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Catch Fire

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They had met in the academy.

Roy Mustang had been a smartass, even then, too proud for his own good and definitely too proud for a soldier in training. With his attitude and his pretty face, painting a target on his forehead would have been almost redundant.

Maes Hughes had taken one look at him and decided he needed to take him under his wing. Roy had looked honest. He had looked like he was there because he actually wanted to make a difference. That was a rare enough thing for Maes to want to protect it.

Of course, when a slightly older man had dropped into the seat in front of Roy and started telling him he was going to help, Roy had raised one eyebrow and replied with something sarcastic. Maes hadn't missed a beat, just started laughing. He had patted Roy on the shoulder, told him to keep feeding his fire, and had then kept on talking right through Roy's silence.

Roy wouldn't admit it unless under threat or extremely drunk, but he owed Maes a lot. He might not have made it through training in one piece if not for the older man's guidance.

He was certain he wouldn't have made through Ishval without him. The experience had left the both of them worse for wear as it was. It was easy to say that they hadn't come back whole. But it felt cheap, considering the very physical things some people had lost there.

 

The thing was, they had met each other in the academy. After that, they had never quite left the other's side.

Sure, they had both had wildly different careers. Maes had gone into covert ops and then investigations, rising through the ranks at a steady pace, while Roy had first finished his basic training, then passed his state alchemist exam, and had then started blazing his way through every step of the social ladder.

But even separated by distance or circumstances, they stayed together. They called each other, wrote letters, left coded notes at one another's offices just because they could, because it passed the time and showed that they cared.

It shouldn't have been a surprise, when they had gone back to Maes' appartment and opened a bottle of whiskey, one night, too soon after Ishval for their lives in Central to feel real. It shouldn't have been a surprise, that they had gone to each other when trying to chase each other's demons away, that Roy had plucked Maes' glass from his hand, set it down on the coffee table, and then kissed him.

It shouldn't have been, but it still was, and Maes' instinctive reaction was to ask Roy what the hell he was doing.

Maes had never claimed to be very composed when under pressure or the influence of alcohol.

Roy raised an eyebrow, the gesture as elegant and calculated as it always was, with him.

“I thought it was fairly obvious. I'm kissing you.”

“Uh,” Maes replied, showing off his mastery of the art of eloquence.

It didn't seem to bother Roy a whole lot, since he just leaned in again, resting one arm against the back of Maes' armchair, and kissed him once more.

This time, Maes had enough sense in him to kiss back. After all, that was the logical reaction to being kissed by an attractive person. Also, Roy kissed well.

He was dedicated and focused, but didn't force things. He sucked on Maes' lower lip until the older man let out a soundless gasp, but kept his own mouth pretty much closed even then. It was all controlled teasing, and it drove Maes insane. So, in the end, he was the one to push his tongue between the other's lips, fisting his hands in Roy's hair and bringing him closer, because it had been too long since he had brought anyone home, and the hunger burning behind Roy's pupils was more intoxicating than any whisky the military's money could buy.

Roy seemed entirely too happy about Maes' now active involvement, and took it as invitation to sit down on the other man's lap. Maes couldn't really find anything wrong with that, not when it made it easier for him to pull Roy's hair slightly backward and bite down on his lower lip at the same time. The move earned him a small moan and a thrust of Roy's hips into his own.

And yeah. That was Roy's half-erect cock rubbing against his own. Not really something Maes had ever seriously considered.

It wasn't that he had never thought about sex with a man. Maes' whole job was to discover secrets, and he would be pretty bad at it if he wasn't able to notice his own attraction to members of the same sex. So it wasn't like he had never thought about it. The alternative had simply always seemed like less risk for pretty much the same reward, and so he had never made it a focus of his fantasies before.

Maes knew the stories. He knew how it usually went when you were a man who liked men and you made this fact known while under military employ. Nobody had caught his fancy enough to risk his career over, not when he could enjoy a fine evening with any lady he liked without anybody batting an eyelash.

