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09 June 2007 @ 02:15 am
[fic] Bright Light Dim - Part II  
Title: Bright Light Dim – Part II
Author: c_b_syndrome/LJ Harris
Rating: PG13 this chapter – NC17 eventually
Spoiler Warning: Post CoS
Other Warnings: Crude language and graphic descriptions of the results of a massive disaster… Eventual Jean/Roy

Summary: In the aftermath of the invasion from the other side of the Gate, the Hero of Central goes missing. But is it a case of revenge? Or attonement?

“ The ever-present rakish grin was hidden behind a bandana that was the same grey as everything else, and the bangs that normally looked like fractured sunlight were weighed down by grime –but there was no mistaking who it was.”


A/N ~ See what insomnia does? And no sex yet… I’m getting there! I’m getting there! ^^;;

Still for ceasefire. ;)

Part I







Bright Light Dim



I’m a search light soul they say // But I can’t see it in the night // I’m only faking when I get it right… ‘Fell on Black Days’ - Soundgarden


II



For one corporal, the stench of burning corpses brought back flashes of memories better left forgotten, but there was little a Flame alchemist could offer in the way of rescue and restoration that could give him any distance from the smell. Instead, he served his country in the best way he could at the moment: in the capacity of ‘Public Health’.

Parklands at the outskirts of Central had been commandeered for just that purpose. It was the largest plot of undeveloped land that had enough space to dig numerous trenches and far enough from the city to prevent a stray spark from finishing the devastation the invasion had begun. From a distance, the constant bonfires were a warm glow, but within the center of the burning grounds, it was an image right out of Allegheri’s Inferno. On all sides, flames rose from pits filled with garbage, waste and corpses, and they would fill as quickly as new trenches were being dug. Where there wasn’t a constant pyre to light the night, available space was taken up by piles of refuse that was too damaged or contaminated to be salvageable, or corpses waiting for their turn to be cremated.

‘Cremated’ was the polite term. Even the Flame couldn’t get the fires hot enough to turn a trench-full of corpses into ash. At best, the mass was reduced to a manageable level of bones and fricasseed lipids and rendered somewhat sterile. Lime was poured over what remained once the fire was completely out, and a new pile of corpses was thrown in on top to start the process over again.

During the day, the fires paled against the weak sunlight that couldn’t push completely through the haze of smoke, giving the grounds an almost colorless, dismal appearance. The muck and gore and workers blended with the sky in varying shades of grey; washed-out and depressing. But when night fell, the flames seemed brighter in comparison to the dark backdrop, casting a flickering light that distorted shadows and images. A shirtless, bent back would become hunched and deformed as the owner would bend over his shovel, a face within the pyre would stand out, frozen in a rictus of agony, a hand sticking out from the stack of bodies waiting to be disposed of would become clawed, and all around malevolent shadows clung to the edge of darkness.

With his low rank and former reputation, Roy Mustang was taking orders, rather than giving them –and being handed the shittiest jobs available. When he wasn’t helping to stack corpses brought in by the truckload like cord wood or tossing them into the pits, he was turning trenches into walls of flame; snapping until his fingers bled and his knuckles swelled. He worked each day without complaint until he practically dropped, and frequently bit back sarcastic rejoinders when the second lieutenant in charge of his disposal unit would throw spiteful barbs at him. Getting busted down to corporal was bad enough; he didn’t relish the thought of becoming a private.

The days had begun to bleed into each other after awhile and Roy lost track of time. Every night he’d stumble into the bivouac he shared with 30 other nameless grunts –civilians and low-ranking soldiers—and fall into his bunk, unconscious before his head hit the pillow. There were prisoners drafted for corpse duty as well, but they were only a handful and kept separate. The rest had been killed in the first wave of the invasion.

Roy often failed to realize when it was time to eat until someone shoved a pack of C rations in his face, and he frequently forgot his weekly shower. Not that anyone would notice; the redolence of unwashed flesh was overpowered by smoke and decay and everyone looked like hell together.

