Title: Down and Dirty
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G.
Characters: Ed, Al, and Havoc.
Setting: General.
Summary: Just one more thing Edward hates about the rain…
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Written for KristenSK, from her prompt word mud in my alphabet fic meme. I intended to finish a longer story first, but I fast-tracked this one, in appreciation for a little something that arrived in the mail today. *g*


Down and Dirty


In some regions of Amestris, the climate was far too wet for Edward Elric’s liking.

Rainy days made his automail ache, stirring dull twinges in the muscles that were connected to his mechanical arm and leg. On days like that, all he longed for was a blazing fireplace and a cup of hot tea; but considering the sorts of lunacy that tended to prevail in his life, such comfort was usually about as unobtainable as a Philosopher’s Stone. Too often he went into battle with his body already hurting, but he kept his mouth shut about it, because it was humiliating to feel stiff and sore like an arthritic old man. Alphonse knew, because Ed couldn’t hide anything from his brother, no matter how hard he tried—but he refused to expose that pain to anyone else.

What he hated most about the rain, though, was the inevitable memories it brought back. Many of the worst moments in his life had happened under thundering downpours and leaden gray skies. It was arguably just a coincidental result of the fact that it did rain so much, but he still couldn’t help feeling there was a sort of malice about the weather, a conscious enjoyment of rubbing his losses and failures in his face.

And the rain had one more consequence he resented. Compared to those other things, it was an insignificant irritation, but with all the time he spent traveling, it did more than its share to make his life difficult.

It was mud.

Even after a moderate rain, mud had a nasty tendency to be everywhere. It mired and rutted the roads. It caked on Ed’s boots and spattered on the edges of his coat. It oozed inside Al’s armor. Over the years, Ed was convinced that the combined problems of navigating through the stuff and cleaning up from it afterward had become the second-biggest waste of time in their long journey. (Beaten out only by the maddening hours spent in meetings of any kind with Colonel Mustang, of course.)

So it was that Ed wore a sour expression one gray afternoon, as he squelched along a dirt road that had come to look more like a river of mud—sent to the outskirts of East City on a trivial task Mustang had laid out to him in just such a conference.

Probably on purpose, Ed thought.

Al trudged dutifully behind Ed, trying not to get stuck in the especially sloppy patches. Mud slowed him down, and although he couldn’t feel its clamminess, Ed knew how much he disliked getting his joints clogged with it. A seven-foot-tall hulk of spiked steel couldn’t help but look a little terrifying, but he still cared about presenting himself as best he could; he took pains to keep his armor clean, and mud made that effort into a never-ending battle.

It hadn’t always been this way. When they were very small, the boys had thrilled at the arrival of rain—because after it was over, they couldn’t wait to burst out of the house and jump into the biggest, messiest puddles they could find. Their mudball wars were epic, and they would come home covered in grime from head to foot.

But in those days, Mother was always waiting for them, to peel off their filthy clothes and scrub them clean in a hot bath. No matter how much mud they managed to track into the house, she never complained, because to her their childish delight was worth the chore of cleaning up.

Perhaps that heartsick reminder of innocent olden days was the biggest reason Ed hated mud.

As the brothers slogged onward, a dark shape became visible in the middle of the road ahead. It soon manifested itself as two separate objects: a motorcycle with a sidecar, and its owner hovering over it, in the fretful perplexity of a man with a dilemma he couldn’t figure out how to solve.

Al nudged Ed’s shoulder suddenly. “Hey, isn’t that…?”

—And it was.

Second Lieutenant Jean Havoc was the man with the motorcycle. He was dressed as a civilian in jeans and a leather jacket, freshly shaven and with not a hair out of place. Upon closer inspection, a bouquet of flowers was tucked into the sidecar, which went a long way toward explaining what he was doing out of uniform on a suburban side road.

At that moment, Havoc saw them, and even from a distance they could see his face light up. He started toward them—very gingerly picking his way around puddles and across the hardest patches of the sodden dirt road, an obvious effort to keep even a speck of mud from splashing on his jeans.

“Am I glad to see you boys!” he greeted them, with a wave of his hand that bordered on being a flail. As the Lieutenant closed to within ten paces, Ed was assaulted by an olfactory barrage of cologne that nearly made him sneeze, and he felt one of his rare moments of envy for the fact that Al had no sense of smell.

“Lemme guess. Out on a date?” Ed asked with sardonic disinterest, jerking his head toward the floral offering on the motorcycle.

“Yeah, well, I’m supposed to be. She’s into the biker set, you know? So I borrowed this thing from the motor pool at HQ. I’ve gotta pick her up in ten minutes—but the bike’s stuck, and I can’t dig it out without getting mud all over me.” Havoc badly feigned a look of sudden inspiration. “Say, you fellas couldn’t help a guy out with alchemy, could ya?”

Ed lowered one eyebrow. He had known that was coming, and there was a cranky, spiteful part of him that didn’t really like the idea of assisting Havoc in his conquests. Still, in all fairness, the flippant young officer had always done right by the boys when it counted. Besides, it wasn’t as if such an elementary exercise in alchemy would be any great trouble.

But his internal debate became a moot point anyway, when Al kindheartedly piped up for them both. “Sure we can!”

Even if Ed had been coming around to the same decision, it annoyed him to have his authority trampled by his younger brother, and he shot Al a slight glare. Nevertheless, he strode toward the motorcycle with a shrug.

“Fine, let’s take a look.”

The problem was straightforward enough: the bike’s front tire was indeed thoroughly mired in the mud. Havoc was probably strong enough to wrench it free by force, but as he had observed, there was no way of doing it without getting his pristine clothes dirty.

“Okay, that oughta be easy enough to fix…” Ed clapped his hands together, and bent down to touch the surface of the road. Beneath a ripple of blue light, the mud flowed away from the tire, filling in and smoothing the surrounding ruts until the motorcycle stood on a patch of firm and level clay.

Havoc looked up from the freed tire to Ed, grinning broadly. “That’s terrific. Thanks!”

“Yeah, sure.” The young alchemist didn’t even glance up—preoccupied as he was with dusting dirt off the fingertips of his gloves. “Just don’t get stuck again.”

“And have fun on your date,” Al offered amiably to the Lieutenant.

“Oh, you bet. See you boys around!”

With that, Havoc cheerfully straddled the motorcycle and reached for the ignition. The engine growled to life, the tires spun…

And a tremendous rooster-tail of mud spewed up and outward, splattering over the boys as Havoc roared away.

Edward screeched with incoherent outrage. A sharp clap rang out, his hands slammed down on the ground… and the entire muddy surface of the road convulsed, heaving up into one great undulating wave of brown ooze that raced after the retreating motorcycle. It grew as it traveled, sprouting long protrusions that morphed fancifully into the fingers of an enormous hand.

Al flinched and covered the eyeholes of his helmet, but he couldn’t escape the sound of a wild yell—nor the prodigious, sloshing SPLORP that followed an instant later.

By the time Al peeked between his fingers, Ed had turned his back on the scene of squalid mayhem unfolding in the middle distance, and was suddenly the very picture of aplomb. He clapped briskly and ran his hands over his clothes, to evaporate the wetness of the mud and brush off the dry dirt that remained.

“C’mon, Al,” he said casually, tugging at his brother’s armored wrist. “I think we’d better take a side road for a while…”

© 2010 Jordanna Morgan