When the tsunami and earthquake hit, I pledged word counts towards unfinished stories in return for people donating to UNICEF or MSF (Medecins sans Frontieres). The first 4.6K words had been written and left languishing, but the final 1K words to round out this chapter are new. These words are the first of 18K total requested by Ravensilver, Tripoverhercats, and Mikkeneko, who together donated $180K to the NGOs listed above. Their generosity and compassion is to be admired and applauded.

sol 1056

The Restraint of Desire

chapter 5. protective
part 2 of The Contraries Arc

The crow wish'd every thing was black, the owl, that every thing was white.—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Alphonse hit the bottom with a thud, the wind knocked out of him, crumpled in a square vertical tunnel lined with rudimentary mud-bricks. His upper body was twisted diagonally from corner to corner, and legs were folded under him. One leg was in pain so fierce it made him pant. Dully, he realized there was a small barred window at his hip, coming up to mid-chest. Maybe large enough to crawl through, assuming he could move.

The opening was blocked with a brown canvas hanging inside the bars. Alphonse clenched his hands into fists and held still, trying to let the pain subside. It took a minute for him to realize it was coming from his ankle; he may have broken it. He couldn't tell, and he couldn't move to find out.

"Why am I not surprised," a voice wryly announced, and the brown canvas flicked back further to reveal Roy Mustang's amused expression.

"General," Alphonse gasped. "You're alive."

"And you'" Mustang shook his head. "Your timing is flawless. A half-minute earlier and we both would have been caught." He had a half-eaten roll in one hand; he was wearing a fresh white shirt, unbuttoned.

Alphonse opened his mouth, and caught sight of the bandages across Mustang's chest. Suddenly Mustang's dry delivery seemed even more out of place.

"General...I...We were told you'd died in the fire."

"Did you believe them?" Mustang's eyebrows went up. There was something hiding in his tone, a guarded expression in his narrowed eyes.

"No, sir," Alphonse said, and grinned widely. "I...We decided to look, anyway. Just in case."

"Found me." Mustang's expression suddenly melted into a genuine smile, the likes of which Alphonse had only seen perhaps three or four times in the course of all the years he'd known the man. Mustang turned, leaning a hip against something out of Alphonse's line of sight. "So you're the advance guard of the rescue mission?"

"Err..." Alphonse sighed, then whispered in a rush of questions. "Are you under a large guard? Or is it too risky for me to get in there? Are they holding Edward somewhere else? Is he okay? Wait, he isn't—"

Mustang blinked, and waved a hand. "First things first. Edward's fine. There are two guards outside the room, I think. If you can do an alchemical reaction in small enough parts, then you'll probably fit through the window, and I'll help you down. But any significant reaction, and I'm sure the guards will hear it. I'll answer the rest of it once you're no longer a pretzel."

Alphonse nodded, and tapped his fingers together. Mustang's eyebrows went up, but he was silent. Bit by bit, Alphonse set miniature reactions against the iron bars, shifting and rearranging the iron until the opening was clear, and lined with an iron sill.

It took another fifteen minutes for Mustang to help Alphonse through the window, with significant pauses while Alphonse gritted his teeth against the pain. Once down, he hobbled to the nearest bed, and Mustang lowered him onto it.

"Your hand," Alphonse said, glancing pointedly at the white bandages wrapped around Mustang's left hand.

"The fire," Mustang replied, with a shrug, then he stepped back to cock his head at Alphonse's booted foot. "I tend to get unexpected visitors," Mustang said, looking uncomfortable. "Since you can't move that fast, I'm going to help you hide under the bed. It's not the most comfortable, but people around here don't knock."

Alphonse stared at the stone floor, put a small bit of weight on his left ankle, and sighed deeply to cover the impulse to moan. "Can I at least get a pillow?"

"Sure," Mustang said. Another five minutes, and Alphonse was neatly tucked under Mustang's bed. Mustang straightened the blanket so the end hung down to the floor, masking Alphonse from anyone standing outside in the hallway. The bed over Alphonse creaked, and then Mustang's voice floated down from above him. "We can speak quietly; the doors are quite thick, I've found."

"My brother," Alphonse whispered faintly.

