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velvet mace

Pawns

chapter 31. Intrusion

Al felt at loose ends. His body was tensed for a fight,
but as the minutes passed and no fight appeared, he began to feel simply exhausted.
Time seemed to have slowed to a crawl.

Everyone had a job to do. Weapons to check, perimeters
to stake out, equipment to monitor, and he was left to sit on the edge of his
bed in his room trying not to get in anyone's way. Even Winry had more to do
with him, and arguably she didn't even have to be there.

He wasn't needed anywhere.

Al had argued for a job. He could be a look out. He could
be one of the people to subdue the security. Hell he was a pretty good fighter
—maybe not quite up to Ed, but a hell of a lot better than, say, Midnight.
He wasn't a wimp. He wasn't stupid. He was USEFUL dammit!

"Stay in your room until we've got the situation under
control," said Roy. "Then we'll call you down."

Al glanced at his watch for the third time in two minutes.

Screw this.

I can hide in a closet in Roy's room. This sitting
all alone doing nothing is crap. I can at least talk to Ed, then. Yeah, Ed should
be just about as bored as I am right now.

Al headed out the door. The arrayed security hardly even
glanced at him. He reached the end of the hall and knocked on the door to Roy
and Ed's apartment. It cracked open, and one of Roy's minions peeked out. The
door opened fully.

"Where's Ed," asked Al.

"He's in the bedroom."

Al walked in. The living room, which had until last night
been used as their headquarters, was now clean and bare. All signs of use swept
away. The Fuhrer would walk in and see nothing out of the ordinary until the
trap was sprung.

Al walked back and opened the door to the master bedroom
without knocking. His eyes caught movement and he stopped in his tracks.

Roy and Ed, dressed in military uniforms, were sitting
on the bed together, arms around each other, locked in a passionate kiss.

Al's throat went dry.

He knew Ed was sleeping with Roy. He'd known it for weeks,
but until this point he'd never actually seen any hint of their relationship.
They had never held hands, or kissed, or even used affectionate names in front
of him. Once he'd seen Roy put his arm around Ed's shoulders, but that could
just be considered companionable. Friends did that kind of thing.

Friends didn't kiss like this.

Al turned away, blushing. His vision of Ed happily living
in the house next door cracked and fell apart. Ed would be with Roy, wherever
Roy eventually settled. Ed was already gone.

How had it happened? When had it happened? When had the
team of Al and Ed broken apart? Was it when Roy seduced Ed? Or when Al was conscripted?
Or was it even further back than that? Had he himself started this downward
spiral when he and Winry started dating? Or maybe this was just an inevitable
part of growing up and it would have happened regardless of what either of them
did.

No. I want him back. I don't want him with Roy. I want
him with ME. He gave up YEARS of his life for my sake, giving up Roy should
be an easy sacrifice.

But would I give up Winry for him? Al covered
his face with his hand. Of course not.

I'm selfish. I want both.

"Is there anything you need, Al?" asked Roy in a slightly
annoyed voice.

"I'm sorry," said Al. "I should have knocked." He glanced
back at his brother and the ex-Colonel. They were still sitting next to each
other, but no longer romantically entwined.

"You should go back and wait in your room. It won't be
long now. Unless there is something I can do for you."

How childish would it be to say he was lonely and stressed
out and he wanted company.

The radio squawked, Big Fish was in the building. Ed grabbed
the handset and called in, then set it back down on the bureau. "It might be
more convenient to let him stay here," he told Roy, reaching over and running
his flesh hand through Roy's stiff hair.

Roy hesitated, then relented. "Hide behind the bed then,
Al. Absolutely no heroics on your part, you are the only one who can do this.
Without you, we are screwed."

Relieved, Al crouched behind the bed, out of sight of
the door.

The radio hissed again. "Big Fish Going DOWN. Plan B.
Five on stairway."

Oh God, that meant that the Fuhrer was headed to the jail
cell rather than coming to his room first. They had known this would be a possibility,
but there was no way to really set things up for that scenario. They would have
to take risks and play it by ear.

Roy jumped up. "Al, Ed, come with me." He scooped up the
radio. "Corridor, Rooms, plan B, Head to the stairways. Devers keep them in
the elevator until I say go."

"Power has been cut to the Elevator and sub 4," came Dever's
reply.

Al followed Roy out into the living room and then into
the hall. Suddenly Roy stopped and grabbed him hard by the shoulder. "Stay behind
us. DON'T engage the enemy. Do you understand."

