A/N: ^^ Seems like I´ve become the namesake of Phasmatodea XD I´m quite proud of that archivement ^.~ Oh, and the update pace is better again :D Let´s hope it will improve some more and… I think I don´t really have something to say ^^° Oh... maybe I should give you a warning about offending language and some people might find the chapter a wee bit disturbing ^^ Just a bit. I apologize for that.
But otherwise, I wish you much fun reading ^^
Beta&Co-Author: Someone very awesome, who after all this time is very dear to me :D
Chapter 37: In Charge
Still Day 22
There was not much Roy could do to prepare himself for the next punch, arms locked behind him in an iron grip. His captors obviously knew how to secure a combat trained soldier, which confirmed Roy´s suspicion that these men were likely part of Arschloch's command. Among other things, Arschloch's people were well known for their blunt force interrogation techniques.
The fist to his stomach would have doubled him over if it weren´t for the other man holding him up. Heaving slightly, Roy was relieved that his breakfast stayed down.
These two men were of the school some interrogators preferred to call the 'strong arm forces'. Despite general opinion, they were not a bunch of fist swinging idiots. In fact, a lot of them were perfectly capable of accurately judging a suspect to estimate how much force could be tolerated. Each team usually consisted of at least one skilled tactician - two, if the team was big enough - but there was always a clear hierarchy. In a two man team, one was the designated leader, and was the more experienced and better trained of the pair.
However, so far the men had not revealed the purpose for this assault. What was their goal? They hadn´t asked any questions. If this was not an attempt to gain information, it was either something personal, political or… connected to the bet. Still, beating on someone was not exactly the best way to get them off, at least under normal circumstances.
For the moment, the first man seemed to be done hitting him. They moved towards the shower area, dragging their captive along. Roy´s attempts to hinder them were half hearted. If he gave them too much trouble now, he would also give them reason to watch him closely, which could ruin the possibility of escape when a real opportunity presented itself. But just going meekly along wasn't an option either; it would be suspicious. By resisting to a respectable degree, Roy gave his attackers the impression that this was all he was capable of, and gave Roy a possible advantage. His struggles also delayed things. At some point other people had to come into the locker room.
Considering that these men likely took the places of the people who had originally booked the gym, it was very possible that they had tampered with the schedule. As far as planning went, this worked rather well for them. Not only did it give them an estimated fifteen minute window until lunch break, they could also use the break itself to stretch their alone time with their victim. The Colonel also had a reputation for retuning late from lunch, so he might not be missed until well after that break. That would give them about two hours if not more. Under the circumstances, that was a lot of time. Fortunately for Roy, these men didn´t know how closely Hawkeye watched his schedule, and they certainly didn't know Roy was having lunch with Ed.
When Roy was late returning to the office Riza knew where to find him, and even though Ed was surprisingly patient these days, Roy had no doubt the young man would come here to haul his ass out if need be.
"Quite desperate measures to win a bet," Mustang commented in a tone he might have used to comment on the weather.
The Colonel needed to get these men talking for three very good reasons. First of all he wanted to discover the motive for the attack. Second, if he managed to engage them in a discussion, it might buy him some time. And third, he might be able to distract them and thus gain an opportunity to escape. While he couldn´t say for sure that their motive was related to the bet, it was a clear starting point. This didn't seem to be an interrogation, so the bet could be involved, perhaps in combination with something personal or political. The bet was his opening to try and find out what was going on. Shitty situation or not, Roy Mustang was not willing to simply ask, 'What the hell do you want?'
The men dragged Roy over to the showers and the one who had used Roy for a punching bag reached out to turn on one of the taps as the other forced him to his knees. The loud splatter of water against the tiled floor filled the room. Another shower was turned on. Then another. The Colonel recognized the tactic immediately, even though he was no investigations officer. The splashing would cover other noises, such as blows or screams. As the Flame Alchemist he was known for his explosive alchemy, but he also for his weakness to rain. The men probably preferred a wet environment to hinder him further. Even without his gloves, he was an alchemist and able to draw a circle… if he managed to free his hands and find something to draw with. But in this environment, even if he had the means, any drawn array would be washed away before he even finished drawing.
