Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Summary: The second hundred days. Hughes POV.
Feedback: The best thing evar. Flame away, even, if you feel like it.
Disclaimer: I own nothing and make no money. It's all Square/Enix.
Notes: Part I.
Betaed by the sehr awesome tatooine. This was something of a surprise, as I generally don't do sequels, but there's so much about the war that I didn't get a chance to explore in the first part. And I made a cover because I was bored and messing about with Photoshop.
Maes grabs a roll out of the mess tent. It's all they have here, bread and water. Sometimes the officers get niceties, but those are treats that are far and few between. He takes a big bite out of the roll and makes sure to walk by Brigadier General Haruko's table. He overhears a conversation about tomorrow's troop movements. Purely by accident, of course.
Roy is in one of his Funks. There's a distinct pattern that Maes has long since learned to anticipate. First, Gran orders the destruction of some innocent(s). Second, Roy kills said innocent(s) with an efficiency that most soldiers could only dream of. Third, Roy is rewarded/decorated for his efficiency. Fourth, Roy drowns in his own guilt.
It's a rather tiresome process, but sex usually pulls him out of it.
Cities are the trickiest places to fight. There are so many nooks and crannies to hide in and take some sucker by surprise. Maes has learned to fight along walls, even though the most grizzled soldiers say that it's a bad idea. The walls suck the bullets in, they say. It might be true, but Maes thinks that a solid wall at your back is worth the risk.
You find all kinds in cities too. The Ishbalites are all civilians, anyway, but in the cities you get women and children. No one is to be trusted; anyone you run across is guilty until proven innocent.
The knives are Maes' little secret. He gets little thrills out of hiding them under his sleeves, in his pockets, on his ankles. It's not discouraged, of course. More weaponry during wartime is usually considered a good thing by the brass.
But Maes like keeping it to himself (and Roy, because there's very little Maes can't tell Roy). It gives him a little thrill to throw them when the enemy least expects it.
He likes that people underestimate him.
Maes drops to the ground when someone opens fire on his men. His head doesn't land quite right, and the right lens of his glasses cracks. He swears.
The weather's changing. Maes can feel it in the air. The heat of summer is giving way to the cool winds of autumn. It's not obvious, not in the sea of sand, but they all feel it.
The replacement for his lens still hasn't come, but Maes is getting used to seeing the fractured world around him.
Roy seems amused by it. When they have alone time, he'll remove the glasses from Maes' face and run his fingers over the cracks. He'll replace them with the same delicacy. Roy has moments, these days. Moments of gentleness and softness. They'll be talking like usual, when Roy will suddenly grab Maes' hand and run his gloved fingers over it, or he'll lean on Maes' shoulder, tangling his nose in Maes' hair.
Major Armstrong is probably going back to Central. He refused to kill a child when his orders clearly stated that he was to annihilate everyone in the area.
Roy looks a little envious and pained by it. Maes knows he's plagued by the Rockbells, by his own failure to follow his beliefs. Maes wants to tell him that Armstrong doesn't have to do what Roy has to do. He wants to remind Roy that he has bigger plans.
They sit amongst rubble because they can.
They could all go home if they wanted to. It just takes a little civil disobedience, that's all. He tells Roy that, gives him a way out of hell. Roy's smarter than that, though. He doesn't need blemishes on his record.
Roy is an alchemist. Kimbley is an alchemist. It's strange how different they are. Maes watches the man, doesn't bother approaching him. He picks up some info from Johnson (avoided by most of the gossip hounds because he'll ramble on about nothing if you let him. All you really need to know is how to nudge the topic in the right direction, and then he's gold.)
Kimbley's practically renegade already, from the sound of it. His alchemy is one of the most twisted things Maes has heard in a while. Turning humans into bombs? Just gruesome. It's no worse than burning people alive, the obnoxious voice in Maes' head tells him.
He asks Roy about it during lunch. "What's Kimbley like?"
Roy stiffens visibly. He's never had the most revealing body language, and it's only gotten more subtle over time. The Crimson Alchemist is not a friend, then.
