sol 1056

The Shadow of Desire

chapter 8. guarded
part 1 of The Contraries Arc

He who has suffer'd you to impose on him knows you.—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Roy woke up, his eyes squinting shut at first before he levered himself carefully off the bed and sat up. He wasn't sure what had woken him, but for all his reputed laziness, he was a light sleeper, so it could have been anything, nothing, or just instinct. He blinked, and gingerly rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and didn't bother to hide his smile.

Edward was asleep on a second small cot that had been squeezed up against the wall, leaving barely two feet between the beds. He was on his back, one leg bent, the other leg hanging off the edge. His human arm was behind his head, and his automail arm was also hanging off the bed. A blanket covered his hips and chest, but it looked like he'd kicked the rest of it off in sleep. His chest was bare, but Roy could see a thin strip of white at the edge of the blanket, caught on Edward's hips: Edward's boxers. His braid was half-undone, tangled hairs matted against his cheeks, a few strands stirring with each soft, deep breath.

Over the years, Roy had seen Edward's automail a few times, mostly when Edward chose to discard the black overcoat and wear only his tank top. It had been one of the signs, to Roy, that Edward's sense of propriety was yet another thing that ran by Edward's standards, and no one else's. The young man would strip down to bare chest when he judged it necessary, but the rest of the time he was clothed from neck to toe.

Never any in-between, Roy mused. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and let his eyes slide half-closed to cover the direction of his gaze. He wasn't sure how lightly Edward slept, but judging from the even breathing and still body, Edward was in deep sleep. Still, better not to risk letting Edward be wise to Roy's curiosity.

Another weakness, Roy told himself, and sighed. His gaze trailed up Edward's crooked leg, from the automail toes digging into the rumpled sheet, the casing and cords barely visible at the back of the knee, to the juncture of metal and skin. The fact of Edward's automail leg had always been known; it was the mechanism of it, the meeting of steel and flesh that had intrigued Roy. Some might say that automail users were more machine than human, but it seemed to Roy that if that were so, Edward had become more than human to compensate. On the face of things, the Fullmetal Alchemist was calculating, even reticent, and set on his own path with little interest or patience for distractions. But under the steel exterior, he was a fireball of thoughts, plans, dreams, and ideas.

We are a lot alike, Roy thought, and carefully stood up. The morning was chilly, and he dragged his blanket around his shoulders. Except, he decided, for the fact that he was freezing and Edward was clearly comfortable.

It was then that the door opened. Franco leaned into the room, glanced at them both, and stepped out of the way for Erin to enter. In the dusky morning half-light through the blocked window, Roy was almost certain Erin was a young man, perhaps a few years older than Edward. He was wearing overalls again, and had auburn hair pulled into a low ponytail at the base of his neck. Erin nodded at Roy, and set a tray down on the table.

"Hope you brought enough for three," Edward said behind them. His voice was a little thick, but otherwise he sounded as short-tempered as usual. Light footsteps, one echoing, one soft, crossed the room and came to stand next to Roy. "I'm famished." He thumbed his hand in Roy's direction. "And I need more salve, for his back."

Roy frowned. Edward pointedly ignored him, and Roy realized Ed was already dressed in his black jeans. He was buckling the belt, and walked past Erin to poke at the food on the tray. Erin crossed his arms and waited, while Edward picked out two rolls and an apple. Edward bit into the roll, and turned around, leaning his hips against the table in a casually aggressive stance. Sharp white teeth tore at the bread, and Edward's golden eyes flicked from Roy to Erin, and over to Franco in the doorway.

"So?" Edward finished off the first roll and began on the second. "What's the agenda for today? Hot pokers? Boiling oil?"

Roy hid his smirk and moved to the table. Leaning past Edward, he grabbed the last roll before Edward took it, too.

"Your agenda," Franco said from the doorway, "is to come with me. Bring your food with you, and you can eat it later." He held up a blindfold and the bar. The shackles clattered against the metal rod.

