((A/N: Big 'ol warning for angst in this one, guys. There are some sensitive subject matters here. I wrote this as a kind of explanation of why Hughes is so absolutely obsessed with Elysia, I suppose. One-shot.))
Maes got out of the car and hurried over to open the passenger's side door, but Gracia had already opened it. She stood up out of the car, swaying a little, her white nightdress pale in the dimness of the early evening.
Maes tried not to look at the spots of blood on the thin fabric.
"Here, let me carry you into the house..." he offered. The first words he'd spoken in the better part of an hour.
"You don't have to," she replied, shivering. The first words she'd spoken in many, many hours.
"I want to."
He put his arms around her and, when she gave no further sign of protest, he held her tight and lifted her up off the ground, carrying her up to the house and over the threshold. Just has he had on their wedding night fifteen months ago. His bride in white.
"Do you want me to put you on the couch?"
"I'd like to go to bed... I'm still pretty groggy."
"Want me to lie down with you for a while?"
Maes swallowed, trying to soothe the aching stickiness in the back of his throat. He carried her into the bedroom, but hesitated to actually put her down on the bed. He hadn't had the chance to change the sheets yet and her side of the mattress was caked with dried, reddish-brown smears. Before she could see the stains, Maes flung the fluffy blue blanket completely over the mess and laid her down on his side of the bed, grabbing another, slightly heavier comforter to cover her with because, my god, she looked so cold.
She closed her eyes and curled into a ball under the blanket. She didn't give any reply when he wished her sweet dreams.
He closed the door and went back out into the living room. He stood there for several seconds just outside the door, clenching and unclenching his hands with restrained anxiety. He didn't know what to do with himself. He wanted to talk to someone. He wanted to scream and rage. Break something, maybe. He had to do something with this ball of sick, hot energy in his chest before it was absorbed into his bones and became a part of him. He didn't want it in him anymore. He had to let it out. He'd been holding it in all day and he wanted it gone. He'd kept quiet and calm and made himself smile and speak softly but he just couldn't do it anymore. He'd have to kill himself if he couldn't expel this crushing feeling somehow; cough it up like a wad of blood from his lungs.
He paced the room with his arms crossed over his chest, holding himself. He wanted to wake Gracia up and demand that they talk about this, that they do something even though they both knew that there was nothing left to be done. He just wanted to be comforted. He wanted to comfort her, but she'd refused his comforts many times today already by answering his gentle words and caresses with nothing more than blank silence.
He didn't want silence, though. He craved words, noise, any kind of communication. The silence was bearing down on him like a thick fog of rot that stuck in his throat and made it so hard for him to breathe. There was no oxygen in this silence. He was drowning in it, heart screaming, just wanting someone to talk to.
Gracia didn't want to talk, though. She just produced more of that damned silence, averting her eyes, her soft lashes downcast against the stoniness of her face. She could just hold it in, all those words, but Maes could not. He wasn't as strong as she was.
Maes picked up the phone and was halfway through dialing the number before his brain had even registered who he was calling. He almost hung up before the first ring... but he needed to say it. He had to talk to someone, to tell them what had happened.
The brief, boiling ring on the line sounded twice before someone picked up.
"Hi, Roy. It's me."
"Hello, Maes. Are you ill?"
"...What?" Maes' train of thought was derailed slightly by the question.
"I noticed you weren't in the office today. I assumed illness."
"Oh." He'd forgotten to call out of work today. He hadn't even thought about it until now. "No. No, I'm not sick."
Silence hung on the line for a beat—that suffocating, dead silence—then,
Roy already knew something was wrong. Maes didn't know how he knew, but he did. He always knew. Maybe he felt it like an electrical current in his soul. He was a good soldier. He saw everything. Heard everything. Felt when something terrible was on the horizon.
Then why hadn't he seen this coming? Why hadn't he warned them...?
No. Roy hadn't known. There was no way he could have known. There was no foreseeing this. It had just been one of those things you can't anticipate. Sometimes these things happen. The doctor had actually shrugged when he said that.
