The Wrong Girl
rating: PG (some kissing, that's it)
warnings: pre-anime series, het
length: 20 pages
summary: Gracia tries to get back at her ex-boyfriend, Roy Mustang, by dating his best friend but she doesn’t expect to fall for him.
NOTE: the Ishbal war is going on at the time of this fic, but State Alchemists aren’t sent in till the last minute, so Major Mustang is still gallivanting around Central City. Also, no one seems to remember this, but Hughes refers to having a desk job during the war, so he’s still around Central too, at this time.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Roy Mustang had messed with the wrong girl.
She’d known his reputation when she accepted his invitation on the first date, she had to admit that, but over the last month he’d made her think it would be different with her. He made her think that she was special, and that, it turns out, was what he was good at. In fact, he’d had no less than two other girls besides her convinced of it at the same time. He’d never slipped up either, which told her how adept he must be at playing these games. It hadn’t once crossed her mind that he might be seeing someone else. He hadn’t given a damn thing away, not in an entire month. It was just that one of his other lady friends was unexpectedly at the same outdoor music festival and approached them.
When confronted, he had been prepared with an effective and equally infuriating barricade of caveats and technicalities: they’d never had an actual discussion of whether they were supposed to be exclusive; she had not specifically asked and he’d never expressly promised that he would see only her. And damn him, she’d been perfectly content to take those things for granted. She was angry he’d lied. He claimed he hadn’t. She said he had lied by omission. He simply said he was sorry she had misunderstood.
She wasn’t sure what made her more angry – his behavior or that other girl’s. As soon as she had stormed off, that other girl had simply taken him by the arm and led him to the nearest dance floor. She couldn’t believe there were women in the world who would put up with a man who acted like that, women who would gladly accept any attention he’d give them at all, as long as they got some. Well, not Gracia Benton. She was going to teach that bastard a lesson, one way or another.
Gracia held her position at the corner of West and Ninth, awaiting her target. Everything was in place: low-cut sundress, heels, light cardigan, and a multitude of shopping bags. She could see down the street using the reflections in the storefront windows. The right questions to the right people had informed her that he went by here every day on his way home at about this time. Sure enough, she caught sight of him not a moment later.
The timing was perfect. She bustled around the corner, juggling shopping bags and distracted by something in a shop window. Something was off in her collision estimation, however. Either he was moving faster than she anticipated or he was harder than she imagined, but she didn’t have to fake the fall. She landed on the sidewalk in a pile of shopping bags.
“Oh, miss!” he exclaimed, immediately kneeling beside her. “Are you all right? That was completely my fault! I’m so sorry!” he was babbling as she rubbed her head, doing her best to make it seem like maybe the fall had momentarily disoriented her or some such nonsense. “M-Miss Benton!” he stammered when he got a better look at her face.
She was pleased that he recognized her and she wouldn’t have to remind him of who she was. “Maes Hughes?” she asked, blinking at him.
“Yes, oh gosh, I’m really sorry about this!” he apologized frantically. “Here, let me help you get your things,” he said and scrambled around trying to gather her strewn belongings. “Are you all right? Shall I take you to a doctor?”
“No, I think I’ll be ok,” she said and began to stand up.
He dropped her bags again and helped her up. She feigned woozy and let him support her for a moment, one arm around her waist and the other holding her shoulder. “Are you sure you’re ok, Miss Benton?” he asked.
“I… yes, I’m fine now, thank you,” she said, standing more steadily. He reluctantly let her go and gathered her things for her once again.
“I’m really sorry,” he repeated, “is there anything I can do for you? Please, at least let me carry these.”
“Well, if you feel that bad – ”
“I do,” he assured her.
“I can carry my own bags, lieutenant,” she said, giving him a sly smile. “I was going to suggest that if you want to do something for me, you can treat me to a drink. I’m parched!”
“I would be honored, Miss Benton!” he exclaimed, adding, “and I will be carrying these.”
“If you insist,” she said breezily as she led him into a nearby bistro. She ordered a raspberry lemonade at the counter and he ordered after her, setting her bags down so he could pay. She moved them to a table by the window and he brought their drinks over.
“You know, it’s really nice to see you, I’m glad we ran into each other,” she said as he sat down across from her.
“Likewise, of course, Miss Benton,” he said.
“Now, what can I do to get you to call me Gracia?” she asked, leaning her chin on her hand as she took a sip through her straw.
“May I?” he asked.
“Certainly!” she admonished. “Just because I’m not dating Roy anymore doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, Maes!” she said, emphasizing his name. She shrugged out of her cardigan sweater and turned a little to hang it over the back of her chair.
“Oh, ah, good,” he swallowed, adjusting his glasses.
She turned back and they chatted a little, and both politely avoided the topic of Roy from there on out. Little by little, she steered the conversation the way she wanted it to go. “Do you remember the time we went on a double date?” she asked, casually mixing the straw through the ice in her glass.
