Disclaimer: I do not own Full Metal Alchemist nor do I make any profit off of this story.
Author's note at the end: Spoilers for episode 25, "Words Of Farewell"
Pearls That Were His Eyes
The stillness of the early morning was broken only by the high pitched hiss of the steam engine and the dull roar of steel on steel as the train slowly slid into the station. Sleepy people blinked their eyes languidly stretching and gathering their luggage that had scattered around their compartments, except for the quiet couple at one end of the train. They rose quickly to exit the train, a sense of restrained energy in their efficient stride, the navy blue uniforms of military personnel seemingly not rumpled by a long night spent on the train.
Central Station was empty at four thirty in the morning, except for a few red-eyed travelers who were waiting to get on the train. Roy Mustang pushed past them, not noticing or caring that a couple of them stumbled for a split second. Lieutenant Hawkeye trailed in his wake, making vaguely apologetic gestures to the people Mustang had shoved and trying to thread her way through the small crowd balancing the bulk of their admittedly sparse luggage.
"Sir? We're here. Where are you planning to go first, Headquarters or Lieutenant Colonel Hughes' home?" she asked Mustang, catching up to him at last.
He didn't answer. The first train they had been able to get on had left a couple of hours after his first phone call to Hughes about the Elrics. Before he had left the East, however, he had tried to call Hughes' house to let his friend know that he was on his way.
Gracia had answered the phone, her voice sleepy.
"Gracia? It's Roy. Is Maes available?
"Roy? Um, no, I'm sorry. He went back to the office. He said he had some more work to do. Is there something the matter?"
"No, Gracia. Thank you anyway. I'm about to get on a train to Central and wanted to give him some advance warning. I'll try his office. I'm sorry I called you so late."
"It's not a problem, Roy. I'll see you later."
"Sir?" Mustang blinked and focused his gaze on the lieutenant. She was looking at him and he realized that she had just asked him a question. He looked around for a clock, trying to decide which destination would be the most efficient use of his time.
"What time is it?" he asked, finally spotting one hanging on the wall. "Not even five o'clock in the morning? We'll go to Headquarters. With any luck, Hughes will still be there sleeping at his desk, and I'll be able to fry him awake," Mustang said.
"I'll go requisition a car, sir," Hawkeye said, turning away toward the military's designated counter. Mustang continued to stare at the train, which was beginning to pull out of the station. An old memory came to mind.
Mustang watched at the train with General Hakuro and the Elric boys pulled into the station. The mission he had been assigned had been fulfilled spectacularly; the potential of the older brother was especially impressive. Even Hughes had been impressed when he called Mustang to report after control of the train had been reestablished.
"Roy, this kid is good. Don't screw him up."
He watched as the passengers filed off the train, eager to get away from the site of violence, military personnel guiding them off so they could remove the terrorists securely. He covertly scanned the crowd, looking for his friend. Hughes could take care of himself quite well, but Mustang wouldn't quite relax until he had seen his friend for himself.
Suddenly a hulking figure in armor caught his eye stepping off the train. Mustang remembered that night a few months ago; a boy was missing an arm and a leg, bleeding through his bandages, while an incongruous little boy's voice came out of a seven-foot tall suit of armor, explaining that these children had attempted a human transmutation-and had survived. Walking behind what remained of Alphonse Elric was his older brother, who was in turn escorted by Hughes. Mustang breathed a little easier at seeing his friend alive and well, and focused on the prisoners who were being assembled on the platform.
Twenty minutes, one barbecue and a teenage drama later, Mustang turned to leave with his officers. Hughes fell into step behind him and once they arrived at Central's Headquarters he dismissed the rest of his subordinates. "You look like you could use a drink, Maes," he said.
His friend grinned at him. "Always. I assume you want me to tell you all about the Elrics as well?"
"Of course," Mustang replied. "Despite the drama at the station, Elric has a lot of potential. He'll be an excellent recruit."
"Roy," Hughes said, his voice quiet and serious. "Elric is eleven years old. I'll be the first to admit that he's extraordinary, but don't forget that he's still a child."
"Childhood has to end sometime. And with the mission he's set out for himself, he can't afford to be a child anymore," Mustang said. "His parents are gone, and he's taken responsibility for the younger brother."
"So, you get to be the father figure in their lives?" Hughes asked. Mustang made a face at his friend, but considered the question.
"The father is missing, the mother is dead. If I can get Elric through the exam, I'll be sure that he stays under my command. That does end up making me the central authority figure in his life, doesn't it?" Mustang mused to himself.
