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Remake It In Your Image
Just like that, Roy Mustang is the Fuhrer.
They have a fucking parade.
By the end of his first day in power, Ed's compulsory six years has been reduced to time served. He's been offered his freedom offhandedly in an office that's still being stripped of Bradley's terrible mid-century oil-paintings. Ed turns the silver watch over once, and then dangles it from his fingers.
“So, taking away my watch already, huh, Mustang?” Ed asks, surprised at the anger he feels investing the words that he'd meant to be casual, at worst. “I suppose you can't have a state alchemist who can't do any alchemy.”
“Don't you want to stop being a dog of the military, Fullmetal?” Mustang asks, dangerously quiet.
Ed laughs shortly. “I slipped your leash on my terms, not yours. Is that was has your panties in a twist?”
Mustang looks at him steadily. “Yes or no, Fullmetal. It may come as a surprise, but I have things to do.”
“You'd let me stay a state alchemist? Why?” He asks, actually surprised. “Come on, Mustang, where's the equivalent exchange?”
For a moment, the Colonel – no, the Fuhrer – looks shocked, but he covers it up so throughly that Ed might have imagined it. “Even without being able to transmute, you're probably the best theoretical alchemist in the country, Ed.” He sounds tired and sincere, but whether either of those are real or faked is anyone's guess. Mustang's a pro. “Besides, as we all know-,” his eyes slip down to his right desk drawer, where he keeps his Flame-Array gloves. “-equivalent exchange is a lie.”
After he leaves the Fuhrer's office, Ed thinks about asking him – so what's it like getting exactly what you wanted? He wonders if it's anything as bittersweet as what he feels: Al's beautiful human face fills him with a fierce joy, but it's also shadowed by the gaunt and dead-eyed Al from the Gate. He wonders whether Mustang sometimes wakes up in the morning and can't see for minutes at a time because he's forgotten that he's not blind anymore – but the body remembers these things. Al's body remembers being seven and a half feet tall – he's always ducking to go through doorways that pass a good few feet above his human head.
Ed thinks that he might be going mad a little, because he misses looking up at Al's armored face – the clink of metal plating more familiar to him than the delicate play of emotions on Al's human features. He looks at Al's face and it's beautiful but impenetrable to him, he doesn't know what he's thinking. (But Brother, you can learn, Al's voice rebukes gently from some suppressed corner of Ed's mind, You're good at learning.)
For a long time, Ed has been exactly what he has to be: older brother, brilliant alchemist, driven, good at learning, good at fighting, good at reading the way a seven foot skeleton moves. He's not sure who he is without that pressure at the back of his neck squeezing down. Ed's life and soul have taken the shape they needed; his arms used to form a perfect alchemical circle but all of that has been burned away. He tore it away, because that was what he needed to do – and now...
He takes the silver watch from his pocket and watches the sunlight glint off its surface. “You're an idiot,” he tells himself. An idiot for not running away. For not dropping the watch like a hot rock. For needing – yes, go on, he can admit it to himself at least – for needing this stupid watch, that stupid smirking face to give him a reason, to give him a mission, to shape him into something.
So he made a deal. “I'll give you this watch back when Amestris has its first truly free election, Mustang,” he says, and then holds up a hand to forestall his agreement. “And it doesn't count if they elect you.”
Mustang had looked at him long and hard before bursting out into laughter, real honest-to-god laughter that Ed bets he probably cultivated for its folksy charm and then stands up with his arm outstretched over the table. “You've got a deal, Fullmetal,” he had said, grinning at Ed with a mouth full of bright white teeth.
The process of democratisation begins fast – incredibly fast, surprising even to Ed who has watched Mustang seethe and glower at the slow progress of government in the past. Mustang appears to have attacked the bureaucratic foundation of the state with all the pent up fury of a man whose Second Lieutenant forced him to do all his paperwork himself. Even all the way in Xing, where Ed is studying the language and attempting to cajole the newly anointed Emperor Ling into granting him access to top-secret Imperial texts on Alkahestry, the stories have started. The Amestrian Flame Fuhrer about half of the military above the rank of Colonel, the Flame Fuhrer proposed reinstating pensions and veterans benefits for Ishvallan soldiers purged before the extermination, the Flame Fuhrer keeps putting scientists and academics and civilians into key posts in the government by giving them honorary military ranks, the Flame Fuhrer walks on water and sleeps with three women a night.
Sometimes it's hard to tell the bullshit from the truth, even for Ed, who knows the Flame Fuhrer for the bastard he really is.
Winry writes and says that Edict 4331C passed two weeks ago – and gives state support to alchemical training with no compulsory military service attached. Free and clear, she says, though Ed remains ever so slightly sceptical about that. Al's been lobbying for it for months, which is why he's in central instead of out here in Xing with Ed, and he can almost see Alphonse's ridiculously open smile, hear him say, it's changing, Brother – we can change things now.
So maybe Ed's willing to concede that at least some of the stories he's hearing in Xing aren't all bullshit.
Ed gets back to Central a month and a half later and the city feels alive in a way that he's never experienced before. Edgy, like the air just before a thunderstorm, crackling with potential. He ends up in Mustang's office maybe forty minutes after he steps off the train – a real record, and Mustang, the bastard, actually has the gall to look delighted.
