Disclaimer: I don't own FMA. I have tried, and failed, to procure the rights to it.
Author's Notes: Another Roy-centric angst drabble thing -- snapshots of after the war. Now with Demanding!Hughes and odd symoblic gestures involving pastries. Heh.
Much thanks to all those who have already reviewed my work... It makes me so happy! Thank you so much! tacklehugs And it makes me want to post more, too. Joy.
He spends the night in a hotel.
The trains wouldn't go through to Central until morning, they said, smiling with gentle understanding at him. They give him directions to the nearest inn, glancing at the rumpled blue of his uniform the entire time with a sort of pity-- and, in the cases of a few of the passing adults, hostility. The day had been too long to acknowledge either, however, and Roy Mustang trudged though the town of Elliot with blank, dull eyes that saw nothing and no one.
He doesn't sleep very long that night. It isn't a bad hotel-- it is clean, moderately priced, and they had been polite to this wayward soldier on his way home from a war in the East. When they leave him in the room alone, Roy sits on the edge of the bed, feeling the mattress sink comfortably under his weight. He remains there for a long time; the blinds are closed, the shadows on the walls shift with the hours.
When night falls, he spends his time touching things. The colorful floral wallpaper, smooth under his bare fingers-- he hasn't taken off his gloves for too long to remember, but now he does, feeling vulnerable and uncertain when the air hits them. He brushes his fingertips against the wood paneling, and then turns on all the lights in the room to bathe in their artificial glow. The pillow is caressed, assessed, and measured to satisfaction. The comforter and sheets are clean, smooth, and heaven to feel under his callused skin.
When the hours have worn on, he goes to the bathroom and fills the bathtub with scalding hot, utterly clean water. And then-- stripping slowly, carefully folding every piece and setting it on the sink-- he lowers himself into the water. Hisses a bit at the heat, but even when his flesh turns bright pink, he doesn't deter.
He sits in the tub, running the water through his hands and over his face, closing his eyes. Submerges his head; runs sensitive fingers through the tangles of black. It feels like years worth of dust and grim and earth are separating from him, and the white porcelain bottom has completely been hidden by the brown water when he finally lifts himself from it.
He slips into a robe-- a new, fresh, laundry soap-scented robe of terry cloth-- and sits on the bed again. Stares at the closed windows, dark eyes considering, lost and somehow bewildered. The unfamiliar feel of bristling carpet under his feet seems strange after so much time in the sand, sinking down into the dunes with every step. The bed is incredibly soft under his hands, and feels wonderful to lay back upon. It is, quite literally, perfect.
And it is so quiet.
By morning, Roy is sleeping on the floor.
It feels odd to walk through the streets. It's been too long since he's felt cobblestone beneath his feet, even and hard, and the rhythm of his steps is offbeat by a margin-- it takes only a few blocks to get it right, but it makes Roy cringe.
The lock to his front door clicks when he turns the key, and the familiarity of the sound startles him.
The living room is dark. Roy stands there in silence for a long time, leaning against the door and breathing in the air. Then, as he had already been doing, he slowly moves into it all over again-- putting his overcoat on the peg beside the door, turning the light on and gazing raptly at everything his eyes can linger upon.
He doesn't remember the brightness of his favorite chair, nor the direction his windows had faced.
It looks as though a stranger has lived here, and that hurts just a little.
His mirror is fogged over when he steps out of the shower, wrapping a white towel around his waist with an automatic gesture. The tiles feel oddly foreign under his feet. Roy wavers there for an instant, eyes blankly seeking something among the little blue ceramic piece holding his toothbrush, and the small line of shampoo and conditioner. Then, catching his own gaze in the mirror, he frowns vaguely.
He'd only briefly glanced at the hotel room's mirror, but now he can definitely see the purple bruises under his eyes from lack of sleep. There is a pallor to his features, an unnatural drawn weariness resting on his shoulders that makes them sag, and the listless glitter of his black eyes looks unhealthy. Idly poking at his sharp cheekbone, Roy frowns further.
Through the streaks of precipitation still decorating the glass pane, he seems like a distorted, broken picture of Roy Mustang. Something shattered. Fragmented. His stomach lurches, and he quickly uses one hand to wipe away the remaining areas of mist hiding his true face from view.
When it still looks the same, he slumps to the floor and cradles his head in his hands for a long, long time.
