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the quagga

Edís Turn


A cold torrent of rain laced out of the pitch black sky around midnight, effectively ruining what had been a peaceful couple of hours in the trenches. His messily constructed tent shielded him through the initial rain storm, until the east winds splattered him with a mix of mud and water. Spluttering awake, he lurched forward to his knees, coughing and spitting. A moment later, when he wiped mud off his face and glanced out from under the tent flap, half-torn open by the wind, he swore.

Further back in his tent, another form shifted, and a pair of bleary dark eyes opened, focusing on him through the darkness.

"Rain again." Edward said, looking at the other's pale, half-asleep features in the dark. "...Wind, too. I'd say God's trying to piss in our faces right now."

The other man looked at him blandly, motionlessly, before shaking his head. "There's no such thing as god."

"That was sarcasm," Ed replied, grouchily. "You know. I didn't actually mean it?"

His companion—no, his fucking boss—only looked at him in the darkness, before turning back to face the other direction. "Just go to sleep, Fullmetal."

"...When are you ever going to pull that stick out of your ass, Colonel?" Ed asked.

No response. Ed glared at him darkly, before plopping down on his side, back turned towards the other man in the tent. It was silent. Too silent, really—if the Colonel was asleep, Ed would have heard him breathing—long, heavy and slow, with the occasional tired snore. Sometimes, that was enough to lull Ed to sleep, too, but on most nights he laid awake and stared out along the trenches, listening to the other soldiers grumble and shuffle about in the mud. Colonel Bastard was never any help—always brushing him off and ignoring him, and if he was paying Ed any attention, it was only to offer up another idiotic short joke.

You don't even need to duck, Fullmetal. The enemy can't see you over the top of the trenches, anyway.

How come your combat boots have a two inch sole, Fullmetal?

Why aren't you wearing a regulation uniform, Fullmetal? Are all the sizes too big for you? Should we get you an "extra-short"?

To which Ed's response was always the same—ha ha, funny, jackass, must think you're a real goddamn laugh a minute—and he liked to see Mustang's face cloud in slight disappointment whenever he failed to go off on an hysterical rant. He turned and glared at Mustang for a moment, directing all his ire, frustration, and exhaustion in the other man's direction. No response. Mustang didn't even notice.

Ed pulled his knees to his chest and slung his arms around them, trying to ignore how fucking miserable he felt. The rain shouldn't have been a surprise—every night for the last five weeks it had been pouring, as the seasons above them slowly transformed from a dry, miserably short summer to a fleeting, rainy autumn. He supposed he shouldn't have been complaining. Sleeping in the rain was better than forging through the bitterly cold snow and having to a wear a scarf around his automail at night to keep it from freezing. Some nights the temperature dropped so low he actually had to remove his automail and place it aside, before it drew all the heat away from his own body. The worst part about that, of course, was the reattachment. Somehow, he got the feeling that they had all just barely survived the last northern winter, and if this wasn't over by the next, than maybe they would die up here in the North, so many hundreds of miles away from anything they knew or cared about.

Ed did not want to die without seeing Alphonse again.

Next to him, the Colonel was still quiet and tense.

If Ed were in the mood for honesty, he might have admitted that at least short jokes were better than nothing—nothing being blank eyes, a stony face, and a toneless, impassive voice. The Colonel had to know that Ed preferred jokes and teasing and inane mocking over nothing, but sometimes he wondered if the man really was getting senile with age.

Ed watched the rain for a while longer, before turning away and fumbling around in his pack until he came up with a flashlight. Sprawling on his belly, and trying to take up as little space as possible, he flipped on the flashlight and focused it on a scrap of parchment. Dipping his pen in a small vial of transmuted ink, he delicately penned six letters.

Dear Al,

Dear Al.

It is cold and rainy. The colonel is being a bastard.

No, that wasn't good.

Dear Al.
Last night the Drachmans took us by surprise with an ambush. We just barely managed to fight them off.

That was bad, too.

Dear Al.
Last night I killed a man. Like all the rest, he barely knew what hit him. His eyes glazed over, blood started pouring out of his mouth, and he collapsed. The sound he made when he hit the ground was kind of like a sack of rotting tomatoes being tossed up against a wall. Want to know how I killed him? Alchemy. I impaled him through the chest with my arm. They say I'm almost as efficient as The Colonel now. Isn't that nice? I can kill almost as many men in battle as the Colonel. When we're together, we're practically invincible. They always say that I'm the one who slices and dices, and he's the one who cooks them. Funny, isn't it? Remember how I used to hate people who used alchemy to kill?

No.

Ed crumbled the parchment, angry if only because all his efforts were wasted once again—writing wasn't easy with his clumsy left hand, and it was damn near impossible with his right.

