He's had to be the strong one for so long, the unbroken and unbreaking one. In the waking world, Maes could handle that easily enough. He had his family to support him when no one else was looking. He had love to buoy him against the battering tides of the world.
Here he's still had to be the strong one emotionally, understanding what other people refuse to, comforting and reassuring wherever he can. But he's had only memories to hold him up, and he can feel the current rising higher with every day, until he can barely keep his head above the flow of pain and frustration.
To no longer need to do that, to be able to give in and tumble under the waters and find love instead of defeat--it's sublime. So he gives in, kissing her, touching her, holding her. Some part of his brain beats against this prospect, growing more and more certain with her every movement (that's not quite right, she's never touched me there with that many fingers; no, she doesn't arch her back when I kiss her there, she just holds he tighter) that something is wrong. But it's drowned in the rush of need. He gives in. It's as simple as that.
Sometime during the night, the dull drizzle of rain increases to a torrent. Through it all only the low golden light of the lamps in the living area illuminates the figures on the sofa and later the bed (Maes is a very considerate man and entirely willing to carry his wife somewhere more comfortable even if she protests she doesn't need it, he shouldn't exert himself). It touches them like Peace herself.
Morning comes more gently, with the rain dried away to be replaced by low clouds of ash scraping through the tops of buildings. Something probably exploded sometime last night, or maybe several somethings. It's hard to tell in Promethea these days.
Inside Hughes's apartment, though, all is still calm at this quiet early hour. At least, until the man of the house opens his eyes and, remembering, smiles with sweet delight. He props himself up on an elbow and squints at the blurry room around him for a moment, then flops over so that he can start groping around on the floor.
Ah--there they are. He straightens up and pulls on boxers patterned with little hearts both pink and red.
It's precisely that--his want to be strong for others constantly, to be the light amongst the frowning faces and that smiling face to a sulky stranger that ultimately weakens his defenses here in this small apartment. Here he does not need to be that light--there is a woman here who is willing to take up this burden for him. Here, in the company of this woman he can be who he truly wishes to be without fear. Let the tides consume him and drag him under. When it's all over, she'll be there with a hand outstretched to him.
Their encounter leads them from a tender reunion of smiles and hugs to something more, to something that goes beyond the boundaries of friendly embraces. Their time is spent so close to one another in the darkness. Despite the concerns and the worries that still--and perhaps always will, if only for a few weeks--haunt him, he gives in and surrenders to the woman he cares dearly for. She will be with him, in body and soul tonight, it seems. And his need to feel her and touch flesh familiar ultimately wins over his concerns and fears.
He is only human.
Night becomes day, and a bed that once housed one now holds two. The break of dawn stretches its fingers through the window, casting a soft glow over those warm sheets. And the moment it does so the woman who sleeps close to his side rises with a smile, pausing as she gets up to place a kiss lightly to his forehead in the silence of his slumber. "I'll be back shortly," she will tell him as she slips into a pair of his pants and shirt--her garments are otherwise too dirty and ruined for public. "I need to get a few things, alright?"
Protest all he like, she'll leave him for an hour at most. Soon after she returns bearing gifts: groceries. A handful of eggs and breads, among other things. She'll cook a quick breakfast for the spy with a smile like always, providing him with a plate on the table for when he rises as she sits at the other end with hands folded, patiently waiting.
In time he'll leave the room and by doing so he'll be greeted with a gentle smile. "Good morning!" she cheerfully chimes, Gracia's eyes alight with joy. "I was wondering when you were going to wake up, honey. Please have a seat. Breakfast is ready."
Truly it's too good to be true; he's found peace at last with his wife in this wretched Dream.
He does protest weakly as she makes to leave, clutching sleepily at her wrist and giving her a meltingly adorable look with those expressive green eyes, but he's still half-asleep and in no state to make any serious effort at stopping her. Not that he would, anyway.
Given time alone, as he hunts around for his clothes (where are his glasses? Oh, right, left them on that table), he can't help but play host to a flotilla of nagging suspicions. His spy brain struggles to come forward, tries to push its frantic realizations into his consciousness. But he's still too bright with love--although the worries make their way a little closer to the surface this time. A dull feeling of unease begins to gnaw lightly at his stomach.
