Title: We Lie in Circles
Genre: angst, post-series
Rating: PG-13 (T)
Word Count: around 1500
Notes: For fireandice2008. My (summer) prompt was “don’t burn yourself.”
Do you remember the way things were?
It was summer, once: A season for August days and august heroes (in as much capacity as much as one can manage, worrying two loose baby teeth and wiping the stickiness of chocolate from one’s mouth).
Now it is autumn, with all the heat and dizzy-sweet sickness of summer, but none of its (so much to live so much to lose so much to miss) crushing vitality. They are old people in young bodies, but they are not the first and they know it.
A life may not equal a life, but—and this was what Edward said last night, so harshly Winry almost cried, cried like she hadn’t all the time while he was gone—
But if you stop living, stop living, stop watching, stop caring, then…
“Then maybe you’ve lost that claim.” His words repeat and repeat and repeat in her head, but they don’t add up. They can’t. (Nothing equals nothing. Zeroes can’t be split, or shared.
They are sprawled in the riverbank grass, stripped down to almost nothing but the fog of September’s noon heat. It embraces them, warm and wet and tangible—more there than any invisible thing has a right to be. It rises up right alongside the reeds and the smell of tepid water and swamp-mud, and sits upon them, between them.
They breathe in, almost-but-not-quite in perfect synchrony. The air flushes in to brood inside them.
It is heavy like the storm clouds that roll in, billowing forth from the east (rain and gunsmoke and cinders—these are the pieces of a war that has finally died out).
“We had a fight.” Obviously. As though Winry didn’t recall!
“We should go. A storm is coming,” she answers. Simple, declarative, and just as unabashedly obvious.
“It’s not like we haven’t had those before. It’ll be fine.” Winry doesn’t know if Edward is having a conversation with her, or talking to himself. Winry stands up. Edward scowls. “Fine, fine. But there’s one place we need to go, first.”
She wouldn’t have, had she known where he would take them. “I don’t know if you were going for dramatic effect, but there’s generally a reason people don’t go out in the middle of thunderstorms!”
“It’s important,” Edward insists.
“But it’s not the time to be,” her breath hitches as the sleek hill-grass slips from under her feet. Edward reaches out and grabs her just in time; it hurts. “To be visiting a peaceful grave.”
Because there is something inherently wrong about creeping through cemeteries—all the children’s tales Winry has ever heard stand testament—on a dark and stormy night. Even if it’s only evening, really (eight o’clock and still light), even if it’s ninety degrees and not quite raining yet, even if she doesn’t (really) believe in ghosts.
(It has always been wrong.)
There are so many gravestones. Wordless, they navigate the sprawling rows—rows that roll with the curvature of the hill and the pressure of the spirits and not in any pre-measured matrix. Risenburg is like that, and always has been. They stop at the one nearest the apple tree (one tree, so lonely; but it’s been left untended as long as the cemetery has stood, and it bears no fruit). This grave is the newest addition, but only just.
“I must really have a thing for dead doctors.” The remark is bitter and callous but sad-quiet, such that Edward knows better than to say anything back. “I loved my parents then, and I love them now. And,” Winry measures her breaths. In and out. Even, careful. “I loved him, Edward. I really did. I loved him.” She still loves him—a man Edward has never met, nor ever will.
She wonders if this is what Edward meant when he said that he had hesitated, Life swept forward, and he had been left behind.
She knows the feeling all too well.
Winry crouches by the gravestone, her back to Edward. She doesn’t think he knows the story, but she doesn’t care to tell it now. The late Mr. Winry Rockbell doesn’t need to be a person for him; he is, and needs only to be, a plain slab of granite.
“I’m…sorry,” says Edward. She doesn’t think he is, not really, but it doesn’t matter.
(—Only a slab of granite.)
This is the most thorough apology Winry has ever been given. It is dark now, and it is raining now; her cheeks are still hot and flushed, but for Edward’s breath now, and not the weather now.
Now, something inside her protests (the past, she thinks) his hands on her waist, the weight of his chest on her back and his head on her shoulder.
Don’t get burned.
She crosses her arms across her stomach, lays her hands on his, fingers the sweat-salted knuckles of one and the hard familiarity of the metal other.
Don’t get burned.
Then she turns and kisses him—the one thing he would never have done on his own. (Still, he kisses back.) Don’t get burned.
One sparkling moment, and Winry sees it all—they marry in winter; children by next autumn. Happiness. The world rights itself and they are young people in young bodies, growing into old people in old bodies. Cyclical perfection.
But it is only lightning.
The thunder comes, and everything seems wrong. The kisses and caresses, they aren’t Edward, and they aren’t her.
Everything tonight is very, very wrong. Don’t get—
Winry realizes she is crying again.
Last night didn’t happen.
It didn’t mean anything—why should it? Somewhere along the line, cause and effect came unhinged. This moment, then the next, and the next. No connections, no intentions. Some things can’t be added up—Winry is beginning to see that life is one of those.
We’ve been running in circles all this time.
As much as it Did Not Happen, her memory claims otherwise, and it stirs her stomach into a writhing fury. They lie beneath the apple tree, the one that bears no fruit but is growing all the same. Her head is on his chest and she feels his every breath. There is comfort in that, with each exhalation, there is a promise of more to come. And there is something of blissful eternity in this—Winry lets the sleeping dead around them and the storm falling down on them fade to black.
Alchemy doesn’t exist, least of all human transmutation, there were never wars in the east, nobody ever died, all the beautiful young children grew up into beautiful young lovers and they lived vibrantly and died when their time came.
Nobody ever stopped living but kept right on breathing.
That is where the fantasy defeats itself.
Winry cracks eggs, flat against the countertop, with the semblance of indifference. (Inside, she can’t help but feel that with every eggshell, bigger things are breaking.) The yolks join Mrs. Caddaway’s—a neighbor of Winry’s since last May—limp kale and a few strips of re-warmed beef from last night’s dinner in the skillet. The skillet is thick black steel (crude, not like Rockbell automail), but it retains heat well and has done so ever since either of them can remember.
Too well. Winry brushes sideways when she scoops up lingering eggshell from the counter, and all the heat of all her years—do you remember that little girl? She tried to cook Mommy breakfast once, and she has a faint white scar that spills across her left forearm to prove it—burns her.
Winry hisses, clutches the spot with her other hand so tightly it leaves white finger-marks when she finally lets go.
And some things do add up. Pain does. As does confusion. “What are we doing, Edward? What the hell are we doing?”
No answer. It doesn’t matter; the only answer he has is twin to hers: I don’t know.
I don’t know.
They fall out into the dawn, porch planks silent—swelled and oiled with the wet of dew. Beneath their feet is the same grass, yesterday’s grass, only tinged now with morning instead of sadness. (Mourning lurks below the surface, still; it peeks out with the noon and the ghosts and Risenburg’s peculiar fog of heat.)
But mornings are the closest they will ever get to spring, so fast are they entwined in tired autumn, and it is enough.
They will make it enough—this much Winry has decided.
Quantities cannot be altered, masses not exchanged (more for less, less for more; even same for same, because even now, even now, lives cannot equal other lives); it’s only the worth that changes.
Mornings are worth everything.
They settle along the riverside. Winry helps Edward ease into the grass and rushweed; he bites his lower lip, grits his teeth in spite of the assistance (but not because of it). But they lay side be side, and they are children again. This is the circle and we’ll keep walking it until we’ve found a way out. Maybe we’ll get burned again. Maybe there won’t be anything left. But for now…
The grass is wet under their bodies, cool and soothing. Winry whispers, “This is how I love you.”
This is how I love you.
This is how I—