A.N. Guess what? More parental! I should have finished this weeks ago, but real life got a little hectic and it took getting a cold for me to sit down and tack an ending on this thing. And I swear it wasn't supposed to get this long! I started writing, and then I kept writing, and kept writing...and soon I ended up with this monstrous and extremely sappy twin to Shadow of a Doubt. At least this time I actually included Al. He gets left out way too much in these parental stories. He needs some love too!


Ed hated East City. He hated everything about it from the stupid gray buildings and lack of greenery to the bland citizens that were pretty much oblivious to the world around them. It was just an all-around depressing place. Even the weather was predictably dreary, especially in the winter when the rain fell endlessly and made his joints ache. So really, given what he knew about the place, he had no reason to be surprised when he and Al disembarked from their train and left the station only to be halted by torrents of water from the overflowing gutters. They hovered under the eaves for ten minutes as they watched the rain fall, Al with shoulders slumped and Ed with a scowl and a suitcase thrown over his shoulder. The street below looked ankle deep and water cascaded down the stone steps before them, making them treacherous.

"Hey, Al...?"

"No, you can't ride in my armor."

"Oh, come on!" Ed cried, flapping his hand. "It's an ocean out there! If you can let a bunch of mangy cats in your armor, then why not your own brother?"

"Cats are cats," Al said simply.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ed griped. "Is there some kind of cuteness quota that I'm failing to meet?"

"It's not that bad," Al said, not sounding at all convinced. "I know it's a long walk, but you could always transmute an umbrella out of your clothes or something."

Ed harrumphed and set the suitcase down so he could yank his hood over his head. "Maybe if the colonel had picked us up like he said he would..."

"Don't be like that, Ed," Al reproved. "He's a busy man and—oh, look! That must be him! See Ed? The colonel didn't forget about us."

True to Al's word, a military car was in the process of pulling up to the curb. The driver popped open an umbrella and splashed around the vehicle to the steps, head down to watch his footing. Ed tapped his foot impatiently as the umbrella slowly ascended toward them. "About time, Colonel!" he called snidely. "Any later and we would have been walking! What took you so long? Scared of a little water?"

The umbrella tipped up, and Ed became even more aggravated when he realized it wasn't Mustang after all. This man was much older with graying hair and lines of permanent disapproval around his eyes and mouth. He ducked under the shelter of the eaves and shook the water from his umbrella, and a sliver of blue visible beneath his coat marked him as a soldier. "Are you two the Elric brothers?"

"Yes, we are," Al answered, sounding confused. "Um...do we know you?"

The soldier shut his umbrella with a quick snap, extending his hand to Al with a smile that didn't suit his face. "Colonel Gregory Adams. Well now, I knew there had to be a reason the Fuhrer gave you the name 'Fullmetal', but I never expected this. That's some getup, Major Elric."

Al shuffled his feet awkwardly. "Uh, actually...you're talking to the wrong person."

The smile slipped, and Adams huffed. "You're not the Fullmetal Alchemist? My mistake, sir. I'll just have a look inside the station to see if I can find the Elrics..."

Ed cleared his throat pointedly. "Didn't we just tell you that we're the Elrics? I'm Fullmetal!"

A doubtful eyebrow was raised. "You? Now I seriously doubt that."

"He is, really!" Al insisted. "I'm actually Alphonse, his younger brother."

"Younger? That couldn't possibly..."

Ed clapped and transmuted a blade on his automail, satisfied when the skeptical look vanished and Adams seemed mildly impressed by the display. He reversed the transmutation and planted his hands on his hips, making sure Adams caught sight of the chain of his pocketwatch. "You shouldn't go making assumptions about people you don't know," he said smartly.

"Indeed," Adams mused, extending his hand a second time. "And neither should you."

Ed clasped his hand and yelped when he received a nasty shock that jarred his whole arm and made him bite his tongue. He jumped back, eyes wide at the unexpected attack. Adams turned his forearm up, showing the briefest glimpse of a transmutation circle on his wrist before it was hidden away again.

"Sorry about that, they can be so hard to control," Adams said carelessly. "Among my colleagues, I am also known as the Storming Alchemist. Perhaps you've heard of me?"

"Oh yeah, we have!" Al said with real interest. "You're the one that controls electricity, right?"

Adams nodded in approval. "That's right. In just about any medium you can imagine. Such a thing is over the heads of most other alchemists. Quite impressive, don't you agree?"

"Not really," Ed muttered, still rubbing his hand. "It's basically just understanding polarity and controlling the positive and negative charges to create a current. It's not like you can actually do anything special. Is there a reason you're here instead of Mustang?"

"Indeed, there is," Adams said, drawing himself up. "I'm afraid your superior isn't in today. I'm here to escort you to the command center in his stead. Perhaps he's caught the flu that's been going around."

"Oh no, I hope he's alright," Al said worriedly.

Ed was not quite so forgiving. He slapped his forehead with a frustrated whine. "Are you serious? Damn it! Here I am busting my butt to report in on time, for once, and he just blows us off! I bet he's not even sick, just faking it to get out of more paperwork."

"He is rather well-known for that," Adams said diplomatically. He opened his umbrella again and beckoned them on. "Let's get a move on. I have an inspection of the city's power grids to conduct and this is wasting my time. Honestly, you should feel honored I'm bothering with something like this."

"Of course we should," Ed growled under his breath. He debated walking ahead and forcing Adams to rush after him, but decided such a petty trick was best reserved for the colonel that actually deserved it. Al picked up their suitcase and they proceeded down the steps to the military car where Adams held open the front passenger door for him. Ed slid into the seat, unnerved by the courtesy, and frowned when he realized the consideration had only been offered to him, not his brother.

Adams started the engine and they pulled away from the station, the rain deafening as it thundered on the car's roof. "You know, I've wanted to meet you two for quite some time."

"Really," Ed deadpanned, chin in his palm as he gazed out at the street in boredom.

"Of course," Adams insisted, smiling. "You reputation spreads far and wide. I don't think there's an alchemist in this country that doesn't know of the infamous Elric brothers. It's been quite...amusing to hear of all your exploits over these past few years."

"So glad we could provide you with entertainment," Ed said scathingly and heard Al sigh behind him. "Is that the only reason you bothered to pick us up? It's not like we don't have legs, we could have walked."

"I'm afraid that wouldn't have been possible," Adams told him. "You see, Scar returned to this area not long ago. He's killed two already, and State Alchemists are being encouraged to take all necessary precautions."

"Scar," Ed murmured and shot a cautious look out the window. Once again, he cursed the weather. Any one of those shrouded figures could be the Ishvalan. He had wondered why Mustang wanted to pick them up this time around. He could still remember the colonel's firm words spoken over the phone a few days ago. Don't wander off once you get back. Wait at the station for me.

Anger spiked in his heart and left a bitter taste in his mouth. Really, he should have known better than to think Mustang would actually take precious time out of his day to come for them. It was just like him to send someone else or not bother at all...

"Wait a minute," Ed said, rounding on Adams. "Let me get this straight. They sent a State Alchemist to protect a State Alchemist from a guy who likes to kill State Alchemists? Where's the logic in that?"

"And you're also a colonel," Al pointed out. "I mean...it's kind of unusual, isn't it? Normally when we have an escort, it's only a couple of lieutenants."

"Oh come now," Adams chuckled. "A couple of lieutenants couldn't do much against the likes of Scar. You're an important man to the State, Fullmetal. We had to ensure you had the best protection available."

"And you think that's you?" Ed said, not bothering to censure his doubt.

"Indeed. Why only a few days ago, I had a run-in with the murdering beast."

Ed's head snapped around, and Al gasped. "You mean he actually came after you? How did you get away?"

"Well it wasn't easy, let me tell you," Adams said complacently. "The red-eyed dog jumped out at me from an alley and dragged me into the shadows, spewing some trash about his god and the punishment that awaited me in hell. Naturally, I stood my ground as a soldier should and called upon my alchemy..."

With every sentence Ed became more and more skeptical. If Adams was to be believed, he and Scar had partaken in a monumental alchemical battle which lasted half the night—and which somehow nobody heard—and dealt mortal injuries to the Ishvalan while not getting a single scratch himself. Apparently then Scar had begged for his life, which Adams mercifully spared, and fled with his tail tucked. Ed gave Al a look over his shoulder and received a disbelieving shrug in return. Adams was definitely making up most of it, if not all. Adams kept his dialogue up until they were before the gates of the command center, going on to describe the duty of the State Alchemists to eliminate the rest of the inferior race as their Fuhrer had decreed.

"...and if you ever get attacked, Major, you be sure to tell him you're under the protection of the Storming Alchemist," Adams concluded. "I don't doubt he knows better than to incur my wrath again."

"Whatever you say, old man," Ed snorted. "But just so you know, you're not the only one who's gone up against him. Al and I were some of the first ones he came after."

"And you survived with the help of your superior and many others," Adams said in a patronizing tone that made Ed want to punch him. He shut off the car's engine and clapped Ed's shoulder. "You were lucky that time, young man. Just leave such matters in the hands of your betters."

"Yeah, I'll do that," Ed retorted. He reached for the door handle but paused when the hand on his shoulder refused to let him go. Adams considered him thoughtfully.

"Tell me, Major. What do you think of your current superior? Colonel Mustang?"

"What do I think?" Ed said, incredulous. "What do I think?"

"Here we go," Al said under his breath.

"Honestly, I think he's a moron," Ed said spitefully. He crossed his arms and directed a fierce glare at the command center. "He's an arrogant, manipulative prick who's got it into his head that he's better than everyone else. He orders me and Al around like it's his God-given right when he knows full well I only got into the military because..."


"Ah, nothing!" Al said hastily. "He was going to say that...that he got into the military for the good of the people! Right, Brother?"

"For the good of one, at least," Ed muttered. "Not like he sees that. He only cares about the number of stars I can add to his uniform."

