I'm specially dedicating this story to Roy-Fan-33 and totallyinlovewithed, because they urged me to write another one! So, this is for you, guys! Enjoy it! Oh, and Ed is still grumbling about this, but he'll get over it. No worries. (laughs)

His Back

A parent's mood and actions will have a greater effect on their child than any other influence. Children use their parents as a sort of testing device, learning from their reactions whether or not certain behaviors are acceptable in normal society. However, while both parents serve a similar purpose as guideposts to their children, the ways in which they will unknowingly go about this task are sometimes very different from one another. A mother's face is more important to a child than that of anyone else, for it is her face that they will see first in this world, her face that they will know better than their own. A mother will spend more time with her baby than anyone, understanding better and faster the moods of the child, and she will come to know that child better inside and out than anyone else ever will. For her, the child is unique and is always perfect, incapable of committing wrong. They will never be at fault with her, for she will love that life that was once a part of hers. And so, she will be the easiest meter to read, for her face will speak volumes to her child. If she smiles, it will cause the child to continue with the behavior in order that she may continue to smile. If she cries, the child will do whatever they can within their power to keep that from happening again, especially if their actions were the source of her distress. Often she will try to hide her darkest moments from her child, but they will still see them, and will often grow to hate the thing that made her cry.

On the other hand, a father's back is more important to his children than his face. To a daughter, her father's back will appear strong, producing feelings of safety and security. She will know that as long as her father stands before her, she will never come to harm. To a son, however, his father's back will be more than just a symbol of protection. His father's back is the image that he will carry with him for the rest of his life, the image that he will try to reproduce for his own children, so that his sons can grow up on his back and follow in his footsteps and so that his daughters can know that he will always guard them as long as he is alive. But, there are times when a son finds himself hating his father's back. A son that watches his father's back vanish into the distance, never to return again, will grow to hate that back, and will swear that on the day that he has children, they will never ever have to see his back that way, that he will never abandon them or hurt them the way his father did. And the child without a father will always be searching for the back that they can grow up on; the daughter will look for it in the man she may choose to marry so that she can be sure that she is safe; the son will look for it in the man he chooses to emulate so that he can be sure that that is the back his children will see.

These principles have always held true in most instances, and they certainly held true for Edward and Alphonse Elric. From an early age, Edward had been studying his father's back and had known for as long as he could recall that he hated that image. It was that image and that image alone that made him so strong, because he knew that he had to step up in his father's absence, had to protect his mother and brother and had to give Alphonse someone to look up to. And look up to him, Alphonse did. Alphonse had never known anyone stronger or braver than his brother, who was more than just a brother to him. Alphonse would always look to his brother like he would if Edward were his father, watching for his reactions, taking in the information and storing it away, determining the right from the wrong in every situation he faced at his brother's side. Alphonse would always idolize his brother, even if he were wrong sometimes, because Alphonse knew no one else who could more readily admit to his mistakes than his brother. Alphonse would always believe in his brother, because Edward was the smartest person he'd ever known. Edward always had the right answers, and if he didn't, he knew where to find them. Edward stayed true to his principles, and wouldn't throw them aside for personal gain even if it cost him his own life. Alphonse would never more readily trust his life to anyone than he would his big brother, because he knew that his life meant more to Edward than Edward's own. The evidence was embodied in Edward's right arm, as was his vow to make everything right again. Alphonse knew that he would, because Edward had promised him, and Edward always kept his promises. No matter what anyone told him, Alphonse would always look at Edward's back and know in his heart that someday, his children would look upon his own back and see the same thing.

Things were harder for Edward. For him, there had been no back to grow up on, no man to lead him and guide him through life. He had no one to idolize, no one to look up to and try to emulate, no one to believe in and place his ultimate trust with. He had no one into whose hands he was willing to lay his life, because he simply didn't know who he could trust with that. He could only lead his life as he saw fit, making it up as he went along and trying his best to do what he thought was right, and because of this, had declared himself independent of anyone. He didn't need anyone to take care of him when he was too hurt to do it himself. He didn't need anyone to protect him when he felt frightened, and he didn't need anyone to worry about him simply for the sake of worrying about him. These things he declared proudly with his hands on his hips, chest out and shoulders straight. For someone in his position, he couldn't afford to do anything less, and so it was irking to him that he would never rise above the title of "child soldier" and that no one would ever take him seriously. It drove him crazy that he had to prove time and time again that he was fully capable of handling the situations presented to him and that he could cover himself in fight. Proud and thoroughly, stubbornly self-sufficient, he would never ever admit to anyone no matter how many times they asked that a part of him—one so tiny and miniscule that it went unnoticed even by himself—longed for the comfort of knowing that there was someone to fall back on, someone who he could depend upon and who didn't depend so completely on him. He didn't think he would ever find that man who could lead him through life by their example, and had therefore convinced himself that such a person did not exist.

He was a bit surprised to run into Colonel Roy Mustang as he got off the train at East City Station, but he stood up straight and saluted the man sharply.

