sol 1056

The Shadow of Desire

chapter 6. honored
part 1 of The Contraries Arc

The fox condemns the trap, not himself.—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Roy stared up at the ceiling, his ears straining for sounds outside the door. The night was long and cold, a draft seeping in
through the small window. It seemed almost ironic that he couldn't reach to the window on his own, given how much he'd
teased Edward about being short.

But the truth was that he wasn't up to dragging the table out of the way, and then moving the stool under the window to look.
Nor was he able, with his injuries, to climb up on the table. Instead, he contemplated what little he knew of the situation, and
catalogued the likely ways and means of the situation.

The most bothersome thing was the absence of his watch. He always carried it, to the point that he never gave it much thought, and it wasn't until he'd noticed the silver chain looped in Edward's pocket—as the young man was carried out the evening before—that it dawned on him that his was missing. Roy had sworn in the darkness, frustrated. Unlike Edward's talent, Roy's watch did amplify beyond what he could normally manage. He wasn't helpless without it, but he certainly didn't have quite the endurance without it that he'd have with it. It had taken nearly an hour of berating himself before he'd given up, and set the complaint aside, turning his mind back to the bigger issue of their kidnapping.

One of the two Alchemists missing had a husband and daughter; the other missing Alchemist was safely in Soswell. There were more who had disappeared in more apparent hotspots, but he couldn't recall the names precisely, nor the locations. Too much of his awareness was taken up with gritting his teeth against the pain of the burns on his shoulder and hand. It seemed reasonable that perhaps the Cragrock Alchemists' arrival had been kept quiet, as well, so that any search would stop at Soswell, with the comfortable excuse of paperwork. Roy grunted at that; he wasn't the kind of person to say without further investigation that both must have been missing only on paper, simply because one was safe and sound. But then, the military was notorious for accepting some pretty half-assed explanations if it got officers out of doing more paperwork.

He grinned into the darkness, wondering how often Hawkeye had thought the same of him.

The opening door heralded the morning, and Roy was instantly awake. He managed to sit up, expecting Erin but surprised to find a young woman, probably no older than Edward. She had chin-length auburn hair that curled neatly behind her ears, and a trim figure despite the bulky militaristic style. Roy caught a glimpse of Franco in the doorway, leering, as the woman brought a tray over to the table. Setting it down with a clatter, she turned, and Roy could see there was a newspaper under her arm. As she walked back to the door, she dropped the newspaper on the foot of the bed.

"Thought you might like a little to read with your breakfast," the woman said, in a throaty voice that would've given Roy a more pleasant kind of shiver, if he weren't busy sitting up while trying to appear perfectly in control. The quick view of the hallway had given him no more information. The woman saluted him lazily. "Until later, General," she said, turning the salute into a quick wave over her shoulder. Franco pulled the door shut behind her, and Roy was alone in the room.

Grimacing, he reached for the newspaper. It was the Central City military news, morning edition of the day before; the day after the fire, Roy decided. It was only the outside page of the newpaper, and he unfolded it. The inside front page was more news of various skirmishes, a few political decisions, and the usual pandering to the latest rumormongering. One headline caught his eye, in bold type.

Soswell fire claims seven.

He skimmed the article, drawing his breath in through his teeth in annoyance. "Due to the high temperature of the fire, the Flame Alchemist was identified through teeth comparison and the discovery of his watch, a badge of his position as a National Alchemist..."

That would explain where his watch went, although he couldn't remember when he might've let it out of his sight. Unfortunately,
his memories were patchy at best, and what he could remember, he hoped would eventually fade. Edward's sleepy form,
stretched comfortably across the sofa; the jerking, desperate movements of Edward's body as Roy asphyxiated them both,
along with the fire; the final, sinking movement of Edward's body, passing out, the golden hair tickling at Roy's nose, the heated
skin slick against his jaw. Roy closed his eyes and gathered up the images, locking them away in the secret places in his heart.
No matter what Edward might ever say, if he learned of Roy's actions, Roy knew he'd do it again, if that were what it took. After
eight years, there was no way he'd stand by and let Edward die because of simple arson.