Al pulled his shoulder away irritated. "You don't have
to protect me. I know what I'm doing."

Ed threw an arm around him "We know that Al. Just, stay
safe."

"YOU stay safe, Ed," said Al.

The security were already in the hall, filing into the
stairwell. Al did as he was told and stayed back, behind everyone else, and
kept close to the wall and out of the line of fire. Ed bounded ahead jumping
the railing to the landing below, then repeating until he was out of sight.
The noise of footsteps echoed painfully off the concrete.

A moment later Al heard the first sounds of conflict.
Roy stood on the landing below him, back to the wall, staring up at him with
a hand held out. Halt.

Gun shots. Cries. The light of alchemy bounced off the
walls. Thuds and muffled grunts. Shots again, and then finally quiet.

No sound but the hammering of Al's heart against his ribs.

Stand Off

The elevator jerked to a sudden stop and the lights flickered and turned an
eerie red. For a moment everyone in the crowded car just looked up and around.
"The power is out, sir," said one of the security.

Midnight looked between the shoulders of the guards at
the Fuhrer. The man's eyes were narrowed and he was staring at Ashfell. "Security,"
he said in a cold voice.

"Yessir!"

"Shoot Major Ashfell."

Midnight gaped.

Thankfully the security didn't immediately carry out the
Fuhrer's orders.

"Sir?" said one of them. "It's a power outage..."

The Fuhrer clicked his tongue. "I understand perfectly
what is going on. I ordered you to shoot him."

"It's too crowded in here, Sir. Someone else could get
hurt."

"Sir, please," said Ashfell, his voice tight with fear.
"That seems... that seems a bit harsh. What have I done?" Ashfell's legendary
composure had fallen apart. For some reason seeing Ashfell afraid was FAR more
terrifying than anything the Fuhrer had ever said or implied to Midnight. It
was positively ugly. It was wrong.

"He got to you didn't he, this is a trap." The Fuhrer
backed himself further into a corner. "Men I said SHOOT him!"

"Sir," said one of the security. "I'm afraid we aren't
authorized to summarily execute someone without a direct threat being made to
you."

"Oh, he's threatening me alright." The Fuhrer's eyes looked
around between the men crammed in the elevator. "Did that bastard get the guards
too? Are they all under an array? How many are part of this?" It was getting
hot the elevator and the air had become rather stale.

The Fuhrer's eyes suddenly focused on Midnight. The alchemist
couldn't move. "Did you do this for him? When did you decide to join his side?
Or did one of them get an array on you as well?"

"Sir," Midnight said. "You are wrong, this is just a power
failure, nothing more."

"Don't insult my intelligence, Midnight. You don't want
me dead, I know that much. You'd all be executed if I died. I know what you
are up to, and you know I know what you are up to. So why don't we just end
this charade.

"Ashfell, there is no excuse for letting yourself come
under that array. You knew better. Midnight I excuse you. You can't help your
gullible nature. I knew that was a risk when I gave you this responsibility.
I'm disappointed in you, but if you aid me, I won't seek your execution. You
will have your certification stripped, and you'll be demoted, but I'll make
sure your sentence is light."

He turned to the bewildered security. "And as for you
lot, I ordered that you SHOOT this man and none of you have complied. You need
no more word other than mine. SHOOT him. NOW."

Hesitantly one of the security unholstered his gun and
then pressed it up against the side of Ashfell's head. Midnight could see the
man's hands shaking a bit. Ashfell had his hands up in surrender. He wasn't
doing anything the least bit threatening.

Cooperate and I'll get off. Fight and I'll get shot
now. Live... not live...

Al.

If we fail, Al will be executed.

No.

Midnight touched the array on his belt.

Five people were a lot to encompass at one time. It took
all of his concentration, but he was rewarded to see every one of the security
mens eyes become suddenly very reflective. The Fuhrer growled and tried to grab
him, but there were two bodies between them.

Midnight was already at the limit of his capacity; he
wasn't going to be able to hold this for long, but with just a bit more effort...

The Fuhrer's eyes started glowing red in reflected light.
It seemed oddly appropriate.

Midnight noticed one of the security drop to the floor.
Then another. Midnight had to keep concentrating but he managed to focus enough
to see what Ashfell was doing. The man had a handkerchief in his hand and he
was grabbing each of the blinded security firmly by the head and drugging them
with the chloroform.

