Some Assembly Required
An FMA Fanfiction by Tobu Ishi
The difficulty with raising a child like Winry, thought Pinako as she grimly surveyed the mess in front of her, was that she was so precocious that it was downright hard to be angry at her.
After all, with two doctor parents who spent most of their days out trekking cross-country to take care of the needs of a far-flung farming community like Risenburg, any little girl was bound to get antsy and in need of entertainment. Pinako did her best to keep an eye on her when she could, but she had her own jobs to do in the automail workshop, and it was easy to lose track of the doings of one small five-year-old when she was in the middle of putting together complicated machinery. And after all, their country house was fairly safe. And so, when their neighbor Trisha Elric and her two young sons weren’t available to play with Winry, she was generally left to her own devices.
Unfortunately, Winry’s ‘own devices’ were becoming the death of Pinako’s various household devices.
Ever since the girl was big enough to reach for things, she’d grabbed for her granny’s shiny tools and tried her hardest to put them into her mouth—or, a year or two later, into other things within her crawling-toddler reach, like electrical sockets or the cat. Once she could walk, all hell broke loose completely. Winry just couldn’t resist her own curiosity about how things worked. She burnt her hands to blistering at two years old when she tried to peek into the kitchen oven to see how it heated up, while her granny was putting in a pie to bake. She was fascinated with the way the blender cup clicked in and out of the base, and wore down the mechanism until it died from her ceaseless playing with it.
On her fifth birthday, Pinako had given her granddaughter the casing of an old automail hand to play with, and Winry’s glee was felt in the next farming district. She spent hours rearranging and assembling the hollow finger joints and palm sections like a three-dimensional puzzle, making them into new and interesting monster hands with two or three digits and dozens of joints.
A month later, a fascinated Pinako gave her the basic skeletal frame that went inside the casing, just to see what she would do. Winry promptly asked to borrow a small-nose screwdriver, took the entire thing apart on the workshop floor, and began trying to construct a framework for her bizarre limb designs. She had a bit of trouble making things fit back together, but she managed it eventually; and of course her talent for disassembling things was already well established in the Rockbell household. When Pinako asked her if she could reconstruct the original shape of the hand, she managed that too with surprising panache, and even more surprising concentration for a girl her age. A few joints were mixed and matched, but Pinako supposed that if the hand still possessed its various tensor and flexor cables and other internal paraphernalia, it would probably more or less move and function the way Winry had assembled it.
Pinako had a talk with her son and daughter-in-law that night. Winry received her own tool set a week later. With a prodigy like this, you couldn’t start training too early.
Except, of course, that Winry was still a five-year-old girl. And so Pinako’s brief, glorious visions quickly had to reconcile with the reality of her granddaughter’s attention span and child-clumsiness and tendency to go running out the door to play with Edward and Alphonse next door on glorious summer days. No matter how much she adored playing machines with her granny, at her young age it seemed that the basic lessons that Pinako was trying to start her on just couldn’t hold a candle to the fun of splashing in the river shallows with her puppy and best friends. Pinako swallowed her disappointment as her granddaughter fidgeted through her lessons, and told her to run along and play when her eyes wandered to the sunny view from the workshop windows. The last thing she wanted was for Winry to have her love for machines squashed out of her under too much pressure to learn too quickly.
And so it went, until today, a very sticky-hot day in a particularly sticky-hot August, when Pinako came downstairs to make breakfast and found her granddaughter sitting in her cotton nightie in the middle of the kitchen floor, bare feet stretched out in front of her, with her tool set open next to her and a look of intense, absorbed concentration on her face as she unscrewed one bit of machinery from another. Bits and pieces of mechanical miscellany were spread around her on the linoleum like a disassembled sunburst. It took Pinako a moment to recognize them as the disemboweled remains of the Rockbell family toaster.
Two simultaneous wishes boiled up in Pinako. Firstly, she wanted to hoist her granddaughter up by the ankle and shake her until her eyes crossed. And secondly, she wanted to praise her to high heaven for the methodical, sensible way she’d taken the toaster apart. Pieces that looked similar had been grouped near each other; wires were left attached to their various parts to snake here and there like connect-the-dots among the scattered parts instead of being ripped free. The screws Winry had removed from the toaster’s metal shell were placed neatly next to the holes where they belonged in the various pieces of the casing.
Pinako closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. This was good. This was another excellent sign of mechanical aptitude. And the damage would be easy to fix, if a little time-consuming. But…they couldn’t have Winry taking apart everything in the house. She had to learn better, and yet, Pinako didn’t want to associate mechanics with punishment in her granddaughter’s young mind…
And then, as she gazed down at her oblivious progeny’s quietly absorbed face, it hit her. Pinako smiled, craftily, and cleared her throat.