"Six others also died in the conflagration, which destroyed the top floor of the Military Headquarters in Soswell... Including Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist..." Roy dropped the newspaper with a grunt, disgusted by the simple black-and-white reduction of the nightmarish moments. "An investigation continues into the origin of the fire, including an explosion witnesses report blew out most of the top floor of the military headquarters. Five of the victims were caught in this explosion, although no cause has been identified. Inspector Rainey, the fire chief for Soswell, issued a formal statement saying that his staff are looking into it..."

Convenient, Roy thought. The Flame Alchemist, killed by his own affinity. How many would be willing to believe that he would be the cause of his own death? Certainly any ignorant of how alchemy worked; it wasn't like falling asleep in bed with a lit cigarette. He reviewed the article quickly, unsurprised—and frustrated—to see that the rest of the victims weren't named, pending family permission.

First Lieutenant Havoc wasn't listed, but then, if he had been the one pounding on the door, he was definitely not only dead, but incinerated to a point they'd be lucky to find the melted buttons from his uniform. Roy took a minute, clenching his left hand a little, letting the pain remind him of his own situation. He could mourn Havoc, later, he told himself. In the meantime, he'd continue to hope Havoc had been carousing with a pretty local girl, safe from harm. Roy's gaze wandered from the front inside page to the back inside page, and he had to close his eyes again, breathing steadily, before opening them again.


Roy stared at his own image. Gracia had taken the photograph on the steps of the Officer's Club, the night they had celebrated
his promotion to General. He was in uniform, but smiling at the camera, his head tilted as though he were enjoying a secret.
Gracia had called it his tease-face, in the way Hughes might have said, if he'd been alive. Roy stared at the picture, bemused
the editors had not selected a more formal image, with the hat on his head, rather than tucked under his arm; he would have
preferred a photograph where his hair was
slicked back formally, instead of his everyday messy style. Idly he glanced at the article.

Brigadier General Roy Thomas Mustang, died of fire-related injuries in Soswell, at the age of thirty-two.

Roy sighed. Thirty-two years old, and my life fits in five paragraphs.

Graduated with top honors from Central Academy...and Mother never lived to see it, while Father was busy on a hiking trip with Samuel the night Roy was nervously giving his valedictorian speech. Served as a National Alchemist during the Ishvar Civil Conflict...and came home to Cody's anger, and unable—and unwilling—to muster the energy to defend against his little brother's arguments. Youngest Colonel promoted during peacetime...Elizabeth, Samuel's wife, had sent him a card; she'd signed it for both Samuel and herself. Youngest General during peacetime...and his father was too busy helping Cody build a barn to come for the formal announcement, to see the handshake and congratulations from the new Fuehrer. Roy shook his head at the list, and kept reading, more from morbid curiosity than anything else.

Survived by father, Michael Mustang, of Dager, West Amestris, an older brother, Samuel, and his wife, Elizabeth, and their children Sammy, Claire, and Michael... Roy frowned. He hadn't realized the third child was already born; it couldn't have been three months since Elizabeth's hopeful note about the impending birth. She was like that, Roy thought, sadly. She didn't seem to understand that he'd given up years ago; his brothers never had time for him, growing up, preferring to make war on the middle child rather than peace. ...Survived also by a younger brother, Cody Mustang. The baby of the family, Roy thought, fingering the edge of the newspaper. If it was a hoax, it was a damn fine one, since even his cousins were listed: Melissa and Carina, and Carina's husband Darren. On his mother's side, the only relative was his great-uncle, Colonel James Burkholdt, a crotchey old man whose conversations usually consisted of rambling diatribes about the National Alchemists today, compared to the branch in his day.

