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War Heroes

Chapter Text

Edward Elric immediately noticed three things once he gave up on getting any more sleep: the first was that the room he currently occupied was filled with darkness save for a single sliver of light from underneath a closed door, directly facing him. The second was that he was sitting against a stone wall with his left arm tied above his head by a coarse rope while his right was gone. And finally, he had a throbbing headache.

Shit, what happened?

The air was cold but nowhere near unbearable. Ed blinked several times in a vain attempt to further adjust his eyes to get a better view of the situation. As he did so, the blond became conscious enough to notice that his entire body, but more specifically his arm, was aching and worn, and his mouth was unnervingly dry. (He tried not to think about the hunger.) With an annoyed huff, Ed tugged on the rope around his wrist experimentally only to discover that the other end was attached to the wall and the cheap rope dug into his skin in retaliation. He certainly had no plans to try that again. Furthermore, he realized that he was able to move one leg, but the other automail limb was also missing up to the knee. He wouldn't be able to perform any alchemy in that sorry state. To make matters worse, his jacket and flashy red coat seemed to have vanished as well, leaving him with just his shoes, pants, and sleeveless shirt.

The Fullmetal Alchemist wanted to speak out, to insult the bastards who put him there, or maybe (but very unlikely) call for help. However, the sheer uncertainty of the situation forced him to refrain. He couldn't see anything besides the light of the door and a few basic shapes that might indicate a table against the other wall. Besides that, the room was so unbearably quiet. He couldn't hear voices, footsteps, traffic, birds, anything. It somehow felt unnatural. It was as if where ever he sitting was completely disconnected from the rest of the world. Even at night in the quiet town of Resembool, Edward could at least hear the clanking of Al's armor and the sound of pages turning while he read. The only solace he found in the silence was that it meant Al wasn't trapped in there with him.

Then finally, a sound was made; right next to him, in fact. Ed heard a faint shuffle of fabric and a light, incomprehensible murmur only a few feet away to his right. He wasn't alone. But more importantly, that tiny, almost insignificant voice sounded familiar enough to jog some recent memories.

"To Hell with that!" Ed yelled, slamming an automail hand on the smooth, wooden surface of Roy Mustang's main desk. "We were just about to head west to follow a new lead! There's no way I'm going to give that up so I can watch some boring drills in the north with you of all people."

" With all due respect, Colonel," Ed's giant of a brother added in a much softer, yet dedicated tone. "We're feeling really confident about this one!" The suit of armor clenched his gauntlets into fists, radiating excitement.

Mustang released an exasperated sigh and leaned back in his comfortable office chair and folded his arms. "Is your attention span really so short that you can't even wait for me to finish explaining before blowing up, Fullmetal?"

" Oh no," Al sighed, apparently knowing exactly what was going to happen next because of that trigger word; just like everyone else in the room, who had wisely decided to ignore the conversation. Or at least pretend to. "Here we go again..."

" What did you call me!?" Edward yelled in a sudden rage, flailing his arms blindly. "Say it again! I dare you," he hissed with stiff shoulders and a vein already appearing on his forehead.

" Oh, you didn't hear me?" Mustang asked, as he mockingly raised an eyebrow. "I guess since you're so small, my voice just went right over your head."

Ed made a sound that seemed like it belonged to a savage animal, rather than a fifteen year old boy. Both Mustang and Alphonse often wondered how so much raw, fiery anger could even fit inside such a small body.

" Brother, please calm down," Alphonse tried but his small voice was lost by Ed's insults and Mustang's witty remarks and laughter.

Finally, after several minutes, the Colonel decided that he had his fair share of amusement for one day and it was time to move on before the fuming kid decided to attack him. "Alright, going back to what I was talking about before…" he rested his arms on his desk, intertwining his fingers together, effortlessly slipping back into the mask of the serious military officer. "I don't want to send you to North City just because of the drills. Word is; there's a little group of anti-government idealists running around the Northern Area, causing trouble every chance they get. And they're getting bolder. Northern command is having a hard time dealing with them and the Briggs soldiers are too busy dealing with the newest threat from Drachma to help." Ed's superior officer smiled confidentially. "So since I'll be in the neighborhood, I thought I'd give them a hand."

The blond crossed his arms and frowned. "You just want to show someone up and steal the glory, you power-hungry bastard."

Al shifted his weight and glanced at his brother as a silent reminder to the older Elric that he shouldn't throw so many insults like that- a reminder that was promptly ignored once again, due to the fact that the bastard Colonel deserved it.

" Besides what does any of that have to do with me?" The Fullmetal Alchemist asked impatiently as he began to think coming into the office was just a waste of time.

Roy Mustang's smile quickly shifted into a knowing smirk for a brief moment. "I also hear that the leader of this band of rebels is able to perform unbelievable feats of alchemy and is in possession of a mysterious red stone."

Ed and Al exchanged looks, apparently using their magical brotherly telepathic powers to communicate before both turning to look at Colonel Mustang, who just quietly watched them, already knowing he had won.

" Fine; I'll go up to North City with you guys only to look for the stone and Al will go west. We'll meet back up in East City in-"Ed paused and narrowed his eyes. "How long is this stupid training exercise thing supposed to take anyway?"

Mustang shrugged. "A few days, probably… Or as long as it takes to catch those guys," he added in a quieter tone as his smirk widened ever so slightly.

Neither Ed nor Al quite knew what he meant by that but Ed at least didn't care enough to ask. He'd find the rebels, take their Philosopher's Stone and be on his way to getting Al's body back as soon as possible, regardless of the drills.

Ed's thoughts were interrupted by another shuffle from whoever sat next to him in the darkness. When he squint his eyes, the blond was able to make out the shape of what he assumed to be an adult restrained to the wall, similarly to him. He considered speaking to the figure but the pounding in his head and his dry, painful throat told him to stay quiet- at least for the moment.

Complying, Ed allowed his head to rest against the cold, stone wall once again and closed his eyes. There was really no point in keeping them open in the dark anyway.

Returning to his thoughts, Ed decided that he did go to North City with the Eastern Command and was most likely being held somewhere in the mountains of the surrounding area. But he had yet to remember how he got caught off guard; where did he mess up?

Come on, brain; work with me here, Ed pleaded with a sigh. He recalled the train ride, his amazement when he got off only to see snow as far as the eye could see, and arriving at Northern Command despite how eager he was to get started on the real reason he came along.

The opening ceremony of the North vs East Training Exercises was long and boring. Every soldier stood in perfect formation with a path that split between the two sides, despite the freezing cold air and the constant fall of snow. Ed was standing near the team and several Majors; quietly seething at the fact that he was forced to attend. Mustang somehow managed to get Ed into one of those unnecessarily long, stuffy military coats but only at the compromise that he wore the rest of his trademark outfit underneath.

The Northern General who rode horse-back down the path had a face that was unfamiliar to Ed and therefor, the blond stared down at his feet instead, deciding that it was much more interesting as he shifted his weight, watching the prints that were left in the snow.

Occasionally, he looked up to see Havoc making an exaggeratedly bored expression in Ed's general direction. He snickered in response, earning a warning glare from the Colonel who was standing not too far off.

Later after all of the formal nonsense was out of the way, the actual training drills were about to begin. Ed caught a glance of someone amongst the crowd speaking to Mustang and pointing in a specific direction. The blond didn't think much of it until the Colonel walked over to him immediately after.

" Apparently, they're temporarily separating the State Alchemists from the rest of the soldiers this year," he said, confusion and uncertainty lacing his voice, tough there were few people who would be able to pick up on it.

Edward quickly caught on to his concern. "Why would they do that?"

Mustang shook his head. "I don't know." He removed his military cap and ran a hand through his hair before replacing it back on his head. "Only one way to find out," he answered and Ed followed him through the crowd.

The Fullmetal Alchemist almost felt claustrophobic, maneuvering through so many unformed soldiers who all looked exactly the same at first glance. When they removed themselves from the crowd, there were just a few other confused looking soldiers of both Eastern and Northern Command standing in the same area, disconnected from the others, who didn't seem to notice them for the most part.

Edward was mildly surprised to see so few alchemists but didn't comment. There were many explanations for that but none could be confirmed in that moment anyway.

Mustang opened his mouth to question the purpose of stepping out of alignment until the person who originally approached him appeared once more. Ed noticed that the woman's eyes quickly shifted over the few who gathered, then towards the rest of the soldiers, and back again to the alchemists.

" Just to confirm," she began, her fists tightening and untightening by her sides. "You are all alchemists, correct?"

The dozen-or-so soldiers all nodded, some more confidentially than others. The woman smiled nervously and as if on cue, one of the men in the small group swiftly crouched down to the snow covered ground and placed both of his palms down. With a flash of light, snow and dirt burst into the air at once, creating an effective smokescreen strong enough to cover the entire clearing.

In that instant, there was a scream and hundreds of alarmed voices, filling Edward's ears with the sound of utter chaos. The blond clapped his hands together and was able to make out Mustang raising his dominant arm into the air, posed to snap in order to clear the air with his own alchemy.

However, before either alchemist could move further, Ed felt a hard thump on the back of his head. His limbs suddenly decided to disobey and he felt himself fall; he blacked out before he even reached the ground.

That explained the headache.

The person to his right muttered something unintelligible once more.

"Hey," Ed finally said as loudly as his strained throat would allow, yet he was still much quieter than he intended. There was no response other than what he could only assume was a flinch. "Hey, wake up," he tried again. "Who are you?" Despite them apparently being alone, considering the complete lack of all other sounds, Ed didn't want to rise to voice too high. He tried to tell himself that it was because he didn't want to alert their captors, but more realistically, breaking the silence that lasted for so long was surprisingly a mentally difficult task.

"… Fullmetal?" The other man replied in bewilderment, his strained and hushed tone matching Ed's.

"Yeah, who else?" the blond alchemist replied sarcastically once he confirmed who the man was, before sighing. He couldn't help but feel extremely annoyed at the situation, but he had to at least try to keep it in check until they knew what was going on. However, that would most likely prove to be quite difficult, considering he was stuck there with only Roy Mustang for company. "Any idea where we are?"

Roy attempted to scan the room to pick up any and all possible information. He exhaled slowly, carefully processing the extremely little that he could gather in the nearly pitch black room. His mind raced but none of the answers he came up with were solid enough to put any stock into.

"Besides in the mountains, no." Just like Ed had tried before, Roy tugged on the rope that bound both his arms above his head and was also rewarded by the painful material digging into his wrists. "It could just be the room, but the air seems thinner here. I'd guess that we're somewhere north of North City, probably far from any sign of civilization and – agh." Roy stopped and recoiled in pain.

"What?" The teenager asked, concern slipping into his tone. The inability to see and gauge the situation was absolutely infuriating to Ed. "You okay?"

Roy nodded, knowing Ed couldn't see it anyway. "Yeah; a headache just kicked in."

"Join the club."

"That reminds me," Roy continued, some energy returning to his voice. "Fullmetal: what's your status?"

"What? Oh." Ed blamed his slow processing speed on the migraine. "Uh… Well both my automail limbs are gone and I have a headache too but other than that, I'm fine. No thanks to the guys who jumped me." Ed narrowed his eyes as he stared at nothing. The attack seemed completely unprovoked. Why go through all that trouble just to throw him and the Colonel in an empty room? "Who were those guys, anyway?"

"I can't be sure, but," Roy shifted his weight, trying and failing to find a more comfortable position despite his very limited options and tried to clear his throat. "It's most likely the group of people we came here to find in the first place. There was noise about them having ties in the military… But they've never done something so drastic before now. How they managed to sneak into a military compound filled with some of the nation's best soldiers and capture at least two State Alchemists is beyond me," the Colonel huffed, just as pleased with the situation as Ed.

"Well," Edward began, slipping some confidence into his tone. He'd gotten out of worse, so there was no need to worry. "I've had enough of this," the teenager announced as he used the rope to pull himself up. Almost immediately, however, his one leg gave out underneath him and his grip on the cheap rope tightened to keep himself up despite the pain it caused his palm, seeing as it was the only thing keeping him from falling on his face or swinging into the wall.

"Fullmetal, what are you doing?" The older man demanded once he heard Edward's flailing.

The teenager couldn't tell if Mustang was actually concerned that he got himself hurt, or if he was just telling Ed to stop being annoying. He assumed it was the latter.

"I'm trying to get out of here," Ed strained to say as he focused on regaining his balance. "Maybe you should try it; better than waiting around until someone finds us."

"If we're going to escape, we need to make a plan first," Roy replied sharply, eyes narrowed in Ed's general direction. He saw the teenager's figure lean against the wall, apparently drained from exerting so much energy all at once, just to stand up on a single foot. After a few seconds of silence, his body straightened up, as if the say something but both alchemists suddenly froze and looked at the door.

They heard something that sounded like a different door closing, followed by several footsteps. Several strenuously long seconds passed as the footsteps got closer until they were accompanied by hushed whispers as well.

"Fullmetal," Roy began softly, not taking his eyes off the thin line of light from under the door; the only barrier between them and the people who put them there. "Don't do anything stupid."

"What could I possibly do like this?" The teenager fired back quietly.

"Fine, don't say anything stupid."

Before Edward could respond, the door knob twisted back and forth until the door opened slowly, causing both alchemists to squint their eyes from the sudden light then entered the room, silhouetting two people in the doorway.

Roy caught a glance of a stairway directly behind the doorway that went upwards before they turned on the only light in the room and closed the door behind them. There was a single ceiling light that gave the room a warm glow, despite the temperature and the daunting situation. Along with the wooden floors, the room had potential to look quite cozy; if it wasn't being used to hold people hostage, anyway.

At second glance, Roy was able to see some smaller details about the room; such as the complete lack of windows, the spider webs that occupied each corner and a small table in the corner closest to the door which, to his surprise, held a bundle of clothing, including his military jacket and Ed's red coat.

Both alchemists watched the two newcomers carefully as their eyes adjusted to the new light. Both appeared to be Amestrian; one male and one female. The man was very tall and looked to be in his early thirties'. He had a square jaw, short black hair and stoic brown eyes that could easily be confused for black as well, especially since his bushy eyebrows blocked any light from reaching them. His broad shoulders made him look like an impenetrable wall.

"Hello, Roy Mustang and Edward Elric. My name is Nicholas Dreyse, and this is Evelyn Walther," he introduced, gesturing to the smaller woman who took a step out of his shadow.

Evelyn was towered by the man next to her, but stood taller than Edward. She had long, light brown hair that was tied up in a simple ponytail. She held a determined expression but her blue eyes displayed a deeper layer of anxiety and unsettled nerves.

"You look familiar," Edward began, staring at the woman as if the answer would jump out at him at any moment.

"So you noticed as well." The blond looked over at his superior for the first time since the light was turned on. His hair was messy and his military jacket was gone, leaving just a white button up shirt. "She's the one who told me to leave formation to join the other alchemists."

Ed nodded at the explanation and turned to watch the two again.

Nicholas Dreyse continued speaking as if they never interrupted him.

"I'm sure you two have already heard of us. We are revolutionists who plan to reform the government and change this country. Amestris is on a path to self-destruction unless we change our ways. The only way to do that is by force. And the key to that is alchemy." Nicholas waited a moment, giving the two a short moment to speak. When neither did, he continued.

"Despite being a smaller nation, Amestris has been able to fight against Drachma, Creta, and Aerugo, sometimes all at the same time, because of our superior technology and the military's favorite human weapons: the State Alchemists. But due to that, the Fuhrer and his lackeys have gotten arrogant; at the rate we're moving, all of that war and destruction will only continue and grow until it engulfs the country completely."

"I know firsthand how terrible war can be," Roy interjected. "But-"

"But what?" Dreyse cut in, his voice rising. "You can't possible defend that senseless destruction. The battles that surround our borders all started by Amestrian instigation! There's no need for it either. The country has plenty of land and resources; it's not even overpopulated. Every person in this nation has a roof over their heads and food on their plates." He paused and coldly stared down at Mustang, then continued in a deadly quiet tone. "Everyone, except the Ishvalan people."

Roy's eye twitched but Nicholas continued speaking nonetheless. "Yet another conflict started by Amestrian troops. Isn't that right, Flame Alchemist? As you know, the State Alchemists play a major role in every battle as they completely slaughter the human beings they are told to call enemies for no good reason. Where's the justice in that?"

The man started by addressing both Roy and Ed but since war was brought up, he had focused his attention solely on the Colonel. During his speech, the teenager had slipped back to a sitting position, knowing his already tired leg would have given out soon if he hadn't. Ed watched the scene unravel and noticed something he had only seen once or twice appear in Mustang's eyes. He couldn't tell if it was fear, guilt, or something else that shadowed those dark eyes that currently stared blankly at the ground, but the teenager didn't like it.

"Hey bastard!" Ed jumped in, drawing the attention to all three of the room's occupancy towards him. "If you hate the military so much, then how about you march into Central right now and leave us out of it?" He growled. All the talk about war and fighting had nothing to do with him. He was only in the military to gain better access to research. He didn't care about these guys or thought of them as any kind of threat, considering who they're up against.

Nicholas Dreyse clasped his hands behind his back and took a step back to look at both of the restrained alchemists again.

"We will, one of these days. But for now, we need to increase our numbers; which is why you two are here."

Edward and Roy looked up at the man with a mix of confusion and curiosity.

"You honestly think we're going to team up with you guys?" Ed asked, almost laughing as how ridiculous the notion sounded.

"And why not?" The tall man asked, raising an eyebrow. "Fighting back against this county's injustice is the only way to redeem yourselves after what the State Alchemists have been doing for years now." He turned to look directly at the Colonel again, who glared back in response. "If you feel any shred of guilt for the atrocities you have committed, then I suggest you do something about it instead of bowing to the people who gave the orders!"

To Edward's surprise, Mustang visually flinched at the man's words. It was strange to think that a man who was usually so unshakable and confident could have such a powerful weak spot that even none of his well-crafted masks could cover.

When there was no audible response, Dreyse straightened up and walked back towards the doorway so he stood next to the silent Evelyn Walther once more. His arms fell to his sides as his dark eyes shifted back and forth to the two alchemists in front of him.

"You have two options: the first is to forsake your positions in the military and join us to change this country for the better… The second is to suffer the slow, painful death that you dogs deserve."

"There's no way I'm going to work with you scumbags," Edward yelled immediately despite the objections of his dry mouth, not having to put any more thought in his response. The man looked unfazed by his insult, as though he had expected it.

When Roy didn't immediately back him up, a shred of fear sparked inside Ed's chest, causing him to look at his superior, trying and failing to catch his eye. He knew Roy was heavily involved in the Ishvalan massacre and had many scars, even now. If he really felt so guilty, would the man actually consider becoming a traitor to make up for it?

Almost as if Roy heard the teenager's questions, he looked back up at the stoic man that faced them, returning his gaze with cold, determined eyes.

"Go to Hell."


Chapter Text

How long had they gone without a scrap of food or water? How long were they unconscious for after the ambush during the training exercises back in North City? How long has if been since Nicholas and Evelyn left the room? Roy's mental clock was failing him. So many thoughts spiraled through his head after their captors left, causing him to lose track of time all together.

And yet he was supposed to be the superior officer; the adult. Therefore, he had to hold a confident appearance for Edward's sake. If he started to panic, the kid surely would too.

As soon as they were alone, Ed was quick to stand up again, although it did take him a good amount of time to do so. Once done, however, he tried using his mouth to loosen the knot around his left wrist. But if it was going to be easy to get out, they wouldn't have used rope in the first place. Edward's attempt was awarded with splinters in his tongue from the cheap material and he had to spend the next few minutes spitting them out. Afterwards, he had remained silent, for the most part

Roy looked over to his left for maybe the fifth time in the past few hours. Has it been hours? Perhaps it's only been one hour… Regardless, Edward looked like a mess; the child's one remaining arm was hanging limp in the rope that forced him to hold it up against a wall for hours on end, he was missing two limbs, his braid was in tangles (it was a miracle it hadn't fallen out completely) and his golden gaze was unfocused, facing the door. The young alchemist most likely got lost in thought some time ago, probably in order to deal with his hunger.

Then again, Ed wasn't trained to endure situations such as the one they currently found themselves in. Perhaps the kid's vacant stare was an instinctive coping mechanism to handle the fear and uncertainty that he was probably swarmed with. How else would he be expected to respond to all that has happened?

"Fullmetal?" Roy started, breaking the silence for the first time since their new friends left. He had to fight the urge to cough or clear his throat, knowing that only pain and dissatisfaction would follow.

Ed jumped slightly as if someone had just shaken him awake. The teen blinked a few times and glanced over to Roy in the dim light. He looked understandably tired, but nowhere near death.

"Yeah?" His voice was dry and raspy.

"Are you alright? You've been uncharacteristically quiet," the older man asked, obviously concerned. He smiled faintly, trying to lighten the mood, at least to the smallest degree.

Ed's eyes widened and narrowed so quickly that Roy wasn't sure if he imagined it or not. The kid looked at him as if he was suddenly speaking a different language.

"I'm alright," he replied, still watching Roy in bemusement. The Colonel raised an eyebrow curiously.

"What's with that look?"

Ed didn't reply right away and looked as if he wouldn't reply at all. But eventually he turned his head forward again, almost awkwardly.

"I uh… You sounded worried for me; wasn't expecting it." Roy had to strain his ears to hear his entire response, and he was taken aback when he did. Did Ed really think he was so heartless; that he wouldn't even care for a kid who was more-or-less thrown into a dungeon because of him?

"What? Of course I'm worried! You don't deserve to put up with this, Edward."

The teen glanced at him; his eyes shown with many conflicting thoughts. The Flame Alchemist wasn't sure if he was simply surprised to hear his actual name or if it was something else entirely.

"You…" Roy watched him, waiting for the blond to finish his thought, but no more words came. Ed looked away again and the silence stretch one. Just as Roy was beginning to think the conversation had ended, the blond opened his mouth and continued slowly.

"For a second, I thought you were going to take their offer," Ed changed the topic as tightened his fist that hung above his head. After a moment, he chuckled slightly despite himself.

Roy shook his head unconsciously. He couldn't blame the boy for jumping to conclusion in the heat of the moment. Despite the years that have passed since they met, they still didn't know each other very well, it seemed.

It was strange to see Ed in a serious situation that no amount of fighting and struggling could salvage.

"I have my own plans for this country; I don't need these people or their misguided ideals to move forward." Edward was facing the door again, his eyes looking heavy as they stared into nothing. Roy might have heard a sound of acknowledgment from the boy, but he also could have imagined it at the same time.

Defeated, the Colonel faced forward once more and shifted his weight, wanting so badly to lower his arms and stretch. He would soon enough. He was going to get Edward and himself out of there no matter what. It was his own damn fault that there were there in the first place, after all. He shouldn't have fallen for that idiotic trick during the drills. He should've seen through the deception. That was one of the many skills he prided himself in, after all.

Even when Evelyn first walked up to him dressed in an Amestrian uniform, he thought her request to separate from the others was strange. However, he was blinded by the stars and stripes of a Major on her uniform, which was most likely stolen from a poor, unsuspecting officer earlier that day.

Nonetheless, the question remained; how to escape?

Roy Mustang's eyes shifted around the dimly lit room, a wave of dizziness inflicting his vision as he did so. He ignored the obvious signs of dehydration in favor of calculating a plan. The only things in the room were the single light bulb above the two alchemists, and the long wooden table that still carried various jackets and coats. He wasn't entirely sure why their captors decided to leave the clothing there, but decided to leave that thought for later.

The Colonel turned his body and looked up to examine how exactly the ropes were attached to the wall. At first glance, it seemed that the other end of the rope was somehow built into the wall itself and disappearing inside. Upon a closer expectation, Roy noticed the transmutation marks that all pointed to the rope itself. It appeared that someone used alchemy to make the wall hold the rest of the rope; and it apparently had a very strong grip. If he was going to get out of the restraints, it certainly wasn't going to be by pulling the rest of the rope out.

He changed his focus to the tie that held his two writs together above his head. It was difficult to see well from the angle he was forced into, but the knot itself looked complicated and tight. Whoever tied him there clearly knew what they were doing. Despite that, he'd be damned if he didn't at least try to loosen it.

Roy pulled himself to his feet, several joints cracking as he did so from lack of use. His movement earned Ed's attention as he glared at the coarse rope before twisting his arms awkwardly and biting down on a section of the knot in an attempt to pull it lose.

"I already tried that, remember?" Ed mentioned warily, slightly amused by the Colonel's attempts.

The thistles that stuck out of the main body of the rope poked at the inside of his mouth, eventually convincing him to stop. However, he felt a spark of hope from trying. Unlike Ed, Roy still had both of his arms. After chipping away at it for long enough, he felt it was indeed possible to slip out with enough struggling, though the skin around his writs may not be spared once he tried.

However, that was a big 'maybe' considering the consequences. The Colonel wasn't overly fond of the idea of waiting for the perfect opportunity to escape, only to discover that he couldn't actually free himself from the knot. If he managed to get out prematurely, there was a large, unavoidable risk of someone noticing and replacing the knot with something tighter.

With a deep sigh, Roy relaxed his muscles, hoping to feel at least the slightest relief in his stiff shoulders.

"Fullmetal… Ed; I swear, I'm going to get us out of this." He felt the other alchemist's eyes on him but before he could even consider returning his gaze, the Colonel's mind was already swarmed with new plans and calculations.

"Wake up!"

Roy's eyes jerked open and he instinctively tried to pull his arms in front of him defensively upon being woken so suddenly, but only ended up digging the splintering rope deeper into his already irritated wrists.

Edward reacted in a very similar way, except he drew his one leg closer to his chest. The boy's expression morphed into a scowl once he realized who disrupted his restless sleep. Nicholas Dreyse and Evelyn Walther entered the small, cold room once more and they placed several tools on the wooden table. From their angle, neither of the State Alchemists were able to make out exactly what the items were.

The two rebels looked refreshed, unlike the alchemists. Their appearances at least told Roy that a new day had started. Strange: since he had no recollection of ever falling asleep.

"Are either of you hungry?" Nicholas asked easily; his voiced lacked any sign of taunting or superiority that would be expected. Instead, he sounded more professional; as if being there and making them suffer was only a part of his job.

Neither Roy or Ed chose to satisfy the dark haired man by giving him an answer. Of course they were starving. If they waited long enough, they would be able to hear the sound of their stomachs growling ferociously.

Nicholas's shadowed eyes fell on the two when his question was met with no response. Evelyn leaned against the table and folded her arms. She had a stern, carefully crafted expression but the subtle biting of her lip gave away her nervousness. Watching her gave Roy a bad feeling that twisted and turned in his stomach.

"It would really be easier if you talked to me," Nicholas sighed, and picked something up from the table. Roy's vision was slightly blurry due to the lack of nurturance, but whatever the tall man held looked like just a long stick. However, as he walked closer, Roy was able to make out the fireplace poker. Its original silver iron was a dark brown due to years of use, being stuck into flames. It had two points at the end; one looking straight forward, while another extended off of the side and bent backwards, similarly to a fishing hook.

And the man holding the weapon was moving straight for Roy. Instinctively, the Colonel brought his legs up and tried to push himself back but only to be pressed into the wall. Without any hesitation or warning, Nicholas suddenly thrust the fire iron straight into Roy's left shoulder.

The cold material ripped through his shoulder muscle and a fiery pain shot through his entire arm. Unprepared for the attack, Roy yelled in pain and his bloodshot eyes opened widely only to be shut closed immediately afterwards. He tried to pull away from the other man but there was nowhere to go. He felt blood pool into his white sleeve and down the side of his chest.

"What the hell are you doing, bastard!?" Roy heard Edward yelling but couldn't register his words properly, due to the fact that the majority of his tired mental capacity was focused on enduring the unanticipated pain.

The older alchemist tried to kick out against his attacker with both of his legs at once, given they were still tied together. Nicholas easily moved backwards out of his range, pulling the bloodied fireplace poker out of Roy's flesh as he did so. The hook that stuck out on the side of the iron pole made Roy instantly regret his actions. It tore through his shoulder easily, adding to the mind-numbing agony that already haunted him. Roy was able to feel the cold sensation of the iron itself but his nerves screamed and burned, leaving him feeling lightheaded and unable to figure out something as simple as whether or not he felt hot or cold.

Before he could realize that the metal stick was gone, Nicholas forcefully brought the end down on his right thigh, just above the knee. Roy growled through his clenched teeth, grinding them together as he tried to endure the agony. He didn't bother looking up at the man who stood above him, but he was willing to bet that there wasn't the slightest hint of guilt to be found in those overcast eyes.

The Colonel wanted to kick out again at the man but his wounded leg screamed at him in protest. He wasn't able to tell if the fire iron made it straight through his leg, or stopped half way due to the fact that the pain quickly spread and the blood had already covered that entire part of his leg. The thick fabric stuck to his skin, but did nothing to help the room's cold temperature that was quickly absorbed by the red liquid. He forced himself to look at it and felt disoriented at the sight of the long pole sticking out of his own body.

"Only a coward would attack a defenseless man like that," he heard Ed hiss after a slur of colorful insults. He tugged on the rope in a vain attempt to attack the stop the man who had just injured his superior officer.

"The State Alchemists didn't seem to have a problem attacking the defenseless when they were ordered to invade the border of Aerugo," Dreyse shot back coldly, sending a sharp glare in Ed's direction.

"Aerugo? That war started 40 years ago! That has nothing to do with this!" The blond yelled in response, apparently giving up on his attempt to break through the rope's restraint, though obviously infuriated by his inability to do anything else.

"It's always the same," he growled, turning to look down at Roy once more. "The same innocent blood on the same government's hands. The fighting has been continuing there for decades now and has taken the lives of both my parents. Even though they had nothing to do with it either," Nicholas spat, eyes narrowed and hidden by the overcast lighting.

Roy looked up at the man through his matted bangs and forced a smirk. "Do your worst; it'll take more than that to make me pity you."

With a scowl, Nicholas put a hand on the handle of the iron stick that had been impaled into Roy's leg, prepared to yank it out. The Colonel braced himself.

"Nicholas," a shaken voice suddenly jumped in. Three sets of eyes turned to look at the single woman who was leaning against the table, nails digging into the sides, her face white as a snow.

"I don't want to watch this. I… I can't stomach it yet," she admitted, avoiding his eye contact in favor of looking at her feet.

Nicholas abandoned the fireplace poker in Roy's thigh and turned to face the woman.

"You know the boss wants you to get used to it. This won't be the last time this happened." His voice was surprisingly lighter and overall more human when talking to Evelyn.

"I know that," the light haired woman replied and looked up to meet her ally's eye. "But… Later, okay? I- I just…" The strength in her blue eyes flickered, exposing the true internal conflict underneath.

"Alright, alright," Nicholas sighed dismissively with the wave of a hand. "But we still have a while to deal with these two before the next move. I'm just letting you off the hook this one time," the tall man enforced, with a certain softness slipping into his tone.

She nodded and smiled, muttering a faint thanks before turning to the door and leaving without wasting a moment. Nicholas watched her go and remained there for several thoughtful seconds before switching back into the hardened shell he appeared to be before.

Nicholas walked back up to the table and picked something up, his body blocking the view from both Roy and Ed. There was a single familiar 'click' sound.

"There's not a doubt in my mind that Evelyn is dedicated to our cause; but she's new to this kind of lifestyle. It takes some time to get used to," Nicholas mused, still with his back turned, as if he was speaking to himself.

Dreyse turned around, revealing to the alchemists that in one hand, he held a large knife while the other held a silver lighter underneath the blade. The tip of the small flame licked the steel gently, undoubtedly spreading heat throughout.

"Roy Mustang," the man addressed without removing his eyes from the blade in his hand. "You're strong, aren't you? -Might have a naturally high pain tolerance as well. Or perhaps the military somehow beat that into you," he shrugged. "Either way, it didn't take much to confirm that spilling your blood isn't really going to hurt you as much as you deserve."

The lighter clicked off and it was tossed onto the table, landing on one of jackets. He held the knife up, examining the soft glow that radiated from it.

"So, I'll have to find other ways to make you pay for your actions before you die."

The two alchemists watched the man carefully, both getting continuously more unsettled the closer he moved. Roy felt his stomach drop when he realized that psychotic man with the burning knife was walking over specifically towards Edward, rather him himself like he would have greatly preferred.

"Hey-" Ed stuttered. "Stay away from me! Stop!" The teen yelled, dreading whatever was to come next. Since Edward had joined the military, he'd been battered, bloodied and bruised, but never stabbed. Was Nicholas planning on killing him at that moment so Roy could watch? Was that what he meant by finding another way to make him pay?

Instinct told Roy to yell at the man; to demand that he step away from the kid immediately. But logic told him that his vocal protests would do nothing except encourage the man by letting him know that he found a line that was not to be crossed. He knew there was nothing he could do.

Dreyse knelt down in front of the blond, knife resting precariously in his hand. He glared at Roy and spoke over Ed's protests.

"How do you like the smell of burning flesh, Colonel?"

Both Roy and Edward expected the glowing knife to mercilessly slice through Ed's skin but instead, the searing flat of the blade was pressed against Ed's lower arm, intensely burning the bare skin.

Surprise trapped Ed's voice in his throat as he gasped raggedly at first, followed by screams when the pain did not go away. He tried to kick the man to create any kind of distance, but Nicholas held the kid's leg in place with his free hand. The teenager struggled and squirmed, doing anything in his power to get the blade away but with nowhere to go, there was nothing to be done except scream as if the blade was going to melt straight through his arm.

In that second, Roy already thought of at least ten very different and creative ways he could painfully kill the man who dared to hurt his subordinate.

"Get the hell away from him," Roy demanded. He didn't care if speaking out would do nothing to better the situation; he couldn't sit there and watch Ed get hurt on his account without saying anything.

Nicholas immediately drew the scorching blade away from Ed's arm, his face blank and unreadable. Ed was breathing hard, with his eyes shut and arm extremely tense. Roy was able to see part of the lasting red that marked the kid's skin. It felt as if the blade was there for at least several seconds; it was going to be a nasty burn and definitely leave a scar.

Nicholas looked over at Roy's snarling, hateful expression, unfazed, and then turned back to Ed. He easily shifted his grip around the knife and immediately stabbed Edward in the stomach; the blade tearing a gash through the skin easily due to the blistering heat. The teen's body flinched violently in protest and his bloodcurdling screams rung in Roy's ears.

"Leave him out of this, damn it! I told you, he has nothing to do with this! Do what you want to me but don't you touch my subordinate again, or I swear I'll kill you the second I get the chance!" The Colonel threatened, subconsciously pulling on the rope and simultaneously forgetting about his shoulder wound, the iron stick that was still poking out of his leg, and the blood that had now stained almost his entire left side and right leg.

Satisfied with Roy's reaction, Nicholas slid the blade out of Ed's skin and stood up straight. Blood pooled around the cut and stuck to his black shirt, making the wound look not nearly as bad as it probably was. His face was still distorted with pain and his arm struggled against the rope, wanting so badly to apply some kind of pressure to the injury. The searing blisters that would likely appear around the cut would do him no favors either.

The tall man grabbed a small rag out of his pocket and began wiping Ed's blood off of the blade.

"You say the kid has nothing to do with this, and yet he still signed his life away to become a dog of the military; a human weapon, as they say. Though you're all much more weapon than human, when it comes down to it," Dreyse said with a gleam of disgust in his eyes as drops of blood fell off the knife and down to his feet.

"And you're no better, Colonel. What makes you think you have the right to care about this boy, who's bleeding out in front of you?" He asked, using the knife smeared with blood to gesture over to Ed. "You didn't care about the children in Ishval enough to save them; so why him? Why does a dog have more of a right to live than an innocent Ishvalan child? You don't have the right to suddenly care; you only destroy. I'm sure, in time, you'll only end up destroying him too."

Roy didn't respond. He knew there was no arguing with these people. Besides, there was nothing he could say to defend his actions during the Civil War. He has killed men, women and children simply because he was ordered to and did everything he could not to care; it was the only way to walk out of that forsaken desert with at least a portion of his sanity still intact. That very reason was why he had to protect as many people as he could, including Edward, despite knowing that it would never make up for his crimes.

Nicholas looked as if he was going to say more, until something apparently occurred to him and he promptly looked at his wristwatch. Clicking his tongue warily, he quickly stepped closer to Roy and with a single hand, swiftly pulled the fireplace poker straight out of his leg; the hook on the side tore at the fabric. The Colonel was able to brace himself in time and remained mostly quiet, all except for a muffled grunt that managed to escape through his teeth.

Nicholas Dreyse picked up everything he brought with him earlier and headed for the door. "It looks like this is taking longer than I imagined. We'll continue later," he said dismissively and opened the door, walked through, called to someone, and shut it once more.

"About time he left," Ed commented strenuously. His one leg was pulled up to his chest and the burn on his arm was blistering. It was nearly impossible for Roy to see how much blood was around his stomach wound thanks to the kid's dark clothing, but he knew it wasn't good.

"An' hey- don't listen to that guy. He doesn't know what he's talk'n about," Ed continued, giving the Colonel a side glance.

Roy never thought he'd see the day that Edward Elric actually stuck up for him. He stared at the blond in mild bemusement and appreciation before shaking his head and making a sad attempt to clear his dry throat. All of the yelling he had just done didn't feel all too great either.

"Yeah… Though, not everything he said wasn't true," the older man admitted, before quickly changing the topic. "But more importantly; you seem awfully calm for someone who just got stabbed. You must be going through shock…"

"Nah, I'm fine. It's mostly the burns that hurt. Can't even feel the cut anymore," the blond muttered, looking down as his bloodied shirt.

"That's exactly what going into shock means, Edward."

"Well what do you suppose I do?" The kid asked, raising his voice from irritation. There was just the slightest hint of fear slipping into his tone. "I can't exactly move right now, if you haven't noticed."

"Just start with saving your energy," Roy answered warily. That wasn't enough to save Ed from bleeding out on the floor, but it was all they could do for the moment. From what he could tell, it didn't look like Nicholas hit any major organs; if he wanted Ed to bleed out and die quickly, he could have done it more easily another way. Surely they wanted both of them around for at least a while longer…

Edward took several deep breathes and closed his eyes, trying to force himself into relaxing. His concentration lasted only a few short seconds before opened his eyes to glare at the opposing wall.

"Damn, burns hurt a lot," he muttered through his clenched teeth.

"Yeah, I know." Roy replied without thought. This was his fault; he might as well have burned Ed himself.

The blond suddenly looked hesitant; as if he regretted commenting on the burns. He appeared as if he was about to say something about it, but was interrupted by the sound of a door knob turning.

Back so soon?

Both alchemists expected to see a large man standing in the doorway but instead, they were greeted by a solemn looking female with light brown hair and blue eyes.

Evelyn walked in and dropped a small box, which suspiciously resembled a first aid kit, onto the table. Realization clicked in Roy's head quickly.

"Start with him," Mustang insisted calmly, the urgency and hope lacing his voice.

She nodded and with one look at the injured teen, grabbed what was needed from the kit and knelt down in front of him.

"Hey, you got any water on you?" Ed asked tiredly, his voice ragged and strained.

"You'll get water when I'm done with this," she replied flatly, not taking her eyes off of the supplies in her hands. Ed nodded, apparently satisfied and left her to work.

Roy watched from the side as Evelyn Walther took a small pair of scissors and made several small cuts at the fabric surrounding Ed's wound. Thankfully, the blood hadn't dried yet. Otherwise, removing the fabric would have been a much more painful task, on Ed's part.

She wiped the cut with a sanitized cloth, earning many flinching and complaints from the young alchemist. She remained quiet as she then applied a creamy white burn medicine on the festering skin around the wound, and finished by placing a large, adhesive bandage over it. The woman then picked up the leftover supplied and returned to the box on the table.

"Hey, what about the burn on my arm?"

"I was told to leave that one alone. It's not life-threatening" she answered, glancing at Roy before grabbing more supplies out of the kit.

"Agh, you gotta be kidding me," Edward groaned, slumping against the wall. Roy had no doubt that if it wasn't for his sore throat and lack of energy, the kid would have complained Evelyn's ears off until she gave in.

The woman then moved on to Roy. She stared at his injured for a moment, contemplating.

"I need you to stand up."

Roy sighed. He knew it would be difficult to properly cover up his shoulder wound with his arms being held upwards, as they were. Reluctantly, the Colonel forced himself to his feet, using the rope to heave himself off of the ground. His right leg refused to fully cooperate and he was forced to put the majority of his weight on his left foot. Apparently, she had no interest in removing his shirt to get to injury so instead, she used the scissors from before to cut away at it. If the white fabric hadn't already been stained with red, he might have complained.

Roy held his arms out and she immediately started cleaning and wrapping his shoulder in a bandage. He took the moment as an opportunity to talk to her without her giant friend interrupting.

"Why'd you decide to work with these guys anyway? You obviously have a good set of skills; you could get an actual job and make a life for yourself instead of running on these pointless suicide missions," he commented as he watched her finish with his shoulder.

She narrowly met his eyes, opened her mouth to respond, closed it again, and knelt down to start on Roy's leg would.

"I don't want to talk to you," Evelyn said instead, just as Roy was beginning to think she wouldn't reply at all.

"You're talking to me right n- ouch," he tried to sound light-hearted but she applied the sanitizer rather forcefully, clearly telling him to shut up. She hastily finished bandaging his leg and stood up to look him in the eye.

"Look: don't think that just because I didn't want to watch you two get tortured, that now we're friends or I'm on your side or something like that," she explained, using her hands to mimic air quotations after she put the medical supplies down.

"So you wouldn't care if we die because of you people?" Ed asked, suddenly chiming in.

The woman hesitated for a split second before composing herself, forcing her expression into one of fierce certainty.

"Whatever is necessary for the cause. I don't care if a few military dogs die in the process," she insisted forcefully.

"I'm not convinced," Ed shrugged- or tried to shrug. "I don't think you're like your friend, Nicholas. He sounds like he cares about justice, but then turns around and kidnaps people and tortures them in a basement. But then again, he's just taking orders from your boss, right? In that case, if State Alchemists are so bad, then he's just as bad as us! He's just blaming his own pain and sorrow on anyone he can and causing trouble for more innocent people. These people are hypocrites. You really want to tell me that you're just like them?"

Eveyln looked at the blond with wide eyes. Clearly, she was not expecting to get lectured by a child. After a moment, she straightened up and frowned.

"You're too young to understand what we're doing."

"No, I agree with him completely," Roy interjected. He had slid down the wall, back into a sitting position while Edward was speaking. "If you want to tell us that you're just as dedicated as your teammates here, then you better be prepared to take responsibility for imprisoning and malnourishing a child. Just look at him! With that size, he could be twelve years old for all you know!"


"I'm prepared for anything!" Evelyn shot back defensively.

"I don't believe you. Stop comparing yourselves to these monsters," Roy said coldly. The conversation hadn't progressed as he planned in the slightest, but he was interested to see where it would go.

"No, I can do it! I can fit in here, and be just as ruthless as I need to be! Don't you dare think of me as some kind of weak-link," the woman yelled accusingly. Her tempter was rising and it sounded like she was on the edge of some sort of breaking point. Perhaps this would have be a good time to back down. Or perhaps…

"You won't be able to prove it. You'll give up or die trying. Just accept it already."


In that instant, everything went black.

Everything was spinning, and yet, he couldn't see anything at all. There was only pain and a nauseous, dizzy sensation. And confusion. What happened? So many thoughts went through Roy's mind in a matter of a few short seconds, and he was unable to process anything.

"-did you … for?"

"…Colonel…" His vision began to return to him, but it was splotchy and blurred. His head hurt like hell.

"Hey Mustang!" Ed was yelling at him. He blinked several times, trying to force his vision to clear up.


The older man shifted his eyes over to the direction of the voice and focused on the golden blur until he was able to recognize Edward with an alarmed and concerned expression on his face.

What happened?

The throbbing in his head helped him to realize that he had just been kicked on the left side of the head and blacked out for a second or two.

The Colonel groaned warily and blinked several more times. "I'm fine," he said slowly, then looked up at his assailant.

Evelyn had an angry fire burning in her eyes after Roy pushed too far at her weak points. Catching her eye, the fire slowly died and something very different took its place. Guilt? Regret? Fear? He wasn't able to place it before she spun around, grabbed the first aid kit and fled the room without another word.

Chapter Text

"Sir, is there any way you could lend more support for the Missing Alchemists case?"

"I'm sorry- Lieutenant Hawkeye, was it? As far as numbers go, I've already sent as many hands as I could to find them."

It has been three days since eleven State Alchemists mysteriously vanished from the East vs North Training Exercises, just after the opening ceremony. An alchemic reaction was used to fill the entire clearing with a cloud of powdered snow and dirt, leaving every soldier blind for at least a few precious seconds. Which was apparently enough time for someone to grab two of the East's most prominent Alchemists and several others, and disappear. The only signs of their escape were faint transmutation marks in the ground, directly underneath where the smokescreen was created. When examined, it was discovered that a tunnel was created beforehand and destroyed after use. Nonetheless, the hasty alchemy was able to be tracked until just outside the Northern Command HQ, where it was presumed they continued above land.

