A/N: Final part. Thanks, y'all.
It was the preternaturally still hour just after dawn when Roy awoke, his back stiff and knees aching. The air was cold, chilled to a sharpness so that it almost hurt in his lungs, and in the thick, sluggish morning light—all shades of grey—the ceiling overhead seemed high and uninviting. But not unfamiliar.
He blinked and raised his hand to rub his eye, but when he touched the skin of his face, he didn't brush his fingers over the stiff fabric of his eyepatch. With both hands now, he searched his face. But it was gone. Had he taken it off in his sleep? Roy turned and looked around him and saw the patch sitting on the coffee table. How odd, he thought, that he would remove it in the night.
Roy pushed the blanket back and sat up, wincing as he did. Between the stiffness and the cold—his trousers and shirt were draped neatly over the back of a chair—he felt a greater longing for his own bed than he ever had. To make matters worse, all the whiskey the night before left his thoughts cottony and hazy, his mouth dry, and his stomach twisted and small. The thought of getting up and moving about Winry's apartment without her consent made him vaguely uncomfortable, but he knew he would feel immensely better with a glass of water in him. So he stood—keeping his motions small and slow to minimize the creaking of Winry's floorboards—and dressed. He couldn't manage the mobility in his back required to put on his suspenders, so they remained in a pile on the coffee table. Instead, he put his eyepatch in place and adjusted the strap to a familiar snugness.
It seemed strange, all this unearthly stillness in her apartment. She had, only the night before, filled the space to the walls, up to the ceiling, with the sound of her voice, the smell of her cooking, the warm, buttery light of the lamps.
The floor beneath his bare feet was quite chilly. He could see his breath hanging in the air, which made him suddenly a touch self-conscious about not brushing his teeth the night before. He made his way to the kitchen and drew a glass of water from the tap. He drank it all and then pulled another. He gargled a mouthful and spat it into the sink, which did something to mitigate the bacteria taste in his mouth. This second glass of water he took with him back into the parlor.
The windows in the kitchen and main room had snow piled generously on them—each individual pane was, perhaps, one quarter blocked by a blue-grey crescent, left from the night before. Roy had to draw directly up to the window to steal a look at the street below. The snow had stopped falling some time in the night, but the sky overhead was still thick and low. He had just a moment to look before his breath fogged the grimy glass, but he could see that the road was pillowy and white, indistinguishable from the sidewalk or alley below. He glanced at his wrist watch. It was just after seven-thirty. If the damn roads weren't clear by eight, he was calling the Director of the Department of Transportation, an old colleague Roy remembered specifically because he'd once broken the guy's nose during a wrestling team meet, freshman year at the academy.
The water was working, and by the time Roy made it back into the parlor, his stomach had settled. His head was feeling somewhat off still—it was not a pain necessarily but a dull blur around the edges—and his muscles remained unforgiving after the unusual night of sleep he'd gotten. He remembered quite suddenly that, with this dawn, he had now missed two doses of his medication. This surprised him somewhat: firstly, he often craved his medications between doses, so much so that he was usually quite aware of how recently or not recently he'd taken them; and secondly, he was standing, rather stably in fact, after missing two doses—some mornings he could hardily walk to the kitchen to take his medication even when he had taken his scheduled dose the night before.
Roy looked down at himself. He certainly didn't feel like clicking his heels, but he was standing. The pain radiating out of his knee was present, of course, but it was not unmanageable. In fact, what really bothered him now was the stiffness in his shoulders from sleeping hunched up on the couch. He drained his glass and set it on the coffee table, and, with his fists on his hips, Roy felt himself smile. It would be nice to give his PT doctor some good news for a change.
Suddenly, Roy felt like he was being watched. He switched his gaze toward Winry's bed, expecting to see her peeking at him from around the screen, but she was not. He was still for a moment and listened, and he could hear her breath, low and even. He looked around then. No one else was in the room. He was alone. The feeling persisted, though, and when Roy looked over his shoulder he knew why. Of course. He was not alone at all.
