Mustang sat at his desk in the otherwise-empty office, staring down at the file in front of him as his stomach churned with anxiety.
Mustang sat at his desk in the otherwise-empty office, staring down at the file in front of him as his stomach churned with anxiety. The name “Hughes” was printed neatly on the cover of the file-binder, accompanied by a string of serial numbers stamped onto the off-white surface. As he’d known that it would be, the file had been on his desk when he’d arrived that morning, even though he’d come in to work almost an hour early. It was just sitting there, waiting for him to read it.
Roy took a deep breath and opened the file.
For the next hour, Colonel Mustang pored over the contents of the binder, scarcely even raising his head as his staff came in. No one spoke to him. Perhaps they knew what he was reading and thought better of disturbing him, but Roy didn’t think so. A more likely case was that his men could read the growing horror on the colonel’s face, in spite of his best efforts to read the report as if it were any other. But... God... the words within the file were far, far worse than he’d imagined they could be.
Roy was used to gruesome, depraved things in his line of work. He was accustomed to seeing gunshot victims... dead bodies lying mangled in alleyways with maggots writhing beneath putrid skin... and to other such unsavory images inherent in the field... but nothing had prepared him for this. Perhaps it would not have been so bad if he hadn’t known Gracia and Elysia. Perhaps he could have shrugged off the heart-clenching, gut-wrenching, nauseating terror of what had happened to them if they had just been another faceless pair of victims instead of his best friend’s wife and child. But, as it was, it took all of Roy’s willpower to keep from closing the file and throwing it across the room in sick anguish.
The report stated—in that cold, factual way that reports tended to be written—the dark, horrifying things that had happened in Maes’ house only a few days ago:
“The Investigations department arrived at the Hughes residence at 15:23, when we were briefed on the situation by Colonel Roy Mustang and Lieutenant Colonel Maes Hughes.” The narrative said, “Two bodies had been found in the house by Lt. Col. Hughes about an hour prior to our arrival on the scene.
“Victim #1—a Mrs. Gracia Hughes—was found in her bedroom. There were minimal signs of struggle, so it is likely that Victim #1 knew her killer. Bruising around the neck and petechial hemorrhaging of the eyes suggests that Victim #1 was strangled by her killer. Cause of death (later confirmed by autopsy) points to asphyxiation...”
The colonel read on methodically, managing to keep himself relatively detached from the horror of what had been done to her. Even when the report went on to describe how the poor woman had been violently raped before she was killed, Roy swallowed back his nausea and continued to read, furtively glossing over the more graphic pieces of the narrative as he pressed on. In spite of the sick, keening horror and quiet despair that clenched Roy’s insides, he did not falter in his task. Did not falter, that is, until he started reading about little Elysia.
“Victim #2—four-year-old Elysia Hughes—was likewise found in her bedroom. The victim was in bed, covered by a sheet. When the sheet was removed, we discovered the child to be completely dismembered, disemboweled, and decapitated. While all other body parts were accounted for in the bedroom, Victim #2’s left arm could not be found on the scene. As was the case with Victim #1, Victim #2 had been sexually assaulted prior to death. Her genitals...”
Roy scanned ahead quickly, his stomach twisting into terrified/revolted knots. He didn’t need to know the details of the little girl’s torture, didn’t need to know how ravaged she had been before her murderer had finally snuffed out her life with his brutal hands. So this was why the coroner had not let them have open caskets... Not only was Elysia’s frail body beyond cosmetic repair, but one of her arms was missing entirely—no doubt taken as a trophy by the sick bastard who had ended her life.
He flipped ahead a few pages, past the gory descriptions of all that had been done to the child’s body to a closer detailing of the crime scene itself. Nothing had been stolen. Nothing had been destroyed. In fact, nothing was out of place at all in the Hughes’ residence, other than the two bodies.
“The only identifying evidence that might point toward a suspect is a crude drawing found on the ceiling of Victim #2’s bedroom (see photo #12).”
Curious and relieved to be finally getting somewhere useful in his morose reading, he turned to the back of the binder where the crime scene photos were organized. Trying hard not to look at any of the pictures too closely, he scanned for the one labeled “#12”. When he found it he stared at it for a moment, a haunting familiarity touching the edges of his mind with cold fingers.
