Diplomatic Entanglements: An Inextricable Tale
Chapter One: "Wait until the Diplomatic Incident!"
Canon: Anime with some manga-only characters (spoilers only to their existence and a few, very minor details about them)
Genre: Post-series; divergent future (from episode 27); romance, general
The best thing that could be said about the Great Eastern Desert was that it created a practically insurmountable barrier between the two powerful nations which stood on either side of it. War-crazy Amestris deemed the desert too difficult an obstacle to overcome, even for such a prize as Xing; Xing kept its own counsel but seemed to believe similarly.
At the moment, Edward Elric was just mad at it for existing.
He'd been standing at its edge, staring out across its vast expanse for a long time, thinking. For the road trip, he'd donned his old "uniform" of black tank, jacket, and trousers, tough-soled boots, and red coat. It was hot enough here on the desert's edge that he'd shed both the coat and the jacket and was thinking about the boots.
Second Lieutenant Falman trudged back across the sand just then, however, his head shaking. "It's been too long, sir," he apologized. "The tracks have blown away by now. I can't find anything to even pretend to follow."
Lieutenant Colonel Riza Hawkeye — Ed's commander — had allowed him to go on this wild goose chase so soon after his most recent hospital stay on one condition. And it was one condition rather too well backed-up by Winry and Alphonse for Edward to ignore: he couldn't actually do anything but order Falman around.
"Damn it," Ed growled, but it was only what he'd expected once the trail had begun winding in this direction three days before. Vera Landis had run fast and far, and either she wanted them to believe she'd fled Amestris and had made it look really, really good. Or she had fled Amestris — which was what Ed believed. Not that he expected that meant he was rid of her for good. Oh, nooo. I never get that lucky.
She'd be back, sooner or later. Just as crazy. Probably trailing a hyena husband and puppies along with her, too, and still wanting to build up her "pack."
He blew out a breath and shook his head, stopping almost at once as stars twinkled around his peripheral vision.
"Head still hurt, sir?" Falman asked in what Ed thought was a rather smug tone. The 2nd lieutenant had been around Havoc and Mustang for far too long if he was picking up the "kick Fullmetal when he's down" game.
"I'm fine," Ed snapped, turning on his heel and marching back to the car. He yelled over his shoulder, "Let's go! I've had enough of this damned desert, anyway."
It had taken three days to convince Hawkeye and then Winry and Alphonse to let him go and then another week to follow Vera's trail all the way out to the desert's edge. Going back to Central would be more direct and take less time, but it still meant days with too much time to think.
Ed almost wished he hadn't insisted. Once he'd started insisting, he hadn't felt he could back down. Stupid, he scolded himself. And to think he'd believed he'd been doing pretty well letting go of his stubborn determination to show them.
"Show who?" he muttered, swinging himself up into the truck they'd commandeered for the trip.
"Sir?" Falman asked as he settled himself in the driver's seat.
"Nothing," he whispered and settled back into the seat, closed his eyes, and tried to sleep.
Winry stood with her hands on her hips, regarding the mess that was her future workroom with deep dislike. Edward was supposed to be here. Helping.
She'd tried not to get mad about his insistence on haring off after Vera Landis, but he still wasn't ready for field work and hadn't quite gotten past the dizzy spells left over from the truly awful concussion he had, but he would go and nothing would stop him.
But she didn't want to wait any longer. She wanted to move in now!
"I have half a mind," she declared to the empty room. "To ask Alphonse to transmute the house!" That would certainly show Ed.
But it wouldn't be fair. He'd only been so insistent, she knew, because he was so worried about her.
"Can I help it if I'm worried about him?" she asked. It's Den's fault, she rationalized, blushing. I'm used to saying everything out loud and having at least a dog around to hear me. That did it. She'd decided.
"We'll need to get a pet."
Ed's arrival at Gracia's house had been boisterous and brief.
Gracia teased him. "Remember? You signed the papers!"
"Yes, but I thought Winry said that—"
Elysia interrupted. "Winry moved in three days ago. We helped clean!"
Gracia picked up the thought without any apparent break. "Just until you're able to... finish remodeling."
By this time, they'd herded him back through the darkling yard and to the sidewalk. They both were talking so excitedly and noisily and at once that Ed found himself for once more than happy to get away from them.
Fortunately, Falman hadn't driven away just yet, so Ed was able to hitch a ride across city center to the house.
My house, he amended as he stood in front of it, suitcase sitting on the ground beside him. He frowned. That wasn't quite right, either. "Our house," he said, firmly. But he didn't have a key yet, so he'd have to knock.
"Right," he muttered and marched up to the door, raising his hand just as the door swept away from him to be replaced by Winry, a smile beaming from her lovely face.
"You're home!" she exclaimed, catching his arm and dragging him inside. The door slammed behind them, and they were finally both home. In their house. Together.