“Of course,” he replied, “it’s too bad we never did that again.”
“What ever happened with the girl you brought? That’s right, Amy was her name. Are you still seeing her?”
“Oh no, our double date was the first and last date for me and Amy,” Maes recalled with a shake of his head. Something seemed to privately amuse him.
“What a shame,” she commented.
“Not really,” he shrugged.
“What happened? If you don’t mind me asking,” she asked before taking a sip of her lemonade.
He leaned his forearms on the table and met her eye conspiratorially. “Well, do you remember that joke you told with the Reverend and the three ducks? And I snorted red wine out my nose?”
“I remember,” Gracia laughed easily.
“Well, turns out Amy didn’t think that was seemly,” Maes explained.
Gracia lifted an eyebrow and set her glass down. “Unseemly? The duck joke or the red wine coming out your nose?” she asked.
Maes cocked his head in thought. “Either, come to think of it,” he grinned. “You’ll warn me, from now on before you do something like that, right?” he asked her, holding up his coffee mug before taking a sip.
“No promises,” she said smugly. There was a comfortable silence as they both finished their drinks. “It’s been wonderful catching up with you, Maes,” she said after a moment. “I was planning to go to Carver Park this evening and view the daffodil and tulip gardens. I’d love some company, would you care to meet me? I’ve heard the gardens are in full bloom right now; they’re supposed to be lovely.”
“I would love to go,” he responded positively. “Everyone says now is the time.”
“Great,” she beamed. “Meet me at seven o’clock?”
He agreed and they stood to go. She collected her sweater and shopping bags, and he followed her to the door.
“Thanks for the drink, it was just what I needed,” she said to him.
“The pleasure was all mine. It’s not everyday I full body-check a woman and wind up with a date out of it,” he joked as he held the door for her.
When Gracia got home, she put away the contents of her decoy shopping bags, humming happily to herself as she folded up bags and tissue paper. Everything was going perfectly so far, exactly according to plan. There was a big concert this weekend, the hundredth anniversary of Central City’s orchestra hall, and it was going to be a big social event. Roy Mustang would definitely be there, and if all went well tonight so would she – with that womanizing bastard’s best friend. On the exterior, Roy didn’t seem like the kind of man who got jealous, but she was willing to bet that was just a front he put up. Men were predictable like that. She would date Maes, string him along for a while, and then dump him. Maybe she should cheat on him for added insult.
Her own actions would have shocked her if she let herself stop to think about it. This whole thing was very much not her. She was not a manipulative person and she would normally be disgusted by the idea of using someone’s emotions to hurt them. She wouldn’t dream of two-timing or cheating on someone. The plan went against her morals in every way possible, but it only reaffirmed to her how awful a person Roy Mustang was. One had to stoop appallingly low to play the games of a man like him.
Even though she had prepared herself to do whatever it took, it was a stretch for her. She was never so forward with men; she had never pursued one as aggressively as she was right now. It was much more her nature to be aloof towards men, as weary as she was of their motives and intentions. Though, that kind of attitude had its own draw-backs: it tended to attract men like Roy Mustang, men who liked a challenge. Of course, once these men snared her, the game got boring. She had suffered that pattern before and it had been no different with Roy. She’d turned down his first five invitations to dinner before she finally agreed to go out with him. It made her steaming mad that he’d only been so persistent because he saw her as a conquest.
She had enough time to make herself something to eat and freshen her make-up a bit. She stood in front of the mirror in the small bathroom, fixing her hair. This was also very much not how she normally was. Make-up, hair that she spent more than ten minutes on, clothes that showed off her body – it was a fake, purely an act. She told herself that it didn’t matter. This was nothing more than a means to an end, so it didn’t matter if he liked her for who she really was or not – she just had to get him to like her. She’d play this role if it got her what she wanted.
She arrived at the Carver Park gate a few minutes late and was privately smug that Maes was already there waiting. He had changed out of his military uniform and into nicer civilian clothes. He smiled, greeted her, and offered his arm, which she took. She let him lead her around and they continued their small talk, sharing trivia about family and hobbies, and laughing about how neither of them knew anything about flowers or growing things.
“Maybe someday, when I have a house and a family, I’ll try to grow vegetables,” he mused as they wandered past the daffodil beds. “I’m sure it’ll be a disaster the first few years, but you never know, I might get the hang of it.”
“And when will you have the time, being Fuhrer and all?” Gracia teased flatteringly and squeezed his arm to her side a little tighter.
“Fuhrer? Me? No way, I don’t want to be Fuhrer!” he laughed in response. “I’m going to be the guy who tells the Fuhrer what to do from the shadows. That’s a much better position to be in – all the power; none of the responsibility. Not to mention more of a shot at making a clean get-away when there’s a bloody revolution.”
Gracia tipped her head back with a genuine laugh. Most men would preen nauseatingly to hear a woman express belief that he could be Fuhrer.