By the time he's dressed (black slacks and a dark pink shirt only partly buttoned up), though, he's managed to push the fears away. He can't go back now; what use is worrying? He won't let his own troubled mind take away the paradise he's regained.
When he steps out of the bedroom, Maes does so with a smile, all sweetness and light. "Sweetie, do you have my glasses? I think I left them out here last night..." He gives her an adorably sheepish look as he fumbles his way to the table.
Eventually the spy rises from his slumber, despite the departure of the woman with whom he shares his bed. She smiles as he protests, gentle but familiar fingers carefully grabbing his wrist and pulling his hand away and resting it gently on the pillow by his head. She'll offer kind words, a promise of her return before she leans in and places a kiss to his forehead and departs.
Though in his solitude his spy mind will no doubt rise to the fore, to pressure him with concerns for the outcome of this encounter. Is it really his wife? Has he finally found his peace at last, after so many lonely nights? He'll no doubt struggle to find the right thoughts as he dresses himself. The city beyond his bedroom walls are rising from their slumber. Promethea is alive once more--and dangerous. The sounds of yelling and protest can be heard in the distance.
Love conquers all, right? Even valid concerns. Everything is right with the world, at least in here.
As he exits the bedroom she's all smiles for him, her hands folded softly atop the table as she rises her head to meet his arrival. "Your glasses?" she echoes lightly, lifting a finger and pressing it gently against her lips. "I think. ..oh! Right. Just a second honey." She scrambles up from the table, gently pushing her seat out to jog over and retrieve them for him carefully before trotting back to the kitchen area.
"Sorry about that," she sheepishly replies, meeting his adorable expression with one of her own. She blushes even, her green eyes coy and bashful for a moment. "Here," she says tenderly, opening them and cradling them in her hands to lean forward and press them gently on his face. She guides them gently, carefully...
The protesting outside gets louder, the sounds of yelling closer than ever. A few familiar popping sounds echo loudly from outside, including what sounds like something cracking like glass. It's nothing to be worries about, right?
If only that could be true.
Time seems to pause itself as the woman tenderly puts her husband's glasses on his face. She hesitates, her hands paused as she continues to smile, even as the color in her face seems to wash. There is a warmth on his body where there once was not. A very warm sensation...warm and wet. It might not be until she just plain crumples to the floor that it all dawns on him.
There was a stray bullet, and she just happened to catch it.
There can be no trouble here. The apartment wraps them both in its safe haven, with love making its defenses ever thicker. Or at least, so Hughes would dearly like to believe.
He smiles sweetly up at his wife as she leans forward with his glasses, reaching up to catch one hand in his and start to bring it to his mouth for a kiss.
It never gets there. She stops. Why? He gives her a long, puzzled stare for a moment, even as realization washes over him, brutally cold and almost nauseating. He can't touch his food now. His world goes unreal around him. Then she hits the floor.
He's on his feet in an instant, then kneeling beside her, his glasses still slightly askew on his face. "Shh. It'll be all right," he whispers. He doesn't know whether she can hear him or not. He almost doesn't care, at this point. No, death isn't permanent here, but it still stings. His first reaction is still deep-down horror.
Then, moving with blinding speed, he's at the table where he left his knives. He grabs two of them in each hand and runs for the window. It must be broken enough for him to get through now. He can climb down and kill them all. Or get killed in the process. He doesn't really care.
Trouble is left at the front door--it was left at the door last night when she came back to him in the pouring, stinging rains that have long since passed. Here in this shell she is safe with him, to be with him always and love him unconditionally. She promised him that. She isn't going to back out on it, right?
That's why she seeks to help him by retrieving those famous glasses of his. This is she smiles so dearly as she reaches forward with his glasses in hand, to place them on his face like a good wife. It's why she has nothing but love in those eyes of hers, because she made a promise to him when they got married. Until death do us part.
He reaches forward to tenderly catch a hand in his and guide it to his lips, yet another gentle expression of his endless, tireless love for her. It brings a gentle blush to her cheeks, even as the world outside goes violent. It's just a shame that the violence had to stem beyond that and into the hallowed walls of his apartment.
