sol 1056

The Shadow of Desire

chapter 4. distant
part 1 of The Contraries Arc

If others had not been foolish, we should be so.—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

"This is Major Whitmere," Gautreau said with a smile as the man followed him into the meeting room. "He's come down from Soswell with the information about the Mechanical Alchemist."

Roy nodded at the man's salute, and accepted the papers. Absently pulling his coat tails out of the way, Roy took the nearest seat, flipping quickly through the two pages. Havoc was at his right, waiting with the rest of the transcripts they'd accumulated. It took only a minute, and Roy was handing the two pages to Havoc.

"She arrived, and then left," Roy said, frowning slightly. Gautreau and Whitmere sat opposite him, a striking contrast. Where Gautreau was lanky, with thinning brown hair, Whitmere was squat, with curly blond hair that looked like someone had glued yellow carpet to a billiards ball. Whitmere's expression, however, was not nearly as obsequious as Gautreau's.

"Yes, sir," Whitmere said. "As you can see from the copy of the military reports, she filed her presence with us, and then continued over the mountain towards Youswell."

"Why wasn't Central notified of this?" Roy narrowed his eyes, but kept his demeanor calm.

"They were," Whitmere said, also tensing. He pursed his lips, his eyes on the ceiling before giving Roy a puzzled look. "The paperwork was sent off in our weekly mailing, along with the usual reports."

"She arrived, signed in, stayed the night, and left with her family." Roy stated it flatly. Whitmere nodded, and Roy turned his chair to stare out the window at the small valley town. "Did she meet with anyone else? Did she discuss her plans with anyone other than with you, when checking in?"

"Ah..." Whitmere shrugged. "No. She said something about wanting to meet with the Cragrock Alchemist, but I think Cragrock arrived a week too late."

"Cragrock," Roy murmured.

"Elidia Yasika," Havoc told him, in an undertone.

"She's been in the town for two months, now," Whitmere said. "Lovely woman. She's been infinitely helpful with our mining operations."

Roy nodded, still pondering the news that Hogan had continued over the mountains. Shifting in his chair, he turned to study Whitmere and Gautreau, his hands clasped loosely in his lap. "Hogan crossed the mountains with her October, it would have been?"

"Early October," Whitmere said. He pointed to the paper in Havoc's hands. "The exact date is there."

"October eighth," Havoc read.

"Are the roads well-traveled?" Roy kept his voice light, with just a hint of curiosity and puzzlement.

"We have a lot of traffic between Youswell and Soswell, sharing technology and miners, as each cycle through operations." Whitmere glanced at Gautreau, who nodded and smiled.

"It's back and forth, all the time," Gautreau said.

"When one project ends," Whitmere explained, "half the town picks up and heads over to the other. Then they come back when we hit another vein. With the Cragrock Alchemist in Soswell, though, most of the work's been pretty steady on our side."

"What's her specialty?" Roy cocked his head, keeping his eyes wide.

"Tunnels," Whitmere said, laughing. "She can clear out fifty feet of solid rock..." He snapped his fingers, and chuckled.

"Like that," Roy murmured, smiling just a little. He glanced at Havoc; the man's smile was subdued but his eyes showed his amusement at the private joke he and Roy were sharing. Roy's eyebrow twitched, and he gave Whitmere and Gautreau a pleasant smile, and stood. "Gentlemen, it seems to me that perhaps we should continue on, to Soswell and then to Youswell."

"It's mid-December," Whitmere said. "The roads are much rougher now, and if you're not used to mountain travel..."

"Are they completely impassable?"

"Not really." Whitmere considered it for a moment. "Just difficult."

"We'll head to Soswell, and speak with Cragrock, then," Roy replied. Havoc stood as well, saluting the other two officers, who saluted Roy in turn. Roy nodded, and led the way from the meeting room.

Roy made a disgruntled sound, looking at the paper taped to the door of his temporary quarters. Flipping the note open, he read the carefully scrawled lines, then read them a second time, tempted to snap his fingers and torch the innocent letter.

Brig. Gen.—Gone to Soswell. You take too long and talk too much. —Fullmetal.

He shoved the letter in his pocket, and smiled wryly. Then he went to make a phone call to headquarters.