Weeks into the clean-up --or had it been months? It felt like years-- there were more corpses than usual and Roy’s flame alchemy was being hampered by a constant drizzle. The weather and the extra work only managed to make shortened tempers more volatile –especially, it seemed, for the second lieutenant—with the corporal being his preferred target this day. At every opportunity, the lieutenant –and Roy couldn’t remember his name, nor did he care to—accidentally shoved him or bumped him, causing Roy and whoever was helping him at the moment to loose their tenuous grips on a body. His uniform, already a ruined mess from the soot and damp from the rain, became sodden and covered in muck as his knees hit the mud time after time. His legs were beginning to chafe and the wetness wicked into his boots, causing blisters.

Throwing entire bodies into a pit to be burned was bad enough, but when evening came, Roy was taken off that job and given a worse one –disposing of body parts.

Corporal Mustang had seen enough dismembered corpses in Ishbal to have become inured to the gruesomeness of it all, but there was medical waste mixed in with the severed limbs and entrails. Crushed or gangrenous and fly-blown extremities were combined with blood or vomit soaked sheets and blankets and clothes –and all of it coated with a rancorous slime that Roy recognized as the liquefied remains of a victim or ten that had been trapped in small, hot ‘coffins’ since the invasion.

It was a heartbreaking result of the attack. Children, as was their wont when terrified, often sought safety in small, confined places adults couldn’t get into. Most of these were coal bins or wood boxes hidden in the dark corners of cellars that were flooded by broken sewer lines. Trapped and without air, they slowly suffocated; then bacteria from decomp and sewage created a greenhouse effect in the tiny coffins. The instinct that drove the children to hide so well became the cause of their demise and eventual liquefaction.

He stared in dismay at the haphazard pile before him as what appeared to be part of a mangled lung slid down and landed into the palm of a fine-boned hand that probably once belonged to a rich socialite, then tumbled into space to land with a wet plop in a mud-puddle when the thin fingers of that delicate hand bent back under the weight of the organ— and wondered why he’d volunteered for this duty in the first place. Then he remembered that General Hakuro was the one who had done it for him. A lesson in humility, he’d said for Roy’s ears only, as he strutted past.

There was a sort of twisted logic to the assignment, Roy knew, and that was why he stayed when others requested to be rotated out. But that didn’t stop him from hoping the bastard lived long enough for him to return the favor.

“That shit ain’t gonna march itself to the fire, corporal,” the second lieutenant barked. “Get fresh gear and get to work.”

“Sir,” Roy said as he shook himself out of his revulsion and headed around the ghastly hill toward the supply tent for rubber gloves and goggles.

His exhaustion was causing his mind and body to react slowly, thus it hadn’t registered the whack at his ankle until it was too late to stop himself from ending up sprawled in a puddle of mud and gore. Shaking from aching muscles and barely controlled rage, he slowly came up to his hands and knees. Behind him, he could hear the raucous laughing from the second lieutenant and tried to block it out. He was the hero of Goddamn Central! He might be a corporal, but he deserved some fucking respect, at least.

In time, he reminded himself as he concentrated on simply breathing. Surely they wouldn’t forget how he’d helped save this city –how he took command, while the Brass hid under their desks and pissed themselves.

“You should watch where you’re going,” the second lieutenant sneered. “Looks like you really are a wet match-stick now.”

Roy’s fingers dug deep into the muck as he gritted his teeth and forced his anger and humiliation under control.

“Ranson!” snapped a new voice from somewhere behind him. It sounded vaguely familiar and Roy was certain if he weren’t so bloody exhausted and furious right now, he’d be able to put a face with it. “You’re relieved of duty now.”

“Oh, c’mon,” the second lieutenant complained. “I was just joking around with the grunt.”