"Colonel," he said in greeting.

"Hello, Fullmetal," the man responded, returning the salute and setting an air of casual ease. "Hello, Alphonse."

Alphonse bowed in respect to the man, returning his greeting with his typical politeness. Formalities aside, Roy turned to Edward.

"I was hoping to run into you here," he said.

"Oh, yeah? What's up?"

At the confirmation of Edward's interest, Roy turned and started away, prompting the ever curious Elric brothers to follow. Edward scurried up a few steps to be at Roy's side while Alphonse tagged a few steps behind.

"A few blocks from here, there is an abandoned warehouse that is rumored to be a mainstream terrorist trading ground. We need to investigate, but the building is unsafe for non-alchemist soldiers. Your talents of transmuting without a circle will be a great asset for me if you're willing to come along."

Edward grinned.

"Just try and stop me," he said. Roy nodded and smiled, satisfied that he had gotten the answer he'd hoped for. He led the way to a black automobile parked at the edge of the station and the three climbed in, heading for the warehouse.

"So what exactly are we investigating?" Edward inquired.

"We're hoping to find evidence that supports our theory of the warehouse being a terrorist trading post. We know that it is, we just have to find the evidence."

"Why?"

"Without solid, concrete evidence, we don't have the rights to run raids on known terrorist bases and we wouldn't have the rights to hold any of the men we might capture. We'd just be acting on hunches and suspicions when we need to have proof beyond reasonable doubt and probable cause."

"Don't we need a search warrant to do this kind of investigating?"

"Somewhere along the line, it might have slipped out that we were looking into this warehouse. Whatever the case may be, we haven't seen any activity there for weeks, and so we've decided that they won't be back anytime in the near future. That makes it fair game for us to investigate."

"Ah," Edward said, nodding. "I see."

They pulled up behind another black automobile on the opposite side of the street from the warehouse in question and clambered out. Roy moved off to talk to First Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye and Edward turned to Alphonse.

"Al, while I'm in there, I want you to stay out here by the car."

"But, Brother, I—"

"No, Al. You're not a soldier, and you still have to draw a transmutation circle. It's not safe for you to be in there. Stay out here by the car, okay?"

Alphonse sighed but then nodded.

"Alright, Brother. I will."

"Good."

At that moment, Roy gestured to Edward, and he followed his superior across the street and into the warehouse. Alphonse watched his brother's red coat vanish into the shadows, obediently positioned beside the car.

Inside the building, Edward had to squint against the gloom, eyes struggling to adjust from the brilliant sunshine outside. Dust swirled lazily about his ankles, and a musty, stale smell greeted his nose. He watched a pair of rats scurry past a few feet ahead of the Colonel and suppressed a slight shiver.

"Nice place," he said in grim humor.

"Stay close," warned Roy, pulling out a flashlight and turning it on, starting forward into the darkness away from the hole in the wall. Edward looked back out into the bright daylight before following a step behind.

"How do they see in here to do any trade?" he asked, eyeing the uncomfortably large piles of debris and filth gathered up on either side of the small pathway. His thick boots echoed dully in the grimy air, keeping a slightly faster tempo than the Colonel's solid footsteps.

"I'm not sure. Maybe they bring candles?"

"If they brought any candles in here, the air would catch on fire! It's thick enough to cut with a knife!"

Roy chuckled a little at that, until a flash caught his eye.

"What's that?" Edward asked behind him, indicating that his sharp golden eyes had likewise picked up the shimmering object. In answer, Roy brought the cone of light back to bear, focusing it on a shiny silver box that appeared comparatively new to the structure.

"Bingo," he said, starting in that direction. Before he got very far, a loose portion of the ceiling above him chose to shift and start down at his head. He cried out and back pedaled as quickly as possible until he heard a reassuringly sharp clap behind him. The room was briefly illuminated in brilliant blue lightning that arched around the Colonel and crackled on the debris piles to his left, causing them to rise up and take on the shape of three solid stone hands that deftly caught the falling rubble. Roy released the breath he didn't know he'd been holding and turned to Edward with an appreciative smile.

"Nice job, Fullmetal."

"No problem. Now let's get that box."

He started forward past the Colonel and was almost within reach of the box when he cried out and jumped back.

"What??" Roy asked, concerned, fingers coming together, ready to snap flames at the unseen enemy. "What is it??" He stood in confusion as Edward swatted slightly at his face.

"S-spider web!" Edward stuttered slightly, running his hands over his body in a desperate attempt to rid himself of any eight-legged creatures that might have made perch on him. Roy let his subordinate continue his frenzied dance before rolling his eyes.

"Relax, Fullmetal, there are no spiders on you."

"You sure??"

"Unless they are as bright red as your coat or have the ability to blend in with their surroundings, there are no spiders on you."

Edward didn't seem convinced, but he crossed his arms and nodded. Roy shook his head and walked past, grabbing the box and coming back to the fifteen-year-old's side.

"Here," he said, handing over the flashlight. Edward uncrossed his arms and grabbed the object, pointing it at the box so that Roy could see what he was doing. Roy set it on the ground before him.