Maes' mouth went dry, those words that he so frantically needed to say retreating back behind his tongue. He didn't want to say it. He hadn't said it out loud yet and he suddenly didn't want to do it. Saying it would make it real.
Come on, just say it, a voice in the back of his mind chided him. Just say it. Say it. Say it. Say it. Say it. Say it. Say it. Say it. Say it. Say—
The word tasted like bile.
"She started bleeding a lot late last night, so we went to the hospital. We just got back. She's sleeping. They had to drug her a little. They had to do a procedure to... to..." he swallowed again, that bile-taste becoming overpowering. "...to clean it all out. She's sleeping it off. They gave her painkillers and antibiotics. She bled a lot. She's still bleeding a little. They said that's normal. But she's tired. She's sleeping."
Maes was speaking very fast, babbling as if a dam in his mouth had been broken, as if the words were tearing themselves out of him and oh god it hurt but at least he could fucking breathe between each sentence. He just kept going. He couldn't stop talking once he started. He told Roy about how the baby had probably been dead for days. He told him about how the doctors had said that these things just happen sometimes. But how the hell could it just die like that—four months of joy and anticipation so cruelly destroyed—before it could even be born?
They'd named him Adam.
"...Is there anything I can do?" His voice was very quiet.
"Come over..." Maes gasped, blinking tears out of his eyes. He hadn't realized that he'd started crying while he was talking. The words had made him lighter, though. His head was light. Spinning. He should sit down. He sat on the edge of the couch. "I just... I need someone to talk to."
Roy hesitated. "I'm not sure that Gracia would want me there."
"Please..." Maes would have begged him on bended knee. I need you here. He knew that he was probably right, that Gracia wouldn't want him here. She didn't even like Roy that much, said he was too cold and that he didn't smile enough. Still, Maes needed him; Gracia could find her solace in sleep if she wanted to, but Maes would find his in Roy. "Please, Roy..."
A soft, uncertain sigh.
"...I'll be there soon."
The phone line clicked and went quiet, then the dial tone hummed from the electrical void beyond the earpiece. Maes lowered the phone, biting his lip to quiet an abrupt onslaught of sobbing.
His hand was shaking so badly that it took him three tries to get the phone back into its cradle.
When the door opened, Roy scarcely recognized the man standing on the threshold. Maes looked at him for a long time as if he didn't know what to say, then leaned forward and wrapped his arms around him, burying his face into the side of Roy's neck. Roy embraced him back, but only lightly, understanding that Maes didn't want to be held so much as hold someone else.
"Come in," he rasped when he finally let go. His voice was dead. He'd stopped crying, but his eyes were still bloodshot and too bright.
Roy stepped inside, glancing toward the closed bedroom door barely visible down the dim hallway. "Is she still asleep?"
"But she's okay?"
"...I don't know, Roy. She won't talk to me. She hasn't even cried yet." He heaved a great, anguished breath and put a trembling hand to his forehead. "I-I don't even know if she's okay..."
"I meant... physically okay."
"Oh... Yeah. Yeah, she'll be fine. She'll bleed for a while and she's in some pain, but..." He trailed off, wiping his eyes on the back of his hand and shaking his head.
Roy's heart ached. Maes had wanted that child so badly. He'd barely stopped talking about it since he'd found out that Gracia was pregnant, his eyes lighting up as he went on and on about it...
They had started trying for a child almost immediately after getting married, not wanting to delay the expansion of their family. And it had taken so long for them to conceive: ten long months of trying, ten months of Maes doubting himself, unable to provide his wife with a child. He'd called Roy almost every night, half-panicked. "God, what if it's me? What if I'm sterile? What if we can't even have kids...?"
But then they got the news that Gracia was carrying his child and Roy wondered if it were possible for a man to literally die of happiness. Maes had been bursting with it; crying and laughing, grabbing Roy and hugging him so hard that it hurt, shouting in the streets that he was going to be a father...
And now all that was gone, and the sudden, violent absence of that joy was far worse than never conceiving at all.
