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velvet mace

Pawns

chapter 27. Awkwardness

Devers simply couldn't handle the idea that he had tortured
his best friend. It made Ed's stomach clench to see the man gibbering out his
apologies. Even worse was the way the looked off a thousand miles past the walls
and into his own memory, trying to understand why his past emotions jibed so
poorly with his present ones. In the end, Roy had to make Devers forget a large
chunk of the afternoon, but after he'd done that, the man seemed to return to
some semblance of normality.

Ed only wished he could do the same thing—the memory
of hearing Roy's tortured cries grated on his soul.

Even now, it was physically painful to look at Roy. There
were tiny, dark dots on Roy's prison uniform. At first Ed had thought them to
be imperfections in the weave or possibly dirt. Something. But then as time
passed, it became more obvious what it was. Blood, seeping up from wounds below.
Roy's uniform now stuck to his skin in an unnatural way. His shoulders were
the worst, then the upper thighs, but there were enough dots in other places
to suggest that the injuries were far more extensive. He sat very stiffly, hardly
moving at all.

Ed wanted to look away. Wanted to walk out the door and
go someplace where he could have a bit of space and privacy to sort out his
own feelings and get a firmer grip on his composure. But that would be weak,
and selfish, and childish, everything he would rather die than be.

The last thing Roy needed was to have to bear Ed's discomfort
on top of his own.

So Ed swallowed his own emotions, looked for some way
he could be supportive. He didn't even dare touch Roy for fear of hurting him.
He didn't want to talk to Roy about it, because that would just remind the man
of how hurt he was, and right now he seemed distracted.

He thought of helpful things he could do to further the
plan, but it seemed that Roy and Ashfell had it all in hand. It was all bureaucratic
details at this point. Which reports to destroy, which ones to alter, who to
interview, whose feelings to smooth over. Managerial details that Ed had never
had to worry about, but both Roy and Ashfell were very familiar with. They didn't
need his input there either.

Never mind me while I stand in the corner and pretend
to be furniture.

"I would like a more comfortable place to rest," said
Roy after a while. "I promised Ed he'd get a real bed to sleep in tonight. Al
said there were rooms, somewhere in here."

Ed could hear him biting back the pain. Even with all
this, Roy was still thinking of him. Ed was almost glad Roy wasn't looking at
him. He was having a hard time keeping the sympathetic wince off his face.

"Of course," said Ashfell. Then he snorted a bit. "I have
the perfect place... but I can't just walk you both there directly. We are all
on the same page here, but my people are still riled up about you. We'll have
to be a bit circumspect. After all we can't array everyone." He lifted the manacles
from the floor. "I hate to do this to you." Ed doubted that.

Roy just offered up his wrists and let the heavy bracelets
be locked on. The legs followed.

"Back on the bench you two," said Ashfell. "Devers, secure
them."

"Huh?" said Al. "Wait." But he didn't resist when Devers
handcuffed him.

Ed understood. Patience. Patience was NOT his strong suit,
but if he had to, he could manage it. For Roy. He slid his shirt down over his
automail and took up position on the bench again. The manacles felt heavy on
his ankles. The two then took Roy by his arms and half pushed, half carried
him out of the room.

Everything was going well, Ed consoled himself.
I did exactly what they needed me to.

So why was it he felt like such a complete failure.

Worry

Winry did NOT run away from the Fifth Lab. She walked,
stiffly with hands balled so tight her nails cut half circles into her palms,
but nonetheless it was still a walk. Her stomach felt so hollow it hurt and
she couldn't imagine ever eating again.

It made no sense. They had taken Al but left her. If they
knew about him, they HAD to know about her... right? If they needed to question
him, wouldn't they want to question her as well? How could they NOT realize
that she was involved?

Somehow they didn't.

She could run away...

... How? She'd have to show her papers at the train station.
Even if they didn't figure her involvement right away, she was a conscript.
She'd be AWOL, and the army REALLY frowned on deserters. As in, usually they
were shot on sight. And even if she did manage to escape and go into hiding,
what point would there be without Al?