“Oh, good, you think I’m kidding,” Maes grinned.
They wandered past plots of brightly colored Impatients planted to look like famous paintings, pointing out the ones they recognized. She shivered against him, a little on purpose and a little because the evening was growing chilly.
“Are you cold?” he asked.
“A little,” she admitted, “I didn’t bring my sweater, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Ah, it was warm this afternoon,” he said as he took off his jacket. “These spring days can be deceiving.” He didn’t ask before wrapping the light jacket around her bare shoulders.
“Thank you,” she said, shooting him her best doe eyes.
“You’re very welcome,” he replied, suddenly finding something interesting about the gravel path at his feet.
She meandered through the rest of the gardens and he moved naturally beside her, his hand settling on her lower back. She had to admit she was impressed with this. It was polite to hold a lady’s arm, but hers were now tucked inside his jacket. It would have been improper of him to put his arm around her shoulders or her waist since they were not that close. She would have let him for the sake of her mission, but it would have been improper none the less. The hand resting just lightly on her back was a nice gesture, it was not so low that it made her uncomfortable and not too firm that it made her feel like she was being directed around.
“May I walk you home?” he asked when they were at the gate again, but quickly corrected himself. “No, I insist on walking you home. It’s getting dark out.”
“How thoughtful,” she said, though she had been counting on it. She put one arm through the sleeve of his coat so she could hold his arm again. The sun had already set and the sky was lit with dramatic colors. They reached her building and she gave his coat back. “Thank you for meeting me,” she said.
“My pleasure,” he said with smile and a nod.
She turned to unlock her door, paused rather pointedly, and then turned around again. He was still standing there, waiting to make sure she got into the building safely. “Maes,” she said as if she were mulling it over. “Would you… Do you think you would like to go to Orchestra Hall’s centennial concert this Saturday? I know it’s short notice…” she looked at her feet embarrassedly, “maybe you’re already going with someone… but I have tickets and no one to go with.” She glanced back up at him hopefully.
“I – Ye-” he began to say, but something held him back.
“Oh, you don’t want to,” she said and bit her lip for a second. “I see. Well, see you around sometime then.” She turned back to her door.
“No, Gracia wait,” Maes pleaded, climbing up the first step. “I do want to go with you, it’s just that, there will be a lot of people there…”
She faced him again. “Oh, are you worried about Roy being there? I didn’t even think of that. I don’t mean to make things complicated between the two of you, but I hardly think it will be a problem. Let’s face it, he couldn’t have been that attached to me,” she said with a self-deprecating little smile.
“It’s not that he’ll be there, it’s more that he’ll be there with a date,” Maes explained delicately. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather do something else on Saturday?”
“It’s really fine, Maes, believe me,” she said warmly.
“Then what time should I pick you up?”
Saturday night, at seven o’clock on the dot, Gracia’s bell chimed. She looked out her second story window and saw Maes waiting on the steps. He gave her a wave and a big smile. She grabbed her wrap and handbag and went down to meet him. She was a little jittery about tonight and didn’t know if it was nerves or excitement, but she knew she was mentally prepared and she knew she looked really good. If she played her cards just right, it could turn out to be a very good night. She was ready for this.
“You look terrific!” Maes told her when she joined him on the steps.
“Why, thank you,” she said graciously.
“I brought you a little something,” he said, reaching into his coat for a small package. He opened the box and held up a fresh corsage.
“Miniature daffodils!” she exclaimed, honestly touched by the gesture.
“I didn’t know what you’d be wearing, so I hope it looks ok,” he said nervously.
“It’ll look lovely,” she assured him. She handed him the corsage and bared one shoulder. His fingers were steady and careful as he pinned the flowers to the strap of her midnight blue dress.
“That’s a beautiful dress,” he said when he was done, getting one more glimpse before she pulled the wrap around her again.
“Thank you, I made it,” she said as he led her to the waiting car.
“That’s right, you’re a seamstress,” he said, remembering. He held the door for her and then hurried around to get in the other side. “Your parents live outside the city to the south and you support yourself by working in a little shop on… Cottonwood Street.”
“Goodness!” she said, giving him a funny look.
“It came up on the double date,” he quickly explained, face coloring a little.
“But to remember so much,” she said, still impressed.
“Well, I am an intelligence officer,” he joked.
When they arrived at Orchestra Hall, she produced the tickets to get them in, he purchased programs, and they went right to their seats for the special 100th anniversary concert. They discussed the conductor’s notes and the composers’ biographies in the program until the house lights went down. Gracia had not spotted Roy yet and realized that she had forgotten to look. There would be no intermission, so she would have to be sure to find him after the concert.
Maes was quiet during the performance, but Gracia could feel him when he shifted slightly in the seat next to her. If they accidentally brushed knees or the like, he would instantly pull away. He wasn’t nervous, but he was certainly cautious. She found that endearing. She wondered if it would be a huge shock to him if she tried to kiss him tonight.