Maes wants to probe a bit more, but this is not the place or time. It's too public. He changes the subject an slaps on a grin. "So, have you heard? My sister's going off to study law! She takes after her older brother doesn't she..."
"Cut the shit, Mustang, and tell me what's bothering you."
"I don't know if I can keep doing this."
"You can, and you will, or else I'm going to be throwing my support to Armstrong. Maybe Gran if I'm feeling vindictive enough."
"It's just... Sometimes I don't think you understand how hard it is."
"You've done things, alright? So have I. So has everyone. I'm not proud of it, but you can't just stop. You have to keep going."
"I wanted to stop, you know. I was so ready to pull the trigger."
Maes keeps his ears to the ground and finds some interesting tidbits. The brass have a sniper on Roy all the time. Her name's Hawkeye, and she's young. Maes pulls some strings to have her serve under him.
Roy takes the news in stride. What's another person trying to kill him?
Hawkeye is interesting. Maes likes her, though she rarely ever loosens up. There's a hint of idealism to her, and Maes makes plans to explore that further.
Roy's tent is generally neat. Not immaculate by any means, just tidier than Maes'. No stray clothes, bed usually made, books on desk and not on the floor. There's a few trinkets here and there that Maes hasn't had time to fully catalogue. He does know the stories of about half of them, like the stone from the river near Roy's home and the page with the first alchemy circle Roy ever drew, penciled onto paper over math notes Maes doubts he ever used.
Roy is going through another Funk, and Maes really hopes that the war ends soon. Now, preferably. It hurts to see him this way, so open and pained. Maes knows that it's harder for him, harder for him to kill and destroy. Roy's talents lie naturally in the direction of destruction, but he isn't proud of it, doesn't revel in it. That's the difference, Maes knows, between him and Kimbely. That's why Maes can forgive him for what he does.
Fingers pull at Maes' short hair. Lips travel across his neck. A cheek rubs up against his own. They meet, and it's surprisingly gentle. Delicate touches avoiding bandaged wounds. Slow and unhurried. It's different this time, different from the bites and scratches that they're so used to. Something has changed.
Maes is hesitant to call it love.
Pain splinters across Maes' ribs as the bullet grazes him. He lets out a hiss and drops to his hands and knees. The Ishbalite child stands over him with the gun. His hand shakes quite visibly. The first shot was dumb luck, and the boy can't bring himself to pull the trigger again. Not while his enemy is helpless on the floor. Maes knows that going after his own gun at his hip will be enough of an invitation to get shot again.
"Major!" a voice calls out behind him. Hawkeye, most likely. He went in first, and they definitely heard the shot. They're probably surrounding the doorway, prepared to shoot anything that comes out.
"I'm okay. Don't come in," Maes manages to wheeze out. He looks up into the barrel of the boy's gun. He glances a up a little more, to the child's throat. The knife in his sleeves itches to get out, to attack that vulnerable flesh.
He watches the finger around the trigger tighten just a bit before flicking his wrist and the knife up, dropping to land on his back and to the side. The knife flies straight into the boy's throat, and, in the confusion, he pulls the trigger. The bullet grazes Maes' shoulder. It doesn't connect with flesh this time, just rips Maes' uniform.
The dead body collapses on top of him. It's heavy. Maes lets out a grunt and shoves it off of him. All he can hear at this point is his heavy breathing. Strong hands pull him up. Sergeant Davis, probably. Hawkeye stands in front of him. There's obvious concern in her eyes, but she maintains her rigid military posture.
"Are you alright, sir?" she asks. Maes nods and finds his footing. Clutching his side, he hobbles out of the building to get medical assistance.
It's one of their usual conversations.
"Even after that last mission, Gran hasn't recommended me for promotion," Roy says. "It's almost like he knows what I'm trying to do."
Maes shrugs. "Doubtful, but he does know you're an ambitious, which doesn't work in your favor."
Roy sighs. "What do you think I should do?"
"You always say that." Roy frowns.
"You keep asking the same question." Maes knows that Roy's smart, but he does have a tendency to wallow.
Roy blinks at that statement and seems to think it over. "Sometimes I think I know what you mean when you say that, and sometimes I have no idea."
