Equivalent Exchange

~ Funshine XD

The snow seemed to get thicker with each step. The Fullmetal Alchemist and Colonel Roy Mustang trudged through the knee-deep precipitate wearily, slush soaking through their boots. The Flame Alchemist's arm was looped around his waist and he found it increasingly difficult to breathe. The harsh wind burned against his unprotected face and all around him was frigid whiteness. He loathed the snow, hated how cold it was, how wet it was, how annoying it was. How was it even possible to be this cold so far south? Roy cast a sidelong glance at his young subordinate.

Teeth grit, automail arm shielding his face, Edward glared back. "What?" The adolescent tried to come off as irritated, but the Colonel's pale face made him sound half-hearted. A thin line of blood trickled from his lips, contrasting sharply against his white-washed visage. Although he tried to hide it, Roy was hunched and lurched slightly when he stepped. Edward felt a mixture of anger and guilt. If that idiot had minded his own business…

"You think we lost them?" the exhaustion in Mustang's voice was evident, not that he'd ever admit to it. He looked away, unable to meet the Elric's harsh gaze. Crimson rivulets trickled through his fingers, though much slower now that the cold started to freeze his wounds shut. He grit his teeth and pressed the hastily applied bandage more firmly against his wound.

Edward looked away from the blood seeping through his superior's military jacket. "Can't tell. I can't see anything more than a few feet in front of me." Guilt gnawed at his insides. The young alchemist had been assigned to investigate the area around South City, assess the situation, as well as pick up a few reports regarding the situation in Fotset. A simple job, but the Fuhrer had requested a higher-up go with the Major. Mustang volunteered, if for no other reason than to see what Sergeant Major Kain Fuery had to deal with after King Bradley relocated him. To Ed's surprise, the Fuhrer obliged. However, their luck couldn't have been worse…

Edward parried a sword with his right arm-blade and cast a quick glance at Roy. Stuck using an unfamiliar weapon and stripped of his ability to use alchemy ("Because it just had to snow while we were here,") the Colonel was looking much worse for wear.

"Damn, there're reinforcements coming, and they've got guns!" Edward continued to wrestle with the soldier, hands compromised. Not ten seconds after Edward proclaimed this, the Aerugian soldiers opened fire, gunning for the kill.

"Fullmetal!" Roy panicked. It was no surprise that the Aerugians wanted to get rid of Edward first. They probably didn't even know Roy was an alchemist and saw Ed as their only threat. His body reacted before his mind did, and he tackled the boy to the ground, shielding his body with his own. Once Edward realized what Mustang was doing, he swore, pushed his superior off and transmuted a wall to protect them.

"Colonel, you idiot! I don't need protecting!"

"That much was obvious," he replied sarcastically, though his voice hitched and sounded strained. Edward had a retort ready on the tip of his tongue, but it died when he saw his superior's abdomen. The blood had already begun to soak through, marring his uniform. He had taken three bullets for Fullmetal.

"Why can't we take the train?" Edward all but whined. He already knew the answer, but he tried pathetically to hold the Colonel's attention. By now they must be near Resmbool, but it was just so cold. They'd probably been walking for hours without food or rest. He swallowed his guilt and attempted to keep the Colonel distracted.

"In this weather, the trains won't be going anywhere." Roy's face changed and he glared wryly at the bright red trail his blood made. "And if they're pursuing us, the snow isn't falling fast enough to cover up that." Of course they'd be pursuing them. After all, Lieutenant Colonel James Stolford's surprise attack on the two Amestrisians hadn't ended up too well. Once the two alchemists were through with him, his subordinates were bloodthirsty for vengeance. The Aerugians held pride very high in value.

Edward knew Mustang was thinking the same thing. "Oh well, it can't be far now."

