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mikkeneko

The Prisoner's Dilemma

chapter 4.

This far below the surface, there was no easy way to tell day from night, but Edward rather thought it was the middle of the night. The complex had gone quiet—not just the quiet of the cell block that he was in, once all of the officers and enlisted had trooped out and left only a few guards behind, but the quieting of the subtle noises and vibrations traveling through the rock from above.

Even the yellow lamplight from out in the hallway had dimmed—or was that just an optical illusion, to accompany the new stillness?—and every now and then it would dim further as a guard patrolled the hallway. Ed wasn't sure how many other people were in this part of the cell block with him; he couldn't be sure if he'd heard any voices or noises from the other cells earlier, and if anyone was there now, they'd gone quiet. Maybe sleeping.

Edward wasn't sleeping; although physical exhaustion dragged his limbs and fogged his thoughts, he was still too rattled from the day's events—and the nagging pain in his bones and flesh—to relax. This was the first time since his overpowering and capture that he'd had a chance to think things over, and it was an opportunity he wasn't going to waste.

First. That this whole screwup was much, much larger than either he or Al had suspected it to be—that had become obvious in the first ten minutes. This wasn't just an outpost for illegal refining operation; this was the central hub of a whole network of clandestine operations. Ed had still seen no sign of the missing craftsmen and specialists, and no hint of what all those resources were going into, but he thought he could make a few guesses.

Second—that the military was involved in some way. Just how much official involvement Ed still didn't know. Despite the badges, and the rhetoric, and the weird new names and jargon that had never appeared in the Amestrian military that Ed knew, there were too many officers who were too senior—was that guy, Admiral Jaysomething, really a member of the Senior Council?—for this to be an entirely splinter operation. Wasn't it?

Third... alchemy. Ed couldn't keep from shivering; the cold stone busily leeching heat out of him was bad enough, but the memory of all those hallways, perfectly smooth, was even more chilling. How long had State Alchemists been in on this? How many of them were there? The mysterious Undermine, whom Edward hadn't yet met—and, of course, Flame...

Ed's shoulders hunched automatically; he tucked his knees closer to his chest, wrapped his one good arm around them, and glared indiscriminately into the dimness. Damn Mustang, damn Mustang, what the hell was the man playing at? Nothing he was doing made sense. If he wasn't a traitor, then what was he doing here, feeding information and alchemy into this crazy cabal? And if he was a traitor, then why hadn't he told them the truth about Al?

No matter how he turned the man's actions over and over in his head, he couldn't seem to make them fit a pattern. What was his game? Feverishly, he spun the man's actions today through his mind again. At some times, it almost seemed like Mustang was trying to help him, protect him. At other moments—about as far from help as you could possibly get.

Was he loyal to the State, or not? Or maybe he really was a traitor, but he still had enough of a soul left to him to feel sorry for him? Or was that just an act to soften him up, to try and lure him to change sides and become part of this operation? Ed growled, baring his teeth in the cold darkness. Mustang could rot in hell a thousand years before Ed ever lifted a hand to help these bozos.

The thought flared hot, for a moment, and helped warm him with defiance. All too soon, though, it lost his energy, and left him shivering harder on the stone floor. He scowled as he drew himself into a tighter curl. Damn sadistic bastards, couldn't even bother to give him a blanket after they—

He deliberately broke that thought off before it could lead anywhere, and turned instead to thoughts of outside. Where was Al during all this? If what Lancet had said—and what Mustang had said—were true, then he hadn't been caught or captured. But that had been hours ago, and even if he had managed to evade capture, Ed knew—he didn't just hope, he knew—that Al would still be nearby, looking for a chance to find Ed and rescue him.

Oh, please, Ed thought fervently, Al, get your ass in gear. As much as it would make more sense for Al to get as far away as possible, get to Central and raise the alarm—Ed could really use a rescue, here, he really could. And now would be a good time, a very good time, while it was still dark and quiet and there weren't many people around, before morning came and these god damned Mission bastards came back to—

Stop that! Ed kicked himself mentally. This was no time to be wallowing in self-pity and hysteria. If there was any damn rescuing to be done around here, then he was just going to have to do it himself.

