Advance Wars: Morning Dew
Chapter 3: Acceptance
Where there's life, there's hope.
The words weren't attributed to one man, even if O'Brian had been the man to utter them in the first place. But maybe an attribution wasn't needed. After all, the words were carved under the wooden archway that declared New Hope Village as being such, and the words were what its people lived by. Maybe hope was lost at times, and life certainly was on an irregular basis. But the words were still true. Those who followed them were still true. And as she turned her head from the arch to focus back on the returning troopers, Catleia counted herself among them.
Ed though...he was another story.
The soldiers were within fifty metres by the time Catleia could see their leader. The days were growing shorter, and with the sun dipping into the western horizon, those coming from the east were encased in gloom. It was a darkness that suited them, the young woman reflected, as well as the black flag that was flown from their APC. Even with all the salvaged weapons and vehicles she could see, one life was still a loss. And as she watched her former friend dismount from the vehicle, the clone could see that the group's commander was in no mood to differ from that analysis.
"Bikes, cars, weapons and ammo..." Catleia heard Lin say, as she walked up to her subordinate. "Nice job Ed."
The commander remained silent as he took a flask offered by the mayor, water (or moonshine for all she knew) dribbling down his chin.
"Black flag's up..." Lin continued. "How many-..."
"Could have been better."
Lin nodded. "I know. But still good. You did a good job Ed, don't forget that. I'll...deal with the details."
Catleia, and everyone else assembled knew what those details would involve...if it even came to it. Most of the town were assembled at the entrance, and it wouldn't take long to find out who hadn't returned.
On the other hand, she reflected sadly, the death would likely be forgotten over the coming months. The Wolves had hauled in a large supply of vehicles and perhaps more importantly, fuel. Enough to see New Hope through the coming winter. Where there was life, there was hope, but right now, basic supplies could very well sacrifice.
Basic supplies like wheat.
Catleia's first inclination was to help unload the goods. Her second was to ask Ed about the APC, as to when it could be converted back into a tractor and how much fuel could be allocated for it. And while her third inclination was to give the young man some time to do...whatever he'd gone off to do, she decided to settle on the second option. He...they'd...dealed with much worse in the past, not even including O'Brian's death. And if the events of one year prior had taught her anything, it was that honesty was sometimes the best approach.
An approach almost as good as heading straight to Ed's house, knowing that he'd be inside.
Catleia didn't bother knocking as she entered the wooden dwelling. No locks had been installed in any of the village's structures bar those reserved for storage and besides, if she'd asked for permission to enter, chances were the answer would have been in the negative. Actually, scratch that. With Ed slumped on his desk, a (thankfully) unloaded pistol on one side and a flask on the other, his answer would have been in the negative, no chance involved. She knew him too well to think otherwise.
"You didn't knock."
"You wouldn't answer," she said softly, watching as he took another swig from the flask. "How's the moonshine?"
Ed glanced at her, his visage a mixture of perplexion and annoyance. "It's water. I'm on duty."
"Ah yes. Of course."
An uneasy silence fell over the room. It was a silence Catleia knew she could break, were she to simply ask about the APC, and the notion of it getting back into a field of wheat rather than a tactical one. But she held back. Something was bothering Ed, that much was obvious. And not only would it be callous of her to ignore this, but...she wanted to find out what. Even if she knew she wouldn't get a straight answer anyway.
"Ed..." she began, walking over to the desk. "What's wrong?"
"You always were a hopeless liar..."
Ed glanced at her again. He knew a veiled gauntlet when he saw one, even if the words were inaccurate. In fact, he was a very good liar. He'd lied to her for nine years...
"Catleia, I don't have time for this. I'm not discussing it again."
"Of course not...you're so busy with other things."
"I did what I thought was right."
"And what about what I thought?" Catleia asked, unfamiliar anger coursing through her. "Did you ever think of that?"
And there it was. Different circumstances, same situation. And the results were the same.
Catleia was a clone. She knew that, but if it wasn't for Ed, and his coming back for her on the Pulsatrix, she wouldn't have been able to accept that and move on. To be more than another Lutia, another plaything for Stolos. To be a person...yet a clone just the same. A human clone, and one that, as she discovered, could pop dead at anytime due to a shortened lifespan. A lifespan that had gone on for nine years after her rescue, yet with her only discovering the truth via an offhand comment from Mortiz, under the assumption that Ed had told her. Except he hadn't. He hadn't told her any of it. And while he protested that he didn't want to worry her, Catleia hadn't wanted to hear any of it. If her life was potentially shorter, or longer, she wanted to know. She wanted to know so that if she had little time left, she could make the most of that time. But Ed had hid the truth from her. Had lied to her. Had tried to get her to live a lie the same way Stolos had.
