Coveted Children : by Aphelion

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Roy was often the first one up in the mornings, and the first one out the door. His position made him require of himself a certain rigorousness that Maes never felt the need to emulate. In the morning, Roy would reheat the night's coffee and take something out of the icebox to warm over, if there was anything he liked in there.

You should eat a balanced breakfast. It's good for you.

I know, Maes, Roy would think, and he could just as well remember the time, not very long ago, when they would share fried eggs and half-priced chicken and aubergine. It startled him to think that he had gotten used to not eating, or seldom eating, in either the morning or night. At first he had been hungry, but lately he never noticed a missed meal until well after the time.

There were more than petty bothers to trouble him these days. There was a skirmish in the desert that had, without anyone around him quite knowing why, turned into a war. He spent even more time in the office because of it- passing paperwork through the chain, looking after his company and trying to prevent them from getting involved.

"Hello, Corporal Hawkeye," Roy greeted, as he stepped into his office. The blonde woman didn't deign to look up. She nodded pointedly at the stack of papers had had overnight accumulated on his desk, and ignored Roy's groan.

He looked through the folders and documents. "More on Isbhal every day," he remarked.

Hawkeye made a small noise of agreement. "Best to keep yourself out of it, sir."

Roy laughed. "No kidding, Corporal! I don't think I would be able to help it, though, if it came to that. I'm really not that high-ranking yet."

"You will be, sir."

Roy didn't comment, but he secretly agreed. To make that wish come true, though, he had to work… and do what his superiors told him to, no matter how inane or dangerous Hakuro or Gran's orders could be. Roy had a feeling they would pull him into war, if it came to that…

He avoided thinking about it.

War was for another day; for today, there were papers to shuffle and physical conditioning to attend, and after that a cake to pick up for Maes' birthday. Roy called Havoc over to see if he had telephoned the patisserie for delivery yet. It was a pity, as Hawkeye pointed out, that the private wasn't of much help…

"I don't understand what you have against the man," said Maes. "I mean, I'm not a jealous guy so I don't care for myself if you steal his girlfriends, but aren't you gay?"

"Aren't you?" returned Roy. "Just because I sleep with you doesn't mean I can't take a look around, does it? Besides-" he continued, swallowing a forkload of cake, "I'm not gay. I'm not at all attracted to any man in Amestris besides you."

"Oh, I'm sure," teased Maes. "I bet the only reason you torture that poor guy is so he'll notice you."

"Think what you want, as long as you let me in bed tonight."

"Maybe I will, maybe I won't," said Maes, as he put his plate in the sink. He sighed. "But in all seriousness, Roy, I'm glad we can joke about things like this now. Even a few months ago you would always get all prickly when I mentioned women to you, or I commented on your flirting."

Roy snorted. "I'd still rather flirt with you. But the circumstances become different as people age and change..."

"As you change, you mean," Maes said gently. "You'll be promoted another rank soon, I hear- Captain Mustang! You're leaving me behind."

"Then I'll stop," Roy said. "Captain is good enough… while I wait for you to catch up. Old man." He smirked.

Maes laughed. "Fine encouragement for a man on his birthday! I feel old enough as it is."

"You're only thirty."

"Still older than you," Maes pointed out. "I can't pull all-nighters as well as I used to, and you can still get by with less than four hours of sleep."

"Half dead during the day, maybe," said Roy. "We're all getting older."

He yawned as he scraped his plate into the trashcan, and Maes caught him blinking sleepily. "Bed," Maes said firmly. "You look tired, and I don't care how many papers are due tomorrow morning. You're not working late on my birthday."

"Encouraging procrastinating, then?" asked Roy. He let himself be led to the bedroom and, in a rare gesture of affection, let himself be undressed and put into pajamas by Maes. To wear the pajamas themselves was barely tolerable, even though the weather had gotten colder. Bunnies- Maes had ducks, and for some infernal reason, he had gotten Roy bunnies.

"These would be annoying enough if I got them from a girl, and she would have an excuse," said Roy, tugging on the collar. "Stupid cute things you like."

"I think they're sweet," said Maes.

Roy rolled his eyes. "I can humor you once in a while, but lay off the sugary words."

"Sure," said Maes. "Does this mean you're in a better mood?"

He pushed Roy onto their shared bed, and grinned when the other man fell back calmly, hands behind his head in an expression of nonchalance. Maes dived next to him, rolling over to his side to pull Roy by the collar, within touchable range.

Another night, another month or year previous, perhaps, the circumstances would have progressed from there. But that night, they simply kissed for a while, making contact for security rather than lust. Was it that they were getting older, Maes wondered? Did the two of them have too many other things to worry about, now?

Sitting up against the wall, Roy slumped with his head against Maes' chest. The two of them simply talked.

"Has Intelligence been getting more about Ishbal?" Roy asked.

Maes nodded. "It's almost… it seems like people want to make this a bigger war, even though if you asked around you wouldn't be able to find a person who felt that way. We all think… the office crew, that is…." He took one of Roy's hands. "I don't want you to get swept up in it."

