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the quagga

Heat


"Over the top!"

The feeling of intense, cloying heat never left, even though—Ed had the distinct feeling—-the air around him was frozen. In the soaking rain, he surged forth, scrambling over the top of the muddy ditch and running, back bent, teeth gritted, squinting through the rain. Behind him, a shell tore apart the ground, and the momentum from the explosion sent him and a dozen others flying. No matter—it happened all the time. Once he landed, awkwardly on his left foot and right hand, he clapped his hands together and slammed them to the earth.

He heard it, but didn't see it. Bloodcurdling screams, then nothing, as the ground rose in solid stone spikes and tore them apart. Ed's command continued on its charge across the country-side, feet kicking up mud, some with guns, some only using alchemy. He was towards the back where the survivors always were, and it did occur to him that the men in front were being gunned down at a steady rate.

This was reality. Not every one of them could be expected to survive such a desperate charge, but the sheer masses ensured that enough made it. They literally poured into the enemy trenches, bayonets out and weapons unfurled, and the Drachmans—unsuspecting, and yet surged on by the adrenaline similar to that of cornered, wild animals—fought viciously, taking down an entire line of Amestrian soldiers before they were overwhelmed. Ed clapped his hands and surged in with the rest, transmuting his automail right arm into a wicked blade.

Before this war, he'd never wiped human blood off his automail. Now he understood that killing Greed, and even being responsible for the deaths of others, was different than actually taking the life of another human. A homunculus was something born to die, an anomaly never intended for the world. Knowing others had died because of his actions was chilling, but nowhere near as chilling as actually thrusting his blade through the chest of a living, breathing human being.

The worst part was that it was easy. Frighteningly, mindnumblingly easy. He ducked a swiping bayonet and drew his blade diagonally across a man's torso. He fell and was trampled by the advancing soldiers. His booted foot swung upwards, catching a man in Drachman browns and grays in the chin, before the automail slid cleanly and evenly through his chest. Ed practically tossed him off the end of the blade, and even before then, he was dead.

Most of the people here were kids, actually.

Reggie, the idiot who had made sandcastles with his alchemy, was three months younger than Ed was.

Ed was killing other boys his age.

And it was easy. Their bones couldn't withstand automail, and most of the Drachman alchemists were no match for him. He clapped his hands and stone spikes tore apart their array and their flesh before they even knew what was happening.

Sweat poured down Ed's back, clinging to his body with an unreal stickiness. He would have liked to believe that the warmth on his face was also sweat, but he knew it was blood—probably not even his own.

Ed continued to kill in the close quarters of the enemy trench, leaping over dead bodies and slashing, thrusting, impaling with his blade, panting raggedly and watching blood spray in fine plumes through the smoky air around them. One young soldier stumbled into his proximity, holding up his bayonet for defense. Ed saw his light brown hair and deep bronze eyes and thought Alphonse immediately, but it didn't stop his blade from striking his throat and sending him crumbling to the ground. Another soldier, desperate, screaming like an animal and almost frothing at the mouth out of terror, practically leapt right onto the end of Ed's blade. Ed tossed him aside.

I could rip them apart with my bare hands if I wanted.

It was almost... exhilarating. The rush of power practically floored him with its intensity. It warmed his ice-cold insides, made him feel like his brain was on fire inside of his head. He only had to clap his hands or swing his arm and another one would die. There was one soldier with dark hair and furious dark eyes, who looked like Mustang might have, years ago. Ed imagined a mocking smirk on his face and those words he hated to hear—

It's been four years, Fullmetal, and you still haven't found a single trace of the Philosopher's stone...

He impaled the soldier through the stomach and practically tossed the body over his shoulder. His blade and entire arm were red, but he barely noticed—instead spotting a blonde soldier with sunken features that reminded him of Tucker, almost—maybe younger, but with the same unshaven appearance. Ed imagined Nina as he clapped his hands and slammed them to the ground. The soldier's high, keening scream of terror (as death came and claimed him) was both repulsive and satisfying.

A sharp burning pain across Ed's left shoulder caught his attention and he turned, seeing one of the Drachman Alchemists. A cocky grin plastered on his pale face, he stood with a lighter and an array drawn on the back of his hand; seconds later, another pitiful flame came in Ed's direction.

Mustang.

The Drachman Alchemist's control was terrible, and the flames died after only about five feet—the Drachman lacked the will to control oxygen the way the real Flame Alchemist did, but it was the same principle. It was the same mocking grin.

You think you have me, fucker? You really do?