"I'm truly sorry to hear that," Adams said with a sympathetic click of his tongue. "There are many people like him in the military—people who are only in it for the prestige. I just hate to see a young gifted major like yourself chained to such a laggard, moreover one who doesn't realize the potential of one of his most esteemed subordinates. My boy, you should be under the tutelage of someone who truly respects and values you."

Ed stiffened, blood pounding in his ears when he recognized the concern and paternal fondness oh-so-carefully framing those words. "Someone like you, you mean?" he said quietly.

"Yes, exactly. There are so many opportunities awaiting you. Many more, I'm sure, than what Mustang can offer. You deserve far more than to be dispatched all over the country on fool's errands..."

"No, you would much rather I stay put and trot after you like a faithful dog," Ed snapped and wrenched his arm away. "Don't even try it! Do you know how many times I've had officers like you cozy up to me hoping I'd give them a career boost? I'm not an idiot. You don't give a damn about me so quit pretending that you do!"

Adams threw his head back and laughed openly. "And you think Mustang does? That's rich! The way I hear it, you two are at each other's throats every other day."

"At least he doesn't act like he has to be some kind of replacement father for me!" Ed shouted, wiping the smile from Adams' face. "I had a father, and if you're so eager to be like him then you might as well go rot in hell along with him!"

"Brother!" Al said, aghast.

For a long moment the only sound to be heard was that of the pouring rain. Ed shoved the door open, and Al hastened to follow him out as he threw a dirty look over his shoulder. "Talk all you want. I'd still rather answer to Mustang than you."

"I doubt you'll be answering to him much longer..."

"What?" Ed said, unsure if he had misheard over the rain.

Adams turned to face him with a surly look. Clearly this meeting had not gone as planned. "You said it yourself, Major. The moment you stop being useful to him, Mustang will cut you loose. Perhaps even before then. And just where will that leave you and your brother? Who will you turn to then?"

Ed slammed the door and sprinted for the command center, slipping and sliding on the wet pavement. Even that short sprint to the doors left him soaked and he burst into the foyer with a gasp of relief. Al was a step behind him, apologizing to the secretaries when water sluiced off his armor and formed puddles on the floor. He stepped nearer. "Listen, Ed..."

"Don't, Al. I don't want to talk about it."

"But I just..."

"I said drop it!"

Thankfully, Al let it go. Ed clapped so he could dry his clothes with a quick zap of energy. Unfortunately, he couldn't do the same with his hair. The one time he'd tried, it had become so frizzy that it resembled a bird's nest and it had taken three showers to get it to settle down again. Ed squeezed the moisture out of the braid and flipped it back. "The dorms?" he said hopefully.

"Let's go drop off your report first. Lieutenant Hawkeye can make sure the colonel gets it when he comes in."

That was certainly an intriguing idea. Ed dithered over it and then agreed. "Alright, let's do that. Maybe then I can avoid the bastard colonel for a couple more days."

"You shouldn't call him that," Al reproached. "He is your commanding officer. Show him some respect."

"I will once he's earned it!" Ed said righteously. "Which, of course, will be never."

Al led the way up the stairs, shaking his head. "With an attitude like that, I'm kind of surprised you turned down that guy's offer so quickly. You complain so much about Mustang that I thought you'd jump at the chance to work under someone else."

"Don't be stupid, Al," Ed replied, lowering his voice. "Mustang's the only one who knows our secret. We can't risk people like Adams finding out and turning us in."

"Hm," Al mused, falling silent when they reached the top of the stairs and trudged down the familiar path to Mustang's office. They passed other soldiers along the way and some waved or saluted. By now everyone at the Eastern Command Center knew them on sight or at least knew enough about them to guess who they were. Ed let his attention wander out the window to the wet parade grounds below, wishing the miserable clouds would just go away already.

"In other words, you admit that Mustang actually does care about us," Al said eventually. "He must, to have kept our secret for this long."

"What, I never said that!" Ed protested furiously, rounding on his brother. "He just knows we're more valuable to him working for the State. And don't forget that he could bust us anytime he wanted. I bet if he was one step away from becoming Fuhrer and throwing us to the wolves would give him the edge he needs..."

"I can't believe you would even say that," Al admonished. "The colonel is not that kind of man. Are you telling me that, in all the years we've known him, you still won't trust him?"

"Like you said, he's my commanding officer," Ed said darkly. "It's not in his job description to care."

He wasn't saying it just to say it, he meant it. The military was cutthroat that way. At least Mustang was upfront about the way things worked. Even going back to that first day in Resembool, he hadn't bothered with sympathy and flowery words for the crippled boys he found. Mustang had made it perfectly clear what he expected of Ed, and in turn what Ed could expect of him. Theirs was an honest, if sometimes volatile relationship, and Ed would take the blunt truth over a cloak-and-dagger existence any day.

It was better this way. Knowing that someday Mustang would betray them, would let them down. Once they were of no use, he would turn his back and walk out of their lives. And when that day finally came, Ed refused to be caught off guard. Instead of feeling backstabbed, he would simply shrug and turn to Al and say I told you so.

And maybe this time, it would hurt a lot less.

At the door to the colonel's office, they stopped so Ed could dig his report out of his suitcase. The crinkled papers were slightly soggy but still readable, and he waved them dry as he reached for the handle. But Al stopped him with a hand on his arm. "I know you like to think you're strong enough to stand on your own," he said gently. "Still everyone needs a father, or at least something like one. And ever since Dad left us, you've been that for me. I just wish you had someone to look to for answers and guidance the same way I do."

Ed stiffened and opened his mouth to yell and curse his brother out...but in the end, he didn't say a word. He pushed the door open, smothering a deep hollow ache in his soul as he shrugged off Al's hand and plastered on a smile for Mustang's subordinates. "Hey, guys! Miss us?"

"Hey, Ed and Al!" Fuery said, rising from his seat. Havoc and Breda also greeted them and Falman sent a salute in their direction. Black Hayate bounded up from his place at Hawkeye's feet and proceeded to try and jump up Ed's leg.

"Down, Hayate," Hawkeye called and received an instant response. She frowned at the two of them. "Did you come here straight from the station? You should have called for an escort! Didn't the colonel warn you about Scar?"

"Don't blame us!" Ed said in annoyance. "Mustang was supposed to pick us up, the lazy bastard..."

Al knelt down to pet Hayate. "Colonel Adams gave us a ride, and he told us Mustang was sick. It's not serious, is it?"

"We're not sure if he's sick or not," Breda informed him. "He just hasn't turned up."

"I was just about to call him," Hawkeye said, shooting an anxious look out the window.

Havoc threw her an easy grin. "Don't worry so much, Hawkeye. I'll bet he's just playing hooky. I wouldn't blame him."

"Did you say Colonel Adams drove you?" Falman asked, intrigued. "The State Alchemist who escaped from Scar a few days ago?"

Ed snorted, leaning against the nearest desk. "Yeah, and we had to sit through the whole damn story about what an amazing alchemist he is and how he kicked Scar's ass from here to Drachma. Can you believe that guy? And then he has the nerve to go and try to recruit me to his command! What an idiot. As if I'd switch over just like...what, what? Why's everyone staring?"

"Well," Havoc said thoughtfully. "I guess we're just surprised. We all kind of assumed you hated Mustang, and yet you won't transfer out from under him?"

Ed started to feel very hot around his collar when everyone else nodded. "W-Well, I-I just didn't like what that Adams guy had to say!"

"Colonel Adams is a decent commander from what I've heard," Falman commented. "Taking into consideration your antagonism for Mustang, it would be only natural that any other commander would be an improvement..."

"Look, it's just easier this way! It's not a big deal, so—!"



Hawkeye gave him a reproving look, and Ed snapped his mouth shut. "Uh, sorry. I'll just leave my report on the colonel's desk, okay?"

He received a distracted assent and let himself into Mustang's office while Al stayed behind to rub Hayate's belly. Once inside, Ed surveyed his surroundings. It was weird being in here when Mustang wasn't. He was so used to seeing him behind the desk or standing at the window with his hands folded behind his back. Now there was only an empty chair and an unobstructed view of a stormy city. The water trailing down the windows gave the gray light an odd shimmery quality. Leaving the door open, Ed moved further in and tossed his report on the desk. But he didn't leave quite yet, toying with the notion of pulling some kind of prank as punishment for blowing him and Al off. Like maybe rigging the chair to break when he sat down or...

Nah, better not risk it. Mustang was way too much of a prick to take it in stride. He would probably cut Ed's research budget. Again. Ed turned to go but stopped when the phone on the desk rang. He grinned. Perhaps just one little thing. He plopped down in Mustang's chair, set his muddy boots on the desk and answered on the fourth ring. "Colonel Bastard's office. If you're one of the many women trying to reach a certain pompous ass that goes by the name Roy Mustang..."

"Fullmetal?" Mustang said, disbelief quickly turning to anger. "What the hell are you doing answering my phone?"

"What do you know, it's the bastard himself!" Ed said in exaggerated shock. "What's the deal with taking a day off when you said you'd pick us up? Al and I almost had to walk through a freaking rainstorm because of you!"

"Never mind that! Is Lieutenant Hawkeye there? Or any of the others? I need you to hand one of them the phone. Now, Fullmetal!"

"You can talk to them once I'm done chewing you out! Look, I put up with a lot of crap from you and the least you could do is give me an explanation—!"

"Ed, there's no time!" Mustang shouted, sounding almost frantic. "I'm being attacked by Scar!"

"You're what?" Ed yelped, his feet dropping to the floor. And now that he was really listening, what he had taken for static was actually rain, which meant Mustang was standing in a telephone booth somewhere. Mustang breathed heavily into the receiver, almost panting, and a hiss of pain reached him through the line.

"Damn...I'm bleeding..."

"This better not be some kind of sick joke, Colonel," Ed warned him. "I mean, I kind of doubt Scar would give you time to make a phone call before he blows your brains out..."

