Roy leaned back in his chair, loving the smell of the leather and the antique sound of its quiet creaking. To him, it was more than a simple desk chair, elegant as it was. No, it was a symbol. His chair, his desk, his office, his staff... all of them were a symbol of his growing power.
Each day Roy Mustang was coming closer and closer to his goal. Sometimes it didn't feel like it. Sometimes he wanted to give up and admit to everyone that he was too weak to do this, no matter how much support his carefully chosen people gave him. Sometimes he just wanted to put his head down and blindly follow the Fuhrer the way all of his superiors did, no matter how deeply he hated the warmongering, soulless direction that this country was being led. Sometimes it just seemed easier to just shut down and forget his dreams. Sometimes it seemed safer that way...
But sometimes... sometimes the fire in his breast burned so hot that he could hardly sit still. The excitement in him boiled and he felt the delicious weight of his commitment pressing against him like an eager lover. This was right. He was doing something magnificent and important. He walked down the pristine hallways of Central HQ, saluting the stuffy generals and colonels who passed him by, silently rejoicing in the thought that he would be above them someday. He was going to make them grovel and repent for every criminal political act they had ever committed... every document that they had known was a dangerous, sinful sham and had signed anyway...
Roy took a deep, contented breath, trying to contain the glorious feeling within him.
Soon. Perhaps sooner than he'd thought.
Last night, when Maes had stumbled in to Roy's apartment covered in blood, exhausted, and frustrated, yet had still maintained that he was forever pledged to Roy and his cause... Roy's heart had almost exploded with pride and brotherly love. And to then hear that Maes was willing to keep going for high-risk positions was wonderful news. Roy had to admit that he'd begun to lose faith in Maes a little since his marriage, but that faith had now been renewed tenfold. And the timing couldn't be better.
Roy had, sitting on the desk in front of him, a file. But not just any file, oh no. No, it was an incident report that was supposed to be sent to Investigations. Roy had just been in the right place at the right time and had snagged it, assuring the department's secretary that he had the perfect man for the job already lined up. If Maes wanted to break into Investigations and make a fast, lasting impression, then this was his ticket in.
Roy hadn't gone over the contents of the file completely yet, but he had glanced over it enough to know that this was big. Ooh, it was big.
An experimental military weapon... was missing.
What information Roy had gleaned from the report was purposefully vague, the huge, red CLASSIFIED stamp on the front cover immediately telling Roy that most of the scoop was strictly on a need to know basis and would only be delivered by sanctioned request. Roy had already made the call and he knew that he'd be receiving the rest of the information shortly.
It was only eight-thirty in the morning, and already Roy felt the awesome sensation of great accomplishment bounding toward him from over the horizon. Today was going to be a glorious day; he could tell.
"Well, someone looks pleased with himself," Hawkeye smirked, heavily dropping a thick stack of unfiled documents onto his desk. He looked at the formidable stack, but then he smiled, not about to let his spirits be dampened.
"And I have good reason to be," he countered, stretching his arms over his head luxuriously.
"The world is mine for the taking, Lieutenant. We're making history as we speak."
"I see. Hm. Well, I think that history can wait for the moment; I need those documents signed and transferred by noon."
He shot her a playfully dirty look and, still in too high of spirits to complain about it, began his daily tasks.
"...It's so weird when you're in a good mood," Breda said warily, eyeing at him from across the office. "Freaks me out."
Havoc and Fuery gave matching nods and mumbles of agreement.
"If he starts singing and dancing around the office again, I'm out of here," Havoc added, clipping a stack of papers together and handing them to Hawkeye.
Roy ignored them, still smiling to himself. They couldn't possibly understand. Not yet, anyway.
But they would.
"Good morning, Major."
Roy looked up at Hawkeye's voice to see Maes wander into the office. He looked around for a moment, apparently confused, but then his eyes landed on her and he blinked.
"Oh. 'Morning, Lieutenant."
"Hughes!" Roy greeted, standing. "The man of the hour! I have something that I want you to look at."
Maes stood there for a moment without moving, but then he stumbled forward, shooting an oddly suspicious glances toward Roy's staff. His eyes, Roy noticed, lingered on Hawkeye's flank perhaps a little longer than they should have.
"What?" Maes asked, sounding both uncomfortable and irritated.
Roy ignored his tone, taking up the classified file and offering it to him. "I have a case for you. This is it, my friend. If you break this case, you are all but guaranteed that promotion."
Maes stared at the file. The muscles in his neck tensed as he finally reached out and took it. "...I thought I asked you to lay off for a while."
