Title: Changed For Good, Chapter 4
Section: 4 of ??
Rating: PG-13 (or R) for language.
Summary: Shadows that Ed's been avoiding till now come to plague him. Plus, what the hell has Tucker been up to? Find out within!
Spoilers/other Warnings: Reveals Pride's identity . . . sort of. Also explores Mustang's nurse fetish. (You know he's got one.). Gratuitous angst.
Missed a chapter?
I probably would have got this up sooner if laylah hadn't been distracting me so much . . . Not that I mind . . .
Also, this is the longest chapter yet. 5,747 words. You have been warned.
Chapter 4 – Look What’s Become of Me
Despite Hughes’ open invitation to continue staying with his family, Ed and Al were adamant that that night they remain with Winry. So what if she was unconscious and probably wouldn’t wake up will the next morning? She was their dearest friend, and neither of them could shake the nagging feeling that they had somehow failed her, no matter what Hughes said. They wanted to be the first things she saw on waking.
It was a sweet idea, but in execution proved rather difficult.
“What time is it?” Ed drawled.
Al looked up at the clock. “Two-twenty-five, Brother.”
There was a pause, then, “Nineteen. We’ve been awake for almost nineteen frikking hours. You know how much that is? That’s almost five-sixths of the day. Eighty percent. Of being awake. Ninety percent of that was spent in this hospital. And,” he paused, “ . . . thirty percent of that time just sitting in this room. Just. Sitting. In this room. Just sitting.”
“Maybe you should get some sleep, Brother,” said Al as gently as he could. He was a by nature a very patient creature, but even he had limits. He didn’t mind the waiting; it was the complaining that was getting to him.
Ed, on the other hand, seemed to see nothing wrong with it. What was the point of suffering in silence, he reasoned, when he could have others suffering with him? But he was winding down; it was growing too late and he was growing too tired even for complaining. “I don’t wanna sleep, though,” he muttered. “What if I miss her waking up?”
They both looked at the girl sleeping in the bed. Winry was pale and wrapped in bandages, her right knee encased in a plaster case and put up in traction. Her ash-blonde hair draped over the pillow like another blanket. She looked so fragile and vulnerable that way, so unlike the feisty, fiery Winry they knew, and it felt like a perversion for her to look so helpless. "What time is it now?"
Al put his hand on Ed’s shoulder. “Brother, you should sleep,” he said gently. “I don’t need to sleep; I’ll wake you up if anything changes, okay? I don’t think Winry would like it if you were half-dead when she woke up.”
Ed smiled wryly. “No, she wouldn’t, would she? Okay, Al, I’ll get some sleep, But only because you insist.” He got up and walked over to a rack by the door, where towels and pillows and spare blankets were stacked. He dragged a pillow back and threw it on top of Al’s thigh.
“Brother? What are you doing?”
“What you told me to do – getting some sleep. Don’t drop that pillow, okay/” Ed was dragging over chairs and lining them up next to Al’s. When he had four lined up, he laid down across them laterally, putting his head on the pillow in Al’s lap. “You made me do it, so you’ve got to face the conse – heh – “ he yawned spectacularly “—consequences.” He snuggled into the pillow. “Wake me up if anything changes.”
Al put a hand lightly on Edward’s head, and there was an amused smile in his voice when he said, “Oh, Brother . . .”
A few seconds later, Ed was snoring softly.
Ed woke suddenly. Al was shaking his shoulder. “Brother – wake up!”
Ed jerked upright. “What? What, what is it? Is she awake?”
“No, not yet. But look – we have breakfast!”
“ . . . huh?” Ed blinked muzzily at two indistinct, blurry lumps. He wondered why he couldn’t see, then realized it was because his glasses had fallen off. He fumbled around under the chairs while Al explained.
“That pretty nurse lady I met yesterday, Sara – she said it was so sweet of us to stay with Winry all through the night, and she brought us breakfast just a – Brother, what are you doing?”
“Found em!” Ed said triumphantly, straightening up and putting the round glasses back on. Instantly the world snapped into focus. This included the twin plates of eggs, toast and bacon laid out on trays in front of them. “FOOD!” All of a sudden he remembered he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast the day before, and he was starving. He attacked his breakfast ravenously, devouring scrambled eggs, bacon strips, buttered toast, and orange juice in under a minute. Al just stared at him.