Hughes laughed at him. "You poor fool. At least Gracia and I will have the pleasure of our baby's childhood before we have to deal with the dreaded teenage years. You get to deal with all that teenage angst right off the bat!" They turned a corner onto the street with their favorite bar in Central.
"Eh. If he gets to be too much of a pain, I can always fry him, I suppose," Mustang said, only half joking.
"Funny, Roy, very funny. What about the younger brother?" Hughes asked.
Mustang gazed into the distance as they approached the bar. "I really don't know what to think of him. On one hand what happened to him is extraordinary. Alphonse Elric is the only example I can bring to mind of the successful transmutation of a human soul."
"And on the other hand?" Hughes pressed.
"And on the other hand, it's simply tragic. I can't imagine being stuck in an empty suit of armor, unable to touch or smell, or taste," Mustang said, opening the door and scanning the space for a table in the back. "What did you think of them?" he asked.
"I think that the older brother, Ed, reminds me of you, Roy. He's stubborn, arrogant at times, but there's an idealistic quality about him that draws people. You're going to clash with him, and you're going to clash hard because of it," Hughes said, smiling at the bartender who began to fix their usual.
"And Alphonse?" Mustang asked, wincing at the thought of dealing with anyone who had been as arrogant and impetuous as he had been at that age.
"He's sweet. Level headed, thoughtful, and will get under your skin like a little puppy left out in the rain. I swear, it can be unnerving, the way that armor seems to pick up facial expressions," Hughes said. "They're good boys, Roy. Like I said, don't screw them up."
"Now, now, it's my job to screw them up. I'm a dog of the military, remember?" Mustang said, sardonically.
"I don't like the sound of that. What are you planning?" Hughes asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Remember what I was telling you about Shou Tucker? The chimera that could speak words?" Mustang said, resting his chin in his hand.
"I remember. You think he killed his wife to do it, but there's no evidence. What does that have to do with the Elrics?" Hughes asked, sipping his drink as it was put in front of him.
"All potential State Alchemists have to study with a licensed alchemist. The Sewing Life Alchemist has plenty of space and an excellent reputation. Not to mention a four year old daughter," Mustang said, looking directly at Hughes.
"You think he's going to sacrifice his daughter!" Hughes exclaimed and Mustang hushed him as he glanced around.
"The first chimera got him his State license. He's been trying for the last couple of years to duplicate it, but if he did use his wife as a test subject, there's no way he'll be able to duplicate the results without sacrificing another human being. The military is very interested in the possibility of using chimeras, and this year, if he doesn't produce another chimera, he'll lose his position," Mustang said.
"So you're going to put two boys under the supervision of a suspected murderer?" Hughes exclaimed.
Mustang's voice was low and deadly. "Tucker isn't going to do a damn thing with two potential witnesses in the house. It'll be additional incentive for him to think twice when he looks at his little girl. The Elrics will be safe enough."
"Roy, you're my best friend, but sometimes I have to admit, you can be a cold bastard. You know, I could always open up an investigation? Do this the traditional way?" Hughes said, taking another sip of his drink.
"If certain elements of the military are supporting Tucker's research, any investigation you open will end up stonewalled before you can get anywhere. Not to mention it could end up spooking them and we'd lose the chance to shut Tucker down for good," Mustang said.
"By certain elements, could you possibly mean a certain Brigadier General we all know and love?" Hughes said sarcastically.
Mustang simply raised an eyebrow. "You'll keep an eye on them?"
Hughes sighed. "Of course. I'll do a little research and find a good excuse to get them over to my place for a little while. You do realize that your timing is awful, Roy?"
Mustang smiled. "Maes, may I reiterate what a certain Lieutenant informed you of? A baby isn't born in five months!"
"Oh, is that what she said? I couldn't hear her, the reception cut out," Hughes said. "But seriously, what will I do if the baby comes early?"
Mustang sighed, took a long swallow of his drink, and prepared to listen to his friend rhapsodize about his expanding family.
"Sir?" Hawkeye's voice came from behind him. "The car is ready," she reported. Mustang inhaled and brushed the memories away.
"Let's get going," he said turning away from the sight of the now empty tracks and walking toward the car.
The streets were just as empty as the train station had been, except for a couple of police cars that they had passed. Mustang saw a coroner's truck with them and idly wondered if Scar had killed another alchemist. It would serve Hughes right if that was the case, then maybe he wouldn't have time to conceal important information such as the fact that Edward had been hospitalized with severe injuries, especially to his prosthetic arm.
The hospital report was sitting in his lap and he flipped it open again. Thank goodness Hughes' new secretary seemed to have been out of the loop on Hughes' little information blackout and had placed a phone call to him as Elric's commanding officer informing him of his injuries sustained in the line of duty. And she had been kind enough to wire him the reports, all under Hughes' nose, as per his request.