Roy's brooding. It's not a fully blown Funk, but he's getting there. Maes decides cheer him up in the time honored method of the Hughes household: ticklefight.
Whenever his sister was down, he'd offer to kill her boyfriend, buy her chocolate, or tickle her until she couldn't take it anymore. His mother, usually very strict about such things, seemed entertained by the sight of the two of them rolling across the floor. It's a slice of home that Maes wants to share.
He sneaks up to Roy as he's writing a report and attacks the ribs first. It's the most ticklish part of his body.
Roy jumps and lets out an indignant sqwuak. Maes tackles him to the ground and goes after the armpits. They're the second most ticklish part. Roy thrashes, howling in forced laughter. Maes grins. Victory is his.
Roy recovers enough to attack the back of Maes' knees, but he's no match against years of practice. Maes manages to dodge the fingers, but it puts him out of range. Roy uses the space and time to recover and get back onto his feet. He's panting out the laughter, not quite tired out yet.
"Hughes, you fucker," Roy snarls between pants.
Maes puts on his best deadpan expression. "Laughter is good for you, you know. Leads to a much happier life."
Roy blinks at him for a moment, trying to figure out if he's serious. Taking advantage of the moment, Maes goes after his legs, trying to gain the upper hand again. Roy reacts quickly, bringing his knee up to connect with Maes' jaw.
Maes goes down face first and gets a noseful of the floor's dust. That really, really hurt. Roy takes that moment to press his advantage and tickle the backs of Maes' knees. He giggles uncontrollably and tries to pull himself into a fetal position. Roy chases after them and goes dangerously off balance. Maes lashes out a foot, and Roy tumbles to the ground as well.
They rest there, panting.
"You have to admit that was fun," Maes says. He rubs his chin. It hurts like a bitch.
Roy doesn't say anything, but Maes catches the grin he can't quite suppress.
Maes stands in a pool of blood. There's only the barest hint of light, but he can clearly see the dark red liquid all around his feet. He walks a bit and winces as the blood flows over and through his shoes and socks. It's thicker than water and it squishes in an annoying and slightly disgusting way.
The approaches a wall, and reaches out to touch it. Blood pours down the side, soaking Maes' hands. He pulls back and wipes his hands off on his pants. It's not as strange as it should be.
He clutches at the walls, trying to climb up them, but his hands slip, and he falls into the knee deep blood. He sinks down and down and down, never reaching the bottom.
He can't breathe. He can't breathe. He can't breathe.
He can't-- a hand smacks him roughly across the face.
"Stop thrashing, you idiot. Some of us are trying to get some sleep."
Maes focuses as best as he can on the face of his best friend.
"Sorry," he mutters, and does his best to give Roy some room. He falls asleep again.
He doesn't dream this time.
"How do you do it? How do you keep everything in?" Roy asks. They sit inside Maes' tent, because the weather chased them off their usual spot. On days like this, the sand becomes a living thing, consuming everything in its path.
Hughes closes his eyes, takes off his glasses, compulsively wipes them off, and puts them back on. He opens his eyes again. "I don't know," he says honestly.
Maes gets reassigned to Intelligence. The fighting has died down to the point where they can finally move him back there. He's not quite sure why they pulled him in the first place, but he's sure they have their reasons.
Davis sobs into Maes' shoulder. It's a little strange to have the beefy sergeant weeping like a little girl who's just scratched her knee, but Maes know that people like to confess things to him. Maybe they think he's too wrapped up in his own little world to really hear what they're saying, maybe they think that he'll cheer them up with stories about Happy people doing Happy things. Whatever it is, it brought Davis here to tell Maes about his girlfriend.
"I just miss her so much, and when I talked to her last week, she sounded so different and far away, like she didn't care anymore, and I have this necklace here that I want to give to her, and I just don't know, Major. I just don't know. I'm sorry I'm bothering you with it, but I just need to tell someone, you know?"
Maes gives him a friendly smile. "She's probably feeling just the way you are. It's a lot of time to spend apart."
Davis' eyes shine with tears. "You really think so?"
Maes pats him on the back. "I really do."