There were later reports that many Amerstrian soldiers were found dead and missing their uniforms. Therefore, the invaders were able to maneuver in plain sight, especially considering no one would expect any kind of attack with such a high concentration of military power in one area.

Riza Hawkeye took her eyes off of the Colonel for not even five minutes and he somehow managed to get himself kidnapped. She let her guard down and because of it, it was possible that he and Edward were already dea- no. Those two in particular could survive anything, especially if they learned to work together. That is, if they didn't kill each other in the process; all the more reason for her to find them soon.

That was exactly why she was striding down a Northern Command corridor, closely tailing Brigadier General Ramon Benning. He was a tall man with tired blue eyes and graying brown hair, which was neatly slicked back.

General Benning barely managed to spare her a glance when she greeting him with a salute and requested more troops. Her heels clicked against the polished surface as she followed the higher-ranked officer down the corridor to his next meeting. He was a difficult man to converse with.

They stopped at a large, glossy oak door and he turned around to directly face the blonde.

"As I said, Lieutenant; I'd love to give you more help searching for these alchemists but we have too much on our plate to throw every Northern officer at this problem." He looked entirely unapologetic.

"Yes, I understand. Thank you for your time, sir," Riza answered professionally and gave the man another stiff salute. He crisply returned it and disappeared behind the solid pair of double doors. She wasn't entirely sure what else they had to deal with, considering the Briggs soldiers likely wouldn't need any assistance anytime soon, and Xingese smugglers were relatively easy to deal with.

Restraining a sigh, Riza returned to where she left the rest of the team, by the Northern Command's main entrance. Jean Havoc, Vato Falman, Heymans Breda, and Kain Fuery were waiting near the receptionist counters, all standing and talking in what almost resembled a circle. They all quieted down upon noticing her appearance. She simply shook her head as she walked over to join them, causing the four men to lower their shoulders and release their in disappointment.

"Ah, whatever," Havoc began, scratching his head casually. "We'll still find the Colonel and Chief without the extra help."

"I hope they're okay," Fuery added, pitiably.

"I'm sure they're fine," Riza assured the youngest member. "Colonel Mustang and Major Elric are very strong."

Kain nodded and Breda slid his hands into his pockets.

"If anything, I'd be worried about the people who took them. Nothing good happens when those two are in the same room for more than five minutes." I series of halfhearted smiles and chuckles resonated throughout the circle. Breda's light humor was able to raise the sullen mood, at least somewhat.

"That reminds me," Riza added suddenly. "Has anyone told Alphonse about Edward's disappearance yet?"

No answer. All four men stared at Hawkeye blankly as if they didn't understand the question. She closed her eyes and squeezed the bridge of her nose.

"Didn't I say that was one of the first things that needed to happen? His brother has been missing for three days and no one decided to tell him?" She asked, tempter quietly rising.

Havoc and Breda both nudged Falman from behind, who was unwisely standing between them.

"Uh, w-we were so caught up in that one lead regarding the trucks, that-" he stuttered nervously, having no desire to face the Lieutenant's wrath.

"Then I'll do it myself," she announced and spun away from them on her heel and trekked down to the phones at the other end of the hall. The four men timidly followed.

A line was quickly connected to Western Command, where Alphonse should have been visiting often in case his brother called. After speaking to an unnaturally cheery receptionist, she learned that Alphonse wasn't currently at the base and hasn't been seen all day. Assuming he'll drop in at some point before night fell, she asked the woman on the other end to tell him to call Northern Command as soon he showed up. After briefly exchanging some pointless pleasantries, she hung up and turned to see the team watching her nervously.

"How'd it go?" Havoc asked, his hand twitching at his side, refraining from pulling a cigarette out of his pocket.

"We should be expecting a call from him by the end of the day. Now then; have there been any updates with the truck situation?"

About an hour after the alchemists disappeared, it was reported that several military issued vehicles were seen parked around the Northern base, some in which were later seen hastily driving out of North City. However, their tracks were quickly lost to the snow.

"Yes Ma'am," Falman began, straightening himself to speak. "A Civilian came in while you were speaking to General Benning by the name of Kurt Adler. He was a lower-middle class Amestrian in his early forties and stood at approximately five feet and eight inches. Most likely born and raised in North City but traveled quite often and had a chicken salad for lunch-"

"Get to the point, Falman," Riza sighed, her expression as stern as always.

"Right; anyway, Mr. Adler was apparently hiking along the main road that leads directly north from here until two military issued vehicles suddenly turned off road and nearly ran him over. He originally came here to complain but after speaking to him, he's willing to show us where the trucks left the road."

"Good. Is he still in the base?" The Warrant Officer nodded. "Alright, then we'll leave immediately."

"Sir," the four men said in an agreeing chorus. However, another voice interrupted before they had any time to progress.

"Uh, Mrs. Hawkeye?" Riza turned to see who was addressing her. It was an older woman who she previously noticed at the reception counter. "There's a call for you from the West City base."

"Oh? That was fast," Riza commented quietly, raising her slim eyebrows slightly. "Thank you," she said with a nod and the woman left, having completed her task.

"Get Mr. Adler and I'll meet up with you in a moment," she told the rest of the team and returned to the line of phones as the others walked away in the opposite direction.

She easily found the phone that connected to the west and held the handset up to the side of her head.

"This is Lieutenant Hawkeye speaking."

"Hello, Mrs. Hawkeye," Alphonse's young, cheery voice welcomed through the telephone earpiece. "I'm sorry for not being here when you called earlier; I was out talking to the townspeople. They're very kind. How are things up in the North? Brother didn't get himself in any trouble, right?"

If the situation were any different, Riza would have enjoyed talking to Alphonse about what he found and how he's doing but it was best that she cut straight to the point as quickly as possible. The sniper easily understood why the others didn't want to do it.

"Unfortunately, the drills were interrupted and several State Alchemists have gone missing, including Edward," she said, not allowing herself to hesitate or stutter. She just had to rip off the bandage.

And just like that, the usually level-headed younger brother was thrown head first into a state of panic and alarm. He rambled off any and every question he could think of before Riza could answer any of them.

"Alphonse, I need you to calm down. We're doing everything we can to find them. We have a witness who saw where they might have gone, and we're just about to follow the trail. Besides, Colonel Mustang is most likely with him, wherever they are."

Several long seconds went by, in which the suit of armor used to collect his thoughts.

"Alright, that's good to hear… Do you need my help? I'll get on the next train and come up as soon as possible." She noticed that he didn't wait to find out if his help was needed or not before deciding to join them anyway; which was fine by her, if not preferred. She wasn't about to keep the brothers apart longer than necessary.

"I'll send someone to the station to pick you up when your train arrives."

"Okay! See you soon." The call ended and Alphonse was most likely already sprinting down the street to the nearest train station.

It was impossible to tell what day it was or how long they've been there. Days or weeks could have passed and Edward wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. It didn't help that his arm went numb some time ago. It was better that the dull pain he had felt for hours, but he feared for the pain that would follow when he would finally be able to lower it.

Just as promised, Ed and Roy were each given water and a small loaf of bread. The task of actually consuming the desperately needed nutrients with no arms was difficult, but they eventually managed. However, the small amount of food and water did little to restore their diminished strength after going so long without it.

Since then, Roy had spent the following hours trying to loosen the blinds around his wrists without rest. Though it was difficult to confirm with the poor lighting, but his wrists looked swollen, red and may have even been bleeding slightly. To make matters worse, Ed was occasionally able to see a large purple bruise on the side of his head, alarmingly close to his left eye from the Evelyn's kick. His stomach turned at the very thought of the event that occurred yesterday- last night? This morning? He had no idea. Ed was the one who started to anger the temperamental female. Sure, it was Roy who pushed her past her limit but it probably wouldn't have happened if Ed just kept his mouth shut.

Part of him wanted to convince himself that the bastard Colonel deserved it but the current situation was much too dire for that. If anything, Edward should have been the one to get kicked in the head. He spent the past few days insulting their captors straight to their faces and planning what he'd do to them once he was free, but Roy was the one that kept getting hurt. Sure, he got burned on the arm and stabbed in the stomach but even that was just to get a reaction out of Mustang.

The young alchemist assumed that was either because they really wanted to destroy the infamous Hero of Ishval in every way possible, or they wanted to break the powerful alchemist in order to have him join them. Little did they know just how stubborn the older man could be.

However, as loathe as he was to admit it, there was a small part of him that thought that it might be possible for Mustang to fall under the pressure and guilt, causing him to not think straight, and make some foolish decision. Every time that thought occurred to him, Ed was quick to assure himself that the lack of comfortable sleep was affecting his mind. He told himself not to be ridiculous and think about something else.

Before the teen's mind could run off into another tangent, soft voices from behind the door broke through the cold silence, causing both Edward and Mustang to look up. Ed looked over to the older alchemist and noticed his eyes fixated cautiously on the door; he ceased his efforts to loosen the rope.

The door knob turned and Evelyn Walther walked in alone. Her light brown hair was tied up the same was it always was and her blue eyes quickly took in the appearances of both alchemists (who were both glaring back at her) as she took a few steps closer to them. She pursed her lips for a moment when her eyes fell on Mustang but remained unreadable for the most part.

"I have a present for you," she began and stuffed a hand in one of her pockets, pulling out a white glove; Roy's ignition glove. At second glance, it seemed that the other glove was simple stuffed inside the first one. "You depend heavily on these, don't you, Colonel? I'm sure you miss them," She continued, slipping one glove out of the other and pulling one over her right hand. "It's a little big for me…"

Roy kept his expression mostly neutral besides the glare, but Ed was sure he saw his eyes narrow even more so.

"Do you really think throwing those gloves around will be enough to change anything?" Edward demanded, figuring Mustang wasn't going to say anything.

Evelyn shrugged and walked over to the single table and leaned against in, holding her gloved hand up in the light while her other loosely held the left glove.

"Not exactly; the boss thought you two might've been bored and suggested I keep you company for a bit." It sounded like she had been working on her confidence since they last spoke. "I just wanted to remind you that you might be able to get these back if you changed your mind," she continued, addressing the Colonel.

"Bet you couldn't give me my leg back if I changed my mind," the teenager added bitterly. He looked down at his leg that had been destroyed at the knee. Wires poked out pathetically and the outer shell was completely destroyed; a daunting reminder that he would probably get killed the next time he returned to Resembool.

"You're right about that," she said with a shrug. "We figured it would just be easier that way. Taking the arm off properly was difficult enough, since you'd need that to transmute if you decided to cooperate. But you wouldn't necessarily need another leg anytime soon."

The Fullmetal Alchemist raised an eyebrow. "I think your logic is flawed… And what did you do with my arm, anyway? I want that back; I'm unbalanced without it."

"Don't worry; your automail arm is safe and sound with us. See; if you decided to rebel against the government with us, you would be transported to another one of our bases. In case that happens, your arm is waiting for you in the-" she faltered, apparently deciding against giving out any more information. "… Never mind."

With an annoyed expression, Evelyn returned her focus to the oversized glove on her hand and slowly rubbed the middle finger and thumb together, too slow for any sparks to form, even if she knew any of the necessary alchemic formulas.

"You should really take that off," Roy coldly warned, finally joining in on the conversation. "You could burn the whole building down if you don't know what you're doing."

Edward always assumed that absolutely nothing would happen if those gloves were in the hands of someone who had no idea how to preform alchemy, but he knew it certainly wasn't the right time to bring that into question. Mustang could have just been trying to scare her.

Ed felt eyes on him and glanced over to see the Colonel watching him intently, apparently trying to tell him something. After a moment, his focused, dark eyes caused something to click in Edward's mind.

"You know, I'm an alchemist too. I even took the exam to become a State Alchemist, of all things. Almost passed, too," she mused, now holding her gloved hand still as she examined the design on the back. "I was so upset… But it's a good thing I failed; or else I would have been brainwashed and forced to do terrible things, like you two."

"You're doing terrible things right now," Ed growled.

"I'm just doing what I believe will lead to a better future for everyone. I have no doubt that you two have done something that hurt someone else for the very same reason!" She fired back easily, eyes narrowed at the two State Alchemists.

Roy opened his mouth to respond but Ed cut in. "It must be so easy to look down on others when they're tied up against a wall, huh? How about you take off those damn gloves and fight me right now?!" The blond barked angrily, pulling against his restraint.

Evelyn simple watched the raging teenager for a moment before forcing a laugh and tossing the gloves onto the table, and then proceeded to move closer to the two.

"Listen, kid: you are in no position to be making threats. You need to accept that you're at our mercy, like a chained animal," the woman explained coldly. It seemed that she was making more of an effort to act disconnected and coarse since their last meeting.

"Really?" Ed asked and shifted his weight. If Mustang was thinking what he thought he was thinking, then the idea was to keep the woman talking. "Okay; so if I decided to agree to your terms and help you overthrow the government or whatever, what's going to keep me from stabbing you in the back once I get my arm back?"

Evelyn folded her arms. "How about the safety of your superior officer?

Edward forced a laugh, which stretched out for just a little too long. "Come on, I don't care about that bastard." He didn't look at Mustang when he spoke, but the teen could basically feel the older man's eye twitching from mild annoyance.

"Shall we test your honesty?" Edward didn't respond, assuring Evelyn of her small victory. "I didn't think so."

"I think it's about time you leave," Mustang said rather abruptly, causing Evelyn's confidence to falter ever-so-slightly.

"…What makes you think you're in any position to speak to me like that?" She asked, trying to hide her sudden hesitation.

"Let's not forget that you gave me a concussion not too long ago. It's only expected that I don't want to see to you. So you can stand there and ramble on all you want, but know that I won't be listening," Mustang said flatly and turned his head to stare at the wall for good measure.

"Wha-what?" She stuttered in bemusement. "Fine. I hope you enjoy rotting." And with that, she stormed out of the room, slamming the door as she exited.

Edward chuckled. "We probably won't be seeing her for a while… Wait, when do you think she'll remember to grab the gl- What are you doing?" The blond asked when he turned to see that Mustang was not only up on his feet, but he was using his uninjured leg to push himself away from the wall in an attempt to squeeze his hands through the binding.

"I've been messing with the knot for hours. I'm fairly certain that I'll be able to… slip out," he explained slowly through his bared teeth.

"You have a plan right? You always have a plan. Right?" The teenager asked, excitement and hope swelling up inside of him for the first time in days.

Mustang didn't answer as he jumped and somehow managed to firmly place both feet on the wall and push. He muttered several curses as the splintering rope slowly scratched and tore at his skin. If it wasn't for the fact that he had been malnourished for days, Edward had no doubt that the older alchemist could have gotten out in seconds.

With enough force, Mustang's wrists slipped out from the knot and he stumbled backwards and fell, just barely catching himself with his elbows. It looked like Roy was just as surprised when he simply sat there for several long seconds, staring at the lone rope hanging down from the wall in amazement.

"You did it…" The blond shook himself out of the mild trance. "Now hurry up and get me out of here," he urged, knowing that the world hated it when things actually went the way he wanted.

"I told you that I'd get you out of there; I think it's about time I act on that promise." The Colonel pushed himself to his feet and launched himself to the table, almost slipping as he did so. He quickly pulled the first glove on and then-

"I almost forgot to take the-"

And there was Evelyn with her hand still on the knob, standing mid-step in the open doorway. Roy spun around at the sound of the door, with his fingers poised to snap. They simply stared at each other for a moment in suffocating silence.



She just barely had time to shut the door closed with every fiber of strength in her arm, saving herself from the merciless flames that rushed towards her. The fire hit the door and spread back across the surrounding stone walls, blowing Roy's raven bangs back in the confined space and lighting up the small room with its warmth.

Though he sat several feet away from the temporary fire, that brief moment was the warmest Ed had felt in days. It was so nice and pleasant, that he almost didn't register the yelling that was instantly heard from behind the door. Evelyn was screaming for help, alerting every soul in the building that the Flame Alchemist was armed and dangerous.

Without wasting a second, Roy quickly moved over to Ed and knelt down in front of him. The rope that restrained his one arm was burned from the wall with ease, allowing Ed to regain control. Never before had he felt the urge to hold his own hand until then- until he was physically unable to do so.

However, he was given no time to rejoice the newly found freedom because the door burst open and a chorus of shouts and footsteps filled the space. From the sound of it, they were vastly outnumbered as many pairs of feet stormed the room. But he wasn't positive, because he wasn't looking. The blond was only watching Mustang, whose body was blocking Ed's from their enemy's sight. He gave Edward a look that seemed to almost be apologetic. But that couldn't be right… What was he planning?

Time slowed down as the older man made a split second decision and dropped a single glove into Ed's hand. Almost instantly, he knew exactly what Mustang was planning and he did not approve in the slightest. But there was no time to argue. Almost automatically, the kid hid the glove in the one semi-safe place he could think of it that single moment: his shoe.

Just after the crucial piece of clothing was out of sight, Mustang was immediately shoved away from Edward and forcefully pushed against the ground. He grunted in pain as his cheek collided with the hard wooden floor, probably giving him another bruise. His arms were held behind his back, giving him no room to fight back.

Several unrecognizable faced quickly approached Edward as well. One grabbed his arm in a death-hold, expecting him to put up a fight. The younger alchemist recoiled against them, but with one half of his limbs in place, his options of fighting back were very limited. Before he could really do anything, Evelyn ran over, holding a line of the same coarse rope and scribbled a transmutation circle on the stone wall. When activated, the wall ate one end of the rope and the other was tied tightly around Ed's arm once again. His moment of freedom was so terribly short lived.

Once Edward was taken care of, the strangers began making their way out, but not without forcefully pulling Roy to his feet and shoving him towards the door as well.

This was wrong. Ed expected them to punch him or something for trying to break out; but they were taking him away! Fear spiked through the teenager as he desperately scratched his brain for a solution- but there wasn't one. Nothing he could do. Mustang was being taken away and he couldn't do a damn thing about it!

The image of hands latched into the Colonel's arms and shoulders as he was pulled out of the room burned into his mind. For all he knew, that might have been the last time he'd ever see the older alchemist again.

Because he couldn't do anything to help him.

"Ed- it's going to be okay," Roy insisted hastily as he tried to fight back against them. "Don't worry, Fullmetal. I promise; everything will be okay!"

The door was slammed shut, nearly cutting the Colonel's last words off, leaving Edward stunned and alone.

Roy wasn't entirely sure why he told Edward that everything would be alright. He understood that he had no power in this situation. He was terribly outnumbered and in all honesty, he used up the majority of his energy when he escaped from the rope. They could take him outside and shoot him in the back of the head and there would be nothing he could do to stop it. Useless.

Despite that knowledge, Roy didn't want Edward to worry. He could have just turned himself into a liar by getting the kids hopes up, only for them to be squashed when they tell him that his superior officer was killed because of his own stupidity. But at the same time, the Colonel desperately wanted to give the young alchemist hope in that bleak situation. Yet he still didn't quite know why.

But that was a thought that could be saved for later. Hopefully.

His swollen wrists and arms were restrained with black-clad men on each side of him. They turned away from the staircase that was directly in front of the original rooms' door and led him to an unknown face, who then tied a dark blindfold around his head, effectively blinding him.

That was a bad sign.

They guided him down a short hall before turning him into another room. Roy tried to keep track of how long he walked to gather a general idea of how large the building was for future reference, but all thoughts of strategy and tactical planning vanished when his knees were kicked out from behind and his head was mercilessly dunked into a tub of freezing cold water.

He instinctively tried to gasp just as his body registered what was happening but he only managed to inhale water. He might have felt grateful for the water in his body, if he was drinking it rather than trying to breathe it in.

The agonizingly frigid water turned his brain on high alert and shocked every nerve in his body. He struggled and pulled against the many hands that held him down, denying him air but the fight only managed to splash more water onto his thin shirt, drastically decreasing his body temperature.

So this was how they decided to kill him? He couldn't keep his promise to Edward, or Riza, or anyone else if he died. However, Roy supposed it was appropriate to extinguish the Flame Alchemist with water; he would have laughed at the dark irony if he was physically able at the moment. But instead of laughing, he was choking and gagging on water as precious air was quickly escaping his strained lungs.

Just as he began to accept his fate, the hands pulled him out and finally- sweet, sweet air! He gasped in a vain effort to fill his lungs with it. The relief was shorted lived, however, because Roy's head was forced into the tub once more, mid-breath.

More of the freezing water washed down his wind-pipe. His body immediately rejected it, causing him to cough and hack it out right as he was pulled above the surface again. His throat throbbed with excruciating pain with each cough and strained .

Perhaps they took pity on him because the dark-haired man wasn't forced down again, as he expected. Once the uncontrollable coughing slowed, he inhaled and exhaled deeply while he could, trying to restore his lungs. Roy's body shook violently, half convinced that the cold that sunk down to his bones would kill him before the water could.

He felt a presence kneel down next to him. "No more suicide missions, aright?" The Colonel couldn't decide whether or not the voice was familiar. Was that Nicholas? He couldn't remember… "There's nothing within miles of here. Even if you managed to break out, the forest would kill you. The only way to survive is to cooperate… Think about the kid; you care about him, don't you?" Roy couldn't reply even if he wanted too. His body didn't allow him to do anything but breathe and shiver violently.

There was the sound of shuffling fabric, signaling that whoever was next to him had stood up and began walking away. "Make sure he doesn't forget my warning," the same voice said, apparently no longer addressing him.

Roy heard the door open but couldn't make out the sound of it closing when a hand returned to the back of his head, dunking him underneath the water's surface once more. Having been given a warning that time, Roy was able to take a deep breath beforehand but the mixture of his rapid breathing and incredible amount of worry and fear caused his body to disobey. The air quickly snuck out through his lips.

It seemed like the torture stretched on for an eternity. Each second felt like a minute and each minute felt like an hour. By the end of it, he had no idea how long he had been blindfolded in that room. Each time his head was engulfed by water, he was certain they wouldn't pull him up again. He thought of each breath as his last.

It was illogical. They didn't want him dead yet. He knew that but that knowledge was clouded by the instinctive fear of drowning- of dying.

But finally, as he was still coughing violently in a weak attempt to rid his body of that cursed water before he'd undoubtedly get thrown under again, two pairs of hands lifted him up and practically dragged him out and down the hall. He barely had enough energy to stay conscious, let alone walk. His feet dragged behind him over the wooden surface as he hung limply in their grip.

When he apparently reached the other door, the soaked blindfold was taken away and they pulled him into the small room, back with Edward.

Roy didn't notice the expression of sheer horror that covered the kids face when he appeared. The blindfold was gone, but his eyes were closed. He could only focus on gasping for oxygen. The water was gone, and yet he still feared being suddenly denied the most basic of human necessities.

Alchemy was used to tie him back to the wall, as if nothing changed. Did that mean Evelyn was there? He didn't know and he didn't care. Just breathe.

He still chocked every few seconds, coughing up unwanted water and spitting it onto the wood. His thin white shirt was completely soaked and clung to his body, doing absolutely nothing to shield him from the low temperature. He was leaning to the side, having lost the ability to sit up straight. Roy would have fallen sideways onto the floor if the rope wasn't keeping him in that position.

"W-what the hell happened to you?" Edward demanded, sounding incredibly panicked as if he expected the Colonel to die at any second.

Several moments of silence stretched on, only filled by the sound of Roy's rapid breathing. He wasn't quite sure how to answer the question properly.

"… 'm fine."

"Like hell, you're fine!" Ed exclaimed.

Roy managed to open his eyes and smile weakly at the kid. "It was worth it… for the glove." The transmutation glove would be their ticket out of that hell hole. He completely forgot about it when he was getting the life drowned out of him, but now that he recalled what he experienced all of that for, he knew that he would do it all over again if it meant getting Ed out. "Soon… I'm gonna break us out… N' burn anyone who... gets 'n my way."

Roy's words were supposed to make the kid feel better, but it only increased his frown as he glared at the ground between himself and Roy. Edward was upset because Mustang was risking his life and would probably die from frostbite. Meanwhile, the teenager hadn't done anything to help them get out. Where was the equivalent exchange?

"You okay?" The Colonel asked quietly, still breathing quite heavily; his teeth clattered slightly as he spoke.

Edward's temper flared so easily. "Stop worrying about me when I haven't done a single thing to help you! Worry about yourself before you get killed!"

Roy raised an eyebrow, mildly surprised by Ed's sudden anger. "I don't have time for that… It's my responsibility to make sure you... don't get hurt."

The teen opened his mouth to answer but he stopped himself and his eyes widened, apparently having realized something.

"You… This entire time… You've been doing this the whole time, haven't you? When we were talking to Evelyn before, you angered her on purpose before I could because you knew she would eventually lash out. And just now, you decided to let them stop you before I could have helped; to spare me from ending up like you." Ed explained his observation slowly, as if it was all sinking in as the words came out.

Roy watched him carefully for a moment before smiling weakly. "Can't get anything past you."

"Damn it, Mustang! You have too many people depending on you to be doing this kind of crap!"

"You have people depending on you too, Fullmetal," Roy shot back. "Your brother would kill me if I let anything happen to you… Hawkeye would kill me too." He shuttered at the thought, even though he had not stopped shivering since they threw him back in there.

Ed sighed and leaned against the wall once more, his eyes hidden behind his long bangs. The silence stretched on between the two alchemists for several long seconds.

"… Listen, Ed-"

"I just didn't expect any of this." Edward spoke very quietly, almost too quietly to hear; but it was enough to make the Colonel stop talking, especially considering he had no idea what he was going to say. "I always thought you were just a manipulative bastard who didn't care about anyone; as long as they followed orders… So to see that that might not be the case is… weird." He scoffed in mild amusement at himself for being unable to think of a better adjective than weird.

Roy watched the kid carefully, still unable to control the shaking of his own body. He always more-or-less knew that Edward thought he was truly as uncaring as he said. That was the goal, anyway. The more manipulative and arrogant he appeared to be, the more untouchable he seemed. Even though he did end up making enemies from it, his subordinates trusted him to be strong in the face of danger. But to know that Edward really thought he was incapable of caring about him…

"Edward," Roy began slowly when the blond looked at him. "I'm sorry for making you think that." He wanted to continue that thought and say something poetic and inspiring but his frozen brain refused to give him any assistance. He had no choice but to keep it short and simple.

However, it seemed to be enough for Ed. "'s okay," he answered easily after searching for and apparently finding honesty in the Colonel's expression. "But this isn't all on you, alright? I'm gonna help you get us out of here."

Chapter Text

If anyone asked, Edward would tell them that about a full day had passed since their escape attempt failed. That was the best guess he could come up with, however vague. Not knowing for certain was infuriating. He didn't know when he should've been sleeping and when it was safe to let his guard down, at least for a few hours. Never before had he thought the time of day would matter in a kidnapping. To make things worse, the fact that Ed wouldn't be able to think straight without proper sleep was gnawing at his nerves.

He was exhausted, hungry, thirsty, his wounds burned, the list went on. At least their captors had the decency to give them more water and bread, even though the servings were somehow smaller than last time. (They didn't think it was possible.) Edward didn't want to accept anything those bastards gave him but he knew that rejecting any of it would be pointless.

Besides; he had no right to complain in comparison to Mustang. The man had been shivering for hours on end and even the contrasting light brown light couldn't hide how pale he was. When he was returned to the small, confined room after nearly drowning, he looked so tired but Ed wouldn't let him rest. He didn't know how cold one had to be to die in their sleep, but he couldn't risk it. It wasn't until water stopped dripping from Mustang's hair and his shirt no longer clung to his skin when the teenager finally decided to let the older alchemist drift into unconsciousness- and even then, he constantly shifted in and out of it. Even his own coughing was enough to jolt awareness back into him, at least for a moment.

Not a single word had passed between them since Ed decided that Mustang was no longer in danger of dying. Hours stretched on in complete silence, save for the occasional coughing. In the past few days, that had become normal for them. They would talk until they ran out of things to say, then wait for something new to happen. The silence in between was not awkward or uncomfortable. It could almost be called peaceful. But due to the complete lack of peace in their current situation, that silence was horribly daunting instead. One of the few ways they could occupy their minds was to wonder and dread when and how the nearly pristine absence of sound would be broken.

When it finally happened, it was sudden and loud. The entire floor shook from the impact of an explosion, waking Roy and sending him on high alert, while Ed shut his eyes, half expecting the ceiling to cave in.

Part of him thought it was just an earthquake, until several pairs of feet stormed past the door and up the staircase, barking commands at each other. The sound of gunfire and glass shattering quickly followed.

"Do you think we're…?" The blond hesitated, reluctant to raise his hopes any higher. "Ya' think we're getting rescued?"

Mustang stared intently at the door, watching shadows run through the sliver of light underneath. It was difficult to believe that the very same person had looked so drained and unfocused not long ago.

"I can't think of any other explanation." Another explosion was heard, followed by more heavy gunfire.

"Finally, we can get out of his hell hole," Ed sighed and leaned against the wall once more. It was slightly unfortunate that everything they went through to get the ignition glove (or rather, everything Roy went through) was for nothing but he really didn't care at that point. They just had to wait for the Amestrians to finish upstairs and they would be freed. It felt so close; Edward could already feel the relief of standing up and moving his arm, and eating food and reuniting with Al again. (He tried not to think about how worried his brother must have been.)

His hopes intensified when the doorknob turned but as fate would have it, the man who opened it was not dressed in the iconic blue, but rather a mixture of black and grey. He was entirely unfamiliar; he was relatively tall, likely in his mid-thirties and had a head full of dirty blond hair. It looked as if he hadn't shaven in several days but he had the strong build of a military man. And of course, he was being tailed by Nicholas, Evelyn and one of the people who had apparently been tasked with bringing them food and water occasionally.

The blond walked in confidentially with an unnerving smile in place and looked down at the two alchemists with sharp brown eyes. "Colonel Mustang and Major Elric; it's a pleasure to meet you, though I wish it could've been in different circumstances. My name is Vance Madsen and I'm here to relocate you two." He spoke in a way that made Ed question whether or not they were being mocked. "You could also call me the leader of this little operation."

That was the guy who decided anyone involved with the government was corrupt and deserved to suffer for their crimes. The one who Ed could blame for everything he had to endure those past few days. It was Vance Madsen who deserved to get the crap beaten out of him.

Vance gestured to the alchemists and the three rebels behind him stepped forward. Evelyn drew another circle on the wall that held Roy's restraints, which released him when it was activated. His arms were forced behind him and tied once more. The one man who had not been introduced secured him by the arms as they all waited for Evelyn do to the same for Ed. However, since he only had one arm, the rope was instead tied around his torso, restraining his limb to his side.

"Hey, watch the burn!" Ed blurted out when the coarse rope scratched against the red, blistered rectangle on his flesh arm.

The teenager was promptly ignored however as Nicholas lifted him up to his one foot, then heaved him over his shoulder, earning many loud complains and insults. Vance Madsen nodded approvingly, and then turned to leave the room.

"We're going outside, right?" Roy suddenly spoke up, his expression unreadable. Once he received a nod, he continued. "We'll both freeze to death before we take five steps out of this building, as we are now." He quickly glanced at the many jackets and coats that collected dust on the wooden table.

Vance and Nicholas looked at each other for a moment. Apparently agreeing, Madsen tossed Ed's black jacket and coat over his entire body, making it look like Nicholas was carrying a red body bag over his shoulder, rather than a living person, who was mumbling more curses under his breathe.

Meanwhile, Roy's military jacket and coat were both thrown over his head as well, making it difficult but not impossible to see past.

"There," Vance breathed and stepped back to examine his handiwork. The red wasn't any more discrete than Ed's golden hair, but it at least kept them from complaining; or freezing to death, which wasn't quite what Vance had planned for them.

The blond man picked up a submachine gun that had been left outside and turned back to face the restrained alchemists. He held the weapon naturally, clearly having much experience with it.

"Let's get one thing straight before we leave," he began, his original smile had vanished and replaced by something cold and serious. "Don't think that just because your friends are so close, that you have any chance of getting away with your lives. The moment either of you try anything, you will die. My patience has worn thin with you two. I'm not a fool; it's clear that you're both too stubborn for your own good. You had a chance to come to your senses... I'm sure you'll both regret that decision in time."

On that happy note, Vance turned and led the small group up the stairs. As Roy was led to follow with a pistol aimed at his back and Ed was being carried, they were able to see more into the building that has trapped them for almost a week.

The staircase led up into another hallway. The right opened to what appeared to be a modern living room room, complete with oak wood and leather furniture that was all currently being used as barricades by the black-clad rebels to block the steady flow of bullets that flew through the windows.

Thankfully, they turned left instead. The hall was lined with many closed doors. The back door at the end was slightly larger and opened with a gust of cold air, chilling the unprepared alchemists down to their bones. Whether it was behind the clouds or the mountains, the sun had already set.

Directly ahead of them were four trucks lined up; two of them looked like the typical Northern military issued vehicles, while the other two appeared to be the same model but without the Amestrian insignia.

How the hell did they get their hands on those? Ed wondered as he tried to move his bangs and red hood away from his eyes.

At second glance, he realized they were in the middle of a forest. Snow came down steadily, coating everything in sight. The clearing behind the building was being well-defended by the group of rebels. It appeared that the Amestrians had the building surrounded but were pushed back, away from that particular area. Edward was surprised to see that their firepower was actually decent, considering that Mustang spoke so lowly of them before.

Cautiously, they were all hurried to one of the unmarked trucks. On the way, however, Mustang suddenly inhaled sharply and glanced at Ed quickly before looking back at the second unmarked truck. Edward followed his gaze.

The second vehicle was being loaded with crates, all filled with various supplies, from the looks of it. When he saw what Mustang gestured to, he had to force himself not to gasp; his automail arm was resting in the back seat on top of one of the boxes. He suddenly recalled Eveyln telling him that his arm was waiting for him somewhere if he decided to team up with them. She also mentioned something about going to another base in that case as well.

Before the sight could process much further in his mind, Ed and Roy were shoved in the roomy backseat of the first truck, with someone to guard them on each side, and two more went to the front seats. However, Vance, Nicholas and Evelyn all stood outside the car. The blond put a hand on the truck's outer frame and leaned in slightly. "I'll see you two at the top of the mountain."

With that said, the boss stepped back, facing the direction of the fighting. Nicholas followed, who looked entirely uninterested in his parting with Roy and Edward. Meanwhile, Evelyn appeared to be relieved they were leaving.

The door shut, trapping the cold, icy air inside. Ed's jacket and coat draping over his body were better than nothing, but overall did little to protect him. At least it saved him from feeling completely vulnerable. He glanced out the window to finally get a look at the place that trapped them for almost a week.

It was a large cabin surrounded by many towering trees; it fit very well in the forest and would have looked entirely unsuspecting on any other day. There were several wide windows on the sides and front that would have complemented the building if they weren't all covered by blackout curtains and destroyed by bullets. No average citizen hiking by would have been able to guess that the residence of that cabin were torturing State Alchemists in the basement.

Good riddance. Edward was at least glad to be leaving, despite the knowledge that wherever he was heading was most likely worse; all the more reason to escape before they arrived.

Black and blue clad soldiers were scattered around the clearing, relentlessly firing on each other. Ed squint his eyes in an attempt to recognize any of them, but he wasn't able to make anyone out within the chaotic darkness. He wanted to yell for help- he almost did; but the reminder that their lives no longer mattered to the rebels kept him quiet. If those thugs gave up on convincing either Roy or Edward to join them, then they were only alive for amusement.

The truck roared to life and quickly turned away from the cabin. If there were any driving laws out on the dirt paths of the Northern mountains, Ed was sure the driver had no interest in following any of them. The vehicle flew through the trees, lurching from side to side to dodge fallen logs, large rocks, and so on. The teenager wondered if he should have bothered with keeping himself from falling onto the guard on his left, but he eventually decided that he was in no mood to get punched in the face.

"Vance Madsen," Roy muttered, staring at the back of the seat in front of him, locked in concentration. Ed and the two guards who sat in the back with them all glanced at the older alchemist, upon registering the name of their boss. "That name is familiar… if only I could place it."

While Mustang pondered the name, Edward was more focused on their current situation. He turned his head to look through the tinted back window; though it was difficult to see in the dark, the other truck that carried his automail arm was still trailing closely behind. Ed shifted his weight anxiously, impatiently waiting for when they would inevitably make their move. From the way Mustang's eyes shifted to examine every detail of the truck, the path outside and the rebels that surrounded them, the blond knew he was formulating a plan. The only thing he could do was wait for the right time.

He did, however, pull his right leg up to chest, his foot hanging half-way off the seat. He was able to see a fraction of the white glove poking out from his shoe, a silent reminder that it was still there and their plan, whatever it was, would work. Ed hated to admit it, but he wasn't able to do much in his current state. He had to put his faith in Mustang.

Eventually, Roy shifted his body to the right, turning his back to Ed; his restrained hands within reach of Ed's shoe; or rather, the ignition glove that was hidden inside. At that point, he was just waiting for the prefect opportunity, though Ed wasn't sure what would signify it. The path had straightened considerably as they drove up the slope of the mountain. The teenager assumed Mustang was waiting for a sharp turn, or a pothole; something that would jerk the vehicle and hide any sudden movements.

He felt fairly confident that Roy would have been able to grab the glove without a distraction if he had to, but he also understood why the older man didn't want to risk it. Neither of them were worried about reaching their destination any time soon, anyway. It would've been an unwise move for the rebels to keep their bases too close to each other, had that been the case.

Ed's only concern with waiting was that with every passing second, they only drove further away from the Amestrian soldiers who were there to save them. However, that fact wasn't worth rushing the process and making a mistake.

As the minutes passed, Edward rested his head on his raised knee and looked outside at the moving scenery. Snow and trees flew by and the darkness engulfed everything past a few yards, making the forest look uninviting and endless. He had no doubt that it was at least twice as cold outside of the truck, which was far from warm anyway.

He idly wondered if being out in the cold would calm is irritated burns… Probably not. He wished they would heal already; the stomach wound forced him to sit up straight all the time and the arm burn was quite distracting, to say the least.

Edward's thoughts were abruptly interrupted when the vehicle drove over a ditch, disrupting every person in the truck. He only barely registered Roy slipping the glove out of his shoe and swiftly sliding it on his left hand.


Seeing as they were unable to communicate, Ed had to get in Mustang's head and figure out what he was planning next so he could help. Logically thinking, the first thing he would probably do was free himself from the rope around his wrists, which would be difficult to do in their current situation if he were to struggle out of them like last time. Of course he would rather use his alchemy. His thoughts were confirmed when he noticed Roy was looking at him in his peripheral vision.

Edward strategically cleared his throat once, twice, then instantly broke into a five second long coughing fit, causing the two guards to watch him warily, then went back to casually gazing out the window.

Nothing happened for several long seconds after that.

Anxiously, Ed wondered if what's what he was supposed to do. Did Roy burn through the rope yet? Surely that was enough the hide a quick snap. He didn't want to draw any attention to the man by turning to make sure. However, he did believe he sensed a nervous confidence radiating from the other alchemist. Unless he was imagining it, that was a good sign.

Not even a minute later, two things happened simultaneously: the driver swerved around a large rock in the road, and Roy lashed out, elbowing the man on his right directly on the side of the head. Ed noticed the sudden movement in the corner of his eye and decided to take out the guy on his left by doing the only thing he could; head-butting him squarely in the face, and possibly breaking his nose. Before the other occupants in the truck could register what was happening, Roy brought up his left arm and snapped; red alchemical lighting fired from his fingertip and shattered the front window shied upon impact. The truck lurched to a halt as the two men in front tried to protect themselves from the flying shards of glass.

Meanwhile, with a single snap of his fingers, the rope around Ed's torso loosened and he was able to pull it off. He was immediately dragged past the unconscious man and out of the car by Roy as the two in the front recovered. The sudden movement caused their jackets to fall into the snow. Ed would have picked his up and put them on due to the sudden decrease in temperature, but he had higher priorities to focus on.

"Shit, it's cold," the teenager hissed as he was forced to lean against the side of the truck to keep himself from falling down.

Mustang turned his attention to the other vehicle while Edward scratched a transmutation circle into the metal door with a small stone that was found on the ground.

The other truck which carried Ed's automail had swerved to a halt made an attempt to turn around. They most likely saw the use of alchemy and realized how outmatched they were.

"Cowards," Roy said under his breath, his teeth clattering from the cold, and his frosty breath vaguely visible in the night. He snapped his left hand in the direction of the vehicle, instantly melting the front tires. The wheels spun furiously, only making the damage worse until the truck was unable to move at all.

Edward activated the completed circle and the opened door formed into a crutch. He used it to pull himself up, but instantly wished he used a different material or at least had a jacket on; the metal was freezing cold to the touch, making him reluctant to actually use the thing at all.

Before he could move, the man who was previously in the driver's seat slid out of the vehicle with a pistol in hand and brought it up to aim at the kid. However, Edward raised his crutch, hitting the weapon out of the man's hand, and then turned to hit him upwards, directly underneath the chin, instantly knocking him out. Once that threat was taken care of, Ed struggled to put his red coat on before he could freeze to death due to his sleeveless shirt.

While he was doing that, Roy had taken cover behind the truck as the two rebels apparently gave up on trying to flee and instead decided to shoot to kill, also hidden behind their truck's opened doors. One of them found a radio and updated their friends on the situation, and requested back-up.

Using his pin-point aiming, Roy was able to light both of the men's clothing on fire, causing them to panic and swap priorities to save their own skin. As they were distracted, Roy ran forward to the left side of the truck and swiftly punched the closest rebel in the gut, making him to fall to his knees, then collapse face down into the snow, putting out the fire that threatened to burn his chest.

The Colonel threw the back door open and almost immediately spotted Ed's arm sticking out of a crate that was filled with various supplies as well. He grabbed the appendage and scanned around to the area to find the driver of the second vehicle had thrown himself into a pile of snow to stop the fire that nearly engulfed his entire arm.

He walked closer to the first truck, not wanting to get too far from Edward before everyone else was taken care of. As he stood at equal distance from both of the black trucks, he shifted his gaze from one to another in an attempt to figure out where his attention was needed more. He turned to look back at the second truck just in time to see the fire from the melting tires spread into the hood and reach the engine.

Immediately after realization hit him, the truck went up in flames, throwing the two nearby men flying to the sides. Warmth radiated from the explosion, giving everything around them an orange glow. It was no secret that Edward had every intention to avoid killing people, but the same could not be said for the Colonel, who quickly forgot about the two and turned to the only remainder with an annoyed glare. He was clearly more upset about the lost supplied rather than the people.

The man who was previously in the passenger's seat of the first truck had fallen out to avoid the glass and was covered in many small cuts.

"… the hell," he muttered in amazed confusion upon seeing the destruction that occurred in what felt like several minutes, but was realistically only a few seconds. Roy raised his gloved hand up threateningly as he held Ed's automail under his right arm, and the cornered man inched closer to the open truck. "You wouldn't destroy your only way out of here." Like you did to the other one, the unspoken words followed.

"You're right about that," Mustang replied coolly. "So I suggest you step away from the truck now."

While the two men stared each other down, Edward picked up his black jacket and Mustang's coats and hobbled over to Roy's side with the freezing crutch. He considered using alchemy to grab the other man before he could do something stupid, but the ground was likely too frozen to make the circle and Ed's hand was too numb to scratch the design into the side of the car with the necessarily speed, anyway.

How was Roy not freezing to death? His white button-up shirt blew in the icy wind, and yet he focused primarily on the enemy ahead of him; it appeared that he had completely forgotten about the life-threatening temperature and failed notice how his own arms shivered.

Ed watched the two nervously, his grip tightening around the jackets and the crutch. The nameless rebel didn't appear to have anything to use against the two alchemists but the longer they stood in the freezing cold, the more paranoid and impatient he became.

Without warming, the other man lunged into the car and slid to the passenger seat, most likely impaling his arms with glass shards. Roy's hand twitched, just barely refraining from snapping. He wanted to spare the vehicle from receiving any more damage if possible. Besides, what was the worst that their opponent could do in the car?

The two alchemists braced themselves, expecting him to come back out with a gun in hand.

"I'll see you in Hell!"

The red flag sent Ed into a state of high-alert. What did he mean by that? Their current angle didn't allow them to see what he was doing inside.

Something must have clicked in Roy's head, because barely a second later, he swiftly grabbed a confused Edward, ran and dove to the ground, away from the truck just before it too suddenly combusted.

Edward didn't understand what happened. The burst of sound and disoriented his thoughts. His ears rung and he couldn't see anything besides a trace of white fabric, snow and his automail arm due to the fact that his head was stuck in between the frosty ground and Roy's body.

He tried to speak but he wasn't sure if any words came out of his mouth. Mustang moved off of Ed and somehow found the energy to pull himself to his feet and drag Edward further away from the wreckage as flaming scraps of metal were threatening to hit them. Once he deemed the distance safe, Roy dropped to his knees and then shifted into a sitting position as he rubbed his eyes warily, despite the blanket of snow underneath him.