Roy cursed the fact that at least one of these men had done their research when it came to handling alchemists. Most likely the man before him was the dominate one of the group, the one giving the orders. He was cautious and controlled and his body language didn´t betray anything beside calmness and determination - something which did not match his partner's demeanor. The one behind Roy, holding him immobile, pressed closer and tensed. He had pushed so close Roy easily caught the small stutter in the man´s breathing when he mentioned the bet, and a mix of different feelings shot through the Colonel. One was a hint of satisfaction to discover something about one of his assailants, if not the actual reason for the attack itself. Another was hot anger over what appeared to be a forceful attempt to cheat. For a moment, there was also an uncomfortable tingle of dread at the thought of what these determined and violent men might do to win that bet. He was no stranger to pain or terror, but the thought of losing the bet by force…
Before his feelings could overwhelm him, Roy's rational mind and training took over. Cold calculation, purely objective and without emotion, dominated his mind as he started to analyze the situation. He pushed the looming possibility of bruises, lacerations, broken bones, and dislocated limbs forcibly from his mind. He was in a desperate situation, and needed more information to decide on a course of positive action. As a tactician, he knew that acting on impulse was only acceptable if the odds were realistic and the goal worth the risk.
Roy examined the man in front of him, his build, his stance, his demeanor. His swaggering gait as he approached from the farthest shower oozed cool confidence, but the slight tremor of his hand before the fingers curled into a fist did not escape Roy's astute observation.
Roy kept his smirk carefully internal.
The atmosphere was not unlike a courtroom just before a verdict.
Fuery shuddered, and Breda, despite his size, suddenly appeared quite small as he sank down into his seat. Falman, held his breath. Havoc wished for a cigarette.
Riza Hawkeye leaned back, her gaze coolly professional. Ed stared back equally impassive, his expression completely closed off, and completely unnatural on the young man's usually expressive face.
Havoc and Breda looked at each other, clearly sharing the same thoughts. This was not the young boy they had known back in the day. Just how had they missed, or simply overlooked the obvious changes? Edward was no longer the child who had been forced to become an adult far too soon. It shouldn´t have been such a surprise that Ed was an adult now, but somehow it was. To Roy's staff he had always been like a much younger sibling, careening from one disaster to another, bouncing back from misfortune unchanged and unshakable. They were proud of their Edward, youngest ever State Alchemist, a child in the military.
But whether the adults in their lives liked it or not, children grow up.
Now they were shocked anew at the expression on the young man´s face, reminded again that he was an adult. An adult demanding his right to privacy, as his next words made clear.
"You might be 'the officer in charge of his schedule'," the young man started as the Hawk carefully put her pen down and gave him her undivided attention. "But I really don't give much of a fuck. In case you don't realize it, you're not in 'charge' of anything to do with me."
"Edward . . ." Hawkeye attempted to interrupt the blond before his anger got the better of him.
To no avail. "It´s none of your business when, with whom, and what I do in private, even if your superior happens to be part of my private life. I want you- all of you- to keep that in mind, and keep out of my affairs."
Though clearly enraged, the alchemist had not raised his voice, but the atmosphere in the office was heavy with his resentment. Every one of Roy's team knew where this was heading. The young man was about to draw a line - a line between his professional and private lives, between business and friendship, and it was quite obvious on which side Roy's team would end.
But that… was not fair, was it? Faced with consequences suddenly much harsher than he had expected, Havoc desperately wanted to protest. Sure, they had committed a breach of privacy, and most certainly of trust, but… could they all, Ed included, really allow a single stupid mistake to shatter their friendship? Havoc couldn´t stand by and watch this train wreck unfold, his mind racing to find the words to stop it. Beside him, Breda's mouth opened, ready to do the same. Fuery appeared ready to cry, and even Falman's normally stoic expression showed his remorse.
"Edward, I apologize." Hawkeye interrupted them all.
Whatever the alchemist – and everyone else in the room- expected, it was not this. The first Lieutenant took advantage of the baffled silence to continue.
"You are absolutely right to be upset, and on behalf of the entire team, I´d like to apologize," the woman said, meeting the alchemist's eyes squarely. "Our actions were completely out of line, and I assure you, it won´t happen again."
