Roy watched Ed with a growing sense of helplessness and unease as the lay on the floor against the wall, sightless eyes staring at nothing and a haunted look on his drawn face.

After more than an hour of hysteric babbling and sobbing, Ed had finally quieted enough that Roy felt comfortable leaving him on the couch to prepare dinner, but when he had returned to get him, the boy was gone. Roy's ensuing panic was only short lived, as he located him moments later, a pile of cloth and misery bundled up in the corner of the room.

Roy had tried talking to him, tried to get him to eat something, but he seemed to have none of it, and Roy wasn't sure if he was ignoring him or simply too grief-stricken to be able to listen. Somehow with Alphonse's absence, the small, thin child managed to look even smaller, even less himself, as if half his heart was missing as well. It was like Alphonse was his bridge to the outside world and with him gone, Ed no longer knew how to come back, or maybe had no desire to.

Nervous about leaving him in the living room by himself, Roy brought up some of his research from the basement and used the coffee table as his desk, checking on Edward with tired glances until he woke up to streams of sunlight filtering through the window, a crick in his neck and Ed's position unchanged.

He tried again to engage him in conversation, to talk him up from his corner and off the floor, but Ed looked as if he hadn't slept at all the night before and his lifeless eyes only drooped with red-rimmed exhaustion and an old, familiar sort of fear.

This continued the rest of the day until Roy was growing very concerned. The kid hadn't eaten or drunk anything in over twenty-four hours, refused sleep, and Roy was debating whether or not to call Silas back in.

Then he decided that this was completely ridiculous and he was going to get the kid out of there and functioning, or die trying.

So Roy crouched in front of the boy and said, "Come on, Fullmetal. You can't spend the rest of your life in that corner."

Ed started, as if Roy had sneaked up on him and was ready to bolt until recognition set in. Then he sagged into his blanket and blinked tiredly.

It was the response Roy expected, but not the one he wanted. He sighed. "You have to eat something. Silas said you weren't gaining enough weight as it is, and you haven't had anything since yesterday morning." Still nothing, so Roy decided to apply a bit more pressure. "What do you think Al would say?"

Ed grimaced as if in pain, but made no comment. Instead he curled up tighter and let his eyes fall shut. A clear dismissal.

A spark of irritation flared inside of Roy. Enough was enough. "Fullmetal," he said, a touch of steel entering his voice. "You promised Alphonse you would go to the psychiatrist. Your first appointment's tomorrow, you've barely slept since Al left yesterday, and you need to eat, shower, and get a good night's rest. So either you pick yourself up and get a move on, or I'll drag you out of there."

Roy watched something flicker in Ed's expression as his eyes flew open. Roy could see a battle raging inside of him, fear and uncertainty wavering back and forth until he finally screwed his eyes shut and whispered, "I can't."

Surprised by the response, Roy took a moment to figure out what to say. "Maybe not by yourself," he agreed. "But you're not by yourself, are you?"

Ed didn't look convinced.

"And you made a promise, remember?"

Ed sighed, bitter and resigned. Slowly, painstakingly he uncurled himself from against the wall, more than likely stiff from not moving on the floor for so long. Roy took his real arm gently and pulled him to his feet. He stumbled a bit, and seemed to be in some pain, but he moved to the kitchen with minimal assistance. The one thing that really worried him was, when he factored out the automail, the kid weighted next to nothing. Silas had been disappointed in Ed's minimal weight gain the other night, and stressed the dangers of keeping his body malnourished for such a long period of time. Then he went on about stress and eating as he kindly and concernedly shoved a sandwich down Ed's throat. That was the last time he had eaten anything.

"Any preference on what you'd like to eat?" he asked, depositing Ed at the kitchen table.

Ed looked unsteady as he sat in the chair, pulling the blanket taut and folding in on himself. He was gaunt and pale, the very resemblance of a dying star. He gave Roy a small shake of his head. "No," he murmured, voice rough with disuse.

Roy considered his food stores. He would need to run to the store soon. "How about eggs?"


Even if it was monosyllabic, Roy was pleased with any sort of response. At least he was acknowledging his presence instead of ignoring him. It seemed the contact had forced him to the present, forced him to interact.

Roy put a tall glass of juice in front of Ed and ordered him to drink it while he started dinner. It wasn't long before Roy had eggs scrambling over the stove, sprinkling them with a bit of salt and pepper as they neared readiness.

"Don't you have work?" Ed asked out of nowhere.

