UPDATE (5/08/07): Thank you to Monkey Mist Robo for providing the rankings of the Amestrian officers so that I could fix my previous mistake!! And to those who didn't notice or who don't know what I'm talking about...all the better for you!!! (sweatdrop)
I know that it's spring in the U.S. (for crying out loud, it's APRIL!), but it's currently about 41 degrees where I live, and I'm COLD. Ergo…I was inspired to write this.
THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO YAOI INNUENDOS INTENDED IN THIS STORY! Sorry to the yaoi fans, but I am not one of them, so if that's what you're looking for, you've come to the wrong place, my friends.
Anywho, if you don't really give a diddlysquat one way or the other, then please enjoy!
"How much further is this place, again, Boss?"
Edward Elric could barely hear Second Lieutenant Heymans Breda over the rushing wind and through the thick padding of his parka's hood, but somehow or another he managed to catch the words. The Fullmetal Alchemist and Second Lieutenants Breda and Jean Havoc were traveling by dog sled through what seemed to be an arctic wasteland, even though they were really only in a valley in the mountain range bordering the north eastern border of Amestris. The reason they were there was due to some curiosity that had piqued their superior Colonel Roy Mustang's interest, something of which none of them had any idea what it could be. Their only clue was that it had something to do with alchemy, for why else would Mustang have ordered Edward to accompany Breda and Havoc on this mission?
Edward looked at the map he was clutching in his mittened hands.
"It shouldn't be too much further, Second Lieutenant. Just around the other side of this lake," he answered, gesturing with his head towards the frozen lake to their right, and the man nodded, somehow hearing the scarf-muffled words over the buffeting breezes. That's when the two men ordered the dogs forward again, Breda slightly ahead with the supply sled, while Havoc followed behind with the miserably huddled Edward as his sled's only cargo. Inwardly, Edward grumbled to himself as he pulled his legs in tighter to his chest, trying to squash himself down some more in an effort to escape the bone-chilling winds. Why would Mustang send him into such a hellish landscape, knowing full well that metal limbs and cold climates didn't mix well? Edward had heavily bundled before setting out, currently wearing about five pairs of pants, three pairs of thick socks, three heavy sweaters, his mid-thigh-length puffy parka, his thick scarf, a heavy knit cap, his normal white gloves over which he pulled on his mittens, plus a pair of heavy, faux-fur trimmed snow boots, and he was still freezing his behind off. He knew that Breda and Havoc were similarly bundled and could guess that they weren't feeling much better, but that didn't make this trip any better. Just what was it that had so fascinated the Colonel that he would risk three cases of severe frostbite for it? What in the world could possibly be out here in this white and frigid purgatory? Wrapping his arms around his body and shivering slightly, Edward could only hope they'd find it soon so that they could all get out of this place.
Behind him, half concentrating on giving the dogs the correct commands, Havoc kept an eye on the small boy before him. Before setting out on this mission, Havoc and Breda had talked things over and had agreed that if Edward looked like he was too cold or that his automail was bothering him, they would stop somewhere to get a fire going and warm him up. They both knew that Edward would never say anything—he just wasn't that kind of kid—so they both knew they'd have to silently watch for any of the warning signs. It didn't seem fair to either man that the kid had to suffer through this, too, but Mustang had been insistent that an alchemist needed to accompany them, and he was far too busy avoiding his paperwork to accompany them himself, so Edward—the only other available alchemist Mustang trusted—was forced to go along for the ride. Honestly, though, it was better having the three of them. It turned out that Edward had a very acute sense of direction and could read a map in three seconds without really having to check the landscape around him—a fact that, they knew, could easily be explained by the amount of time the boy and his brother spent traveling around. Plus, the two men didn't have to stop to consult the map either, considerably cutting down the length of time spent on this trip, which was good for everyone.
Breda stopped suddenly, and Havoc pulled his sled up alongside his.
"What's wrong, Breda?" Havoc asked, and Edward looked up at the man curiously.
