Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at https://archiveofourown.org/works/5012482.

To Be A Soldier

by

Summary

When the conflict between Drachma and Amestris reaches a boiling point it's up to Mustang and his team to turn the tides of the war, leaving the newly discharged Edward behind to find a different path for restoring his and his brother's bodies.

Too bad Edward has other ideas.

Discharge and Dispatch

Edward hadn't been sure what to expect when a knock came at his and Al's door and the somber face of Havoc greeted him, but the request to come to Mustang's office wasn't on the list. It was rare for Mustang to send for him, and even more so for him to send one of the team to deliver the message. Edward had half hoped that a new, promising lead on the Philosopher's Stone had been found and the Colonel just hadn't wanted to wait for a lower-division person to retrieve him. At the worst, he'd thought it would be about some sort of dumb setback excursion that 'only he, with his charm and multitude of talents, could do.'

Walking through the streets, and then the main building in silence had been an interesting experience, too. Normally Havoc took any and every opportunity to chat with him about something, even if it was just a general "what did you and Alphonse do for fun yesterday," sort of inquiry. He'd decided to chalk it up to the early hours- because seriously, who liked having lengthy conversations when dawn had only just begun to break?

He hadn't been able to deny that the internal affairs of Central Headquarter had been off when they stepped inside, though. The halls seemed barer than he remembered them, and any personnel he did see looked to be hurrying somewhere in the building he'd never bothered checking out, or didn't have clearance to enter. It could've been due to the time it was, but he'd always gotten the impression that Central never slept.

In the end, he'd decided not to put too much stock into that oddness.

However, the moment he'd entered the office, the distinct feeling of wrongness that had lingered since he'd stepped out of the dorms hit him full force. It had been impossible to miss it. Half the team wasn't there, and of the two that were, only Hawkeye made an attempt to speak to him- and she only offered a short, "Good morning, Edward."

It was the usual greeting, but somehow it felt like it lacked its usual warmth, like her heart was only halfway in it. As if she was distancing herself. That hadn't done much to inspire confidence in whatever was going on, but when he shot Havoc a quizzical look, he simply frowned and veered off towards the mess of paperwork on his desk with a short mention that the Colonel was waiting. The implication that he shouldn't keep him waiting was clear, and had Edward thought he would get a clear answer if he questioned either of the adults, he would have made Mustang wait so he could interrogate them.

As it stood, though, there really was nothing to do but see what the hell he'd been dragged out of bed so early in the morning for.

He wondered if the resolution showed in his face, because Hawkeye only moved to let him into the inner office after the thought passed through his mind. Why she would've waited for him when she never bothered with it in the past was beyond him, but it, and the fact that she didn't announce his presence to the Colonel like usual, didn't inspire confidence. In fact, it only served to confuse him more when he ducked past her and into the office.

When she closed the door behind him, Edward didn't bother with sitting. Making any attempt to relax felt like it would be useless, even if he still had no idea what was going on.

He stared expectantly at Mustang instead. He only motioned for him to take a seat. Edward didn't bother refraining from rolling his eyes at the man. Of course he would want him to do the one thing that he'd thought to avoid. He didn't immediately move, but all that served to do was make the silence persist, so Edward relented and flopped onto the couch.

When the Colonel remained quiet, to the point things were getting uncomfortable, Edward cleared his throat. "What do you want now?"

Mustang blinked lazily, like he too, was tired and didn't want to be up yet… or like he'd been lost in thought. Edward couldn't decide which fit the mood of the atmosphere better. His question at least seemed to wake up whatever part of the Colonel had been drifting, because a moment later he brought his hands to lace atop his dark wood desk.

"Fullmetal," He started slowly, "hand in your watch."

For a second, Edward thought he'd misheard, and he snorted.

But then Mustang just kept staring at him, expectantly and it was his turn to stare blankly. The words didn't compute, at least not immediately, and for a single blessed second, Edward was baffled.

Then all of the sudden it hit him.

The others' reactions toward him: Havoc refusing to look at him, Hawkeye's completely professional tone, and now, Mustang's cold, unblinking gaze.

Edward found his throat dry, and when he spoke, it felt like he was going to choke on the single question. "What?"

He unconsciously reached into his pocket and clenched the watch in his hand, running his thumb across the ridges in the metal.

Mustang's gaze never wavered as he repeated his order. "Give me your silver watch, Fullmetal."

"No," Edward replied automatically, his features tightening and a snarl forming on his face. He didn't know what Mustang was getting at, but it wasn't funny.

Not that the Colonel had ever been one for telling jokes.

"Fullmetal. Don't," he warned.

Edward clenched his fists, conscious not to crush the precious item in question within his automail grip.

"No. Now explain to me what the hell is going on, Colonel!"

He couldn't figure out what brought on the sudden demand. He had done nothing wrong recently that would warrant overnight detainment, much less a stripping of certification.

Mustang glared at him by way of response and Edward caught the tension in his arms as his own fingers curled in frustration. What he had to be angry about, he had no clue, and when the man opened his mouth, Edward wanted to hit him for the bullshit excuse.

"You've become too much of a handful," he stated coldly, "Do you think the military has an unlimited supply of money? Every single time you destroy a town while out on a mission, my department takes the heat for it. That means more money gets taken out of my division's already low funds, and more paperwork on my d-"

"So you're firing me over money?!" Edward didn't care if the others could hear his shouting through the door as he surged to his feet. He didn't care if anyone heard him. Let them! Maybe they would hear Mustang too and call him out on whatever this fake shit was.

"You draining military funds is not the only reason." Mustang's voice remained level, but the harshness seeping through might as well have had him yelling right back.

"There is also the fact that you are irresponsible, rude, obnoxious, and let's not forget extremely disrespectful. You have no idea how many times I've had to deal with higher-ups complaining about you and your attitude. Everyone always told me I should get rid of you, but I thought your skills invaluable. But after the stunt you pulled last week, I see no problem with letting you go."

Edward wondered if he was the only one seeing red.

"Last week?! That wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been; I only leveled one building! That's an improvement! What kind of crap is this?!"

Not at all fazed by his shouting, Mustang once again started with his order. "Fullmetal, I said turn in-"

"I'm no giving you the damn watch, you bastard! You can't do this! Al and I need the research privileges! You can't take those away from us!" Edward's voice pitched higher, rage pouring into every word as he glared directly into the Colonel's eyes, daring him to destroy what little chance he and his brothers had at regaining their bodies.

If there was one thing Mustang had always been sure of, it was that the military would be able to help them. He'd been adamant that he join in the first place, because it would help him move forward. And he could say whatever he wanted about his screw ups, that was fine -hell, even valid- but there was nothing he could ever do that would give Mustang a reason to punish Alphonse.

But the Colonel was unyielding.

He slammed his hands down onto the desk, electing a loud bang, and rose from his chair. Edward almost wanted to shrink back in that moment. His body settled for a flinch of surprise. Mustang's eyes were burning with anger to match his own at that point, and Edward clenched his jaw. He didn't know how he was supposed to react in that moment… Because the superior he knew, and was used to, never looked at him like that.

He'd pissed the guy off plenty of times, but Mustang had never levelled that sort of anger at him. It was an anger that promised harm if it were to be freed. Edward was used to screaming, sure, and he gave as good as he got, but that look? That look was terrifying, because that look wasn't the Colonel Mustang he knew at all. That was the man from Ishval he'd heard about so many times before. That was the Flame Alchemist.

"I can take those privileges, and I will," Roy growled, not raising his voice in the slightest, and that scared Edward more than anything he could've said. "Now, Edward Elric, hand over your watch or I will have no choice but to pry it from your tiny hands."

He took a breath, and almost as an afterthought, added, "Don't make me turn you and your brother in for committing the taboo."

Edward's eyes widened, and for the first time since he stepped into the office, he felt something other than hot anger course through him. It was the cold dread of realization. Realization of just what Mustang could do with what he knew. The smallest of gasps escaped him and he barely noticed because he was too busy talking.

"You wouldn't," he whispered, his whole body trembling with equal parts fury and fear.

There wasn't as much conviction behind his words as he'd been hoping for. He'd thought he could convey that he knew Mustang wasn't that kind of cruel person, but he found he couldn't even convince himself that was true. So of course he couldn't have imbued that sort of confidence into anything he said.

"I wonder what the Fuhrer would do?" Mustang mused, "Well, Alphonse would most certainly be sent to be a lab rat for the rest of his life. But you? Who knows what they'd do with you."

Warmth crept up his face until it settled behind his eyes. Edward ground his teeth and forced any of that emotion off his face. He refused to let the Colonel on to just how much his words terrified him.

If anyone had told him that one day, Mustang would be the one threatening to turn him and Al in to the MPs, he would've laughed. He would've told them Mustang wouldn't do that, because sure, he was a lazy bastard, but he wasn't cruel.

But if he could threaten Alphonse like that…

And now he really didn't have a choice, did he? He couldn't risk Alphonse's safety for his stubborn pride. What kind of brother would he be if he did? What kind of person would he be?

Judging by the look on Mustang's face, calculated and calmer than he was sure he looked, he knew that, too. Edward wanted to charge at him and beat him bloody, just to make him understand how much the low blow he'd tossed fucking hurt.

But he wasn't about to let him know he'd hurt him.

When he pulled the watch out of his pocket, he did so slowly, taking his time more as a way to settle the shaking in his hand than anything else.

He stared down at the hunk of metal that had become an important piece in his life, even if he hadn't actually realized it until then, and his throat tightened. He knew he had to do it. For himself. For Al. He had to keep his little brother safe, by any means necessary.

He just never thought he'd have to protect him from the people he'd slowly started to think of as his friends.

The heaviness in his steps as he came towards the desk trudged up unbidden from the shadows, a familiar darkness pulling him down, telling him things were always going to end up this way, so he shouldn't have been surprised.

He swallowed hard when he looked back up at Mustang. For half a second he only stared at the man, hoping against hope to see some crack in his exterior, some chink in the armor to let him know that this was all some crazy, sick joke.

Mustang gave him nothing.

His breath shook when he clapped a hand over the watch and performed the brief transmutation that would keep it sealed. He refused to let Mustang see the contents inside that he couldn't bring himself to remove.

The Colonel made a grab for it when the blue light faded and Edward snarled at him, throwing his fist down into the portion of the desk where one of Mustang's hands had previously been settled.

He released his grip slowly, painfully aware of the inaudible creak in each finger as it unfurled and all that was left was the watch, sitting in a baseball-sized crater of splintered oak.

Edward forced himself to look his ex-superior in the eyes one last time, expecting to see some form of regret or apology somewhere on his face- surely he couldn't given him that, at least.

He saw nothing.

A spasm that could've been a silenced sob or scream at that point (and he didn't know which) shook his chest and Edward glared at Mustang when his breath came out shaky. He didn't trust his voice to come out steady when he spoke, but there was no way he was going to leave with his tail between his legs.

He refused to give him the satisfaction.

So it was with a greater effort than he was ever going to acknowledge or admit to even himself that he grit his teeth and spat three last words at the man he'd once thought he could trust.

"Go to hell."

He didn't wait to hear a response- through, he doubted there would've been one. He turned and exited the room as fast as his legs would carry him without making it look like he was running away, slamming the door as he went. Not two steps into the outer office did he feel pairs of eyes on him and realize what the off feeling had been earlier...

"You knew."

It wasn't a question and they all knew it. He didn't need their half-baked excuses to know it, either. Still, deep down he desperately wished one of them would deny it, would tell him that of course they didn't know, and march right up to Mustang and demand to be told what the hell he was thinking. But he also knew he was a fool for it.

"We all agreed this was for the best, Edward," Hawkeye explained while Havoc nodded slowly in conformation.

The stare he sent the two officers he'd come the closest to since his instatement, disbelief etched into his very being by that point, and watched as they suddenly changed before his eyes. Changed into something alien... dangerous.

Just like Mustang.

He bared his teeth at them, a curse poised on his tongue but never leaving to meet its mark. Instead he storming out of the office.

Nobody attempted to stop him: not Hawkeye or Havoc, and not anyone in the sparsely populated building. When he burst through the doors and into the crisp morning air, he wanted to scream at the sky to not be sunny or blue. It wasn't right for it to be so beautiful outside when his world was crashing around his ears. It had no right.

That lump tried once more to settle in his throat and he nearly choked in his attempt to push it back down. He just managed it as his rationale returned and his thoughts were no longer revolving completely around burning Mustang to death with his own glove. It was then that the shock of what happened finally began to settle in. And then he was only left with one awful question in his mind:

What was he going to tell Al?


As soon as the door slammed closed Roy sagged into his chair and gripped the sides of his head, pulling at his hair. The tension he'd forced into his shoulders drained away, leaving him hunched over his desk, staring at the hand shaped crater in the middle of it. The groan he'd been holding onto in Fullmetal's presence escaped and he shook his head.

Why did the kid always have to be so difficult?

He supposed the whole encounter could have gone a lot worse… but it could have gone a lot better. Threatening he and his brother had been a last resort, but one he'd anticipated having to use, given how stubborn the teen was.

That hadn't made it any easier to do, though.

The knock that came a few minutes later was expected and he didn't bother lifting his head to acknowledge when Hawkeye and Havoc came in. He did glance up to see the expressions, stuck somewhere between upset and resolution, and dragged a hand across his face. He envied them for being able to display even that much emotion to the world; it was not a luxury he was often afforded, and even though he knew he could be himself around his people, it had become habit not to- it was borderline uncomfortable to let them see him this out of order even now.

Havoc was the first to break the silence, a deep frown accompanying his words.

"Did we really have to be so harsh?"

Ah. So they had been able to hear the yelling through the doors. He'd wondered about that.

He let loose another sigh, running his hand up and through his hair. He'd explained the situation enough times by that point that the prospect of going over it one more time added insult to injury.

"If the Colonel had been any less harsh, Edward would have known something wasn't right." Riza stated in his stead. Still, as resolute as her tone was, one look at her eyes told him she was just as displeased with Fullmetal's treatment as Havoc.

Jean sighed and pulled out a cigarette to chew on. "I just hope the kid'll be okay. Him and his brother."

"They'll be fine," Hawkeye said, sounding so sure of something nobody could actually know, "Those two are strong. They'll find a way to get their bodies back without us."

Roy felt a humorless smile twitch onto his face. He didn't know how she could remain optimistic about everything- it reminded him so much of… Well. If there were ever anyone who believed in those boys as much as Hughes had, it was her.

The smile slipped away almost as quickly as it had come and he shoved those thoughts aside with the physical movement of standing from his chair. He couldn't think about that right now- couldn't let himself become useless before the fight had even started. He crossed over to the window that always seemed far too large for the room and stared out, not seeing much but not wanting to look at the others as he brought the conversation to a close.

"Now all we can do is prepare for what lies ahead and hope the Elrics forget about is."

The statement awarded him a barely audible 'yes' from the other two before the sound of their exit was announced with the clicking of the door..


"I can't believe he would do that!"

"Well you better start believing Winry, because he did."

Edward threw open the curtains of the small hotel room he and Al had been staying in for the past four days, the shrill ring of Winry's indignance making him grit his teeth. He didn't mind her voice, not really, but lately everything had been getting on his nerves. The confines of the damn room they were stuck in hadn't done anything to soothe that feeling, either.

Since he was no longer in the military, they were no longer able to stay in the dorms- they'd practically been thrown out onto the streets within hours of his watch being taken. They were lucky he and Al only had so many things to their names, otherwise he would've fought them harder. As it stood, he'd had a hard enough time finding a place they could stay that wouldn't make a huge dent in their now limited funds.

Yet another thing Mustang had taken from them.

Winry had arrived in Central from Risembool at his request that morning and they'd explained everything to her. She seemed to be taking it harder than Al had. Whilst Al had been silent for a stretch of time before asking what they were going to do, Winry would not stop talking... and now she had tears in her eyes, which was doing nothing to elevate his already foul mood.

"Don't cry, Winry." Al kept trying to comfort her but she continued to weep.

"But how will you two get your bodies back now?"

"We'll figure it out," Al tried reassuring. Edward resisted the urge to scoff. Yeah, right they'd be able to figure it out. He'd been agonizing over it since Monday and hadn't come up with anything other than...

"We'll go see teacher. I'm sure she'll know what to do to help."

"But-"

"Stop crying, Winry."

He snapped it before he could really think about the words, and while it was a practiced request, it did nothing to actually calm anyone down. Not him, and definitely not her, if the glare she shot him meant anything.

"Why? It's not like you ever cry, you big idiot!"

And what good would crying do me? Edward wanted to yell. He couldn't see how getting emotional would help him in this situation (or any situation), and her practically insisting that he should made him bristle. It didn't even matter. He didn't know why he was getting so angry over something so stupid, but that was just where he was at that point.

He said nothing, though, just clenching his jaw and turning away from her.

"Brother."

"Yeah, I know."

Al sounded as disappointed as he did understanding, the one word conveying to Edward everything he didn't say aloud while he pat Winry's shoulder, trying to calm her down, and Edward wanted to rip at his hair until his scalp bled.

Alphonse was right, of course, he needed to apologize. He knew Winry didn't deserve his being a jerk. He knew he had no reason to be cruel to her when he was the one who sent for her in the first place. He knew all of that… yet he was still being unbearable.

He went over and sat heavily on the arm of the chain Winry was after the short exchange and sighed. "Sorry, Winry."

"It's alright, Ed. I know you're upset." Winry wiped her eyes again and offered Edward a shaky smile. He returned the gesture, though it felt hollow, and stood again when the restless energy surged through him again.

He looked between his brother and his childhood friend while pacing, took note of the tears Winry shed for them and their situation and the hunch in Al's shoulders borne from stress and the same feeling of hopelessness that ate at his core. Their pain was palpable and he wanted nothing more than to help them- maybe if he could manage to do that, he would feel better, too.

It just seemed an impossible task. How was he supposed to do anything for them when everywhere they looked they were reminded that they no longer belonged in the city they found themselves in. Central Headquarters could be seen from the corner of the eye from practically anywhere. Just looking out the window, he could see the faint green of the military banner hanging from the building and a glare pulled at his brows.

It hit him then, what they had to do.

They couldn't stay in Central. It was hurting them. They had to move on and get on with their lives. They had to grit their teeth and bear whatever came next, and they had to do what they could to find answers for how to fix their bodies. With or without the military, they couldn't give up.

"So, who else wants to get out of this place?" He asked suddenly.

Al hummed in agreement almost immediately and Winry nodded as she finally got to her feet and wiped her eyes until they were some semblance of dry.

"That sounds good. I'll... go get us the tickets to, uh... where is it your teacher is, again?"

"Dublith," Al answered and Edward gave a thumbs-up in conformation. Winry gave another weak smile and headed out of the room. She looked relieved to just be able to do something. Edward couldn't blame her- feeling useless was the worst.

"Okay, I'll be back soon." She called before shutting the door and leaving them to their thoughts.

Edward's momentary energy immediately dissipated and he flopped heavily onto the creaking bed. A sigh passed through his lips and his brows drew together in a frown. He was aware of Alphonse coming over to sit next to him and he shifted over to make room. His brother said nothing and Edward glared once more, this time at the wall. With Winry gone, his thoughts returned to churning angrily, buzzing in his head and under his skin like a persistent fruit fly.

Did nothing in their life ever go right?

Yeah, they had screwed up big time trying to bring their mom back, but they'd paid for that, and they were trying to fix it now, and yet the world seemed determined to be against them every step of the way.

No. Not the world, actually. Just Mustang.

He crossed his arms and muttered just loudly enough for his brother to hear, "I hate him."

The statement sounded childish even to his fifteen year old ears, but it slipped off his tongue without conscious effort. And, childish as it may have been, it was true to some extent. Mustang had ruined everything- destroyed his and Al's chances of getting their bodies in any sort of smooth, orderly fashion. And he'd done it with one order.

He had betrayed them. That was what got to him more than anything else. As much as he had called the man useless and dumb in any attempt to make him mad, Edward had always relied on the Colonel in some way or another. And it wasn't until then that he could actually admitted it to himself. He was sure there was some sort of irony to be found there, but he didn't care to find it.

Alphonse sighed from his side of the couch and shook his head. "No you don't, brother."

"Yes I do!"

Edward kicked the pile of blankets at the foot of the bed and watched them topple onto the floor.

"He kicked us to the curb without a second thought. He knew how much we needed the military research. The bastard."

"Stop calling him that, Ed." Al chastised and Edward growled.

"No, because it's what he is! He threatened to turn us into the feds- he threatened to make you a lab-rat, don't you get that?" He shook his head, still unable to believe that fact. "What's wrong with him? He even-"

"You know, you always call dad that..." Al said quietly, and it was enough to catch Edward off guard, "You said he was a bastard for leaving and making mom cry. The Colonel abandoned us t-"

Oh hell no. No. He was not going there. That line of thinking was not allowed.

"Knock it off, Al. That's not what this is about. This scenario is completely different. I'm calling him a bastard because it's true…" It was true. It was truer than anything else being said at that point, at any rate. "I still can't believe he got everyone else to agree with his whole "discharge" plan. The traitors."

Al took a hallow breath and Edward mentally prepared himself for whatever it was he planned to say. However, any intention his brother may have had to speak was cut off the next second by the sound of the door slamming open and bouncing off the wall.

"Ed! Al!"

Winry stood in the doorway, wide-eyed, breathless, hair in disarray and face flushed. She was clutching something to her chest with shaking hands, too, and upon closer inspection, Edward realized it was a newspaper.

He got up immediately and crossed the room to put a hand on her shoulder, Alphonse not far behind. "Winry? What's wrong?"

"I thought I'd get one last paper from Central before we left."

Tears pooled in her eyes once more as she pushed the paper into his hands. The way her she still shook made a knot form in Edward's gut.

"Front page," she whispered hoarsely.

He flipped the paper over and read the headline aloud. "Central Troops Deployed...?"

With confusion running rampant through his head while dread he didn't understand gripped his shoulders and peered into his eyes, he glanced at Winry, a silent question as to what was going on passing between them.

"Read," was her choked answer.

So he did.

"Colonel Roy Mustang, the famed Flame Alchemist, and his division are deployed to the front lines. As the conflict heats up, will the 'Hero of Ishval' be able to send those Drachmans running..."

He trailed off, not because he didn't care to read the rest, but because his mouth couldn't keep up with his eyes as they flew across the page, taking in all the information available.

There wasn't much.

He was vaguely aware of Winry finally breaking down and Al removing the paper from his hands to continue reading aloud, drawing Winry close to him as he did, but everything seemed suddenly distant, muffled, as if it was happening in another time.

None of this made sense.

The war with Drachma, while constantly going, usually remained at a simmer on the back burner. It had never been so bad that the involvement of State Alchemists was required. As it was, if they needed State Alchemists, why would Mustang have discharged him?

But even that was obvious.

It was then, when it was already too late, that Edward realized why Mustang and the team had gotten rid of him. Why he'd been threatened and pushed and yelled at. Why the Colonel had been so adamant that they get out of the dorms and away from Central Headquarters.

By removing his state title, he'd removed his usefulness to the military. Had he been a State Alchemist for even a few hours longer, he could've been forcibly deployed along with them.

They hadn't been trying to hurt him or Al... they'd been trying to save them.

Edward cursed his own stupidity. He should've known something was wrong beyond the scope of what he'd felt the morning Mustang had sent for him. He cursed himself for not paying attention to the politics that had probably made up most of the idle chatter around Central. He cursed Mustang and everyone else for being so damn protective.

They were all idiots.

Travel and Trial

He didn't know how long they all sat there in stunned silence, trying to come to terms with what they had read. He did know the sun had started setting and Winry's weeping had finally tapered off, leaving them to wonder what they were supposed to do with the information they now had.

The incriminating paper sat on the floor between them, its front page title visible to anyone who focused on it. Edward did, staring at the words until they blurred and he was left with the rattling in his head, the mantra of, no. No. This can't be happening. This is stupid. What the hell, Colonel?!

"Brother," Al's hollow voice shattered the delicate quiet of the room, startling all of them, "You and Winry should eat something."

He was probably right. Edward didn't know how long it had been since they'd had anything to eat. Distantly, he thought he could feel an ache in his stomach, but he couldn't be sure if it was due to hunger or the dread that had settled as soon as he'd read the headline.

Still, he nodded to his brother and turned to Winry. "Hey, why don't you grab something downstairs while Al and I get packed?"

She stared at him numbly for a moment, expression swimming in confusion, like she couldn't understand why he was saying what he was. He sighed and got up to grab the newspaper from the floor. He tossed it somewhere they couldn't immediately see it and then swiped some money off the bedside table to hand to her. When she frowned harder, he answered her unasked question.

"There's nothing we can do now to help them. We're still going to Dublith in the morning."

He dropped the bills into her hand and she nodded slowly. He didn't know if she agreed with him, or even cared about what he was saying at that point, but she did get to her feet and whisper, "Okay."

He expected her to leave immediately, so when he turned to Al only to find warm arms wrapping around his neck, he stiffened in surprise. He had not been expecting something like that from her, not when she seemed so shaken up and unsure of everything… but then, maybe that was why he should've expected it. She was probably pretty scared.

With a sigh, he returned the hug, giving her a light squeeze and then releasing her. When Winry pulled back, she wiped at her eyes, through no tears had actually been shed. Then, for the second time that day, she headed out of the room.

"I'll be right back."

He believed that. It would be unlikely that she would dawdle when they had things to do, so as soon as the door was closed, Edward turned on his heel and began grabbing the few possessions they had, stuffing them into his suitcase. The action was more to have something to do with his hands as he spoke, but it also served to help clear his head.

"It's gonna be alright Al, we'll figure this out. I bet Teacher will know how to with with everything… after she kills us, anyway…" He shuddered at the idea of facing Izumi and her wrathful gaze, and he knew he was mostly talking to fill the silence, but he wanted his brother to know what he was thinking about in terms of moving forward.

He didn't want to think about what he'd read. There was nothing he could do about that now anyway. He didn't even know if he would want to try if there was- horrifying as the information they'd come across was, he still couldn't deny he was a good deal pissed with Mustang and the others.

Of course, in typical Alphonse fashion, those were the people whose predicament he seemed to care most about.

"How do you think the Colonel and the others are doing?"

He halted in his movements for a moment as he thought of the best way to answer that without letting his brother onto how much he'd been focusing on not giving it any thought. If he thought about it, he got the feeling he'd end up worrying about them, which was something he refused to do right now. Worrying meant being scared. He hated being scared, it was a lot easier to be angry.

"How should I know?" He shrugged and pushed the lid of the case down with a short huff.

Once he set that on the floor, he went to make the bed a little more presentable even through he would be ruining it when he went to bed in a few hours. The need to keep his hands busy and his eyes off of Alphonse when he spoke again overrode his need to act logically.

"What if they get hurt? What if they get k-"

"They know what they're doing, Al." He interrupted through gritted teeth. The question had already been struggling to push to the forefront of his mind, he didn't need him saying it aloud. Even though it was basically too late, now.

"Look, they've been in a war before, right? It's… I mean, it's really none of our concern anymore, remember?"

Try as he might to put venom behind his words, what came out sounded to his ears more like denial. If the way Alphonse sighed meant anything, he heard the same thing.

"I hope they're okay," he whispered. Edward decided to keep quiet. There was nothing he could say that would make the situation better, nothing he could say to alleviate his brother's concerns… nothing at helpful at all.

All he could really do was continue to ignore the ever-growing pit of worry in his gut and focus on getting them all to a place where they could pick themselves back up. He had to be the strong one for them. He couldn't think about Mustang and the others. He couldn't think about how angry he was at their lying to him, or how badly he wanted to beat the Colonel over his head for his stupidity…

Or how much he wanted to be with them, if for no other reason than to keep them from getting killed.

It was true, he never wanted to be put into a position where he actually had to fight for his country, and he definitely never wanted to go somewhere where killing could potentially be the only option, but that didn't mean he didn't want to protect people.

That thought sat in the recesses of his brain for the rest of the night. When Winry came back and they all ate dinner in awkward, disjointed silence, it got comfortable. When they finished up the last of their packing, it scratched and annoyed him. When they tried to sit up and talk, only to realize they were exhausted, it bit until he was pretty sure he was going to have internal bleeding.

When his head hit the pillow, it brought him images of Mustang's eyes, filled with a blank pain as blood spilled from a gaping hole in his chest, and he knew he wasn't going to do much of any sleeping.


The train pulled into the Dublith station and they stepped off to be immediately slapped by a wave of summer heat the south was notorious for. Edward couldn't help but groan a bit. He'd gotten so used to the milder climate of Central that the weather here seemed almost stifling by comparison. Winry and Alphonse didn't seem to have similar complaints, though, making their way the the nearest hotel whilst chattering about something he couldn't quite catch over the din of the people around them.

It wasn't until they were checked in and unpacking that Winry brought up their teacher, asking why they didn't go so her first, or stay with her since it would be a lot cheaper. For a split second, Edward had felt a sense of normalcy when he and Al clung to each other and dramatically whispered, "We'd like to live a little longer."

But even that small bit hadn't felt completely right, because Edward had no intentions of ever going to see Teacher- at least not this trip.

Sleep having evaded him throughout the majority of the night, he'd taken to weighing the pros and cons of his idiotic, harebrained ideas, and come out with some semblance of a plan. If everything went according to that plan, his and Al's lives would go back to normal and Mustang and the others could get back home in no time at all.

He just had to tell Alphonse and Winry.

As they settled in, he almost did that, but then his friend mentioned being hungry, and the next thing he knew, she and Al were heading out to grab lunch. He decided not to join them, lest they get caught up in walking around town and risk being seen by Sig or… other people who he did not want to be seen by just yet.

Their short time away gave him a bit more time to think, too. He thought about the specifics of what he'd read the day before, wondering whether he should actually do what his gut told him to. The more he thought about it, the more he started realizing that Winry and Al would kill him. But then, he still didn't see any other way he could ensure his State Title being returned to him unless he got it back before Mustang died.

Actually, avoiding anyone dying was the ideal goal there.

When the two finally returned and they settled around the little table to eat, Edward let Winry get a couple bites in before announcing his plan. There was never going to be a better time to tell them.

"I'm going."

The statement hung in the air for exactly half a second, in which time mechanic and armor stared at him and their expressions cycled through confusion, understanding, and a sort of incredulity mixed horror.

("Brother!")

("Are you insane?!")

Needless to say, as he clutched his bleeding, wrench-dented head and listened to Alphonse lecture him about the dangers of his idea, Edward felt like things could have gone worse.

When he got up from the floor he was met with the angry stare of his mechanic.

"Winry, you said it yourself: Without the military, how will we get our bodies back?" he said once he had recovered his senses. Winry's shoulders sagged, some of the fight leaving her eyes as she realized that, yes, she had said that.

She set her wrench down but didn't give up. "It's just so dangerous, Ed. What if you got hurt... or worse?"

"Brother, you could die. Why would you even risk it?" Al added and Edward couldn't help but roll his eyes. Hadn't Alphonse been the one to be so worried about the Colonel and everyone else yesterday? Where had that Al disappeared to?

"I'll be fine, guys. Seriously, what is this? Suddenly you don't believe in me?"

"Your automail won't even work over there!" Winry protested again and he waved her off.

"Come on, Winry, that Truth guy couldn't get rid of me and you think a dumb Drachman could?"

He decided not to mention the fact that Truth hadn't been coming at him with a gun and a will to kill either. The Drachmans probably would.

"Be that as it may... we're still worried." Winry countered, though he could see in the relaxing of her posture that she was done fighting him on it.

However, where she was done, Al still had a bit to say.

"Brother, what is the point of even going over there?" he asked and Edward flinched inwardly. He'd been hoping to skip over that question entirely. Talking about his reasons for doing anything never really ended well. Still, he could sort of answer that part, and omit the details that made it seem like he actually cared about his ex-coworkers.

"I... just want to get my State Certification back, and Mustang is really the only one who can give it back. Y'know, since he was the one who took it in the first place."

Despite not having a face to express anything outwardly, Edward could still tell Al was giving him an unimpressed look, like he knew he wasn't telling the complete truth and he was fooling absolutely no one. Edward pretended not to notice. He wasn't about to admit to wanting to make sure none of the team was hurt. Not aloud anyway.

"Look guys, there's no need to worry. As long as I can sneak past the border and get through undetected, there won't even be a risk to me. And as long as I've got alchemy I won't have anything to worry about, alright?"

It took a long moment of hesitation, but the two eventually did give small nods. The food was eaten in silence as they all mulled over his announcement, and Edward did his best not to smirk triumphantly as he ate.

When they finished and Al had thrown away the leftover food, Winry got up and placed one hand on her hip while pointing at Edward with the other one. "I'll give you the automail you need if you promise to come back safe!"

He raised a brow in surprise. He'd thought the discussion had been ended and that they'd agreed there would be no stopping him. He decided not to say that, however, seeing as Winry had actually offered to help him out even though she was clearly still unhappy with the whole ordeal. Not that he honestly expected anything less: She was the best mechanic a guy could ask for.

"Deal."


"North City is as close to the Drachman border as they can take you. Trains don't stop directly at Briggs." Al informed him, handing over the ticket he'd gone and purchased for him three days later.

After their discussion, Winry had taken them to Rush Valley in order to gather everything needed to alter his automail. She'd assured him it wouldn't be destroyed, and the dramatic dip in weather up north wouldn't harm him. After that, everything seemed to have fallen into place. They'd even managed to catch him the last train out that night.

"Right, thanks Al. You too, Winry." Edward offered them both a small, tired smile as he lugged himself and his suitcase on board.

"Bye Ed, stay safe and don't get into any trouble."

Yeah. Seeya, Winry."

Tears of worry already looked to be pricking at the corners of her eyes. Edward was thankful for her refusal to let them fall as he nodded and turned to his brother.

"Are you sure you don't want me to come?"

Everyone always assumed Alphonse was the older brother because he was so tall, because he was the more level headed and mature one, but in that moment, with his small voice and eyes downcast because he already knew the answer, Edward couldn't understand why. He was just a kid.

"Sorry Al, but you know Winry's right. You're body wouldn't hold up in the cold for that long."

He felt like the world's worst big brother for saying that, reminding Al once more that he was stuck in a less-than-convenient shell.

Alphonse nodded, sadness permeating the air to the point Edward was sure it could've choked him. But under all of that, there was fear. Edward couldn't fault him for that one: He was scared too. He wasn't about to admit it, because they would never let him leave if he did. But of course he was scared.

When Alphonse didn't respond, he put his hand out to initiate a fist bump. "See you lat- oh!"

The coolness of Al's chest was a welcome relief from the warm night air, and Edward tried to focus on that and not the small tremor running through his brother's body as he held tight to him. He sighed and gave him a couple pats as close to his back as he could get before Al released him when a whistle signaled the beginning of the train's departure.

"Come back in one piece, brother."

Edward gave him a mock salute, his best attempt to lighten the mood before he had to go. "Yes, sir."

The platform lurched under his feet and Edward closed the door behind him. He found his seat a moment later and pried the glass open to stick his head out. Al and Winry were waving at him and slowly beginning to shrink as the train worked to pick up speed.

"Hey, remember our deal!" Winry shouted over the roar of the engine. It barely caught his ears as she and Al were becoming little more than blurs in the distance, and even though he was sure it would take a miracle for them to hear him, he still cupped his hands over his mouth to answer.

"I will! And I'll return soon with my State Certification back and Mustang's stupid ass, just you watch!"

Whatever else might have been said was ripped away by the wind. He closed the window then, and with a tired sigh, sank into his seat. A trip to North City would be a long one, so he would have plenty of time to think everything over and come up with a good plan to sneak over the border. But first, he needed sleep.


While a train was pulling out of station and making its way for North City, a thousand miles away, chaos was unfolding.

"Get down!"

Roy's shouted warning sent anyone who still possessed working eardrums to the white, wet ground just as a fireball erupted over the land. The searing heat ensured those who hadn't gotten out of the way no longer had to worry about moving again, and as soon as the explosion died down, Roy was on his feet, sending the man who dared throw the grenade up in flames.

Any other day, he might have enjoyed the irony of that. As it stood, he had very little time to enjoy anything, much less find the irony in it.

A shot was fired somewhere nearby and he felt it whiz past, nearly grazing his cheek. He stared wide eyed at the air where he'd nearly been struck down and realized with the snow coming down as heavily as it was, he couldn't see where the attack came from. That, and not knowing the terrain as well as they should, were their biggest disadvantages. They had no clue how to properly fight in such harsh weather conditions, while the Drachmans probably found it to be child's play.

Luckily for him, the Hawk's eyes were on him, which were better than any soldier with advantage in snowy terrain. Even though he couldn't see her, he knew she was close by, too, when seconds after the failed attack, an enemy soldier stumbled forward with a hole in his neck, gurgling and reaching for a sword that wasn't there before collapsing beside him.

There was no time to appreciate the good shot, either, because more soldiers were coming. They always were. It never seemed to stop. They were like ants trying to get into the sugar cupboard on a hot summer day: numerous and persistent.

The night continued on like that. Duck, shoot, blow up. Kill, bleed, narrowly avoid death. It went like that until the sun peeked over the horizon and Mustang was ready to pass out from exhaustion.

Falman had already been pulled back for a knife wound to the side, and Roy knew he would need some rest too after receiving a nick in the side from a saber not an hour earlier.

So when the attacks finally let up, he and his team were called away from the front for medical treatment and reprieve. He almost collapsed in relief. The group that would be taking their place as watchmen for the rest of the morning passed them and Roy made sure to clap the shoulder of every man he could reach. Some of their expressions morphed from fear to a stony resolution, while others looked like they didn't know what to think of the gesture as they nodded their thanks.

He met up with Hawkeye halfway back to the faction's camp, where she informed him that Havoc had been taken back for medical attention when he received a blow to the head that had knocked him clean out.

He'd suffered through worse, but Roy still felt a thrill of concern down his spine every time he heard one of his own had been injured. He kept waiting, waiting for the day when it was someone coming up to him to say "we're sorry, but we lost one of yours."

Never did he want to hear those words, but every day he readied himself for it, just in case.

When they reached the camp, he parted ways with the Lieutenant, agreeing to meet back up before the sun reached its zenith. He decided to head to the medical tent where Havoc was said to be being treated, even if it was on the farther end of camp, and sat beside the blond while the wound in his side was tended to.

He hadn't woken yet, Havoc, but being able to see his face and reassure himself that, yes, he was fine, nobody had lied to him to spare his feelings, eased some of the tension in his shoulders.

Once the doctor left, Roy laid down on his cot and closed his eyes. He didn't expect to be able to sleep, so when it evaded him, he wasn't surprised. There were too many thoughts to keep him awake.

He thought about all the other soldiers who had given their lives just in that week (how had it only been a week?), and then he thought about his men. Somehow they had all managed to survive to that point, and for that, Roy was beyond the point of being grateful. But that didn't stop him from worrying about them. Every day they all survived only increased their chances of dying the next day, whether it be by infected injury or the enemy sword.

That was all he ever seemed to be able to think about lately. Death and its statistics.

That, and… well, the Elrics. He tried not to think about them, though. It did him no good to think about them.

And yet, as his mind wandered they were all he could seem to focus on. How were they doing? It had been a week since Roy had discharged Fullmetal, were they even in Central anymore?

He didn't regret his decision to get rid of the kid. Everyday for the past six days had made him sure he had done the right thing, even if part of him still wanted to feel guilty over it. After all, he knew it was likely Edward and Alphonse would never forgive them, and returning to their bodies would take longer. But, if it meant they were protected from the horrors of war, he could live with himself... or die with no regrets— whichever came first.

He just hoped Fullmetal didn't go and do anything too reckless while looking for an alternative to returning their bodies to normal.

Actually, Roy just hoped he didn't do anything reckless in general.

Even as he thought that he had to laugh at himself. Edward wouldn't be Edward if he wasn't getting into trouble at every turn. It wasn't always the most comforting thought, but in the moment, it certainly was the most amusing.

In the back of his mind, that humor morphed into Hughes' voice and echoed that amusement. "You say you don't care what the kid does, but deep down, I know you do."

That comment, offhanded as it had been at the time he'd said it, had irritated Roy to no end because Edward was being a brat at the time, but now... Roy knew Hughes had been right. Though he would never admit it out loud, he did care about the Elric brothers' welfare. Maybe he even cared about Fullmetal's a bit more— but mostly because he had to work with him. Obviously.

A groan came from the cot beside him without warning, startling him, and Roy shot up, his fingers poised to snap even though in the back of his mind he knew there was no danger.

"Whoa, easy boss." Havoc soothed, his hands up by his head.

Roy sighed and dropped his hand. "Hey, Havoc. How are you holding up?"

The Second Lieutenant's hand went unconsciously up to the bandage around his head. It still had a bit of red staining it and he winced. "All good. Hell of a headache though. What about you?"

"Just a little cut, nothing too bad." He lifted the corner of his shirt and jacket to show the small stitch job in his side. He didn't want him worrying over nothing. And it really was nothing— he'd had a lot worse.

"Nice," Havoc snorted and sat up slowly, closing his eyes with a small moan. "Scratch that, it's a migraine."

Roy furrowed his brows in a frown and dropped his legs over the side of the cot, buttoning his uniform jacket— he was getting get cold. He pulled the makeshift bed a bit close to Havoc so he could get a better look at the bandage job on his head.

"Don't worry to much though," Havoc continued, "I pulled a grenade before I was out, so the guy who did it looks a lot worse."

"Good."

Roy knew he should have felt some sort of shame for saying that, but he couldn't bring himself to care too much. Havoc was safe, and that was all he cared about. It was all he could care about. He'd done the whole, 'these people have lives and families and oh God what are we doing?' Thing before, and it hadn't ended well. So he focused on what was good about the situation: Nobody had been able to hurt his men.

Whoever tried, deserved whatever hell befell them.

"Yeah..." Havoc looked at his hands and clicked his tongue in what Roy assumed was thought.

"Hey boss, how long do you think this is gonna last? I mean, I can keep going, but... we've lost a lot of men and the Drachmans don't even seem to be breaking a sweat. I don't know how much longer our side can hold up."

He was quiet while he thought about what to say. Havoc was right. This was easily the hardest war they'd had with the Drachmans since before his grandfather was alive. Even the Fuhrer had been concerned by the ferocity of their attacks, hence his team's presence there— which was something he still didn't quite understand, as he would have thought Olivier would've been the better choice.

Despite all of that, however, Roy knew for a fact Amestris had survived through worse. Much worse. So he knew they could last. It would be difficult, and they would loss many more men and women before the end, but they would ultimately come out the victors.

He leaned over to clap Havoc's shoulder and told him as much. "We'll last until we send those Drachman bitches back to their masters."

The younger man nodded slowly and gave him a less than confident smile. Roy hoped it was only due to the concussion and migraine. He hoped he believed him— he needed someone to believe him so he could believe himself.

"Right."

Havoc laid back down on his cot then and rested a forearm over his eyes.

Roy leaned his elbows against his knees and ran his fingers through his disheveled hair while shaking his head. He really did hope he was correct in believing that they would last until the Drachmans either gave in or ran out of soldiers.

More than anything else, through, he hoped they would defeat them soon. He had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach about the days to come, and he didn't want to be correct about whatever it was he could already sense going wrong. He was ready for the war to be over.

And it hadn't even truly begun.

Datepuj and Danger

The first stop jostled Edward from his groggy sleep and he sat up with a groan. Train seats were not good for the back, which stood doubly so when the trips were as long as his had been. Man, he sounded old.

He rubbed the lingering nap from his eyes and peered out the window. It was still dark, through the stars out made it seem less so. That was something he noticed the further north he got, the sky seemed a lot clearer. Even when heavy clouds blocked it out, it was somehow clearer. Not even in Risembool did skies like that exist.

The clock of the station, dull and worn as it was, read o-one hundred hours. He suppressed another groan, lamenting the fact that he'd only been traveling an hour. It was funny, when he wasn't in a rush, time seemed to pass quickly, but the moment he needed it to go double time, it slowed to a crawl. It was as strange an occurrence is it was an unfair one. He decided anyone who tried to tell him that time didn't change, only perception of it, was wrong. There was something off about the way it was moving for him.

To make matters worse, they would be stopped for at least half an hour before moving on to the next town, so he would have to find something to do to entertain himself if he didn't want to go crazy from boredom. But in a small town like Kadayr, that would be easier said than done. Hell, even calling it a 'small town' was being generous. The village, with little housing in the immediately visible area and even less people milling about at the late hour, had nothing to offer him.

He didn't even have to find another train to continue his journey. Kadayr was little more than a pit stop for the vehicle to refuel before taking him all the way up to Mefkaum. Still, if nothing else, he supposed he could get out and stretch his legs. Stifling a yawn, he did that.

The night caused a dip in the temperature, but not enough to make him question whether or not it was still summer. No, he still had a ways to go before that happened. He was not exactly looking forward to that part of the journey. He wasn't actually looking forward to much of what he planned.

He would have rather not have to do any of that crap he was going to resort to. He would've rather been told what was going on and been given the choice of whether or not he wanted to get tangled up in the team's mess.

It would have been nice to have been treated like a part of the group and not like some kid who needed protection.

He didn't need protecting. When Mustang and Hawkeye had first come to him, told him he could keep living, that he had potential… he'd felt like they wanted him to be a part of their team. But he wasn't. He'd been the rowdy brat who needed guidance, the kid who needed help to keep out of trouble. It hadn't made sense to him then, and it still didn't. He'd been in the world of adults, handling it just fine for three years, so what had the issue really been?

During the whole thing with Scar, it had been nice, feeling like there were specific people who had his back no matter what, but even that had been short lived.

He'd been a part of the team, but he hadn't been one of them. He'd ignored that, though, because it hadn't been that big of a deal. But now?

He sighed and leaned against the clock pole, tilting his head up to trace idle patterns in the stars. The realization that he should have tried harder to connect with the others hit him again, just like it had when he'd been trying to figure the reasons they hadn't been honest, and he cursed himself.

And Mustang. Mustang could have made an effort to make him feel welcome, instead of using him as a personal slave for doing his dirty work.

He glared at the sky, no longer able to focus on its beauty, suddenly filled with the overwhelming desire to clock that stupid Colonel in the face. He tucked it away for when he saw him.

When he saw him.

What was that going to be like? Mustang would probably be shocked. Maybe angry. Maybe he'd try to hit him right back because he thought he was being an idiot.

Maybe he was. Maybe it was stupid to try and go after them. He didn't even really know where they were. According to the article, they'd been stationed at the front lines. Supposedly, that was somewhere close to the abandoned mining town or Norlisk. So, if he could still read a map, he'd be able to get to them, no problem. Still, it was a gamble.

That was the main concern Al and Winry had had in his leaving, once they'd gotten over the whole 'it's just generally dangerous' thing, what his plan actually was. At the time he'd explained it, it had seemed perfectly logical. Go to North City, get through Briggs by pretending he was still a part of the military (Mustang was bad with paperwork, so chances were people didn't know he'd been let go yet), get information on where exactly people were placed, and get to Mustang. It sounded simple when he put it like that… actually doing it, though. That was different, and he wasn't completely sure it would be that easy.

Still, it was too late to turn back.

He reminded himself of that as he checked the time once more. Ten minutes had passed.

"Seriously?" He kicked the clock pole lightly and decided to just walk around the station.

There was no particular destination in his mind, just a need to move, to get his mind off of potential plot holes in his plan. If he started overthinking things now, he'd have an entire list of reasons he needed to scrap ideas and start over, which would do nobody any good. It was a fine plan. It would work… It had to work.

It did what it was supposed to, at any rate. He did stop thinking about the plan. However, his brain came nowhere near silent, instead trickling back into his not-worry for the team. He didn't want to think about them, and how they were off fighting for their lives, likely getting hurt… maybe even dying.

He didn't want to think about how he wasn't there to help them, and he should have been. At that point, he couldn't even be sure who he was truly mad at, Mustang, or himself.

If he thought back on it, of course he'd heard rumors of the conflict in the north. He'd caught in passing conversation how it was growing at an alarming rate, he'd just never paid it any attention because, well… it hadn't concerned the Philosopher's Stone, so he hadn't been interested.

And does it concern you now? The voice came unbidden and bitter through his thoughts and he glared at the expanse of empty station around him. He decided that he was much more angry with himself. Self-centered idiot.

The train's loud whistle halted anything else he might have brought to attention, signaling the coming departure. He wandered back and did little more than nod to the few people on the vehicle that had been awoken by the noise.

When his seat lurched, and a moment later the rhythmic sound of the chugging engine hit his ears, Edward leaned against the window, chin in his hand, and watched the shadows of trees and houses fly by in the dark of night, willing the others to stay safe until he got there. It may have been a foolish thing to think, but he couldn't help himself.


The next few stops in Cekes and Mefkaum were of little interest to him. Though both towns were foreign to him, the stops had been brief enough that exploration hadn't been possible. Even that had barely registered with him.

Passengers had boarded and departed each stop, some families, some teenagers going to see parents or grandparents, some even a few military men and women. Those ones paid him little attention when he caught their eyes, and he said nothing to them. He surmised they would be getting off at the next stop, Central. He imagined they would be receiving orders, possibly being deployed to Drachma. Another part of him liked to think they were just there on regular business, that the fight hadn't gotten so bad that they already were in need of more reinforcements.

The fact that the large city would signify that he was only at the halfway point in his journey was not lost on him either, and he dropped his head against the back of his seat with a huff. At times he forgot how tedious traveling was.

It would be worth it in the end. He kept having to remind himself of that whenever he felt the urge to get up and run around, just because he needed to do something.

The night stretched into morning and the morning moved on to mid-day when he finally got tired of walking about the cabin and pulled out a pack of cards instead. When the train pulled into Central Station, he did his best to convince himself he was so engrossed in his game of solitaire that he didn't even notice, especially not when the military men passed by and one bumped his seat.

When the train got moving again, Edward finally looked up to find half the passengers in his car had disappeared, leaving him with no more than six people who looked just as bored as he felt. Someone behind him announced it was just past thirteen hundred hours to their companion and Edward re-dealt himself a game.

It wouldn't be a long wait until the next stop at Rejo, but he didn't have much else to do.


By twenty hundred hours, North City was finally coming into view. Had Edward been awake, he might have noticed that, along with the sudden drop in temperature, or the steadily falling flakes of snow, or the odd quiet that came over the area.

However, he had stayed awake nearly the entire ride, and sleep, it seemed, had finally decided to play catch up. The stop at Datepuj, the town bordering the Briggs mountain range, registered not at all to him. The announcement that their next stop was the final destination didn't either, nor did the sudden vanishing of all other passengers when darkly clad individuals clambered aboard just as the great rattling machine pulled from its docking point for the last time.

It wasn't until several hours down the line that a sudden shout roused Edward from his sleep with a jolt.

The sound wasn't like that of a terrorist, demanding for people to stay in their seats (and that far north, he doubted anyone would feel the need to hijack a train anyway), but more like that of someone who was barking an order. Part of him wondered if it was more soldiers, but he still sat up slowly, keeping himself hidden behind the back of the seat in front of him in case that wasn't the case. He didn't want to get caught up in a fight if the situation ended up being more like a couple of drunk people having an argument.

Peeking out into the walkway he tried to spot the owner of the voice. Given that the group of men towards the back of the car seemed to be the only other people on board with him, it wasn't difficult to locate him. Not that he was easy to miss, either, standing well above where most people stopped growing- he might have been taller than Major Armstrong. Even with a thick coat on, Edward could tell he was built like the Major, too, and the way he held himself above the others around him, he was likely confident he could break each of them in half.

And yet… he wasn't the one who seemed to be in charge- and there was someone in charge, of that he was sure. There was an air about them, the kind that was reminiscent of the one Mustang's team had.

It seemed, whoever they were, were not nearly as friendly with each other as the soldiers he knew. The bearded guy who'd yelled was glaring at one of the shorter men. He was on the compact side of the spectrum, hair long and greasy and jaw set in what was likely frustration. From his angle, it was impossible to see any more of his face, but just from that, Edward guessed he wasn't the one in charge either.

What caught his eye more than their possible group dynamic, or even why there had been yelling in the first place, was the fact that all seven men seemed to have the same kind of dark hair and heavy coat.

What concerned him most, was they he recognized that kind of coat. Military cut with buttons with an insignia he couldn't quite make out, but could tell was not Amestrian. Soldiers.

Non-Amestrian soldiers.

As if sensing the dawning concern at their backs, the bearded guy turned his way. Edward ducked and pressed himself so far into the wood beneath him he swore he would leave an imprint. Heart pounding in his chest, he listened for the sounds of footsteps coming his way and signaling an upcoming fight.

He prepared to transmute in case… but nobody came.

Had the possibility of being caught spying not still hung over his head, he might have risked a heavy sigh of relief. As it stood, he busied himself instead with figuring out why he should've been so concerned with what he saw.

For all he knew, they weren't actually military. Maybe he was only reading so much into it because of the stress he'd been putting himself through. Maybe he was only seeing things because he was paranoid that something would go wrong before he even got into Drachma.

Drachma…

People from Drachma had dark hair like that. Drachmans typically had skin that was either too light to be mistaken as Amestrians, or too dark when they lived closer to the Cretan borders. Those men were certainly darker than anyone from his hometown.

The colors of what he'd managed to see of their clothes all matched, right down to the hats they wore, colored blacks, browns, and dark reds. They were uniforms, that much was obvious, just not ones that he immediately recognized. But given what little he remembered from the geography and racial diversity lessons all had attempted to give him once, he did know a thing or two.

He knew the style for the uniforms was all wrong for Cretans, who were… more decorated than that. Their complexion wasn't dark enough to be considered Cretan, or even Aerugoan, either. And there was no possible way they could be Xingese. He had seen enough photographs to know their facial structure was nowhere close.

So what could they be, if not Drachman?

Just the thought made him want to hazard another peek so he could look again and make sure he wasn't remembering details wrong. Perhaps he'd only thought he'd seen a certain color or something that hadn't been there. He could have just been looking for a problem when there wasn't one. The more sensible part of him said to just stay put and not run the risk of being seen.

That part rarely ever won.

Adrenaline pumped through his veins when he shot out from the safety of his hiding spot and he saw that, no, he hadn't misremembered. Those were Drachman colors, and, by process of elimination, Drachman features.

He retreated quickly again when he got the feeling he was pushing it and settled back to his huddled position.

What were Drachmans doing in Amestris? He liked to think it was something easily explained away, like they'd been visiting family when the war broke out, or perhaps they just lived there… but that didn't explain the uniforms, then.

That only brought up more questions, though: Why had they boarded a train looking like that when people could see them? Were they that unafraid, or did they truly have no reason to be? Were they not a threat at all?

If that was the case, he doubted he would feel the need to stay hidden from them. He didn't generally have a working sense of self-preservation, but when he did, it wasn't ever wrong.

So… I'm on a train with Drachmans… and we're heading to the Drachman border… Ah.

Edward wondered if it would be jumping the gun if he confronted them before reaching North City to try and find out what they were doing. Maybe it wasn't anything as sinister as he brain was working to make up. It certainly wouldn't be the smartest thing he'd done, but he never claimed to be brilliant.

But then, he didn't have the assurance that they wouldn't attack him on the spot. It was suspicious that nobody else was on the train, so it wasn't illogical to think they'd threatened people in order to get the car all to themselves… so violence in an enclosed space probably wasn't something they were opposed to. He had to assume it wasn't, at any rate.

But there were only seven of them. He'd taken on more than that before. Sure, they'd been smaller and, well, inept in the ways of hand-to-hand combat, but still, he'd done it. And even if they had an alchemist they would be no match for him- Drachman alchemy was years behind Amestris, it was how they'd kept the country at bay for so long, that much he did know.

Still, he didn't know if he wanted to risk it just yet. He still could have been misreading the situation.

Right, he needed to get a read on what was actually going on before he did could seriously think about doing anything to them.

With that in mind, he steadied his breathing to a quieter pace and closed his eyes. It took a moment to filter out the noise of the train and his own heartbeat, but once those both turned to white noise, he found himself honing in on the burly voices behind him.

At first, he thought they were speaking in another language and couldn't understand anything. It took several minutes before he realized it wasn't a different language at all, but extremely thick accents.

Drachman accents. Sometimes he hated being right.

"And you're certain we weren't followed?"

"All the soldiers got off long before the last stop."

"Good."

"Da, sir."

It was difficult to tell the difference between the men. Between their general hushed tones and their rumbling, grating voices, all of them blurred together.

"So this last stop and then is less than smooth sailing until we cross border again."

As if searching for an opportunity to prove his thoughts wrong, that next voice was different. Not only was it even more difficult to catch what was being said, but it was calmer, a commanding air about it. Edward had no doubt that was the leader he'd been looking for.

He wasn't sure what to make of what he'd said, though. Cross the border again? What?

His mouth pulled a frown as he thought about it. Running on the assumption that they hadn't already been stationed in Amestris, it would've made sense that they had to cross the border to get into the country, but how had they done it? And why? What reasons could they have had for sneaking into Amestris?

And what exactly would they have to gain by trying to go back over? All that did was risk them being caught on Amestrian soil. It didn't make sense.

"Cocky Amestrians won't even know what hit them."

Edward's felt his breath stutter in his throat and his grip tighten on the edge of the seat in order to keep from marching right over and beating answers out of the group. Alphonse's voice in the back of his mind told him to calm down, be rational.

There were seven of them, and one of him. They'd already evaded military detection once, possibly by killing people (or was that too much for him to assume?), and he didn't know the full extent of their capabilities. They were built like brick shithouses, and unfortunately, he was definitely not. Most importantly: He didn't know what exactly they were talking about, even if he had some good assumptions based on what he'd heard. The most prominent in his head being a sabotage of sorts, possibly with a bomb- some sort of mission that required that few people to pull it off.

The wait for those assumptions to be confirmed turned out to be painfully short, however, when one of the unmemorable voices snorted a harsh laugh and spoke two words that, in reality were so small, but had a roiling pit opening in his gut.

"Goodbye, Amestris."

Cold and Capture

The mountain range of Briggs had been colder than he expected, but Drachma was even worse. The moment Ed stepped out of the relative safety of the mountain trails he had followed the Drachman soldiers through he was assaulted with frigid winds that nearly blew him off his feet, and snowflakes gently falling atop his head. He wasn't even going to think about the snow that packed a good several feet higher than him. He had found that out the hard way.

Those two days trekking the dangerous mountain had been the most stressful, cold, and miserable Edward had experienced in a long while. After nearly being caught by the group he was tailing several times on their way to the Briggs mountain range, Ed had almost lost the men completely when they took the extremely difficult to navigate roads into said mountain. Edward hadn't even heard of the paths they had taken, and he was most certain that the military did not know of them, or else they would have closed them off long ago. It made entering Drachma frighteningly easy. I'll have to tell Mustang about that. The teen had thought idly.

The alchemist had stumbled along the painfully rocky path, earning plenty of cuts and bruises along the way when he had to climb. Still, the rock walls, while covered in ice and mud, made for excellent cover against the wind. Edward was surprised the Drachmans had never heard him though. He had plenty of moments tailing them where he would find himself talking aloud by accident, or he would cry out when he fell down a particularly sharp incline and bashed his flesh shoulder against a boulder. His only explanation as to why they hadn't heard him was the fact that they were too busy dealing with the same problems he was, and making just enough noise to drown him out.

Along the way, Edward had decided they were planning on attacking the Amestrian forces from the back where the would be mostly unprotected, but unless the Drachmans he was following used alchemy... well, there were only eight of them. Ed had counted them off the moment they had gotten off the train, and by the time they had reached Briggs, he had given all of them names of his own, because it seemed they never used any other name for each other besides "Sir" or "You", and it drove the teen crazy.

The shortest of all of them -which was still much taller than Ed-, the boy had decided to call Troll, since he just had that sort of face. Then there was the one Ed had seen on the train, the one covered in black hair. Him, Ed had started calling Fuzzy, because... well, there really didn't have to be an explanation for that one. Then there was Ugly. Ugly was a little on the fat side, his eyes were spaced too far apart, and his nose had obviously been broken one too many times and was permanently stuck in an unfortunate hook, so he was given the unfortunate name.

The most silent one in the group, Ed liked to call Meathead, because he was clearly the very definition of "all brawn, no brain". The two that made Ed snicker though, were Grumps and Idiot. Both names fit the men perfectly, and they were so simple and childish that the teen had to keep them. Grumps constantly got mad at Idiot, because Idiot liked to suggest very stupid things whenever they would stop for the night.

The funny thing though, was that Idiot was not actually the one that talked the most, which was almost hard to believe. No, the one who talked the most, was Slur, the one who sounded like he was constantly drunk and couldn't string more than two words together before he started lisping and slurring his sentence. And the last one, the tallest of the group, was the man Ed had heard speaking in the thick accent on the train. Despite his efforts to give the man an amusing name, Ed found that all ideas died before they even made it to his tongue, so it had taken some time to name him. Eventually though, the man had turned just enough for the teen to see his face. The man's black eyes reflected everything in an eerie manner, and Ed knew he had his name. He decided to call that one, the obvious leader of the group, Black.

Now, as the wind attacked him on all sides and the group of Drachmans were becoming no more than specks in the distance, did Ed think about what exactly he planned on doing. The plan in the beginning had been simple of course: Get into Drachma, get Mustang and the others, and get out with his Certification back. He should have remembered life never went as planned. It was like despite taking his brother's body, and his arm and leg, the Truth was still taunting him in this world. Laughing at him and saying, "Oh, you wanted to do this? Well, since you want that, I'm going to make this happen instead." It was like nothing could go easy for them. Nothing was ever that simple.

He briefly entertained the idea of ambushing the group and dragging them back to Briggs for proper military care, but quickly tossed it aside when he look at Meathead and Black. Sure, he had taken down two hollow serial killers' armored bodies, but that was different. He had been on fairly familiar grounds in his own country. And he got the feeling if he brought a group of Drachmans to the military personnel of Briggs from the Drachman side of the border, he might be met with a little hostility. Perhaps it was just paranoia, but either way Ed discarded the idea.

The boy had already decided he needed to get to his people before the Drachmans did, but he also knew that he had to wait for an opportune moment to slip past them; if he was caught, he would be in some deep trouble.

Not including that area of his situation, Ed was also getting tired and was extremely hungry. He had only gotten about three hours of sleep the last two nights, and the food he had with him had to be eaten sparingly, lest he run out and starve to death before he reached the camp... and that wasn't an option in his mind. The alchemist knew the hunger wouldn't be the thing to really harm him though, it was just a complaint. But hey, he was alone in the cold, following people who could very easily kill him if they wanted to, just to get to the people he no longer worked for and warn them about the danger they were in, so he thought he deserved the right to complain about his empty stomach. Why am I even thinking about this? He thought with a roll of his honey gold eyes. He hadn't realized how much his mind wandered when he was tired, hungry, and bored.

The Drachmans were getting a little farther ahead than Edward was comfortable with and the teen forced himself to clear his head as he began trudging faster through the white powder that probably covered the country's ground permanently. He couldn't afford to lose them now.

As he approached the group, Ed noticed something new in the landscape in front of them. Something that sent sent a thrill of panic down the boy's spine. Not two hundred feet out from them was a brown and red mass. Most of the mass looked to be people, but a few of the shapes looked like giant triangles, and those could only be tents. There was smoke rising from various points amid the crowd that had to have been fires.

The group Ed had been following began pulling farther and farther away from him and it wasn't until just then the teen realized he had stopped moving. His body refused to move until his mind completely comprehended what his eyes were seeing. There had to have been at least a hundred people, if not more. All appeared to be dressed in the same style of clothing as Black and his men from what the teen could make out this far away.

One hundred... Ed thought numbly. His legs suddenly felt like they wanted to give out, and he didn't know why. He didn't feel panicked or scared, so why was his body reacting as if he was? He told himself it wasn't a big deal, that he would just find his people's camp and warn them as fast as he could. Yeah, you do that. The voice in the back of his head snickered and Ed growled. He knew he could do it, and he would have to, but the one question that remained was how. How was he going to get there if he didn't even know where "there" was?

With no other options than to continue following Black's group, the teen began walking again, this time more mindful of his surroundings. He would need somewhere to stay out of sight until he worked everything out in his mind. Thankfully, the soldiers were intelligent enough to pick a place closer to the foot of the mountains where there were plenty of spots in which someone could hide out and still have a full view of the small army. Ed made his way over to one of those areas, choosing the point highest from the ground so he could get a better idea of how many soldiers there were.

Oh no. Were the only words the teen's mind would supply him as his wide eyes took in the sight before him. He had thought there were only about one hundred soldiers, but now he could see it was more like six hundred. They didn't plan on battling the Amestrian forces until they gave up, they planned on slaughtering them to show the entire country of Amestris just what they could do. They could take down even their best fighters. They could take down the Hawk's eye... they could take down their Hero of Ishval. They could annihilate State Alchemists and war veterans, and they could do it all just by playing dirty.

The urgency to get to Mustang and the others went from being a small thrill of alarm to a blaring siren. There were too many of them and if Edward didn't warn the Amestrians now, he knew he may never get a chance to. He did not know when the Drachmans planned to move out, and he did not know long it would take to get to his people. For all the teen knew they could be months from the Amestrian camps, or hours. And if that was actually the case, they might be screwed even if he got to them that very day. Still, Ed knew he couldn't risk waiting the Drachmans out. He had to leave, and he had to leave now before it was too late.

Edward clamored down from his vantage point and began scanning the army for any breaks in rank where he could slip past easily. Somewhere where the attention would be nowhere near the edge of the camp. It was difficult, but he did manage to find one. Amusingly enough, it was Black's team that caused the opportunity to manifest.

Their group had been welcomed with hearty shouts and several people converged on them to hear of their travels and what Amestris had been like for them, and blah, blah, blah- Ed couldn't have cared less. All that mattered was he had his hole, and he wasn't going to miss the chance to get through it.

The teen threw his hood up to cover his shock of golden hair and went for it. As he snuck along the edge of the camp he made sure to act natural, and when he reached the point where they would be able to see him if they happened to turn around, Edward slowed to a confident walk. If you acted like you belonged somewhere, people would think you did.

The alchemist had almost reached the edge of the camp when the first signs of trouble showed. It had seemed like nothing at first, just a tiny shift in the soldiers' placement. Then it had become more obvious that something was not right. When Ed looked over his shoulder he could no longer see Black or any of the others Ed had gotten used to; their group had moved somewhere else. On top of that, the entire army seemed to have grown quiet. Edward hadn't been sure at first if that was an actual thing, or if he was just getting paranoid, but after several minutes of the almost nobody speaking, he had decided it really had gotten unnaturally quiet and the hairs on the back of his neck raised.

Then the small discomfort turned into full on panic when Edward suddenly spotted Black and Meathead in the writhing mass of soldiers near him, because despite being mostly hidden by other bodies, Ed could see they were following him. Don't panic, He told himself. Don't panic. they're probably not actually following you. They're probably going to report to someone... He turned his head and realized they were slowly but surely getting closer to him. And Ed could now see Black's face, and those dark holes he called eyes were boring directly into him. "Amestrian!" Meathead shouted and suddenly it wasn't just Black glaring at him, but at least twenty soldiers.

Screw not panicking. Run! Run fast!

The blond gave Black one last glance over his shoulder before he bolted, kicking up white powder and sending shouts rippling through the sea of Drachmans. Crap, how did they notice me?! He thought as his legs pumped faster and faster. What did I do wrong? I covered the hair, kept my head down- hell, I sank into the damn snow! So what happened?

Even as he pulled away from the soldiers, he knew he wasn't going to make it. That did not keep him from trying though. The boy clapped his hands and sent walls of ice in front of the Drachmans to block their path, but it only halted them briefly, and moments later they were after him again. Ed tried trapping them with his alchemy, but they were too fast. He tried losing them in the snow, but they knew the terrain much better than he did. Ed still wasn't going to go down without a fight though, so if it came to it, he planned on giving those Drachmans hell. Hopefully it didn't come to that though, because Edward was in no condition to fight at that moment. Fatigue and hunger did amazing things to one's strength.

In the end though, it wasn't fighting that brought Ed into their hands. No, it was a rock hidden by the snow that sent him sprawling onto the unforgiving white floor. In the end, it was just the Truth saying "Screw you, Edward Elric!" and laughing hysterically as the child was pummeled by giant Drachman fists.

And as cold, rough hands grabbed the teen and dragged him back to their camp, Ed wondered how he had even thought he could get past them in the first place.

Dreams and Dread

To say the last three days had been hell would have been an understatement. Between constantly being wounded, and worrying about everyone and everything around him, Roy was growing weary.

The Colonel sat around a fire with his team and a few others that had managed to survive the most recent of Drachman attacks. They seemed to be toying with them at the moment, flaunting their shear numbers by sending a hundred or two to keep the Amestrian soldiers on their feet and then pulling back before they could lose too many. It was pissing Roy off greatly, and he wanted more than anything to melt the flesh off their bones.

The conversation around the flames lacked any interest and Mustang decided he would turn in for the night- get some sleep while he could. He told Hawkeye as much and the woman nodded, her sherry eyes bidding him the soft "goodnight" even if her reply did not. "Right, Sir."

Havoc and Fuery bid him goodnight as well and the Colonel disappeared into one of the tents close by. He never liked to be too far from the others when he could help it. As he lay down on the less than comfortable cot, he groaned, the muscles in his back relaxing for the first time in what seemed like weeks. The last Drachman attack had been less than three hours before, so Roy was betting they would be safe from another wave for four more hours. If he could get even two hours of sleep in there, he would be thrilled. The man knew he could sleep in relative peace for an hour at the very least.

As he closed his eyes, Mustang wondered if he would be plagued by thoughts of his team's safety, and how every time they fought they got that much closer to the possibility of winding up as one of the bodies brought back bloody and broken. Or maybe he would worry about the Elric brothers, even though he had nothing to worry about last he had checked. And Roy had checked. Even if the brothers were legally out of his care, he still felt the need to keep an eye on them. He had a source in Amestris keeping tabs on the boys and reporting back to him whenever they could. It wasn't much, but it was the best the Colonel could do... and it eased his mind just a little to know they were safe.

Thankfully, neither thoughts kept Mustang awake, and he was able to fall asleep with no difficulty. Which was likely because he had been going on less than an hour of sleep for the past twenty hours. Either way, he was out like a light and did not have to think about any distasteful things. Fortunately his creative mind made up for that all on it's own.


Gunfire alerted the man of the danger first. Roy shot up from his bed and pulled his ignition gloves on at the speed of light and sprinted out of the tent. He was greeted by screams of agony and blood soaked snow, which was nothing new to him, and although the overwhelming scent of iron was making him nauseous, he powered through.

Amestrian troops were falling left and right, but there seemed to be no cause for their wounds. There were no enemy soldiers in sight. It was as if the people around him were being struck down by phantoms. Mustang ignored that thought, writing it off as his imagination getting too far ahead of him. The man's onyx eyes swept across the field of white, looking for a familiar face that still held life in it.

A young man stumbled into Roy's path, blood pouring from a gaping hole in his abdomen, and the Flame Alchemist caught him before he could fall to the ground. A chill shot down the Colonel's back and Mustang whipped his arm around and snapped his fingers. The flames met nothing but air and he growled in frustration. The boy in his arms had gone still and Roy knew he was dead. He felt a pang of guilt for not being able to save the soldier, but he pushed it aside. He didn't have time for those feelings; he needed to find his men. He had a horrible feeling that they were in danger, and it grew worse every second he couldn't see them. And to make matters worse, snow had begun to fall hard.

A shrill, agonized scream echoed through the wind suddenly and Roy's heart leapt into his throat. He had only heard that scream once before when his flames were licking across her back in an attempt to destroy her awful secret, but there was no mistaking who it was. Hawkeye was screaming, and not in fear, because she didn't scream when she was scared. She screamed when she was in indescribable pain. Roy was sent into a frenzied panic as he searched desperately for his lieutenant. He had to find her before it was too late.

Another scream sounded and Roy found himself suddenly face-to-face with Riza, her chestnut eyes wide in fear and tears streaking down her bloodied cheeks. Her hair had fallen out of it's usual pin-up style and it tumbled over her shoulders. Wounds littered her body and as Roy looked closer, he realized several were bullet holes, while the others were burns. Burns?

Without warning a figure appeared from behind Hawkeye, his black eyes boring into Roy's, sending pure, untainted terror through the Colonel's being. He knew immediately whose eyes he was looking into, and it held no comfort for him. They were his own, and they held everything Roy feared of himself. The dark hatred that constantly wanted to consume him, and the shear pleasure he hated himself for feeling whenever he sent someone up in flames. Worst of all, though, was the fact that those eyes were turning away from him and fixing themselves on Hawkeye's shivering form. A cruel smirk spread across the man's face and Roy barely had time to scream before the Roy in front of him sent the woman he loved to ashes.

The Colonel stared at what was left of his lieutenant in shock and slowly turned to the other Mustang, but the man was nowhere to be seen. Because, he realized numbly, that he had been the one to kill her. Not the other Mustang. He hadn't been able to get to her on time, and it had cost her her life. She had died because of him. Roy didn't even have time to feel grief over his loss, because not ten seconds later another shout could be heard, but this time it belonged to Havoc.

The Flame Alchemist hurried toward the voice of his second lieutenant, and as he drew closer he detected the others as well. It sounded like they were in the middle of a fight, and that made his urgency to get to them increase. The snow was beginning to fall faster and the wind was starting to whip around him. The Colonel could feel his limbs growing colder and he was fighting to keep his teeth from chattering. God, he hated the cold.

He came upon his group quite suddenly and he nearly fell to his knees when the flakes slowed down long enough to get a clear view of what was going on. The answer was nothing. Nothing was going on. His men lay on the soft, wet ground, their own blood slowly seeping out of them, staining the fresh powder underneath their bodies. Falman was on his back, his normally squinted eyes wide in what was probably surprise. He had a hole in his head. Breda had fallen a couple feet from the Warrant Officer and he had managed to take down one of his attackers. A blade had been driven through his stomach by the dead Drachman under him. And even his Knight was gone. It appeared he had left the world nobly; he was laying over Fuery protectively, his body littered with bullet holes, while the younger, dark-haired man only had two wounds placed neatly in his neck.

Once again, Roy had been too late to save anyone.

He thought that would have been the end of it. His Queen was gone, and so were his other pawns. He was alone in the never ending expanse of hellish cold, and all that was left was for someone to come and put him out of his misery. Then, he heard one last voice from behind and he realized he was wrong. There was one person he had yet to lose.

Through the flurry of snow, Roy was able to make out a tiny figure in the distance. Even though he could not yet see him, Mustang knew it could only be Edward. He did not want to go to the child, because he knew if he did, something bad was going to happen. People got hurt when they were around him. Yet despite every effort the Colonel put forward to stay where he was, his body moved toward the child.

Even in the dim light, Roy could tell Ed was on his knees. That alone worried the older alchemist. As he drew closer, Roy noticed the teen's shoulders were slumped, as if he was being weighed down by some unseen burden. He cradled something in his hands, but Roy couldn't make out what it was at first. A shuddering breath came from the child and Roy stopped in his tracks, waiting for Edward to say something. When he didn't, Roy took a small step forward and tentatively called to the boy. "Fullmetal?"

Ed slowly raised his head and Roy was taken aback when he saw tears coursing down the young alchemist's cheeks. It was only then that the Colonel was able to see what the boy cradled, and a gasp escaped the man when he realized he was staring at the destroyed remains of Alphonse's helmet. Roy's attention shot back to Edward's face when he heard a whisper from the teen. His voice was so grief-stricken, Roy almost couldn't understand him, but when the words could be made out, the man felt like he had been punched in the gut. "It's your fault." The boy said, his haunted and empty eyes staring blankly at Roy.

"It's your fault." He whispered again, "You sent us away."

Roy shook his head and knelt in front of the teen, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder. "Edward..."

The reaction was not something Roy expected at all. The teen's blank expression suddenly turned into one of hate and he hissed at Mustang and pulled away from his touch. "It's your fault!" Edward shouted, his grief turning into anger in the blink of an eye.

Roy got up and regarded the boy carefully. He didn't want to do anything more to upset Ed than he already had, but as he stared at the helmet still held tightly in the teen's pale hands, Roy knew there was nothing he could possibly do or say to help.

"Fullmetal... Edward, I'm-"

"It's all your fault!" Ed shrieked again, and threw Al's broken helmet to the ground. Without any warning, the boy clapped his hands and within seconds his trademark blade was attached to his automail arm. Edward's intent for Roy shone clearly in his molted yellow eyes, and the Colonel barely had time to get out of the way when Ed rushed at him.

"Fullmetal!" Roy shouted when he dove to the ground to avoid being cut in half by the teen's blade. "Fullmetal, stop this, now!" The Flame Alchemist barked as he brought his arms up to stop the punch Edward had been trying to direct at his face.

Ed landed a blow on Roy's shoulder and the man fell to the ground again. The teen stood over him then, his blade was poised to strike his throat. Roy came to the startling realization that if he didn't turn Edward into kindling right there and then, he would die. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. He couldn't hurt Edward.

So when the young alchemist screamed one last time that it was his fault, Roy closed his eyes tightly and awaited the quick pain that would be followed by the eternal blackness of death.


Roy shot up in his bed, gasping for breath as sweat poured down his face. The image of Edward's hate filled eyes burning into him still lingered in the back of his mind and the Colonel ran a hand down his face, trying to wipe the picture away. He sighed and dropped heavily onto his back, his pulse slowing to a normal pace gradually.

It was only after he had calmed himself fully that he realized someone else was in the room. The alchemist lifted his head and saw Hawkeye sitting on the cot beside his, her eyes full of inquiry and concern. Her hair was down and Roy swallowed hard when he remember how she had appeared in his nightmare.

"Colonel?" She said quietly, bringing Roy back to the present. The man nodded and sat back up, his spine screaming at him as he did. "Lieutenant." He greeted, his voice equally soft.

"Are you all right, Sir?" Riza tilted her head slightly and her eyes swept his sweat-soaked figure. She was worried about him, Roy knew. The man was overwhelmed with the sudden desire to gather her into his arms and just hold her. To just satisfy himself with knowing she was safe and nothing was going to happen to her. He squashed such childish wants and nodded instead. "Perfectly fine, Lieutenant."

No, I need you.

"Very good, Sir."

I'm right here.

The Colonel gave the woman a weak smile and shifted to the edge of the bed so he was closer to her. She did the same and their knees were almost touching. Roy gave the tent a quick sweep and found it to be empty save the one sleeping man in the back corner. Mustang slid his hand down and placed it gently atop Hawkeye's own. The woman didn't pull away and Roy took that as the go-ahead to start speaking.

"I did the right thing with the Elric brothers, right?" He had been so sure at first that discharging them had been the wisest decision, but... after that dream, he wasn't so sure. Perhaps it was his conscious toying with him, but perhaps not.

"You did, sir." Even though she never spoke to him in so many words, those three were enough to help Roy relax.

"You're worried about them." It wasn't a question and Mustang nodded. Normally he would never have admitted such feelings, but he and Riza were alone, and Riza was safe. She was Roy's only safe place nowadays.

Hawkeye gave the smallest of snorts and her hand slipped from his light grip and came to her lap, breaking the soft connection they had and sending the air around them back to professionalism. "Don't be, sir. They're fine."

Roy nodded and scooted back onto his cot. Hawkeye stayed with him for several minutes before standing up and walking out. Once she was gone, Mustang ran his hands through his hair and shook his head. He knew there was really nothing to worry about, but he couldn't help himself. It was just a thing that came naturally to him. It had ever since the brothers first came into his care.

So even though he knew Hawkeye was probably right, he still had to stare up at the tent ceiling and wonder if the boys were alright.

Interrogation and Interruption

The first thing Edward registered upon opening his eyes was a cloth ceiling. He was in a tent. The second thing was the feeling of his arms tied behind him and a gag in his mouth. The annoying feeling of something hard pressed against his back had the teen twisting around. With an irritated huff the boy realized he was tied to a pole.

Edward twisted his head around to take in his surroundings. There wasn't much to look at, just a chair in the middle of the small area. Outside he could hear muffled conversations coming from a dozen different sources, which was decidedly unhelpful since focusing on that made it impossible to think.

But then, one voice penetrated through the din of all the others. It was thick with accent and Edward recognized immediately as Black's. The one who had caught him, and more than likely left him here. The tent flap lifted and the man entered, flanked by two smaller soldiers of lower rank. The dark eyed man said something to them in Drachman and Ed's pulse picked up when they came over to him and grabbed his arms.

The teen's first instinct was to fight, so he did. As the men removed him from the pole, Ed threw his head back and nailed one of the soldiers in the face, causing him to loosen his grip long enough for Edward to lash out again, this time at the man still holding him. He brought his left leg up and drove an automail knee into the man's gut, effectively winding him. The teen had no chance to savor his victory though, as the minute he straightened up, he was seized by bigger, stronger hands. One gripped his upper arm hard enough to bruise, and the other pulled his braided hair roughly.

Ed grunted and tried to fight Black off, but the man didn't seem to be at all bothered by his struggling. He shoved Edward into the chair that the teen had noted was in the middle of the tent, and tied the boy's ankles to the legs of said chair before Ed could kick him. Edward's hands were still tied behind him, and now hung over the back of the piece of wooden furniture uncomfortably.

By then the soldiers Ed had struck were standing behind Black once again, though this time they were glaring at the teen. Black gestured one the men forward and nodded toward Edward. The alchemist's eyes narrowed as a silent message passed between the two Drachmans. He studied the soldier that had stepped up to stand beside Black. He was fairly young in appearance and had a notable amount of muscle on him. He might have been handsome at one time or another, but he had obviously frowned one too many times in his life and now had a permanent scowl on his face that ruined any good looks he may have possessed. Ed decided if he didn't learn the man's name, he would call him Pouty.

The man behind Black was older than the first and had a less intimidating figure and no good looks to speak of, and yet there was something extremely unnerving about him. It took Edward several seconds to figure out, but eventually he realized it was the man's face. Aside from the glare it held moments before, it gave no hint of emotion whatsoever. His eyes were like greasy coins and reflected everything they pointed at. Edward decided immediately that he would forever go by Void in his mind.

Pouty looked from Black to Void and the older man clasped his hands behind his back and strode forward so he was standing directly in front of Edward. The teen straightened his back out of habit and raised one eyebrow expectantly. Void seemed to regard the boy a moment before speaking.

"Who are you?" The man asked. His tone was leveled, yet Edward could have sworn he was whispering and shouting at the same time. His voice seemed to rasp and reverberate at the same time.

Edward didn't answer Void. Only continued to stare up at the man indifferently. If they seriously thought he was going to answer them, they were stupid as well as ugly.

Pouty was suddenly by Void's side and the muscled man threw his fist into Ed's face, snapping the teens head to the side and leaving large red marks on Edward's cheek. The teen accidentally bit his cheek and spit some blood as he brought his head back to face the men again.

"Who are you?" Void questioned again, and this time Edward snorted and shrugged his shoulders. "You tell me."

Another blow to the face had Ed hissing in pain as he spit more blood that came from his punctured tongue.

It seemed Void decided to leave that question for the time being and went for a different one. "What are you doing here?"

Edward rolled his eyes and smirked at the man. "I'm on vacation of course. Don't you know Drachma's lovely this time of yea-gah!" The teen choked and coughed violently when Pouty punched him in the stomach hard enough that Ed thought he might throw up.

"Answer the question, Amestrian." Void ordered coolly.

Once Ed stopped gasping, he glared at the men and spat blood at their feet. "Bite me."


Needless to say the day had more or less progressed from that point. Void would ask a question, Ed would spit something sarcastic, Pouty would hit him. Sometimes hard, sometimes not. At one point, Black had apparently gotten bored and had stepped out of the tent, telling Void something in Drachman. Probably to "get him when the brat spoke", or to "keep asking questions until they got an answer". Either way, Ed didn't care.

Pouty's latest of blows had the teen's vision swimming, and he was pretty sure his stomach and face were now ugly discolored colors of yellow and purple. As it was he couldn't feel some of his face because it was so badly swollen. Too bad the rest of his face hadn't received that luxury yet.

Edward wasn't even sure what Void was asking him anymore, and he wondered if that was because all the questions sounded the same after a couple hours, or because his ears were ringing. Either way, he wasn't even opening his mouth to give snarky replies at the moment.

Someone entered the tent, interrupting Void before he could ask another question. Edward looked up through his sweat-covered bangs and saw it was Black. The man loomed over him and Ed half expected him to start hitting when he saw Black's displeased expression. To Ed's surprise, and relief though, Black turned his back and snapped something at Void and Pouty. With his senses returning to him, Edward found himself annoyed with the fact that he couldn't understand anything that was being said. Damn Drachmans and their damn language. The teen thought with a scowl.

Black turned back to him and Ed's scowl deepened. If his tongue hadn't been bloody and swollen, the the boy would have given him a heated "what?" in reply to the calculating look the Drachman was giving him. Black nodded sharply and left again. Edward looked between Void and Pouty as they spoke in that stupid foreign, and he had to force himself not to flinch when Pouty stalked over to him and crouched. Ed felt the man's hands messing with the rope around his ankles and the teen briefly thought about kicking him in the face. Then he snickered and a volt of pain was sent from his chest to stomach and he realized he might be a lot more bruised than he thought.

Pouty ignored Edward's amusement and motioned for Void to come over. Both men grabbed one of Ed's arms and pulled the teen from his seat. Ed couldn't suppress a hiss of pain. The soldiers forced him over to the pole and tied him to it once more. Void left the tent almost immediately afterward, but Pouty stayed long enough to glare at Edward and call the boy Amestrian filth. Despite the pain, Edward had managed to bring his automail foot into the Drachman's shin for that one.

The punch that had him gasping and wheezing for several seconds after Pouty left was so worth it.


They had not come for him the rest of the day and Edward had slowly allowed himself to fall asleep. With bruised ribs and a sore face it wasn't the most comfortable thing to achieve, but he did it.

He really wished he hadn't let his guard down for that long.