In the grey morning light, he could see much better the row of pictures Winry had on her mantel, all in mismatched frames, probably all given or salvaged. Roy took a step closer. He saw a photograph of three blonde children, two boys and a girl, all of whom he recognized after only a moment of scrutiny. Edward and Alphonse Elric as very young children struck him as particularly odd as he often forgot that their lives began long before their paths intersected with his, and in his mind, they were born twelve and eleven respectively—one of them, of course, born as an eleven-year-old suit of armor. But there they were, five or six, perhaps? And Winry the same. Grinning and posing with varying degrees of attention-seeking animation.
Roy did not have any pictures from his childhood. The first photographic record of his existence began with class pictures at the academy, in which he appeared austere and precocious.
Next, there was a picture of Winry standing next to an elderly woman with glasses and a long-stemmed pipe in her mouth. Winry was, perhaps, thirteen or fourteen, young enough to be thin and limby and breastless. Roy did not recognize the old woman, but he knew who she was. He knew, as well, that he should recognize her. It was Winry's grandmother to whom he owed a greater debt than he did even to Winry: many people live to bury their parents, but no one should have to bury a child.
Winry had a picture of herself posing with a young woman Roy recognized after a moment as Hughes's old assistant, Scheska Meyer. There was a picture of another young woman with brown skin and dark hair save a shock of pale framing her face; she held a young toddler up toward the camera, and the two had matching grins.
Then, Roy saw the three pictures of Winry's parents, looking young and happy and healthy. He did not linger on these.
Finally, Winry had a photograph of a boy, hair the color of wet sand, sitting in a chair too large for him in a library too large for him. It took Roy a moment to place this young man, and once he did, he couldn't help but marvel a little at it. This was Alphonse Elric, in the body of his birth, twelve-years-old, perhaps. Roy had met him in this flesh briefly before, but, he admitted to himself with a pang of guilt, the name Alphonse would always bring to mind the hulking suit of armor. Not this boy.
He pinched the bridge of his nose. He could really use a cup of coffee, but the thought of combing the cabinets in the kitchen for grounds and filters and the percolator made him particularly uncomfortable. Perhaps the photographs, still-frames of Winry's life, distinct from him and terribly private, reminded him what an interloper he was here.
Mounted on the wall over the mantel was another frame, this one larger than the others. Roy took a step closer to it and squinted a little through the darkness. This one did not have a picture in it, he could tell that much. The white background was bordered by pale yellow flowers and green vines. There appeared to be a passage in the frame, and after another moment of scrutiny, Roy determined that it was stitched into the background:
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of over-treatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
Sara & Urey
He recognized the passage almost immediately. This was the Hippocratic Oath, a set of ethical standards sworn to by doctors. It would have significance to the Rockbells, wouldn't it? He could guess that this was a wedding present, given to Winry's parents, perhaps somewhat humorously as most couples would expect to receive their wedding vows painstakingly stitched and embellished. 1898 was probably the year of their marriage. Roy executed them ten years later. In February, if he recalled correctly.
He scanned it again because he was feeling suddenly rather compelled to masochistic curiosity. With this second reading, however, he paused perhaps one-third of the way through and lingered on a particular line: I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
Why did that sound so familiar? He turned the words over in his mind again and again and cursed, again, that bullet behind his eye, which felt like a wall sometimes that he could not scale or circumvent. Instead, he did what he always did with that wall: he flung himself against it, over and over, hoping that maybe this time, it would crumble.
Roy squeezed his eye shut and focused. What was it? What was so damn familiar?
He knew the answer was there. He knew the shape of it, but not the details. It was nestled somewhere in the mixed up, damaged records in his mind, and he knew, something told him, that this was important.
Warmth, sympathy, and understanding...