It was an Ourobouros.
There was no mistaking it. Sure it was roughly drawn, splattered upon the ceiling with a sticky red substance that Roy knew without a doubt to be blood, but the colonel clearly recognized the alchemic symbol of unity. The Ourobouros... The serpent eating its own tail...
The chosen mark of the homunculi.
Mustang absorbed that for a moment, the coldness in the back of his skull spreading downward to clutch its frigid fist around his rapidly beating heart. Had the homunculi done this? Had Hughes perhaps gotten a little too close to them in his investigations? The colonel’s eyes remained fixed on the photograph for a beat, then moved to the next one on the page. It was a closer shot of the Ouroborous, in the corner of which Roy could now see three words scrawled:
“ENVY THE DEAD”
Envy. It couldn’t be a coincidence. The shape-shifting homunculus had left his calling card, practically bragging to Roy about his kill, because he knew that he would never be punished for it. He could never be caught, and he knew it.
A sudden, heart-stopping rage flooded the colonel then, mingling with his anguish and creating a fiery mélange of emotion so strong that Roy wanted to scream, to tear apart the world and set the sky ablaze as he hunted down the insane bastard who had committed such heinous crimes. As Roy tore his eyes away from the photograph to look at the next one, though, the fire of vengeful wrath burning in his chest died and became a solid, icy mass that weighed heavily on his ribcage.
He wanted to look away, but found himself unable to do so. The picture was brightly lit, the flash from the camera chasing away shadows, making the lines more crisp and the colors more vibrant. The picture was almost artful in the way that it was executed, but the gut-wrenching content of the photo stole all potential beauty from it.
Elysia... sweet little Elysia was spread out on her bed. Literally, spread out. Her limbs had been torn from her frail torso, piled in an unceremonious tangle of gore: two legs, one arm. Her wet, blood-sticky organs had spilled from her opened abdomen, and they had been arranged around her like some twisted garland that glistened in the camera light. Her head, too, had been removed, but luckily it was turned so that Roy—in his horrified, paralyzed examination of the photo—could not see her face. If he’d seen that... if he’d seen the slack, dead-eyed face of his honorary niece... he knew that it would have broken him.
As it was, Roy could barely swallow back the bile that was rising in his throat, let alone keep his eyes from misting over as he finally tore them away from the harrowing photograph. He quelled the emotion quickly, blinking the half-formed tears from his eyes. He could not afford the luxury of giving in to his grief. Not now. It was too much. He slammed the binder shut violently and sat back in his chair, unable to read any more of the report or study the rest of the pictures.
Mustang raised his head at Hawkeye’s soft utterance. She was looking at him warily, her huge brown eyes full of a secretive sort of pity. His other staff members, he noticed, wore the same expression on their faces, although they were all valiantly pretending to be doing their work rather than watching their colonel’s rising distress.
“Are you okay?” Hawkeye asked.
For a moment, he didn’t answer then, very quietly, he said: “This job gets to me sometimes, Lieutenant.”
Hawkeye favored him with a warm, though terribly sad smile. “It just proves that you’re still human, sir.”
He looked away from her uncomfortably and turned his attention back to the papers on his desk. If this is what it meant to be human, then he didn’t want any part of it. Stoically, Mustang collected himself, desperately pushing all thoughts and feelings about the Hughes case to the back of his mind. He’d deal with it later. For now, he needed to just step away from the file and focus on something else.
Roy dove into other various tasks that he was supposed to be undertaking, burying himself in the comforting white-noise of tiresome paperwork to drag his mind away from the bloody, shredded form of Elysia Hughes. He worked diligently, trying to pretend that today was like any other day, that everything was normal is spite of the way that his men covertly watched his every move.
His attempts to distract himself were successful for the most part, and he managed to fall back into the typical daily swing of things after a while. He signed documents, filed papers, and tried to forget about the thick, horror-filled binder on the corner of his desk. He argued hotly with Colonel Daryn of Western headquarters over some technical linguistic errors in a report that had been sent to Central in the past week and was threatening to go to Daryn’s superiors if the man did not make the necessary corrections. So engrossed in his professional dispute, it took him a moment to realize that someone had entered the office and was making a direct beeline for his desk.
