Equivalent Exchange

Breathing hard, Roy Mustang unsteadily skidded to a stop on the slippery cobblestones at the edge of the road, and the rock darts that had been fired in his direction missed him by mere inches. He caught his balance and straightened up. He'd lost his usual air of superiority in battle, and was cursing under this breath. This attack had been much too close for comfort.

Roy gritted his teeth and braced himself to defend against another onslaught of sharp flying rocks. He'd get this bastard before he could do any more damage! Their battle had already torn up a major road into Central, and heavily damaged several nearby buildings, and Roy had ordered his men to take cover to ensure none of them got hurt while he took care of this.

He snapped his fingers to create a spark to return fire, but in the split second before he could aim his attack, a new formation of missiles came his way and he was forced to duck and weave to avoid them. He returned fire with an explosion that wasn't well-aimed, but at least it was the enemy's general direction.

The other alchemist was easily able to dodge this sloppy attack, but by the time he came to a stop, Roy was prepared to go on the offensive. He'd finally gained a strong sense of his enemy's movements and his intuition told him in which direction the man would dodge. Another snap of his fingers, a spark, and an explosion, and the enemy was reduced to a smoldering pile of ashes. Roy would have liked to take the man back to headquarters alive for interrogation because he didn't know motive behind the attack, but it had been clear minutes into the battle that this wasn't how things would play out. At least now it was over and he'd been able to prevent innocent bystanders from being hurt.

Roy covered his face with his hand, trying not to breathe the stench of the burning body, which was both sweet and acrid as it carried across the road on the slight breeze. It would take him days to get that smell off his mind.

He was still trying to catch his breath and was just noticing for the first time the long but superficial cut across his right thigh, when Hawkeye's voice caught his attention from across the road.

"COLONEL!"

The urgency in her voice immediately caused Mustang to run toward her. He knew his Lieutenant. She was calm and calculated, and the faint tremble of panic in her shout unsettled him.

He rounded the black military car in which they'd arrived, which had been flipped onto its side and riddled with the enemy's rock darts so badly it had gaping holes in the doors and hood. He came to a sudden stop, his eyes dilating in terror at the scene before him.

Beyond the car, Riza Hawkeye was bent over the seemingly lifeless body of Maes Hughes, who was lying in a crimson puddle of his own blood, his back flat on the ground, arms outstretched. Even from feet away, Roy could clearly see two of the rock daggers in Maes' body: one in the left shoulder, just below the joint, and one in his abdomen, roughly at the bottom edge of the sternum where it would have lodged his liver or stomach, perhaps both.

Mustang rushed forward and dropped to his knees next to Hughes, flinging off his glove as he went. He immediately began to search for any signs that his friend was still alive. He fumbled for a pulse on Maes' carotid artery, horrified at the ashen color of Maes' skin and the pool of blood, which now stained his knees and seemed to be growing with each passing second. He found a very faint pulse under his fingertips, so thready he could barely feel it at all.

"Maes…. MAES!" Roy's heart was pounding in his chest and he was surprised to hear his own voice speaking the name out loud and with a trace of panic. His voice sounded very far away and all of his senses seemed to focus only on his friend, who was slipping away fast.

For just a second, Maes' eyelids fluttered and his eyes opened just enough to look up at Roy, but his pupils were fixed and didn't even react to the bright sunlight. His lips moved, but he didn't make any sound at all. Roy reached out a trembling hand to gently touch Maes' face and his friend's skin felt cold and clammy. Tears welled up in his eyes. His friend was dying.

But he isn't dead yet, a small voice in Roy's head said with determination. He clenched his fists and said quietly, his voice steady despite the panic rising in his chest: "I can fix this."

"Colonel?" Riza's voice coming from beside him startled him; it was heavy with concern. She watched as he pulled his glove back on and placed his hands next to Maes' body, apparently in preparation to use alchemy to save his friend's life. "Sir … human transmutation?"

Roy looked up at her with his cold stare, his eyes blazing. "I have to fix this. I owe him." She stepped back. She knew there was no stopping him, no matter what the risks to his own life were, and she tried to find comfort in the fact that Maes was still alive, though barely, and that Roy wasn't trying to bring back the dead.

Roy Mustang carefully lined up his hands beside Maes and took deep breaths to focus and prepare for the task at hand. He had never performed any kind of human transmutation, nor had he ever made an attempt at healing before, save for the time he had seared a wound to stop the bleeding. He didn't know whether he had the necessary skill, nor did he know what price he would have to pay to pull his friend back from the brink of death. He only knew that he had to try, and if it cost him his own life, he was willing to pay that price, though he hoped it would be both quick and painless. He was relieved Riza didn't try to stop him.

He took another deep breath as he pressed his palms against the stones and focused every ounce of his skill and power into his alchemy. A bright blue light sprang up from beneath his hands, so different from the fiery sparks and flames he normally produced that he was startled. He redoubled his efforts to focus and the light circled around Maes' body, eating away at the missiles stuck in him and they began to crumble into dust and were carried away by the breeze.

Roy's shoulders trembled from the effort and beads of sweat had begun forming on his forehead. He now focused on stopping the bleeding and closing the wounds, which was both slow and difficult, but at last he saw the wounds start to knit together and seal. Roy knew this wasn't the kind of neat healing that Xingese alchehestry produced, and that he didn't do a particularly good job of things, but he hoped it would be good enough to stop death in his tracks and allow Maes to be taken to the hospital for proper treatment. A bead of sweat dripped from his chin onto the ground with the effort.

As he watched the wounds closing slowly, Roy allowed himself to breathe a very small sigh of relief. But then, all of a sudden, he noticed a change in the light and a very small, bright orange flame sprang up from beneath his right hand. It danced around his fingers and began to lick up his arm.

This flame was like no kind of fire Roy had ever experienced before and he felt no heat at all as he saw his glove slowly singe away. The flame grew, moving up his arm and spreading across his chest. With it, Roy was gripped by an overwhelming sense of dread. He knew that whatever happened next would be the price he had to pay to save his friend's life. As the flame snaked around his back, he began to feel the pain of being on fire. He gritted his teeth, blood now dripping from his face instead of sweat, and focused his last reserves of strength into his alchemy. He wasn't done yet and he needed to finish before he let the fire take him.

Roy gasped trying desperately not to breathe the smoke rising from his own body, when all of a sudden there was a bright flash of white light that overtook all of his senses. The last thing he remembered was the indescribable agony of being engulfed in flames, and the vague thought in the back of his mind that this is what he'd done to thousands he killed in Ishval. Then, everything around him began to turn black, and he knew the only thing left for him to do was to let death take his life in trade.