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velvet mace

Absolute Power


Keep Your Friends Close

The castle jutted forth from Risembool's prosaic pastures like a figment from nightmare. Half boyish whimsy, half architectural genius, it gleamed like black obsidian, and sprouted forth turrets and crenellations, buttresses and gargoyles. Its tall lonely tower scraped the clear blue sky. It's foundations hinted ominously of dungeons. It had hundred rooms that people knew of, and could easily hide a few more.

Its substance was a combination of minerals and metals so complex that Roy Mustang never could really get a handle on it, much less attempt to transmute it. Not that it stopped him from trying at times. One had to do something to something to stay sane.

The Elrics didn't seem to mind Mustang's attempts. They viewed it as a challenge and a game, alchemical sparring between compatriots. And when they sensed Roy getting close to their formula, they did a bout of "spring cleaning" and refashioned the whole structure from ground up, changing the mix just enough to put him back at square one.

Of all the castle's "guests," Roy was the only one not allowed to leave. Ever.

He Who Hesitates

Al explained it quietly over soup and candlelight on the fourth night of Roy's imprisonment.

At the time Roy hadn't even realized he'd been captured, his mind was too wrapped up in the matter at hand. As he stared at the marble floors and vaulted ceilings of the formal dining room, impressed and appalled by the sheer magnitude of the alchemic power that had gone into fashioning the place. It was over the top—out of place with the surroundings. It was intimidating, and not just to the poor villagers who couldn't fathom was happening, but to the Amestris Parliament who understood the true threat too well.

The army was being assembled even as Roy sat and ate. By morning they'd be punching through the walls of the Elrics' fortress. The delicate flavor of the broth was lost on Roy's numb taste buds, as he realized the Elrics just didn't care.

"We were aware this might happen," said Al calmly, looking the epitome of elegance and composure with his long hair neatly slicked back into a clasp, and his dark velvet jacket perfectly hugging his lean sixteen year old body.

"In fact," said Ed, just a bit more roughly, "We were counting on it." Ed still wore leathers, but the cut was finer these days. Less meant for climbing through the backwoods on missions, and more suited to genteel pursuits, such as hunting.

"I come here as a friend," said Roy earnestly. "It would be a terrible shame for the two of you to be killed over such a childish matter. You are national heroes! You defeated Father and the Homunculi, and saved every man woman and child in this country from a fate beyond words. Why throw all that away now? It makes no sense!"

"Does it make any more sense for us to hand over the philosopher's stone to the Parliament?" asked Ed. "It's too powerful. They will misuse it. Half the people in there were from the old regime."

"Then destroy it," said Roy. "Publicly, so that they don't need to fear you anymore. But so long as you hold on to it, they are going to treat the two of you as traitors."

"If we destroy it," said Al, blowing gently over his spoon, "Won't that be wasting the lives of all those who were sacrificed to make it? We've talked about it, brother and I. We think we can do great things with this country using its power. Parliament just has to trust us."

Roy hung his head and pushed aside the bowl, his appetite gone. This was the same logical runaround they'd given him the last four days, he was getting nowhere, and he'd run out of time. Parliament would never trust a pair of overpowered teenagers, no matter what service they'd done for the country in the past. By dawn the raid would begin.

Wiping his mouth he stood up. "I think I should go now." He looked at both of them, their bodies, so small, so young, their clothes and demeanor so grown up. The travails of their lives had twisted the two beyond hope. It was criminally tragic. Such a horrible waste of talent—of soul.

Ed stood first, Al a half second afterwards. They exchanged a look between them, the first sign of alarm either of them had shown the entire visit. "You can't do that, General," said Ed.

"It won't be safe," agreed Al.

"Surely, you'll be part of the assault," said Ed. "We can't let that happen."

"We don't want you hurt."

Roy shook his head. "My duty is with Parliament and the laws of this country. I swore allegiance to them. I am very sorry to be on the other side of this battle, but that is by your choice, not mine. You can not convince me to stay."

"Then we will keep you here by force," said Al, bringing his hands together.