The ringing in Ed's ears died down and his shock passed as he too forced himself to sit up in the snow. His eyes drifted over to the two trucks, now both encased in raging fire.

And just like that, the several men who risked their lives just to kill Roy and Edward were seemingly forgotten.

"Good job," Edward said flatly as he watched the light dance off the surrounding snow and trees. Yes, his comment was very sarcastic at Roy's expense, but he wanted something besides the cracking flames to break the silence.

Mustang's only response was an annoyed groan, obviously upset by how the events refused to unfold according to the plan.

They sat there for a moment, both trying to register the fact that their only means to escape the forest safely had literally been blown to pieces.

"We need to get out of here," Roy began, slowly pulling himself to his feet once more and picked up the metal limb. "They called for back-up." The older man offered Edward a hand, but the teenager gave him his blue military jacket and dark winter coat instead, then forced himself up with the help of his metal crutch. Roy accepted the clothing thankfully, apparently remembering just how cold he was.

They took a moment to cover themselves to better fare against the weather. With some assistance from Mustang, Ed removed his red coat, put on his black jacket, then put the coat back on again over it. He right sleeve hung limply at his side, allowing the wind to blow it from side to side.

They started walking away from the path, seeing as the fire could easily attract unwanted attention. The wind knocked Ed's blond bangs into his eyes but he was physically incapable of brushing them away. His foot had already gone numb and he feared that if he held onto the crutch for any longer, his hand would freeze in that position. Thankfully, he didn't have to actually make contact with the steel because he pulled his sleeve over his hand.

He spent the majority of the walk watching his frosty breathe disappear into the air and listening to the uneven crunches in the snow. Since the adrenaline from the prior events had died down, Ed had just been trying to keep his mind off of the frozen metal ports that attached to his shoulder and leg, and the unbearable hunger. The blond occasionally felt light headed and he could have sworn that his stomach was going to somehow eat itself. There was no doubt that the Colonel agreed, judging by the way he would grab at his own stomach as if that would quiet it down.

After several minutes, Roy stopped and asked Ed to lean against a nearby tree and hand him the crutch. Not willing to put up a fight, he complied.

Mustang used the admittedly small crutch the draw a large transmutation circle in the snow, coughed several times, then straighten himself up once more. Sometimes, Edward forgot that the older man was able to do anything besides flame alchemy.

When activated with a flash of light, a dome was created from the ground, complete with a small door and what appeared to be the top of a chimney. It was tightly surrounded by large trees, concealing it well.

The older alchemist knelt by the entrance and set the automail arm inside, then returned the crutch to its owner.

"Get inside. I'm going to get some fire wood." The man was shivering from the cold and had his arms wrapped around his own body. His breathing was noticeably slower and it looked like every movement took tremendous effort to pull off.

"Hey." Roy turned to look at the kid with heavy eyes, having been stopped short of walking away. "Trying to do everything by yourself? I'm gonna help."

"Just get inside." His tone was strict and final, though almost lost within a gust of wind, which threw hair into both of the alchemists' eyes.

Ed's eye twitched from annoyance due to both Roy and his own bangs. And yet, he was admittedly reluctant to disobey the order; something the military had tried to hammer into him for years. Mustang looked like he was on the verge of passing out, and yet he didn't want any help.

"Fine; see if I care," the younger alchemist huffed and limped into the 'cave', relieved to be out of the rushing wind. The inside was pitch-black, just as cold as the outside and thankfully devoid of snow. All Ed could gather about the dirt igloo was that he had to crawl to get inside, and was able to stand up; the top of his head touched the ceiling. He understood that Roy wanted to make the dome as unnoticeable and small as possible.

Wait… Is this Mustang's way of calling me short?! Bastard…

Edward blindly found a wall and slid down it, tossing his unfortunately designed crutch to the side, hoping his skin didn't accidentally make contact with it in the darkness.

The Colonel soon joined him, lighting up the inside of the cave with a collection of sticks in his hand that he had previously set on fire so they could function as a torch. Without wasting a beat, the man inched towards a small semi-circle that jetted out from the main body of the dome to form a crudely made fireplace. He quickly and carefully placed the many sticks inside and with a snap, created a comfortable fire.

The blond teen crawled over to his arm that was resting by the entrance, then moved back towards the fire and set the metal limb in front of it, then sat against the dirt wall. Mustang watched him warily.

"You intend to attach that thing tonight, don't you?" Roy asked quietly, leaning against the wall next to the fire. He sounded just as exhausted as Ed felt.

"There's no point in putting it off… And if you're worried about me getting frostbite, don't be; whether or not I have the automail on or not won't make it any less likely," he explained, unconsciously placing a hand on his leg port in a vain attempt to keep it warm.

Mustang considered him quietly for several long seconds before giving in. "Fine; so how's it done?"

Ed looked down at the limb; the fire's light lit up the metal, making it look not as cold as it truly was. He leaned over to his crutch and placed it between the arm and the makeshift fireplace, but only after he slowly scratched a circle into the hard ground. He transmuted the crutch to create a small metal stick that resembled a thin lever.

"Alright," Edward sighed as he hauled the arm over his body, then onto his right side and allowed his jacket and coat to fall off of his right shoulder before laying face up on the ground. He then pulled the arm up to his shoulder port. "You have to stick this-" he held up the transmuted lever. "-into the shoulder joint once my arm is in place. Then turn it quickly and hold it there as my nerves connect."

Mustang's face paled. "Isn't that something that only experienced, medically trained, automail technicians should be doing? I'm not sure if-" He stopped and coughed.

"Oh, come on; it's simple. And you have to remove the shoulder plates too, to get to the joint." Ed shook the lever in his hand for emphasis and pointed out that one of the ends resembled the end of a screw driver.

Defeated, Roy accepted the tool and shifted over to Ed's right side. He gingerly lifted the limb and set it inside the port. The Colonel could only assume he did so correctly, since Edward didn't comment.

After gingerly unscrewing the protective plates over the shoulder, the insert for the lever was revealed. Roy had seen the inner mechanisms of automail before, but he'd never really gotten the change to examine it closely; especially the arm that belonged to his young subordinate.

"Oh, and make sure to hold my shoulder down… I've never had my automail attached without someone holding each limb down, but… it'll be fine."

Mustang said nothing in response. He was understandably nervous; attaching automail had to feel like surgery to anyone who was inexperienced. The majority of the process was surgery, after all. But anyone should be able to connect the nerves at that point, with proper guidance.

The Colonel placed the lever inside the small opening and hesitated. Paranoid thoughts are undoubtedly running through his head. Such as: what if something went wrong? What if he turned the level too far and broke something, or twisted it the wrong way? He didn't have the knowledge to fix any complications regarding the metal limb and Edward doubted he could do anything if he got injured in the process. The younger alchemist ignored the fact that the same thoughts occurred to him as well.

He's undergone the experience plenty of times and knew for a fact that there was very little to worry about. It must have been the lack of sleep that was tampering with his reason.

Every sensible part of his mind told him that nothing was going to go wrong. It was simple; just connect the nerves. Easy.

"Now just push it down and hold it. Don't stop until I say so, alright?"

Roy nodded, his mouth dry. He adjusted his grip on the handle and put his left hand down on Ed's other shoulder.

"Are you ready?"

Ed just nodded his eyes shut tight as he braced himself.

"Alright… Three…"

Edward gulped, fearfully anticipating the pain to follow. He hated the countdown…


Instead of saying 'one', Roy took a deep breath and pressed down on the lever, turning it forward. It only turned about 90 degrees before he felt something click, which he assumed to be the nerves connecting.

Edward inhaled sharply and dug his heels into the frozen ground as his left arm clawed into the dirt. His shoulders pushed back against Roy's force, struggling against the intense burst of agony that burned through his entire body. His mind demanded that he resist.

Roy held the lever there despite Ed's fussing until the teenager relaxed, breathing deeply and he waved Mustang away. The Colonel sat back and removed the lever, wiping a glimmer of sweat away from his forehead. He then moved back to his spot besides the fireplace.

They remained there in silence, with only Ed's rapid breathing and the crackling of the fire to fill the air. He slowly lifted his automail arm into the air and looked up at it as he experimentally bent the elbow, circled the wrist, and tested the fingers. It wasn't perfect considering it wasn't much more than a patch-up job, but it would do.

It was strange for the almighty Edward Elric to appear so weak and drained. Roy never knew just how painful attaching automail could be. Of course, he heard the stories of grown men being brought the tears as the nerves connected- but to see it first hand was entirely different. It also showed just how strong the young Elric truly was.

Eventually, the blond found the strength to pull himself up and drag his own body back towards the wall, on the opposite side of the fire as Roy. He was trying to hide his strained breaths and the involuntary shudder.

"You alright?" Mustang asked quietly as the blond worked on attaching the plates back onto his arm. He knew both of them were far from alright, but it was the only thing to say in the current situation. He couldn't refrain from voices his concern at the very least.

The teenager used his flesh arm to attempt to rub some heat into the metal port under his clothing. "Yeah, I'm fine. My ports just hurt from the cold… It wasn't bad back at the cabin but out here… I can handle it, though… How are you doing? You holding up okay? " He asked, directing the focus away from himself. The Colonel had been looking pale and out of sorts since the day before, for obvious reasons.

Roy considered the teenager for a moment; his diversion was not lost on him. "I'm fine." As if it was on cue, Roy suddenly inhaled sharply and sneezed into his arm.

"Are you getting sick?" Edward didn't need to ask.

Roy shrugged and turned his unfocused gaze to the fire. "I'll be fine."

Edward scoffed in disbelief but said nothing more on the topic. The silence stretched on once more until Mustang finally chuckled, earning a curious and mildly irked glance from the teenager.

"You know-" he shifted his position against the dirt wall and held his hands up to the fire. "-you and I are really quite similar." The golden eyes fell on him, expression unreadable. "Hawkeye once told me that, but I didn't see it at the time." The older man yawned and glanced away, towards the fire.

Edward watched him tentatively. It was so strange to see another side of his superior officer. He only knew him as the manipulative bastard who only cared about gaining rank. The blond was never able to tell just how much he cared and how far he was willing to go for the people who followed him. Throughout the terrible experience they've endured the past few days, some of Mustang's masks had slipped off, revealing something much more human underneath.

Some part of him still wondered if it was all just an act. By Mustang showing concern for his subordinate in a life or death situation, he would somehow gain something from in. But that just didn't make sense. Ed could think of many unreasonable explanations, but they didn't feel right. Therefor, Mustang had to be honest, right? This situation was just far too real for him to be manipulative. They both knew what was at stake.

The dull pain in his left leg and right arm increased, instinctively causing Edward to throw a hand on each port, miserably attempting to make the pain go away. While he was distracted, he failed to notice the Colonel watching him

"Hey, come here."

The teenager looked up at the voice's source in bewilderment as the fire's orange glow reflected off of the figure. Even in the dim lighting, he could see the Colonel's calm, almost nonchalant expression. "What? Why?"

"Just do it."

The younger alchemist hesitated, then reluctantly dragged himself past the fireplace, so he was about two feet away from Mustang in the small cave. It was curiosity that got him to move, above all else.

The older man tapped the dirt ground between him himself and the fire, wordlessly telling him to sit there.

Bemused, Edward furrowed his brow. "I was fine before," he muttered uncomfortably. He knew that Mustang was simply trying to help him, but it was still... embarrassing.

"Stop being stubborn, Edward. You're going to get hypothermia if you don't at least try to keep warm here."

Ed scowled but Roy did have a point. The blond grudgingly shifted over and sat up against the wall between Mustang and the flames, tensely folding his arms over his knees- or rather, knee. As soon as he felt the older man's shoulder against his own, he grew incredibly stiff in a vain attempt to somehow go unnoticed, despite the fact that he was invited to sit there.

He hated to admit it, but he did feel slightly warmer after moving. The wall, ground and air were as cold as ever but there was warmth mixed in as well. It was faint but it was there; Ed wanted to latch onto it and keep it from being swallowed by the frigid temperature, just like everything else.

Ed figured that sitting next to the Colonel would help fend off the cold but the other alchemist was surprisingly warm. He could only assume that it was because he was getting sick and it was worse than he originally thought. He should've said something. Edward should've yelled at him for keeping quiet.

And he would've, if his eyes weren't so heavy. The nerves connecting took a lot out of him. He opened his mouth to say something but no comprehensible words came out, besides idiot as his shoulders finally relaxed.

The blond hadn't gotten any decent sleep since he was captured; his body was screaming at him to save the thinking for later and rest so he could temporarily forget the hunger, his wounds, the aches and pains, everything.

Edward decided that it was a good idea. He'd deal with everything later so he could get some well-earned sleep for once.

Chapter Text

It was all so familiar.

The wooden floors, the stone wall, and the single sliver of light coming from underneath the closed door. From what little he could see in the darkness, everything was exactly the same as before; except, it was much colder, despite him having his signature coat on.

Edward was sitting in that damned room in that damned basement of that damned cabin. Again! How did he end up there? He was supposed to hiding from those freaks in the forest. They must have found their little shelter when they were sleeping.

But if that was the case, where was the Colonel?

There wasn't enough light in the room to see into each corner, but Ed felt fairly certain that he was alone. Did they kill the Flame Alchemist for running away? The teenager knew with an overwhelming sense of regret that he should have stayed awake the night before. The thought tore a hole through his stomach. Mustang was undoubtedly sick and needed the sleep but Ed should have remained on lookout. Did he really think he could just sense upcoming danger like a trained dog and wake up on cue? Idiot!

And now because of him, Roy was probably dead and he wasn't far behind.

Wait… No, stop. There's still a chance I'm wrong. Maybe he already escaped.

There was still hope. He wouldn't allow himself to be weakened by something that wasn't even proven to be true. To find out for sure, he would have to search the cabin from top to bottom for any signs of Mustang. And if that didn't show any results… well, he'd cross that bridge when he got there.

First things first; get out of the room and deal with the people who put him there. Again.

Those rebel bastards probably wanted to wait until he woke up, watch him tremble in fear for a while, and then slowly choke the life out of him themselves just as they promised they would before; except he wasn't trapped this time. There was no rope binding his arms together against the wall and with a moment of blindly sweeping his hands around the floor around him, he was even able to find his transmuted crutch.

He had no doubt that they were simply toying with him at that point.

Whatever. They're just giving me a chance to kick their asses.

Edward strenuously dragged himself up and put the majority of his weight on his crutch. It was much easier to walk with a crutch when he had both of his arms in place. He limped towards the door, staring at the thin line of light as if it was the only thing keeping him alive. He had no idea what would be behind that door and the uncertainty was eating away at him.

The blond shook his head, forcefully shoving the anxiety away and put confidence in its place. Even if he didn't feel entirely confident, feigning it would at least convince his enemies. Hopefully.

Ed turned the doorknob with his flesh hand and was surprised to see that it was actually unlocked. Before taking another step, he pulled the door wide open and furrowed his brow in confusion.

He was certain that there was a staircase just past the door, and yet all he saw was long hallway that led into darkness. There was only a single light above the door. The light he saw from underneath the door was nothing more than an illusion; a sick joke that made him believe that there was some sliver of hope beyond it. When in reality, looking down that hallway was the equivalent of staring into an empty abyss.

But it was the only way to go.

Edward took one step through the doorway before stopping dead in his tracks as he felt a hand lightly trail down his back, sending shivers through his spine as chills shot through every limb. His eyes widened and he felt paralyzed in place. There was someone in that room, hiding in the shadows, just waiting for him to move!

Move, damn it!

He wanted to jump away and face the other person but his limbs refused to cooperate. That one touch was enough to completely freeze him.

" Where do you think you're going?"

That voice. That familiar, haunting voice was enough to switch his survival instincts back on. His mind screamed at him to move but he was only able to take a few clumsy steps forward before reluctantly turning to see the face. He already knew before looking.

His mind shut down and he felt his heart pounding in his chest as he held in his breath. He could've sworn that the temperate suddenly dropped well below zero.

There in the doorway, was his mother. Or rather, the distorted remnants of the monster he created out of his mother. The unearthly skeleton that smelled of ash laid sprawled out on the ground, legs twisted and ribs broken and disfigured. Its neck turned at an unnatural angle to look up at him with those soulless red eyes. It took ragged breaths that clouded the air around its contorted jaw. Its mangled, bony arms stretched out towards Ed, clawing at the ground to drag the body closer.

He didn't want to know how it managed to touch his back from the ground.

"Do you really think you can just run away?" The distorted, animalistic voice growled. "Look at what you did to me and to my sweet Alphonse. Fates worse than death… You're the only monster here. You deserve to rot in this room with me."

He never once tried to avoid blame. Ed knew very well that losing Al's body and giving his mother a second death were both his fault.

"N-no, I… I can fix it," he breathed, trembling under the weight of his mother's words.

"You can't do anything but hurt people." The broken monster dug its nailed into the wood flooring and pulled itself closer once more, leaving a streak of dark blood. "But I can make sure you never hurt anyone again."

Edward inhaled sharply and he felt tears swell in the corner of his eyes.

" My son."

A thin arm reached up for him as its dislocated finger joints twitched, closing in on Edward's arm.

His mind demanded that he run away, and so he did. The blond turned and sprinted down the dark hall as quickly as he could with a single leg and a crutch. He had to get away. He couldn't face that thing.

His crutch got caught in a crack in the floor and he went flying down, the crutch sliding away, well out of his range. He glanced behind him and saw, to his absolute horror that the transmutation was skittering down the hall after him like a spider.

"You don't deserve to get away." It was several feet away, yet the voice echoed through his very skull. That murderous, evil sound was everywhere, it was inside of him, it was inescapable.

He scrambled forward, pushing himself off of the ground with his one foot using both arms to further propel himself. But it wasn't enough. He was able to feel the monster closing in.

" You don't deserve to be happy."

"Stay away from me!" He screamed and kicked out when its shadow fell over him but only hit the air. He looked back just as two broken arms latched into his leg as he tried to fight it. Its glowing red eyes bore into him, spiking his fear exponentially. The teen clapped his hands together in an attempt to create a blade out of his arm but nothing happened. Even his alchemy had abandoned him, cursing him to a terrible fate. The fate that he deserved.

" Everyone you know is better off without you."

The arms pulled, dragging him back down towards the dark room at the end of the hall. He tried to dig his nails into the wood or grab onto one of the floor boards, but the blood that now smeared the surface made him lose all traction.

" You are worthless!"

"No, stop! Help!" He yelled in a vain attempt to survive. The monsters speed increased as it pulled him into the darkness. Before Ed could register what had happened, he was dragged past the single light and the door shut closed.

He screamed.

When Roy drifted out of unconsciousness, he first thought it was because of the throbbing headache. That is, before he noticed the kid next to him was having some sort of panic attack.

Ed pushed himself off of the dirt wall as if he was about to break into a sprint. However, he apparently forgot about the missing leg and fell face down onto the ground in blind hysteria. His leg had gotten tangled by his long coat, causing him to give up on escaping whatever had terrified him, and he shielded his head with his arms from an unknown attacker.

Roy rubbed his eyes tiredly and shifted into a kneeling position, watching the kid cautiously. He had no idea what was going on but he didn't want to do something to further upset him.

I'm too tired for this... Is this what having kids is like?

It felt like he had only been sleeping for minutes but it must have been several hours since they fell asleep, considering the warmth that spread throughout the small dome due to the fire, which was still dancing in the makeshift fireplace.

The distraction at least caused him to temporarily forget about the pain from his shoulder and leg wounds.

"Hey, Fullmetal…" No response. The older man leaned over and lightly touched Ed on the shoulder to get his attention. "Are you alright?"

The young alchemist violently twitched away from the touch and curled in on himself and was repeatedly whispering something that was muffled by his arms. After listening carefully for a moment, Roy was able to determine that Edward was apologizing excessively for whatever reason.

What the hell happened to him?

Where did the kid's cocky arrogance and never ending confidence go? Mustang could only assume that he had a nightmare, but that seemed like the type of thing that Ed would shrug off as nothing as soon as he woke up, especially with someone else around.

The Colonel took a deep breath and pulled Edward up to a sitting position. No reaction. He either gave up on fighting or realized there was no danger… It was probably the former.

Ed's golden eyes were glassy and unfocused, shrouded by fear as he slowly pushed himself back up against the wall.

Yes, the kid definitely had a nightmare. It looked as if he hadn't fully woken up. He was trapped in a state between consciousness and unconsciousness.

"No, stay away; help, keep that monster away! Help! I'm sorry, I-" Roy felt his heart crack. Ed sounded so afraid and alone as he stared into the space in front of him and wrapped his arms around himself. Roy sometimes forgot how young he truly was behind his usual fearlessness.

Mustang placed his hands on Ed's shoulders, forcing the kid to look at him as he stared back into those golden, hazy eyes. "Fullmetal...? Ed… It's just me. Everything is alright. You're safe."

Edward looked back at Roy for what felt like several long seconds before recognition clicked.

And then he broke.

Tears formed in his eyes and he choked on a sob just before his hands latched onto Roy's winter coat, eyes tightly latched closed. His shoulders quivered under each gasp as he pathetically tried and failed to compose himself. The kid looked so defeated and small. Mustang paused, unsure how to react.

"She was right; it's all my fault and I can't do a damn thing about it... I should have just stayed in that room and-" he cut himself off, not having enough breath in his lungs to continue. He struggled to breathe through the overwhelming emotion that poured out. His head bowed into Mustang's chest and his grip on the rough blue coat material tightened in his shaken grasp.

Fullmetal was… crying? Roy hesitated to move; his arms hung uselessly in the air once he was caught off guard by Ed suddenly latching onto him. He had no idea what to do. There was an emotionally distressed child sobbing into his chest; and that kid was Edward Elric of all people. Roy never would have been able to predict that that would happen. Edward was one of the most stubborn people he had ever met; his dream must have been absolutely terrifying for him to break down in front of his superior officer. Surely he didn't have nightmares like this often...

The question remains; what should he do about it!? What would Maes do? He was always better at dealing with kids.

"Don't talk like that, Edward." With a steady breath, he slowly wrapped his arms around the kid in an attempt to console him, feeling rather awkward as he did so. But he had to ignore that. Ed needed some sort of support at the moment and he wasn't about to deny of him of that. Plus, having no where else left to turn, the blond practically threw himself into Roy's arms. "You're brave and strong, and always so dedicated," he continued, unsure of what else to say to calm the teenager down.

He felt Ed shake his head slightly, struggling to speak. "What happened to Al and Mom… it's all my fault. They should h-hate me," he gasped under his sobs.

"You know Al would never hate you. You're his hero," Roy insisted, feeling heat radiate off of the boy from his distress. "I may never have met your mother, but if she was anything like her sons, then I'm sure she wouldn't hate you either."

Edward didn't respond. Roy wasn't sure if that was because he couldn't find the words, or because he couldn't get past the choking tears. Regardless, the two alchemists sat there in silence for a moment as their words hung in the air. The only noises were the crackling of the fire, and Ed's sniffling attempts to calm down. The Colonel felt the boy shivering in his arm despite the air's warmth.

There wasn't a single sound to be heard outside. The wind had died down and Roy hoped the snow did as well. He was almost certain it was still dark outside, so there was still plenty of time for the storm to return by the time morning officially reached them.

"What the hell do you know?" The older man had to strain his ears to hear the voice that was muffled within his chest. The desperation in Ed's tone, his shaking hands that held his coat in a death grip and the lack of eye contact all told Roy that the kid truly wanted to know. He wanted to believe what Roy had told him. In that moment, Roy decided that they weren't currently a commander and a subordinate. They were just people who were trying to survive. One in which, who was currently very emotionally distressed.

Swallowing his embarrassment, Roy pulled Edward into a real hug, despite how tense the kid was. He wasn't sure if it was because of the nightmare, the overwhelming emotion, of the physical contact.

Maes would have probably done the same thing if he was in that situation.

"It's not possible for anyone to truly hate you. You've messed up before, but you do everything in your power to fix it." The blond had quieted down, listening intently. However, Roy had no doubt that his heavy coat was stained with tears by then. "You're a good person, Ed. You're someone who anyone, including your brother and mother, would be proud of... And... I'm proud of you too," he forced the words out. As he was already aware, speaking honestly didn't make it any easier.

Roy could only assume he said the right things when he received no response from Ed, once again. The minutes stretched on as the kid was finally able to compose himself in Roy's arms. His powerful grip on Roy's shirt had not weakened, though his shoulders did relax ever so slightly. It felt like if either of them moved even slightly, everything would fall apart as if it was just another dream.

"Hey," Edward finally began in a hoarse voice. "No one will ever hear about this, got it? But uh… Thanks," he said very quietly and sniffed.

God forbid anyone see Edward's weakness... It was no question as to why her didn't want anyone to hear about it, though. The kid had been carrying an unseen weight for so long and his mask finally cracked. Roy just so happened to be the only one there to see it.

"Oh, I didn't quite hear that last part. What was that?" Roy asked innocently, smiling as he could basically feel the annoyance rising from the blond.

Edward only scoffed. "Bastard," he muttered with a faint smile, unbeknownst to Roy.

Roy chuckled, then suddenly turned his head away from the kid and coughed lightly, his headache jabbing at him with a vengeance as he did so. Ed didn't comment on it.

The two simply sat like that against the dirt wall in the flicking light of the fire. The Colonel's discomfort with the situation soon disappeared as he decided that it was almost relaxing to know that the kid who he had been trying to protect was safe in his arms. Ed was currently safe because of Roy- it felt like he was finally doing something right. Ed's grip on the heavy material of Roy's winter coat eventually loosened, but remained. His body relaxed and his eyelids fluttered as the teen slowly drifting back into sleep in Roy's embrace.

Sleep began to threat the other alchemist as well and he eventually found his chin resting on top of the blond head as he warily watched the dim light bounce around the cave walls.

The kid who he currently held in an unfamiliar attempt at comfort wasn't the same Fullmetal Alchemist who left his shoe prints on his office door every day. Or rather, this was a quieter, more fragile side of the same person; a side that has been forced down and hidden for years, even from his own brother. After that night's breakdown, Roy would probably never see that side again. He wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

The Colonel always tried to keep a specific amount of distance between himself and his subordinates. He cared for all of them and would do anything to keep them safe. But first and foremost, he was their superior officer and had to appear as such at all times. He had to appear to be the untouchable, indestructible officer, for their sake.

And yet there he was, holding onto a child who had just woken up in tears from a nightmare, almost in a fatherly fashion… But that wasn't him. He wouldn't do that. Roy never thought that he could be a good parental figure in the slightest; that was Maes' job. But if that was the case, then… what was he doing?

The kid needed someone to be there for him, perhaps just that one time. He always had to be the strong one for Alphonse. Being the youngest State Alchemist in the military, there was no room to act his own age. He had to act like an adult constantly or else he would have been looked down on by those around him. Yes, Edward did act childish, especially when he was in Roy's office. But the very same kid would then go off and hunt down criminals and spend days researching alchemy and travel across the entire country. And yet, he was only fifteen years old.

Someone should have assumed that he would eventually break under the pressure. At least he wasn't alone. Perhaps that was why Roy wanted to admit that he was actually glad to be the one in that position. It was because of Roy that Edward was in the military; therefore, it was his job to look out for the kid.

That was exactly what he would do.

He yawned and shifted his weight, careful not to disturb the sleeping blond and closed, chin still resting on the kid's head.

Despite being surrounded by rocks and dirt, their current setting was drastically preferred to over the basement. It was warm due to the fire, they were relatively safe, at least for the moment, and best of all; they were able to sleep.

It didn't take long before Roy drifted off to get some much needed rest as well.

After being poked and nudged by his mental clock for what felt like several long moments, Ed finally accepted the fact that he was awake and moved to stretch his arms- Except it couldn't. Something was preventing him from moving.

Ed opened his eyes to see blue fabric. Realization hit him like a brick to the head when he remembered how he ended up there. He woke up from a nightmare in the middle of the night and Colonel Roy Mustang was the only person with the misfortune of being present at the time... He held his breath, unsure of what to do. He felt the Colonel's weight on him and the steady rise and fall of his chest. His arms were protectively wrapped around the younger alchemist, giving Edward the feeling that he wouldn't simply be able to slip out of his grip.

It was... weird, right? Mustang was holding onto him like Ed was a frightened child! Sure, that's exactly what he was acting like the night before, he remembered with a humiliated grimace, but...

"… Colonel. Wake up."

"Huh?" The older man mumbled, then just nodded off again. Understandable, considering he wasn't in the best state of health at the moment. Part of him considered remaining there and allowing the man to get more much needed rest. However, that part was quickly kicked and shoved to the smallest corner of his mind. Edward had to struggle in his bear hug and call out to him a few more times before he finally came to.

Mustang blinked several times before his groggy eyes fell on the teenager who was locked in his embrace. The two alchemists stared at each other for several awkward seconds, waiting for the older one to fully register the situation. Edward was soon released and he inched back against the wall, crossing his arms, while Mustang did the same.

"… Let's agree to never mention that to anyone."

Edward agreed all too easily. He couldn't remember if they already decided that the night before or not, but it really didn't matter. As long as they both understood.

That was strange. He wouldn't dare admit that after falling asleep for the second time the night before, he was actually able to sleep peacefully, which was an overall rare occurrence for him. It wasn't because of Mustang's presence, right? Right. Of course not.

He couldn't admit to himself that he actually enjoyed it; having that kind of contact with someone. It painfully reminded him of the days when he had a completed family. That warmth he felt the night before was like that of a parent's embrace. Caring and protective; ensuring that nothing would ever go wrong. He hadn't realized how much he yearned for it.

But no- that was Roy Mustang he was thinking about. The Colonel was probably just doing whatever it took to keep Ed from shutting down completely. It meant nothing, so it was best not to dwell on it.

Roy yawned and stretched his arms before sitting back against the wall once more. He still looked very tired, even though they were finally able to get several hours of sleep for once.

After quickly fixing his messy hair into a simply ponytail, the blond stood up with the assistance of his nearby crutch, determined to move on. His head lightly brushed against the top of the dome and looked around the confined space.

"At least it's warm in here now." He looked down at the fire, noticing that it had dimmed considerably since it was originally lit. "Hey, we should get more wood and relight that fire." No response. "Mustang?"

The teenager turned to the Colonel, who was slumped up against the wall and breathing through his mouth with his eyes shut. Curiously, Ed knelt down in front of him and put the back of his hand against the older man's forehead, then immediately drew it away.

"You're burning up!"

No wonder I so warm.

Roy opened his eyes slowly and shifted his weight. "Guess that's what happens when you're nearly drowned, then thrown out into the snow," he said, somewhat cynically, staring off into space.

"Well, that settles it." Edward stood back up and looked down at the Colonel, who warily returned his gaze. "I'm going to find food and water, and you're going to stay here."

Roy looked as if he was about to argue but Ed cut him off. "Stay put, or else I'll kick your ass!" The teenager announced and promptly crawled out of the small opening and recovering the hole with a dirt slab that they considered a door. He briefly considered alchemically sealing it so Mustang couldn't try to leave, but he doubted the older man had the energy to move anyway. Besides, they both knew that Edward's threat wasn't a hollow one.

Back on his foot and the crutch, Ed quickly scanned his eyes over the area. The sky had cleared up for the most part and judging by the sun, he assumed it was just after noon. The ground was covered in a sheet of snow but it wasn't nearly as cold as the night before. The air was still freezing, but it at least felt survivable.

Edward tried not to think about what happened the night before or the fact that Roy saw him break down as he kicked around the snow in search for fallen branches and sticks. It was so embarrassing just because it was him… On second thought, Ed would have been embarrassed if anyone else was there as well. But Roy being there made it ten times worse.

It reminded him of when he would run into his parent's room during a storm or just after a nightmare. His mother's gentle touch was always present back in those days but the reassurance of a father insisting that he was safe was something that he used to miss.

Until he realized that his father- Hohenheim was thoughtless bastard who didn't care about him, or Al or their mother and it was his fault that she di-


A stick broke into two in his clenched fist. He sighed warily and threw the pieces back into the snow and continued walking, now with a healthy collection of sticks and branches under his arm.

As he brought the metal crutch forward, the tip landed on a rock that was concealed by the snow, causing the blond to lose balance and fall to the ground. He stopped himself from falling face down with his hands, but his collection of wood scattered across the frosty ground.

Cursing to himself, he reached for the crutch once more. "This thing is going to be the death of me," he whispered, glaring at the transmuted object as he vividly remembered the nightmare from before.

However, an idea occurred to him. Edward pushed himself back up and abandoned the sticks in favor of collecting any stones he could find in the area. Once done, he sat up against the nearest tree and set the stones out in front of him, then untied his left pant leg that had been protecting him from getting stabbed by stray wires and bent pieces of metal.

After rolling the sleeve up to reveal the remainder of his automail leg he pushed the many stones towards it and clapped his hands. With a bright light, Ed used the minerals in the rocks to merge with what was left of his automail and create a new leg for himself. It was a dirty grey color and lacked any of his usual flair. He didn't have enough knowledge of automail mechanics to do anything with the nerve sensors, so he had very limited control over how it moved. There was a single join in the knee and the ankle, which would only be able to move when his body weight was on it. He just hoped it would help make walking more bearable.

Edward pulled himself up with the assistance of the tree and tested the new limb out. He carefully took a step forward and successfully managed to stay up, despite how terribly unbalanced and uncomfortable he suddenly was. He was unbalanced before, but the new leg weighed him down much more than his actual automail leg. If he made it any lighter, the material would be more prone to breaking.

The joint in the knee was small enough to keep his leg from bending too far against his control, but walking with it felt as if the knee was nearly locked in place. Fine by him. Edward would have to limp everywhere and it was nowhere as comfortable as Winry's automail, but at least it worked.

Although, something told him that even if he stepped on a rock with his makeshift leg, he'd still end up falling on his face.


The teenager picked up some of the branches and stones and got to work on making traps. He wasn't sure how long he spent building them but the excitement of food was enough for him to lose himself in the chore.

After he was satisfied with the many traps that now surrounded the area around their shelter, Ed clapped his hands again and created a bucket out of one of the longer branches he had picked up prior, then promptly filled it with snow. After recollecting the remaining sticks, he took them and the bucket and retraced his steps back to the cave.

The teenager crawled back through the dimly lit cave. He wasn't entirely sure how much time had passed since he left; whether it was a half hour or two hours, but it was enough time for Roy to doze off again.

Ignoring him, Edward sat in front of the fire and threw the newly retrieved sticks and branches inside. He was going to have Roy melt the bucket of snow so they could drink something, but since he was asleep again, Ed clapped his hands together and then set them on each side of the bucket, efficiently melting the snow into water. The full bucket of snow was only able to fill about quarter of it with water. Better than nothing. He'd just have to take several trips.

Edward fell back into a sitting position besides the fireplace and used his flesh arm to apply pressure to his stomach. All of that movement had irritated his stab wound.

Which reminded him to make new bandages. The last thing they needed was to get an infection.

Ed dragged himself out of the cave once more to find the best way to transmute bandages. While he was gone, Roy stirred from his restless sleep and eventually woke up. He noticed the addition of the wooden bucket sitting beside the fire but made no move to get a closer look at it, not wanting to exert the energy.

Moments later, Ed returned to the cave with a handful of bandages that were formed from various plants. Upon noticing Roy was awake, he wordlessly tossed him a bundle, then sat down to start on himself.

"Your leg," Roy began, blinking curiously at the newly formed appendage.

"Oh yeah- that. I can't move it very well but it's better than that stupid crutch."

The older man made a sound of acknowledgment and they said no more about the topic.

Both of the alchemists pulled off their many layers until they were able to remove the bandages that were originally fastened over their shirts. As Edward pulled off the used bandage that was around his stomach, he heard Roy click his tongue in disdain. Glancing over to him, he realized that the Colonel was glaring at the large red stain that covered the entire shoulder and dripped down the side of his white button-up shirt. The colored fabric looked stiff and uncomfortable.

"Nearly forgot about this," he sighed and as he pried is attention away from his clothing to focus on bandaging his shoulder wound.

Meanwhile, Ed returned to focusing on his own wounds. He pulled up his black sleeveless shirt to examine the cut on his lower stomach. Despite how long it felt, he received the injury quite recently and it appeared that it had not gotten infected yet. He was relieved that Nicholas didn't use a ridiculously large knife when he attacked him. The stab would certainly wasn't small, but it was still bleeding when he removed the pressure. He was even more relieved that no major organs seemed to be damaged. Then again, how would he have been able to tell? Edward had never been stabbed like that before.

He idly wondered if it was possible to stitch the wound close. Did they have the resources for that? If they didn't do it the right way, it could cause more harm than good.

The blond sighed and proceeded to wrap the bandage around himself, ensuring that it was tight enough to stop (or at least slow down) the blood flow.

After pulling his shirt back down, the teenager's eyes were drawn to the burn on his flesh arm, causing him to scowl. Burns were painful and disgusting.

The red mark on his arm had blistered and popped throughout the past few days. He suspected it was when they were being taken out of the cabin and they tied a rope around his torso. The coarse material must have cut through the strange little bubble that formed on his skin.

Edward was well aware that blisters appeared on second degree burns to keep them from getting infected; and when they're broke, the risk of infection only increases. Despite not having any way to treat the burn itself, bandaging it up was the best he could do for the moment.

Roy had struggled with wrapping the gauze around his shoulder but eventually managed before Ed could consider offering his assistance. He simply rolled up his baggy military pants to reach the leg wound and tied the bandages around it, doing so much more swiftly than before.

Before any other words could have been shared, Ed set the bucket of water in front of Roy.

"I'm going to get more," he informed the older man before hastily leaving the cave before he could get a response.

Ed spent the next few minutes transmuting snow until he was able to completely fill another bucket to the brim. Before carrying it back inside however, the blond quickly went back to every trap he previously put out. It hasn't been very long and he knew he had to be patient with them, especially in that climate, but perhaps he would get lucky.

For once, he actually got what he wanted. One of the first traps he set up had caught a rather large rabbit. Maybe it was a hare? He didn't really care at that point.

Too hungry to put any more thought into it, he quickly killed the animal with an automail blade and returned to the cave with the rabbit and water bucket in hand. After carefully crawling through the entrance once more, he took many much-needed gulps of water before passing the second bucket over to Roy, who accepted it with thanks. The water was temperate and burned at his worn throat, but he was incredibly grateful for it regardless.

Ed then transmuted a small knife out of his automail fingers and skinned the rabbit before sticking on the end of a small branch, which was then fastened above the fire.

"You've certainly been busy," Roy commented as he wiped a trail of water away from his chin before passing the bucket back over to the blond.

Ed gulped down that remaining water and turned the cooking rabbit over above the fire.

"Yeah, well, there's a lot to do. It'll probably get dark again in a few hours, after all," he answered, looking at the Colonel, who was wearing a strange, unreadable expression. "What?"

Roy opened his mouth to respond but started coughing into his elbow instead, then leaned back against the wall. "Nothing," he eventually said dismissively with the wave of a hand.

Edward thought about pushing it, but he decided to let it drop. He didn't have the energy to make a big deal over a facial expression.

The teenager retrieved more water from outside as he waited for the rabbit to cook. They held brief moments of small-talk and silence, both just eager to eat.

When their meal was finally deemed ready, Ed cut the rabbit into several pieces to share. They ate in a satisfied silence, both overjoyed at finally being able to put something in their stomachs.

Once they finished and tossed the remains, Ed started moving towards the exit.

"I might as well watch out for those rebel bastards," The teenager said offhandedly. "We can't really move from here until you get better anyway." He crawled through the doorway.

"Wait, Ed!" Roy called after him but the blond ignored it. He stood up and stretched his back, careful not to fall over due to his unbalanced limbs. However, to his mild surprise, Roy followed him out.

The older man squint his eyes and brought an arm up to shield himself from the sunlight that reflected off of the snow. Now that he was out in the light, Edward was able to see just how pale he looked.

The dark-haired alchemist stood up dizzily, but collected himself and looked at the teenager once his eyes adjusted.

"Let me help; you're going to overwork yourself," he said warily. From the sound of it, Roy was at a greater risk of overworking himself, than Edward was. He was getting tired of Roy doing all of the work. The Colonel was only in that sorry state because he kept sticking in neck out for the younger alchemist.

"You can't help. You're useless the way you are now, alright? You don't have to do everything," he said, more forcefully than intended.

"U-useless?!" Roy blanched at the unholy word and took a moment to compose himself. "I can't just sit here and let you take care of me. It's not fair for you to have that kind of responsibility; you're just a kid."

"Oh, now you treat me like a kid? You didn't seem to think like that when you showed up in Resembool and turned me into a human weapon!" Just like they said. The unspoken words hung heavily in the air.

Edward wasn't exactly sure why he said that or where it came from. Overall, he was grateful to Mustang for everything he had done for him and Al. So why did he say that? Perhaps he was just annoyed and wanted to say something, anything to get on the Colonel's nerves. He didn't understand why Roy started treating him like a child rather than a pawn all of a sudden. It was that confusion that bothered him so much. His strange behavior from the night before was still fresh in Ed's mind.

Roy was visibly taken aback at first, but was quick to compose himself with narrowed eyes. "You didn't have to agree to join the military. That was your choice."

"You and I both know that I had no other choice. The military's resources are the only way for me to get Al's body back."

"Then why are you so upset?" The older man demanded.

"I'm confused! One minute you're sending me off on dangerous missions to find the Philosophers Stone, and the next, I can't even stand outside without you wanting to hold my hand! What am I? Am I just a kid, or a weapon? I thought I could read you but then you started…" he trailed off and clenched his fists. Ed was fully aware that that topic was irrelevant to surviving in the mountains. And yet there they stood, talking about a fear that had always resided in the back of Ed's mind since he originally joined the military.

"Ed… You can't honestly believe that I think you're just a weapon," the Flame Alchemist started slowly after a moment of consideration.

"What the hell would I know?" The blond asked rhetorically and threw his arms in the air exasperatedly. "Like I said, I can't read you. This could all be part of a plan to turn me into you!"


"-into another Dog of the Military that will commit mass genocide at the snap of a hand! All just to get granted the title of War hero!"

"At least I didn't perform human transmutation!"

Their words were followed by a deafening silence as the reality of what they both said to each other sunk in. In just a few short seconds, the two alchemists managed to find the one heaviest regret that weighed the other down and mercilessly shove in their face.

They stared at each other, eyes wide. Ed looked as if he was struggling to speak.

"Wait, Ed-" Roy began in a vain attempt to fix the damage.

The Fullmetal Alchemist usually functioned on a Fight or Flight mentality when dealing with difficult situations. The majority of the time, he would fight. Only when he knew for a fact that there was nothing to gain from fighting, did he chose the second option.

Now was one of those times.

In a split second, Edward clapped his hands together and pressed them to the ground below him, causing a pillar to rise from the ground and bring him up into the air, above the trees. He heard Roy call after him but paid no mind to it.

He sat down on the top of his tall pillar and allowed his legs to hang off of it as he folded his arms. He knew he was just running away, but really, that's what he did best… He thought that if he continued that conversation any further, every moment of his latest nightmare would come rushing back at full-force and cause him to break down again. He hated feeling like that. He hated feeling weak.

But Roy was right; he was the idiot who performed human transmutation and had no right to accuse anyone of anything. He'd probably have to apologize too… He always carried the fear of being sent into an awful war like the Ishvalan Massacre and told to commit inhuman acts of murder. Considering his position, it was a very real possibility. Amestris was constantly at war on all sides.

He didn't resent Roy for taking part in the Civil War; not really. He just empathized for him. Roy already endured one of Ed's greatest fears: being forced to kill for no reason.

But how the hell did that even happen?

That argument came out of nowhere.

However, he didn't particularly want to sulk on it. Before using it as an attempt to flee an argument, Ed had already planned to create a way to see above the trees to get a general idea on their location. He was there, so he might as well focus on that instead. He might as well try to ignore the raising guilt.

There wasn't much to look at other than trees, mountains and snow. He saw what could be a town or a city in the distance but it was difficult to know for sure, considering everything was white. But he was able to discover that they were basically on the side of a mountain.

That blond guy from before…. What was his name? Vance? He said see you on top of the mountain, or something along those lines; which meant that their other base wouldn't be very far from where he currently was. He didn't bother looking, considering that it was probably well hidden within the foliage.

Edward couldn't help but wonder what exactly was waiting for them at the top of that mountain; an even larger, more luxurious cabin or an underground bunker? Either way, part of him wanted to hike up there and beat the shit out of those bastards at that very moment.

With a sigh, Edward continues surveying the area, his one good leg lightly kicking the air where it hung. He was considering going back down and possibly apologizing to the Colonel, until movement higher up on the mountain caught his eye.

There was a trail of clouded snow in the distance and many birds flying away from the surrounding trees. After staring for several long seconds, it appeared to him that the trail was moving closer to his general direction with every passing moment. When realization hit him, his eyes widened and he could've sworn his heart stopped beating.

His breath caught in his throat and he scrambled to transmute the pillar back into the ground to warn Roy. A cloud of ice that could stretch over the treetops most likely meant that several trucks were speeding through the forest towards them at that very moment.

