No. No. NO!

(You're mine, you little whore.)

Shut up... Please, just shut up...

Roy heart was pounding so hard that it hurt, sending little tremors to his bloody fingertips and making the corners of his vision fade to black.

(I've branded you. I've signed you. I own you.)

"Fuck you!" Roy shouted, unaware that he was speaking aloud.

(Been there, done that.)

The mirror above the sink fractured, distorting Roy's wild-eyed reflection in the brief moment before the shards fell from their frame.

Blood splattered the white countertop with thick crimson spots.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Ed didn't ask any questions as Maes sped down the streets of Central, dodging both cars and pedestrians in his haste. He just sat in the passenger's seat, tightlipped with both hands clenched into small, powerless fists. He didn't need to be told why they had to get to Roy as fast as humanly possible: he already knew. Like Maes, the thought that Roy might be driven to a suicidal precipice had probably been nagging at the back of Ed's mind in that far-off place where sane people put things that they don't want to think about.

Damn it, what if they were already too late? What if they were racing toward a dead end, a lost cause? Fuck, why hadn't Maes thought to take away Roy's guns before he left? He should have taken the guns days ago while Roy was still in the hospital, he should have foreseen this. It was obvious, clear from the beginning that something like this might happen. It had almost happened before after Ishbal, hadn't it? HADN'T IT? And then when Maes had confronted him about it earlier, Roy had practically said "Yes, Maes. I'm suicidal," and what had Maes done in response to that? He had decked Roy in the face and then left him. He had abandoned him. Maes had stricken and forsaken the very man that he had taken an oath to protect, and now...

Maes gripped the steering wheel hard, his knuckles going white under the pressure as he tried to still his frightened heartbeat. No, maybe Roy would be okay. Maybe they weren't too late. Yeah. He'd be okay, he'd be okay...

They pulled up to the curb outside of Roy's apartment and leapt from the car. Maes reached the door first and flung it open, bursting into the empty living room and calling Roy's name.

There was no answer.

"ROY! Answer me, you son of a bitch!"

Nothing.

Maes gave a strangled curse and looked around. The door to the bathroom was ajar and the light was on within, haloing the door with a soft golden glow. Maes rushed forward, barking an order for Ed to check Roy's bedroom. The major pushed open the door to the bathroom and stepped inside, his stomach churning as he cast around his wide, searching glance.

The mirror above the sink had been shattered, littering the countertop and floor with glinting shards. Blood was smeared vividly across the white tiles and there was a wet crimson handprint on the wall beside the broken mirror, chilling Maes to his core. What if Roy had slit his wrists with the broken glass? Fuck, fuck, what if he was bleeding to death right now? They had to find him. Maes turned from that gruesome sight and looked toward the shower. The shower was on, filling the small room with the hazy white noise of falling water, but Maes didn't see anyone in the stall beyond the half-closed shower curtain.

"He's not in his bedroom," Ed reported, his voice cracking with dread and he ran to join Maes in the bathroom, "Where else could he...?" but then he stopped, absorbing the broken mirror and the blood. His huge, scared eyes wandered over the handprint on the wall, then to a smear next to it that Maes hadn't noticed. Ed's gaze followed the direction of the smear, then landed on another handprint that smudged the lip of the bathtub. Ed exchanged a glance with Maes, then cautiously stepped forward and peeked around the edge of the shower curtain.

"...He's here," the boy said quietly, his voice scarcely audible over the sound of the water.

Holding his breath and terrified of what he might see, Maes moved to stand next Ed and pulled back the curtain.

Roy was sitting in the bathtub, facing the shower's spray with his head bent low so that the water hit his shoulders and cascaded down his back. His broken leg was stretched out before him, the other drawn up so that he could rest his forehead against his knee. He was fully clothed except for his shirt and jacket and he was soaked to the core, shivering under the downpour of cold water. Roy's arms were crossed over his chest, his shoulders hunched and his face shielded by the black, dripping strands of his wet hair.

