ASHES AND BONE
Shades of Grey Series Story #2 - Color - Gunmetal
D M Evans
Disclaimer - not mine, no money made all characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa et al and funimition
Time line - What time line? This takes place in the days immediately following the massacre of Ishbal and is my own special blend of anime and manga verses with lots of speculation in between (for instance Hughes was in Ishbal but Armstrong wasn't sent home ahead of him and Mustang)
Rating - FRT
Summary - Roy tries to cope, rather unsuccessfully, with what he had to do in Ishbal
Author's Note - This is was written for the Shades of Grey challenge at colorific. It's the second in the series and carries through the history I created for Roy in #1 including him meeting Hohenheim and spending time in Rezembool (to explain away why anime Roy is nostalgic for the place and has some rather intimate knowledge of the landscape)
try to understand this isn't what I planned
this ride's out of my hands
so now I'm forced to be something I can not be
Staind - Tonight
All he really wanted to do was curl up on the train seat and fade away. The only real sensation breaking through to him was the rocking of the car as it cut across the landscape. Two days might have passed. He wasn't really sure. He had vaguely been aware of changes in light and the slow passage of food trolleys in the aisle every so often. He never looked up, never took anything they offered.
What little he was aware of was that his train car was nearly devoid of life and he was grateful for it. The only people in the car were supposed to be the 'real heros' of the battle, like that meant anything to him. Basque Gran sat towards the front of the car with a female alchemist who had always frightened Roy even before being sent to Ishbal; Regiene, the Cerulean Alchemist. One of the other seats had been converted into a makeshift cot for Colonel Buss who was comatose and likely to remain that way, judging from the snippets of conversation between the medic who watched over the colonel and Gran. Buss' commendations for bravery and elevation to hero status were likely to be posthumous.
The rest of the train car was dedicated to transporting supplies that didn't fit into the supply cars. The only other person in the car was the alchemist sitting directly across from Roy as silent and as large as the cargo boxes. Armstrong had made a few abortive attempts to talk to Roy in those first hours after boarding. Roy never said a word in reply and finally Armstrong sunk into his own silence. Whenever Roy allowed himself to glance over at the other alchemist, he saw trouble in those blue eyes. There was some kind of cold comfort in the other man's obvious pain. He felt less alone in finding someone else seemingly consumed with remorse. Roy had seen Iron-Blood and Crimson in action, loving it, reveling in their destructive alchemy, leaving him to wonder if he alone had been horrified by what they had just done in Ishbal.
The Crystal Alchemist seemed to share his revulsion but Roy didn't know where the man who had saved him had gotten off to. He hoped Marcoh was far away from all of this, that someone like Gran hadn't put him to death. It could have happened, Roy knew. After all, the general had been enticing him to pull the trigger of his gun one last time; Gran had probably been hard and hoping for the release the excitement Roy's death would give him.
Roy looked at the ring on his hand. The ruby stone glinted up at him, turning his world monochromatic; not red. Red was cheery. His world was grey, tenebrious, the color of the gun metal he was all too willing to use in service. Color had faded from his life until only faint memories remained. The little ring had helped Roy kill hundreds, if not thousands. It transmuted him into a monster. Red as blood, like the blood that had seeped through his snowy gloves, ingraining the lines of his skin, deep into the pores.
He could smell the blood. Roy reeked. Everyone on the train did. There were no showers on the train. The best anyone could do was to wash in a sink. His nostrils were clogged with the odors of smoke, body odor, blood and burnt flesh. He had been responsible for so much. Why had Marcoh stopped him from splattering his brains on the wall? It was only right he join his victims.
Roy couldn't undo it, none of it. The massive graves stood out in his mind. How many had he put in there? He and Armstrong had made a perfect team, really. Armstrong creating those hollow stone projectiles and him using his abilities to superheat the air, filling the sky with deadly shrapnel. Was the body of that poor child he killed face to face lying under the ground there? Yes, he thought the boy was going to kill him but it didn't excuse his actions, his cowardice. He had traded his worthless life for that boy's and for what? To get the orders to execute some of their own people?
And he had done it. Roy's bile rose, gagging him. He put a hand over his mouth then glanced around the car. Armstrong was dozing, his enormous bulk jiggling against the wall of the car. Buss was still comatose, of course, his medic asleep in the seat across from him. Gran was gone and Cerulean seemed to have disappeared as well. Good, Roy didn't want an audience to his own private hell. Why couldn't those damn doctors have just obeyed orders and stopped helping the Ishbalans? Why hadn't the military just arrested them and sent them home? Because examples had to be made. Gran had handed those orders to him, telling Roy how proud he was at Roy's abilities on the battlefield. Roy had known even then Gran was taunting him, wanting to see how far he could push.