"Do you want to come over for dinner?" Hughes asks over the telephone. He sounds quiet, almost inaudible in a way that Maes Hughes was never meant to be. It makes Roy's head spin with dizziness, and he grips the kitchen counter with white-knuckles fingers to keep himself standing straight.
"I still have things to do," Roy manages to say, his tongue thick with the lie. It feels as though it's melting over his mouth, sealing his lips shut. "I... I'm still..."
"We haven't seen you for a week, Roy."
There are many things Roy could have said, but they find themselves caught in his throat, along the line of his esophagus, tucked neatly between the screams he's been holding down tightly ever since the murder of two innocent doctors, and the words still forming about a dream that would be impossible to achieve.
If he speaks now, they would all spew out in a rush to his best friend, savage and incomprehensible-- but he could never do that to Maes.
Instead, he forces a smile even though his friend can't see it through the phoneline. He has to practice, after all, if he ever wants to walk out the door.
"Not tonight. But soon. I promise."
Standing at the fruit stand, studying the silky shine of an apple, Roy almost forgets how it is the first time he's been out since his return. He watches the glimmering surface of the fruit as if in awe, turning it over so that the sunlight catches its curve.
There is so much color out there. So much that he's forgotten-- for so long, it had been blue, brown, and red. The uniforms of the soldiers, the endless waves of sand dunes stretching into the distance, and the fiery explosion of red in both flame and blood.
He turns the apple over again, his lips parting briefly as he stares at it. Runs his thumb over the roundness of it, his thoughts running along its perfect shape and vibrant hues.
A car backfires. Roy drops the apple in his haste to hit the ground at the sound of gunfire-- and then, halting in mid-crouch to the floor, feels his face burn bright red with embarrassment. The vendor, which had previously looked at him warily as he stared at the apple, now looks positively frightened.
His heart is pounding wildly in his chest, but Roy scoops up the apple with an apologetic grin. "Excuse me. I was just... startled. I'll take this apple," he adds politely, clutching the now-dirty piece of fruit that is most likely bruised from hitting the ground.
When he has taken it home, he bites into its soft surface, ignoring the sunken feeling of bruise on it-- the juice runs down his chin, sharp and bittersweet.
It tastes terrible, and he wishes there was more.
He's taken to feeding the birds outside his house with crumbs of bread and pastry. Sometimes he just sits on the lawn until the sun sinks below the horizon, and the green grass has long been stained with the fading orange light, and just watches the birds eat.
When winter comes for the first time since the war, he builds a birdhouse to hang outside the window. It is robin-egg blue according to the paint can, and the only bird that stays in it through the cold is dead within a week.
Roy takes it down. He buys a book about birds from a bookstore, but never reads it. Ignorance has already done its damage, and knowledge will only sharpen the pain of it.
He doesn't want to look Maes in the eye.
He still reads about alchemy with a fervor not seen since his days of studying it. He has been doing so since his return, or as soon as he felt well enough to pick up a textbook-- there are arrays scribbled in every margin of every piece in his library now. Sometimes he looks them all over, sipping strong, hot and rich coffee and guiltily enjoying the luxury of it.
He rereads the basic principles repeatedly. Equivalent trade. Deconstruction and reconstruction.
He understands the former too well-- destruction at his own hands is something burned, searing, into his mind. It is reconstruction that he is having problems with.
Putting the pieces back together.
Because it's hard when, sometimes in the middle of the night, he wakes up gasping, sweat-drenched and tangled in his sheets (he is finally sleeping in his bed, the floor is wooden here) wondering where he is, why he isn't in a cot miles away, frying in the heat of a canvas tent. His mind blazing with faces that are scorched until nothing remains but charred bone and ash. On the edge of yesterday and the future, unable to breath in the stillness of the late hour.
He doesn't know how to put this back together. There is no alchemy for it. No array. His gloves, stored in a locked drawer in his desk, will not give him the answer. They will not scorch the memories from his brain, they can't save the lost people of Ishvar that they so callously destroyed.
He hasn't snapped his fingers since the war, anyway.
It's been a long time since he's seen Maes Hughes, but it still surprises him when his friend shows up on his doorstep with a small basket and a severe frown upon his face. He freezes in the doorway, feeling self-conscious in his wrinkled dress shirt and slacks, and awkwardly runs a hand through his hair in order to smooth it out.
