Childhood's End

By: Neptune Butterfly

Chapter Two: Dreams and Apologies

Winry tried not to swing her legs too much. Her feet barely touched the floor of the kitchen from where she sat, and their constant urge to move was compromising her concentration.

Granny Pinako had given her an old automail arm to examine and take apart. Winry was getting tired of looking at books of human anatomy and merely observing her grandmother's work. But Pinako was way too busy today trying to fill in a large number of orders that came as a result of the Ishbal War finally coming to an end. So, she dug up something for her granddaughter to work on herself.

The arm's outer shell was beaten up and rusted, and the wiring inside looked like it had been chewed on, but everything was in its rightful place. It was fascinating enough to Winry who had never been allowed to handle a completed piece on her own before.

She made a face as she took out the rusty screws and lifted the plating like a hood of a car to look inside. Her hands poked around the gizmos that had the ability to bring the arm to life, trying to remember which did what her fingers traced each wire and each gear. The early June heat filtered thru every open window, and there was no breeze. Everything felt sticky and sweaty and made Winry's urge to swing her legs even stronger.

A knock from the front door echoed throughout the first floor. Winry's blonde head popped up.

There was another knock.

"I'll get it!!" She ran into the living room to open the door.

Winry had been expecting Ed and Al to come by. Excitedly she threw the door open. Instead of two blonde heads there was a pair of blue pants lined in silver.

"Oh, excuse me, young miss."

Winry looked up and saw the face of a soldier.

The man took off his hand and smiled, but before he could say another word the little girl's face before him, smudged with grease yet smiling in anticipation a second before, changed to horror.

"Granny!!!" Winry turned around and screamed. She ran off to the back of the house leaving the front door wide open and a stunned officer standing in it.

From the back he could here an older woman's voice scolding the child. The man didn't quite understand what had made her so scared of him, but the news he was carrying was a good enough reason to be.

Just as he thought that it might be better for him to leave he spotted the older woman quickly walking toward him. Her granddaughter, he assumed, hid away in a back room. Her blonde hair appeared from the side of a doorframe.

She was watching him.

Pinako strode up to the soldier. "What business do you have here?" she angrily demanded.

The man was taken aback by this small woman. She certainly had no fear of him.

Keeping his composure the officer asked, "Are you Pinako Rockbell, Ma'am?"

"Yes?"

He handed her an envelope. "I'm here to inform you that the bodies of your son and his wife will be arriving within the next week. Feel free to make arrangements."

The envelope slipped out of his hand slowly.

Pinako slit it open to view the letter inside. The anger inside of her subsided and pain overtook it.

The officer could not make out any emotion on her face, but her eyes gave her away. "I'm truly sorry, ma'am." He put his hat back on. "This is one of the hardest jobs I have to do."

He looked towards the back room again. The girl's blue eyes were still on him.

The officer gave his farewell to the grandmother, tipped his hat, and walked off the porch to the path leading from the house. He had seen many faces react to the messages he brought them, but the little blue-eyed girl's face will always stick out in his mind.

It's the same place, over and over.

The same sandy beach where she took her last vacation with her parents.

The sun was warm and shining up above, reflecting off the whiteness under her bare feet. She held on to a sun hat too big for her head with both hands to keep the strong wind from stealing it away. It's pink ribbon whipped around violently along with her hair. Through the loud gust in her ears she could hear the surf but couldn't see the water.

A pair of strong hands were felt around her waist. They picked her up and swung her around. She squealed at the sensation it made in her stomach. She lowered her head a bit to look into her dad's eyes.

Blue. Just like hers. And they were laughing with her.

She looked around in search of another person. Her mom appeared to move from one side to the other like viewing from a carousel.

Her dad took her into his arms and she laid her head on his shoulder. The hat she was wearing suddenly flew off, but her mom caught in time and put it on. They walked together down the beach as the sun dimmed and filled the now visible ocean with sparkly gold.

