The day Trisha Elric dies is the day Winry Rockbell decides she's going to be a mechanic when she grows up.
Her grandmother is pleased, of course. "Good for you," she congratulates when Winry tells her. "It would be a shame to let your talent go to waste."
Five year old Winry doesn't understand any of that. She only looks at Ed and Al, tears streaming from their glazed eyes, and understands that mechanics fix things.
"Winry," Ed whispers. She moves closer, breathless- she'd run straight over the second she heard what happened.
"Ed," she says, and doesn't know what to say. "I- I'm so sorry." He doesn't reply, and she hesitates, casts a look around for help. Al is sitting on the fence, silhouetted by the setting sun. The bloody light glances off his fair hair, blinding her momentarily. She blinks away the reaction-tears, tiny pricklings of cold comfort.
Poor, sweet Al. Ed, dear Ed, frozen on his front step, watching his brother cry as though from an unimaginable distance. Her hands twitch, furious at her helplessness- but what can she do to help?
I want to fix everything for you, she thinks, presses her small hands to Ed's face and wipes the ruined dreams from his eyes.
He murmurs something, a harsh, choked whisper, too low to hear.
("She's gone," he says, over and over. "She's gone, ohgod, she's gone, what do I do, what can I do?")
Winry is struck by how very small he looks.
There is something about the image that feels completely wrong, a violation of everything Winry knows. She knows Ed to be larger than life and twice as confident. She knows his teeth-baring grin, flashing eyes, and the gleam of his hair and dreams. He is the giant, the leader- there is nothing in her whole, entire life that is bigger, except maybe the thrum of her heartbeat when he smiles at her.
Will Ed ever smile again? The little girl looks down at her best friend, and slowly memorizes the painful curve of his spine, bent with grief and confusion its owner is too young to understand. He is hunched, crunched into himself, and everything about him seems uncomfortable, as though his body has become too big for his soul and too small for his hurts.
"Ed," she whispers. "It'll be okay, Ed."
No, it won't. There is a weight inside both children, a primal sort of instinct- they know that it'll never be okay again.
But Winry is only five years old and doesn't know how to comfort her best friend, except in the small innocent ways only children can do. She wraps her stick-thin arms around him and pretends that she is a mechanic. She pictures Ed's heart, crumbling and fragile; she imagines grabbing a wrench and tinkering with the chambers, tightening valves, repairing the aorta, redecorating the atriums. And all the while, Ed's tears spread themselves possessively over her shirt, soaking it, corroding it.
When she comes home, her clothes are dripping.
Pinako peers at her curiously. "Is it raining outside?"
No. "Yes." It is simpler than trying to explain. It's still strange, though, because it's the first time Winry has ever lied. It's when she first realizes that everything is going to change.
(She has no idea how much.)
"You have to go?"
He doesn't look at her. "Yes." There's an edge to his voice, not unlike the clench of his jaw.
"But where are you going?" she presses. "When will you be back?"
Little Ed shrugs and helps Al hunt down a lone sock. "I don't know. I just know that I- we have to do this."
Al's only acknowledgement is a weak shrug of his shoulders. Winry's gaze swings from brother to brother, their backs to her, tense.
Well. Two can play at that game. "Okay."
They both start at the flat tone of her voice, and a thrill of smugness runs through her at their guilty looks. "Winry-" Ed begins.
"It's fine," she interrupts. "If alchemy will help you, then it's fine." She chews her lip at his solemn nod.
"It will," he says. "We have a plan. We're going to do a lot with it." His tone is this side of dark, and Winry unwittingly shivers.
"What are you going to do?"
Ed and Al trade glances, and their expressions are so strange that, for a moment, Winry doesn't know who they are anymore. Their faces are pale, pinched; their eyes burn with an alien fire. She doesn't like it.
"Ed," she repeats. "What are you going to do?"
He forces a smile. "Nothing you need to worry about. Trust me."
He doesn't know what he's asking from her, but she does. "Okay. I trust you."
Ed and Al are gone only for ten minutes before Winry begins to cry. She's never been much of a crier, but there's something about their hard, strange faces that makes her really scared. She's too young to be this scared.
But she's not too young to hope. Winry wipes the tears from her face and examines her glistening fingers for a small moment. The mechanics of tears is something she's wondered about since her own parents' deaths. How does a human soul make the body cry? It is only a loss of precious water from the system- a complete waste.
(When did she become so cynical?)
She begins her training with her grandmother the next day.