It steals from him the light in her eyes as she stares, still smiling nonetheless. It robs him of her warmth as the wound in her back lodges in there, the trauma great. There's blood everywhere around her, like water pouring from a spigot at either side of her. Unfortunately she's also bathed him in this warm, sticky blood as well, and it causes a moment of confusion in her bewildered eyes. "H-honey? What's going...on?" is all she can really manage before her body gives up and strikes down on the floor at his feet.
As always he is by her side. Kneeling by her, despite the blood that pools around her like some macabre pair of wings he's there to comfort her. She can hear him as he speaks, and it brings a small but immensely sad smile to her lips. "I love you," she will tell him as she lets her eyes meet his for one last moment. "I'm just s-sorry I couldn't...keep my promise." Death is not permanent, no. But its whims are fleeting. Will she be here still? Will she rise from her slumber once more? Or will she be kicked out of Paradise back into the cruel, waking world in which he is no longer with her?
There's really no time to think about it. With a speed no doubt unmatched the spy lurches out the broken, getting a little cut in the process- -this does not matter. Below there's a sight--a group of four men seem to go at it with one another, all of which hidden behind crates, corners and whatever else they can use to protect themselves from their bullets. They yell and scream and shout obscenities at one another, no doubt unknowing that there's a woman lying dead because of them.
Or so that's what Archer would like Hughes to think.
"I'll come back to you," Maes whispers softly, and he even kisses her before he's up and on his feet again. It's a promise, sealed with that kiss, and that kiss is sealed by the blood that's already getting everywhere. He can taste it.
He takes no notice of the blood soaking through his shirt, though it might as well belong to him as to his wife for all that he hurts. He does not flinch when the broken edges of glass slice into his skin, joining his own blood to the mess. Good. It's only proper. His penance for letting the woman he loves hurt like this, for allowing her chance at reunion with him to be imperiled.
Then he's scrambling down the side of the wall, glad for the handholds offered by its ostentatious decoration and the everpresent vines of orange ivy. He leaves a trail of blood behind him, his own and his wife's, but even as he moves the coldly rational part of his brain is struggling to reemerge. It's shackled down by fury and horror, but it can't be suppressed entirely. It can, however, be redirected from its earlier questions about this woman who looks/sounds/smells/tastes/feels just like his Gracia. Instead, it nags at him: it's been mutants, mutants all around lately; why do *these* four seem to be normal humans? Why are the normal humans fighting when they should be banding together against the mutants?
He pushes those concerns aside once more, hurt and anger blinding him. All he knows is that there are four of them, and he has four knives. Perfect. He slips quietly towards the first of the men.
His promise seems to fall upon empty silence--there comes no acknowledgement from his fallen wife as she lay there on cold linoleum, her fatal wounds staining the floor with warm, sticky blood. Green eyes once filled with warmth are empty and lifeless, the familiar light he knew so very well long since parted.
It's this which drives the spy from the room, through a broken window and scarring his hands as he flees from the scene into the streets below. He leaves behind the scene, into the damp streets of Promethea where those men below continue to quarrel and bicker violently with one another, their voices occasionally drown out by gunfire. He travels quickly and quietly, scaling down the walls by way of vine, a bloody mess left in his wake. Still he goes unseen. One man of the four falls, doubling over as he is struck in the gut with a bullet, blood pouring out onto the crate that once protected him. One down, three to go. His work should be easy.
They continue to fight. Hughes can easily slip behind the first, but once offing him the two remaining--his partner and the other who fights against the pair--will no doubt take notice and, perhaps, turn their fight onto him. Meanwhile, on the roof above and unseen man in black smiles coldly, disassembling a rifle and carefully putting them away into his nearby bag. His work here is done.
He's already fast approaching one of the three remaining men when a sense of the *wrongness* of the situation hits him hard in the gut. It doesn't freeze him the way it might normally. Distilled fury propels him onward, and it guides his hand as he thrusts the point of a knife deep into the soft place at the base of one man's head. Only then, with the stranger's warm blood joining that of his wife on his hands, does his brain catch up with his heart. Unease growing, he slips behind a crumbling wall and goes very still and quiet as he tries to piece this all together.
