bob fish

Blush Response

part 2 of Wrong Turn Universe

Title: Blush Response
Characters: Roy/Kimbley, cameo from Maes
Rating/warnings: NC-17. Kink, poor judgement, one-sided goofiness, Kimbley. Also, like every other Roy in Ishbal fic, hints of gore and angst.
Word count: 5404
Setting: Mangaverse, during the Ishbal Super-fun Beach Party of Annihilation.
Summary: Doesn't everyone need an entry in their sexual history marked "what the hell was I thinking?"
Note 1: drew an illustration for this fic for her own Roy/Kimbley fuh_q art entry. Please go and check out her smexy art!
Note 2: Thanks to for permission to use a particular dubious technique she gave Kimbley. Thanks to for the lightning beta and the joke.
Note 3: For those keeping track, this fits into my Wrong Turn 'verse. Oh yes.

Roy had all his best ideas at 2am. It had been late at night in his master's house when he'd had the sudden epiphany: his alchemy was for protecting people, so he should join the army. It had been late at night, too, when he'd scribbled wearable array could include some kind of friction pad for sparks? in his notebook. In the morning he'd realised he'd been so tired he hadn't even written it in code. It had been 2am the night he'd glanced at his old master's array and suddenly realised how doubling the circle could turn the fire array's precision from sledgehammer to scalpel.

And it was a moment late at night, on a deserted college playing field, when he snapped his fingers and aimed into the empty air, and finally became the weapon that his old master had dreamed.

He'd only been in the desert a week, and so far Roy was finding being at war wasn't quite what he'd been led to believe. For a start, it was a good deal smellier.

There was the sweat, of course. Everyone sweated appallingly in the heat. Garbage rotted fast, food left out was buzzing with flies in minutes. The smallest wound would go bad unless you cleaned it and covered it straight away. Corpses in your own territory had to be dealt with quickly. In the ruined streets, the enemy were left where they lay often enough.

Roy's foster mother had gone here on vacation once many years ago, when he was a child. Trust her to holiday somewhere where there could be a riot any minute. She'd brought him back a little clay whistle he'd kept on his windowsill, and a stack of photographs of bustling, sun-baked streets lined with whitewashed buildings, full of white-haired men and women talking, buying oranges, hurrying on with their days. Today he had stood in a street like that and ended an eighteen-hour skirmish in twenty seconds. The squad had been surrounded by the enemy — and then he had snapped, and rescued them in moments, and the greasy smoke had risen high into the air.

When he walked back into camp, Roy was so overheated he had to resist the urge to dunk his entire head in the water trough. Water first, then rations. When he got to the back of the line, the man standing there waved him ahead. Roy shook his head. Then the two soldiers in front did the same thing. "No, really," he said, somewhat confused. Then the soldier dishing out the ration trays looked Roy right in the eye and offered him some.

Roy suddenly got it. It was because he was a State Alchemist, wasn't it? Or because they'd heard about today? He felt suddenly uncomfortable, and didn't understand at all why. Roy liked officer's perks, in general.

"No, sir," said the rations guy. "Please." The soldiers in line urged him forward. He took his rations as quickly as he could and went to look for somewhere to sit. He hoped no one would get up to offer him a seat. That had happened yesterday. He wasn't sure why he didn't like that, either.

Of all the benches, only one had space. It was empty apart from a man with a ponytail. He was stripped down to his tank top and uniform trousers. The rest of his uniform was folded neatly on the seat next to him. He stared into the middle distance as he sipped from a tin mug. He had an odd air of meditative calm about him, strange and likeable. Roy automatically looked for a pocket watch. Yes, he was an alchemist.

"Do you mind if I sit here?" said Roy.

"Every man for himself," said the alchemist, with a little smile.

As he sat, the other alchemist put his mug on the table, and offered him a hand to shake. Roy glimpsed some kind of tattoo. He was trying to place the man now. After a week, he still hadn't met many of the State Alchemists already here.

