sol 1056

The Shadow of Desire

chapter 9. resolved
part 1 of The Contraries Arc

The cut worm forgives the plow.—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Shortly before dawn, Roy woke, and wondered what in his dreams had kicked him back out into the world of cold and damp. He cracked his eyes open in time to see Edward rolling over on his cot to face Roy, but Edward's expression was masked by the shadows of the dim light through the window. He seemed to be sleeping, and Roy didn't move. He was too unsure how Edward would act, when he woke up. It was enough, Roy figured, that Edward had allowed the comfort. He wasn't sure how Edward would handle the recollection of his vulnerability—or the fact that he'd clearly communicated wanting that comfort. Roy fully expected Edward to deny the event had ever occurred, perhaps with a cold shoulder to reinforce the distance between them.

Roy wondered if Edward really did remember more of the fire, and chose to deal with those memories in the same way. It was cold comfort that Roy knew he would have done the same, were the positions reversed.

When the soft tapping came at the door, a few minutes later, Roy remained where he was, eyes just barely open under his lashes, and continued to feign sleep. Edward sat up with a growl on the other cot, yawning widely, and glared at the door. The door swung open with a whoosh, and Edward greeted the person with a wry shrug.

"Five minutes," Edward whispered. "I'll knock when I'm ready."

The door swung shut, and Edward sighed, running a hand through his hair absently as he slouched, staring down at his lap. Then he sat up, stretched widely, and leaned over to light the lamp. Perching on the edge of the cot, he finger-combed his hair. Braiding it as neatly as he could manage, he wriggled around on the bed, holding the braid with one hand while he searched for the hair-tie. Finding it under the covers, he tied off the end of the braid and threw it over his shoulder, then climbed off the low cot.

Roy let his eyes close the rest of the way as Edward neared, picking up his jeans, then his tank top and jacket. Socks were next, Roy guessed, from the sounds of Edward sitting back down on the cot, then the clunk of boots dragged closer, and the whish of cotton against the leather. Roy dared to open his eyes again, startled to see Edward staring at him, a pensive look on the young man's face. Edward's eyes were narrowed. For a second, Roy thought he'd been found out. He fully expected Edward to go into a rant, or to make some comment, but Edward didn't move, only stared.

Then Edward sighed deeply, lowering his head for another long minute before standing. Turning, he bent over the bed, then turned back towards Roy, who let his eyes close fully again. Two heavy footfalls, and Edward was standing over Roy; the heat of his legs was right by Roy's hand, which was hanging off the edge of the cot.

Roy nearly gave himself away by twitching in shock at the sound of a sharp snap. Something heavy landed across him, falling in graceful weight across his body, and the warmth of a blanket recently wrapped around another body. Light fingers straightened the blanket here and there, running up Roy's back to tuck the blanket gently in around his face, even pulling an edge up higher to cover his exposed ear.

He could feel Edward leaning over him; the warmth of Edward's left hand hovering close, and Roy had to concentrate to keep his breathing steady. He couldn't hide the reflexive movement, though, when fingers brushed through his hair, pushing the tangled strands out of his face. Roy covered by mumbling something, and the fingers withdrew for a second. Roy relaxed his body, appearing to fall back into sleep, and to his amazement, the fingers returned. They caught the last thick strand and pushed it out of Roy's face, then smoothed the blanket down one more time.

The footsteps moved away from the bed, then the lamp dimmed. The footsteps heading towards the door were lighter, as though Edward were trying to keep from waking Roy. The tapping was almost inaudible, followed by the whoosh of wood against stone when the door opened and closed. There was a click of the lock falling into place, and Roy was alone in the room.

After several heartbeats, Roy's left hand came up from under the blankets. With the bandages going up to his fingertips, he couldn't quite feel, but somehow that made it feel all the more like someone else's fingers, brushing his forehead. Both astonished and...relieved, he thought, but no, that wasn't the right word; perhaps comforted? Roy mimicked Edward's unexpected gesture, unable to figure out his reaction. Sighing, he dropped his hand, and drifted back into true sleep.

Erin arrived with breakfast several hours after Edward left, reapplied the salve, rebandaged all the burns and cuts, and left. By lunch, Roy decided the chances were good that Creighton had figured out being stuck in a small room with a pile of books on farming was a form of torture that required far less effort on Creighton's part.