It was as long as it was wide, and Roy guessed it to be about 11 inches across both ways. It had a simple metal latch that popped open with a snap, and it was made of solid tin. He opened the container and looked inside, grinning in a very satisfied way.

"Someone didn't clean up very well," he boasted, pulling out a small plastic bag full of white crystalline powder and held it up to the light, studying it.

"Unless I miss my guess, this is 100 percent cocaine, and…would you kindly stop doing that, Fullmetal, it's embarrassing."

Edward sheepishly pulled his left hand away from his braid, still searching for any unwanted tagalongs.

"I'm sorry!!" he protested, throwing his braid over his shoulder. "I really, really hate those things!!"

"What, spiders?"

"Yes!!"

"They're just bugs, Fullmetal."

"I don't care!! They are creepy, and gross, and they can crawl up walls and attack from above and…and…and they're just plain icky!!"

Roy blinked up at the youth in disbelief.

"'Icky'?" he echoed.

"Yes. Icky."

Roy let another pause slide by.

"20 million sens spent every year to fund research grants for your brilliance, and you choose the word 'icky'."

"Well, they are!!"

"You know, some people have had doubts about your gender, Fullmetal."

"Oh, shut up!!"

"Attack from above, huh?"

"I hope one bites you and you die painfully from its poison!!"

"Most aren't poisonous in this area, you know."

"That's what they want you to believe!!"

"Who, the spiders?"

"…I hate you, do you know that?"

"I mean, why not, since they can conceive premeditated attacks from above. Silent but deadly, you know. The real 'shinobi' of the insect world."

"…I should have let that rubble fall on your head."

"Like that one coming down for you now?"

"What?? Where??"

Edward's expression registered immediate panic and he wheeled around, ducking slightly and swinging the flashlight all around above his head. Roy had to laugh at that one.

"I'm just kidding, Fullmetal. Chill out."

"You're a real bastard sometimes, you know that, Colonel!! A real bastard!!"

"It's something I strive for, Fullmetal. Not just anyone can do it. It takes real mastery of skill and talent to do what I do."

Roy stopped when he noticed Edward wasn't paying attention to him.

"Hey, Colonel?" Edward inquired, face serious. His eyes were staring intently at something in the distant shadows.

"Yes, Fullmetal?"

"What's that?"

"What's what?"

"That. Over there."

Edward pointed, and Roy followed the invisible line stretching from the tip of the fifteen-year-old's finger across the shrouding darkness. Roy's black eyes focused carefully, trying to figure out what it was that had attracted the boy's attention. In a few moments, he saw them, blinking scarlet red, a sharp contrast to the general blackness of the warehouse.

0:00:06

0:00:05

0:00:04

Roy's eyes widened in horror.

"Run for it!!!" he shouted, grabbing the confused Edward by the arm and heading for the hole in the wall.

Too late.

The blood red numbers on the bomb's timer flashed to 0:00:00 before erupting into a painfully blinding flash of white hot light that took out the only supporting wall in the unsteady structure. Roy cried out as the walls and ceiling came crumbling down on top of him and his subordinate. He heard Edward's terrified shriek of pain and headed for him when a large chunk of concrete collided with the back of his head.

Everything went black.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Outside the structure, it took about 8 large sized MPs to hold back Alphonse Elric, who couldn't stop screaming his brother's name. He stared at huge pile of newly formed rubble in disbelief, incapable of accepting that Edward was buried somewhere underneath that mountain, most likely hurt or even…

No. No. Alphonse couldn't accept that. Edward couldn't be… He just wasn't…

"Edward!!! Edward!!! Edward!!!"

The MPs were slowly sliding backwards, and their jaws were agape at the sight of armor-clad boy who clearly didn't know his own strength. And Alphonse just continued to fight his way forward, until Riza Hawkeye stepped into his path.

"Lieutenant, Edward—!!"

"We know, Alphonse. Try to calm down."

"But, Edward is—!!"

"Alphonse, you need to calm down."

Something about the tone of her voice seemed to work, because the boy dropped to his knees, red glowing eyes never leaving the heap of debris.

"What are we going to do?" he asked helplessly. If he could cry, he would have been bawling like a baby by now.

"The Colonel's radio didn't cut out. I can only assume that somehow, it is okay and hopefully the Colonel is near it and your brother."

She put a hand on one of the boy's huge spiked shoulders.

"It's going to be okay, Alphonse. We'll get them out of there once we've confirmed they're still alive."

Alphonse nodded dumbly, totally unsure what to think or what to do at that moment. Riza whirled away from him and turned to the group behind her.

"Master Sergeant Fuery!! Get on the radio and get a rescue squad and an ambulance down here right away!! And tell the rescue crew to bring their dogs!" she barked.

"Yes, sir!!" the small, timid man replied confidently, planting his headphones firmly onto his head and tuning the dial to the correct frequency, relaying her exact orders.

