Maas was having the time of his life.
Figuring out Roy Mustang was providing more fun than any two field assignments put together. Tracking Roy’s movements was easy enough; figuring out why he went certain places and did certain things was the challenge.
Some things were already clear. Promotion seemed to be step one of whatever Roy’s project was. He was efficient with his paperwork; he was meticulously respectful of senior officers; he was courteous to those who worked under him, and they said good things about him to the grapevine; he took initiative, but carefully.
Maas favorite instance of that last, the one he would have pressed in a scrapbook if he could have, was when Hakuro’s aide arrived one rainy afternoon, muddy from head to toe, with the news that his superior was stranded outside the city in a broken down car and would be late for a rather important meeting. By the time Hakuro’s own superior made it to the front doors, still arguing viciously with the Colonel in charge of the motorpool over whose fault this was, Roy had arranged for another car, a mechanic and a change of uniform just in case, and handed them off with a salute.
The looks on the faces of the arguing officers had been treasures, and Maas was very glad he’d been in a position to see them.
What Maas didn’t know yet was what Roy wanted to do with more rank. Part of Roy’s obscurity, he had to admit, was really his own fault. Roy had taken to heart his advice on how to conceal his thoughts. Day by day, nearly, Maas could see him honing that terrifying coldness that Maas had seen in him the day they met. It was like watching ice crystalize, and an unguarded smile was coming to be a rare thing from Roy.
In his own contrary fashion, Roy was also rapidly acquiring a reputation as a bit of a playboy, which Maas had found odd considering how reticent Roy seemed to be most of the time. Then he’d made up a list of all the women and the few men Roy flirted with most, and another list of who else those people associated with regularly. He’d laughed until his neighbor pounded on the wall for him to shut up. It was such a Roy way to do things—straightforward and roundabout at the same time.
Maas was still unsure what to make of Roy’s relentless drive to refine his alchemical skills. Of course, any State Alchemist was expected to show results for the resources they took up, but the ones who were serving officers had a bit of latitude. Roy’s dedication went far beyond what was expected of him on that score, and Maas was fairly sure that Roy was concealing the extent of his ability from everyone but Maas.
It helped, of course, that Maas was the only one who would come anywhere near Roy while he was practicing.
Maas was sure he was getting somewhere, though. Given Roy’s reading material during his retreats to the library, what he wanted clearly had something to do with politics. Maas stopped short of trying to get Roy drunk enough to talk freely about his political views, because this was, after all, a friend he was trying to unravel.
But he was still getting somewhere, and thus he was first annoyed and then amused at himself for being annoyed when he got an assignment to go South looking for some Alchemist who had disappeared.
Still, he’d only be gone a few weeks.
It’s only a few weeks, Roy told himself sternly. Stop moping.
Contrary to all his expectations, Roy had found himself enjoying the dodging about with Maas. The man was unendingly tenacious, and kept Roy on his toes; he was even good company while they sparred back and forth. Roy was sure he knew the location of every bar and theatre in Central City by now, dragged there in the name of “relaxing for once, Mustang!” So when Maas departed on an assignment Roy was left with a feeling of let-down.
He knew it was ridiculous, but he couldn’t stop himself from finding excuses to stroll past the Intelligence offices with increasing frequency, hoping to hear that Maas was back.
This is silly. It isn’t like I don’t have other things to pay attention to. There’s no reason to wander around looking like…
“Well, don’t you look like a wet week,” observed an amused voice behind him.
Roy spun around with what he was sure was a foolishly wide smile before he managed to compress it into a grin. “I was starting to wonder if you’d gotten yourself transmuted into a frog down there, Hughes.”
“Ha!” Maas’ expression changed to one of disgust. “Didn’t see hide nor hair of any alchemist. Well, at least it was a chance to get out of uniform, since no one would give me the time of day if I was wearing it.”
Indeed, Maas looked scruffier than usual, which, Roy considered, took a little doing.
And then he actually heard what Maas had said.
“Sounds rough,” he said casually. “Come have a drink and I’ll let you bend my ear about it.”
They swung by Roy’s room to pick up the bottle, but wound up in Maas’ so he could unpack.
“So, boring couple weeks?” Roy probed, pouring for them both.
Maas snorted. “Waste of time, as far as my actual assignment went. Now, if I’d been sent to investigate civilian attitudes toward the military I could have written a report as long as my arm.”
“Not good?” Roy took a mouth-concealing sip.
“Only what anyone with a brain might expect, really.” Maas sprawled over his bed and took a long swallow. “They recruited pretty heavily from that area for that mess out East. A lot of people didn’t come back. A lot of families are wondering what all those lives went to accomplish.”
“Did anyone… take it out on you?” This time, Roy had no qualms with letting his investment in the question show.
Maas’ mouth tilted up at one corner. If he meant it as a smile it didn’t reach his eyes. “Not beyond a little shouting.”
Maas’ look was suddenly sharp as it raked over Roy’s face. After a few rather unnerving minutes his mouth twisted into a more genuine smirk. “So,” he said softly, “do you want to staunch a rebellion single-handedly to impress Bradley, or do you want to see them all succeed in breaking away?”