When he reached the ground, Roy was still leaning against the outside of the cave, a hand warily squeezing the bridge of his nose. He looked over when he noticed the flash of light and collapsing column.

"Ed, I-" he began but stopped when he noticed the teenager's panicked expression.

"T-the smoke- uh, the cloud- the trail of snow is driving and the birds-"

"Just spit it out!"

Edward shut is mouth for a moment as he carefully processed what to say and in what order.

"They're back!"

Realization dawned on the Colonel as well as his eyes widened and his arms fell to his sides.


Chapter Text

They're back!

Edward's announcement floated in the air as Roy did his very best not to look panicked.

The timing could not have been worse. Just minutes ago, Ed and Roy were in a heated argument; the last thing the blond currently wanted to do was talk to the Colonel about something completely irrelevant to that. He knew they'd have to clear that up eventually but he figured that it would have happened the next time they spoke. All Ed asked for was a moment to clear his mind first.

But there was no time for any of that once he knew the rebels could've appeared at any moment. It had to be them, considering the trail he saw raising from the treetops came from the top of the mountain; supposedly where the rebel's base was located. He wished he could have thought of some logical reason to assume that it was actually the Amestrian military coming to save them, but none came to mind.

Ed watched the older alchemist expectantly, hoping he would say something profound and clever that would instantly solve their problems but at the same time, he knew that was too much to ask. It was clear to see that the Colonel was drained both mentally and physically, and his mind as already weighed down by their previous conversation. He looked pained by their recently shared accusations, but judging by the regret that shown in his dark eyes, he seemed to have been much more concerned with what he said rather than what Edward said to him. But how could that have been right? Ed basically agreed with what the rebels had been saying; that Roy was nothing more than a soulless weapon. If Ed didn't know any better, he would have thought that Roy completely forgot about all of the terrible things the teenager had said to him.

While both alchemists despised the idea of leaving their argument unresolved, they both knew that time was of the essence.

"What exactly did you see up there?" Mustang asked after rubbing his heavy eyes in an attempt to bring some life back into them.

"From the big trail of clouded snow, it looked like a lot of trucks are driving down the mountain and will be passing through this area any minute now," Ed explained, doing everything in his power to keep himself from sounding frantic.

Roy shifted his weight and subconsciously leaned away from the small cave, reminding Ed that even standing for too long was a chore for him in his current condition. "If you really think that they'll drive through here, then we have to destroy the evidence. The land is too flat here and there aren't enough boulders around for the cave to fit in naturally."

Edward nodded as he clapped his hands together mournfully. That little cave had done its job well to keep them warm but he was hoping it could have lasted longer than a single night. Nonetheless, his palms collided with the dirt surface, lowering the dome back into the ground, and then covering the transmutation marks with snow for good measures.

Wait… Was my crutch still in there? Or did I leave it somewhere else…?

"Alright," Roy breathed as he took a step backwards to lean up against a nearby tree. "Let's get out of here."

Mustang pushed himself lightly away from the tree and they began moving away from the area. They had to create as much distance as possible between them and the rebel's path. Ed had to refrain from breaking into a run, knowing the Colonel wouldn't have been able to keep up. In his rush, the blond stumbled slightly over his prosthetic leg with nearly every step.

"We should find another place to hide," Edward said as he stayed alert for any sign of movement or the sound of an engine. However, when he didn't hear an agreement, he turned around to see Roy had already slowed down to a snails' pace and was clutching the fabric of his coat as if it was the only thing keeping him alive. (In that temperature, it wasn't far from the truth.) He looked pale and weak; traits that had been evident since he first stepped out into the sunlight that day.

"Hey, are you alright?" Of course he wasn't alright. Ed should have just been thankful that Roy's fever wasn't any worse, or else he would've been sitting in his grave already. Perhaps Mustang just had unnaturally high endurance.

Roy didn't answer this question through his focused breathing. Eventually, he released the fabric and took a forced step forward. "Sorry for slowing you down," he said, grimacing at the pain that was undoubtedly circling through his body. "You'd be better off going ahea-"

"Shut up, that's stupid," Edward interjected.

"I wasn't saying-"

"I don't care! Now shut up and let's go! I'll carry you if I have to," the teenager exclaimed. With every passing second, the people who were likely ordered to shoot on sight got closer. Anxiety had already started eating away at the blond and the last thing he needed at that moment was for Mustang to try to play the Hero role again.

The older man scoffed halfheartedly, causing Edward to wonder if he was inwardly calling him short. Or weak. Or both.

Scowling, he shoved the irrelevant (yet incredibly annoying) thought aside and grabbed Roy's sleeve in an attempt to drag him along.

The Colonel was noticeably tense as Ed pulled him into a half walk-half run through the forest. He was clearly making an effort to keep up as the younger alchemist rapidly wondered if there was any better way. Perhaps he could make some sort of sled…

His thoughts were interrupted when the roars of engines emerged from the silence. Large winter-terrain tires crushed the gentle sheet of snow that was then kicked into the air, startling birds away from their nests.

Edward turned his head towards the noise as he ran away from it and his grip tightened around the Colonel's sleeve. His awkward, makeshift prosthetic leg caused him to limp, making it all the more difficult for Mustang to keep his pace. The familiar black trucks ripped through the forest at an unsafe speed, just as before. But thankfully, they were yet to notice the two alchemists fleeing the scene. At least there was one good thing to come out of the sun setting.

Edward finally released the coat when they ducked behind the safety of a large tree. Roy immediately dropped to the ground, breathing heavily. He wiped the sheen of sweat away from his forehead as the blond poked his head out from behind the trunk to watch the vehicles passing by.

"Alright, they're almost gone," Ed informed in a whisper, as if the rebels could've heard him if he spoke any louder.

From the sound of Roy's acknowledging grunt, the kid would've guessed that he was far too exhausted to voice an actual response as that point. He didn't bother to look at his superior officer, but he heard his strenuous breathing and the occasional muffled coughing fit; he was doing his best to keep quiet.

Ed watched the black trucks drive further away from them but he furrowed his brow when they suddenly slowed to a stop just before they were out of sight within the thick forest. Something wasn't right. What made them stop? They couldn't have noticed any remains of the cave, right? That was impossible. So what-

"Edward!" Roy suddenly yelled from the ground, dragging himself slowly to his feet with the help of the large tree. The young alchemist turned around quickly and his eyes fell on another truck speeding through the forest at a much slower pace to avoid making as much sound as the others. And it was heading directly for them.

The two State Alchemists cursed in unison, both knowing they had already been spotted.

"I guess we have no choice," Roy said through his teeth and raised his left hand, aiming his only ignition glove at the vehicle. Edward watched anxiously as the older man squint his eyes, struggling to aim properly as he simultaneously battled against nausea.

After a few mind-numbingly long seconds, Mustang snapped; with a flash of orange light, a bolt of fire flew through the air as the gases around the oncoming truck were transmuted, creating an explosive alchemic reaction.

At least, that's what was supposed to happen. The Flame Alchemist's aim was, for once, not exactly on target and the truck managed to swerve out of the way before the flames reached it. He was about to try again until a new voice interrupted his hazy concentration.

"I'm surprised to see that you two are still alive."

They turned their attention to the left to see a figure dressed in white camouflage appear from the snow-covered shrubbery.

"Although, you won't be alive for much longer," Evelyn assured smugly as she brushed snow and dead leaves from her shoulders. If she noticed that Edward suddenly had all four limbs again unlike their last meeting, she didn't comment.

Roy made a vain attempt to look livelier and more intimidating than he felt by straightening up and Edward scowled. "I gotta say: I didn't miss you at all," the teenager commented flatly, watching the black truck catch up to them in his peripheral vision. Did they stumble straight into a trap? What if the rebels had been watching them the entire time? Had they ever really been free?

"Really?" The light-haired woman asked innocently. "After you made it so easy to find you, I could have sworn you were just begging to be found."

Mustang narrowed his eyes, his back hunched slightly, unable to stand up straight do to his fever that continued to slowly weaken him. "What do you mean?" He asked carefully.

She chuckled. "We weren't even looking for you when one of our scouts stumbled over your little hunting traps that basically pointed us to your location."

Edward cursed under his breath. He made those traps only a few hours ago; he figured the forest was too big for the rebels to find them. He had to wonder how it was possible for someone to be that incredibly unlucky. Or perhaps, he made the range of traps too wide; in that case, he had to wonder how someone could be that incredibly stupid.

Without warning, Evelyn suddenly knelt down, quickly placing her hands into the cold ground. Neither of the State Alchemists noticed the faint transmutation circle that was lightly drawn into the snow until the lines glowed as it activated.

Understanding hit Edward like a sack of rocks. In one swift motion, the blond turned and shoved Roy out of the transmutation's range. Caught unaware, the older man fell onto his back in the snow, suddenly disoriented. His vision returned to him just in time to see the snow underneath Ed's feet burst into the air, engulfing his small body, then freezing instantly.

The teenager's head, fingertips, one elbow and the opposite shoulder stuck out of the misshapen block of ice. He tried to move and break through the ice but he was trapped in place, completely helpless. And he was freezing!

He wasn't sure when it happened, but when he looked over at his superior officer, Roy had quickly shed the weak, sickly expression that he was forced to wear before and it was replaced with the serious, unwavering mask of a War Veteran as he held his left hand up towards Evelyn, poised to snap. Only Edward was able to see the cold sweat that dripped down his lackluster skin and the way his hand shook from adrenaline, fury, his fever, the cold, or something completely different.

The woman grew tense but her face was unreadable, from what little Ed could discern, as she was kneeling in the corner of his eye.

Mustang slowly rose to his feet, completely focused on Evelyn as Edward was stuck in the middle of them.

"Careful," she warned, hands still hovering above the circle. "One wrong move and I'll kill him."

Edward shivered. There were several ways for her to kill him at that moment: she could suffocate him in ice, cut his throat with an icicle, freeze him solid- actually, he didn't want to think about it. He wanted to say something rash and offensive to her but he felt like the ice that surrounded his body somehow froze his brain as well. Evelyn seemed like a different person than the conflicted woman that stood before them in the cabin basement. What changed in the little time that had passed since then?

"Edward," Roy began, his eyes firmly placed on Evelyn. "You need to run, alright?"

The teenager blanched, knowing that Roy was planning something. And knowing him, it was most likely something that Ed wouldn't approve of. He spoke as if he intended on staying.

"No way, not a chance" he growled in response. He was so tired of Mustang calling all of the shots and suddenly treating him like he couldn't do anything. That was the entire reason as to why they started arguing earlier in the first place but even after that, the Colonel was still doing it!

Edward was convinced that the two of them could take down any enemy, no matter the number. He knew reinforcements were just seconds away, but he had to wonder why Roy didn't trust him to handle the rebels. They always managed in the past. Ed assumed that Mustang didn't want to slow him down, as he hinted at earlier. The teenager had a much better chance of surviving if Roy stayed behind. But that wasn't good enough for him.

Evelyn's blue eyes shifted between the State Alchemists, her hands twitched above the circle carved in snow. She was almost curious to see what the Colonel was thinking.

"You have to promise me that you'll run away!" Roy shot back his hand tensing, prepared to snap.

"I won't just leave you here!"

One of the black trucks swerved to a stop and several armed rebels rushed out. At least, Edward assumed that was the case. He was incapable of turning his head to see but he heard them switch the safety off of their guns and aim. To make matters worse, he was certain that he heard the other trucks from earlier driving over to join them.

"Yes, you will!" Roy demanded and snapped his fingers.

It all happened too quickly for Ed to fully understand. He saw fire sweep off of the icy ground besides him, but it didn't stop there. The flames burst in front of Evelyn, causing her to be blown back slightly as she brought her arms up to shield her face. Her sleeves were burned and the transmutation circle melt into oblivion but more importantly, Edward felt himself slide out of the block of ice. Roy had instantly melted half of the ice away, careful not to hurt the blond in the process. His aim certainly was more accurate when a life depended on it.

The teenager stumbled to catch his balance once he was suddenly freed, but he had no time to register the situation before he heard gunshots ring past his ears. He froze and stiffened, feeling surrounded and helpless. His eyes shut tightly, waiting for bullets to mercilessly rip through his body. However, several seconds passed and he found himself unharmed. His eyes fell on Roy, who was then laying face-down in the snow.

For a split second, everything paused. Edward swore he felt his heart jump through his throat and his head suddenly ached profusely at the sight of his superior officer on the ground.

But wait- there was no blood. The stark white snow was completely devoid of red. He… he wasn't shot. They missed. He dodged.

A sigh of relief escaped Ed's lips as time caught up with him and he realized that their guns were aimed for him as well. With a terrible and sudden weight lifted off of his shoulders, Edward clapped and slammed his palms onto the ground, causing a wall of earth to erupt out of the frozen surface, shielding himself from the wave of bullets. He would have stretched the wall to cover Roy as well, but some of the rebels had already run over to him to hold him down and keep him from using flame alchemy again.

Ed would instead have to switch to the offensive to help him. Before he could do something to pull them off of the Colonel, two more trucks veered to a stop on his other side. When those rebels stepped out, they would undoubtedly be armed too. He'd have to deal with them too. And save Roy. And where did Evelyn go? If he didn't act in the correct order- if his timing was off by even a second, both alchemists wouldn't make it out alive. Everything was on the line in that moment. Perhaps it was the lack of food, water and warmth talking but for the first time in a long time, Edward felt completely overwhelmed.

Too much was happening.

It was too much.

What should I do?

"I am giving you a direct order, Fullmetal!" Mustang's voice broke through his confusion from behind the wall he had created. Though he was mostly out of view, Ed could've pictured someone pointing a gun against his head as he spoke, just waiting for the bullet to fly. "Run now so you can fight another day! I'll be fine; just go!"

Why was he so certain? They were outnumber and outgunned and yet the Colonel still believed that he would be okay? That didn't seem like enough for Edward to just turn tail. But what was the right course of action? He couldn't forgive himself if something happened to Roy just because he believed him and fled.

Before he could have made a decision, a plume of snow suddenly filled the air, blinding everyone within its range. It was so familiar; it was exactly like what happened at the North Vs East Training Drills where they originally got kidnapped. Except it was Roy's doing that time around; it had to be. That was why he was so sure. That was why he was telling Edward to run away; it was all a part of his plan.

That sly bastard.

Gun shots and bullets colliding with the transmuted wall next to him interrupted his thoughts, causing him to instinctively duck for cover. It was pure chaos; the armed rebels were panicking and shooting at every shadow that got too close within the cloud of frost. They clearly didn't have professional military training. Once one of them became overwrought, the rest followed like monkeys.

From the sound of the rebel's confusion, it seemed like Roy was giving them a hard time inside the smokescreen. Flashes of red and orange glowed through the smokescreen, followed by shrieks and screams. However, the more confused and frantic they became, the more wildly they fired their guns.

One bullet in particular flew unnervingly close to Edward's head; it was at that moment when he decided that it was time to move. He just had to trust that Mustang knew what he was doing.

As much as he hated the thought, he would have to run because Roy had some kind of plan and if he did anything that would jeopardize that plan, the consequences could be costly. Usually, he wouldn't care. Ed would much rather follow his own plan than anyone else's any day. But too much was at risk for that, at the moment. He could only assume that Mustang had a reason for wanting Ed to leave the scene, besides to abandon him.

Reluctantly, Edward dove out of the cloud of snow and turned back once he was able to see again. He was able to make out many figured stumbling around in the blinding smokescreen of snow but they were beginning to come to their senses and find their ways out.

"Hey, the kid is getting away!" One of them called out as Ed scowled. They opened fire on him just as he broke into a sprint in the opposite direction, swerving around trees in an attempt to dodge the raining bullets, although his leg severely limited his movements.

As he ran across the frozen ground, Ed turned his head around slightly just in time to see one of the trucks joining in on the chase. Alchemic lighting sparked through the plume of snow that was sinking into the distance as he continued.

If Mustang dies in there, I'll kill him, the blond thought lamely as his focus returned to his current engagement.

He clapped, jumped over a fallen tree trunk, stumbled his landing, then slammed his hands onto the forest ground. The alchemic reaction spread through the earth behind him as several spires shot out from the ground, aiming for the black vehicle. The truck sped up at the last moment and was thrown off balance as the spikes struck the underside and detached the back bumper. It swerved and collided at an angle into a sturdy tree.

Before Edward could have celebrated his small victory, the person in the passenger's seat started firing at him again. A bullet ripped through the sleeve by his right arm; a gentle reminder for him to keep running before the rebels who sat in the back of the truck could pull their guns out as well.

As soon as he found the opportunity, he intended to turn around. He would just have to deal with his pursuers first before he could return to Mustang's aid. Leaving his sick superior officer in the forest alone, surrounded by enemies, was the last thing he wanted to do, despite everything.

I don't have time for this crap…

Roy Mustang slumped against the cold earth, breathing heavily with a hand over his mouth, trying to keep himself from gagging on the contents of his own stomach. His entire body was sore, his chest burned with every breath he took, which was then followed by uncontrollable coughing that only caused his throat to hurt as well.

His hands were tucked under his arms and his knees were drawn up to his chest to keep himself warm. He felt numb and knew he was reaching his limit.

To make matters worse, it was pitch black. But perhaps that was for the best; Roy didn't want to focus on anything besides his own ragged breathing and revel in the fact that he wasn't dead yet.

He still wasn't entirely sure how, but he managed to escape with his life.

Before the younger alchemist left, two rebels were holding Roy down, trying and failing to pry his glove out from underneath his body. They pointed a gun at his head but as he pretended to give up, he actually activated the small transmutation circle that was marked into the snow seconds earlier.

After he was certain the ever-stubborn Edward Elric finally did as he was told, Mustang's Survival Mode switched on. All he remembered from that moment were flashbacks from the war; the ring of bullet flying by his ears, blood staining the ground, chaotic yelling and screams, and the inability to completely comprehend what he was doing and how and sand- sand, everywhere. He knew where he was and perfectly understood the situation, but his sick mind put images of the past into his head, temporarily throwing him back into the terror of Ishval. As awful as it was, it was familiar. He knew how to handle those people; he knew how to survive.

His only objective was to stealthily flee the scene. The Colonel was certain he didn't spill much blood himself but he did cause some burns as he kept blind soldiers away from him after he copied the technique used during the drills several days prior. By drawing another hasty circle into the rough ground once he was free, he continued to take inspiration from the rebels and created an underground tunnel for him to escape into. Once the snow cleared, it wouldn't take long for them to figure out what he did, especially since Evelyn was still there. However, he was only able to assume that they wouldn't try to just cave him in considering the fact that doing so could potentially destroy the very ground they stood on. They were blind to what was below them. For all they knew, Roy could have rigged the entire surface to collapse. He would have liked to, but the Colonel didn't have the energy for it.

Instead, Mustang just continued down the small, unstable tunnel until he stood several yards away from where he entered. Leaning against the underground wall for support, he waited and snapped when they made an attempt to follow him down. Fire filled the small cave and burst from the only opening like a geyser. He doubted they would give up right away, but he at least managed to make them hesitate.

After walking for several minutes and slowly destroying the tunnel as he continued, Roy eventually returned to the surface, completely exhausted. He couldn't remember ever preforming so much hasty hand-drawn alchemy all at one before. He had mastered Flame Alchemy and preforming it had become easy over time; natural, even. (Especially during the Civil War.) But fire did very little when it came to escaping a group of armed thugs, besides providing him with light and a small source of warmth.

His plan was to hide underground until he recovered some energy, but the destroyed tunnel was too easy for another alchemist to follow. Therefore, he had to abandon it and create a smaller shelter somewhere detached from it.

Roy was above ground just long enough to notice that night had officially fallen and snow was gently falling over the forest once more. He didn't want to bother worrying about the weather until he found a suitable place to take cover, however.

Which was why he was currently holed up underground once more, just trying to stay conscious.

On a better day, he could have snuffed the threats out with just a single snap. But as things were, if only he had both of his ignition gloves; then he could have freed Edward from Evelyn and wiped the oncoming trucks out of existence in one swift movement. If he moved faster, then perhaps everything could have ended with a better outcome. He cursed at his own body for betraying him in such a crucial moment. Roy Mustang did not have time to get sick.

The Colonel hugged his shivering body and broke into a coughing fit. He would occasionally light a small flame above his fingertips but at times, he was unable to decide if he was freezing or overheated as he sat underneath the earth.

Roy wanted to get back above ground and search for Edward, as he was sure the kid managed to escape and was probably biding his time; or doing something reckless.

But nonetheless, his body refused to cooperate.

"Useless," Roy spat the word to himself as he rest the back of his hand against his forehead, surprised by how hot his skin was despite how cold he felt.

He assumed he was only able to successfully escape because he was blinded by adrenaline and wasn't able to listen to the complaints of his body, even if he wanted to. That or the Colonel was just used to it after trying to cover up the full extent of his weakness from Edward since they originally got captured. He didn't want the kid to worry about him, especially when there was nothing that he could have done to help.

The earth around him began to vibrate and he heard muffled voices above ground. He held his breath, knowing the rebels were unsuspectingly driving right past him. When they disappeared, Roy released a sigh of relief.

At least they didn't decide to drive right over him, as he had feared.

Roy hoped- prayed, even- that Edward was alright. He was positive that the child prodigy was smart enough to avoid those guys. He was resourceful and clever and brave; the list went on.

Roy felt a weak smile appear on his face as those thoughts passed through his mind. He had to assume that it was pride. Pride for the kid who would go to any lengths to achieve his objective. Pride for the kid who would stop at nothing to protect the ones he cared for. Even his reluctant to follow the Colonel's most recent order somehow managed to warm his heart.

When did Mustang start caring for that kid so much? He had watched him and his brother carry on through thick and thin for years and always respected them for it. He knew they were just kids who were fighting in an adult world and accepted that he would have to keep an eye out for Edward as soon as he first saw the broken child in Resembool. At some point, Roy had to be reminded that after joining to military three years prior, Ed still carried many burdens and scars that were hidden from the rest of the world.

But he allowed Roy to catch a glimpse of his ongoing struggle the night before. He let the Colonel see beyond his shields and barriers, and he felt honored. He thought that since he was able to see that side of the kid, he would then be able to help.

And yet Roy was sitting in a hole underground while Edward was probably still wandering through the forest, searching for him.

He should go out and look for the kid. But he couldn't. The thought of moving a muscle made him feel nauseous. But he had to try! But he physically couldn't. The Colonel hated the thought of sitting there, uselessly, while Ed was who-knows-where doing who-knows-what, despite knowing how bad his current condition was. What if the Ed was in danger? He couldn't live with himself if something happened to the blond while he did nothing to stop it.

The battle raged on in Roy's head for several minutes before coming to an impulse decision.

Screw it; I'm going to look for him! Even at the risk of endangering himself.

The Flame Alchemist crawled out of the hole in the ground that was protected from sight by a collection of dead shrubs. He tightened his coat around himself as he looked at the sky through the trees; dark clouds were rolling in, roaring angrily. He snapped lightly and a small flame flickered above his left hand. He knew it would make him easier to spot but at that point, he needed all of the warmth he could get.

This is a bad idea, he told himself as he looked down at the tire tracks that had crushed patterns into the snow. But what other choice do I have?

The Colonel went in the opposite direction to the tracks, back towards where he last saw Edward. A while had passed since the confrontation with the rebels, but he would expect Edward to at least stay nearby the general area until they found each other.

If I was Fullmetal, what would I do? Roy mused as he slowly moved through the forest, struggling to keep his balance.

Why did he expect the kid to immediately assume the worst? He suddenly hoped Edward didn't think he was already dead.

Roy shook his head slightly and sighed just before he nearly stumbled over a rock.

If Edward Elric was anything, it was unpredictable. He could have been anywhere, doing anything.

The Colonel stopped to catch his breath and leaned himself up against a tree once more, despite the fact that he had only been walking for a few minutes. He brought the small flame closer to his face and cupped his right hand around it, unable to even stand up straight with the support of the tree behind him. The rest of his body was freezing and he was shivering but with that one distraction, he had enough confidence to believe that he wouldn't die in that forest. It was truly amazing how much longer someone could survive when they were simply confident that they would live.

Bushes rustled with movement and feet crunched into the snow nearby. Roy relaxed his left hand and the small flame went out almost immediately as he listened carefully for another sound. The previous warmth of the fire was instantly replaced by the bitter cold once more. He was certain he heard something, or someone.

Roy slowly peered out from behind the trunk and narrowed his eyes, waiting for something to happen. He wasn't just becoming delusional, right? He was positive someone was there.

After a moment of mind-numbing silence, Roy stepped away from the tree, wondering if it was just a wild animal that he heard. He kept his eyes and ears peeled regardless, beginning to hope it was an animal so he could at least get a meal out of the unnecessary stress.

He lightly ran his foot through a frozen bush, deciding that it was time to move on already.

Before he could get anywhere, Roy heard a click behind him and he spun around just as a bullet flew past his face. His hand was up and prepared to snap in an instant. "Show yourself or else I'll burn this whole damn forest down," he threatened when his eyes didn't immediately fall on whoever attacked him. His voice was hoarse but the message was clear; he was dead serious.

Slowly, a figure rose from the dead, snow covered foliage, gun aimed for the alchemist.

"You're stubborn," the familiar feminine voice said.

"I was just thinking the same thing about you," Roy sighed, refusing to lower his arm.

Evelyn looked tired and annoyed. Her light brown hair was messy and tangled, contrast to when he last saw her with it neatly pulled back. The forest had not been kind to her as she hunted the two alchemists down. Roy's eyes carefully scanned the area in search for any other reinforcements.

"Don't worry; I'm alone right now," she admitted, glaring at the Colonel as she aimed the gun towards his head.

"Wouldn't you rather be with your friends? What are you doing out here?"

She didn't respond right away, apparently hesitating over something. "The boss has gotten tired of you and the kid."

"Oh I get it," Roy started before she could finish her thought. "You're here because you're still obsessed with proving yourself, is that it?" He asked spitefully.

Evelyn's composure faltered slightly and her eye twitched. Roy smirked weakly when he didn't receive a response.

They glared at each other in silence as the frigid wind swept through their surroundings. Roy felt impatient, mostly due to his stomach demanding that he sit down soon. His vision wavered for a moment, causing his eyes to narrow even more so, doing all he could to focus.

The woman's hand twitched slightly and her expression subtly hardened; a clear sign to a trained soldier like Roy that she was about to pull the trigger. Before she could release the bullet, he snapped and fell out of the gun's path. She fired but had lost any chance of hitting her target when flame engulfed her hands around the gun, forcing her to throw it to the ground and take sever steps back in alarm.

The two alchemists watched as the gun hit the frozen ground and they both moved to grab it first. Roy twisted his body despite its protests and managed to sweep the gun into the underbrush with his foot, well out of Evelyn's range.

The woman cursed loudly. Roy was armed and she was not. Therefore, her only option was to fight for survival with her own two hands.

The Colonel was back on his feet and snapped his fingers just as she charged for him. She dove out of the way of his alchemic flames and aimed to punch him squarely in the gut. He backed up and raised his arms in a defensive position but he was considerably weakened due to his state of health and she swiftly broke through his defenses. He doubled over in pain and hissed through his teeth at the pain that coursed through his body. She then rose and kicked him directly in the chest, forcing him to stumble backwards; his back collided with the frozen ground and he felt the cold frost seep through the fabric of his coat as he gasped rigidly for air.

Roy rolled to his side and raised his left arm to snap as his right arm hugged his aching body. The woman released an involuntary scream as the raging flames singed her hair and swarmed her white jacket sleeve. It was difficult to actually land a hit on her when Evelyn was in perfect health and Roy's usually quick reflexes were failing him.

He inched backwards to create a distance while she was distracted with putting out the fire. Every small movement required monumental effort. Even breathing was a chore of its own. His chest burned and his legs protested at the notion of standing up.

When she got the fire out of her clothing, Evelyn's enraged eyes fell on the weakened Roy Mustang. She approached him slowly as an angry confidence radiated from her. She knew she held the upper hand, even if Roy still had an ignition glove.

"You're really annoying, you know that?" She said coldly. Roy took that moment to latch his hands around the chipped bark of a tree and hoist himself up as she closed the distance between them. His vision was blurry, causing the Colonel to clench his teeth together in frustration and squint his heavy eyes.

She lunged forward and threw a first for his head. He instinctively raised an arm to redirect the attack by sweeping her hand to the side. He then followed up by hooking his foot around her ankle and pulling back in an attempt to trip her. She remained standing but her balance wavered, giving Roy the time to throw his own first directly for her face. She managed to dodge to the side and return the attack. Roy just narrowly avoided the strike by side stepping.

Evelyn groaned with vexation. "Why won't you just give up and die already, like that kid?" She growled and was caught drastically unaware when Roy suddenly grabbed her wrist mid-punch. She hesitated briefly before attempting to punch him with her other hand, which he also grabbed a hold of. When attacking failed, Evelyn tried to tug her limbs away from the man but all to no avail.

"What do you mean?" He asked sharply, peering into her uncertain eyes. He ignored the aches that circulated through his body. That woman just said something regarding his subordinates well being. Nothing else mattered.

She stared at him, clearly confused before trying to feign confidence. "Ah, right- the kid," she laughed in spite of her position. "I wasn't there for all of it but I heard the others managed to catch up to him. I have no doubt that he's already been dealt with by now," she sneered. "Do you understand? He's long dead!"

Roy searched her eyes for any sign of deceit but it was a difficult task to pull off when he couldn't see straight and he had a throbbing headache. He felt numb as loud, conflicting thoughts spiraled through his head, too quickly for him to understand. Ed couldn't be dead. That was too easy. Edward Elric would bring the entire world down with him before he would allow himself to get killed.

No. Roy refused to believe it. He couldn't. That just wouldn't happen… It wasn't fair.

And yet, he knew better than anyone that life was never fair.

Evelyn most likely hoped the news would only serve to further weaken Roy. However, she had another thing coming.

The Colonel tightened his grip on her wrists and quickly turned, using his own body weight and momentum to throw the rebel sideways into the trunk of a tree. Her back collided with the bark; a wheezing grunt escaped her lips as the wind was easily knocked out of her, and she slid to the ground. Roy knelt down in front of her, idly noting how their positions had been switched so easily in the back of his mind.

"You're lying." Roy's tone was deathly quiet as he suddenly felt a protective flame burn inside his chest. No, it wasn't sudden; that desire to keep that kid safe had been there for quite a while, but it's never burned as brightly before. It never felt suffocating- like it would engulf the entire world, evaporating all it touched into nothing before allowing one kid to die. "Now tell me where he is."

Evelyn slowly brought her head up to return his gaze. She watched him carefully for a moment before smirking knowingly. "I already told you."

Roy scowled as he pushed himself back up to his feet despite the protest he felt. He looked down at the defeated woman, unable to suppress the pity he felt for her. When he first met her, he believed that she was just being deceived and manipulated; he thought that with enough effort, she could've been brought to her senses. But after having no opportunities or time to pursue that idea, he began to realize that there was really no helping her. She was too devoted to their lost cause and no amount of logic could change that; at least, not by him. Roy had other priorities to focus on.

Without another word, Roy shifted his weight and his foot swiftly collided with the side of her head, knocking her out almost instantly as her limp body fell to the side.

He coldly scoffed at the irony.

Thunder crackled from above, reminding Roy of the situation at hand and dissolving any sense of victory. The dark clouds had covered the sky and snow continuously fell at a steady rate. And Ed was—Ed was not dead. He was somewhere safe. He had to be. Or at the very least, he absolutely refused to believe it until he was holding the motionless body in his arms.

Therefore, Roy had to do… something. But before he could work on that, his eyes fell on Evelyn once more. Should he feel bad for leaving her there as the temperature dropped and the sky darkened? No, he decided; he didn't have the time or patience for that. Not anymore. If he wasn't currently in such an incredibly crucial situation, he would have made moves to have her meet some kind of lawful justice.

But for the moment, confirming that Edward was indeed alive was his only concern.

The Colonel turned away from the woman and continued walking, albeit unsteadily. He only managed to take several steps before another wave of dizziness hit him, followed by nausea. He fanned out his arms as he tried to stabilize himself. Determined to find his subordinate, Roy moved forward, failing to realize that he had stopped shivering not long ago.

He had to rack is brain to remember where he was even trying to go and how to get there. The wind picked up and the dark clouds sucked up any source of light away, making it increasingly difficult for the disoriented Colonel to travel.

Roy forced himself to steady his breathing as he told himself to calm down. Edward was smart; there was no need to worry. He couldn't allow himself to believe that Ed was caught and killed until he saw evidence with his own eyes. But if the kid was murdered in cold blood, he would burn every single person on that damn mountain to a pathetic, unrecognizable crisp.

But as he had already discerned, Edward was too intelligent for that fate. Roy should've been more concerned for his own well-being instead. He was cold and dizzy and his stomach threatened to expel its content with every uneven step. Furthermore, his injuries ached and his was starving and-

Wait, when did he fall down?

Roy suddenly realized that he was doubled over on his knees; his legs apparently gave out on him from exhaustion. His breathing was shallow and ragged and he felt disconnected from everything. At least he didn't feel as cold as he thought he was. In fact, the only thing that he was currently certain of was that he was very tired and his body was cajoling him to lie down.

That didn't seem like a bad idea. But Roy knew it was. He had something to do. Right; he had to find Ed. And yet, his body didn't seem to care. Despite the voice in the back of his mind that whispered at him to keep going, his exhaustion gave in and darkness pulled him into unconsciousness before he could even fully register collapsing face down into the snow.

Chapter Text

Shit, how did this happen? Edward asked himself spitefully for about the tenth time in the past hour. He couldn't stop wondering how everything could have fallen apart so quickly.

Ed was currently sitting in a tree with his flesh leg dangling down the side of the branch that supported his weight, while his flesh arm was desperately clutching onto his shoulder port. He pulled the red hood over his head to conserve body heat; he would need as much of as he could get, considering he had been running around through the forest all evening.

It was close, but he managed to escape the rebels. Whoever was driving the truck that followed him must have had great reflexes because they were able to dodge nearly all of Edward's alchemic attacks; which was impressive, considering he usually had such great aim and timing. Nonetheless, it was difficult to shake them but in time, he was able to slip away, unseen. (Although, he basically destroyed the entire forest floor with pitfalls, giant fists, spires and walls in the process.) Ed would have preferred to simply beat their faces in, but he was getting tired and they had a lot of guns…

Once he was finally alone, Edward immediately returned to the small clearing where he had last seen Mustang. However, it was then devoid of life and the only thing that was noticeably different about the area was that the ground was covered in traces of blood and scorch marks. Roy had obviously put up a fight. He noticed a small, alchemically created cave that had been completely destroyed, but it didn't go far enough for him to get any useful information out of it.

But other than those useless observations, he had nothing to go off of.

Since then, he had been searching for the Colonel nonstop. Edward was currently trying to catch his breath, which was why he was sitting in the tree to begin with. Some of the rebels had been lingering around a while after he escaped them but he avoided any further confrontations so far, which he was extremely thankful for. The excessive use of alchemy had left him feeling exhausted and he wasn't entirely sure how long he could've kept it up.

Edward stretched out his arms and released a deep sigh.

He didn't know what to do at that point. He had no other choice but to believe that Roy was still alive and continue searching but the forest was massive; the Colonel could have been anywhere. Assuming that he wasn't killed, Roy probably found a place to hide and regain his strength. But how long would he have stayed there? They were admittedly similar; if Edward was unable to sit back, knowing that Roy was somewhere out there, he figured Mustang would have felt the same way. Although, would the older alchemist go out into the bitter cold for the kid, despite his condition?

Probably, Edward decided with a cringe.

But if that was the case, where was he?

At some point, he might have to accept that something happened to the Colonel. Logically, it was entirely possible that he would never see the arrogant bastard again. The rebels could have caught up to Mustang and killed him on the spot, he could have tripped and fallen down the wrong side of the mountain or he could have been attacked by a bear for all Ed knew. In all honesty, Mustang's survive is incredibly quixotic. The teenager's stomach turned at the thought and he suddenly felt sick.

Edward rubbed his eyes and growled for allowing himself to have such pessimistic thoughts. He couldn't afford to think like that. He had to believe that Roy was alright. If the Colonel was at least half as stubborn as Edward was, then he would survive. He had to keep searching relentlessly until he found his superior officer.

With a new flame of determination in his eyes, the blond slid from the branch and onto the frozen ground.

Before he had time to consider which direction to turn, the familiar sound of a gunshot destroyed the silence and echoed across the mountains. Edward instinctively pressed his back up against the tree before realizing that the sound came from far into the distance, and it was not aimed at him. He listened carefully, hoping to get a better reading on the exact direction.

Hope flared in his chest as soon as he heard the shot. Yes, he did fear that the very same bullet had just pierced Mustang's skull, but at least he had something to cling onto. That shot symbolized a chance to hopefully find the Colonel alive, and that he wasn't very far away.

Edward turned in every direction, waiting, watching for something to happen or a sign to tell him which was to go. He didn't dare move from that spot, too disquieted that he would go the wrong away and miss something crucial; but there was only darkness. Grey clouds and the thick trees darkened the entire forest floor and the white sheet of snow only served to blend in with it. A gust of wind rustled the leaves and tossed Edward's golden bangs into the eyes and pushed his hood off of his head. He brushed the hair away and squint his eyes, refusing to miss the slightest possible detail.

At last, he saw it. It was brief, but he saw it: a faint, orange glow reflect off of the snow between the trees, far in the distance. Not only did he know where to go, he knew Mustang was alive! It had to be his flame alchemy.

The teenager immediately broke into a sprint, his long coat catching the wind and flowing behind him. He briefly forgot about his prosthetic leg and stumbled over the uncooperative joints, nearly causing him to land face-first into the snow. The metal that attached to his bare skin wasn't doing him any favors either, as his skin suffered with each step.

Not once did his eyes leave the area where he saw the light, fearing that if he turned away for just a moment, he would lose it forever. He ran straight through the steady fall of snow despite the snowflakes threatening to land in his eyes and cause him to lose his way. The healing stab wound in his stomach burned with irritation, but Ed didn't care about that at the moment.

He breathed heavily, freely allowing the cold to fill his dry throat. Again, he saw snow and the sides of trees light up with the glow of fire as he got closer. Edward opened his mouth to call out but his foot got caught by a log and he tumbled to the ground. Ignoring the snow that stuck to his clothing and face, Ed looked up immediately after falling to ensure that he still had the location locked in his mind. The blond pulled himself up to his feet as quickly as his stiff limbs would allow and continued running.

When the teenager finally reached the spot where he saw the flame alchemy, he was expecting to jump in the middle of a fight or at least see the fire that caused the warm light he saw before. But the area was dark and empty, lacking any signs of life.

I could have sworn it was here, Edward mused as his eyes scanned over his surroundings. It took him several minutes to reach the area; it must have been a short fight. He really hoped he didn't lose the Colonel again just as he had gotten so close.

His golden eyes fell over a figure sitting against a tree, his heart jumping through his throat as he immediately believed it to be Roy. However, the truth wasn't as reassuring. Evelyn was knocked out cold and many burn marks covered her clothing. He slowly approached her, finding himself in yet another difficult position.

Seeing her there meant that Roy had won the fight and had probably not gotten too far away within the time that it took Edward to catch up. The blond wanted nothing more than to turn away from the woman and find the Colonel; but he wasn't sure if he could simply leave her, knowing she would die. Would her blood be on his hands if he did nothing to help her? But then again, what would be do? He was expected to choose between saving the woman who had taken part in kidnapping and torturing, or the man who had spent the last few days risking his life for Ed's sake. Saving one would put the other at greater risk. It wasn't a difficult decision in the slightest.

And yet, Edward hesitated.

He was at least able to shelter her from the snow if he chose to. But she was the one who tricked Roy and Ed in the first place. Why should he help her? But would he regret it if he didn't?

Evelyn always seemed reluctant to hurt them. In the cabin basement, she wore a mask and tried to convince everyone that she was something that she was not. Even during their latest encounter, she was just trying to convince herself that she had what it took to kill them.

And yet, knowing that wasn't enough to make Edward sympathize. She was a fool for deceiving herself into getting involved in such a misguided cause.

Edward couldn't stand there and stare for any longer; the cold was getting to him since he had stopped moving and Roy's life could have been slipping away with every passing second. The teenager walked over and looked down at her, not yet making a decision.

"Hey, wake up," he said, nudging her outstretched leg with his foot. The woman murmured something and her eyes flickered. "Come on, wake up! Which way did Mustang go?"

Her eyes narrowly opened but remained unfocused on the ground. "Ow, my back," Evelyn groaned and shifted her weight on the ground.

The teenager knelt down and glared at her, impatience rising. "I don't have time for this; what happened to Mustang?"

Her head lolled to the side and she glanced up at him, keeping the gaze for several infuriatingly long seconds. Her eyes were tired and unaware. "So you actually are alive," she noted and chuckled curiously. "I told him you were dead." Her voice was coarse and weak.

"What?" Edward demanded, taken aback. "What the hell did you say that for?"

She shrugged weakly, her eyes falling back to the ground. "To throw him off."

Ed blanched as he felt a pit form in his stomach, eating away at him. If Roy was under the impression that he was dead, then where did he go? What was he thinking?

He cursed under his breath. "Where'd he go?" The teenager said tersely, becoming annoyed for repeating himself. She was clearly drained of energy and had just woken up with a concussion, but he didn't want to risk killing any more time. It was difficult to empathize for her after everything.

Evelyn scoffed. "You might as well give up already. He was as good as dead, last I saw him; couldn't even walk straight… How long have I been out, anyway?" She asked, not expecting an answer from the blond.

Ed's automail fist collided into the tree that Evelyn leaned against, cracking the bark and shaking snow off of the leaves from above. She flinched from the attack that was mere inches away from her face, splinters bouncing off of her face.

"Quit stalling, dammit!" Edward had hoped that she would just give him answer while she was confused from the concussion that Roy undoubtedly gave her, but he was beginning to think it would be easier to try his luck and leave her.

Any sign of fear fell from her face and was replaced by mild annoyance. "Why would I know anyway? In case you haven't noticed, I've been unconscious… But he originally came form that way," she finally said with a defeated sigh, pointing to her left with her thump. "Now go away."

If she was to be believed, then Roy was heading north-east. Edward just had to assume that the Colonel didn't get turned around and continued going in that direction after he finished dealing with Evelyn.

Edward rose to his feet and immediately ran off in that direction without another word. She had absolutely no remorse for her actions, which made it rather difficult for Edward to want to save her. If Evelyn was more cooperative, he might not have left so easily but her words only helped to increase his worries. In all honesty, he probably would have helped her if he had more time, but it was her or Roy. And if Roy was truly doing as badly as she said then- he didn't want to think about it. But that couldn't have been the case. He refused to believe it. But nonetheless, he had his priorities.

The blond ran through the forest, not as fast as before while he constantly kept a look out for anything out of place. He tried to push the cynical woman out of his mind as he focused primarily on finding the Colonel. He brushed low branches out of his way and squinted when the falling snow fell near his eyes. Ed's heart was racing quickly enough for him to feel every beat and his lungs struggled to keep up. Roy had to be around there somewhere.

"Mustang!" Ed called out, cupping his hands around his mouth as he frantically glanced in all directions. He continued moving forward in a fast-paced walk, already breathing heavily. The thin, cold air chilled his lungs and only served to increase the loneliness that seeped through his mind.

"Hey, where are you!?" He hollered again and strained his ears, hoping to hear a response but dreading that he never would.

Normally, he wouldn't have been as concerned for the Colonel but Evelyn made it out to sound like Roy was already standing in his grave. Plus, his condition could only get worse in that weather. The wind began to pick up, stronger than before. It carried his voice and filled the air with rustling leaves. Edward cursed the weather for making everything more difficult.

During his frantic search through the woods, Edward's eyes were drawn to a dark figure lying in the snow. At first glance, he thought it was just a rock, though it looked strangely out of place. As he squint his eyes through the shadows, Ed was able to recognize the familiar dark blue fabric and the black hair blowing gently in the wind and he suddenly felt frozen to the core. White, powdered snowflakes were resting on his back, head, and outstretched limbs, telling the teenager that the Colonel had been laying there for at least a few minutes. If the temperature wasn't dangerously cold and a storm wasn't rolling in, then it would have almost been a peaceful sight.

But there was no peace in Ed's mind when he ran to the body and immediately fell to his knees, aghast. He grabbed the older man's shoulders and rolled Mustang onto his back as his hands shook violently

"Colonel, wake up!" he begged as he shook his shoulders as forcefully as he dared. His voice was urgent and fearful, terrified for the man. There was no response; his face didn't even twitch in the slightest. There was no trace of emotion on Mustang's expression, except a cold, slightly uncomfortable calmness that could have easily been confused with peace at first glance. Worry spiked through Edward's chest; everything suddenly felt distant and unreal.

"Snap out of it, Mustang," the kid begged, terror lacing his voice.

