Roy reached out his hand and rested it on the latch, but hesitated to actually open the door.
Maes was lying on the starched-white cloth of the hospital linen, as unmoving as a stone. His skin held a sick gray, almost yellowy hue that made Roy’s stomach turn as he stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. Maes’ eyes were closed, the thin lids dark and bruised-looking, reminding Roy of the hollow, shadowed eye sockets of a fleshless skull. He shuddered and moved closer, taking off his rain-and-blood-soaked gloves and shoving them into his pocket. He raised his hand slowly and brushed his bare fingers against Maes’ arm.
“Maes?” He called softly, only half-expecting an answer from the seemingly lifeless body in front of him.
The man’s brow furrowed then his hazy eyes opened slowly, rolling over to look at Roy. An intense, limb-jellying relief flooded the colonel then as he finally allowed himself to believe that Maes was not only alive, as the doctors had told him... but conscious and expected to recover. Maes looked up at him for a moment then closed his eyes again, turning his head away.
“I don’t want you in here.” Maes said tiredly, his voice made strange and hoarse by a combination of the injury on his neck and the clear oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose.
Roy pulled his hand away from Maes’ arm as if shocked, taken a little off-guard by his friend’s cold dismissal. He almost turned and left the room right then. It certainly would have been easier than standing in that white, oppressive room with his suicidal best friend lying on a soulless hospital bed and telling him that he wasn’t wanted. Instead of exiting, though—as part of him badly wanted to do—Roy stalked over to the wooden chair at Maes’ bedside and sat down defiantly.
“We’re even, then.” He said after a brief pause, “Because I don’t want you in here either, but here we both are and nothing is going to change that.”
Maes sighed, but didn’t say anything.
The machines next to the hospital bed whirred and beeped, filling the small room with a frantic breed of white noise that ground into the back of Roy’s skull like coarse sandpaper, sending his already fatigued nerves into new throes of unease. He clenched and unclenched his jaw repetitiously, unaware of his nervous habit as he stared over at Maes and did everything in his power to keep from screaming.
What should he say? Should he be tender and sympathetic? Should he be stern, telling Maes that he was a selfish idiot for trying to take his own life? Should he hold the man’s hand and tell him that everything was going to be okay? Should he just sit there silently, stewing in his own incompetence as he waited for Maes to speak first? Should he...?
“I’m not good at this!” Roy exploded suddenly when the empty sounds of the machines in the otherwise silent room became too much for him to bear. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do! I’ll do whatever you want me to, but you have to tell me because I honestly don’t know! I’m trying to help you, Maes—I swear to god that I’m trying—but I don’t know how and everything I do just seems to make things worse!”
Maes opened his eyes but did not look over at Roy, instead choosing to fix his eyes on the blankness of the ceiling as he listened to him speak.
“I will do anything you ask of me if it will make you want to live, Maes...” Roy said desperately, daring to reach over again and rest his hand on Maes’ arm. “Anything. Just name it. You can’t honestly want this.”
“You know what I want from you, Roy?” Maes asked bitingly after another unbearable stretch of silence, his eyes still fixed on the ceiling as they filled with angry tears, “I want you to turn back time. Yeah, that would be perfect. Just a few days, that’s all. Just long enough for me to save them. Or, better yet, just bring them back to life for me. That could work, too...”
Maes stopped talking abruptly, as if realizing what he’d just said. Roy sat back in the chair and looked at him, a sudden coldness freezing his insides with apprehension as the words “human transmutation” hung unspoken between them in the dead air.
“Maes, if that’s what you want from me, then I can—“ Roy began quietly after a long pause, his mind already reaching for the half-baked theories that he’d plotted out so many years ago—but Maes interrupted him.
“No! No, Roy, that’s not what I want.” Maes rasped dejectedly, shaking his head and turning his grief-filled eyes on the colonel. “You really don’t get it, do you? My point is that there is nothing you can do. You can’t just fix me, okay? Everything has been taken from me, Roy... everything! I have nothing left to live for and you can’t change that.”
“You still have me.” Roy whispered, his voice so small and weak that it was almost frightening to his own ears.
The suicidal man on the bed turned away again and gave no reply to that other than to grit his teeth and allow his tear-laden eyes to spill over, drawing wet lines down the side of his wan face.
“You’ve always been enough for me.” The colonel continued, his throat constricting in spite of his best efforts to keep his emotions in check. “But I can understand why I would not be enough for you. I’ve never had a wife and child, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like to lose that... and maybe that’s why I’ve never needed anything other than you, because I don’t know any better...”