The question caught him off guard, and Roy took a minute to respond. "Well, firstly, it's eight o'clock in the evening," he drawled.

He saw Ed's cheeks flush and he ducked down, hunching his shoulders protectively, and Roy wanted to kick himself. The kid was blind, for crying out loud! He didn't know whether it was day or night!

Roy softened his voice considerably. "Secondly, I'm taking a bit of time to conduct my research. I'll be working out of my basement mostly."

An interesting assortment of emotions splashed over Ed's features, ranging from surprise, confusion, anger, and hope. "Mustang," he breathed, voice just coming out numb. "Mustang, you can't do that. What about your goals? You can't just sit around here babysitting me." The last part was clearly said with contempt.

"Someone has to watch you, and I have a lot of alchemic theories I've been meaning to investigate. Really, it's a win-win for everyone."

Ed wasn't buying that for a minute. "Mustang, that's stupid and you know it."

"Priorities, Fullmetal," was all he said, and though his tone was almost light, there was a lot more underneath it that he hoped Ed picked up on.

Edward seemed to consider this as Roy set his plate down in front of him. "Eat up, shrimp."

Ed didn't even have a scowl to spare for the insult. He sent his real hand out to grope for the spoon in front of him—Roy had learned that he always ate better with a spoon—then secured the plate under his automail hand and slowly scooped small bits of egg into his mouth.

Roy watched as Ed halfheartedly picked at his plate, then finally seemed to be able to stomach no more of it and pushed the rest away, more than half the plate remaining. Roy didn't want to admit how worried that made him.

Though he had never really been around the boy in a many casual settings, he knew that Ed had normally possessed a very healthy appetite, and even over the past few weeks Roy had seen him all but inhale his food the moment it was presented to him, but he had also observed that his appetite was bound to his emotional and physical wellbeing. When he wasn't feeling well, or when the flashbacks were particularly rough or violent, food was the last thing he wanted unless Alphonse goaded him into it, and now that Alphonse was gone, the few bites Ed had taken probably seemed a monumental effort to him.

Well, there was no sense in Ed seeing him worry.

"Good," Roy said, forcing approval into his voice. At least he ate something, and he had drunk all of his juice. "I'll make you something a little more substantial tomorrow."

Something like a grimace flickered over his face for a moment, then diminished to a tightness in his eyes.

That was the easy part.

"Now you need to get a shower and go to bed. Come on." Roy put a hand on his shoulder, just in time to catch the shudder that ran the whole length of his small, emaciated body. The reaction gave him pause. "It'll be okay, Ed," Roy murmured. "I promise."

Ed's face was pinched with foreboding, but at the assurance, his eyes slipped shut and he let out a tight breath before giving him a nod and slowly rising to his feet.

Roy took him at the elbow and guided him to the stairs. He had had plenty of time to think about this, how to do it with as little discomfort to Ed as possible, but there was no easy way to go about it. Alphonse had given him the brief rundown, told him how afraid Ed was of showering, all about how Ed needed someone right there for the inevitable flashback the shower caused and needed help with simple things like dressing, and sometimes bathing when the fear incapacitated him, and Roy was starting to feel terribly out of his league.

Roy wasn't sure who was slowing who down, but their pace was dragging by the time they reached the top of the stairs, and neither of them seemed anxious to pick it up.

Roy tightened his grip on Ed and began to move forward with purposeful strides that seemed to confuse Ed with their spontaneity, but Ed only stumbled once before Roy caught him, then struggled to keep up. Delaying wouldn't make it go away any faster.

When they entered the bathroom, Roy put Ed's hand on the countertop to anchor him, then busied himself carefully and methodically retrieving and laying out Ed's nightclothes, towel, shampoo, and soap.

It occurred to him that he might be stalling. If he wasn't going to take this well, then Ed was bound to sense his unease and respond to it the same way.

Calm down, Roy. Stop being childish and give the kid someone to rely on.

Roy looked at Ed over his shoulder. The boy had barely said a word since Alphonse had left. He looked as pale as death, his real hand caught in a white-knuckled grip of the countertop and his breathes coming in ever-shortening gasps. He looked nervous enough to bolt, and Roy wasn't sure if it was fear of the shower, or of the uncomfortable situation they had found themselves in. Probably both.

"It'll be fine," Roy murmured gently. He needed to get himself under control. How was he to expect Ed to be calm and collected if he was acting like this was some great chore to be avoided?

One thing was for certain; Ed was not a chore, and Roy never wanted him to feel that way.

"You should leave," Ed said suddenly, voice trembling. "I'll do it myself."