Goddammit. He could almost reach it, could almost brush his fingertips over it. This memory, cold and round and just at the bottom of a pocket. He knew it was near. He could almost close his fist around it.
Roy's eye shot open.
He watched himself drop his car keys in the bowl by the door with one hand as he riffled through that morning's mail with the other. He closed the door behind him with his foot. Tossing his mail down on dining room table, Roy unbuttoned the front of his heavy, blue coat. He watched himself drape it over his arm and head for the bedroom to change out of the uniform.
When he returned to the main floor, his first stop was the kitchen to pour himself two fingers of scotch, toss back his pain medication—which his doctor always told him not to take with alcohol, but he did anyway—and look in the icebox for some inspiration for dinner. Roy could not imagine a meal he could concoct from some overly-ripe milk and a bottle of mustard, so he closed the door and decided to worry about it when he got hungrier. In the meantime, he returned to the dining room table to give his mail another once over. With the envelopes in hand, he sank slowly, painfully into a chair. He flipped between the unsolicited advertisements and revolving medical bills mechanically, sorting them haphazardly into a keep pile and a burn pile. He paused, however, when his gaze landed on a plain letter-sized envelope with the Central Department of Human Services as the return address. The letter felt oddly weighted, like there was something heavier than just a paperclip in the bottom right corner. Roy furrowed his brow, flipped the envelope over, and tore it open.
Peering inside, he saw a single page document addressed to him, which he pulled out and set on the table. Then, turning to envelope upside down, he dumped the remaining contents into his palm. He brought his hand closer to his eye.
There were two wedding bands, both gold and unadorned, one thicker and clearly masculine and the other slender and light.
"What the hell is this?" he muttered to himself, setting the envelope and rings aside.
He picked up the accompanying document, on official letterhead, and read what little explanation there was. One of the later stages of the Ishballan Restoration, it seemed, was to reclaim all the remains that had been hurriedly dumped in mass graves and to inter them properly. Cremation had, for centuries, been the Ishballan tradition as burial in sand tended to desiccate and preserve the bodies, thus preventing a proper unification with the Divine in their belief. The wedding bands, it seemed, had come off two bodies identified as Sara and Urey Rockbell.
The tumbler of scotch slipped out of his hand and hit the hardwood, shattering.
According to the department's records, he had been identified as the next of kin to the Rockbells after attempts to reach other family members had been unsuccessful. The Department of Human Services sent their deepest sympathies and hoped that the return of the Rockbell's rings would help in the healing process.
Roy sat very still for a moment to make quite certain that he was not going to vomit. Then he forced his lungs to expand. He looked at the rings on his table and felt irrationally compelled to put some distance between himself and them. Like they were stinging insects.
What the hell was he supposed to do with them? He imagined that whichever intern the Department of Human Services had distributing the effects of those killed in Ishbal had simply flipped through the Rockbell's file for names and spotted his, ignoring the context in which his name appeared. Although he knew that the bureaucratic clockwork was prone to doing some truly stupid things, this was appalling. This was appalling.
In lieu of all the other coiling emotions that knotted up behind his sternum, Roy felt himself grow very, very angry. How dare they send these God-forsaken rings to him? How dare they involve him in this messy, distasteful process? Any idiot would know that he wanted absolutely nothing to do with the Rockbells.
Roy had to get rid of those rings. Tonight. They had to be out of his house and then he could let his broken mind misplace the memory of them and then they could be lost to him forever. He considered getting in his car, driving past the city limits, and dropping them on the side of the road. He could step out onto his back porch and hurl them into the woods behind his house. He could go into town, find the closest begging indigent, and drop the rings into his tin can.
When all these notions made his stomach twist tighter and tighter, Roy knew what he had to do. Stepping over the broken glass, he stood from the table and went into the kitchen where he began making phone calls. He knew Hawkeye was still in the office—she would be able to chase down someone in the Department of Human Services to take these fucking rings back.
