sisyphean effort

Painted Truths

chapter 10. Resolve

Back to Roy. . .

Shadows slithered across the stucco walls of Chiaro's studio: the fire in the grate had burned low, drained, turning the whole room into a swaying, shifting kaleidoscope of light and dark.

Roy Mustang sat, leaning forward, elbows on knees, hands steepled together beneath his lips in careful contemplation. The artist Chiaro sat, legs tucked underneath him, on the square ottoman across from him—the same piece of furniture from the painting—-he was now silent, his retelling of all the things that had happened to Ed in Xing finished, complete.

So Edward had escaped.

Mustang let out a long, drawn-out sigh of relief. The feeling overwhelmed him, so much so that he marveled at the sheer force of it. How long had he been pushing his own emotions down? He had been doing it on a day-to-day basis for so long, for so many years now, that he could no longer pinpoint when all feeling had simply stopped, vanished, replaced with a thread-bare illusion of human emotion that touched not his core, not the man inside. He wanted his feelings back; he wanted to want again. From the moment he had seen that painting of Edward, he had felt things, felt his own desire like a lightning strike, swift and blinding: and it was not an emotion he was willing to part from again.

Mustang watched the painter seated in front him, his missing left hand casually concealed by the folds of his sleeve. "So that was because you helped Edward escape?"

The painter merely shrugged. "It was a small sacrifice."

"That can't be true; it had to have been painful."

Chiaro shrugged again. "It was not nearly as painful as how much, how hard I had to beg for them to not take the right. . .that would have been a large sacrifice."

Mustang nodded in understanding. "So during the time you spent talking with Edward. . . he told you. . .about me. . .and what he felt?"

Chiaro's laughter was like music in the fading light. "Of all the things I just told you, the thing you fixate on is a crush. Why, that's marvelous—the fuhrer of Amestris is sitting here, in my studio, blushing like a school boy. Well, I do believe I am owed a crate of Amestrian whisky." The artist was smiling triumphantly.

Mustang smiled in return, his former power to charm returning. "I'll give you as many crates as you want." he said, then frowned, remembering:

"But you don't know where Edward went?"

The artist's expression crumpled, "No, I told him not to tell me—having that information would have been dangerous, you understand. It would not have been sound logic to reveal such a thing."

Mustang nodded, bowing his head, crestfallen. Edward could be anywhere by now—anywhere. Even with Mustang's own vast network of contacts and spies, how was he supposed to find him—especially when he was in hiding and obviously did not want to be found? How was he to do it?

"Edward. . .where are you?" the long buried voice in his mind repeated. Then, from the depths, there emerged a memory, atomized from the smoke of a long ago—and previously forgotten—day. . .

Colonel Roy Mustang opened the door which lead to the outer offices belonging to his subordinates, his meeting with Brigadier General Hakuro finished. His entrance caused a small flurry of activity among the staff: Havoc dropped his obviously propped up feet from the desk to the floor, Breda dumped the jelly doughnut that he'd been holding into his desk drawer, and Fuery shoved Black Hayate's bag of dog snacks beneath his desk with his foot. Hawkeye was the only one, as usual, hard at work: her typewriter keys clicked smartly, pausing in their progress only to acknowledge Mustang's return with a crisp salute of "Good afternoon, Colonel."

Then: "Fullmetal's been waiting for you in your office. He's been in there for about an hour."

Mustang paused. It was customary for Edward to put off his reports to the very last minute; his procrastination was legendary. And he'd been waiting in there for an hour? That was impossible, he thought, the kid couldn't sit still that long.

As Mustang opened then closed the door to his office, the mystery was suddenly made clear. Edward was sprawled across one of Mustang's couches, snoring lightly, an open alchemy book folded over his face like a sleep mask. The sound of the door was not enough to wake him. Mustang found himself treading the carpet with light steps—why, he wasn't sure—and he walked over to the couch where Edward was dozing.

Mustang stood over the boy, a small smile slowly forming on his face. It wasn't often that he was given the opportunity to study Edward this closely unobserved, and his eyes raked across the boy's lithe, leather clad frame, the sight filling him with a deep, burgeoning hunger. An image appeared in his mind: his own hand reaching out, lifting the book from Ed's face, himself leaning over, lips meeting, and maybe, maybe. . .

Mustang lowered his treacherous, reaching hand. "You really are a bastard," he chided himself. And suddenly he found himself backing away, his head clanging with the warning bells of restraint; his inner voice reproached him, reminding him, giving every possible reason why reaching out to Edward would be wrong, wrong, wrong. Mustang was ashamed of his own feelings, and he allowed that shame to chase him, like an avenging ghost, back around to the cold, hard barrier and safety of his desk. He slumped forward, like a man possessed, rubbing his face with both hands, willing away all those thoughts, all those feelings, of an illicit—and utterly compelling—nature. . .

The memory faded, vaporized into the ether. Yet another one of those 'what if' moments that Mustang enjoyed torturing himself with, moments picked over, like old wounds, never healed, never allowed to rest, revised, reinvented, twisted into different outcomes. His own memory served as the perfect torture cell for all his repressed emotions, and every detail of every remembered scene was used, like a knife, against the raw shell of his tattered psyche. He could see himself, even now, years down the road, going over this moment now—regretting it, changing it, shifting it into another self-manipulated recreation. The moment that he almost—almost—had Edward, and lost him—again. He could see himself, with utter clarity, picking up the portrait, returning to his car, heading home to Amestris, walking into his library, and taking the painting, stuffing it into his safe: buried, never to be taken out, never to be looked at again, except in the darkest and cruelest moments of his own self-loathing. He would sit, glass of scotch in hand, and replay over in his mind again, again, what should have been different: a never ending loop of torture.

He might as well bury his own heart in the safe along with the portrait.

A cold, determined look came across Mustang's face—a look usually checked, then revealed, just before the snap of his gloves. He would not give up yet. He stood from the couch and reached for the portrait. Yes, he would return to Amestris, and he would use every resource, every means, every lead available to try and find him. He would not let this end—as before—in nothingness, a blank canvas where he hadn't bothered to act, to even try. Not this time.

"Wait," said the painter.

Mustang paused, one hand on the doorknob, the other clasping the portrait. He turned back to the artist, who was still sitting on the low ottoman—Chiaro was frowning, a hard, contemplative look covering his face. The he said:

"It's sinking."

Mustang's fine, black eyebrows knit together. "What?"

"The place where Edward was going—before I hissed at him to not tell me—he said it was sinking. A sinking city." Chiaro looked up at Mustang. "Does it. . .does it mean anything?"

Mustang froze. Then slowly, his eyes lit up with understanding. His lips crooked up in a wry smile: calculating, formidable, an air of renewed vigor surrounding him, ringing him like a burning halo. He knew where he would go next: