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velvet mace

Pawns

chapter 16. Tattoo

Winry found she was actually looking forward to getting
tattooed. At first she had faked the enthusiasm for appearances sake, but as
the days wore on she found herself rubbing the soft area on the back of her
hand between the metacarpals for her thumb and forefinger. It was going to hurt,
of course, but not too bad, and there was something romantic about sharing a
tattoo with the man she loved.

She waited in the lobby of Lab 5 for Al to come for her.
The guards were quite used to her by now, giving her papers only the briefest
courtesy glances, and patting her down quickly and carelessly. She had nothing
in her coat—no, the incriminating evidence was tucked, a little uncomfortably,
in her boots this time.

Al came down the hall waving his arms at her. She knew
better than to run for him, fast movements made the 5th lab people nervous.
So she waited for him to walk over to her and put his arms around her. "Ready?"

"As I'll ever be," she murmured back, and kissed him.
"Let's go."

But Al didn't move. She felt his shoulders heave a little.
She broke from the embrace, a little worried. But before she could ask a question
she heard a voice behind them. "I'm here. We can go now." She looked up and
saw Midnight.

It had been almost three months since she'd last seen
him, but she hadn't forgotten his face. The last time she'd seen it, she was
busy putting her fist into it. Then the world had gone dark on her. She suppressed
an urge to spit on him. This was Al's—well "boss" would probably be the official
term, but "keeper" was more accurate. He could make life very hard on them if
he chose to. Besides he would be getting his just deserts in a couple of weeks.
She could wait.

They walked to the tattoo shop in silence, just the four
of them, herself, Al, Midnight and the ever present MP. Very romantic, thought
Winry, but she made the best of it, holding Al's hand and pointedly ignoring
the others.

"I'll go first," said Al. As expected, Midnight and the
MP were far more interested in Al than her. Neither of them gave more than half
a glance in her direction when she asked to use the restroom. Inside the stall,
she pulled off her shoe and collected the bills, counting it off in her hand,
then folding the wad and stuffing it into the pocket of her parka. She laced
her boot up again.

Al was still being tattooed when she returned to the main
shop. Midnight and the MP weren't even looking in her direction, so she went
up to the skinny old man manning the register and caught his eye.

"Are we a go?" she asked quietly.

"Got the money?"

"Here's the first half. The second will come in 2 weeks.
My grandma will be bringing it. She'll also pick the item up. Her name is Pinako.
She'll mention my name."

The old man nodded. She passed over the money. He turned
his body away from the back room and carefully counted it out, then tucked it
in the register.

"We'll need ink and an instruction manual as well."

"That's included," said the old man. "Any color?"

"Black will do."

"Thanks."

Winry hurried back to the room where the tattoo artist
was pressing a dressing on to Al's hand. "My turn?" she asked.

"Have a seat," said the artist.

Questions

Midnight waved lazily towards the animal crates in the corner of the room. "They
have all been completely trained in standard commands. Sit, come, heel. I assume
at least ONE of you has had a dog as a pet at some point?"

There was silence for a moment, then Al spoke up, "My
girlfriend had a dog."

Midnight considered the three alchemists wearily. Al sat
backwards in a chair, his arms draped over the wooden back, one thumb absentmindedly
stroking his healing tattoo. Mustang stood, arms folded, a few feet away, his
face at it's most unreadable. And there was Edward, perched up on the desk,
slouching and swinging his feet around like six year old. For all the pretext
at boredom, his eyes were very hard and focused. He was hanging on Midnight's
words.

"Anyway, they have been trained in the commands, but they've
also been trained to only take these commands from their trainer, and not from
anyone else."

Midnight paced over to the first cage. "Your job will
be to come up with and activate an array that will make the dog take commands
from someone other than his handler. All of you will brainstorm the array. Either
Ed or Al may draw it, but I believe Al should be the one to activate it. Then
I will give the dog the commands."

Ed raised his hand like some school kid. "Excuse me, sir,"
he said. "But what does this have to do with battle fatigue."

Absolutely nothing, thought Midnight, but he could hardly
say that. "The problem with battle fatigue is that it is different from person
to person. A therapist would need to be able to isolate out the emotions and
memories that trigger flashbacks and panic attacks. This array will work like
an advance form of hypnotherapy."

