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25 February 2007 @ 08:56 pm
Gen. Fic - 'Thirty Seconds More'  

Title: Thirty Seconds More
Author: lmd_84
Spoilers: Ref. gaiden chapter, plus Manga chapters 58-61
Rating: PG-13
Warnings:  Manga-verse

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, Roy killed without true blood-shed, without the proximity of a knife or the jolt of a gun-shot. Whilst others left detritus in their wake, the districts assigned to the Flame Alchemist were rendered scorched and bare. The husks of buildings and charred corpses were all that remained. So it had been the first time Hughes had, from a distance, witness his friend’s work and had directed the subsequent operation to check that none were left alive. Few ever were. It had been the same only that morning, in the area designated ‘district twenty-seven’. Maes had tried to stick close to Roy during the de-briefing with Grand, but the other man had somehow eluded him after they were dismissed. Recalling Mustang’s temperament that morning, Hughes had taken the hint. Roy would come back when the mood took him. It remained to be seen what mood he would be in. But their earlier argument had not filled him with optimism. The need for the extra thirty seconds, duly timed on Maes’ pocket-watch, also did not bode well.

So, you’ll embrace the woman you love with those hands filthy with blood?

In a sense, Maes knew he could not blame Roy for his attitude, nor had any desire too. After all, each man and woman on the field of battle had their own ways of coping. There were the men who kept up a comic persona, making light of whatever they could; from their companions’ girlfriends to the state of the food. Others lost all control and either gave way to a deadly madness or mental breakdown. Hughes had seen and heard of both, and now feared that Roy would be next. That morning had not been the first time Hughes had seen his friend brought so low by the depravity of the situation, of his own actions. But it had been the first time he had heard Mustang deny him his one positive goal with a bitter, cruel assessment of their place in the conflict. Those who killed, who murdered innocent people, could not expect happiness in the world as it was now. Those outside of the conflict were no better off in their ignorance, for their peace was built on a massacre.

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 – Roy was the only one who came close to understanding what Gracia truly meant to Maes. She was the one he had hated to leave, and the one he now lived day to day for. Every day out in Ishbal, soldiers were dying not just from combat or accidents, but from the thought of having nothing and no-one to return to. Maes had meant every word when he said he would hide his experiences from Gracia, not out of a selfish desire to deceive her, but in the concrete understanding that only by putting his experiences aside could he face the future he wished for. His hands were indeed “filthy with blood”, but Maes knew that to wallow in the carnage that was Ishbal would kill him and with him any chance of the greatest happiness; to own a house with the woman he loved, and live a normal life. Thirty seconds was all it took for Roy Mustang to take on the persona of the Flame Alchemist, a façade of his own that allowed him to kill seemingly without passion or regret. And Maes Hughes was determined to live, even if thirty seconds was all the time he would have to see his dream fulfilled.

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.

The End

(All italicised lines are quotations from the ZOMG Fruit Tree Alchemists scanlation: two by Hughes (first and second-to-last) and the rest are Roy’s.)


This was also posted to fullservicefma
 
 
seaweed_fmaseaweed_fma on February 25th, 2007 09:32 pm (UTC)
Wow... just wow.. I have always been a fan of Roy and Maes Ishbal fics.. and this honestly is one of the best ever written. There is anguish and pain, you really feel thier pain, the horrors of war.
I hope you write alot more!
lmd_84lmd_84 on February 25th, 2007 09:50 pm (UTC)
Why, thank-you for that! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I am planning to write more fics.

I also like fics about Ishbal, as that part of the series really appeals to me. For an excellent fic on the subject, with a great storyline, I'd recommend 'Matters of Loyalty' by Kishiboujin. That's my favourite post-Ishbal fic, as it involves a slightly different take on the war and the people involved.
Aerisaeri_s on February 26th, 2007 12:51 am (UTC)
*smile*
Very good! Much <3
*remembers the gaiden* Yes, you put Maes very, very well. He was so nice to Mustang then too...so very nice.
I love the self-evaluation that's going on here. Very sweet =)
inane_nana on February 26th, 2007 05:07 am (UTC)
Absolutely wonderful job tying both the gaiden and the rest of the manga. Hughes' characterization is spot-on I think you gave a very good insight on his motivations as well as his feelings towards Ishbal and Roy + Gracia.

really, really nicely done :)