scimitarsmile

Menu

Many thanks to Aishuu for being the one to point out just what kind of alchemy Roy most likely uses, beyond that flashy fire stuff.

sol 1056

The Shadow of Desire

chapter 5. torn
part 1 of The Contraries Arc

The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow;
nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Roy reacted before he even realized he was moving, his eyes tracking the fire's path up to the ceiling. The lamp by the door exploded. Oil sparked into flame and the liquid arced downwards to splatter across the rug. In that heartbeat of time, Roy had already shaken Edward violently and gotten no response. Roy didn't have time to get the leverage to throw Edward over his shoulder, but pulled the blanket-wrapped figure into his arms. He came his feet, juggling Edward once until Edward's nose was against his neck, and dashed from the sofa to the far wall by the window.

Dropping to his knees by the window, he pulled the blanket over Edward's face again, and set him down. Staying low to avoid the gray smoke obscuring the ceiling, Roy reached up and yanked hard on the curtains. Both heavy drapes fell down, the brass curtain rod clattering on the wood floor.

Five floors, Roy thought, cursing fluently. If Edward were awake, his alchemy would make escape a simple procedure, out the window and straight down the side of the building. But Edward was completely unconscious, and Roy spared a single breath to register the hot chocolate had to have been drugged. His own mind felt fuzzy, his reflexes dampened. He let the drapes fall in a rough fold, double thickness. Furling it quickly across himself and Edward, he pressed them up against the wall and dug in his pocket.

One piece of chalk—the alchemist's constant companion—and Roy steadied it in his fingers, coughing at the thickening smoke. His hand paused on the plaster, seeking backwards through years of study and research to remember the inversion. He coughed again, pulling the drapes farther over his head, and brought Edward closer to him. One stroke, wiped off with the heel of his hand. A second attempt: the triangle shifted thirty-degrees. Stroke and circle. Symbol and pattern. Roy glanced across the room at the fire's progress: his oldest friend and truest enemy. Something inside him laughed at the maxim that one should keep enemies closest.

Roy couldn't warn Edward. No way would Edward hear him or wake, if he hadn't so far, but Roy moved without thinking. A quick exertion of muscles and Edward was curled between Roy's legs. Roy covered them both with the drapes, and tucked Edward's head under his chin.

Then he took a deep breath and slammed his left hand down on the array.

Light flared out, blue stripping to green and crackling at the edges. Roy gritted his teeth, holding Edward in place with his legs. Turning a little, he lowered the edge of the drapes over his head, watching the progress. The light poured through the room, green snapping against the red flames. The green continued to grow, flooding out the red. Roy's vision swum, but he kept his hand on the array, feeding it. Edward choked against his chest. The fire was hedging backwards, beaten and starved by the alchemical reaction. Edward gasped, and his body began flailing. Roy braced himself and pulled Edward closer. Edward threw his head back; eyes closed, lips turning blue. The young man's body thrashed, each movement pushing them away from the wall. Roy's hand being pried was being from the array as Edward's body shook in his arms, convulsively fighting for air.

Only Roy's fingertips remained against the chalk lines, but he kept his grip fierce on Edward. The crackling fire was fading; perhaps the blood pounding in his ears was too loud. Roy swayed, and dug his fingertips into the plaster. Edward's struggles were growing weaker.

It took a heartbeat for Roy to realize the pounding was not his blood. Or perhaps the pounding at the door was in time with his heart, hammering to be free of his ribcage. He could see the flares of sparks, last smoldering moments of fire. Only another minute more, his teacher's voice whispered in his ear. He forced away the knowledge that Edward had gone limp in his arms. He forced away the dark room, the fading sounds. He couldn't yell, without air. He couldn't warn, without oxygen in his lungs. He couldn't take his hand from the array, for fear that—

The door burst open, flooding the room with oxygen.

Roy's entire world exploded.


