Spoilers: Events in Ishvar.
Warnings: Language, veiled implications of sexual relations, implied violence.
Notes: Yes, another Ishvar fic. Because that's just what I like to write. This one, however, approaches the situation differently and is written in a different style from my others, so I don't feel too bad. I really do need to start focusing on another era, though. Like, really. Technically mangaverse.
Three days, he thinks upon waking. It plays through his mind and over his lips as he stands before the mirror, as he pours a few drops of water from his allotment and spreads it over his roughened cheek. Three days, he whispers to himself, and likes the way it comes back in reverse from his reflection, likes the way that water's more precious than glass, here. (He raises the razor to his face, ponders the way it might slide down along his throat, how it might feel cold cutting his skin.) His thoughts are purely academic; he stands firm, bolstered by Three days.
They call him in before breakfast. (He wonders it they're early risers, or if they, like him, prefer not to eat in the morning. It's too hot to eat in the morning, here, because to eat breakfast food in some forty degrees seems like dishonesty of the first caliber, like stealing from the cookie jar, eggs and sausage for dinner, life out of order. There are no mornings here. It's just dark and light. It's a land of sleep cycles.)
Sit, they say, and he (good dog) sits.
We've heard stories of your hesitance, they say, or something less poetic.
Oh? he asks neutrally (and thinks of how easily he could kill them. Thinks how easy it would be to bring the entire camp around him, and see how they like fire for their answer).
"How did it go?" Maes asks later, and Roy's response is as eloquent as one as he can shape: a tightened lip, a sigh, a shrug. When he looks back up, Maes smiles knowingly. "That well, huh?"
That well, because they would call him in again. (Because he didn't snap, because Three days held him in restraint.) Because he'd asked who had said that, who had laid these outrageous claims, who had questioned his patriotism.
Major Kimbley, came the bored and predictable answer.
Major Kimbley, he'd repeated, who, may I point out, sirs, graduated at the same time as me, was assigned here at the same time as me, was given similar mentoring and similar duties and currently holds the same rank and, when it comes time for it, will be competing for a promotion. You don't think he might have an ulterior motive in his accusations? Crimson has no ambition, he knows, but Roy knows how to play politics.
Libel is a serious accusation, Major, they'd said. Are you making a formal complaint?
"Any number of things I could have said to them," he says. "Was he making a formal complaint, I'd like to ask your advice do you think that I should, why yes yes I am. Instead, no, I'm not, sirs." He laughs bitter. "I panicked."
The smile turns sympathetic. "Happens to all of us," Maes says. Not to the best of us, not the normal course of the cliché. Maes hasn't been out here long, but he's been cured of his belief that there are the best among us, too.
They assigned him extra duties for tomorrow. He knows they're testing him, that tomorrow if he hesitates he'll be lost. (What would it be like to be lost? He could walk out into the desert, dance among the faerie-circles until he collapses of thirst. Because he's dying out here, too, and it would be quicker than these days of too little water to replenish that lost to the air and the sun. He knows one day he'll wake up in convulsions, his lips cracked and his skin dry. He knows one day they'll lay him in the earth a mummy.
(But he's taken by the idea. It comes to him in the middle of the night, as he lays awake in the darkness. Once he things of it, it burns excitement in the pit of his stomach.) He knows there's no chance of sleep, so he might as well go. He stands up, pulls on a jacket over his nightshirt (because it's cold, deadly cold out there, but still as dry as forever), tries to make as little noise as he can, but the wardrobe clicks and Kimbley stirs.
Fuck you goin'? Crimson murmurs sleepily.
Out, Roy says. (He can kill from a distance. Kimbley can't. Now, when Kimbley is in bed, when his gloves are close at hand, he could give a gift to the world.)
Out where? Outside? That's a fuckin' good idea, Kimbley snickers. Absolutely brilliant. No, no, do, don't hesitate, go. Please. Trust me, we'll all be glad to be rid of you.
He sits. Why did you go to them? he asks. Why did you tell them that I...
Because you need it, Crimson says, and turns over and goes to sleep again.
Roy stands, and he goes. He goes to the threshold, where the door to nothingness, to oblivion, tempts him, that he trails fingers along its smooth white side and shivers at the feel. The touch of it thrills him. (He won't need his clothing out there. To freeze would be a good death.) And he starts to pull his clothes off, for the dunes and the faerie, but his hand slides into the pocket of his jacket and his fingers encounter something cool, and he takes out his pocket-watch. It shines blindingly silver in the moonlight. It's one-fifteen, so it's after midnight, now it's Two days, and he pulls back from the seduction of the sands.
