To Demand the Finer Things in Life
The sirens were howling through the streets. The city was still alight with burning buildings. It would take hours to stomp them all out. From his newly instated office Roy Mustang surveyed the aftershocks of the invasion from Beyond the Gate. It was dark in the room. The smoldering city provided the only light. Despite the destruction, the foreign invaders had been repelled– sent back through the Gateway. And the Elric brothers along with them. Still, it was their choice. Mustang raised his hand to the eyepatch on his face. And we all have to live with our choices, he thought hollowly into the silence of his office and the dulled shouting of the fire fighters outside.
There was nothing he could do at this stage. His talent lay in starting fires. Not dousing them.
"Well don't you look pensive," a man's voice resounded almost teasingly through the darkness.
Mustang turned on his heels, arm raised and fingers poised to snap. A dark silhouette stood in the corner of the room. "So, did it really have to take blowing up the Capital for you to come back?" A man made in Maes Hughes's image stepped out of the shadows and into the light of the fires. The same glasses. The same black mass of unkempt hair. The same obstinate curl that could never be combed into place. He wore a black trench coat, probably pulled from one of the military closets. He resembled Hughes in every aspect save one– the Ouroboros tattoo gleaming crimson on the back of his left hand.
"You…" Mustang whispered, eye going wide. "Are you…?"
"I looked a little different the last time you saw me. I was a little more, well, inhuman? I don't know how long I… scuttled around… after you and Lieutenant Hawkeye left the mansion. But hey, I eventually had a growth spirt." With a flourish the Homunculus demonstratively turned on the spot before looking back to Mustang. There was silence between them. "Well, say something, won't you?" he finally said in Maes's voice. "You did create- you did save me after all."
Two years before, after assassinating Führer King Bradley, whose true identity had been the Homunculus Pride, Roy Mustang had resigned his post as a State Alchemist. He had left Central and taken up a position in the frigid North. He had turned his back on everything he ever wanted– power, influence, Riza Hawkeye, the position of Führer. Everything. It was almost fitting that as Maes Hughes had put him on this path to leadership, so too Maes Hughes took him off of it. No… it wasn't Hughes's fault that Mustang had done what he had done. The fault for that lay with the alchemist and the alchemist alone, when he chose to defy the taboo.
He could remember it as it was yesterday. He had been shot by Frank Archer. On the night that Mustang killed King Bradley he tried to resurrect Maes Hughes.
"General! General!? Damnit, Roy Mustang, talk to me!" Hawkeye's sobs broke upon Mustang's failing mind. They shattered any hope he had of quietly dying into the night. He was delirious. The Homunculus threat was neutralized. Riza was bearing over him, begging him to pull through, to live. His own bloodied sleeve and hands came into focus first. In that moment Mustang remembered the agonized musings he had made at Maes Hughes's grave, about how the confrontation of death was enough for any alchemist to stray, at least in thought, into the forbidden territory of god's work. He heaved himself up onto his elbows. Little Selim Bradley was dead, his neck broken by his own Homunculus father, lay mere feet from him. Frank Archer lay on the walkway, half metal.
Mustang drew the transmutation circle in his own blood. His nails splintered as he dug them into the cobblestones, etching out the details from memory. Despite whatever was said, the Human Transmutation Circle was one that every alchemist who suffered loss knew by heart.
Hawkeye's screams echoed deafeningly in his ears, bidding him to stop as he dragged the two bodies to the center of the transmutation circle, even now as he bled out from the bullet holes Archer had pumped him full of. He couldn't stop. A boy and half a man. Just enough components for the average human adult. He would never have all of the ingredients in one place again. He would never have the courage again.
Or perhaps it was the cowardice. The cowardice of going on a single year- a single day more without Maes. With a sickening squelch, Mustang clapped his hands together, the night became illuminated with a blinding light from the circle, and he and payed the price for playing god.
An inhuman scream ripped through the evening air.
Mustang later told people that he'd lost his eye to Archer's rampage when the man opened fire on him in front of the Bradley Manor. What Mustang didn't say… what no one knew except for Hawkeye and the Rockbells… was that it was not merely the eye that he'd lost. It was his right leg as well. Not as Fullmetal had lost a leg. Not to the knee.
To the hip.
Riza had kept it secret and whisked him out of the Capital to the Rockbells automail shop in Resembool. To think… after all that he had done to that family… after what he had taken from them… Winry did not even ask what had happened when Hawkeye appeared on the Rockbell doorway with a bloody and dismembered man. Winry did not even filch. She had, after all, seen this very sight once before.