"Ready for Soswell, sir?" Havoc stuck his head in Roy's open doorway, as Roy set the packed suitcase down on the floor.

"Almost," Roy said. "The paperwork for Hogan's check-in arrived yesterday in Central," he added, conversationally.

Havoc whistled and leaned against the doorframe. "Just over two months late."

"Impeccable timing," Roy agreed blandly.

"So why aren't we heading to Central...if you don't mind me asking, sir," Havoc said, and grinned.

Roy paused in packing his briefcase, and shook his head curtly. "I'm not entirely certain. I expected the same thing, myself, if Hogan's whereabouts are now known..."

He considered that. Whitmere had implied that Hogan's work would be in the mining camps, dealing with the technology used to raise the ore from deep in the earth. It would be two days hike to the site, and two days back again. The majority of the workers were actually in the town itself, dealing with the smelting operations. Still, messages would be carried back and forth, and it should not have been an issue for Hogan to check in again in Youswell. He shook his head, and snapped the locks on his briefcase.

"Soswell, First Lieutenant," Roy said, sharply. "Carriage leaves in an hour."

"Already packed, sir," Havoc replied. "Just coming by to get your luggage."

"Ah." Roy checked the room one more time, and made sure he had the key for the front desk. Patting his pocket, he heard something rustle, and he pulled out Edward's note. Frowning, he looked it over and shook his head again at Edward's childish handwriting. Some things, he told himself, will never change.

It was a comforting thought.

"Carriage?" Roy gave Havoc a surprised look, and Havoc stepped away from the automobile with a wide grin. "I thought—"

"No, sir," Havoc said. "Apparently Elric arranged transportation for us."

Roy eyed the vehicle suspiciously. "Did you—"

"Checked it over already," Havoc said, opening the door for Roy. "I'm pretty sure it won't blow up, or fall apart. Apparently he told someone he wanted to see the countryside, and they said he could use the car. Found the note and keys in my room when I came back after lunch."

"And you just now thought to tell me about it?" Roy got in, settling himself and crossing his arms, watching as Havoc circled the car to get in behind the wheel. "This seems to be turning into a habit," he added, under his breath.

"Elric's request, sir," Havoc said, putting one arm over the seats, turning to give Roy a grin. "He thought you'd take it better if it were a surprise."

An Elric peace offering, Roy mused, and smirked. Havoc's grin got wider, understanding at least the reaction if not the thoughts, and he started up the car with a soft chuckle. Ten minutes later, they had left Hyle behind, and were on the main road heading for Soswell.

Roy stared out the window, watching the forest get thicker as the road climbed into the mountains, and pondered the evening before. Edward had finished off his hot chocolate quite quickly, seeming to enjoy it, and Roy didn't want to break the mood by pointing out that hot chocolate was a combination of cocoa powder, sugar, and the dreaded milk. He'd read through his notes and the paperwork at least twice, before realizing that Edward had fallen asleep on the other end of the sofa, sprawled out with his head against the back, one leg over the arm, and the other leg stretched out onto the floor. Roy had stared for a long time, seeing the utter relaxation of sleep, and the slack-jawed pleasure Edward seemed to get from his dreams.

He had wondered what he looked like when he slept. Hughes had once teased Roy, in their academy days, that he frowned even while sleeping. Roy frowned at the recollection. Idly he put a finger to his forehead, feeling the ridge of muscle, the line etched between his brows. He could see faint traces of the same line in Edward's forehead, and it made him sad, rather than amused. He had stood, as quietly as possible, planning to return with a blanket, for no reason that he could comprehend. It was simply, suddenly, that he felt like doing so.

When he'd returned, not more than five minutes later, Edward was gone, as were his boots and his coat. Roy had made a point of shrugging to the empty room, as though eyes were still watching him. He had carried the spare blanket back to his room, and gone to bed.

He had been, and still was, discomforted by his uncharacteristic behavior, after years of managing the subtle balance between himself and the Elric brothers. It was a balance based on caring for Edward, and by extension Alphonse, but never breaking it with words. Roy had stared at the blank ceiling of the officers' quarters, and the shadows moving from the trees outside the window, and snorted at the game in mild exasperation. He'd cared; he'd always cared, and everyone around him knew it. Alphonse knew it, certainly, and perhaps Edward, but it was an unspoken rule of engagement that such should never be admitted. He'd worked from the start to make sure Edward didn't see him as a hero, or a savior, helping Edward along in his journey. No, Roy had decided eight years ago that better Edward fight his own battles, and believe them to be his own victories.