"I need to go outside and g-get some air," Maes sniffed after a moment. "I can't breathe..."
"I'll come with you."
"No... I just need a minute. I'll be right back."
He walked past him back out into the front yard, hand-over-mouth and broad shoulders quaking.
Gracia lay curled in her bed, cold in spite of the blanket that Maes had draped over her. She was awake and had been since Maes had laid her down, listening to her husband crying in the living room beyond her closed door.
It was quiet out there now, though. He had opened the front door. Maybe he'd left, unable to bear being in the same house as the woman who had let his child die within her.
Calmly, she reached her hand down and brushed it against her empty belly, her fingers touching the rough, dried clots of blood that clung to her gown. She shuddered. She should change out of it.
She sat up slowly, wincing as the cramp throbbing deep in her abdomen intensified. She clenched her jaw and tried to tell herself that it wasn't that bad; she should probably take more of the pain medicine that she'd been prescribed before trying to sleep again, though. She placed her bare feet on the floor and stood carefully, trying to ignore the sudden rush of blood that further soaked the gauze that the doctor had lined her panties with. She took a step and nearly hit the floor as a dizzy spell overtook her. This was all normal, the doctor had said.
But nothing about this was normal.
She pulled her gown off over her head and put it in the hamper, doing everything in her power to keep her eyes away from the full-length mirror beside her dresser when she pulled out a fresh nightdress. She did not want to see how the soft, fertile curve of her naked belly had been deflated... after it had been so full of life just a week ago.
She didn't feel anything. She was numb and dry-eyed. It was better that way. She would deal with it later. She and Maes would talk about it later.
She put on the clean gown—a soft, lavender one that Maes had given her for her birthday—and then, still cold, she slipped her fluffy robe on over it. She looked back over at the bed and considered crawling into it again. But then she felt another shudder run through her when she caught a glimpse of the dark stain peeking out from under the blanket covering her side of the mattress.
Her husband's voice rang in her head, at first thick with sleep, then tight with panic:
"Mmph, what's wrong sweetheart...? What are you... Oh... Oh God, Gracia...!"
She would never forget the look on his face when he saw the blood.
Gracia shook herself and turned away from the bed, stumbling weakly as the room swayed. They had to change the sheets before she'd even think of going back to bed. Instead, she padded over to the door, listened for a moment to see if she could hear Maes, then opened it.
The large bay window that faced the front yard was open, letting in a chill breeze that made Gracia's flesh prickle with goosebumps. She could see Maes outside, sitting in the front seat of the car, leaning against the steering wheel with his head buried in his arms. The car door was open and she swore that she could almost hear his sobs being carried in by the wind.
The blue-gray light that had been allowed to filter through the sky's heavy clouds sank into it everything it touched, dyeing the world with that dead, unearthly color. It sank into the grass outside. It sank into Maes, sitting out there in the car by himself. It sank into her living room, into the walls and the furniture. Into her own pale hands.
It even sank into the man standing beside the window, watching his best friend from afar. It took Gracia a moment for her to see him. He was standing so still, his jaw set. He looked like a statue. Cold. Like Gracia was cold.
He jumped slightly, startled, but then slowly turned to face her.
"Mrs. Hughes," he greeted her, his polite voice betraying nothing. Did he hate her for what she'd done to his dearest friend?
Gracia pulled the collar of her robe closed with one hand and swallowed, glancing back toward her husband. Mustang followed her gaze for a moment, then looked back at her and gave her a small, apologetic bow.
"Your husband called me over, but I can leave if you'd like. I understand that this is—"
"No, stay," she interrupted him softly. "It's fine. He wants you here."
Mustang nodded, watching her, but didn't say anything.
"...How long has he been out there?" she made herself ask.
"About five minutes. Said he needed some air... He got sick in the planter."
"...He would have made a good daddy."
She didn't know why she said it. It was true, but she shouldn't have said it. Now was not the time. Mustang was not the person to say this to.
"He really would have." He cleared his throat and raised his head a little to look at the sky in the world outside. "He still will. You can try again."
