The Top of the Hill

It was a weird thing, for a smile to be so disquieting.

Gracia's visit hadn't surprised him in the least. After he got out of the hospital, Roy had taken the habit of calling every now and then to know how she and Elicia were doing, not as often as he would have liked, but enough to give Gracia enough confidence to ask about personal matters. The woman was, in her own way, as cunning as Maes had been.

When Roy had told her about the engagement, Gracia had given him a knowing smile and Roy had noticed, for the first time in his life, how much you could manage to resemble those you loved in little details. He wondered if people saw the same thing in him; if they saw a bit of Maes Hughes in his smirk or in the calm looks he allowed himself from time to time.

The rest of the visit had been strange, with the clear feeling of a missing third party hanging in the air. Both he and Gracia knew that, if things had been the way they should be, the night would have ended in a very different way. Gracia would have excused herself much earlier while the two men drank Roy's good whiskey, clinked glasses and Maes exclaimed that It was about damn time.

Instead, Gracia had gone home to Eliza and Roy had sat near the window, waiting for Riza to come home. She had found him there, asleep, with an empty glass at his side.

The bottle of whiskey had never been opened.

A couple of weeks later, earlier than any other engagement present, Roy had received a package wrapped in soft tones of white and blue. It came with a small note from Gracia, whishing both him and Riza happiness and explaining that this particular gift was not from her.

—this is something Maes wanted you to have. He told me that if you 'ever found a woman who was crazy enough to tolerate the Flame Alchemist' this is the first thing he wanted to give you—

He had laughed when he saw what the gift was.

Somewhere, Maes Hughes was probably laughing at his expense too.

After that first camera, Roy had bought several others over the years. First, because he had wanted Riza to have one as well and then because the old one had broken in a silly accident with the bathtub. The next one had suffered from an early demise in the hands of a hyperactive five year old.

Slowly, one after the other, photos started to pile up. The first time he had seen his desk cluttered with them, Roy had put them in a box, taken the keys of his car and left Riza a small note in the kitchen.

Sitting in the fresh and well-kept grass besides the tombstone, Roy opened the box and extracted the first photograph of a large pile.

What the photos couldn't show, he told. Like the way Riza laughed when she was happy, or how his son was always excited about something new each week, or how the Elrics were doing now that Alphonse had once again outgrown Edward.

He didn't care if he got weird looks from people who thought that a grown man talking and showing photographs to a tombstone for three hours was a little eccentric. Roy's mind was an alchemist's mind and, as such, he found the perfect retribution in bombarding Hughes with details in the same way the man had done before. .

It surprised him how time passed and loss could still feel so new, even if the pain was now almost easy to live with. Loss, he considered, was similar to guilt in a way that both emotions had played a significant part in his life. The difference was that, while guilt had impelled him to walk forward, heading straight to the top without minding the means; loss had made him stop and realize that the top was not what he had imagined in the first place.

Once, Roy had wondered how Hughes could stand working to achieve a goal that wasn't his, always a step behind Roy. His friend, he knew, would have done anything for him, but it was still hard to understand when he, regardless of his motivations, had always aimed to reach the peak.

Truth was, Maes Hughes had never been pushed him from behind. He had always been at the top of the hill, waiting for Roy to join him.