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velvet mace

Pawns

chapter 17. Virginity

Working with Midnight was a bit of a pain, but not as bad as Al thought it would
be. In fact, at times he actually forgot how much he disliked the man. Midnight
for all his irritability and macho pretensions, was respectful and courteous,
and even had interesting ideas of his own. There were moments when they related,
not as dictator and subject, or even boss and underling, but as colleagues,
with just the faintest trace of friendship.

Al didn't know if this made the plan easier to carry out
or not. But the practical side of him realized that having Midnight at ease
with him would be a good idea. So deliberately Al went about to show, in small
words and gestures, that he liked having Midnight around. Every time he did,
he was given an exasperated look from Ed, and a mildly approving one from Roy.
Midnight seemed almost pathetically grateful for the camaraderie.

He doesn't have many friends, Al realized. He just doesn't
know how to relate to people.

As Al's birthday approached, he began the final phases
of the plan. He only wished that he could consult with Roy, who, for all his
being only feet away, was totally unable to answer any of his questions.

Winry is right. I am smart. I can do this on my own. And
so he tentatively brought up a crucial subject, in the most innocent way he
could.

"Saturday's my birthday, " Al suddenly said to Roy. "And
I'm planning a romantic dinner in my room with Winry. I was thinking I should
get some wine to go with the take out. I was wondering what you'd recommend."

Roy smiled and said "I've always favored a champaign for
special occasions."

Al nodded. He looked over at Midnight. "What would you
recommend?"

"Well, I'm not much into wine. I could tell you about
beers."

Al smiled. He's a beer man. I can go with that. "Winry
might prefer beer, perhaps I should have some of that too. What kind do you
like best?"

Midnight raised an eyebrow. "Personally, I like the chewy
stuff. A good dopplebach. But I doubt your girl would like that. There are some
fruity beers out there that girls seem to like. I'd go with one of them."

Ed spoke up. "Maybe Winry won't want anything alcoholic.
You two are pretty young to be drinking, uh, alone in your room. If she gets
drunk she might... er... you might end up doing something you'll regret later."
He blushed.

Midnight and Al exchanged glances, and even the guard
in the corner couldn't suppress a sudden guffaw.

Ed looked around, at Al, at Midnight, at Roy who was smirking
into his hand, then over at the guard who was covering up for his sudden intrusion
into the conversation. "What is it that all of you know that I don't?"

It was time to let Ed in on the worst kept secret in the
entire army. "Ed," said Al as gently as he could. "Winry and I have been having
sex every night for the last month. I doubt there is anything she'd do drunk
that she hasn't already done sober."

Ed's mouth dropped open.

Al favored him with a smug smile and patted him on the
back. "I'm afraid you are the only virgin Alchemist left in the room."

Ed blushed and glanced over at Roy who was hiding a full
blown smile under that hand now. Midnight glanced at Roy and then adopted a
look of forced innocence—and the guard again guffawed.

No. Way. NO WAY. Al looked at Ed, then over at
Roy and back again. "You are KIDDING me," he said. He shook his head in denial.
"Not him! Anyone but him—you HATE him!"

All kinds of emotions built up under Al's skin in a jumble
and he found himself grabbing the orange lapel of Roy's shirt and looking up
fiercely into dark eyes. He balled a fist. "What have you done to my brother?"
he asked in his most deadly voice.

"Now, now," said Roy weakly raising his hands. "I haven't
done anything that he didn't agree to."

"You sweet-talked him into it, I know. You can sweet-talk
anyone into anything. Why my brother? Why him?"

"Al," growled Midnight.

"Al!" said Ed in something of a desperate wail. Ed grabbed
his fist and pulled Al away from Roy. Reluctantly Al let go of Roy's shirt.

"How dare he," seethed Al. "Brother, that was low of him."

Ed pulled him close. "Al, " he whispered. "I'm in love
with him. Let him be."

"You can't be, he's got you mesmerized or something. I
know how he is, he does that to people."

"Al, It's my choice. You chose Winry, I chose him. I've
never gotten on your back for who you chose. Don't get on me about my choices.
And at least I'm an adult. And neither of us can get pregnant—are you two
even using protection?"

"Of course we are!" said Al, "And don't switch the subject."

"Actually, let's DO change the subject," said Midnight
uncomfortably. "We've still got work to do." He gave Ed a look that meant...
something, Al wasn't sure what, but it had a profound effect. Ed suddenly stepped
back and stood close to Roy.

"I've been making adult decisions for myself for more
than seven years," said Ed, softly. "I'm not going to fight you on this one.
I'm just asking you, respect me and let it go."

Al puffed up and then let out a breath. There was no point
in having the project fall apart over this. There would be a time later to discuss
this more fully. "Very well, " he said at last. "So we have no virgins left
in the room."

"Not to worry, Al, " said Roy. "If you feel that a virgin
is necessary for this project, we still have one available." He gave a sly glance
at Midnight, who narrowed his eyes.

"Back to work, every one." Midnight said gruffly and turned
back to the animal crates.

The Plan

Roy spooned closer to Ed. The lights were dimmed and he
could hear Ed breathing in soft, almost snores. It was time. Past time really.
Almost too late. But the discussion they'd had earlier that day had jarred it
into his head that his actions could easily be interpreted as predatory rather
than honest. If Ed lost faith in him now... Roy didn't want Ed to lose faith.

He softly stroked Ed's hair and kissed him gently behind
the ear before whispering, "Wake up. Wake up."

"Hnn?"

"It's time," said Roy.

"Wha? Time to work?" He rolled over to face Roy, heavily
lidded and confused.