Crimson is already up when he wakes, humming quietly. It's later than it should be. He doesn't have time to wash, and as he sits down on the back of the flatbed truck he thinks he smells himself.
Should've taken the time, Kimbley says, sitting next to him. Fucking beasts'll smell you coming. Roy doesn't dignify that with a response, stares away from Crimson the duration of the trip.
He watches the sands, instead. They move in a constant dance, sing in a hiss Forever. (There would be nothing now to stop him from leaping over the side, running into the dunes where he too will shimmer and sway.) And he reasons, and he knows, that there are no faeries and that they have no ring, that out there is no enchantment, that the dance is just a product of the mirror-effect of layers of heated air and the sun. (But still he finds himself ensorcelled.)
He's drained his canteen by midday, even though he should have known better than to. By the time he returns from his mission, his lips are cracked and bleeding. One of the other men, a Major like him but a regular combatants, is dipping his fingers in his canteen and rubbing the water on his face, and Roy burns to think of how much water there must be in there, if he can reach it with his fingers.
"Excuse me - " he says, and asks.
The Major's lips twist up in a salty smile. He holds the canteen up. The light reflecting from it is almost blinding, and with a tremor the truck beneath them comes to life. "What, you want some?" He shakes it, and Roy closes his eyes against the flash. "Well, pull it from the goddamned air. You can fucking do that, can't you?" As they start to move he turns back to a friend, (and Roy thinks how easy it would be to kill the man and take it from him but) Two days.
You killed one, Kimbley says that night. Everyone's talking about it. One of the fucking soldiers, Flame! He laughs until his face turns red and tears stand in his eyes, his elbows jerking from his sides with the force of it. I had no idea you had it in you!
It was an accident, Roy says, and wonders if he's lying. He hadn't heard anything before the death, hadn't heard anything after, and understands, now, why they'd wanted him to burn too. (He grits his teeth and longs for the sands, the cold snick of the razor.) Two days. He goes over to the mirror, traces his finger along the sponge and touches it to his lips. I didn't even know he was in there.
No such things as accidents, Kimbley smiles. Roy turns to him (wondering what would happen if he killed him, wondering if Crimson can even die).
I killed a man. Don't even joke about that sort of thing. But even though there's a sickness in him he knows his snarl is disingenuous at best. This isn't the first man he's killed and it won't be the last; it's just one of the few for which they won't praise him. And I killed two, he says, but Kimbley ignores him or maybe he didn't say it at all.
Man needed to die, Flame, Crimson says. Isn't it the greatest feeling in the world? Uriel, he thrums. Fire of God, deliverer of souls. You fucking destroyed him. And in that one instant, to that one man, you were the most powerful being in the world. That man is nothing, now, because of you, because of your power. Isn't it fucking fantastic? he finishes in an explosive hiss.
You love it, he whispers, endlessly sickened.
It's my great work, Kimbley whispers back, breath hot in Roy's ear.
But he draws back from the touch. "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings," he murmurs to the flat wolf face with its deadly eyes. "Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair."
Kimbley grins wide and mocking. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, he recites, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.
He recoils further at that, his gorge rising. Somehow in the interval, he's forgotten that Kimbley, for all his alchemy, is an alchemist. Somehow he's come to think of him as a beast on two legs, death carved into the pads of his paws. That this can be a man is revolting.
You're scared of me, Kimbley comments, deeply amused, and Roy doesn't know how to tell him that fear has no part in his horror. He walks out instead.
(He wondered that day what it would be like to cast himself into the flames of his own making. Someone else answered his call. Something flutters beneath his sternum that might be pity or might be envy.)
He finds Hawkeye in the mess hall, enjoying a late cup of tea (and he envies her her surplus, that she can have a drink at night), a pulp novel open before her. He sits impulsively down across from her, and she looks up slowly, questioningly. "Let's run away," he says. "Let's run away. The two of us."
He's serious, and she knows that he's serious, but she smiles in her secretive way. "I bet you say that to all the girls," she laughs, one hand atop the other on the book spread open before her.
"I mean it," he insists.
Her smile fades. "That's desertion, sir," she says, quiet even though there's no one in the with them.