Roy comes back blackened and burned. When Maes asks him what happened, he only says one word, "Kimbley."
The story spreads across the camp the next day. The Crimson Alchemist decided it was a brilliant idea to use military as the human bombs instead of the Ishbalites, and a few other State Alchemists (including Roy) were sent out to subdue him. They were successful, but a few civilians got caught in the crossfire.
Maes can understand why Roy was so upset.
After six months with the State Alchemists, the Ishbal rebellion is officially put down. It's lasted seven years. The military going to remain for a week, at least, just to make sure that everything is actually calming down.
Relief is almost visible in the air. Conversations about home can be heard everywhere, and Maes' mind turns in that direction as well.
He doesn't know about what's going to happen with Roy. Are they going to continue? Are they going to write it off as wartime stress? How are things going to be between them?
They don't talk about it.
People continue their tasks quietly. Maybe it's because there aren't any gunshots or yells. Maybe everyone is stuck inside their own heads, dreaming of home. Maybe Maes is too busy being stuck inside his own head to notice all the noise around him.
Roy licks Maes' earlobe when he's trying to write up the report on Ishbalite tribe movements.
"Is this all we have?" he whispers.
"Is this all you want?" Maes asks. He turns around to face him.
"No," Roy says. He looks thoughtful.
"Alright, then. It doesn't have to be," Maes says. He turns back to the report.
"I figured how you do it, by the way," Roy says. "You think of everyone but yourself."
Maes blinks at the statement, considering it. Roy kisses him on the head and goes back to his own tent.
Nothing new has come up. There's a real possibility of going home. Roy talks a little bit about what he wants to do, and Maes does as well, about his parents and his sister. He almost wants them to meet Roy, though that might not be the smartest idea.
The sex has taken on a certain desperate air, as if leaving Ishbal really is leaving this behind. Maes doesn't accept it and neither does Roy, but things are going to change when they go back to Central. It's not something that can be helped.
Tomorrow, they're going home. To celebrate, the military has decided to ply the soldiers with as much alcohol as they can stand. A ploy to keep them docile, perhaps, but Maes needs it.
He gets as drunk as possible next to Roy. They sit in a corner, away from the others, hidden in shadow.
Maes knows he's more of a happy, rambling drunk than a sad one, but he can't help confessing his sins to Roy as they sit there.
"Well, there's this kid. He shot me. Got be in the ribs. One knife in the throat, and then yeah, I got him. And there was this woman who was hiding in a cart. She got Johnson pretty good. He was in the hospital for a week. Hawkeye barely even flinched when she shot her. The woman, not Hawkeye. I don't think I'm making any sense..."
Roy pulls him to his feet. "Let's go home," he tells Maes, who wants to stop talking, but just can't.
They stumble into Roy's tent, and Maes sprawls out on the floor he's so familiar with and is leaving soon. The next thing Maes knows, he's sobbing through his drunken rambling.
"It's not easy, you know. It's not. I tried to be strong for you and I can't even be strong for myself. I'm sorry I suck as a friend..."
Roy hugs him tightly, and Maes buries his face in his neck. "Let it out," Roy says.
After a minute of sobbing, Maes calms down and steps back.
"Okay?" Roy asks. Maes nods.
Roy punches him. Hard. Across his face. "Stop being such a moron, Hughes."
Maes drops easily, the alcohol slowing down his reaction. He feebly shakes his fist at Roy. "I'll get you for that," he promises.
"I'd like to see you try," Roy says as he drags Maes up onto the bed.
"Sleep it off," he tells Maes.
It's a bright, sunny day. Maes has a killer hangover, but he won't let anybody have the pleasure of knowing that. Roy's probably figured it out, but he doesn't mention it. He gets called off to a meeting with Bradley and Gran in the morning.
"I've been promoted," he tells Maes when he comes back. "It's Lieutenant Colonel Mustang now."
"Good for you," Maes replies as someone whacks a hammer against the inside of his head.
Roy kicks him lightly in the shin.
"What do you think will happen when we get back to Central?" Maes asks.
Roy grins like a cat that's just caught a mouse. "Keep going and you'll find out."
He manages to get onto the train before Maes can tackle him.