“I don’t see the humour in tripping one of your subordinates into a pile of corpses, second lieutenant, and if you don’t want to get busted all the way down to buck private, you’ll hie your ass over to Lt Commander Armstrong’s unit for SAR for the duration.”

Roy felt a glimmer of satisfaction when he heard the second lieutenant audibly gulp, then stammer out a “Y-yes sir.”

A moment later, someone knelt in front of him and he felt warm hands on his shoulders. “Need a hand up, Boss?”

Roy gazed blearily up and had to blink a few times before he could focus well enough to see the bright blue eyes within the form made out of ash and dust. The ever-present rakish grin was hidden behind a bandana that was the same grey as everything else, and the bangs that normally looked like fractured sunlight were weighed down by grime –but there was no mistaking who it was. “Jean.” And Roy found the energy to smile…

…Then he remembered himself and quickly corrected. “Uh… lieu— no, Captain Havoc.”

Jean chuffed as he helped Roy to his feet and said, “You actually heard about that, huh?”

“It seemed that field promotions had been handed out like party favors for awhile there,” Roy said as Jean led him to a felled tree someone had taken a saw to and turned into a passable bench. “But yes. I know about everyone’s,” he added with a soft groan of relief as he sat.

Sadness flickered in Jean’s eyes as he settled next to his former commander and Roy didn’t miss the unspoken, Except yours.

He dismissed the silent complaint with a wave as he glanced around and noticed several fresh people among the corpse detail. Impossible to recognize buried under the grime, but more energetic and… alive. Several groups had even begun pitching bodies for cremation with more vigor than he’d seen in awhile. “What’s going on?”

Jean chuckled and gestured a woman over who was carrying a bucket of water and had tin cups hanging from hooks on her belt. “The Brass finally realized that some of the units had too many people standing around with their thumbs up their asses and decided it might be a good idea to redistribute the numbers,” Jean said as he pulled a moderately less filthy rag from his pants pocket and then ladled enough water from the bucket to dampen it. “Took ‘em long enough,” he added, then shoved the rag at Roy. “I think what finally convinced them was Strongarm’s muscles,” he chortled.

The corporal yanked down his mask and wiped at the grease and filth coating his face, then stared at the piles of dead that never seemed to get any smaller. “There are people with nothing to do?”

At first, it looked like Jean was about to laugh, but realization replaced grim amusement as he slowly pulled his own bandana off. “When was the last time you were away from this—“ he waved at the hellish surroundings.

“I’ve been on corpse detail since the assignments were handed out.”

Jean’s fist clenched and he ground out, “Fuck being busted down to private, I’m just gonna kick Ranson’s ass and get it over with. You were supposed to be rotated out after three weeks like everyone else. Goddamn that bas—“

“I volunteered to remain.”

Jean stared as though he thought his former commander might have finally lost his mind completely.

Roy shot him a small, tired smile. “It seemed… logical.”

“You mean it’s more atonement, don’cha?” Jean spat, then quickly looked away.

Roy was stunned silent at the bitterness in the man’s voice; however, he was hardly going to deny it was part of the motivation. But oh how it stung.

Jean’s fists balled tightly on his knees as he stared down and Roy almost didn’t hear him mutter, “—rogant bastard.” It started low, with, “You have no idea what a pain in the ass it was to track you down,” then grew as he chronicled in great detail exactly how difficult it had been. Each description of every hindrance his former staff had hit was peppered with colorful theories on the stonewallers’ bad hygiene, eating habits or sexual practices --the majority of the latter being patently impossible, but entertaining all the same. To hear Jean tell it, it was a quest on the same level as the Elric’s search for the Philosopher’s Stone.

Roy waited calmly while Jean started to wave his arms about emphatically as his rambling rant escalated from just plain incompetent records-keeping, to conspiracy theories that were probably closer to the truth, then sailed right on into a general, but rather exaggerated, laundry list of all Roy’s past crimes and misdemeanors as proof of exactly how much of a pain in the ass he really was. The younger man was like a boulder rolling downhill and it was safer to just jump out of the way and watch it tumble past. Besides, he wanted to find out if Jean going to come back around to Roy’s purported hair-shirt.