Al spoke up. "Why you? Wouldn't it be easier to have the
dog obey my commands? I'm the one activating the array after all."

God, these kids were perceptive, but Midnight had an answer
for this as well. "Very few therapists are also alchemists. Very few alchemists
are therapists. Having one activate the array so the other can do her job makes
much more sense than forcing the alchemist to do double duty. In this scenario,
I will be standing in for the therapist." And in about three weeks, he thought,
the Furher will be playing that role.

Ed's eyes narrowed. "Seems like an awful lot of power.
I mean, technically speaking, you can put this array on someone and then order
them to do anything. Run naked through the park. Quack like a duck. It seems
to me that this has a lot of potential for abuse."

"Which is why we are going to have to fine tune some safeguards
in. First safeguard is that the subject only be susceptible to the words of
ONE person only. The second will be that the susceptibility last only as long
as the array remains on their skin. But the actual suggestions themselves will
have to be permanent; otherwise the moment the array is washed off the victim
will be back to square one. Have I answered your questions?"

Reluctantly, Ed nodded.

"Does this mean you are going to spending your day with
us?" asked Roy.

Midnight smiled. "I'm afraid so. Mustang." And keeping
a mighty close eye on YOU my friend.

Mustang nodded and smirked, I accept the challenge,
those eyes seemed to say.

Drug

Al watched Winry tear open her parka again and reach down
into the lumpy insulation and bring out the small glass bottle contained within.
Unlike most of the things she'd transported, this one was both breakable and
not particularly easy to hide in a parka. They had held their breaths while
the guard at the front door did his typical pat down. Winry had turned the pockets
out before balling the coat and placing it on the table. The guard hadn't even
touched the coat, and barely touched her before waving her on.

"What's the dosage?" whispered Al.

"How much does he weigh?"

"I guess 180, 190 give or take."

"I'd use the whole bottle."

She fetched the mayonnaise jar from the refrigerator and
gently pushed the small bottle into the soft white mess. "Be careful when you
go to make your next sandwich," she advised.

"Won't they miss it?" murmured Al in her ear.

"Yes, but stuff goes missing all the time at the hospital.
All the time. Last week half our morphine up and vanished overnight. Unless
someone looks real hard, they'll just think it was sold on the black market."

"Date rape drug, eh."

Winry socked his arm. "Don't you even think that!"

Al laughed until he fell on to the mattress. "But gosh,
he's soooo sexy, Winry."

"I'll give you sexy, "she said and joined him on the bed.

Winry's Routine

The week passed uneventfully. Mornings she woke, washed up, and got ready for
the day. She spent a few minutes checking on her patients, avoiding Mr. Sugar's
roaming hand, ignoring his innuendo. Then on to the real work: making the automail.
She got in lunch when she could. Then repeated.

Sometime in the afternoon, she took something apart. Two
days ago it was an extension cord. It had been in the broom closet for who knows
how long. It had dust on it. Now it was in three pieces, one of which she was
threading into her much abused parka.

Tonight after work, she'd walk by the deli and get cold
cuts and baguettes for dinner. She'd walk over to the 5th lab, let the guards
look at her dinner and lightly paw her over, and then it was on to a delightful
evening of mischief of several types in Al's room.

Al was getting nervous about the whole thing. She wished
that she could help him, but she couldn't. This was something he'd have to deal
with himself. Although she would never tell Al this, she found his worry to
be slightly annoying. After all, she'd been risking her butt over and over again
for weeks on this plan. If the idiots who manned the 5th lab had ever got it
into their heads to do a real pat down, she would have been toast. Not to mention
the fact that she was stealing things left and right from her workplace. She
could have gotten caught so many times, and any one of those times would have
spelled disaster.

She dealt with it.

Roy's plan was going to work. Al was going to make it
work. In fact it was going to be stunning success, and Al should darned well
BELIEVE that.

Instead he bit his lip and faced the window, and looked
deep into his own head.

After sex, she used needle nosed pliers and electrical
tape to splice the extension cord together again. Al put it into the rather
well stuffed mattress and tucked down the sheets again.

It was getting to be routine.