"He's..." Mustang hesitated, then sighed. "He's alive, but...our captors are hard task masters."

"What are they doing?"

"They're having him build ammunition and weapons," Mustang explained. "I'm the collateral."

"I was right," Alphonse muttered, under his breath, both relieved and annoyed. "But they seem to be taking care of you," he added, thinking of Mustang's clean face, neat bandages, and fresh shirt.

"They aren't starving us..." Mustang was quiet, then the bed shook as he chuckled softly. "Ah. You mean the shirt. They had nothing to do with that."

Alphonse frowned, but decided not to pursue that avenue. He'd hold it until later, perhaps ask his brother instead. Mustang was still a bit too intimidating in his ease in the strangest situations - nonchalant even in a stone-walled cell. He'd done everything but offer Alphonse a drink.

"We need to get you both out of here," Alphonse said. "If I can bind my ankle, it'll hold me long enough to get us back to town. We just need to get up that tunnel—"

"Wait," Mustang interrupted. "Just you? No one else?"

Alphonse cringed. "Actually, sir..."

Mustang sighed heavily, and the bed creaked. "I'd ask if you even told anyone, but I suspect I'd be wasting my breath. You're cut from the Elric cloth."

"Sir!" Alphonse felt it his duty to at least make a show of protesting, but he couldn't exactly do more than that. Mustang was right, after all.

"It's a moot point, Alphonse," Mustang replied after a pause. "Edward's not going to go anywhere. They're holding another National Alchemist hostage, along with her husband and daughter. I know for a fact he won't make a break for it until he can figure out how to get them out, too."

It dawned on Alphonse then that Mustang was calling his brother by first name, and not title. He blinked, and stared at the rough-hewn underside of the bed. Four days, no, five, he counted. Not surprising they'd at least learned to be civil, and he chuckled.


"Just surprised, sir," Alphonse admitted. "That the two of you could stay in the same room for more than six hours and nothing was blown up."

"Oh, it's been touch-and-go at some points," Mustang said, and the smirk he wore was evident in his voice. "But that's not half as much a surprise as seeing you wearing a National Alchemist's watch."

"Oh, right," Alphonse said, and shifted a bit. He flinched at the pain radiating up his leg, and could feel his face getting hot. He felt six years old again. "Y'see, sir, the only way to accompany Captain Hawkeye—"

"Hawkeye? She's here, too?"

"And Breda and Farman," Alphonse said. "We got word of your...deaths, and I could only join them to gather the...remains if I were also military. They're supposed to be getting Havoc from the hospi—"

"Havoc?" Mustang's voice was strangled, and sounded dangerously close to a sob. "He's alive? He's okay? He's not—"

"No, sir, I mean, yes, sir, he's alive, a bit beaten up but he's not dead, he's in the hospital in Soswell," Alphonse replied, startled.

"Thank you," Mustang murmured. He didn't say anything for a long time, then sat up, turning on the bed. His bare feet came down on the floor by Alphonse, and the cuts and wounds were clearly visible.

"General?" Alphonse wasn't sure if he should ask, but he had to know. "What happened to you?"

"Edward and I disagreed on strategy," Mustang said.

Alphonse made a disbelieving sound, and Mustang's face appeared, upside-down. He was bent over the edge of the bed, smirking. That darkness was back in his gaze. Alphonse couldn't quite meet it head-on.

"The actual damage was courtesy our hosts," Mustang continued, and got up.

He headed to the table, picking up a cup and a jug of water. Filling the cup, he knelt down by the bed and handed the cup to Alphonse. It was awkward, but Alphonse didn't care that water was dripping down the side of his cheek. He drank greedily, accepting more when Mustang refilled the cup without comment.

Mustang set the jug and cup back on the table, and laid back down. For the next hour, in whispers and long pauses, the two caught each other up on the previous five days' events.

Alphonse heard the lock turning in the door, and immediately fell silent, breaking off halfway through his story about General Cameron and the National Alchemists' exam. The person who entered had a light step, and moved with comfortable familiarity around the small room. The clatter of a tray, and the scent of beef stew: Alphonse's mouth watered, and he hoped his stomach wouldn't rumble and betray him.

"I'd like to check your back," the voice said, and Alphonse nearly yelped.