And now I am changing the rules, Roy thought, and stared out the car window, wrapping his arms tighter around him despite the heater going full blast in the front seat. Or perhaps they're changing around me, he pondered, wondering if his impulses were simply recognition of the truth. Edward was no longer that wide-eyed boy in the Central train station, breathless and shocked from the sight of Roy blistering a criminal into a smoking hulk of flesh. He was a National Alchemist with abilities and powers in his own right, and a brilliant one at that, with a mercurial mind that often left Roy breathless in return.

Not that I'd ever admit it, Roy thought, and ducked his chin to smile into his collar. Another unspoken rule of the game, he knew.

Havoc was humming something under his breath, a tuneless kind of whisper in the front seat. Roy let his mind wander back to the question of a National Alchemist who seemingly disappears for two months, and then reappears with no questions asked. The loss of paperwork, for two months, was unlikely, Roy reminded himself. Such paperwork would have been bundled, and one sheet slipping from the stack and being lost was a truly rare occurrence. When it did happen, it was usually accompanied by the loss of other paperwork as well.

"General," Havoc said, breaking Roy from his thoughts. "Looks like we may have company."

"Wha—oh." Roy looked up to see a carriage ahead of them, on the side of the road. The harnesses were empty, the horse team gone, and the only movement was a red cloth draped over the side of the carriage. Havoc pulled the car up alongside, and the red cloth resolved itself into the hem of Edward's coat. Edward was laying on top of the carriage, one leg up, the other leg swinging idly off the side. Havoc stopped the car, and got out. After a grunt of exasperation, Roy followed.

"Fullmetal," Roy called up to the carriage. "When you've done celebrating that for once you're taller than everything around you, I'd like to hear an explanation of just what you did this time."

"You calling me short?" Edward hopped to his feet, and stared down at Roy, glowering. His brows were lowered, but his grin looked more exultant than annoyed, despite the fact that he was waving one fist dramatically as he shouted. "Who's so short he could stand under the carriage and not get hit when it goes right over him!"

Roy raised his eyebrows and waited. Edward glowered for a few seconds longer before throwing down his suitcase and clambering off the top of the carriage. Edward jumped down from the ladder, and brushed himself off before crossing his arms, bracing his feet as he glared at Roy.

"Wheel came off," Edward said, as if that explained everything. "Axle broke."

"Looks fine to me," Roy replied.

"I fixed it," Edward retorted. "But the horses got spooked, and they took off. Driver went after them."

Roy frowned, and Edward took it the wrong way, of course.

"I am not a Horse-chasing Alchemist!"

"No," Roy demurred, the spark reappearing as the taunt came to his lips. It was almost...enjoyable, his mind supplied, to find the energy to jab Edward as he once had. "But you're the perfect size to be one of those little lawn jockeys..."

Oddly, Edward looked like he was somewhere between exploding in fury and grinning manically. "But you're the original model, General," and he put a hand on his waist, twisting his body so his hip jutted out. He tossed the other hand up in front of his nose, pinky out as though holding an invisible cup of tea, and tilted his head backwards, nose in the air. He gave Roy a sly look from under his eyelashes, then smirked outright.

Havoc coughed, and Roy closed his mouth on his retort. Instead, he settled for arching an eyebrow. Edward relaxed with a sharp grin. Score one for me, the look said, and Roy almost rolled his eyes, but said nothing.

"Well, boss, you want a ride, then?" Havoc opened the back door of the car. Edward grunted, giving Roy a satisfied look, before picking up his suitcase and throwing it over the seat into the trunk. Havoc beckoned to Roy, who sighed and got in after Edward.

Within minutes, they'd passed the driver leading the four horses. Edward waved, but he didn't ask to get out, and neither Havoc nor Roy suggested it. Soon the winter shadows under the trees lengthened into late afternoon. A soft purring sound came from the other side of the back seat, and Roy looked over to see Edward curled up, twisted so his feet were almost at Roy's thigh. Edward's head was on his knees, and he seemed to be drowsing. Strands of gold hair lay across his face, fluttering softly with every breath.

