Maes was in a strange state of stupor as he walked with Roy toward Eastern Command. Roy had agreed to Maes’ insistent plea to accompany him to East City in order to make use of their long-distance telephone system — such a system had yet to be installed in the Ishval camp, although Maes had made a note to talk to Sgt. Fuery about perhaps establishing a direct radio link between Maes’ apartment and a certain house on Mayflower Street.
He looked around, pulling up the cowl of his cloak so as to be as inconspicuous as possible, and slipped into the small, empty office adjoining Roy’s that he could only imagine was intended to be Major Hawkeye’s. Locking the door that opened onto the hallway, Maes sat down and picked up the phone, dialing the long-distance operator without even needing to be reminded. It was only when the tinny, distant sound of a phone ringing came through after a long pause that Maes realized with a smile that he hadn’t even had to look at the telephone number that Gracia had written down for him. This was a very, very good sign.
It was only a matter of time. There was reason she’d given him the number to start with, after all, and she fully expected him to use it. As long as it was safe to do so, she’d even admit that she hoped he would.
Something about knowing that she could hear his voice even if it was through a telephone receiver just felt nice.
That was what kept that lonely pang at bay. That, and of course, the joy of their daughter being her usual delightful self. So far they’d colored no less than three fabulous pictures that would be tucked and mailed in those envelopes over the course of his stay in Ishval. She’d kept it a surprise to date, but it was getting harder and harder not to write him just to tell him there’d be something in the mail soon. Funny how that worked.
Needless to say, when the phone rang, she picked it up before it even hit the second jingle of the bell. “Hello?” And though she was trying desperately not to give herself away, there was just a sliver of hopefulness in the tone that maybe - just maybe - it would be you-know-who.
In case you wondered, that was a picture of my grandmother. I lost her six years ago this week - actually, I just realized it was six years ago today.
I’m going to go ahead and reblog, since what I want to say to you is going to be way longer than an ask box limit or a reply window. So here goes.
“I will… I promise,” Maes murmured against Gracia’s mouth, deepening the kiss because he simply couldn’t resist his wife’s lips. He caressed his hands up over Gracia’s shoulders, then down her upper arms, her forearms, to her hands, and laced his fingers with hers as he kissed her until he had to draw back for another breath.
As Maes squeezed Gracia’s hands, he felt her wedding rings press into his fingers, and he brought that hand up, to kiss each of her knuckles. “When I proposed to you, was it a surprise?” he asked, lingering on her ring finger. “Or were you expecting it?” The engagement ring was quite small — Maes would have thought he’d have gotten her something as grandiose as the way he felt about her. Then again, Gracia worked with her hands, cooking and baking. If she had something too fancy, she wouldn’t have been able to wear it.
Maes looked down at his own creased left ring finger. He hadn’t wanted to mention it before, but he was getting ready to leave for Ishval, and they hadn’t talked about it yet. “Gracia… do you know what happened to my ring?” he asked quietly.
To think, just a few days ago and she thought she’d lost this forever. It was an understatement to say those kisses had just a hint of desperation to them, the subtle cling of her conscious to this new life given them, this new chance to make things right and keep them that way. She was drowning—but it wasn’t in the hopelessness that had flooded the scene as they lowered his coffin into the ground.
It was in the opposite.
The breath she took when he finally drew back was giddy, light, a bubble that popped in mirth as she confessed, “It was— Well, I hoped you would. I didn’t know you were going to that night.” So in that respect, it had been a surprise. But the smile she sent him told him they’d both known it was just the next logical step in the development of their courtship.
“I don’t think even you planned on it then,” she added, the memory taking her back, gaze tilting ceilingward as she reflected. “I remember we were saying goodnight… You never liked saying goodnight,” could be told with another hint of a laugh, her focus falling to meet his again over the back of her palm. “I don’t know how long you had that ring in your pocket but I think you were just hoping I wouldn’t make you walk back to your apartment all alone.”