In the distance, a guttural series of roars echoes from some mutant deprived of its prey. Hughes pays them little mind. He's focusing. Trying to think through the sorrow and rage drowning his neurons. He absently wipes his hands off on his pants, staining the cloth with blood, and stares up at the bullet-shattered window, then at the remaining men nearby. He'd love to have Hawkeye here to confirm or deny his suspicions, but he could swear that the angles aren't right, that those men aren't using the sort of rifle that'd send stray bullets through the window several stories up.
He glances at the roof opposite. Was that movement? He can't be sure. If it was, he's certainly distracted from it when the partner of the man he just killed lunges around the wall for him. Hughes reaches out with inhuman speed, grabbing him and drawing a knife across his throat before a bullet can be fired. Then he takes a long moment to scrutinize the gun in the man's lifeless hands. Emotion has fled from his face as if chased away by the spatters of blood there.
Then he pushes the body away, casually, and bolts for the wall of the building opposite, the one he thought he saw movement atop. If the remaining man tries to shoot at him there, he'll deal with it then. Meanwhile, he just might have another target to vent his helpless rage on, and that's good.
Whatever hits the spy is truly beyond anyone's control. Instead he moves by way of his emotions, drawn from that den of sorrow into the empty, cold streets of Promethea below. The exchanges continue even as he scales down the walls unseen, the shouting and yelling and exchange of fire almost deafening. It's long since run any passers by off the streets into safety as the men argue. Now is as good a time as any to be this unruly--and exact vengeance.
There is a roar of a mutant in the distance, yet these men just do NOT care. They continue to fight like dogs, hissing and spitting as they duck and cover, occasionally rising to pop off another round. There's a wild look in their eyes as they continue to fight, even as the spy sneaks up unseen and takes out the first of his three victims.
The knife buries itself deeply into the base of his neck, a sickening, squishy crack resounding between the two men before he goes falling to the ground in a heap. The motion is caught by the man near this now-lifeless thug, who twitches and gropes at empty air as the last of his life escapes him. Naturally the remaining thug roars in disbelief and irritation, letting his arm snap up as the barrel of the gun seeks to aim itself square on Hughes. "T-the hell are you d-doing!?" he screams, his finger itching to squeeze the trigger.
It would, were the spy not so quick to slash his throat with the tip of his knife. It's followed by a spray of red across the wall that stands behind him. He too gasps for air, hands clawing at his throat. The other man remaining? The fear crosses his face before he yells and drops his gun, turning tail to flee into the morning light.
This leaves Hughes free to climb if he so wishes. Unfortunately it won't be a pretty sight to greet him--but he'll get to that when the time comes, however. Below a mutant emerges from the shadows to begin picking on the remains of the two men he so ruthlessly slaughtered.
The remaining man barely warrants a casual glance from Hughes. He does get that, at least, and then the spy briefly considers the trajectory between the thug's current position and the bullet-broken window. Then he shakes his head slightly, turns, and starts up the vines, heedless of the chaos below him.
The mutated orange ivy that crawls all over Promethea has always been good for climbing, even if it contributes to the decay of the buildings themselves. But right now, blood and sweat alike make Hughes's grip on it slick and unsteady. He fumbles at the vines, scraping himself on juts of broken marble and cutting his palm open on razor-edged leaves. His own blood mingles with that of his wife and his victims. He stares absently at his hands for a moment, then keeps going, leaving sticky red trails behind him. Twice he slips, losing his grip entirely, and both times he's only saved from smashing into the ground by the eroded remains of a white marble statue emerging from the wall a few feet below him. When he starts climbing again, he leaves spatters of red on the greying marble. By the time he reaches the top, he's nearly ill from the combination of physical exertion and the roar of the emotions in his head. (It didn't even occur to him to see if the building had stairs inside until he was halfway up.) But all the same, eventually he does reach the top.
Up and up he goes, crawling along the walls with pain and haste, blood trailing across the stained, aging marble and mortar. The ivy aids him, but the climb is still otherwise a dangerous one--more so as he ascends higher above, the streets below growing distant with each motion made to reach the top. Those walls are smeared with sweat and blood, a grisly sight, only matching the carnage that goes on down below. Fortunately for Hughes the dead men won't tell any tales--they're currently being devoured by the gray, putrid skinned mutant with gnarly teeth in the alley below.
