TitleFresh Start

Author – D M Evans

Characters/Pairing – Gracia, Roy, a smattering of minor characters and OC's

Summary: Gracia needs a new beginning

Notes: This was written for the 2012 fma_ladyfest for Catw00man And the prompt was 'Gracia Hughes. We've all seen her as the perfectly sweet most understanding and forgiving woman ever. I want to know who she really is. She's a single mom with so much dumped on her concerning her husband's death. Who is she really and how does she really feel raising Elysia alone.' I tried to work a smidge of another prompt into this as well. Thanks to evil_little_dog for the beta.

XXX

Gracia could carve a life for herself and her child without her husband

Surfacing from her nightmare, Gracia reached for Maes with a shaking hand, her fingers brushing nothing but cool bedding. He was gone. He lived only in her worst nightmares. Too many nights, she dreamed of his death. Even though she hadn't witnessed it, had only the barest report of it from the military as it closed ranks, she still pictured it clearly when she dreamed. Maes died to the sound track of his daughter's sobs at the funeral.

Forcing herself out of bed, Gracia went to the bathroom then down to her daughter's room. Elysia slept peacefully, but Gracia had trouble standing there just watching her little girl sleep. That was something Maes had liked to do, and his ghost felt too close to her at times like this. Instead, after she assured herself Elysia hadn't been disturbed by any nightmare-induced screams, Gracia went back to her own bed and turned on the light. The nightmare still rode her. Darkness wasn't an option.

She must have dozed off sometime before dawn, the alarm startling her awake. Her bed stand lamp still glared, so she turned it off and started another day. For Gracia, the hardest parts were just as she was going to bed, actually getting some sleep, and getting ready for another day. Her mind was just free enough to think about Maes, to mull over what had been ripped away from her, just enough time to be angry and sad all at once.

Once she got breakfast started and Elysia out of bed, some of that faded as everyday life took over her thoughts. Gracia hurried through her morning ablutions with that in mind. When her hands and mind were busied with some project, the pain would fade a little. She went down the hall and put her hand on her daughter's tousled hair.

"Time to get up, sleepy head." Gracia tried to be as perky as she could muster for her child. Elysia missed Maes every bit as much as Gracia and had less skill in hiding it. Rubbing her eyes, Elysia kicked her feet under the covers before finally sitting up. Gracia monitored her on the potty before chivvying her down to the kitchen table. Colored pencils and paper kept Elysia company while Gracia fried up some eggs and bacon for them. It was a special day, her first full day at her new job, and even though eggs and bacon were a bit dear, it was worth it for this tiny celebration.

She had, of course, death benefits from the military's widows and orphans fund. Maybe even more than she deserved, since her husband had been promoted two ranks in death. At first, Gracia had thought Roy was behind that, trying to make up for Maes's death, but he had been befuddled by it, as well. Seeing how little those benefits were even at that rank, Gracia decided she had no room to complain. It was enough to pay the bills and keep the house, but only just, and once Elysia was older, some of those benefits would be cut. Of course, the military hoped a young woman like herself would remarry and spare them the cost of keeping her long-term.

At the moment, she couldn't even consider looking at another man. It was far too soon. It was also too painful to just sit around the empty house all day with Elysia. She'd done that now for weeks and it hardened her heart and darkened her soul just a little. Gracia needed a life beyond the walls of the home she had meant to live in for a long time with the man she loved. Fate denied her that, the bitch. Gracia found just what she needed: a job. Roy had suggested the place, said he saw a help wanted sign in the window. Being that it was a florist shop, and Maes had told her about Roy's reputation for sending flowers to all sorts of girls. Gracia suspected Roy had something to do with that help wanted sign going up. She wasn't going to protest. She was too proud to take the money he offered her, but did allow him to make a generous donation to Elysia's future funds on the girl's birthday.

Gracia knew he felt Maes's death was his fault. Oddly enough, the Elric brothers seemed to believe it was theirs. No one seemed to think that it was the fault of the person who pulled the trigger. What she did know was Maes wouldn't want any of them blaming themselves, but Gracia suspected he knew they would should anything happen to him. Gracia knew he'd blame himself if it had been Roy who died.