It was the man from the tavern; that same odd accent. Alphonse had spent too long listening to people, learning them by face and voice rather than scent and touch. He managed to remain perfectly silent, however, paying close attention to the rustle of fabric, the clatter of pottery. It seemed to go on for a long time, the bodies shifting on the bed above him, and he wondered about the true extent of General Mustang's injuries. The man had seemed quite blasť, but if it was taking that long to check—

"They're healing," the voice said, and a few minutes later he was gone.

"That was Erin," Mustang said. "He's sort of our local doctor."

"I met him," Alphonse replied, and explained about the curious meeting in the tavern. When he finished, Mustang grunted, getting up. He returned with the bowl of soup and the spoon, pushing them under the bed.

"Eat," Mustang ordered. "Then sleep, because if you've been up all night, you'll need your rest."

The room was dark when Alphonse heard the door opening, and it woke him from the restless sleep. He'd needed it badly, however, having been up for so many hours without a break. He just hoped he'd not snored.

Even, heavy footsteps trudged into the room, followed by several others, and an odd clanking sound. Something metal clattered; another set of footsteps placed a tray on the table and left. The door shut again, and someone sat heavily on the end of Mustang's bed, just over Alphonse's knees.

"Flame," Edward said, quietly. "I can't..." He sighed deeply, and the bed creaked. When Ed spoke again, he sounded keenly suspicious. "What? Why are you looking like that?"

There was no audible answer from Mustang.

"Hunh?" Edward sounded utterly perplexed, but it changed to disgruntled annoyance immediately. "They put something in the food, I know it...Fine! Fine!"

The bed creaked, and Alphonse waited. The weight shifted off the bed, and someone groaned - Edward, he decided. A metal limb met the stone floor with a clank, then the blanket was flipped back. Alphonse was practically nose-to-nose with his older brother.

Edward stared, his jaw working soundlessly.

"Hey, brother," Alphonse whispered.

"Yeeeeeohhhhh," Edward gasped, dropping the blanket and scuttling backwards, crab-walking until his back slammed against the wall. Alphonse pushed the blanket aside to see Edward staring, aghast. Ed blinked, then glared up at Mustang, who was leaning against the table with a pleased smirk. " brother under the bed!"

"Easily remedied," Mustang replied, and smoothly moved to help Alphonse crawl out from underneath. A bit of help, and Alphonse sat on the edge of the bed, favoring his ankle. "We had to hide him somewhere."

"Al!" Ed took a deep breath, and came to his feet, looking Alphonse over with a worried expression. He spoke in no more than a whisper, but it was damn near a shout as far as Alphonse was concerned. "You're hurt, what are you doing here, who beat you up, what the hell is that in your pocket—"

"I'm a National Alchemist, brother." Obviously, Alphonse added silently, though he kept the sarcasm from his voice and expression.

"You're..." Edward's face went through three shades of red, and once again his mouth worked noiselessly for a heartbeat or two. But his mind caught up with his shock rapidly. He opened his mouth to yell.

Mustang slapped his hand over Edward's mouth. Ed's eyes went wide, and Roy shook his head, a deliberate, careful move. He pointed at the door, and Ed's eyes narrowed. After a long moment, Mustang dropped his hand.

"Alphonse," Edward hissed, and darted a quick look at Mustang, who had moved to lean against the wall by the door. "What the bloody hell were you thinking? Why would you do something so frickin' stupid? How could you—"

"It was the only way," Alphonse replied. He was tempted to cross his arms and jut his lower lip, but it'd only send Ed into a rage. At least one of them needed to remain reasonable, and he doubted Ed was even remotely capable. The best thing to do would be to ride it out, and let Edward exhaust himself.

"Only way!" Ed's eyes went wide, and his fists flew out in a helpless gesture. "No way, there's no way - one of us in the family is bad enough - you're a dog of the military, I'd never want you to have to deal—"

"I'm perfectly capable of handling the job," Alphonse replied, starting to get annoyed. "Not only did I get a perfect score on the entrance exam, the testing judges were apparently impressed—"

"So? It's—it's—" Ed sputtered for a second, and shook his head violently. "This is out of the question. You're not going to be a National Al—"

"I'm already one." Alphonse pointed to the watch.