"One minute, and I'll be ready," Edward replied, as though this were all part of his everyday life, and nothing to blink at. He brushed Roy with his shoulder as he pushed away from the table.

Roy covered his surprise at the apparent clumsiness by glaring at the roll, and then at Erin, who shook his head minutely. Behind them, the metal clanked and Edward muttered something. A moment later, the door shut and Roy was alone with Erin. Roy studied the younger man: the wide green eyes, the nose with just a slight crook in it, like a semi-healed break.

"In case you're wondering," Erin said, quietly, "It was my suggestion."

"Mm?" Roy raised his eyebrows over the roll, biting into it.

"Mr. Elric's agreement was the only reason I put the sleeping medicine in, though. If he'd said no, I doubt Creighton would have allowed it." Erin picked up a jar on the tray, and unscrewed the top, setting both aside, then picked up a roll of fresh bandages. "I'm just here to keep people healthy, and you're one of the people here. I don't play favorites when it comes to that." He motioned to Roy, who obligingly sat down on the bed, turning away from Erin.

"And First Lieutenant Havoc?" Roy took another bite from the roll, finishing it off, and steadfastly ignored the uneven lightness of Erin's fingers, prying off the bandages. Edward's touch, in contrast, had been firm and sure, as though Edward had known exactly how much pressure Roy could take at any juncture. The contrast unsettled Roy, so he chose to ignore it for the time being. "Are you seeing to his well-being, too?"

The fingers hesitated for a split second, then continued moving. "He's being taken care of, but not by me."

Roy considered that, filing the response away. "Why did Fullmetal sleep here? I thought he would be assigned to a cell of his own."

"You're not used to the way Creighton thinks," Erin replied, and began smoothing salve across Roy's back. "He doesn't believe in killing people, but he's..."

A manipulative bastard, Roy finished, and snorted quietly. Yeah, he thought, I know the type. Creighton's going to encourage our interaction, in hopes that the more Edward sees me, the less likely he'll be to risk my safety again. The thought made Roy's stomach churn, and he suddenly wished he'd let Edward have all the rolls, after all.

"Can you at least give me a status for First Lieutenant Havoc?"

"I don't know." Erin unrolled the bandages and began wrapping them around Roy's chest. Again, the brush of a hand against his collarbones, but Roy felt uneasy, not comforted. Erin finished quickly, to Roy's relief, and stood up, gathering the unused bandages in his arms. "You should sleep. The salve has some numbing properties, but don't let that fool you into thinking your body wasn't injured."

I know, Roy responded mentally. I got the whole lecture last night, so you can save your breath. He settled for arching an eyebrow, and was pleased to see Erin take a half step back.

"I can get you some books to read," Erin told him, backing towards the door. "No newspapers, and nothing on Alchemy, but at least it will keep you from being too bored."

"Please," Roy managed to say, the mild tingling in his back and shoulder melting into mere weariness. "Books would be nice."

Erin nodded, tapping on the door. A minute later, Kelly opened it, and Erin was gone without another word.

Roy woke up a few hours later, to find Kelly unlocking the door. She strolled in, a stack of books in her arms, and dropped them on the table. She grinned at Roy, a devilish look that promised no good, and left the room.

He sighed and got up, relieved he was alone and no one could see how awkward he really was. Getting up from lying on his stomach, with one aching shoulder and the opposite hand useless, was no mean feat. And although he'd managed to eat the breakfast Erin had brought, still a bit suspicious, he knew he hadn't been drugged. He'd fallen asleep simply because his body was too busy trying to recover to have extra energy for him to move about a great deal.

Roy shuffled to the table, the blanket clutched tightly at his chest, and stared down at the stack of books. He snorted, hefting the book of stories for boys, and set it aside. The second book was a treatise on agricultural methods, and Roy paused before setting it aside as well. The third was a textbook for repairing farm equipment, and the fourth was on biological adaptations for plants. Roy raised his eyebrows at the stack; clearly someone was a farmer.