Hawkeye, of course, answered the phone after two rings. Roy kept his tone clipped and flat as he explained to her his situation, and she listened in silence.
"That's quite the oversight," she said. "I'll be happy to take the package back tomorrow morning."
"No," Roy cut across her. "This needs to be addressed tonight."
She was quiet a moment. "I doubt anyone will be there at this time of evening, sir. Most offices are closed."
Roy was silent, breathing through his nose.
"Though, if I remember correctly, sir, Winry Rockbell lives in Central. You could put the package in the mail. It would reach her in a day or so."
"If she lives in Central, I'll take it directly to her."
"I don't think that would be wise, General. I expect it probably will start snowing within the hour."
Roy was silent again, willing her to understand that this was not something that could wait.
He heard her sigh resignedly. "I believe Lieutenant Havoc knows her address, sir."
Roy did not question. "Fine," he said and hung up the phone.
In minutes, he had called Havoc, gotten vague directions to her apartment, and was preparing to leave. He dropped the rings in his pocket and checked his watch. He could beat the snow, he thought. He had enough time to find her mail slot, deposit the rings, and let that be the last time he thought of Winry Rockbell for a long, long time.
Roy blinked. The lamp was on behind Winry's privacy screen, casting a muted yellow light and making the glass in the frames over the mantel glint. He heard linens rustling and then being thrown back. He watched her silhouette sit up in the bed, then stand, then stretch its hands up toward the ceiling. Winry made a long, low groaning sound and dropped her arms. Roy couldn't seem to tear his gaze away. He watched her come around the screen, her bare feet padding on the floorboards. She was looking at him when she appeared, rubbing one eye with her fist.
"Oh, Roy," she said a little blearily. "You're up. Did you sleep okay?"
He opened his mouth, but the sounds dried up in his throat before he could even make them.
"Sorry. That was an asshole thing to ask," she said, smiling. "Maybe I just shouldn't talk before I get coffee in me, huh?"
How was he going to tell her? What could he say?
"Roy?" she persisted. "You okay?" She came up to him, her brow furrowed.
"I have something for you," he blurted.
She blinked. "Oh. Um, okay."
"Stay here," he instructed and went to retrieve his coat from the foyer. It was hanging on a hook on the wall. He pulled it down and checked the inside pocket. There they were, the Rockbells' wedding rings, round and cold and bright despite the semi-darkness. With his coat still draped over his arm and the rings in his closed fist, Roy returned to the parlor, where Winry was waiting.
She looked puzzled and more than a little concerned, but when Roy told her to put out her hand, she obeyed. He dropped the rings into her open palm.
"These belong to you," he said.
She watched his face a moment longer and then lowered her gaze to her hand. Then slowly, by degrees, she recognized them. Her parents' wedding rings.
"How," she began, flicking her wide, searching eyes up to him once more, "How did you get these?"
"They were sent to me in error," he said. "A soldier retrieved them when your parents were disinterred and given a proper burial in Ishbal."
"That's what I've been told," he said. "I received them yesterday evening, and I came here with the intention of giving them back to you."
She watched him for a moment, her lips just parted. "You remember?"
He couldn't help but laugh. "I remember."
He watched her close her hand and press it to her sternum. She drew in a long, large breath, her gaze now lingering vaguely at his shirtfront. She swallowed, shook her head, gasped in another breath. Roy knew the signs of a woman about to faint, and he caught her around the ribs when she began wobbling on her feet. She flopped forward against him, stammering apologies as he helped her to the couch.
Once she was seated and Roy was standing before her, she opened her hand and looked at the rings again.
"I thought they were lost."
Roy was not certain if she meant the rings or her parents' bodies or something else entirely. "Not lost," he said, "Misplaced, perhaps."
She spent another moment watching the rings, her mouth parted in disbelief. Then, without looking up, she said, "You walked all the way from your house to here, in the snow," she flicked her gaze up, "to give me these?"
