By Henrika

Henrika- And here you thought I'd never get my long fic started. And it's a long chapter too! Follows the anime timeline up to episode 25, then diverges on my take of what happens in Lior. Read and Enjoy!

He'd never seen alchemy take so much out of Ed before. It was unnatural in his opinion; Ed always had energy to burn. He was the first one to the boy's side as he collapsed, managing to support him before he bit into the dirt. Ed barely managed to look at him; trembling in the man's strong arms.

Equivalent Exchange. What did he give? Roy wondered as the gold eyes dulled to copper and slid shut, breathing still coming harsh and fast. The entire place was deathly silent, only the crackling of fire still burning in the ruined buildings breaking through. He had always wondered what Ed gave each time he transmuted, the initial sacrifice to see the Truth couldn't possibly match how much Ed used himself as an array.

The boy went limp in his arms, the auto-mail digging into his forearm. The uniform the boy was wearing was tattered, the right arm shredded into strips that curdled against the metal shoulder with drying blood. The blue material hung for other reasons too, endless days of transmutations and death taking their toll on the small frame. The brilliant blonde hair lay dull and dirty on the lined face; the standard braid had been abandoned to the auto-mail blade when the boy realized that the blood wouldn't wash out. It was in a short ponytail now, barely cresting a collarbone that was too sharp.

Mustang heaved him up, the boy offering no resistance and no help either. Others came, voices echoing hollowly in his ears as hands helped ease the heavy weight of steel and flesh. Roy's thoughts sprang back to similar days, people, and he frantically checked for a pulse, relieved when it came back faint, grateful that it was there at all.

The silence continued to reign, guns lying at the sides of both those still breathing and those still cooling. Those who could watched the scene unfold, still marveling at the action that had preceded it.

Hawkeye maintained this vigil through her crosshairs, even though she knew the front would be quiet for some time. Havoc and Farman had helped Mustang in carrying Edward into the medical tent, the two returning to their posts soon after. Mustang did not re-emerge.

The Flame Alchemist was standing helplessly by as a pretty nurse with light-red hair treated a gash on Edward's arm. She carefully wiped the grime from his face and peeled away the top half of the bloodied uniform, even soaking off the blood that had obscured his dog tags. She took a ready needle and emptied the contents into the boy, a look of concern crossing her face when he gave no sign at all. "Thought you hated shots." She muttered under her breath. She checked his tags twice before finally turning to Mustang. "He'll be fine. " The groans of those worse-off seemed to emphasize this fact, Roy realizing that he was in the medical tent. "Though…" She waited until she had caught Roy's attention. "He acts like an adult, but his system hasn't caught up with him. He'll need a week, maybe two, of straight rest. That transmutation came from him, right?" Mustang nodded. "Two weeks then."

Mustang absorbed all the information slowly. Finally he recalled his charm and manners enough for coherent speech. "Thank you Miss…"

"It's Clara." She wrung out a clean rag and placed it on Ed's forehead. The silence that had permeated the battlefield seeped into the tent, allowing Mustang to clearly hear Clara mutter "Did you ever find the stone my grown-up man?"

And he remembered a report from one of his operatives stationed in Aquaroya after Ed had been there, about a nurse/nun/teacher named Clara who had turned out to be the famous thief Psiren. Who Ed had managed to capture and send to jail successfully, though she was back at 'work' the next night.

"He found it." Clara gasped, not aware that he was still there. "He restored his brother too." Clara smoothed down Ed's bangs, studying him.

"I knew he would. His object obsession was worse than mine." She paused. "Do you think…are you his commanding officer?" She rephrased.


"Do you think you can send him home? It would be best for him to recover in peace somewhere."

"I'll see what I can do." Mustang said, already figuring out which form to fill out and the rights hands to push it in to so it got done.

"I'll take good care of him till then."

"Thank you." And he left, though not before taking a long look at the prone form that should have been running after him yelling curses, researching, sparring with his brother, anywhere but on the military-issue cot. He parted the tent flap, wincing at the dieing desert sun. Once his eyes adjusted, he finally surveyed the effects of Ed's transmutation.

Ed had asked him if all the civilians had been cleared from the area. Upon receiving an affirmative he had clapped, kneeling down in the torn dirt. The resulting alchemical burst had wrested the support structures from the buildings, wrapping them around themselves, some of the girders re-entering the buildings with screams following in their wake. The steel continued to twist and squeeze, collapsing the buildings into themselves as Ed continued to feed power into them. He'd managed to affect every building in the area that didn't have a military sniper. His arms had started shaking once the buildings had started to fall, but he'd continued until there was nothing but rubble and his own exhaustion.