“Hey, Al, you’re not gonna finish that, are you?”
Al just laughed and shook his head. “Brother . . .”
“All right, good.”
Afterwards, Ed felt less hungry and much more awake. He looked over at Winry, still sleeping peacefully. “Any change?”
“Mm . . . I’m gonna go wash up,” Ed announced, standing and heading for the little mirror over in the corner.
He thought about Winry as he washed his hands. He thought about how the three of them would play together when they were little; Winry holding that puppy of hers; Winry showing off the model train she’d build even as he and Al proudly displayed the toy animals they’d transmuted; Winry at their mother’s funeral, standing with them until the sunset; Winry coming to visit them early the next morning, to help them make breakfast and give them some much needed companionship. Winry smiling, Winry laughing, Winry angry. A photo kept on their mantelpiece, of he and Al and Winry all sitting on the same tree branch, grinning broadly, their faces full of pride and happiness.
Ed looked up into the mirror, looked at himself, then all of a sudden he knew: he couldn’t let Winry see him like this. It wasn’t a choice or a suspicion; it was cold, hard knowledge: Winry could not see him. What would he say? What would she say? Would she ever look at him the same way again?
“Brother!” Al’s voice rang out excitedly, “She’s waking up!”
Panic ran up Edward’s spine. He was halfway to the door before he even realized he was running. “Brother!” Al called in surprise. “Where are you going!?”
“Tell her I’m not here!” Ed ran outside and slumped against the wall, sliding down till he was sitting on the ground, his heart thumping wildly. There was a confused silence from inside the room, and then she spoke: “Al . . . izzat you?”
Ed put his head in his hands, his face burning with self-loathing. He felt the unfamiliar planes of his face and hated it, hated Tucker, hated himself for being so weak. But he couldn’t do it; he couldn’t face her this way, to been seen by her this way, as a stranger with Ed’s words on his tongue and no familiarity in his eyes. To look in Winry’s eyes, those eyes he;d grown up with eyes he loved and trusted – to see there confusion, nonrecognition, maybe even fear, disgust, hate . . . he couldn’t do it. He just wasn’t that strong. So he just sat there, listening to Al and Winry talk and laugh and hug and remember.
It was more than an hour later when Al finally came out (Winry having gone back to sleep, after being promised that Al would visit again tomorrow) but Edward was still there, sitting against the wall, looking sad and alone.
“She’s asleep now,” Al said (rather pointlessly). “I . . . I told her you were sick.”
Ed didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look up. Al shifted his great weight nervously.
“I didn’t tell her what happened to you . . . Umm . . . why did you run, Brother?”
No response. Ed stared sullenly at the wall, as if he wasn’t even aware of Al’s presence. Al sighed.
“I’m going home, Brother. Back to Mr. Hughes’ house. I hope you come, too.”
He started walking down the hall, not looking back. A few minutes later he heard the sounds of his brother rising slowly to his feet, and following silently in his wake.
It was late morning when they got home. Gracia and the girls were out playing in the front yard: Nina chasing butterflies and running around on the grass, Elysia propped up in her little chair, Gracia dividing her time between both girls, Alexander napping in the sun. When Nina saw them approaching, she immediately raced toward them, attaching herself to Alphonse’s leg. “Big Brother!” she squealed, pressing her cheek against the cool metal in greeting. Alexander, too, got up and came to greet Ed and Al with much sniffing and tail-wagging. Then Nina turned to Ed. “Ed-papa! You’re back! I missed you!” she moved to hug his leg, too, but he shook her off.
“No, Nina. Not now.” Ed moved past Nina, surprised and hurt, and up to the front door.
“Edward?” Gracia asked. “Are you all right?
“No,” he said heavily, going inside and shutting the door behind him, going up the stairs to the guest room he and Al were sharing. He pulled up a desk chair to the big window on the wall, sat down, put his elbows on the sill, and stared off into the sky. He did not move for a very long time.
