Roy watched Maes move out of the door, pale-faced and frightened.

"Call me at the office later, okay...?" Maes said, his voice weak.

"Go!" Roy screamed at him.

Maes lowered his eyes and obeyed, closing the door behind him. As the door snapped shut, the room filled to the brim with an awful, gut-twisting kind of silence that slammed into Roy like a cold wave.

Roy stood absolutely still for several beats, then gave a soft moan and lurched into the bathroom. He fumbled for the light-switch and missed, then dropped his crutches, gripped the sides of the sink and doubled over. He vomited harshly into the cold white basin, the dark room reverberating with the sounds of his frightened, anguished sickness. Regurgitated alcohol burned his sinuses as he voided his paltry stomach contents into the sink.

Even after he'd puked everything up, his thin back continued to heave in helpless, sob-like dry retches. He spat the acrid fluid from his mouth and closed his eyes tightly, trying to make his empty stomach cease its queasy spasms and trying to make his heart stop quaking with fear.

It... It was an accident, right? Maes said that he didn't mean to...

(He'll hurt you. He'll kill you.)

No... Maes wouldn't...

(But he did. He hit you.)

...Maes wouldn't Maes wouldn't Maes wouldn't...

(But he DID.)

Shut up!

(He'll do it again, too. You can't trust him. He's a big guy; just imagine what he could do to you...)

...Fuck you. You aren't even real...

(Then why are you talking to me?)

Real or not, some part of Roy had to admit that it had a point.

Roy clenched his jaw and ignored the voice, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and wincing as the rough cloth dragged against his split lip. He raised his eyes to his reflection in the mirror above the sink, but in the dark room he could only see a black silhouette of himself, light touching only on the bright wetness of the tears in his eyes. It was a haunting image that sucked the breath from Roy's lungs and made his heart stumble over itself in its rapid beating.

...Maybe this is what everyone else saw. Maybe all that they saw when they looked at Roy was this thin, tear-stained shadow that used to be a man. No wonder their eyes held such pity. No wonder his staff was terrified of him if this is what they saw, this manic, guilt-ridden, ravaged caricature of what he once had been.

But then he shook his head, trying to dispel the deep, desperate self-pity that had begun to settle itself on his frail shoulders. He straightened a little and reached for the light switch, flipping it on and filling the small room with the yellow glow of artificial light. The shadows dispersed, the darkness crept back into the corners, and Roy's eerie silhouette transformed back into his pale, non-threatening shape.

Not that it was really much of an improvement.

Roy stared at himself in the mirror, recoiling slightly from the terror that he saw in his own face. He closed his eyes again and took several deep breaths, still gripping the cool sides of the sink with claw-like hands. There was no danger here.

No danger, Roy. Come on. Knock it off. It's over.

He stood like that for a long time: eyes closed and head inclined, bent forward over the sink and taking slow, even breaths. He might have been there for twenty minutes or for hours—it was hard for him to tell—but slowly Roy's heart calmed to a more reasonable pace and his racing thoughts soothed themselves into a mellow buzz. Finally, he opened his eyes and looked at his reflection again. He looked sallow and beaten and unspeakably tired... but at least the fear had lessened to a more tolerable level.

Roy let his eyes travel across his own face. Before now, he hadn't really taken a good look at himself in the mirror other than to shave or to run a comb through his hair. To put it mildly, he looked dreadful. His cheeks were hollowed and his eyes were darkly shadowed by fatigue and stress. The only color in his pallid visage came from the bright red gash in his lower lip.

Roy turned on the sink and grabbed a hand-towel from the little rack on the wall. He dampened the towel under the faucet, letting the water wash the thin, amber-colored vomit down the drain. He brought up the towel and dabbed gingerly at the split, wiping away the smear of blood. The cut really wasn't that bad... it had already stopped bleeding. It probably wouldn't have opened up at all if it weren't for the fact that it was still healing from when he'd bitten though it. It could have been so much worse if Maes really had wanted to hurt him...

Somehow, that last thought was comforting. Maes could have killed Roy if he had wanted to... he could have done terrible, inhuman things at the slightest whim, completely dominating and overpowering Roy in his weakened state... but he hadn't. Maes had been kind and supportive through all of this... frustrating and annoying and careless at times, but he meant well. Maes had just slipped up. He had gotten frustrated and... it was an accident. It had to be.

Roy took another long, steadying breath. Okay. So it had been accident... but that didn't change the fact that Roy's heart shuddered with fear just thinking about being in the same room as that man any time soon.

