Swallowing Pride

AN: hey guys! Ok, well, here's a Hughes fic that takes place from his funeral on. Riza might be a little OOC, but hey, she's upset. Leave her alone. :P

Disclaimer: God, do I WISH Roy was mine :P

An instant of numbness before the pain.

He'd declined the offer of carrying Maes's coffin to his final resting place; it would have driven him to insanity to hear his body shifting lifelessly in the casket as they carried him to his little hole in the ground, where the worms and maggots were waiting to greet him. Oh, no. It would've given him the strength to finally pull the trigger, with the gun pointed at his head. Still. . . he couldn't help but think. . . after all he'd done for him. . . how could he have been so selfish?

He gritted his teeth as they placed the casket six feet below ground, turning to his troops to let out an angry "Ten, hut!", catching Riza's eye as she obeyed solemnly. She averted her gaze quickly, staring down at her feet as Roy turned once more, bringing his own hand to his brow aggressively, watching the first shovels of dirt cover the perfectly polished, black coffin. His eyes narrowed as a result of the strong light and Gracia's shrill cry as she begged her daughter to be quiet in her arms as she lost her composure more and more.

"No, wait! Mommy, why are they burying Daddy like that? They can't do that! Daddy has to go to work, remember?"

"Alicia, please!" she begged, sobbing into her daughter's shoulder as she struggled with her. "They can't bury Daddy yet; he has work he has to do, he told me! He can't do his work if they bury him! He can't!" she cried desperately, her energy evaporating as her whimpers filled the air. Roy's vision blurred and he blinked quickly, erasing any evidence that he'd even heard her.

The final drop of soil was placed before it really sunk in. All this time, Roy'd been hoping, for some, strange reason, that maybe Maes wasn't dead at all. In fact, he could've sworn the coffin was empty, and Maes would jump out of the trees just as the crying started, laughing his ass off at the look on their faces. He'd never let them live it down, either.

. . . But he didn't come. No matter how hard any of them wished he would, he didn't. And he wouldn't have the chance to ever again.

How long they just stood there, staring at the mound of dirt that bore the name of "Brigadier General Maes Hughes", Roy couldn't decide. His mind had entirely stopped functioning, completely robbing him of the advice of whether or not he allowed himself to cry. The sound of church bells echoed in the distance, and Roy could just see the mass of foolish believers, happily congregating for evening mass, while he couldn't find the strength to even move. Could the world really have continued to spin while they all stared at Maes's grave blankly, waiting for some kind of hopeless miracle? It just didn't seem possible. Not one bit.

"At ease!" a voice cracked behind him, and he turned to look at Riza as her back faced him and the soldiers' arms fell to their sides at her command. "Major Armstrong, I ask that you escort the forces to their duties at headquarters in our stead." She called, not even bothering to find Armstrong in the crowd before turning back swiftly, holding herself like a little child who wanted desperately to feel as strong as she wanted to be. The troops turned wordlessly, filing out of the grave site as Alicia's voice echoed through the air once more.

Others came, others left, offering Gracia a word or two of comfort after paying their respects. Their words meant nothing to her. Nothing; yet she acknowledged them slightly, thanking the few whom she respected for their presence. The crowd had eventually completely vanished, and the priest himself gave a few words to the sky in silent prayer before departing. Not a single soul was in that graveyard, safe for Roy, Riza, Gracia, and her daughter, who's naïve cries still resounded in the air, unanswered; none of them really had the vigor to give her a clear response. She collapsed on the ground before her father's tombstone, continuing to sob without even skipping a beat. Riza's face wrinkled thoughtfully, Gracia covered her face with her hands as she wept gracefully. . . Roy remained completely unchanged; only when she seemed to have run out of tears, reduced to shivering, he cleared his throat enough for him to speak. "You, uh. . . you shouldn't cry like that, Alicia." Gracia's eyes swerved to him in defense. "It's not something he would've wanted." Alicia ignored him as if she hadn't heard, continuing to tremble softly. He swallowed, sniffing before approaching her, bending down to place his hand on her little shoulder. She sniffled, sitting up, deciding she could trust him enough. "Why. . . why did they take him away?" she asked, her voice squeaking. He paused, taken aback as he let his eyes wander to the tombstone once more, waiting for Maes to give him some kind of answer. "Because. . ." he started, formulating an acceptable response. "I dunno, maybe. . . maybe whatever's up there thought he would be happier in heaven. . . and he could watch you and your mother better, or something. . ." He swallowed as Alicia pondered his words silently. "Besides," He whispered, more to himself than anyone. "He was too good for this world."

