A/N: First series. Post movie. This story was inspired by an NPR piece I heard about Representative Gabrielle Giffords. For those of you who are not American, she was a congresswoman who on January 8th of last year, was shot during an apparent assassination attempt that also wounded thirteen people and killed six more. She survived the shot, miraculously, and the NPR story was about some of the tremendous challenges facing those who have survived gunshot wounds to the head. That being said, I wrote this story over a very, very long span of time, and I am still not entirely sure what genre it would fall into. Also also also, this is for ZonkietheGreat, whom I once threatened with a multi-chapter RoyWin story.
All is Not Lost
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.
-Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
-Elizabeth Bishop, One Art
He was on a street, an unmaintained sidewalk. Cluttered gutters and limp, brown grass in the cracks. The flat, unembellished buildings around him were low and unmarked save brass numbers over the doors. Roy checked his watch. It said six o'clock, presumably in the evening, although the steely clouds made judging time nearly impossible. He was out of uniform. He looked down at his overcoat. Snow was sifting down slowly, menacingly, speckling his black wool sleeves.
An omelet, Roy thought. He had had an omelet for breakfast. Mushrooms from a can. Black coffee in a black mug. The acrid taste of his pain medication. That was a start.
My name is Roy Mustang. I'm thirty... no, thirty-one now, I guess. I'm still in Central. I had an omelet for breakfast before going to work. I left work early to beat the snow. I went back to my townhouse, 115 Sixth Avenue, had an early gin and tonic. Just the one… I think.
Roy quickly snatched at his wallet; he sometimes found clues there. Fingering through the small collection of receipts where his money should have been, he found nothing. He checked through his business cards, and still nothing.
All right, Roy thought, Don't panic. It's not dark yet.
The street lamp to his left flickered to life, then the next one, then the next.
He could feel the muscles in his shoulders tightening. A stinging wind blew up the street, throwing snow into his face.
What did I do after getting home? Roy wondered as he wiped his eye with his palm. He had trained himself to go systematically through the events of the day when he had episodes. Usually he could follow his way to the present, but at the moment, Roy could not quite make a complete chain. Somehow, he had gone from looking through his mail at his dining room table to standing on a sidewalk on a deserted street at dusk.
There was a street sign next to him, telling Roy that he was on Magnolia Avenue. Where the hell Magnolia Avenue was in relation to his Sixth Avenue, Roy had no idea.
He delved his hands into his pockets and fished around for a note to himself. He sometimes wrote notes to himself before he left the house alone if he were doing something distantly outside of his daily routine; he never had a problem getting to work. He could only assume that the lack of self-instruction meant that he had left his house in a hurry, perhaps to beat the sunset. But why in the snow? Ice was crusting over the ground around his feet as the snow fell lazily. What couldn't wait until the morning?
His fingertips passed over something small and round in the very bottom of his pocket. Furrowing his brow, Roy closed his fist around two metal somethings and pulled them out. In the yellowy lamplight, Roy saw two matching gold rings.
"Wedding bands?" he wondered. He held the smaller of the two up to his eye and read the inscription along the inside, hoping to see something to bridge the gap in his recollection. Instead, he saw that words "Let warmth, sympathy, and understanding outweigh" in curvy script etched delicately into the gold. "How profound," he muttered, though the maudlinness did not frustrate him as much as the ambiguity.
When that proved fruitless, Roy returned the rings to his pocket and went back to his original endeavor. He glared at his shoes, trying to remember what would make him leave his house in such a hurry. He could recall holding a tumbler in his right hand and sitting down with a small stack of mail in the other hand. The lights were on. He had already changed out of uniform…
"Goddammit," Roy snarled under his breath. Even if he were the only one who saw, this was humiliating. As if the mounting panic were not enough, he was getting more furious with himself by the second. There was not much daylight left, and Roy wished desperately that he could at least remember in what part of town he was. He did not even have his gloves with him.
Roy walked steadily to the street corner. He looked down Magnolia, which stretched out to the west before veering left and disappearing. The intersecting street, Holmes Parkway, looked about as promising.
"Goddammit," he repeated. Why did he even leave his house so late? And without a note? And without his goddamned gloves? Roy turned around again, looking back down Magnolia, now awash with abrasive lamplight that caught blindingly in the falling snow, like if he looked hard enough, he might remember. The shadows looked theatrically dark, and his lack of depth perception did not help.
