Title: Clockwork Silence
Summary: Giftfic; animeverse. The war is doing terrible things to all of them. Roy, Kimbley, and the slow spiral down.
Warnings: Mild sexual content, language, overall nastiness and insanity. This is a disjointed block of pure angst. Also, (very) blatant Stargate SG-1 reference. Read with caution.
It is hardly love at first sight, if it can even be called love. Nothing flashy – no sparks, no fire, and certainly no explosions.
Just a sidelong glance, a flicker of eyes meeting as Roy pushes his way through a crowded train station packed with bodies, all dressed in cleanly pressed uniforms, stiff and starched and rigid, and he can't help but pull on his collar where the cloth is chafing against the back of his neck. He's green, fresh out of the military academy, and he hasn't even gotten used to the weight of the new pocket watch sitting heavy in his pocket. But still, here he is – on his way to Ishbal, where the war is running hot and heavy beneath the rays of an uncaring sun.
He hears his name being called and shoves his way through the crush of bodies to take up his place in the queue. Along the way, he accidentally brushes up against a bony shoulder and steps on someone's boots.
Roy opens his mouth to apologize but the words die in his mouth at the look in the man's strange yellow eyes. Like there's something caged and starving, something inhuman hiding behind a thin veneer of civility. Right on the knife's edge of sanity, predatory and hungry, and Roy thinks the army must really be hard up if they're calling in men like this to the front line – and then he belatedly notices the chain of a pocket watch trailing out from inside the man's uniform like a silver snake.
An alchemist too, then. Roy hears his name rising above the clamor of the crowd again. Unlocking his throat, he murmurs an apology and hurries away to lose himself in the throng.
The back of his neck prickles, and he can feel those eyes track him every step of the way until he climbs into the train car. His hands shake, and his watch ticks, ticks, ticks in his pocket like a miniature time bomb.
Playing with his dog tags (R. Mustang, Flame Alchemist), Roy keeps his eyes trained on the window and watches the countryside gradually change from green to brown. Vegetation dying and disappearing until only dry grass pokes out from under the sand, and he leans his forehead against the ice of the windowpane, thinking about not thinking because his brain feels muggy and itchy, stuck in some limbo between dream and reality.
He still hasn't convinced himself that this is real, that this isn't some surreal vision he's daydreaming up while lying asleep in the lab. Because how can it be real? Just seventeen hours earlier, he was back home in Central, hanging out in a seedy little bar off the local side street with Maes, downing glasses of cold, clear whisky and listening to his friend ramble on about a new girl. What was her name? Glacia, Glacier, Gracia? Something like that.
The train stops seven hours later when it runs out of tracks on the border of Amestris. Ushered out, they clamor onto the backs of the trucks puttering out their lives in the middle of a desolate desert, and Roy finds himself crammed into the back corner by an intimidating bulk.
He makes a noise, and the mountain of a man excuses himself and shifts a little to the right, giving Roy just enough room to breathe.
"Thanks," Roy says, wincing as yet more people clamor onto the truck. Someone in front of him shouts, "Oi, it's full already, quit it!" and rebellious grumbles and curses rumble through the air in agreement.
Roy and his neighbor, for their part, remain silent until the man leans over and introduces himself. Alex Louis Armstrong, he says, the Strong Arm Alchemist.
Roy blinks. "Armstrong, as in the Armstrong family?" he asks, then kicks himself because of course, he can see the resemblance written all over Alex's features, from his facial structure to his . . . physical presence.
Alex looks pleased, though, and launches into a lengthy description of his family history before Roy can get in a word sideways, but when Alex pauses for a breath, Roy manages to wedge in a comment.
"I wasn't aware the Armstrongs practiced alchemy," he says, and plows on before Alex can go on about the alchemical talent passed down to generation after generation of Armstrongs. "'Strong Arm Alchemist' – what's your specialty?"
"Martial combat and constructive alchemy."
Roy blinks. Constructive alchemy? He hazards a guess. "Architectural?"
Alex nods. "Projectiles, primarily. And yours?"
Roy pauses. His gloves sit uneasy on his hands, the fabric coarse and rough against his skin. He'd pulled them on right after they'd gotten off the train, knowing full well that he may not get the chance to do so once they're in the combat zone. "Air," he says with a humorless smile. "Air and Fire."
Alex leaves the topic well enough alone and doesn't press for anymore answers.
