((A/N: This fic is a VERY DARK ANGST, perhaps the darkest thing that I have ever written. There are also minor character deaths. You've been warned.
Maes Hughes sighed pleasantly as he walked up the front steps to his house, fishing in his pocket for his keys. It had been a long week and he was looking forward to spending a quiet weekend at home with his wife and daughter. Maybe they would go to the park for a while on Saturday if it didn't rain. There was nothing that little Elysia loved more than when her daddy pushed her on the swing.
Maes tried to put his key in the lock, but the door pushed open freely at his touch. He frowned slightly at that. It was very unlike Gracia to leave the door unlocked, not to mention ajar. He stepped into the house and closed the door behind him before opening it again, testing to see if perhaps the latch was loose. No, it was fine. Weird.
"Daddy's home!" He called out as he tossed his keys onto the coffee table and took off his jacket. "Where are my girls?"
When there was no response Maes frowned again and set his jacket on the corner of the couch. Perhaps they had gone out. He moved into the kitchen and looked on the counter to see if Gracia had left a note for him saying where she was. No, nothing.
Now, Hughes did not give in to worry easily... but a vague sort of anxiety was beginning to stir in the pit of his stomach. Something wasn't right, the feeling told him. Gracia wouldn't go anywhere without leaving a note, and even if she did for some reason, she would have made doubly sure that the door was locked before she left. She was always adamant about keeping the door locked, especially since Elysia had been born.
He tilted his head to the side and listened hard, holding his breath in case her reply was so faint that even his breathing covered the sound. Silence. The only sound was his own heart pounding in his ears, increasing in tempo as his quiet sense of dread intensified.
He exited the kitchen and moved into the hallway. He gave a cursory glance at the open door of his bedroom, saw that the light was off and turned away, but then he froze. He turned back slowly. He could see the faint outline of a body sprawled on the floor.
Heart in his throat, he ran into the room and flipped on the light.
It was Gracia. She was lying on her back, spread-eagled on the blood-soaked carpet. Her skirt was rucked up around her hips unceremoniously, her bruised, milky thighs smeared with red. Her eyes were open but, God... she wasn't there. Tiny rivers of half-dried blood ran from the corner of her mouth and her lips were swollen and blue.
Hughes had frozen in the doorway. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe. After a beat though—after his horrified eyes had taken in the gruesome scene before him—whatever unseen force that had immobilized him gave in to instinct and he was on his knees at her side in an instant.
"Gracia? Sweetheart?" He called to her desperately as he pulled her into his arms and pressed his shaking fingers to her carotid artery, searching for a pulse. He knew that she was dead. He had known from the doorway that she would not have a pulse, but he checked for one anyway, hoping that he was mistaken. But, of course, there was no life remaining in her ravaged body.
A sudden cold calm overtook him then, creeping over him like a slow, frigid shadow. He cradled his wife's body in his arms, looking down at her numbly, not even aware of the blood that soaked into his white shirt and coated his hands with sticky redness. He cupped her cold face in his bloodied hand, streaking red down the side of her cheek as he buried his face in her tousled hair, completely lost. He held her for a moment longer, inhaling the soft scent of her perfume, which was almost overpowered by the metallic smell of blood. Then, abruptly, something else occurred to him and he gently set her back down onto the floor, adjusting her disheveled skirt for the sake of modesty.
He stood up and moved out of the room like a man dreaming, his eyes glazed and his face expressionless.
He went down the hallway to the little room at the end. This room, too, was dark and silent. The curtains on the window were pale and gauzy, so that the fading light from outside still touched the room with a thin, sickly glow. He crossed the room to the little bed where he could see a tiny form covered in a bed-sheet. The sheet was marred with dark blood, the dimness of the room making it look almost black. So much blood... impossible amounts of blood from such a little girl.
One chubby, frail hand hung over the side of the bed from under the sheet. Maes took it hesitantly in his own, feeling the veins in her small wrist for any sign of a heartbeat. None. The hand was cold and limp. She had probably been dead for hours.
