velvet mace


chapter 33. Choice

I'm free.

Midnight was stunned. So this is what freedom smells like.
Like gunpowder and sweat and stale air.




So this is what freedom looks like. Like an innocent face
marred with blood, pillowed on the lap of an angry man.

My mind is my own now. My thoughts are my own. I can
choose what to feel, what to do.


He was never my friend anyway. He was my captor, my
user, my owner. He was a piss poor excuse for a human, luring me up to his room
like that. Pretending to like me. I bet he never did. Why would he? We are nothing

I liked him.

He's dead; I should be dancing with glee. The horrible
nightmare is over.

But, it really wasn't that bad. It was... kind of ...

No. I don't think that. It's over, and I'm not going
to miss it.

"Midnight," said Mustang. "I ORDER you to activate that

Midnight snapped. He focused on those dark, narrow eyes;
the face firm with stress and wet with sweat and fear. He felt something uncoil
within him, an anger from the depths of his soul that bloomed out like an unholy
flower. "I am not your slave, Mustang. I never was." He said it loud over the
whoop of the alarm.



"I belonged to Al."

Freedom hurt. Freedom felt a lot like having his heart
cut out.

"And I don't think he needs my services anymore." Midnight
turned away, and stepped back out into the hall. Free. The sirens abruptly stilled.
The quiet felt better... much better.


Midnight spun around. It was the Fuhrer's voice. The Fuhrer
had shot Al. The Fuhrer had started this whole damn thing in the first place.

Midnight abruptly walked back into the cell, pushing past
Mustang, staring at the evil son of a bitch who had caused this all to happen.

"Well," said the Fuhrer. "Perhaps you aren't as gullible
as you looked. You are free now, take my side and I will see you aren't punished
for all the things you did while you were arrayed."

Midnight stopped. Was this a trick? Or was the Fuhrer
that desperate for his help?

"I won't be prosecuted? No demotion? No loss of certification?"
His breath hitched in at a tantalizing possibility. I can have my old life
back, free and clear?

"I won't touch you," said the Fuhrer, sounding a bit over
eager to appease him. "In fact, I'm proud of you. Of course, I'd like you to
testify at the trials of the others, those I don't have summarily executed right
now, that is."

Midnight longed to be able to turn back time and go back
to his old life. But what about Ed and Winry, and all the others who were arrayed?
Was it really fair that he should have everything and they be destroyed? He
had a bit of leverage here. Midnight could save the people Al cared about. It
would be the decent thing to do.

He had an idea. "I did it, sir."

The Fuhrer seemed caught a bit off guard. "What?"

"I got you your array," Midnight clarified. "I had the
idea, I got the right people. I made it happen. So what do you think? Is my
brain child a weapon worthy of you?"

The Fuhrer's smiled. "Yes, indeed." Is that smile
really appreciation? Or is it just a way to manipulate me.

Midnight didn't take his eyes off the Fuhrer's. "I'm the
only one who can make it work, now, you know."

"Yes, I do know that." The Fuhrer seemed to have regained
his composure. "In fact, let's have a demonstration."

"How about several, sir," said Midnight. "How about I
array Mustang and Ed."

Ashfell stepped between Midnight and Mustang. "Don't,
Midnight. Don't make me shoot you."

"You won't shoot me, I'm going to be saving your life.
I'm going to be saving all your lives. You should be thanking me. After all,
once Mustang is arrayed, you'll be back on the right side again. The side of
the State."

Midnight turned back to the Fuhrer. "Isn't that right,
sir? Won't you spare their lives if they were arrayed to you?"

Al would have liked that—everyone alive. Being arrayed
isn't so bad.

The Fuhrer nodded. He looked almost gleeful. "Absolutely.
There would be no need to kill them then."

Midnight nodded and looked at Roy. "Well? How does that
sound? Everyone lives. Trust me it's not that bad; I've lived with it for a
week now."

Mustang's eyes were hard. "If you won't help me, and that
will save Ed, do it, but leave me out. I would rather die."