Roy intermittently read and slept until lunch, which arrived with more books. He reviewed the titles, mildly amused, and was soon lost in reminiscing of riding the oxen with Cody while their father steered the plow. The memories didn't ache like they once had, nor did they inspire him to move farther away, as if fleeing the dirt under his fingernails, the smell of fresh hay in his boots. Years of living in the city, answering to the military, and he still knew the right time to plant, and whether the summer would be harsh, based on the winter's patterns.

He was surprised when someone knocked; unaware that dinnertime had arrived so soon. Roy put down the book expectantly, noting the fading light in the window, and realized he should light the lamp. The door swung open, and Roy carefully got up from the bed to greet Erin or Kelly.

It wasn't someone he recognized.

Franco was in the doorway, and a second man was pushing through, broad-shouldered, and with black curly hair chopped short. The man's teeth were as crooked as Franco's, and he cracked his knuckles. That was all the warning Roy got.

The man landed one punch in Roy's gut, and Roy doubled over, the breath knocked out of him. A second punch caught him on the jaw, and he came upright, turning his head with the blow. It didn't help. A second punch to his stomach bent him over again, and Roy's legs gave out as his back and shoulder protested the abrupt movements. The man back-fisted him across the cheek. Roy twisted as he fell, his arms wrapped around his stomach. The man's weight shifted, and Roy knew another punch was coming. He stayed on his knees, but put out his right hand, reaching for the array under the bed.

"Chervaise, enough," Franco hollered. "Don't fuckin' kill him, you sadist."

The man standing over Roy just laughed, a coarse sound, and kicked Roy in the ribs. Roy fell backwards, slamming into the wall, but closed his throat against the cry trying to force itself out. He raised his right hand again, but the shadow over him was gone. The door slammed, and Roy was left alone in the room.

It took Roy probably ten minutes, perhaps more—he wasn't sure—before he could move onto the bed. His ribs ached, and his knees were bruised, but he gritted his teeth and arranged himself on the bed as he had been before Franco and Chervaise had paid their visit. When Erin opened the door, Roy was again buried in the book on modern farming practices.

"I brought dinner," Erin said, quietly. "And ice. Here." He held out a bowl, which had a towel and several handfuls of ice. Roy took the towel-wrapped ice and placed it against his left cheek, flinching at the cold. Erin sighed and put the tray down on the table. "Figures I'd find you sitting there like nothing happened."

Roy arched a single eyebrow in response.

"Not saying I'm figuring you out," Erin said, pulling the stool over to the left side of the cot. He took Roy's hand, and began to unwrap it, checking the burns for their progress healing. "Just that between you and me, I don't think you're quite as helpless as you pretend."

"Mm." Roy shifted the ice against his cheek.

"You wouldn't have to go through this if Fullmetal would just do as he's asked," Erin said, and he made a frustrated sound before wrapping Roy's hand again. "Everything's healing nicely. Another two or three days, and you should have better mobility. But that stubborn Alchemist pulls a stunt like that..."

Roy glared, and Erin didn't continue. Instead, the young man checked the rest of the bandages in silence, and then brought the tray over to the cot. He paused, his fingers twitching nervously as if he were considering saying something. Instead he sighed and left.

Fuck, Roy thought. He set down the ice pack, and raised his right hand in front of his face. He snapped his fingers, once, and dropped the hand with a sigh.

I could have done it, easily, he told himself. The array had been well within reach, and he wasn't so beaten down he couldn't muster the strength to energize an array, not when the action was second nature to him. It would have required little effort, but he'd hesitated. Roy tried to assure himself it was because he did want to find out who was running the operation, rather than just pull the building down on their heads and deal with the consequences later. He couldn't lie, however, as much as it might make things easier. He'd hesitated because he wasn't willing to force his way to freedom without warning Edward. And Havoc, he added, frowning. They still didn't know where Havoc was.

Roy picked up the ice pack, and set it against his cheek.

The real question was whether Edward had discovered anything in his second day of transmutations for Creighton. If he hadn't, Roy was going to lay down the line. The longer they stayed, the worse things would get. Edward simply wasn't cut out for the kind of duplicity such infiltration would require. Letting him stay—or worse, forcing him to stay—would only undermine their purpose, and Edward's self-respect, in the end.

Edward didn't return until it was dark; an hour or two after sundown by Roy's guess. Roy had the lamp lit, and Edward's share of dinner waiting on the table. The last of the day's books was in Roy's hand, and he was on his own cot across from the door to be ready for any unexpected visitors. He heard the click of the lock, and lowered the book, not entirely surprised to see Edward thrashing against the shackles, a running streak of curses rolling from his lips. Franco was undoing the shackles while Kelly waited with the door keys; when Franco yanked off the blindfold, Edward scowled and tore away from them, into the room. The door swung shut behind him as he launched himself at Roy's cot.