Maes nudged Ed aside gently and went down on his knees beside the tub.

"...Roy?" Maes called softly, his heart in his throat. Roy didn't answer, acting as if he hadn't heard Maes speak at all. Lost for what else to do, Maes reached over and turned the shower off. "Roy? Are you okay?"

For several long beats of silence, Roy gave no response. Then, quietly, he rasped:

"Turn it back on. It's helping."

Maes' heart leapt to hear him speak and he obeyed without hesitation, returning the flow of water to the tub.

"Are you okay?" Maes asked again, daring to reach forward and brush Roy's wet hair out of his face. Roy's eyes were closed, his face surprisingly serene. When he didn't reply, Maes pressed, "I know you're bleeding, Roy. What did you do?"

Roy's only reply to Maes' question was a halfhearted grunt.

"...Let me see your wrists," Maes bade gently, hoping that he was wrong in his assumptions but still desperate to make sure.

At this, Roy opened his eyes and raised his clouded gaze to his best friend. His eyes were bloodshot and glazed, but entirely calm, even dazed. It looked as if it took a moment for Roy to process what Maes had asked him, but when he did the vaguest flicker of irritation crossed his face. Roy uncrossed his arms and showed Maes his gloved right hand. The glove was tinged pink with blood and it was torn at the knuckles, revealing a ragged line of sliced flesh across Roy's fingers.

"I accidentally cut myself on the mirror," he said flatly, clearly annoyed by Maes' implication.

Maes stared at the sluggishly bleeding hand for a moment, then sighed out a slightly hysterical laugh of relief.

"Oh... oh, god. We thought... we thought you'd... done something."

Roy let his hand drop to the bottom of the tub. The water swirling around it rinsed away some of the blood and carried it to the other end of the tub where it spiraled down the drain in a thin red swirl.

"I did do something," Roy said finally, his voice still eerily calm as he shivered under the water.

"What did you do...?" Maes asked him again, the uplifting surge of relief that he'd felt moments ago all but revoked.

Again, it took a long time for Roy to reply. Roy turned his exhausted-looking eyes back to Maes without raising his head from his knee and stared at him for several uncomfortable beats.

"I think I'm in shock," was all that Roy said, closing his eyes again.

Maes' heart lurched in his chest, "...Did you hurt yourself, Roy? If you did, I need you to tell me, okay?"

"It's... it's not as bad as it looks..." Roy rasped after another long pause, the calm in his voice finally giving way to the barest hint of agitation.

"What isn't? You need to tell me—"

"...I didn't say I was going to end my life, Maes; I just said that I couldn't live with it on me."

"Roy, what are you..." but then Maes stopped, the truth finally dawning on him. How stupid he had been to have not realized earlier... to not have known instantly that this is what Roy would do...

"Lean forward a little," Maes said to him shakily, feeling ill, "Let me see."

Slowly, Roy obeyed, hunching forward and bowing his head even further. Maes hissed out a sympathetic curse when he saw it, bile rising once more to the back of his throat.

"Son of a bitch..." Ed breathed behind him.

"It's not as bad as it looks," Roy said again tightly, his words becoming increasingly anxious.

But it was bad.

The flesh of Roy's back was red and inflamed, some of it textured with blisters, some of it sloughing off entirely. The name that had been written there had been completely destroyed, but so had much of Roy's skin. The burn was nearly a foot across and perhaps six inches high, a perfect rectangle of devastated tissue that Roy had seared into his own flesh. No wonder Roy was sitting in the bathtub, leaning so that cold water rolled gently down his back... As a flame alchemist, he knew his craft well and knowing one's craft means knowing the first-aid associated with it.

"Oh, Roy..." Maes said bracingly, "sweetheart, we have to take you back to the hospital..."

"No. It's not that bad, I can treat it myself."

"It's bad enough. You can't heal this on your own..."

