How did Gracia become a supporter not only of Maes's plans for the future, but therefore of Roy's as well? A speculation on how she may have been introduced to the idea.
But no. He could hear footsteps in her front hallway now, and finally the door was opening, and there she was, asking anxiously, "Maes, are you alright? I was starting to worry that something had happened to you. Come in, please." She ushered him in and closed the door, her eyes darting up and down his tall form, looking for possible injuries.
Hughes kissed her cheek and presented the flowers. "Sorry I worried you, Gracia," he said. "I really had to look around for these. It took longer than I expected. I'll try to call if it ever happens again."
"You know it isn't necessary to bring flowers every time, Maes," she smiled, but still she pulled back the wrapper and breathed deeply in delight. "Red roses! You shouldn't have. But they're so beautiful."
"Beautiful flowers for the most beautiful girl in the world," Hughes said staunchly, and this time kissed her on the lips, smiling into her eyes. Then he lifted his head and sniffed. "And the best cook in the world, it smells like. Tell me I haven't ruined the whole dinner by coming late."
"No, of course not," she laughed. "A wise cook will allow some leeway. But you've used up most of yours."
She walked into the kitchen and he followed, watching her appreciatively. She'd dressed up for their dinner together, in a simple, elegant, dark blue sleeveless dress, with silver accessories at wrist, neck, and ears. He wondered fleetingly if he should have worn more than just his most casual suit and shirt. He didn't even have a tie on.
But Gracia didn't seem to notice, or mind. She had him cut the rose stems and put the flowers into a tall vase, while she herself went back and forth to the dining room, setting the food on the table. Hughes carried the vase in and set it as the centerpiece when they were ready to eat, and they sat down, facing each other across the table.
He immediately sprang up again and shifted the vase to one side. "The flowers are pretty, but I'd rather look at you," he said. Gracia smiled, a light blush touching her cheeks.
He noticed immediately that she'd set out her really fancy dishes - probably the china her mother had given her. And there were lit candles. And a linen table cloth. She really seemed to want the evening to be special, even though they'd been going out for months now, and had spent evenings like this before. For an uneasy moment, Hughes hoped he would live up to her expectations, but was more than a little afraid he would not. Not with the subject he needed to broach tonight.
It was still a little hard to get beef, after the long disruptions of the Eastern Rebellion, but Gracia had made a wonderful roast chicken dinner with orange sauce, with roasted vegetables, and sauteed greens and currants. Even the currants were a bit of a luxury right now, but when pressed, she only said, "Oh, I have connections who can get me things once in a while."
"You're going to have even better connections soon," Maes boasted. "I've just been transferred to a very good position in Investigations. When you need currants - or anything else, from now on - I'll be your man."
"You're already my man," she murmured, smiling.
Hughes' hands stopped suddenly, coming to rest on either side of his plate, still holding the knife and fork. He gazed at the young woman across from him, his heart constricting as he licked his lips and prepared to speak. He opened his mouth, but couldn't seem to find his voice. Or maybe, he admitted ruefully to himself, he didn't want to. Their evening together had started so pleasantly.
Gracia didn't notice his sudden silence, but spoke again. "Actually, I'm relieved to hear about your transfer. And congratulations, by the way. It's especially good news to me, because it means you'll be behind the scenes a lot more, and not sent into the thick of battle. Isn't that right?"
"That's true," he said.
"Then that's one good thing about it already. After what you've told me about your friend Roy, and the shape he's been in since he got back from the East, well, anything that will keep you out of that kind of danger makes me happy. Even if I'm being selfish. But how is your friend lately?"
"It was touch and go, but...I think Roy's turned a corner now." There. He was almost where he needed to be, to begin.
"Oh, I'm so glad, Maes. Shall I bake you something else to take to him, or is he getting sick of my baking by now?"
"Sick? Who could ever get sick of your baked goodies? But he - I - " Hughes put his utensils down and stared into his plate. It was no use. He'd just have to plunge in, or it would never happen. "Gracia," he said quietly. "I need to talk to you about something."
"Of course, Maes. What is it? You can talk to me about anything."
I hope so/, he thought to himself. /But this thing may just be too much, even for you to deal with.
"Gracia," Hughes began, and stopped. He shoved himself away from the table and began to pace back and forth behind his chair. "Look, I need to tell you, before anything else, that I love you. I've always just assumed that was obvious, but I don't think I've actually told you before."
"You haven't," she said. The tinge of colour was back on her cheeks. "I hope you know I love you too."