Still, amusing as the man’s histrionics were, Roy was deeply touched by the lengths his friends had gone to in order to find him.

He didn’t miss the sudden cessation of activity at the edge of his vision, either. Most of the audience didn’t seem to be disturbed so much as entertained –apparently the newly promoted captain had taken up venting his spleen as a hobby of late. It was understandable, considering the responsibility being forced on him, the work that never seemed to end, and his frustration at trying to find Roy.

Jean jumped to his feet, began pacing and continued bitching, but Roy noticed the captain never touched wounds that were still tender and raw, nor did there seem to be any real anger --just frustration and relief. Because of that, he felt comfortable in letting most of the soliloquy go in one ear and out the other –it was just enjoyable to hear a familiar and friendly voice. Oh, he picked out salient points for possible cannon fodder later, but the rest were either old issues that no longer mattered, or were merely amusing.

Roy allowed a slow smirk to spread across his face when Jean finally ran out of steam and sagged back down on the log. “You had girlfriends?”

“Yes!” Jean shouted. “Well… no.” He growled in frustration and tangled his fingers in his matted bangs. “I mean I tried, but you kept stealing them all. Fucker!”

Roy arched a brow. The ancient argument had turned into a running joke between them. Jean knew Roy had never asked a single one of those women for dates, they had all asked him. That wasn’t what took him aback for an instant; it was the epithet. Never before today had he ever heard Jean Havoc speak to him in quite so casual a manner. Sure there was friendly banter, but there was always that invisible barrier between commander and subordinate that Jean had always respected.

Respect was still there, but of a different sort. The tables were turned; now Roy was the subordinate, but Jean was treating him as an equal. He realized then, that he could easily get used to the new arrangement and briefly wished that the two of them could skip out for awhile for a few drinks and really compete for the ladies’ attention.

Those days are long past now, Roy thought as he fingered the filthy eye-patch. It was time to make a new one, he realized. They never seemed to last more than a couple of days before they were ruined beyond cleaning, lately. He glanced up and caught Jean watching the gesture and he quickly pulled his hand away.

“Yeah, mark my words,” Jean said, “after this city’s rebuilt and people go back to their lives, you’ll be stealing everyone’s girls again.”

“No,” Roy said as he shook his head, then he smiled wickedly. “Just yours.”

“Asshole.”

“You only get away with that because you outrank me.”

“Goddamned right, and I’m gonna take advantage of it while I can.”

Roy’s smile became warm. “You really are a sight for sore eyes… Captain.”

Jean looked Roy over, but his own expression was wry. “And you’re just a sight. When was the last time you had a shower?” He waved a hand in front of his face and grimaced. “I thought it was the corpses that stank, but I think it’s you.”

Roy blinked as he thought about that, then stared at Jean, dumbfounded. “I… I’m not sure.”

“Okay, now that’s just the shit. I never thought I’d see the day when the legendary Flame alchemist couldn’t remember to bathe,” Jean teased as he reached into the inner pocket of his uniform jacket. He pulled out his cigarettes and matches, and a small, silver flask that hung off his index finger by a delicate chain connected to the screw-top.

Roy took the offered flask and turned it over in his hands. It was a lovely object, just the right size to hide a few ounces of liquor in a tiny evening purse, or perhaps nestled against a creamy thigh within a garter –not, however, the type of thing he would expect someone like Jean Havoc to be carrying around. “Not exactly your style,” Roy said. “Unless there’s something you haven’t told me.”

Jean shrugged as he lit his cigarette. “There was a lady who was happy to be rescued and she gave it to me. It comes in handy when it gets chilly.”

“Potential new girlfriend?”

Jean shot him a sideways glare that didn’t have any real heat behind it. “I’m not expanding my criteria to include 80 year old grannies.”

