A Shared Struggle

Guilt was the heaviest burden to bear. That was a fact that Roy Mustang knew better than anyone. The ghosts of the hundreds—or was it thousands?—of Ishbalans he'd killed would never let him rest, would haunt him for the rest of his life. And he deserved that, because he had wrongfully taken their lives, had attacked innocents who had never done anything against him.

But this guilt weighing down those normally stubborn shoulders, this guilt that had taken the sparkle from those strong, farseeing eyes, that gripped that once vibrant, wild life in a melancholic stranglehold…it wasn't right. There should be no guilt in what he'd done. It was self-defense. Everyone knew it. Roy himself had been there, back against the wall, feeling his blood wet and sticky there. Roy had thought his maker had come to collect, but hoped that when the man was done with him, the youth would have had time to escape. His surprise had been complete when he'd heard the gunshot and he'd squeezed his eyes shut tighter, waiting, waiting…until he realized he was still alive and opened his eyes to see their attacker drop face-first onto the ground, his lifeblood pooling eerily around him. He looked over, eyes wide, and he saw the hands that shook while holding the gun, the young, innocent eyes widened in abject horror, the mouth hanging open, searching for something, anything, that could express what he was feeling inside. Roy had seen the turmoil in those sharp eyes, and understood it. But, that had been over a week ago, and here he was again, staring down that door once more, attempting to pull that hurting, wounded soul out of the darkness and into the light again. And he'd keep doing it until it worked. He'd drag him out of there by his hair if he had to.

Roy knocked on the door.

"Go away," came the expected answer.

"Edward, you have to come out of there," he said, ignoring it just as he always did.

"Leave me alone."

"Edward, please. Everyone's worried about you. Please come out."

"No! Go away!"

Roy growled under his breath in frustration. Even in his utter depression, Edward Elric could be infuriatingly stubborn.

"Edward, look, I know you're hurting right now, but you have to come out of that room sometime."

"No I don't!"

"Edward, we just want to help you."

"Leave me the hell alone!!"

"Edward, please listen to me. What happened wasn't your fault. You shouldn't feel guilty about it."

He didn't hear anything from the other side, and knew that the youth was just trying to ignore him.

"Edward, come on!! Please open the door!!"

He tried the handle, but, of course, the lock held firm, and the door would not open. Roy stared at that handle in anger, knowing that he had to get into that room if he wanted to make a difference. He pulled out a piece of chalk and drew a transmutation circle on the door, smirking as he thought of the effectiveness of doors locked to alchemists.

"Edward, I'm coming in," he said, pocketing the chalk. He touched the circle lightly with two fingers, and heard the satisfying crack of the door as it busted open. He swung it wide and stepped into the gloom beyond.

"Edward?" he asked, peering through the shadows, eyes trying to adjust to the gloom. He heard movement off to the side and turned that way, eyes widening in horror as his brain took note of the bedraggled looking Edward standing there, a seemingly sickly shadow of his former self. His golden blonde hair was loose from its braid, hanging about his shoulders in slightly unkempt, tumbling waves; his normally alert golden eyes were blank and haunted and possessed not a trace of the inner fire that once burned behind them; his clothing was wrinkled and mussed, and Roy could tell he hadn't seen a shower in days. But thing that struck him cold, the thing that grabbed his heart and squeezed it chokingly, was the sight of this poor, disheveled boy loosely holding a standard military issued pistol in his left hand. Roy didn't have to ask to know that that silver instrument of death had only one bullet in it; knew, too, that Edward would only need one bullet if he succeeded.

"Edward…no…" he breathed, fully coming away from the door to face the boy.

"You shouldn't have come in here," Edward said, but Roy didn't recognize the voice speaking the words. He looked at those empty eyes and knew that it wasn't Edward talking at all; it was that horrible demon possessing him, the one that would not be satiated until it had been bathed in his blood and drank of his soul. Roy started forward cautiously, one hand extended before him, palm facing upwards.

"Edward, give me the gun."

He kept his voice steady and even, his heart pounding wildly in his chest.

"You can't stop me."

