Disclaimer: Still not mine. Really. After all, most of these characters came through the series more-or-less intact. Thus they can't be mine.
Watching in Silence
Hughes shook his head slightly as he watched Roy's antics, the alchemist posing for the brass each time he performed a transmutation, all the while giving what sounded like a lesson on the basics of military tactics to his young opponent. It really was an unfair fight, Roy's battle-honed skills that had kept him alive even when he wasn't sure he wanted to live against Ed's youthful talent and drive, but it was what the Fullmetal Alchemist had wished. Perhaps Ed would come out of it with a bit more respect for his superior officer, and Hughes would hear fewer complaints from both men.
Perhaps… but not likely. It was more probable that Ed would come out of the battle lightly toasted and twice as eager to punch Roy's lights out. Either way, it was a pretty enough exhibition of strength, and a much better waste of an afternoon than paperwork would be.
Maes just barely resisted the urge to laugh out loud as Ed leaped the barrier and scampered through the crowd, Roy's taunts following close behind. If he thought a few extra bodies would stop Roy when the man had been ordered to show off by the brass, then he was sadly mistaken. There had been a very simple reason for Hughes running after the introductions, and for his choosing a secluded spot on relatively high ground from which to watch the match… he had a fairly well-rooted sense of self-preservation.
True to form, Roy did as he had been ordered, singeing a good portion of the Central crew while leaving his own men relatively untouched. Maes smirked, wondering how the brass would interpret that.
The smirk turned to admiration as Ed dashed across the battlefield while Roy was distracted, neatly slicing the Flame Alchemist's glove while leaving his skin unscathed, at least so far as Hughes could tell. Perhaps there would be more to the battle than a simple rout… at least if Ed realized that Roy always carried two gloves, preferring to use his right hand rather than needing to.
Maes sighed and shook his head when Ed merely went into an offensive spree, transmuting a cannon from the dry ground beneath him. Maybe Roy's lesson wasn't simply to infuriate the boy… he could certainly use a bit of tutoring in how to read his enemies. He should at least know the basics of how Roy functioned after working under him for three years.
The look on Edward's face when Roy produced his other gloved hand was priceless, though, and a slight grin crossed Hughes' face as Roy moved in for the 'kill'. Ed hadn't given a bad showing of himself… he had merely been upstaged by a man with far more practice at manipulating situations like these.
The grin froze, turning brittle as fresh-made ice before shattering into a thousand pieces as Hughes flicked a glance at his best friend's face in an attempt to see how long he was going to make the boy suffer.
The world froze, narrowing, focusing on that one face, giving him a perfect, picture-perfect view of that look. It was a look he hadn't seen in years, one he had never attempted to describe in words… one he had tried hard, so hard to forget…
Time resumed before he was ready, before he could shatter the nightmare, wrench Roy off the parade ground and shake him, hit him, hold him until the alchemist realized that this wasn't Ishbal, that he didn't need to go through that again, that he was safe.
Ed again struck with a speed and grace that belied his few years, transmuting his arm to a blade, holding it to Roy's throat… Roy's unprotected throat, because that look was still there, that look of horror, despair, confusion, self-loathing. The others watching must think it fear because of Ed's move, the younger alchemist's reactions fast enough to confuse cause and effect, because no one else seemed intent on stopping the battle.
No one else could see what Roy was seeing, could paint a picture of what he was seeing based on fragmented accounts…
Hughes cursed softly. How had he let this happen? He knew Roy. He had seen him after the war, seen that look and held him as the young alchemist laughed and cried at the same time, claiming a place waited for him in Hell, describing the deaths of his victims in short, scientific phrases that had made Hughes nearly physically ill.
It had taken almost two months before the thought of drinking with Roy was a pleasure and not a reason for shivers of dread to run through his body.
How had he managed to forget all that, to miss what this would be like, to fall victim to the unshakable façade that Roy used so well? The gritty, sand-laden wind, the hard-packed earth, the perfect, cloudless Eastern sky, with Roy's opponent a child, not defenseless, not innocent, but still a child…
Don't twitch, Roy, please don't twitch. Hughes willed the thought into reality with all his strength, gaze focused on the two alchemists locked in what seemed an impossibly long stalemate, Roy's fingers tensed, ready to snap, Ed's blade still at Roy's throat, determination and pride bright in his expression. If the younger alchemist had seen anything in Roy's hesitation and expression, he wasn't allowing himself to accept it yet, too caught up in the joy of having the man who had manipulated him for three years within his grasp.
Don't twitch, Roy, and don't you dare move, Ed, don't you dare startle him. Hughes included the younger alchemist in his attempts at psychic command, knowing it was futile but unable to help the gesture. If Roy killed the boy, a child he had protected for three years whether Ed wanted to believe it or not, it would break him. And if Ed killed Roy…
If Ed killed Roy…
Then the Fuhrer was there, finally declaring an end to the match. Maes knew it must not have taken as long as it seemed, because he had only managed to move two steps toward the combatants since watching Roy freeze.
The Fuhrer's words were kind, but their effect was what Hughes noted, watching Roy snap to attention, his face again the unreadable front he used to protect himself, complete with self-confident smirk. Maes waited patiently for the brass to leave, for a chance to corner Roy and ensure he was all right, that what had happened was only a fluke brought on by circumstances far too similar to those of the past.
A familiar blonde figure approaching the alchemists caused him to hesitate. Had Hawkeye seen what he had? Did she understand what had happened?
There. Maes sighed in relief as the young woman brushed against her superior officer, the motion unobtrusive to anyone who hadn't studied both parties for years.
The look that crossed Roy's face at the contact turned the sigh to a slightly predatory grin. The expression had been brief, quickly hidden, and wouldn't have meant much to someone who didn't know Roy just as well, if not better than, the man knew himself, but it had nonetheless been present.
Hughes had once wished Roy both a girlfriend and subordinates.
It was just like the alchemist to simplify things by combining both into one bright young woman who had seen just as much of the world as he had.
Still smirking slightly, Hughes turned away from the congregation of officers and alchemists in the center of the ruined parade ground, picking his way through the rubble and the moaning forms of those who hadn't known enough to stand far away when the Flame Alchemist was ordered to demonstrate his battle prowess. Once the clean-up was done he could corner Roy, buy his friend a drink and ensure everything was all right, both with him and with the boy he insisted on goading.
Until then Maes could rest easy, knowing that both Edward and Roy were well-guarded, from outside threats, each other… and themselves.