"Well, give it back!"

Alphonse raised an eyebrow. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Mustang looking almost stricken. Either he was trying his damnedest not to laugh, or he was eyeing the window as a possible escape hatch.

"Do you really want to kill for the military," Ed spat. "Alphonse, you— I can't— how could you do this—"

"They told me you were dead," Alphonse said, sighing.

The simple statement took the wind out of Edward's sails. He stared at Alphonse, and slowly his brows went up in a look of shock and understanding.

"I couldn't come along unless I was military," Alphonse said. "I made the choice. I'll live with the consequences."

"But..." Edward sighed, and leaned against the wall, sinking down as though his legs had just given out completely. "Al...I didn't ever want you to do what I've done."

"I know," Alphonse replied, gently. "But of anyone, you should understand the choice."

"Yeah. I just wish I'd been able to keep you from—"

"You can't protect me forever," Alphonse retorted, but without too much heat. "I'm capable of fighting my own battles."

"I know." Edward glanced up at Alphonse, a teasing smirk across his lips, tempered by a proud glint in his gaze. "You've always kicked my ass."

"And I'll do it again, once my ankle's healed," Alphonse said. He pointed at the window. "I fell."

"You fell..." Edward shoved the tray out of the way and leapt up on the table.

Placing his hands on the windowsill, he had to jump up a bit more to push himself through the window, into the air-shaft. His legs kicked against the wall, and Alphonse just barely managed to recover his impassive expression when he noticed Roy looking amused. He was surprised, however, when Edward jumped down and Roy didn't make a single comment about Ed's height.

"I'll make a brace," Edward said, kneeling down by Alphonse's foot. "They're used to me doing alchemical work at night. Reheat the food, stuff like that," he said, shrugging when Alphonse looked puzzled. Edward pushed Al's jeans leg up, and straightened the foot while Alphonse gripped the edge of the bed, grunting at the pain. "Sorry," Ed whispered, and clapped his hands together lightly.

He slapped his hands down on the ground, and the stone slithered up and around Alphonse's ankle into a tight brace running up to his calves, under the jeans. Alphonse studied the brace, and nodded.

"It'll do," he said. He pulled out his watch, and checked the time. "Sunset was two hours ago. Damn."

"What?" Edward sat back on his haunches, and Mustang moved to sit on the bed next to Alphonse. Ed glared at them both. "Anyone going to fill me in on everything?"

"I will," Mustang replied. "We need to get your brother out of here, so he has plenty of time to get past the guards."

Alphonse nodded, and stood, with Edward's help. The two helped him onto the table, and he took a deep breath before launching himself upwards, into the air-shaft. Turning in the small space, he looked down at his brother's face, framed by the window.

"We'll come back, this time tomorrow," Alphonse promised. "Either I'll come with everyone, or it'll be just me. If it's just me, I'll drop a note down the shaft, explaining the plan."

"Don't take any unnecessary risks," Ed hissed.

Alphonse chuckled, and didn't bother to answer. Using the wall to brace himself, he came to his feet, and studied the mud-brick. Placing his back against the wall and his hands on the wall opposite, he raised his feet, biting his lip at the stress on his bad ankle. It was slow going, but Alphonse scooted up the air-shaft, his face turned towards the open sky above him. He knew Edward was watching his progress the entire way, but wasn't worried.

Somehow, he suspected that General Mustang would manage to calm his brother down. There might be a few sharp words in the process, and he figured the pottery dishes on the table might not make it through the discussion, but in the end Edward would understand that Alphonse would survive another twenty-four hours without an older brother there to protect him.

The factory grounds were still and dark; the moon hung low over the trees. Alphonse sank into the forest edges with a sigh of relief. Keeping an eye on the buildings, he took his time moving as quietly as possible, noting the placement of the buildings, and all the guards he could see.

At the farmhouse wall, he crept along the inside of the property, wincing when the family's dog barked once or twice. After a minute, no lights had come on, and he continued to move until he'd reached the gate. Stepping into the street, he looked both ways before strolling out. His limp was barely noticeable with the brace supporting his ankle, and he did his best to appear casual.