It didn't matter whose fault it was. It wouldn't change anything if she assigned blame. Gracia knew that Maes could die young when she married him. He'd been in one war and she counted herself lucky he'd survived that. Her parents made sure she knew in no uncertain terms that she'd end up a penniless widow if she were so foolish as to marry a military man. They had opposed the wedding, barely even knew their granddaughter, and she would be damned if she went home, hat in hand until all other options were exhausted.

The job was just what she needed. It would get her out of the house, give her the extra money and relieve her of the worries of having to return home to a bunch of 'I told you sos.' That firmly in mind, Gracia tried to calm the jitters in her stomach. She hadn't worked in so long. She got dressed, dropped Elysia off at Mary Thurman's since Mary had agreed to watch Elysia – Mary's daughter and Elysia got on well – and then headed for the shop.

Any number of things ran through her mind as she made the not-so-long walk to the shop. Was her make-up on too thick? Would Sabella Douglas, her new boss, be upset that she wore flats with her dress? What if customers hated her? Gracia tried to shove the negativity from her mind. This would go well. The brilliant colors and heady sweet scent of the shop washed her gloom away the moment she walked through the door. This would work. Gracia could carve a life for herself and her child without her husband.

Spotting a middle aged woman, who had to have been stunning when she was younger given how lovely she still was even with a few wrinkles around her eyes, Gracia went over to her. "Hello, I'm looking for Sabella Douglas."

The redhead shoved her bangs back, smiling. "You found her. You must be Gracia. Maribeth said she hired you. Sorry I wasn't here to do the interviews, but I had something to attend to in the south and I trust Maribeth's choices. So, what do you know about flowers?"

"Honestly, not much." Gracia flushed. "But I can learn."

"Good, let's get started."

Overwhelmed and already smelling like roses, Gracia thought she had a handle on the basics by midday. There was more art to it than she ever really thought about, especially when it came to weddings and funerals. She wouldn't be soloing on making those arrangements any time soon. Sabella and Maribeth, both of whom she took an instant liking to, were patient and helpful.

She manned the counter while her coworkers were in the back working on a wedding arrangement. Gracia kept busy with the phone calls and a few hapless-looking men wandering in to look for something for their lovers. It made her think of the times that Maes would bring her flowers, but it wasn't a painful memory. In the down time, she repriced pre-made bouquets that were beginning to wilt.

Hearing the door bell jingle, Gracia looked up and saw a young woman heading her way. She noticed the time was getting near to closing and her customer was dressed for a night out. Gracia didn't think she personally owned a dress as glamorous as the purple sheath dress this woman wore. Rhinestones glittered as she walked. Gracia smiled at her. "Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for an arrangement for a friend in Central Hospital, something bright and cheery." The woman's nose wrinkled. "She caught pneumonia. Who does that in the summer?"

"I'm sorry to hear that. What price range would you like to start with?" Gracia asked.

The woman, Madeline, talked a lot as they went over some relatively inexpensive daisy arrangements in bright vases and pots before Madeline decided on one of the cheaper ones that in Gracia's opinion didn't look cheap: a vivid yellow pitcher jammed full of daisies. Madeline went off happy with her purchase, seemingly pleased that Gracia was having a good first day. She wasn't even sure how that came up but Madeline had been easy to talk to.

At the end of the long day, her feet unused to so much standing, Gracia limped home. Elysia all but flew out of Mary's house when she saw her mother coming up the walk. She clung to Gracia as Mary told her mother how good she had been all day. Gracia thanked her and steered her daughter home. It had been a long, but productive, day.

XXX

"If your sitter can't watch Elysia, you can bring her here. There's not much she can get into in the office," Sabella said as Gracia reported for her third day.

Gracia tried not to sigh in relief. She had wondered what she'd do if something came up for Mary. She knew she couldn't have Elysia in the work room since there were too many scissors, wire and knives. "Thank you so much, Sabella. She won't be old enough for school for another two years."

