A/N: This takes place in between Winry leaving after she first meets Scar, and her meeting up with Ed and Al at Briggs. I started writing it after I had seen episode 23 of Brotherhood, knowing that it was going to get jossed immediately. Consider it a canon divergence- what if Ed and Al had needed to visit Winry before they worked out that they had to head North?
Half the people in Rush Valley clank when they walk. It took some getting used to when she first came to stay, the clanking. She hadn't really understood then why so many amputees chose to stay after they'd had their new limbs fitted. Almost no one in the town was from Rush Valley- Winry fit right in, that way. Eventually, though, she'd come to understand: having an automail limb anywhere else in Amestria made you a cripple; having one in Rush Valley made you a neighbor.
So she didn't think much about it when she heard someone clanking up her walk, not at first. She was in the middle of an important adjustment, after all, and Winry was nothing if not focused when she worked. It wasn't until the sound came closer and she could hear that ring of hollowness to the clanking that she dropped her tools and jumped to her feet.
"Al?" she said, running to the door, "Is that you?" And then she stopped.
Walking carefully, gingerly, up to her door was Al's hulking armored body. He was carrying a smaller body in his arms, broken and bloody. It had blond hair. Winry's hands flew to her mouth. "Ed-" she started, and stopped. "Al- you idiot. What happened? And what are you doing here? You should have taken him to a hospital! I'm an automail mechanic, moron, I can't-" She broke off. "Get him inside," she said, pointing. "You can put him on my table."
"You were the closest," Al said, his voice sounding small inside the armor. "He was bleeding a lot, and I was scared to go too far away, Winry!" He laid Ed down on the bed that Mr. Garfiel used for automail surgeries, his movements startlingly gentle for a huge hunk of metal.
Winry shook her head. There were a lot of doctors in Rush Valley, but the nearest hospital was the next town over. "I'm calling for Doctor Hess," she snapped.
"Okay," Al said.
Winry looked over at Ed. "Dammit," she said, and shoved the phone into Al's hands. "You're going to call Doctor Hess. I'm going to try to stop him from bleeding to death before the doctor gets here."
"Okay," Al said.
Winry really wasn't trained for this. In Resembool, Granny had always done the surgeries. Winry had only assisted. She was so good with the metal, she'd never delved too deeply into what to do with the flesh. Still, she knew the signs of shock. She knew that bleeding was bad, and something about how to stop it. Winry wasn't trained, but she knew when she had to step up and do something.
Ed was lying on the table, his chest rising and falling in shallow, uneven shudders. Without thinking about it, Winry took stock of his automail. His arm was destroyed- again- and his leg would need serious repair as well. She shook her head. The automail could wait. The wounds on his side and shoulder wouldn't. Someone- Al?- had torn Ed's shirt and tied hasty bandages around them. They were soaked and sticky with blood. She reached for the gauze pads they kept in the surgery, and bound them tightly onto the worst of his wounds, hoping the pressure would slow the bleeding. Behind her, she could hear Al's voice, asking for the doctor, telling him to come. She was tying off the second bandage when he came back into the room.
"He said it'll only take him a few minutes," Al said, and Winry could hear the worry in his voice.
"Doctor Hess's house is just down the street," Winry said. "I'm sure he'll grab his tools and be right over."
"Is Brother okay?" Al asked, looking down at Ed. "I tried to bandage him, but I never learned much about medicine. I should have learned more medical alchemy!" He rapped a fist on his helmet. "Stupid!" he said, miserably.
"I don't know if he'll be okay, Al," she said, brushing her hair out of her eyes. Her hands were covered in Ed's blood, and the sight of it made her sick. "We have to have hope, though, right? And he's strong. You know he won't go anywhere until he's kept his promise to you. He's too stubborn." Her voice cracked a little at the end. She sunk into a chair, staring at Ed. His body was splattered with blood, and he was covered in bruises and little cuts. "What was it this time?" she asked. "Homunculi?"
"If it was homunculi, they wouldn't have tried to kill us," Al said, miserably. "It was chimeras. I don't know why they were there. They just came out of nowhere!" Al was smeared with Ed's blood, and Winry saw now where something had taken chunks out of his armor. "Brother and I fought them off, but there were so many of them-" His voice trailed off. His shoulders sagged, and Winry could see his fear even through his expressionless metal face. "We were on our way here anyway so that you could fix Brother's automail again, so I thought I should bring him here."
Winry fought back tears. She went to the sink and rinsed her hands. Looking in the mirror, she saw a smudge of blood across her forehead. She wiped that away, too. She could see Ed behind her in the mirror, unmoving, his golden hair tinged with red. "Oh, Al," she said, leaning against the sink. "It seems like I only ever see the two of you when you've gotten yourselves hurt."
"Those are the times we need someone to come home to," Al said, quietly.
It was too much. Winry's legs wouldn't hold her anymore. She dropped to her knees, and the tears wouldn't stop coming.