The final paragraph listed Gracia and Alicia Hughes as close family friends. Roy dropped the newspaper, belatedly remembering the soup. Wincing at his stiff muscles, he got up, stretching as best he could. His skin felt clammy, and he draped the blanket awkwardly over his shoulders before shuffling to the table and sitting down on the stool. The soup was mostly broth, but he doubted his throat could handle much more until it had recovered better from the smoke inhalation. Finishing off the bowl, Roy pushed it away but remained at the table, startled.

It occurred to him that he had spent the previous several minutes pondering solely one simple thing: the utter frustration of having no way to assure Alphonse that Edward was alive, or assure Gracia and Alicia that they were both alive. He had to smile ruefully. It hadn't even occurred to him what his commanding officer might be saying or doing in reaction, or any plans to investigate, or how his staff might be taking the news. And the thought of all those names in his day calendar, of people to see and meet and do: he had yet to spare a single thought for their reaction, let alone wishing he could reassure them. Such a reputation he'd cultivated for years, and when rumors of his death were circulated, the people he worried about were perhaps three of the handful of people that he could honestly say he'd loved.

Of course, Roy pondered, if Edward knew he was included on that list, he'd either disappear in disgust or rail at Roy for treating him like a child, as though only children were loved. Roy crossed his legs and leaned his left shoulder against the table, trying to get comfortable. It wasn't possible, but he didn't want to be laying down the next time the door opened. Just a matter of principle, he reminded himself, absently contemplating just how big an explosion Edward would create if he ever found out that Roy had protected him, outright.

That would certainly clear the building, Roy thought, smirking a little at the mental picture. The smirk faltered, however, and he rolled his eyes at his imagination. Edward's annoyance and self-righteous indignation wouldn't just clear out the building, but take out most of the mountain and half the town. And bury me under all of it, Roy thought. After which, most likely, Edward would dance on the rubble.

There was a part of Roy that ached, just a little, that his assistance was so repugnant that any hint would prompt such a reaction. Roy buried it swiftly, and waited for someone to come back for the bowl. Eventually they would, and while he had no idea what to expect, he hadn't made it this far in life without a few tricks up his sleeve. Most of them involved a smile and quick wit, but playing helpless was charming to some, too. The secret was in knowing which to apply.

They came for him maybe an hour or two later; Roy wasn't sure. It was enough time to have the entire newspaper memorized, but he'd always been a quick study, so that wasn't the best basis for judging. Franco opened the door, ushering in the same young woman from that morning. She made no attempt to cover the fact that she was giving Roy more than the once-over, from his bare feet, to his smoke-stained pants, to his chest, wrapped only in strips of white bandages. When she raised her eyes to his, he kept his expression level, his chin up, and arched one eyebrow, almost imperceptibly. He wasn't surprised to see her eyes narrow, and the corner of her mouth turned up, just a little.

He made a note of the young woman's inclination towards a challenge, rather than someone submissively sweet or fearful. He stayed by the table, folding the newspaper lazily, as though they had come at his convenience, not theirs.

"Stand up, General," the girl said. "Franco's way too eager about his come-along skills."

Roy smirked, and stood, his hands at his sides. It took his entire being to keep from crying out when his right arm was pulled backwards, and he ground his teeth together as pain lanced up his left arm when the wrist was yanked backwards as well. The young woman moved deftly, running coarse ropes around his wrists, binding them efficiently. There was enough movement behind Roy, with the slithering sound of rope on rope, that he was certain her knots were intricate. She didn't seem like the kind to do anything halfway, or only for show. He stiffened despite himself when the rope was thrown around his throat, and he was unexpectedly annoyed that she patted him on his injured shoulder as if in remorse.

"Come on, General, we've got places to be," she whispered, and slipped a blindfold over his eyes.

