velvet mace


chapter 20. Reason

"Al, we can't stop now," Roy said. "We will be caught.
Have you thought of what will happen to you? To Ed? Even Miss Rockbell won't
go unpunished. This is no time to get cold feet. We have to continue."

"No." said Al.

They were standing. Faced off nose to nose, or rather
nose to adam's apple. The older man glared down at him, as if forcing all of
his will through his eyes. Al held his ground.

This was hard. Al had never liked to be pushy. When he
was armor he had hated the fact that he was huge, cold, and spiky, and that
an accidental brush against another person would injure them. He'd always done
his best to make himself small and inconspicuous, to hold himself away from
others, to let someone else, usually Ed, grab the attention.

He had kept that need to lay low even as flesh. But it
was time to put that shyness aside and take charge. Although he WANTED to just
fall back and trust Roy completely, let the man take the spotlight and live
his life in the other's shadow, he couldn't.

Not after what he'd just seen.

Savage joy. It was the only way to describe it. Savage
joy on Roy's face when he succeeded in taking away the man's most coveted possession
—his will. Savage joy without even the slightest trace of shame or guilt.

Roy could not have that kind of power. He already had
far too much sway over people. Charisma, personal magnetism, or maybe it was
just a keen eye for finding a persons weakest spot, Al didn't know what it was,
but Roy had it. He didn't need absolute godlike power over other's thoughts
as well.

This had to end here.

"Why?" asked Roy. "What has thrown you over the edge?"

"You," said Al. "Look at him, Roy." Al turned his eyes
meaningfully to the guard, now lying on his stomach on the ground, not moving
except to breathe. God only knew what the man was really thinking, but Al could
guess. He could guess far too well.

Roy regarded the man on the floor.

"What's his name?"

"I don't know."

"Is he married? Does he have kids? What are his dreams?
His hopes? Do you know any of that?"

"No." Roy's face had gone reserved again.

"Do you know what he's thinking right now, listening to
you and me talk about him, like he's just so much meat? I know what I'd be thinking.
I'd be scared out of my wits wondering what these guys are going to do with
me, or make me do for them. I'd be wondering if I'd ever see my loved ones again.
I'd be wondering if I'd be forced to do something horrible. I'd worry that I
would stop being me."

Roy's face tensed.

"Ask him his name," Al said. It felt so WRONG to be ordering
Roy, but he steeled his stomach and ignored that look on the older man's face.

Roy looked over at the guard. "What is your name, soldier?"

"Joseph Carr."

"Tell him to go back to his post. Tell him to sit down,
and forget everything that happened in the last five minutes. Tell him not to
hit the panic button, but to sit and think everything is fine and to not pay
any attention whatsoever to what we're saying."

"You think you know what is best for him," said Roy.

"I think I have a better idea than you do."

"Very well." Roy did just that. Midnight's light manipulation
must have lapsed somewhere along the way, because Carr's eyes were normal when
he opened them. Carr got up off the floor, brushed himself off, and walked back
to his post. He then sat down and looked boredly off into space. Roy raised
an eyebrow and conceded the point to Al.

Midnight returned, looked briefly at the guard and then
questioningly at Al. "It's done," Al said. "Listen, Andrew, I know you have
a lot of work to do, why don't you go back to your office. I'll give you a call
if we need you."

"Wait," said Roy. "We need."

Al shook his head, and put a finger to his lips.

Midnight looked relieved. "I've got heaps of work. I'll
be back in a few hours." He left them.

"Why did you send him away? We NEED him!"

"I sent him away because I don't want to have this conversation
in front of him. He doesn't know that the array is working. He thinks he's doing
everything I tell him to because it's his own idea." Al hesitated. "I want to
keep it that way. It gives him a shred of dignity and it eases his suffering."

"Believe it or not, I DO understand the moral implications
of what we are doing here," Roy said. "We can't stop here. It's all or nothing."