"I can try. Give me the gun."

"NO!!"

The cry was torn from the youth with such fury, that Roy froze in his tracks. He stopped cold in terror as the teen placed the gun's barrel against his left temple.

"Edward…don't," he begged.

"You don't understand!!" the boy shouted, his voice almost shrieking in his hysteria. "You don't understand!!"

"Edward, please…let us help you."

"Help me?? Help me?? I took a man's life!! I killed him with my own two hands!!!"

"You had to…you had no other choice."

"I watched his life pour out of him like water!! I did it!! I killed him!!"

"He would have killed us, Edward."

"I don't care!!!!"

Edward cocked the gun, and Roy jerked at that sharp sound.

"Edward, no," he commanded, trying somehow to reach him. Edward just stared back at the man helplessly.

"Did you know that his wife was pregnant? She's due next month. He'll never see his newborn child. He'll never see his wife again. I took him from them. I killed him. It's all my fault."

"Edward, stop it. Give me the gun."

"No," Edward said, whole body shaking, and Roy could still see a glimmer of the real Edward, a tiny glance of hesitation in those lifeless golden eyes. "No, it's over."

"It's not, Edward. It doesn't have to be."

Roy started forward again, pleading with that tiny spark that remained, trying to pull it free.

"Just put down the gun, Edward. We can help you. Please let us help you."

Edward stared at the man in an almost trance-like way. Roy was almost within reach when the demon awoke again, rearing its ugly head once more.

"Nooo!!" the boy shrieked, lurching back several steps and pressing the barrel more firmly against his head. "Stay away from me!! Don't come any closer!!"

Roy stopped and stared at the boy, who started to cry uncontrollably though he didn't seem aware of the tears.

"You can't stop me!!"

"I'm not trying to stop you, Edward. I'm trying to help you."

"I don't need anyone's help!! I know what I have to do, and it's too late for you to stop me!!"

"No, it's not. Trust me, it's not."

"How would you know??"

"I was in Ishbal, Edward."

That gave the boy pause. He stared into Roy's black eyes like one affixed by a spell.

"I killed so many people. I know what you're feeling."

"No you don't."

The protest didn't have any force behind it. Roy could sense the inner turmoil, the painful indecisiveness of an individual that didn't want to go on living but was too afraid to die.

"I do. You don't think there's anything left for you. You don't think that you deserve to live when they're dead. You think that everything could have gone differently. You wish that there had been another way, that you had done something another way. You want to die, but you're afraid of death's permanence. I was there, Edward. I felt the same way, and I tried to do the same thing you're doing now."

Edward flinched, the barrel twitching beside his head for a heartstopping second until Roy realized he hadn't pulled the trigger. He started forward again.

"Give me the gun, Edward."

The demon came alive again.

"No!! Stay back!!"

But Roy didn't listen to the demon, had conquered it long ago and would not stop until he had driven it out of the boy.

"Don't come any closer!!"

The exorcism was in full swing. Roy would not rest until he had seen it through.

"Stop it!! Don't touch me!!"

Roy saw his finger squeeze the trigger.

"No!!" he shouted, refusing to admit defeat. He leaped forward the last three steps and grabbed the boy's wrist tightly, yanking it back at the last possible second. The gun fired loudly, and Edward screamed, but the bullet flew harmlessly wide, landing in the ceiling where it could do no harm to anyone.

But the demon was angry now, and it refused to give up the body it had stolen. Edward threw a punch with his right hand, but Roy grabbed that wrist, too, easily holding him at bay as his continued to struggle.

"Don't touch me!!" the youth screamed. "Don't touch me!! Let go of me!! Don't touch me!!!"