Figures, Roy thought, but kept silent, his ears tuned to the sounds around him. A beefy hand landed on Roy's left shoulder. He wasn't pulled, to his surprise, but led quite gently out the door and down the hallway. Franco warned him, in a deep voice, when they reached a flight of stairs, and Roy counted them. Seventeen steps; at least one floor upward. Forty steps down the hallway, through another doorway, and down ten steps.

He kept his chin up, frustrated by the tightness of the blindfold. He couldn't see under the bottom, and it was pressing hard enough against his eyelids to make him see flashes of false light.

"Almost there," Franco said. "A few steps up...careful, General."

My hands are tied behind my back, wrist to elbow, Roy grumbled, and from there to my neck. What's the point in
being careful with me now? The floor changed under Roy's feet from flagstones to wood. He paced himself, walking
slowly enough not to exacerbate his injuries, but he was also paying attention. His feet only felt one seam at a time,
which meant the beams were wide, but they were also smooth. One foot nearly slipped out from under him, and he amended ‘smooth' to ‘high gloss.' He tried to remember the architecture of what he'd seen in Soswell, and whether there were any buildings large enough to house the distance he'd traveled.

"Creighton," the girl called.

"Kelly," a man's voice chided, curtly. "Next time, don't take so long. Now, that everyone is here, you'll see I'm not...blowing smoke," Creighton added, with a rough laugh that muted slightly after a moment.

Roy guessed the man had turned away, and was speaking to someone else. Fingers were working at the knot on the blindfold. It was slipped off his face, and Roy bit the inside of his lip to force his eyes from blinking rapidly at the light. Everything swam in his vision, and he let it, hoping that he wasn't swaying as he adjusted to the light. Something bright moved in the corner of his eye; a heartbeat passed before the golden glow became Edward Elric's braid. Roy narrowed his eyes, barely glancing in Edward's direction, focusing on the speaker.

Creighton was a heavy-set man, perhaps a half-head taller than Roy; he was lighting several candles on a long table in the center of the large room. Over their heads, high in the vaulted ceiling, were small transoms that barely let in light. They were caked with grime and dirt, and the sunlight that forced its way through seemed tainted as a result.

"Still not interested."

Edward's voice rang out, sounding a little bored, accompanied by a rattling sound. Roy glanced sideways, under his lashes, to see that Edward was still bound. The bar was shackled to wrists spreader wider than shoulder-width. Edward's hands were relaxed, but the fingers on his automail hand twitched. That minute movement was enough to tell Roy that Edward was either irritated or anxious. The cuff of Edward's left glove was stained and torn; Roy guessed Edward had spent some time worrying at it. A chain hung from Edward's right wrist to the floor, but it wasn't attached to anything. It dragged across the floor as Edward stepped away, shrugging.

"You will be." Creighton turned, his thick black beard obscuring the lower half of his face. He grinned, and the gaping maw showed a few broken teeth before the man sobered. "Call Chervaise."

"Cool," Kelly said, and her light footsteps faded away as she left the room.

Roy didn't move or speak, his eyes on Creighton but his senses taking in everything around him. Franco was to Roy's right, not far from Edward, but Edward didn't move or look at either Roy or Franco. Roy forced his shoulders and arms to relax into the bindings. The coarse rope was itching the back of his neck, and it was going to drive him crazy, he was certain. That is, he told himself, if the fat man and his smug attitude don't do it first. Roy's fingers itched to snap.

Chervaise, Roy decided, must have been waiting right outside, because a heavier footstep returned, coming up behind him. A second later Roy's breath was knocked out of his lungs as a foot slammed against the back of his knees. He fell with a thud. He bit his lower lip to keep from crying out as his knees slammed against the wood. The impact reverberated up his body, into his injured shoulder and hand.

Roy raised his chin and got one foot under him. He was halfway to standing when a solid blow hit his right shoulder. He fell again, grunting when the bandages were smashed into the blisters and bruises. Setting his jaw, he turned, to speak over his shoulder. "You could have just asked," he remarked, his voice purposefully sardonic.

