"Well, I've done my good deed for the day."
Her words cut though the pleasant prideful warmth in Roy's chest, causing his blood to freeze. He looked over at the woman. Blonde, a little on the chubby side, her face a little too square, her breasts a bit small, but still comely, yes. Since being shot, Roy's standards had gone down. Sometimes to the point where he wondered if "willing" was the only true requirement.
"What do you mean," asked Roy.
She didn't even stop buttoning her blouse. "Oh, nothing. Never mind." She smiled briefly his direction. Then she giggled.
There was a time not THAT long ago when this woman wouldn't have made the cut. Oh, Roy might have flirted a little with her, but he certainly wouldn't have taken her out, or brought her back to his hotel room.
Roy grabbed his shirt, and shoved on his clothes angrily. He'd given this woman his all, his best technique, she'd come twice, and she considered it a good deed. He noticed she never actually looked at his face. The patch hid the damage, the terrible scars, the missing eye, and the rest of his face was still attractive. He was not some freak show horror.
"Well, don't get mad about it," she said a little huffily, noticing his reaction. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
Hurt my feelings. Well this was a capstone on his pathetic existence. Resentment burned like acid. He had known that taking out the Fuhrer would be a thankless task, but he hadn't really thought that he'd come to rue the price he'd pay for the satisfaction of doing a good deed. His looks had been the first thing taken from him. His face, which had once drawn appreciative looks from women, now only drew their curiosity. They all wanted to know what he hid behind the huge patch. Except they really didn't.
His rank had been the second thing removed—taken not because of the murder, which they could not pin on him, but rather because he wasn't where he was supposed to have been at the time of the murder. Such flagrant disregard of orders deserved punishment, of course, but the demotion from Brigadier General down to Corporal was more painful than he anticipated. Being stripped of his State Alchemists Certification had been harder than the rank.
He had known he wouldn't be able to keep his men with him, but he had hoped that he'd at least be assigned to the same unit as them. It wasn't to be. Whether out of vindictiveness or perhaps just sheer callousness, the brass had removed from him every prop but one.
Roy tried to keep his resentment from Al, because the boy didn't deserve it. Al was brilliant, powerful, every bit the prodigy his brother was. He was unfailingly polite and considerate. His company was interesting. His tactical decisions without flaw. He did his job well. But none of that seemed to take away the bitterness. To be outranked by a boy barely in his teens, to be commanded, countermanded, and ordered about by a child who barely reached Roy's chin turned Roy's stomach sour.
As their covert mission in Drachma dragged from days to weeks, Roy found every excuse he could to be away from Al. His cover story was as the boy's legal Guardian, his official duty was the boy's bodyguard, but his actual performance was as a tourist. He was useless, and he knew it.
Sleeping with this woman was supposed to have made him feel better. The powers that be must hate me. thought Roy.
Just then, the hotel shook, and for the second time in ten minutes Roy felt his world turn upside down.
Roy ran for the door, his weak right side threatening to collapse at any moment, but there was no time to search for his cane.. The woman now had the gall to grab his arm, but he twisted out of her grip. "HEY," she said. "Don't you fucking leave me!"
Roy dashed down the hall. The gloves were in his pants pockets, he shoved one on even as he scrambled down the stairs. The damage was already evident. Plaster dust filled the air like smoke. In the lobby, Al stood in his red coat his hands clapped together. Tables and sofa's were over turned, walls of concrete jutted up in random directions. Roy assessed the scene. Four men, armed with various fire arms were picking themselves off the ground, ready to renew their attack.
Roy snapped his fingers at the one raising his pistol towards Al. His clothes and hair wooshed into satisfying flame. The screams briefly attracted Al's attention and he looked gratefully over in Roy's direction.
Just at that moment another man, lying on the floor few feet away, raised his shotgun and fired upward.
One moment Al was smiling at Roy, with that thankful expression. The next his face disintegrated into a bloody pulp. Every fiber of Roy's being wanted to deny what he saw, to minimize it, to make it go away, but he couldn't. Al collapsed silently backwards, arms flung open as if to embrace the sky.
Movement caught Roy's eye and he snapped, and snapped, and snapped. Even after the flames died down, there was no cathartic release. The damage was already done.
Roy's world twisted sideways, and stayed that way for a long time.
Roy reached over and flicked on the light. It was three am, and the tiny Drachma apartment was still swelteringly hot. He sat up and wiped the sweat from his face. Exhaustion weighed on his shoulders. He looked over, past the small table, the kitchenette, the expanse of scuffed linoleum to the mattress on the floor on the other side of the studio apartment.