His words were very quiet.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Roy said, waving a hand dismissively. "But you can't pass this up. This is high military. We're missing a biological warfare weapon! Even if you can't find it, the attention you'd get from the higher-ups—"
"I'm not doing it."
Roy stopped, startled. "What?"
Maes raked a harsh, angry hand through his hair. "I said I'm not fucking doing it! You said that you'd leave me the hell alone for a while and I expect you to keep your word! God, doesn't anything matter to you other than your goddamn goals?"
"...Now wait just a min—"
Maes loomed closer, towering over Roy. The major really wasn't that much taller than Roy, but suddenly he seemed huge. His shoulders seemed broader, more muscular, flexing visibly from under his military jacket. He radiated aggression in a way that Roy had never felt before. In that instant he was terrifying. There was something savage about the way Maes was glowering at him, something completely inhuman.
But then Maes blinked and seemed to shake himself out of some kind of daze.
"If this case really means so much to you, then you do it," he growled after a short pause. He shoved the file hard against Roy's chest, pushing him back against his desk. "Damn you and damn your goals, Lieutenant Colonel. I quit. I'm done with this stupid fucking game of yours that we all know you're never going to win."
Then he turned and stormed out of the room, not even sparing them a backward glance.
The office was silent for several beats after his departure. Roy just stared after his friend, utterly dumbfounded as he slowly seated himself back in his leather chair.
"What the hell was that about?" he demanded to no one in particular.
Maes didn't make it far after stomping out of the room. He was in the hallway, leaning against the wall beside the door, his hand over his mouth.
He wanted to go back in and apologize, to say that he hadn't meant a word of what he'd said, that he was just tired—and that was completely true—but he was terrified to go back in there.
Because for a second... just for a second while Roy was standing there in front of him...
He had wanted to kill him.
He had seen it vividly in his head, had watched the bright splash of red coat Roy's chest as Maes tore his throat out, he had smelled the blood, had tasted it, had hungered for it... and had loved every moment of it.
Because in that fiery, wrathful moment Maes had known—just known—that Roy was sleeping with Gracia. That was why he was trying to get him fixated on a new project, wasn't it? He was just trying to keep him busy, to get him out of the house and out of the office so that he could meet his wife for lecherous trysts in seedy hotel rooms. Just a series of quick fucks while Maes' back was turned...
Maes' stomach churned and he almost gagged. But he knew now that that couldn't be true. His mind was just playing tricks on him. He was sick and tired, that was all. There was no way in hell that Roy and Gracia were fooling around behind his back... Gracia wasn't Roy's type and Gracia honestly didn't like Roy very much...
"You know he didn't really mean that, sir," Hawkeye said suddenly. Maes could hear her smooth, confident voice coming from the open door of the office. "You said yourself that he's stressed out. Maybe he's starting to buckle under the pressure."
Maes held his breath and waited for Roy's reply, his hand still over his mouth.
"...Yeah. No, I know." Roy spoke quietly, sounding thoughtful. "Even if he meant it, he never would have said it to my face like that. I know him, and no matter how angry he gets, with me he still likes to dance around issues instead of being that direct."
That was true, Maes had to admit. Roy had a way of making it hard to be mad at him for any length of time, and he had an even greater talent for making it impossible to explain what, exactly, he had done to incite such anger in the first place. It was both endearing and infuriating.
"Then why would he say that?" Fuery sounded scandalized on behalf of his superior.
"He was trying to hurt me."
"That I don't know, Kain."
"You have been pretty hard on him lately, sir," Hawkeye rejoined.
"Not that hard," Roy mumbled. "Did you see the way he looked at me...? And you, for that matter?"
Maes stomach clenched again nauseously and he turned away from the office. He stumbled a little, the hallway around him swaying, but he managed to make it to the men's room without drawing any unwanted attention to himself. He just needed a minute alone to get a hold of himself, maybe splash some cold water on his face.
He wiped sweat from his hot brow and leaned over the sink, wondering whether or not he was going to be able to keep himself from throwing up.
Damn it, maybe Gracia had been right... he'd felt okay for the most part this morning, but now he felt terrible. He felt weak and sick. His head had started pounding on the walk to work and his tender stomach had begun rolling with nausea. He had almost just turned around and gone back home, but he'd already been halfway to the office before he started feeling sick enough to really think that he shouldn't be working today.