Edward wasn't sure how long he had been asleep for, but he knew it had to have been longer than it felt. When the teen was woken by shadowed figures taking him from his tent and dragging him through the snow it was still dark, but the slightest hints of daylight could be seen in the horizon. Edward struggled as hard as he could in his half asleep state, but it did him no good. The boy didn't even have enough time to properly take in his surroundings before he was thrown to the ground inside another tent.

Ed could make out two familiar figures in the darkness, and neither comforted him. One was Void and the other was Black. Look at that, Edward, you have yourself a lovely pair of admirers! The teen growled and struggled harder when the unknown soldiers pulled him toward a chair beside Black. He was not doing another questioning round this early in the morning, and if they thought he was, they were gonna have to get a reality check.

He was shoved harshly into the wooden chair and his ankles were tied once again before he had a chance to kick. Dammit, they were learning. That didn't bode well for the teen and Ed knew it. Looks like you're in trouble. That dumb voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Mustang came again and Ed wanted to tell it to shut up, but he was too busy trying to figure out what the Drachmans were doing. It didn't take as long as he thought it would to do so.

No. They're not going to- No, they... they wouldn't...! The teen's eyes had widened to an impossible size when Void dragged a bucket to sit in front of Edward and Black handed the man a decent sized rag. Void dropped the cloth into the water and brought it back up to wring it out. Black motioned for the two men who had dragged Edward in to tip his chair backwards and they obliged. Ed tried to flail, but his tied limbs would not allow him to. They would.

Void took the rag and placed it over Edward's face and the boy's breathing immediately picked up as his heart-rate began pounding in his ears. "Who sent you?" Void asked and Ed closed his eyes and grit his teeth. He refused to answer them. Their scare tactics would not work on him. He was stronger than that. He was the Fullmetal freaking Alchemist!

The first trickle of wet came slowly and it took Edward a moment to realize it was there at all, but when he did, he gasped, which was a stupid move, since the water dripped into his mouth and the teen coughed, clamping his mouth shut before anymore liquid could enter. He didn't know how long he would be able to hold his breath, but hopefully it would be long enough.

But Void didn't give him enough time to find out because the water stopped a moment later and the man repeated the question. Ed replied before he could stop himself, a scoff accompanying his words, "The sun god."

More water was poured onto his face and Ed held his breath. Then the liquid poured down his nose and he was sent into a coughing fit as the fluid that was supposed to give life began choking him. Forgot about that part of your face, eh?

They didn't let him choke for too long before the water stopped again. Ed had barely stopped coughing when Void asked him once more who sent him. Edward swallowed hard and kept silent, but when he felt dripping on the cloth, he opened his mouth. "Nobody!"

The water stopped and Void's tone changed into curiosity. "What?"

"Nobody sent me." Edward stated, his teeth starting to chatter from a combination of cold and anticipation. Would they believe him? Well, they would have to, because he was telling the truth. But what if they didn't? He would have nothing else to give them if they didn't believe the truth.

The teen was so distracted by his own thoughts that when the water came, he was unprepared and the fluid poured down his throat. Ed choked and tried to cough to rid his lungs of the water, but it wouldn't stop coming and he only succeeded in inhaling more. The torture lasted long enough Edward thought he was going to drown.

"Stop!" He managed to gasp between coughs when they finally pulled the water away. "Stop," The boy sputtered weakly as he expelled what he hoped was the last of the liquid.

"Tell the truth, Amestrian." This time it was Black's voice and Edward shook his head, trying to remove the rag from his face. "I am!" He shouted hoarsely when he gave up on the wet cloth.

"More water." Black ordered and Edward began struggling, pulling against the rope around his wrists hard enough to break the skin. "No!" His breath hitched in his throat when he heard the water slosh in the bucket. "Don't! I'm telling you the truth, nobody sent me!"

It was silent for several moments and Edward thought maybe, just maybe, they might believe him and stop drowning him. Then Black's stony voice rumbled through the tent.

"More water."

As Edward choked on the liquid he had once drank with gusto, he thought for sure this would be the last time they did this to him, because he was going to die. He was going to drown on dry land in the middle of a foreign country where nobody knew who he was or cared about him. Nobody would even know anything had happened to him for months. Al would be left alone; Winry would cry; Mustang and the others would be ambushed and the Amestrian forces would be slaughtered.

When black spots danced across his vision and he could no longer muster enough strength to cough, one thought went through the teen's mind, and it made him furious with himself. You're pathetic.


Pain was the first thing Edward was aware of when he woke. His head pounded like he had one of those hangovers Mustang loved to complain about, and his lungs felt like they had been burned from the inside out. His entire chest felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it, actually. And if the numbness in his arms was anything to go by, he was back to the pole.

The boy swallowed in an attempt to soothe the burning in his throat and forced his eyes open. He noticed something different immediately. The placement of the tent had changed. The ground was bumpier than before and where the pole had been in the right corner farthest from the tent door, it was now in the left corner and much closer to the entrance. If they had moved the tent, that must mean they had moved the camp. Brilliant deduction. The voice in his head commented sarcastically, and if Edward hadn't known better, he would have thought the Colonel was right there with him. The blond hated his imagination sometimes. Of course he would choose Mustang to be the voice of his conscience.

The sound of activity outside had the teen curling his knees to his chest and resting his forehead on them. His head hurt so bad. Damn oxygen deprivation.

He didn't even notice when someone entered his tent and stood in front of him. He did notice when they kicked him lightly though. Ed's head snapped up and he regretted the action the moment he did it, as it sent fresh pain up his neck and into the back of his eyes. The person in front of him was none other than Black. Big shock there.

"Amestrian," He rumbled thoughtfully and Edward held his gaze, but said nothing. He was not saying jack crap to that guy. Especially not when his throat felt like someone had forced him to swallow razor blades. And with the absence of Void (Ha ha), he had no reason to fear the man. It seemed he was only ever there to observe and order more torture. But he didn't do anything, so Ed saw no reason to fear him when they were alone.

"There will be more today." He stated and Edward realized why he had come. Black wanted to have him quaking in anticipation for what they would do. He wanted Ed to have a head start on being scared, and wanted the teen to start thinking about all the things they could have in store for him. Well, Ed wasn't going to give him the satisfaction. Despite the pain in his throat, the teen managed to croak out a defiant, "Cool. Looking forward to it."

That reaction seemed to displeased Black and the man left without a word. He didn't do anything to Ed though. No punch, no kick, no threat of violence, nothing. It seemed he had more restraint than the others, which was good, but it left Ed wondering just what rank the man was.


As promised, they came later in the day. Ed heard them before he saw them. They had stopped right in front of his tent and spoke in Edward's native tongue, which had the teen frowning. Why would they be speaking in Amestrian?

They entered the tent a moment later and Ed steeled himself for whatever they had planned for the day, all questions about the use of his language gone. "Ready to talk, Amestrian?" Void asked and Edward raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

Void and Black shared a look and Black said something in Drachman that Ed filed away to remember later. He could figure out what singular words meant, and "Da" seemed like it would be an easy one. Void sent a glance Pouty's way and the man strode over to Ed and pulled the teen to his feet by his hair. Ed grunted and a passing thought of how they were ruining his braid went through his mind.

Void straightened his back and spoke, and Ed realized they were circling back to day one of captivity. They wanted to know who he was again.

The boy sighed and sent Pouty a condescending look. "Does it hurt? Being so stupid?"

His answer was a blow to the face. Ah, they were back to that. Well, it was better than the water.

"Your name, Amestrian." Void ordered and Ed rolled his eyes. "Why don't you just keep calling me "Amestrian?" You seem to like it, I like it, so let's just stick with it." Ed's throat was killing him, but he couldn't stop talking. He just had too many comebacks. "Don't you like that name, Pou-"

Pouty hit him again and the teen growled and glared at him. "Would you knock that off?! It's rude to interrupt people."

"Amestrian!" Void snapped to get everyone's attention. Then, more calmly, he said, "Name."

Ed shrugged again and was about to give another smart remark when someone burst into the tent, their eyes wide and then narrowing when they locked on Edward.

Ed for his part, was sitting in shock as he stared at the man. He wore an Amestrian military uniform, and going by the stars on his shoulders, he was a Lieutenant Colonel. But what was an Amestrian soldier doing-

"You!"

Edward's brows drew together and he tilted his head. "What?"

The man didn't appear to have heard him. He turned to Black and Void and pointed at Edward. "That's the Fullmetal Alchemist!"

Ford and Frustration

"That's the Fullmetal Alchemist!"

Everyone stared at Edward with varying expressions of shock, surprise, and disbelief, and Ed returned the looks, but they were directed at the man that had given the Drachmans the information. The fact that the men did not even seem remotely surprised by the fact that an Amestrian soldier was in their camp was comfusing enough, but... what?!

Black, it seemed, was the first to recover from his disbelief and the man grabbed the Amestrian's shoulder and hissed, "How can zis be ze Fullmetal Alchemist?"

The man shrugged Black's hand off with an uncomfortable grunt and then shifted his stance so he face the Drachman with a straight back. Much in the same manner one did around someone of higher rank. So Black might be a higher rank than Lieutenant Colonel?

"Because I have met the Fullmetal Alchemist before on one or two occasions through his superior officer, Sir. As well, I'm sure you are aware the Fullmetal Alchemist is the only teenager in the military."

Black nodded and stated that he was well aware of the fact, but Ed's thoughts were fixated on something else. Superior officer? So Mustang knew this loser? And the man was saying they had met before, yet Edward could not remember ever having even seen his face, and considering Ed liked to think his memory was pretty reliable, it was surprising that he did not remember the man. The boy understood that they must have met when he was doing something important and hadn't been paying attention... or perhaps he had simply ignored him because the man has seemed unimportant to Edward at their time of meeting.

"...Yet he had nozing on him but food and vaterr. State Alchemist always carry pocket vatches, do zey not?" Black was asking, his eyebrows drawn down in a frown. Ed couldn't decide if he wanted to smirk or copy the soldier's expression. That was right, he did not have his watch, but was that good or bad? Did the Amestrian know he had been discharged? No, wait, think about it... If the man had known, he would not have told Black that Edward was the Fullmetal Alchemist, because as much as it upset the teen to accept, he wasn't the Fullmetal Alchemist anymore.

Either way, the soldier didn't appear to know he had been discharged. Ed still could not decide if that boded well for him or not.

"Well he wouldn't," The soldier stated surely, "If he had been sent on a mission to go after you, he wouldn't risk taking his watch and getting caught with it on his person. The military dogs are not that dumb, Brigadier General Volkov."

Crap, he's kinda smart. The voice in his head reared up again and Ed clenched his teeth and shoved it back. It was bad enough his own thoughts were running rampant, he didn't need his "Inner voice of Mustang" commenting every thirty seconds. And Black's a Brigadier General? The teen did not pay as much attention to his name, as he had grown rather familiar with the name "Black". Starting to call him "Volkov", even in his mind, just felt weird for him.

That answer seemed to satisfy Black and the man turned back to Edward. "Fullmetal Alchemist." Ed couldn't figure out if he was addressing him, or just saying the name to test it out. It did not really make a difference to the teen though, as he did not answer either way. Then, the Brigadier General turned back to the Amestrian and ordered him out of the tent with him. When the men left, the alchemist was left alone with Void an Pouty.

Both men just stared at him, still looking taken aback. It wasn't every day you captured a kid snooping around your camp only to find out they were actually one of the most valuable assets to the enemy military. Ed for his part only raised an eyebrow and rasped out an unimpressed, "What?"

The men seemed to be snapped out of their gawking and turned to see Black coming back inside, the Amestrian man did not follow. The Brigadier General spoke in Drachman again and Edward found himself sighing in irritation. He had enjoyed being able to understand what they were saying moments ago, no matter how brief it had been. Among the jumble of foreign language Ed caught one intelligible thing: A name. Lieutenant Colonel Ford.

The name sparked a memory in the teen's mind and Ed suddenly remembered who the Amestrian was. They had met briefly during one of the alchemist's briefings. Ford had come in to report something to Mustang about the Fuhrer wanting the Fullmetal Alchemist on a mission to Madxo in the West Area to investigate some sort of financial dispute over land or something. The Colonel had told Ford it was good timing because he had the Fullmetal Alchemist with him, so Mustang wouldn't have to brief him himself. Ford had turned and greeted Edward and the teen had only rolled his eyes and given an offhanded 'hey' in reply. That was the only time Edward could recall having actually spoken with the man, but he could believe they had seen each other again after that, even if he didn't remember when.

Ed was brought from his musings when Void nodded and turned to Ed, Pouty cracked his knuckles from beside the man and Edward rolled his eyes. Seriously, how cheesy could that guy get?

"The Amestrian has told us much, little alch-"

Despite his burning throat, Ed managed to grate out a screech. "WHO ARE YOU CALLING A MICROSCOPIC ORGANISM YOU JERK?!"

Void, Pouty, and Black all looked unsure of exactly what to do with that, and after a moment Void continued. "You are the Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward Elric. Your superior officer is the Flame Alchemist, Roy Mustang. You were sent here to find out our plans for the war."

Ed frowned at that last part. No he wasn't... "And just what part of his ass did Ford pull that out?"

Pouty kicked him in the side and Ed bit his lip to keep from crying out. The stupid Drachman was wearing steel-toe boots apparently.

"You do not speak when I am addressing you, Fullmetal Alchemist." Void said calmly, knowing full well he had the upper hand now that he knew just who Edward was. Somehow that unnerved the boy even more than the fact that they seemed to have an Amestrian mole at the moment.

"Now, how much have you reported back to your officer?" Void demanded and Ed glared it him. They really did not know when to just live and let live, did they? Oh well, whether or not they left him alone was their choice, but Edward had had about enough of them for the day.

Black left and Ed had to smirk a little, because come on, it was hilarious that the boss knew the teen was going to be difficult and didn't want to stick around to watch. The smirk was short lived though because Pouty grabbed his hair and yanked his head back against the pole, sending pain lacing through his skull. Careful now, if you get a concussion it won't be very easy to get out of here. Ed hissed at the voice and shook his head to rid himself of the stars in his vision.

"What have you reported to your officer, Fullmetal Alchemist?" Void asked, sounding as patient as a parent telling a child "No, they could not hit their sibling".

Ed leaned his head against the pole and closed his eyes. Ah that was better, now he didn't have to see their ugly faces. Apparently that was the wrong move though, and moments later the alchemist was sucking his breath in sharply when Pouty's hand wrapped around his throat and applied the smallest amount of pressure. It would seem the move had only been to get Ed's eyes open so he could see what he was actually being threatened with. The boy narrowed his eyes when he saw the small dagger in the torturer's hand.

"Pretty. You planning on chopping veggies with that?" The teen quipped and Pouty, moving faster than Ed thought possible, brought the knife flashing past the alchemist's cheek and Ed felt a prick of pain. The feeling of blood trickling down alerted him to a small cut an inch or so below his left eye. Ow.

"How much does your military know about our forces?" Void had crossed his arms loosely at this point and Ed eyed the knife in Pouty's hand thoughtfully. Then that nagging voice of the Colonel came rearing up again and Ed swallowed a bit. Careful. Don't do anything stupid or next time it might not be a nick on the cheek. He knew his conscience was right of course, so the teen said nothing. When he said nothing, he didn't get the pain as bad. He had found that out the first day. He got more impressive bruises when he snarked. So as difficult as it was, Ed kept his mouth shut.

Pouty slashed at his shoulder and the blade easily cut through his leather jacket and it was only then that the teen realized they had confiscated his red coat. The bastards! Ed couldn't believe it had taken him that long to realize his prized clothing item was even gone. The black of the fabric darkened with his blood slowly and while it was painful, Ed knew the cut could not have been all that deep. He knew what deep cuts felt like, having received them all too often.

Void asked him the question again and Edward only sent him a blank look that had Pouty cutting him again.

Ed didn't know how much longer that went on, but when Black entered again sometime later, the teen realized parts of his arm had gone numb and blood drained down his fingers and onto the ground. His leg throbbed from where Pouty had shoved the dagger in just a little bit, but otherwise, Ed didn't know how much damage had actually been dealt.

Upon entering, Black produced a pair of strangely designed handcuffs. They looked like mini medieval stocks, and Ed easily guessed their use when the man handed them to Void and the interrogator passed them off to Pouty, who came over to Ed again and untied the boy from the pole. The moment his automail hand was free the boy tried to throw a punch at his torturer, but Pouty saw it coming and halted Ed's attack by grabbing his metal wrist and forcing it into one one of the spots in the cuff. His flesh wrist soon followed and the device was then snapped shut, keeping his hands a safe distance from each other. Then the cuffs were tied back to the pole. Well great, now you can't transmute.

After that deed had been done, Black said something brief to Void and Pouty and the soldiers left, the Brigadier General in tow after sending the boy a look that told him he was going to be sorry for not answering questions.


They had only come for him later that evening to grab the boy and force him out into the wind and snow. Ed saw the camp was nearly packed and he felt a trill go down his back. They did not give him much time to worry though, as the moment the teen got his bearings on where he was they were tugging him forward again. He was stopped in front of the man Edward had dubbed "Fuzzy" a few days ago. Fuzzy was atop a horse and Ed watched as the Drachman exchanged a few words with the men that had dragged the teen outside.

Once they finished speaking, A thick rope was tied between Edward's hands and then the other end was handed to Fuzzy, who tied it around his saddle horn, tugging on it hard a few times to make sure the alchemist wouldn't be able to break it. Said alchemist glared at the man and asked him what they were doing. Fuzzy didn't deign to answer Ed much less look at him and the teen shouted at the soldier to listen to him when he was talking. Fuzzy still didn't say a word and Ed ground his teeth in frustration.

About ten minutes later, the entire camp seemed to have shrunk, everything having been packed away so they could hit the road. Edward hissed in frustration when Fuzzy kicked his horse to start walking and he was pulled forward, forced to keep pace with the animal and it's master.

Ed could not have been sure how long they traveled for. To him it seemed like hours and hours, but when he looked up at the moon its positioning told him they had probably only been travelling for an hour and a half. Still, the freezing cold had seeped into his bones in the past half hour and he had been fighting to keep his teeth from chattering since. He could no longer feel his fingers, and his flesh foot was soaked, his boots having long since allowed water to seep through.

When they finally stopped, Ed could see they were in some sort of run down, abandoned town. It was unimpressive to say the least, but there were houses, and houses meant protection from the wind and the cold. Though Ed doubted they would put him in one of the houses for that very reason; they wanted him to suffer after all.

After the necessities for the camp had been set up once again, the sun was beginning to rise and Ed was having difficulty even keeping his eyes open. His stomach growled and his throat was dry, having not received food or drink the entire trip, but Ed knew they would feed him eventually. They would have to if they wanted him to stay alive and useful for questioning.

But food never came. Ed was only led to the tent that has apparently been assigned to him and tied back to the pole, left alone for the rest of the morning. A sigh escaped through his chattering teeth and he pulled his knees to his chest to try and insulate as much warmth as possible. He was freezing. The boy didn't think he would be getting much sleep, despite how tired he was.

By the time the sun was setting once again, Ed's stomach was protesting it's neglect loudly and the teen cursed the Drachmans for their lack of care. Of course he knew by then that they were cruel and unusual, but forgetting about him? Now that was just rude.

By the time the sun was down and the moon had taken it's place in the sky once more, Edward no longer felt hungry, his stomach finally having gone numb in realization that no matter how much it whined it would not be given sustenance. Ed had finally begun to doze off when the hairs on his neck rose, sensing a presence having entered the room.

Golden eyes glinted in the light of the moon briefly before the tent was filled with the light of a lantern, carried by none other than Lieutenant Colonel Ford. The alchemist narrowed his eyes at the soldier and dropped his legs so he sat cross-legged. He was not going to be curled up like a child in front of the traitor.

"Hello Edward," The man greeted, almost sounding sorry about the boy's predicament. Ed wanted to punch him in the face. As it was, he did not give the man any return greeting.

"I can understand what you must be feeling right now, Major Elric, but you must know I have nothing against you. In fact, I suggested they just let you go, but Brigadier General Volkov insisted on keeping you." Ford obviously was trying very hard to get Ed to believe he was on his side, and the teen had to admit, the man was an excellent liar. Like a snake. The Colonel's voice whispered in the back of his mind and the boy smirked. Yes, just like a snake. Even the man's eyes looked black and dead despite their blue color.

"Oh, I'm sure." Ed said calmly.

Ford sighed and crouched down in front of the alchemist. "I know you don't trust me. I don't really blame you. I just think you should know-"

"Oh do cut the crap." Edward drawled, unimpressed with the soldier's act. "I've already gathered that you work for the Drachmans as a mole. But the real question is why. Also, why are you here?"

Ford's eyes darkened slightly as Ed spoke before lightening again when the boy asked his intentions for being in the tent. "Well that's an easy one, Fullmetal. I heard that the others hadn't fed you recently." The man produced a small sack and pulled out some bread for the teen, completely missing the way Edward glared at the use of his title the way Mustang used it.

"Right, like I'm gonna eat that. It would be my luck you poisoned it." Ed scoffed, "Do you think I'm really that stupid." Despite the fact that the sight of the food sent his mouth watering and his stomach growling with gusto, the teen was not going to be fooled so easily.

Then Ford produced a water canteen and shrugged. "What would I gain from poisoning you, Fullmetal?" The man took a quick swig from the canteen and then offered it to the teen. Edward raised an eyebrow. Well, the water was safe at least if the Lieutenant Colonel was drinking from it. Still, he wasn't going to trust the food.

Ford must have noticed the way the alchemist was eyeing the water, because he offered the boy a sip the next moment. Ed rolled his eyes and sent the man a look that clearly said he was not drinking water like an infant. Ford only shrugged. "Your choice, I can't untie you for even that long. So it's either you drink it from me, or get none at all."

Edward weighed the two options and in the end chose the former. He didn't know how long it would be until he was offered water again, and even if the human body could survive several weeks without food, the cold liquid was a necessity. As the man brought the canteen to his lips Ed tried not to think about his first night in the camp when Void and Pouty had decided to have fun with water. Calm down you big baby. You have control over this. Until the voice spoke Ed hadn't even realized that his heart had started beating faster. Jeez he was such a ninny!

Once he had had several gulps of the fluid, Ford pulled it away from Ed and the teen sighed, his throat no longer dry and his mouth no longer papery. That was much better. Though Ed thought he might have drunk too fast because his stomach was stirring when the water hit it. Oh well.

"So, since you guys have been asking me questions, I think it's fair you answer some of mine, what do you think?" Ed questioned the man and Ford looked surprised for a second before his expression shifted to amusement.

"Well, from what I heard, they asked questions, but you never answered."

Ed shrugged. "So?"

Ford chuckled and then looked to be contemplating it for a moment. Finally he said, "Fine, ask me a question, Fullmetal."

Ed bit his tongue to keep from snapping at the man and telling him to stop calling him "Fullmetal" in the way he was. It was like he was trying to imitate the Colonel and failing miserably. Though Ed doubted anyone could ever pull off the condescending, smirking, haughty tone like his superior officer did.

"Okay, this one should be easy for you." Ed made sure to look the soldier right in the eyes. "What do you get out of betraying your country?" The alchemist was dying to know why anyone of Amestrian decent would ever be in cohorts with the Drachmans.

Ford smirked and laced his fingers together over his knees. "Glad you asked. I'm sure to someone of your age and rank it sounds mundane and silly, but there are lots of things I gain from siding with the Drachmans. First is a promotion. Then there's… simply the reason that I can- but that one isn't really important. No, I think the important one is: I hate Amestris. Hate it with a burning passion. I hate the people, the Fuhrer, the politics, and I hate you goddamn alchemist. You all think you're so much better than everyone, getting your high pays and flaunting your abilities, destroying everything you touch and leaving the rest of us normal people to fix it. You disgust me."

Ed didn't know what to say to that.

What was wrong with Ford?! You don't betray the country you joined the military of because you hate it! You get a passport and visa and you move! But… Alchemists. He hated them. Edward would have liked to know more on why that was, because it had to be rooted more deeply than just general dislike, but he was too furious with the man in front of him to ask. The man was condemning hundreds- no likely thousands of Amestrian soldiers to death because he didn't like the country. What. A selfish. Bastard. Not to mention- "Sick!" Edward hissed.

Ford raised an eyebrow and Edward continued his rant aloud. "You're sick! You're just a pathetic waste of a human. You don't like this country? Then move! Plenty of people do it!"

Ford laughed harshly and glared at the alchemist. "Oh, if it were that easy I would have left years ago, Fullmetal, but it doesn't work that way."

"Then how does it work?" Ed snapped, suddenly feeling dizzy. Ah, the bastard was making his head hurt with all his asinine comments!

"I don't have time to explain myself to you, Fullmetal-"

"And stop calling me that!" Edward growled. He did not want to hear that title slip from that snake's mouth ever again.

Ford smirked and crossed his arms, standing up. "Very well. But I'm going to leave you for now. You're looking a little pale."

"You make me sick!" Edward hissed at Ford's back as the man pushed the flap of the tent up.

"Oh, that's not me making you feel that way, Fullmetal. I do believe there was something in the water." Ford chuckled darkly and left the area.

Edward groaned quietly when he felt his stomach lurch and his vision started going blurry. "The hell?" He muttered as he felt his eyes grow heavier. As the teen's lids slipped closed and his mind began shutting down on him, he had to wonder what had been in that water. Now look what you got yourself into! And with that last scathing remark from his conscience, Ed passed out.

Stress and Sickness

"...ake ...p…. ir! ...ake up!" Heavy lids lifted slowly, a groan escaping into the cold air. The voice calling for him, so distant just moments before was now incredibly loud. "Sir, wake up, please!"

Mustang gasped and shot up from his sprawled position in the snow. The back of his uniform was almost completely soaked, but whether it was blood or water that caused that, the Colonel wasn't sure. He turned to the soldier calling for him. It was Fuery. The small, dark haired man was crouched a foot or so from the Flame Alchemist, a rifle held flush against his shoulder as he let loose a spray of bullets in the direction of their assailants.

"Master Sergeant, what happened?" Roy asked his subordinate as he pressed a gloved hand on his side, trying to figure out what the source of all the blood on him.

"It's not yours." Fuery informed when he got a chance to stop firing and see what the Colonel was doing. "You were attacked by a group of Drachmans and got your glove wet in the snow. From what I was told, you took down all of them, but got a little messy doing it. I think you dropped your knife somewhere. The last one managed to smash your head in though." Fuery gasped when another bullet whizzed passed them and was immediately shooting again. Roy joined in helping the man.


That had been their most recent attack and it had cost them Colonel Ward, one of the few men that actually respected and listened to Roy. How he wished the man was still alive right now.

The Flame Colonel sat with his arms cross and leaning against a small table in the strategist tent. The other Lieutenant Colonels, Colonels, and Generals had been gathered there for over an hour, discussing possible points of attack on the Drachmans, as well as pointing out the weakest areas of their camp that would need extra protection in the event of the enemy hitting there. Now, as their meeting was becoming more and more desperate as ideas were brought up and then discarded, one of the generals suggested something that Roy knew was a terrible idea.

"With all due respect, General Falcon, we cannot do that." The Colonel piped up and all heads turned to him, giving the younger member of their group their full attention. Roy saw the General was giving him a questioning look and the Flame Alchemist elaborated. "First off, it's too risky. Secondly, the Drachmans know we're getting desperate while we wait for supplies, which means they would expect a move like that. Whoever you send, no matter how many there are, will be slaughtered. Again, with all due respect, we cannot do that."

General Falcon rolled his eyes and Mustang knew everyone in the room would disregard what he had said, despite a couple of the other Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels giving him looks of respect and agreement. But of course, since Falcon had been in the business longer than Roy, and was older, everybody would listen to what he had to say with a more open mind. Maybe if you had gray hair and a mustache people would listen to you more too. Mustang bit his tongue to keep a smirk off his face. Ah his mind was hilarious sometimes.

"Colonel Mustang, we realize your concerns for your team and the soldiers under your command at the moment, but you needn't be worried this time. We weren't planning on sending any of your men." If the man had not been twice his senior Roy would have knocked him out of his seat. He hated the fact that the man spoke to him like he was a child. Only two people were allowed to talk to him that way and neither of them were fifty-six year old men.

"So, with all due respect, your worries are unfounded. My men are more than capable of carrying out the task successfully."

What was he trying to imply, that his men weren't perfectly capable of doing what they were suggesting? The condescending, arrogant, punk. Not only was he talking down to the Colonel, he was talking down to his team and making it look like he was only worried about the well-being of his people. In and of itself that was not a bad thing, but Falcon was making it look like Roy was an idiot, and he was doing it in front of all the higher-ups and the people who looked up to him just a little. Fine, send your men out and let them die. You pompous ass.

"Sir." Mustang said stonily. The rest of the planning continued on the lines of General Falcon's idea, and when it came to the decision to see who thought the plan should be put into effect, Mustang and one very brave Lieutenant Colonel Chase were the only ones to oppose.

As Roy exited the tent he grit his teeth and went over to the area Havoc, Falman and the others were in. They looked to be cleaning and repairing their weapons. The Colonel growled under his breath when he came over and sat down. He ran his gloved hands through his messy hair and when Fuery asked how the meeting went, he just hissed. "They're all idiots!"

"So, not well then?" Havoc sat beside the man and Roy rolled his eyes and stood up to start pacing.

"Sir?" The man turned when Hawkeye came over, having just arrived from doing whatever it was that she did when she wasn't around them.

"General Falcon is an uneducated, illiterate." He supplied his first lieutenant quietly. Then, a bit louder so the others would hear he explained what was happening. "Our genius of a general, has decided to send a platoon of his soldiers to the Drachman camps and attack them before they can attack us. Normally that would be a good thing to do, but right now, the Drachmans will expect it!"

Everyone was quiet for a minute while they waited for their Colonel to calm down, and when he did, Breda said, "Yep, he's a moron."

"Complete idiot." Havoc added.

"That is a terrible idea for the time being." Fuery muttered quietly and Falman nodded.

"Well, then his men will die, and as unfortunate as that is, perhaps it will teach the others to listen to you next time you suggest something, Sir." Hawkeye pulled out her gun and began cleaning it.

Roy nodded in agreement with all of his subordinates and sighed, letting his head fall to rest on his knees. "Yeah," He mumbled into his pants. He was so tired and cold. He didn't know how the others could stand being in the snow for this long. Sure the feeling of the terrain wasn't all that different from Ishval, but at least it had been hot there.

The man hadn't even realized he'd started dozing until Havoc nudged him and he jerked up, falling over into the snow in a rather undignified manner that, had Hughes been alive and well, would have sent the man into uproarious laughter. As it was, Havoc and Breda were snickering behind their hands and he caught a smirk from the Lieutenant out of the corner of his eye.

"What?" Roy snapped at Jean, wiping the grin of the man's face. "Uh, Second Lieutenant Marshall was calling for you. He said they got the radios back up and you had a call."

Roy was on his feet immediately and the man had to force himself not to sprint off in the direction of the communication lines. The radios had been down for three days due to a small snowstorm, and Roy had not been able to get any news on the Elric brothers which had put him on edge, even though he knew it shouldn't have.

Despite not running, the Colonel still reached where the radios were stationed in record time. "Marshall." He greeted and the brunette started in surprise before relaxing. "Sir." The woman saluted and then held a radio piece up to Roy. "You have a call from Amestris. The reception is not very good, but I messed with a few wires and you can actually hear what they're saying now."

"Very good, Marshall." Roy applauded the woman and she blushed lightly and stepped away to give the Colonel his privacy. "Sir…"

Roy held the receiver to his ear. "Hello?" At first there was only static but then a voice came through. It was the voice of his informant and Roy felt a wave of relief splash over him. It quickly dissipated when the man told the Colonel of the events for the past several days.

"What do you mean Edward hasn't been seen with Alphonse?!" He said as loud as he dared with soldiers around him. Even from thousands of miles away he could see the man wincing. "I'm sorry Sir, but it means what it means. Edward had not been seen with Alphonse for over six days… there have been reports that a short blond boy in a red cloak was seen boarding a train to North City though."

Roy wanted to face-palm when he heard that. And then he wanted to find Edward and wring that boy's neck. Maybe bash some sense into his head while he was at it. The shithead was coming to find them. Roy bit down the desire to yell at someone, which would have been the unfortunate informant, and instead just huffed and nodded. "Good to know. Alphonse is still in Amestris though?"

"Yes sir, he is in the company of a Winry Rockbell."

Ah, at least that brother was safe. Granted, Roy had not been as worried for Al as he had been for Ed in the first place, but it was still good to know the armored boy wasn't getting into any trouble. Except that meant Edward was trudging through the frigid wasteland that was Drachma alone.

"Is that everything?" Roy asked and the man on the other end of the line told him it was so Roy thanked him and bid him goodbye.

Then the Colonel clenched his fists and strode back over to his subordinates. "I'm going to kill that child." He glared and the others immediately understood who he was talking about.

"What did the Boss do this time?" Havoc asked as he lit another cigarette.

"OH, it's not what he did, it's something he's doing. The idiot is coming here."

There was a collective silence that was so thick Roy thought everyone would choke on it. Then, ever so calmly, Hawkeye said, "Well, then I suppose we will be seeing him in a few weeks."

Roy stared bug-eyed at his lieutenant. That's not even the point, Hawkeye! He's going through Drachma, alone, while we are in the middle of a war. Does he want to get himself killed?"

"He's coming from our side of the border, sir. It's not like there is anyone that can harm him. At the worst, he'll be found by one of our supply run teams and get dragged back here even faster. And at best, he'll be here in two or three weeks and he'll be whining about the cold and calling you all kinds of names. That's the best we can hope for."

Mustang wondered just how the lieutenant had perfected the art of logical calm that no other woman in the military seemed to possess. Even General Armstrong had her moments of 'what the hell' like everyone else. Riza never seemed to have those. Roy was immensely grateful for that. "You're right, Lieutenant," He sighed, "We have nothing to worry about… while Ed is gone anyway. I have the feeling he's going to wreck the camp trying to kill me when he gets here."

"So you should enjoy him not being here while you can." Breda said with a cackle.

Mustang rolled his eyes but nodded nonetheless. They were all right of course, Fullmetal would be fine on his own -he had done these sorts of things before without his brother at his side- and he would be here in a couple of weeks. And then Roy could get an earful, and then he would give the runt a good beating and lecture, and then all would be fine in the world again. He'd just have to make sure the brat stayed out of the fighting, and while that would be a stressful thing all on it's own, the Colonel was sure he could do it.

Still, even as he told himself this, the man could not shake the feeling that something was not right, and in the back of his head he heard the pessimistic voice of his conscience. Nothing is ever that simple.


Pain. That was the first thing Edward registered when his mind was pulled from the depths of unconsciousness. Pain all over -up and down his remaining limbs, in his neck and back, but especially in his stomach. It felt like he was being stabbed with a thousand tiny needles and the alchemist barely even registered the whimper that escaped his lips. Just what was in that water?

The boy barely even pondered the question, instead focusing on trying to clamp down on liquid fire that was running through his nervous system. He wasn't exactly sure how he planned on blocking out the pain, but he knew he had to try. He would not be able to function properly if all he could think about was the hurt. Ed clenched his teeth and brought his legs close to his body so he could scoot backwards, getting as close to the pole as he could so his arms were no longer being strained so badly.

His limbs felt heavy, like any moment they would give out and stop listening to him. That sensation did not comfort the teen in the slightest and Ed swallowed hard. He was not going to start thinking about that. His limbs only felt the way they did because he was still a little groggy from whatever Ford had given him. Yes, that was all it was.

A cold wind blew into the tent and Ed shivered, the simple action sending a new wave of hot pain through him and the boy gasped and drew in a shuddering breath. Get a hold of yourself. The alchemist bit his lip and closed his eyes, agreeing with himself. That was right, he needed to calm down and get a grip. This pain was a paper cut compared to losing two limbs. When put into that perspective, Ed was able to push the hurt away a bit more easily.

When he was sure he could move himself around without to much discomfort, Edward tried to figure out just what the Lieutenant Colonel had given him. Likely something poisonous, since his gut was still churning dangerously, wanting to dispel whatever crap was in it. Why are you even worrying about that? Is it really important?

Was it? No, probably not, but Ed still liked to know what was being pumped into him if he could help it.

The alchemist growled under his breath when he heard footsteps outside. So they were finally coming back to play. Ed was not surprised in the slightest when Void, Pouty and Ford entered. He got the feeling he would be seeing a lot more of them from here on out. "So, how are we feeling, alchemist?" Void asked, sounding... happy? When did Void ever sound like that? Edward's stomach flipped uncomfortably and the teen did not think it was a result of whatever Ford had given him.

"Well, Edward, how are you feeling?" Ford repeated Void's question with no small amount of disdain and Ed didn't even bother holding back his glare. "Go screw yourself." He knew he should not give the man a reaction, but the teen couldn't stop himself. He was beyond pissed with Ford.

Ford chuckled. "Glad to see you're still in high spirits."

"Oh I'll bet you are." Edward sneered. He couldn't stand the way Ford was looking at him like he was a childish piece of meat.

"But you never answered Major Maksim's question. How are you feeling?" Oh, if looks could kill, the Lieutenant Colonel would have been a writhing mess. Edward didn't even care that he had just learned Void's real name and rank. He had decided when he had first heard Black's title that he didn't care who they were.

Ford smirked when Ed didn't answer and he stepped right up to the teen. If he had crouched down their faces would have only been a foot or two apart. His cold blue eyes bore into Ed's warm gold ones and the alchemist could see all that Ford wanted for him. He wanted Ed to die, but first he wanted him to suffer. Ford didn't care that Ed was only fourteen and no longer in the military. Ford didn't care that all the teen wanted was to right a wrong in his life and help his little brother. He didn't care that the boy was in pain, or that he was an orphan, or that he didn't want to die. Ford. Didn't. Care. None of them did. They laughed at his pain- loved it, in fact.

Suddenly Edward couldn't stand having Ford look at him. He couldn't stand any of their gazes being on him, but Ford's especially. With an almost animalistic snarl, Ed lashed his leg out and it went to collide with the Amestrian's kneecap. However it never made it to it's target, as halfway through the kick, Ed felt something... give out. He didn't know any other way to describe it. His leg just stopped listening to him, and as it came inches from causing the cruel soldier immense pain it fell uselessly to the floor.

"What?" Ed didn't even realize he had yelped the question aloud. This was not happening. Was his automail malfunctioning? There was no reason it should be, unless someone had tampered with it while he was unconscious, but Ed didn't think any of the men were smart enough to do such a thing. So what was...

The alchemist went to kick his metal leg with his flesh foot but nothing happened. Ed frowned and tried again. His leg only twitched with the effort. What the hell had they done to him?!

The teen was so caught up in his panicked thoughts that he didn't even register the triumphant cackle coming from Ford.

Hurt and Hallucination

They had untied him.

Edward had never felt so frustrated and helpless in that moment then when he and Al had found their mother collapsed on the floor in their house. He couldn't move no matter how hard he tried, and the Drachmans had sneered at him as they asked their useless questions. Their words were mute in his ears though as he tried to get some kind of control over his limbs. In the end, he hadn't been able to until they drugs had worn off and by then he had been tied once again.

After that it had just been a long process of trying to sleep, being woken up when he dozed off to get the living crap kicked out of him for seemingly no reason, and fighting off headaches. Of course he had not had anything to eat the entire time either, and after the first day or two, Edward stopped hoping for food. He doubted they even remembered he needed to be fed.

They had moved too. Twice. Both times Ed had been forced to trudge through the snow, effectively freezing himself to the point where he could no longer feel either of his flesh limbs and his lips were dark purple, his teeth chattering so hard he bit his tongue at least four times. Several days had passed after that. Was it four... five? Edward had lost count. He knew it had to have been at least a week if not longer. Every time they had stopped for the night they gave him the drug that forced his mind and body to shut down on him. they had questioned him during those times and during every session the alchemist had more or less told them they could feel to screw themselves for awhile before he got bored of that and started spouting random trivia. He had been beaten to the point of being sick during one of those times, and another one had rewarded him with several broken ribs, leaving the teen gasping for air at first, and then hissing in pain every time he took a breath that was too deep.

The lack of food had already started taking it's toll on him, but during the days when he was running on less than half an hour of sleep, the pains were the worst. They left him dry-heaving and curling in in himself. Part of the boy had wanted to beg for food, but the other part, the strong part, had refused to stoop to the level they were trying to get him to. He refused to become the wreck they wanted. He had more self-respect and pride than to be defeated by such a small thing as hunger. Now thirst was a different thing. Of course they gave him enough water to keep him from dying, but it was not nearly enough as it should have been and it left Edward's throat and lips dry and cracked, his body barely being able to even produce sweat or urine.

Now, Edward prided himself on the fact that despite everything they had done to him up to the point of the... tenth day of being in their "care", he had never once given then the satisfaction of hearing him scream. Whimper, groan, mutter curses as pain wracked his body, fine, they had heard all of that. But never screams. So on the tenth-ish day of being with them, it would seem they had grown tired of little noises of pain and were ready for louder sounds.

It had started with a simple beating after questioning, typical and routine, nothing Ed wasn't used to. Then they had brought the fire in. Then the metal. They had removed his shirt and shoes and they had asked questions both new and old. They started asking about the alchemists and where they derived most of their power from. Edward hadn't answered and the red hot poker had been struck against the sole of his foot. The action had been so quick that Ed had barely bit down his scream as new pain shot through him from the burn. More questions followed and still he had refused to answer, which had only resulted in burns on his stomach. That had gotten a scream out of him. After a few tries, they had stopped asking him things and had just settled for the torture. Edward briefly wondered in between his agonized wails how any human being, sick or otherwise, could do this to another person and still be able to sleep at night.

After that, they had left him alone for a night to lick his wounds. But Edward hadn't done any licking. He'd just sat there, breathing hard despite the torment in his chest, abdomen, and torn throat. He hadn't been able to help it. His body was wracked with pain. He couldn't move without some sort of acidic jolt going through him. Eventually he had settled for an awkward sitting position, his legs spread out in front of him so his feet were off the ground and his back, while pressed against the pole, was hunched over. He knew he looked defeated. At that point he had not longer cared. He sat like that now, waiting for the next play-date. Their attacks came at random now. Whenever they felt like screwing with him. Edward just hoped they didn't plan on using the drugs again. The last time they had used them had not turned out well. I think that's a bit of an understatement.

The teen flinched at the voice that had once been so comforting but was now so painful. He had tried to get rid of it multiple times, but it refused to go. It was just as stubborn and irritating as it's owner. Even so, the Mustang voice was right in saying "not so well" was an understatement.

They had given him the drugs the day after their game of "Poke the Ed" and for once in his time there, the boy had wished they had just beat him up instead. But they had only given it to him and left the teen to his own devices while they waited for it to kick in.


Edward was hunched in his pained haze, starting to doze off when he heard the smallest shifting of fabric from the tent opening. He didn't even lift his head, assuming it was only one of the soldiers come back to torment him. So when he heard a voice, he nearly jumped out of his skin. Because it wasn't just any voice, it was the voice. The voice he had only dreamed of hearing once more. Calling him a stupid child. Calling him short. Calling him his title and not leaving a harsh sting in its wake the way Ford did.

"Hey, Fullmetal."

Edward's head shot up immediately, because what he has hearing had to have been a trick of some sort, the Colonel could not have actually been there. But sure enough, there he was in his uniformed glory, sitting casually not ten feet away, one knee tucked to his chest with his arms hanging calmly over it. The picture of peace. He didn't look even a little startled or concerned over Edward's state, as if he had already known what to expect.

"Mustang?" Edward's voice was barely above a whisper, not daring to believe what he was seeing. The Colonel nodded, his black fringe falling into his equally dark eyes. Ed felt a surge of energy and hope run through him and without thinking, he pulled against the restrains on his arms, his still gaping wounds screaming at him.

"Where the hell have you been? Get me out of here!" Under normal circumstances, Ed would have been yelling at the man, but he didn't think his torn up throat could handle it, so he settled for a loud whisper.

Mustang shook his head and Edward paused in tugging on the confinements around his wrists. "I'm afraid I can't do that, Fullmetal."

There it was again. "Fullmetal" said in the way he hadn't heard in what felt like years. It wasn't cruel or condescending like Edward had grown used to coming from everyone around him. No, it was the way Edward missed. The tone was that was both warm, confident, and ready to throw a "short" comment at any moment. Funny, Ed had never noticed the first note in the tone until now. However, despite missing the voice, Ed found himself gaping at the man in front of him. Did he really think now was the time to be making jokes?

"What are you talking about?"

"You can't leave just yet." Mustang sounded like a parent calmly explaining to a child why not eating paper was common sense. Like Edward was being stupid and not understanding. Well, part of that was true, Edward wasn't understanding, and he made sure to let Roy know that. "What? Mustang, get your lazy ass over here and untie me!"

The Colonel sighed and even though the teen couldn't see his eyes at the moment, he was quite sure the man was rolling his eyes. "I can't, Fullmetal."

"And why can't you?!" Edward snapped. What was going on? Why wouldn't the Colonel untie him and get him out of here? What was wrong?

"Well, I'm not exactly in any shape to be doing that." The younger alchemist began examining the older, looking for any signs of injury that he might have missed earlier. After several seconds he decided Roy was completely unharmed.

"Okay, cut the crap, Mustang." The teen ordered and Roy shrugged his shoulders almost lazily.

"If you can't figure it out just by looking at me, then you're obviously not ready to know yet."

What?! Edward narrowed his eyes and did another mental sweep of Mustang's body, face, everything. Nothing out of order came to his attention. "Okay, Bastard, I don't know what you're playing at, but I don't really care. Just get me out."

"Fullmetal, stop acting like a child." The deadpanned order sent the teen glaring daggers at Roy. How dare he call him a child just because he wanted answers? Did the man not see him?! Could he not see what had been done to him? Could he not take one look at him and see something was wrong with his well-being? A blind man would be able to tell shit had happened to him, and yet Mustang was smirking at him and calling him a child.

"How can you say that?" Ed was shaking, but he honestly could not tell if it was from pain or anger. "I'm tied to a damn pole with cuts and holes all over me, I've been beaten and drugged at least four times, and you're gonna call me childish?!" Despite his hurting throat, Edward had forced his volume onto a normal level so he at least felt like he was yelling at the Colonel.

"I'm not saying you're being childish, you're saying you're being childish." Roy delivered the statement as calmly as one would explain the weather forecast to a friend and Ed found himself blinking in confusion.

"What... what the hell is that supposed to mean?!"

"Means exactly what it means, Fullmetal."

The teen's breathing grew shakier by the minute and Edward shuddered when he uttered a quiet, bitter chuckle. "Is this funny to you, Colonel?" The boy lifted his black-rimmed eyes to the older man and continued, "Does my pain somehow amuse you? Do you get a kick out of seeing me like this? Huh?"

"Not at all."

"Then get over here before the Drachmans come back!" Ed's voice cracked towards the end, but the boy would go to the grave saying it was because his throat was so dry and hurting than ever admit it was something else causing the noise.

"Fullmetal, as much as I want to, I can't."

"Why not?!"

"Because I can't, Fullmetal! Look at me! Look at me objectively!"

Edward breathed raggedly as he looked the Flame Alchemist over for the third time that hour and frowned. There was nothing wrong with him. Aside from the fact that he seemed to be glued to that spot in the tent and he was a little paler that usual, nothing was off. Right?

"I... there's nothing wrong... is there?" Edward looked at the Colonel for answers. Surely he would know more about what was going on than the teen, right? As much as Ed hated admitting it a lot of the time, Mustang was actually smart and tended to be good at figuring things out.

A tired sigh came from the man and Edward swallowed, waiting for an answer. "I'm a figment of your imagination, Fullmetal. I can't really do anything about your predicament."

Edward felt like he'd been punched in the gut and suddenly he was gasping aloud, his ribs protesting and screaming from their abuse. What Mustang said made perfect sense of course, and from a logical standpoint, Ed realized he must have known on some level that this wasn't real, otherwise the Colonel would not be able to tell him as much.

It still hurt.

"Oh..." Edward suddenly felt like there was a huge lump in his throat. He was so stupid, thinking Mustang could have actually been there. It was completely illogical. How would he have gotten past the enemy troops? He wouldn't have been alone if he had been real and was actually there to save him.

"I'm sorry, Edwa-"

"go away." The teen hadn't even realized he said it until Mustang shook his head. "I can't yet." Edward was about to ask why when Mustang- or his mind, rather- supplied him with the answer, "I can't until you either let go or fall asleep, and neither are probably gonna happen any time soon."

The lump in his throat felt like it was going to choke him and despite being dehydrated, Ed felt heat build up behind his eyes. And then he didn't care about the pain in his stomach and foot. He drew his knees to his chest and pressed his head into them. "Just go away." He choked out so quietly he wasn't sure anyone would be able to hear.

"...I can try." Mustang sounded as defeated and miserable as Edward felt and the boy felt moisture snake down his cheek as he hoarsely whispered a second time, "Go away."


The alchemist sighed heavily at the memory and shook his head. Yes, it was safe to say he never wanted those drugs ever again.

As the thought passed through his head, three familiar faces entered and Ed groaned under his breath. Another round already? It had barely been an hour since their last go. Apparently they really wanted these questions answered. They had stopped bugging him about military tactics a day or two prior and were now fixated on learning about alchemists and their main power points. Their strengths and weaknesses so they could figure out where it would be best and easiest to attack.

"Fullmetal Alchemist, you look tired." Void commented and Ed didn't look at him, just stared blankly at the tent wall. He was tired and hungry and in pain and as long as he kept his mind working, he really didn't give a damn about what they thought of him anymore. It didn't matter. Still his mind supplied enough comeback to at least have the teen smirking a little. At least I don't look decrepit.

"Are you ready to answer our questions?"

Edward sighed heavily and nodded, looking up only long enough to see a surprised but triumphant light come to Void and the others' eyes.

"Very good," Void purred, and odd sound for someone of his appearance, "So, what is an alchemists' weakness?"

Edward bit his lip in thought and looked up at the man after a moment. "Human transmutation," The boy said as if it made all the sense in the world.

"What?"

Ed rolled his eyes. "Well it's a taboo for alchemists. The main ingredients include: Water 35 liters, carbon 20 kilograms. Ammonia: 4 liters, Lime 1.5 kilograms, Phosph-" Ed was interrupted by a foot to his chest, effectively re-breaking any of the ribs that might have been healing. Apparently that wasn't what they were wanting to hear. Bummer.

"You will answer." Void growled and Ed shrugged despite the pain it caused. "Hey, I was answering. Just because you're too stupid to understand doesn't mean I wasn't."

Another kick was delivered, but this time to his stomach where the still healing burn marks were. From the look in Void's eyes, Ed knew this would be going on for quite some time. It didn't matter though, because he would continue answering in the way he was. He was more concerned with not losing his mind than he was about his body. He had already screwed that up enough, what were a few more injuries. No, as long as he kept himself thinking, he would alright.

They could make him scream and cry and beg for mercy, but as long as he had his thoughts to himself, untainted by them, he knew he had a chance of getting out of here. No matter how long it took.

Weakness and Work

The scent of something cooking pierced his dazed state and Edward opened his eyes slowly. He blinked several times in disbelief at what he saw. A green countryside stretching as far as the eye could see was spread out in front of him. In the distance he could see a familiar outline of Granny Pinako's house, and he knew immediately that that was where the delicious smell was coming from.

The teen dragged one foot after the other and was surprised to find that it didn't hurt to do so. But wait, why should it have hurt? No, wait, it should have hurt because… he was in Drachma, right? Or at least he had been, so what was this? What-

"Edward?"

The young alchemist's head shot up at the familiar voice. It was Al. But he wasn't echoing or hollow sounding like he was used to. In fact, he almost sounded like he had when they were younger.

"Alphonse?" Ed called back, surprised to find his voice was clear and not hoarse like it should have been. But wait, why was it supposed to sound that way?

"Brother!" Ed didn't get to think on his questions when he heard that. The teen's head whipped up and his heart suddenly couldn't decide whether it wanted to beat out of his chest or stop completely when he saw his brother.

It was Al! Not stuck in his armor or as Ed remembered him as a kid. No, it was Al grown up. He had to have easily been Edward's own height -if not a little… taller- and his blond hair was cut into the style Ed remembered him having as an eight year old, his golden eyes shone in the sunlight. Ed found himself running to the younger boy just as fast as Al was running to him.

The boys met in the middle of the dusty road and embraced tightly. "Al! How- what are- how did you…?!" Ed looked his brother up and down, holding him at arms length. He couldn't wipe the giant grin off his face.

Alphonse laughed brightly and brought one hand up to his shoulder to grip Ed's fingers loosely. "We used the philosopher's stone, remember?"

Edward's smile dissipated immediately and his hold on Al loosened. "W-what?" Perhaps he hadn't heard his brother right…

"We used the stone, Ed!" But no, he had heard his brother right the first time around, and the confirmation had Ed taking a step back from the younger boy.

"But… we swore we'd never use it because-"

"You should have heard it, brother. The thousands of souls screaming in agony. They begged for you not to do it, but we agreed it was going to be worth it." Al didn't even seem to see the way his brother had paled, nor did he seem to noticed the horrified look Ed was giving him.

"What's wrong with you?" The older brother gasped out. Then Al turned to him and Edward almost cried out in fear. His brother's eyes had gone a deep shade of purple and the golden hair melted from his head to be replaced by long black-ish green strands that fell all around his head, only held out of his face by a headband of sorts. His soft face was turned sharper, and a grin that could cut glass became etched into lips, revealing sharp teeth. His outfit had changed now too, replaced by black, skin-tight clothing that Ed had only seen one person wear. It was during the incident in the fifth laboratory when he had met the armored prisoners and two homunculus. One had been Lust, but the one Ed was staring at now was the one that had called itself…

"...Envy."

The man laughed, the sound like nails on a chalkboard as he threw his head back. "Oh, very perceptive pipsqueak!" He praised mockingly and started stalking around Edward like a predator.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Edward growled and the homunculus shrugged. "Watching this play out is all. But no talking about that. After all," Ed cried out in both pain and surprise when his legs were suddenly kicked out from underneath him and he was sent sprawling onto the ground, where Envy then placed his foot in the small of the alchemist's back and pulled his flesh arm up at an odd angle so if Ed struggled he'd only hurt himself. "We can't have too many people finding out about us. You were an accident, though. And now, you're here. It's a real nuisance, I hope you know that."

Ed grunted as he tried to get Envy off of him and the man cackled at his efforts. "You're so pathetic pipsqueak. You know, it's hard to believe Father thinks you're going to be any help to us; you're just like any other human. Weak!" As Envy hissed the one word, he pulled Ed's arm up further and twisted it, causing Ed to scream. It felt like the homunculus had just torn his arm off.

"Oh, whoops, did I go a little far?" Envy sighed and dropped the alchemist's arm. Ed cried out again when the appendage hit the dirt and jolted his shoulder so another shock of pain laced down his back.

"What did you-?"

"Ah, don't worry, you'll still be able to move it. It just might hurt a little bit." Envy assured him with a dismissing wave of his hand.

Ed spat curses at the homunculus that would have made even Teacher gape at him and Envy only snickered and started walking away. "Hey, good luck out there, Pipsqueak!" He called over his shoulder and Ed was about to yell at him for calling him small when his body was jolted by some unseen thing.

"The hell?!" Ed shouted at the sky before his world exploded in a blinding white.


"Get up!"

Edward groaned as he pulled his eyes open. His side hurt something fierce and when he looked up he realized it was because Pouty was there and he was kicking him.

"Up!" The Drachman ordered and Edward rolled his eyes tiredly. They had given him the damn paralytic slash hallucinogenic drug several hours ago, and while it had mostly worn off, Ed's limbs still felt like they were being sat on by Nina's big fat dog.

The teen shook his head at the soldier and Pouty kicked him again, jostling his broken ribs and making Ed hiss in pain.

"Up!" Pouty growled and Edward sent him a glare that could kill even the strongest of men.

"Can't!" He snapped back at the dark haired man. Pouty huffed and got behind Ed and in one fluid motion, ripped the metal pole from the ground. Edward tried not to gulp at the fact that he had not been able to do that in the two weeks he'd been here, and the Drachman had made it look no more difficult than pulling a carrot from the ground.

If Pouty noticed the alchemist's discomfort, he didn't say anything. The man only grabbed Ed's cuffs and hauled him to his feet. Ed stifled a scream when his left shoulder became engulfed in fiery pain like it had in his Envy dream. When had they dislocated his shoulder when he was awake? The teen couldn't remember.

Pouty led him out of the tent, but it felt more like he was just being dragged, because his legs refused to listen to him when he tried to put one foot in front of the other. At this point, Ed was quite sure it was the lack of food and exercise that was making him so weak, but he also knew it was partly drugs, so he decided he would blame it on that completely. It made him feel less pathetic.

Pouty brought him to Fuzzy and his horse, Ed's designated travel partners apparently. They tied him up like they usually did and then they got moving. Though the moment they began walking, Ed knew he was not going to be able to make it the entire way, and two hours into the journey, the teen collapsed. The horse dragged him for a full minute before they noticed and Ed was thankful the snow had turned his face a bright red and wet; his silent tears would go completely unnoticed.

Several rough hands pulled him to his knees and Ed could hear Ford ordering him to get to his feet, and his voice sent a shiver down the boy's spine. Ed knew it was imagination, but it sounded like one of the voices from his dream. The teen didn't listen to him though. His shoulder felt like it was swollen and it every time it throbbed it sent pain through his neck and back; his head was swimming; his leg was numb and his arm wasn't much better and he felt like he couldn't breathe. He couldn't go any further. He was honestly surprised he had even managed two hours at their quick pace.

"Get him on the horse." Someone ordered and Ed heard Fuzzy start to argue before something in Drachman was shouted, silencing the man. A minute later Ed was thrown over the back of Fuzzy's horse, balancing on his stomach. It was in no way comfortable but Ed decided he could live with it, even if his ribs felt like they were caving in and poking his lungs every time he took a breath.

Eventually the boy's vision began swimming black and Edward gratefully embraced the darkness. He'd be woken when they stopped anyway.


"Lieutenant Hawkeye!" Roy's blood froze when he heard Warrant Officer Falman shout Riza's name, and the Flame Alchemist saw the man was by the blonde's side, pressing down on her shoulder where red was seeping slowly through his fingers. The woman was still shooting but Roy didn't even care to see who she was killing as he rushed over to her and Falman.

"How bad is it?" He asked when he was within hearing range from he two.

"Not bad at all Colonel, I'll be fine." Hawkeye called back and pushed Falman away from her so she could get a better angle on their opponents.

Falcon's platoon had been sent out a day after they had made plans for an attack on the Drachman camps, and has Roy had warned would happen, none of them came back. However, the enemy troops had taken their stupid move as a go-ahead to start beating them down even harder than they already had been, and now the Amestrian's barely got even an hour's reprieve before they were attacked. Roy hoped Falcon felt like an idiot.

The current fight had been going on for less than two hours, and the Drachmans were starting to thin out, which meant they would be done soon. Roy was relieved to know that. Hawkeye needed medical attention as soon as possible. It didn't matter if she said she would be fine.

When the enemy finally pulled back for the second time that day, Mustang saw Falman helping Riza to the medical tent and nodded at the man when they made eye contact. Roy then proceeded to one of the meeting tents. With them running so low on supplies, he knew they would need to send someone out soon. The man had already discussed the possibility of being sent to the others and they agreed that it would be a good idea. Not only would they be able to travel light and fast, but there was a chance that they would find Ed on their way. Everyone was growing a little concerned with the fact that there had been no sighting of the boy still after so long.

When he entered the tent he found General Smith and Brigadier General Hart talking in hushed tones, and upon seeing him, both men quieted.

"Ah, Mustang, good to see you," Hart said and Roy inclined his head toward the man and gave a small salute. "And you, Brigadier General."

General Smith was eyeing him oddly and Mustang shifted his stance, keeping his back straight and his arms hanging by his sides. "I wanted to know if any preparations were being made for the retrieval parties, sir. My men and I have volunteered to do it, though I'm not sure if you've been informed." The Colonel spoke evenly as he waited for a reaction from either man.

General Smith was the one to answer. "That was what we were discussing, Colonel Mustang."

"Oh?" Roy tilted his head and waited for the man to continue.

"We feel under normal circumstances it would be best for you and your team to be kept here," Roy opened his mouth to protest but General Smith held his hand up to silence him, "however, we are aware that you and your men would most likely be able to travel fastest since you know these areas fairly well. So, Brigadier General Hart and I have come to the decision that you and a small group of your choosing will go to the nearest supply center and retrieve what we need. Do you understand?"

Roy kept himself from smiling as he clicked his heels together and saluted again. "Yes, sir."

"Good. You will leave as soon as possible. If not today, then tomorrow morning." Hart ordered and Roy nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Right then, you're dismissed Colonel." Smith said and Mustang gave a tiny bow of his head and left, feeling pleased. Now they would be getting a break from the fighting, and getting a chance to run into Edward.

The Colonel went to tell Havoc and Breda first since they were the closest ones, having been walking past the tent on their way to find Fuery and the other two. Even though he had hand picked every single one of them to work with him, and they had been with each other for years, Roy still found it amazing that even in the midst of hundreds of other soldiers, the five of them always stayed close to each other.

They weren't even really a group anymore, the were more like a weird, messed up kind of family. Too bad it's missing a member. Roy shook his head and told himself it didn't matter because said member would be with them any day, but he still felt a small pang of loss. Even when Ed was back with them, things would not be the same. Not only would they be in the middle of a battle, but their relationships would be strained considering the last time they had all seen each other.

Once the Colonel had told his second lieutenants, they went to tell Fuery and Roy went to one of the medical tents where he knew Riza was because he could hear her talking quietly with what sounded Rebecca. Oh, so she had finally found her friend then. Good.

Roy walking into the dimly lit room and saw Hawkeye was on a cot with a bandage wrapped tightly around her wounded shoulder. Rebecca was seated next to her, though she did not seem to be injured. Falman was seated by the entrance of the room and Roy quietly told him the news and ordered the man to go get everything set up to get moving as fast as possible; Havoc, Breda and Fuery would be helping.

Then the Colonel went over to Riza and Rebecca. Both women looked up and Hawkeye informed Mustang that she had heard him tell Falman.

"Oh, so how soon will you be ready to leave?" Roy asked, looking his lieutenant up and down. She looked as haggard and worn as he felt. By now they probably all looked like death warmed -or frozen- over though.

"I can be ready whenever I need to be, Colonel." Riza's tone told Roy she was not amused with him coddling her and Mustang quickly nodded. "Right, then we leave before sunrise tomorrow."

Hawkeye saluted with her left arm, since her right was the damaged one, and she uttered a stony, "Yes, sir."

Roy left the medical tent soon after that and went to assisting in getting preparations made. Normally he would have stayed with Hawkeye longer, but Rebecca had been there and he didn't need the woman to talk any more about his and the lieutenant's closeness than she already did.

As it was, Roy kept thinking about what tomorrow would bring. How quickly would they be able to get to the supply point? How much would they be able to pick up; would it be enough? Would they run into Ed? Would he be alright, or would be a cranky, frostbitten pain in the ass? All those questions circulated in his mind and Mustang could only answer one with certainty. Ed would be a cranky brat no matter if they found him or not. That was just his normal.

Pain and Plans

When Edward finally came to again, he noticed two things. The first being that he was still on a horse, and the second being that they were not moving. The teen forced his eyes open and had to squint against the sunlight to see why the Drachman party had halted their travel. Had they stopped for the day and just had not bothered to remove him from the chestnut beast he was slung over, or was something wrong? Ed's heart almost skipped a beat at the thought of there being a problem, because a problem meant there was a possibility that he could escape, or be rescued.

The alchemist's hopes were crushed when his eyes adjusted to the light though. There was no real trouble, just a steep incline that looked like it either led to a cliff or was one. A setback, that was all it was. Ed sighed and bit his tongue when the action sent an invisible fist into his chest. He had forgotten about the shape his ribs were in.

Edward noticed a few men coming his way, but the sunlight glare made it almost impossible to see who they were. His ears were ringing slightly from the blood rushing into his head due to the angle he had been at for who-knows how long and he shook it just as the men came into view. Ed's stomach flipped when he saw it was Pouty, Void, and Ford. Just what he needed, another session after his first peaceful nap in what felt like months. Of course the last time he'd slept was actually probably about four days ago, but two hours of shuteye was not enough for anyone to be able to think or gauge time properly.

The men were speaking in his native tongue and Ed tilted his head to try and hear. What he caught made his blood freeze in his veins.

"Brigadier General Volkov has given you full control over the Fullmetal Alchemist's treatment."

Void had said that and looked at Ford while he did, causing the Lieutenant Colonel to smirk cruelly, and for a moment Ed thought he saw pointy teeth and blue eyes flash violet. Just imagination of course, but it still shook the teen.

"Ah, is that so? Well that was kind of him." Ford said, that toothy smirk staying in place, "Then I think the first thing I want you to do... is blindfold him."

Edward's eyes widened and panic surged through him. Oh, they were not doing that! Over his dead body were they doing that! The teen struggled blindly and cried out in surprise when he felt himself sliding. The next moment he was sprawled out in the snow, the horse he slid off of looking at him curiously, as if asking why he had done such a silly thing. Ed heard Pouty snap a warning at the other two and Ed didn't have to look over his shoulder to know they were hurrying over to grab him.

Breath coming in gasps, Edward brought his hands underneath him and pushed up with everything he had, stifling a scream as the pressure applied to his dislocated shoulder made a bolt of lightning shoot through him. The teen gritted his teeth and sucked in a deep breath despite the burning pain in his lungs, and with great effort, got his feet under him and shoved himself upward. And then he was standing. Ed gasped again, but this time in shock instead of pain. He had actually gotten up by himself, and it hadn't killed him. He still had some strength left in him.

The alchemist's momentary pause in action was all the time it took for Void, Pouty, and Ford to catch him though, and with a swift kick to the knees, Ed was sent falling back into the snow, his small triumph for naught.


Ford had had Pouty drag Edward into his designated tent and ordered the larger man out before he could tie the alchemist to the pole. The man had then taken a seat in front of Edward after removing the blindfold that Void had dutifully placed over the teen's eyes. He smirked as he let his arms fall loosely atop his knees as he studied the blond. Ed bared his teeth at the soldier and was tempted to try and rip his automail arm from his restraints so he could beat the living crap out of the traitor. If it had not been for the excruciating throb of his left shoulder, he might have attempted it.

"Looks like you hurt your arm."

The tone of voice Ford used sent a shiver down Ed's spine. He sounded so casual- bored even. The teen took a careful breath so as to not jostle his ribs and leveled the man with a half-hearted glare. In the back of his mind he could hear that dumb voice snapping at him harshly for his diminishing spirit. He ignored it; he was well beyond the point of caring anymore. Whenever he gave himself a little pep-talk, he got that small spark of fire back inside of him. And every time he was given the opportunity to show that tiny flame, tried to escape, they snuffed it out. He was getting sick and tired of it, so he just decided he was going to try and stop giving them something to crush. The fire was gone.

Oh, don't fool yourself, it's still there.

"It's been like that since we got moving, right?" Ford was asking and Ed shrugged his metal shoulder.

"Ah, well we can't have it healing like that," Ford got up from his lazed position and came forward, standing to Ed's left. The teen looked up at him and when the man's hands started to come down the teen's eyes shone just barely with fear. No, no more. Just leave me alone for one day!

"Now hold still, shorty." Ed swallowed down his fear long enough to send a real glare Ford's way. He could not stand when the soldier used cruel nicknames like that. It reminded him of when he had been happy. It reminded him of black hair and equally dark eyes to match. It reminded him if the people he was supposed to be with already and had let down because he couldn't even get himself out of this mess.

"One," Ed tensed when Ford put his hands on his dislocated shoulder, the action sending a large throb through the limb, "Two," His fingers tightened around the discolored flesh and Edward bit his tongue to keep from crying out. "Three!" Ford's almost gleeful shout was followed by an audible pop and crunch as he shoved Ed's arm back into it's socket.

Tears blurred the alchemist's vision and he quickly blinked them away. He wanted to scream, but all his abused throat could manage was a whimper. He hadn't realized fixing something that caused pain could hurt just as bad as when one received the injury. The haze of pain passed relatively quickly, Ed having grown used to it, and he looked up at Ford, who had his hands on his hips and was frowning thoughtfully.

The teen wanted to ask why the man had done that, why he had helped him, but Ford's eyes lit up with some unidentifiable emotion and the next thing he knew the soldier was calling for Pouty- well, Major Ulik.

The large man stepped into the tent a moment later and gave Ford an inquiring look, which Ford quickly answered. The Amestrian soldier leaned close to Pouty and he actually had to stand on his toes to speak into the man's ear.

Whatever he said seemed to please the gorilla and Pouty took two long strides toward Edward and hauled the teen to his feet. Ed groaned at the sudden movement and closed his eyes to keep his vision from spinning. Pouty dragged Edward to the ever-faithful chair in the middle of the room. Ed sat down without needing to be shoved or told. This was routine by now. The teen briefly contemplated asking which one they planned on doing today, but decided to keep his mouth shut when he remembered snark would just make it worse for him.

As it was, he could not figure out what they were doing because they went to stand behind him. Ed furrowed his brows when he felt some tugging at his wrists and a moment later his eyes were wide when he felt his wrists become freed from their wooden cuffs. He swallowed his hiss of pain when the frigid air licked at the raw skin of his where his right arm met his hand, because that tiny spark that kept dying had revived itself again. Little bastard.

An idea formed in the alchemist's mind and he didn't even take time to wonder about the repercussions should he fail before he was putting it to action. Throwing caution to the wind, Ed brought his weak limbs up before either Ford or Pouty could grab them and he clapped his hands together. Immediately he felt the power of alchemy thrum at his fingertips waiting to be released.

The teen slammed his flesh hand onto his automail and a bright flash of blue had his trademark blade forming. An exhilarated grin broke out on his face and adrenaline pumped through him so hard and fast that he didn't even worry about his failed attempt at standing earlier that day, because he knew for a fact he could do it now. All his senses were heightened and muffled at the same time. He could hear his heart beating and see Ford and Pouty's surprised faces in crisp detail, but he couldn't feel the pain that littered his entire body.

The teen shot to his feet and whirled around to swipe his blade at Pouty, who had reached for him. The man backed away and looked at something just past Edward. The alchemist frowned and turned to see what had Pouty's attention, realizing too late that he had not seen Ford standing beside the Drachman.

A hand was grabbing his hair by the time he was fully turned and Ed gasped when he saw sharp teeth grinning at him as a knee was driven into his stomach, the hand tangled in his dirty blond locks bringing his head down so the force of Ford's kick would be even harder.

If Ed had not been sure at least half his ribs were broken before, he was now. A choked scream dragged itself out of his throat and he dropped to the ground, panting and gasping and groaning all at the same time. Ford crouched down and dug his hands into the teen's scalp once more, pulling Ed's head up so gold eyes met blue. "Too bad you didn't malfunction this time, huh?"

The teen didn't even have time to comprehend what the man said before Ford was beckoning Pouty over. "I told you to make it fast, moron." He growled at the other soldier. Pouty huffed before he too crouched down. Unlike his smaller companion, Pouty grabbed Ed's automail arm and lifted it off the ground a bit to examine it. Idiot probably doesn't even realize what he's looking at. Had he not been still wheezing and gasping, Ed might have smirked at the thought.

After a moment, Ford sighed loudly and walked out of the tent. He reentered a second later and handed Pouty a wrench. "Get to work." The Lieutenant Colonel ordered and the burly man grunted, levering the tool under Ed's alchemically created blade.

A small gasp escaped Ed when the metal was wrenched off easily by Pouty's shockingly skilled hands. The teen ignored the burning in his stomach, chest and head and began struggling. No sooner than he started was he stopped when Ford slammed his booted foot into the middle of the alchemist's back. Ed grunted in pain and was careful not to breathe too heavily; he didn't want to damage his chest any more than it already was.

The teen turned his head and watched as Pouty brutally ripped at the metal plating of his automail with the wrench Ford had given him. It didn't take long for the man to reach the wiring that the plates had protected. Pouty reached in and grabbed a handful of them, and Ed's breath caught in his throat. Ford's weight shifted on his back and Ed looked up to see the Amestrian nodding to the Drachman. Pouty smirked and his brows furrowed in brief concentration before his arm tensed and Ed screamed, "No, wait!"

The words came from the alchemist's mouth just as the soldier pulled and a handful of wires were ripped from his automail, nerve endings and all. Before he passed out, Ed wondered if his screams could be heard across the entire camp.


They came for him later that day when he'd woken. The teen found out very quickly that his automail was useless. The most he could manage to get it to do was twitch, and that hurt more than he was willing to admit.

The blindfold had been replaced sometime during his sleep and the alchemist had opened his eyes to complete darkness. Only one of his wrists was tied down now, which made it more convenient for the Drachmans, because they could push his stomach against the pole and mess with his, up until that point, nearly unscathed shoulder and back; they had been too lazy to remove him before unless it was to water board or cut at.

Void was there when they came in. He informed Edward that they were displeased with his attempt at escape and had told him that he would either give them what they wanted, or he would be punished. Ed couldn't even lift his head and give the man a stubborn glare, because he couldn't see. Void's voice was coming from everywhere, and the teen could hear other people breathing too, but he couldn't tell how many there were, or where they were, or how close to him they were standing- and he had never noticed how much this tent could echo!

His silence apparently lasted too long and Void clicked his tongue and the room fell deathly silent. Ed held his breath and waited. Waited for something to tip him off that someone was next to him or that a blow was coming.

Nothing sounded as a warning for the teen but the blow did come. A fist hit the back of his skull and sent him falling forward, banging his forehead against his drawn up knees. The teen bit down a cry and lifted his head just in time for a kick to be delivered to his side, sending him sprawling onto his stomach, his left arm being held at an uncomfortable angle that had Ed mentally pleading with them not to kick or hit it. Because even without seeing it he could tell it would break if it got abused while in that position.

Hands grabbed at him and Ed cried out in surprise, because there was definitely more than one pair of hands, which meant someone was helping Pouty. There was a harsh ripping sound and Ed sucked in a breath sharply, ignoring the pain in his chest, when he felt cold air breeze across his back. There were a few more tearing sounds before Edward could feel his back, sides and stomach being attacked by the freezing temperature. The teen shivered violently and scooted himself closer to the pole where his arm was tethered, trying to curl around his stomach to retain some warmth.

There was a small chuckle from behind and Ed tensed just in time to feel something hard and cold slap across his exposed back. The alchemist cried out when pain like fire spread across his flesh as another blow from the invisible assailant crashed down, closer to his shoulder blades this time.

Ed whimpered as the abuse continued, and after the sixth lash, his blindfold was wet and he was gasping for his torturer to stop. His skin had already broken and each new slap of the weapon ripped open new gashes and sent blood draining down, which only served to make the teen colder.

After a few more hits, the lashing suddenly stopped. Ed had no time to enjoy it though, for as soon as his back was left alone, the scent of burning flesh assaulted his nose and Ed realized his side was on fire along with everything else. He choked on a scream as tears gushed harder and he gasped loudly, tugging at his restrained arm, twisting this way and that, trying to make it stop.

"No! No more! Please!"

The burning sensation died down and the cooked flesh smell went with it, but Ed could almost imagine the bright red metal hovering just inches away. The alchemist didn't even stop to think about the fact that he had said please, the one word he'd promised himself he'd never say to them, and that the torture had only stopped because they were surprised. He was too focused on catching his breath and thinking about what he could say next to keep them from touching him.

"I...I really d-d-don't know a-anything," He whimpered, waiting for the fire to come again. When nothing happened he frowned and turned his head in the direction he guessed someone was standing.

"You really don't, do you?" It was Ford who asked and Ed swallowed thickly and nodded his head hard, willing the man to understand, to take pity. Funny, the teen didn't even know when he had started accepting pity from lowlife traitors.

"Alright, you don't know what your military is doing or planning. Fine. But you do know about alchemists and their weaknesses, and you keep avoiding answering the questions, even now. Come on, what's the harm in telling us how to stop a pyromaniac from burning our friends and families?"

Ed didn't even know how he managed to find his voice. "But that's not… w-why you w-want t-the information."

He heard Ford sigh and a pair of boots walked out of the tent. Ed only figured out it was Ford leaving because the man's voice was more distant when he spoke again. "You never learn, do you, Fullmetal?"

It was silent for a good while after that. Just when he thought he was alone and allowed a tired breath to leave him, Ed felt the agonizing fire and he found himself begging for it to stop once more.


The next time he woke up, Ed didn't think he would ever be able to move again. Any and all movements were accompanied by some sort of pain degreeing from "hurt" to "I'm dying" and soon enough the teen just gave up on trying to find any comfortable position.

He sat there for what felt like hours and found that while it had been difficult to gauge time in the tent before, it was near impossible now that sight was no longer an option. The entire time he kept tense, waiting for someone to come and start smacking him around. Maybe they would throw him out in the snow and hold him there until he got frostbite; without his shirt it would not take that long.

However, nobody came for quite some time and Ed found himself dozing off to escape the pain that clung to his body like a wet towel, sucking out all comfort and forcing shivers to wrack his little body. He could feel his hair plastered uncomfortably to the back of his neck by sweat, and anything that was stuck to his face he bet was kept with a combination of dried blood, sweat, and tears.

Just as sleep started to drowse him fabric rustled and Ed snapped his head up trying to see who it was. Can't see, genius. The teen frowned and sighed mentally. Mustang's voice was just getting more sarcastic as the days went by. Ed figured it was because the voice was getting frustrated with his attitude towards everything now, because Ed himself was vexed by his apathy towards his situation.

The teen heard someone hum in approval. "You'rre rright, vithout ze arrm he looks even morre pathetic."

He recognized the voice immediately as Black. The Brigadier General's companion was silent for a moment and Ed heard their quiet breathing and he couldn't help but wonder at how lack of vision enhanced hearing.

"I told you it would do that, sir. He's useless without it. After all, he can't use his alchemy and there's no way he could escape his confines now."

It was Ford speaking and Ed's working shoulder tensed and he clenched his jaw. That man… Ed didn't even know what he thought about Ford anymore. "World's Most Vile, Disgusting, Pathetic, Exhausting Excuse For A Human Being" award did not even come close enough to summing up how much Edward hated Ford. Everyone would think the teen despised Pouty the most, given that the man hurt him the most, but no. Ed knew Pouty was just doing his job. There were just some soldiers out there who were trained to do horrible things to people and that was what the Drachman's job was, so Ed couldn't really hate him for that. Did he want to watch the man writhe around on the ground in pain? Hell yes. But he didn't hate him.

Ford though… Edward's hate for him brought out a side of him he didn't even know existed. That side of him wanted to watch Ford suffer. It wanted to watch the skin being melted off of the man's bones and then have salt poured all over his fresh wounds. It wanted to see Ford go through all the hell they had put Ed through and worse. That part of Ed wanted to see Ford dead. And it scared the teen. It made him sick to his stomach. It made him hate himself just for thinking about it. It terrified him because he hadn't realized just how far they had driven him over the edge until those thoughts flooded his mind.

"I see zat." Black said, "Vhat do you plan on doing now?"

Edward's mouth went dry at that question. Because it was a good one. What did Ford have planned for him next? After two escape attempts the day before, Ed could only expect for the man to have a whole new pain plan for him today, assuming what they had done before was not enough.

"I have yet to decide, sir."

That was it. That was all Ford had to say. He hadn't even figured it out yet. Was he just playing it by ear? Winging it like this was all some sort of game? Ed didn't think it was possible to hate the man any more, but as it turned out, he was wrong.


Ford apparently decided there wasn't much to be done to Edward that day in terms of torture and all the teen received were a few quick, sporadic beatings, just to keep him uncomfortable enough to cringe whenever they got close.

Oddly enough, Ed found that his internal Roy voice was beginning to talk more. During the last beating, it kept telling him to turn this way and that to avoid the bad pain from a lot of the blows. Edward could not decide if he had been more disturbed by the fact that he had listened to his conscience, or that his conscience had known where the blows were coming from, as if his brief military training was so deeply ingrained into him that he could defend even without being able to see the enemy.

Ed figured the persistence of the voice was probably due to the fact that he was likely losing his mind by this point, but he didn't really care. The voice, no matter how many times it insulted his height and was a complete jerk, could be helpful and actually brought some strange sort of comfort to the teen.


The first thing Ed noticed when he woke up the next morning was that his shoulder was numb from sleeping at an odd angle. The next thing he was aware of, was the fact that the blindfold around his head had loosened and slipped down the bridge of his nose just a bit and he could see a small sliver of light peeking from the top. The lighting told him it was either morning or midday; those were the only times of day in which bright light entered the tent.

The teen knew the light would leave him the moment one of the Drachmans or Ford came in and tightened it, so he tried to enjoy the glow for as long as he could. Which, as the world would have it, was not very long. Almost twenty minutes after waking, there were footsteps and the small light was blocked out by bodies in the entryway of the little shelter.

The small gap in the fabric over his eyes was not wide enough for him to properly see who was with him, but the teen guessed Pouty was probably one of the ones among them. And possibly Ford, since he liked visiting nowadays.

A small shudder passed through him when he thought about what they were probably here for. Or maybe it was the cold draft. Not likely though, his skin had gone more or less numb the day before and he was pretty sure his blood was cold by now too.

"Check him." Give the alchemist a prize! It was Ford there with Pouty. Ed was confused by the man's order and he tried not to flinch too hard when Pouty's burly form came into his small pocket of vision and crouched next to him. The man tugged at the restraints around his wrist before tightening then slightly. Ed bit his tongue when the rope dug into his skin a bit. Pouty also touched his blindfold and Edward held off a sigh when he closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable tug of the cloth that would cut off his vision once again.

He frowned in surprise when Pouty only grunted and got up, his footsteps taking him away from the teen. Had the Drachman really missed how loose the blindfold was? Ed wasn't about to begin complaining, but it still made him wonder what was causing the man to be so inattentive.

"He's fine." Pouty grunted and Ford hummed in affirmation. "Very good." The man's heels crunched against the ground and Ed realized he'd turned and left sharply. A heavy set of footfalls signaled that Pouty had followed.


For the rest of that day, they had left him be and Ed had been a little more than confused and suspicious. He hadn't allowed himself to relax for fear of someone coming in and touching him. All that had happened though was that Void came in and shoved food down his throat. It had been stale and smelled, like mold and vomit, which Ed want to gag, but he ignored that and accepted what was offered eagerly. It had been some time since they had last fed him and he'd almost forgotten what food tasted like.

He figured it was drugged, but at that point he didn't even care, he just needed to eat; he needed to regain his strength; he needed to heal. If it did have the hallucination inducing poison, Ed was beyond the point of being surprised and it didn't even matter anymore. In the end he wasn't even able to figure out if it was tainted or not because the moment the food hit his stomach, he felt his eyelids droop and in spite of his fear, he felt himself drift into sleep.


When he woke, Ed noted that his blindfold was looser on his face but it hadn't fallen any further. He also noticed that his wrist was not held as tightly to the pole as it had been. The teen knew Pouty would fix that when they came to check on him, but that knowledge was in the back of his mind, because after the grogginess of sleep left, he found he could think clearer than he had in days -or was it weeks?

The alchemist figured it was a combination of an actual full stomach, a healing body that hadn't been beat on in a day or two, and a sudden surge of hope that surprised him.

The wounds on his back were insanely itchy, which meant they were scabbed or scabbing. His ribs were still incredibly difficult to manage because they seemed to be the only things wounded that weren't healing, if the giant black and purple bruises covering his chest were any indication. His shoulder was still sore, but he could roll it around and it didn't send stabbing pain like it had before, so that was good. His legs were still working, and Ed felt that the stab wound in his thigh from so long ago was healed more or less perfectly, though he wasn't sure about all the other cuts that littered the flesh on his calf and knee because his entire body had sort of gone numb, save for the tiny pulls on skin where scabs or scars were.

And if they didn't hurt him today, as slim as a chance that was, he would continue healing. And if they fed him again and continued leaving his bonds unattended... it was the slimmest chance, so small it was probably extremely unrealistic to even be considering it, but it was a chance. If the Drachmans cooperated with his plans without knowing it... he could actually...

The teen was too scared to even think the word because he didn't want to start building hope on an idea, a plan, that would fall flat the second Pouty, Void, or Ford walked into the tent. But still, he held onto the smallest tendrils of that dangerous rope because it was the only thing he could think to do. That tiny ember in his heart had sparked back into a small flame.

Ed almost found himself smiling but he didn't want to risk someone walking in and seeing him looking happy. Though with blood and bruises covering his face the smile itself would probably end up looking deranged.

You can do this. That voice popped up again and for once, Ed didn't tell it to shut up. He actually found himself replying before he could stop himself and realize how crazy he was to be talking with his head.

"I know."

"You know? Know what?"

Ed tensed immediately when Void's voice penetrated the silence and another set of heavy footsteps -Pouty- followed his own lighter ones into the tent. They hadn't yet come into his view and that helped Ed to breathe a little easier.

Ed could just picture Void raising his eyebrow, the left one, just a bit as he asked him once again what he had been talking about. The teen shrugged and he heard Void sigh and a moment later his feet were shuffling out of the tent. "You know what Ford said to do." He said and Ed felt a stone of dread hit his stomach. What had Ford told them to do?!

He heard the ground shift as Pouty came toward him and Ed instinctively curled in on himself, trying to become as small as possible so the man would just leave him alone. He heard his teeth start to chatter and the smallest of tremors ran through his body. No, what was Pouty going to do? Had Ford somehow figured out what Ed was planning and sent the Drachman to beat the ideas out of him? It hadn't been that long since his last escape attempt after all, so it wasn't like it would be hard for them to guess what he was thinking. Maybe Ford had noticed the blindfold and didn't fix it because he wanted to see what Ed would do. Maybe he'd-

Fullmetal!

Ed's breath caught in his throat and his head snapped up in attention, his eyes searching for the blue clad Colonel a moment before he remembered Mustang wasn't actually there. It was all in his mind. Still, it had gotten the teen to calm down and Ed realized he wasn't thinking rationally. There was no way Ford could know what he was thinking, so there was no way they knew what he was planning. And that meant whatever Pouty was here for was just a routine beating.

