After the events of the end of the series, Winry must come to terms with her feelings about herself, the brothers, and certain military personnel.
An affected sense of the world, another doctor says (they're all another after her mother, the only real doctor). Low iron, says a second that Pinako likes better.
So she eats more spinach and cow meat from then on - spinach is better, says Pinako. Less fat. Winry wonders about why Pinako knows such things as the older woman nearly drops a plate heaped with spinach and tomatoes in front of her, then Alphonse, then Rose, then the others. Spinach is better for you, she tells the others.
"I'm forgiving you today," Pinako says, referencing their usual duty of making dinner together. "I know you all were busy."
Winry had worked most of the last two days on automail for the boy called Wrath in a haze. It is yet unfinished. Alphonse has been researching. Rose had a particularly bad night with her baby. They are a particular family, all missing partners, sons, fathers, mothers, body parts, lovers.
Izumi Curtis and her hulky husband are at the table too, the part of the boys' life that Winry was blocked out of. Whenever they sit and eat at Pinako's table, someone leaves shortly afterward.
A week later, Al hugs her tightly on the platform of the train station ten miles from their house. He whispers "I'm sorry" in her ear, and she is surprised that he even thought that far ahead. She smiles back at him, and wishes him a good journey. On the horse-cart ride back to Rizenpul she falls asleep, sprawled on the wooden planks of the cart and undisturbed by the harsh ride.
She never dreams when she sleeps. When she is awake she imagines Ed being devoured by black tendrils.
She takes a letter for Mustang in Al's handwriting with her on the two mile walk to the post office, Den at her side. The noon sun is high but she wears only a black shirt and skirt, black knee-high socks, black shoes, black hair-tie, and does not notice the sweat clinging to her back and to her forehead.
Main-street Rizenpul is ten houses long, with a dust strip inbetween that makes barely enough room for an automobile to pass. Little pockets of grass here and there rise up in the street. Three houses down the main street is the makeshift post office, always looking like the support pillars will give out at any moment.
The world swims again, and she grabs ahold of the metal water-pump to steady herself. Den licks her hand.
There's a letter from Miss Liza waiting; she is always frank and honest in her letters. Winry loves that. It almost heals the years of lies from the boys.
A few months ago, the news of the tumult in grey Central had reached even green Rizenpul and Winry had asked what happened? in frantic polite written words, had mailed the letter express with a footnote saying: I'll be in Central soon, to pick up Al. I'll see you if it's possible.
Central was in chaos, so much so that the newspaper boys didn't have to yell to sell papers. The papers themselves proposed coup theories and new governments and how it was all one twenty-nine year old's fault, complete with an old and unflattering picture when Roy Mustang was certainly only eighteen. The sight of the man she had hated so much with a bad haircut made her let out a slight, bitter laugh.
When she reached the brick path leading up to the hospital she broke into a run, stopped with a moment to spare in front of the figure who was not this time in blue and hugged her tightly. Miss Liza's eyes were red-rimmed.
They sat in the hospital waiting room, talking about the upcoming planting season and the newest technologies (technologies that affected both automail and guns), exchanged pleasantries, pondered the weather, fell into silence. Miss Liza handed her a letter, addressed but not mailed.
"I was going to send it to you, but I figured you'd be here in a timely fashion anyway."
Visiting hours: after Miss Liza went to her invalid (who is under tight military security) and Winry politely declined to accompany her, Winry sat in the hallway outside Al's room and read the letter.
I saw the bullet bore into the side of his face and he fell, not in slow motion like they always say, but much too fast. His body was already too heavy for him that day.
Her stomach churned, the world faded again and she had to grab the side of the chair to steady herself. She said that she didn't hate Mustang, but tolerance and sympathy are two very different things.
"There's a new government, perhaps this one will be better," Pinako said when she returned.
"Hmm," said Winry, tweaking the joint on an automail. New governments can't go beyond the Gate, or whatever it is that she's heard mentioned so many times in whispers. Where they think Ed is. They have never tried to explain it to her or include her in the conversation.
