sol 1056

The Shadow of Desire

chapter 3. taciturn
part 1 of The Contraries Arc

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Roy stared out the window, waving away Havoc's suggestion for lunch. It wasn't that he didn't feel hungry; perhaps he did. It was the landscape outside the window, and the memories of another train ride, unplanned, unexpected, if in the opposite direction. The sensation wasn't alleviated by the fact that he could see the broad plains, undulating in the mid-day light, where on that trip he'd only his own reflection in the train's windows.

Edward was stretched out across the seats opposite Roy, his feet kicked up on the armrest, his head padded by the red jacket, balled up into a pillow. He was sleeping with his back to Roy, which to Roy meant either Edward was unconsciously thumbing his nose at Roy with the fearless gesture, or that Edward truly trusted Roy to not attack him from behind while he slept. Roy wasn't sure which, so he leaned back against the stiff leather padding of the seat, crossed his arms, and let his chin drop to his chest.

Havoc had taken up position outside the private room, preferring to stand duty rather than laze inside with the two of them. Roy knew it was part of the traveling procedure, but somehow, it made him feel even more isolated. He'd made a show of being irritated when Edward had tromped in behind him and taken up the entire seat opposite, but at the same time...

He shifted on the seat, and tilted his head to stare out the window, reviewing the geography in his mind. Hyle was south of Youswell, on the other side of Mount Fuji. They'd be taking the train lines that went south of the range, and from there heading to Soswell, another mining town where one of the National Alchemists was when she last checked in.

Roy stretched out his legs, taking advantage of Ed's sleep to allow himself to slouch, just a little. Letting his eyes close against the memories of other trips east, he drifted into sleep, as well.

He came awake again when the train switched tracks, rumbling noisily over the split, as they turned towards the south, taking the fork down towards Hyle. It took a minute for Roy to register that part of his discomfort was the peculiar sensation that someone was staring at him. Opening his eyes further, he looked across the cabin to see Edward sitting up straight, his hands on his thighs as he watched Roy intently.

"What?" Roy frowned, and turned his head towards the window. The land was getting hillier, as they neared the mountain range that split Amestris from the desert beyond.

"You don't snore," Edward announced.

Roy blinked, and snapped a suspicious look at Edward, but the young man's eyes were open wide, as though he were contemplating something important. "Pardon?"

"You don't snore," Edward repeated.

"I see. And this has what to do with what?" Roy crossed his arms tighter, and pushed himself up so he was sitting straight in the seat.

"Just noticing." Edward shrugged, and leaned sideways on the seat, kicking one leg up onto the seat. He leaned his head against the armrest, an awkward position that looked it would give him a crick in his neck, Roy thought. Edward continued, nonchalantly, "some people snore. Alphonse does, sometimes." He smiled, a secretive, wistful look, then turned his head to grin widely at Roy. "Major Armstrong snores like a freight train."

"Mm." Roy gritted his teeth. This was not the caliber of conversation he was expecting, but he'd hardly spent the past years traveling with Edward. He wasn't sure why he'd started, now.

Edward was silent for several minutes, and gradually Roy began to relax. He pondered getting out his notes, and reviewing the last few reports from the missing Alchemists. He didn't actually like to work on trains assuming he ever really liked any of the paperwork, anyway since trains seemed more like a time to watch the scenery go past, and to mull over things he never had time to consider.

Maybe, a small voice whispered in his head, you just miss having a chance to daydream.

He snorted, and nearly missed Edward's next words, the young man spoke so softly.

" have a purpose, right?"

"Hm?" Roy frowned, considering that, and nodded. "I do."

"What..." Edward's lips were pursed, and his eyes were hooded, as though looking into the distance. "What will you do when you get there?" He glanced sideways at Roy, a quick, surreptitious look, his long eyelashes masking the gleam of gold. "I mean, after that. What then?"

"Then I take up the next set of goals," Roy answered, carefully. He didn't look at Edward, but kept his gaze set on the mountains in the distance.

"What if...what if you didn't have any?" Edward frowned, and Roy could see in his peripheral vision that the young man was fiddling with the hem of his short black undercoat. Edward shifted on the bench, the leather creaking under his weight. "What would you do then? Wouldn't it be...kind of..." He waved one hand, and cocked his head at Roy, a quick grin flashing across his features. "Pretty stupid, eh?" He jumped up, stretching, and headed for the door. "I'm hungry."

With that, he shut the door behind him. Roy stared at the door for several heartbeats, and settled back in the seat.

