XXX

XXX

In the face of change,

That's when she turned to me and said,

'I'm not sure anymore.'

XXX

"They're gone," Roy confirms, speaking with a finality that sounded strained, as though he were trying to convince himself of it.

Winry still stares glassy-eyed at the sky overhead. It is filled with the entrails of destroyed aircraft and smoke from their explosions. She makes no acknowledgement of Mustang while Sheska asks the questions. Slowly, she lowers her gaze to the ground and nods slightly when she catches a fragment of conversation that tells her Alphonse left to be with his Edward. Of course he'd want to be with Ed, she thought, and tried to feel glad for the brothers.

She raises her head when Roy addresses her directly. "Fullmetal said to tell you 'thank you," and he seems unsure of how to convey how much meaning there was in the message.

"Then why the hell isn't he here to tell me himself?" Winry snaps, and Roy, probably realizing he cannot placate her at this moment, nods stiffly to her and Sheska and dismisses himself with a comment about overseeing the casualties of the day.

Winry glares in his direction and doesn't notice that Sheska has put an arm around her until Sheska says "At least they're alive. He's alive." And Winry knows this and it takes the crushing fear off of her chest, but it does little for the lump in her throat at the understanding that being alive was the best she could ask of the brothers, the only reassurance they would give her.

XXX

And there, amidst the waves and the cloudless skies,

That blanket the years before,

I watched my life wash ashore.

Have you ever been a part of something,

That you thought would never end?

And then of course, it did.

XXX

For as long as she could remember, Winry had been hanging on the Elric brothers.

She'd run endless literal and figurative races trying to keep up with them, chasing them up trees when they were younger and studying until she was blue in the face to understand indecipherable symbols and equations when the boys took up the more obsessive, sedentary habit of studying alchemy constantly.

When Ed and Al finally left Resembool on that late-night train without telling anybody, Winry realized that her friendship with the Elrics had unraveled until a single thread—made of Ed's conditional faith in her automail engineer's talents—remained of it.

Winry'd never considered herself to be lonely even as the Elric brothers slipped away from fun and mischief into alchemical texts. But with the brothers gone and no letters arriving despite the passing weeks, she felt like silence surrounded her. Granny Pinako was wonderful, but she didn't alleviate the companionship needs of a twelve year old girl.

She had never thought she needed any other friends, certainly not girls who stayed inside and did quiet things and were mostly averse to grease and metal and finding out how things tick. Winry spent years shying away from people, partly because of fear of being hurt and partly for the feeling that she did not fit in with anyone.

So instead of finding friends who would at least write to her, Winry had isolated herself. She had decided to wait for the day the boys came home and the return of things to the way they once had been. When they finally had come home, Winry realized that she was still lagging behind Edward and Alphonse. She'd understood by then why they had to leave. She could not understand why they never wanted to come back.

XXX

Now the lines are drawn,

Is this feeling gone?

The best parts of this have come and gone.

XXX

As part of a long line of exorbitantly executed military cover ups, the state held a funeral for the Elric brothers. The fabrication's credibility mandated that Winry attend, and Sheska came with her.

"I still think it's outrageous that they can't hold it in Resembool," Winry says on the train to Central. Sheska peers up over her book and hesitates to respond.

"Yeah, they don't seem to care about who Ed and Al were as much as what they were. They were alchemists who served the state, and that's all that matters to them," she mutters.

Winry doesn't say anything for a long time, and she stares absently at the handbag she brought along.

Then, "All they cared about was alchemy. All they wanted to be were alchemists. Anything or—or anyone who wasn't relevant to alchemy…" her voice broke. "…They didn't care," she finished tremulously.

"Winry, that's not true. They were going through a lot at the time." Sheska says hollowly. It sounds like a tired excuse.

"I know that!" Winry cries, "I had to repair them when they'd been through so much they came home in pieces. They didn't give a fuck how sick it made me to see them like that and then never see them unless they were in that shape."

Sheska pulls Winry's head into her shoulder, and Winry's next words are muffled. "I don't care if Ed says thank you. I'm not his damned doctor, I'm his friend. Or I thought I was. Why do I just have to fade out of his life like that?" Winry's body shakes as she sobs.

She feels Sheska stroke her hair. "Winry, no one should be able to let you drop out of their lives. I think they were sorry they did that to you." At this point, Sheska moves away to look Winry in the eyes.

"And I think it's time you know you deserve better."

Winry does not cry during the 'funeral', but withdraws a doll from her bag and drops it into Edward's grave. The empty caskets might as well have contained the bodies of Edward and Alphonse, unreachable and dead to her except in knowledge and memory.

XXX

There's nothing simple when it comes to you and I

Always something in this everchanging life.

XXX

Winry had become friends with Sheska in part because of the Elric brothers, but unlike Ed and Al, Sheska did not try to outrun Winry.

Talking to the brothers had always been like discussing secrets to which she was no privy, the complicated topics and sometimes personal sentiment too close to the hearts of Ed and Al for Winry to fathom. With Sheska, it was easy. There was no mystique to her, none of the former breathtaking enigma she had loved in the mind and thoughts of Ed.

With Edward, it had been awkward, and unrequited love had only been part of the reason. She didn't fit with him, she'd tried so hard to arrange herself into something that would appeal to the inscrutable and brilliant Ed Elric, but she simply could not. When she was around Edward, a tension of time and tragedy hung on every exchange, placing immeasurable distance between them no matter how close they were.