"What do you mean?" she asked, sounding a tad calmer. "I don't know what I mean." He said bluntly. "I've never been able to explain anything I've ever meant. Not once. But your father. . . he was the only one who ever understood any of it, ya know?" She nodded softly, having no real clue as to what he had said. He chuckled, a painful smile folding his lips. "He was. . . amazing. He was the only one who ever gave a sh-" he stopped mid-word, swallowing the end of his sentence, trying to maintain his tears long enough to rephrase. "Who ever. . . cared about anything." He paused. "He just. . . loved life. Everything about it. He was so crazy about it, he could barely think straight sometimes." He laughed slightly. "I've never seen anything like it. He just couldn't get enough of it. Yet, there was still one thing that he loved even more than that. A million times more." She looked at him curiously. "What?" Roy turned slightly, locking gazes with Gracia as he spoke. "His family." He inhaled hard, covering his face as a tear tricked down his cheeks, staring down at the ground through his tears. "He just. . . he love you so much. . . so, so much. . . he honestly thought you were the best thing that ever happened to him. . ." he whispered, his voice choking with every word, and he could hear Riza sniffling behind him. He looked at Alicia with a grimace that he'd intended to be a smile. "I think I've seen your baby pictures more times than your mother has. Isn't that right, Riza?" She nodded slightly, silent tears flowing down the lengths of her cheeks. She swallowed. "He thought you were. . . so, so beautiful. . . You and Mommy." She managed, and Gracia grabbed her hand in appreciativeness as they both wept behind the strongest faces they could manage.


"Look." Alicia piped. "I ruined all the flowers." She said, starting to choke up all over again at the squished, dead flowers that she'd fallen on as she cried. Roy rubbed her back, shushing her softly. "It's alright. Shhh. I promise, it's okay." He paused. "I think. . . Maybe Daddy would like it if you picked him new ones. . . and you could give them to him, and just talk to him." She shook her head. "I can't talk to Daddy anymore."

"Why not?" he asked. "Because. . . he can't hear me." She said, desperately wishing that she was sadly mistaken. He swallowed, making a decision in his mind before shaking his head slowly. ". . . If you really want him to hear you. . . if you wish for it hard enough. . . he'll find a way to hear you. I promise he will." He chuckled. "There's nothing in this world that could hold Maes Hughes down. Not gravity, not anything. Certainly not the state, that's for sure. You had to have figured that out by now, huh?" she sniffed, staring down at her hands as she considered his logic. She liked it. But how could anything like that possibly be true?

"I believe you." She whispered smally. Roy looked surprised for a moment, not expecting that in the least. "Daddy believed you. Always, always believed you. So you can't be wrong, right?" he smiled, and however hard she tried to return the gesture to show her thanks, she couldn't bring herself to do it. Riza wiped her face clear of any tears before clearing her voice, trying to sound as normal as possible as she bent down to Alicia's height. "Come on, Sweetie. Let's go pick some flowers over there, alright?" Alicia looked to her mother, who nodded her head slightly. "Go on, Baby." She nodded, taking Riza's hand as she stood, and Riza glanced back at Roy warmly as they walked off.