All they did was smile at each other. She wished they would say something. She was already forgetting the sound of their voices.

Instead, she heard a bunch of children's voices break through. One of them was continuously calling her name.

Nelly shook her friend harder but got only moans. She looked to Ed who was sitting across the isle with Al.

Ed grabbed one of his school books and slammed it against the table near Winry's head.

BAM

Winry, startled out of her dream, searched for the source of the noise with bleary eyes.

Everyone was talking at once inside the one room schoolhouse. Winry couldn't tell if it was morning, recess, or almost time to go home. The large windows on either side had their blinds shut.

"You okay, Winry?" Nelly asked.

"Huh?" She couldn't register the question.

"You were making weird noises and drooling in your sleep, like this." Ed laid down on his table desk and did his best imitation.

Winry heard a snicker from behind. Cynthia pretended to read a book while trying not to laugh out loud. Winry ignored her and, wiping off the drool from her mouth, directed her glare at Ed instead.

He shrugged. "What?"

"You didn't have to do that!" She was referring to the book in his hand realizing that was how he woke her up.

"But you were completely out!" said Nelly. "I called your name for three minutes!"

"Oh." Winry stared at the floor for a second to reflect. This wasn't the first time she had a hard time waking up from the dream. She had been dreaming it over and over ever since the soldier came to her house and wondered; was this her parents' way of saying they were okay?

"Hey, Win."

She looked back up at Nelly.

"Are you up to going down to the river next weekend, right after our finals? Johanna and Erik said they found something interesting. I already asked Rachel, Felix, and the twins, and I'm hoping to get a few more to come. Ed and Al said they would only come if you would."

Winry turned to Ed who squirmed in his seat not looking at her. Al on the other hand was anxious to know. "So, will ya come?"

"I guess." Winry hadn't been out much since her birthday over a month ago, being so absorbed in her automail training.

"Great!" Nelly stood up. "Hey, Johanna!" she called out to a tall, dark-haired girl in a blue dress and pink scarf near the back of the room, "Winry says she'll come too!"

"Get Leon and Karl too, if you can!" Johanna called back.

"And Hannah?"

"Yeah! Her too!"

"'Kay." Nelly turned around and sat back down. "You can come too, Cynthia," she said, not bothering to look behind her, "If you leave Al alone."

Nelly didn't get an answer, just a gathering of books into a bag and a chair shove. Cynthia walked to the door at the back and stood there waiting with a black-haired girl named Wanda.

"Man, I hope she doesn't show up." Ed gathered his own books just in time for the bell sounding the end of the day. He and Al waited as patiently as they could while Winry, who was still a bit dazed, took her time.

Nelly took off with a quick goodbye so she could get a good seat on Mr. Edelweiss' wagon. Rachel's father, a well known horse breeder, drove home kids who lived far from the school. Nelly's wasn't too far for her to walk, but the free ride was much appreciated and Mr. Edelweiss didn't mind taking her at all.

Kids were still loading the wagon when Ed, Al, and Winry finally stepped out into the afternoon sun. They waved to them and to a big man with red hair as bright as Rachel's fiery braids and emerald green eyes to match readying the two horses.

Mrs. Edelweiss the head teacher and principal along with the other teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Kohlen, was shooing out the stragglers from the schoolhouse and yard because of an early summer storm on the horizon. It was much needed rain after a very dry spell but not something they wanted to get caught outside in.

Winry and the Elrics followed the stone wall towards their homes as the trees sang and danced in the failing sunlight as much as they could before the dark clouds took it away. Winry stayed especially close to Ed clinging to his arm, afraid of the rumbles echoing in the darkness that followed behind them.

"Quit hanging onto me like that, Winry!" Ed jerked his arm out of her grasp when she started squeezing too hard. "No wonder why everybody thinks we're boyfriend and girlfriend!"

"Sorry," Winry said in a small whine. But she remained close cringing at each new rumble.