Roy glared down Holmes again. I had an omelet for breakfast. A tuna melt for lunch. I left work. I came home. Then I got a drink. Then I got the mail. Then I sat down at the table. Roy pinched the bridge of his nose. Then I fucking forgot everything. He didn't even have change for a payphone. Not that he could find one without getting himself even more lost.
"Oh, I thought that was you," a voice said from behind him.
Roy spun around and almost lost his footing on the ice. A young woman stood before him in a rather oversized and humble-looking coat, her long, blonde hair piled up messily on the crown of her head. For a terrifying second, Roy could not recall her name. He knew he knew her. He knew she should have been rather memorable as well.
With a wave of marginal relief, Roy pulled her name from the damaged annals of his memory. "Miss Rockbell," he said stiffly. Yes, he remembered everything about her now. How could he forget her?
They watched each other for a moment. Roy knew he had a gift for making himself appear at home anywhere, and without a better defense, he exercised it with squared shoulders and hands in his pockets. The girl blinked and withdrew just a fraction of a step. She gestured with a thumb over her shoulder. "I was just taking out the trash and I saw you. I thought maybe it was you, but I wasn't quite sure." Roy raised an eyebrow. "So I came to check… and it turned out to be you…"
Roy wished she would go away. Or at least have the decency to turn into someone else. Anyone else. "Are you well?" Roy asked politely.
"Fine, fine," she answered quickly. Roy said nothing. He had nothing to say to her, and he certainly had no desire to engage her in conversation. "Well, uh, I guess I'll see you around." She gave him a quick, rather embarrassed wave before turning around and heading back toward the stone steps of her apartment building.
Roy watched her retreating back like it was the stern of a lifeboat. Faced with the choice of wandering around the streets of Central all night in the snow or stopping Winry to ask for help, Roy found himself vacillating.
He would not have expected her to approach him. Ever. The girl he remembered would have never spoken to him voluntarily. But, then again, the bullet lodged in his brain reminded him everyday just how fallible his memory could be. And perhaps this was a testament to how desperate and bizarre he must look, shuffling around the empty, snowy streets of some neck of Central.
"Are you all right?" Winry asked from the second step to her door.
Roy had not noticed that she had stopped. He looked up and watched her for a moment.
"Mr. Mustang?" she said when he did not reply.
Roy heard himself laugh derisively. There was no way to do this with dignity. "I'm actually not exactly sure where I am." It sounded terribly casual to him, and he watched the girl, waited for the furrowed brow, the puckered lips, the pathos. The look a woman might get when she pats the round skull of a three-legged stray.
Winry blinked and said, "Well, you are pretty far from home."
"Is this Central?" Roy asked.
"Yeah, but did you walk all the way out here?"
Roy felt like an absolute idiot. He laughed as dismissively as he could. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not certain."
"Wow," she said, her eyebrows raised. "It's a pretty long walk from your house to here. I'm impressed."
A part of him felt condescended, but a greater part of him latched on to her words. "I didn't realize you knew where I lived." If she knew where his townhouse was, she could direct him back there.
Winry smiled. "I went to your New Year's party with Jean Havoc." She opened her mouth to say something but stopped herself. Roy could see from the look on her face that she was about to ask him if he remembered this joke or that drunk co-worker or something from his own party. After a pause, she added. "It was a great party, by the way."
"Thank you." They exchanged another long, thick silence before Winry cleared her throat, stepped onto the sidewalk, and approached him.
"I can give you directions back to your place, if you want."
Roy would have given a limb to be having any other conversation anywhere else with anyone but her, the girl he had promoted to his own personal demon. He did not think he was giving her a telling expression, but he could tell she knew he would not be able to remember her directions.
"On second though," she said hesitantly. "You… you can come inside. If you want. I could call a cab for you."
Roy, who typically prided himself on being able to read people, could not tell whether she wanted him to accept or not. He certainly knew that he himself did not want him to accept. His options, however, were limited.