He's good, thought Midnight. And in that moment, his concentration
slipped a bit too much. One of the security blinked back his sight and noticed
the bodies on the floor and Ashfell with a cloth in his hand, held out as far
from his own face as possible. "You!" He pulled his gun and aimed at Ashfell.
Midnight pushed him, and Ashfell simultaneously stepped on the limp bodies to
grabbed him in a clumsy bear hug. Between the two of them they were able hold
his gun at a safe angle until Ashfell could administer the anesthetic.

Midnight caught a faint whiff of the stuff and his head
felt suddenly funny. Ashfell noticed it, too. The car was too closed in. They
had to get rid of the thing soon or else ALL of them would pass out. "Can you
make us a hole?" Ashfell asked.

Midnight reached into his pocket for the chalk he always
carried. He quickly drew an array on the wall of the elevator, then touched
it. It lit up and the metal melted away leaving a hole. Ashfell thrust his hand
through and dropped the cloth out into the shaft.

"Well," said Goddard, picking himself up off the floor,
and straightening himself out. "I guess you have me for now." He raised his
hands in defeat. "But you will be caught and when that happens I will watch
your executions."

My execution...

I'm in too deep now, and yet that felt like a relief,
as though some awful decision had been taken away from him. The tension that
had grown to painful levels seemed to break and subside.

Midnight let out an ironic peal of laugher.

Ricochet

Ed tore down the stairs, adrenaline making his blood sing
in his ears. It felt good. It felt like flying. And he was flying now, up over
the rail and down onto the landing below, bending at the knee just so to take
the impact.

His lungs burned, his belly burned, and he felt like a
boiler ready to explode. He'd never seen the Fuhrer before, never heard his
voice, never even noticed his picture in the paper. Perhaps he was the only
person in the country who could say that. But it didn't matter, because he would
be the one to pull that man down.

Ed pushed past soldiers twice his weight and more than
a full head higher. His palm tingled in anticipation of a slap and the warm
surge of alchemy rushing through his body. He rounded one more landing, now
ahead of the slapping feet of the arrayed soldiers. He was going to be first.

It was time to get physical.

The Fuhrer's security saw him coming, heard him coming.
How could they not. They weren't sure what was going on, but they weren't paid
to be tentative. Their guns were out and ready before Ed could jump over the
final rail. Ed actually felt the wind from one of the bullets (That's close)
before he landed squarely on the shoulders of one of the men.

He clapped his hands on the way down and then fell forwards
to the floor, pressing the virtual array into the concrete. With a loud groan
the floor melted and moved, surged up like a great wave, and knocked the men
off their feet and into the walls. One went tumbling down the steps to the next
landing.

The rest of his people were catching up, guns out.

No one cried "Surrender."

No one asked that they drop their weapons.

In fact no one spoke at all. Off balance, two got off
a wild second shot, only to receive bullets back. One in the stomach, the other
in the knee. And they were down. The other three were subdued rather quickly.

Ed transmuted some rope from the fire hose so that Roy's
people could secure the soldiers. He looked up to see Roy and Al rounding the
stairs cautiously. He gave them a thumbs up sign and a grin.

Roy put his mouth to the radio. "Five in the stairwell
down. Open door to sub four. Over."

"Roger," came Devers voice. "We got a panic button going
off. I'm initiating building wide lock down. That should buy you some time,
but don't count on much. Do what you need to do quickly. I'd say you got about
10 minutes to finish this mission before you will face a lot of heavy artillery.
Over."

"Understood, over."

The lights suddenly flickered from red to white again.
Without anyone touching it, the lock suddenly clicked and Ed heard a very quiet
buzzing noise. He grabbed the handle and pushed. The door was heavy but well
balanced and it made a rather satisfying clang when it banged against the wall.

Sub four was the prison level. There were some noises
coming from the doors to the cells, and Ed thought he saw a pair of eyes looking
through the small barred window on one of them. He'd known there were other
prisoners, but he never knew why they were there or what use they were being
put to. Now he wondered whether he should take a moment to break them out.

No, that wasn't his job, and they needed less chaos and
confusion not more. When Roy was Fuhrer, he would insist his lover figure out
what their story was, but for now they could stay. He'd been in a cell like
that one for months... it wasn't that bad.

The elevator was what needed his attention right now.
Roy and Al hung back in the stairwell while Ed and several of Roy's people flattened
themselves to either side of the elevator doors. Ed saw a radio hanging at the
belt of one of the men and grabbed it, bringing it to his lips.