"Fullmetal, I'm going to help you whether you like it or not, so you may as well cooperate," Roy informed him. He didn't like strong-arming Ed into things, despite his ability to do so. If he wanted, he could pick the kid up and cart him anywhere, and once his automail was disabled, there would be relatively little he could do about it. Edward valued his freedom and his independence, and as someone with a similar mindset, Roy knew he didn't respond well to having his authority over himself overruled or flat ignored, especially with something as personal as this, but there weren't any options in Roy's mind. The last thing Ed needed was to further injure himself, and if Roy didn't help him, that's exactly what would happen.

Ed's expression crumbled with the statement. Color continued to drain from his face as he stood there, small and shivering in the bathroom.

Roy turned back to consider the tub. "Tell me, have you tried a bath before?"

Ed blinked at this question, his horror momentarily forgotten. "A bath?" he asked, puzzled. "Not . . . not recently."

Roy had noticed that the boy didn't like loudly running water. If a faucet was too high, he would flinch away from it, and Roy supposed that the shower triggered flashbacks because it was so much louder and touched his whole body with force. Maybe if he ran the water gently, slowly filling the tub, it wouldn't be as likely to set him off. "I think we should try one. Can your automail be completely submerged?"

Ed seemed unsure of this new development, but nodded. "Now that it's fixed," he said. Maybe that's why they hadn't tried it before.

Roy nodded. "Good. I'm going to run the water now," he informed, leaning over the side of the tub and turning the faucet on low.

Ed flinched away from the sound, eyes widening as if considering the merits of fleeing, but Roy kept talking to him, "It's alright, Ed. Just the bathtub running. Now, get your clothes off and we'll get you in."

Ed shook his head, as if trying to shake away dark memories, still clinging to the countertop as if to ground himself. "I . . . not with you in here," he said, his voice more pleading than demanding. He knew this was a losing battle, but that had never stopped Ed before. "I can do this alone."

Roy understood, he really did. He understood that lack of clothing made him feel vulnerable, and in Ed's state, vulnerability was something constant. He had also spent months with his body laid bare to people that took full advantage of it, and it was no wonder that he was reluctant to tolerate it, even when the threat was absent. At least, Roy hoped the boy trusted him by now, enough to realize at the very least that he was no threat to his wellbeing.

Ed's safety was more important than anything, and if he had to be uncomfortable to be safe, then he would have to be uncomfortable.

"I understand, Ed," Roy said slowly. "But that doesn't change anything.

Ed seemed to wilt before him, shrinking until he was a shadow of himself and Roy fought the urge to gather him into his arms, to do something to protect him from whatever was going through his mind. He had a feeling Ed wouldn't appreciate the gesture at the moment. Slowly, the boy gripped the hem of his shirt with a trembling hand and began to pull it over his head.

"Here's a towel," Roy said, pressing the fluffy cloth into Ed's confused hand. It immediately fell to the floor and Roy picked it up and placed it on the counter next to him, taking Ed's hand and placing it over it to show him where it was. Then he stepped away and averted his gaze, busying himself with filling the tub. "I won't look. Just tell me when you're ready and I'll help you in."

Ed whispered something that could have been acknowledgement, but Roy missed it. He waited patiently as Ed fumbled with his clothing, and several minutes later, Ed breathed a slow, resigned "okay."

With only a towel around him, Ed was a pathetic sight. He shuddered like a leaf in the wind, skin raised with gooseflesh and sunken eyes uncertain and embarrassed. Roy knew the condition of the boy's body by now; thin skin, scarred and terrible, hips and ribs jutting out painfully from underneath. Despite knowing, seeing it a dozen times, it didn't diminish the impact. Every time he felt his blood boil at the sight of what had been done to the child. A child! Silas had removed most of the bandages on his last visit, leaving only the ones covering the deepest injuries, and Roy was wondering if those should actually get wet.

Ed gripped the extra fabric of the towel in his automail hand, digits locked around it in an unwavering grip. "Mustang?" he asked again, fear creeping into his voice.

"Right here, Ed," Roy assured him. "Should you remove the bandages?" he asked.

Ed's free hand moved to trace their harsh white. "I don't know. We've never taken them off."

Well, Roy supposed once more wouldn't hurt. He'd make it a point to ask Silas tomorrow. He stepped up to Ed, hooking his hand under his bare arm. Ed gave a startled gasp and tried to pull away from the touch, but Roy didn't release him. "Let me help you, Ed," he said patiently, waiting until Ed stopped struggling to pull him forward until they were right before the tub. Roy reached out his free hand to shut off the water and braced himself.