"Believe me, I wish I was joking," Mustang said humorlessly, and another wheeze escaped him. He really sounded like he was hurt. "He got me on the way to headquarters. Destroyed the car. I don't even know where I'm at now...somewhere downtown, I think, but he can't be far behind me. Bastard's relentless, I'll give him that."

Ed jumped up from the chair, slapping his palm on the desk. "Then what the hell are you doing calling here? Wouldn't calling the MPs have been a better idea?"

"Listen to me," Mustang said, his words forcibly calm. "I doubt I can escape from Scar in my condition, but I'll hold out for as long as I can. I need backup, and I need it now. And make sure it's Hawkeye who sends them! I need people I can trust..."

"Okay, okay!" Ed said quickly, trying to quell the terror that wanted to worm its way into his voice. "Tell me where you are. We'll be there as soon as—"

"No, Fullmetal! You and Al are to stay at headquarters, do you understand me? I won't have Scar targeting you again."

"That's not your call to make!" Ed said heatedly. "I won't just—!"

"Yes, you will! For once in your life, Edward, just do as I s—shit!"

Smashing glass and the distinct crackle of alchemy. Mustang shouted something else, but another explosion drowned out his words.

"Colonel! Colonel!"

The line went dead, beeping rapidly in a wordless demand to hang up. Ed smashed it against the desk uselessly, leaving a visible crack in the wood. "Damn it!"

"Where is he?"

He looked up. All of Mustang's subordinates and Al were crowded in the office door, their expressions ranging from fearful to angry to utterly lost. Hawkeye stepped closer, stricken. "Edward, where is he?"

"I don't know," Ed said, dropping his gaze back to the phone. "Downtown somewhere. He didn't have time to tell me before..."

Hawkeye spun around. "Fuery, get the chief of police on the phone! I want a search organized for that entire sector. Havoc, Breda, you inform our superiors and get them to take action. And Falman, see if you can get an emergency broadcast sent out on the civilian channels. Everyone, hurry!"

"Lieutenant, how can we help?"

"You and Ed stay here, Alphonse. I don't want Scar to come after your brother again so just leave this to us."

Fuery took the phone from Ed and dialed a number feverishly while all the others sprinted out the door in several directions at once. Hayate paced at his master's feet restlessly, sensing the agitation in the room. Ed was numb as he looked out at the city, for the first time taking in how huge the place was. The seconds were ticking by, but it would take many, many minutes for the military and the police to assemble their separate forces and get them on the streets. All of them, every one of them, would be like rats in a maze.

And if they were too late...

The thought really should not have scared him so much. Sure, Ed had expected abandonment, but not like this. In his mind he went back over the brief span of seconds when he had spoken to Mustang, wishing he had just shut his mouth and listened for once. There had to be another clue that would lead them to Mustang. Something, anything.

"No, I told you!" Fuery said into the receiver. "We're not sure where he is! We only know that Colonel Mustang is under attack from Scar and needs backup. Of course we want a search! Didn't I just tell you...?"

Hawkeye waved at him to hand her the receiver. "This is First Lieutenant Hawkeye. Yes, I understand your concern about alarming people, but I'm sure you're aware of Scar's past behavior. He can and will put civilian lives at risk, which is why we must make all haste..."

"I don't understand it," Fuery said unhappily, running a hand through his hair. "The colonel has been so careful ever since Scar appeared. He kept switching the routes he used, and on days like this he was always escorted by armed guards. I just don't understand how he could be attacked!"

"It's no one's fault," Al assured him. "We just need to focus on finding him."

"I-I know," Fuery choked. He dropped into Mustang's chair abruptly, cradling his head in his hands. "It's just, I've been under Colonel Mustang's command for so long. Years, now. I can't imagine answering to anyone else if...if he..."

I doubt you'll be answering to him much longer...

The words came to him like something out of a dream, and Ed caught his breath as they took on a whole new meaning. And then he remembered something Mustang had said. I need people I can trust. Damn it all, how could he be so stupid? Mustang didn't only face threats from outside the military, but from within.

"Who was supposed to escort him today?"

Fuery looked at him without comprehension until Ed repeated himself. "Tell me! Who were they? Who do they answer to?"

"Uh," Fuery faltered. "I think...I think it was Lieutenants Trenton and Jacobs today. Colonel Adams is their direct superior."

"The Storming Alchemist," Ed hissed, fists clenching. "That bastard..."

"Brother, what...hey, wait! Where are you going?"

"Hold on, Edward! Wait—not you too, Al!"

All of their voices faded into insignificance as Ed hurled out of the office and retraced his steps down the stairs to the front doors. He badgered the secretaries for the whereabouts of Adams' office, and the least intimidated told him the colonel had just now left to conduct his inspection. Ed could hear both Al and Fuery calling after him as he burst through the doors and back out into the gale, whipping his head back and forth. Adams hadn't left quite yet. He was crossing the courtyard on his way back to the car with another soldier in tow. Ed caught up to them at the curb and seized Adams roughly, pinning him against the car. Adams' umbrella went tumbling into the street while his subordinate cried out in alarm. "Sir—!"

"What did you do?" Ed snarled. "What the hell are you playing at?"

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Adams said steadily, his own surprise petering out when he realized who his attacker was. "I should be asking what you're doing, manhandling a superior officer like this. Don't you know that warrants prison time and possibly the firing squad?"

"Like I give a damn about that! Your soldiers were the ones guarding Mustang today! So where are they now while he's fighting for his life against Scar? Where are they?"

The other soldier blanched. "Oh God...Jacobs, Trenton..."

Adams' lips tightened in what could have been affront, but his eyes darted briefly to his subordinate as well as the few civilians watching the spectacle. "The incompetence of my men is...regrettable. But that does not give you the right to—"

"Ed, what do you think you're doing?" Al cried, yanking him back. "You can't just go around attacking people for no good reason!"

"No good reason?" Ed snapped, writhing in his grip. "How do you think he really escaped from Scar that night? He sold Mustang out to save his own ass! What makes you think you deserve to live more than he does?"

"Lieutenant, my umbrella," Adams said, leveling a stern glare when the man was slow to respond. He straightened his coat and turned back to Ed with slightly more composure. "I was stationed in the west during the Isvhalan war. Scar has no quarrel with me. As far as I am concerned, Mustang brought this upon himself. You should be less concerned with him and more concerned with where you will end up after this is all over."

Ed's heart turned to stone. "So that's what that was about in the car? All that talk about how I could do better with you as my commander..."

Adams gave him a thin, deadly smile. "My offer doesn't look quite so unappealing now, does it?"

Al's grip on his arms became painfully tight before he was released. It was silent permission to beat the living crap out of Adams, but Ed was frozen in place, swamped with sick guilt as he wrestled with the tempest of his emotions. When he first joined the military, he had known in an abstract sort of way that there had been other contenders wanting the newly discovered prodigy under their wing. Mustang had gotten first dibs for being the one to recruit him, but that didn't stop everyone else from cursing the colonel for his good fortune. Thanks to Ed, his reputation had grown and so had the target on his back.

And so many times—so many times—he and Al would return from their searches for the Stone and hear secondhand of an attempt on Mustang's life. But it was always all over by the time they learned about it, and Mustang would brush it off as nothing. Ed had never even thought about what could happen if one of those attempts became a success.

And just where will that leave you and your brother? Who will you turn to then?

"Ed, Al!"

A panting Fuery hurried toward them with Hayate on his heels. The dog put on an extra burst of speed until he was trotting by Ed's feet, tongue lolling out happily as his paws splashed in the puddles. Ed stared into innocent brown eyes, remembering with vivid clarity the day Hawkeye had adopted her dog. The same exact day he and Mustang had had their battle assessment, in which the colonel had thoroughly kicked his ass only to turn around and help him out anyway. No matter how hard he tried, Ed could never understand that man. He doubted he ever would.

And at some point, it had ceased to matter. Because trust didn't always require understanding.

"Well, Fullmetal?"

Ed looked back at Adams resolutely. "If Mustang dies today," he swore, "the first thing you'll see tomorrow is my resignation letter on your desk."

He ran before he could see the displeasure fully form on Adams' face, feet pounding on the street as he and Al and Hayate left an increasingly desperate Fuery far behind. Two blocks away from the command center, Al pulled him under the shelter of the buildings where Ed leaned against the wall to catch his breath. Hayate shook himself vigorously, drenching their feet.

"We can't go after him," Al said with no room for argument. "You know that, right? Don't forget how easily Scar beat us last time!"

"I don't care, I'm still going to try!" Ed told him. "Mustang can't use his alchemy when the weather's like this. He needs help now."

"But the military will—"

"The military will take forever to get moving! When Scar came after us that time, can you imagine what would have happened if Mustang sat around and waited for bureaucracy to catch up?"

Al seemed like he wanted to argue some more, but in the end he gave in. "Alright, but we need a plan first. Otherwise I'm locking you in my armor."

Ed flashed a weak grin and straightened. "Mustang said he was downtown. That he'd been attacked on the way to headquarters. If that was us...if we were the ones in that position, what would we do? Where would we go?"

"If we were close to headquarters, I would head in that direction first," Al replied practically. "But if not and if I couldn't get away...then I'd try to stay far away from any civilians. I'd find a less populated area to stand my ground. Is there a place like that downtown?"

"There is," Ed said, inspiration striking. "The river is downtown, and the warehouse district! With all this rain, I guarantee no one's going near it in case it floods. It's a place to start, at least!"

They abandoned their shelter and took off again, and Hayate followed after only a faint whine of resignation. Ten minutes later they were sprinting past shops and restaurants, and they went from door to door asking if anyone had seen a soldier and a scarred man lately, one chasing the other, possibly leaving destruction in their wake. Everyone denied seeing anything, and Ed seethed over this until he realized that of course no one would have seen anything. People stayed inside on a day like this, and any alchemic explosions could easily be mistaken as thunderclaps.

