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the quagga

Faceless


Ed remembered the intense heat of the battle some weeks ago (or had it been longer?) when he had nearly killed his commanding officer. He remembered the terrible adrenaline welling up inside of him and blinding him to the reality of what he was doing. He remembered being scared...

It would have been a lie to say that he wasn't scared now. The situation was completely reversed—the Drachmans were charging across the muddy, deadened expanse of no man's land, bayonets and rifles held aloft and faces grim. Line after line of them crumpled to the ground under Amestrian shells and rifle fire, but they kept on coming, a gray mass of enemies determined to kill and kill and kill until the battle was over. Almost without thinking Ed was clapping and slamming his hands to the ground, feeling a ripple of energy flow through him and emerge in tremendous stone spikes among the charging enemy masses. Their screams meant nothing to him—they weren't close enough for him to see—he was killing faceless, nameless enemy soldiers and there wasn't enough time to think of what he was really doing.

It was almost...fun, like solving a challenging alchemical formula or drawing a difficult array.

Mustang crouched in the trench behind him, soaked through by the torrential rain. Ed could tell that there was something savage in the other man, too, something that wanted to stand alongside Ed and use his alchemy to kill the advancing enemy. Mustang fell into a kind of trance whenever he killed with his flames—snapping his fingers continually, sometimes so fast that both his hands blurred, and creating pile after pile of burning corpses. When Ed watched him, there was nothing on his face. No fear... No regret... No pain... Just a kind of odd intensity in his hollowed out eyes that eventually faded into nothingness as the battle waned. Today, though...

Ed was going to do the killing for both of them.

Mustang was worthless. With the rain soaking through his gloves and making a flame impossible, Ed was Amestris' most powerful human weapon. He wondered if he'd ever be able to explain this to Al—that sometimes, killing wasn't painful, it wasn't hard, it wasn't even enough to make him feel regret—sometimes, it was enough to send ribbons of savage glee through his mind.

He slammed his palms together again, and pressed them into the mud. The Drachmans were fifty yards away, but a rift opened in the muddy ground and swallowed another line of them. They had to know this was suicidal—charging across no-man's land was like lining up targets. Killing them had never been easier.

"Why do they keep on coming, Colonel?" Ed shouted, almost jovially, and almost hysterically, over the noise of rifle fire and explosions around them. "Why don't they just give it up?!"

Mustang gave him a strange look. "...Because we're losing. There's too many of them to stop."

"Huh?"

There were thousands and thousands of Drachmans, and they kept on coming in a massive, unstoppable swarm of gray uniforms and bayonets. Even Ed's alchemy failed to slow them down, and he was killing them at the rate of dozens-per-minute. Now he was beginning to realize—the tables had turned, hadn't they? Amestris didn't have the advantage in this battle—there were too many Drachmans, too few Amestrians...

...Ed felt his throat tighten and a strange fluttering in his stomach. The Drachmans were now less than twenty yards away, and horror swept through the Amestrian trenches like a disease, infecting everyone with a raw hysteria that even Ed felt. Still, he remained grimly calm. Mustang crouched behind him. On his right, a dead Alchemist with a bullet in his brain was slumped over and half-buried in the muddy ground. On his left, another silently prayed to some God, muttering feverishly and tearing through the pages of a holy book. Ed clapped his hands, transmuted his automail into a blade, and waited. Automail and Alchemy would not fail him. He was going to hold back the flow of Drachmans—they couldn't stand up to him.

I understand, now. I think I might outlast everyone here, whether they're Drachman or Amestrian.

The Drachmans swarmed the Amestrian trenches and Ed charged, impaling the first man through the chest with his blade and tossing him aside, scornfully. They surrounded him on all sides, but he clapped his hands with ridiculous ease and impaled them all on stone spikes. This battle was no different than all the ones that had come before. Killing was still easy. The adrenaline still flowed through him, intensifying every time another Drachman soldier crumpled to the ground beneath him. The only difference was that the small kernel of horror, which had exploded into a mind-consuming panic and had nearly resulted in Roy Mustang's death, was gone. In its place was nothing but a savage, primordial glee.

I feel nothing. I don't even care any more. I can watch them die, and I don't feel anything.

He didn't think he'd ever be able to explain this to Al. But then, Ed also doubted that he'd even get the chance.