The blond hastily picked up Roy's wrist and felt for a pulse but his own hands were shaking too tremulously from both the cold and apprehension that consumed his entire body. The only thing he was able to discern was that the Colonel's skin was unnaturally cold and had a blue tint. Giving up quickly, Edward instead pressed two of his flesh fingers to Mustang's neck, directly underneath his jaw. He held his hand there for several long seconds, trying, hoping, and begging to feel something. But again, nothing.

"Roy!" He yelled, inching closer. He couldn't have gotten so close only to find Roy's corpse. That was too cruel. He felt warm tears swell in the corners of his eyes but he tried to hold them back. Crying would have been like accepting defeat. The blond leaned over the limp body and pressed his ear over Roy's chest but he was only able to hear his own blood pumping through his head.

Ed put a hand on Roy's torso and pushed himself up to look at the man's face. He suddenly felt incredibly weak as he felt the involuntary tears fall from his wide, terrified eyes, no longer having the strength to hold them back. Roy's skin was so pale and the longer he stared at his superior officer, the more isolated and lifeless Roy looked.

The teenager shut his eyes tightly and gritted his teeth together in frustration. He raised his clenched automail fist and brought it down into the crushed snow besides him as hard as his mechanical limb would allow. "Damn in, Roy! You're not going to die on me! You can't!"

For nearly a week, they had been doing everything in their power just to survive the harsh environment of the north. If Roy were to just… die… then it would have all been for nothing. All of their efforts to endure the torture, escape, survive the wilderness; everything would have been pointless.

To make matters worse, Edward was never able to apologize for what he said to the Colonel. Roy would have died believing that Ed thought he was just a human weapon who deserved to die.

Unless he knew that it wasn't true. But how would Edward ever know? How could he move on without knowing?

"ROY!" He shook the Colonel's shoulders once more, desperately staring into his face in search for a reaction. "ROY, WAKE UP! PLEASE!"

The strength drained from his arms when he retrieved no response, yet again. Tears rolled down his cheeks, staining the Colonel's dark military coat as Ed halfheartedly brushed the snowflakes off of his face. How dare they land there? Snow only belonged on things that were inanimate, unmoving and uncaring. Mustang was a human being; a person who deserved to live and who couldn't possibly die for nothing. And yet… he wasn't moving, Ed couldn't find a pulse, and he was so cold.

Edward folded his arms on top of the Colonel's chest and sunk his head into them, feeling physically unable to do so much as to sit up straight. All of his strength had abandoned him. Whether it was his own strength, or the strength that was generously offered by Mustang- it was all gone.

How could he possibly return to Eastern Command and tell the team –Mustang's closest friends- that Roy was dead because of him? He couldn't face Al, knowing he had failed again.

He suddenly felt incredibly alone.

"This can't be happening," Edward said to no one in particular; his voice was muffled by his arms and Roy's coat. "No, no, no, this isn't fair." He sniffed, unable to rub away the tears with his sleeves. "You said that everything would be alright." Edward choked on a sob and miserably gripped onto the fabric of the older man's military coat, wanting nothing more than to climb back into the warm embrace that he woke up in that same morning.

Throughout his entire life, Edward had to be the strong one who promised to always fix everything and save the day. For his mother, for Winry and for Alphonse, it was always up to him to keep them safe. But when he was thrown into that basement with Roy, Ed finally felt like he had someone to hold onto; someone who promised to keep him safe instead; like the father he never had.

But that was short lived. Just like his mother, Roy had been mercilessly ripped away from him just when he needed him most.

The world was so cruel. There was no equivalent exchange to be found in someone dying for no reason. Because of his own misguided actions, no less.

Edward's watery eyes flew open in an instant and he held his breathe. Because just for the briefest moment, he thought he felt something. He re-positioned himself, placing both of his hands and his ear on the Colonel's torso, and waited.

And yes, there it was: he felt Roy's chest rise, ever so slightly, and fall again. He was breathing. It was terribly faint and Edward was panicking too badly before to notice, but he was certain he felt it. For a moment, he was frozen in place as he struggled with the emotional whiplash.

"Roy!" He shouted again, his voice breaking from overwhelming, suffocating relief as he sat up and tried to wipe the fresh stream of tears away with his sleeve. "I'm gonna get you out of this, alright? Just hang in there." Edward stiffly rose to his feet and his wet, puffy eyes swept the surrounding area once more, blinking the lingering blurriness away. Behind several trees, he noticed a cliff in the mountain.

"I'm gonna get you out of this. And you're not allowed to die and scare me again," the blond told the unconscious Colonel with a sniff and curled his automail fingers around the back of Roy's coat collar. Doubting his ability to properly carry the man, Edward dragged him over to the cliffside instead, hoping with every fiber in his being that it wasn't too late.

He was fairly certain that Mustang was unable to hear his words, but speaking to the man helped him to move forward, if even just slightly.

Ed released the limp body as he approached the rock and with a clap, he extended a section of the cliff wall outwards and hollowed out the inside with a bright alchemic flash. Knowing he would need it, he added a small chimney hole at the top, similarly to the last one.

He dragged Mustang's body inside the cave and quickly debated whether or not he should start with removing Roy's damp coat or starting a fire first. Time was of the essence.

Edward decided to hastily pull off the long military coat in the darkened cave and throw his own red coat on top of the cold body like a blanket. He wasn't nearly as concerned with himself as he was with Mustang; at least he still had his black jacket. Unlike the Colonel, he wasn't sleeping in the snow, absorbing the deadly cold into his bones.

The blond then hastily left the cave to dig up tinder and find a good looking rock, doing his best to ignore the dropping temperature. He was shivering the entire time but it was a small price to pay. Ed collected the needed materials in record time and returned to the cave. He nearly tripped over Roy as he blindly made his way over to the small fireplace. Edward already made sure to transmute any unwanted moisture out of the materials before he gathered the tinder into a small pile.

He then transmuted his arm into a blade and hit it against a piece of quartz, creating a spark that briefly lit up the cave long enough for him to confirm that he was indeed over the fireplace. He repeated the action several more times until the sparks lit up the tinder and started a small flame. Edward had to blow on it before it grew to a steady size.

"You're going to be okay now," he said, anxiously glancing over to the man. "Don't die, alight?"

After adding a few more carefully placed sticks, Edward dragged his superior officer closer to the fire. The blond looked down at the defeated man and chewed on his lip nervously. Roy was on the verge of death and the growing fire wasn't enough to save him alone. There wasn't enough time for the flame to heat up the room.

Edward sat up on his knees and lightly brushed the alchemist's damp bangs away from his unmoving eyes as he pondered what else to do. Once more, the orange light of the fire made the illusion that there was more color in Roy's face than there truly was.

He assumed that Roy was suffering from severe hypothermia at that point. That would explain why he was so cold, wasn't able to think clearly and fell unconscious in the first place. He only knew the logical basics about treating it, such as removing any wet clothing and rewarming the body. But he had to start with warming the core instead of the limbs, or else he could go into shock, or worse.

The teenager re-positioned himself in the dark cave so he sat between the Colonel and the other wall that was opposite to the fire. He then laid down next to the motionless body and wrapped his arms around Roy and pressed his head into his side in an attempt to warm him up.

Usually, Edward wouldn't dare latch onto the Colonel so easily but when the man's life hung in the balance, he was all too willing to toss his pride away for the moment. Besides, he had come so close to losing Mustang forever; even then, the older alchemist was still in danger of never waking up. It was childish, but Ed wanted to believe that if he just held on, then the cruel world couldn't take Roy away and everything would be alright for once.

Besides doing what little he could to rewarm his body, Ed couldn't help but feel insufferably useless. It was all up to the Colonel to pull himself through at that point.

"Please wake up… Please be okay," Edward muffled quietly, tightening his embrace. Roy had to survive. If he woke up and they moved on, then everything would stay the same. They could return to East City, Al and the team would greet them as always, and the two brothers could continue looking for the Philosopher's Stone, and Mustang could continue working on raising through the ranks to become Fuhrer. Life would move on just as it always had.

But if Roy died, everything would change drastically. Only Edward would return to Eastern Command. He would be greeted but the team who would be quick to ask about their beloved superior officer. The blond would have to swallow his remorse and tell them straight to their faces that he wasn't strong enough to help the man who they all looked up to. Either Hawkeye would takeover the plan to change the country, or the entire team would just completely disappear. Either way, there would be a gaping pit in Edward's life, not to mention that the shocking news would scar each and every one of them to some degree.

They would have every right to blame him. Would Al blame him too? He should. Ed deserved it. The boy in the suit of armor had endured the consequences of his brother's failures far too many times already.

Edward shut his eyes tightly and pressed himself closer to the Colonel's side. "Don't die, don't die, please, please, please, please," the blond repeated under his breath, hoping that his words were somehow enough to pull Roy out of unconsciousness.

The prospect of Roy dying after everything they had gone through was enough to make more tears threaten to escape his eye. He was so tired of crying and feeling so weak- unable to change anything. But again, he had to be strong so Roy could get better and wake up; so he could tell Edward that everything would be alright.

The kid hadn't realized just how much he would miss Roy if he died until he saw his lifeless body lying still in the snow. In the past three years, Edward never thought he would care about the Colonel so much. He and Al were always thankful to him for keeping their human transmutation secret and helping them find the Stone, but lately, Roy had also begun to fill a hole that was left by Ed's father many years ago. He denied that holes existence for so long and covered it with other things, but it remained.

That was, until Edward finally realized that he had someone who was always there and who promised to do anything to keep him safe, even without having to say it. There was something refreshing about being treated like the kid he really was, as loath he was to admit it.

He didn't want that to lose that sense of security again.

Edward yawned and reached over to grab Roy's wrist. His skin wasn't as cold as before but it still unnerved the blond. He pressed his thumb down on his wrist to feel for a pulse, now that he had regained control over his own hands. It was there, thankfully, but the beat was slow and faint. He released a sigh of relief re-wrapped his arms around the unmoving alchemist once again.

The familiar crackling of the fire and the wind blowing through the trees outside were the only sounds to be heard. Roy's shallow breaths were far too quiet and Ed eventually managed to control his own breathing, though the deep seated worry still consumed his mind. The spiraling what-if's that plagued his thoughts were set aside and replaced with only his desire for Roy to survive, and the fear that he would not.

The fire had slowly been warming the small cave to a temperature that was much more bearable. Edward was exhausted by the recent mix of emotions and slowly drifted off into sleep, all while clinging onto Roy for dear life.

Edward didn't exactly remember falling asleep, but he must have, considering how the fire's warmth had filled the cave by the time he came to, all while murmuring something incomprehensible. He opened one eye half way to confirm that Roy was still laying there as he left him, even though his arms were clearly still holding onto the man.

The teenager was about to settle back into sleep until he realized that he hadn't made a single sound since he woke up and the only person who could have muttered anything was…

Ed's head shot up to get a better look at the man, bracing himself on the ground with his elbow. Mustang's expression was finally something besides the unnerving calmness of before. Instead, his eyes were shut tensely and he appeared to be uncomfortable. Edward was relieved to see the sign of emotion on the man's face, despite it being an unpleasant one.

"Hey Colonel." Edward poked at his shoulder. "Roy! Come on, wake up," he insisted urgently.

Roy muttered something in protest and his head turned slightly to the side, away from Edward. But the kid didn't care; he was alive!

"Mmm, five m'er min-" the older man began groggily, eyes still shut, but he was interrupted when the teenager basically fell on him in a tight embrace.

"You're not dead! I didn't kill you," Edward exclaimed joyfully as he nearly crushed the newly revived life out of the Colonel. Roy's bloodshot eyes opened with much effort and he wore a tired, yet surprised expression while he watched the hysterical teenager cling to him. His foggy memory refused to cooperate and explain what was happening.

"Don't ever do that to me again, you hear me?" the blond went on; he was yet to notice that Roy was mostly aware and watching him curiously. His voice wavered from the sudden surge of emotion. "You're such an annoying bastard sometimes but… but-" Edward's voice trailed off, unable to find the words as he buried his head into Roy's breathing chest.

He suddenly felt a land hand on his head that weakly ruffled his hair. The kid looked up quickly, forgetting about how pathetic he must have looked as he was overcome with sniveling emotions. Roy was watching him with a faint, amused smile; the gleam in his eyes told Edward that he was going to be alright after all.

"I get it kid," his surprisingly hoarse voice assured. "Don't worry."

Edward was speechless; Roy was alive; he wouldn't have to return to Eastern Command alone; he hadn't failed yet. Roy sounded incredibly broken and weak, but it was infinitely better than hearing nothing at all.

"Hey, Ed?" Roy suddenly choked feebly.

"Y-yeah?" The blond asked with a sniff.

"I can't breathe…"

In a single swift motion, Edward quickly detached himself from the Colonel and sat back, face red with embarrassment. "Sorry…"

Roy cleared his throat, then tried and failed to sit up. With a wince, he settled for just moving his chilled hands closer to the fire as he remained lying on his back, quietly noting the bright red coat that had been draped over him.

"Uh, how are you feeling?" Edward asked nervously as he rubbed his eyes

"Like hell," the Colonel groaned honestly, glancing over to the kid. "But I'll be fine after I get some rest."

The blond narrowed his eyes. "Insisting you were fine all of the time is what got you into this mess," he pointed out accusingly and shifted his weight into a more comfortable sitting position.

Roy watched him for a moment, then tittered weakly. "I suppose you're right."

Ed's eyes dropped to the ground between the two alchemists, lost in his own thoughts already. However, just when he thought the conversation had ended so soon, Roy spoke up again.

"Thank you," he said, almost too quietly for Edward to hear. The kid looked up again, mildly surprised. "I would have died out there if it wasn't for you."

The blond hesitated; his mind told him to say something sarcastic and offhanded and just shrug off the sincerity, but seeing Roy's sincere, heartfelt expression made him stop.

"You're welcome," Ed replied instead with a faint smile as he felt warmth swell inside of him.

"I'm serious," the older alchemist continued. Just speaking seemed to cause him pain, but he strained to get the words out before the opportunity was lost. "You're really an amazing kid, you know that?"

Edward blinked, taken off guard by the rare, direct compliment given to him by the Colonel. "Ah, I'm just stubborn," he replied easily, his smile growing slightly.

"You got that right," Roy agreed far too quickly and laughed weakly, earning a joking glare from the younger alchemist.

Edward scoffed and laid down on the cold ground next to him so their shoulders touched. His previous hesitation to get close to the Colonel had all but disappeared, at least for the moment. A part of his mind was still drunk from disbelief that he was actually talking to Mustang. "Whatever, old man."

"What was that, Shortie?"

His golden eyes darted to the side as he scowled at the superior officer. "Want me to drag you back outside?" He asked, then immediately regretted it. He wasn't in the mood to joke about death right after being terrified by it.

"I'll pass," the Colonel thankfully replied casually, his smile still in place.

No more words for shared for several minutes as the cave was engulfed by a comfortable silence. Edward stared up at the dark ceiling, listening to the popping of the fire and the steady, though still shallow, breathing of Roy Mustang. When he glanced over to the man, his eyes were closed and Ed assumed he had fallen asleep again. Fine by him; he was fairly certain the Colonel wasn't going to die of hypothermia again at that point.

Just before he too drifted into sleep, something occurred to Edward, which was enough to jolt some awareness back into him.

He looked over to the other alchemist again, feeling reluctant to break the tranquility.

"… I don't know if you're awake but I wanted to uh… apologize for what I said earlier today," he said awkwardly, his voice not much louder than a whisper. "I don't blame you for what you had to do during the war; I don't agree with anything those guys were saying, and…" his voice trailed off again for a moment. "I'm sorry."

His eyes were focused back on the ceiling once more, unsure if Roy had heard or not. He meant every word of it, nonetheless. Edward had decided that the Colonel was indeed asleep, until he heard a response.

"I'm sorry as well," the deep, yet broken voice replied. "I only said… what I said because I was upset. Didn't mean any of it."

Edward nodded, assuming that Roy wasn't looking to see it. They both knew that they were forgiven and it was water under the bridge. There was no need to dwell on the matter any longer. The two alchemists were just glad to get that cleared up and done with.

That day had been a chaotic train ride but the majority of the crushing weight had been lifted from Edward's shoulders, leaving him feeling both relieved and exhausted. The only thing he wanted at that point was to rest.

And so he did.

Chapter Text

It was approximately oh-eight-hundred-hours. White, fluffy clouds scattered the blue morning sky. The air was cold but the sunlight that managed to peek past the steadily moving clouds cut through the frosty air and warmed the people below, however briefly

Lieutenant Colonel Maes Hughes stepped out from the military issued car as his eyes fell on the cabin before him. From a distance, it was a nice, well-kept building. The dark wooden exterior blended into the forest well, allowing the large glass windows to reflect the surrounding trees. At least, they would have if all the windows weren't riddled with holes and shattered. Even the closest trees weren't spared by the previous attack on the cabin.

Despite the amount of damage, there weren't as many casualties as one would expect. The remaining blood that was split in the snow had already been covered by the storm of the night before.

But nonetheless, Maes didn't have time to stand back and admire the architecture. With decisive steps, the Lt. Colonel hurried towards the cabin, ignoring the cool air that chilled his face as he increased his speed.

Because of a recent murder in Central, Maes was unable to jump on the missing alchemists case right away. (It seemed that State Alchemists certainly weren't very popular at the moment.) Hughes knew that his best friend traveled to North City to participate in the annual Drills and planned to drag the Fullmetal Alchemist with him. When he learned that eleven State Alchemists went missing during the event, he was immediately worried for the two. It wasn't until he saw the list of missing names that his Best-Friend-Mode fully switched on.

Maes was enraged at Central Command for keeping him stuck there for so long when lives were at risk elsewhere. Of course, he understood that the case he was originally working on held first priority. But after enough time went by without any new leads, he was finally granted access to leave. He arrived in North City the night before and spent nearly the entire night reading and re-reading the forensics report, hoping to find something new.

But it was the same information each time. And none of it led him closer to finding the alchemists.

As Maes approached the cabin, he noticed the ever-vigilant First Lieutenant Hawkeye waiting for him by the entrance - or what was left of it.

"Good morning, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes," she said with a stiff salute. Judging by her tone, there was very little that was actually good about that morning.

"Lieutenant Hawkeye," he greeted and returned the salute. On most days, Maes wouldn't have been as formal with the woman, since they have known each other for so long. Upon seeing her, part of him still wanted to whip out a photo album or perhaps the spare pictures he kept in his wallet (in case of emergencies) but the situation was much too dire for that.

Riza Hawkeye looked just as tired as he felt, but that unyielding determination still gleamed in her eyes. Hughes highly doubted that she got a full night's rest as well, but despite that, she appeared to be in perfect order as always.

The blonde pulled a manila folder out from under her arm and presented it to the Lt. Colonel. "These are the details of the raid. Combined with the forensics report you retrieved yesterday, perhaps you'll be able to connect something."

Maes opened to the folder and quickly scanned through the pages inside. It appeared to be a collection of copied documents, photographs, descriptions of the surviving captured rebels, reports from the Amestrian soldiers who fought in the battle, and more walls of text that he would read through later.

Nodding, Hughes closed the folder and looked up at the blonde again. "Is the rest of the team here?" He asked, eyes scanning the area around the building.

"Fuery and Falman are here but Havoc and Breda are at the explosion site," she answered professionally.

He recalled back to when he read about the two car explosions that were found not far from the main road, up on the side of the mountain. Though nothing survived besides scrap metal, it was assumed that car bombs were installed on the driver's side of each truck and connected to the fuel tanks. They were mostly likely put there to destroy evidence.

One could only guess why the bombs went on when they did. But something told him that his two friends were involved somehow. Those two in particular where the experts of destruction, after all.

"So how are things progressing here?"

"There's nothing of interest to report yet. The forensics unit cleaned up and left earlier this morning. We're still looking through the remaining documents, however; hoping to find a clue as to where the alchemists are," Hawkeye explained with ease. "Teams have been sent out to search the mountain since the storm cleared but there is a lot of ground to cover."

Hughes nodded, silently absorbing the details. He was hoping to hear some news that was more hopeful, but he'd take what he could get. Looking back up to meet the Second Lieutenant's eyes, he decided to change the topic.

"What's Alphonse been up to?"

"He holed himself up in the cabin, looking through the left over documents since he arrived," she explained with a slight frown. They were both aware that Alphonse didn't requite sleep, food and sunlight like the rest of them, but it was difficult to keep themselves from feeling concerned for the boy. "He wanted to go out into the forest himself and search, but I convinced him to stay, at least until you arrived."

"I see," Hughes mused as he absentmindedly pushed his glasses into place. The poor kid must have been worried sick for his older brother. He should've have had to go through that. "I'm going to check on him." The Lt. Colonel slid the folder under his arm and walked past the blonde, towards the building.

Despite being out in the middle of nowhere, yellow caution tape blocked the door. Hughes easily stepped over it and walked inside as his eyes examined the interior. The first room was open and well decorated. A modern kitchen with an island counter was seen at the far end and there was a single hall that led further into the building on the right. It would have looked very nice and completely unsuspecting if the leather furniture wasn't ripped apart by an assail of bullets. Glass riddled the dark wood flooring and the corners of the walls were violently chipped away in the cross fire. Dark, dried blood stained the floor and walls. The team that originally stormed the building obviously didn't hold back.

"He's down the hall and to the right," Hawkeye chimed in, freeing him from his thoughts. Hughes gave her a quick, thankful nod before following the directions.

The hall was apparently spared during the fighting. Unlike the room just before, the walls were devoid of bullet holes and blood. Maes moved down without hesitation, casting a glance in each room he passed before moving on. Nearly every door was left wide open from the Amestrian snooping. On his left, Hughes glanced down a stairway to see yet another hall filled with doors below. His curiosity suggested that he go down there but he was sure that any and all information stored in the lower floor had already been collected by the investigation team that arrived earlier.

In the entire hallway, only one door was slightly ajar from its frame. Hughes gingerly pushed it open to see Alphonse Elric sitting in an old office. The walls were lined with filing cabinets and book cases that were all covered in hasty scorch marks. Ash and partially burned papers littered the floor and a single desk light lit the small room. Alphonse was pouring over files and documents that were spread out on a beat-up, wooden desk. He was facing away from the door and didn't notice as the two soldiers entered.

How long had be been sitting there?

"Hey Alphonse," Hughes started. There was no response, causing him to glance over to the unreadable First Lieutenant who stood in the doorway, before he walked around to the side of the desk to try again. "Alphonse?"

The suit of armor stood up in surprise, causing the legs of the chair to squeak across the floor. "Ah- Mr. Hughes! Sorry, I didn't hear you come in."

Maes smiled at the boy sadly as he waved him down, causing Alphonse to relax slightly. "That's alright," he dismissed as his eyes fell over the collection of papers on the desk. "How are you holding up?'

"I'm fine," the metallic voice sighed automatically as he too looked down at his progress. "The rebels forgot quite a few papers when they were trying to destroy everything but the vast majority was taken or burned. There are so many holes," he explained, frustration lacing his tone. "Alone, nothing here has any valuable information. But when I cross reference these -" he said as he leaned over and shifted some of the papers around. "- some things begin to fit together. But it's not enough to help find Brother or Mr. Mustang or the other alchemists."

"What have you found out so far?" Hughes asked as he started to take a closer look at some of the documents, all while thinking that the younger Elric was probably very good at puzzles.

"Well..." The suit of armor pulled the chair back in and sat back down at the desk. Hughes opened his folder and set some of the more important papers on the side in hopes of finding a connection. "I think they're planing something big. There were a few letters and notes that mentioned large quantities of oil and some ingredients for making gun powder. Sulfur, charcoal, potassium nitrate," he listed, then trailed off. Alphonse shifted through some of the papers before showing a half burned map of the North City and the surrounding areas. "And here, these circled locations are all military and military affiliated buildings. I'm guessing that most of it is storage because another letter mentioned raiding some places for supplies," he said and pointed to certain parts of the map with his large gloves. "As for the streets that are highlighted, I assume that they're tracking the paths of supplies shipments."

"That explains why they're so well equipped," Hughes added. In the back of his mind, he vaguely remembered hearing word about the Northern military being raided several months ago by an unknown source.

His own documents also mentioned finding traces of gunpowder and other explosives. Maes wondered if it had anything to do with the car bombs but he doubted they needed that much to blow up a car. It had to be for something else.

Hughes narrowed his eyes as his suspicions were more-or-less confirmed. "They definitely have spies within our ranks."

The kid sat up and turned to look at the Lt. Colonel. "You already know that?"

The older man blinked. If Alphonse was already aware, then he must have found something regarding that. "Shipment convoys change the paths they take constantly and almost randomly. There's no way for them to know the exact path without having someone on the inside... How did you know?"

The armor hesitated slightly before turning to face the desk and quickly sorted through the files once more. "It could just be a coincidence, so I didn't want to point any figures, but-" he presented a small stack of letters. Very few of them were undamaged but most weren't burnt enough to not see the only parts that mattered.

It took Maes only a moment to find the only similarity in each paper before realizing the meaning behind it. Each letter was ether addressed to, written by, or mentioned someone that went by the letters V.M. An idea sparked through his mind and he opened his folder once more and searched for something he remembered seeing earlier.

Alphonse looked unsure if he should have explained or let the Lt. Colonel understand himself. Before he could make up his mind, realization flashed through Hughes's eyes as he set all the papers in his hands back onto the table.

"V.M. is Vance Madsen; one of the missing alchemists." He ran a hand through his hair warily.

To think that a Lieutenant Colonel was involved with a group of anti-government idealists... I just hope that it doesn't go any higher than that.

Alphonse nodded slowly. "That's what I thought to. But it's just speculation..."

"We don't have time for speculation... Besides, it's entirely possible. After all, he was involved in the Ishvalan Civil War, if I remember correctly. Many soldiers lost all faith in the government after that."

The Elric nodded in understanding, deep in his own thoughts.

"Have you found any other connections to the list of missing alchemists?"

"No... Other people are mentioned, but many of them only go by one initial and even by code names for some."

Maes's eyes fell on the letters V.M. that appeared several times over the covered desk. "Since he's in so many of those letters, I'm guessing that he has a pretty high rank within the rebels. And he probably goes by two initials to make himself stand out more among the others and to make it easier for the members to recognize him."

"They seem to be very organized," Alphonse commented. "I wonder why they don't have an official name for themselves."

"Lieutenant Colonel Hughes," a voice suddenly interrupted, causing both Alphonse and Maes to turn around towards the source. Riza Hawkeye stood by the door along with Master Sergeant Kain Fuery, who had a mobile communication device strapped to his back as he held the handset. Because Hughes got distracted, he wasn't sure if Riza was standing there the entire time or left earlier. "We received a call from Northern Command; one of the captured rebels has agreed to talk," she informed them as the young Sergeant nodded besides her.

"Oh?" Maes straightened up. "Let them know that I'm going to speak with him myself," he announced as he started packing his papers back into the manila folder.

"I want to talk to him too," Alphonse added suddenly, standing from the chair once more. The three soldiers watched him quietly for a moment before Hughes frowned.

"Sorry Alphonse; even though you've assisted the military countless times, we can't allow a civilian to be included in official interrogations," Hawkeye responded professionally. There was a slight trace of remorse in her voice. They all understood why the younger Elric would want to speak to someone who had something to do with the kidnapping of his brother, but it simply couldn't be helped.

"But-" Alphonse began but he cut himself off and sighed. "Alright... I understand that there's no way around it." He suddenly straightened up and clenched his hands and glanced back at the papers that were scattered across the desk. "But I'm not going to just do nothing. I have to keep looking for myself no matter what!"

The kid turned back to the other three. "Please let me know if you learn anything!"

Hughes nodded and smiled. "Sure thing, Alphonse," he replied, glad to see such bright determination in those soulfire eyes.

As the Lt. Colonel made his way back out through the cabin, he heard Hawkeye tell Fuery to stay behind and wait for them to call back from Northern Command. For some reason, it was simply assumed that she would also be going back to the city with him for the interrogation. She didn't really have anything else to do besides babysit anyway.

Dodging the streams of yellow caution tape once more, the two soldiers made their way to the car that Hughes took earlier that day. Hawkeye wordlessly climbed into the drivers seat, forcing Hughes to take the passengers seat.

The rough mountain road was not kind to the simple black car as they made for the city. It wasn't a short drive either. Hughes considered starting a conversation to pass time but it would've made more sense to read through the folder that Hawkeye gave him.

He opened it up and started scanning the reports as Riza focused on the road. She didn't seem to mind, as she was most likely lost in her own thoughts anyway.

As much as he enjoyed a cheerful conversation and taking any and all opportunities to brag about his perfect family, there wasn't any time to waste when there were missing people to save.

Then again, how many of the 'missing alchemists' were actually victims? If Vance Madsen was involved in the kidnapping, it was very possible for there to be others. It was difficult to assume, since he didn't recognize the other names as well. Maes decided to look into the other alchemist's backgrounds when he found the chance. He would have to keep an eye out for others who had served in the war in particular. Or any war, he supposed...

The only reason why he remembered Madsen in the first place is because he was sent out to Ishval just before the war began its final stretch. Vance Madsen, the Mineral Alchemist, originally focused more on researching the science. When Central decided that his specialized alchemy was capable of aiding in the Ishvalan Massacre, he and several others were sent into Basic Training and shipped out to the east against any and all refusals.

Hughes remembered him specifically because apparently, another alchemist accidentally killed one of his friends out on the field and he dedicated the rest of his time to finding who was responsible for the friendly fire. Madsen was eventually sent away from the field for becoming so distracted and therefor, useless to their superiors; that was the last he had heard of the man.

Hughes sighed and flipped to another page that proved to be just as uninspiring as the last. He looked up to examine the surrounding area, eyes sore from staring at text for so long. They were still deep in the forest, following along a barely visible path. Snow from the night before covered everything in sight. Unconsciously, his eyes shifted to the woman who sat besides him. Her expression was as neutral and focused as always, but there was a hint of worry in her eyes.

"We're getting close; I can feel it," Hughes spoke up suddenly, hoping to reassure Hawkeye, at least to some degree.

Her eyes flickered over to him for a brief second before quickly snapping back to the road. His words alone sounded simply encouraging and hopeful but the blonde knew that Maes didn't want her to worry about Roy's well being. As they were both incredibly devoted to finding the lost Colonel, Hughes was certain that it was only a matter of time. He had no choice but to believe that.

She nodded slightly, quietly thankful. "Hopefully, we can get some useful information out of the rebel."

The Lt. Colonel faced forward again, idly watching as the car tore through the snow. "Based on what I've read, not many of them were actually captured. You were there that night, right? So why are there so few?"

Several seconds passed before she answered, as if Hawkeye was debating if she should have just told him to finish reading the reports. "Their commanders must be quite strict; most of them would rather point a gun at their own heads than get captured by the enemy," she breathed, narrowing her eyes slightly.

Hughes tilted tilted his head to the side, staring out at the passing trees as the processed the information. "They're clearly dedicated to their cause, ,whatever it is... So did this guy just never got the chance?"

"From what I've heard, he was cornered but wasn't able to pull the trigger on himself."

Maes made a sound of acknowledgment but said nothing more after that. He was too preoccupied by thinking about what to say and how to say it when he finally entered the interrogation room and looked down at the man who was partially responsible for the capture of his dear friend.

By the time they reached the city, it felt like only half an hour had passed since he got lost in thought once more, but he knew it had to be longer, judging by the ache in his back. Nonetheless, they parked and the two climbed out, both strained from sitting for so long. After passing through security, they were pointed in the right direction.

Hughes was counting the numbers above the doors, searching for the correct room. However, his concentration was interrupted when a slightly familiar Brigadier General strode down the hall to meet them.

General Ramon Benning's uniform was in perfect condition and his graying hair was neatly slicked back but he looked tired and wary. However, he almost appeared to be glad to see the two at the same time. Maes figured it was because he would rather let them deal with the rebel than use his own people to do it, when they could be out in the field.

Hughes and Hawkeye each saluted the General, who quickly returned to gesture with a small, almost nonexistent smile. "Good to see you again, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes and First Lieutenant Hawkeye."

"Thank you for putting the interrogation off until we arrived, sir. It's much appreciated," Hughes said sincerely.

"But of course," the General replied, smile widening ever so slightly. "I'm aware that you two know some of the alchemists. Perhaps that personal connection will get us some results. Just getting him to agree to speak at all was tedious enough... This rebel- what was his name?"

"Dale Bayer," Hawkeye provided.

"Right," Benning went on. "Dale Bayer is just a kid; gullible and naive. Hopefully, you can make something of that." And with that, Rowan Benning pointed to the right door and went on his way. In hindsight, finding the door would have been a simple task without the assistance, considering there was a guard posted there.

The two greeted the guard, explained the business, confirmed clearance and walked inside.

The interrogation room was barren and daunting. A cold metal table sat in the center and a chair was at each end. The single, harsh light that hung above the table reflected off of the stark white walls, creating a suffocatingly sterile environment inside the small room. There was a mirror on one of the walls, which led Hughes to assume that it was a transparent mirror; a fairly new invention that he hadn't seen too much of. Surely there were others watching from the opposite side.

A single young man was handcuffed to a metal chair by the table. He had short brown hair and brown eyes and his face was covered in cuts and bruises. It was impossible to tell if he acquired those before or after coming to the Northern HQ. He looked up at them when they entered. Dale Bayer held a stern, rebellious expression but his true dread was portrayed in his eyes and the nervous sweat that could be seen on his forehead.

If Maes had to guess, Dale was probably around in his early twenties and just barely shorter than he was; although, it was difficult to tell while he was sitting down. By just a single glance, Hughes knew that he was inexperienced and hardly trained. As much as he wanted to direct his anger towards someone for the capture of Roy, it was difficult to pin all the blame on the kid before him.

Dale shifted his weight uncomfortable in the chair, causing Maes to realize that he had been sizing him up for several long seconds. He lightly pushed his glasses on the bridge of his nose and stepped closer to the table. Hawkeye stood and waited quietly by the door. It was nearly impossible for the rebel to do anything, but she was a silent reminder than Bayer was outnumbered.

"Hello Dale," he began, expression unreadable. "I'm Lieutenant Colonel Hughes and that's First Lieutenant Hawkeye," he said, gesturing to the woman by the door. The rebel didn't look like he was going to comment, so Maes continued. "Thank you for agreeing to talk to us. Let's get down to business."

He moved the chair out of the way and firmly planted his hands down on the surface of the table, staring the rebel down. He squirmed awkwardly under the weight of the Lt. Colonel's gaze.

"I want to know why your friend's kidnapped the State Alchemists and where they took them." Dale Bayer clearly hesitated, despite agreeing to speak. It was likely that he had recently been roughed up before making the agreement and didn't want to take any more damage. But at the same time, he was a stubborn one.

Riza Hawkeye quietly walked across the room so she was standing out of Dale's eyesight. Being unable to see the person behind him would make him feel all the more uncomfortable.

"I... I don't really know."

Hughes watched him carefully for a moment, deciding his next move. He slowly straightened up and his arms fell to his sides. "Well, what can you tell me?"

Bayer's eyes narrowed with disgust at himself as he avoid eye contact. "Uh... There's this shack a few miles south of the cabin. I see people driving over there all the time. Maybe you should check that out," he explained easily. Too easily. Hughes glanced over to Hawkeye.

"A team already found the shack in question," the woman chimed in. "There was nothing valuable inside. It seemed to have been abandoned at least a few weeks ago."

Hughes glared down at the young rebel, who grimaced when Riza spoke. He wanted to get out of there and get back to looking for the alchemists as soon as possible. But if he rushed it, he would risk ruining the opportunity to dig up more information. He couldn't afford to mess up.

"Alright," the Lt. Colonel sighed. "Can you at least tell me your objective? What is it that you people stand for anyway?"

Bayer hesitated for a brief moment before deciding that it was okay to answer. He looked up at the interrogator to speak. "The higher-ups wanna remove the Fuhrer and everyone who follows him from power and put themselves in their spots. They think that the whole military government is corrupt and it's gonna pull this country to the ground. After what I've seen, it's not hard to believe 'em."

Hughes considered him for a moment, glad that he managed to get the guy talking. "So what exactly do the State Alchemists have to do with it? Why kidnap them?" He was already well aware that the Dogs of the Military were not the most well-liked bunch of people and he wasn't surprised that a group of rebels wanted to take them out. But it was always possible that there was another reason. The fact that they were captured instead of killed was reason enough to question it.

"Something about extra manpower. Weaken the government?" Dale shrugged in the chair indifferently, even while his arms were restrained behind his back.

Maes raised an eyebrow. "That sounded like a question." He understood the part about weakening the military, but the extra manpower part was unexpected.

"Hey, they don't tell me a whole lot." Hughes didn't respond and settled for just staring the rebel down. The idea was to make him feel uncomfortable by the silence and give more information. He knew it worked Dale struggled to keep eye contact bit down on his lip. "I dunno... The boss is kinda sadistic, you know. He likes to lock people in dark rooms and kill them real slowly. That uh- that could just be a weird rumor but that's what I've heard," he went on, looking awkwardly to the side.

"And you'd still follow a man like that?"

The young man shrugged again. "They help my family pay the crazy high taxes that were set by you people. And, they keep them safe from thieves. That's why I joined in the first place..."

So the rebels offered protection in exchange for manpower. Interesting.

"So what's the name of your boss, anyway?" Hughes asked casually. He noticed Hawkeye jotting down a few notes in the back of the room, but quickly looked away to avoid drawing attention to her.

The rebel looked startled. "Eh... I can't tell you that."

"Why not?" He asked easily. "It's just a name. He's probably untouchable right now anyway. What's the harm?"

Dale shook his head. "Nope, not gonna tell you."

He seemed quite set on that... There must be a very good reason as to why he couldn't even say a name. The military were yet to track down the rebels yet anyway; knowing who was in charge wouldn't change that. Unless... He was beginning to wonder if the boss was involved with the military as well. If that was the case, then it would have been much easier to track them down.

Believing that he probably wasn't going to get that answer out of the kid, Hughes decided to move on. "Alright then... So how do you plan on removing the Fuhrer and his generals from power?" Dale didn't respond and just looked away, apparently finding the surface of the table to be very interesting. "I'm well aware that you rebels have been stealing explosives and firearms. What are you going to use them all for?"

Once again, Bayer didn't answer. That was a convenient moment to switch to the silent treatment...

"Early, you agreed to speak. Or did you forget?"

"I can't tell you everything," the rebel said in a tone that suggested that it was obvious.

Hughes refrained from sighing and looked over to the First Lieutenant, hoping that she had any ideas. She simply looked back at him with an expression that was the equivalent of a shrug He supposed there was nothing else to do but switch tactics.

"You were captured before you could've found out, but several rebel trucks drove away from the cabin during the fight." Dale looked up at him curiously, silently asking why the Lt. Colonel mentioned them. "Where were they going?"

Dale watched him quietly for a moment before suddenly scoffing nervously. "What makes you think that I know everything that goes on there? Don't you get how low on the chain of command I am?"

"I believe that you know where they were going. You were captured in the area where they departed."

"I'm won't tell," he muttered. Hughes only asked the question again, only causing to further annoy the young man. "I told you; I'm not going to rat out the other base-" He slammed his mouth shut before he could finish the statement.

Hughes had to keep himself from smiling victoriously. Not only did he learn that there were several bases within driving distance of the cabin, but he also found out that Dale indeed knew where they were heading.

"Well, it doesn't matter much anyway," the Lt. Colonel sighed loudly. "Some of the trucks never made it to their destination anyway."

"Wait, what?" The young rebel asked, suddenly looking nervous. It seemed that Maes found some kind of weak spot... Bayer was probably concerned for the drivers. Perhaps he was buddies with them... "What do you mean?"

Hughes shrugged and glanced away from him. "Something happened to some of them. But if you're not going to tell me what I need to know, why should I tell you?" Dale narrowed his eyes and bit his lip as he understood what the older man wanted. "But I'll make a trade."

Several long seconds passed before the rebel lowered his head in defeat. "Fine, I'll tell you where they were going," he sighed desperately. "I think there were like, four or five trucks there. Some of them went together and others went alone.

"One group was going somewhere pretty far away. I honestly don't know where it is; only that it's east of the cabin. Another was going to some underground bunker thing. Good luck finding that," he added sarcastically. "And the others were going to the very top of the mountain... So... Which one never made it?" Dale asked with a mix of both nervousness and hope.

Hughes looked down at him in consideration for a moment. From what he was told, the two trucks that were found blown to pieces must have been heading for the mountain peak. Part of him was hoping that the people who were killed in the car explosions weren't the people who he was worried for, despite their positions. There was nothing worse that losing people that you cared about.

"The two cars that were going up the mountain were... interrupted," he explained carefully.

Dale Bayer visibly hesitated; his eyes widened from shock and he struggled to speak before finally blurting out: "What happened to them?"

Hughes was silent for a moment. "I'll tell you if you tell me what your boss's plans are." He hated to keep the kid in a cliffhanger like that. Obviously, the people who were killed in the explosion were the ones who he was worried about and it was inhumane to keep that information from him. But when the mental imagine of Roy or Ed being trapped in a dark room and slowly killed appeared in his mind, he knew that he had no choice. No matter what, he had to find them. Even if it meant manipulating a captured rebel into speaking.

"What?! That's not fair! I already traded with you," he hissed angrily. Maes noticed Hawkeye shift her weight int he back, keeping a close eye on the suddenly enraged rebel.

"Listen," Hughes started, leaning over the table and placing a hand on the cold surface once more. He stared into the scared and enraged eyes of the young rebel. "I have friends who I'm worried for as well. You and I are in the same boat; I'm just doing what I need to to find them. You would do the same." He cringed inwardly, knowing that Dale's friends were already dead, while his were... hopefully not. They weren't quite on equal footing but it was as close as he was willing to get.

Dale slowly calmed down, all while his loyalty to his employers slipped behind higher priorities. "Fine..." He looked back down at the table as his shoulders hung low. "They're gonna put explosives in the Northern Command and in people's homes around the city. Blow up a few empty houses, public buildings, a wing or two of the HQ, etcetera. Then storm the building, take every soldier in their hostage and demand that the higher-ups step down or else they'd continue blowing stuff up. Or kill them. Something like that.

"They're apparently really good at blending in with the military... If that works, then they're going to move and do basically the same thing to each major city. Except they probably plan to mix it up each time to stay unpredictable."

Hughes's eyes widened as he listened, giving Hawkeye a quick glance to make sure that she was still taking notes. That was extremely bold plan, to say the very least. And if they managed to succeed, then countless people would die. But now that he knew what they were doing, they would be stopped. He couldn't help but notice that their plan seemingly had nothing to do with State Alchemists in particular. And it didn't quite make sense to kidnap them just to kill them... But he'd have to figure that out later. For the moment, he had to keep his side of the bargain.

"Thank you for telling me that. You just saved hundreds of lives." If not more. He straightened up and watched the kid, silently pitying him for what he was about to tell him. "We don't know exactly what happened to the two rebel trucks, but when we found them, they were both blown apart by explosions. There were three bodies found and the... remains of a fourth."

Hughes wasn't able to get half way through his explanation before Dale's eyes fell to the floor, wide and frozen, quietly whispering to himself. "Why? Why did it have to be them?"He shut his eyes and clenched his teeth together, blocking the Lt. Colonel out completely. "I- I can't believe it... Why..."

Hughes watched him sadly, knowing there was nothing he could do. He almost wanted to say something reassuring the kid but he was probably still being watched from the other side of the transparent mirror. The only thing he could do for the young man was give him time to think and continue on with his own business.

Which is exactly why he gestured over to Hawkeye, silently telling her that it he was done there. He couldn't have been able to get any more information from Bayer at that point, even if he tried. They had enough information to move forward anyway.

Now he just have to decide that do first: prepare for the impending attack, hunt down the rebels, or continue looking for the alchemists.

Chapter Text

Roy Mustang woke up to the sound of boiling water and the cracking of burning wood. At some point during the night, he must have been subconsciously drawn to the fire's warmth because when he forced his eyes opened, he realized that he had rolled to his side to face the flames.

He slept like a rock. In fact, the Colonel was mildly surprised to find that he woke up at all. Roy knew that he wouldn't have been able to get any more sleep at that point, but his eyes still felt heavy as they silently told him to drift back into unconsciousness.

Every muscle in his body was sore and demanded that he didn't move. From his position on the ground, Roy was able to see the slightest trace of sunlight peeking inside through the chimney that rose up through the round stone ceiling, telling him that the next day had begun.

What happened, anyway? All that Mustang remembered was wandering through the cold, dark forest, seeing Edward at some point, and then there was a hole in his memory. The next thing he knew, he was being hugged by a distraught was all a blur, but he was fairly certain that they managed to apologize to each other for the argument. which was another weight off his shoulders.

The blond must have dragged him there while he was out cold... Speaking of which: where was the kid?

Against the sharp protests that spiked through his body, Roy rolled over to his back to get a better look at the dimly lit cave. It was just about the same size as the last shelter but there was a very noticeable lack of fiery blond alchemists. He noticed the obnoxious red coat draped over his body but its owner was no where to be seen.