"She'll be alright." He said, standing in his spot, dusting the dirt off his pants as Riza and Alicia disappeared a couple yards away. Gracia nodded slightly. "Thank you, Roy." He looked at her, shaking his head slowly. "Don't. There's too much I owe him; it's the least I could do. And. . . It was all true, Grace. Every word of it." He scratched the back of his head, looking down in his feet as he continued. "He just. . . he loved being married to you. He really did; every single second of it. It just made him so. . . so excited just thinking about it." Pause. "You meant everything to him. You know that, right?" She paused, blinking as she rubbed her arms, sniffling. "He was all we had." Roy nodded slowly. "I just. . ." she started, her voice choking. "How could this happen? Why him? What has he ever done wrong, Roy? What?" Tears tricked down her red face as she forced the last sentence she could manage before completely breaking down. "I just love him so much." Her sobs came long and hard, and Roy couldn't help but feel completely at fault. He looked at her uneasily, unsure of what to do, how to comfort her. He watched her noiselessly, feeling completely useless as she cried helplessly into her handkerchief. . . Maes's handkerchief. He swallowed, reaching into his pocket, gently prodding her hands open. "Maybe uh. . . you could use a replacement. . ." he said, and she took his kerchief as he took Maes's from her hands. He held it at arm's length between his two fingers as he explained. "You don't know where this's been; I think I've seen this in places I don't care to describe." She giggled, smiling slightly. She knew he was joking, of course; but she could use the chuckle. He threw it up in the air, catching it between his two hands, and it was instantly dry with a snap of his fingers. He brought the corners together in a sad attempt to fold it properly, and it rather resembled the rest of his clothes back home; unorderly, wrinkled, and clearly done by a man who's only just picked up the practice of doing his own laundry. He chuckled, handing it back to her. "Sorry. I'm not that good at this."

"It's alright." She said, sniffing as she placed it in her pocket where it was safe. They stood there for a moment, feeling uneasy, and Gracia finally broke the silence. "You were the best friend he ever had, weren't you?" Roy blinked shyly. "Nah, couldn't be. Why would I. . .?"

"No, you were." She said. "He always thought you were his closest friend. Always." She paused. "He knew you wanted to be Fürer more than anything, and he really was determined to help you get there. But. . . I dunno. . ." she smiled. "He always kind of. . . wished you would grow up and finally realize what was really important." Roy blinked. Had Maes really thought that? "Like what?" he asked, half confused, half defensive; how could wanting to be the Fürer possibly have seemed childish to him? There were times where Roy could have sworn that Maes was more devoted to the dream then even he was. "I don't know. . . maybe he hoped you'd. . . realize what. . . realize who was most important to you all along." Roy snorted, looking her straight in the eye. He knew just what she was getting at. "Riza." He said bluntly.

"He wanted you both to 'swallow your pride and say how you feel, already!'" He raised an eyebrow. "His words exactly." She stated, erasing any possible doubt. "So that's the story behind the 'find yourself a wife' ploy, is it?" Gracia's mouth hung open. "He didn't."

"Oh, he did, alright." Roy laughed to himself. "Riza always got mad at me for hanging up on him for it. Thought I'd break the phone." Gracia chuckled. Roy hung his head, shaking it slightly as he spoke. "Great man." Gracia nodded softly.

"Look, Grace," he started. "If you ever need anything - money, someone to take Alicia off your hands for a few hours, someone to talk to for a while, anything – just let me know, alright?" she looked at him curiously, completely unaware of how to answer. "I'd never forgive myself if I just let you suffer alone. After all the shit he's done for me? I'd rather kill myself." He swallowed hard. "We were robbed of a beautiful man. All of us. And if we don't help each other deal with it. . . we'll never feel any better about it." Her eyes gleamed with moisture, but she only allowed one, single tear to fall. "Roy. . ."

"You'll let me know, right?"