At last, they got a lead. A bookstore owner had heard shouts and what sounded like a car crash on the next street over. When they went to investigate, they found stunned civilians circling a trashed military vehicle. Some quick questions got them the general outline. The car had been parked by a café when it was blown up by a strange man. A soldier with black hair had pulled free of the wreck and fled down a side street, and no one knew anything about Adams' lieutenants. Ed headed in the direction indicated, always making for the river. It wasn't long before they emerged from the shelter of buildings and were rewarded by a line of warehouses just ahead.

"Brother," Al said quietly, pointing.

Ed looked and felt sick. Just down the street was the sign they were looking for. Huge cracks split the asphalt like an earthquake had struck, and a telephone booth was in shambles. Some of the puddles were tinged red. Hayate sniffed the puddles curiously, but Ed and Al were both transfixed by one of the warehouses. A door looked like it had been smashed inward. Al's soulfire eyes were bright with fear and dread as they crept inside and peered through the gloom. Crates that must have once been piled up near the center of the warehouse had been blasted back into the walls and split open, spilling the foodstuffs they contained all over the concrete. A large portion of the floor was doused with flour, and Ed drew a sharp breath when he spotted two pairs of white footprints leading to a second door on the other side of the warehouse.

"They were here," Ed breathed. "Damn. I would say just follow the footprints, but the rain..."


Al had knelt in the flour, sifting through it until he unearthed one of the colonel's ignition-cloth gloves. Ed kicked more flour aside, revealing an incomplete transmutation circle drawn with what looked like blood.

"He must have come in here to try and dry his gloves," Al said somberly. "But maybe he didn't have enough time."

"Next time I see him, I'm buying him a lighter," Ed muttered vindictively.

Hayate whined and nosed the glove in Al's hand. Al looked from dog to glove. "Hayate!" he exclaimed. "Maybe he can trace the colonel by scent!"

Hope surged through Ed, but was quickly and brutally stifled. "Al, we don't even know if Hayate is trained to do that. And besides that, it's raining outside!"

"But if they were here only a few minutes ago, there might still be a scent left," Al explained. "Besides, you've seen Lieutenant Hawkeye training him. There's no way she would skip something that useful. Here..."

Al waved the glove in front of Hayate's nose. "Go find the colonel, boy! Go on, find him!"

But the dog made no move to smell it, head tilted in carefree incomprehension as his tail thumped the floor. "Come on, Hayate," Al pleaded.

"Sit!" Ed ordered. Hayate sat, head up and ears perked toward him. "That's more like it! Hawkeye mostly uses one-word commands like that. We just have to find the right word!"

"Right," Al agreed. "Uh, search! Hayate, search!"

"Chase!" Ed barked. "Pursue! Seek and destroy!"


Hayate jumped up and gave the glove in Al's hand a thorough sniffing over. Ed watched with bated breath as the dog made little circles in the flour until his nose turned white. He sneezed explosively, sending up a small cloud, and paused when he reached the blood. This time his bark was one of triumph and he rushed to the other door where the footprints led.

"Yes, we've got it!" Ed cried in excitement. "Al, come on!"

Hayate led them on a convoluted path in and around the warehouses, pausing only every so often to pick up the scent again. The further they went, the more signs they saw that they were going the right way. Glass from broken windows littering the street, an occasional crack in the ground or the buildings, and every so often small smears of blood. Ed suspected that was what Hayate was really following. His throat grew tight. Nearly fifteen minutes had passed since that phone call, and with every moment it became more likely that Mustang was already...

But then they heard rushing water and the sounds of fighting. The warehouses fell back on either side and suddenly they were on the bank of the river. The gray waters were choppy and nearly overflowing the docks stretching over its expanse. No boats had dared to venture on it in this storm.

And down on one of those docks were two people, a soldier cornered by an Ishvalan. Mustang was giving everything he had to defend himself, but even from here Ed could tell he was at the end of his rope. In the precious seconds it took him and Al to reach the dock, Scar landed a brutal kick to his abdomen and followed up with a punch so hard that it sent him tumbling away. Mustang ended up sprawled out on his side and stayed there as Scar advanced on the fallen colonel, limping on a badly twisted ankle. His sunglasses had been lost as some point, and his jacket was charred in places. Mustang had not gone down without a fight.

Ed and Hawkeye's dog reached the dock first. This time he had no trouble with commands. "Sic 'em, Hayate!"

Hayate rushed ahead and leapt, clamping down on Scar's right arm with his teeth. Grunting from the unexpected attack, Scar pried him off by the scruff of his neck and threw the dog aside. Hayate ended up in the river with a surprised yelp and the floodwaters swept him away. Ed winced at the thought of explaining that to Hawkeye, but kept his focus on the two men ahead. And it occurred to him that this was an exact reversal of the last time they had faced Scar. Mustang's enraged look back then perfectly matched the fury coursing through Ed now.

"You should have stayed out of this, Fullmetal," Scar said, gripping his arm where Hayate's teeth had gouged his skin. Ed wondered for a moment if the array was marred enough to make his destructive abilities impossible, but it was probably best not to push his luck.

"Let Colonel Mustang go," Al said, his voice low and unforgiving. "He hasn't done anything to you!"

Scar rounded on them, eyes flashing. "You know as well as I do, he was the worst of them all! He wiped out entire villages in the blink of an eye with his alchemy. Just imagine if that was your town he razed. Could you forgive him then?"

"It's not like he wanted to do it!" Al countered with a quick glance at his brother. "You don't know the circumstances, none of us do. The ones to blame are the people who ordered that war in the first place, not the people who had no other choice!"

Ed nodded. He had heard plenty about the war, of the vile deeds that had earned Mustang such respect and fear. It was a terrible vision built on hate and prejudice, and none of it matching up to the man Ed knew. The colonel who only slightly crisped a terrorist that had meant to kill him in a train station full of people, who went out of his way every day to protect each and every one of his soldiers.

The man who had pulled Ed out of his dark abyss and offered him his greatest wish—to save his brother from his mistake. And now Ed understood things a little better. Mustang may have been a jerk at times, but like Ed, he didn't have a choice when it came to being the military's dog. Ed could criticize his superior on a lot of things, but not this. Never this.

"You disappoint me, both of you," Scar said quietly. "This is your chance, don't you see? With his death, you can be free."

"From what, the military?" Ed scoffed. "They won't let me go that easy."

"No, not the military," Scar spat, pointing at Mustang. "From him. He's the one who lured you in, Fullmetal. He's blinded you so completely that you've risked your life and your brother's life to save him. And for what? Take the veil from your eyes! He's just like the rest of them, he cares nothing for you!"

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Ed muttered, irritated. "Just because we don't like each other much doesn't mean we want to see each other dead! You don't know anything about him, or me!"

"Whatever you see in him is false! He is not your mentor, nor your father..."

"He's the closest I'll ever have to one!"

Ed nearly bit his tongue when the words flew from his mouth. He could swear he heard Al smile behind him. Scar didn't say a word as surprise flitted through his eyes. At his feet Mustang hadn't moved, but Ed's heart lurched when he realized the colonel's eyes were open and watching him dazedly. His breathing came in short, pained gasps, and a shallow cut across one cheek was oozing blood that dripped through the wooden planks to be lost in the churning river.

His lips moved, his words barely audible. "E-Ed...Al..."

Scar seemed to shake off whatever trance he had been in. He watched the brothers solemnly. "Fullmetal. If those words are spoken in truth, then...I am sorry."

He darted for Mustang, right hand stretched out. Ed leapt forward with a strangled cry, hands coming together, but he was too far away. He would never reach them in time.

"Al, GET BACK!" Ed screamed and pressed his hands to the dock. No time for a full transmutation. He simply destroyed the dock's supports and sent Scar, Mustang and himself plummeting into the murky waters. The cold closed in on him like a vise, and he thrashed instinctively as his automail dragged him deeper. He hit the bottom and both feet sank into the muck where he stuck like human seaweed. Ed squinted around. He had to find Mustang and get them to the surface somehow, but the current was strong and he couldn't see a damn thing. For all he knew, both the other men were already downstream.

Something grabbed his hood and yanked him up. Ed spun around and terror slammed into him when he realized he was seeing a yellow and brown blob, not a blue and black one. He lashed out, but the water slowed him down too much. Scar's right hand clamped over his face. Ed had no way of knowing which name he screamed in that moment, his brother's or his superior's, before the transmutation hit him. He felt the surge of power clear to his bones, and his entire face felt like it had been smashed with a sledgehammer. The pain knocked him silly for a brief instant, his body limp, his mind in a giddy stupor. Part of him wondered why he wasn't dead already, part of him screamed to fight and flee and hold your breath, idiot, but mostly he just felt himself slipping away, slipping further away...

A dark shape latched onto Scar and wrenched him away from Ed. They grappled, then separated and one of them shot for the surface. The other darted down and wrapped his arms around Ed. Ranking pins pressed against his cheek as Mustang tried to haul him up only to have the automail pull them back down. On a good day and with a great deal of effort, he might have been able to do it, but wounded and weary he didn't stand a chance.

He'll leave me. He has to, there's no other choice. He can't save us both and he knows it...

Without releasing him, Mustang pulled off his jacket and held it in one hand. The hand that still bore a white glove. The ignition-cloth wouldn't make a spark underwater, but there was nothing wrong with the array. The water around them deconstructed, hydrogen filling the jacket like a balloon and towing them up. Mustang gasped when they broke the surface and shook the water from his eyes, seizing a bit of floating wood to keep them up as they were swamped by wave after wave. After a few chaotic seconds he made a lunging grab for the nearest bank and lugged them both out of the river. They just lay there at first, Ed sprawled on his side while Mustang hacked up water behind him, one arm still looped around his waist. Ed was treated to a vista of wet dirt and puddles stained red by the blood trickling sluggishly from his nose and mouth.