Movement; his body was raised, carried. Crackling and pouring; someone was shouting in the background. Fireworks of hot-white danced in the inside of his eyelids. Roy couldn't sense Edward against him, and he floundered, sensing the flames were too close. Edward, he told himself, desperate, I need to—

But he couldn't speak, only cough. The world was spinning, twirling in the darkness of his eyelids. A hand pressed itself into his jaw, the fingers tightening cruelly, prising his mouth open. Bitter liquid ran down his throat, and Roy coughed. He tried to spit it out, but fingers were holding his jaw shut. Fingertips against his lips, pressing. Roy choked, the liquid searing as he swallowed.

Then everything faded again.


Damn was the first comprehensible thought he could manage. It was soon followed by a flurry of cuss words, most of which came and went too quickly. The blaze in his body grew as he struggled to wake, and the shattering pain pushed everything else out of his mind. Roy lay still, cataloging the sensation, bringing the ache to his breast, and cradling it close as an old friend. Significant burns on his left hand, he knew, perhaps some minor nerve damage, but not too deep. He tensed and relaxed the muscles throughout his body. Legs: fine. Lower back, mild pain. Right hand: fine. Right upper arm: significant pain.

Biting down on a scream as the world came crashing back, Roy crawled the rest of the way into consciousness. He was lying on his stomach, on a lumpy cot barely wider than his shoulders. His shirt was gone, and his feet were bare. The pillow under his cheek was scratchy. His left hand was stretched outward, supported on a hard surface. Roy opened his eyes slowly, uncertain, to see a dark figure leaning over his hand, holding something bright. His arm was resting on the seat of a wooden stool. Roy blinked and the brightness became white bandages, glowing in lamplight. He groaned as pressure came to bear on the back of his left hand.

"You're awake," the figure said. It was a light tenor—not unlike Edward's, Roy thought distantly—in that middle range that could be a low-voiced woman's, or a younger man. The figure leaned closer, and prodded Roy's right shoulder. A shot of pain stabbed down Roy's spine, and he automatically flinched at the touch. "Beam fell on you," the figure said, in a conversational tone. "Amazed we got you out of there."

"Where..." Roy's throat was hoarse, and he coughed. Smoke in the lungs, he told himself, and perhaps mild burns on his vocal cords. Something metallic rattled in the room, and it took Roy a minute to realize that the sound wasn't his death rattle. The smell of burning wool and wood was trapped in his nostrils, and he shoved the memories away. Now was not the time. He swallowed hard, and tried again. "Where..." He couldn't manage more.

"In a room, on a bed," the figure said.

Great, Roy thought, irritated. I end up with a damn comedian playing at nursemaid. The person ran another layer of bandage across his palm and over his knuckles. Roy grimaced. A nursemaid, he amended, with a bedside manner that rivals my own. He imagined he could hear Hughes in the back of his mind, laughing softly.

"I'm Erin," the person told Roy. "I'm the one who takes care of the folks...here."

Erin, Roy thought, grimacing mentally. Still not giving me a clue as to what kind of charm it'll take. He let his eyes slide half-closed; they were still tearing from the remembered sting of smoke and heat.

"You have some injuries, but I've taken care of the rest," Erin continued, and Roy gasped inadvertently as Erin tied off the bandage. "Shouldn't be too many scars. Not like it's a worry, but with a face like yours?" The figure chuckled.

"Edward," Roy choked out.

"The kid?" Erin shrugged. "He's fine. Mostly. Some smoke inhalation, and a nasty blow to the head from the same beam that got you in the arm." The figure patted Roy's hand, and he winced as the injury complained. "You might get food later, but I doubt it'll go down your throat. There's water over on the table." Erin leaned over Roy, prodding the bandage on his shoulder again, and Roy caught a glimpse of overalls, and a flat chest.

Different charm required, Roy noted. Before he could manage words against the pain lancing from his shoulder, the figure was gone. Roy heard a soft tapping, followed by a creak and a whoosh of wood scraping over wood, then a click as a lock fell into place. Roy blinked, and craned his neck to see the door, despite the throbbing pain produced by the move. Grunting, he cautiously levered himself upright.

"What the hell are you moving for?" Edward's voice was hoarse, and annoyed. "You're wearing at least two shirts' worth of bandages, if you didn't notice."

