sol 1056

The Shadow of Desire

chapter 10. pensive
part 1 of The Contraries Arc

A dead body revenges not injuries.—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Roy was awake before Edward, again, but fell back into sleep when the knock came. His guard was fading, and even half-asleep he doubted it was because he'd grown accustomed to the routine. The only possible explanation was that Edward's presence was becoming less intrusive, and more part of Roy's environment. The idea amused Roy, momentarily, listening to Edward moving about quietly as he found his tank top and his jacket.

Roy was never one to let someone spend the night if he had the option; he preferred other people's houses, and always left to sleep in his own bed. He couldn't sleep elsewhere, and he certainly couldn't sleep with someone beside him. The few times he'd had lovers stay the night, in the past six or so years, he'd remained awake after the person fell asleep, acutely aware of a presence that did not belong. Why or how Edward was becoming an exception—like Hughes—was a thought Roy didn't want to ponder. He set it aside for later consideration—much later, like in several years with distance and time to see the whole picture—and drifted back into sleep. When he woke up again, both blankets were covering him.

He was amazed to find he wasn't quite as cold as he had been, and figured he was either acclimating or his body was beginning to recover from the blood loss. Erin came and went, removing the bandages from Roy's back, saying it was time the cuts be exposed to air. The same went for Roy's feet, although walking was still inadmissible until Erin could procure socks or possibly shoes. Roy didn't think it was likely, but he dutifully let Erin apply salve, leave the breakfast, and depart in silence.

Roy waited until the door was shut, counted to twenty, and got up. Moving the stool carefully over to the table, he climbed up, checking his weight several times and doing his best to ignore the strain it put on his shoulders, keeping his arms out for balance. Gingerly he edged towards the wall, keeping his steps cat-soft and his weight on the balls of his feet. Lifting the window's small curtain, he was stunned to see brick, four feet away. Roy frowned, and craned his neck, looking up.

After a long stare, he dropped the curtain, and clambered down from the table, resting on the edge before hopping off onto his feet. The window was at least one story under ground, perhaps two; it was a window-well, that probably opened up to several windows above them. They were at the ground floor for window access, at least, and Roy was sure he could have shinnied up the chute to freedom—if he had a way to get rid of the two bars, and didn't have an injured shoulder and useless hand. But it certainly explained why Edward hadn't been able to see stars, and why Roy never heard noises from outside during the day. Roy pondered it for a little longer, and returned to the cot, making himself comfortable with one of the books.

Lunch came and went, and Roy spent the afternoon reading the latest treatise on breeding farm stock. His family had never had more than two or three oxen, and a horse for trips to town. They'd spent their time worried about crops, not animals, with the exception of the family's guard dogs and the barn cats who kept rats from the corn. Roy let the book fall open on his lap, his mind wandering, memories laden with new-mown hay and river water. The mare had to have been twenty-five when she died, and had been his mother's; his father could never bring himself to get another horse, telling his sons they were old enough to walk into town if the need were that important.

That had been fine with Roy. He couldn't bear, then, the idea of some other horse accompanying him anywhere, even if the mare had been ornery and high-spirited and tended to wander off if not hobbled securely. The recollection brought a smile to Roy's face, one that he suspected was probably as small and private as Edward's had been the other night. Despite the mare's stubborn attitude, she was often his only escape. His brothers had their own interests, usually involving elaborate ways to pry Roy from his books and torment him with the threat of drowning, burning, or ripping the treasured texts.

But Mother...Roy leaned his head against the stone wall, and his smile grew, the memory-scents tempered with a note of jasmine perfume. His mother also read, devoutly, and once a week would go into town to exchange a stack of books at the town lending room for a new set—one for every day, she said. Roy went with her every time. The trips began when he was little, and he'd straddle the horse behind her, small arms clasped around her waist, his cheek pressed against the curve between her shoulder blades. As he grew older, she'd sometimes ride backwards behind him on the way home, reading out loud as the mare took her own sweet time getting them home. When he was fourteen, after the accident, she couldn't ride. Roy went without her, dutifully, every week, bringing back the books she loved, and any new ones he could cajole from the taciturn book keeper.

But he'd missed her company those two years of trips, the rare times of it just being the two of them, and he'd always made a point to buy that candy with his meager allowance, even if the doctors forbade the sweets. It was their tradition, when he was young: she'd buy a piece of strawberry candy for each of them. The kind, Roy mused, with the hard outer shell and a sweet chewy inside, and they'd stop at the river on the way home and begin one of the books together while they ate their candy and the horse grazed. It was their tradition, and he stuck to it even if it meant eating the candy in her room, off the kitchen, where her leg was propped up and her left arm was useless at her side, crushed. She could still laugh, and tease him, and read as he savored his candy, and then he'd do the same for her.

