It had been a beautiful service, especially considering how quickly it was arranged. Hughes had long ago planned for his own funeral because of his dangerous line of work and because he didn’t wa...
It had been a beautiful service, especially considering how quickly it was arranged. Hughes had long ago planned for his own funeral because of his dangerous line of work and because he didn’t want his wife to have to deal with it, but he had made no such arrangements for his family. He didn’t think that there would be a need in his lifetime.
As the wife and daughter of a military official, Gracia and Elysia were entitled to a full military funeral, but Maes refused it. He wanted a normal, civilian service for them rather than the ordered pomp of a military interment. He said that they had not been soldiers, so they should not be buried as such. He had also wanted open caskets, but the coroner and funeral director both denied his request. They would not tell him why.
There had been a big turnout. Dozens upon dozens of people had arrived to pay their respects to Hughes and his departed family. Private Scieszka had arrived early and clung to her superior for most of the service, her thin arm wrapped tightly around him in a surprisingly possessive way. Most of the other people present kept their distance from the lieutenant colonel, though. They’d greet him, give him their condolences, perhaps embrace him or shake his hand, and then they would move uncomfortably away. Clearly, Roy was not the only one at the service who was deeply disturbed by the happy-go-lucky man’s direness. Not that they didn’t think that his profound mourning was justified. That wasn’t it at all. It was just seeing him so broken, so carved-out... it was like watching the sun turn black, throwing everything into fathomless shadow.
Roy had grown more accustomed to this new, grief-stricken Maes over the three days that they had been living together in Roy’s apartment, but he didn’t think that he could ever get entirely used to it. He stood close to his friend—but not too close—and they did not really speak to or look at one another for the duration of the funeral, although Roy tried to make it clear that he was more than willing to provide comfort if that’s what Maes needed from him.
The Elric brothers—who Maes had deeply feared would not be able to make it because they had been on their way to Dublith when they got the news—arrived late. Ed was obviously having a hard time keeping his emotions in check, but he managed to show his commiserations to Hughes very sincerely without shedding a single tear. Roy knew that it meant a lot to Maes for the Elric boys to be there. After all, they had helped his wife deliver his daughter. They were eternally linked to the Hughes family, whether or not they knew it.
Ed and Al stood on either side of Maes as many of the other attendants went their separate ways. The graves had already been filled in and the three mourners looked down at them silently, a gentle breeze stirring the various bouquets of flowers that had been set beside the headstones. Maes’ shoulders quaked as he wept quietly into a handkerchief while Ed and Al both leaned against him consolingly, stroking his back as if they were comforting a child. Roy stood back from them a ways, not feeling that he should try to take part in the sad unity that Ed, Al, and Maes were experiencing.
The sun had begun to set on the horizon, throwing rich red and gold light on the cemetery and casting profound shadows behind each of the headstones. They had been at the cemetery for hours and Roy was anxious to get Maes back to his apartment where he could unwind, away from the graves of the only family that he had. The colonel was aware that he was desperately trying to shield his suffering friend from the reality of his family’s death, but he didn’t know how else to aid him. Keeping everything away was the only way that Roy knew how to cope with grief.
The colonel stepped forward and touched Hughes’ arm. “We should go.”
Hughes nodded, the handkerchief still pressed to his face as he turned to Roy and followed him to the car. Ed and Al followed them, embracing Maes tightly before he got into passenger’s seat.
“Hey, Colonel.” Ed called as Maes closed the door. Roy turned to the boy and looked down at him. It was odd to see him in a suit, the colonel thought to himself, taking in the young alchemist’s formal attire. He looked uncomfortably elegant, as even his oft-messy hair was slicked back away from his face. He looked sober and worn and entirely too old for his young years. Briskly, Ed took the colonel’s arm and pulled him aside.
“How is he? I mean, really.” Ed asked, his amber eyes straying to the man sitting numbly in the car. Roy, too, turned to look at him for a beat and then sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly with one white-gloved hand.
“Bad. Really bad, Fullmetal.”
Ed nodded slowly and bit his lip. His hand was still resting unconsciously on the colonel’s arm and suddenly it gave a sharp, mournful squeeze. “Take care of him, will you?”
“...You have my word.”
Ed gave his superior a watery smile and signaled for Al with a meaningful tilt of his blond head. The two of them walked back toward the graves with slow, methodical steps that carried all the weight of a child’s boundless grief. They had not been here for very long and perhaps they wanted to take more time showing their respects to the woman and child that they had grown to love. Roy watched them for a moment longer as Ed stood in front of the graves, covered his face with one hand, and allowed himself to cry. Al pulled him close and held him as they both looked down at the cold marble headstones, uttering soft words to one another that the colonel couldn’t quite make out.