"Boss, you said this thing is on the other side of this lake, right?"
Edward checked the map.
"Yeah," he confirmed a moment later, his golden eyes peering through his blue-tinted snow goggles. "If we go around, we should be there in about…"
He pulled his pocket watch out and checked the time.
"In about two hours," he said.
"What if we go straight across the lake?" Breda asked. For a moment, Havoc and Edward just stared at him, but Edward consulted the map again, calculating everything in his head.
"That would cut the time to about...an hour," he replied. He looked up at the portly man, who looked at Havoc. Havoc looked out across the lake for a moment.
"It looks solid enough to me," he answered. The two looked at Edward who shrugged.
"I'm the map guy. You guys are the ones guiding the sleds," he told them. Havoc and Breda looked over at one another again.
"One hour versus two hours? I like those odds," Breda said, and Havoc nodded. Without further discussion, the two men directed their dogs directly out onto the ice.
Breda was, perhaps, the most experienced of the three when it came to traveling cold landscapes. He'd served about two terms as a Warrant Officer up in the Drachma mountain range before getting promoted to Second Lieutenant and then shipped off to Eastern Command, so he was used to traveling by dog sled over frozen lakes. This one was far sturdier than some of the ones he'd traveled on while at the Northern bases, and for about half an hour, they traveled along smoothly without incident. Then, the ice underneath started to crackle threateningly. Edward eyed it warily.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked.
"We'll be fine," Breda told him, completely confident. "Ice always does this when you travel over it. I've traveled over fifteen frozen lakes, and I've never had any trouble."
"Besides, chief," Havoc put in. "It's not like we have any other choice now."
"…okay," he said, but he didn't really sound—nor feel—all that terribly convinced. It had been his experience that if anything could go wrong, it was bound to happen.
And happen it did, about ten feet away from shore. With a long, crackling groan as their only warning, the ice to Havoc and Edward's right suddenly gave way, sending their sled tilting erratically. Havoc and Edward both cried out, trying to scramble away, but then more ice gave way, and the sled lurched, sending Edward flying straight into the icy water below. The weight suddenly gone, the sled righted itself and the dogs headed instinctively for shore—Havoc in tow—where they caught up to Breda's sled. The portly man was staring in horror at the scene when Havoc ran up beside him. Edward floundered frantically, finally catching a hold on the ice and hoisting the upper half of his body out of the freezing water. But he was still chest deep in water, and already his teeth were chattering. His soaked scarf had slid down off of his face to reveal lips that were quickly turning a dangerous blue color. Breda sped into action, racing to the nearest tree and viciously breaking off a branch, which he handed to Havoc.
"Take this and hold it out before you. Get down on your belly and slide as carefully as you can out to him. Make sure to spread your weight out evenly. When he gets the branch, yell back to me, and I'll pull you guys in as fast as I can," he instructed breathlessly.
"Right!" Havoc said, and instantly he was gliding out like a penguin onto the ice, the branch held out before him. He slid out as far as he could go, toes touching shore, and Breda grabbed his ankles, pushing him out as far as his arms could reach. Havoc noted with dismay that there was still about four feet of distance between him and Edward, but he stretched out the arm holding the branch as far as he could.
"Edward! Grab the branch!" he called, and the boy looked out, realizing with a pang of fear that the branch was a few inches out of his reach. But, he stretched out anyway, frozen muscles straining against the aching cold. The pain in his thighs and lower back was very real now, along with the suffocating pressure of the cold against his chest. He was visually guiding his left hand forward, and he could see it touch the branch, but the numb fingers couldn't close around it, and Edward's stomach muscles couldn't hold him up anymore. He fell back in exhaustion with choked sob.
"I can't!" he cried. Havoc gritted his teeth in denial.
"Yes, you can!" he yelled back, and he pushed his arm forward a little more, scooting the branch out a few more inches. "Come on, Ed! You can do this!"