They would read their texts, he in the chair by the window, she on the bed, and no matter what they read, they always stopped to read aloud to the other any passage they particularly liked. Her voice had been the flatter tones of farming folk, but when she read, it became melodious, rolling; Roy would close his eyes and listen, savoring the words as if they were a different kind of candy.

When was the last time I sat and read by the river, Roy asked himself—hell, when was the last time I had candy?

He wondered if there was any place in Central to buy that kind of candy, tart and sweet. Or perhaps it wouldn't be the same, and once he returned to Central, life would return to the way it had been. The idea made Roy's throat tight, and he wasn't entirely sure why. There certainly was a great deal to be said for life in the city, let alone life outside a small stone-walled room. Bathtubs, for starters; clean clothes and warm beds, hot tea and cold milk, and spicy foods that would make Hughes gasp and choke while Roy smirked. He still ate the spicy food, only now the memory of Hughes' protests were a balm, not a sorrow. Perhaps the candy, too, would be a comfort, not another reminder of yet another loss.

No, Roy told himself sternly, it will be good to get back to my life, let things settle in the way they had been, and let it all go back to normal.

He tried to ignore the sadness creeping over him at the thought. He picked the book up again, determined to read and forget such idiotic notions as the idea that a small cell guarded by warmongering fanatics had anything to offer better than home.

The afternoon seemed endless, and more than once Roy nodded off into sleep, the book forgotten on his chest. He was ready to start climbing the walls, and would have tried it for pure entertainment if his left hand weren't still healing. It had started itching after breakfast, and he knew that was a good sign—the damaged nerves were growing back. But it was an infuriating situation, nonetheless, to itch so badly and not be able to do a damn thing about it. Roy flexed his hand, feeling the scar tissue bunch and pull, and dropped the hand back into his lap with a sigh.

Dinner came, another bowl of stew, and Roy promised himself he'd eat steak, fish and chicken quite happily as long as none of them were in stew form, ever again. It wasn't bad stew; he just couldn't get excited about something so repetitive.

Maybe that's another reason I never married, he thought, wondering why his mind had jumped back to Edward's questions. Every person, no matter how attractive, was eventually comprehensible, and thus boring. Someone to be with keep me company? No, he told himself. Routine was comforting; he'd been in the military nearly half his life, and had no problem with that. It was the people filling the routine—no challenge, too often, and yet also too great a challenge to explain all the details of his history, as lovers often seemed to demand. Roy fixed his gaze on the rows of text, neat lines in orderly rows, and tried to shut out the echo of Edward's confession about Winly. Roy had spent all day trying to forget the conversation, but the more he tried, the less he succeeded. It was futile, he decided, and bent his head to study the Eastern conventions for breeding stock.

Roy set the book aside when he heard the bolt slide from its chute. The door swung open, revealing Edward, blindfolded and shackled. Franco was holding him up by the elbow, and Edward swayed. Roy came to his feet, wincing at the touch of flagstone on his bare feet. Kelly had both shackles off in the time it took Roy to move to the foot of the cot, his arms crossed as he watched. Franco pulled off the blindfold and Edward blinked, his arms lax at his sides. Franco sighed and shoved Edward, who took a step forward and fell into the room. The door slammed shut behind him. Edward flinched.

"Fullmetal?" Roy frowned, uncertain as to whether he should put out a hand to steady the young man.

"Mustang..." Edward opened his eyes, the wide eyes great pools of black with only the barest shimmer of gold at the edges. "They..." He took a step and his knees buckled.

Roy was at his side instantly, catching Edward, who flailed a little.

"They..." Edward's voice cracked, and Roy shushed him, helping him to the cot. Roy brought water, and Edward drank with a shaky hand. Roy had to guide the cup, and caught it as Edward let go, his expression stricken. "I made messages for of the guards...oh..." The words ended in a strangled moan, and Edward buried his face in his hands.

"Fullmetal," Roy whispered, bent down and pried Edward's hands away. "What? Talk to me—"

Edward twisted in Roy's grip, his eyes squeezed tight, and he shook his head violently. "I keep seeing—oh, god, sir, I can't—"

"Elric," Roy tried, but the name prompted no response. "Edward," Roy called. "Edward, tell me."

"One of the guards..." Edward took a great shuddering breath. "He knew the symbols...called Creighton..." Edward yanked his hands from Roy's grasp, and ran his fingers through his hair. His right hand caught in his braid, and he tugged viciously. His eyes were unfocused, fixed on a point somewhere around Roy's waist.

Roy sank to his knees before Edward, but Edward averted his gaze.

"They brought in Hogan's daughter," Edward gasped. His hands fell to his thighs, digging into his knees. "They...they..."

"No," Roy whispered, shock chilling him to the bone. He raised his hands, then dropped them, uncertain. "Oh, god," he said, lower.