Mustang had not simply left Central because of Edward Elric. He left because no one could know of what he had done or what he had bartered. Selim Bradly was said to have been lost in the burning mansion. Archer was declared MIA. Mustang left so that no one could see his recovery. The glacial tundra had been a bonus in ways of penance for his crimes against nature. He told himself that he had resigned because he wanted to hide the physical proof of what he had done. That was not true. It was not the physical proof that needed hiding. How could he ever aim for the position of Führer, occupied these many years by a Homunculus, when he himself had created a Homunculus? How could he look the Lieutenant in the eye when she had seen what he had done in his half-mad state? He could still remember the look in her eyes when she had seen the creature at the center of that Circle. Mustang's jaw tightened. Perhaps coming back to Central had been a mistake after all.
As for the thingthat he had created from the bodies of the fallen… It had been a mangled abomination.
"How did you grow into…this?" Mustang rasped.
The man shifted, almost as though uncomfortable with Mustang's severity. "After scurrying around in darkness on my misshapen limbs for longer than I could say, a kid named Wrath found me. He fed me Red Stones… until I was a real person. Not… whatever it was you created."
"But you're not a real person," Mustang whispered brokenly. There was silence between them. The sirens howled outside the window.
"He called me Greed," the man said matter-of-factly, as though hiding behind the terseness. It seemed like such a human quality. "Said I was the new Greed," he walked up to the window next to Mustang and looked out at the city recovering from the damage. "…I am Greed." He turned and locked eyes with Mustang. Those same piercing green eyes that Maes Hughes had. "I want money and women, power and sex, status, glory. I demand the finer things in life!" His voice escalated in pitch.
Mustang's lip curled. This wasn't Hughes after all. His stomach dropped. He had been a fool to think–
"But more than any of that I am greedy for something else," the man whispered. "…I want my family back. I want the most incredible daughter in the world and the most kind and fantastic woman." He stared at Mustang, gaze unwavering. "I want my best friend back. The best man I have ever met."
Mustang's heart rose into his mouth. He could not get it unstuck. He swallowed around the knot in his throat, entirely lost for words. When he found his voice again all he could whisper was, "You can't have them. You're dead."
Greed scoffed in derision. "That didn't stop you when you tried to bring me back though, did it?"
"I was delirious! I was stupid!"
"And I was stupid for dying!" Greed slammed his fist into the wall. The wall cracked. He had re-arrange the configuration of carbon atoms of his body, allowing him to convert his skin into Graphene. "Do you know what this is?! This is the Ultimate Shield. I am the Ultimate Shield. And I want to protect my family. I crave it! Have always craved it. And now I can. And no bullet is ever going to take me away from them again."
Even the fervor was that of Maes. Mustang swallowed. He looked back out the window. The fires were beginning to die down. The sirens were quieting.
"And how would you explain your return?" he said, unwittingly entertaining the idea.
Greed raised an eyebrow. "Oh, come on…. There are monsters falling out of the sky and we almost had an apocalypse just now. …I think I can spin my 'not being dead' in a positive light."
They stood staring out at the bedlam bellow, listening to the shouts of authorities and the occasional outcries of civilians. The fire glow played across their faces.
"Tish," Mustang looked over at Greed, to see the Homunculus holding a photograph of Gracia and Elicia Hughes. Any supposed lull that Mustang had begun to allow himself to fall into, any calm that he had begun to feel, was instantaneously shattered.
He snapped his fingers.
Greed let out a yelp as he brought the photograph to his chest, his Ultimate Shield rising to protect body and picture from the sudden burst of fire within the office. "Hey! They hell was that for!? You know I actually liked this coat! Look what you did! There is a giant hole in it now. And it stinks of burning!"
"–Where did you get that photograph?"
Greed looked at him sheepishly before looking back to the photograph. He was smoldering on the fringes. His fingers scratched audibly along his five o'clock shadow. Maes had always been very proud of his stubble, claiming that it made him look like a 'super cool dad.' Mustang had always been quick to remind him that it really just made him look like a slob.
"…I kind of stole it." Greed averted his eyes, flapping the photograph back and forth for a moment as though not sure what to do with it. "And yes! I know that sounds creepy as hell!" he blurted out, stuffing the photograph back inside his singed coat. "But… please… I need your help. Wrath is dead." Something flashed in those green eyes. "He was a good kid and I tried to take care of him and it wasn't enough. He missed his mom too much."
Mustang's forehead creased. He could not pretend to understand.
Greed continued "And I… I want this."
Mustang stared at him, weighing the safety and happiness of his best friend's family in those moments.
Führer King Bradley placed both his hands on his son's narrow shoulders. Selim had run into the burning room in the middle of the struggle to make certain his father was safe. Mustang rasped, "So what now? You said people are foolish so how do you explain loving him?" He was pinned to the wall by Bradley's sword like some insect in a display case.