Despite the fact that he spent the night before searching for the kid dearly to the point of death, Roy wasn't worried. The pot of boiling water meant that he was there earlier that morning and the fact that Ed left his coat behind told him that wherever he went, he didn't plan on staying out for long.

He didn't have the energy to feel worried. The spinning thoughts and the aching pain from his injuries kept Roy from peacefully drifting away. His own body didn't seem to understand that he just wanted to sleep.

Without any warning, a picture of Edward flashed through his mind. It took Roy a moment to realize that it was a memory from the night before. It all clearly flooded back through his head.

Mustang remembered being aware of the warmth and recognizing the comforting sound of a fireplace but it wasn't until Edward tackled him that he actually opened his eyes and realized that he wasn't dead. It was difficult to see in their dark surroundings but the orange light that reflected off of Ed's face only served to highlight his red, puffy eyes. His hair was tied up, but stray strands stuck to his face; he seemed too preoccupied to notice. Roy may have been too disoriented to realize at the time, but thinking back on it, he knew that in that moment, Edward wasn't the same kid who he had known for years; he wasn't even the same kid who woke from a nightmare besides him two nights before.

He only saw a terrified child who was on the brink of falling apart. At first, Roy just wanted to know what had the ability to haunt the boy so badly. It only took Ed locking him into a bear hug to realize that it was he who caused that. The blond was so worried because Mustang was on the verge of death. That must have been it. The Colonel remembered the feeling of his body giving up on him and collapsing into nothingness. He didn't quite know why or how but he knew it happened and there was nothing he was able to do about it.

Despite everything that Mustang had put him through, Edward still did everything he could to keep the Colonel alive. Despite how miserable he looked (and undoubtedly felt), he still pulled through for Roy, who frankly, didn't deserve it. Ed continued to amaze him.

Roy tried to sigh but it came out as something more akin to a broken groan. He was tired of feeling so weak and useless. He had to step up his game. Mustang considered going outside to see if Edward was nearby; or perhaps he could at least move closer to the fire. Since he couldn't get any more sleep, he wanted to feel as if he was doing something.

However, the reality of the situation was crushing and his body quickly rejected the idea of moving.

How pathetic...

Then again, he didn't have to be so hard on himself. To be fair, Roy almost died just hours ago. But at the same time, he had faced death countless times in the past. During and just after the war, he even wished for it.

But not anymore. He had responsibilities, plans to change the entire country, people he had to protect; the list went on. He had things to live for and simply wouldn't allow himself to die.

And yet, it was Edward who had saved him.

Speaking of which, a light cracked through the small cave as the makeshift door that was made to keep the cold out was moved. Roy would have looked over, but he realized that at some point during his mental tangents, he had closed his eyes. As footsteps were heard walking past him, he had to figure out if opening his eyes was actually worth it or not.

It was probably Edward. Checking to see that the kid was alright would be wise, right?

Before the wary Colonel could make up his mind, he heard a familiar stream of angry curses from Edward as he approached the fire and was fiddling with the pot of water for some reason. He saw a flash of alchemic light through his closed eyelids. Roy was curious, but his eyes were still so heavy and uncooperative...

However, he wasn't given the choice anymore when he felt Edward nudge his shoulder. "Hey Colonel; wake up."

"Hrmm?" He cracked one eye open and looked up at the blond who was kneeling besides him. He was wearing the black jacket; another reminder that Roy was still in possession of his trademark coat.

"You gotta get up," he insisted, an uncharacteristic concern still lacing his voice.

Not in any mood to further worry the teenager, Roy pushed himself into a sitting position and slowly rubbed his eyes, causing the red coat to slide off of him. His muscles ached and his head spun, but the older alchemist did his best to ignore it. He blinked several times before his eyes fell on the bundle of bandages in Edwards arms. When he looked past him, Roy also noticed that the pot was pulled off of the fire to cool, and there were two staked birds cooking above the flames.

"Here," Ed said as he tossed the strands of alchemically created gauze onto Roy's outstretched legs. "I already changed mine."

Roy inwardly complained but picked up the strangely rough bandages and moved to remove the old ones. Meanwhile, Edward turned his attention back to the pot of water. He apparently approved of it, because he then gingerly poured it into a cup which he must have recently created. By the time that Roy had finished bandaging his leg and rolled his pant sleeve back down, Edward faced him with the warm cup in hand. He waited for Roy to remove his jacket and deal with the shoulder wound next.

He stiffly unbuttoned his shirt just until his shoulder was exposed, leering at the large red stain on the fabric. As he slowly and uncoordinatedly pulled the old, bloodied bandages off, he felt strangely awkward as Edward quietly watched him like a hawk. He almost wanted to reprove the blond but he already knew how he'd respond. After absolutely horrifying the blond with his near-death experience the night before, he wasn't going to take any chances with the Colonel.

As soon as the stab wound was visible, Ed leaned in slightly, scrutinizing Mustang's shoulder. The torn skin was angry and red as blood began to flow freely out of it. The skin surrounding it was slightly swollen and tender, relentlessly burning at Roy's nerves. It looked slightly infected, but nothing to worry about yet. He had no doubt that Ed noticed and was thinking the same thing.

Doing his best to ignore Edward's intense stare, Roy moved to re-wrap the injury. However, he wasn't able to make one loop around his shoulder with the gauze before his muscles strained, causing a flash of discomfort to distort his expression. Edward immediately set the cup of water to the side and inched forward, forcefully taking the roll of gauze out of Mustang's feeble grip and continued to properly wrap it around the wound. Roy was unable to complain as he was stunned into silence.

He never thought that he would see Edward Elric carefully blinding an injury for him. Guilt tightened around his chest as he thought about all that happened last night- what Ed endured while he was knocked out.

"I don't know much about hypothermia," the blond began as he sat back to examine his work. "You're probably fine by now but I'd rather not risk it." the younger alchemist handed the cup of hot water to his superior officer once he pulled his military jacket.

Mustang looked down at the water for a brief moment before shrugging and taking a sip, still feeling slightly overwhelmed by the surprising kindness and care portrayed by the kid. He flinched away from it as he nearly burned his tongue.

"So uh.. How are you feeling?" The blond asked carefully as he shifted into a more comfortable sitting position against the wall.

Roy narrowed his eyes as he looked down at the water in his hand. How did he feel?

"Tired and a little dizzy but.. But better than yesterday," he smiled wearily despite himself.

Ed nodded. "Your fever probably broke last night..."

The Colonel took another sip of the burning water and watched Edward carefully for a moment. "Edward," he started, causing the teenager to glance over to him curiously. "Thanks again. You really saved my life back there."

Ed stared at him blankly for a second before looking away and waving a hand dismissively in the air. "Yeah, yeah. You're welcome," he answered easily.

"I'm serious, Ed," he insisted, eyes narrowing slightly.

The younger alchemist's casual demeanor slowly slipped away, leaving something more thoughtful in its place. He still refused to meet Roy's eyes.

"Yeah, well; I just did what was natural. I mean, I thought you were dead," he responded slowly and shifted his weight against the wall as his eyes traveled down to look at his own shoes. The silence stretched on for several seemingly long seconds, all while Roy was figuring out what to say and trying not to let his guilt get the best of him.

"I'm sorry for putting you through that," he sighed, staring tiredly at the ground by his feet.

Edward was quick to scoff and fold his arms. "Don't be," he demanded. "It's not like any of this is your fault. It's those rebels who started all of this."

"... Yeah, that's right."

The blond chuckled to himself. "But you sure showed them a thing or two," he smirked.

The Colonel looked up at the teenager. "I did?" He asked and absentmindedly scratched his head. Edward simply blinked at him. "My memory is a bit foggy."

Ed shrugged. "Well, when I went back to that clearing where we were surrounded, I just saw a lot of scorch marks and blood. And then there was Evelyn," he continued as his eyes fell back on the dancing fire. "She deserved that," he said quietly.

Oh right. I ran into Evelyn in the forest and we fought. She had a gun, but I think I won...

"What happened to her?" Roy asked curiously, trying to figure out how their fight ended. He was able to recall running into her, being shot at, and then fighting hand-to-hand. He couldn't quite remember what happened to the gun. When he didn't hear a response right away, he looked over to Ed, who appeared to have been dealing with some kind of inner turmoil for a moment. He was biting absentmindedly at his lip and his arms were folded.

Finally, the blond glanced over to the older alchemist once more. "When I found her, she was sitting against a tree with a new bruise on the side of her head. She pointed me over to you and... that was it."

It was implied that Evelyn was abandoned there in the forest but Roy decided not to ask the boy about it. He was clearly bothered by something. The Colonel just hoped that Ed didn't indirectly blame himself for causing the stubborn unavoidable woman's death.

"I see," he said quietly. "Well, you're right." When the blond gave him a questioning look, Roy continued. "She did deserve a kick to the head. And besides; we tried to reason with her plenty of times. She had her chance." Edward almost looked startled by his words but said nothing, so he continued. "I pitied her, really," the Colonel said as he stared at nothing in particular. "I don't think she ever really believed in what she fought for. She was always trying to convince herself that she was doing the right thing. She started pretending to be someone who she simply wasn't. That kind of lifestyle is very-" Roy paused and furrowed his brow, trying to think of the right word. "- pathetic."

"Yeah," Edward muttered slowly as he pulled his legs up to his body and rested his arms on his knees.

Roy turned to face him, easily catching his golden eyes. "Listen, Edward; whatever happened to Evelyn, you're not to blame. Do you understand?"

The blond visibly hesitated. "I know that," he denied quickly, coughed unconvincingly, and changed the subject. "How are we gonna get out of here, anyway? I'm getting tired of the cold and eating bir- shit!"

The teenager glanced over to the fire to suddenly remember that he was cooking a meal. The quickly pulled himself over to the fireplace and carefully rotated the plucked birds. He grimaced at the overcooked meat but didn't audibly complain. How neither of them noticed sooner, Roy wasn't sure.

"Anyway," Mustang began after Edward settled down. There was no point in dwelling on the previous topic any longer. "We have no other choice but to walk. Later, we should find some high-ground to get a better look of the area. We might be closer to a small town than North City."

Edward nodded, now keeping a firm eye on the roasting birds. "But if those guys are still looking for us, we might not get very far." Roy opened his mouth to respond but was cut off when the young alchemist shifted to his knees and pulled one of the stakes out from above the fire. He then inched over to the Colonel and threw his red coat over his shoulder. "I'm going to get a look around. I can't stand the thought that they might be nearby."

"Wait, Ed!" Roy tried to stop him as the kid jumped to his feet and moved towards the exit, all while carrying the bird kabob. He cursed quietly to himself, already knowing that there was no stopping him. It's not like he could ave gone in Ed's place. And besides; scoping the area out wasn't a terrible idea. "Don't do anything reckless."

"Yeah, I'll be fine. I won't do anything at all," he ensured with a cocky grin and disappeared from sight through the small opening, leaving Roy alone once more.

The older man sighed and leaned back again. Once more, he was letting the kid do all of the work. He'd have to find a chance to make up for it at some point.

Edward was quick to inhale the roasted bird and toss the stick as he strolled through the forest. He started by following along the cliff-side where he build the new shelter. He tried to pick the direction opposite to where he encountered Evelyn the night before. He really didn't want to stumble over a corpse; in fact, he didn't even want to think about that. Shoving that thought out of his head, Edward continued on.

The sunlight that managed to slip through the thin layer of clouds brightly reflected off of the sheet of snow, although it did nothing to make him feel any warmer.

He learned earlier that day that they had slept the morning away again. Understandable, considering they both spend the entire night wandering through an unforgiving storm and avoiding people who wanted them dead.

Walking around during the day was so much easier in comparison. Yes, the snow was still falling and the air froze his very breath, but Edward was at least able to see his surroundings and it didn't feel like the entire world was slowly crumbling away with each falling snowflake.

But then again, he could have just been engulfed by hopelessness because he was convinced that his superior officer had frozen to death.

Little did he knew at the time that the situation wasn't as bad as it seemed. He had actually saved Mustang from dying. Part of him wanted to rub that fact in the older man's face when he woke up but at the time, Ed was far too relieved to even consider it. As loath as he was to think about it, Roy could have actually died if Edward was just a little bit slower. Had he taken just a few more minutes to find the cold, motionless body in the snow, everything could have been different.

Putting that thought behind him, Edward took a deep breath of the cold, crisp air. It was a new day, filled with all new chances to find a way home. Or at least to North City. He was alive and well, Roy was also alive, he hadn't seen a trace of the rebels all day; things were looking... well, not good, but they were definitely okay at the very least.

Pulling the flashy red coat tighter around his body, Edward's eyes quickly scanned the new area. He spotted what appeared to be a path in the distance. Curiously, the teenager picked up the pace and jogged over to the suspected area, all while ignoring the aching of his leg port.

He stopped along the side, confirming that it was indeed a dirt path. It was covered in snow and would have usually been difficult to see, but the lack of trees and plants stood out. That, and the fact that there were fresh tire tracks in the frost caught his attention.

The alchemist stepped out into the center of the path and looked in both directions. One way looked as if it ran along the side of the mountain but in the other direction, it went up a small hill and disappeared from sight. As he stared up at it, a small gust of wind swept through the forest and chilled his eyes, forcing him to squint.

Subconsciously placing a hand over his shoulder port, Edward walked up the hill along the side of the path. He eventually broke into an uneven jog as his makeshift leg joints began to disagree with him in the cold.

The blond reached the top of the hill and looked down, immediately gasping at what he saw.

Below in a small clearing were several familiarly daunting black trucks sat motionless and a group of people dressed in both black and blue swarmed around them in the distance. He instinctively ducked behind a nearby tree and poked his head out to watch them.

At second glance, it seemed like they were loading crates into the trucks but he wasn't quite able to see where the crates were coming from.

Simply investigating wouldn't be reckless, right? Right. It was fine as long as he didn't get caught.

Edward slipped his bright coat off and hung it over a low branch, well out of sight from the people below. As much as he liked his coat, it wasn't the best thing to wear when he was trying to be stealthy.

The teenager quietly moved down the other side of the hill, skillfully ducking behind trees and large bushes. He slowly maneuvered his way down until he was within hearing range of them. Looking through a bushy shrub, Edward was able to recognize many Amestrian uniforms among them. He felt his heart leap through his chest but quickly stomped that hope down. His eyes scanned over the people, looking for any familiar faces. However, he only recognized Nicholas Dreyse; the man who was to blame for Edward's first stab wound and and the burn on his arm that may or may not have gotten infected. The sight of the man made his blood boil; nothing would have made him happier than to give the man an automail fist to the face. If he was in better shape, then he would had half a mind to run down there in that instant. However, despite usually being impulsive, he had a bit more sense than that.

Nevertheless, it wasn't the Amestrian military; it was simply the rebels dressing up as them.

The sounds of barking orders echoed through the forest as people rushed back and forth across the clearing. From the new angle, Edward was able to see that they were pulling crates, barrels and jugs out from a large hatch in the ground. It looked like some kind of underground bunker.

"Be careful with that," he heard Nicholas growl at a pair of men who nearly dropped several jugs. Ed had no idea what was in there, but it had to have been very important to the rebels, judging by Dreyse's tone. "I'm in no mood to be burned alive," Dreyse added.

Edward noticed as a familiar blond man stepped out from the underground bunker. He wasn't holding anything, unlike the others, but just stood back to watch. "Remember to keep them separated," he yelled. "Keep the fake stuff far away from the real gunpowder. If I find see any of that in the Northern Command Center rather than the houses, I'll beat the shit out of all of you!"

Edward sneaked forward and hid behind a wide tree as the rebel boss was yelling. That was definitely Vance Madsen. He sounded a lot less charismatic than the first time they met, however.

Why were they transporting gunpowder and... oil perhaps? And Vance said that they were going to put it in the Northern HQ, as well as people's homes? Even if some of it was supposedly fake, Edward was having trouble believing what he was hearing. Or more accurately, he didn't want to believe it. They were going to blow up the center of North City and kill countless people in the process! They seemed prepared, too. At least half of the people there were dressed in the Amestrian uniform, including Madsen. Edward still had to wonder how they managed to get so many people working for them. He knew that a lot of people didn't like the military but that was ridiculous.

Edward had to tell the Colonel right away.

Or... Maybe I should stay and see what else they talk about...

The teenager inched closer, squinting his eyes to get a better look. However, his eyes shot open when he heard a snap underneath his feet. With a quick glance, he knew that he stepped on a twig. In the worst possible moment. He sensed eyes in his general direction and sprinted towards the way he came. He was in no condition to fight them all.

He heard voices but was able to make them out. Edward swerved around trees and leapt over large bushes. He held his arms in front of him to protect himself from the thin branches and twigs and extended in front of his path. He refused to turn around to check for the people who were undoubtedly chasing him; with his luck, he knew that he'd trip and fall the moment that he took his eyes off of the path ahead. Ed wasn't quite able to trust his own limbs at the moment anyway.

He reached the top of the hill and dived down the other side, stumbling slightly as his prosthetic leg slowed him down. Edward then hid behind another tree, already out of breath. Leading them to the shelter was the last thing that he wanted to do. It wasn't like Mustang was in any position to help fight anyway.

Edward clapped his hands, prepared for anything. Once he stopped moving, he was able to focus on listening for them. Except... there was nothing to listen for. We waited for a while, but there weren't any footsteps or voices; nothing.

Slowly and reluctantly, Edward turned looked around the tree, carefully keeping his breathing quiet and as steady as possible.

He stared holes into that hill for several excruciatingly long seconds, but he didn't see the slightest sign of movement besides the weak rustle of leaves from the wind and the light fall of snowflakes.

No one was following me? He asked himself skeptically and released a deep breath that he didn't realize he had been holding.

His head was throbbing from the sudden exertion of energy. He slowly drew his eyes away from the hill and glanced around his surroundings. He knew how to get back to the shelter from there but part of him didn't want to lower his guard. But at the same time, he didn't want to go back to the top of the hill to check. His paranoia got the best of him as he wondered if a dozen guns would be waiting for him if he were to go up there. It would be best to leave it be and tell Mustang about what he found out.

That would be the least reckless choice.

Giving the path one last distrusting glance, Edward turned to sprint back towards the cave. However, a thought jumped into his mind and he immediately froze and turned back. God forbid he forget his coat. Ed pulled the red fabric off of the tree branch and brushed the collected snow off of it and threw it back on. The material was colder from the lack of body heat, but he pulled it in close nonetheless.

It took him a moment to find the right area, since he made a point to blend the cave well into the side of the cliff. When Edward finally recognized the small hole that signified the entrance, he gave his surroundings once last look before quickly shuffling inside. The warmth of the cave welcomed him immediately and he almost wished that he had more time to fully appreciate it, but there were matters of greater importance.

Roy seemed to have finished the slightly overcooked meal and had fallen asleep again, using his own arms as a pillow as he was laying on his side, back pressed up against the wall by the fireplace. Edward pulled himself to his knees next to the Colonel.

"Mustang, wake up!" Edward blurted out, his nerves getting the best of his composure.

Roy's eyes shot open like an alarm just went off and they immediately fell on Edward. "I wasn't sleeping," he shot back, and placed a hand on his chest as if he just had a heart attack. "What's wrong?"

"Oh," the teenager said dumbly before remembering why he was there. "Whatever! I saw the rebels in the forest; they were loading explosives into trucks. They plan to blow up Northern Command!"

"What?" Mustang exclaimed as he pulled himself into a sitting position with a wince. "So they're turning themselves into terrorists?" He muttered to himself then turned his attention back to the blond. "What exactly happened?"

Ed took a deep breath as he tried to order his sentences before they could get jumbled in his mouth. "I saw them pulling boxes and stuff out of this underground bunker thing and then putting them into their trucks. Nicholas was there and- oh- and half of them were wearing Amestrian uniforms. Including that guy; Vance Madsen, I think. Apparently, some of their gunpowder is fake but they plan on putting all of it in the HQ and in some people's homes too. I don't know if the fake explosives are going into all the houses just to scare people or if they really do plan to blow some of them up but we have to stop them!"

Roy didn't reply at first as he absorbed all of the information. His eyes were serious and focused but the dark circles underneath were still visible.

"You said Vance Madsen was wearing a uniform?" When Edward nodded, the older alchemist scowled to himself. "How didn't I see it sooner?"

"What do you mean? Is Madsen actually in the military?"

Mustang nodded. "He's an alchemist who fought in part of the Ishvalan War of Extermination. He wasn't there for very long, so I completely forgot about him." Edward gave him a curious expression, so he continued. "Vance Madsen, the Mineral Alchemist. He was just a researcher at first who specialized in combining different minerals together, pulling specific types out, and so on and so forth. It's similar to how you pull metal out of the ground to make weapons.

"Anyway, considering the boss of the rebels was involved in such a terrible war, I can understand where they get their motivation from," the Colonel finished solemnly.

Edward considered that for a moment. "Either way, we have to stop them."

"I agree-"

"But," Edward cut in, narrowing his eyes. "You still need to rest. So-"

Roy scoffed, causing the blond to stop mid-sentence, glaring halfheartedly at the man. Mustang flashed one of his annoying, knowing smirks. "Don't underestimate me, Fullmetal."

Chapter Text

Roy Mustang and Edward Elric were the deciding factors that stood between peace and destruction, hope and despair, life and death. No one else was presented with the same opportunity to save hundreds, if not thousands of lives. Only those two alchemists had the ability to be in the right place at the right time in order to stop the anti-government rebellion's plan before it could ever begin.

They were both painfully aware of that fact after sitting down and discussing what was truly at stake. The rebel's plan and objective seemed ridiculous; laughable, even. But what if they were actually able to pull it off? What if they somehow manage to topple the current government and take control of the country? If a man filled with so many rage and resentment as Vance Madsen became the most powerful person in the country, there was no telling what he would do with it. Even if they didn't succeed, the price of allowing them to try would be too great. When it came down to it, there was no alternate path to take; they had to stop the rebels as soon as possible. The question remained: how much time did they have?

Edward said that half of the rebels he saw in the forest were already dressed in the Amestrian uniform. That led Roy to believe that those were the ones who were truly part of the military and they came directly from the city, or they were planning on moving very soon. Or both. Which means that they had no choice but to act swiftly.

Edward had picked up a stick and drawn a rough diagram of the mountain into the warm dirt besides the lively fire. It wasn't much more than an uneven circle since it was all based on assumption, but it was enough to get the point across. He marked where their shelter was and where he went to find the path earlier that day, as well as where the rebels were seen. However, it was relatively difficult to see the details of the sketch in the dimly lit cave.

Once he was done, Roy also drew in where he believed the two sides of the path most likely led; which was down to the city, and up the mountain. They were probably on that exact same path before escaping several days ago.

"So, we could cut them off here," Roy explained, using the stick to point to the closest part of the path to their current location. "But it's a possibility that they'll go up the mountain for some reason instead..." His voice trailed off as he tried to accurately predict their opponents moves.

"Even if they do," Edward began, leaning back against the wall. "What goes up must come down." The older alchemist glanced up at him for a moment, then back down to their drawing with an agreeable shrug.

"Anyway, you will create some kind of barricade in the path here to slow them down. Meanwhile, I'll go over to their bunker and see if any other alchemists are trapped down there." It was never clarified whether or not there were other kidnapped alchemists, but they had to assume so. Roy and Edward already went over the plan but Mustang wanted to clarify it all again once more. "And remember-" the Flame Alchemists started, looking directly at the kid who sat in front of him. "You are not to engage them directly."

Edward rolled his eyes, brushing the warning off easily. "Yeah, I know; I'll just trap them in a giant pit, or something." The teenager already tried arguing that he was feeling well enough to get into an all-out brawl with the rebels by himself, but Roy couldn't quite agree. It's true that they have been getting proper sleep, food and water since escaping, but they were still both injured and he couldn't risk it.

"I highly doubt that Madsen's alchemy has gotten rusty since the war. It's possible to slow them down without being seen," he pointed out, cringing at the thought of Edward going toe-to-toe against a trained State Alchemist. Not because he doubted Ed's abilities, but because he didn't know what to expect from Vance.

"I'll be fine. But what about you?" Edward asked suddenly, pointing at his superior officer accusingly. "You're the one who's still recovering from hypothermia."

"I slept it off," Roy answered easily, earning an unsatisfied glare from the kid. In truth, Roy was still feeling the affects. He felt sluggish, occasional waves of dizziness and was constantly tired since he woke, and it was not easy to forget about the two stab wounds, but it wasn't enough to keep him there either, given the circumstances. Despite everything, he was confident that he could manage. He had to.

The blond eventually gave up on seeing through the Colonel's well crafted mask and seemingly shrugged the thought off.

"What did you do with my coat?" Roy asked suddenly as the thought came out of nowhere.

"Oh, right... I hung it to dry since it got damp last night," the teenager explained as he shuffled over to the wall besides the fire and reached for the dark blue military that had been hanging there, and returned it to Roy. The Colonel hadn't noticed it before within the darkness.

The fabric wasn't completely dry but it was undoubtedly much better than the night before. But at least his jacket was dry, so it should be fine if he put the coat on over it. He did so and slipped his transmutation glove into one of the pockets.

Having nothing else to discuss, the two alchemists crawled out of the small cave. Roy stretched his back and arms, then glanced around his surroundings.

"Well," the blond began. "Let's get going," he said as he turned to lead the way.

As Roy wordlessly followed Edward through the forest, he racked his brain for anything else that needed to be said. He was basically sending Ed on yet another deadly mission. He wanted to be certain that the plan was solid enough and go over everything for the fourth time, but at that point, there was nothing he could say that would make a difference. He just had to hope that everything would play out accordingly.

The two alchemists reached the path and proceeded to move up the hill. When Roy looked over to the young blond, he was mildly surprised to see such a serious, determined expression on his face. It seemed that Edward truly understood what was on the line. (Not that he would expect anything less.) That familiar fire was shining in his eyes, slightly assuring Roy that everything would be alright.

Ed led him to the side of the snow covered road and they continued moving while dodging the thick branches and dead shrubs that were in their way. When they reached the top of the hill, the two ducked down out of sight.

There weren't as many people down in the clearing as the Colonel expected. Ed looked equally surprised, which told him that some of them must have already left. Those who remained were finishing the packing and were close to leaving as well.

Roy and Ed sneaked carefully down the other side of the hill, hoping to overhear something. Once they got closer, Roy easily recognized Vance Madsen below, scrutinizing the others as they did all of the heavy lifting.

"Alright," the blond man began loudly. "Finish up here, then get the rest of it from the other base," he commanded with a dismissive flick of his wrist. "I'll meet you all back at the city. Don't keep me waiting." Before his subordinates could even blink, Madsen turned and walked off to his own truck and climbed into the passenger seat. It seemed like someone else had been waiting in the driver's seat, because the truck immediately started up and turned away from the clearing.

"Looks like he's heading down the mountain," Edward noted quietly and stood straight up. It was his turn to jump into action and put their plan into action.

Roy nodded slowly, glancing over to the eager kid. The younger alchemists had gone off to far more dangerous missions and done far more reckless things before, but the Colonel was still worried all the same. Especially since he wasn't going to be by Ed's side to keep an eye on him. Not at first anyway. All the more reason to hurry up with his own part of the plan.

"Be careful, Fullmetal."

Edward glanced over to his superior, apparently sensing the weight in his words. He then grinned confidently. "Sure. You too. " With that said, he turned around and disappeared behind the hill to cut off Madsen further down the path.

The Colonel watched him run off for a moment before hastily turning his attention back onto the clearing. The few who remained had locked the bunker entrance and threw a white sheet on top of the large hatch to hide it within the snow. They then climbed into the several unlabeled black cars, now fully packed.

That door probably had a powerful lock mechanism of some kind, judging by the material. He was concerned about how he would break in; perhaps it was thin enough to be blown open with flame alchemy.

The engines all roared together as the vehicles began to move straight for him. Mustang kicked himself up and quickly fled back down the other side of the hill, out of their sight. Within seconds, he was able to hear the tires crushing the snow and snapping branches as they neared him. He crept deeper into the forest, further away from the path and hid behind a cluster of bushes and trees. Roy subconsciously held his breath as the group of trucks drove over the hill and straight past him. He stayed pressed against the base of a tree for several seconds and refused to even breath until he heard nothing but an icy silence.

Seems like they're gone... Alright, Mustang; let's get this over with.

Roy made his way back to the path; dead twigs pulled against his coat and pants but he broke through them and walked up the hill once more until he reached the top. He cautiously scanned the clearing below for a moment and continued down only when he confirmed that there wasn't any movement whatsoever. The Colonel was on constant high alert, casting quick glances in every direction as he quietly moved through the layers of snow.

When he reached the clearing, Roy hesitated for the slightest second. His years of military training taught him to always dislike open spaces, especially when in enemy territory. But nevertheless, he stomped that thought down and hurried over to the bunker hatch. Up close, finding the camouflage sheet was an easy task and he easily tossed it off of the thick metal doors that went into the ground.

He went in closer to examine the strength of the lock and pulled on the handle, despite knowing it wouldn't budge.

Except- it did.

Mustang was certain that he watched the rebels lock the doors, so why did it open freely for him? That was... unsettling to say the least. But he didn't have the time to let it slow him down. He would just have to proceed with extra caution.

Roy pulled the door wide open and slowly walked down the steep staircase, all while digging in his pocket for his ignition glove. Small, florescent light lit up the bunker and reflected off of the stone floors and walls, keeping the alchemist from tripping on the steps. He kept close to the wall once he reached the bottom and stared down a small hallway with about three doors on each side, then one more at the very end. Every door was closed except for the middle one on his left. Mustang hadn't seen much of the bunker and it was already much larger than expected. However, the ceiling was relatively low and the increasing wind from outside swept through the open hatch, creating an eerie whistle to resonate through the hall. And even though he was only a few feet below the surface, the air already felt colder.

Starting with the first door on his right, Roy slowly pushed it open, hand prepared to snap if necessary. However, the small room was completely empty save for a few empty boxes and crates in the corner. The next two rooms he checked were nearly exactly the same.

The fourth room was the one with the ajar door. The inside resembled an old hospital room. Slightly outdated medical equipment sat besides two empty beds. One of the beds were made, while the other looked like someone had been laying there the night before. The sight caused many questions to stir through his mind, but none of them seemed relevant to his objective.

Finding nothing of interest, Roy moved on to the next too rooms; one held many more small beds, while the last was yet another empty storage room.

The entire base was deserted. The must have all been called to the field to begin their destructive plan.

Eager to get out, the Colonel slowly turned the handle of the very last room at the end of the hall. He half expected it to be just as disappointing as the others; meaning that he would have completely wasted his time.

However, that was not the case. The last room was as brightly lit as the rest of the bunker but there was an old wooden desk pushed up against the back wall. It seemed terribly out of place in the harsh, lonely bunker. A few gray filing cabinets lined one of the walls, while the opposing wall was uncomfortably bare. This certainly wasn't there most luxurious base.

But at least he knew that the bunker door wasn't open because someone came in before him. Perhaps someone who was left behind walked out while Roy was in hiding? Or maybe they just failed to lock it properly.

Roy approached the desk and opened the top drawer. Inside were many folders and papers. Even at first glance, they already looked promising.

Looks like I'm not wasting my time after all, Mustang mused to himself as he took a seat at the desk and pulled the contents out. Wanting to get through the information as quickly as possible, he gave every paper he had out a quick glance and decided on the one that looked the shortest.

The Flame Alchemist felt his heart rate increase as he noticed himself and Edward included within a list of names.

Argus, Clovis (Firearm Alchemist) - Location: Base #1 - Experienced, calm, quiet. Is too loyal to the military and government. No amount of threats or bribery can convince him to join. Waste of time, energy and resources. Status: Deceased

Elric, Edward (Fullmetal Alchemist) - Location: Base #3 - Young, stubborn and brash. Isn't budging but it's believed he can be broken in time. His superior officer [Mustang, Roy] can be used and leverage. Status: Escaped

Galine, Nathan (Onxy Alchemist) - Location: Base #3 - Quiet and very uncooperative. Doesn't respond to threats. However, he suffered from PTSD from the Creta border war before transferring north. If guilt cannot be used to convince him, then it can be used for torture purposes instead. Status: In Custody/Relocated to Base #2

Roy stopped reading for a moment, disturbed to learn that there was another alchemist in the same cabin that he and Ed were held at. For all he knew, Nathan Galine could have been in the room next to theirs, separated by sound-proof walls to keep out their screams. He knew other trucks left the cabin and went in different directions, but he never stopped to think that there were other captives there. The thought made him feel sick to his stomach...

Garda, Niccolo (Iron Comet Alchemist) - Location: Base #2 - Confident and unwavering. Proudly participated in Ishval Civil War. No point in trying to get him to repent. Status: In Custody

Lorens, Beatrix (Toxic Alchemist) - Location: Base #1 - Clever and stubborn. Regrets fighting during Ishvalan Civil War. Gets flashbacks whenever the war in mentioned. She is yet to cooperate but with enough persuasion, it may be possible to convince her otherwise. Status: In Custody

Mustang, Roy (Flame Alchemist) - Location: Base #3 - Intelligent, cautious and difficult to read. Seems very resentful towards us but apparently prioritizes his subordinate's [Elric, Edward] life above his own. Largely involved in Ishvalan Civil War and carries deep regrets. Can be convinced using subordinate and/or guilt from war. Status: Escaped

Novellus, Simon (Glacier Alchemist) - Location: Base #2 - Stubborn, Ignorant and in denial. Spent majority of military career in the Briggs Mountain Range and paid little attention to outside world. Can be convinced with enough time and pressure. Status: In Custody

Ruler, Raine (Crystal Blade Alchemist) - Location: N/A - Escaped upon arriving at Base #5. Status: Assumed Deceased

Silvera, Diana (Living Earth Alchemist) - Location: Base #4 - Careful, agreeable and talkative. Spent several months fighting in Aurgro. Eagerly agree to join almost immediately after waking up. It's unclear if she is honest or is trying to deceive us. Is unable to convince previous cell-mate [Vitae, Besollus] to join as well, but is convinced he will in time. Status: Under Surveillance

Vitae, Besollus (Dark Stone Alchemist) - Location: Base #4 - Angry and resilient. Fought in skirmishes against Drachma and in Ishvalan Civil War. Seems to dislike war, but accepts it. Is unaffected by previous cell-mate's [Silvera, Diana] attempts to convince him. Status: In Custody

Roy stared at the page for several seconds after finishing before finally setting it off to the side with a heavy sigh.

Just as he feared, all of the alchemists who he gathered with during the drills were all captured. Some of them were even murdered in cold blood. The Colonel glared down at the surface of the desk as he internally seethed. Those rebels dragged so many people into their game.

While Roy believed that those who participated in events such as the Ishvalan War of Extermination had to be punished somehow, that was no way to go about it. Nothing could excuse senseless murder. Not to mention that, judging by the information in front of him, some of the missing alchemists had done nothing wrong.

Nevertheless, Roy opened a file and continued skimming through the papers, forcing himself to focus on the task at hand.

The Colonel furrowed his brow as he shifted through several papers that seemed to be nothing but geography research. They held information on the mountains, trees and animals in the Northern area and even briefly mentioned early signs of human activity from thousands of years ago. He saw another set of papers just like it but for the Eastern area instead, and then another on Central.

How incredibly random...

It wasn't until he noticed how certain words were circled and underlines when he began to wonder if they were actually coded alchemy notes. Since Vance Madsen was the Mineral Alchemist, it wouldn't be stretch to say that he knew a thing or two about the environment. And because he was the boss, it made sense that he would take ownership of the only office in the underground bunker.

However, Mustang didn't have the time or interest to waste time decoding the notes. It would have been nice to understand how his alchemy worked, but taking the time to figure it out simply wasn't worth it.

He tossed those folders back into the drawer and moved onto another small pile. Several letters and notes were paper-clipped to each other.

The first letter he quickly read through seemed to be addressed to Madsen. The writer of the note was apparently sending weapons for him to use and give out to troops. Solid proof that resourceful people were backing the rebels.

Roy nearly missed it, but he noticed that there was another page underneath that letter. With a quick look, he assumed that it was Vance's response. The letter didn't look long, so he decided to skim through it until something caught his eye. He went back to beginning of the particular paragraph and reread it.

... I don't intend to use any of the weaponry myself. My alchemy is all I'll need to overpower the military, now that I am no longer bound to the law of equivalent exchange. Some strange people who are supporters of our cause gifted me with a small, red stone. I'm sure you have heard the rumors as well.

These particular supporters seem to share my opinion on the government and even encouraged me to wreck as much havoc as possible. Despite that, I'll only do what's necessary, but-

The handwriting suddenly stopped as if he was distracted mid-thought.

Roy felt his blood chill in his veins, and his heart skipped a beat. Vance Madsen was in possession of a Philosophers Stone. Of course, he had heard rumors of that; that's the exact reason as to why Edward traveled to North City in the first place, but he completely forgot about it in all of the recent activity.

I wonder if Ed forgot about it too- shit! Ed! If he sees that stone... His thoughts trailed off as he hastily stood from the desk, and stuffed the papers back inside.

Edward certainly had a good head on his shoulders but as soon as a Philosopher Stone is put into the equation, Roy could only guess what could happen. He had no doubt that the young alchemist would make a move for it if he saw the red rock. He'd do anything if it meant returning is brother to his original body.

However, Roy didn't want to think about what Vance was capable of with the stone at his disposal. He couldn't allow Edward to face him alone.

The Colonel turned out of the room and ran down the hall until he reached the large trap door that was thankfully still wide open. He hastily charged up the steep steps and shut the metal doors behind him.

He froze as soon as he reached ground level and stared down both paths. With way would be faster? Should he follow the path Vance originally took, or go back the way they came and hope that he could find the exact spot where Edward rejoined the other side of the path?

Whatever he did, he better damn well choose correctly.

The dirt road supposedly twisted and turned all throughout the mountain's curves. Unlike Ed, Mustang was apparently paying close attention to it when they were being relocated several days before. The sketchy diagram that they drew out earlier that day wasn't completely accurate, but it was close enough to give Edward a good idea of where to go. Besides, there was only one small section of the road that truly mattered.

That section was where the path swerved close very close to another part of the same path, but lower down the mountain. While vehicles would have to take the long way around, Edward had the ability to simply hike down the cliff side in a matter of minutes. With alchemy on his side, it shouldn't be a difficult task. In theory, anyway. Variables such as the thick layer of snow and his clumsy prosthetic leg made things slightly more tedious.

However, it was nothing that Edward Elric couldn't handle.

The teenager took one step down the slope and his foot immediately lost traction and his began to slide down the cliff. Ed was quick to clap and bring his hands down to the slanted ground, extending and straightening the earth to keep him from falling any further.

Edward steadied himself, then slowly pulled himself back up to his feet.

"That was close," he huffed quietly as he peered over the edge. The young alchemist was barely able to make out the other part of the path through the trees and snow. He still had a ways to go, but it was infinitely faster than going around.

The Elric took a deep breath before continuing down. However, he knelt to the ground as he stepped onto the slope once more, keeping his hands down to balance himself. His weight immediately pulled him down the slippery surface but he was prepared that time. He aimed to slide down to a tree that interrupted his path and latched onto the bark to still himself.

The teenager looked down again, grimacing slightly as the distance between him and his destination.

This doesn't have to be so difficult. He smirked to himself when several unique ideas appeared in his mind.

Edward clapped his hands once more, brushed some snow away from an area on the ground, and his palms against the cold earth. A staircase formed out of the steep slope, complete with a stylish rail to hold onto it. Satisfied, Edward stepped onto it and easily walked down the steps with a hand gliding down the smooth rail.

The staircase didn't go all the way down because he didn't want to exert too much energy by trying to keep it all together. When he got to the end, Edward leapt down to the ground, leaving deep tracks in the snow.

Finding the path once again was easy enough. There were no fresh tire tracks in the snow, so he successfully beat Vance to it.

Alright... What's the most practical choice here? Fallen trees, pitfall trap, a giant wall; a pitfall sounds pretty good. Or maybe-

While Ed was stepping out of the thick trees, his thoughts were abruptly interrupted when his eyes fell on a figure standing in the middle of the path. He gasped and pulled himself back under cover.

The blond waited, but there was no sound of movement. Perhaps they didn't see him? He peered out from behind a large bush to see the figure still standing there, several yards away from him. They had a semi-long black coat with a hood that effectively covered their face.

It looked like there was another player in the game. Edward couldn't begin to guess who that was and why there were there. He was only able to assume that they were waiting for Vance Madsen as well.

Perhaps it was another kidnapped alchemist who planned to stop Madsen and the rebels too? But then again, it could have also been one of his allies. There were too many possibilities, so Edward decided to sit back and wait. When Vance's car eventually arrived, he would stop anyway. Ed would decide what to do as soon as he found out who's side that person was on.

He laid low and waited in the cold with his arms wrapped around his body and occasionally one his automail ports. He didn't have to wait long before the sound of an engine was heard.

A black truck rolled around the corner and slowed to a stop when the people inside saw the person standing in their way. There was a sense of hesitation in the air as the two inside did nothing for several long seconds. Finally, the driver's door opened and a terribly familiar face appeared. Edward felt a blast of anger flow through him as he grit his teeth together at the sight.

Nicholas Dreyse stood up on the door frame, looking out at the lone figure. He looked exasperated and impatient.

"What are you doing here?" he sighed, addressing the stranger.

"... I can help," the voice responded. Edward furrowed his brow, straining his eyes to see and confirm his suspicions.

"No, you can't," the man responded firmly. "You need to go back to the base and rest!"

"I'm not going to just sit there!" She shot back quickly.

Nicholas sighed. "Evelyn-"

"No! You need my help! You don't understand-"

Edward momentarily tuned out their conversation. Of course the voice was familiar but it seemed impossible. However, Nicholas just proved it; that was Evelyn Walter, alive and well. How had she survived?! Ed wasn't particularly disappointed since he didn't want her to die per-say, but he was surprised all the same. It didn't seem possible those temperatures. But then again, Roy did exactly that.

Only because I found him, he reminded himself. Someone must have stumbled over Evelyn's body as well. But that just seemed so... unlikely.

Nevertheless, it was her and that meant that he just had another problem to deal with.

"-who escaped are still around here and they're trying to stop you," Evelyn warned, causing Edward to tune back in.

How the hell did she know that?! She just appeared out of nowhere and knew that we were on to them!

Nicholas didn't respond right away. He glanced into the car as Vance apparently said something, too quietly for Ed to hear. The dark haired man straightened up again and faced the woman as he stepped down from the vehicle and shut the door behind him.

"Just get into the car, Evelyn. We'll drive you back to the bunker."

"Not when we're so close." She shook her head, causing the hood to fall off, exposing her light brown hair that wasn't tied up for once, but fell over her shoulders instead. "He's right there!"

Edward felt his heart jump through his chest when Evelyn pointed directly at him. She must have seen him when he blindly stepped earlier. Nicholas was quick to pull out a handgun from the holster on his belt and pointed it at the blond as soon as his eyes made contact with the flashy red coat.

Shit, Edward cursed inwardly as he reluctantly rose to his feet and held his hands up in surrender. (Not after lightly pressing his palms together, however.)

Nicholas narrowed his eyes at the kid. "What do you think you're doing?"

Edward returned his stare, trying his best to appear undaunted by the gun aimed for his head. "Just going for a nature walk," he forced himself to sound as casual as possible, though the worry probably slipped through his voice. "What do you think you're doing? And better yet-" his eyes shifted over to Evelyn. "- how are you alive?"

"I found my gun," she replied easily as pride laced her tone. Edward vaguely remembered hearing a gunshot before finding Roy, now that he thought back. But he never saw a gun near Evelyn. It must have been kicked behind a plant or something. She probably shot a few rounds to attract some kind of nearby search party.

Ed was just surprised that he didn't hear it. Then again, he was very distracted that night. And he passed out in the cave only a few minutes later.

"You've already wasted too much of our time," Nicholas growled from annoyance and pulled the trigger without hesitation. Edward shifted his weight to the side and felt the bullet fly past his head. He hit the ground and immediately collided his palms to the earth, creating a protective wall with an alchemic spark.

The situation reminded him too much of when he had to separate from Mustang because of those people; when he was surrounded in that clearing and had no other choice.

But this time, it was Edward who would be on the offensive. The blond clapped once more as he hid behind the small wall and suddenly, large spires formed from the ground, arched into the air, and aimed for where Nicholas was standing. Their collision with the snow-covered ground caused a poof of dust to spread into the air. He heard coughing, so the attack must have barely missed. That was more-or-less what Ed had planned.

The Fullmetal Alchemist charged out from the safety of the wall and went straight for Nicholas. The distracted man didn't have much time to react before he felt a metal fist ram into the side of his face. He tumbled backwards from the force and fell down into the snow, momentarily dazed. His gun went flying to the side and disappeared into the snow.