"You're thinking that Carr is just another soldier following
orders, " said Al. "Only it's your orders instead of his superiors'. But that's
not how it works. He's not just your subordinate, he's your goddamn SLAVE. There
is a difference."

"I know, Al." Roy was thinking. Looking for the weak spot
in Al's reasoning. Al knew it.

Al was almost resigned. He'd probably find it, too. Just
like he'd found his brother's weak spot and got him to fall in love. Got him
to, god, give up his virginity to him.

The way he'd found Winry's weak spot and had her risking
her neck time and time again for no gain of her own. Hell, Roy had her STEALING
for him.

The way he'd found the younger, more naïve Al's weak
spot. Remember the Bastards was the mantra. Well, WE are the bastards now, thank
you ever so much Roy.

Roy sighed. Here it came. Al steeled himself.

"Which do you regard as more important?" Roy's voice was
quiet, patient, reasonable. "A little mental anguish on the part of a few innocent,
and not so innocent soldiers, or the unnecessary death of thousands?"

Al's eyes narrowed.

"I think you forgot the goal here, Al," said Roy. "It's
not to get me out of prison. It's not to enact some petty vengeance against
those who conscripted you. It's to stop a war that is going out of control and
killing literally hundreds of young men and women. Every. Single. Day. It's
to depose a Fuhrer who has no conscience and a lust for power. Parliament has
fallen apart, the military has bowed down, there is no one left to balance out
this madman but the three of us in this room."

Al swallowed.

"And you put all that, all those lives of all those real
people, snatched unwillingly out of their homes and forced to kill or be killed
for a cause they don't understand—you put all that against your conscience.
What makes you feel that your innocence is worth more than theirs?"

Al's breath caught. Roy was right. Roy was always right.
Al looked at the floor. He wanted to turn his ears off.

"You are mad at me for making you do this. You think by
bowing out now you can punish me. Well you can't. I lose nothing here. The ones
you are punishing are your brother, and your girl, and yourself, and all those

Roy put a hand up to Al's chin and gently but insistently
forced him to look in Roy's eyes. "I do know what I'm doing. I do know what
we could do to Carr and Midnight, and the others we will HAVE to do this to.
We could destroy them. We could make them do horrible things. We could rip their
souls apart."

Al winced.

"But we don't have to," Roy continued. "And we aren't
going to. Because even though we are doing an evil thing, we are NOT evil people.
And there IS a difference."

Roy let Al's chin go. "Now. Do I have your cooperation?"

Al bit his lip. It took all his will, but he kept his
eyes on Roy's. "You are going to have to justify every last person you want
to do this to."

Roy smiled and relaxed. "Yes, of course I will."

"You are a bastard, " said Al.

"Yes, I know that, too."

Al walked off to the corner, defeated.


Winry was riveted. She hardly dared to breathe. Part of her wanted to say "Go
Al, " she was just so proud of him, standing up to this man. Standing up for
his beliefs. Standing up for what was right.

But the more practical side of her wanted to hit him with
the wrench. Really hard.

Damn it, this was their LIVES Al was toying with. God,
she couldn't believe that she was siding with Roy against Al. She hated that,
because she loved Al and she... well, she wasn't sure WHAT she thought of Roy.

Roy was handsome. And he had that voice. And an aura of
authority that filled the room. But he also had some indefinable unsettling
quality, especially toward her. She'd noticed it every time they met.

Although he never said anything, he always looked at her
long and searchingly every time they met, as though he was somewhat amazed to
find her in the same room as him. He had never hinted what it was about her
that drew his attention. Knowing his womanizing tendencies, she had at first
thought it might be that, but he had never ever attempted to flirt with her.
When he spoke to her, which was rarely, it was always in the most polite and
distant way.

She was Miss Rockbell. Ed and Al had first names.

Al stalked off to sulk in the corner. She should go to
him and comfort him, but somehow Roy had her glued to this particular spot on
the floor.

He was looking at her again. Now that the tension in the
room had been defused. He was talking to Ed, but his eyes were on her. As though
he knew something that she didn't.

