Buckets of water always seemed to weigh too much, but Ed didn’t complain, carrying two of them. Al also had two buckets, though only one of his had any water, the other was full of tools they needed. Pinako and Winry hauled other things; lunch pails and flowers, bottles of lemonade. Den even helped, a pair of dropped scissors in her mouth.
Memorial Day had dawned hazily, but the sun was burning off the mist. Somewhere in the distance, Winry could hear the bellwethers leading a flock and the shrill whistles of shepherds guiding their dogs into moving their sheep. Bees worked on the honeysuckle climbing the walls of the cemetery, their drowsy drone making Al yawn. Winry nudged him. “Don’t go to sleep!”
“I won’t,” he promised.
Ed set his buckets down, grabbing a brush out of Al’s tool pail and dipping it into the water. He began scrubbing the bird poop and dead leaves from his mother’s tombstone while Winry grabbed a pair of clippers, trimming grass and weeds away from her dad’s. Al and Pinako started wrapping flowers together, making four bundles out of them, the vases Pinako had buried in the basement gleaming from their recent cleaning.
Others from the community offered up their greetings as they climbed up the hill and began working on their own family graves. Winry nodded at the Nedobecks, whose eldest son had died in Ishbal; waving over at Nelly, who cleaned up around her uncle’s headstone. Pitt was there, too, the first time she’d seen him in years, but Winry didn’t see his dad anywhere, not that that was a surprise.
Groaning, Den lay down and rolled onto her back, wriggling and kicking her hind legs. Granny straightened up, heading over to talk to the Coyles as Ed started scrubbing his dad’s stone. The damp granite sparkled in the sun and Al knelt in front of Auntie Trisha’s stone to trim the grass away from it. He was talking softly as he worked, and Winry turned away to keep him from seeing the tears in her eyes.
Ed laid his wet hand on her shoulder, giving it a squeeze. Looking up at him, Winry answered his crooked smile with one of her own. Ed wrapped his arm around her shoulders and kissed her temple. Leaning into his embrace, Winry tilted her head back to kiss him in return.
“Thanks for coming home,” she whispered, not just meaning this time.
Ed tightened his arms around her. “Always,” he promised, and Winry knew he didn’t just mean this time, either, but forever.