That can't be comfortable, Roy thought, noting the thin line between Edward's brows as it appeared and faded, and he wondered what thoughts preoccupied the young man. Roy pushed the curiosity from his mind, and turned to stare out the window. There was something still bothering him about the entire assignment, and daydreaming would just have to wait until he'd figured it out.

Roy flipped the suitcase open on the bed and glared at the neatly folded garments. Setting aside his change of uniform and making a mental note to find out if there were a laundry in Soswell, he changed quickly into his off-duty khakis.

There were no officer's barracks in Soswell; instead, he and Havoc had been put up at Whitmere's residence, which consisted of the top two floors over the military headquarters. The guest rooms were on the top floor, five stories above the twisting alleys that passed for streets in Soswell. The town sat halfway up the mountain, and the narrow streets and tall buildings made it feel like everything had been piled up on top of what came before, tilted and leaning. Roy stretched, noting the overstuffed chair by the fireplace, the decadent bedding, and the heavy drapery for shutting out winter draughts. Definitely more than he was used to, and he had to grin at that.

I am too military, he thought, if draperies make me uneasy.

He dug his notepad and a pen out from his suitcase, and went in search of the small sitting area the First Lieutenant had mentioned. Edward had, once again, disappeared as soon as they'd arrived in Soswell, leaving Roy and Havoc and deal with First Lieutenant Tartleton, the town's administrator. The man had been utterly useless, but yammered on for nearly two hours about the most inconsequential things. The only knowledge of any value from the entire exhausting process was that the Cragrock Alchemist was recovering from her last mining project and wouldn't be available until the next day. The other important piece was that the phone lines were down, and had been for three months. Apparently the First Lieutenant and most of the town—thought nothing of the two-hour car ride, or five-hour carriage ride, just to make a single phone call from Hyle.

Stupid trees, Roy thought, which made him think of the desert. No, he decided, better a mile of trees than ten miles of sand. But still, even just one month should be plenty of time to deal with a fallen tree and fix the lines, he thought, and pushed open the door to the guest lounge.

He was unsurprised to see Edward sitting with his back to the arm of the sofa, his legs stretched out, boots in disarray on the carpet. He was reading another newspaper, and lowered it long enough to glare at Roy before raising it again. Fortunately there was a second sofa, facing the first, its high back to the door. Roy shrugged at the raised newspaper, moving to sit opposite Edward. He crossed his legs and uncapped his pen, doodling a bit on the paper as he let his thoughts fall into some sort of pattern.

The windows rattled with the wind, and Roy glanced at the fireplace, considering lighting a fire. He decided against it, not feeling the chill quite yet. There were two side chairs, that looked like dining chairs pressed into service as spare seating; a white knitted throw lay decoratively across the seat of one of the chairs. A number of pictures of former administrators hung on the walls, most of them in uniform, ceremonial swords polished to a glow and displayed proudly. Roy dropped his gaze, uninterested in the generic decorating style that seemed to pervade every officers' lounge.

When the clock struck eight, Roy realized he had yet to write anything down, mostly preoccupied with trying to read the headlines on the newspapers Edward was reading. Edward seemed to be looking for something, and would read each quickly, then drop it with a disgusted snort, lean over the arm of the sofa, and drag out another day's paper. By Roy's count, Edward was on his sixteenth newspaper, and Roy set the notepad and pen down on the low table between the sofas. He was hungry, and the First Lieutenant had mentioned the headquarters' cook would be available in the kitchen.

I'll be back in a few, he wanted to say, but didn't. He halted at the door, and considered saying it anyway, but a glance over his shoulder told him Edward was still busily turning the pages. Roy shook his head, and went in search of the kitchen.

He found it, ten minutes later, and the lone worker smiled politely and took his order for a simple roast beef sandwich and a cup of tea, with cream. The man was just turning away, to make the order, when Roy called him back, and added a second sandwich to his request, and changed the tea to a carafe of hot chocolate.

"Oh," the man said, scratching his head. "Two sandwiches? Sorry, General, I thought you were alone upstairs."

Roy was about to explain, but his instincts made him stop. "I'm going to be up late," he said with an easy smile. "Better to get enough for now and a snack later, than interrupt myself to come back."