Roy twisted towards the voice, but was halted immediately by the burn on his shoulder. He set his jaw and turned his entire body, shivering as the cool air hit his chest. In the low light, he could see his pants were black with smoke and grime, but intact. There was a bandage around his midriff, and another on his right arm and over his shoulder. He took another slow breath before turning the rest of the way. What he saw made him want to drag Erin back into the room, or anyone else regardless of determinate gender, and demand answers.

Edward was sitting against the wall, his knees up in front of him. His arms were stretched out, a long bar cuffed to each wrist. It kept his hands more than shoulder-width apart, and he had situated himself so the bar rested on his shin. Chains led from the cuffs to the wall. Edward noticed Roy's gaze, and shrugged.

Tighten the jaw, and clench the fist, and the shot of pain helped Roy stifle the urge to fry someone, anyone, for the indignity Edward was suffering. The problem was that Edward was awake, which meant being protective was out of the question. The thought made Roy want to smile wryly, but he managed to keep his expression impassive.

"At least they didn't take my arm off," Edward was observing. "Hate reattaching automail." He said it in a light tone, and scuffed at the floor with a foot. "Before you ask," and he coughed a few times, then grinned, "no, I don't know. I just woke up, myself."

"What..." Roy turned on the bed, and carefully propelled himself to his feet. The small of his back, his shoulder, his arm, his hand: each point seemed to throb angrily with every bend of the knee, shift of weight, twitch of his skin against the bandages. It took everything he had to walk smoothly and steadily towards the table, reach down, and pour a cup of water. Lifting the wooden cup, he took measured sips, his gaze traveling across the room as he took note of his surroundings.

The room was small, lit mostly by the lamp on the table. One window, high above Roy's head, was covered with a thick drape. A few beams of light snuck past the edges, serving only to heighten the gloom. The single door looked solid, with no cross beams visible, and no door handle. Presumably someone was on the other side, prepared to open it, but Roy doubted it would be opened if he knocked.

The water was warm, but he didn't care. Setting the cup down, his left hand hanging uselessly at his side, Roy refilled it from the jug. He turned, pausing to get his breath against the splintering feeling of burnt nerves, and carried the cup to Edward. Gingerly he knelt down and held it out.

"Sorry, General," Edward said. He moved a hand, and the chains rattled against the floor. "Thanks for the offer but—"

"Shut up, Fullmetal," Roy growled, and raised the cup. His knuckles touched Edward's chin.

Edward recoiled, his eyes shutting tight for a bare heartbeat. Roy pulled the glass back, momentarily uncertain. Edward frowned, dropping his gaze as he warily opened his mouth. Roy filed the moment away, and raised the cup again. He tilted it against Edward's lower lip, and Edward's mouth opened further, letting the liquid slide in. The young man's throat worked, swallowing as much as possible. Roy tilted the glass further, trying to gauge the angle. When water started pouring from the corners of Edward's mouth, Roy backed off, lowering the cup.

"First you try to burn me up, and now you're trying to drown me?" Edward twisted, wiping his mouth against his shoulder, and glared.

Roy merely arched an eyebrow. "More?"

Edward grunted, eyeing the cup. His brows came down, and Roy could see the barest nod of Edward's chin, followed by a glitter of eyes under lowered lids. The look clearly said that if Roy ever spoke of the situation, Edward would take it out of Roy's pension, book collection, and probably a few body parts. Roy's amusement gave way to a small tendril of worry, and he lowered the cup when Edward frowned over the top of it.

"Enough?" Roy studied the reflection of water inside the cup. Half-empty, he thought. Or half-full. Or it doesn't matter, anyway.

"Yeah," Edward said, and wiped his mouth against his black jacket. In the motion of turning his head, Roy could see a garish bruise across Edward's forehead, dappled with the earliest hints of blistering. It wasn't bandaged, and Roy frowned. Edward caught Roy's look, and gave him a baffled expression. "What? Stop staring at me."

"Just noting the damage," Roy said, and finished off the rest of the water. He set down the cup, and stood up, biting back a groan. He backed up until he was seated on the small cot. "Bruise doesn't look good."

"Doesn't feel good, either. Got a headache the size of Central's train station," Edward retorted. He jiggled his hands, and glowered at the bar. "I can't reach anything, damn it." He twisted, demonstrating. When one hand neared the wall, the chain on the other hand was taut, and he couldn't do more than press his fingertips against the stone. He couldn't lower his hands to the floor, either, and relaxed his arms with a frustrated sigh. "Looks like someone planned ahead."

