a clean slate..."

'A clean slate'... His heart skipped a beat at her ironic choice of words, perhaps the Fates weren't punishing him after all... He could almost hear the self satisfied laughter of both Maes and Harper, then his mouth formed into a soft smile, and he nodded.

"A clean slate... I'd like that, I'd like that very much..."

.o0o.

*Fin*

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Sadly, this really is the end... Again, thanks so much to Ultea, adammgold, samp.k, toricaine, and everyone else that poked me with a not-so-blunt stick over the last few years... You are all very much responsible for keeping this story alive to the end, and I thank you very much for not letting it fade away... I hope you have all enjoyed taking this journey with me. Here is my final plea... Whether your loved it, or hated it, or even if it was a solid 'meh', please R&R and let me know how you felt! Thanks for reading!