There was no one at the tree where he'd said he'd meet Farman, and no note nor any sign of someone's presence.

The walk into Soswell was long and tiring, but Alphonse kept a steady pace as though he knew where he was going and belonged on the streets just after dinnertime. At Hawkeye's hotel, he strode in, nodding to the girl at the desk, but ignoring her polite question about whether he was a guest.

The stairs gave him minor trouble, and he hoped Captain Hawkeye wouldn't notice the odd brace wrapping around his boot and passing under the sole. He knocked on her door, relieved when he heard footsteps.

"Yes, Cap—" Fury cut off his words as the door swung open. He reached out, beckoning Alphonse in. "Where have you been? We've been—"

"I found them," Alphonse said, stepping into the small sitting room of Hawkeye's chambers. Farman was sitting on the loveseat, and he came to his feet at the sight of Alphonse. "I found them," Alphonse repeated, while Hawkeye and her staff gaped. He fell into the nearest chair. "They're alive. They're being held at the factory, in a room about two floors down, in the under-cellars."

"Oh." Hawkeye sank back down into her chair, blinking. It was only a moment, then it passed, and she nodded sharply to Farman. "I'll need plans of the factory," she announced. "Breda, get me a list of military officials—"

"I think the military is in on it," Alphonse said, then smiled in apology. "Sorry to interrupt, ma'am, but between General Mustang's and General Cameron's comments...that's what I think."

Hawkeye frowned. "Regardless, it's in our best interest to act above-board, and let the cards fall where they may. Breda, I need a list of all military personnel. I'll figure out a way to keep them uninformed until the last minute."

Alphonse stifled a smile. Trust Hawkeye to have learned a thing or two about duplicity from the General. Captain Hawkeye issued her instructions sharply, and soon she was alone with Alphonse; Fury, Breda and Farman headed out to get what they could to assist in planning the rescue.

Hawkeye watched the door shut behind Fury, and turned to Alphonse, her lips in a tight line.

"Tell me everything, Halmos," she ordered. "And don't leave out the explanation of just why you're wearing an ankle brace, either."

He got back to his hotel after midnight and didn't bother to undress once he was in his room. Noting that his National Alchemists' certificate had been moved to rest on his luggage, he grinned and collapsed onto the bed. He snagged the pillow, tucked it under his head, and fell asleep immediately.

It was early afternoon when he was woken by a knocking on the door. Groaning, he got to his feet, stumbling towards the door. Opening it, he blinked sleepily at Farman, who held up a cup of coffee.

"Here," Farman said, and stepped into the room. "Wake up, and then I'll fill you in on our crazy plan."

"Good. I need to drop a note down the shaft tonight, to let them know," Alphonse replied, sipping the coffee gratefully.

"I'll do that." Farman glanced at Alphonse's foot. "There's no way you're walking up there just to drop one note."

Alphonse lowered the cup. "I'm not going to be left behind."

"Captain Hawkeye would prefer it," Farman replied, shrugging. He winked. "I'm on my way to her hotel now, and there's nothing we could do about it if you happened to get it in your head to assist."

"I see."

"We'll be moving in under the pretense of visiting the factory, which begins daily operation a half-hour after dawn. So we'll be going in right at dawn, and catch them before they've got a full contingent of workers present." Farman kept his voice low, and pulled out a paper from his back pocket, unfolding it across the desk by the bed. He pointed out the disparate shapes on the paper. "This is the front gate, the main building, and these are the back storage buildings. From what I gathered of the architectural records, so conveniently located in the same aisle as the ones for the military headquarters, the building was excavated for three sub-basements. Only one is on the plans."

"And?" Alphonse settled on the bed, taking weight off his ankle while he studied the rudimentary floor plans Farman had copied. "There are gaps..."

"Exactly. Comparing these to the floor plan you provided from the General, I believe the stairs are here. Go down this hallway from there, and there are a second set of stairs, leading to the main floor."

"Someone has to come from inside," Alphonse guessed.

"If we strike at the front, it'll take too long to get down there," Farman replied. "We need someone who can head down that shaft, and come up to greet us."

"Captain Hawkeye will say—"

"I'll be doing it." Farman grinned. "But if you showed up, I couldn't very well send you home, could I?"