"Thank you," was all he said. He felt her watching him for a beat too long to be natural. She turned and headed toward her original destination: a small flight of old concrete steps leading to a brown metal door whose paint was flaking around some very dubious dings. The vestibule was short and square, more of a stairwell than anything else, and choked with unchained bicycles leaning against the walls. Papery dead leaves skittered across the floor in the wind that blew through the open door. Winry led the way in and up a flight of stairs in desperate need of sweeping, dust gathered in the corners. It was the sort of not-entirely-neglected grime of a landlord too busy to clean and tenants too busy to notice. At least, there weren't children playing on the landings or hookers smoking in doorways.
They climbed to the fourth and top floor, a journey that left Roy's bad knee aching. When Winry was not looking, he kept a white-knuckled grip on the railing.
The door had a large, brass G under the peephole, and Winry opened it without unlocking it.
"Excuse the mess," she said a little sheepishly. "I wasn't expecting company."
"I'm putting you out," Roy said.
She waved a hand at him. "Don't be silly. You're just making a phone call. I'm just glad I decided to come outside when I did."
Before I could wander off? Roy thought, Talk to the wrong stranger and get my lunch money stolen?
"Can I take your coat?" she asked as she stepped out of her galoshes and into a pair of house slippers, and the uncertainty in her voice betrayed how odd this was for her. Roy smiled. It couldn't possibly be any odder for her than it was for him. Well, perhaps odd in a different way—she had, after all, never executed any of his loved ones. She haunted his nightmares in a very different way than he imagined he haunted hers.
Roy flinched and played it off like his knee was bothering him. Which it was. The combination of cold, barometric pressure, and Winry's stairs made the bones in his bad leg ache. "That's not necessary. I'll only be a moment."
They were standing uncomfortably close in a short entryway. Winry looked as though she remembered quickly that he was here for her phone, and she turned and hurried inward. The hall opened into a small room, the walls were pale green, the floor beige tile, all the trimming an aged cream color. The far wall was nearly entirely slanting windows. A row of containers huddled along a shelf under the window—coffee cans, terra cotta pots, what looked suspiciously like an engine block—all lidless and spilling over with vibrant green plants, some so tall that they pressed the glass, others draping their spindly limbs to the floor. A small, two person table sat under the window, all but one place setting occupied by what appeared to be a partially dissected automail arm. The closer wall was lined with a long work bench, a small manual mill and lathe mounted to its surface. To the left, a passage opened in a bright, white tiled kitchen, and a door to the right lead to an equally small sitting room and bedroom. Roy saw crates of metal parts, boxes of bolts and nuts, books on metallurgy and engines. The walls were covered with schematics, tacked up by the top two corners.
"The phone is in here," Winry said, and Roy realized then that she had continued into the kitchen, leaving him observing the barely contained chaos. There was something inviting about it though. Perhaps it was the imbued passion of the tenant, Roy thought—he knew some about Winry's relationship with automail. Still, he had not expected this. It rather reminded him of his apartment when he was around her age, only his blinding aspiration was his own destruction by way of alchemy.
He came into the kitchen to find Winry flipping through a phone book at the counter under a similar wall of windows opposite the entrance. In the better light, Roy could see the snow collecting on the panes, and beyond that, the wooly, unwelcoming sky. She had divested of her coat, tossed it onto a chair in the corner, and stood in her slippers, a baggy white shirt, and a pair of jeans so snug that Roy averted his gaze.
The kitchen was free of machining parts. In fact, it looked remarkably clean compared to what he'd seen so far, all scrubbed pine panels and whitewashed cabinets. This window was also bordered by a shelf of potted plants, and a rack over the sink was heavy with stainless steel pots.
"I found some numbers for cab services right here," Winry said, giving the phone book on the counter a pat. "The phone is behind you." She gestured past Roy, and he turned to see a wall-mounted phone right by the door, almost behind the icebox. "No rush," she said. When she slipped past him in the doorway, Roy found himself pressing his back to the doorframe, and she was doing the same, desperate to keep as much air between them as possible.
The first cab service told Roy, point blank, that they couldn't come out in the snow. The second suggested he find a hotel. After the third call didn't even get answered, Roy hung up the phone more forcefully than he meant to. He reached for his billfold, knowing that he had Riza's home phone number on a slip of notebook paper in the windowed slot where his driver's license had been before it was revoked. She would put the chains on her tires if he asked. She would come out in the snow. She would put herself in danger to come rescue him.