"Roy," Maes replies evenly, and pushes his way through in a simple and flowing gesture that he doesn't have the will to retaliate against. "I decided that, as you seem to be ignoring everyone, I should check up on you."
"I'm using my vacation time to catch up on rest," Roy says automatically, but the lie burns so fast and hard and ugly that he chokes on it. If his friend notices, he doesn't mention it, and perhaps Roy hates him for that.
"Gracia baked you some cookies," was what the man says instead, glancing idly around the apartment. It's long been a mess-- papers are strewn over the floor and coffee table, arrays sketched into odd surfaces with an envelope knife. Roy feels his face burn with humiliation, but his friend only pushes through and shoves a stack of books over on the floor to make room to sit on the sofa.
"They're chocolate chip, but the neighbor kids helped to decorate them with frosting. Sorry they're such a mess, but..." He shakes the basket with a sharp, no-shit grin. "I plan to make sure you eat them all."
"Eat them," Maes says, and his voice is cold and low.
Roy hovers for only an instant more, but as most shocked people do, he finds himself stumbling over to perch awkwardly on the sofa arm (he isn't so apt to shoving his research on the floor just yet). He reaches for the basket. Maes' green eyes follow his hand and look for any trembling, but all he finds is the skinny, unhealthy jut of wrist bones that alarms him nearly as much as shaking would.
The cookies are bright yellow with red smiley faces on them. There are eleven in all, and Roy stares at them as though they were putting him on death row.
"... tell Gracia... and the neighborhood children who no doubt terrorized you," he tries to say in a light-hearted voice, even if the effort is too forced to work, "that I'm grateful."
"Eat them," Maes says again.
"Do it, Roy," the man snaps.
Faced with the burning fury in his eyes, Roy swallows and picks up a cookie. The frosting is messy, sloppy, but he expects nothing else from school children-- the excess sugar tastes morbid and disgusting in his mouth, but after a few bites, he manages to force it down.
"It's... great. I'm--"
"Another," Maes says, and Roy feels like he wants to chuck the basket at him. Instead, he grits his teeth and picks up another with a lurch of his stomach.
The crumbs are falling on his shirt collar. He eats the entire cookie.
"Another," Maes says, but he had already known what it would be, and Roy has already picked up another-- and now his hand is shaking like the other man thought it would be, trembling in the air, spreading to his shoulders.
Roy crams the cookie in much less graceful, inhaling the cheap taste of frosting and flour made by a kind, innocent women and children. He's killed people just like them-- he remembers the faces of little boys with weapons far beyond their years, fingers small enough that it would be nearly impossible to pull the trigger.
"I know what you're doing. I shouldn't have let it go on this long," Maes is saying softly. He can barely hear it above his own quiet chewing. There is a heat running down his face, a burning of its own, that doesn't belong there. "You can't keep doing this to yourself, Roy."
And he takes another cookie, stuffs it in his mouth ungracefully, and chokes back a whimper that isn't supposed to be there.
"It wasn't your fault. You have to move past this... thing you're doing. This endless limbo."
Because he doesn't want to hear these words-- he's not a brave man, nor an admirable one, and doesn't deserve them. The tears slipping out of his eyes-- when did he begin to cry? Something tight and hard in his chest loosens, breaks, and he lets out a low groan amongst the pastry in his mouth of utter despair.
"We're here for you, you know... I'm here for you. What are you doing? What's going to happen?"
And his shoulders are shuddering silently, his choked and stifled sobs smothered by the cookie. Frosting is smeared all over his fingers. Tears scorching trails down his face. He's never looked so bad, Roy thinks wildly, and it's an insane thought that makes him laugh.
"I miss my friend," Maes says with his infinitely gentle way. "I'm worried about you. Tell me, Roy, tell me what's going on that I need to fix."
He eats the entire basket of goddamn cookies.
Then, sticky hands clumping together his hair, leaning against the sofa with violent trembling, Roy swallows the last taste of purity as though it were a vile poison. And says, his voice hoarse with it, "I'm going to become Fuhrer."
His friend looks at him-- pathetically sniffling on the sofa arm, crumbs still caught on the swell of his bottom lip, face red and eyes swollen with crimson, broken down and reconstructed within minutes.
"Okay," he says.