Edward tried not to cry out of sheer hopelessness as he reached forward again, but just as his fingers brushed the branch again, more ice gave way beneath him, and he fell back into the water once more with a strangled scream.
"ED!!" Havoc and Breda shouted, their frustration mounting as they realized their own helplessness. Edward broke to the surface with a pained gasp, weakly flailing his arms in an attempt to grab hold of something solid. His limbs were very heavy now, as were his clothes, and he was so tired. All he had to do was close his eyes and slip away, but something deep inside of him refused to let him give up. Biting back another sob of frustration, he tried once more to grab for the branch, now so much closer than before. His automail arm answered the call faster, used to being visually guided, and it closed tightly around the branch. His left hand followed it weakly a moment later, and he clutched to the branch for dear life.
"Yes!!" Havoc yelled excitedly. "Way to go, Ed!!"
The blue eyed man turned to Breda.
"PULL!!" he shouted, and Breda reacted instantly, pulling as fast as he could so that Edward wouldn't have to hold onto the branch for too long and risk losing his grip.
"Hang on, Ed!" Havoc called encouragingly as the boy was slowly—painfully slowly—dragged out of the water. "Just a little bit further! You can make it! Just hold on!"
Edward held on with all the strength he could manage, eyes closed as he fought the urge to let go and pass out, and soon, his whole body was free. Once Edward was out of the clutches of the dangerous waters, he and Havoc slid across the ice fairly easily towards Breda. As soon as he was within reach, Havoc and Breda grabbed a handful of the boy's sopping parka and pulled him onto solid ground.
"Edward!!" Breda called to him, shaking him gently. Edward weakly opened his eyes.
"B-breda…" he said in a hoarse whisper, teeth chattering uncontrollably. "I c-c-can't f-feel my b-b-b-body…"
"Aw, shit!" Breda swore. He lifted Edward's frozen body and rushed to the sleds, all but throwing him onto Havoc's and jumping on the rungs behind. He could see a cave not but twenty feet away, and he called to Havoc, telling him to head for it with all speed.
Shit!! Breda thought to himself, eyeing the shivering, soaked form before him as he pushed the dogs to their limits. How the hell could I let this happen?! Idiot!!
By the time they reached the cave, Edward's lips were sapphire, and he had blacked out, his body too cold to even shiver anymore. His skin was deathly pale and icy cold to the touch.
"Havoc! Start a fire! Quick!"
Havoc ran out and grabbed a few branches, coming back into the cave and preparing the pile quickly, whipping out his matches and lighting the kindling. The pile caught fire relatively easily, bringing comfort to both men, who now turned their attention to the unconscious hunk of ice that used to be their fifteen-year-old companion. Without a word, Breda ripped open the boy's parka and threw it to Havoc, who caught it, but stared at Breda in confusion.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"If we don't get him out of these wet clothes now, he'll die," Breda answered, and he was a little breathless in his panic. He didn't say anything for awhile as he continued to strip off all of the boy's soaking clothes—and that list included his underwear. But, Breda had no shame, knew that time was of the essence and that after the initial embarrassment faded away, Edward would no doubt be grateful that he was even alive to feel embarrassed. Immediately after having separated Edward from all of his drenched layers, Breda began to wrap the blankets Havoc handed him around the slender form.
"Should we remove the automail?" Havoc asked, knowing how quickly metal limbs could sap body heat. Breda gritted his teeth, but then shook his head.
"I don't know how, and I don't want to risk causing damage to any nerves or anything. We'll just get him real close to the fire, and maybe when the automail warms up, the rest of him will follow."
He wasn't sure that was the right decision, but he didn't know what else to do. Finally, when all three of the thick blankets were wrapped around his body, Breda laid the woolen cocoon and its frozen caterpillar beside the fire, placing it as close as he dared without risking it catching fire. Though, he thought in a moment of morbid humor, that would warm the kid up faster. He stared at the boy's pale, ashen face, his heart racing as he realized that he wasn't sure if the kid was going to live through the night.