“Yet?”

“Fuck you.”

Roy opened the flask and took a tentative taste, pleasantly surprised to discover it was fairly decent brandy. Deciding that it wouldn’t kill him, he took a full swallow. “I see,” he said as he screwed the top back on and handed it back to Jean. “Grannies are out, but former commanders are in, hmm?”

There was an awkward silence and Roy instantly regretted the comment. It was one thing to tease about stealing girlfriends, but he’d crossed the line when he’d started in on desperation. “That was uncalled for Jean, I’m sorry.”

Jean waved it off and then hid the flask back in his jacket, and the silence stretched out longer as he watched the activity buzzing around the two of them.

“How did you manage to get your hands on that brandy?” Roy asked when it had gone on too long. “I thought all alcohol was being reserved for triage.”

Jean smirked and flicked his spent cigarette into a nearby puddle. “I’ve got people.”

“People?” Roy asked. “You mean you’re actually finally making connections?”

Jean scowled at him. “I’ve had connections for years. Did you think that good coffee just walked into the office all by itself?”

Roy felt himself go warm with embarrassment; he had honestly not noticed.

He was just about to apologize once more, when Jean grinned and preened. “Damn, I am good!”

Roy had to admit he was impressed. He’d never thought anything his staff did could slip past him. He supposed he could have blamed it on Fullmetal for being such a handful that it distracted him, but it wasn’t as amusing when the temperamental alchemist wasn’t around to blow up at him over it.

“About time you got off your lazy ass,” Jean said to someone behind Roy and he twisted around to find Breda striding up to them. He appeared wan, but was at least clean –a rare sight around the burning grounds lately.

“I told you it was just bad food,” Breda said. “And I woulda been here sooner, but traffic was a bitch.”

“So how many pedestrians did you hit?”

“None, that’s why it took so long,” Breda said as he fell onto the log next to Roy. “They’re getting better at dodging. Did you know the jeep won’t fit down some of the alleys in Old Central?”

“Now I remember why I never let you drive,” Roy said.

Breda chuckled. “Good to see you too, Col—er… Well, glad to know you’re all right.” He cast an appraising look around the area and added, “I can see why you’ve been hiding. You wanted to keep this little slice of heaven all to yourself, didn’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Oh, hey, Havo! Hawkeye wanted me to give you a message,” Breda said.

Jean waited as the other man tried to fight a grin that nearly split his face. “Well?” he finally prompted.

“Pookie’s all cleaned-up and waiting for you in your quarters,” Breda said, then started laughing at what he thought was a rather amusing joke.

Jean groaned and rolled his eyes.

“Pookie?” Roy asked as he tried to keep a straight face. Tried… but failed abysmally.

“Long story.”

“This should be interesting.”

“Whoever thought naming him Pookie was a good idea had to of been dropped on his head one too many times,” Jean mumbled, but didn’t elaborate further.

Very interesting, indeed, Roy thought.

Jean came to his feet and said, “Yeah, well, you’ve got command of paradise for the next three days, Breda. We’re out of here.” Then he jerked a nod in the direction Breda had come from and said, “Let’s go, Boss.”

“Go?”

“Yeah. Did I forget to tell you?” Jean paused and his grin went positively evil. “I’m your new C.O. And you’re being ordered to take a three-day furlough.”




Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) was created by Arakawa Hiromu and is serialized monthly in Shonen Gangan (Square Enix). Copyright for this property is held by Arakawa Hiromu and Square Enix.
 
 
 
[★i slipped on my slippers]: Roy // Blissceasefire on June 9th, 2007 09:19 am (UTC)
YAY, PART TWO! *squeals and claps like a little girl* XD

Poor Roy, he's breaking my heart a little ;_; Roy, you've done enough, mmmkay? Be a good boy and go back to where the people who care for you are. (He's such a masochist, isn't he?)

