SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1Bitter Trials
Disclaimer - not mine, all characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa et al, Square Enix and funimition. I don't make a profit
Rating – FRM
Pairing - Maes/Roy, Roy/Riza, Maes/Riza/Roy, implied Maes/Gracia ( so yes this will have a polyamorous relationship)
Time Line - Ishbal, manga-verse (with hints of anime)
Summary – The Soldiers are not fitting back into civilian life after the war and their relationships with each other have crumbled.
Author's Note –It's fifth in the series but you don't need to read the others. All you need to know is that during the war Roy was having a relationship with both Riza and Maes and when she found out about it, Riza didn't react well. This takes place soon after they get home. If you want to read the others you can find the Uncharted Series at my livejournal (cornerofmadness) or some of the stories are here
Ashes & Flames
More than Alive
Between light and shadow
Another Day in Limbo
What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise – Oscar Wilde
SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1Roy looked around his temporary housing. He knew that he wouldn't be assigned to the Central Headquarters as much as he might want to be. Roy was all too aware that he represented a threat to the Upper Brass. A nineteen-year-old Lieutenant Colonel terrified the older officers, unprepared for his unprecedented meteoric rise. He had been promoted the moment his boots touched the soil in Central. Being an alchemist made matters worse. Who wasn't afraid of him?
Even as he and the other alchemists were driven in carriages along parade routes, Roy knew the civilians giving them a hero's welcome feared them. Still, there were so many people cheering them, so many young ladies afterwards with their flowers and candies for the soldiers that it was hard to stay grounded. Then came all the receptions and dinners with generals and wealthy merchants. Roy knew it would be all too easy to let everything go to his head.
Roy nursed on his own self-loathing to keep him from thinking he deserved the accolades and admirers. He was a butcher, the killer of innocents. Roy disgusted himself. He destroyed everything he touched, including his own life.
Pacing the too-big living room of his temporary housing, Roy knew he didn't deserve a place like this, even if it was only for the time being. He wanted to be punished. He kept hoping it would come from somewhere but the only place he found punishment was within his own dreams in the dead of night.
He'd wake shrieking, expecting a knife in his gut. He'd look up and see red eyes watching him, wanting his life. Roy felt like he should just give in. He deserved to die for what he had done. Then the dreams would fade and he'd be so alive, after midnight when the world was quiet. He had no one to turn to. Maybe that's what he deserved, utter loneliness. He had almost destroyed those most important to him.
He and Maes were trying to keep away from each other because of the damage done to Riza's heart. Roy loved her so much and he didn't want to be the cause of that much pain, only the forced separation wasn't working. The strain on all three of them was nearly unbearable. He was in so much pain because he simply did not know what to do. He loved Riza passionately but he could no longer lie to himself about how he felt about Maes. He was in love with Maes, too.
Roy hated this mess. What was wrong with his heart? Why wasn't one enough? It wasn't greed; it was need. Was he so empty that he had to struggle to fill himself any way he could? Even at that, all he felt inside was despair; despondency for things he'd done, for what he'd failed to do.
Unable to bear his lonely apartment any longer, Roy dressed. He headed out to the closest pub, the Winking Lizard. As always, he wondered what the hell kind of name was that? It reminded him of the desert lizards he used to see skittering away from the heat and smoke he caused. Roy wasn't sure he liked lizards. Too many memories.
The bar was fairly empty since it was still early. The bartender barely looked up. Roy hadn't worn his uniform. He was off duty and he wanted to escape recognition if he could. He couldn't stand being the hero of Ishbal any longer.
The bartender set down the requested whiskey and went off, leaving Roy to his quiet misery. Roy sat for a long time, just drinking quietly and concentrating on being nothing, thinking of nothing but he couldn't quite escape his wretchedness. He needed more alcohol than he was comfortable drinking in order to escape the way he wanted to.
Looking over his shoulder at Maes, he scowled viciously. "What?"
"You're here a lot." Maes sat next to him.
"You keeping track?" Bitterness hung on every word. Maes' only answer was the harsh look glaring hot from behind his glasses. "No one asked you to watch over me."
"I don't really care," Maes said. "I'm not going to sit back and watch you slip, Roy. I'm here as a concerned friend and if it wasn't me, it'd be Riza."