Roy didn't say anything, just held on tight while he was kicked and swung at, and in his mind, he was grappling with the demon, holding it around the throat and choking it, driving it as far from the boy as he could. But, this demon was a lot stronger than his own demon had been, because it had possessed a child, and they were so much more easily swayed than adults. And Roy grew terribly afraid at that moment, afraid that Edward would be lost to him, afraid that if he let go of him, then the boy would vanish, taken away by this life-devouring demon that cared nothing for him. Before he really even registered what he was doing he was already in motion, releasing his grip on the boy's right hand and wrapping his left arm tightly around his slender body, hugging him close. Edward continued to shriek and protest, struggling wildly, pounding on Roy's shoulder with his now free hand. His struggles grew more frantic, more agitated as the monster within lost ground, its hold slipping, but the more he struggled, the tighter Roy squeezed, until the teen found that he could scarcely draw breath, let alone move. Roy squeezed the youth's left wrist, and the motion forced the gun to drop out of lifeless fingers where it clattered against the floor, harmless and unthreatening. Roy kicked it away, letting go of the boy's wrist so that he could bring his other arm around and pull the youth even closer to him, placing his hand against the back of the boy's head and tucking it against his shoulders. Edward struggled a few more times, vainly and without force, until finally he succumbed Roy's will and gave up the fight, his legs giving way. Roy slid to the floor, drawing the boy with him.

He leaned heavily against the man, having no strength of his own anymore, and his whole body quaked violently as his sobs broke free, breaking against Roy's shoulder where his tears and hurt found refuge. He gave in to the pain, letting it course through him, admitting passage to the burning acidity of the guilt twisting his stomach. He was so tired; tired of fighting, tired of trying to hold back the tears, tired of everything. All he had ever wanted to do was cry, but couldn't, because too many people depended upon his strength, too many people expected him to be steadfast and ever vigilant. But he was so tired of pretending to be an adult. He was so tired of trying to justify his actions to everyone. He didn't know what he was anymore, a boy or a man, only knew that his body hurt everywhere and felt so heavy under all the burdens that he just didn't want to carry them anymore.

And Roy just let him cry, let him soak his shirtfront, let him have the moment of weakness that he truly needed. He took the burdens from the boy's shoulders and mantled them for him, letting them bow his shoulders. And how heavy they were! These were burdens that no fifteen year old should ever have to carry. How much guilt he had accumulated! How much grief he bore! But, Roy was strong, and he could bear the weight for a little while. He held the boy tight, stroking his hair and rubbing his back, swaying back and forth gently in the rhythmic motion that all parents seemed to know; and slowly, Edward calmed to a gentle weeping, his arms around Roy's neck, face buried and hiding as his worked the last bit of his grief out. Roy hummed softly, almost to himself, and he watched in satisfaction as the demon's grip finally slid free, and Edward was just Edward, asleep against his shoulder, worn and spent, but Edward once more. As gently as possible so as not to wake him up, Roy maneuvered the boy around in his arms, rising from the floor and walking over to the bed where he laid the limp, relaxed form and covered it with the blankets. Edward didn't stir, his breathing deep and even, and Roy pushed back some of his golden blonde hair, a gentle, relieved smile finding its way across his face as he watched the boy sleep. Edward looked so young, then, so deceivingly delicate, a sharp contrast to the fiery spirit he possessed that was so much older than his physical body. Roy grabbed the pistol laying on the floor, tucking it into the back of his pants, wanting to get that chrome-plated harbinger of death as far away from the boy as possible. But, surprisingly, even to himself, he grabbed the chair from the desk nearby and pulled it up to the bedside, lowering himself into it wearily.

There was something soothing about watching Edward sleep, something that calmed the last of Roy's nerves. The boy's face grew slightly distraught from something in his dream, and he whimpered slightly, his right hand closing into a weak fist. Roy reached over and started stroking his hair again, and the teen relaxed. Roy knew at that moment that he would stay there the rest of the night, his keen black eyes watching for any lurking demons, fighting them off, because he knew that Edward was too exhausted to do it alone anymore and needed his help. He studied the young man, that peculiar, unfamiliarly warm smile lighting his face again. Rest tonight, his smile said. Don't worry about the battles or the burdens. I will bear them until you are stronger.

Guilt was the heaviest burden to bear, but Roy Mustang knew better than anyone that it was easier to carry if you had someone to carry it with you.

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Come on, y'all, say it with me…"AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!"

So there's your happy helping of some Parental!Roy and Edward fluff!

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