Well, he thought, it's been a few years since I've paid attention to the seasons. Deciding a trip into memories might not be as bad, now that he had age and distance—and failing to find any interest in short stories with horrendous platitudes concluding each—he picked up the book on agricultural methods, and made his way back to the bed.

The light through the little window was growing dim when dinner arrived, with a blindfolded Edward in tow. Roy had hung the lamp on the hook Edward had transmuted, and it was the perfect height to shine over his shoulder while he read. He'd sat up, preferring to keep his face towards the door, and propped his pillow behind him for a cushion. He glanced up from the book, a finger to keep his place between the pages, and watched silently as Kelly set down a tray while Franco removed the shackles and blindfold from Edward. It only took a minute, and the two were gone.

Edward didn't say anything for a long moment after the door shut behind him, his face lowered, and then he turned, stumbling towards the second cot. Landing heavily on it, face down, he was still for a moment. Roy waited, but Edward only sighed, and toed his boots off, twisting in place to face the wall. Gradually he curled up into a ball, and soon the soft sounds of his breathing evened into an exhausted sleep.

Roy frowned, more than a little worried, and looked over at the tray. Pondering the situation, he carefully turned down the edge of the page and set the book aside. Getting up was easier when he was sitting up already, and he decided to leave the blanket on the bed, rather than juggle too much at once.

Perusing the dinner, he picked up a bowl of soup and a spoon. He tucked the two rolls into the crook of his arm, and slowly made his way over to Edward's cot. Setting everything down on the floor as quietly as possible, he then brought the stool over, and settled down.

"Fullmetal," Roy whispered. "Wake up, eat something, and then you can sleep."

An unintelligible moan came from the figure on the bed, and Roy sighed.

"Come on, Fullmetal, if you don't eat..." Roy knew he was wheedling, but didn't care. He wasn't up to badgering Edward, but if the young man had spent all day doing alchemical transmutations, even Edward would be wiped out. He was strong, but he would eventually be worn down if he didn't eat. "...Just eat, then you can sleep."

"Shut up, I'm not hungry," Edward muttered, and curled up tighter.

"Fullmetal," Roy said, a little louder. "I'm not Alphonse."

Edward growled, and his head shifted on the pillow, but then he exhaled deeply and rolled over to face Roy. "Not hungry," he said, his eyes heavy-lidded. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his mouth was a thin line. "Leave it. I'll eat later."

"Now," Roy corrected. "It's right here." He leaned over, lifting the bowl until it was level with Edward's nose. "You need to eat."

Edward sniffed, his nose wrinkled, and he sniffed again. The eyes opened a little wider, seeing the spoon.

"If you don't, I'll spoon feed you," Roy said, flatly.

"Do that, and I'll kick your ass." Edward yawned, closed his eyes, and snuggled farther into the small cot.

"I'd like to see you try." Roy modulated his voice from the calm tone he'd adopted, into something a bit more suitable for parade grounds and underling officers. "Fullmetal, get up, and eat, now."

Edward scowled, then opened his eyes a slit. He stared at the bowl for a long moment, then sat up with a groan. Roy handed him the bowl and the spoon, and dropped both rolls into Edward's lap.

"You're not going to sit there and watch me eat, are you?" Edward hunched over the bowl, stirring it absently as he gave Roy a baleful look.

"Why not? You did it to me, last night," Roy pointed out.

"Damn it, Mustang," Edward said, and thrust the bowl at him. "Stay there. You shouldn't be walking." Edward got up, stalking off and returning a minute later with the second bowl and spoon. Settling down on the cot, he pointed at the bowl in Roy's hands. "You eat, too."

Roy opened his mouth to retort, then closed it with a snap. Deciding to try a different tactic, Roy gave Edward a small smile, and bent his head over his bowl. A second later, something landed in his lap.

"You get bread, too," Edward said, glaring.

"I don't—"

"I've had a long day," Edward practically snarled. "Don't argue with me or I'll transmute you into a coat rack."

