Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Rating: PG-13/R ?
Summary: One hundred days of the Ishbal Civil War
Feedback: The best thing evar. Flame away, even, if you feel like it.
Disclaimer: Don't own anything. I make no money. Etc.
Notes: Follows the manga canon, mostly, as I know in the anime that Hughes wasn't actually at the war. There's some anime stuff thrown in there as well.
Much thanks to tatooine for the beta.
Title and lyrics come from the Bob Dylan song. Yes, I know that's cheesy.
Roy pulls on the glove. Specially made for him. He runs his uncovered hand over the spark cloth and feels every bit of the power it gives him. Snaps his fingers and burns a pencil into cinders. He likes it.
The war is out there, but to Roy, it's merely a speck on the map.
The State Alchemists are going to Ishbal.
Captain Maes Hughes is loud. Captain Maes Hughes is obnoxious. Captain Maes Hughes is far too happy for someone going to a war zone. Captain Maes Hughes decided to make Major Roy Mustang's life hell for all five minutes and twenty-seven seconds of their first meeting.
It went something like this:
"Hey, you must be the new alchemist! What's your name?"
"Major Roy Mustang, the Flame Alchemist."
"Ohh, that's awesome. What do you do?"
"I snap my glove and things burn up."
"Excellent. Do you give demonstrations?"
"Too bad. It would definitely improve morale."
"Excuse me, but I have other things to do."
"That doesn't answer the question, though. Do you really need to go?"
"I doubt it. But that's fine."
"I'm surprised you haven't asked for my name."
"What's your name?"
Ishbal is worse than Roy expected. He hates the sand, the heat, the war. The sun shines bright and harsh. The world seems to exist in shades of shades of orange, yellow and red. Even the crisp blue of military uniforms seems dulled. Roy almost misses the color green.
Colonel Gran gives him an assignment for the next day. Roy just nods and salutes in response.
He thinks he saw Hughes near the mess tent, but he might have been mistaken.
Roy has never killed someone with alchemy. Well, never had.
Hughes sits next to Roy during dinner. He chatters for a bit, his voice never wavering from his chipper tone. Roy contemplates singing off his eyebrows -- just for practice of course.
He absently rubs his fingers together. It's not enough to make a spark, and if it was, he'd just prevent the fire from starting.
Hughes glances out of the corner of his glasses to watch the motion, his mouth not even stopping to take a breath. Roy is surprised by the focus and observation of the gaze, and tries to reconcile that intensity with the obnoxious, unaware Hughes that he thinks he knows. Before he can dwell, Hughes grins again, and the serious expression slips off his face as if it hadn't been there in the first place.
Roy makes plans to think about it later.
Roy likes mental lists.
He reminds himself that every journey begins with a single step.
Roy needs to find a hobby. He used to burn things, control the flames, feel them bending to his will. It used to be fun, a challenge. He doesn't like to think about fire anymore.
He takes up "Hughes watching" as a temporary alternative. The other man's one-sided discussions have settled into white noise that Roy can easily ignore. It makes him bearable at least. It also allows Roy to study Hughes, to try to catch more moments of that curious sharpness. There've been a few more, like when Sanders tried to swipe some of Hughes' rations and that time when some of the other officers tried to tackle him after he exited his tent.
The strangest of all was definitely when Howard made a snide comment about alchemists. It wasn't new to Roy. He'd heard it all before, several times. There was always this resentment, whether it was warranted or not. What was really strange was the grit of Hughes' teeth, and the calm way that he'd responded, "Usually, it helps to know what you're talking about before saying anything."
Howard just blinked in surprise.
Roy tells himself that he watches Hughes because he knows Hughes has everyone fooled except him. That it's merely a challenge. He's not getting attached to the guy.
He doesn't really believe it himself.
Gran orders Roy to burn a house down, raze it, destroy it completely. With people still inside.
He does, without a fuss, because the military doesn't like fuss.