"Not a problem. I know how hard it can be to try to raise a child on your own."

Gracia shot her a curious look, but Sabella offered up no more information, such as she had a child of her own.

"You can handle the counter. I have to finish up that wedding. I'll be in the work room if you need me," Sabella said.

"No problem."

Gracia got busy with putting single roses together with a sprig of baby's breath and greens, easy enough to do right at the counter with a little floral tape. She had several ready for the gentlemen who wanted to race in and back out again with a token something for their girls when she heard the bell jingling.

An older woman came in, her dark hair slicked back into a pony tail. When she got closer, Gracia could smell the tobacco over the scent of the roses. The jewelry around the woman's heavy neck looked like real pearls and gold. "May I help you?"

The woman smiled, fishing a silver cigarette case out of her purse, then seemed to think better of it, dropping it back into the purse's vast depths. "I'm Madame Christmas, the proprietress of the Pearl Gate, and I have a standing order for carnations for the tables. They've been red, but I was hoping we could change that to pink this month."

"Well, let me see." Gracia went to the office to look up the woman's file to see how many carnations they would need then grabbed the shipments they had of the flowers. "I think so. I'll double check with Sabella."

"You're new here," Christmas said.

"Yes, I'm Gracia."

"Nice to meet you."

"Thanks. I'll be right back." Gracia went to the work shop and showed the request to Sabella. "We should be able to handle changing this to pink, right?"

"Oh, the Madame sent her girl over early today," Sabella said. "Yes, that won't be a problem."

"I'll let her know and the madam came herself."

Sabella's expression brightened. "I'll go say hello."

She followed Gracia back out and while Gracia filled out the paperwork to change red carnations to pink, Sabella and Madam Christmas had a long conversation. She saw Christmas hand Sabella an envelope but decided that was none of her business. Once the madam was gone, the day lulled. Gracia wasn't too surprised. She suspected midday would always be rather slow. Most people were at work. She didn't mind. It allowed her to catch up on paperwork.

Gracia had to pause once or twice to help some people, two of which were looking for living arrangements for friends. Sabella didn't have any but did agree that it might be something to look in to, because it was not an usual request. She set Gracia to the task of talking to their greenhouses to find out how feasible it was, and what could be done easily. As she pursued it, Gracia felt more comfortable with her role in the florist shop. She felt like this might really be the place for her. It almost felt like Maes was smiling on her, and that might be silly, but it made her feel better. It was still hard to separate herself from her role as a military wife. Gracia didn't want to sever all ties to her past. She just wanted a viable future for herself and Elysia.

The next doorbell jingle brought a familiar face. Gracia tried not to frown, seeing Roy standing there, out of uniform. He was handsome as ever in his three piece suit of black, unbroken except for a slash of purple of his silk tie. Maes had one just like it, a gift from Roy. He always complained it only had one color. Her suddenly soured mood lightened a little at the memory of her husband going out on the town with his friend, and Roy moaning about Maes's abominable dress sense. Roy was right about that, but Gracia had liked Maes's whimsy.

"Roy, are you checking up on me?"

"I didn't realize you had looked into this job after I mentioned it," he protested and oddly, she didn't believe him. "No, I have a bouquet waiting for me."

Gracia wasn't sure if she was supposed to play along with that or not. Maes had told her – when she had complained about Roy's womanizing after hearing the rumors – that it was all a shield so he could be free to see someone forbidden, probably the lady soldier she had seen him with at the funeral. "I didn't see your name on the list. I'll go ask Sabella."

He put a hand on her arm as she turned to go. "Do you like it here?"

"Yes, it's a nice job. Thank you for suggesting it." She smiled at him. It did no good for her to be angry when she knew he only had her best interests in mind. "I do appreciate you looking out for me, Roy. We're going to be okay."

"I have no doubt of it, Gracia. I'm trying not to interfere too much," he replied softly, his dark eyes shifting away.