Eventually his dangerous trek along the side of the wall leads him up to the roof, where he no doubt struggles to climb past the overhand to reach the roof proper. And it's there he'll no doubt need to catch his breath and recover from the sudden bout of fighting and exertion. But he's given precious little time to do so--a sudden whiz of a bullet resounds by his ear, and should those green eyes look up, he'll see the likes of Archer...accompanied by four armed men and wielding the most diabolical smile on his face.
"So, Maes," he offers, letting his leather gloved hands rise up and gently cup together, the smirk widening. "Did you have fun getting to knowing that touch of your wife again? I hear she's rather good in the sack." Something about this setup seems weird. Very weird.
It's rough and it's dangerous, but he just doesn't care. Self-preservation is not on his mind right now, and pain only serves to remind him of where exactly his physical body is.
At the moment, it's on the roof of the building opposite Psyche Hotel after a long, hard journey upwards. Hughes collapses to his hands and knees on the cold marble, breathing hard. Blood spreads slowly from his hands to form shapeless prints. He stares down at the red stain, a dimly wondering expression on his face.
Only the ear-splitting crack of a bullet being fired brings him back to reality. He rises to his feet out of instinct, but it's not until he registers Archer's presence that he truly reacts on more than autopilot. "You piece of shit." One hand twitches towards the pocket he stashed his knives in while climbing, but he knows better than to pull a weapon on Archer with guards watching on. "You had her killed, didn't you."
He talks, of course, because it gives him time to think. And his thoughts are coming to the conclusion that something is off here. Why did they let her escape only to kill her here? Wouldn't it serve their hold on him better to just recapture her?
The Colonel simply sneers. He has no time for civility with this man, this treacherous spy. Instead his eyes narrow, icy blue eyes mere slits as they gaze coldly across that chill rooftop, accompanied only by the four armed men at his side. "That's quite a look," he says across the void, nodding his head idly toward Maes with a wide, smarmy grin on his lip. "That's the kind of look that really hits the heart, makes me feel a little sore right- " A gloved hand rises, touching his chest, over his heart. "--here." A cold laugh follows.
The cruel Colonel takes notice of his hand, to which his own rises, and the arms of his guards follow by way of raising their arms and readying a shot, if necessary. "Now, now, Brigadier General Hughes. I'm well-aware of those little knives of yours. After all, you so skillfully used them to dispatch of those poor men. A shame, really." Archer tsks softly, shaking his head in mock disappointment.
With an exhale of bored annoyance the soldier folds his arms behind his back, letting polished boots crunch neatly beneath his heels. Today he is bereft of his military attire; after all, being here in full Militsii-issue regalia would no doubt turn heads and sound alarms. Instead he chooses black; black pressed slacks, a solid black turtleneck and matching leather trench coat with military issue boots. His gloved hands disappear in his pockets, wintry blue eyes drawing shut as he paces. His soldiers remain alert and aware.
"Now Maes," he states, casting an eye toward the broken window on the opposite building a few floors down. "Why would I do something as heartless as that? That's really so very out of character for me, wouldn't you agree?" The smirk on his pale lips is an obviously condescending remark when paired up with that smile. "I just don't like to see you HAPPY is all, Maes. Is that so wrong? A man--a traitor who put my life and the lives of my city in jeopardy--does not deserve such a luxury."
The side of Hughes's mouth twitches, just once. There's blood spattered there, probably from one of the men he killed. He absently reaches up and smudges it off, leaving even more blood behind. "Why did you let her come here if you were only going to kill her?" he asks flatly. He doesn't elaborate, doesn't add his ideas on why that doesn't make sense--no need to let Archer know how much he's thought this over.
Meanwhile, keeping his eyes trained on the men with the guns, he slowly dips a hand into his pocket, keeping the other one raised in a placatory gesture. When he takes his hand back out, he's cradling something small, black, and cylindrical, with a switch on one side. Not a knife. "You realize," he says quietly, in a detached voice, ignoring Archer's talk about treason and luxuries, refusing to rise to the bait, "Promethea doesn't take kindly to those who attempt to interfere with the duties of its civil servants. Especially when they're from Winterheart."