Al was restless. His arms waving up, his hands tracing graceful patterns in the air, as if swaying to some music only he could hear. His feet kicked and his back arched up.
Roy stood up, crossed the warm floor and knelt by Al. He brushed back the damp blond hair. He should probably cut Al's hair to help keep him cool, but the idea of changing anything else about the boy made his stomach ill.
"It's okay, Al," said Roy. "Shhh, it's okay." Roy had no idea if Al could hear him or not. Al had never responded to his voice. Roy stroked Al's shoulder, sweeping up the narrow arm to the hand. He clasped that and squeezed. "It's okay, Al. It will all be okay."
It was not going to be okay. The Drachmani doctor had made that abundantly clear. Al might live for five, ten, even twenty years, but he would never be the bright, vital young man he was before. Roy wanted to believe that medicine here was more primitive than in Amestria, but aside from their lack of automail, it wasn't. And automail was not what Al needed.
The oxygen tube had come loose and slipped. Roy reached for the medical tape to re-secure it near the opening where Al's nose used to be. Then grabbed the rag to wipe away the drool from Al's chin and neck. He dipped into the petroleum jelly and smeared it on what was left of Al's lower jaw and cheeks to alleviate the rash.
Al's face was horrific, a mass of scars, the human features obliterated. Though Roy wanted not to look at it, he forced himself to, letting his eyes memorize the unnatural bumps and ripples, the lipless mouth, slackly covering its partial lower jaw, the depressed pits where Al's eyes once were. It was a horror.
Roy touched the side of his own face. He shared that ruin. This was what women saw when they looked at him. Roy looked down over the rest of Al's form. The boy was naked but for his diaper. If one didn't look at his face, he was still firm and smooth and slim. In another year or two girls would have been swooning over Al. Not any more. Even should Al somehow fight his way back to consciousness again, no one would look past his face.
"It's going to be okay, Al," lied Roy, stroking and petting him. Al's hand reached up and slid along the underside of Roy's chin. It seemed purposeful. Roy turned his head and kissed the palm. The hand stroked his cheek then slid away with a graceful flourish. "I'll make this up to you, I promise. I'll figure out some way."
Roy lay down next to Al and pulled him close, despite the heat. Al relaxed and grew quiet.
"I promise. I won't leave you like this. Some how I'll make this better."
"He likes the garden," said Roy to Tucker as he pushed Al's wheelchair out the door and down the short ramp onto the brick patio. Although plant alchemy was not Roy's strong suit he had taken several days to turn the back yard of his rented house into a retreat for Al, encouraging the once tidy hedges to grow thick and tall, cheating nature by coaxing bulbs to bloom out of season. It was hard to know how much of it Al really appreciated, but he did seem calmer when he sat out in the late summer sun.
Roy checked the straps holding Al securely in his seat and then turned to Tucker again. "We can leave him out here for a few hours, until it's time to feed him."
Tucker nodded his head again. He must have been hot under all those layers of clothes but Tucker never complained.
"Do you have what you need?" Roy asked.
"Yes," whispered Tucker.
"And the lab—-?"
"The lab is just fine Mustang. I am ready to begin when you are." Tucker walked in his strange unnatural fashion back up the ramp into the house. Roy followed him through the kitchen and down the basement steps to where he had constructed their lab. Dominating the room was an aquarium four feet tall and filled with a yellowish fluid. Roy wrinkled his nose at the smell. He couldn't even guess at what the stuff was comprised of, but he trusted Tucker.
Standing quietly to one side of the empty tank was a 9 year old girl. She didn't look up when they entered the room, but just continued arranging and rearranging sticks of colored chalk on the concrete floor. "Nina," whispered Tucker, "Bring me the white chalk please."
Obediently the child selected the white chalk and walked over and handed it to her father. Roy noticed again how blank and unthinking her eyes were.
"It is my hope," said Tucker, "That we will learn something here that will allow me to implant a soul into Nina."
"I understand. But not Al's soul." said Roy. The idea of having Al wake up to a life as daughter of a monster made Roy feel a little sick. No. Al was going to be himself when they transferred his soul. It would be his body, perfect in every way, indistinguishable from the one that Roy had let be ruined.
"No, not Al. I promise. Someone else. Some other dying girl. Once we know how to do this, it will be easy to reproduce the results."
Roy looked over at the vat. "Is there anything else you need, any raw materials?"
"No, no. I have everything." Tucker loped over to a crate in the back of the room. With one gloved paw, he undid the latch and dragged out the large dog. It looked dead, but Roy knew it wasn't. It had to be alive in order for the chimera to be made. "You say he weighs about a hundred and ten pounds."
