Words Never Said
"Well you're magic," he said / "But don't let it all go to your head / Cause I bet if you all had it all figured out / Then you'd never get out of bed…" 'Song for a Friend' Jason Mraz
The night air was balmy and heavy with moisture as it slipped in through the open window at the head of his desk. It brushed across his hand like the caress of a lover as he set the now empty glass down in the circle of light on the blotter. The only light in the study was from the lamp, illuminating the desk in brightness, but the opaque amber hood cast the rest of the room in deep gold-brown shadows.
He reached for a handful of journals stacked haphazardly on the end of the desk and slipped them into the box on the floor to join their companions. In the morning, those and the other crates scattered about the apartment would begin their journey to the Northern Territories.
It had taken Parliament until late June to finally decide just what they were going to do with him. He was suspected of assassinating the Fuerher, although the evidence was circumstantial since no body was ever found. However, he'd set the country free of the fascist grip it had been in for decades. They couldn't execute him for treason, but they certainly couldn't laud him either.
Then there were the charges that had been filed against his men. All of them had been acting on his orders, though, and that was what saved them. Barely. It took some serious convincing, but in the end, he had managed to get their records expunged... and sacrificed his own career in the process.
The best compromise was to bust him down to corporal and ship him off to an outpost in the northern wilderness, where Roy Mustang: The Flame Alchemist, Hero, Assassin, Tactician, Traitor, Leader, Bastard, would - hopefully - be forgotten about.
It was an equivalent trade.
He found the thin package, neatly wrapped in white butcher paper, under the last of the stack of journals he was packing up to ship to his new post up north. Buried deliberately; all but forgotten. He'd wanted to forget it was there. The shape, weight and Roy's name written in Maes Hughes' neat script was the only thing that hinted of what was inside.
It was less than a week after he'd been transferred back to Central –- in the middle of unpacking his journals - when he heard the soft rap on his door. He was shocked to find Gracia on the other side, but even more taken aback by how pale she was. He knew the death of her husband had been hard on her, but she'd always seemed so strong. It never occurred to Roy that it could break her quite like this. The shadows under her eyes were stark against her porcelain skin, puffy and red-rimmed; the blue-green that had once been full of life, were now flat. "Gracia?"
A tremulous smile twitched at the corner of her lips as she held out a package to Roy. "I was going through Maes' things and found this."
He hesitantly took it; knowing exactly what was under the white wrapping and not wanting it. "Gracia, why didn't you call me?" he asked as he opened the door wider. "You shouldn't be doing this alone."
She straightened and forced a small smile. It was a tiny flash of the old composure but it was a thin veneer. "You have enough on your plate right now, Roy."
You have to continue the investigation to find out who murdered my husband, hung silent in the air between them.
"Please come in," he said, as he stepped back.
She hesitated then shook her head abruptly. "I should be getting back." Then her lower lip started to tremble.
Alarmed, Roy reached out; afraid that she would crumble at the lightest touch, but worried that she would collapse in the street if he let her go. "Gracia, please… come in. Sit down for a minute."
Again she shook her head, unable to speak, then darted off, leaving Roy at his door staring after her.
He'd never opened the package, afraid of what he might find, still too raw to take the chance. Instead he'd laid it aside on his desk, planning to read it eventually, when the wounds weren't so fresh and he had plenty of scotch to numb the remaining pain. There was where it remained, as journals and alchemy texts gradually built up a stack on top of it.
He stared at it, a knot of anxiety twisting in his gut. There was only one reason for the package at all… it was Maes' final words to Roy; the unspoken 'tradition' among soldiers heading off to battle or doing dangerous work in general. They all made journals to be given to loved ones in the event of their death.
Knowing Maes Hughes and his propensity to poke his nose into the lives of the people he cared the most about, there were probably several of these journals squirreled away on a shelf in his study.
And if Roy opened it, it would mean that his friend was truly gone.
With a sigh, he spun on his heel and left the room. He returned a moment later, a second crystal tumbler in one hand and a bottle of his best scotch in the other. He fell into the chair and pulled the white-wrapped package to the center of his desk, then he cracked the seal on the bottle and poured two fingers worth of the amber liquid in each glass. One he slid away from him, as if for someone sitting just outside the pool of light. Then he lightly clinked the rim of his glass with the other and downed the scotch in one gulp.
As he poured himself another shot of courage, feeling the warmth of the first flooding through him, he said, "You always did have to get in the last word, didn't you?"
He could have sworn he heard a familiar chuckle in a rich baritone floating on the breeze that ruffled the curtain at that moment and as he glanced up, he was certain that he saw a flash of sharp green-gold eyes in the glass of the raised sash.