They pulled up in front of Central's Headquarters and Mustang got out of the car and shut the door. Leaning over the open window he said to Hawkeye, "Park the car. I'm going to go find Hughes. Wait for me inside."
"Yes, sir," she said and drove off, leaving Mustang standing by the front steps. He could begin to see the sunrise as the city was slowly bathed in pale gold light. Jogging up the steps he could see people moving around inside the building.
In fact, there was an unusual amount of people running around for five o'clock in the morning. What the hell was going on?
He stopped one of the people in the hall who was military police. "Excuse me, I'm Colonel Roy Mustang. What's going on here?"
The man came to attention and saluted, "Sir, an officer was found murdered about an hour ago."
Mustang frowned. "I see. Thank you." The corporal saluted again and went about his business. Hughes was definitely in for a bad day, he thought, heading for his friend's office. Murdered officers were messy business.
However, Hughes wasn't in his office when Mustang arrived. A sad eyed girl in a corporal's insignia was putting materials away, however. "Excuse Miss," he trailed off, not knowing her name.
"Scieszka, sir," she said.
"Are you Lieutenant Colonel Hughes' aide?" he asked.
"I was, sir. He ran out of here hours ago, yelling for me to put all of his research materials away, and that I was fired," the girl, Scieszka, said obviously fighting back tears.
"Fired?" Mustang asked, surprised. Hughes rarely fired anyone, and even then only for outright incompetence or unacceptable conduct. He hadn't had much contact with his friend lately, but Hughes had mentioned that his new aide was an excellent find of Ed's, of all people.
"Yes, sir," she said, putting shuffling some books in her arms.
"Do you know where he went?" he asked.
"He got a call from the Fuhrer's secretary and took off, but that's all I know, sir," Scieszka said.
"Thank you, Seiszka," Mustang said. "I'll try to find him at home, then." The girl nodded, not looking him in the eye and he continued, "I don't know what Hughes was up to, but I'm sure he'll be crawling into work this morning wondering where you are, young lady. He has a strange sense of humor."
"You think so, sir?" she said, hope brightening her eyes.
"Oh, yes, I do," Mustang said, smiling at her. "But I promise I'll yell at him for scaring you. I'll add it to my list of things to yell about," he added darkly, thinking of the Elric brothers.
"You mean Ed and Al, sir? I'm just finishing putting away the stuff they were researching with Hughes before they left," Scieszka said.
"Really? What were they researching?" Mustang asked.
"Most of their research was about Laboratory Five, sir," she said. "They seemed to be close to some kind of breakthrough before everything happened and Ed landed in the hospital."
"Laboratory Five? I thought that had been shut down for years," he said, surprised.
"Officially, yes sir. But they found out that it was being used unofficially for something," Scieszka said.
Mustang's blood ran cold. Suddenly, Hughes' reticence to talk to him last night became a lot clearer. If he had gotten involved in something that concerned the military's covert operations, he would have been suspicious of talking to him openly over an unsecured line. He'd been right. Something was going on and when he found out what, he was not just going to fry Hughes, but the Elrics as well.
"Thank you, Scieszka," Mustang said, nodding to her. She saluted him and turned to finish putting the books away. He turned on his heel and stalked down the corridors, looking for Hawkeye.
He found her standing at the front entrance, speaking with another officer. "We're leaving, Lieutenant," he said, abruptly, cutting off her conversation and walking out the door of Headquarters. "Hughes isn't here, which means he probably went home for the night. He's getting an early wake up call from me," Mustang said grimly as Hawkeye stayed a step behind him.
"Yes, sir," Hawkeye said, her eyes narrowing with suspicion and concern as she faced him. "Would you like me to bring the car around?"
Mustang shook his head impatiently and said in a clipped tone, "Just show me where you parked and let's get going," The city was slowly getting brighter as the sun rose higher, the golden quality of the light becoming more pronounced and reflecting off of the assembled rows of state cars as they walked to where Hawkeye had parked. "Hughes is hiding something from me," Mustang said abruptly.
The lieutenant was silent for a moment, as if uncertain of saying what was on her mind. Finally she simply said, "Maybe he's trying to protect you, sir,"
"That's what I'm afraid of," Mustang replied and settled himself in the passenger seat.
As the pulled up in front of Hughes' home, the sun had almost fully risen and the sky was beginning to turn a bright, hard blue, anticipating a gorgeous day to come. Mustang didn't even wait for Hawkeye to turn off the ignition before he had opened the door of the car and begun stalking up the sidewalk to his friend's front door. He smiled grimly as he knocked loudly on the front door, anticipating a long wait, followed by Hughes' bleary eyes from too little sleep and an impressive display of cursing that he was trying to keep under control now that his daughter was old enough to start picking up words.
