Categories > Anime/Manga > Full Metal Alchemist

Water in the Desert

by BlackRose 2 reviews

Something more precious than gold.

Category: Full Metal Alchemist - Rating: PG - Genres: Angst - Characters:  Roy Mustang - Warnings: [!!!] - Published: 2005-05-07 - Updated: 2005-05-07 - 1098 words - Complete


It was the antithesis of his element in its purest form, the damp to quench his spark. Broken down it was part of the whole - hydrogen to carry the flame, oxygen to fan and guide it. Roy knew the pieces much better than the whole and unless it was raining, or the hot water main in the dorms was broken once more and he had a choice of cold or colder for his morning shower he had never really given the whole much thought.

Until the desert. Until Ishbal.

Water, in the the desert, was worth its weight in gold. The first time he had heard the phrase he had dismissed it. A week later, scouring blood and ash from his hands with sand, he would have sworn it was a different man entirely who calculated it almost automatically - an ounce of gold, an ounce of water, the square volume of each, envisioning how much his personal account in the Central bank would purchase at the market rate of gold.

It had been humbling.

Water, in the desert, was the last bastion between the rolling sand dunes and the lives that dwelt among them. Water, on the battlefield, was the first thing a wounded person - man, woman or child - asked for. Roy had learned the Ishballan word for water, /aquvi/, from the lips of the dying.

The water rationed to him each night in the mess tent had tasted like blood and the acrid tang of carbon smoke.

The smell of smoke and ash was behind him now, left in the dunes and the blasted remnants of the stone city that had risen from them. 'Back to civilization' someone had said at the train station - Roy hadn't seen the speaker, lost in a sea of military gray and blue, and from the weary tone he hadn't been able to tell if it was a benediction or curse. Back to civilization, the train stopping to refuel overnight in a quiet one street town on the other side of the border. Back home. Back in Amestris.

Roy's new won rank - he didn't have the stars yet, only the written field commendation confirming it - had netted him a room of his own in the town's meager hotel. Confronted with the first shower he had had in weeks, the clean, clear water falling without reservation to patter against the tiles, Roy had discovered he didn't have enough left in him to cry.

Earlier in the day he had bartered a single crumpled cigarette from a young, dusty haired artillery corporal. It had come at the cost of an array scratched into the dirt that had fixed the man's cracked boot ("Sorry, Sir, but officer or no I've only got two more to last me to day after tomorrow"). Roy dug it out after dinner and it had given him back the familiar taste of burning ash. He had smoked half of it from the window of his tiny room, blowing the smoke in pale streams out into the dusk. From his vantage on the second story he had watched as the station workers filled the train's steam reservoir. A weight of water to barter a nation with, wasted on the movement of common troops.

Mindful of the corporal's words, Roy had carefully tapped out the glowing ember of the cigarette against the peeling paint of the window frame, saving the second half for later. The taste had been harsh and unfiltered, the dark brown paper it was rolled in an unfamiliar brand. When he had turned it over he had found, half burnt away, the curling, hand stamped letters of Ishballan script.

The bed, a narrow, badly springed luxury that didn't quite seem real, had been so different from a tent cot that he couldn't sleep. Finally, rather than roll over yet again and listen to the bedsprings protest, he had gotten up. The room boasted the bed, a rickety straight backed chair, and a chipped student sized desk on which he had thrown his dufflebag. By default he ended up in the chair.

The desk had two thin drawers, the first of which produced only dust. The second revealed a hidden treasure, a stub of a pencil and a few yellowed sheets of rough cut stationary that had the hotel's telephone code printed in sharp typewriter numerals across the top. He pressed the paper to his knee and scratched over them.

The first sheet ended up crumpled on the floor, littered with crossed out words that had no meaning. What could he write?

Dear Father.
Dear Maes.
Dear Sir. With regret I must resign my commission as I am no longer capable of fulfilling my duty to rank and country.

Lies, all of it. Meaningless, empty, hollow lies. The second sheet rested under his hand for the better part of an hour, the tip of the pencil drawing circle after tiny, perfect circle on the parchment.

At some point he stopped drawing circles and started drawing lines.

A triangle, point up, stood for fire. Inverse, for water. He drew them both in short, straight strokes. Three lines, and only the way the paper was turned differentiated one from the other.

He crumpled up the paper, threw it aside, and began fresh on the third.

Water. Water, water, /water/. Water in the desert. Water for life, water for blood. A man could survive longer without food than without water.

Water for blood. Unbidden, below the line of tiny equilateral triangles, the pencil tip kept scratching.

Water for blood. Carbon for flesh and bone, left blackened in the wake of his flames. Salt for sweat, for tears, for curses in the mouths of the young and old. Fire had known no difference.

Water. Carbon. Salt. Ammonia. Lime. One by one, the hermetic symbols took shape beneath his fingers.

The Ishballans had another saying, almost alchemical in nature. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth... for a life.

Tears, if he had had them to shed, would not bring back the dead. Fire would never cleanse away the blood. The law of equivalent exchange demanded something of equal value in return.

Roy folded the scrap of hotel stationary into fourths and tucked it into the pocket of his jacket, along with the half burnt cigarette. He turned off the light and went back to bed but sleep was just as elusive as before. Instead, he lay on his back staring up blindly into the darkness until dawn, trying to remember the fifteen infinitesimal trace elements that made up the human body.
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