With that in mind, Ed uncurled himself and kept tense, waiting for the blows from Pouty's giant fists.


Pouty hadn't used his hands that time, but a knife. Just a few shallow cuts and stabs on his arm leg and a few slashes across his stomach. They weren't deep enough to warrant stitching, but they were bleeding and they would scar. Still, they weren't life threatening. And even with the new pain on his body, Ed couldn't stop smiling, because he had noticed something: Pouty had left his knife on the chair in the middle of the room and it was balanced rather precariously on the side closest to Ed.

They were growing lax.

Apparently the lack of a metal arm was a huge lack of threat to them and they didn't feel he needed to have child locks anymore. A plan was already formulating in the alchemist's mind and he knew it would work before he'd even thought it through completely. As long as nobody came in, he could get it. And if he could get it, he had a chance of getting out of there.

Ed watched the door to the tent for what felt like hours before he scooted himself around the pole with difficulty. He hadn't realized how hard it was to move when you couldn't stand and didn't have either hand to support your movements. Eventually he was turned towards the chair though and then all he had to deal with was the task of scooting his entire body forward so he could reach the damn thing. For the first time since his capture Ed put his bonds to good use and gripped the pole with his tied hand and pushed against the giant stake as his legs pulled him forward. It took several tries to get where he wanted, his arm pulled taught against his confines and his legs outstretched toward the chair, but he did it and then all that was left was kicking the wooden piece of furniture and getting the knife to fall just right so he could still reach it.

The only thing that made his task irritating was the fact that he was in the corner of the tent and the chair was in the middle and he was... well he was.. he wasn't very... the room wasn't exactly big, but it was... well it was longer than him... Face it, you're short.

Ed grit his teeth against the curses he wanted to shout at the air and instead just shook his head and arched his back to get his right leg stretching out as far as it could. A small gasp of triumph passed from his lips when the toe of his boot made contact with the wood and the chair wobbled. The teen bared his teeth in an animalistic smile and he lashed out again and this time the chair shook hard enough that Ed thought it was going to tip and a small thrill of panic ran through him. Then the chair stopped it's rocking and the alchemist heard a dull thud where the knife had fallen to the ground.

He released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and stared at the blade lying by his left foot. Biting his lip, the teen placed the toe of his boot on the hilt of the dagger and carefully dragged it toward himself. It slipped once or twice and by the time it was completely hidden under his foot and he was back by the pole, acting as though nothing had happened, he had several holes bitten into his lip.

Ed's heart was racing so hard he could barely hear and he had to force himself to breathe properly. He felt like he should be grinning over his achievement, but all he found himself feeling was dread. The Drachmans weren't stupid; they would remember they left a knife in the same tent as him, and they would come back in to retrieve it later and find it wasn't there, and there would only be one logical guess as to who could have taken it. And then it was all be over.


The moment of truth came hours later when Pouty came in with Void and stopped abruptly, staring at the chair with narrowed eyes. It took everything in Edward to not hold his breath or look guilty. There was really no reason he couldn't -obviously they knew where it was- but he still told himself to act natural. Thankfully natural had become curled up and fearful because they really wouldn't be able to see guilt when they could barely see his face.

"What is it?" Void was asking and Ed screamed inwardly. This was bad, this was bad, this was bad! Maybe he should just fess up. Would the punishment be lighter if he did? Probably not. Would they kill him for this one? That didn't sounds so bad actually...

"I thought I left a..." Pouty's voice drew Edward from his realm of panic and he swallowed hard, waiting.

"Thought what?" Void sounded annoyed and tired and Pouty sighed and Ed could see him shake his head out of the corner of his blindfold. "Ford must have taken it."

"Fine," Void was much crankier today the teen noted with a hint of curiosity. Was he getting to them? Getting them to the point of snapping? They had gotten him... a little... but he hadn't considered that he might be having the same affect on them with his refusal to tell them what they wanted.

"Hurry up," Void snapped and Ed was brought from his musings and his neck and back were ramrod straight as he awaited whatever treatment Pouty had to deliver.

Thick, calloused fingers were grabbing his jaw suddenly and the teen sucked in a sharp breath. He hadn't been expecting that. Pouty took advantage of his open mouth and the next thing he knew Ed had water pouring into his maw. He knew there was no use trying to close his mouth or spit it out, so he drank the liquid, knowing full well it was drugged. They only ever gave him water when they had it drugged. Still he drank it. Before he could finish swallowing the fourth gulp the canteen was pulled away from his lips and something hard and grainy was being shoved into his mouth. Ed almost choked on what he knew could only be bread but ate it quickly before they could change their minds about feeding him.

Pouty made a disgusted sound at the way Ed ravenously ripped at the offered food and spat out at Ed loud enough for the teen to hear easily, "Disgusting little pup."

Ed didn't even bother glaring at the "little" comment as he finished the bread. No sooner had he swallowed was Pouty shoving the canteen back into his salivating mouth. Ed took one quick sip of it before a thought suddenly struck him and a devilish glint entered his golden eyes. Too bad Pouty couldn't see it. On his next gulp, Ed let his mouth fill completely and then he carefully feigned a swallow, making sure it looked convincing. After that, Pouty took the water away and the Drachmans left again.

Edward moved quickly once they were out. He shook his head roughly and the blindfold fell off the bridge of his nose to hang around his neck uselessly. His lungs were screaming for oxygen by that point and Ed pulled his foot up to reveal the metal he had been hiding. Without worrying about getting himself wet, the alchemist opened his mouth and spit the water onto the blade of the dagger.

He watched as saliva and clear liquid coated the knife and the ground around it and a smirk broke out on his face. Covering the weapon with his boot again, Ed bit down a cackle. They had grown a little too complacent and this time it was actually going to cost them. Ed was going to get out of there and it was going to be all due to them thinking he was useless without his arm. Their blunder was almost too good to believe, but whenever Ed started to think maybe he was hallucinating he would shift his foot and feel the knife sliding under it. He couldn't feel his hallucinations.

When his limbs went limp and his head leaned back against the pole, Ed panicked a moment before remembering that he had drank the water and it was normal. It was nothing to worry about. But with the inability to move, came the inability to ignore the nagging worry in the back of his mind, and as the minutes ticked on, Ed began to feel an increasingly worse doubt that his plans were going to work out the way he thought they were.

There were so many things he still hadn't taken into account. The first was that prisoners were usually kept in the middle of camps, and that meant he would be surrounded by hundreds of angry Drachmans. How did he plan on getting past them all in his state? The second was that he didn't even know where they were. Even if he did manage to get away how would be find the Amestrian camp? The third was the most obvious to him: He was still weak from the countless beatings and lack of food. How did he plan on doing any of this when he was in such sorry shape? There were numerous other things to take into consideration that freaked the teen out, but those were the top three that grabbed his attention.

Even if he escaped there was nothing stopping the Drahcmans from coming after him... Oh if they caught him after he tried to escape... what would they do? At the very least they would beat him into next week, but Ed knew they could also do so much worse. They could hurt him and then they could kill him. They could get into Amestris already, what would stop them from going after his friends, after his family. What was stopping them from going after Al and Winry if they were the victors of the battle? Nothing at all.

Ed hadn't realized he was on the verge of hyperventilating until a voice cut through the haze of his distress and his breath caught in his throat. "Brother, calm down."

The teen opened his eyes and swallowed when a lump suddenly felt like it was clogging his throat. "Al..." Ed closed his eyes when his vision blurred and he shook his head. No, that wasn't Al. Alphonse looked like a suit of armor and he was supposed to be fourteen, not the little blond ten year old that was staring back at him with soft eyes like their mother's.

"It's okay big brother," The little Al was saying and Ed shook his head again, harder this time because maybe if he jostled himself enough the hallucination would go away.

"Brother, why won't you look at me?" Al -no, no, not Al- asked and Ed answered with a shuddered breath, his gold eyes slowly rolling up to stare at the little form of his baby brother. His sweet little Alphonse, who was looking at him with such care and understanding that was so familiar Ed felt moisture build up behind his eyes. It had been so long since he had seen that face and even as his mind rationalized that that wasn't how Alphonse looked now, he couldn't find it in himself to care. It was how he remembered his brother before he had ruined everything and caused Al to live in unending sadness, and Edward just missed looking at him.

"Al... I..." The teen swallowed and gave the mental ghost a sad smile. He didn't need to say anything out loud. Ed had learned that last hallucination when he'd had a conversation with his mom. Everyone that came to him was an extension of his thoughts, so they knew what he was going to say before he ever said it. But this time... this time it was different. He wanted to talk; to make it feel as real as possible before the drug wore off and his brother's big shining eyes left him. "Can you come closer?"

"Remember not to touch me," Alphonse said as he obliged and walked closer to the teen and sat down an arms length away. It took every once of self restraint Ed possessed to not reach out to try and grab hold of the little boy.

"Why are you here?" Ed asked after a few seconds of silence. He already knew why, but he asked anyway.

"You need to calm down, brother." Al said, sounding like he had all the patience in the world. He never took his gaze away from Ed and the older boy felt himself relax slowly as he stared into his brother's eyes. Alphonse had always had that affect on him. Usually he calmed him down when Ed was angry, but apparently it worked with being freaked out too.

"It'll be fine," Al assured him and Ed looked at his feet and frowned. How could he be so sure?

"Because deep down you know you can do it," Al answered the unspoken question and Ed sighed and bit his lip. Still... there were so many ways he could mess up or something could go wrong, so did he really know he could do it?

"You do. You're the Fullmetal Alchemist." Alphonse's voice held a note of pride that had Ed snorting under his breath. "Not anymore." His voice was so quiet there was no way any normal person would have been able to hear him.

"Fullmetal, that's pure crap and you know it, so stop being a child." Ed's attention was immediately drawn to the far left side of the room where he found Mustang standing with his arms crossed and an expression of irritation on his face. Well, he heard the bastard in his mind enough so he really shouldn't have been surprised to see him when his mind was in such jumbled state.

Ed mustered a weak glare and he turned away from Mustang. He didn't want to deal with short jokes and lectures at the moment. He just wanted to have a moment with his brother before he was sent back into the real world that didn't want to ever see him happy. But his mind was having none of it and the next thing Ed knew, the Lieutenant's voice was in the room too. "He's right, Edward. Stop being childish and listen to us."

He was listening to them! It wasn't like he could make himself not hear them since they were kind of all in his head, but that didn't stop him from scowling deeply and nodding. "Fine." He grumbled and looked up to find not only Hawkeye and the Colonel, but everyone else as well. Havoc and Breda were sitting next to each other and Fuery was standing behind them next to Falman. They all wore small smiles and Ed felt his heart slam inside his chest unexpectedly. He found he wasn't even upset with them for being there like he usually was when they popped up in his head. The teen turned his attention to Mustang and Hawkeye, who were standing closer together than they ever would if they had been real. The Lieutenant was looking at him, her sherry eyes soft and encouraging and the Colonel was no longer glaring, but he wasn't smiling or giving him a coddling look either. Ed didn't know how to describe it, but the way Mustang looked at him calmed Ed down more than Alphonse talking to him had.

"You're not thinking about giving up now, are you?" Alphonse asked from his side and Ed didn't even look over, he was still transfixed by the picture in front of him. His team, silently telling him he was strong. Telling him he wasn't pathetic and worthless. His family, telling him they believed in him.

No, he wasn't going to give up. He would escape. He had to. For his brother. For Winry. For the sake of the six people standing in front of him.

"That's what I wanted to hear." Mustang's eyes were shining with some unidentifiable emotion and Ed felt a smile curve his lips for no reason other than the fact that he liked the expression his superior was wearing, and was pleased with the fact that he was the one to put it there. Even if it was all a figment of his imagination.

"Now stop fantasizing, Fullmetal. Get to work." Ed rolled his eyes at the Colonel and didn't say anything. He sat in silence and waited for the image in his head to change into something more sinister like it usually did, but it never happened and when the drugs wore off, the only thing that faded from his mind was the picture of his team and brother smiling at him.

When he came back into consciousness and could twitch his limbs, Ed found his head was completely clear. There were no residual voices ringing in his ears, no unsettling images from the hallucinations. There was just a complete feeling of resolve. He was going to escape, and he was going to do it the next time he was sure he was alone.

Escape and Endeavor

The starry sky collided with the fresh snow, emitting light for miles and miles while the northern winds howled ominous and cold. In the endless expanse of white powder, I lone figure trudged down the side of a cliff. Curses flitted past their lips every few seconds and they tripped every couple of feet, but nonetheless they carried on, ignoring the frigid air that seemed to watch them.

"Dammit." Edward hissed when he fell for what was probably the dozenth time that night. His legs were shaking almost uncontrollably and he was pretty sure he'd chipped a tooth or two amidst the endless shivering, but he didn't care, because the only thing that was running through his mind was exhilaration. As his abused lungs took in another careful breath of fresh air, the teen pushed himself back up, wincing only briefly when the action sent tiny jolts of pain through his numbing body.

He was still on edge, despite having been travelling for several hours without interruption. He had no idea if the Drachmans were chasing him or not, but he knew he couldn't be too careful under circumstances like these, even if he was still tingly with excitement. During his entire trip thus far, all he had been doing was playing his escape in his mind.

He still couldn't believe how smoothly it had gone.


When nobody had come for him for an hour or so, Ed decided he had to make his move that night. There was no way he was going to wait any longer than he had to. As soon as the sky was dark and the camp had settled down for the most part, he would slip out.

The entire wait he had worked on getting his arm free, twisting it this way and that until he was pretty sure he'd rubbed the skin to the point of bleeding, and even then he kept tugging. It had taken maybe an hour and a half before he heard a slight creak from the rope before his wrist was being pulled free. Ed grinned tiredly and listened for any signs of someone coming by. When he was greeted with silence he sighed in relief and scooted away from the pole and looked through the slit of the tent door.

It was sunset and Ed could see the Drachmans preparing for rest, setting up their night watches and dampening their fires. The teen froze when he saw Pouty being appointed to guard part of the perimeter for the night and he remembered the knife on the ground and picked it up. He'd have to make sure he avoided Pouty's part of the camp no matter what. It would do him no good to run into the beefy man when he was only armed with a dagger that was still covered in his own blood in certain parts where the water and spit hadn't washed it.

As the sun sunk further into the horizon and the moon came to replace it, things quieted down and Edward knew it was time to move. Now or never. Roy-voice said and Ed nodded, his grip on the knife tightening.

When the teen was sure nobody was near his tent, he gathered his legs under himself and pushed to his feet. He wobbled only slightly before steadying and he was suddenly very thankful for the food he had been fed for the last two days.

Taking a deep breath to steel himself, Ed slid his fingers into the slit of the doorway and slowly, painfully slowly, he pulled it open.

The cold night air slapped his face immediately and the teen gasped silently, goose-flesh shooting across any part of uncovered skin and making him shiver violently. He would need something to cover himself with before he even thought about leaving, lest he wanted to freeze to death.

Edward's sharp eyes searched for somewhere that might serve as a supply tent or wagon and found it moments later. It was being guarded by one of the smaller looking Drachmans and Ed swallowed hard, his mouth had gone suddenly dry at the prospect of having to confront the man. Come on, think logically. Don't confront him at all, even if it is your style.

The voice of reason had Ed frowning as he thought of an alternate way to get the supplies without raising alarm. He looked down at the dagger in his hand that glinted wet in the moonlight and a smirk appeared on his face. Oh, now that was a good idea.

The teen tip-toed softly to the opposite, unprotected end of the large tent and slowly crept around until he stood behind the Drachman. He clenched his teeth when he realized that the soldiers always kept bundled tightly, leaving almost none of their skin exposed. He needed skin for his plan to work.

Puffing his cheeks out in frustration Ed looked up and his eyes widened when he saw the soldier's neck wasn't covered. The alchemist held his breath and brought the blade up to the back of the Drachman's head, trying to gauge just how hard he would need to press to break skin and draw blood but not kill. It couldn't have been different from stabbing an animal, right? Right. With that in mind, Ed held the side of the blade next the the untanned flesh and flicked his wrist, making a small gash in the back of the man's neck. Blood came away on the dagger, so Ed assumed the poison had gotten in.

There was a small cry from the soldier and he turned around, weapon drawn and Ed felt dread coil in his gut. Had the poison not gotten in after all?! He almost panicked when the man lurched forward and fell to the ground next to him, but after a second of nothing else happening, Ed realized the drug had taken effect. The teen released his breath and quietly slid into the tent. Several crates and sacks were carefully stacked throughout the room and Ed looked around slowly, his heart racing when he realized he'd have to hurry because there were other guards, and the moment they found their buddy lying in the snow they would sound the alarm.

His heart almost leapt into his throat when he noticed something bright lying haphazardly atop one of the crates in the back. Upon closer inspection he saw it was his cloak, the thick red fabric standing out like fire in a forest. Ed grabbed it and slipped it on immediately and the warmth that cocooned him made the corners of his mouth twitch. Then the teen searched through the sacks until he'd found one full of food and he snatched it.

Ed peaked out of the supply tent and saw nobody around still and he breathed a sigh of relief before creeping out. Now comes the hard part, he thought as he surveyed his surroundings. As he'd suspected, the prisoner tent was located in what appeared to be the middle of the camp so he knew he had quite a ways to go before he was out.

The alchemist wasted no time and started navigating through the area. He passed maybe five tents before the first guard came into view. Ed pressed himself against one of the collapsible cloth housing, hoping his cloak was a dark enough red to blend with the brown. Whether he blended in or not never became an issue though, as the Drachman didn't look his way. Ed's breathing was shaky at best when he got moving again.

It kept on like that for what seemed like hours, but was likely only less than forty minutes. Ed hiding whenever a guard came by, the guard not noticing him. Once or twice they would look in his direction and every time Ed would hold his breath and wait for the inevitable holler that told everyone he was escaping. It never came though, and before the teen even knew how it had happened, he was at the edge of the camp.

The wind had died down, no longer wiping his free hair all about, and Ed could see where the mountain dropped off even from thirty meters away. He only briefly wondered how he was going to get down a cliff in his state before he was moving again.

In his rush to get away, Ed had overlooked one thing though, and he knew he'd made a mistake the moment he heard a rumbling gasp from a few feet away. Standing by a boulder and completely hidden up until that point, was Pouty.

Ed felt the cold stone of dread and defeat weigh deep in his stomach and he felt like he was going to throw up. He'd gotten all this way… and it was all for nothing. In just a few seconds, Pouty was going to open his fat mouth and alert everyone of what was going on.

But the cry never came.

Edward's breath hitched in his throat when he saw Pouty draw a sword from a hip sheath that he hadn't noticed and the Drachman started towards him. Ed's heart began pounding hard against his chest and he watched mutely as the soldier got closer and closer to him. Pouty's cold dark eyes were staring straight through him and Ed could see the malice that had been ingrained deep into the soldier's soul. It terrified him. Especially when he remembered that in probably less than ten minutes he would be back at the mercy of that man and-

But no, he wouldn't be. Even if it killed him, Ed would fight. If he didn't he would curse his existence until the end. It wasn't like him to not fight back. Stubborn, pig-headed, wild -all those things made up Edward Elric and he was not going to let the Drachmans make him forget that. They almost had. They'd almost wrecked him. He wasn't going to let it happen again, no matter what.

The blond's grip on the dagger tightened until his knuckles were white and he dropped his bag of food while glaring Pouty down, daring the man to make the first move. He did, and Ed found himself stumbling out of the way just before the blade of Pouty's saber could cut his leg out from under him. Ed fell to the snowy ground and quickly picked himself up, adrenaline pumping hard through his veins as he ducked out of the way of another swing.

He studied Pouty carefully when he made his third attempt to hit him and noticed the man's right arm pushed up a little too far up, leaving a gap just big enough for someone to be able to dart forward and strike him.

Ed leapt to the side and winced when the tip of the Drachman's blade brushed against his left arm and a thin cut appeared on his coat when the soldier swung for the fourth time. But Ed had caught that Pouty did the same arm lift a second time and decided it wasn't coincidence. He had his point of attack, and all he had to do was wait for Pouty to swing again.

The opportune moment came not ten seconds later when Pouty charged forward and threw the blade forward. Ed sucked in a deep breath and darted towards the man, catching the soldier off guard. The alchemist cursed his lack of height when he got up close and remembered just how tall the Drachman was. Ed wasted no time thinking on that though. The teen brought the dagger up, and before he knew what he was doing the blade was sinking deep into Pouty's right shoulder.

The man dropped his sword immediately with a cry of pain and his good arm flew up to shove Ed away from him and grab the knife in his shoulder. The blond wasn't even alarmed when Pouty ripped the weapon from his body and began coming at him with hate burning bright in his eyes, because the Drachman got maybe four steps before his eyes went wide and his legs gave out from under him. The dagger fell from his hands and plopped uselessly into the snow next to him.

Ed's knees was shaking harder than normal as relief flooded his body, making him want to just fall down and stay there until he felt he could handle walking again. But there was something he needed to do. Forcing himself to calm down, Edward stalked forward until he was standing beside Pouty. The man was glaring up at him and in spite of himself, Ed felt the smallest of smirks twist his lips. The teen bent down, picked the knife up from the wet ground and shoved it into his boot before he met the Drachman's gaze head on.

"Sucks, doesn't it?" The teen didn't even care that his voice sounded hoarse and disused as he spoke; he wanted to say something to the bastard that had made his life hell. "Being so weak and helpless. It's pathetic isn't it? Degrading. You know, you deserve to die." Ed paused, searching for the right words before he continued, "But I'm not a heartless monster like you, so I'm not going to be the one to do it. So as a thank you, here's a little message you're gonna give Ford whenever you're feeling up to it: Amestris is going to win, and you're going to answer for your crimes, the traitorous bastard."

With those parting words, Ed picked up the bag of food and began his trek down the mountain.


Thinking back on it, Ed wondered just where those words had come from. They hadn't sounded like him at all- well, his message to Ford had, but… everything else? That hadn't been him, that had been… that had been someone that frightened him. He didn't mock people for their weaknesses unless it was playful and they knew he was just teasing, the blond knew that much about himself. In the back of his mind he knew it wasn't that big of a deal because Pouty was evil and cruel and deserved any ounce of harshness that came to him, but the teen still found himself unable to believe that he had been the person to deliver it; that they had turned him into someone who could say stuff like that.

Perhaps he was looking too hard at it though. He was stressed, and tired, and in pain, and all he wanted was to sleep, but he knew sleeping would not be a good idea because it spelled death, and he was cold, and- GAH why was there so much snow?!

The teen's angry growl bounced off the cliff-face when he sunk into the soft ice crystals for the hundredth time. A string of curses came from his mouth and he slowly dug himself out. He forgot how hard it was to do anything with only one arm and felt a new level of appreciation for Winry.

"St-stupid sn-snow and t-t-the stupid c-co-old, a-and the stu-stupid freaking D-Drachmans!" The chattering of his teeth was getting worse and worse and Ed could just picture how pale his face and lips were by this point.

Did you really think the snow was just going to melt from your sheer awesomeness?

Edward tried grinding his teeth but only ended up biting his tongue and he huffed as he finally pulled himself out of the snowdrift and continued his long, unsafe walk down the mountain. Roy's stupid voice had been making comments like that for what seemed like the last hour and it was starting to get on the alchemist's nerves.

A strong wind ripped past him and the teen's balance faltered. Ed's left arm shot out and grabbed the wall of rock that stood ever-faithfully to his right and waited for the gale to pass. Once it did, Ed released the cliff's side and peered over the edge to his left. He was walking a very fine line -less than two feet- and he could see if he were to fall, it would be a long way down. Not as long as it had been an hour ago, but still pretty long. Long enough to break bones, if not kill. Probably.

Ed shuddered at the mental image of plummeting down however many hundred feet it was to the bottom and shook his head. Not a very fun thing to picture and the teen started being more careful about his steps as he got closer and closer to a steep part of the path. It was covered in sharp rocks and boulders slicked with ice that he was pretty sure he'd have to climb. He had picked the trail initially because he could tell that the Drachman parties that had been sent out would have had to use a different path. The one he was using would be much too narrow for horses and wagons. But now, Ed could see that even if they had taken the trail they would have turned back fairly quickly, because there was no way an entire army could get down safely this way, two feet of stretching room or not.

So when Ed reached the rocks he took a deep breath to steel himself, threw the bag of food and watched it hit the other side of the sharp things. then carefully, painfully so, he pulled and lifted his metal leg onto the first jagged boulder. He didn't slip, so he kept going at a slow and steady pace. He was almost through when his grip on a patch ice covered rock slipped and he fell off the rock he had been steadying himself on. The teen pitched forward and only just managed to save his jaw from being shattered against the side of the cliff by bringing his hand up to stop his fall. It took a second to calm himself once he'd gotten his feet back under his body, and he was very glad he had been closer to the wall than the edge. He looked at his hand, saw blood oozing very slowly from a long slice on his palm, and was thankful that he couldn't feel any pain.

With the worst of his rock climbing over, Ed picked up his sack of food and began once again trudging through the snow.


Some time later, when the sun had risen into the sky once more, Edward was fairly sure he was never going to be able to make it to the Amestrian camps even if he managed to make it down the mountain. Moving was starting to prove to be a difficult task; his flesh hand was so frozen he could barely uncurl it from a fist, and his right leg was so cold and numbed up he was practically dragging it through the snow. He was quite sure that if he came across another rocky patch, he would not be able to make it over.

He'd been keeping his hand in his coat pocket, but the thing was only so thick, and what hadn't already gotten wet from being dragged through the snow was beyond cold. So at the moment, his clothes were useless. He had stopped a little earlier and had a few bites of the pretty much frozen bread and fruit before he'd closed the sack and continued on.

The teen looked over the edge once again and found that he could make out what appeared to be the white of the ground. With only wind in the air at the moment and no snow, Ed was fairly confident that what he saw was, in fact, the bottom of the trail. It was perhaps thirty feet, and his heart gave a tiny leap when he realized he would reach the end of the path before midday.

That was when that Truth guy, or God, or Mother Nature, or whoever it was that controlled the weather decided to spit on him. In the distance, Ed could see extremely dark clouds steadily heading his way. Even in his half frozen state the teen knew they were storm clouds and he groaned hoarsely and dragged his cold fist across his face. "S-s-seriously?!"

Can't handle a little cold, Fullmetal? So sad. Edward glared at the nothingness that stretched on forever and grumbled out a petulant, "Sh-shut up you… you j-jerk." He couldn't really think of anything else at the moment.

Small snowflakes started falling maybe two minutes later and Ed sighed heavily. They were slow to fall, yes, but the alchemist knew the moment those black clouds hung over him, he would need to be somewhere sheltered, otherwise he had no doubt he would get blinded, lost, and then he'd die. And nobody would know where he was or what had happened to him.

The teen started down the mountain faster, mindful of where the edge of the cliff was as he descended. That thirty foot drop slowly got smaller and smaller until Ed figured he only had twelve feet to go, give or take.

And that's when the wind picked up without warning and he lost his grip.

It happened so fast Ed didn't even realize what had happened until it was too late. A gust of wind had made him drop the bag of food to reach out and grab at the cliff wall, and he hadn't realized his footing was off because of his stupid freaking numb right leg! The first blast had been small and Ed released the rocks in time for another breeze to smack him full on in the body and he was thrown forward. And due to the angle of his legs, he was sent forward right over the edge of the cliff.

Edward had only had time to gasp and bring his arm up to shield his face before he hit the white ground. The air was knocked out of his lungs immediately, and the ribs that he thought had been healing suddenly alerted him that, psych, they weren't healing at all! Despite the cushion the snow provided, Ed felt like Major Armstrong had just delivered him a full body slam. He didn't want to get up, so he just laid there, small wheezing noises coming from his mouth, making him feel even more pathetic.

An image flashed in front of his eyes suddenly and Ed dropped his forehead into the crook of his arm. It had been a summer when he and Al had been little, a few years after Hohenheim had left. Ed had been trying to show off for Winry and his little brother by showing them how high he could climb the tree in their front yard. Of course, he hadn't known what he was doing, and he'd gotten maybe midway before he slipped and fell. he'd just laid there, dazed while Alphonse ran inside to get their mother. She had come out immediately and gathered him into her arms, scolding him for his foolishness while simultaneously peppering him with kisses and asking if he was hurt. He had put on a brave face despite the throbbing in his butt and his mom had released him and told him he was silly.

Now that he was older, Ed wished he had told her the truth and gotten to stay in her embrace just a little longer. He found himself aching for his mother all of the sudden. He wanted those loving arms to wrap around him and warm him up and ask him if he was hurt, and he wouldn't hold back, he'd just hold on tight and cry into her shoulder and admit that, yes, he did hurt, he hurt everywhere. And she would kiss him better and lay him in bed, and everything would be okay, because she said it would be. And his mom never lied.

But life was cruel, and the next moment, Ed was slowly, gingerly, pushing himself up, because there was nobody coming to do it for him. Not Mustang, not Alphonse, and certainly not his mother. She was gone and she wasn't ever going to be there to help him, and if he continued having the mindset that she was going to miraculously show up, he would never be able to move forward.

So he pushed himself to his knees, and then went to get his feet under him. It was then, as he was shifting his legs, that he felt a tiny needle of pain in his ankle. The teen frowned and looked down, realizing his mistake as he did. The knife with poison on it: It had been in his boot. It had also just cut through his sock and ripped a little of his skin.

Edward felt the affects of the drug almost immediately and he cursed his foolishness as his body gave out and dropped back into the snow face-first. The small snowflakes had started falling a little faster, and Ed started panicking when it dawned on him that if the storm hit before he could move again, he would be buried.

"So get up then, Fullmetal." Ed shifted his gaze to the spot right in front of him that had been unoccupied a moment before and saw the leg of Mustang's military uniform. Why was it always him? Why could he ever have his mom? She was the one he really wanted to see.

"I c-c-can't." Ed stuttered out and closed his eyes. His mind was growing foggy and he was so cold, and now that he was no longer moving, he realized how tired he was. He was so, so very tired.

"You had better not fall asleep, Edward. You know that won't be good."

Mustang was right, of course. In the back of his mind there was a tiny voice screaming that if he fell asleep, bad things would happen, but for the life of him the teen could not remember what those bad things were. Just thinking about it made him even more tired. His head was starting to hurt too.

"Don't you go falling asleep, Fullmetal." Mustang practically yelled it and Ed opened one eye to glare at him. The blond was too tired to actually talk aloud, so he let his thoughts tell the Colonel what he couldn't. Shut up, I just want to sleep.

"You can't."

Jeez, when had the Colonel gotten so stubborn and bossy? Edward chuckled inwardly when he thought that he must be rubbing of on Mustang. Just shut up! Couldn't Roy see how tired he was?

"Nope. I'm staying here and talking, and there's nothing you can do to stop me. Stay awake."

No, go away… Then, suddenly very aware that he was arguing with himself, he added, You can't make me stay awake.

"I don't know, I could sing. My singing is God-awful and could keep anyone awake… or at least I think it is. I've never heard myself sing before…" Roy trailed off and for a moment Ed couldn't figure out why, and then he realized it was because his thoughts were shadowing Mustang's voice. Maybe the Colonel actually had a really nice singing voice. Was it possible for someone so big and annoying? I wouldn't know; I've don't remember ever hearing any grown man sing before, given that Hohenhiem had never so much as hummed a tune. Or maybe he had, but I'd just been too little to remember? Hmmm… too much thinking. Gonna sleep now…


"How far out did they say the supply station was?" Breda griped for what felt like the fiftieth time that day.

"About eight days at normal pace." Falman supplied once again, having told the man the same thing every time he asked with a patience that seemed inhuman.

"Ugggghhhhh…" Was Breda's graceless reply.

Between Breda's complaining, the length of their trip, and how cold it was, everyone was getting to be at the ends of their ropes. Roy was beyond grateful that they had all been in situations like this before and weren't at each other's throats like other soldiers might be. they had all known each other far too long to get like that over one aggravating trip.

Still, they had been on the move since five days ago and everyone was tired, freezing, and sore from riding. A few of them had actually taken turns riding in the empty supply wagon to give their legs, butts, and horses some reprieve. Mustang himself had been tempted, but he decided that would be neither the mature nor smart thing to do. Because as unlikely as it was, if they were to be attacked, he would need to be on horseback and ready to jump into action immediately. That was the curse of being the leader sometimes.

"We'd better be getting a year's worth of supplies for this." Havoc grumbled under his breath as he chewed idly on the inside of his cheek. The man had run out of cigarettes several weeks ago and had been mooching off of other soldiers since then. The Colonel was honestly sorry for the Second Lieutenant, even if he did believe the cancer sticks would be the cause of his death if the Drachmans weren't.

"Not very likely," Fuery said and Havoc huffed, sending a large cloud of cold air from his lips.

"No, but you might get a couple of cigs once we get there if you're good." Breda chuckled and Havoc was caught between rolling his eyes at the man's use of cigarette nickname and grinning hopefully at the thought of receiving the one thing that calmed his nerves.

Roy glanced over his shoulder and saw Hawkeye looking off into the distance to their right, the only way she could really stare without her vision meeting a cliff. He wondered what was going through her mind. Maybe she was thinking about smacking one of the men over the head like he was, or maybe she was thinking about the safest way they could continue the route, or perhaps checking if the weather would be stable enough to continue until night, or was she was thinking about nothing at all and just enjoying the landscape? Roy very much doubted he latter though; it didn't sound like something Riza would do.

As if sensing his eyes on her, Hawkeye turned forward again and raised a blonde eyebrow in question. "Something wrong, Sir?"

"Not at all, Lieutenant." Mustang said, a small smile sliding onto his face despite the cold that was making him frown moments ago. "Just admiring the view."

Yeah, that beautiful view. Uh huh, that's what you were admiring. The sudden eruption of his Ed-voice conscience almost made Roy jump. Which was silly, really, because the Ed-voice was his own mind. Still, his thoughts caught him off guard sometimes, and it had been a while since he heard that voice. Roy frowned at that thought, but Hawkeye spoke before he could think any further on it.

"There's going to be a storm soon." The woman was looking off into the horizon again and Roy followed her gaze this time to see something that made his stomach drop: Thick dark clouds moving quickly in their direction.

The Colonel groaned quietly and looked back at the others. "Men, we're going to have to find somewhere to hole up soon. A storm's coming and we need a place to wait it out."

"Ah, dammit, talk about a setback." Havoc grumbled and Breda grunted in agreement. "Hey, guys, it's not that bad." Fuery tried to make the others lighten up about their predicament and Roy had to huff a small laugh because there was something about the way the young man spoke that reminded him of Alphonse.

Alphonse… Edward… Wait, storm. Edward. Storm. Edward near a storm. Edward in a storm. Crap.

Roy's attitude did a one eighty and his attention snapped to Hawkeye once again, slowing his horse so he was riding abreast with her. He saw a similar expression of worry deep in her honey brown eyes and he cleared his throat quietly. "Are we thinking the same thing?"

"Yes." She replied, voice equally as soft. "If he's been gone as long as your informant reported, it's very likely he is near enough that he could get caught in the storm. There is a small chance that he is already close enough to the camp to avoid it, or that he saw the clouds and found somewhere to stay-"

"Knowing Fullmetal, he would never do that. He'd just be an idiot and try to power through it." Roy muttered and Riza dipped her head gravely. "That's what I'm worried about. It's going to be a heavy storm by the looks of it."

"We should try and find him before it hits." Even as he said it, Mustang knew it was stupid to suggest. That's not why they were out here, and as much as he, and probably everyone else in the group, wanted to, they could not deviate from their orders to look for someone who might not even be close by.

"You know we can't, Sir." It was all Hawkeye said and Roy sighed and nodded his head slowly.

"I know."

"Where should we stay for the length of the storm?" Hawkeye did not let the Colonel stew in his thoughts of where Edward might be, or what he might be doing, and for that he was grateful.

"We're on the length of a cliff… Search for any caves or breaks in the face. Somewhere we can stay sheltered." Mustang spoke his orders loudly so the others would hear as well and the next moment a chorus of "yes, sir"s rang through the snowy area.


Twenty minutes later there was still no sign of shelter and the wind had picked up, blowing hard enough that Roy thought he was going to be pushed off his horse one or two times. Snow had started to fall slowly, the flakes too small to be worried with, but everyone knew it was only a matter of time before it picked up and they moved as quickly as possible.

It was Falman who found what they were looking for in the end, and as the gray haired man headed back to Mustang's position to tell him of his discovery, he noticed a lump in the snow and wondered how he'd missed it the first time around. Upon further inspection the man realized the lump was red and black where white wasn't covering it. Despite the threat of a storm, Falman pulled his horse up to the lump and dismounted. No sooner than he'd crouched down was he shooting to his feet again and hollering at the top of his lungs.

"COLONEL!"

Adrenaline shot through Mustang immediately and he kicked his steed in the direction of Falman's cries. He expected to find the man defending himself against a soldier or a wild animal, not hovering over a little mound of dark snow.

"What is it?" Roy skidded to a stop and jumped from his horse to stand next to Falman. The man swallowed thickly and pointed at the thing that Roy realized was a figure in the snow. The Colonel's heart leapt into his throat when he spotted a shock of blond hair.

He dropped into a crouch immediately and wiped the small dusting of snow off of the small form and he let out a shaky breath as he and Falman stared at a pale, battered, and seemingly dead, Fullmetal Alchemist.

Injuries and Intimacy

Shock. Confusion. Shock again. Guilt.

All those things whirled around inside Mustang until just the latter remained. The second he had crouched beside the frozen figure that was Edward, he'd collapsed to his knees, digging the boy completely out of the white powder that encased him. Somewhere in the midst of doing that, Falman had called the others over, but Roy hadn't even looked up. He just sat there, staring at the blond, taking in his appearance.

The first thing the Colonel noticed was the fact that Edward's hair was not in its trademark braid, but whipped around his head, sticking to his face and the ground around him. After that, he saw the dark bruises that encased the teen's horribly thin face. Not much else was visible since his ever faithful red coat was wrapped around him, but Mustang wouldn't doubt if the rest of him was just as sickly skinny.

The Colonel reached out and brushed shaky fingers against Ed's neck, fearing the worst. When he didn't feel a pulse for several seconds, his breath caught in his throat. Then, just before he pulled away, there was a small, extremely weak thump against his fingertips. The Flame Alchemist let his eyes slip closed in relief and he kept his hand against the teen's pale, freezing skin, scared that if he pulled away the small heartbeat that screamed life would disappear.

The others stood beside and behind their leader, watching carefully as he checked their younger, former teammate for signs of life. None of them came close to Mustang, seeing he was in shock. They all were. Instantly upon their arrival Fuery had clamped a hand over his mouth to cover a rather loud gasp and both Havoc and Breda had just stared with wide eyes. Hawkeye, for her part, took a strong stance directly behind Mustang. She watched as her commander seemed to mentally fall apart when he touched Edward and she shook her head, knowing this was not something they could be doing right now. Her sharp gaze traveled to the horizon and saw the storm clouds were only a mile out at best.

"Colonel." She spoke only just loud enough to be heard, voice unwavering despite her immense surprise at finding Edward.

But Roy wasn't listening, he was pulling Edward closer so he could flip him onto his back. Riza could almost see the thoughts going through his head, running rampant, tearing at his heart. She saw his question of "what happened?" in the way his shoulders tensed; the "who is responsible for Fullmetal's sorry state?" in the gloved hands curling tightly around thin shoulders; the small bow of the head that wondered, "how could I have let this happen?"

"Colonel." She kept her voice as level as she could, trying to draw her superior out of his stupor. Roy ignored her though and the Lieutenant tried to keep her eyes from widening when the Colonel turned Edward onto his back, revealing giant purple, black, and yellow bruising across the teen's chest. Riza immediately noted the widening of Roy's eyes and she knew he was beyond soft words. Gone were Ed's shirt and that ridiculous leather abomination he called a jacket, and that was not something any of them would ever be okay with.

"Colonel!" Hawkeye steeled her voice, chasing away any semblance of warmth it may have held moments before. Soft words were not going to reach her Colonel now, not when he had that burning fury in his eyes. Not when he unconsciously curled protectively around the boy.

Roy shook his head and something new briefly flickered across his face that Riza easily identified as disgust, and wondered what he was seeing. From the corner of her eye the sniper noticed Havoc take a step forward and went to warn him not to get near, but the second lieutenant was already crouching down, reaching for the shoulder Roy wasn't touching.

The Colonel's reaction was immediate and sent a small ripple of unease through everyone in the group, save Hawkeye, who had known it was coming. Roy gathered Ed's limp body into his arms faster than one would think humanly possible and snarled at Havoc, "Don't touch him!"

And that was the final straw which caused Hawkeye to take another, sure step, towards the Colonel so her legs were mere inches from his back when she all but shouted, "Sir!"

Roy seemed to snap out of his panic instantly by her voice snapping like a gunshot. He turned quickly and met her steady gaze, but she kept everything, save her eyes, completely unreadable. But that was all she needed to get her message across to him, telling him he needed to calm down and think rationally. Then before he could open his mouth to speak, she did, with all the authority of someone holding a much higher rank than Lieutenant. Because that was what the Colonel needed at that moment. He needed stability; he needed someone to give him orders; he needed something to focus on.

"We need to get to shelter, Sir."

The blonde watched as her superior's grip on Edward loosened and he nodded shakily in response before turning back to Havoc, who was eyeing the black haired man carefully. Roy's guilt for his behavior was visible briefly as he muttered, "Sorry." Havoc shrugged and turned his attention back to Ed. Despite all the yelling and jostling, the teen had not stirred even slightly. That seemed to worry everyone more than they cared to admit. Ed was known for being a deep sleeper, yeah, but not this deep. This wasn't by any means natural.

Nobody voiced those thoughts though, and a minute later, Roy had his trench coat shrugged off and was laying it across Ed's shoulders, wrapping the teen up tightly. When that was finished, he took the little alchemist into his arms and stood up, heading for his horse.

Havoc suggested Roy setting him in the wagon until they got to the cave, but Roy flat out refused to release the teen, and with some difficulty he got onto his nutmeg stallion, placing Ed in front of him so the blond was leaning into his chest. With a quick order to Falman telling the gray haired man to lead the way, the group was off again.


When they came to the large mouth carved into the cliff side, the snow and wind had picked up and made the team immensely grateful for the reprieve. Everyone dismounted and brought their horses into the cave, tying them to the posts of the supply wagon and covering them with heavier blankets than they had previously been using.

Riza had tied Roy's horse since the alchemist would not let go of Edward. She understood what was likely going through his head, so she did not comment on it or begrudge the Colonel's inability to properly do anything at the moment.

For his part, Mustang sat in one of the farther corners of their stony housing where it was a bit warmer. He kept Edward balanced in his lap a moment before he realized that if the teen were to wake he would probably try to punch him for his close proximity and he set the blond down beside him.

Once the others had taken care of the horses and had gotten their sleep gear, they came to sit beside the Colonel. Riza occupied the spot on the other side of Edward so the blond was positioned between her and Mustang, Havoc sat in front of Roy with Breda and Falman flanking him, and Fuery sat beside Riza, completing a small circle.

Nobody spoke for what seemed like hours, choosing instead to stare at the pale, battered body of their little alchemist. Roy resisted the urge to wrap an arm around Ed's shoulders in an attempt to warm him up and instead turned to Fuery and nodded towards a pack in the wagon that, up until that point, had been untouched.

The black haired man quickly scrambled for the bag and handed it over to Mustang's waiting hands where the Colonel opened it and began removing various items. Antiseptic, water, rags, and bandages were Roy's main focus and once he had those in his hands, he turned to Edward. Even in the faint light he could make out the bruising and dried blood that covered nearly every visible part of the teen's body and when his eyes flitted over the black marks littering his stomach Roy felt his guts twist painfully as rage tried its best to curl around him.

Shaking the feeling away, Mustang shifted so he was crouched in front of Ed. The others had backed off slowly when Hakweye shooed them, sending a look that told everyone to give the two alchemists space. Roy barely noticed that though because he was opening the water canteen and beginning to pour some of the liquid onto a clean rag. The first step to this would be getting all of the dirt and grime off Ed so he could see just how bad the damage was.

Once the fabric he held was suitably wet, Roy leaned forward to start cleaning the teen's face, but just as the cloth reached inches from him, the young alchemist stirred. The Colonel immediately froze, and he briefly registered a small gasp from one of the men.

Mustang didn't realize he was holding his breath until Ed's eyes started blinking open slowly and he released it in a quiet sigh of relief. That relief was short lived however, because the moment Edward had blinked away whatever black had been in his vision and taken in his surroundings, he fixed Roy with the most dull, unimpressed look the man had ever seen.

"Go away."

Those were the first words Ed spoke- well, wheezed- and Roy felt like he'd been punched in the gut by a Central train. "What?" The man wasn't even aware the word had slipped from his mouth until Ed spoke again, curling into himself a little as he did.

"M'not in th-the m-mood." The shivering in his voice tore at Roy's heart in a way he hadn't even realized was possible. "Fullmetal-"

"Shut up."

Roy flinched inwardly at that and stared at the teen in front of him with eyes slightly wider than normal. "What?"

"Not now. G-go away." The way Ed continued to curl tighter into himself like he was trying to disappear did not go unnoticed by Roy, but he found he couldn't deal with that just yet. He was still trying to figure out what Ed was going on about.

"What?" Apparently that was his new favorite word, because nothing else seemed to want to form on his tongue.

"You're s-so original to-today."

Now that sounded a bit more like Edward, but the bite was missing from his tone and Roy swallowed a little harder than was probably necessary. "Full- Edward, what are you talking about?"

"Y-you tell me." Edward wasn't even looking at him at that point, choosing instead to bury his face into the lapels of Roy's coat, as he could somehow disappear into them. For some reason that action spurred Mustang into pushing his still outstretched hand forward so he touched Ed's shoulder.

The reaction he got was not at all what Roy expected and it sent him stumbling back onto his butt. Ed's head shot up and his eyes widened as he practically jumped out of his skin and bashed his shoulder against the cave wall, causing his face to momentarily contort with pain. He was drawing his breath in ragged gasps and his jaw was clenched so tightly Roy wondered if he would shatter his teeth.

The two of them stayed like that for several seconds, staring at each other stunned, before Roy felt a hand tap his shoulder and he heard the ever collected voice of Riza tell him to say something. He cleared his throat and almost winced when the sound bounced around the slowly darkening cave. What exactly was he supposed to say? He was still trying to figure that out when Ed's voice startled him.

"You're real…" It sounded like both a question and a statement and Roy felt his mouth go dry. Wait, what? That was not what he'd expected. Nonetheless he answered with a nod. "Of course I am," It came out much softer than he thought it would, and before he knew what he was doing, Roy was reaching forward to touch Ed again.

When his fingers brushed against the teen's bicep, Ed flinched again, but not as violently as before, and the reaction the Flame Alchemist got from that was certainly not something he was prepared for.

"You're real." The words sounded choked in Ed's throat and before Roy knew what was going on, the teen was barrelling -even if it was weak and barely made the Colonel stagger it was the only way one could describe it- into his chest, pale fingers coming up to immediately latch onto the blue jacket of Roy's uniform.

"Uh," Was the only intelligible sound Mustang managed to get out as Ed continued to frantically whisper, "You're real," over and over, as if the mantra was the only thing making what he said true.

Roy hadn't noticed his own arms were circling the boy tightly until he looked over his shoulder to see five sets of eyes locked onto him and the slight form he had cradled to his chest. He gave them all a quick sweep before landing on the rich brown ones he desperately needed and sent the woman a plea for help, mouthing, "What do I do?"

Never before had Edward shown any interest in being anywhere near him and now he suddenly wouldn't let him go. Roy didn't even think he'd ever done more than haul Edward up by the collar of his shirt before this, so he was at a complete loss. It didn't help that his mind was a whirl of painful thoughts.

"What happened?" seemed to be the most popular of them, as it had been for the last hour, but it wasn't the one that could be answered at the moment, if the way Edward was shaking was any indication. "Is he all right?" Was by far the dumbest one in his head, but it still refused to leave for some reason. Still, not one he was going to address right now. Then there were the three that weren't questions at all, but more like things that needed to be said, but he couldn't get out of his mouth: "Let go" "We need to look over your wounds" "You're okay".

For the life of him, Roy could not figure out why he was doing nothing but holding Edward when he had been in situations like this before and handled them just fine. Okay, that was only half true; he had been in similar situations before. When those things had happened in the past, they had never included a teenage boy clinging to him like he was the only thing keeping him grounded. But dammit, he was a Colonel, The Flame Alchemist, he had most certainly had to deal with worse things before! So why was he turned into a sputtering mess when it came to Fullmetal being injured?

Maybe because you care a little more about the kid than the others… For once Roy heard his inner voice as someone other than Fullmetal, but somehow having Hughes' serious tone telling him what he knew, but certainly did not want to hear, did not help anything.

In the midst of his thoughts Roy had started carding his fingers through Edward's hair and Riza had positioned herself behind the teen. She appeared to be debating whether or not she should interrupt, and despite Roy having asked for her help a minute ago, he found he didn't want her trying to remove Edward yet. He had a gut feeling that doing that would cause more harm than good.

When Hawkeye leaned forward to grab Ed's shoulder, Roy shook his head quickly and she drew back with a frown and raised brow. She wanted to know what he was planning on doing. Roy had no clue. All he knew was that instinct told him that touching Edward when he didn't initiate it was a bad idea. A little of that was based off the fact that if anyone Edward didn't like or trust tried to touch him on normal days he flipped out.

Still, he knew something had to be done. Coal eyes looked down at the body pressed tightly against him and his hand paused in the blond locks that he'd been brushing through. Ed had stopped shaking sometime during his exchange with the sniper and gold eyes were now staring at him. Roy was shocked when he saw the emotions swimming just underneath the surface of those molten orbs, because although there was hurt and confusion, fear and surprise, there was no anger, and that had been something Roy had expected from the blond.

"Fullmetal?" He kept his voice just above a whisper and tried not to notice how Ed tensed. When the teen didn't reply verbally, only dipping his head carefully, Roy spoke again. "I… I'm going to need to-" The Colonel stopped himself before he could finish, shaking his head and cursing inwardly. He couldn't start like that. He couldn't interrogate the kid right off the bat or ask to poke and prod at his body. Judging by the burn marks he'd been prodded enough to last a lifetime. The thought of the black scars had Roy swallowing bile and he unconsciously tightened his arms around Edward, earning a tiny whimper. The alchemist gasped and loosened his grip immediately, trying not to notice the pain in Ed's eyes.

"I'm sorry," He found himself murmuring when Edward slowly released the lapels of his uniform. The Colonel refrained from biting his lip when the blond leaned away from his body, as if he was trying to get away, and he drew his arms from the teen, letting Ed scoot backwards. He would have hit Riza, but the Lieutenant had obviously known something like that was going to happen and had changed her position so she was perched to Roy's left.

The light of the cave was almost completely gone by that point and the wind outside had picked up along with the snow and Roy knew it was going to be a long night, especially when he saw that Edward was trying to hide a grimace everytime he took a deep breath. Going from the bruising they had seen upon first finding the boy, Roy was positive quite a few of the teen's ribs were broken, so the pain the blond was likely feeling didn't surprise him. It did make him feel extremely guilty though, because tightening his grip on the kid had probably made it all the worse.

Ed was suffering and in pain, and the only reason it wasn't getting better for him was because Roy couldn't get his act together. For the life of him, the Colonel could not figure out where to start, and the look of disbelief Ed was sending his way, as if he didn't quite think what he was seeing was actually real, wasn't helping.

To his surprise, it was Fuery who abruptly took control of the situation, apparently having seen the discomfort Ed was experiencing with breathing also. "Breda, I'm going to need light."

"Right." The redhead snatched the nearest lantern and lit the wick inside before following the smaller man over to Edward's side. "Hey Edward," He greeted softly, cautiously, as if he was approaching a wild animal. But then, with the distrustful way Fullmetal was eyeing them with bared teeth, Fuery might as well have been.

"It's okay, Ed, it's just Fuery. Remember? And I'm Breda."

That earned the men a glare, and as much as Roy would have loved to laugh and clap Ed on the back for how normal the expression looked, he could see it lacked fire and was bordering more on defensive. "I know! I'm not s-stupid." He snapped.

That caused Fuery to smile his easy smile and he slowly crouched down beside Edward where the water and bandages had been discarded. "We know you aren't," He soothed and the blond seemed to calm down slightly. "Hey Edward, is it okay if a check your wounds? They look pretty bad and they should be wrapped before they get worse."

That got a very negative reaction from Ed. "NO!" He all but shouted and pushed himself further back until he hit the wall. The teen brought his flesh hand up to grab at the clothing at his arms, tightening it around his frame as best he could. It was then that Roy noticed the fact that Ed wasn't using his automail arm at all. It hung limply at his side and seemed to be dragging him down more than anything.

"What happened to your automail?" He asked slowly and Ed's eyes narrowed as cracked lips stretched over his teeth in a snarl, "Nothing!"

"Edward, you have to let me help you, or else you're going to hurt yourself more." Fuery was trying again to get Edward to let him near, and the teen stopped baring his teeth at Roy to spare the man with glasses an irritated glance.

"No. Y-you can't touch me."

Roy was about to tell Edward to stop being stubborn and let Fuery help him when Havoc spoke up. "Can he if the Colonel helps?"

That question threw Roy as off guard as it did Ed and both males looked up sharply. Roy wanted to ask Jean why he would even bother with such a stupid question, because of course Edward wasn't going to want him near him, but his inner comments were cut off when Ed uttered an almost inaudible "fine".

The Colonel's eyebrows shot into his hairline and he numbly accepted a few of the medical supplies Fuery handed him as he got to his feet and approached Ed. He knelt down and went to push aside the jackets around his shoulders and Ed bit his lip, muttering a request for the others to not be so close, which threw Roy through a loop because Edward never muttered. Nonetheless he ordered everyone except Fuery away. While Havoc, Breda, and Falman went over to the wagon which was several feet away, Hawkeye stayed a bit closer, her keen eyes following their every move as they tended to Ed's wounds.


The state Edward was in could not be described in one word, but if Roy had to try, he would use "horrific".

After Edward had removed the jacket and red cloak, Fuery and Roy had forced down hisses. If his chest and face had been bad, his arms and back were worse. His automail had been ripped apart in a way that made Roy's stomach churn, and when checked Fuery at the corner of his eye, he saw tears forming behind the man's glasses.

Edward had not been the most cooperative of patients either. If one of the soldiers poked a sensitive area -which was pretty much everywhere- they would get a growl, whimper, or twitch that made it rather difficult to work. At one point Roy had narrowed his eyes at the teen and ordered him to sit still. He'd instantly regretted it though when Edward had nodded mutely and refused to meet his gaze afterward.

The men worked in relative silence, only speaking when they were muttering apologies to Ed when he flinched or hissed in pain. Fuery probably stayed silent because he was on the verge of breaking down and wouldn't have been able to talk to the teen if he'd wanted to. Roy stayed quiet because he wasn't sure if he would be able to speak without screaming. Every new wound they found, every bruise, cut, and fracture they had to carefully try and fix made his blood boil, and all he wanted was to was find who was responsible for his charge's condition and kill them. Burn the flesh off their bones slowly and make them feel half the pain they made Ed go through.

By the time they finished cleaning, disinfecting, and wrapping what they could, Roy asked Fuery to grab something for Ed to eat and the young man returned a minute later with bread. There wasn't much of it and for that Roy was thankful; with Ed being as thin as he was, a lot of food in his system would not be a good idea unless they wanted to be cleaning stomach contents off the stone floor.

Fuery held the bread out to Edward and Roy watched the teen's eyes flick rapidly between the food and Fuery several times as if he was having an internal struggle, trying to figure out if he could take what was offered. Then he was suddenly lunging forward and ripping the sustenance from Fuery's grasp with more force than necessary.

Roy watched in fascinated horror as Edward savagely tore at the food, devouring it in a matter of seconds and leaving not a crumb when he finished chewing. The effect of having food in his stomach was instantaneous and Roy watched as Ed's eyelids drooped just slightly and he opened his mouth slightly, eyeing the water canteen at Fuery's feet. Mustang retrieved the drink immediately and held it out to the teen. When Edward took it that time he wasn't nearly as violent as he had been with the food, and while he still drank quickly, it wasn't so fast Roy feared he would choke himself.

The teen's eyes seemed to be growing heavier as the minutes ticked by, yet he refused to close them and after observing, Roy realized the blond was waiting for everyone else to settle down for the night before he did. The Colonel would have said something, but Hawkeye, Falman, and Fuery seemed to pick up on the fact too, and soon enough everyone was undoing the ties to their bedrolls and lying down.

Havoc brought a spare blanket over to Roy before he went to sleep, and even though no words were exchanged the dark haired man knew what it was meant for. Mustang unrolled his own bed a foot or so from Edward, catching the teen's gaze from the corner of his eye as Ed carefully watched his every move. Once the Colonel was situated, he unfolded the blanket and set it in front of Edward. "Go to sleep, Fullmetal." He murmured before lying down on his back, resting one hand on his abdomen and letting his eyes close halfway. He watched as Edward looked at the adults spread around him, their even breathing and snoring assuring the alchemist they were asleep.

Roy could see the tension leave Edward's shoulders and the teen's eyes slipped closed almost as fast as he collapsed onto the material beneath him. The Colonel let out a pent up sigh and closed his eyes the rest of the way when he decided the blond was actually going to sleep, his exhaustion getting the better of him.

The older alchemist started dozing almost immediately, which is why when he felt something press against his side he started and jerked his head up to see what was touching him. He relaxed when he saw it was only Edward. The teen had shifted in his half asleep state and was now curled against Mustang. When Roy felt a small tug on his arm, he looked down to find thin fingers grasping the material around his elbow loosely and a small smile of surprise curled his lips as he settled back onto the bedroll.

Before sleep took over completely, Roy pulled his arm from Ed's grasp and wrapped it around the teen's shoulders, drawing him closer. For a brief moment the alchemist feared he woke the boy, but when Ed's hand only groped the air before finding another hold closer to Roy's heart, the man relaxed. He wasn't worried about how Edward would react if he woke before him, because after all, he was doing it to keep the teen warm.

And if Roy drew the small boy a little closer and brought a blond head to rest on his shoulder when Ed sighed in his sleep… it was only because a breeze swept through the cave and he didn't want the teen to be woken by the cold.

Nightmare and Nurture

"It's okay, you're safe," Mustang had his hands placed on either one of Edward's shoulders and the teen found himself slowly relaxing as the weight of what the man was saying dawned on him. He was… safe?

Ed brought his good hand up and loosely grabbed the Colonel's sleeve, a tentative smile coming to his face when the man didn't disappear or pull away. Yeah… he was safe. He was always safe with Roy. It was something the teen would never say aloud for fear of being laughed at or mocked for the remainder of his life -and he didn't want to boost Mustang's already huge ego- but it was true. Despite how everything around Ed was always changing, for better or worse, there was one thing that always remained constant, and that was the Colonel.

Edward could always count on Roy to make his life feel normal. No matter what kind of day he was having, good or bad, he could come to Mustang and know he was going to get a short joke; a quip or two about his inability to stay out of trouble; a mission that could help him find a Philosopher's stone.

The teen never told anyone, not even his brother, but he liked the Colonel. He liked that Mustang could pull him out of his bad moods with just a raised eyebrow and a sarcastic comment of "what has you down- oh wait, your genes", which would only send the boy into a flurry of indignant screeching about how he wasn't short. And when Ed was happy, it was the same. While he and the Colonel didn't have the kind of relationship that could be seen as friendly most of the time, they had a system. They could work around each other, and knew how to get on each others nerves while also knowing how to soothe the other in their weird way. They never comforted, or asked right out if something was bothering the other, they just kept their dance going. Roy would mock his height and get him riled up, and Ed would comment on his uselessness and give him even more paperwork to deal with, leaving the man frustrated and inwardly cursing.

That was just how they worked, and Ed liked it, liked knowing that when everything around him changed, Mustang stayed the same. And that was way Ed held on and believed the man when Roy told him he was safe. He would always believe him when he said things like that.

"I'm safe," He whispered and looked up at Roy, locking his gaze with his superior which caused Mustang to smile softly. "Yes," The man affirmed as he shifted his grip from Ed's right shoulder to place over the smaller hand still gripping the elbow of his jacket.

Edward swallowed hard and nodded. When Roy asked if he could stand, the teen nodded and allowed the man to help him get to his feet. Ed was surprised when his legs didn't tremble or threaten to give under his weight but he didn't comment on it.

"Fullmetal, I need you to tell me what happened to you." Mustang was talking to him and Ed found the words didn't make his breath seized in his throat like he'd expected them too. He felt somehow numbed, but not in a bad way. It was like all the fear and pain had been taken away and all he was left with was a dull, manageable, ache. Not even the presence of the rest of the team behind him made him anxious like it had when they'd found him.

So when he spoke, he didn't sugarcoat it or hesitate, because he felt okay, because as long as Mustang and the others were around he would always be okay. "The Drachmans. Colonel, they're planning on attacking us from behind! They plan on slaughtering everyone- we have to stop them!"

The blond stared at the Colonel intensely, waiting for what was sure to come: The widening of eyes, the muttered curse, the barking of orders. It never came though. In fact… Mustang was smiling? Wait, what? Why would he be smiling? "What's so funny?"

And then Mustang laughed, and Edward shuffled away from the man so fast he would not have been surprised if the rubber of his boots had been skidded off. The sound of the Colonel's mirth bounced around the dark cavern loudly and Ed couldn't help bringing his hand up to one of his ears in a sad attempt to muffle the awful sound. This wasn't how it was supposed to go. Mustang was supposed to be raging and cooking up plans aloud as he paced back and forth until Hawkeye had to grab his shoulders and make him sit.

"You really are pathetic, aren't you Fullmetal?" The words felt like a physical slap to the face and Ed blinked rapidly, staring at Roy with a look of shock. He did not just say that…

"You should see your face! Ha! Priceless- I tell you, if I had a camera right now…" Roy shook his head and placed his hands on his hips as he did so. Edward couldn't help but think the way the Colonel stood was familiar, but he couldn't recall why.

He placed it a moment later when Mustang stepped forward and grabbed him by his collar, hauling him off his feet so he was held inches from the man's face. The way Roy's breath ghosted over his cheeks was enough to make him want to flinch, but it was the alchemists words had the blond wincing. "What's wrong, Pipsqueak, cat got your tongue?"

Pipsqueak?! He… no, it couldn't be… but Mustang would never… so it had to be… "Envy." Edward gasped out the name and if it was possible the Colonel's grin grew even wider. And when the man spoke again, it was with a voice that didn't belong to him; it was raspy and mocking and it made it's user sound like they were teetering on the edge of sanity. "Oh, what's this? He actually caught on?"

Ed was about to wonder if the Homonculus in his superior's body was talking like he wasn't there to aggravate him, but his train of thought was brought to a halt when he heard snickering behind him. The teen threw his gaze over his shoulder and his breath hitched when he found three pairs of dark eyes glaring at him instead of the warm five that had been there moments before. It was hard to make out everyone in the dim light, but Ed didn't need to look anywhere except those greasy black orbs to know Black, Void, and Pouty were the ones standing there.

A crackling sound had Ed turning his attention back to Envy-Mustang, but when pale blue eyes stood in the place of black, Ed found a yelp jumping from his lips and all thoughts of Envy fled as he tried to scramble back despite the fact that he was still being held above the ground.

"Aw what's the matter? I thought you liked me better like this?" The raspy voice was gone then and replaced by something worse: The smooth, condescending voice that belonged to the person Edward despised and feared with every bone in his body. Ford's smirk had Ed wanting to shrink into himself and glare all at once, but the teen couldn't decide which to choose, so he simply looked at the floor, waiting for the man to continue.

"Oi, I'm talking to you!" Ford shook him and Ed choked when the collar of his coat shifted so it was pressed against his windpipe. "I- ack!"

"What was that? I couldn't hear you." Ford's grip tightened and Edward gasped, trying to get oxygen into his lungs but failing due to the vice-like pressure of his clothes against his throat. "C-c-can't br-"

Ford sighed and dropped Ed to allow the teen air and solid ground, for which the blond was extremely grateful. He hated being near that man, and being touched by him was enough to make Edward shudder and wish he could disappear into the cracks of the world forever.

"So, Pipsqueak, you really thought you could get away, didn't you?" Ed cried out when Ford's boot met his face and he was sent sprawling onto his back. Before he could push himself up, the soldier's food came down again and settled atop his stomach. "Well, did you?"

Ed clenched his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering and he nodded ever-so-slightly. A sharp chuckle was elicited from the man and every word he spoke was like a dagger to the blond's heart. "Oh my, that is unfortunate for you then. I will give you credit on your escape plan; that was nicely executed. But did you really think we would let you escape? Are you really so stupid to think you would ever be able to run from us? Did you really think those silly Amestrian soldiers could protect you?"

cold dread flooded Ed's system and he stared at Ford with bulging eyes. That was right. Mustang and the others… if Ford and the Drachmans were there, where was the team?

Ford saw the panicked question in his eyes apparently, and a moment later the soldier was stepping off of Edward and making a grand sweeping gesture to something just beyond the teen's line of sight, a triumphant smirk on his face. "See for yourself."

The blond didn't know when he got to his feet or when he walked in the direction Ford had indicated, but he did know when he reached his destination, he collapsed.

Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood was everywhere. It coated the stone walls and ground like a gory painting, it's sickening copper smell and sanguine coloring telling a story of violence and pain, a futile struggle that resulted in death. And the characters illustrating this story were none other than the ones Ed had been searching for the minute the Drachmans had made themselves known.

Fuery sat propped up against the wall, his face pounded into something almost unrecognizable and blood pooling under him from an unseen wound. Breda lay a few feet from Fuery and the man's lack of head made Ed almost lose his stomach. Falman only fared a bit better; his head was still attached, but only just barely, and multiple holes ripped through his body made up for that. Havoc had a saber in his chest where his heart no doubt was, and the flesh of his stomach was replaced by the stone of one of the many spikes that protruded from the ground. Hawkeye's condition scared the teen in a way the others' didn't though. While they were bloody, broken and bruised, she looked completely unharmed, at peace, like she was only sleeping. It made Edward want to punch something, because the only thing that made him know she wouldn't be waking was a stupid hole in her temple that still had red trickling from it. The blond didn't stare at the Lieutenant for long though, because when he noticed her pale hand stretching out towards a patch of shadow he was moving again.

He knew there was only one person it could be, but that didn't stop the alchemist's sharp intake of breath when he found the last member of their group. Mustang was lying on his side, eyes still open and staring in Ed's direction. The teen felt heat pool into his own eyes as he took in how dull and lifeless Roy's were. What were once full of fire and ambition, mirth, steely determination and confidence were now full of nothing. And even though the Colonel's body was riddled with injuries, some of which had yet to stop bleeding, nothing bothered the blond more than those dim circles.

The tears fell hard and fast then, and no matter how hard Ed tried to stop them, they refused to cease. And then rough hands were grabbing him and pulling him away from the body of his superior. He flailed and tried to fight back, but Ford would not budge. "That's right, they're gone. Nobody is going to save you now. And we're going to make you suffer."

Then pain as hot as molten steel and as cold as dry ice was slamming into him from every direction, searing his nerves and making him jerk violently. Ed didn't know when his own screaming mixed in with everything else, but he knew just like the saltwater cutting like rivers down his cheeks, he couldn't stop it. Not even when he heard someone calling his name. Not even when his eyes began to close and he thought he might be dying.


"Fullmetal! Fullmetal, wake up!"

Roy had been woken when he'd heard sniffling close to his ear and found Fullmetal crying in his sleep, eyes clenched in pain. He had been mumbling "no" under his breath over and over and Roy had pulled the blond closer to him and tried waking him by rubbing soothing circles in his back. But then Edward had started struggling, kicking and punching Roy with his good arm until the Colonel was forced to sit up and pull Ed against his chest to prevent the teen from hurting himself. And then Edward had started crying out. Loudly.

Everyone had woken and someone lit a lantern to see what was going on. Roy was sure the sight of their fifteen year old prodigy sobbing and screaming in his sleep was not at all comforting to any of them. He was sure a few of them wanted to come over and try their hand at waking Ed, but Roy shook his head before anyone tried. He knew from experience that waking from a nightmare with a bunch of people around you would only cause more panic. No, they had to wait this out and let Edward come to by himself.

He didn't have to wait long and when Ed's eyes flew open, his scream cut off with a gasp and he stopped struggling so hard. Gold eyes still filled with moisture flicked about wildly until the teen had looked at each and every one of the people in the cave, and when they came to rest on Roy's face Mustang peered back, using his eyes to tell Ed he was safe.

Trepidation was written all over the boy's face and Roy loosened his hold on the small body, instinct telling him it would help Ed calm down if he didn't feel trapped. The blond watched as Mustang took his hands away and set them by his sides before his eyes were darting back to the man's face. Roy never once looked away from the teen and that seemed to help Ed push away whatever fear he was feeling, because a moment later the small alchemist was fisting the material of Mustang's jacket again and pressing his forehead into the hollow of the Colonel's collarbones.

Roy could tell from the way Edward would relax for a few seconds and then tense up immediately afterward that the teen was fighting sleep again and he frowned. That was no good. If Ed was refusing to sleep it meant he felt threatened, unsafe. Roy needed Ed to feel safe. The Colonel sighed softly and let his chin rest atop the dirt coated gold of Edward's head, feeling the boy's muscles bunch up briefly before he loosened up once more.

The Colonel looked around to see everyone except Riza had gone to sleep. The sniper stayed on her bedroll, but she was sitting straight backed, ready to move quickly if Roy or Edward needed her. Roy sent her a tired half-smile and went back to looking at Ed's hair before she could return it.

"Fullmetal?" The flinch he received let him know the younger alchemist was still awake and Roy closed his eyes and continued, "It's okay if you want to sleep, you know. Nobody here is going to hurt you. You're safe, I promise. You're safe."

The man tightened his hold just slightly as he waited for any sort of response, but when none came he tilted his head to check Ed's face. The teen's eyes were half-lidded and the Colonel could feel the boy starting to relax. He didn't know why, but he continued to repeat himself, telling Edward he was safe until he heard even breathing and saw the blond's eyes were closed.


The morning had gone by unnaturally quiet by their normal standards. Instead of listening to Breda and Havoc trade quips back and forth as they went about their morning routine, Riza got to watch the two work in silence, something she had always wished to see, but not under these circumstances. She noted how Havoc kept stealing glances over his shoulder to check on Roy and Ed, as if to make sure nothing had happened to the two since he last looked at them. Breda on the other hand, had checked on the Colonel and blond exactly once and since then had been making a conscious effort to not do it again. As if avoiding the two would make the problem they presented go away.

When Fuery woke Riza couldn't help but see how disheveled he appeared, which wasn't him at all. Between the five of them, it had always been herself and the young man that kept themselves pristine. The circles under his eyes did not go unnoticed by the woman either. Riza would guess the man had gotten as little sleep as she had, but he gave her a small greeting before heading immediately to the horses, going about getting them fed and watered. He seemed to be doing the same thing as Breda, avoiding the two at the side. The only difference was that Breda actually managed it.

As Fuery went to get the feed to his horse, his attention slipped over to the Colonel and the sniper watch as his expression immediately went from carefully put together, to broken. It made her get to her feet and go over to help, sensing he'd need it before the task was complete. Out of all of them, Fuery was the one who didn't handle things like this very well. He was the sensitive one, the person you would go to for a shoulder to cry on. He had always admired Edward for being able to do the things he did at such a young age, and seeing the blond in such a devastating state was hitting the younger group member hard. His hands shook as he tried to get a grip on the water bucket and Riza gently took it from him, earning her a shaky but grateful smile which she returned, pouring into it the calm and reassurance he needed.

Once their animals were taken care of, the blonde gravitated towards Breda, who was cursing under his breath as he went about trying to get the wicks of a few lanterns lit. One was being particularly stubborn and in turn frustrating the redhead. Riza shook her head as she stepped up to the man and took the lighter from his hands, going to set fire to the oil coated string. With Breda, it was a bit harder to tell when he needed help, because he was always sarcastic, sometimes a bit brash, and he didn't like asking for emotional support. You had to know him in order to be able to see something was wrong, and even then sometimes it was difficult. So Riza met Breda's gaze and sent him the silent message that everything would be fine and the irritation that had been etched into the Second Lieutenant's features smoothed out. He inclined his head slightly and Riza took that as cue to move on.

Havoc was digging into the food supply when she came to stand beside him, and he didn't have to say anything for Hawkeye to be able to tell he was stressed and worried. The blond always took it upon himself to try and handle everyone else's problems. He hated seeing others carry so much, so he liked to try and lighten the load even when he knew it was no use and there was nothing he could do. Havoc liked to protect people, even at the cost of his own health. He was like her in that respect. It was for that reason that Riza placed a hand on his shoulder and gave him a quick squeeze when he tensed. In that moment he needed stability, somebody who knew what he was feeling, somebody who could be a pillar of strength for him to draw off of.

The man sighed quietly and muttered an airy, "I know," In the sniper's direction. Riza let her hand slip from his shoulder and she took some food from the bag, telling the blond she would give it to Falman for him.

The gray haired man stood a little ways off, leaning against the wall in his usual straight backed manner. The only thing that told Hawkeye something was off was the way his eyes were zeroed on Roy and Edward's still forms, not looking away once to see what anyone else was doing. He made no move to let the woman know he registered her presence when she came to his side and Riza knew he was thinking. That's what Falman did, he was the brain of the team, constantly collecting information, analyzing it, checking to make sure it made sense. That was what he was trying to do now, but Hawkeye knew he wouldn't be able to, because there was nothing logical about any of this. There was no reason for Edward to be hurt and yet he was, there was no way to analyze and make sense of it because it didn't make sense. And Falman was having trouble accepting that.

Riza pressed the rations into his hands with a one word order of, "Eat," that had the man turning to her sharply. The blonde could see the confusion and sorrow swirling in his eyes and she let her fingers trail his palm when he finally took the food from her. It wasn't much, but it was all Falman really needed and he gave the sniper a small nod of thanks before she walked off towards the two on the ground that she had yet to be near.

Edward was curled into a ball atop Roy's stomach with a clump of fabric still held tightly in his fist. Riza could barely see his face because it was tucked into the collars of the coats hanging off his shoulders, but what was visible was scrunched slightly in discomfort. That meant he was either having another nightmare, or was pretending to be asleep. And given that Roy still had not removed the protective arm from around the teen's waist, Riza could only assume it was the latter, because if there was anything that seemed to be calming the blond more than anything these past few hours, it was Roy's presence.

The sniper crouched a foot or so from the two and studied Edward's posture. He was just a little too tense to be in the realm of sleep, yet he refused to move or open his eyes. Riza was certain her being right next to him had something to do with that and she didn't miss the way a small sliver of hurt embedded itself into her heart. Edward had always been so trusting of her before and seeing him hide from her now was not a something she wanted to have to get used to.

"Edward?" The teen's eyes opened to meet hers, but instead of recognition being the first thing that passed across his face, it was fear. "It's just me," The woman remembered what she'd heard Roy telling the blond earlier and tried it out herself, hoping to coax the same calm from the boy that the Colonel had. "You're safe."

The words did not have the effect she desired and she watched as Edward seemed to tighten the ball he was in and drew his brows together in a frown. The distrust practically oozed from the blond's pores and he shook his head. Riza found it hard to believe Ed denied her so quickly; they had been close in the past, he had trusted her. She just wanted to talk to him -wanted to help him. That was what she was there for: to keep everyone together, to make sure the machine kept running smoothly, to make sure they were always all right. That was her job and she refused to give up. She would get Edward to trust her again.

"You are," Riza insisted softly. She wasn't going to push, because that would likely scare him, but she was going to at least try. She had to.

"No," Ed whispered in reply and shook his head again. The motion got Roy's attention even in sleep and the man tightened his arm around the teen, and Ed allowed it, appearing to feel safer if the relaxed muscles were any indication. Riza understood that. Roy was the leader, the one Edward had always looked up to for direction and protection, that obviously had not changed even when everything else had. That didn't stop the pain of rejection from splashing Riza in the face like ice water. Edward didn't feel safe when she was around, he had stated that with his one word of denial. That one word had cut her off from being able to help him, and that hurt more than she would ever admit.

The sniper refused to succumb to that pain though. Yes, Edward didn't trust her yet. Yet. He would, he just did not at the moment. But he trusted Roy, that much was as clear as day. So she would just have to help the Colonel as best she could. Help Roy help Ed.

A groan erupted in the silence suddenly and Hawkeye saw Roy waking. She noted the way Ed gasped and lifted his head when Mustang opened his eyes.

For his part, Roy grunted at the pressure on his chest and went to pull it off, but when Edward whimpered the man seemed to be brought back into awareness and he froze. The Lieutenant watched as the two seemed to have a silent conversation, Roy tilting his head slightly, Ed's eyes losing their wide, wild look to be replaced by something more neutral, Roy's eyebrows drawing down in thought, Ed sighing quietly. A moment later the blond was clambering off the Colonel's stomach to sit on the side away from Riza.

The look Roy sent her when his gaze left Edward was questioning and Riza shook her head, informing that the teen hadn't really interacted with her. Roy sighed and rubbed the grit from his eyes before looking back down at Edward. The blond was staring at his feet and Roy slowly reached out and brushed his fingers against his shoulder.

Riza noted that while Ed's head snapped to attention, he didn't flinch as violently as he had the last time Roy touched him. That was encouraging. The woman studied the two when Roy pressed his palm between the boy's shoulder blades and Ed leaned into the touch after a moment of hesitation. It was the fastest Ed had calmed down so far and it made Riza wonder when he would be okay with others near him.

A grumbling stomach alerted the sniper to Edward's need for food and she got up as quickly as she could without startling the boy. As it was the blond still jumped a bit and moved closer to Roy, though she didn't think it was a conscious decision. The woman didn't miss the way the Colonel's eyes widened a fraction either. This was just as strange and concerning to him as it was to her. Maybe more so for Roy because he didn't seem to understand why Edward wanted him of all people. Riza knew why of course, as did the others, but she was not going to say anything. Roy would have to figure it out by himself.

When the Lieutenant came up to Havoc and shook her head before he could ask anything and the blond sighing as he handed her what she had come for wordlessly. Riza pat the man's shoulder before turning away and going back over to the woman tried not to frown when she saw that Ed had moved away from Roy in the brief minute she had her back turned, and with a quick glance Roy's way, sent a question asking what had happened, but all she got in reply was a small shrug and a mouthed, "I don't know."

The woman handed Roy his rations and then turned to face Edward, bending into a crouch so she was closer to his eye level. "Are you hungry?" She held the bread out to the teen, far away enough so as not to scare him, but close enough that he wouldn't have to scramble too much to reach it. The sniper couldn't help but compare the action to approaching a wild animal. Every muscle in Ed's body seemed to be coiled and ready to spring should anything provoke him, and Riza was trying not to give him a reason to want to attack.

Her question seemed to fall on deaf ears and Edward continued staring at the dark floor, so Riza tried again, a little louder to get his attention. That time Ed's focus was on her instead of the stone, but he didn't look at all interested in accepting her offer. Actually he almost looked upset.

"You're not gonna give it to me anyway."

His voice sounded so hollow it made Riza want to reach out to try and bridge the gap between them, fill whatever void had suddenly taken over the little alchemist's emotions. The Lieutenant stayed where she was though and instead shook her outstretched hand slightly, drawing Ed's attention from her face to the food. It was painfully obvious that Edward didn't trust her in the slightest, and whatever had happened to him made the teen believe she was only toying with him, dangling the thing he wanted in front of him only so she could cruelly pull it away. It was sickening to see the once proud Fullmetal Alchemist looking so sad over something like the possibility of food being withheld, and the sniper knew what she had to do. "I am going to give it to you."

At that point in time, the teen was never going to trust her enough to come close, so Riza placed the bread on the floor and nudged it towards him carefully. Ed eyed her the entire time, but as soon as her arm retracted he snatched the food up and brought it to his mouth. There was a moment of hesitation before the blond bit into the grainy, slightly hard, ration and another when he went to bite again. At that point Riza turned away and went to look at Roy, giving the smaller alchemist some privacy.

The Colonel had yet to touch his own food because he was transfixed as he watched Ed more than likely devour his own breakfast. There was mostly shock in the expression he wore, but Riza saw plenty of anger and confusion in there too. He was obviously angry with the entire situation and the fact that Edward hadn't expected to actually be fed; shocked because the way Ed hesitated to eat in front of her, almost like he expected the food to suddenly be taken away, was not something they could have predicted; confusion because for some reason the teen didn't want to be near Roy, the person he had been seeking comfort from minutes before, while he ate.

Riza tapped the toe of Roy's booted foot and motioned to the untouched food in his lap. The Colonel jerked and when he gave his attention to her, the blonde saw surprise in his black eyes and realized he must have been more focused on Ed than she thought. Nonetheless the woman told him he needed to eat. "Yeah," Roy agreed absentmindedly as his focus went back to Edward.

Under normal circumstances Riza would have been frustrated with the Colonel ignoring her, but there was nothing normal about anything right now. The way Roy was looking at the teen screamed abnormal. His brows were drawn together in a frown and his eyes were soft as they watched Edward carefully, his posture told Riza he wanted to move closer to the boy but something held him back from doing so. Maybe it was the way Ed was surely curled around his meal protectively as he stuffed it into his mouth as fast as possible that kept the Colonel away, knowing that if he tried to approach the boy now he would likely be met with violence. Whatever the reason, Roy was staring at Edward with a fierce sort of care that Riza rarely saw directed so plainly at anyone and it made her check the blond to see what he was doing to cause Roy to look at him like that.

The teen had already finished eating and was now staring at the water lying several feet from him with apprehension, like he wanted to move and get it but was afraid to do so for fear of something happening to him. Riza was about to suggest Roy do something to reassure the boy that it was okay to drink but the man was already moving, a glint of determination in his eyes that shadowed the caution from earlier. The Colonel got to his feet slowly and crossed the small space to the canteen with two quick strides before he sat down again and picked the water up.

"You want this?" The question was asked so casually that Ed's eyebrows shot up a fraction before his expression was neutral again and the teen shrugged, trying to act as if he didn't care even as his body betrayed him by leaning forward a little.

Roy continued even after that though and held the canteen out a little farther with a quiet, "Here."

Ed tried to fight the watering in his mouth as he stared at the bottle that contained the sweet liquid that would soothe his dry tongue and scratchy throat. It wouldn't be worth it to drink, he'd just go numb and be bombarded with hallucinations that he couldn't fight off. Even with that in mind Ed found himself reaching out to grab the water. He quickly stopped himself and grit his teeth when he saw the expression Mustang wore was a bit confused. Didn't he understand that the water was bad? Wait… no… no it wasn't… right? Yes, he wasn't with the Drachmans anymore, water was safe to drink.

Roy's words echoed in his mind and the blond found himself releasing some of the tension in his body. "You're safe," That's what he had said, and Mustang didn't lie. Elude telling the truth, yes, twist the truth so it suited his needs, of course, but never had Edward seen Roy lie. Also, the Colonel had saved him from the snow that would have killed him, he'd woken Ed from his nightmare, he protected him and when he was near, Ed felt… safe. It was a word the teen dare not say aloud for fear of ruining it, but nonetheless it was true. Roy made him feel safe, like nothing could hurt him as long as the Colonel was near.

So when the blond went to grab the water from Mustang, he did so without too much fear, and when the cool liquid hit the back of his throat Ed bit down a sigh. He'd almost forgotten how good the tasteless drink could be. It was so good!

"Careful, Fullmetal," He barely heard Roy's warning because as the man said it, Ed felt the water go down the wrong tube and there was suddenly water in his lungs and he was coughing -choking!- and he couldn't breathe -stop!- and even when he dropped the canteen and liquid stopped filling his mouth he couldn't stop hacking and gagging. Even when he'd dispelled the the small amount of water he couldn't rid himself the feeling of his lungs being crushed.

The teen faintly registered hands on his shoulders and a strong voice telling him it was all right, but it didn't matter because his eyes were watering from the choking, and the spit that coated his mouth and drained from his lips was making him feel like the air was going to be cut off again at any moment, and he was trying not to retch as his entire body shook uncontrollably. And it was so stupid, because it had just been water. He'd been in control of it, nobody had been forcing him to drink, it hadn't kept coming when he choked- it had all been him. Inhaling just a little bit of water because he was drinking too fast had turned him into a mess and he hated it.

He hated it but he couldn't stop it. No matter how much Ed tried to rationalize everything, tell himself he was overreacting and that it wasn't that big of a deal, he couldn't. It didn't matter because it had felt real. He'd felt like it was happening all over again. If the teen focused right then, he could still feel the the phantom touches of Pouty as he kept his head still while they poured water over his face. He could hear Void's questions ring through his ears and could see Ford's face, all too eager to help with everything.

"Fullmetal!"

The thundering voice snapped him out of his thoughts and Edward blinked rapidly to rid himself of the wetness that wanted to escape before he turned to look at Roy, who was watching him carefully, a worried look in his eyes, demeanor softened once more upon capturing the boy's attention. Ed didn't hesitate to latch onto the man's arm then when Roy brought it down from his automail shoulder. The Colonel's eyebrows went up but Ed didn't ponder on it. Nor did he think about the nagging feeling in the back of his mind that told him the whole setup was wrong. He ignored the voice that told him he wasn't supposed to find security in Mustang of all people, as well as the one that indignantly shouted that Mustang should definitely not be wrapping his free arm around his bony shoulders and pulling him close.

Edward ignored all those voices because Roy was holding him and he had stopped shaking; because the steady thrum of the Colonel's heart kept his from wandering into the darker corners of his mind; because Roy told him everything was okay and Ed wanted to believe him.

The blond didn't know how long they stayed like that, but when Roy finally pulled away a bit Ed found himself falling forward. Mustang caught him before he could hit the ground and Ed blinked in surprise. He hadn't realized he was leaning so heavily on Roy. He also hadn't realized how much his chest hurt until just then, with the Colonel's hands placed under his arms and a yawn trying to stretch his ribcage.