He impaled another soldier, tossed him aside, slashed another across the throat, whirled around and pressed his hands to the ground, and—

-something small and green clattered to the ground next to him, and he blinked stupidly, reaching for it with his right hand, his brain too caught up in the maddening haze of battle to properly rationalize what was happening. It was a good thing that Mustang was doing the thinking for both of them—the man came from seemingly nowhere, grabbing Ed by the collar and yanking him back viciously. Too late—the grenade exploded and turned Ed's entire world white for a few horrifying seconds. He felt debris—scraps of metal—strike him in the face and sides, leaving a littering of small cuts across his body, but none of them were deep enough to cause anything more than fleeting discomfort.

Mustang continued to drag him backwards, yelling something about retreating back to the base camp. Ed jerked loose and shoved at the man, viciously.

"Get the fuck off me! I'm trying to—"

Ed didn't know what he was trying to do, actually. When he raised his left hand to clap it occurred to him that the right was missing. A second later, he realized that those spare scraps of metal had been his automail. The right arm had been blown out of its socket, and was in a million pieces all over the bottom of the trench. There wasn't any time to gather the pieces up again, and even if he could...

Even if I could, what would I do with them?

Ed let out a strange, choking noise, horrified. His automail had failed him. And without his automail, he couldn't do alchemy. He was now just another faceless, worthless soldier in the Amestrian Army, surrounded by swarms of Drachmans. He managed to dodge a few bayonets that were thrust in his direction, but it was only a matter of time... He realized with a kind of sick humor how deluded he had been in thinking that he was any more invincible than the rest of them. He was now completely helpless. He didn't have a bayonet. There wasn't enough time to draw arrays. Ed didn't even think he remembered the proper way to fire a gun. There was nothing... Absolutely nothing...

Mustang grabbed him again and started dragging him backwards, over the rim of the trench—the older man was probably the only reason he wasn't dead right now. They were making some kind of retreat—scrambling out of the ditch and moving away from the massacre.

We're losing the battle. I hardly lasted five minutes.

Ed stumbled along side Mustang, hardly moving his legs. He was even more worthless than the Colonel—Mustang could command and organize men into fighting units, and had managed to surround them with other Amestrian foot soldiers even in their undignified retreat. Ed, on the other hand, moved along stupidly, as shells began to fall and all around him the fucking apocalypse seemed to be overwhelming the Amestrian troops. The Drachmans were slaughtering them, and retreat across open territory was the only way that any of them were going to escape with their lives.

"Fullmetal!" Mustang shouted in his ear rather suddenly. "Get moving! I'm not going to drag you the entire way!"

Ed realized he was slowing down the retreat and holding back the others, and finally managed to galvanize his legs into action. His automail left leg felt heavy, like a leaden weight, pulling down the rest of his body with it. He groaned and stumbled, limping heavily as he ran. Mustang turned to him, his face either angry or terrified—Ed really couldn't tell the difference. There was a strange whistling in his ear, something coming towards them...

Oh fuck...I know what it is...

The shell landed and exploded somewhere in front of them. Mustang tackled Ed into the ground, although it might have been the momentum—-and both of them went rolling in the mud, pelted by shrapnel and burned by the immense heat. When they stopped rolling, Ed realized he couldn't move even if he tried—he wasn't badly injured, but he was shivering, and his eyes were wide, staring up into the smoky sky. A strange kind of paralysis had come over him.

I'm helpless, I don't have my arm or my alchemy and I can't do anything... I can't even move.

Shells continued to explode all around them. He was only paralyzed by fear for a second—another shell exploded, dangerously near to him, and Ed jerked to his feet. Mustang... The Colonel hadn't done the same. He was still lying on the ground.

"Get up, you idiot!"

Mustang struggled for a few moments, before somehow managing to get back on his feet. Ed remembered how horribly sick Mustang was, how feverish his skin felt to the touch, and how, this morning, after spending all night shivering in the trenches and coughing, he'd been so weak that he could barely stand. He was sick. He had been for a long time, even before Ed had almost killed him. There'd been so many nights spent lying close to one another in the tent, when Ed had been lulled to sleep by listening to Mustang's ragged breathing. Even on nights when Ed stayed awake the entire time and watched the other man have oddly composed nightmares, Mustang had been coughing and wheezing.

Why didn't the bastard take sick leave? He's been here on the fronts longer than I have... They'd give it to him. Seconds later, Ed realized that the answer was very obvious.