God, it was all so fucked up. Maes was the only person who had kept Roy halfway sane through his recovery and now... To lose that small security now was far more frightening that Maes' threatening presence. Roy could not lose him. Not now. Maes was all that he had left to depend on. Without him, there was nothing.

Roy swallowed, blinking back the persistent mist of tears that was blurring his vision. Maybe he just shouldn't think about it. Roy was calming down, the last thing he needed was to upset himself again. No. It was okay. His pulse was slowing and his breathing was evening out. He was fine. The crisis had passed. Yes. He'd talk to Maes later and then everything would sort itself out, right? Right. Yes. Fine.

Roy took the damp towel away from his mouth and looked at the cut again. It was closing. It was a little swollen and would probably bruise, but it was certainly nothing to worry about. The Colonel sighed and tilted his head to the side, moving his eyes to the scar on the corner of his mouth that trailed down along his jaw line and disappeared under the collar of his uniform. Roy removed his jacket, then unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it down off of his shoulders, continuing to follow the ragged scar with his eyes to where it ended at the base of his neck. Other scars flecked his shoulders and collarbone. There were little scars everywhere, marring his flesh with pale pink lines and blemishes. A few of them were still healing, but for the most part they were doing well.

All wounds heal eventually, even if they do leave scars. Roy just had to keep reminding himself of that.

Roy reached up and traced a circle around a cigarette burn peeking from a corner of the gauze taped over his upper back. The swarm of cigarette burns under the bandage itched like mad and probably needed to be cleaned; the bandage hadn't been changed since Maes had done it yesterday morning.

Roy pulled off his shirt the rest of the way and put it on the counter beside the hand towel. He reached up and peeled the bandage back awkwardly, trying to move his sore left shoulder as little as possible as he pulled off the gauze. As of yet he hadn't had to change his own bandages, but he couldn't keep depending on other people... especially not Maes. After everything that Roy had been through, he could sure as hell change his own goddamn bandages. It couldn't be that hard and he needed something to distract himself with while he was still fighting against his panic.

He ripped the bandage off the rest of the way, hissing slightly as the tape tore at his skin. He turned his back to the mirror and looked over his shoulder to examine the reflection of his wounds, wincing as he absorbed the sprawling injury. He hadn't really had a chance to look at it yet and, though it was not nearly as bad as he'd thought it was, it was still not a pretty sight.

The pocked, inflamed skin stretched over his back and shoulder blades was spotted and discolored, the healing burns raised and shiny with new scar tissue. There were dozens of them, maybe more than a hundred all told. Roy's eyes wandered over the ruined flesh, trying to detach himself emotionally from the wounds. He could almost smell the cigarette smoke, could almost feel the embers cooking tiny circular patches of skin... But no. That was all over now. It was done with. Finished. He had to move on.

Still, the burns were interesting to look at from the standpoint of a fire alchemist. It almost looked like there was a design formed by the burns, as if each one had been placed specifically. Roy narrowed his eyes at it. It was a design. It was not just a random scattering of wounds; there was a purposeful structure to the burns, but it was hard to distinguish what it was supposed to be because it was only half-healed and some of it was still swollen and red. Roy looked more closely, trying to ignore the mild queasiness that was returning to him. Part of him was recoiling from the thought that Jenkins had not only burned him, but had deliberately drawn something as if Roy were nothing more than a wall to be graffitied.

But... but it wasn't a drawing. It was a word Roy realized, his mild queasiness morphing into some sick emotion akin to horror. Some of the letters were very distinct now that he recognized what they were, but the others sort of blurred together. What did it say? The word was distorted and the fact that Roy was trying to read it backwards in the mirror didn't make it any easier... but then he saw it. Bile rose to the back of his throat and he exhaled sharply, the impact of his discovery driving the air from his lungs.

Roy read it again to be sure, but there was no mistaking it and that cruel certainty made him want to fall to his knees and scream. For there it was, plain as day... not a word but a name, burned into him like a brand on a bull:

JENKINS, it read.


It took Maes a long time to calm down enough to form coherent sentences.

He could tell that Ed was alarmed and overwhelmed by the fact that a full-grown man was crying all over him, but Maes' efforts to get a grip on himself were only mildly successful. Ed kept asking what was wrong, trying to get Maes to tell him what had happened, but for the first several minutes of their conversation all Maes could manage was broken words and sobbed curses.

"Major, what's wrong? What happened? Is he okay?" Ed sputtered, trying to push Maes off of him as politely as he could manage.

"...I p-punched him in the face," Maes was able to gasp finally, wiping his face on his sleeve.