Hughes came upstairs as the sun was going down. He knocked politely on the door before he entering. Edward was still sitting silently at the window, everything from his posture to the way he pointedly didn’t look at Hughes when he came in was blaring ‘Leave me the fuck alone’. But Hughes would have been the first to say he never had much sense.
“How are you feeling, Ed?” he asked tentatively. No answer. “I brought you some dinner.” He set it down on the desk from which Ed had appropriated the chair he was sitting on. Still Ed didn’t respond.
“Al told me what happened. Ed . . . what’s wrong?”
That got a reaction out of Ed; he whipped his head around and fixed Hughes with a penetrating glare that could have nailed him to the wall.
“Right . . . stupid question. Is . . . is there anything I can do?”
“. . . Have you found Tucker yet?”
Hughes lowered his head. “. . . Not yet. We’ve got 'wanted' posters up all over the city, but there’s been no sign of him . . . “
Ed turned back to the window. “Then there’s nothing you can do.”
Hughes looked at the ground. The silence was uncomfortable and oppressive, but he didn’t want to leave just yet. He heaved a sigh and sat down on Ed’s bed. “Ed . . . I feel that I owe you an apology.”
Nothing. Hughes pressed on. “I’m feeling responsible for this. I sent you in to see what Tucker was up to , , , and then, after you saved the day, saved Nina from what he would have done to her . . . I didn’t believe you; I treated you like shit and threw you in jail . . . I was wrong. I should have believed you. I didn’t . . . I’m sorry”
Ed continued staring out the window. Hughes was afraid the boy had retreated back into silence once again. But then Ed spoke, bitterly, flatly; “What good does that do me?”
Hughes was too surprised to say anything. Ed continued. “I mean, what is your apology supposed to do for me? It doesn’t find Tucker. It doesn’t heal Winry. It doesn’t get Al’s body back. It doesn’t . . .” he took a deep breath to steady his voice, “. . . It doesn’t bring our Mom back. So really, what the hell is the point of apologizing? You just want to soothe your conscience so you don’t have to feel guilty. You can’t change what’s happened to me. You can’t . . .” Ed put his head down on his arms. “. . . you can’t do anything.”
Hughes might have been insulted by Ed’s harsh words, if the hurt in his voice hadn’t been so evident. Instead it made him want to move closer to the boy, to comfort him, or at least try. But Edward flinched at Hughes’ touch, pulling away and hunching his shoulders higher. “Just leave me alone!”
Hughes too an involuntary step backward. “Ed . . .”
“Just go away!” Ed shouted, his voice muffled, his shoulders shaking. “Go away . . .”
The words hung in the air like an angry spirit, and for once, Hughes had no idea what to say. He opened the door and crept silently out.
Ed waited until he heard Hughes’ footsteps on the stairs before he allowed himself to start crying. He hated crying, had always hated it, hated feeling so alone and vulnerable. But he couldn’t stop it. This had been building since the Accident, waiting to swoop in and envelope him, and he could no longer fight it off. He wept bitterly and harshly, and by the time he was finished it was completely dark outside his window. Now that the light inside the room was brighter than the light outside, he could see his – Tucker’s – face reflected ghostlike in the glass.
Angrily he stood up and turned away. Then, not quite knowing why, he walked into the bathroom, flicked on the light, and slammed his palms down on the countertop, looking at himself in perfect clarity. He saw hair that was straight and reddish-orange and cut way too short; saw a forehead that seemed huge; saw eyes that were reddened from crying, and blue, too blue; cheekbones that were too prominent, a nose that was too big, a mouth that was too wide. Stubble that was already coming back, around the damage he’d inflicted on his face the morning before. Shoulders and arms and torso that looked fine, worked fine, but they weren’t fine. They weren’t his. They belonged to Tucker, belonged to a man who was twisted and wicked enough to try to murder his own daughter in order to save his hide.
For the first time, Ed considered the possibility that they might never find Tucker, that he might be trapped in this hateful body forever. He had tried to avoid that thought ever since the switch had occurred. But he couldn’t avoid it forever; and now that it had caught him, it wouldn’t let him go. He thought about waking up every morning, for the rest of his life, to find this staring him in the face.
How could he expect Winry to accept him like this, when he couldn’t even accept himself?