Slowly, he began to straighten up from his tight curl, suppressing an unworthy whine as the cold stone immediately sucked away whatever heat he had managed to hoard.

Standing. Standing up would be a good first step. On his first attempt, he made it to his hand and knees; wobbled for a moment, trying to find his balance, but then his shoulder twinged madly and his arm gave out, pitching him forward onto his face.

On second thought, he thought as he blinked away the stars and spat out a new trickle of blood, maybe I should work on *sitting* up first. Damn, he missed his automail!

With some difficulty, he managed to crab himself into a sitting position, but winced against a sudden flare of pain as he tried to sit back. Cursing under his breath, he managed to crap himself over to the wall of the cell, where he could lean back against something solid and take his weight off his ass.

This was somewhat better than lying down—at least his head cleared somewhat—but if anything, it was even colder. He shivered violently for a moment, then forced the thought aside as he tried to concentrate on his options.

From this angle he could see the window of the cell door a little better; could see the shadow of the sentry as he made his rounds. He started a slow count in his head, between the time he passed and the time he returned. Aside from the patrolling guard, how many more were they? Ed considered the prospect of trying to fight a full grown man—or more than one—with no alchemy and no automail, in his current state, and felt briefly queasy. Put that aside for now; better to escape without fighting anyone, if he could help it.

What else did that leave? Ed chewed on his lip, in thought, and tried to force his mind to move more freely. He didn't have his automail arm, but he could still do alchemy—if he could find something to draw arrays with.

Well, that's one thing that won't be a problem, Ed thought blackly, and touched his fingers to his lips. They came away wet; he couldn't see colors well in this light, but he didn't need to.

His best bet would probably be a tunnel leading straight up, Ed decided. He didn't know how far underground they were, but if he just kept going vertically he'd get out sometime. Transmuting through solid stone would be exhausting and tedious, but not complicated. The biggest danger in that would be that he would accidentally open up onto an occupied tunnel or room above him—or that he would lose his grip while climbing, and fall.

For that matter, the guards were still a problem. Ed bit his lip again, tasting blood, and concentrated on listening hard. How far away were the centries from here? Would they recognize the sound of alchemy being performed, and come to investigate? How clearly could they hear noises from inside his cell, and would they know to think anything of it?

It was only because he was listening hard, concentrating, that Edward was able to hear what happened next. The brief sound of a human voice—not a word, just a noise that was halfway between a gasp and an "ugh."

Edward sat bolt upright, ignoring the protesting cries of his ribs and stomach, and listened intently.

Straining his ears, he was just able to catch the sound of footsteps as they started up again—heading in this direction? Yes, because they became clearer the longer he listened. No sounds of metal on metal, though; no clanking of armor.

His heart began to hammer in his chest. This could be very good, or very bad, depending on who it was and what was going on. Okay... more likely to be very bad than good. If it was Mustang—If it was Lancet—

He had a brief, blissful moment entertaining himself with a fantasy of what he could do if Lancet was stupid enough to come within arms reach of him, alone; but that vision crashed all too soon, because while Lancet had been sadistic, he hadn't shown himself to be stupid, and the chance that he would come down here without a backup or at least a weapon was slim at best.

Ed was still trying, without success, to formulate a plan that would let him jump a whole, healthy, and well-armed man, when the lock on his cell door clicked, and the heavy steel slab swung open. Lamplight flooded in from the corridor—it was still dim, but there was far more of it than had been allowed in by the tiny window—and Ed cursed and blinked away swimming spots as he lost whatever chance of a surprise attack he might have had.

A man was standing silhouetted in the door, and despite himself, ed couldn't stop himself from shaking as he squinted against the light.

It was Mustang.

Ed was assaulted by such a surge of mixed emotions—relief and renewed fear, hope and disgust and fury—that for a moment he couldn't react. He had seen Mustang once, briefly and out of the corner of his eye, after the man had disappeared from his cell, leaving behind Lancet and his thugs.

