A Fullmetal Alchemist fan fiction by Lady Norbert

A/N: And here's the end of it. I hope you enjoyed! If you haven't already, please proceed from here to the rest of the Elemental Chess Trilogy - Flowers of Antimony, Brilliancy, and The Game of Three Generals, all found here on my FFN profile. Thanks for reading and (hopefully) reviewing!

Chapter Twelve: Parthian Shot

Parthian Shot: An ancient military tactic in which archers, mounted on light horses, would feign retreat; then, while at full gallop, they would turn their bodies back to shoot at the pursuing enemy.

Maes gets off the train in Central to find that the most beautiful woman in the world is waiting for him.

He practically flings his duffel aside and smothers her in his embrace. "I have missed you so much," he tells her. "I got your letters - they kept me going - you're wonderful." He's kind of babbling, unable to put a stopper in the stream of compliments and gratitude and adoration that's flowing freely from his mouth. Gracia finally kisses him, which she has long since learned is the most effective way to silence Maes Hughes.

"I'm glad you're back," she tells him, simply. "Let's go home - there's a spinach quiche with your name on it."


The next several weeks are rather a massive blur. Maes reports to Central Command and gets placed in the intelligence division, as he requested. He keeps in steady contact with Roy out in the east, relieved to hear that he was able to acquire Riza as his personal assistant and - Maes can't suppress a snicker at this - bodyguard. The mighty Flame Alchemist needs a bodyguard. He himself acquires Major Armstrong as a sort of assistant, as he tells Roy. The gentle giant seems grateful for the assignment; in a way, Maes supposes, Armstrong feels almost safe now.

It might be said that it's part of his own contribution to Roy's work. Armstrong may not be under Maes, exactly, but Maes will still protect him as much as he can.

Of course, the major time sink of the months following the war is wedding plans. Gracia handles most of the details, but he hears all about them over dinner every night. It's an endless parade of flowers, music, ribbons, dates, times, fittings, food, cake, and to be honest he suspects his eyes start to glaze over after a while. He cares about his wedding, of course, but the main attraction to him is that he's marrying his dream girl and all eyes will be on her. This is really her day, and he wants it to be about her and how special she is.

She issues one injunction for him and Roy, who is the best man; they are to wear tuxedos, not their uniforms. It's not unheard of for military personnel to wear uniforms to such functions, but Gracia vetos the very idea. The military wedding guests will be encouraged to wear civilian clothes too. He's not sure why she's so vehement about this, unless it's her own tiny rebellion against the war that separated them for far too long, but he doesn't mind. Her wedding, her rules, no arguments.

"So Roy is bringing this Riza I've heard so much about?" she asks him over lunch, as they wait to meet the train from the east.

"Oh, sure. I don't think they go anywhere without each other if they can help it; besides, she's a guest in her own right."

"I'm really looking forward to meeting her."

"I think you'll like her. I know she'll like you, because I don't know anyone who couldn't like you," he adds with his most charming grin, and she laughs. "But I do think you'll get along."

"So you think she's the reason Roy never settled down while you were at the academy?"

"That's my theory. Remember how twitchy he was at graduation, how he kept looking around like someone was missing?"

"Well, sort of. My memory of your graduation ceremony got a bit displaced," she teased, "since that was the same day you proposed. But I think I do know what you mean, he seemed a bit twitchy."

"Right. I think she was supposed to be there, and for whatever reason, she didn't make it. You should have seen the look on his face when we found her in the war." Maes shook his head. "It half destroyed him."

"He really loves her."

"They go back even farther than he and I do, and he told me I'm the first friend he ever had. Which means she isn't a friend," Maes notes shrewdly. "Yes, he does."

They meet the train, and as Roy and Riza step onto the platform, Maes impulsively sweeps them both into a bear hug. He has missed them more than he's been willing to admit, even to himself. He introduces the women, noting as he does that Riza seems a bit healthier than the last time he saw her. She shakes Gracia's hand, a little overly formal but nevertheless friendly. They are both quiet girls, and perhaps slightly timid; even so, it doesn't take them long to warm up to each other at all.

"So tell me all about what you have planned for the wedding," Riza says as she falls in step beside Gracia.

Roy chuckles. "Yeah. I want to hear about this fancy tuna you've got planned for the main course at the reception."

Maes snorts, and lets the women get a few paces ahead of them before he slings an arm around Roy's shoulders. "'d it go with the tags?" he asks casually.

"According to plan." Roy doesn't want to smile, he can tell, but there's a content sort of glint in his eyes.

"You know, you need to get yourself a wife like I'm doing. Maybe Gracia could aim the bouquet -"

"Stop it right there, Hughes. Even setting aside any other possible objection, it's against the law."

Maes grins. "Just promise me," he says, watching the women chat, "that someday - maybe not this year or the next, but someday - you'll be in my position."

Roy seems to mull that over, his gaze lingering on the back of the golden head.

"Sure, Hughes," he says finally. "Someday."