Roy blinked, and nodded, hiding his smile behind the spoon. He was tempted to make a comment that he'd be too tall as a coat rack to be of any use to Edward, unless he also transmuted the bed into a step-stool, but Roy decided not to push it. It was more important to find out what Edward had seen, heard, and done, and he wasn't going to get that information if Edward were too busy spitting nails.

The soup was thick, almost a stew, and a little spicy, but excellent. They finished at the same time; Edward startled Roy when he took both empty bowls without comment and carried everything to the table. He
returned with the two cups and the jug of water and stood over Roy with an irritated expression.

"Get back in bed, and lie down. You're putting weight on your feet," and he emphasized by nudging his bare metal foot against Roy's bandaged ankle. "I'm not redoing those bandages again if you mess them up."

"Stop acting like you're—" Maes. Roy's mouth snapped shut, for a heartbeat, before he finished. "—Captain Hawkeye."

Edward's eyes narrowed, but he shrugged, and jerked his head towards Roy's cot. Roy smirked, and stood up, flinching a bit when his full weight came down on his feet. One step and he was on his own bed. Settling himself in with his back against his pillow, he waited while Ed poured water for them both, and set the water jug on the stool between the cots. Roy accepted one of the cups with a nod, and sipped it, his eyes averted, while Edward stripped off his black over-coat, tank top, and jeans. The room was chilly, but it didn't seem to bother Edward, who crawled under the blanket and lay down on the bed, his cheek propped up on one fist.

"They're planning for war," Edward said, flatly. His eyes were focused on the water jug.

Roy murmured his agreement and took another sip of water.

"The Mechanical Alchemist...Hogan..." Edward rolled over on his stomach, crossing his arms over the pillow and resting his chin on his wrist. "She hasn't seen her husband in two months. They've got him, somewhere, here. She told me not to bet on seeing Havoc, either."

"You were able to talk?" Roy calmly finished off his cup of water, and set it on the stool next to the jug.

"Not much." Edward rolled one shoulder, a lazy, tired shrug. "Just quick snatches, here and there. Most of the day I..." He closed his eyes, and was silent for several long moments before he opened them again, turning to set his gaze squarely on Roy. The lamp's golden glow caught Edward's eyes, setting them to bronze. "Today I transmuted nearly one ton of ore—and gunpowder—into bullets...roughly forty thousand rounds of forty-five caliber ammunition."

Roy did the math quickly, and noting Edward's expectant look, spoke his thoughts out loud. "One hundred rounds per soldier, carried in a bandolier. Another hundred issued per soldier, for replacements. Going by military standards, that's enough ammunition for a little less than a battalion."


"Two hundred-forty three soldiers." Roy sighed, and closed his eyes. "Drachma has often produced the ammunitions and weaponry used in resistance movements, like in..." He shifted, and ignored the itchy sensation in his left hand, as he censored his thoughts. "...the past. And there were indications Drachma is involved somehow in this most recent uprising—"

"But if Soswell can produce the ammunition itself, why bother with Drachma? That many people armed, there's no need to deal with smuggling weapons or ammunition across the mountains," Edward whispered. "I saw some of the plans Hogan was consulting, when they let me take a break..."

"And? Did you get a good look?"

"Yeah, but I don't know what I was looking at." Edward scratched the bridge of his nose, and dropped his head on the pillow. "Looked like engines, to me, if I had to guess. But it was strange, all blown up, with arrows and lines..."

Roy nodded, vaguely familiar with the type of engineering drawing, but not sure of the term. "Engines," he muttered. "Transportation." He pondered that for a second, before jumping to a different line of questioning. "How about the guards? Exits? Location?"

"Don't know. We were locked into a windowless room, just us and two guards, and instructions from Kelly." Edward made a face. "Thought I was going to choke to death, when the gunpowder got thick in the air after the first transmutation. I figured out how to do it without stirring it all up, though."

Explosive, too, Roy thought. He risked a look at Edward, but the young man didn't seem aware of the risks, or chose to disregard them.

