velvet mace


chapter 14. Exhibition

Winry came to a stop in front of the massive iron gates of Lab 5. She looked
up at the three story building beyond the narrow, barren strip of ground. It
was positively the ugliest thing she'd ever seen. There was nothing that was
not strictly utilitarian about the building, and even the elements that were
utilitarian, such as the door and the windows had a crude, just slightly lopsided
feel to them. And there were mold marks on the exterior that seemed to criss-cross
in an almost random way. Idiotic alchemical engineering corps at work she saw.
Al had called it "alchemy by committee." Winry called it "structurally unsound."

But in she went anyway. She presented her papers to the
guard at the gate. Papers. Good golly. The military always had them, but these
days even the civilians had them. If anyone wanted to take a train into or out
of Central, they better be ready to present papers, or wait in a long line to
be given them. She hoped that Granny would be able to get hers in Rizenbul,
where the lines would be, presumably, shorter.

The guard nodded, and made a call. A few minutes later
Al appeared at the front door. She rushed over to hug him. He leaned in and
caught her mouth in a passionate kiss, but she broke away. "Not in front of
them," she hissed.

Al raised an eyebrow and quirked up the corner of his

She elbowed him, "You're an exhibitionist, aren't
you," she accused. "I bet you are going to miss the audience."

Al's eyes looked up at the sky in a show of fake innocence.
"Now, now." He leaned close. "Did you bring them?" he whispered in her ear.

"In my pocket."

For a second Al looked surprised, but then nodded. Oh,
he meant those. "You'll see."

They were stopped at the front door. Winry sighed. Al
had warned her, so she wasn't too annoyed when the guard asked her to take off
her coat and stretch out her arms. He patted her down quickly, and then to her
embarrassment checked the pockets of her coat. He pulled the package of condoms
out, looked at her, looked at Al, then grinned, putting back in the pocket.

"You may go, have a good time." And he winked.

"There are no secrets around here, are there," she said
trying to erase the flush from her face. She shrugged her coat back on. It felt
heavy—as it damn well should. Thank God for winter.

"On the contrary," Al said. "This place is chuck full
of them. You mean there is no privacy—and yeah, you couldn't be more right."
He gave an odd cough and cleared his voice. She saw his hand touch his mouth,
then his ear and his eyes rolled towards the wall.

Of course. Of course. Like she could forget. Walls have

They took an elevator up to his room. She noticed there
were a lot more buttons on the elevator than there were actual floors to the
building—5 floors at least of basements. Lovely. What a wonderful place to
work. But at least Al lived above ground.

His room was positively luxurious. A bathroom with a shower,
a desk, a table, even a small refrigerator. She stroked the smooth exterior
of the fridge longingly. Where'd they hide the cooling coils?

"Ah-hem," said Al, his arms crossed.

"Sorry," Winry said and then ran over to him.

He caught her up in his arms and picked her off the floor
and almost tossed her on the bed. He then fell like a toppled tree. She rolled
away before he could land on her. Disappointed he sighed. "I don't think I can
take it anymore, Winry. Take pity on a poor, non-wounded soldier. I'm so horny
I could scream." He crawled into her embrace.

She kissed him. "I think I can do something about that.
But you have to promise me something."

"What's that."

"You'll SHUT UP!" She rolled her eyes at the walls.

"You are no fun."

"Exhibitionist," she muttered and covered his mouth to
keep him from replying.

Later they attended to the other matter. Winry put her
winter parka on the desk and looked around for something useful. She found a
letter opener in one of the drawers. Not ideal, but it would do. With a little
finesse and a little muscle she worked the sharp tip between the stitches of
the seam, high up on the parka near an armhole. She tore out the new stitching,
then forced the dull blade down tearing a large enough hole to fit her hand.
She put her bare arm down into the insulation until her fingers met a small
oil cloth sack within. She grabbed it and pulled it out, then reached in again,
and pulled another, and then another, and another.

Al came up behind her and wrapped his arms under hers,
lacing his fingers across her chest and kissing her down the back of her neck
and over her bare shoulder.

Winry tried to ignore him. She quickly opened the cloths.
A small pair of regular pliers, needle nosed pliers, a screwdriver, and hex
wrenches. All in good order. She closed the cloths again. "Got someplace I can
put this?"

"Mmm hmm."

He went over to the bed and showed a small torn spot on
the side of the mattress. They tucked the tools into the hole. Al then held
a piece of paper with an alchemy circle. It lit up. Then he touched the hole
and it disappeared as if it had never been made. He tucked the sheets back down

He did the same thing with her coat. It looked flawless
when he was through. Well that was neater than sewing, Winry thought. Maybe
there was a use for alchemy after all.

"Hoop six, " she muttered.

"What's that?" Al asked.