Roy clenched his jaw and got in the car. Hughes had stopped crying for the time being and was gazing out the window at the Elric brothers, the palest ghost of a smile touching his lips.
“They’re such good boys.” He said quietly as Roy started the car. Roy nodded, but said nothing as he pulled away and started down the road.
They drove in silence for a while, Maes with his head leaning back against the seat and his eyes closed. Roy knew that he must be exhausted; he hadn’t really slept more than a few hours since the night Elysia and Gracia were killed. Perhaps tonight, with the funeral behind him, he would be able to sleep. Maybe Roy could talk a few drinks into him if all else failed, or perhaps sleeping pills.
“Did you get the files yet?”
The question came abruptly from Maes’ lips, startling Roy a little from his dark, worried thoughts.
“What files?” Roy asked tentatively, keeping his eyes on the road.
Peripherally, Roy saw Maes sit up and look at him, a sudden, dangerous kind of static rolling off of him in unwarranted waves of warning. “Don’t fuck with me, Roy. Not today. You know what files I’m talking about.”
Roy did know what files Maes was referring to. The Hughes case files, of course. The files that detailed everything that had been uncovered at the crime scene, and described the autopsies done on Gracia and Elysia, and listed any evidence and possible scenarios of what might have happened.
The colonel knew that the files would be on his desk when he went in to work the next morning, just as he had ordered.
“I have no idea who has them.” He lied easily, though he was a little taken aback by Maes’ abrupt mood swing from melancholy to aggressive.
“Bullshit, I know you. You’ve probably already requested to take over this case. Even if you don’t have the files now, you know who does.”
Roy looked over at him. Hughes’ eyes were burning with a strange, manic intensity; he wasn’t going to let this go. Roy sighed and looked back at the road, his mind working guiltily to come up with a new lie.
“I did request the case, but I was denied access. Apparently it’s classified.”
“Why would it be classified? That doesn’t make sense.”
“Don’t ask me, how the hell should I know?”
Maes went quiet for a moment, looking at his friend accusingly and tainting the air between them with a prickling, acidic tension. Roy could tell that he didn’t believe him.
“...I want those files, Roy.”
“I don’t have them. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to be honest with me! I deserve to know what happened to my girls!” Maes exploded, anger and hurt warping his words into something that plunged sharply into Mustang’s chest like a rusty kitchen knife.
Mustang opened his mouth to give a falsely innocent reply, but then closed it quickly and chewed on his lower lip in agitation. Maes knew Roy better than anyone in the world and could almost always tell when he was lying. There was no point in trying to deceive him further.
“I don’t think that now is the time to discuss this, Maes.” He said tiredly after a moment, desperately hoping to just drop the subject.
“When is the time, then?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps on a day that you didn’t just bury your family.” Roy spat. He said the words more acidly than he’d meant to and immediately regretted them. He stole a look at Maes, registered the raw, sick emotion on his face and sighed, “I’m sorry. I... I can’t imagine how hard this all must be for you.”
“No... you’re right.” Hughes replied in a small voice after a very long pause that deftly twisted the emotional knife between Roy’s ribs. He took off his glasses and rubbed his face roughly with his hands. “I’m just... not thinking right, you know?”
“Yeah. Yeah, man, I know.”
The two soldiers in the car fell silent, each one battling against the tightness in their throats. The sky darkened around them, plunging the car’s interior into a dim grey-blue shadow that only the intermittent streetlights could penetrate with erratic, golden bursts of clarity that did not last long enough for the colonel to discern what expression Hughes wore on his tired face. Neither man spoke for the rest of the drive.
Once they pulled up in front of his apartment and went inside, Roy hung up their coats on the rack beside the door. “You should eat something.” He said over his shoulder, trying to sound much lighter that his lead-encased mood actually was.
“I don’t really care whether or not you’re hungry.” Mustang retorted, moving into the small kitchen. “You haven’t eaten since yesterday and even then you only had a piece of fruit. What do you want?”
Roy heard Maes sigh as he sat back on the sofa in the other room, but other than that annoyed exhalation he made no reply. Roy supposed that it was normal to lack appetite when being internally torn apart by unfathomable grief, but that didn’t mean that the colonel wasn’t going to fight tooth and nail against his comrade’s sorrow-induced anorexia. Roy snorted his concerned frustration and ordered take-out, brutally telling Maes that he’d force it down his throat if he refused to eat it.
