velvet mace


chapter 19. Anticipation

Ed rubbed Roy's shoulder with his hand and felt utterly useless. "Everything's fine. I'm sure of it," he whispered.

The older man just grunted and looked off in space. His face was at its most impassive, but the knots in his back told another story. Roy was anxious.

"If it had gone wrong, we'd know by now. They'd have already..." Ed didn't finish the sentence. They'd have already taken Roy away. For torture, and when they were through with that he'd be put in isolation until his fate was sealed. It would be unlikely that Ed would ever see him again, at least not the Roy he knew. Not the Roy he loved.

And Al. It made Ed sick to think what would happen to Al. Prison for life would be the best possible outcome. Death would be more likely—or else something akin to what was planned for Roy. It made Ed shudder to think that his brother, having only just regained his body, may end up losing his freedom, his life, or his mind. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't stinking fair.

And Ed would get off. Because that seemed to be his fate —to survive while those around him suffered. As of yet Ed had done nothing. They wouldn't even be able to prove he conspired. In truth, he HADN'T conspired, and it hurt more than a little that neither his brother nor his lover had trusted him enough to let him in until it was too late to do anything but wait and worry.

As if sensing his thoughts, Roy said "Your time is coming." He put a hand up to cover Ed's, brushing his fingers over the back and lightly lifting it from his shoulder. "I'm ok. You are right. We just need to be patient." He took the hand and brought it to his lips, planting a kiss in the palm. "Thank you."

"Maybe Al got cold feet," said Ed. He almost hoped it was true because he hated the risk that Al was taking. But then Roy would have no hope at all. Ed sighed and wished there was a clock. This morning seemed to be taking far too long.

The clatter at the door made both of them jump. When it swung open Midnight was standing there, smiling. "Change of plans, boys," he said. "In honor of the Fuhrer's coming visit, we'll be working today."

Roy's eyes drifted shut and Ed saw him mouth a prayer of thanks. The moment passed quickly, and Roy's usual reserved fašade took over.

Al had succeeded. The game was on. Ed felt his tension ratchet up another notch. His own non-involvement was about to come to an end, and soon he would play a key but somewhat odd role. Ed bit his lip and got to his feet.

They walked the familiar route to the lab, Midnight leading the way, the guard following behind them, Roy to his side, moving with just the slightest spring to his step.

"I have a reward for you," Midnight said turning to Ed. "Since you've shown such cooperation, you've earned the right to have your arm back."

The guard perked up at that. "Excuse me, sir, are you sure that's wise? Did Ashfell—"

Midnight raised a hand. "Only in the lab of course. You will have to surrender it at the end of the work day."

Ed's spirits rose, then dropped to the dirt. Midnight probably didn't know how much it hurt to reattach automail. The idea of suffering through that pain every day made his stomach clench. He almost wondered if the pleasure of having a second arm was worth it.

Roy put a hand on his shoulder and, with the tiniest of nods, acknowledged the problem. Ed felt absurdly reassured. Roy would take care of it. He had to have that arm. That rule would be changed. Would HAVE to be changed.

They arrived at the lab to find not only Al, but Winry waiting for them inside. Ed's heart pounded fiercely. "Hey there!" he said. "You look..."

He paused—he wanted to say great, but the truth was she looked weird. Her hair was tied up the way Riza Hawkeye used to wear hers, and she was wearing a military uniform. It was positively eerie. But if he said THAT she would hit him with that automail wrench she was holding.

"Great,' he said weakly after far too long a pause.

She narrowed her eyes for just a second before grabbing him in a bear hug. "I was worried about you," she said when she released him. Her eyes flickered over to Roy just briefly.

"About me?" said Ed, amazed. "I've been in the safest spot in the world. Three meals a day and no responsibility. Just the way I like it."

She grinned. "Let's get that arm back on you."

Ed waited for the inevitable chastising when she saw just how grimy the inside of his automail port had become over the last three months. He wasn't disappointed. "Honestly," he said, trying to stave off her anger. "I couldn't maintain it. They wouldn't even give me a hair brush, much less the stuff I'd need for that."

Winry snorted, and went through the somewhat uncomfortable process of thoroughly cleaning and oiling the socket. She then fitted the arm in.

Blinding pain actually dropped him to the floor, and for several minutes all Ed could do was kneel, biting his lip and wait for the hot white stars to leave his eyes. He vaguely felt someone stroking his hair and honestly wished they'd just leave him alone, but he couldn't find the words for that.

Eventually the sensation of his arm being immersed in molten lead eased up and was replaced by a dull but persistent ache. He realized he was sitting on the floor, leaning against Roy.

"It's because it's been removed for so long," Winry was explaining. "The nerves aren't used to the stimulation. They'll have to be retrained a bit."

"How long will that take," Roy's voice was gruff and anxious.

"It really depends. It's really not recommended that automail be removed for more than a week or two at the most."

Ed closed his hand and looked down to see if the automail had complied. It responded, a bit slowly, but the resulting fist was quite acceptable. "I'm ready," he said.

Roy helped steady him to his feet. "Are you sure?"

"Sure," said Ed.

"Al?" Roy asked.

Ed looked over to Al who was standing in a corner. There was something wrong in the expression, the way the muscles of his cheeks stood out, as though he were clenching his teeth hard. And the eyes. It had been a long time since he'd seen such resentment—even the day they had fought in the lab wasn't as bad as this.

What was wrong?