Instead of Hughes, however, the door flew open almost immediately and Gracia's robed figure and wide eyes met his with an anxious, "Maes, what on earth…Roy!" she exclaimed, startled to find him on her doorstep rather than her errant husband.
Mustang's eyes widened. "He's not home?"
Gracia sighed, "No, he's not. He went back to work late last night. If I know him, he pulled another all-nighter and is probably sleeping at his desk again. I'm going to kill him when he gets home!" she added, a slight touch of anger in her tone.
"But…" Mustang trailed off, not wanting to worry Gracia. Hughes wasn't at home and he wasn't at headquarters. Had he crossed him on the way home? He looked behind him and saw Hawkeye still sitting in the car, and the look of comprehension on her face when she realized that Hughes wasn't home either.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Roy. Please, come in, you must be exhausted if you were on that train all night," Gracia said, suddenly remembering the guest on her doorstep. Mustang turned his head back to his best friend's wife and smiled at her, stepping over the threshold. He looked back to check once more with Hawkeye and saw her standing at ease by the car, keeping an eye on the surroundings and particularly on a car that was ambling slowly up the street.
"Thank you," he said. The living room was filled with photographs of the Hughes family, although it came as no surprise to Mustang that Elysia was the sole subject of at least half of the photographs. He stood next to a shelf covered with some of the photos and looked a little closer. "I haven't seen a lot of these yet," he mentioned, trying to make polite conversation.
"Yes, you've been rather insulated from the barrage of photographs in the East, haven't you?" Gracia remarked, settling herself in a chair. "Although, from what Maes tells me, your name is becoming well known for efficiency and competence. I understand that you're about to be transferred back to Central?"
Mustang shook his head ruefully and said, "Hopefully, yes. Apparently, Maes and the Elrics manage to get into too much trouble without me around, so I have to come back and keep an eye on them." He turned away from the mantel, but didn't sit down himself, preferring to stand after sitting on the train all night.
"Those boys certainly do need someone to look after them. The situations they get themselves into are ridiculous," Gracia remarked sourly. "Ed may be a State Alchemist, Roy, but he's not an adult yet."
Mustang's face was sober as he said, "I do my best, Gracia."
Her face softened. "I know you do, Roy. Not that they appreciate it, do they?" she observed. He laughed and was gratified to see Gracia smile. For all the polite conversation, he hadn't missed the intermittent sideways glances toward the window, looking for her husband.
"No, they don't. But then again, I never appreciated it when I was their age either," Mustang said. "We never do, until we're older."
They both started as somebody knocked on the door. "Excuse me," Gracia said as she stood up to answer the door. Mustang followed her, staying a few discreet steps behind. The door opened and Lieutenant Hawkeye stood at the door with two sober faced men who, from their uniforms, looked to be military police.
"Mrs. Hughes? May we come in?" one of the officers asked, twisting his cap in his hands.
Later, Mustang only remembered the man's lips moving and the look of horror on Gracia's face. He remembered Gracia stumbling back a few steps, shaking her head, losing her balance and himself numbly catching her. The corporal who had delivered his hard news shifted on his feet, looking as though he would rather be facing a firing squad rather than a grief-stricken wife who was shuddering, and moaning softly to herself, "No, no, this can't be happening, not Maes, no, oh God, Elysia! Maes you promised you'd be careful, no please, someone tell me this isn't happening, please!" she cried, turning in Mustang's arms and burying her head against his chest as he held her upright.
He could do nothing except hold Gracia and try to understand what had happened. Hughes was dead? He couldn't be, he had just been talking to him on the phone last night! Mustang stood still, feeling as if the floor was spinning beneath his feet. He could see Hawkeye speaking with the police, could vaguely make out that she was getting details about what had happened.
A part of his mind that had been developed by war shoved the shock and twisting horror in his gut away, and he analyzed the situation. Someone had to take care of Gracia at the moment, she was beginning to become hysterical, crying and hyperventilating.
"Gracia," he said, his tone slightly harsh, but low and steady. It had gotten through to his men in Ishbal and it pierced through Gracia's hysteria now. "Breathe, Gracia. That's it, slow and easy," he soothed, rubbing his hands up and down her upper arms as if trying to restore circulation, allowing her to continue to rest her head against his chest.