"...What?" Ed breathed incredulously, his grip tightening spasmodically on Maes' arm, "You must be joking... I mean, you... you didn't really hit him... did you?"

Maes raised his head and looked at Edward, the painful guilt digging into his chest intensified by the shocked reproach in the boy's eyes. "Yes, I... I did. I just f-fucking... I didn't mean to... I..."

Ed's eyes were wide. "Why would you do that?" he asked, horrified.

"I don't know, I-I just snapped... Oh god, how could I do that to him...?" Maes moaned, covering his face.

He took a deep breath and told Ed everything that had happened since he first walked into the office that morning, explaining Roy's desperate attempt to return to the daily grind and his subsequent breakdown. Ed listened in tense silence aside from a few gasps and expletives in regards to the Fuhrer and Maes' standoff with Roy.

"And then you just left him?" Ed asked when Maes had finished.

"What else was I supposed to do? He was looking at me like I was some sort of monster..." Maes sniffed, a little calmer, "It would have just made it worse if I'd stayed."

"Major, you have to go back to him... What if he..." Ed trailed off, then cleared his throat and continued, "...What if he hurts himself?"

"I don't think he'll do anything..." Maes said uncertainly, "He said that he wanted to, but he wouldn't..."

"And you'd believe that crap? What is wrong with you?"

"Look, I know that I fucked up, okay? I do not need you to remind me," Maes spat, Edward's words striking him hard because something in the back of the Major's mind was saying exactly the same thing. "I'm doing everything I can, Ed... I would give my life for him! I would have stayed and let him fry me if I thought that there was a chance that it might help him somehow, but I know that he'd regret it and then he'd be even worse off...!"

"You have to go back to his place!"

"He's terrified of me, Ed! I hit him. I busted his lip open! If I go back, he'll just freak out again."

Ed sighed, chewing on his lip fretfully. "I know... I know. This is just... so messed up. What are we supposed to do?"

"I dunno, Ed," Maes rasped, rubbing his temples. "I don't know what to do anymore..."

Ed sighed again harshly and ran a hand through his hair, looking lost and surprisingly close to tears.

"I told him to call me here when he calmed down..." Maes continued lamely, taking off his glasses to wipe his own stinging eyes.

"You think he will?"

"I hope he will. If he doesn't, then I'll have no choice but to go back to make sure that he's okay."

"Do... do you want me to come with you...?"

Maes favored him with a watery smile, "That's probably a good idea. If he won't listen to me, he might listen to you."

Ed nodded and swallowed hard. After a long pause he asked, "So, what do we do now? Just sit here and wait...?"

"It's the only thing we can do."

The boy clenched his jaw and looked over at the phone on Maes' desk. "And what about after?" he asked quietly, "After he calls... after we go over there. What do we do with him then?"

Maes gave a tiny shrug, unsure of what to say. What would they do with Roy? What if all the progress that Maes had made with him had been erased by this one careless act? A line had been crossed and Roy's hysteria had been taken to another level... What if there was no coming back from this? What if Roy's meeting with the Fuhrer had driven him to the edge and Maes' fist had violently knocked him over it? How were they going to move forward from this point?

Well... maybe after all this Roy would be able to see that he needed help... Maybe this horrible experience would be good for him in the long run, helping him to realize that he needed therapy. And if Roy didn't call... If Maes and Ed went back to his apartment and found that he was still in the grip of his volatile hysteria, then Maes wasn't sure that he had any choice other than to take him back to the hospital.

By force, if necessary.

But, god... Maes could just imagine the horror that would be on Roy's face if they tried to make him go back to the hospital. He would resist, surely. Ed might have to transmute something to hold Roy down, binding him so that Maes could carry him to the car. Roy would thrash and writhe against his bonds, screaming I TRUSTED you! How could you do this to me? And then they would arrive at the hospital and Roy would beg them to take him back home. Ed would look away and chew his lip, fighting tears and Maes would call over a pair of strong paramedics to take Roy away.

Even in his imagination, the look of absolute betrayal on Roy's face was like a physical blow that made Maes close his eyes against the sting of grief and shudder, praying that it wouldn't come to that.

He felt something touch his knee and opened his eyes again.

Ed was still sitting close to him, his biological hand resting gently on Maes' knee, such worried kindness in his eyes that Maes almost started crying again right there. Maes knew that Ed was not a physically affectionate person and tended to use his words to comfort rather than his body—one of the many things that made him so much like Roy—and to see that the poor kid was almost as deeply affected by Roy's trauma as Maes himself... it was deeply touching.