However, in considering the possibility of sex with a man, Maes had seemed to ignore the possibility of having sex with Roy Mustang. That made quite a difference to the whole situation.

Maes broke away from the kiss and pushed Roy away slightly. He still kept one hand in his hair though, softly scratching at his scalp in reassurance that he wasn't going anywhere.

“Hey,” he said softly.

Roy was already breathing fast, and it looked like the four inches of space between them were physically hurting him.

“What's all this about?” Maes asked, rather proud of the way his voice stayed even. He couldn't claim that seeing Roy's usual façade crumbling down wasn't affecting him. Still, they had to be adults about this.

Roy stared at him, as if he could stop Maes from asking any awkward question by sheer force of will. It wasn't the first time he had tried that particular trick.

“Come on, Roy. You can't just a kiss a guy without warning and not even give an explanation after the fact. Not that I'm complaining about the kiss. At all.”

Roy seemed to hesitate between rolling his eyes and actually relaxing a little. The relaxation ended up winning, which was not unexpected considering his position on Maes' knees.

“I just wanted to. I've been wanting to for a while now.

“Really?”

Roy shrugged awkwardly. The fact that Roy Mustang was acting awkward was causing short-circuits in Maes' brain, but he was handling it quite bravely, if he had to say so himself.

“Really. Never found a good time for it. It's not like you can usually walk up to your male best friend and ask if he wants to make out with you.”

Maes nodded. “So why now?”

Roy sighed dramatically at that. He peeled himself off Maes, going as far as to rub away the crease in his trousers as he stood up. The man was unbelievable. And graceful. Smooth-skinned and elegant and more mouth-watering than Maes would ever have admitted before actually getting a taste of him. How easy it was not to let yourself see the dangers all around you.

“If we're having a serious conversation, I'm having more whisky,” Roy said, and poured himself a glass, before sitting back down on the second armchair, a safe distance away from Maes.

The surface of the liquid was unstable. Was Roy nervous?

“Help yourself.” It was pointless to say it now, considering Roy already had his drink, but Maes felt obligated to play the good host anyway.

Roy raised his glass at him and took a sip, before lapsing into silence again.

Maes just looked at him. Roy was sitting as regally as he ever was, but there was a tension in his shoulders. It was probably only noticeable if you knew him as much as Maes did.

Maes felt his heart swell with tenderness. This was Roy all the way through. He took the risks, he made the grand statements. All so that others wouldn't have to. He careened onwards, barely giving himself enough time to breathe, on the off-chance that he could keep away the fear as well as the oxygen.

Maes waited. Roy took another sip of whisky. Maes waited some more.

“Fine. I kissed you right now because I'm on my way to tipsy and lonely as all hell. I kissed you right now because I've wanted to do so for years and never had the balls, and I figured that if you were going to leave me over this, it might as well be now instead of later. I kissed you because I thought that with all we've been through there might be a small chance you wouldn't hold it against me.” Roy downed the rest of his glass and put it back down on the coffee table. “Is that enough of an answer, or do you need more?”

He looked young, like this. He looked like that kid at the academy who had been trying so hard and had been such an easy prey. He looked innocent, like the kind of man who was haunted by nothing more awful than his own imagination.

Maes knew it was all a façade. He knew it was just another wall, a different one than the collected coolness, but a mask all the same. A protective layer around the emptiness they both felt at their core, the one they saw reflected in each other's eyes and in the bottom of their glass, when everything felt too warm and too cold all at once and the only safety they had was each other.

He knew there was more behind Roy's act, but it pulled at his heartstrings all the same. Roy Mustang was very good at getting what he wanted. And Maes had to admit that there was a particular kind of thrill that came with feeling like he was what Roy desired.

“I guess that will do for now,” Maes replied.

Roy looked surprised. Had he not been joking about the tipsiness after all, that he wore all of his expressions so openly?

