To all my friends and those I love, I'm sorry, but this is the path that I've chosen.
Spoilers: Last scene from episode 48
A/N: Hey, guys. My first fanfic – I always thought this scene was one of the most powerful in the series.
Dreams come true, not free.
–Into the Woods
The car was plush, and smelled of leather. The seats were murky brown, the floor padded, the paint shining. If he'd had less on his mind, he might've noticed that. As it was, he had a brother to save.
And the Colonel's stern presence pushed against him like gravity. He glared, and couldn't help himself.
"I thought you were all about following orders and kissing ass so you could become Fuhrer one day." The words rolled out of Ed's mouth, harsh and accusing, but he didn't feel it was time for coyness or courtesy.
"Wait a minute," Hawkeye said. Her eyes never left the road. "That's not fair. You became a military dog too so you could chase your own goals, so don't go—"
"First Lieutenant," the Colonel stopped her, putting a hand up. His eyes, too, didn't move. It was as if each of them were staring down a target, or the illusion of one, and if they looked away it would slip from their grasp. Or maybe the Colonel wasn't looking ahead, but behind. "The end justifies the means when it comes to achieving my ultimate goal. Back then it just seemed like the right stance for me to take."
He'd gotten so far. Now he was giving it all away.
"You realize there'll be no justification in the eyes of the public if you go against the Fuhrer." Ed looked directly at the Colonel when he spoke. "Even if you pull this off, you'll never be allowed to succeed him with your reputation. The people won't accept it."
"That may be, but even so I can't let him get away with what he's done." Roy's face darkened, but at this point Ed stopped looking at him.
"You want revenge for Lieutenant Colonel Hughes?"
"Yeah." He said it so easily. It was amazing that the Colonel's voice, the one that commanded, that teased and saluted, could in this moment turn so relaxed. "He must have known what was going on in the military and that's why he was killed."
His dark eyes flashed.
"And for that you're willing to throw away everything you've worked for your entire career?" How, Ed wondered, did they both become so similar, he and this man he despised. Their plans both sounded so heroically tragic – disgusting. Sacrifice was a lousy word for giving up.
"Without a second thought. Not so different from you, is it – selflessly giving up your status as a State Alchemist for your brother's sake. Like adults we swallowed the crap they fed us, and now we're throwing it all aside," Roy said, smiling at him with weary eyes as if his tone, or as if their similarities would improve the situation. "Funny, us both trying to live true to our dreams, like children."
Ed had never believed he was a child. Ever since the day he decided to try and become a State Alchemist, he hadn't been a child. That's why the Colonel's patronizing was so hard to bear, because Ed felt it was a strike against his manhood. His pride. But where had that ever gotten him, his pride? It was the reason he'd transmuted his mother, the reason he ignored every flashing warning in every book, even his brother, who lost the most. Four years down the road, all his dreaming for what? For shit.
Take the evil, all the crap, into yourself. Right. Is that what real adults do? Take crap, flirt with evil, protect those around them, like gods? Ed had tried it. Nothing had happened, not like he wanted. Al was still armored, hollow, and captured. Ed's own limbs were still metal. They paid for nothing, for no damn reason at all, and – look, Mom! – got nothing of it.
But maybe the Colonel meant more than what he said. As children, we all live by the truth of our feelings, believe that it is possible to live that way. Dreams come true and all that. But Ed wanted to get Al's body back and destroy the Philosopher's Stone. The Colonel wanted to kill the Fuhrer and assume his rank as well. It didn't work out. And neither he nor the Colonel were children anymore, but here they were, trying. What were they thinking, the two of them? Did they honestly believe they could live that way? Did they miss the realism they needed on their paths to their dreams, and now they floundered, as far from their dreams as they'd ever feared? They'd guessed wrong, Ed supposed, about their dreams.
Once you leave childhood, it's gone forever, no matter how long or short of time it takes you. The two of them, they couldn't be more similar, despite the differences they both tried to see. They'd stretched out, falling short of their own hopes and truths, and, even realizing it, kept trying. They really were children – not in blindness or ignorance, but in hard-headedness, and sheer principle. This was what they believed in, and they moved forward without excuses or explanations for their actions, only that it was the path they'd chosen. And, sure, there were other choices, but that's where the hard-headedness came in.
Sometimes there are things greater than yourself. Ed chose human life. Roy chose his dearest friend. Today, the outlines on their two paths solidified, the Flame and the Fullmetal Alchemist.
"I can't let you go with me," Roy said, stern again. In the pause that followed, it seemed like an empty demand. The Colonel knew the response, of course he did, but waited anyway.