He stopped, the tightness of his throat now accompanied by hot tears blurring his vision. He tried to blink them back, but they would not be stemmed. He took a breath to get a hold of himself, but it escaped from him again almost immediately in the form of a quiet sob.
“I know that I can’t replace them.” He went on brokenly, running his fingers down Maes’ arm to his hand, uncertainly entwining their fingers and running his thumb gently over the scabbed flesh of his knuckles. “I know that I can’t take that pain away, as much as I want to. As much as I have tried to keep it away from you, I have done so much more harm than good and I’m sorry... But please, Maes... this can’t be the answer. Not this.”
Maes snatched his hand from Roy’s caring grip and covered his eyes with it.
“You can’t say this shit to me, Roy!” he wept, “You, of all people, have no right to tell me not to kill myself when you’ve held a gun in your own mouth.”
Roy froze, shocked by the cruelty in Maes’ labored voice. “This is not the same...”
“Why isn’t it the same? Because I actually had the guts to do it when you chickened out at the last second?”
“...That’s a low blow, Maes.” Roy replied lowly, the edges of his grief now stained with quiet injury. “I didn’t chicken out, someone stopped me and I listened to them! This isn’t the same because I tried to stop you and then you did it anyway! You slit your throat while I was holding you in my arms, Maes. That’s the difference between what I did and what you did; not only were you killing yourself, but you were going to make me watch! I would never do that to you...”
Roy’s voice broke and he had to stop again, the threat of another breakdown becoming a very real thing that quickened his heartbeat and made him feel as if he were slowly suffocating in his own misery. He turned away from Maes, who had lowered his hand and was watching Roy with deep anguish.
“You weren’t supposed to find me, Roy.” He said quietly, repeating those haunting words that he’d whispered in Elysia’s bedroom. “It could have been anyone but you. I didn’t want you to see that.”
“I don’t care about what you wanted to happen, this is what did happen! I thought you were going to die in my arms and there was nothing that I could do about it! Do you have a-any idea...?”
Roy shook his head, lowering it so that the damp, untidy tresses of his black hair shielded his face. The despair that he was trying to keep at arm’s-length slammed into him like a sledgehammer, shattering him with one blow that was so powerful that he thought he was going to either faint or vomit. He turned back to Maes, trembling and gasping like a forsaken child and leaned down against him, pressing his cheek against the side of Maes’ head as he buried his face into the pillow next to him and sobbed. He reached around and twined his fingers in the man’s dark hair, cradling Maes’ head tightly against him as he cried openly.
“I know that I c-can’t fix you!” He wept harshly, his voice muffled a little by the pillow, “But... god... just let me try. Give me a chance to p-prove to you that your life isn’t over. If after a few months you still feel this way, I will kill you myself if you ask me to... But don’t let this be it, not like this. I l-love you too much to accept this, Maes. I can’t lose you, my brother, I can’t...”
Maes went still under Roy’s trembling body as the colonel became too overcome to continue his raw pleading. Maes had seen Roy cry before, but he’d never witnessed a total loss of control like this... let alone see him become the helpless slave of his own emotions, seeming almost to drown in his sorrow like a rat in a storm-drain. How pathetic Roy must seem to him... how abhorrently weak and detestable... It was no wonder that Maes wanted to kill himself if this weeping wretch was all that he had left in the world, this useless fuck-up of a human being who couldn’t even keep himself from crying when his dearest friend needed him to be strong.
But he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t stop. His previous breakdown just hours before had only been a temporary breach in the dam that was Colonel Roy Mustang’s composure. Now, though, the dam had broken entirely and there was nothing to hold back this vicious torrent of suffering. He was powerless to stand under the pain of this onslaught, able only to cling to his best friend and weep for him.
Slowly, Roy felt Maes shift beneath him. The man brought his arms up and wrapped them around Roy, pulling him closer and turning his head to bury it in the side of Roy’s neck.
“I love you, too, Roy...” He said, so quietly that Roy could scarcely hear him. Then he, too, was inundated by his grief again as he held onto his friend tightly, digging his fingers desperately into his back as he sobbed.
If there was anything in the world that could have made Roy cry harder, it was that. He was so overwhelmed by his own tears that he thought he would die, even half-hoped that he and Maes both would die like this, right now—clutching each other in the sadistic grip of this heart-crushing emotion—because then it would be over and they wouldn’t have to feel anything like this ever again.