Sheska was different, eager to hear whatever Winry would open up and tell her. Sheska pored over her words with an attentiveness that rivaled that she gave to her enormous collection of books. The pages of Winry's thoughts seemed more meaningful than she had ever considered them to be when Sheska flipped through them. In turn, Sheska's literary knowledge and casual banter endeared her to Winry.

When she could get Sheska to actually talk about the books she'd read instead of merely reading one and moving to the next tome, Winry had found Sheska to have a mind almost as profound and scintillating as Edward's. Sheska let Winry keep up, though, and eventually coaxed Winry into filling her bookshelves with as many reading materials as automail manuals.

XXX

With the reasons clear,

We'll spend another year,

Without direction, full of fear.

But now things will be different.

XXX

Granny Pinako dies in the fall; another reason for Winry to hate October.

Sheska suggests that Winry sell the house, seeing as she barely visited even before Pinako died. Winry spends a brooding few days in her old bedroom, coming out to cook meals only when convinced that Sheska will starve otherwise.

It is at some point when Winry is walking nostalgically through the eerily empty house, Sheska silently accompanying her, that she realizes what is so hard about this.

Winry is like an automail patient who never tries to move their new limb. She has all she needs to move on, but moving feels painful and makes her wish for the former. She is not trying to recover as much as she is waiting for the miracle healing to take place if she refuses to rehabilitate.

The dead tissue must be cut away first.

She brings up the idea while Sheska is wolfing down one of her apple pies ("Your cooking proves that it's an art," she says) and cannot contain her mirth at the way Sheska's fork clatters onto the table as her mouth hangs open.

"Most people just give their things away," Sheska remarks after she recovers from the shock. "You rural people are so dramatic." But she relents and helps Winry pack up her keepsake belongings.

The fire is brilliant against the pitch sky, and Winry stands with clenched fists as her childhood and her irretrievable past is uprooted, as she is uprooted in the same way the people she is trying to forget once were. Sheska's chilly hand wraps around Winry's, and their fingers intertwine.

As she watches the flames eat away at memories no longer pleasant, Winry understands why the Elrics found solace in doing this. The difference was that Winry would not be leaving anyone behind. She would be getting closer to people, not further away from them.

XXX

Now something has kept me here too long,

And you can't leave me if I'm already gone.

XXX

Winry had always kept the Elric brothers in her memory, but she had closed the book on them. The volumes had been reread, the years with the brothers like worn, yellowed pages now. There was nothing more to find in the lines of the past.

She'd felt refreshed the moment she left Resembool, the weight of a hopeless and disappointed devotion lifted. Edward and Alphonse would live out their lives together, and Winry would live hers without them.

Losing the Elric brothers had been like losing two limbs, but as Winry well knew, those could be replaced. In fact, they had been replaced. And the process had been easier than Winry could have imagined. She'd grafted new people onto the wound left by Ed and Al's departure—Paninya, the Hughes family, even Roy Mustang, and Sheska, who felt as fitting to Winry as her own right hand.

She never thought it possible to hold on and move forward at the same time, but it was and it is and it always will be for her. There wasn't anything Winry wouldn't trade for things to be different, but there wasn't anything that she would give up because things were not as they once were.

XXX

Now I keep this line open to get this call from you,

Speak the words that keep me coming back to you,

Now this time, it's all different.

XXX

Winry misses the Elric brothers, but she lets her life change anyway.

Sheska has agreed to move in with her. There is an unspoken agreement that Winry will do all of the cooking. Sheska takes what she calls as much a charity case as a job at the atrociously bare (except for automail materials) Rush Valley library.

Winry's automail practice has been doing well, and Paninya trains under her as an engineer now that Dominic has passed away. She has a shop in Rush Valley and another clinic in Central, and when she travels there she and Sheska make time to visit the Hughes family. Sometimes, they talk of Elysia's desire to become a soldier, like dad. Sheska tries to convince Elysia to work in government instead. Others, Gracia prods Winry and asks if there is anyone special in her life. Winry smiles in Sheska's direction.

She visits Roy periodically, drawn to him and he to her by a lost friendship with the brothers. When she asks Roy to tell her what happened to them throughout their military tenure, Roy hesitates. Winry assures the General that she does not blame him for any of it, and he launches into melancholic tales of the Philosopher's Stone and the Elrics' early successes. Winry closes her eyes, squeezes Sheska's hand, and sheds tears of closure as she begins to accept what she cannot change.

As for what can be changed, Winry is not letting anything else slip away from her. So one night, when Sheska is reading a particularly moving passage from one of her favorite classics, Winry leans in and kisses her. Sheska grins sheepishly and Winry wonders what she's been waiting for, but she resolves not to wait any longer.

In a box full of impractical but sentimental objects at the back of her shop, Winry keeps a few remaining photographs of the brothers. She doesn't think of putting them on a wall, but on occasion she takes them out to confirm that whatever exists now, she had been with Edward and Alphonse at one time. Then, resolutely, without a sigh or a tear shed, she puts the pictures away and walks back into her life.

XXX

Now something has kept me here too long,

And now I'm gone.

XXX

XXX

A/N: The title and song lyrics are from Rise Against's "Everchanging".