The rest of it, Alphonse drowned out. He just continued to stare at the massive pile of ruin and for the first time in a long time, he began to pray to whatever being might listen that somehow, someway, Edward was okay.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

"…olonel!! Colonel Mustang, do you read me??"

With a groan, Roy came to, stirring slightly under the dust. Chunks of concrete rolled off of his back as he came up onto his knees and rubbed his head, coughing slightly. Where was he? What was going on?

"Colonel Mustang, please come in!!"

Where was the voice coming from? In a moment, everything registered at once; the investigation, the bomb, the cave-in, Edward's scream…

Edward!! Oh, God, where was Edward??

"Colonel Mustang, do you read me??"

Roy grabbed the handheld radio from his belt and pushed in the call button, holding it to his mouth.

"This is Colonel Mustang, Master Sergeant. I read you. Over."

He released the button, and a second later, he could hear cheering on the other side.

"Colonel!! Thank God!! We thought we'd lost you!!"

"I'm okay for now, Fuery, but I'm buried under all this rubble."

Where was that light source coming from? Roy started to crawl forward towards it.

"Sir, is Edward down there with you?"

The voice was Riza's.

"I think so. I don't know where…"

Roy stopped, the words trapped in his throat. Outside, Riza waited in hushed agony for an answer.

"Colonel?"

Roy swallowed and put the radio to his lips.

"Lieutenant, how fast can you get a rescue squad to us?"

"There's one on its way now. Why? What's going on?"

Roy licked his lips nervously.

"Get them here as fast as you can. Fullmetal's hurt."

"Is it serious?"

Roy's stomach did flip-flops as he took in the scene before him. Edward's normally alert golden eyes were glassy and dilated, constantly shifting in and out of focus. He lay in a twisted, contorted position, but was clearly beyond the point of registering pain any longer. A harsh, wet wheeze whistled through his partly open lips, a tiny stream of blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. Roy's heart stopped cold several times as his brain tried to register the large bloodstains covering the boy's white gloves, products of the warm pool soaking his shirtfront—all coming from the source around the stout iron pipe protruding from his stomach. Roy could tell all of this from the dim lighting of the flashlight that had miraculously survived the collapse, and could tell, too, that Edward's skin was deathly pale and his breathing dangerously shallow. He swallowed hard past the lump forming in his throat and pressed the call button on his radio.

"Yes, Lieutenant. It's very serious."

Riza could read more from the Colonel's tone than anyone, and she knew that Edward's condition was fatal.

"Understood, sir. The rescue team is on its way. Do you know where you are?"

Roy had to force his gaze away from Edward in order to think more clearly.

"We, uh, we were about three feet from the hole we entered in when the bomb went off. The area we are in is about five feet long, two feet wide, and…uh…I'm guessing that the spot directly over my head is about ten feet high. We have still have light from the flashlight, and I don't think anything is going to fall in anytime soon."

"Understood, sir. We'll get there as soon as we can."

"Please do your best, Lieutenant. Over and out."

He put the radio back into the pouch on the back of his belt and scooted over to Edward's side.

He could tell that the boy was struggling to focus through the haze of darkness and pain. He pushed back several loose strands of golden blonde hair, fighting to keep his own breathing even, fighting to get his heart rate under control, fighting to stay calm.

"Colo…nel?" Edward choked out, voice tight and wet. He could barely draw in the necessary air to speak in anything louder than a whisper.

"Hey, Fullmetal," Roy replied, trying to keep his tone as light as possible, but knowing that he was failing miserably.

"What….h…happ…ened?"

"The building collapsed, but we're going to be okay. A rescue squad is on its way right now, and we'll get out of here soon."

Edward coughed weakly and more scarlet liquid trickled from his mouth. Roy's heart stopped at the sight of that stain, and his eyes drifted down to that horrid pole. He was relieved to see that it was not in the center of Edward's stomach like he had originally thought, but actually about three inches to the side, above where his kidney was. It didn't look like the pole went all the way through the boy's body, which was also a good sign, but Roy knew from his training that he shouldn't pull it out. Clearly, Edward was suffering from internal bleeding, and Roy didn't dare risk worsening any possible internal damage he might have already suffered.

"How…long…wi…will…we…h-ha...ve…to…st…ay…here?" Edward asked, and it sounded to Roy as if he were suffering from a set of morbid hiccups. Roy stroked the boy's hair for a moment, contemplatively.

"Not too long, I suspect. The others have teams on their way now. We'll be okay, Fullmetal. You'll see."

Edward shut his eyes, and Roy thought he might have drifted off. He just continued to stroke the boy's hair, at a complete loss for anything else to do. He was helpless now, against time and against the situation, and all Roy Mustang could think was that he really, really despised being so useless. He was a man unaccustomed to being out of control of any given situation, because he was, after all, the man in charge, and he was always calling the shots and pulling the strings. But now, all he could do was sit still and wait and do whatever was within his power to keep his subordinate alive, because there was no way, absolutely no possible way any of his underlings were going to die before him. It just wasn't going to happen on his watch. He took comfort in the continuous wheeze coming from Edward, because that wheeze meant he was still alive and that there was still hope. If that sound stopped, Roy knew he was in big trouble.