"Okay, Ed," he said, watching the boy with some trepidation. There was no telling how he was going to react to this. Best case scenario would be a delightfully uneventful bath. Worst case would be this blowing up in their faces, but Roy had his hopes. "The water's ready. It's pretty warm, so why don't you put your hand in there and make sure it's not going to burn you?" he suggested. Roy knew good and well that the temperature was just fine, if not a bit on the cool side, but he really wanted to give Ed something to take charge of, to have a say in. Especially when he was practically forcing him into this situation.

Ed's expression was tense and uncertain as he reached forward with the arm Roy held, so Roy guided his hand to the porcelain sides. He cautiously felt down, dipping his fingers into the warm liquid before pulling them back and hurriedly wiping the moisture off on the towel. "Its fine," he said, breath accelerating. Roy could have sworn he felt the boy's pulse pounding in his arm.

"Relax, Ed," Roy said. "It's just a bath. You're going to make yourself sick getting all worked up like this."

"I don't want to be here," Ed said, fear twisting his voice into something small and harsh. "I don't want you here, and I don't want to be here."

Roy sighed. Edward was a child prodigy; he knew that he had to be clean to keep wounds from becoming infected, as well as for basic hygiene. He also knew good and well that leaving him here to do this by himself was a bad idea. But Ed wasn't speaking from logic, he was speaking from basic emotional want. He wanted to feel safe, and this was probably one of the most upsetting things Roy could have possibly asked him to do.

"Ed, we've got to do this, so we may as well stop stalling," Roy said.

Ed closed his eyes, making an obvious effort to get himself under control. Then he reached again for the side of the tub. Roy respectfully kept his gaze upturned as he helped Ed in, feeling the boy's muscles tighten with apprehension as he slowly stepped into the water.

He gasped, breath coming faster.

"You're doing fine, Fullmetal," Roy assured him. "There's nothing to be afraid of."

He half-hoped to hear Ed deny it, tell him he wasn't afraid and to shut up, to show some glimmer of himself. But all he did was whimper and cling to Roy, trying to pull himself back out of the tub. "I'm losing it, Colonel," he said. "I'm losing it, please don't make me do this."

Roy's heart clenched, but he ignored his pleas. The longer he prolonged this, the worse it would be for him. "I'm going to help you in now, Ed."

"No, Colonel—"

Roy very gently, very deliberately picked his slight body up, then put him down in the tub, angling him so his feet went out from underneath him and he had little choice but to sit in the water. Ed let out a strangled cry, holding onto Roy like a drowning cat, and Roy had to lean into the water with him to get him to sit down. Water lapped up between them, soaking Roy's shirt. "See, you're fine," Roy assured him, even though Ed's entire demeanor suggested he was anything but fine. "You're fine, Ed, let go." Maybe this bath idea wasn't one of Roy's best . . .

Ed didn't seem to hear him. His blind eyes were wide, probably locked somewhere in the past on some unspeakable memory and he wasn't listening. His legs were kicking out uselessly, weakly, as he struggled to find purchase on the bottom of the tub, and he was grasping Roy's shirt with an iron grip.

"Ed, can you hear me?" Roy asked. Another whimper was all he got in response. "Edward Elric, listen to me!" he snapped in the blond's face.

Ed went ridged in his arms like a man struck by lightening. His gaze was suddenly clear, but terrified, like he wasn't sure where he was or what was going on. "Al? Mustang?" he asked. "Mustang, what's going on?!"

"Relax, Ed," he said, in the same tone of voice one used for frightened animals. "You're in the bath, remember? We're just getting you clean."

"In the bath," Ed repeated numbly.

"You can let go of me now."

Ed blinked in confusion, then his eyes widened and he hurriedly released him. The sudden loss of contact had him slipping down, and Roy had to snag his arms to keep him from going under. He set him firmly down, then made sure he would stay there before leaning back, the cold air chilling his wet shirt. "There. How's the water?"

Ed's hands traced around the tub's edges, seeing what was there without eyes. He found the faucet, the soaps, then his towel that had come loose in the water and was now drifting placidly around his feet. As if suddenly remembering his state, he pulled it up to cover himself, hunching over into the water. "It's fine. You can leave now," he announced.

Roy pulled the curtain between them, then sat himself on the countertop. "I'm waiting right here."