Ed clapped his hands and the flame disintegrated. He knew the array, too—all he had to do was interrupt the air flow, and no more fire, it didn't even have a chance of reaching him. The alchemist's cocky expression crumbled as Ed rushed towards him, clenching his automail fist.

You didn't even have time to finish me, Colonel...

His automail fist struck the man's face squarely, and he could feel bone crack and crumble underneath the metal. Those snapping dark eyes clouded over, and the soldier crumbled instantly, his face split open by the sheer force of the blow. Ed turned, hearing a scream.

"You killed my brother you bastard!"

Hysterical. A young soldier with blonde hair and brilliant gold eyes was rushing towards him, helmet hanging at an absurd angle off a bloodied scalp, his bayonet raised.

"Give him back! GIVE HIM BACK!!!!!" The soldier shrieked, and Ed waited, a strange half-scowl-half-smile on his face, ready to clap his hands.

Brother.

I killed his brother.

Brother.

I killed him.

Brother.

"Why are you doing this you fucking monster!" The soldier screamed, and Ed ducked his bayonet, feeling it just barely knick his cheek. The kid was fast, but to Ed, it looked like he was moving in slow-motion.

‘Brother...'

That voice. Al's voice.

"You killed my little brother!" The kid screamed, and he swung the bayonet again. It ricocheted off Ed's right shoulder.

‘Brother... How could you? Don't you understand?' Al's voice again.

Of course I understand. I killed my little brother, too, didn't I? I watched his body disappear into the gate. I understand. I do. I...

The bayonet swung downwards, towards his head, and in a last, shuddering moment Ed realized that he'd been distracted by Al's voice in his head just long enough—the kid had him. Panicking, Ed clapped his hands together and thrust them forth, palms coming into contact with flesh—

—He knew the array, he knew the chemical compounds of a human body, he knew what he was doing—

—And he used the most perverse technique imaginable. Performing the entire transmutation might have backfired, but he stopped at the decomposition phase, and blasted the kid's torso apart from the inside. He literally exploded in a plume of blood—it was more powerful than Scar's technique had ever been.

He watched the body fall.

Oh god. Oh God. Oh god.

He didn't even believe in God.

The youth hit the ground, and Ed stumbled back.

Oh fuck... I killed him... I killed him...

And he kept on seeing Al's face among the dead, among the faces of soldiers he knew he had killed, all in the last five minutes.

'Brother.' Oh, yes, and he could hear Al's voice, too. Accusing. Al was accusing him. 'How could you? How could you? What kind of monster are you? You're enjoying it aren't you? You're enjoying all this killing!'

"I'm not... I'm not... I'm not..."

Ed's limbs were freezing, his skin turning ice-cold. He couldn't move his knees, even as he watched soldiers spar around him and knew it was only going to be a matter of time before someone got to him.

'You enjoy it when they die... You don't even notice it... What happened to you, brother? I thought you said Alchemy wasn't for killing. I thought you said...'

"I'm not... I'm not... Al... I don't..."

His eyes slid over all the dead soldiers and he saw their faces—there was Al, and there was another Al, and there was Mustang, and another Al, and another Mustang, and Winry and his mother and Nina and another Al and—

"No... No... NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!"

Ed's scream tore his throat, and he fell to his knees, hands shaking the corpses, his entire body quivering as if there was an earthquake inside. "AL!!! ALPHONSE!!! WAKE UP!!! WAKE UP! AL, PLEASE!!!"

And there was the Colonel... Lying dead, his throat slit open, his blood on the end of Ed's automail...

"MUSTANG!!!! ROY!!! Oh GOD, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean... AL!!!! COME BACK!!!! ALLLLLLLLL!"

Someone grabbed him from behind and he struggled immediately, his senses coming back to him in an instant. He was doomed. He was going to die. The enemy had him during his moment of weakness, and it was going to be swift—Ed tried to struggle, punching, kicking, even biting, and tried to get away, to work out from their grasp. They knew well enough to try to pry his two hands apart before he clapped, but there was nothing in the world that could match the strength of automail. Their grip was powerful, but mere flesh gave way so easily... Ed clapped and drew forth his blade, and began slashing blindly... Again and again and again and again and he just wanted it all to stop...

He managed to pin them, knees on either side of narrow hips, and he rose his blade, screaming the entire time—

A huge fist struck him squarely in the face, so hard that his entire body arched backwards. He hit the ground a few feet away, jarring every bone in his body right down to the roots of his teeth. Dazed, he let his automail blade fall back into the mud and lingered, spread-eagled, trying to get his eyes to focus as he stared up at the black sky. Strange... It was so quiet. He hadn't even noticed that the battle was over, and had been since he'd killed the last Drachman Alchemist.

