End of Summer

Summary: 'This summer had been somewhat different. There were some days when Mom didn't get out of bed, and on those days the boys fixed themselves some cereal and spent the morning in Dad's study.' Drabble; bittersweet.

Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist and associated characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa and other respective owners.

Notes: I'm going back to school tomorrow and I dun wanna go and I'm in a less-than-satisfactory mood, so... I figured I'd whip this up!

Oh, and while we know Winry's mother's name was Sara, her father never got named. So, I've named him Charlie. And once in the manga Ed refers to Winry's parents as Auntie and Uncle Rockbell. So...the familiarity is canon.

-o-o-o-o-

Summer had two rules; one – Mom must know when you are leaving and she must have a general idea of where you will be. Two – when the light shines from the upstairs window, it's time to come home.

Summer was catching fireflies. Summer was wading about in the river on the edge of Risembool. Summer was Al's birthday. Summer was running through the grass with Den and Winry; summer was freedom.

This summer had been Ed and Winry's eighth, and Al's seventh, and this summer had been somewhat different. There were some days when Mom didn't get out of bed, and on those days the boys fixed themselves some cereal and spent the morning in Dad's study.

Mom would come in and find them there in the afternoon, still in her nightgown with her long brown hair still a mess about her shoulders. "What good boys I have," she would smile. Ed and Al would grin back; being quiet for a few hours was a small price to pay to see Mom smile.

The other strange thing about this summer was sometimes Uncle Charlie would pop in and say something like, "Hey, boys – want to come to the beach with the girls and I?" The girls, of course, meant Aunt Sara and Winry.

For in the spring, shortly before summer began, Mr. and Mrs. Rockbell (of course the formalities of "Mister and Missus" had been dropped long ago) had learned they were to be serving as doctors in Ishbal in the fall.

So of course that meant that before they left, they had to spend as much time with family and friends as possible. After all, they had no idea, really, of when they would be able to come home.

This summer, like all the others, inevitably came to a close. And so, the two families spent one more day in perfect freedom before school and work and the other responsibilities. They'd gone to the nearby city of Ligonier, for the town's annual end-of-summer festival.

At the fair, Ed had noticed scores of boys atop their father's shoulders. The candy-induced grin he'd been wearing slipped from his face, when suddenly Uncle Charlie picked Ed up and swung him up to sit on his shoulders, and Ed's heart soared.

The fair had been fun, but exhausting. There had been a bunch of funny-looking things only the grown-ups would eat, but there had also been lemonade and ice cream and cotton candy. Ed, Al, and Winry had run about sticky-fingered and wide-eyed, contributing to the numerous shouts of look-at-this or let's-ride-this or mommy-buy-me-that.

It had been exciting. Ed hoped they would return again next year.

As they walked home, very late at night, Ed had his hand firmly in his mother's; Al had his hand firmly in Ed's, and they were both yawning now and then. Uncle Charlie carried a tired Winry piggyback; Auntie Sara and Grandma Pinako trailed behind.

"Goodness, you're worn out," Mom remarked, as Ed rubbed his eyes. "I wish I could get you boys this tired every night. Then bedtime wouldn't be such a horrible thing, hm?"

The grownups chuckled.

"Are you all excited for school?" Auntie Sara asked.

"No," Ed, Al, and Winry announced, in perfect unison. The adults laughed again.

"It's boring," Al piped up, letting go of Ed's hand and switching over to take his mother's free one.

"I'd rather be studying alchemy," Ed agreed.

The houses were coming into view now.

"Summer certainly is wonderful, isn't it?" Auntie Sara remarked. "I think I'll miss the summer sky most of all." They paused and looked up at the stars, shining brilliantly...

"I see the Big Dipper!" Al exclaimed suddenly, tugging his mother's hand and pointing.

"The Little Dipper's right under it, too!" Winry added, pointing as well.

"Did you know," Mom said suddenly, after a pause, "that you can look up at the sky and know that the ones you love are looking at the same sky, no matter how far away they are?"

The adults looked a little sad all of a sudden, as the group continued on.

"...Do you and Mama really have to go away, Daddy?" Winry asked, burying her face in her father's neck.

"I'm afraid so, darling," he smiled. "But we'll be back before you know it; don't worry."

Rather subdued now, they all headed inside before some much-needed rest, before tomorrow when everyone would be preparing for school.

Ed and Al lay in their bunk bed, watching the fireflies wink outside their bedroom window. They would have liked to have one more night of firefly-chasing. Al loved fireflies; he loved the way that no matter how dark it was, they could always find a way back to one another. As for Ed, well...

He used to like to squish them, until the glowing green stuff oozed onto his fingertips. But Al cried when he found out about Niisan killing fireflies, and Ed felt like such a bad guy he never did it again.

"Isn't it dangerous in Ishbal, Niisan?" Al whispered.

"...Auntie and Uncle will be fine. It's not like they'll actually be fighting."

"Yeah..."

Al shifted. "Niisan?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you think Mom's alright?"

"What, 'cause she almost fainted today at the fair?"

"Mm-hm. She said it was just a dizzy spell, but..." Al frowned.

"'But' nothing, Al. She'd tell someone if it was serious," Ed retorted.

"I guess you're right..."

Ed sighed. It was always like this at the end of summer – back to reality. So he absolutely hated the end of summer. But Al, always the rational one, was quick to point out that even if it would be a whole year before the next summer, that next summer would come no matter what - even if it felt like it was taking forever to come.

They didn't know then that it would be a long time indeed. They didn't know then that Auntie and Uncle wouldn't come home, or that Mom would start to get sick. They didn't know then that it would be a very, very long time before the next summer.

-o-o-o-o-

Review, please? I gotta tell ya, there's nothing better than coming home and finding reviews in your Inbox... (wink wink)