Roy's twentieth birthday was only a few weeks away. He had hoped to spend it back home with the Ravensdales or maybe to go see his teacher, Cinzia. Instead, he would pass it alone, if he made it that far. He was a teenaged mass murderer and how did one live with that? It was one thing to kill in battle but another to do it up close. Gran had known this. Somehow Roy got the impression the general wanted him broken but why? Fear, that might be motive enough. Roy wasn't blind to the dangerous weapon he was and combined with someone like Armstrong, Gran might fear them but Roy wasn't sure why. Weren't they on the same side?
So why had he been assigned to dealing with the Rockbells? Gran had said it would have been him or the Crimson Alchemist. Roy couldn't help feeling pity for the people he had killed. He couldn't let Kimblee be assigned and his instincts were right given how the Crimson Alchemist was now in irons on his way back to Central for execution. He probably would have taken his time, blowing up the Rockbells limb by limb. At least Roy had been merciful but he couldn't get them out of his mind, not then, not now. They didn't deserve it. Why hadn't they just gone home? Why did they have to show him that picture of their child and plead for mercy? Why hadn't he been strong enough to grant it? Damn them all.
He had to get up. His stomach roiled. There was nothing left in him but his stomach didn't seem to know that. Roy managed to get to the lavatory car before the acid and bile came up, staining the sink green-black. He leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the mirror as he let the water clean the sink. Oh, if only he could be cleansed so easily. Lifting his face from the glass, he saw the man reflected there and didn't know him. The man in the mirror was old, dirty, haunted. His eyes were lifeless, dark and flat as coal.
"I wish you wouldn't."
Roy whipped around but no one spoke those words, words he heard in his old friend's voice. Roy was alone in the lavatory and Forrest Ravensdale could hardly be here, anyhow. He hadn't seen the blind alchemist, who had been his first mentor, in more than a year. Roy could hear Ravensdale telling him not to become a State Alchemist, advising him to take any path but the military. "I wish you wouldn't," the blind man had said.
"I wish I had listened," Roy whispered. Since he was up, he tried to piss but there was precious little left in him. When had he last taken a drink? After he washed his hands, he took a sip straight from the sink, rinsing the worst tastes out of his mouth.
An army on the move had no time for niceties, like deodorant or toothpaste. His teeth felt fuzzy and foully flavored the water he sucked from the spigot. He poured a handful of water over his hair but his dark locks were so oily the water just beaded up and ran off. His skin itched and there was nothing he could do about it.
Roy shuffled back to his seat. Armstrong was snoring sonorously. Gran and Cerulean were still absent. Roy nudged Armstrong's massive foot just so he wouldn't have to hear those snores echoing through his brain. Armstrong's head bobbed a bit as he almost woke up. His bulk shifted around but he dropped back off to sleep. At least he had stopped snoring for the moment.
Roy wished he could sleep. He hadn't, not since it all happened. In those moments where his eyes had almost shut, he saw that woman's face, heard her begging him to not shoot. Sara, he remembered her name, remembered her from the time he had spent in Rezembool. She had shown him the little creek that pointed east toward the mountains, had been kind to him in those weeks it took for Hohenheim to find a teacher to take him in. Had Gran even suspected that Roy knew the Rockbells? Was that why he had been selected for this mission?
How had it come to this? A conflict of gods? Greed for land and power? Something else? What made people so willing to die? What made them so blind to their own danger that they would turn down chances to run and face death instead? Some kind of mass insanity? Whatever it was, it had all convinced Roy there was no god. Gods wouldn't let things like this happen. And if there was by some strange chance a higher power, he was sure god had turned his back on him.
Roy slipped a photo out of his jacket pocket. He had fished it out of the Rockbells' blood. He studied, once more, the little girl's face. He had destroyed her world and he didn't even know her. In one of the refrigerated cars, the bodies of her parents were wrapped in canvas. At least they were bringing them home instead of dumping them in those mass graves. He knew he would see the little girl's sweet face in his nightmares, if he could ever sleep.