But, no. They would live past this. They had to, for each other if for nothing else. This entire, cathartic experience had proven to them both that one of them could not stand without the other to hold him up. Roy had known for a long time that Maes was his crutch, but he never thought he’d see the day when that became reciprocal... but here he was, in a blank hospital room holding Maes close as they both purged pain that was too great for words. They had to lean on one another now or they would both fall, crumbling to the ground in a heap of despair so broken that they would never be able to rise again. Roy silently promised Maes that he would never let him be dragged down this low again. He would brace him up against this storm and they would weather it together, facing it, fighting against it until it could finally be overcome.
The colonel had been in the room for hours. Not that Havoc begrudged him this very critical time with Hughes, but visiting hours had been over for quite a while and the nurses were talking about throwing Mustang out if he didn’t leave on his own soon. Most of the nurses, though, had been present for the wounded Flame Alchemist’s rather colorful threats the day before and were loath to actually confront him about leaving.
Apparently, the nurses did not appreciate the irony of not being able to get the colonel to stay in the hospital one day and then not being able to get him to leave the next. Havoc, however, found it darkly hilarious.
He was sitting in a moderately comfortable chair that he’d dragged from the waiting room so that he could sit outside of the small chamber where Mustang and Hughes were talking about God knows what, sipping distractedly at his seventh cup of bad coffee as he listened to the nurses discuss what to do about the colonel.
“I’m not telling him, you tell him.” Said a young, frazzled looking man who was probably no older than eighteen or nineteen.
“Why me?” replied a (rather attractive, Havoc thought) woman as she crossed her arms over her chest. “He didn’t threaten to set you on fire.”
Havoc had to laugh at that, causing him to promptly inhale an impressive amount of the coffee into his lungs. He choked and sputtered into the nearly-dry sleeve of his uniform, making the small group of medical personnel turn his way with raised eyebrows, suddenly aware that he’d been eavesdropping.
“You.” The attractive woman said, storming over to him, “Tell your friend that visiting hours are over and Mr. Hughes needs to rest.”
Havoc coughed and gasped in response as his lungs tried to rid themselves of the sub-par coffee, wondering if there was some kind of cosmic plot that was bent on making him look like an idiot in front of every beautiful woman that he encountered.
“I—ckk!—c-can try,” Havoc choked when he’d recovered himself enough to speak, “but he’s my commanding officer so I can’t promise he’ll actually listen to me.”
“Well, at least he wont send you to the burn unit, right?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t count on that...” Havoc groaned good-naturedly as he got to his feet and massaged the kinks out of his lower back, moving to the closed door of the offending hospital room. He pressed his ear to the door then, hearing nothing, ventured to open it slowly.
What he saw when he poked his head in was not really what he’d expected to see. He stood in the doorway and half-considered leaving again, closing the door and telling the nurses to just give them a little while longer. Instead Havoc sighed and stepped into the room, standing over his superiors as a sad smile crept over his face.
Mustang was sitting in the chair beside the bed, leaning so that his head was resting on Hughes’ chest as if he were listening to the man’s heartbeat. Hughes had one arm draped limply across his back while his other hand was locked with Mustang’s, their fingers loosely woven together. Hughes was deeply asleep with his chest rising and falling rhythmically, his breath slightly fogging his oxygen mask with every slow exhalation.
Mustang’s eyes were open, though a little glazed as they stared distantly at the opposite wall, so lost in his own thoughts that it took him a few moments to register that Havoc had entered the room. He raised his dark, bloodshot eyes slowly to look at his lieutenant.
“What time is it?” He asked softly.
“Almost six.” Havoc whispered back, “The nurses wanted me to tell you that visiting hours are over.”
Mustang nodded, closing his eyes and burying his face briefly in Hughes’ chest before sitting up. Hughes stirred as the colonel shrugged himself out from under the man’s arm and placed it back on the bed.
“Maes.” Mustang said to him quietly, squeezing his hand, “I have to go, but I’ll be back tomorrow, okay?”
“...Okay...” Hughes rasped groggily without opening his eyes.
Mustang smiled faintly and stood. He turned to go, but then hesitated a moment before leaning over the bed and pressing his lips gently against Hughes’ brow like a father kissing his child goodnight. He straightened himself and looked over at Havoc as if daring him to say something, to make some comment about this very uncharacteristic display of affection. Havoc knew better than to give any sort reaction whatsoever and kept his face carefully blank, suppressing the urge to grin like a maniac. The colonel brushed past him and exited into the hallway, not turning to see whether or not Havoc was following him.