"He's going to be okay…right?" Havoc asked, giving Breda's concerns a voice. Breda looked over at his friend with haunted eyes.
"I hope so, Havoc," he answered, and the two men looked back down at the unconscious figure laying there, feeling somewhat helpless to save him.
"I hope so."
Three hours had gone by. Edward's lips were now a faint sky blue—some promise—but Breda wasn't sure that the fire and the blankets would be enough to save his life. He was still unconscious and showing no signs of waking up anytime soon, and his skin was still icy cold and deathly pale. Breda sat staring at him and thought for a long, torturous moment, chagrined at being so helpless, trying to recall all of his training from those two years at Briggs. He made a mental list:
Start a fire as quickly as possible.
Remove clothes if wet.
Wrap the body in multiple blankets and place as close to the fire as possible.
Check and check.
At that moment, he suddenly remembered something he'd completely forgotten. His eyes widened in horror as he wondered how he could have been so stupid not to remember. Without a word to Havoc—who stared after him curiously for a moment—he moved over beside Edward and unzipped his jacket.
"What are you doing?" Havoc asked him, raising an eyebrow inquiringly.
"Basic survival training," Breda answered as he positioned himself next to Edward's body. "I can't believe I forgot this."
Breda placed one side of his jacket over the boy's form and put an arm across the bundle, pulling him close.
"If a person is freezing to death and the fire and blankets are doing little to no good…the next best thing to try is lending them your body heat."
Havoc blinked, the wheels in his head turning slowly as he tried to make sure he'd heard right.
"Lending them your…body heat?" he repeated, just to check. Breda looked over at him sourly.
"It's nothing perverted, dope! I'm just using the heat that my body generates naturally to help warm his. It's the fastest way to keep someone from freezing to death."
Havoc took one look at that pathetic, icy white form and sighed, realizing they had no other choice.
"The chief won't like that when he wakes up," he said, putting his concerns into words.
"He'll get over it," Breda answered. "My first priority is keeping him alive."
Havoc nodded and leaned back.
"I'll keep watch," he said, watching the sun finally vanish under the horizon. Breda nodded and laid his head down, sighing. He looked down at the top of Edward's golden blonde head before he tucked it under his chin and closed his eyes. Yeah, the kid wouldn't be too happy about this when he woke up.
But at least, now, Breda felt like he was doing something useful.
Breda woke up in surprise when he felt the tiny form shivering beside him. Wait, shivering? Breda looked down and noticed with considerable relief that Edward's lips were nearly back to normal—only the faintest traces of blue existed there—and a trace of color had faintly returned to his skin. Breda also noted, with only the tiniest bit of awkwardness, that the kid had curled up against him sometime during the night. No doubt the boy had sensed the source of warmth beside him and had unconsciously turned towards it, getting as close to it as possible. Breda sighed and smiled gently, studying the sleeping figure against him. He'd, of course, never say it out loud but…the kid was kinda cute when he was asleep. More peaceful and gentle somehow, he guessed. His jaw held less of the stubbornness it carried, and his general demeanor seemed so much more relaxed overall. For the first time, the idea that Edward was nothing more than a fifteen-year-old kid really hit Breda, and he could see it now. Of course, he'd always known that, but Edward always seemed so much older, acting like a forty-year-old man was trapped in his teenage body, and that made it really hard to actually realize just how young he was. But he really was, wasn't he? So young, and so defenseless while sleeping…how could it be possible that someone who looked so helpless could really be a human weapon?
Breda looked over to where Havoc was sitting, hunched over against the cold, holding his rifle ready, his blue eyes focused out into the woods beyond the cave entrance. Gently, Breda shifted Edward over and sat up, stretching and yawning before standing up and zipping up his jacket. He walked over Havoc's side and nudged him.
"Hey," he said. "My turn to keep watch. You can take care of the kid. Get some sleep."