He tucked the blood stained photo away and glanced around the car once more. Still alone except for two sleeping men and one comatose one. Roy unholstered his gun. It felt familiar in his hand. He should have just pulled the trigger. Why had he let Marcoh talk him out of it? Because he was a teenager and he was afraid to die. Roy thought for a moment about what Maes would think if he had killed himself. However, his best friend had been sent home ahead of him. Roy needed him. He had never had a friend like Hughes, so happy, so crazy, so supportive when he needed it. It had been hard to trust Hughes at first, given Roy's upbringing but when he let himself do what his teacher had implored him to do, and trust someone, it was not a friendship he regretted. Still, even that seemed hollow to him at this moment. No friendship could redeem him now.
Roy ran a finger over the gunmetal, feeling the oils he used to clean it. He remembered the taste of it in his mouth. The barrel had been so hot after killing the Rockbells. He still had blisters on his tongue and lips from it.
He licked his sore, cracked and blistered lips, trying not to think on the heft of the weapon. Gran had entreated him to pull the trigger since only a coward would even care that his orders had caused him to kill worthless traitors. Marcoh's voice rang out, promising him it would get better. The barrel was cool this time as he slipped it between his lips, fast and sure like the last time he had slid into a woman. He rolled his tongue over the tip of it, tasting metal, strong and exciting in its way.
As his tongue perversely played with the instrument of death, Roy's fingers fumbled for the trigger. Suddenly pain exploded in his mouth as the forward sight cut a furrow in his palate and cracked over his teeth. It split his lip as the end popped out of his mouth, letting blood flow. Armstrong held the gun and Roy's hand so hard Roy thought maybe bone had snapped. The major's eyes were tiny crescents of blue fury.
Why did he have to wake up? Armstrong said nothing, his face turning from granite to wool. Don't look at me with such pity! I don't deserve it! Roy let the gun go and Armstrong released his death grip. Strongarm unloaded the pistol before slipping it into his pocket. A quake hit Roy's body so hard he dug the fingers of one hand into the velvet seat cushion to keep himself upright.
"Flame," Armstrong rumbled his voice gentle, laden with pity. Soft as his tone was, it broke Roy.
A sob welled up from deep within him. Roy pressed a hand hard over his mouth feeling the tacky blood from his split lip. The world blurred out behind a wall of tears.
"Roy." Armstrong reached a massive hand out to touch Mustang's arm.
Roy flinched away with a strangled cry. Armstrong needed to stop looking at him. No one should ever look at him again. Roy shrugged out of his jacket, then collapsed on the seat, hiding his face under the stinking garment. He felt like a child hiding under the bed to get away from his father. He bit into the seat cushion, stifling his cries. Pain throbbed in his mouth from where the gun sight had cut him. He shook from head to toe, unable to stop it. A slight weight descended on him. Roy's body jerked. He peered out from under the stained jacket. Armstrong settled back down, having put a blanket over Roy.
Roy clutched the blanket close, tucking his face against it, remembering a night nearly seven years past, him hunched up on a train seat sobbing under a blanket with someone watching over him. This blanket was just as scratchy but at least it didn't stink like his jacket.
Hearing the car door opening, Roy pulled the blanket over his head, biting back into the cushion, willing himself into silence. He couldn't let the general see him be this weak again. It would be fatal to him, in soul, in career, in life.
"Is there something wrong with Flame, Strongarm?" Gran asked.
"No sir, he's trying to get some sleep. The sun's too bright."
Roy heard Armstrong tap on the window to give him a legitimate reason for being swaddled up like a baby. He owed the man for that. Roy slowly let the seat padding out of his mouth, hoping at least the sobbing had subsided.
"Good. He was looking pretty useless," Gran said, derisively.
Roy listened to the general stomp off back through the door. After several moments, the tears stopped and Roy peered out from under the blanket. "Thank you," he said softly.
"Maybe you should sleep, Roy. You haven't appeared to have done so since we came aboard the train," Armstrong said, giving Roy a critical once over. "You're not thinking clearly."
"Can't sleep." Roy sat up, keeping the blanket tight around him. "I'm sorry." He didn't have to say what for. It was unfair of him to try and leave his bloody corpse for Armstrong to deal with.
"It will solve nothing," Armstrong replied, tracing the outline of the gun in his pocket.
"Isn't this where you lecture me on duty?" Sarcasm cut like a knife.
Armstrong's blue eyes clouded, a strange expression on his face. "Sometimes duty asked too much of us. We lose a part of ourselves fulfilling it."