Alphonse smiled, then yawned. "Sorry. I'm still..."

"Get some more sleep. I'll come by at midnight," Farman said, folding up the map and putting it back in his pocket. "You'll need that much time to get into place."

"Into place?"

"Waiting with Fullmetal and the General, of course."

Dusk brought growing shadows while Alphonse showered, dressed, created a better brace for his ankle. Satisfied it would hold, he went across the street for dinner, and returned to his room not long afterwards. Lying back on the bed, he reviewed the plans in his mind. He'd just drifted off to sleep when someone tapped on the door. By the time he'd opened the door, there was no one there. Checking his watch, he realized it was midnight.

He took his time getting to the factory, not wanting to put more strain on his ankle. Once or twice he stopped to adjust the brace, until he was certain it was about as good as it was going to get. He followed his path through the farmhouse property, around to the back woods.

It seemed almost uncanny how few guards were actually around. Either the number of guards was low to draw less attraction to the place's true purpose - possible if the majority of the town was ignorant - or it was sheer arrogance, and the people in charge didn't expect anyone to come poking around.

Alphonse grinned to himself; the Elric brothers always poked around. Then again, perhaps it was a good thing whomever was running the show hadn't been aware of Alphonse. Anyone they'd dealt with in the past would've known that where one brother was, the other was sure to be close by.

The last shaft by the middle building, and Alphonse checked his mental map before deciding he had the right one. He'd just lowered himself into the shaft, with only his head above ground, when the truck drove past. He ducked down into the shaft, skittering quickly down the first five or six feet, listening to the truck barrel down the alleyway over his head.

The truck didn't stop, and after a minute, Alphonse let out a long breath and began the two-story descent into the darkness below.

When his feet touched the dirt bottom, he felt around for the curtain, hissing until he heard movement. A light came on, and Mustang was standing by the window, dropping a spent match into the lamp base.

"We got the news," Mustang told him, and helped Alphonse down from the window. "Try to be quiet...your brother finally gave out about two hours ago. He needs as much sleep as possible."

"He didn't look too good," Alphonse admitted. "Has he been eating enough?"

In the lamplight, Mustang's face was wan. It occurred to Alphonse that perhaps the General was showing his exhaustion for the first time.

"I make him eat," Mustang said, quietly. "My guess, it's about two or three hours before dawn?"

Alphonse checked his watch, and nodded.

"Under the bed, then," Mustang told him. "They'll come for Edward just before dawn."

"Farman should be here by then." Alphonse slid under the bed, and accepted the pillow. He thought about the comfortable bed back at the hotel, and figured the stone floor would keep him awake, which was better than falling asleep and being caught off-guard. Al pushed up the blanket to see Mustang's tired face. "Go to sleep, General. We'll get you out of here in one piece."

Mustang smiled, a small but genuine expression, and nodded. He let the blanket fall back down. The bed creaked over Alphonse, and a few minutes later the room was filled with the deep even breathing of his brother and the General.

Alphonse heard the light rustle and thump, and scooted out from under the bed. Neither Mustang nor Edward moved, and Alphonse stared at the direction of the odd sound. It was far too soft to be Farman, and he had a sinking feeling in his gut. The pitch-black room made him uneasy, and he sat up, stretching for a moment to get feeling back into cramped and chilled limbs.

Coming to his feet, he tested his ankle, wincing when the pain shot up his leg. A cold, hard floor might have helped take the swelling down but it hadn't done much for the rest of his muscles. He tried to be as quiet as possible, and felt along the wall until he came to the table. Reaching up, he pushed the curtain aside and felt along the window sill. His fingers bumped against something solid and rough, and he grasped the item, pulling it down.

A rock, covered with paper and twine. Now, he just needed a lamp—

"What is it?" Mustang's voice, thick with sleep, followed by the flare of a lamp.

Edward sat up on the other bed, dressed in his boxers. He scrubbed at his head, and made a face before braiding his hair and tying it back. By the time he was done, Alphonse had finally managed to get the knot undone with fumbling, chilled fingers, and he stifled a bitter laugh at the simple message. Alphonse handed the paper to Mustang, who snorted.

"Farman can't fit down the shaft," Alphonse reported.