Roy clenched his jaw and flipped to the next page in the phone book. He called one, two, three more cab services before finding one that said they would come out. He would have to wait, however, both for the snow to let up and for the road crews to spread salt. Roy looked at his wrist watch. It was almost seven o'clock. The snow was collecting along the iron muntins of the window across from him like ermine stoles, getting thicker by the minute. But options were limited.
A phone number was written on a slip of paper inserted in a plastic window in the receiver, and Roy gave the taxi service that number to call when they sent out a cab. He hung up the receiver with a sigh. This had to be, unequivocally, the least comfortable situation he could imagine for himself that did not also include work or violence. Not directly, at least. To make matters worse, the small pharmacy of prescription medications he had been taking since his most recent bout of facial reconstruction surgery was waiting for him on his kitchen counter, conspicuously placed by the percolator to be sure he wouldn't overlook it. His bones ached from the cold and wet and the climb, and the warm horizontality of his own, unreachable bed called him futilely. His head was beginning to pound, and he swore he could almost feel that bullet in there, his own flesh curled around it like a fist.
His stomach gave a manifest wrenching, and Roy realized that he must have left home before even getting dinner. He glanced at the window, the snow piling up, and he knew that it was pointless to hope for a cab.
"Any luck?" Winry asked when he came back into the first room where she was tinkering with the arm on the table.
"They said they would call before they send out a driver," Roy said. "I gave them this number."
She blinked. "Oh. Okay. I guess that means you're hanging out then?"
Roy kept from cringing. He felt irrationally compelled to decline, to suggest he wait in her vestibule and would she mind poking her head out her front door and hollering down to him when the cab service called? "Unless you protest."
Winry waved her hands at him. "Oh, no, not at all."
How generous, Roy thought.
"Lemme get your coat," she said, rising. Roy didn't have an excuse this time. He slipped out of his overcoat, his shoulder twinging hard, and passed it to her. "Would you," she began hesitantly, her back to him as she hung up his coat by the door, "Would you like something to drink?"
"No, thank you," he said. "I don't anticipate being long." What a liar. But Winry didn't need to know that.
"You sure?" she asked. "I was going to make myself a hot toddy."
Oh. Yes, liquor might be nice. Roy didn't realize she was old enough to have such a thing in her house. "In that case, I accept." Roy smiled despite himself. His smile seemed to trigger her smile. He watched her shoulders ease a degree, which he found a little, well, strange. He did not imagine he could make her so nervous. Righteously and rightfully incandescent, sure, but nervous?
"Why don't you sit down while you wait. You might not want to touch anything, though."
Roy raised his eyebrows.
"You might get greasy."
He nodded his understanding and sank as containedly as he could into a chair at the table, his hands resting on his knees. This was absurd.
She had turned on a floor lamp between the manual mill and lathe, and it cast bold light over the schematics on the wall, turning their wrinkles into jagged, sharp peaks. The machines' shadows on the wall were enlarged, all the angles and curves exaggerated like the hulking silhouettes of monsters in children's books.
"What brings you to Midtown?" Winry called from the kitchen.
Roy heard her clinking around, setting a kettle to boil and unscrewing the lid of a handle of bourbon.
"That is a very good question," Roy said resignedly.
"I hope it wasn't anything too important."
She was much easier to talk to, Roy realized, when he did not have to see her. He, of course, didn't have much of a response to that—either it was so important that he did not have time to write himself a note or it was so inconsequential he felt it wasn't important enough to warrant a note. The latter seemed rather unlikely, though. He had a strong inkling that it was desperate news that had brought him out so late in the snow.
The kettle began to rattle in the other room.
"All I've got is Evan Williams," Winry said, sticking her head around the corner of a doorway to kitchen. She held out the bottle and gave it a shake. "Black label."
He smiled again, and Winry laughed quietly as she slipped back into the kitchen.
"I bet you're used to Woodford Reserve or Makers Mark or something, right?"
Roy wasn't sure how to interpret that. He smiled anyway, though, because he could tell from her voice that being called either sophisticated or pretentious by her was convivial.
"You must imagine me in a very different pay grade than I am," Roy replied.