"You'd rather die, huh. Funny, you never gave me that
choice. Die or be arrayed. You just went ahead and did it... only you had Al
do it for you. Al couldn't hurt a goddamn rat and you had him arraying people.
I take my hat off to you, you don't even need arrays to own people."

Mustang clenched his teeth. "Please, Al would have wanted

Midnight interrupted. He didn't want to hear what Al would
want. Not from Mustang. "I've spent the last three months being smirked at and
put down by you. Whether or not I'm a virgin is ABSOLUTELY none of your business."
Roy's face took on a peculiar pained expression. Midnight went on. "You are
one to talk, chasing boys half your age, playing on their innocence. Using them.
Using me. Using anyone who crosses your path for your own selfish aims. So you'd
now rather die than play by someone else's rules. How noble. Not."

"I'm not going to be arrayed either," said Ed. "Kill us

Midnight spun on Ed. "You don't even have a clue what
is best for you. Arraying you will save your life," said Midnight. "You'll have
freedom for the most part. But I see, it was good enough for me and Ashfell
and Devers and all the rest, but you are better than that."

"You make an eloquent argument," said the Fuhrer. "I suggest
you listen to him, boy. Your country could still use you... once you are tamed."

"Midnight," said Roy, "Please reconsider," then he stopped.

He's run out of words, finally. I've got him.
Midnight felt a bitter triumph. "I don't need your permission, you know."

They paused, staring each other in the eye. Roy looked
so vulnerable, so lost, so hopeless.

Midnight laughed. It was an ironic, bitter laugh. Then
he looked back on the body on the floor. I'm free of you, Al. You'll never
tell me to do anything again, and I'm getting my revenge in spades. I'm getting
everything I could ever want.

No, I'm not. I want you to be alive. I want to be owned
by you. I even know WHY I want to be owned by you; you goddamn told me to. I
remember your exact words.

But now you are dead. I shouldn't care what you'd want,
but I do.

You were going to take me places, Al. I could tell. I
can't hate you for arraying me, not even now that you are gone. But you
can't take me those places anymore, and there is no point in trying to please
you anymore.

And there is definitely no point in pleasing Mustang.

And there is no way in hell I'm arraying someone just
because the Fuhrer wants me to.

Honestly... do I really want to array someone just
to make my own life better? That would make me as bad as Mustang and the Fuhrer.

"What are you waiting for," said Goddard impatiently.
"If they resist you, they will die. They know that. Go ahead. I don't think
they'll fight you. Then you and I can talk about how we'll win these wars."

Midnight sucked in a breath. Suddenly, the course of action
seemed perfectly clear. He laughed again at the irony.

Oh, I'm going to array someone all right, but it won't
be for ANYONE in this room. I'm going to sell my soul for the sake of my country,
dammit. Because I am and will always be a patriot, even if I don't like the
guy in charge.

Midnight turned to Ashfell. "Hold him for me."

Ashfell looked towards Mustang.

"No, not him," Midnight shrugged his chin towards the
Fuhrer. "Him."

"What?" said Goddard, taken aback.

Ashfell smiled slowly. Before the Fuhrer could respond,
Ashfell had him, pinning his arms behind his back.

"It's on his stomach," said Ed.

Midnight lifted Goddard's shirt. Yep, there it was.

"Why?" asked the Fuhrer.

"Because, you are too reckless to be running our country,
much less anyone else's. Mustang is a smarmy bastard, but at least he cares
for someone other than himself. I don't want him as Fuhrer, but given the choice
of the two of you, I pick him."

The Fuhrer tried to wriggle away. How pathetic.

"Here's for the seven months of HELL you put me through."
Midnight touched the array and willed the deed be done.


Roy's heart was skipping beats something awful. He put
a hand involuntarily on his chest. He already had as much adrenaline as his
body could pump, and he was actually beginning to grow numb from the stress.
There were too many things pushing at his mind all at once and he simply couldn't
handle them.

So he stood dumbfounded and numb while Midnight discussed
his fate in icy tones.

"Whether or not I'm a virgin is none of your business."

Oh hell, he's not still sore about that is he? I said
that weeks ago.

Mustang bit his tongue and willed the smirk off his face
with all his might. Petty or not, it was important to Midnight. The man held
his fate in his hand, now wasn't the time to be defensive or flip.

