Author's Notes (9-14-06): This is my first foray into FMA ficdom (try saying that 5 times fast). I'm following the manga and am canon up to chapter 62. There are plenty of differences between the anime and the manga, so if you don't want to be confused, I highly recommend heading to my bio and clicking on the links to the scanlation project.

Disclaimer: I don't own FMA and I'm not making money off this.

Spoiler Warning (Low): Read up to Chapter 17 of the manga and you'll be fine. Also, one concept from the movie that I thought was well done.

Special Thanks: To Elin1 and my sis for beta reading.

Chapter 1: Five Years Later

There was nothing better than the smell of oil on metal or the feel of cold steel, bearings, and artificial muscles. She placed the last screw in her latest creation, feeling a sense of deep satisfaction. Dominic would be proud. Using his latest developments and a few of her own special modifications, she had created what she believed to be the lightest, strongest, and most advanced automail arm on the market.

Demand was high for new automail. But with the increased demand, new mechanics and designers were flocking to Rush Valley. The competition for business was as fierce as ever, but for Winry Rockbell, business was good.

She brushed a stray lock of hair from her face and hazarded a glance at her shop clock. It was 10:23 p.m. She did a quick mental count and realized that she'd been working on the automail for over twelve hours without a break.

She had a habit of getting caught up in her work. Stiff limbs complained as she got to her feet and began tidying her workspace. Her stomach gurgled, an uncomfortable reminder of the fact that she'd gone half a day without eating.

"Winry? You in the back?"

Before she could answer, a familiar face peered through the open door. With a smile and a wave, Winry's best friend sauntered into the automail shop room.

"Hey Paninya," Winry said with a smile of her own. "What's up?"

"Nothing. Just figured you were going to pull another all-nighter, so I thought I'd come keep you company." Paninya pulled out a sack that she'd been holding behind her back, displaying it proudly. "And I figured you hadn't eaten anything for dinner, lunch, and possibly breakfast, so I took the liberties of borrowing some food from the old man."

Winry laughed weakly. "Old man, eh? Don't let Mr. Dominic hear you say that..."

"Ya, I don't think he'd be too keen to know I raided his fridge either." Paninya giggled guiltily.

Winry pulled off her work gloves and opened the grocery bag. "Well, that'll just be our little secret then."

Winry was about to bite in to a delicious looking sandwich when Paninya suddenly bolted to her feet. "Holy wow, is that what I think it is?" The dark skinned woman darted around the table with her characteristic speed.

"I just finished it." Winry beamed.

Paninya lifted the automail arm as though it were a baby, cradling it gently. "It's... It's..."

"Super light?" Winry offered. "Perfectly crafted? Exquisitely detailed and articulated?"

Paninya laughed and hefted the arm over her shoulder easily, balancing it. "Actually, I was gonna say, 'It's Mine' but I think you'd have a few objections to that. Not to mention the fact that I've totally given up all forms of thievery."

"What do you need an automail arm for anyway?" Winry grinned and pointed to Paninya's perfectly good flesh and blood arms.

Paninya shrugged. "Good point. So when you gonna make me a matching set of legs using these new specs? Huh? Huh? Pretty please?"

"And steal one of Mr. Dominic's valued customers? I think not!" Winry teased. "Besides, he's still the master. I'm pretty sure your legs beat that arm for quality and function."

"Ha, you keep saying that, but everyone in Rush Valley knows better. You're good, Winry. Quite possibly the best mechanic this town has ever seen. Even the old man says so!"

Winry hid her blush behind her sandwich. "He didn't really say something like that."

Paninya gave her a look of amusement and understanding. "Well, maybe he's never said it just like that, but after all these years, I think you can tell what he's thinking just as well as I can."

Winry took a bite of her dinner, giving herself an excuse for keeping silent. Paninya pulled the arm off her shoulder and started fiddling around with it, admiring it from all angles.

"This really is a piece of work. You're gonna make a killing on it."

"Nope." Winry swallowed and took a drink from a water bottle she kept handy. "That's the prototype. I'll just use it for a display piece in the shop."

Paninya looked skeptical. "You hardly need to leave something like this lying around to draw in more customers. Your work is piling up around you as it is." Paninya indicated racks and racks of half finished automail limbs and parts.

"I just..." Winry trailed off. "Well, I like to keep a few of my completed works around. Just in case... it's needed."

Paninya sighed.

It had been five years since the young mechanic had settled in Rush Valley. For five years she had devoted herself to becoming the best automail designer. After a while, Dominic had seen how fast she was improving, and slowly started taking her under his wings, teaching her everything he knew about the craft.

And though her skills continued to improve greatly, Winry never seemed satisfied.

When the constant border skirmishes with Creta in the west and Aeruga in the south broke out into full scale fighting, wounded soldiers came by the hundreds to be fitted with automail replacements for limbs lost in battle. Winry was busier than ever, helping Mr. Garfiel and her mentor meet the demands. She seemed too busy to think about anything other than her duties as an automail mechanic, but Paninya knew better.

If Winry wasn't working on automail, she could be found sifting through stacks of depressing newspapers, reading any tidbits she could find about battles and anything relating to military operations.

And just when it seemed like things couldn't get any worse for the nation of Amestris, war was officially declared with the powerful Drachma Empire of the north. The borders of the nation were constantly being drawn and redrawn as the fighting grew even more intense. Even though the war had given Rush Valley a major source of income, the influx of wounded war vets had cast a shadow over the prosperity.

Mr. Dominic called it, "The War to End All Wars." Paninya wasn't sure what he meant by it, but it was ominous nonetheless. The old man had lived through a lifetime of war, but there was something about the recent conflicts that had him talking as though the end was near.

And through it all, Winry remained steadfast, throwing every drop of her blood, sweat, and tears into her work. Paninya looked up to her and did what she could to keep the young mechanic on her feet, but she had a feeling that each day that passed took something from her friend. Winry was changing, bit by bit. The youthful girl with the quick smile and quicker temper was gone. A quiet sadness had settled about her.

Winry never talked about it, and Paninya had learned that there were certain topics of conversation that were better left untouched.

As she watched her friend eat, Paninya felt the weight of the years and all the hardships they'd gone through together. She took one more look at the automail arm and then placed it on a nearby display stand. It truly was perfect. Winry had crafted it with a lover's touch, working her heart and soul into the design.

And though she claimed otherwise, Paninya knew that it wasn't really meant as a display piece. After five years, it was hard not to notice the pattern.

Every time she developed a new crafting technique, she tested it by building a right arm and then a partial left leg to match.

Always lighter, always stronger... and over the course of the years, the sizes had slowing changed, growing... like a living person, alive in her mind.

Five years and they hadn't heard a word from them. Five years and she was still waiting. Five years and she was still crafting automail with him in mind. Five years and she hadn't given up hope.

Five years...

But how much longer would she be able to hold out? It was one more question Paninya was afraid to ask.

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(A/N2): Chapter 1 is more or less a teaser trailer. Tune in next week for chapter 2! You can keep an eye on my progress in my bio!