"Mustang," Edward said, breathlessly. He landed on the edge of the cot by Roy's side, and didn't even seem to notice Roy's amused look. Edward's automail hand brushed Roy's bruised cheek, the metal cool on Roy's skin. "Fucking bastards," Edward muttered, and dropped his hand. He turned his back on Roy, perched on the edge of the cot, then slowly slid off it, sinking down to the ground. "I thought I'd gotten away with it, and then Creighton walked in, and—"

"It's nothing, Edward."

Edward halted, and Roy realized what he'd said. Edward twisted in place to look up at Roy, who stared back, challenging Edward to call him on the slip.

"It's not nothing...Mustang," Edward said, very softly. "I got caught, and you paid for it. I was testing them, but I didn't expect—" He bowed his head, and his braid fell forward to thump against his collarbone. "I'm sorry."

"No need for apologies." Roy resisted the urge to put a hand on Edward's shoulder. He wasn't sure how Edward would react, and he wasn't up to defending himself if Edward went on the defensive. It was different when Edward had been younger; now, Roy told himself, there was no need to grasp Edward by the shoulder, grip hard, and speak words that would cut the boy to the bone and motivate him to act, not regret.

"Mustang," Edward said, and shook his head. "When..." He didn't finish, and his head hung low for several seconds before he stirred, his tone distant, more businesslike. "Took a different route today. Map."

Roy nodded and set his book aside, leaning over to dig under the mattress on the side opposite Edward. The twist sideways put stress on his bruised ribs.

"Stop," Edward said, abruptly. He'd put his hand on Roy's left arm, halting Roy's movement. His voice was low, and dangerous. "There's more?"

"Depends on who's asking," Roy replied in a flat tone. He continued digging under the edge of the cot.

"It's me, you bastard." Edward snorted, and knocked Roy's hand out of the way. He sprawled over the cot, lying across Roy's legs to wend his hand between the cot and the frame, grunting as he pulled out the map and pencil. Edward sat back up, riffling through the papers, and shifted absentmindedly when Roy made a face and tried to free his pinned leg. Edward stood up, his gaze still fixed on the map. Roy sat up straighter, straddling the cot just in time when Edward sat back down cross-legged on the other end of the cot.

"Just make yourself at home, Fullmetal," Roy grumbled under his breath.

"No problem, Flame," Edward replied without missing a beat. He spread the papers out on the bed between them and made a show of reviewing the map before fixing Roy with a piercing look. "I transmuted the gunpowder to flour." He picked up the pencil, twirling it between his fingers. "I think I got one batch past them before they tested it." He leaned over, and began drawing his morning route from their room to the stairs. "Creighton came in, and gave me a choice. Havoc, or you." The line crossed Roy's path twice, and followed Edward's first trail for several lengths. "He didn't say what they'd do, but Hogan was practically begging them not to, and I... " Edward sketched in his return path, and studied the results. "I thought..." He ducked his head, his fingers squeezing the pencil tightly. His hand was shaking.

"Fullmetal," Roy murmured. He looked over the map, committing it to memory, and put his attention squarely back on Edward. "You have to get out."

"Not until we find Havoc," Edward replied, his head still down. The pencil creaked in his left hand, and Roy reached forward, tugging it out of Edward's grip. "If I get out now, then—"

"It's one of the risks," Mustang agreed. He didn't feel quite so certain or calm on the inside, but he hadn't made it to Brigadier General by showing his hand at the onset of a game. "You're capable, you have the ability to get out, and you're not injured."

"You'll be better in a few days—"

"And it's not in your nature to lay low and make weapons of war while you wait for me to recuperate," Mustang pointed out.

"Hell, normally I wouldn't waste any time waiting for you at all," Edward cracked, raising his head as he took the pencil back. He didn't hold Roy's eyes for very long, lowering his lashes to stare at the map again as he doodled an array on the corner. "Recognize this?"

"Looks like the beginnings of a transmutation array, for chimera," Roy said, frowning.

"It's one Hogan's been working with. I think...I think there are animal parts in the mechanical equipment she's building." Edward's grip on the pencil was white-knuckled. "I haven't seen any animals, but I heard dogs barking on my—" The pencil cracked, and Edward was silent, but his shoulders heaved for several heartbeats.

"Tomorrow, Fullmetal. You get out. Leave Havoc to me."