"Mmm, nothing." She grabbed his ponytail and led him back
to the bed. "Now where were we?"


Al couldn't keep the spring out of his step as he went
to work. Maybe Winry was right because he didn't mind one bit the smirks on
the people he passed. Maybe he did have an exhibitionist streak in him. Who
would have guessed. He frankly hoped that he'd see Midnight again so he could
flaunt it in his face. I'm getting some and you aren't. Ha ha.

But then there was Ed. Hmmm. Maybe not such a good idea.
Was Ed still jealous of them? Sometimes Al wasn't certain who his brother resented
more, Al for stealing Winry from him, or Winry for stealing Al. But it was all
so immature. Winry was right. Ed just needed to get used to it. After flaunting
his relationship to the entire GOD-DAMN ARMY, it seemed stupid to try to pretend
it didn't exist to his brother.

And he hated all these secrets that were dividing them.
He hated the distance that had grown up somehow between them. It had started
with Ed's research trips, when the separation was unavoidable, but the closeness
was there every time his brother returned. But now, working side by side with
Ed, there was just something missing. Some level of trust had been stripped
away somewhere down the line. They were no longer a united front against the

That hurt.

There should be no more secrets between them. Al vowed
this, but he knew it would be a hard promise to keep.

Ed wasn't in the lab when he got there. That was strange.
Usually the guards were more locked to the clock than Al was.

Al sucked in a breath. Did Ed do something stupid and
get pulled off the project?

But no, he could hear Ed's voice echoing off the corridors
outside. Irate. There were two guards escorting him today and his wrist was
manacled to a belt around his waist. His hair was loose and his expression was
just a bit wild.

Oh, Brother, thought Al. What have you been up to?

The guards freed up his arm and Ed stalked into the room
with a growl.

"Are you ok?" asked Al.

"Roy's gone. They never brought him back to the cell.
I've been TRYING to get these bastards to tell me what they did with him, but
they won't say boo."

"I'm sure he's ok," said Al, not knowing anything of the
sort, but Ed was likely to do stupid things if he stayed in this state. "He
can take care of himself. And we don't need him."

That got a weird look from his brother.

Al knew the plan, he had to, he was already carrying it
out. But Ed didn't, Al suddenly realized. The fact that Ed didn't know meant
that Roy didn't think he could handle it. That he'd do something rash if he
knew. And that meant that Al probably shouldn't tell Ed either because the stakes
were not small. And that meant there was one more GODDAMN secret between them,
tearing them apart.

No. No more secrets, that's what his heart said. But his
mind said, Roy is always right. Roy never does anything without a reason. Ed
isn't ready.

They got down to work—or more accurately, AL got down
to work, because Ed was close to useless. He twitched, he stared at the door,
he glared at the guard and he kept muttering "Stupid," under his breath as if
it were some mantra. It was really hard to believe that Ed would get this worked
up over Roy of all people. There must be something else bothering him, but Al
had no clue what it could be.

What's wrong? He signed to Ed, somewhat impatiently.

"None of your business," Ed muttered back. He then sat
down and started writing notes.

Notes? On what? They hadn't accomplished anything all
morning. He looked over his brother's shoulder and saw stick figure cartoon
strips of Midnight being killed in various deranged ways, and his brother dancing
on the corpse.

Al rolled his eyes. Now who was the mature Elric? Mmmm?
Older brother, my foot.

Midnight was going to be pissed at them unless Al found
some way to get Ed back to work.

"Ok, if I tell you why I enlisted will you tell me why
you are buggy?"

Ed looked up immediately and considered. "Why did you

"I did it to save Winry."

Ed blinked.

"They were going to send her to the front. Probably to
the most dangerous front they had, or at least that was the vibe I was getting.
They told me if I signed on she'd get an assignment here in Central. So I did,
and she did."

"You knew how I'd feel about you signing up," said Ed.

"Yeah, but it was let you down or let her die. Tell me
which you have chosen?"

Ed glared, then turned his head away. "I'd have chosen
her, of course. But Al, why the hell didn't you just tell me this a couple of
days ago. You know they tortured Roy over our little fight? I mean real torture,
not just a fist in his face."

Al's mouth went dry. "They did WHAT?"

"Talk to Midnight about it. It was his idea apparently."

"That is MESSED up."

"I say screw it," said Ed. "I'm not working this anymore.
I'm not doing anything for that bastard. And if he has a problem with that,
he can bite my butt."

"You can't," hissed Al. "I need your help." Al looked
hopelessly over at the animal cages. "You are better at coming up with new arrays
than I am. I mean, I'm close. I know I'm close, but there is something just
a bit wrong with what I have. I need you to tell me what that is!"

But Ed closed his eyes and shook his head. "Nope. This
alchemist's on strike."