Roy Mustang was not averse to gambling; he did it all the time, in fact. He had never expected, however, that he'd ever find himself playing a game against so tough a foe with such high stakes.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Riza's wits were almost at their end when the rescue team finally arrived half an hour after the call had been made by Fuery. She gathered all the men around her, some straining to hold their ever eager dogs by their sides.

"Okay, men!" she said in that commanding tone of hers that always demanded everyone's full attention. "I managed to get hold of the Colonel via radio and he told me that he is trapped in a space that is five feet long, two feet wide, and about ten feet tall at it's highest point. He is trapped with another young soldier who is fatally injured. He did not specify the injuries, but it is clear that we need to act as quickly as possible. He indicated that they are about three feet from where they entered, placing them about here."

She swiftly encircled an area on the blueprints before her with a red pen and then tapped the area with her finger.

"Start here and work your way around. I want the dogs sniffing as much as they can to see if they can locate a specific location. Let's get them out of there fast people! A child's life depends upon it!"

Immediately upon her signal, the men started forward, the dogs hot on the trail, searching around with their noses, doing their jobs as they were trained to do. Other men stood around with shovels, waiting for some sign. Fifteen minutes passed with a gut-wrenching lack of results, until suddenly one of the dogs started barking and scratching at a specific spot.

"Lieutenant!" the dog's leader called out. "I think Gabe's found something!!"

Riza ran up to the man's side, checking her map.

"This looks like it could be in the right area," she agreed. She turned to the men with shovels.

"Start digging!!" she ordered, and they jumped to comply, being as careful as possible so that they would not dislodge anything and potentially cause the bubble around the two trapped to collapse in further.

"Alphonse!" Riza called, and the suit of armor snapped to immediate attention. She gestured with her arm that he should come up to her side.

"Come here! You can help!"

Alphonse's body did not get tired and didn't know its own strength. He would be able to do more work than the men. With an eagerness that belied his nervousness, Alphonse climbed up the pile and started pulling away large chunks of rocks, tossing them away, using the rhythmic work to find a sort of chant in his head. Up and out. Up and out. Was Edward hurt? Was he dead? No. No. Up and out. Up and out. He couldn't think about that. All he could do now was move rocks.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

It was amazing to Roy how fast one could completely lose track of time when trapped underneath a deep pile of debris. How long had they been there? An hour? Two hours? Two years? He didn't know. What he did know was that Edward's breathing had grown even shallower over the last few minutes, and the breaths he was barely managing to take were coming at irregular intervals. Roy put his hand on the boy's forehead. He was very cold now, and that was never a good sign. Without a second thought, Roy slid out of his military jacket and laid it over the boy, trying to keep him warm somehow, trying to keep that life from slipping away completely. He sighed in frustration, not knowing how much longer he could stand this. He tried again in vain to steady his heartbeat and to calm his breathing, fighting for control of his senses, knowing that he had to stay on top of his game if he wanted to keep Edward alive.

He looked up then and noticed Edward's hazy gaze was focused on his face. He tried a smile that he was sure looked as hollow as it felt.

"Don't worry, Fullmetal. I'm sure it will only be a little bit longer."

Edward said nothing, just continued to study Roy's expression. He closed his eyes for a moment, and Roy pushed back a few more locks of his golden blonde hair. When Edward opened his eyes again, translucent crystalline tears had pooled at the bottom of them.

"Colo…nel," he choked out. "I'm…scared."

Roy stared at the boy in fascinated horror for a long minute. It was at that moment that Roy had an epiphany, realizing that, now more than ever, he had to be stronger than he'd ever been before in his 29 year life. Edward's life depended upon it, because Roy had to keep the boy calm. And how could he do that if he wasn't calm himself? If he let his fear show through, how could he keep Edward from being afraid as well? Edward needed him to be strong, needed to hold on to his confidence, because right now, he didn't have anything else. He might be petrified out of his mind right now, but he absolutely could not and would not let Edward see that. If Edward couldn't find it within himself to be brave, then Roy would have to do it for him. Without another thought on the matter, Roy placed his hand over the one that had slipped away from pipe just a few moments ago, ignoring the blood, ignoring the cold and just focusing on the tiny spark of life still left within the boy, willing it to stay lit with all his might.

"I know you are," he said in a voice that wasn't his own, a voice that was full of warmth and life and strength. He felt a hundred miles away from himself at that moment.

"I…don...t…want to…die. I'm…scared to…die."

Roy shushed him softly, stroking his hair gently with his free hand, his grip on that cold and unresponsive left hand never slacking, and he tried to hold back the tears that threatened to roll loose of Edward's golden eyes.

"Its okay, Ed. You're going to be okay. I will not let you die down here. I promise."

Edward didn't answer, keeping his gaze locked on the man's face, searching for something to cling to. And with everything in his power, Roy willed away his own fears, swallowing them, banishing them to the smallest corners of his mind.