Hoenheim leaned back in the small, wooden chair, still marveling that this seven-feet-tall suit of armor was his son. Sure, when he had come back to Resembool, Pinako had told him everything – his son's failed human transmutation included – but that didn't lessen the shock of seeing it with his own two eyes. Apparently Edward was in the area, too, with his commanding officer, Roy Mustang. Something bristled inside Hoenheim at the affectionate tone Alphonse spoke about the Colonel with. Al still called him "dad", which was more than he could ever hope for after how long he'd been gone, but the word seemed empty and meaningless. Like it belonged to someone else.

"Al," Winry spoke up. She resembled her mother so much that he'd accidentally called her "Sara" when he first saw her. Time seemed to merge together for Van; after being alive for so long, there was no point in keeping track. She was Ed's age, so when she saw him sitting at the table in her house she'd been more than surprised; all she really knew about him was that he'd abandoned his children and Edward hated him with a burning passion. "I'm worried about them. They said they'd be back in a week, at the most. They're still not here, Al. What if something…" Winry trailed off, blue eyes wide and glistening with unshed tears. Al rested his large hand on her shoulder.

"Winry. Brother will be fine; he's with the Colonel after all." Al hated himself for not being able to go with them, but the Fuhrer had made it clear that only military personnel were to come near the war zone. However protective he was of his brother, Alphonse knew his place and followed orders. Besides, they really shouldn't worry when he had one of the best alchemists Amestris had ever seen with him, should they? After stopping in Rush Valley to upgrade his automail - ("Don't underestimate the enemy, Fullmetal.") - Winry decided to cash in on some long overdue vacation time and stay with the younger Elric in Resembool while the two State Alchemists finished their assignment. Maybe it was fate, or maybe it was Hoenheim's sheer luck, but he was getting to see his sons again.

Winry sniffled a little and smiled. "Yeah, you're right, Al." Hoenheim felt another stab at their unrequited trust in the Colonel. He knew he had no right to be jealous, not after he had been gone for so long, but he did.

"Al…" Hoenheim said, the name sounding foreign on his tongue, coming out strangled, like he shouldn't be saying it. "Alphonse?"


"There's something I'd like to tell you. I'd like for Edward to be able to hear it, too. I've got some explaining to do, haven't I?"

"Thought you could get away from me?"

Edward and Mustang turned around, watching the dark silhouette rise over the hill they'd just climbed.

"Look," Edward said, clearly annoyed, "we didn't want trouble. You guys attacked us first, but if you're still looking to get your butt kicked, I'll be happy to hand it to you."

"Fullmetal," Mustang warned. A few meters behind them was a lake, hardly frozen. The cold flash had been so sudden that it was unevenly frozen – a disaster waiting to happen.

"Relax. It's just one guy."

The Aeguran ran his tongue over his teeth, grinning and twirling his large blade menacingly. Three more figures emerged from behind him and Edward visibly paled.

"What was that? You're gonna beat us up?"

One tense second passed, neither side daring to make a move. They were horribly outnumbered and Edward knew that they had to make the first move; otherwise they'd be backed into the lake. Mustang wouldn't be of much help because of his wound and his inability to use alchemy, plus the two were worn out as it was. The Aerugians were quite skilled, despite not being alchemists. Mustang watched Edward out of the corner of his eye. Edward transmuted his arm back into a blade and smirked, quickly assembling a blade for Mustang from iron and copper drawn out of the frozen soil. He tossed it to the latter, and Stalford's men, who took it as an invitation to battle, charged. And apparently they were idiots, because one of them plowed into Edward, landing on the thin ice, two others following. Then the ice shattered.

The Fullmetal Alchemist's heart skipped a beat when he sunk into the frigid water, desperate arms dragging him down with them. Cold, for the love of all things alchemic, it was so cold. Ed ward couldn't swim; his automail limbs were too heavy. I'm going to die, Edward thought, I'm really going to die. He thrashed in a futile attempt to resurface. Every second spent submerged sapped the warmth from his body, along with his strength. One soldier kicked Edward in the chest, attempting use him as a springboard out of the water. Edward shut his eyes as his head connected with a rock, too dizzy and unfocused to fight against the cold. His body continued plummeting, and he lost consciousness as his last bits of precious oxygen escaped.

