A/N: This fic is for Bottan, inspired by her fantastically delicious Steampunk Love art (konnichipuu . deviantart .com/#/d39ml9c). She does such wonderful designs for me all the time that I've really wanted to write something specifically for her (at it totally did NOT help that she taunted me with that picture... XD). So, having said that, I feel the need to note that while the picture is Teh Sex, this first chapter is, well, not (it'll get there - I swear!). It's a bit (okay, a lot) brutal, but I felt that she deserved something with an actual plot...which makes things so much more complicated.
So, a couple of words of warning. I really wanted to play with themes of devotion to your loved ones and devotion to your country and with the fact that Kurogane is always portrayed as indestructible in the manga because he is super strong and honorable beyond the shadow of a doubt. So, being a horrible person, I stripped him of all circumstances where those would be of any benefit to him (because I certainly wasn't going to take the traits away from him!), dropped him into a war where the only way to survive is to dodge bullets quickly and proceeded to beat the crap out of him...
And that is where the story begins...
The six-legged AT-SV plogged its way through the sea of human debris, hydraulics squealing as it fought to maintain an upright posture atop the mounds of bodies and twisted metal, and steam huffing loudly from its overhead exhaust port with the effort. It paused in its tracks occasionally to allow two long, metallic arms to sweep down and sift through the rubble; metal was precious, and any scrap that might be scavenged from this ravaged battlefield would be a bit of security – however small – for their future survival.
Inside, the pilot cursed quietly and yanked at the swinging lever for the right arm. Something was wrong; possibly an ungreased joint refusing to yield, or maybe a faulty piston that would not slide back into position – either way, the arm was locked into an extended position. This wouldn't have been half as much of a problem if the hand weren't also locked around something deep within the rubble pile; he still had the other arm to work with after all, but this configuration had effectively anchored the scavenger to the spot. He squeezed again at the spring-loaded handle, trying to release the hand's grip, but quickly surrendered and shoved the entire lever upward, cringing only slightly when he heard it bang sharply against its frame. He sighed; he could never diagnose problems with the appendages when he was sitting in the belly of the beast like this, and he certainly did't relish the thought of leaving the relative comfort of the cockpit (it may have been sweltering hot and reeking of sweat and engine grease in here, but it was surely better than setting foot into the stink of human decay beyond its confines). He stared out the small window for a long moment before peeling his goggles from his face and reaching back for a gasmask.
With the mask safely secured, he spun the wheel lock on the top hatch to pop it open and hauled himself, with great effort, to crouch atop the roof of the scavenger. The narrow boarding platform extended only half-way to the shoulder joint and he was forced to slide down the steep side of the cockpit to reach the armored pivot – a tricky maneuver for even the most agile, but a well-practiced one in this case, and he managed to reach the cuff with only a minor snag of his overcoat on a projecting bolt. He unlocked and peeled back the corrugated plates protecting the joint to expose the inner-workings. There didn't appear to be anything lodged in the socket – it would have been difficult for anything to have actually penetrated the armor in the first place – but he swiped the tips of his fingers lightly across the ball just the same. They came back coated in grease, a good sign that the shoulder was well lubed and in working order to be sure, but leaving him no closer to deciphering just what the hell was wrong with the contraption. He weighed his options; he could dig further into the capsule or check the elbow for any superficial damage first. Digging into the joint had the distinct advantage of staying put, but he was also keenly aware that he didn't want to spend more time than absolutely necessary in this place; he would head for the elbow.
The elbow was, by dint of being stuck mid-grasp, positioned well out from the main body of the scavenger and high enough off the ground to render it unreachable by normal means. With practiced ease, the pilot gripped the posts of the arm and allowed himself to swing beneath it, kicking his legs up and over to hang by all fours, and began the long shimmy out toward the mid-arm. He was grateful for the high leather boots he'd taken this morning – he was well used to the flying accusations that he wore them only for show, but today they were proving practical as they kept his calves from being torn to shreds against the bolts and weather-roughened surface of the metal.
He was halfway to the elbow when a troubling groan rattled his ears – troubling not in that it sounded like the metallic complaint of a weakened rod bending under stress, but troubling in the sense that it sounded almost human. He ignored it – there was surely no one left alive in this wasteland – and continued his ascent. He was mere inches from the elbow joint when it repeated itself.
This time, the pilot froze. There was no doubt left in his mind that the sound was human, which left him with a more upsetting dilemma – what on earth should he do about it? A long-ignored and deeply loathed sense of morality insisted that he at least look for the poor bastard before deciding whether to leave them for dead, but the more practical of him side that had lived through too many wars and was too keenly aware of what the punishment for dodgers like himself generally entailed was fighting valiantly to stuff that last bit of humanity into its final resting place and dance on its grave. It wasn't as if he even knew this person…
He huffed dramatically and allowed his legs to slip from their hold, hanging uselessly by his arms for a long moment before dropping to the ground and leaving the scavenger sputtering behind him.