"So it appears. No other injuries?"

"Uh...don't think so." Edward grunted, and the chains rattled as he shifted. "Gimme that pillow. My ass is falling asleep."

"Knew you were getting spoiled with Kavanaugh," Roy grumbled, but pulled the pillow off the cot. "You want me to slide it under you, too?"

Edward bared his teeth and muttered something under his breath.

Roy leaned forward, tossing the pillow and trying to cover the grimace from the action. "You need help climbing up on it? I can call for a ladder."

"Don't bother." Edward caught the corner of the pillow with one hand. The chains rattled as he moved around, sliding his buttocks up along the wall and kicking at the pillow. He settled down with a soft sigh, then scowled at Roy. "Ladder wouldn't fit in here, anyway. Your ego takes up too much room."

Roy chose to ignore that, along with the strange pleasure creeping into his chest at the return of their jibes. He recalled the way Edward had recoiled from the cup, or perhaps it was his touch. Roy studied the room as he modulated his tone into one of nonchalance. "What do you remember?"

Edward shrugged, and rubbed one boot against the wooden floor. "We were talking about Cragrock...and I remember being really sleepy. And then a lot of heat, but I..." He frowned, turning his face away from Roy's gaze, raising his face to the covered window. A beam of light caught the edge of his face, turning his hair to gold and his lashes to bronze. "...And then I was here."

"Mm." Roy allowed his normal impassive expression to fall into place, but something still tugged at his mind. Edward recalled more than he'd said, and Roy wasn't sure he wanted to know. Rules of the game, he reminded himself: what isn't said can't break the balance.

"I think the hot chocolate was drugged." Edward narrowed his eyes at Roy, as though Roy were somehow responsible.

Roy smirked.

"Bastard," Edward mumbled, and Roy relented.

"I'd say it probably was," he said. "The cook gave it to me. I told him it was all for me, so I presume you weren't part of the plan."

"You were the target?" Edward snorted. "There's a twist on the old game."

"How so?" Roy arched an eyebrow, and tried to settle more comfortably.

"I haven't known you for as many years without eventually figuring it out," Edward scoffed. "Throw me to the wolves, and see what gets stirred up."

"Mixing metaphors, Fullmetal." Roy managed a smirk, even as his mind cleared, the last of the fog pushed away by the startling clarity of the pain threading through his body. "And yes, I'd say you probably attracted enough attention, both in Hyle and here. Mostly when people tripped over you—"

Edward rattled his chains, his face screwed up in fury, then fell back against the wall with a grunt. One boot kicked at the floor, and he fisted his hands, twisting his wrists in the shackles before dropping his arms with a disgusted cry. "Damn it," he spat out, in a harsh whisper. "Can't you find something to draw with and get these off me?"

"I'm not going to practice on you," Roy said, coldly, with a touch of anger. "My specialty is atmospheric manipulations, not melting steel."

"Say what?" Edward snorted. "Oh, sure, give yourself airs. Just melt the damn things!" He shook his fists again, but couldn't hide the wince as the iron chafed against his left wrist. Roy could see dark smears on the cuffs of Edward's gloves, and he frowned.

"Fullmetal, stop," Roy admonished quietly. "All you're doing is injuring yourself."

"Well, at least I'm doing something!" Edward lunged forward, but the chains brought him up short. He balanced on the balls of his feet for a second, an awkward crouch, snarling at Roy. "Not just sitting there being all...comfortable, damn it!"

"I am not comfortable," Roy told him, and kept his voice flat. He shoved down the temptation to let his tone sink into an arrogant throatiness that he knew would annoy Edward to no end. Roy sighed, and carefully lifted his left hand, settling it in his lap with a small wince. "I'm thinking."

"Well, think faster!"

"Elric," Roy bit out, knowing it would get Edward's attention. "I am not going to torch your cuffs and burn your wrists. I have control, yes, but I'm not a precision instrument. Not to that degree." Edward was silent, watching him guardedly for several seconds, before turning his face away. Roy knew that was about as much defeat as Edward would show. Roy sighed, and twitched the fingers on his left hand, testing the limits of the pain. "I doubt we have long, now that they know I'm awake."