"...Thank you, Lieutenant Colonel." A hoarse voice said nearby. "...You can leave now."

"Are you sure, General?" A thick, morose voice asked, solemnly.

"He'll recognize me this time."

"...That was close, Mustang."

"...I'm aware of that, Armstrong. You are dismissed."

Ed heard heavy footsteps plodding away through the mud, and someone else moved to his side, crawling on hands and knees. He looked up, and when he realized it, even the last, faintest trickles of warmth left his body.

"Oh Fuck..." Ed whispered. He knew what that slash across Roy Mustang's throat, just millimeters from where it would have all ended, was from. He recognized the wounds he was capable of inflicting. "Oh fuck, oh fuck..."

Mustang's face was neither smirking nor mocking—instead, he didn't think he had ever seen the man more serious in his life. Or more dirty, for that matter—his face was stained with a mix of dirt and sweat, and there were ashes all over his clothing. He smelled like blood.

Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. He's going to fucking kill me. I almost killed him, and now he is going to fucking kill me—

Ed scrambled away, trying to run. Mustang lunged before he could manage, grabbing his ankle and dragging him back.

"Fullmetal!"

Ed kicked his way lose, careful not to let his boot strike the other man in the face, and stumbled away, through the ditch. The battle must have been won. There were corpses everywhere... They'd gained enemy land. That was good.

That was very good. But Ed was running, panicking, hysterical.

I can't face it I can't face it I can't face it I can't I can't I can't I can't do this... I want to go home, I want Al, I want to see my brother, he can make this better, he can, he can...

"Ed! Ed!"

He tripped over one of the bodies and fell into the fetid mud. Immediately he lurched to his knees, grabbing at his clothing and his limbs with a wild urgency, trying to rid himself of that stench, of the blood, of the pungent scent of death all around him. He hadn't run very far—he watched Mustang stumble to his feet, some fifty yards away, and come limping in his direction. The man leaned on the muddy walls of the ditch, and had some trouble navigating—there were bodies all over. When he finally reached Ed, the younger man could see the tear in Mustang's upper pant leg, and the mess of bandages wrapped around his thigh.

"What happened?" Ed asked, in a cracking tone. Mustang slumped down besides him, drawing in his breath sharply as his wounded leg made contact with the ground.

"...Bayonet wound," He said. "I was careless."

"...You weren't down here in the trenches fighting too?" Ed asked, his eyes widening.

"...My unit was ambushed," He said. "Again. I was careless."

Ed continued to stare at him. Mustang's eyes were almost exceedingly bright in the darkness, even feverish.

"...Ed..."

He turned away. "Shut up, you bastard. I don't even want to..."

"Who did you see?"

"What are you talking about?" Ed snapped, looking down at his lap. He was a total mess—his own left pant leg was tattered below the knee, his automail visible. He looked like a freak, he realized—he only wore his tank top, and his automail arm was unveiled, too. Ed shivered.

A moment later, Mustang's overcoat dropped around him. For once, he gladly pulled the heavy material about his shoulders, even though he refused to look at the man.

"...You know exactly what I mean, Fullmetal." Mustang said, his voice still hoarse. "Who did you see? Your brother, right?"

"Fuck off," Ed replied, darkly.

Mustang reacted as if it were a term of endearment. He saw the man's hand move towards him, and he lightly touched Ed's cheek—his fingers were callused and wet, but very warm against the ice cold skin—and Ed only lingered in the touch for a moment before pointedly jerking away. Mustang didn't pursue it. Instead, he rose shakily to his feet.

"Come on. Let's go back."

Ed didn't move.

"...You're not planning on staying here, Fullmetal." Mustang said, in the most irritatingly bossy tone imaginable—as if he was the one doing the thinking for both of him, and whatever he said was undoubtedly the truth.

"What if I am?"

"You're not."

Mustang reached down and grabbed his left wrist, hauling him to his feet. Violently, Ed jerked out of the man's grasp, and moved towards where the sides of the trench were less steep. His feet navigated around the bodies. His stomach churned at the scent, and tied itself into knots—if he had eaten anything in the last several hours, he probably would have puked already. Perhaps—maybe it was just that he was becoming numb to it.

Once he was out of the ditch he started running, feet carrying him back towards the camp. Mustang couldn't run after him—couldn't jog, or walk at anything other than a shambling limp, either. But Ed glanced back once, to see the older man following him at a shambling limp, and even though Ed was not planning to let him catch up—he was too scared to face Roy Mustang now—something about it was reassuring.

Colonel, you had better keep me sane, you bastard... I can't do it for myself... Ed's mind kept on repeating the same words, over, and over, and over.