"He…he's gone," Gracia said, beginning to sob even harder, sinking to the floor, and Mustang let her. Having nothing to say to that, he could only continue to hold her as her world as she knew it was knocked down and rearranged around her. Mustang saw Hawkeye dismiss the police and walk over to them.
"Oh, God! Roy, why? How? He was just here last night!" she cried.
Mustang swallowed back the grief that had bubbled to the surface at her words. "I don't know, Gracia. I don't…I don't know," he said, his tone of voice sounding slightly fragile. She seemed settled on the floor, her hands covering her eyes and Mustang felt completely helpless.
"Mrs. Hughes?" Hawkeye's voice was gentle and Gracia looked up, her eyes red and swollen with tears. "Come on, let's get you to your room," she continued, taking hold of Gracia's hands and firmly beginning to pull her up.
Somehow, Hawkeye managed to get Gracia to her feet, with Mustang's help. Still supporting her, he nodded to his lieutenant and said, "Lieutenant, return to Headquarters. I want a copy of the report within one hour, and I don't care how you get it."
"Yes, sir," she said, saluting, but Mustang could read the horror and compassion in her face and watched her as left.
"Gracia? Can you walk to your room?" he asked, focusing on the task in front of him.
Gracia shuddered. "Elysia," she said in an almost calm voice, her tears having stopped for a moment. "What am I going to tell her, Roy? How am I supposed to explain what happened to him-oh god, I don't even know what happened, Roy! He's just…he's dead!"
He managed to lead her back to her bedroom and settle her under the comforter, trying not to notice all the signs of his best friend's life in the room, such as the dirty laundry in the corner, and knelt next to the bed. Cocooned in the blanket, her weeping resumed some of its earlier violence and she sobbed into her pillow, holding Mustang's hand until she finally cried herself to sleep. Feeling brittle he stood up slowly, brushing a lock of Gracia's hair back from her forehead, closed the curtains, and left.
As he stepped into the hall he saw a sight that sent another knife through his heart. Four-year old Elysia peeked out of her bedroom at him, her baby fine hair clinging to her cheek and holding a stuffed animal in one hand. He sighed heavily and addressed the child. "Hello, Elysia, do you remember me?"
She nodded. "Daddy has lots of pictures of you. He has lots of pictures of me too, and he likes to tell stories about them," she said, her large innocent eyes watching him.
Mustang's breath caught on something that was halfway between a laugh and a sob. He would have to keep better control than that, but as much as Elysia Hughes looked like her mother, with her fair hair and wide eyes, she reminded him of her father at the moment.
Hughes pulled yet another photo out of his pocket and Mustang groaned slightly. Little Elysia was only a couple of months old, but he thought that Hughes had already filled a scrapbook with photos. That was another good thing about this upcoming transfer to the East; he couldn't be forced to look at scrapbooks through a telephone. Although, with the way Hughes could go on about his baby for hours, he thought it might be productive to do some research about flame alchemy and transferring the fire through telephone lines.
Suddenly he smiled as a thought occurred to him and Hughes asked him what he was smiling about. "Oh, I'm just thinking that it's a good thing that you're taking so many photographs now. It'll be wonderful embarrassment material for when all the boyfriends come knocking on her door in about fifteen years…" he said, ducking Hughes' swing and laughing at the pale color of his friend's face.
"Yes, he does like to take a lot of photos, doesn't he?" Mustang said, employing that soft tone of voice that adults reserved for young children. Elysia nodded and looked at the floor. He thought of his comment all those years ago about the imminent boyfriends and it hit him that Hughes would never see it, would never be able to casually handle one of his knives as he was making "polite" conversation with his daughter's date. He would never see this beautiful child of his that he was so proud of grow up.
"I heard voices and Mommy crying. Why is Mommy crying?" she asked him.
Mustang sucked in a breath, feeling as if he had been punched in the stomach. He couldn't do this. He couldn't be the one to explain to this child that her father was never coming home, that he was dead.
But nor could he lie to her, so he settled for a half-truth. "Your mother is crying because she's very sad right now," he said, mentally begging a god that he didn't believe in that Elysia wouldn't ask him anything beyond that.
Elysia nodded and said, "When I'm crying, Daddy kisses it and makes it all better. Mommy needs Daddy to kiss her boo boo?"
His mother had once told him that the gods answered most prayers sideways, so be careful what he wished for. He wished bitterly that he had remembered that little piece of wisdom before hoping that Elysia wouldn't ask anything else about why her mother was crying.
"Maybe," he hedged. "Was there something you needed, Elysia?" he asked, hoping that he could get her back to bed as he glanced at a clock hanging in the hallway. It was only six thirty in the morning. Could he have really stepped off of a train only a little over an hour ago, anticipating how he was going to yell at his friend for withholding information from him?