"I know." He stopped, put both hands on the back of the chair, and smiled warmly across at her. "And you're so important to me. One of the most important people in my life. I never want to lose you. I hope...I hope that never happens. But I - "
"Maes," she said breathlessly. "Are you...proposing to me?"
He hesitated. And knew immediately how his face must look, for the colour suddenly drained out of hers. Her hands dropped to her lap, and he could see her almost visibly shrinking into herself in mortification.
"Then you...," she faltered. "You're breaking up with me."
"What? No! Gracia, that's not what I'm saying. I'm just going to have to explain - it's a bit complicated - "
"Maes, I really don't think I can bear it if you give me the 'It's not you, it's me' speech." She was on the verge of tears. "If you're breaking up with me, just go. I don't want the explanations."
"Aw, hell, I'm making a complete mess of this." He began pacing again, running a frustrated hand through his hair. "Gracia, I promise. It really isn't you. It's not even me. Actually, it's - " he laughed nervously. "It's Roy."
"Roy?" she repeated bewilderedly. "What's he got to do with - " Then her jaw dropped and she just stared at him.
Hughes frowned in consternation. "What? What is it? Oh! Oh, you think - oh no, it's nothing like that. Roy and I are just friends. I mean - damn. I really am making a mess of this, aren't I?"
"I think you'd better tell me what's going on. Are you breaking up with me, or not? And what's Roy got to do with this? With us?"
He put his hand on the back of his chair again, and said soberly, "The real issue, Gracia, is whether you're going to want to break up with /me/. And the reason is a decision Roy has made. No, that's not right. It's a decision we both made. And before I can dream of taking things any further between you and me, to be completely fair to you, I have to know if you can live with it."
"And...if I can't? What then?" She waited for his answer, but again he couldn't find his voice. He couldn't even meet her eyes. "I see," Gracia said. It hurt him to hear the tight control she now exerted over her voice. "I see why you said I'm 'one of' the most important people in your life. Because Roy is even more important to you. And you want me to believe you're not lovers?"
"I love Roy more than the dearest brother," Hughes answered solemnly. "I would give my life for him. But you are my life, Gracia. You have to believe that."
"But..?" she prompted.
"But more important than him...and more important even than you...is...," he finished in a rush, "is that Roy is going to become Fuhrer and I'm going to put him there! Well...help put him there, anyway."
She gaped at him. "That - that's the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard! Is this a joke?"
"It is absolutely not a joke. It's why I've transferred into Investigations. I'm going to give him the information and support he needs to push him all the way to the - " He stopped at her incredulous expression. "I know," he said gloomily. "It sounds like we're insane."
"That too," Gracia managed faintly. "Mainly, it sounds like you're contemplating treason."
He flopped back into his chair as though deflated. He picked up the fork, and morosely pushed a chunk of roast potato around the plate. "I know it does. I guess that's what we're doing. We're hoping it doesn't come down to an outright coup, but if that's what it takes in the end..."
A coup. He watched her shape the words with her mouth, too stunned to speak them aloud. Finally she forced words out. "Why, Maes? What has possessed you, to think of such a terrible thing?"
"Why? Because the current leadership has betrayed this country, that's why. They're taking us into war after war, for no purpose except violence. They're deliberately creating enemies, and destroying whole nations - look what happened to Ishbal. That should have been a relatively small disturbance, but the Amestris leadership fanned that little fire into a blaze that killed hundreds of thousands, and scattered thousands more into exile. Roy saw so much of it while he was there. The response to the Ishbalan rebellion was so out of proportion in its violence that we think the rebellion was just an excuse they were looking for, to create a massacre. We can't let it go on."
"What makes you think that you could change anything, just the two of you?"
"Before we're done, it won't be just the two of us. And the person who will change everything is Roy, with the help of all his supporters. He saw so clearly in Ishbal that the only way to save this country is to seek a peaceful existence, to cooperate and work together with the nations around us. He won't seek empire, and he certainly won't seek war for its own sake. Add to that the fact that he's regarded as a hero now, after Ishbal. The experience may have horrified him, but it's made him the logical choice. People will accept him, just because of the aura of magic and awe he's got around him. That will make it easier to accomplish his goal."
Gracia now seemed as disinterested in her food as he was. She gazed contemplatively into her plate for a moment. "You make it sound so plausible," she said. "But you've told me how shattered Roy has been since he came back. How do you know this isn't just his way of getting even with the leaders who sent him into that hellish situation? He'll throw them all out of power - maybe kill them - and take their place to complete his revenge. Maes." She lifted troubled eyes to his. "People like that become tyrants as bad as the people they overthrow. How can you be so sure about this? About him?"