That was when everything went downhill. She couldn't maintain...whatever they had based on a lie. And soon, Ed gave up trying. Given up the same way he'd given up now. Only this time, what he'd given up on seemed to be hope itself. And if O'Brian's protoge could lose the gift he gave to all Laurentians and Zephyrians...
The sun had well and turely set by now, and darkness was filling the dwelling in turn. And Ed didn't seem to mind...
"You'll get the APC tomorrow..." Ed grunted, closing the flask. "I suggest you turn in."
"Not until I get some answers."
The "what?" was a response to Catleia's statement.,,at first. Within the next few seconds, it was a remark based on the young woman resting her hand on Ed's arm.
"Ed..." she said softly. "What happened?"
"What do you mean, what happened?" the commander grunted. "Came across bandits, took them out...lost a man..."
"In other words, things that you've done plenty of times before. Yet coming back from a mission, I've never seen you like this."
Ed stared at her, dumbstruck. "Wait a minute...you've been watching me return? I've never seen you at any of the entrances.
Catleia blushed slightly, hoping the gloom would cover it. She had indeed. And so far, she'd been glad that Ed hadn't noticed. Still, he'd noticed now, so it seemed best to get back to the subject.
"Talk to me..." she continued. "We are...were...able to be honest with each-other." Ed opened his mouth, but his...maybe no longer former friend stopped him. "I don't mean that as an insult. You're like a chick that's lost its mother hen."
Ed snorted, and Catleia couldn't blame him. Eleven years ago, and the roles...indeed the words in a sense, were reversed.
"It was during the battle..." Ed began slowly. "Against the bandits. After one of my men were killed...it was what one of the bandits said." He clenched his fist. "Life...was worthless to him. So worthless that his words were exactly the same as what Stolos told me in our last battle."
Catleia went pale. "You think..."
"No, the two probably never met. But hearing them...that another...person...could say exactly the same things as that...monster..." He gazed at Catleia, looking to her for answers the same way she had to him when they first met. "Where there's life there's hope...what hope is there if life can be discarded like that?"
"But Ed, you-..."
"I shot him, Catleia. I heard those words and I shot a man in cold blood. He didn't give a damn about life...why should I have given a damn about his?"
"I don't know Ed...but you do. Otherwise you wouldn't be here talking to me."
Another silence filled the room, though if Catleia's thoughts had been spoken out aloud, that silence would have evaporated in an instant. It wasn't Ed's act that disturbed her-Lin had admitted to doing the same thing with Sigismundo, explaining that "some people just need killing." Catleia didn't know if she agreed, but having never held a weapon in her life, wasn't going to pass judgement on those who did. No...what really disturbed her was how...lost...Ed was. After all this time, their roles had reversed. She was upright, tall and strong. Ed looked like a haggard lost lamb.
"Ed..." the clone began slowly. "I'm not going to berate you for what you did. Not when you feel bad enough about it already."
"But you should, Catleia," Ed said despondently, turning his chair to face her but refusing to meet her gaze. "I've failed O'Brian...this village...you..."
"But you haven't," she continued, trying not to get too caught up of being part of those Ed had 'failed,' when she'd thought he was under no obligation to prove anything. "You want to know why? Because unlike Stolos...because unlike anyone like him...you're a living, breathing person. A man with dreams...and hopes...and feelings..."
"And how do you know that?"
Catleia lowered her gaze, along with the volume of her voice. "Because that's what you once told me..."
She remembered. All of it. The Pulsatrix...what Ed had told her after rescuing her...words she would never forget...
What, that you're a clone? So what? I don't care if you come from a mother or a tank! Isabella, you're a person! A real living person with ideas and dreams and...and stuff like that! You have meaning and strength and beauty and...and I... I...
And she remembered what she'd ended up saying as well. What she'd said after realizing the value of her own life…and of another boy's…
I-I want to... I want to...live... I want to live together with you, Ed!
And right now, in the gloom…she realized that she still meant those words. Meant them so strongly, that she was willing to overshadow them. To prove that actions spoke louder than words.
She kissed him.
It was soft, sudden and hardly sustained. But it shook Ed out of his stupor more than any of her words had so far.
"Don't…" she said softly. "Just…let me help you. Like you helped me. Even if words won't help this time…"
"Words…" Ed said softly. "Catleia, I…remember them too…"
Catleia smiled. And for the first time that she'd seen him all day, Ed smiled as well.
Soon, the morning would come. With its dew, and its damp.
But as the two friends embraced, past and present melding into one, the morning wouldn't be so cold.
Well, that's that. Short story, and is over quickly in turn. Anyway, don't have any other Advance Wars fics on my 'to write' list at this point in time. Currently focussing on a Diablo story titled Jungle of Shadow.