Just as well. Roy makes noises in the back of his throat and pretends he's listening as Alex goes on about his lineage and his ancestors, and all the while Roy's thoughts are on the war and hell and whether or not he'll get out of all this alive and unscarred.
The chances are slim. He's seen the casualty reports before, after all.
Roy clasps his hands together to keep them from shaking and tries to ignore the fine lines of the array crawling across the backs of his gloves like fragile veins.
His bunkmate doesn't react as Roy enters the tent, dumping his possessions into a pile by the entrance and rubbing the gritty sand out of his eyes. It's everywhere – in his hair, in his nose, in his throat, in his ears for god's sake, and all the water around here is brackish and salty, cloudy and a bit muddy. Roy rolls his shoulders, lets the ache seep out of his back.
It's only when he moves to throw his sheets over his bed that he realizes with a flare of alarm – oh, it's him.
The man from the station, lying on his back with hands pillowed beneath his head and eyes closed, clad in a sleeveless shirt with his rumpled uniform hanging off the side of the cot, and Roy swallows. He tries to be quiet as he makes his bed, but it's too late already, the man's awake and sitting up, mattress creaking, and watching him with those depthless eyes.
Roy clears his throat, all too aware of the uneasy silence stretching out between them. "Hi. I'm Roy Mustang," he says lamely, and there's something insanely uncomfortable about how he has to look up to see the man. Roy avoids meeting his gaze and doesn't know what to do with his hands, so he holds them tense at his sides. "Flame Alchemist," he adds after an awkward pause. "We're . . . bunkmates."
"Flame, huh?" Eyes flicker across his body, and Roy fights hard not to swallow because he's sure the man will take some sort of sadistic satisfaction out of seeing his discomfort. "You like playing with fire?"
"I . . . guess you can put it that way."
A smirk spreads across the man's face at his words, like he knows something Roy doesn't, but he doesn't say anything. Just drops down out of his bunk, lands on his feet so precisely that Roy is reminded of a prowling cat, and swipes a canteen off a nearby desk. He uncorks it, takes a drag, dumps the rest of it over his head. His palms are tattooed. Roy doesn't recognize the arrays.
After a moment, though, Roy averts his eyes, uncomfortable with how the damp shirt is clinging to the man's chest, and the silence drags on. "Kimbley," the man finally says, after he's done shaking the water out of his eyes. "Crimson Alchemist."
"Crimson?" Roy repeats faintly. He sits on the edge of his bed, leans on his elbows. The springs protest, and the edge of his pocket watch digs into his thigh.
Kimbley smiles and there's an edge of a leer in his expression. "Do you know how to turn flames red?"
"Lithium, strontium compounds . . ."
"Calcium." Kimbley grins and moves towards the entrance, and just before he ducks out, says, "Lots of calcium in bones."
Roy stares after him in confusion and morbid fascination, and it's not until a few hours later when he hears the stories in the mess hall that he finally understands.
By the end of the first week, Roy can't help himself, can't hold it in any longer, and he falls to his knees at the end of the day after a successful raid and empties his stomach out onto the sand. He feels sick and soiled and sticky with sweat, and he's shivering. Shivering, shaking, shuddering, and he doesn't know how or when or if he'll ever stop, and he doesn't want to stop because if he does, doesn't that mean that he's accepting it all – accepting this war and the deaths and his role and he's a murderer and he doesn't want that.
But he does stop, eventually, when the moon's high in the sky and the stars are twinkling in the vast blackness of the heavens, and he wonders how they can keep shining after all that's happened today.
God, he thinks, hearing the staccato bursts of gunfire in the distance, smelling the sharp, bitter odor of burnt flesh carried along by the wind. God, I didn't even see their faces.
Sand sliding and rasping and slithering behind him. Roy doesn't bother moving – he doesn't know if he can manage it – only hunches down further and hopes whoever is passing by won't notice him amongst the sand dunes.
Tough luck, though. He tenses as the footsteps approach, flinches when hands settle on his shoulders.
"Beautiful," Kimbley says. His breath whispers past Roy's cheek, hot and moist, and it's a sharp contrast to the chill of the desert night.
Roy thinks he's talking about the stars and says, "No. No, they're not."
"No?" in a light, mocking tone. Then, after a beat or two of silence, "Feeling bad already, Mustang? It's only been a week. How do you think you're going to last the rest of the war?"
I'm not, he thinks, but instead he hears himself say, "Shut it, Kimbley."