Oh, my God, Ed thought. What have I done?
"Are you okay, Ed?" Winry asked, frowning at him. "You must feel almost back to normal after all this time...?" She let the end of that statement turn into a question, making it obvious she thought she just never could tell what Ed would do once he was out of her sight.
"I followed orders," he sputtered. "Everyone's orders! I didn't do anything the whole time but tell Falman what to do. I didn't break anything or lose anything or—"
"Okay! Okay. I'm sorry," Winry apologized but any sincerity was marred by the barely suppressed laughter in her voice.
Ed sighed. "I'm tired."
"I'll bet you are, too," Winry chided him. She took his arm again and led him through the house to the one room that had been made livable for the short time they'd need to prepare for the repairs. "I've been gathering everything we put on the list. I think we'll be ready to do it tomorrow."
Ed blushed violently at her unconscious double-entendre, and the thought of transmuting a wall to separate them so she wouldn't see skittered through his brain. You are, he told himself, a horrible, horrible man.
Winry was innocently burbling on about their shared plans, and here he was having... thoughts about her.
This was certainly not what he wanted for Winry. He didn't want a sudden, fumbling tumble in a room filled with dust and broken furniture shoved against the walls. He wanted to romance her. To wine and dine and woo her. ...And he wanted to...
"Aigh!" he yelled involuntarily, then turned it into a huge yawn as Winry whirled to stare at him, startled.
"Are you sure you're okay, Ed?" she asked.
Aside from the sex-crazed insanity? Oh, just fine. "Yeah. I need to get some sleep is all."
"If I'd realized you'd be back tonight, I would have had the room tidied up more," Winry said. She leaned back against the side of a very tall chest of drawers and shoved it out into the room.
"What are you doing?" Ed asked, confused.
"Making a wall, of course," she said. "We both need a little privacy, even if it is just for one night."
Ed noticed Winry's cheeks seemed pink. Could be from moving furniture? But maybe he wasn't the only one having... thoughts.
Two rickety cots were placed on opposite sides of the room that the chest now divided, and Winry indicated the one that was to be his. Ed kicked off his boots and took off his coat and jacket but didn't get any more undressed than that. He then lay down, rolled over to face the wall, and tried rather desperately to go to sleep.
"Fullmetal, you look terrible!" Mustang declared rather too-happily as Edward shambled into work the next morning.
"I didn't sleep well last night," Ed grumbled, stomping into his office and dropping his coat on a chair. He didn't even bother to grace the bastard general with the glare the man so richly deserved.
"This won't do," Mustang continued, following him into his office. "We have a very important meeting with the Prime Minister and some of her cabinet ministers this morning — including the Minister of War."
Ed's eyes widened in horror as he whirled to stare at the brigadier. "But I look terrible!" he exclaimed. "I'm—"
"Not even in uniform," Mustang agreed. "Therefore, you are dismissed to go back to your dorm, clean up, change, get something to eat, and report to my office no later than a quarter to ten."
"Damn it!" Ed yelped, catching his coat back up and scrambling for the door. Mustang's laughter followed him all the way down the hall, but at least it drowned out his own spate of swearing.
"I'll get you a coffee!" Scieszka called after him, and he thought he might be just a tiny bit in love with her.
By the time Ed had made himself fit to be seen — blue uniform tailored to fit him properly, thanks to Gracia's advice, and on straight and hair pulled back into a neat braid — and had gulped down the coffee and pastry the blessed Scieszka had acquired for him, he still had a few minutes before he needed to meet Mustang.
Hawkeye leaned against the doorframe of her office, looking at him with suppressed amusement.
"He loves to yank your chain, Fullmetal," she said.
"I thought I'd been doing a better job of not taking the bait," Ed mumbled.
"You're tired," she said, excusing him. "But this is a very important meeting, I gather. It was lucky you got back when you did. I'm not sure the brigadier could've postponed it much longer."
"Why do I have to be there for something like this? I'm only a major."
Hawkeye shrugged. "Top secret. But the Prime Minister was very insistent on your participation. I almost had to send Captain Ross after you, but Falman reported in last night just as I was about to call her."
Thinking about this and wondering just what the hell he was in for, Ed made his way to Mustang's office.
"Hey, Boss," Havoc called, giving Ed one of his crooked smiles. "You look weird in blue."
"Thanks," Ed replied, smiling back. Havoc had always acted as if he were Ed's big brother, and he took the man's teasing in his stride most of the time.
"Go on in. He's waiting for you."
Ed raised his eyebrows. "Ominous," he observed, but he pushed through the door into Mustang's office, shot the brigadier a look of reflexive dislike, and proclaimed, "I look great! Let's go."