Everything after that had been a blur, and Ed couldn't think about it, wouldn't think about it—but he had scattered, confused memories of what had come after, when the small metal room was suddenly filled with a booming furious voice, and shouting, and panic. He'd seen a large, blurry, rumpled figure someone had called Admiral—Admiral Jay-somethings—and a half dozen new guards, in officer blues instead of enlisted blacks. It seemed that Lancet was in some kind of trouble, and Edward had been deliriously satisfied at that.

He'd seen Mustang among them, briefly, his face white and strained and impassive, and that had been the last thing he'd seen before he blacked out.

He hadn't been out long—he thought—but when he could see clearly again, Lancet and Admiral Jaysomethings and Mustang had all been gone, along with the thugs, and just one, unfamiliar, officer in blue had remained. The guy had been apparently waiting for him to wake up; he hadn't said anything, but gave Edward a strange, pitying look before he turned and left the cell, leaving him alone.

Alone, with his mind coming slowly back together as the base had quieted and the light dimmed. Alone, with nothing to do but think.

"Hey, Mustang," Ed said, his lips and jaw moving stiffly—his throat was scraped and his voice was gravelly, but he was surprised by how normal his tone sounded. "Come to finish things off down here?"

For a moment the man stood silent, and Ed cursed that his back was to the light so he couldn't see his expression—not that he'd ever been able to read Mustang's expression. Then he stepped forward, into the cell. "In a sense," his familiar voice said quietly. "Stand up."

Even though he'd sworn that he would never obey, never work with any bastard from this mission, the habit of command to this man was too strong to ignore. Slowly, bracing himself against the wall behind him, he managed to inch his way to his feet. Dizziness assaulted him as the new positions hifted his injuries, and he swayed for a moment before propping himself back against the wall. His legs were trembling, but he opened his eyes to glare at his new visitor. See, you bastard? I'm not down for the count yet.

"Can you walk?" Mustang asked him, with an impassive expression.

"Why should I make your job easier?" Ed fired back insolently. It was stupid, he knew it was stupid, but it was just so easy to reply to Mustang with sarcasm and defiance; comfortable, almost.

The corner of Mustang's mouth pulled down. "Because all things considered, I would prefer not to have to drag you," he replied, a hint of snap in his voice. He looked Edward up and down. "Or would you prefer to be carried? You're just about small enough for it."

Ed gritted his teeth, enraged by the insult despite the ridiculousness of the context. "Fuck you." With an effort, he managed to center his weight again, swaying slightly on his feet, and took a tentative step. It hurt. Pain flared up from his human leg, worsening as it traveled up through his hips and ass, stomach and ribs, until even his shoulder twinged. Ed winced, took another step, then had to stop to regain his balance. "I might need some help," he admitted, grudgingly.

Without changing expression, Mustang stepped to his side and took hold of Ed's upper arm, steadying him and offering support. Ed tried not to be grateful, however grudging, as the older man pulled him out of the cell and into the corridor.

There were no other guards to be seen. Much to Edward's surprise, they turned not to the right towards the stairs, but to the left, leading further into the cell block. Ed's confusion and uncertainty began to rise.

Clearing his throat, he asked, "Where are you taking me?"

"The stairs on this end lead up to the utility tunnels, for quicker re-supply to the cell area," Roy replied, keeping his eyes straight ahead. "From there there's a set of tunnels that eventually leads outside. Roundabout, but safer. It's guarded, of course, but I've taken care of that."

Concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, it took several minutes for the implications of that to sink in. When they did, he stumbled, a sudden surge of wild hope and fear battling for dominance. His mouth dry, all Edward could think to say was, "Won't—won't somebody come down and find the guards are gone?"

"Everyone upstairs will shortly be too occupied to worry about that," Roy said quietly.

Ed listened, hard, trying to hear over the roaring in his ears. Everything sounded as silent, and still, as before.

"Nevertheless," Roy added after a minute, "it would be better if you could walk a little faster. If you can."