Not only was he sick, though... he just didn't feel right. His whole body ached as if he'd been working out. His muscles were stiff and taut and his biceps and calves felt like tense rocks under his skin. The dizziness from earlier this morning came and went, as did his impure thoughts of Gracia and a vivid, irrational distrust of just about everyone around him that bordered on a murderous hatred. Roy, Maes had come to realize just moments ago, gave him this feeling above and beyond anyone else that he'd run into today. How could he even think that he was betraying his trust? How could he think that about his best friend... or his wife for that matter?
Maes' gorge rose again and this time he knew that there was no holding it back. With a moan, he turned to stagger into the closest bathroom stall. He fumbled the lock into place behind him, doubled over, and lost his breakfast into the toilet.
Maes vaguely registered the creak of the men's room's door opening as his stomach spasmed again and another mouthful of acid splashed into the porcelain bowl.
"Goddamnit..." Maes groaned to himself sickly, grabbing a fistful of toilet paper and wiping his mouth. "Ugh..."
"...Hughes? That you?"
It was Roy. Maes looked back and could see his booted feet from under the stall door.
"Yeah..." He coughed and wiped his mouth again, grimacing. He did not want Roy in here right now. "It's me."
"I guess. I think Gracia finally got me sick... I feel really weird."
"Ah. So is that what crawled up your ass and died?"
Maes didn't say anything, he just closed his eyes and bowed his head over the bowl.
Roy sighed, the sound echoing in the smallish, badly lit bathroom. "Go home, Maes," he said, sounding annoyed. "Anyone can see that you need some rest. Take a few days off. Go on a vacation. Go by yourself, if you feel like you need to. I'm sure that your wife can handle herself and the baby for a day or two if you need some time alone to get over whatever the hell this is that you're going through."
That hot wave of rage inundated Maes' chest again. It was suddenly stifling in this tiny stall. Sweat prickled on the back of his neck and on his chest and his hands shook with anger as they gripped the toilet's rim. Maybe Roy really was trying to get rid of him. He wanted Maes gone, out of the city, so that he could sneak over into his home and sleep with Gracia. He thought he was so fucking smart, but Maes could practically smell her on his clothes. It was so obvious.
"Are you fucking my wife?"
The words seethed from between his teeth in a dark growl, low and enraged. The muscles in his arms and legs trembled with adrenaline, prepared and eager for violence. He was going to kill him. He was going to tear his face off and watch him bleed.
There was a long pause from Roy, then:
"What was that?" He sounded, for the first time, at a loss; perhaps even worried. "I think I... must have misheard you..."
That gentle tone in Roy's voice was like an icy slap in the face. Maes jolted and shook himself. He took a breath, then another, trying to calm down. He was being irrational. He was just sick and it was giving him strange thoughts. That's all. There was nothing going on between Roy and Gracia. Nothing.
Maes swallowed. He spat in the toilet one final time, flushed it, and stood. He opened the stall and Roy was standing just beyond it, watching him closely.
"Nothing," Maes said to him quietly, "It's not important. I just... You're right. I need to go home. I think I'm really sick."
There was another short, tentative silence as Roy watched him make his way back over to the sink and turn it on. "Did you go to the clinic this morning about the bite?"
"Yeah..." he lied, not really sure why he was lying about it. It was that same voice whispering in the back of his head, the one that had told him to keep the injury secret from Gracia. "They just gave me some antibiotics and told me to keep it clean."
He took his glasses off, cupped his hands under the tap, and splashed his face with the frigid water. The cold seeped into his hot cheeks, instantly cooling and soothing him. He was okay. Everything was just fine. He just needed to go home and lie down for a while.
"Do you want me to have Havoc drive you home?" Roy asked, still hovering behind him uncertainly.
Maes pulled a paper towel from the dispenser and wiped the water from his eyes. The anger was welling up again in his chest, just from feeling the man near him. Roy Mustang could not be trusted. Maes didn't want anything from him.
"No, I'll walk."
"It's no trouble..."
"I said no, Roy!" Maes hissed, crumpling up the damp paper towel and heatedly throwing it into the bin. "Just leave me the hell alone."
He slid his glasses back on, then he stalked past him, shoved open the door, and fled back out into the hallway.
Almost immediately he was calm again, gone from Roy's upsetting presence, but his insides clenched with a renewed anxiety. God, what the hell was wrong with him, that he couldn't even stand being in the same room with his best friend? How could he possibly feel such hatred and suspicion toward someone he loved so dearly? Was he really that mad at him about his hard-on for that damn promotion...? Was that it?
