“Go home, sir.” Hawkeye said, the concern in her voice beginning to turn into irritation as she repeated that sentence for the fourth time that day.
“No.” The colonel replied, equally irritated as he gave her the same response he’d given her the first three times.
He was sitting at his desk, his head propped up in one hand as he dragged himself through his daily paperwork. His head was absolutely killing him, feeling as if it might explode at any minute and splatter his desk with grey matter. He half-hoped that it would do just that, for then maybe the pressure in his skull would lessen to a more tolerable level. Hawkeye’s insistence that he go home was not helping his resolve to stay at work. He figured that if Hughes could go to work today after all the shit he’d been through the day before... then Roy sure as hell could, too.
This task, though, was proving to be much more unpleasant than he’d thought it would be. He’d spent most of the previous night with an icy compress held over his eye, so the swelling had decreased dramatically, but the area surrounding his eye had darkened overnight into a truly nasty bruise. The eye itself was still splotched with red-black blood and the remaining white area had become an unhealthy-looking yellow. The nurse the day before had said that that would happen, so he wasn’t especially concerned about it, but it was still not a pretty sight. His lip, too, was badly bruised, as were his cheek and jaw on the left side. His nose... well, it wasn’t broken, and that was perhaps the kindest thing that could be said about it. He kept a small swatch of gauze taped over the bridge of it to keep the stitches clean, and had more gauze taped over the gash under his eye. The other gash over his brow, though, had only needed two stitches and looked well enough to leave unbandaged.
Needless to say, his staff members kept staring at him uncomfortably, asking each other in hushed voices what they thought had happened. Only Breda had had the courage to ask, but the colonel loudly told him to mind his own goddamned business and the subject was quickly dropped. Only Havoc knew exactly what had happened, but Roy suspected that ever-observant Hawkeye had a pretty good idea, too. But Roy was in pain, experiencing vertigo every time he stood up or even turned his head too fast, and in a particularly foul mood, so he wasn’t about to point fingers at Maes just to satisfy his staff’s curiosity. He would just do his work quietly, fighting against nausea, pain, and dizziness until the day was over.
He wanted to talk to Maes, but each time he called over to Investigations, Scieszka politely brushed him off. Roy internally admitted that he’d lost his temper with her, but he wasn’t about to apologize; he’d just keep calling, bullying her until she finally caved in or Maes answered the phone himself.
Roy picked up the phone, ready to try again. He dialed the number that he knew by heart and waited impatiently for someone to answer.
“Investigations.” A woman squeaked shrilly into the phone, sending daggers of pain into Roy’s poor head.
“Private Scieszka, put Hughes on the phone.”
“Oh, Colonel...” Scieszka gasped, suddenly alerting Roy to the fact that she was crying. “Thank God it’s you...”
Roy’s insides went cold.
“Did something happen?” he asked breathlessly.
“We f-found Elysia’s missing arm in the lieutenant colonel’s office. Someone sent it to him in a bouquet of flowers, sir. And he... he just ran off. W-we don’t know where he is.” She sobbed to him, sending her horror through the phone lines as piercingly as she sent her voice.
“Oh, God...” Roy moaned softly, closing his eyes. “Do... do you know which hotel he’s staying at?”
“Yes. We’ve called, but th-there’s no answer. We were about to send a couple of men over t-to see if we can find him.”
“I’ll go.” Roy volunteered quickly, snatching up a pen from his desk. “What’s the address?”
She gave it to him tearfully. The thanked her and hung up the phone, jumping out of his chair and heading for the office exit as another wave of dizziness took him. He grabbed the corner of his desk and caught himself before he could fall, attracting five pairs of worried eyes as he did so. The colonel steadied himself and looked at Havoc, who had half-leapt out of his chair when the colonel had staggered.
“Havoc, I need you to come with me.” He ordered the blond man, trying to keep the fear from his voice. “Something’s happened and I need you to drive.”
