Riza Hawkeye entered the office to grab her coat and sighed. Another day had come to a close and not a lick of real work had gotten done. Papers were scattered across Havoc's desk, some of them with little doodles of large-breasted women decorating the margins. Fuery's desk was similarly adorned, although the doodles were thankfully absent. Breda's desk had not only papers strewn hither and thither, but also a candy wrapper and what looked like the remains of a cheese sandwich. Falman's desk, however, was immaculate as always. At least he had the sense to stack papers and file documents before leaving for the day, even if he hadn't gotten around to actually filling out said papers and documents.

And then there was the Colonel's desk. She looked up at it, expecting to see precarious stacks of disregarded forms, the floor covered with fallen papers—both flat and crumpled into frustrated balls—and a cold cup of that morning's coffee sitting on the corner. She was not disappointed, for that was exactly what she saw. What she did not expect was that Colonel Roy Mustang would still be there.

While he was sitting at his desk, he was far from doing any actual work. He was, in fact, sleeping with his head pillowed in his crossed arms, his gentle exhalations rustling the stack of papers that he'd been ignoring all week.

Hawkeye wasn't really surprised. Mustang was always dozing and slacking off when he thought she wasn't looking. She snorted with quiet irritation as she moved over to his desk and stood over him for a moment, watching him sleep.

He'd been acting a little off lately. Preoccupied. A few days ago he'd snapped at poor Fury for no reason at all and then, looking frazzled, left the office and disappeared for an hour or so. When he came back he was distinctly quiet and, although he did apologize to Fuery, he said little else for the rest of the day. Hawkeye cornered him after work and managed to talk him into confiding the reason for his behavior. He'd been having flashbacks from the war again.

Only Hawkeye and a few of Mustang's closest friends knew that he suffered from occasional flashbacks. Typically, they would come and go quickly, leaving him shaken for a few moments, but he usually hid it quite well. Lately though, as Mustang confessed, they'd been coming hard and fast. One moment he'd be in his office listening to a report, the next he'd be on the battlefield surrounded by flames and listening to the wailing of Ishbalans as he burned them alive.

Judging from Mustang's behavior, the increase in flashbacks had begun about a week before Hawkeye was actually able to get him to admit that something was wrong, and it had only gotten worse from there. She didn't want to admit it—even to herself—but she was worried about him. His underlings were also beginning to notice a marked difference in his attitude that he was desperately trying to hide.

"Colonel," she said, attempting to wake him while still standing more-or-less at attention. When that failed she put her hand on his shoulder and shook him. "Colonel?"

His eyes shot open and he sat upright, his thumb and middle finger instantly ready to snap an inferno into existence if he felt the need. Startled, but standing her ground, Hawkeye watched realization work its way into the Colonel's dark, terrified eyes. He exhaled his held breath with a shudder and looked around quickly to make sure that no one else was in the office, lowering his hand as his eyes darted around the room.

"Damn, Hawkeye . . . you . . . you startled me," Mustang said shakily, trying to summon a laugh and only managing a nervous chuckle as he ran a trembling hand through his hair.

"Another one?" she asked him quietly after a moment of awkward silence that was broken only by the sound of the Colonel trying to regain his breath.

The Colonel slumped in his seat with his elbows on his desk and lowered his head into his hands, covering his face. "Yes," he said with a kind of sick irritation, his voice muffled by his gloves.

Hawkeye looked at him with pity. She would never know all the horrors that he'd had to face in Ishbal. She would never know what it felt like to melt someone's face off just because she'd been ordered to, and she would never, ever, know the visions that visited the Colonel in his nightmares. She did, however, have a pretty good idea. She had also been in Ishbal on the battlefield, but she did not always have to see her victims die. Guns are far less personal than Alchemy, and no one could accuse her of personally committing genocide in the way that people accused Roy. Oh, not everybody accused him. Not people who actually knew him . . . and never to his face . . . but he knew what some of the soldiers whispered behind their hands.

The Colonel was scarred mentally, physically, and socially by the travesty of Ishbal. Now, for some reason, the scars were opening afresh and neither Hawkeye nor Mustang knew why.

The blonde woman pushed his elbow aside unceremoniously and sat on the edge of his desk. With his face still in his hands, Mustang spread his fingers apart and looked up at her through the slits, no doubt attempting to look playful to lighten the sense of dread hanging on them both and managing only to look like a frightened child hiding from ghosts. Hawkeye took a deep breath and put her hand on her superior's head in a rare show of matronly affection. Unused to this sort of attention, especially from her, Mustang arched his eyebrow at her as if torn between amusement, embarrassment, and annoyance.