Ed tried to keep the wince off his face but Mustang noticed and he immediately removed his hands after he got the teen sitting up on his own. "Fullmetal?" Ed tilted his head to let the Colonel know he'd heard. "I need to look at your injuries." The words were gentle, but firm, commanding without being harsh.

Edward bit down the "no" that wanted to fly from his mouth and he forced his head to bob up and down for the black haired man. Even in his mental state the teen knew he could only be healed if he allowed someone to help. As long as Roy was the one helping and nobody else, he could live with it. He didn't think the Colonel was going to go much longer without forcing the issue either, and Edward didn't want that. At least it could be on his terms now, his decision.

Mustang nodded with relief and when he brought his hands up to remove the red and black clothing from the blond's shoulders Ed tried not to shudder. Though he couldn't fight off the action when the coat dropped to his wrists and the chilled air hit his skin. Roy muttered an apology and told him he'd do it as quickly as possible, but the alchemist was only half listening, more focused on the large hands unwrapping the linen and gauze from around his chest and torso.

The process of checking everything was just as bad as before and Ed clenched his eyes shut after only a few minutes of the gentle prodding treatment, telling himself it was okay, it was just Mustang. Thankfully Roy re-wrapped his stomach almost as soon as he had removed the bandaging.

Unfortunately with Mustang's focus no longer on the teen's torso, the man had turned to the dented, mottled black and purple expanse that was the blond's chest, and the prodding, while still delicate, had Ed shifting uncomfortably and biting back hisses of pain and discomfort every few seconds. It was after maybe the twelfth poke that the Colonel pulled away and sighed heavily, four words that made Ed freeze instantly, denial tumbling from his mouth. "They're out of alignment."

"No."

"Fullmetal, I know you don't want to, but we have to fix it."

"No!" It was more of a plead than a statement that time and Ed tried to ignore the sympathetic look Roy was giving him.

"Ed," The softness of his tone caught the blond off guard, "If we don't, you'll heal wrong and it will be more painful in the future."

Edward knew he was right of course, but that didn't stop the panic from hitting him with full force. "No! No, Mustang don't!" Even though the Colonel had made no move to do anything the words forced their way out of the boy's mouth, sounding almost choked. Setting his ribs would be just as painful as breaking them had been; Ed had dealt with enough broken bones to know that for a fact.

Earlier that year if someone had told the blond he would be cowering at the thought of a little pain he would have laughed loudly in their face, but now it seemed the most rational response in the world even as the alchemist knew it shouldn't have been.

"Ed," Mustang grabbed his attention before the teen could delve too far into his thoughts and Ed drew in a sharp breath. "I'm sorry, but we have to."

Edward didn't bother trying to protest again. He could already see the pained but set determination on the Colonel's face as he beckoned Fuery over and explained the situation to the younger man. Behind the glass Ed could see Fuery glancing at him every few seconds as Mustang spoke, and when the two finished the conversation that the teen had tuned out, the blood starting to rush into his ears, they turned to face Ed. The blond shrunk back immediately and went to pull his knees to his chest but the motion had his ribs creaking and he stopped, biting back a hiss.

"I thought so, too," Fuery muttered as he worried his lip and Ed frowned when he got up and went to rummage through something by the wagon. Ed couldn't help it when he gave Mustang a desperate look in the hopes that he could get the man to change his mind. After all, ribs didn't always need to be fixed right? They usually just healed on their own, right? That's what his mom had told him when he'd cracked one in elementary school.

All the Colonel did was shake his head. "I'm sorry, Fullmetal."

Edward tried to scramble away when Fuery came back with more bandaging only to be reminded that his automail still didn't work when Roy caught him before he fell onto his side. The teen went to push Mustang away but found his hand meeting nothing. The blond looked up in surprise and found brown eyes in the place of black.

Riza had her hand on Roy's shoulder to keep him from grabbing Ed and when he rounded on her with irritation and query in his eyes. The sniper shook her head and kept her voice only loud enough for her superior to hear. "I'll do this. He'll need you when it's over."

Protests could be seen loud and clear on the Colonel's face, but Riza's stern look kept him from voicing any of them. She would do this for Roy and for Edward. She could be the bad guy if it meant Ed continued letting Roy help him. And even if the Colonel didn't see how helping Edward would shatter the small shard of trust the teen had so easily given him, Riza could.

After Roy backed off and the woman was sure he wouldn't try to interfere, she gave the nervous Fuery a quick nod and knelt down beside the boy who was watching her with a much sharper and distrustful gaze than earlier. He obviously knew what she was there for. "Edward, we're going to help you, and you need to cooperate." Even if it was an order, it was still delivered with care and reassurance.

Even so, Ed shook his head and Riza knew they wouldn't be able to do this without a fight. She had been hoping to avoid that because it would only serve to knock back what little progress they had made. "I'm not going to hurt you, Edward."

The sniper used Ed's brief moment of confusion to slide behind him and pin him down, her arms wrapping around his so the boy couldn't hit her or Fuery and bringing her legs to tangle in his, effectively pinning those down as well.

"Fuery." The one word snapped the dark haired man from his thoughts and he gulped before coming closer to get to work.

Ed struggled as much as he could with his body in such poor condition, which wasn't very difficult for Riza to subdue, even if it killed her to do so. When the teen started crying out as Fuery prodded his chest to find which bones had to be shifted back into place Riza had to force herself to remember why they were doing what they were doing so she didn't push Fuery away. What they were doing was beneficial to Edward, even if he didn't understand that.

But when Fuery shifted the first bone and Edward screamed and threw his head back into her chest, Riza felt her mental resolve slip just a fraction even as her hold around the boy tightened. "Shhh, it's going to be okay," She tried whispering into Ed's ear those things, but the blond only threw his head back in an attempt to hit hers.

When Fuery pushed the second rib into place Edward arched his back and the guttural shriek that ripped from his throat had the sniper closing her eyes and putting her chin atop the boy's head.

"Let me go!"

Another scream as one more bone was brought back into it's correct place and Riza whispered soothing nothings into the teen's hair, trying to comfort both Edward and herself.

"Stop!"

The Lieutenant checked up on Fuery as he slid the last piece of Ed into place and saw tears streaming silently down the man's face as Edward's own cries grew louder even as his struggles grew weaker.

"I don't know anything! Please stop!"

The sniper gave the faces around them a once over and saw almost the same expression on each one: Horror. She was sure it was mirrored ever so subtly on her own too, but didn't think too much on it as she loosened her grip on the teen's small body so Fuery could wrap Ed's chest tightly. Once the man was finished he quickly backed away, his hands and shoulders shaking noticeably, and Riza watched Breda go over and place a hand on the young soldier's back. Havoc and Falman turned away as soon as they were sure Edward was okay, even if their faces betrayed the desire to crowd around the blond and comfort him.

The sniper had no time to check Roy's reaction because the man had already moved and was taking the boy from her arms carefully. Riza expected Edward to melt into the Colonel's touch immediately like he had every other time, but the blond surprised everyone by whimpering and shying away from the man's touch.

Roy frowned and paused, watching as Ed trembled from head to toe and clenched his eyes shut. "Fullmetal?"

Edward's breathing wavered and he shook his head sharply, hissing in alarm -or was it warning?- when Roy tried placing a hand on his shoulder. Mustang quickly withdrew and turned to find Hawkeye watching them intently. A moment of deja-vu passed over the Colonel when he looked from the teen to the Lieutenant and whispered, "What do I do?"

When Riza mouthed, "Help him," Roy almost threw his hands up. That was a bit difficult when Ed wasn't letting him help. What was he supposed to say to the boy when he was still shaken up by everything himself? Would Ed even listen to him now? The thought that the blond might not want him near anymore scared Roy and jolted him into talking.

"Fullmetal, hey," Edward didn't looked up and the only thing that changed about the boy's demeanor was that he began shaking harder. "I-I c-c-can't."

The hoarse, broken whisper broke the Colonel's heart and while every nerve in his body screamed at him to take Ed into his arms, he knew he couldn't yet though, not when the teen didn't seem to be completely there. If his scream about not knowing anything was any indication, the blond probably wasn't seeing Roy or anyone else, but the monsters who had done this to him.

The thought filled Roy with a righteous fury that was becoming more and more familiar the longer he was around Edward. He wanted then more than ever to ask the boy just who had brought him to this point of breaking. Who exactly had it been to break his automail and ribs? Who was responsible for the bruises littering almost every patch of visible skin? Who had given him the horrendous and brutal whip marks that now expanded across his back? But most importantly, he wanted to know why.

The Colonel continued to try and get his former subordinate's attention, calling his name softly at first and gradually building to something stronger. Nothing seemed to bring Ed out of his trance-like state though, so it was with a sigh that Roy brought his hand up and placed it on the teen's shoulder. As much as he knew Edward didn't want to be touched, the Colonel couldn't stand seeing the boy looking so terrified and in pain; it wasn't natural for someone who was usually so fiery and pigheaded to shake so hard and be so afraid.

As expected, the teen gasped at the contact and shied away. However the "Stop," That Ed growled was a bit unexpected and Roy found himself pausing instead of moving away like the blond had requested -ordered? - because even though he had told the Colonel not to touch and seemed scared at first, Ed had stopped shaking so hard and he was now holding himself with more wariness than fright. Though that wasn't a favored reaction either, it was better.

Roy went to call the boy by his title again when he was struck with the desire to call him by his name instead. While the Colonel was a bit uncomfortable with that, given he hadn't called Edward "Edward" in some time, he felt it would be better than "Fullmetal" at the moment, and given that his gut feeling was usually a good thing to listen to, Roy went with it. How could he not when it seemed that the boy almost flinched each time his title came out? At first Roy had thought it his imagination - Ed was jumpy and shaken as it was - but now he wasn't so sure that the reaction wasn't actually there, trying to convey a message the teen himself couldn't give voice to.

"Edward," The name rolled off his tongue much easier than he thought it would and it grabbed the blond's attention if Ed looking up slowly was any indication. The boy's eyes were clear which made Roy frown a bit and wonder why he was being so distant if he wasn't having flashbacks, because not an hour before Ed had been clinging to him. The Colonel never thought he would be unhappy with the fact that Edward did not want to be near him, but he was. Not because he liked the strange feeling of the boy being curled against him, no, but because it meant Edward was trusting him to be near, which meant he was allowing him to help. If the blond wasn't letting him close, it meant he was either extremely unhappy with the Colonel, which would make sense, or they had taken a step backwards and were with an almost feral Ed again, which would also make sense.

Neither of the options were particularly comforting or favorable, but if he had to choose one, Roy would definitely pick the former, because that at least meant there was still a part of Ed that trusted him and they wouldn't have to start from square one again. "How do you feel?" Roy decided instead of apologizing outright, that would be the better way to go since Edward was still eyeing him with apprehension.

The boy didn't answer, nor did the tension in his body drain, but something on his face shifted and his eyes weren't narrowed anymore and his lips were flattened into an almost unsure frown. "Does it still hurt?"

Edward's throat bobbed when he swallowed and the Colonel observed as the boy brought his pale hand up to feel the bandaging around his ribcage. Roy saw the small wince cross the blond's face when Ed pressed against the cloth a little, and the man took that as a yes. The Colonel wished there was something that could be done about that, but painkillers were something they had long since run out of before he and the others had set out for supplies.

"Sorry," He muttered and looked up to see Riza giving him a look that encouraged him to go on. Apparently he was doing something right if Hawkeye was telling him to continue. "Can I..." As soon as he started saying it Roy realized how dumb it sounded even in his mind. It was probably due more to the fact that he wasn't used to asking Edward things. Now that he thought about it, Roy couldn't remember the last time he had properly asked Ed to do anything, much less asked permission to do something around the teen, he'd only ever ordered the kid around. That was something he was going to have to work on, and he supposed now would be a good time to start. The Colonel crept towards Edward slowly enough that if the blond wanted to protest or back away he could. When Ed didn't move, Roy stopped so he was knelt in front of him, separated by perhaps a foot. "Is this okay?"

The answer was delayed, but it did come, in the form of a tiny inclination of Ed's head that had Roy's letting out a silent breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. So far so good. The Colonel didn't go to touch the teen just yet though, because even if Edward was eyeing him with less distrust than before, he was still shaking, and now that they were so close, Roy could hear the shallow breaths the boy was taking to try and stave the pain in his chest. It made guilt settle in Roy's gut but he ignored it as best he could; setting his ribs was just something that couldn't have been avoided, unless of course they had wanted their charge to heal wrong.

Nonetheless the man's self-loathing feelings finally got his mouth into gear and Roy made sure to look the blond directly in they eye when he spoke, "I'm sorry, Edward."

The effect the apology had on the teen made a small thrill of panic run through the Colonel. For a few seconds Ed continued to stare at him blankly, then ever so slowly the boy seemed to register just what exactly Roy had said and a thin layer of moisture was pooling in his eyes as he began shaking all over again.

Roy cursed himself and tried to figure out what to do in order to talk Ed down again, but no words came to mind. And when the small alchemist bit his lip and Roy heard a muffled keening sound, he did the only thing he could think of doing in that moment. Throwing any worry for how Ed might react out the metaphorical window, the Colonel leaned forward and drew him close. The blond's startled gasp when Roy crossed his legs and pulled the boy onto his lap made the man pause, but when no other noises came from Ed, the Colonel continued and wrapped one arm loosely around the teen's shoulders, mindful of where the raw red gashes were as he did.

Ed did not make an attempt to grab hold of Roy like usual, but neither did he try to get away, which the man took as a good sign, considering how he had been reacting only minutes before.

"You're okay, Edward." His soft spoken words had the blond quivering even harder than before and when Roy looked down he saw Ed's clenched jaw trembling. The man's heart throbbed just a bit at the sight and he dropped his nose to the top of the boy's head and brought his free hand up to brush through his blond hair. "You're safe. You don't have to hold it in," Roy didn't know where the words came from when he spoke, but he was thankful because they seemed to be exactly what Edward needed to hear.

At first nothing changed, but then the man heard a choked sound come from the teen and few seconds later Ed was resting his forehead against Roy's chest as his breath hitched and sobs forced their way from between tight lips. Roy alternated between massaging soothing circles into the kid's scalp and carding his fingers through dirty, tangled locks as Edward wailed, finally letting go of some of the pain and terror that had been gripping him for God knew how long.

The Colonel whispered what he hoped to be soothing words into the boy's ear, but he didn't attempt to hush him; Ed didn't need someone to try to keep him from letting his anguish out or to tell him he didn't need to cry, he needed someone who would be there for him and not judge him for his moment of weakness. And he trusted Roy to be that person for him, and the Colonel would be damned if he let the kid down. In that moment Edward was the only thing that existed, the only thing that mattered to him, and Roy was going to make sure the blond knew that.

Reside and Reveal

Roy didn't know exactly how long he had held Edward, letting the boy let loose some of the anguish he'd been holding inside of himself, nor did he care. How could he when the teen was nestled in his arms, his chest rising and falling evenly with the fatigue that had taken him over? It was worth it, knowing Ed trusted him enough to break down and fall asleep. The Colonel never would have thought either of them capable of being so close without ripping each others throats out, but there they were, and he didn't want to imagine it any other way.

For the most part everyone had kept their distance, and Roy couldn't decide if he was glad for that or not. He didn't like the fact that Edward didn't want them near him, but at the same time it was good because it meant he wouldn't be overwhelmed. Of course it was also frustrating because it meant nobody else would really be able to help him out with the kid without traumatizing Ed in some way.

Roy finally pulled his attention from the sleeping blond's face to check on the others. It had been almost too quiet after Edward had lost consciousness and the Colonel didn't like it. For what had probably been an hour, Mustang had not heard so much as one sarcastic comment from either Breda or Havoc and that alone was enough to make the man's brow twitch downward. The air hadn't been this tense since the first week after Roy had first introduced everyone as his team members, and that seemed like ages ago.

Now, as the Colonel looked at everyone, he found he would've taken that uncomfortable atmosphere from years ago if it got rid of those looks on their faces. It appeared they'd already exhausted their already limited duties and now the five were just sitting around one of the lanterns with varying expressions of boredom, weariness, apathy, sadness and agitation. Roy guessed they'd been having a conversation that he had completely tuned out, but had either finished or dropped it. Either way, they were silent and it was unnerving the Colonel.

The man cleared his throat to get his team's attention and everyone save Riza startled before snapping to attention. "Everything all right?"

Breda bobbed his head and sighed. "Yeah, we were just discussing the fact that we still have supplies to get, and an army relying on us."

"But also the fact that we're not sure how safe it would be to actually move with Edward being in the condition he is." Fuery quickly added before Roy could be upset about the fact that the redhead hadn't mentioned the battered child currently in the Colonel's lap.

Mustang glanced down at Ed briefly and then met Hawkeye and Havoc's eyes. "I want you two to go see if the storm's past."

Normally he would have sent only one, but someone had hurt Edward, and even if the Colonel didn't know how far away the person, or persons were, he wasn't going to take any chances. And as much as Roy didn't want to even consider moving yet with Edward being the way he was, he knew they had a point. There was a war going on, and it wasn't going to come to a halt just because a teenager important to six soldiers was injured. It was in no way fair, but Roy had already learned the bitter lesson that life rarely was.

Both lieutenants nodded briskly and went off to do their appointed task, which left Roy to the rest of his men, watching him and Edward carefully. The Colonel sighed and gestured with his shoulder for the three to come over. With the kid asleep there was no reason why they couldn't have a proper look at him, as Roy was almost certain they were dying to do. Falman was first to move and Fuery and Breda followed half a second after in order to stand at the Colonel's side. Fuery and Breda crouched down to inspect Edward, obeying Roy's orders to not touch the teen.

Even if he looked like he was in a deep sleep, Roy was certain Ed would wake up if another pair of hands were on him. He had clearly ingrained into his mind that more than two hands were worse, not that Mustang was surprised; given the severity of the boy's injuries he would have either been tied down or held. Yes, his wrist did sport nasty abrasions, but when the Colonel had seen Ed's shoulders there had been fading finger shaped bruises which told the man everything he'd needed to know.

"He looks awful."

It was the first time any of them had openly stated the obvious and Roy found himself nodding at Breda along with the other two men. It was all that could really be said about the teen's condition without venturing into dangerous territory that raised the questions that had been plaguing the Colonel since they'd found their little alchemist.

"We need to find the bastards that did this."

Once again the redhead stated what everyone had been thinking. Leave it to the Second Lieutenant to say what needed to be said. Roy liked how blunt the man was, always had and always would. Their team needed someone who wasn't going to sugarcoat things or beat around the bush and not for the first time the Colonel was glad he'd chosen Breda. Even if his comment got the dark haired man's blood boiling again.

"But we can't right now, so perhaps we should focus on the problem at hand." Falman's deep voice made Roy look up and raise a brow, urging the man to continue. "His wounds. The best time to examine the rest of them would be now."

Fuery nodded vigorously before Mustang could say anything. "Yeah, I never really got to clean much of his back…"

Nobody had to say anything further to convince Roy to set Edward down and the Colonel carefully shifted so the blond slid carefully out of his lap and onto the bedroll. The teen whimpered a little but never opened his eyes which had everyone sighing in relief even as Roy felt more anger course through him. When the man finally balanced Ed on his side so there wasn't too much strain on the boy's newly set ribs Mustang nodded to Fuery, ordering him to do what he had to.

Fuery was getting to work cleaning the teen's back with the things Falman had brought him when Havoc and Hawkeye returned. From the look they gave him when Roy tilted his head the Colonel knew something was wrong. When they were close enough to speak without having to worry about waking Ed, Jean told Roy what was up. "There's too much built up snow to see outside. We're blocked in, Sir."

There was no more said because the Colonel was already slipping his now dry gloves onto his hands and heading in the direction the two had come. Havoc and Hawkeye went to follow him but Roy told the blonds to stay behind and keep an eye on Edward. Havoc listened but Hawkeye continued on with him, half a foot to the right and two steps behind, just as always.

As they approached the blockage, Roy released a pent up growl and shook his head. The world was really against them lately, wasn't it? First the war, then Edward, and now this… it was beyond vexing and the Colonel wasted no time raising his arm and sending a small trail of fire into the white flakes keeping their group from leaving. It took a second snap to melt the mound completely, allowing Hawkeye and he to see the blizzard was still going strong.

"Dammit," Roy hissed under his breath, ignoring Riza when she came to stand beside him. He knew she was looking at him with curiosity and worry and the man was in no mood to see it right now; Roy knew he would hear it in a moment when she spoke anyway.

"What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking we're going to be late for pickup," The Colonel snapped. He didn't want to do this right now- didn't want to think about what Riza was actually talking about, but he knew the woman would insist on it because… well she knew even if he didn't want to, he needed to. That didn't mean he wasn't go to try and fight the thoughts off for as long as he could though.

"Not if we increase speed when we get moving again," Hawkeye played along and that served to soothe Roy; she wasn't telling him to stop deflecting, which did surprise him a bit as he'd been expecting her to power through. It wasn't that the Colonel didn't want to meditate on their situation, it was just… he didn't want to have to think about it, because he knew it would just make the rage and pain coursing through him worse. It was selfish, yes, but Mustang found he couldn't be bothered with the fact, considering the person in question was Edward Elric, the dumbass that had turned their world upside down with the help of his younger brother.

"That's true."

"Though with Edward being in his current state, speed might not be a good idea," Riza said it as if the thought had only just occurred to her and everything she'd said before hadn't been leading up to exactly that comment. Roy tightened his jaw even as he inwardly laughed at himself for entertaining the idea that Hawkeye was actually going to let him get away with not thinking about the kid.

"Probably not," The Colonel muttered, refusing to glance down and see how Riza was looking at him, instead keeping his focus on the hard falling snow outside that was quickly rebuilding the wall he'd managed to melt.

The silence that followed was nearly tangible and Mustang knew if he didn't talk Riza wouldn't either; she didn't need to now that she'd gotten through to him. The fact that the Lieutenant refused to drop the issue should have upset the Colonel, but honestly the man couldn't bring himself to be angry with her- never her. Still, was he happy that his mind was now going down paths he'd have rather kept blocked? No, not really.

What did she even want him to think about anyway? Did she want him to come to terms with his anger? Done. Seriously, you're so mad I think anyone who comes within five feet of you can tell. Did she want him to realize just how horrified he was by his subordinate's state, was that it? Again, I think everyone can tell. Did she want him to see that felt like such a failure, because despite the efforts he took to keep Edward away from danger, the blond still managed to get himself hurt? Well, you kind of are… just saying. Did she want him to accept that he was terrified of what might happen? Because… Roy didn't think he could.

He had to stay strong for everyone and himself; if he allowed even the smallest crack to form in the stone that kept him sturdy, Roy knew it would only cause his entire put together facade to come crashing down. You've already started cracking, Mustang. Might as well accept it and move on. The alchemist cursed that damned voice in his head that liked to pop up at the worst of times. It was unwelcome for many reasons, the main being that when it wasn't being nice or helpful, it didn't sound like Hughes, but the short blond that made his life both difficult and interesting. And this is bad because…?

Roy heaved an inward sigh as he told the Edward in his head to shut up. The snark that the Colonel had been missing was right there, yes, but it wasn't coming from the real Edward and it wasn't the same. It was kind of sad actually. And how does that make you feel?

The patronizing tone of the Ed-voice had Roy biting back a sarcastic comment of his own. Yeah, Riza'll think you've gone crazy if you start talking to yourself. Wait… you probably have, so never mind. Roy pinched the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes after a moment. He really could've done without the mental commentary, but the alchemist knew there was really no way around it when he got deep into thought. Still, he wished that voice would be anyone but Edward at this point, because it was heartbreaking enough knowing the teen wasn't going to snap anything sarcastic any time soon.

The Colonel looked out into the storm again and was taken aback slightly when he saw how quickly the snow had pile up around the cave entrance again. The fact that they had more than just Edward to think about after the blizzard passed suddenly struck Roy hard. There was still a war going on. People were still dying every second. They still had supplies to get- something Hawkeye had brought to his attention but he'd only skimmed over. They still had people counting on them to get what was needed to prevent even more people from dying.

Yet no matter what they did after the storm was over they still had to take into account the young alchemist's health. If it didn't somehow magically improve within the day, Roy doubted very much the kid's ability to do anything, and taking Edward out into the cold when he was just finishing recovering from hypothermia, had a broken automail arm, and was covered in injuries… it was asking for disaster.

Good job. Now maybe you should move your mouth so Hawkeye knows too? That thought got the Colonel's mouth moving and Roy sighed. "He's not stable enough to even move, I don't think."

"Perhaps not." Hawkeye agreed, "But then, Edward has always been one for ignoring his own limitations and surprising us all."

That made Roy snort in spite of the somber air around them, because if that wasn't true then he didn't know what was. Only Edward would completely dismiss the fact that he was injured in order to get things done. Then again… he'd never been hurt this badly before. Roy had never seen the teen look so damaged -broken- and the man wasn't all that sure Ed would live up to his usual stubborn self when he was spooked by too many people even looking in his general direction. You don't give me enough credit.

Roy realized his expression must have betrayed exactly what he'd been thinking when Hawkeye stepped in front of him and forcefully held his gaze. Not that Roy was really trying to fight her on anymore. In fact, the Colonel was grateful that the woman had chosen then to move because he suddenly found himself needing something to ground him, and the steadiness of her gorgeous brown eyes never failed to do just that.

"He'll be okay." Riza said it with such conviction that Roy wanted to believe her, but that damned voice in the back of his mind kept telling him hoping for the best was bad because they'd just end up being disappointed when nothing happened.

"You don't know that."

"And you don't either." The statement coming from anyone else might have sounded waspish, but when Riza said it, it was gentle and reassuring, and exactly what the Colonel needed to hear. He could never argue with her or dismiss what she said for very long, and it was because of the way she was able to almost control his emotions with her words alone. When he needed to be calmed while in a rage, she knew sharp and precise orders would do that; when he was upset or going through a bout of depression, she'd throw calming words over her shoulder in the form of a quip; when he felt confused and stressed, like now, she knew the gentle approach was best at steadying him.

"You're right, I don't." The Colonel lifted a hand, intending to grab her hand for a moment before he remembered himself and took it back quickly. Physical and obvious verbal affection were the few barriers the two of them had agreed weren't to be breach even when alone, and not for the first time the alchemist found himself wishing they weren't superior and subordinate for just a moment. But he couldn't, and seeing the quick flash of understanding in Riza's eyes let the man know she'd seen his gesture. It would have to do for now.

"Don't give up on him so soon, Sir." Riza let their conversation end with that and began walking back the way they'd come, dropping a hand on Roy's shoulder and letting it linger half a second longer than she should have as she went. A half smile managed to form on the Colonel's face before he turned to follow after the blonde.

But, as fate would have it, their small period of rest came with consequences, and when the two came back to the small campsite they were greeted with the sight of Edward attempting to punch Fuery while simultaneously trying to kick Falman and headbutt Breda, who wasn't even within grabbing distance. The teen had a wild, terrified look on his face, like a cornered animal fighting for it's life. If Roy had to hazard a guess as to why that was, he'd say the teen had woken while Fuery was still checking over his injuries.

The men were trying to subdue Edward by holding his limbs down and telling him it was okay, that he was safe, just like Mustang and Hawkeye had, but the effect the words had was anything but calming and the blond struggled all the harder, looking more panicked than ever. Roy opened his mouth to order everyone away from the teen, Edward let out a cry that had the Colonel's heart lurching painfully.

"Mustang!"

The name must have caught the other three's' attention, as the men froze immediately, giving Ed the chance to break free of their grips. The teen was turned towards the Colonel in a second, but Roy barely noticed because he was already crossing the distance between himself and the boy. He did notice how Fuery and Breda were quick to step back while Falman stood a little ways to the side, but Roy didn't think too much on it- he couldn't when Edward was eyeing him the way he was.

The kid was watching Roy warily, as if unsure the Colonel was there to help him, which had alarms blaring loudly in Mustang's head. Ed was looking at him like he had when they'd first found him: Like he couldn't figure out if the man he was seeing was indeed real or friendly. Roy went to place a hand on Edward, to ground the boy or offer comfort the alchemist didn't know, but the blond flinched away with a hoarse whimper. Roy rounded on Fuery and forced himself not to appear too worried. "What happened?"

The younger man's already deep frown grew heavier at the question and Fuery wrung his hands while answering the Colonel. "Some of his wounds are infected and he woke up while we were trying to clean them."

It took Roy a moment to take that in as he thought back on what Ed's back had looked like when he'd caught a glimpse of it on those few occasions. The skin around the gashes hadn't seemed too swollen or discolored to him, but Roy knew it very well could have been and he'd missed it; Fuery had said some wounds after all.

"How bad is it?" Hawkeye asked from behind Roy and the Colonel was glad she'd spoken, because he was still trying to get over the image of Edward's distraught and frantic reaction to being held down very loosely. That had told the alchemist more than he'd wanted to know about his charge's treatment at the hands of whoever was behind this. It wasn't helping at all that Fullmetal was still staring at him with inquiring hostility, as if he was still trying to figure out why the Colonel was there and if he planned on doing anything to harm him, which served to chip at Roy's heart further.

"Six of the deeper abrasions are infected- not too badly, but enough that we need to clean as soon as possible. The one one by his neck also isn't looking very pretty. The good news is he won't need antibiotics if we can keep him clean, but if we don't get him wrapped in fresh bandages and he doesn't get some rest, his immune system is going to deteriorate pretty fast and he won't be able to fight the infection. That's when it could get bad."

Even as the young man spoke with the calm, matter-of-fact air of a professional Mustang could see he was upset about what was happening. Of course, everyone was, but the Colonel took just a moment out of his worrying about Fullmetal to realize that even if Fuery and the others hadn't been tortured and traumatized, seeing Edward reacting this way was hurting them. That knowledge hammered at the nail in his heart and Roy knew he had to try even harder to fix everything. If Fullmetal couldn't be helped, it would break him along with everyone else, and that was something Mustang would never let happen.

Edward was still shaking hard beside the Colonel and Roy desperately wanted to reach out to the kid, but he was certain the blond would only cower like he had moments before. Roy debated calling him "Fullmetal" since that had served to bring the kid out of his trance-like states before, but given Edward's reaction to the name as he calmed down more and more the alchemist wasn't sure that was good either. It was so damn frustrating having to tiptoe around the teen and treat him as if he would break any moment! It upset the Colonel because he knew this time, that actually might be the case; one wrong move and Ed could be permanently ruined. It wasn't right, and no matter how many times Roy told himself that, it still wouldn't stick. It was the only thing he could think: It wasn't right, it wasn't natural, it wasn't Edward.

But it is. And even if I'll never say it, you know what I need.

That's right, Roy did know what Edward needed. He needed help. He needed stability, and comfort, and treatment, and safety. He needed all the things everyone around Roy could supply, but Edward would accept nobody but him, which wasn't good. Roy knew he was good at a lot of things, but they were either military oriented, or trivial. He was a good strategist and a great leader, he could make amazing pasta and give a massage like no other. But none of those things were helpful at times like these. He couldn't make a plan as to how everything was going to work out, because it wasn't like he had control over Edward's body. He couldn't order Edward to get better and expect anything to come of it. He couldn't do anything because the stability and safety, and all those other things, were what the other five were for. His team made up for his lack of skills, but Edward refused to be near them. It was like even when the kid wasn't himself he knew just how to be an unhelpful brat.

Why would he want Roy? Roy in situations like these was as good as the wet match Fullmetal loved so much to compare him to. He wasn't a good source of comfort, he couldn't patch the boy up, he was the most unstable of the entire group at the moment, and he didn't exactly look like a beacon of safety.

Yet I still chose you. Just like you don't give me enough credit, you don't give yourself enough either.

Roy let loose a heavy sigh and let his eyes run over Ed's mostly exposed torso and then up to his neck. He saw the cut Fuery was talking about and wanted to face-palm for not noticing the red swollen skin earlier. The dark haired man was right when he said it wasn't pretty, but Roy could overlook that fact because at least there was no pus coming from the wound. Of course, Fuery had also mentioned Edward's back, but with the teen currently facing him, Mustang knew he wasn't going to be able to see even though he wanted to. They needed to get those cleaned better and cut off from the air lest Edward's condition worsen. Roy had been on the receiving end of many severe infections and would tell anyone they weren't fun on any level. The sympathy gained from others wasn't even worth it.

"Edward." To the Colonel's surprise, the teen didn't flinch or back away when he spoke. Of course Ed didn't jump at him either. In fact, the blond didn't really do much more than eye him lazily, which made Roy arch a brow in concern. Edward didn't even look alarmed or wary anymore and his eyes had gained an almost glazed look to them. "Edward?" The boy tilting his head was the only thing that let the Colonel know he'd been heard.

Roy narrowed his eyes to check for any signs that Edward might have fallen into a trance but all he found was a thin sheen of sweat on Ed's forehead. That both relieved and alarmed the Colonel and Roy carefully brought his hand to the teen's face. His touch seemed to snap Edward out of his dazed state and the teen threw his good arm up to smack Roy's hand away, but not before the alchemist felt how hot he was.

"Dammit," Roy muttered under his breath, causing Fuery and the others to lean in a bit. "What is it?" Havoc asked quietly.

"He has a fever." Mustang replied softly so as not to spook Ed further. It was like trying to calm a feral dog, and on any other occasion the Colonel might have thought likening Fullmetal to a canine would have been amusing considering his former occupation, but at the moment, it wasn't very funny. It was however, very difficult, trying to figure out the best way to get the teen to calm down and cooperate. It felt like he was back to square one with the kid, only this time, Edward was out of it, and Roy was quite certain the blond knew it too.

Mustang leaned closer to Edward and the teen shook his head, a soft, "Don't," Passing over his chapped lips. Roy growled inwardly in frustration and halted his movements. How was he supposed to help the boy when the blond was being so difficult? Take it slow, Mustang. The voice in his head calmly ordered him and the Colonel lifted his chin in unnecessary acknowledgement. Fine. Slow. He could do that.

"Edward, hey, look at me." Roy made sure the teen's eyes were locked on his once more before continuing. "You know who I am, don't you?"

After a small few seconds the teen nodded and Roy slid a small smile, friendly and hopefully calming. "You know I won't hurt you, right?"

That time the hesitation to nod lasted longer, but Roy was nonetheless relieved when he saw the boy bob his head. "So how about you come closer."

Ed didn't shake or nod his head and made no move to do as the Colonel suggested. Roy bit back a huff and tried coaxing a little harder, "Come on, kid, it's alright, nobody here is going to hurt you. We're going to protect you, but you have to let us."

Through the fog that was slowly but surely taking over the teen's eyes Roy saw something waver and hoped it was his stubborn resolve to stay away. "Ed, you know I'll protect you, but in order to do that, I need to be able to help make you better."

That something in the boy's gaze fell further and Roy knew he'd won the teen over. Edward didn't approach him, but somehow the Colonel knew he now could without fear of the blond trying to run. The alchemist knelt next to the teen and brought his hand back to Ed's forehead, electing a soft whimper from the boy but nothing else. Still, that small sound was enough to make Mustang want to wrap the teen up and hide him from everyone. However, the burning skin under his palm kept the man from actually acting on his desires.

"How bad is it?" Fuery inquired quietly, trying hard not to scare Edward, who was slowly but surely inching closer to the Colonel as he relaxed. Roy, for the most part, sat still and slid his hand down so he was cupping the boy's cheek and supporting his head as it began to loll. "He's burning up."

"We really need to clean him up," Fuery's voice had an anxious edge to it now and Roy thinned his lips and nodded. He already knew what they needed to do, but getting Edward to stay calm as they did it was a whole other story. The teen was going to freak out as long as he was awake. Even with the fever making him slightly woozy there was no way Edward was going to be still if he felt anyone other than Mustang touching him. The only way they could do it is if Ed fell asleep or the Colonel talked the kid into letting him do it.

"Edward? Hey, Edward," Roy jostled the blond's head a bit to snap Edward back into reality since the kid had started looking a bit lost again and Ed groaned, "Wha'?"

"You're not feeling good, are you?"

"'M never feelin' good," Edward replied thickly and Roy closed his eyes for a moment. Well damn.

"Well, I can make you feel better, but that means you have to let me touch your back." Roy felt the teen tense instantly and he inwardly pleaded with the blond to understand and work with him. He wondered if Edward would freak out or not if he kept talking, but Roy decided he should at least try. Maybe cutting the boy off before he could protest would keep him from protesting at all. "I know you don't like it, but you know we need to."

"I don' wan' you to…"

"Yeah, well we don't always get what we want," Roy muttered and turned around to look at Hawkeye. "Do we have any sort of anesthetic? Strong pain medication?" Something to knock him out?

The unasked question hung in the air and the alchemist was more than certain everyone understood, so when Riza stayed silent but went to check the med bag Roy hoped there was indeed something. But, just as was their luck, the woman came back into Roy's line of sight with nothing but a small shake of her head, causing the Colonel to suppress a growl. Of course there wasn't anything that would help them. Of course not, because that would make things just a bit simpler, and God knew that wasn't allowed!

"Great," Roy hissed and regretted it immediately when Edward jumped and weakly tried to pull away. The Colonel mentally hit himself while shushing the teen and apologizing in order to get him calm once more. Ed was quick to do so, but Roy would bet anything that the fever was to thank for that, otherwise he had no doubt the blond would have struggled much harder.

"Edward, I know you don't want to, but we have to. Come on, just cooperate, I promise we aren't going to hurt you. I won't let anyone hurt you." Mustang whispered the last bit and waited for Ed's reaction with bated breath. He knew it was a long shot, but Roy still held out hope- after all, hope was really all he had left when it came to Edward.

"I trust you."

Roy wasn't sure he'd heard the boy correctly and went to ask if he'd really said that when the teen sagged against him, nearly falling face first into the Colonel's lap. "Fullmetal!" The name slipped out unconsciously and Roy caught the boy before he fell too far, finding him to be completely boneless. Roy's fingers flew to the artery in Edward's neck and the man nearly fell over himself when the relief of finding a strong pulse under his skin flooded his system.

The alchemist was quick to turn the teen over after that, careful of his injuries, to see if he was still awake or not. Upon seeing Ed's eyes closed Roy released the breath he'd been holding for far too long and motioned Fuery and the others over.

"Do what you need to," the Colonel ordered while he worked on making Edward's back available for treatment. The man tried not to wince when he saw the bright red flesh around several of the lacerations and swiftly clamped down on any sort of anger that tried to make it's way up. How Fullmetal had managed to stay awake for so long with such painful injuries the Colonel would never know.


He didn't really know where he was, but he did know he hurt. He hurt everywhere and every pain became more and more prominent the longer he focused on it. There didn't seem to be a point where the pain started and there most certainly wasn't a point in which it ended. It just was. It was there, never ending, and he wasn't sure if it was something he'd always known or not, but he wouldn't be surprised if he found out he'd been born feeling like this.

Edward tried to look around, to get an idea of where he was, because if he could figure that out he might better understand why he was hurting, but all he could see was darkness. He hated the dark. Why? He didn't know. He never used to be, but somehow the fear had returned to him with a gusto that had the young alchemist whimpering.

Slowly but surely Edward felt himself coming back into some state of awareness and the teen was able to remember why he felt terrible, and suddenly his fear of the dark started making sense again. He was afraid they were lurking in the shadows, getting ready to pounce on him and make him feel worse. He was afraid the dark would hide their presence from him, but not his from theirs, which was ridiculous because if it was dark enough that someone couldn't see, then there was no way anyone else could either unless that had a lantern. Still, the uneasy feeling was ever present as the blond started realizing just how dim the lighting wherever he was was.

When the teen finally started growing okay with the fact that he couldn't see anything he realized it was cold. It was very cold, and yet it was also unbearably hot- a fact which had Edward frowning deeply. Was it even possible for a place to be freezing and sweltering at the same time? He had never heard of any such places, but he was aware that his knowledge of the world was limited and there very well might be areas where such weather was normal. However the likelihood that he was actually there was at a solid zero percent, which begged the question: Where was he?

Even with his brain working on a more logical level, Ed still found his thoughts to be a little unclear and… muggy- or was that just his head? The teen brought a hand to his forehead and wiped away the moisture that he felt clinging to his bangs, weighing them down and making him feel dirtier than he already was. The gesture reminded him of when Mustang did it and then suddenly the alchemist realized what was wrong with his entire situation. Mustang and the others… they weren't there. Where were they? Had they left him in that cave? No, they would never do that…

Then where were they?

Edward opened his mouth to call out for the team but his voice shut down on him when the ache coursing through him got suddenly worse, focusing on his back where he knew the injuries were most severe.

The blond twisted around, ready to lash out at whoever was hurting him, but found nobody there. What's going on? Where is everyo-AH! Edward cried out when he felt the searing pain again and wasted no time throwing his head and working elbow back, hoping at least one of the body parts would hit his attacker.

He was actually a bit startled when he heard someone grunt from the pain of impact even though he didn't feel his body collide with anything.

"Edward!"

The teen gasped when he heard the Colonel's voice and he quickly turned in a circle, trying to find the man in the surrounding darkness. Mustang's voice had come through slightly muffled, so perhaps he was far away? No wait, that would mean he wouldn't sound as loud as he did…

"Where are you?" Edward called into the black, hoping wherever Mustang was he would hear. If the man did though, the teen never found out because the pain from behind worsened and Ed lashed out again, harder than before. When his fist made contact with someone's body that time, the teen felt it and couldn't help but smirk in triumph. Unfortunately he didn't have time to be pleased with himself because his wrist was being restrained soon after by who he assumed was the one he'd just hit.

"Knock it off, Ed!"

It was Mustang's voice again and Edward narrowed his eyes, willing the darkness away so he could find the Flame Alchemist. He had to be close by because his voice was incredibly loud now and clearer than the first time. "Where are you!" The teen cursed himself for the way his voice cracked from the panic and pain.

"Ed, calm down! Calm down and wake up, come on."

The Colonel's voice came through just as the black around Edward lifted to be replaced by blurred colors of blue and gray and black. Colors he knew he recognized, but couldn't remember why. Not that he really cared to remember when the throbbing from behind attacked again, more fierce and cruel than it had just moments ago.

The teen cried out and shoved away the hands that he suddenly registered were near him, almost grabbing him. "No!"

Edward blinked rapidly to try and clear his incredibly blurred vision but all the action served to do was bring a burning sensation to his eyes and after a brief moment of terror the blond realized it was only his sweat. After that was cleared, the teen started to notice that on top of the pain across his back, his head hurt and his limbs felt like lead. What had they done to him? And where was Mustang?!

Those hands from earlier were trying to grab him again and despite the heaviness of his body, Edward scooted backward and sent a blind kick his assailant's way. He didn't know which one it was- Pouty, Ford, Void, Black- but it didn't matter. He just didn't want any of them near while he was in such a vulnerable state. How Ed even knew he was in such a state, he didn't know, but he wasn't going to question his senses; they'd never failed him before.

"Get back!"

"What are you talking about, Edward?"

It was Mustang again but for some reason Ed still couldn't see him. Just that damned black and blue blur that would stop trying to get closer. But if the Colonel was answering him, it meant he could hear him, and that had Edward's heart leaping for joy, because if Mustang could find him, he could get the Drachman away and protect him.

"Help, Mustang!" The blur stopped advancing and Edward shook his head when the edges of his vision started to darken. No, he couldn't pass out! Not yet! He had to hold on until Mustang got to him.

"What's wrong?" The Colonel was surprisingly calm in spite of the situation and Edward found himself breathing just a bit easier because of that for reasons he didn't fully understand. That didn't mean he still wasn't on the verge of panic though. Because who could stay so collected when they had an enemy right in front of them waiting to attack?

"He's trying to kill me." The reply came out much more strangled than the teen had intended, but Ed didn't have it in him to repeat what he'd said. The form had moved closer and was trying to grab him again, and Edward knew he would fight it, but he also knew unless the Colonel got there soon his struggles would be in vain.

What would they do to him this time? Just the thought of their cruel hands on him made the blond's skin crawl and despite the fact that scorching heat was running through his body Edward found a shiver making it's way through him. Please hurry up, Mustang…

"Who, Edward? Who is trying to kill you?"

The teen shook his head and closed his eyes tightly when he found the scene playing in front of him refused to clear; there was no point looking around when you couldn't see anyway. Mustang didn't realize how terrible his question was, but Edward knew he couldn't blame the man for he had no clue that Ed couldn't tell even if he wanted to because he didn't know who it was.

"I don't know."

"Yes you do." Mustang pressed and Edward shook his head harder. What part of that hadn't the Colonel understood? He didn't know who was trying to hurt him because he couldn't get a clear picture!

"I don't." The teen whispered, clenching his eyes even though they were already tightly closed.

"Yes." Mustang stated firmly. "You do."

Edward went to repeat himself when a hand was on his shoulder once more and a voice that sounded like the Colonel but also didn't was suddenly by his ear. "Tell me."

The young alchemist knew he should have tried fighting back. Should have, at the very least, told the man to go to hell. But when Edward remembered what happened to him if he didn't answer a question properly the first time, he decided perhaps it was in his best interest to give the man an answer, and the teen was yelping before he could stop himself.

"The Drachmans!"

Confess and Condemn

Roy was half surprised when Edward didn't wake up during the first few minutes of treatment and actually seemed to be sleeping deeply. Though since the boy clearly had a bad fever there was no way such a thing was possible, and the Colonel was just waiting for Fullmetal's eyes to fly open so the teen could push them away.

However after five minutes of nothing happening, Roy dared to relax the smallest bit. Edward had been shifting a little restlessly, but not much more and Fuery informed him they were nearly finished cleaning him up. The alchemist tried not to look too hard at the reddened, and according to Fuery leaking, wounds because he knew it would only fuel his concern, but that hadn't meant he hadn't seen the damage. To say the Colonel wasn't expecting an immediate recovery would be a correct assessment.

It wasn't until Fuery and Falman were almost finished scrubbing at the last infected gash that Edward started waking, at which point Roy ushered his two subordinates to hurry up. And they tried, but unfortunately didn't get very far before Ed was throwing his head back and elbow out, just barely catching Falman in the stomach.

"Edward!" The tone in which the name was called ended up sounding a lot more worried than commanding but Roy didn't have the capacity to care; he was too busy trying to twist Ed's body back into a position in which the men could reach his back. The blond's struggles had ceased for a moment and both Fuery and Falman took the window of opportunity, deftly finishing their task and bandaging the last of Edwards wounds.

Fuery was pulling back when Fullmetal decided to lash out again and the dark haired man was unfortunate enough to be caught in the shoulder by Edward's fist. Mustang was quick to grab the boy's wrist while trying to wake the blond up. "Knock it off, Ed!"

Edward made a choked sound in the back of his throat and Roy released the blond, hoping to get him calm and coherent again. "Ed, calm down!" The man watched as Edward halted his panicked movements and spoke again in a gentler fashion. "Calm down and wake up, come on."

As Edward's eyes slowly blinked open Roy's shoulders drooped in relief. He'd been afraid they'd have to shake the teen awake, so seeing that slightly glazed gold pleased the Colonel just a little bit. Roy crept forward slowly so as not to alarm the boy after he'd just woken and reached out to Ed with the intention of grabbing his shoulder gently.

However his hand never met it's intended target because Fullmetal was pushing him away and crying out. "No!"

Roy frowned and watched the teen who was slowly but surely regaining that panicked look, blinking quickly and repeatedly. The Colonel hated the way Edward's brows pinched in the middle of his forehead in a clear sign of pain and distress and tried once more to reach out to the blond.

Edward's reaction was as violent as it was unexpected and Roy barely had time to dodge the automail foot the younger alchemist threw out at him as the teen backed away awkwardly, looking angry and scared at the same time.

"Get back!"

Roy reeled in his hurt look and instead focused on asking Edward what he was talking about, all the while hoping he hadn't just lost whatever progress he'd made with the kid. The blond's chest was heaving and Roy did not doubt that if Ed wasn't feeling the ache the action caused now he would be later. That was not something the alchemist looked forward to dealing with, especially since the entire day had been going nothing like he'd been hoping it would. Sure, Edward had said he'd trusted him, but that was hard to believe when the kid wasn't allowing Roy to get close no matter how hard he was trying.

Edward's breathing quickened further and Roy became concerned that the kid would pass out and how Ed would react upon awaking if such a thing did happen. However the Colonel's worries switched from the possibility of Fullmetal fainting when the teen suddenly looked in his general direction with an expression of terror on his face. "Help, Mustang!"

Roy immediately froze in his attempt to approach the boy and let his outstretched hand fall to his side. It was common knowledge that hallucinations often accompanied fevers caused by infection, but Roy had completely forgotten that in Fullmetal's current state he would be likely to experience them. If that was indeed what was happening with Edward at the moment Roy knew there was really nothing he could do to help except try and bring the teen's fever down. But in order to do that, Ed needed to allow the Colonel to be near again.

"What's wrong?" Mustang was sure to keep himself calm because it would do Ed no good if he sounded as strung up as the teen probably felt.

"He's trying to kill me." Edward's hoarse reply made Roy grit his teeth. On one hand the Colonel didn't want to ask Edward who he thought was trying to kill him because he didn't want to force the kid to talk when he was obviously frightened, but on the other hand Roy really did need -want- to know what was going on in the teen's head so he could try and help Ed get out of it.

And maybe there was some part of Roy that wanted to ask because he was really hoping the answer would solve some of the questions he'd been wanting to ask Edward all day.

"Who, Edward? Who is trying to kill you?" The moment the question was out the blond shook his head violently and clenched his eyes shut. The teen almost seemed to shrink in on himself but Roy was pretty sure he just imagined it.

"I don't know."

Roy might have actually accepted that answer if Edward had sounded like he was sure of what he was saying. But seeing as the teen had barely spoken loudly enough to be heard and sounded as though he didn't quite believe himself there was no way that Mustang could leave it alone. "Yes you do," The Colonel was certain of his words, the way they were spoken said as much, and no matter what sort of state Edward's mind was in there was no way the teen could have heard anything else in his tone.

Roy almost didn't hear Edward when he once again denied knowing the answer to the alchemist's question. Almost. In the midst of his growing alarm at the teen's state Roy felt the smallest twinge of the frustration he'd been more or less keeping suppressed for far too long. "Yes," He stated firmly but not harshly, "You do."

Edward still had his eyes tightly shut and Roy decided to take the opportunity to step back into the young alchemist's personal space. Perhaps with all the talking they'd been doing Ed had come out of his feverish confusion enough to be able to tell the difference between him and a hallucination- that's what the Colonel hoped at least. The teen was taking longer to answer Mustang than he usually did and Roy figured Ed wasn't going to speak at all, with the aim that the Colonel would forget he'd asked a question in the first place.

So, placing a hand on Ed's good shoulder and leaning close enough to the boy's ear that he wouldn't have to raise his voice at all, something that was likely to alarm the blond, Roy spoke once more. "Tell me."

The way Roy said his command wasn't meant to startle Edward because it had been spoken as gently as the Colonel could manage in the moment. However he regretted his decision to speak at all when Fullmetal jerked weakly under his hand and a terrified yelp came from the teen with the words to answer. "The Drachmans!"


He didn't understand it. Any of it. Not the numerous sharp intakes of breath that alerted him to the presence of more people than just the one in front of him, nor the sudden lack of grip on his shoulder. He'd been expecting the blue blur in front of him to hit his already aching head, punch him in his bruised stomach, or maybe stab him somewhere. He certainly hadn't expected for the hold the other had had on him to disappear.

The silence around him was as unnerving as it was uncomfortable but Edward didn't move for fear of bringing the person's attention back to him. Maybe he hadn't hurt him yet because he was surprised Ed had actually given an answer? Or maybe Roy had finally found them and the person in front of him had his attention currently occupied by the Colonel…

At the thought of the older alchemist Edward blinked quickly again, trying to clear up his vision even though he knew it was a pretty useless thing to attempt. With the heat coursing through him and the harsh headache pulsing just behind his eyes it was no wonder he was having trouble focusing on the things in front of his face. The salty sweat beading along his hairline and constantly trying to slip into his eyes wasn't helping either.

In the back of his mind Ed knew perfectly well what was wrong with his body and why he felt like he wanted to pass out, but that was the part of his mind that was being ignored for favor of focusing on the confusion, pain, and fear coursing through his slight form. Somehow it seemed easier. Perhaps it was because the teen knew the Colonel would actually be able to help him in those capacities where he couldn't help with fever.

"Damn."

It was the first word to break the silence and it wasn't spoken by Mustang, which made Edward stiffen and hold his breath. He almost thought he recognized the voice -Breda, you idiot!- but didn't have time to ponder it because not half a second later the comment was being followed by others that he thought sounded familiar.

"Yeah." You know what Falman sounds like.

"Well… this complicates things." Always rely on Havoc to state the obvious.

"How did they even get a hold of him?" Good Fuery, asking the right questions.

"We'll figure that out, just be quiet for a minute."

That one Edward knew and the teen jerked his head in the direction of Mustang's voice. He sounded a lot closer than the blond thought he'd be... as close as the blurry figure, actually. Edward want to smack himself then when he realized through his sick daze that the Drachmans didn't wear blue, which was the color he'd been shrinking back from. Ed made a move to reach for the Colonel but froze before his fingers made contact with anything as the alchemist addressed him almost carefully.

"Edward, how did the Drachmans do this?"

The teen couldn't understand the question because he thought the answer was quite obviously staring the man in the face. They'd captured him, and they'd tied him up, and they'd hurt him until he could think of nothing but the pain, pain, pain! And all he could do about it to come up with a plan of escape, even if it meant possibly endangering someone else's life, and he was scared- he was so scared, and nobody ever came for him because he was such an idiot, and nobody knew they had to come for him. And he was alone, all by himself with nothing but the sound of his own ragged breathing to let him know he was still alive.

The blond didn't realize he'd started hyperventilating until hands that he now recognized as Mustang's were grabbing his shoulders and grounding him as the man told him to breathe. Edward shook his head to try and rid himself of the little black dots that had begun dancing across his vision as he did what the Colonel ordered without having to think about it. By now the teen's headache had blown up from a dull throb to a pounding that bounced from the back of his eyes to the bottom of his neck and Edward moaned and brought the hand that had been reaching for Mustang to his temple in an attempt to rub some of the pain away.

It didn't do much for the hurting, but it did help the blond remember what the dark haired alchemist had asked, and despite the fact that the question brought horrible images to mind Edward found himself wanted to give the Colonel the answer; if there was anyone who could stop the Drachmans the teen had no doubt it was the Flame Alchemist.

"I followed you, but they got me." Ed shivered when he remembered how his stumble in the snow had been what gave the men the upper hand in capturing him and when Mustang's fingers tightened around his arm the blond couldn't help but to pull away. It was pretty clear his words had helped the man put two and two together and now Edward just wanted to stop talking so he could fall into the darkness that allowed him to escape the pain that wanted to consume him.

Of course because he didn't voice his desires they remained ignored and Edward bit the inside of his lip when he heard the Colonel growl under his breath, alarmed by the noise even if he knew the person it was coming from was safe. He couldn't help that it brought back flashes of memory too new, too raw to ignore, nor could he seem to control the reactions his body gave instinctively, fluctuating between trusting Mustang and cringing away in fear at the man's reactions. Somehow, deep down, Edward knew the Colonel meant him no harm. He clung to that just as he'd curled into the man multiple times upon being found by the team, found safety in it he'd thought never to feel again, but even so….some triggers could not be ignored, no matter who they came from.

Ed rubbed at his eyes again, wiping the sheen of sweat off his forehead as he did, managing to finally get his vision clear just a bit. What he saw made him regret pulling away so quickly though; seeing Mustang's ever so slightly hurt expression tinged with a horrible sort of understanding made the teen want to look away so he didn't have to face the Colonel. He didn't want to be afraid of the man's touch but he couldn't help himself; with the confusing mugginess that was his head and the all too recent memories resurfacing, it was too difficult and too tiring pretending he was all right with physical contact that wasn't gentle or sought by him.

The fear on his face must have shown, Ed realized, because the wounded expression Mustang had held moments before suddenly disappeared, replaced by a slightly perturbed, albeit still concerned, look. Although Edward knew the Colonel wasn't upset with him, it still made the young alchemist nervous and the teen tried very subtly to move back further. It wasn't that he did not trust Mustang, because he did, it was just that with his head hurting the way it was and the memories from days -hours? He didn't know- before still fresh on his mind being paired with the still blurred sight and unknown factors of their place of residence… it was too much. It was all too much, and adding Mustang's foul mood -justified as it was- to the mix did not seem very safe to the blond.

In the back of his mind Ed had hoped the Colonel would keep his irate thoughts to himself, but it was very clear he wasn't going to when the man appeared to soften his gaze further -perhaps he'd noticed the larger gap between them?- before continuing the question and answer game. "How many of them are there?"

While Edward was willing to answer the questions now that he knew who was asking, he was still unsure how much he should say; the last thing he wanted was to cause himself any more painful flashbacks or send the Colonel into a rage. The dizzying heat surrounding him, making him feel both tired, sick, and confused did not help either. However, seeing as Mustang's inquiry held no hurtful weight to it, the teen was able to answer without worrying about anything. "Six hundred or more… I think."

That tense silence returned and the blond swallowed hard, staring at the Colonel in an attempt to assess what he was thinking or feeling. It was no use though since Mustang was too much like Ed and kept his face more or less blank, leaving the teen wondering just what was going on in his head. Whatever it was the young alchemist could only hope it was not so bad as to elicit an angry response, because as the uncomfortable warmth continued to travel up and down his body in heavy waves Edward found himself forgetting about his earlier fears, wanting to instead lay his head in the Colonel's lap and sleep the sick feeling off.

Alas, the blond's desires once again went unspoken and ignored as Mustang went on, this time onto a topic Edward was most definitely not okay with whatsoever. "What… Edward, what happen?"

Ed shook his head almost immediately, ignoring the pain it caused in his neck as he did so. No, the Colonel couldn't ask that question. Edward didn't want to answer that question. If he did, it meant he would have to remember everything in detail and talk about it, and he didn't want to. He didn't want to remember waking up tied to a metal pole in a strange place, surrounded by people he knew wanted to harm him. He didn't want to remember the feeling of sharp metal cutting into his skin over, and over, and over. He didn't want to remember the agony of having his automail ripped apart and his nerve endings pulled at. He didn't want to remember what drowning felt like, nor did he want to have to think about the hallucinations he'd suffered.

He didn't want Mustang to know how they'd managed to get him pleading for mercy, how they stripped him back down to the child he'd always been… how they'd taken the Fullmetal Alchemist and left him no more than a whimpering mess. Edward didn't want Mustang to know that. Not now, not ever.

The teen didn't realize he was shaking as hard as he was until he felt the Colonel's hand once again upon his good shoulder, this time much gentler than he'd ever been, and Edward found himself not shrinking from the touch like he'd expected himself to, but leaning into it. The blond didn't say anything for what felt like several minutes and neither did Mustang, but unfortunately all too soon, the Colonel decided it was time to speak again. "Edward, please. Please talk to me."

The amount of worry and pain shoved into those few words, making them sound just a bit strained, made Ed want to curl up in a ball and hide until the end of his days. The teen couldn't stand being the reason Mustang sounded so hurt and even while he didn't want to think about the horrible things, Ed found himself answering without even realizing it. "T-They h-hurt me."

Tears welled in the blond's eyes and threatened to spill over then. He hadn't wanted to tell Mustang that. It made him sound so pathetic and weak -which he knew he was, but that was beside the point, because Mustang hadn't known to what extent… and now he did. Ed closed his eyes in an attempt to hide the shining liquid inside them, not wanting the Colonel to see how much the words were affecting him as he soldiered on, knowing it was too late to turn back now.

"They t-tried to make me…talk… but I d-didn't know anything… but they didn't lis-listen." Edward could feel it coming again, the breathlessness that threatened to pull him into darkness, and he sped up, his tone bordering on hysterical as he spoke through the tears now leaking from the corners of his eyes. "They- V-Void and Pouty and… and Black… I- They- And I didn't, but they still… they dr… drowned me… then they s-s-stabbed me… and, and they-they-"

The teen got no further as he was pulled forward into the solid warmth that was Mustang's chest. Arms wrapped carefully around his shoulders, encasing Edward in what he knew was safety but couldn't appreciate because of the strangled sobs that tore at his throat and made his chest heave. The blond could hear the Colonel's voice in his ears apologizing over and over as one of his hands cupped the back of Ed's head and kept his nose pressed into the man's shoulder. The teen didn't hesitate to bring his injured arm up to loop under Mustang's, clinging to the back of the Colonel's uniform jacket.

Images of what had been described flashed behind the teen's eyes and caused the mounting panic within Edward to gain altitude. The blond held onto Mustang as tightly as he could, trying to will the memories away even while he knew it was futile mission. Even with the Colonel holding him there were some things that could not be stopped… at least not yet. Not when everything was so fresh. Still, the very fact that talking about it reduced him to such a sorry state made some part of Edward's mind -a part that was sadly buried for the time being- scoff angrily.

The longer the blond stayed in Mustang's arms though, the quicker he was able to clear his head, able to shove away the fear inducing conversation enough to slowly calm himself to the point where he didn't worry he might black out. The tears stopped only a few minutes after that, but Edward still refused to release his hold on the Colonel, not ready to lose his anchor. The feeling appeared mutual when Mustang made no attempt to let go of him either. The blond wasn't sure why, but it seemed as if the older alchemist acted as a slight barrier against the things that scared him the most and helped him to get away from the terrible feelings faster, therefore the teen was thankful the man made no attempt to take his warm presence away.

Once Edward had his breathing under control again, no longer fearing he would throw up if he took another too-sharp intake of air, the blond loosened his grip on the Colonel. His head was swimming by then and all he wanted to do was sleep, though with what had just happened Ed was unsure if that would be a wise action…

The Colonel still held tight to him and Edward was glad for it because the last thing he wanted was for Mustang to release him. While the man's question had been the reason for the blond's panic, Ed knew he had not done it on purpose; the alchemist had had no idea what he was asking. Even if it had hurt him, Edward couldn't find it in himself to blame the man holding him. What was difficult for the teen to understand though, was why Mustang was saying nothing. At worst Ed had expected the older alchemist to do something violent or at least become extremely angry, yet the man had done neither of those things. In fact he had barely moved, something Edward may have found alarming under normal circumstances, but not in that moment; he was both too tired and too shaken to notice or fully assess the Colonel's lack of reaction.


While Edward may not have noticed how the Colonel was taking the information he'd just received, Havoc and Hawkeye had and the soldiers were quick to come a bit closer to their superior. Both First and Second Lieutenant knew Mustang well enough to be able to see just how very not calm the man was. From the clenched jaw to the already dark eyes becoming darker and wider, straight down to the stiff posture that would seem unruffled to anyone who didn't know what a truly relaxed Roy looked like. But they knew better and were able to see that their Colonel was stuck somewhere between horrified and enraged.

Not that either of them were going to comment on that, because they were more than certain that same expression was reflected on their faces too- though Hawkeye's to a lesser extent simply because she was always one for masks. None of them could believe what they'd heard from their former teammate. It was one thing for it to be a distant thought in the back of their minds, but another entirely for it to be a confirmed fact. And to see just what it had done to Edward… it made at least a few of them nauseous and left the others wanting to punch something.

Fuery looked like he wanted to cry, but kept himself from doing so. Falman had his eyes closed, a pained look fixed on his face as he shook his head sadly. Breda looked like he wanted to find the nearest Drachman and beat them to death, while Havoc looked like he didn't know what he felt because he was too busy focusing on the Colonel. Hawkeye… she seemed to be the only one in control, looking more composed than any of the others despite the fact that she wanted nothing more than to go up to the teen and the man and hold them. It was an instinct the blonde had long since learned to curb as it was considered inappropriate in a workplace, and now, even when nobody would object it or judge her for such actions, Riza didn't do it because it had become habit not to. Plus, she was certain Edward would only push her away, and after hearing those things her heart already hurt; she didn't want to add more rejection to that ache.

However, all of their feelings seemed to pale in comparison to the Colonel's own. While everyone knew the man was upset, they had no idea to what extent. They couldn't see the swirling dark tempest behind the man's eyes that spoke of unspeakable rage, nor could they see the sea of guilt churning just as violently under the first emotion.

They'd hurt him- no, tortured him, and that was the only thing Roy was able to think about. They had captured Edward, an innocent child, and had tortured him in ways that likely would have broken a grown man, and for what? So they could get information probably related to the military- No, wait, Fullmetal isn't part of the military anymore so how did they know… The kid isn't so popular that other countries have heard about him… right? The Colonel tucked that question away for later, after the storm in his mind settled. In that moment though, the raven haired alchemist held tight to the small teenager who clung to him like a lifeline and tried not to let the dark ire become obvious to Ed.

Had he been in his right mind Roy might have thought on the fact that there was a rather large group of enemy soldiers coming to attack their forces from behind that they needed to warn their troops of; perhaps consider different courses of travel regarding their supply run so they didn't have a chance of running into the Drachmans, since given how beat up Edward was there was no way the teen could have come very far from the original camp. But the man wasn't, and instead he sat there considering all the different ways he was going to melt each and every one of the people who had hurt the blond. If Ed had been fine the plan probably would have consisted of a lot of injuring and capturing of the enemy soldiers, but seeing as the teen was nowhere near a state that could be considered "fine" there was no room for mercy in the Colonel's mind. Nobody hurt any of his people and lived to tell the tale. Besides, the Drachmans were not people, they were monsters. And Roy of all people knew that monsters had to be eradicated.

The Colonel was dragged abruptly from his fuming when Edward's hold on him suddenly disappeared and Roy looked down to find the blond had either passed out or fallen asleep, something that both alarmed and relieved him. It was good that Edward no longer had to endure the pain he had accidentally caused, but the teen's abrupt limpness had caused the Colonel's heart to jump. The alchemist released a pent up sigh as he got up in order to place Ed back onto the bedroll he'd had dragged himself away from earlier, careful of the blond's injuries as he situated him in what Roy hoped was a semi-comfortable position.

It had been quiet up until that point, but Roy knew he really should have expected his team to start talking the moment Edward couldn't hear them. That did not mean the Colonel wanted to listen to anything they had to say, but unfortunately it seemed nobody was to get what they wanted that day because the moment the alchemist was standing up again, Havoc had his mouth open.

"Just when I thought that shit had already hit the fan." It was more of a muttered statement but it might as well have been a shout given how it smacked everyone in the cave with its abruptness. It was true, they really had thought things were as worse as they could have gotten, what with the war that was slowly but surely killing them off and finding Edward looking like he did, but Jean hadn't needed to be so blunt about it, even if that was his style.

Falman nodded gravely, that normally impassive face twisted into a pained frown that the Colonel could easily empathize with. "Yeah."

"I… don't even know what to say about all this… It's just…" Fuery bit his lip and blinked rapidly, not able to finish his sentence due to the obvious lump in his throat.

"Terrible." Falman spoke once more and Roy almost found himself scoffing at the word used to describe Edward's treatment. That was a rather understated way of putting it!

Fuery sighed sadly, adjusting his glasses on his nose to likely hide the moisture behind them. "How could they do that to Edward? He's just a kid."

Breda did scoff at that, but not in an attempt to denigrate or deride Fuery's honest, if rhetorical, question, and the redhead answered in a flat tone that spoke volumes about his current emotional state. "They've never cared about age. Information is all that matters to them."

"Sick bastards."

Even Roy tipped his head in agreement with Havoc's growl, though if he did think "sick" was a nice way of putting it. "Sadistic", "Inhuman", and/or "Barbarous" fit better in the Colonel's opinion. There was no reason to use the term "sick" even if it seemed true, because these people were beyond metaphorical illness. They were just wrong, and disgusting, without a moral code or empathetic bone in their body, and they were able to casually do things that even the lowest of criminals might inwardly cringe doing.

Falman held up a hand before any of the others could get another word in and voiced the question that Roy had mentally shelved for later but had forgotten up until that point, and the Colonel was briefly relieved that somebody else had noticed that same thing he had. "Wait, but how did they even know Ed was part of the military?"

"Somebody must have heard about him through the grapevine. Word travels fast when it's interesting. They've probably known about him since he was twelve." Havoc's clipped answer had Roy frowning deeply and berating himself for not having already thought about that. After all, it had been mainly the word of others passed up to Central that had even made the man interested in coming down to see the Elrics those few years back, so it was logical to assume outsiders had caught wind of Edward's unusual position when it had been granted to him.

"Oh yeah…" Before Fuery could get worked up too much, Breda cut in, bringing everyone to what apparently was the main issue, though Roy could not have cared less in that moment.

"Yeah, guys, Ed's condition is important, I get that, but don't you think we may have more pressing matters to deal with? Like, I don't know, the fact that we are going to be fighting Drachmans on two separate fronts if we don't figure out how to stop them beforehand?"

"We know, Breda." Havoc sighed, digging his hands into his pockets in search of his nonexistent cigarette pack, "We can't really do anything about it at the moment, given that we're stuck in this damn cave until this blizzard stops."

Fuery shook his head, the shakiness in his voice now not as apparent as he spoke. "We still should come up with some sort of plan though."

Havoc huffed and dragged his eyes lazily over their group, his voice carrying the sarcasm that everyone both loved and hated depending on the situation. "Doesn't, "Get to rendezvous point, warn them of the danger so they can radio in to our troops, get the supplies, get back before the Drachmans so we can fight them off" sound about good for now?"

"I suppose so, but what if we run into them on our way to the rendezvous point? Then what do we do?" It was Breda's turn to ask the question and Falman's turn to answer. The gray haired male crossed his arms loosely over his chest more out of habit than anything and hummed dismissively.

"That probably won't happen though, since the supply point is close to Briggs, and no Drachman in their right mind is going to go near Briggs unless they have a death wish."

"True, I suppose. But what about…"

Roy tuned everyone out at that point because he wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to think about their sudden switch in topic. The alchemist knew his group was likely brushing off what Edward had said because it was too much to deal with emotionally and they also knew it was crucial that they discuss the new problem, but his mind was having the most difficult time being okay with that. Because did they not realize the Drachman threat discussion could wait until later when they actually had a chance of leaving the cave, while Edward's condition was a current issue? Roy refused to believe he was the only one affected by Fullmetal's words; that he was the only one feeling the terrible guilt stirring in his gut.

The fact that he was the only one still thinking of Edward and his condition frustrated Roy and had the self-hatred and overall rage towards the Drachmans fueling that irritation into blind anger, making the dark eyed male growled under his breath. They were all so easily skirting around what was important. How could they ignore the blond when he was the only thing on the Colonel's mind? It didn't make sense to him! And they were still talking about the damn plans to warn their forces when the real issue was figuring out how to help Ed and destroy whoever did this!

Roy wasn't sure why, when he was usually so in control of his emotions and reactions, he exploded then. But it was justified in his mind given that his reasons for doing so were important, so the alchemist tried not to think about it.

"Everyone, just shut the hell up!"

His group's reaction was immediate, leaving everyone frozen mid sentence and looking at him with eyes slightly wider than normal. Roy tried not to think about that either as he grit his teeth and continued, not really knowing what he wanted to say, but nonetheless feeling like he had to speak or else he would set something on fire. "Is this really what you're worried about right now? Not Fullmetal?" The man cast a glance at the teen as he said that, worried he might have been woken by the shouting, but when he saw the boy was unaffected, he went on, "It doesn't even matter how we are going to warn the others right now. You know why? Because we're stuck here for the time being. So shut up!"

"Colonel!"

It was the first thing Hawkeye had said since Edward had spoken and Roy flinched inwardly at the frigidness in her tone that worked as a bucket of ice water in his face, making him realize he'd gone too far. When Riza had to raise her voice at him, it was never a good thing, and it made the alchemist immediately back down, ashamed that he'd let his temper get out of hand just because things were not going as planned and he was stressed. Roy knew he wasn't allowed to blow up like that when on the job, and especially not in front of his team- hell, he wasn't supposed to yell at them either! In a different setting it may have even been amusing considering shouting had always been Fullmetal's thing, never the Colonel's… but unfortunately the situation was as it was, meaning his outburst had been anything but funny, and everyone knew it. The man was honestly surprised raising her voice was all Hawkeye had done.

The blonde woman said nothing more, only staring up at him with a glare that further drove in the guilt the Colonel felt for causing those surprised and hurt expressions on his subordinates faces. Roy knew he'd let everything build up too long and that was why it had come out in the form of harsh words, but he also knew that was no excuse. Yes, he had been shot at and nearly stabbed multiple times every day over the past month, and yes, he had been trekking through the worst weather known to man, and yes, he had just been given devastating news… But so had they. The raven haired man knew that and felt all the worse for his yelling.

Yeah, you screwed up. Roy knew that too, but he supposed hearing it from that stupid voice never hurt, even if it did remind him of the painful information they'd been given a few minutes ago.

The Colonel released a heavy breath through his nose and nodded to Riza's unspoken words telling him needed to apologize. She was right, as usual, and Roy had to bite back hard on the desire to nuzzle his forehead against hers and whisper the apologies she deserved, but wouldn't hear because they were much too personal. I'm sorry I got too emotional and left you to fix the situation once again. I'm sorry that I can see how much this is killing you and can't do anything about it. I'm sorry I left you to be the strong one once again… I'm an idiot. Please forgive me.

Riza knew, of course she knew, it was written all over his face for the half second he looked into her eyes, but the man knew there was a big difference between knowing what the other wants to say and actually hearing it from their lips. Seeing as it was a moot point though, Roy turned to his subordinates and allowed his face to say all the apologies that even his words did not, because they deserved it just as much as Hawkeye did. "I should not have yelled at you all. That was inappropriate, and I'm sorry."

Everyone stared at him for one more uncomfortable second before Fuery shrugged a shoulder and offered the Colonel a small smile. "It's okay, Sir."

"Yeah, we get it," Breda mirrored Fuery's expression and Roy felt some of the weight he hadn't realized was on his chest leave. Being forgiven for being stupid was always nice, and the Colonel let his appreciation show, which left most of them with upturned mouths.

And just like that, everything returned to how it had been before the alchemist had opened his mouth, although the others seemed to think talking about anything regarding the Edward and Drachman topic was not a good idea, which was honestly just fine with for now. Going only from what he had heard before, they had already come up with a perfectly good plan for after they got out anyway: Go to the rendezvous point, radio the main force to warn them, and get back before the Drachmans could attack… although Roy did want to try his luck at speaking with the Briggs General when the radio was available, because if there was a possibility of wiping out the enemy forces before they could reach the Amestrians, then the Colonel would at least try.

One way or another though, they were not getting out of their attack alive. Hurting Edward had earned each and every one of them a lovely death certificate.

Awake and Aware

One thing Edward was aware of immediately upon waking was that his head was not as fuzzy as it had been nor did he feel so warm. The next was that he didn't feel the comforting presence that had become familiar in the recent hours, which led the teen to open his eyes and scan his surroundings quickly. When he saw Falman and Fuery sitting several feet away eating something Ed worked to shove away the uneasy feeling building up in his chest. You know them. You know them. They wouldn't hurt you…

The blond swallowed hard and went to turn onto his back in order to check and see if Mustang was behind him but stopped when pain tore through his body, reminding the teen a little too late that he was still injured. Edward clenched his teeth, deciding to simply call out for the man he wanted. Even if he didn't remember everything that had led to him lying down with a blanket over him in a cold room with the team, he did know he should be beyond caring what anyone thought about his need to have the Colonel near.

"Mustang?"

Ed heard what he assumed was the sound of someone scrambling to their feet and within seconds Mustang was rounding his body and crouching in front of the teen, food of some sort held in his hands but momentarily forgotten as he gave Edward a concerned look. The blond felt relief immediately wash over him, a small sigh escaping as he stared at the man, trying to ignore the way his mouth started watering at the sight of the rations. However, his stomach was harder to disregard when it emitted a loud growl and the teen found himself swallowing hard and mentally debating on whether or not he should ask if he could have what was in the Colonel's hands.

Fortunately, the alchemist didn't have to say a thing since the man was perceptive and answered the blond's unspoken request. "This is for you, it's okay to eat," Mustang placed the food on the bedroll beside Edward and the teen nodded his thanks whilst trying to sit himself up, though the Colonel was quick to assist with that too and Ed found himself upright with that warm hand on his shoulder a moment later. The blond mumbled a thanks that the man likely did not hear before reaching for the provided meal, wary of it but still willing to eat it because Mustang had said it was okay and Ed trusted the Colonel would not intentionally let anything bad happen to him.

As he ate Edward surveyed his surroundings a little more carefully, noting where everyone else was and what they were doing: Falman and Fuery were still eating, though not conversing like they usually did, Breda was with Havoc and Hawkeye and they were feeding the horses and speaking in hushed tones. Overall, not anything the blond felt he had to worry about; he was trying hard to pretend he didn't notice the way everyone's eyes kept darting over to check on him and the Colonel.

Speaking of the Colonel, Mustang was also being very quiet, watching him like the bird Hawkeye was so likened to and rubbing small circles into the front of the shoulder he still held on to. Where the others' gazes made the teen nervous, though, Ed found Mustang's to be comforting; nobody was going to hurt him when the Colonel was watching. Not that Edward thought any of the team were going to harm him. It's just nice, the blond thought as he finished his food and reached for the cup of water the dark haired man placed in front of him.

Ed noticed his hand shook when his fingers curled around the metal housing the drink and tried not to think about what happened the last time he'd tried to get it down. The water is not going to attack you. Just pick up the cup and drink, you big baby! It can't choke you if you don't inhale it. Even as he told himself that the teen could not help but wonder if it was worth it to even try, because if just grabbing the cup was going to make him react like this perhaps it was better to just not have any.

The blond was about to withdraw his hand when Mustang brought his own down to cover the younger's, effectively stilling the tremors and directing Ed's attention to the man's face. "Edward, it's alright, I won't let anything bad happen. Just take sips."

Ed thought about telling the Colonel that it was still possible to choke on water even if one only sipped but realized he was being a touch ridiculous and decided against it. Besides, if Mustang said he wouldn't let anything happen, he wouldn't… even if the man couldn't exactly control whether Edward inhaled the liquid or not. The blond mentally shook himself and focused instead on bringing the tin to his lips after the older alchemist removed his hand.

Once the cup was at his mouth and tipping, Edward found it much easier to calm down and do as the Colonel instructed, because it was okay, Mustang had said so. The teen drank in careful sips, consciously holding his breath as he did, and managed to drink the entire thing without inhaling. As Ed placed the tin back on the floor he caught the Colonel's eyes and widened his own a fraction when he caught a flash of silent praise in the black pools, the expression sending a warmth through him that had the blond blinking in surprise.

The man must have noticed the motion because his brows drew together slightly in confusion. "What is it?"

"Nothing," Ed immediately replied, realizing too late that he might have said it too quickly to be convincing. It had just been a long time since someone had looked at him like that and the fact that it was coming from Mustang was something the blond found odd, though not unwelcome, and that was not something the teen wanted to tell the Colonel.

Mustang looked like he was going to push but thought better of it and instead changed the subject, though not to something the blond particularly liked. "How are you feeling?"

The fact that he was asking at all made Ed want to snort. It should have been fairly obvious how he was feeling considering the amount of wounds covering his body, and the teen went to say that but stopped when he saw the way the Colonel was looking at him, as if he was trying to assess more than just the blond's physical pain. Realizing the man meant his inquiry as a general thing, Ed swallowed, turning his gaze to the floor.

The boy knew exactly how he was feeling, but the real question was whether or not he was going to tell Mustang. Did Edward really want the man knowing he was still feeling scared, hurt, on edge whenever anybody moved because he was paranoid that the Drachmans were suddenly going to appear and kill them all? Yeah, probably not. Still, the blond knew he needed to tell Mustang something because he deserved an answer, so Ed decided on something that more or less explained exactly how he was feeling without going into detail.

"Like trampled shit."

Mustang let out a huff and the teen could not tell if it was an unhappy sound or an amused one, though either would have been appropriate. "Yeah, I figured. You look like shit."

The Colonel's eyes snapped to his suddenly and Edward realized the alchemist probably hadn't meant to say that last part aloud. The teen could practically see Mustang's inner panic as he thought he'd made Ed feel bad and found his lips pulling into a tiny smirk at the man's discomfort even while his gut twinged unpleasantly at the thought of being able to make the Colonel worry so easily. Edward hated seeming weak, and the fact that he was likely seen as that and more now did not sit well with him. The teen opened his mouth to dispel Mustang's worries then, wanting nothing more than to make the man stop looking at him like that, forcing his smile to stay put until he'd finished speaking, "I can imagine."

He really could too. If he looked even half as bad as he felt Edward wouldn't have been surprised, given everything that had happened. The teen wondered if any of his smaller cuts had healed yet and brought a hand to his face then to check, letting cold fingers trace along his cheek and only stopping when he felt a rough line of scarred skin below his left eye. The blond remembered that one. Pouty had done it, though when and for which reason he couldn't remember. And he didn't want to. Just thinking about the Drachman made the alchemist's heart rate pick up.

Edward gulped when the torturer's face flashed in his mind's eye and sent a chill through him. The teen grabbed the blanket from its spot on the floor beside him, trying and failing to get the fabric around his shoulders before Mustang took it from him and carefully draped it over his smaller form. The blond muttered a small thank you as the blanket warmed his cold body, and chose to ignore the pain it caused when rubbing against his injuries. He needed to focus on something other than his pain; needed to think about something other than the Drachmans.

"Mustang," Ed wanted to cringe at how weak the name sounded on his lips but powered through when the Colonel fixed his attention on him, "Tell me what's been going on with you guys."

"Oh," Mustang appeared take back by the complete change in topic but didn't ask Edward about it before he began recalling the last twenty-five days, something the teen was immensely grateful for. The alchemist was glad the Colonel was smart enough to understand he needed to be occupied and grateful that the man was willing to talk about things he might not care for in order to help the blond.

Mustang started by recounting the events that took place during the first few days in Drachma, making sure to include some short complaints about how the trip up had been almost as unpleasant as the knowledge that he'd be surrounded by snow, and Breda and Havoc's griping had not helped. He spoke of the first two days as if it were easy and when Edward frowned at the man's obviously fake casual tone he sobered marginally, explaining to the teen that those forty-eight hours were probably the most difficult if only because they'd been jumping into the fray and had to be on edge and ready the moment their feet hit the ground.

"As a soldier, you always have to be ready, it's true, but coming in when things are really bad is horrible. Even with all our past experience it wasn't easy to keep up with everything. It never is but the first few days were… They were tough."

"And it only got harder, didn't it?" Edward could've smacked himself for the ridiculously childish way the question had come out, especially when he already knew the answer; he could see it in the bags under the Colonel's eyes and the way he held himself, all tightly coiled and ready to strike at a moment's notice, eyes always sharp despite the fatigue that weighed their owner down. What the teen hated was the fact that it was so easy to notice these things in Mustang because he now knew how it felt, those same things mirrored in his own body.

A light scoff sounded to the side and Edward's attention snapped up to Breda, who upon noticing the blond's attention, elaborated, "Harder is putting it lightly, but yeah, you could say that. It didn't help that Havoc never shut up."

"Hey!"

However serious the topic discussion, Ed couldn't stop the small smile that came back to his face at Havoc's indignant protest. Breda seemed to take the expression as a sign that it was safe to come closer and did just that, settling a few feet in front of Edward so that the teen could see him even while he wasn't in the blond's direct line of sight. The alchemist did his best not to jump, but Mustang moving a closer let the teen know his goal was not achieved. If Breda noticed though, he didn't acknowledge it, continuing as if he hadn't stopped in the first place. "He kept going on and on about how cold it was, and how he hoped his girl was being faithful back home- he would not shut up about her. What even was her name, Havoc? Solar? Sorlis?"

"Solaris," Havoc corrected with a huff, coming to sit down by the Second Lieutenant, punching him lightly in the shoulder. Ed could see the two were trying to be as genuinely them as they could, and if their smiles had reached their eyes or they hadn't been continually glancing over at him, the blond might have been convinced things were almost feeling normal. But no, they were walking on eggshells and trying to mask it by acting the way Edward was used to. Part of the teen was touched by that while another was a bit vexed that they felt the need to pretend around him like he was a Xingese doll that would easily break. But you will. You're fragile now and they know it. So stop whining and just accept it for now.

"And I'm sorry if I don't shut up about her, but it's better than listening to you constantly complaining about the inability to keep your feet warm," Havoc countered easily, as if the two had had the conversation more than once.

"Which is a problem all of us have to deal with, so you complaining only made everyone else aware of how cold they were."

"And man, was I freezing."

Falman and Fuery's voices joined the conversation and soon enough those two were taking their places beside Havoc and Breda, and Hawkeye wasn't far behind, taking her time letting the other men banter before dropping gracefully between Breda and where Mustang had been. Everyone went silent soon after and took turns staring at each other and then Edward and it took the teen a moment to realize the reason behind their quiet: This was the closest Ed had allowed anyone to come so far, excluding the Colonel, without panicking.

If they expected him to say anything Edward didn't know it, and wasn't sure he could have if he'd wanted to; his mind blanked on him. Before the silence could become uncomfortable, however, Hawkeye threw everyone back onto topic. "Yes, though I think what was more concerning than the cold was the fact that the Drachmans knew the terrain so much better. They still do, but lately it's been more manageable."

"It'd be a hell of a lot more manageable if General Falcon would stop sending men out to die," Mustang grumbled and Edward could immediately tell there was more to that statement and sent the man an inquiring glance. "Ugh, it's nothing."

"I wouldn't say nothing, Colonel," Havoc interjected, "After all, if he'd listened to you those guys would still be alive…"

"Or they might not be," Falman stated, "This is a war after all."

"It's a moot point, because they are," Mustang almost snapped at the two and Edward tensed even though he knew there was no reason to. Perhaps, He thought, it might be best to not ask about that one.

"Anyway," Hawkeye said, calmly redirecting the conversation once more, "Edward, is there anything specific you want to know?"

Having the Lieutenant address him as she would have before all of this started struck the teen as comforting in an odd way, because it didn't seem forced in any way; Hawkeye had always addressed him and his brother by their names so not even that sat wrong with Ed. And she wasn't asking invasive questions like he'd feared they would either, she was just being her perceptive self, seeing that he had questions and wanted to know what they were.

