velvet mace


chapter 10. For What it's Worth

Midnight arrived to escort Mustang back from work again.
Roy was nervous, half suspecting that when he got back to his room Ed would
no longer be there and that the reason for Midnight's escort was to berate him
for lascivious habits.

He really hoped that it didn't mean they were pulling
Ed off the project entirely. Or worse, pulling him off. Roy's mind raced. How
to work this.

Though Midnight said nothing as they left the workroom,
he signaled the guard to stop as soon as they reached the elevator.

"You and Alphonse haven't been talking about the project
much, have you?"

"I'm not sure what you mean."

"I mean, you are being discrete with him."

Oh, so this was about Al's little rebellion earlier that
day. "Yes."

"What do you think he will do when he figures it out?"

"He will probably refuse to continue." Roy hoped this
wasn't the case, because inevitably Al WOULD figure it out. Roy already had
a number of arguments laid out in his mind to convince the younger alchemist
to keep on—but Midnight didn't need to know this.

Midnight considered him. "Why do you play along? Don't
lie, I can tell you know exactly where this project is leading to. You probably
had it figured out from the moment I explained it to you. I'm on to you, you

Oh, Roy sincerely hoped he wasn't. "I enjoy working,"
offered Roy. "On any project. Jail has taught me to live in the now."

"And that is just so much bull crap and we both know it."

Roy allowed himself to meet Midnight's eyes, knowing that
the other would take this as a sign of sincerity. Here was where he put his
cards out on the table. Not the true cards, but plausible ones, from a deck
he'd quietly stacked in his mind weeks before.

"You know what I have to look forward to," said Roy. "An
empty jail cell. Periodic torture. Humiliation. And eventually when the Fuhrer
tires of it all, I'll be put to death. Maybe in a painful experiment. If I could
escape I would have done so long ago. Trust me, I've had a long time to come
up with plans, and have come up empty.

"I won't say I'm happy about what will happen to me when
I finally succeed. But I can hope," Roy paused. "I can hope that the Fuhrer
would rather parade about his faithful lapdog rather than to leave it languishing
in the dark."

"So you'd even give up free will for physical freedom?"

"What is the point of free will, if you have no choices?"


Ed was sitting at the desk in their cell when he heard
Roy return. He refused to turn around. Instead he continued to read one the
texts from his earlier research project. It was a rather dense volume on the
biochemical properties of the body. Endocrines and hormones. Genes. To think
the whole of a human's physical nature was written in an alphabet comprised
of only four letters.

He did not look at Roy when he heard the other sigh.

The brain was so ridiculously complicated, and yet at
the core so simple. All variation on the same theme. To manipulate it wouldn't
take power. God no, quite the opposite. It would take a light, light touch and
a hell of a lot of finesse. All the ingredients were there at hand. It was just
a matter of rearrangement and skill. A LOT of skill.

"Well, I'm glad to see you are still here," said Roy.

"Well, I was planning on going to the grocery store, but...
well, there was this locked door and armed guards.... And where the hell
did you think I could go?" asked Ed. He turned around. Roy was looking somewhat
uncomfortable. Good. That makes two of us.

"Well after last night, I figured there was a good chance
they'd separate us again."

"I guess you are stuck with me."

Last night, Roy signaled.

Ed interrupted, Forget it. He fingerspelled the
rest: A ruse, I get it. Ed was in control of himself now, but he didn't
want to push it. The less said on the subject the better.

Roy looked thoughtful and nodded. "Glad you've come to
terms with the arrangement."

"Did I have a choice?"

Roy smirked. Then suddenly his face lit up as if he'd
just thought of something. He pulled at his wrist and took off a hair tie. "I
have a gift for you. It's from your brother. He's, by the way, looking forward
to seeing you tomorrow." He held the band up.

Oh, hey, yeah, thought Ed. He stood up and reached
out his hand. "Wow, thank you."

"I know how much you hate having your hair down, though
honestly I don't why. You look very pretty this way."

Ed snatched the hair tie away. "And that would be why
I don't like it down." Ed fetched the brush from the desk and swiftly pulled
it through his hair. Then stopped.

GAH! He closed his eyes tightly for a moment and then
turned to Roy. Sure enough there was a HUGE toothy smile on the other's face.
And those dark eyes, just so satisfied. Ed knew he'd been got again.

"I can't do this by myself, " admitted Ed.

"Come over here."

"You enjoy this too much, you know."

"It's one of the few pleasures left in my life." Roy patted
his bed and reluctantly Ed sat down. Roy skillfully brushed, divided and began
plaiting his hair. Ed just wished the tug and pull didn't feel so good. His
scalp never felt this sensitive when he handled his own hair.


"Enjoying this?" asked Roy, gently amused.

"No!" protested Ed. "Just finish up."

Roy chuckled, making no attempt to hurry. "I imagine then
you won't enjoy this tomorrow either."

Ed squirmed. How was it Roy always managed to find precisely
the right thing to say to get through his defenses. "Why do you always have
to be such a bastard? Can't we be together for ten minutes without you teasing

"Obviously, no."

"If you are going to tease, at least you could keep it
to my height or something less..." Ed didn't know how to finish the sentence.

"Trust me, I've been wanting to tease you on your height
since you got here. So tempting to see your reactions. I seem to recall they
are always dramatic. But I'm not such a bastard that I would provoke you out
of a job." He leaned in closer and whispered, "Business before pleasure." The
heat of his breath made Ed's nerves come to attention.