"You have the next two weeks off," she said abruptly, watching him. He sat up and looked at her squarely, his brow even more severely arched.


"Vacation. Starting Monday."

He shook his head, looking tired. "I didn't request time off."

"I know. I did it for you."

" . . . What the hell are you talking about? You're not authorized—"

"I forged your signature," she interrupted, not bragging but not sounding guilty either.

Mustang gaped at her for a moment and then his face contorted with anger. "You had no right—"

"It is my job to look out for your well-being, sir, and it is obvious that you need a break," she interrupted again. Mustang bristled and opened his mouth to argue, but the First Lieutenant continued before he had the chance. "You're listless, distracted, quick to anger, and don't think that no one has noticed that you've lost weight in just the past few weeks."

She waited for him to say something in his own defense but instead he looked away from her and focused lamely on a loose thread on his cuff.

"I cleared it with Lieutenant General Grumman. He said that if you didn't take the time off, he'd force you to take a mandatory leave of absence."

Mustang gave a soft, dark laugh. "Is it so obvious that even that cracked old man noticed?"

"He's worried about you. We all are. The men have been tiptoeing around you for days."

"So you're kicking me out of the office until I can behave myself?"

Hawkeye did not return the small smile that he gave her, so he let it fade from his lips. He looked down at his hands awkwardly, trying to force out what he wanted to say. "I need to keep busy, Riza. I need distraction and noise to keep me from dwelling. The flashbacks . . . they'll pass. They always do. I don't think that staying home alone is going to help me any."

"Then don't stay home. Go on a real vacation. Get out of town, take the train somewhere for a while. Clear your head."

"I'm fine, Riza."

The Lieutenant looked at him for a moment silently, carefully choosing her words. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a card and offered it to the Colonel. "Major Armstrong came to me a few days ago. He gave me the name of the psychiatrist that the military made him see when he was sent home from Ishbal. Dr. Kolt. He thinks that you should call him."

The Colonel froze, then slowly took the card. He raised his gaze to look at her.

"Do you agree with him?" he rasped breathlessly, a desperate sort of horror widening his eyes. Horror, Hawkeye knew, because she had just voiced a concern that had been plaguing his mind recently. He feared his own potential instability, and feared even more that those around him could see it too. "Do you think I'm crazy? Is that what you think?"

Hawkeye stood, not looking at him. "I think that you need a vacation." She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye when he didn't say anything further. His head was bent over his desk, his expression defeated. She had blatantly dodged the question, but he did not pursue it. Perhaps he did not want to know what she really thought of his mental status.

"Go home, sir. It's been a long day."

Mustang took a steadying breath and nodded. He got to his feet and made for the door without preamble, pointedly not looking at her. When he got to the threshold he paused and half turned as if he would say something, but then he shook his head and disappeared into the hallway.

Alone now, Hawkeye picked up her coat and draped it over her arm. Her hand shook slightly as she flipped off the lights and closed the door, but she quelled it quickly.

He would be fine. He was just tired.

That's all.

Roy Mustang sat placidly next to the window, using what sunlight was left in the late afternoon to read. It wasn't a particularly great book, but it had its good parts and he had nothing else to read. He'd fully expected to be at his destination last night, but he'd slept though the stop. That was a recurring problem with him when it came to riding the train. At first he'd been pissed and intended to get off at the next stop, but then he thought, why bother?

Hawkeye's words had bothered him. She was right; he needed to get out of Central for a while . . . "Clear his head," as she'd put it. There was nowhere that he really wanted to visit, though. He had no attraction to tourism, nor did he really feel like mingling in bars. Still, he'd heard good things about the city Aquroya and so he headed east. Aquroya, though, had come and gone during the night and after his initial irritation, he just shrugged and continued east to wherever the train would take him. In another day he'd be in Youswell, the last city to the east. The end of the line. He wasn't sure what he would do then. He certainly did NOT want to stay there.

Perhaps he'd rent a car and keep going east.

East. Toward Ishbal.