"Hunh?" Edward looked up at that.

"Seriously, Fullmetal." Roy sat back a little, and clasped his left hand close. "I shift and control the amount of oxygen, water, and hydrogen molecules in the area around me. I'm of no use to a mining operation...or any other type of factory." He snorted. "Unless they need short, intense bursts of fire, or possibly rain."

"You can make it rain?" Edward seemed to be momentarily distracted.

"It's not that hard," Roy replied, smirking. "It's just manipulating something different in the air. But it's a great deal of effort for little payback, and it's not worth the resulting imbalance."

"Hunh," Edward said, turning his head away again. "So what's your point?"

"You are," Roy said, his voice low. He refrained from saying more, not sure he wanted to test the theory. If he was the target, then it was not likely he was being held to be used as a weapon. Fire is too powerful, too quick, and too lethal, if done properly. He closed his eyes, ignoring the after-images, sixteen years past. Altogether too lethal, his mind whispered. "You have the ability to shift and change anything and everything around you without the necessity for an array. And you have a particular affinity to steel, I might add."

"Yeah, so?" Edward paused, frowning at some point in the corner of the room. His mouth fell open, a little bit. He glanced quickly at Roy, the surprise becoming a scowl. "You're saying whomever has us wants me to build things?"

"When you met Cragrock, did she have any family with her?" Roy kept his tone casual. "Someone who answered the door?"

"Not that I could see. She was alone." Edward shrugged, and the bar clinked with the gesture. He twisted, rubbing his nose against his shoulder. "This no-use-of-hands crap is getting on my nerves," he mumbled. "And now that I think of it...she didn't have any pictures of people on the walls or the mantel, either."

But Victoria Hogan traveled with her husband and daughter, Roy thought, and his gut clenched. God, I'm an idiot, he berated himself. I should've seen that. I should've noticed the one who couldn't be found should have been easy to track, if only because it's harder to slip three people in and out, than it is just one. Edward made an irritated sound, and Roy brought his mind back to the surface topic. "A mechanical alchemist," Roy reminded him. "And now, add in someone who can build the cases for those mechanical systems. Or perhaps they no longer have the Mechanical Alchemist—"

"—Or are replacing her," Edward finished. He lowered his eyes, and his hands twisted in the cuffs for a moment, before going still. "It's bullshit, Mustang."

So we're suddenly off-duty, Roy noted. Edward began fidgeting again, and Roy waited, patiently. Eventually Edward stopped, and was quiet for several minutes. Roy turned his head, and in the dim, he could just make out the sight of that thin line between Edward's brows, as the young man contemplated the various clues Roy had handed him.

Roy wasn't surprised when Edward suddenly gave him a brilliant smile. "I'm not going to be doing anything I don't want to do," he announced, a bit smug, and leaned his head against the wall, tilting his chin up so he could look down his nose at Roy. "The minute these are off, those assholes are history."

Perhaps, Roy thought. But whomever we're dealing with is assuming that you give a damn about the price you'd pay. Roy wondered if, in this one moment, the rules of the game could be set aside, and the theory spoken. He opened his mouth, noticed Edward watching him closely, and closed his mouth with a quick shake of his head. No, he told himself. Better to let Edward make his own decision...but, Roy added darkly, there's nothing wrong with a little help in the right direction.

"What?" Edward shifted in place, and stretched his legs out in front of him. It left his arms suspended in front of him, and he made a face before raising his legs again to support the bar. "You've got that look on your face again."

Roy leaned back, turning carefully to lie down on the cot, his left hand placed carefully across his stomach. A chill was beginning to seep into the room, and he glanced at the window, noting the brightness fading. Sunset, he figured, and groped at the blanket on the bed, pulling it over him with a grunt. The injured shoulder froze up, and he had to breathe through his teeth before he could move again, pulling the blanket over him.

"Don't worry about it, Fullmetal," Roy murmured when he was able to speak again. "I'm sure even if you were standing up, it'd all go right over your head."