The meeting was just across the square in the recently renovated King's Court building. This grand building had been converted to offices many years ago after the first Fuhrer overthrew the royal family. Now, Amestris was trying very hard to be a democracy, and the new government had decided to use King's Court as its seat.
Everything was shiny and new and exciting, and Ed wondered if the baby steps would strengthen or stumble and fall. He'd seen a constitutional democracy in action while living on the other side of the Gate. He'd rather liked it.
A young man in conservative dress stood in front of the grand building and nodded as they approached. "Brigadier General Mustang. Major Elric," he said.
Ed nodded back as Mustang did. "And you are?" Ed asked.
"I am the Prime Minister's personal secretary. She asked me to escort you to the meeting."
And do you have a NAME? Ed thought the snark rather than saying it aloud. This was too unclear a situation for him to risk his big mouth.
"Call him Wills," Mustang said under his breath as they followed the young man through the broad, marble corridors of King's Court. "That's what she calls him."
She stood at the far end of the corridor, waiting for them. Ed felt odd that so many people seemed to be waiting for him today. This is really weird...
"Major Elric," she said, nodding to Mustang as she stepped forward to meet Ed, her hand outstretched. "It is an honor to meet you."
Ed stared, motionless for a beat before a slight throat-clearing noise from Mustang jolted him into action. He took the Prime Minister's hand gently in his gloved auto-mail and gave a firm, careful shake. "The honor is mine, Madame Prime Minister."
"I've read all the classified reports, you know, Fullmetal," she said. "If I may call you that?"
Ed nodded then added, when he thought he should probably speak when spoken to, "Of course, Ma'am."
"I just want you to know that you needn't worry that I think you're a threat to the state, no matter what rumors swirl around Central."
Mustang shot him a quelling, careful, sideways look, and Ed thought, I gotta read those reports! What the hell?
"Thank you, Ma'am," Ed said, managing not to stammer.
"The rest of our group will be joining us in a bit. Let's sit down and talk until then." She gestured toward the open door behind her and they all moved to sit down at one end of a large, beautifully-set table. Tea, cakes, fruit. The works. And lots of unoccupied seats for when the others arrive.
The Prime Minister reminded him a little of Izumi-sensei, a little of Hawkeye, and a little of Gracia and his mother. She seemed both frighteningly strong and regal and soothingly calm and empathetic.
Her name was Georgiana MacDonald Morris. Her husband was some sort of an artist or craftsman or both. Winry had been talking about him while trying to figure out how to decorate various rooms of their house. He thought he might have heard of her long ago, back during his travels, as some sort of pro-democracy activist. Now, he wished he'd been in Amestris to see events unfold which resulted in this woman becoming the leader she seemed to have been born to be.
They chatted about inconsequential things, sipping tea and discussing minor events. The Prime Minister eventually turned the discussion to Ed's first big investigation, and she appeared to be very well-informed about what had taken place.
Does she get copied on all my reports? Ed wondered, a bit panicked by the thought. Did I call Mustang a bastard in this last one?
"I knew the Landis family, you know," she said. "Vera and Rafe's mother used to be very involved in the Cause. It's a shame what happened to them."
I really don't want to talk about this, Ed thought, but he nodded and made a noncommittal affirmative noise, and was relieved when a soft knock at the outer door interrupted them before the Prime Minister could press him for more details.
Wills, who'd been standing invisibly near the door, answered the knock and ushered a small crowd of high-ranking people into the large, airy room.
The Prime Minister stood and welcomed the newcomers. "Take seats, everyone," she said. "You all know Brigadier General Mustang." Nods all around and murmured greetings. "But I don't think any of you have had the chance to meet Major Edward Elric, the Fullmetal Alchemist," she continued, gesturing grandly at Ed who tried not to blush.
He stood and bowed to the group, reseating himself to more murmurs and greetings and whispering amongst the newcomers.
Gah. Is it too late to quit? He thought it probably was, at least right at the moment.
The Prime Minister did not sit back down, but clasped her hands behind her back and began to pace. "Most of you know why you're here, but I'm sure there are gaps in intelligence here and there and Major Elric has been out in the field so has had no chance to catch up to us. Therefore, I will review for everyone's benefit.
"Three weeks ago, we received an official communication from the Emperor of Xing. He wishes to send a delegation to Amestris for diplomatic and educational purposes. As we all know, Xing is directly ruled by the Emperor with no authority invested in either the people or the military. His word is law." She stopped at the far end of the table, having strolled all the way down its length as she spoke. She turned and began to walk back the other way.
"The nature of Xing's request combined with our intelligence — which has uncovered some interesting bits of information about Xing — resulted in the decision to include the Fullmetal and Flame Alchemists in this... mission."
Edward exchanged a quick, intrigued glance with Mustang before returning his full attention to the Prime Minister.