He stands only a few feet from the edge of the roof, and he makes no effort to attack Archer or his men. There's a faintly defeated slump to his shoulders, only kept from being worse by the stiffening of anger that lingers in them. "Should I inform my superiors of your arrival here, Lieutenant Archer?"
"Why?" he replies with a slight crook of his neck, blue eyes peering thoughtfully out across the empty rooftop. "Why not? Besides, what makes you think this is all going according to some PLAN I had devised just to spite you?" It's a good point; there is the possibility that the woman did manage to escape on her own and slip past the security, if only to be with her husband once more. "I'm just doing my job, Maes. She poses a threat to the security of Winterheart." There comes a slimy smirk, bored amusement filling once-annoyed features. It seems like a pathetic excuse, if anything. He'll just let the spy stew in that for a while.
"I'm not here to start TROUBLE, General," the man sneers, letting his lips pull into a scowl. There's a moment of seething hatred in those cold eyes, pale blues gazing hatefully from beneath his thin brows. "I came here for the reasons I said already. One of our 'things' happened to escape, and this poses a threat. Is that so hard for you to grasp, Maes? It's really cute that you two go to spend so much quality time together. On second thought, maybe this whole situation here--" He opens his arms wide, sweeping them away from his body. "--was fitting. Maybe you deserve a little slice of heaven in that little hell of yours. We all know that when you wake up you have nothing to look forward to, right?"
The cylinder is noted but otherwise shrugged off by Archer, even as his men ready their arms and aim. A hand lifts, palm flat and facing the spy as he exhales in tired annoyance. "Please, Hughes. Put that toy away? I'm not here for your cute little spy bullshit. And as for Promethea and Winterheart? I haven't done a single thing. There is no proof of my involvement. I'm just here." In the end it's all true--it wasn't HE that pulled the trigger. "Besides, what's this little decrepit town going to do? Throw ROCKS at me?" He laughs.
A dismissive wave is offered. "Feh. Do as you like, Maes. Don't wave that thing around though. Ah, Maes? I'd watch your back if I were--"
Remember that broken apartment window? Well, Gracia's standing there with a smoking gun in hand, among other things--such as files--in arm. It seems she just fired off a shot aimed for Hughes' chest.
His hand still on the thing he withdrew from his pocket, Maes regards Archer coolly. Anger has subsided from green fire to glacial ice in his eyes, but the set of his jaw is still tight with fury. "Is your security at Winterheart really that lax, Archer?" He almost sneers; it's not quite as good a go of the expression as Archer can manage, but it's not bad, either. "I suppose it is. You're always letting prisoners escape, after all."
He pales slightly at the mention of the waking world, genuine distress glinting for a fragment of a second in his eyes, momentarily loosening the angry set of his expression. Then it's gone, and he turns so that he's not quite looking Archer in the eye.
A beat, and he lifts the hand with the device in it. He starts flicking the switch, and...it's a flashlight. A simple flashlight. He's sending a distress call out to anyone who can receive it. Oh, how Promethea's technology has fallen.
He pauses, though, a puzzled frown taking over his face. Why is Archer warning him to--no. He knows he's bad for him, but he turns anyway.
And then he freezes. The flashlight drops from his hand, cracks on the roof and goes bouncing off the edge to plummet to the ground several stories below. He has time to draw in a hissing breath of anguish, and then the bullet takes him square in the chest (same as before, of course) and he staggers back, sinking to his knees. The look on his face is a tangled mix of distressed betrayal and peculiar recognition.
The spy has a way of pushing the Colonel's buttons just so, to where the eternally calm and conniving man is tweaked just so to lose his cool, if only slightly. It's his mention of Winterheart's security that sends a sudden sneer across his cold, dry lips, the man's thin brow sharply plummeting over frigid blues. "The security in Winterheart is perfectly acceptable, Maes," the man states coldly, sure to emphasize the spy's first name. "But then there's a whole matter of meddling outsiders who like to help steal away our prisoners. I'm sure you're well aware of that, aren't you?" The sneer is met with an equally cold sneer.