Ed didn't respond, so Roy leaned himself back against the mirror to get comfortable. He listened to the gentle lapping of the water as Ed washed, and before he knew it, he started dozing off, the sudden lack of motion reminding him just how tired he was. It had been a long couple of days, and tomorrow was guaranteed to be even more difficult than today. If things kept up like this, he was going to start needing some help around here. There was no way he could juggle Ed, research, and his investigation and still manage the little things like sleeping and eating in between. It was no wonder he was so exhausted.

And this was probably why he didn't notice Ed stand up in the water until he heard him fall.

Roy lunged forward, ripping the curtain back to find Ed struggling in the water. Every frantic move just made him lose his grip and plunge under again, and it was all Roy could do to dodge the flailing limbs and grab him by the arms, yanking him up free of the water's grasp and to the safety of the bathmat.

Ed doubled over, sputtering and choking and spitting up water on the tiled floor, trying to shake Roy off as he did. Roy didn't release him though, concernedly rubbing his back as the boy began vomiting. He hadn't been in the water that long, how had he taken in so much water?! "Easy, Ed! Take it easy!"

Ed tried again unsuccessfully to get away from him as he wiped his mouth on his automail, blatant fear shining in his eyes. His choking finally slowed, but his body went almost still, as if waiting for something.

Roy stared with incomprehension as Ed wheezed until he realized what was happening.

Of course, he only realized what was happening when Ed took a swing at him.

Roy barely dodged the automail fist, then batted away his next sloppy punch. "Edward, stop this!" Roy snapped, throwing himself at the kid and pinning his arms to his side. It was like trying to hold a live fish, the water on Ed's skin making it difficult for Roy to get a grip on him, but Ed was small and weakened, and once Roy had him trapped against the wall, the fight went out of him pretty quickly. Finally unable to do much more then claw helplessly at Roy's hands, Roy tested the waters. "Fullmetal, do you know where you are?"

Something clear flickered in Ed's gaze, but then it sank out of sight in the murk. "Mustang, they're coming back," he said, his voice hushed and scared. "They're coming back, and they'll do it again!"

Perplexed, Roy tried to make sense of this. It was like he was having a flashback, but as far as Roy knew, he had never incorporated any present individual into one before. So, some kind of hallucination, then? Would it be best to play into it and end it slowly, or try to sever it quickly? "Who's coming, Ed? What are they going to do?" he asked, careful to keep his voice levelled and strong. Heaven knew that Ed needed the strength right now.

Roy could feel the boy's heart sputtering out an unsteady staccato in his chest, his breaths uncoordinated gasps he was trying to keep quiet. His damaged eyes darted back and forth as if trying to see around something. "It'll hurt, please, Colonel!" he begged, either ignoring Roy's question or oblivious to it. Roy wasn't sure what he was asking him to do, but he couldn't let this continue. The boy was in fear for his life, and whether the threat was existent or not, Ed believed it was real. "They're going to find me," he whimpered. "I can't hide, I'm chained here like a dog, and they're going to find me. I can't see . . . I can't see . . ." His trembling hand slipped from Roy's grip and reached for his throat. "It's choking me!" he wailed, his hand searching for a collar long removed. "I can't get away!"

"Ed," Roy said softly. The boy cowered against the wall, but he stilled when Roy spoke. "Let me tell you where we are, alright?" He didn't wait for a response. "We're in Amestris, at my house. You just had dinner and a bath, and after this, you'll be able to go to sleep. How does that sound?"

Ed's eyes fell shut, then he shuddered. "Why can I still hear them, then? Why is this still around my neck? Where are my clothes?!"

"Ed, you're having a hallucination," he said patiently. "I promise you that everything is fine. Give it a moment to pass, and everything will be fine."

"How do I know you're not the hallucination?" he asked, but some of the hysteria was vanishing.

"Would short jokes help?"

"Hallucination-Mustang always made short jokes."

Roy stifled the sudden alarm that rang through his system. Hallucinations? So Ed had experienced hallucinations during his captivity? He had never said anything about it . . . of course, Roy didn't know a fraction of what he had been through, but now that he thought about it, it made sense. The dehydration and starvation alone would do that easily, not to mention the other psychological and physical stresses. He needed to debrief him, and soon, so he would have no more of these surprises. "You hallucinated about me?" he asked, trying to keep the surprise from his voice. "I'm flattered."

Ed's lips twitched in a pathetic attempt at a smile, but it fell off quickly. He stopped talking, looking as if he were waging war in his mind and couldn't spare the concentration to breathe properly, much less speak. Finally, he relaxed, withering like a sick flower. Then his whole demeanor changed, and Roy was puzzled by it.