Creighton shrugged, and the motion caught Roy's gaze. The man was standing by the table, neatly dropping spent matches into a small bowl. The only warning was a whistle, but Roy knew that sound, and instinctively tensed. A second later, a short whip was laid across his shoulders. The pain nearly made the room go white. In the breath of time between the whip disappearing and the second warning whistle as it sliced the air, Roy shifted his weight, bracing. He spread his legs slightly, and brought his ankles a few inches closer together.

The second strike caught him lower on the back, below his bound arms, and he grunted. Roy swallowed hard, and let his breath out slowly. It was no more, he told himself, than running five miles in the pouring rain, or doing another two hundred repetitions past total exhaustion. Two more strikes, and Roy's skin prickled; something wet was running down his back. The realization that Chervaise could hit well enough to draw blood was making it harder to write off the experience as no worse than what he'd faced as a callow youth of seventeen.

Another part of Roy's mind, however, was preoccupied with the room around him. His gaze didn't waver from Creighton, but Roy could see Edward at the edge of his peripheral vision. Edward's body was tensed, his head turned away from Roy, and his hands were in fists. Franco's expression, Roy noted with some bemusement, was worried. Franco kept giving Roy annoyed glances, as though Franco were hoping Roy would lower his head and the entire unpleasant episode could be ended.

Roy ignored the man, filing the observation away in the same breath with which he ignored the seventh strike, this one catching his left arm and his shoulder blade. The real keys, Roy told himself, were Edward and Creighton. One of the two would call it quits; it was just a matter of which first, and for what reason.

"You guys really need to work on your idea of entertainment," Edward said, but Roy caught the subtle tone of anger and worry. He doubted a stranger would know that hint of a rising note, present only in ‘need' and ‘idea'. Roy breathed through his mouth, rasping, and listened. "And," Edward continued, "your strategy is transparent. You're assuming I give a damn about him."

"I understand you've been under his command for eight years," Creighton replied. "That's more than enough time to develop some kind of friendship."

"And far more than enough time to know I hate his guts," Edward retorted. He shrugged casually, but Roy caught the slight hitch in Edward's movement when another hit landed on Roy's lower back. Roy bit down on his lip harder, refusing to let sound through his throat. Edward shifted his weight, his hands waving as though dismissing the entire proceeding. "But when the military finds out, they're the ones who will have your ass. Me? I could care less."

"Too bad for him," Creighton said.

Edward doesn't know, Roy realized, and wasn't sure whether to roll his eyes or sigh in frustration. Chervaise's bulk moved away, creaking the floorboards, and Roy accepted the breather with a gratitude he struggled to hide. Creighton held up a folded newspaper in front of Edward's face. The chain clattered when Edward reached up to take the paper, his jaw dropping as his eyes scanned the obituary.

"That, boy," Creighton spat, "is one dead General. No one is coming after him...or you. You, on the other hand, may have checked into little hotels in Hyle and Soswell..." Creighton ripped the newspaper from Edward's hand with a rumbling chortle. "But each time you then made your way to the Officer's Quarters, where you spent the evening with General Mustang. Doesn't sound to me like you really hate his guts, now...does it?"

"Fuck you," Edward ground out. "We had an assignment―"

Creighton flicked his fingers in Roy's direction, and Edward's words broke off as he turned to see. For just a moment, Edward's eyes were wide and frightened, the irises glowing bronze in the dirty sunlight and guttering candles. The floor creaked behind Roy, and he took a breath, looking away from Edward's gaze. He wouldn't shame Edward by letting on that he'd seen the momentary weakness, he told himself, and that, some part of him insisted, was the only reason to push hard at the image, and lock it away. The floor creaked again, the whip cleaved the air, and Roy had no more time to think.

Roy swayed from the lash, but caught himself quickly. The stinging pain was dulling into a sick, wet throb. He nearly chuckled at the fact that the thick rope from his bound wrists to his neck was likely to protect his spinal column. Such consideration seemed out of place, as much as Franco warning him about the steps when he was blindfolded.