"I promise that you're going to be okay," he repeated, voice confident, eyes steady. He squeezed Edward's hand for emphasis, telling him without words not to be afraid. Edward closed his eyes again, trying to fight the little voice inside of him that begged him to let go, to surrender to the soothing darkness, and he turned his left hand over in order to squeeze Roy's back, terribly afraid that he would succumb to that desire. Hold me here, his grip seemed to say. Don't let me slip away. And Roy held on, his free hand running rhythmically through golden hair, calming the boy, comforting him.

Most men in his position would blame themselves, chide themselves on having brought the boy into an unsafe environment, intentionally putting him in harm's way, but Roy Mustang was not like most men. He simply could not allow himself to think that way. It was not his fault that there had been a bomb. It was not his fault that the bomb had gone off and trapped him and Edward. It was not and would never be his fault. But, he knew who to blame. Oh, he knew exactly who to blame, and knew, too, that he had to get out of here, because he had to make them pay. Suddenly, without warning, the flashlight died, dousing them both into darkness. Edward whimpered, frightened, but Roy hushed him soothingly, his grip only tightening. He would not let go. He could not. Edward had a promise to keep, and he would not allow the boy to break that promise.

"It's okay," he said, his voice a beacon of light in Edward's darkness. "You're going to be just fine. You will not die down here, Fullmetal. I won't allow it."

Edward said nothing, hadn't the strength, but Roy knew he had heard from the way the boy half-heartedly squeezed his hand.

Roy Mustang was not a praying man, but at that particular instant, he prayed like he'd never prayed before that his last words to a dying boy would not be a lie.

Light suddenly broke through the darkness. Roy blinked in surprise, wondering if the flashlight had only temporarily shut off until he realized that this new source was far brighter and was coming from directly above his head. He looked up and squinted his eyes against the glare. Shadows fell across his vision, and he heard the barking of dogs.

"Colonel!! Colonel Mustang!!" came Havoc's voice from above.

"Brother!!" came Alphonse's soon after.

"Hey!!" Mustang shouted up to the hole. "We're down here!!"

He could hear the men beyond his vision cheering, and Havoc shouting, "They're okay!!" to everyone around him.

"Hurry!! Fullmetal needs to get to a hospital!!" he continued.

"Don't worry!!" Havoc replied. "We've got paramedics waiting!!"

His head disappeared from view and Roy could hear Riza doling out orders to enlarge the hole. He looked down at Edward with a smile, patting the boy's limp hand with his free hand.

"Did you hear that, Fullmetal?" he asked him, his voice excited. "They found us! We're getting out of here!"

Edward was too far gone to answer with anything more than a ghost of a smile.

"I told you that you'd be okay," the man said to him quietly, and Edward's eyes closed as he gave a weak nod. His grip on Roy's hand slackened as he relaxed. He was going to be okay.

Up above, they opened the hole up more so that two paramedics could climb down with a gurney. As gently as possible, they transferred Edward onto the stretcher, producing a soft, choked cry as the pole shifted slightly.

"Easy," the man at Edward's head said to the other. "Kid, can you hear me?"

Edward nodded feebly.

"We're going to hook the gurney to some cables so we can get you outta here. It may hurt, but we're going to try to be a gentle as possible, okay?"

Another frail nod came from the boy, and his eyelids flickered slightly as he drew near to losing consciousness. The men acted quickly, Roy joining them to attach the lift cables as fast as possible. As one, the three men hoisted the stretcher as far over their heads as they could reach, and the men above pulled him up as swiftly as they dared so as not to rock him too much and cause him more pain. Finally, he was well in the hands of two other paramedics when Roy started climbing up a rope provided for him, and the two men hurried as fast as they dared to the ambulance, placing the gurney on a wheeled cart, folding the legs of the cart and sliding the whole contraption, Edward and all, inside the back of the ambulance. Things began to move very quickly as the men started to exchange tubes and wires around him. A breathing mask was placed over his face, oxygen pouring in through his mouth and nose, aiding his tired lungs. The confusion and blood loss started to get to him, and the constant movement of the strangers around him was beginning to agitate him.

"Al?" he called, looking for something familiar. "Alphonse?"

The men around him kept talking as if they hadn't heard him, though he thought he heard one of them call out of the ambulance. He was growing more anxious. Where was Alphonse?

"Al??"

"I'm here, Brother," came the reassuring voice a moment later, and a large hand came to rest on his left hand, patting it gently. "It's okay."

"Wh…where's the…Colonel?"

"He's fine. He's going to follow in a car. Rest now, Brother. These guys are going to take care of you."