"You told her," Roy hissed.
"Like I'd have to. Give your friends some credit. We're not idiots." Maes' thin lips pulled into a tense line.
Roy wanted to break then and there. He wanted to beg Maes to take him home and make everything all right. Instead, he just turned away, lifting his drink with a shaking hand.
"It's too hard, Maes. I'm their hero. I wish I had died out there. I deserve it for the things I did. Even out there, in the sand, my men praised me for keeping them alive and all I could think of was, 'what are you talking about? I'm a monster. I could barely keep any of you alive and I killed so many innocents'." He said it so softly, Roy could barely hear his own voice.
"We've had this conversation. I've given you my suggestion as to what you need to do if this is how you feel," Maes said.
Roy glanced around the bar then nodded. "And it's best not discussed here."
"You're right...let's go home." Maes nodded toward the door.
"I don't think that's a good idea," Roy hedged, hating himself for going so cold. Maes deserved better than to be kept at arm's length.
"We used to be friends, Roy...before it all happened," Maes said sadly. "I miss that. That's all I'm asking for tonight, Roy, nothing more."
Roy's larynx bobbed, his pain shining so brightly from his eyes it was blinding. He nodded and got up. Neither man said anything as they walked back to Roy's new home. Roy watched Maes survey the state of the place, which was mostly unpacked and disorderly. Cardboard boxes were piled everywhere.
"Roy, what have we done to ourselves?" Maes asked softly.
Roy sagged onto a chair. "I wish I knew, Maes. I miss being friends without everything hanging over us. I hate that I did this to us."
Maes sat on a box. "Roy, you didn't do this alone. And we didn't do anything wrong."
"Are you so sure? Riza barely knows how to talk to me any more...and then what I did to her...you have no idea."
"Love shouldn't ever be wrong," Maes argued, his eyes narrowing. "And I'm sorry Riza got hurt. Neither of us meant for that to happen. I thought maybe...she was getting better."
Was Maes saying what Roy thought he was? He couldn't deal with this, not now. "That wasn't what I meant."
"What are you talking about? Her getting hurt at the tail end of the fighting?" Maes shot Roy a worried look. "That wasn't your fault. Things like that happen in war, Roy. Hawkeye wasn't even under your immediate command."
Roy shook hard, almost convulsively at the memory. "She didn't get hurt in battle."
Maes got to his feet. His voice was sharp as his daggers when he asked, "You did that to her? Why, Roy? Was it because of us? Were you fighting? Is that why you've been avoiding me?"
With a bitter, hollow laugh, Roy put his hands over his face. That Maes could even think that hurt more than he knew how to deal with. "No to all of it but the first. I did it. She begged me to. I didn't want to do that. It killed what little was left alive in me."
"Then why?" Maes put a hand on Roy's shoulder, feeling the quivering that rattled Mustang.
"Because she was so appalled by me that she wanted to be sure no more monsters like me would ever exist," Roy spat.
"I don't understand."
Roy dropped his hands away from his face. "You know her father was my mentor. He died before he told me the secrets to flame alchemy. Riza heard my plans for helping the people, you know the ones." Roy took a deep breath and Maes nodded. They had spent long idealistic nights discussing them in the academy. "She believed in them, in me, Maes. It's why she went into the military, for me, to protect me. And she was the one who told me the secret to flame alchemy."
"Her father told her," Maes guessed. "But why would you burn her, Roy?"
"Teacher didn't tell his daughter, Maes. He tattooed the array to her back. She made me destroy it. I'm the only one who knows it now," Roy whispered. "I'm the last."
"But you wear the array on your glove. Anyone could copy it. There was no need for something so extreme," Maes pointed out, his voice trembling.
Roy shook his head. "There's more to it than just the array. You have to know how to disassemble and reassemble the molecules and compounds. There are secrets to controlling the flames. The text for it was there as well. That's where I concentrated my fire."
Maes slumped down onto the floor next to Roy. "I didn't realize...she shouldn't have asked it of you, Roy. She had no right to make you feel more like a monster."
"I don't think Riza was in a good frame of mind, Maes, not then. I found her burying an Ishbalan child our military had left to rot in a ditch like a road killed dog. I think the horror just caught up to her," Roy said in her defense.