"Is it over?"

Ed cringed. "You're still here?" he asked, voice subdued and harsh, but different that before somehow. It was an Ed that still had fire in his soul, but he was far from normal. "You sound real."

Ed was still unsure of where reality was. This had never happened, to Roy's knowledge, and he was sure it had something to do with Alphonse being gone. Ed was mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically run down. His little brother leaving was a big stressor for him, so Roy supposed it was to be expected that some of his symptoms would worsen.

"That's because I am real," he said, placing a hand on Ed's shoulder to prove it.

That set him off. He turned sharply, snapping out with teeth and a snarl. "Don't come near me!" he ordered, voice frantic but firm as his hand moved to guard his throat. "Stupid animals! Stay back, or I'll break your faces again!"

Why wouldn't he snap out of it?! He always had before, once some of the emotion wavered, but now it was like he was stuck in some kind of limbo, information from the present blending seamlessly with the nightmares. Like his brain was trying desperately to sort everything into 'real' and 'not real,' and Roy's side of the world was coming up short. "Ed, do you trust me?" Roy asked suddenly.

Ed blinked from where he was curled up on the floor. Of course. The cold tile, the lack of clothing, the cold he was undoubtedly experiencing, and perhaps even the sound of his voice—if Ed had actually hallucinated him—were all reminiscent of his captivity. With the flashback he'd had, combined with the information his remaining senses were sending him, it would be much harder for him to differentiate present from past. "Of course I trust you," he murmured, curving into the wall. "As far as people usually trust hallucinations, that is."

"And how much do people usually trust hallucinations?" he asked, turning to fetch his clothes. He had to destroy the resemblance between now and his imprisonment. He was surprised at how calm Ed was, how chatty. Maybe like he was resigned, or maybe he was remembering something much earlier in his captivity, before things got too bad. Or perhaps he was so desperate for any sort of interaction that didn't end in pain that his own subconscious would do.

"Well, as far as visitors go, you're not so bad," Ed supplied. "I have worse, anyway."

"Oh? Who else drops in?" Roy asked. The clothes were all wet from his flailing. Roy couldn't send him to bed with wet clothes; he would catch his death in the state he was in. Still listening intently, he quietly slipped out the door and to the boy's room to fetch another pair of nightclothes. Then, as a second thought, he ran to his room and pulled out the bag of Ed's medication, selecting a long, thin needle filled with glittering fluid. Silias had brought the tranquilizers on his last visit, discreetly handing them to Roy with instructions as he was leaving. Apparently he was concerned about his symptoms worsening with Alphonse's departure and the stress of leaving the house for his psychiatric appointment.

"The usual," Ed replied, oblivious or uncaring of Roy's going and coming. "You, Alphonse, Winry. Sometimes mom stops by, too, but you seem to come around the most. Even in my dreams you're annoying."

"So they're hallucinations? " he asked, preparing the needle just in case.

Ed made a face. "That makes me sound crazy. And I may take your crap at the office, but I'm not taking it from my own subconscious."

A faint, sad smile tugged at Roy's lips. He missed this Ed. The one that was too strong to break. The one before that strength made him shatter. "I wasn't implying that."

"I'm not crazy. Just . . . starving and it hurts and it's cold. That'll make anyone's subconscious act up."

Roy's insides twinged again, the way Ed said those things as if they were still happening and he wasn't safe. "That's true, Ed," he said gently. "I'm going to hand you something, okay?" he said, putting down the needle and bundling Ed's clothes in his hand.

He wasn't sure, but Ed might have rolled his eyes. "Sure. And while you're at it, I'll take a steak sandwich." His tone was bitterly amused, and he shivered against the tile. Roy needed to hurry before the child got sick, or worse.

"I'm not the hallucination here," Roy assured him. "So don't panic when you can actually feel these clothes. Hold out your hand."

Ed didn't move from where he was curled. "You're sure bossy today," he commented, almost idly. "Of all the people I could hallucinate, it had to be you."

"Edward, hold out your hand." The last thing the boy needed was forcing.

Ed snorted. "I can't believe I'm following directions from a figment of my imagination." But he extended his real hand, the automail one remaining limp at his side as if it weren't there at all. In his mind, it probably wasn't. "Guess I really am losing it. Wish it wasn't so dark in here. It'd be interesting to see how accurate my subconscious is. Like if you're eyebrows still twitch when I ignore you, or—AH!"

