Chapter Seven

Maes wished he hadn't awoken. The pain would just be waiting for him but somehow it didn't seem so bad. His mind felt like it was wrapped in wet wool, coherent thoughts seeming so far away. Slowly he remembered he wasn't a prisoner any longer and the pain wasn't so bad because he had been obviously doped past his eyeballs with painkillers. Maes wanted to see his leg, half afraid that when he lifted the blankets, he'd be faced with a stump. He couldn't find the strength to move, let alone pull back the covers.

He tried to shift, groaning a bit as agony rippled through in spite of the medication. Maes squinted at a dark shape in a chair. Roy, had to be. He was the only man Maes knew who could curl up and sleep like that; more tom cat than human sometimes, Hughes would swear to it. "Roy," he called hoarsely.

Roy startled awake, almost pitching out of the chair. "Maes! Hey, there you are. Need me to get a doctor? You in pain?"

Maes managed a smile, listening to his friend fret, though it worried him a bit. Roy was usually more controlled that this. "I can't even tell. It feels like I'm floating above the bed."

"Oh, they gave you the good stuff. I should have signed up for some." Roy grinned, dragging the chair closer to the bedside. He knocked over the little paper bag sitting next to the chair leg.

"That's all we need. A man who makes fire getting all high and stupid." Maes tried to lift his arms again and scarcely managed. "I can barely move."

"You don't need to. It's all over with. You just need to relax and heal up." Roy leaned over and tapped Maes hand.

"I didn't think..." Maes swallowed hard, feeling the swell of emotion threatening to consume him. It seemed too dream-like for him to have actually been saved.

"You doubted I would come?" Roy sounded surprised as he sat up straighter.

"They told me...thought you might be dead." Maes licked his lips, shuddering. "The leg..."

"Doc says it'll heal up fine. You'll be in one piece, no thanks to those bastards."

"They had..." Maes hiccuped, swallowing his cries. He managed to get his arms up over his face, trying to hide his tears. "Car battery."

"Son of a bitch," Roy growled, propelling himself out of the chair to pace the room like the cat he so much resembled. "Maes, I'm so sorry. I should have been faster, better." Roy's eyes seemed to disappear in his blurry face. Maes could imagine the malevolent slits of ebony, however.

"I betrayed you," Hughes said, a low moan rippling out of him. He tried to turn away and failed.

Roy was back at his bed side, reaching for him. Maes flinched away. "Oh, no, Maes, you didn't."

Maes bobbed his head frantically. "I did. I didn't mean to. I told them..." Maes broke off, sobbing. "They knew you are the leader because of me."

"It's not your fault, Maes. And it wasn't anything they couldn't have figured out on their own from the things I did. I think someone betrayed us to start with. They probably always knew who I was," Roy said softly, going back to his anxious pacing of the room. "They hurt you, buddy. They hurt you bad. I don't blame you."

"They hurt me so much, Roy." Maes ignored his pain, rolling onto his side, curling up tightly. His leg screamed past the veil of the painkillers. "I didn't want to tell them...the bitch, she..."

Roy's pacing ceased as he came to rest next to Maes on the bed. "You should lay flat, Maes."

Maes didn't answer, curling tighter, unable to stem the flow of his tears. The pain of his wracking lamentations blinded him. He jumped, feeling Roy's hands on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Maes. I tried to find you faster. I really did." Roy's hand tightened gently. "I got attacked by some pissed off village drunks who wanted to rape Hawkeye...or me, maybe both of us, not really sure."

"Only you, Roy," Maes said, his teeth chattering from his emotions. Leave it to Roy to find the most trouble possible. "And then it rained. I knew...I broke then. I told them..."

"I don't blame you." Roy's hand stroked Maes' arm. "Don't think on it a moment more."

Maes flopped back over, his hand questing for Roy's biceps. He caught on, pulling himself up using Roy as his anchor. Tear filled his citrine eyes. Maes clung to his friend. Roy's arms tightened around him.

"You're safe now and that's all anyone cares about," Roy promised him. "We'll get you back home to that cute girl of yours and everything will be better then."

Maes said nothing. The emotions were too raw for him to form words. He felt wasted by the time the tears stopped. He trembled uncontrollably against Roy, his wet face tucked against the smaller man's neck. Why did his friend smell like roses? "Now I know what you felt like...so embarrassed about coming apart those times right after you got back from Ishbal."

"You told me there was nothing to be embarrassed about," Roy said, rubbing Maes' back like Hughes had done for him during those first suicidal weeks after leaving the desert.

"There isn't...for you or me but saying it doesn't help, does it?" Maes ground the heel of his hand against his eyes.

"Not really," Roy replied regretfully. Maes sat back a little and Roy handed him his handkerchief. Maes wiped his face. "If it cheers you up, you can think about me coming apart like this in front of Alex Louis."