There were two encores and then the house lights came back on. They stood and she collected her wrap and handbag.
“Do you come to orchestra concerts very often?” she asked as they filed out to the veranda with the rest of the crowd.
“No, but after tonight, I’m thinking I should start,” he said. “You?”
“I have season tickets," she told him.
“You must really enjoy it!”
“I do. My father used to take me as a girl,” she said easily. Actually, the pair of season tickets had been a gift from her father, an attempt to encourage her to go on more dates.
“Do you play an instrument?” he asked.
Gracia nodded. “The piano.”
“Wow. How long?”
“Since I could reach the keys,” she said with a chuckle.
“You know, I used to play the trombone,” Maes offered with a grin.
“Do you still?”
“Nah, stopped practicing a few years ago.”
“Well, you should start again,” she suggested. “Doesn’t the military have a brass ensemble?”
“A couple, actually,” he answered.
“Well, there you go,” she said, elbowing him slightly.
They made it out to the veranda, where there were temporary wet bars and other concessions set up. It was the perfect night for such an occasion, clear and comfortably cool. The veranda faced the river and the fireworks would begin from the opposite bank in half an hour.
“Here, this one has a shorter line,” he said as he gently steered her away from the bar that was closer to them. She glanced back and saw Roy in line at the other bar. He did not appear to be with any of the women in line, but Gracia bet his date was waiting for him somewhere else. Clearly, Maes was trying to keep from running into them, but she needed to make sure Roy saw them together.
Maes bought them drinks and they ran into a friend of her family’s, so they chatted for a little bit. The fireworks were about to begin, so they moved to get nearer to the rail overlooking the river. She spotted Roy and a blonde in the crowd and tried to move as near to them as much as she could. They didn’t end up as close as she would have liked, but fireworks began and Maes couldn’t be moved after that. They watched the display and Gracia decided to try her luck. She was standing in front of the rail and he was very close to her side, just behind her right shoulder. She’d never kissed a man first but this was no time to turn chicken. She turned to him and found his eyes already on her. She leaned up, closing her eyes.
“Ah!” he exclaimed, moving suddenly to catch the wine glass that was about to topple off the rail.
She panicked. Had he dodged on purpose just now? Embarrassment swept over her.
“I knocked it with my hand! I’m such a klutz!” he was saying. “Hey, wait, where are you going?” he called after her when he noticed her pushing through the crowd.
Gracia knew exactly where the nearest bathroom was and wasn’t going to slow down until she got there. In the building, with the restroom in sight, someone gently snagged her arm.
“Roy!” she exclaimed in surprise.
“Gracia,” he said, still holding her arm, “I know you’re angry with me, and I’m not asking you to forgive me, but – ”
“Of course not,” she cut in spitefully, “because you haven’t done anything wrong, have you?”
His hand tightened ever so slightly on her arm. “Please don’t use Maes as a rebound,” Roy appealed earnestly. “We’ve had our differences and you’re upset about the way things ended. I can accept that, but please don’t drag Maes into this.”
“You’re unbelievable!” she admonished. “You think this is about you, don’t you? I go on a date, and you have to invent ways for it to be about you! Roy Mustang, you are the most self-centered man I have ever met.”
She tried to move away but he held fast.
“Gracia, please. Think what you want of me, but this isn’t fair to Meas, he’s always –”
“Good night, Roy,” she cut in and brushed his hand off.
She escaped into the rest room and took a deep breath. It was working. She grinned at herself in the mirror and almost laughed out loud. It was working! That was a better reaction from Roy than she ever hoped for. It amazed her that he could say all that and still not admit to any wrong doing. ‘Had our differences.’ Upset about ‘the way things ended.’ She’d never heard such a forked tongue. She shouldn’t feel bad about what she was doing, he deserved this. They both did, probably. Maes was Roy’s best friend, after all. To be friends with Roy, he couldn’t be all that different from him.
Her confidence was soaring right now. She powdered her nose a little and adjusted her dress. Perhaps Maes hadn’t dodged her kiss on purpose, maybe it really had been the wine glass. She had to go back out there and give it another shot. She could snare him, it would work. And if Roy was near by to see, so much the better.
To her surprise, Maes was waiting for her in the lobby when she came back out.
“There you are!” he exclaimed, rushing over. “Is everything all right? You disappeared so suddenly!”
“I’m sorry! I thought I’d broken a strap on my dress and I had to go take a look at it!” she apologized.
“Did you?” he asked with concern.
“No, it looks fine. The seam gave way a little bit, but it’s nothing a couple stitches won’t fix,” she smiled.
“The fireworks are still going,” he said, though she could hear them, “I bet we can still catch the finale.”
“Perfect,” she said and they went back to the veranda. They watched the fireworks finale together and as it ended, she caught site of Roy’s blonde leading him down the wide stone steps.
