Learning to Live

The Recovery Series # 1; Autumn

D M Evans

Disclaimer - not mine, all characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa et al, Square Enix and funimition.

Pairing – none, Ed/Winry/Al friendship

Rating – PG-13 (for descriptions of wounds)

Time Line – manga based, no real spoilers provided you know how Ed and Al were injured, takes place immediately after the alchemic rebound and Mustang/Hawkeye's initial visit

Summary – Winry wants Edward to find the will to live again after his injuries

Author's Note – This was written for the 4 purposes community and since there are few markers in the series for what season we're in I'm setting it in autumn since there's no snow on the ground but kids are in school and Mustang & Hawkeye are wearing coats.

1The autumn winds stole her breath away as she snuck out of the house just as the sun cast a rosy gold glow over the clouds. It shouldn't be this cold so early in the season, almost as if the weather read the pain and sorrow of the denizens of Resembool and fed on the lachrymose atmosphere. There seemed to be so little she could do to ease their pain and Winry wanted to give the brothers every comfort she could. The ten year old little girl decided soup for lunch would help, if she could get Ed to eat; Al…he was beyond her abilities to physically comfort.

Good soup started with good ingredients so she was out in the garden picking squash, beans and tomatoes. Soon there would be frost on the pumpkins and the death of everything she and Granny had worked on all summer. Neither of them were great gardeners. Aunt Trisha had been the one with the green thumb but she was gone now, nearly a year, leaving such devastation of hearts behind her.

Dew hung like crystals from spider webs in the garden. The young girl gingerly bypassed them to lay hands on the squash and peas. There were a few end of the season tomatoes clinging to the vines so she plucked them free as well. Ed didn't like them in his soup but maybe she could get him to eat a salad. She could almost hear Al laughing at that idea.

Her basket laden with fruits and vegetables, Winry lugged it back inside. No one was about in the kitchen but that wasn't going to stop her. Granny trusted her so Winry washed up the veggies and put the tomatoes in the ice chest. She got out the chicken stock Granny had made from some of Mrs. Herbert's chickens and the carrots from the garden. Winry didn't think Ed like carrots but she wasn't about to tell him they were in the broth. What he didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Maybe he was so small because he was such a picky eater.

Pulling a chair to the counter, Winry made rounds out of the squash and shelled the peas. Squash went into the soup first and then she found some noodles. Ed didn't like spaghetti so she used it sparingly – after all she and Granny would need lunch, too – and finally stirred in the peas.

"Smells good. You should have called me, girl." Granny came into the kitchen and cast an eye at the pot.

"You were busy getting Mr. Jones' new leg ready." Winry shrugged, hopping off the chair she had pulled to the stove.

"So lunch is ready even before breakfast." Pinako smiled softly. "We'll let that simmer and you can run breakfast up to Ed."

"He barely eats, Granny," Winry said, trying to keep the fear out of her voice. They had saved Edward from bleeding to death but they might still fail to save his life. Winry was keenly aware of that fact and hide it as the Rockbells might, she suspected Al knew it, too.

"Well, oatmeal has never been his favorite. How about I fry him up some eggs sunny side up? He likes those," Pinako said, trying to ease her grandchild's fears. "Get Al to help you. He could probably get Edward to eat."

"I will."

Winry helped her grandmother fry up bacon first and while the girl was patting the fat off of it, Pinako used the bacon drippings to fry two eggs. Winry struggled with the cast iron toaster over the fire of the stove. She had strong arms for a girl her age, tempered by helping her grandmother work metal. Pinako let Winry carry the tray upstairs and Al was at the door almost as soon as Winry kicked it, hoping to be let in.

Sucking in her breath, Winry tried to smile, tried not to let Ed know how terrible he looked. His skin looked like old parchment, like the worn out books they had to read in the classroom. Ringed with purplish bruises, Ed's eyes were sunken. The room smelled stale and coppery, a stark contrast to the mouthwatering smells rising from the breakfast tray. She would have to change his dressings later. Pinako didn't shield her from that. Winry's genius with metal brought her into contact with patients at a tender age and ugly wounds were part of her trade.