"Good." He said, smiling slightly, averting his eyes as he nodded towards Alicia and Riza, walking back towards them. "They're coming. Here, don't let Alicia see." He said, taking his handkerchief from her hands to wipe her face clean of any remaining tears. "She'll feel better if you don't look as upset." He said, placing the handkerchief back in her hands as Alicia ran up to him, her little hands full of flowers. "Are these flowers good? Daddy will like them, won't he?" Roy smiled, bending down to her height. "They're perfect; he'll love them." She smiled hugely, completely enthused. "What do I do?"

"Well," he started. "You go and set the flowers down in front of him," she was so excited, she decided to do each step as it came along, placing the flowers down. "Now what?" she asked. "Now. . ." he grinned. "Spin around 3 times." She obeyed. "Now the other way!" she did, looking a little dizzy, but entirely adorable. "Now bop your nose!"

"Roy!" Riza hissed. "I'm just lightening the mood. . ." he muttered. "Now what, now what?" she asked, practically hopping. Roy walked towards her, and she threw her hands out immediately. "STOP!" she said, completely startling him. "You can't come here yet!"

"Why?" he asked. "Spin around 3 times. . ." she dictated. Gracia giggled. "You heard her, Roy. Spin around." Riza prodded, barely able to contain her laughter. He exhaled heavily, as if considering it before dropping down on one knee. "It's alright; I won't come in. I'll let you talk to him alone, alright?"

"But how do I talk to him?"

"Just sit down and start talking, just like always."

"But. . ." she stared down at her hands. "What do I talk to him about?"

"Anything you want." He said, patting her head gently. "Go on." She walked a little closer to her flowers, staring back at Roy skeptically as she sat down. A few moments of awkward silence passed as Alicia mulled over just how much she believed Roy after all, and she could just feel their eyes on her back, waiting for her to do something. She breathed in deeply, speaking quietly. "Hi, Daddy. . ." she swallowed. "I. . .it's me, Alicia." Her voice faded, as did her confidence, and Gracia stepped forward on instinct. Roy placed his hand on her shoulder, and he shook his head as she looked at him. "It's okay. Let her do it herself." He whispered.

". . .I finished my picture yesterday." She said, breathing in. "You said to wait so we could finish it together, but I wanted to finish it so I could surprise you." She swallowed. "I'm sorry." Then, all of a sudden, a light breeze came out of nowhere, and it seemed to caress her face. Her eyes burst open, and she stared at the tombstone before her. "Daddy, is that you? Are you here?" the leaves fluttered around her fingers as the air blew again, and her eyes filled with tears. Roy looked at her curiously, amazed at what was going on. He glanced back at Riza, just to confirm that had even happened, and she nodded quickly out of complete surprise and anxiousness all at the same time. Gracia smiled faintly, and Alicia wiped her eyes excitedly, beginning to speak so rapidly, Roy could barely catch what she was saying.

Maes was there. He was really, really there.

"There he is, saving my ass again." Roy murmured, laughing to himself. Gracia looked at Roy with tearfully joyed eyes, grasping his hand in thanks before walking to her daughter.

"Sweetie?" Alicia turned. "Yes, Mommy?"

"Can I talk, too?" Alicia looked at Roy, as if expecting him to clue her mother in, and Roy spun his finger around in circles as Gracia looked at him. She sighed. "Alright, alright." And Alicia laughed as her mother spun around with her, first one way, then the other, and then finishing with an apprehensive bop to the nose. Riza chuckled, watching thoughtfully as Gracia sat beside her daughter, who was so immersed in her conversation that she barely noticed her mother had joined them. "Come on." Riza whispered to Roy as she grabbed his hand, and he nodded, taking one last glance at Alicia and Gracia before turning to leave with her.

"That was really sweet of you." Riza said. Roy shrugged. "I couldn't have just left her like that. You know I wouldn't." she nodded. "I'm proud of you." She whispered gently, looking at anything but him as she said it. . . yet its intensity still felt so beautiful to him.