“Sir.” Havoc replied, grabbing the keys for the company car and hastening to Roy’s side. Wordlessly, he helped the colonel stumble quickly out of the office, leaving several confused/concerned faces in their wake.
The mirror over the dresser shattered, sending bright shards of glass cascading to the floor like a shower of broken light. Maes pulled back his fist and slammed it into the mirror again, loosening a few more stray pieces of glass from the frame. He spun and hit the wall, an animalesque cry tearing from his throat as his fist punched through the cheaply wallpapered surface.
The hotel room looked as if a bloody war had been fought within the small space: lamps had been thrown, the flimsy desk chair had been broken and overturned, and shards of glass were strewn chaotically across the worn carpeting, reflecting white triangles of light onto the dingy ceiling. The entire room had been torn apart, reflecting the ravaged, heart-wrenched pain that had inundated every fiber of Maes’ being. He stood in the middle of it all, his chest panting and heaving as he looked around at the destruction wreaked by his own hands—one of which had been sliced open by the mirror, but he scarcely noticed this comparatively paltry discomfort, ignoring the blood that dripped from his fingertips and soaked into the carpet at his feet. His mind was a whirling mess of sick horror and frantic images of his little girl being ripped apart by a grinning madman.
Maes covered his face with his bleeding hand and cried like a child—for his child—in loud, violent sobs that echoed sharply in the thrashed room. It was too much. This was not happening, this was not happening, this was not...
He bit his hand to silence himself, shaking his head and trying to calm his racing heart by taking deep, even breaths. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to be in this dim, lonely place for another moment.
“I’m going home.” He whispered brokenly to the empty hotel room. He stood there for a moment longer, then staggered over to the other side of the bed and grabbed the duffel bag that he hadn’t cared enough to unpack the night before. Yes. Home. That is where it began and ended. That was where he belonged.
He slung the bag over his shoulder and barged out the door, not bothering to close it behind him. He jumped into his car and started it quickly, throwing it into gear and streaking madly from the hotel parking lot, sending jets of rainwater into the heavy iron-grey sky.
Roy tapped his finger impatiently on the armrest of the car door, trying to ignore the fact that his heart was beating so hard that he thought it might break from his ribcage and run screaming through the rain-drenched streets at the slightest provocation.
Maes hadn’t been in his hotel room. Worse, the place had been torn apart as if by a wild animal. Roy could almost see Maes in his mind’s eye, caught in a tumult of sickened insanity as he tried to cope with this new kind of horror. Roy had had Havoc drive to his apartment next, hoping that maybe Maes had gone back there. But no, the apartment was silent and empty. Now he and Havoc were sitting in the car outside the apartment, listening to the rain pound on the roof of the car as they tried to think of their next move.
“Where else would he go?” Havoc asked, looking worriedly at his superior in the rearview mirror.
“I don’t know...” Roy sighed, rubbing his face and hissing as his gloved hand dragged against the cut on his brow.
“Does he have any relatives around here?”
“Any friends other than you in the city?”
“Not that I know of.”
Havoc chewed his lip and leaned back against the headrest of the driver’s seat, thinking. “Maybe he went home.”
“Back to his place, you mean?” Roy asked slowly, tearing his gaze from the window to meet Havoc’s blue eyes in the rearview mirror. The man nodded, probably reading the dawning realization on Roy’s face. Of course Maes had gone home, why hadn’t it occurred to them earlier? Roy cursed himself inwardly and ordered Havoc to drive to the still taped-off Hughes residence. Havoc obeyed, sensing the quiet urgency that was practically radiating from the colonel as he spoke.
It wasn’t really that long of a drive between Roy’s apartment and Maes’ house, but it seemed like hours before they reached their destination. Roy’s heart leapt as he saw Maes’ car parked innocuously in the driveway. Good, he was here. The colonel opened the door and stumbled out of the car before Havoc had even stopped it completely, earning himself a surprised, protesting sound from the lieutenant.
