velvet mace

Descent Into Hell

Shou Tucker opened up the locked drawer in his office, and pulled out a small bottle of chloroform. Downstairs in separate cages he had a parrot and a monkey, both procured at great expense by the military and transported with care from a far off southern land. The idea was that he could produce a chimera with the speaking ability of a parrot and the intelligence of a primate. The primate at least would have to be sedated for the procedure. That or Shou would risk being torn limb for limb by the irate beast.

Shou covered his eyes with his hands. Why was he even bothering? The due date was in two days. Even if he did successfully combine these two, they wouldn't speak—at least not the way Gran wanted them to. Maybe with months of training. But that wouldn't be good enough. Not with those two boys in the house.

Not with those innocent, annoying, prodigies showing Gran just what a true State Alchemist should look like.

Oh God. His back was against the wall on this. His house of cards was tumbling down. A white lie spun out of control and now it was about to come back and nail him.

And where would Nina be then. He glanced over to the precious child lying on the carpet of his office, drawing innocent pictures of flowers and alchemy circles. His impulsiveness had cost her one parent. Now his vanity would bring down the other. Nina would grow up with the shame of knowing how deeply flawed her father truly was. She would hate him. How could she not.

He heard the doorbell. "I'll get it!" called Al from elsewhere in the house. Nina immediately perked up, leaving her drawing on the floor and racing to the front door. Heavy footed, Shou followed. When he arrived he found Mustang standing with the older of his students draped across his arms like some bride being taken across a threshold.

"Brother!" Al gasped.

Shou looked at Ed. "What is wrong with him."

"Shock," said Mustang tersely. "He should be put in bed. He saw something upsetting this morning."

Shou looked closer at the kid, his eyes weren't closed but he didn't seem conscious either. Instead the child stared through half-lidded eyes, dully at nothing at all.

"Please help him," said Al in his disconcertingly young voice. Shou once again found himself blinking at the ambiguity of the Armor. Shou knew that Al was only eleven. At first he thought to fill out that armor the boy must be enormous. It was less than a month ago that he realized the armor was empty, but neither boy had given him a clue as to who had done such a horrible thing to the child. Although Al was sweet, there was an air of menace about him, that told Shou that if he crossed a line, he would feel very sorry. And the strength the kid possessed matched his size. Shou felt intimidated by him.

"Their bedroom is up here," Shou led Mustang up the stairs. The Lt. Colonel put the child in his bed and tucked the sheet up to his chin, gently, like a father would.

The boy squirmed a little and his lips parted in a moan that was probably anguish.

Shou sucked in a breath as a sudden ugly impulse wormed its way up from the depths of his ravaged mind. He squelched it.

"I have to go," said Mustang. "I trust he will be well in your care." Then their eyes met and that bastard stabbed him with his words. "Good luck with your coming assessment."

"Yes," said Shou, faintly.

Mustang left.

Nina looked at Ed. "Is he gowing to be awight?"

"Yes, yes. He's just tired." Shou looked down at Nina's wide eyes.

The impulse welled up again. He shouldn't, he thought, but it would be so easy to see how far he could push his luck. Handle these two first. "Go downstairs and play, Nina. Al," he turned reluctantly to the dangerous hulk of a child. "Would you be so kind as to keep her company. I need to do a few things. I'm sure your brother will be fine."

Al nodded and left with Nina. So trusting. So easy to manipulate. He heard them clatter down the stairs. Their voices in the great hall below.

It was so easy to want to do something, just because he could do it. To exert control for no other reason than the pleasure of proving himself. Conquest for conquests sake.

And why was that so wrong? It was the way science worked. There would be no innovation if not for the curiosity and the drive to go just a bit further than the person before. And if it worked for science, why not in other matters as well.

Shou almost unwillingly turned back to Ed. My God. he thought. Look at you. That smug smart-ass expression gone from your face. You are just a scared kid for once.

He wanted to look at Ed, without the brat staring back at him. Unravel the mystery that was his student, his ward, his rival. No more secrets.

He pulled the sheet back down. Ed blinked and turned his head. "Mo-ther?"

Shou hesitated. "What happened to your mother?" he whispered.

"Mother, I'm sorry!"

I'm sorry. That's what he'd said over and over after he'd turned his wife into that thing. I'm sorry.

"Kill me, " it said to him. And later to Gran and the Military: "I want to die."

Shou's eyes caught on Ed's metal wrist peeking out between the white gloves and the red coat.

"You are wearing too much clothes to sleep," said Shou. "And your shoes will ruin the sheets."

"Sorry," whimpered Ed, as Shou untied the laces and tugged off the shoes, then socks. One foot was soft and pale, toes curled. The other was metal, a mockery of a foot, jointed and cold in the palms of Shou's hands.

Ed pulled his feet away and curled into a ball. Shou blinked.

No, that wasn't what he wanted. This brat had poisoned the Army against him, just by sheer force of talent alone. This kid had eaten his food, stolen the love of his daughter, used his library, and taken his instruction, and had given nothing but grief in return.

It was time the kid paid him back a little. Satisfied a bit of innocent curiosity. Cooperated. He just wanted to see what he was hiding, nothing more. Nothing more.