If I didn't have him around, I would have gone totally fucking nuts a long time ago. He knew that. He probably stayed here because of me.

No... Fuck no. Ed didn't want the Colonel's death on his conscience. Mustang's left leg had been pelted with shrapnel, and he winced every time he put weight on the limb. Ed reached for him, planning on offering Mustang some kind of support, but a second later someone from the other direction sprinted up to them and shoved Ed aside.

"Go, Edward. Get out of here. I'll take care of the Colonel."

He recognized the voice and whirled around. "Lieutenant—"

Hawkeye gave him a stern glare and shoved him aside, moving to Mustang and yanking his arm over her shoulders. Ed watched numbly, only vaguely aware of all the shells exploding in their vicinity. He hadn't seen Lieutenant Hawkeye for a while, but she seemed as unchanged as ever—stern, calm, and probably the only person capable of keeping their wits about them during situations like these. But...

...It was strange. Was this guilt that he felt? Mustang had protected him ever since he'd came to the battle fronts, and Ed had never done anything in return except endanger the older man with his own psychosis. It was stupidity on the Colonel's behalf, and selfishness on his. He had missed dozens of opportunities to return the favor—Mustang had been sick for the better part of a month, and Ed had spent the time denying it, ignoring it, and pretending that it was nothing to be concerned with.

I really can't save anyone. But I could have. The bastard might have done something about it, if I wouldn't have been so fucking helpless... If he hadn't felt the need to protect me like I'm a child...

Ed stumbled after Hawkeye and Mustang, glad that the Lieutenant was here. Alchemist or not, she probably knew more about equivalent exchange than he did—Mustang protected her, too, and she protected him in return. Ed didn't have to worry about the Colonel—

—Another shell exploded just yards away. It wasn't close enough to throw Ed off his feet, but a panicking young soldier, fleeing the explosion, slammed into him and knocked him down.

"You fucking idiot!"

The soldier only screamed, and they both went rolling. Seconds later, Ed scrambled to his feet, clutching the area around his empty automail socket (the nerves were aching in protest) and looking around wildly. He couldn't see the Lieutenant or the Colonel anywhere through the smoke and haze. Crying out for them would have been worthless—rifle fire and shells continued to bombard the frigid afternoon so hard that Ed's ears were ringing. Instead he looked around wildly... Nothing. They were gone, they'd probably continued moving towards camp. Ed had fallen behind.

He was surrounded by dozens of other panicking Amestrian soldiers—no familiar faces. Fear spurred Ed onwards, and he began running towards camp, ignoring the whistling of shells and continual rifle fire and instead trying to keep his wits about him while everything else went to hell. He had to get back to camp and meet up with the others. He shouldn't have been worried... There was nothing to worry about... No reason to be scared, he was going to make it back...

But he was horrified. Ed knew terror—he'd seen his brother's body disappear inside of the gate (and known it was his fault), he'd been cornered by a serial killer and had faced down chimeras, suits of armor armed with swords, and homunculi. He didn't think anything was as terrifying as losing Al, but the sheer insanity of the battle and the terror incited in him by his helplessness was close. He couldn't do a thing to stop all the carnage around him... He had once been able to create carnage himself, but with an empty socket of an arm he was nothing more than a pathetic child who didn't belong here.

...Ed blindly sprinted towards camp, forgetting that nothing was ever easy for him.

"Ow, shit!"

The afternoon was dark with rain and smoke, and Ed had forgotten about the mile of barbed wire that surrounded the outer perimeter of the base camp. It was a stupid mistake—one moment he was moving, and the next moment he tripped and fell right into the wires. He hit the ground hard, dozens and dozens of stinging barbs embedded into his skin... He tried to disentangle himself, but the wires only tightened around him. Ed swore and cursed, struggling mightily and only managing to make an even bigger mess out of the situation. They were scratching his face and his left arm and his right leg and his torso and all over—

Damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn it, DAMN IT!

Ed finally managed to kick loose and crawl a few feet away, flopping down into the mud. Every little cut started to sting, and Ed let out another semi-hysterical stream of curses and profanities, rage and frustration overcoming him. He crawled forwards a few more paces and slumped down.

"Shit... Damn it..."