"Edward!" the Colonel yelled, smashing the last man into a nearby tree and flinging his limp body into the lake. He pulled off his military coat and dived in. It took him a moment to see in the murky water. He spotted Ed near the bottom and resurfaced for air, teeth clattering uncontrollably. Diving once more, he grabbed hold of Edward and yanked him to the surface, pulling him to solid ground with all his strength.

"Y-y-y-you idiot!" Mustang cried, shaking the unconscious boy by the shoulders. No response. "Fullmetal! Ed!" Roy cursed under his breath as he attempted to pump the water out of the boy's lungs. "Come on, Ed! Don't do this to me! ED!" How long had Edward been underwater? A minute? This was not good. This really wasn't good. Roy tried, unsuccessfully, to calm himself. A few more tense, terror-filled seconds passed before Fullmetal finally coughed up some water. Mustang propping him up as he sputtered and coughed up the water. "Are you okay?" Roy asked, gingerly holding the boy as if he'd lapse into another coughing fit at any moment. Edward opened his eyes briefly, dazedly staring up at Roy, before closing his eyes with a groan. It was response enough for the Flame Alchemist.

Fullmetal shivered violently, wet clothes already becoming stiff with ice crystals. Roy frowned, muddled mind trying to recall his basic medical training. Ed was already through the first stages of hypothermia. They were both soaking wet. Nobody knew where they really were. He had been shot. Roy took a deep breath before proceeding.

With practiced efficiency, Mustang stripped Edward of his wet shirt and cloak, taking note of his vitals. Roy grabbed his coat, wrapping it around the boy with clumsy fingers. It was beyond cold. They wouldn't last thirty minutes in this condition. Well, maybe not him but Edward could. Roy just had to get him warm. If only his damned gloves would work… Some stupidly naïve part of him thought that maybe, just maybe someone would realize they were missing and come for them, and Roy chided himself for it. He scooped Edward up bridal-style. He spotted a small cave not too far from where they were. He could make it that far. He had to.

After what seemed like an eternity, Mustang reached his destination. He carefully lowered Ed before collapsing himself. He closed his eyes for a second, allowing himself to be lured by the temptation of sleep. A moment passed before he realized what he was doing and snapped his eyes open. Roy picked up Edward's beloved red cloak and tied it to one of the lower branches of the tree that towered outside their hideout. It fluttered like a bright red flag. His blue lips pulled into a small smile of accomplishment, and he felt unbelievably exhausted. No. He had to focus. If he gave in now to his fatigue, they would both die. He pulled a short blade from its hidden position in his sleeve. Roy silently thanked Hughes for making him carry it. He painstakingly began to etch a transmutation circle into the ground, creating a piece of flint when it was complete. Mustang cut off some of the drier parts of his coat and began making sparks. The piece of cloth caught fire. Mustang fed it carefully with wood from the inner layers of the tree. And despite the utter frigidness of the storm, he wasn't even that cold anymore.

"Hang in there, Ed." He whispered, and then he allowed himself to relax.

Al didn't know how long he'd been searching. Hours ago, he'd left the Rockbell residence to search for the missing men, declaring that he couldn't just sit here while they could be hurt. Winry and Granny Pinako had objected (he knew Winry secretly wished he'd done so earlier) but surprisingly Hohenheim told him to go, under one condition:

"You let your old man help you for a change, and let me come."

Al knew he was trying to be nice, trying to do something fatherly for once, but he declined. They didn't need three lost men, after all. After some arguing, Al had to be blunt with his father and said he couldn't afford to look out for him and go after the others. Hoenheim conceded, reluctantly, saying that if Al weren't back in five hours, he'd go after him. Alphonse didn't know what to make of it – whether he should be happy to see his father again or hate him like Brother did. It was very confusing, and Al decided to just work things out on his own. He lived his whole life without Hoenheim, so why did he need a father now? Al shook his head, focusing on the task at hand. Brother and the Colonel were missing. He had to find them. So far he had nothing, not one clue.

