Title: When Stars Burn Out

Author: S J Smith

Rating: K+

Summary: At a stopover in Xing, Winry runs into one of the Elric brothers' old allies.

Disclaimer: If I had any part of this, I wouldn't be living in Boxtown.

X X X

The trip to Xing could now be made by train, and Edward bought tickets for their tenth anniversary. The kids were old enough to travel now, and all three of them seemed to be following in their father's and grandfather's footsteps by wanting to always be on the go. Winry thought it was fascinating, that while Becca looked more like her, her personality was such a blend of their own, and Simon was so much like Ed at that age, it was scary sometimes. Allie seemed to be herself – an artist, with a fascination for colors and structures. Winry hoped they'd be able to keep the kids entertained for the trip – it wasn't going to be even a couple of days, like the journey to Central City from Rezembool, but nearly ten days worth of travel, over the Eastern Desert.

"We can stop at Xerxes," Edward said, as they sat up one night, discussing the trip. His eyes went distant, and Winry reached over to take his hand, giving it a squeeze. He came back from that place he disappeared into sometimes, giving her a smile. "I'd like you and the kids to see where the old man came from."

Eleven years ago, Edward had helped save Amestris from total destruction. Eleven years ago, he'd given up his ability to perform alchemy. Winry knew he sometimes still tested his abilities, pouring over transmutation circles Al sent; reviewing alchemic texts either newly written or recently discovered. His genius wouldn't allow him to toss away everything he'd learned as a child; he'd just had to find a way to use it without actually being able to transmute anything, ever again. Winry knew he didn't regret giving it up, particularly in what he received in return – more than Equivalent Exchange, surely, his brother's body and soul, joined together again.

He twisted his hand under hers, linking their fingers. "We'll be close to Ishbal."

Winry had no real response to Edward's comment. The Ishbalans had agreed to watch over the remains of Xerxes, along with a contingent of archeologists from both Amestris and Xing. Their own city lay some few kilometers away from the dead city, where no one actually lived. It was history now; something the kids learned in school – that Brigadier General Mustang and the leaders of Ishbal reached an accord, and signed a treaty that allowed Ishbal its lands back, and trading rights with Amestris again, and Amestris would protect Ishbal as an ally. There were some Ishbalans who were her customers, and despite Ishbal's attack on Rezembool when Ed and she were kids, Winry raised their kids to accept all the peoples of Amestris and its borders as possible friends. She had no problem with Ishbal, just one man, and that wasn't a reason to hate an entire race.

X X X

The air seemed to dry out her skin as soon as she climbed off the train, and Winry wondered how Edward could stand the heat simmering around them. His automail leg had to bother him, but he smiled for the kids, insisting they pose with her for a picture outside the train station. They would spend the night in the city, at a hotel run for those who couldn't stand to go any further into the desert, or were planning a trip to Xerxes. They'd ride horses out there tomorrow, as vehicles were not allowed within a three kilometer perimeter of the ancient city.

Winry wasn't exactly looking forward to kids on horseback, but Allie and Becca were excited about the idea. Allie kept insisting she wanted to ride a pink horse, despite Simon's disgusted, "Horses don't come in pink!" Still, it really didn't take a lot of time to get the kids on horses, Allie riding behind Edward, and the older two on their own horses. Edward muttered an apology to his horse about the heat of his automail leg, and they started off with the Ishbalans across the desert to Xerxes.

Allie whined a bit at how hot it was, and wearing the robes they were handed before mounting the horses. She quieted down at the sight of the actual desert, and Winry focused on it, too, trusting the horse to follow the rest of the horses in the trail. The land around them was bleached to a creamy yellow, the color of wheat field before the harvest. Heat shimmers rose from the ground, making it hard to tell distances. In the north, Winry could make out dim golden shadows that told her of hills, or another mountain range. The trail was littered with bits of shale, broken down from somewhere. Winry wondered if there were heavy rains here once in a while, like in Rush Valley, and the stone might be washed out of the hills.

And then she spotted the beginning of the ruins, and forgot everything else.

Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of the walls, despite the stones having tumbled out of place here and there. They were so high, she thought, and as they drew closer, she had to tilt her head back and shade her eyes to see the top of them. Some buildings towered over the tops of those walls within the enclosure, and their guide led them into the ruins. The kids were awed, each in their own way, and when they were dismounted, Edward had to remind them not to go poking into any holes or dark areas. "There are scorpions and snakes," he said, "so stay close, and don't go running off."

Taking Allie's hand, he led Winry and her to a building he wanted to look at again, one he said he'd seen the last time he was in Xerxes. He pointed at the transmutation circle, part of it missing. "It'll never be repaired," he said, sounding wistful, but Winry could read the expression in his eyes that told her it was a good thing rather than a bad. Allie squirmed free, and he let her run, wrapping his arms around Winry. "That's the transmutation circle to open the gateway to Truth," he said in her ear. "The rest of it is gone." His cheek was rough from shaving when he rubbed it against hers. "So it'd take someone a lot of research to find it again, since it only exists in two places."

Winry glanced back at him, catching a faint smile. "In your and Al's memories?"

Edward nodded slightly, tightening his grip on her. "I don't miss it," he said. "Alchemy, being able to use it. Really." He gave her a little shake for emphasis. "Teacher tried to teach us when we were little that alchemy wasn't as important as we thought it was. She's right. There's nothing more important to me than you, and the kids, and Al."

Turning in his arms, Winry hugged him back, nestling her cheek against his shoulder. "Thank you, Ed," she whispered. "But you didn't need to tell me. I knew that."