Then leaning back again Roy continued in a normal voice.
"I'm content to watch you wiggle. Which by the way you do quite nicely." Roy
looped the band three times around the end of the braid.

"Oh, hell!" said Ed with disgust. Signing, You owe

What do I owe you?

An explanation, finger spelled Ed.

Aloud: "For teasing you?"

Impatient, Ed turned and this time it was he who grabbed
the other's head and pulled it close. It was he who whispered in Roy's ear.
"For what you are up to. You promised you wouldn't keep me in the dark. Well,
it's been four days now, and you still haven't given me a clue as to what you
are planning to do."

He leaned back to see Roy's expression. There was a wide
smile and a truly evil gleam in his eye. Roy pulled him close and pressed his
lips to the ear itself.

"I thought you already knew. I plan to be Fuhrer."


Midnight looked Fullmetal over. He was calm, neat, and
even eager to work. Everything Midnight could want out of him, utterly the opposite
of the wild creature he'd subdued in Dunn's office. Amazing what two weeks in
prison could do to a man, though he suspected a large part of the change had
nothing to do with the setting and everything to do with the company.

Mustang was smug, meeting his eyes with steady confidence.
Proud of his own achievement. Midnight's stomach burned. One day soon that smug
expression would be wiped off Flame's face forever. One day soon Mustang would
be eager to spill his every secret thought to Midnight. One day soon he would
crawl across the floor to please him. Lapdog indeed.

In the meantime, Midnight was in good spirits. He was
about to see the famous duo in action, see if they were really as talented a
team as the rumors had it. Much as it pained him to admit, Mustang was a brighter
man than he was, and the Elrics were even brighter than Flame.

Flame and had taken the idea of alchemical mind control
from a tantalizing fantasy to very real possibility. With Al, the two had taken
it from possibility to bluntly imprecise reality. With Fullmetal added to the
mix, not only should the timetable be sped up, but it would get the refinement
needed to make it an actual useful tool.

And it would get the Fuhrer off his back. And his career
back on a more comfortable track. To think all this stress came out of a simple
offhanded comment he'd made five months ago at the Fuhrer's birthday party.

"What if," said Midnight to small group of friends
near the punch bowl. "You could take a person, any person, and in less than
an hour turn him into the most trustworthy servant you could ask for. An operative
could slip into a neighboring country, take control of a spouse, or an underling
of an important official, and soon credible intelligence would flow into the
State. How much easier it would be to fight a war if you knew the other sides
plans ahead of time."

"How could you do that?" asked one of the others.

"Alchemy. Just a little adjustment of the mind, and poof,
instant utterly loyal mole."

"I like that idea," came a voice behind him. He'd spun
around to see the Fuhrer in full regalia, smiling in a way that should have
been friendly, but wasn't.

"What if I could use that same alchemy," the Fuhrer counter
proposed, "and turn the enemy's generals into my operatives. Turn my enemy's
civil leaders into my puppets. Yes, I like that idea. It's got vision." A not
so gentle hand had landed on Midnight's shoulder. And before Midnight could
say there wasn't any alchemy currently available that would do anything REMOTELY
like that, the Fuhrer continued: "I'll trust you with that. You will have everything
you'll need. Any personnel you want. Make this your first priority."

And now here he was, with the personnel he wanted, and
the budget he needed, and by all that was holy it was falling into place. He
couldn't keep the bounce out of his step and the smile off his face.

They arrived at the lab. Fullmetal moved forward eagerly,
scanning the place. God, such youthful innocence. Then his eyes met his brother's.

"Al!" cried Edward.

"Brother!" And the two of them raced to meet each other
in the middle of the room. Their embrace was hard and enthusiastic, and Midnight
felt a bit like a voyeur witnessing the sheer intensity of their joy. Al lifted
his brother off the ground and swung him half way around.

Al is taller, Midnight mused. A couple of inches.
And here he'd been thinking they were the same. Poor older brother.

"You look great," Ed said, patting his brother's back.
He then stepped back, his one hand slipping to his brother's shoulder. "But
that uniform—Your taste in clothes is still questionable. Who the heck talked
you into that?"

"Have you looked in the mirror lately, brother?" Al chided
back. "You look like an orange."

Ed grabbed his brother's ponytail and playfully pulled.
Al tackled him to the ground, and Midnight felt suddenly very warm. "AHEM!"
he said.

The two looked up innocently, having absolutely no idea
how seeing two girlishly beautiful boys wrapped ecstatically around each other
might affect even the straightest of men.

Midnight turned away and pointed at the rat cages. "You've
got twenty rats to process, divided into four trials. Blue tank is untrained.
Red tank is trained in one maze. Clear tank is trained in both. Test one will
be taking the memory of the maze from one rat and implant it into the other.
I expect at least an array, if not an actually completed test by the end of
the day. The second test is to take a rat with knowledge of two mazes and remove
the knowledge of one of them, but only one. The third will be to remove memory
of both mazes from a rat with a single array. The fourth will be to transfer
two memories into a rat with neither. Get going, I'll be back at noon to check
on your progress."

He then turned to head out, his eyes briefly meeting Mustang's.
Damn that man, smirking again, like he'd seen right through Midnight's skin
and perceived something there. Well, nothing there to perceive, you asshole.
You are the pervert here. Not me.