Childhood's End

By: Neptune Butterfly

Prologue: Birthday Present

Ed could see it perfectly in his mind. The metal was smooth and shiny, not to mention in flawless proportion. He didn't have to look at the wood carving book anymore to get it right. He borrowed the book from Winry's, and it belonged to her father, who did wood carving as a hobby. Since he and his wife went off to help as surgeons for the military in Ishbal, Ed thought maybe he and Al could make something that reminded Winry of them.

The hunk of metal sat in the middle of the circle. Ed figured that it would look much better than wood. Winry was beginning to learn auto mailing from her grandmother, so it would be very appropriate. His brother Al sat beside him holding his own attempt in his hands. It was supposed to be a pig, but it came out lopsided and lumpy. It looked more like a three-legged horse with a curly tail.

Ed's tongue stuck out in concentration as he readied his hand. Al stared at Ed's lump with equal concentration, hoping it will turn out better than his. He knew his brother was very good with detail.

There was a flash of light when Ed's hands touched the circle. Both of them tried to blink away the spots in their eyes and see if it turned out right. A cute metallic horse now stood were the shapeless chunk of metal was. It was perfect, just as Ed imagined it would be.

Ed grinned at his work and took off for the front door with it in his hands. Al followed after him asking to wait for him. Ed just had to show his mom. Not only would she be proud of him, she could tell him if Winry would like it. Ed wanted this to be the best birthday present ever.

-----

'This had to be the cruddiest day ever,' Ed thought. First, Al had to mention their dad in front of mom, then they go over to Winry's house to find out that her parents had been killed in a surprise attack, and then on the way back home they both began thinking of what it would be like without their mom and they cry their eyes out the whole afternoon. Somehow they managed to tell their mom about what happened and now they're back at Winry's with their mom discussing funeral plans with her grandma.

Aunty Pinako was very much like a grandmother to Ed and Al. She was smaller than them, but she was also very tough. She has now lost both her sons and daughter-in-law and yet Pinako was able to hold herself together for Winry's sake.

Winry had finally stopped crying and was sitting still on the sofa in the living room with puffy red eyes not focusing on anything. Ed and Al kept looking at her from the kitchen where their mom and Pinako were talking. Neither of them paid attention to what was being said.

Ed decided to walk over to Winry. He didn't know what to say to her. The last time they were here she lashed out at Al when he tried to comfort her, and Auntie Pinako chased them out for mentioning human transmutation.

"Hey, um, Winry?" Ed tried to smile and held a hand out as if to tap her on the shoulder but pulled back when she didn't show any response.

He noticed in her hands were the metal animals. Ed couldn't remember if he and Al left them here. They were in such a rush to leave and avoid a bashing from Auntie Pinako. Winry's grip on them were so tight her little hands turned white.

Ed reached out again, this time for her hands. Winry finally noticed when he touched her.

"Oh, Ed," her voice choked. Winry's eyes welled up just when she thought she didn't have anymore tears. Her head was pounding from crying all day.

Ed knelt down beside Winry as she started crying again. She left the metal toys in her lap so she could cover her eyes. Her sobs were soft and sweet but so sad that it hurt to listen. Ed hated to see her like this. It was worse than seeing Al or even hear himself cry.

Al came up beside him. "We're still here, Winry. It'll be okay. We can take care of you." Al hoped for a better reaction than what he got earlier that day.

"But, w-what about, Mommy and D-daddy? W-why can they b-be here too?" Winry knew it was silly to ask. Her parents were gone for good. It was sweet of Al and his brother to be there for her, but they couldn't replace her mom and dad.

"They're still here."

"W-where?"

Al braved a smile. Ed looked at him strangely, trying to figure out what he's after. "Inside you."

Winry looked up at him from her palms. "How?" She sniffed.

"Always remember them, and they'll always know where you are."

"They're d-dead, Al. There's n-no w-way they can kn-now." Winry let her head drop back into her hands. The front door opened and shut as her grandmother took Mrs. Elric outside. The room was now quiet except for her small sobs.

Ed agreed with Winry. "Al, I think you should stop."

But Al just kept on smiling. "Just because you can't see something, doesn't mean it's not there."

His brother got up. "Al, stop. You're not helping."

"Neither are you. What's wrong with thinking about it that way anyway?"

"Because it's not true! How can anyone still be here without a body!"

"Who says they couldn't!"

"Stop it, both of you!" Winry had stopped crying. "Please, Ed, it's okay if Al wants to think that. There ain't anything wrong with it."

The brothers looked at their feet, feeling bad about getting into a fight in front of her like that. Winry got up holding the toys in her arms and silently walked up to her room leaving the boys by themselves.

"Thanks a lot Ed!" Al said accusingly. "This is worse than when you said there was a way to bring her parents back to life! You should say you're sorry to her!"

"I was just telling the truth Al! The only way Winry could see them again is if you make bodies for them!"

"You always think you know everything, do you!" With that, Al stomped outside where their mom was.

Ed couldn't think of anything to retaliate except make a face and yell, "You don't know everything either, Al! Hmph!"

-----

Winry curled up on her bed and hugged her presents. A lamp above her new workbench in the corner gave very little light to the rest of the room. Outside the sun had just set, but with the curtains drawn it hardly made any difference.

There was no way she was going to get any sleep tonight. Her birthday party was the day after tomorrow, but she didn't know if she could bear to leave her room again. She hoped Al was right. Her mom and dad must be around here somewhere. They couldn't just disappear.

If only she knew if what Ed said was true too. It's been nearly two years since she had seen her parents. She had no idea it would've been her last time. But it was forbidden to bring people back from the dead. And what if it meant hurting someone? Winry couldn't think of anything that would be enough to match the price of a life except another life. She was no alchemist, but she knew the law of equivalent exchange.

"Mom...Dad..." Winry hugged her toys a little tighter and closed her eyes to keep from crying again.


A/N: Hello! I'm starting up again after being gone for a year and decided to tackle the FMA section. I have some stories going in the Trigun section as well.I'm probably crazy doing so many stories at once, but after a year I'm itching to write some fun stuff again. This story is sort of a companion to 'River of Mud'. It starts later and focuses on Ed, Al, Winry. There will be a couple of places where the two stories meet. If your looking for heavier romance check the other one out. I hope you enjoyed the opener!