"She has such a claim on you, Roy," Maes whispered, his head drooping.
"I love her and I think she loves me, too...but she's afraid of me as well and I don't know how to fix any of this," Roy lamented.
"There's not even room for me in any of that, is there?" Maes' eyes hardened.
"There's room, Maes. I just...don't know how we all work together yet, if we even can. I didn't plan on falling in love with you," Roy replied, looking askance at Maes. "And it's unfair to you, to her, to even think about asking for you to care about me when I no longer do. It's too late for me."
Maes put his hand on Roy's shoulder. "Somewhere in there I heard that you love me, which...I don't even know how to address because you went and said you don't love yourself any more."
Roy jerked away. "I don't want to talk about it at all."
Maes caught him, whipping Roy around harshly. "You're going to. You can't do this to me, Roy. You can't say those things then shut me out."
"I didn't mean..."
"What? The words? To let them slip?" Maes shook Roy's shoulders.
"To burden you," Roy whispered, his head sagging.
Maes felt Roy trembling. He brushed a hand along his friend's cheek. "Do you love me?"
"I didn't mean to." Roy covered his eyes with one hand. "I made such a mess of things."
Maes pulled him closer. "I love you, Roy. I don't care if that makes things messy."
Roy rested his forehead against Maes' shoulder. "Does Gracia know?"
"No. It's taken me this long to admit it to you." Maes held Roy tenderly. "I came here tonight to be a friend and...I think I'm failing because I want to kiss you so badly. But I won't. We need to talk about you not wanting us to care about you because you don't care about you."
"Forget I said that," Roy muttered against Maes' neck. He should never have said anything. Don't let Maes hear the suicidal tones.
"I don't think so." Maes gently pushed Roy back. "Talk to me, Roy. Tell me about how you're feeling."
"I'm drunk and I said too much," Roy said, unable to look at Maes.
"Roy, I don't like how you're talking. I need you to know that I care about you. Riza cares. Even if you think we don't, we do," Maes promised him.
Roy nodded. "All right, fine. I believe you...about you. Riza...maybe in time. I'm tired, Maes. I want to go to sleep."
"Do you want me to stay? Here, on the couch, just to keep you company?" Maes asked hurriedly.
"I need to be alone." Roy turned away.
"And Maes, you need to tell Gracia. Before we can have more talks, before we do anything more, you owe her that much or we end here. It can't go further between us...only I don't even know if it will." Roy sighed. "I don't know what to do, Maes. Maybe you shouldn't tell her. Just let it end. I'll try to save what I can with Riza. You don't have to hurt Gracia, too." Roy ran his hand through his hair. "I'm drunk," he repeated. "Forget everything I said. Don't ever tell Gracia."
"Let me worry about Gracia, Roy." Maes put his hand on Roy's shoulder. "You get some rest. We don't have to solve this problem tonight."
"Then why do I feel like we need to?" Roy whispered.
"Because you're drunk and emotionally battered. Get some rest. I'll be back tomorrow afternoon and we'll talk then. Maybe we can make some sense out of it," Maes said, steering Roy towards his bedroom. "Go to sleep. I'll let myself out."
"Thanks, Maes." Roy listened for the front door's opening and closing. When he was sure Maes was gone, he gave in to the torrent he was too proud to show his friend, dissolving into salt water on the floor.
X X X
Maes knew this was stupid but he had to do it. The hallway of the rundown apartment complex was a stark contrast to the opulent housing provided to Roy. Hawkeye had been graduated ahead of schedule from the Academy due to time served in Ishbal but she was still nothing more than a lowly second lieutenant. Her housing reflected that.
Shock registered on Hawkeye's sleepy face as she cracked open the door. Maes saw the glint of her gun at the edge of the door. "Hughes? Do you know what time it is?"
She read a lot of warning in that simple word and dragged him inside. "It's Roy, isn't it?"
Maes nodded. "He's a mess, Hawkeye. He'd be furious that I'm telling you this but he needs his friends looking out for him right now."
Hawkeye set the pistol on the little table next to the door that also held her keys. "You and he were..." She couldn't look at him as the words trailed off. Her face colored.