All eyes swung to Edward. The former State Alchemist frowned, but his posture became less defensive, which Havoc found an encouraging sign. After careful scrutiny of each sincere face looking earnestly back, the young man finally spoke.
"Alright," he said.
The sharp knot in his gut at the realization that Edward might prefer to shut them all out of his life loosened a bit, and Havoc let out a short, relieved sigh. His conscience had been nagging, and Edward's avoidance of them had been uncomfortable at best. Looking down, he noticed that he had damaged the document he had been fidgeting with, and had twisted a torn out piece into a cylindrical form.
Ed's lips twitched up when golden eyes shifted to Havoc´s hands holding the military document turned substitute cigarette. The older blond hoped that Hawkeye wouldn't be too hard on him, since the damaged form took the edge off the tense atmosphere.
The wind had been taken out of Edward's sails, and he sighed as he leaned back against Fuery´s desk next to his basket. Despite the apology, the atmosphere in the office was still uncomfortable. The blond´s gaze wandered to the clock on the wall. There was a short time left until lunch break, but anyone knowing Mustang knew he took every opportunity to slip out early, especially when he had plans. Ed's brows furrowed.
"Just what kind of meeting was he called to?" he wanted to know.
None of them missed the fact that Edward, while acknowledging it, had yet to accept the apology, but at least his body language was more relaxed. Just a bit, but it was better than nothing.
Hawkeye looked to the clock as well and seemed to think the Colonel´s schedule through.
"He should be back any minute," she said, and again, uncomfortable silence spread out.
As the minutes ticked by, Havoc cursed the actions that had created this ugly crack in a loose, but perfectly fine friendship. As time dragged along, the alchemist also became increasingly tense. The observant crew shared some glances, unsure what to do. Surprisingly, Breda broke the silence. Or rather, Breda´s stomach broke the silence. All eyes turned towards the redhead who fidgeted.
"What?" the man snapped, his voice drowning out the repeated growl coming from his midsection.
"Seriously?" Havoc growled. "I know you ate a chocolate bar earlier. Can´t you hold out a few more minutes? It´s almost lunch," the tall blonde grumbled. Usually, this would be the perfect opportunity to tease the man, but the tense atmosphere was getting to them all, and while the alchemist was here, joking around seemed somehow inappropriate.
Breda instantly defended himself. "It´s not my fault! I swear, I can smell food." In a show of innocence, he lifted his palms up and shrugged.
Havoc snorted as if to show what he thought about his friend's argument. Edward blinked and looked down at his basked, frowning.
Breda paid no attention to the alchemist and continued to argue his point. "Really, it´s…." He sniffed a bit, reminding the others of a dog. "… toasted bread, and ham, and…."
Falman cleared his throat before Havoc could say anything else.
"I do believe I detect the scent of onions as well," he said, and now even Hawkeye looked up from her paperwork to delicately sniffed the air.
"Uhm…" Ed began, when Hawkeye frowned and sniffed again, but Fuery´s voice interrupted him.
"Are those… sandwiches?" he asked carefully, and they all turned towards the technician, who had lifted the edge of the cloth cover to peek inside Ed's basket.
"Sandwiches?" Breda echoed, when Ed pushed the cover down again, which forced Fuery to quickly pull his hand away to prevent getting slapped.
The black haired young man blushed in embarrassment, but to the team's amazement, so did Ed.
"So, how much money is in the pot?" Roy asked casually.
At least one of his assailants had an interest in the bet, and considering that neither man knew Roy personally, there was nothing aside from the military that connected them.
"Arschloch really doesn't pay you much, does he?" After a few seconds, he added: "Wonder why?" with a smirk, just to provoke them a bit, hoping that insulting their competence might earn him some answers.
"Shut it," The dominant one hissed. "This is not about your stupid, little bet. It´s about your disgusting…" he stopped with a snort.
Ah, so that´s what this was about. At least for one of them. Good thing the one in charge was the homophobic asshole. Judging from the degree of pure hate in his voice, the man wouldn´t stand for anything he considered 'queer'. Which meant his wager was safe. And that he could aggravate them a little further.
Before he could make the next jab, the man behind him broke the silence.