He looked almost like a deer caught in headlights, and that wouldn't do. He was meant to be a hunter. If it meant he had to play the prey, Maes didn't mind. It was all for the greater good.

Maes stood up. He made a show of stretching his arms above his head, following the way Roy's gaze traced down his whole body.

He extended a hand towars Roy.

“I have a bed that might be more comfortable. Unless armchair-sex is a thing for you.”

Roy's eyes darkened at that. That was good. That was better. That was one step closer to Roy taking back control. The world was a safer place when Roy Mustang was hellbent on making it follow his rules. That was a fact of the universe Maes had accepted weeks only after meeting the other man.

Roy took his hand and pulled himself up. He looked up at Maes with blazing eyes. Maes had always been endlessly amused that he was taller than his friend, mostly because Roy's presence always seemed to take up so much space. It was always a pleasure to ruin the illusion by carefully ruffling the other man's hair or – even better – laying one's chin on the top of his head.

It wasn't a moment for jokes though. Not when Roy's grip was so forceful, as if he half-expeted Maes to run away from him.

This still wouldn't work. Not if Roy didn't trust him. Didn't he trust him? Wasn't that the reason he had kissed him in the first place?

Whatever the reason, they needed trust now. And Maes was decided to do everything he could to earn Roy's

He pulled on Roy's arm once, wordlessly indicating he should follow, and led him into his bedroom. Roy didn't let go of his hand and that was... That was something that lit a bubble of warmth inside Maes' stomach. That was something that could easily be imbued with significance. It was a dangerous thing, was what it was. This whole affair was a dangerous thing. But Maes knew what Roy had meant when he had said he was lonely. He knew the feeling intimately. He had curled around inside it one too many night, and if Roy was offering to change that he wouldn't refuse.

He could make this good. For the both of them. He might not be able to make it what they needed, but he could at least make it good.

Maes didn't give Roy time to contemplate the dirty socks forgotten in a corner of the room. Instead, he pushed him onto the bed. There was no real force behind the gesture, but – as expected – Roy was more than happy to let himself fall.

And wasn't that a goddamn metaphor for the mess Maes was in right now.

Roy still hadn't let go of his hand, and he used it to drag Maes onto the mattress with him. There was a second of hesitation there, both of them wondering if they were truly ready for this. What would it change? What would it mean? There was only one way to find out, and it wasn't through regret. Maes surged forward and pressed his lips against Roy's. He let himself be hungry this time. He didn't hesitate. Roy had started this and he would have to deal with the consequences.

Maes pressed himself into Roy's space, hands instinctively going up to Roy's hair. He had really nice hair. Maybe Maes shouldn't have ruffled it so often. Maybe that had been a slippery slope all along, one that ineluctably went to a young man in his bed, to a tongue in his mouth, to tiny half-sighs whispered down his throat and a helpless scrabbling of hands that cried of desperation.

The thing was, they both knew they wouldn't go to hell for this. They both knew they had many more sins to account for first. Sins that were louder, weighed a lot heavier on their shoulders. What was one more on a lit like that? And, after all, they weren't hurting anybody but themselves. For once.

Roy didn't let Maes set the pace for long. That had been expected. Maes had enjoyed what little time he'd had in power, but he was ready to give up his place just as easily. That had been his plan all along. Pave the way so Roy could take the throne.

In this particular instance, the throne seemed to be Maes' hips, if you pardonned him the obvious metaphor. Because that was where Roy chose to sit down.

He started pulling open Maes' shirt, hands shaking slightly over the buttons.

He looked so young. Had he looked that young, before the war and the fire? Maes didn't think so. Wasn't trauma supposed to make you look older?

Probably. But, probably, Maes was just projecting onto Roy. Probably he was just seeing what he wanted to see. Probably he looked at Roy and tried to find anything that could pass for innocence, because if someone like Roy was made only of guilt, then there was no chance for the likes of Maes.