"Don't tell me what I can't do!" Roy exploded angrily, his voice breaking with sudden emotion.

"Roy..."

"Please Maes, don't make me go back there..." the man begged, his tone quickly shifting from angry to desperate. The dazed placidity that shock had gifted him with was fading, threatening another onset of hysteria, "I can't go back to the hospital. I can't. Don't make me go back!"

"...I have to take you back. The burns are bad, Roy. You could die without medical help..." Maes lamented, "But it'll be okay. We'll take care of you."

"They'll put me in an asylum!" he shouted, a sharp sob erupting from his chest, "They'll know that this wasn't an accident, that I did this to myself! If I go back to the hospital, they'll commit me! And after losing it in front of the fucking Fuhrer and Hakuro like that... if this doesn't prove to everyone that I really am crazy, then..."

Roy stopped and shook his head helplessly, biting back another sob.

"No..." Maes soothed, reaching out cautiously and taking his hand experimentally. Roy didn't pull away and even seemed as if he didn't really notice. "That won't happen, I promise..."

"You're lying... You'd say anything to make me go back..."

"I'm not lying to you," Maes crooned gently, "I don't lie to you. I've never lied to you and I'm not going to start now... I'm going to be completely honest with you, so just listen to me, okay?"

Maes took a deep breath and bit his lip, choosing his words very carefully.

"You're half right: when we take you to the hospital, they will want to keep you for psychological evaluation... but it's only for a little while," Maes hastened to add when the look of alarm on Roy's face intensified, "You aren't crazy, Roy but this does prove that you need help. You don't have a choice now. Do you understand?"

"But... but how do I know that? How do I know anything?"

"...You're just going to have to trust me," Maes rasped, battling hard against the tightness in his throat, "...Do you still trust me?"

A few months ago, the answer to that question would have been an immediate, "Yes, Maes, you know that. Stop being so dramatic, you pansy," but now things were different. Roy had changed and so had his relationship with Maes. The affirmative answer did not come readily to Roy's lips and for several beats of tense silence, Maes thought that the answer might not come at all. But then, finally, Roy clenched his jaw and nodded, blinking away his tears.

"Yeah. I do."

Maes exhaled sharply, a surprisingly intense kind of relief coursing through him like a muscle-relaxant, turning his limbs to jelly. He hadn't realized just how important it was for him to still have Roy's trust after all of this—when Roy had every right to distrust him and every other human being in the world. Maes' throat constricted and his heart skipped a beat, tightening in his chest painfully. God, he loved Roy so much. Maes' vision blurred and he wiped his eyes quickly.

"Good. Good, I'm glad," Maes sniffed, trying to play off his sudden surge of emotion, "Then let me go call an ambulance, okay...?"

Roy clutched Maes' hand tightly, "No."

"It'll be all right, Roy. I'll be with you. I'll come see you every day..."

"I know... but... just... don't leave," Roy mumbled, pressing his face against Maes' hand as if embarrassed by his own fear and helplessness, "Please, don't leave me alone right now..."

"...Oh," Maes said after a moment, tears coming to his eyes again before he could blink them back, "Oh, of course..."

The Major turned and looked at the boy hovering over his shoulder. Ed was standing close, but not too close. He was white as a sheet and looking as terrified as he did the day that Roy had woken up in screaming hysterics, telling him to run. He looked like he wanted to run now. He looked lost and scared, so much like the child that he pretended not to be.

"Ed, will you go call an ambulance?" Maes asked him gently, not bothering to wipe his eyes, "I'm afraid to move him myself and he doesn't want me to leave."

"...Ed?" Roy asked suddenly. He was not talking to the boy but to Maes, seeking confirmation of what he'd just heard. It occurred to Maes that Roy couldn't see Ed from the way that his head was down and it was obviously shocking for him to realize that he was in the room. "He's alive? He's here?"

Maes' heart sank a little further. How could Roy keep forgetting that Ed was alive when it was clearly so important to him?