This isn't the way it was supposed to work, goddamn it!
She and Al were going to get married. Once the military let them go, they were
going to settle down in Rush Valley, and she'd run a clinic and he'd set up
an alchemy shop. They'd both live happily ever after with three kids, a dog
and two cats. And their house was going to have blue curtains, damn it. Blue
like her eyes. Al promised.

She wasn't ready to kiss that dream goodbye.

She could try break Al out. Her mind ran over the possibilities.
She was sneaky, but not sneaky enough to figure a way into a heavily fortified
and secure building.

Then she snorted, envisioning herself with a machine gun
slung across her chest and a knife in her teeth, rushing the guardhouse at the
entrance to the lab. Yeah right, that would happen. Maybe Ed could pull such
a thing off, with his ridiculously powerful alchemy. Frontal assaults were not
her forte.

That left her only one option. She could go home and hope.
It was better than wandering aimlessly around the city, getting tired and lost.
Her legs ached from maintaining such an awkward gait.

Winry found her way back to the dorms. It was all so oddly
bland and still. The MP barely gave her a glance. Angie, sitting on the floor
in the hall, just waved her hand and smiled. "Back from your date early," she
said. "How'd it go?"

Plotting, enslaving, prison breaks and kidnapping—
quite an afternoon, really. Date... that is an interesting thing to call it.

"Fine," said Winry, trying to keep her voice normal. Angie
seemed satisfied.

She walked into her room and threw herself face first
on the bed.

God DAMN Roy. God damn him, stupid, smirking, asshole
bastard. She and Al were doing GREAT before he enlisted them in this half-assed
venture. She hoped they were torturing him. To think how many times she'd put
her ass on the line for him. She and Al had done their parts PERFECTLY, and
then the moment that prick took over, BLAM, he screwed it up royally.

If she ever saw him again, slave or no slave, she was
going to give it to him good. She punched the mattress.

The door to her room opened. Winry heard footsteps and
then a throat clearing. "Private Rockbell?" asked the MP. "Ma'am, I just got
a message from someone at the 5th lab."

She tensed, fisting the sheets under her.

"Are you ok, ma'am?"

Winry bit her lip. She pulled herself together and stood
up. Should she fight? Should she give up? What was the point?

"What do they want?" she asked in a low voice.

"Here, you can read it yourself." The MP handed her the
note.

She took it in numb hands. "Please pick up dinner for
6 at the deli on your way back. Ed wants turkey. Love, Al."

Winry closed her eyes and crushed the note to her chest.

Irony

Even though it hurt like hell, Roy chuckled dryly. The
irony was just too perfect. Everywhere he looked was a reminder of just how
ridiculously cruel the universe could be.

Roy lay on a soft bed and stared out a large window. Such
a beautiful view. He'd longed for months to be able to look at the world beyond
the walls of his cell. Just to see trees and sky and buildings, really anything
would have been the sweetest pleasure. Now he had quite a nice view of the city's
skyline, and he would trade it in an instant for Ed's smile.

Even the dark of the room itself was a fantasy come true.
After living in perpetual light for months on end, the darkness felt soothing
and rich to his eyes.

The bed he was laying on was amazing. It was huge and
unbelievably soft, like lying on a cloud. And yet he couldn't get comfortable.

Last night he'd slept blissfully with Ed in a hard narrow
prison cot. Even with constant risk of either rolling onto the floor or ending
up with a piece of automail jabbed in a tender spot, he'd felt quite relaxed.

Now he lay on a bed where he could roll almost to his
heart's content. At worst he'd fall onto cushy deep pile carpet. And yet he
was, pinned miserably to the spot.

Roy found that as long as he was absolutely still, he
hardly hurt at all. It was only when he moved, or worse, something rubbed against
him, that the flaps of skin would peel back from his raw flesh and cause him
to gasp. When one position grew too uncomfortable, he had to push himself stiffly
off the bed, adjust his angle and then carefully lower himself again. It was
almost more effort than it was worth.

It was a shame that such fine sheets were getting dirtied
with his blood. A bigger shame that he had no one to share them with.