But she had. Poor fellow.
Mention of his ring had her own fingers reciprocating the attention, thumb brushing against that vacant spot where his band would have been. “As far as I knew, we buried it with you.” If there was no body in the casket… “I suppose it might still be in there.” Otherwise, she had no idea.
It didn’t matter. There was no use fretting, and there was also no use digging up that wooden box just for the sake of a ring he didn’t remember anyway. “When you come back, we’ll buy a new one,” she said, more of a lilt to that smile and her lips pressed to his again. “Another new memory to add to the collection.”
Trouble was an understatement, but then Maria wasn’t exactly keen on admitting that, that’s exactly what this was. After all, there was no really need to warrant much attention this way—that was the exact opposite of what she wanted, rather. To just happen upon a young woman curling her fingers around the door for a peek out into the hallway was probably the right amount of gold one needed to pay their way around the gossip chain. Gracia found the end of the rainbow, in that regard.
On the more positive end of the spectrum, as least now she had eyes. A silent ‘stay there’ was worth the gesture of one free hand as she mouthed the words with a face pleading for as much. “Is anybody else walking around?” served to break the ice, for however thick it was between strangers because good lord this was a bit of a predicament.
Clearly, the poor young woman was in need of something. Just what, Gracia couldn’t tell.
For the sake of playing along, she sent a glance back down the hallway, watching one of the other officers shuffle by in the background but turn just before they’d have headed toward them. “No, it doesn’t look like there’s anyone else. Why, do you need me to fetch someone?” True, she didn’t know everyone in the building, but if Maria gave her someone’s rank or office, she’d be able to figure it out.
Of course, being the hospitable spirit she was, that kind of aid would only be offered after she ventured, “Or if you needed a hand, I could…?” She had to at least try to be of some help. Whatever it was that had the young woman in a bind, it couldn’t be too terrible, right? They were in the middle of Central Command, after all. Even Gracia couldn’t imagine it would be anything without an easy solution.
“Sounds like you’ve got quite a list,” Maes chuckled. He didn’t even hesitate to voice his next thought. “If you find yourself in need of a guide to show you around Central City, or perhaps take you on a ride in a car… well, let’s just say I know someone who is more than willing to serve.” He winked at Gracia. Never mind that he’d never explored much around Central City, and he didn’t own a car.
He’d figure that out later, though.
Eventually the excitement of the day and the long trip took their toll on the pair and their conversation grew quiet. Maes struggled to keep his head upright, watching the sun set behind the trees on the western horizon, and occasionally glancing down at Gracia. He was too tired to read, so all he could bring himself to do was to lose himself in thought.
Maes shifted on his seat, trying to get comfortable, eventually yawning and stretching, then slowly draping his arm along the back of the seat they shared. Pretty subtle, even if he did say so himself.
The subtle rhythm of that train chugging along its tracks was enough to lull just about anyone to sleep—except for Gracia. She was far too excited about the prospects, the future, the thrill of the day and the story she’d already have to write home. That was, assuming she actually told her parents she already almost fell prey to one of the traps of the city. Maybe she’d leave that part out.
But the rest, like meeting a young Lieutenant and making a friend, that she could include. And the optimism of knowing that Central was a land of opportunity… That she could tell them as well.
She didn’t mind the way his arm happened to fall, though he wouldn’t see the hint of a smile that touched her lips upon the realization. It was turned toward the glass of the window, her focus watching the landscape zip by, figures blurred and colors streaking, like a painted canvas wiped all but clean. This was her chance to do whatever she wanted; she didn’t want to squander even a moment.
Before she knew it, the picture was coming back into focus, the smudged edges of those figures and landmarks straightening as the locomotive began to slow. Central City. Already? And her heart was pounding a cadence somewhere between panic and delight so hard that she imagined even Maes could hear it. She hoped to mask it, managed a quiet but near incredulous, “We’re here.” She was here.
Time to say goodbye.