"Yes, sir," the cook replied, and ten minutes later Roy had a tray with two good-sized sandwiches on one plate and enough hot chocolate to drown Edward, if he chose. Roy smirked at the thought and snagged a second mug while the cook wasn't looking.

When he pushed open the door to the lounge, Edward lowered the newspaper with a snapping sound.

"Mustang, you're the laziest—" Edward's eyes went wide, then narrowed. "Not polite to eat in front of other people," he grumbled, and raised the newspaper again.

"Mm," Roy said, setting the tray down on the table. He poured one cup of hot chocolate and set it down by his notepad. Then he poured a second cup, and set it over on Edward's side of the table. Picking up one of the sandwiches, he leaned back, crossed his legs, and began scribbling his thoughts on the notepad.

He didn't have to wait long. The newspaper rustled, and Edward sniffed, quietly, then the newspaper rustled again. Roy purposefully kept his eyes glued to the notepad, writing out a list of the people he'd met, their positions, and general attitude. In the corner of his eye, though, he could see an automail hand sneak out from behind the newspaper, grope for the mug, and then retract, taking the mug with it. There was the sound of quiet slurping, then silence. Roy took a bite from his sandwich and chewed noisily, finishing it off with the realization that he'd been much hungrier than he'd expected.

Slouching further down on the sofa, he propped the notepad up on his knee, as if blocking his vision. The newspaper pages were flipped a few more times, and the empty mug reappeared on the table. A few minutes later, the hand snaked out again and stole the second sandwich, and Roy had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

Rules of the game, he told himself.

Soon, Roy could hear munching, punctuated by satisfied humming. Taking advantage of the covering noise, he leaned forward and poured another cup of hot chocolate into Edward's mug, then sat back and sipped his own. He stared down at his notes, drawing lines and squiggles between the names as he pondered the question of why the Generalissimo's assistant had told him to continue his investigation, even though Hogan was reportedly in Youswell. If she had been purposefully absent without leave, a military investigator should be tracking her down, not a Brigadier General in charge of Alchemists and certainly not a Brigadier General who was not even her commanding officer. If, however, it was a foul-up in the paperwork, an administrative investigator should be dispatched to Soswell to review their processes.

Which is reason enough, Roy decided, to be especially on guard. His original assignment to find the Alchemist was nothing unusual, and the best officer would have gone, regardless of whether he or she was the Alchemist's direct commanding officer. But the complications of—

Roy felt that prickle on the back of his neck, and realized Edward had lowered the newspaper and was watching him carefully. Roy glanced up, raising his eyebrows but saying nothing.

"Two months of newspapers," Edward said, and twisted to drop the most recent newspaper back on the stack, by the sofa legs. "And there's not a single comment about Alchemists. Not at all like in Hyle. There's plenty of advertisements about sports league games against Youswell, and upcoming projects. There's not even a mention of that rock alchemist—"

"Cragrock," Roy murmured.

"Yeah." Edward leaned back, stretching broadly, his hands in fists. He yawned dramatically and got up, coming over to seat himself next to Roy, looking curiously at the notepad in Roy's hands. "What are you writing?"

Roy frowned, and was tempted to swat Edward on the nose with the notepad. He vetoed that idea, and leaned forward for his mug, unsurprised when Edward scowled and pointed at his own. Roy set down his mug, retrieved Edward's and gave it to him. Then Roy picked up his own again, sipping cautiously. He made a face; it had cooled, but it was still drinkable.

"I'm just reviewing the information," Roy said. "Trying to look at it from a different angle."

"Don't think you'll find out much from her," Edward said, pointing to the name on the sheet: Cragrock Alchemist. Edward yawned again, and rubbed one eye with the heel of his left hand. "She's cool, but she doesn't know anything about the other Alchemist."

Roy was startled. "I was told she's recuperating."

"Oh, she is." Edward shrugged, and gave Roy a wily grin. "But she still answers the door when you knock." He slurped his hot chocolate, and made a face. "This really isn't as good as the stuff in Hyle."

"I'll be sure to tell the cook," Roy replied, dryly.