But Kimbley ignores him – when has he ever listened to anyone? – and continues on conversationally: "How many do you think you've killed? One snap, kaboom, and they're all gone. Very efficient."
"Do you see their faces or did you not even look them in the eye?"
"Don't. Just – stop it."
Pause. Then Kimbley shifts closer, Roy feels the dry heat at his back and shudders violently as Kimbley whispers in his ear. "So clean, you and your white gloves, always keeping your fucking distance," and his hands tighten where they sit on Roy's shoulders. Something tingles between them, crackles, and Roy suddenly remembers how Kimbley's alchemy works and shoves him off in a flash of panic and a spray of sand, stumbling to his feet.
Kimbley laughs and stays where he is, sprawled out on the ground and propped on his elbows. Roy can't see his eyes out here in the dark – just sees the shadows and thinks they look like endless holes, like the spaces between the stars and the vast emptiness of the void, filled with spatial and temporal disturbances, and he thinks, What's the point?
"You're fucking sick," he says hoarsely and stumbles away, tripping down the unforgiving slope.
The next morning when he wakes up, Roy discovers that his pocket watch no longer works. The second hand is jammed. Sand trapped inside, probably, screwing with the mechanism. Too much time spent outside in the desert, and he really shouldn't have taken his nightly sojourn yesterday. He tells himself he'll fix it when he has the time.
The war's taking its toll on all of them. Three weeks in, and Alex looks haggard and pale, so different from when he first arrived – no sparkles, no life, no energy. Isaac, another alchemist, sports a haunted look in his eyes now and goes out of his way to avoid their company, while Roland has lost so much weight that she's now gaunt and skeletal. Roy suspects he looks no better. Walking corpses, all of them.
Except for Kimbley, who's alive, hale and healthy even with his scrawny, lanky frame and starving eyes – which mock him over the table as Roy picks at his plate. He doesn't know why Kimbley's here, wants to hit him and never stop hitting him because he's seen his goddamned alchemy and the dead children lying in the streets, and hasn't he made it clear enough that, no, he really doesn't want anything to do with the bastard?
"What?" he says finally after the weight of those eyes grows too heavy to bear – frustrated, lashing out, nerves stretched tight to the breaking point. It's bad enough he has to share a tent with the man, and now he's getting fucking stalked by him.
Kimbley smirks and plays with his food, takes a delicate morsel between his teeth and bites. "You broke your watch," he says, eyes flickering in the direction of Roy's pocket as if he can see through the table.
Roy starts. His hand jerks before he can help himself, and the fork clatters against the tray, and for a moment, he wonders if Kimbley knows (red stones glittering in the faint light of the lamps, embedded between the gears and cogwheels) and then realizes that even if he did know, he wouldn't care. "It's none of your business."
"I can fix it for you." Slyly, and was that a suggestive note in his voice . . . ? Something glitters in Kimbley's flat eyes, and Roy, mesmerized, thinks it almost looks like gold.
After a moment, Roy blinks and swallows. Clears his suddenly-dry throat. "No thanks," he says, aware that his voice is coming out a little rough.
And Kimbley – smiles and shrugs. "Suit yourself, Mustang," and he stands up and leaves.
Roy stares after him, trying to ignore the hot flash running through his body, and shivers.
He hasn't slept in two (or was it three?) days.
Whenever he closes his eyes, the boy with the red eyes and dark skin and light scar trailing up one cheek waits frozen in terror, hands gone white from clutching the gun too tightly and mouth locked in a terrible grimace, and Roy feels the cold seeping back into his bones and his brain and his arms, into his lungs, and he can't breathe, can hardly move, hoping, hoping, hoping – please, god, don't – that the kid won't raise the gun, won't shoot . . .
And after that, it's just a blaze of memory. The kid cries, his hands jerking up, finger tightening on the trigger – and Roy just reacts. Trained reflexes kicking in, involuntary responses, neurons sending electrochemical signals jolting through the synapses and out to nerve endings. Muscles contracting. A snap, and the world ends in fire.
Roy blinks. The flames vanish. The (cooked, baked) food in front of him stares back in gritty silence, and suddenly, he discovers he can't stomach anymore. Pushes away from the table and ignores his neighbors' sidelong glances and the murmurs as he leaves the mess hall for the chill of the evening wind.