Al tried to put off going upstairs until he thought Edward must surely be asleep; and yes, when he opened the door and crept in, he found Ed curled up in bed, silent and unmoving, if not actually asleep. Al heaved a (metaphorical) sigh of relief. He straightened up the room a bit (the chair was lying on the floor, there was an untouched plate of food on the desk) before getting into bed himself.
And if he noticed that the bathroom mirror had been transmuted into a sheet of dull, black glass, he never said anything to Ed.
In the morning, to no one’s surprise, Al announced his intention to go visit Winry again. But they all raised their eyebrows when Ed, speaking up for the first time since his words to Hughes the night before, said that he’d come, too. As the two boys left the house, Hughes sighed with relief, hoping that the depression that had taken hold of Ed the night before had passed.
But when they reached Winry’s room, Ed just sat down by the door again, without changing his expression a hair. Al paused at the door. “Brother . . . were you planning on this?”
Ed looked up at him and nodded. “I’m just . . . not ready to go in there yet. Tell her . . . I don’t care what you tell her; just don’t tell her what happened.”
“Brother . . .” Al wanted to reach out to Ed, make him feel better, but he had no idea what to say. So all he could do was nod his head before going into the room.
Ed heard Winry’s voice, full of delight and warmth.
“Uh . . . he’s still not feeling very good, Winry.”
“Oh . . . well, it's great to see you, Al!”
Ed put his head against the wall and closed his eyes, visualizing Al and Winry in his head, imagining he was there with them.
It wasn’t near enough. But it was the best he could manage.
A toe in his side brought him back to reality, the reality of Tucker’s body and the hospital hall floor, and Al and Winry’s laughter on the other side of the wall. And the booted toe, poking him again.
“Hey . . .” Ed looked up into Mustang’s black eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Edward. Why aren’t you visiting your friend?”
Ed looked away. “I . . . can’t.”
“Do you need help? The door’s right here; I’ll show you.”
Ed glared. “I know where the door is.”
“Then it seems to me your problem is ‘won’t’, not ‘can’t’.”
“I thought you were a soldier, not a language tutor.”
“And I thought you were smarter than this, Edward.”
Anger flared in Ed’s mind. He snapped his head up to scowl at Roy. “What the hell do you mean!?”
Roy shook his head, smirking. “Nothing. Nothing at all. You’ve been through a lot, Edward. No one could blame you for wallowing in self-pity.”
Ed’s hands curled into fists. “I am not wallowing in anything!”
Roy nodded, smiling. “Of course you’re not.”
Ed and Roy both looked down the hall and saw the entire Hughes family, plus Nina, approaching. “Oh, hello, Hughes,” Roy said casually.
“What’cha doing here?” Hughes asked, grinning. Gracia was right behind him, carrying Elysia, while Nina detatched herself from Gracia and ran over to Ed.
“You didn’t get another girl pregnant, did you, Mustang?’ Hughes was saying, grinning.
“Of course not!” Mustang said loudly, then quietly added, “You know I’m more careful than that. For your information, I’m here on official business.”
“Is that what they’re calling ‘making out with a nurse in the broom closet’ these days . . .”
“Hughes, you are, as always, completely off the mark.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry . . . was it a supply closet?”
“Hughes . . .”
“Is Ed-papa okay?” Nina asked, kneeling next to Ed. He looked at her emptily.
“. . . I don’t know.”
“Yeah, Ed, what gives?” Hughes asked, seeming to notice Ed for the first time. “Why aren’t you inside?”
Ed looked down, wishing he could make them all go away. But Nina was down there with him, tugging on his sleeve. “Ed-papa? What’s wrong?”
“Just leave me alone,” he muttered, standing up and pushing past the people crowded around him.
He ignored them, walked off down the hall, wishing he just keep walking until everything disappeared, even his body – especially his body – and he wouldn’t have to see – or feel -- anything anymore.
Mustang caught up him in the bathroom, where we was standing with his hands on the counter, head down, much as he had been the previous night. Mustang leaned against the wall. “I thought you were smarter than this, Edward.”
Edward didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look up. But Mustang saw his grip tighten on the tiled counter.
“I thought you had more sense than to try and run away from your problems.”