Mustang looked up and nearly dropped the phone as his eyes absorbed the sight of Maes Hughes standing over his desk, trembling with some dark, terrible emotion too raw to be anger.
“We need to talk.” Maes said, the acidity of his voice almost physically painful to hear in spite of how softly his words were spoken.
Roy’s heart stumbled in his chest, which had suddenly become uncomfortably tight.
“We’ll have to discuss this later, Colonel.” Mustang said into the phone, interrupting Daryn’s defensive tirade sharply before hanging up on him. He turned back to Maes, keeping his face carefully blank and guilt-free.
“What is it, Hughes?” He asked lightly.
For a moment, Maes didn’t say anything. Perhaps he was trying to get a grip on his obvious rage before allowing himself to speak. After a long, tension-filled pause, though, he said: “I talked to my men this morning, Roy. I asked them where my file was sent.”
The tightness in Roy’s chest intensified. He stood up slowly from his desk, trying to keep his voice diplomatic. “Maes, before you say anything, let me explain—“
“You lied to me! They were my family, Roy, how could you keep this from me?!” He exploded, unable to contain his anger and hurt.
Mustang fell silent, clenching his jaw as his mind worked to come up with some sort of defense for his lies, but here was nothing that he could say. His actions had been wrong and he knew it.
Roy cleared his throat and tore his eyes from Hughes’ fiery glower to look past the taller man’s shoulder at Hawkeye. All of his staff had frozen in their seats, cautiously watching the darkly electrified interaction between Roy and Hughes. Hawkeye took the hint in Mustang’s pointed stare and stood up from her desk, barking a terse order for the men to take a break. The men looked only too happy to comply, each of them clearly uncomfortable to be witnessing this charged confrontation.
The men left quickly, exiting without a word, though Havoc paused briefly to look at Mustang over his shoulder before closing the door behind him.
Alone with the enraged, grieving man now, Roy felt stifled and overpowered by his presence. Hughes stared down at him, looking ready to either tear him apart or burst into tears at any moment. Roy honestly didn’t know which one he’d prefer.
“Where is it?!” Maes shouted, his broken voice echoing through the empty office.
Roy hesitated, then gestured vaguely at the binder on the corner of his desk. Maes snatched it up violently and stormed over to the small couch in the room.
“Maes, listen to me for a second...” Roy begged, following him to the couch with his heart in his throat.
“No.” Maes spat, rounding on Roy and leaning toward him aggressively until their faces were inches apart. “You don’t get to say anything to me, you deceitful son of a bitch.” Maes took a defiant seat on the couch and opened the binder, beginning to read without preamble.
Roy swallowed and turned away from him, unable to watch his friend as he read the gory descriptions of his wife and daughter’s murder. He moved back to his desk and sat down, running his hands through his hair and chewing his lower lip fretfully.
After some long, unbearable stretch of that smothering silence that could have been half an hour or half a lifetime, Roy looked up cautiously.
Maes’ eyes were wide, one hand covering his mouth as horrified tears ran slowly down his cheeks. Roy looked away from him again, getting up from his seat to pace agitatedly in front of the wide windows behind his desk. The sky outside the windows was an oppressive iron grey, drizzling a light rain morosely over Central city. Roy kept his eyes glued to the world outside as he paced, waiting anxiously for Maes to say something.
It seemed an eternity, but finally Hughes’ quiet voice crept back into the room.
“’We discovered the child to be completely dismembered, disemboweled, and decapitated’?” He read aloud disbelievingly, his breath caught painfully in his chest, “And her left arm is just gone? Pieces of my daughter are missing?”
Roy braced himself and turned to face Maes. The man’s green eyes were still fixed to the report, though Mustang doubted that he could read it very well through the thick blur of tears.
“How could you keep this from me?” He asked for the second time since he’d entered the office, his voice a raw whisper. He raised his head and pinned Mustang with his watery stare, looking completely lost and betrayed. When Roy didn’t reply, Maes shot to his feet, brandishing the binder aloft, shouting, “How the fuck could you not let me know what happened to my girls?!”
“I... I thought it would be better if you didn’t know...” Roy rasped, his insides aching for his friend.
It took only a split second. Hughes leapt over the colonel’s desk, sending a white shower of loose papers to the floor in a rustling cascade. He grabbed Roy violently by the collar of his uniform and slammed him up against the window, a zealous sort of madness making his eyes seem to glow in the dim light flowing in from the world outside.