Once the take-out arrived Mustang eyed the new widower cautiously, watching him pick vaguely at his food. Hughes did eat some of it—less than half—but at least it was better than nothing. He did not complain as he ate, but he clearly did not enjoy the food, either and—after what seemed like only a few mouthfuls—he pushed the food away, looking distinctly green. He sat back on the couch and drew his long legs up, curling slightly fetal and resting his chin on the couch’s worn arm, closing his bloodshot eyes.
“Think you’ll sleep tonight?”
Hughes opened his eyes blearily to Roy’s soft question and gave a low, bitter laugh. “God, I hope so.”
Roy sighed, then stood up abruptly and went into the kitchen, rummaging briefly in the cabinet before finding what he was looking for. He returned with a small, rattling bottle in hand and plopped himself on the couch beside his friend.
“Here.” He said, popping the cap off of the bottle of pills with a deft flick of his thumb and shaking two of the smooth, white capsules into his palm. “Take these.”
Hughes raised his head from the arm of the couch and turned his face to look at Roy properly. His eyes wandered down to the offered capsules, but he made no move to take them.
“What are they?”
Hughes rolled over to face Mustang completely, stifling a smirk that suddenly found itself tugging on the corner of his mouth.
“You just want me incapacitated so that you can take advantage of my sweet innocence.”
Mustang laughed inwardly, but outwardly he kept his face entirely serious.
“Well, what can I say? I’ve tried seducing you, but somehow you seem immune to my godlike charm and dashing good looks. So, really, my only option is to drug you.”
“I knew it all along, you sick, sick freak.” Hughes said, sighing like a true thespian and flinging the back of his hand over his eyes.
It was a game they played off and on that they both found hilarious, even though it seemed to irk those around them. They would scream and rage at one another over the most trivial of things (“How DARE you borrow my pen, you soulless son of a bitch!”), or dramatically proclaim their undying love for one another, often going into raunchy, hyperbolic detail (“I mean HOT DAMN, man! Who could resist that sweet ass?”). The most important part of this game, though, was to keep one’s face entirely serious, no matter how ridiculous the loud accusations and facetious flirting became.
It was deeply, deeply heartening that Hughes was playing this familiar, teasing game; was not only playing it, but had actually initiated it. It was the first time since before the night the Roy had rescued him from the scene of his family’s murder that Hughes was actually acting a little like himself.
“Just take the pills already, bitch. I can’t wait all night.”
Hughes broke his façade of scandalized alarm with an amused snort and reached for the pills, downing them dry with no further comment. He straightened himself to sit upright next to Mustang and leaned his head back against the wall behind the couch, gazing musingly at the other side of the room.
Roy looked down at the bottle of pills in his hand for a moment, then tossed them into the duffle bag that he’d had someone bring from Maes’ house the day before. Maes would probably need the pills more than Roy would.
“Thank you, Roy.” He said after a short, comfortable pause. “For... everything.”
Roy did not turn to look as his companion as he spoke, but knew without seeing them that tears were forming once more in Hughes’ eyes. The colonel cursed inwardly, his brief hope that Hughes was working past his disturbing, weepy stage of grief all but smashed on the wooden floor beneath his feet.
“You would do the same for me. You have done the same for me, in a way. It’s nothing. Really.”
“It’s not ‘nothing,’ Roy. Don’t cheapen what you’ve done for me by saying that.”
Roy clenched his jaw and did not reply.
Maes wiped his eyes impatiently.
The two sat together like that for a long time, each lost in unhappy thoughts. After an impossibly long stretch of silence, Roy turned his head to look at his suffering friend. His eyes were closed and his breathing was steady, a series of gentle, deep exhalations that reminded the colonel of dark waves lapping at the shore. Maes was asleep.
A deep, sad sort of relief flooded Roy then. He sighed, then gently pushed Maes over so that he was lying on the couch. The man stirred slightly and mumbled something, perhaps a name, but then fell still again. Roy took his glasses off of him and set them on the table, then moved to his shoes, unlacing them and tossing them onto the floor. He threw a blanket over the man and, hesitating briefly, brushed a few strands of black hair from Maes’ sleeping face.
He’d be okay. He’d been dealt a terrible blow and he was still reeling from it, but he would recover soon. He would heal and everything would be as it was.
Roy shook his head, dispelling the dark thoughts from his mind. He took one last, pitying look at his best friend the flicked off the light, casting Hughes in darkness.
Yeah. He’ll be fine.