I could have a hundred years, he thought, and I'll never know what to expect next from him.

The train pulled into Hyle by mid-afternoon, and Roy had to grind his teeth to keep from yawning. The heat of the winter sun, beating down through the window, and the flashes of gold through the trees had him nearly hypnotized. It hadn't helped that each flash of sun in his eyes reminded him of that quick, bright glance from Edward: distance, and longing, in the same heartbeat. Roy sighed, and took their suitcases down from the overhead rack, while Havoc chatted with the conductor in the hallway. Edward was nowhere around, and in fact, Roy realized, he didn't think Edward had been back since he'd gone in search of food.

Roy shrugged and moved Edward's suitcase into the hallway, along with his briefcase. Havoc noticed and grinned, moving past him into the cabin to retrieve the rest of the suitcases.

"Could you leave that one on the platform?" Roy pointed to the suitcase, and the conductor nodded. "I'm sure the Fullmetal Alchemist will come by and get it at his convenience."

"Oh, him?" The conductor laughed, his face wrinkled enough to make his eyes disappear at the expression. "He's been in the dining car for the past two hours. Never seen a boy could put that much away at once."

Roy shook his head, and picked up his briefcase. Havoc was right behind with their luggage, as Roy stepped off the train to find a line of men in military uniforms waiting for him. He squared his shoulders, his gaze traveling the line to determine ranks, to see if he needed to salute anyone in return. There were six, lowering their arms as he nodded, and one stepped forward, smiling nervously.

"Brigadier General Mustang," the man said. He was Havoc's height, with thin brown hair that lay flat on his head except for a single cowlick at the back, which stood straight up, making him look as though he were perpetually startled. "I'm First Lieutenant Gautreau. Welcome to Hyle. We have a car waiting to take you to headquarters, where we'll debrief you—" He paused, his gaze darting back and forth between Roy and Havoc. "—Unless you'd rather relax after your trip, and have dinner...we can meet in the morning." He clasped his hands, waiting hopefully.

Roy caught a flash of red, getting off at the far end of the train, and glanced over at Havoc. His First Lieutenant gave him a inscrutable look, but Roy had known the man long enough to understand that Havoc was neutral about it. Roy looked back at Gautreau, and smiled tightly.

"Debriefing now is fine," he said. "Our luggage—"

"I'll have someone take that to your rooms, sir," Gautreau said, and turned, waving to one of the men in line. Havoc handed over the luggage, grinning as the Warrant Officer saluted him. Gautreau turned and headed for the car waiting by the station, in quick mincing steps that made Roy bite down on the inside of his lip to keep from smirking.

"Victoria Hogan, the Mechanical Alchemist, stayed here with her husband and daughter on their way to Soswell," Gautreau said, handing Roy several sheets from a folder.

They were ensconced in the headquarters' meeting room, with a large window looking out over the small city, and Roy tilted the sheet away from the window, against the late afternoon sun's glare. He glanced over the sheets, noting that one was a copy of the check-in for the officers' barracks. The Alchemist had arranged for two rooms; one for she and her husband, and a second one for their twelve-year old daughter. Roy nodded, flipping to the second page, which was a list of Hogan's known movements while in Hyle.

"When we heard you were coming, I had my staff speak to everyone who might've seen or dealt with her, while she was in town," Gautreau explained. "We didn't know she was missing, I'm afraid." He looked worried, and his nose twitched.

"We're not certain she is missing," Roy answered smoothly. "She simply hasn't checked in, but she's a long-term field agent, who often spends months at a time on assignments."

"She must be pretty important," Gautreau replied, his eyes wide. "I mean, to send a General after her." His eyes went wider. "Unless she'd done something illegal?"

Roy noticed Havoc giving him an amused look, and he arched an eyebrow in response at Gautreau. "Not that I know of, unless your sources indicated some suspicious behavior?"

"Oh, no, no," Gautreau said, frowning. "No, not really. Just some shopping, sight-seeing we have some beautiful parks, and a zoo and then after two days, Hogan and her family took a carriage to Soswell."

"Any word from Soswell whether she arrived?" Roy looked over the rest of the papers, and slid them across the table to Havoc.

"We're still waiting for word," Gautreau replied. "We actually only found out about your arrival several hours ago, so my counterpart in Soswell might still be compiling any information."

"I see." Roy nodded, and clasped his hands in his lap, leaning back. "Did you have a chance to meet with the Mechanical Alchemist, while she was in town?"