Roy's heart skipped a beat then slammed into action. Instinct took over and he jumped towards the door, running full out, as the light of alchemy bounced off the woodwork. He hadn't made it past the end of the table before he felt his ankle being grasped in an unyielding grip. He was yanked off his feet, saving his chin from a hard knock only by sacrificing his hands and elbows to the hard floor. Then he felt himself being dragged backwards. He clawed the seamless floor and cursed that his gloves had been packed away, that the scar on the back of his hand was not neat or complete enough to hold alchemic energy. He stared at the thing that gripped his ankle, surprised not to see a metal cuff, but rather a fully rendered metal hand at the end of a long chain.

He was pulled back to the chair he left, then further hands dropped from he ceiling, gripping and hoisting him by his lapel back into his chair, where a band neatly came out and snugged him about his waist. Even that had the Elric's peculiar artistic touch in the form of a medallion where a buckle might have been and a glyph of a flame in a bird's cage.

Roy stared at the Elric brothers at a complete loss of words.

"We were planning on hunting you down once we took over the country," said Al, calmly taking his own place again. "Yes, we plan on taking over," he repeated at Roy's incredulous look. "As we said, we have great plans. We value your advice—and we like your company.

"Besides, we know you well enough. You are bright and charismatic and charming. A natural leader. If we let you go, you'd raise a resistance against us. And capturing you in the wild could be tough and time consuming. So, General, from now on this will be your new home, at least until such time as we are completely assured you won't think to betray us." Al smiled beatifically.

"I won't stay," said Roy, his voice harsh and breathy. "I will try to escape."

"You won't succeed," said Ed.

Where There's Smoke

The next morning, Roy woke far before dawn and waited, watching at the high, barred window as the troops assembled in the moonless dark below. They served double duty now—to capture the stone, and to rescue Roy from his prison. Dawn came with aching slowness.

But the first sound of battle he heard was not that of canons against the castle's rocky exterior, bur a far more sinister whip of an unnatural wind. He threw himself away from the window in time to save his sight from the searing pulse of purple. And when the world grew dark again and he dared venture once more to look down, there was nothing in the fields below but muddy ground rippled up in frozen waves.

The Elric brothers had killed them all. Hundreds of lives—lost in an instant. They were as bad as Father, Roy realized. Panic swelled in his chest, and the walls seemed to close in. He couldn't leave. His work, his friends, his plans his future were held hostage to the Elric boys whims.

Roy hammered his fists against the doorless walls until they bruised, yelling every obscenity he knew at the brothers. In the back of his mind he felt the Philosopher's Stone ebbing back. The implications were inescapable. No army would dare storm the Elric's castle. No member of Parliament dared get on their wrong side.

Roy was alone.

Discretion

The Homunculi were long dead and dust, the stones in their hearts used up and broken, the ash of their bodies scattered. And yet their ghosts lived on, haunting the rambling castle, making their presence known in subtle but growing ways.

What Roy first took for elegance began to seem more like decadence. The meals that Elrics forced him to share were ridiculously lavish. What he once mistook for leadership was merely possessiveness that bordered on pathologic. The Elrics were quick to anger, Ed with the thunder of a natural disaster, Al with a blade's keen edge. They spent their days in making elaborate plans for the "improvement" of Amestris. But no matter how much power they scraped for themselves it was never enough, and they were certain that out there, someone brighter than themselves was planning on deposing them.

"Tell me, General," said Ed, while idly playing with the chain slender chain binding Roy's neck to one of the legs of the chaise lounge. "If you were hiding an army, where would you put them? Fort Briggs? Maybe somewhere Southern? Would you disguise them as civilians? And how would you train and arm them without arousing suspicion?"

"I wouldn't," said Roy, icily. He ignored the rattle and the faint tugging at his throat. It was harder to ignore when Ed's hand let go of his leash and moved up to casually fingering his hair. Whatever inhibitions he might have had towards his former boss seemed to have dissolved under the corrupting weight of the Stone.