It hadn't occurred to him until a few hours ago that his musing thoughts of returning to Ishbal were becoming serious intentions. He had just been sitting there, reading quietly as the train rumbled down the track—

Then the wooden floor became desert sands and the walls became fire. Men screamed around him as flames consumed them. Buildings collapsed with deafening roars, destroying homes and families. Children shrieked as they writhed among the burning rubble, slowly being cooked alive and corrupting the night air with the stench of scorched flesh and hair. Tears streamed from his eyes as he picked off the injured Ishbalans one by one, snuffing their lives with fire.

Mustang snapped his fingers as rapidly as he could, targeting individuals, trying to kill them quickly because he didn't want them to suffer, didn't want them to scream anymore. He wanted to make the pain stop, he wanted everything to stop. He sobbed as well-aimed jets of pure fire struck his victims—yes, VICTIMS—and they stopped shrieking, stopped writhing, stopped moving. Blew them apart, flaming pieces of children charring at his feet. Chunks of meat everywhere. Begging, pleading, and always the screaming. It was kindness, wasn't it? To kill them quickly? Yes. Yes, of course. Better to end it by tearing them to bits then to let them burn slowly. Better to end it. Just do it. Don't listen to the screaming. Just follow orders. Do your job, Roy. Oh, God. There are so many of them. I can't get them all quickly. So many. It's kindness to kill them swiftly, no suffering, no, no, no never fast enough they suffer anyway I can't get them all and the screaming the fire it's everywhere I can't think and I'm just following orders oh god why am I here what am I doing this is wrong they're just kids I'm a monster a murderer a devil and I can't get them all they're burning because of me and I can't end it quickly enough oh god I can hear them screaming screaming screaming crying oh god I can't—

He'd barely made it to the train's water closet before he vomited, trembling and using all of his willpower to keep from weeping.

He'd recovered himself fairly quickly and went back to his seat, but the flashback left him with an odd feeling. He had to go to Ishbal. Perhaps it had been his intention from the beginning to go to Ishbal. Maybe part of him purposefully slept through his stop at Aquroya. What he would do once he got there, he didn't know.

Well, part of him did know, but he didn't want to think about it.

. . . Maybe I am going insane . . .

Regardless, he was still going to be on the train for another day at least. He had time to think about it.

Damn. He really wished that he'd thought to bring a different book. The one he had was getting annoying. He'd gotten off to get a newspaper a few stops back, but he'd already read most of the articles and had gotten frustrated halfway through the word puzzles. With a sigh he picked up the paper again as the train slowed to a stop. He vaguely wondered where they were, but he didn't care enough to ask the small group of people who boarded. Mustang's train car had been mostly empty before this stop, but a few of the passengers took their seats near him. Although the silence had been nice for a while, he was glad to hear the bubbles of conversation filling the air. It was comforting. He listened to snatches of conversation as he started to work on the puzzles in the newspaper again, waiting for the train to start moving again.

" . . . And went to his room. Just like that! The nerve of that guy . . ."

" . . . You know? Like I said before, the political backbone of this country is going to hell . . ."

" . . . Brother, do you want to play cards? I bet I can win this time!"

Mustang paused as he heard those last words. He knew that voice. Tentatively he peeked over the edge of his paper and cursed. A very tall figure wearing full body armor was sitting a few seats away. Alphonse Elric. It wasn't that Mustang disliked the kid, but where there's Al, there's always—

"Like hell you can! I can whip your tin butt any day! Deal the cards!"

Edward Elric. Great. Mustang couldn't see the infamous Fullmetal Alchemist because of the height of the seat in comparison to the kid's short stature, but there was no doubt that it was him. The brothers were sitting across from each other on the other side of the train a few seats toward the front of the car, Al facing toward Mustang and Ed—presumably—facing opposite. Mustang looked at them from around the corner of his paper—hoping to that they didn't see him—but just then Al's head turned.

Mustang froze. With his expressionless metal face it was hard to tell exactly where Al was looking, but Mustang swore that he could feel his gaze and after a moment he was sure of it.

"Hey, brother, look! It's—" Al began, sounding pleasantly surprised, but he stopped when Mustang shook his head and gestured frantically for him to shut up. Again, the Colonel did not dislike Alphonse . . . he didn't dislike the pipsqueak either, really . . . but he was just not in the mood to deal with the little blond hellion at the moment. Luckily, Al took the hint and stopped talking.

"What? Look where?" Ed asked, his curiosity piqued. The Fullmetal Alchemist raised himself onto his knees and looked over the back of his seat. Mustang quickly put the paper in front of his face and groaned his exasperation.

"Oh. Uh. Nothing, brother. I thought I saw something. Never mind. Let's just play."