"I had dinner with her, the first night. My wife has a thing about Alchemists," Gautreau said, flushing slightly. "It's..." He shrugged, looking a bit uncomfortable. "Kind of a hero worship thing. But Hogan was very gracious about it. We had a wonderful time." He smiled, a bit wistfully. "She had just come from Rush Valley, and had the most amazing stories to tell..."

"Mm." Roy looked over at Havoc, who was reading the papers carefully. "Did Hogan speak of her plans, in your presence?"

"Not really." Gautreau gave Roy a bewildered look. "It's all in there. I wrote up my recollections of the evening, and put them in the file, as well. She said she was on assignment for General Wimmer. Something mechanical, I suppose, given that was her specialty." Gautreau eyed Roy's gloves, and the red array emblazoned on the back, then raised his gaze to meet Roy's. "I'm not really sure how that works, to be honest."

"Affinity, and a great deal of study," Roy murmured, and stood. "We'll review these, and if I have any questions—"

"—My staff is at your disposal, as am I," Gautreau said, standing as well. Havoc stood, and Gautreau saluted Roy.

"Thank you," Roy said, and left the room, Havoc right behind him.

In the hallway, they were quiet, until they'd left the building, walking across the street to the officer's barracks. Havoc tucked the folder under his arm, shoving his hands in his pockets as the chilly winter wind swept down the cobblestone streets.

"Sir," Havoc said, as they stepped onto the sidewalk, "is it just me, or does that man seem too mousy to have ever managed a promotion?"

"Not really," Roy replied. He gave Havoc a pleased smirk. "You've just been working for me for too long."

Havoc chuckled, and opened the door for Roy.

"This is why I don't like these kinds of things," Roy muttered, straightening his jacket one last time before the car arrived. "It's the endless hobnobbing."

"And not the fact that the hostess is married?" Havoc's question was quiet, as though he didn't expect Roy to have heard him, and Roy let the insubordination pass without comment.

No, Roy thought, it really has little to do with that. He glanced around the barracks lobby, mildly annoyed that Edward had disappeared and had yet to show up again. He wondered where the young man was staying, and mentally shrugged. Edward wasn't along under his command, although he hoped Edward had gained the tact in early adulthood to realize upstaging Roy would not result in a pleased General. No, Roy thought, it's the feeling of being put on display, of knowing it's an evening where one's presence is being used for others to gain favor or prestige.

He sighed, and squared his shoulders, seeing the military car pull up in front of the barracks. Together, he and Havoc stepped out into the cold winter night, ready to deal with Gautreau and his wife, the Alchemist-worshipping hostess.

The evening ended at nine, to Havoc's shock and Roy's private relief. Accepting their coats and the car ride back to the barracks, they split at the lobby, Havoc heading out to find the nearest bar. Roy shook his head at the invitation, unwilling to set aside the formality of their ranks, even for one night. Trudging up the stairs to his room, he unlocked the door and stepped inside. This time, he checked the room completely before sinking down into the nearest chair with a sigh. He chuckled to realize he was still on edge from having let down his guard without realizing Edward was present.

After several minutes of contemplating the utter inanity of Gautreau's wife who seemed to rival hamsters when it came to intellect he pushed himself out of the chair and stripped off his jacket. Hanging it up, he dug around in his suitcase for his off-duty khakis. Changing into them, he left his shirt untucked as he turned in a circle, staring at the small room. The bed seemed comfortable enough, and the desk would be useful, he figured.

Assuming I actually wanted to do any work, he thought. None of the information in the file seemed useful, but it probably wouldn't hurt to review it again. And it was only nine-thirty, too; if he went to sleep now, he'd be awake before dawn. But what he wanted was a comfortable chair, like his chair at home, which was perfect for long hours sitting and reading the newspaper. Or, in this case, reading pages of transcripts; he sighed, and picked up the folder, leaving his room in search of the officer's lounge.

Most barracks had them, as a small room down at the end of each floor where off-duty officers could relax. Some even had small radios, or perhaps a turntable and a collection of records in the stereo cabinet. Roy was mostly hoping for a cup of tea, and he had to shake his head at the realization that he'd be sitting in a room where no one would bring him any. It made him pause, and he almost turned around and headed back to his room, but something made him continue forward.

When he walked into the lounge, somehow he wasn't surprised to see Edward sitting on the sofa. The young man's boots were on the floor by the sofa, one leg stretched out along the sofa, the other leg tucked under him. His head was down, and he was reading a newspaper. He didn't look up at first, when Roy walked in, then did, and his eyebrows shot up.