Al came up beside her and put a concerned hand on her shoulder. "You want us to walk you home? We'll stay until the storm's over."

Winry's blue eyes pleaded with Ed until he took off, saying, "We better hurry up then."

Within the next minute, fat droplets patted their heads and all three broke into a dead run. They were almost to the Rockbell house when those droplets turned into thick sheets of rain. Pinako had opened the front door just in time before a bright streak of lightning cracked open the sky. Poor Winry screamed and tripped through the doorway landing on top of Al who unfortunately had his back to her. Ed stopped just in time from adding himself to the pile.

"Gracious, Winry!! Get a hold of yourself!" Pinako pulled her hysterical granddaughter off of Al. "Go sit yourself down in the kitchen. Ed, get your brother off the floor."

Ed did as he was told and led Al to the kitchen as well to let him catch his breath.

The rain came down steadily now, and the thunder and lightening was less frequent. Pinako had called Trisha to let her know her boys were staying for a while until the weather let up. Winry was much calmer now and had led Ed and Al off to play cards in her room. It was the only place she ever felt safe during a thunderstorm.

They sat on the floor playing Go Fish as Den sat on Winry's bed appearing to be absorbed in the game. His tail thumped lightly on the window sill whenever someone said 'go fish!'

It was Winry's turn to shuffle the cards when Ed curiously asked, "What did you dream about at school today?"

"Why do you want to know?" Winry asked.

"It must have been a good dream. Like Nelly said, it took forever for you to wake up."

Winry straightened out the deck of cards in her hand, then slowly dealt them out. "It was Mom and Dad," she said, wistfully, "And the beach we went to two years ago, before they went away."

Ed and Al exchanged glances. They had hoped to avoid the sensitive subject. The funeral was tomorrow, and that was depressing enough.

"Well, did you have fun?" Al inquired as if the events of the dream had actually taken place as Winry dreamed it.

"Yeah, but, they didn't say a word."

"Not one word?"

Winry shook her head. The cards laid forgotten on the floor were they were dealt. No more patters on the window indicated that the rain was finally letting up, but neither of the boys moved.

"Ed? Al? Do you think, do you think that, Mom and Dad are happy? I mean, are they…" Winry's eyes welled up.

Al scooted his small body over to her and put on a gentle smile. "I'm sure they are. It'll be okay, Winry. You can at least dream about them."

Winry buried her head in her hands for another good sob. She hadn't realized that she even had one left in her.

Ed sat across from them gathering up his own cards and saying nothing. He couldn't stand listening to Winry cry like that, but he was afraid that he couldn't comfort her like Al could. And his own understanding of death was so different from theirs. To him, death was final. There was no such thing as messages from beyond the grave.

But he didn't have the heart to say that to a grieving friend. Especially after what happened last time.

Ed thought of how he cried when he imagined losing his own mother.

"I found it!!!" Erik's voice rang out. He and a group of his fellow schoolmates gathered around a large pile of smooth river rocks carefully placed on the bank.

The violent thunderstorms from the past week had loosened a few rocks from the bottom threatening the small structure. Fearing that whatever lay beneath could wash away, Erik hoped that the rocks would hold at least until he was able to visit again. Whoever put it there either didn't expect to be gone very long or had forgotten it altogether. Erik believed it to be the latter. Besides, the suspense was killing him.

Ed, Al, and Karl, all dirty from playing by the river, crowded him in to get a better look while Leon and Felix hung back a bit, tempted by going off and joining the twins fishing downstream. Winry, Nelly, and Hannah in summer dresses and Rachel in her usual overalls stood behind looking over the boys' heads.

Johanna, careful with her dress, knelt down and helped her brother take the rocks down one by one revealing what first appeared to be just dirt, but there was something strange about it.

"Looks like a hole," Karl pointed out.

Erik grew even more excited. "Does anybody have something I can dig with?"

"Here." Hannah pulled out a play shovel she was using to make sandcastles with.