Well. Maybe innocence wasn't the right thing to be looking for when Roy was tracing his tongue down the newly revealed skin of Maes' chest.

Maes didn't hold himself back. What would have been the point? They had nothing to prove to each other except for the fact that they wanted this. So he let a little moan escape his lips when Roy grazed his teeth over his ribs, and a louder one when he moved back up to softly lick around one of his nipples.

And damn, it had been a long time since Maes had done this. He was already hard, and feeling what little grasp he had on reason slip away from his fingers quickly.

Speaking of fingers, though, Maes decided to put his to good use and start undressing the other man, although Roy was no help at all and stubbornly kept his mouth trained on Maes' skin.

Maes had to pull him up so he could kiss his mouth once more.

Roy tasted a little like whisky, and a little like sand and ashes. Maes drank it up anyway. He had never been one to run away from a bad idea. He knew how to play with fire.

***

When Roy kissed him, Maes tasted the desert again and wanted to cry. He had done his best to drive that taste away. He had tried, even if he'd known from the start that it wouldn't be enough. Maybe that had been his mistake. He'd been stupid to think that all of this had any chance of making things better. He'd been stupid to pretend that this wouldn't just make it hurt more when it all crumbled down. Because Maes had known it would crumble down. He had known it from the start.

He had tried, he told himself. He'd done his best.

Ah.

As if Maes hadn't been driven by selfish desire only. As if Maes hadn't taken one look at Roy, broken and needy, and immediately wanted.

It had been all nice and well to latch onto his good intentions when they had both still been trying to hold the pieces together, but that was over now. Maes was walking away, he was stepping all over the mess they'd made and hearing it crunch underneath his boots.

And Roy would be okay. He would. If he let himself be. Which was the hardest part.

But in the end, he'd be okay.

Maybe not fine. The scars went deep within him, deeper than Maes could guess, even though he was the one who had been closest to tracing them all. But Roy would manage. In the long run, this would be better for him.

But Roy didn't know that. He didn't want to see that the thing they had was holding them both back.

Maes pulled away. Roy sighed, a broken sound from the deepest part of his lungs. Maes felt his hands start to shake.

“Let's not do this, Roy,” he said softly. He was trying to be the better man here. Always trying to pretend that he knew what was best, to gain some moral high ground on the man he had promised to lay his life out for. It was all a pointless and ridiculous game, but it was the only one Maes knew how to play.

“Why not?”

Roy's tone was cold and cruel, the opposite of the longing his kiss had conveyed. Ice burns too, Maes had learned. Sometimes worse than fire, because it's unexpected.

“You know why. It won't do you any good.”

“You don't get to decide what's good for me, Maes.” Roy's outburst was punctuated with a push to Maes' chest that made him stumble back a step. “You can plan your own little life however you want it, but you don't get to pretend that any of it is about what I want or what I need.”

“Roy...”

“It's all always been a game to you, so what will one more round cost you? What difference does it make if we both know it's the last one?”

Roy knew where to strike to make it hurt. He had always been good at that.

“You don't mean that.”

Roy rolled his eyes. “And you don't know what I think. You don't know how I feel. I can make my own damn choices, Maes. Just as you can make yours.”

He took one step closer, invading Maes' personal space once more. He looked directly into his eyes, fire burning colder than ever before.

“So choose. But don't blame it on me.”

Maes wanted. Roy looked fierce and intense, and Maes felt consumed by how much he wanted him. How much he wanted to trace his fingers against the other man's skin once last time, find the space where he fitted in this body he had come to know so well.

It had always been a terrible idea, and it hadn't fixed anything for either of them, but Maes couldn't deny the comfort that came from physical closeness.

In this moment, Maes wanted nothing more than to run his fingers through Roy's hair. But he knew he couldn't. He couldn't say which decision was the most selfish. He just knew he had to keep this one promise he had made to himself.