"You could always carry me," Ed jabbed at him, but he did his best to increase his pace anyway. He saw, though, that Roy had his other hand free and carried slightly in front of him, with the glove on, ready to snap. And Roy's eyes never stopped scanning the darkness ahead and to the side of them.

Roy didn't reply, and that was just as well, because breath was increasingly hard to come by, and Ed soon didn't have any to spare for bantering. Every step seemed to send curling flares of fire from between his hips, twisting up through his gut to flash out in his chest. Sweat began to break out on his skin, and he found himself shivering uncontrollably.

Roy stopped, and Ed pulled against his arm for a moment, confused, before Roy suddenly released him. Ed was best by a sudden fear that Roy was going to tell him off for being too slow—but instead, Roy unclasped his military jacket, shrugged it off his arms, and swung it around to settle on Ed's shoulders in one fluid movement.

Before Ed, confused, could put his hand through the sleeves, Roy had taken hold of his arm and was urging him forward again. He had to settle for twisting both lapels in his one good hand, to keep the coat from falling off his empty shoulder.

They reached the end of the corridor, and Roy pulled them to the right. Before long they encountered a door, pushed to put not latched; Roy swung it open cautiously, then pulled Ed through it and to a flight of stone stairs. Now, if Ed listened, he could hear noises—very faintly, the ringing sound of running boots, and then, even further, an explosion.

They seemed to be far away, but what if they ran into someone else between here and the exit. "I want my automail," Edward said, somewhat uncertainly, then forced his voice to firm up. "I need my automail. I can't fight without it."

"You can't fight with it, in the state you're in," Roy said, still calmly, scanning a cross-corridor for movement before pulling Ed swiftly across.

"Fuck that, I can still fight if I need to," Ed hissed. "But I'd do a lot more damage if I had my automail. I can't—I can't do alchemy without it either."

"Your automail is currently sitting in the desk drawer of Admiral Jacobs, three levels up and a mile in the opposite direction from where we're sitting," Roy said irritably. "We shouldn't encounter any problems using this escape route, but we certainly would if we went back for it. Besides, we'd run right into the fighting when the assault force arrives."

Ed bared his teeth. "Some rescue this is turning out to be," he muttered resentfully. "Couldn't even get my automail—damn it, Mustang, I could have just sat in my cell and waited for the cavalry to arrive."

"Your automail is not covered by orders to kill it at the first sign of conflict rather than risk letting being rescued," Roy said in a cool tone. "The same could not be said of you."

Ed fell silent, a little subdued by this. They passed through more corridors, labyrinthine, identical; Ed quickly lost track of how many turns they had taken, though Roy seemed to know the way. Another hallway ended in a long, steep staircase; Ed nearly cried at the sight of them (not that he would ever do anything so pussy, of course.)

Grimly, he began to struggle up the flight. Soon his heart was pounding in his chest, his lungs screaming until every heaving breath was an agony, and he could barely see the outline of the next step in front of them. Mustang had allowed him to slow and slow further until they were barely crawling around, but when Ed had to stop and take a few deep breaths before attempting another step, he gave Edward's arm a worried squeeze.

"Will you be able to make it?" he asked calmly, but there was an undertone of worry that he couldn't hide. "This is the last set of stairs—it's not too much further to the outside. Riza and Alex should have set up their operation's base camp not too far from the exit; they'll have a doctor standing by. That's where we have to go. Can you make it that far?"

"Do... I... have... a... choice?" Ed said grimly, struggling up another step.

Mustang wasn't moving with him, however. Catching his breath, Ed glanced to the side to see Roy still stopped on the step down, an intense frown on his face. After a moment, Mustang seemed to come to some decision; giving a small nod, he moved up to the step beside Edward, and then—to his shock—crouched down next to him.

"Climb up," he ordered, shrugging his shoulders and turning to offer his back. "You're slowing us down too much, and I don't like the sound of your breathing. As long as you can hold on with your own strength, I can still have my hands free to defend us."

For a moment, Ed couldn't respond, mind still whited out by the unexpected shock. Then his face flushed, faced with the double humiliation of being carried like a child, and being unable to keep moving at a fast enough pace. But mostly it was the shock of Roy making the offer, shaking his hidden, gnawing conviction that Roy was an ice-cold bastard who didn't give a damn. It didn't make sense for Roy to be worried, for him to give a damn, because if he did care, then why... why did he...