"What are we going to do about my automail," Ed was saying.
"I can't be taking it on and off every day. It'd kill me. Damn, it still hurts
like a son-of-a-bitch."

"The guards will not accept you wearing it in jail, "
Roy said back, his eyes finally flickering over to Ed.

Winry chimed in. Automail was her business. "He can't
take it off, he needs some time to readapt to it. Pulling automail on and off
is hell on the nerves. It's possible to cause damage, even rejection, if you
mess with it too often. Isn't there any way to convince these guys of that?"

"The guards are very well aware of Ed's transmutation
abilities," Roy said. "They will object to him having his arm." He turned away
from Winry. "There is simply no help for it—you will have to be released
from prison. We will still continue to work together..."

Ed shook his head. "I don't WANT to be released. We've
already been separated once."

Winry felt a bit embarrassed listening to this exchange,
but suddenly she understood exactly what Ed meant. She felt the same way about
Al. Now that she had access to his apartment, it would KILL her not to be able
to spend private time with him.

"Why not release Roy as well." She said.

They both looked at her as if she were crazy.

"Well, if you can manipulate Ed into an early release,
why not yourself?"

Roy blinked hard. "Ed's already served more than half
his sentence, an early release wouldn't raise an eyebrow. But I'm not due to
EVER be released. There will be lots of people who will be looking closely if
I'm not in jail."

"You mean to tell me the guards care?" Winry frowned.
"I mean once you are transferred out of their custody, do they keep track of
you for old times sake?"

"Of course not," Roy said. "That would be absurd."

"And those higher up in the chain of command, do they
look in on you personally, on a day to day basis?"

Roy paused. "No, they don't."

"So why can't you have Midnight tell the guards you are
being transferred back to the regular prison, and not bother to tell the higher
ups anything at all? I mean we are talking a week here, right? It's not like
we need to keep this charade up indefinitely."

"And where would I stay?"

Ok, she hadn't thought that far.

"There are unused apartments up where I live," Al said.
"I'm sure if Ed is released early, he can be officially assigned one. You can
sleep on the couch."

Ed snorted.

"It's definitely an idea, " said Roy slowly, smiling.
"It will be a lot more complicated than you are thinking. For one thing, the
people who bugged our cell will know something is up. We will have to get at
least one of them on our side. Preferably the boss. And if Ed is going to keep
his arm, we are going to have to do this fast. Dinner is in just four hours,
and it will look very strange if we miss it. We'll need Midnight back, I'm afraid."

"I'll go get him." Al sighed. He walked for the door,
but as he passed Roy, the older man caught him by his shoulder.

Roy smiled down at him. "I've been meaning to tell you,
Happy Birthday. I'm sorry I couldn't make it a better one for you."

Al turned and gave the falsest innocent look Winry ever
saw, "Why Roy, I don't know what you mean," he said, bitterly. "You gave me
the best present ever. I mean, what 17 year old boy wouldn't want his own man-slave
to do his every bidding?"

"Would you prefer Midnight was a woman?" drawled Roy grinning.

"And that would be the famous Mustang tease I've heard
so much about," Al said. "Don't try to lighten the mood. I'm mad at you. Just
deal with it."

When he left Winry turned on Roy. "Can't you just leave
him alone for a few minutes?" She said.

"Ah, Miss Rockbell," Roy said smoothly, "I wanted to thank
you for all your help. I don't know what I can do to repay you."

"Well, " said Winry, thoughtfully. "You could start by
buying me a new coat. A really, really good one. My old one has had a few too
many holes torn in it."

Roy chuckled. "I'll do that for you. But I'm afraid you'll
have to wait a bit."

"I can wait." Winry wondered vaguely if she could spin
this guilt into a new wardrobe, and maybe some automail equipment as well. Roy
had used her. Once he was Fuhrer, it would only be fair to milk him for all
he was worth as repayment. She smiled a slow smile.

Oh, was that a wince on Roy's face?