"That's a waste." The Colonel murmured, next to him.

"Go to hell. Who else is going to want it, anyway? The other soldiers have been wiping their asses with the spare paper we've got around the place."

"...Someone who might actually have the courage to write a letter to their families could use it, don't you think?"

Ed glared at Mustang in the darkness. "Fuck. You."

"You try writing a letter to Al every night. It never gets any further than a paragraph or two before you rip it up. It'd be better if soldiers were wiping their asses with it."

Ed pointedly ignored Mustang—the man wasn't worth screaming at, especially this late in the night. Instead he unfurled the letter and read over it again, before painstakingly taking the efforts to blot out each word and start over again.

Dear Al.
I hope you and Winry have been well. The weather is nice here, it hasn't rained for over a week. My underwear are finally dry.. Enemy attacks have been few and far in between. The Colonel The Brigadier General is in high spirits, and we are both in great shape. Tell Winry my automail is holding up well, and the cold doesn't bother it at all. According to the higher-ups, we may be able to come home by the end of autumn. Isn't that great? I'll see you soon.
Ed.

Ed reread it a few times, over and over again, murmuring outloud. Next to him, Mustang shifted slightly.

"He'll see right through it."

"Shut up and go to sleep."

But Colonel Bastard was right—Al would see through every single little lie he had written on the paper, especially the last one—that they would be home by the end of Autumn. That was the most egregious lie, because Ed knew that this war was not going to end before winter, that it was not going to end this year, and that there was a goddamn good chance that Amestris was going to lose this war, here at the ends of the Earth.

Dear Al, He mentally composed, Take Winry and Aunt Pinako and get the hell out of the country. We are going to lose, and the Drachman will have no mercy.

But he wasn't going to write that, because he knew it would have the opposite effect—Al, who had raged and argued and complained with uncharacteristic furor when Ed had been called off to duty, would hop on the train and ride all the way to North City, and after a few days of travel, he'd be here languishing in the trenches with the rest.

More than anything, Ed wanted to keep Al away.

Next to him, Mustang shifted again, moving into another position. He was wet and uncomfortable, although Ed could tell he was making a considerable effort just to keep his pathetic package of supplies—which included gloves and matches—dry. Ed smirked at him through the darkness, an expression that, if seen in the mirror, might have taken him aback. It was that same infuriatingly moronic look the Colonel always directed towards him—and he knew it. Some ridiculous coping mechanism was turning him into the goddamn Colonel.

"I can see why you're all worked up again," Ed said, wickedly. "You're useless in the rain, aren't you?"

"If it continues to rain, we'll have to postpone the operation. The artillery unit can't get the tanks over the slopes if it's this slippery all day."

The answer was so dry and unaffected Ed almost felt tempted to punch Mustang, just to force some sign of life out of him. He didn't know why, but when irritable and cold the Colonel was even more infuriating than when he was being sarcastic. Whenever Mustang acted like this, when he gave dry, clipped-answers and ignored Ed's taunts, it was like talking to a shell—as if the Colonel wasn't even there.

Ed's efforts might have been more justly rewarded if he continued his conversation with a wall, he realized.

Fuck Mustang.

He wasn't going to waste energy conversing with someone who had hit the off-switch on their own personality. Instead, he turned around to face the rain again, and read over his letter to Al. Like always, he lost the nerve—his hands almost compulsively tore the paper to shreds, and he uncaringly let the scraps flutter away on the wind. Ed had told Al, when they'd last talked face to face, that no news was the best news—the postal service out on the fronts was sketchy anyway, and The State only made haste to deliver those particular letters, the ones that always left widows, stole mothers' children, and came with a folded uniform—and sometimes a watch—underneath.

This was was different than the last war, according to Mustang. In Ishbal, the State Alchemists marched through the battlefields unchallenged by the majority of the Ishballans, who had nothing to contend with the power of alchemy. The Drachmans, though, had their own limited understanding of alchemists, and threw all the strength they had at destroying them. Back in Central, the certifiers were overcompensating, giving someone the Silver Watch as long as they demonstrated that they knew the difference between their ass and a hole in the ground and could transmute something out of something. Many of the alchemists they sent out didn't have any business in the battlefield at all.

Reginald Arthur Collins came to mind, a young alchemist—roughly eighteen—who went by the name of Reggie and specialized in transmuting semi-porous sculptures out of clay and sand.

Sand castles.