“Stay here.” Roy ordered over his shoulder as he ventured out into the rain and started across the soggy grass in front of the house, fighting against the vague vertigo that had been plaguing him since yesterday. The yellow police tape that had marked off the edges of the crime scene had been torn so that the bright material whipped madly about in the rising wind like wounded snake. Roy walked past it and up the short flight of stairs leading to the porch. The door at the top was wide open, a gaping maw that revealed a darkened room within.
Thunder cracked from the storming sky and the already-heavy fall of rain became a veritable downpour of cold water. Roy stepped cautiously into the house, the sound of his wet footsteps on the wooden floor impossibly loud in the empty living room.
“Maes?” He called to the darkness. The only reply was the water dripping from his long coat in solid, even taps as it hit the floor, sounding like a dying heart on its last few beats. Roy moved forward into the dim house with his heart in his throat, a cruel voice in the back of his mind telling him where Maes might be. He stepped into the hallway and moved toward the bedroom at the end. The room was dark, but the streetlamp outside the window provided more than enough light for Roy to see by after his eyes adjusted to the dimness. The yellow-grey light touched a small collection of toys on the little dresser in the corner, lending their plastic eyes a brightness that made them look almost alive. Roy’s skin crawled and he turned his gaze elsewhere until finally they landed on a shadowy figure sitting on the floor with his back propped against the tiny bed in the middle of the room.
“Watch where you’re stepping.” Maes’ hollow voice came, the words seeming to drift from his mouth like a cloud of steam on a cold day.
Roy blinked and looked down. The floor of Elysia’s bedroom was covered in photographs, each neatly placed as if on a grid that spanned in a wide half-circle in front of Maes. The colonel stepped carefully over the pictures to Maes’ side. After a brief hesitation, Roy crouched down beside his friend.
“Hey.” He said lamely, at a loss for anything more articulate.
Maes didn’t respond to his awkward greeting, choosing instead to ghost his hand over the photographs on the floor before him, as if searching for one in particular. Roy knew without looking that they were all pictures of Elysia, each taken by her giddy, obsessive father over her four short years of life. The person who had taken those photos had died with her, Roy realized, leaving behind a brittle, cracked shell of a man that showed no signs of ever being whole again. Maes found the picture he was looking for and picked it up, holding it reverently between slightly tremoring fingers.
“Private Scieszka told me about the... about what happened.” Roy continued softly, “About what you found.”
Again, Maes didn’t reply. Wordlessly, he reached over and handed the picture to Roy. Roy took it cautiously, unnerved by the man’s silence as he looked down at the photo. It was a picture of Roy looking bewildered and slightly alarmed as Gracia placed the tiny, two-day-old Elysia into his arms. Maes had insisted that Roy hold the baby, eager to show off his new daughter to his best friend as he snapped photos of their first encounter.
“I always liked this one. You look like you’re about to... to have a heart-attack.” Maes said quietly, leaning his head on Roy’s shoulder as they both looked at the picture. His words had an odd sound to them, slurred a little as if he’d been drinking. Roy looked over at his friend searchingly. He didn’t smell like alcohol...
“I have a copy of this somewhere.” Roy replied, handing the photo back to him. “I’ve always meant to put it in my wallet and I never have.”
Maes reached for the picture, but his fingers fumbled it clumsily and it fluttered to the floor, further convincing Roy that he was intoxicated. Roy supposed that he really couldn’t blame him; frankly, the colonel felt like having a few drinks himself.
“Come on, Maes. Let me take you back to my place.” Roy coaxed, wrapping his arm around Maes in an attempt to get him to his feet. Maes jerked away from him violently, scattering the photos across the floor.
“I’m not leaving.” He said defiantly.
Roy sighed through his nose, clenching his jaw. “I know you don’t want to, but you have to.”
“No, I’m not...” Maes began but then trailed off, leaning his head against the foot of Elysia’s bed with a suddenly placid expression on his face. For a long pause he was silent then, dazedly, he said, “...I don’t know what I’m saying.”