"Crimson Lotus," said the man. His grip was firm and his hand was cool in Roy's. Roy raised his eyebrows in surprise before he could stop himself.

"Zolf Kimbley?" The man inclined his head. Roy shook his hand enthusiastically. "Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist."

"I know," said the other alchemist. "I've heard about you," he said. Roy blinked, and felt a little surge of pride. He'd only been qualified a couple of months. Kimbley was at the top of his field — but he was following Roy's work. Admittedly, it was a pretty small field. Combustion was difficult to work with.

"Of course, I know your work. I'm surprised we haven't bumped into each other before now," said Roy. "Hilda Mackintosh used to mention you a lot. And Colonel Schrieber."

"I'm on active duty most of the time," said Kimbley. "I don't spend much time in Central. My superiors are good to me, they always keep me busy." He smiled broadly, and Roy replied with a conversational laugh.

Kimbley looked far too clean for the desert. His tank top was pristine white, his skin pale apart from the light tan and freckles on his arms and shoulders. His hair was shiny and dark, held back with a tie at the nape of his neck. He must have showered and changed after his shift. Roy was suddenly very aware that he himself smelled like ass, that his hair was plastered to his forehead and he itched with sweat. Kimbley looked polished and debonair, almost as if he was standing in an officer's mess or a city bar, holding a wine glass instead of a tin mug. Professor Mackintosh had mentioned Kimbley was a charmer. Roy watched him quietly sipping his coffee. He was good-looking, very much so, in a sort of quirky, intellectual way. Roy normally preferred the athletic type when it came to men — but Kimbley seemed to have an aura about him, a sort of charisma.

"We must talk molecular theory some time," said Roy, greatly daring. "Of course, one's secrets are one's own, but I'd be interested to know where you stand on the pedesis debate."

"Theory is dry,"said Kimbley. "I'd much rather see a demonstration of your work." He was looking at the gloves Roy had shoved into his waistband with great interest. Roy dug them out and held them out to show Kimbley. The man reached over with both hands and examined the rough texture of the cloth, stroking it with his thumbs while his fingers folded under Roy's, a small, incidental touch. "It makes a spark, like a ferrocerrium flint, yes?" Kimbley's voice was a fascinated murmur. He was close enough for Roy to feel his breath. Roy nodded. "What a neat idea," Kimbley continued.

"Evening, you two," came a plummy bellow from behind Roy. Brigadier General Fessler. Roy turned and saluted him informally, repressing a sigh and feeling a little guilty that he had to do so. "Glad to see you getting acquainted. Flame, Captain Adams told me about today. You're making a fine start! Glad to have you with us, glad to have you." He clapped Roy on the back.

"Same here, sir," said Roy, not sure that he entirely meant it.

"Good work today, Crimson," said Fessler, moving around to clap Kimbley on the shoulder.

"Crimson Lotus," corrected Kimbley. Roy noticed that he didn't add sir. As Fessler moved on to his next victim, he flicked imaginary dust off his shoulder.

A fine start, Roy repeated to himself. Suddenly, he was far less in the mood for flirting over alchemical chit-chat.

Deserts got cold at night. As he sat at the deserted bench at 2am, Roy's skin still remembered the wretched, sweating heat of the day. He was holding a cigarette and sucking on it half-heartedly every so often. It was supposed to calm him down, but really the last thing he wanted was more smoke in his lungs. Mostly, it was so when the night watch walked past, he would look like he was doing something other than staring into space.

He wasn't thinking so much as he was ruminating, running the day's memories in his head over and over again, and trying to make them make sense. Was it just me?, he thought to himself. He didn't understand why he didn't understand. He was expecting real combat to be a shock to the system, but — the captain he'd rescued today had said to him, that's not combat, that's an act of god. He'd seen the bodies, he'd smelt them. Their grease still clung to his clothes. God? Roy had replied. I'm not sure I'm ready for the promotion.

When he saw someone in uniform walking towards him, Roy automatically took a draw on his cigarette before he looked up. It had, of course, gone out.

