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velvet mace

Pawns

chapter 28. Too Early

Midnight heard a key scraping in the lock of his door. His eyes jerked open
immediately and whatever dreams he had disappeared. Adrenaline made his heart
pound. He looked over to see Ashfell walking in, manila files under his elbow.
The man reached over and flicked on the light. Midnight let out a sigh.

"You could have knocked."

"I did," he said.

"What the hell time is it." The window was still pitch
black.

"Almost six am," said Ashfell, finding the coffee carafe
and filling it at the sink.

"Sadist," muttered Midnight. He shifted gingerly to a
sitting position. His buttock still hurt, but he wasn't going to let Ashfell
know that. Ashfell had probably already guessed that he was arrayed, but he
didn't have to let the man know the shameful details of how or where. "Have
you any idea what time I got in last night?"

Ashfell didn't look his way. "Two fifty four am."

"Why are you here?" Midnight asked.

"I always come here about this time." The jerk was smiling.

"What's the point—the project is over."

"Appearances need to be maintained," said Ashfell. "Why
did you come back so late?"

How could Midnight explain he was savoring his freedom.
For a few hours there he'd been truly cut loose. No project, no paperwork, no
demands. The schedule that had been riding his ass for months had fallen apart,
and even Al didn't need him. For a few hours, he didn't belong to the military,
or the Fuhrer, or even Al. It was all illusion, a temporary reprieve, but it
had felt good. Good to just walk out in random direction and see where it led.
Good to stop and smell the roses, take in the sunset, experience the city.

"You told me to get lost for a while. That's what I did."

"A few hours... not half the night." Ashfell measured
out the coffee and started the percolator. "Well, I suppose you have to live
with it."

"The crisis is over, I take it," Midnight said. "When
I got back, no one was looking for me. Everything seemed in order."

"Yes. Mustang's a bit worse for wear. Devers is in our
camp. Everyone else is back down from high alert. Still, I wouldn't go doing
anything too rash in front of the men."

"Like I ever would," Midnight said.

Ashfell looked at him. "No you wouldn't."

The smell of coffee began to fill the room. "Tell me.
Does it bother you?" Midnight asked.

Ashfell suddenly stopped in the middle of getting mugs.
"Yes. A lot. I hate the bastard. Utterly. I hope he succeeds."

Midnight snorted. It was odd how the array worked. "I
suppose you hate me, too, for coming up with the idea."

"No, I figure you got your punishment. You are in the
same position as I am. Tell me, does it bother you?"

Does what bother me? I'm not under the array.

Yes, I am.

No. Impossible. But Ashfell thinks I am. Maybe it's
just as well he thinks that.
"I don't mind." That was the truth.

Ashfell laughed dryly. "Here," he tossed Midnight a file.
"Your vacation is over. Clean up what you can of the project. My prisoners are
going to need someone to cater to their needs, and Devers and I are busy. That
leaves you."

Midnight glowered. "Who left you in charge?"

"I did. Our master did."

He's not my master, thought Midnight, and that
had the solid satisfying ring of truth to it. But it made sense to go along
with Ashfell. It's what Al would want.

Meeting

Ashfell chuckled as he left Midnight's room. Midnight's sadist remark wasn't
too far off, he actually had taken some pleasure in forcing the man to wake
up early after such a late night. Perhaps he shouldn't have. Perhaps he had
lied when he said he didn't blame Midnight for the array. Ah well, it doesn't
matter, you have to take your pleasure where you can,
thought Ashfell, And
Midnight was an easy target.

Anyway, one chore down. Midnight was in reasonably good
shape, and had his orders for the day. It was time to report in to Mustang,
and make sure there were no pressing needs this morning.

He took the elevator up one floor and reached the "penthouse."
He let himself in with the master key. The apartment was dark as well. The two
were still sleeping.

Ashfell clicked on the light and went to make coffee again.
He didn't really feel like another cup, but he imagined Mustang would. Maybe
Edward as well. Did the kid drink coffee? Maybe there was some hot cocoa
somewhere in the kitchen.

He was blowing the dust off a mug when he heard a voice
behind him. "What time is it?" Ed asked.

Ashfell looked at his watch. "Just past six thirty," he
said.

"Don't you ever sleep?" Ed asked. "Why the hell are you
here?"

Ashfell chuckled. "My day started over an hour ago. I've
already had two meetings. I'm here to discuss things with Mustang. Is he awake
yet?"

"Roy is hurt. He needs to sleep."