Alphonse searched fruitlessly for another hour, laughing bitterly when he realized how similar this situation was to their quest for the Philosopher's Stone. Just when Al had begun to think that this was hopeless and he'd never find anyone amidst the thick precipitation, he spotted a familiar shade of red. He clambered over towards it as fast as the thick snow and forceful winds would let him.

"Oh, no…" he gasped. There, leaned up against the rock wall, was the Colonel in a thin shirt – which was alarmingly red – cradling Edward's body protectivley. Their faces were pale and appendages tinted purple. Al felt sick. "Brother…? Colonel? Wake up! Please, please, wake up!" Shaking away his panic, the young Elric pried the Flame Alchemist's arms off Edward. He had to think rationally. Al had heard stories about the soldiers in Briggs recovering people who strayed too far away from a heat source in the dead of winter. They had survived, with the right treatment. This was only Reseembool, south-on-the-map Resembool; they would be fine. He hoisted Ed onto one shoulder, mounting Mustang on the other, taking care not to let their skin touch the frigid metal of his body. Steeling himself for the worst, Alphonse made haste to get back.

Edward's eyes opened slowly, briefly scanning his surroundings. Where am I? It was warm, and he was seated close to a fire on something soft. His brow furrowed and head throbbed dully. Where was he supposed to be again? His mind was fuzzy and it took him a while to realize he was inside. Inside? Brief flashes of white and unbearable cold filled his head.

"Hand in there, Ed."

The Colonel drew the young teen towards him, doing everything in his power to keep Edward alive. He knew the combined warmth of the fire and his own body heat would be enough to sustain Ed, at least until the morning. Mustang's quaking hand stroked his back, gradually slowing down as he drifted off into the realm of unconsciousness.

Edward puzzled over that for a moment before realizing that he had somehow had gotten from the cave to inside a building. He bolted up and yelled, "Mustang!" feeling a stab of panic.

"Oh, thank goodness, you're alright!" Edward turned to see his blond mechanic, tears of joy obscuring her eyes.

"Brother! We were so worried, we thought we lost you!"

"Al?" So he was in Winry's house then? "Where's he? Where's Mustang?!"

There was a familiar, albeit weak, laugh, and Edward spun around. "No need to get so worked up, Fullmetal." Relief flooded over Edward and he felt his heart slow down considerably. Mustang was here and he was alive. Sure, he looked like absolute crap, but he was alive.

"I thought – " Edward choked on his words and he stared intensely at Roy's face, as if he was assuring himself that he was really there. "I thought you were dead… that you didn't make it out."

Roy's gaze softened, and he smiled reassuringly at the boy. "Don't worry. I'm here. We made it out."

Edward's relief was soon replaced with anger, and he nearly screamed. "Idiot! You idiot! Why'd you jump in after me! You could have died!"

"If I didn't –"

Edward cut him off furiously. "And back in Fotset. Why the hell, did you take those bullets for me? Are you aware that I can defend myself, or do you just run around all day playing the hero, Mustang? What if you died there? What if –"

Mustang couldn't believe the words leaving his subordinate's mouth. Glaring back at the young alchemist wrapped in blankets he retorted, "Would you have left?! Would you, Ed? Do you really think I could sit there and watch you drown?! They were aiming for your head, Ed, your head. Do you honestly think I could have let you get shot? That I would have let you get shot?" Feeling the others' intense glares, Mustang stopped himself. He looked away, scowling.

"I'm sorry."

Mustang looked up. "What?"

"I'm sorry. You nearly died because of me. Twice." Edward's eyes were downcast, undoubtedly feeling wholly responsible for what had happened to the Flame Alchemist.

"Ed, it's not your fault. What's done is done, and we're fine now." Mustang was good at a lot of things, but having emotional conversations wasn't one of them. He definitely could smooth talk, but this turn in conversation was awkward, at best.