Winry whipped her head up to look at her granny, blue eyes wide with surprise, which quickly dissolved into dismay and alarm as she seemed to realize the situation she was in.
“Granny,” she squeaked, reversing gears as she tried to fumble the screw she’d been removing back into its hole. “Granny, I’m sorry, I was gonna fix it before you woke up! I just wanna see what makes it pop up when it gets the right color toast! I didn’t mean for it to get in so many pieces—”
“Oh, hush, child,” Pinako told her, fighting back a laugh. Winry hushed, still looking up at her with the expression of one waiting for a bomb to drop, her screwdriver clutched in her hand. “I see you’ve made short work of our toaster,” she continued, rubbing her chin with one sturdy, wrinkled hand. “We’ll have to do something about that if you ever want toast and jam for breakfast again, won’t we?”
Winry nodded, hesitantly, not sure where this was leading.
“Well, you’ve taken it apart,” Pinako astutely observed, “so it’s only fair that you put it back together.”
Winry’s mouth fell open into an O. “But…I don’t…I can’t, Granny!”
Pinako tsked. “Winry, child. Never take something apart if you don’t know how to put it back together. If you can’t repair the damage, what do you have?” She surveyed the floor with a withering look. “Just a lot of useless parts.”
Winry wrung her screwdriver in distress. “I’m sorry!” she cried, with the edge of a wail forming in her voice. “I didn’t mean to!”
Kneeling next to her, Pinako gave her granddaughter a hug. “It’s all right,” she said quickly. “I’m not angry, child. Just remember that, next time you feel the need to start dissecting appliances. Whatever you take to pieces, you will be putting back in one piece again. You hear me?”
Winry sniffed and nodded. “Yes’m.”
“All right, then,” Pinako said, with a warm and mischievous grin. “Budge up and give an old woman room to sit down, girl. You’re going to put this thing back together right this minute, and I’m going to walk you through it.”
The process took hours, as Winry fumbled and bumbled her way through the assembly of machinery much smaller and more complicated than anything she’d ever gotten to handle before. Pinako gave her the same simple, step-by-step help and encouragement she’d given her when the child was learning to walk, and the two of them felt the same sense of growing accomplishment. By the end of the job, they were smiling triumphantly at each other as Winry bolted down the last of the casing without needing instructions.
“Winry, my girl, you’re a real marvel,” Pinako gloated, patting her fluffy blond hair with an ear-to-ear grin of pride. “That toaster’s got to be in better shape than it was when you started. I’ll bet it needed a good taking-apart, the lever was starting to stick.”
Winry beamed, knowing her granny was being generous, but proud to have earned her praise with her hours of hard work.
In fact…she’d hardly fidgeted or gotten distracted at all, Pinako suddenly realized. “Winry,” she asked, tentatively. “Are the lessons we’ve been working on…have they been boring you?”
“Um,” Winry said, ducking her head, hesitant to say anything rude to her granny. “I…um.”
“Speak up, child!” Pinako barked.
“Well…maybe they are kind of…easy?” Winry admitted, nervously. “I like them, and they’re important and stuff, but…the toaster was much more fun!” she finished with a burst of real enthusiasm.
Pinako goggled down at her five-year-old granddaughter. It had never occurred to her that Winry might be neither overly distractible nor losing interest in machines, but just downright bored with her simple lessons. And at her age, that kind of talent…
“Winry,” Pinako said. “Would you like to start helping me with my automail work?”
Winry gave a start, as if she’d sat on a stray screw. “Really?” she squealed.
“Well, not the surgery, of course,” Pinako admitted. She wanted to shield her little girl from that painful part of the business for as long as she could. “But you could help me with the limb assembly…and maybe someday the designs,” she added, remembering Winry’s monster hands.
Silence reigned in the kitchen. Winry was too flabbergasted to speak, staring up at her granny in amazement and lingering disbelief.
Then she let out a shriek of joy and leaped at her, flinging her arms about her wrinkled neck and hugging her as if she would never let go. Pinako chuckled and hugged her back, then gently disentangled her arms and set her back on her feet.
“Careful, there, or we’ll end up fitting me for automail,” she scolded fondly. “Now, we’ll have to start you simple, of course. Casing and frames to start with, we’ll move you on to the harder parts later. There’s a leg on the commission list right now that might make a good first project…”
Guiding her grinning granddaughter out of the room with one hand on her shoulder, Pinako left the beautifully assembled toaster and all thoughts of breakfast and lunch far behind. She had work to do, and she had help now from her Winry, the true child of her heart. The workshop door…their workshop door…clicked shut behind them.