Creighton wants a breakdown, Roy told himself. If I play that game, Roy calculated quickly, catching his breath between the ninth and tenth strike, then would Edward agree to Creighton's demand, or would he stand firm, and see any begging as so uncharacteristic that it must be a ploy? Between the twelfth and thirteenth strikes, Roy knew a part of him was willing to play along, regardless of Edward's reaction. It would be the only way to find out who was in charge, knowledge they might lose if they managed to get free, too soon.

The next two blows landed across the balls of his feet. No, Roy thought, better not to beg. Not only because it went against every fiber of Roy's being to plead if there was the remote chance of an alternate tactic...but, also, somehow, he didn't want to see Edward's reaction. Roy smirked, not bothering to hide it, but the expression was mostly at himself. He didn't want to learn that Edward didn't care, almost as much as he didn't want to learn that Edward did care. An untenable position, he pointed out to himself, but his heart wasn't listening, and that made his smirk grow wider.

The fifteenth strike whistled louder than the rest, catching Roy off-guard as the whip lashed against his neck and wrapped around to slice into his cheek. The force threw his head sideways, and he shuddered involuntarily.

The room was silent except for the rattling of chains as Edward shifted his weight from one foot to the next.

Edward's movements halted, and Roy didn't raise his head. He didn't want to see Edward's expression. It would be much easier to play at being defeated, and save the strength to fight later, when the odds were more in their favor. And if I keep going, Roy admitted silently, I will break. I won't give up, but... Another strike, across the bottom of his feet again, and he barely bit back the groan. His body jerked, and he had to take a deep breath. Chervaise chuckled lightly behind him, and Roy noticed Edward's shoulders moving.

"All it takes is one word," Creighton said, in a low rumbling voice. "You, boy," and he stabbed a finger in Edward's direction, "do what we ask. And your superior officer will be spared any more of this."

The whip struck five times, in rapid succession: shoulder, shoulder, lower back, lower back, calves. In the screaming silence of the pain that followed, Roy lost the mental track he'd been planning. The pain shoved everything else out of the way. Roy bit down on his lower lip, panting shallowly as it all became clear. Edward would stay behind, purely out of obligation, and Roy couldn't allow that. But Roy couldn't see past the whip-lines scoring his awareness to determine what to do, to say, to get Edward to realize that.

Edward was the only one who might be able to get out. He could come back for Roy and the other Alchemist, and her family. Edward was the only one who'd be able to manage, Roy knew. He just wasn't sure how to let Edward know, and the only coherent thought he could hold onto for longer than two heartbeats was the simplest of all.

God, it fucking hurts.

"Enough," Edward grated. His fists were clenched, and his entire body thrummed with the will holding his temper in check. "You can beat him all day, and it won't change my mind. But if you stop now, I might only flay you, instead of ripping you from limb to limb. It's your last chance, Creighton!"

Chervaise raised the whip again; Roy could see the man's shadow across the wooden floor, in the corner of his vision. The whip came down, the whip-end wrapped around his throat. Roy choked, his body's instinctive jerk throwing him away from the whip's tail, onto his left knee. Chervaise yanked, and Roy's weight came down hard on his right knee. The leather slithered against his throat, releasing. Roy sank down on his calves and leaned forward, coughing.

"Stop it!" Edward raised his hands, the bar stretched between the shackles. Edward's compact body was strained, his feet planted wide, boots braced leading in strong lines to calves and thighs up to a chest curved inwards by the effort. Edward snarled. The right wrist-shackle creaked, and Edward chuckled low in his throat, his lips curling up into a pleased smirk. "When I get out of these, I'll―"

The whip whistled, and Roy tensed, but no strike fell. Roy looked up to see Creighton regarding him from only a few feet away, and he made a note that the man could move far more silently and quickly than Roy had guessed. Behind Creighton, Edward's expression was furious, eyes narrowed, teeth bared. Roy lowered his head, breathing through gritted teeth.