"What would you do then?" asked Ed surprised. "Don't tell me you'd give up and become loyal."

"No. I'd wait until all this self-indulgence made you sloppy and slow, and your own policies destroyed the morale of your populous. Then I'd send in your own disillusioned army to finish you off."

That made Ed laugh. "You'd have to wait a long time, Mustang. A very, very, very long time."

The Pen is Mightier

Time passed, days, then months, and world went on without Roy.

Though the fields around the Elric's castle remained green and clear, Risembool proper strained its infrastructure to accommodate its new status as home of the Great Leaders. When they could overcome their natural laziness, the Elric's lent a hand in the building, and so a city sprouted in a ring around their ancestral property, all to serve their bottomless appetites.

Beyond the changes visible from his room in the tower, Roy knew only what little the Elric's told him, or what he could glean from the visitors and advisors the boys entertained. A paper truce ended the overt war, but the more subtle machinations continued.

The old guard were out, and fresh faces elected, but the basic power structure remained more or less intact. The country weathered the winter without much outward protest.

The Parliament that convened that spring passed the Elric agenda with a rubber stamp.

The Best Things in Life

The Elrics began collecting "guests."

They chose people who they had formed some attachment to. Winry and Pinako. Gracia and her daughter and Sciezka. Other's Roy had never met before, but who now would form his only company as his imprisonment continued.

They also brought home people they thought would please Roy, and he had to admit when he saw his former lieutenant Havoc walk across the sitting room on his own feet, Roy had briefly forgiven the Elrics.

Hawkeye and Fuery had been plucked up and delivered to the castle doors with an eye to keeping Roy entertained. They helped him with the administrative duties the Elric's saddled him with to make him feel less useless, and more appreciated. Armstrong and Falmen had been quick and clever enough that they'd escaped the Elric's grasp, vanishing through the desert into Xing, where the Emperor still had enough power to hold the Elrics at bay.

A few of the chosen ones lived in the castle itself, but as the collection grew, the Elrics sent most to take residence in the village—so long as they understood to be available should the boys desire their company. Running away was out of the question. Even if one could escape the police and army, the Elric's would merely unleash their formidable alchemy to bring them home.

Absence

One year flowed into another, marked off by very little. The Elrics themselves never changed. As decades passed, they held on—perpetual teens playing warlord around their sandcastle.

From his room in the tower, Roy watched as the city of Risembool erected churches in the Elrics' name, and wondered if his own hometown still looked anything like his memories.

Blondes

In the dark, Roy breathed salt, tasted moist skin, felt the soft fall of hair brush against the small of his back with every sweet-painful thrust. A warm hand, soft as any woman's, muffled his moans. The other slid over his hip across his stomach, lower, stroked and pulled. Roy listened as the breathy cries took on a higher pitch, waiting for them to end in a gasping scream.

The lovers broke apart, and rolled together in another configuration, a tangle of sweaty limbs, squirming and sliding until Roy's face pressed against the hard flat surface of Al's chest. Though he could hear the solid thumping of a heartbeat Roy put no emotional stock in it.

He did not expect endearments, though sometimes in the afterglow they flowed emptily from Al's lips. Less often they came from Ed's. Never when they took him at the same time. Roy was too cynical to care either way.

This was making love without the love, and there was no pretense of faithfulness.

When it came to sex, the Elrics had developed an odd preference for symmetry. They each had their favorites: Ed taking Scieszka and Havoc for his exclusive use, while Al took Riza and Fuery for his. Winry, to no one's surprise, had the attention of both, frequently at the same time, and since the two seemed to feel a need for balance in this aspect as well, Roy found himself cast as her male alternate.

By unspoken agreement, the six special "guests" didn't discuss their individual affairs, although they all knew each other's position, and whether they were currently in or out of favor. When one of them came to the breakfast table looking particularly tired or worse for wear, the others showed special consideration, and made sure they didn't need to rise from their chair to get anything.