The wet dirt easily gave way at first, and Erik dug away at it eagerly until after a couple of minutes he struck something hard.

"This is it!" He dropped the toy shovel and started removing the last of the dirt with his hands.

It was a rock, and it was big. Erik wriggled his nose and attempted to loosen it. Ed and Al joined in trying to dig around the rock, but it just wouldn't budge.

"Its probably just a rock," Leon said disinterested. He got up and motioned to Felix to do the same. "Those stones were probably just a marker. There are plenty of them scattered all over the by hikers."

"Uh uh, no way! This one was different! Why was there a hole under them, huh?" Erik was reluctant to admit there was nothing special about his find.

Felix shrugged. "Sorry. Who knows? It might've been the rain that did it. Anyone else coming with us? Sam and Tom said the fish were jumping."

The girls declined and went back to making castles in their sandy patch by the river. Karl expressed some interest but decided to stay, so the two took off leaving the rest to ponder the immovable stone.

"Man, I wish Siv was here." Erik tugged some more on the rock.

"I asked him to come, but he has to babysit Denise," said Karl who joined Ed and Al in digging the rock out.

"Hey, maybe Al can find a kitty and lure them out here!" Ed joked. The boys laughed knowing how much Sylvester's little sister loved cats, and Al who had a knack for finding them.

They kept at it for about an hour, but still not luck. They asked the girls for help, and Rachel volunteered. But even the red head couldn't make the stone move and threw a few obscenities at it, which made Johanna mad and get onto her about saying such things in front of her little brother.

Exhausted and defeated, the boys left the stone uncovered and headed downstream where the rest were fishing on a pier just over a calmer part of the river in hopes of getting in a good swim before dinner. All the girls followed behind with their pails and digging tools. None of them swam but sat lazily on the edge dipping their feet into the water and watching the boys splash each other.

The twins were right. Fish were jumping everywhere. Some of the boys jumped and squeaked each time one flew by them, seen as only a silvery flash of light in the sun.

Winry laid back on the riverbank and closed her eyes feeling the gentle wind washing over her body. The sensation reminded her of the dream she kept having.

During the funeral a week ago, several military men had stopped by and told their stories of how they were saved by the her parent's heroic efforts. Winry remembered one lady in particular, just a teenager, with short blonde hair who said they saved her life more than once. Her smile and pretty blue eyes were darkened by sadness and the loss of innocence Winry hoped she would never have to understand.

After the ceremony while she was sitting on a folding chair Winry approached her and asked who she was waiting for. She seemed to be looking beyond the activity in the cemetery expecting something. 'I guess, no one' was her reply. Then she smiled that same sad smile, apologized for Winry's loss and asked how she was doing turning their attention to happier things.

Out of all the officers there, that lady was the only one that didn't scare her.

Winry heard Johanna's voice interrupt her thoughts. "You look happy."

"Hm?" Winry opened her eyes. She saw her friend's hazel-eyed face hovering above her. Johanna's long dark hair that she envied, tied back under the pink scarf she always wore, hung over her shoulder and swung lightly in the wind.

"You've been so down. And you keep falling asleep in school." Johanna understandably knew why. "Are you happy?"

"Kinda. I can visit Mom and Dad now." It was a relief to Winry to know where they were now.

"And they helped a lot of people. I couldn't count all the soldiers that came last weekend!"

And the blonde-haired lady especially, Winry thought. She just realized she'd never asked for her name.

The sound of quick padded steps heading towards the bank made them turn. Hannah came up to them with a distraught look on her face. "I can't find my clip!" She frantically grabbed the left side of her short wavy brown hair to show where the clip would've been.

"I told you not to wear them!" Johanna scolded. It was a daisy shaped clip that matched the one she had over her right ear. They were Hannah's favorite.

Poor Hannah's gentle green eyes were welling up. She knew she was in big trouble now.

"Don't start," Johanna sighed and got up and took her friend's hand. "C'mon, lets go look for it. I'll see you later Winry."