Chalking it up to feeling maudlin and the good scotch, he shook off the feeling that he wasn't alone in his study, and gulped the second glass of alcohol.
It wasn't until he'd finished the third that he screwed up the nerve to finally peel back the butcher-wrap surrounding the thin journal. It wasn't a mass-produced book that could be bought at any five-and-dime, Roy realized as he ran his fingers over the rich leather binding and across the gold-gilt lettering. It had been special ordered and was simply titled: The Journal of Maes Hughes. Roy wondered just when his friend had found it necessary to make the purchase.
Without opening it, he could tell not many of the pages had been written in. At least half were new and stiff, still clinging together as though they'd never been turned. Probably shoved onto a shelf in a closet after he married or when Elysia was born, he thought. There certainly wouldn't have been much time for him to be as verbose in script as he was in life after that.
When he finally opened the journal, it was as he'd suspected. The first entry was written the day after Maes had kicked his ass and shook him out of his suicidal desires. Roy rubbed his chin, still feeling the punch his friend had landed that afternoon, as fresh as if it had only just been five minutes ago.
Ironic that the very first page began with part of a poem that Maes had started back in their academy days. It was going to be 'epic', he'd told him. A story that would rival 'Gilgamesh', but based on real adventures. And dedicated, much to Roy's eternal embarrassment, to him.
"-Of all the souls who wander
Upon these mortal shores,
I knew I'd found my partner
When first my eyes met yours.
A Spirit of adventure,
A Will that would not bend,
A Soldier and a Poet,
My Captain, and my friend.-"
The man had always been an incurable romantic.
The other accounts were conversational, written in Maes' own voice; so painfully clear, Roy could almost hear him chiding over his shoulder. Words of advice, a random thought, teasing Roy about getting married, snippets of bad poetry and even worse limericks that could only have been written when the man was drunk.
"-There once was a harlot from Creata
Who was hawking her wares in the street-a
Working one day,
In a casual way,
She clapped up the whole Drachman Fleet-a-"
"-I don't know why you were so embarrassed. I thought it was clever, and our dates were quite amused, remember? I think the proprietor needed to grow a sense of humor. Ah well, the food was bland and the liquor was watered down anyway.-"
They were short, scattered and irregular notes; little pieces of a heart big enough to encompass the entire world. Roy blushed at the sensation that he was peering into places that were normally hidden. Things that had been unspoken between them, but known, were now given voice. It had made them somehow more solid and at the same time far more personal.
"-Don't question why they flock to you; just enjoy it. If you'd stop running when ever I get the camera out, I could show you what those women see... Then again, maybe not. You always were stubborn.-"
"-when you finally got it right. I'm not ashamed to admit the reflection of the flames in your eyes, the glow coloring your skin and your expression of such pride and pure joy took my breath away. I wish I'd had my camera then; the photograph would have been exquisite in black and white.
It was all too soon afterwards that you were called away to Ishbal, and the opportunity to capture that elegance and power was missed. It broke my heart to see loathing and guilt replace it whenever you used your alchemy after that.-"
"-You don't see what everyone else does because you're too damned busy trying to atone for things that you had no control over.-"
And interspersed throughout were additions to that epic:
"-This was the solemn promise
I found within your gaze;
And there was sealed the bargain
That ordered all my days.
Your hand upon the till,
We sailed the seas of Fate;
With you my stalwart Captain,
And I your staunch First Mate.
It was my greatest honor
To guard your kingdom's Keep;
I was the stern Enforcer,
Entrusted with your sleep.-"
"-You're more than my best friend, Roy; you're my brother and I love you like I could love no other man. I hope that one day you'll come to love yourself, too.-"
The entries had become shorter and less frequent as Mae's life as a husband and soon-to-be father took over, with one long, rambling entry about his impression of the Elrics soon after they'd arrived in Central the first time... and a comment that caused Roy to arch a brow when Maes compared him and Edward.
"-I predict the two of you will lock horns on a regular basis. He's as hard-headed and arrogant as you are.-"
"Like hell," Roy mumbled as he sucked down the last drop of scotch from his glass. "I was never that obnoxious."
He nearly choked at the first words on the next page.
"-I can hear your protest now, Roy, but you and Ed are very much alike. You'll see it someday, if you give yourself a chance.-"
The rest of the entry continued to ramble on about Maes' excitement as Elysia's birth date approached and Roy skimmed over most of it. For some reason, reading the man's words as he waxed eloquent about impending fatherhood made Roy uncomfortable. This was something he couldn't share and didn't feel he had the right to. It felt as intimate as if he'd been in the room the night Maes and Gracia had conceived.