Hours later, he can still hear the screams. He talks to Hughes, who tells him that one philosopher believed that men are inherently evil and aggressive, and war is merely an expression of it. Roy says that he doesn't believe it. Hughes says he doesn't either.
Roy catches sight of Bradley in the camp. He clenches his right fist tightly and resists the urge.
Major Armstrong and Roy are ambushed by group of Ishbalites. It only takes them four minutes before all twenty of their attackers lie dead. Roy wonders if he's really human anymore. The sight and smell of blackened bodies don't even faze him.
They leave the dead behind, unburied. Roy wonders how long it will take for the desert to reclaim them.
Hughes is promoted to Major after an excellent campaign in the mountains. His team rooted out a hidden camp of about fifty insurgents. The Fuhrer was impressed.
"We need more men of your caliber," he had said.
Roy wasn't jealous per se. He wants just enough attention to get ahead, to get promoted. To be the one that tells men that they're of high caliber.
Maes deserves it, he really does. Roy does his best to show it. He slaps Maes on the back and says that he'll miss the days when he could order him around.
Maes just grins that irrepressible grin, but Roy can tell that it's genuine.
They sit together at times and just talk. The days have been surprising calm. All quiet on the eastern front.
"What do you think is going to happen?" Roy asks, staring out at the horizon, and admires the way blue and orange meet perfectly.
Maes glances up from the patch of grass he was playing with. "What?"
"With the war. With everything."
Maes smiles. It's beautiful. "Just keep going, and you'll find out."
Things that Roy likes about Ishbal:
Things that Roy doesn't like about Ishbal:
the way Hughes talks
This time, they have Roy take on an entire city. His more perverse side likes the challenge. They also give him one of Marco's Stones. It fits neatly on his right hand, and the second he puts it on, he can feel it's power rushing through him. On some other occasion, he might have refused, but this is big, this is promotion big, and he needs it.
He doesn't hear the screams this time. He remembered to stand far enough away.
Roy dreams of cool green grass and a quiet lake. He dreams of lying on his back and staring at a bright blue sky dotted with clouds. He dreams of fish and birds and deer. He dreams of peace.
A rabbit comes out of the woods. "You can't stay," it says.
"I know." Roy does know it. There are the things you fight for. Things that you wait for. And this scene is one of those things.
The scene shifts.
Roy sits behind a desk. The Fuhrer's desk. More things he has to wait for. He resists the urge to run his hands over the highly polished wood and looks up.
Maes sits in front of him with his blank "talking to a superior" expression. His lips are drawn back into a straight line and his eyes express nothing. Roy doesn't like it, not directed at him.
"Fuhrer." Maes says it with a clipped military voice.
"Yes?" He responds formally, but Roy's confusion is steadily rising. What's going on?
"I strongly advise against this course of action. Reaching this station is a mistake."
"I have to disagree with you Major --"
"--General Hughes. Reform must come from within, and the best place inside is this chair."
Maes' tight-lipped expression transforms into a smirk. A woman walks in. From the waist down, she's dressed like his mother and from the waist up she'd dressed like a normal officer. Roy does his best not to stare.
"The cast list for your life, sir." She pulls a manila folder out of nowhere and holds it out to him. Roy blinks.
The woman continues to offer him the folder. Roy grabs it, but the scene shifts again.
He's standing in the Ishbal desert this time. No one else is around. The military's camp isn't around. It's one of those hot days that Roy can't stand. His uniform sticks to his skin and he itches to pull at it. His vision swirls for second before it rights itself.
"Hello," a voice says from behind him.
Roy spins around to face Armstrong.
"You should probably check that list," he says. Roy looks at the folder in his hand and pulls it open--
--to get the morning sun in his eyes as Maes yells, "Wakey wakey!" in his ear. Asshole. Roy glares, pulls himself out of bed, and gives Maes a perfunctory shove before getting ready for the rest of the day.
Roy is tackled by Maes behind the mess tent. He goes down face-first and eats dust. Behind him, with his arms wrapped around Roy's waist, Maes cackles. He's a crafty one, and Roy probably should know better than to turn his back on the bastard.