He had mostly left the battlefield behind, but the ground still shook with explosions. The adrenaline of battlefield had faded, too—he felt like leaden weights weighed down his entire body, and could hardly move. He was missing an arm, his leg felt like it weighed a ton, and he was covered in cuts, bruises, and injuries from shrapnel and barbed wire. He was separated from Mustang—his commanding officer. There were no other sane Amestrians around—soldiers ran past him, but they were panicking.

This was hell and the end of the world, all at once, and Ed suddenly wanted Al more than ever.

"...Al." Ed muttered, refusing to raise his head. "Al...Where the hell are you? Al... I need some help... I think I need you... Al... Al... AL!!!"

There was no response. In the logical remnants of his mind, Ed knew that was because Al was hundreds of miles away. But in every other sense, he was filled with a faceless horror that seemed to be suppressing whatever logic he had left. He wanted Al.

"...Al... please, Al..."

But what would Al do, Ed wondered? Would he even be able to help? Or would he be just as lost as Ed was? The idea of his little brother being here to save him was ridiculous... Al would have been in danger constantly, and Ed knew he couldn't protect anyone. Al might have tried to protect him, but look what had nearly happened to Mustang...

I'm too dangerous to protect... Even Al couldn't...

Al couldn't save him from this, but just seeing Al might have made things a little better.

"...Al...Al! Al! AL!!!!" Ed's control slipped. He cried out his brother's name hysterically, his voice cracking and his throat constricting in terror. Even as he panicked he could feel the vibrations in the ground, and he knew that the shelling was getting closer to where he was. Pretty soon a shell was going to land and explode nearby, and snuff out what little life there was left in him—only if he was lucky. Al wasn't coming, and nor was any other kind of salvation. If there was a God, he or she was determined to torture Ed as much as possible.

Oh fuck... AL!

His cries did attract someone's attention. Three or four soldiers surrounded him, and a rubber boot nudged him in the side, flipping him over. Ed went along with it, still clutching his automail socket and ignoring them. They were probably the Amestrian medics, and he hoped they passed him by—his injuries weren't bad enough for them to waste time and treat, anyway. A moment later, it occurred to him that they were chattering in some other language, and Ed realized far too late that he had made another monumental mistake.

If I had kept running, I would already be back in camp now. I don't know if it's safer there, but now...

Ed opened his eyes and looked up, seeing four leering Drachman soldiers above him. Their faces were hard, and there was recognition in their eyes. He knew what they were seeing—an alchemist, a demon, it was as plain as the silver chain dangling from his pocket. Even without the silver chain they would have recognized him, anyway. The only Amestrian Soldier who had killed more Drachmans than Ed was Mustang, but Ed had the feeling that they hated him even more than they did the Colonel. Mustang was just another soldier, but Ed was the arrogant demon in the red jacket that killed and killed and killed and sometimes even laughed while he was doing it. Ed opened his mouth—maybe to plead, and maybe to threaten them—but was silenced by the booted foot that struck him squarely in the face.

The next boot struck his side, and the next, his chest. He curled up into a tiny ball, his remaining arm going over his head, and they pummeled him relentlessly.

They're going to torture me before they kill me. To make sure I pay for what I've done.

Ed didn't bother trying to fight. If there were only one of them, he might have been able to take them on even without his arm, but with four kicking and striking him from all sides, there was no time to draw an array or stumble to his feet. And he really didn't care, either—Ed let out a strained, gurgling moan and realized that he had long ago given up hope of ever seeing Al again.

The Drachmans started to stomp, and Ed gritted his teeth. Even if it meant nothing, he wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of crying out—but that was foolish. He couldn't hold it in for long. Still, there must have been some infinitely small amount of luck on his side today, because he heard rifle fire and watched the Drachmans crumble away. Apparently, they had been too bold—Amestrian troops were on the resurgence, now charging and firing at the Drachmans, managing to push them back.

The battle might have been salvageable. Ed didn't care. He was probably going to get trampled, now. Pressing his face in the mud and still clutching his empty socket, he curled up in pain as someone knelt down next to him.

"Major Elric?"

Ed looked up at the soldier and cursed his luck again—he was an actual medic, and his uniform was blue. A second later two of them were working together to pull Ed on the stretcher, and he protested, angrily.

"Fuck off! Lemme alone... I'm not hurt... Let me go... Stop... Just... damn it, I can walk... don't—" They ignored his protests and strapped him down. "Hey! Don't do that...! I'm not a fucking animal, stop tying me down—STOP IT!"