"This should be close enough, though he may be a bit thinner than before." Roy helped Tucker lift the mutt into the array. "Nina, bring me the blood."
The little girl walked over to the worktable and picked up a vial of Al's blood. Roy took it from her and set it next to the dog's chin.
"Are you ready?" Tucker asked.
"Yes," said Roy.
Tucker hesitated. "This is human transmutation, you realize. Illegal. Immoral as well."
Roy nodded twice. Illegal for sure. Immoral? Roy wasn't sure he ceded that point. Parliament had turned it's back on Al, declaring him dead, leaving him utterly without support in his weakest moments. It had no moral high ground here.
"Very well," said Tucker. "Nina, please stand clear."
Roy placed his hands on the cold cement floor and waited. When the light of the transmutation came, he felt a great weight lift from his soul.
Roy watched the creatures move languidly about in their vat. There were ten of them now, each of them both a success and a failure. Tucker tended them, what he fed them Roy didn't know and never inquired.
They looked like Al at least, Roy thought. It was a bit spooky to see so many copies of the same boy, made worse because of the reason that Tucker insisted on redundancy in the first place. Stability was the main problem with Alchemical reactions of this sort. Residual alchemical power tended to destabilize the cell structure of the chimera, and when that happened, it lost its shape in any number of horrifying ways. Before they dared transfer Al's soul they needed to make sure that it the body would not turn to goo the next day.
Roy heard a snuffing sound behind him. "How did your day go?" asked Tucker.
Roy thought briefly about his students. They were wealthy enough to afford his private tutoring, and smart enough to follow the basic principals of Alchemy, but none of them had even remotely the kind of potential that Al once possessed. Roy wondered if the chimera would be capable of Alchemy. "It went fine. And yours?"
"I lost one clone this morning, but it was to be expected. Number 4. I have learned some promising things but... Mustang."
Roy couldn't take his eyes off the Al's they were all looking his way, two had even gone so far as to press themselves against the glass. As if drawn by a magnet Roy stepped closer until he was looking directly down through the amber liquid at the bodies within.
"Mustang," repeated Tucker. "Please reconsider the Gate."
"No," said Roy firmly. "The cost is too high. Too random." One of the Als looked up at him through the fluid. It rose, it's face breaching the surface. Trembling Roy reached out a hand to touch it. It's skin felt wet, smooth and warm. Was it his imagination or was there something, some spark of awareness there?
"Have you been doing something with them?" Roy asked.
"I've been experimenting with implanting memories," Tucker whispered. Roy detected a hint of pride in his voice. "It is easier having the boy here. It is only too bad I can't do the same for Nina... though there wouldn't that many memories to implant in any case."
Roy leaned over further. Suddenly, the Al stood up. Roy froze as he felt the things wet lips brush against his own. Then he backed away, tasting his own lips. The fluid tasted slightly acrid.
"I think he likes you," said Tucker.
Roy blushed. "That... was inappropriate, Al," he said to the copy.
Its brows peaked up and then it sank down into the fluid with the rest of the chimeras.
Roy turned to Tucker. "When can we transfer the soul?"
"Soon," said Tucker. "Very soon."
Al didn't get very dirty, but Roy bathed him every day nonetheless. It was part of the ritual that ruled Roy's life. Everything was about Al now. Was Al comfortable? Was he fed? Did he need changing? Did his spasming muscles need a massage? Al, Al, Al.
It had been one mistake, but the punishment went on and on. Roy had taken on being Al's caretaker at first because he had to. It was his job. Later, before they'd left Drachma, but after the letter arrived declaring Al dead and freezing his funds, Roy had continued the task because there was no one else who would. Now even that excuse was no longer true. Ed was only twenty miles south. Ed would take Al off Roy's hands in a heartbeat. But to allow him to do that would mean admitting that he'd lied to Ed about Al's death. That the military had shafted his brother terribly. That he had failed so utterly to protect the thing that Ed valued most.
Ed might even attempt to do this transmutation on his own.
Roy couldn't let that happen. This was his guilt. It was his job to atone for it. When Ed saw his brother again, Al would be healthy, strong and beautiful, just as Ed had left him.
Still, there were many moments when Roy wished that he could just push Al's wheelchair up to the nearest hospital and leave him there. Pass off the boy to someone else.
Roy hadn't had a date since the night of the shooting.
"Uuuuhhh..." said Al, as Roy lifted him into the water of the bath. He dipped the rag in the warm water and began washing the boy's arms in a business-like way. Al was getting thinner as his muscles atrophied. His ribs were more prominent, his abs had lost their definition, his knees stood out as bony knobs on the end of stick-like thighs.