Gracia pulled her robe closed even tighter. "...I don't know if I want to try again."
God, why was she saying these things to him? She barely knew the man. They'd spoken only a handful of times and had never really gotten beyond the stage of polite small talk. She didn't know what her husband saw in him, but he loved him so much...
She closed her eyes as she felt another wave of dizziness come upon her. She wavered on her feet a little, then stumbled sideways to catch herself on the wall. Her vision became a cloud of white and her face and neck suddenly prickled with cold sweat. A warm hand spread across her lower back to support her, the other one taking her arm.
"Easy, easy..." Mustang said, his voice gentle and raspy, almost fatherly in how soothing it was to hear. "I've got you. Come sit down."
He led her over to the sofa and she let herself be pushed down onto it, too disoriented to do much else.
"Wait here, let me go get Maes..."
"He'll never forgive me."
Mustang froze, still half-holding her, one hand on her shoulder. She didn't look up at him. She couldn't.
Slowly, the lieutenant colonel lowered himself down onto the couch beside her, turning in his seat to face her.
"Gracia..." he said, calling her by her given name for the first time since they'd met and—somehow, with that single utterance—broke down every barrier that stood between them. They were suddenly best friends. They were siblings. She trusted him completely, a man that she hadn't even particularly cared for five minutes ago. She almost laughed at the thought. Maes was right; Roy Mustang had a gift for manipulation. With just one word—her name, for goodness' sake—he was already under her skin.
"Gracia, there's nothing to forgive."
His words had a finality in them that plainly told her not to argue. He didn't want her to talk, the way Maes did. Mustang, from what Gracia knew of him, was a relatively quiet man until he had something important to say and then he fully expected everyone around him to just shut up and listen... And the odd thing was, they did. He had so much power in his voice and carriage that they were entranced and all words died on their lips, breathless to hear him speak. From that moment on he owned them, and they would follow him forever, just as Maes had sworn to.
"You couldn't have caused or prevented this," he continued. "He knows that. He just wants to talk to you about it. He's grieving."
"...I don't want to talk about it," she confessed, daring to lean against him a little and rest her head against his collarbone.
"I know. I wouldn't either." He wrapped one arm around her and rested his cheek on the top of her head. Somehow it didn't seem at all strange to have him holding her, as if this was a common occurrence. She felt as safe as if he was her older brother, protecting her from bullies on the playground. "Maes is just very sensitive. This is how he copes."
She nodded and closed her eyes tightly. Maes was so sensitive... so fragile at times. How he'd managed to keep back his emotions the entire time that they'd been in the hospital was beyond her. It wasn't like him to hold back like that; he was as free with his grief as he was with his joy, and that barely-controlled blankness that she'd seen in the hospital just wasn't like him. She'd thought that maybe he was just so angry at her, so sickened and disappointed that he couldn't even bring himself to react to it. But as she sat here now, half cradled by his best friend, Gracia understood that her husband had kept it in for her, not because of her. He was trying to be strong for her. Maybe he saw her numb coldness as strength and sought to emulate it, for her sake.
Outside, she heard a car door snap shut.
This was the first tragedy that they had ever suffered together as a couple. They had only known each other for two and a half years, had only been married for a little less than one and a half... They had never faced loss together before, and they completely clashed in the way they chose to grieve... but he had tried so hard to grieve the way that she did—quietly and privately, holding back until she couldn't anymore. It hurt him even more to grieve so conservatively, but he'd done it for her...
She looked up toward the door. Her husband stood there nervously, tear-stained and exhausted. Her heart suddenly lurched, crying out for him, wanting him near. She reached out for him and he came quickly to her side as if he'd just been waiting for her permission. They came together and intertwined, holding each other as hard as they could. He was crying again, telling her how sorry he was. She held back for only another moment, then gave in and finally joined him in his weeping. He held her even more tightly against his chest and she could feel his relief at knowing that she was grieving with him, as painful as it was for them both.