He's sure he looks horrible. (Lackluster gaze, bags hanging under his eyes, messy hair, and he hasn't even bothered to shave recently because he can't bring himself to stare properly into the mirror.) He feels horrible, certainly. Feverish, with the face of a boy with a scar on his right cheek burned into his memories with an iron-hot brand. Exhausted and weary, the entire weight of the war leaning on his back, but he can't sleep, he's walking through fog, and his eyes are itchy and enflamed. His watch is deadweight in his pocket.
The fresh air does him no good.
When he ducks back into his tent, he sees Kimbley sitting on his bunk with his eyes closed and legs crossed in a twisted mockery of meditation. Quietly, Roy slips out of his uniform and climbs into his own bed, too tired to fight anymore. He can't do this, he thinks, and closes his eyes, turns over onto his side, and falls, falls, falls into the waiting clutches of his nightmares.
(Fire, crackling heat, tiny salamanders crawling into the cave of his chest, cracking through the ribcage, and clawing, clawing, clawing and chewing on stringy cardiac muscles, breaking through and coming out bloody and raw into the dawn.)
But it's the middle of the night when he jolts awake, thrashing, gasping for air that's not there, and he feels something give before his fist, hears a sharp grunt and a curse. Solid wall of heat hovering over him, feet tangled with his own, hands like vises clamped over his wrists, and he panics (fuck, fuck, fuck, bomb, getawayfuckitgetoff), legs kicking, body twisting in the sheets as he tries desperately to throw Kimbley aside.
"Fuck." Kimbley's voice is a hiss of breath against his throat. "Fucking – hell– relax, Mustang, just—" He slams Roy back into the mattress, tightening his grip.
Roy stills and forces his alarm down. "Get off," he says, amazed his words come out steady.
A pause, like Kimbley's actually considering it. Then, Roy can see the stripe of white above him as Kimbley grins. "No."
Roy grits his teeth and gives another experimental shove. Kimbley laughs, shifts, and pins him deeper into the bed. Leans closer and, fuck, licks a line up Roy's neck. Another chuckle as a bone-deep shudder runs up Roy's spine. "You taste like ash."
"Why not?" A hummed laugh, and Roy shivers at the scrape of teeth. Anything but tender. His breath hitches involuntarily. "You say things in your sleep, you know."
"I—" He clenches his jaw, holds himself rigid even as his body begins to respond. "I can't help it."
"I can help you forget. You don't want to dream, don't want to think? Then don't."
And it's there, a blatant invitation, and Roy knows he shouldn't, knows that this is a bad bad idea, but—
He relaxes, and Kimbley makes a sound of satisfaction, releases his wrists, skims deadly hands up under Roy's shirt. Wet heat lapping at his pulse point, and Roy closes his eyes and pulls him closer, feels a huff of laughter ghosting across his face as he buries his face in the crook of Kimbley's shoulder and inhales.
He's crossed a line, he thinks. God, he knows it but can't help it all the same.
And that was that, like a desert storm breaking all at once, all the days blurring together into one bloody streak of hellfire and brimstone, and all the nights becoming one indistinct fog of sensation, sweat, and sex.
He doesn't know exactly when he starts seeking Kimbley out, when it turns from Kimbley rolling onto him in the middle of the night to him crawling into Kimbley's arms. When the nightmares grow too horrible to bear, maybe, and then Kimbley becomes something of a necessity, a drug, and he can't stop himself.
Kimbley's tactile, he's realized, after the fifth (seventh, eleventh?) time. He likes being touched, and he likes touching, running his hands up Roy's back and biting at his shoulder just so he can feel Roy jerk against his body. Like a jackal hungering after human contact after too much time spent in the wild, and Roy realizes that maybe Kimbley needs this as much as him.
(Hands, muscles, hot skin sliding against his own, and god, he can't help it, he really can't, mouthtongueteeth and the tastescent of sweat, he's human and he wants to fucking feel, it's not about emotions or sentiments or love or feeling but feeling, it's physical, and god, god, help him, he's damned—)
And sometimes it's as if the only thing keeping him grounded through this entire war is the feel of Kimbley's body against his own in the dark.
In public, though, they keep their hands off each other – or, at least, Roy stays far enough away from Kimbley so that there's no contact, no chance of touching, because he's not stupid. He knows the rules against fraternization, knows the consequences, and though he suspects Gran can care less about who's fucking who so long as it happens behind closed doors, he doesn't want to risk it.
The only time Kimbley violates their unspoken agreement is after Gran hands out the stones, when he comes up behind Roy as he's heading back and pins him against a wall, mouth harsh and demanding and rough against his own, body pressing full-length against him, and all Roy can do is ride it out like a sudden storm.