"Well, it's gotta beat—" the kettle began to whistle, and Winry did not try to talk over it. Roy listened to her flip the cap open to release the steam with a tinny click, then the rush of steaming water, then the clink of ceramic and glass, and Winry emerged from the kitchen, precariously carrying two steaming mugs in one hand and, in the other, the handle a whiskey and a shot glass. She used the base of the bottle to clear away a corner of table before Roy, and she set down their mugs, the bottle and the shot glass.
She remained standing in front of Roy, which made him antsy—a twitchy combination of her seemingly careless proximity, her looming over him, and those ridiculous jeans she was wearing, made all the more ridiculous by her proximity and her looming. Involuntarily, Roy cleared his throat and readjusted himself in his seat.
"You were saying?" he blurted as she poured a shot and dumped it into one of the mugs.
Winry looked down at him and blinked. "Oh, yeah. Well, I was going to say where ever you're at has to beat my situation." She gave his teabag three good dunks and then turned the handle toward him.
"Which is?" This sounded like a strange mockery of a conversation any two other acquaintances might have. But it was they who were having it, he reminded himself. He and Winry Rockbell. How odd and entirely... unexpected?
"You're looking at it," she said with a sweep of her hand. She dumped her own shot and sank into the chair across from Roy, gears and tool spread between them. "I thought I'd make a pass at being an independent contractor, but it's a lot harder than it looks."
Judging by the state of her apartment, charming though it may be, it was quite hard.
Winry cupped her mug and looked into it. "We were the only mechanics in all of Resembool, Grandma and I. But, I swear, you can't swing an alchemist without hitting a mechanic in this town." Roy snorted into his tea. "And I guess Resembool had me spoiled because I didn't know that nobody in Central will take a lady mechanic seriously."
Roy ran his hand over his mouth to clean himself up. Winry stared at him, apparently unaware that she'd almost made hot toddy come out of his nose, and somehow, her lack of self-consciousness made it even funnier. A thought then occurred to him: "You're familiar with the Elgrin Center?" he asked. This was the military's rehabilitation hospital. The building didn't have an automail shop. It had an automail wing. He already knew her answer.
"Of course," she said.
"If you'd like, I'd be happy to put you in touch with the Director of Prosthetics," he told her. What he did not tell her was that he was in physical therapy there. His visits had dropped down to twice a month now, but he had, in the fall, been paying Elgrin a visit twice a week. Certainly, his word had some weight in the right ears.
Winry's eyes lit up. "You'd do that for me?"
"Certainly. I outrank him." That was, of course, intended to be humorous, but it was lost on Winry, whose face was a suddenly, unabashed shade of hope, her eyes impossibly wide and impossibly blue. Really, getting her an interview there would take almost no work from him at all, and the disproportionality of the meagerness of his effort and the magnitude of her appreciation was striking. Roy got this odd sort of sensation behind his sternum, something he hadn't felt in a long time. This was the sensation of doing someone an unsolicited generosity.
She had Urey's face, but her gestures were Sara's for sure.
Roy cleared his throat. "Do you have a business card?"
A cloud passed over Winry's features. "Oh," she paused for thought and then, brightening, said, "Yes! I do. Sit tight." She dropped her mug on the table and jumped up. She hurried through the door opposite the kitchen entrance.
Roy sat back in his chair and felt the remarkable tension in his back when he did it. He hadn't been aware that he was carrying his shoulders practically up this ears. There were some shufflings and quiet clanks from the other room, a muffled curse. Roy took the opportunity to scrutinize the room a little closer as he sipped his biting tea. He, of course, would have identified it as an alchemist's chaos, which, he knew, was simply his own projection on to it. He felt some degree of nostalgia for the indulgent disorder of a genius. He was jealous.
Winry came back into the room, pinching a card between her finger like it was a gilded antique. Still, she had an apologetic look on her face when she passed it to him. "I think I got some coolant on it."
The card had a greenish, greasy spot in one corner.
"And I might have had the stack too close to the welder."
The opposite corner was singed. But her name was clear, so was her phone number.
Roy smiled and pulled out his billfold. "Perhaps it'll make the Colonel more inclined to take a lady mechanic seriously," he joked.
She sank into her chair with relief. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, General."
Typically, after a conversation of this duration with a woman, Roy offered up his first name. A token of his sincerity. "It's nothing. I would hate to see a talent like yours wasted."
Her cheeks colored. He could see it even in the dim light. "Thanks."