Roy stole a quick kiss and then said. "No, it's time you
were in on the plan."

Ed blinked hard a couple of times and then seemed to focus.
"Something's up?"

"Yes. With luck the day after tomorrow you will be freed."

"What about you?" asked Ed.

"I'll remain in here for a bit longer. Another couple
of weeks perhaps. Not much more than that, I hope."

Ed slid his arm around Roy and buried his face in his
chest. "I don't want to be free if you are still in here."

Roy sighed. He didn't much want Ed to be freed either...
and perhaps it wasn't strictly necessary, though Al expected it. Perhaps Al's
knowing about them was a good thing after all—though Roy suspected he had
a lot of explaining to do before all would be copasetic between them again.

"In any case, you will have your arm back."

"Mmmm, sweet. That would be nice. How are you arranging
that?"

Roy told him.

Sometime in the explanation Ed's arm tightened into a
grip like steel and Ed's breath became somewhat strained. "That is horrible,
" said Ed at last. "That's... evil."

"I know."

"How many will we have to do that to." Roy almost sighed
with relief. Ed had said "we." He hadn't rejected the plan. He hadn't turned
away from Roy in abject horror. He said "we."

"A dozen or more I imagine. But we can be careful. A few
key people here and there should suffice. And later, perhaps we can reverse
it. You can do your part, can't you?"

A pause, then. "Yes. As long as no one dies, I can do
this."

"Then I promise you. No one will die."

"Not even the Fuhrer?"

"Especially not him."

The Final Steps

Al let Winry be. It was by far the most complicated job she'd had to do in Al's
apartment, but bit by bit, she pieced together the tattooing machine. Al longed
to go over to her and play with her golden hair, kiss the back of her neck,
along the spine, but he knew he shouldn't distract her.

He had his own job to do.

Pursing his lips in disgust he wiggled his fingers deep
into the mayonnaise. It felt utterly gross, but he kept fishing about until
his fingers met the glass bottle he'd hidden a week before. It was slippery,
but he pulled it out along with a large glob of slimy condiment. He took the
bottle over to the sink and washed it off with soap. Then for good measure he
tossed out the rest of the mayonnaise. It was not fit for consumption anymore.

He took out a piece of paper and drew a quick array. Then
fetched two bottles of beer from the fridge. He popped the cap on both of them,
and took a couple of quick swallows from one before dumping the clear drug into
it. He then put the cap back on, activated the array and watched with satisfaction
as the cap molded itself again to the bottle top. It looked pristine.

Ed was right. There were a lot of ways you could abuse
alchemy. And he was going right down the list.

He took the other bottle of beer and drank it down quickly.
His conscience felt much better when he finished.

"I'm all done," Winry said at last.

"Me, too." And he went back to give her those kisses he'd
promised himself.

Getting His Way

Friday rolled around with tremendous promise.

Midnight was elated. It was a good day. A very, very good
day. Not only had he been successful at activating the array on a dog himself,
but he'd managed, with the help of Ashefell to do it the way the Fuhrer wanted
—the dog took Ashfell's instructions perfectly.

In addition to his alchemical success, Ashfell had begun
to show some grudging respect for him again. After weeks of looking down his
nose at Midnight for countermanding his orders and putting Roy back on the project,
he had finally admitted that it had been, indeed, a good idea. There had been
no security breeches since, and even keeping a very close eye on the alchemists,
neither guards nor Midnight himself had seen any of them use a trace of sign
language. The tape recorders had been replaced without incident, and continued
to function perfectly—or as perfectly as their limitations would let them.
There was an awful lot of whispering going on in Mustang's cell, but most of
it seemed to either be followed by hushed snickers, or more amorous sounds.

And finally they had reached the last day of animal trials.
On Monday they would start on humans. There would be a week of that and then
the Fuhrer was due to "inspect" the project.

Midnight felt a little guilty about that, but it couldn't
be helped. None of the alchemists could be allowed to breathe whisper about
the project. The younger two would get away with their minds being wiped of
all knowledge pertaining to the project, but otherwise left intact. Mustang,
of course, would have it the worst. The Fuhrer already referred to him as "my
pet." Midnight felt a little sorry for him. But not much. Especially not after
that virgin crack.

He felt bad about Al, who had done absolutely nothing
but give his all to the project. Aside from a little trepidation at using animals,
he'd been everything Midnight could ever want in an underling. And on top of
it all, Al was beginning to show signs that he didn't just respect Midnight,
but he actually LIKED him as well. This was both unexpected and felt surprisingly
good. It was too bad the kid wouldn't even remember him when Midnight was through.
He hoped after the project was over there would be an occasion for them to work
together again.

The final day of animal trials went just fine at the lab
as well. Even Mustang, who for all intents and purposes should have been scared
out of his wits, seemed very happy.

In fact there had been only one flaw in the entire day,
when for some reason Al's ordinarily steady hand slipped when drawing the array,
and he had to shave the dog and redraw the thing.

"Hey, Roy," the boy had called. "Where do you think I
should put the array on this dog?"

Roy had looked over the animal. "Put it right here" he
pointed to the left haunch. He then had given Midnight the strangest grin.

"Are you sure?" Al had looked over at Midnight as well,
as if to get his approval. Midnight merely nodded. It didn't make any difference
to him where the array was placed.

"Positive," said Roy. "This dog has been a pain in the
butt. We might as well return the favor."

Midnight had looked at him quizzically. The dog had been
no more ornery than any of the others they'd processed in the last week.

Al seemed similarly skeptical, but had done what Roy suggested.

Other than that the day had gone swimmingly.