"Nicholas!" Evelyn gasped just before her blue eyes locked on Edward. However, it appeared that she wasn't armed. With a scowl in place, the woman started decisively walking towards the teenager as if she was about to punch him right back.

Before Edward could respond, Nicholas pulled himself up to a sitting position. "Stop," he murmured, now nursing a swollen cheek with one hand and raising the other to signal to her. "Just stay back. Don't-" he slowly rose to his feet with a huff. "- get involved. You're getting obsessed." Evelyn froze, and shock and uncertainty battled for dominance.

He turned back to the teenager, fists clenched in front of him. Surprisingly enough, it looked like no one planned on joining in a making the fight unfair. Ed looked past Nicholas and into the truck behind them; he saw Vance sitting in the passenger's seat, watching with a bored expression.

Nicholas advanced and aimed to punch Edward in the head. He took a step back and caught the older man's fist in his automail one; however, he had to release to dodge when the rebel used his other fist instead.

Edward immediately ran up to him and jumped into the air, all while swinging his flesh leg towards the man's head. Nicholas brought up his forearms to block the blow and throw him off. The alchemist easily landed into the snow and charged once more to strike him in the gut.

The rebel dodged to the side and brought a knee into Ed's side, landing a blow right below his ribs, causing him to hunch over in pain. He then kicked the kid down into snow and stood over his body. Edward shifted his angle on the ground to glare up at the man as he slowly made his way back up, gritting his teeth through the lingering pain.

Nicholas didn't want to give him time to recover and moved to kick him in the side again. Edward quickly drew his hand away from his aching side and rose his metal forearm to block the attack, particularly for Nicholas's shin. Edward turned his body to the side to keep himself from falling over from the force of the attack. Meanwhile, the older man drew his leg back, cursing angrily as he was forced to keep his weight off if his right leg.

Edward smirked victoriously as he climbed to his feet but the expression was quickly swept away from Nicholas reached into his jacket and pulled out another gun.

The older man glared at the kid as his finger hovered over the trigger. "You annoying little-"

He was interrupted when the land between them suddenly erupted in flames and the harsh warmth cut through the frosty air. Most people would have been terrified at the sight but Ed recognized that fire. It told him that everything was alright.

"Don't you dare," the Colonel breathed threateningly towards the armed rebel, who was currently distracted by putting out the fire that caught on his outstretched arm.

The blond took several steps away from the rebels and glanced over to the source of the flame alchemy. Roy Mustang stood at the side of the road, breathing heavily as if he just ran a marathon. His left arm was still held up in case ha had to snap again, while his right rested protectively on his injured shoulder. Small twigs and dead leaves stuck to his long winter coat and hair, telling Ed that he had been running through the forest. Since he managed to catch up so quickly, Edward had to assume that the Colonel managed to find the staircase.

The fire begun to die down as the four stared each other down on the small dirt path.

"Hey Evelyn." All four turned their attention over to the previously forgotten truck to see Vance watching them through the opened window. "Pick up that gun there and prove your worth," the blond man said easily. His casual order for Evelyn to kill them sent shivers down Ed's spine. That man probably had a god complex.

She stared at him silently for a moment- perhaps from hesitation or something else completely- and moved to pick up Nicholas's abandoned handgun. She didn't raise it, keeping the weapon pointed towards the ground. Her eyes jumped between the three males and the ground as she wore a strange, unreadable expression. Edward wasn't sure if she was just reluctant to shoot for some reason or what. Lately, the two State Alchemists have given her no reason to feel reluctant to shoot them.

He didn't have much time to ponder the matter before Nicholas clicked his tongue and rose his gun once more, but aimed for Roy instead. The Colonel already had his left arm raised and snapped just as the bang of the gun sounded through the air and echoed across the trees.

Roy's pin-point aiming hit the rebel's hands perfectly, forcing him to drop the weapon from the sheer shock and pain. He yelled and shook his hands to cool down the intense burning.

The bullet left a deep graze in Mustang's right arm, which earned a fresh scowl to find itself on his expression.

"Let's take care of these guys quickly, Fullmetal," the Colonel said, sending Edward a confident glance. The teenager returned it with a smirk and a nod.

Roy turned his attention to Evelyn, who was gripping the gun tightly but was yet to make a move.

Meanwhile, Ed decided to go after Nicholas while he was distracted. The man had dug his burnt hands into the thick layer of snow by the time Edward caught up to him. However, he apparently saw the teenager coming because he swung his leg out just as the kid was going to hand a hit and caused him to trip onto the icy ground.

The rebel stood up and rose a foot above Ed's exposed stomach. "You little shit," he growled just before his foot came down. The alchemist rolled out of the way but Nicholas's foot caught his red coat instead. Caught mid-roll, Edward had no choice but to turn and kick the man's legs out from under him. The two continued to wrestle in the snow, covering themselves in the frost.

Meanwhile, Roy and Evelyn were staring at each other showdown-style. She rose the gun slightly with every step he took until he eventually stopped. Mustang still had his arm outstretched with his hand poised to snap.

"Just put the gun down, Evelyn," Roy said in a last attempt to reason with her.

"You don't understand," she muttered. "This is all I have. I can't just give it up!"

"There's nothing here for you; don't you see that?" He asked insistently, glancing over to the other fight for a brief moment. She didn't respond, so he sighed and continued.

"I'm a war hero, remember? That means that I'm single-handedly responsible for the loss of countless lives," Roy explained solemnly, internally loathing himself. "Do you really want to carry that burden as well? Is this worth it?!" He demanded, gesturing to the two other rebels with his right arm as blood soaked down his sleeve.

"Be quiet!" Evelyn yelled as she brought the gun up to Roy's chest, tears swelling in her eyes. "I'm so tired of doubting myself. I don't care anymore! I've made up my mind and there's nothing you can say to change it!"

Mustang's attention was yanked away from the threatening woman when Edward was tripped by Nicholas once more and immediately pulled into a headlock. He clearly hated being so close to the man but no amount of struggling could've helped him. He strained to look over at the Colonel in the uncomfortable position that he was stuck in.

As he did so, he also saw Evelyn lower the gun and ran forward, straight for the older alchemist.

"Roy!" Ed quickly yelled once his mind managed to register that was happening. Mustang instinctively snapped in that instant, then turned just in time to shield himself from getting rammed in the gut by Evelyn. The flames were blindly shot into the air and harmlessly disappeared. However, the force of Evelyn's attack made him stumble backwards off the path until his back collided against a large tree, the wind knocked from his lungs. He stiffly opened his eyes to stare down the barrel of a gun.

Edward opened his mouth to shout something- he had no idea what- but Nicholas's grip on his throat tightened, forcing him to think twice.

"Bastard," Ed grumbled in the headlock and uselessly watched Roy and Evelyn. He had to do something. He had to figure out some way out to help...

Roy's eyes were widened for a moment but he was quick to recover his composure despite the gun that was held six inches away from his head. He returned Evelyn's conflicted gaze with a calm and calculating one.

"... Do you honestly think this is right?"

Evelyn looked as if she was going to argue and shoot his attempts down again, but she stopped and stuttered. "I- I don't know," she replied quietly. "But... It doesn't m-matter."

"Stop being ignorant!" Mustang yelled, causing the woman to flinch and tighten her grip around the weapon. "You keep pretending and lying to yourself... But if you think you can pull that trigger and kill me right now without any regret or remorse, than do it."

Edward stiffened as he listened to the Colonel. He knew that the other alchemist was trying to do, but it was risky. (And yet Roy thought he was the reckless one.) His golden eyes fell on Evelyn, watching for any sign that she was going to pull the trigger. But she looked very conflicted.

"Don't listen to him, Evelyn," Nicholas interjected impatiently. "Just get it over with so we can move on already!" Edward tried to elbow him in the gut, but it didn't really work out as he planned. The rebel just tightened his grip around Ed's head, causing him to cough uncomfortably.

"Well?" Roy asked, raising an eyebrow curiously. "What's it going to be?" He was judging her; reminding her that her actions would forever follow her and she would be dead wrong if she thought killing a man was something that could be brushed under a rug and forgotten.

Evelyn stared back into Roy's dark, scrutinizing eyes as her vision blurred from a newly formed moisture. The weight of his words caused her hands to shake uncontrollably until the gun fell from her hands. All of the strength left her body at once and her knees collapsed into the snow besides the gun.

Roy placed a hand on her trembling body as she sobbed into her hands. "Good choice."

Ed hadn't realized that he was holding his breath until he released a sigh of relief. However, Nicholas muttered something under his breath and looked around in search for his other lost gun. He shifted his grip around Edward's neck, giving him the opportunity to properly elbow the man in the gut, as he planned to do before. The rebel's hold weakened, allowing Ed to slip away and create a much-needed distance.

"That was disappointing." All eyes fell on Vance Madsen as he stepped out of the black vehicle, hands in his coat pockets. "I always had my doubts about you, Evelyn. But I never quite expected you to betray our cause." The blond man looked down at her from a distance as if he was looking at a inconvenient bug.

She flinched away from his harsh words and Mustang straightened up to stare him down.

"No, I-" She stammered to speak but didn't have any excuses.

Nicholas slowly walked over to Vance with a hand pressed against his torso after finding his gun in the snow. Along with the large bruise on the side of his head, he looked thoroughly beat-up.

"I apologize, sir," he struggled to speak clearly from Ed's most recent attack. "It was my responsibility to keep her on track, but-"

Vance interrupted with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Don't worry about it, Dreyse. She was just yet another waste of time from the beginning... Speaking of which, we've already been here for far too long. Let's clean up quickly and get going."

Nicholas simply nodded as Vance began to approach the other three. Edward ran over to join them and clapped his hands in preparation. Mustang tugged on his ignition glove and prepared himself to attack at any time as well. Evelyn remained hunched on the ground, most likely oblivious to the situation as she was trapped in her own mind.

As Vance stepped closer, his hands slowly rose out from his pockets. A faint, red gleam appeared from his hand. Edward suddenly felt everything around him freeze; the blood pumped loudly in his head as his mind rung from alarm and recognition.

Vance Madsen had a Philosopher's Stone.

Chapter Text

Dark clouds rolled in to cover the sun, casting shadows over the mountain and banishing all warmth from below. The wind began to pick up, whistling ominously through the trees and sweeping the fallen snow across the ground.

Roy Mustang stood at the edge of an old path as his long military coat fluttered to the side in the wind as his bangs threatened to poke at his eyes. When he left the underground bunker in a panic, he proceeded to wildly sprint through the forest and luckily came across a staircase that went down the side of the mountain that had a very Ed-like flair to it. The running did no favors for the wounds in his leg and shoulder and the whole recovering-from-hypothermia thing took its tole on the Colonel as well.

However, he couldn't afford for any of that to interfere. Roy's eyes locked on Vance Madsen, who was slowly approaching him. The man with the messy dark blond hair and narrow brown eyes stared back, smirking as if he knew he had already won.

The Fullmetal Alchemist hastily joined Roy's side of the battlefield and clapped his hands together as he faced their opponent. Despite his earlier scuffle with Nicholas Dreyse, he seemed to be bursting with energy that was just waiting to be unleashed. Alongside him, Roy gave his ignition glove an assuring tug, tightening the reactive fabric around his fingers.

Meanwhile, Evelyn was staring into space on her knees. After Roy managed to completely shatter the appearance that she had tried to craft for herself, she needed a moment to pick up the pieces.

Vance's eyes shifted between the two alchemists, having completely forgotten about the woman. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled something out that glimmered a bright red despite the lack of sunlight. A small, red stone was revealed, which Madsen casually rolled between in fingers.

When Edward went rigged besides him, Roy's suspicions were confirmed; it had to be the Philosopher's Stone. It was a rumor; a myth. And yet there it was, about to be used against them. The worst part about it was that they didn't quite know what to expect. Besides the stories they've heard, there was nothing to go off of. The two alchemists could only guess the extent of Vance's new terrible power until he decided to release it on them at full force.

"Stay out of this, Dreyse," Vance ordered without sparing is subordinate a glance. "I'll take care of it."

Apparently, they wouldn't have to wait long.

Vance Madsen stopped several feet away from the other alchemists and knelt down, placing both hands on the ground next to each other, and a bright red light began to radiate. There was a brief second where Roy thought that nothing would happen; until he saw another light coming from the ground between he and Ed.

"Watch out!" He yelled and jumped backwards. Ed did the same as several large spires shot out of the ground. Strangely enough, they were all incredibly smooth, besides the sharp crystals and quartz that extended from the cones all around, causing them to look like over-sized cacti. They would have been torn to shreds if they didn't dodge the attack.

Mustang exhaled exasperatedly as he regained his balance. After making sure to see that Edward was fine, he turned back to Vance with a vexed frown. It seemed that the stone truly bypassed the need of a transmutation circle, just like Edward's alchemy. However, the ground around the attack didn't stretch; it looked like the spires simply grew out of the dirt like a plant.

No more messing around. With his left hand, the Colonel snapped and a spark of red lighting flew through the air between him and Madsen. Vance didn't need to move a muscle from his position to create a large wall to shield himself from the fire. Powerful flames burst against the wall, expanding in all directions until it finally faded. The wall was badly scorched but stood standing.

Before anyone could so much as blink, spears, blades, and shards of various minerals shot out from the wall, rocketing towards the two alchemists. Roy had no choice but to take cover, but Edward zigzagged across the road, running towards the wall at high speed. When he reached it, the blond clapped his hands together and slammed them against the vertical surface; the wall instantly collapsed and the large boulders and rocks fell backwards on Vance. However, with a simple touch to the ground, the rebel leader created a protective arch over his head out of solid iron; the boulders rolled off like they were no more than pebbles.

Roy raised his eyebrows slightly as he rejoined the battle, surprised to see that Madsen was able to pull iron out of the earth so easily; but then again, anything was possible with the Philosopher's Stone, right? Since Vance was the Mineral Alchemist, pulling out small traces of minerals was an easy task. He supposed that the stone allowed him to increase the amount of iron by bypassing the Law of Conservation of Mass; enough to create a shield, anyway.

The earth below Edward began to crumble and cave in, opening up to a pitfall trap filled with shards. The blond teenager leaped out of the way just before falling inside. Just barely holding onto the ledge of the pit, he managed to pull himself up unscathed. Roy took that moment to snap his fingers and sent more flames towards Madsen after he stepped out from the protection of the iron arch. The fire circled and twisted around him, obscuring the others view of him.

When the flames finally died, the rebel leader was nowhere to be seen. The two alchemists instantly knew that he fled underground to avoid Roy's flame alchemy. Mustang looked around cautiously, watching for any sign of him, but he only saw Edward, Evelyn, and Nicholas, who was hanging back.

When his eyes passed over the woman, they quickly returned to her and remained. She hasn't moved, still staring blankly into the space in front of him. Her light brown hair was blowing into her face, yet she seemed unfazed by it.

"Evelyn!" He yelled and noticed the smallest sign of recognition on her expression. "You can't stay there; it's too dangerous. Vance won't care if you get hurt in the crossfire," the Colonel urged, all while keeping a wary eye on the ground around him. There was no response from the woman, though he was sure that she had heard him.

Roy's attention was pulled back to the fight when he heard the ground erupting just besides him; he turned as the ground was manipulated to form something akin to a hand, but it didn't look human. It was an dark iridescent color, signifying that it was made with a mix of several different hardened minerals; most likely to make it much stronger than the ground it came from. It had six wide 'fingers' on all sides of the 'hand'. It reached out of the ground and went straight for Mustang. He knew right away that it would completely crush him if he got caught, and the material was probably too tough to be destroyed by flame alchemy.

The alchemist dove to the side, just narrowly escaping from the hand's range as he rolled on the ground before steadying himself. However, he noticed that the thick arm that extended from the ground had turned, and it was going for him again. Roy swept his arm through the air and snapped in Madsen's direction, causing roaring flames to brush across the path, melting the blanket of snow immediately. Vance brought his arms up to shield himself, causing the large crystallized hand to derail from its path and collide into the ground besides the Colonel with a loud crash.

Evelyn looked up from her daze when she noticed that Madsen had been hurt. Conflict covered her expression as she dueled with which side to chose; which side was right.

"Make up your mind, Evelyn!" Roy called as Vance was distracted. "You know what's right; but are you willing to fight for it or not?" The Colonel pulled his attention away from her, knowing that the rest was up to the woman herself.

Meanwhile, Edward had wisely created a distance between himself and Madsen once he showed himself. While Mustang was keeping him occupied, Ed had knelt by the ground and clapped. When his hands hit the earth, a large, human-like hand emerged from the ground. It rose through the air and arched downwards, aimed for the rebel leader, similarly to what he just did to Roy. A large crater was created in the ground by the base of the arm, portraying how much of the earth was being used for it. The giant fist punched the ground, barely missing the other alchemist, creating a cloud of dirt around him.

Roy sighed deeply and moved closer to their enemy; something told him that Vance still had a lot more fight in him. But of course, so did they.

Inside of the alchemically created crater, Edward started walking around the extended arm to get closer to Madsen, who appeared to be using the fist at the other end that nearly squished him to regain balance.

There was a spark of light, and then everything suddenly stopped.

They were both too close to the stone arm. Roy should have seen it coming. He should have done something. And yet, he could do nothing but stare and watch as a sharp, crystallized spear emerged from the base of the arm and caught Edward off guard. It went straight through his chest and out his back, cutting through his ribs with ease. The kid went rigid; he hadn't expected an attack come from his own creation so suddenly.

"W-what the-" the blond muttered as he looked down to see the tip of the blade disappear inside his own body. Roy watched from a distance as he felt the blood drain from his face. It took several seconds for his mind to kick himself over overdrive and frantically run across the path to the kid.

"Edward!" The Colonel called while the younger alchemist slowly placed his automail hand on the spear, staring down at it in disbelief. He snapped the thin crystal spear in his fist and stumbled backwards. The strength in his legs gave out and he collapsed into the center of the crater. The landing hit the spear that emerged from his back, causing him to flinch violently on the ground.

Roy reached the kid just after he hit the ground and quickly knelt down by his side and slid an arm underneath him to hold him up, mindful of the wound. The crystal (or maybe it was some kind of quartz) was just more than an inch in diameter. It kept most of the blood in, but some of it still managed to slip past and seep through Ed's shirt. It was just left of his heart; possibly cutting through a major artery.

"Oh god," the older man breathed as he looked down at the now broken spear sticking out of his subordinate's chest. His stare traveled over to Edward's eyes; he looked confused and rattled, as if everything happened too quickly for him to process. "How does it feel?" was all he could think of it ask at the moment.

"It doesn't really hurt," Edward started slowly, apparently noticing the worry on Roy's face. The pain of the impalement probably didn't sink it quite yet. Most likely, Ed's body was still numb with adrenaline but his mind was sharp enough to know that he was in trouble.

He opened his mouth to add on, but he just coughed once, twice, then broke into a violent fit. His body tensed as he spit an unnerving amount of blood onto the ground besides him.

"You're probably goes into shock," the Colonel replied as he racked his brain for some sort of cure-all solution. There had to be something he could do! Something was terribly wrong if he was coughing up that much blood all of a sudden.

"Again?" the kid groaned weakly as he looked back down at the shard in his chest and grimaced.

Right, Ed has already gotten stabbed in the stomach earlier in the week... Roy scowled at the thought; why did the Elric have to go through so much pain in such a short amount of time? Why was he constantly knocking on death's door? It wasn't fair, damn it!

But when was life ever fair?

Laughter broke through the anxious silence, bringing Roy back to the present. His eyes darted up to the edge of the crater and fell on Vance Madsen, who was looking down on them with a victorious sneer. He was casually tossing the Philosopher's Stone into the air and catching it again.

"Looks like we can finally finish this up," he mused quietly.

Roy glared at the man as his grip around Ed's coat tightened, as if doing so would somehow help to protect him. He wanted to raise his hand and burn that man into oblivion, but it felt like a showdown. Either one of them had the ability to mortally wound the other in a second; it all came down to who did it first.

Vance finally stopped throwing the stone, and simply held it between his thumb and index finger as if he was showing it off. The dark clouds roared behind him, threatening to drop more snow onto the ground. The wind had picked up stronger than before, making it more difficult for the two alchemists to hear the blond man from where they stood.

Mustangs left hand twitched, just itching to snap the other man into nonexistence. But if Vance managed to perform any alchemy to attack before then, it would end up further hurting Edward as well.

However, before anyone could move, the snow beneath Vance exploded under his feet into a small cloud, then immediately froze, encasing the majority of his body in a block of ice. Only his head and half of his left arm were free.

"What the hell-" Being caught completely off guard, Vance had no opportunities to defend himself from the familiar style of alchemy. From the horizon of the crater, Evelyn appeared besides Vance with a gun pointed at his head. Her hands were shaking, eyes were red and tear stains were visible on her cheeks, but there was a confidence in her eyes; one that Roy hadn't seen in her before.

"What do you think you're doing?" Vance growled, giving her a sideways glare.

"I'm doing what's right," she replied without hesitation as her hands steadied slightly.

Before she could pull the trigger, the ice began to quickly melt, most likely due to the stone that was still in Madsen's hand. She began to visibly panic and stepped back, out of Roy's range of vision. After sending the two alchemists a wary glance, Vance furiously followed her for revenge. He heard the sound of gunshots and the use of alchemy echo against the trees, but wouldn't budge to get a better look

He would have to thank her later on. Roy briefly wondered if she would be alright but his thoughts were quickly pulled away when Edward started to cough again, hacking up blood once more. As much as he wanted to run up there and deliver Vance a well deserved beating, he couldn't leave the younger alchemist in that state. The red liquid dripped down his chin as Roy tried to hold him up in the most comfortable position possible; though there really wasn't one in his condition. Edward's hands tightened around the Colonel's sleeves as his eyes narrowed at the empty space before him.

"Shit..." he muttered just before his frightened eyes fell on the older alchemist. "I'm gonna be okay, right?" He asked desperately in a voice that made Roy's heart shatter. Ed had been in many life threatening situations before, but never like that. It was one thing to dodge bullets and get stabbed by someone who wanted to keep him alive, but it was completely different to get impaled by someone who truly intended to murder him.

Ed wanted to hear some good news so badly and Roy wanted nothing more than to give it to him. But for all he knew, Edward's lungs could have been filling with more and more blood as they spoke. There wasn't any medical assistance within miles and there wasn't much that Roy could do to help. He could try cauterizing it but then he'd have to risk pulling the spear out, and then actually searing the wounds closed all while trying to cause the least amount of pain possible. A burn like that would bring most people into unconsciousness, or at least into shock. In addition, it would easily get infected which would just cause more suffering. He couldn't put Edward through that. The more cynical part of his mind told him that that would only needlessly prolong his death...

Except Edward wasn't going to die!

Except he had no idea how to stop it...

Roy must have taken too long to utter a reply, because the golden eyes eventually dropped, deep in thought. The two of them have faced death far too many times in the past week and the Colonel was getting absolutely sick of it. After Roy had survived hypothermia, they thought they were home-free. Nothing could possibly get worse than that, right?

Wrong. Because before his very eyes, Edward Elric was dying. It might not have looked like it, and Ed might not have felt it at the time, but there was far too much blood for that not to be the case. Even as those thoughts washed across Roy's mind, the teenager in his arms hunched over and coughed up more of the much-needed fluid onto the stained ground.

When he relaxed again, his shoulders were incredible stiff and a strained expression appeared on his visage as his eyes narrowed. The pain must have started to sink in.

"Stay with me, Ed," Roy insisted nervously, hoping that using the kid's popular nickname would somehow help him stay grounded. Even if it was hollow, he had to give him a glimmer of hope. "It's going to be alright. I'll get you through this somehow."

Edward was a very independent person; he always has been. That was exactly why he wanted Ed to rely on him instead of thinking that carrying the weight was all up to him. Over the past few days, Roy had admittedly grown rather protective of the kid and he was not oblivious to his reaction to that in the slightest. Having to grow up with no parents left its mark on the blond; not only did Ed secretly yearn for someone else to shoulder the burdens and protect him, he needed it as well.

The sound of another gunshot shook Roy out of his thoughts, forcing him to glance out to the edge of the crater, yet unable to see anything. Surely Evelyn couldn't keep the fight up for long. Vance desperately needed to be put in his place, but the Colonel's subordinate's life was on the line; he couldn't possible run off to fight.

Edward's grip on Roy's sleeves tightened as if he was trying and miserably failing to pull himself into a sitting position. With a grimace, he quickly gave up and settled for allowing Mustang to hold him up.

"How?" Edward asked, avoiding his superior officer's eyes. "Be realis-" he was interrupted by a cough. "-tic..." It seemed that as soon as the pain set in, so did the pessimism. He looked frail and hopeless; as if he had already given up. "I can feel it, Mustang," Edward added grimly as his flesh hand hovered near the spear in his chest. Even his voice was thick with blood. "I'm dying and it... it hurts," he admitted through his bloodied teeth. The pain that seeped through his very voice was proof enough. Roy could feel that pain tighten around his chest just by listening to the brittle, frightened tone.

Roy didn't have a single doubt that Ed was thinking about the people who would be affected by his death rather than his own life; like Alphonse. If the younger Elric was present, Roy also didn't doubt that Edward would have put up a strong front for his sake. At the very least, the Colonel was glad that he was being honest with him.

It took Mustang several seconds to muster up a response. Watching the life slip out of someone was never easy, in spite of how familiar he was with it. "You need to stay with me." Edward's eyes flickered closed. "Edward!" He exclaimed and gently shook the kid to jolt his eyes open, which also caused him to cough up more of the dark red blood.

"You have too much to live for, Ed. You can't just give up; Alphonse needs you," Roy insisted, trying to think of something- anything to say that would keep those eyes open and that heart beating. "... And I need you too." He wasn't entirely sure what prompted him to say that. Normally, the Colonel never would have said such a thing but they were quickly running out of time.

Edward paused and bit his lip as he gaze fell away from Mustang. He almost managed to look guilty. "As if I have a choice," the blond spat cynically as a flash of anger gleamed in his eyes. However, it quickly vanished and was replaced with the same sadness and fear from before.

"Just hang in there. The military is surely looking for us right now. They'll-"

"Just stop it already." The unfamiliar pleading tone in Ed's voice caught Roy off guard and caused him to snap his mouth shut as he looked down at the kid in surprise. "Stop trying to give me hope," he continued, staring blankly as the dark clouds that swirled above them. "I don't want it... I don't want to think that I'll somehow make it out of this just to-" he cut himself off and broke into a short coughing fit. After several deep, ragged breaths, the alchemist continued. "-just to be disappointed." His coughing continued and involuntary tears formed in the corners of his eyes from the pain that undoubtedly coursed through his body with every breath.

A week ago, Roy would have laughed at the prospect of the infamous Edward Elric giving up on living. But that was before he truly understood that he was just a kid who was unfairly thrown into the adult world. Of course, he always knew that; it was his fault to begin with. But after Ed settled into the military, Mustang had stopped thinking about it. Edward was no soldier. He didn't want to be one and he didn't deserve to be one.

But through it all, he had always enjoyed watching the two Elrics make their way through the world to find the fabled Philosopher's Stone. He had the privilege of watching them learn and grow. No matter what was in their path, they always pushed through it. They were unstoppable. While they were young kids, they were incredibly strong. And yet, Edward had hit a wall that was too tall for him; he wasn't even going to try to climb over it. At the very least, Roy could understand why. He was no stranger to hopelessness or that strange desire to give up after hitting rock bottom.

But to just watch it happen to his youngest subordinate... He couldn't do that.

"Listen to me, Edward." The strictness of his tone convinced the younger alchemist to glance over to him, albeit warily. He seemed to have been using every ounce of energy just to keep himself from coughing to save himself from the pain. "If you stop fighting, that's it; you're done for. But if you do everything in your power to just keep breathing and keep your eyes open, you have a chance. It may be small and you might not be able to see it, but there's a chance that you'll survive. No matter what, you always need to keep fighting- That's an order."

The blond considered him quietly for a moment; his chest heaved, threatening to force him into another painful coughing fit.

"Just... try to get the stone for Al, alright?" His tone was dismissive, as if he really didn't believe that there was any way to make it out of this. "He should still get his old body back, even if his older brother is-" Ed was interrupted by another violent burst of coughing.

Roy opened his mouth to impulsively tell him to get the damn stone himself, but he cut himself off short. One, because even if Edward did survive, he certainly wouldn't be in any condition to fight Vance for it. And two, because a brilliant idea just hit him like a brick to the head.

"The stone!" Edward quirked an eyebrow at him but Roy was too preoccupied with running the idea past himself again to make sure that it was even plausible.

If the stone bypassed the laws and perfected a person's use of alchemy, then even he could use it to close a wound or two without too much blood loss... He was unable to think of any reason as to why it wouldn't work.

"That's it! If I can get the Philosopher's Stone from Vance, then I could probably stop the internal bleeding before it gets much worse," he exclaimed and looked up to the edge of the crater for any sign of movement. But if he had any chance of getting his hands on the stone in time, he would have to move fast.

Edward watched him curiously as blinked slowly. "Don't just run to your own death for it," he muttered halfheartedly, and then flinched as the pain in his chest suddenly spiked. "But you're too stubborn to listen to me, huh," the continued as he grimaced through the burning around the wound. One of his hands slid away from Roy's sleeve to clutch desperately as his own chest.

"Just you wait," was all that Roy managed to say as he shifted his position to lay the teenager back down on the ground. Resting mostly on his side, Edward exhaled slowly as he tried to relax. Mustang brought himself to his feet rather reluctantly and looked back at the dying child. He caught Edward's eyes and noticed another flash of fear. He looked so abandoned there; in a ditch, leaning against an alchemically created arm; all alone. "You better be awake by the time I come back, Fullmetal."

He watched the blond for a moment, expecting a response. Just a simple, sarcastic comment that would secretly be reassuring; something. But Edward said nothing as his eyes dropped to the ground in a tired, accepting daze. Despite Roy's idea, the blond still didn't share his optimism. He was still terrified of dying and terrified of getting his hopes up for nothing. But Roy wasn't about to let him down.

The Colonel reluctantly turned away from the boy and trudged up the slope just in time to see Vance's right arm was encased in ice once more. Evelyn, covered in dirt, snow and blood, pointed her gun at the man once more. However, there was another red flash and the ice began to melt to the point where he was able to break his arm out of it, causing shards of ice to scatter around the ground where he stood. The woman pulled the trigger once more, but he managed to dodge to the side as the bullet just grazed his shoulder.

"Evelyn, get back!" He yelled as he approached the fight and raised his left arm. She glanced over to him in surprise before thankfully taking cover. Vance also took notice of his warning and quickly created another wall for himself; one that looked just as strong as the last. Roy simply narrowed his eyes at the obstacle. He wouldn't allow that to get in his way again.

The alchemist snapped and harsh flames immediately hit the wall, scorching the surface until it turned black. Before those flames could fade, Roy repeated the action with ease. The fire danced off of the wall relentlessly and shook the stones with every hit. With Edward's life on the line, his alchemy was stronger than ever. Nothing would stand in his way of saving his life; that damn wall was no exception.

Nicholas was watching further off, clearly becoming worried and restless. He unconsciously shifted closer to the battle and his hand twitched for his gun. For good measures and sweet revenge, Roy decided to spare one of his attacks for him. The man certainly wasn't expecting to suddenly be targeted; he yelled and recoiled away from the flames that snapped and bit at his legs the best he could . After knowing that he succeeded in distracting the man, Roy quickly went back to his main objective.

He put every bit of energy and strength into each attack; anything to get that stone. Eventually, the great wall became visibly weakened, having been hit by the intense flames so many times and with such intensity.

One more should do it...

His fingers snapped twice, one after another. He commanded the flames to ram the wall once more, causing it to finally crumble. Meanwhile, the other attack had a curve to it; the bolt of alchemic lighting twisted around the wall and straight to the man behind it.

The wall erupted into a flash of flames; flying stones scattered across the path and embers lingered by the dead bushes and splotches of grass that were previously covered by snow. The warmth that radiated from the wreckage sliced through the sub-zero temperatures but Roy didn't allow himself to relish in it.

The Flame Alchemist moved around the remains with haste. Surprisingly enough, Vance managed to survive. He appeared to be unconscious, sprawled out on the ground; his hair and clothing were singed and smoking and he was breathing strenuously on the smoke. Roy had to guess that he created another shield before the flames hit. Nonetheless, Roy didn't really care at the moment as long as the rebel leader didn't get in his way.

Roy knelt by the motionless body and pried his hand open, revealing the small stone. Despite the complaints of his injuries, the Colonel swiped the red orb and hurried back to the crater. It wasn't until he was already half way back to Edward did he consider restraining Madsen somehow before he could wake up.

Well, too late for that.

When every second stood between life and death, he simply didn't have the time to turn back around.

As Roy stumbled down the slope over to the kid, he spared a glance towards the smooth, iridescent rock in his hand. He couldn't doubt its power, especially after holding it for himself. He could feel the heightened potential coursing through him, begging him to take advantage of it. The heightened potential was almost too strong to ignore. Part of him wanted to turn around and see just how far his Flame Alchemy could spread when at its fullest; but alas, he had a priority of higher importance.

Edward Elric was leaning limply against the base of the large, outstretched arm. The stain of blood around the spear in his chest had increased slightly and his breaths were faint and hollow. As the Colonel approached, Ed's eyes slowly drifted up to him; the weakness and pain was evident in his unsteady gaze.

Roy forced himself to focus on the wound rather than the boy. Kneeling by his body, he subconsciously rolled the small stone between his fingers as he wracked his brain for a solution.

First, calm down and focus…

He'd heard Edward ramble off the ingredients to a human being enough times to remember. He wasn't an expert in bio-alchemy by any means and it was definitely a risky thing to attempt, but with the assistance of the Philosopher's Stone, Roy was fairly certain he could pull it off. At the very least, he could do enough to keep Ed from dying before they get help.

"C-olonel," a small whisper pulled Mustang out of his scrambled concentration. Edward's expression was contorted with discomfort. Blood dripped down his chin and he opened his mouth to speak but lacked the energy to make a sound. However, his hazy eyes were still expressive enough to get his thoughts across somehow.

Hurry up, damn it, the teenager seemed to say. And thanks.

Roy smiled sadly as his grip around the Philosopher's Stone tightened. He looked down at the crystallized spear as his faint smile fell. He would need to pull it out just before performing the life-saving alchemy.

Roy took a deep breath and instinctively began going over ingredients and formulas in his head, but a small voice told him that he didn't need to; that the stone would do the thinking for him. All he had to do was point it in the right direction. He could almost hear millions of little voices whispering him the answers, stopping him from drawing a circle and doing the math. None of that was necessary with the Philosopher's Stone; it was amazing. Despite his greater judgment and skepticism, Mustang decided to put his faith in the stone.

Edward watched with apprehension as Roy quickly placed a hand on the crystal shard. After a brief, nervous moment of eye contact, the Colonel tensed and swiftly pulled the object out of the boy's chest. The sudden burst of intense pain that shot through Edward's body must have surprised him; he fidgeted violently as the spear slid out of his flesh, causing him to gasp sharply and curse through his teeth. Ironically, it appeared to have shot more life into the kid, at least for a moment.

Quickly abandoning the bloodied spear, Roy watched in slow motion as more blood freely escaped Ed's body through the gaping hole on his chest. The torn fabric of his jacket and shirt did a good job at obscuring the wound from view, only causing to increase the panic that spiked through the Colonel.

Edward's fists dug into the ground, pulling up lose dirt as he squirmed through the agony. His heels dug into the earth as if he could simply push himself away from the pain. Roy hated having to watch him suffer, but all the more reason to move quickly.

Mustang gripped the stone tightly in his hand that was now lightly splattered in blood. Don't panic. Let the Philosopher's Stone do the work. Just guide it.

"Stay with me, Ed," Roy breathed as his subordinate writhed and trembled from the internal burning. His eyes were shut tightly and his arms clung around his torso, shaking uncontrollably.

Shoving all of his spiraling, confusing thoughts to the side, Mustang decided to simply follow his gut.

Quickly and decisively, Roy placed both of his hands on Edward's chest, despite the involuntary tears that slipped through the kid's closed eyelids and despite the screams of disapproval that escaped his lips. A bright flash of red nearly blinded the Colonel as he scowled at the extra pain he had caused the younger alchemist.

It would be worth it soon enough.

Even though he was unable to properly see what was happening, Roy was somehow able to feel himself repairing Edward's rib cage, the rip in his artery and the holes in his skin. It felt unreal; impossible; nothing more than his imagination. It was just far too amazing to possibly believe.

And yet, the red pool in the cold dirt below Ed's body slowed, and eventually stopped spreading.

Edward somehow found the strength to turn to the side and cough up the remaining blood into the dirt. Roy remained where he knelt and supportively rested a gentle hand on his shoulder as he spat out the remaining blood from his throat, then collapsed down onto his back, gasping for air.

"Everything's okay now," Roy sighed and he tried to convince himself as well. It couldn't possible be that easy, could it? He couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that he just healed a life-threatening injury. "Can you breath alright?"

The blond nodded weakly, not bothering to look up at the man quite yet.

"Good… That's good." The Colonel relaxed his shoulders and exhaled deeply. That was far too close. If he didn't consider using the stone, Edward would have died… He shuddered to think about it.

"Uh, R-Roy?" A voice suddenly chimed in from behind. It was Evelyn, standing up at the base of the crater. She sounded unsure of how to address the Colonel.

The alchemist turned to look at her and noticed that she looked absolutely hysterical. He opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, but the words couldn't come out before a gunshot burst through the air, causing his ears to ring. With a muffled scream, Evelyn fell to the ground, clutching her side.

Roy cursed under his breath and began to pull himself to his feet but he was stopped short when Nicholas appeared over the crater's slope, pointing a gun into the center. Except it was aimed for Edward.

Bastard, Roy thought, glaring coldly at the man. Why couldn't the kid ever catch a break?

Vance Madsen appeared as well; his clothing was noticeably burned and the scent of smoke followed him. He looked very unamused, to say the least. As much as Roy wanted to roast them both where they stood, he couldn't do anything with Nicholas pointing that gun at Ed. He would just have to wait patiently for an opportunity…

Vance knelt down at the top of the slope and started to draw something in the ground; at that angle, it was impossible for Roy to see what it was. (Though he had a pretty good guess.)

"I'd like the stone back now," the rebel leader spoke up, frustration and annoyance lacing his voice. Roy felt himself grow tense from the uncertainty, unsure of what exactly Madsen was going to do. And whatever it was, Roy had to be prepared to respond to it.

Just as Mustang began to contemplate the possibility of Edward being attacked again instead of himself, the alchemic light flashed by Vance's hands around the circle he created. The light sparked down into the crater, closer and closer to Roy. He felt himself pull back just as a small stone hand quickly shot from the ground and latched into Roy's right wrist. He instinctively reeled backward, trying to slip his arm free; however, it's hold was firm. He began to reach for his hand to remove the valuable stone from it, but Nicholas stepped closer, pointing the gun directly at the Colonel, reminding him to think again.

Vance Madsen stepped down into the crater, closer to Roy, closer to Edward, and closer to the Philosopher's Stone.

Several hazy ideas spiraled through Mustang's mind with every step. He couldn't let that man get his hands on the stone again… But no matter what the idea was, he would always be hindered by the fact that he was trapped by the hand that clung to his wrist. It was too sturdy to break through quickly enough, anyway.

He considered burning them both where they stood in one swift motion, but he would risk giving Dreyse enough time to pull the trigger. Even if Roy could get out of the way of the potential bullet, Ed was still laying in a daze behind him.

Before Roy managed to come to a conclusion, Vance was already in front of him. The rebel leader pried his hand open until he was forced to release the Philosopher's Stone.

"Shit," Roy spat under his breath, cursing himself for not doing anything. Despite knowing that there was nothing he could do.

Apparently amused by the Flame Alchemist's discontent, Vance sneered.

"You two have been a thorn in my side for far too long," he began, hiding the gleaming red stone into the palm of his hand. "Your death is long overdue. But we can finally put an end to all of that; right now."

"Don't be so sure of yourself," Roy growled, lightly pressing his gloved thumb and index finger together. Luckily, Madsen didn't think to restrain his left hand as well.

Nicholas, who had also decided to join the three inside the large crater, pointed the gun back at Edward once more. The kid looked unconscious, most likely oblivious to the danger.

Roy was trapped in every sense of the word. If he took the risk to use his alchemy on the two rebels, he would risk getting Edward shot in the head. If he did nothing, they would probably both die. That was an impossible decision. One that he refused to make. There had to be an alternative. Roy just couldn't accept that-

There wasn't enough time. Vance's hand began to glow red as the power of the stone was activated. The ominous light only served to highlight Madsen's sadistic grin as he looked down at the two alchemists like they were nothing more than insects. Roy tried to rely on whatever came to mind first, but even his gut instincts had gone silent. There was nothing. His mind was a chaotic blur. He didn't have an answer or a solution or a clever trick up his sleeve.

As that red light grew brighter, Roy suddenly knew what he was missing; the unforeseen variable.

Vance's psychotic laughter distorted into a terrified scream. He dropped the stone in favor for gripping his own arm, which was becoming twisted and deformed as crystallized shards of multiple colors and densities grew out of his flesh, easily ripping through the fabric of his coat. The unnatural growth of minerals quickly coated his entire hand and grew up his arm and then up to his face as well. They poked out the right side of his face like colorful horns, turning Madsen into some kind of crystallized monster.

"Sir, wha-what's happening?" Nicholas stuttered, taking several steps back from his boss, finally losing his composure for once. The gun had fallen to his side, as he was too distracted to keep the other two alchemists in mind.

However, Madsen's painful screams were the only response he could manage.

"It's a rebound," Roy breathed, watching in a horrified fascination as his own alchemy turned against the Mineral Alchemist. That was the unforeseen variable.

Chapter Text

Everything hurt. Legs, arms, stomach, chest, head, everything. He went numb to the rest of the world, only able to focus on the burning sensation that consumed his body. The single thought that was able to pass through his mind was the knowledge that he was dying. He forgot how and why, but he knew that there was nothing he could do about it. No one could cheat death forever.

And yet, he was able to breath again and the worst of the pain began to subside. It lingered, however; as if his body knew it was supposed to be there.

He had already accepted his fate; he felt the pool of blood underneath his body, spreading steadily and seeping into his clothes. So why was he able to breath all of a sudden? Why didn't he feel the icy chill of the cold air brushing against the hole in his chest?

Who was screaming?

So many questions... Unfortunately, it was in Edward's nature to search for answers. Reluctantly, he forced his eyes open to see what all of the commotion was about.

His focus immediately fell on Mustang, who was kneeling on the ground with his back turned to the teenager. That single recognition caused every recent memory to flood back into Ed's mind with a vengeance.

Getting captured, tortured, escaping... Finding Roy's motionless body in the forest, fearing he was dead... So much fear. So much relief when he learned that the man was still alive.

He went through all of that just to run into the rebels once more and nearly die because of it. He should have died. But Roy saved him. Roy started rambling on about the stone, and he was suddenly leaving him behind.

Fear. Fear of being abandoned- left alone- again.

He warily watched Mustang's back as he slowly left the young alchemist's side and saw a flash of gold hair. He felt a sharp jab of familiarity and sadly wondered if he would ever see the Colonel again; or if he would disappear forever, just like his terrible excuse for father.

After that, his memory was still hazy as a series of incomprehensible emotions consumed him. He wasn't very aware at the time, but Edward was still conscious enough to realize when Roy had returned, but he was too tired to find any assurance in that. He must have blacked out for a minute, because nothing he saw after opening his eyes again made any sense.

They were all standing in the large alchemical crater, just as he remembered. But why was there a giant monster there with them?

Standing not far off from where Ed sat was a humanoid figure who had crystallized shards encasing the entire right side of his body. The colorful gems completely covered his arm, poking out of the fingertips like claws. His right arm appeared to be overall bigger than the left, causing the monster to look uneven and unnatural. The spears ripped through his sleeves and coat and even emerged from the side of his head like horns or scales, forcing his right eye shut.

He was clutching the affected arm, screaming uncontrollably. It wasn't until the monster's eye fell on Edward did he recognize the dirty blond hair and narrow brown gaze; it was Vance Madsen. What happened to him? Did his alchemy rebound? Ed couldn't think of anything else that could possibly create such an unbelievable sight.

The deformed man lost his balance due to the uneven weight and caught himself with is right arm; the finger-like crystals dug into the ground. When he pushed himself back up, several hardened minerals followed his hand out of the ground, covered his half of the crater with sharp, colorful spears.

Edward wasn't entirely sure how that was even possible. If he had to guess, he would say that Vance was using his knowledge of combining minerals to find the trace resources in the ground, and perhaps some remaining power from the Philosopher's Stone was doing the rest.

Speaking of which, a red flashing caught Edward's attention and pulled his eyes to the ground, by Vance's feet. There sat the stone, glowing uncontrollably. He didn't have the time to consider why before the smooth rock suddenly cracked and evaporated into the air.