When put like that, it sounded quite chivalrous. Roy would have to correct that lest she think him capable of doing something so decent. "It's not nearly so flattering as that," he explained. "I was... very angry when I received them."
She furrowed her brow, and Roy wished she would put that damn quizzical expression away to spare him having to explain it further.
"I felt imposed upon. Inconvenienced, even. If I had known, in fact, that I would see you, I probably would have sent my assistant to deliver them." He paused for a breath and watched the understanding slide over her face. "My haste to," say it, "be rid of your parents' wedding bands was rooted in my fear and discomfort more than anything else. Certainly more than anything admirable."
She would have been within her rights to rise to her feet, to thank him for delivering the rings, and to ask him to leave. He knew where the door was and was prepared to find it on his own, even if it meant going out into the knee-deep snow and waiting for someone, anyone, to come rescue him. At least she knew the truth now, the ignominious truth. He was exactly the kind of small, wounded man to hate her, to blame her for the ghosts he'd made, to think seeing her face was like hell.
She stared at him, her face hurt and a little confused, and Roy could not bear to stand there and look at her. A little girl, made vulnerable anew, whom he'd tricked into thinking that he had the capacity to be a nice man. He'd taken advantage of her enough for once night. He could endure no more. So, picking his coat up and gathering his shoes, he turned toward the exit. If there was anything left to say, perhaps something to soothe her a little, he could not think of it.
He took one deliberate step toward the door.
"Where do you think you're going?"
Roy paused. Perhaps she believed he deserved worse punishment than that terribly wounded look on her face, and he knew he was in no position to avoid it. He turned and looked at her over his shoulder.
She stood, her hands clutching the rings before her sternum.
"Of course," she said, shaking her head. "Of course, you were frightened. What man wouldn't be? I..." she paused, searching for the right word, "I never would have expected you not to be. You still brought them out here. I mean, you could have thrown them away."
"The thought crossed my mind," he admitted, a little stunned by her response. She wasn't begrudging him his reluctance, was she? No, she was affirming it. Forgiving it, even.
"You wouldn't do that," she said as she looked down and slipped her mother's wedding band onto her ring finger and her father's on to her thumb. "You know how I know that?" she asked, meeting his eye. "Because you are a man with integrity, Roy."
Had he told her about that, he wondered. He must have. Yes, he remembered now, shortly before they both went to sleep, telling her what integrity meant to him. He did not, however, believe that this was a very good example of his notion of integrity at all—he had not brought her the rings out of a sense of moral obligation or a desire to aid her healing process. He had not done it because he believed it was the right thing to do.
"The thought of throwing the rings out made me want to vomit," Roy heard himself say. "Otherwise, I probably would have. I don't want to misled you into thinking I've got a particularly fine-tuned moral compass, Winry."
She smiled at him like he had told her a joke only she understood. "I think the only person you're misleading is yourself, Roy," she said. "Put down your stuff and let me make you a cup of coffee before you go at least."
She brushed past him, heading for the kitchen, and he stood in her parlor, his coat and shoes in hand, the sun now emboldened enough to chase the grey light into the corners of the room. Without any idea, even the slightest clue of how to proceed, he tossed his coat over the back of the couch and dropped his shoes on the floor with a thud. Then, unburdened, he turned and followed Winry.
They split an omelet and a couple sausage links and a pot of coffee between them. She served him a spicy, yellow tea with a spoonful of honey that she said would help with some of the pain. White willow bark, turmeric, and arnica, she explained as she ground what looked like landscaping mulch into a powder with a mortar and pestle. Perhaps it was just placebo effect, but within twenty minutes, his back and shoulders seemed to unclench and the pain in his knee dulled.
By the time they had finished breakfast, the streets had been plowed, so while Roy stacked dishes in the sink, Winry called the taxi company. They said they would have a cab at her address in fifteen minutes.