When they get up, Roy wipes his mouth with his non-gloved hand and mutters, "Whore."
He smiles as he says it.
Roy isn't interested in killing, but he doesn't mind anymore. He can stare at a man begging for his life, begging for the lives of his family, and snap his fingers without a second of doubt.
That's only one part of him, though. The rest wants to vomit.
He decides to trust Maes with his plan. It's not an easy decision. He's agonized about it for weeks, debating with himself the need for allies. If they're loyal, they'd be an invaluable resource. If not, he'd lose everything.
Maes is smart and innocuous. He'd be valuable. People tell him things because they don't think he listens. A word in the right place, a tidbit of information; Maes would be able to help.
There are problems, too. Roy still doesn't know why Maes picked him as the focus of his attention. It could be boredom. It could be the military scoping out the ambitious ones. What he really needs is commitment to the cause and not him. It's easy to turn on people. It's much harder to turn on an ideal.
Roy goes to talk to him after dinner. Night has fallen and the stars glitter. Roy admires them for a moment. Clouds never obscure the Ishbal night, and he's almost begun to take the moonlight for granted. Maes' face lights up at the sight of him.
"Roy!" he calls out.
Roy tries to smile, but he knows that Maes knows it's fake. They've both become good at telling.
"How are things going?" he asks.
Maes just nods. "Pretty well. You?"
"I need to talk to you about something."
Maes shrugs. "Sure."
They walk toward their "usual spot." It's just open enough to be inconspicuous, just two friends catching some downtime, but just far enough away to keep people from listening in. Maes settles down in his usual position, legs crossed, his body leaning back on his hands. Roy sits opposite him with his legs stretched out. He can practically feel Maes' barely contained curiosity.
"I'm going to become Fuhrer. I want to change the way this country is run." Roy curses himself for the way it blurted out. He probably should have softened the blow before hand. Maybe mentioned why he dislikes Bradley. Regardless, it felt good to get it out. It has been festering for quite a while, and Roy doesn't really do well when it comes to festering.
Maes doesn't really react. His eyes do go introspective and thoughtful, though, and Roy feels a stab of nervousness. He resists the urge to fidget.
"Do you have a plan?" Maes finally says. He looks interested.
"I move up the ranks." Roy hates that it's simple, that it sounds dumb to his ears.
"That's it?" Maes says it seriously. Roy half expected ridicule.
Roy blinks. He didn't really expect an answer so soon or so decisive. Maes has obviously had time to think about it. "How long have you known?"
"Since my promotion."
"Look, I'll help you. I can support you from below. I agree."
Relief floods Roy. A weight has lifted, and he sighs out all the tension. Maes pulls him into an affectionate hug.
"I believe you're doing the right thing, I really do," he whispers in Roy's ear.
They both sit back and just talk about anything else. Their hearts aren't in it, though, and Maes calls it a night. As he gets up, he drops a peck on Roy's lips.
Afterward, Roy doesn't think about the kiss. He has more important things to worry about. He really does.
It's a windy day. The sand rises up and swirls around the camp. Little eddies of it dance across the yellow ground. Roy kicks absently at the pile at his feet, and watches the breeze catch it and carry it off, scattering the grains. Maes is elsewhere, getting ready for the next attack.
Roy has not performed any "regular" alchemy in a while. It's different now, almost foreign. Too much time with the glove and other worries. He has chalk with him, he's been meaning to practice. You never know when it'll come in handy.
He clears a neat area on the floor of his tent. The sand makes it hard to draw the circle, but he finds a good solid rock and does his best to clear the dust off it first. The wind picks up a bit and Roy can hear the smatter of sand on the side of the tent.
His hand almost instantly retraces the familiar lines of his favorite circle. It's something you don't lose, he thinks. Like riding a bike. After he's done, he sits back to inspect his work. The sight of something before on the floor of now is jarring.
The line of thought is interrupted by Maes pulling the tent flap open.
"What are you up to?" he asks.
