Title: Money Problems
Author: S J Smith
Summary: It's that time of the month, and the bills are coming due.
Disclaimer: Arakawa owns all.
It took Winry stepping in front of Edward and laying her hands on his shoulders to bring him back from wherever he'd drifted off to, in the courtyard of the tenement building. Even then, it was a split second before he blinked and recognized her.
"Oh. Winry." He blew out, frowning. "Where'd you come from?"
"Al called me, dummy." Winry pushed his bangs off of his face. "You've been fighting again!"
Shrugging out from her hand – a smooth move that put him mostly out of her reach – Edward turned toward the courtyard, such as it was. The tiny patch was mostly dirt, hard packed, at least, but when it rained, it turned into a quagmire with all the water running off the roofs surrounding it. It barely got enough sunlight for grass to grow in a patch along one wall. Winry had heard about the tenants begging to plant gardens, but the plants would do better on the fire escapes, where the sun had a chance of hitting them, or, better yet, the roof, than in the actual yard.
"Are you okay, Ed?"
"Yeah," he said, terse as always.
Winry rolled her eyes, moving so she could push his bangs up again. Before he even had time to hiss, she probed the cut above his eyebrow. When he tried to pull away, she caught his chin, holding him in place. "Hold still! Geeze, Ed, you look like you went through the Curtis's meat grinder."
With a feral grin, Edward said, "You oughtta see the other guy."
Ignoring his attempt at being funny, Winry ran her hand down his torso, not surprised when he winced and tried to dance sideways from her touch. "Bruised ribs?"
Sullenly, Edward shrugged, but didn't move away this time. Winry felt his yellow glare on the top of her head as she pressed a little harder, hearing him hiss. It wasn't until she started to tug his shirt from the waistband of his trousers that he yipped. "Winry!" Slipping sideways, he blushed, angry and embarrassed, both.
Winry fisted her hands, planting them on her hips. "I need to see the damage, Ed!"
"Not here!" he snapped back, his face brighter red. Still, he lowered his voice. "You know Tucker just looks for a way to spread gossip." Barely touching her elbow, Edward opened the door to the tenement building to guide her inside.
It smelled like cooking cabbages and other things Winry didn't want to consider. Edward took her upstairs to his apartment, unlocking the door and ushering her through it. The curtains were thrown open and pigeons were on the windowsill, cooing and peering through the screen. "Winry!" Alphonse greeted her happily from his bed near the window, where he could look outside, his wasted face lighting up at the sight of her.
"Hi, Al!" She hurried to him, sitting on the mattress next to him and taking his cold, bony hands. "I'm so happy to see you."
"You could come more often." Alphonse tried to squeeze her hands in response but he was so weak, Winry barely felt it.
"I'm sorry. I've been working hard." It wasn't really a good excuse, and Winry knew it. She could've come after work, or even during her lunch break. "I promise I'll come more often."
"You should," Alphonse said. He leaned closer to her, whispering loud enough that Edward could hear, "Brother misses you. He gets cranky when you aren't around."
"Hey!" Openly glaring, Edward took a seat on the opposite side of the narrow bed. "I do not!"
"He's right, Al. He's cranky all the time." Winry smirked as Edward made a face, showing his teeth at her. Alphonse laughed, a breathless chuckle that made him start coughing. Edward moved before Winry could even pry her hand out of Alphonse's, gathering up a pillow and tucking it against Alphonse's chest, and getting a basin, in case the coughing escalated. Winry rubbed Alphonse's back, feeling all the bones in his ribs and spine as his body spasmed. "Easy, Al," she murmured, shooting a look over his back at Edward. The cold, worried expression in his eyes startled her, and she dropped her own gaze back to Alphonse.