Bradley looked ill. Mustang watched as the man whom fire had not scorched now looked as though he had aged a decade on the spot. "What have you done, you idiot?" he snarled at the ten year old child. The boy had unwittingly carried Pride's one weakness into the room. Homunculi were brought into the world as failed human transmutations. They were near immortal beings. Failed mortals. And their weakness lay in their original bodies. The skull of the man in whose image Pride was made was Pride's undoing.
But not before Pride snapped Selim's neck for what the boy had done. Mustang watched helpless as the child whimpered, "Father… stop!..." He could still remember the crack that resounded through the room, and the sickening crunch as Pride threw his son's little broken body against the wall.
Little Elicia Hughes would be turning five this year.
"No," Mustang said. "I cannot help you. Do you know the components from which you were made, Homunculus? One was a deranged madman and the other was a child, murdered before my eyes by his own father. A Homunculus. Just like you. And if you ever so much as touch the Hughes family, I will hunt you down and kill you."
"…Well then," Greed whispered. "Why don't I just make it that much easier for you." Jerkily he reached into his coat pocket and pulled from it a small box. It seemed to make him sick to touch it. He teetered, but regained his resolve and tossed it across the room.
Mustang caught it deftly. "What's this?"
"The ring finger of Maes Hughes, fresh from the grave."
A shiver racked up and down Mustang's spine. His eyes went wide as he stared at the box. He slammed it down on the window sill and took a step away from it. Both men stared at the innocuous looking case.
Greed continued. "With that thing in the room you could kill me right now. No questions asked, and no one would have seen me. Hell, I almost killed myself scraping through that graveyard, every shovel-full of earth bringing me closer to my old body. …If you think Gracia and Elicia will be better off that way, then fine. I haven't seen them in three god forsaken years. At the end of the day, what do I know? I just want one thing and that one thing is for them to be safe and happy." Greed shuddered, no longer having to hide the affect that the box was having on him. "That is what I want. And you are going to help me get it, whatever fate that leads me to."
"That's all, huh?" Mustang finally whispered. "And what about money and women, power and sex, status, glory? What about demanding the finer thing in life?"
Greed laughed weakly. "Yeah. Money enough for a family of three, actually. Women, well, woman. Power… to push you to the top. Sex I am not talking to you about, that's for sure. Status? I'm a Brigadier General now and you're an enlisted man so clearly I haven't done so badly for being dead when we're comparing. And Glory…" Greed shrugged. "I mean, I've already died in the line of duty. I could do with the glory of coming home alive now. But that's your call."
Mustang looked from the Homunculus to the box he had brought him. "You'll never be human, you know?"
"I know. Needing to age like a human thing will be difficult. But Wrath told me Pride was able to figure it out. And with luck I will have the research access of a reinstated State Alchemist on my side." He gave Mustang a weak smile. "But being Greed means I'll always be wanting something, like being human. And wanting things you can't always have is pretty much an intrinsic part of being a father. You make sacrifices for the bigger picture." He spoke as one who knew all too well.
"If I ever feel that you are diverging from your path I will use what is in this box against you."
Greed smiled. "Good. What was it you told Hawkeye? That as she was the person who watched your back she was also the one who could put a bullet in if you ever became untrue to yourself?" He gave Mustang a salute. "As you know all too well, there's no one I'd rather have watching my back than you. And as far as staying from my path… I will put myself in my grave and stretch out alongside my own bones before I ever bring harm on the ones I love."
Mustang's jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed. He returned the salute.
Mustang and Greed stood outside the fence of the Hughes residence. The lights of the fires had finally gone out. The lights of the windows now pooled down onto the street and onto the two men looking up at the house. Greed fidgeted.
"What's your problem?" Mustang asked, taking a step up to the gate.
"Hehe," Greed looked up at the quaint yellow home with the two chimneys. "You know… it's one thing to crave something for the whole of your existence and it's a totally different thing to be presented with it." Mustang opened the gate. It creaked. Greed stopped short of the property. He was looking down at his feet. "I want them so much," he whispered with such a familiar vulnerable tone that it made Mustang stope in his tracks. "So much that it aches at everything inside of me. But what if they don't want me? What if they've moved on? What if…"
Mustang had no words of comfort for him. How could he when he himself did not know whether or not he would ever fully accept this Homunculus? When he himself did not know if this was the man he had attempted to bring back? He continued down the path.
"I meant to ask you," Greed called after him, "what did you do for DNA?"
Mustang turned. "What?"
"To attempt the human transmutation?"
Mustang bristled. "Keep your voice down," he hissed.
"When trying to restore a relative it would be enough to use your own blood. I've been doing my studying for the last two years since you brought me back. But you and I… we weren't related. In that case you would have needed–"
"–It was one of Elicia's hairs." Mustang stared resolutely past Greed. "Lieutenant Hawkeye and I… we came here the night that I took down Bradley. Elicia hugged me before I left. Her hair… it's got more red in it than the Lieutenant's. I saw it on my sleeve when I came round after Archer shot me. It was what gave me the idea."