Havoc nodded and rose, handing over the rifle.
"Think he'll live to tomorrow?" Havoc asked.
"Probably. I only wish I'd thought of that body heat thing sooner."
Havoc nodded and patted Breda's shoulder, moving past him towards the fire. He lifted Edward softly and carried him a little ways around the fire where he could sit and lean against the cave wall. He slouched back against the wall and propped his knees up, laying Edward comfortably in his lap, and, following Breda's example, he unzipped his parka so that he could wrap it around Edward's body and hold him close against his chest. Edward didn't stir, other than to unconsciously snuggle closer to this new source of warmth and to bunch Havoc's shirt up in his left hand. Havoc chuckled inwardly before closing his arms around the boy and leaning his head back. The man took comfort in the fact that he could now say with confidence that Edward would live. Somehow, the implications that the kid almost didn't make it bothered him more than a little. He just didn't like the thought of Ed not being around. With a sigh that pushed such ideas away, Havoc rested his head gently atop Edward's and closed his eyes, drifting quickly away into sleep.
It was with great reluctance that Edward woke up. After all, he was so warm, and so comfortable, and that cigarette smell in his nose didn't really bother him that much.
Wait a second…
One of Edward's golden eyes cracked open only a slight amount, confusion mounting as he tried to figure out where that pounding against his right ear was coming from. It was a very comforting sound, if nothing else, rhythmic and steady, and he closed his eyes again as he listened to the wordless lullaby.
Where was that coming from? And just where was that peculiarly familiar cigarette smell coming from anyway? Edward had only known one thing in his life that smelled like that, and that was…
Edward's eyes flew wide in surprise as his brain suddenly put all of the pieces together and he realized that, not only was he lying in Havoc's lap, pressed against the man's chest, but…he wasn't wearing any clothing under the blankets wrapped around him. He lay perfectly still for a moment, his heart pounding in his chest, eyes darting all around in confusion. What the hell was going on?! Why was he in Havoc's lap?! And more importantly where were his clothes?! Part of him was ready to kick someone's ass, until he remembered falling through the ice and he gave himself a moment to rationalize. Yes, he remembered now; a distant training pamphlet they'd given him when he'd joined the military suddenly came to mind. It talked about survival techniques in the arctic zones, some of which included removing wet clothes and lending body heat to the freezing person. That still didn't completely eradicate the embarrassment of waking up and finding oneself naked in the lap of another man (at least he wasn't with Winry! That would have just killed him!), but it at least kept him from soundly pummeling the man.
As quietly and as gently as possible so as not to wake Havoc, Edward sat up and climbed out of Havoc's lap, rising to his feet. He looked to his right to see Breda fast asleep with the rifle in his hands, and rolled his eyes. Boy, did he feel safe. And yet, he reminded himself as he padded over to where his clothes lay by the now softly glowing embers of the fire—the items thankfully dry now, though unfortunately wrinkled, but he could live with that—these two had probably been awake for most of the night, trying to keep him alive. His gaze traveled over to the two sleeping men with a grateful gentleness in those fiercely tawny eyes of his. He owed them a lot, he realized. And he didn't know how he was going to do it, but some way or another he'd pay them back the favor. Before either man woke up, Edward quickly dressed, pulling all of his layers back on, except for his scarf, hat, gloves, mittens, and goggles. He then moved over, taking the rifle from Breda and slinging it across his own back, and he covered up both of the men, folding his own blanket up and placing it back on the supply sled. He then proceeded to feed the dogs—who somehow preferred trying to lick his face raw than eating the food—and once that task was accomplished, he put more of the sticks into the fire and poked at it, bringing it up to life once more. He grabbed for the skillet off the supply sled and went to work.
Havoc panicked for a moment when he woke up and found Edward gone, but then he smelled the bacon and blinked wearily, focusing on the small form crouching before the fire with the skillet in one hand and the spatula in the other. He blinked down at the blanket covering him in confusion before everything started to register. He looked over at Breda, who seemed to be coming to the same conclusions at the same speed, and they both looked over as one at Edward, who was now distributing the bacon into the three food tins beside him.