“Wow, that was a great show,” Maes said as the last of the lights fizzled in the sky.
“Let’s go walk by the river,” she suggested.
“Gracia, why don’t we –”
“Come on, it’s a beautiful night!” she invited and pulled him in the direction of the steps.
There were plenty of other couples walking along the river bank so it didn’t seem too obvious that she’d followed Roy and his date down here. The other couple was meandering in the direction of the old stone pedestrian bridge, so Gracia led Hughes that way.
“You’re right, it’s a beautiful night,” Hughes said.
“The moon is lovely,” she commented. The moon was a bright crescent low on the horizon.
Roy and his date stopped to sit on a bench where it was less crowded and Gracia wondered how close they should get. Maes tugged her hand.
“Look,” he said, stopping next to a plaque by a lamppost, “a history of the stone bridge.”
“I didn’t know it was that old,” she commented as she read the plaque.
“Hey, it survived two bombings,” he added. “Ah, sorry for dragging you over here. I like learning about the history of Central City,” he admitted. “If I had more time, I’d make a proper hobby out of it.”
“Tell me some interesting things, then,” she requested, amused. She hadn’t figured him for a history buff.
He told her about the first train depot, and why the main station had to be moved, how they rerouted the river to build City Hall, that the nice brownstones of her neighborhood were built on an old cemetery, and other factoids. He finished and they fell into a comfortable silence as they watched the moon on the river. Gracia knew she was facing her golden opportunity and she wasn’t making any mistakes this time.
She placed one hand on his shoulder and leaned up to kiss him, thrilled when he bent and met her half way. She ran her other hand up his neck and into his hair. An arm wound around her waist, pulling her against him in response. She was a little disappointed when he very quickly moved away again, reestablishing the space between them. The kiss did not end, but it felt reserved. It was a very normal kiss, he was definitely holding back. She lost her nerve and pulled away. His warm hand ghosted over the bare skin of her shoulder as she turned back to the river. Her bravery crumbled and she nervously fidgeted with her handbag, trying to think of some way out of this.
“Everything ok?” he asked gently.
“I – I’m suddenly not feeling well,” she said abruptly.
“Are – ”
“I’d like to go home now, if you don’t mind,” she said, barely able to stop her voice from shaking.
“Oh, ah, certainly!” he said hastily. “Let’s go catch a cab. You should be in bed if you’re not well.”
He placed his hand on the small of her back again and guided her to the street in front of Orchestra Hall. He quickly hailed a cab and helped her in. The ride was silent and a bit awkward. She was so embarrassed. She had thought she might have actually gotten his interest, but he was just playing along. Maybe because she was being so pushy. Or, even worse, because he pitied her after his friend hurt her. Her stomach turned. He might even be onto her plan. He was good friends with Roy, after all, he had to know every dirty trick in the book.
“You do look pale,” he noted with concern as he rubbed her arm. “Are you eating enough?”
She just mumbled something in reply and thanked her lucky stars that the cab arrived at her house. She started to open her door, but he jumped out and ran around the car to open it and walk her up the steps. He stood very close as she unlocked the front door.
“Thanks for the ticket, I had a wonderful time,” he said.
“Yes,” she mumbled, “good ni – ”
He tipped her chin up and their eyes met. She quickly turned away, saying, “Good night, Maes.”
Gracia slipped through the door and shut it behind her. She hurried up the stairs, pursing her lips to keep them from quivering. God, she wanted to cry. She was such a fool, she should have known she couldn’t pull something like this off. It was a miserable idea to begin with.
She let herself into her apartment and miserably flung herself on her bed. Thankfully, tomorrow was her day off and she didn’t have to leave the house if she didn’t want to. She made herself get up and go remove her make-up. So, the game was up, she thought as she scrubbed her face. Oh well, at least she’d gotten under Roy’s skin at least that little bit. In any case, she didn’t have to put on this stupid act anymore. After cleaning up, she changed into pajamas and covered herself with blankets.
The following day, she read and cleaned and tried not to think about the embarrassment that was yesterday. It wasn’t like she was going to run into Maes Hughes all that often, anyway, she told herself, and that was a very good thing. In the late afternoon, her bell rang. She went to the window and found Maes on the sidewalk in his uniform, smiling and waving a big bouquet of flowers up at her window. Her heart thumped in her chest and she went downstairs to let him in.
“You look better this afternoon!” he said when she opened the front door.
Gracia was, quite honestly, speechless, and he wasn’t oblivious to this. He hastened up the steps and took her hand.
“Listen,” he said, adopting a quieter, more serious tone, “I’m sorry about last night, if I did anything or said anything wrong. I was having a great time with you, I hope we can keep seeing each other. If I did something wrong then… maybe we can get start over?”
“Oh, no, no!” she said, nearly giddy with relief. “You didn’t do anything wrong at all! I – You were right, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and was feeling a little faint. That’s all it was!”