His BIRTHDAY! Holy hell it was AL's birthday and they'd all forgotten in their excitement. After last year's fiasco with the trains, Ed had promised himself to make this one extra special, and here he'd gone and blown it again!

"Oh, Al!" said Ed. "I'm sorry. Happy birthday. I didn't forget..."

"I know you didn't." Al's voice was cool to the point of being cold. "That's not what's bothering me." His eyes were on Roy alone.


"Are you ready?" Roy asked Al again, less sure. Roy was worried. He hadn't expected Ed's automail to be a problem, and that made him nervous enough. To have Al become unreliable at this point—that was downright terrifying.

"We have to do this," he continued. He wished he could impress that more on the kid.

This wasn't for Roy's sake. Honestly, he had the least to lose. If they failed he would be in no worse a position than if they had done nothing at all. But for Al and Ed it was a different matter. They both had so much to look forward to. It seemed selfish to use Al this way, but if the boy backed off now, after already using the array on Midnight, it would eventually come out, and his life would be ruined.

Al HAD to know this. He had to know the point of no return was past. Yet there he stood challenging Roy with his eyes. Reserving the right to refuse. Roy wanted to reason with him, but that was impossible with the guard sitting just feet away. He could only plead with his eyes and hope that it would make the kid more reasonable.

Al suddenly broke eye contact and looked at the guard. Then back. "Him?"

Roy nodded, relieved.

The guard suddenly seemed to perk up, as if sensing a change in the room.

Al looked at Midnight. "Andrew," he called. Midnight seemed to wake up and wandered over to them.

Andrew, thought Roy, how strange. Roy had been dealing with the man for months but this was the first time he'd heard his first name. Everyone had called him Midnight, even the guards, as though nothing else mattered about him other than the fact he was a state alchemist. Knowing his name was Andrew made the man seem more... human.

Al whispered low, almost too soft for Roy to hear. "Andrew, listen to Roy and do what he tells you to do."

The guard stood up, concerned. "Sir, what's going on?" he called. "Do you need help?"

"Call the guard closer, " Roy said softly to Midnight. There was hesitation, a glance over at Al, who nodded, then Midnight straightened up.

"Guard, could you give me a hand?" Midnight called.

The guard's hand hesitated over the panic button, but then he stood up and took a few steps into the room. Once the button was out of easy reach, Roy whispered. "Blind him."

Midnight again looked at Al. Roy's heart hammered. Having this delay was almost unworkable. He'd need to talk to Al about it. Something would have to be done.

The guard hesitated and then started back towards his desk and the panic button on it.

"Andrew, blind him," said Al.

Midnight touched his belt buckle and there was a brief flash. The guard suddenly cried out and reached up with both his hands towards his face.

Ed launched into action, covering the distance to the guard in three strides and then throwing his leg out in a graceful swing. His automail undercut the man's legs, making him fall to the floor. Roy was on him, and between the two of them they managed to push the guard to the floor.

"Al!" said Roy, "Have Midnight go distract the guards down the hall. We don't want them checking up on us right now. Have him come back in 5 minutes." That should be enough time, one way or another.

Thankfully this time Al didn't hesitate, he just repeated the order. Midnight nodded and went out the door.

Ed was at work, sitting on the man's thighs and pulling roughly up on the back of his uniform. Roy could tell the automail arm was not responding as well as it should, and Ed was frustrated. Roy wanted to help, but his hands were full just keeping the guard's arms pinned down. He manage pulled off his slipper and shove it into the mouth to muffle the screams.

Ed pulled again and this time got the man's shirt free of the pants. The bare flesh of his back was visible. Ed clapped his hands together and placed them on the skin at the man's waist. Dark lines formed in shape of the familiar array. The guard let out a harsher yell and bit hard on Roy's shoe.

"Al," Roy called desperately.

Midnight had never allowed Ed to activate the arrays on the dogs. Only Al had been allowed that privilege. If the array wasn't activated just right, the man's mind could be irrevocably damaged.

"Al," said Roy again. "If you don't do this, we are all doomed."

Al knelt next to the guard and put a finger almost casually on his back. The array lit up. Then Al pushed himself away and walked off again.

"Key to my voice," said Roy quickly. "I'm Roy Mustang, and you will obey and trust me. Do you understand?" He pulled his slipper from the man's mouth.

"Yes," the guard said quietly, almost as if he were sleep talking.

Roy breathed. The relief was almost painful. "Stay still and be quiet." Roy said, and let the man go. He made no move. Roy put his hand over his chest. His heart hammered painfully under his ribs. He sat on the floor for a moment and just savored the moment.

It worked! It worked! Thank God it had worked. He had hardly dared believe it could.

And it had been so EASY. This was going to be a piece of cake. It was almost obscene, the amount of power Roy now possessed. Roy felt heady, almost drunk. Once they had their rhythm down, the four of them could take down all of the 5th lab in a single day. Then when the Fuhrer showed up...

"Well," said Winry, breaking the silence. "That was quite a show." She looked like she was trying to put a brave face on, but he could see the sick horror beneath the fragile insincere smile. Roy's elation began to flag.

Then Al spoke up, and with an icy voice dealt a death blow to Roy's inner celebration. "I'm never doing that again, Roy," he said.

"Al, you know—" Roy started.

"I'm not doing that again," Al repeated. And for emphasis he knelt next to the older alchemist and looked him directly in the eye. "Do you understand? I'm not doing that again. Ever."