Ed wrenched his thoughts firmly back to the present crisis. Roy was right, damn it—he didn't think he could make it under his own power, even with Roy's help, and every delay raised the risk that they'd run into trouble. And anyway, it was no different from riding on Al's back, a few times when he was injured or exhausted and the nearest inn or town or safe camping place was too far away.

Roy glanced at him again; he ddn't say anything more, but Ed thought he saw a hint of doubt in his dark eyes. Hesitantly, he put his hand on Roy's shoulder, and tried to figure out how to arrange things. Roy was larger than Ed, but considerably smaller than Al, and it was hard to find a place to put his arm that wouldn't choke Roy to death (never a problem with his brother.)

After a few wobbly false starts, he managed to put his legs over Roy's hips, and wrapped his arm around Roy's chest; he even was able to pin the coat against Roy's back so that it didn't fall. Roy nodded sharply in satisfaction, which meant Ed got a faceful of black hair, but then levered himself to his feet with a small grunt and began rapidly climbing the stairwell.

The steps and walls almost flew past—much faster than Ed had been able to manage—and Ed closed his eyes, dizzy. "Don't pass out," Roy warned him suddenly, and Ed forced himself awake again. "I need my hands free."

"I'm not planning to," Ed snarled, and renewed his clamp on Roy's colorbone and waist. For a brief, guilt moment he was wondering if he was hurting Roy, though he made no sound or indication of it—then, he wondered why he should care if he was.

He should be angry with Roy. Somewhere, underneath the exhaustion and hurt and gratitutde, he thought he was—hugely, furiously angry. Not for what Roy had done to him—or at least, not just for that—but for Roy's failure in allowing it to happen, in failing to turn the course of events another way. Ed could see, looking back through his shaken, hectic memories of the past twenty-four hours, the ways in which Roy had pushed and pulled events to try and protect him—but it hadn't been enough, hadn't succeeded, and there were too many things Roy could have done to change things, and hadn't.

But in spite of that, Ed knew that he had to trust Roy right now, had to trust him as his only way out of this. It was disturbingly easy. Riding on Roy's back let him feel free of the subtle looming threat of the older man looming over him which had plagued him for the last hour; dangerously, it felt more like being carried by his brother, guided by him towards the promise of a safe place.

He heard Roy's voice in his ears again, saying some kind of warning, but it seemed distant and faint and far-off. The last thing he remembered was feeling Roy's rough-gloved hands grabbing onto his elbow, securing him in place, and then all noises faded into a distant gray hum.

Edward faded in and out of consciousness several more times, seeing confusing glimpses of cold dark stone, then cold dark open sky, and the strangely sharp reek of burning metals drifting up to them on some breeze.

Voices came and went, snatches of them.

"Sir! Where have you..."

"...eutenant Armstrong to me."

"....Admiral Jacobs, sir..."

"...nother abductee? God! He's just a kid..."

"...metal Alchemist..."

"...his brother to the hospital, immediately."

That one caught Ed's attention—Al? Al, where are you?—and he struggled back towards consciusness, trying to follow that voice. He couldn't manage to open his eyes, but he heard things more clearly, smelled gunpowder and burned cloth and metal, felt rough grass underneath him.

"....believe we can make a clean sweep, sir. About a dozen officers and twice that many enlisted men are still unaccounted for, but we have all the exits sealed and we have control of all the armaments deposits."

"Good. Take charge of Fullmetal; I'll come and supervise the cleanup directly. I don't want anyone to get cocky and make any stupid mistakes."

Somehow, Ed felt like he was being insulted. He was trying to figure out how this applied to him, and lost track of things briefly.

So he was never sure whether he imagined, after that, the feel of a rough-gloved hand stroking through his bangs, or the voice which was rendered almost unrecognizeable by grief and guilt. "I'm sorry, Edward. God, I'm sorry. I wish there had been another way."