"What's the matter, Hughes? Are you afraid to wake up to nothing but the cold, empty coffin you were so carefully buried in?" the Colonel coos with a smirk, letting those leather gloved hands of his dip once again into his pockets as the pale-faced man paces back and forth before his men. "What's a death like that like? Tell me; I'm morbidly fascinated by your shortcomings, Maes Hughes."
A...flashlight? "Wow. Maes, Maes; that's really high-tech," he'll mock with his trademark boredom, a lopsided smirk haunting those lips of his. Archer turns his head slightly to the side, a brow loft in jaded interest before waving a hand dismissively. "Do you think anyone will notice? They're probably too busy collecting stones to throw or fighting off those scary mutants of theirs. Really, General. You left behind Winterheart for THIS?" Another sweeping gesture is made to the city that stretches across the horizon behind him, a depressing canvas panted in dull grays and decrepit whites and blacks.
The smirk on the Colonel's lips widens as Hughes expresses confusion, the man's eyes drifting from his face to the window in the distance behind him. It's as he turns that he finds a familiar sight there in the kitchen, his wife all bloody and stained holding a gun up and at him, its barrel smoking and hot. He's struck and the pale Colonel hisses a sympathetic sigh of pain, a blue eye wincing lightly before he shakes his head. His expression is priceless, that it is; he is anguished and agonized by the likeness of his wife, who tore a hole through his heart, both physically and emotionally. She hurt him in a way no other could.
"Like I said," Archer goes to explain with an idle shrug of his shoulders. "Winterheart's security is perfectly acceptable, if not top notch."
Wide green eyes stare up at Archer and his men, the mouth beneath them rendered speechless with pain and memory. After a long moment, anger flickers behind the shock, infusing Hughes with a brief burst of life. He reaches up, touches one hand absently to his chest, then looks down at it.
Blood trickles from the corner of his mouth. It's hard to smirk with that kind of color added to one's expression, so he merely regards Archer matter-of-factly. "What's a death like that like?" He tips his head slightly to one side as if studying the other man closely--although he clearly isn't, because his eyes are already taking on a glazed and unfocused look. "I can't say for sure, but I'd bet that it's a lot like your life. Very cold, very alone, and very pointless." He slumps, barely catching himself on the marble roof.
He pauses, wipes blood from his mouth. "Sloppy, Frank. Your shapeshifter's aim could improve. It didn't take this long before."
That expression of pain and recognition of memories long since pushed aside is responded to only with a sneer and stern glares from the men in black, who continue to keep the wounded spy at bay by way of gun. Even as life seems to flee him by way of the hole in his chest they still refuse to take any chances; no, especially not with what they've more or less done.
"Hm, that's cute, Maes," the Colonel says with a tired sigh, letting his hand reach up to idly smooth back his hair against his skull. "Real cute. You honestly think my life is that alone and pointless? Far from it; I have purpose in Winterheart--more than I ever did in Amestris. Here I am more a hero than I ever was. Here I am whole, and here I do not need to reduce myself to playing 'nice' with the likes of you or that wretched Colonel Mustang." The Flame Alchemist will NEVER be a Brigadier General in his eye. He's starting to lose his temper again, evident by the way his face grows a touch red in otherwise pale cheeks.
A clearing of his throat signals he's more or less forgotten such words, a wave of his hand offered in dismissal. "Improve? Oh, I think her aim was quite accurate. I wouldn't want you to go off into that cold--if only temporary, alas--night so swiftly. Suffering until the last breath builds character, wouldn't you agree?" His cold eyes avert from the spy to that window, where the familiar likeness of his wife stands, her gun long since dropped its aim to rest limp at her side. She frowns, green eyes narrowed before she turns swiftly and vanishes from sight, only to be seen exiting the apartment a few minutes later in clean, nondescript black and white clothes with a bundle of things: papers, mostly.
But it's the latter of what's said that affords Archer an opportunity to quirk his brow, the pieces fitting slowly together. 'Didn't take this long before?' Slowly the man's dull, bored expression fades into something more cruel and heartless, the man's forehead scrunched lightly in amusement. Time seems to creep slowly along as he stews in these thoughts, letting them breed theories before he asks, "Ah. Was this how you died before? Did Gracia do the deed to you? Or a familiar likeness thereof? It's not nice to have secrets, Maes."