Ed had liked the dumb kid, despite it all. He was nice, amiable, and didn't have the usual desire for transcending god's domain that all other alchemists had—on the contrary he was a country-boy who claimed he was going to open up a shop to sell his alchemical sculptures after the war. He'd shown Ed a few, and while Ed could have done the same with a blindfold on and his hands tied behind his back, the kid's overall congenial, friendly attitude and humility had kept Ed from pointing it out. As dumb as he was, the kid knew he was no Fullmetal Alchemist without having to be told.

(That wasn't just Ed's ego speaking, either. Whenever someone brought up Alchemical skill, the phrase, Ďhe's good, but he's not the Fullmetal Alchemist' was thrown around quite glibly. If tactical genius or soldiery was involved, Roy Mustang's name was thrown in there, too).

One day Reggie had been sent to the front-lines, under Brigadier General Mustang's command. That night, the Brigadier General had returned from the fronts carrying the body. According to him, the enemy had rained shells upon them, and when the kid had been told to transmute a stone wall, he hadn't moved the particles close enough together and the wall had crumbled. The enemy had shot him between the eyes.

They'd yelled at Mustang for going out of his way to retrieve the body. The Brigadier General—Ed's Colonel—had replied by saying that it was worth letting at least one mother know her son's body hadn't been thrown in a fucking pit and left to rot by the state. Ed had never seen Roy Mustang more angry in his life, but he thought he understood the feeling.

Sometimes Ed didn't know what was better—being one of those mindless drones who had to throw themselves in front of their commander and take the bullets for them, or being the commander that had to watch others die in their stead. Ed was both, and neither—still ranked a major, without a command of his own, but also continually in the presence of higher officers that he supposedly had to die for. Lower officers had to die for him, too—it worked like that, because it was how to win a war, according to the Colonel. Mustang had told him that while sitting in the corner of their tent some nights ago, a blanket pulled around his shoulders, shivering almost uncontrollably.

On that day, someone else had died in his place.

Two AM rolled past. The rain did not let up, but Mustang kept on shifting and trying to find a comfortable position. Ed didn't know what the hell his problem was—it wasn't like rain was getting in his wiring, or there was a slick, heat-absorbing metal object continually attached to him, or that a good portion of his weight was metal. But then, he was probably just having trouble sleeping.

"Arthritis acting up again?" Ed asked, after a moment.

Didn't take the bait. Ed scowled and refocused on the rain.

After a moment, though, the Colonel shifted, and he saw the man looking towards him again. "...You're not going to sleep?"

Ed shrugged.

"Fine then." Mustang said, nonchalantly, before rolling on his side, away from Ed. "...It's your turn tonight."

Ed, surprised, said nothing. He shrugged and continued to watch the rain.

Sure enough, after the span of a few minutes, he could hear the Colonel's breathing—deeper and heavier than before, although he thought he heard something ragged every time he exhaled. Another infection? Diptheria? Pneumonia? Diseases were ragging through the trenches: a man could have a sniffle one day, and the next day, he could be in his grave. That was another aspect of warfare that Ed was not going to put in his letter to Al, when he finally wrote it—that bacteria and viruses were killing soldiers faster than shells, gunfire, and alchemy.

More time passed—about a half-hour—before the Colonel shifted in discomfort, once more, and a soft moan escaped from his half-open mouth. Ed smiled wanly, and crawled on hands on knees next towards the other man. After a few moments, Mustang groaned again, and by the pain on his face, Ed could tell that his nightmares had won an easy victory tonight. It was expected.

Mustang had came back from the battlefield today with blood all over his gloves and arms. Ed knew someone else had died for him, and most likely in his arms. Roy hated it when people died for him, and whenever someone suggested that it was simply their job, he explained in the harshest tone possible that one human life did not equal another, no matter how many times people needlessly threw their lives away.

But then, Ed sometimes thought that Mustang was wrong to even think of that in such a way—because War never followed the principles of equivalent exchange. Nonetheless, he slowly worked his arms around the Colonel's trembling form, and lingered in the darkness, murmuring.

"It's okay, you bastard. It's just a dream. It'll be okay. You'll wake up fine in the morning. This is going to end. It's going to end."

In his nightmares, Mustang let out a soft, tortured cry. It sounded like ĎMaes', but Ed wasn't sure.

On nights when it was Roy's turn, he did the same for Ed—and often came away with bruises up and down his side from flailing automail. Ed thought his nights were tame in comparison, because even in his sleep Mustang had some amount of composure—his horrified cries were muted (but no less painful) and he kept his shivering and thrashing to a minimum.

Still... Although Mustang probably wouldn't admit it, the only thing that really kept him from waking up screaming was Ed's presence. It was the same at night when Mustang folded his arms around the younger man.

They didn't need to keep watch for the enemy—there were always alert sentries at hand. Instead, they kept watch over one another, knowing that nightmares were a foe almost as terrifying as any enemy soldier could be.