Edward was a thousand miles away; yet he had been home nearly four months. Winry knew it. He walked through her house in the night like a specter of himself; her house, now, because Granny Pinako was dead and she had the Rockbell name all to herself.
He walked the halls, and then snuck away.
Alphonse sat at the table with her one night as Edward wandered the secret places of Rizenbuul, and neither knew what he did, or what he made, or—if, really, either should intrude on the grief that seemed to grip him where joy should have ruled his return.
Finally, she said to him as the steam from their coffee cups mingled, "I'm going to follow him. He goes out every night. He's got to be hiding something out there."
"If you're certain it's wise. It might be a rough path; maybe I should go." Alphonse had grown up these last five years, recapturing the time lost between himself and Ed—only to find his brother, twenty-one to his fifteen; six years yawned between them instead of one. Still, he was the caretaker of the Elric boys.
But Winry shook her head.
"I'll do it."
So she undid her toolbelt and took off her gloves and she made sure she had nothing to make noise, and then tied her hair back, and stared into the dark as Edward slipped out, and began to pace through his escape.
She tracked him over hills and woods, keeping her distance; once or twice, he stopped, listening like a startled stag—but eventually he moved on. This was a well practiced skill, following Elrics from childhood onward, and Winry could manage to do it without being caught.
He trekked over the river, skipping stone to stone, and then across; she remembered this sheltered place, not far from where she once heard Roy Mustang explain his ambitions, and gained the beginnings of her forgiveness.
He went past the rocky outcropping and into the trees. She was tired and it was cold. But—then he stopped.
There was a small city in the woods. A veritable, alchemical construction of some place she'd never seen; certainly, she was like a beast to them, a towering god of destruction, stepping carefully into roads and lifting her feet over buildings that bore names she had never seen before in Amestris.
Caught up in examining the detail of a tiny person on the street, alchemically carved down to the last minute detail—from eyelash to the wedding ring on his finger—that she did not realize she had been found.
"I didn't want to forget that place."
She dropped the small stone man—his perfection shattered on the thoroughfare he had just been on; a piece of his head skittered one way, his foot another. Edward merely clapped his hands, and the took up the largest part of his remains and rebuild him; now, into a young woman; dressed as a mechanic, hair under a kerchief to keep it from tangling in her work; she as there in her own palm, a perfect replica.
"What's wrong with this one?" she asked, after a moment, before setting her miniature self into the streets.
"He's not in it. So much else is, but—he didn't make it back with me, Winry. I—wanted to bring him home, so Al could finally meet him, and—it—he stayed there. To let me go. It was... equivalent trade."
She hated that law; the trading of one thing for another; didn't he know things could be shared? Like grief, some things could be easily halved between two.
"We tried to get you home for so long. Why isn't that enough?"
He stood there, whitewashed by the moonlight, and could not answer her.
Winry crossed the city carefully, lanes and buildings forgotten, till she could get his hands in her own. Standing before him, she looked at his good hand, and then tugged of his glove; he jerked back, surprised.
"Don't you know," she said, even as she pressed his palm over her heart, "how much we missed you? Do you have any idea how big a space you left in our home?"
"Yes," he says, and it's with raw honesty, as he looks down at his hand in hers, over her breast, feeling the steady, comforting beat of her heart.
"Then why won't you let us fill the space in you? Can't we meet half way? Between—this world," she gestured to the tiny metropolis at their feet, "and the other? Can't we make a world between them, where you can be safe again?"
He sighed and his head dropped; she brought her free hand to his hair, and stepped in closer. A tremor ran his body, he slowly moved to hold her, to hold on to her, to simply just steady himself against the sudden emotion that crashed against him; if she let go, she was certain his heart would fly apart and the pieces would mingle with all the other broken people in this ghost city of stone.
"Come back, Ed," she murmured, even as he lost himself to sobs. Who had he left behind? What had been so important that he'd absorbed himself in recreating this city of—of a world that was not his own? "Come home. We miss you, so much. Al and I, we need you. Come home."
Pressing a kiss to his temple, she allowed him to work it out; tears, ragged sobs, breathless murmurs; the story poured forth in broken syllables, the past the Rosetta stone of its translation. Father and Son and Safety and Sacrifice. It made only a semblance of sense, but she understood that the whole truth would be revealed when Ed could be led from this graveyard of the years he had lost.
Then the tide turned, and he was angry, not at her, but this whole construction. He broke away, incoherent. Father and Son and Lost and Time and Squandered tumbled out of him now as an automail leg was used like the hammer of god, crushing the miniature city to replica ruin. He kicked viciously at the effigy he'd created of men, women she'd never even be able to comprehend knowing, from another time and place she didn't want to acknowledge.
She just wanted him to come home now.
When he was spent, he stumbled back against a tree; she went to his side as he slid down it's trunk, long hair catching against the bark.
"I miss him so much," he finally said, curling against her side. "I hated missing him. Now it's worse. That was the only place I knew him. Why did I have to know him there? Why couldn't he have been here?"
She smoothed her hands over his hair, and kissed his brow again, allowing him to ramble out the contents of his beleaguered heart, till he was quiet. She began to piece together the love of a father and a son, lost in a foreign place. You never knew how good a thing was till you lost it. She knew all too well; her father wasn't going to hand her away at a wedding, her mother wasn't going to hold her hand through the rearing of her first child. Edward was not going to see his mother and father again, either. Izumi and Seig would sit where a groom's family should be, some day, with Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye right behind them.
It wasn't fair.
He made a small noise, sad and lost, but did look at her, his eyes lost to shadow.
"It's okay to mourn him, you know. I know you loved him. I'm sure he knows, too."
Edward sniffled; it was a boyish thing, and stripped age from him as he mumbled, "I hope so."
He gave in to her embrace, and allowed her to hold him, she was grateful; it was a good step. He had purged, perhaps, and the destruction tonight might allow him to rebuild inside. It was a start, she supposed, and a rough one, but they all had to begin somewhere.
They stayed there, entangled, until he was ready to walk home, arm in arm with her; finally able to dare to leave one world behind and re-enter the other.