To all my followers, I’m so sorry I haven’t been more active! My family’s been struggling with the tail-end of cold/flu season (yes, it was still snowing in Idaho where I live just a week ago) and my desire to roleplay has been minimal at best.
I promise I’m still here. I’m just slow as a snail as I slog through what life threw at me to get going again.
As a result, I do have all the things I think I owe saved in my drafts, but I’m not really wading through my dash. So if I’ve missed anything, or you think there’s something I need/want to see or should reply to, please let me know. c:
Maes pouted, but then tried a spoonful, sighing at the taste and texture. She even made perfect oatmeal. “Gracia?” he asked quietly, looking up at her, his mood beginning to grow serious as well. He had a feeling he knew how she’d answer the question he was going to ask, but he had to ask it. He had to hope she’d give him something.
“How can I make this easier for you? How can I carry some of that weight, even if I’m thousands of miles away?” He wanted to hear from Gracia what she wanted, rather than just assuming, just doing what he felt was right.
There also was a frisson of inexplicable anxiety in a part of Maes’ brain he wasn’t very in-touch with. He was afraid to leave her.
He was afraid he wouldn’t come back.
Of course, Maes wouldn’t ever voice those fears, if he could help it. The Maes Hughes Swagger would more than compensate for that.
There were times when he didn’t have to say a word and she’d know what he was thinking. When he could just give her a look, or not do anything at all and she would just know. Maybe it was a woman’s intuition, maybe it was a maternal instinct, maybe it was just a wife’s answer to the call of her husband’s heart.
This wasn’t one of those times.
She’d hoped - unrealistically - that he might not bring up that subject again. It seemed a dead end; on the one hand, if she was honest, voiced her fears and her reservations, he’d try to allay them or possibly even mention quitting the military again if it would make her happy. But if she kept it from him, it was tantamount to lying.
Ultimately, she met him in the middle, her spoon set aside so she could shift on his lap, rest a hand on his shoulder, fingers inching toward the nape of his neck so that when she finally spoke, it was with her brow to his after another kiss had been laid on his mouth. “Maes. You’re alive. That’s all we need.”
Really, there was nothing more to it than that.
A smile, warm and gentle, was there between them. The reassurance of that palm curled snugly around his neck, and her other fingers caressing his cheek. And of course the way she met his eyes when she said, “Knowing my daughter won’t have to grow up without her father. That we have a future—” That was worth more than he could ever “do.”
She was afraid. She was afraid that he’d go to that bloodstained place and only remember the evil done there, the bodies that piled up, the stench and the sickness of war. She was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to keep that from bleeding into their lives together—or worse, that he would but it would cause forced division and distance though it hadn’t before. She was afraid there were people still out there who wanted her husband dead. She was afraid.
But more than anything else, she was also convinced: “You came back to me before. You came back to me from the dead. I know you’ll come back to me from Ishval again.”
There wasn’t even a shadow of a doubt in her mind about that one.
And in the meantime? She swept her thumb against his cheek when she leaned in to drop another kiss on his mouth where she murmured, “Write to me. We fell in love through letters. Let’s do it again.” It had, after all, already begun anew.
Maes didn’t remove his arms from Gracia’s waist, but he turned and looked at the spread on the table, including a small pitcher of cream, a small dish of brown sugar, and even a dish of blueberries. “I think I can hazard a guess,” he grinned, kissing Gracia again. “What would I do without you? What did I do before you?” he mused, half joking, but part of him quite serious. What kind of man was so fortunate to be taken care of like this?
“I think I like my oatmeal with a beautiful woman on top,” he said, sitting in his chair and tugging Gracia into his lap and kissing her again. He then leaned up and reached across the table to grab Gracia’s placemat and tug her bowl across the table to where they were sitting. He didn’t think about whether it was practical or not; he just knew everything was better with his hands all over Gracia. He kept one arm securely around her waist while he attempted to spoon brown sugar into his bowl with one hand.
The answer, of course, was simple.