"I saw the walls, when they took off the blindfold. They're about six feet thick...I could blast through that, but..." He frowned, and laid his head down to stare at the water jug. "I thought I had the route memorized on the way down, but the trip back seemed half the length. It's going to take one or two more trips before I can get out of there, back to here, without getting lost."

"I know the route from here to that large room on the upper floor," Roy said. "Bring me a pen and I'll start a map. We can compare."

Edward raised his head, giving Roy a look, somewhere between bemused and skeptical.

"I'm not using my blood again," Roy retorted, but softened it with a smile. "A pen is good enough. I'm sure you can manage it."

"You mean like this?" Edward rolled over on his side, and clapped his hands together, pressing them down on the water jug. The pottery jug's outline swirled, then reformed, a little smaller, and something rolled off the edge of the stool and onto the floor. Edward leaned over, grabbing the item, and tossed it to Roy. "There. Knock yourself out."

Roy smirked, and studied the pencil. Experimentally, he opened the agriculture text to the back page, and scribbled on the end flap. The graphite was a light gray, but seemed to work reasonably well. Edward got up from his cot, wandering over to the table, but Roy didn't bother to look up, busy idly drawing a series of crossing lines. He was startled by another flash of blue light. He looked up to see Edward standing by the bed, holding out a sheaf of papers.

"That book looked pretty stupid, so might as well put the stuff to better use," Edward said, lifting up the book of boy's stories, which was now half as thick as originally. Roy arched an eyebrow, and took the papers.

"I'll have you know I was saving that book," he informed Edward, who snorted. Roy pulled his legs up, letting them down on either side of the cot so he was straddling it. "It'd make a great fuel if it gets any colder in here."

"For someone with an affinity to fire, you sure seem to get chilled easily," Edward noted. He noted Roy pointing at the end of the cot, and frowned. "What?"

"Sit down," Roy said, catching the annoyed tone just in time, and changing it to more of a request by the last word. "You're awake, now."

"True," Edward replied. He sat down on the cot, facing Roy, pulling his automail leg under him, while his other leg stretched out across the flagstones. Edward watched as Roy spread out four of the pages, drawing a quick series of lines horizontally and vertically. "What are you doing? Thought you were—"

"I am," Roy said, waving his hand at Edward. "Just hold on." He finished the rudimentary graph, and considered it for a second before picking a point in the lower-right corner. "Nine steps in this direction. Then twenty-seven in this direction..." He drew a thicker line, recalling what he'd counted and the turns. Edward stared, his brows lowered, and when Roy got to the point where he'd taken the stairs, Edward stopped him.

"What were the stairs like?"

"Stone," Roy answered. "Wide enough for three people to walk abreast easily, from what I could tell."

"Like the ones I took," Edward said. "But I went down, not up."

"Main stairs, then," Roy guessed, and drew a thick block around the end-point. "Your paths, today?"

Edward rattled off the series of steps and turns he'd counted in the morning, watching intently as Roy sketched them out. His path ended at the same point, where Roy had indicated the stairs would be. Then Edward recounted his return path, starting from the stairs. They stared at the rough map, and Roy chuckled.

"Start and end at the same place," he said, throwing down the pencil. "Looks like your path this afternoon was the direct route, too."

"I can probably expect they'll take a different one each time," Edward mused, turning the papers around as he studied them. He leaned his right elbow on his knee, his fingers against his forehead, and picked up the pencil. He was shading parts of the map, but Roy noticed Edward's right fingers were lightly massaging his forehead, too. "There's a room here, because I bumped the doorframe coming back. And here, there's an office of some sort...Franco stopped and spoke to someone, and I hear a door close right near by."

Roy nodded. "It's a warren, to say the least."

"I didn't see any place in Soswell even half this size," Edward grumbled. "It'd be damn hard to hide a building like this..."

"Unless the majority of it is underground," Roy replied. "We're just barely at ground level, I think."

Edward turned, staring at the window, then hopped up from the bed. In two steps he was leaping up onto the table, glaring at Roy in an almost precautionary manner before pushing the woolen curtain aside and looking out. He remained there for several minutes, craning his neck while he tried to get a good look. Finally he dropped the curtain, frowning thoughtfully as he jumped down from the table and returned to his earlier position at the end of Roy's cot.