"That's not for you to decide, you soulless bastard!" Hughes screamed at him, looking ready to kill. "They were my family, MINE, and I should know what happened to them! How dare you keep this knowledge from me, you sick fuck! How could you not tell me that my little girl was tortured and raped?"
Roy didn’t say anything. He couldn’t say anything. There are no words in the world that would have made any difference, anyway, so the colonel chose to stay silent, quietly alarmed and anguished by Hughes’ outburst.
“She was only four years old, Roy...” He trailed off despairingly, his voice breaking as tears of fury and overwhelming sorrow spilled from his dangerous eyes. He clutched Roy's uniform roughly and cried, bowing his head against Roy’s chest as his shoulders heaved with a deep, paternal grief that Roy could never fully know.
Lost for what else to do, Roy hesitantly put out his hand and gripped his friend's arm firmly.
“I’m sorry, Maes.” He whispered, “God, I’m so sorry...”
Maes raised his head, meeting Roy’s dark eyes with his own. The profound sadness there was devastating, but even more terrible was the anger that bubbled suddenly back up to the surface from beneath it, contorting the habitually gentle man’s face into something frightening and almost demonic.
Roy’s head snapped back as Maes’ fist connected solidly with the side of his face, the abruptness of the attack taking him entirely off-guard. Before the colonel could even register what had happened, Maes struck him again, the force of the blow knocking him to the ground.
The colonel looked up at his friend in surprise, feeling the warm sting of blood as it ran through his eye, but made no move to get up. Maes towered over him like a god of wrath, trembling with tear-stained fury. With a half-mad, animal cry, Hughes threw himself at Roy, striking the fallen man again and again with a sick sort of zeal that can only be experienced by one who has lost everything worth losing. Roy kept his hands resolutely at his side, refusing to fight back even as his nose exploded in a spray of blood in the wake of his best friend’s clenched fist. It took all of his willpower to keep from defending himself, but Roy knew that he deserved this. Maes was entitled to his rage and to his vengeance. Roy would not rob him of that small release. Maes’ fists flew chaotically, hitting Roy in the face, neck, and chest. One particularly solid blow to the temple left the colonel reeling, making stars burst behind his eyelids in a colorful array of pain.
Roy must have blacked out for a few seconds, for the next thing he knew the onslaught had stopped. The only sounds in the room were the ragged panting of the two men and the soft tapping of the rain on the window. Cautiously, Roy cracked open his eyes, one of which was quickly swelling shut. Maes was kneeling a few feet away from him with one bloodied hand over his mouth, clearly sickened by what he had just done.
“Oh, Roy... I...” Maes began, but then stopped, ashamed and overpowered by his own emotions.
Roy tried to say that it was alright... tried to say that he understood and accepted Maes’ violent, temporary madness... but all he managed to do was roll onto his side and feebly cough up a mouthful of blood onto the carpet as his mind rocked and ebbed on the border of unconsciousness.
Maes scrambled to his feet and backed away from Mustang’s beaten form before turning from him entirely and running out the door with a sorrowful curse, still clutching the file to his chest.
From his skewed perspective of lying on the floor of his office, Roy watched him go as the corners of his vision went dark. He pushed himself off the floor with one hand, but the tug of oblivion was too strong for him to fight and he fell back down onto the blood-spattered carpet, blacking out entirely before he even hit the ground.
Jean Havoc took a long drag on his cigarette and sighed the smoke out fluidly through his nose. He was sitting on top of a toilet tank in the men’s restroom, his feet placed on the seat carefully so that he didn’t accidentally step in the water.
He wasn’t supposed to smoking in the bathroom and he knew it, but it was raining outside and he didn’t want to stand out in the cold while he savored his cigarette. Besides, he smoked in the bathroom all the time and—as of yet—he’d never been caught.
He leaned his head back against the wall behind him, looking up at the sickly yellow lights on the ceiling as he blew a series of perfect smoke-rings and tried not to think about the heart-wrenching confrontation that was currently occurring between Lieutenant Colonel Hughes and Colonel Mustang. Everyone in the office knew that the colonel was keeping the case files from Hughes, even though Hughes desperately wanted to read them, to try and solve his own family’s murder case and thereby acquire some form of revenge. Mustang had resolutely denied him that right and, though Havoc could not say that he agreed with his superior’s actions, he certainly understood his desire to shield Hughes from whatever brutal, gruesome things were documented between those official pages.