A distant door creaks open, its wrought hinges whining against the strain as that same woman emerges again, only to take side by the Colonel, her expression stern and cold as she salutes him before offering over the collected goods. "Then again, Maes," he says, much like before. "Who is to say that this isn't your Gracia? They say there's such thing as 'darkening' here." A gloved hand reaches out, to touch her face softly before fingers lightly touch her lips, adding, "Was her kiss not as you remembered it?" She seems completely cool, calm and collected the entire time, even as one eye regards the wounded and slowly expiring spy.
The dying man's gaze has dropped to the roof beneath him. It's getting hard for him to lift his head to look up at Archer, and so, for the time being, he doesn't. Instead he just watches his darkened reflection in the puddle of blood collecting beneath him and, even as he speaks, he wonders distantly if he'll wake up this time. There are mutants and worse out here; who knows? He's too detached to feel more than a brief stab of fear. "You're wrong, Frank. So long as Colonel Mustang is here--and he is--you'll always be second-best at most. And even that's stretching it."
When Archer voices his conjecture, though, Hughes reflexively tightens his grip on the marble beneath him. But there's nothing for him to grasp, and besides, his hands have gone too weak for him to hold on even if there *was* anything there. "That wasn't it," he insists, "that wasn't how it happened." But he doesn't actually look Archer in the eye, and his denial is more vehement than anything else he's said since hauling himself onto the rooftop.
At the sound of the door opening, he finally does look up, blinking eyes gone hazy behind crooked glasses. "No. She'd never..." he whispers, trailing off. "I--" He catches his breath, but it's obviously a near thing; it came awfully close to escaping him.
His voice is a low, broken whisper, and then he too is low and broken, finally slumping the remaining distance to the cold marble, his glasses slipping off, his head lolling mere inches from the expanding pool of blood.
The Colonel simply looks on with a wide smirk as the spy finds himself grasping and groping for what life he can as it escapes him so swiftly. The blood on the white marble pools around his bent knees, that crimson puddle thick and warm, the stench of fresh coppery blood wafting through the air. It'd almost be choking and suffocating, were it not so hard to breathe already. The men with guns continue to keep their aim stern and steady; they are like machines, really. As to be expected of Winterheart. This isn't Amestris, Toto.
"Mn. If you say so, Maes. Really," Exhaling with a tired sigh, the Colonel closes his eyes, a hand reaching up and idly rubbing his chin in thought. "That gets so very old. You need a new line. You can't continue to play the second fiddle card every time you want to bruise my ego." The Colonel smirks broadly once more, his cold eyes hard, unrelenting as they watch him slowly die.
But that look gets even colder as Hughes protests, the man's thin chocolate brown brow arching slowly atop his cold, ashen brow. For a moment the man considers what's said and his reaction, lips pulled tightly together in thought before his lips melt, sliming their way into a cold smile. "Really? If that's not what happened, then why do I find it so hard to believe you?" It's one of those questions that will no doubt go unanswered.
However, the door heralds the arrival of this woman he knows so very well, a likeness almost too familiar for even the spy. Is she a shifter? Or did his wife get pulled in corrupted? Either way the woman just keeps one green eye trained on the spy as she stands close to the Colonel's side. "What's that, General?" the Colonel says as gloved fingers idly grace her lips, breaking free to caress her face lightly as he continues to smirk oh so smugly. "Love won't save you," are his final words to the dying spy as he slumps forward and goes cold.
"Move out," the Colonel commands with cold order and a snap of his hand toward the door, two men filing out that door while two others flank the Colonel and this likeness of the spy's wife, who spares one final glance over her shoulder to his fallen body before obediently tailing along behind her master and commander. "We're done here. Be discreet. We can't have them knowing we're here; not now anyway. We got what we came for--and then some. Time to return home, men."
They eventually file out, the door slowly creaking shut behind them in their wake, leaving the spy alone, to remain cold and lifeless there atop the roof, lost but not forgotten this bittersweet winter morning.