Ashfell looked at Ed, there was a small smear of blood
on the side of his face, dried and dark. Not his own. Ashfell felt a strange
sympathetic stirring. Mustang may be bleeding, but this guy's got it bad.

At least my array is on my skin, where I can hope to
take it off eventually. At least I can point to a spot and say, this is responsible
for my actions, my feelings. I was forced. Poor kid, who are you going to blame
when you realize what he's doing to you—you or him?

I suppose it was necessary, Ashfell realized. Mustang
needed the kid to risk himself for no possible benefit. What else could he offer
up in return, other than his own innate charm.

Disgusting. Utterly, wretchedly disgusting. But smart.
Thank goodness my array isn't tattooed on my heart.

Ed noticed his stare. "What is it?"

"You've got blood on your cheek." Ed put a hand up, feeling
about. "Go ahead and take a shower," said Ashfell. "I'll get the coffee going."

Roy staggered into the livingroom about the time the carafe
filled. "I'd almost forgotten that smell." He lifted his head and a look of
bliss settled on his face. "Has it been fourteen months since I tasted coffee?
Or fifteen... I've lost track." Ashfell handed him a mug and watched in amusement
as the man sipped it with utter pleasure.

Ashfell pushed him on to business. "What do you wish to
do about Carr? He's useless as he is."

The pleasure fell off Mustang's face. "I'll need to repair
the damage somehow. Maybe I should take the array off." His brow furrowed.

"You are going to need some muscle to take down the Fuhrer.
I wouldn't release him yet."

Mustang's lips pressed together. "How many will we need?"

"He always has an entourage. Even if we can separate him
from most of his guards, there will still be a few. I take it you won't want
him dead."

"No. I need him alive. I'm NOT going to be a fugitive
at the end of this. He's going to have to give me pardon, and he's going to
have repair my reputation as well. How long will it take to retrieve my people
from the field."

"Too long," said Ashfell. "We only have five days before
the visit. Arrangements like that would take weeks."

"Very well, then we'll have to do it in house. How many
people will we need?"

"Several guards of our own to overcome the Fuhrer's men.
And to slow down my own people, should they hear a commotion."

"Very well. Pick them out and send them to me. I'll need
Al as well, of course."

Ashfell's mouth suddenly went dry. He felt his heart being
pulled in two directions at once. He would of course do exactly what Mustang
wanted him to. But what a thing to do to his own guys. How was he going to "pick"
out someone to be arrayed? Which of his men did he wish that kind of hell on?

Still, orders were orders.

"Do you need anything else?" Ashfell said. "I could get
you some pain medication from the infirmary."

"Nothing to cloud my head... but yes. Something like that
would be nice."

Suddenly Ashfell felt he couldn't get out of there quick
enough.

Tender

Ashfell was gone when Ed returned from the shower. Roy was still drinking his
coffee, slowly, eyes closed.

"I should take a look at your wounds," said Ed. "Clean
them up a bit."

Roy didn't open his eyes but he winced. "Gently."

"Of course."

"I'm sorry you know," said Roy. "I really thought I could
give you a proper reward for all your work last night. I wasn't up to it."

Ed shook his head in amazement. What a time to think about
sex. "Don't be an idiot," he said. "I went 18 years without, I can wait a few
days. Wait a minute, I saw a first aid kit in the bathroom, I'll be right back."

Ed concentrated on making preparations. The dining room
seemed as good an area as any to do it. The light was good, the coffee seemed
to be distracting Roy, there was room to work. He found a large bowl in one
of the cupboards, towels in the bathroom, antiseptic. There weren't enough bandages
though. Not nearly enough.

"We need to take off your shirt," Ed said. That turned
out to be a more difficult project than Ed anticipated. The shirt was positively
glued to his skin. It was only with great patience, water and a pair of scissors
that he was able to patiently pick the shirt off without tearing open his wounds.

"Damn, Roy," said Ed after a while. "I think you are going
to have to wear a sheet or something until someone gets us some clothes. This
is awful."

"I never liked orange, " said Roy with a pained laugh.
"Ah, slower."

Ed carefully peeled the cloth and gauze away. "I'm sorry.
I really do have to do this."

"I know. Just... ah... don't expect me to enjoy it."

Ed laughed. "I bet you wish you were a masochist about
right now."

"Sssss... And you wish you were a sadist..."

"I'm surprised you didn't hurt Devers." Ed paused and
started to cut the shirt off the next wound. "The man practically flayed you."

"No point.... ow... you don't rise in the ranks without
sacrifice."

"Maybe that's why I'm still a Major."