"Oh, yeah. " Edward said, going red and attempting to change the subject. Had Mustang just tried… comforting him? Had he hit his head? "How did we get here?"

Winry smiled at his Ed's ever-present awkwardness. "Al got worried so he went to look for you."

Edward and Roy turned to the boy. Al laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. "Well, you were out for a while, so I got worried. I searched for a long time, but I couldn't have found you if it weren't for your coat, Brother."

"My coat?"

"Yeah, you used it as a signal, didn't you?" It was the Colonel's turn to go a little red.

"I never –" Edward noticed Mustang pretending to nonchalantly admire the snow through the window and stopped. " – oh, um, yeah."

He fumbled with the material for a while, relaxing against the trunk of the tree when it finally stayed tied to the tree. The fabric fluttered in the wind, like it was waving.

"Hang in there, Ed."

"We were so worried, Ed!" Winry sniffled, flinging her arms around him. "I actually thought…"

Edward snapped though his stupor, stiffening at her contact. Then, his eyes widened when he noticed the man sitting in front of his make-shift bed. He pulled away from his mechanic, face contorting in hate. "What's he doing here?"

Winry stepped back, meeting Al's cautious glare. She opened her mouth to explain, but Hoenheim made the mistake of speaking first.

"Edward, I wanted to search for you. I –"

Said boy scowled and laughed bitterly. "Yeah, right. You sure as hell didn't care before, so why would you care now?" The air was tense, every one expecting the young prodigy to explode, have a full-blown rant ready for Hoenheim, himself included. His hands were clenched, muscles on his forearm bulging slightly.

Hoenheim smiled apologetically. "Because I'm your father."

Edward's teeth clenched and he ground out, "Because… you're… my… father?!"

Alphonse winced and started a mental countdown.




"In what sick world would you be considered a father?! Maybe you missed something, but fathers are supposed to stick around. You know, actually care about their children once in a while!" Edward's face was flushed red and his breathing was heavy.

"Edward, please!" Hoenheim pleaded, unable to meet the blond's intense glare with his own wounded one. He knew this had been long coming. He shouldn't have tried to reason with him yet. How foolish it was of him to expect Edward to understand after he'd been gone for so long. If anything, even though it hurt, Hoenheim deserved this.

"Ten years," Edward continued, "You think you can just come back after ten years, and everything will be fine? How were we supposed to keep believing that you'd come back? Mom… Mom had so much faith in you! She always said, 'He'll be back, he promised.' We knew better. You didn't even come to her funeral! So don't you dare tell me you're sorry, because you're not. If you had just been here when we actually needed you, heck, when we wanted you, Al wouldn't be like that. I wouldn't be like this. I –"

Edward stopped his fiery remarks when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Mustang gazing down at him. He looked… upset? "Edward. Stop." He said quietly, squeezing the boy's arm gently. The boy took in a shuddering breath and folded his arms across his chest moodily. Even through the red haze of rage, he could read Roy's face easily. Just stop, Ed. You're only hurting yourself.

He turned towards the broad man he resembled and muttered coldly, "Just get away from me, jerk."

Van looked pleadingly at his son, but knew there was no point in arguing. He almost felt sick with himself. There was no use beating a dead horse, he supposed. Edward didn't want to be his son, simple as that. But Hoenheim knew, his sons always had a father, even if they didn't realize it.

Later that night, the residence was silent. Alphonse had helped Pinako pack up her first aid supplies and mop up any lingering blood remaining from when she had removed the bullets from Roy's side and stitched him back up. Roy remembered with a wince that she hadn't any pain killers, the shipment delayed due to the freak storm. But she was quick and efficient, claiming "healing hands" ran in the Rockbell family. Roy insisted they remove it before Edward woke up. That was one thing the prodigy didn't need to see. After insuring the State Alchemists were no longer in a hypothermic state, Pinako had gone to bed. Winry performed some maintenance on Ed's automail once he had cooled down a little; whacking him with a wrench when he said she should have gave him cold-suited automail to begin with. Hoenheim left the room after Edward told him off. Edward had said he'd sleep on the sofa because he didn't want to sleep in the same room as his father and that Roy was too big to fit on the couch anyway.