Roy shrugs. "I haven't worked on this type of alchemy in a while. I figured today would be a good day to try."
Maes nods, comes in, and sits down. "Can I watch?" he asks.
Roy places a pile of sand in the middle. Pats it down nice and tight.
He places his fingers at the edge and feels the familiar rush. Lights twirl behind his eyelids, and he senses the sand, bends it, twists it, pulls it apart, and makes it what he wants it to be.
When he steps back, he can the impressed look on Maes' face.
"So that's why they keep you State Alchemists around. We need more toy dogs." The near-patented Hughes smirk is back.
Roy smirks as well. "A dog of the military."
He picks up the figure and hands it to Maes, who accepts it readily. "My very own," he says.
Neither of them mention that he has one already.
There's news that they might be heading back soon. That the war is going to end. The Ishbalites are discouraged by the power of the alchemists. They should accept the fact that their god is fallible next to the might of Amestris.
Roy doesn't believe it. He's seen the Ishbalites. He knows that they'll only surrender when they can't fight anymore, and there's still a lot of fight in them.
No one notices that Maes hasn't been sleeping in his tent. It's one of those benefits of being an officer.
Roy wakes up and falls off the edge of the bed. He dusts himself off, shoves Maes over, and climbs back in. The regulation beds barely fit one fully-grown man, not to mention two. Maes only gives a quick grunt.
It's still dark out, the sky black. Roy needs some more sleep, he knows that Gran won't take "I was getting laid" as an excuse for being off his game.
They teeter together on the small bed; both at the edges, trying to stay on.
Maes tells Roy about his home. About the people. He can describe his mother (sharp tongue, sharp eyes) and father (stern epitome of manliness) in ways that make Roy feel nostalgic for home. Maes was born and raised in Central. He's a city kid at heart. Roy grew up in a moderately large town, and when they exhaust all other topics, they'll compare childhoods. It's wistful and innocent in a way they aren't now.
Roy loves him all the more for these small pleasures.
When dinner ends and they safely make it back to Roy's tent, he pulls a surprise attack. Maes' legs go up, and the rest hits the floor. Taking advantage of his shock, Roy straddles him easily and holds him down with his left hand. He leans over and steals a kiss. It tastes like dust and sand.
They are surrounded war. Gentleness has no place here. Here it's all power and suffering, strength and pain. This is a bright moment, a beautiful one, but it's still tainted by the rest of it. The war has seeped into their bones.
Maes meets Roy's kiss head on, all teeth and tongue.
These are the only times Roy doesn't feel alone.
The two Rockabell doctors lie dead at Roy's feet. It's not alchemy this time, just a gun, just a regular old gun. He can hear Gran and Marco arguing behind him, but it's drowned out by the beating of his heart.
In a perverse moment, he considers killing himself. He goes as far as placing the gun underneath his chin before Marco's voice rings through.
It makes Roy feel stupid and ashamed. Some orders are just not meant to be followed.
When Marco begs to leave, to be allowed to leave, Roy lets him go. He cannot think of one reason why he would stop him.
He goes to Maes because that's the only thing he can think of. They talk, because that's all either of them can do. They lapse into silence after Roy explains what happens.
"Come you masters of war," Maes sings softly. It's an old folk song. Roy's heard it before, but it's never cut quite so deep. He'd never quite understood what it meant.
"You that never done nothin' / But build to destroy," Maes continues. His voice drops off to a hum, and then nothing.
They lapse into silence again.
"I don't know how I did it," Roy says. His fingers claw the ground for something to hold onto. Maes' face is open and listening. "I just did."
Maes nods. They've both committed atrocities here, and they haunt them both. Roy fights back angry tears. Crying would be a sign of weakness. And Roy doesn't do weak. He just doesn't.
He turns his back on Maes just as a tear slips past his eyelid and rolls down his face.
Maes wraps his arms around him from behind and kisses his neck. "It's raining," he says, even though the sky is a clear desert blue.
Roy nods. "It is." They sit together like that until the sun goes down over the Ishbal horizon.