"Got a light?" said Kimbley.

Roy attempted suavity. He gestured for one of Kimbley's cigarettes, put it in his mouth next to his own and lit them both with a flick of his finger. Then he inhaled and tried really hard not to cough. He handed Kimbley's cigarette over to him.

"Thank you for the demonstration," said Kimbley. "Think you could light one when it's in my mouth?"

"Try me," said Roy. The honest answer would have been sure, if you don't mind losing your eyebrows.

Kimbley raised an eyebrow, and sat on the bench next to him.

They smoked without spoiling the quiet of the night. When Roy walked back to his tent, Kimbley walked with him, and he wasn't completely surprised to find that he followed him in.

They were alone. State Alchemist's perks: Roy had his own tent. It had seemed like a luxury at first, but Roy was starting to dislike the company of his own mind.

"What brought you out there?" asked Kimbley quietly. He pulled his pants up at the knee slightly when he sat, to keep the creases neat.

"Oh, you know," said Roy. "I wasn't asleep, and I felt like a smoke. You?"

"I like the quiet," said Kimbley. "So, what's really going on in your head?"

Roy surprised himself. He told him. About the day, and the street, and the greasy smoke, and what the captain had said to him. Kimbley just let him talk, staring at Roy steadily with calm, heavy-lidded eyes. When Roy had finally run out of words, Kimbley got up and walked over to him. He put a hand on Roy's upper arm.

"Listen," he said. "Your work is wonderful. Two days ago, I walked through a sector you'd cleared. There was nothing but scorched earth, yet the fire damage stopped at the border so precisely, you could see the line of it from a mile away, like a landmark. You joined the army — let me guess — to protect people from charmless chaos like this rebellion?" Roy nodded. "Well, you've been set a task that will achieve your goals, and that you can do more perfectly than nearly anyone. Isn't this good luck for you?"

Roy sighed, heavily. The touch of Kimbley's hand was a calming thing. His argument was completely logical — but there was something about it that Roy couldn't grasp, a jarring feeling He wasn't thinking straight. It was good to talk to someone more experienced. "That's a new way to think of it," he said slowly.

"You don't sound enthusiastic," said Kimbley. Roy couldn't read his soft, neutral tone. "Do you want to leave?"

"I can't leave," said Roy. It felt like admitting that he might want to leave. Oh god, did he? "My comrades are depending on me to protect them. I can't just turn back now and leave them to it."

Kimbley smiled at him. "Good. I like determined people."

Roy smiled back. "Thank you," he said. "I feel a little clearer now." On the other hand, he'd just thoroughly embarrassed himself in front of a man whom he'd wanted to meet since military academy.

That long, cool hand stayed resting on his upper arm. Roy felt a little rush of elation. He was interested. Was he?

This weirdness and horribleness, it was just teething troubles. His mind was adjusting, he'd learn to cope with how things were. And it made sense to do it like this, to talk things through with another alchemist who'd seen combat, someone who knew what it was to handle such a powerful weapon and who'd thought it all through ...

Roy lost his balance, and very suddenly landed on his back. It took a moment's confusion before he realised Kimbley had shoved him. The moment of alarm faded when he looked up and realised that he'd definitely been shoved in a sex way and not a fight way. Which was exciting, if a little sudden.

Moving slowly, looking at Roy with one eyebrow raised, Kimbley settled on his knees between Roy's sprawled legs. Roy hauled himself up on his elbows and realised that he was grinning too broadly.

"Little puppy," said Kimbley. Then he leaned down and bit Roy on the nipple.

Roy squeaked. Kimbley chuckled. This was just embarrassing. It hadn't been a proper bite, really. Maybe just a nip? Kimbley was mouthing his nipple now and sucking on it. It felt all scrapey through his cotton shirt. Roy tried not to wriggle, and frowned. He wasn't sure if he liked this or not.

Kimbley moved his mouth away and looked at the circle of wet cloth in a pleased, lascivious way that made Roy feel a bit weird. He really wasn't sure if he liked this.