"… Just how much money is in that pot?" the curious man asked.
Which confirmed for Roy who was the more experienced officer of the two, and who was basically the minion. Two unintelligent brutes didn´t deliver the desired results unless you were aiming for simply beating someone up, and two strategists might disagree with each other over the logistics of an interrogation. This was the classic paring of one strategist and one crony. Roy had known before which one was which, but he now was delighted to find out that the dumb one was rather idiotic even by these standards.
Sadly, he didn´t know just how many people had already put money into that pot and the man in front of him was obviously not willing to spill the beans either, even though Roy was sure the man knew.
"Doesn´t matter, I´m not touching some fag's junk for a bit of cash," the lead man said, clearly unhappy about the discussion. "And I´m not letting a faggot touch mine either," the man was quick to add.
Really, just when the argument looked like it might waste some precious time. Money could buy a lot of things. Roy hoped that the promise of a substantial amount might spark some greedy ideas in someone who was not much of a thinker, to put it lightly.
"But he could do it… you know?" the man behind Roy said. "He just needs to, like, do it himself." He was plainly uncomfortable with the thought.
"Care to watch? Just to make sure?" Mustang almost purred, feeling the man behind him shudder in disgust.
If it weren´t for the fact of their blatant homophobia, Roy would have felt insulted, but for once the alchemist actually didn´t mind someone not being attracted to him. After all, it was mutual.
The remark brought him another punch to the face and god damn it, there had to be other places to hit as well! He kind of liked his face as it was. An awry nose might look sexy on a grizzled boxer, but not on him.
Watching his blood drip to the tiles, he vowed bloody vengeance.
Unsurprisingly, it was Hawkeye who reached the correct conclusion.
"You were planning to take him out for a picnic," she said.
Edward – and probably Alphonse as well - must have made quite the effort to prepare everything. Based on the size of the basket, she estimated that it contained a lot of food. She didn´t think a bachelor was likely to keep picnic appropriate foodstuff in his fridge at all times, and since the shops were closed yesterday, the brothers must have gone to the market very early this morning for fresh ingredients. The gesture was… rather sweet. Obviously, the team thought so as well. The surprise was evident on their faces. Riza drew her brows together in annoyance. She herself felt pleasantly surprised by what she considered a positive sign that Ed might reciprocate the Colonel's feelings, but the crew appeared to be in various states of shock, disbelief, and incomprehension. It was not a reaction she deemed appropriate for such a charming show of affection.
Ed didn´t so much as blink an eye at their reaction however. Their behavior was not outright negative, though she knew the team didn´t think much of it, but she still felt almost insulted on both the Colonel's and Ed's behalf.
So she smiled rather pleasantly, which probably really disturbed the team, and offered, "He´s not very productive today. A more substantial break might help get him back on track. Why don't you keep him out a bit longer?"
Yes, she had definitely shocked them now. Riza felt rather smug about the expressions she had put on her colleagues' faces. Edward on the other hand was instantly suspicious. It was no wonder, since the team had violated Ed's privacy using the excuse of Roy's slacking. Now she was basically offering to condone the same behavior for no apparent reason. The alchemist probably suspected she was doing it as part of her apology, but he obviously wasn´t willing to take that for granted.
He did, however, look back to the clock. His expression visibly darkened to note that his lunch date was now overdue.
"If he doesn´t show up before his break is over, it won´t matter," he groused.
That comment left Hawkeye slightly confused. She had just basically given them the afternoon, so besides the annoyance of having to wait for Roy, why should it matter to Ed when the Colonel returned? Although the practice was frowned upon due to an officer's unavailability during 'regular' work hours, Roy could even move his break. It had happened before, and theoretically, if Ed took her offer, the result would be similar.
So either he didn´t want to extend Mustang´s break, which didn´t appear to be the case, or there was more to his statement than the obvious.
With an uncomfortable feeling of apprehension, Hawkeye sent a glance towards the clock, telepathically ordering her commanding officer to show up quickly.
Something was still wrong with this picture. Things appeared to be clear, but Roy still felt that he didn't have all the facts around his predicament. The dynamic was off somehow. Something was missing and he needed to find out what it was.