Edward slipped into the darkness with frightening suddenness, his body slumping down against the cushion of the gurney. The men around him worked fast, sliding an IV into his left arm and packing gauze around the outside of the pipe, trying to stem any further blood flow from his wound. Alphonse stared at the pole, wondering why they didn't pull it out, but trusting that they knew how to do their jobs and that Edward was going to be okay. All he could do for now was hold his brother's hand.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Waiting. Humans hate to wait for things. They are the seekers of instant gratification. However, this fact was not in the front of the minds of the seven waiting out in the front room of the hospital. It was accurately named the waiting room, Roy thought as he turned around to continue with his pacing. That's all one did. Some waited to see a doctor. Others waited for the news of a baby's successful delivery. Others waited for a patient's release. Still others, like himself, his subordinates, and Alphonse, waited all-too-impatiently for news of a loved one's condition. Roy didn't know right away what was making him so nervous, but when he looked over at Alphonse, sitting quietly in a chair, and he thought about how much this waiting must be killing the poor fourteen year old, he understood why. And so, he continued to pace, counting his steps, trying to focus on something beyond all the waiting, the endless waiting, knowing that if he didn't, he'd go mad. Next to Alphonse, Havoc flipped open his lighter, then shut it, then opened it again, and then shut it once more. Open. Shut. Open. Shut. Over and over. His blue eyes stared at nothing, and it was like he wasn't aware of his actions. Open. Shut. Open. Shut. Roy started to count the opens and the shuts, trying not to think of Edward, fragile Edward, lying on a steel operating table, tubes coming out of him left and right, doctors and nurses surrounding him. No, no. Don't think of that, or how cold he was, don't think of his tears. Open. Shut. Open. Shut. Beside Havoc, Breda's leg bounced up and down spasmodically, the cloth of his pants rustling. Fuery was tapping his fingers on the arm of his chair, looking pale, as if he were about to get sick right there. Pale. No, don't focus on how pale Edward had looked, how deathly white. Don't focus on how close he'd come to slipping away. Open. Shut. Open. Shut. The blood, no, don't think about the blood, his blood, running out of him. Open. There was a lot of blood inside of people. Shut. How did such a small person hold so much blood? Open. Did the body always make blood, or would Edward always be lacking the amount he'd lost? Shut. No, no, don't think about losing him. Don't think about his weak, limp frame. Why did they even have a waiting room to begin with? Didn't they know that people could go crazy out here? Bad idea, these "waiting" rooms. Open. Shut. Falman and Riza stood off in the corner, Riza staring out the window, arms crossed, Falman looking at the floor, hands in his pockets. He was going to be fine. Didn't they know that? He had to be. Roy had promised him. Open. Shut.

Finally, after all the incessant waiting, a doctor came out. Roy was fit to take the man down with a flying tackle and beat him senseless for making them wait so long, but he couldn't. He was the superior officer. He had to stay in control, or the others wouldn't know how to act. The doctor approached.

"Colonel Mustang?" he asked. Roy nodded. That's right. Colonel Mustang. A professional. Even-keeled. Composed.

"I have good news, Colonel. Young Major Elric is going to be just fine. We've managed to stop all of the internal bleeding, and we removed the pipe without too much trouble."

"How bad was the damage?"

"Not bad at all. He was lucky. A few centimeters to the left, that pipe could have severed one of the major arteries in his stomach, causing massive, uncontrolled bleeding. As it were, where the pipe went in it would have taken out one of his kidneys had it slipped a few inches deeper."

"Would that have been fatal?"

"Oh, no. People can live with just one kidney. As I said, the internal bleeding has stopped, we've closed up the wounds, and his condition has stabilized. He's moved well out of the critical stage and should be able to move around in a few days."

Everyone let out the breaths they didn't know they'd been holding, and smiles grew all around. Alphonse rose from his seat.

"Can I see him?" he asked timidly. The doctor looked at him for a moment, slightly taken aback by the image of a large person in a suit of armor with such a gentle voice, but then the man smiled.

"You certainly can. He's still asleep right now, but he should wake up soon."

He pointed Alphonse to the room, and the boy moved off down the hallway. Roy turned to the doctor and held out his hand.

"Thank you, doctor."

"I'm glad I could help, Colonel. If you'll excuse me."

The man moved away, and the waiting party broke up, Havoc claiming to need a smoke, Breda, Falman and Fuery following. Riza looked at Roy, who nodded. They moved off down the hallway, heading for Edward's room. They waited out in the hallway for a while, letting Alphonse have a few moments alone with his brother before going in.

Inside the hospital room, Alphonse lowered himself into a chair at the bedside. He studied Edward for a moment, glad to see that the color was back in his face and that his breathing was deep and even again. Edward lay on his back, right arm resting across his chest, left arm stretched out at his side, an IV leading out of his elbow up to the pole beside him. His hair had been unbound from its trademark braid and was held loosely in a ponytail that lay over his left shoulder. Nearby, a machine beeped every so many seconds, keeping track of his steady, strong heartbeat. Alphonse listened to that sound for a while, taking comfort in its consistency, glad that the worst had passed. He watched the morphine drip, trying to regain his center of inner balance once more. At the moment he found it, Edward's eyelids fluttered and opened. He stared around the room for a moment, silently confused, until his gaze landed on Alphonse. He blinked and swallowed, trying to rid himself of the thick, dumb feeling spread all over his body.