"I understand why you feel that way. I don't blame you. I don't know if it will help, to tell you that I was already reaching the same conclusions about the leadership, even before Roy came back. So that part of it isn't just some off-the-wall justification he's dreamed up. But as to Roy becoming a tyrant as bad as they are - he won't. For one thing," Hughes said, his eyes suddenly glinting with a hard light, "he knows that if he dared, I'd be the first to stick the knife in his back."
"Maes. No," she whispered in horror.
"Yes," he said grimly, his green eyes boring into her across the table. "You have to understand. That's how important this is. That's how dire things are. But it will never come to that. You asked how I could be so sure about this - and it's because I'm sure of Roy. I'd never have to use that knife, because he'd have blown his own brains out first. After what he's seen and done and endured, he will never allow himself to turn into the kind of tyrant you're worried about. I know him. I believe in him, completely. You have to trust me on this, Gracia."
He made himself shut up, knowing that he could go on explaining for hours if he let himself. He could only hope, now, that Gracia would trust him and would understand. This had been a real leap of faith, telling her everything. Maybe it was the wrong thing to do - and Roy would have been furious if he knew - but Maes just couldn't go any further with her, knowing her integrity and goodness, while keeping something so important from her.
The silence drew out as she continued thinking about everything he'd told her. Longer and longer, until his heart began to sink.
When she finally looked up again and met his eyes, he already had a good idea of what she was going to say. "You want me to trust you about all this. But you see, that's the problem, Maes. I can't."
He thought he'd braced himself. But nothing could really prepare him for how much it would hurt. His eyes stinging with unexpected tears, he pushed himself away from the table and lurched toward the dining room exit. "Alright - I understand - I'm sorry I dragged you into this - and wasted so many months for you - "
"Maes, stop. Where are you going? Maes? For goodness' sake, will you come back here and let me finish, please? /Maes/!"
He stopped in the doorway, one hand gripping the doorjamb, but didn't look back. "What's the point, Gracia?" he said, head bowed. "If you can't trust me, that says everything, doesn't it? I don't blame you. But there's no way we can go anywhere from here, is there? You'd be fighting your conscience all the time - and I could never back down from what I think is so important. It's better if I just leave."
"No it isn't. Will you please let me finish what I wanted to say? Come back here and sit down."
Hughes obediently dragged himself back to his chair. Taking off his glasses, he wiped his eyes and then leaned one elbow on the table, resting his head on his hand. "Alright," he sighed in resignation. "If you're going to lecture me on the evils of treason, I'm listening."
"Don't put words in my mouth, thank you," Gracia said tightly. "And don't jump to conclusions I haven't stated. I never said I don't trust you. But you can't ask me to trust you blindly on /this/."
"'This' being the most important thing in my life. Which pretty much reinforces what I just said."
"I trust your conclusions, and your own commitment, Maes. I know you well enough to understand that you'd never become involved in this without very good reasons. But that's the problem - I know you. I don't know Roy. You tell me to trust that he'd never allow himself to turn into a tyrant. But for something that important, I can't just trust your belief in him. I need to see for myself. I want to meet him."
He lifted his head. "Then...you're not just dismissing us out of hand."
Maes stared at her, relief flooding over him at the sudden reprieve. Maybe he wasn't losing her after all. Maybe there was still hope. And yet...
"Meeting Roy. I don't know, Gracia. He's still doing the recluse thing while he recovers."
"Tell him I'm inviting both of you to dinner. Next Saturday evening. Remind him that if he wants to become Fuhrer, he can't do it from his bedroom. He has to come out eventually."
"I think he was thinking of coming out under different circumstances. Like when he returns to active duty."
"Well, this can be his trial run. And another thing. Don't tell him I know about your little plan."
"Believe me, I won't. He'd never come for dinner then. And he'd probably never stop yelling at me."
"That's not my reason, though," Gracia said. "I want to get to know him when he's just being himself, and not trying to put on a show to convince me to agree to the plan."
Despite himself, Hughes had to grin. "Well, I'll be. You're a devious one, aren't you?" He sobered immediately, and again got out of his chair, to walk around and stand beside her. His heart beating painfully hard, he asked hesitantly, "Does this mean you and I are...still...?"
She smiled. "Yes," she said. "We are. Still."
He yanked her out of her chair, planting a quick, fervent kiss on her lips, and then pulling her into a tight embrace. "Thank you. Thank you," he murmured around the lump in his throat. "I don't deserve you, but I'll try to. And I'll get Roy here next Saturday even if he incinerates me."