"Who's so short he needs stilts to see into shop windows?" Edward rattled the bar, his body tensed as he shouted. "You smarmy General, when I get out of these, I'll show—"

"Eh? I hear squeaking." Roy tilted his head, and gave Edward a lazy smile. "Oh, were you saying something?"

Edward's face went from its normal shade to flaming red in about two heartbeats, and his glare went from hot to blistering in the same speed. He shot to his feet, was caught up by the chains, and collapsed back down with a yelp.

"I see they did plan ahead," Roy observed calmly. "Four inches off the ground. Just about your size."

"Who's so short you'd need key-chain handcuffs to hold him in place?" Edward's head was back as he screamed, every muscle tensed in fury. "Who're you calling short, you skirt-chasing, lazy-ass, arrogant prick of a goddamn dog of the—"

"Enough already!" The door was open, and a man stood there, his massive size blocking any view past him. He gave Roy, then Edward, a baffled look. "What the hell is going on in here?"

"Undo me! Now!" Edward waved his fists at the man, and his braid whipped around as he flailed against the restraints. "Undo me, damn it!"

The man blinked. "Look, kid, I'm not—"

Edward pointed at Roy, who smirked. Edward's lips curled in a snarl and he turned to the man in the doorway, stabbing a finger in Roy's direction. "Undo me, so I can punch him in the FACE!"

"There's a stool over there," Roy pointed out, waving his left hand just a little. "Stand on it. You might reach my chest, then."

"GYEEEEEAH!" Edward's shriek was deafening in the small room, and his entire body shook with the effort to get free. The chains rattled loud enough to make Roy's teeth hurt, accompanied by more incoherent cries of rage as Edward continued to rail against the shackles.

The man in the doorway looked from Roy, to Edward, and back again, then shrugged. "Well, if you're awake, then separate quarters might be the best, after all." He stepped out of the door, and yelled out to someone. "Hey! Franco! Need some come-along!"

Edward cackled, his attention fixed on Roy. His eyes were narrowed, one tooth caught on his lip. To Roy, it looked remarkably like a little fang, peeking out as Edward strained at the shackles. Edward was chuckling, low in his throat, and Roy sighed, realizing he'd pushed Edward's buttons just a bit too hard.

The man in the doorway stepped out, and Roy could see another door across the hall. Then a second shadow appeared, even larger than the first. Franco, Roy guessed, and the man stepped into the room, revealing a gap-toothed smile and eyes too small for his pudgy face, framed in a mass of bristly brown hair. For a big guy, he moved quickly and silently, standing over the angry young man before Edward could react. One hand came down, and hit Edward in the back of his head. Edward's head snapped forward, and he slumped, boneless.

The first man entered, chuckling. "No one can do that quite like Franco," he boasted to Roy. He rattled a ring of keys, and undid the bolts attaching the chains to the wall. Edward fell forward, and Roy had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from showing any reaction. Franco grabbed Edward by the scruff of his neck, and Edward moaned softly. Franco just shrugged and picked the young man up, throwing Edward, still shackled to the bar, over his shoulder.

"And here I thought either he was still out of it, or that you were getting along nicely," the man said, eyeing the wooden cup on the floor.

"What are your plans?" Roy stared at the ceiling, seemingly indifferent to the sight of Edward's golden braid flapping against Franco's back as he carried Edward out.

"I might tell you," the first man said, grinning. "If you tell me what's it to you."

"I'm his commanding officer," Roy answered, shrugging with only his left shoulder. "Have you any idea of the amount of paperwork I'll be stuck with, if he dies on the job?"

"Ah!" The man threw back his head and laughed. "Good point, good point...but I still won't tell you. After all, you never know. He might like you, even if it's more than you like him." With that, he shut the door behind him, throwing the latch and leaving Roy alone in the room.

Yeah, Roy sighed. But hopefully, he doesn't. If you're playing the game I think you are, he told the closed door silently, then Edward's going to need all that anger to bolster him to get out on his own. He can come back and raze the place to the ground, later. But he's going to need reinforcements, if the operation is as thorough as I suspect.

Go on, Roy whispered silently, urging Edward's anger. Go on and hate me. It'll get you out of here.