"Say please," wheedled Creighton.

"No, thank you," Roy said. To his satisfaction, he even managed to make it sound nonchalant.

Creighton moved away, and Roy closed his eyes, bracing himself for more of Chervaise's attention. His toes curled from a brush of air caressing the cuts across the soles of his feet. Someone was murmuring in the background, and from the pitch, Roy guessed it was Creighton. The sound was broken by a strangled protest—Edward, Roy realized.

Wary, Roy looked up through his bangs, to see Edward's shoulders slump as he nodded. Creighton grinned, clapping Edward on the shoulder, and stepped away. Creighton tucked something back in his pocket, and Roy frowned momentarily, unable to see what it was.

"I'll do it," Edward whispered.

I'm sorry, Roy answered him silently. It's just one more game, one more person manipulating you. He added the numbers to the ones already in his head. Twenty-three blows. Roy spared a second's strength to thank the powers that Alphonse was not along on this mission. Seventeen stair-steps. Then again, Roy thought, if Alphonse were, they'd be out of this by now. Forty-three steps on flagstone. Edward would stop at nothing to protect his little brother, but Roy? Ten wooden stair steps...No, I'm hardly on that list, Roy told himself, and sighed.

"Good," Creighton said. He turned, walking away. This time, there was no warning, the sound covered by Edward's chain's clattering as he shook his fists in helpless fury.

The twenty-fourth strike was on Roy's injured shoulder, the whip's tail wrapping around his arm and slicing through the bandages. He fell forward again, unable to hold up his head. The twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth were on the soles of his feet. Roy slowly lifted his head, and regained his even stare on Creighton, though he didn't come back up on his knees. The man nodded to someone behind Roy, and the whip's warning came loud and quick: three strikes in succession. He was vaguely aware someone was shouting, and Roy blinked several times before pulling his gaze from Creighton's smug face to see Franco restraining Edward.

"Damn you, damn you, stop that! I agreed!" Edward's braid whipped around as he struggled against Franco's hands, hoisting him into the air. His legs flailed wildly as he screamed. "Stop it!"

Two more lashes keened in the air, in rapid succession. The whip curled around Roy's ankle, tugging a little and coming away with a slick sensation of blood. The next blow was on the arches of his feet. Roy groaned through his gritted teeth, but he continued to stare at Creighton from under his lowered lashes. He couldn't hold his head up, his entire will unexpectedly concentrating on letting Edward know, somehow, that Roy was strong enough. He didn't want to give Creighton the satisfaction, but for some inexplicable reason, he didn't want Edward to see him truly break.

The whip paused, and Roy took the chance to raise his head. He stuck out his tongue, running it along the edge of his mouth where blood had pooled from the cut on his cheek. Baring his teeth, he managed a shrug.

"That's it? I had worse in basic training," he observed.

The next whip strike caught him square on his right shoulder, across the burn, and he couldn't hide the flinch. Two more came in rapid succession, both across his feet. Roy closed his eyes, unwilling to allow more reaction than a grunt.

"Mustang, damn you, you're―" Edward's shout echoed through the expansive room. His entire body was shaking, and the chains grated on the floor as he came closer. In a second, Franco was in the way, and Edward glared up at the huge man. "Get out of my way. I'm gonna―"

"Do what? Smack Chervaise over the head with the bar?" Creighton grinned.

"I'll kick him, then," Edward retorted, sidestepping Franco neatly. "I'll―" His cry turned into a frustrated yelp, when Franco stepped behind him, reaching down to grab the bar. He lifted, until Edward was on his toes.

"Shut up, kid," Creighton interrupted. "I'm running the show here. I could beat the General until my arms are tired, and then beat him with Chervaise. You really want to see that?"

"I agreed!" Edward railed against Franco's hold. "There's no need for this. Damn it, stop, or you'll kill him!"