Edward sniffed and finished off the last of his second cup, setting it on the table. "Had a nice visit with Yasika. She's like...eighty! And only..." He waved one hand, vaguely, in the direction of the table, and Roy blinked, not sure what Edward meant. "She's...short," Edward explained, and Roy nearly snorted his hot chocolate through his nose. When Edward glared, Roy schooled his face into a suitably patronizing expression.

"Fine," Edward said, throwing himself against the back of the sofa with a huff. "See if I help you."

"Mm." Roy tapped on the paper, next to Hogan's name. "An alchemist who specializes in mechanical properties would be of huge value to a mining operation. I would think any late arrival on her part would have spurred a huge search."

"Yeah, unless someone else wants those skills more," Edward pointed out, his crankiness gone. He slouched down further, resting his head against the back of the sofa, his eyes closed. "Who else would give a damn about someone who can make little machines and cogs and wheels..." His voice trailed off, and he was quiet, then shook himself, sitting up. He glowered at Roy, as if daring him to say something.

Roy had to. "You've been sleeping a great deal."

"Always do, on trains, cars..." Edward looked confused, and ran a hand through his bangs. "Now's when I'm awake." He yawned widely.

"I can see that."

Edward muttered something rude under his breath and tapped his finger on Roy's notepad. "I bet she likes wrenches, too."

"Possibly," Roy agreed, his mind going back to Edward's earlier comment. "Who else would want a Mechanical Alchemist? Especially since she was—" Something bumped him in the shoulder, and he absently elbowed Edward back, then blinked when he was bumped again. He looked at his shoulder, and got a mouthful of golden hair. Sputtering slightly, Roy wiped at his mouth with his hand and leaned over, surprised to see Edward was asleep. He twisted, grimacing as Edward swayed, and cautiously put his left hand on Edward's automail shoulder, shaking gently.

"Fullmetal..." Roy paused when Edward didn't responds, and tried again. "Elric..."

"Edward," came the soft response, interrupted by a huge yawn and a sigh. "My name...not at work..."

"You are at work," Roy replied, wryly. "We were discussing work, at least, so technically..." He watched, somewhere between shocked and amused, when Edward growled softly, a light scowl crossing his face, his eyes still closed. A second later, Edward fell forward, his braid whipping behind him from the speed of the move. Roy just managed to catch Edward from doing a face-plant into his kneecap, and hauled the young man back upright. Edward mumbled something inaudible and tilted sideways into Roy again, swatting at Roy's hand on his shoulder.

Exasperated, Roy tossed his notepad onto the table. If Edward were going to crash wherever he liked, Roy decided, then Roy would just use the other sofa. Roy had no sooner decided on the course of action, than he'd also realized Edward's head was now in his lap.

Roy froze.

Edward, however, poked Roy's thigh a few times without opening his eyes, and muttered something that sounded like 'Alphonse.' Edward's feet were still on the carpet, his legs half-off the sofa, and he raised one leg, kicked it a few times, and missed the edge of the sofa. The foot fell with a thump back to the carpet, Edward sighed deeply, and began making the odd purring snore Roy had heard from him on the way to Soswell. Roy realized he was completely tensed, his arms raised over his head as if in surrender. He lowered his hands, feeling immensely awkward. Frowning, he patted Edward, and then shook him.

One part of his brain was mildly relieved that Edward's automail shoulder was not the shoulder pressed against Roy's thigh. A smaller but noisier part was cackling madly at the fact that the Fullmetal Alchemist purred in his sleep.

"One more time," Roy muttered, grunting as he tried to lift Edward up so Roy could ease out from under. The automail hand resting on his knee was attached to a sleeping body with other ideas, and Roy nearly yelped as the hand tightened, pinching the skin through his khakis.

"Al, hold still," Edward grumbled, wriggling to get comfortable, seemingly unaware of Roy staring down at him, wide-eyed. Edward said something else that sounded like, 'wake me when we get there,' followed it with a few smacking sounds, and gradually fell still.

Oh, hell, Roy thought, and sighed deeply, feeling highly put-upon. He snorted again, looking down at Edward's slack face, several strands of hair drifting back and forth across Ed's nose, which twitched in response. Roy stared at his notepad, on the coffee table, and started to lean forward. The motion pushed his chest against Edward's head, however, and Edward growled in his sleep. Roy sat back quickly, not sure he'd want to test what Edward might do, half-asleep, if he thought he were threatened. It wasn't like Roy could just take away Edward's chalk, and prevent an explosive array so simply.