Mustang’s staff had been kicked out of the office for almost an hour now. Frankly, Havoc was starting to get a little concerned. He had passed by the office about fifteen minutes ago and could hear the lieutenant colonel shouting angrily and, although Havoc could not discern his words, the pain and anger behind them was clear. Whatever was happening in there between the two men, Havoc did not think that it was going to end well.
He took another drag on the cigarette, closing his eyes and trying to chase away his deep sense of foreboding with sweet nicotine. Whatever happened, happened. There was nothing that Havoc could do to affect the outcome either way, so he just tried not to worry about it.
Still, it was distressing to see two of his superiors—truthfully, two superiors whom Havoc actually liked—tangled in such horrible dealings.
The door to the men’s room banged open suddenly, jarring Havoc from his glum musings as a figure staggered into the room. The lieutenant cursed under his breath and waved his hand frantically, trying to disperse the lungful of smoke that he’d just exhaled. Havoc peeked cautiously through the crack between the stall door and the wall and recognized Colonel Mustang’s back as the man grabbed a fistful of paper towels and moved over to the sink.
Havoc couldn’t see Mustang’s face, but from his stance the lieutenant could clearly see that the colonel was deeply upset. Mustang stood over the sink, gripping the sides of it tightly with his head bent low. He was shaking, his broad shoulders looking weighed down by some unseen force. Suddenly, he coughed hard into the smooth, white basin, spattering it and the mirror on the wall with bright flecks of crimson.
Alarmed at the sight of Mustang coughing up blood, Havoc jumped down from his perch on the back of the toilet and opened the stall door cautiously.
Mustang froze for a moment, but then turned on the sink and wrung one of the paper towels under the running water without acknowledging his subordinate. Havoc moved warily to the man’s side then gasped as he caught sight of Mustang’s face.
Blood streamed down the colonel’s pale visage, trickling from his mouth, his nose, and from various ragged cuts that marred his cheek and brow. His lower lip was badly split and the flesh surrounding the oozing gash was dark and inflamed. The white of his left eye was splotched with red-black from ruptured blood vessels and the bleeding lids were swollen and bruised purple. There was a long, jagged gash traversing his cheek just below the eye and another one cutting through his eyebrow on the other side. Blood practically poured from his nose, the bridge of which was a torn and pulpy mess of tattered skin and bare cartilage.
Havoc did not need to ask what had happened. His stomach turned queasily as he stared openly at his battered colonel, at a loss for words as Mustang expressionlessly wiped some of the blood out of his eye with the damp paper towel.
“Are... are you okay?” Havoc managed to breathe after a moment, unable to quell the dismay in his voice.
“Fine, Lieutenant.” The man rasped softly without looking at him, his words slurred a little by his injured mouth. “You can leave.”
When Havoc didn’t move, the colonel straightened and turned to face him, trying to look authoritative while holding the bloody wad of paper towels to his heavily bleeding nose.
“Get out, Lieutenant Havoc.” He said, louder this time. Havoc hesitated for a beat then backed away from him a little, half-turning to obey. Out of the corner of his eye, though, he saw Mustang waver on his feet and grip the sink again to maintain his balance. Havoc stepped forward and grabbed his arm, supporting him to keep him from collapsing. Mustang steadied himself, eyes closed as he leaned over the sink and spat out another mouthful of blood.
“You’re not okay, Colonel.” Havoc asserted quietly. Mustang didn’t reply, keeping his head bent and eyes closed as he stemmed the flow of blood coming from his nose and trembled like a blade of grass caught in a breeze. Hesitantly, Havoc reached forward and took hold of the paper towels that Mustang was using on his nose, pushing the colonel’s hand away gently.
“Come on, sit down.” Havoc said, coaxing Mustang to sit on the floor. The man obeyed silently, letting himself sink to the floor unsteadily as Havoc grabbed another handful of fresh paper towels and held them to his superior’s nose for him. “Tilt your head back.”