Those words proved to be pretty much that night's motto. Over the course of a couple of hours' fooling around, Kimbley managed to do at least four things to him that no one else had ever done before. Roy wasn't sure about the biting, he wasn't sure about being licked back there, he wasn't sure about being told to grip the headboard of his bunk and not move his hands, and he certainly wasn't sure about the thing with the pen. He stuck with all of them. By the end, it was getting light outside, he had come twice and sweat out most of the liquid in his body, his muscles were jelly, and he certainly wasn't thinking about the war. This wasn't really what he'd been expecting from surreptitious wartime sex. He'd thought it would be some kind of quickie round the back of the latrines. He was kind of glad it wasn't, though. They smelt pretty memorable, he wasn't sure he'd be able to concentrate.

He lay bonelessly in his bunk while Kimbley dressed. Kimbley left his hair down. As he wandered over to Roy, it struck Roy that there was something fantastically indiscreet about this small detail. Anyone who saw him walking away from Roy's tent with his hair loose and his face flushed would know exactly what they'd been up to. Roy wasn't entirely sure how he felt about that, or about the fact that this seemed — deliberate.

Kimbley leaned over his bunk. Roy stretched up for a kiss — and Kimbley turned his head and snorted, then bit Roy on the ear.

Roy was trying to get used to the biting at this point, but he still squeaked.

Kimbley's tent was bigger than Roy's, and further apart from the others. Previous war record, Roy supposed.

They hadn't said a word to each other about what had happened since, so when, three days afterwards, Roy wandered into Kimbley's little territory, he wasn't quite sure what sort of reception to expect. But it had been a really awful day. Roy's stomach was churning, his chest was numb, and he needed to shut his stupid brain up. It seemed worth a shot.

Kimbley was sitting reading in a camping chair, long legs stretched out. He didn't get up when Roy came in. He just nodded, as though he'd been expecting him, marked his place, and closed his book.

"Hello," said Roy. "How's it going? I was just, uh — I just —"

"Tell me what you did today." Kimbley cut him off mid-sentence. His expression was completely unreadable, but Roy definitely had his full attention.

Roy sat down on the bunk, and told him. Kimbley listened, still silently. At the end, he said quietly, "Thank you, Major." He stripped his shirt off and folded it over the back of the chair, keeping his eyes on Roy all the time. Roy shivered a little and hoped Kimbley hadn't noticed, but suspected by the grin on his face as he walked slowly towards Roy that he had.

That slow walk was a very strange ten seconds for Roy. When Kimbley stood up, he felt wrung out and tired, and could only summon up a small, vague interest in the sex he was about to have. Ten seconds of that silent, ominous stare and smile, of Kimbley's slow steps, and Roy was nervous as hell, but his cock had sprung to life.

When Kimbley reached him, he stood in front of Roy for a moment. Drawing out the suspense, said Roy's talkative brain. He still jumped when Kimbley lunged forward, fast, and pushed his legs wide apart. Roy's cock pulsed, and that was obviously noticeable too now, because Kimbley laughed and trailed one hand lightly down his thigh to his crotch, and palmed him. Roy whined. Kimbley's hand clenched just a little too hard, and Roy whined again.

"Did you see me clap?" said Kimbley conversationally.

Roy froze. A sharp jolt of fear went through his system. Either Kimbley was messing with him, or — fuck, he'd left himself wide open, he still didn't quite trust the man -

"Well?" said Kimbley. Shit, was the hand at Roy's crotch heating up? Was Roy imagining it?

Roy swallowed. "I — didn't see."

Kimbley put more weight on his hand. He moved the other hand down to Roy's thigh. Roy still didn't fight him off. He felt like a mouse standing stock-still under the gaze of an owl.

"I didn't clap," said Kimbley.

Roy breathed out, hard, and then tried to laugh. "Good one," he said, "you really had me going ther-"

Kimbley had tackled him onto the bed. Now he was holding Roy firmly by the wrists. He licked a trickle of sweat off Roy's forehead, followed it down to his earlobe. Roy had absolutely no idea why he was still turned on.

