"Do you have it all memorized now?" Trisha gazed expectantly into a pair of solemn blue eyes. The little girl nodded.
"Uh-huh. And I won't forget it, ever," she promised, swinging her legs as she perched on the edge of the bed.
"Good girl," said Trisha, a weary but proud smile on her lips. "I knew I could count on you. And remember," she added, leaning forward and raising her eybrows mysteriously, "you can't tell anyone about this, not even Ed and Al. It's our special secret, alright? Can you keep it safe for me?"
"Of course I can!" The words were hot and stubborn, filled with childish passion. "I promise I won't ever tell an-y-one. Cross my heart. 'Sides," Winry muttered as a resentful afterthought, "they never tell me their secrets."
They never told her their secrets, and now Ed is eleven and Al is ten, and they are empty and broken and far too old.
Night has fallen. Winry sees Alphonse sitting alone by the window and gently touches his arm as she passes, feeling the cold surface of hollow metal against her skin, a bitter reminder of last night's chaos. She still hasn't gotten used to the fact that the living, breathing, laughing boy she knew is now an empty suit of armor; warm skin and round, happy face replaced by unfriendly spikes and sharp corners. Just what terrors had happened yesterday, in the tiny house next to hers? She may never fully know.
"Winry?" His voice is a metallic echo, tinged with quiet fear and anguish. The two eyeholes in his helmet glow with a red-ish light, alien and strange. "Will...will brother get better?"
She stops, turns and manages a small smile.
"Of course he will," she reassures him, sounding more confident than she feels. "Me and Grandma are doing everything we can. It'll just take time, that's all. The fever hasn't broken yet." She speaks slowly, choosing her words with care. "You guys have been through something pretty awful, and I don't think either of you will recover from it overnight. Let's just...take it slow for now. Okay?"
Before Al can answer, she hears a faint cry..."Mother!"...and suddenly every dark thought is swallowed up by one: Edward.
Winry rushes into the sick-room and sees him in bed, covered in bandages, the blankets around him rumpled and sweated through as he sobs and struggles feebly against the clutches of a nightmare. She is at his side in an instant, as if by reflex, and she smoothes back his blonde hair and whispers softly, "It's okay, shhh, it's okay..." (but it isn't okay, and she doesn't know how to make it okay, because fixing automail is one thing but fixing people is another.) His breathing steadies somewhat, but tears still run down his sleeping face and the demons still hold him in an iron grip, spilling desperate pleas and apologies from his lips.
"Al...'m sorry...so sorry...mom..."
Her heart clenches. Trisha...what might she say if she could see her boys now?
"Winry, there's something very important I need you to do for me... I'll be leaving in a little while...and they will miss me terribly..."
She furrows her eyebrows as the woman's voice brushes across her memory. Something important...what was it? She closes her eyes, trying to bring the blurry words into focus.
"There's a song...when Ed and Al are scared or sad, it helps them feel better and go to sleep...and since I won't be around, I need you to sing it for me...for them...they will need you..."
THAT was it! How could she have forgotten? If there was ever a time her lullabye was needed, it would be now.
"Are you ready?"
Taking Edward's single hand in both of her own, the girl hums a few faint notes under her breath, wracking her brains for the melody and the words for the first verse. And finally, haltingly, she begins to sing:
I am here
Rest in my love
There is soft clank just outside the door, and she knows that Alphonse is listening.
Moon shines above...
She feels Ed tighten his grip on her left hand, pulling it a few inches closer to him. The lines of pain in his face start to fade and he breathes a small, shuddering sigh.
You are in my keeping
Now it's time for sleeping
Be at peace and listen to my voice
I'll send you dreaming
"I love you," she hears him murmur, though whether he is speaking to her or his mother, she isn't quite sure. Perhaps...both? She puts the thought away for later, brushes a strand of hair out of his face and continues.
Hush now, let your fears go
Be brave, heed no shadow
Though the clouds be dark
Still there are stars forever gleaming...
She trails off for a brief moment and studies the boy. The stump where his right arm used to be is still bleeding a little, but the bandages are fresh and clean. There are light bruises, here and there (probably caused by Al's clumsy haste when he first carried him to safety, the unfeeling metal arms still unaware of their own strength). But the bruises will heal soon.
His eyes are shut and relaxed. His chest now rises and falls in a deep, steady rhythm and most of the tension has left his body. A shadow remains on him, though it is not quite as dark as it was a few minutes ago. And for now, it is the best she can do.
Winry leans over him, presses a kiss to his forhead, and the last stanza becomes a promise:
Day will dawn when night is done
Slumber now and wait for sun
Ever by your side...I'll...stay.