"Thought you were supposed to be living the high life at First Lieutenant Gautreau's place," Edward said, leaning back and resting his head on the back of the sofa as he smirked at Roy.

"Yes, well," Roy replied, looking around the room. The sofa faced a low table, and two chairs, each of which looked distinctly uncomfortable, and neither of which had foot rests. Edward's red coat was draped over the back of one. Roy preferred footrests, given the choice. He frowned absently at Edward.

"They're as bad as they look," Edward said, jerking his head toward the chairs. "Fine, I'll make room," he added, grumpily, making a face before moving his leg to bring his knee up almost under his chin.

"Mm." Roy was torn between giving Edward a smug look, and smiling in amusement. He settled for a sardonic glance, and settled at the opposite end of the sofa from Edward. Crossing his legs, he opened the folder and began reading over the notes Gautreau's staff had compiled.

There was silence for several minutes, broken only by the sound of Edward turning the pages in the local newspaper. After a few minutes, Edward dropped the paper in his lap with a dramatic sigh.

"Too bad I never got assigned here for any reason," he announced. He kicked at the floor with one socked foot, then twisted sideways, throwing his leg over the arm of the sofa. "This place would've been a nice change."

"Hm?" Roy was reading the shopkeeper comments about Hogan, and only distantly registered Edward's complaint.

"They really like Alchemists, here." Edward scowled, and rustled the newspaper a few more times, flipping through the pages. "This is the newspaper from the bottom of the stack...dated two months ago. Three National Alchemists came through the town, and each one was announced in the paper." Edward snorted. "Surprised they didn't give a ticker tape parade or something, the way the newspaper carries on."

Roy blinked, and looked up, staring blindly at the dark windows of the lounge as he measured Edward's words against what he'd been reading. It had seemed peculiar, somehow, given that most citizens in the country almost universally hated National Alchemists. He'd assumed the shopkeepers and military staff had adjusted their comments or had been edited to present their reports in the least insulting light. The possibility that these effusive commentaries were the original statements hadn't occurred to him.

"You spent the evening around the town," Roy hazarded. Edward nodded, his expression still distant, and Roy raised an eyebrow. "How were you treated?"

Edward shrugged. "Okay, until someone saw my watch. Then it was like...royalty." He glanced sideways at Roy, a bit smug. "But I figured that was just my illustrious reputation."

"Or infamous," Roy muttered.


Roy didn't grace Ed's taunt with an answer, but shrugged.

"What time is it?" Edward sat up, dropping the newspaper as he glanced around the room.

"You have a watch," Roy reminded him without looking up.

"Hmph." Edward wriggled sideways, digging into his pocket and pulling out his watch. Flipping it open, he hummed under his breath for a second, then got up. "Gonna call Alphonse," he said, and was gone in a swirl of black coat and padded footsteps.

Roy watched the door swing halfway shut behind Edward, and shook his head. After a minute, he set down the papers, and decided he'd check down at the front lobby to find out about where he could get some tea. Something, he decided, since the chances of a good whiskey were probably nil. Closing the folder, he set it on the sofa, and headed for the door. It swung inward on silent hinges, and he was about to step into the hallway when he heard Edward's voice floating down the hallway towards him. In the empty space, it echoed eerily, and Roy found himself listening despite the firm knowledge that he shouldn't impose on Edward's call to his brother.

Second time in two days I'm eavesdropping, he thought, and shook his head at his own curiosity. My sources need improving if I'm sinking this low, he told himself with a wry smirk.

"...No, Mustang's..."

Roy's ears perked, and he found he couldn't move out of the doorway, listening intently.

"...Al, it's not like that. I mean, I know the General's been...yeah." Edward sighed noisily. "It's like...he's not there. At all. I don't know! Maybe someone replaced him with a much calmer replica or something."

Roy snorted quietly.

"Oh, yeah...I know, I know." There was a thumping sound, which Roy recognized as Edward's automail foot banging against the plaster walls. "It's just...Gracia was worried, and I figured she was just being...y'know, Gracia. But she was right. It's like...he doesn't really care. He doesn't seem to be listening, and it's like...No, it's different...I don't know..." Edward's voice faded, then came back in a quiet hiss. "Alphonse...Mustang doesn't even...y'know...pick on me. Not once. Isn't that...weird?"