Edward shook, his breathing coming in ragged gasps, and he hunched over. His bangs fell to mask his face, but the heaving motion of his chest left Roy in no doubt that Edward was struggling to hold back sobs. "Both the guards...she's twelve, she's twelve..." Edward keened, leaning forward, one hand moving to wrap around his stomach.

Roy had barely enough warning to get out of the way, before Edward was vomiting onto the floor between his feet. Edward's automail hand beat against his knee as his body heaved. Roy grabbed the water jug, and the bed sheet from Edward's cot. Putting one end in his mouth, he ripped violently, tearing a long strip off. Soaking it in water, he pressed the cloth against Edward's mouth.

"Suck," Roy instructed.

Edward shook his head, recoiling. "Water," he gasped.

"Damn it, you drink, you'll throw up again," Roy told him. "Just a little at a time. Come on, Edward."

"Roy," Edward moaned. "I wanted to stop it, I did, I wanted—" He sobbed, and smashed the crumpled fabric against his mouth, stifling his cries. Tears were pouring down his cheeks, and he shivered when Roy touched him on the shoulder. "But Creighton said if I even raised a hand..." He choked, coughing, and heaved again, but nothing came up.

Roy moved out of range automatically, his blood cold in his veins. His heart beat dully in his ears, a sonorous sound, and it seemed at odds with his shaking hands and dazed movements. He lifted Edward's feet, propelling Edward sideways, until his legs hung over the end of the cot. Roy stripped off Edward's boots, dropping them on the floor. Edward started to sit up, but Roy pushed him back down.

"Hogan," Edward mumbled, panicky. "She said...they'd kill her husband." His eyes opened, and he caught at Roy's hand, his eyes wild and desperate. "It's not— I can't—"

"We do what we have to do," Roy murmured, wincing when Edward's automail hand tightened on his wrist.

"But not like that," Edward protested, shaking his head. "Not...twelve, Roy...she was...she kept..." He sobbed, a dry, miserable sound, and rolled over to curl up in a ball on his side. "I couldn't do a damn thing, and they made me stand there and watch and—"

Roy reached over Edward, rubbing Edward's back. He couldn't think of what to say. He wasn't sure what to do. When Hughes had gotten word of his favorite uncle's death, they'd been seventeen. Hughes had returned to their dormitory room in tears, and without words, clutched Roy's chest and sobbed. Roy had hugged him tightly, wordlessly, but it seemed to help. Roy chewed his lower lip, remembering that moment, staring down at the automail fingers wrapped around his wrist. He sat down on the head of the cot, lifting Edward, pulling him half onto Roy's lap. When Edward's face was against Roy's bare chest, Roy wrapped his arms around Edward and held him close.

"Hogan said..." Edward's fingers curled against Roy's side, clinging. "She could heal her daughter but if I fought back, nothing would heal her husband of death—" Edward's cried trailed off into whimpers. "Twelve, twelve...only twelve..."

Yes, and at twelve, you were already a man willing to shoulder unbelievable burdens, Roy thought, staring down at the golden head buried in his arms. Edward shook with strangled sobs, his fingers pressing into the bruises on Roy's chest. Perhaps that's why you're so protective of Winly, or Hogan's daughter, Roy replied silently, tightening his grasp as Edward shuddered. They have what you feel you didn't, and you know the price of losing that. Too bad, Roy thought, tentatively raising a hand to run his fingers across Edward's head, that you've never realized that not experiencing what you did doesn't mean they're not strong enough...

Several minutes passed before Edward shoved half-heartedly at Roy's chest, mumbling something as he sat up, his back to Roy. He wiped the tears brusquely from his eyes, and didn't say anything when Roy brought him the stew and a cup of water. Edward picked at the stew, only sipping the broth, while Roy poured the rest of the water onto the shredded sheet and cleaned up by the end of the cot.

"Sorry," Edward said, staring down into the half-eaten dinner. "I...I..."

"It's okay, F...Elric," Roy said, catching himself. He wasn't sure where he stood, but using the name Elric seemed like a good compromise between the intimacy of a first name and the formality of a National Alchemists' title. "It's hard to take, the first time..."

"It gets easier?" Edward raised his head, his expression inscrutable, but Roy thought he sensed a flash of anger.

"It gets worse," Roy said, turning away. He dumped the soiled sheet by the door, and figured that would have to do. Turning back to Edward, he nodded at the bed. "Get some sleep."

"Sleep," Edward said, and stared at his lap even after Roy took the soup away and set it back on the table, then came to sit on the end of the bed. Edward shifted, digging around in the back of his jeans. "I have something."

He glanced at Roy from under his eyelashes. His cheeks were stained by tear-trails, and his mischievous expression was barely in place. Roy knew it for the mask it was, but raised an eyebrow, playing along. Something white and soft hit him in the chest, and he frowned, looking down at two white gloves.