After he finished coughing, Alphonse lay back in the bed, his eyes fluttering closed. Winry pulled the blankets up over his chest as Edward took the basin to toss the waste down the toilet. When he didn't come back, Winry patted Alphonse's shoulder, and got up. She found Edward standing in the bathroom. His hands clenched on the rim of the sink so tight, his knuckles whitened, and his shirt wrinkled from the tension in his shoulders.
Winry said, "He's going to be okay, Ed. Al's resting now, and he's getting better." Edward raised his head, his dark, angry eyes meeting hers in the mirror. Inhaling sharply, Winry pressed her fingers to her mouth. "Ed."
He turned around, pushing past her. "It's that time of the month, Winry. I need money – money for Al's medications, money for the rent. I've got to do something."
Winry caught hold of his arms, holding him in the doorway. "Ed." She kept her voice low, so it wouldn't disturb Alphonse. "I have some money – Granny does, too. We can help you guys. You don't have to keep doing this." She gestured toward his face, heart sinking when Edward flinched away.
"I'm not – we're not some charity case, Winry!" Edward hissed, glaring at her.
Glaring back, Winry snarled, "No, you guys are family," or you could be, she didn't say, "Just," her fury drained away. "Let me help, Ed. You know I can."
Edward's jaw worked then he sighed, shaking his head. "Winry," he sighed, taking her hands in his own. "I can handle this." When she opened her mouth, he shook her hands. "No. I can handle this. I…I know you want to help. Thank you. But." He took a deep breath, straightening. "I know you're being pressured for money to protect your shop." At her gasp of, 'How?', Edward shook his head. "I just know, all right?"
"That's my problem, Ed," Winry said fiercely. "You are not getting involved in it." He offered a lopsided grin, making her groan in realization. "You are involved – is that how you got hurt?"
"I didn't get hurt as much as the other guy," Edward repeated, letting go of her hands, brows drawing down.
"Yeah, but," Winry sighed. "Ed, you can't get into fights with these people." At his scoff, she pressed on. "You know they'll just send someone worse next time." Edward gave her a flat look and Winry tried to keep from smacking him. "Ed. You can't fight them. Not for me. What happens if you get really hurt? Who's going to take care of Al then?"
"You. Like always."
"That's not good enough, Ed!"
"What do you want me to say, Winry? You just said it – we're family. Family sticks together."
Winry poked him in his chest. "Does that mean you're going to let me give you some money?"
"Well?" She poked him again, a little harder.
"Ow! Dammit." Edward knocked her hand away when she raised it a third time. "All right. But you're not just giving me any money, I'll take a loan. And I'll pay you back."
"You could do work for me," Winry said tentatively but Edward rolled his eyes.
"Pass." When she glared, he said, "I'll figure out a way to pay you back, Winry. And take care of Al." Putting his hands on her shoulders, he started to nudge her out of the bathroom, but Winry took advantage and yanked his shirt out of his trousers. "Hey!"
"I said I wanted to look at your ribs, remember?" Holding his shirt out of the way, Winry traced the outline of the bruise, wincing at the sight of it. "Did he stomp on you?"
"Kicked me," Edward grumbled, trying to pull his shirt back down and gnashing his teeth when Winry wouldn't let him.
"I'm fine, Winry."
"Yeah, well." Winry let go of his shirt and led the way out of the bathroom. She checked on Alphonse automatically, smiling at the sunlight bathing his thin face in its warmth. She glanced over her shoulder at Edward. "Take care of him, all right?"
"'Course." Edward made it sound like she was stupid for even asking.
Smoothing a wrinkle out of the blanket, Winry turned away, heading for the door. "I'll be back later with the money."
"Thanks, Winry." Edward followed, opening the door for her.
She touched his chest lightly. "And some liniment for those bruises."
Winry met his gaze. "Don't do anything stupid."
Edward's smile didn't reach his eyes. "Do I ever?"
Scoffing, Winry turned away, heading out the door, and back to her shop. She had a phone call to make, maybe more than one. Her afternoon's work might have to be put on the back burner for a little while.