He went to the bathroom and retrieved a washcloth. He knew it was wrong, immoral, dangerous, but didn't stop. He hated taking the bottle out of his pocket and wetting the cloth with the drug. He hated the flush of power he felt when he held it under the child's nose. Hated, loved. Feared.

He listened to Al talking to Nina, their voices echoing up. God he hoped they wouldn't come in now. Al would destroy him.

Ed went limp. His eyes completely closed. It wasn't difficult to stretch him out again, look at that foot. Bend the toes individually and marvel at the flexibility of the automail. Why would a child this young have an automail arm and leg? Why would his brother's soul be attached to a massive suit of armor?

Shou pulled off the gloves. One hand was warm, short nails, a tender palm. The other hand was a crude replica of flesh, gleaming dully.

Breathing fitfully, Shou removed the coat and the black jacket beneath it. The automail arm was revealed almost in its entirety, all but what the thin black strap of his undershirt covered.

The kid had lost the entire arm. Good heavens what could rip an arm off at the shoulder like that. Or maybe it wasn't ripped. Maybe it was taken, or offered up. For the mother? Mustang had revealed nothing of the children's past, but over time Shou had pieced together that they really had no family to speak of. Completely alone in the world. That must have been frightening.

And these children were so talented. It would have been tempting to try bringing back their mother, wouldn't it. Talented, smart, but without the wisdom that comes with age. They had tried hadn't they? Shou's heart beat hard. They'd done it. Human transmutation. They'd risked their own flesh and lost, the younger one losing more.

Not fair. Not fair that Al be turned into a monster, and this child walk around, almost perfect, future stretching to infinity ahead of him. Not fair that Shou had struggled, fought, grasped for his skills, for his position in life, while this child merely had to put his hands together and everything was handed to him on a plate.

How could Ed be so brilliant, so deft with alchemy, and so achingly beautiful all at the same time. Where was the equivalent exchange for that? And what had the kid done with all those gifts? Squandered them. Committed hubris, and let others pay the price.

He deserved what Shou was doing. Yes, he did.

No, stop it, Shou thought to himself. The kid was twelve. This was wrong.

But Shou didn't want to stop. It felt too good to stop.

He slipped off the undershirt and unbuckled the pants. He pulled them down, off, and folded them neatly. The shorts followed. Might as well. Shou had already gone far beyond what was needed just to make the kid comfortable. For that matter, he'd crossed over the line when he'd drugged him.

He was drowning anyway. What was a little debauchery on top of everything else? And if Shou would be destroyed and this kid live on, the very least Ed could do was offer up some fleeting relief for his suffering.

Ed's skin was perfect. Flawless but for the scars, and it was easy to overlook those. Not a wrinkle, or a sag anywhere. Clean and fresh scrubbed, almost hairless. Muscles firm under the skin. Trembling Shou ran his hands over the shoulders, down the belly. Ah. The boy never moved. Shou touched his face, gently nudged the lips apart and put his thumb in the kid's warm mouth.

The hair. Shou lifted the kid's head up and ran his hands through the hair, pulled it apart from the braid, splayed it out against the pillow. So damn beautiful. Like an angel.

Al and Nina were still making distant sounds downstairs. Fear made Shou's heart skip a beat.

Shou was disgusted with himself. He was disgusted with Ed for tempting him. He was disgusted at the Army for driving him to the edge like this.

Ed didn't object when Shou touched him, one handed now. The other was busy. He didn't object when Shou whispered dirty words in his unhearing ears. Didn't object to Shou's tongue thrust into his lax mouth.

Shou wasn't hurting him. There wouldn't be a mark on his body left from this, and it felt so good. There was no reason to feel guilty. Honestly, none at all.

Shou let out a little stifled cry when he finished. Then with complete and abject self-hate he pushed himself away from the bed. He grabbed the sheet and drew it up under the kid's armpits. He didn't want to see anymore. He stalked off to clean himself up, change his clothes, regain his composure.

Pure loathing brought him back into the room a while later. He didn't touch the kid but he couldn't bring himself to move away either. So he sat and read and waited.

Eventually Ed woke, and gasped in surprise at his surroundings. Shou looked deep into his golden eyes, seeing if Ed knew what had been done to him. But the boy was innocent. He didn't even question why he was undressed.

Shou distracted the kid with his revelations about Ed's past.

"I understand why you tried to bring her back," Shou said softly. "It's hard not to do something, just to see if you can. Just because you have the power to do it."

Ed looked away, not understanding. Not admitting that he felt the same impulses Shou did. Not admitting they shared the same flaws.

"I forgive you," said Shou. "You should forgive yourself." There was a bit of desperation in that.

If Ed could be forgiven, perhaps he could, too. For his sins, past, present and future. If he could just get this boy to agree it was all right to give in to curiosity, regardless of morality, maybe he could believe it himself. Maybe there was a way out of this hell he'd built for himself.

But all Ed would say was, "It's not that easy."

"No," admitted Shou, sadly. "It isn't."

His conscience broke, and he felt the doors to hell close behind him.