"No wonder they didn't care about having the access," Mustang replied.

"Change of plans, then." Alphonse watched Edward read the note, and crumple it up in a automail fist. "They were to enter a half-hour before dawn." He checked his watch, and sighed. "We've got twenty minutes before Captain Hawkeye arrives at the gates, I'd say."

Mustang nodded. "Fullmetal, you go with Franco as usual. Be ready to take out the guards. Get Hogan, and head up the stairs."

"Two levels up is the entrance floor," Alphonse added. "Go out a window if you have to."

"But Hogan's—"

"We'll get her daughter and husband," Mustang said, and pulled out a pair of white gloves from his pocket, flashing them at Alphonse before tucking them away. "You just get Hogan out."

Edward grumbled under his breath, then undid his National Alchemist's watch and held it out to Mustang. "You'll need this," he said, a bit gruffly. "You're not going to be worth much without it."

Mustang narrowed his eyes, but the annoyance slid away from his face to be replaced by a smirk. "Keep it. You'll need it more to know the right time to act."

"You need it more," Edward said.

"I have a watch," Alphonse interrupted.

Edward paused for a moment, then nodded. He put his watch away, and turned to Roy with a pleased air, as though it had all been decided. "Use his watch, Flame. And once you've got it, don't give it back."

"Brother!" Alphonse had to resist the urge to punch that smug expression off Ed's face.

"What?" Edward scowled. "You shouldn't even be here—"

"I can't believe this." Alphonse crossed his arms and glared down at Edward, pleased that he'd at least retained his height. He put a suitable 'I can still kick your ass' gleam in his glare, slightly mollified when Edward's look grew sulky. "Would you really rather still be rotting away in here?"

"I'd rather you not be a dog of the—"

Mustang coughed. "Time, boys."

"Stay out of this," Edward snapped. "Look, Al—"

"Brother, shut up and get in bed like normal. When you're taken out of here, go like always and at a half-hour before dawn—"

Mustang sighed, and stepped between them. "Continue the argument with Alphonse under the bed, please. They should be here any minute."

Edward grumbled for a moment, before stomping back to his cot. He threw himself down with his back to the room, and Alphonse sighed, feeling nothing but guilt and a fair bit of resentment at his brother for being so damn bullheaded. He dutifully lay down, scooting sideways under Mustang's cot, and Mustang lay down above him, the cot creaking with the weight.

"One more thing," Edward said, abruptly, flipping over to stare at Mustang. Alphonse could see him sitting up, eyes wide and furious, just as the lamp was blown out, probably by Mustang. "Creighton is mine."

"You can have Chervaise," Mustang replied. "You said you wanted to flay him alive, right? I'm taking Creighton."

"No. After what Creighton had those men do, I'm taking Creighton," Edward protested.

"Not if I get him first."

"I'll be in the basement before you."

"He'll probably be in the office. Chervaise is one of the guards. Didn't you say he's done guard-duty before? You take him. I'll deal with Creighton."

Edward grunted and flopped down on the cot. The room was silent for a moment, before Edward issued his final offer: "I'll take Chervaise, but if I'm done with him and find Creighton before you do—"

"You won't," Mustang added.

"Creighton is behind all this?" Alphonse spoke up from under the bed. When neither answered, he ventured a criticism. "I don't know what you're planning, but Creighton will need to be in one piece if we're to find out who's ordering the weapons made here. It doesn't just end with the factory—"

"I'm not going to kill him," Edward retorted.

"Nor I," Mustang agreed.

"Just...hurt him. A lot."

"And maybe burn the top three layers of skin," Mustang added.

"With salt in the wounds."

"And vinegar."

Alphonse had to resist the urge to bang his head against the stone floor, lacking the chance to get up and transmute the blankets into gags for his brother and Mustang. They both sounded far too bloodthirsty, and he found it disturbing and upsetting. Then he had a better idea.

Casually, as though noting the weather, he remarked, "Anyone ever tell you two that you're a lot alike?"

The room was completely silent for several heartbeats. Simultaneously both cots creaked when Edward and Mustang shifted to face away from each other, grunting skeptically at the same time.

That worked, Alphonse thought, and settled down to wait.