Ed whirled to face him. “Running away!? And just how am I supposed to run away from – from – from this!?” He gestured violently at himself, indicating his whole body with one sweep of a hand. “I’m doing the best I can, here, but how exactly am I supposed to deal with this!? I mean, what am I supposed to do?”
Roy “Well, I’m not your father, it’s not my job to tell you what to do –“
“The HELL it isn’t! It’s all you’ve done since we met you!”
“ –but I had thought, based on your previous conduct, that you would be strong enough to deal with this – or at least,” Mustang added, raising his eyebrows, “considerate enough to remember that your needs are not the only ones you must concern yourself with.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Why should I care about your needs, you jerk?”
Mustang narrowed his dark eyes. “Your brother is still counting on you to restore him. Isn’t that why you became a National Alchemist in the first place? Or is that no longer important to you?”
Edward could only stare.
“Of course, admittedly, I had some interests in your activities,” Roy admitted, starting to pace back and forth, “But if you’re going to give up and roll over this easily, perhaps I misjudged your character. But then, like father, like son; he ran away from his responsibilities, too, didn’t he?”
Ed’s arms dropped to his sides, all his anger evaporated. Roy wasn’t seeing rage anymore; just grief and confusion and desperate need for some help. “What can I do?” Ed asked quietly, almost helplessly. "What . . . what can I do?
“You can still do alchemy, can’t you?”
Blue eyes widened in surprise. Roy locked onto them. “That’s the only thing that matters to me. You’re still Edward Elric, regardless of your physical state. Look at your brother, for heaven’s sake!” Roy threw his hands in the air. “You of all people should know that it’s the soul, not the body, that matters. Besides,” he added, smiling slightly, “You were going to use the Philosopher’s Stone to restore your arm and leg, weren’t you? I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult to restore the rest of you, as well . . .” he left the possibility hanging.
Edward looked at Mustang, then back at the floor, then over to the mirror. Still Tucker; it still looked wrong and perverted; but Mustang, whether accidentally or consciously, had said the words Edward had been desperately needing to hear: You are still Edward Elric. Edward curled his fingers into fists again. He raised his head and straightened his spine, looking at Roy as haughtily as he could manage.
“I am still Edward Elric,” he echoed, “And I am at your disposal. Sir.” He saluted, only half-mockingly.
Roy smiled. Well, smirked, actually, but it was a nice smirk. It said, Good job. It took you longer than I’d thought, but you made it. Good job.
“Good. Then your first order is to go back in there and go talk to your charming friend, Miss Rockbell.”
Edward stiffened. “Sir . . .”
“That’s an order, Alchemist.” He strode forward and put his hand casually and Ed’s shoulder. “If she really can’t see the real you under all this, then she’s not worth worrying about.” Then he moved past, toward one of the stalls. Ed turned around, surprised.
“How . . . how did you know?”
“You’re only twelve, Edward,” Mustang smirked, “you’re not that hard to read. Subtlety comes with age. And you’re still very young. Now if you’ll excuse me,” he added, “I have some business to attend to.”
Edward smiled. just a little. “Thanks, Mustang.”
“That’s ‘Lieutenant Colonel’.”
Hughes was waiting outside, leaning against the wall and trying not to look deeply concerned when Edward came out. Hughes straightened up and moved closer to him, matching step.
“You . . . you going to be okay?”
Ed smiled – not broadly or hugely, but it was a smile – and pulled Hughes into a friendly hug. “Yeah,” he said, stepping away, “I think so. The sooner you find Tucker, the better. But yeah,” he nodded, “I’m okay.”
Hughes smiled. “Good. I was getting worried. So,” he added, starting to walk down the hall again, “You going to go talk to Winry now?”
Ed swallowed. “I guess so.”
“She’s one tough little girl,” Hughes said. “You’re lucky to have a friend like her. You know what Mustang told me?”
“Well – this is funny, turns out he really was here on official business – he was here because they found the serial murderer.”
“Really!?” A thrill of excitement raced up Ed’s spine. “Who was it? Where? How?”
“Some guy with no previous criminal record, in one of the downtown warehouses. Dead.”
Ed stared, wide-eyed. Hughes nodded and grinned. “Apparently Miss Rockbell got him with one of his own knives before she ran away. Like I said, one tough little girl.”