"Either it's a cloudy night, so there's no stars, or we're too close to something else and it's blocking the way. I don't see any lights, though, so if it's houses nearby, they don't have windows facing us."

"Could be an alleyway," Roy mused, half to himself. "We get some daylight, but I have yet to hear any noises from outside."

"Don't you dare climb up on that table to look," Edward said, abruptly. "Your injuries aren't up to that."

"I wasn't planning on it," Roy replied, mildly irritated he was that transparent to Edward. Shaking his head at himself, he gathered up the papers and the pencil, and carefully stowed them under the edge of the cot, between the narrow mattress and the wooden frame. "Keep track of your trips, and we'll keep comparing that to the map."

Edward nodded, and leaned forward, rubbing his forehead again. Roy watched, his brows slowly lowering.

"You keep doing that," Roy said, his voice as low and bland as possible. When Edward looked up, startled, Roy pointed vaguely at Edward's raised hand. "Your head..."

"Hurts," Edward said, and shrugged. "Now you made me eat, I'm awake. And my headache's back with a vengeance."

"I can't transmute medicine," Roy replied, hesitantly. He studied Edward, feeling reluctant to say or do anything, but at the same time, letting it go didn't feel right. Edward had spent at least two hours cleaning him up after Creighton's goon. And, Roy suspected, Edward either remained to watch over him, or the drugs had brought on particularly vivid dreams. He hadn't decided yet which he wanted it to be, and he hadn't yet let himself think about it, for that matter. Perhaps Edward, dodging his memories of the fire, was feeling the same. Roy puzzled over that for a second, and set it aside.

"I knew someone who could..." Edward grinned slyly, but the look faded into one of suspicion when Roy raised his right hand and pointed at Edward. "What?"

"Turn around, and scoot closer."

"Why?" Edward leaned back, his eyes narrowing.

"I know how to get rid of your headache," Roy said. When Edward didn't move, Roy dropped his hand, trying to keep his expression impassive but feeling like an idiot. Edward was still waiting, his hands braced by his thighs, as though ready to jump backwards. Roy stared down at his hands. "When I was studying for my National Alchemists' exam, I would get the worst headaches...Hughes always..." He shrugged, and smiled, still not looking up. "No offense meant, Fullmetal. Go to bed. Try to get some sleep."

Roy kept his head down, waiting for the creak and shift of the bed to tell him Edward had risen. It came, but it was accompanied by a peculiar rustling sound, and Roy glanced up, puzzled. Edward had turned around, and was cautiously moving backwards towards him, pausing, as though waiting, and then moving back an inch or two farther. Edward's shoulders were a rigid line.

And to think that once, Roy told himself, I would have assumed that tension was because Edward would never
willingly turn his back on me.

But something had changed in the past few days, and Roy was almost certain that such a joke would not be taken well. He kept
his hands down, watching through lowered eyes as Edward continued to gradually move backwards until his hip touched Roy's thigh;
Edward froze, almost shying away from the contact. Roy didn't move, unwilling to startle Edward further. After a moment, Edward
exhaled, and leaned backwards, just a little.

Roy raised his right hand, wincing at the pull on the burns and bruises, and took a deep breath to let the pain subside. Making as much noise as possible to warn Edward, he placed his hand across the back of Edward's neck. The young man flinched away from the touch, and Roy moved with it, letting his hand rest gently on the nape of Edward's neck. Another heartbeat, and Edward shifted minutely backwards, unconsciously indicating his permission.

Thumb and forefinger, pressing lightly, then harder, on either side of the spine. It wasn't easy with only one hand, and Roy had to twist a little. Putting his weight on his toes, he started to move sideways, then thought better of it.

"Turn," he whispered to Edward, who tensed, then nodded, shifting sideways on the bed under pressure of Roy's fingers on his right shoulder, just above the automail. When he'd moved far enough, Roy squeezed, and Edward froze again, turning his head away. Roy gently lifted the braid, nudging it with his knuckles until it was pushed over Edward's shoulder, and began again.