"Even after I became a soldier," Ed said, looking, unseeing, straight ahead, "war still seemed like something that happened in a far off land where I couldn't see it, where someone else fought and died. It didn't seem real. I thought war had nothing to do with me. But now – I've learned there's someone who's willing to start war – who's going to start war – just for the Stone. I know that as long as there are people who seek the Stone's forbidden power, the bloodshed will keep happening. I know the desire for that power lurks somewhere in all of us." Roy could almost hear the boy's heart tightening and maturing, innocence burning off, childhood passing away like a dying mother. "The homunculi may throw fuel on the fire of war, but didn't the desire to bring back people that we love create them? And if they're nothing more than products of our hearts and minds, no matter how pure our intentions, then there will never be a war that isn't at least in some part caused by all of us. Ever."
It was a cracking, stumbling conviction, one the Colonel would expect from a scarred old man. You place yourself and the whole world on a pedestal, Roy thought, to be able to come to such a conclusion.
"But you're thinking on too large a scale there, kid," Roy said, only slightly indignant that such heavy words came from someone half his size and half his age, words that condemned and intimately reminded the Colonel, despite their weight, of Edward's smallness. He was only sixteen, damnit. "If we don't want to drive ourselves crazy, each of us can only deal with what's directly in front of us."
Who was the child now? Who the idealist – or the cynicist? Roy rode the narrow path of looking only ahead, at the goal in front of him, as Ed had done once. And now, older, wiser he thought, he believed differently. He'd tried, hard, that technique, and ended up rooted to the whole rest of the world anyway. Selfishness, that was what he'd tried. It was another failure to put on the list, another way to not get your brother's body back. This time, though, he didn't think he'd get any more chances.
"Well, what's in front of me is to defeat the one the homunculi call their master," Ed said, after a pause. "After that I'll destroy the Philosopher's Stone, once and for all, so its whole existence will be permanently erased from mankind's memory, and we'll never hunger for its power again."
What a lofty goal, for so small a kid.
"Wait," Hawkeye looked up to the rearview mirror, glancing at Ed. "Destroy it?"
"So I take that means the Philosopher's Stone has been completed," Roy said. "I'm guessing it's the one Scar was working on."
"In the end it wasn't just Scar who forged the Philosopher's Stone," Ed mumbled, like a man resigned to death, or evil, or humanity. "It was in our own hearts, all of us."
"But wasn't that your dream all along?" Hawkeye asked. "To one day use the Stone to get back what you and your brother lost?"
"All of that would mean nothing if it came at the expense of so much pain." For someone who'd seen so much, it was incredible that he could hold on to his humanity, and, after that, keep his voice steady and his eyes open.
"Is there something more important than your dreams?" This time, Roy asked the question. But once again he knew the answer already, because of his own dreams.
"Even if our eyes are closed, there's a whole world out there. One that lives outside ourselves and our dreams." Ed was stabbing himself with his own hands. The Colonel, startled by this most principled assertion, regretted. Here was the boy who only lived because of his dreams and his determination to fix his brother, and now it was all over, like the dropping of a pocket watch, because of mankind. The world that brought war upon itself, and Edward Elric was trying to save it, prove its worth, through the sacrifice of his most treasured, his only dream.
They stopped the car to let Ed off, to let the Colonel and his Alchemist say goodbye – a significant gift of courtesy between two selfish, foolish men. Boys.
Hawkeye waited in the car. Roy tried to salute, then thought better of it. With Edward staring at him in surprise, he stuck his hand out.
It was a tradition of goodwill between men and soldiers and people. Ed made to shake his Colonel's hand, then thought better of it, and slapped it away.
Ironic, that they would only now come to a level of understanding, in this darkest of hours.
Roy Mustang smiled dryly. "Goodbye, Fullmetal," he said. It was a title of honor, Fullmetal Alchemist, and an old nickname, a reminder of their somewhat shared past, so he used it.
Edward Elric looked the same, wry and sharp. "Goodbye, General," he said. It was his book, he could call Mustang what he wanted.
Then their faces fell back to seriousness, and they turned from each other.
Maybe it was the right thing to do, in some twisted way, but it sure didn't feel like it. I want to become Fuhrer. I want to bring my brother's body back. That was what they really wanted.
Ed walked, then ran, toward his brother. Roy stepped back into his car with Hawkeye, and she drove him to the Fuhrer, for a test between two greatest and worst of men.
That was the last meeting between the Flame and Fullmetal Alchemists, Roy Mustang and Edward Elric.