It was morning and the light drizzle that had fallen from the sky the day before had intensified into true rain overnight, hammering on the window in Lieutenant Colonel Hughes’ office like an ang...
((A/N: DARK CHAPTER!!!!!!!! Kinda gross, too.))
It was morning and the light drizzle that had fallen from the sky the day before had intensified into true rain overnight, hammering on the window in Lieutenant Colonel Hughes’ office like an angry child.
Maes’ staff members had been surprised to see him come in that morning, but none of them dared to tell him that he should go home. He still had several more days of bereavement leave, but Maes made it clear that he wanted to come back to work and blatantly ignored his underlings’ concerned questions. He knew from the expressions on their faces that they did not think that he was ready to come back, but he shrugged it off. He needed to come back to work. He could not spend the day alone in his hotel room with only the rain and his own misery to keep him company. He could not.
He dove into his paperwork as if he had some sort of fetish for bureaucracy and managed to finish a great deal of the work that had backed-up over his absence in only a few short hours. He’d brought his family’s case file in with him and had set it on the corner of his desk, promising himself that he’d finish reading it and at least start his investigations by the end of the day. The binder seemed to stare at him accusingly, whispering terrible truths in his ear like a demon sitting on his shoulder.
As of yet, he’d not had the courage to even open it again.
Roy had called the office three times already, each time screaming at poor Scieszka when she told him that Lieutenant Colonel Hughes was not taking calls. Maes wasn’t ready to talk to him yet. Besides, he had work to do.
Apparently, Roy was also at work when he wasn’t supposed to be; Maes heard through the grapevine that the colonel had stormed out of the hospital the night before without being discharged, threatening the nurses as they tried to get him to go back to his room and ordering Lieutenant Havoc to drive him to his apartment or else get scorched. This morning, he was back at the office and pretending that nothing had happened, though the bruises and gashes on his face belied his casual air. Maes heard from some of his paper-runners that the atmosphere inside the Colonel’s office was so tense that all of his men looked ready to either piss themselves or have a heart attack. Needless to say, Roy was not in a good mood and that was another reason to delay the heavy conversation that they needed to have.
Hughes sighed and massaged his temples, trying to rid himself of the headache that had been pulsing there all morning. He’d gotten a lot done in the last few hours; maybe he should take a break. He put his head down on his desk and closed his eyes, quietly enjoying the feel of the cool wood against his cheek. He hadn’t slept well the night before, in spite of those pills that Roy had put into his bag. He’d spent most of the night staring up at the ceiling of a cheap hotel room, drifting in and out of various nightmares that left him shaking, his heart battering itself unpleasantly around in his chest like an epileptic bird trying to escape from its cage.
A soft knock came on the closed door of Maes’ inner office and he jerked his head up, startled from his half-doze. He rubbed his eyes with a soft groan, bidding the knocker to enter. Private Scieszka poked her head into the room, peering around the edge of the door at her superior.
“I can come back later if I’m disturbing you, sir.” She offered quickly. She had been tiptoeing around him all morning, treating him as if he would break if she bothered him too much. Sadly, Maes was becoming rather used to it... and not only from her, but from all of his staff. He had sent her on her lunch break over ten minutes ago, but the way that she’d been hovering over him lately, he wasn’t surprised that she’d chosen to keep working rather than leave him alone.
“Not at all, Private.” Maes said, favoring her with a smile that he did not feel. Heartened by his inviting smile—forced though it was—Scieszka smiled back and stepped fully into the room. She was carrying a large—rather garish—bouquet of flowers in an ornate vase of dark green glass.
“These arrived for you, sir.” She said by way of explanation, setting the bouquet on the corner of his desk. Maes looked that them for a moment, perplexed, before raising his gaze back up to Scieszka. “I don’t know who they’re from. The note just said that they were for you... for... for sympathy, I guess...”
Maes smiled at her again and, though the smile was genuine this time, he knew that it was unspeakably sad by the look of pity that crossed her face when she looked at him.