Now that he had the option to ask though, Edward had to think about it though, because he wanted to ask a lot of questions: Had anyone been hurt, were their forces doing okay, who was winning… oh, and…

"What're you all doing here? This isn't close to the camp, right?" Horror shot through Ed right then at the thought of what it would mean if they were close to the Amestrian forces. If that were the case the Drachmans could already be attacking, killing everyone, and all because he hadn't been able to get to them on time, and-

"No, we're almost a week's ride out, and that's at a relatively quick pace," The Colonel was the one to answer and immediately Edward's mounting panic vanished, even while the uneasy pit in his stomach grew larger at the thought of the enemy troops only being a week or so from the camp. "We're out here because the main forces need more supplies and seeing as our team has the record for being the fastest travelers, the higher-ups requested we go. We're still three days from the supply depot. However, seeing as we're in a hurry it's more likely we will get there within a day and a half."

"Oh," Edward might have said more had his brain not been going back into panic mode as he did the math. Almost a week to get to the camp from where they currently were and the Drachmans were not that far from this location, he was certain. That, added to the indeterminable amount of time they'd been stuck in this cave, plus at least two days of travel to the supply depot, and then the return trip, meant the Drachmans would be upon the Amestrian troops before Mustang and the others ever made it back to the camp.

Edward thought about bringing that up to the Colonel but scolded himself when he realized if he'd been able to realize this then the man most certainly already had too. And if Mustang wasn't panicking about it, maybe he knew something the teen did not. Ed certainly hoped that was the case, because if it wasn't…

The blond was unable to suppress a shudder at the thought of what would happen if the Flame Alchemist wasn't there to protect everyone and all eyes were suddenly on him once again. Mustang brought a hand to the teen's forearm and Ed relaxed into the touch, shaking his head before the man could ask what was wrong. "It's nothing." He stated, tone bordering on defensive before he changed the topic again, "Uh, who's winning the war right now?"

Fuery and Breda's grimaces were answer enough and Edward dropped his attention to the floor once more with a sigh. It was not something that exactly surprised him, after all, in order to win the Ishvalan war they had to give an order for all state alchemists to fight, and Scar had done his part recently in making sure most of them were dead. Not to mention Drachma was a country at least four times bigger than Amestris, which meant more troops. Still, it was disheartening to hear and the teen shook his head, ignoring the uncomfortable twinge in his neck as he muttered a sarcastic, "Great."

"Well, hey, don't let it get you down too much, Ed," Fuery interjected, "I mean, our forces are just being pushed back for now. I think we've taken down more Drachmans than we've lost soldiers. It's just that their supply point is a lot closer than ours, so they take less time to get patched up is all."

"The tides could turn at any time." Falman agreed, "It happens a lot when our forces are involved."

The sight of the team trying to make him feel better made Edward want to smile if for no other reason than the fact that it was so typical of them. However the subject of discussion left their encouragements feeling flat and the blond frowned. He couldn't see how they could be so upbeat about the situation -even if it was pretense- and act like everything would turn out for the better when so far all the world had done was beat them down. Hawkeye and Havoc, however, never did seem to be the ones to look on the exceptionally bright side of things, so the teen turned to them, wanting to gauge their thoughts about everything that had been said.

Both soldiers were staring back at him which was something Edward had expected, but they weren't meeting his eyes, their attention directed lower. When Edward followed their gaze he realized the adults were looking at his automail which hadn't been fully covered by the blanket and was in plain view. The teen winced at the sight of his banged up arm, remembering the events that had led up to its destruction and biting back a whimper at the memory of his nerve endings being ripped up and the pain that had accompanied that. He could only imagine what Hawkeye and Havoc were saying about it under their breath when he saw they were whispering to one another.

It looked awful, and that was putting it lightly. The casing on top had been ripped off, leaving the broken inner coils and torn wires exposed to the air, and that was only the tip of the iceberg. The arm was dented and scratched, missing several important screws and plates, and blood from the earlier abuse coated several areas inside, giving the entire thing a sad, painful appearance. It felt even worse. Ed knew not all the nerve attachments had been torn, which meant if he really wanted to he might have been able to twitch his fingers, but the resulting hurt would hardly have been worth it.

It was bad enough that he had never particularly liked people looking at his arm when it was whole and working, but having his teammates openly scrutinizing it now made the blond uncomfortable. Yeah, they had seen it broken before, but that had been different; it had been completely blown apart, leaving very little to really inspect, and Al had been there so Ed hadn't been too worried about focusing on the numerous people gaping at him. What made the state of his automail truly unbearable though, was the fact that he knew there was no fixing it until he could make it back to Winry, and who knew how long that would be.

As if reading his thoughts, Edward heard Havoc ask Hawkeye how long she thought it might take to fix it, to which the woman only shrugged and continued to examine the broken prosthetic. Ed really did not like the way they were staring at one of his main sources of weakness like it was the most interesting and unfortunate thing out there and tried his best to shift his body so the useless limb was hidden from their sight, which brought him accidentally closer to Mustang's side.

Thankfully, that motion got the man's attention and the Colonel caught onto the blond's discomfort even if he didn't know where it was stemming from. Mustang placed a hand atop Ed's head, the gesture soothing the teen enough for him to relax further against Mustang and nod towards Havoc and the First Lieutenant as the two continued conversing. Hawkeye stopped as soon as she realized eyes were on her, but her companion continued speaking, completely oblivious to Edward's frown and Mustang's displeasure. After a few more seconds the Colonel cleared his throat and the Second Lieutenant looked over, his mouth shutting with an audible snap when he noted the alchemist's light glare and Edward's downcast eyes.

"Er, sorry." Havoc rubbed the back of his neck and diverted his attention to the nearest wall. Hawkeye however, did not apologize and furrowed her brows and asked Ed if his arm hurt.

"Oh, um…" Ed brought his flesh hand up to wrap around his opposite shoulder, massaging the metal out of nervous habit than anything else as he answered, "Not really. If I don't move it it's fine."

They didn't know that was a lie; didn't know it was constantly throbbing with a dull sort of pain he'd grown used to the day he'd lost his arm but hadn't felt for a long while. The teen wasn't going to let onto that though, he didn't see any point in it since it was one of the aches that had become easy to ignore. As it was, Hawkeye did not appear to be buying it judging by the slight narrowing of her eyes, but she said nothing which left Edward grateful. The last thing he wanted was to start talking about was how much he hurt and the reasons behind that. The blond knew should that happen, his mind would go nowhere good, and he did not want to feel that overwhelming and embarrassing panic if he could avoid it.

Even so, Edward knew what little he'd already said would be enough to upset most, if not all of them. The fact was evident in the way the Colonel tensed before making a conscious effort to appear unaffected when the teen sent a questioning look his way. It was evident in the way Fuery ducked his head and Falman's jaw had clenched, though both tried to hide their reactions soon after. Ed knew they were trying to… well, he didn't exactly know what they were trying to do, but he assumed it had something to do with making him feel better? He thought it was fairly safe to conclude they were trying to not show how his words impacted them, because if he knew his pain got to them he would feel terrible, since obviously none of this was their fault and they shouldn't have to feel like it was.

That is what Edward figured, anyway, though he wasn't sure why, because he wasn't feeling bad about their upset reactions. If anything he felt all the safer, knowing everyone in the room hated his discomfort as much as he. Why that was, the blond wasn't certain, but this was the first time in however long they'd been here that he'd felt okay around them, so he was not going to question it.

There was a lull in conversation then and Edward wasn't sure how to pick things back up, even as the persisting silence was making it harder to tune out the soreness throughout his body and he willed someone to say something. Without talking to distract from everything Ed found the lacerations on his back stinging as the fabric of the blanket pressed against the bandaging; could feel his newly set ribs protesting the tiniest bit every time he took a breath; heard the ringing in the air that grated harshly against his eardrums. He could smell the blood coating his automail, and he could feel all the individual nicks, scrapes, and bruises that littered his form, and he couldn't hear anything except his own breathing and that was picking up without his permission and-

"Edward."

The teen's neck audibly snapped when Ed looked at Mustang but he ignored it for favor of focusing on the Colonel's eyes, which were telling him to calm down because he was all right. He was safe. This was safe.

Just like that the blond felt his breathing even out again and his heart rate go down -though he hadn't noticed it get any faster- and he was sending the older alchemist thanks with the way he further curled against the man. The hand on his head scratched gently to let Ed know his appreciation did not go unnoticed and Ed couldn't stop his lips from curving slightly upward. He would probably never admit it, but that had felt really nice.

Edward opened his eyes a second later, not having remembered ever closing them, when he heard the others getting to their feet. They all said they were leaving to see to their other limited duties then, with Breda and Havoc going to check how the storm was progressing, and Falman helping Fuery and Hawkeye tend to the horses and check how they were doing in terms of food. Although he wasn't going to say anything, the lack of eyes on him helped Ed relax more. It was true he had been feeling safer with them, but feeling safe and wanting them around for long periods of time were not the same things.

With them all off doing things there was noise to drive away the horrid silence, there were eyes focusing on things other than his condition. With them off doing things, he was alone with Mustang again. It was funny how once that had seemed like the worst thing in the world and now it was all Ed really wanted. How the mighty fall, huh?

The teen wasn't sure why he wanted to be with just the Colonel either, because as far as he knew, there was nothing they needed to talk about, nothing they needed to do. Then again, perhaps that was it too: They didn't need to do anything right now except sit...

"Edward, what happened there?"

... Ooorr not. So close. But of course he would want to know why you were freaking out. Stupid. Ed didn't want to tell Mustang what his almost-episode had been, but he also knew there was no getting out of it, because when the Colonel wanted to know something, he found out one way or another. Still, telling the alchemist he was in pain was not something the teen wanted to do, but after a second or two of thinking about it Ed realized he didn't know what he was supposed to say. Would Mustang leave it if he said he didn't want to talk about it, or would he insist on having the question answered?

Knowing what he did of the man Edward wasn't sure. In fact the only thing he was sure about was that he did not feel like discussing his various injuries and that he had nothing to give the Colonel that wouldn't send his mind spiraling into the darkness again. In the end the teen settled on, "I don't know."

Mustang sighed a little loudly and leaned forward a bit so as to get a proper look at Edward's face and the blond met the alchemist's gaze briefly before finding the ground interesting. Whether or not the man bought what Ed said became apparent when the Colonel spoke again. "It's the Drachmans, huh?"

Dammit. Ed frowned deeply and didn't immediately look at Mustang as he thought on how to answer that. While it wasn't true that the thought of the Drachmans had been the cause of his near-panic this time, it could be blamed on them… Because, Ed reasoned, if they hadn't done anything to me, I wouldn't be in pain, which means nothing would have been wrong. So…

"Yeah. Them."

Edward wasn't sure how it was possible to be any closer to Mustang, but he didn't question it when the man wordlessly brought nearly into his lap, opting instead to rest his head against the Colonel's shoulder with a quiet sigh. The blond knew if he asked it of him Mustang would drop the conversation then, but he also knew it wouldn't be right to leave it at that when the others had already gone into detail the things that had happened to all of them. Besides, he still had several important things to tell the Colonel…

Wait…

"Oh!" Edward gasped, lifting his head from its resting spot as he shifted his position to where he faced Mustang completely. "They asked questions!"

The older alchemist seemed to become more alert with that declaration and Ed swallowed hard as the memories came flooding back with all the ferocity of a rabid dog. Granted since the blond had summoned these ones forth he was able to filter out the less than savory parts in between the questioning which, while still unpleasant, was manageable since he knew what he was doing. Nothing took him by surprise this time. It helped that Mustang was right there, hand still placed comfortingly at the back of his head.

"They, um… oh, right. They thought I was trying to figure out their plans- which, I guess I did, but whatever, that's on them." Ed watched Mustang for any signs to go on and when the man nodded he mirrored the gesture as he went on.

"They wanted to know what Amestris knew about their forces and what our battle strategies were. I guess they thought we had something up our sleeves, which after what happened in Ishval I get, but it was annoying. They… ugh, they wanted to know a lot of stuff that I can't remember, but um… They had questions about the way our military functions and where our supply points were. And obviously I couldn't tell them anything about that stuff." Ed swallowed harder than probably necessary then when an unwanted image of Black's glare came into his head and cleared his throat to try and get back onto track. He didn't want those thoughts distracting him.

"What, uh, worried me most though is that they wanted to know what Alchemist's weaknesses are, and at the very least, how to combat us when we're using the most of our abilities. My guess is Ford tipped them off about that-"

"Ford?" Mustang interrupted with a confused frown on his face that made Edward almost gape and smack himself as he realized he hadn't told them about the Amestrian traitor, which was one of the most vital pieces of information in all of this.

"Lieutenant Colonel Ford. He… He's a spy for Drachma." Ed watched the Colonel's face as the man sifted through his own memories to find the face attached to the name. It took the man less than a minute and when Mustang's eyes darkened the teen held his breath, waiting for what he assumed was going to be more questioning about Ford's involvement.

To his surprise the Colonel shook his a moment later and growled quietly as something the blond tentatively labelled melancholy flitted across his face. "I used to wonder about him. There was always something off about the way he went about assignments. I never thought he'd betray his country though. Goes to show you, I suppose."

"Sorry," Edward said before thinking about it and regretted the words instantly when Mustang raised an eyebrow at him. "I mean, uh-"

"Ford's the only Amestrian you saw in that camp, right?"

"Oh, mhmm. I'm one hundred percent sure it's only him."

"Good. I don't want to have to kill more of my countrymen than I have to."

The teen bit his tongue to keep from questioning why Mustang thought they had to kill Ford at all, knowing to ask something like that would be naive and stupid. And there was that small part of him that hoped the Colonel did kill Ford, and no matter how badly Ed tried to ignore it and toss it out, it lingered at the edges of his mind.

More might have been shared after that, but anything Edward had prepared got cut off as Breda and Havoc stalked back into view, tired smiles on their faces as they announced to everyone that the storm had finally stopped and they could go. The others seemed to share one large sigh of relief at the good news as they started getting prepared to leave at Mustang's orders, but the blond found himself staring in the direction the men had appeared from with apprehension. He knew they had to leave and get to the supply point, but Ed couldn't help but acknowledge the small voice in his head that questioned how safe they would be out there, so close to the Drachman forces.

Tired and Tracked

"So how far is it now?"

Ed didn't have to look up to know the vein in Mustang's temple twitched, seeing as it had been the fifth time he'd asked that same question in less than ten minutes. If it wasn't for the fact that he was injured and they were travelling dangerous enemy terrain, the teen was certain the man would have already knocked him off the horse.

They'd been on the move for several hours since Breda and Havoc had informed everyone with relief laced in their voices that the storm had passed and they could continue on with their mission. The speed and efficiency in which they'd gotten repacked and on the move still impressed Edward. It wasn't until then that he'd realized, despite being a part of their team, he'd never actually worked with any of them outside the office. He'd never seen them in action, working like a well-oiled machine.

It had made him feel safer somehow, knowing he was surrounded by people who knew what they were doing and worked efficiently together. Yeah, having Mustang nearby left him feeling safe consistently, but as he realized just how good the rest of the team was, the better and more secure he felt around the group once more. Part of him was frustrated that he had to see them doing something other than trying to help care for him in order for his brain to finally relax more around them, but he couldn't be bothered to berate himself for it. If that was how his mind decided to react he couldn't stop it, apparently. He couldn't stop himself from reacting in a lot of ways lately, so what was one more thing?

He rode at the front of the group with Mustang, leaning against the man for balance and support when he realized just how much muscle and balance it took to stay seated atop a horse. The shifting movements of the animal had left him sore for awhile, but eventually Ed found himself growing used to it and finding some comfort in the repetitive back and forth motion. Hawkeye had had the forethought to put his automail arm into a makeshift sling so that the ride wouldn't be so painful for him, which he appreciated more and more as the day stretched on. Fuery had also been kind enough to lend him one of his spare shirts since he was the one in the group closest to Ed's size. It still swam on him, but he was grateful for the warmth the garment provided nonetheless. Besides, the loose fit benefited him when he considered the wounds still littering his body.

They'd all done as much as they could to ensure he was as comfortable as possible before heading out without making him feel as though he was being babied and Edward would've hugged them if he'd been able, or had the presence of mind to do so at the time. It was odd, how one moment he was uncomfortable with them being around him and the next he didn't want anything but for them to stay close.

As it was currently, though, he was glad that the rest of the group were following behind him and the Colonel. He was glad to have them around, but sometime during the day, the further they'd gotten from the cave, he'd gone back to being slightly on edge and wanting fewer people close. Ed wanted to tell his brain to get a grip on itself, to stop throwing his emotions around, but knew it would be a futile mission.

Once he'd realized that it was their close proximity to cliffs, reminding him of his less-than-pleasant fall, that had him worried, Ed had done his best to occupy his mind. Which was why he'd yet to cease his nagging of Mustang, because if there was one thing he could do to keep his thoughts away from serious topics, it was be obnoxious. And after eating and getting warm, he felt decidedly more human and able to do as much.

"Mustang," he whined.

The Colonel sighed heavily and Ed felt him slouch a little. "What do you want?"

"How much farther?"

"A day."

It was Edward's turn to sigh then and he tucked his hand under his sling, giving the appearance of crossing his arms in annoyance. He'd already known how long the trip would take, but now that Mustang had answered he couldn't nag him about it anymore, which meant he had to come up with something new. Which, okay, honestly wouldn't be too difficult seeing as there was a surplus of things to complain about, but still.

After another moment of silence, Ed hummed quietly and looked out over the never ending expanse of white.

"I'm cold. Why's it so cold?"

Mustang looked down at him then, his brow raised in a clear "seriously?" gesture. Ed had to relent that, yeah, that one wasn't very good, but the man's reaction still made him inwardly smirk. Honestly, those looks were sometimes better than anything Mustang could say. Still, he didn't miss the way the Colonel shifted his uniform jacket, which he left open to provide Ed extra warmth and protection from the wind, closer after the complaint.

They rode in silence after that for some time, with only the conversations and banter of the others behind them to remind them they weren't alone. It wasn't until they'd finished getting down a steep incline that the cliffs disappeared from view and Edward finally allowed himself to relax a bit. However, when he did he was presented with another uncomfortable problem, one that he knew he should be over feeling awkward about by now, seeing as Mustang had been helping him out thus far with it, but wasn't.

He shifted in his seat and cleared his throat to grab the man's attention.

"Mustang."

"Hmm?"

"I gotta pee."

He pulled Blaze to a halt relatively quickly and Ed grit his teeth when the motion caused him to sit up slightly, leaving the wounds on his back to stretch painfully. Mustang helped him down, letting the others know why they'd stopped before helping him over to the nearest cover. He didn't have to find him privacy, and since they were in a hurry and he'd had to relieve himself under weirder conditions (okay that was a lie) he never expected the man too, but nevertheless, Ed appreciated it.

Even so, movement in and of itself sucked and he half wished Mustang would stop making him drink water and keep hydrated, because it just made for more moments in which they had to halt their progress and more times he had to be in pain. He could tough it out, sure, but Ed wished he didn't have to. He wished he'd get better already. Every time he got injured he longed for the ability to heal faster; he hated being considered an invalid, and he hated feeling like one even more.

When Mustang had first come into his life and told him to stand on his own two feet he'd realized what a burden he'd been on Winry, Pinako and Al, and he'd fixed it. With their help he'd gotten better, stronger, and he hadn't looked back. Since then he'd made a silent oath to himself to never be that useless again, and yet with what life had thrown at him, Edward couldn't see how he was being anything but.

When they got back and Mustang helped him to get resituated, being careful, Edward wanted to snap at him that if he didn't stop treating him so delicately he would get himself sitting comfortably on his own. He didn't, because he knew if he did that Mustang would back off and then he'd be left to tough it out and deal with unnecessary pain. And in the long run, Ed didn't want to deal with that more than he didn't want to feel useless. He was tired of hurting and if he could avoid it by accepting help, as much as he didn't want to, he would.

"What's wrong?"

Ed started, not having expected the question, and he tried to school his expression into something less telling. He hadn't realized he'd been displaying behavior that Mustang would pick up on and he cursed himself for being so transparent.

"I just... " He stopped himself short of admitting anything, frowning as he thought about whether or not he wanted to let Mustang in on what was running through his head. As much as he trusted the man, it wasn't as if he would understand; for all the teasing he and the entire team did, Ed was positive Mustang had never been completely useless once in his life. He'd probably never known what it was like to feel pathetic and weak. He was the Flame Alchemist, after all.

"It's nothing."

"Nothing?" Mustang didn't sound like he believed him for a second and Ed didn't know if he was going to drop the issue but he nodded stiffly nonetheless, hoping that he would.

He could practically hear the gears turning in the Colonel's head as he likely debated whether or not he wanted to pursue the topic and Ed decided the conversation direction needed to be changed. Immediately. He didn't know what he would say, precisely, instead letting his mouth run with whatever trail his mind decided to go down. Which, admittedly, he knew was not the best thing, but the last thing he wanted was to have to explain to the man why he felt even worse about his condition the longer he thought about it.

"Do you think this is the best way to take?"

That question made him pause even as he knew he was saying it. He hadn't even realized that had been a concern of his until it was out in the open, and as he considered it, he realized just how deep that worry ran.

They may have made it past the cliffs, but they still didn't have the best of vantage points, and in the event of an ambush, they could be taken down rather quickly. Even if he was being paranoid that was still an unnerving thought to acknowledge. He had noticed that fact earlier, too, but had done his best not to think about it, and in fact, had thought he'd gotten it out of his mind completely. Now, though, it was out in the open, which meant when Mustang asked what he meant by that, he couldn't backtrack.

"Well, I mean, we're sitting ducks out here, aren't we?" He tried not to sound like he was fishing for an answer that would dispel his fears, but considering how it had sounded to his own ears, the Colonel had to have caught onto his hope to hear something good.

"Edward." He didn't look down, continuing to survey the land around as he had been all day. "We planned the route that would give us the most shelter from everything. It doesn't look secure, but it is. Well, as much as Drachman territory can be."

Ed swallowed carefully and nodded. It was a small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless, to know that the team had at least taken possible attacks into account even when they hadn't a clue that those were a real possibility. It reminded him that, unlike many of the people in Central, he was with soldiers and individuals who hadn't sat around desks passing office gossip their whole careers.

Even so, he still felt uncomfortable with everything. Maybe it was due to nothing more than the fact that he had yet to feel right since entering Drachma, or maybe it was the fact that he himself didn't feel right anymore, or maybe it was something else. He'd learned early on in life to trust his instincts, but now, when he couldn't even trust his own mind to behave, he didn't know how reliable those instincts were.

"But what if they find us anyway? I mean, what if..."

What if they find me?

The words were out of his mouth before he knew they were coming and could stop them. Edward sat with his jaw clenched as he refused to look anywhere except straight so he didn't have to pay attention to the gaze he could feel burning into the back of his head. He hadn't meant to say anything, and he certainly hadn't meant to sound so vulnerable and weak!

Why did you say that? You didn't have to say that! It's not something to worry about! You should know that. Jeez, you're pathetic.

"They won't." Mustang's voice came with steely resolve, effectively shutting down the voice in Ed's head. "I won't let that happen."

Despite the small amount of warmth his words gave, Ed still couldn't help but snort softly. If he had five cenz for every time he'd heard somebody say something like that before things went downhill, he would have enough to buy all the needed ingredients for human transmutation all over again. Besides that, in the past month, he'd heard the assurance fall flat from the inexistent mouths his mind conjured up for him more than enough times.

"What?"

He debated not saying anything in reply, pretending he hadn't heard. He knew at that point Mustang would likely leave him be if he didn't answer, but considering the man had already seen him at his absolute worst, and in the long run it wasn't much to admit to, Ed found he couldn't bring himself to care. Caring would cause more distress than he was willing to deal with. He was getting tired and he just didn't have the energy to care about what Mustang, of all people, thought of him.

The fact that his mood could change so quickly that he could go from caring too much to not giving a shit disturbed him, but even that Ed found difficult to truly care about.

"Nothing," he said with a shake of his head, "hallucination Mustang would say stuff like that sometimes too, is all."

There, it was out there and it couldn't be put back. What Mustang decided to do with the information was up to him.

Roy blinked in surprise. Hallucinations? But- They drugged him. The realization made him want to turn their party around for the specific purpose of finding that army and making them pay. It was bad enough they'd hurt Fullmetal physically, but drugging him, making him see things and trying to break his mind… If he hadn't already been planning a justified death for them then that information would've had him doing so.

As rage coursed through him, though, the fact that Edward specified that he'd hallucinated him of all people served to give him pause. Why him? What sort of comfort could he have possibly provided the teen? Why hadn't it been his brother, or that girl, Winry? Hell, the Lieutenant would've been a better choice than him.

""Hallucination Mustang"?"

"Yeah," Ed said, "wouldn't leave me alone. Kind of annoying. So, y'know, basically you. Sometimes it was Al, too. But."

The unsaid "mostly you" was clearer than day and Roy wanted to see the teen's expression more than anything right then. From his tone it sounded as if Edward would've shrugged if it wouldn't have hurt him, but he could easily have been smirking too and it wouldn't have surprised Roy. Although, considering he'd been nervous and jumpy not a minute ago the fact that he was back to the point of joking, even to keep himself from getting uncomfortable, was cause for concern in Roy's eyes. Edward's reactions and moods had been fluctuating drastically throughout the day, but as time dragged on they only got worse.

He understood how trauma could mess with someone's head -had been on the receiving end of it once or twice in his life- but with Edward it seemed almost volatile, and it had only become that way since they'd gotten on the road. Yes, he was still mentally there, Roy wasn't worried about that, but he'd become jumpier, more on edge, the longer they remained out in the open. That and his constantly changing topics to avoid talking about serious issues, more than anything, was what left the man wondering whether or not they should keep travelling through the night or stop to rest.

Both options had their pros and cons, though. If they travelled through the night, they would get to the supply depot faster, but Edward (and the rest of them) would be dead on their feet from exhaustion. If they stopped, they risked taking longer to get where they needed to be to warn of the Drachmans, but Edward would sleep and the rest of the team would be on higher alert the next morning.

Edward may not have connected his fidgety mood to fatigue, and that may not have been the only thing bringing it on, but Roy knew it had to be at least a contributing factor. The problem was that he would refuse to sleep until the evening, if for no other reason than that he was stubborn and had been doing what he could to prove that he was still capable of doing things. He just wished he knew a way to make the kid stay put that didn't include arguing, because that would've made life that much easier.

Ugh, who am I kidding? It never is.

It left Roy in the position of needing to get them far enough along that he could justify stopping for the night while not making the kid aware of why he was doing it; if Edward felt like he was a burden that would only make things harder. None of them wanted to make him feel as terrible as that would, least of all Roy.

He kept quiet after that, allowing them to leave on the note of a memory that didn't seem to cause Edward distress. Yes, he wanted to ask why Ed saw him most often, but he doubted he would get a straight answer anyway, because judging by his tone of voice, even Fullmetal wasn't completely sure why it hadn't been somebody else.

When the sun finally began setting he halted and let everyone know the plan to stop for the night. They'd gained good ground that day, which meant they could afford resting a night, and if his calculations were correct they would still reach the camp before sundown tomorrow. They would still have time to get what they needed and warn their troops, but Edward would be allowed to have time to focus on relaxing. Roy knew all too well how stressful war could be, what it did to paranoia levels, and torture only amplified it and added so many more issues to the mix, and he knew Ed could do with some downtime where he could get it.

In addition to Edward, several of the others had joined the league of fatigued and he felt further better knowing he'd made the right decision to stop when he caught the painfully wide yawns that Breda and Falman shared while Fuery stumbled off his horse by their sides. Havoc sighed heavily and crouched down to give his legs reprieve for a moment, and while Riza didn't appear tired like the rest of them, Roy could see she was in the way her posture slipped ever-so-slightly.

He helped Edward down from his horse, doing his best not to jostle him or put too much pressure on his heeling ribs. Roy knew there was no way for the kid to avoid pain no matter how many measures he took to prevent it, because with the extent of his injuries, any form of support he provided was going to hurt something, but he still did his best. Even if he said nothing, Roy knew Edward at least appreciated the effort- at least, he assumed that's what the grateful glances he occasionally received were in regards to.

"Are you sure we would be stopping right now?"

Edward asked that when the two small tents had been pitched and they were getting the horses covered and settled for the night. The sun had set, leaving them in the soft light of dusk and the teen sat on a boulder protruding from the snowy ground, rifling clumsily through a bag of rations with his one functioning hand. He didn't seem all that interested in what he was doing, though, as Roy could see the way his eyes continually flicked around, looking at nothing in particular, searching.

Since finding him Roy knew Fullmetal was scared that the Drachmans would get to him again, and he knew that fear was unlikely to go away until he was far away from the country. It was a well-founded reason to be anxious, but he wished he could help the kid to stop thinking about it, for even half a second, just so he could calm down long enough to think along more rational lines. He wasn't going to let anything happen to him if he could help it, and Edward had to know that he protected his team; no Drachman would be coming near him again anytime soon. He had to know that. He just… couldn't acknowledge it or fully register it, it seemed.

"Yeah," he assured, stepping over to Edward to see what he was picking at in the bag. As it turned out, he hadn't touched the food as he was more focused on pulling at a loose string, staring rather intently at it all of the sudden.

"Fullmetal."

Edward's attention snapped to him instantly, jaw clenched and eyes hard. Roy cursed himself for the little slip but continued anyway, grabbing Edward's wrist carefully to stop his fidgeting. "We'll be safe here for the night. We aren't lighting a fire, we're shielded from the wind and the snow gives us cover, okay? And look," he swept his arm out, bringing the teen's attention to the surrounding rocky area, "this gives us security too."

Edward drew the jacket Roy had left with him closer and sighed, leaning back momentarily to look skyward. He said nothing but Roy could see his words playing over in his head while he contemplated how he felt about them.

"We're all still taking shifts tonight, too. Somebody is always going to be awake," he added quietly.

After a short stretch of silence, Edward finally turned to him again and nodded. "'Kay."

Roy retrieved the bag from him then and pulled out a small portion to hand over. "C'mon, you need to eat."

Ed took it without any more prompting and once he started eating Mustang moved to distribute food to the others. He payed little attention to what he ate, trusting that it was just as safe as it had been that morning, and let his attention wander from the group and back out towards the way they'd come. The smattering of snowfall they'd had throughout the day had covered most of their tracks nicely, but if he stared long enough he swore he could see slight imprints in the snow. Maybe a normal person wouldn't be able to see him, but any experienced tracker could, and if they could be tracked, then they would be in trouble, whether they were in a fair position or not. He trusted Mustang's intuition and experience, yes, but he couldn't shake the feeling that something would go horribly wrong.

But then, perhaps he was overthinking everything and he couldn't actually see tracks. Maybe his mind was conjuring problems for him because he was so focused on finding some. But there was that little voice in his head that refused to stay completely silent that said, What if you're right?

The Drachmans were a vicious people -as far as he'd gathered- and he wouldn't put them past chasing their war prisoners down, especially when they knew he had information that could, and would, be used against them. If he was in their shoes he would've already been re-captured, so it was strange that they hadn't seen hide nor hair from them, seeing as he'd been missing from their custody for awhile.

It all felt too easy. He'd escaped, managed to be found by the people who were the reason he'd come to the godforsaken country, and had stayed safe for longer than he'd ever expected to. Something about that didn't sit well with him, and it didn't matter how much he told himself he was being ridiculous. It didn't matter how many times someone assured him they were safe or how clear the path ahead and behind was. It was all going as well as it could, and that fact was nearly as alarming as the idea that enemy forces could find them at any moment.

It was too much to consider and trying to wrap his mind around the many different 'what if's that could occur made him dizzy, especially when he was still on edge since he'd mentioned his hallucinations to Mustang and accidentally dragged those memories back to the surface. Ed tore his gaze away from the snow prints that may or may not have been entirely visible and licked a few stray crumbs from his lips. He heard Mustang and the others working out a shift schedule for the night, the Colonel offering to take the first watch. Pushing himself to his feet, Ed trudged over to the group to get a better listen, cursing his ribs when every step ached and then cursing his injured leg when it almost gave out on him several times before reaching his destination.

The plan, it seemed, was to have three people a tent since the seventh would be standing watch outside, with Lieutenant Hawkeye following Mustang. After her it would be Havoc's turn, then Falman, Breda, and Fuery. It would allow for adequate rest for them all, at least. As they all got settled, though, Edward realized just how small the tents were when paired with two full-sized adults and became increasingly uncomfortable with the situation. He'd already expected sleep would evade him until he was beyond exhausted, but with Havoc and Hawkeye sleeping close by, the idea of sleep seemed nigh on impossible, no matter how close to passing out he felt.

It wasn't that he didn't trust the two enough to sleep in their presence so much as he didn't trust his mind not to conjure horrid nightmares for him the moment he closed his eyes. Along with that, he had no idea how to get his body to come to the same belief of his safety his brain held. If his mentality had been the only factor, falling asleep wouldn't have been an too bad an issue, but with his body tensing involuntarily every time Havoc shifted, he didn't see it happening. It frustrated him to the point he wanted to scream at himself, because he knew the people. They weren't strangers and they didn't make him uncomfortable… their close proximity did. But he didn't want there to be an issue. He wanted to be able to find a good position and nod off right along beside them, but he just couldn't.

What was even worse was that if Mustang had been in there, Ed felt like he might have been able to get over one other person's presence enough to sleep, and maybe then the nightmares would stay locked away too. The man just made him feel safer. There was no rhyme or reason to it that he saw, but all the same, he served as a source of comfort when Ed couldn't get his frayed nerves to settle.

"Dammit," he seethed when the lieutenant sighed softly, breaking the silence, causing him to jump and finally accept that there would be no sleeping for him inside the tent.

They'd had the presence of mind to position him closest to the exit and he was thankful for that as he made it back outside with minimal pain. In the thirty minutes he'd spent sheltered from the wind it had somehow managed to get colder and he shivered, drawing his blanket tighter around himself in an attempt to trick himself that that action alone would keep him warmer.

Mustang wasn't positioned too far away and Ed grit his teeth, preparing himself for both the cold and the protesting his body would be doing before setting off at a pace he deemed was little more than sad. He got a quarter of the way before Mustang turned around.

"Full- Ed, what are you doing?"

He sounded casual enough and might have even been able to sell that he wasn't at all concerned with his walking around if the speed in which he'd gotten to his feet hadn't been so impressive. Ed gave his best attempt at a shrug and continued walking.

"Coming over. What did it look like I was doing?"

Mustang rolled his eyes and met him halfway, helping him over to the area he'd been settled before Ed had interrupted him. "I meant what are you doing up?"

Edward sat on one of the stones and evaluated the area Mustang had chosen. The boulders jutted out at just the right angles to protect from the elements, just like they did in the areas where the tents were set up, and Ed decided it was as good a place as any to hunker down for a few hours. When he answered, Mustang was still giving him a curious look.

"M'not tired," he lied.

When Mustang said nothing and looked unimpressed Edward had to accept that he'd sounded about as convincing as he'd expected he would.

"Couldn't sleep," he muttered. He knew Mustang wouldn't poke fun at him right then (though he would have a month ago), and nobody else was around, so there was really no use hiding anything- especially when it wasn't information necessary to be withholding. Besides, if the way the man nodded, expression drawn into a frown but otherwise not surprised, he'd expected that answer. Hell, Mustang probably partly knew the reasons behind his state, considering how he'd been the night before.

The Colonel sat beside him, one knee drawn to his chest where he rested an arm. He remained turned outward on the empty horizon but Ed could tell his attention was elsewhere. He debated staying quiet and leaving the man with his thoughts, but given where his own brain was wandering, the last thing he wanted to do was sit in silence where nothing would stop the thoughts and memories from assaulting him.

"What's up?"

"Hm?" Mustang still didn't look at him but he tilted his head towards him. "Not much. Night watch isn't all it's cracked up to be, kid."

"Heh." Ed cracked a tiny smile and leaned as far back as he dared to with his injuries and grabbed his crossed ankles to support the new position. "Never thought it was."

He expected another lull in the conversation following that and began going through a mental list of question that would strike lasting back and forth banter when Mustang surprised him by speaking again.

"What's on your mind?"

Edward winced when he unconsciously tensed his back to draw in on himself. "Uh, what? Noth-"

"You've been on edge all day," Mustang interrupted, finally looking at him with a mixture of concern and resolve, "don't think I haven't noticed."

He couldn't keep in his scoff then and retorted with a waspish tone that shocked himself. "Gee, I've got no clue why that might be. Don't suppose the idea of the bad guys catching me and beating the shit out of me again would have anything to do with that."

Mustang's eyes widened a fraction and Edward bit his tongue and stared at his lap. Why did I do that? He wanted to apologize but the words caught in his throat and tasted like ash on the back of his tongue. He hadn't meant to snap at Mustang, and part of him felt bad about it, but he also felt like he was partly justified in getting mad; he'd had the living hell beat out of him and they were still in enemy territory, and the man couldn't fathom why he'd been on edge? It wasn't a difficult realization to come to when one actually put effort into it. And maybe he had been overly harsh, but he was exhausted and his head and back and chest hurt and it all built up into a big ball of irritation.

He expected Mustang to grow frustrated in turn or to tell him to watch his tone, but he did none of those things. Instead he gave a long sigh and shook his head.

"I know that's not the only thing on your mind."

Ed looked up through his curtain of hair and frowned. He didn't know why he was being so insistent, and while the nagging sentiment was familiar, it wasn't the same. He wasn't being repeatedly told to write a report and stop destroying things, he was being pushed to talk about things he didn't know how to talk about. He didn't even know if he wanted to talk about them.

Actually, scratch that, he did know he didn't want to talk about those things. He didn't want to open himself up like that when he still didn't know how to process everything himself. He wanted to figure himself out before he let someone else in on his inner turmoil. But Mustang was persistent, and it seemed every time he dodged one of the Colonel's questions, there was another he couldn't avoid. It made him feel cornered all over again and Ed swallowed hard.

"Why are you suddenly so interested in how I'm feeling?" The question came out quieter than he'd intended and when he continued Ed put a bit of steel into his voice. "You act like you don't give a damn about me one way or another and then the minute I'm not in perfect condition I'm suddenly a kid with deep emotional problems or something?"

"I never said you had deep emotional problems, Edward," Roy countered calmly. "You're an injured soldier under my care and I'm trying to figure out what's keeping you from sleeping because it's making you, well, like this. The fact that you're also a child just adds to that responsibility."

Out of everything he said that could've caught his attention, his use of the word 'soldier', was what grabbed Ed's and he latched onto it. He didn't know why.

"I'm not a soldier, Mustang. I never was before and I sure as hell m'not one now."

Mustang huffed and Ed couldn't tell if it was an amused sound or not. "Yeah, kid, you are."

"I'm an alchemist," he corrected.

"Who works for the military."

Edward made a face and tried not to stare at Mustang like he'd grown a second head. He had not seriously just said that. Of all the times he could've made a joke, he'd chosen right then? Ed wanted to ask if their last in-office conversation rang a bell, but instead he only snorted and a glared out at the moon.

"Not anymore."

Mustang was quiet for a moment, as if he'd forgotten about taking the watch and kicking him and his brother out onto the streets and Ed's statement had only just reminded him. After a few seconds passed he quietly asked, "If you really believed that, why were you in Drachma in the first place?"

Oh. Right.

It was Ed's turn to be quiet as he realized he'd lost his argument and he furrowed his brow. He knew his silence was answer enough for the Colonel, so there was no use admitting that he'd been coming after them, not because he believed his termination of employment had been a hoax, but because he'd been unable to shake his worry for everyone from his mind and just wanted to help them.

Mustang's reasons for saying he was a soldier hadn't sat right with him, because that title didn't fit- hell, with his useless arm, "alchemist" didn't work either. Mustang used the word as an attempt to justify his prying, not because it fit; soldiers were strong, brave, sure of everything they did and never seemed afraid. He might have considered himself to be that way before, but now? Now that was so far from an accurate description it was laughable.

"Real soldiers aren't like this," he stated softly, pulling his leg as close to his chest as he dared and awkwardly wrapping his arm around it. He didn't have to look up to feel Mustang's eyes on him.

"Like what?"

"Weak."

The word was little more than a whisper, nearly torn away by the ever blowing wind and as soon as he admitted it allowed he felt like he could curl up and die. He'd heard it so many times over the recent days, spat like poison from barbed tongues, and he hadn't wanted to admit that that was what he was, but he couldn't deny that truth when the evidence supported it. People who were strong couldn't be reduced to broken forms that jumped at shadows and constantly worried for nothing. Strong people weren't spooked by their friends, and they certainly weren't afraid to sleep.

"What?" Mustang's reaction was so unexpected that when the man grabbed his shoulder to turn him towards him Edward didn't even react to the pain the pressure caused, too focused on the sudden intense burning in his eyes. "Who the hell told you you were weak?"

"Nobody." It was a lie easily seen through and Ed knew it. It didn't take much deduction to know exactly who told him that, and if the way Mustang's eyes went a shade darker was any indication, he figured it out.

"Edward Elric, look at me right now." He did, though he found himself unable to hold Mustang's gaze. "Being hurt by people stronger than you does not mean you are weak, do you understand me?"

Even before he'd spoken, Ed had forced himself to remember who it was speaking, and that the voice laced with rage was someone he trusted- that the anger was not directed at him, but at the ones who had hurt him; that it was for him, not toward him. It was hard at first, until he focused on the notes of earnest conviction in Mustang's voice that served to soothe his nerves enough that he didn't feel like he needed to plan out an escape route.

The words themselves struck him and Edward bit the tip of his tongue. He heard what the Colonel was saying, but he couldn't buy into it. Of all his years of growing up, around his mom and Teacher and military personnel, he'd never seen anyone brought so low by pain and fear. He'd seen his share of soldiers in the hospital, sure, but he'd always seen them later on, walking around good as new, completely unaffected by what had happened to them. He didn't see how he could bounce back from what happened to him.

He didn't know how he was supposed to articulate any of that, much less get Mustang to understand. The man was invincible. So, instead of saying anything like that, he zeroed in on his most immediate problem, glaring back at the stone beneath him.

"I can't even sleep without having nightmares. How is that not-"

"Do you think I'm weak?"

The question caught him off guard and Edward gaped at Mustang half a second before making a strangled noise in the back of his throat that sounded somewhere between a guffaw and a long drawn out hum. "Wha- no."

Roy let Edward's drawn out answer hang in the air for a moment, carefully taking in the teen's thorough confusion at the line of questioning and contemplating exactly what he wanted to say. Giving out free information about himself wasn't something he found to be a particularly comfortable activity on a good day, but as he surveyed the way Edward drew into himself, looking every odd way to avoid eye contact, and possibly to hide the bags under his eyes, Roy knew there was no way he could say nothing.

Sometimes being the adult meant pushing away pride in order to help those you cared about.

He released Ed's shoulder when he realized he still held it firmly, and tapped the newly freed area lightly a few times to grab the teen's attention once more.

"I had nightmares too." He admitted softly. He didn't miss the way Edward jolted in surprise.

"I still do," he continued, careful with what he chose to say, "I used to go weeks without sleep because they kept me up. Especially after Ishval. Not a day goes by I'm not reminded of what I did- I'm famous in the military's eyes. Sometimes I dreamed and saw what I did, and others, that it was done to me, sometimes by Ishvalan hands and sometimes by my own."

He let Ed absorb the information before he said anything else. "Does that make me weak?"

"But isn't it different?"

Roy titled his head and leaned forward to rest his arms on his knees. "Different in circumstance, maybe, but the outcome is the same."

Edward seemed to mull that over, his expression changing frequently as thoughts ran through his little head. Roy knew what answer he'd eventually come up with but he remained silent while he waited.

It took several minutes, but eventually Edward sighed heavily and flicked his hair out of his face in order to look at him. "No, you're not weak."

A small smile pulled at the corner of his mouth and Roy reached up to ruffle the teen's hair before he could think to stop himself. "And neither are you."

Ed's eyes widened a fraction, and even though he said nothing Roy could almost see some tension leave his body as he finally allowed his shoulders to droop. A small shiver ran through him when he did as well and Roy went to wrap an arm around him in order to bring him closer but stopped short when the sudden movement made Edward flinch.

He went to say a short apology but was cut off when the teen shook his head and inched himself closer. As he got settled at his side, Roy wondered if he would ever get used to the idea that Fullmetal, the kid who he'd thought for the longest time hated his guts, sought some sort of strange comfort from him. When he put his hand atop his head unconsciously after Ed leaned it against his shoulder and he didn't shake him off, he wondered if he would ever get used to the fact that he was strangely pleased that they no longer had need for pretenses.

He didn't know what it was that flared up in him that screamed to protect the little alchemist, but it had been there the day he'd met him and had yet to leave him be, and, perhaps for the first time since Edward had first been throw into his life, he was fine with that.

It did strike him, with the teen curled against him, just how small Edward was. He and the team teased him endlessly about his stature, but he never remembered just how little he was until right then. In the cave he'd been too busy taking care of him that he hadn't payed much attention to the fact, but it had quieted down since then. It served as a reminder of just how young he was, too.

He was only fifteen. It was a fact Roy forgot more often than not because it was easier to send the kid out on missions that could be potentially dangerous when he did. If Edward was just another soldier all he had to do was receive orders and go, but if he was a child on top of that, then he was another person who needed to be protected, not sent out into fight. He hadn't been able to do it forever, though, which had been his reason for taking his state certification in the first place.

Whole lotta good that did, too.

He rolled his eyes at his internal monologue and swallowed a chuckle to keep from startling Ed. He wasn't sure how he managed to say the right things to get the teen to calm down since normally he was woefully inadequate when it came to talking to children, but he was glad he'd been able to. Seeing Edward more relaxed served to calm his own inner turmoil too, which was a nice perk.

Still, knowing that those bastards had told Edward, on top of everything else, only added to his ever-growing list of reasons they needed to kick Drachma's ass. He was thankful for Edward's presence right then, because if he hadn't been there Roy knew he would have melted the nearest boulder and roared every curse under the sun -and then some- over the injustice of it all. He may have been a pain in his ass, but Edward was one of the kindest and brightest kids he'd ever met in his lifetime, and the idea of someone hurting him for the hell of it…

Yeah, he was glad Edward was there to keep him from blowing up.

He scratched Ed's head absentmindedly and turned his attention back to the present when the teen shivered and curled into himself a bit more. Roy used his free hand to tuck the blanket around the teen better, seeing as it had fallen a tad low on his right side, and frowned as he did so. He'd half wondered if Edward had fallen asleep beside him since he'd been so quiet.

"You gonna go back to bed?"

It felt weird, asking a question like that, but Roy shook it off. Edward shrugged but made no attempt to move.

"Okay." Roy massaged the back of his neck and wracked his brain for anything that would help as a final push in getting Ed to rest. Knowing what was keeping him awake wasn't his stubbornness and refusal to sleep made the task all the more difficult.

Roy remembered having used a number of different methods to get himself sleeping in his youth, but seeing as Edward couldn't do half of them in his current state, they were all wildly unhelpful. That left him with only a handful of ideas left, a few which he had to toss out for lack of supplies, and a few more because he didn't think Edward would be up to playing any trivial games.

Eventually all he really had left was lullaby, and he didn't have to ask Ed to know that was not going to happen. It did make him wonder, though, if that had ever worked for him when he was younger, maybe when his mother had still been around and he'd been too young to find the sort of thing embarrassing. It was hard to imagine Edward ever being that young. Then he wondered if it even worked at all or if it was just a myth.

He knew the answer was that it was true, of course. Most of his memories from when he was a small child were fuzzy and nigh on impossible to recall, but Roy would never be able to forget the tune his own mother would sing to him when he asked it of her. The voice had changed over time until all he was left with was a hollow imitation of what he only imagined she may have sounded like, but the song itself had remained correct.

It was a simple melody, soft and clear with words that held meaning any child would understand and hold close to their hearts. Roy couldn't help but smile gently as he closed his eyes and remembered. He wasn't aware of the noise in his his head reverberating in his throat until he was cut off at the end by Edward yawning loudly. The sound was promptly followed by a quiet, fatigue slurred comment that made Roy pause and wonder when Edward had ever brought the issue up in the first place.

"'Was wrong. You can sing."

When Edward nuzzled into his arm following that, his eyes closed and a small smile on his face to mirror Roy's. He blinked owlishly at the change in demeanor and debated humming the tune again before deciding against it; he hadn't meant to the first time. Besides, he didn't want to run the risk of disturbing Edward's dozing. Instead he chuckled silently and did his best to stay still. He would bring Ed back to the tent when it was time for shift change, but he was in no rush to disturb him.

"Sleep well, kid."


The howling of the frigid night winds served as a constant reminder of the task at hand and what awaited should failure be the outcome; its icy tendrils wrapping around him like invisible chains while sharp gusts cracked like whips in his ears. In the far distance the smallest speck could be seen against the white backdrop, and it was so unassuming one may have brushed it off as being part of the landscape.

He knew better.

Mustang's little group had found the Fullmetal Pipsqueak. No doubt it had been a touching reunion. Surely one of them, if not all, had cried- being so overcome with relief and horror, of course. They would've felt so terrible for the brat and coddled him like the enablers they were. It was sickening.

The whole ordeal made him want to puke but he contained himself for the time being, because there were more pressing matters at hand. The others had already been informed of how the events had unfolded and stood close by, awaiting orders like the good little soldiers they were. He wondered if they'd be so keen to listen if they understood who they truly took orders from and contained a snigger at the thought.

The squeaking crunch of snow behind him signaled the Drachman's approach and though he acknowledged Volkov's presence he did not take his eyes off the camp beyond the cliffs.

"Zey found ze boy, da?"

"They did." Envy smirked while linking his arms behind his back in the traditional soldier stance. It was a ridiculous pose if he'd ever seen one, but he had a persona to keep up.

"Zen everysing is going as planned."

"Yes." He drew out the last syllable, the smirk turning into a full blown grin as the plan Volkov spoke of replayed in his mind. Everything had gone so smoothly, as if his father was already in control of everything- God himself could not have orchestrated the events better. From the Pipsqueak's daring, convincing escape, to the convenient discovery by the Flame Alchemist's team, the control had been on their side. All that was left was to get rid of Mustang, and then the real fun could begin.

It struck him again, as it had in the beginning, how stupid humans were. There he was, playing a good soldier working against his country, swearing left and right that others had answers he didn't possess, and not once did anyone question why people of lower rank would know more. They believed everything he said and followed like obedient puppies. Nobody ever asked why he didn't give them the information they wanted, because all he'd had to do was show them a weak point in Briggs' defense to win a spot in their circle of trust.

He couldn't contain himself any longer then and let out a small cackle. Yes, humans truly were so, so stupid.

"And you're sure ze Flame Alchemist vill behave as you say?"

Oh, with what he had in store for that man, it would be a wonder if he didn't give in within the first twenty-four hours. How he looked forward to that. Envy's eyes shone with a glee he could barely contain while malice dripped heavy from his tongue.

"I'm positive. Just do what I say and you'll get everything you want."

Resort and Regret

The pounding behind his eyes refused to leave, the area of dried blood he could feel a good reminder of why that was. He went to put his head in his hands and grunted when any of his efforts to move proved ineffective. Blinking sluggishly, he cleared the blur from his vision and stared at his wrists. They were bound to the metal armrests on either side of him. It took Roy another second to recall why that was, and then the memories that had been swimming just out of reach were suddenly crashing around him.


When he woke from a dreamless sleep the first thing Roy looked for was Edward. The last place the teen had been before falling asleep had been beside him, and he wouldn't have put it past Ed to sneak outside if he'd gotten up first. To his relief, he found the teen exactly where he'd left him, lying on his back with a hand on his belly while he snored.

Good. He was glad to see Fullmetal finally getting proper rest. Considering how abysmal his sleep patterns had been, it was amazing he'd managed to keep himself awake so long without passing out. He'd been getting worried about the kid, too, so seeing him looking the most relaxed he had since they'd found him was a nice change of pace.

The knowledge that he had to wake him up sooner rather than later sat heavy in his chest and Roy sighed. He didn't want to wake him up just yet. If he could let him sleep for even a few minutes longer, he would feel better.

It was that thought that had Roy creeping outside, careful not to disturb the teen as he went. A few of the others were already awake and getting prepared to head out- their tents already packed and loaded. Breda and Falman were just getting up, from what he could hear, and he knew their gear would soon join Havoc and Fuery's. Hawkeye glanced at him from her place by the horses, and even in the dim light of dawn he could tell she wanted to talk.

Stretching as he made his way over, Roy raised a brow in question.

"Morning, Sir."

"Good morning, Lieutenant."

Her gaze drifted back to his tent and Roy nodded in response to her unasked question.

"Thought he could use a couple extra minutes. We're almost to the supply point, so."

"I understand."

There was a tightness to her voice that was unusual and Roy knew it wasn't attributed to fatigue. He frowned and tilted his head to try and get a better angle on her face. Her expression matched his own and Roy inwardly groaned. He knew from experience that when the Lieutenant was like that, it was never good.

"What is it?"

"I'm not sure. But something feels wrong."

Coming from anyone else Roy would've snorted and written them off, but it was different with Riza. She had a sense for danger, and if she thought something felt like it had even the slightest possibility of being off, it likely was. Still, in this case he wasn't sure what she meant.

"Can you clarify."

She shook her head and sighed, the noise sounding frustrated. "Like I said: I'm not sure."

Something about the way she said that made Roy's frown deepen. She typically only got irritated over things she did know for sure but didn't want to believe. Roy didn't pride himself on being the smartest person in their group, but he did on knowing his team. Ff anyone were to ask him who knew them best, there would be no doubt in his mind what the answer would be. Still, getting Riza to out with it could be difficult when she didn't want to part with the information.

"What is it, Riza?"

His use of her name got her attention. She looked over at the others -to make sure they hadn't heard, no doubt- before shaking her head.

"It's just… Edward is a prisoner of war."

"Was." Roy corrected, "Go on."

"Drachmans don't just let their prisoners escape, Roy. I've never heard of a P.O.W escaping them before."

He'd never heard of it either, but the implications of what she was saying made his skin crawl. He did not want to think about the possibility that Edward hadn't escaped on his own. He refused to believe that, actually.

They'd gotten too far- Edward had gotten too far from where their camp had to have been set up. If anyone had wanted to get him back, they would have done it before they'd ever gotten to him. In his state, the kid couldn't have been running too fast; even adrenaline wouldn't have carried him very long.

It could have been that they'd just never heard of anyone escaping because those survivors kept quiet, not wanting Drachma to know they'd survived. Or maybe they had died before getting home, but had at least escaped. Maybe it wasn't getting away from the Drachmans that was the hard part, but traversing the harsh, unforgiving wasteland that was their country. Maybe Edward had been clever enough, quick enough. Hell, maybe…

"Maybe he got lucky."

Riza narrowed her eyes.

"You really believe that?"

"Why don't you?" Roy challenged, though he wasn't sure why he was being so hostile about the whole thing. He just didn't want to consider that her concerns could be valid. She could be wrong once in awhile… this could be one of those times. Even as he thought that, he wanted to smack himself upside the head. You've never doubted her before.

If the look of disbelief she gave him was any indication, she was thinking along the same lines as he. Roy shook his head before she could give any sort of retort.

"I understand where you're coming from, Lieutenant. I do. I'll keep it in mind, but I can't do much else."

"I understand." She nodded, her expression going back to its unreadable blank that he was so used to seeing. If she was at all upset, she didn't show it. Roy felt like she was. Yet, he knew there was nothing he could do about that either, unless he were to make an effort to seem like he was taking her concerns to heart. He didn't want to dismiss her outright, especially when he knew she had a valid concern. He just hated that she did.

With that in mind he set to waking up Edward and getting everything situated to head out once more. If their calculations had been correct when they'd set out in the beginning they would reach the camp by nightfall, where they could then get into contact with the main army and warm them of the Drachman's plans.

Knowing that seemed to put Edward into a better mood, too. He'd seemed to leave behind the jumpier, crankier Edward upon waking. It never ceased to amaze Roy just how much sleep could improve one's mood. Sure, the teen still remained highly alert- still kept flinching when someone moved closer to him than he was comfortable, or when Blaze's gait changed, but the motions seemed to be more subdued, and less fearful. Still not great, but better, at least. At any measure it was progress, and even the smallest bits of progress were fantastic.

That was the great thing about younger minds. They could hurt, but they always healed faster than adults. It was something he'd learned in his youth. Even if the scars never went away, they healed enough that they could be set into the past- always there but not always on the mind.

Perhaps it was just sleep that he'd needed, but Roy would've bet the kid's slightly more relaxed state also had something to do with the fact that he'd finally seemed to realize and understand that he and the others would protect him. They wouldn't let anything bad happen to him- at least not if they had any say in the matter. He would be safe with them, and while he may have told himself that before, it seemed like he'd finally started accepting that as truth during their chat last night.

Whatever the reasons, Roy was glad the kid could smile around them again, no matter how minuscule the expression was. He even managed to joke around with the others once in awhile as they traveled. He seemed to be making more and more progress with every passing day. Roy wasn't sure how much of that was real and how much of it he was faking to make them all think he was better than he was, but he could wait to find out. For the time being, he was content letting Edward be whatever version of fine he needed to be in order to deal with whatever plagued his thoughts.

Roy maintained that everything was going well, not just with Edward, but the whole trip, right up until the first sign that something was wrong.

It was nothing big- a sudden shift in atmosphere. One moment, Havoc and Edward were serving and dishing snarky comments, the next, Blaze was swiveling her head this way and that, chomping at her bit. It wasn't just his mount either, and everyone else noticed the change in their horses' demeanors too.

Perhaps it was the Lieutenant's words from earlier putting him on edge, nurturing is paranoia, but suddenly the wind felt a lot more biting and the snowfall a lot more foreboding. It also felt like there were eyes trained on them, malicious intent in their gaze, but he didn't have to look over his shoulder to know that was a ridiculous notion.

He did anyway, and in doing so, came to terms with the fact that if he was being paranoid, he wasn't the only one. He wasn't the only one who was more alert. With the exception of Edward, who had started to nod off, everyone was taking careful, darting glances around the area.

His conversation with Hawkeye came back to him again and Roy cursed under his breath. Even if that wasn't the problem, it was a worry that wouldn't get off his back now, and he couldn't even think to try. There was a chance she was right, and he couldn't risk writing her concerns off. Other than that, though, there was nothing much else he could do. They were out in the open, with only the occasional boulder to act as any sort of cover, and that wouldn't change until they reached the supply point.

Still, they didn't have to be out in the open for longer than they needed to be.

"Let's pick up the pace," he ordered "the snow looks like it's picking up and I don't want to get caught up in another storm."

Everyone promptly obeyed, and when five minutes passed with no change in atmosphere, Roy decided he could no longer deny something was wrong. He wasn't an idiot to believe they'd get to their destination with at least some trouble. Whether that trouble was Drachman or natural didn't much matter.

"Everyone, be on your guard."

He turned around after hearing a chorus of "Yes, Sir"s to see Hawkeye pulling her handgun out while Havoc unslung his rifle from where it rested against his back. The other three kept their hands on their own weapons, read to draw them should the need arise. Roy hoped it didn't, but when it came to war -and their jobs in general- one could never be too careful.

"What's going on?"

Roy looked down when Edward's alert but tired voice cut through the icy tension latching onto him. Aside from looking like he'd just woken up from a nap, he looked more than a bit concerned, and as much as Roy didn't want to spook him -especially after all the progress he'd made in getting into a more stable state of being- Roy wasn't sure what else he could say.

He could say it was nothing, but he didn't want to lie; Edward wasn't an idiot and would see right through that. There was always the option of staying silent, but he had the distinct feeling Edward would appreciate that even less. However, there was really no good option if he wanted to answer, he could either scare him or piss him off. And wasn't it just hilarious that he'd been assuring the kid that everything would be fine all the while without taking into account that he had no way of ensuring that. And now he had no idea how he was supposed to answer.

It was odd. While he'd always felt the need to shield Edward from the world a little more than he did other soldiers, he'd never allowed himself to do it to such a severe degree before. But there was something about seeing Fullmetal look so much like a child that brought out something strangely protective in him. He wasn't sure what it was or where it came from, but he couldn't seem to get rid of it. Not that he was actively trying either.

Whether he wanted to protect him or not though, Roy decided he had to at least let Edward know what was going on so he could prepare himself for the worst-case scenario.

"It's-"

The sound of a gun going off cut him short.

Before he could think Roy was throwing himself over Edward as a bullet buried itself into the chunk of rock beside Blaze. The mare shrieked in fear and Roy steadied her before she could bolt, his eyes already searching for the source of the attack.

Hawkeye got to them first, borrowing Havoc's rifle and sending a return shot. A cry carried over to them on the wind and after that, everything moved so fast Roy had a hard time processing it. It wasn't like any ambush they'd had to deal with in the past. It was a cold, calculated attack that was more befitting of an assassination. They barely had time to form any sort of defense before it was over.

Their attackers knew exactly who they all were, and they knew their weaknesses. That much was clear the moment Riza's stallion squealed in pain after a third shot sounded. Out of the corner of his eye Roy saw the animal's legs give out and it crumpled to the ground. Roy heard Riza's surprised shout when she hit the snow, buried underneath the animal. He sent an explosion in the direction he'd heard the gunfire and leapt off Blaze, dragging Edward with him.

He tucked the teen behind the safety of the cart before running over to help Hawkeye, shouting orders to the others to take cover and fire at will as he moved. He had no time to help the pinned Lieutenant out before he heard Havoc's cry of pain. Blood spurt from the new wound in his shoulder and Roy cursed at their misfortune. Havoc could still fight, but with his dominant arm taken out, his aim wouldn't be as accurate.

Riza snapped at him to get away from her and under better cover, but Roy ignored her for favor of scouring the area. Only fifteen or so seemed to be coming after them, but Roy wouldn't have doubted if there were more coming. The only cover, excluding the supply cart, available for everyone was scarce- only a few snow mounds and rock formations stood out. It would be enough to hold the Drachmans off for a little while, but it would only be a matter of time before they got to them.

If he could keep them from shooting, the team would at least be able to better prepare for the rest of the fight. Hell, the Drachmans didn't have to stop shooting, they just had to do it blindly. It was cover sorely needed; they couldn't afford any more injuries if they wanted to get out alive.

Roy snapped, sending an explosion into the snow closest to himself and the others. The cloud of powder gave enough cover for everyone to dismount and take cover. Breda and Falman ran over to his and Riza's side, the two men assuring Roy they would protect her. She continued to insisted she could still fight, even from that frustrating angle, but they ignored her. Roy darted back to where Havoc and Fuery crouched, Edward positioned between them looking like a deer caught in the headlights.

There was no time to explain anything or assure him things would be fine- probably a good thing, since he wasn't even certain about how things would turn out at this point. He couldn't completely ensure his safety. He would do what he could, fight as hard as he could, before he saw the Drachmans get their hands on him again. But even so, he refused to see the kid left defenseless.

"Fullmetal," he snapped, grabbing the kid's attention while he pulled out the weapon at his hip, "take this."

He thrust his handgun into the teen's open palm and had little time to acknowledge the look of horror on his face before the assault began once more.

The first two soldiers that came into view were incinerated on the spot while the next three fell to Breda and the others. They were clearly the pawns, the disposable pieces in whatever game attack was going on. For a moment, while they took down anyone who got close, Roy thought that perhaps they didn't understand how his team worked after all, that they'd made a mistake in their plan, because it seemed to him that winning wouldn't be too difficult. Then, out of nowhere, the tides turned at the appearance of a single soldier that bobbed and weaved through the carnage with insane speed.

He brought Falman down with a roundhouse kick to the face, Hawkeye's bullets in his chest seeming to have no effect whatsoever except to anger him. Roy glared, raising his arm to send a trail of flames after the bastard, only to grit his teeth to contain a scream of pain when a bullet tore through his hand before he could snap.

"Colonel!"

The shout sounded like it came from Edward but Roy didn't have time to check before he whirled around to set fire to the man who'd shot him. When he looked back at his original target, his eyes widened in surprise when he saw Breda had joined Falman in the snow. The soldier had moved on.

What the hell?

"C'mon, die already!"

Roy turned when he heard Havoc's bewildered comment, eyes landing on the man right as he hit the ground with a dull thud. It struck him, then, that he'd been able to hear him hit the ground without any other disturbance. The gunfire had stopped. It was only the one man doing everything.

But that's not right. There were more.

A quick survey of the area yielded no other presence though, and Roy frowned. He must have missed the others taking the rest of the soldiers out while he'd been distracted. He had little time to think about it. As soon as he caught sight of the man taking interest in the last members of the group, he directed another attack at him with his uninjured hand.

The soldier screamed as flames licked at his legs, but he didn't stop moving. It was inhuman, the way he kept going as if his numerous injuries were nothing to blink at. He just kept running straight for Fuery and Edward.

The bespectacled man was working desperately to get Edward away, shielding him with his body as he jogged, all but dragging the teen along. He took noticed the man running after them as well and released his hold on Fullmetal. He urged him to keep going while he fired at the soldier.

Edward seemed glued to the spot. Roy moved to run to him but stopped short when several pairs of hands grabbed at him all at once. They clawed and punched and kicked, but Roy gave back as good as he got. He lashed out, his head colliding with someone's face while his foot connected with what felt like a knee. He sensed, more than saw, his ignition glove being ripped off, and that only made him fight harder.

He had no idea where the bastards had come out from, but he had to get away from them. He had to get to the others before-

"C'mon, Ed go! go-gyah!"

Fuery fell when his assailant kicked his legs out from under him. He had little time to recover before a knee was brought smashing into his face as he fell.

He groaned, blood pouring from his broken nose, and pulled out a knife to stab into his assailant's calf. The man hissed in pain, but did little else before kicking Fuery in the head hard enough Roy knew he wouldn't be getting up for awhile.

The only line of defense between himself and capture was the gun he held in shaking hand. Roy watched as the teen leveled the weapon at the bloodied man and he stopped advancing. A harsh cackle tore from his mouth and the wounds littering his body emitted a red light before disappearing.

Roy drew in a sharp breath in surprise while Edward's expression went slack and slowly, he lowered the gun.

Why isn't he shooting?!

That did it and Roy's efforts to escape doubled. He had no idea what that thing was, but it was not going to get any closer to him if he could help it. Yet, it seemed with every attempt he made to get free, their hold on him got stronger, and Roy realized with dawning horror that there was nothing he could do to stop it. There was nothing he could do. He was useless.

"Edward, run!"

He turned to look at him and Roy repeated the order, grunting when a fist collided with his face to shut him up. It didn't, and he shouted again when the creature that was decidedly not human began advancing once more.

"Get the hell away from my kid, monster!"

The last thing he registered before his vision went dark was Edward's shock and the sharp grin on the monster's face. The look of terror on Edward's face was an image he didn't think he would be able to get out of his head for a long while.


Roy grit his teeth, shaking his head against the memory. He didn't need to re-remember, he knew what had happened. He'd screwed up, gotten complacent, and now he was in a dangerous situation with nobody to blame but himself. And it wasn't just him in that situation either.

Alarm shot through him while he turned his head as far as he was able to survey what he could of the small tent. Save for the chair he was tied to, the rest of the area appeared barren. That did nothing to calm him. In fact, it cut at his already frayed nerves even more.

They were holding Edward, and possibly the others, somewhere else.

It wasn't unexpected -he'd hardly assumed they would keep them together- but it was still unnerving. It was a scare tactic, that was all. Separate the team, let them believe the others were being hurt -though whether they were or not was unknown-, thus crippling them with worry, guilt, and panic until they gave in to whatever the captors wanted. Standard.

Knowing how what they were doing worked didn't help any. In fact, it left him even more distressed. He knew that was because the Drachmans had no qualms about hurting a child, though. It was safe to assume if they weren't doing anything to him, they were Fullmetal, and he didn't bother trying to dampen the rage that swept through him at the thought of those bastards laying a hand on him. They'd hurt him so much already, yet they were more than willing to continue the abuse if it meant getting the desired results, and it made him see red.

He and the others would be able to withstand torture- they were trained to do so. Edward wasn't. He may have survived what they'd done to him before, but he'd been healthy when they'd started before. He wasn't even completely healed this time around.

The rage was nothing compared to the guilt nagging at the back of his mind, though. It was his fault Edward was even back in their clutches in the first place, after all. If he'd been a bit more cautious, or taken his worries more seriously, nothing would have happened. If he'd distracted that thing long enough for the kid to escape, maybe he would be the only one in their clutches.

He had no idea what he could have done to prevent any of it, though. The Drachmans had been so well prepared, as if they'd known exactly how his team operated... and they'd known exactly who to go after first. There was no way he could've known, and Roy knew that. He also knew he should have been more prepared. As soon as Edward had mentioned Ford being with them, he should have changed their course of travel. Ford may not have been in his department, but being a higher-up, he'd knew enough to be dangerous.

Thinking about that traitor made Roy want to punch something. How could he, in his right mind, ever betray his country and allow his fellow soldiers to fall into enemy hands? How could he, in good conscience, condone the torture of a child?

Ford had never struck Roy as the unhinged type, but after everything that happened, there was no doubt in mind that he was, in fact, one sick and twisted sonuvabitch.

And Edward had to deal with him in that light firsthand. Roy hung his head and shook it. This is insane.

It was almost as insane as that creature that had taken nearly everyone down. Roy couldn't believe, even now, that someone could be that fast and nimble. And healing like that? He hadn't seen anything like it before. If he hadn't seen it with his own eyes, he never would've believed it was possible.

Remembering that moment brought his own words back to him and Roy frowned, baffled by his own actions.

He'd called Fullmetal his kid.

He hadn't meant to. At all. The word in his mind had been "subordinate" but somehow "kid" had slipped out instead. He had no clue why that had come out instead of the intended title, and judging from the look Edward had shot him, he hadn't expected it to come out of his mouth either.

The knowledge that the Drachmans would use that against the both of them wasn't lost on him either. It made him wish his tongue had shriveled in his mouth so he couldn't have said anything at all. It wasn't like his shouting had been helpful for either of them. And now the enemy had ammunition that they wouldn't have otherwise had if he'd kept silent. They would use a slip-up he couldn't even believe he'd said to do further damage. What kind of damage, he had no idea, but it wouldn't be too difficult to figure out if he put his mind to it.

He didn't want to put his mind to that, though. He needed to think on things that would be helpful in getting him out of his current situation. However, much to his dismay, he was drawing blanks. They had him tightly bound, his gloves were gone, one of his hands was injured, and he had no clue if he was being monitored or not; it would be foolish to risk an escape attempt when Edward and the others could be in harm's way and he had no lay of the land.

As infuriating as the situation was, he had no other options for the time being but to wait it out and search for an opportunity to escape with everyone by his side.

God, he hated waiting.


The panic was a familiar presence when he'd awoken. It had left him breathing hard and pulling at his restraints. It had taken every ounce of determination in his body to not throw up, and even more to not let the tears in his eyes escape.

After he'd forced himself to calm down, though, instead of feeling keyed up, he'd just felt indescribably tired. He'd felt like the panic and fear coursing through him no longer mattered. It was a drastic switch, but one Edward had been thankful for; the last thing he'd wanted was to be crying or hyperventilating when they came for him.

He hadn't wanted to believe he would see the familiar inside of a tent when he'd opened his eyes, but at the same time, he'd known he should have expect nothing else.

He remembered what happened. Remembered the horror he felt at the idea of pulling the trigger even after seeing that he man would heal if he did so. Remembered Mustang's orders to run- remembered everything.

What he couldn't remember, was the last time he'd seen any of the team taken down so easily. It was true, he'd never seen them in a fight, either, but it still had come as a shock. He'd never seen them so worried for him, either.

Guilt ate away at his insides as he thought about how Havoc and Fuery were both taken down trying to protect him. He'd been so useless in the fight without his alchemy. He'd known he would be, but having to confront that fact up close had been upsetting to say the least.

The worst part of it all was that he'd known it was coming. Deep down, from the moment Mustang and the others' had found him, Edward had known it was only a matter of time before they came after him. Even if he hadn't wanted to acknowledge it, he'd know.

He'd known things were always leading back to him being there, but he'd allowed himself to hope, to believe everyone when they told him they'd protect him and not let anything bad happen to him.

He'd known there was no way they could promise such things when they didn't have that level of control over how things played out, but he'd still listened to them, allowed their words to soothe him into a sense of security.

And now he was back where he'd figured he would end up, and the panic was familiar, but he couldn't make himself react to it. His body quaked, sure, but he had no control over that… just like he had no control over anything that happened to him, it seemed. Just like he was back in Drachman possession and couldn't do anything about it.

The difference is, it's not just you this time.

That thought caused anger to flare up unexpectedly and Ed's eyes widened with the realization that they'd taken Mustang too. For some reason they'd left the others, but they'd taken the Colonel- that much he had seen before the healing soldier had knocked him out.

Him, they could take and hurt all they want, but what the hell did they think they were doing taking Mustang?

That thought was still in his mind when Ford stepped inside, accompanied by no one, with a giant, toothy grin plastered on his face. He had his hands clasped behind his back, but the pose seemed as fake as he was and Edward snorted in spite of himself and his situation.

If they'd sent in someone like Black, or Void, he knew his reaction would have been much different, but Ford? Ford he could handle. Ford was a coward and a liar, and Edward had dealt with plenty of those in his life.

And it isn't even really Ford.

The thought struck him out of nowhere, but instead of being confused with his line of thinking, he dove further in, piecing together what he knew to be truth.

In all honesty, he'd figured it out the moment he'd seen the soldier heal with that red light, but it took seeing Ford's stupid ugly mug to bring the realization back and cement it into his mind. He knew that kind of light. He'd seen it before, back in Dublith with Greed.

That smile, the voice he remembered hearing from Ford when he'd shoved his arm back into its socket. He knew it. He'd heard it back in the 5th Laboratory. He didn't know how he made himself look like so many different people, but there was no mistaking who was actually behind whatever this was.

"Did you enjoy your taste of freedom, Fullmetal?" He asked, sounding much too gleeful. "Hope you did, because you're never going to have it again."

The threat washed over him, driving home what he'd already feared to be true, but Edward grit his teeth and refused to give him the reaction he wanted. He refused to let that Homunculus bastard get off on scaring him again. He refused to let him have that. It didn't matter what he did to him -he'd already done so much, after all. Hell, at the rate they were going, he could die and it didn't much matter. He still refused to give him the reaction he wanted.

They could make him scream and cry and beg, and they would. But he wouldn't let him see him scared. Not again.

Edward squared his shoulders as best as he could without hurting himself, and lifted his chin with a defiance he didn't fully feel.

"Cut the crap. I know who you are, Envy."

Ford stared at him a long moment, his smile nowhere to absent. Then, as if a flip was switched, he began laughing. The sound was grating and manic and Edward began to wonder if maybe he'd broken him when the voice became less and less like Ford's. Blue eyes suddenly turned purple while red light crackled around the man. It started at his feet and worked its way up, until the blue of Amestrian military uniform was gone, replaced by a familiar black skirt, shirt, and then, that odd but distinct hair.

Edward watched the entire transformation in wide-eyed awe. He'd never seen something like that before, and even if he shouldn't have been fascinated, the alchemist in him couldn't help it. For a minute, he forgot where he was, he forgot his fear, and he forgot the fact that he was tied up in a sickly familiar fashion.

When the transformation finished and Envy's eyes crinkled with a grin that Edward recognized, he remembered his situation again, and the Homunculus' raspy, pleased voice sent a shudder down his spine.

"Long time no see, eh, Pipsqueak?"

Fraught and Fuery

The steady sloshing of hooves through snow was the only sound to be heard for hours, everyone preferring the silence while they processed everything that had happened. It was unnatural, how quiet they were all being. He thought about speaking up once or twice, but all potential words died in his throat.

What could he say? He could think of nothing would would ease anyone's minds. That problem had remained since he'd awoken to find Edward and the Colonel missing. They'd gotten the bleeding of their varying injuries under control, Hawkeye being the one to help patch them up after bringing them to with well-aimed slaps. The situation hadn't needed to be explained, clear to all in the party, so she'd said nothing. In fact, she'd been silent the entire time, save for when she ordered Breda and Havoc to calm down after hopping to their feet, frantic and declaring they had to go after the Drachmans.

"We will continue on with the mission and get backup." She'd said resolutely. "That's what the Colonel would want us to do."

Even as she'd said it, though, Fuery had seen the way her eyes wandered to the point in the horizon where she must have seen them take Edward and the Colonel, the yearning to go against her own orders and track them down clearer than crystal. But, she'd held strong, limping over to Blaze and mounting the frightened mare with a heavy sort of grace.

Fuery admired her ability to put her personal desires aside in order to fulfill their superior's wishes. Had he been in her shoes, he would have had a difficult time doing so. But then, the Lieutenant was strong. In many ways, Riza was more capable than most generals he'd come across. She knew when she had to compartmentalize and set aside feelings for the greater good of their country and people. It was a commendable quality, even if, right about then, Fuery wished she didn't have it so that they could go after the Drachmans.

Perhaps it was good, though; he normally prided himself on being the rational one of the group, and even he was wanting to chase after the enemy. Fuery knew it was irresponsible to want that, so he was also grateful for Riza stepping up, doing her job and taking her place as the leader until theirs was returned to them. If none of them could look far enough past their own anger and fear, it was fortunate that she could.

It was frustrating, how he couldn't stop the jitters in his hands that begged him to pull on the reigns, just a little, in order to turn around and head where he really wanted to go. Logically, he knew he couldn't. Morally, he knew it would be wrong. Yet he still couldn't stop entertaining the idea.

He couldn't get the image of Edward, terrified and looking to him for protection, out of his head. He couldn't stop wondering what his failure to keep them away would mean for the teen. What sort of horrific treatment was he being subjected to right now because he hadn't been able to stave off that one soldier.

He wondered what was being done to the Colonel, too, but somehow those thoughts were less nauseating. Perhaps that was because, just like the rest of them, the Colonel had been trained to withstand that kind of cruel treatment. He could handle himself. Nobody had to worry that he would give the Drachmans any sort of useful information- if anything, he would frustrate them to the point they wanted to shoot themselves. He would do what he could to protect Edward, too, even if it meant diverting attention to himself and suffering for it. And even if he could handle it, that didn't comfort Fuery very much.

Even if their capture wasn't completely his fault, the man couldn't help but berate himself anyway. Maybe if he'd been able to hold out a bit longer, the tides would've turned over in their favor. Maybe, if he'd been a bit stronger, a bit faster, he could've gotten Edward away, at the very least. It was all a plethora of "maybes" which wasn't a proper mindset, he knew, but it didn't stop the intrusive thoughts from roaring between his ears like waves upon a cliff wall.

He blamed himself for Edward's capture, even if he knew, in all honesty, there'd been no preventing it. Nobody else seemed to be upset with him, either, because they understood, same as he, that what happened was no one's fault but the Drachmans'. But that helped very little in making him feel better.

In the long run, though, he knew how he felt did not matter. What mattered was getting their job done, rescuing their people, and defeating the enemy. Personal problems were pushed to the back, always, and lost in the ocean that was the bigger picture. The time for beating himself up would have to be later. Riza understood that, and somehow, Fuery knew the others did too.

It wasn't easy to put those thoughts and emotions from his mind, but so long as he kept them at arm's length for a time, he could manage. He refused to be dead weight when the time came to get back to work, and he couldn't allow himself to look so downtrodden when they came upon the supply point. No matter how horribly he felt, he had to put on the brave face of a soldier, so as to help prevent too much concern.

With those negative and blameful thoughts continually doing their best to assault him, it was a task easier said than done.

Fuery sighed heavily, lifting his head to turn his attention to something other than the dull white ground. He blinked in surprise when he saw the outline of the supply point in the distance. He hadn't realized they were that close, and nobody had said anything to let him know they were either, which was uncharacteristic for everyone, to remain so silent when they had a job to do. He understood their lack of communication, but it was still an odd experience.

As if reading his thoughts, Riza spoke up a moment later.

"We're nearing the camp. They're going to question us, I want you all to let me do most of the talking. We need them to act quickly, and jumbled testimony won't help anyone."

"Yes, Ma'am," they all responded in monotonous unison.

They seemed to reach the camp rather quickly after that, coming to a halt when several soldiers came out to greet them and confirm their identities. Once let through, the Colonel in charge, a small women whom Fuery had never met before, came out to speak with them. Her first inquiries were of the nature of their party, bloodied and broken up as they were, and their lack of proper leadership.

Riza managed to explain the situation calmly, going over how they were attacked and how the Colonel and another alchemist member of their party were captured by Drachmans. Fuery frowned at her lack of naming names where Edward was concerned and decided to file it away for later questioning. For the time being, he focused on the conversation at hand and the Colonel Wesson's concerned and demanding tone.

"What do you mean, captured? Just how did the Drachmans manage to get past our forces like this?"

"That brings the next problem to light, Ma'am," Riza explained, "We gained information during our travel that would have several hundred Drachman soldiers preparing to attack our forces from behind."

"What?" She snapped. "That's not possible."

"It is," Riza continued solemnly, "It would appear that Lieutenant Colonel Ford has been working with them, leaking information and helping them to enact their plan."

Wesson mouthed the name, as if mulling the possibility over a moment before she clicked her tongue and cursed. "Damn him. He always was a little bit off, but I never thought him capable of treason like this."

A beat passed before her eyes widened and she spoke again, all demanding tones gone, replaced by urgency. "How did they manage to get around our troops without our noticing? We have the mountain range protecting our position. It shouldn't have been possible…"

That seemed to give Riza pause as she thought about the answer to that specific question. Fuery was sure she knew, but when another second passed without answer, he realized perhaps he'd been privy to information she was not. He had sworn she'd heard Edward discussing everything he'd discovered with the Colonel, or that Roy had shared information with her at the very least, but if her silence was anything to go by, she'd accidentally been kept in the dark on a few issues.

"The mountain range." He spoke up and suddenly all eyes were on him, Colonel Wesson staring expectantly. He cleared his throat and went on. "There's a small point in the mountain that people can pass through. Not huge groups or anything- I think he said twenty people, tops-, so that means the Drachmans have been working to get their forces through for awhile. I don't know exactly where this point is, though. Ed-er, the alchemist who was captured with the Colonel is the one who knows that."

Colonel Wesson nodded slowly, cupping her chin in thought. She remained like that for a long moment before snapping out of her daze and turning to head for the tent that housed the radio equipment.

"We have to tell the main troops immediately. Bradey! Help them load up the supplies. They need to get back as soon as they can."

A lean man nodded and hopped to do so, but Fuery hardly noticed. He'd dismounted and run after the Colonel before he could stop himself. Something about her words hadn't settled right with him. She hadn't seemed overly concerned with the capture of their Colonel, moreso focused on the problem the Drachmans presented. He understood that warning the others was top priority, but it was disconcerting when she made no plans to help save those captured, and seemed more interested on getting the supplies out than anything else.

Maybe he was misreading the situation, but that was what it sure seemed to be, and after everything he wasn't about to risk it, even if it meant running the possibility of angering or offending someone of a higher rank than himself.

"Colonel Wesson, Ma'am." He saluted quickly when she looked up from what she was doing and set the headphones down.

"Pardon my straightforwardness," he said, "but do you plan on doing anything to save Colonel Mustang the other captive?"

She frowned and put the earpiece back to her head. "I don't yet. The information was just given to me, Sergeant, and I have to prioritize."

He didn't correct her on his rank for the time being because it wasn't as important as pressing the issue. She didn't seem to understand just how close they were and that saving the others was the best thing they could do. If they had Mustang with them, repairing the situation would be a million times easier. He hadn't been in Ishval and even he knew that much was true.

"Ma'am, with all due respect, I think sending us away would be a mistake. This team is well qualified for an extraction mission, and having the Colonel with us and still in fighting condition would be beneficial for more than a few reasons."

"Sergeant, you need to listen to me when I say I know what I'm doing."

"And I need you to listen when I say I do too," he pressed. It was funny, he couldn't remember the last time he'd been so keen on arguing with someone of higher rank. "We need to make a rescue mission one of the high priorities. The Drachmans are still a few days away. If we go after them now, we could make a significant dent in their forces long before they reach our main-"

"The troops need to be warned, and they need supplies." Wesson cut him off sharply, "You need to focus on doing your part. I will get to the rescue mission, but this comes first. I'm sure you've heard that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Do I make myself clear?"

Fuery bit his tongue to keep from saying anything more. He knew when the line was drawn, and when crossing it was a bad idea. As much as he wanted to continue to make his case to her, he knew he had to let it go, at least for the time being. Even if she'd shut down a strategy he'd been working on coming up with for the last few days before even hearing him out completely, he had to respect her choices.

"Sergeant. I said: Do I make myself clear?"

"...Yes, Ma'am."

"Good. No, go and…"

Fuery had already been turning to leave but paused then and turned back to see the woman frowning at the radio. She twisted a few knobs before bringing the piece back to her ear. Her frown only seemed to deepen and he caught the muttered curse she uttered. She didn't make a big deal out of it, but he knew radio trouble when he saw it. The petty part of him wanted to snicker and ask her if she would listen to his plan now, but the part that always won over in his head sighed softly and had him walking over to her side.

"What's the problem?"

"The radio…" she set the main piece down and want to open up the back panel of the device. "There's nothing coming in."

"It's not transmitting?" Fuery crouched down and gently shoved her out of the way before he could think about it. He didn't know what she thought she could do, but judging by the way she removed the panelling alone he could tell she would've done more harm than good if she'd touched it. Besides, it had been a long time since he'd been able to do anything with tech.

"No," she confirmed with a heavy sigh.

If she said anything more, Fuery tuned her out, already in his zone and tinkering with every little button and dial, searching for any sort of signal. It was odd, because she wasn't wrong, but she wasn't right, either. According to the readings, they were transmitting, and yet there was no signal to transmit to. There was no static on the line that would speak to an electrical problem, either, which led him to believe there was absolutely nothing wrong with the radio whatsoever. He wasn't about to rule anything out before he exhausted all of his options, though.

"I could use a tool kit," he announced after a moment. "And if you could have Hawkeye come in to help, I would appreciate it."

He wasn't sure she would listen to him, considering how irritated she'd been with him moments before, but to his surprise she nodded once and let without a word to do as requested. It was funny, he thought, how quickly people were willing to listen to you when you had something they wanted. He didn't dwell on that line of thinking though, because he had better things to put his mind to. Already he was thinking about what the possible problems could be. None of them were particularly comforting, especially when he took into account the fact that the Drachmans had a lot of tech similar to their own. The setups were different, sure, but the ideas were the same.

He continued fiddling with different wires, searching for any kind of sign that the signal was catching the one for the frequency the main forces were on. Logically speaking, they shouldn't have been able to lose it in the first place, but that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. Tech wasn't foolproof, and sometimes it malfunctioned. It was obnoxious and unfortunate, but not the worst thing that could happen.

When Riza showed up a few minutes later with the tools he'd requested, she gave him an inquisitive look and sat on the stool beside him while he got to work.

"What did you want to talk about?"

"Huh?" Fuery paused what he was doing to look up at her. It took a second for her words and their meaning to register and when they did he sat up. Everyone knew Riza didn't know enough about technical workings to be truly useful in repairing them, so obviously she'd known he'd wanted her for something else.

"Oh, right!" He went back to tinkering as he spoke, "So… my working theory is that the signal is being jammed. I don't know what the Drachmans are using to keep the frequency sounding so clean, though. Normally when they jam things there's static or feedback or something weird. There's nothing this time around..."

"So they upgraded. Can you get past it?"

"Um… that's the thing…" He chuckled nervously and gently closed the back panel to the radio box. "I don't think this signal is the one they're jamming. I think it's the other radio- the main one. So, I actually… can't."

She raised a brow at him, clearly not having expected that answer and he threw his hands up. "Well, I mean, I can, but I'd need a lot longer than the short amount of time we'll be here."

"I see. Well, then we need to find a way around it-"

"Already tried." He sighed. "No, what we need is to contact someone else."

"Who did you have in mind?"

By her tone of voice, Riza already knew exactly who he had in mind. It was the same person he'd been thinking about contacting since he'd found out about the weak point in the mountains. However, after the conversation he'd had with Wesson, he wasn't sure he'd be able to. At least, not on his own…

"I need your full support for this. Wesson won't be happy but, hypothetically, if this works, we'll be able to kill several birds with one stone, and if we can do that, we can save the Colonel and stop the Drachmans, and-"

"Kain." Riza's calming hand on his shoulder cut him off and he looked up at the woman. "Do what you have to. I trust you."

"Okay." He sighed, relieved for the vote of confidence. "I still feel like I should tell you what the plan is, though."

She smiled softly. "I know. I'll get the others."

She stood and headed out after that, reminding him to look busy in case Wesson came back. He sent her a nervous smile while nodding quickly. He fidgeted with his tools while he waited for the others to get there, thinking over the logistics of his plan, though he already had dozens of times before. There were many unknown factors to it, but so long as he had one person backing him up, he'd be able to work confidently. At least with the team backing him up, he could shove back his fears of being court martialed or arrested for treason, something equally bad.

After all, going against orders wasn't something he usually did.


They were all on board, which, while unsurprising, still gave Fuery the confidence to begin enacting the plan. They had a limited window of time to pull it off, considering they were expected to head out as soon as the supply cart was prepared.

The others, with the exception of Riza, who stayed with him to act as company and guard, were off loading everything. They had to keep up the pretense of caring about getting things done swiftly. Meanwhile, Fuery worked to switch the radio frequencies to something a bit closer to home.

Riza was quiet while he twisted the various knobs and dials, listening carefully for the correct signal. Normally it wouldn't have been so difficult to get ahold of, but seeing as how he didn't have the information for it, they were essentially in the middle of nowhere, and the channel he was going for was highly secured, it would take a minute. If anyone else had been there, even thinking of getting a hold of them would've been ridiculous, but seeing as he'd been working with systems such as theirs so long, he knew tricks nobody else did in getting around and through different protective mechanisms. And he didn't need special tools for doing so, either.

There was a reason Mustang had specifically asked for him above anyone else, after all. He'd looked past his young age and seen him as useful for his skills. Skills that people often forgot about because the uniform and commander made them lump him in with the rest of the fighters and intel personnel. No, the Colonel had had good reasons for choosing him- not that Fuery liked to brag about his skills.

A few times, someone would come by to check on how he was doing and Riza would wave them off, letting them know he found the source of the issue and was in the middle of fixing it. The white lies were enough to placate them and they would run off, no doubt to let Wesson know.

Other than those instances, though, his companion remained stoically silent. It let him on to just how her thoughts had to be raging inside her head. Being quiet wasn't abnormal for the Lieutenant, true, but she normally took small interest in what he was doing and would at the very least, observe what he did- though whether that was because she was interested, or just passing the time, he never did find out. The fact that she barely moved an inch to look his way let him know that despite her collected exterior, she was thinking just as hard as the rest of them were, likely about the same things that occupied all of their minds, too.

The thought of Mustang and Edward brought Riza's earlier conversation with Colonel Wesson back to mind right then and Fuery frowned once again when he recalled the way she hadn't mentioned the smaller alchemist to the woman. He'd meant to ask her about it earlier, but had forgotten.

"Lieutenant?"

"Yes?"

"Why aren't we telling our superiors about Edward being the one who was captured?"

Riza turned to look at him, and though he only saw her expression from the corner of his eye, he could tell she was thrown off by the question.

"The same reason we're not telling them about what we're doing right now."

She made it sound like it was the most obvious thing in the world, but Fuery still didn't find himself following. If anything, the statement left him with more questions.

"I'm not following."

"Edward is no longer part of the military," she explained, lowering her voice as she did so there were no chances anyone outside could hear. "He would be in serious trouble for being a civilian in a war zone, and the Colonel would be punished for taking him into our care- even despite the circumstances."

Fuery frowned. "But they would know we found him and were trying to get him to safety."

"You and I know well enough that intentions don't matter when the higher-ups want to put the blame on someone. Plus, they could also technically make it so that Edward couldn't get reinstated when everything calms down and he is allowed to come back. The system isn't logical or fair, and I was not about to risk trusting someone like Wesson with ammunition like that."

"Oh." Fuery sighed and hung his head while he fiddled with the radio once more. He'd forgotten about the civilian rule- heck, he'd forgotten Edward wasn't technically part of their team anymore. Everything had become so jumbled in such a short amount of time, and none of the change causing it had been anything close to good. It was beyond frustrating.

"Just our stupid laws at work again. Great."

"Mmhm," Riza agreed. "But we'll figure it out."

Fuery nodded. "We always do."

As if a flip switched was flipped, when the words left his mouth, Fuery's eardrum was suddenly assaulted with a sharp note of feedback and he jumped violently. He hadn't been expecting that at all. Despite the painful ringing in his ears, though, he couldn't help but chuckle softly.

"Talk about timing."

Riza appeared at his side a second later, brows raised expectantly. "You got it?"

"Sure did!" Fuery beamed up at her before setting out to get a hold of the right people.

It took time, a lot of arguing and explaining, but eventually he was able to get patched through to the main command. The numerous security checks they made him go through were beyond ridiculous, and he resisted the urge to groan and throw the headset across the area several times. He understood their need to be cautious, but he was under pressure, having the short window of time to get the information they needed across.

Eventually, though, a male voice cut through the faint static, and Fuery was able to convince Miles that they needed to speak to the Major General immediately, due to the life and death matter at hand. The Ishvalan soldier needed very little convincing before he was off, assuring them that he would be grabbing the woman they were after.

He waited for what felt like hours, baited breath sounding much too loud while he looked over his shoulder every couple of seconds, expecting someone to come in at any moment and demand to know just what he thought he was doing. Nevermind that Riza would defend him if they tried to stop him.

Everything was coming together, but it was also reaching the first crucial point in planning, too: the first unknown factor. There were a number of different ways she could respond to their request for assistance, and from what he'd heard about her, a refusal wouldn't be too unexpected. However, he also knew she prided her abilities to protect the border, and knowing that those "scum" had gotten through her defenses might be enough to spur her into action.

There were a number of ways she could respond, but only two outcomes: Favorable, and not. She would either agree to help them, or she would tell them to fix their own mess. If the latter was the case, Fuery was at a loss as to what they would do. In theory, they could infiltrate the Drachman camp on their way back with the supplies, but they were risking so much in doing so. He had no doubt that everyone would agree to it as a backup plan, but there was no way to ensure a good and safe outcome, whereas with Briggs backing them up, there was no doubt in his mind that they would succeed.

Still, if she refused to assist them, they would resort to those measures. They would get Edward and the Colonel back, and they would get them back alive, no matter what.

Still, the idea of doing all of that on their own…

"Kain."

He would never admit to yelping when Riza's voice knocked him out of his storming thoughts, and he turned to face the woman with eyes wide in question.

"If this works out, we still someone to get the supplies to the others as well as warn them."

His mind leapt forward before needing to hear what else she had to say. Somebody needed to go, and he was the weakest fighter of their group, so it would make sense that it would be he who left. They couldn't afford any dead weight in the group, and after failing to protect Edward, it just made sense. The others could hold their own better than he could, after all- even if he could manage pretty well on his own when he had to.

"I know. I'll get ready after we're done here."

The look Riza sent him made him entertain the idea that he'd grown a second head. He opened his mouth to ask what was wrong but she cut him off.

"I wanted you to talk to Falman about going. He is the fastest of all of us and the better diplomat."

That was true as well; Falman, quiet demeanor aside, was skilled with discussing heavy manners with those of higher rank. Fuery never had possessed the finesse for such things- he'd always found dealing with machines to be easier. Still, it surprised him that the Lieutenant wanted him to stay. He wasn't about to question her decisions, though, because if there was one thing both she and the Colonel shared, it was the ability to think far ahead into the future and make choices to ensure a favorable outcome.

"Oh, okay. Yeah, I can talk to him."

Riza pat his shoulder and he sent her a soft smile. He wasn't sure what he'd done to inspire any sort of confidence, but he was grateful to her for wanting to keep him around nonetheless. Not that there was anything wrong or less important about running the supplies and warning the main forces- it just wasn't something he would have been able to do as quickly as he knew Falman would be able to. Besides that, Falman had a stronger mental focus than he, and he wouldn't allow himself to be distracted or concerned with anything that might have come his way on the trip back.

As it was, the brief conversation he'd had with the Lieutenant had been enough to distract him that he'd completely missed the headset falling to his shoulders with all his moving around. A distant and angry voice barking through made him flail and throw the gear back on, cringing when the distinct voice of the Major General came through loud and clear.

"Answer me, soldier! Name and rank, now."

"Uh, Kain Fuery, Master Sergeant, Ma'am."

There was a string of static on her end a moment and during that time Fuery couldn't help but panic internally a little, thinking perhaps she'd hung up before even hearing him out. Before he could get too worked up, though, she spoke again, stern and irate as ever.

"Miles tells me you need help saving your sorry asses. Heh. Why am I not surprised?"

Prepare and Pretend

They hadn't been hurting him to the extent that he'd prepared himself for.

Since his conversation with Envy hours before, they had stuck with letting Pouty pound on him a bit at random times of the day, but that had been of an irritant than anything else; he'd taken worse licks from Alphonse when he'd still been getting used to his new strength within his armor. Although Ed supposed the spiking in his pulse and the terror that came with it every time the man walked into his space plenty made up for the lack of actual torture.

Overall it had been weird, and he'd gotten himself so worked up waiting for their particularly special brand of torture that never came, which left him with a giant ball of anxiety in his chest. He refused to let his guard down, though. He would rather be paranoid than think he would get off easy. The anticipation of not knowing what they were planning kept his brain functioning and served as a leash on the thoughts that tried to throw him into despair.

However, with that buzzing, distrusting energy came the little probing questions that suggested perhaps Void hadn't been focusing on him as much because he'd turned his attention to Mustang. And it was those types of thoughts that made him think back to the discussion he'd had with Envy. Although "discussion" was a gracious term for it, when really, it had just been ten minutes of listening to the Homunculus gloat and giggle over the cleverness of his plan.

Edward rolled his eyes, remembering the way Envy had laughed harshly when he'd snapped at him to quit calling him Pipsqueak.

"Ha! Sure, Pipsqueak, whatever you say!"

Edward clenched his jaw. Even the memory grated. But then, so had everything else about the impossible human that had stood before him, asking if he'd really thought he could escape so easily. Ed wished his response had been something more eloquent than: What the hell are you even doing here?

But he couldn't change the past, so perhaps there was no point in dwelling on what he had or hadn't said. After all, at that point in time, he'd been doing his his best to simply wrap his mind around the fact that Envy, the homunculus from the 13th Laboratory, was also Ford, the Amestrian traitor.

Thankfully, Envy had been more than willing to talk.

"Well, since you had to go snooping into the Lab, we've had to pick up our pace, and since there's no particular way we have to do this yet, I figured I'd get the Briggs area crossed off the list!"

Even after mulling that answer over and over in his head for hours, Ed still couldn't understand what Envy had been saying. Part of him wondered if it had something to do with what that other Homunculus, the taller one with the chest tattoo, had said about sacrifices. He got the sneaking suspicion that it did, even if he didn't know how. But then, none of the things that group had said made coherent sense to himself or Alphonse, so he couldn't help but wonder if everything that came out of their mouths was a modified language of its own. Like Alchemist research notes.

Envy had certainly looked at him like he was a deaf idiot, so Ed wondered how much merit that thought held.

After that the conversation had devolved into him shouting at the Homunculus, demanding to know why Amestris had been dragged into it, why Envy was helping the Drachmans in the first place, and what were he and the other Homunculus doing for that matter, while Envy just refused to answer some things and laughing at him in response to others.

When it came to the question as to what he or Mustang had to do with anything, though, Envy had put his hands on his hips and stuck his lip out in a mocking thoughtful gesture before he'd shrugged and twirled a strand of his hair absentmindedly.

"Honestly, you two being here is kind of for fun. You can't die, of course, but the same can't be said about Mustang."

That statement had left Edward in shock long enough for Envy to turn back into Ford and walk out. Hell, just thinking about it made Ed's jaw hang a bit even as he clenched his fist and slam his foot it into the ground, rage coursing through every muscle in his body. Because the entire time he'd been in that camp, being stabbed and burned and terrified, he'd continually worried that he might not make it back home, or even to the others to warn them.

And then Envy revealed to him he'd never been in real mortal danger at all? That everything they'd done to him had been some form of sick, twisted amusement for him? That his suffering was considered fun and entertaining?

His throat still felt scratchy from screaming at the bastard and his eyes still itched from the dried tears that he hadn't been able to properly wipe away. They had wrecked him and spit him back out as a useless hunk of flesh who couldn't even sit up straight without cringing in pain without thinking twice. They'd taken away his peace of mind and ability to get a full night's sleep… and it was a non-issue in their eyes. Maybe the Drachmans had thought he'd actually had some secrets because Envy wanted to see what they did to him, but that didn't change the fact that their ignorance changed nothing for him.

Just as always, his struggles were of no consequence to the bigger picture. He was an ant in an indifferent universe, and no more special than anyone or anything else. Everything that happened was just unfortunate in the eyes of others. It was hard to consider that when it felt like his was the only experience in the world to grieve.

He grit his teeth and shook his head, a shiver running through him that had nothing to do with the cold that had seeped into his bones weeks ago. The movement made him wince as it irritated the scabs littered across his body. He almost laughed, thinking about how everything had been healing pretty well for the most part just in time for that progress to be destroyed. He still anticipated Void's return and the agony that came with his presence.

The entrance to the tent shifted without warning and Edward watched it unblinking, waiting for Pouty or Ford-Envy (... or Void) to enter. He steeled his expression as best he could and tried to calm his climbing heart rate. Until they beat him down again he would do his best to be defiant. If they thought he would let them ruin everything he was, for no reason at all, then they had another thing coming.

(Even the thought of standing up to them made him feel queasy)

When the flap pulled back to reveal the visitor Edward felt his eyes widen and his breath catch in his throat, because there was no way he was actually seeing what he was. There was no way that Mustang had already escaped, especially not looking untouched, save for the cut in his forehead and a few bruises on his face. His mind raced and came to the conclusion that he'd been drugged again and everything he saw was a mere illusion, but couldn't recall eating or drinking anything yet.

Before he could get his mouth to form any words, however, Mustang had rushed over to put a hand on his shoulder and work to undo his bindings. When he didn't fade away with the contact, Edward could only stare in shock as his brain supplied that the man was real, actually there, working to free him.

He finally got his tongue unpinned. "Mustang?"

"Shh," he hissed, shooting a glance over his shoulder before going back to focusing on the cuffs.

Ed would've smacked himself if he'd been able to right then, because he shouldn't have said a word. Mustang had escaped, which meant they only had a certain amount of time to get out before someone noticed, and him talking to the man could harm that plan if anyone overheard. That didn't stop him from wondering just how the Colonel had gotten out so fast, but those questions could be answered later, when they were safe.

When he felt the cuffs drop from his wrists with a clank, Ed grabbed ahold of the metal pole he'd been stuck to and used it to pull himself to a stand. His legs shook a little, but the adrenaline and excitement coursing through his body helped him to ignore that minor detail. Edward could feel the grin on his numbed face, his chattering teeth not even enough to stop the expression.

When Mustang offered his arm for support he didn't have to think twice before taking it. As much as he would have rather run out of the camp on his own, he knew better than to be that careless. He trusted the Colonel to get him where they needed to go. Besides, it was nice to know there was somebody to catch him if(when) he fell.

"Alright," Mustang said, voice a low whisper, "the next guard change is in another two minutes. After that, we'll have to run like hell. Got it, Fullmetal?"

The plan sounded similar to his own escape plan from before and Edward nodded, ignoring the fact that Mustang had slipped up and called him Fullmetal again. He could deal with a name slipup if it meant getting out of that hellhole.

He only briefly wondered how the Colonel had figured out the pattern of the Drachmans so quickly before he reminded himself that he'd been trained to pick up those sorts of things. It would have been alarming if the man hadn't been able to do it.

Hope sparked inside of him in a way he hadn't been expecting and suddenly the shaking in his legs felt more like pent up energy than nerves or muscle fatigue. Edward vowed to never joke about Mustang being useless ever again once they got back to the team.

Waiting for those two short minutes to pass felt like an eternity.

When the time came to move, Edward looked up at Mustang, who gave a nod that had him surging forward with the man.

This is it. He told himself as they reached the slit in the tent that would be their escape point. He waited for Mustang to pull the fabric back, practically bouncing on his heels at that point. When Mustang slowly reached his hand forward, Ed wished he had a functioning arm that wasn't clinging to him, because they would've already been outside.

Mustang's fingers brushed the tent flap and Edward held his breath.

When Mustang slowly retracted his hand, Edward frowned and stared at him, suddenly worried. Had he heard something? Had he seen a guard pass ahead of schedule?

"What is it?"

"Nothing." Mustang shook his head and his hold on Ed's arm became tighter. Edward swallowed hard. That hadn't sounded honest.

"Don't lie to me," he ordered, though he wasn't sure how authoritative he sounded.

"I'm not!" Mustang glared down at him and Edward couldn't help but flinch back. When he checked the man's face again, his stomach flipped when he saw that Mustang was smiling at him.

It was a smile Edward had never seen him wear before and it sent a cold thrill down his spine. Mustang stared at him like something hilarious was going down and him was the only one not in on the joke.

"Mustang, what- Gyah!"

The supportive arm beneath him disappeared suddenly and Edward yelped when he nearly toppled over. Mustang caught him by his wrist and Edward barely had time to think of thanking him before his arm was suddenly twisted behind his back. His cry of alarm was cut off by a hand over his mouth, and it was then that Edward realized something that he should have noticed when the Colonel first entered the tent: The gloves.

Mustang had his gloves on, which… he shouldn't have. The Drachmans would've taken them away from him the moment they'd knocked him out.

Realization dawned on him too late and Edward protested loudly, trying to twist out of the strong hold, ignoring the way his entire body screamed at him for the mistreatment. His shouts came out muffled and he cringed when lips that belonged to Mustang but weren't Mustang brushed against his ear, whispering with malice and glee.

"You really thought you were safe for a minute, didn't you? You thought someone was coming for you. That's so cute."

The voice was Mustang's too, but the words went against everything he'd known the man to stand for and it made Edward struggle harder. He stopped, however, when Not-Mustang pulled his arm up higher, reminding him that his shoulder was still healing from its dislocation before when a sharp ache ripped through his arm and he cried out against the hand over his mouth.

"Quiet," Not-Mustang reminded in a voice that was suddenly sickly sweet. His thumb made little circles on his cheek and Edward wanted to shy away from the touch and bite the finger off at the same time.

"You're something special," he hissed, "you know that, Fullmetal?"

Edward wanted to throw his head back, and tried his best to only to be halted by the hands holding him tight to Not-Mustang's chest.

The man laughed, low and menacing, and Edward swallowed hard. He had no idea what was going on even while he knew Envy had to be behind whatever this was. He had a difficult time wrapping his head around it though, still mourning the loss of what he hoped for freedom. He'd been played and he hated that he'd allowed himself to make it easy for them.

"You're the biggest pain in the world."

The hand on his face disappeared suddenly, but ed barely had time to register that before he was being shoved to the floor. He landed on his right shoulder and brought his flesh hand to his mouth to catch the scream that escaped when fire raced across his nerve endings.

"Rude, impulsive- Don't listen for shit."

The words hit him harder than he thought they would and Edward shook his head in an attempt to ward them off. He hated how much they reminded him of the way Mustang had talked to him at the beginning of everything, when he'd demanded the watch back.

Mustang advanced on him almost lazily and Edward backed himself against the pole in the middle of the area, using it as leverage to get himself standing again. He knew he'd be knocked down again, but he refused to just sit there while being subjected to the abuse. He hated feeling so weak.

Mustang laughed at him for the gesture, stopping two feet away and looking as if he was assessing him. Whatever he saw didn't appear to impress him much. He only shook his head, hands placed on his hips in a fashion that screamed for Edward to remember that it was only Envy wearing the Colonel's face.

"You're pathetic," he sneered and Edward flinched, but didn't let that stop him from putting some steel into his own voice when he replied.

"Leave me alone, you bastard!"

Mustang's eyes crinkled at the corners and he began circling the spot Ed stood. "Now why would I do that, Fullmetal? Messing with you is fun."

The man grabbed a fistful of his hair and pulled his head back. Edward gasped, the memory of Pouty doing something similar before burning him flashed across his mind's eye and he could practically smell his bubbling flesh for a moment. He reflexively shot his elbow back and felt a twinge of surprise and maybe a bit of dulled satisfaction when he felt it connect with what felt like Mustang's shoulder. Wherever he hit, it did the trick and the hand tangled in his hair disappeared with a grunt of pain from the man.

The relief of being released didn't last, however, and Edward cried out softly when Mustang grabbed his newly bruised wrist again while the other came to rest upon his neck. A second later his legs gave out, having been hit hard in the back of the knees.

Mustang met his gaze, looking down on him, and Edward tried to find the liar behind the familiar face. All he found was his own terrified reflection.

"You're really annoying, you know that?"

The fingers around his neck began tightening and Ed gasped, feeling like he was being gagged even as he struggled to pull air into his lungs.

He tried to bring his hand up to claw at the man until he released him, but he couldn't pry his wrist from the insanely strong grip that held it firmly at his side. All he could do was listen to his pulse quickening in his panic and then slowing in increments when he lacked the oxygen to keep it going.

He inhaled sharply when his vision began going dark at the edges and he tried to find any remorse in Mustang's expression. There was none to be seen.

"S-Stop it."

The protest came out hoarse and weak and Mustang's only response was to grin and squeeze tighter.

Edward couldn't remember when he finally lost consciousness, only thinking distantly of what what would happen to the real Mustang after he died. Would he be able to escape once he no longer had to worry about him being dead weight? Would he get out safely?... Would he tell Al what happened?

Or would he never make it home?


They'd been in captivity for almost two days, that much Roy knew. Everything else was a bit harder to figure. He'd gotten a good gauge on the pattern for the guard change, as well as what times in the day the army marched based on when he was bound and gagged and dragged out of his confined space.

During those hours of walking he could hear Fullmetal's short protests from wherever they kept him close by. From what Roy could make out, they still made him walk despite his condition, and it took everything in him to remain collected during those times, because he could hear the kid's pain every time he cried out after stumbling or falling behind- a few times he'd even called for him, probably after noticing him trudging however many feet away. At least he assumed that's what happened during those times, since it wasn't as if he could actually see.

He did his best to memorize everything that went on around him, forcing thoughts of Edward out of his mind when he reminded himself that he would never get to the kid if he didn't first get out of his own tight spot. The Drachmans had the sense to keep them separated, a fact that enraged Roy as much as it sent him into a spiral of panicked anxiety when he thought about what they could be doing to Fullmetal without his knowledge. He had yet to hear any screams from outside the tent he was stuck in, but that meant nothing to him. Gags worked just as well on teenagers as they did soldiers.

But he tried not to think about that.

He'd concluded the first day there that the guard changes happened morning, midday, afternoon, and what he guessed had to be midnight, judging from where the moon sat in the sky when he caught sight of it after the tent flap was shifted one time. There were roughly two minutes between the nighttime and morning shifts where no one was guarding. Roy knew if and when he made a move, it would have to be during one of those times. What move that would be, he hadn't a clue yet. The first step would be getting his hands freed from behind his back. They'd foregone the chair after breaking fingers had lost its appeal; without much screaming, apparently that aspect of torture just wasn't fun. Instead, they had him chained to a metal stake that was just tall enough that he couldn't slip off and he applauded their brutish methods of holding prisoners.

Until he figured out how to break that, he was at a loss as to what he could do. His mind kept going back to Edward when those thoughts came through, and Roy wanted to roar in frustration every time he reminded himself that he had no idea where the kid was being kept, and he'd have about two minutes to figure it out before he'd be caught, which was something he couldn't risk. He had to know where Edward was before he tried anything. The list of unknowns that needed to be known seemed to grow continuously when he was left alone with his thoughts.

Roy wondered if the Drachmans did that on purpose, too. It seemed like a pointless tactic, but he could never be too sure with these people. They had been known for their creative methods of getting people to talk. Or perhaps they suspected that having Fullmetal so close by only increased the risks of a quicker escape.

Whatever the case, he hadn't been able to formulate a proper escape plan outside of finding Edward and running like hell. He had to remind himself several times that running could prove difficult if they'd harmed Fullmetal's legs in any way, something he wouldn't have put past their scope of cruelty, especially considering the kid had already run away once. Their injuries seemed to have some sort of poetic justice to them.

His hand pulsed painfully with that thought and Roy grit his teeth, forcing himself to not think about the odd angles his digits were bent at. Yes, their torturer certainly thought himself a comedian. Roy decided he would have to show the man just how funny he thought he was once he freed himself.

He understood the reasoning behind their methods, because while more harsh than those implemented by Amestris, they had similarities. That was beneficial to him as well, since he could officially say that the training he'd been through to withstand such treatment helped. However, past his one mangled hand, he had seemed to avoid anything much worse thus far.

He'd been roughed up by the man he assumed was the muscle for the actual torturer, sustaining his fair share of cuts and bruises, but past that he'd sustained no meaningful injuries. None like Fullmetal, anyway.

Thinking about him again made Roy wince and remember once more how much time passed since they'd been taken from the group. A lot could be done to a person in under two days. It left him with a roiling nausea in his gut that he couldn't lose. Almost two days and the Drachmans had done nothing to him that he couldn't handle, so what had they been doing to Edward?

The not knowing was a torture in and of itself, which Roy was certain the Drachmans did purposely, otherwise he couldn't have understood why he wasn't already being moved towards the mangled and broken area of captivity.

He refused to let the Drachmans see him bothered by anything regarding the setup though, because he knew better than to give the enemy any sort of reaction, good or bad. It was better to not speak or even look at them then to give them something to they could work off of. Evident pain awarded a sense of satisfaction to the person delivering it, and defiance spurred them on due to anger at not being able to chink the armor. It had nothing to do with submission or defeat, but control. And it took every ounce of control in his body to hold onto himself when all he wanted to do was spew torrents of curses and wring their necks.

At that point, Roy wouldn't have been surprised to find out they'd grown bored of his lack of reaction. Maybe they even thought he'd gone catatonic. He doubted that, but also couldn't quite find it in himself to push it out of the realm of possibilities; the Drachmans, when on their own, didn't have the most intelligent thought processes. Maybe that was generalizing the population too much, though.

Whatever.

Out of the whole ordeal though, the one thing that stuck with Roy more than anything and made him certain of his assumption that they weren't going as hard on him physically as they were mentally, was the fact that Ford had yet to visit. He'd yet to come in and gloat or question him, and Roy decided to throw 'coward' into the pool of unpleasant words that best described the Amestrian. It swam in tandem with 'traitor' and 'scum'. It was too bad, too, because Roy had been looking forward to that asshole to show his face so he could spit in it.

But no. No Ford. And save for the first day, no proper torturer either. Just an endless cycle of waiting, moving around, and dozing. Roy found himself rubbing the fingers of his one functioning hand together more often than not in an attempt to calm himself, but doing so only served to remind him that he no longer had his ignition gloves, which got him to sigh heavily. He didn't doubt that they were trying to figure out what was so special about the cloth that made them up, and when they couldn't figure it out because they were idiots, he just knew they would dispose of them in some disrespectful manner.

That gave him all the more reason to want to figure out how to get out of his current situation. He supposed in a pinch he could break the cuffs if he twisted them at the right angle against the metal pole like he'd seen a prisoner do once in his youth, even if it meant risking a broken wrist (but honestly, he already had a broken hand, so would that really be the biggest issue?). After that they would have to run like hell, but he wouldn't do that unless there was no other way out, because he wanted to be as functional as possible when he got out of there in order to ensure Edward's safety.

The kid would be in no position to fight if and when the time came to it.

And once again he was back to Fullmetal. Roy cursed inwardly. It was like he couldn't avoid thinking about him no matter what he did, which made for distracted and disjointed planning that did neither of them any good. Not that it mattered much, because planning outside of breaking chains and running was useless without the knowledge of where Edward was.

He'd been doing his best to remember what he could of typical Drachman camp layouts (something only glossed over during his academy days), but could never remember one that had more than one prisoner containment tent. Perhaps if he could figure out where the food supply area was, he could deduce where Edward was, but that meant he'd have to find out where that particular tent was before he could do anything else. He was, for the time being, and for lack of better term, stuck.

Roy supposed there was no way he could stop thinking about Edward now, seeing as he was the last piece of the puzzle that needed fitting before they could escape. The very thought panged harshly in his chest. Fullmetal was somewhere in that camp, most likely suffering needlessly, because he couldn't figure out something so simple and wouldn't risk being recaptured because of the unknowns in their surroundings. If it had been somebody else in his shoes, Roy wondered if they would've thought about getting out and coming back later with help, and the very thought disgusted him. He couldn't even entertain the thought. He refused to leave without the kid, no matter what might happen to either of them during the wait.

The rational part of his brain reminded him that he'd been doing all that he could as a soldier and superior officer and keeping his charge as safe as he could given the circumstances, but the part of him that couldn't stop his heart from going out to the one who'd already been forced to endure so much pain that he didn't deserve. He'd been doing what he could and following protocol, but that didn't make him feel like any less of a failure.

Every minute he took to uncover answers was a minute Edward went through something awful he could prevent if he could only think faster.


Edward hadn't thought it would be possible for them to scar him any more than they already had, but every encounter he'd endured with Envy-Mustang proved him wrong. Apparently there was plenty of damage to be done still.

His throat tightened as if in acknowledgement of those thoughts and he swallowed until the feeling went away. Envy had done so much worse to him in Mustang's body but that was the one his mind continually came back to.

Edward couldn't understand why, because having his (er, Mustang's) jacket and shirt ripped off his body so that Envy had free access to reopen the healing wounds across his back should have been a decidedly more traumatic experience. Especially when he included the insults that Envy had hurled at him in a perfect imitation of Mustang's voice-

"You can't be that weak, Fullmetal."

A wince accompanied by a slap hard enough to make him see stars.

"Come on, get up, I know you can!"

A choked cry following soon after a blade cut through the scabbed flesh of his back.

"C'mon, defend yourself!"

The arm brought up did little to protect from the blow to the side of his head that made his ears ring.

The foot kicked out in defense proved useless when it was caught and twisted until he was sure it would break.

- Those thoughts had stuck with him, but they still didn't seem as bad as feeling hands so foreign and yet so familiar, wrapping around his throat and cutting him off from the very thing he needed to survive.

Ed wasn't sure how many more times Envy had come to torment him since the moments had begun to blur together in the past couple days (if he still measured time properly, anyway), and he'd given up on fighting him for the most part. It had gotten to the point where he couldn't quite decide what was actually Envy and what was his own imagination, because at times it felt like the Homunculus' cruelty, and other times he found himself thinking, for however brief a second, that it really was Mustang. Either Envy was getting better at impressions or he was getting too tired to be able to tell the difference.

Not that any of that mattered in the long run.; he'd decided about halfway through the last visit from Envy that there were three ways everything could go from that point, each of which had a slightly high chance of actually happening in his mind: He and Mustang could somehow miraculously escape (least likely), someone, likely the team, would come and rescue them (more likely, but he remained doubtful), or nobody would get to them in time and they'd both be killed (not the outcome he wanted by any means, but he had to entertain the possibility that it could happen, especially since it seemed most likely).

He knew if the real Mustang were before him he would tell him to snap out of it, because that sort of thinking was for quitters, and Edward wasn't the type of person to give up. Under different circumstances, Ed knew he probably would've been right (he'd been told by many he was too stubborn for his own good), but he'd grown so tired of everything at that point, and it felt better to think in realistic terms. He could still hold out hope of rescue while admitting to himself that he and Mustang were in danger of death in the near future.

Yeah, Mustang wouldn't be too happy with those thoughts. But then, there was someone else too, which made Edward hold out hope for rescue at all.

Because even as he understood that they ran a high risk of being killed and accepted it, he couldn't help but want to beat himself in a similar manner Pouty had that morning when he thought about Alphonse. What did it matter if he was hurting to the point he was numb? What did it matter if he was so cold he could no longer feel his own face? What did it matter that he was tired of restless sleep that was constantly disturbed? Alphonse had to deal with similar problems on a daily basis. He had a little brother waiting for him back home who needed him, who was expecting him to return in one piece, who would be as good as lost without him and his certification (which he fully intended to get back).

The thoughts of Alphonse in particular were what made Edward keep his eyes open and mind running when all he wanted to do was slip into the welcoming darkness that infrequently floated on the edge of his vision. He didn't know whether the darkness was sleep or something more ominous, but he didn't feel like finding out just yet, not when he had so much to lose and not when was still a chance, slim as it was, that somebody would come and pull him out of this special brand of hell.

He'd been holding out hope in the beginning of this particular stay at Casa De Drachma that Mustang would be the person to do the pulling, but given the current state of things, Edward knew he wouldn't trust anything remotely Mustang shaped if his life depended on it. It saddened him, that, possibly more than the thought of dying before seeing Alphonse again. Because at least his relationship with Alphonse would've been untainted when that happened. The Colonel though, Edward couldn't see himself feeling fully comfortable around the man again; he'd have that lingering, constant fear of wondering whether or not he was really real. It saddened him because since finding his finding him in the middle of nowhere, Ed had grown to trust Mustang implicitly. Before Envy had come into the picture, he'd hazard to say he trusted him with his life- with Alphonse's life.

Maybe if they got out of this alive and he could properly assure himself that Mustang was really Mustang, he could work around it and they could get back to the place they'd been before capture, but only maybe. There would be a lot to deal with before worrying about that, though.

When the flap of the tent opened to reveal Mustang right then, Edward wondered if Envy couldn't read minds, because he seemed to have impeccable timing.

Funny enough, the man was brought in by guards and had his hands bound behind his back. He looked worse for wear, bruised and scraped where Edward could see his skin (he'd been stripped of his shirt as well). His hair was matted with what looked like blood and he had crimson dripping steadily from a particularly nasty gash in his lip.

When they made eye contact the Colonel's eyes widened and he pulled against his guards. He almost seemed surprised when they released him, sending him stumbling, almost falling over before he could right himself. The two men who Edward didn't recognize stepped out and Edward appraised battered adult before him.

He had to admit, Envy got better with every visit. If he hadn't known better Edward might have believed it was the actual Mustang standing before him, looking on with what looked to be a mixture of horror and pity.

When the other made no attempt to come any closer Edward dared to scoff. It seemed Envy wanted to try out a new tactic, though he wasn't quite sure what it was yet, because if he thought he could garner any sympathy from looking so crappy he was dense.

The noise seemed to pull Not-Mustang out of whatever trance he'd been in and Edward followed his every movement carefully when the man knelt down so he was eye-level with him. He still wore that soft, sorrowful expression and somehow it was worse than the various glares and smiles he'd seen on the Colonel's face lately. It felt too genuine, which was a ridiculous thought, but one he couldn't shake off no matter how he tried.

"Edward."

He kept his voice just as soft as his eyes and came no closer, but Edward still found himself flinching back a little bit. It was hard not to react that way when he'd grown used to any of those comments being followed up with an act of violence.

"Sorry," Not-Mustang apologized and Edward narrowed his eyes, wondering just what he was playing at.

The man cleared his throat, glancing over his shoulder as if he actually expected someone to come in at any moment to pull him away. That made Edward's pinched expression become a glare, because it just felt insulting at that point, that Envy would bother to pretend like that when he should've known that Edward was well aware of the fact that no guards would be coming in to gather anyone or stop anything that happened.

"Hey, what's that look for?" Not-Mustang frowned and inched forward. Edward instinctively drew his legs closer to his own body. That only seemed to confuse the fake Colonel more, because he sounded decidedly worried and maybe offended when he spoke again.

"Kid, what's the matter? I'm not going to- what's that?"

Edward blinked at him, not following his line of questioning until he caught how Mustang- Not-Mustang was staring at his neck. He hadn't seen it himself but Edward imagined he had a pretty impressive bruise there; Envy's grip had felt particularly crushing in that moment.

He swallowed hard and hunched his shoulders, doing his best to hide the injury. He would bet anything that Mustang had pointed it out just to make him remember the moment when he'd felt like everything was spiraling out of control and he could do nothing but weakly beg for an end to the sensation of falling into nothingness. Sick bastard.

"Who did that to you?"

He sounded angry- or there'd been a quaver to his voice that didn't sound like it'd been caused by teeth chattering, anyway. Edward scoffed again, pulling his knees to his chest but not taking his eyes off of the man who'd gotten closer still in his feigned concern. Edward clamped down on the desire to answer with something like, "I don't know, you tell me.", since he knew how badly it would hurt his raw throat. Plus, he didn't feel like getting started with the kicking and hair-pulling just yet. Still he didn't want to let Envy think he'd been completely cowed.

He shrugged.

In response to that Mustang sighed and shook his head before dropping to his butt and rolling onto his back. Edward watched with growing confusion as the man brought his legs up to hook on the inside of where his wrists met behind his back. He caught onto what he was doing right about the time Mustang had gotten himself into a nearly comical position with his back arched off the ground and his knees slipping through the loop of his arms. A moment later he sat himself back up, his hands bound in front rather than behind.

Edward's lip quirked as he was both impressed by the trick he thought few people knew and amused by the fact that Mustang breathed a little heavier from some exertion. However, when he saw the man's hands, that smirk was wiped from his face. The first thing he registered was that he didn't have gloves on, which Envy had never done before. The second thing was the unnatural angles he could see the fingers on his left hand that made him want to cringe in sympathy. He remembered well what broken bones felt like, and he didn't wish that on anyone. He'd always hated the sensation of part of his body being out of place.

Mustang didn't seem all that bothered by it, aside from a wince when he resituated his sitting position and jostled the appendage a little. That fact made Edward remember that it wasn't real, not the injury nor the man, and suddenly he felt very little sympathy for him.

If Not-Mustang had seen the brief smirk on his face before, he made no mention of it. Ed supposed it didn't matter if he had, seeing as there was nothing he could do about it now.

Edward forget himself in his own thoughts for a moment that when he registered that Mustang had moved closer, it was too late to shift away (and there was only so far he could go, being attached to a pole and all). When the Colonel placed a hand on his flesh shoulder part of Edward wanted to allow the contact since it didn't appear malicious, and if he allowed himself to pretend it was the real Mustang, it could've been comforting, something he wouldn't have passed up at that point.

But it wasn't real, and Not-Mustang never offered comfort unless he was going to follow it with abuse, and Edward didn't feel like giving him the opportunity to get him with his guard down. He jerked as far away from the man as he could while slapping his hand away.

"Don't touch me!"

He regretted growling out out the command as soon as it left his mouth, sending knives down his damaged throat and causing him to cough.

The noise seemed to only make Not-Mustang get closer and Edward did his best to glare in an intimidating manner, which he wasn't sure how well he managed since he was choking on nothing but the sensation of pain. That seemed to halt his advances at least, and much to Ed's surprise. He wasn't about to complain, though. If Envy wanted to pretend to be decent, he would let him. He had everything to gain from doing that, it seemed.

It didn't stop the man from asking him what was going on and what they'd done to him, though. He sounded so damn sincere and worried, like he honestly couldn't figure out what the problem was, that Edward wanted to spit on him and throw him out using some alchemy-infused snow golem or something. He had no right to talk to him that way. He probably knew that, which was why he bothered to at all.

Envy had gotten better, though, he'd grant him that. He almost had him believing it was the real Mustang. Heck, he even wanted to believe that he was the real Mustang.

He refused to let his guard down, though, and Edward couldn't find a better way to reply to that than to snear and shake his head. He refused to let Envy get him like that. He refused.

That seemed to be the pattern for the rest of the evening after that. Mustang kept his distance but continued to probe gently, asking little things like if they'd drugged him again, or if they'd asked him for any new information. Little things that Edward always answered with eye rolls and grimaces, feeling no need to use actual words when every word being spoken was a ploy to get him to crack further.

It struck him as strange, that Not-Mustang never once asked him if he was okay. It sounded like something Envy would go for, since it would give Edward the option to break down and admit that, no, he was doing poorly and wanted out.

The fact that this Mustang hadn't asked that question or any question similar to it made it harder to think about the fact that he wasn't real. The real Mustang would've left him be on those topics, knowing the questions were idiotic, because he clearly wasn't okay. Not even a little bit okay.

It got to the point where Edward found he couldn't even bring himself to look at the alchemist for fear of giving into his desires to believe that he could be trusted. It was funny, how quickly his mind turned on itself when he was faced with the actual subject of interest. He'd been so sure that it would be difficult to even consider trusting Mustang after everything Envy had done, and yet here he was, doing his best to not do just that when he knew for a fact the person sitting next to him wasn't the real Mustang.

Talk about pathetic.

The time passed both quickly and much too slowly, but Edward didn't even realize that fact until the two guards from before stepped in without warning and strode in towards the Colonel. Mustang snarled at them, standing to his full height and balling his good hand into a fist, which made Edward want to laugh at the theatricality of it all. Everything since Mustang had walked in had been a big show.

Normally Envy just walked in as the Colonel when he wanted to bug him and then out once he was done, he never bothered with a show of force to make things appear more realistic. Edward wasn't sure what inspired the change in tactics, but it was beyond ridiculous to him.

Maybe it was also a little surprising to him as well, since it was such an unusual and unnecessary display. There was also the fact that during the entire "session" (he didn't have a better name for their time together yet) Must- Envy had left him alone, and normally he never left without doing at least something mildly harmful to him first.

When the guards reached the Colonel, Edward watched with some mild amusement tinged with astonishment when the man kicked the first away in a manner that reminded Ed of the fighting techniques taught to Amestrian soldiers (Envy had done his research on more than just how to be a General it seemed), and swung his bound arms into the face of the other, knocking both of them back a bit.

Edward caught himself when he almost smiled. He wouldn't deny that seeing any Drachman get hit felt like a kind of justice in and of itself, but he also had to remind himself that he couldn't cheer that Mustang on. He couldn't have them thinking he was on his side. Obviously he wasn't in the slightest.

Mustang looked to be gearing up for another go at the men when someone else entered the fray, coming behind the Colonel and stabbing a small needle into the juncture between his neck and shoulder. The next thing Edward knew, Mustang was collapsing onto the ground in a paralyzed heap that he recognized was a result of the drug he'd been given the last time he'd been there by himself.

That wasn't what had his eyes widening in shock though. No, it was the face that stared back at him, syringe still in hand and an impossibly wide grin stretching his lips: Ford.

Edward's attention flew between him and the wide-eyed Mustang who was being gathered up by the guards, realization hitting him like a freight train.

The man he'd been with for the last hour, the one he'd ignored, pushed away, and yelled at because he'd thought he was Envy… was the actual Mustang.

He'd had the real Mustang, right in front of him and hadn't even realized it because he'd been so sure Envy had just found the right way to act. Mustang had been there, injured but solid and real. He'd seen the way they'd hurt him, tried to comfort him, and Edward had turned him away because he couldn't trust anything… because of Envy. Because that bastard had taken away his ability to realize what was right in front of him.

His breath hitched in his throat in a way that had nothing to do with the pain he felt there and he didn't miss the cackle from Ford as Mustang was dragged from his sight, into the cold to be placed back wherever they'd been keeping him locked away.

No… Mustang…

Ed wasn't sure if he'd actually said the man's name aloud, but it felt like he had, his tongue tasting of ash, guilt, anger, and an indescribable amount of regret.

Lullabies and Lies

They had arrived in the night with little ceremony and even less formality. Wesson had not been pleased in the slightest, the looks she'd shot the team the entire time while speaking with Captain Buccaneer and Major Miles making that more than clear. Riza was surprised the Major General sent over the two men who were rumored to be her best along with such a sizable troop force. It spoke volumes, she thought, to how seriously Olivier was taking the situation.

Colonel Wesson took the invasion of Briggs soldiers as graciously as she could, though Riza had the feeling once the war was finished she, Roy, and the others were going to have quite the report filed against them. People like Wesson did not appreciate insubordination. However, if it meant getting the Colonel and Edward back, she would readily take whatever punishment the higher-ups would dole out. She knew the rest of the team felt the same. Roy was the reason any of them had met in the first place, and they'd all worked together for so long they knew the others' quirks like the back of their hands. They might as well have been a separate military division with how efficiently they worked in so many different areas.

Miles, if nobody else, seemed to understand and respect that, because even though there were plenty of available personnel there that outranked her, he'd sought Riza out to get a better grasp of the tactical situation. She had met the man a couple of times during training exercises and political-based meetings, but very few times had she had the opportunity to interact with him. After talking with him only a few minutes, Riza decided she appreciated his calm demeanor and ability to get straight to the point.

A single day had passed since his and the Briggs soldiers arrivals, meaning it had been a little over two days that Edward and the Colonel had been gone. Falman had left the same day they'd arrived at the camp, taking the supplies back to the main troops with the assistance of another soldier Wesson had assigned to assist him. Not long after that they had worked on a plan for extracting the two alchemists that would cause the least amount of hassle… and then they'd had to catch Buccaneer and Miles up on that plan. Those two had had their own input on the situation, tweaking the rescue plans where they thought necessary. Convincing the Captain that they could not do any charging in or killing until they'd secured the captives had required a lot of compromise, but they'd eventually settled on what Riza deemed to be the safest route.

It had been an exhausting few days.

Finally though, it was time to go. Outwardly she remained calm, the pillar of strength her team needed, but inwardly Riza was squirming, impatient as she waited for the soldiers to gear up. They had already waited longer than she was strictly comfortable with and her brain was not exactly kind when she thought about what state Mustang and Edward might be in and how it could affect their getting out of the camp.

She turned to look at the others, who appeared as antsy on the outside as she felt. Breda was going over the plan with the others once more, who all looked relieved to have something to talk about. Even Havoc was talking, which was unlike him when he was confident and laid back, which told Riza just how worried they all were that something would get screwed up somehow. She couldn't blame them.

Still, she also had to be the leader and reassure them despite her own lingering trepidation. Turning Blaze around, Riza rode over to the others and tuned in to what they were saying.

"... and you're positive that any snow won't interfere with this?"

"Yeah," Fuery responded to Breda, "because any signal I tune into that isn't ours is going to be theirs. And the clearer the feed gets, the closer we'll be."

Havoc frowned. "So, that thing is basically a metal detector for radios?"

Fuery ducted his head, fidgeting with the device in question even as he nodded. "I like to think it's a little more distinguished than that, but sure, same principle."

Ah yes, the signal detector. They had gone over the logistics of how it worked the night before, and Havoc and Breda already understood. Fuery had gone into great detail how he would adjust the radio to pick up frequencies that they did not use in order to track the Drachmans. They would have to get at a closer range than they currently were, but he'd assumed them that once they got back to the spot where they'd been ambushed, it should work fine. The men were only going over all of that again because they were stressed.

Riza clicked her tongue and the group's attention turned to her. She did not disapprove of their methods for remaining level-headed, but they were about to leave and she needed them thinking more clearly than that. She needed them to get into the mission mindset, where nobody did too much chit-chatting and any time spent talking was in order to go over new concepts. She cared enough about them that she didn't want them fixating on the one variable that would be the key to them finding their alchemists.

"Remember, the main focus is getting Edward and the Colonel to safety."

"Right." The responded curtly.

"Also remember-" Riza lowered her voice, "-that we keep Edward out of sight for as long as possible."

Havoc gave her a thumbs-up. "You got it, boss."

Riza nodded, satisfied with the answers from the group. Breda and Havoc took a few steps back, their mounts huffing at being told to move a few feet before stopping again. Fuery almost seemed grateful for the reprieve.

"Hawkeye!"

Riza turned her head sharply to meet Mile's gaze from where he stood by Buccaneer. The Major nodded to her people, his question clear. Riza nodded back in response. They were ready when he was.

Miles got the message and nudged Buccaneer's arm. The bear of a man smiled grimly and raised his voice so it echoed across the entire camp. "Alright you lot, let's get a move on!"

Riza tightened her grip on Blaze's reigns before urging her forward. They couldn't have been more than a day's travel from the Drachmans. And if everything went as planned, they were just as close to the Colonel as they were to victory. If everything played out right, they could go home soon.


They were persistent bastards.

Roy grunted as he shifted against his restraints, careful not to damage is hand any more than it already was even as the motion jostled his cracked arm. It seemed that they'd been saving the proper torture until after he'd seen the state Edward was in. After that incident Roy had had the pleasure of being introduced to Major Maksim, who wasted no time pulling out several army tactics for making people talk.

It could have been worse, all things considered. Roy decided that some cuts and broken bones were nothing when compared to what Fullmetal had to be going through. He'd looked like shit when he'd seen him. Roy had been prepared to fight the entire camp when he'd seen the kid, but Edward's reaction had stopped him from doing so. He had no clue what they'd done to make Edward so distrusting of him, but that was what they'd done.

Roy knew what Edward looked like when he was mad at him- he was his superior and had done more to piss him off then perhaps anyone else ever had. But something about Edward's reactions had been different. He'd glared hatred at him, sure, but there had been fear there too. He'd been apprehensive, and… well, he'd been freaking out over being touched more lately, but he hadn't reacted that violently in a while.

The purple and black bruising around the kid's neck was another thing entirely.

Roy felt like ripping someone's throat out every time he thought about it. Of course they were touching the kid, but… those bruises spoke to a strong hold for too long. They could've killed him. Perhaps they'd been close to doing so.

Despite all of that, though, there was something else he'd noticed about Edward. He'd regained more fire behind his eyes. Even as he'd been flinching away from him, Roy hadn't missed the way the gold screamed defiance where his throat didn't. It flipped his stomach, seeing that Edward hadn't given up yet, despite everything.

When they had found the kid in the snow, Roy had been worried that Edward wouldn't be able to return to the fiery person he used to be. So seeing him beaten down and still looking like he would try to cut someone the minute he was freed was surprisingly encouraging. Roy wished that fire hadn't returned in the midst of this shit, though.

Even with those thoughts in mind, there was one thing about their whole situation that wasn't sitting right with him. Roy thought back to the questions Major Maksim had asked. They'd been alchemy related ones for awhile. How did it work, specifically, how did his alchemy work? It was a fair line of questioning, seeing as how his reputation from Ishval did preceded him. But once they got into things like military and Amestrian battle tactics, things had gotten confusing. The real clincher had been when Maksim asked about their battle plans for the current, ongoing fight.

Edward had said Ford was the one giving away information. But Ford was a higher rank than even himself and should know the things Maksim wanted to know, minus maybe the information about alchemists. After all, Ford may not have been in the Ishvalan war, but he knew a great deal about the military and their tactics. He also worked in Central and should know very well what their battle tactics for this war were. Some of the things hadn't been adding up.

He given then no information to work with regardless, but still, something was off. He didn't know what it was yet, but he had a distinct feeling that it was going to be big. His mind went back to Hughes then. His friend had been talking about how danger and the military. Had he stumbled upon something that had to do with what was going on now?

The thought of that made him nauseous as rage poured into his veins. If the reason Hughes had died were somehow related to this war and these people, he would make sure someone paid dearly. Especially since Edward had gotten mixed up in all of it, and he would never forgive himself for that, and if Hughes were there, he would've kicked his ass for letting it happen.

That was the thought going through his head when Maksim returned with his grunt and another soldier.

When the two unnamed men hauled him to his feet Roy bit down a groan. Maksim smirked as they worked to undo him from the post, no doubt noticing the short winces that crossed his face with each jostling movement. Roy met his gaze and glared hard.

He highly doubted the man had anything new to bring up for interrogation, and he had to know by now that no information was going to be given… so what was their angle? And where was Ford in all of this?

He had to get out and figure out what was going on, and he had to do it soon. First though, he had to get Edward to trust him again. How to do that? He hadn't a clue.


He was tired. Always tired, and always fighting to stay awake.

It was worse now though, because now he had mental and emotional whiplash to accompany that exhaustion.

At that point he wasn't sure when the man who came in was Envy and when he was Mustang. He got the feeling the real Colonel had only been before him that one time, but he couldn't have been certain of it. He liked to think the person they'd been bringing in was Envy, because if the blindfolded person they kept bringing in and forcing him to watch be tormented was real…

Edward swallowed hard, trying and failing for the upteenth time to get the gag in his mouth out. They'd put it in the night before when they'd first brought the maybe-Mustang in and hadn't bothered removing it.

In all likelihood that man had been the real Mustang. Edward wouldn't have put it past Envy to pretend though, because he knew the little freak could heal himself, and it wasn't like the Drachmans were above dirty trickery to get things they wanted. Even without being a tactician it was easy to figure that they were wanting to destroy him, and then when he got so bad he might as well be dead they'd use him to get Mustang to talk.

Simple as that plan may be, the idea of it still made Edward snort. If they thought the Colonel would give up the entire Amestrian army for him, they were idiots of the truest form. Mustang didn't care about him that much. Edward was pretty sure the man wouldn't even risk the army for his team.

It helped to think that way. It assuaged the bits of guilt he felt about the whole situation while it also gave him something new to have in his mind to prevent falling asleep. He didn't know why he was even avoiding sleeping at that point, (what could happen at that point that hadn't already?) but something in his brain told him it would be a bad idea. He was pretty keen on listening to his head, especially when it registered things for him when he nearly missed them.

Like the shuffling of feet outside that he knew were headed for him.

He sat up a bit straighter when Pouty and Handsy, the new guy who liked letting his touch linger, came in, came in, pulling a blinded and unhappy looking maybe-Mustang with them. When he caught sight of Void behind them he deflated a bit. It was harder to posture when that one was around- he had a way of scaring you just by being nearby. Or maybe only people who were on the end of his care thought of him that way. Whatever.

The group stopped once everyone was inside and the silence was stifling up until the point Pouty released the struggling man and turned to leave. Handsy gave the arm he had hold of what looked to be a tight squeeze and Edward didn't miss the way maybe-Mustang's jaw clenched.

The two guards went to Void and the man stepped closer to the still-standing captive.

"Ten minutes," he stated quietly before shoving maybe-Mustang forward and making him topple over from loss of balance.

After that, the three Drachmans took their leave.

The whole exchange left Edward thoroughly confused. They'd left "Mustang" alone with him enough times by now that this was weird. Normally they just dropped him off with little ceremony and let Envy kick the shit out of him.

The man got his hands in front of him like real Mustang had, though he was slower about it and favored the arm Handsy had grabbed. He was quick to remove the blindfold next. His movements were similar to real Mustang, too. He didn't trust any of it yet, but he did allow the man to remove his gag when he saw it and scowled.

As soon as the offending cloth was removed maybe-Mustang put a few feet between them again.

"Edward…" He started slowly, like he had back when the team had found him, like he was a feral animal. Although, given how he'd treated him the last time he'd tried to speak to him, Edward supposed that was fair- If this was real Mustang, anyway.

"You know who I am, right?"

Edward wanted to laugh at him, because that was just hilarious. If it was Envy that made it even funnier, because it meant he had to be running low on ideas for messing with him. If it wasn't Envy… well then it was just sad, wasn't it?

Dammit.

And he hadn't said anything, so the Colonel was looking at him like he was a child who didn't speak Amestrian. Edward sighed softly. He really didn't want to talk. His throat had hurt the last time he'd been left alone with maybe-Mustang, and it hurt double so now. He'd tried to not be affected by the torture of maybe-Mustang earlier, but he hadn't been able to contain his shout when they'd broken the man's arm and another finger. He didn't want to speak now, even as he knew that he had to. He couldn't miss the opportunity in case this was the real Colonel.

But first… to find out whether or not this person was even Mustang.

"Why don't-" he winced and coughed softly. Why did this have to be so obnoxious?

Maybe-Mustang seemed concerned and he shook his head at him before trying once more.

"Prove it's you."

He wanted to believe what he already felt was likely true, and he didn't want to waste time not trusting him, but he also refused to do so unless maybe-Mustang could provide him with something that only the real Colonel would know.

The man seemed to understand that at the very least, crestfallen as he appeared. Edward refused to let himself be swayed by any emotion his expressions might have evoked. He'd been fooled too many times already.

"Okay," maybe-Mustang started, clicking his tongue. No doubt he was thinking of something to come up with. Edward waited and worked to soothe the ache in his throat for when he inevitably had to speak again.

"Okay. Alright, I got a few. Your brother's name is Alphonse, he's a soul bonded to armor. He got that way because you did human transmutation on your mom. Your automail is made by your friend, Winry Rockbell. Yeah?"

Edward frowned and shook his head. That might have been good enough for other people, but in his case, there was one big clincher: Quite a few military personnel had seen Alphonse thanks to the Scar incident.

"Anyone who gets ahold'a my file would know that crap. Try again."

Maybe-probably-Mustang tapped the fingers of his good hand against his knees while he hummed in thought.

"I dunno, you freak out when people call you short. You think I'm a lazy bastard?"

Edward exhaled in a small sort of laugh. Maybe it was Envy after all, seeing as how lame these answer attempts were. "Everyone and their dog knows you're a lazy bastard. That's no special reveal."

"Okay, y'know what? This is getting us nowhere."

He sounded pretty exasperated at that point and Edward tensed up. Well, it was fun to play around for even two minutes. That had to be a record for Envy. Normally he was a lot more impatient, so he was getting good at the very least. Edward was glad he at least hadn't fallen for any tricks this time around. That was a victory to him. He just hoped whatever he was going to do to him wasn't bad enough to knock him out this time-

"Calm down, Fullmetal."

Edward opened his eyes -he hadn't realized he'd closed them- and met "Mustang's" frown.

"I was just going to say that I think you should ask the questions. That way you can decide if it's me."

Oh.

It was the first thing he'd heard in the last few days that made proper sense and it made Edward pause. It wasn't a bad idea either- pretty good, actually. He had a good idea of how the real Colonel would answer things, and he was certain that Envy couldn't know as much about the man as he did. After all, he was the one who had to work under Mustang and get used to his stupid quirks and brand of humor.

But what was he supposed to ask for true confirmation? What type of information was only privy to the Colonel? The team was the first thing that came to mind, but Edward discarded the idea quickly for the same reasons he couldn't trust the things this man knew about him. The whole team was on file, and a lot of personal information was found in those things- names, ages, residential addresses, psychological evaluations, the works. He could ask various questions specific to each member of their group, but he couldn't be sure what Envy did and didn't know.

Lieutenant Hawkeye came to mind after that, and while the thought made Edward cackle on the inside, he discarded it for the same reason he had Mustang's reputation. If there was anyone who worked anywhere near the Colonel who didn't know he and Hawkeye had a vibe around each other, Edward would've been shocked.

Maybe something more current… Yeah, Envy can't make shit up in that case.

But which part of their time together after the Colonel had found him would he go with? He could ask about the nightmares, but it would be kinda obvious that someone would have nightmares after all of… that. So that line of questioning wouldn't be good. No, what he needed was something that, under any other circumstances, Mustang would be mortified to reveal. Something like…

"What's that song you hummed?"

The memory, recent as it was, had stuck with him and Edward latched onto it right then, because it was his best bet at rooting out the real deal. He seriously doubted anyone knew Mustang could sing, much less knew any soothing sounding songs. That sounded like something the man would take to the grave, which was why it was perfect.

The pinched, confused expression maybe-Mustang wore had Edward's heart hammering against his ribs. The anticipation felt nearly tangible and when he caught the man's mouth forming a silent "what?" his breath caught in his throat. He'd been preparing to feel a wave of relief when Mustang answered and proved he was really himself, but… he didn't look like he understood what he was getting at. So… the chances that it wasn't really him were steadily rising.

The sound of a clearing throat was much too loud and Edward curled his hand into a fist to keep from flinching.

"It's uh… it's something I remember from my mom. It's dumb, but…"

Edward narrowed his eyes at the babbling. He certainly sounded embarrassed, which added points to real Mustang, but until he heard some singing, he refused to give any positive reactions. From the sound of it, though, the man was just giving some background before he did it. For the time being he ignored the fact that Mustang would reveal anything about his past like that. He'd always sorta assumed the man just popped out of the dirt one day to spread exasperation throughout the world. Thinking about him as a child, who needed a mom to sing to him… well, it was weird.

When Mustang opened his mouth to sing in a hushed tone, though… that was weirder.

"You are brave

you are true

A gift to me

Precious too

If e'er you find

your heart is blue

Just think of me

I'll be with you

Don't count the distance

No matter how far

Whether be beside you

Or far beyond the stars

I'll be with you

My babe so true

Strong and brave

Precious too."

The awkwardness he may have felt over the sappiness of the words was lost in how relieved he was that that was the real Mustang. The whistled tune would've been enough, but he couldn't deny that hearing the words behind it filled him with a weird sort of warmth that combated the cold that constantly wracked him with shivers.

It sounded like something his own mom might have sang to him, if singing had been her thing. And Mustang had hummed it for him when he'd been doubting his bravery...

Aaaaand that brought things back to awkward. He hadn't forgotten the fact that the Colonel had totally called him "his kid" when Envy'd made a grab at him.

Mustang clearly noticed the difference in how he held himself and moved closer. Edward didn't flinch away and decided to keep the awkwardness private for the time being. According to Void they only had ten minutes, and they'd probably just wasted four of those.

That thought made any other thoughts that might have come forth stop cold. Void had brought the real Mustang to him and left, taking the guards with him. He'd given them a window to devise a plan of escape… and he hadn't tried to torture either of them.

Why?

It made no sense that Void was suddenly being like that. What happened? What had changed? Was this just another ploy to get information? Get him to trust that the person Void brings in is the real Mustang so that he talks freely? It was a clever tactic if that was the case, but then… why give him the real Colonel?

"Kid, talk to me, what did they do?"

Oh, Mustang had been talking to him.

Edward shook his head and hunched his shoulders when the man's fingers brushed against the bruises on his neck. An involuntary shudder that had nothing to do with the cold passed through him and he heard Mustang mutter a short apology.

"It's fine," he rasped. He couldn't have the Colonel treating him with kiddie gloves right now. Time was of the essence and they had to get a few things sorted immediately. First thing was first, though: Mustang had to know why he had to prove himself at all.

"They have a homunculus guy who can turn into different people. He's been pretending to be you. Don't ask why."

He could already see all the different questions the Colonel wanted to ask, and while he wanted to answer them, he wanted to not destroy his throat more, selfish as that may have been. Besides, Mustang wasn't an idiot and had probably already discerned why Envy had been impersonating him. The way he was staring at the marks around his neck like he wanted to rip someone's head off certainly spoke to that conclusion.

Edward couldn't help but let him know that he still hadn't said anything, and that their plans hadn't worked in breaking him so far. They wouldn't. It hurt, but seeing Mustang's glare smooth out to be replaced by something he dared to imagine was pride made up for that.

"Well, there's that."

Mustang pat his shoulder and Edward's attention went to his hands, honing in on the damaged one. Not only would healing from that take time, but he wouldn't be able to use alchemy through that hand either. He was at least lucky in the respect that all he needed in order to perform his alchemy again was repaired automail, which would probably only take Winry a few days. Mustang was looking at a couple weeks, easily.

Even as he knew it was illogical he couldn't help but feel responsible for those injuries. If he had been more careful in his first escape he might not have been followed, and then Mustang would be alright.

Stop. No dwelling on that.

Right. They were on a timer that wouldn't pause for him to have a pity party. That could be reserved for later. For now, there was the matter of escape.

"What's the plan?"

Without missing a beat Mustang sat up straighter and asked if he knew which tent he was in.

"Mmmm…" Edward closed his eyes and worked to picture everything he'd caught glimpse of when people entered the tent. At night there was always some light chattering going on outside, and when Void had come in that one time there had been fire…

"Oh! Campfire. Wherever they set it up, that's mine."

"You're sure?"

"Mhmm. Best guess is because they think if you were gonna escape you'd come and get me."

Which, yeah right! Only an idiot would waste time coming after me. The smarter move would be getting to the others. I'm not more important than the lives of the entire army.

Edward decided not to add any of that because it would probably open a whole new can of worms that they had no time to chat about now. Roy had been in a weirdly uplifting mood last time he'd properly seen him.

In response the Colonel smirked, a sharp one, different from the sneaky or cheeky ones Edward had seen on his face in the past. He looked kind of like a wolf getting prepared for a hunt- well, what he imagined a wolf would look like anyway.

"Good," he said quietly, nodding to himself. "And you know when the nightly guard change is, yes?"

Edward nodded and Roy pat his shoulder again. "I'm not going to tell you the plan, because-" he jerked his head towards the tent flap and Edward understood. Already he could hear commotion going on outside, like someone was heading their way. Their time was probably up.

Roy lowered his voice further and Edward jumped when the man's mouth was suddenly by his ear. "Just be ready to run at the exchange tomorrow."

He was nodding again when Roy was suddenly back in the spot Void had pushed him. The footsteps were so close now Edward could hear the snow crunching. "Hey," he hissed, "you think I'm fake!"

Edward shot him a smirk before quickly curling up and schooling his expression so he was glaring at the man when Void returned with the guards. The torturer stared at him from where he stood behind Mustang for a long second and Edward swallowed hard but refused to stop from glaring. He didn't have to fear him anymore, because Mustang had a plan.

Void stared still, narrowing his eyes a moment, as if he was searching for something and couldn't seem to find it. Edward's glare deepened and he shifted his gaze from Mustang to the Drachman.

"Go away."

Something like surprise seemed to cross Void's face briefly and Edward had to keep his own disbelief from showing. He'd never been able to discern anything from the man's facial expressions, so the sudden ability to do so was shocking. He had no clue what the surprise was about, but as the guards put the blindfold back on Mustang and they all left, he chose not to think about it.

He had more important things on his mind, like sleeping. If he was going to be expected to run, he needed to be capable of going a good distance before his legs would give out on him, so he'd need at least a little rest under his belt. He couldn't let fear of Envy coming in at any moment keep him from building as much strength as he could, and for some reason, he didn't feel like he needed to fear Void coming in at all.

Regardless of any of those factors, though, he knew he needed to make the most of the rest of the day. They couldn't risk an escape attempt right after they'd been left alone together -anyone with a brain would be expecting that- so he held onto the promise Mustang left with him as he let his eyes shut.

Tomorrow.

Aversion and Adrenaline

Mistakes had been made, and there was no sugarcoating or getting around it. Sergeant Petrov had heard a short bit of the Flame Colonel and Fullmetal Alchemist's discussion about a potential future escape, even after he'd told the oaf of a man to do his rounds and stay away from the prisoners. He'd assured the Sergeant his intuition could be trusted, and had clearly indicated that the alchemists wouldn't try anything this time around, so it would be safe to leave them to their devices.

He'd done everything he could to ensure a clean, quiet, private window for the two Amestrians to converse, but even still, the soldier had disobeyed him in order to follow his gut. Any other time, he might have been proud of the initiative shown by one of his subordinates. Currently, he was nothing short of irked.

Meanwhile, Petrov had a new spring in his step, a lightness that only resulted from being praised by someone of higher ranking. Artyom slid his hands into his uniform jacket and rolled his eyes. Petrov always had been too eager to please- he didn't look like he'd even considered the possible repercussions of his insubordination. Nobody would have bat an eye if Artyom demoted him for such an action. Although, nobody would be surprised if he let Petrov get away with it, either.

He may have been revered as the person who always had the most interesting position in their faction, but everyone knew he found his job an unsavory one on the best of days because at his core, he cared about people. It was true, his subordinates were given the most care, but that was mostly due to the fact that he preferred the company of healthy, happy people, over bloody near-corpses.

It was disappointing that some idiot had decided "torturer" would be more useful than "diplomat" this time around. Volkov had been adamant that he'd be getting a promotion. He'd held back a scoff at that, because how was returning to an old job a promotion? Artyom just felt cheated and underappreciated.

Of course, what he did he did for the good of the Motherland, and he would not spit on that, but that did not remove the way he felt about his talents being wasted on torture methods he'd perfected near eight years ago. Nobody dared speak that knowledge aloud though, for fear of his temper flaring. That was fine by him, since the last thing he wanted was for the higher-ups to hear about his disenchantment with what he did.

For the meantime, however, he had more pressing things to worry about than whether or not a high ranking officer knew his occupational preferences, because he had to deal with Petrov. Petrov, who didn't believe in discretion. The man had a big mouth, and when he thought he had information that would get him into someone's good graces he'd give it, typically sparing no detail. It was why Artyom rarely allowed him near any conversation if the topic was remotely important, and why he'd ordered him away from the prisoner area.

Petrov was a damn lapdog, though, so if he sensed that something was even the slightest bit off, he'd investigate, even if it meant going against orders. It made him a hell of a soldier, but it also made him a liability. Artyom liked his people to be careful, contemplative, and, above all, quiet. Petrov was none of those things, and if Artyom had had any say when Volkov assembled the team, he would have told him to drop the Sergeant altogether.

Sadly, his opinion meant very little when they were in the middle of a war, while the word of a soldier apparently meant quite a bit. He just hoped that soldier had somehow neglected to let General Volkov know who it was who had let Colonel Mustang speak to the Fullmetal child. If he hadn't, then Artyom would want to ensure that he never got the chance to again. However, considering the haste in which the General had summoned he and the Sergeant, Artyom got the feeling the man knew everything.

Perhaps, instead of stewing on his irritation with Petrov, he should be preparing to be sent to the front lines.

He could talk his way out of the situation, probably -he did do that for a living when he wasn't ordered to go breaking fingers, after all- but Volkov had always been a skeptic at the best of times… and that snake, Ford, had only made him worse. It didn't matter that Artyom had worked with the General for nearly twenty-three years, because Ford had already planted a seed of distrust within Volkov, which Artyom had sensed almost immediately upon their reunion in Amestris. The way the man had treated him, holding him at arms-length, questioning his plans, and then going so far as to order him back to his roots in order to torture a teenager… all of that had been after Volkov had started speaking with the Amestrian soldier, and Artyom refused to believe it was coincidence.

The likelihood that Volkov would believe whatever story he came up with was slim at best, especially since Petrov refused to be dishonest with the General. Artyom wouldn't have encouraged lying under normal circumstances, but seeing as how things had been progressing, he hadn't been able to sit around and wait for one of their captives to die. Neither alchemist was giving them any information. It did not help that the line of questioning was passed down to him from Ford, who didn't seem to have any clue how interrogation worked. Artyom had gotten the feeling quite a few times that the man got off on the torture and didn't truly care about any helpful results.

It made Artyom even more disgusted with him. Baseless violence was a poor excuse for justice, and violence against children was just… tasteless. It may have been necessary on the rare occasion, but it was never pleasant, getting information out of them. Artyom sneered at the memory of that little Cretan spy, who'd been sent as a tester when children informants had been the new revolutionary idea. The fact that those dirty lowlifes had resorted to training children to steal government secrets and sneaking said children across the border had been cheap. The fact that the Drachman military had sanctioned a week of suffering for a nine year old had been the entire reason for his transfer over to public affairs.

But now he was back at it again, because Ford had convinced Volkov that it was the route to go. Artyom hated that sandy-haired bastard.

As he and Petrov entered the tent their General resided in, the sight of the Amestrian standing beside the man had Artyom removing every trace of emotion he could think of from his face. He could've been thinking about his family, or he could have been wondering how many times he could smack Ford before he was out cold, and nobody would be the wiser. Maybe that wouldn't help his case either way, but it would be risky to let his commanding officer see any trace of the contempt he felt for the blond.

Petrov stood proudly by his side, reminding Artyom of a bloodhound who'd caught the illusive fox. The analogy almost made him quirk a smirk over how fitting it was.

"Major Maksim," Volkov greeted and Artyom inclined his head, ignoring Ford completely, before his General continued. "De Sergeant caught you up on vhat dis is 'bout, da?"

Artyom nodded sharply and curbed the terseness in his tone as much as he could in the moment. "Indeed, he did, Sir."

"And vhat do you dink 'bout problem?"

Artyom gave the question some thought, leaving the group in silence for a moment. It wasn't an unusual thing for him to do, so Volkov would at least think nothing of it. Ford on the other hand, was staring in that predatory way that he did and Artyom did his best to pretend he didn't exist. The snake had nothing to contribute the the current conversation, since he had undoubtedly already whispered his ideas into Volkov's ear prior to his and Petrov's entrance. He got the feeling it didn't matter what he told Volkov so long as the Amestrian was in the room. He just needed to focus on keeping himself out of trouble for as long as possible. That meant keeping his answers short and simple, and giving very little away.

"I think that our prisoners are planning to escape."

To his surprise and distaste, Ford was the one to follow-up on that answer.

"And what do you plan to do about that?"

Even the way he spoke made Artyom's blood curdle and he tightened his jaw, reminding himself to maintain control over himself and the situation. It wasn't that big of a deal that the Amestrian addressed him, even if it did make him feel like he was speaking to the incarnation of evil. The question itself wasn't that complicated, though, and Artyom gave a small shrug.

"I'm not in charge here. I feel like we should defer to the General."

In saying that he turned his attention back to Volkov. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Ford sneer and that made him feel the slightest bit better about his situation. At least he could aggravate the man while he waited for Volkov to drop the other boot and slit his throat for the betrayal. He could sense the man was thinking murderous thoughts, his expression dark and pensive, and Artyom couldn't help but hope that whatever he did, he let him die with some dignity. He didn't exactly like the idea of his wife finding out he'd been humiliated in death.

One could hope.

When Volkov did speak, it was about murder, but not his own. "Prisoners not useful. Vhy not just kill dem?"

For some reason that didn't sit well with Artyom any more than the thought of the death of one of his own comrades. Executing prisoners, even if they were as dangerous and prolific as the Flame and Fullmetal Alchemists, was never something he'd been able to get behind. The Flame Colonel might have been easier if it was he alone that would be killed, but when the young one was thrown into the equation, it changed things. Not only had the child earned his respect by remaining strong in the face of everything, but there was also something between he and the Flame… something possibly familiar, and it ate at Artyom- the idea of tearing up any sort of family. Death was a generally unsavory topic, the irony of which was not lost to him considering where he was and what he was tasked with doing. It was just another reason to despise Ford.

"What's the matter, Maksim?"

Ford sounded two steps away from giggling outright and Artyom blinked slowly while staring the man dead in the eye. He hoped that his contempt shone through with the single look. Judging by the way Ford's eyes narrowed, the message had been received. If he thought he could embarrass him by bringing up a fact that was well known among their community, then he had another thing coming.

There had only ever been one death on his watch when he'd had this job, and it had been a mistake that had started a monsterous debacle between government officials. Volkov had been more than gracious to sweep it under the rug and get rid of anyone who'd known about it, of course, like the good leader and friend that he'd been. The guilt had eaten at him too long, though, and Volkov had made a point to never put him into a position where he might have to kill a potential innocent.

However, that was all in the past. Artyom was no longer the person Volkov trusted most, the role taken by the damn Amestrian snake. The snake who had no doubt heard a thing or two about his past that Artyom didn't want anyone knowing; Volkov could be the biggest gossip around those he trusted. He had no doubt that was why the man was taking such amusement from the whole ordeal, because now if someone needed to be disposed of, Artyom imagined that somehow he'd get saddled with the job. To add insult to injury, someone of his rank shouldn't have even concerned with such things at all.

None of that could be revealed, though. He would never give anyone the satisfaction of thinking him weak or petty, especially not when the stakes were so high.

"The young Alchemist is strong. Even now he refuses to break completely. Maybe he knows something, maybe he does not. However, I… would be opposed to executing him."

"Why not?" Petrov snapped and Artyom's attention switched to him. He'd almost forgotten he was still there.

The young soldier huffed when he didn't receive an answer immediately. "If they aren't useful, why keep them around? They're just extra baggage."

Artyom couldn't bother feeling amused with the switch to their native tongue that was leaving Ford out of the loop because he was too busy pushing down the flash of red he saw at Petrov's bold statement. He took a measured breath as he reminded himself that Petrov was young and obnoxious, but when it came to the good of their country, he meant well. That didn't mean he could let him speak out so flippantly about an issue that was above his rank. Technically he shouldn't have even been allowed in the room for the discussion, but... Ford.

"They're prisoners, not defective pets, Sergeant. Be silent."

"Hey boys," Ford said, "what're we talking about?"

Ignoring the Amestrian and looking back at Volkov, Artyom realized he may have made a mistake in telling Petrov to stop talking. He looked displeased, and while that was not something he was unfamiliar with seeing, it was irritating to have that look directed at him. He continued to tune Ford out when he asked again what had been said, and stated with all the conviction he felt inside, that they could not kill the Alchemists.

There was a lull in the conversation after that. For anyone else it may have been uncomfortable, but Artyom knew it was a better reaction than he could've expected. If Volkov was saying nothing, it meant he was considering what had been said, which was more than he was hoping for. Perhaps he was getting through to his old friend, finally…

To his displeasure, it was not his general who spoke first.

"He makes a good point. Killing them would a foolish human move. That doesn't mean we can't do something about their little escape plan, though."

With the conspiratory tone of voice the Amestrian took on, Artyom felt like it might've been the smart move to run. Volkov's measured glance kept him in place. So long as they didn't make him kill the little alchemist, he could follow through with whatever plan they came up with.


Waiting was always the hardest part.

Night couldn't come soon enough and Roy commended any and every war prisoner they'd managed to liberate in prior years for the strength and patience they had to exhibit just to stay sane. Every time someone passed outside he tensed, waiting for inevitable hammer to come crashing down in the form of a bullet to the brain, and then, every time they passed by without so much as a peek inside, he relaxed once more and soothed his mind. He continually had to remind himself that whatever Maksim's angle was, it clearly didn't involve their deaths, because no problems had arisen after his discussion with Edward earlier.

He had no idea what the Drachman's motives were, but he also didn't care to waste time trying to figure it out. He may have done one thing to help them, but he'd also tortured him and the kid, the latter thing an action which Roy could not forgive.

Those thoughts, as well as the mental preparations, were enough to keep him distracted until he could hear the camp winding down for the nightly guard change. He knew his timing had to be next to perfect, so as much as he wanted to go about escaping as quickly as possible, he didn't. He made sure to move painstaking slowly as he stood up, careful to not make any wrong move that would cause a ruckus and give himself away as he planted his feet firmly and leaned back against the metal he'd been kept chained to. It took bearing almost all of his weight down on it to get the pole to bend enough that he could slide off of it without hurting his wrists. There was a moment of panic when he felt the metal give a little too quickly as it was nearly levered out of the ground, but it ended up not being an issue.

Before long, he was pulling the pole the rest of the way out of the ground and digging into the newly exposed snow revealed by the hole in the canvas. Remembering the correct array had taken a longer time than he would ever admit to anyone, but he decided the only reason he hadn't been able to recall it immediately was because he had been so busy with work he hadn't had time to study up on alchemic arrays that didn't coincide with the job. It wasn't much, but it made him feel like less of a fledgling alchemist.

Once the material of the cuffs was thinned out enough, he snapped them easily and allowed himself a small self-satisfied hum. All that was left to do was wait for the new guard, which, if he'd timed everything correctly, would be in the next few minutes.

He transmuted the cuffs into a knife while he waited and hoped that Fullmetal remembered he was coming and was ready. He'd already accounted for the fact that the kid wouldn't be able to run very fast with his injured leg, but he also knew that in a situation of life and death, Edward would tough it out, so it wouldn't be the debilitating factor in the mission, even if it would slow their progress. What Roy worried about was Edward's wariness of him and the situation. He knew how to at least prove he was himself now, but whether or not Edward would be willing to believe it this time around remained to be seen.

He couldn't figure out what was going on inside that boy's head, and it concerned him. Edward was usually so easy to read -he didn't exactly keep his feelings bottled up when he was angry or hurt- but the last time he'd seen him, he hadn't been able to get much.

He supposed that was an issue for after they got back to Amestris, though. If they got back to Amestris…

He shook the thought away and pushed any further doubts to the back of his mind to be locked up until he felt comfortable bringing them out later. He had to focus for now, which meant he could be thinking about nothing but the mission.

Commotion could be heard outside and Roy tightened his hold in his weapon while making his way towards the opening. He'd considered cutting a way out and avoiding the guard altogether, but he couldn't risk someone happening upon a hole in the prisoner tent and raising the alarm. As it stood, making it look like a soldier had abandoned his post would pose cause for concern when someone else inevitably came by. That scenario bought him more time, though.

The telltale noise of conversation reached his ears and he took one last deep breath before rushing out. With the element of surprise on his side he was able to grab hold of the first guard's head and smash it into the other Drachman, who'd only had enough time to shout in surprise before they were both crumbling to the ground. If he'd never executed such a move in the past, Roy would've been worried that they were going to get back up, but as it stood, he was more concerned with dragging their limp bodies into his tent. With that accomplished, he pulled their coats off, sliding one on and slinging the other over his arm to give to Edward. The sudden enveloping warmth after so many days worrying he'd get hypothermia from the lack of proper clothing had a small sigh of relief escaping him. He imagined the kid would be more than thankful when he got the same covering.

With that in mind, Roy got back to his task. He only had a few more minutes before someone would come by and notice the problem, so he had absolutely no time to hesitate.

Adrenaline pumped through his blood, deafening in his ears as he snuck across the camp under the cover of darkness. He only had Edward's word to go off in order to find where he was being kept, but he trusted the kid's intuition, so when he located the tent nearest to the fire he ran straight for it. It was a difficult endeavor in comparison to earlier because of the fact that there were soldiers close enough to the tent that if any odd noise was heard they would be alerted. However, the fact that those same soldiers were apparently the only guards in the area meant that so long as they could sneak quietly, he didn't have to attack anyone to get to the kid.

When no alarms sounded as he rounded the corner, Roy assumed he was clear to move forward.

Edward's startle when he entered made Roy put his hands up and whisper in what he hoped was a reassuring tone, that it was just him and there was no reason to worry.

"Prove it." Edward whispered back.

Roy sighed and dropped his arms. "Lullaby." He hoped the one word was enough for Ed to understand, because he wasn't too keen on going over that whole thing again. It was bad enough he'd said anything that weird in the first place. They also really did not have the time. If the sharp jerk of the teen's head was any indication Edward knew that same thing, so they were spared any more awkwardness.

When he stooped down to unchain Edward in much the same fashion he'd freed himself, Roy felt a sense of achievement when he didn't flinch away. It didn't look like much, but it was a testament to how Edward was at least trying to trust.

He said nothing to make a big deal of it, because they didn't have the time, and Edward wouldn't appreciate it, but Roy couldn't deny that he felt relief in knowing that he was making an effort. Maybe he was faking being alright with the proximity for the sake of escaping -which was okay, since Roy didn't expect him to be okay with a lot of things for awhile. Recovery didn't happen overnight. Still, it was nice, even if he couldn't dwell on it.

Once Edward had his arms back, Roy helped him slide the coat on, which meant Edward bit back several curses when his automail got jostled. That would be a problem, he realized as he buttoned the coat up. With the amount of running they would have to be doing… he needed something to keep his arm close to his body. The cord wrapped around the neck of the coat to signal rank was the first thing that caught his attention, so Roy ripped it off and looped it through the epaulette before tying it around his wrist. Edward muttered a small thanks for the effort and allowed himself to be helped to his feet.

Roy noted how heavily the kid leaned against him and decided that going out through the front would not be the best plan. Not when they would undoubtedly be moving at a shuffling pace before Edward got the hang of walking again. Withdrawing the knife from his waistband, he swiftly cut through the back and helped Edward out through it. Ed seemed surprised by the weapon, but said nothing. That worked out for him, because if his calculations were correct, then they had a little over a minute left before someone noticed something was wrong, so he didn't have time to explain much of anything.

They only had to make it maybe half a mile and then they'd be in the clear- or at least far enough away that they'd no longer have to run like their lives depended on it. He knew well enough that at the pace the Drachmans had been moving, by this time of night, their mounts would be tired and not nearly as fast as they should be. It would also be much harder to track them without the light of day to aid their search.

They just had to focus on getting that far without being caught first.

He tightened his hold on Edward to ensure he'd remain upright once they started to move and glanced down to see the blond's attention fixed on the darkness ahead. The only response he received was shaking fingers digging into the material of his jacket.