A medic at each end of the stretcher, they began the rest of the journey into camp. Each little movement made some new part of Ed's body start to ache. His chest and sides were burning; his nose dribbled blood freely; he was shivering, and the world around him kept on becoming blurry and disjointed, freckled with ugly black splotches. Ed blinked them away and protested again, still trying to struggle against the restraints.

"Hey! I said I can walk! Let me go!"

"We're taking you to the camp hospital, Sir. Just hold on."

"...I'm fine! Get the hell away... damn it, let me down!"

The bastards ignored him, just like Roy Mustang always did. Ed trashed against his confines and felt an immediate stabbing pain in his ribs that effectively dissuaded him from struggling any further. Instead, he continued to shout at them, knowing it was worthless. The bastards just weren't listening, even though Ed tried ordering them, tried threatening them, and even tried begging them to let him down.

The camp hospital was really just a large tent, crammed with soldiers in cots and ripe with the smell of blood, alcohol, and rotting flesh. The noxious scent made it almost impossible to breathe, and Ed began struggling again.

"HEY! I can't breathe... I can't... Get me out of here! Quit ignoring me you fucking assholes!" He shouted, but his voice came out weak and unconvincing. The medics undid the restraints and eased him into one of the beds, as he kicked and jerked from side to side, aggravating every one of his injuries.

"...Major Elric! You're injured! Quit thrashing around!" Someone commanded, and Ed obeyed—not because he wanted to, but because his sides immediately started to burn again. Choking on the horrible stench and shivering, he collapsed into the bed and let out a thick moan. The world around him continued to sway and his vision shorted out on him a few times. Fragments of voices and words went through his ears, but he barely comprehended them.

"...Broken ribs... Broken hand..."

"...Probably concussed..."

"Needs stitches... here, here... and here... and here..."

"...Automail broken..."

And so on, and so on... Someone lifted a needle and Ed immediately panicked. Fuck no. He didn't care what tortures they had in store for him, he was not going to let them shove a needle in his—no, damn it, one of the other medics pinned him down, and they stuck the needle in his left arm. It didn't hurt, not compared to all the other aches and pains in his body, but he swore at them and kicked out again. His foot never came into contact with anything. Instead, he grew groggy and numb almost immediately, and his eyelids slid shut almost of their own volition.

Damn it.

For a while, Ed felt like he was swimming around in the darkness, unable to see or feel anything except the peculiar sensation of floating. He tried to think of Al, but he couldn't remember his brother's face. He tried to think of Mustang, but it only agitated him. He tried to think of Winry, but thinking of her led back to his automail. She was going to kill him when she saw what he'd done with it this time.

He tried to think of Risembool, but instead all he saw was the Elric family home, burning down to the ground as he and Al stood outside and watched. That memory was neither pleasant nor reassuring—it only served to remind him of all the events that had led to him joining the military and coming here, to this hell-hole. Last of all, he tried to think of his mother, but all he saw was that twisted mass of knotted muscles, glistening white bones, misshapen limbs and stringy piles of organs that he had created in her place.

Ed screamed and forced his eyes open.

The medics were gone, and it was dark. He couldn't hear the rifle fire or the shelling, so the battle must have been over. Ed reached towards his pocket watch with one shaking, heavily bandaged hand, grasping it by the chain and wrenching it from his pocket with two unbroken fingers. A glance confirmed it—the battle had started around noon, and it was midnight now. Several hours had slipped by, and Ed had missed out on all of them.

A moment later the pain nearly crushed him. Ed gritted his teeth—it felt like someone was sitting on his chest and smothering him, but even worse than that was the stench. The choking scent of rotting flesh and disease filled the air with its heavy thickness, and Ed swore that the odor alone was enough to kill him, if his injuries were not. He scowled, and tried to pull his pillow over his face. He couldn't get it out from under his head.

Nothing was going the way it should have.

Ed lingered for a few moments, eyes closed. He was in pain, but only fleetingly aware of it—it drifted on the edge of his consciousness, unimportant compared to all the other troubles. Now, more than anything, he needed his brother. Al...

Would he ever see Al again, or was it going to end here?

Ed choked and let out a low moan, the mere thought filling him with an immediate terror.

"Al! ALPHONSE!"

Here he was again... Crying out to Al, who was too far away to answer, who was safe at home in Risembool. His bones and muscles and limbs and insides burned with a dozen different aches and pains, and he could taste blood in his mouth. The nerves in his shoulder were the worst, painfully separated from the wiring of his automail... And his automail arm? Lying in pieces, somewhere out in the mud. Only his leg was left, now, but the nerves down there were burning and his leg was itching.