She nodded. "Could I have a drink of water, please?" she asked.
Mustang took her down the hall to the bathroom, helped her fill a nearby cup with the words "Daddy's little girl" painted on the side with water, watched her drink it, and escorted her back to bed, tucking her in much as he had her mother a little while ago. Elysia eyed him sleepily.
"Daddy's really glad you're coming home," she said snuggling deeper into the bedding. "He always points to your picture and says, 'That's your Uncle Roy.'"
Mustang felt his stomach knot, hearing how his friend had been glad that he would be close by soon. Having nothing to say to the child's simple statement of fact he bit his lip and stood. "Goodnight, Elysia," he said, seeing her eyes falling shut.
"G'night…" Elysia slurred, sleep pulling her back under and away from the cruel reality of a world that could take a father away from his daughter so soon. Mustang stepped outside and closed the door, making his way back down to the living room, his eyes once again looking at the photographs. He spotted one of himself and Hughes, both in uniform, Hughes' sunny smile and an arm thrown around his shoulders and his own sardonic smirk for the camera. He stood still, lost in memory; that photo had been taken after he'd returned from Ishbal.
He had become so used to the swirling sands of the desert that the sight of rain seemed foreign to him. The State Alchemists had returned to Central a month ago, still numb. He remembered the awards ceremony after stepping off the train. He and his fellow alchemists had been hailed as heroes, brave men who had stepped out onto the front and ended the bloody war that had claimed so many lives.
The rain continued to pound against the window of his small apartment. The Flame Alchemist, in particular, had been singled out for praise. Unlike many of the other alchemists, Mustang was a soldier as well as a scientist, had studied tactics and strategy and command. He knew what he was doing, hadn't immersed himself in research as so many of his brethren were famous for doing. An alchemist who was also a competent commander was an asset even more valued than the fact that he was a human weapon, capable of unleashing almost limitless destruction.
Roy Mustang believed in living in the real world. He had naïvely thought that by joining the army he could help, could improve, but help and improve exactly what, he couldn't remember. There were a lot of things he could no longer remember. Most of his dreams, hopes, and aspirations had been annihilated with the Eastern Rebellion.
Seven years. Seven years of bloody war that had rippled outward with Ishbal at its center. Seven years, hundreds of thousands of dead both military and civilian, and the Eastern Territories were in absolute shambles. For him, it had been six months of perpetual battlefields, of insurgents rising up in greater numbers every time a "victory" was eked out, until finally he was handed a red stone and deployment orders to Ishbal, destroying the heart of the rebellion. After one night, it had burned to the ground. It had taken him all night to eradicate the entire capital.
He was still on leave. All the alchemists were on mandatory leave for at least six weeks after returning home. Another two weeks and he could return to active duty. He didn't know what to do with himself here, with no structure around him, telling him what to do with his days.
His nights were filled with desolate images of fire and blood. Mustang couldn't begin to count the number of times he had nearly burnt down his apartment after waking up from one of his nightmares, certain that he was back in Ishbal and in imminent danger of being attacked. He still couldn't allow himself to remove his gloves. It wasn't safe to remove his gloves; they were the most effective weapons he had, provided that they didn't get wet.
And it never rained in Ishbal. He'd heard that there was a festival in every year to celebrate the rare rains that they got in the desert. He couldn't remember the name of the festival, but it didn't matter anymore. No Ishbalans would be celebrating rainfall for a long time, if ever again. Their cities had been razed to the ground, and the remaining population, the ones that had been forced out of their homes by the military to avoid the destruction, had been rounded up and sent to refugee camps, far away from where their home had originally been. He had heard that the State was going to build a permanent camp for them in the South.
Suddenly feeling trapped within four walls; he grabbed his keys and left his apartment. The rain quickly soaked through his thin clothes as he walked the streets. It wasn't just raining, he realized, it was beginning to storm. He could hear thunder rumbling far away and counted the seconds between the faint flashes of far away lightening and the answering thunder, like a child. It was still miles away, but he really shouldn't be out here for too much longer. But where was he?
Looking around, he suddenly realized where he was. Hughes lived a couple of streets away. The rain was pouring harder now, cold rain lashing against his skin and he huddled, trying to stay warm. If he had any common sense, he thought, he would head for his friend's apartment as fast as he could. Hughes had been calling, leaving messages slipped under his door, and stopping by at random hours, but Mustang was never "home." He hadn't answered his phone or his door for the last month or seen anybody. He knew his friend wanted to see him. His letters had been a single bright spot in the whole campaign, filled with news about his new girlfriend, Gracia, and what was going on here at the home front. Hughes always had been a bit of a snoop, Mustang thought. Internal Affairs was the right place for him, although Hughes referred to it as babysitting most of the time.