Roy watched him closely, the gears in his head turning. Maes wasn’t drunk. It was something else. He leaned forward and looked carefully into Maes’ half-lidded eyes. His green eyes were glazed, the pupils contracted sharply into tiny black pinpoints.
“...Maes, are you high?” Roy asked, shocked.
“No... I’m just tired.” Maes replied after a moment, his head still lolling against the bed.
“You’re lying. You took something.” The colonel maintained, more bewildered than concerned. Even when they had been in the academy together, Maes had never been one to experiment with drugs. Roy had stumbled into their shared dorm-room high as a kite on more than one occasion during their academy days, but Maes had always chosen to abstain. Maes’ current narcotized state was very out of character, to say the least.
“What did you take?”
Maes raised his gaze slowly to meet Roy’s eyes again then, very softly, he said:
“I’m sorry, Roy... you weren’t supposed to find me.”
Roy’s breath caught in his chest. Until that moment, he had not been overtly alarmed by Maes’ behavior. Until Maes had spoken those words, Roy had thought that Maes had perhaps scored some weed or some other mild downer to calm his frantic nerves... but now an icy ball of fear was forming in the pit of Roy’s stomach as he realized the gravity of what was happening.
“Maes, what did you take?” He breathed, his words so quietly terrified that he could scarcely hear them over the suddenly panicked thudding of his own heart.
Maes stared at his friend, shaking his head as tears welled in his sage-colored eyes. No words could have confirmed Roy’s dark suspicions more clearly than those silent tears. He was sure of it now:
Maes had overdosed.
Roy grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him violently. “WHAT DID YOU TAKE?!” He screamed at the poisoned man. Maes just shook his head again, allowing the tears to fall gently down his cheeks as the thinnest ghost of a smile touched his lips. Now that Roy was looking for the signs, he could see that his friend was deteriorating rapidly. Maes’ skin was pale and clammy and his breathing was uneven and a little labored. His eyes were blearily over-bright, wandering vaguely from Roy’s face before beginning to fall shut again.
“No! No, Maes, stay awake.” Roy pleaded, trying to keep the alarm from his voice as he took his friend’s face in his hands, “Come on, man. You took something, what was it?”
“...It’s on the nightstand.” Maes sighed finally, sounding almost irritated that Roy was hounding him so much for an answer.
Roy turned and saw a small bottle on Elysia’s bedside table. He grabbed it and brought it to eye-level. Sleeping pills. The very bottle of sleeping pills that Roy had given him. It was empty.
“Oh, Maes...” He whispered. How many pills had been left in the bottle? It had been about half full, so thirty? Forty? More, maybe? Roy couldn’t remember. It didn’t really matter exactly how many the man had taken; what mattered was that he had taken more than enough to end his life if Roy didn’t do something. He grabbed Maes again, attempting to heft the limp man to his feet.
“Leave me, Roy...” Maes said, struggling weakly as Roy pulled him up and situated himself under his arm, beginning to half-carry, half-drag the taller man toward the door. “I want this. It’s over.”
“Shut up, Maes. You aren’t thinking clearly. Let me just get you to a hospital and then we can talk about this, okay?”
“No. I mean it. Put me down.” Maes said, reaching behind his back as Roy dragged him down the hallway.
“Not a chance. If you think that I’m just going to let you kill yourself, then...” Roy trailed off as he looked back up at Maes. He froze in his tracks as his eyes took in the small, glinting knife that Maes had pulled from the compact sheath that he always kept at the small of his back. Maes had the blade pressed firmly against his own neck.
“Leave me.” Maes said again, very quietly. He was high and his body was slowly dying, but he knew what he was doing. Roy knew without a doubt that there was nothing he could do. Even in his current state, Maes was quick enough with a knife to slit his own throat before Roy could even blink.
“Don’t do it.” Roy rasped, his voice breaking. “Don’t you fucking dare.”
“I’m sorry.” Maes whispered back, then leaned forward and pressed his lips to Roy’s forehead softly, silently kissing him goodbye.
The knife flashed, spattering the bright metal with dark spots of crimson.