The Elric's tastes were as steady as their appearance, and once they'd made their choices on who to fill their bed, they never looked further. These days there was no particular jealousy, no expectation of either pushing away the others, or being dumped by the Elrics. None of them were young anymore and they were all in this together.

Time Flies

"It's only a grey hair," said Roy, turning his head as he peered in the mirror. At seventy—more or less, it was hard to keep track of years in this place—he figured he deserved a bit of grey, a wrinkle or two to prove he'd actually been alive all this time. It had been four decades since he'd last set foot on grass, and most of his former friends had probably died in his absence.

"Best pluck it quick," said Riza, "They are coming home today." Though not much younger, she could easily pass for thirty.

Roy didn't ask who they were. As much as the Elrics preferred their routines, occasionally holding state required they leave their palace and tour their holdings. It always tired them out and put them in lousy moods, for which the chosen six were more or less required to provide the antidote.

Roy let Riza pluck the offending hair, and took her advice for which outfit suited him best. The other's were especially nice—Havoc bringing him his favorite lunch, Scieszka offering up a novel that would take his mind off what was to come.

They all knew when the Elrics were particularly frustrated it was Roy who took the brunt of their paranoid displeasure. The terrible two never quite believed that he'd resigned himself to their rule. They knew how he'd plotted under Fuhrer Bradley, and suspected he was somehow in cahoots with whatever opposition they currently were dealing with.

Roy didn't disabuse them of this notion, in part because, though it wasn't true, it was rather flattering to think the Elrics worried about him. Mostly, though, it gave him some self-respect to be able to protect the others by keeping the Elric's ire trained on himself.

And one day they would be right. The Elrics weren't sloppy, not yet. But Roy could see they were starting to slip. The expansion to the west had slowed to a crawl, while the East continued to stymie them. As much as their ambitions drove them, and their power stayed unparalleled, they were simply spread too thin. These days more time was spent quashing fires than setting them. One day he'd send Riza into town to feel out the opposition. One day he'd send messages that would stir up the flames of insurrection to the point where the Elrics could not put them down.

And then—

"Yo, Roy," said Edward sauntering into the greatroom, which was as far as Roy's chain allowed him to go. Ignoring the servants carrying his luggage, he threw his coat in the middle of the floor. Moments later he put a knee on the sofa where Roy sat, and leaned down into his face. "What do you know about Drachma? Did you know they've been sabotaging our coal trade? Was that your plan?"

"I assure you, I know absolutely nothing about what is going on outside of this house," replied Roy.

"You keep saying that, but I know you. I can see it in your eyes. You are plotting. You think you can get away. Well you are wrong. Wrong. Wrong."

Riza intercepted the confused porters and quietly lead them off before they had a chance to question why the Great Elrics kept a man prisoner in their house.

"Even if you leave, do you think anyone will follow the orders of the Great General Roy Mustang? Your old lackeys are all dead or retired. No one even remembers your name anymore, and—after tonight I'll make sure your credibility is even more hampered."

This was new. Roy kept his expression even but worry crept into his heart.

Ed stood up and reached into his pocket. Roy held his breath, realizing just what it was Elric was keeping in there. A stone, a mere chip off the great philosopher's stone itself, but containing more than enough power to do a hell of a lot of damage.

"You are starting to look a bit long in the tooth there, Roy. Won't do you know. What's the point of having eternal life when the people you care most about get old and die." Ed's smile was slow and patient, waiting for Roy to catch on.

"You wouldn't," he said as the words clicked in.

Ed just nodded. "Remember how you used to treat me like I was a kid. A brat. Remember how no one took me seriously?"

The gem began to glow. Roy winced as his skin caught fire, burned, shriveled, tightened up. He threw himself on the floor and rolled in an attempt to stop the alchemical reaction, patting at the invisible flames with his hands. The pain drove deeper, through his muscles, done to the marrow of his bones. And then when it was gone he panted, lying sprawled on the carpet, his clothes puddling loosely around his altered body.

"Well now it's your turn Mustang," said Ed. "Let's see how you like being twelve—for the rest of your life."