"Devers open the elevator doors."

The light blinked in here as well and suddenly the Elevator
seemed to come to life. After aching seconds the doors began to open. The men
around him turned, aiming their guns inwards. Ed called out from cover, "Put
DOWN your weapons and surrender."

"We are secure in here," came a voice from inside. Ed
recognized it to be Ashfell's. He saw the men relaxing, weapons still aimed,
but no long just a hair away from firing.

The radio he was holding squawked again. "Our position
is being assaulted," came Devers voice. "We can hold them off for a couple of
minutes, but not longer."

Ed stepped out and looked into the elevator car. He saw
men lying in heaps on the floor, and Ashfell and Midnight standing. Against
the wall was a middle aged man with cold eyes belying the surrender made by
his upraised hands.

"Did you get the men in the stairwell?"

"Yes."

"Any injuries."

"Two on their side, none on ours."

"Excellent," said Ashfell. He turned and put a hand on
the Fuhrer pushing him out the door and into the hall. "I believe sir, you wanted
to see that jail cell?"

The Fuhrer looked straight at Ed, assessing him coldly.
"Don't think your genius will get you off this time," he said through tightly
clenched teeth. "You or your brother."

Ashfell pushed him on until they reached the cell. Ashfell
slid a metal card into the lock and it clicked. He then pushed the cell open.

It was the first time in a week that Ed had seen his jail
cell. The last time he was here, he was rubbing Roy's back, reasurring him that
all would be well. The room looked exactly the same. Same books, same beds,
same everything. It was as if the week had never happened... Until the Fuhrer
walked in and turned around, staring defiantly at him.

"Where is Mustang," asked the Fuhrer.

"He'll be here soon enough," said Ashfell.

"Hold him still," said Ed. "Might as well get this started
now." He pressed his hands together.

The Fuhrer did not hold still, but Ashfell was bigger
and stronger, and soon the Fuhrer's coat had been pried open, his shirt lifted
and his pale, flabby belly exposed.

Ed pressed the palms of his hands against the Fuhrer's
flesh. He felt muscles under the fat, tightening under the palm of his hand.
The Fuhrer wrested free of Ashfell's grip but the damage was already done. The
array, neat and perfect stood in stark contrast to the almost blue flesh beneath.

Ashfell let him go. Flushing the Fuhrer pulled his shirt
back down giving the two of them the evilest look.

"It's your own fault," said Ed. "You go making weapons
like this, you should make sure the ones making them for you are on your side."

"Don't get smart with me," said the Fuhrer. "Your time
is coming. You think anyone is going to accept me when I'm arrayed? They'll
know something is wrong. There is no way you can win this fight."

"Oh," drawled Roy from the door. "I'd say things were
looking well for us."

"It's on him," said Ed,

"My turn, I guess," said Al stepping past Roy and heading
towards the Fuhrer.

Then he stopped, his eyes wide. Ed spun around in time
to see the Fuhrer pull a gun from his coat pocket and level it directly at Roy.

"NOOOO!" Ed screamed and did the only thing that at that
moment made any sense. He jumped between the gun and Roy.

Everything slowed down.

First a noise, deafeningly loud, echoed off the walls
of the cell. Ed immediately felt a sudden intense pressure on his automail arm
where the bullet ricocheted off. He winced in pain, but also felt triumph. He'd
blocked the shot. Roy was safe.

Ashfell dived in at the same time, grabbing the Fuhrers
hand and twisting it brutally backwards. The gun fell out and hit the floor,
skittering and spinning to a rest under the desk.

Ed heard a loud thud behind him. He turned and saw Roy
still standing, unharmed, but crouched forward, his hands up in a protective
gesture, his eyes huge. And Ed kept looking and saw...

Oh god ... he saw...

"AL!" Ed threw himself between the Fuhrer and Al as if
to retroactively protect his brother. His eyes took in every detail at once:
the awkward angle of his brother's arms, the strange splay of his legs, his
brother's mouth, open and lax. The closed eyes.

It was so small, hardly even noticeable through the dark
blond bangs, but it was there. A drop of blood just above the temple, just below
the hairline. So little, like a coin. Like the burn mark from a cigar. So neat.
Surely something that tiny couldn't be bad.

Ed scooped his brother up in his arms. Al felt limp and
heavy, but alive. Not at all the way a dead body would have felt.

The bullet hole in his head didn't even bleed, but for
that single drop.

It couldn't be that bad.

Couldn't be.