When he turned the page again, he found a square of white wedged into the seam. Remember this, written across the center. He gingerly took it out and flipped it over in his hand. The photograph hit him in the chest. His throat went tight and his eyes stung…
…He never knew Maes had taken that shot.
"She's adorable, Maes, but I really don't think—"
"Come on," his friend said as he placed the squirming, cooing, bundle of pink into Roy's arms. "You haven't lived until you've held a baby."
Resigned, he held the infant stiffly away from his body and hoped that Maes would give in and take her back… soon. There was more than one reason Roy Mustang was in no hurry to get married –- one of them being, he had absolutely no desire to be a father, and no clue of what his role would be, in any case.
Almost immediately, Elysia's little face puckered and she started to whimper, making him panic. "Maes…" he begged as he tried to hand the baby back.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Roy. Not like that," Maes said, as he manipulated the other man's arms, then settled Elysia in closer to his chest.
She quieted as suddenly as she'd begun to complain once Roy was holding her right and after a moment he decided that this wasn't so torturous after all. He was surprised at how solid she felt, although he couldn't imagine why he'd expected her to be a ball of fluff. Her weight and the way she seemed to fit perfectly in the crook of his arm were soothing and the purring, curious sounds and the ever-shifting expressions on her face were mesmerizing. He soon found himself lost in the sensation of that tiny hand that was waving around and occasionally skating against his face; he didn't think he'd ever felt anything softer. He was becoming intoxicated by that warm smell and gave in to the urge to brush his cheek against hers. The rest of the world faded away as he cuddled his new niece. Then when she wrapped her tiny fingers around one of his and gripped so tightly, Roy was staggered.
He was a soldier who'd seen far too much of the dark side of life; had witnessed the incredible cruelty of humanity. He was also an alchemist and understood that living beings were little more than a combination of components which could be bought at any pharmacy.
Life was cheap.
There was, as all alchemists knew, a part of the equation that had yet to be discovered, though. The part that made each person individual and truly alive. That which was called the soul. It was never (almost never) said aloud, but in their arrogance, alchemists were certain, one day the missing ingredient would be discovered.
Holding Elysia in his arms, feeling her life pulsing through her, clearly seeing the entire process of chemical reaction, cell division, electrical charge, Roy became breathless at the realization that no one would ever be able to duplicate this in a lab. No alchemist, no matter how brilliant and talented, would ever be able to artificially set in motion everything that was necessary to create life.
The chemicals were cheap. What enabled them to know how to combine, when to divide, to change, to evolve; to become thought and deed and personality and soul... was a miracle and precious beyond measure.
This is what I'm fighting for, Roy thought.
He also thought perhaps he was finally getting a glimpse of what held his best friend in thrall about being a father…
...Until he heard a squishy-wet sound coming from the general area of Elysia's bottom.
His head shot up and he said, "Maes, your baby is… vibrating."
"Vib-?" Maes cast a confused glance at Elysia, who chose that moment to mewl loudly. "Ahh." He took her from Roy's arms and with a grin, said, "You want to change her?"
Maes had caught him on film when he was nose-to-nose with Elysia. The fingers of one tiny hand were tangled in his hair and the other was waving about –- no more than a blur. However, it was the expression in Roy's face that took him completely by surprise; serene, smiling… almost beatific. It was a rare moment of pure bliss.
"-Together as the years rolled by
We danced on Gaea's sward,
You had my back, unspoken
and yours was mine to ward-"
After that, each entry became increasingly darker; filled with coded suspicions and whispered warnings. Words that, in retrospect, told Roy Maes knew far more than he'd let on. A sick feeling in the pit of his stomach grew as he forced himself to read on, not wanting to reach the inevitable ending to this story, but unable to tear himself from the scrawling, blurring script.
A detailed description of the devastation in Lab Five flowed into a rather manic retelling of Elysia's fourth birthday, and Roy thought he might have missed a page somewhere. Scowling, he flipped the page back and forth, rubbing at it to see if perhaps two leaves of the paper had stuck together… but no. It was all one entry; scattered and incoherent in places, jumping from seeing Ed in the hospital and dragging Winry off to visit his family, to Elysia asking about 'Unca Roy', then hints about Ed's report from Lab Five and the clues that Maes was going to follow up…
Roy poured himself the last of the scotch as soon as he finished the entry. His hand shook, causing a few drops to splatter on the blotter and the journal. He let the burn of the alcohol down his throat brace him for what he feared he would read next, then he slowly turned the page.