"Is that likely?" asked Roy. "They don't need state alchemists."

"With Gran you lot will probably be volunteered," Maes said hollowly. "I don't know why the Fuehrer trusts him so much."

"They don't need alchemists to win a war in the desert."

"They didn't think the job was going to take more than a few weeks, either," said Maes. "In fact… I can't but be sure you will be sent over, and it's awful to wait like this for every drop of information… I wish that you had requested for a desk job, like me."

"No." Roy smiled. "No, Maes. I can't… run away… from whatever might happen otherwise. This is a military. I just want to take what comes to me."

"You can't be unafraid," said Maes.

"Of course not," Roy said quietly. "I want to live, and keep on living, more than anything else in the world." He chuckled. "But at the same time, I'm so arrogant that I can't imagine that I could possibly die. I haven't changed, Maes. I still want to go where my life takes me, and find a true future."

He was startled when Maes suddenly hugged him close. "Roy," Maes murmured into his hair. "Roy. Roy… you lovable idiot. You do a damn good job of pulling off the act of being a god, but you're still a guy that can be killed, like anyone else."

Roy opened his mouth, but closed it silently. There was nothing he could say. He was willing to take risks that Maes wouldn't ever imagine to be worthwhile. So in lieu of words, he pressed closer to Maes' body.

And in the quiet of the late evening, the two fell asleep.

ll

War.

There was no way to avoid it. If the storm had not been foremost in their minds, neither had it ever been less than a dark thundercloud gathering in the far-off places. War came, and surprised many in Amestris. But not Roy, nor Maes. They had been expecting its heavy hand.

One day, Captain Mustang received a crisply pressed dress uniform. He took a little silent pride in the three stars and stripes on the shoulders, and hid it in the back of his armoire.

Then he received another notice at work; he went to the brigadier general's office and was quietly presented with two rows of beribboned decorations, a star and four stripes. He attached them to his dress uniform and it became the attire of a Major- the preliminary rank given to state alchemists in battletime.

Finally, then, the sickening, dreadful expectation eased. It was certain now- he would be sent to war.

ll

The large illuminated face of the station clock shone one to noon against an overcast sky.

Roy did not see it, nor did Maes. Behind a brick half-wall and a pile of wooden packing crates, they were lost to the world. Roy saw, somehow more clearly than he had seen before, the shadows under Maes' eyes as he leaned in for one last kiss. With a hand hooked onto the collar of Maes' uniform, he could clearly taste his breath in the air, as sweet as his lips that were soft as any girl's.

"Damn," Roy muttered against Maes' lips. "And I said I was never kissing you again."

This smell was Maes. Above the rank of rotting wood, the muffled scent of dirt and dust. Roy thought that Maes must have been more himself than he had even been, that he had noticed. The good smell of cologne was faint on his skin. As he leaned in, Roy could hear him swallow, and feel the line of stubble from one day's beard.

He was not ashamed to have to look up at Maes, clasping his hands around the back of his neck like a girl. Maes' hands were likewise joined, a thumb rubbing a circle at the small of his back. He dared not move lower, and Roy understood, and did not press against the man's lean form as he would have.

No lower on the body, no movement more intimate than a kiss. Not on this last day before a godforsaken future.

DONNNNG.

"Noon," muttered Hughes. "Even though there's no sun."

"It's time for me to go," Roy replied.

He felt Maes nod over his head. The men pulled away. Hughes took Roy's trunk, and Roy carried a smaller box, though no less important- flint, matches, bottles of oil and oxidizing chemicals. Just in case.

They loaded Roy's things into the back of the last train, the cases thrown through the top by a pair of careless porters. The train was late in leaving, Maes observed, and with some relief he followed Roy to stand with the crowd on the quai. Not yet, then.

"So this is it," Roy said. "The moment we've all been dreading, eh?"

Maes smiled. "Don't get lost in the desert. Don't listen to your commanding officers if you don't have to, and don't kiss ass if it means putting yourself into combat. You'll be fine."

Roy nodded absently. "Maes?"

"Yeah?"

"There's something I've been meaning to ask you about, for a really long time."

When Roy didn't speak for a long pause, Maes chuckled. "I know."

Roy's head snapped up. "You do?"

"'Course," Maes said nonchalantly. "There's only one thing I can imagine that you think of and instantly look as sad and pathetic as you do."

"What…"

"You don't have to worry about it," Maes said carefully. "I was over the whole "playing-daddy" a long time back, after I met you. It's not something I worry about a whole lot."

Roy glanced over at him. Maes had his hands hooked in his belt loops, fingers fiddling with stray threads. His head was bent, looking intently at something he was scuffing at on the ground. Roy wondered whether to open his mouth. Quietly, he said, "I don't like it when you do that."

"What?" asked Maes.

"Put me before you," said Roy. "When you should be considering us equally… no, I'm wrong. You should be considering yourself well above me, by this point."

"That's very self-sacrificing of you," Maes said sardonically.

"Well, I learned from the master."

Maes laughed, and Roy would have almost believed him if not for the catch and half-sob at the end. Realizing this, the other man leaned in towards Roy, to whisper. "Roy Mustang, I'm going to miss you." The large hand on his shoulder was almost too familiar.