When a suit of armor that speaks with Al's voice shows up on her doorstep carrying a bloodied, unconscious Ed, Winry doesn't ask any questions. She keeps her mouth tightly sealed as they stitch her best friend up and the entire time she can only think of the gears of muscle and tubes of blood that make up their bodies.
This gear needs to be reset- that tube is slashed open, Winry, get more thread- we're out of sponges, get some towels- what does a girl have to do to get hot water in this place?
"I think that's enough," Pinako murmurs. Winry sways on her feet from exhaustion, and the aged woman looks down at her granddaughter with a frown. "Go eat something."
She makes a vague sound of affirmation and strips off the dripping apron. A lot of it is Ed's blood and lymph; some of it is hot water, now shiver inducing cold; the rest is her own sweat. Winry makes a mental note to incinerate it the first chance she gets.
She stumbles out to where a suit of armor is sitting, and for a moment she just stares. When did they get that? She swears it was never there before. Her eyes dart around furtively, checking stupidly for any sign of anybody who might have left it there.
The armor raises its helmet, and a dim red glow appears. "Winry?"
She doesn't flinch, but it's a close thing. "Oh, Al. I thought- well. Hi," she finishes lamely.
His jaw creaks as it moves to answer. "Ed. How is he?" he asks tremulously.
She looks at him, completely at a loss of what to say. What had happened? She wants to ask, but there's a sort of ring to his voice that tells her this is not the time to ask questions. Winry half-wonders if there ever will be such a time.
Well, his body may have changed, but his voice is still the same. She closes her eyes and pictures the sweet, fair-haired child Alphonse had once been, tumbling happily in the grass, slumped over a fence in the face of a dying sun.
"He'll be okay," she tells him. It's a little hard, though- the words don't seem to want to leave her throat. She's hushed with fear and panic, and she wants to stay that way.
"Thanks." The helmet lowers again to regard its knees, clasped loosely against the broad metal pane of its chest. Maybe Al understands. Probably he feels the same way.
Okay. That's okay. Winry turns and heads to her room. Den is sprawled out on her bed, mismatched paws tucked neatly under her snout. She whines when Winry goes to pet her and ducks away, clearly upset with the metallic red stains on her skin and clothes, different from the usual grease she is covered in.
"Sorry, Den." She talks to her dog more and more these days. "Ed and Al came back, you know."
Her ears perk up and she looks up at her, interest piqued. Winry nods as she fights off her socks. "They're back. But Al is a giant tin can. And Ed's lost half his limbs."
Den's mouth curls. Well, that's stupid.
Winry snorts, somewhat self-deprecatingly. "Tell me about it." She thinks about Al, how scared and confused he must be, and smiles sadly. "I wanted them to come back so badly. But it's happened in the worst possible way. How am I supposed to feel about that?"
Den huffs and lays her head back down. Don't ask me, I'm just a dog.
"Well, you're no help at all," she says with mild disdain, picks out a new shirt.
The dog rolls her eyes. Don't you have any human friends to talk to about this?
Any human friends? One and a half, maybe. Her mouth flattens into a grim line. "No comments from the peanut gallery," she says haughtily, gathers her clothes and a towel, and leaves.
Den's only response is a slow, distant smile.
"Are you going to tell me what happened?"
Ed doesn't meet her eyes. "No."
Her teeth grind audibly, and her chest hurts. "Why not?"
He only stares at his brother- Al is taller than him now, but he's kind of cheating- and doesn't respond.
"Ed." She tries to keep calm. "You cannot possibly expect to show up like- like this-" she waves explanatorily at them both- "and not tell me what's going on!"
Stony silence. She has a strong urge to cut off his other arm. "Well?"
"Winry," he says softly, and she refuses to let herself feel bad when he winces in pain. "We can't. We just can't."
Cut it off and strangle him with it. "Edward Elric, so help me-"
"Winry." That's Al. Sweet, soft, scared.
She bites back the curses that spring to her lips. "Fine," she says tightly and gets to her feet. The brothers watch her warily as she marches out the door. She closes it quietly behind her and takes a quick glance around. Pinako isn't nearby, that's good. She takes a deep breath.
Inside, Ed and Al share half-scared, half-concerned glances as a muffled explosion of indistinguishable words erupts from the hall. A series of thumps follow, accompanied by a strangled sort of wail.
When Winry walks back in, Ed's hand is clenched tightly around the coverlet and Al's back is pin straight, staring straight ahead. She smiles, pleased.
"So what's the plan?"
Their dumbfounded expressions are almost worth the bruise on her forehead. "The-the plan?" Ed stammers.