Havoc took one last look at Hughes’ sleeping form and went after his colonel. The muttering group of medical staff fell silent as the pair approached, watching Mustang cautiously as he strode passed, but the distracted colonel did not seem to notice the unease that his passage caused them. Havoc looked up at the pretty nurse he’d spoken with earlier and briefly entertained ideas of asking for her number, but then shook his head. Mustang still needed him... and besides, Havoc would be a fool to think that he actually had a shot with her in the first place.
So, with a sigh, Havoc trailed after Mustang into the blue-black twilight outside of the hospital’s huge front doors. The quickly darkening evening was cold and overcast and a sudden gust of wind bit through Havoc’s damp uniform like a thousand tiny bullets.
“Well, at least it stopped raining, huh?” He said lightly to Mustang, feebly attempting to start a conversation with the silently pensive man.
Mustang looked up as if he hadn’t really noticed that the sky was no longer pouring buckets of icy water down on them and smirked bitterly.
When they got to the car Havoc opened the door to the back seat for Mustang, then paused. The streetlamp nearby illuminated the interior of the car just enough to remind both men that the seat in the back compartment was practically painted with a disconcerting amount of the lieutenant colonel’s blood. The men looked at one another and Mustang wordlessly opened the passenger-side door instead, opting to seat himself up front with Havoc rather than sit in the middle of that sticky, congealed mire of gore.
Havoc got into the car next to him and started the engine, pretending—as Mustang was—that the overpowering reek of blood in the car wasn’t bothering him.
“So... how is he?” The lieutenant asked timidly, pulling out of the hospital parking lot and onto the street.
“The doctor said that he’ll be fine.”
“You know that’s not what I’m asking.”
Mustang sighed and leaned his head back against the seat. “He has a lot to deal with right now, and—to be honest—I don’t know if he can ever fully recover from this... but I think that he’ll be okay after a while. It’s just going to take some work and some time, but he can do it... He has to.”
Havoc smiled, “I’m sure he can, especially with you to support him. ...I guess I’ve never noticed before, but you’re a good friend, Colonel. He’s lucky to have you.”
For a moment, Mustang said nothing. Havoc looked over at him, half-afraid that his admittedly sappy words had irritated him, but Mustang didn’t look annoyed... just sad.
“Thank you, Jean.” He said finally, his voice tight and loaded with such sincerity that Havoc’s heart gave a little flutter of sympathy, his touched smile broadening as he turned his eyes back to the road.
They traveled down the black, rain-slicked roads of Central without speaking much more for the most part, though Havoc kept glancing at Mustang, trying to decide if the quietly suffering man was any more stable than he had been that afternoon. The colonel was resting his head against the cool glass of the car window, eyes closed, looking almost dead in the fickle glow of passing streetlamps. He looked exhausted... absolutely drained.
“Do you want me to just take you home?” Havoc asked, breaking the quiet lull inside the car. Mustang opened his eyes and looked over at him blearily until Havoc continued, “We were supposed to be in the office until seven tonight, but I don’t think anyone will care if we don’t go back to work... given the circumstances.”
Mustang gave a small, sardonic laugh and closed his tired eyes again. “Yeah... then take me home, I guess.”
Havoc nodded, but then gave his superior a sidelong glance, thinking. He wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to leave Mustang alone tonight, given everything that had happened.
“Or,” he said after a pause, “we could go to a bar and get absolutely hammered. I’m wired on ridiculous amounts of caffeine, thus I don’t want to just sit around the dorms all night, and... Well, I don’t know about you, but I need a drink. I think I need a lot of drinks.”
Mustang stared at him blankly for a beat.
“I mean, I can understand if you don’t want to.” Havoc hastened to say, “It was just a thought.”
“Second Lieutenant Jean Havoc...” He began finally, “I don’t think you have any idea how appealing that sounds right now.”
Havoc laughed, glad that it hadn’t taken any cajoling for the man to tolerate his company.
Mustang was right; it was going to take time for things to be okay again. There was going to be a lot of blood, sweat, and tears before this heartbreak could be surmounted. This road was going to be long and winding—full of potholes and patches of black ice and other unforeseen hazards that would make this sojourn a painful, difficult thing—but as always, Havoc was more than willing to drive. He would chauffer Mustang and Hughes both to the ends of the world, doing his best to protect each of them as they loyally supported one another. These were dark streets and dark times, but if you drive long enough the sun will eventually rise and chase away the uncertainties.
They just had to keep going, eyes focused only on the road ahead, ignoring the exit signs and driving until dawn.