"We´re going to teach you a little lesson," the dominant one said as he watched his partner force their captive to stand up. "We don´t like faggots, and we especially don´t like them parading it around." If it weren´t for the man behind him, Roy would have doubled over when the front man landed a well placed punch into his stomach. "It makes me want to puke to think that such a damn fag is a commanding officer in our fine military."
"Yes, and you're both model soldiers." Roy grated, heaving. "Just a minute ago your partner didn´t seem to mind the thought of whoring himself out for some cash."
The Colonel managed a smirk but it didn´t hold out for long when the man behind him grunted and adjusted his grip. Roy felt his shoulder being strained as his arm was twisted up father at his back, and a strong arm wrapped around his throat from behind to pull him backward. The movement put additional pressure on his bent arm to the point that Roy was sure, if he moved even a bit, he would either dislocate his shoulder or break his arm. At the same time, his throat was squeezed tight, forcing his head back and reducing his breathing to a painful, torturous rattle. A painful moan escaped him when the man pressed himself closer against his back, and he felt his shoulder stretch just the tiny bit closer to the breaking point. He forced himself to shallow his breathing, keeping his head clear. Beside his ear, the man behind him spoke.
"Boss, this faggot talks too much," the man said. "How about we shut him up?"
Just like that, Roy Mustang knew exactly what was wrong and how much more dangerous the situation really was. The tone was submissive, the title 'Boss' was a clear sign of who was in charge and who the subordinate was. But that did not change the fact that the apparent submissive man had just issued his dominant partner an order. This was not the classic military investigation setting he had expected.
Fuck. He needed to get out of here. Now.
The man in front of him wasn't the most adangerous one. It was the one behind him.
Despite the position, Roy´s free hand reached for the arm around his throat and despite the arm squeezing his airway, the Colonel let out a muffled noise of protest. He was pulled into one of the showers and his shallow breaths became painful sputtering as the water hit his face. He closed his eyes and attempted to move his face out of the water. He should stay calm, try to hold his breath, follow training, but the realization of how wrongly he had misjudged the man behind him and the thought of what might happen threw him off his game.
Finally he was moved away from the water and blinked furiously as he tried to regain a bit of air. The arm around his throat loosened a bit. He took a deep breath, realizing that he couldn´t see the other man anywhere. He must have moved out of the room. Beside his ear, a muffled chuckle came through the mask, and it was then that Roy noticed.
Panic. Terrifying panic. It didn´t take him longer than a split second to fight it down and regain his control, but the bastard behind him noticed and pressed closer. Knowing what to expect, the hardness rubbing against him didn´t surprise Roy or send him into another fit of panic, but still he instinctively tried to jerk away.
"When he´s done beating the shit out of you, I´m going to earn myself some money, Colonel." The man whispered into his ear. "And when I´m done with you, no one's going to call me the whore. Not when they see you."
Roy couldn´t hold still. He simply couldn´t. There was no chance he could break loose, but he couldn´t just stand still. He kicked backwards, struggled, clawed at the man's arm with his free hand but all it earned him was a little grunt, and the arm around his throat tightened. The next moment, agony was there as his shoulder finally gave up. Roy could feel the limb pop out of its joint.
He wanted to scream, but there was no breath, and while pain tore through his nerves, he choked against the lack of air. Dark spot danced before his eyes, and for a moment he was sure he would pass out. But then he could breathe again. Painful and harsh, but it was possible. Against his raspy breathing, he could hear the heavy panting of his captor. He had met a lot of sadistic psychopaths in his life, but this guy had just earned himself a special spot on that list.
The way he all but purred Roy´s military title was just one more sign of how much the guy got off on being the one who held the power. This likely wasn´t even about sex. In fact, Roy was sure his gender and preferences didn´t matter. Despite what this man's partner might think, it was not about Roy's sexuality either. It was about power and being the one who had it. It was the knowledge of what he could do to someone of superior rank, who was feared as a war hero. The bet money wasn't even an issue. Surely this man knew that stepping up to claim that prize in this manner would only earn him a court martial. He might be crazy, but he certainly wasn't stupid.