"I ought to get the hell out of the military and go into the civilian police force," he had written once. "Heaven knows, I'd actually be investigating something on a civilian force. However, as you know, civilian benefits are awful."
I should go home, Mustang thought. Instead he continued to head toward Hughes' apartment, hunched against the rain as the thunderclaps began to get louder and closer together. He climbed up the steps of the decrepit apartment building and shut the door of the foyer behind him, shaking himself slightly, like a dog. Hughes' apartment was on the second floor and he scanned the once familiar building for the stairway.
Suddenly he heard voices coming from the stairwell and he shrank back against the wall, recognizing Hughes' voice, with a sweeter alto alternating as they talked. The alto must be Gracia, he realized, and ducked into the little alcove created by the staircase. He had learned to be perfectly silent, waiting for Ishbalic insurgents to pass by his and his men's hiding places, learning not to be noticed because if they noticed him, he would have to eliminate them. He stood with his back up against the reverse imprint of the stairs, his head brushing the top of the alcove, his fingers prepared to snap.
He saw Hughes come around the corner with his arm around a young woman with fair hair and kind eyes. His head was tilted toward hers, and they were so obviously in their own world that Mustang doubted he would have noticed him standing there even if he hadn't been hiding.
"Maes, don't wait for your friend to come to you, go knock down his door if he's not coming out of his apartment. You're making yourself miserable worrying like this," Gracia said.
Hughes snorted and replied, "Oh yeah, that's smart, and have him fry me to a crisp for breaking his door down? Not to mention that I'd have to pay to replace it, I might add."
Gracia giggled and she playfully punched Hughes' shoulder. "I didn't say literally knock the door down, dear. I said, knock, as in keep knocking until he can't ignore you anymore." Hughes looked thoughtful as he considered her suggestion and Mustang felt a brief moment of amusement at the thought of his neighbors' reactions to Hughes pounding until he came out.
"Nah, if he doesn't answer his door tomorrow, I'm going to pick the lock. It's easier on my knuckles," Hughes said, kissing his girlfriend on the nose and opening an umbrella for her to escort her to the waiting taxi that had pulled up outside.
Mustang's shoulders slumped. He couldn't do this. He couldn't deal with Hughes' sunny personality and optimism, always believing the best of him, thinking that he was a good man, a good friend. He would wait for Hughes to go back upstairs and would slip out, and the storm be dammed. Maybe a bolt of lightning would hit him and he was vaguely reminded of Kimbley's explosions and two doctors lying in a pool of blood. "There are no sides, only patients," they had said. In the end, they were right. There were no sides, only men and women and children, screaming and dying as Ishbal fell.
He stayed still and silent as Hughes came back in the door, closing his eyes, seeing his friend in his mind's eye shaking off the umbrella, imagining Hughes' eyes passing over him as the insurgents' had done, for a little while, at least. He opened his eyes finally and saw Hughes staring at him, his hands crossed over his chest and looking at him with a thunderous expression on his face.
Without warning he was in enemy territory and backed into a corner. He could see young men, boys really, holding rifles, prepared to fight and die because he was the one invading their building, but the look in their eyes always revealed their fear just before the flames licked around them. He fell back against the staircase and snapped, but nothing happened and he began to panic.
"ROY! Snap out of it!" Mustang blinked and Hughes was standing in front of him, grabbing his wrists. There was not a spark of fire to be seen. "Roy! Hey, buddy, it's me! Snap out of it!"
"Maes?" he asked, faintly.
"Yeah, it's me. What the hell is wrong with you? You're soaked!" Hughes exclaimed. Mustang looked down. He had left his apartment in what he'd been wearing, a white shirt, dark slacks, but no coat or shoes except for house slippers, and his gloves. The shirt was now completely transparent, but it was the gloves that held his interest.
They were wet. That's why they hadn't ignited. There was no rain in Ishbal and he had forgotten that his gloves didn't spark when wet.
"Roy!" Hughes exclaimed. Mustang heard a note of fright in Hughes' voice and he realized that he had just tried to kill his best friend. If the gloves hadn't been wet, he would have killed him.
"I'm…I'm sorry, I-I have to go," he stuttered, horrified at what he had nearly done, beginning to rush past his friend.
"Don't you dare," Hughes threatened, his tone of voice flat. His hands came up to grip Mustang's shoulders and he placed himself squarely between Mustang and the door. "Come on, I've got some dinner left over, Gracia made enough to feed an army…" he trailed off, gently but forcibly turning Mustang around and propelling him up the stairs and into his apartment.