He raised one shaking hand and carefully laid it against Roy's cheek. The man leaned into the touch and closed his eyes. He immediately deflated, as if he'd been able to guess everything that was going through Maes' head from this simple gesture alone.

“I can't do this to you, Roy.” Maes' voice broke. “You can't keep holding onto this. It isn't right. It has never been right.”

“Stop saying that. Stop saying that when it was so important to me.”

“I'm sorry.”

Roy opened his eyes again. “Don't fucking say that.”

Maes took his hand away and shook his head. “I need to. I'm sorry Roy. I'm sorry I kept this going even when I knew what it was doing to you. I'm sorry I was so selfish.”

“I made my own choices. You didn't do anything.”

“I did. I held onto my own desires and pretended I didn't know you didn't have the same ones. I knew you wanted more of me, and I knew I couldn't give it, and I kept tempting you anyway. That's on me.”

“You gave me more than enough,” Roy replied, pulling away. He looked like he was trying to convince himself. “You don't get to blame yourself for something we did together.”

“I get to blame myself as much as I want. I knew it would end this way, and I knew it would hurt more the longer we kept it going. That's a decision I made consciously, so I get to handle the consequences of it. We can't do this anymore, Roy. I can't do this, and you shouldn't do it to yourself. That doesn't mean I regret it. It's...” Maes hesitated. Roy's face had become blank behind the mask he always used to protect himself. “I don't regret it. It was good, and it meant something to me too. You have to believe that. Not the same kind of thing as for you, but it meant something. It's not because I don't love you like that that I don't love you, okay? Please believe that.”

“You don't have to justify yourself to me. I just wanted... It's fine. I won't bother you again.”

Roy took two steps back, and Maes had to fight everything in him not to reach out and bring him back, hold him close. This was the reason he hadn't wanted to put an end to things earlier. He had always been too scared that Roy would pull away, leave him behind. He had been so scared to lose his best friend he had kept putting this off, making it worse as time went on. Selfish. Selfish and cowardly. You don't deserve him.

“Do you remember the first time?” The night was branded in Maes' memory with iron, and he doubted it would be any different with Roy. “You told me you'd kissed me because you thought we'd been through enough together that I wouldn't hold it against you.”

Roy nodded. There was something to his posture – despite his blank features – that made him look fragile. Maes' guts twisted at the thought. He was one of the only people in front of whom Roy would ever dare appear vulnerable. Maes should have been flattered by that, but part of him resented it. It was easier to believe in Roy's cause if he didn't appear human. That was Maes' curse. He was one of the people the most involved in the other man's success, and also one of the most conscious of how easy it would be for him to fail.

“I still don't hold it against you. I couldn't. And I... I know this might be asking a lot, but I hope you won't hold it against me either. You're important to me. It's not about sex, and it's not romance, but you're important to me. And me meeting someone else won't change that.”

Roy just stared in silence for a while.

Maes wanted to scream. He wanted to get through to him, to reach the part of Roy that was so alive it sometimes hurt to look.

But he had relinquished his right to that. He had relinquished his right to any part of him.

“I think I want to leave now.”

And what could Maes say to that? What could he do except nod and watch his best friend go?

He stayed frozen in place for one more minute after Roy had left the flat. Then he sighed, sagged forward, and let exactly three tears fall down his face. He took his glasses off and wiped at his eyes.

He felt like he couldn't breathe through all the silence. He felt like the quiet was seeping through his lungs and settling in his bones. He felt like the whole world had shifted just the slightest bit off its balance.

Maes took a deep breath.

They would be okay. They were strong, the both of them. They had been through so much worse, and somehow gotten back on their feet again. They weren't going to let themselves be broken by something like this.

It had had to be done. And now he had done it. That was all that mattered. They could both move forward now. It was better this way.

Maes tried to think of Gracia. Gracia, the beautiful woman he had just met that had managed to make something light up in his heart. He tried to think of her and the warmth he'd felt in her presence.

His mouth tasted like ash.

But he'd be okay.

Eventually.