The alchemist widened his eyes in surprise. The stone was... fake? The real thing couldn't possible break and disappear. It was supposed to be the perfect substance. That explained the rebound, anyway. But he traveled to North City and got kidnapped by psychopaths for a fake Philosopher's Stone? If he had the energy, Edward would have screamed to the heavens and beaten the crap out of Vance for misguiding him like that! Everything that had happened was a complete and utter waste of time.

But even a fake Philosopher's Stone was so powerful; he couldn't possible imagine what a real one would be like... Ed's motivation to find the real stone only increased. But that was not the time for that.

Pulling himself back to the present, Edward cleared his throat. "Roy," he started, shocked by how coarse and broken his voice sounded as he was suddenly reminded of how sore his throat was. It felt like he had been coughing for hours; he still tasted the metallic hint of blood in his mouth.

The Colonel instantly spun around at the sound of Ed's voice. The teenager had no idea that Mustang could look so expressive in a single second.

He looked worried, tired, tense and angry, but not at him. Mustang instinctively moved to approach the blond, but he was stuck in place. Only then did Edward notice the stone hand that trapped Roy by the wrist.

"Ed," the Colonel began as the many other emotions vanished and were replaced by only relief. "You're alive." He spoke as if he was still trying to convince himself.

The blond ignored his observation and slowly began to crawl closer to his superior officer, intent on freeing him. Edward opened his mouth to tell him that, but he was cut abruptly off by another scream.

Madsen had blindly attacked the air around him in a fit of rage and pain. His arm sliced through the cold wind, causing several small shards to eject from his crystallized hand like bullets. The small crystals struck Nicholas in the leg, who was not far off to Vance's side. The tall man fell backwards onto the crater's slope, clutching his leg as blood soaked through the fabric and dripped onto the dirt. Vance looked over to his subordinate with confused, enraged eyes, causing him to weakly crawl further away from him.

Vance appeared to have lost all control.

That was his chance to act. Edward pulled himself to Roy's side, feeling the Colonel's eyes on him. Roy looked as if he wanted to say something but couldn't piece together the words. Ed also noticed how Roy was nervously shifting his eyes between him and Vance and positioned his body to stand protectively in between the two. Nonetheless, Ed gathered the strength to clap his hands together and destroyed the stone structure that kept Mustang in place. Simply deconstructing the hand was an easy task in comparison to preforming the entire alchemic process, which was something he doubted he'd be able to do much of in that state.

The flash of light caught Vance's attention, who glared murderously in their direction. He raised his monstrous hand towards the two alchemists and swiftly brought it down without hesitation.

Before Edward could do so much as blink, he felt an arm wrap around his waist and pull him backwards and out of the crater. He just narrowly missed being hit by large claw and the long shards that erupted from the ground upon its contact.

He groaned from the sudden movement and the soreness that spiked through his back once he hit the ground. Forcing his eyes open, Edward looked up to see Roy kneeling above him, turning to face the monster who had nearly skewered them.

Roy had saved him. Again. . .

Ed glared at nothing, deciding that it was time he stopped being to useless. It was time to stop acting like a child. With a grimace in place, the blond pulled himself to a sitting position again, then punched the ground with his automail hand, using it as leverage to push himself up to his feet. His struggling earned Roy's attention, who was quick to place both hands on his shoulders, gently stopping him from standing up straight.

"Ed, you can't be exerting yourself now," Roy insistent, his voice sounding strangely desperate. "You... you nearly died. I'm not about to let you run into battle so soon after that. I can't-" he paused as his worried expression shifted to one of the classic Mustang determination. "I can't go through that again."

Edward stared at him speechlessly for a moment. After a second of thought, he stood up straight despite Roy's halfhearted attempts to stop him. "You just saved my life. I'm not about to let that go to waste," he assured with a grin.

Roy looked as if he took the words to heart, as his expression softened ever so slightly. Before he could utter a response, a loud thud yanked their attention towards the edge of the crater, where a large, misshapen claw had dug into, pulling it's owner up to ground-level. Vance glared at the two with sheer loathing as he balanced himself. Roy had spun around to face the man, raising an arm in front of Ed as if to protect him.

"You two," he growled slowly. "Do you honestly think that you'll make it out of here alive?" He took a step forward. "Do you think that just because I look like this, you can coin me as the bad guy and take all the credit for defeating me? I don't deserve this! But I can't let this injustice continue! You're not heroes!" He yelled, pointing an accusing finger at the alchemists. "You're monsters!"

Edward scoffed at the irony of his statement and was tempted to comment on it as well but his thoughts were cut off when Vance stabbed the ground with his unnatural claws, causing long shards to spike out of the ground in a trail, aiming straight for the two alchemists. They both jumped to the side, just barely managing to avoid them unscathed.

As Ed struggled to get back to his feet, Roy didn't hesitate to fire back at the rebel leader. With a single snap, flames erupted towards his body. However, Madsen brought his right hand up and used the crystallized arm as a shield, brushing the fire off as if it was nothing. Mustang clicked his tongue in annoyance and straightened up as Ed followed his lead.

"Once you two are dead, I'll be one step closer to my goal of destroying the military's power." Vance paused for a moment, letting the words sink in."I'll bring an end to every war that plagues these borders... I'll bring order; peace! I'll be the hero!"

"You? A hero? Don't make me laugh," Edward spat, glaring at the confused alchemist with disdain. "You don't deserve that title... Just how many innocent people do you plan on murdering to achieve your own stupid goals?"

Vance's scowl morphed into a sneer at the mention of innocent people.

"You have no right to judge me. Just look at the man who you serve like the dog you are," he sung venomously, gesturing to Mustang, who's eyes immediately narrowed, locked on the deformed man. Edward glanced over to the older alchemist for a moment, then back to Madsen as he continued speaking.

"He's killed hundreds- thousands of innocent people. Haven't you, Colonel Mustang?"

Roy's eye twitched with irritation and he easily rose his gloved hand towards the rebel. "Shut up," he said coldly. "You d-"

"I've seen it with my own eyes!" Vance cut in loudly. "I was there- I'll never forget that emotionless demeanor that you always wore when you burned the lives out of so many during the Civil War! Sometimes, I still wonder how people like you sleep at night; how do you live with yourself after committing such sins?"

Vance appeared to be on the verge of breaking into laughter. Meanwhile, Roy had clenched his jaw so tightly that Ed feared that his teeth would shatter.

"Shut up, bastard," Ed barked before Roy could do or say something stupid. He was going to continue, but Vance apparently had a bad habit of cutting people off.

"As for you," Madsen began, taking another heavy step towards the two as his one open eye fell on Ed. "How old are you, anyway? Twelve? Ten?"


He shrugged (which was difficult to do with him uneven shoulders), unaffected by the younger alchemist's sudden rage. "Either way, it won't be much longer before you're old enough to get sent to the front lines. I wonder: how many people will you murder? How long will it take you to kill people without a hint of remorse, just like Mustang?"

"That tears it!" Edward roared and sprinted towards the man, fueled by fury. He heard Mustang call after him and sensed that the man tried to physically stop him, but the blond was too fast, despite the screams that rung in his own head. Every part of his body was demanding that he stop. Roy used the false Philosopher's Stone to heal the worst of his wounds, but the effects from the past week of strife still circulated through his body.

He told himself to ignore it.

By the way Vance clumsily swung his arm at the teenager once he was within range, Edward guessed that he didn't expect him to suddenly charge. Ed swiftly rolled underneath the swing and used his automail fist to punch the man squarely in the jaw, knocking him off balance.

Madsen inhaled sharply and staggered backwards, bringing his normal hand up nurse his jaw. Both of his eyes were shut tight, dizzy from the sudden impact. From the angle that he was hit, Vance was lucky to not have gotten a concussion. If Ed was in better shape, he could have easily knocked the man out.

Before Edward could strike him again, he felt something tug on the hood of his coat, effectively pulling him several feet backwards. He flailed his arms in a panic to stop himself from falling, but Roy was there to keep him stable.

"Stay back, Edward; I'm going to finish this once and for all," he announced and pulled the teenager behind him.

Vance shook his head, apparently reclaiming his vision. A small trail of blood dripped down is chin, which he easily wiped away with his left hand. The alchemist glared at the two others and raised his large, deformed arm to attack, despite the distance that separated him.

"Not so fast," Edward heard Roy say under his breath as he hastily snapped with his left hand. He took a step back, forcing Ed to do the same, as the brilliant flames spiraled and swarmed around Madsen. The rebel no longer had the Philosopher's Stone with him, so he had to resort to using his using his crystallized limb to shield himself.

The fact that half of his body was coated in minerals helped him to put the fire out before it completely engulfed him. His clothes were burnt and there were various red, festering marks around the exposed skin.

Vance hissed several incoherent profanities and charged at the two, using his own weight as momentum. However, he wasn't able to take more than five steps before another burst of flames struck is body, causing him to scream and flounder in pain.

Roy took several more steps back away from the monster with a tense hand on Edward's shoulder, pulling him back as well. Ed looked up at the Colonel, who's left hand was already poised to snap once more.

As a military officer, Roy was trained to stay level-headed in stressful situations. And even when faced by a man who wanted them dead and when failure meant the death of thousands, he still appeared to be very collected. But nonetheless, there was worry and fear niched in his expression.

"Bastards!" Vance screamed as he fought against the raging fire. Mustang snapped again, eyes unwavering and narrow. Apparently, he looked the same during the Civil War. Ed didn't quite know what to think about that, but he did know that it didn't matter at the moment. His only concerns focused primarily on the present, and Mustang's actions.

"You're going to kill him," he breathed, watching the suffering man with wide eyes. He hesitated at Roy's side, unsure of what to do. He hated the man who was currently being burned alive; the same hypocritical man who put them through hell and aimed to kill countless people for his own greater good. But at the same time, he had no desire to watch him die.

"Mmhm," Roy agreed quietly, eyes pinned on the withering man before him. He apparently sensed Ed's apprehension and stifled a sigh. "It's him or us, Ed. Out here, I can't take any chances."

"You don't hav'ta kill him," Ed fired back, scrambling his mind for a proper argument, but he failed to find one. He didn't disagree that the world would be a slightly better place without Vance Madsen in it, and since they were alone in the wilderness, arresting him wasn't very practical, but... there had to be another way. He didn't want to watch someone get burned alive. And simply closing his eyes felt too cowardly. Perhaps it was his own selfishness that wanted to keep the man alive. He didn't care about him at all, but he really just didn't want to watch the life get burned away.

Yes, it was cowardly and selfish.

"Then what do you propose I do?" Roy asked quickly, turning to face the young alchemist. Many people would have shrunk away from the Colonel's sudden demand, but Ed knew that he was just desperate to survive and protect.

"I- I don't know, alright? I don- watch out!" A movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention and allowed him to shout the warning just as several colorful gems were rocketed towards them. The blond stumbled out of their range, but not after using his automail arm to deflect two of them, while another tore at his his coat, thankfully not deeply enough to break any skin.

Mustang also jumped to the side but one of the shards caught his leg, causing him to falter. He stayed standing however, scowling through the pain as he shifted his weight onto his other leg.

Several feet away, Vance was on his knees with his demented arm outstretched. His clothes and hair were still smoking from the flames, but his unnatural armor kept him alive. He was breathing heavily, staring at the two alchemists with deranged, unfocused eyes.

"I'm trying to save this damn country," Madsen breathed as he struggled and failed to get back onto his feet. "Why do you keep-" he coughed. "-trying to stop me?"

Edward quickly noticed how Roy bit his lip as he struggled to stand and the fresh blood that stained his blue military pants. The Colonel had endured so much doing the past few days; Ed wasn't sure how much longer Mustang could keep it going.

Roy didn't bother to answer the rhetorical question as he slowly raised his left arm towards the monster once more. The sound of branches snapping and rustling leaves made him pause and caused Edward to grow tense. Both of them had grown very familiar with the sound of trucks tearing through mountain paths.

"Ah, finally," Vance laughed weakly as he looked down the ruined path. A group of trucks were approaching rapidly from up the mountain. "About time they showed up."

How could he have forgotten? Earlier that day, Vance sent a group of the rebels to pick up supplies at their base on the top of the mountain, and they were now going back down to meet him in North City.

"Shit," Roy spat and snapped his fingers again. Madsen's laughter morphed into more shattering screams as he tried to escape the flames grasp.

Ed frowned in disapproval but that suddenly didn't seem to be the worst of their worries. Several trucks appeared from behind the trees and created a circular border around the three alchemists, skillfully dodging the scattered debris from their fight.

The teenager was breathing heavily, unsure of where to direct his attention with the enemy on all sides. He recognized the sound of heavy doors opening and the safety locks on guns being released. He didn't remember that many trucks leaving the clearing earlier. Were they more at the base? That had to be the case.

Several armed and uniformed soldiers surround the area, guns aimed to the center. They were completely surrounded.

Mustang took a small step closer to the younger alchemist, but his eyes were darting from truck to truck. His breathing had already gotten faster as their chances of survival dwindled. His arm was still raised as his fingered were locked- ready to snap. The Colonel was undoubtedly going over the alchemic formulas necessarily to somehow get out of the dire situation.

Except, none of the many guns were pointed at the two State Alchemists.

Edward gasped as reality suddenly struck him in the head. By the way Roy visibly hesitated, he knew that they both realized at the same time; it was the Amestrian military. The real, honest Amestrian military.

There was a bright light and the ground near the crater rose and wrapped itself around Vance, who had just begun to realize the true situation as well. The man fought to break free but his arms and legs were restrained, leaving him incapable of moving. Once the light died down, Ed was able to pinpoint the source.

It was Alphonse.

Standing on the other side of the path, he had just climbed out of the back of a truck and immediately went to work on scribbling a transmutation circle into the snow. He was slightly obscured from view by the plumes of smoke that divided them, but it was him. There were times when Edward thought he would never see his brother again. But there he was, scanning the path for a sign of the other Elric.

Overwhelmed by relief, he moved to break into a sprint.

"Wait, Ed." The blond turned back to his superior officer, who gazed down the path at the blue-clad soldiers as if they were all a hallucination. He still looked incredibly stressed and alert, unsure if he could allow himself to feel any relief.

Understandably. Throughout the past week or two (Ed had completely lost track), every shred of hope they managed to find would immediately be followed by more strife. But Al was there. There was no doubting that they were finally safe.

"It's alright, Mustang," Ed smiled weakly. After so long, he was finally able to say that and truly mean it. "We're saved."

Roy stared at the kid for a long moment before his shoulders finally loosened. "Yeah," he muttered, blinking at the circle of trucks that surrounded them and the restrains that bound their opponent. "You're right... It's alright."

Satisfied with his response, Edward turned and dashed across the destroyed path, despite the lingering aches and pains. He felt the many Amestrian eyes following him, but he didn't care about any of them. "Al!" He yelled as loudly as he could manage. "Alphonse!"

The armored Elric jumped slightly and turned to the sound of the voice. "Ed!" he cried and moved to meet his brother.

Just before Edward reached him, his makeshift prosthetic leg buckled, causing him to trip. Alphonse reached his brother and caught him before Ed would face-plant into his armor. He then quickly lifted the blond and hugged him as tightly as he dared, pressing Ed's face against the cold metal.

"Brother! I'm so happy to see you! I was so worried! I looked for you all over the place but I- I-"

"I'm sorry for making you worry," Ed laughed, overcome by joy. He felt tears form in his eyes and he didn't care enough to hide them. All the pain and suffering was finally over and he was reunited with his brother. Nothing could have made the moment better. "I missed you, Al," he sniffed, ignoring the freezing cold chill that froze his skin upon contact. He was just glad that Alphonse had been sitting in a car; or else he would have been covered in ice and Ed would have probably gotten stuck to him.

"I missed you too." If armor could cry, Alphonse would have been weeping at that point. His metal limbs rattled with emotion as he kept himself from squishing the smaller Elric. He released Edward from the embrace and immediately gasped. "Is that blood?" He shrieked.

Ed looked down to see that his red coat had a large darker red stain on the chest. While the blood was nearly impossible to see on his black jacket, the torn fabric where the spear had gone through was easily noticeable.

"Oh- yeah. But don't worry about it, I'm fine."

"What do you mean, you're fine!? Just look at yourself! You're covered in blood and your clothes are all torn!"

"I really am fine. Mustang healed me with the Philosopher's Stone," he explained hastily before Al could get a panic attack.

However, his words weren't enough to calm his hysterical brother. Al circled around him, probing at his arms and legs, checking each spot of blood for a wound. "Are you sure, Brother? There's just so much blood!"

"Yes, I'm sure," he insisted, batting Alphonse away. "Like a said, we found a Philosopher's Stone."

"The Stone? Wait, what even happened?"

"Ah- I guess I have a lot to catch you up on, huh?"

"Yeah... But- but I don't care about any of that right now; I'm just so happy that you're safe," the younger brother exclaimed, pulling him in another tight embrace.

Edward nodded. "I'm just happy to finally get out of here," he sighed happily when he was released again and turned back towards the crowd.

The Amestrian soldiers had closed in on Vance, who had probably passed out from the burns. Some of the other soldiers had followed a trail of blood and were currently dragging a handcuffed Nicholas back towards one of the trucks. That coward must have started to crawl away during the chaos earlier without anyone noticing.

Edward also noticed some of them carrying Evelyn into one of the vehicles as well. She was motionless and her eyes were shut after being shot. Since they didn't simply cover her up, he had to guess that she was still alive and they were going to rush her to a hospital.

Meanwhile, Roy had quickly been surrounded by Meas and the team. Edward was briefly surprised to see that all of them had gone North but after a moment of thought, he knew that there was absolutely nothing surprising about it. Mustang had nearly collapsed, either due to exhaustion or the new wound in his leg (or both) but Hughes quickly helped him to stand up straight and guided him towards one of the cars. Hawkeye ushered the others away to give the Colonel some space, since he looked seconds away from passing out.

Edward smiled and unconsciously leaned against the suit of armor. "We should probably visit him in the hospital," he suggested. After all, he wouldn't need to go to a hospital too, since him wounds were healed. Obviously.

The stark white walls were nearly blinding as they reflected the sunlight that crept through the blinds. Judging by the light, it was just after noon. It appeared that it was no longer snowing, but he was fairly certain that he was still in the north.

Edward glared daggers at the IV in his wrist as he faced off against one of his greatest nemeses: hospitals.

"Damn," the teenager whispered, cursing everyone responsible for putting him here. Except Al. Although he had no doubt that his brother played a large part in stuffing him there.

Though he had to admit; he was incredibly glad to finally wake up in a bed, rather than in a cave or a basement.

The last thing Edward remembered was falling asleep in the back of a military truck, suffocating slightly as he was stuck between the door and his brother. Even in that uncomfortable position, he still managed to drift into unconsciousness. He must have been exhausted.

Before Ed could have began planning his grand escape, he noticed hushed voices from behind the door. It suddenly opened as Alphonse walked in while looking behind him.

"Thank you, nurse," he waved and turned back towards the room. "Oh, you're finally awake!"

"Yep," he stifled a yawn. "So when can I get out of here?" Cutting straight to the chase. Edward hated hospitals and had no desire to sit there any longer.

"Uh- the nurse said that they just need to check you over one more time after you wake up." Edward nodded slowly. At least they weren't keeping him there any longer than necessarily. It looked like Mustang actually did a decent job at healing him. "You know, you've been sleeping for over two full days now."

"What? Really?"

The suit of armor nodded. "I guess you really needed it. And at least the doctors were able to deal with your injuries without hearing you complain the whole time," he added lightly.

Edward just scoffed, silently noting how the lasting pain from his several wounds had noticeably deceased. He lifted his left arm to see a roll of gauze tightly wrapped around the burn that he acquired several days ago.

"Are the uh, others still here?" The older Elric asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

"Yep. I think Mr. Hughes and Lieutenant Hawkeye are checking up on Colonel Mustang right now."

Ed made a sound of acknowledgment and awkwardly stared at the wall.

"Did you... want to see them?

"Well, since you suggested it," he shrugged and pulled his legs over the side of the hospital bed. "It's not like I have anything better to do in this dump."

Ed wouldn't dare admit that he actually wanted to see Colonel Bastard. He just wanted to make sure that he wasn't dying or anything. That was all.

"Wait Brother; you need to be careful," Alphonse warned as he hurried to Ed's side. "And you should probably bring the uh-" he started, pointing to the bag of clear fluid that was connected to alchemist's wrist by the IV.

Before the younger brother could finish his sentence, Ed ripped the tube out of his arm and started carefully walking towards the door.

"Ed," Al sighed but followed nonetheless. They both knew that there was no point in scolding the older Elric at that point. He then guided the shorter brother down the hall, towards another room.

After turning a corner and picking out the right room, Edward turned the doorknob and entered without bothering to knock. He walked in with his brother in tow, who was quick to apologize for Eds 'rude' actions.

Meas Hughes and Riza Hawkeye stood by the foot of the bed, pausing in the middle of their conversation to welcome the brothers.

Edward quickly returned the greeting and turned towards the occupant of the bed.

Mustang was still out cold. He slept under the covers peacefully. It was a rather refreshing sight, seeing as the last time Edward had seen the man sleep was just after he was believed to be dead.

"Welcome to the world of the living," Hughes smiled lightly. "Honestly, you woke up faster than I expected."

"Really," he mused distractedly, pulling his eyes away from his superior officer.

Hughes nodded. "You guys were in pretty bad shape; especially Roy. Apparently, he was suffering from severe hypothermia," the Lieutenant Colonel sighed, looking sadly down at his unconscious friend. "You saved him didn't you?"

"Ah- I guess," Edward stammered.

"Thank you."

Edward paused, taken aback by the weight in Hughes's words. His eyes traveled up to meet the man's gaze- he could practically feel the man's gratitude radiate off of him in waves. Then again, he should not have expected anything less. After all, his best friend had vanished for several days, held in the hands of anti-government idealists in the middle of the snow-ridden mountains.

"No problem," he replied soberly, unsure what else to say.

"You were very brave, Edward," Hawkeye added with a faint, honest smile, leaving the teenager mildly surprised. It was rare to see her show much emotion at all. While it was difficult to envision, she must have been very worried for the two of them, judging by the tired look in her brown eyes.

Edward quickly thanked her, feeling uncomfortable by receiving compliments when he felt as if he could have done so much better. Therefor, he was quick to change the topic. Neither of them seemed to mind.

"So how did you guys find us?"

"We learned the locations of a few of their bases," Alphonse jumped in. "We just had to narrow down the search."

"Not long before we found you guys, we ran into one of the missing alchemists in the forest. He escaped the rebels and had been slowly making his way towards the city. Raine Ruler was his name- the Crystal Blade Alchemist," Hughes explained. "He guided us to one of their larger bases, where we found and retained more of the rebels. They eventually led us to the path where we found you."

"Oh," Edward muttered, glad and surprised to hear that he and Mustang weren't the only State Alchemists to escape. "What happened to the others?"

"The remaining seven were all found, though two of them were already dead."

"... And what about the rebels?"

"Once we knew the locations of their bases, several teams were sent out to find them. Naturally, they put up quite the fight. The survivors were taken into custody, but some of them did manage to get away. But without their leaders, I don't expect them to do anything reckless. Nevertheless, we'll keep looking for them." Edward cast him a questioning look, so the Lieutenant Colonel continued.

"I assume you're wondering about the three that were on the path with you. The woman, Evelyn Walther, got the necessary medical treatment for her bullet wound and moderate hypothermia and is expected to survive. Though she'll be behind bars as soon as she's well enough to move."

The other man, Nicholas Dreyse, is already locked up. There was enough evidence and testimonies to get him at least a life sentence in prison. As for their leader, Vance Madsen... he died later that night. We don't know if he lost control or just didn't want to face the consequences, but he stabbed himself in the neck as soon as he had the chance."

"I see." Edward wasn't entirely sure how to feel about all of the new information. It was strange that even though he tried to keep Vance from getting killed, he died anyway. At least his blood wasn't on their hands. Or at least, he didn't think it was.

He knew that he should have opinions and preferences regarding the people who had tortured and chased him down like a wild animal, but Ed really wanted nothing more than to put the whole incident behind him. They all got what was coming to them; that much was certain. Therefor, it should be easy to move on.

Except it never was. Edward wasn't ever going to forget those people and everything that he experienced in those mountains. The best he could hope for was to learn how to cope with it and move on. He was certain that he would. He had to.

Besides; he was alive, Roy was alive, and they were finally safe. Everything was how it should be.


The hospital room door burst open and four men stumbled in, loudly talking over each other, oblivious to the racket that they were creating. Some of them were carrying travel bags, one had a Get Well Soon card in hand, and they were all filled with questions. They didn't quiet down until Hawkeye approached them, glaring daggers into their very souls.

Havoc, Breda, Falman and Fuery quickly collected themselves as the First Lieutenant chewed them out. By the time she had finished, Roy began to stir due to their volume.

"Oh, I think he's waking up," Breda observed, mostly to get the vengeful woman's attention off of them.

"Probably because you guys woke him up," Edward interjected easily. He was honestly glad to see the team barge in; they lightened the mood and pulled his mind away from the more unpleasant thoughts. They were a nice reminder that everything was as it should be.

They all circled around the bed, watching in quiet anticipating.

Mustang murmured something incomprehensible and rubbed his eyes. "Mrmm, what's with all the noise?"

"He lives!" Hughes exclaimed happily, raising his arms into the air in celebration. The others joined in, all in their own unique ways.

Meanwhile, only the hint of a smile managed to find its way onto Edward's expression. Somehow, watching Mustang wake up reminded him of everything they had to go through to get to where they were at that moment. Even though it stared at him straight in the face, it was so difficult to accept that it was all over.

Ed idly wondered if anything would change between he and Mustang, and if everything would just go back to the way it was before they got captured. But then again, not much had changed to begin with. If anything, they just gained a better understanding of each other. Or maybe that in itself was change... Whatever. He didn't really care.

They survived. That's all that mattered. Their efforts had not been wasted. Everything they did was to get to where they were now. It was all worth it. Edward couldn't run that thought through his mind enough. It didn't feel real. It was too good to be true.

When he thought Roy was dying to hypothermia, he was so afraid of everything changing. The young alchemist didn't want everything he knew to disappear. He didn't want the life he managed to build to wither away. But most of all, he didn't want someone who had become important to him to vanish.

To think that Ed managed to make it out with everything he cared for intact... The concept was almost overwhelming.

The blond felt himself choke up at the thought and hastily wiped his sleeve over his eyes. Surely his own eyes wouldn't betray him in front of so many people, but he couldn't be too careful.

"How're 'ya doing, Chief?" Havoc suddenly asked, pulling Ed out of his emotional musing. The others were still clamoring over Mustang, who wasn't entirely with them yet, but the other blond was somehow able to pry himself away from the excitement long enough to notice Edward. The energized man grinned at him and threw a assuring hand on his shoulder as the teenager tried to avoid eye contact.

"Huh? Oh, I'm fine."

"Fine? Come on, you just woke up from beating up a bunch of terrorists. You're a hero! We should throw a party!" He announced, though Edward speculated that the idea was mostly just an excuse to drink.

Was he really a hero? Could he allow himself to be proud of his actions? Yes, they did stop a large-scale bombing attack on the city, but for whatever, reason it didn't feel like a victory. If anything, it was more like a weight off of his shoulders. Perhaps it just hadn't sunk in yet. He would know for sure in due time, no doubt. But for now...

Edward folded his arms and smiled at nothing. "That word gets thrown around too much."

Chapter Text

The days were shorter in the north. Roy hadn't been awake for very long, yet shadows were already casting over the hospital courtyard outside his window. Of course, that could have been because he slept in so late.

But he enjoyed ever moment of it. After spending so many nights sitting against basement walls and in cramped caves, waking up in a hospital bed surrounded by his closest allies and friends was quite possibly the best feeling in the world.

Even though they were all incredibly loud and obnoxious.

Roy just finished buttoning up a clean white shirt as he sat on the edge of the bed, idly staring out the window. Since they had been rescued, he had been able to bathe, eat something other than roasted rabbit, and put on fresh clothes. While he was immensely thankful for all of those things, he was eager to finally get out of there and head back to East City. However, he assumed that a certain blond Lieutenant planned to point a gun at his head unless he agreed to visit another hospital upon arriving. While he did dislike the idea, it was valid enough, he supposed. Any quick or sudden movements resulted in waves of dizziness and his older stab wounds may have gotten… slightly infected. The past few days kept him too busy and preoccupied to think much of it, let alone bother to even look at the injuries. Not to mention that simply standing up for too long made him feel ill. The doctors in the north had given him medication and medicine, but they didn't have his records on hand. Hopefully, his usual doctor in the east would be able to deal with those problems with ease.

When the others left, they all went to pack up their things in order to meet the Colonel at the station. Even Alphonse had to return to the Northern Command barracks to pick up what little his brother had left behind.

While it was short lived, Roy enjoyed the brief moment of solitude he was granted in that small, empty hospital room.

Part of him considered simply sitting there, mulling over his thoughts and enjoying the peace, but the louder part knew that there was very little time to waste. Riza Hawkeye would arrive at any moment to drive him to the station. Well, to drive he and Edward to the station. Roy was honestly surprised that the impatient youth didn't jump through the window as soon as he woke up. His hatred for hospitals was a common known fact. However, it almost seemed like the kid waited for Mustang to get discharged. But that couldn't be the case. Of course not. Impossible.


Well, maybe it wasn't.

Admittedly, he and Ed had gotten closer during their little adventure through hell. It almost felt like he learned more about the kid in those two weeks than in the past three years. At the very least, he had definitely seen new sides of the blond. It turned out that he was much more than a loud, overbearing shrimp. He was actually attentive, gallant and selfless. Of course, that was always true when Alphonse was involved. But to think that that also spread to Roy as well... He never would have thought so in the past.

It was really quite amazing. Several weeks ago, Roy balked at the idea of spending any time alone with the rowdy teenager. But after a short amount of time, he wanted to always be there for the kid. He wanted to protect him and ward off anyone who dared to hurt him.

Almost like a father.

Roy chuckled mirthlessly at the concept and ran a wary hand through his hair. There was no way that Ed shared the thought. While he had no plans to ever mention the notion of being a father figure to the boy, he would probably laugh in the Colonel's face if it was ever brought up.

The time spend in the mountains was an exception to every rule. Now that they were back in civilization, they didn't need to depend on each other in the same way anymore. Ed was back with Al, after all. They supported each other just fine, without the need for anyone else.

Nonetheless, Roy would continue to lend any help he could give to the Elrics. That was the least he could do for them, anyway.

Uneven footsteps echoed down the hall, tugging Mustang out of his state of contemplation.

"Hey bastard!"

He was immediately tempted to take back all the kind words he had just silently given the kid.

Roy turned away from the window just as the door was pushed open, revealing one Edward Elric. He had abandoned the make-shift prosthetic leg in exchange for crutches not long after waking up; saying something about being too unbalanced and he'd rather walk on one leg than risk tripping again and breaking his nose.

Edward had already changed out of the thin, light green hospital clothes and was wearing his trademark outfit. Roy assumed that Al brought over the fresh clothes when Ed was first admitted, but that didn't explain the coat. Judging by the small rips in the sleeves, it had to be the same one that he wore in the forest.

"They got the blood stains out?"

"Yep," he replied with a curt nod and approached the end of the bed where Roy was sitting. "You ready to go yet?"

"I've been waiting on you, kid," Roy answered nonchalantly and heaved himself to his feet, all while ignoring the disbelieving scoff that was heard from the teenager. Giving a quick glance to the clock that hung on the blank wall, he turned and faced the blond. "Let's get going. Knowing the Lieutenant, she's probably here early."

"Alright, hurry up then, old man," he spoke as he was already hobbling out the door. It was only natural for Edward to be impatient to leave a hospital. How he lasted that long was beyond Roy.

As the Colonel stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him, he paused, seeing as Ed wasn't moving; he was just staring down the hall. Following his gaze, Roy noticed someone being pushed in a wheelchair by a nurse, who was being tailed by two men of the military police.

The two alchemists stood off to the side of the hallway, allowing the small convoy to pass by. That is, until they realized who was sitting in the wheelchair. Edward gasped next to him and Roy's eyes widened from the surprising sight.


The nurse reluctantly stopped the chair just as they were passing the two, while the police officers remained silent. They must have recognized the Roy and Edward. Since they were in the military, it would have been difficult not to know the faces of the previously missing alchemists.

"Oh, h-hello," she stammered, just as surprised to see them in the hall. She was wearing the green hospital gown and slippers and her light brown hair was down, cascading randomly around her shoulders. The previous events had clearly taken their toll on her as well, as the woman looked absolutely exhausted. There were dark circles under her eyes and her face was shockingly pale and drained. After all, getting shot can do that to a person. Not to mention that she was betrayed by the people who she had put all of her trust in, several days prior.

"What are you doing here?" Edward asked bluntly before Roy could get the words out.

"Ah- now that I'm not in critical condition anymore, they're relocating me to a different room," Evelyn explained, her voice slightly hushed.

"N' what's with the entourage? Roy was getting close to scolding Ed for asking so many direct questions, but he promptly held his tongue this time.

The woman turned away awkwardly, effectively avoiding all eye contact. "Well, I uh... I've technically been arrested, so..." she trailed off, likely assuming that the rest was self explanatory.

Naturally, she would get sent to prison as soon as she was discharged for terrorist activity and for treason against the State. Even though she had helped them in the end, the best she could hope for was a shorter sentence.

"Oh, right," the blond muttered.

"But it's alright," Evelyn continued with a sigh before the silence could stretch on. Her gaze shifted to the spotless floor and the reflections from the bright, florescent lights above. "I accepted that when I first pointed my gun at Vance," she spoke softly.

Roy and Edward shared an uncertain look, as they were both ill-prepared to give an inspiring speech to the discouraged woman.

"There was really no avoiding it," Roy jumped in, sparing Edward from trying and failing to think of something else to say. "But you made the right choice," he smiled thinly, as that was all he could offer her.

"Yeah," Evelyn breathed. "All of this started just because I wanted to make a difference. But I got a little carried away with it." Her fingers tightened around the arms of the wheelchair. "It's a little hard to change anything in jail, though," she added on cynically. With a sigh, she looked up at the two State Alchemists, attempting to hide her self loathing. "I'm sorry for everything. I know that doesn't excuse any of it, but..."

Roy briefly considered telling her that is was okay; that all was forgiven. But it wasn't. Maybe in time, but the scars of their struggle remained. The pain and agony was still too fresh in his mind. While Evelyn didn't play the biggest part in all of it and she certainly wasn't the most to blame, she was still heavily involved.

The Colonel narrowed his eyes slightly, in thought. After a moment, he looked at the woman with a hint of a smile on his expression. "You're a very talented alchemist, Evelyn. I'd like to see you make some good out of that one day."

Evelyn was quick to mask her mild shock with a look that could only be described as thankful.

"Yeah, I- I'll do that. One of these days."

"We should really get going," the nurse quickly jumped in, suddenly reminding the two alchemists of the three spectators.

"Right... Goodbye, Major Elric and Colonel Mustang." Evelyn risked a feeble smile and she was wheeled away, with the two police officers quick to follow.

Edward and Roy watched until she disappeared behind a corner. They both stared down the hall for several seconds afterwards in complete silence.

"Well," Mustang began, clearing his throat. "We should get moving too." Edward agreed and they both turned around to continue moving forward.

"She'll be fine," Ed said under his breath, causing Roy to question if he was just talking to himself. From the sound of it, the blond wasn't trying to quell any worries he had for her sake, but just bringing himself to accept the outcome. He was probably just as conflicted about her as the Colonel was.

Just as Evelyn had told them when they met, they weren't friends. They weren't sad that she was going to be locked up for who-knows-how-long. She got what was coming to her. But after the fellow alchemist had risked her life to come to their aid, she deserved something for her efforts; even if it was something small, like someone to simply appreciate her actions.

"Where 'ya going?"

Roy stopped in his tracks and looked up to see that he had began to go down the wrong hall at an intersection. Edward was leaning against his crutch, waiting expectantly. The Colonel shook his head, telling himself not to get so distracted. He could get lost in his thoughts later.

As he rejoined the smaller alchemist, they continued moving side by side. Roy had to keep a rather slow pace since Ed was dealing with a single leg, though he didn't really mind. Riza wasn't expecting them to walk out the front doors for at least a few more minutes.

After they reached the lobby and passed through the large doors, something told him that he and Edward would immediately go back to banter and insults- just how it's always been before. Overall, Roy would be okay with that. After watching the kid's life nearly drain out in his arms, he'd be okay with anything, as long as Ed was alive.

"Hey," the blond began, eyes locked in the stretch of floor in front of him as he pulled himself along with the crutches. Roy watched him in the corner of his eye as he too faced forward. "I uh never thanked you for, you know- saving my life. With the stone. So. Thanks."

Roy quirked a blow at the sudden statement. "I could have sworn that you already thanked me."

Edward stopped and looked over at the Colonel, nonplussed. "Why would you think that? Did I say something like that while I was unconscious?"

Mustang stopped as well, returning the blond's expression. "... No, I suppose you didn't. I guess it was just the way you looked at me," he suggested with a shrug. Once he really thought about it, it was true; Edward didn't have the strength to speak at the time, but the look he received was just as good as a genius thanks. He began to continue again, but stopped himself short. "But... You're welcome."

Edward was speechless for several long seconds as Roy began walking down the rows of identical doors once more. By the time he finally started to catch up, the older alchemist was trying his best to walk slowly again without making it look obvious, for his sake.

Several moments of silence stretched on before the blond broke it once again. "You know, sometimes I think about how close it was... The rebound."

"What do you mean? The Colonel asked casually, though he already had a very good guess. The very same thing had passed trough Mustang's mind as well.

"I assume fake Philosopher's Stones can only be used so many times before it would cause a rebound and break. Madsen used it right after you. Had the situation been slightly different, that could have happened to you," he finished, watching Roy curiously in his peripheral vision.

"I realized that as well," Mustang nodded. "So next time you find one, you'll have to be extra careful to make sure that it's the real deal.

Edward narrowed his eyes. "That's not my point." The sternness of his tone caught the Colonel's attention. Yes, he definitely had something that he wanted to get off of his chest.

"Out with is, Fullmetal. What is it?"

The teenager silently fumed for a moment. "The rebound could have happened to you instead! Doesn't that bother you?"

Roy slid his hands into his pockets, actually considering the question seriously. Did it bother him? Would anything have changed if he was aware of the risks beforehand?

"No, not really," he finally decided. "It doesn't change anything. I still would have done it."

"What?!" the blond exclaimed, rather loudly. Roy took a quick glance around the corridor to confirm that there weren't any nurses about to reprimand them for the volume. "It could have killed you! Vance lost his mind back there because of the rebound! And you don't even care that-"

"Listen, Edward," Roy began as they both stopped in their tracks in the middle of the hallway once again. The Colonel turned towards the kid, meeting his annoyed gaze. "There is nothing that could have stopped me from doing whatever I had to do in order to save you. Nothing."

The younger alchemist simply glared at him for a moment, clearly unsatisfied, but the meaning behind his words was not lost on the kid. "And you call me reckless," he muttered under his breath, breaking eye contact to stare at the floor instead. Edward wasn't just upset about the risks of using a fake Philosopher's Stone; there was something more underneath- something that was eating away at him.

"What's done is done. Why are you so upset about it?" Roy asked, genuinely concerned. While he did consider himself one of the few that could truly read the older Elric, sometimes, it was impossible to know what was going around inside his complex little head.

His golden eyes remained stuck on the glossy floor as he spoke, rather reluctantly. "When I found you lying face down in the snow that one night, I thought you actually died. I was… terrified, alright?" He snapped as he admitted what has been on his mind for some time now. "Because everything would have changed. Almost everything I have now is because of you. If you died, all of that would have crumbled away. And there would be nothing I could do about it… So… You can't die."

"I assure you, I have no intention of dying anytime soon," the Colonel responded, still slightly confused. Something in their conversation wasn't adding up. He was still missing something.

"Well, duh," the teenager exclaimed. "But- ah, forget it," he huffed and hastily began moving. His annoyance radiated off of him as he stalked towards the next turn in the hall, back turned to the older alchemist.

Roy immediately broke into a slow jog in order to pass the seething blond and stepped into his path. However, it would have been perfectly easy for Edward to avoid him and keep moving if he chose to. The Colonel knew that Ed wanted to talk about it; therefore, he wouldn't pass up another opportunity to do so, but he didn't want to appear as if he was forcing him to speak.

"Hold on, Ed. Just tell me what's on your mind." It wasn't a command, but a request. If something was bothering the young Elric, then Roy wanted to take care of it as soon as possible.

Edward paused and stared up at the man, turmoil burning in his eyes. Hopefully, he would understand that the Colonel was genuinely curious about whatever was troubling him.

The teenager's shoulders slumped in defeat and he opened his mouth to speak, but several more seconds passed before he finally got the words out. "I just… For one reason or another, people always… leave. Mom, Hohenheim- I didn't want you to join that list too. So I-" he trailed off, struggling to make his point.

But he didn't need to; Roy already understood.

"You don't need to worry, Edward," he said, bringing the kid's stammering to a swift end. The blond looked up at him with wide, uncertain eyes, which Roy easily returned with an assuring smile. "No matter what happens, I'll always be here if you need me… I promise."

Something must have clicked in Ed's mind, because he immediately broke eye contact and stared holes into the ground. "... I see," he said, barely above a whisper. His grip tightened around the crutches with such intensity that Roy began to wonder if he said something wrong.

He's not… angry, is he? Roy couldn't figure out what would cause such a reaction. He was just being honest. So…

Before Mustang could ask him what was wrong, Edward slowly shifted his weight and transferred his right crutch to his left hand, awkwardly holding both. Roy couldn't see his expression and nervously began to wonder if he was preparing to punch him in the face or something. But as for why, he still couldn't guess.

The Colonel stifled a stunned gasp when Edward suddenly took a step forward and wrapped his free arm around Roy's waist and pressed his head into his chest. Only a fraction of a second passed before he quickly returned the embrace without a hint of hesitation.

Of course; Ed wasn't mad at him- he was thankful; relieved, even. Overwhelmed by it, in fact, that he couldn't find the words to express it and decided to do so through actions instead. Once again, he succeeded in saying thank you without actually needing to say anything at all.

They remained there for several short seconds as Roy registered what was actually happening. Edward Elric actually decided to hug him- Roy Mustang- Colonel Bastard. He must have really made an impact on the boy… Which was another relief in itself. He had constantly reminded the younger alchemist that he didn't have to shoulder the burden alone; that Roy was more than happy to carry the weight when it became too much. Perhaps his words had finally sunk in. And better yet, he had assured Edward that that wouldn't change now that they were no longer lost in the northern mountains. In the past, at that moment, and in the years to come, the Fullmetal alchemist had someone else to rely on.

Ed exhaled slowly as his automail slightly tightened around the fabric of Roy's shirt, as if he felt reluctant to move. There was no telling if or when they would get another moment like it again, so he made a point to enjoy it while it lasted.

In one swift moment, Edward took a step back and returned the second crutch to his right hand, his face red with embarrassment. "Don't tell a damn soul about that," he huffed under his breath, almost inaudibly. He glanced up at the Colonel, curious of his reaction. When the blond saw that Roy was simply smiling back at him, he hastily turned on his heel and swerved into the lobby without another word.

Graceful as always, Fullmetal.

Nonetheless, Roy followed. By the time he reached the lobby, Edward was passing through the front doors and he saw a glimpse of Hawkeye's temporary car parked on the street below.

Once he stepped into the car with the two blonds, there would be absolutely no mention of the past few minutes and they would likely act as if it never happened at all.

But that was fine by him.

Roy was satisfied.

Underneath the name-calling, they would always have that extra layer of trust in each other. That's really all he needed; that's all that's ever been, and that's all that ever will be. Their relationship had always been like that. There was always an unspoken bond that could be nearly invisible until tested. The only difference was that it had become much stronger and easier to see. That enough was proof that both Roy and Edward would continue to put their lives on the line for the other.

At least something good came out of all of this.

"Well, that didn't work out," a dark, feminine voice sighed as its owner crossed her arms.

"What did you expect to happen, Lust?" The other figure snapped, waving his hand in the air for emphasis. "Humans aren't capable of properly using the Philosopher's Stone without our guidance."

"Need I remind you that it was your job to keep them in line, Envy," the woman replied sharply, casting a cold glare towards the smaller homunculus.

Envy carelessly shrugged, unfazed by Lust's quiet anger. "This attempt was a lost cause from the start! Plan B has much more potential," he announced confidently.

She scoffed dismissively. "Either way, we're going to have to find a new pawn, now that the Mineral Alchemist killed himself."

"What a spineless fool," Envy sneered. "Replacing him should be easy!"

"That's true… In fact, I think I already know of a certain Crimson Alchemist who would be more than willing to create a Crest of Blood for us on the Drachman border," Lust mused for a moment as a hint of a smirk appeared on her expression.

"Oooh?" Envy grinned madly, already imagining the death and destruction that was soon to come. "Then let's get started."