A rough bark of laughter bubbled out of Maes. "That couldn't have done the ego much good."

Roy shrugged. "Two minutes before that, I had my gun in my mouth. I think Armstrong preferred the crying jag."

"You're not allowed to leave us like that. You promised," Maes reminded him, dabbing at his eyes again. The handkerchief carried the faint scent of roses...no, it was Roy who smelled like a flower. He was more sure of it now.

"The thing with Armstrong was before I made the promise," Roy said, turning his head.

Normally Maes would be upset by that, knowing that deep down there were self-destructive thoughts boiling around in Roy's mind. However, his eyes caught on a mark on Roy's neck. He squinted at it and all his frustrations and pain surfaced in one punch to Roy's jaw, bowling the smaller man off his perch on the side of the bed.

Roy managed to catch himself before he hit ground. He spun back around, rubbing his jaw. "What the hell was that for?"

"You screwed her!" Maes roared, shaking his fist, surprised at the sudden store of energy he found.

"What? No!" Roy held his hands out in front of him.

"Liar! You're not wearing your blues, you idiot, no high collars. I can see the sucker bite on your neck." Maes glowered at him.

Roy touched his voice box. "Oh, damn."

Maes wanted to get up and thrash him soundly but his spurt of energy died. "Yeah, damn. I'm being held captive and you-"

"No! Never! I would never do that to you," Roy snapped back, his eyes angry slits. "It was tonight, not until we knew you were safe."

"What? It was your way of celebrating my rescue?" Maes asked, more wryly than bitterly. This was Roy all over, foolish, passionate and needing a handler at all times or he'd get himself in trouble.

"Sort of." Roy flopped down in the chair, running his hand through his hair. "We're messed up bad."

Maes squinted, trying to resolve the blur of Roy's face into helpful information as far as his friend's mental state. "You did tell me you were falling."

Roy covered his face. "It wasn't just me."

"Damn." Maes pressed back into the mattress. "How could she fall in love with you?"

"I think I should be offended," Roy said, dropping his hands.

Maes tugged up his blanket. "What are you two going to do?"

"We don't know yet. Obviously we have to keep it very quiet but...Maes," Roy's eyes were as wide as Maes had ever seen them. "I've never felt like this."

Maes saw the fear in his friend's eyes. "You looked scared to death. Love isn't supposed to make you afraid, Roy."

Roy snorted. "I know that. I'm not afraid of that...well, not entirely. You know what could happen if we get caught."

Maes nodded. "You're in deep now, Roy boy. What are we going to do with you?"

"Keep me from the people out to hurt us." Roy grimaced. "And there has to be someone, doesn't there? This was no random attack. Gran sounded impressed that I got you back, though. And the Drachmaian military helped out and the peace treaty is intact, which is better than Gran thought I'd manage."

"It wasn't random at all. They told me I was betrayed by my own people. A woman," Maes said, musingly, trying to clear the cobwebs from his brain. It was easier to do now that the pain was coming back. The drugs must be leaving his system.

Roy's thin eyebrows knitted together. "A woman?"

"That's all I learned, a woman. I'll assume she's in the military," Maes replied.

"You don't think Riza..." Roy's face lost color.

"Do you?" Maes shot back and was surprised that Roy seemed to consider the possibility.

"She was quick to kill any of the rebels...but no, I don't think so. She didn't know our route that day or the vehicle we were given or even who was coming as part of this expedition. I never told her. She wouldn't have known until she got on the train," Roy replied, a little bit of relief in his voice.

"I didn't really think it was her. I don't even know her. Why would she want to hurt me?" Maes shook his head. "It's probably someone higher up."

"That was my thought," Roy said.

Maes rubbed his swollen eyes. "I've been thinking, Roy, even before this, about transferring to investigations. Mysteries intrigue me. This attack, the subterfuge, makes me want that more than ever before."

Roy's lips drew down. "I'd hate to lose you off my team but...you would do good there. You have the mind for it, Maes. It might be for the best. If Gran or someone thinks we're too close of friends, he'd probably transfer you away anyhow. If you requested the transfer...yes, that could be very good indeed."

"Glad you think so, buddy. You'll have enough trouble pretending to not be close to Hawkeye. You don't need to have to worry about having two such games to play within your own cadre," Maes replied as a nurse came in.

"Agreed," Roy said.

The nurse gave Mustang a critical look. "Visiting hours are long since over, sir. I need to give Major Hughes his pain medication. You can come back tomorrow."

Roy got up and patted Maes' shoulder. He put a card with a phone number on the table. "Call me if you need me, buddy. Nurse, he's lost his glasses. Tomorrow someone should check into getting him a new pair."