“I know how to treat a bloody nose, Havoc.” Mustang rasped bitingly as he leaned his head back against the wall and shrugged off Havoc’s hand, insisting on holding his own nose. Havoc sighed and pulled down some more towels, wetting them in the sink and then kneeling on the floor next to Mustang. Carefully, the lieutenant dabbed at the gash below the colonel’s eye, cleaning away the blood so that he could determine how bad it really was. Mustang quietly allowed his administrations, hissing slightly as Havoc wiped a particularly painful spot.
The gash wasn’t as bad as Havoc had thought it was, but it was still deep and it bled freely, drawing sticky red lines down Mustang’s cheek. The gash looked like it had been opened by Hughes’ wedding ring, tearing through his skin raggedly as the man took out his anger and despair on the colonel’s face.
“Where is he?” Havoc asked cautiously after a moment.
“I don’t know. He stormed off. ...I would have followed him, but I think that I blacked out for a while.”
Havoc looked at him, concerned. “If he knocked you out, you might have a concussion. We should take you to the clinic. It looks like you’re going to need a few stitches, anyway.”
“I’m fine.” The colonel insisted hotly, then raised his bloodied gaze. “And you’re not supposed to smoke in here.”
Havoc blinked. In his sick alarm at finding his colonel beaten to a bloody pulp, Havoc had entirely forgotten about the cigarette that was still sticking from the corner of his mouth. Mustang reached forward and snatched it from Havoc’s lips with an unsteady hand. He looked at the white cylinder for a moment thoughtfully, then pressed it to his own lips and took a long drag. He exhaled the smoke slowly, visibly trying to make himself stop shaking.
“He trusted me, Jean.” Mustang said quietly, his bleary eyes watching the cloud-grey smoke spiral upward from the smoldering tip of the cigarette. He shook his head and tossed the cigarette into the sink, where the embers hissed briefly and went out. “He trusted me and I lied to him.”
Havoc looked up from his task of cleaning Mustang’s wounds, touched and saddened by his dejected tone.
“You did what you thought you had to. You wanted to protect him.” He consoled.
“Would you have done the same thing?”
Jean lowered his gaze back down to the gash and for a moment did not answer.
“No.” He said finally, knowing full well that this was not what Mustang wanted to hear. Sometimes truths hurt more than lies, but that doesn’t mean that truths shouldn’t be spoken. Mustang closed his eyes again and nodded slowly.
The two sat on the floor together silently as Havoc cleaned the blood off of the colonel’s face and Mustang held his bleeding nose. After a while, though, Havoc had cleaned off as much blood as he was able to, considering the fact that the undressed wounds were still oozing freely.
“Hey, lemme see.” Havoc said, gently pulling Mustang’s hand away from his ravaged nose. It was not a pretty sight, but it looked as if the blood flow had lessened considerably. “I think it’s stopping.”
Mustang grunted, touching the bridge of his nose gingerly. “I don’t think it’s broken.” He said, more to himself than to Havoc. The colonel reached up and grabbed the side of the sink, attempting to pull himself up. Havoc took a firm hold of Mustang’s arm and helped him stand. The colonel swayed on his feet and probably would have toppled over entirely if Havoc had not been supporting him. Mustang bowed his head, breathing raggedly as he tried to keep his balance and hide the obvious pain that he was in.
After a few beats, Mustang raised his head and looked at himself in the mirror. He cursed softly, grabbing one of the already-bloody paper towels from the counter and gently dabbing again at the worrisome cut on his cheek before leaning forward examine the eye above it. The swelling had gotten worse, but at least the abrasions on his eyelids had stopped bleeding. The eye itself, though, did not look good. The dark splotches of burst vessels seemed to have spread further across the white part of the eye since the colonel had stumbled into the men’s room, but Havoc figured that it probably looked worse than it actually was.
“Fuck, I think you’re right.” Mustang admitted finally, his voice low and unreadable as he tore his eyes away from his own reflection and looked at Havoc, “I need to go to the clinic.” He spat blood into the sink once more and straightened himself unsteadily, wiping his lips on the back of his hand.
“Okay, I’ll drive you.” Havoc said quickly, relieved. “Do... do you need me to help you to the car?”
Mustang looked at him blearily for a moment then nodded resignedly, allowing the blond man to wrap an arm around his shoulders and lead him from the room.