Title: Roughing It (Epilogue)
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: Mild PG for some fantasy violence.
Disclaimer: If you know them, they belong to Hiromu Arakawa. Only the villains of the piece are mine.
"Ranold has made a full confession to the museum heist and kidnapping us. He claims he didn't kill any of the guards himself, and the evidence seems to bear that out, so he could make a deal to testify against the others in exchange for a life sentence. I'd say he's the only one with any chance of saving his neck, though. The lab is working on matching up the guards' wounds with the rest of the gang's weapons, but we already know they practically put their signatures on each murder."
It was late afternoon on the day that followed the kidnappers' defeat. The Hughes family, Mustang, and the Elric brothers were back in Central, after an exhausting night and morning of being examined by medics and giving statements about their ordeal. Having to repeat the whole story several times over felt more like a punishment than a comfort, and it gave Hughes a new sympathy for the victims of crime he had questioned in his career.
When the authorities finally let them go, Maes had taken his wife and daughter home, and stayed there for much of the day to hold them close: letting Gracia cry on his shoulder, doing his best to answer Elicia's endless innocent questions. However, he was incorrigibly an investigator, and he wanted to know what was being learned from and about the men whose crimes had become so very personal. Although he was barred from further work on the case due to his obvious personal bias, his subordinates and colleagues were more than willing to update him when he showed up at Central Command.
He wasn't surprised to find Roy there as well. After all, the Colonel was still only visiting from East City, and had noplace else to be at the time. Now Maes was lounging on a backwards chair in Roy's temporary office, relaying the latest reports to his friend.
"What about the other antiquities that were stolen?" Roy asked.
"A few pieces of jewelry were found at the cabin. Maybe Cale was saving them as gifts for Mareen. Ranold gave up the names of the fences the rest were sold to, and they're being traced now. We may not recover everything intact, but we have a good shot at getting most of it, anyway." Maes shrugged ruefully. "I'd like to think the men who died protecting those small pieces of history would be satisfied."
"All the same... I wonder if that was really worth the ordeal your family has been through."
"You're starting to sound like Ed." A thin smile crossed Maes' lips. "Elicia isn't old enough to really understand what happened. It gave her a scare, but once we were safe at home, she perked right up. After a while, I don't think she's going to remember much of it. And Gracia... She's strong, Roy. Looking back on it, she told me she's glad we were there - at the right place and time to save the artifacts and take Cale's gang off the street, so they'll never hurt anyone else."
The Colonel narrowed his dark eyes slightly, studying his friend. "And you?"
Maes chuckled, but the sound was entirely without humor. "I'll admit it. If they offered me a chance to pull the trigger when Grund is executed, I'd have to think about it a few minutes... but in the end, I would say no. You know that."
"Yes." Roy's expression lightened a little. "I do."
With the conclusion of that exchange, Maes almost tangibly felt a page had been turned, and he was not ungrateful for it. He shrugged and stretched, shifting his legs in readiness to stand up, but not rising just yet.
"So where are Ed and Al? Gracia never got a chance to thank them, so she was hoping I could bring them home for dinner."
"As far as I know, they're resting in their dorm in the barracks." Roy frowned. "I'm not sure Ed is in much of a mood for company, but I'm sure he'd appreciate your stopping by to see about them."
Those were the words Roy said; but underneath them, very clearly, Maes heard a different message.
Take those boys home and let your family work their magic on them, Maes. It's exactly what they need right now.
Smiling crookedly, Maes nodded and pushed himself to his feet. "Will do, Roy. Get some rest yourself, will you?" He paused, and a glint of his familiar mischief flickered behind his glasses. "By the way, Gracia and I were talking earlier. We decided to plan another trip soon, just to make up for the way this one turned out. She really wants to visit Aquroya before it completely sinks, and I'll have some extra leave due next month, so we thought you and the boys..."
"Maes." Roy dropped his head into his hand. "...You are not taking me to a city surrounded by water - and especially not with the Elrics."
Chuckling, Maes waved a hand, and left the office.
A few minutes later, he was standing outside the Elrics' little-used quarters. He knocked on the door, and heard the distinctive sounds of metal on the other side. After a moment, Edward poked his head out, with Alphonse looming behind his shoulder.
Ed looked more weary than a boy his age ever should have. He was dressed in his familiar black clothes now, but without his coat and jacket, exposing faded bruises and a small bandage on his arm.
"Hey," Maes said gently, by way of greeting. "How's the wing?"