He was scared, that much was obvious, but Roy didn't miss the fierce look of determination on Edward's face that let him know he refused to give up. The feeling of pride welled up in his chest at the sight and Roy didn't bother waving it away, because yeah, he was damn proud of the little teenager whom he'd grown oddly fond of. Edward had already come a long way from the pathetic wheelchair-bound brat who'd been ready to give up on life, and he'd been afraid he wouldn't see a glimmer of the fire that kept him going for a long time. Edward always had enjoyed showing him how wrong he was.

Those were the thoughts that he worked to distract himself with when part of him began dredging up feelings of foreboding. However, those instincts became difficult to ignore the farther they walked. He wanted to write it off as paranoia that always accompanied escapes, but the feeling grated at him. The visceral dread didn't place itself in his stomach until ten steps later, though, when a heavily accented voice tried to halt them.

"Stop!"

"Run."

The order tumbled, terrified from Edward's lips, and almost went unheard by him because he'd already begun digging his boots into the snow further to gain speed. There was no way in hell he was about to give in and go back because they'd asked oh-so-nicely. He was not about to let them get their hands on Edward again. He'd die before he allowed that to happen.

And die he probably would, Roy realized, because they only got so far before a gunshot sounded. He feigned right to avoid being hit, but Edward hadn't gotten the memo that they were making that turn, and he had to halt in his tracks to avoid falling onto the teen when he let out a surprised cry. Edward, however, hadn't stopped and his momentum, paired with their linked arms, sent the both of them crashing into the snow.

Time slowed in the moment that followed. As Roy helped Edward back to his feet, soldiers rounded them and cut off their route of escape. They all carried some form of weaponry, gun or sabre, and had them levelled in their direction. Edward's bruising grip became even tighter -if that was possible-, and he moved closer to him. Roy pushed him behind him and sorely wished he had his gloves on hand… or any way to create an array that wouldn't result in getting shot.

Several recognizable faces emerged from among the small crowd and Roy realized there would be no point in trying to overpower the soldier group. He might have entertained the idea, but he knew there was no way it would work out with the General, Ford, and Maksim there.

"Shit."

---------

Edward was shaking, he knew he was, and he knew that for once it had nothing to do with the cold. He'd had the feeling something like this would happen the moment Mustang had told him they were going to be getting out. He'd done his best to ignore those thoughts, because he trusted the Colonel when he said he'd get them out, but they'd remained in the back of his mind. Now they reared their ugly heads and taunted him, because he had to be an idiot for almost believing he could get away.

The terror of being caught was nearly palpable, and Edward got the feeling if he wasn't clinging to the Colonel he would've sunk to his knees. He did his best to push that cold and unforgiving feeling away, though, because he knew it did neither of them any good to be frozen in fear. As it was, showing Mustang just how afraid he was at the prospect of being taken back to camp was enough to make his cheeks burn in shame. The Colonel may have told him he wasn't weak for being human, but Edward still believed there was at least something to be said about how easily his brain now tried to handicap him in situations such as these.

Hell, without Mustang standing right there, he might not have had enough courage to glare defiantly at the people who stood between them and freedom. He'd have thanked the man for his mere presence lending him some weird sort of strength if they weren't currently being threatened. Having Mustang there made everything bearable, even if it didn't make it any less scary. His being there, simple as it was, made him want to keep standing, and if the time came, fight.

Distantly, Edward wondered if that was why the rest of the team were so devoted to the bastard. If that was the case, he couldn't figure out why it would've taken him so long to see. But, then, when had he actually paid the Colonel and the things he did any real attention?

Not-so-distantly, he wondered how they were going to make it out alive. He knew backing down was not an option, if the way Mustang stood like he was ready to pounce at any moment, watching the soldiers around them like a hawk, was any indication. Of course they wouldn't give in. The idea that Roy ever would made him want to laugh. The Flame Colonel, giving up? Yeah, right. So he couldn't give up, either. He wouldn't do that to Mustang. Mustang would never do it to him.

The difference though, was that he should've. At the very least, he should've been willing to leave him behind. Wasn't their army the top priority? Weren't the lives of all those Amestrian soldiers worth more than his? Why would the Colonel stay and fight when he could've easily left him behind and gotten away on his own?

He knew why. It was the same reason the Colonel wouldn't have abandoned anyone else. And maybe it was something else, too…

Get the hell away from my kid.

Yeah, maybe it was something. Something he'd pretended to forget, and something Mustang had acted like he'd never said. Something. Some… thing. That probably wasn't why he stayed, though. It couldn't be. It was stupid, and hell, he'd probably imagined it himself. Maybe Mustang wasn't pretending to forget, and he really just hadn't said it at all. It was probably just his own wishful thinking.

No, wait. Wishful? Hell no. No, the Colonel had said it.

That's not what you should be worried about though, you idiot.

He inwardly nodded to himself, because yeah, there were more important things to be focusing on than that. Still, he couldn't help but berate himself for not saying something along those lines to Mustang when he'd come to get him out. The fate of their country was a hell of a lot more important than he was. He should've said that. He hadn't though, so he tried not to dwell on it. Those thoughts would only get him angry at himself, and when that happened lately, he just got panicky. He couldn't afford to get like that right now. He had to be useful. He had to do something to help them out of their situation that Mustang couldn't do.

He knew without his arm there would be no sword and no fighting alchemy, but… he thought back to Mustang transmuting using the snow as a base and he wracked his brain for the most useful array in their situation- or rather, how he'd use it to get them out of their situation. The only real way of having a fighting chance when Mustang couldn't make fire, would be to get him a gun, since that knife of his would only be good at close-range distance. That same thought must have passed through the Colonel's head too, because Edward didn't miss the fact that his hand twitched for the blade before halting.

The fact that they had similar ideas running around their heads left him feeling confident that if he managed to get a gun for Mustang, he'd be able to at least get them far enough away from the soldiers that they stood a fighting chance.

Yeah, that would work.

He was thankful, once more, for the fact that Mustang had decided to use his body to shield him, because it left the Drachmans unaware of what he was doing when he drew a circle in the snow with his foot. It would take a minute to get the array done, so he just had to hope Mustang could distract them long enough.

He kept his attention fixed firmly on the group before them in an attempt to keep them from noticing the movement of his leg and found his eyes locking with Void's. The fact that his gaze didn't send a shiver down Ed's spine immediately made him cock his head a little. Sure, he hadn't scared him the last time Edward had seen him either, when he'd collected Mustang the day before, but that had been different: he hadn't been threatening him or hurting him. Edward was sure he was the one who'd known about their escape to begin with and had no doubt been the one to amass the hunting party. How could he not have been the one?

He wanted to feel angry for that- wanted to feel like he wanted to rip the man's head off. Instead, he glared at the man only to find that Void looked tired. Not just tired, though. Edward couldn't place the look until Void swallowed hard enough that his throat bobbed visibly and his eyes darted to the ground momentarily.

That was why he looked different, Ed realized with a start. Void had the same look he'd seen on an MP once, when she'd been ordered to bring a guy his age in for questioning. He didn't look like the man who'd spent weeks torturing him, or even a man who wanted to be there at all. He looked like a man who was resigned to doing whatever he was told to do. In fact, he almost looked guilty.

The idea that someone who'd done so many horrid things could hold that expression and not be burned by it made Edward want to question everything he'd ever noticed about the man in the past. The passiveness in which he'd spoken as he questioned him… maybe that had been something else entirely.

Ford's clapping dragged him away from that line of thinking, and Edward snapped his attention to Envy.

The clapping was languid and dramatic to the point Ed couldn't have stopped himself from rolling his eyes if he'd wanted to. It struck him as funny, how one could be intimidated by someone and yet still be able to laugh at them.

"Well, Colonel, you gave it your best shot. I won't lie: it was cute. But I'm guessing you've figured out by now that you never had any real chance to begin with. Major Maksim helped make sure of that. Send your thank-you cards to his desk- he'll be lonely without them."

As Envy spoke, he couldn't help but find it interesting how different the homunculus sounded as Ford, and yet how very similar he was at the same time. It was like he was in a play and trying his best to sound like a soldier when his mouth was made for theatrics.

Edward didn't miss the way Void's eyes narrowed when Envy mentioned his part in everything. He wasn't going to dwell on what that might have meant though, especially not when Ford-Envy turned his eyes to him. The cackle contained within them might as well have echoed throughout the night for how loud it rang in his head.

"Oh, and by the way, Pipsqueak, if you thought this was going to be like your daring escape last time, you're even cuter than Mustang here. See, we let you go, before."

What? The breath that halted in his throat burned in a way that was reminiscent of Void's earlier handiwork made him want to shrink back.

"That's right," Envy continued, grinning like a fool, "you're really not as clever as you think!"

The statement made Edward's entire body momentarily freeze up. His entire escape had been allowed… which meant they'd been tracking him and planning on attacking Mustang and the others from day one. There had been nothing he could have done. Nothing to prevent what had happened to the others. Had he somehow miraculously obtained the powers of god and been able to understand why his escape had been easier than it should have been, maybe there would have. Aside from that, there was nothing.

He would've thought that knowledge would guilt him, that he would berate himself for thinking he could escape cleanly to begin with, but instead, Edward just felt angry. It was the kind of anger that had been like a second skin for years, the kind that convinced him to make split-second decisions and regret them only when they got him or others hurt. It was the anger that sent him into rages over the little things, like being called short, or being mistaken for the Fullmetal Alchemist's sidekick. It was an anger that belonged to him and him only. The kind he'd thought he would forget how to feel.

He wanted to shout at Fordvy, to curse his whole existence and to figure out how he could get the homunculus to reveal his ulterior motive, because there was no way he was setting all of this up if there wasn't some bigger picture at stake.

The conversation he had with Envy days before came back to mind and Edward remembered what the Homunculus had said about the usefulness of him and Mustang in their plans. He didn't know what those plans were, but what he did know was that Envy had divulged to him the fact that he could not allow them to be killed.

Suddenly, the soldiers surrounding them became less intimidating and far more annoying, while the weapons they held became nothing more than toys waiting to be snatched away.

He dug his toe back into the snow and put the final touches on the array just as Fordvy went on.

"You two are a nuisance. You're just lucky- what?!"

Edward let him get only so far into what he was saying before he dropped to the ground and used his free hand to activate the circle. In the next moment the snow beneath everyone's feet shifted to form walls that blocked their view. The exception to that was a single soldier, the closest one, which Edward had the white pillar come up at an angle to ram into his arm and make him drop his gun.

"Mustang, catch!"

It was a shout in his mind but his throat had other ideas and honestly, he was just glad the Colonel heard him at all. He ignored the pain as he watched Mustang dive for the weapon. Edward ran over to him, stealing the knife from his waistband and drawing another quick transmutation circle to stretch the metal out and morph it into a less lethal, but still dangerous, pipe.

"C'mon." Mustang grabbed his hand and Edward nodded and followed him as they ran. The fact that he could run as well as he was came as a shock to him, but Edward refused to focus on that, because experience in fighting told him that if he started trying to notice everything he didn't feel, it would only bring awareness back sooner. That was the last thing he needed.

The first gunshot sounded and when Mustang ducked, Ed's throat went dry as he wondered how close that bullet had come to actually hitting him. His terror smoothed out into something that should've been a cackle of smugness, however, when he heard Fordvy's shriek bouncing on the wind.

"No! You can't kill them, you moron!"

That giddy feeling of invincibility quickly fled when Edward felt something whizz past his leg, the close proximity practically giving him a friction burn. He stumbled momentarily and felt Mustang tighten his hold on him. He went to thank him but the gratitude died on his lips when he saw the Colonel turn around momentarily to fire a round of his own in retaliation. There was a cry of pain that told them the bullet hit a target and Edward winced while Mustang nodded to himself.

Nothing about any of that was right and he wanted to say something about it, but he knew there was no convincing Roy to not fire back. He probably thought he was protecting them, but Edward got the feeling that, even if the Drachmans were trying to injure them, they weren't going to be able to catch them. Now that they had shot one of their men though, they weren't going to be so willing to accept that they'd escaped.

It made the anger he felt towards Envy and the exhilaration he felt in being out of their clutches melt away to something anxious and dark, and maybe it was the running, or maybe it was the nerves, but his leg was starting to hurt again.

Get over it! You just have to get out of range, and then you can complain.

That was the last thought he had before the situation dissolved into chaos.

Help and Hesitation

They'd been on standby, waiting until the scouts reported back with news of where the prisoners were being kept. The sitting and doing nothing had been unlike anything she'd ever experienced before in her years of sniping. Riza knew it was due to the fact that this time, the lives of the two people she dearly cared about were on the line. Had it been an extraction mission and the variables had been two unknowns, her position on waiting would have been a non-issue.

It wasn't until the first gunshot pierced the night air that any of them knew something was wrong. The sharp popping noise sent a stone of dread plummeting into her stomach, but she remained silent by Miles' side, awaiting an order.

When the Ishvalan soldier made the decision to move in, because waiting any longer would put the Flame Alchemist and the other prisoner in more danger, relief flooded her and she was grateful to General Armstrong for sending a competent man to lead them.

The original plan had been a solid one. The scouts would move in position and once a clear route of escape could be planned, they would retrieve the prisoners and lay waste to the Drachman encampment. However, every single person there knew how quickly plans could change in war and had been prepared for taking the next best course of action.

The element of surprise did work about as well as stealth in some cases. Riza could only hope this would not be the exception to the rule.

At least the Briggs soldiers would be focused more on destroying the camp than finding Edward and the Colonel. Miles had agreed with her that she and the team would be best for extraction as soon as she'd mentioned one of the prisoners being paranoid and traumatized. She could only imagine what state they might find Edward in this time, and the thought of someone he didn't know coming to grab him, when he already knew there was one Amestrian traitor, would no doubt cause him immense stress. Riza was appreciative of the fact that the Major wasn't like some of his other fellow officers and hadn't written her concerns off. Although, he also seemed focused on his own mission, which was also expected of a Briggs soldier- especially when his mission came directly from the Ice Queen herself.

"Remember," Miles said to the company, "find the commanding officer and detain them. Leave no other survivors."

"Sir!"

Riza nodded to the man when he glanced her way, the silent question of whether or not her team was prepared written on his face, and the agreement that it was time for them to part ways until later.

With Havoc, Fuery, and Breda in tow, she headed in the direction of the most initial gunfire. She had little doubt that whatever had caused the sudden fighting was caused by Roy and Edward. The shots had sounded close, and as they headed down the hill, Riza noted that the lack of physical cover would be an issue, even if there was the thin protection the darkness offered- and thin it was, given how the moonlight reflected across the snow covered land. She knew that they could all come out of the fight with minimal damage to their persons if they were cautious, and at least by following the noise they had the advantage of knowing the enemy's general location. And, if Edward and the Colonel were involved as she assumed, she was confident that they would at least provide some distraction if and when she or the others were to be spotted.

She tightened her grip on her weapon and closed her eyes momentarily when a pained cry sounded in the near distance.

Please, please, just stay alive until we get there.


He was at a loss.

One minute they were being chased by nearly twenty Drachman soldiers, and the next second an explosion from the nearby camp lit up the darkness. Shouts and gunfire were impossible to miss in the following minutes and Roy was ashamed of how long it took him to realize the chaos was the result of Amestrian soldiers.

He wanted to feel relief, but he knew that there had not been enough people at the supply depot to make even a sizeable dent in the Drachman forces… Unless they had somehow managed to get into contact with Briggs. He doubted they would have been able to though, because Wesson had been the one in charge last he'd checked. She had a difficult time being told what to do by anyone of lower rank than herself.

The knowledge that his team was likely part of that assault wasn't lost on him and Roy did his best not to dwell on the kind of danger they could be in. He reminded himself that they had all survived the war up to that point, so if they were in the camp, they would be able to hold their own.

At least the Drachmans that had been hot on their heels had slowed their pursuit, apparently unsure of where their attention should be focused when their camp was being attacked.

There was at least one, however, who didn't seem at all deterred by the sudden transpiring events. Ford's screams for the soldiers to either keep moving or get out of his way could be heard over the distant din of fighting and Roy checked over his shoulder to see the Amestrian sprinting after them, Volkov, Maksim and one other not far behind. Volkov had the presence of mind to order the nearby soldiers to move their asses.

He heard the air around him hiss as bullets narrowly missed him and Edward and Roy cursed before returning fire. He knew he wasn't likely to hit anyone, but it would at least make them wary, which was all he could hope for. If he were able to use his dominant hand, maybe that would have made a difference, but it didn't matter. As it was, if they survived this he knew he would be getting an earful from Hawkeye when she found out he'd been using his broken hand to handle a weapon.

The thought of seeing the Lieutenant again, even if it meant being berated, helped to ease the tightness in his chest. When he checked on Edward, he could tell he was getting tired, and if the worsening of his limp and the hair clinging to his damp forehead were any indication, his pain was getting bad, too. They weren't even running at full speed and the kid was faring badly. The danger of that was not lost on him, even if they'd been able to keep a decent distance from the enemy. Ford ran with the speed of some kind of demon and was gaining on them at a rate Roy was not at all comfortable with.

He was beginning to juggle possible ways of increasing their speed when Edward yelped and nearly tripped the both of them when he tried to jerk out of his grip.

"Fullmetal!" Roy grabbed at him before he could fall behind. As he did he caught sight of a nasty hole in the shoulder of the jacket, revealing a nasty scrape to the automail shoulder beneath.

That had been too close.

With all of the noise around them, the gunfire behind them blended in and he was able to tune the majority of it out in order to think, and he'd almost got Edward shot because of that. That was unacceptable. They needed to get to cover sooner.

The only available type he could see was a hill that they were fast approaching. It wasn't much, but it would do, especially if there were any kind of rock outcroppings on the other side. They just had to get there.

With that thought in mind, Roy quickly unhooked his arm from Edward's. The wide-eyed look he got in response was lost to him, as was the teen's question of 'what?' as he bent over and scooped him into his arms as they ran. Edward didn't protest, and Roy felt triumphant when he was able to pick up his speed and gain some ground. It wasn't much, but it was enough to keep Ford and Volkov away from them and protect Edward, which was all he could ask for at the moment.

It was funny, how centered his thoughts were on getting Edward to safety. His own wellbeing hadn't been part of the equation from the moment he'd started thinking about the escape plan. But then, it was also expected, he supposed. Edward's involvement in everything had been a direct result of his kicking him out of the military. Looking out at the destruction around him, a distant part of him wondered if it would've been better for everyone if he'd let Edward be shipped of to the front lines with the rest of them. At least then he wouldn't have been subjected to the horrors of being a prisoner of war. At least he would've been able to keep tabs on him and keep him as safe as possible.

Roy shook his head to rid himself of those thoughts. He could regret his life choices later, but his top priority was Edward.

He was so focused on that that he nearly missed the familiar voice calling to him in the near distance.

"Colonel!"

His attention snapped towards her voice and Roy could've collapsed if the adrenaline coursing through him hadn't combated the relief that nearly turned his legs to jelly. There she was, Hawkeye, with Havoc and Breda and Fuery. He frowned at the lack of Falman and made a note to ask about that when they had the time, ignoring the pit that tried to form in his stomach when the thought of the man being hurt popped into his head.

"Colonel!"

They were both running towards each other as fast as their legs would carry and Roy looked down to check on Edward and make sure his jostling him around wasn't hurting him too much. When he saw the teen smiling back, he missed as step and blinked in surprise. It felt like forever since he'd seen the kid actually smile.

"They found us."

Roy couldn't help but release a breathy laugh as he nodded. "Yeah. They did."

They weren't out of the woods yet -not even close- but when they finally reached the others, Roy couldn't help but rest his head on Hawkeye's shoulder when she rushed to his side and grabbed his arms to steady him. It was only then that he realized how labored his breathing sounded in his own ears.

"Lieutenant…" Her title sounded like a prayer on his lips and it took immense restraint to not repeat it over and over in her ear until she could understand how glad he was to see her. He pulled back soon after that and didn't miss the brief softening of her features before the steel in her eyes returned, reminding him that they weren't in the clear and they needed to move.

"Give me some good news, Lieutenant?"

She nodded and put a hand on his shoulder to guide him towards the hill which he'd initially been heading for. "Breda, cover me."

"Yes, ma'am."

"General Armstrong sent some of her men. You remember Major Miles?"

He remembered him. The Ishvalan and he had interacted very little during one of the training exercises in which Olivier had actually shown up to. At the time Roy had assumed it had something to do with the fact that he'd been directly connected to the massacre of the man's people, but according to his General, that had been a bold assumption that held little truth to it, because, "Miles isn't so pathetic or petty. Don't flatter yourself." It had been clear from that point that Olivier held the man in high regard, so the fact that she willingly sent him to help was a surprise. He could only hope he made it back, because he didn't want to imagine the kind of hot water he'd be in with the General if her favored Major got killed aiding him.

"Yeah. She's never gonna let us hear the end of this, is she?"

Hawkeye rolled her eyes and shook her head.

"Great," he grumbled.

Roy wondered how the brief conversation must have looked to Edward, who had gone oddly quiet. He was probably questioning how he and Hawkeye could speak so calmly despite the seriousness of the situation and the fact that they had a team of Drachmans on their tails still. He didn't think there was an short explanation he could give the kid if he were to ask.

We're just desensitized to this and sometimes you need a mental break? Maybe he would understand that. Most likely not. Edward didn't usually check out like that. He poured his being into whatever matter was at hand and didn't stop thinking about it until it was over and done with. That was how he'd apparently found the 5th Laboratory.

Edward remained silent though, and soon he realized the he wasn't the only one. When Roy looked behind them, he wasn't exactly shocked to see that much of the threat had been neutralized, but the Drachman soldiers running from his men back towards their camp wasn't exactly what he'd been expecting to see. Even stranger was the sudden lack of Ford or Volkov visible. Maybe they were among the dead, or maybe they hung beyond his sight, but they weren't close by and that was what he most cared about.

Havoc and the others were making their way back as well when Hawkeye and he reached the cover that had been mentioned. They reached them in record time and Havoc was in the middle of replacing his magazine. Upon spotting him, the man's expression split into a tired grin and he came over to clap him on the back. Roy hid his wince.

"It's good to see you again, boss."

"Hey, Havoc."

"Is it just me, or are these guys way easier than the batch up north?"

Breda shrugged. "They're just more concerned with the other guys than getting their prisoners, I guess."

"They don't give up that easily."

Roy blinked and looked at Edward, who was staring at the three men with a severe expression in place. He waited for the kid to say more but Edward only swallowed hard and shrugged a single shoulder before glancing back at him.

"You can put me down now."

"Right." Roy let him down carefully and tried not to feel too sheepish about clinging to him like he'd been a toddler. He distantly appreciated the fact that Edward was acting more like himself- though whether it was for the benefit of the others, or how he really felt, he couldn't be sure. He hoped for the latter, though.

He turned back to the others to see them all watching him and Edward carefully. Fuery's expression was the most miserable and his attention was fixed on Fullmetal.

Right. Roy realized. He probably blames himself.

Fuery's ability to get jobs done but empathize as he did them was one of the things that made him want him on his team in the first place, but Roy could see now that it had been crippling him. Of course he'd been beating himself up. He'd probably viewed himself as the last line of defense back then and felt like a failure.

Or maybe he was projecting. However, it seemed like an accurate assumption. Either way, he would have to speak with him about what had happened. That conversation would have to wait, though, because there were more pressing matters to deal with.

As if to punctuate that thought, an explosion went off in the far end of the camp and bathed them all in a yellow light for a drawn out second. Roy sighed and put his stolen gun away before turning back to Havoc.

"I want you to keep an eye on Fullmetal."

"Huh?" Havoc's face told him everything he didn't say. You're crazy if you think that's happening.

Of course, what he said aloud was, "Boss, I don't think that's a good idea."

"You were shot, you shouldn't be fighting."

"Um, yeah," Havoc argued, "and you don't see the whole 'pot-kettle' situation right now?"

He was about to order Havoc to listen to his commanding officer, but Riza's sharp tone cutting him off kept him silent.

"Sir, you are injured. You're in no condition to fight. Stay with Edward. We'll handle this."

Without another word and without waiting for him to respond, she motioned for the others to follow her and they departed, heading towards the camp that now had areas on fire to showcase the red-stained snow.

He knew they were right. He knew they were. Edward knew it too, and he held tight to his jacket and dragged him towards the nearest bank that offered the most cover and would keep them hidden from anyone who might come looking. It was almost funny, how quickly their roles switched and suddenly Edward was the one protecting him. However, as endearing as that was to consider, there was no way in hell he was about to sit back and wait the whole thing out. He could not sit back while other people fought his battles. He was their Colonel and he would not be useless in the fight and risk any one of them being hurt or killed on his behalf. He would never be able to forgive himself if something like that happened.

In addition to that, there were a handful of people he wanted to see to the deaths of personally, and injured or no, he was going to get vengeance for the teenager who was too battered to do it for himself.

Edward shuddered beside him and Roy frowned and knelt closer to him. He didn't know when the kid had sunk down, but he could understand that his legs were most likely sore and tired.

"Ed? You okay?"

He'd been awfully quiet since they'd reunited with the team, and while Roy knew that could technically be the bruised throat at work, he got the feeling it was something else, too. He'd learned to listen to those feelings when it came to Edward. He gave him a quick once-over just to make sure he hadn't been grazed anywhere other than his shoulder, just in case. When he found no other injuries than the ones that had already been present, he looked at the teen expectantly.

Edward sighed and pulled the jacket tighter around himself. "I don't know. It all seemed to easy, and now it seems to convenient, and… I don't trust it."

"What don't you trust?"

He might have known exactly what the kid was referring to, but he wanted to make sure he was correct. If he was talking about the fact that the convenience of backup appearing right as they were escaping, yes he would admit that was a fortunate coincidence, but the simple escape had been that way because he'd carefully planned it out. It hadn't been as easy as Edward might have been thinking it was. Although, given that Ford and the Drachmans had apparently let him escape the first time around, he could see why Edward wouldn't be so trusting of the situation this time around.

At least some of that must have been broadcasted on his face because Edward's response was to frown at him and stuff his hand into the jacket's pocket, seemingly as much for drama as it was for warmth.

"It's dumb, Mustang. I know that. Doesn't change that it doesn't feel real."

Roy sighed. He knew that, too. There was no way he could change how he felt, either, which was what killed him about the whole thing. He wished he could transfer his relief to Edward, just so he could relax enough to realize this rescue/escape was the real thing, and that there was no switch waiting to be flipped that would reveal the whole escapade as futile. There would be no fixing how he felt, though. Roy knew how prolonged imprisonment affected people's heads- sometimes they couldn't trust the feeling of safety even when they knew it was true. It was an ability that could be regained over time, but it would take time. Which meant there would be no point in trying to tell Edward to just try to believe it.

A thought struck him after that conclusion and Roy hummed to himself. Maybe he didn't need Edward to believe himself.

"Hey, kid, look at me."

Edward did and Roy continued. "Trust me, it's real. We're gonna get you out of here this time. I promise."

Edward didn't give a worded reply, but Roy convinced himself that he saw some of the tension bleed out of the kid's shoulders as he released a shaky sigh.

With that dealt with, there was only one thing left to go over before he got back to his initial plan to go and help Hawkeye and the others, and track down Ford and Maksim. He pulled the gun back out, turning it over to Edward.

"Do you know how to use this?"

Edward eyed the weapon like it was going to jump up and bite his fingers off and he shook his head slowly.

"Okay, it's easy. Here's the safety- which you won't worry about. So it's just three steps: point, shoot, follow through. Got it?"

Roy mimed the movements for Edward before offering him the handle. Ed shook his head and withdrew his hand before he could place it in his palm. Although his reasons for doing so were not what he thought they were going to be.

"And what are you going to use?"

Roy shrugged. He had a ways of getting weapons, but he didn't think telling the kid 'I'll raid the nearest dead body' would end very well. Even if Edward could appreciate creativity, he didn't seem too keen on disrespecting the dead. So instead, he said he'd figure something out.

"You can't fight, you idiot!" Edward rasped, glaring at him. "You heart the Lieutenant. Just sit down and-"

"I'm not arguing with you, Fullmetal. Just take this-" he grabbed his hand and shoved the gun into it "- and use it if you need to. I'm betting you won't have to, but I want you to have it just in case, alright?"

"Yeah, but-"

"Just stay put and nobody will find you, okay? If I'm not back for you in an hour, then you can start to worry."

"I can't-"

"I'm not so hurt that I can't fight, so drop it."

"I can't kill someone!" Edward threw the gun to the ground and glared at the offending weapon while Roy was left frowning.

"I didn't say you had to."

Edward gave him a look that said he was a moron. Roy didn't appreciate it, but he allowed it for the moment, because the teen was speaking again.

"You said protect myself with it. That means shoot someone."

"Only if you have to." Roy sighed and picked the gun back up and shoved it once more into Edward's hands. He knew to some extent how much he hated death -which he assumed had everything to do with his mother- and he wasn't about to fight him about the necessity of it, because he did remember what it was like to be young and reluctant to get your hands dirty. He remembered it too well. But if life and Ishval had taught him anything, it was that sometimes the only choice was death. Sometimes there was no other way if you wanted to survive.

"Look, I'm not saying you have to kill anyone. I'm telling you to protect yourself, even if it means only shooting them in the foot."

Edward hesitated another second and Roy prepared himself for more argument, but then he surprised him by staying quiet and offering a curt nod instead.

"Thank you, kid." Roy pat his shoulder lightly and got back to his feet. "I'll be back before you know it. Just stay out of sight."

With that said, he turned his back on Ed for the first time in a while and took off towards the camp. He needed to find the others and give backup. He'd lost one friend too many recently and he was not about to sit around and let the others die. But first, he needed to locate a few dangerous individuals who'd made his life hell.


Shit.

He could officially conclude that was what things had come to.

The situation had somehow managed to go from bad to worse, and he'd done practically nothing to stop it. He stared out at the spot Musang had last stood and went over the myriad of ways he could've tried to keep him there, then proceeded to curse his lack of initiative. Granted, the damn Colonel was stubborn, and Ed got the feeling that even if he'd managed to keep him there for a little longer the man still would have eventually run off, but still. He couldn't help but have a moment of sympathy for past Mustang as he drew parallels to his own behavior back in Amestris. Ed was starting to understand why the man had always been so annoyed. It was frustrating when nobody listened to you. And that frustration quickly bled into worry.

His brows furrowed and Edward released a pent of growl. He felt so useless! With nothing to do but keep out of sight it was hard to not think of himself as a huge liability. C'mon, Mustang was injured and he still went to fight!

He could fight, too…

No you can't, the weight in his hand taunted. The cool metal burned imprints into his palm, marking the unease in his veins on a visible canvas. Even though he held the gun, he couldn't shake the image of the barrel staring him down, witnessing his weakness and judging it. He nearly dropped the weapon but forced his fingers to tighten around it instead.

It was true he didn't like the idea of using a killing tool -hell, he didn't know if he'd be able to pull the trigger if a time came when it was necessary- but he'd promised Mustang that he would at least put up a fight. No fight could be had if he'd nothing to defend with. He doubted he'd use it, though. Just the thought of slipping a finger over the trigger made him anxious.

With a heavy sigh, he moved himself further back into the safety of the snowbank and tucked his hand into the jacket in an attempt to retain warmth. Whether he planned to use the gun or not, it would do him no good at all if his hand was frozen.

He did his best to focus on that warmth and nothing else for a bit, but it was hard to do when the sounds of gunfire and screaming reached his ears so easily at any given moment. He couldn't block it out and it only set him on edge more than he already was. Every distant pop was another person injured or dead and he never knew if that someone going down was friend or foe. He didn't know if the one getting shot was someone he cared about.

Edward grit his teeth when they started chattering. He didn't know if it was the fear or the cold, but it frustrated him either way. He wanted to turn back time with every passing second so that he could try to convince Mustang to stay put like Hawkeye had wanted. Maybe it hadn't been his job to keep the moron from doing anything stupid, but he should've anyway. He already knew that if anything happened to the Colonel the guilt would eat him alive, but what could he do about it now? Crippled and weak as he was, what could he do for the man? It wasn't like he could transmute at the drop of a hat, or fight effectively- yeah maybe if he absolutely had to, he could throw a punch or kick, but he doubted there would be enough strength behind either movement to fell an opponent. By all accounts he was a liability.

It would be best for everyone if he stayed put… even if he was worried to the point he wanted to pull his hair out. Would just be better in the long run, if he stayed where he was… nobody would have to look after him like they always felt the need to. There would be no risk of recapture. Yeah, it was best to sit still. Just… sit and let the chill of snow seep into his bones until he felt like taking a nap and dying… yeah that was a great idea!

Edward snorted and pulled his hand out of the jacket to stare at the gun once more. He knew how to use it in a pinch. He didn't want to use it, though. He didn't want to have to use it… but he wanted to help. Mustang was in no shape to be fighting, he knew that much… so he needed help. If he'd found Hawkeye and the others then he would have that, but Ed doubted he would've seeked the others out when the Lieutenant would kick his ass for ignoring her. Plus, he'd had that look in his eyes… that dark, angry look that he always got when talking about killing Void and Ford and Black.

A chill that had nothing to do with the cold passed through him at the thought of a beat-up Mustang going up against a healthy Void or Black. Those two were terrifying in their own rights, and even though he'd never seen the torturer fight, the man clearly knew his way around a knife, and Black was a General… you didn't get those ranks by being a pacifist. Then there was Ford, who was really Envy, which meant if Mustang wasn't careful he could end up with a sharp knee to the gut and a broken nose.

The thought of anything like that happening the Colonel made his stomach clench painfully and he decided he could sit there no longer. Hurt or no, he was going find that stupid man and bring him back to wait for the others, whether he wanted to or not.

Getting up took about as much effort as he'd been expecting and he took a few deep breaths before he began his trek out into the open. He had to be careful, he knew, but he also had the advantage of being outside the camp when it was being attacked. It was probably safe to say nobody would be looking for him when the main forces were being attacked. At least, he really hoped that was the case, otherwise he could be royally screwed.

When stepped out from behind the snowbank, the first thing that entered his mind was the question of why Truth, or God, or whoever ran the universe, hated him so much. The second thought was that he needed to run and not stop running until his lungs or legs gave out. He didn't move though. He couldn't. The moment his eyes landed on Void's hunched form, his feet had been rooted to the ground with no hope of being pried up.

How? His mind screamed as his breath caught in his throat. How had he found him so quickly? He'd been shot at, his comrades had given up on getting him as soon as Hawkeye and the others had begun fighting- the must have, otherwise he and Mustang never would have had time to hide in the first place. So how had survived long enough to find him? And how had he not run into Mustang?

Had he been waiting for Mustang to leave?

The thought hit him like a ton of bricks and even though a more rational part of his brain asked how Void could have known Mustang would leave, he couldn't help the way his heart pounded and his mouth dried like he'd been left in a desert. He hadn't even been escaped for an hour and the dog was already there to drag him back.

He couldn't go back. He knew he wouldn't survive a third round of imprisonment. He'd known there was good reasoning behind his inability to trust the situation. Mustang had been wrong. Everything was going straight to hell in a hand basket.

Stop! Stop, there's no camp to be taken back to. There won't be a third round. Calm down and- CRAPnonono!

Void stepped closer and Edward could see his mouth was moving, but he heard nothing of what he said. He couldn't let him get too close. If that happened, he might kill him. He couldn't let him kill him. He didn't want to die after everything he'd been put through. He had to get back home to Alphonse and Winry. He had to help Mustang still! Mustang… He'd promised Mustang he'd defend himself if something like that became a possibility.

The weight in his hand became pronounced suddenly, calling to him and Edward did little thinking before bringing the weapon up, pointing it straight at Void. He hoped he was aiming right, but with the way his hand shook, he doubted he was. That was alright, though, because what really mattered was that it was Void's turn to freeze in his tracks. And freeze he did. The man's eyes went wide and Ed blinked in surprise when he raised his hands above his head. For some reason, he'd been expecting less cooperation.

It was good that he wasn't fighting, though. Despite threatening him, Edward really did not want to have to shoot. He just needed the man to stay away from him. He couldn't think straight when he got close and he couldn't afford to not be thinking. On a cosmic level it was entertaining, how only fifteen minutes back he'd been defying the man and staring him straight in the eye as he made plans to doop him. He'd thought he'd been making progress. Or, maybe he was. It didn't feel fast enough. At least he could tell himself he was being irrational this time around. It didn't do a damn thing to prevent his emotions from going off the rails, but… at least he'd known it was coming and how to help make it stop.

Not that it was exactly stopping. It may have been his imagination, but he still felt like his chest was sorer than usual because of how hard his heart beat, and the noise filtered in through his ears still sounded muffled at best. At least his ears weren't ringing to the point of rendering him deaf anymore, at least.

At least he could hear enough to make out that Void was still talking. Oddly enough -maybe disconcerting as well- the man was not speaking in the menacing, dark tone he'd grown used to. The shock of realizing that he didn't sound like that on a regular basis, and that it was, in fact, an act, helped to clear some of the fog from his brain. He didn't know why, because he was still terrified, but that didn't change anything.

"I'm not going to hurt you, Alchemist. I'm here to help you."

...

What.

Ed was pretty sure his brain was being stretched and unraveled in a way not dissimilar to when he'd been through the Portal. He went from freaking out and trying to get his thoughts under control, to being thoroughly confused while his mind went blank. The whiplash of it left him reeling.

That was not what he'd been expecting. He'd been waiting for the Drachman to tell him to come quietly. The Void standing before him… did not seem at all like the one who'd been content with hurting and trying to kill him not even a week ago. However, he could be the Void that had let Mustang speak privately with him long enough to form a plan. The same Void, who, to his knowledge, had been the only one not shooting at them earlier.

Another second of shock also allowed Ed to realize Void had a gun and a sabre, both of which he bet the man could've drawn and used before he could even think of making the decision to shoot. He could've killed him already, but he hadn't. He hadn't even tried to defend himself even though he had a barrel pointed (hopefully) directly at his chest.

Even realizing that, he didn't lower the gun, because all of that did not mean he trusted the man any farther than he could throw him. Whether he'd helped him or not, he'd still tortured him and he was still the enemy. Everything in him wouldn't stop screaming that he couldn't shoot him, and entertaining the thought of pulling the trigger was enough to making him sick, but he couldn't just trust the man in front of him… could he?

Edward prided himself on not being stupid and gullible, but there were some cases where he did not know what to do. The feeling of being jerked in two directions, one violent and wrong, and the other dangerous and naive, was uncomfortable. He was reminded of how he felt battling the armored brothers back in the laboratory. They'd lied to him, tried to kill him, but they'd still ended up trying to help him… and their deaths had upset him.

They had been horrible criminals, but they hadn't deserved to die like that…

"Tell me, Fullmetal Alchemist, you've never shot anyone before. Have you?"

Edward swallowed the question of how he knew that because Void was already answering himself.

"No, you haven't. You don't have the eyes for it. Not yet."

Void slowly lowered his arms to rest by his sides but he did not go for either weapon as he continued speaking. Edward didn't take his attention off his hands, though. He would not risk taking his eyes off of him and getting shot.

"I realize you don't trust me. That's fair. But please do not let me turn you into a murderer. I will if I must, because I don't want to die any more than you do… but I would rather see you get home safely."

His tone remained level through his whole speech and Edward didn't know what to make of anything he'd heard. There was his enemy, who had been in charge of hurting him for so long, and he was telling him he wanted him to be safe. He wanted him to go home. He wanted to help him…

None of it made any sense and he couldn't for the life of himself understand it.

He finally found his voice and there was not much else he could say, except…

"Why?"

Void didn't reply immediately and Edward wondered if there was any reason at all, or if his instincts were correct and the man was lying to get him off his guard. It wouldn't be the first time someone had done that. This time, he knew how to deal with it, though, so it would be harder for the enemy to get him that way.

Of course, Void had to wreck that line of thinking for him when he opened his mouth to give his answer.

"You remind me of my daughter."

He hadn't thought it possible to be gut-punched from afar, but Void managed it and Edward knew the man had heard his gasp. How he reminded him of her, he had no clue and he was too afraid to ask, but that was not what mattered. No, what mattered was the fact that...

"You have a daughter…" It took very little conscious effort to lower the gun. He'd been able to toy with the possibility of being able to shoot him if he got too close before, but now, there was no way he'd be able to do that. He couldn't kill Void when he knew he was a husband and father. He couldn't live with himself if he did something like that.

When Void began advancing again, he tensed up but didn't otherwise move. He wouldn't kill him, but the gentle reminder that people could be shot in the feet that Mustang had given him before leaving sat in the back of his head. He could do that, if Void ended up being a liar, he could shoot to hurt. A bullet to the lower leg wouldn't cause his death, after all.

He wouldn't shoot if the man gave him no reason to, though.

The thought was a terrifying one, and even though he felt like he would throw up when Void finally stood close enough to him that they could reach out and touch one another, he stood his ground. He felt like he could barely breathe, but he met Void's gaze.

The man looked around them, curiosity finally cutting across his impassive features.

"Where's the Flame Alchemist?"

Ha! He was only worrying about that now? It was proof at least, that he hadn't been lying in wait for after Mustang left, and despite the position he was in, Edward found it suddenly a lot easier to take a deep breath to answer.

His words were drowned out, however, but a series of explosions from the camp that looked nothing like the handiwork of grenades. No, it was a familiar type of fire and the task he'd been about to get to before Void had interrupted him came back to him.

He didn't have to tell the Drachman that the disastrous fires had been caused by the Flame Colonel, and the next thing he knew Void was offering him an arm. Edward didn't think twice before accepting it, even if the action made his skin crawl with phantom pains. He would endure it, because if he had help, he could get to Mustang faster, and his need to do that outweighed his fear just enough. Not a second later, the two of them were running for the camp's recent zone of destruction.

He wondered what that would look like if anyone saw. The Drachman torturer and the Amestrian prisoner, running together towards a war zone in order to find the Flame Alchemist and drag him out. Edward wondered what could happen to Void if anyone saw him helping them. From what he'd gathered, Drachman society did not take kindly to betrayal- they abhorred it more than the Amestrian military. The backlash of his actions would be brutal.

Maybe that was why he was able to extend a strand of trust his way. The man had a lot more to lose than he did at this point, and aside from doing his job, he'd done nothing that would make Edward think he'd stab him in the back. He still held tight to his weapon.

"Neither of you are in any shape to be fighting," Void commented as they ran.

"Yeah," Ed snorted, "no shit."

Soldiering and Sacrifice

Dammit!

Dammitdammitdammit!

The blood coating his chest was the only warmth around for miles and he snarled at his misfortune of being the one to get caught up in the hail of bullets sent by Colonel Mustang's dogs. The humiliation of having to play dead while the Drachmans ran around like headless chickens was almost outweighed by the annoyance of losing sight of the Flame Alchemist and the pipsqueak. If he hadn't thought the Drachman soldiers would attack him when they saw him healing, he would've gotten back up and continued his chase. Unfortunately humans were predictable, and confrontation with a superior entity made them become afraid. And when humans were afraid, they got violent. He couldn't keep an eye on the potential sacrifices if he was busy fighting off soldiers who didn't understand the kind of presence they were in.

And now, of course, it was snowing.

Even more frustrating than that, was the fact that the General and his keeper had seen him getting shot, which meant there was zero chance he could go back to his current, "Ford" form without raising massive suspicion. It was ridiculous, how many times he had to change and conform to keep plans from going south. One of these days he was going to get praised for it.

He wondered if that was the reaction waiting for him at home. In the beginning he'd been pretty sure that he could create enough bloodshed to please Father, and with the Amestrians playing their dutiful part in slaughtering the Drachman camp, he was hoping he was right. Otherwise, while entertaining, his efforts would be for nothing. At least if he maintained Elric and the Colonel's safety Father wouldn't immediately kill him for his actions.

Maybe Father would appreciate what he'd done? After all, even if the bloodshed wasn't enough, he'd damaged one of the more volatile pawns on the board. Edward Elric might not be so keen on fighting them when the time came for them to use his knowledge after everything he'd gone through. Envy sure hoped that was the case, anyway, and that Father wouldn't punish him for hurting one of the sacrifices.

Even as he thought all that though, he knew in the back of his mind that Lust was right when she'd chided his impulsive decision to spark a war between the two countries. He'd only been trying to help their Father, but he doubted it would be received that way… He'd just grown so bored. Killing that family man had alleviated it for a time, but he'd been missing being a part of something big. Honestly, he'd only been looking to make another Ishval- one that didn't affect the soil of the country Father was almost finished preparing this time.

Lust was right, though. As painful as that was to admit to himself, he knew it to be true. Everything was turning into a disaster. It was an easy enough realization to come to when he pushed himself up and finally allowed the hole in his body to stitch itself closed. After that, it was all a matter of finding a new face to take.

The first person he spotted was the brick house of a man that had tattled on the Alchemists' plans the day before. Petrov, if he remembered correctly. Though, he supposed it didn't matter what his name was because he was going to be dead in a moment anyway.

Envy cackled when he thought of it that way while launching himself at the Drachman. The man looked surprised to see him for a millisecond, having been one of the few to see "Ford" die, and the moment's hesitation was enough for Envy to form his arm into something sharp and impale the huge moron with it. Even before Petrov drew his last breath his likeness had been copied. Envy released the man to fall face-first into the stained snow and did his best to get his bearings so he could find the Alchemists again.

The camp was twenty-five paces to his immediate left, which meant the last place he'd seen the pipsqueak and his friends would have been to the east, where the land tilted to kiss the sky's horizon. Envy let his eyes roam the barren land for any signs of life and squinted against the elements when he caught sights of two figures making their way towards the flaming camp.

Envy bet he would have caught the blond mop atop the first person's head, even without the light of the moon.

What was the brat doing getting closer to the fight?! He was going to get himself killed.

The real question was which idiot was helping him? Envy strode closer until he could match a few features of the man to his memory, and he scoffed when his mind supplied Maksim's name.

Of all the people on Volkov's scrappy team, Envy would've pegged Maksim as the most likely to betray his people. He'd sensed weakness in the man the moment he'd met with the group. All humans held some kind of weakness to them, it was true, but Maksim in particular had pissed him off because it was so visible, yet so inaccessible. It had been clear the man wasn't cut out to fight -didn't have the stomach for it- but why exactly that was, he'd had no clue. It wasn't until he'd seen a few sessions with Maksim and the Fullmetal Pipsqueak that he'd finally been able to peg that weakness. His suspicions had been further confirmed after the man had realized there was no point in the torture he perpetrated.

He cared about kids. It was one of the most pathetic things in his eyes. What was so special about a tinier, weaker human, that grown men would defy their superior officers and risk being court martialed? He couldn't understand it.

At least, he'd thought that was Maksim's hang-up. Now, as he watched the man… help? Drag?... ...

... as he watched the man run beside the small alchemist, he wondered if he'd been mistaken. Maksim didn't appear to want to help him. It was almost like he wanted Elric dead.

Well, he couldn't let that happen now, could he?

Envy sighed heavily and picked up his pace after the pair. He really had to do everything, didn't he?


Flames licked at the air close to his face and Roy felt more at ease because of it.

He missed having his gloves, but he wasn't letting that stop him from carving arrays into any and every available surface, setting fire to the tent containing much of the Drachman weaponry. He could hear the panicked shouts from the enemy soldiers and did his best to remain hidden. He may have been able to fight, but Fullmetal and the Lieutenant had been correct in saying that he was in no shape to.

His hand throbbed as if to agree with their words. He held tight to the gun he'd procured from a nearby body and hurried to the next area of cover that would need to go. The Briggs soldiers were doing a fine job in disposing of enemy soldiers, but he was determined to leave no traces of that army behind. A message needed to be sent to the leaders of the country, and he would gladly help send it. Besides, he was more interested in causing disarray than death today… well, with the exception of a few individuals.

Amestrian soldiers passed him like ants in a frenzy, paying him no heed as they picked off any stray enemies that should've fled. The Drachmans quickly thinned out as he continued setting fires that sent them fleeing, though. If the Briggs men realized that he was sending the enemy their direction by blocking their path with the explosions, he did not know. They seemed to have the situation under control either way. He had high expectations of Olivier's men and didn't pay heed to the cacophonous cries he heard because he assumed they belonged to the enemy.

What he hoped more than anything at the moment, though, was that Maksim and the others were not part of those groups being bottled up and executed. He still had a few things he wanted to say to those men before he killed them. Perhaps it was wrong, to hunger for vengeance -or was it justice?- like he did, but he couldn't help it. They'd hurt his youngest subordinate, and that was not something he would stand for. He didn't care about what they'd done to him, but what they'd done to the kid was unforgivable.

So maybe it was wrong, but he didn't much care. He knew that Ford at least needed to be detained for questioning- he refused to take blame for overlooking an important detail like that because he wanted to kill the man- and that was fine. The person he really wanted to deal with was Maksim. Following closely after, of course, would be General Volkov, who Roy wanted dead almost as much as he wanted to beat the hell out of Ford, because he was the instigator of everything that had gone wrong.

More arrays drawn in the snow and more tents blown up. A bullet buried itself in the ground only a few centimeters from his hand. Roy rolled his eyes and turned to dispose of the soldier.

It occurred to him then, with how few Drachmans he'd been seeing the further he weaved through the camp, that his people might actually be the ones winning. Considering how desperate the whole situation had seemed not an hour ago, the turned tables were a welcome change. It gave him a shred of hope that the main forces would be able to defeat the enemy, now that the threat of a surprise attack was being neutralized.

He wasn't about to get caught up in that thinking though, because there was always the chance that Briggs would lose. It wasn't as if the Drachman soldiers here were not capable fighters, and Roy was fairly certain in his assumptions that Olivier had not been able to spare as many men as the enemy army had. His only solace there was the Briggs fighters were supposedly the most elite in the whole of Amestris. It had been some time since anyone from the Northern base had come to a drill in Central to show the truth of that rumor, but Roy did not doubt the validity of it. Olivier did not tend to say something unless she was at least ninety percent sure that it was accurate.

In the grand scheme of things, there was little he could do to change the outcome of the fight, whatever it may be. He would lend aid where he could. Other than that, he only had to do his part and stay alive… and tie up some loose ends. Most important was the staying alive part.

The squeaking of snow underfoot behind him had Roy spinning around and bringing his gun up. He'd already disposed of a few stragglers and was more than ready to deal with one more. That thought in mind almost had him pulling the trigger before he realized who it was he aimed at.

His brain felt like it was short circuiting and Roy gaped. He had not been expecting Edward to move from his spot, much less come and find him.

"Fullmetal what the hell are you..."

He trailed off his question when his attention locked onto the flicker of movement he caught behind Edward. It was difficult to make out a full face in the waning, flickering light, but he saw enough that his blood boiled and he snapped at the kid to get back. If Maksim thought he was going to make an attempt on anyone's life from the shadows like a coward, he had another thing coming.

He nearly tripped over his own feet when Edward not only refused to get out of his way, but also told him to not shoot the man. When he finally got his mouth to work, he glanced at Edward, hoping his disbelief was clear on his face. He didn't remove his gun from where it was trained on the Drachman.

"What?"

"He's helping us," Edward explained, "don't kill him."

"I'm sorry, kid, the torturer is helping us? You gotta see how bad that sounds."

Maybe Edward had hit his head? Maybe Maksim threatened him? Had he hurt Edward again?

The notion made him toy with the trigger. If that man had done anything more to his charge when he hadn't been there to protect him, he was going to make him wish he'd never been born.

"Whatever," Edward sighed, "but it's true."

Maksim stepped out from the little cover he had and Roy zeroed in on the red dripping from his hands. An icy dread dug into his shoulders at the sight and Roy immediately started searching for any signs that Edward had been injured. He hadn't looked like he was bleeding, but given the awful lighting it wouldn't have been hard to miss. He wasn't walking any funnier than usual, sure, but that didn't mean anything. Although, if he had been hurt to the point of bleeding, he probably wouldn't have been telling him not to shoot Maksim- Edward was stubborn and would protect himself. Right.

"He doesn't deserve to die right now, Colonel."

That was the statement that did finally made him scoff. "Really? I can think of a few reasons why he doesn't deserve to live."

Roy didn't miss the flicker of a grimace across Maksim's face. Apparently for once they might have agreed on something. Good.

"I'm not gonna argue that." Edward conceded and Roy thought for a moment he'd won. "But you still shouldn't kill him."

It was strange, how shocked Maksim appeared when he said that. At least he reflected the disbelief Roy felt in hearing the kid say it. How could Edward not be rooting for the death of that man? What was it about death that bothered him enough to spare and enemy? He never had understood that part of Edward- how he could be so violent, yet… not. Normally that was something he could respect. It didn't usually piss him off so much.

"You can't save everyone all the time, Fullmetal," he ground out. Edward glared back at him.

"And you can't always justify murder."

That's what he thought this was? How could he not see it as protection- at the very least, justice for wrongful harm done?

Roy sighed and forced himself to lower the firearm. As much as he wanted to kill Maksim and rid the world of another monster, he couldn't justify it when Edward was staring him in the eyes and advocating for the man's life. He didn't want to become that kind of person to the kid.

That didn't mean he wouldn't do it later. A shared glance with Maksim told him the Drachman understood that, too.


Edward released the breath he'd been holding and swallowed hard in an attempt to soothe the burn in his throat. He wished Mustang could trust him once in awhile so he didn't have to keep explaining himself. Although, for once he did understand why he hadn't. It wasn't like he'd been too comfortable with the idea of trusting Void. He still wasn't, but he'd been his best shot at getting to the Colonel safely. The man had at least proven that he wasn't trying to put him in harm's way when he'd taken out one of his own people to protect him.

That was a weird thought. Void protecting him. Edward shook off the uncomfortable feeling that brought with it. He supposed it was better than being afraid of him. At the very least, they had backup that knew how to use a gun and wasn't afraid to.

He finally turned his back to Mustang to let Void know he appreciated the help, but his voice caught in his throat when he saw the Drachman lifting his gun. He didn't even get a second to warn Mustang before the trigger was pulled.

Edward tasted copper in the back of his throat and he wondered if he'd screamed. It sure felt like he had, but he wasn't sure. He was sure that it felt like someone had sat on his chest to constrict his breathing and that his ears were ringing from his proximity to the gunshot. He'd made a mistake. It was the only thing he thought as he turned to see where the Colonel had been hit.

He'd made a mistake. He never should've trusted Void for a single second. He should've protected himself like he'd been told to. Like he'd promised Mustang he would. People didn't change that fast. What had he been thinking? He was an idiot, and… and…

And Mustang was fine.

The sight he expected to greet him disappeared from his mind when Edward stared at the man on the ground, the hole in his head coloring the snow a sickly red. A knife was still held in his hand and Edward wondered how close he'd been to driving it into Mustang's neck when Void had moved. And Mustang… there was a trail of blood from under where he had his hand pressed to his neck, and Edward guessed the bullet had nicked him. Otherwise, there didn't seem to be any damage to the Colonel.

Edward wondered wryly if all the spinning back and forth was going to put him on the ground when he faced Void once more. The expression he wore was softer than Edward had ever seen it and he tried not to gape out how human the man appeared. He'd saved Mustang's life, and his, and had made himself an enemy of his own people. For what, he still didn't know, but he supposed it didn't matter.

A silent understanding passed between them then, a mutual gratitude -though Edward wasn't sure what Void would be thanking him for- and then Void nodded and moved to take off.

He got not more than two steps before he was doubling over himself, the distant ring in the air from nearby gunfire the only indicator for why.

Before realizing he was moving, Edward found himself catching the man before he could fall. The effort to hold him up was taxing on his healing shoulder and the wound in his thigh he'd reopened somehow, but Edward grit his teeth against it, determined to stay upright. He didn't know much about gunshot wounds, but he knew enough to be aware of the dangers associated with too many sudden movements. If the bullet was still inside, one wrong position could kill Void. He'd just gone through the trouble of keeping Mustang from shooting him, so he'd be damned if he let him die this way. Now that he knew Void had people waiting for him to get back home, he couldn't let that happen.

Edward was distantly aware of Mustang shooting at the attacker, but he didn't know if he got the guy. It didn't really matter if he did or not, so long as nobody shot at them again. Aside from the three of them, the area had been more or less abandoned, Edward noticed. With all the fires around, he was guessing it wasn't worth it to the Drachmans to stick around. Also, he was assuming they had their hands full with the backup Hawkeye and the others had brought.

Void grunted, the strain of holding himself up no doubt hard on his body and Edward glanced down to the spot on his abdomen that he was holding onto. Even with the pressure he applied blood leaking through his fingers and Edward quelled the nausea in his own stomach as best he could. He'd seen bad injuries up close before, but he was already surrounded by the smell of so much blood and death that viewing the wound up close got to him. He couldn't imagine how Void was staying on his feet with a hole in his body like that. Yeah, he was helping him, but Edward doubted he was offering that much support, given how his own legs were quaking with the effort of holding him up.

They needed to stop that bleeding as much as possible, or else even the smallest effort he took to keep him away from death's door would be useless. Edward scrunched his nose when his fingers made contact with Void's, the stickiness of blood coating his hand. He could feel that Void was pressing hard, but he knew it wasn't as much pressure as he could've been applying. He found himself rolling his eyes because, yeah it hurt, but after all the things Void had put him through, he had very little sympathy. Not wanting someone to die and caring that they were in pain did not go hand-in-hand. Edward pushed harder and felt a sliver of satisfaction when the blood stopped leaking as rapidly. Void gasped, the noise choked and painful.

He was so focused on that, that Mustang's hand on his shoulder made him flinch. It also alerted him to the fact that the Colonel was speaking.

"We need to go, it's not safe here."

Edward couldn't help scoff. Yeah, he had no idea. That was some news to him. It wasn't like that was the whole reason he was there.

"It's not safe anywhere. In case you didn't notice, we're in enemy territory."

"C'mon kid, I'm being serious."

"So am I." Edward shifted his arm so he could look at Mustang and show why he couldn't walk away. Not when he was helping Void to stay alive. "We can't just leave him."

Mustang barely gave Void's wound a glance before he was back to arguing with him. "I don't see why not."

"He's got a family!"

Void lifted his head and Edward ignored the look he was giving him. He didn't need gratitude from the guy, he just… he wasn't gonna leave a family fatherless if he could help it. No kid deserved to grow up without a dad.

He wished he could have transferred that to Mustang somehow. There was no way he could say that, because of course the idiot would read into it and think he was talking about Al and himself, and then he'd probably pity him or something similarly stupid, and he didn't need that. He just needed the Colonel to quite fighting with him because now was really not the time!

Perhaps he only needed to put things into perspective for Mustang to get what he was saying- why he couldn't leave Void behind. It would be like… like if Mustang had made a promise to someone- oh!

"If it were Hughes, you wouldn't just walk away."

It wasn't a perfect example, since it wasn't as though Edward liked Void and considered him a friend (gross), but it was good enough, because he did not miss the way Mustang's breath caught and his eyes darted to the ground. Edward wanted to laugh victoriously, but was glad he didn't when the Colonel's next words destroyed any shred of positive emotion inside of him.

"It doesn't matter what I would do. Hughes is dead."

It was Edward's turn for his breath to stutter and it took him longer than it should have to find his voice.

"Wh… what?"

Mustang shook his head and Edward distantly wondered what was going on in his own head. He almost looked like he'd regretted saying that.

"This is an enemy soldier, kid, it's not the same. You can leave him."

He sounded so far away and Edward barely heard him. He was still reeling. What Mustang said... it couldn't be true. It hadn't been that long since he'd seen Hughes before leaving…

What happened? How had Mustang kept it from him this long? The whole team, actually… how long ago had it happened? Why hadn't anyone told him? And why had Mustang decided now was the perfect time to tell him?

He tried to be mad about that, but he couldn't do it. It wasn't Mustang's fault. He could've picked a better moment, but… Hughes had been his best friend, and his bringing him into the fight had been a mistake, even if he hadn't known.

But... How and why? Who would've killed Hughes? What had he done to anyone to...

Edward swallowed hard when he remembered what Hughes had been helping him with last time he'd heard from him. He did his best to push back the wave of guilt that wanted to eat him whole, then. Whatever he'd found must have gotten him into trouble. It might've been the reason he'd died.

His breath stuttered and he forced his lungs to expand. Breathing had become increasingly difficult, but he shook his head and worked to calm down until the feeling of being choked went away. He couldn't do that right now. He had to keep it together. Once he was home he could deal with… all that.

Mustang must have taken his head shake as something else, though, because his exasperated words filled his ears not a beat later.

"How are you defending him after what he did?"

Edward finally looked back down at Void. His skin had grown paler and his breathing a lot more ragged. It was painful in Edward's ears and he could imagine what the man was going through as the bleeding made him weaker and unsteady on his feet.

It would be a lie if there wasn't a tiny part of him that was satisfied with seeing him like that. However, the sympathy he felt made that feeling obsolete. He didn't enjoy seeing people hurt, even if they were people who'd done him wrong. In the same way he wouldn't have felt any joy in seeing the MPs kill Scar -even after the man had nearly destroyed him and his little brother- he didn't feel much elation in seeing Void bleeding out.

He doubted Mustang would understand any of that, though. He was a soldier, and he'd been more than willing to let people shoot Scar back then. Mustang had a strong sense of justice, but that sometimes meant he was too rigid in the ways he thought.

Edward frowned and shook his head as a sigh left him. "I don't know."

A small 'tsk' left the man, but the rest of Mustang's reaction was lost to him because Void's weight shifted and before Ed knew what to do, he was slipping. Edward cursed when trying to reach for him with the hand not holding pressure against his stomach resulted in a sharp burn from his shoulder, a reminder of why that arm had been immobilized in the makeshift sling. The inevitable consequence of his not catching the man sent Void slumping into the snow. Or, it would've, if Mustang hadn't caught his arm before his face could make contact with the ground.

Edward blinked, not expecting the Colonel to offer any assistance. Void groaned when he was hauled back to his feet and Mustang told him to shut up before he started dragging him towards one of the few areas he hadn't yet torched. Edward followed, feeling the slightest bit triumphant in winning Mustang over. He wasn't sure what he was going to do to help. Past getting Void somewhere he wasn't in constant danger of being shot, he wasn't sure what either of them could do.

Void seemed to be grateful for anything, though. When Mustang set him down roughly atop a crate, the Drachman hissed and clutched at his side with more vigor. Edward grimaced for the sole fact that he knew just how much it hurt to be jostled like that when you had a hole in your body. Mustang didn't seem to care all that much, because he kept moving him around, making Void take his hand away from his stomach so he could open his jacket and push his shirt up. Edward was sympathetic to the Drachman's plight when he watched his expression pinch as he clenched his jaw and curled his hands into fists while Mustang prodded the skin around his wound.

"The bullet's still in there." He concluded when he pulled away, wiping Void's blood off like it offended him. "Doesn't look like it hit anything major, though. He'd probably be dead by now if it had."

Edward got the impression that he was disappointed by the fact that it hadn't done more damage. He couldn't blame him for that, but it also made him cringe. He hadn't seen the Colonel harbor so much hate for someone before. Understandable or no, it was disconcerting. Void didn't seem to mind. He just seemed relieved that he wasn't dying as fast as it looked like he was.

"I need…" Void paused to take a measured breath. "I need to stop the bleeding."

"Have fun with that," Mustang snapped, "we aren't exactly in a doctor's office."

He was right. Neither of them had any idea what the crates inside the tent held, but there were no bandages or disinfectants in sight. Still, Void was also correct. They needed to stop his bleeding or else he was going to die before sunrise. They needed bandages at the very least. Edward wished Mustang had a little more urgency when confronted with the problem, but considering the fact that he didn't want to help at all, he supposed he couldn't have expected much more from him.

Okay… Bandages… What makes good bandages? Clothes? Who can spare clothes?

Mustang would not be the one to ask. Void needed any warmth he could get, so cutting up his clothes would be plain stupid.

Hey, hey Ed. Who's got the metal leg?

"Right," he muttered before having Mustang cut his pant leg, which he then handed to Void to use himself. That was fair. It wasn't like he was too keen on the idea of patching up the enemy either, even if he was there to save his life.

Edward decided his priorities in life were an enigma even to himself.

It occurred to him a second later that Mustang was still bleeding from the cut in his neck. He had him rip off another section of his pants to tie around the wound.

Once that was all dealt with, Edward leaned against the crate opposite Void and rubbed his knees. He was sore all over, but his legs hated him the most right then. It was crazy how out of shape he'd gotten in only a few weeks. He tried to let that thought provide him with some wry amusement, but all it did was make him frown when he realized how much work he'd have to do when he got back home in order to build his muscle back up. Just another thing to add to the list of "reasons Drachma was a terrible vacation spot."

However, at the moment, there were worse places to be. The carnage outside came to his mind's eye and he scrunched his nose. Yeah, there were worse places. Even if hanging out in the general space of the person he'd rather not see again wasn't his idea of a good time, he was willing to do so if it meant laying low and staying safe until the whole battle blew over. From the brief glimpses of the situation he'd gotten, it appeared the Amestrian forces had things under control, so he would bet there would be people coming to find them.

Now that he'd had a second to calm down and let himself rationalize that by being in the vicinity of a Drachman wasn't killing him, he realized how fortunate they'd been to have the team attack when they had. It really had been a perfectly timed coincidence. He just hoped things would keep working in their favor until they were home again. They more than likely wouldn't, because that seemed to be their luck as of late, but he could still cross his fingers.

Unfortunately, Mustang did not share his sentiments, because after two rounds of pacing, he 'tsked' under his breath again and pulled his gun back out. Edward snapped to attention because he realized if he decided to shoot Void after all, he wouldn't be able to stop him. However, Mustang didn't shoot, but instead went for the door.

"I need to give backup."

Edward groaned and tried his best to convey how stupid of an idea he thought that was with a single look. He wasn't sure how well he managed, but he liked to believe Mustang got the general message nonetheless. He'd thought they were done gnawing at that bone, but apparently Mustang wasn't ready to drop it yet.

"They don't need backup. You just don't want to sit and do nothing."

"Fullmetal, I don't need a lecture from you. You're fifteen and this is one of those things you don't understand."

He probably would've been alright with being told to stand down if it wasn't for the fact that a) Mustang had been told multiple times that nobody needed his help, and in fact, wanted him to stay put in one place, and b) he brought up his age as if it had anything to do with what was going on. When exactly had his age ever been a problem for the Colonel in the past? He'd encouraged him when he was eleven freaking years old to join the military and he was going to try and lecture him about age now.

It was not an excuse he was going to let stand.

"Well, you're old and apparently can't remember how to do as you're told."

Contrary to the popular belief, Edward understood well the reasons Mustang was so determined to get back out there. He not only had scores he wanted settled (as did Ed), but he was likely feeling pretty useless to the rest of their people, sidelined as he was. Edward couldn't see how the Colonel thought he wouldn't get that. He'd been immobilized within the first day of being in the damn country and he didn't understand?

Mustang had no reply to that, so Edward wasn't all that shocked when he shook his head and exited the tent. Usual Mustang fashion. Going it alone, never needing help, always the leader. Sometimes it was admirable, other times it made him look like a desperate fool. Edward would definitely classify this time as one of the latter.

What frustrated him about the whole thing was the fact that even as he judged the Colonel for running off yet again, he felt the urge to leave too. It was ridiculous, because without a crutch he would be slower than slime and he doubted he would be helpful in a fight. Hell, he doubted he'd be helpful in any situation right now. Admitting that, even to himself stung, but he knew there was no denying it. If the last couple minutes had been a good example, he would be a hindrance to Mustang more than anything once he caught up to him, especially if the man's plan was to step right back into the war zone.

Yet he was still seriously considering following after him.

But there was that other thing holding him back, too. Void coughing brought Edward's attention over and his frown deepened the longer he stared at the man. His skin hadn't gone any lighter since the initial paling, even if it did appear clammy and feverish, and while his arms trembled with exertion from keeping himself upright, he seemed otherwise fine. The cloth bandage might have soaked through, but seeing as it was black, Edward couldn't tell. All in all, though, Void could've been faring worse. He might have been fine to leave, and really, aside from the knowledge that he would feel guilty if he left a father to die, nothing was keeping him there.

But there was the smallest chance that if he left him, Void would end up needing someone. Maybe the person that had shot him would come back to finish the job. Maybe soldiers would find him and take him captive- Edward didn't think he'd survive a trip to Amestris.

It was almost annoying, how much he cared about the fate of someone he didn't care about. And that was a confusing thought. Edward wished he could be more like Mustang at times like these, because then he could let his anger and hatred block out any other emotions and allow him to continue on with his life without any hangups. Or maybe he'd be better off like Hohenheim. That way he could abandon everyone he cared about to keep himself safe.

"Go with him. He needs you."

Void's order jolted him from his inner turmoil and Edward tilted his head. He wasn't sure if he'd heard him right- he was talking quieter than usual. Which was fair, but it still made him hard to hear.

"I've been through worse than a little love tap from Petrov- he's a shit shot. I'll be fine." Void paused to take a breath and Edward caught the momentary clench of jaw before he continued. "I thank you for your help, but you can leave now."

The idea that something as serious as a gunshot wound could be referred to as a "love tap" was insane to him, and he seriously doubted Void's assurances, but if the man felt confident in his chances of living enough that he could lie, Edward wasn't going to challenge him. He didn't care enough to call him on it.

Void's words solved his inner conflict at any rate, so Edward pushed off his support and was pleased when he only wavered a little before his legs decided they could work for him a little while longer. Void halted him when he made for the door. Edward waited, not sure what to expect -a quick threat? A weird word of wisdom? The man offered up his saber and before Edward could register his own actions, he accepted it. Making quick use of the weapon, he sunk the blade into the ground for leverage. Void nodded approvingly and Edward took a moment to appreciate the fact that he'd given him the sword instead of the gun.

A gun was next to useless in his hands when he couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger, but a sword. A sword, he could handle. After all, it was his favorite thing to attach to his arm in a fight. At least with a sword he could control exactly where an enemy got hit.

Void sat up a bit straighter to grab his attention again and Edward tightened his grip on the saber unconsciously.

"I know it means very little, coming from me, but I'm sorry for the things I put you through."

Edward knew his mouth had fallen open, but there was little he could do to close it. Of all the things Void could have said, that was the furthest from his mind as being in the realm of possibilities. What was he supposed to say? He couldn't say "I forgive you" because they both knew it would be the biggest lie in all history. He didn't forgive him, he doubted he ever would- that he ever could. But what else was there to say? He could think of nothing.

Void didn't look to be expecting anything, though. In fact, he was looking at him as if to ask why he hadn't left yet.

So he did.

As much as Void's apology had left him reeling, Edward told himself to get it together as he stepped outside and scanned the area for any indication of the direction Mustang had gone. He focused on that, on Mustang, who was now his top priority. He was back to needing to find him and make sure he didn't get himself killed. It was funny, how the tables had turned and that was now his job, though not a kind of funny that made him want to laugh.

The falling snow was making it difficult to find any tracks, but Mustang left a pretty visible trail all on his own. It was less flashy than before, but for someone who knew the signs to look for, it was simple enough to find the dusting of old alchemy arrays in spots that had yet to be covered and follow those.

The path had been picked clean, much to his surprise. He'd been expecting to come across a straggler or two -one of his main reasons for keeping a brisk pace- but his worries ended up unfounded. Apparently the Drachmans had a penchant for maintaining a tight formation? If he'd been able to see the way they traveled it would have been easier to know for sure, but he wasn't about to dwell on that. The last thing he needed to do was get caught up in the past. How they may have acted before had no bearing on how they acted now. Maybe he was wrong about their tight formations, too, and they were simply lying in wait.

He crept on, and it wasn't until he got closer to where he suspected Mustang was that everything grew hectic once more. Where the path up to that point had been clear of any soldiers, friend or foe, the one ahead was littered with all kinds of people, alive and… not. Though, whether they were Drachman or Amestrian, he couldn't be sure.

It hadn't registered with him how hard the wind had been blowing until he realized how much of the fighting had been drowned out by the cold whipping his hair around his face. He must have been upwind if the sound was travelling away. Why that mattered, he wasn't sure, but he tucked away the trivial information in case it became important later.

As far as he could tell, he'd yet to be spotted, and Edward did his best to keep it that way, weaving in and out between boulders and abandoned wagons, and everything between. While there may not have been a hundred people to worry about, there was a steady downpour of slush that made it difficult to make out anything. There could have been a few live soldiers around that he couldn't see, which was enough to warrant caution, especially when his fighting skills were not up to snuff. He wasn't naive enough to think he could get to Mustang without being spotted if he made no effort to remain invisible. Sneaking around had never been his forte before but- well it was never too late to learn.

The sight of still bodies lying in all manner of awkward positions made him queasy, and there was no safe place to look. As far as his eyes could see death stared back, though the elements were trying hard to cover the evidence. The fact that it was a war and the people being killed were coming at them with malicious intent was supposed to reassure him, he knew that, but Edward found that it did very little to help. Just like Void had been a person, with a family and a job, and most likely dreams and ambitions, so had every other person who'd lost their life to the cause. How many of them had only been doing what they'd thought was best? How many of them had only been trying to get by so they could go home?

He was beginning to realize why his certification had been taken. He couldn't stand seeing so much destruction of life and he hadn't even been the one to do the killing. Mustang had to have known it would get to him. He'd been trying to protect him. Ed had already known that, but it wasn't until he objectively looked at what life had been like for everyone for the last couple of weeks that he finally came to terms with the fact that, in his mind, Mustang had done the right thing… and honestly, it had been a good call. He could not see himself doing anything as gruesome as what he saw around him. A shudder passed through him at the thought of it.

The unease he felt as he walked through the sea of death only worsened when he noted how many of the people still visible in the snow were wearing Drachman uniforms. He became more and more aware of the fact that he was wearing a Drachman military jacket… and that the Amestrian soldiers that were killing the Drachmans did not know that.

He'd thought his need to catch up with Mustang had already been pretty intense, but the increased wariness urging him into a faster pace made him realize otherwise. He ignored the fact that his leg felt ready to give out on him at a moment's notice and pushed forward, using the saber to aid him as much as possible.

Catching sight of Mustang was like finding the light at the end of the tunnel and a relieved smile broke across his numb face despite the circumstances. It looked like he was talking with a soldier -was that a Briggs uniform?

The apparent turning of the tides made sense now, at least. The only thing he knew about Briggs was that the men from there were "tough as they came." It was reassuring to see that they lived up to the hype. At least it gave them a fighting chance against the Drachman's force.

It was difficult to make out much more than a few gestures, but Edward clearly saw when the person opposite Mustang pointed in his direction. He froze in place and willed the Colonel to tell the guy he wasn't a threat if that was what they'd asked. When nobody fired at him, he assumed he was safe and he let his shoulders relax. However, as he did so, the wind carried to him the sound of heavy breathing. He would've been tempted to write it off as his own if he didn't remember the small fact that anything he heard came from behind, where he was upwind from.

Not knowing who it was, but being sure an ally would have identified themselves, he turned around and heaved the saber in front of his body. The resulting clash of metal had his eyes going wide as he stared down the Drachman who'd been about to rend him in two. It was nobody he recognized, though the hate shining in his eyes made it seem like he recognized him.

Who the hell is this guy?

Their blades screeched when Edward stumbled backwards. He barely had time to catch himself before he was lifting the weapon above his head to block another swing. It wasn't easy to get a good look at the man who seemed pretty determined to kill him, but from what he could make out, it was nobody he knew. It was a random soldier who hated him for the sole fact that he wasn't one of them. How he'd managed to avoid the rest of the army's attack Edward didn't know, but he wished the guy would stop trying to stab him!

The weapon he held was foreign to him and Edward knew his movements were stiff and clunky, and his frozen fingers meant his hold was weak. To add insult to injury, he wasn't used to the weight or length of the blade, and it didn't take a genius to notice that- the Drachman certainly had and was taking full advantage of the fact.

Edward yelped when the man thrust forward and he had to jump back to narrowly avoid being skewered. The movement and landing were hard enough on his leg that he wasn't at all surprised when he toppled backwards. Even with the cushion over the ground the fall sent a spark of pain up his spine. There was little time to worry about that, though. His time to recover was cut short when the Drachman loomed over him and made to drive his saber into his heart.

His body moved of its own accord and Edward gasped when he felt the whizz of the blade by his head. He didn't have time to get up, but he did have long enough to block once more when the man tried to hack his head off. The effort it took to keep his arm up wasn't enough to keep the weapon away from his face for very long and he knew it. His whole body shook with adrenaline and exertion alike and there was no way he could keep fighting for more than another minute at the most.

He couldn't give up yet, though, not when Mustang was right there. He'd been spotted already, too, so it wasn't as if his plight was going unnoticed, right?

When the Drachman grabbed his wrist and tried to make him release his weapon, Edward brought his knee up and dug it into the man's knee stomach as hard as he could. There was no crunch of ribs resulting from the action he'd been rooting for, but it was enough to knock him off balance and wind him, giving Ed the chance to kick the sword out of his grasp.

The loss of leverage brought him down and Edward took advantage of the momentary lapse and pushed himself back up. Or at least, he tried to. A hand in his hair kept him from getting very far and he stifled a curse when he was yanked back into the snow. If he didn't have a concussion yet, he never would, he decided while swinging his arm out blindly. Somewhere between trying to stand and falling, he'd lost his grip on his sword. That didn't matter, though. If he could just get a good hit in, he could get him to back off long enough to get away.

But he was outmatched. He was injured and had little experience fighting with Drachman weaponry on thick, uneven terrain. Meanwhile, his opponent had undoubtedly spent his whole career fighting with sabers. And he wasn't sporting a dozen different wounds. The match was as unfair as they came, and even as he struggled to free himself from the bruising grip, Edward knew there would be no winning.

At least neither of them had a sword now, which would make the whole killing thing harder, but he didn't want to die. Not yet, anyway. There was so much he still had to do. What would Al do if he died now?

Please

He didn't know who he was pleading to. Truth maybe, though he knew how cruel it could be. Maybe God, though he wasn't sure which one would be listening. Hell, maybe he was just willing the Colonel to hear him.

I can't die. Not now. Not like this. Please…

Warmth splashed across his face after a pop sounded in the distance and Edward didn't have to open his eyes to recognize what it was. The scent was overwhelming and made him want to gag. Before he could make any kind of move to do that or even open his eyes though, a heavy weight settled across his body and left him breathless.

Edward wheezed and blinked rapidly in an attempt to clear his blurred vision. As soon as he pulled his arm free from under the Drachman's body, he scrubbed at his face in what he knew was a vain attempt to get the blood off. He wasn't sure if the copper he could taste on the back of his tongue was his or the soldier's but the thought was enough to make him want to throw up all over again. His desperation to get out from under the dead man increased tenfold and he kicked and shoved with all his might until he could slip out.

The sight of blood covering his jacket and the feeling of it against his chest made bile rise up in his throat. It was strange, how he could handle the sight of his own blood, but the minute a stranger's got on him, it became a horrifying ordeal. Or perhaps what was terrifying about the whole thing was the fact that the man had been murdered… right in front of him- on him.

And yet, past that sickened part of him, he was so glad that it hadn't been him.

That was what tipped him over the edge and had him emptying his stomach. He was glad that it hadn't been him. What kind of horrible thought was that?

"Edward!"

How was he any better than the man whose blood he still wore if he thought like that? Edward shuddered and wiped his mouth off, the bitter taste of vomit on his tongue a welcome distraction. He hated that he felt the way he did about the Drachman's death, but at the same time, he wasn't dead. He would get to keep going and grab the Colonel, and he'd get to go home. The grotesque swirl of warring emotions on the subject made him dizzy.

"Edward, are you alright?"

Mustang kicked up slush when he knelt beside him and Edward wondered if it was a bad sign that he couldn't really feel the cold of the world around him anymore.

"Kid!"

Edward started when Mustang shook him a little roughly and it occurred to him that he was the only one privy to the knowledge that the blood covering him was not his own. The Colonel had no way of knowing whether or not he'd been injured in the struggle. He nodded slowly and grabbed Mustang's wrist, prying his hand off his sore shoulder. Aside from the usual, and being shaken up, he was fine. He didn't know if the same could be said about the Colonel, though, who looked like he was ready to pass out.

The relief that flooded Mustang's features served to untangle some of his own nerves and Edward didn't fight back when he was briefly crushed against the man's shoulder. The warmth Mustang's body provided was a welcome change, too, even if it did make his skin burn as feeling was slowly restored.

While the hug was nice, though, the point still stood that if his arms hadn't turned to complete jelly, Edward would've hit him for how reckless he was being. Wanting to be useful was one thing, but this was a stubborn unwillingness to accept that he shouldn't do anything. He may have been able to handle the last week better, but Edward could see the ways captivity had left a mark on the Colonel. He hadn't been sleeping or eating, and he'd worried himself into a state of constant near-frenzy. It was wrecking him. He shouldn't have been fighting. He should have been sitting in wait for the others to come back with the good news that the threat had been neutralized.

Even the thought that he'd been expecting Mustang to do that made him want to laugh. He'd never been good with being told what to do -they had that in common-, so why was he so surprised when the Colonel didn't listen to others who told him to not do anything?

He still got to be mad at him, though. After all, his first instinct wasn't to run when people he cared about were being threatened either, but he'd been able to do it, so… no… wait… no he hadn't. He'd gone right after Mustang, who had told him to stay safe and…

Crap.

A groan escaped him and Mustang's expression screamed worry. Edward shook his head, not about to explain to the man that was just realizing he was a huge hypocrite. Instead, he took advantage of the fact that he had his attention.

"C'mon, Mustang. You've proved your point. You're not helpless. Let's go."

He waited for the argument, so when none came it was his turn to frown. Mustang looked like he was lost in thought, his eyes glued to somewhere beyond his immediate line of sight. He sort of looked lost in thought and Edward huffed.

"Hey. Are you even listening to me?"

No, of course he wasn't, because that would make his life easy. When was that ever allowed? Edward pushed away from the man in order to turn around and see what had him so transfixed that he couldn't be bothered to pay attention to what he was saying.

Had the Colonel's expression not tipped him off, he would have been lost trying to identify the man who'd come from seemingly nowhere. Now, even through the haze of weather, Edward only saw the looming figure as the only other Drachman who instilled in him as much fear as Void.

Oh. Oh no.

"No, hey, Mustang, nuh-uh. Not happening."

He was already grabbing at his jacket before the Colonel stood completely from his kneeling position. It was funny what a healthy dose of mortal terror could do to revive the movement of his limbs. Edward would give himself time to marvel about that later. For now, he had to stop Mustang from whatever it was he was planning. There was no mistaking the murderous intent in the man's glaring eyes and Edward got the feeling there would be no talking him out of whatever he had planned. That didn't mean he wasn't going to try.

He'd seen Black fight, even if it had only been a brief example, and he didn't know how Mustang would fair against him when he was in pique physical health, much less when he was battered and fatigued. Edward did not want him going anywhere near the man. Even if Fordvy had been the one pulling the strings behind the original attack plan, Edward got the impression that Black was no idiot. He was a higher rank than Mustang, and he was a lot bigger than him, too.

Mustang couldn't beat him. Not as he was- and especially not without his flames. It wasn't worth it to even try. And while part of him said those things out of fear, and he knew it, he also didn't think that that fear was unfounded. Black had been one of the main instigators of everything bad that had gone down in the last month, and he'd been merciless in his pursuit of war.

Either the Colonel didn't understand that, or he refused to consider it. Whichever one it was, he wasn't listening to him and Edward kept a tight hold on his sleeve and tugged hard until he was sure he had the man's partial attention.

"Listen to me! You can get him later."

"No," Roy stated, the word rumbling from somewhere deep in his chest. Edward pulled harder and he bitterly wished he could just kick the man's legs out from under him so that there could be no debate.

"Why not?"

"Because I have to get him! He's my responsibility!"

The sudden shout made Edward flinch, but still he asked him why he thought that. Mustang didn't notice the reaction -or if he did, he paid no attention to it- because when he answered, he only got louder.

"Because I didn't protect you! I should've but I didn't, and he ordered Maksim to do those things, and if I can't kill that son of a bitch then I'm killing this one!"

"That's bullshit, Roy." The words slipped from his mouth with little thought and finally, finally, Mustang's expression shifted from something ugly and terrifying to something more like himself, annoyed and expectant. Edward was beyond caring about that, though, because he was fixated on his disbelief. The fact that Mustang was so upset over something that he couldn't have controlled was crazy!

After how many times the man had told him that his getting captured hadn't been his fault, and how their being recaptured had nothing to do with any mistakes he'd made, how could Mustang go and blame himself for something he'd clearly had no say in?

There were plenty of other things he could take blame for, like embarrassing him with that song, or being weird around Hawkeye and making everyone generally uncomfortable. But what had happened to him, had not involved him in any way.

"First of all, you're not my boss, so responsibility doesn't mean anything. But, second of all, if you're gonna go around saying crap like 'you're responsible for me and I'm like… your kid' or whatever, then you need to start acting like you give a damn about what I say! You're being a shit excuse for a leader right now. If you want to take responsibility for something that has nothing to do with you, than you'd better start acting like you care!"

Mustang said nothing, though he did open and close his mouth several times like a gasping fish. Good, let him chew on that for a minute. Edward knew he may have been harsh, but he'd spent the entire night chasing his dumb ass around and talking him out of killing people, and he was not about to play witness to a pity party. If anyone deserved a pity party, it was him, the only person in the whole area that hadn't signed up to be part of a war. He wasn't getting one, and neither was Roy.

He wanted to believe his words reached somewhere deep and knocked some sense into the man, but he didn't know if he should. He wasn't exactly known for motivational speeches. Yet, when straightened shoulders sagged and a weighty sigh left the Colonel, he started thinking he was getting better at them.

"You're right."

He was so quiet Edward wasn't quite sure he caught the words. He had the feeling he knew exactly what Roy had said, but… well, how often did he get to hear the Colonel tell him he was right about anything, much less something so serious?

"What was that?"

"I said you're- move!"

Not for the first time that night Edward hissed when Mustang pulling him roughly reminded him that his arm was still healing. When he saw a bullet embed itself into the nearby Drachman body, where he'd been standing not a second ago, he decided he could forgive him. He couldn't wait until they could have a proper conversation without being shot at.