"What..." Roy picked up the gloves, turning them over in his hand. They felt scratchy, but wonderfully familiar. "They're..." He couldn't find the breath to speak, suddenly.

"I'm not really sure how you make them," Edward explained, fidgeting slightly. He looked pained, chewing on his lower lip as he watched Roy carefully pull on one glove. "I...I knew the basics, but I wasn't..."

Roy flexed his fingers, and snapped, feeling the flint strike, the heat under his fingertips a welcome sensation. He stuck his fingers in his mouth and bit down, tugging off the glove, and looked up to see Edward's golden eyes on him, wide and curious. Roy smiled, openly, and hoped that was a good enough thank-you; he wasn't sure he trusted his voice just then. Moving to sit closer to Edward, Roy laid the gloves on his knee, and stuck his hand into the space between cot and frame, bringing out the pencil. He sketched the array on the back of one glove. Pulling the glove back on, he snapped, measuring quickly, and a small flare jumped up from his fingers, dancing in the room.

Edward laughed, a hollow, tired sound, but a little pleased at the same time. Roy chuckled, knowing that the laughter—and hope—were two things Edward needed badly right then. There was silence, then, and Roy's gaze went from the gloves to Edward's lowered face. Roy frowned, not understanding, and blinked when he realized Edward was blushing.

"Ah..." Edward scratched his cheek with a finger, not looking up. "Glad they work okay..."

"Yes," Roy murmured. "Perfect." He sketched an array on the second glove, and tucked both into his right pocket.

Edward took the pencil from him, and stuck it back in its hiding space. "I can find my way there and back, now, I'm pretty sure," he said, sitting upright. He stretched his legs out, and didn't look at Roy when his calves ended up draped against Roy's thigh.

"Any success tracking your path from the stairs to the room where they take you?"

"I..." Edward stiffened, just enough to be noticeable, and Roy waited. Edward shook his head. "Ten steps from the bottom of the stairs, to the door on the right. But it doesn't matter..." He sighed, and turned his face away. "There's no way we can get all of them out, and I..."

"We will," Roy assured him, and blew out the lamp. "Go to sleep."

"If I sleep—" came the worried reply.

"If you do," Roy said, understanding perfectly, "I'll be here. Sleep, and I'll see you in the morning."

"Morning," Edward said, and the word was a long sigh. He was quiet for several minutes, while Roy laid down on the other cot and pulled the blanket over himself. "Mustang," Edward whispered, but didn't say more.

"Yes, Elric," Roy answered, and that was good enough.

The night was a long one for Roy. He was woken several times by Edward thrashing under his blanket, whimpering. Roy was at the cot in a heartbeat, half-asleep but aware enough to settle on the edge and pull Edward to his chest. The first time, Edward struggled, his moans growing louder, until he slowly came awake under Roy's hand brushing up and down his back. As Edward fought his way from the nightmare, he grew still, then pushed lightly at Roy. Once released, Edward wiped his nose with the back of his hand, rolled over, and fell immediately back into sleep.

The second time, Edward didn't fight against Roy's hold, but sank into him, clinging as he surfaced from sleep. He rested his forehead against Roy's chest, breathing heavily, then shrugged off Roy's hold, and was asleep the minute he lay down.

The third time, Roy was tempted to throw his pillow at Edward, but something made him get up and stumble over. Edward, deep in the nightmare, threw his arms out and latched on before Roy even had a chance to sit down. Edward clung fiercely, shuddering, and burrowed his head into the crook of Roy's neck, his hold tight enough to leave automail imprints on Roy's skin. Edward didn't let go for long time, and Roy rocked them both, shushing Edward softly as he ran his fingers through Edward's hair.

Eventually Edward sighed, his body relaxing, and Roy realized Edward was asleep, and probably had been for several minutes. A little embarrassed, and yet also flattered, Roy gently laid Edward down, covering him with the blanket, before falling back onto his own cot. Roy grumbled as he did so, convinced he'd never get back to sleep. But he was out the instant his head hit the pillow, drifting into sleep accompanied by Edward's soft purring snore.

In the morning, Roy woke at Edward's light step near the bed, registered the proximity, knew it was no threat, and sank back into dreams. On the edge of the dream, though, there was a flash of light, and Roy buried his face in the pillow, not sure what was dream and what had to be bright sunlight from a curtain pulled back.

When he did awake, later, he was unsurprised to find both blankets were laying over him once again. A glance at the other cot revealed the morning's true surprise, and the cause of the bright flash he'd felt in the pre-dawn gray. The cot's ticking mattress was exposed, lumpy and thin, bare of everything but the pillow.

And on the pillow lay a neatly folded white shirt.

This ends Book One of the Contraries Arc.