Roy laughed, relief and alcohol combining to make him just a bit light-headed. “Neither.”
“Interesting.” Maas leaned back on one arm, hazel eyes hooded. “Well, I’ll keep an ear out for you in any case. If you like.”
Roy had to pause to admire the artistry of that offer.
Maas offered his, not insignificant, help in ferreting out information Roy wanted. But by knowing what Roy wanted and seeing what interested him, Maas would come that much closer to identifying Roy’s final goals. So now Roy had to ask himself again, did he want Maas Hughes to find that out?
“That would be helpful,” he said, at last, “Thank you.”
It wasn’t until Maas’ shoulders relaxed a fraction that Roy understood his friend had also been asking how much Roy trusted him.
They both covered the moment by pouring new glasses.
When did it come to trust? Roy wondered. When did that start?
It was two days after his return that Maas discovered how a certain portion of the headquarters personnel had seen his little welcome-home bash with Roy. It was First Lieutenant Harding who sniggered loud enough for Maas to hear.
“…should have seen it. And they went straight back to Hughes’ room, locked the door and didn’t come out until nearly dawn. Guy next door said they were laughing an awful lot.”
“I’m amazed Mustang could walk that morning,” another of the small group chipped in.
“Well, maybe Hughes went easy on him…”
The group dissolved into snickers and crude suggestions.
Maas reacted without thinking, and two knives buried themselves in the wall a centimeter from Harding’s nose. The little group cowered back as Maas stalked toward them, but he merely retrieved his knives. In the silence, the noise they made coming clear was quite audible.
“My hand slipped.”
Harding lifted both hands, cautiously. “No offense, Hughes, he’s all yours, I mean…”
Maas gave him the kind of look reserved for the terminally stupid, right after their stupidity has terminated them.
“Are you really brainless enough to believe that the Flame Alchemist, one of the most dangerous men in this city, belongs to anyone? This is a friendly warning, right?” Maas tapped the point of one knife against Harding’s chin. “If he ever hears you say something like that I’m going to stand back and laugh while he fries your balls for breakfast.”
He strode away, leaving a couple very pale men behind.
Complete idiots… He highly doubted that Roy Mustang would let himself sleep with an actual friend. Roy was downright allergic to vulnerability of any kind. Maas was positive his trust had been betrayed at some point. Besides which, he was pretty sure they had it the wrong way around. There was an intensity in Roy that overwhelmed whatever it was focused on and would not give way to anything. It was what fueled his remarkable efficiency and drove his unremitting practice of alchemy as a combat skill. Maas would bet money that that intensity would show up in bed. It was actually a good part of what made Roy so attractive.
Maas stopped dead in the hall and ran that last thought through his mind again.
Oh, I’m not… Well, yes, obviously Roy was a good looking man, and could be charming when he wanted to, as his string of bedazzled secretaries demonstrated. But…
Maas took himself off to his office and proceeded to get no work done at all.
All right, all right, Maas admitted at last, refraining valiantly from beating his head against his desk, I do think he’s attractive, as well as an interesting puzzle, and amusingly muzzy when he’s drunk, and a darn good drama critic, and… oh, hell.
He sighed. Not as though it was really news that he liked to play with fire.
If Maas could now just keep from adding to the gossip by, oh, say, overreacting, it wouldn’t likely be any problem. He spent a few moments hoping fervently that, best case, Roy would never hear of the grapevine’s latest sexual estimation of him or that, next best case, he wouldn’t take it out on Maas.
Ah well. Life had been too boring before.
The last hay bale ripped apart with a concussive shock. Roy sighed. Maas jumped down from his perch behind Roy and strolled over to examine it.
“Don’t think you’d better count on that one to just disable,” he remarked, judiciously.
“Do you know, I had that thought myself?”
Maas grinned over his shoulder. “And still sarcastic. Your endurance must be increasing.”
Roy lidded his eyes and smirked. “We could test it out,” he suggested, rasing his hand.
Maas’ eye glinted, and his own hand flickered. Roy melted the knife half way.
“Thanks,” Roy said as they made their way back inside.
Maas lifted a brow. “What for?”
“Ah.” Roy shook himself. “Nothing. Never mind.”
The thing was, he thought as they parted ways, Maas was the only person he knew who looked at Roy’s alchemy as perfectly normal. Some people wanted to use its power, some were afraid of it, but only Maas treated it as a handy tool that Roy happened to be good with. Something a lot like his own knives.
Roy had known, intellectually, that as his skill increased and as he displayed more of it, the fear of those around him would likely increase also. But to actually see that fear, to have people step out of his way in the hall…
He didn’t like it.
Yet… wasn’t that the point? Wasn’t that what he had set out to accomplish by condensing his rage and disgust into ice and focus?
Even the ones he charmed had that distance at the back of their eyes, that wariness.
Roy closed the door of his room behind himself, curled up on his bed and finally looked at the thought that had been creeping around the edges of his mind for weeks.
That was how people looked at Basque Gran.
Roy shuddered and curled up tighter.
But Maas didn’t look at him like that.
He held onto that thought very, very hard.