Ed came forward hesitantly and knelt down beside Maes. Roy looked up at him, startled and bewildered. "I'm okay, Colonel..." the boy whispered tightly, "Don't worry about me. I'm safe,"

Roy stared at him then he gave a sick, manic laugh, looking both relieved and horrified. "I knew that," he half giggled, half wept, "F-fuck, am I losing my grip, or what?"

"Go call," Maes told Edward again quietly. Ed bit his lip hard and nodded, getting to his feet and fleeing the room at a half-run, his footsteps echoing against the marble floor.

Roy was still giggling/crying to himself quietly, shivering and clearly trying to get a firmer hold on his composure. Maes shifted off of his knees and sat down next to the tub, silently coaxing Roy to move a little closer. Roy obeyed, his breath hitching slightly as he moved one of his shoulders too much and pulled at the massive burn.

Roy leaned sideways awkwardly and rested his forehead against Maes'. Roy's brow was cold and wet and his sopping hair made tiny rivulets of water drip down Maes' nose and mingle with the tears on his cheeks. Maes didn't mind, instead he reached over and ran his fingers up and down Roy's arm gently, wishing that he could pull his friend into his lap and hold him. But he couldn't. Not because Roy would resist... because, at this point, Maes thought that Roy probably wanted to be held... but the terrible irony was that neither of them wanted to risk further damaging the remaining flesh on his back with such intimate contact.

There was silence for a while and Roy stopped crying, his breath slowing to a normal rate. Maes raised his hand up to Roy's neck and checked his pulse. It was still too fast, but that was due to shock. Roy's body was clearly still reeling from its newest wound, but his mind was calming itself again.

"I'm sorry that I hit you, Roy..." Maes apologized suddenly, just needing to say it. "I really didn't mean to, but that's no excuse."

Roy gave no reply for a moment and then, to Maes' surprised, he gave a tiny laugh and said, "Don't worry about it... I probably deserved it. When you hit me, it's usually because I deserve it."

"Don't say that. You did not deserve it. I was just upset and... I lost control. It was a terrible thing for me to do to you..."

"...I know that this has been hard on you, Maes," Roy mumbled seriously, "I don't want you to apologize for anything. You've done so much for me. And after everything you've put up with, it's only natural for you to lose control every once in a while..."

Maes allowed himself a bitter smile, "I could say the same thing to you, Sparky."

Roy didn't say anything to that, but Maes thought that he felt him smile very softly.

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When Ed came back from calling the ambulance, Hughes and Mustang were still sitting like that, foreheads pressed together as they conversed quietly about where to go from here. Ed thought better of interrupting them and instead went back into the front room and sat on the couch, warring with the impulse to cry like a baby.

The paramedics came quickly and Mustang didn't fight them as Ed had half-feared that he would. It was clear that the Colonel didn't want to go back to the hospital, but he swallowed his protests and let them strap him to a gurney without a word. Hughes spoke to him the whole time, his voice so low and warm that even Ed felt a little soothed by it.

That had been over a week ago, and the disconcerting chaos that life in Central had become was settling itself back into some sketchy form of normalcy.

Ed clapped his hands together and pressed them against the smooth black marble, making it stand a little bit taller with a flash of alchemic light.

"It's still crooked," Beal said, starting to sound amused.

"It is not!" Ed snapped, stepping back to stand next to Beal and take a look for himself, "It can't possibly be crooked still. I've adjusted it three times already." Ed eyed his handiwork critically, scanning over the sharp lines of the structure.

It was still crooked.

"DAMN IT!"

Ed hated working with marble. It showed flaws way too readily. Why couldn't Mustang have chosen some kind of metal or something? Even granite would have been better than marble...