"Winry?" Al said, concerned. "Winry, it'll be okay! I know it will! The doctor will be here soon, and Brother will get better, and-"
Winry pulled herself up. "I'm sorry, Al," she said, wiping her eyes. She was needed; she didn't have time to go to pieces. "You're right. He'll be fine, I know he will."
Doctor Hess arrived just then. He examined Ed, making concerned noises about ribs and internal bleeding. "It's a good thing you've got a surgery here, Miss Rockbell," he said, and started the process of putting Ed back together. Winry assisted him, just like she'd always assisted Granny. It wasn't the first time she'd seen Ed on an operating table. She swallowed the bile that kept rising in her throat. She had to keep moving.
Ed woke twice in the course of the surgery. Both times, his eyes were wild from pain and fear as he screamed Al's name. He looked right through Winry without seeming to see her at all. "Brother!" Al cried, moving from the corner where he'd been standing, still and silent, out of their way. "It's okay, Brother. They're helping you, it's okay." Then Doctor Hess gave Ed more drugs, and they were able to continue working in blessed silence.
It was almost dawn before they were done. "He's at risk for infection here," Doctor Hess said, wearily. "It might be better to try to move him to a hospital."
"We can keep him clean," Winry said. "It's not that different from recovering from automail surgery."
"I suppose not," Hess said, gruffly. "I'll come and check on him this evening. See you keep an eye on his temperature, and his blood pressure. If it starts to drop-"
"It means the bleeding's started again." Winry nodded. It was basic post-op procedure.
Doctor Hess sighed. "You always keep cool in a crisis, Winry. You'd make a good doctor, if you didn't like automail so much."
Memories of her parents flashed through her head. Winry nodded, silently, not trusting herself to speak. She helped Doctor Hess pack his tools, and waved goodbye to him as he headed back to his home.
"Is Brother going to be alright?" Al asked, and she realized that he was standing at her shoulder. She turned, and found herself face to chest with pitted, blood-splashed armor. "He'd better be," she sighed. "Who else is going to fix you up?" She took him by the hand. "Come on," she said, "We should get you cleaned off at least."
Against her will, she found herself yawning as she helped Al wipe himself down. "You should get some sleep," Al said, concern clear in his voice.
"Will you be okay?" she asked, sponging off another spot of blood. "I can stay up a while longer if I need to."
"I'll be fine," Al said. He was probably lying, of course. "I can check on Brother, just like the doctor said to," he added, and his voice sounded a little brighter.
"Alright," Winry said, rubbing her eyes. She'd be no good to anyone if she didn't get some rest soon. "I'll just sleep in one of the cots next to the surgery. Wake me up if anything changes with him."
Ed was still asleep when she woke up. Alphonse was sitting next to him, looking intently at Ed's face.
"Morning, Al," she said, wiping sleep out of her eyes. "How's he doing?"
"The same," Al said, his voice echoing from his armor. "No fever, and his blood pressure's the same. That's good, right?"
She smiled. "It's good." She stretched. "I'm going to change. Do you want me to wash that loin cloth for you?"
Al looked down as if seeing the blood on the fabric around his waist for the first time. "No," he said quickly, embarrassment plain in his voice. "No, it's okay, I'll do it myself."
"Suit yourself," she said, shrugging. The idea of a hulking suit of armor being shy about taking his clothes off was funny, but very Al.
When she came back a little while later (showered and dressed in clean clothes), he was still sitting in the same place. He'd washed his clothes as promised, but she was pretty sure he hadn't moved otherwise. "Hey, Al," she said, and smiled. "There's no food in the house, and I need breakfast. So will Ed, when he wakes up. Why don't you go get some things from the market?" There was food in the kitchen, but Al didn't need to know that.
"Okay, Winry," he said, stirring. He glanced back to Ed.
"I'll be here with him," she said, gently. "Here, let me write you out a list."
And then she was alone with Edward. He was breathing well, and when she touched his forehead, his skin was cool. It occurred to her that she should probably change his bandages; they had surely soaked through while she slept. Trying to keep her touch as light as possible, she cut the gauze and peeled it away from his body. The wounds looked ugly, but they were clean and neatly stitched now, at least. She couldn't help but see the way they overlaid the scars from other, older fights. It couldn't be good, she thought, for him to get hurt so often while he was still so young. She reached out, brushing his skin with the tips of her fingers.
"Winry!" She looked up, startled. Ed grabbed her wrist with his flesh hand, his fingers like a vise. He was awake, his eyes wild. "What the hell are you doing here?" he asked, desperately. "Run! Run, dammit!"
"It's okay, Ed," she told him, her heart beating fast. "The fight's over." She reached down, trying to gently disengage his hand. "Al brought you to my shop. You're safe."
He relaxed, let his arm drop. "Oh," he said. He looked at her, his golden eyes lidded with exhaustion and pain. "I'm sorry," he said, leaning his head back. "I never wanted to make you cry again."
Winry suddenly realized that her eyes were filled with tears. She hadn't even noticed. "I'm not crying," she said, wiping the offending liquid from her eyes, "just go back to sleep, idiot."
He obliged her.