"I see." Greed came up alongside him.
They were at the front door. It was a red door. Maes had painted it. It took an age for Greed to knock. Mustang stood quietly a few steps behind him. Finally Greed took a deep breath and wrapped on the door with his knuckles three times.
Five year old strawberry blond Elicia Hughes answered it. The excited smile on her face at having new visitors vanished. Her eyes, the same shade of piecing green as her father's, trailed up to look the man in the face. They slowly widened with recognition, then with comprehension, and finally with realization. In those eyes Mustang saw the answer to all of his doubts and misgivings. He had seen too much and understood too little to allow himself to give into hope.
But there was no mistaking the truth in that little girl's eyes – her father was home.
She threw herself onto him with a cry of inexpressible joy. With a resounding 'umph' and a thump Maes Hughes hit the ground. Gracia came running to the door to see whom her daughter had assaulted. She halted in the doorway, hand clasped over her mouth. Gracia was crying into her hand. Elicia was crying into Maes's burnt shirt. Gracia was scrambling to the ground beside her daughter and husband. She was pulling him up from the cobbled walkway and kissing him. He was cradling Elicia to his chest like the most precious little bird. He was weaving his hand through his wife's hair, not giving a damn whether or not they saw the Ouroboros tattoo emblazoned there. He was crying, sobbing how beautiful Gracia was and how much Elicia had grown. The tears just wouldn't stop. They were spraying his glasses, muddling his sight.
He was Greed. And he wanted everything. He had everything now. Maes Hughes had absolutely everything worth having in this world. He was the perhaps the only man on earth who had so much he could keep Greed itself satisfied.
Roy Mustang turned on his heels to leave. He was almost at the gate when Gracia called after him. "How?" The quiet little question resonated volumes through the front yard.
He looked back and made eye contact with the man on the ground, surrounded by his family. Mustang smiled. "It's a long story. For now, I suggest you all take the time to catch up." He touched his fingers to his hat in a salute to Gracia. "Oh, and Hughes?" he said, addressing a man he thought he would never see again. Maes looked up at him, glasses askew, green eyes glistening, completely dazed. "I expect you at Central Command bright and early on Monday. We're going to need all hands on deck after this invasion. You've slacked off long enough!"
"Slacked off?! I was dead, Roy!" Maes whimpered. Roy was no longer listening but was walking away, the smile only growing. The gate creaked as he shut it behind him. "You really are a slave driver, you know that! A Cyclopes! Hahaha! Elicia, stop tickling daddy!"
The city was in ruins. The Elric brothers were gone for good. Maes Hughes was alive. Perhaps the apocalypse really had happened. Roy Mustang got back into his car. One thing was for certain: he wasn't going back to that frozen wasteland. Hughes still wanted him to go to the top? Well, he certainly had his work cut out for him. Mustang had slipped a few notches down the ladder in the man's absence. They were going to the top together, as they'd always planned.
Oh god. Roy's shoulders slumped as he drove through the city. Maes has missed three whole years of Elicia, and the kid's had a growth-spirt in the meantime. Forget photographs. The man is going to start replacing government reports in the office with family albums to catch up. Roy felt around for the little box in the pocket of this coat. …How twisted would it make me if I just casually put this on my desk every time he came into the office?
Roy Mustang could no longer help himself. He burst out laughing, tears streaming from his eyes. He cried as he had not cried since that funeral when it had rained and he had been useless. But he was not useless now. He would never be useless again. Maes Hughes was alive once more.
Author's Note: I was surprised to see that there are no fanfictions about Maes Hughes's survival that function within either the Brotherhood/manga canon or within that of the 2003verse. My story, Maes Hughes: In Memoriam, charts the events that led to his survival in Brotherhood. This is my one-shot that resurrects him in the 2003verse. Brotherhood has the more complicated plot, so it allows me to prevent his death. The 2003verse has the more complicated character developments, like the connections between Homunculi and human transmutation, so it allowed me to bring him back.
It has been quite an exciting notion to write out: that Maes Hughes becomes the new Greed. Greed is always the most sympathetic of the Homunculi, regardless of which Fullmetal Alchemist universe one prefers. So this seems fitting. (Greed!Maes and Gracia will be incredible together.)
I will explain in my Author's Note after Maes Hughes: In Memoriam why I feel that his was a poorly written and badly handled death. While the aftereffects were treated with some sensitivity in Brotherhood, they were written abysmally in the 2003verse, only having Edward and Alphonse learn of his murder less than ten episodes before the conclusion of the series.
This is my response to his death and its aftereffects (or lack thereof). Let me know what you think. Did I manage to stay completely within the canon? I hope so. Please review & critique.