He heard a noise behind him like a choked off wheeze. Or a sob. The arm around him constricted and was joined by a second. Mustang nestled his face to the back of Ed's neck, shuddering from more than the cold. "Why did you come after me? Why, Ed? I never asked you. I-I never..."

It occurred to him that he should tell Mustang he wasn't dead. Ed swallowed blood and tried to speak, but ended up coughing instead. Mustang gasped, then flipped him on his back. "Edward?"

Ed blinked slowly at the astonished face hovering above him and groaned. "Face 'urts..."

"Your jaw is broken," Mustang said shakily, fingers carefully exploring. He stopped when Ed hissed. "And your nose. But...what the hell? In the river, it looked like...you should be dead!"

Ed pushed himself upright, wincing as he felt the deformity in his nose. "Transmutation didn't work all the way," he mumbled. "Th' array was messed up."

"By what?"

"Hayate. Bit him."

Mustang blinked several times as he digested that. And then he huffed in disbelief. "Have I mentioned that I love dogs? Here, don't move."

"What're you...hey!"

Mustang put his thumbs on either side of Ed's nose and shoved the bones back into alignment. White-hot pain spiked right between his eyes, and Ed howled. "Mustang, you ass! That hurt!"

"I was under the impression that you could take the pain," Mustang said without any remorse. He turned Ed's face this way and that to examine his handiwork. "It was better to do this now and avoid it healing crookedly. Can you breathe?"

"I'm fine," Ed griped and stood, swiping the blood from his face with his sleeve. It wasn't quite the truth. His jaw still hurt horrendously and his teeth weren't lining up quite right. He was lucky he could talk at all, however slurry. "Let's just go before Scar finds us."

"...alright," Mustang replied. He started to rise and grunted, his hand pressed to his chest. At Ed's concerned look, he shook his head. "It's just my ribs. That last kick...wasn't exactly a love tap."

Ed hovered back at first, uncertain. Then he sighed and slung Mustang's arm over his shoulders. Mustang leaned on him a little more firmly with a murmured thanks, and together they limped away from the river's edge. The rain was beginning to let up now, though the clouds remained thick overhead, and their shoes squelched in the damp earth as they walked. Ed was surprised to see a swathe of knee high grass stretched before them and a wire fence blocking their path. Beyond that was a wide open field with buildings at the far end. Between here and there lay an assortment of generators and utility poles supporting the power lines that supplied East City with electricity. The warehouses and docks were further upstream around a bend in the river.

"Can you see Al anywhere?" Ed asked worriedly.

"He'll have to find us on his own," Mustang said and held up a hand to forestall protests. "Ed, it's not safe to stay in the open right now. If your brother has any sense, he'll look for us and not do anything to provoke Scar."

There wasn't much Ed could do to argue. But after a moment he propped Mustang up against the fence and shrugged off his red coat, tying it by the sleeves right beside a gate with a firm No Trespassing sign. Ignoring it completely, Ed transmuted the lock off the gate and swung it open before returning to his duty as Mustang's crutch. The coat flapped limply as they entered the compound, a banner of bright color in a gray world, and with any luck it would help Al locate them.

"We could have just gone around," Mustang informed him as they trekked in the direction of the buildings, passing under power lines that produced a constant electrical hum.

"Faster this way," Ed said, blatantly ignoring the fact that the distance remained daunting even heading in a straight line across the field.

"Faster doesn't always mean safer," Mustang retorted. "Ed, why did you and Al come after me by yourselves? All three of us could have ended up dead back there, I hope you know that."

"You would've been the dead one if we hadn't come!" Ed snapped, bristling. "The military's probably still wading through the red tape right now, and I wasn't about to wait around after what Adams said..."

Mustang paused with a sharp look at him. "Adams? What did he want with you?"

Ed hesitated at the way Mustang's voice dropped dangerously. "I...I think you were set up," he said quietly, avoiding the question. "Adams made it sound like...like he expected something to happen to you. I didn't think anything of it until you called, and I realized it was his men that were supposed to be guarding you."

"So I was right then," Mustang said, staring fixedly at the ground. "I was too careless. I allowed them to stop the car so they could get coffee, only they never came back. And then Scar came out of nowhere. Just like...like he was waiting there for m-me...Ed, I need to stop for a minute."

Ed halted when he realized the colonel's breathing had become more labored and quickly lowered him to the ground. Mustang braced his palm on the earth as he wrapped an arm around his chest, breathing carefully and slowly. They were only a third of the way across the field and still very much in plain sight. Ed surveyed their location restlessly before he plunked down beside Mustang with his legs crossed. He was anxious to get to safety but at the same time worried of pushing Mustang too hard.

"I do have to wonder just how much information Adams had to give to spare his own life," Mustang said bleakly. "There could be other alchemists in danger. It was a pretty bold move though, getting Scar to do away with one of his rivals for him. If this whole thing had succeeded, there would have been no way to incriminate Adams."

"He wouldn't have succeeded no matter what he tried," Ed said through gritted teeth. "Not ever."

"...why do I get the feeling we're talking about something completely different now?"

Ed hung his head, yanking stalks of grass up moodily. "When Adams was talking to me and Al...he was saying some stuff."

"Such as...?"

"He wanted me to work under him instead of you," Ed admitted, and even he was caught off guard by the faint thread of shame in his tone.

"Oh, Ed," Mustang said, and he leaned over to grip Ed's arm. "You think this is all your fault, don't you? If Adams had really wanted you and only you, there would have been half a dozen ways to accomplish that without going to these lengths. This happened because I'm a threat to him. You were just...a bonus."

"It's not the first time though!" Ed blurted out. "There've been other people that tried to convince me I'd be better off with them. Until now it's all just been talk, but if you're going to get hurt because of it—"

"Do you think I didn't know what I was getting into?" Mustang demanded. More gently, he added. "I've been in danger from the moment I put on this uniform, and I understood full well it would only grow with time. It's nothing you caused."

"It's just...me and Al are normally the ones in danger," Ed said despondently, still not entirely convinced. "I don't like to think of it being you instead."

"Why's that?" Mustang asked, his grin suddenly rueful. "Because I'm the closest thing you have to a father?"

It took a moment for the words to sink in, and when they did Ed felt his face heating up. "You weren't supposed to hear that," he said stiffly.

"Ed, I was right there."

"I was just saying it so Scar would let you go!"

"But you sounded so heartfelt and sincere," Mustang said in exaggerated sentiment, dark eyes alight with mirth. "Truly Fullmetal, I was just touched."

Ed stood up, shaking all over with rage and humiliation. "You know what? You can walk on your own from here."

"Come on, don't be so touchy," Mustang called after him. But when he received no answer the mockery slipped away as he also clamored to his feet. "Edward, wait a minute. It's okay for us to talk about this..."

"There's nothing to talk about!" Ed shouted, whirling around. "I don't need a father, and I definitely don't need you to be one! You'd make a crappy father anyway so why can't we just stick with what we have now and be done with it?"

Another joke would have been easier to deal with. A witty comeback, a snapped retort...that he could have handled. Ed absolutely hated the way Mustang stopped in his tracks with not a trace of a smirk. Instead he looked confused and a little hurt, a far cry from his usual detached self. A hand that had been held out in half-hearted entreaty fell back to his side, and a frosty mask slid into place.

"Very well, Fullmetal," Mustang said with utter civility. "If that's how you want it, I'll continue to be the bastard you want me to be. And you're free to remain the brat I see when I look at you."

There was something very final in those words. Something that made Ed's gut ache from an inexplicable sense of loss. Rather than stand around trying to puzzle it out, he looked away and noticed movement in the shadows of the buildings. "Look, I see someone! Hey! Hey you, over there! We need some help!"

Whoever it was stopped, but although Ed was positive they had been seen, the person made no move to answer or to approach. Ed started jogging toward them and gasped at a sudden pang in his steel joints. His left knee buckled, and he clamped his hand over his right shoulder. His automail was...tingling. No, that wasn't quite right because the feeling was sharp, stabbing. It didn't feel at all like the usual aches he got when the air pressure was low.

"What happened?" Mustang said when he caught up. "Is it your automail? Did it get damaged by Scar's attack?"

Ed shook his head and his eyes went wide when he realized Mustang's hair was standing on end, little tendrils stretching up to the sky. A throaty rumble above their heads was their only warning, and he shouted in alarm and tackled Mustang just in time. With a sound like shrieking metal, a bolt of lightning struck the perimeter fence with such force that the metal blackened and melted. Ed's ears rang with it, and Mustang was equally shell-shocked as they looked at each other. Ed laughed shakily. "C-Close one..."

The words were barely out of his mouth when Ed noticed the blue-white flashes illuminating the person he had called out to. Bright flickers rippled through the dark clouds, and two more bolts zapped a nearby transformer, which spewed sparks and promptly caught fire as the surge knocked out the lights in the buildings. The reek of ozone was suffocating, and Ed groaned when the prickling in his limbs became nearly unbearable.

Mustang cursed. "It's Storming! That bastard, he's trying to kill us!"

"What? How can you tell?"

"There hasn't been lightning or thunder at all since this storm rolled in. And it's too regular, too focused. It shouldn't be coming for us like it has a mind of its own!"

The hairs on Ed's arm stood up, and he shut his eyes to protect his sight when two more bone-jarring strikes hit the ground not thirty meters from them, leaving vivid afterimages streaking his eyelids. Seconds passed without any further attacks, and they dared to raise their heads. Mustang started to rise only to have Ed jerk him back down. "Wait, don't move!"

"Now's our chance! The longer we sit here, the better chance he has of actually hitting us!"

"He doesn't need to hit us in order to kill us!" Ed said loudly. "Jeez, you call yourself an alchemist and you don't know about voltage gradient?"

Mustang gave him a blank look. "About what?"

Ed pointed at the smoking ground not far from them. "When lightning hits the ground, it sends a charge through the earth that spreads outward from wherever it struck. It's like...like one giant battery. All it takes is for our feet to be touching the ground in places where the gradients are different—one positive and the other negative—and then we become the battery."