"Adrenaline," whispered Kimbley. "Doesn't it feel good? Your body wants to survive. It wants to fight." His grip on Roy's wrists tightened. This was really a bit much. "Did you know that animals that die in distress taste different? Adrenaline floods their muscles."

"Oh," said Roy. He hoped he was imagining the note of panic in his own voice. "That's really interesting. Is that why game tastes different? Some people don't like it, but I — hang on, what are you doing?"

This time, Kimbley had definitely clapped. He placed his hands on the sheets either side of Roy's head. The air crackled with blue light and ozone, and Roy's heart tried to slam its way out of its chest. Something tugged at his wrists, and he was relieved to realise Kimbley had just made some kind of tie out of the bedsheets, fastening his wrists to the top rail. Then he wasn't relieved at all.

"Oh, that's clever," Roy heard himself babbling, "your array's built around a basic transmutation formula so you can just use it to make —"

"Do you trust me?" asked Kimbley with a grin.

"I'm not sure," said Roy, trying to sound jovial to disguise the fact that he meant it.

"Good." Another buzzing crackle of alchemy, and Roy's shirt hung off him in strips. "More adrenaline for you. Aren't you lucky? By the way, I'd like you not to talk. But feel free to make a lot of noise."

Kimbley stripped Roy of the rest of his clothes slowly, but didn't take off another stitch of his own uniform, just opened and pulled his pants down enough to free his cock. Roy watched him, and chewed on his own lower lip. Kimbley dipped his fingers in a tub of petroleum jelly, and then he bit and licked at Roy's nipples as he fingered him just a little too fast and rough. Roy was horribly nervous and horribly aroused. With the remaining functioning parts of his brain, he tried to work out how this thing was working. When Kimbley's fingers made his entrance burn and his muscles spasm a little, he'd be distracted by the nipple thing, the rough licks that shot straight to his groin. When he bit Roy too hard, he teased at his prostate at the same time. Throughout it all, he stroked Roy's cock lightly with his free hand, teasing without satisfying. Something very odd was happening to Roy's body, as if it could no longer tell pain from pleasure. Roy knew what the clumsy kind of roughness felt like, but this deliberate, virtuoso playing was entirely new to him. Why was he somehow starting to relax into it? Why was he so damn hard?

Roy didn't realise he was making a noise until Kimbley slowed down. He stroked down Roy's sides and made quiet whispering sounds, as if he was trying to calm a skittish horse. The back of Roy's throat hurt, and the stretched muscles of his arms throbbed as he relaxed them. Kimbley bent forward and licked the sweat from the hollow of his throat. Then, as Roy tipped back his head, Kimbley sat up, gripped the back of Roy's knee, lined himself up and slowly, inexorably pushed in.

Kimbley fucked him steadily, scratched at Roy's chest and pinched his nipples. Roy closed his eyes, breathed deeply and felt for a moment that it was good to be human, to want and ache and be taken and to buzz with sensation. His cock throbbed and dripped. Roy wrapped his legs around Kimbley's back, and began to rhythmically slam himself upwards. The restraints were bunched up thin now, and they bit painfully at his wrists. He was starting to get pins and needles in both hands. He was vaguely aware that he was, as predicted, making a lot of noise.

Kimbley leaned in to lick behind his ear and nip at the lobe. His breath was loud in Roy's ear, and his thrusts were starting to come faster and rougher. "Want to finish?"

Roy nodded vigorously and shakily.

On the next thrust in, Kimbley lifted his chin up with a thumb. "Ask — me nicely."

"Please," said Roy without hesitation. He let his eyes fall shut. "Please."

There was a sharp noise he half-noticed through everything else, and then Kimbley's hand snaked between their bodies and he heard himself groan. The hand gripped Roy hard and he sobbed in his throat. Kimbley's fist seemed somehow to hum like a machine. The sensation pulsed through Roy's cock, unbearably intense, and he felt a familiar coiling tension and tightening. Kimbley pumped hard twice, and Roy shook, howled and released over his own belly.