A slip of paper fluttered in the light breeze and Roy smoothed it out. It was little more than a short list of things Maes was reminding himself to take care of the next day at work, absently left in the journal as though the man had other things on his mind: verify that a case file was ready, which was due in the Military Court in the next morning, follow up on another verdict in a past hearing, update his dependent benefits...
Roy swallowed, grimaced at the sick feeling growing in his stomach and crumpled the paper. He flung the list away from him, then ran a trembling hand down his face. Suspicion screamed at him, but he didn't want to acknowledge it. He wouldn't. He couldn't, because that would mean-
The final entry was only three lines long - dated the night Maes had been murdered - and made Roy tremble in rage.
"-If you're frightened of dying and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. If you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels freeing you from the Earth...
…I've made my peace, Roy.-"
"You bastard!" Roy cried as he lurched to his feet and pitched the journal across the room. The photo of Elysia and another slip of paper fluttered to the floor as the book slammed into the wall and fell, opened to the final page and that condemning line.
Roy grabbed his right glove and jerked it on with an anguished, wordless shout, fully intending to torch that damnable journal. He'd gone so far as to bring his fingers up, ready to snap, shaking from them pressed so tightly together...
...but his vision blurred.
"Goddamn you bastard," he sobbed as he sunk to his knees in the middle of the floor. "You knew. You knew and you did it anyway."
He brushed his gloved hand down his face, barely aware that it came away wet. "You promised and I needed you, dammit. I needed you." He choked, then whispered, "You were my anchor and you set me adrift." His fist slammed into the floor and something crunched, pain flashing white and hot up his arm, making his vision hazy… but it didn't matter.
Everything he'd been pushing to the back of his mind since he'd received the horrible news that his dearest friend had been murdered –- I had to be a bloody rock, because if I let anyone see just how deeply your murder cut me, it could've been used against me - spilled out of him. A flood-gate of pain, anger, guilt, grief, had been opened and Roy could no longer hold it back. His soliloquy rambled, alternating between excoriating Maes for deliberately placing himself in danger and condemning himself, and was punctuated by tears he could no longer stifle until it became wordless, open weeping.
"None of it matters any more," he croaked when he was able to speak again. "It stopped mattering when you died. Oh God, I lost my mind that day, Maes. I didn't know how I was going to go on without you." He laughed once, a harsh, bitter bark through his tears. "I made one hell of a mess of things, didn't I?"
His gaze slowly rose and he blinked to focus on the open book –- I've made my peace, Roy. "But I had so much I needed to say to you. I never told you how much I appreciated your ridiculous nagging for me to get married and your constant yammering about Elysia. You grounded me and reminded me of why I was fighting so hard to reach the top. I never told you just how much I envied the life you had… with Gracia and Elysia. How there were so many days I'd want to throw it all away and take that path; to live that life. But I told myself there was time, when I'd achieved my goals, I could have that… and I thought about how good it would be. For me and Riza; for you and Gracia. A place where Elysia could grow up and not know what a fucking war was, except in history books."
Roy choked and covered his face with his hand, feeling anguish threatening to overwhelm him once more. "It was supposed to be a world where Elysia could jump in your arms every night when you came home, dammit. I'm her Unca Roy, I'm not her Daddy, I can't take your place! It should be me in the ground, Maes. Not you!"
Roy stared down at his gloved hand, then. "I failed. I failed you and Elysia. I failed my men; Ed and Al. My selfish desires killed you as surely as if I'd pulled the trigger, myself. And what did I gain in the end? I'm nothing but a traitor and an assassin. Everything that mattered went up in flames."
One snap. That was all it would take. He probably wouldn't feel a thing if he did it right. Just one snap…
…Then his gaze landed on that last line –- I've made my peace, Roy - and the unwritten admonition whispered on the breeze - You need to make yours, too.
"It won't bring you back, will it?"
The wind picked up, bringing the smell of fresh rain on it, snapping the curtain and lifting the edge of the blotter enough to topple the extra glass Roy had poured before he'd started to read the journal. The scotch spilled onto the desk and trickled to the floor, where the glass fell and shattered. Loose paper flew off the desk and whirled around the room once, then fell –- the photo of Roy and Elysia flipped and landed on the leaf of paper that had fallen out of the journal when Roy slung it at the wall, face down; the script showing –- Remember this.
The trail of liquor rolled toward the picture and Roy felt an instant of inexplicable panic. He didn't want it ruined. He leaned forward and snatched it up before it could be contaminated by alcohol and along with it, the sheet of loose paper…
It was the night before his wedding, and the groom-to-be was piss-drunk. He'd tried several times to get to his feet, but the floor refused to cooperate.
"Maybe you should stay put, Maes," Roy laughed from beside him.