Mustang thought that over for a moment. "So you're telling me as soon as we take a single step…?"

Ed nodded grimly. "He's probably using the same principle to cause the lightning in the first place. Making a charge in the ground to attract the one in the sky. The only thing throwing off his accuracy is the distance."

An intense grumbling caused them both to flinch, but for now the clouds were quiescent. Mustang cursed again, not daring to move any more than necessary. "You said it only happens if we're standing in the wrong place when the lightning strikes. Is there any way to avoid it?"

"I'm not sure," Ed said nervously, one eye on the clouds. "I...I guess I could transmute the entire field and disperse the charge equally across the soil, but that'd only last until the next strike. It's either that or..."

"Or you could transmute the bottom of our shoes into rubber."

Ed paused with his mouth hanging open, mortified that such a simple solution hadn't occurred to him. Mustang flashed a condescending grin. "Jeez Fullmetal, you call yourself an alchemist?"

"Oh, shut up!" Ed snapped. He clapped and stretched his arm back to transmute Mustang's shoes quickly. He didn't have much to work with, but he managed to create a nonconductive, gummy material using some grass. Quickly, he did the same for his own boots while the colonel poked the sole of his shoe experimentally.

"How did you know about the voltage gradient?" Mustang asked curiously.

"Resembool got its fair share of thunderstorms in the summer," Ed explained. "They got so strong they made the the house shake, and sometimes there wasn't even any rain and it was just pure lightning. The old hag at the schoolhouse was always lecturing us in case we got caught in a storm when we were out in the fields."

"Smart woman," Mustang commented. He scanned the buildings ahead cautiously. "I can see him. It looks like he's waiting to see what we do. I'd say he's a fool to attack us this openly if only it weren't so easy to disguise this as a freak accident."

"Make one hell of a front page story," Ed joked morbidly. "'Flame and Fullmetal escape from Scar only to be tragically struck down by lightning...' That kind of thing. Those religious nutjobs would have a field day with the symbolism."

Mustang's own smirk was weak and fleeting. He nodded at the vast field that lay between them and safety. "On my mark make straight for the buildings as fast as you can. Keep a good distance from me so he has more than one target, and don't stop at all costs. Once we get close enough, he won't dare to use his alchemy."

"Right," Ed said, suddenly afraid of everything that could happen in the next few minutes. Mustang's breathing still didn't sound quite right, and he seriously wondered if he was up for a dash across a field. "I...we could always try for the river instead..."

Mustang looked at the raging waters doubtfully, and Ed let the idea go. It wasn't like he could swim even if the water was calm. This was the only way. Mustang gripped his shoulder, looking for a moment like he wanted to say something, but in the end he merely held up three fingers, counting down. When the last finger dropped, they both jumped up and sprinted as fast as their legs could carry them. Three steps later a deafening series of crashes and booms ripped the skies apart as lightning stabbed into the ground behind them repeatedly. The raw combination of alchemy and nature was terrifying to behold, like God himself was hunting them down.

Ed pushed himself, not daring to slow down or take his eyes off his destination as heat washed over his skin with each attack. Mustang was just a breath behind him, but his uneven footsteps were beginning to fall behind as injuries and exhaustion took their toll. And then from behind him came the loudest and brightest attack yet and an agonized howl that stopped Ed in his tracks.


He hadn't been hit, but it was close enough. Mustang stumbled, hands clapped over the sides of his face as blood streamed over his knuckles. His eardrums had been shattered. Ed reversed direction and raced to reach him. He could taste the storm's growing power like iron on his tongue as he grasped Mustang's arms, urging him on. "Keep going! Mustang, come on!"

Mustang started and pushed him away feebly, trying to find him with eyes blinded by the flash. "Go! Don't wait for me—!"

"You're a moron if you think I'd leave you! One measly storm isn't going to take either of us down!"

Ed heaved him up, but Mustang couldn't find his balance and kept losing his footing. Lightning zapped the electrical cables above them and a live wire broke and slapped the ground, the sparking end writhing back and forth like a headless snake. Ed wrenched Mustang back to avoid it and they bumped into a low-lying concrete wall and slumped to the ground, shoulder to shoulder. He searched desperately for another escape route and found none. The broken wire blocked their way forward, and Ed doubted they would make it much further in any other direction.

They were trapped.


"We're dead, Colonel," Ed rasped, unable to make himself believe it as he watched the thunderheads converge above them. "We're...we're not going to make it..."

He ducked his head to hide the hot tears pricking at his eyes. Al was probably still looking for him right now, right this minute, and how would he react when all he found were their blackened corpses? They would never get their bodies back, never fix their mistake, and Al's life would be over just as surely as Ed's would be in a few more seconds...

A hand grasped his shoulder, and Mustang slowly drew him nearer as if unsure of how his gesture would be received. "I wanted to tell you," he murmured in his ear. "Earlier what I wanted to say...Ed, I don't care if you see me as your father or not. I don't care how much you hate me. God knows I haven't always thought the best of you brothers—you an insufferable brat, and Al too damn kindhearted for his own good. But still I..."

His next words were wholly unmasked, vulnerable in a way Ed had never expected. "If I...if I could ever have a son like you and Al..."

A painful lump rose in Ed's throat, stopping any words before they could be voiced. Any other time he wouldn't have believed it. He would have cursed and lashed out and accused Mustang of manipulating him. But this time—this one time—he crumpled against the older man. He allowed himself to give in to those long-suppressed feelings of solace and warmth, the surety that he was always protected here. Things he hadn't allowed himself to feel for another adult in years out of a childish fear that he would be rejected. After all, if his own father couldn't bear to stay and call Ed his own, then who else would bother?

But Mustang was still here, clinging to him as the air around them grew stifling and took on a staticky quality. Though it was cowardly, Ed pressed closer and fisted his fingers in the colonel's shirt. Mustang's other hand cradled the back of his head as he tipped his face to the sky, eyes shut serenely. He looked half-dead already, bloodied and beaten, but his expression showed nothing but calm acceptance. Only his painful grip on Ed's shoulder belied his dread.

"Colonel! Brother!"

Ed breathed in sharply at the cry, shocked when the armor sprinted past them and stabbed a large metal rod into the ground. Al held it upright with one hand and thrust a fist to the sky in reckless defiance.

Metal rod...metal armor...

He realized Al's intention a split second too late, and his scream was lost when the clouds discharged all their fury. The lightning went straight for Al's hand, conducting through the armor to the pole and then to the ground. Ed reached a hand out helplessly as the strikes came again and again and again. Al took each blow in silence, but the armor trembled with the intensity of it, blindingly white bolts coursing over the steel and shooting outward to strike anything in the vicinity.

"Alphonse!" Ed cried, terrified of what all that electricity could do to the blood-seal and the alchemy tying his brother's soul to the armor. "Al, stop!"

"No, Ed!" Mustang shouted in desperation. He held him back with all his strength, but when Al was driven to his knees, Ed would not be stopped. He broke loose and ran for his brother, thinking that if he could just get to him...

"No, you have to stay back!" Al yelled. "Brother, I can't—!"

He never saw it coming. Electricity arced from one of the spikes on Al's shoulder and straight to Ed's right hand, which had been in the act of reaching out. Ed convulsed when pure, undiluted power a thousand times stronger than Scar's transmutation thundered through his body. He was blasted back, so numb and disoriented that he barely felt the landing. The only thing he was capable of registering was pain. His automail throbbed, his skin was on fire, his eyes and ears refused to work save for a dull roaring. Ed didn't even realize someone was speaking to him until they leaned over and pressed their ear to his chest.

He had never seen the colonel look so scared.

"No," Mustang moaned. "No...oh, please no..."

Then Al was there too, but Ed couldn't understand his frantic words. He couldn't understand anything that was happening to him. Everything had taken on a dream-like quality, and vaguely he was aware that nothing was working as it should. His limbs weren't moving, his lungs weren't inhaling.

His heart wasn't beating.

"Al, you need to get help! I'll stay with him. Hurry!"

A heavy weight started pumping his chest repeatedly, and a mouth closed over his own and breathed for him. That was the last thing he felt before the clouds parted and the sun turned his vision completely white. He stood on a vast empty plane as the Truth laughed in his face and asked what he would like pay for the return journey. Ed didn't get a chance to answer before everything changed again. He was twelve years old and standing in the colonel's office. Mustang passed him his new watch across the desk and told him not to die because the paperwork would be horrendous and there was no point in making a fuss over a little brat like him.

For some reason, that just made Ed smile.

Did you just...? Can you hear me, Fullmetal?


Al! Al, he's awake! You're safe, Ed. You both are. It's going to be...no, don't close your eyes! Damn it, at least wait for your brother to get in here!

But he was already losing even this small sliver of reality. "Colonel..."

Please wake up, Brother. We're all waiting for you...

He was seven and running through the fields with Al while thunder boomed in the distance. Behind them, their mother stood in the doorway of their home and called for him to come back inside. Ed stopped, torn between going after Al and returning to her. The storm was on him before he could make up his mind and there was a sudden flash and...

Ed gasped and snapped his eyes open, confused by the dimly lit room he found himself in. He startled the nurse that had been taping a new bandage into place on his shoulder, and they stared at one another for a long moment before she bombarded him with questions. Did he remember what happened to him? Did he know where he was now? Ed tried to speak and was foiled by something in his mouth that kept his teeth clamped together.

"We had to wire your jaw shut, sweetie, it was so badly misaligned," the nurse explained. She held up a small chalkboard and a box of chalk. "You can use this if you have a question."

The inconvenience annoyed Ed, and even more so when he realized his right arm was gone. He pried open the box with difficulty as his remaining hand also seemed to be responding more slowly than usual. But he refused to let the nurse help him and scribbled the first questions that came to him. Where am I? Why's it so dark?