Now that Edward was sitting at more of an angle, Roy could get a better grasp without stretching his injured arm too far. He began at the base of Edward's neck, keeping the touch light, but soon had to press harder as it became clear that Edward's muscles were knotted solid with tension and exhaustion. His thumb and forefinger moved up the side of Edward's neck, bit by bit, kneading and manipulating the muscles underneath, until Roy's palm was flat against the nape of Edward's neck while he massaged behind Edward's ears.

A soft sound caught Roy off-guard, and he barely kept his hand steady, the movement unbroken, as the sound came again. Edward's head was drooping, and Roy held his breath, leaning forward to look. The young man's eyes were almost completely closed, his face slack, and there...the sound came again...and Roy sat back, unable to hide a smug smile.

Edward Elric was whimpering.

Granted, it had a quality that made Roy suspect Edward was still aware enough to try and swallow the inadvertent sound, but it was definitely on the pleasure end of the spectrum. Roy decided to ignore it, and continue. The priority was to get rid of Edward's headache, he told himself sternly. The purpose...well, that, he knew, was less because he particularly liked stretching his injured arm, and more because he owed it to Edward.

Equivalent trade, he told himself. It was irrelevant whether Edward's assistance was in return for Roy's actions at the guest quarters in Soswell, as far as Roy was concerned. That, Roy knew, he would have done—and did—with no expectation of a return. But he wasn't going to let Edward's actions go by without doing his best to provide a return, if possible. He couldn't see that Edward would respect anything less.

Roy moved his hand, sliding his palm across Edward's neck, and wrapped his hand around the left shoulder. Pressing with all four fingers in rapid succession, he could feel the muscles bunch and separate as his fingers played across the skin like practicing scales. Edward's head lolled to the side, an obvious invitation, and once again Roy had to hope Edward wouldn't turn around and see his smug expression as he continued the varying pressure from the top of the arm, across the shoulder, and up to Edward's neck.

He wondered if Hughes had had the same pleased expression, those times he'd managed to send Roy straight to sleep on his books. Roy recalled doing his best to remain stiff and unyielding under Hughes' insistent fingers, but he never managed for longer than a few minutes before he was pleasantly drifting. Roy studied the relaxed curve of Edward's left shoulder, and nodded mentally.

Pliable, he thought. Yeah, that about sums it up—perhaps this was the day to be marked down as a national holiday. On this day, Edward Elric was momentarily pliable.

Roy doubted it'd last, but he kept going. After all, Edward hadn't stopped at Roy's protests when bandaging him, and Edward certainly wasn't protesting now.

He did another finger-trill along Edward's skin, checking whether the muscles had loosened to his satisfaction, and moved his hand to Edward's right shoulder. His fingers came down on the scars by the automail port, and Edward's body suddenly flinched. Roy noted that Edward leaned sideways, not forward, however, and waited. The exhalation wouldn't have been noticeable by anyone not touching Edward, and Roy took the slight shift back upright as a sign he had permission to continue.

The muscles were hard as a rock, and Roy raised his eyebrows at the unbelievable number of knots. Hughes had always complained bitterly, afterwards, how much his hands hurt, but it had never stopped him from offering—and insisting—when Roy had hit his limit while studying. But then, Roy mused, only Hughes had been able to tell when that was, and Hughes was the only person who'd ever called him on it. Roy's eyes closed halfway, losing himself in memories, as his fingers worked and pressed and prodded at the knots along Edward's right shoulder, and back up his neck.

When the muscles were suitably hammered into relaxation, Roy pressed his palm against the back of Edward's neck, and stared at the braid laying across his fingers. He felt a stab go through his heart, knowing that he'd never offered to return the favor for Hughes, but he wasn't sure whether Hughes would have allowed it. But then, he knew, that was one way in which he and his best friend had been so much alike: what they would do for another, they wouldn't always accept for themselves. Perhaps it was simply a matter of doing without asking. Words would break the balance.