"I know," he says back. His voice is defiantly loud.
"You shouldn't let people even hear you talking like that," she says no louder. He stand up fast enough to tip his chair over. He curses and rights it, then storms out. He should have known she'd say something like that. She's always been mundane.
(Does she burn, too?)
By morning he's forgiven her. He could forgive anyone anything, because Tomorrow. He gets up before Kimbley, washes himself thankfully, thanks the messenger when he brings summons.
That didn't mean that we wanted you to let go of all caution, they say to him, and put him on a two-day suspension. We'll look into the matter in that interval. He leaves the chamber feeling better than he has in months.You're happy, Kimbley says when he comes back to the room. I thought you weren't gonna find any more fucking happiness in this cruel fucking world. I thought it was all over for you, that you'd seen the core of the world and it was rotten as all shit. Roy is silent and Crimson hisses a laugh through his nose. You're happy. I can read in on your lips, in your eyes. Fucking transparent. His fingers graze Roy's cheek. You're fucking terrified of me, aren't you, Flame?
Yes, he growls, and leans into him and inhales at the curve of the tendon, between neck and collar. Because I know you. You poor pitiful fuck.
"From now on, I'm going to use other languages," Maes announces at dinner.
"Oh?" Roy asks, toying with his food.
"There are words from other languages that just express things better," he says, holding up his fork. "We have the word 'almost,' right? You know what the word is in Latin?" Roy makes a noncommittal noise. "Paene." He pronounces it the classical way, pye-nay, his lips caressing the esoterica like a prayer. "It sounds like yearning. Like reaching, but missing. Way better than 'almost,' don't you think?"
"So you're going to speak in onomatopoeia," Roy observes wryly.
"That, yes. But also - Sanskrit. Agnau," he says, and the slow keen of the word makes the muscles of Roy's jaw jump.
"What does that mean?" he asks softly.
"In fire," Maes says. His eyes are lowered, and a small sad smile hovers on his lips. "It sounds like mourning. It's better, don't you think?"
(But the word just makes him think of agnus, and he hates the thought that he would ever be that passive.)
And you know me, don't you, Kimbley said. You can see right through me.
(Give him a bit of his own. Push him off.) Does that scare you?
"No," Crimson laughed. "It scares you."
(But at least lambs for the sacrifice had but two teeth. He thinks some moments, better a lamb than a wolf.)
The three of them hide themselves together and drink that night, him, him, and her. She's outdoing them both until she pauses and presses a long hand to her mouth and goes for the wastebasket. She doesn't make it and vomits on the floor.
I had the flu, she says later as they help her. I'm sorry. He doesn't remember her sickness (maybe she's just covering because she can't hold her liquor) but when he presses his hand to her head, it burns beneath him. He says he's going to get water for her, and he means that he'll steal it. She understands and refuses angrily (even though he knows what to do, even though he can use Crimson's arrays to blast through the wall and he'd never get caught).
"If you think I'll let you be court-martialed because I was to stupid to..." She trails off, and he understands her. Sits down beside her. (Is this even her? If ever there's a woman who knows herself, who knows her limits, who wouldn't drink to excess - )
"It happens to all of us," Maes says sympathetically. She nods and closes her eyes. Roy can't help but be angry, at him and him and her, for letting her suffer like that. (Even so, he likes his intoxication, and would rather be here than anywhere else.)
That night, Roy can hardly sleep for excitement. His gut is filled with Tomorrow.
The next morning dawns like midday. Roy lays in the heat, eyes closed, as Kimbley murmurs throatily White rabbit, continues to lay there as he dresses.
What do you live for? he asks as Crimson lays his hand on the door. Crimson's only response is to laugh loud and long and mirthful, until his face turns red, until tears stand in his eyes.
"How many days are there in August, Hawkeye?" Roy asks at breakfast. "I can never remember."
Her lids are heavy, her lashes thick upon the cheek as she reads. There's a strain in her voice as she replies, the musicality lost beneath obvious effort, but she's controlled. "Thirty-one, sir," she says to her report, then takes a hesitant sip of tea.
"Thank you," he says, and Thirty-one, thirty-one echoes through his mind, setting his back straight. "Thirty-one days," he whispers to his water, and looks up to see a faint smile.
"We all survive somehow," she says, and lifts the unsteady mug once more to her pale lips.