"But I have to make a toast," the other man complained, and he raised his glass, sloshing scotch over his hand, the table.
The liquor splashed on Roy's arm as he tried –- clumsily - to keep his friend from toppling out of his chair. "You know, Gracia's going to kill both of us if you show up at the chapel hung over."
"Too late for that, Boss," Havoc quipped from the other side of the table, then hiccupped, and the other men around them chortled.
Maes flopped back into his seat as he grabbed Roy by the back of the neck and whacked their foreheads together. He grinned goofily and said, "Yeah, Roy… it's too late for that, and… and this toast is important."
"I sinc… sincelerely hope it's not more of your execrababble… excera… bad poetry."
The deep, wicked chuckle should have been warning enough, but Roy –- who was only moderately less drunk than Maes - forgot how to slide under the table and was therefore forced to listen to his best friend spout the epic piece that he'd started back in their academy days. To add insult to injury, Maes recited it flawlessly and included two new verses-
"...And slowly black was frosted,
Though Spirit would not quail,
But I began to falter,
Rude flesh began to fail.
And yet, I would not leave you,
At Nature's first request;
I challenged Death Himself for you,
And stayed at your behest..."
- then at the end he kissed Roy sloppily on the cheek and whispered, "I love you, Buddy."
Roy smiled as he read that poem, then laughed through a sob when he saw that Maes had added to it; completed it, even though it had never quite reached epic-level. Calm settled over him and warmth wrapped about his shoulders as he finally understood what his best friend had been saying in those words. Maes had made a promise to him once, when Roy was at his lowest point; when he'd lost his idealism, his self-respect and his desire to live. But, Roy realized, Maes had made the same promise to him long before that, when they were still young and stupid and full of romantic notions—
-and his death was not the breaking of that promise.
When Riza arrived in the morning to drive him to the train station, Roy had finished packing and was ready to go. His suitcases were by the door, and the boxes that were to be shipped to the northern outpost were sealed and labeled. The rest would go into storage. If she wondered about his swollen and bandaged hand, his puffy face and red nose, she didn't say anything to him.
They rode together silently; the final time Riza would drive him anywhere in an official capacity. The route took them past the base and Central Headquarters, where Parliament now met. The flags were still flying at half-mast and would for another month, in deference to the missing Fuerher.
When they arrived at the station, Riza took his bag and led him wordlessly toward the queue. He assumed she was still furious with him for not fighting to keep his position and reputation intact - and supposed that she would be for a long time to come - but he felt it was better this way. He'd never tell her how he'd bargained his own life to keep the others from losing theirs. Their records would remain unstained by his treason and they would all go on to have worthy careers and lives with honor.
As he reached the platform, his breath caught in his throat. They all stood there, on either side of the path to the train car: Breda, Fuery, Falman, Havoc, Hawkeye… even Sczieska and Armstrong –- all at attention, all of them saluting.
Roy swallowed and fought desperately to keep a stoic face. It would be… unbecoming after all, to start blubbering now. With more courage than he thought he had left, he strode through the line, climbed the steps into the train-car and turned to face his men. Trusted companions… dear friends. And with a swelling of pride for these people he'd come to love over the years, he started to return the gesture, but hesitated when he saw the single tear roll down Riza's face. He steeled himself, then completed the salute. He spun and entered the car, unable to let his gaze linger on a single face, knowing that every last one of them were fighting their own emotions at this moment.
He took a seat on the opposite side from the platform and didn't breathe until the train pulled away.
As the train gathered speed, he chanced a glance out the window and saw the cemetery Maes was buried in as they passed by. The last lines that he'd added to the poem ran through Roy's mind in his friend's voice…
"-As Gaea honors courage
She gave a short reprieve,
And graciously extended
The days ere I must leave
But now She grows insistent,
And I must heed her Law.
I will not bid you fond Adieu,
Instead, say Au Revoir.
For though this Journey's ended,
The Watch is never through,
Until you gain Safe Harbor…
…I still watch over you."
Quote from Maes' Journal taken from Meister EckhartA Modern Translation: "The only thing that burns in hell is the part of you that won't let go of your life: your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away, but they're not punishing you, they're freeing your soul. If you're frightened of dying and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. If you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth."
The poem, 'Ebene's Song'is copyright to Lenna S. Hanna O'Neill, and used with permission.
The story was inspired by, and some lines taken from the songs, "Forsaken" by VNV Nation, and "Song for a Friend" by Jason Mraz and is copyright to them, exclusively.
Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) was created by Arakawa Hiromu and is serialized monthly in Shonen Gangan (Square Enix). Copyright for this property is held by Arakawa Hiromu and Square Enix.
All Rights Reserved