Roy thought of the Als in the tank, each one looking firm and healthy. His mind flashed on that brief kiss, and for a hideous second he had an unconscionable impulse.
He pushed the thought away with palpable disgust. No. There was no way he would treat Al that way. Al was helpless and dependant. To use him... it was disgusting. And to do that to any of the Als in the vat would be just as wrong. They were soulless. Dolls. Damn it, he was not that desperate. He would never be that desperate.
But it would be so very easy.
Roy finished washing Al as quickly as he could. He hoped Tucker was almost ready to do the transfer. Roy needed a break.
They chose number 11 for the transfer. Of all the chimeras, it seemed to have taken the memory transfers the best. It even showed flashes of behavior that was eerily similar to the original Al.
Roy helped lift the clone out of the vat and helped it out of its formfitting suit. Tucker prepared the array. As always his daughter stood in the background, never speaking, just watching them with those empty, haunting eyes. Roy found her creepy and tried to ignore her as much as he could.
After drying the chimera with the towel, Roy led it to a clear spot in the center of the transmutation circle. It sat down, cross-legged and smiled up at him, trustingly. Next it was time to get Al.
Roy climbed the basement stairs, through the kitchen and out into the back yard. Al's bent forward in his chair. He appeared to be asleep. With hope this would be the last afternoon he would spend strapped to a wheel chair. Tomorrow, thought Roy, Al will walk into the garden with his own strong legs and he will see the flowers Roy had grown for him with perfect bronze colored eyes.
Roy quickly unstrapped him and lifted him up. The real Al weighed a lot less than his clone. Roy carried him draped over his arms like a groom carrying a bride across the threshold.
The clone was still sitting in the middle of the array when Roy returned. It looked at its counterpart with mild interest and when Roy lowered the true Al to the ground next to it, it reached over to explore the boy's ruined face with it's hands.
"Uh," said Al waking up. He reached out and gently shoved the other away.
Roy tried not to read too much into the gesture.
"If this succeeds," said Tucker. "You agree to my payment."
Roy nodded curtly. He didn't want to think of Tucker's price.
"A soul transfer for a soul transfer," repeated Tucker.
"Yes," said Roy, irritated. Al was still shoving the other away, more insistently now. The clone's prodding seemed to annoy him.
Roy's stomach clenched. Kidnapping and murder was a high price, no matter who the victim might be. Tucker claimed he would be content with any soul—an ancient crone in a used up body would be just acceptable as a child. Stripped of its memories, a soul was a soul. But no matter who it was, it still meant taking someone's loved one away. And even if that person had a new life waiting for them, it meant robbing them of their old life prematurely and without their permission.
"I will help you commit your crimes," said Roy firmly.
"As I have helped you commit yours," said Tucker.
"Let's do this," said Roy, kneeling down and placing his hands in the array. No matter the outcome, Al would be the better for it. There couldn't be a worse fate than this awful limbo of existing, but not really living, trapped in an unresponsive body, stripped of sense and thought.
The light of transmutation rose up, but it was muted. Roy could feel the power somehow not catching.
"Again," whispered Tucker.
Again, Roy pushed, lending his strength to the array, feeling the power flowing through himself, reaching out into Al to grasp that illusive quality that made him a person and not a thing. And again it slipped from his grasp.
"Stop," said Tucker. He rose up. "It's not working. If we try any harder we might destabilize the chimera."
Al shoved the chimera away again.
Roy nodded. "We are missing something."
Roy walked out into the sunny garden and saw Al there standing naked, arms stretched out in the air, blond hair cascading softly down to the middle of his back.
"Al," breathed Roy. His heart beat quickly. How?
Tucker must have fixed the problem some how, figured a way to transfer his soul. But why hadn't Tucker told him?
It didn't matter. Al was back.
"It's beautiful here," said Al, turning to him, and smiling. Roy drank the features of his face in. He was perfect, not even a scar on him. Roy felt giddy with relief. Al was back, alive, just as he had been before. Roy looked forward to seeing Ed's face when he saw his brother again. It was a fairy tale ending to this long nightmare.
"I'm glad you like it. I made it for you," said Roy, he knew he was grinning like a lunatic.
Al walked gracefully over to the tulips, picking one and holding it to his face. "I know how hard you worked for me. I couldn't say anything, but I knew you were there, comforting me, taking care of me. Thank you."
"You don't have to thank me, " said Roy. "It was my fault. I wasn't there when you needed me.."
Al walked back towards him holding out the flower. Roy was struck by the sheer grace with which Al moved, and felt a stirring of pride. I made that body for him. I made it even better than it was before.