"This is going to work," she breathed into his ear. "Mustang
may be an ass, but he knows his stuff."

"We can't use hand signs anymore. I just wish I could
confirm things with him. What if there is something small but vital that I've
forgotten."

Winry just patted his shoulder. "Don't doubt yourself.
You are smart. You can trouble shoot things yourself. You don't need him."

She just wished she could get Al to believe it.

Pinako's Visit

She'd forgotten what a pain it was to travel. The lines
for papers were bad enough, but the three day train ride had stretched into
four after no less then eight delays.

She'd forgotten how hard the seats were. She'd forgotten
how cold and drafty the cars were. She'd forgotten how rotten the food was—
or maybe she hadn't forgotten that one. Perhaps it was just that this time the
fare was particularly bad. As a result she checked into her hotel room in Central
feeling very out of sorts, nauseated, and more than a little sore.

Some days she felt very old and frail, and it seemed like
the world had a personal vendetta against her.

She had known that the military was probably going to
take Ed away. She worried that Al would somehow fall into their greedy hands,
but never had she guessed that they would snatch Winry, too. Kidnapped, literally,
under her own nose. And Pinako felt more than a little guilt about that. Had
she just kept her temper in check, and not let on how valuable Winry was, her
grandchild might be home at this moment, making lunch and working on the family
business.

She missed Winry. It made her belly burn to think that
after taking both her children, the army had found a way to take her only grandchild
as well. It wasn't fair.

Doing this favor for Winry was the least she could do
to make up for it. The money was no small potatoes, but Pinako could afford
it. She did feel a bit awkward wandering around the dangerous city streets with
so much in her wallet. All the military police didn't make her feel any safer.

The first thing she did after checking into her hotel
room, even before seeing Winry herself, was look up the tattoo parlor. She found
it without too much difficulty, even thought Winry's directions were a bit hazy.
The man at the register took her money and slid over a brown paper bag. Pinako
looked inside.

A tattoo machine, needles, two bottles of ink and an instruction
manual. Lordy, what was the girl up to?

Shaking her head she left the shop and went to her next
destination—a pastry shop. She browsed for a few minutes before buying a
dozen donuts and asking for their largest bag to carry them in. She stopped
at the park, then carefully pushed the tattooing supplies to the bottom of the
large bag and arranged the pastries over them.

So cloak and dagger, thought Pinako. I'm really too old
for this. And honestly, will anyone be following me? She looked around the park,
but saw no one paying her any attention whatsoever. Ah the benefits of being
old. One does tend to become invisible.

She finally made her way to the hospital. A very nice
MP lead her to the workroom where Winry and a dozen others fitted together automail,
in an almost factory-like setting. The MP didn't even look in the bag.

"Granny!" shrieked Winry and ran to embrace her.

"Lordy, girl, don't squeeze too hard, my stomach is still
a bit off from the train ride."

"Oh, Granny, I missed you so much." Winry was crying.
Poor thing. How scary this must all be to her.

"Do you have time for lunch? I brought some sweets."

"Oh, YES!"

Winry brought Pinako back to her room. Pinako took in
the three sets of bunk beds crammed into a tiny room and shook her head. "They
don't treat you too well here do they."

"Well," said Winry. "The hours aren't too bad, but the
ambiance is pretty horrible." Winry dug into the treats. "Close the door for
me, please?" She lifted out the bag.

Pinako tested her stomach on a glazed donut while she
watched her brilliant granddaughter turn a rather compact and elegant tattooing
machine into about a hundred small unrecognizable parts. "You should label those,
dear," she cautioned.

"Oh granny, like I could ever forget where something went."

"I've known you to forget a screw now and then."

"I can't label them." Winry had turned serious. She got
some oil cloth pouches and began parceling out the pieces. Half of them she
shoved into the lining of her parka, the rest she shoved into a hole in her
pillow. She then got out the needle and thread and sewed everything closed again.

"Who is going to get tattooed," Pinako asked after a while.

"No one you know." Winry's eyes were twinkling. "Shhhh.
It's our secret."

"So I figured."

Winry took a donut and bit down. "Thank you Granny. I
owe you a lot."

"Just get yourself back home as soon as you can. It's
hard doing it all myself," said Pinako. "Really hard."