Ed swallowed. “Yeah,” he said weakly.
“Well, look at that. We’re here.”
Ed suddenly found himself faced with the door to Winry’s room. Suddenly he felt terrified. Hughes must have sensed it, because he patted Ed’s shoulder. “it’s okay, kid. You can do it.”
Ed swallowed again, even though his mouth was dry, and reached out tentatively to open the door.
Shou Tucker huddled in the shadow of the doorway, wrapping the ratty blanket more tightly around himself and wishing he could disappear. It had been four days since the Accident, and since then he’d found himself slipping back into old, familiar habits; a little too easily for his liking. If it was just a matter of surviving on the streets until he came up with a plan, he would probably have been all right; he’d done it before, and that was with a wife and daughter in tow; he could do it again.
But now the military was actively looking for him; it seemed he couldn’t turn a corner without seeing a pair of bluecoats patrolling down the street, or finding another of those damned posters: “WANTED by the military”, showing a clear picture of Edward Elric’s – and now his – face.
And a twelve-year-old boy with bright yellow hair and eyes and two Automail limbs wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. Tucker didn’t know how he had managed to avoid getting caught long ago. And he was running out of options. He didn’t want to risk attempting to leave the city, not now, when everyone was on the lookout for him; but he also knew that if he stayed here much longer, it would only be a matter of time until he was caught. Someone would see his face (as he slept, probably, huddled in an alley) and call the police, and bring the fury of the Central City military down on his head. And even the alchemical skills of child prodigy Edward Elric probably couldn’t fend off an entire army; and anyway, Tucker knew he’d be too scared to try. He’d long ago come to terms with the fact that he was not a brave man.
But he was quickly becoming a desperate man, and desperation often leads people to do very stupid things, which are later interpreted as bravery.
Which was why, at two A.M. that night, he found himself sneaking around the central City military complex, trying to figure out the best way to get in.
He had worked it out pretty well, at least in his head. He couldn’t leave town when everybody would be watching and scrutinizing the departing, and he couldn’t live on the streets in a city that was searching for him. He needed support. He needed protection, preferably in high places. In short, he needed Basque Gran. He didn’t like Gran; quite frankly, the man scared the shit out of him; but Gran had funded him in the past, kept the investigations into the chimera fiasco to a minimum, protected him . . . and that was what Tucker needed. Protection.
Which was why he was standing there, in the middle of the night, a bodysnatcher and a wanted man, about to attempt to break in to the most important military complex in the country.
He had maneuvered around to what he was pretty sure was the back of the complex (the high wall and gates made it difficult to judge, looked around, steeled himself, then planted both hands squarely on the wall in front of him. A moment of waiting, concentrating, and then the wall shifted, hinges appearing and a doorknob melting out of the stone.
“Piece of cake,” Tucker breathed, looking around once more before opening the door and slipping inside. Anyone watching would have seen another brief flash a few seconds later, and then the door melting back into the wall.
The halls of the building were echoingly silent, Tucker doing his best to make as little noise as possible. He would have taken his shoes off, but when one has a metal foot, boots are actually quieter. He clung to the shadows and stuck to the wall, heart pounding, breathing hard. It was occurring to him that actually knowing where Gran’s office was would've made things a lot easier.
Then he heard something that made his breathing stop and his blood turn to ice: footsteps. Somewhere nearby. He pressed his back flat against the wall, wishing he could transmute himself right into the stone, and waited . . .
It was silent now. Perhaps whoever it was had turned around? He didn’t see anyone . . . detaching himself from the wall, he slowly crept a few steps forward, poking his head around the corner.
No one. He heaved a sigh of relief.
A large hand clamped down on Tucker’s flesh-and-blood shoulder, and he very nearly wet himself. He jerked around, already protesting: “No, I’m not Tucker, I’m Edward . . .”
He then realized just who it was standing behind him, smiling beatifically. From Tucker’s perspective he seemed hugely tall, but he recognized the eyepatch and trim dark mustache even from his own modest height. The bottom dropped out of his stomach.
“. . . Elric,” he finished weakly.