"I meant it," Roy replied. "Find someone better than me."

"Who knows?" asked Maes. "Maybe it'll be easier for me to keep you safe when I'm not sentimentally attached to you. Not that that makes any sense-" he winked.

Roy rolled his eyes, but turned at a shout from the front of the station. "Ah- it looks like it's time for me to go…"

"Go well then," said Maes.

Maes helped Roy through the crowd, his taller height making it easier to tunnel through the crowd of hale and hearty recruits, among which Roy looked just a touch out of place. It was the last time, he promised Roy, as he helped him up onto the train and their hands met for the briefest instant.

Roy leaned out onto the railing as far as he dared, as the train began to pick up speed. When he met eyes with Maes again, he nodded in what he hoped was an innocent gesture of fraternity. Maes only laughed and waved to him… the other hand on his lips in a way that would suggest to the viewer a blown kiss, if it had been shared between a soldier and his woman left.

"Damn," muttered Roy. "I meant it. I really hope he understands."

However, even Major Roy Mustang, now on a train speeding unconsented towards some unknown future and destination, had to admit that it was an unlikely possibility.

He entered the closest seating cabin and stayed there in thought until evening fell, and a wave of soldiers swept him unresisting to the dining cabins. He went through the food line mechanically and sat down by himself. He was in the middle of some then-fresh roast beef when a familiar private sat down beside him.

"Havoc," said Roy, with some distaste.

"Lance Corporal now, sir," said Havoc. "Got promoted pretty much as I was stepping on the train! Sergeant Hawkeye is here, too, sir."

Roy scanned the room until he saw Hawkeye through the doorway in the next car, sitting with the few female recruits that there were. He nodded to her in acknowledgement, and thought he saw her roll her eyes before turning back to her food.

"Tough one to crack," commented Havoc. "Why are you sitting in here with the rank-and-file, sir? All the other alchemists are in the front dining car."

"Didn't know there was a place designated for me," said Roy. "I'll go up, then."

Havoc nodded. "I would go with you, sir, but conscripts aren't allowed past the door. You have to show them a silver watch."

"I'll miss your company," Roy said dryly.

"Sorry about that, sir."

With rolled eyes, Roy gratefully left the common dining car, not knowing what he would find in the front of the train. Perhaps just one of the alchemists with him would feel the same sense of… perplexity. At the very least, he could meet his squadron mates.

Roy took a breath and pushed open the maple door.

Few of the men in the compartment even looked up to acknowledge him, as attentive they were to their meals. A few familiar faces he recognized- Armstrong, from artillery practice a couple years back, and Tim Marco, who for a while had lived in a townhouse close to his.

Roy started to head towards the men, but a sudden rough hand on his sleeve jerked him down to a table. A thin man with startlingly gold eyes stared at him appraisingly.

"You're Mustang, then," the man finally said.

"Yes," Roy said faintly. "And… you are…?"

"Ah, so sorry," said the man, and smiled widely. "Zolof Kimbley. Excuse my rudeness. I had hoped that I had correctly picked out my tentmate."

"Pleased to meet you," Roy said carefully. Kimbley… this, then, was one of the notorious alchemists that everyone knew about, even before the war had begun. Zolof Kimbley, who volunteered himself for duty and was given approving citations for blowing up cities of people. Over Kimbley's shoulder, Roy saw Marco staring warily at them.

"You're the Flame Alchemist," Kimbley said. "And I am interested by explosives- what a poetic arrangement."

"Indeed," said Roy. "Pleased to meet your acquaintance."

Kimbley stared at him. "No, you're not!" he said finally, with a short laugh. "You're not pleased at all to be here, and you sure as hell don't want to be sitting by me."

Roy found no response to that, that he could call up. He silently stood and walked forward to join Armstrong and Marco at their table. He shrugged off questions by the other two men.

He stayed by them when the train halted late in the evening, and after the conscripts had been shuffled off the train like so many head of animals, the alchemists left the conditioned environment of the train for the air of Ishbal. Roy barely noticed the foreign landscape, and he was too far gone for the stinging sand blown in the air to bother him.

Suddenly, he felt more weary than he had thought it possible to be from before. He found his suitcases and dragged them through the camp to one of the larger bunkers that had been reserved for him. The cabin was empty, with just two beds on opposite sides of the room. Roy didn't bother to unpack- he simply shed his military coat and hung it on the foot of the bed. Through his routine, the room remained empty, and Roy did not ask himself where Kimbley had gone.

He had barely dared to hope it, but his first night in Ishbal was quiet. He was too weary to notice anything else.

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: notes

Changed some small things… mention of Archer (thanks!) and the ranks, because I think they were out of order. Certainly this isn't following all the history given in canon, I don't have that good of a memory. If you see anything really obviously wrong, please point it out…

Yes, I know I have gratuitous useage of ranks. Do any of you know what ranks Roy and Hughes were through the Isbhal conflict? That would be really helpful. Thank you so much, everyone who reviews.