He stretched his fingers, lifting the braid and letting it fall across the back of his hand. Tugging at the tie, he combed the braid out. The golden strands fell, draping across Edward's back. Edward shifted, uncomfortably, and Roy made a shushing sound. Edward stilled, and Roy smiled to himself. Definitely pliable, and trusting, and Roy didn't plan on betraying that.

Roy ran his fingers up across Edward's scalp, and began scratching lightly. This time, the happy sound was more audible, if sleepy. Roy grinned outright, and scratched a little more vigorously. Edward's head tilted under his fingertips, leaning into his hand, turning to wordlessly guide Roy's fingers to a particularly good spot. Roy was quick to pick up the cue, and spent several minutes concentrating on the area behind Edward's ears, then up to the top of Edward's head. He ran his fingers through Edward's unkempt bangs, massaging and scratching alternately, his eyebrows raised in delighted shock at the fact that Edward's head had fallen back to give Roy better access.

"Mm," Edward said, almost more of a breath.

"Headache better?" Roy's question was a whisper, reluctant to break the spell.

"What headache..." Edward sighed, and turned his head again, so Roy could scratch behind his other ear.

That headache, Roy thought, and chuckled silently. Testing, he paused, letting his fingers grow still, tangled in Edward's hair, and Edward made an annoyed sound in the back of his throat. Roy almost laughed out loud, but settled for smirking.

"Bet you do this to all the girls," Edward murmured in a cranky tone of voice, as though he were still putting up a fight. His body language—the lines languid, the turn of the head, the hands lax at his sides—were a dead giveaway the words were for show.

"Actually, no," Roy said. Actually, never, he amended, but didn't say it. Edward made a skeptical sound, and Roy chose his words carefully. "My...mother used to do this, when I couldn't sleep." And Hughes, but he couldn't say that out loud.

"Mm," Edward mumbled, but it seemed as though Roy's answers had been acceptable. When he turned his head to allow Roy at the pleasure spot behind his left ear, Roy could see that Edward's eyes were closed, a dreamy smile on his lips.

Roy suddenly felt like ten fires, twenty lives, wouldn't be enough to repay the unexpected pleasure of seeing that small, private, unselfconscious smile on Edward's face. That alone, he knew, was payment in kind, with interest beyond anything Roy would ever deserve.

The realization made his heart ache, and he gradually let his fingers grow still. He fully expected Edward to take advantage of the implied dismissal. Instead, Edward made the most peculiar growl in the back of his throat and leaned backwards, turning his head as though searching out Roy's fingers. Roy blinked, and couldn't even find the wherewithal to smirk, too shocked by Edward's response. Suddenly nervous, he massaged lightly, then harder as Edward leaned into the touch. Roy sighed, relaxing as well, and even the twinges in his shoulder couldn't stop him from enjoying it as long as possible.

After a few more minutes, though, Roy's shoulder and arm were aching enough that he had to lower his hand. Edward didn't react, his head hanging forward, and Roy frowned, watching the even rise and fall of Edward's chest. His eyebrows shot up, and he shifted on the cot, moving sideways gingerly, far enough to see Edward's face. The bronze lashes were laying on Edward's cheeks, the mouth open in a small 'o', and that soft purring snore greeted Roy's ears.

Roy sighed. He wanted Edward to get rest, but not on his bed, damn it. He needed rest, too. Roy chewed his lower lip, contemplating the arrangements. Moving as slowly as possible, even holding his breath, he stood up, pausing to let the pain from his foot arc and subside before he lifted himself from the bed, raising his other leg over the cot without bumping Edward. The young man swayed, murmuring something under his breath, and Roy quickly put his hand on Edward's head, scratching lightly. Edward sighed, and relaxed into sleep again, and Roy gently laid him down, pulling the pillow down from its position as back rest.

Snagging the blanket, he laid it over Edward, who mumbled something into the pillow and was quiet again. Roy shook his head at the sleeping figure, smiled, and blew out the lamp.