"Bullshit, General," Edward shot back. "You'll be lucky to walk ten feet." He pointed at Roy's chest, where dark bruises had formed since Chervaise's visit. "And I bet one punch and you'd be on your knees. A week."

"Tomorrow." Roy arched an eyebrow, and Edward glared at him.

"A week. I'll figure out out where Havoc and Hogan's family are by then." His eyes narrowed, calculating. "And I won't get caught again, either."

"Tomorrow," Roy answered. "Go now, while you can."

"That's putting four lives in on the line—five if they count Hogan." Edward's tone was intractable.

"Consider it a direct order, Fullmetal."

"You can shove your direct orders, General!" Edward exploded upwards, throwing himself off the cot. "There's no way I'm—"

It was time to stop pulling the punches, Roy decided. He made his voice flat, and cold, and kept it low enough that their guard wouldn't hear his half. "You made enough bullets yesterday to kill forty thousand people." Edward flinched, but Roy kept going. "Between that and the five of us, the balance is clear."

"Bastard! Don't you dare use that argument on me!" Edward raged, his arms tensed, his body vibrating from the fury visible in every tense muscle. "I'm not going to—"

The door flew open, banging against the wall; Roy shifted his leg in time to cover the rudimenatry map.
Franco stood in the doorway. "What's going on in here?"

"He won't drink his milk," Roy answered, calmly.

Edward's mouth fell open. He goggled at Roy.

"You don't like milk?" Franco looked Edward up and down.

Edward glared.

"Hunh." Franco shrugged. "That would explain why you're so—"

"DON'T SAY IT!" Edward shouted at the top of his lungs. "I get enough crap from that smirking, sarcastic asshole, I do NOT need it from YOU!"

The door slammed shut, and the only reply from Franco was the sound of the bolt being driven home. Edward stared for a minute, then sank down on the end of Roy's cot. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

"Mustang," Edward said, very quietly, then paused, and his voice dropped even lower. "Roy...I won't leave without bringing all of you with me. And on my way out, I'll destroy all that ammunition. I'm not going to let more people die, and I'm not going to let another war start."

Roy nodded, slowly, caught off-guard by the sudden intimacy of hearing Edward say his given name. It bespoke volumes, but reminded him of Hughes, too. They rarely called each other by first names, and when they did, it meant something. From Edward's exhausted stance and level voice, it meant the same thing here.

      We are equals. Listen to me.

"Understood," Roy murmured, just as softly. We are. I am.

"When we do this, I'll get Havoc and meet up with you." Edward slouched, resting his chin on his left fist, as his right fist massaged the back of his neck. "I also need to find out where they're keeping Hogan's family."

"You need to find a way to talk to Hogan—"

"I told you, those guards—"

"—Won't know alchemy," Roy finished for Edward. "She's military," he added. Edward was giving him a puzzled look, and Roy sighed. Taking the broken pencil, he sketched several array components, the kind any beginner learns. "This means help, this means left, this means right. This one is for safety, this for danger, this for ally."

Edward snorted. "Those show up in every array."

"Use them on their own," Roy said, exasperated, but he let Edward stare at the arrays for several seconds.

"The guards know I don't need an array," Edward pointed out, rubbing his forehead. He winced as he bumped against the fading bruise on his temple.

"I'm sure you'll think of something," Roy replied, with a smirk. He gathered up the papers and the broken pencil ends. Edward took them, leaning over and tucking them away under the cot. "Dinner, Fullmetal," Roy said, jerking his head towards the table. "And yes, I ate already."

Edward mumbled something and stood up. He pulled off his jacket and threw it across the room, aiming for his cot but missing. He headed to the table, where he wolfed down the dinner Erin had left. He didn't even bother to sit down, but ate the soup standing up, the bowl's lip to his mouth.

Dropping the bowl, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and ignored the cup of milk sitting by the bowl. He returned to sit on the end of Roy's cot. Roy eyed Edward's movement, his expression impassive to cover his worry. Edward's entire body radiated exhaustion, and he was rubbing his forehead again.

"Hogan won't talk much," Edward whispered, dropping his hand. "I think she's really scared, and...I mean...two months..." He shook his head, and turned away from Roy, facing the door.

Roy frowned, mildly puzzled by Edward's curious shift on the end of the cot. Edward shifted again, just a little, and Roy had to swallow his smile. "Headache?" He didn't use Edward's title or name, uncertain which was appropriate in this situation.