"Perhaps it would have made my life easier had you been less skilled. You forget how frequently I was face to face with the business end of one of your automail fists."
She laughed a good, hard laugh at that, but that faded into a sad smile. She looked out the wall of windows over them, the swirling confusion of snow illuminated by the streetlights below. That was careless. He shouldn't have brought Edward up.
"Have you heard from him?" she asked, flicking her eyes toward Roy.
She didn't sound accusatory, which Roy rather thought was more charitable than he deserved.
Her gaze slid back to the window, a striking contrast of white snow and black glass. "I know the investigation has been closed and that Alphonse is back so that means," she paused, "something had to be traded. But," she turned to him, her face so honest Roy almost flinched, "I never could shake the feeling that you might know something and, maybe, the military... I don't know, had something to do with it?"
This would have been a wonderful situation for some diplomatic applications of palliating white lies. However, Roy had never had a knack for candy-coating. Plus this was the daughter of the doctors Rockbell; Winry didn't need a blow softened. "Edward wouldn't die for the military and certainly not for me. But he wouldn't hesitate to give his life for Alphonse."
"I suppose you're right," she admitted. "Still. It doesn't feel like he's dead, just..." She twisted her mouth in thought.
"Lost?" Roy offered.
She gave him a sad smile. "Yeah. Like he's still out there somewhere," she made a circular gesture toward the sky, "Just not here."
Roy personally believed Edward was dead. He'd made himself transmutation fodder, which always had been a gruesome inevitability of the Elrics' journey. A long time ago, Edward's passion might have almost persuaded Roy otherwise, but then he remembered: alchemy was not a compassionate science. It broke more men than it ever saved.
However, if that was how Winry chose to cope with the loss of Edward, Roy would not challenge that. Edward certainly left an indelible impression on anyone he met, so in that sense, he was not gone. And Winry, who knew more years of Edward than anyone else—even Alphonse—could keep Edward alive if she wanted to.
She sighed, watching her hot toddy steaming away in her hands.
Roy took a bracing swallow from his mug, and it burned all the way down, scalding tea and cheap bourbon. He was trapped here, he thought. The snow was not going to let up. The taxi wasn't going to come. He'd spent thousands of dollars repairing his right knee, kissed by a passing bullet, and the notion of testing it on the icy sidewalk was not an appealing one.
He was alone with Winry Rockbell. On her turf. At her mercy. He took another draw off his hot toddy.
Winry snatched up the handle of bourbon, unscrewed the lid, and poured another shot. It sat between them for a moment, and Roy wasn't certain who it was for. But then she made an open-palmed gesture toward him and smiled. He tried not to look too grateful but did not hesitate to accept, raise the glass to his mouth, and toss it back. It tasted like medicine. A poorly executed mimicry of sweetness.
When he set down the glass, Winry swept it away from him and poured another shot. He watched her lift it to her lips with no hesitation at sharing his glass. She poured her shot down her throat and put the glass down hard. It was a disconcertingly intimate thing to watch, a woman drinking from his glass.
"Well, anyway," Winry began with a smile, her voice a little constricted from the liquor. "My certification number is on the card, too, if he asks. I can get references and testimonials and everything."
Roy smiled. "I doubt that will be necessary."
"Sure, if you order the guy to hire me," she said with a shrug and watched her fingers as she turned the shot glass around and around again. She peered up through her bangs, eyes narrowed, "You're not going to order him to hire me, are you?"
"That would be an egregious abuse of my power, Miss Rockbell," he replied sternly. Then, easier, "I'll order him to interview you, but you're on your own after that."
She looked upward, toward the piling snow out her window. "Wow. Elgrin," she sighed. "I was afraid I was going to have to start looking for waitressing jobs or something." She laughed quietly. "I guess it pays to have friends in high places, huh?"
Friends? Roy stared at her.
Winry seemed not to understand what was wrong with that statement for a long moment. Then her eyes went wide. Her face flushed.
In an instant, the spell was broken. The power of warm liquor and her uninvited, unearned affection lapsed. He wanted to be friends with the daughter of the Rockbells about as much as he would want to spend another six weeks in traction.