Miss Liza visits. They sit at Pinako's light pine kitchen table over glasses of water.
"You seem tired, Winry. Have you been sleeping lately?"
"Yes," Winry says. Miss Liza's hair is down, and this confuses Winry. There is a new energy to the woman when she is not in uniform. Winry wishes she had a uniform.
"Perhaps you can't stop sleeping?"
Winry looks up, startled. That's it exactly. Sleepwalking.
"Roy doesn't think Ed died in that exchange."
"It doesn't matter."
The tears are in Winry's eyes and she's not sure she can stop them.
"Al's gone again. Your trains probably crossed each other; he thinks Ed is alive too, just," she pauses, and slams her fists down on the table, "I don't understand alchemy, so I don't understand them. And I can't help them, and I stay at home and can't do anything."
Miss Liza blinks, places her hand out toward Winry and grabs it.
"Do you know," she says, "I grew my hair out because I saw how pretty yours was?"
Inbetween sobs now, Winry laughs.
"I feel so stupid."
"It's okay to feel stupid. I do often," she says, and Winry remembers another part of the letter: There was nothing that could be done, nothing that can be done now, but I feel like I wasn't fast enough or smart enough. I wished I had known alchemy.
It is one of those decisive moments where the sunlight streams through the windows, perfectly, and her tears are comforting, perfectly, and the one person in this whole mess who has considered that she might have any feelings is here. She leans over the table, elbows resting on the rough wood. Liza isn't surprised or uncomfortable at all, but rather closes her eyes.
Centuries ago, Ed and Al had once fought over who had the right to marry her. Both had quickly snuck behind her and snaked one arm around her waist, kissing one cheek at the same time.
She takes the train to Central, nervous and alone, and meets an Al with long hair, an Al who wears a red coat with an embroidered flamel on the back. An Al with arrays on his palms, who claps to create alchemy. If not for the variance in hair color and the slight chubbiness, she might have mistaken him for Ed.
He stops for a moment and peers through the sun behind her with one hand to his forehead. He runs toward her and wraps his arms around her, one coated in something that feels like automail but is nowhere near as strong.
"What is this crap?" she says, in mock anger, twisting the fake automail. "You'll never fool anyone with this. Why didn't you ask me to make something for you?"
Al fiddles with his hands, flustered, in a way Ed never would.
"You seemed busy and were kinda sick, so I thought-"
She hits him in the head lightly. "I think what you're doing is important enough to bother me for."
"Well," he looks down, "sorry." In some sense, she thinks he knows.
"I have to get right to work making this fake automail for you now. It'll probably cost a lot of money - do you have any? I'll have to reconfigure the design to work for an actual arm inside of it, I've never done that before but it shouldn't be that hard. And I need the right kind of steel, too-"
She pauses with one hand to her chin, her mind racing.
"Where's the nearest automail store? Maybe they have some extra steel I can buy."
Al pauses. "I think there's one on Chestnut Street."
She grabs his red sleeve and starts running. Before it would have made the world swirl around her and her breath hitch, but her head is instead bursting with plans and the shape of metal around Al's arm and leg. He struggles for breath behind her as she keeps running, swerves past a cart, past a couple in military uniforms that look suspiciously like Miss Liza and that bastard colonel, eyepatch and all, past stalls of fruit and vegetables and yelling vendors until she finally reaches a store with gleaming automail arms in the window.
Al puts his gloved hands down on his knees, trying to catch his breath.
"Good, that's an Ed thing to do," she says.
He pauses. "Is it?"
"You don't even know?" She puts her hands on her hips. "I suppose you need a coach."
Al's face twists. "Actually, I was going to ask you if you could help-"
"Good, because you obviously need it," she says, and opens the door to the store, still thinking about wrench and screw sizes.
She pauses a moment to check her reflection in the glass. None of her hair has fallen out of its careful bun, and the paleness that afflicted her for months is gone.