velvet mace


chapter 13. Morning After

Roy had missed waking up with his arms around someone.
He'd forgotten what a sensual pleasure it was to feel someone else's skin under
his fingertips and hear their breath sighing in. Ed fit so neatly against him.
It was really quite, quite worth the pain he'd gone through yesterday.

The lights in the room flickered to full brightness, signaling
the beginning of the day. Roy actually felt a little disappointed that they
would have to go to work in an hour or so. It would have been nice to coax Ed
into a second round of exploration, but breakfast was coming soon, and neither
of them had eaten dinner.

Ed stretched. Stiffened and then squirmed around to face
him a look of surprise on his face. Then, remembering, his expression softened.
He pulled Roy's face towards him in a kiss that was just a bit naughty and suggested
there wouldn't be too much coaxing needed after all—if they were given any
time for it. Which they weren't.

"Good Morning," murmured Roy. "We should get dressed quickly,
they'll be here with our food in a few minutes."

The food came as usual. The same rubbery scrambled eggs
and too dry toast as every breakfast. Roy swore once he was free he would never
eat eggs again. Ed wolfed his down within seconds then gave a somewhat guilty
glance towards Roy's picked over plate. "Go ahead." And Ed devoured most of
Roy's breakfast as well. How someone that small could eat that much and not
grow in SOME direction was beyond Roy.

The door rattled. Roy fully expected it to be someone
to either take back their trays or take them to work, but it was neither. Instead
the Thug walked into the room. The red haired man's lips were set in a scowl.
Roy knew it was time to pay the price for the brief privacy he'd stolen.

Roy's kept his face placid, but inside his mind shifted
into full gear. Work this, work this. But nothing came.

"Mustang," the other growled. "Come."

Roy opened his mouth, but Ed spoke out first. "He didn't
do it. I did. If you are going to punish someone, it should be me."

The Thug only gave Ed the briefest dismissive glance.
Then turned back to Roy, ice blue eyes showing no patience. "Come."

Ed put himself between them. "I said it was MY FAULT!"

Seeing the two of them faced off was so absurd it would
have made Roy laugh had it not been so serious. Ed didn't even come up to the
Thug's armpits and looked like a waif compared to the massive wall of solid
flesh. Of course it was deceiving. Arm or no arm, alchemy or no alchemy, Ed
could probably bring the Thug down. But he wouldn't be able to take on all the
guards who were gathered just outside the room as well.

There was no good in Ed getting himself thrown off the
project. Roy needed the project to succeed. No point in Ed getting tortured.

"Ed," said Roy calmly. And Ed turned, his eyes pleading,
not again. "It will be fine," Roy said. "We are just going to talk." He hoped
to God that that was what they were going to do. But in case it wasn't...

Roy cleared his voice then his hands moved quickly.
Tell Al he can do it. I have faith in him. He doesn't need me anymore.

The Thugs eyes narrowed, but Roy made a play as if he was just trying to straighten
his shirt.

"No," said Ed, quietly. But his shoulders had lowered
in resignation.

"Come." Roy let the Thug take his upper arm and guide
him out the door, where the other guards fell into step around them. Their footsteps
echoed in a gloomy rhythm. No one spoke.

Try as he might he could make no plan come to mind. If
the Thug talked, Roy could manipulate the situation somehow, but he didn't.
They walked down the hall in stony silence, to the elevator, and down, down.
Roy's breath hitched in as he recognized where he was being taken. They walked
down a long plain doorless hall for what seemed like miles before reaching another
elevator. He'd been here once before—on his way from his old cell to the
new one.

The Thug met his eyes again as the waited for the elevator
on the other side. He seemed satisfied that Roy knew what was going on. A small,
dry smile touched his lips.

Roy was off the project. Out of Lab 5 altogether. He was
going back to his old cell, his old brain numbing way of life.

The elevator opened on the administrative wing of the
Prison. Through the security door, down two more halls and at last they stepped
into a small cell with a single cot, a sink and toilet and nothing else. No
books, no desk, no work, no company. No Ed, no Al, no scheming. Nothing but
sheer unadulterated boredom to look forward to.

Nothing but a small slit of a window, and sunlight drawing
a slow path on the opposite wall.

"Welcome home," said the Thug. "I'll see you in a couple
of weeks."

The door shut with a disconcertingly loud clank.


Winry bit her lip and considered her words carefully.
In case the letter was intercepted, she dared not write too much, but if she
wrote too little, Granny Pinako wouldn't know what to do. She wished she had
Mustang's clarity. Much as the man disturbed her (on many levels) she couldn't
help but respect his ability to know exactly the right thing to do to get his

She stopped and put her pen to her lips in amazement of
her own thoughts. Al was totally awed by Mustang. Perhaps that was to be expected,
she'd met the man and knew he had a lot of personal magnetism. Something about
his voice, and the way he looked at you just made you want to say "yes, sir"
and go along. But SHE hadn't seen the man—hadn't heard his voice, and here
she was jumping blindly through his hoops. Damn the guy was good. Did she really
want him to be Fuhrer?

Yes, of course she did. Anyone would make a better Fuhrer
than the one they had. The steady stream of customers through the hospital doors
made that plenty clear. And the ones she saw were only the officers and those
enlisted who had wealthy family paying their bills. Many more were coming back
missing limbs only to be handed a crutch and a final paycheck and left to make
their own way home. And the war was so stupid—over absolutely nothing. Insults.
Territory. Power.

This Fuhrer knew nothing of subtlety or negotiation. Nothing
but brutal force, and sly underhanded machinations. She couldn't imagine Mustang
ever considering the idea of conscription as a way to fill out the army's ranks.
She couldn't imagine him starting these wars in the first place.