He winced when the nurse shone a penlight in his pupils. "We are in the military hospital in East City. You were brought here last week, do you remember that? It was the same day we had that massive lightning storm that knocked out the city's power grids. We've had to make do with our auxiliary generators since then. Now if you would just answer my questions so I can complete my assessment..."

Ed wracked his brains. Last week, last week. He couldn't remember last week. He didn't even know what he'd been doing before coming here. But the power grids...that sparked a faint memory of open fields and explosive flashes of light. But he knew better than to be out in a storm like that. Didn't he?

The nurse took his wrist to check his pulse and made a disapproving noise when Ed tugged his hand away. He wiped away his previous question with his palm and wrote again. What happened to me?

"I'm afraid I wasn't told the whole story," the nurse said, not sounding at all pleased with this lack of information. "But six days ago you came in with a broken jaw and nose, and that on top of the burns you sustained when you were struck by lightning. You've been in a coma, young man. After the trauma you went through, I'd be highly surprised if you remained entirely unaffected, so I think now you can understand how imperative it is that you cooperate."

But Ed had already lost track halfway through her lecture, stunned. Struck by lightning. In a coma. Now it was coming back to him. He and Al had returned to East City, and thereafter his memory was in bits and pieces. But he remembered Adams and Scar, the warehouses and the river, and then the fields...

I wanted to tell you. Earlier what I wanted to say...

"Did you hear me?" the nurse said with a little less sternness. "Tell you what, you can ask one question for each one I ask of you. And please allow me to check your vitals without a fuss. Does that sound fair?"

Ed nodded dazedly and composed his next question slowly, afraid of the answer. Where's my brother? Is he okay?

The nurse slid a stethoscope under his shirt and listened for a moment before answering. "He's just fine, dear. He was here yesterday, as a matter of fact, and he said he would be back today. Now please write your full name and military title for me."

Ed complied and received a satisfied nod in return. She waited patiently as he wrote, his hand shaking a little. Is the colonel okay?

"The colonel? Oh, you must mean that handsome man that came in with you! Is he your father?"

Ed scowled. HELL NO.

"Well," the nurse said, affronted. "In any case, Mr. Mustang is recovering as well. Would you like to see him when I finish checking you over?"

Ed faltered. They had been about to die the last time he and Mustang saw each other, and he wasn't quite sure if he was ready to face the man again. And besides, Ed thought and touched his empty shoulder socket, it would be the height of embarrassment to let Mustang see him like this—ignoring the fact that he probably already had.

But he really did want to see Mustang. Just to make sure he was okay. He started to rise, but the nurse pushed him back down. "Oh no, you don't. You're to stay bedbound until the doctor clears you. I'll bring Colonel Mustang to you once we're done here. He's in a slightly better state to move around than you are."

Ed wanted to protest until the bossy nurse pointed out his numerous bandages as well as the tubes threaded into his nose, veins and…other places. Face red, Ed meekly answered the rest of her questions and then waited as she went to get Mustang, head cradled in his hands. This didn't make any sense at all. If they had survived, then what had happened to Adams? Had he been arrested or was he still walking free?

"Sir, please wait! We put that wheelchair in your room for a reason—!"

Someone barged through the door, and a hand gripped his chin and forced his face up. Mustang looked into his eyes with such intensity and concern that Ed thought the colonel just might hug him.

"Shrimp," Mustang proclaimed.

Ed smacked his hand away with an angry snarl that was nowhere near the rant he wanted. Mustang's laugh was one of profound relief as he stepped back. "Thank God, you're still you. These damn doctors kept going on about personality changes and brain damage...Al will be so glad."

The nurse rolled a wheelchair inside, pointing at the seat quite adamantly. Mustang eyed it in mild abhorrence and took a seat gracelessly. Ed wanted to laugh at the great Flame Alchemist being forced to use a wheelchair like an invalid, but soon could see that it was necessary. Bandages peeked out from the hem of Mustang's hospital shirt, and wads of gauze were packed into his ears and held in place by even more dressings wrapped around his head. He looked better than he had the last time Ed had seen him, but he was unshaven and pale with dark circles under his eyes that showed he was far from recovered.

"I'll just let you two catch up," the nurse said tactfully. She touched Mustang on the shoulder to get his attention. "I'm—going—to—leave!"

Mustang glared at her. "I'm not deaf. You don't have to talk like I'm eighty years old."

The nurse only shook her head with a knowing smile, giving Ed a small wink. "The doctor will be in shortly to check on you."

With that she walked out, and the silence that descended was awkward. Ed fidgeted, tapping the chalk against the board as he tried to think of what to say. He took another guilty peek at Mustang's injuries, but turned away almost as quickly when the colonel noticed his look.

"They had to operate," Mustang said, touching the side of his head. "This is only temporary until I heal. They claim I'll fully recover my hearing, but right now everything's kind of muted. It's...frustrating."

Ed nodded and suddenly remembered his number one question. Adams?

"Dead," Mustang said flatly, handing the chalkboard back. "Not long after...after you were hit, the lightning stopped. The police and military had arrived by then, having heard all the commotion, and Adams fled. I'm not sure how far he got before Scar got to him."

Ed started at that, and Mustang nodded grimly. "According to witnesses, Scar snapped his neck with his bare hands. Right after telling him that traitors to their own country always found their place in hell along with the rest of the sinners."

Ed felt his brow furrow, unsure of how he felt about that. The tiny twinge of pity in his chest was mostly drowned out by the anger he still felt at what Adams had put them through. And it didn't sit well with him that Scar had ultimately been the one to end it.

"Why did you run toward Al during that attack?" Mustang said quietly. "What were you thinking when you did that?"

The faint thread of anger behind those words made Ed look up in surprise. He knew that look. The one Mustang donned the very few times Ed had done something that had driven the colonel beyond mere displeasure and into true rage. Had he been capable he would have launched into a defensive tirade, but all he had now was the stupid chalkboard. Al could have been killed, he wrote.

"You were killed!" Mustang shot back. "You had no pulse for nearly ten minutes! Your brother was beside himself, and all because you wouldn't let him protect you!"

He's not supposed to—

Mustang snatched the board out of his hand, ignoring Ed's indignation. "I don't want to hear about what he is and is not supposed to do! Al knew what he was doing, he knew he had a better chance of surviving that attack than we did. But you, Ed...you're so hung up on being the older brother and carrying everything on your own that you refuse to accept that Alphonse has just as much of a right to sacrifice himself—"

Ed threw the chalk at him violently. Mustang knocked it out of the air and kept talking. "—for his brother as you do! You made both of us watch you die out of a stupid sense of nobility and pride! Do you have even the slightest idea how that made him feel? How it made me feel…?"

He cut himself off, leaning forward to bury his face in his hand. Any other time Ed would have been too busy screaming his head off to notice the slight shift in Mustang's voice, the wrath cooling until it became something else entirely.

"They wanted me to take you off life support," Mustang whispered brokenly, and Ed sucked in a horrified breath. "They said the chances of you waking were so low...and since I'm your commanding officer, I was the only one who could...Al threatened to kidnap you if I even considered, but they kept telling me you might never come back..."

He shuddered, and for the first time Ed fully understood just how hard this past week must have been on everyone else. Six days may have been the blink of an eye for him, but Al must have sat at his bedside every hour hoping for a single word, a twitch of the finger, while in the very next room Mustang contemplated whether to let him live on in that zombie state or to just go ahead and deliver the final, merciful blow...

If I could ever have a son like you and Al...

Bad enough to consider that for just any subordinate, but now Mustang's final words to him resounded in his head like a broken record. Ed leaned over and plucked the board out of Mustang's lax grip, fishing another bit of chalk from the box. Did you mean what you said?

Mustang sighed, all energy draining from him. He rose and went to the window to lean against the frame with his arms crossed, unseeing as he gazed out at the street. The weather was still horridly dreary, but at least the incessant rain had finally stopped and people were daring to venture out without umbrellas.

"Yes. For whatever it's worth, I meant it."

Ed swallowed, staring at his lap listlessly. All this time, all these years serving in Mustang's command, and whenever the colonel had looked at him and Al, he hadn't seen a bratty subordinate and his armored brother. Well maybe at first, but something had changed. It was subtle, built up over a great deal of time and nurtured by the smallest things—by Mustang offering to pick them up when Scar was around and handing them another lead without the customary jabs that they were only going to another failure. And things had changed for him as well, Ed realized. He no longer tried quite so hard to embarrass Mustang in front of his superiors or stopped listening when he was given an order that was truly for his own good.

Mere friendship wasn't enough to describe his and Al's utter dependence on Mustang to look after them and be there for them and set them on the right path, nor Mustang's irrational need to keep the brothers safe no matter what happened to him. No, the only kind of love that described...was family.

Ed jotted something down and threw his chalk again. Mustang jumped when the stick hit him in the back, looking at him quizzically, and he took the board from Ed with clear misgiving. But then he smiled. Really smiled.

Me too. But you're still an utter bastard.

"Thanks, kid," Mustang said, sounding truly pleased. Ed turned his head away, unable to completely suppress an embarrassing rush of tears. When he got himself under control and looked back, Mustang was still watching him with that same warmth, that same fondness. It was a little unnerving, considering the only emotion Mustang normally displayed toward him was vexed irritation, but it was a good feeling and one he could certainly get used to.


Another glimmer of a memory returned, and Ed snickered. He started writing again, relishing Mustang's confusion until he held the chalkboard up again. Was it my imagination or did I hear a little sniffle when you thought I was dead?

Mustang's eyes widened just the slightest bit and he drew himself up quickly. "It was your imagination," he said shortly. "What you witnessed was a…a demonstration of masculine grief at the loss of a valued subordinate. Men don't sniffle."

But you sounded so heartfelt and sincere!