Roy stared at his notepad, and realized his arms were up again. He started to cross them, but that meant he was inadvertently using Edward's cheek as an elbow rest. Roy frowned and uncrossed his arms, placing one across the back of the sofa, and the other along the armrest. It wasn't his normal position, but Edward murmured something and stretched a little. Roy glowered at the room, and pondered the fact that normally Edward seemed to fall asleep and pop right back up again, wide-awake, as though a switch were being flipped.

Something, Roy thought...but another part of him was almost pleased with the fact that perhaps this meant he was in the same category as Alphonse. It was rather flattering in a way, given that he wasn't sure he could say he had ever allowed anyone else such trust, except perhaps Hughes, once... Roy sighed, pushing away the memories of passing out after drinking all night with Hughes, and waking up with Hughes' foot as his pillow. The rest of Hughes had mysteriously ended up on the floor beside the sofa, rather than on it like he'd been as they matched each other's shots in adolescent competition. Roy smiled at the recollection and leaned his head against the back of the sofa, shifting gradually until he was comfortable. Edward shifted as well, rolling over and pulling his legs onto the sofa as he pressed his nose against Roy's hip. His automail shoulder, flush against Roy's thigh, wasn't nearly as unyielding as Roy had expected.

Roy could only stare down at the sleeping man, and shake his head in dismay. Please, he thought, don't let Havoc stop by and see if I'm up. This is not a suitable position for an officer and... Roy frowned, staring down at Edward's hair, glimmering in the lamplight, the braid on Roy's thigh a dull gold in the yellowed glow. I'm not technically his commanding officer any more, he reminded himself. For all intents and purposes, we're equals on this trip, since we're both answering to Generalissimo Thayer.

I still outrank him, Roy reassured himself, his eyes sinking closed.

His eyes snapped open, and he twisted his head to see the time. Only fifteen minutes had passed, but the room had grown chilly. Roy yawned and grumbled under his breath. He'd seen an afghan on one of the chairs, and he yawned again, then grinned when he spotted it on the nearest side chair. Roy leaned forward, and heard another growl. A hand under Edward's head, lifting the young man up, got the same response, along with a few curses and a drawn-out, "Stop tha..."

Roy angled himself, sinking down a little on the sofa, and stretched one leg out. He grinned triumphantly when he managed to hook the leg of the chair, dragging it towards him across the carpet. Twisting carefully, he snagged the afghan with one hand, and pulled it off the chair. Holding it up, he studied Edward for a second, and decided if Edward thought he could sleep where he liked, then he'd have to deal with being completely under the afghan. With that thought, Roy snapped the afghan open, letting it unfurl across them. His eyes were half-closed, and his hand moved by feel alone, automatically tucking the blanket in behind Edward so his back wasn't exposed to the chilly night air. Then Roy leaned back, pulling the blanket up under his chin, and fell into sleep as well.

"One more time," Roy insisted, childishly stomping his foot. "And then I'll come in, I pro—"

The dream disappeared with a sudden whoosh louder than any dream had the right to be. Roy opened his eyes, and wondered when the light had gone out, before he realized the room was lit only by the fireplace's glow. There was a weight across his stomach. A hand was tucked against the small of his back, between Roy's body and the sofa cushion. Roy's right hand was resting on someone's shoulder, and Roy blinked, feeling his eyes sting. He coughed, slightly, and pulled the afghan off with his left hand, gasping when the air wasn't much cooler with the afghan gone. He could hear the crackling fire, and wondered if Havoc were truly so sadistic as to not wake him and offer help to pry Edward off him. The heat from the fireplace was overwhelming; Roy wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

He rubbed his eyes again, and shook Edward with his right hand, but the young man didn't respond. Roy rolled his eyes, struggling to wake up through the haze of sleep and lingering dreams. Then he realized something that made his blood run cold despite the warmth in the room.

There was no fire in the fireplace.

Sitting upright, ignoring Edward's startled sleepy grunt, Roy twisted on the sofa. Dread filled him as he looked over his shoulder towards the door. The door was solid flame. Fire was licking up the plaster walls, eating at the molding along the ceiling.

They were trapped.