Title: Thirty Seconds More
Spoilers: Ref. gaiden chapter, plus Manga chapters 58-61
Summary – A quick one-shot based on the manga gaiden chapter ‘His Battlefield Once More’, an Ishbal flashback which sees Hughes trying to talk some sense into a horribly cynical and bitter Mustang. Here, Maes considers how the war has affected them.
Thirty Seconds More
I’ll do anything to have that happiness…
Maes Hughes almost ran into the shelter of the tent. After reporting to Colonel Grand, he had walked across the camp with a semblance of calm, smiling and nodding companionably to those he passed. It was a role he had acted out since he had first come to Ishbal, and one he was surely doomed to repeat until he left. That last thought was the one which kept him sane; the thought of leaving, to return to Gracia in Central. It was the single hope which allowed him to sleep at night, and spurred him on to commit the necessary deeds in a war whilst forced to keep their subjects at an emotional arm’s length. The Ishbalan rebels were a scourge upon the State, he had been told. They were nothing but an obstacle to the progress of the great Fuhrer Bradley’s plans. Passing his comrades, he had seen one man lying on the ground, barely propped up against a crate. The man’s chest and arms were bandaged, his eyes vacant. The sight had been enough to break the illusion, and Maes’ mind instantly recalled a scene earlier that day, where an Ishbalan whose arm had been amputated was found lying in the rubble of an otherwise deserted area. No, not just deserted. Decimated, torn apart by the work of whatever State Alchemist had been assigned to that particular section maybe only hours before. Maes had drawn scant comfort from the fact that the area had not been burnt. Perhaps the injured man had stayed there, without any respite from his pain, expecting his comrades to save him. Perhaps he had stayed because he knew they could not.
‘Eliminate’. What a convenient word to describe indiscriminate slaughter.
That recollection had made Hughes glad to be within the hot, confined privacy of the tent. He dropped to the ground in the shade, but sitting close enough to the opening for him to look out across the dry field and haphazard rows of similar tents. Over the months the area had become to resemble a small settlement rather than a military camp. But the State was encroaching upon land that was not theirs – no matter how they put it – and had been doing so ever since the catalyst of the rebellion. A single shot, a single child dead. It was strange to think that such a death had caused the up-rising, yet in the heat of battle innocent and guilty alike were stripped of all identity. It was seen as a cumbersome thing to have on one’s conscience, after all; the murder of a bystander rather than the just killing of a rebel to the State. The Amestrisians had been instructed that the resistance only prolonged the time to the Ishbalans’ inevitable downfall. Grand had certainly argued this point in claiming that, therefore, was not the work of the Alchemists to be praised? If the ending came swiftly, was not the State better off, and the race of Ishbal granted a lenient, merciful demise? They had been cool, empty words to the minds of men who would by this point cling onto anything that could justify their actions. In Hughes’ mind, he knew that words like ‘mercy’ or ‘justice’ meant nothing to the Iron-Blood Alchemist. Whatever had driven Grand and the higher-ups to actively promote the Fuhrer’s order to use the State Alchemists, Maes very much doubted leniency had anything to do with it. He had seen too many examples of the devastating power possessed by those who had taken the science and art of alchemy, and now wielded it as a weapon. What was more he’d seen all too personally what it could do to the alchemists themselves.
….Why am I killing the people of my country?
Hughes could not help but worry about his friend. It was years since they had met at the military academy, only to be reunited in Ishbal. Maes himself was a Captain and Roy a Major, such were the privileges afforded to a State Alchemist. When they first met, Hughes had noted that his friend had a ‘killer’s eyes’, a blank coldness found only in those who killed when ordered, one who had temporarily locked away all emotions, all regrets in some part of their mind that the horror and fear of war could not touch. Or at least, so Maes had thought. What he had not counted on then was how ingrained that outlook would become, as he watched Roy from day to day become more isolated in his own private and progressively more depressed world. With his alchemy,
So, you’ll embrace the woman you love with those hands filthy with blood?
In a sense, Maes knew he could not blame
All that happened here – I’ll take in all that I’ve done, and smile when I am in front of her!
For people like them, who would never again be able to live without the knowledge of war, an idea of ‘true peace’ was a fallacy but one Maes was determined to accept and strive toward. How could he not? His happiness was not his personally, but determined the lives of others; his family, and Gracia. Though he showed off his few treasured pictures to anyone who cared to pay attention – and several more who didn’t –
Hughes looked up when he saw sunlight glinted off bright metal. Roy Mustang stood in the door, brown robes dark with ash. The only colour about him came from his State Alchemist’s watch now in his hand. The man stood in silence, seemingly watching the clock-face. Maes knew why, for tomorrow the play would begin again.
Could you wait for thirty seconds? Just thirty seconds.
(All italicised lines are quotations from the ZOMG Fruit Tree Alchemists scanlation: two by Hughes (first and second-to-last) and the rest are
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