He could not bring himself to pull off the sheet and look at what had been done to her.
Maes' mind was tranquil, serene as he held his dead child's hand. He'd shut down, his natural defense mechanisms shielding him from his worst fear-become-reality. A part of him in the back of his consciousness was screaming nonsensically, crying and raging... but it was overpowered by this profound nothingness that slowed his panicked heartbeat and made him reflect logically rather than emotionally. It was, after all, his profession to deal with mangled bodies on a daily basis. Yeah. It was just a job. That's it.
He turned away and walked back into the living room.
He needed to make a phone call.
Jean Havoc smirked to himself, pretending not to listen to his colonel getting yelled at by First Lieutenant Hawkeye.
"I talked Grumman into giving you an extension last week, sir. He's not going to be happy if I have to ask him for another one because you've been slacking on this case."
The colonel gave an explosive sigh, retorting, "If you'd reminded me to finish this case before starting on the Caldwell file, I would have had it done by now."
"I did remind you. I've reminded you every day this week." She snapped back.
Colonel Roy Mustang sighed again, bowing his head over his paperwork. "Fine, Lieutenant. Now quit pestering me so that I can get this done and we can go home."
Riza Hawkeye rolled her eyes and stalked back over to her desk where she irritatedly rifled through papers and put them in some semblance of order. She looked up briefly and caught Havoc grinning at her. She threw him a glare and he obediently ducked his head back down to return to his work.
The three of them were alone in the office, everyone else having gone home for the day while they caught up on neglected paperwork. It was mostly silent, other than the crisp sound of papers being rustled and the occasional grumble from the colonel, but after a few minutes of studious labor the telephone on the corner of the colonel's desk gave a shrill, demanding ring.
The colonel reached for it distractedly, his eyes still glossing over the form that he was filling out.
"Don't answer it, sir." Hawkeye warned. "You have work to do; Havoc can get it."
Havoc stood up without complaint and went over to the colonel's desk. Mustang looked up at him as he approached, making a face to signify that he thought that Hawkeye was being a royal bitch today. Havoc gave a snort of laughter that he quickly muffled as Hawkeye looked suspiciously their way and the colonel went back to his work innocently.
Havoc took the phone from the hook and put it to his ear. "Havoc, here."
There was silence on the other end of the line, then: "It's Hughes. Put Mustang on the phone."
"If it's Lieutenant Colonel Hughes, I'm not here." The colonel said absently, then cursed under his breath as he made a mistake on the form.
"He says he's not here." Havoc quipped into the phone, earning himself a scowl from his superior.
Hughes went silent again on the line.
"Lieutenant Colonel?" Havoc asked, thinking that maybe they'd been disconnected. "Sir?"
"I..." Hughes began softly, "I didn't know who else to call..."
Something about those words sent a deep chill down Havoc's spine. Hughes sounded... off. Havoc covered the mouthpiece, turning back to the colonel.
"Sir, you should take this. I think something's wrong."
The colonel's eyebrows rose in mild surprise and he took the offered phone. Across the room, Hawkeye made an irritated sound.
"What, Hughes?" Mustang asked a little curtly, pressing the phone to his ear with his shoulder as he stacked papers with one hand and signed a document with the other.
Suddenly he stiffened, the pen freezing mid-signature. Havoc watched as his eyes widened and his face blanched to a disturbing pallor. He stared straight ahead, listening intently, clearly horrified.
The uneasiness that had touched Havoc earlier returned with a passion, twisting his stomach into cold knots of worry.
"God... Maes, where are you? Are you still there?" Mustang rasped urgently, running a trembling hand through his hair. "Okay, stay there. Go outside and wait for me. I'm coming."
Mustang hung up the phone and stood up, looking a little lost. His white-gloved hand covered his mouth for a moment in apparent dismay as he looked between Havoc and Hawkeye, almost if silently asking them what he should do.
"What's happened?" Hawkeye asked gravely. She, too, had been watching the colonel's distress.