"Hey, wait, isn't that . . . ?"

"I'm discarding two cards."

"I think that's the Colonel."

"Come on, Ed, just hurry up and discard."

. . . Well, at least Al had tried to keep Mustang incognito.


Mustang sighed loudly but did not lower the paper.

"Yep. It's him."

Mustang dropped his paper as he heard the two approach and nodded to them. If he had to talk to them, he might as well be civil. Ed was grinning his typical cock-sure grin that—while seeming outwardly friendly—always seemed to scream, "Eat shit and die, Mustang," but as he got closer the grin faded and morphed into mild confusion.

"What the hell happened to you? You look like crap," Ed said, looking the man up and down as he sat on the bench opposite him.

"Ed!" Al scolded, as always scandalized by his brother's bluntness. The Colonel looked up at the armored child. Al sketched an awkward little bow of apology and then sat next to his brother. "Hello, Colonel. What are you doing so far east?"

"Vacation. It seems that my underlings thought I needed a break. Lieutenant Hawkeye was adamant that I take some time off."

"You do look very worn out, Colonel" Al admitted, sounding both concerned and sheepish.

"You look dead," Ed supplied, ignoring the glare that Al threw his way.

The Colonel was well aware of how bad he looked. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot from lack of consistent sleep, and looked heavily shadowed in comparison to the grayish pallor of his face. His face itself—which had never really lost its boyishness—was suddenly more angular, his cheeks becoming hollow from the weight he'd lost. He hadn't been eating regularly for the past several weeks, and he was even beginning to notice that his shirts were looser in the shoulders than they had been not too long ago. Ed was not wrong in saying that he looked dead.

The Colonel smirked softly, uninsulted. "And why are you here, Fullmetal? Slacking off as usual?"

"Actually, Colonel, we were following a lead in Merka. It turned out to be a big hoax, but since we're over here anyway we figured that we'd stop in Youswell before heading back to Resembool."

"Brother broke his automail again. He just wants to stall in Youswell before he has to face Winry and beg her to fix it because he knows she's gonna be mad," Al interjected, a certain amused smugness in his voice.

"You don't have to tell him everything," Ed snapped, his shoulders slumping a little. "Besides, I wanted to go to Youswell anyway. We promised to come back because we never did get around to evaluating the mines for them. Where are you stopping?"

"Youswell. I'm going farther east, though, so I'll need to rent or borrow a car from someone in town."

"Where are you going?"

The Colonel looked at Ed for a moment. The kid—while still asserting himself with his cocky posture and quirked eyebrow—was looking increasingly unsettled. He couldn't possibly know that the Colonel was intending to go to Ishbal, but he certainly sensed that something wasn't quite right. As bullheaded as Ed was, both he and his brother were shockingly intuitive.

"East," was all that the Colonel said, and Ed's air of wariness increased with just that one word. Ed didn't say anything further, but the wheels in his head were turning. Al, too, held a calculating silence for a moment before saying:

"Well, it looks like we're traveling together, at least until Youswell . . . Do you want to play cards with us, Colonel?"

Both Mustang and Ed looked at Alphonse with mild surprise at the invitation, but then Ed shrugged and smiled.

"Yeah. It'll be more fun with three people."

"I suppose. I have nothing better to do."

"Great!" Alphonse said as he pulled the cards from his hollow chest cavity and shuffled them.

Al dealt the cards like a professional, flicking his wrist with a smooth and rapid motion that could only have come from all the hours that he and his brother spent playing cards on the train. Mustang looked down at his hand expressionlessly. Nice. Good hand.

"Discarding two," Ed began.

"Discarding one," Mustang followed.

"Dealer takes one, also," Al finished. "Lay 'em out, what do you have?"

Ed put down his two pair, Al his three aces, and Mustang his full house.

"Read 'em and weep, boys," the Colonel bragged as Ed gave a surprisingly good-natured groan.

"Fine then, you deal," the young Alchemist said, taking the cards from Al and slapping them down on the bench next to Mustang. He shuffled and dealt the cards, noticing that Ed was only using his left hand to pick up the cards he was dealt.

"So, Fullmetal, you say you broke your automail again. How'd you manage it this time?"

Ed sighed and shot a dirty look at Al before answering in a low, barely audible mutter, his face flushing slightly. Al giggled as quietly as he was able. Mustang could tell that this was going to be good.

"What was that? I can't hear you, Fullmetal. You'll have to speak up."