After they'd subdued Devers, Ed had taken up station in
the corner farthest from him. When Roy dared look his direction, all he saw
was awkward discomfort on the young man's face. Ed looked like he would have
given up his other arm to leave the room.

Roy knew he should have said something, anything, but
he was tired and it just seemed easier to concentrate on the petty details Ashfell
fed him. Easier to put off the inevitable worthless apologies. What was there
to say? I promised you a soft bed and delivered torture chamber. Oops?

Yeah, how's this for equivalent exchange. I'm surrounded
by everything I've desired, and all I had to do to was give up my comfort and
companionship.

He sighed. Irony hurt.

He heard someone in the other room, and his lips tweaked
up again with the fact that his new prison cell HAD another room. In fact it
had several—it was a true apartment, with two bedrooms, a living room, even
a small kitchen and dining area. Roy suspected it had been designed specifically
for the Fuhrer himself. And here he was christening it with his blood.

The door to his room cracked open. Roy turned his head
to catch who it was. For the briefest moment he saw a small silhouette blocking
the light from the other room.

Ed?

The door closed.

"Ed?" Roy called out.

The door opened again. "It was dark, I thought maybe you'd
gone to sleep."

Roy doubted that he'd get much sleep tonight. "No. Come
in."

The figure walked awkwardly into the room. It was too
dark to see his expression. "I have some food for you, if you are hungry."

Roy's stomach sent back a loud NO. "That's ok." Roy carefully
pulled himself back up to sitting, then eased his legs over the side of bed.
He couldn't quite keep back the hissing.

"You should stay still. You're hurt," said Ed.

Roy knew that the moment had to be now, if he was ever
to salvage anything with Ed. As lame as his words were, he needed to say them.
"I'm sorry, Ed. I'm so sorry. I don't know what else I can say."

There was a strange silence. Then a stranger laugh. "For
what? When you said I'd sleep in a comfortable room tonight, I didn't have half
... THIS in mind." Then Ed sighed. "No. I should be the one apologizing. I hurt
you today. Repeatedly. I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking."

"You hurt me?"

"I stood in that damn window and scared you out of your
wits. I just wanted to know what you'd do. It was stupid and I knew it was stupid,
but I did it anyway. I was being a child. There I admit it."

Roy blinked. He'd forgotten all about that. Yes, it was
stupid, but petty compared to what Roy had done to Ed.

"And then I made things worse," Ed continued. "I didn't
know you could hear. That asshole Ashfell suckered me into screaming. If I had
even the slightest idea you could hear me, I wouldn't have made a sound, please
believe me."

Roy was aghast. "You were hurting... there is no shame
in crying out. I couldn't expect you to hold it in for me..."

But Ed was shaking his head. "I know there is no shame
in crying out, you idiot. I wasn't hurting. I was FAKING it. Understand. Just,
please don't hate me. I really didn't know."

"Faking..." Roy felt light headed.

"Yes," said Ed, anguished. "I faked it. Ashfell told me
that Devers was listening. He didn't tell me you could hear, that you were SUPPOSED
to hear. I played along with that assholes mind games. And you got hurt. I'm
sorry I was so gullible. I should have figured it out, but I guess I was stupid,
because I didn't, and I'm SORRY already. I don't know what the hell else I can
say. I'm sorry. I hurt you. Please say you forgive me. Please..."

Roy stood up and closed the distance between them. "You
faked it."

"Oh, God, Roy, what can I say? What can I do? Give me
something..."

Roy felt his knees give out, and he knelt on the floor
and pulled Ed close, burying his head in the young man's belly. He felt Ed tense
up in surprise.

"You don't have to say anything," Roy said, so relieved,
so utterly, utterly relieved. "You don't have to do anything."

"I don't understand," said Ed.

"Faked it, " he chuckled into the cloth of Ed's prison
uniform. "You have no idea how happy I am to hear those words. No idea."

He could sense Ed's bewilderment, but that was fine, because
he could also feel him grow softer, and bend over him to plant a careful kiss
on the top of his head.