There was, of course, nothing wrong with the girl as a person. She seemed bright and kind, fiery and quick to laugh. She certainly was generous, sharing her liquor with a pseudo acquaintance. Not an enemy, necessarily. They were terribly close—their histories were, at least—in the same way a person knows intimately his recurring nightmares. They knew some very personal details about each other. But their closeness was a farce. It was the product of his transgressions. Based on his trespass upon her. His malefaction and her victimhood. They were anti-friends.
Perhaps were she anyone else. Were he someone else.
Perhaps if he had come to terms with executing the Rockbells as much as he insisted that he had come to terms with it, he could look at her and see more than their absence.
Why did she let him into her home? Why did she let him use her phone, sit at her table? Why did she take his coat and offer him tea and bourbon? Why was she not gouging out his remaining eye with her thumbnail or pouring him shots of strychnine or leaving him wandering around in the snow, lost and frightened and as powerless as he had made her when he robbed her of her childhood?
He wished she would stop looking at him with such contrition. What the hell did she have to be sorry about?
"I think I'll give the cab service another call."
She twisted the string of her tea bag around her index finger. "I don't think it's any use," she said. The next logical question to ask was something like where do you plan to deposit your waning hulk for the night? Or where will you rest that unreliable head? And Roy watched her, waited for her to ask it. He'd done nothing to earn the blow softened. Certainly she had no reason to grind the edges off his humiliation. Particularly now that she'd done something as foolish as open that first stitch and he'd all but called her a fool for it.
"You're not getting hungry, are you, General?"
Roy blinked his one eye, watched her unscrew the cap on the bourbon and pour out another shot. She dumped the first half in his tea and the second in hers, her eyes downcast.
And perhaps, Roy wondered, it was not entirely fair to translate his shame with himself into frustration with her. He almost laughed at himself. Perhaps, and what a radical notion this was, it was unreasonable to ascribe his feelings of guilt to her generosity. Was she exonerating him with a cup of tea and two and a half shots of cheap bourbon? Maybe this is what being absolved looks like: an invitation into your victim's home, having your coat taken, being offered dinner.
He must have been quiet for too long.
"General?" she repeated.
"I'm imposing," Roy said.
She put up her hands and shook her head. "No, not at all. You're doing me a favor, in fact. It makes me feel little more human when I'm not eating alone all the time. I haven't had company in... well," she looked upward in thought, "um, ever, actually. Not since I moved in here."
"If my company makes you feel human, Miss Rockbell, I might suggest a good psychiatrist." But he understood. He was feeling rather abruptly human himself.
She laughed, a soft, open-mouthed sound. Her shoulders bowed in a little and she slid her feet out of her chair as though she were preparing to stand.
"This has been," Roy began, almost despite himself, "Somewhat unexpected."
Winry blinked at him and smiled. "I'm glad."
She looked into her tea and shrugged a little. "You weren't... I mean," she peered back at him. "You weren't expecting anything good when you came up here, were you?" Roy started, and she saw. "You won't offend me or anything. I mean, I understand." She looked down again. "I've said some... really awful things to you, General."
None of them entirely unearned.
"But, when Edward left, I decided something." She lifted her tea to her lips and took a drink, and when she set it back down, she leveled her gaze on Roy so firmly, he almost felt challenged. "He had a lot of respect for you. He had a funny way of showing it, but I knew he respected you. And I do, too. And," she sought the right words, "I know a lot of things I didn't know a few years ago." She didn't elaborate, and Roy desperately wished she would. "And I want you to know," she looked to be bracing herself, drumming up courage, "I'm not angry anymore."
Something was cinching around his lungs.
"Really, I'm not," she concluded. Then she laughed. "To tell you the truth, I've been thinking lately how nice it would be to say that to you, but I didn't think I'd ever have the chance." She shook her head and finished cheerily, "But, lo and behold, I go to take out my trash and there you are. Outside my apartment."
He was monumentally unprepared for this. His face must have shown it because she smiled at him, a sweet, compassionately thing.
"I'm glad you came by, General. So let me make you some dinner to show my gratitude."
Roy insisted on helping her prepare dinner, partly because having the Rockbell daughter serving him made him desperately guilty but also because sitting alone at her table, just him and the mess, was really weird.