"I got hit with a frying pan!"

There was a silence as Mustang absorbed that statement, then:


"This person back in Merka . . ." Ed began reluctantly. "Discarding three cards."

"What kind of person was it, Ed?" Al asked, leering at his brother, "I forget."

"An old woman. A really oldwoman, okay? Jeez."

"He told her that her cooking stank. Discarding two."

"Discarding one. You should really be more polite, Fullmetal."

"She was a crazy person! Look!" Ed pulled back his sleeve to show Mustang his battle wound. The metal hand was bent at an odd angle, a large crack running up from his wrist. Mustang whistled, equally impressed and amused. "Just think if this had been a real hand! That psycho hag hit me and then chased me half a block before I lost her."

"I've never seen him run so fast. It was kind of scary… but also really funny."

Mustang chuckled, highly entertained by the young blonde's indignance. Ed glowered for a moment, then smiled evilly and laid down his cards. "Yuk it up, sparky. Three queens. Bet you can't beat that."

" . . . Sparky?"

The Colonel was surprised by the playful jab, but also a little appreciative of it. Ed would never hava said something so informal in the office, but here on the train . . . while playing cards . . . off duty . . . the kid had just created a bridge of casualness between them that Mustang had never even thought about creating. It was almost touching. Almost. Regardless, he suddenly felt much more at ease.

Al giggled again as Mustang smiled and shook his head, then they both revealed their losing hands.

Ed dealt the cards and after discarding and came up victorious again, slaughtering his opponents with a straight. He gave a hoot of triumph and smacked Al's arm in celebration. "Too bad we aren't playing for money, I'd take you both for all you're worth!" he crowed.

"You already took all of my money the last time we played," Al half-pouted, collecting the cards to shuffle them.

"Don't get cocky, little one. The game has hardly begun," Mustang said evenly, enjoying the way Ed bristled at the word "little".

"Oh! Now it's war. You are going down," Ed declared, practically snatching each card from Al as he dealt them.

Mustang won that hand and the next, which only made the blond scoff and loudly throw around accusations of cheating. After that, Al had a winning streak that he played off gracefully, pointedly not bragging about his skillful luck. When Ed complained, Al looked down at him and said, "What can I say, brother? I have the ultimate poker-face."

Mustang chuckled at that and Al beamed at him happily. Al was glad that he and Brother had run into the Colonel. The man looked like he could use some cheering up and—at least for the moment—they were all getting along pretty well. Al had been shocked when he'd gotten a close look at Mustang on the train. He looked so tired and sad. He wanted to ask what was wrong, but he knew that he wouldn't get an answer.

Ed, too, was very aware that Mustang had a problem. Al noticed him watching Mustang closely, his huge golden eyes analyzing and calculating over the top of his cards. A few times they'd caught each other's gaze and Ed made it clear without any words at all that he was both curious and concerned. Mustang, of course, was unaware of the siblings' tacit communication.

For the moment though, Mustang was smiling and bantering. That, at least, was good.

"Looks like your brother has beaten us again, Fullmetal. Where's the war you promised?" Mustang smirked, leaning back on the bench.

"It's coming, alright!? He's kicking your ass too, you know, so don't be so smug."

"Now, don't be a sore loser, Brother. I usually never win, so I don't know what you're complaining about."

"You should set him on fire, Colonel. He can't play cards if he's melted."

"You wish!" Al shot back, laughing, "Just try it. I'll still put you to shame."

"Come on, burn him!"

The Colonel shot a look at Ed that wiped the smile off his face. Mustang had become suddenly pale, his black eyes wide.

"Colonel?" Ed ventured, his brow knitted.

Mustang was frozen, his frightened gaze fixed on Ed. Al reached his hand forward and gently touched his shoulder. He jerked away as if shocked and got to his feet shakily.

"I . . . I, uh . . . excuse me," he stammered, and walked hurriedly from the car.

Al looked over at Ed who was staring after Mustang, obviously shocked and unsettled.

"What was that about?" Ed wondered aloud.

There was a space of silence between them.

"Brother, there's something really wrong with him."

"I know, Al," Ed chewed his thumbnail for a moment, thinking. "Maybe he's sick."

"He's more than just sick."

"Yeah . . . The way he looked at me just now reminded me of the time we battled for my assessment. He hesitated at the end instead of finishing me off. He just froze. He looked so . . . haunted. I asked him about it later, but he kind of dodged the question and started talking about Ishbal."

