He knew the consequences. Not that it was a proven scientific fact or anything. Perhaps he even knew it was coming. And perhaps that's why he never wasted an opportunity to let the world know how much he loved the two most important women in his life.
He came home late again that evening. He said he really had a lot of work to do, and it was something he found hard to not finish right away. His work in the military was demanding a lot of time and effort from him despite not being in the battlefield or on the front lines. Even if he just worked in the office doing paperwork, it was still rather tedious and tiring. Sometimes I think he must be working too hard and over-exerting himself; but then again, that's Maes—he's always so dedicated.
Despite being tired and weary from the day's load, he smiled as I greeted him at the door. As I took his coat and he unshod his boots, he told me how close he was to finishing his most recent investigations assignment. He looked tired, but as he told me about this I could tell he was happy at his progress. However, despite this happiness, there also lingered a bit of worry in his eyes.
"I'm nearly finished," he told me as he sat down at the kitchen table. "And as much as I'm glad it's almost through, I don't think I'm too happy with the findings. I actually don't understand it much, but… maybe—" he yawned, "—maybe tomorrow I'll know more. And even more when I tell Roy." He did not elaborate on the matter; there was the military code of secrecy, after all. And even if I was his wife, I knew my limits.
His gaze then traveled to the staircase, leading all the way up to the bedrooms. "She's asleep now," I told him, knowing well that he had been thinking of Elysia. "Actually, she wanted to wait for you, but I guess… the Sandman came earlier than she had hoped." Both of us were silent as he stood from the chair and I followed him as we climbed the stairs.
Perhaps because Maes had not been able to spend time with his daughter was the cause of his tiredness and general exhaustion. Work in the military had a tendency to get stressful, and the chain of command would sometimes turn into pressure as well. To please the higher-ups, to gain respect from subordinates, one must be able to accomplish the task entrusted to him and do it well.
Maes opened the door and the small crack spilled a line of soft light into the room. After a few moments of hesitation he padded into our daughter's bedroom and knelt beside her bed. All these were done in silence. He watched the figure under the covers, chest and shoulders heaving up and down, slowly, in the steady rhythm of slumber. He stayed there, watching her with a twinkle in his eyes. Minutes passed before he stood; he had probably thought of getting some rest now. Then, carefully as to not stir her, he took Elysia into his arms, hugging his three-year-old angel before tucking her back into the covers, kissing her forehead and saying goodnight.
He got up earlier than usual the next morning. He said he wanted to finish the assignment that day, so he can finally rest properly and spend time with us. I reassured him, telling him he didn't have to rush, and that his duty to the country was important, but he, in his noble simplicity, replied, "My duty to my family is important too." And this brought a smile to my face. As much of a soldier Maes was, he was also a father and a husband.
He pulled on his boots and straightened out his uniform before taking the coat I held out for him—the black, standard military-issued coat that has probably seen the best and worst days of Maes's military career. Just as he was about to leave, Elysia came tottering into the anteroom. "Oh, Elysia, dear," I walked to her, "You're up early."
She rubbed her eyes groggily. "Papa, you're going?" She asked sadly; she has already missed her papa terribly, and I know, in my heart, that Maes missed his daughter just as much. Maes nodded, slowly, sadly; he pushed up his glasses, before walking towards Elysia and squatting down beside her.
"Papa has a lot of work to do," he said as he caressed the crown of her head, fatherly. "But Papa will come home early tonight, okay?" He said happily. Of course, we both knew this was… well, a half-truth; when one works for the military, one must be able to expect the unexpected. But he said this to reassure her, and Maes, I know and believe, is a man of his word.
We kissed him goodbye and he went off, trudging the usual path to Central Headquarters.
Maes was a man of his word, and he has never failed his promises. At least not until that evening.
I was working on overtime that evening. It's been a couple of nights in a row now. Although I'm already used to being busy and doing lots of work—all thanks to Grumman, who seems to enjoy giving "hand-me-downs" of work, and to my slave-driving subordinates (but don't get me wrong, I'm rather fond of them all)—there's no helping that it could get too stressful, too pressing… well, quite a handful.
And that evening, I was left alone in the office. The other men had already finished their work for the day, and so I allowed them to take their leave. And Lieutenant Hawkeye—who would usually be willing to wait for me, even into the wee hours until I finish my work—was on her day off. So that evening, I was on my own. Just me and my paperwork.