"It's wasn't your fault," Al said gently. "It was an accident. I don't blame you at all. I never did."
Roy closed his eyes. The sheer relief at hearing those words made him giddy. This was better than he ever imagined.
"You did so much for me when I was sick, Roy. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
"I did what I could."
Roy felt hands near his waist and he looked down. Al was right next to him, looking up with adoring eyes. The flower was tucked behind his ear. Al went up on his toes and kissed Roy. "Thank you."
For some reason the kiss didn't feel wrong at all. Roy supposed it was because Al was truly conscious, and obviously willing. It had been a long time since he was kissed, if one discounted that quick brush the clone had given him. A very long time. Al's mouth felt warm and comfortable.
Roy tentatively reached out a hand and brushed it against Al's shoulder. He'd touched Al before, many times but always purposefully, and never for the sheer desire to touch. Al smiled happily.
It all felt unreal, like a dream. Al's mouth moved from his down his throat. How his pants opened he had no idea, but his next sensation was of wet warmth surrounding his manhood, caressing it with gentle but insistent suction. It was wrong, terribly wrong, but it felt so marvelous
No, he shouldn't be doing this, he shouldn't let this happen, but it felt so good. There was something just so fitting about Al paying him back this way. Sex had caused the problem, sex should finish it, heal the hole in his self-worth.
Oh god, how could Al be so good at this? Roy was coming... he was...
Roy blinked, and ran a hand down the front of his pajama bottoms, confirming what he suspected. He'd had a wet dream. Roy blushed, embarrassed. He hadn't had a wet dream since he was a teen. And the subject of his dream was appalling. Roy heard Al's moans drifting down the hall. He recognized it as Al's distressed noise.
Roy flipped the sheets aside and bundled them up. He pulled down his pajama bottoms, using them to wipe himself off. He needed a shower, but he didn't have time. Al needed him for something. He yanked on a pair of boxers and limped down the hall. By the time he arrived Tucker was already there.
"He was twisted in his sheets," said the chimera. "I straightened him out."
Al made a brief contented grunt and grew quiet.
"Thank you," said Roy. The sun was up. It was time to start the day, but Roy felt exhausted.
Roy wasn't sure whether the white cat was really for Al's pleasure, or a reminder for himself. Al had always liked cats, and after that dream, Roy felt he needed to make it up to the kid. Even though their funds were pretty tight, he didn't begrudge the price. It wasn't that expensive, really.
He suspected Al would have enjoyed any cat, but for some reason the idea of having a pure white cat with brilliant blue eyes appealed to Roy. It reminded him of innocence and purity. Roy looked at the boy clumsily stroking the cat. Al was pure. Al was innocent. Permanently so. Only in Roy's depraved mind could he imagine the boy being anything else.
Tucker was getting impatient. "We know the Gate can solve this problem."
Roy shook his head. "It cost Ed his arm. Who knows what it would take from one of us."
Tucker hung his head. "Sometimes what you want demands sacrifices."
Roy snapped. "Do you think I haven't sacrificed for Al? I have sacrificed every single day for that boy. Every day. I can't count how many times I've woken in the middle of the night. I have fed him, cleaned him, diapered him. I have done everything in my physical power I could for him. I have given up my career, my social life, my love life, all for him. Don't you tell me I'm not willing to make sacrifices."
"Then why not this?" whispered Tucker.
"Because the Gate lies," said Roy. "It lies. There is nothing equivalent about it's exchanges. It grants wishes, but they are always cursed. The price is too high. You of all people should know that."
"Well, then perhaps we will find another way," said Tucker gently.
"Yes. It's just failure of imagination. We don't need the gate. We can do this on our own."
Ironically, when the solution came, at first it angered Roy.
He had been brushing Al's hair out, wondering again whether it might just be easier to cut it. His vow to leave Al as much like he had been when he had been shot seemed to make less and less sense. In the almost six months since the round that ruined both their lives, Al had lost over twenty pounds. There was very little of him that resembled the boy Roy once knew.
He heard a distinctive yowl from outside the window. The damn cat was in heat.
Roy felt annoyed. There was a lot of annoyance lately. Al annoyed him, Tucker annoyed him, the clones annoyed him. Even Ed annoyed him. Ed had planned a memorial service. Two months after being told of Al's death he had finally given up on retrieving the body. Nonetheless he had purchased a coffin and was going through with a burial. He wanted Roy to join him.