He kissed her forehead, a low chuckle rumbling in his chest. "You always know," Edward mumbled, nuzzling her.

"Daddy!" Allie's yell split them apart, even though it wasn't her frightened shout.

They both spun, spotting their youngest with a tall man. Edward tensed beside her, his eyes narrowing, and Winry's heart seemed to stop. They knew this man who stood with their daughter. Even though it had been over a decade, his stance, his profile, both told them who he was, even before he turned to face them.

Edward raised his hand, a neutral greeting. Winry folded her arms around herself as she walked with him across the open ground. Scar spoke without preamble. "I was told you were here today."

"Paying our respects," Edward said, ruffling Allie's dark blond hair. "My father had something to do with this place." He looked up at the taller man as he spoke, his shoulders back. Winry nudged him gently. Any reason for antagonism between them was just men being jerks, as far as she was concerned. Edward wrinkled his nose at her but subsided, stroking Allie's hair.

"Our youngest, Alexandra," Winry said, touching Allie's shoulder. She leaned down slightly. "Allie, this man helped save your mom and dad, a long time ago."

Allie's finger was in her mouth as she squinted up at Scar. "Hi," she said shyly.

His expression softened slightly. "Hello," he said, though he hesitated slightly before speaking to her.

Allie smiled at him then, a smile almost as scary as Edward's or Simon's. "It's nice to meet you!" she parroted, offering Scar her hand. Nonplussed, he shook it, and Allie turned to Edward. "Daddy, I wanna pet the horses." She grabbed his hand, intent on hauling him back to their mounts.

"Uh," Edward grinned sheepishly. "Winry?"

She nodded. "It's okay." Still, she tracked them as Allie dragged Edward away before turning back to Scar. "You're one of the guardians of Xerxes?"

He gave an infinitesimal nod. "It seemed for the best." He rubbed his arm, where Winry remembered tattoos blazed across his skin. "I can protect this city without weapons." He seemed to hesitate, then said, rather than asked, "You have three children."

"Mm, Simon and Becca are around here somewhere. I should probably find them before they copy down a transmutation circle and try it out." She laughed softly, though it really wasn't a joke; her two eldest were fascinated by alchemy, even if Edward had explained to them they should never attempt alchemy without Uncle Alphonse or him watching. The kids were pretty well-behaved, but they were their kids, and Winry expected rebellion and stubbornness, both.

"Do you worry about your children? The kind of lives they will have?"

The questions stopped her, and Winry thought before she answered. Turning back to the man, she said, "Every parent does. Or should, I guess; I hear stories sometimes, about parents who don't care. If you're asking if I'm worried about them here, no, not really. They know better than to touch things," growing up around machining tools had taught them that some things are dangerous, despite how fascinating they could be, "and they haven't started actually studying alchemy yet." Winry didn't doubt they would, some day, probably sooner than she'd like, but at least Edward would lay down a firm base for them to learn from. "What about you? Do you have children?"

His gaze flickered, and his eyes drifted to the side, past her. It was answer enough. Inhaling deeply, Winry took a few steps closer to him. "You have the right to have wife, and to raise a family. You should. Everyone who wants children," she hadn't missed the glint in his eyes as he'd looked at Allie, and remembered how he'd treated Mei, "ought to have a family of their own."

"Do you scold me?" His eyebrows bounced once, and Winry thought maybe she'd surprised him. Again.

She jammed her fists on her hips. "If there's someone waiting for you to make up your mind," she said, "you ought to ease her mind. Make her stop waiting for you."

He met her eyes, and Winry marveled again at how strange they were, compared to those she was most often surrounded by – rich amber, sky blue. Eyes the color of rubies always reminded her of an alley, the taste of dust in the air, and her own despair, at least for a split second. "Perhaps," he said.

Winry stamped her foot, making her hair bounce on her back. "No 'perhaps'. Do it. Everyone deserves happiness." She pointed at him. "Everyone."

Scar's throat moved and he looked away from her. "Your family is looking for you," he said, and when she glanced back, then at him again, he was gone.

Now she could hear Edward's shout, and Winry cupped her hands around her mouth. "Coming!" she yelled back, leaving the wall with the broken transmutation circle behind.

The kids were already mounted on their horses when she reached the well. Simon wore a disgusted expression on his face, while Becca could only be described as smug. "Mommy! Simon got bit by a lizard!"

"A lizard?" She rolled her eyes. "Didn't your father tell you to leave animals alone?"

"It wasn't poisonous," Edward told her, as if he was repeating it again for their son. Winry knew he'd have been a lot more worried if there was any chance the lizard was venomous. "It just clamped onto the skin between his finger and thumb and wouldn't let go." A hint of a smile played across Edward's mouth.

Simon spoke up loudly. "It didn't hurt! It just surprised me!"

Winry adjusted the hood of her robe, accepting Edward's help to mount the horse. He picked her up, swinging her onto its back. Reaching down, she touched his cheek. "Me, too," she told him softly.

Edward grinned and shrugged a little bit. "I didn't know he'd be here," he told her.

"But suspected?"

The shrug came again and Edward jumped onto his own horse, making it look easy. Allie sat in front of him, leaning against his chest. "All right, kids. Let's go back to the hotel. And tomorrow, we'll get on the train to Xing."

Winry twisted in her saddle as they rode under an arch in the wall. Looking back, she hoped for a glimpse of the scarred man, not surprised when she didn't see him. "Don't wait any longer," she whispered.

After all, you never knew what might happen next.

X X X