"I don't think there is a me and him, Hawkeye." Maes leaned against the door. "He's doing his best to shut us out. Me probably even more so than you. He knows he hurt you but..." Maes rubbed his chin. "It's not my place to get into this, Hawkeye, but you deserve the truth. I just wish I knew what that was."
She was watching him now. He didn't know what to make of her scrutiny. He had been more open with her in those few sentences than he had ever been. "I know you care about him."
"That might not be enough. He thinks he's ruined us all. I'm not sure he's wrong. I don't want to be the reason there's a wedge between you and Roy. And if there is something between him and me, then I have a woman I owe answers to as well. But that's not really why I woke you up in the middle of the damn night." Maes said, each word carefully measured and chosen for fit.
Riza's eyes widened as the realization sank in. "Did Roy do something at that damn bar?"
Just like he suspected, Riza knew. "No. I got him out of there. What brought me here is...he doesn't want us to care about him because he doesn't care about himself."
Riza's breath caught. She walked stiffly to the couch and gently lowered herself onto the cushions. Maes felt even guiltier about waking her up. Her injuries plagued her. "You think he's going to hurt himself." Her hand shook where it grasped the battered arm of the old piece of furniture.
Maes sat on the sturdy coffee table facing her. "Yes, I do. I've known him a long time. I know you have as well. Roy feels things deeply."
"I know that. And he's...idealistic."
"Not any more. Ishbal crushed him. I think being made a hero has only made that worse. I've tried to talk to him about it but he's been hinky with me ever since...well, ever since you found out about us." Maes sighed. "I'm not sure I know how to help him other than to keep a close eye on him and try to let him know he's not alone."
"I can do that." Riza's lip trembled. "I don't want...he can't hurt himself."
"I don't know how to say this, so I'll just be blunt. He thinks you're afraid of him, Riza, or that you hate him as much as you love him. Or something." Maes watched her face crumple and she covered it with a hand as if trying to hold herself together.
"He has reason to. My father...he knew, Hughes, he knew what this alchemy could do. It's why he didn't give the secrets to Roy. I heard him when he was dying, wishing that he had instructed Roy in those secrets." Riza licked her lips, tears collecting along the rim of her eyes. "I heard all the beautiful things Roy wanted to do for the people and I believed in him. I finished what my father started and damn if Father wasn't right. Look at what they turned Roy in to!"
"It's not Roy's fault, Hawkeye." Maes' voice shook. He took a deep breath, steeling himself. He needed her to believe him. "This wasn't what he wanted and he wants to make things better."
"He can't take back what he did," she replied.
"But he can make it so it doesn't happen again. Roy needs us to be able to achieve those goals some day. More importantly, he needs to know that we can care about him, no matter what happened. Do you?"
She stifled a sob and bobbed her head.
Maes switched over to sitting next to her. "Then tell him. It was terrifying watching what he and the other Alchemists could do, like pissed off gods. But letting him see that fear, it's killing him inside, Hawkeye. He will become the thing you fear if we let the good inside him die. Do you know how much it hurts him that he had to hurt you? I know you had your reasons, good ones, for making him do it but I don't think it was the right thing to do. Roy's taking it hard."
Tears trickled over the fingers she had clamped over her mouth, holding back the screams that wanted to bubble out. She leaned away from Maes but he caught her and dragged her against him. Riza shuddered against him then wiped her face. "I never wanted to cry, especially in front of another soldier."
"I won't tell," he promised.
"I'll talk to Roy. I do love him but my own fears...they got the better of me."
"Then tell him that, too. It's probably better that we start being honest with ourselves."
Riza looked up at him, smiling slightly through her turmoil. "You are good for him, you know that right?"
"Someone has to be. Roy's never good to himself." Maes brushed her hair back. "I should go. I've caused enough disturbance for one night."
"No, you said the things I needed to hear. I'll talk to him and I'll watch over him. I've already made that promise to him. I just needed time to heal," Riza replied.
"I hope you feel better soon." Maes impulsively leaned in and kissed her forehead. "If he gets too out of hand for you or you're worried, call on me any time. No matter what happens, I'm still his friend."
"Thanks, and you do the same."
Riza walked him to the door. Maes took the long route home, unable to sort through all the feelings mixing inside of him.