Kimbley carried on thrusting right through it all and after, looking wild and strange now, his hair coming down, long strands plastered to his face with sweat. Roy watched him vaguely, trying to remember how to breathe. Then Kimbley leaned forward and whispered in Roy's ear, "I really did clap that time."

Roy started and jerked at the restraints before he could stop himself. He looked up at Kimbley in shock — shit, he did, he could have — no, he's joking, he couldn't — and Kimbley held his gaze and hammered into him with a wild laugh. Kimbley didn't look away until he came.

Afterwards, Kimbley left him just as he was. He didn't move to untie Roy until he'd washed himself up with soap and a canteen of water. He was lavish with the water as if the stuff wasn't rationed.

"I'd be tempted to keep you there, but I need the bunk," said Kimbley. He clapped and pressed his hands to either side of Roy's head. Roy jumped. Kimbley laughed. "Just scaring you, little puppy," he said, as the cloth around Roy's wrists buzzed and snaked away.

Kimbley didn't seem like the hugging type, so when Roy was dressed, he just clapped him on the shoulder and said, "Thanks." Kimbley smiled and snorted, and Roy stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered out, embarrassed.

He was two steps out of the tent and starting to realise how sore and shaky he was, when he crashed straight into a young trooper. "Sorry, sorry," he said.

The trooper looked at him and his mouth quirked up cheekily at one side. "Fun evening, sir?"

"Shut up, Private," muttered Roy.

He stumbled back to his tent. The burns on his wrists were there for days.

The next time it happened was a week later, in the late afternoon of Roy's first day off so far. He was sleeping on his bunk, badly, drifting in and out of shapeless and unpleasant dreams. Then something was on top of him and he was fighting, instantly, before he'd even woken up. He had a hand around a wrist, his knee in the person's stomach, and his fingers poised to snap — then he managed to get his eyes focused. He realised at the same time that he wasn't wearing his gloves, and that it was Kimbley.

Roy looked at his own fingers and blinked. The gloves were in Kimbley's free hand. He waved them at Roy, then tossed them on the bunk. "Your instincts are getting better." He turned his captured wrist rapidly and flicked it out of Roy's grasp. Roy blinked again.

Their previous two encounters had disturbed Roy far more when he turned them over in his mind afterwards. There were details he hadn't wanted to think about, that made him feel a little ill: the talk of adrenaline, the games with fear and what he was starting to suspect Kimbley got out of them, the look on the man's face in those last few moments. Most of all, Roy was disquieted that he had shared confidences with this man. He didn't know Kimbley's political views — come to that, he didn't even know his own any more — but he was starting to hear more about him from other soldiers, other alchemists. He had a reputation for loving his work. And Roy knew what that meant, because his work was very much like Roy's. Roy had thought him calm, and thoughtful, and prepared to listen. Kimbley certainly was all of those things, but Roy guessed by now that he was a lot of other things too.

Yet here he was again. Roy knew already that he wasn't going to say no.

Kimbley nodded towards the gloves. "You can put them back on."

Roy did it almost without thinking, but felt instantly more comfortable, safer. He wasn't going to think about Kimbley's motives for asking.

"Take your shirt off," said Kimbley.

In the heat of the day, Roy was wearing only his undershirt and boxers. He shucked the shirt, then said, "You too."

Kimbley raised an eyebrow. Roy grinned and raised a gloved hand. Kimbley laughed. "Growing some balls?" But he didn't take the shirt off. Instead, he just leaned forward, and whispered in Roy's ear, "Get on your stomach and put your hands behind your back."

Roy ignored the throb of arousal in his gut, and ignored Kimbley. He reminded himself of the reasons why this was not a person he should let restrain him, and then tried not to remind himself too much, because this was not a person he should be fooling around with, period. Then he leaned forward and pushed Kimbley's undershirt up under his armpits. He reached down again to run his gloved hands over the muscles of Kimbley's chest. Sweat and dirt soaked into the palms.