"What – the fuck, Kimbley?" he gasps, when Kimbley finally releases his hold on his mouth. The red stone necklace digs into his chest, the pocket watch into his side, as Kimbley mouths at his throat, and a hand caresses his index finger, right above the newly crafted ring and the pulsing gemstone.
"Pretty, isn't it?"
"Get off. We're in public." Roy shoves at Kimbley in irritation, but he doesn't have enough leverage and the man just chuckles as he slams him back.
"You can feel it, can't you? All that power." Kimbley hums against his skin.
"Get – the fuck – off."
"It'll be an amazing funeral pyre. Ishbal'll go out with a bang."
Roy shudders. "I know."
And afterwards, he feels dried out, burnt, like there's nothing left but a hollow shell and his memories, like he burnt out there in the city along with the Ishbalans, and he's reminded of the phoenix, destroyed by its own flames.
In the shower, he turns up the heat until the water's scalding hot and tips his head back and lets it sear off his skin. And, quietly, Kimbley slips in behind him, presses hot kisses up his naked spine, and Roy shivers and leans back to meet him, feeling his self start to blur into Kimbley's.
They take him out in chains, a shackle board restraining his hands so he can't transmute a bomb, and Roy can't do anything but stand aside and watch as they drag him away. Stripped of his uniform, stripped of his rank, and he grins at Roy like it's a fucking game – grins and then disappears into the truck, and Roy feels something shatter in his chest.
There are whispers in the crowd, after he's gone. Talk of treason and trials and executions and of the bodies of small children used as bombs.
And Roy knows he shouldn't feel anything but relief, but later, there's a lump in his throat that's too hard to swallow around when he realizes he doesn't even know what day of the week it was when they took him away.
He calls Maes once. Works up the nerve to grab the phone and place a call through to Central. But when his friend picks up, all Roy can do is breathe shallowly into the receiver and listen to Maes's alarmed and suspicious querying from the other end.
After a while, Roy hangs up.
He thinks he's going insane (mad, loco, cuckoo, no longer in possession of one's mental faculties, fucking nuts), and he's sure there're meds for this, but he can't bring himself to ask the shrinks for help. He's sure he's beyond help, anyways.
It's the arterial spray that almost does him in, in the end. Not their dignity, and not the picture of their daughter lying shattered on the ground. After all he's seen and done and the one thing he still can't stand is the sensation of warm blood coating his skin, and he guesses Kimbley's right, was always right. Roy likes clean and simple, bright fires burning in the distance so that he doesn't have to remember distinct faces and distinct voices rising higher and higher in terror and pain. Always, just a crackle of fire in his memories.
Not this, not now, with two pairs of accusing eyes seared into his brain and the blood misting in the air, fine droplets dotting his skin, and he's glad they died facedown. Thank god for small mercies, he thinks, staring at the bloodstained floor. The empty bottle of whisky rolls across the ground, and he pulls out his gun, places it against his chin, closes his eyes and remembers all the blood, and wonders if he can do this.
Later, he tells himself that it was Marcoh who stopped him. But that's a lie, and Roy knows he never would have pulled the trigger.
After all, courage is a thing that belongs to heroes, and despite what they all say, he's not a hero. And the wind whispers, Coward to him all night long.
And then it ends. The war's over and done with, just another paragraph in the history books, and Roy looks back as he climbs onto the train.
There are calluses on his fingers now, on his middle finger and his index and his thumb. Calluses from snapping too much and too often. He rubs them together, and it feels strange without his gloves on. Hands too smooth, no unnatural flint between his fingers, no unnatural sparks leaping into the air, too hungry to flicker out and just die.
Outside the window, the familiar countryside flashes by like the flicker of memories, and Roy stares and stares and stares and all he feels is numbness and indifference. It seems like a lifetime ago, he was sitting here in this very same spot, nervous and insecure and uncertain. A different person, a different life.
He wonders what he's going to do now that the war's over and done with, now that there's no turning back, wonders if there's any point to it all. Wonders where Kimbley is now, wonders if he's dead. Maybe they'd executed the wrong alchemist after the war, he thinks, and aren't phoenix supposed to rise from their own ashes, rejuvenated and renewed?
His hands are steady as he winds the broken pocket watch he never bothered to fix, and he watches the hands spiral around and around until they catch and the entire thing breaks, the stem shattering in his hands.