"Morning, Ed. Granny made breakfast," she said, aiming for cheery and hoping she didn't sound manic. She put the bed tray over Ed. He looked away, slumping more. Winry put a hand on his head, stroking his hair. "I know the pain pills make your stomach feel funny, Ed, like you might be sick but you will vomit if you don't eat. That'll make the pain so much worse, so please try to eat." She turned her big blue eyes on Al, pleading with him to help her.

Al's armor rattled and Ed flinched at the sound of it. Alphonse sank into the chair next to the bed where he had been keeping vigil for days. "Brother, please listen to Winry. You need your strength. If…if you think it would be easier if I left for a little while so you can eat, I don't mind. It doesn't bother me if you eat, Brother. We can't help each other if you're too weak."

Ed sighed heavily, squirming a bit. Al hoisted him up on the bed and Winry put another pillow behind Ed, holding him upright. His hand shook as he reached for the toast.

"Ed, do you need me to help?" Winry asked softly.

He shook his head without answering then broke the yolk with a corner of bread, staining it sunny. It took him effort to dab up the yolks from his eggs but he managed to get them down with the help of the toast. Ed ran out of steam, barely able to cut his eggs so Winry took the fork from him and sliced up the eggs and the bacon. Ed made a considerable dent in them before he seemed too exhausted to even chew.

"You need to drink something," Winry said, handing him the glass of milk with the straw in it. She knew that milk was Ed's arch nemesis but he needed it to help him heal. She had brought a glass of water, too, since he needed the hydration. When Ed drank the milk without so much as a fuss, Winry's heart sank. She knew then he was just waiting to die. There was no fire left in him. Even Al seemed to be horrified by it, somehow conveying his feelings through the metal he was trapped in. Winry took the tray away with trembling hands and set it on the floor.

"That's enough, Ed." She eased a pillow out from under him and leaned him back. "You just rest and let that digest and then I'll be back to change your dressings."

Ed's eyes fluttered shut then slowly opened. "Thank you, Winry," he whispered.

"You're welcome, Ed." She offered a smile but he had already faded into sleep.

X X X

Granny had asked Al to sit outside the room and Winry understood why. It was far too hard on the boy to see what they were going to do to Ed. Pinako had wanted Winry to sit it out as well but Winry had to be there for Ed.

With gloved hands, Pinako undressed the stump of Ed's leg. His remaining hand balled in the sheets as the gauze pulled away, taking fibrous strands of white-gray necrotic tissue with it. The wound would never heal with that dead flesh embedded in it so dressings soaked with saline were supplied a few times a day and allowed to dry, drawing the fibrous tissue away from the stump bed.

Winry drizzled saline on the stump while her grandmother used a scalpel to par away the stubborn tissue. Ed's remaining leg all but burrowed into the mattress as he tried to escape the agony they inflicted on him. Winry didn't know how he kept from crying out. She wondered if he would break his teeth as hard as he clenched them, grunting softly.

Winry wanted to stroke his arm and soothe him but she couldn't contaminate her gloves. Instead, she concentrated on helping her grandmother clean the wound bed until it was beefy and red, bleeding some but cleansed of necrosis. The end of his leg looked like a Sunday ham, complete with a bone showing marrow.

They soaked another dressing and wrapped it with soft gauze before moving to his arm. Winry hated looking at that even more. There was so little left that she didn't know if they could even salvage enough to make Ed automail should he want it. The leg was easy enough; they'd resect more bone and flap muscle over the end – which they would have to do anyhow if the stump was going to heal even if he didn't want automail – but his shoulder was nearly a lost cause. Granny had to hunt just to get a hint of the brachial plexus and without those nerves, the automail wouldn't work.

Winry couldn't get Ed to talk about automail. That wasn't uncommon with the newly injured. The loss was too new, too keen to think about replacement. It was fairly normal to resect some bone, let the stump heal and reoperate down the road if the patient decided to endure the painful procedure. Still, there was something in Ed's eyes that worried her or more correctly, something was missing from his eyes. She wasn't used to Ed being so empty and lifeless. He didn't even respond when they finished up and Winry promised to come sit with him later.