Roy couldn't travel to Rizembul to symbolically bury a boy who still lived, who he hoped to revive and reunite some day very soon with his brother. Roy couldn't listen to his old friends speak their sad eulogies, and grieve over a lie. And he didn't trust to leave Al in the care of Tucker for those days either. Who knew, the chimera might just try to transfer Al's soul into his daughter. He'd seen the speculative looks Tucker gave Al, and he couldn't imagine that the tenderness with which the chimera cared for the boy had anything to do with Roy's ambitions.
The brush caught on a tangle and Roy pulled harshly. Al never did anything, how could his hair get tangled?
"Uuuuhhh!" Al moaned. Roy heard the pain and stopped his arm.
Another harsh yowl warbled up from outside. Roy threw the brush at the window. Then he caught himself. It wasn't Al's fault he was angry. It wasn't the cats. It wasn't even Eds. It was his own fault. He shouldn't take it out on anyone else.
The cat yowled again, a second cat answering. Kittens, thought Roy. That was just what he needed. More helpless things that depended on him. It seemed unfair that Roy worked so hard to give Al a new life and failed, and all that damn cat had to do was lift her tail. Why did souls join the body so effortlessly at conception, and yet be so difficult later on?
Conception. "TUCKER!" Roy bellowed.
He heard Tuckers feet slapping against the tile. "Yes."
"I have an idea."
It was a shame to sacrifice the cat, but there was no other way. He'd buy Al a new cat. Hell if this worked, Roy would buy Al a hundred cats. Tucker injected the poor creature with a sedative and placed it in the array.
Roy walked over to Al and lifted him off the mattress. Al protested a little when Roy placed him on the cold concrete. "It's only for a bit, Al," Roy muttered into his ear. "Shh, shh. This will be better soon."
Al arched his back and kicked ineffectually, as if to protest what was going to happen.
Roy pushed the unconscious cat into Al's arms. He immediately calmed down and closed his arms around the limp furry body.
"When this is done, it will be my turn," Tucker whispered.
Roy nodded, dismissively. He didn't want to think about that. He watched Al stroke the cats fur.
"I'm sorry, Mustang," whispered Tucker.
Roy suddenly jerked to attention. He spun about. The needle, which would have gone into his buttock, instead pricked him in his upper thigh. He angrily grabbed the glass syringe and yanked it away, but not before Tucker had pushed the plunger half way. The syringe flew across the room and broke against the glass side of the tank. The Al clones fled away from the noise to the back of their tank.
"What are you doing?" said Roy.
"You would never help me commit murder, Mustang," said Tucker. "You were just stringing me along, using me for my expertise. But why should I help you recreate your lover, when I can use that soul to bring my Nina truly back to life?"
"He's not my—" said Roy. The world was growing glassy.
"Nina, come here."
The girl stood up her corner and obediently walked into the circle. Tucker hunkered down and activated it. Bright light began welling out of the circle.
"NO!" said Roy. "This is not what we agreed!"
Roy stumbled forward, his legs felt weak and floppy.
Roy felt the Gate. It grew like a dark pit in the back of his mind. Every hair stood on end. Then his mind turned sideways, and he saw it. Impossibly huge, it overfilled the room, it's heavy doors swung open.
"Take this sacrifice," whispered Tucker, to the dark mass that writhed within. "And allow me to bind this boys soul to my child."
Roy felt Tuckers paws on him, shoving him hard towards the open doorway. No! Roy's instincts kicked in. Ten years as a soldier had deeply etched his reflexes, and even with the drug and Tuckers heavier weight, Roy was able to pivot at the last moment, and swing Tucker in towards the darkness.
Long black tentacles slithered out and wrapped themselves around Tucker. "NO!" he screamed. "Not me! Him! Take Him!" Roy noticed tiny black hands clutching Tucker tightly. His body began to desolve under their caresses. Roy stared with horror as his arms glowed and fell bloodlessly apart.
"Nina!" Tucker cried, and then he was gone.
Nina stood for a moment in the center of the dimly active array. Then she walked calmly towards the still open door. The black arms rushed out to meet her, sliding over her braids and down her back in a way that almost seemed tender, then she too dissolved into nothing.
Roy pushed himself away from the gate. The drug was addling his mind. The only thing he could think of was that he had to get away from it, and get Al away from it, before it took everyone.
He couldn't move fast enough. He felt a cold line slide under his pant leg and looked down to see one of those tentacles wrapped around his ankle. He kicked, then reached down to dislodge it. More of those boneless arms curled about his arms, pulling him, dragging him back towards the open doorway.
Roy rolled onto his back and glared up into the darkness. "What do you want? You've already taken two people. Leave me alone. I didn't call you!"
The arms stopped pulling. A great eye opened in the center of the darkness. It didn't speak in words, but Roy found himself understanding it.