So, hoops, here I come, thought Winry. She finished the
letter, sealed and stamped the envelope. Then looked hopefully down the dorm
hall. There was always an MP somewhere in the building, keeping note of who
came and went. She couldn't mail this letter herself, she was under too much
scrutiny, but there was no way the jerks in the 5th lab could keep track of

She walked down the hall glancing into each of the very
non-private bedrooms until she caught sight of one of her friends. "Angie!"
she called.

"Hey girl!" The dark skinned woman smiled broadly.

"Do me a big big big big favor, and I'll take one of your
cases." Winry put on her biggest puppy dog eyes and brought her hands to her
cheek, letter clasped between them.

"Mmm..." said Angie. "I don't know. What is it?"

"Just mail a letter for me."

Angie laughed. "Girl, you are so funny. You don't need
to take a case for that. But," she looked sly, "I think I'll take you up on
it since you offered. You can have Mr. Sugar."

Winry's smile became a bit more pained. "Uh. Sure," she
said weakly. Mr. Sugar had only one hand, but it was one too many. She handed
over the letter. "Don't let the MP see it," she said.

Angie cocked her head. "Selling state secrets are you?"

"No, nothing like that. It's for my granny."

"You are weird, girl." But Angie took the letter.

One hoop down. A dozen more to go.

Missing and Missed

Al was surprised when he arrived at the lab to find Ed
alone. He looked around the room as if he could have missed Roy amongst the
spartan furnishings. He turned back to Ed, who was sitting glumly at the desk.
"Where's Mustang?" he asked.

"Talking to some guy," said Ed heavily. "I hate this place.
These people have no decency."

Al thought of his escort and his job and the whole situation
in general and nodded. "Nothing to do for it," he said and cleared his voice.

Obediently Ed looked over at his brother's hands.

MF ok?

Slight confusion, then recognition. MF was Al's pet term
for Roy. No.

What had happened to Roy? The last Al had seen they were
pulling him out of the room. As far as Al could tell Roy had done absolutely
nothing to earn Midnight's ire. It was random things like this that unnerved
Al the most. Did they know? Were they on to them? If so, Al would have thought
that HE would be the one they'd punish the most, but so far they hadn't given
him any sign they were upset with him.

What happened?

But Ed just looked away and said aloud. "We should get

Reluctantly Al started in on the work, but it was slow
slogging, and Ed wasn't helping at all. He seemed decidedly distracted. Al was
worried about Roy as well, but not to the point where he looked at the door
every 5 minutes. Ed wasn't really listening when he talked either. Something
had gone on after they'd left, something Ed wasn't talking about.

I suppose it's fitting, Al thought. We are keeping
secrets from each other. Who would have thought we'd come to that.

Roy never showed up that day, and Midnight didn't make
his customary appearance either. In the end, Al left with a sick feeling in
his stomach, wondering just when the axe was going to fall.

Things Fall Apart

Midnight covered his face with his hands, hating the feel
of his unshaved beard. He needed to take his clothes to the laundry. He needed
to eat. He needed to bathe. And he FREAKING had no time to do any of it.

And he hated the damn rats. God he hated them with a vengeance.
The Elric boy made it seem so easy, draw the array, concentrate and presto,
but alone in his private workroom Midnight had followed that procedure now for
weeks and had only succeeded in turning rat brains to mush.

Damn it, he HAD to be able to do this. Had to. The Fuhrer
couldn't, and the Elric boys flat out WOULDN'T, and that left him. And damn
it, he was a decent alchemist. Maybe not a genius like the Elrics, but no idiot.
It was his idea to be able to enslave minds in the first place. God wouldn't
be so cruel as to give him the idea, give him the opportunity, give him the
necessity, and then NOT let him do it.

He let his hands drop and considered the rat again. One
more time. Just one more damn time and he'd go and do his laundry, finish his
paperwork, check in on the Elrics, listen through the damn tapes that Ashfall
seemed to want to shove down his throat, make sure the techs had the animals
prepped for the next days work, and then maybe get a shower and some food, and
sleep? What the hell was sleep?

He grabbed the rat out of it's glass enclosure carefully
holding it behind the neck. He'd been bit too many times not to take care. With
the grease pencil he drew the array EXACTLY like it was on the notes in front
of him. Then he concentrated. Just a breath of effort. The array lit up satisfyingly.
Then he dropped the squirming vermin into the maze.

Then he realized it was still squirming. Hot damn. It
nosed about the maze stupidly for a while and eventually by random chance came
across its reward.

Midnight smacked his face with relief and then let himself
fall back into his chair. At last. Finally. At last.

He let his arms drop limply to his sides, one hand smacking
against the desk on it's way down. A report slid off and scattered its papers
about his feet.

Numbly, Midnight leaned over and fetched it up. Ashfall's
report. He'd blown the guy off this morning, too much work to do, but the Major
seemed to think there was something important up. He glanced at the report.
More Mustang shenanigans in prison. Damn but this was beginning to read like
a raunchy serial novel. Who cared what the bastard was up to with his lab partner,
so long as he did his work and kept the boy in check.

Midnight's eyes caught on a paragraph. Then he launched
into motion grabbing the phone receiver and dialing from memory.

"You took him off the project?" Midnight asked. "Without
consulting me?"

"He disabled the microphones."

"This should have been my decision, not yours."

"With all due respect, " and Midnight could hear that
there wasn't much respect at all in the voice, "The Elrics by themselves should
be enough for your project. My job is to keep everyone safe. The bastard's been
scheming. I know it. He has hand signals he's using to communicate with the
Elrics. It's not safe to keep him on this project."

Midnight closed his eyes. "Yes you are right." The Elric's
should be enough—but Midnight worried about Ed. Mustang was the only thing
keeping Ed in line. He'd have to come up with a new way to ensure the kid's

Damn it, he didn't have time for this.