“Thank you.” He said softly, turning away from her uncomfortably. Sure, he was getting used to being treated like a fragile piece of glass, but that didn’t mean that he liked it. He’d meant his soft words to be a polite dismissal, but Scieszka made no move to leave the office. He looked up at her searchingly and she gazed back down at him, her face uncharacteristically expressionless. “Is there anything else?” He asked her warily.
For a moment she did not reply, then the corner of her mouth twitched spasmodically. “Nothing, sir.” She replied, flashing him an odd smile before turning and bowing herself out of the office.
Maes watched her go quizzically, then shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, looking back at the flowers. It was a decidedly ugly arrangement; it consisted mainly of huge stargazer lilies—which filled the room with its heady, sickly-sweet perfume—and red bunches of strange, weed-like flowers that resembled tiny, slightly curled hands. Still, Maes deeply appreciated the gesture from his anonymous well-wisher, in spite of the bouquet’s displeasing appearance and the heady, overpowering smell of the lilies, which reminded him vaguely of the rotten/sweet reek of dead bodies.
It was touching how much sympathy and support he was getting from the people around him. He’d gotten several cards, a few bouquets of flowers, and more than a few kind words. Everyone had been there for him in his time of need. His friends, his subordinates, and even his superiors had all sincerely given him their deepest condolences...
And then there was Roy.
Maes knew how difficult it was for Roy to show compassion, to go out on an emotional limb and comfort a friend in need, but he’d done it. He had taken care of Maes when the bereaved man was so distraught that he could scarcely even remember his own name. He had invited him into his home and sat by his side while he stayed awake all night, crying for those he had lost. Roy had even given himself to Maes as a human punching-bag, allowing Maes to take out his anger and hurt on his undefended body as payment for his cold decision to keep the grieving father in the dark about how his family had been killed.
Maes sighed and lifted his hand to the bouquet on his desk, running his thumb over the thick, white petal of a lily. He was still upset by what Roy had done, was still angry that the man had dared to keep such things from him... but in his heart, Maes had already forgiven him. Roy knew that his actions had been wrong, but he had meant well. Maes had promised that he would talk to him today, yet had ignored his multiple phone calls.
Now, though, Maes was ready to try and make things right.
He reached for the phone on his desk but, as his fingers touched the bright black lacquer of the receiver, the phone rang. Startled a little by the sudden noise, he jerked his hand back, but then grabbed the receiver and put it quickly to his ear.
“Lieutenant Colonel Hughes, here.” He said, half-expecting Roy’s dark voice to answer him.
For a moment there was silence, the thin static on the line sounding like the hushed voices of a thousand ghosts all talking at once. Then, from the electrical void, came two words that stole Maes’ breath from his lungs and stood the hairs up on the back of his neck.
It wasn’t Roy.
Maes nearly dropped the phone as a cold, tingling wave of horror wrapped itself around his stumbling heart and shot down his spine like a sharp arrow of ice. The small, delicate voice was unmistakable. It was a voice that he’d heard almost every day for the past four years, telling him that she loved him and calling out for him in the middle of the night when she awoke from nightmares. But no... No... It wasn’t possible... It couldn’t be...
“Elysia?” He rasped breathlessly into the phone, his mind reeling as if someone had just dealt him a blow to the head.
“Do you like the flowers? Mommy let me pick them out.”
“You... you’re dead.” Maes choked softly, trying to rationalize, trying to wrap his mind around the situation while frantically attempting to keep himself from dissolving into hysterics. “My daughter is dead. Who is this?”
“Did you see what else was in the bouquet, daddy? I left a surprise for you.”
“Who the fuck is this?!”
“How dare you fucking talk to your own daughter like that, you irresponsible asshole!” Elysia’s voice scolded playfully, sounding as if it were trying not to laugh. Maes was shocked into silence by such violent language spilling from what sounded like his daughter’s mouth. “Now, be a good boy and look behind the flowers. You’re gonna want to see this.”
“Oh, you’re mean. You don’t love me anymore!” The voice wailed convincingly, “Come on, daddy... just look. Please? For me?”
Maes’ tear-blurred eyes flashed back over to the bouquet. Still holding the phone to his ear, he reached forward a trembling hand and parted the flowers, knocking petals from one of the lilies so that the long, fragrant shapes scattered onto his desk like pale bones. A glint of metal caught his eye, but it took him a moment to realize what he was looking at. It was a thin silver chain with a tiny, heart-shaped charm hooked into one of the links.