He had spent plenty of time here before leaving for the Eastern front, but tonight Hughes' apartment looked as foreign to him as his own still did. He stood still in the middle of the living room as Hughes strode into the bathroom and brought back towels, draping one over his shoulders and laying the other one down on the couch. "I'm going to find a pair of pajamas for you. Do not move from where you're standing, Roy Mustang, or all the fancy alchemy in the world won't be able to save you when I'm finished with you," Hughes stated explicitly.
Mustang chuckled bitterly and said in a tone that he thought was too low for his friend to hear, "Too late." But the pause in Hughes' step as he disappeared into his bedroom told him that his friend had heard him after all. Slowly, mechanically, he began to towel his hair and face, but he left his gloves on. He hadn't taken them off once since he'd arrived home and he was mildly shocked to realize that being soaked by the rainstorm was the first shower he'd had in a month.
Hughes came back in the room, a pair of pajamas in his hand that he laid on the couch next to the second towel. "Roy-" he began.
"Don't," Mustang interrupted. Hughes shut his mouth and just looked at him. "I can't. I just-don't ask me to, I-I can't…" Mustang looked stubbornly at the floor, unwilling to see the look in his friend's eyes.
"It's ok, Roy. You don't have to say anything. But take the gloves off," he said. Mustang flinched at the reminder that he had tried to burn his friend, but Hughes simply repeated himself, his tone deliberate and soothing, saying, "Take them off, Roy. You're safe now."
Still not looking at Hughes, he slowly began to pull them off. They were difficult to get off and he realized that his hands were trembling. The wet cloth clung to his fingers and his yanking became more vicious. Finally he ripped one long tear up the length of the palm and pulled it off. He didn't recognize the sight of his bare hand and he stared at it, transfixed, still clutching the ruined glove.
He felt Hughes tugging more gently on the other glove, pulling from the wrist instead of from the fingers, and he stripped it off in one smooth movement. He took the glove Mustang was holding and put the second towel in his hands. "Clean up and put those pajamas on. I'll get the spare pillow from the closet."
"Thank you," Mustang said, his voice faint, finally looking his friend in the eyes. Hughes smiled at him and he knew that while nothing was right with the world anymore, for this one moment, he was safe.
Hughes had saved him after Ishbal. He had only gotten worse after he'd returned to active duty, burying himself in his work and his flirtation with human transmutation. Without him, he could have, and probably would have committed suicide, like some of his fellow State Alchemists had done. He had certainly tried enough times, remembering the cold metal of the gun barrel in his mouth, under his chin and the arrays littering the floor of his apartment.
He sank into a chair, his discipline threatening to desert him in the warm, safe surroundings of the sunny living room. Shoving his emotions back again, he ran his hands over his face and started when there was another knock at the door.
Lieutenant Hawkeye stood framed in the doorway when he answered, a folder in her hand. It was the report on Hughes' death, the one he had ordered her to bring. Holding out his hand, she gave it to him and stood beside him silently as he read it.
"He was found shot to death outside a telephone booth. The report says that the call-" he broke off for a moment, rubbing his hand over him mouth, trying to physically wipe away any expression on his face. "The call was to Eastern Headquarters, to my office. He was trying to tell me something, Lieutenant."
"Sir," Hawkeye said simply, unable or perhaps unwilling to say anything else.
Mustang inhaled sharply and said, "Go talk to Hughes' aide. I believe her name is Scieszka. Tell her that I'm going to need everything Hughes was researching before he-" Mustang broke off, scanning the report again.
"Yes, sir," Hawkeye said, turning to leave.
"Lieutenant," Mustang said, stopping her in her tracks. His voice was flat and cold, an implacable threat behind his next words. "There will be justice for this, and I don't care how many toes I step on to do it."
"I hope so, sir," she said soberly. She reached to place a hand on his arm, offering what small comfort she could before she seemed to think better of it as she raised it to salute instead. Mustang didn't return the salute for once, and she left quietly.
Mustang sat back down, looking over the black and white facts in front of him. "I don't know what you were trying to tell me, Hughes," he said aloud to the empty room. There was no one to hear him, but it seemed important to give the words the weight of sound. "But I swear, I'm going to find out who did this, and I'm going to bring them down."
And alone in his best friend's house, surrounded by photographs, he sat alone, unable to cry.
Author's note: I hope you enjoyed the story. The title comes from one of Ariel's speeches in "The Tempest." "Full fathom five, thy father lies/Of his bones are coral made/Those are pearls that were his eyes/Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea change/Into something rich and strange."