"Yes, the plan." She makes her voice as steely as her wrench. "What are you going to do now? You're not going to continue with this alchemy business, that's for sure."
"Um…" Ed and Al share looks again.
Her eye twitches. "Right?"
Ed flinches at her dangerous tone. Al tries to, but mostly ends up with a protesting shriek of his armor. "We can't stop."
She's starting to see red again. "Why not?"
"Because," Ed half-whispers, staring at his hand. "It's the only way."
"The only way!" She shakes her head, unable to express her frustration with him. (She won't admit it, but she's kind of hurt, too. Why won't he trust her?) "What, the only way to bring your mother back?"
He pins her with a sharp look that cuts her to the bone. "How-"
"I figured it out, I'm not an idiot!" No, she won't cry, not now. "I know you want your mom back, Ed, but look at you! You tried using alchemy to bring her back to life, I know you did! But it's the first law of alchemy, equal exchange, you know that. Your mom and dad died, Ed, but they brought something into the world that's worth just as much, you and Al. And to bring them back, you'll have to exchange something equal to that. What will you sacrifice, Ed? Yourself? Your brother?" She's nearly screaming at this point.
The brothers sit and listen, stony-faced. No tears in their eyes. Somehow, that makes her even angrier- are they not human anymore? "Sometimes people just have to go, Ed! They have to go, and it's their time. You can't fight that-" her breath catches in her throat.
Ed has his hand wrapped tightly around his brother's arm. Al's helmet is faced to the side. Can he feel his brother's touch, comforting and apologetic and so very regretful? Winry supposes not. The tears pull themselves out, boiling hot, kicking and screaming.
"You have to stop this," she whispers. "While you're still alive. If you try again, you'll die."
Here, Al stirs. "No, Winry," he says. "As long as we're alive, we have to try."
She looks at Ed, and he looks back at her. There is a connection that exists between them, strong in its depth, but fragile in its application. Winry realizes she is too afraid to test it, afraid that it will shatter as soundly as their hopes and dreams from not so very long ago.
"Okay." It is an admission. "Okay." It is an apology.
She becomes a mechanic, just like she promised herself all that time ago. Her automail expertise is invaluable to Ed, who seems to break as quickly as she can fix him. One arm, one leg, another arm- on and on. And while Winry gets to familiarize herself with Ed's body- elbow deep in his blood, this is so not the way she imagined it- the grim sound of Al training his metal body floats in through the window, determinedly pushing it to new heights.
She complains about it to Den after Ed leaves with his second automail replacement.
"I mean, it's like he doesn't even have the decency to realize that my automail is supposed to be indestructible," she rants as she changes clothes.
Den's ears are flopped over her eyes. Is this becoming a tradition?
"Shush," she tells her crossly. "You're supposed to listen and offer supportive commentary."
An ear flick. Your wish is my command.
"It is," she agrees, and frowns as a drop slips from her hair onto her nice, clean floor. "It's just that it's like no matter what I do, I can't help him." The thought upsets her. She crouches down to wipe the red stain away.
Den hangs over the edge of the bed, peering concernedly into Winry's eyes.
She smiles, a little weakly, and strokes her dog's dark fur. "I'm not good enough," she admits aloud.
Den whines in protest- That's not true!
Oh, but it is. Winry thinks of Ed, more stoic by the day, teeth clenched against the pain that has made bigger men than him pass out while she repaired his body.
She is covered in Ed's blood. Winry contemplates herself for a few minutes. Part of it is her tears.
Ed doesn't cry anymore, doesn't even come close to it. That disturbs her more than she'd like to admit.
"Is it really worth it, Den?" she wonders. "Is it worth it, to give up everything you are for what you want? Doesn't that make it not really what you want anymore, if it's not you wanting it?"
Den closes her eyes. She has no answer.
"What the hell are you getting teary about anyway?"
"Because you won't, neither of you will! After all this time!" It scares them too. "So I'm crying for you both!"
(And every time she cries makes up for every time he doesn't.)
Somehow, it's enough.
It's a beautiful night, but Winry doesn't see it. She only sees the flash of light in her hands, on and off. Her back hurts, her chest hurts, her eyes hurt. Everything about her hurts.
She's a mechanic. She's the best one there is, the only one who can help Ed, even if it's only a little.
Flashes of light once used to guide him home.
Winry will do the same.
Flash, on and off. In the distance, she hears Al laugh.
I range the fields with pensive tread,
And pace the hollow rooms
And feel (companion of the dead)
I'm living in the tombs.