"Alright."

Winry noticed that the sun was getting low. She was supposed to help with dinner, since the Pendletons were planning on stopping by. They were the largest family in Risembool and owned the majority of the land in the area. Although it was just going to be Hannah's parents and her siblings, that made six more mouths to feed.

"I guess I better get going." Winry got up and waved to the boys and Nelly and Rachel who were helping out with the fish.

"Look what we got!!!" The twins yelled in unison. They pointed to a number of small fish Nelly was holding up.

"Hey, I need help here!" Felix called out behind them.

He struggled with his line, but it broke suddenly. Felix just stared at the remainder of the string dandling from his pole.

"Aww man, that stinks! It looked like a whopper too!" commented Leon who sat right beside him.

Winry left them lamenting over what would've been their prize catch and ran up the bank towards her house. Just as she stepped onto the road she saw someone coming around the bend.

It was Cynthia. What she was doing so far from home all by herself at this time of day was beyond Winry. I couldn't be to join the rest of the kids at the river.

Cynthia picked up her already fast pace once she spotted Winry.

Winry waited for Cynthia until she stopped and stared at her with a sour look. "What?"

Cynthia thrust a yellowish envelop into Winry's face. "Here."

"What is it?" Winry asked.

"How should I know? I don't look in other people's mail," Cynthia said defensively.

Winry ignored her tone. "But why did you bring it and not Mr. Wurzbach?"

"Leon's dad forgot it to deliver it earlier, and he's really busy at the train station right now. Mom made me do it because we're at the Hensley's right now."

That made sense. Cynthia's parents were in charge of transporting local farmer's goods. They were probably seeing about how big this year's crop might turn out.

"Um, thanks." Winry took the envelop.

"Oh, and, uh, Winry?" Cynthia suddenly turned bashful. "Sorry."

"Huh?" Winry was confused.

Cynthia squirmed. It was unusual to see her unable to answer right away.

"At your party. Mom told me to. I won't bug Al anymore. But that doesn't mean we're friends!" Her voice raised in confidence at the last line.

That sounded more like her. Winry smiled her thanks and headed home feeling good about today. She couldn't imagine what could break her mood.

As Winry walked through the kitchen door, Granny Pinako called out from the work room for her to get washed up. She skipped up the stairs two at a time and down the hall to drop off the envelop in her room. At the last moment Winry decided to open it before heading off to the bathroom.

There was no return address, so she tore envelop and took out the piece of paper inside. Something fell to the floor as she unfolded the letter.

It was a picture of her and Den. Winry picked it up noticing a strange red stain at the bottom left corner. It must've been from one of her parents' distant friends or relatives. The only one she could think of that would have this picture would be her mother's cousin who lived on the other side of the country. She visited shortly before her parents left for Ishbal.

Then Winry turned attention to the letter and began to read.

-----

Dear Winry,

This won't be easy for you, but it's important that you know the truth. I knew your parents. There's nothing I can do to repay them for what they've done. They saved my life and the life of someone I love. I didn't come their funeral because I don't know if I could face the daughter of real heroes. The reason is because I know how they really died. It wasn't the Ishbalans, who where just as grateful for their presence as we were. It was me, a soldier of Amestris, who killed your parents. I received an order to eliminate them because the Ishbalans were using their hospital as a place to trade information. It doesn't excuse what I have done. I took your parents away from you, and the inspiration of so many people. Very few know what I've done, and I believe you should be one of them. I understand if you never forgive me. I can't even forgive myself.

-----

'There's no name,' Winry thought over and over. She knew what it said. She didn't need to read it again. 'Where was the name? There has to be a name!'


A/N: I'm not dead, just dealing with life. I do plan to eventually go back an revise earlier chapters, so please comment and tell me how I'm doing. Also, I am planning on doing artwork for this and my other stories. They will be posted on my deviantArt page. The link is on my profile page.-NB-