"I'm so sorry that you got dragged into this mess, Ed," Maes rasped sincerely, placing his hand on top of the boy's, "...But it's good to see that you care about him."

Ed smirked sadly. "Well... he isn't an asshole all the time..."

Maes gave a tiny laugh and shook his head. Edward really was a good kid... Maes' disappointment at his failure to visit Roy was short lived and the Major had already forgiven him with all his heart. Ed was still a child, after all, and to see the strongest, most influential male figure in his life made so frail must certainly be hard for him.

"He'll be okay, kiddo," Maes whispered, mussing Ed's hair softly. The muscles in Ed's neck tightened and he clenched his jaw, looking away.

"...Yeah," he choked. Maes smiled down at him sadly, his shoulders slumping.

The telephone on Maes' desk rang suddenly, filling the office with cold, trilling sound and making them both jump. Maes reached for the phone, but then hesitated. If it was Roy, what could Maes possibly say to him? What was Roy going to say to Maes? What if...?

Acting in Maes' hesitation, Ed grabbed the phone and put it to his ear.

"M-Major Hughes' office..." Edward said tremulously into the receiver. Maes held his breath, watching Ed and listening closely.

"Is it him?" Maes whispered tensely. Ed nodded tightly, his eyes uncertain.

"Whoa, wait. Slow down, Colonel..." Ed tried to soothe into the phone, sounding both startled and alarmed, "I can't understand you..."

The kid paused, listening. Maes could faintly hear Roy's voice over the telephone lines, high and panicked, speaking very quickly. Maes couldn't make out what he was saying, but the increasing pallor in Ed's face said enough.

"...They what?" Ed breathed, "Well... well, what does it say...?"

Ed paused again, then sucked in a trembling gasp and covered his mouth with his hand as if he was going to be sick. He looked up at Maes with huge golden eyes and handed the phone to him without a word.

"...He SIGNED me! Like a fucking piece of art!" Roy was screaming, "L-like he's proud of what he did to me!"

"Shh, shh... Come on, buddy, calm down..." Maes said gently, trying hard not to voice the renewed terror in his gut.

"Did you know?! You saw it, you must have seen it, Maes! You've changed my bandages! Did you f-fucking know?!"

He was crying, his words coming from him in sharp bursts of anguish across the static of the telephone lines. His desperation was almost tangible, sending a cold wave of adrenaline down Maes' spine, his instincts shouting out warnings of danger.

"Did I know about what, Roy? I don't know what you're talking about..."

"THE BURNS, MAES! The burns on my back! Jenkins burned his name into me! You knew, didn't you? You knew and you kept it from me!"

Maes' stomach turned and bile rose to the back of his throat. The image of Roy's burn-covered back slammed vividly into Maes' mind. He had seen it. He had seen it and shrugged it off... but he could remember thinking...

The flesh there reminded Maes perversely of a connect-the-dot puzzle... in fact, if you connected the burns it almost looked as if you could spell out a word...

Then it had not been Maes' imagination. There really had been something written in Roy's flesh... but Maes really hadn't known what it was. He had looked away, chiding himself for even thinking something so perverse... but something was there and now in Maes' clarified memory, he could see Jenkins' distorted name. Roy's torturer had signed his victim, forever scarring him, forever claiming ownership over him.

"No... God, I didn't know, Roy. I swear..." Maes moaned, wishing that he could reach through the phone lines and embrace his friend, "I didn't realize..."


"Roy, please..."

"I c-can't live with this on me. I WON'T live with it on me, Maes."

Maes' breath caught in his chest, "Don't do anything stupid, love. Just listen to me for a second..."

"I'm tired of listening to you!" Roy shouted tearfully and then, to Maes' horror, he hung up the phone.

"No... No, no, goddamnit, Roy!" Maes cursed, quickly dialing Roy's number with a trembling hand.

"What's going on...?" Ed asked, reflecting the terror that had taken hold of Maes.

"I dunno. I'm not sure yet," Maes replied tightly as Roy's phone rang on the line. Once. Twice. Three times... Four...

"FUCK!" Maes cried, slamming down the phone and jumping to his feet, "We have to go, Ed. Now."

Maes turned and bolted out of the office, running at top speed down the tiled hallway of HQ with Ed sprinting behind him. People in the hallway watched them streak by, startled by their passage. They ran past Hawkeye and she called after them, but neither of them gave her a second glance as they exited the building and raced to Maes' car. They jumped in and Maes started the engine, screeching away before Ed had even closed his door properly.