"You're doing just fine, Roy."

His gaze met hers and he smiled. "Thanks. If I don't at least try to look out for you every once in a while, Maes will haunt me. He said so more than once."

She laughed. "I can actually believe that."

"Gracia, can you put this in the front window for me," Sabella said, coming into the room with a large arrangement in an urn. "Oh, I didn't know you were here, Roy-boy."

"I distracted Gracia from coming to get you," He said as Gracia took the urn. "I'll talk to you later, Gracia. I'd like to take Elysia out to the park or something. Whatever you think she'd enjoy."

"You know our Roy, Gracia?" Sabella shot her a surprised look.

"He and my late husband were good friends, but we never got to see him enough when he was out East," she replied. "And give me a call, Roy. Elysia would love that."

"I will. I'll bring Hayate."

She gave him a curious look, but Roy didn't explain who or what Hayate was. While he waited on Sabella to bring the bouquet, Gracia climbed into the window display so she could display the urn to its maximum. She saw Roy's car outside parked along the curb. She also spotted the daisies in the yellow pitcher sitting on the front seat. What was he doing with the arrangement she'd made for Madeline the day before?

When she turned back to see Roy with the bouquet in hand, Gracia spotted a creamy white envelop mostly hidden along the paper wrapping. It wasn't possible to tell for sure, but it looked a lot like the one Madam Christmas has given Sabella. Whatever it was, it wasn't the little note cards they used. What was going on here? As he walked past her with a wave, Gracia followed him outside.

"Roy, wait."

He turned, the bouquet cradled against his chest. "Yes?"

"There's something stuck in your bouquet." She tried to reach for the envelope, but he pulled the bouquet away. "And you have an arrangement that was meant for a girl with pneumonia in your car."

He scowled, his eyes hardening in way that made her nervous. She'd never really seen him angry. Then he laughed. "Maes did say you were as sharp as he was. He wasn't wrong." Roy plucked the envelope out of the bouquet. "I wasn't entirely honest with you, Gracia. I did want you to get this job, not just because you wanted one, but because I knew Maes told me the truth about you. I thought you'd be able to help me."

Her brow knit. "Help you with what?"

"I can't talk about it here. Let's just say some of the infamous women I've slept around with own this shop, but Sabella and Maribeth are my sisters."

Gracia glanced back at the shop. "Sisters?"

"Adopted. I have lots of sisters. Maes and I both used them to keep tabs on everything in town. I was raised by an intelligence gatherer. I can't get into this on the street. If I send over a babysitter, can you come to the Pearl Gate?"

"The place Madam Christmas owns?"

Roy's eyebrows rose. "You've met the Madam?"

"She came for the flowers. Was she checking up on me, too? Who is she?"

"Probably she was. It doesn't matter that you were vetted by me. Christmas has to see for herself." Roy leaned close and whispered, "She's my dad's sister. She raised me but that's a secret."

Her breath caught and she felt her heart thunder. "What have you gotten me into, Roy Mustang?"

"A game, a very fun one, like the ones Maes used to enjoy." His expression sobered. "But safer, much safer. I wouldn't put you in harm's way."

"I know that." She offered up a faint smile. "Maes really would haunt you, then." The expression on his face suggested Maes already did.

"You can be assured of that."

"Call the babysitter, Roy. I want to know everything."

He kissed her cheek. "You can always say 'no' once you hear what we had in mind. It won't jeopardize your job."

"Good to know. Goodbye, Roy."

"I'll see you tonight."

As he got into his car, Gracia went back inside the shop to finish her shift. Sabella asked her no questions but from her appraising gaze, she might have guessed that something had transpired. So, Sabella and Maribeth were spies. Gracia thought about the records she had seen. A lot of military men used this shop and people did like to talk. She wasn't entirely sure what she was meant to do, but Gracia found her heart racing just a bit at the prospect of this so-called game. She thought Maes might be happy with this idea, or would have worried himself to death. Either way, for the first time since his death, Gracia found herself looking forward to something. That alone was worthwhile.