Had he not met Gracia on the train that fateful day, he’d probably be living just as he was now. An apartment shared with a friend - Roy was even the best choice - and non-gourmet meals—or eating out every night. The promise of something more, someday, but no guarantee about when that time would come. Somehow, all of that seemed so dull in comparison.
But she didn’t want to ruin their last moments together for the morning pointing that out. “Such a charmer,” she couldn’t help but muse, though it bubbled into a laugh when he pulled her to his lap. Funny how a man who prided himself on being meticulous at work would be sprinkling the table with brown sugar just for the sake of keeping his wife close. That was just his way.
“Here,” she said a moment later, after watching him with that spoon haphazard around her waist. She plucked it gently from his grasp, doing the job for him and fixing his oatmeal for him just how he liked it, taking the opportunity to also top her own with a bit of the sugar and a sprinkle of blueberries. “I’m not going to spoon feed you, though, so you’ll have to manage that yourself,” she added, complete with another kiss to his temple before her attention turned to her bowl again.
She dallied. He’d know, know that it couldn’t possibly take that long for one spoonful to reach her mouth, or that the contents didn’t need to be stirred quite so often. She simply knew that the minute breakfast was over, life would go on and they’d have to go their separate ways—at least for the day. Surely it wasn’t so terrible a thing to want to wring what she could from what quieter moments they had left.
Beth chuckled quietly. She completely understood how Gracia must feel. Your children are wonderful company in their own way, but having friends closer to your age was best. And Gracia seemed like much better company than the young nurses she usually had to manage.
Jeremy babbled happily as he was given attention, kicking his feet and gripping Gracia’s hand with his own chubby little fingers. “I think he already likes you,” Beth smiled. He was such a happy baby, and so easy to deal with. Although, he ate more than she usually saw babies eat. Even at this tender age, the smell of food wafting through the house made the little boy excited. “He’s been looking forward to meeting you both all day. He’s having a hard time controlling himself.”
“If Elysia wants to help, she’s welcome to.” She grinned at the little girl, making Jeremy wave at her. “Say hi to Elysia, Jemy.” The girl may be older than him, but she still hoped they would be able to be friends once he was older. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ve got everything he needs with me. He isn’t quite big enough to eat solid foot yet, as it is, so he’s fairly easy to feed.” With the amount he ate now, she slightly dreaded the day he would start eating solids.
Hanging her and Jeremy’s coats up on the coat rack, Beth nodded. “It smells amazing. I’m looking forward to it.” Taking her son’s little hat off and putting it in her bag, she giggled as the boy’s absolute mess of rust colored hair poofed everywhere. Smoothing it out, she gave him a kiss on the head. “There you go, Jemy. Better?” He grabbed her hair in response, tangling it with a funny look of determination on his face. “Gracia, might I be able to set up his little chair somewhere for when we eat?”
Let’s be honest, Gracia was bound to be a little biased. Jeremy was the first baby she’d been blessed to have in her home for years. Any friends she’d had the occasion and opportunity to visit who had welcomed home a new bundle of joy were done so in their home so as not to inconvenience them, and play dates for Elysia were toddlers and up virtually without exception.
This was a real treat. Of course she was going to dote on little Jemy for all she was worth.
“Oh, he’s so darling. Such a smile, too! He must bring you such joy.” Suddenly, it didn’t matter nearly as much about that blunder in the clinic assuming Beth had a husband; the blessing of such an adorable baby boy must have been measured much more than marriage could be. Or at the very least, the woman’s life couldn’t possibly be lacking when she had that tiny man to keep her company.
All the more reason to be as hospitable as ever possible. “Of course, of course. Would you like me to hold him so you can get settled?” Elysia would have wanted to volunteer, but instead the girl understood her ‘duty’ was relegated to showing the way to the kitchen, leading them all through the living room toward the dining room and beyond. “The table’s all set but I did leave space for him beside you.” In whatever capacity they’d turned out in the end.