"I'll leave the doctor a note, sir," she replied.

"Good night, Maes," Roy said, taking a small bag off the floor near where the chair first stood.

"I'd say sleep tight but I can guess what's in that bag. There's not going to be any sleeping, is there?" Maes rolled his eyes.

"Oh, eventually I'll tire out," Roy laughed and waved as he headed out the door.

"That man really is an alley cat," Maes told the nurse as she injected his arm with something that burned.

"I've found that to be true of most men," she replied cheerily then tucked him in.

Maes was asleep again before she left the room.

X X X

Regiene stalked across the safe zone of the target field. She didn't even look at all the things Basque had destroyed. "I don't have to ask why you called me here. Those Drachmaian idiots failed, didn't they?"

Gran's thick mustache twitched as he scowled. "Not only did they fail, the upper Brass is going to award Mustang, Hawkeye, and Hughes medals when they get back to Central. It was a monumental waste of time."

She put a hand on his arm. "Apparently so and if they suspect they were set up..."

"They'll never trace it back to us." Gran's eyes shifted back to the few targets that were still standing.

"That's at least a plus. I suppose you were right about us requiring patience. They'll screw up sooner or later. We can assure it." Regiene shook her head, her strawberry blond hair flopping into her eyes. "I'm shocked Mustang fought so hard just to get Hughes back. He put out a massive effort. Are you sure they're merely friends, Basque?"

Gran's thick brow knitted up. "What do you mean?"

"That Hughes has Mustang biting the pillows every night." Regiene's lips pulled into a harsh line.

Gran chuckled lowly, apparently amused by the idea. "I haven't heard any rumors, though I suppose Mustang's lady killer reputation could be so much smoke."

"I always thought so. I mean, look at the little thing, all narrow hips, delicate hands and smooth face. He doesn't even look like a man should." Regiene snorted. "What woman would want something that pretty?"

"And we both know he weeps like a girl. We saw him on the train ride back from Ishbal. Pathetic." Gran toyed with the ends of his mustache again. "Probably why Armstrong was covering for him, Mustang did him a few oral favors. You may be right, Regiene. It would explain Mustang's meteoric rise in rank."

"Knowing which cock to suck doesn't have to work just for women, Basque." Regiene scowled. "We underestimated their relationship."

"We might be best to leave them alone for now and concentrate on keeping Lab Five a secret," Basque replied.

The tip of Regiene's tongue traced her lips. "Patience, I think you said. We need patience."

"Eventually we'll get them," Basque said. "Even if it takes years."

"I'm not going anywhere." She smiled at him.

He returned it. "Care to destroy something?" He gestured to the field.

She touched the array she wore as an amulet. "It would make me feel so much better."

Basque laughed and let her select a target to suck all the moisture from.

X X X

Roy made sure he wasn't standing too close to Hawkeye in the military hospital room. He knew he could trust Maes, of course, but who knew who might be looking in. He was exhausted beyond words and Hawkeye didn't look much better. At least this time she left the sucker bites in places he could easily cover and he was as considerate of her. His privates felt a little battered and his whole body well used and he couldn't be more glad of it.

"Do you really want the responsibility for looking after this idiot?" Maes asked Hawkeye.

She smiled, her brown eyes cutting towards Mustang. "I think it's in my job description, sir."

"Lucky you. I'd run if I were you," Hughes shot back.

"You're still here, keeping an eye out for him," Hawkeye reminded him.

"We're both masochists," Hughes replied.

"You're hurting my feelings, both of you." Roy pouted at them and Hawkeye came over and flicked his bottom lip.

"Put that away. No one feels sorry for you, sir."

Maes laughed. "I like you, Hawkeye. You're exactly what he needs." His eyes narrowed. "I'll do what I can when we get home to help you be just that without anyone catching on."

Roy cleared his throat. "Speaking of that, the doctor said you should be well enough to travel on the train by tomorrow. He'll give you pain killers enough to make it home and the doctors in Central can take over until that bullet wound is all healed up. Maybe they'll have your glasses for you by the end of the day."

Maes rubbed the bridge of his nose. "That would be great. I'm tired of looking at faceless blobs."

Roy nodded. "We'll all need sharp eyes once we get home. Someone tried to hurt us. They might try again."

"I think there's no might about it," Maes said then changed the subject. "Hawkeye, you need to meet my girlfriend, Gracia. She's new in town and could use another lady friend. That way when I invite that goofball over for dinner, she can have a friend of her own to talk to."

Riza smiled and Roy listened to them making plans that would in fact be shields so he and Riza could steal time together without the military being the wiser. He hated hiding. He knew it was needed. Someone was definitely out to get him but when one tried to climb the ladder of command that tended to go with the territory. He would have to be careful. Roy decided he was more than up to the task.

FINI