Awww, Jean's ranting amused the Hell out of me. XD Especially when Roy started teasing him about his lack of women. Roy's such a cheeky bastard.

And Breda's awesome too. I'm sure he'll enjoy his three days in paradise, not.

*squees and pounces on you again* Can't wait to read more!
c_b_syndromec_b_syndrome on June 9th, 2007 09:59 am (UTC)
*wibbles* YAY! You liked it (so far) ^^;;

And yes... one thing he and Ed have in common (among many), is their pet GuiltZillas. Someone needs to knock some sense into the man's head.

And see? Breda's just fine. ^^;;
[★i slipped on my slippers]: Roy // Smirky Bastard Colonelceasefire on June 9th, 2007 10:30 am (UTC)
... that "so far" isn't boding well. XD But yes, I love it so far!

*snerks* Poor Roy. He has such a guilty conscience. The best thing, for your mental health, after killing people every day in a war is, of course, to burn dead bodies every day after a disaster!

... that guilty smilie again... XD
c_b_syndromec_b_syndrome on June 9th, 2007 10:43 am (UTC)
*giggles* Who said guilt was logical?
[★i slipped on my slippers]: Jean // Flowersceasefire on June 9th, 2007 10:45 am (UTC)
*shakes fist angrily*
sevlow: roy signsevlow on June 9th, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC)
OMG, I am LOVING this. You are an extraordinarity accomplished writer and your descriptions make me squeal with joy.

I also like how you handle the characters, very well done!
c_b_syndromec_b_syndrome on June 10th, 2007 12:36 am (UTC)
Thanks! :D I was worried that Roy might seem OOC, but considering the circumstances, it made sense to portray him like this to me.
sevlowsevlow on June 10th, 2007 05:11 am (UTC)
No, no, not at all! Roy *does* seem different, but given what's happened to him it's entirely plausible. You've developed him very nicely.
kashicatkashicat on June 9th, 2007 06:35 pm (UTC)
Can't wait to see the rest!
havocmangawip: by your sidehavocmangawip on June 10th, 2007 03:53 am (UTC)
SO amazingly in character...

and I nearly lost my lunch. That's good though. I mean... you gave me a visual that was simply horrific. I felt like I was there.

Please get to the mansmexing... to get my mind off of that burning ground.

Best part... of many:
Roy allowed a slow smirk to spread across his face when Jean finally ran out of steam and sagged back down on the log. “You had girlfriends?”

“Yes!” Jean shouted. “Well… no.” He growled in frustration and tangled his fingers in his matted bangs. “I mean I tried, but you kept stealing them all. Fucker!”
c_b_syndromec_b_syndrome on June 10th, 2007 03:57 am (UTC)
^^;;

Well, if it's any consolation, the next part isn't -quite- as gruesome.

And... uh... the smexing comes in part 4 (sorta) *runs*
Orion117: RoyBroodingorion117 on June 19th, 2007 02:55 am (UTC)
I'm behind on my reading, but I'm glad I found this, because this is excellent. I like what you did with the aftermath of the movie, and you certainly did your research on death and decay (must have been such fun). You've created a very vivid atmosphere of a nearly-destroyed Central. But all of that is just a backdrop for the wonderful characterizations of Roy and Jean, and the shaking up of their accustomed relationship. I look forward to more (and I'm glad Breda won't die a terrible death of dysentery).
c_b_syndromec_b_syndrome on June 19th, 2007 07:30 am (UTC)
Actually, the 'resreach' is mostly through osmosis. I was raised by a cop (thus a diet of cop and crime-dramas), and am hopelessly addicted to the CSI series. ^^;;

So whatever else I needed to know, I actually did enjoy finding out. I admit to weirdness, though. It was kind of like picturing the aftermath of Katrina (and apologies to anyone that might upset), but without all the water.

And I'm so happy you liked the way I portrayed Jean and Roy. I was afraid I'd made Roy, at least, OOC. But apparently not ^^;;