The flesh of his left leg itched, even though the leg itself was inside the gate. The itch faded and a sudden, excruciating and impossible pain nearly overwhelmed him.

It had been years since he'd even felt phantom sensation in either of his missing limbs, but this was all part of it—he was panicking, trapped on the battlefield, he wanted Al, and everything was going wrong. Ed let out a gurgling moan and thrashed, wishing he could escape from his own body. It was turning against him, too.

A moment later, he became aware of what he was doing—screaming for Al again. Ed bit his lower lip in an attempt to silence himself, knowing how futile it was. Al was not going to come. Thankfully, he was far away... Safe in Risembool, home, and while Ed knew that Al was thinking about him, he didn't know that his older brother was lying in a grubby cot and screaming his name. Ed never wanted Al to know about any of this.

Asking for Al is pointless. He's not going to come, I don't want him here, I don't want him to have to see me like this, or smell all these corpses lying in here with me...

...Al wouldn't understand, anyway.

No. Al would understand, but Ed still didn't want him here. He didn't want to see how much Al would change if he were exposed to all of this on a regular basis. It was bad enough watching nameless soldiers suffer, but if his brother was here, going through the same thing...

Ed nearly cried out—partially from pain—and partially from the mere thought. He never, ever, wanted Al to know this.

Al wasn't coming.

But there was someone else already here who would understand.

"Colonel?" Ed asked the darkness, tentatively, squinting and wondering if the man was anywhere nearby. Normally Mustang was around even when he didn't want to be with the other man, but he didn't see the Colonel now. The more Ed thought about it, the more it confused him. He couldn't have his brother with him, but the Colonel was supposed to be here.

"...Colonel? Mustang...? Where are you? Hey, you bastard... Are you hiding? Am I too short for you to find?"

No response. The more and more Ed thought about it, the more agitated he became. During the entire war, Mustang had been nearby and often within striking distance. Sometimes they were too close—clinging to one another at night in the trenches, as shells continued to rain down and bullets littered the trenches around them, lying in a tangled heap of limbs in their tent—and sometimes they simply chose to ignore one another...

But if there was one constant thing, it was that the Colonel was always around and always annoyingly caring in moments like these.

"...Colonel!" Ed shouted. "Hey!"

Nothing. Ed shifted slightly and drew in his breath with a sharp gasp—the pain in his sides intensified suddenly, before waning again. Gathering about his strength and his wits, he called out.

"Hey, COLONEL! Mustang! Come here, you useless bastard! Colonel!" He could barely understand his own yells—his voice was cracking and hoarse, and he kept on having to spit out blood in order to avoid choking. "...Hey... Colonel..."

Ed paused, and tried a new tactic. "Roy? ROY? ROOOOOOY?"

But the name felt too foreign on his lips. "Colonel?"

Nothing. The bastard, he always tricked Ed—somehow giving the impression that he gave a damn, especially when he did stupid things... Curling up with Ed's cloak in their tent and mourning when he'd believed the younger man to be dead, patiently withstanding every insult and abuse that Ed inflicted upon him... Cleaning his automail, covering him in blankets, sleeping next to Ed at night even though he usually ended up getting bludgeoned with flailing automail limbs...

"Well, Colonel, I actually do need you now! Where the fuck are you?" A sudden intuition came to Ed. "You were promoted, right? Is that the problem? BRIGADIER GENERAL! MUSTANG!!! COLONEL!!!"

His desperate cries went unheard, and Ed fell silent for a moment, biting his lip again and wondering why his continual shouting hadn't attracted the medics.

A second later, the answer occurred to him—there were dozens of other soldiers here, and they were all screaming and crying out, too. Ed's own desperate cries were lost among them, only adding to the feeling of despair and agony that permeated the air. He groaned.

"...Colonel..."