Al scurried right back into the room once Winry and Pinako quit it but Winry didn't hear Ed greet his brother. Winry sat at the kitchen table once she got downstairs. Her hands shook and she tried to still them.

"Winry?" Pinako queried.

"Why won't he cry? I know it hurts, what we do to him. Is he afraid I'll think he's weak?" she asked, knowing all too well the amount of time boys spent worrying about such things.

Pinako put a strong hand on her grandchild's shoulder. "No, child, that's not it. It's something you're all too young to be facing." To Winry's surprise, Pinako's face hardened, her eyes infinitely sad. "It isn't fair." Winry stared at her, not entirely sure she understood. "Edward doesn't cry because he feels so guilty about his brother. Yes, Ed lost a lot but Al has lost even more."

"But it isn't Ed's fault," Winry protested and was further shocked when Pinako's face betrayed something the girl wasn't expecting; blame for the brothers for their condition.

"It wasn't what they intended but it is a result of what they did," Pinako replied gently.

Winry trembled thinking on that night. Once they got Edward stabilized and blood slowly transfused into him, Pinako had left Winry with Alphonse while she went to the boys' home. Her grandmother had forbidden her to follow and the old woman had been gone so long. Winry remembered seeing a well-used shovel resting next to the back door the following day. She had been too afraid to ask what Pinako had done and her grandmother volunteered nothing. Winry nodded to concede her grandmother's point. "But we can't let guilt kill Ed."

Pinako startled at that declaration then smiled softly. "That is your job. If anyone can shake Edward free of this, it's you and Alphonse."

Winry smiled back, only wishing she were as sure as her grandmother.

X X X

Winry remembered her grandmother's words and knew she had failed. She wasn't responsible for the fire that now burned in Ed's eyes, as much as she wanted to take credit. No, the military man with the hot look in his dark eyes was responsible. Winry savored a tinge of irrational jealousy towards Mustang, disappointed that she didn't give Ed what he needed to live again and afraid at the source of his new-found vigor.

Winry had looked first at Mustang's face as he barged into her home, feeling that little girl's instant crush, the one usually reserved for the cute young new school teachers but it faded the moment she realized he wore a blue uniform. She had neither forgotten nor forgiven what had happened to her parents. All that venom had spilled out on the placid young woman who had accompanied that loud, brash officer. Winry had been impressed in spite of herself with Hawkeye. Maybe it was because Winry knew what it felt like to be willing to do anything to protect someone she loved. She didn't need to be an adult to understand that. Fingering her earlobe, Winry wondered absently what it would be like to have them pierced; unconscious of the fact Riza's earrings had planted that idea in her head.

Military-inspired or not, Ed had found his desire to live again and Winry would nourish it. It would take him years to recover enough to use his automail once she and Granny made it for him – his declarations of only needing a year aside – and she would have time to dissuade him from joining the State Alchemists. What was wrong with Mustang that he would ask such a thing from a child? How could any boy see past the carrot the older alchemist had dangled? It would be like someone offering Winry the best mentor in Rush Valley if only she was willing to give up all her freedom; she knew she probably still couldn't refuse such an offer.

"Winry, this is good," Ed said, breaking into her thoughts.

Her head jerked up and she smiled. She had made him some pumpkin soup, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg; Granny having let her do more of the work, even lugging the pumpkin in from the garden. "I'm glad you like it. You look good today, Edward. You have some color back in your cheeks."

The wicked look she had long associated with her friend flickered in his sunny eyes. "I feel pretty good. I mean, it hurts but…" His lips tightened for a moment. "Thanks, Winry, for everything."

She leaned over and hugged him gently. "Anything I can do for you." She tossed a glance over at Al, "For either of you, you know I will."

"We appreciate it, Winry," Al said.

Ed nodded. "We really do." He cocked his head at her. "Are you going to help Granny make my automail?"

"I'm going to make you the best automail in the world," she assuredly him proudly.

"I know you will."

Those simple words made Winry feel better than she had in a long time. She was finally sure everything would turn out all right in the end.