Edward shrugged nonchalantly, but nodded a little at the same time.

"Move closer," Roy coaxed, his voice low. Edward's shoulders went stiff, then he gradually moved a foot closer to Roy's end of the cot.

"It's not that bad." Edward bristled, but his words didn't carry a great deal of conviction.

"I'm sure," Roy soothed. "Your choice." He kept his hands in his lap, loose, relaxed, his feet planted squarely on either side of the cot.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Edward said, but a heartbeat later he scooted a little closer to Roy. "Can I...ask you a question?"

Roy leaned back against the pillow, pleased that he could do so with less pain than the day before. "Depends. What's the question?"

"How..." Edward scuffed a foot against the floor, then toed off his boots, letting each drop with a thump. He slanted a quick look at Roy, pensive. "How did you meet Lieutenant Colonel Hughes?"

"He wasn't a Lieutenant Colonel when I met him," Roy said, bemused at both the question and the fact that Edward had just moved several inches farther along the bed under the pretense of picking up his boots and throwing them at the ground by the other cot. "He was a scrawny fourteen year old." Roy snorted. "A very pissed-off scrawny fourteen-year old."

"What did you do? Steal his girlfriend?" Edward smirked sideways.

"Ah..." Roy returned the look, but it was tempered with a wry tone. "Not really. She just had a crush on me. To be fair, I was utterly ignorant of it."

Edward made a skeptical sound...and moved a few inches more. He was almost within arm's reach, and had turned a little away from Roy, angled like he'd been the night before.

"Hughes didn't believe me, either," Roy muttered, somewhere between embarrassed at how ignorant he'd been at fourteen, and charmed by the memories of his first showdown with Hughes. "He was quite indignant. And he had a mean right hook, even then."

"He beat you up?" Edward's hand flew up and then dropped just as quickly. It seemed he was shocked at his own question, but trying to cover.

"No, just one punch..." But that's all it ever took, he added mentally. Roy shrugged, a rolling motion with his good shoulder, and smiled into the room's dim light, remembering other arguments. "That girl was brainless, anyway. I think he decided I was more fun to torment...and I never managed to get rid of him, after that."

"You were friends for a long time," Edward mused, and shifted one last time until his hips were resting against Roy's thigh.

"Friends would be pushing it, sometimes," Roy grumbled, and put his hand on Edward's neck, rubbing lightly. The flinch was barely perceptible, but still there. Roy sighed, feeling the shiver under Edward's skin, and continued to press his fingers into the knotted muscles. "Hughes and his damn photographs. Before Alicia, it was Gracia. Before Gracia, it was motorcycles. Before that, he had no camera, so he constantly taunted me with trading cards." Roy hunched his shoulders involuntarily, remembering his envy over his friend's collection, when his family didn't have money for such unessential things. A thumb, pressing hard against the side of Edward's neck, wrung a soft moan, and Roy smiled, both at the past and present. "Hughes could go on about his favorite athletes for hours."

Edward chuckled. "I bet. He did tend to..." He halted, and threw a pained look along his shoulder at Roy. "Ah...sorry. Guess it's maybe not the best—"

"No, it's fine," Roy said, and realized it really was. He moved his hands to Edward's left shoulder, massaging firmly. "I still miss him. He was..." So many things, Roy finished, silently. He settled for letting his words trail off, hoping the younger man understood.

"Ah." Edward nodded, just once, and startled Roy with a sharp smile, that teasing smirk he often saw in his mirror. Roy snorted mentally, wondering if Edward was born with that skill, or it was one more bad habit he'd picked up under Roy's command. Edward arched an eyebrow, and Roy steered Edward's head straight, so the muscles weren't twisted while Roy massaged. Edward chuckled, looking at Roy out of the corner of his eye. "So you didn't start on your infamous reputation until you were fifteen?"

Roy raised his eyebrows, amused. "What is this, your idea of interrogation?"

"I figured out the floor plan," Edward protested.

"So now I have to sing for my supper?"

"Can you?" Edward twisted in his spot, his eyes went wide.

"Not if you put the damn tune in a bucket," Roy retorted, and was pleased to see Edward grin outright even as Roy pushed his jaw to face forward again, until Roy could only see Edward's profile. "No," he continued, impulsively moving back to Edward's question. Idly he rubbed Edward's left shoulder, enjoying the sight of Edward's lids growing heavy with pleasure. "I didn't realize girls existed until...seventeen, I guess. And then, when I was eighteen..." He sighed, remembering the war, and the wars after that... "I was busy."