What would you like?
"For you to go away!" Roy shouted.
The Gate explored the rest of the room, sliding into the vat and pinning down each of the clones. Roy noticed the light and realized that it was taking the chimeras. The water sloshed and boiled as one by one they disappeared.
"No, what are you doing! No! How much are you going to take? I need those for Al!"
As if ceding to his wishes, the Gate withdrew. There were still a couple of Al's left. Roy felt a bit of hope. Maybe he did have some control over this situation.
Then he noticed the Gate stretching its myriad arms towards the real Al. "Leave him alone!" Roy called out. "Take what you need to from me and leave him alone..."
This lead to amusement. and if we took you it said, who would tend to this one? It would languish and die, slowly, alone and in pain. Is that what you really wish?
No, of course not. Roy felt a renewed horror. He kicked and struggled against the arms but they continued to hold him pinned.
The black arms slithered over Al's body, winding around his limbs and torso, stroking him with their tiny black fingers. The boy arched and kicked. "UHHHH!!!" Then his legs began to dissolve.
"STOP IT!" Roy screamed.
One arm was all it had taken from Ed. One arm to attach a soul. Already the Gate had taken at least eight bodies. What could it possibly give back that was worth that amount of sacrifice? Would it give anything at all?
Then he realized it was waiting for him. Waiting for his wish. And the longer he remained indecisive the greater its price would be.
"Help me make Al!" said Roy. "Make him perfect! Make him just the way he was before!"
The last of Al's body dissolved. It was too late. Roy's breath caught and he felt dispair crush him to the floor.
The arms were sliding over him again, but he didn't care. They moved under his cloths, like cold snakes, exploring his skin. Roy pressed his face to the concrete and let them. Whatever they did to him at this point didn't matter. The Gate had taken his entire point of living, it might as well take the rest of him, too.
Dark fingers penetrated his skin in a dozen places. Roy choked back a scream as they prodded his lungs and liver. He had a brief glance at one arm before it touched his forehead and pushed in past the scull into his brain.
Belatedly, he attempted to defend himself, but the Gate's will was stronger than his own. His wants and desires were laid bare. Every noble yearning, every desperate desire, every unsavory urge was explored with a thoroughness that bordered on torture. The Gate stared at him, judged him, evaluated him.
You love him it said.
"Yes," admitted Roy. He had too much invested in Al not to love him.
And you wish he loved you as well.
"No," said Roy. "No. I just want him to be better." The dream came unbidden to his mind. He tried to push it away, but the Gate saw. It knew.
We will take away your pain
Roy tried to move his hands to pull that offending arm out of his brain. It was doing something with him. Something horrible. Something was being stripped away, and it it's place a torrent of alchemy flooded into Roy's mind. Roy writhed.
A perfect companion for one who has sacrificed so much. A reward for such diligence that is your hearts wish. That is what we grant you
It left Roy curled fetally on the floor, his mind full past the bursting point with knowledge and power. Roy pulled himself up to his hands and knees, then slowly climbed to his feet. He swayed for a moment then looked at the tank with the Als swimming slowly inside. Then his eyes slid down to the cat still limp in the array.
Roy smiled a grin that had nothing to do with humor, and little to do with sanity, and clapped his hands together.
"You've changed, Mustang." Ed's eyes all but glowed. Roy could tell he was furious, but he was containing it.
"Have I?" Roy sipped his tea slowly. "In what way."
Ed frowned. "It's hard to say. I mean, you were always a cold fish, but ... never mind."
"And you never had much tact," replied Roy, easily. "But you've changed as well."
Ed snorted. "I don't throw tantrums anymore. Which I suppose is just as well. Still, I am hurt that you didn't show up at the funeral. You know, Al practically worshipped you."
"Al is past caring about what I do and don't do," lied Roy.
"Well, the rest of us aren't. Jean and Riza were really looking forward to seeing you. So was I," said Ed, putting his empty tea cup back on the table and taking the last cookie from the tray. "My fault, I suppose. You never did care about us."
"That's not true," said Roy, a bit stung. "I cared quite a bit about you and your brother. I'm... just not good at funerals."
Ed pursed his lips. "That is such a cop out," said Ed. "Ah!" he stood up, and ate half the cookie in one bite. "Nevermind. I'm sorry I took up your time. I won't be bothering you again." There was finality in his voice.
Roy felt a wave of relief. He hadn't wanted to overtly push Ed out the door, but the longer he stayed in the house, the greater the chance of him hearing something he shouldn't. It was hard to keep himself from looking towards the basement door, but he managed. Ed was too perceptive. It wouldn't be good to make him more curious than he already was.