Creighton raised a hand. The whip strike whistled past Roy's ear, but didn't touch him. Roy looked up, wary.

"That's what I thought," Creighton said. He shrugged, and pointed at Roy. "You're not going to break from something so base...but you," and Creighton turned the finger on Edward, "will." He waved the hand at Franco, and smiled cruelly at Edward's stunned expression. "I know your weakness, Fullmetal, even if you would never admit it on your own. You behave, and we won't have to repeat this."

Edward's boots thudded dully on the wooden floor when Franco dropped him. A heartbeat later, someone was hovering over Roy, and he tensed. When hands grabbed him around the waist and lifted, the jarring ripped through the cuts and injuries. Roy bit through his tongue to hold back the scream. The blood's metallic taste surprised him, and he shook off Franco's hold, lifting his chin.

"See, boy," Creighton said, pointing. "I was right. There's only one thing might break the General, but I bet I can figure out what it is."

Edward glared, but Roy couldn't muster the energy to do so as well. Instead, he turned, continuing to bite down on his lower lip to keep from crying out with each painful step. Franco put the blindfold over Roy's eyes before he caught more than a mere glimpse of the doorway. And then, Franco's hand was on Roy's left arm, pulling him forward.

Out the door, turn to the right, and five steps down. The wood was smoother under Roy's feet, and he wondered who would be cleaning up the blood. The slam of heavy doors echoed behind them, and Franco chuckled.

"Look, General, it's just you and me now." The man's voice was surprisingly gentle. "You put up a good show, but if you want a lift the rest of the way, I won't tell no one."

Double negative, Roy thought, but nodded anyway. Franco caught Roy as his legs went out from under him. The grasp of a hand against his right arm made Roy groan, and the rest was lost in darkness.

Roy came to as he was lowered onto the bed. Grunting, he coughed a few times.

"I'll be back in a bit with your lunch," Franco told him, undoing the blindfold. He dug out a pocket knife from somewhere in his voluminous pants, and sliced neatly through the bindings. The ropes fell onto the bed, and Franco gathered them up. "Don't go anywhere. Erin's a pretty good cook."

"Sure," Roy managed to choke out, holding himself upright by sheer force of will as Franco left the room. The door clicked shut behind him, and Roy sagged.

It took several minutes before he could gather the strength to lower himself to the floor. Cradling his left hand close, he cautiously laid down on his side, and rolled onto his back. The score-marks and raw spots from the whip and rope were pressed into the cool flagstone, bringing temporary relief, but Roy's eyes were fixed on the underside of the cot.

First, he told himself, wind. Putting his right hand into his mouth, he swirled saliva across the finger, then ran the finger down his cheek, wetting the dried blood into a rudimentary ink. A few quick strokes on the underside of the bed frame, and he had half the circle. Rubbing his cheek a few more times, and he had enough blood to finish the simple array.

The second array, above the first and closer to the bed, was for oxygen. Roy swiped at the blood drying on his cheek and neck, and studied the results of his handiwork. Tentatively he pressed his right hand against the array, pleased when it lit up and he could feel the oxygen being pressed from his lungs. He let his hand drop with a gasp, and coughed a few times.

The third array, at the top of the row, was for fire. He'd need a spark to accompany it, and—he reminded himself, laughing silently—he'd need to make sure he was off the bed, too, or he'd end up part of the tinder. His right arm and shoulder shook with the pain of reaching across to smear the blood on his left shoulder and collarbone, but after several minutes, he'd managed to create the complex array.

He studied the three, satisfied, and rolled over on his stomach. Pushing himself up with his right hand, he grunted, drawing breath through a tight throat before hoisting himself up on all fours. He stared at the bed for a second, and decided against attempting the climb. Instead, he scrambled towards the wall, and settled himself down, turning around to face the door.

Injury might be the order of the day, but there was no way someone was going to get the jump on him, too.