He doesn't have to do it, but does anyway. He is closer to her up here, somehow, with the lulling swirl of the water between his fingers, the haunting of peach soap clinging familiar at the back of his throat and the wet bubble-pop against his skin. This was her place, her sunset photograph, and he imagines he can still see the smudged black slips of her footprints on the tile. Hear the glassy ping of cups and porcelain bumping together in the sink as she hums and murmurs in languages she only half remembers.
"Do you think mom went to heaven, Brother?" Al's voice whispers, wavers.
'No, no,' Ed wants to say, 'God doesn't hurt like that, God doesn't steal. She's gone, she's empty now because there is no God. No heaven.' But the harsh light of early morning sharpens the hard angles of desperation on Al's face so instead Ed smiles, all teeth, and lies, "Of course."
Pinako cooks for them for a time, and Winry scurries underfoot with the pretense of help, one hand thumbing through a cookbook while the other clumsily clunks through potatoes, tomatoes, onions, too dry chicken. Vainly attempting to rebuild Rome from lasagna up, trying to fix them by fitting in enough spare parts. When they tell her they want to move home, her smile almost snaps in two; Just. Now don't look like that, it's not you. It's not your meatloaf. We need...I don't know. It'll be alright, okay?
Ed blames it on the all-knowing pity in Pinako's eyes whenever he asks her to boil a pot of tea. She knows he hates tea, tsks quietly when she finds the mug of near-black liquid obscured in a corner of her workshop and he bites back furious-bright; too bitter, too sugary, no milk! But he's just terrified. Scared witless of the inevitable sad-pathetic smile that would appear if she ever found out the truth; he's still a slave to routine and the day doesn't really live until the dark, bittersweet smell is everywhere and he opens his eyes to the scream of a kettle.
So they go back to their empty house. 'And hide', the neighbours whisper, 'Poor things.' And Ed bares his teeth at them because their faces are worse than Pinako's.
The window above their sink frames the fat, lazy summer sun setting in a swift stroke of red and Ed shifts his weight on the chair he's precariously balanced on, continues to pick at a stubborn flake of food stuck against a plate until his cuticles sting. The water has already gone cold but he doesn't care, just sucks in a deep breath and stares out at the road starting right beyond their doorstep and winds like a widening vein into the horizon. He's seeing through her eyes right now, he realizes. She spent hours here, gazing at these same hills and one or two trees, and the road, yeah, the road.
It all came down to that goddamn road, didn't it?
It's blinding and hypnotizing in this light, like a sheet of plated gold accidentally cracked into being by divine alchemy and, probably, just as forbidden. The World isn't four walls and a roof, it implores, not a picket fence. I am The World. Yes ma'am, the one you never saw.
Ed traces its line up out of view, catches dull flashes of its 'what ifs' behind his eyes and something in his chest tugs towards it, yearns. He imagines the weight of this house on her shoulders then, the waiting and waiting until her nerves shred and her lungs begin to burn and that road out there (always) shining sinful with everything, everything, everything she wants—
And can't have.
Al's voice is suddenly beside him; "Brother?" And it's enough. Snap. He's back to Here and Now, his hands water-wrinkled red and with Al's fingers heavy on his spine.
"Mom! Look what I made!" A white on yellow daisy from dirt and water, it's Ed's best transmutation yet.
She turns from the window, a soapy cup still in her hands, and smiles. For a moment she's not there though, not really, she's dancing at an echoing hall in East City, spinning round in a faceless man's arms, or counting the smear of stars in Ishbul.
She takes the daisy with a golden expression and places a summer kiss on Ed's forehead with a murmured "thank you." The touch seems to drain away the distance and yes, there, her eyes are clear and she's back. But she suddenly looks older and her hands shake slightly as they scrub at another chipped plate.
"Let me help you with that, Brother." Al has a ratty dishtowel and tired eyes. They chase the rest of the fog away.
Ed thinks he didn't know his mother at all, really. He sees now, but he doesn't understand. Won't understand without asking and he never did. The realization lodges his heart in his throat.
Pulling away from the window, Ed steps down from the chair and settles among the scattering of papers which trail all over the table and into neat piles on the floor. It's a sea of hasty transmutation circles, numbers and equations, with his tiny script flowing in the margins. 'It's the desperation talking,' they whisper to him and he shakes his head, 'no.' Bites his thumbnail (tastes like dish soap) and picks up his pen, 'no.'
"Al, boil some tea, will you?"