Ed yanked his hand back as soon as the clothes touched him, sending them flopping against the floor. He cowered against the wall as if under attack, like he could fold himself into it if he pressed hard enough. All vestiges of his former bravado were gone, leaving a scared, sick child in its wake. "Mustang . . . Colonel, are you there?" he whispered, voice hushed.

"I'm here," Roy assured him.

"Please don't leave me alone when they come back," he begged.

Roy's stomach twisted violently, making him dizzy. So during his captivity, he'd hallucinated, figments of his starved mind his only comfort in that dark purgatory, and when he needed them most—when he needed Roy most—they were nowhere to be found. It wasn't fair. "Edward, I want you to listen carefully to what I'm saying. Can you do that?" Ed gave a tiny nod. "Do you know where you are?"

"The basement," he replied automatically, his voice a fearful whisper. "It's the basement."

"You're in my bathroom, Ed. At my house." Roy watched the boy's expression disintegrate from fear and pain to confusion, then desperation.

"Shut up! That's not true!" he cried, burying his face in his arm, his cold, wet hair plastering the limb. "I don't need my subconscious mocking me, too, just stop!"

"This is not a hallucination," Roy said again, keeping his voice calm even as his own heart started to move faster and he picked up the needle. "Trust me, Ed. There are clothes right beside you. Find them and put them on."

Ed looked conflicted for a moment, but he finally moved, his shaking hand groping blindly beside him until he found the pile of fabric.

He stilled, closing his eyes in resignation and releasing a long breath. "I . . . the bathroom . . . I'm sorry, Colonel," he whispered. "I lost it again, I'm sorry."

Roy released a breath of his own, putting the tranquilizer down. He had been one bad reaction away from giving Ed the needle. "It's okay, Ed. No harm done. Are you okay?"

He looked like he might shake apart if he kept this up. "I'm sorry," he repeated, ignoring the question entirely. "Please don't leave, I'm sorry."

Roy remembered the boy's hallucinations and fought down a wave of baseless guilt. "Ed, I'm not a hallucination. I won't disappear, I promise."

Ed didn't seem convinced. His words were becoming more garbled, more hysteric. "I'm trying, but I . . . it doesn't work, nothing I do works . . . why?! It hurts . . . it hurts." He was clawing at his throat now, and Roy grabbed the syringe and alcohol wipe from the countertop again. He hated to do it, hated it with every fiber of his being, but Ed was going to make himself sick or injure himself, and that couldn't happen.

"There's nothing there, Ed," Roy promised, crouching before him to get a better angle on his exposed bicep. "You need to hurry and get dressed, it's cold in here." He wished he could drape a towel around his thin, soaked form, but didn't dare. Anything Ed didn't expect could push him over the edge, and then Roy wouldn't have a chance to drug him.

"I need Al," he said, pressing himself into the corner as if somehow sensing the needle. He continued to paw at his throat, raking red lines in the exposed flesh and ripping bandages. "I need him. Please don't leave, I'll try to do better, Colonel, I'll try. I promise."

Roy felt his heart shatter, and the needle in his hand wavered an inch before the boy. "Edward," he said, his own voice coming out thick. Not at all like he had planned.

How had it come to this? How had this burning star fallen so far, dimmed so much? The Edward he knew a few months ago would be ashamed of this pitiful creature before him, quivering and helpless like a newborn. It wasn't fair, and Roy was overwhelmed with the injustice of it. Some stars should never burn out. "Edward, no matter what you do, no matter how bad it gets, I'll be here."

"Alphonse isn't here," he wept, painful tears sliding down his gaunt face. "Al isn't here."

Something clicked into place for Roy in the moment. As much as Alphonse was trying to help, his departure was abandonment in Ed's eyes. Even if Ed knew that wasn't the case, it felt like it, and to someone as mentally and emotionally damaged as Edward was, logic was a difficult thing to entertain when emotions burned so much brighter. To Ed, it must have looked like everyone was leaving him; his father, then his mother, and finally Alphonse. To him, his family had abandoned him, and all he had in the world was his former superior with not even something as binding as blood to keep him from leaving, too.

Roy's heart ached for him, but he didn't have time to dwell on it. Ed was hysteric and hurting himself, and it had to stop. "I'm going to help you relax, Ed, but first I'm going to put something cold on your shoulder," he said gently. "Don't panic, alright?"

Ed just nodded numbly, chest jerking with his ragged breathing. He didn't flinch too much when Roy put a halting hand on his shoulder, and the alcohol wipe only made him shudder in discomfort.