And Roy wondered again if Ed didn't trade in a piece of his soul every time he slaughtered people like this. But he had been the one who'd set up the exchange, handing Edward the neat blue uniform and the orders that had activated all State Alchemists. He'd hoped he'd never see the day, hoped Ed would leave the military before any such conflict would require him, but even though Ed had managed to hide the secret of the Philosopher's Stone, they both knew the military wouldn't let him go.

The train ride to the front lines had been quiet, Mustang's unit occupying one car of the train. The only small-talk had been at the start, Fury asking Hawkeye what she had done with Black Hayate. She'd responded regretfully that she'd left him with a nice neighbor who'd take care of him until she got back. The 'if' hung unspoken on the air, smothering any other attempt at conversation. Edward sat idly, picking alternately at his auto-mail and the cuff of his uniform. He'd seen too many battles to be nervous or brag like the new recruits, but he'd never been on the front lines.

But Full Metal was a genius in all aspects, strategic combat alchemy being no different. It was when the fighting shifted to close-range that Mustang really began to watch after the boy. He'd encouraged Ed to cry when he came back with blood dripping from his auto-mail for the first time, knowing first-hand how bottling emotion could hurt someone. But Ed had refused, simply stepping into a shower stall, uniform and all. When Mustang had persisted, he'd gotten a reminder of just how much Ed had already seen in his life.

"Lay off it Flame." Edward had snapped as he stepped out of the shower, transmuting away the blood and water. He was completely comfortable now with using the man's title in their conversations, days of side-by-side battles forging that bond. "This isn't the first time I've killed someone." The tone was bitter.

"I'm aware of that, but…"

"I was 11. Even if you don't count the fact that I let that thing that we…I transmuted die, I was still responsible for killing the alchemist Majahal." He sighed, pushing past Mustang.

"You won't mourn taking another's life?" He had called.

"You know damn well we don't have time for that. It's a war Mustang." Ed choked out, the bright gold of his eyes growing dim.

The cease-fire flag was raised for the night and what was left of the Lior rebels raised a similar flag. The dark-haired man had a feeling that those remaining were grateful that night had fallen before the military could shake off their shock and resume attacking. Not that there were many left though; previous attacks had decimated the rebel force.

Roy headed back to the barracks that had been set up behind a defensible sand dune. His unit eventually fell in behind him, Hawkeye brushing up against him in that discreet, yet comforting manner that she had. He didn't speak until they were in the clamor of the mess hall, dinner plates piled high, jackets open, and gloves off.

"So what's Boss' story?" Havoc finally asked.

"Two weeks mandatory rest."

"Risembool?" Hawkeye asked.

"If I have anything to say about it. He's lucky he didn't get a rebound."

"Rebound sir?" Fury curiously asked.

"It's a backlash of alchemical energy." Breda supplied through a mouthful of rock-hard bread. Mustang nodded, prodding his food for a moment before dropping his fork, grinding his palms into his closed eyes.

And snapping off, "The first person who calls me old will be court-martialed.", without even moving his hands. Havoc's jaws clicked shut on those very words, Farman snickering at him as they all wondered how Mustang did that. They turned their attention back to their dinner, Roy eventually doing the same.

"How long will it take for him to wake up?" Riza asked as she neatly polished off her tray.

"Can't say. I've never seen anyone react quite like this."

"He'll be fine." Havoc said confidently. The others agreed and Mustang finally nodded. Something important had happened today and he couldn't pin the feeling down with just Ed's actions, though that was part of it. The thought nagged at him for hours, even as he filled out the day's paperwork and as he went to bed. He vaguely considered searching the whole area for something that would help him understand, but the numb feeling of exhaustion prevented him from getting up So he thought instead, of happier days: listening to Hughes swoon over Elysia's latest picture, arguing with Edward, taking the staff out for drinks, Riza's smile as she dumped paperwork on his lap. He kept at it until sleep claimed him, that elusive connection between today's events and what would come tomorrow continuing to niggle at the back of his brain.

Henrika- Geez, that took forever to type up. If you see any errors, please tell me. I don't have a beta. And special thanks to everyone who has been reviewing my short stories or will review this story. You guys are awesome! Hopefully I'll be able to put out some of my short ones while I work on this one too. See ya next chapter!