Despite the lack of air, Roy was sure he could manage to get a few words out. He wanted to tell this sick bastard to have his fun while it lasted, because it wouldn't last long. He wanted to promise that he would be too busy being fried to ash to gloat over it. And by god, he meant it. He did. He would burn this fucker to a crisp as soon as he got the chance. Roy hadn´t felt this bloodthirsty since the day Maes had almost died by the bullet fired from a homunculus' pistol. But right here, right now, in this desperate situation, he wanted to kill this man.
"There, this should do it." The other man was back, stepping in from the locker room, breaking Roy from his thoughts. Sadistic glee was clear in his voice as he returned with a few towels, torn into strips.
"Say Boss," the man behind Roy said, tone thoughtful. "You don't really want to soil your hands on this worthless fag. Why don't you just leave the rest of this dirty business to me?"
The arm around Roy´s throat had loosened slightly, and the Colonel took a few deep breaths, watching as the man in front of him mulled that suggestion over. There was no point in trying to explain to this 'dominant' man that his partner was not the idiot he pretended to be, and was instead a manipulative psychopath. He wouldn't waste his time warning the fool that he wouldn´t be in charge much longer, because only a fool would be ignorant of the way power was already shifting. This so called leader was taking orders without even realizing it. It wouldn´t be long before the better manipulator of the two would be calling the shots outright, though Roy would bet serious money that he would still shift the burden of responsibility for this fiasco to his superior's shoulders when the time came.
No, Roy was not about to waste his breath on a man who wouldn´t believe him anyway. He needed to buy time, and right now the man in front of him still had tentative control of this situation. As long as that remained the case, Roy had a fighting chance. He needed to drag this on, but his time was running out. The last thing he wanted was to be left alone with the psychotic behind him.
So despite the pain in his shoulder, he put on a confident smirk.
"So, that little spanking was all you could manage? Don´t make a fool out of yourself, soldier. You don´t have what it takes to teach me any lessons," Roy sneered.
The arm around Mustang´s throat tightened again, cutting him off. Too late – the damage was done. The homophobic asshole's eyes narrowed, accepting the challenge.
"Boss, we need to hurry this up. I can take care of him quick, and fix it so he doesn´t wake up too soon, but… what if someone comes in?" The tension in the man's voice could have been due to the risk of being caught as he attempted to 'persuade' his partner.
The man in front of Roy slashed an angry hand to silence his subordinate, and for a moment, Roy thought that the man restraining him would go for leadership and claim the right to issue orders, but he didn´t. It might have been the deeply trained deference to rank that the military drilled into recruits. Maybe it was the fact that Roy already challenged the other man, and he wouldn't respond to another provocation, particularly from a supposed subordinate, and that subordinate knew it. Whatever the reason, command of this dysfunctional team swung back to the ranking officer, and that was fine with Roy. He was definitely the lesser of two evils.
The next moment, Roy let out a painful grunt. The brutal way his arm was bent even higher put almost unbearable pressure on his dislocated shoulder, and betrayed the anger of his captor. The team's leader didn´t comment on Roy's dislodged shoulder or the rough treatment. Instead, he shoved one of the shredded bits of towel against Roy´s mouth. A large knot was forced past his teeth and he chocked, his gag reflex taking over.
"And here I thought you´d be used to that," the man in front of him mocked. "I would have thought you'd get a lot of practice sucking dick. Guess you're not very good at it, huh?" the man taunted while he bound another piece of towel around Roy's mouth, tying it at the back of his head to keep him from spitting it out.
No longer able to speak, the Colonel stared at the man, challenging. He needed to keep him angry, needed the guy to take his damn time. It was gruesome as hell, but he preferred the violent homophobe in front of him over the sadistic psychopath at his back. And hopefully, Riza Hawkeye would figure out that something was wrong and get her ass down here before the homophobe was done kicking Roy's ass. Because after the first guy was finished with him, his chances of defending himself against the second were not something Roy cared to think about.
I admit, there is technically not much going on in terms of development ^^ Roy´s still hanging in that sticky situation but be assured, he´s not about to give up :D And I will try my best to get the next chapter out fast, so we´ll be moving on from this ^^ I know, this is basically the same cliffhanger in two chapters o.O But will you still let me know what you think?