The needle was a different story.

Roy pushed the needle into the thin muscle and Ed went berserk. He managed to get most of the vial in him before he stood, fast and violent, his expression twisted into panic. "Ed!" The needle fell lose from him, clattering on the floor, then Ed was moving. Roy was between him and the door, and that wasn't stopping him. He sensed the draft and followed it wildly. Roy dodged an automail limb that almost hit his face. "Edward, stop!"

Either Ed didn't hear him or he didn't care. He slammed his hip into the counter and let out a cry of pain, but kept going into the doorframe, his shoulder bumping into it without slowing him. He staggered into the hall, the drugs robbing what was left of his coordination. His hands splayed in front of him to find something to orient himself with.

This had been a mistake, and Roy wanted to kick himself. This much stress after all that had happened to him . . . it was no wonder he snapped, and now he had resorted to drugging a child just so he wouldn't hurt himself more than he already had.

Roy caught up to him, throwing his arms around him and locking him in his grip. Ed screamed and bucked, but without the aid of momentum, his starved, wasted body was helpless against Roy's strength.

He finally slowed, sobbing terribly as he spent the last of his strength on escape, and when Roy felt the fight leave him, he moved him. Even while struggling, it was laughably easy to turn him around, like a puppet on strings. Roy tucked Ed's head under his own and stroked his dripping hair, listening to the boy cry and twist weakly in his grip. "Shh," he whispered. "Shh, come on, Ed. It will help you relax."

Ed said something, but it made no sense to Roy. He was sure he heard 'Alphonse' in there somewhere, though. Not long after that, the boy was near catatonic in his arms. Maybe he'd miscalculated the dose. Silas had promised it would relax him, not turn him into a vegetable.

"Now," Roy said, pushing the boy back away from him to get a look. "Let's get your nightclothes on and go to bed, alright?" he asked. Ed didn't respond except to reach out a hand to fist Roy's shirt and trying to move back in closer for comfort.

Roy gave him a weak smile he couldn't see, then scooped him up and carried him back to the bathroom. He dried him as best he could, dressed him with minimal effort, then put him to bed. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow, body limp as Roy tucked him in.

That something once so strong and proud should become so broken and diminished . . . it wasn't right.

Roy sat on the side of the bed, watching the small boy breathe in and out and decided that if there were any way for him to trade places with the kid, he'd do it in a heartbeat. Ed didn't deserve this. He was a child, a boy without parents, and now without his little brother. He was well and truly alone, putting all the trust he could manage into one Colonel Roy Mustang. He had no choice but to surrender fully, and Roy had no choice but to do the best he knew how to get him through this.

Whatever it took, he'd do it.

He stood vigil a bit longer before finally leaving the room. Ed's first appointment was tomorrow, and there were preparations to make.

*sneaks in* Uh, hi, guys :'D Long time no anything . . . oops.

As most of you were aware, I was really sick for a while there (most of you guessed depression, and it wasn't at all that haha :'D It was a physical ailment that I just did not go into detail on), and then as I started to get better, the holidays hit and it was one thing after another lol.

And what do I come back to find?! So many wonderful words of encouragement and support and I couldn't be more thankful for you guys! You all have been very uplifting, and I appreciate it so very much :) I'm sorry I'm so very very behind on reviews, so if it's okay with you, I'm going to just start replying to those starting with this chapter. But rest assured, I have read every last one previously, and inside cried with joy C':

Back on this chapter, part of the delay was also this being a difficult one to write. I dunno, I guess I'm just afraid of sounding repetitive, and keep on being repetitive despite that haha. Either way, I hope you enjoyed it! I made it extra long on purpose, just as a "I'm so sorry I've been MIA, please forgive me." xD

Also, I wanted your opinion on something; I had really planned a Christmas-y chapter in here with an extra helping of warm fuzzies, and I wanted it to be out by Christmas, but obviously that didn't happen. So, I wanted to know if you guys still wanted me to write it and post it as a part of StP, make it a one-shot, or just wait until next Christmas. Thoughts? Preferences? Opinions? I'm kind of leaning toward the one-shot idea myself, because the warm fuzzies might be too much with where we are emotionally in the fic right now, but again, I don't know if I should post it as soon as I get it written, or just wait until December rolls around again xD

Anyways, I really hope you enjoyed and that it was worth the wait :D Please drop a review, if you have the time :) I'm going to go clean my house now . . . wish me luck. /shot/

God Bless,