Winry's kitchen was full of light and colors and textures, bright and warm against the snow piling high against her window. With the bourbon taking a good, welcome hold of him, too, Roy found himself much less uncomfortable being in such visual proximity to Winry's jeans. He watched her chopping onions and whistling, and while part of his mind pondered just how silly those things were—she might as well paint clothing on for all the concealing her outfit did—another part of him just enjoyed it. It was not often he found himself in such a setting with so young a woman. In fact, in the last few months, he'd caught himself making the conscious choice to avoid it. Not that the blonde twenty-somethings were falling into his lap or anything, but young women, when they did wander into his proscenium, reminded him of kittens. They were so active and high energy and required so much damn entertaining—lest they get bored and become destructive—and he simply did not desire it anymore.
But Winry was there, requiring nothing of him. Just that he drink her bourbon and laugh at her jokes, and this was no real challenge as he had learned never to turn down bourbon when one has nowhere to go and Winry was really a very charming girl.
How long, he wondered, had they orbited each other? A careful distance calculated to keep them both from colliding and from spinning away?
Winry had asked him to mince garlic while she brought water to a boil and poured in a box of macaroni. "Glorified mac'n'cheese," she said as she reached into the cabinet and brought down a can. She pointed at it sheepishly. "A can of cheddar soup and onions."
"A can of soup?" Roy asked. "You don't make a roux?"
Winry wrinkled her nose. "I don't make a who?"
"Um, I guess not."
Roy smiled. "Step aside."
Winry put up her hands and laughed. "Be my guest."
Roy went about cooking the onions and garlic in a wide, copper skillet, instructing Winry to get flour, oil, milk, and cheese for him. She complied and then hovered by his shoulder to watch. Roy showed her the combination and steps—add flour first then an equal amount of oil, stir until it makes a paste, then add milk until the sauce reaches the desired consistency—and he noted her watching him with the attention to detail of a chemistry apprentice.
Something about the bright copper and the warm smell brought back a memory Roy had not rehashed in quite some time. He laughed.
"What?" Winry asked, leaning her hip against the counter to his right.
"A fit of nostalgia," he answered, "I just remembered learning to make my first roux."
"How long ago was that?"
Roy thought for a moment. "I was fourteen, I think." He snorted. "That's ironic. I can remember something that happened practically twenty years ago, but I can't remember why I left my house this evening." He shook his head. "It's frustrating."
"That's a good sign, though," Winry chimed in, standing up straight. Roy was hard pressed to believe her, and his face must have shown it because she went on, "Every time you get frustrated, you're running into connections that were damaged. And you're rebuilding them." She nodded her head hopefully. "You'll get them back."
Roy hesitated for a moment. His doctors, of course, had always given him a bleaker prognosis than that—he supposed this was to keep him from getting too hopeful given the severity of his injury and the unpredictable nature of brain damage in general. But her attitude was refreshing. He found himself not immediately disregarding her optimism.
"You seem so confident."
Winry scoffed. "Nerve reconstruction is an automail mechanic's bread and butter, you know. And the great thing about nerves is the more you use them, the faster they grow back. With your being an alchemist and all, you'll be good as new in no time, General."
He resisted looking at her and tapping his eyepatch as though to say, No I won't. She was trying to make him feel better, after all, and she'd done better than most. No need to punish her for trying.
"Perhaps you'll do me the favor of dropping the title?" he asked. The expression of shock that crossed her face made him laugh out loud. When he looked back at her, she was still blinking owlishly at him.
"You want me to call you... Roy?"
"It's not nearly so difficult as you make it sound."
"Good try. A little less terror next time, if you don't mind."
She looked like she was trying to juggle marbles in her closed mouth. Then she started to laugh at herself.
"No," she managed, and then, "I mean, yes, I guess." She flushed, down her throat and up to her ears. "I never thought I'd see the day..."
She didn't need to finish the sentence—he was feeling rather similarly.
Roy watched Winry pour the pasta through a colander, toss it in with his roux, and beginning scooping out servings into mismatched, ceramic bowls. His was wide and shallow with a red glaze, and Roy thought Winry's looked suspiciously like a large, blue mug. When she turned it in her hands, Roy saw that it, indeed, had a handle.
"Come on," Winry said, holding a mug of dinner in one hand and a mug of cold hot toddy in the other, "I usually eat in the parlor by the gramophone." She turned and slipped into the darkness in the next room.
Roy blinked. "You have a parlor?"