“Fullmetal,” he intones. “I was wondering when you'd bother to show your face.”
His team appears at various points throughout the debrief, never for more than a few minutes before they're quite literally running off on another errand or breaking off a conversation midway to answer an office telephone or scribble madly into a notebook. Even Havoc looks like he's actually working rather than pretending to work.
“What the hell have you done to your guys, Mustang – I mean, sir.”
Hawekeye happens to be in the room for the question and snorts. “He broke the country, Edward,” she interjects smoothly, shooting Roy a look that's a mixture of venom and pride. “And now it's our job to fix it.”
Mustang leans back in his imposing leather chair, the very picture of the cat that got the cream. “I'm leaving it to the experts,” he says, with smug false modesty.
Ed takes out his silver watch and dangles it like a pendulum, it catches the light from Mustang's enormous windows at the apex of every swing. “You better not have forgotten our deal, sir.”
Just like that, the smug act is dropped, and Mustang picks up another one – he braces his elbows on the table and lightly rests his chin on his steepled hands. “Wait and see, Fullmetal,” he says, voice full of grim dark promise. “It's going to be quite a show.”
Oh, it is, even from the outskirts and with a jaundiced political eye. It's like the last months were child's games compared to the main event.
Fuhrer Mustang redraws districts to get the votes to pass a bill requiring a 3/4th-majority referendum to redefine district lines. He bribes his way into passing anti-corruption legislation. He blackmails out those who oppose him whether they're crooked or not, he makes deals with anyone crooked who's willing to support him. He uses patriotism and fear and his record as a war hero and his record as a war criminal like they're gold coins, thrown to the feet of a shocked citizenry, a bribe and a threat all in one. He uses the looming presence of Drachma when anyone questions why Ishballans are getting a state-quota. He lies and cons and smarms their way to a better world.
Ed knows that Mustang's too cynical not to realise that the methods he's using won't leave scars on Amestris. Politics is a body, the constitution is a living thing – and living things are more than the sum of their chemical elements. Ed should know.
All of these tricks and lies will leave scars on Amestris – but change at the pace they're going (breakneck, exhilirating, utterly and totally frightening) leaves scars.
Ed knows that too.
After the Ishvallan soldier's pension bill actually passes – Ed ends up in Mustang's office, sharing a bottle of wine liberated from Fuhrer Bradley's personal store. Mustang's slightly drunk: the top two buttons of his shirt are undone, and he's sitting slightly slumped in his chair with a wine glass held loosely in the fingers of his right hand. “This country-,” he says, in that falsely dreamy tone that he uses when he's saying something truly important. “-is a giant transmutation circle. That's what gave me the idea.”
And that's all that Ed gets out of him that night. That, and an infuriatingly smug smile.
“You work it out, Fullmetal,” Mustang allows generously. “It'll be sweeter if you do it for yourself.”
He works it out, of course, and the answer is strangely comforting. Amestris is an entirely fake country. Built to purpose, like automail. Geography and history bent into the shape of an array. But twist the image another way. What is a country if not a collection of people arranged together with a will to change? That's alchemy, but it's politics too. Amestris is a giant transmutation circle, but maybe Ed has been taking it too literally – and maybe, just maybe, the Bastard with his cockeyed vision and twisted mind, has seen the truth behind the truth. Amestris is a country built for sacrifice, but they can remake it; the desire to be something else, something better is written into the very soil. It's already paid for in blood. All that's left is to use the right words. To choose life instead of death.
Ed thinks of Mustang's hands, Mustang's gloves, Mustang's fire which left Ishval in ashes and ruin. Once he said to Winry these are not the hands of a killer as he pulled a gun from her fingers these hands were made to heal. He can't say the same for Mustang. He wasn't made to give life, but for his sins he'll do it anyway. Do it more carefully, because he knows the price of failure better than any innocent. And because – sometimes, you can be so much more than what someone else made of you. Or made you for.
Amestris's founding fathers may have been inhuman bastards, but the children of Amestris can be choose for themselves.
They still don't have a democracy – though they're a lot closer than they were a year ago, hell, a lot closer than they were three weeks ago – but Ed's still going to hold on to his silver watch. He's looking forward to the day he can turn it in to Mustang, working so hard to make himself obsolete, working to make a country in which men like him have no place. There's no redemption for the things he's done - just like getting Al's body back didn't undo Ed's sin , or even balance it out. Mustang's right – equivalent exchange is a lie. Some things you can't make up for.
Instead of forgiveness, people like Ed and Mustang and Hawkeye and Marcoh (and yeah, maybe even Hohenheim and Greelin) and the rest – what people like them have is a mission.
So Ed's looking forward to handing in his state alchemist's watch, because, well, it might be the end of something big. Other people might call it a day after a win like that, other people might think it's fucked up – this need to have a purpose, a reason, to keep moving forward, but they're not other people. He's not other people.
He's not a military dog or human weapon or the people's hero or even Hohenheim's attempt at humanity – or maybe, he is all those things, and much more than all of that put together.
Maybe he actually will ask Fuhrer Roy Mustang after all, maybe he'll place his watch on his desk and slide it over and ask, so what's it like, getting everything you wanted?
And Mustang will probably smile that shark-smile back at him and shake his head and say, Oh, Fullmetal, I'm only just getting started.