Black's eyes met his when he spared a glance up, and the ice in his expression sent a chill to his bones. The distance between them had been closed by a significant margin and Edward didn't want to think about how quickly he'd been able to cover that ground.

Up to that point, he'd been making every attempt to get Roy out of there so that he wouldn't be in a position where he had to kill anyone, but when he assessed the situation, he realized that was the only option that got them both out of there. Black was too close and too good of a shot to miss if they took off running, and there would be no reasoning with him- even from the space between them, he could see the same crazy look in his eyes that Mustang had not too long ago. Or maybe he was imagining it. Either way, he didn't see Black letting them go without a fight.

He didn't want it to have to come to that, though. He'd been doing well, convincing Mustang to think rationally. He'd been close to reasoning out that they could find the Lieutenant or Havoc, or anyone else who would help them out. Now that was all ruined. They still needed someone to back them up though, because they had no cover and one gun and probably not enough bullets to last them very long. Edward looked around and realized he hadn't seen where the Briggs soldier Mustang had been talking to disappeared. Maybe he'd imagined that.

"Get down, kid!"

Edward grunted when Mustang shoved him to the ground and he went to ask what good that did them but went silent when bile rose back up in his throat at the sight of Mustang grabbing the nearby deceased soldier and turning him so that his body acted as a barrier between them and Black. As appropriate a tactic it may have been in ensuring their survival, the situation still made him sick. Mustang at least didn't appear too pleased about the turn of events either.

Another shot was fired. It drilled into their barrier with a sickly thud and Edward grimaced. Mustang cocked his weapon before sitting up to fire back. Edward frowned when he cursed, signalling the fact that he missed. He doubted they had more than a few bullets left, so unless Mustang was only trying to slow Black down, it didn't make sense to waste them. On top of that, they wouldn't last long if Black kept getting closer and all they had blocking him was a body.

For some reason he was suddenly reminded of when he and Al had tried to fight the island "monster" back during their training days. They'd tried defeating it head on at first, and in doing so had almost gotten themselves killed. They'd only really had a chance at survival when they'd stopped trying to match his strength, and instead had used their wits to deal with it.

Edward rolled over to pull his arm out from under his chest and drew a quick array. He may not have been able to fight well, but that didn't make him a complete liability. He could still do small things to outwit the enemy and keep them alive. A thick wall of icy snow shot up and Roy shouted in surprise, which made him smirk a bit. He'd have to thank teacher for drilling into him how unnecessary it was to rely on brute strength alone when he got back.

"... Nice job." Mustang blinked owlishly at him and Edward smiled in spite of the seriousness of the situation.

"Thanks."

It wouldn't be a permanent fix, but it would buy them time.

"Where are they?"

The mutter had Edward uttering a noise of confusion and Mustang elaborated on how he'd sent the soldier from earlier to find the team. They couldn't have been too far away, because according to the man, their men had "almost finished cleaning up." Edward wanted to laugh until his lungs gave out, then, because he'd been getting worried and worked up for no reason. Of course there had been a plan and Mustang hadn't just been firing at Black for the hell of it. Their situation wasn't desperate, it was calculated. It was the most comforting news he'd heard all day.

They only had to fend for themselves a little while longer and then they would have backup. They could finally get away from that damn camp. He could go home. He could see Alphonse and Winry. He could eat- he could sleep. Just a little bit longer…

Roy let loose another shot and quickly ducked back behind the wall when Black retaliated. Edward took that moment as an opportunity to see where the Drachman was in terms of distance. It looked like Mustang's shooting had done the job in slowing him down, but he was still making decent progress. That wouldn't do.

As much as he complained about the snow, Ed was thankful for it right then, because it was an endless supply of defense that he could use at longer range than a lot of his attacks back home. There was more room to work with. Another shaky array later, he huffed a small laugh when Black's alarmed cry rang out, signalling the frozen fist he'd created had made contact. He was prepared to pat himself on the back when he noticed out of the corner of his eye a huge problem. The snow bank he'd used to attack Black had been shifted to reveal the tailcoats of a soldier. It was difficult to see through the veil of falling snowflakes, but he seemed to be holding a rifle. A rifle that looked an awful lot like the kind the Lieutenant carried. One made for precise long-distance shooting.

He squinted against the elements and felt his throat go dry when he realized it there was more than one coat to spot- more than just one soldier. He didn't know how many there were exactly, but it was easily more than two or three. And none of them were shooting at Black, which meant they were going to be shooting at them.

And if he could clearly see them, then they could clearly see them.

"Mustang…"

"What?"

"There's-"

"Colonel Mustang!"

Where Havoc's voice would've been like hearing a river in a desert a few minutes ago, now it sounded a lot like a gun being cocked and Edward wanted to go back in time just to tell him to shut up when he watched Mustang's attention switched from him to the man waving at them. He couldn't have been turned away for more than two seconds, but that was all it took.

Crack!

Without thinking about the potential consequences, he pushed himself up and moved to shove Mustang out of the way of the bullet that he'd only distantly heard being released. The only thing to signal he'd made the correct move was the unmistakable sound of metal piercing metal. The screeching sound of it so close to his ear alone would've been enough to get him on the ground, but he got the sneaking suspicion it was the force of the shot itself that ended up putting him there.

Winry is going to kill me.

Heat flared up from the side of his neck when the shock of the fall finally wore off and Edward didn't know if it was pain or blood or the friction caused by the bullet or all the above. What he did know was that stars danced in his vision and the world appeared before him a huge blur. All around him was a mess of shouting and gunfire, but it sounded so far away- like he was underwater… or they were in a cave… or… or somewhere else loud and echo-y…

And then there were hands on him, and they were warm and calloused and careful- friendly. Maybe they were friendly. He hoped they were. He couldn't tell, and he was too tired to figure it out. His entire body felt like lead, and he couldn't remember how he got on the ground, but he didn't want to get up, even if the swimming voice kept telling him to not close his eyes. He was so tired, and so cold… He just wanted to sleep.

Home and Healing

He was warm.

It was what he immediately picked up on, and despite the weight of his eyelids informing Edward sleep was still an option, he forced them open. He couldn't think of a single reason he would feel any kind of heat that encompassing and he couldn't accept it readily without understanding what was going on. His first thought was that he'd died, but then remembered that the Gate of Truth had been neither cold nor warm- and it had been nowhere near as comforting as wherever this was. Although, he wasn't sure why he felt comfort at all when the last thing he knew, he'd been in a snow-filled land.

When his vision finally focused, he realized the warmth came from a pile of blankets covering every inch of his body, minus his arms which were… covered in IVs and missing.

Edward turned his head as fast as he could, which he found was not very fast at all -sluggish, even- and stared at his shoulder, where his automail arm was no longer attached. A short examination of the remaining socket brought attention to a rough scrape in the metal that went farther towards his neck and disappeared from his line of sight. Only a brief moment of confusion as to where it came from sat with him before the memory of how he'd passed out in the first place came back back.

He'd been shot.

That fact wasn't as alarming as he'd expected it would be. It explained the needles taped to the inside of his arm, at least. But it also brought up more questions than answers. Questions like: what happened? They must have gotten away from the Drachmans, otherwise he'd be dead, not in an infirmary.

There was also: Where the hell was he? From what he could see, it wasn't a tent. The walls painted white and the material he lied on felt more like a bed than a cot. It looked, felt, and smelled like a hospital. And he'd seen enough of those to know it had to be an Amestrian hospital. But how had he gotten there? And where was everyone else? Where was Mustang?

Mustang.

Edward felt more awake than ever and tried to sit up, only to receive the rude awakening that was the fact that he could barely move. Every muscle in his body felt like it had been replaced with sludge. Even his head felt too big and heavy for his neck and he wanted to go back to having his eyes closed, because the effort of keeping them open was a valiant task in and of itself. It was probably caused by whatever was being pumped into his veins.

Dropped his head to the side to stare at nothing in particular, he frowned at the brief uncomfortable twinge in his neck and thought about the scrape in his automail. It didn't linger in his mind, though, because the dissipating pain was forgotten near immediately once he caught sight of the person placed in bed a few feet away. He had IVs in his arm, too -fewer than him, but still enough to clearly notice. Mustang.

His hair was dishevelled and he looked exhausted, but that wasn't going to keep Edward from trying to get his attention. They could both complain about being tired after he'd confirmed that the man was okay. He'd taken a bullet for him and would sorely disappointed if he'd ended up sustaining major injury anyway.

The first time he went to call out, Edward winced over how many times his voice cracked and died, like an undecided engine attempting to sputter to life. It also sounded a bit muffled and he wanted to kick himself for not noticing the mask on his face until then. How had he missed that? He sighed, watching the breath collect condensation inside the oxygen mask. Why he had one and not Mustang, he didn't know, but it annoyed him. He could breathe just fine on his own. It took some effort to get his floppy arm to listen to him, but once Edward had the mask pulled off his face, he licked his cracked lips and tried waking the Colonel again.

"Mu- ahem. Mustang. Mustang…"

He hated how weak he sounded. He couldn't raise his voice properly to reach even normal volumes- and what was worse, everything he said sounded like a whine. His throat hurt with the effort, too, and he scowled at the sleeping man for making him put his body through more abuse. It would've been less annoying if his entire being wasn't trying to betray him by being uncooperative. As it was, the whole situation was frustrating, because he had questions that needed answering, and Roy was the only one who could answer them.

"Must-" The sensation of sandpaper being suddenly shoved down his throat stopped him dead in his tracks and he broke off in a coughing fit. His body convulsed with each hack, and where his body had been numbed by the warmth before, he was suddenly brought to awareness of how sore his chest was, and how much his back hurt when he forced himself upright to try and halt the invisible hands creeping around his throat.

Tears pricked the edges of his vision when a particularly hard cough left gagging as he made his best attempt to contain the contents of his stomach- or lack thereof, he supposed.

"Whoa, heyheyhey, you're okay."

Oh sure, now he's awake, Ed thought wryly when he felt Mustang's hand on his back. He decided he could forgive him the next moment however, when a glass of water was brought to his lips. Once he'd finished drinking, Mustang wordlessly adjusted his bed so that he could remain sitting mostly upright, and Edward took the opportunity to check on the man's face. Aside from some healing cuts and bruises that made it look like he'd gotten punched at some point during the fight, he seemed okay. The fact that he could move so quickly was comforting as well, because it meant if he had been hurt, it hadn't been enough to put him out of commission.

Although, judging from the tight grip he had on his IV pole, perhaps he shouldn't have been out of bed yet. Edward contemplated shooting him a look that told him what he thought about that, but he was stopped from executing it by Mustang's hand rubbing small circles in his back, as if he were still hacking up a lung and needed soothing. It should've bothered him, because he wasn't a kid that needed comforting, but with his body relaxing again, he found it felt nice. Besides, Mustang had an odd expression on his face that made Ed think he needed the moment.

"You're awake."

The statement might have been Mustang confirming it for himself, or it may have been an attempt at comfort. Edward didn't know, but he didn't care either, because it was nice having that level of care. But, it wasn't to last, and soon enough whatever had overtaken the Colonel disappeared and he removed his hand from his back so he could move to sit on the edge of his own bed.

For someone who had been sleeping, likely for hours, Mustang looked objectively awful. He couldn't help but notice it. He looked fine in the sense that he was able to get out of bed and talk, but he looked horrible at the same time. Maybe it was the hospital smock washing his skin out, or the bandages wrapped around the arm not hooked up to IVs, or the splinted broken hand. He just looked beyond tired, as if he hadn't slept at all for some time. Overall, he seemed alright, but he looked… not great.

They sat in silence like that, observing one another, for what could have been a minute or an hour, until Roy broke the soft air of the room with a throat clearing tha might as well have been a gunshot for how loud it sounded. Edward prided himself on not flinching.

"How are you feeling?"

That was a good question. Edward blinked when he realized he didn't know how to answer it. Mustang wanted a full assessment, of his injuries specifically, of course, but he really wasn't sure what to give him as an answer. Whatever was being pumped into him was good, and aside from the small pinpricks of discomfort here and there, he felt fine. In fact, if he hadn't woken the man up, and had instead closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift off, he imagined he would've felt like he was floating outside of his body. He didn't know what kind of damage there was to assess, so he shrugged his shoulder and answered with the thing that had become all the more relevant in the last few minutes.

"Tired."

Mustang hummed as though he'd been expecting that answer. Edward supposed it made sense if he had been. They were both tired, he could see it in the way Mustang leaned against his knees, a stark contrast to the straight back he employed when he was in top shape. It was like he was being pushed down by an impossible weight, and it may have been a posture he'd grown used to seeing from the man as of late, but it had been in captivity, not Amestris. Seeing him like that in one of the areas he'd never dropped his stoic Colonel act made the impact different somehow.

He knew better than to ask about it. Roy wouldn't want to discuss anything to do with it, and he didn't want to risk him shutting down on him yet. After all, he needed to know what happened- that had been his whole reason for wanting him awake. The longer he spent in the dark about the events after his passing out, the more dreamlike everything around him became, and he hated it. He knew there was no way any of this could be a fantasy, but it still seemed strange to him. How much time had he lost if they'd been able to make it back home without him being aware of even moving?

"Mustang."

"Hm?"

"What… happened?"

Roy let go of a heavy breath and shook his head even as he dropped his attention to the floor. It was like the mere question had exhausted him and the fact only made Edward more curious. He knew Mustang would tell him, so he waited. Eventually, fatigue-laden eyes turned back up to see him through wild strands of hair and Edward got the feeling there was a long story coming.

"A lot, kid. A lot happened."


The sight of Havoc and the others, the relief that was supposed to come with, was completely washed away by the dull thud at his side. It couldn't have been longer than a second that he was turned away from the teen, but it had apparently been long enough for Fullmetal to put himself between him and a bullet. He didn't know where the shot had come from- he'd thought Volkov to be the only threat. It registered in the back of his mind that locating the shooter could be imperative to his continued survival, but all he could focus on, all he could see, the traitorous red pooling at the base of Edward's neck.

Roy thought he would never be as grateful to Miles and Briggs soldiers as a whole as he was in that moment, when they provided the cover he needed so his attention did not have to be divided between staying alive and kneeling beside the kid. The soldiers swarmed Volkov and any remaining enemy, he could hear it in the distance before the battlefield fell eerily silent. However, his attention wasn't on any of that, but on the small body he'd pulled into his arms.

Edward was still, more still than he'd seen him in some time, and maybe it was a trick of the light, or the contrast of the blood against white backdrop, but he seemed paler. His eyes were half-lidded and working their way to closing.

"No. Don't close your eyes, Ed. Hey," he barked, "Listen to me!"

Roy shook him as hard as he dared. The action only served to make Edward whine. It did little to stop him from closing his eyes. Roy shook him again, earning a slurred "ow" from the kid, but otherwise nothing. Blood dripped down his shoulder and onto his lap and Roy honed in on it. It hadn't slowed down.

The bullet had hit him in his shoulder. Roy focused on that for a second to figure out how worried he needed to be about the bleeding. The metal casing had been stopped from entering his neck completely, caught in his automail. It looked like it had barely missed the major artery, but the blood still came at a steady rate. There was a lot of it- or, at least a lot more than he ever wanted to see coming out of the kid.

He needed to stop it. A brief panic passed through him when he realized he had nothing proper to do that with. It subsided not a second later when the tails of the cloth around his neck slapped into the side of his face with the wind's assistance. Roy untied the fabric -he hadn't been hurt that badly before. It was fine- and pressed the clean area of it to Edward's neck. He took the moment to check on his pulse too, and his stomach lurched when he felt it fluttering weakly under his fingertips.

"C'mon, Fullmetal, wake up."

He couldn't lose him. He may have grown accustomed to people around him dying, but Edward was different. He wasn't like anyone else around him, who wouldn't have bat an eye if someone who'd hurt them died. Hell, he wasn't like other kids his age. He was a good kid. And he wasn't supposed to be there. This wasn't supposed to have happened to him. He had a brother waiting for him who thought he was fine. Roy knew there would be no way he could look Fullmetal's little brother in the eyes that pierced his very soul, and tell him that he'd gotten his big brother killed. The thought of doing it tore at his heart.

"C'mon kid, not like this. C'mon, open your eyes."

He couldn't give up. Not now, when they were close to the finish line. They'd put the enemy in checkmate and it was only a matter of time before they got help for the wounded. He just had to hold on until then. Roy brushed the hair out of Edward's face and his pulse pounded in his ears when he only felt wisps of breath stuttering past shivering lips. He pulled him closer to his chest, careful to not jostle him much, trying to provide any sort of warmth. The cold radiated off of Edward, leeching away anything approximating to heat, and soon enough Roy found himself shivering, too.

Edward still wasn't waking, though.

Roy sighed softly and applied more pressure to his neck when he felt wet warmth reach his fingers. He should've stayed with the kid. It was too late to realize that, but it still ate at him like a persistent mosquito. He should've listened to Edward and the Lieutenant and stayed put, then maybe nothing would have happened.

He shook his head and dropped it against Edward's. He knew there was no use dwelling on that- the maybes and could haves. It was basic training, accepting that what was done was done. Normally he took that to heart and let things go. This time was different, though, apparently.

"Ed, please. Please open your eyes. I'm not asking too much..."

No reply.

He was getting ready to shaking him again, jostle him out of his unconsciousness, when Fuery's voice cut through the quiet, calling to him, asking if he was alright. Roy didn't call back to him quick enough it seemed, because the next moment, the rest of the squad was there, hands on his shoulder, looking him over for injuries. Any other time, it would've been endearing -it still was, honestly- but he was more concerned with the teen in his arms. Their attention was brought to him near immediately too, and the Lieutenant snapped into action, picking up his slack after telling him to sit still. He wouldn't have expected anything less from her.

Breda removed Edward from his arms by her instruction and Roy allowed himself to be helped up by her a second later. Her presence was calming, grounding, and even though having Edward taken from him left him with a roiling concerned in his gut, he didn't snap at Breda, which was at least better than the last time he'd ripped Havoc's head off. The side eye Riza gave him told him she thought something similar. She led them to the horses, where Miles and other soldiers were waiting with Volkov in custody. Roy payed them little attention except to send a glare that promised death to the Drachman if he made a wrong move. Though, he did give a nod of appreciation to the Major, who seemed to understand the fact that he was preoccupied and didn't attempt to stop him for questions.

Breda had set Edward onto a cart, which was chock full of weapons and ammo, and Roy followed suit, sitting beside the teen and wrapping him up in a cloth tarp. He could've ridden -after the fight they likely had horses to spare-, but he didn't want to be away from the kid any longer than he had to. Someone needed to keep an eye on him, and he trusted nobody else. To his surprise, he was not the only one getting into the cart. The Lieutenant joined them not a minute later with bandages in tow. He should've been expecting the supplies, given that part of the attack had been a rescue, but that didn't mean he felt any less surprised. He moved to the side to allow her access to Edward's injury when she motioned for him to make room, and he watched as she got to work assessing the damage. She may not have been a doctor, but she'd been around him long enough that she knew a thing or two about patching people up. He trusted her intuition on the matter more than he trusted his own, at the very least.

"The bullet's still there," she muttered and Roy nodded. He'd seen that. He was glad he'd made the right call in not trying to remove it when she made a frustrated noise under her breath before covering it up with gauze. "It needs to be taken out soon. Otherwise he'll get an infection."

Roy nodded, though he got the feeling she wasn't actually talking to him. He didn't have to be a mind reader, or even in the right state of mind, to feel the waves of anger coming off the woman- the energy of it clearly directed at him. He knew he'd be getting an earful from her later about how stupid he'd been, but for the time being she restrained herself and instead gave him silence once she'd finished stopping Edward's bleeding.

That was fine. Maybe a lecture from her was something he needed- it had been awhile. For now, he was alright with sitting in the tense quiet they'd built for themselves as they made their way back to the supply depot.


"What the hell, Colonel?!"

Roy sat up and kept his elbows under him for support as he stared at the Lieutenant. He'd known it would be coming, and he was grateful that she'd waited for the doctor to leave before the berating, but he'd been hoping to get a wink of sleep in, too. For half a second he envied Edward's unconscious state, because once Riza got on the path of lecture there was no stopping her until she decided enough was enough. He couldn't say he didn't deserve it this time, but it still didn't mean he looked forward to it. He'd gone about things in a way that had put him and Edward in harm's way, and even if his actions had ended up proving helpful, it had still been reckless. He felt like a kid, being grilled by Bertholdt Hawkeye all over again.

The Lieutenant certainly had gotten her father's disapproving stare down to a science.

"I was trying to help."

"You were trying to get revenge- don't try to paint it as anything else." Hawkeye glared and he rolled his eyes, because even if it was true, it wasn't fair that she could peg him that fast. She wasn't done, though. She was never done that soon, not when he'd scared her as much as he had. He could hear the worry in her voice, even as she tried to mask it with anger. "I told you to stay where you were. Why don't you ever listen?"

It wasn't a hard question to answer by any measure, but Roy still paused. Of all the people he could explain it to, he knew she would be the one to come closest to understanding. Edward had gotten upset, and non of the men would get it. Riza, though, had known him since they were young. She knew how hard it was for him to not shoulder responsibility. She knew when his decisions were driven by guilt versus stupidity. It was why she bothered to worry at all, now. She'd known back in the cave that it ate at him- Ed's condition. There hadn't been time to talk about it then, though. But now, he supposed there was no use hiding it from her.

"I couldn't protect him."

She kept silent, an invitation for him to continue and Roy dragged a hand down his face before sitting up fully, the threadbare blankets pooling in his lap. He fixed his attention on the faded stitching pattern there instead of the steady eyes that watched him carefully, searching for any cracks in his armor. Roy wondered just how many she found, because he felt like he was littered with them.

"I should've protected him." His voice sounded strained even in his own ears and he hated making her see him like that. "I know him, Riza, I know how stubborn and impulsive he is. I should've known he wouldn't let being fired stop him from doing something like that. I just… I didn't protect him, and I should have."

"It wasn't just you, you know."

The cot dipped and Roy glanced at his Lieutenant. He waited for her to follow that statement up before denying the possible truth of her words. And he did want to deny it.

"We all thought it was for the best."

That may have been accurate, but he distinctly remembered being the one to have brought it up in the first place. It seemed like forever ago that he'd called them all into his office to discuss what needed to be done about the "Elric Predicament," and gotten input and ideas on how they should've gone about keeping Edward out of the war. It had felt like a good plan out the time. If Edward had followed it, it would've been. He should've accounted for the kid being himself, though. It had been an oversight on his part. A huge one. There was no way he wouldn't blame himself for that.

"Stop." Riza dropped a hand on his shoulder and his thoughts broke rank. "We are all as much responsible for what happened to Edward as you. Stop blaming yourself."

"But-"

"You're not a god, Colonel. You couldn't have known and neither could we. Stop."

He bit his tongue when the argument that he should've known rose in his throat. He knew she was right. She was always right about these things. He was able to trust her to always tell him anything without restraint. She was his safety net, the person he could go to for words that could wound instead of drip honey. If she'd believed it was his fault, she would have said so. She hadn't, though, which meant as much as he didn't want to hear her, she spoke the truth.

Part of him still didn't believe it. But, even as he tried to find ways to disprove her in his head, though, it felt like the weight in his chest had been lifted, just a little bit. Just enough that he could breathe again. The lump that wanted to form in his throat was promptly swallowed and he just nodded, because it was easier than speaking. She understood that, too, and let him remain silent.

Her hand slipped from his shoulder, then, but before she could bring it to her lap he grabbed it. He wasn't ready to lose her touch just yet, and for the moment, the action was safe. Nobody would be tending to him or Edward anytime soon. Anyone who would have reason to come into the tent were busy packing up and preparing to receive the medical transport.

If she understood that, she said nothing, but she also didn't make him release her. He could've fallen into her for that fact alone. She could scold him and worry after him all she wanted, so long as she continued being the one who could hold him together, too. He didn't know what he'd do without her to ground him and remind him how dramatic he could be. The thought made him chuckle, though there was little real mirth behind it.

"I should've listened to you."

"Yes," she agreed, "you were being ridiculous."

Roy nodded along and sent her a small smirk, giving her hand a light squeeze. "But admit it, you love it when I almost get myself killed. Means you get to rescue me."

"That doesn't mean I want you to make a habit of it, Colonel!"

She was glaring but Roy could see the worry etched into her forehead had smoothed out, and the corners of her mouth were threatening to turn upwards. It was an expression he'd grown used to and fond of long ago and it meant the lecture was over and she forgave him. She might not have been happy with him, but she forgave him, and that was all that mattered.

He smiled. "What would you with yourself if I didn't, though?"

Riza's only reply was a scoff and eye roll to cover up her own grin. Roy took the opportunity then to try his luck at tugging her closer. If she felt relaxed enough in the moment to smile like that, then maybe, just maybe she could pretend with him a moment longer. Pretend that they weren't in a foreign country, in a medical tent, surrounded by people who would report them at the first sign of overly friendly conduct.

If she resisted, he wouldn't stop her or try again and she knew it. Roy half expected her to deny out of habit, but she surprised him by going with the motion and shifting to sit against his chest, her head tucked under his chin. That alone alerted him to how badly he'd scared her. Riza didn't allow him to hold her like that. Not ever. He swallowed thickly in an attempt to rid his mouth the foul taste of guilt. He didn't know if he succeeded completely, but he was at least able to enjoy his Lieutenant's warmth instead of obsess over negative thoughts. He pretended he could hear the steady thrum of her heart against his chest and hummed softly. What would he do without her?

"What?" Riza responded to the noise.

"I was just thinking."

"And?"

"I'd be dead without you, Lieutenant."

There was a short pause before she hummed her own agreement. "I know."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, Sir."

The exchange was so soft and unlike their typical office banter, and Roy knew it wouldn't be like that all the time, but he wished it could be. He wished they could be like that in Central. It wasn't possible, and he knew that. But… they weren't in Central- they weren't in Amestris. Without putting too much thought into it, Roy buried his nose into her hair and planted a chaste kiss there. He hadn't kissed her in any way since he'd been an apprentice. The thought hit him hard and he wondered if the same thing hadn't occurred to Riza, too. Because the action served to tear her from her doze-like quiet and she sat up faster than a striking cobra to face him. Her expression was difficult to read- caught somewhere between apprehension and endearment. She didn't tell him he shouldn't have done that, though. Another surprise.

Everything wanted to melt away at that point: the titles, the reasons why things were wrong or right, the circumstances, all of it. Because she was right there, beautiful as ever, and they were alive, and the likelihood that another moment such as this one would up any time in the foreseeable future was near nonexistent. And he was aware he was pushing his luck, but Roy leaned forward anyway.

And Riza leaned back.

The movement was miniscule -barely enough to stop the kiss- but it might as well have been as if she'd lept off the bed. Roy let go of her hand and allowed her to sit up straight and regain her composure. The moment was over and they both knew it. He would've apologized, but he wasn't sorry. She was not averse to his affection, he could see it in her eyes that she regretted stopping him, but, she was stronger when it came to resisting the urge. He loved and hated that about her.

"Colonel." It sounded like a warning and apology wrapped into one and Roy nodded. She was right. As always.

"Lieutenant..."

It was as much an acknowledgement of her reasons and feelings as it was a anything else. He hadn't planned anything to say after that either, but had been considering keeping the conversation going, just so she didn't leave. However, anything he planned to say flew out of his mind when he heard a groan from the cot beside him

Edward had been drifting in and out of consciousness for hours, but hadn't stayed awake for more than a minute or two at a time. The makeshift doctor had mentioned a minor case of hypothermia and shock finally setting in being the main cause of that, and the infection in his leg hadn't been doing him any favors, either. Apparently getting shot had been the final nail in the coffin, though, and his body had decided it was done. Roy didn't doubt starvation and sleep deprivation also contributed, but he'd been working on focusing on waiting for the teen to wake instead of the extent of damage keeping him asleep.

The Lieutenant moved to check on him when Roy didn't get out of bed fast enough. A hand pressed to Edward's forehead and a groggy inquiry of what she was doing later, and Roy was up and standing beside the woman, staring down at bleary eyes.

"Edward?"

The kid squinted at him, as though trying to make out who he was. He got it after a second and nodded slowly to himself like he'd just solved a particularly difficult puzzle. "Oh, Mustang."

The fact that Edward was talking to him it all was enough to drag a tired smile to his face. "How're you feeling?"

"Like I'm dying."

Roy grimaced. It wasn't an unexpected answer, but he had been hoping what little pain medication they had would have provided more comfort, but apparently it was a vain hope.

"Sorry, Edward," Riza said softly and Edward seemed to register her presence for the first time, blinking lazily at her as his expression shifted to curiosity. It occurred to him, then, that Edward probably didn't know where he was, and if he'd somehow been expecting a recapture, the Lieutenant's being there wouldn't make sense.

"We're at the supply depot," he stated and Edward's attention moved back to him. "Transports are being sent to take us home."

Apparently I'm not allowed to stay and fight, he thought more than a little bitterly. From the look Hawkeye sent him, she knew exactly the reason for his frown and was not impressed. Edward at least missed the exchange and was nodding once more. He went quiet and Roy would've worried he'd fallen back asleep if he hadn't continued staring between him and Hawkeye. There was little indication of what was going through his head and Roy wished he could've gotten inside the kid's brain to figure out what he was thinking. Or if he was thinking at all. He could've been zoned out just as easily as being lost in thought.

Thankfully, he didn't have to wonder for long.

"Why's the Lieutenant here?"

He sounded genuinely confused, but a short glance at Riza told him it had been enough to hurt her. She hid it well, but the slight frown and tighter posture were unmistakable to him. He was reminded of the cave, how she'd risked her relationship with Ed in order to secure his, because Edward hadn't needed her. It was painful, seeing that echoing into the current moment. Riza took it in a stride, though, as she always readily did.

"I was checking up on things. I'll be leaving now, though."

He wanted to reach out and tell her she didn't have to go, that Edward probably hadn't meant it the way she took it, but he didn't, because his job wasn't to force interactions. If anything had been damaged between the Lieutenant and the teen, they would have to work on that themselves. So when Edward surprised both of them by grabbing onto the hem of her uniform jacket, Roy wondered if the kid couldn't read his mind.

"Wait?"

Riza halted and turned back painstakingly slowly to look at Ed. "Yes?"

"I never got the chance to thank you."

Even if her only reaction was to blink and part her lips slightly, she might as well have startled and gasped, being the most shocked Roy had seen her in some time. "... For what?"

"For saving us." He said it like it should've been the most obvious thing in the world, and Roy decided the medication had to be keeping him loopy, just a little bit, even if it wasn't working well on the pain, because there was no way the Edward he knew would act like that if he weren't drugged.

For her part, Hawkeye only let the words sink in before sending Edward a soft smile and reaching down to give his head a small scratch. They would've been blind to miss the way the kid leaned into the touch.

"You're welcome."

She made her leave after that and Roy felt immense relief in seeing that she wasn't nearly as upset. The moment had been endearing, and he was glad a patch had been put over the wound that had been torn open some weeks ago. It didn't put them in the clear, but it helped, and that was all any of them could ask for. At least Riza's steps didn't seem so weighted now.

As soon as she was gone, Roy dropped himself on the edge of Edward's cot. With all the adrenaline worn off he realized he was more sore than he'd initially thought while lying down. The movement didn't startle the kid, but it did grab his attention and Ed tilted his head on the pillow.

"You're okay?"

"Yeah," he sighed, "yeah, I'm okay."

"Coo-" a yawn cut him off and Roy stifled his own when it wanted to surface. He didn't want to be getting tired now, when he was trying to check up on Ed. He did raise a brow at the teen, though, who had pulled his arm back onto the cot to cover his mouth.

"Getting sleepy?"

"Hu-uh." Edward denied through another yawn. It reminded him of Elicia, the few times he'd seen her, whenever Hughes had chased her around the house asking if she was ready for her nap. Roy snorted so the kid was aware he was fooling no one.

Knowing Edward could reply in small sentences was encouraging, because at least it meant he was going to be alright. It was a rule in his world, that if someone lived for at least two hours after being shot and could remain coherent, they would pull through alright. Still, when Ed shifted on the bed and groaned because of it, a sense of urgency took over him and Roy grabbed his shoulder gently to halt his movement. Pulling through and being ready to hop up and take on the world were different, and he wasn't about to let the kid aggravate any wounds.

The whine Edward gave in response was unlike him enough that Roy put his other hand on his forehead like the Lieutenant had. The doctor had said he had an infection and a fever with it, but he'd been assuming if he woke up, it must have gone down. However, where the medication he'd been given could've explained the slightly loose mouth, it didn't so easily explain Edward's willingness to show -what he would view as- weakness. So it had to be his fever. The lack of proper medical knowledge leading him to think that Edward would've been fine by now would never fail to embarrass him if anyone thought to bring it up later. The heat radiating off Ed's skin was still too much to be considered normal and Roy's mouth thinned to a displeased line.

They needed that transport.

In the meantime, he would do his best with the little he did know, and try to bring his temperature down. Madam Christmas had always had him sweat it out, but they didn't have enough blankets or a warm enough environment to make that possible. In fact, the fever was probably the closest to comfortable warmth the kid had been in awhile. Still.

Looking around, he located the bowl that had been around to clean the instruments used to remove the bullet from Ed's shoulder and dumped it. A couple scoops of snow and a quick transmutation later, and he had fresh water. After that, finding a rag was simple, and Roy soaked it, wrung it out, and placed it over the kid's forehead. Edward's sharp intake of breath and wide eyes accompanying the action were unexpected and Roy frowned in concern. The kid's gaze snapped to his face while Roy wracked his brain for reasons Ed would react like that. He never got to any answers, though, because a second later, Edward let go of a shaky breath and calmed down.

As much as he wanted to ask him what had happened, he didn't want to use up all of his energy answering questions. They could get him cooled down and then they could have a longer chat. With that in mind, he got back up and grabbed the blanket off his cot to settle over Edward. He needed the heat more than he did, and he wasn't all that tired anyway.

"Thanks," Edward mumbled when he tucked the fabric around him. Roy shrugged because it wasn't a big deal, though the gratitude did help to ward off the chill in the air. He went to put some pressure on the damp rag but gave pause when he noticed the pensive frown on Ed's face.

"'M sorry, Mustang."

The apology was so out of the blue that Roy narrowed his eyes and gave the kid what he felt was the most confused look he could muster. What did he have to be sorry for? Roy could produce zero receipts, so he was left to stare at Edward until he opened his mouth again.

"I couldn't shoot anyone like I should've. Almost got us killed."

Even with his words heavy and slurred, Roy heard him loud and clear and his confusion morphed into disbelief. Of all the things that could've been eating at him, it was the fact that Edward hadn't been able to kill someone that got to him? Roy let out a small sound of surprise and Edward caught it.

"Huh?"

"No, it's fine." Roy shook his head. He would've thought the kid would sooner launch into a tirade over how much of an idiot he'd been, just like the Lieutenant had done, so the fact that he was beating himself up was odd. He knew Edward had started to understand that he hadn't been in control of what was done to them, and the guilt that came with that had started lessening, but this was a different problem altogether. One that he shouldn't have been worrying about at all. The weight of what happened earlier was on him, not Ed. He wanted him to understand that, now. "Don't beat yourself up over that, kid."

"But," Edward sighed and stared at the ceiling. "I could've stopped a lot of things if I'd been more like a real soldier. Like you."

A real soldier. It was Roy's turn to sigh, then, because the conversation was starting to feel like the one they'd had in the mountains before their capture. Edward calling himself weak was still a bitter memory, but he latched onto it, because it unfortunately related to the current conversation. He ignored the small sting that came from being respected for his ability to kill people. Instead, he drew on his growing "Edward" database to find something that would get through to him.

He despaired over being the one Fullmetal had decided to trust in all of this right then, because Roy doubted there was anyone else in the entire camp that was worse with words than he was. Anything he usually said was short and blunt. While he could still be those things when talking it Edward, there also had to be a level of kindness or wisdom, or whatever it was that grown ups used when talking to teenagers.

Taking a deep breath, he decided it was best to just take the plunge, say whatever came to mind, and hope it worked.

"Edward, the whole point of being a soldier is doing what's right, even when others think it's wrong. It's about protecting those who cannot protect themselves and saving those who nobody else can save."

He let that sit in the air for Edward to absorb. When he did, Roy couldn't figure out what the look on his face was supposed to say. It seemed like he was caught between the urge to argue and cry, though there was no real anger or moisture in his eyes. For a moment, he worried he'd said the wrong thing and upset the kid, but he waited to freak out, because he thought he'd done okay. The lull in conversation was one second shy of becoming uncomfortable when Edward spoke again.

"Even when those people are the enemy?"

Ah, so that was it. He was second-guessing his decision to help Maksim out. He could see why that would be. Even when Edward had been refusing to let him kill the man, he'd seen the internal conflict on the kid's face. It was why he'd been so confused by his defending him- that, and the obvious other reasons. He wouldn't deny that the entire moment frustrated him, even now, because he wanted the Drachman rendered unable to hurt anyone again. But, knowing that Edward had viewed Maksim as nothing more than a man with a family in those moments, Roy could easily see why he'd done what he'd done. Even if he didn't agree with it, he got it to a degree.

In his mind, he'd done the right thing. Maybe he had, too- just because he was annoyed by it didn't mean it hadn't been what should've happened. If he'd protected Maksim because he truly believed that even after everything, he didn't deserve to die -something Roy would never get behind- and he protected him, then he had done his duty.

Roy nodded. "I still don't see why you did that, but… yeah, even the enemy."

"Okay."

The turmoiled expression he'd been wearing smoothed out then, and Edward looked relieved as let his eyes slip closed. Even as Roy applauded himself for actually being able to put his worries to rest, he wondered if any of the conversation would be remember when Edward woke back up. He hoped it would, because the last thing he wanted was for him to be carrying around a burden he didn't need to. Roy got the feeling that when Edward no longer had a fever on board, he would be less inclined to share his internal conflicts.

Edward drifted back to sleep not long after that and Roy continued replacing the rag, mopping up the sweat that cut paths down his temples when it was required. He might have been at that for five minutes, but it could have been a few hours, too. Whichever, he still was left bone-tired when Fuery burst into the tent, startling him, and announcing that the Drachmans had admitted defeat. Apparently after having their backup forces decimated, they felt less confident about their chances of winning and had decided to cut their losses.

And just like that, the war was over.

It was time for everyone to go home.


The trip back to Amestris had been as expected. Edward slept more-or-less throughout the entire thing, and Roy had taken his cue and gotten some naps in as well. There had been a brief meeting with Major Miles somewhere in between those, but it had been little more than formal questioning on what he knew of Volkov, which, he realized soon enough, wasn't much. Roy did tell him about Ford, which had the man rolling his eyes and muttering what sounded a lot like, "She's going to love this." Roy could only imagine the heyday Olivier would have with that information.

They'd also discussed the weakness in Brigg's defenses that had been brought up and Roy nearly had to jump down Mile's throat when the Major tried waking Edward up to find out more about that. They'd reached an agreement, that he could speak with the kid about all of that after he woke up on his own and been admitted.

The process of crossing the border, traveling to Central and moved to the military-grade hospital after that had been as Roy remembered it. The only difference was that where other soldiers were put into rooms three to four at a time, he and Edward had been put into a private room. He'd been told it was an order from the Fuhrer, that they have a quiet place to heal up. Roy wasn't sure what they'd done to garner favor from the country's leader, but he hadn't been about to complain. Privacy would always be appreciated, and he knew Edward would feel the same way once he woke.

Before any of that could remain on his mind too much, another factor had come into the picture that Roy had completely overlooked. Where anyone who would've been happy to see him alive had been right beside him for the whole journey, the people waiting for Edward were there. And they would have only recently gotten word of their return. And they didn't know the state Edward was in.

He'd stumbled out of bed at that point and tracked down Hawkeye, who'd been getting dressed after her exam. She'd been wholly unimpressed by the interruption, but as soon as he'd mentioned Alphonse and Winry Rockbell, her entire demeanor changed and she'd been even faster to take charge of the situation than he. After ushering him back to his room -and receiving thanks from the nurses who sent him dirty looks- she left the hospital to retrieve the teens. She hadn't said what she would do after grabbing them, but Roy got the feeling she planned to take yet another bullet for him, and would explain the situation to the two beforehand.

He'd need to get her a promotion. Or a new gun. Or… something.

A pin had been put in that thought, though, because the dred overtaking him had been the main thing on his mind. The prospect of being in the same room when the kids came to see Edward had not been something he looked forward to, and he'd exhausted every escape plan he could think of by the time the Lieutenant returned with two somber followers.

Winry was the first he noticed, because the dried but fresh tear tracks on her cheeks were hard to miss, as were the puffy red eyes that accompanied them. The toolbox she normally carried as if it weight nothing seemed to drag her down, and though he'd only met her a handful of times before, he could tell there was a certain sort of skip missing to her step.

And Alphonse… Roy was certain that, had he a physical body, he would've been in the same state as Ms. Rockbell. As it was, the shine to his armor body seemed somehow dulled, while the red eyes that were his soul were dimmer. Even the clank of his steps sounded fragile on the linoleum floor.

They looked like people who had received the worst news possible. Roy supposed they had, given that Edward had probably done what he always did and told them he would be fine before leaving. Of course they hadn't expected him to get caught up in the war that way. Of course that was the state they were in because of it. Edward was their best friend and brother. If the kid's condition had hit him hard, he imagined it had bulldozed them.

And where they had his full attention, he came up as little more than a blip on their radar as they crowded around Edward's limp form. Winry immediately got to examining his automail, and it was impossible to filter out her sobbing as she talked to herself about what would need to be fixed, and got to work removing the ruined arm from its socket. The care in which she did it told him how much she cared for Edward, more than any words ever could, and it was insane- Roy hadn't expected her to be able to see past the tears, much less work with such tenderness after frantically digging through her toolbox. She made no attempt to quell her hiccuping and sniffling and once she detached his arm, and Roy would've had to be blind to miss the fact that she held it tight to her chest as if it were a proxy for the rest of Edward's body. The body which she hadn't dared to touch for fear of hurting him further.

The entire display was nothing short of heartwrenching.

In contrast to her open grief, Alphonse stood, eerily quiet, at the opposite side of Edward's bed. Had it not been for the tremors in his hands as he placed them atop his brother's, he would've been unmistakable from a statue. As Roy listened closer, however, he caught the smallest sniffling emitting from inside the armor and whispers of "I'm sorry, brother."

Witnessing the scene was like opening a new wound to fresh air: raw and painful. Roy couldn't shake the feeling of intruding. However, after getting up with some effort, he barely made it to the doorway before Alphonse stopped him, calling out to please wait.

He did. He halted his steps and waited for the righteous fury of the younger brother to rain down upon him. Waited for the justified screams asking him why he hadn't done a better job protecting Ed- why he'd thought an attempt to get rid of him would ever work out for anyone. Waited for the punching or cursing… perhaps a combination of all those things.

The last thing he'd been expecting was for Alphonse to turn him around and pull him into a hug.

Roy had always wondered how Edward could embrace a suit of armor without discomfort and had eventually concluded that he'd been careful to not get caught on any spikes. Now, though, he realized it hadn't even been that hard. Fit against the space between Alphonse's shoulder and chest, a spike resting atop his head, Roy found it felt no different than being trapped by Armstrong- a bit colder, sure, but not as cold as he'd been expecting. Only, it wasn't like hugging Armstrong at all, because Armstrong was a grown man, not the soul of a fourteen year old boy trapped in a monument of a body. And Armstrong had never let loose choked sobs that nearly destroyed Roy's stoic mask.

He returned the hold after the shock passed and did his best to soothe the boy, offering some awkward pats that had usually been enough for Edward. He could understand that he needed to be held, and with his brother out of commission… it seemed the honor had been passed to... him. To say he was struck speechless by the whole thing would've been an understatement, because of all the people Alphonse could have gone to for comfort, Roy would've thought he'd be the lowest on the list.

It wasn't until he heard Alphonse's broken up, "Thank you. Thank you for bringing him back. Thank you so much, Colonel. Thank you for saving him." that he realized Hawkeye must have told them her version of events, which painted him in a better light than he was sure he deserved.

Hearing Alphonse thank him so many times drove the spear of guilt further into his chest. Because he didn't deserve to be thanked, not when Edward was in a hospital bed with his mechanic and childhood friend crying over him. That wasn't what he'd wanted their reunion to be. It wasn't the reunion any of them deserved. And yet Alphonse still said thank you. The gravity of that felt like a punch to the gut and Roy cleared his throat when a lump decided to try lodging itself there.

"Of course, kid," he finally said once Alphonse released him and he was certain his voice wouldn't betray his emotional state and crack. He cleared his throat a second time and tacked on the assurance that he never would have left without him. Roy wanted to believe that those soul-fire eyes brightened just a little bit, for just a second, but he wasn't sure if it was real or simply wishful thinking. Either way, the boy thanked him once more before going back to Edward's bedside.


"... that was two days ago. Ms. Rockbell left to fix your arm- she thinks she can have it done by tomorrow. And Alphonse is… actually, I don't know. He had to have left while I was asleep."

As he wrapped up the recounting of the last several days, Roy check on Edward's reaction. Sadly, where he'd been hoping for a plethora of questions to follow, drugged Edward really was no fun, and he just nodded.

"Okay… cool."

"Cool?" Roy wondered if his incredulity really was layered that thick in the word, or if it was just him.

Edward snorting in response answered that easily enough. "Yeah. Cool. I'm also really glad I was asleep for that, cuz… Winry would've killed me over the arm thing."

He gave a fake shudder and Roy couldn't help but chuckle. He hadn't seen the fearsome creature the kid spoke of, but it was still amusing to think about. Plus, it was nice seeing a glimpse of Edward past the haze of medication and residual sleepiness.

"And Al… he's doing alright, yeah?"

Roy wasn't sure how to answer that one, but only because Alphonse hadn't exactly been up for talking unless they were discussing Edward, and what the doctors said about his recovery, and about how he'd been doing up until getting shot. And oh, there was something.

"He's got a big lecture waiting for you on throwing yourself into the path of bullets-" he smirked when Edward grimaced. "- but I think he's okay. You'll have to talk to him yourself to find out for sure, though.

"'Kay."

Roy gave him a minute of silence after that, because he knew his brain had to be playing catch-up with the rest of the information he'd been given, if the concentrated look on his face was any indicator.

"So…" he started slowly, "we won."

"Yep."

"Cool."

"That your new favorite word?"

Edward rolled his eyes. "Shut up."

"Ha! I guess it's a step up from "Colonel Bastard," though." Roy sent Edward a teasing side-eye and the teen's only response was to roll his eyes again.

"That's a title, not a word, and I still stand by it, actually." His hand came over his chest awkwardly then, and if he hadn't tried to grab the air where his bicep usual was, Roy would've missed the fact that he'd been going to cross his arms in typical snippy-Edward fashion. He wanted to laugh, but he got the feeling that would take them out of joking territory and back to less-than-fun topics.

He realized with a deep dissatisfaction, that he might as well have let it out when Edward steered the conversation to that area anyway. Granted, the chosen discussion could have been worse. It could have been better, though.

"How are you?"

"Eh," Roy shrugged, "Doctor says my hand'll heal up just fine and I should be back to desk duty before I know it. Apparently they want a mental assessment before I can do that, though." He broke off with a grumble of, "which is bullshit." and he was sure Edward heard it, but he seemed more interested on the other bit.

"Mental assessment?"

"Mm. They used to be mandatory for anyone who fought, but after Ishval, the Fuhrer stopped requiring them because it put too much financial strain on the military. I mean, think about it, with how often we're fighting someone, if you had to see a shrink every time, we're have no funds for any other department."

Edward hummed his understanding and Roy went on, "So nowadays, they only require them for special cases, like traumatic injury, or loss of a spouse… or prisoners of war."

He hated that term. He didn't know why, it just grated his nerves every time he heard it. Going off the small flinch he caught in the corner of his eye, Edward wasn't too fond of it, either. He wasn't about to dwell on it, but the fact still stood.

With that explained, and the hint to the kid that he'd probably be called in for an assessment, too, Roy got them back on track. "They say you're healing pretty well, too. You should be able to get out of here in a week or two. They have to make sure your infection clears up completely before they let you go."

Edward sighed heavily and he could appreciate his exasperation. He did know that the kid didn't like hospitals- Alphonse had shared that bit of trivia with him yesterday- and he shared the sentiment. He could've done without the sterile air and white walls and off-green clothes and bedsheets. And the nurses. God, he hated nurses- not that they ever caught wind of that; his charm was known far and wide and he couldn't let that reputation slip, even when the women refused to let him out of the room until he'd been cleared by the doctor.

"How did we get a private room, anyway?" Edward changed the subject, "I would've figured the whole army needs to be looked at."

There had been no making sense of how that had happened, and Roy doubted there ever would be. As much as he wanted to give Fullmetal more than a vague sounding answer, all he could really provide was a short, "The Fuhrer set it up personally. Apparently he wanted to make sure we had privacy. Don't say I don't appreciate it, but-"

"Why would the Fuhrer let me stay in a military hospital?"

Oh. right.

It was Roy's turn to sigh loudly, through more at his own forgetfulness than anything else, and he got back to his feet to pull open the bedside table to fish out the military-issued watch. He'd managed to grab it before the hospital staff had taken his uniform to be cleaned and repaired. Edward watched him and looked like a deer caught in the headlights when he saw what was in his hand.

"What?"

"I was going to give it to you earlier, but you never woke up long enough to appreciate it, so… here." He held the watch out for him to take and frowned when Edward didn't immediately snatch it up.

Instead, he appraised it and him, like he was searching for a sign or lie between the lines in his face and the scratches and dents of the watch that had clearly been used as a weapon more than once. When he found none in either, he grabbed it and held it in a white-knuckle grip, as if he was afraid anything less would run the risk of having it taken again.

"Did you have this the whole time?"

He wasn't sure if the kid sounded betrayed or bemused, but Roy shrugged anyway. There was no use lying to him, so he let the kid in on the original plan. "I was always gonna give it back. I only wanted you out for the war. Which- heh, y'know, worked so well."

Edward cracked a small sardonic smile in agreement before letting the corner of his mouth fall once more. The way his expression pinched and shifted made it look to Roy like he was contemplating something unsavory. He wasn't sure how he felt about that, given the context. But, in the way Edward had become prone to doing, he surprised Roy when he very softly admitted that he'd been afraid he'd given up on them, at first.

"... Then I was angry, because… well, you know why. But, I know you were trying to protect me- in your stupid, inefficient way. Y'know, like an idiot."

The revelation that he was no longer blaming him -maybe hadn't been for awhile- made Roy's breath stutter in his chest. After how long he'd spent feeling awful about the events that had led to, hearing that Edward didn't blame him the way he blamed himself… it helped to alleviate some of the guilt.

"I… yeah, I guess we can say that."

The smile came back to Edward's face, that time to stay, and he looked back down at his watch and his tone grew fonder than he'd ever heard it when it was directed at him.

"Thanks, Roy."

If there had been anything else to say, Roy lost his chance to say it when he heard the door squeak on its hinges, signalling the return of Alphonse. Only, he wasn't alone, and Roy prepared himself for the booming excitement when he caught sight of a blonde head popping out from behind the armor.

"So much for privacy," he muttered while Edward turned his attention to the people in question. The way his eyes lit up like fireworks was endearing to see, and Roy decided that any kind of headache he ended up with as a result of the inevitable chatter would be worth it.

Even more worth it to see where the grins, both visible and implied, from the two teens as the practically tripped over themselves in getting to Edward's bedside. That earned a laugh from the kid and Roy settled back down into bed to watch the exchange.

Alphonse leaned over to go for a hug but paused before grabbing his brother. Roy hazard a guess that he didn't want to accidentally hurt him. Edward hardly noticed because he summoned strength from his backup reserves and pushed himself up enough to throw his arm around Alphonse's neck and hold on. The younger boy returned the embrace and Roy could see the tension he'd been carrying for days bleed away.

"Brother-"

"It's okay, Al. I'm okay." He cut him off, an audible quaver in his voice. It made him wonder how long he'd been stifling his desperation to see his little brother.

As soon as the two broke apart, Edward's attention turned to Winry, who was wiping roughly at her eyes. Ed rolled his. "Winry, I'm fine."

The term was relative and everyone in that room knew it, Roy most of all, but he wasn't about to rain on the kid's parade, and nobody else seemed to feel like arguing it either. Edward had been moving conversation away from his injuries and feelings on what had happened before his family came into the picture. Roy didn't doubt that he was tired of talking about it. So, they could live in an avoidant denial bubble a bit longer, it was harming nobody, and if it helped Edward to feel normal, perhaps it actually did some good.

The memo looked to be received by the others, too, because a second later Winry sniffled, nodded and slipped her toolbox off her shoulder, setting it down with more care than she had before.

"Right," she said thickly and opened it up to procure something Roy couldn't see from his angle. "I had to do a rush-job to have it done on time, but it's top quality, I promise."

When she held up Edward's automail arm a little more light returned to the kid's face and Roy couldn't not be impressed with the speed in which Ms. Rockbell managed to fix it. After all the horrified muttering about how badly ripped apart it had been, and how she might have to make a new one from scratch if she couldn't salvage it, he'd been expecting a week at best before Edward got it back. She must have known it was important for Edward to have both his arms. It made Roy distinctly aware of how little attention he'd paid the kid's predicament. He didn't think he'd once considered how annoying it must have been for Edward to have only three of four limbs functioning.

There was no small amount of fascination on his part as he watched the process of Winry aligning the wires of the automail with Edward's shoulder socket. He'd never seen attachments done before, so when she made the connection and Edward grit his teeth and grunted in pain, he frowned and sat up straighter, checking for what could have caused him problems. He hadn't moved enough to tear any stitches, but maybe the pain medication had worn off?

"Edward? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he ground out while rolling his shoulder and making some fists, as if testing out the arm. "Nerve attachment sucks, that's all."

"Oh." He relaxed around the same time Winry huffed moodily.

"Well, if you hadn't wrecked it, we wouldn't have to keep doing this." She crossed her arms and Roy would bet she was pouting, too, and while the reaction sounded a touch too forced, the attempt at normalcy was nice of her. At least the rest of the complaint sounded genuine. "You know how much synthetic nerve I had to completely scrap because of how fried it was? That stuff isn't easy to make without my workshop, Ed- the materials in Central are expensive."

"Eh, just put the cost on my tab, then."

"Huh?" Winry tilted her head. "What do you mean, 'your tab'?"

"Oh right! Check it: I'm officially a dog again." Edward lit up as he hung the watch out for all to see and then he sent a smirk Alphonse's way. "See? I told ya I'd get it back."

"Brother… you're an idiot."

Edward's face fell, though it was less disappointment and more theatrics, so Roy left them alone.

"That's awesome, Ed," Winry stated flatly, "I'll keep that in mind the next time you ruin it. You know, since I already paid for the stuff this time around with my money."

"Jeez, sorry," Edward drawled, wholly unimpressed with her plight, "just be happy I'm offering at all."

"Brother," Alphonse chided and Edward sent him a look that screamed 'What? Me? I have done nothing wrong, ever, in my entire life.'

The exchange made him smile with the familiarity of it all. He'd been on the receiving end of that look multiple times, and where it had pissed him off then, it was funny to him now. The fact that Edward was also acting so much like himself was also a nice change of pace. He just wished it was real, and not for the benefit of his brother and mechanic. Even though he only caught sight of his face every time Winry shifted out of the way, Roy didn't miss how tired he looked, and he wondered how hard the kid was pushing himself to remain normal for them. He knew how exhausting such a feat could be. On top of that, Edward was still legitimately tired, and the effort it took to stay awake would definitely take its toll later.

However, Roy knew there would come a time in the future when the normalcy wouldn't be a pretense, and the bone-deep fatigue would be nothing more than a hazy memory. And, if he knew anything about Edward, it would be the near future. The kid was strong- always had been. Roy had no doubts that he would wake up one day and the events of the war would be nothing but a distant, obnoxious memory.

He'd gotten through the worst of it, and now it was time to recover. He had enough support and people around him who would help him, too.

As if sensing his thoughts and stare, Edward turned his head while Alphonse spoke animatedly and shot him smile. It was a smile that echoed his earlier words to his brother, and Roy returned it with a nod before letting the teen go to answer his brother.

Yeah, they were going to be fine. It would take time, but they would get there, of that he was certain.

Epilogue

Nursing wounded pride came in many forms. For some it was drowning the sorrow in a bottle. For others, it was curling into a corner and weeping the shame away. Maybe it was getting angry and taking it out on everyone around them. For Envy, it was outwardly carrying on like nothing had happened while inside he stewed on his bitterness and rage.

On the outside he was the same, because his pride was never something completely intact- clever as he was, there was always Pride, or Lust, or Greed, or Wrath to knock him down and remind him he was just ugly little Envy. Wounded pride was just another part of who he was. He should've been used to it, honestly- maybe on some level he was, but that didn't stop him from inwardly screaming and tearing at his insides.

Maybe if he'd just messed up in Drachma and come home and nobody had acknowledged what he'd done, it would've been fine, but of course things never went like that, and he'd had to listen to Lust and Wrath (Wrath! Of all people!) rip him apart. He'd only been trying to help Father's plan along- The general area of Briggs had been on the map for a blood crest still, so he'd been trying to mark it off. Even if it hadn't completely failed, it had still drawn plenty of unwanted attention, apparently.

Lust's voice still rang in his head, languide and tight all at once as her frustration with him bled into her words. "You're lucky Wrath figured out a way to cover for you and keep your identity safe. You could've wrecked so much, Envy. Father wants you to know that he's disappointed with you."

Of course Father was disappointed with him! He'd figured he would be- it wasn't even that that bothered him. It was the fact that his youngest sibling had managed to outsmart him. It didn't matter that it benefited him in the long run, to have his Ford persona available to use still, because the fact that Wrath had fixed his mistakes grated.

It didn't help that none of his siblings had asked him how he was doing after the whole thing. Even Gluttony got a "how did it go" when he got back from hunts. Having Lust there to ridicule instead of greet him had sucked. It had sort of felt like getting shot, which he'd know plenty about since he'd been shot not once, but twice in the space of a few minutes when he'd been on the battlefield- and after he'd taken a stupid Drachman's form and shot Maksim to save the Colonel and Pipsqueak too. Those ungrateful worms.

The entire ordeal left him tense with frustrated energy that he couldn't hope to release without being scolded for his childish attitude- even if Pride wasn't around to judge him, the lifelong impression he'd left behind in his mind would.

The worst part wasn't even the failure, though, it was the realization that he probably wouldn't be trusted with any big future missions for a little while. Father wasn't going to keep him out of the final movement, but that didn't mean he'd be allowed to go out and have fun until that time came. He'd already been saddled with watching Doctor Marcoh, and the idea of being cooped up in Central with nothing to do but antagonize him and report little things he picked up from people like Sheska for at least another six months made him shudder.

At least he could content himself with the fact that even if he was on probation, he hadn't messed up the progression of the plan.

While he brooded, the last thing he expected was to be interrupted by the familiar clacking of his sister's heels against the stone floor. It had only been a day since he'd reported Mustang's digging into the Hughes murder case and tentative given the idea to distract the Colonel with Ross- something he didn't even know if they'd decided to go with. He would've have blamed his siblings for not listening to his plans so soon, even if he could see that it was a good one.

Lust emerged from the dark of the hall and raised a brow at him as he finally stopped pacing from his perch on one of the thicker pipes running close to the ceiling.

"Are you done pouting, or should I leave you?"

She was teasing, he knew, and Envy sighed heavily before leaning back to hang upside down from the pipe by his knees. He decided to humor her because he was bored, but that didn't stop him from sneering back at her.

"What do you want, hag?"

"I'm going to be gone for a little bit. The Flame Colonel took the bait, but Number 66 has resurfaced, so I have to deal with that."

She sounded a little more than disgusted with the idea of being stuck with grunt work and clean up, but Envy knew that the prospect of finally doing that armored lunatic in brought her some level of pleasure. He didn't miss the mention of Mustang taking the bait either, but he decided not to seem too eager to jump onto the fact that his siblings had seen the genius of his plan and gone with it. Instead, he decided to ask the more obvious question that was at the forefront of his mind.

"Why should I care?"

"You shouldn't," Lust responded cooly. "Before I went out, I just wanted to let you know about a little deal I made with Doctor Marcoh..."


The muggy air of Central's station hit him full in the face and Edward took a deep breath, embracing the familiar industrial smell as he stepped off the platform and onto more solid ground. Winry stretched beside him while soft clanging at his side told him Alphonse had joined them, and even the distressed interrogation for the whereabouts of their dumbass prince by their Xingese tag-alongs couldn't put a damper on his mood. Tired as he was, he was glad to be back. After everything that had gone down in Dublith add Rush Valley, it was nice to be in a place where he could be sure nobody was going to attack he or Alphonse for no reason- as far as he knew, Scar still hadn't resurfaced.

He would've loved to head to their place and get a nap in before doing anything else, but he needed to talk to Mustang while things were still fresh in his mind. It wasn't every day that they ran into another Homunculus, after all. He was sure the Colonel would want to know about it. Plus, if there was any chance that learning more about those guys could get he and Al anywhere closer to getting their bodies back, he was all for making haste.

Halfway through town, Winry stopped them and decided to go check in on Mrs. Hughes and Elicia, just to let them know they were being thought of. They'd all silently agreed to make a habit of seeing them whenever they could make time to after talking with her about Hughes. The military-issued shrink had told him it was a good idea, too. Something about closure or coping or something like that- he'd only been half paying attention that day. He and Al shot her a quick goodbye with the promise to meet up with her once they'd finished with the Colonel, and continued on. He did his best to tune out the increasingly panicked cries of Prince's bodyguards and not let them got on his nerves too badly. He didn't know why they were still following him, since Ling clearly wasn't nearby, but whatever.

Although, eventually all the noise blurred together while he let his thoughts wander. He had a general idea of what he'd need to go over with Mustang, the main points being what they'd learned during their brief interaction with 'Greed' and the existence of Chimeras. Mostly, he was interested on what the Colonel would make of yet another created human crossing paths with the military so soon after Drachma- and why the Fuhrer had insisted on killing him instead of finding out what he knew… and then threatening him and Alphonse. The memory left an unpleasant weight in his gut and Edward shoved it away, because obviously the Fuhrer… hadn't been serious about that...

He was still going to tell Roy about it.

Maybe if Mustang asked he'd also tell him about some of the more mundane going-ons from the past couple of weeks, like seeing their teacher again, and meeting Ling, and… well, actually there wasn't much else randomly interesting to discuss. At least he'd still have more to say than Mustang would. After all, it wasn't like the man had a life outside of work.

But, the first order of business would be giving him the information about Greed. They'd made a point of making all Homunculi related business a top priority, because there was something about those guys that made their skin crawl. And there had to be a reason he and Alphonse kept running into them every time the tried conducting any research into anything mildly important.

He still had that in mind when they walked through the halls of the main building. One of the receptionists had mentioned Mustang being stationed on the second floor, so he dragged Alphonse towards the elevator, intent on getting in and out of there as fast as possible so he could turn in for a couple of hours.

They never made it, though, because on the way to the transport, a familiar red and black flashed in the corner of his eye and stopped him dead in his tracks.

No. there was no way.

"Brother? What is it?"

Alphonse's voice filtered distantly through his ears. Another glance over his shoulder would put his mind at ease, he knew that, but for the moment he found he couldn't move. Because if that had indeed been a Drachman uniform he'd seen, he didn't know what he'd do. He reasoned that there wouldn't be anything to do, because if there was a Drachman in Central, standing in the hallway of a military building for anyone to come across, then clearly they were supposed to be there. But the thought of it still sent a small tremor down his spine, because what would stop the soldier from attacking him if he wanted to? Sure, he could probably keep him off and away pretty easily, but that didn't change the fact that there was a possibility of something like that happening. Bile built up in the back of his throat and he swallowed hard in an attempt to not make a complete idiot of himself in front of his brother.

His brother.

Right, Al was right there, standing right next to him. Nobody would try anything with him there- as imposing a figure he appeared to anyone who didn't know him. That, and there was no way he would let anyone get close to them when his little brother could get caught up in the fray. With that thought in mind, Edward found taking a deep breath to calm himself wasn't nearly as difficult.

"Brother?"

"Yeah," he answered, giving Al's chestplate a small tap with his knuckles, "I'm good. Just wanna check on something real quick."

He already knew his eyes hadn't deceived, so when he turned back around the corner and saw the soldier's uniform he wasn't all that shocked. Though, given the small gasp at his side, Al was. Edward wasn't too concerned, because the longer he stared at the man, the sooner he realized the guy wasn't armed, nor was he a real threat in any other capacity- judging from the emblem on his shoulder and what little he remembered about Drachman uniform, he was a diplomatic guard. In addition to that fact, there were two Amestrian soldiers on either side of him. More guards.

And it looked like they were guarding a door. If he remembered anything about the building's layout, then it was the door to one of the conference rooms.

Diplomat guard. Amestrian guards. Conference room. Interesting.

Without giving himself time to think about whether or not it was a good idea, Edward marched up to the first guard, a tall woman he could vaguely remember seeing around the base, and asked her what the hell was going on. He could feel the others' eyes on him but he refused to look the Drachman's way. He was doing alright so far and he wanted to keep it that way.

"A meeting," she said curtly.

"And..?" Edward narrowed his eyes and turned his finger in the air impatiently, because there had to be more to that answer.

"Who are you?"

Edward groaned and his hand instinctively went into his pocket to fish his watch out. He'd forgotten that the Central branch wasn't used to his presence and lack of uniform, and the fact that the majority of them probably knew the Fullmetal Alchemist, but not what he looked like. The guard's hand strayed to her gun and Edward flinched momentarily while whipping his proof of rank out to show her.

Her eyes widened immediately and she released hold of her weapon. "Major, sir. I apologize."

"Nah, it's cool," he waved her off and then looked at the door behind her. "So, what's up with this meeting?"

"From what I've gathered, the Drachmans have sent an official to discuss the return of Brigadier General Volkov to their custody, as well as a potential peace treaty. That's all I know, sir."

Edward held onto a snort at the idea that there would be any peace between their people after what the Drachmans pulled. He really wanted to see how that was all being handled, because if there was anything that would help lift his mood, it would be watching their higher ranking officers verbally destroy whatever poor sap had been sent to retrieve Black.

"Can I go in?"

"You cannot."

"Huh? Why n-"

"The meeting has been going on for some time now. I'm sure they'll be finished soon."

"Aw c'mon," he complained, "not even a little peak?"

"Sir." - "Brother."

Alphonse's hand on his shoulder had him sighing heavily and moving back to lean against the wall beside the woman.

"Fine, fine."

Alphonse snorted at his side and Ed caught him shaking his head in the corner of his eye. If he'd picked up on the change in his mood, he'd given no indication of it, and Edward couldn't help but be a little pleased with himself. If he'd managed to keep calm enough around a Drachman that Alphonse wasn't outwardly worrying over him, it meant he'd made some progress since coming home.

However, that didn't mean he'd made progress on the 'being patient' front, and before even a few minutes could pass, he was getting restless again. The wait was taking too long, with every second ticking by creating an even more unbearable silence. He supposed he could strike up conversation with one of the soldiers again, or talk to Al about where he thought Ling had run off to (even if he really didn't care), but that would've done nothing to quell his urge to run past the guards and into the meeting.

He probably should've been leaving the entire thing alone and going to see Mustang as planned, but he had to know what would be happening with the Drachmans. He needed to know.

An idea struck him then and Edward smirked to himself before shifting to the other side of Alphonse so his brother's body was blocking the soldiers' views of him. Al hummed in question and he shushed him softly before putting his hands to the wall and transmuting a hole. It was no bigger than 25 cens piece- just enough for sound to filter through when he put his ear to it.

"Brother, they said to wait." Alphonse's quiet admonish had him rolling his eyes.

"Relax, Al, it's not like I wouldn't find out about it later."

The only response he received was in the form of a resigned sigh and he nodded to himself before putting his head back against the wall to catch what sounded like the tail end of a statement from the Fuhrer.

"... I think to a certain extent that that's fair."

Ah, he wanted to know exactly what was 'fair,' and he cursed himself for not thinking to listen in sooner, but he supposed it couldn't be helped now. Maybe he could get someone to tell him later… yeah probably not.

He didn't have to wait nearly as long as he thought he would to get some context, at least, because the next voice entering the fray cleared some things up. Although the fact that it was Mustang speaking did little for the confusion whirling around his brain. What the hell was the Colonel doing in a diplomatic meeting? He hadn't been moved to a higher rank with his transfer to Central, as far as he was aware- and he would've been, because Mustang would've bragged about it.

"With all due respect, Brigadier General Volkov is, and was not, a political party. He is a prisoner of war, so we have every legal right to keep him detained as long as we deem necessary."

"While I do understand the validity of your point, Colonel, I feel it necessary to point something out."

Edward wasn't sure when exactly his heart started beating wildly in his chest or when his mouth dried out, but he did know it had everything to do with the entrance of the new voice. He tried to peek inside, but all he could see through the small opening was the blue of an Amestrian uniform. The speaker wasn't visible. But he knew he'd heard correctly. He couldn't forget that voice even if he wanted to.

But it made zero sense to him why Void would be there. He hadn't even known Void had survived- since when was he a Drachman diplomat?

He knew his reaction had to be visible, because Al settled a hand on his shoulder, clearcut concern in his eyes. Edward didn't think he could've responded if he wanted to at that point, because his throat was too dry, and if he hadn't been paying rapt attention to the conversation before, he certainly was now. That voice was still talking, calm and collected, and he wasn't about to miss anything he said.

"Our country is trying to establish a relative peace to right the wrongs of that senseless war, and all we ask is a show of good faith. Our leaders have willingly signed the treaty, and are ready to abide by the rules written out, so long as Brigadier General Volkov is returned to us."

Edward didn't think he'd ever heard Void sound so eloquent or… cordial. Granted, he had been subjected to his interrogation voice, so he really should've known he would sound a lot nicer and put together around officials, but it still gave him whiplash to hear. What was even more surprising though, was hearing the pitch of desperation in his tone- probably easy for someone to miss if they hadn't gotten used to picking up the subtle changes in his tone. It make him wonder what it was about Black that was so special to him and his military. He seemed pretty determined to get him back- it sounded like Black had been the topic of conversation for quite some time, judging by the exasperation in Mustang's tone earlier.

At least Void seemed to have put everyone on the track to wrap the meeting up, because the next person to speak was the Fuhrer, who agreed to look over the aforementioned documents and get back to Ambassador (Ambassador? Since when?) Maksim by tomorrow evening at the latest.

"In the meantime, please enjoy your stay. I have set you up in an Inn not far from here. Your escorts will take you there."

"Thank you, Fuhrer Bradley, your hospitality is greatly appreciated."

The sound of chairs scraping signalled to him that the meeting was over and everyone was fixing to leave. Edward jerked away from the wall and quickly patched up his hole, backing away as casually as he could as he did so. Now that he had a general idea of what the meeting had been about, and knew that he could get more information out of Mustang about it later, he wasn't too keen on getting caught up in the awkward hallway mingling.

"C'mon, Al, let's get outta heee- hey, Lieutenant Hawkeye, how's it going?"

"Hello boys," Hawkeye greeted easily, adjusting some of the paperwork in her arms after Edward had almost run into her, "what are you doing back so soon? Did your Dublith trip turn out alright?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah, fine." The sound of the door opening behind them momentarily distracted him. "Hey, what's the Colonel doing in there?"

"Since he had firsthand experience with Volkov and their military personnel, the Fuhrer thought it would be helpful if he were present to offer his insight." She frowned at where people were beginning to emerge from the doorway. "I'm not sure why exactly it's needed, though. I thought the Ambassador's reasons for being here would be fairly straightforward…"

Edward turned his attention to where she was looking and caught sight of Mustang's hair amidst the crowd. He would've called out to him if he didn't also see Void trailing closely behind him. The last thing he wanted was to bring attention to himself when the Drachman was still around. Maybe Al unconsciously thought along the same lines, because Edward would've been blind to miss the way his little brother stood closer to him. Hawkeye also seemed to have floated closer into his personal space- though her movements seemed to hold a lot more deliberate weight to them.

As life would have it though, he didn't go unnoticed, and when Mustang caught sight of him, he shouldered roughly past Void and came to his side. He heard him asking what he was doing back in Central so soon, but Edward couldn't make himself answer when Void's eyes passed over him and a frown overtook his face. Edward could've sworn the air in the room froze. He certainly did. He wasn't even sure what kind of frozen he was. He didn't feel scared -not completely- but he also wasn't angry or anything else like that. If anything it was more a feeling of shock… or of not knowing how to feel.

He'd never expected to see Void again- he'd wondered if he'd even managed to survive after being shot. Edward would've been lying to himself if he hadn't been curious to know if he'd lived or not. But… having confirmation that he was fine, and seeing the Drachman face-to-face in a non-violent or life threatening situation were not the same thing, and the latter was not something he'd ever been expecting to need to prepare himself for. He didn't know how he was supposed to react, seeing his face less haggard and pale than before, while he was dressed to the nines and looking far more noble than his past deeds.

Everyone was staring at him, though, like he should know how he felt. Like he should be reacting somehow. Edward knew he probably should've at least been doing more than having a silent staring contest with the man while the rest of the meeting's party filtered off to continue on with their days.

He didn't know what to expect from Void in that long moment, but for him to soften his gaze and offer the barest of smiles was definitely not in his mind for realm of possibilities. Somehow, though, the expression was foreign enough to make Void not look so much like… himself. It was weird, and not altogether a wholly comfortable fact to notice, but it helped him to relax. It helped him to focus on the fact that even if his presence wasn't completely welcome in his mind, he was a little glad for it- because he could see he was still alive. Being able to put to rest the turmoil he'd felt, and had continue to feel, over leaving the man behind to die was a welcome change.

So when Void- or perhaps he should start thinking of him as Maksim now (that's what the shrink would've encouraged him to do, anyway)- inclined his head deeply towards him, Edward nodded in acknowledgement.

There wasn't much else to do or say after that, because even if he felt relieved to see him alive and kicking, there was still a larger part of him that was wary of the man's presence. The last thing he wanted was to strike up conversation. And if the way Maksim was looking at him was any indication, he felt the same.

With that thought in mind, Edward turned on his heel, ignoring the looks the adults were giving him and the small inquiry from his brother asking if he was alright. Instead he just waved the Colonel over.

"C'mon, we've got stuff to talk about."

He didn't feel the need to reassure anyone at the moment, because it wasn't needed. The air around him didn't feel tense, and he knew the others would pick up on it in a moment if they hadn't already, because… he was fine. There was no small amount of surprise inside when he realized that. He'd seen two Drachmen, one of which who'd done the most damage to his head, and he hadn't panicked, or frozen up, or run away. He'd looked Maksim in the eyes… and he felt fine. Maybe not great, but not bad either. It made him grin to himself as he made his way up to the office with the others, because it meant that somewhere along the way, through reluctant meetings and being back in familiar places, he'd made progress.

However, as they entered the outer room where the rest of the team was working -minus Falman, which was weird-, Edward noticed the same couldn't be said for Mustang. He looked like shit. At the very least he hadn't been sleeping well, and at the very worst, he'd been getting bad. Edward knew he wouldn't have to ask if he'd started seeing someone to deal with… well, everything- Drachma, Ford… Hughes. The answer was obvious, even to someone who didn't know him.

Part of Edward wanted to pester him about that, because Mustang had "highly encouraged" him to go to the shrink, even after he'd been tentatively cleared to go back into the field, but hadn't bothered to see one himself? Maybe Drachma hadn't bothered Mustang as much, but Edward knew if Hughes' death had messed him up, there was no way it hadn't been tearing the Colonel up inside.

He never got the chance to call him out on that, though, because he was grumbling while taking a seat at his desk in the inner office. "Can't believe the nerve of that bastard. Coming over here and demanding Volkov."

Edward took a seat next to Alphonse in the couch and his brother piped up. "Colonel, what was the meeting about?"

Mustang sighed heavily and Edward wondered if the bags under his eyes were as noticeable to anyone else, or if he was just hyper aware of the changes in the Colonel's appearance. "Apparently, since we've been able to patch the hole in Briggs' defenses with the help of their Brigadier General, they think we should return him because we have no other use for him."

"What about the peace treaty?" Edward dropped his head on the back of sofa and only realized he shouldn't have known about that when Mustang snorted.

"Listening in on things that are above your rank again, huh, Fullmetal?"

"S'not like anyone else was gonna tell me," he defended lazily. He knew Mustang didn't actually care if he broke rules- not when he did too, on a regular basis.

"Fair enough," he conceded before moving to answer his question, "The treaty is simple and straightforward- give Volkov back and it'll be valid. From what I gathered, it's pretty similar to the last one, if not the same one with an updated timestamp. But the Fuhrer still wants to look over it to make sure no major changes were made."

"Who was the man they sent?"

Alphonse's question made Mustang's face pull into a scowl and he glared darkly at his mountain of paperwork. Edward sighed inwardly, because he really hadn't been wanting to let his brother in on the fact that the guy who'd smiled and respectfully given him the equivalent of a "hey, good to see you" gesture (a gesture he'd returned), had been none other than his torturer. Mustang apparently didn't get that memo, though, because he was already answering.

"Maksim. That bastard- we're supposed to believe he's an ambassador, but he was one of the people who detained us to begin with."

"Oh." Al somehow picked up on everything that went unsaid there, because his voice got a lot softer and the way he held himself was a good deal more upset than it had been a moment ago. His hand settled on his shoulder a second later, a show of sympathy or a protective gesture Edward didn't know. Edward sighed aloud then and turned his head to narrow his eyes at the Colonel, because didn't he know when not to talk? He did remember that Al was only fourteen, right?

"But wait," Alphonse went on, unaware of his annoyance or ignoring it, "Aren't Ambassador's not allowed to… do that sort of thing?"

"Non-combatants aren't sent onto the battlefield," Mustang confirmed, and for the first time since entering the room, Edward was interested in what he was saying. He lifted his head and tilted his head.

"Yeah, but he was a Major when he had us. They called him 'Major Maksim.' So maybe he got promoted?"

"Lost his prisoners, failed to protect his commanding officer, and got shot?" Mustang snorted derisively, "Nobody gets promoted for that."

Edward frowned. That didn't make sense then, that Maksim would've been there at that time. Unless Ford had somehow had something to do with it? Edward found that easier to believe than he thought, because Envy had been behind the attack plan- at least that was what he'd gathered from watching the interactions between he and Black, as well as listening to the Homunculus rant here and there. Why he'd had an Ambassador take the helm of torturer… that he had not clue, but he supposed it didn't really matter. Either way it had happened. What point in there was dwelling on it when there was no way for any of them to know his reasoning behind what he did?

"My best guess is he volunteered." Even as he said it, Edward knew Mustang wasn't being serious, but that didn't stop him from defending the Drachman. After all, he'd heard him apologize for the things he'd done- nobody did that unless that hadn't wanted to be part of the plan in the first place. And it wasn't like Edward had to forgive him to see the truth in that.

"Let it go. He was just doing his job. Same as you were doing yours."

It was weird hearing himself say those words when he'd gotten irritated by them not two weeks ago. But he understood them a bit better now that he had perspective on board, and he couldn't say they weren't right. Letting it go didn't lessen the pain of what Maksim had done, and it certainly didn't justify it, but it helped to put a damper on making it personal. Edward liked to think that one day he'd completely believe it, too.

For now, he was just glad it made Mustang stop his ranting. Only now he was being stared at like he'd grown a second head. Mustang scoffed just loudly enough that he caught it and Edward huffed.

"What?"

"Nothing," Mustang shook his head and had a look on his face that was caught between disbelief and something else. "That's just the most mature thing I've ever heard you say."

Edward thought about telling him that the words weren't his, but he liked the idea of letting the Colonel thing he'd become smarter and wiser in the last month. Plus, the opportunity to throw in some teasing was just too good to pass up.

"Part of the job description, apparently." He shrugged. "Just wait. Eventually I'll get old and start sounding like you."

"Are you saying I'm old?"

Edward smirked. "You said it, not me."

"Fullmetal."

There was no real fire to his voice but Edward still put his hands up with a small chuckle. "Fine, fine, you get what I mean."

"Brat." Mustang rolled his eyes in what Edward had decided was a fond mannerism. A moment of relaxed silence passed before the Colonel cleared his throat and reminded them of the reason they'd stopped by. "What did you learn in Dublith."

The chance to start a conversation on a lighter topic was a welcome one that both he and Alphonse jumped at, launching into a recounting of their travels. They glossed over meeting Ling and Paninya, and Winry's apprenticeship, because they weren't all that relevant to the military, but the bit with Greed certainly caught Mustang's attention.

"Another Homunculus?"

"Mhm," Alphonse confirmed, "and Chimeras."

"That's insane," Mustang mumbled, running a hand through his already unruly hair.

Edward had to agree. That and getting Alphonse back had been the main things on his mind that day. Honestly, what was it about them that attracted the Homunculi? In less than three months they'd managed to run into several of them and narrowly avoided death or maiming each time. There had to be a connection there, and he wanted to know what it was.

The other reason he'd decided to see Mustang before anyone else came back to mind then. He had a plan and needed to get him on board with it. He didn't think it would take much convincing, but he still thought it best to ease into it.

"Hey, have you learned anything more about what happened to Ford?"

"I have, actually." Mustang's expression immediately darkened in a way that wasn't at all encouraging to him. "He's here."

Edward's "The hell?" was drowned out by his brother's shrill,"What?" and he almost forgot that he'd told Al about the Amestrian-turned-Homunculus.

"According the to Fuhrer, he was doing his job. We all know this is complete bullshit, but we're supposed to believe he was a spy the whole time- that he was the reason Olivier was ready to send troops out at such short notice."

"That's crap! He's a Homunculus!" Edward jumped to his feet and kicked the leg of the coffee table. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. They were really supposed to believe that? There was no way it was true… but that only brought the Fuhrer into question then, because why was he covering for Ford? Were the Homunculus somehow controlling their leader?

"This is getting complicated." Alphonse said gravely and Edward was glad he'd given voice to the questions beating at his own skull.

"Yeah," Mustang sighed, "but I think I see what Hughes was trying to say, now."

"Huh?" Edward stopped his pacing to stare at the Colonel. Hughes had said something to him before he died? That was news to him.

"I thought he'd been saying the Military was in trouble. But now… now I'm thinking he was saying the trouble was coming from inside the military."

"You don't think the Fuhrer's in on this, do you?" Edward already had a sick feeling in his stomach that told him he was, but he wanted to know if Mustang was as worried about that as he was.

"I'm not sure," was his unhelpful response. However, his follow up was more interesting anyway. "But I think it's time we started getting some answers."

He wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment, but how they expected to do that, Edward hadn't a clue yet. How did you find answers when you didn't even know what the right questions were? Apparently Mustang was the one who was a step ahead of them for once though, because he was getting up from his chair and digging through some papers.

"I didn't say so earlier, but I'm actually glad you two made it back today. This will all be a lot more convincing with you here."

"What will?" Al's voice contained a frown and Edward found himself unconsciously mirroring him.

"We have a problem." Mustang found what he was looking for and handed a picture over. Edward took it and his frown deepened in confusion.

"Maria Ross? What about her?"

"She's been arrested for Hughes' murder-"

His eyes widened and he clutched tighter to the picture. "That's crazy! She didn't. There's no way."

There was no way that had been her, and he had to convince Mustang of that, because if there was one thing he was certain of, it was that he would kill whoever had murdered Hughes. He couldn't let him do that, not to her.

"I know." Mustang rolled his eyes and the worry in Edward's gut pulled back a little. "We have a plan to free her and lure some of our friends out. You two being here will help make everything believable. I'm assuming you'll want in?"

Edward had a ton of questions buzzing around his head, all of which begged the answer of what exactly had happened while they'd been gone, but the air in the room had shifted to one of urgency and he got the feeling he'd have time to ask later. For now, the most important thing was getting to the Homunculi and saving Ross.

A glanced at Al out of habit and caught him nodding, so he grinned at Roy while stuffing the woman's picture into his pocket. "Let's do this."

For the next hour they poured over the plan and the finer details of it. Hawkeye and Havoc had joined them at some point, offering information when the Colonel left it out or only glossed over it. The whole thing was pretty gruesome, and required a lot of risky stuff, but if they could pull it off, Edward got the feeling a lot of things would fall into place. He wasn't sure how exactly the whole thing was meant to draw out the Homunculi, but he trusted Roy's judgement. If he thought it would draw the enemy out, he was willing to try anything.

They would have enough back up that they'd left the job of making sure Ross made it to safety to him. Edward wasn't sure why Roy insisted it be him- and, apparently, Armstrong- but if it meant he'd get a chance to see the woman before she was gone completely, he'd do it. He'd grown to like her a lot somewhere along the way. The small smile Roy sent him when he'd agreed to his part in the plan certainly made him feel better about the whole thing.

He just hoped that everything played out the way they planned for it to. He knew how quickly plans could go wrong, but with so many people in on the thing to ensure its success, he felt like the odds were better at the very least. It could work. And if it did… then maybe they could find out more about the Homunculi and their reasons for wanting to start a war with Drachma. Maybe they'd be able to figure out just how deep their involvement with the military went.

If nothing else, he was glad to be working alongside Mustang and the others. He couldn't help but wonder what it would've been like if they'd left him and Al out of the loop- if things still would've played out similarly. He got the feeling they would've, since Mustang had been making the plan to work even if they hadn't been around, and that made him feel happier somehow. A little amused to, because the Colonel from three months ago wouldn't have told him about the plan. That Mustang would've kept him in the dark and let him be angry and hurt when he had no reason to be. But he'd learned- Drachma had taught him to trust him. It had taught both of them that.

Edward decided that if there was nothing else he could take from that month of hell, he could at least have that- the strengthened bond between himself and Roy. Despite the scars the experience had left them both with, there had been something to take from the whole thing that wasn't horrible: They were on the same page.

Where Edward had originally felt like an outsider on the team, he now felt like he was a cog in their machine- he was finally part of them instead of having to content himself with watching from afar. It was nice, that sense of belonging. It felt similar to when he was in Resembool with Winry and Al. It felt a lot like home.

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