"Do you think this has something to do with the war?"

"No. I dunno, maybe. He is going east."

"To Ishbal?"


Al thought for a minute and then said in a lighter tone, "Or maybe he just really needs a vacation. His job isn't easy."

Ed nodded slowly, but Al could tell that he didn't think that was the case at all. Truth be told, neither did Al, but he was more than willing to be optimistic. Ed turned his head and looked toward the door that Mustang had gone through. "We should check on him."

"I'll go. I think he'd be more willing to talk to me than to you."

Ed looked as if he was going to be offended for a moment, but then he shrugged it off. "You're right," he admitted.

Al stood and went to the door cautiously. He opened it and moved softly into the small hallway that connected the two train cars. Before opening the door to the adjacent car, Al looked through the tiny window in it. The window revealed the car to be mostly empty, the rows of benches shadowed by the setting sun outside the windows, staining the wood shades of red, orange, and purple. The car was lifeless and silent. In fact, the only person in there was a man leaning against the wall with his head in his hands.

Al watched him silently through the window, his non-existent heart aching as he watched the Colonel suffer. Mustang's face was buried in his hands, his nails digging slightly into his forehead. His shoulders twitched and heaved with hyperventilation and his whole body shook like a leaf in a windstorm. Al stayed in the hallway awkwardly, unsure of what to do or say once he entered the car and approached the man. But then Mustang gave a shuddering sigh and slid his hands slowly down his face until just his mouth was covered. He was impossibly pale, his skin looked as white as paper and just as fragile. He steadied himself, eyes closed and jaw clenched. When he opened his eyes they were hollow and watery. He wiped them quickly with his sleeve and brushed his hair out of his face, taking a deep breath.

"Colonel?" Al ventured, a little frightened.

The man started violently, a momentary terror flooding his body as he pressed himself back against the wall. It took him a moment to recognize Al, and when he did he exhaled a curse and turned away from him, clearly embarrassed.

"Are . . . are you okay, sir?"

Mustang made a low, bitter sound that was halfway between a laugh and a moan and wiped his face again. "Yeah, I'm great."

"You can tell me. I won't tell Brother if you don't want me to."

The man chewed his lip and did not reply.

"Please, sir . . . If something is wrong—"

"I'm fine, Alphonse. Really." Mustang said lowly, not looking up. "A lot of the soldiers who came back from Ishbal have nightmares and flashbacks of the war and I just happen to be one of them. I re-experience things that I want to forget and I freak out a little sometimes. It's nothing. I'm dealing with it."

"Are you?"

Mustang rounded on the boy, the fear and sadness in his eyes burning away into unsubstantiated anger. "Yes. I am."

"You're not. Ed and I can both see that you aren't taking care of yourself. I'm guessing that's why Hawkeye made you go on vacation."

"I'm tired, Alphonse!" the Colonel snapped, but he then shook his head, his shoulders slumping. When he spoke again it was in a soft, bitter voice that Al had never heard before. "I've been having more flashbacks lately. A lot more. For the last several weeks I haven't slept more than twenty minutes at a time, I throw up everything I manage to force down, I'm dizzy half the time, I'm irritated all the time, my head is killing me and my underlings want me in therapy because they think I'm going mad."

Mustang's last word rang through the empty car for a moment before Al worked up the courage to ask:

"Do you think you're going mad?"

"Sometimes . . . yes," the Colonel whispered, his voice breaking ever so slightly as he made this admission that Al could tell he had never confessed before, even to himself. Al was speechless. What could he say to that? Colonel Roy Mustang, the stoic Flame Alchemist with the sharp wit and the sharper tongue had just bared his soul to a child in a tin can who had no idea what to say to him.

Finding no words, Al cautiously reached for the Colonel's shoulder and gripped it firmly. Mustang tolerated it for a moment, but Al could not tell whether or not he took any comfort from it. After a moment, Mustang shrugged off his hand as politely as he could manage and straightened. He had mastered himself and was again the Flame, all shadows of despair gone from his malnourished face.

"You should go back to your brother. He's probably dying of curiosity."

"I wont tell him anything."

"I don't care what you do."

Al walked over to the door and opened it, but the Colonel made no move to follow him.


"No." There was a dismissal in his tone that Al recognized immediately. He gave a low bow and went back to his brother, looking over his shoulder only once. The Colonel was standing in the middle of the aisle, watching the blur of trees as the train roared past them, the fading light casting his face in deep shadow.