“Whew!” he breathed, comically wiping his brow with his sleeve. “You had me worried!”
“No, it was completely my fault, I’ll be more careful,” she promised and he squeezed her hand.
“Would you like to have dinner with me Tuesday night?” he asked.
“I would love to!” she answered.
“How about the Crab Shack? Do you like seafood?”
“Great, I’ll pick you up at six-thirty,” he said, adding, “and it’s ok not to eat beforehand this time.”
She laughed and he kissed her. It was a brief kiss but it left her mind a little spinny. Maybe because it had taken her by surprise, or maybe because it was a better kiss than last night. A much better kiss.
He left her then and she bounced triumphantly up the stairs with her bouquet. The plan was back on!
Gracia was practically dancing in front of the mirror as she got ready on Tuesday night. She hadn’t been this excited about a date in a long time, but surely it was just because her plan had gotten a miraculous second chance. She dug in a drawer for the shade of lipstick that would match the red dress she’d picked out. The outfit was perfect and her hair looked great. She wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass her by.
He picker her up right on time and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. They walked hand in hand to the Crab Shack on Pier 10. When they arrived, he gave his name and they were shown to a table in the back by a large window over-looking the pier.
“Do you mind if I order for us?” he asked hesitantly as they sat down, “I know that’s not really ‘cool’ anymore, but I know what’s really good here.”
“Well, now I’m intrigued,” she said, raising her eyebrows.
He ordered them a meal in courses and she teased at him when he used the plastic bib that came with the main course of King crab legs.
“I try and I try, but this is really the best way,” he admitted with a laugh.
“So it’s safe to say something that might make red wine come out your nose?” she grinned.
“Now, that would be a feat, since we’re drinking white,” he chuckled, and clinked his glass against hers.
They managed to stuff a dessert down on top of dinner but both complained of being extremely full, so they decided to take a walk along the docks. Some of the scenic areas of the docks had been zoned for commercial businesses and the streets bustled with evening diners and shoppers.
“Thanks for a superb dinner,” she said, taking his hand as they walked along the water.
“I’m glad we could do this,” he said happily.
He stopped when they reached the outskirts of the boardwalk. “Oh look, a spiced tea stand,” he exclaimed.
“Wow, you don’t usually see those this time of year,” she commented. Hot spiced tea was really more of a winter thing.
“Must be one of the last days,” he agreed. “Care for a cup?”
“Sure,” she said and he went to the stand.
A poster tacked to a near-by lamppost caught her attention. It was an advertisement for a new show opening at the planetarium – an hour and half about the orbit of the planets, the creation and death of stars, how telescopes worked, a light show, and even a naming contest for a new nebula just discovered by astronomers. It was something she would love to go to. She thought about asking Maes, but was too embarrassed. It wasn’t something young people really did, was it? There was no music, dancing, or alcohol. It certainly wasn’t something Roy Mustang would have wanted to go to. Well, it did involve sitting in a dark room with a girl for an hour and a half, so maybe it was something that Roy Mustang would want to do, but she wanted to go with someone who was actually interested in that sort of thing. She sighed to herself. She and Roy really weren’t cut out for each other. Hadn’t she known that from the start? Then what was the point of getting all upset over breaking up? Was it just pride? She had to wonder when she had become so shallow.
An approaching figure startled her from her thoughts. It was Maes, smiling and handing her a steaming cup of tea. She smiled back and took it.
“You wouldn’t want to… go to that, would you?” he asked, nodding to the poster. “I’ve always liked stuff like that. Those shows are more fun than you’d think.”
She looked up from blowing on her tea. He mistook her surprise for a rejection and immediately started backpeddling.
“Ah, never mind! That’s probably not your type of thing! Just forget it!” he babbled, embarrassedly running a hand through his hair. If she wasn’t mistaken, his cheeks had tinted just a shade pink.
“I’d really love to go, Maes,” she said gratefully.
They agreed to go to the opening and sipped their tea as he walked her home. At her door, he gave her a kiss that she had to admit was really quite nice. She sighed as she unlocked her apartment. Somehow, it still felt like he was holding back, and she couldn’t figure out why.
The planetarium show opening turned out to be packed, and Gracia was glad to see it was so popular on a Friday night. She and Maes waited in line for tickets and then hurried to find good seats.
“Remember, we have to come up with a good name for the nebula naming contest,” she said as they got comfortable in their seats.
“That’s right,” Maes said.
“Oh, look, they’re going to talk about a recent solar storm,” she said, pointing to the program.
“You really like this stuff?” he asked with a smile. “I can’t believe it, that’s so rare.”
“I’m glad you wanted to come. I thought about asking you when I saw the poster, but I didn’t think anyone else like this sort of thing,” she admitted.
They chatted about the program and the other advertised events until the lights dimmed. He took her hand and held onto it for the entire hour and a half.