"Riza, wait." He said, pulling her back a moment. She turned, looking at him inquisitively. "Hm?" she asked. Roy held her hands tightly in his, staring down at them as he played with her fingers as a distraction – anything but looking at her. "Riza. . . we really. . . we really should talk." She looked at him so strangely, he couldn't even attempt to depict what she was thinking. . . and really, he didn't mind what she thought, he just hated it when she looked at him like that. He breathed in, taking as much time as he possibly could before his body made it known that it could use some more air, and he looked up into her eyes so attentively that it startled her. "Riza, . . ." she clasped her hands around his tighter as he thought, her patience easing him immensely. He sighed, shuffled his feet, and looked back up at her with the same thoughtfulness in his wet eyes as he whispered. "Marry me, Riza."

One second passed wordlessly. And another. And another.

"What?" she breathed. He didn't utter a word; she'd heard him just fine. ". . .Roy. . ." she started, completely unsure of what she was saying. "I know you're upset, Roy, believe me, I know. It's hard. . . Maes is. . ." her sentence finished itself in the silence. "You can't think straight right now; some warm tea back at Headquarters and you'll be fine." She said, tugging him slightly, but he pulled her back. "No, that's not it." He said quickly, taking her hands again. "Riza, it's never been so clear for me in my entire life!" he sighed, letting his excitement ebb before continuing, staring at the ground as he did so. "Look, Riza. . . I've done some horrible, horrible things in my life. . . things that I could never be forgiven for. Things I can't forgive myself for. And God knows how much I want it all to end – the aguish, the worthlessness, all of this guilt, just constantly piling higher and higher on top of itself, year after year. . ." he sniffed, placing his fist over his mouth instantaneously. Their gazes met once more, and his voice dropped in volume. "I've tried too many times to make it all stop, and I can't do it anymore. I just can't. I mean. . . life, you take it all for granted. . . until someone like Maes Hughes, someone who actually understands just how wonderful, and special, and amazing it really is. . ." he swallowed hard. "They're gone. Just like that. Only a few short years of life, all ended in one, single little moment." Riza didn't move one bit; she stood completely still as her eyes stared into his, their meaning completely incomprehensible as they let fall one solitary tear. He smiled in a weak grimace as he finished, his eyes staring into her gaze with such complete tenderness, speaking so quietly that no one else could have possibly heard him. . . no one else but his Riza. ". . .If I'm living instead of him, I might as well swallow my pride and make something of my life." She shook with the intensity of his words, and silence filled the air as her mind raced with unimaginable thoughts. He was so focused on her shimmering wet eyes that he seemed to tremble at the sudden tickle he felt against his palms as her fingertips caressed them gently, pulling his gloves off softly. He looked at her, completely puzzled as she smiled, holding his bare hands in her own for the first time as her fingers grazed the lines on his hands. She tucked his gloves into her pockets, smiling. "You're not wearing those. . . at our wedding. I won't let you." She joked quietly, and his whole face seemed to light up. He became completely immersed in unexplainable emotion as he smiled hugely, the tears still pouring from his eyes. . . and just as he opened his mouth to speak again, Riza waiting for him to whisper something that would make her shiver. . . "I. . . I want my gloves back." She chuckled, and her laughter gained volume as he grabbed her around the waist, trying to pry her hands away from her pockets by tickling her. "I got them!" he said triumphantly, and she relaxed in his arms as he showed his gloves in his hand, and it took him a moment to process why she still remained there. He let his head nuzzle beside hers as she turned, letting her arms fall around his neck. She seemed to fit against his body so snuggly, so perfectly in his arms, it really made him quiver. "I love you." She whispered, her lips brushing his ear gently as she spoke. "I. . . I love you." He murmured, and he held her closer as their faces met, their tears mixing as their kisses burned with several years worth of longing. . .

. . .And the wind rustled gently, the leaves swirling against their feet.

Wow, this has to be the most ease I've ever had writing – I don't think I've ever written 7 pages of a fic EVER without it taking at least a month. I just finished this in three days. I really can't believe it. Well, I hope you liked it! Please review!