He was silent for several minutes, and Roy held his breath, wondering if Edward had hung up. But Edward's quiet chuckle echoed down the hallway, and Roy relaxed.

"Yeah, maybe. I mean, he is getting old...hard to tell."

Roy rolled his eyes.

"Anyway, I don't know how long I'll be here. Hyle's'd like it. It's like Dublith not too big, not too small but here everyone likes National Alchemists. Cool, hunh...yeah...and then we head to Soswell, see what we can find out there...yeah. I will. Yeah, yeah, give her my love, too. No, Al...Al? That's not really..." Edward groaned, and cut it off abruptly. "Hey, Winly."

Edward fell quiet again, and Roy made a face, trying to keep from laughing, listening to the grumbling in Edward's tone.

"No. It's fine. No, no fights...yet. I mean, no! I won't break it. Yes, this morning! I even brought the oil with me!" Edward's voice went up to a dull shout. "Winly! Come on, I'm not—okay, that one time—okay, maybe twice." Edward made a strangled sound. "Three times. Fine! But I'm—look, I've got to go. Uh, someone needs the phone. Yeah, yeah, I will—"

Roy stepped back into the lounge, closing the door softly, and quickly made his way to the sofa. He was settled into his spot, the folder open on his lap, when Edward stormed back in and threw himself down on the sofa with a huff. Roy glanced over, casually, and had to struggle to hide the smile at Edward's dark countenance. The young man was collapsed onto the sofa, his hips on the edge, his legs stretched out wide, his chin pressed almost to his chest as he glowered at nothing in particular. Roy figured that was his cue, and set the folder aside.

"I'm going for tea," he said, feeling a bit awkward at offering the explanation. Something twinged, remembering Ed's supposedly private words it's like...he doesn't really care...he doesn't seem to be listening and Roy paused, wondering if he should say more. No, he told himself, if I do that now, he'll know I overheard. Roy frowned, a little surprised to find that he gave a damn what Edward thought of his behavior, and quietly closed the lounge door on the sulking young man.

When he arrived in the front lobby, the evening clerk informed him they had no milk for tea, and Roy drummed his fingers on the front lobby desk. He'd been in the mood for some strong tea, with cream. It was a wintertime habit, really, and the cold winds rattling the window of the lounge were probably what had put him in the mood.

"We do have hot chocolate," the woman said, smiling nervously as she fingered the strands of gray hair hanging down from her bun, tucking them behind her ears. Roy stopped his annoyed fingers, and considered hot chocolate versus tea without cream. Then he thought of reading on the sofa, and Edward's phone call, and rather unexpectedly heard words coming from his mouth that he hadn't intended.

"Two cups, actually," he told the woman, with a sly smile, as though letting her in on a secret. It worked, and she twittered and blushed, then disappeared into the back. A few minutes later she returned, still blushing, with two steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Roy took them with an abbreviated bow and a wink, and headed back up the stairs.

At the lounge's door, he stared down at the mugs, and wondered if he were insane for doing such a thing. He wasn't sure he would have offered, let alone done it, if it had been one of his dates. Normally they offered too soon for him to ever need to extend such hospitality; it was always as though every woman had to fall over herself to make sure he had the soft spot on the sofa, the just-right temperature of coffee, the spotlight, the consideration. Roy raised an eyebrow, amused at the comparison. The chances of Edward Elric ever going out of his way to make sure Roy Mustang had the softest cushion under his derriere were probably about as high as one of those damned flying pigs becoming the next Generalissimo. Roy shook his head at the mental picture, and pushed the lounge door open with his hip.

Edward was still on the sofa, but he looked up with a frown when Roy entered. The frown grew deeper as Edward's gaze traveled down to the mugs in Roy's hands, and then for just a second the most brilliant smile flashed across his face, the eyebrows up in surprise, the mouth open in a little 'o' and then it was gone, shuttered, locked away.

It made Roy's chest ache, but he steeled himself, and strode across the room, holding out one mug. "Hot chocolate," he said, a bit gruffly.

"Oh." Edward stared at the mug, then took it, sipping gingerly.

"It's not poisoned," Roy said, without looking. He set his mug on the table, and took his seat again, opening the folder to where he'd left off. Then he leaned forward, picking up the mug, and resting it on the arm of the sofa as he went back to reading. Edward slurped noisily at the other end of the sofa.

Roy wanted to smile. He didn't dare. Instead he studied the transcripts, and allowed some small, secret part of himself to enjoy the moment.