Roy reached out and gripped his hand. For second, Ed thought
it was because the pain had become intolerable, and he wanted Ed to stop, but
then he realized Roy was trying to comfort him. "You've done nothing but sacrifice
all your life."

Ed hitched in a breath.

Roy let the hand go. "You are still a Major because you
are an insubordinate snot."

Ed let the breath go and laughed. "A snot, am I?"

"Yes. Insufferable."

"Well," said Ed. "I suppose I'm not much of a trophy to
hang off your arm."

"No," said Roy.

Ed bit his lip. Of course Roy wouldn't want to be seen
in public with him. The whole situation with him and Roy was absurd. As Fuhrer,
Roy would need to maintain appearances. While sexual preference was not a big
issue, choice of partners was. Ed would never be the perfect, polite, and charming
mate everyone would expect a Fuhrer to have.

"You aren't a trophy. I would never consider you one."

Ed soaked the patch of black that used to be a prison
shirt. "What are we going to do?" This wasn't the time to bring up the subject,
but Ed couldn't put it off anymore. He wasn't sure what Roy would say, but he
had to know one way or another what would happen next. He had to gird his heart.

"The plan will work."

"I'm not talking about that," Ed said. "I'm talking about
what will happen with us, when this is over."

Roy's hands were on both of his, stopping Ed from going
further. "What do you want to happen?" Roy asked.

"I don't see how what I want has to do with anything."
Ed let the cloth drop onto the floor. "You said you hadn't seen a woman in thirteen
months, and that I was good enough. Well, you've seen a bunch of women now.
Am I still good enough?"

The answer was obvious: Of course not.

Roy wasn't gay. He wasn't even bisexual the way Ed was.
He liked women. He'd always like women. Ed was a convenience, a substitute,
something within reach to make up for something he couldn't have. It was stupid
to expect he'd ever be more than that.

Roy sighed. "It's hard to overcome your past," he said.
"I have a reputation, a well earned one at that, for going from person to person.
Dallying with them for a while. Then moving on."

Ed sighed. He could take it. It was good to know now before
it got shoved in his face.

"It was fun. I think I liked the conquest the best. I'd
see a pretty face and I'd figure out what made her tick, what she wanted to
hear. Then I'd sweep her off her feet. After a couple of weeks she'd see all
my best moves, hear all my best lines, and she'd either want to go deeper, or
move on, and what was left to do then? I'd let her go. Move on to someone new.
Start it over again. It was a really enjoyable game, a great distraction. Stress
relief. Good on my ego."

Ed tried to pull his hands away, but Roy just tightened
his grip.

"And really immature. I'm not a twenty-year old anymore.
I've had some time alone to really think about what matters. For a while I was
actually relieved that there was no one out there who really missed me. Maybe
my subordinates. Hawkeye and Havoc the most I suspect. But it wasn't like I'd
left a wife. Someone whose life would really be impacted by my loss."

Ed sighed. "What do you want, Roy?"

"I'm ready to be a grown up, Ed. I know that must sound
funny, but in some ways you were more of an adult at 15 than I was at 30. You
were never as selfish as I have been."

Roy was pulling at Ed's hands now and Ed found himself
shuffling forward until he was pressed against Roy's wounded chest.

"I don't know if I can promise you I'll be with you the
rest of your life, because who knows what will happen. But I will say this:
I love you. I have never felt this way about anyone else. You are beautiful
and amazing, and I can't even find the words to express what you mean to me.
You aren't just a conquest. You aren't just someone I'm with because there is
no one else around. You've already heard my best lines, and I'm not done talking."

Ed felt the man stroke his hair. It felt so good and Ed
wanted to just drop the whole uncomfortable discussion, but he couldn't. "I'm
a man, Roy." It was as simple as that.

Roy laughed. "Believe it or not, I've figured that out
about you already."

Ed sighed. "I can't be a woman. I can't bear your children.
I won't look good on your arm at state functions. It's impractical. And eventually
you are going to tire of overlooking what I lack and start wanting what I can't
give."

Roy held him close in a way that must have been painful.
"I wish I could make you believe in me. I wish I could make you see how it will
all work out. I wish I could somehow make you forget about what I've done in
the past. But if you can't overlook my reputation, would you at least give me
a little time to prove my worth before you turn your back on me?"

Ed laughed a bit bitterly and let go. It was easier to
put this whole thing off anyway. He didn't want to break up with Roy. He could
break his heart in a few weeks just as easily as he could break it now. "I'm
not going anywhere," he said softly.

Roy sighed and released him. "I believe you," he said.