"Busy like you are, now," Edward said, but his tone was a little too sharp to be completely innocent.

Roy grunted. "Perhaps."

"Why?" Edward couldn't see Roy's glare, but he tilted his head as Roy's fingers began to scratch at the base of his neck. "That's what started this whole thing, y'know. You...and the girls...doing that whole..." Edward waved one hand, vaguely.

"Boredom," Roy said, almost as surprised at the word as Edward appeared to be. "I know what they'll say, and do, and it's all the same," he explained, in a dull voice. "It gets old. It got old."

"Maybe you didn't find the right person," Edward suggested, tentatively.

"That's what Hughes always said," Roy answered, undoing the braid and combing it out with his fingers. He mimicked his old friend, "and find a wife! That's what you need, Roy!"

Edward laughed, and snagged the hair-tie, sticking it in his pocket.

"Find a wife," Roy repeated, in a lower tone. "I don't want a wife."

"Why not?" Edward leaned his head back so Roy could scratch the top of his head, and stared up at the ceiling. "Someone to keep you company, someone to—"

"—To do a lot of things, but none of them will include who I am...what I've done," Roy interrupted. "I don't have the time to explain everything to someone. And ignorance would only endanger them."

"Yeah." Edward's response startled Roy, and the silence was only broken by Edward's unintelligible murmurs as Roy scratched him behind the ears. "Winly..." He shifted, pulling away from Roy's hand, then leaned back again, as if too tired to move. "Y'know, Al was supposed to come along with me. I'm not sure if I'm glad that he didn't."

Roy pondered that non-sequitor, and waited.

"I could never talk to Winly," Edward mumbled, his eyes sinking closed as Roy continued to scratch, running rough fingers through Edward's hair. "Mm...right there," Edward whispered, tilting his head a little when Roy ran a finger along the curve of bone behind Edward's ear. "I mean...even all started, I couldn't. I wanted her there, and I wanted her far away at the same time." He sighed, tilting his head forward until his chin was on his chest, while Roy rubbed at the base of his neck, thumb and forefinger stretching to press gently against the concave spots beneath his ears.

Roy made an agreeing sound, knowing what Edward meant, but preferring to let Edward talk if he were willing. It seemed as though there were something else, running beneath Edward's words, beneath his skin, and Roy couldn't put his finger on it, for all he massaged and pressed and prodded. All I've done for years, he thought, mildly amused by the analogy.

"I feel..." Edward sighed, his shoulders relaxing as Roy ran his hand along Edward's shoulder, his hands snagging on the black tank top. "All that hell...and I'm supposed to be happy now."

"Lose this," Roy murmured. Edward nodded automatically, his hands coming up and stripping the tank top in one smooth gesture. The shirt landed on the floor by Edward's cot, and Roy pushed at Edward's neck until the young man was bent over, his forehead against his knees. Roy leaned forward, working his fingers up the length of Edward's spine.

"I'm not," Edward continued, his voice muffled against the fabric of his jeans. "I feel I'm just filling time. Passing the days. I should be happy..."

"Mm," Roy said again, because it seemed Edward needed to hear something, to know someone was listening. At the same time, Edward didn't seem to register Roy was there. It was as though he were speaking out loud, and Roy wondered where in their balance were the rules for this kind of pretence. Probably, he mused, under the same heading as those covering the question of saving one's long-standing staff member, or bathing the blood off one's commanding officer.

"Everyone seems to think I should be..."

Edward moaned, abruptly, when Roy's fingers prodded a spot in the middle of his back. He didn't speak again, and Roy flexed his left hand, deciding to go for it. Shifting a bit on the bed, he placed his left hand beside Edward's spine, mirroring the action with his good hand. Pressing the balls of his hands down firmly, he worked his way up Edward's spine, then ran his fingertips down the outside of Edward's back, and pushed his way up again.

When Roy let his left hand drop back into his lap, the pain beyond what he could manage without panting, Edward was sound asleep. Roy sighed, his right hand splayed on the small of Edward's back, and contemplated how to move Edward this time.

Next time, Roy promised himself, I offer a cure for headaches while sitting on Edward's cot, not mine. He disengaged himself, climbing out from behind Edward. Once again Roy found himself cautiously uncurling Edward to lie him down, pillow under his head. Roy ran his fingers through Edward's hair, brushing it out of his face, and smiled at the memory of fingers running across his own brow in the pre-dawn light. Then he blew out the lamp, and laid down on the other cot. He was asleep within minutes.