"Where am I?" he asked a moment later, voice husky and low.

"You're in a hospital. You just got out of surgery."

Edward blinked a few more times, mind taking its sweet time to clear. Oh, right. The bomb. The cave-in. The pipe. A few more minutes slipped by in silence.

"Brother?" Alphonse asked softly. He sounded as if he were afraid to talk. Edward looked over at him.

"Yeah?"

"…when you were down there…were…"

Alphonse shifted uncomfortably.

"Were you scared?" he finally managed to get out. Edward didn't say anything for a moment, studying his brother's familiar silver face. Even though it was frozen in an unreadable state, Edward always felt that he could read his brother's emotions there. He could feel the anxiety and the silent fear, and suddenly understood. Alphonse must have been so petrified all that time he'd been trapped in the darkness, worried about him. And nothing bothered Edward more than the knowledge that he had worried Alphonse. His little brother looked up to him for strength, and he hadn't been there for him. Edward almost lied to him then, wanting to comfort him, wanting to be nothing less than perfect in his brother's eyes. But something kept him from that, something in the back of his mind that told him that, just this once, it was okay for Alphonse to know the truth and to see his imperfections.

"Yeah," he finally said. "I was pretty scared."

Alphonse looked at him in shock.

"But…you're not scared of anything," he said.

"I'm scared of some things."

"…like what?"

Edward paused, trying to think of how he wanted to word his thoughts.

"I'm afraid of letting you down," he finally said, and he meant it with everything he had within him.

"Brother, you could never do that!!"

Edward smiled.

"I try my hardest not to. But I'm still afraid that someday, I will."

Silence stretched between them for a long moment before Edward reached over and placed his right hand over Alphonse's clasped hands.

"When I was down there, I was so scared that I was going to die. All I could think about was how I was going to be leaving you behind and how sad and lonely you were going to be. But most of all, I thought about how I was going to leave without fulfilling my promise to you, and that hurt me the most."

Alphonse wrapped both of his hands around his brother's.

"I was so scared that I was going to lose you," he said, voice shaking. "I don't know what I would have done if I had really lost you. You're the strongest person I know, and I thought…I thought…Brother, I'm sorry. I lost faith."

Edward smiled warmly at his brother, his eyes holding no grudges.

"It's okay to be scared sometimes," he said. "What happened…almost happened…was pretty scary. For both of us, I think."

He took his hand out of Alphonse's and placed it atop his head.

"I'm sorry I scared you," he said. "But I'm okay now. And I will get you your body back. I swear it."

He pulled his hand away and balled it into a fist, offering it to his brother. Alphonse's expressionless helm seemed to smile, and he placed his own huge fist against Edward's.

"If anyone can, it's you, Brother," he enthused. Edward smiled and then pulled his hand back, placing it back over his chest and giving a long tired sigh. Roy took that as his cue and walked in, a smile on his face.

"Hey, Fullmetal," he greeted.

"Colonel," Edward responded. Alphonse looked between them for a moment and rose.

"I'm going to go tell the others that you're awake," he explained, and left the room.

Neither Roy nor Edward said anything for a moment, Roy staring at the wall, Edward looking down at his arm. Finally, the boy looked over at the man.

"Colonel…I want to thank you…for saving my life."

Roy smiled.

"You're welcome," he answered, leaving I'm just glad you're okay unspoken. But Edward understood what he meant.

"Were you scared?" he asked, honestly curious. Roy thought on that a moment, and then shrugged.

"A little."

Edward would never know how truly terrifying that hour had been, how it had seemed like an eternity had dragged by with agonizing slowness. He would never know how feverishly Roy had prayed and begged and pleaded with whatever higher being might be listening to let the boy live. He would never know how worried the man had been that, at any given moment, the tiny flame of life that had been within him might be snuffed out beyond Roy's reach. Looking at him, lying in that bed, alive and well, Roy knew that Edward would never know those things, simply because Edward didn't need to know. He might look back someday and realize, but today…he didn't need to know the whole story. Edward, meanwhile, could only look at the man in awe, wondering how he could have been so strong in those dark minutes, and hoping that he could be that strong if he ever found himself in the man's shoes.

Roy smirked suddenly.

"So…are spiders still icky?" he said, sliding right back into Colonel Bastard.

"Shut up!!"

"Really, though…'icky'? What kind of man uses the word 'icky'?"

"You are mean!! Mean to the injured!! Mean!!"

Roy stood for a moment and the snorted, shaking his head.

"Icky."

"You're lucky I have no strength right now because if I did, I'd get out of this bed and kick your ass!!"

Roy smirked in his typically irritating fashion and turned for the door.

"Take it easy, Fullmetal."

"Yeah, yeah."

A father's back is more important to his children than his face. In the days prior to this one, Edward had always thought that the man he would learn to emulate simply did not exist. He had always privately feared that someday, his children would look at his back and see his father's. Watching Roy's back as he moved out into the hallway, Edward Elric realized for the first time whose back he was actually growing up on.

END