Maes waited a moment outside the restroom, half-hoping that Roy was going to follow him out and demand to know what was going on—not that Maes knew what to tell him—but the door to the men's room remained closed.
Maes wiped his brow, already damp with sweat again, then stumbled back down the hallway and headed home.
Roy took his time in the men's room. He pissed, washed his hands, dried them, and dampened down a particularly errant strand of his hair that had been tickling his cheek all morning.
As calm as he made himself look outwardly—even though he knew that no one was watching—his mind was racing. He didn't know what was going on. Something was up with Maes that went way beyond his illness. There was something on his mind that he didn't want Roy to know about... and Roy—adding together his conversation with Maes last night with what he'd just heard in this very men's room—now felt that Maes' hostility was fueled by something very troubling indeed.
From what Roy had gathered, it seemed as if Maes and Gracia Hughes were having some marital problems. Perhaps they had rushed in to having a child too soon after their marriage and Maes was having some trouble adjusting... Maes had said last night that he hated being at home, and that he was driven to exhaustion by his wife's and his new baby's sickness. Now... though Roy didn't want to believe what Maes had accused him of... there was no ignoring his words.
Are you fucking my wife?
Each syllable rang in Roy's head, the accusatory rage in his friend's voice something that he'd never heard before.
When had Roy ever given Maes even the faintest impression that he had any kind of designs on his wife? Roy had only ever really spoken to the woman when he had to, when Maes insisted that he go out to dinner with them or on other vaguely uncomfortable social occasions. He didn't think that they had ever even been alone together for more than a few moments. Moreover, he got the distinct feeling that she didn't particularly care for him much and—though he would never say anything to Maes—the feeling was mutual.
Gracia had screwed up The Plan. The Plan was for Maes to dedicate himself—heart, mind, and soul—to getting Roy to the top. Maes swore up and down that, in spite of his obligations to his burgeoning family, he was still going to do everything that he had promised to help Roy reach his destiny... but it was becoming more and more apparent that it was all too much for Maes to handle all at once.
And it was that woman's fault.
Now Roy didn't really dislike her... she was nice and polite and—as Maes had repeatedly told him, in far more detail that he had ever wanted to hear—apparently a tigress in the sack. And she made Maes happy. She had made him so completely, deliriously happy, and so Roy could never really dislike her... but it still hurt. He just felt like he was in the middle of some goddamn custody battle with her, trying to get some meaningful, productive time with Maes while she fought to get exactly the same thing from him. And Roy knew without a doubt that Maes vividly felt the two of them pulling at him from different directions... perhaps that stress had just become too much of a strain on him.
Maes was in a foul mood and kept snapping at Roy to vent that side of his frustration... but what about his frustrations with Gracia and the baby?
Roy gave his hair one last check in the mirror. Fine. Slowly and calmly, he turned and exited the bathroom. Maes was nowhere to be seen. He shoved his hands into his pockets and strolled back toward his office.
Roy Mustang had a way with women. He always had at least one latched onto him at any given time. He enjoyed dating and he loved sex. Brief relationships were a vital stress reliever in his line of work and he honestly didn't think that he'd be able to survive the pressure of his job without the release that his many lady friends gave him.
There had only been a few times when these relationships had become a little more serious than casual dating. And, in each of these instances, Roy had—he was not proud to admit—panicked. When a man uses relationships as stress relief, allowing these relationships to develop into something serious causes far more anxiety than not dating at all. Unable to make himself end it with whomever's heart he had stolen, he had sought that desperate release from other women.
Yes, he was a cheater. Or, he had been when he had been young enough and stupid enough to allow himself to get trapped into relationships that he felt he could not get out of. And while he had been cheating, desperately hiding it from his then-girlfriend, in his mind he began to grow suspicious of her own actions. She had actually been the one to end the relationship, tired of Roy accusing her of sleeping around.
Those who do wrong and fear suspicion often become unreasonably suspicious themselves. A guilty conscience sees guilt in others, even if there is no guilt to be seen.
Roy stepped back into his office and took his seat again behind his desk, his good mood earlier completely demolished by a dark pensiveness.
He looked up. Hawkeye was standing in front of his desk. "Are you alright?"
Roy didn't say anything for a beat. He leaned back in his chair and listened to it creak, but this time he took no pleasure from the sound.
"What would you say to me..." he began quietly, "if I told you that I thought Hughes might be having an affair?"
"I'd say that you were insane," she answered, eyes narrowing.
He nodded and started on his paperwork again. "That's what I thought you'd say."