As eager as he'd been to start the project, Ed had begun to procrastinate on it almost immediately after he'd started. It was harder than he'd expected it to be and he'd gotten very frustrated very quickly and had put off working on it again until yesterday when Ed had been in the hospital visiting the Colonel. It had been good to see him, since Ed had been barred from visiting for the first few days while Mustang was still under the hospital's observation/evaluation system. He looked better physically and it was apparent that he was actively working through some things psychologically. He'd even made a short joke or two at Ed's expense during the visit. Outwardly, Ed had huffed and scowled angrily at the playful insults, but on the inside he was celebrating this return to more familiar grounds.

Hughes privately told Ed that the therapy was going well. Mustang was seeing a therapist almost every day: sometimes in a group with Beal or Hughes, but mostly by himself, doing everything he could to overcome the damage that had been done to him.

"I didn't expect him to start improving so soon..." Hughes had said to Ed wonderingly, "I mean, he still has a long way to go and it will probably take years... but he's already more stable."

"That's awesome," Ed had replied sincerely, "Do you know when they're going to release him?"

"Tomorrow. Didn't he tell you?"

Ed had cursed and then rushed immediately back to his project site and worked hard for hours until the sun got too low for him to see properly. He had wanted to get it done before Mustang got out of the hospital, but that was clearly not going to happen. The Colonel had probably already checked out of the hospital and Ed was only about half finished. He'd called up Mustang earlier that morning and apologetically told him that he'd have it done by next week at the latest. The man did not sound disappointed at all and just reminded Ed not to rush it and to take his time.

It was good that Mustang wasn't irritated by Ed's tardiness, but the boy still wanted to get done with it as soon as possible.

Ed looked at the marble and sighed. Lieutenant Beal patted him on the back consolingly and smirked.

"Maybe if you just lowered the other side instead of raising this side," Beal suggested amiably. Ed turned and glared at him and Beal laughed. Ed had been consulting Beal on and off about the project since he started and it was good to have a second pair of eyes to make sure that everything looked right, but Beal knew nothing about alchemy and next to nothing about architecture.

During Ed's first meeting with Beal, he could not understand why Mustang wanted him to work with the Lieutenant. Beal was nice enough and Ed immediately liked him, but it didn't seem as if he possessed any talents that would actually aid Ed in his assignment. Ed hadn't been aware of Beal's connection with Mustang until they started talking...

...Beal had been there with Mustang the whole time. He understood. He knew. That was why Mustang wanted Beal to be a part of this project, because he had a devastating kind of insight to everything that Ed was supposed embody in his creation.

Mustang really had given Ed a lot a freedom in this assignment, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing in retrospect. Edward had never even seen a military memorial and hadn't the slightest clue about how to build one. Luckily, Beal seemed to understand that and helped Ed visualize what he was building as something other than just a slab of marble with the names of forty-three dead soldiers engraved into it... because for both Beal and Mustang, it was so much more than that: It was respect. It was dignity. It was undying gratitude for the fallen soldiers' eternal sacrifice and it was a breathless, heartbroken apology because Mustang hadn't been able to save them.

So, with Beal's guidance, the soulless blocks of marble that Mustang had provided them with was slowly becoming something that Ed hoped would meet the Colonel's expectations. It was a stoic black pillar, seven feet tall and two feet wide. At Beal's suggestion, it slanted back from the base at a very slight angle so that the setting sun reflected a brilliant red off of the mirror-smooth surface. At the moment it was very simple, but Ed had intricate designs sketched along the margins of where the names were engraved and had plans of using some of the leftover marble to make little black roses in a ring around the structure like a grave wreathe. Ed still had several days' work ahead of him, but he was getting closer to his goal and Beal seemed to be very pleased with how it was turning out...

If only Ed could keep it from going crooked!

"It's not that lopsided..." Beal comforted, still smirking, "Maybe no one will notice."

"Hey, if I can see it, I know sure as hell that Mustang will see it," Ed mumbled in response as he slouched back over to the quasi-memorial and clapped his hands together again. "He's going to kill me if I don't get this right."