The Fuhrer’s grin didn’t change. He patted Tucker on the shoulder. “Regardless, you’re just the man I’m looking for. Come with me.” His grip on Tucker’s shoulder not lessening a bit, he started striding confidently down the hall, Tucker half dragging, half following, wondering how he was ever going to get out of this.
“L-look, Sir, I can explain,” he said lamely – Stupid! he snarled at himself. You sound like a little kid who’s missed his curfew! Don’t you realize they’ll execute you for this? THINK OF SOMETHING!
As if reading his mind, Bradley tightened his grip on Tucker’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about explaining; we know all we need to know.”
“But – but -- Hey . . .” Tucker realized something as he looked around. “Where are we? And why haven’t you called any guards?”
Bradley just kept smiling. “We’re here.”
Tucker found himself in front of a plain mahogany door. Bradley turned the knob, and Tucker saw blackness beyond. All of a sudden he had the distinct feeling he’d rather go to prison that step through that door . . . but he didn’t have much of a choice; Bradley’s hand was between his shoulder blades, pushing him through, and then he was inside and the door was shutting behind him.
He looked around nervously, nerves screaming at him that he needed to get out, NOW! There was no light in the room, save for the pale stream from the moon and the stars, coming in through the window opposite him. Seeing this, he immediately made for the window; maybe he could still get out alive –
Any voice coming out of the darkness would have made him pause; this one made him stop cold, and sent shivers up and down his spine. It was low and husky, a woman’s voice, almost a purr; in spite of the fear burning in every nerve, Tucker couldn’t help feeling an erotic little thrill at the sound of that voice. He turned toward it, his eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness, and could faintly make out three shadowy figures on the couch. The same voice came at him again. “Come a little closer, boy.”
Tucker couldn’t resist; he found himself taking one step, then another, towards the figures on the couch. His attention was focused on the one who had spoken. The moonlight dimly illuminated a woman of aching and deadly beauty, with long, curling dark hair framing her face and draping over her bare shoulders. Her long-lashed eyes were half-closed and her dark lips curled into a sensuous smile. Tucker felt he had never seen anything more beautiful – or frightening – in his life. No chimera he’d ever created had had quite that same predatory look. It made Tucker shiver, and not just with pleasure this time. He turned to look at the other figures on the couch – but there was only one: a short, round-bodied man with a hairless head and hanging tongue and unnatural white eyes – where was the third?
Thin, wiry arms snaked around Tucker’s torso, too fast for him to do anything but amke a little noise of surprise; the arms jerked upwards, trapping his own arms in what wrestlers called a full-nelson. He felt lips pressing to his ear, and a voice – girl? Boy? He couldn’t tell – hissed maliciously, breath hot against the skin of his ear, “Just try and escape; I’d love an excuse to skewer that pretty body of yours.”
Tucker was a lot of things, but stupid wasn’t one of them. He stopped. The voice spoke again, louder now, addressing the woman on the couch, “You’re good, Lust; the kid’s half hard already.” Tucker felt himself go red with embarrassment.
The woman was standing, and she moved gracefully towards him. “He's no kid, Envy; this is him, all right,” she purred. “He’s got that power. I can smell it.”
“I wanna smell!” the round man squealed. He inhaled deeply, then started drooling. “Can I eat it?”
Tucker gulped. But the woman called Lust laughed a musical little laugh and smiled. “No, Gluttony . . . we need this one.” She reached out her hand and gently stroked the side of Tucker’s face with her gloved fingertips. “We need your help,” she said sweetly. “You don’t mind helping us, do you? Mister Tucker?”
Tucker swallowed hard. What else could one do when being held in place by a psychopath named Envy and being propositioned by the loveliest and most dangerous woman in the world? He nodded.
Lust’s smile broadened. She patted Tucker’s cheek. “Good boy. Envy,” she added in the tone of one commanding, and Tucker was released. Lust led him over to the couch, Envy following them, and sat down. She leaned forward. “Now, here is our problem, Mister Tucker . . .”
His nerves had stopped screaming now, but as Lust launched into a story of alchemy, and homunculi, and the Philosopher’s Stone, Tucker couldn’t shake the feeling that he had somehow sealed his own doom.
End of Chapter 4
Bedtime now! Chapter 5 coming soon! Please comment/critique!