Mustang watched as Midnight paced the room almost randomly,
turning from the Fuhrer to himself to the body on the floor, as if wrestling
some inner demon. Roy could only guess at how the array was affecting him.

Time ticked by, and Midnight vacillated, eyes just a bit
wild, expression just a bit crazed, as he justified arraying Roy and Ed. In
a way, it was poetic payback. The arrayer becoming the arrayed. Roy could even
see Midnight's point in that at least this way everyone would live.

Well, almost everyone.

Roy despaired.

Then suddenly Midnight ceased his random wandering and
honed in on the Fuhrer. "Given the choice of the two of you, I pick him."

Roy's mouth hung open in surprise. This abrupt one-eighty
left him completely off center, and he could do little but gape while Ashfell
pinned the Fuhrer. The plan had snapped back on track as quickly as it had fallen

"Here's for the seven months of HELL you put me through,"
said Midnight and he touched the array on the Fuhrer's belly. The older man
continued to writhe for a second, but then sensing that he'd lost the battle
the Fuhrer settled down and simply glared at Midnight.

My god... we did it. We actually did it.

Midnight turned to look at Roy again, one brow raised,

Roy found his tongue again. "My name is Roy Mustang and
you are now keyed to me. Do you understand?" His voice was rushed and breathy,
but that didn't matter.

"Yes," said the Fuhrer looking stunned and horrified.

Cut straight to the motivations.

Roy's mind raced. He could barely think straight, but
he had to. The unmistakable sound of fighting started echoing in the hall. Tripping
over his tongue he continued. "The most important thing to you is my welfare.
You will do everything in your power to see that I come to no harm. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir." The Fuhrer's expression was softening.

Was that enough? There were so many ways to interpret
that last order. Midnight had just interpreted it to mean arraying him. No,
he needed something more.

"And you... want what I want. You care for me. You love
me. You want me to be happy. Got that?"


It was probably overkill, but Roy could deal with that
later. The important thing was the fact that the fighting was getting fiercer
and closer. It sounded like the rest of Lab 5 had decended upon them. Roy winced
when he heard a shot.

"Then my first command to you is to help Ashfell sort
this situation out before anyone else gets hurt."

Ashfell nodded. "Midnight, you can help, too."

"That sounds like an excellent idea." The Fuhrer tucked
his shirt down and followed Ashfell and Midnight out into the hall. "MEN!" he
cried out. "ATTENTION. Settle down, I command ALL of you!"

There was one more random shot, then things seemed to
go quiet.

Roy breathed. It's over. It's over.

He then looked back to Ed and his brother. But at
what cost?
"I'm so sorry, Ed." He knelt by his lover and caressed his hair,
then reached down and touched Al. Al's skin was warm and soft.

"What the hell are you sorry for?" asked Ed, sounding
irate. "I keep telling you he isn't dead. He's just flaking out on us, the faker.
He's going to wake up any moment now. How many times do I have to tell you this
before you will believe me?"

Roy felt tears welling up.

"For God's sake, man. You tell me 'Trust me, trust me.'
Well YOU trust ME for once." Ed gave an exasperated sigh then grabbed Roy's
hand. "Here." He pulled Roy's fingers to the top of Al's head and ran it over
the soft hair, down towards his ear. "There. Do you feel it?"

Roy wasn't sure what he was supposed to be feeling, and
then he did. There was a lump under the skin above and behind the ear. Roy pinched
it between his fingers. It was hard, but it jiggled back and forth when he pressed
it. The bullet.

It hadn't entered Al's brain. It had slid around his skull

"Have I ever told you my brother is the luckiest son of
a bitch in existence?" said Ed. "He's the only person I know of who to have
his entire body be destroyed and still live. Why the hell did you think a little
bullet to the head would kill him? He's going to wake up any second, you'll
see. And when he does, I'm going to chew him out BIG TIME for scaring me like

Roy pressed his hand over his mouth, and blinked furiously.

"I told you he was alive. And hey, I think we just won."
Ed frowned. "What? Roy... are you crying?"