Despise Not Death

Author – D M Evans

Disclaimer – in no way mine, all rights belong to Ms. Arakawa

Rating – FRT

Series – manga

Timeline/spoilers – set within chapter 59 (vol 15) so spoilers for that

Characters – Armstrong (naturally), Mustang

Summary – He can't do this any more

Author's Note – thanks to S J Smith for the beta. It was Armstrong's turn to angst. This was written for fma_fic_contest's "Armstrong" prompt and took second place. Whee.

Despise not death, but welcome it, for nature wills it like all else. - Marcus Aurelius

***

His blue uniform stood out like a beacon against the sandy-hued stone. He didn't care; let the Ishbalans kill him. Still, Armstrong knew there wasn't much chance of that; these rocky overhangs and dry, old caves were too far into the territory Amestris had claimed for him to be in any real danger. He thumped down under the lip of a shallow recess, shaping it to fit his large frame.

After stripping off his jacket, letting the cool stone soothe his overheated flesh, Armstrong studied his hands, these killing machines, and watched them shake. He had tried but that thought died stillborn. What did trying matter? He failed. Those poor women and children, they had looked at him in such fear and such wonder as he prepared a way for them to escape. Kimbley snatched that hope from them in a blood-spattering rush.

Tucking his hands into his sweating pits so he wouldn't have to see them tremble any more, Armstrong hunkered over his knees. Now Kimbley had him. Crimson could have reported him for aiding and abetting the enemy but he didn't. Armstrong didn't have to be told Kimbley was holding onto that for later. It was only a matter of time before that sadist wanted something of Armstrong.

His father would be so disappointed in him. Armstrong knew the alchemy, all too well as the destruction around him proved, he knew strategies and proper conduct but for all of that, he wasn't a soldier. He wasn't cut out for this. Armstrong could hear Olivia's voice now, mocking him. She wouldn't have a crisis in faith. She wouldn't be sitting here thinking about using alchemy to start a rockslide to bury himself and his sins.

Shell shock, battle fatigue, whatever they'd call it when it went on his record, Armstrong would never live it down. That said, he didn't know if he could avoid it. This war was killing him as surely as he was slaughtering innocents and soldiers alike. He sponged the sweat off his shaven head, flicking the water into the unforgiving desert hard-pan. Another unavoidable waste, just another reason to wish he had let Kimbley end him, too.

Hearing a noise, Armstrong looked up, hoping perversely for a scorpion or a serpent. A shadow fell over him, changing his hopes to the enemy. Instead, Mustang's slender frame edged into view. The alchemist looked surprised to see him. Mustang didn't back off. He sheltered under the overhang, too, smelling of smoke and something disturbingly like roasted pork.

"I come here, too, to think," Mustang said softly.

Armstrong nodded as the other man slumped to the ground next to him. Looking into Mustang's too-young face and seeing eyes far too old looking back, something in Armstrong shattered. He spilled out everything he had done to rescue the women and children, what Kimbley had done and waited for recriminations.

Mustang rested his hand on Armstrong's shoulder. "I try to rescue them, too."