"Good-bye, Fullmetal," said Roy, putting his tea down and rising to his feet. He held out his hand in an obligatory way, but wasn't surprised when Ed stared at it for a second, then deliberately turned his back on him.
"Let's not pretend we like each other, Mustang," said Ed as he reached the door. "This is a big world. Maybe we will luck out and not see each other again."
"I'm sorry you feel that way," said Roy, feeling a brief sadness. He honestly didn't want to hurt Ed, but there wasn't a choice. He couldn't find out about Al. Not now. Not ever. Not with Al like this.
Roy walked Ed to his car in silence, and then waited for him to drive off. A small flurry of snowflakes drifted down, melting as they touched the ground.
Roy turned away, walking through the arched gate into the garden. His eyes drifted over the naked tulip stalks, the last of the petals decomposing on the dark earth. The wheel chair sat abandoned in the middle of the brick patio, in the exact same spot it had sat for the last two weeks. He should sell it, or dispose of it, but somehow it seemed unimportant. The only thing that mattered was Al.
Yes, thought Roy. Al was everything. If he disappointed Ed, if he made his former friends feel hurt and abandoned, that was fine. He was content to be a hermit. He had all he needed waiting for him in the basement.
Roy entered the house and crossed the kitchen. He fished in his pocket for the key, and then unlocked the basement door. It swung open. Roy heard Al's voice drifting up. He noted the distress and chuckled a bit.
"He's gone now, Al. I don't think he'll be bothering us again." Roy carefully limped down the stairs. It wouldn't do to trip and fall. Al depended on him after all, now even more than before the soul transfer.
Roy rounded the supporting post and looked down at Al. He was not the same boy he was before. No. He was better now. More perfect. Roy noted the graceful tilt of the feline ears, the soft white fur covering his forearms and shins. The sleek tail that flicked and snapped in irritation.
"Uhhhh!" Al groaned, staring pleadingly up at Roy.
He hadn't needed to give Al cat features. No that was inspiration. Like Tucker, Al would never be able to walk the world freely. He was marked by alchemy now, and that would serve as a stronger leash than any chain Roy could fashion. One day, Al would accept this, and fully embrace the perfection of their relationship.
But until that day, the chains were also needed. Roy clapped his hands together and the metal bracelets fell free of Al's wrists. The thick links rattled and swung on the ring embedded in the beam.
The chimera immediately reached up and undid his gag. He spat the thick rubber bit out and stretched his jaw, rubbing the sides of his face with both hands. Roy laughed a little at the consternation on the boy's face.
"I wanted to see him," Al said. "This is crazy, Roy. Why won't you let him know about me?"
"I told you," said Roy, smoothly, sitting down next to Al. "He would try and separate us."
"He might be able to fix me... and fix you as well."
Meaningless words. "There is nothing to fix Al. We are perfect." Roy reached out a hand and gently brushed Al's loose blond hair away from his face. "I gave up my entire life for you, is it so much to ask you do the same for me?"
Al flinched, but then pressed his head against Roy's hand, Roy laughed as Al climbed into his lap. No matter how angry Al was, his desire was greater. His mind might resist, but his body and soul had already given in.
"Tell me, Al," said Roy. "Do you forgive me for letting you get shot."
"Of course," said Al. "You couldn't have stopped it."
"And don't you appreciate all the hard work I did, keeping you alive, making you a new body."
"Yes, I do. I do." Al snuggled deeper in his arms, mixing kisses with rough tongued licks to the underside of his chin. Roy reached down and brought Al's cock erect with two strokes, with his other hand he unzipped his pants and freed himself.
Al resisted just a second, giving Roy a resentful glance, but then he arched his back and that anger melted into need.
Roy smiled. He'd put that need there, along with the ears and tail. The cat had been in heat, and now Al was. Forever, willing and ready. Disappointing sex had caused their fall, how sweet it was to bookend the ordeal with blissfully ideal sex.
Strange to think that only a few weeks ago he would have been embarrassed by his urges. Only a few weeks ago he would have denied to his last breath that he could be turned on by a young male body. Since his conversation with the Gate, his eyes had been opened. The moral arguments he'd once beaten himself with now seemed trite and ridiculous. Why reject this part of himself, when it felt so good to embrace it?
Roy guided Al's head down. Al opened his mouth and wrapped his cock wet warmth. The gently rasping tongue only increased Roy's pleasure.
"I sacrificed so much... so very much, Al," murmured Roy, as he ran his fingers through Al's soft hair. This was his dream made real.
Al looked up, but didn't stop.
Roy smiled down. "It's your turn now."