She cried against him and he spoke to her between sobs. He loved her so much, he said. They would get past this, he said. They could try again, he said. It was going to be okay.
Neither of the mourning parents noticed when Roy Mustang eased himself off the couch. They were too distracted by the death of their child to see him close the bay window and pull shut the thick drapes that covered it. He turned on the single lamp beside the sofa where Gracia and Maes were clutching each other so tightly, making promises to each other about the future. He left without a word, knowing that he had no place here. He was nothing more than a witness to this grief, a bystander who couldn't do any more than he had already done. And so he left his friends—one old, one new, one lost that he'd never had the chance to meet—and vanished into the darkening night to let them deal with their loss.
The sun was bright, hanging high overhead like a golden ball. Gracia sat on the park bench, laughing as she watched her husband run around like a madman. Elysia squealed from her perch on her daddy's shoulders, arms spread wide as he held on to her little legs and ran in circles through the freshly cut grass.
"Bird! Bird!" Elysia giggled, flapping her arms as her daddy made her fly.
Gracia's smile widened and then she cracked up when Maes started squawking loudly as he ran, pretending to be a bird to further enliven his daughter's land of make-believe.
It had been exactly four years to the day since they'd lost their first child.
This was the first year that Maes hadn't mentioned it. Gracia didn't think for a moment that he'd forgotten, but perhaps he'd finally decided that he didn't need to bring it up every year. The pain was far enough away, now. They had healed. Elysia had healed them both.
Maes hadn't stopped crying for days after she'd been born, so desperately happy that he could only express it by weeping softly over her cradle. Every time he'd looked at her—his perfect, healthy child—he'd burst into tears and have to hold her and feel her warmth against his skin. Several times in the first weeks after her birth he'd awoken during the night and had go and pick her up, just to make sure that she was still breathing. It was endearing the first few times, but Gracia finally had to tell him to stop waking her when she was sleeping, as it sometimes took over an hour to get her back to sleep again.
He was so madly in love with his daughter that Gracia's heart felt like it would burst with happiness and pride at being able to provide him with such a joy after the death of their first child and then the long, long months of trying to conceive again. To Maes, there was nothing more important in this world than Elysia. His miracle. His life.
Gracia saw someone standing just out of the corner of her eye and turned her head to look. Roy was standing a few yards away, his hands shoved in the pockets of his black slacks. He was watching Maes and Elysia and probably had been for a while. He was smiling, but softly, his expression telling Gracia that he, too, remembered what day it was. Good for you, Maes... that smile said.
Roy must have her felt eyes upon him, for he turned his head and looked directly at her. His smile deepened a little sheepishly, knowing that he'd been caught being entertained by something so mundane as a child playing with her father. She grinned back and waved a friendly hello. He returned the wave, then chuckled to himself as Maes gave one last, particularly loud squawk. He gave Gracia a departing smile and turned to walk away, treading slowly on the bright grass as he shook his head in fond amusement.
Gracia watched him go before turning back to her family. Maes pulled his daughter off of his shoulders, swinging her through the air in a great arc that made her pigtails fly out behind her. She gave a thrilled little shriek, then started giggling again as he set her down on the grass.
He plopped down beside her, panting from his workout, and she wrapped her chubby arms around his neck, burying her pink cheek against his. He took a slow, deep breath and let it out in a contented sigh, eyes closed.
When he opened them again, he looked at Gracia and smiled, his green eyes twinkling.
Love you, Mommy, he mouthed silently.
Love you, too, Daddy, she mouthed back.
The corner of his mouth twitched and, just for a moment, each knew that the other was thinking of the one they lost. Sorrow, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding and a raw kind of contentment passed between them in that moment, as vivid as a conversation. Maes' smile turned sad for just a split second, but then all grief was gone once again and he snarled like a particularly theatrical wolf, grabbing Elysia and forcing her down onto the grass. He pinned her on her back, growling as he tickled her, crowing to the sky that he—the Big Bad Wolf, apparently—had finally captured the princess and would never let her go.
And Gracia, still watching from afar, hoped that he would never have to.