Gracia had thought that Elysia was still too young for real jewelry, but Maes had eventually convinced her to let him give the dainty bracelet to her on her fourth birthday. She’d loved it, insisting on wearing it all the time—even to bed—constantly toying with the little heart that jingled and dangled at her tiny wrist.
The worst thing, though, was not this heart-stabbing gift of his murdered child’s prized possession... no, it was much worse than that... for the delicate bangle was still clasped firmly around its owner’s frail wrist.
“...Oh... God...” Maes breathed, bile rising in the back of his throat.
He hadn’t been able to see it at first, for the skin on the disembodied arm had reached such a stage of putrefaction that it had turned a splotchy pale greenish hue that nearly matched the color of the surrounding flower stems. Elysia’s tiny hand was limp, the tips of her fingers beginning to turn a purple-black with decay. So, he had not imagined that the flowers smelled of sweet rot, for here it was before him, filling him with such sick pain that he thought he would die.
The voice on the phone was giggling maniacally, practically choking on its own laughter.
Maes jerked his hand back violently from the bouquet, knocking it off of his desk in the process. The vase shattered as it his the ground. The flowers spread out in a damp, chaotic heap that left their hidden nightmare displayed like a trophy on a bed of torn petals. Maes jumped up from his chair and pressed himself against the wall behind his desk, recoiling in horror from the scene before him as desperate, helpless sounds broke from him in sobs and dry-retches.
“Oh man, I wish that I could see the expression on your face. It must be priceless!” The voice chuckled, reminding Maes that he still had the phone pressed tightly to his ear. “Seriously though, sweetheart: don’t fuck with us. I want you to forget that you ever knew the meaning of the word ‘Homunculus’. You might think that you’ve lost everything, but there is still so much more that I can take from you if you cross us again. Got it, daddy?”
“You son of a bitch...” Maes gasped, unable to tear his eyes from the pale arm lying on the floor of his office. “...Son of a bitch...”
The voice laughed again, still sounding exactly like Elysia even as it stopped pretending to be the dead girl. “You should have heard her scream, Hughes. You’d never think that something so small could be so loud.”
Maes threw down the receiver, where it cracked on the edge of his desk and cut off the static, shrieking laughter... but the terrible sound still echoed in his head, clinging to him like a disease. He stumbled for the door, half-blinded by tears and a repulsed grief so powerful that it bordered on psychosis. He staggered out of the office, running past Scieszka’s desk without so much as a backward glance.
She did not even attempt to stop him.
Scieszka straightened herself and watched Lieutenant Colonel Hughes leave, barely able to keep the amused smile from her lips as he staggered past her in sick despair. He’d left in such a rush that he hadn’t even noticed that she still had the phone pressed to her ear. She hung it up, laughing quietly in the empty office space, her mouth looking a little too wide for her heart-shaped face as her typically brown eyes flashed a passionate shade of violet.
Envy sat back in the chair and took off the glasses of his chosen form. Too bad Hughes’ assistant weren’t prettier. It irritated him when he had to take on unattractive forms, but this had been so worth it.
Envy had been ordered to kill the Lieutenant Colonel because the poor bastard was getting a little too close to them for comfort, but it was much more fun to destroy him and then leave him alive. He didn’t think that Hughes would be bothering them anymore anyway, so why not leave him with his delicious pain?
The disguised homunculus stood fluidly from his seat and stretched his arms behind his back, silently congratulating himself on a job well done. He moved languidly out of the office, dropping the glasses into his pocket and shifting his appearance so that his hair was longer, framing his/her face with dark locks. The real Scieszka was walking toward him from the opposite direction, coming back to the office from her quick lunch break.
“Good afternoon.” He said brightly as she passed him.
“Oh! Good afternoon.” She replied, just happy to be acknowledged.
Envy smiled and exited the building, stepping out into the rain and humming to himself softly. He closed his eyes, quietly enjoying the feel of the rain against his borrowed face.
Man, what a great fucking day.