Kimbley made a small, satisfied sound. His breath was hot. He circled Roy's wrists, and tightened his hands. Roy waited a moment, then twisted his wrists out of Kimbley's grip. Kimbley's eyes were full of something frightening and thrilling. He muttered, "Yes, that's it." Then he tackled Roy to the mattress.

Then they were — Roy didn't know what they were doing, really. They were struggling, each trying to pin the other, pressing against each other, grinding hard. Kimbley was kissing him now and it hurt, mashing their lips together and thrusting his tongue in hard. Roy kissed back in kind. He put a hand in Kimbley's hair hard enough to pull. Kimbley grunted and scraped his fingernails down Roy's back. He was grinding his erection hard into Roy's thigh now. It was good and it was fast and — god, that smell — Roy could smell death on Kimbley, on his skin and his clothes. He had come straight here after his work shift, hadn't he?

Kimbley pulled away from him, suddenly, and fumbled down his uniform pants. Roy nearly laughed. It was so odd to see him clumsy and out of control. He was close, and he wanted more. That was fine by Roy. A quick, hard fuck and then he would go and Roy would be able to sleep, to sleep properly. He could contemplate whether he'd ever be doing this again when he woke.

Roy pulled off his boxers while he watched Kimbley struggling with the ties of his boots. He wasn't bothering to hide his amusement now. He looked at his gloves: on or off? A sensible precaution, but he preferred being able to feel properly. Besides, they smelled like work. He tugged at a fingertip.

"Keep them on." Kimbley coiled a hand around Roy's ankle.

Roy wrinkled his nose. "Come on, they don't smell good."

Kimbley crawled between Roy's legs, then put one of Roy's hands to his face, palm up, and inhaled deeply. "Alchemy," he muttered. "It's a very good smell." He bit down on one of the fingers. Roy had worn this pair for days. Alchemy and death, that's what the gloves smelled like to Roy, the same smell Kimbley carried with him.

"That's enough!" He'd whipped his hand away before he'd thought about it.

Kimbley gave him a dangerous, excited stare. "That wasn't sensible," he said. He shifted closer to Roy, crowding him. Roy knew what the script was supposed to be here, he was supposed to be scared and unnerved, intimidated, turned on. Kimbley was supposed to hold him down, fill him with pain and pleasure and fuck the misery and confusion out of him.

"No," he said. "I don't like my work here. I didn't become an alchemist to do this, I didn't join the army to do this. I don't get off on this. Fuck me or get out." As soon as he said the words, Roy realised they were true.

Kimbley's grin was huge now. It split his face and it was all teeth, like the mouth of a shark. "I like your spirit," he said. "It's going to be a lot of fun, proving you wrong." He raised his arms, like an orchestra conductor at the start of a piece. "You'll like this."

He clapped his hands together. And half an instant later, Roy snapped.

By a couple of days later, Roy was certain: the fog of doubt that he had been living in, that had enveloped, disturbed and comforted him, was gone for good. In its place was merely unhappiness and a very bad conscience. Roy missed the doubt already. But at least now he had someone to miss it with.

Hughes and Roy had been reunited for nearly two hours when they got back to the centre of camp, and they were still talking. Hughes' company had only been posted to this sector today, but he already seemed to know nearly everyone from elsewhere. He gave Roy a cheerful running commentary on everyone he spotted. Armstrong was decent but flakey; Grand was a hardass; Comanche slept with a hairnet over his moustache; Fessler, say no more.

"Whoa," said Hughes, jiggling his eyebrows in that way Roy had forgotten was annoying, "is that Zolf Kimbley over there?"

Roy looked over quickly, and managed not to make eye contact. "Yep."

"Jeez, should have known he'd be out here. The man's a complete sadist. Did I ever tell you about how — hey, what happened to his eyebrows?"

"Tell you later," muttered Roy, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Hey, did you know I've got my own tent?"