Weakly, Ed began to move into a sitting position. It did occur to him that this was extremely unwise, but he didn't care. He was a waste of a bed that could have gone to someone who was really injured. As he moved upright, his ribs burned and everything else started to ache, but Ed ignored it. There were bandages all over—around his head, around his neck, around his chest, around his abdomen, around his thigh, and even a cast on his left hand. Broken, probably? He didn't care. Ed lightly slid his legs over the side of the cot and put them to the ground, maneuvering his weight around and—

He let out a sharp cry, hitting the ground before his mind could even comprehend that he had fallen. Ed scowled, moving to his knees, and he lurched upwards with aching slowness once more, drawing in his breath every couple seconds. His sides hurt, and it was hard to breathe. Damn Drachmans. Fucking Drachmans. He'd never really hated them before—they were only the enemy because his commanding officers said so—but now, as the pain grew inside, so did resentment. He was glad they had died.

Each step was a struggle. Ed swayed and stumbled, barely managing to make it through a maze of cots and to the tent flap. The fresh air filled his lungs, but the scent of death must have clung to his skin—he could still smell it. He left behind the wounded cries of injured soldiers and tottered through the camp, walking crookedly on his automail left foot and wishing he could tear it off. It weighed him down like a boulder.

When he'd been younger, Ed had bore the weight of automail by telling himself that it was directly proportional to the sins he had committed. How very na´ve he had been, back then—right now, with all the pain lacing through him, the weight of his many sins felt like nothing compared to the hunk of battered metal he drug along with him. He would have given just about anything for a leg and an arm made of flesh.

Around him the night was silent, but he was surrounded by carnage. Piles of dead soldiers were strewn everywhere around the camp, amongst the tents and the artillery. Some of the piles weren't entirely dead, either—many were still moaning and suffering away, as overtaxed medics scurried around with stretchers. Most of them passed right by Ed, probably just assuming he was another shell-shocked refuge from the trenches. Close enough. Ed didn't want to spend any more time in the base hospital—instead, he drug his battered, wounded body towards their tent.

It was like home away from home—Mustang and he shared a tent, and it had their bedrolls and a few random personal effects—a pile of letters from Al, a few spare pairs of gloves and some ignition cloth, and a little dresser with spare uniforms. The act of putting up the tent had been a whole war in itself—Mustang had lazily sat and directed Ed, and Ed had struggled with the pegs, cursed, and swore at the other man, who had nothing useful to say except a stream of inane, sarcastic comments. That had been a long time ago.

Logic dictated that the Colonel would be here—purely by circumstance, it was always their meeting place after battles. And if one of them went missing, the other always waited patiently in the tent, knowing it was too dangerous to go back out onto the battlefield and look. Usually Mustang was the one who waited.

Tonight...?

It was Ed's turn.

Ed stumbled the final few yards, and fell right through the tent flap. He struck the ground hard, but after a few seconds of groaning and an attempt to catch his breath, he raised his head and looked around. He expected to see Mustang on his bedroll, lying with Ed's old red cloak again.

Empty. Ed scowled and crawled forth, curling up on top of his own little pile of blankets. No Mustang.

"Colonel, you bastard... You're late..." Ed muttered, absurdly patting around the bedrolls and pulling up the blankets, as if Mustang was hiding underneath one of them.

"...Colonel? Damn it, you're worthless..." Mustang was not in their tent. Ed curled into a pathetic ball and shivered—he didn't like being the one who had to wait.

Mustang would arrive soon. He could already hear what the bastard was going to say—

You don't take care of yourself, Fullmetal, and I can't always do it for you.

...Have you gotten shorter, Fullmetal? Did one of the shells blast an inch or two off?

Broke your automail again, Fullmetal? Your mechanic is going to kill you one of these days.

Anticipating the bastard's arrival, Ed tried to stay awake for a while, but he was tired and everything hurt so much. Then he resolved to fall asleep—the bastard would come in and wake him up with his coughing, anyway, so now was the time to get in a few good minutes of napping while he could. But once he tried to fall asleep, it became difficult—he was scared of the nightmares he was going to have.

I'm being childish. Maybe I am still a child.

He tried to think of what comment the Colonel might have about this, but nothing came. Finally, exhaustion did win out—Ed drifted off to sleep, and in his last few moments of consciousness he reassured himself with the knowledge that, upon awakening, Mustang would be back and probably doing something else stupid, like checking Ed's wounds or applying lotion to his little cuts... Hell, Mustang was probably going to drag him right back to the hospital tent. That was where he needed to be. Ed didn't care, as long as Mustang stuck it out with him.

By the time Ed awoke and blearily looked at his pocket-watch, seven hours had passed, and the sun was rising. The camp was silent—no explosions, no rifle-fire.

Mustang still wasn't in the tent with him.