His kindness would be his downfall. He had been assured of this over and over again, but…
He scoured the ground around his feet, feeling his nose creep higher and higher against the rubber of the gas mask. The window of the cockpit was kept narrow for a reason – the sight of this much devastation was upsetting to even the most seasoned of pilots, and he was finding himself no exception, despite his years of experience. Whichever side had unleashed this terror – it was impossible to tell these days as both had decided that the other's complete annihilation was paramount – had been excruciatingly thorough. The field was scorched beyond recognition and bodies and twisted metal littered every inch of the ground – the bastards hadn't even bothered to claim their dead. His stomach twisted thinking of the poor sod trapped amongst this mess and he stumbled forward, raking his eyes across the field at top speed.
The survivor was not difficult to locate, being the only moving component of the landscape, even if it was only the shallow movements of his chest that gave him away. The man's face was swollen and bruised beyond recognition; shrapnel dug its sharp fingers alongside the bruises and down into his torso and his left arm had been completely mangled – an explosive of some sort, from the looks of it. The pilot wondered how this man was even alive, much less conscious and able to make noise…
He was even more shocked to find the man's right arm wrapped tightly around the wrist of the mechanical arm. Had he…? No, there was no possible way that this mangled mess of a man could possibly be preventing the entire arm from moving. Not with five hundred pounds of pressure activating the lift mechanism. It was impossible-
Or maybe it wasn't. The pure, animalistic rage staring back at him through the slivers of swollen eyes sent shudders down the pilot's spine and spurred him forward at a run to crouch by the man's side, his own disgust at the rot around him quickly forgotten. He knocked the surrounding bodies and metal scraps away; the man's left leg was trapped beneath the remains of what a appeared to be a cannon, but beyond that, there appeared to be nothing preventing him from moving. He quickly set about heaving the iron and wooden scraps away, freeing the trapped leg and scuttling back up to the scowling face.
"Can you move?"
The responding growl was fierce, guttural, but ultimately non-committal, and he decided the easiest course of action was to clear the short path back to the AT-SV of refuse and drag the man back to the vehicle like a rag doll. It was a last resort, and practically ensured more dirt and filth would grind themselves into the man's wounds, but he supposed that it was unlikely that would damage him too much more beyond his current state of disrepair. He didn't really have a good idea of how he was supposed to move this behemoth otherwise…
Hauling the man into the cockpit proved to be an entirely new world of worry and backache, especially as he couldn't fully explain to himself why he was taking such measures to rescue a battered soldier - who was more likely to kill him on sight than reciprocate this kindness - in the first place. Still, perseverance paid in the end and within a quarter hour, he had situated the man in the back of the cramped cockpit. He could practically guarantee he would be no more comfortable here than he had been out amongst the wreckage, but, with a little luck, they could return the base in under an hour. He could only hope the poor bastard would hold out that long.
He sunk into the pilot's seat with a resigned sigh and tugged tentatively at the arm lever.
It shifted with only a slight creak.
He collapsed forward onto the dash, stripping away the gasmask and pinching the bridge of his nose. He was bringing home a monster, with no coherent explanation of why, even to himself.
He kicked the engine into drive, starting the legs plodding forward once again.
He had time to conjure up something.
His shoulder was on fire.
The rest of him was not in much better shape, from what he could tell with his eyes closed, but the tearing, stinging, throbbing, burn of his shoulder seemed to collect every fiber of his consciousness and carefully condense them into a gut-wrenching scream that came barreling out from his lungs. His torso convulsed with the effort and he bolted up right-
Or would have, had the leather strap across his midsection not caught him and held him fast in place. He coughed, sputtered, choked as he was unable to replace his air supply against the restraints and collapsed backwards onto the…bed? It was soft, at any rate, and certainly better than the cold ground he last remembered.
"Don't move." A cold rag was draped across his forehead and he squinted to make out the form of whoever held it.
"Don't move," the voice repeated, more sternly this time, "We've had to amputate your arm. If you move, you'll open the cauterization and bleed to death."
He grimaced and growled, but ceased straining and settled back, still trying to focus on the face of the man standing over him. He was tall and thin – almost ridiculously so – his blond hair tied into knots against his scalp and beaded with mismatched glass, and his eyes an unforgettable shade of blue…
"What's wrong?" the man demanded, bending over the bed and pulling the rag away from his face.
There was no mistake. "Fay…"
The man recoiled, the terror evident on his face even through his fuzzy vision. "How do you- Who are-" He stepped back from the bed, glaring down at its occupant with a mix of fury and confusion. With a deep breath, he reached forward once again and dug a bony finger into a bruised and swollen lower eyelid, dragging it down and holding it there against the strangled, pained shouts of protest. He shuddered at the red staring back at him.