He closed his eyes and used every ounce of his concentration as he pressed his hand to the cold stone and transmuted it. Measurements and equations ran through his head at top speed, coaxing and manipulating the material beneath his hands. When he finished, he opened his eyes and looked to Beal.

"How about now?"

Beal looked the structure up and down, examining it with surprising intensity, but then he smiled and gave Ed a thumbs-up, "I think you got it."

"Finally," the boy sighed, plopping himself down on the grass beside the untidy pile of marble scraps. He was starting to get tired and didn't want to over-work himself, so he might as well take a break now that he'd made some headway and reached a good stopping-point.

Beal chuckled again good-naturedly and moved to join him, lowering himself onto the grass with a sigh. Ed knew that the Lieutenant was trying not to show it, but he was tired and in pain most of the time. He had assured Ed many times that he was not nearly as bad off as the Colonel was, but that didn't mean that he was "okay." Aside from the group sessions that he had with Mustang, Beal was also in therapy: both physical and psychiatric. Beal was not ashamed of it and spoke openly to Ed, then had opened up even more when he discovered that Ed, too, was an amputee. He'd asked questions about phantom pain and automail and Ed had immediately put him in contact with Winry. She was due to arrive sometime tomorrow to see about fitting him with a new hand.

Ed smirked and tilted his head to the side as he looked at the memorial. Had Mustang foreseen this? Had he known that Ed and Beal would eventually reach the subject of automail in their discussions? Had he known that Ed would get Winry, the best automailist around, to hook Beal up? Ed gave a short laugh. Of course Mustang had known... he always saw all sides of every situation. What a manipulative asshole.

Beal's head perked up suddenly. He sat still for a moment as if listening, then his face slowly morphed into a huge grin. "Uh-oh," he said ominously.

"'Uh-oh,' what...?" Ed asked cautiously

"Shh. Listen."

Ed obeyed, straining to hear. The park was silent apart from the wind blowing between the line of red-leaved sweetgum trees that divided it from the cemetery, and the far-off piping of birds as they flocked overhead. As he listened, though, another sound caught his ear: voices, both deep and male. Voices that Ed recognized immediately.

"No..." Ed breathed, stumbling to his feet and running to the edge of the small hill where he had chosen to build the memorial. He looked down and saw two figures approaching. "No, no, NO!" he yelled, storming down the hill toward them, "I said next week! NEXT WEEK!"

Mustang and Hughes both stopped walking and looked up him.

"You can't see it yet, it's not done!" Ed shouted, coming to a halt in front of them.

Hughes snorted and looked at Mustang, who arched an eyebrow.

"I'm just checking up on your progress," the Colonel said easily, "What kind of patron would I be if I didn't come and see it for myself?"

"You can see it NEXT WEEK. When it's DONE!"

Mustang looked down at Ed levelly. "I have been stuck in a hospital for nearly a month straight. I'm sick of being indoors and this little sojourn is a good excuse for me to be outside. Now, are you really going to make me walk all the way back to the car and just go home?"

Ed glared at Mustang. The man looked tired and he was already a little winded from his walk from the car, which Ed could see parked perhaps forty yards away, the windows winking in the setting sunlight. Mustang had been taken off of his crutches and given a sturdy cane, which was easier for him to use, but it was clearly still hard for him to walk any sort of distance. Sympathy tugged at Ed's heartstrings and his sighed with irritation, scrubbing his face with his hands.

"No..." he answered grudgingly.

Mustang smirked, knowing that he'd won. "I thought not."

Beside him, Hughes chuckled and ruffled Ed's hair. Ed batted him off and started stalking back up the hill with a grunt. Behind him, Mustang put a hand on Hughes' shoulder to steady himself and they followed.

Beal greeted Mustang with a warm, beaming smile and embraced him, being very careful not to accidentally brush the healing burn on his back. Apparently, Mustang hadn't been lying when he'd said that the burn wasn't as bad as it looked. Well, it was bad and had needed intensive treatment, but it was already starting to heal. Even in the depths if his hysteria, Mustang had had a firm control of his alchemy and had done as little damage as possible while still effacing the name. Now he was very stiff and obviously in some amount of pain, but he would be all right.