When the show ended they excitedly traded names for the nebula. They ended up at the submission box and she picked up a pen and a piece of paper but they hadn’t found a name they both liked yet.
“How about… Elysia,” he offered.
“Elysia,” she repeated, “like the fields of paradise. That’s beautiful.” A funny, light feeling started in her chest, like something was breaking but it didn’t hurt.
“Think it’s good enough?” he asked when she didn’t move to write it down.
“It’s definitely the best,” she nodded and wrote it on the entry sheet. She filled out their names and addresses and slipped the paper into the box decorated with pictures of planets and stars. Even as she waited for him to buy memorabilia, she couldn’t shake the faint jittery feeling inside.
They got outside the building and he paused to button his jacket. “Would you like to go anywhere?” he asked.
“Maes, I – ” she said as she turned, but the words just stopped. He was looking at her, waiting for her to go on. Instead, she grabbed his lapel and pulled him down into a kiss. She rested one hand on his collar and the across his back. The game was over. It was stupid to begin with and she realized she’d quit playing a long time ago. There was no way to go through with it, and no reason to, with a man like Maes – a man she was falling for anyway.
There seemed to be a split second before he returned her kiss, but when he did, he wasn’t holding back anymore. He folded her into his arms and pulled her up tight. She lost track of how long they were kissing, but it might have been a little inappropriate for public because some kids from the planetarium ran by laughing and shrieking, “Ewwwww!”
Gracia instantly broke away. “Um, I’m sorry, that was…” she trailed off embarrassedly as she straightened her skirt.
“D-don’t be sorry!” he swallowed, straightening his glasses.
“Yes, let’s go somewhere,” she said, clasping his hand.
They went to a wine bar and found a table with lots of candles on it. They made very lively conversation and she wasn’t paying attention to how much she was drinking. She was trying to work up the courage to come clean to him, tell him the truth and beg for forgiveness. She wanted to date him seriously. It could work. His being friends with Roy hardly mattered. If she told Maes the truth and he could forgive her, then she could certainly forgive Roy.
“Ok, I think it’s time to get you home,” he chuckled at her and signaled for the waitress to bring the bill.
When she stood up to put her coat on, she realized how drunk she was. “Oh, shit,” she muttered and heard him laugh. He came to her rescue, helping her into her coat and keeping her upright on the walk home.
“Need help with the stairs?” he asked when she finally managed to unlock the front door.
She stumbled into the hall, and that was pretty much his answer. He got her up the stairs and to her apartment door. She fumbled with the keys again but eventually got the door open.
“Maes, there’s something I need to tell you,” she hiccupped, turning back to him.
He put a finger to her lips. “Another time, beautiful,” he smiled, amused. “The sooner you get to sleep, the better. Tomorrow’s not going to be pretty.” He gave her a peck on the lips and then he was gone.
Her hang over the next day was indeed quite ugly and not even worth it since she hadn’t managed to spit out the truth. She managed to drag herself in to work and was surprised to see him pop into the shop just before her lunch break.
“673 Cottonwood Street,” he said with smile.
“Lieutenant Hughes, Intelligence Officer,” she replied, impressed.
He held out a brown paper bag. “Care for some lunch?”
She left the shop and they ate and talked on a bench in the square near by. She couldn’t find a way to tell him the truth at lunch, or even on the next four dates. The more time she spent with him, the more she worried that he would break it off with her when she told him.
There was a period of two weeks where his work got really busy and he didn’t have time to go out. She realized that if there was any future for them, she was just going to have to accept that sometimes his job was like that. At least he wasn’t out there on the front lines. If there was any future for them, she would also have to make herself tell the truth about her initial intentions. The next time she saw him, she was determined to tell him and accept the consequences.
He called as soon as he was free, and they made an afternoon date to bring a picnic lunch to Carver Park. The days were warm and sunny now, but not as hot as the height of summer was going to be. They ate and relaxed, watching children feed ducks and people row boats out in the small manmade pond. He was seated comfortably against a tree trunk and she sat next to him, leaning back on his shoulder. It was calm and quiet, and she thought she finally had the right words worked out.
She sat up and turned to face him. “Maes, I have to tell you something that may change the way you feel about me,” she began carefully.
“Oh?” he asked, intrigued. He took her gently by the shoulders and pulled her to lean back to his chest again as he hummed ponderously. “You’ve been dying your hair all this time,” he postulated, playing with a lock of her auburn hair.
“Maes, this is ser-“
“You’re really a princess from a neighboring country and your parents will never allow us to marry,” he guessed, thumb stroking circles on the nape of her neck.
“No, Maes, listen,” she tried again.
“You’re going to run off to the mountains to study meditation and painting.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“You have a gambling problem and your night job is a deadly assassin for the mob because you owe them money!”
“Of course not!”
“You’ve been killing people all this time!”