As I was attempting to reread one of the last couple of documents on my desk, already losing concentration—as my mind was already starting to wander off, to a place that looked oddly like my apartment—the telephone to the side of my desk gave out a shrill cry.
"Good evening, Colonel," the voice of the telephone operator greeted me as I lifted the receiver, "You have a phone call from a public line from Lieutenant Colonel Hughes of Central."
At this hour? I bet he's got nothing better to do; he's going to tell me about how cute Elysia is, or some new cute thing Elysia did, or how beautiful his wife, Gracia, is, or how wonderful his family is altogether. Or he'd tell me to get married, or something to the same effect. "Hughes? Put him through." I sighed.
"It's me," I said, and somewhat anticipating him, I added, "And I won't listen if you're going to be bragging about your daughter." I waited until his chipper voice would greet me from the other line, expecting him to bombard me with his cheerful recollections of Elysia and her cuteness despite my telling him I wouldn't listen. But the voice never came; he was taking a long time to respond, and honestly, I was thinking he must be employing a new technique of surprising me with his… "stories". I waited, waited, waited; with my impatience, I was already able to think up an excuse or two to say later on.
I was never able to use them though, because it was Hughes who hung up on me. "Hughes?" I said. He wasn't responding. There must be something wrong with the telephone. "Hughes?" I said again. I was getting worried. He wasn't the type to not respond at all. And to call from a public line? "Hughes… hey, Hughes!" Only silence. "Hughes!!"
The line was cut.
Today the military is giving him a final send-off. He was promoted, two ranks—for dying in the line of duty. Although many knew him as the colleague who always bragged about his family, the Lieutenant Colonel who was as deadly with knives as he was deadly with his family memoirs, he was remembered as a soldier who fought and served the country in times of war, and a brave man who did not abandon his duty.
"Mama, why do they have to bury Papa?" a little girl's voice cried out amid the silent assembly of military officers and personnel. "Why are you guys burying my Papa?" She asked, and one could see how this child and her innocence, pure and unstained, pristine, untouched still by this harsh, cruel world her father lived in, pierced the hearts of those present.
And at this innocent inquiry, two individuals, entirely different in status, in rank, in relation, but both having lost a great part of their lives and themselves, both in mourning, had begun to think of the little girl and of her father, the Brigadier General, now being lowered into his final resting place. He wasn't a man of the noblest intentions; he was a simple man, a soldier, who fought just to stay alive, a man who did his job to his best—no, he was a simple father, who did his best to keep his family happy.
His wife, now a widow, watched as he was being lowered down into the earth, face etched with sadness, but cheeks unstained of tears. She was fighting, deep inside herself; she was fighting the emotions, the urge to cry. If she did, her daughter would worry, and as if these men burying her papa wasn't enough to trouble the little girl…
She gazed down at her daughter who was tugging at her skirt, asking why her papa was being buried, worrying that he wouldn't be able to finish his work if they did. It pained her heart how such a young child would have to lose the only father-figure, the only male influence she had. And it pained her that he had to leave too early on, and it pained her how their last memories would be the memories of parting.
Mrs. Hughes scooped up her daughter into her arms and hugged her tightly, despite the little girl's protests about her father's burial. Taking the girl into her arms reminded her of him and of his words. "Of all the things I've done wrong, Gracia," he told her once, as they watched over their daughter from a distance. "I must have done something right." …to deserve this kind of love and this family.
It was too early, too early, they say. He had a wife and a daughter, both whom he loved dearly, and he made sure everyone knew he did. They say that soldiers who talk about love on the battlefield tend to die early. But despite the warnings, he wholeheartedly shared his love to the world. He brought it to the battlefield, serving as his force, his push, his inspiration to stay alive. And although the listeners were deemed "unfortunate" once they get tangled into his tales of familial love, there was no denying how much they admired him for that—that despite being in a world where death is not uncommon, he is still a man full of optimism and love.
Brigadier General Maes Hughes
In pace requiescat.
A/N: This was quite a challenge; I'm not particularly "close" to the Hughes family, so… haha.
"In pace requiescat", or more commonly, "requiescat in pace" means "rest in peace."
Has this been done before? I dunno. Haha. Anywayyy... if in case anyone's wondering... I shifted through 3 POVs, haha. First, Gracia's, second, Roy's, and last, omniscient. XD
Thanks to my beta, Mere. :)