Roy smiled a little as he climbed the stairs, putting most of his weight against the rail. He walked into the Elric's room, slowly, so not to provoke his wound. He sat down on the bed with the red sheet. Hoenheim was already lying down on the other one, presumably asleep. The Flame Alchemist had long since changed into different clothes – that sweet girl, Winry, had offered it to him, saying it was her father's. The Rockbell doctor's from Ishval. He closed his eyes, thanking whatever being out there had kept Edward and him alive today. Hawkeye was going to shoot him when she found out.

"You've taken my children, Colonel."

Roy snapped from his musings and looked at the man across from him. He searched Hoenheim's face for any signs of deceit before responding. "No… " he began, when he saw that Hoenheim was serious. He turned his attention to the ceiling, giving his answer some thought. "No, you gave them to me." Golden eyes glared at the military man before softening with realization. "When you left them, they weren't your boys anymore." Mustang couldn't believe what he was saying out loud, but then again, everyone else was already asleep and the man should know that it wasn't okay to come back and claim them for his own, like his ten year absence was justified.

"I suppose I should have known I'd be gone for longer. I thought I could make it back in a year. It was foolish for me to think that. But now look, I come back and so much has happened – Trisha died, they performed human transmutation, their bodies… I should have been there for them. They were completely alone, and I wasn't there for them. Their own father." Hoenheim looked guiltily at his hands.

"They weren't alone. Not for all of it, at least." Roy gazed out the window at the falling snow. It wasn't too different from the day he'd found them, really. "They had Pinako and Winry. And I care about them. They may not know it, but I do. Sure, at first I didn't, but I see them now as…" Roy stopped himself, clearly embarrassed. "My point is, you weren't there when they needed you, and Edward hates you for it. You're still their father, but they have other people they look up to. Other people they see that way. I don't think any amount of pleading will change their minds about that."

Hoenheim watched Roy ease into bed, contemplating what he said. And then he realized the irony of it all. Alchemy was said to be mankind's greatest achievement, the single most powerful thing that humans alone could use. It was rooted on the principle of equivalent exchange. You give something and get something of equal value in return. And usually it was true in everything Van saw, applying to everything from transmutations to bartering. But where was the equality in this? Nothing could ever amount to the utter hurt he felt right now. He lost his sons. They didn't want him. Someone else had filled the gap that he was supposed to cover. His sons' trust and love was the exchange for those years he had spent searching for a way to become human. What's worse was that he couldn't even be angry at the Colonel because it was true. He didn't deserve his own children. It wasn't fair. But then, he supposed, nothing in life was fair. Absolutely none of it. The fact made him livid because it was just so unfair, but true, nonetheless.

"Equivalent exchange, huh?" Hoenheim was surprised to see the Colonel still awake, more so that he was mirroring his thoughts. Roy turned to face him. "No, I think this is what I'd call a win-win situation." His trademark smirk pulled at his features. Career benefits aside, the Elric boys were an irreplaceable part of his life now. "For me, at least."

And downstairs, in the firelight, Alphonse could see the small smile on his brother's face.

So, how did you like it? This was my first attempt at the Fullmetal Fandom, so any feedback will be welcome. The way I picture it, Roy and Ed are too proud to talk about anything regarding their (almost) father-son relationship, but both of them feel that way, in a sense. Roy subconsciously tries to protect Ed and help him when he can, and Ed respects Roy, but just tries not to show it, just like how parents and their teenagers are (to a lesser extent). Their relationship is really weird like that, but that's just my take.

Reviews are greatly appreciated, but please reserve flames for Roy!

Thanks for reading :)