“No?” he asked and rubbed his chin in thought. His eyes widened into a truly horrified look. “You don’t like children, is that it?” he asked, aghast. “You don’t want to have children? How can you not like children?!”
Gracia turned on his lap and put a hand over his mouth. She didn’t realize that she was practically straddling his legs and sitting on his knees in a manner that might be construed as indecent. “Maes, I’m serious!” she entreated. “Just listen to me, will you?”
He gave a slight nod and she folded her hands in her lap to keep them from fidgeting. Her shoulders sank a little as she tried to remember just how she wanted to say this. “Maes, when I first asked you out and wanted to see you, I was just doing it to try and get back at Roy,” she said, expression apologetic. He opened his mouth and she barreled on so that he didn’t have a chance to say anything. “I thought if I dated his best friend, I could get back at him for hurting me, but I really like you, Maes! I want you to know the truth, but I also want you to know that I have really enjoyed all the time I’ve spent with you. I… really like you.”
Hughes took her fidgeting hands in his, saying simply, “I know all that.”
“You knew?” she asked.
He smiled at her, nodding. “I knew from the first time we met on the street when you asked me to coffee that you just wanted to spite Roy,” he said, “but I thought maybe I could win you over.” He kissed her knuckles and her heart fluttered. If her voice hadn’t refused to work, she would have told him that he had.
“Believe me,” he continued, “I don’t make a habit of getting into Roy’s business and I know better than to try and clean up his romantic messes, but I always thought you were something special. I wanted to ask you out, but I didn’t think you’d have anything to do with me after what happened with him!”
“But don’t you think what I tried to do was horrible?” she asked.
His green eyes twinkled. “You’ve got spirit,” he said, “I like that.”
She kissed him, trying to tell him all the words she couldn’t quite say and all the thoughts she couldn’t quite put into words yet.
“You know,” he licked his lips when she pulled away again, “you are really amazing when you’re after something. About knocked me off my feet.”
She groaned a little and buried her face in his chest. “I really don’t do things like that!” she moaned.
His chest and shoulders shook with laughter and his hands came up to hold onto her, one stroking her hair and the other spreading out between her shoulder blades. He hummed, chest rumbling under her. “You sure know how to test a guy’s self-restraint,” he shook his head.
“Is that why you wouldn’t kiss me?” she asked, lifting her head and forgetting to think about the state her hair must be in after his hands had run through it.
“I didn’t want to let myself take advantage of your, uh, willingness,” he explained, almost sheepishly. “When I thought you started to mean it more, then I felt a little better about it.”
“I started to really mean it after you asked me to the planetarium,” she admitted with an equally sheepish smile.
“I figured as much,” he murmured, brushing her hair out of her face.
“Right, you know I mean it, so you don’t have to hold back anymore,” she reminded him.
“I won’t,” he promised as he cupped her jaw. He kissed her then, and held nothing back at all.
“It only took me four dates to win her over AND she confessed. Pay up, Major, and no funny stuff with the gloves,” Hughes said gleefully as he sidled up to Mustang in the hallway of Central City’s military headquarters.
Roy stopped walking and made a disgusted noise as he dug into his pocket for his billfold. He counted out the correct number of bills and slapped them into the waiting hand. He’d been genuinely concerned that Gracia would end up hurting Hughes, but so much for that. He didn’t know which of them he’d underestimated – his friend’s honest charm or Gracia’s big heart.
“Now,” Hughes oozed, grinning like the Cheshire cat as he flipped through the bills, “how long do you wager it will take me to convince her to marry me and bear my offspring? Six months? Eight months? I mean, of course, we will have to be engaged for a little while before we officially tie the knot, but maybe I could propose next fall sometime – ”
“You’re not suckering me into another bet!” Roy snapped and folded his arms over his chest. He’d just handed over enough money as it was, enough for Hughes to take his ex-girlfriend out to a really nice restaurant.
“Because I’m serious here, man,” Hughes said from Cloud Nine, “she’s amazing! She’s cute and smart, but still easy to talk to, and she’s no push-over! She’s got a terrific smile and a really sexy laugh. And did I mention that she’s cute? I mean, her eyes alone! Have you ever looked deep into them? God, they’re…”
Roy rubbed his temples as Hughes babbled on. He’d known Hughes had always had a thing for Gracia, so maybe he shouldn’t have encouraged him. As Hughes began to praise the slinky little dress she’d worn to the orchestra concert, Roy had a horrifying premonition that he was in for years of listening to this kind of tripe.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This might be my inner Mustang fangirl needing to defend Roy, but I think he actually would like a planetarium show. He’s a scientist right? I think he just doesn’t let people know he likes dorky things like that. Keeping up appearances and all. (But of course, it does mean sitting with a girl in a dark room for an hour and a half, so… ~_^)
I always use “Alicia” for their daughter’s name, but it was “Elysia” in the fansubs. Always reminded me of the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology. :)