This gave Roy enough time to gather up the linens he had used the night before and stuff them into the hamper while Winry dressed behind the screen. Now, with the whiskey drained from his blood, Roy could will himself to look elsewhere, not that he could have sees her shape projected against the fabric in the muted morning light anyway. Still, he did his part to maintain her modesty, even if she was unconcerned about changing clothes in a room with a man.
When she emerged, Roy was pushing the twists out of his suspenders. Even with Winry's natural remedies, Roy did not think he could manage to clasp the buttons in the back of his waistband. He must have been looking at his suspenders with a defeated expression because Winry drew up to him and took them from his hands.
"Turn around," she commanded. He obeyed, and he could feel her knuckles against his back as she fitted the eyes around the buttons on his trousers. "I bet you have a pretty, young housekeeper at home who does this for you."
Roy snorted. "Again, you must think me in a very different pay grade than I actually am."
"Being a brigadier general doesn't afford you some help?"
"A housekeeper? Yes. Nubile slave women to help me dress in the mornings? Not quite."
He heard her let out a peel of laughter, high and light as birdsong. "Sounds like you need a wife. I hear they're free, you know?"
"Ha!" he said. "You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?"
She laughed and laughed, and when Roy turned, she was holding her stomach, her face turned upward. That made him smile, her unabashed display of delight, as he attached the front straps of his suspenders.
He stepped into his shoes, and Winry held his coat open for him. He noticed that she still had her parents' wedding rings on her fingers as she pushed the lapels of his coat over his shoulders. Then, together, they walked down the stairs, the air in the stairwell as cold and thick as the undisturbed snow on the windows. She held the front door open for him as Roy stepped carefully out onto the icy front landing, his cab parked in a cloud of exhaust below. Winry stepped out behind him, catching the door with her heel to keep it from closing.
She let him get a step down before she said, "Hey, Roy?"
He paused and turned back to her, eye level with her now and incredibly close.
"Thanks for coming by."
He watched her face, pale and bright in the sunlight, her breath condensing around her like a shroud. Her cheeks were turning pink, and while he was certain the cold air had something to do with it, he did not know if it was wholly responsible.
"It was my pleasure," he said somewhat ironically—she had rescued him off the icy sidewalk, hadn't she?
She was leaning forward before he could think to withdraw, her hands on his shoulders, her lips pressed to the corner of his mouth. She was hot to the touch, her mouth a brand against his skin, her breath a warm veil against his face. His hands felt the narrowness of her waist through her ill-fitting winter coat, the smallness of her, thinned-boned and so fragile.
"I'd like to see you again," he said as she withdrew, the warmth of her lips lingering on his face.
"I'd like that, too," she said.
Was he allowed to say things like that to her, he wondered as he turned and stepped gingerly down the stairs. Typically, a declaration like that meant, when he'd said it to other women, I'd like to sleep with you eventually. But he did not mean that with Winry. Certainly, the thought had occurred to him—how could it not with her breasts pressed to his chest and her thighs around his—but he meant, quite honestly, that he wanted to see her again. Even if it was just dinner, just a conversation over better liquor. He wanted to see her again. He did not want to lose her.
The snow on the sidewalk was already trodden to a grey slush, and he waded carefully through it to the door of the taxi. He hesitated there and turned back, but she was gone. This was, perhaps, for the best, as Roy was not certain what he had planned to tell to her. Had he thanked her yet? That would have been a good thing to say then.
He opened the cab door and slipped inside. The heater was running and the air freshener was new. He gave the driver his address, and they took off down the road, leaving Winry's apartment behind them. Roy watched her kitchen window until they turned right, and he lost sight of it. She had not popped up in the window, though, to wave him goodbye or grant him a last smile.
And that was fine, he thought. She was probably still making her way, slowly and thoughtfully up the stairs to her door, piecing together all the parts of the last night just as he was doing, trying to determine if she were actually okay with everything she had said, judging her minutest gestures and declarations, just as he was doing. And if he were lucky, she was coming to the same conclusion that he was.