Rather indifferently, Ed glanced at the gauze and tape on his bicep. "Don't even feel it. Yours?"
"Oh, not bad. Just smarts a little." Maes placed his left hand over his own injured right forearm. Then he raised his eyes to Al's metal face, with a pained smile. "I guess getting hurt is one thing you don't miss."
Al ducked his helmet, somewhat pensively. "It would be worth it to have everything else back." Then, before the abruptly guilt-twinged Maes could apologize, he asked quickly: "Are Mrs. Hughes and Elicia doing okay?"
"Thanks to you two, they are." Maes smiled gratefully at both boys. "I can't tell you how much it means to me."
The older brother nodded. "I'm glad to hear that, Major. And I'm glad you came by for another reason, too. Wait a sec."
Ed slipped past Al, disappearing into their small room. When he returned and stepped out into the corridor, he was carrying a small notebook that Maes instantly recognized.
"I'm not sure why I didn't turn this over at the cabin. I never drew Mareen or Dex, so it's not like it would show they were there, but it just... didn't feel right." Ed stared down at the notebook for a moment, frowning. Then he held it out to Maes. "You can decide what to do with it. Go ahead and give it to Investigations, if you think it would help. I don't want it."
With an oddly reverent feeling, Maes accepted the book. He skimmed through its pages, smiling sadly at Ed's meticulous notes on the stolen artifacts, and his amusingly impolite caricatures of Cale's thugs.
"I don't think this would have any effect on the case, one way or the other. We've got a confession from Ranold, and a mountain of physical evidence. That'll be more than enough for the trial." Maes tucked the notebook under his arm. "Is it okay with you if I keep it?"
"You can do what you want with it." Ed sighed and folded his arms, a shadow crossing his expression. "I guess this means Al and I are gonna be stuck here in Central until we're called to testify... and then it'll be like Barry the Chopper's trial all over again. Having to sit there in court and face Cale's gang, as we retell the whole story of what they did - knowing our words will probably help send them to their deaths. I know they brought it on themselves with what they did to the museum guards, and they would have done the same to us, but..."
He grimaced suddenly, raising his eyes to the investigator's. "How do you do it, Hughes? How do you keep on fighting battles where winning feels like this?"
Maes was taken aback by the unexpected pain and searching in Ed's voice. For a moment, the brash young State Alchemist had become very much the boy he still was. Still more innocent than he wanted to admit; still missing some important answers that only time could teach him.
"There are no easy answers to that, Ed. All I can give you is the one that gets me through." Maes put his hand over his heart, and the pictures of Elicia and Gracia that perennially nested close to it, in his breast pocket. "I keep fighting because I remember who I'm fighting for."
Watching Ed's expression then was like seeing the break of dawn. The boy's eyes softened, and as he looked up at his beloved brother, a thin smile crept across his lips.
"There was something else I wanted to say." Maes' glance shifted gravely between the pair. "I just wanted you to know... you don't have to worry. About the truth, I mean." His eyes settled on Al. "Nobody's ever going to learn it from me."
The younger Elric's voice was quiet beneath its echo of steel. "We know that, sir."
"We always have." Ed shook his head somberly. "It was never about trusting you, Major. It's only... this is our burden. Not yours."
A deep ache squeezed Maes' heart. He felt a warmth rising behind his eyes, and blinked it away quickly, squaring his shoulders as he drew in a deep breath.
"Listen, fellas. If you're going to be in Central for the trial, why don't you stay with us for a while? It'd be a lot better than just waiting around here in the barracks. Gracia and Elicia would both love to have you... and so would I."
He expected to be turned down, met with the old brusque distance the boys and especially Ed had reserved in the past; but it never came. Ed's own eyes took on a faint shine. He exchanged a quick, affirming glance with his brother, and Maes had a curious feeling that somewhere within the armor, Al was trying to smile.
"Well..." Ed shoved his hands into his pockets and looked up at Maes, his cheeks slightly flushed in an expression that showed many things: awkward earnestness, hesitation, a trace of hope. "How do you think Gracia would handle the truth about Al?"
The soft, unexpected question spread a deep warm feeling through Maes, melting the lump that was caught in his throat. He gave the brothers a broad smile, interjecting himself between them to drape one arm over Ed's shoulders, and the other around Al's waist.
"She'll take it just fine. After all - she is the most wonderful woman in the world."
F I N I S
© 2012 Jordanna Morgan