By Vincent L. Cleaver
With deepest appreciation for
Full Metal Alchemist
Avatar: the Last Airbender
Captain Strom marked the successful completion of the mission with a good meal in Fishhook, which was celebrating their survival after the recent battle, and the timely arrival of reinforcements. Master Sergeant Sullivan and the Waterbending surgeon, 2nd Lt. Frank O'Reilly, also went out for a night on the town, but pursued it in different parts of that same town. Civilian and military alike, all were just happy to be alive. The dead could wait for tomorrow to be buried, especially the enemy fallen.
There was a lively little sight-seeing concession, by torch-light, even, of the remains of the 'dread washing machine', which had dragged itself, by its arms, all over the other side of the hill facing the river, getting shot at in the course of the battle and grabbing the unwary, to be washed within an inch of their lives and then expelled out the nether end of that alchemical wonder, in their birthday suits. Major Miles had issued orders to guard the thing, lest the sightseers pick the ruined hulk apart for souvenirs.
In camp, the ancient Sergeant Sagan poured the last of the beer into his mug, scowling, then smiled as he had a taste of the brew. And then he scowled again, looking into the bottom of his nearly empty mug. "Private Williams, d'you think you could get us some more beer?"
"I can but try, sergeant, but I don't have much to work a trade with..." Private George Williams looked over to where Corporal Brubaker was writing a letter by the fire and said, "Hey, Al, maybe you could magic up another brass airship name plate..."
When Alphonse Brubaker didn't rise to the defense of Alchemy as a science, not an art or hedge-magic, like the four bendings, Air, Water, Earth and Fire, George snuck up on the oblivious alchemist and stole the first page of the letter.
"Hey! Give that back!"
"He's writing Teddy-Bear Girl a letter, and we aren't even left yet!" George crowed.
Sagan's seamed old face took on a little more sadness, and he said to Al, "Couldn't tell her in person?"
"'Dear Mattie, I'm writing you to say good-bye-'" George swatted Al with the paper. "You idiot! That cute little mechanic is really into you. Why the hell would you dump her?"
"They're breaking up?" Private Stain said, rolling over and sitting up on the other side of the camp-fire.
"Because he's a soldier, and he knows that there's a reasonable chance that he's going to go off and die somewhere's," Sagan said. "I seen it many a time. He loves her, and doesn't want her hurt..."
"Well, we'll never know what you're doing in this man's army, Alphonse," George said, sneering the name. "But you are, and we look after our own, so we can't let you do this-"
"I should, I can and I will," Al said stubbornly.
From the edge of their little encampment, by one of the ducks, the amphibious fighting auto-steamers, the one parked nearest town and the little blacksmiths and garage, Mattie said, "Alphonse?"
The men looked everywhere but at the two of them; Al stood up, leaving the second, unfinished page, by the fire. Williams looked set to drop the first page into the fire-pit, but Sagan took it, and gathered up the second page, too. Al met Mattie by the duck with 'Ethyl' painted, oh-so carefully, on her nose. The teddy-bear embroidered in a patch on the knee of her coveralls was smudged and dirty.
"Hey," he said by way of greeting.
"Hey, yourself." Mattie reached out and took his hands in hers, twinning their fingers.
Al lifted his left and her right, and rubbed the back of her hand gently against his cheek, then kissed one abused knuckle. "You been working on the Lt. Commander's auto-steamer?"
"Yeah..." she said dully.
"The Master Sergeant trashed it, off-roading it, pretty good this afternoon, didn't he?"
"Yeah," she answered, a little more life in her voice now. "Dumbass was so mad! Told me to get it fixed, and damn the expense."
"Hope he doesn't try to cheat you..."
"He might, but I'm not workin' on that beauty just for money, y'know?"
"I do... want some help? I don't think the Captain or the Master Sergeant would mind," Al said, not planning to tell them, either.
"That'd be great, but... Al, I overheard part of what you guys were arguing about-"
Al leaned down and kissed her. Her lips parted and he felt them turn up in a smile. She tasted like apples and honeysuckle, and she smelled of sweat and grease and woman; she smelled just right! At cat-calls behind them, he worked a hand free and presented a single finger to the men, and they broke into laughter.
"Any orders, Corporal?" Sergeant Sagan called out, ironically.
Flushed, Al glanced around at him. "Well, we-"
"Relax, Brubaker. I know; now, go spend some time with the pretty girl-" and the men joined him in, "Good Night, Pretty Girl!"
"Good Night!" she called to them, good-naturedly, and off the two went.