Mustang returned Beal's fond greeting with a gentle laugh that made some of Ed's nervous irritation dissipate. Mustang was in a good mood, so maybe he wouldn't be too critical of the memorial's roughness... there was still a long way to go: surely Mustang would understand that...

"So, what do you think so far?" Beal asked Mustang, gesturing at the memorial. Clearly, the smiling man did not share in Ed's reservations.

Mustang turned to the memorial for the first time and his eyes widened slightly, though the expression on his face was entirely unreadable. He limped forward slowly, his unfathomable gaze roaming across the shining black surface of the marble, taking in every aspect of it. Ed moved to stand next to him and Beal and Hughes held back a ways, watching them.

"It's not done," Ed said again apologetically, "It'll be better when it's done. It's really rough right now, but I'll smooth it out. The names will be a little deeper and I'll flesh out the designs on the sides... I'm also going to use some of the scrap marble to—"

Mustang put a hand on Ed's shoulder and squeezed gently, silently telling the boy to stop talking. Ed obeyed and watched his superior's gaze travel across the list of names. His dark, intense eyes moved slowly, pausing on each name for several beats of sad silence before moving to the next, as if Mustang were picturing each of his departed soldiers in his head and privately composing a few words of farewell to them.

No one dared to speak. Ed, Beal, and Hughes all remained absolutely silent, watching the Colonel contemplate each name methodically. It was like witnessing a ritual or some kind of religious ceremony that struck Ed with a sense of awe that he didn't quite understand. It was beautiful and terribly sad in a way that made his insides ache.

When Mustang got to the last name he paused on it for a very long time. He reached out his hand and traced the letters JARED ZANE with slow, ungloved fingers, closing his eyes and pressing his brow against the cold stone.

Ed moved away a little, thinking that Mustang might want a little privacy in his grieving, but the hand on Ed's shoulder tightened desperately and the boy stayed put, his heart crying out to his Colonel.

"...It's good, Ed," the Colonel rasped finally, his voice breaking ever so slightly, "It's really good." He opened his eyes and looked down at Edward, his black lashes dampened by unshed tears of both sorrow and gratitude. He put a hand on each of Ed's shoulders and pulled him a little closer, leaning down until his lips were inches from Ed's ear.

"I cannot describe to you how much this means to me," Mustang whispered to him, "It's perfect. Thank you. Thank you so much..."

Ed closed his eyes tightly against a sudden wave of emotion. Hesitantly, he turned his head and buried his face into the side of Mustang's neck, trying to hide the formation of his tears.

"You're welcome, you bastard," Ed said thickly, wrestling with the urge to throw his arms around the man and hug him. Mustang chuckled softly and straightened, returning his gaze to the memorial and politely pretending not to notice when Ed furtively wiped his eyes on his sleeve.

The sun was setting quickly now and the surface of the marble was practically glowing in the dying light, silhouetting the Colonel in a halo of brilliant red as he stood in front of it. Burgundy and crimson leaves from the nearby sweetgum trees stirred at his feet and caught the light, making the red halo around him look like a ring of fire.

...The flames had not yet died in Roy Mustang, nor would they ever die if Edward had any say in the matter. They had been smothered and snuffed by many cruel hands until only embers remained... but even embers can ignite a bonfire. As long as the smallest spark remained of the fire that once raged in the Flame Alchemist's breast, there was still hope. It might take a long time, but the fire would be built up again. It would burn and intimidate. It would lick the sky, lighting the way for everyone who had sworn to follow it to the bitter end.

It would roar.

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((A/N: It's over! Thank you all for such great reviews and crits, especially starshine, Miskat, and Taylowolf. I hope you enjoyed it in spite of the angst-overload and the cheesy ending.))