"For the last time, I did not—"


They barely had time to look in the direction of the door before Al rushed forward with a joyful cry and swept Ed up in a hug. Behind him, Hawkeye exchanged her initial shock for a wide smile and Havoc cheered and hugged the nearest nurse, spinning the shocked woman around. Mustang took a step back to make room for everyone, and Ed accepted a few handshakes and back slaps with embarrassed gratitude. Quickly, Ed ran anxious hands over Al's armor in search of any damage.

"I'm alright," Al assured him, still laughing. "I'm better than alright, at least I wasn't knocked into a coma!"

Ed made a disbelieving noise and leveled a stern glare at his little brother. He thought he heard a snicker from Havoc. "Kinda hard to give a lecture when you can't talk, huh Chief?"

"I promise I didn't get a scratch," Al told him. "All that lightning didn't even hurt. It was...more of a tingly feeling, but that's gone away now. I'm completely fine."

"Except for the zapping thing," Hawkeye remarked.

At Ed's questioning look, Al rubbed his palms together and poked the colonel's ear. Mustang yelped when a spark jumped between them and jerked away, rubbing the reddened skin. "Damn it, Alphonse! I told you not to do that anymore!"

"I can't help it!" Al insisted, sounding more amused than contrite. "The last couple of times, I really didn't mean to! And it's only a little spark..."

"Funny, I notice you never zap Hawkeye like that," Mustang said adroitly. "Intentionally or otherwise."

"Maybe she knows better than to stand right next to me," Al said in much the same tone, and Mustang quickly fled to the other side of the bed. Ed watched the whole thing in bafflement, surprised to see his brother on such casual terms with Mustang all of a sudden. Normally, Al was the epitome of politeness and always the one to apologize for Ed's brash actions.

But now...Al was actually teasing him. In almost the exact same way he liked to tease Ed. And while Mustang could have easily shouted at him and told him off for it, he wasn't. He was going along with it, and there was an almost-smile on his face even as he kept a wary eye on the younger brother.

"In case you hadn't noticed, Fullmetal is awake now," Mustang admonished, waving at Ed. "There's no need to keep channeling his evil spirit."

"Who says I am?" Al said smartly. Oh yes, something had definitely changed here. Something to knock down the cautious walls between them and allow them to become more comfortable around each other. It looked like Ed was no longer Al's only source of guidance. It was strange and a little saddening, but also wonderful in its own way. Ed doubted he would have been okay with it before he and Mustang went through their ordeal, but now it took an enormous burden off his shoulders, and he couldn't hold back a small smile as he watched them.

"Ew, that's nasty!" Al said when he spied the wires in Ed's mouth. "How long do you have to keep those in again?"

"The doctor said something like a month or two," Hawkeye informed him. "In an emergency we can unclip them with a pair of pliers, but until the doctor says you're healed, they stay on. That means no solid foods or talking. Nothing that would require you to move your jaw around."

"Which also means no yelling or swearing," Havoc added. "Hey, this might actually be a good thing!"

Ed paled. A month? Or two? Without any solid food at all? That was a death sentence!

"And you won't be getting your arm back either," Mustang said firmly. "Some of the internal circuitry was fried, but even if it was perfectly fine, I wouldn't trust you not to transmute the wires out of your mouth."

Ed looked from one face to another, stricken by the verdict. He turned beseeching eyes on Al, but his brother shook his head. "I'm sorry, Brother, but I have to agree with them. You were hurt really badly this time."

Ed's response was only four words. I hate you all.

"Come on, you don't mean that," Al cajoled. "At least you only have to stay here for a few days. Then we can go back to the dorms."

"I'm not sure the dorms would be the best idea," Hawkeye said with some apprehension. "Ed needs an all-liquid diet that will also supply him with the nutrients he needs, and I doubt the mess cooks cater to that. And he should be constantly monitored in case he relapses. He may need to stay in the hospital long term until his jaw is healed."

Ed shook his head in vehement opposition. Bad enough he was being sidelined for an entire month, but to stay in the hospital during that time was out of the question. If this were Central, he would have pleaded sanctuary with Hughes and his family, but in East City their options were fairly limited.

"Didn't the doctor say something about starting him off with baby food?" Al asked, not noticing his brother's horrified look. "I think I can take care of keeping him fed, but you might be right about the dorms. I can't imagine it'd be a very comfortable place to recover."

Ed scrambled for his chalkboard. DORMS, DORMS, DORMS!

"I'm just concerned about leaving you two alone right now," Hawkeye told him. "And with Scar still on the loose, we will of course have to assign bodyguards..."

Fed up with being ignored, Ed flung the box of chalk at the opposite wall, narrowly missing Havoc. Then he mentally cursed himself because now he had nothing to write with. Havoc picked up the box gingerly. "Throwing a tantrum is no way to get our attention, Chief," he chided and ducked just in time to avoid the chalkboard.

"I guess I have no choice," Mustang sighed. "I have a guest room. Ed and Al can stay with me."

Ed stared. Al stared. Hawkeye and Havoc stared. Mustang crossed his arms as he went on, sounding just the slightest bit defensive. "It only makes sense. I'm in the same boat as Fullmetal. I doubt I could defend myself against Scar, nor will I be able to return to work for some time. It will be far easier to protect us both if we're in one place while we convalesce."

Mustang looked at Ed and Al. "Besides...you two saved me that day. First from Scar, and again from Adams. I'd prefer to repay you before you get too over your heads."

Al remained silent as he looked at Ed, clearly waiting for him to make the decision, but even then Ed could tell he wanted him to say yes. Ed turned his focus on Mustang, searching for the slightest sign of an underlying motive, but it seemed like an honest request. And although some part of him balked at living under the same roof as Mustang...

Ed waved at Havoc to hand him chalk and board. The lieutenant seemed very reluctant to do so, no doubt expecting another projectile aimed at his head.

Room service? Ed inquired.

"In your dreams," Mustang told him in no uncertain terms.

Another short silence as Ed thought it over. And then, to everyone's surprise, he nodded. Okay. But only because I know you won't try to play nursemaid.

"Damn right I won't," Mustang snorted. "That's Al's job."

"It's all settled then?" Hawkeye asked them. Receiving nods all around, she made for the door. "I'll make the arrangements for bodyguards then."

"What, you're not going to do it?" Mustang said, taken aback.

"Still antsy, sir?" Havoc teased him.

"Someone needs to keep the office running in your absence, Colonel," Hawkeye replied with a trace of amusement. "And that's not a task I can entrust to just anyone, is it?"

The two lieutenants left with varying degrees of smiles on their faces while Mustang grumbled under his breath about insubordination. Al pulled up a chair so he could sit beside Ed's bed, and they both looked up when Mustang cleared his throat. "I'd better go too," he explained. "I have a few calls to make. Hughes told me to keep him posted, and I should probably find that doctor so he can check Fullmetal over..."

"Colonel," Al said slowly and with an audible smile. "You know it's alright for you to stay for a little while."

Mustang shrugged on his way to the door. "Well, you two probably want some time to yourselves anyway. We can always talk later."

"Wait, your wheelchair!" Al called, and at once Mustang quickened his pace. Al sighed and hurried after him, pushing said chair along. "Come on, Colonel, don't pretend not to hear me! The doctor told you to use it until your ribs are better..."

Ed laughed quietly to himself as Al's voice faded, then heaved a great sigh and flopped back on the mattress. His body still ached and felt a bit flabby from not moving in nearly a week, but in all he was faring much better than could be expected. Al was safe, he and Mustang were safe, and with that knowledge, Ed finally felt relief bloom like a warm flower in his chest. Mindful of the many tubes strapped to his person, Ed pulled his blanket up around his shoulders and rolled over to face the window.

And he froze at the sight of a man directly across the street, leaning casually against the opposite building. His hands were shoved in his pockets and a new jacket with a hood shrouded any identifying features, but Ed still recognized those merciless eyes gazing at him through the glass. His breathing became shallow, ice dripping to his core as mortal fear paralyzed him. All it would take was one destructive transmutation to shatter that window, and in his weakened state he would stand no chance. He couldn't even cry out for help with these damn wires in his mouth...

He tensed when Scar withdrew a hand from his pocket then blinked in surprise when he noticed a leash looped around his wrist, the other end stretching into the alley behind him. He gave a gentle tug, and Black Hayate came bounding out of the alley. The dog sniffed at a passing civilian and yipped in protest when he was pulled back and his lease tied firmly to a bench. As Scar straightened, his right sleeve rode up and revealed the bandages swathing his arm. He cast Ed one last wry look and turned on his heel, vanishing into the crowd. Hayate barked after him, but when Scar did not return he hunkered down beside the bench sullenly, head rested on folded paws.

Ed let out the breath he had been holding, stunned. This would have been the perfect opportunity for Scar to kill him. Even if his tattoo was still a wreck, he had proven with Adams that he had no qualms about killing without his alchemy. And yet...he had walked away. Ed scowled, lips pursed in disbelief. Mustang actually possessing a heart, Al joking around with the colonel, and now Scar showing mercy to a mutt. Had the entire world gone topsy-turvy while he was off in La La Land?

He sighed and curled up under the blanket. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he should be calling for somebody to go get Hawkeye's dog and letting Mustang know that Scar was nearby and liable to do them in at any given moment. But right now, he was finding it difficult to care about any of that. The world hadn't exploded during the week he spent locked in his own mind. It could look after itself for a little while longer.

He allowed his eyes to slip shut and his only thought as sleep—true sleep—carried him away on gilded wings was that he was glad it wasn't raining anymore.

A.N. You know, there's just something about thunder and lightning that brings people together. All my information about lightning comes from the internet, and I did my best to stick with the facts as much as possible. After all this is FMA, and that means I'm not allowed to ignore science for the sake of convenience. And apparently only one in three people who are struck by lightning—directly or indirectly—actually die. Otherwise the injuries can rank anywhere from minor burns to permanent brain/sensory damage. And the majority of those that are struck...are men. Proving that women are, indeed, the superior race. Ha!