"Gracia and Elysia were murdered." He said faintly, his voice muffled by his glove. He lowered his hand and turned to face her. "I have to go to him, Riza."
She gaped at him for a moment, trying to grasp what he had just told her. She shook herself, collecting her thoughts. "Yes. Yes, of course."
"Do you want me to drive you?" Havoc asked timidly, his heart clenched in a fist of despair. The colonel looked up at him for a moment, his onyx eyes huge and haunted. Havoc had never seen him so wrought.
"No... No. I think I should go alone." He stammered agitatedly. He grabbed his coat and his keys and, without another word, he was out the door.
Mustang's mind raced as he sped to his friend's house. There was nothing in this world that Maes valued more than his family. His love for them bordered on an obsession and that same love seemed to flow from him like a powerful force whenever he spoke of them. The two most important things in his life had been suddenly, violently snatched from him without warning... What could be going though his head?
He had sounded so barren on the phone. So frantically empty. His universe had imploded, had swallowed itself until nothing was left. It would have been less heartbreaking if Maes had been crying, if he had called up in screaming, hysterical anguish. Anything would have been better than that emptiness.
Roy stopped the car outside of the house and jumped out, his eyes scanning for Maes in the darkening twilight. There he was, sitting on the front steps of his porch with the warm lamplight from his living room pouring down over his shoulders through the open doorway, lending his hunched form an almost ethereal glow. Roy moved over to him at a half-run but then he slowed, unsure of what to do or say.
Maes raised his head, looking vaguely mystified to see Roy walking hesitantly across his front lawn. Now that he was closer, Roy could see that the lieutenant colonel's chest and arms were soaked with blood.
"Maes?" Roy said softly as he approached.
"Hey." Came the distant reply.
Roy faltered. "I... I'm sure Hawkeye has called Investigations by now. They should be here soon."
The colonel's heart felt like it was slowly being crushed in a vice of anxiety and pity. Maes Hughes was in shock; that much was apparent by his calm, dazed demeanor. Roy had to get him away from here. He reached down and gripped his friend's shoulder tightly.
"Go wait in the car. I'm going to go in and grab some things for you and then I'll take you to my place. Come on."
With Roy's gentle cajoling, Maes got to his feet and stood swaying for a moment before he turned to the shorter man and looked down at him with misty green eyes.
"You can't ask me to just leave them here alone, Roy..."
"...Yeah. Yeah, okay. I understand. Go sit in the car. We'll wait for Investigations to come before we leave, okay?"
The man looked as if he would protest for a moment, but then he nodded and turned away, heading toward the car. Roy stood in the entryway to the house and watched him to make sure he got into the car before heading into Maes' bedroom. The man was going to need a change of clothes at the very least.
Roy stopped briefly in the doorway to the bedroom as his eyes caught sight of Gracia's splayed form. He looked away quickly. Nothing could be done for her now. He stepped over her and opened the closet, pulling out a couple of Maes' shirts and a pair of slacks. If he needed anything else, Roy would send someone to fetch it. He did not want Maes to have to come back in here anytime soon.
He turned to leave, trying hard not to look at the body but his eyes strayed to her as if drawn by a magnet. There was a large, bloody handprint on her cheek. Probably Hughes'. Her eyes were open and vacant, completely devoid of everything that Gracia had once been. The body on the floor was just meat, a shell for the soul. After a brief hesitation, Roy knelt down and gently closed her eyelids with the tips of his fingers before quickly exiting the room.
From the front room the colonel grabbed Hughes' keys and his jacket from the arm out the couch. He went back outside, the sounds of approaching sirens drifting on the cool evening air.
As Roy had hoped that she would, Hawkeye had called the Investigation sect right after his departure and they had rushed over as quickly as they could. These were Hughes' men and they were all clearly horrified to hear what had happened to their beloved lieutenant colonel's family.