Edward, who only the night before had lay at death's icy doorway, but was now placing eggs on the skillet and putting the flat pan back onto the fire.
Havoc and Breda looked at one another again before jumping to their feet with joyful howls and rushing over to Edward, practically taking him down under flying tackles. Edward cried out in surprise, completely off guard but managing to stay on his feet, and he protested as he suddenly found himself being crushed between the two laughing men.
"Geez, guys!!" he said, misinterpreting their enthusiasm. "It's just bacon!!"
"You idiot!!" Breda said, ruffling the boy's hair fiercely. "You unbelievably lucky idiot!!"
"You're okay!!" Havoc cried, grabbing Edward up in a big bear hug and twirling him around. Edward squeaked in surprise, eyes flying wide.
"Put me down!!" he ordered, and somehow he managed to squirm his way loose. He straightened his clothing and stared at the two men as if they had four heads.
"Of course I'm okay," he said, thoroughly bewildered by such behavior. "What's gotten into you two all of a sudden? You're freaking me out."
But the two men just grinned, and, in frustration, Edward thrust their food tins at them.
"Stop grinning like dopes and eat something. I checked the map and we've still got a little ways to go from here."
The two men happily took their tins from his hands and gobbled down the food as Edward ate his own breakfast and started to clean up camp. Every few minutes, he would look over at the two and shake his head.
"Weirdoes," they heard him mutter more than once. But Havoc and Breda didn't care that he thought they were crazy. They didn't care that he was still the moody teenager with the bad attitude and an insane amount of stubbornness that drove everyone around him crazy. They didn't care that he could be surly and rude and have the worst temper known to man. All that mattered to them was that he was alive to be all of those things, and they knew, too, that he was still a good kid at heart, that he was just putting on an act and that he was so strong, so impossibly strong, that he could cheat death itself.
He'd come into their lives like a maelstrom, cursing worse than a sailor and declaring his fierce independence. They'd hated him at first, hated his rudeness and his temper, hated his seemingly insubordinate ways. But then they had gotten to know him, had spent some time with him and had had more than one opportunity to really see what this kid was made of, what kind of person he was on the inside. And each one of them had come to care for him in some way or another. He'd become like family to each of them, a kid brother who they loved to tease and annoy, but who they cared about more than their own lives. Havoc and Breda were ecstatic to see that their report to Colonel Mustang would not have to include the heartbreaking news of the loss of this young man who'd become so important to them in these last three years.
And that made them insanely happy.
They started out later that day, much as they were before, but for Havoc and Breda, the sun seemed to shine just a little bit brighter than it had yesterday.
Yay for warm fuzzy feelings!! (beams happily) I love the idea that Havoc and Breda and all of the others in the military would have a sort of "Edward-is-our-adopted-younger-brother" type of relationship with our favorite red-coated alchemist! It's just so cute!!
Yeah, totally made up that stuff about Breda serving for two terms at Briggs...can we say PLOT DEVIIIIICE!!
Lol, and Ed is so domesticated, too, isn't he? Cooking and cleaning up the camp? (pinches Ed's cheek) It's so cute when you do that!!
Ed: (glares and pushes her hand away) Leave me alone!!
But you were cooking!! It was cute! (claps hands together in sudden inspiration) We should get you an apron!! It would be totally adorable!!
Ed: (blush) Shut up!! I'm not wearing any stupid apron!! And anyway, cooking is easy!!
Cuz it's like alchemy?
Ed: No, because I can read a book, moron. If you can read, you can cook.
That's not true…I can read, but I can't cook.
Ed: (sidelong look) That's because you're a moron.
So…did you like it? Did you hate it? Please let me know! And sorry it's been awhile since I last wrote something. I just wasn't feeling terribly inspired!! Anywho…please review!!