Roy blinked at him. That wasn't the usual Armstrong speech where he'd have to listen about morals and talents and ideals passed down the line for generations. In truth, those speeches had always made Roy feel left out and a little shabby. There wasn't much from the Mustang line he wanted to claim. In that moment, he realized he wasn't the only one hemorrhaging on the inside. "I knew them, Armstrong, those doctors I had to kill. Not well, but I knew them."
"It was you who drew that duty?" Armstrong's brow furrowed, making that lonely lock of hair twitch. Why doesn't he just clip that off? "It shouldn't have gone to someone so young."
Roy wanted to point out that Armstrong wasn't that much older than he was or that in truth the job should have gone to the sharpshooters. The military did have its assassins for such things. That was simply more proof that Gran had some sort of ulterior motive. "When I was younger, I met them. They probably didn't even realize their executioner was the kid they used to feed pie to after he'd come back home a muddy mess from catching frogs down at the stream." Roy wondered where those carefree days he had spent in Rezembool had gotten off to. He had had good times there in those few months after Hohenheim had taken Roy away from his abusive father. Trisha had made him feel so welcome. He missed them. He knew they would hate to know the type of man he'd become. He'd be too ashamed to even write to Trisha after this, and Hohenheim was missing, in spite of several people's best attempts to find him, Roy's own included.
"It doesn't help to say it isn't your fault, does it?" Armstrong studied his huge hands.
"No. We reduced Ishbal to ashes and bone and all I feel is this horrible sadness over two people. What about the rest of what we did?" Roy spat out the words, knowing they weren't quite the truth. He did feel for the Ishbalans but it took second place to the other brand on his soul.
"The other is too enormous to take in. The mind can't do it," Armstrong replied, looking as if he were praying that his mind would never take in the reality of the things they had done in Ishbal.
"What happens when it sinks in?" Roy trembled at the mere thought. He had heard of psychiatric wards packed with soldiers. In his arrogance and youth, he had thought the men in them to have been somehow inferior and weak. How likely was he to be spending the last of his days in one? You have to pull it together! Gran would love to see this weakness. Don't let him.
"We'll find ways of coping. Duty, family, friends, there are comforts out there for mind and body, Flame, even for men such as ourselves," Armstrong sounded resigned, as if he almost didn't believe it. "Until then, I'll keep this for you." He patted the pocket he had put the gun into.
"It shouldn't be an issue again." Roy saw the relief in the larger man's eyes. "Does it feel...I'm not sure I can ever get myself clean again."
Armstrong rubbed a hand over his soiled pants leg. "It is hard to imagine sitting here. Once we're home and surrounded by familiar things, it will be possible."
"I almost don't want it to be," Roy replied cryptically. "I'm not sure we deserve it."
"We are soldiers fighting for our country," Armstrong reminded him grimly. "War is never a good or beautiful thing."
"Some would disagree." Roy's blood shot eyes flicked to the door as Gran and Cerulean came in, laughing at something.
Armstrong's bald head bobbed. "Some like their duty too much. Cerulean and Crimson are cut nearly from the same cloth. Regiene is not much more of a lady than Kimblee is a gentleman," he said barely above a whisper.
Roy snorted, watching the strawberry blond alchemist buddying up with Gran as they sat back down. "At least you know where you stood with the nutcase. Her, I wouldn't trust not to kill us in our sleep...if I could sleep."
"You would do well to try to rest," Armstrong said, giving him a concerned look.
"And not bring up that kind of talk where someone could hear." Roy nodded, his eyes flicking back to Gran and Cerulean. "I know. I'll watch my mouth."
"That would be wise."
Roy sighed. "Thanks, Armstrong, for everything."
A hint of a weary smile pulled at the man's lips. "Try to sleep. I can't promise things will be all right when you wake but they might be a little more bearable."
Roy heaved another sigh then pulled his ring off his finger. He didn't really care if Gran was looking. He tugged open the window and flicked the ring away. Ignoring Armstrong's startled look, Roy stretched out on the seat. He disappeared back under the scratchy blanket. Let them punish him for disposing of that stupid ring. He deserved it, wanted it. Armstrong was wrong. He wouldn't find comfort in sleep or duty. He had no family. The only thing he could do was climb from here. He had to make sure nothing like this would ever happen again. He could try to undo this. There were ways. Human transformation. He knew where he could start looking once they were home.
When he finally slept, Roy felt that little girl's eyes on him, heard her asking him why he took her parents away. There was nothing he could say and tears were a poor substitute for what he had taken. He would give his life to give it all back to her.