Roy answered their questions while trying to convince Maes to stay in the car, but the man insisted on getting out and filling his team in on exactly how he had found the bodies of his wife and daughter. The door had been unlocked and slightly ajar... no note saying where she was... Gracia's skirt pulled up... Elysia covered in a sheet. He said it all factually, as if this were any other crime scene, the only difference being the dull haze in his eyes. It was as if he were running on autopilot, just going through the motions without being affected by them.
Finally, the scene was secure and the men were moving about purposefully, their questions answered for the time being. Roy gave them his home number in case they had anything else to ask and herded the bemused Maes back into the car. He desperately wanted to get him away from here before they started removing the bodies. The man had been though enough today; he didn't need to see his dead loved ones carted into the back of a van on top of everything else. Roy started the car and drove off, all of Maes' men saluting them as they departed, their stoic forms silhouetted by the flashing red-blue-red-blue lights that bedecked the military cars.
They drove in relative silence, although Roy awkwardly tried to make light conversation. Maes replied to his words monosyllabically, staring at the road straight ahead. The colonel eventually gave up trying to get his companion to talk and fell uneasily quiet, stealing glances at him every few minutes as he drove.
It seemed like an eternity before Mustang pulled up to the curb in front of his apartment and turned off the engine. They sat in the car for a moment, Roy wracking his brain for something, anything to say. He felt that he should say something comforting and heartening. Isn't that what friends do in these situations? Should he put his arms around Maes and tell him that everything was going to be okay?
God. Roy was no good with shit like this.
"Come on." He said finally, opening his door and getting out. Maes followed suit dazedly, walking slowly up the front steps after Mustang. Roy flipped on the lights as he stepped inside and closed the door behind them, leading Maes gently by the arm into the bathroom. He set the clean shirts that he'd taken from the lieutenant colonel's closet on the counter. "Take your shirt off."
Hughes looked down at him, confused. "Why?"
"The..." Roy stumbled, "The blood, Maes."
Blankly, Hughes turned his gaze to look at himself in the mirror. Roy watched Hughes' face as the man realized that he was covered in his dead wife's blood. The cloudy stupor of shock cleared from his eyes and he paled, staring in horror at his own reflection.
"Oh..." He moaned, looking down at his sticky, bloodstained hands. "Roy, I'm gonna be sick."
No sooner than the words had left his mouth, he doubled over and vomited into the sink, his broad shoulders heaving with grief and anguished revulsion. Roy stood behind him, his hand half-extended as if he would console him, but then he stopped and dropped his arm to his side, his fist clenched uselessly.
Hughes spat and wiped his mouth on the back of his shaking hand as he straightened back up. He reached up to his collar and started unbuttoning his shirt, but his hands were trembling too badly for him to get very far. A panicked half-sob broke from him and he gave up trying to undo the buttons, instead tearing them off in his desperate attempt to remove the bloody garment. He wrenched it off over his head and threw it down, terrified and repulsed by it. The blood-soaked shirt slapped wetly against the floor, smearing the white tiles with a vivid taint of red.
The blood had soaked through the shirt and had daubed Maes' chest and arms with splotches of red and dark brown. He made a sick keening sound of distress and turned on the sink's faucet, frantically scrubbing the gore from his skin with the water. He was weeping now, in violent little bursts as he tried to erase Gracia's blood from his body and from his mind. Try as he might, though, he could not get it all off.
"I need to take a shower..." He managed brokenly after a moment through clenched teeth, clearly fighting against hysteria.
"...Yeah. Of course." Roy agreed, deeply shaken as he witnessed the man breaking down. He grabbed a towel for him and left him alone with out another word, frankly relieved to be out of his disturbing presence.
He moved back into the front room and poured himself a drink with an unsteady hand as he heard the shower turn on. Even over the roar of the water, Roy could hear Maes' harsh, wracking sobs. Roy sat on his couch and set his scotch on the coffee table. He leaned back and closed his eyes, taking a deep, steadying breath.
It was going to be a long, difficult night.
((A/N: the next several chapters are finished. Most of them will be edited and posted sometime this week.))