"The alchemy used in Xing does not appear to be quite the same as ours. Xing has alluded to this in its communiqués, requesting that we provide experts in..." she waved a hand through the air as if grasping for a term. "Our brand of alchemy. Experts who will work with the delegation as part of an exchange of ideas, knowledge, expertise, methods..."
"But if we teach them our alchemy, we'll lose whatever elements of surprise we'd have against them in a fight," the Minister of War said.
Ed did recognize him. He was an old-timer, having retired shortly after Ed had been certified originally, almost ten years ago. General Millet, I think? Mustang did say they'd recalled some of the old guys into active duty after the military purge.
"Do we expect a fight?" Ed asked, hoping it wasn't out of line to just speak up. Millet did.
The Prime Minister had reached the end of her circuit and paused again, turning to look at Ed. "No way to know." And off she went again, pacing to the far end of the table. "Xing is an enigma. Always has been. This is a very out of character move on their part. We have reason to believe many of the members of the delegation will be the Emperor's own children. And he has many of those." Stop. Turn. Pace. It's almost hypnotic.
"On the other hand, we must suppose that an exchange would also include their sharing their methods with us. And if this is not the case, I see no need to teach them anything. Show them a few tricks anyone could learn from an elementary alchemy instructor, and send them on their way."
She paused beside her chair and smiled at Ed as if she were about to give him a surprise birthday present, and then said something Edward never in his life expected anyone to ever say to him. "That will be your call, Fullmetal. I, on the advice of your commanders, am making you the head of our delegation. For the duration, you will be seconded to the diplomatic corps but will be directly responsible to me."
Quite a bit more was said, but Ed was sure he missed most of it. The massive concussion he'd just suffered included, he didn't think he'd ever been so stunned in his life.
By the time he and Mustang were standing outside King's Court once more, Ed had gathered himself enough to finally voice the one thought that had been pinging around in his head since the hammer had dropped.
He turned on the brigadier and sputtered, "You recommended me for a diplomatic mission? Are you fucking insane?"
"Hawkeye agreed, and I certainly wasn't going to do it," Mustang snorted. "Let's go have lunch."
"Liar! She said she didn't know!"
"The details, no, but I did ask her advice on this. She thinks you can handle it."
"Well then she's fucking insane, too!"
"Language, Fullmetal. You're a diplomat, now."
"I hate you!" Ed groaned. "I just want to go back into the field! Why won't you people let me go back into the field?"
Mustang laughed. "At the rate you break things? Safer to keep you close to home."
"You think that now! Wait until the Diplomatic Incident."
As they crossed the square, Mustang grew serious. "I know this is a very strange assignment for you, Edward. But I think you can do it. This whole Xing matter could be very dangerous. Xing may be taking advantage of the upheaval we've gone through to test our defenses. You've just had two years of invaluable training for this mission."
"What?" Ed demanded, stopping and turning to stare at Mustang, forcing the older man to stop, too.
"I don't know what happened to you while you were gone, Ed," Mustang said. "But you've said enough for me to know that you were a stranger in a foreign land and had to survive there."
Ed looked away, troubled by the tone of this conversation. Roy's treating me like an equal. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Their friendship was still in its infancy, and Ed wasn't sure of it yet.
"And you did survive. You even found a way back. You have more experience dealing well with those most in our country see as Other than anyone else I know. You have no blood on your hands from Ishbal. None from Lior, either, no matter what you may think. You won't automatically assume the worst about our visitors, and so you have a chance of making this work."
This breathtaking honesty deserved some equivalent exchange. "Bastard," Ed said without any heat. "I should punch you in the face and quit."
"Quit, then punch," Mustang advised. "Otherwise you'll go to prison for striking a superior officer." But they both knew Ed wasn't going to do either. Playing host to a Xingian embassy in order to protect his country? Ed could hardly turn down that assignment.
Ed didn't know how to tell Winry about what had happened, but when he arrived home, he found she didn't have a thought to spare to so much as ask him how his day had gone. She was far too excited about their plans for the evening. Good. That'll give me time to figure out what the hell to say so she won't die laughing.
Somehow, during the short time Ed had been away chasing after Vera Landis, Winry had managed to get someone to draw up blueprints, adapting the building they'd purchased into the building she wanted.
The papers were spread out on a large table in their single, cleared room, and Ed studied them, a sandwich purchased at their favorite café in one hand. "I see," he muttered, running a finger along the lines of the house, imprinting the plan into his brain.
"Can you do it? Is it too much?" Winry asked, standing back to give him room and not block the light but barely able to restrain herself from bouncing with excitement. Which Ed would not have minded. Horrible, horrible man.
"No, this is great, Win," he said, not looking up because he thought he might be blushing again. "You even have the furniture in place."
Winry nodded, but reminded him, "we're going to decorate the normal way, though. Just spiff up what we have, and we can sort it out later."
"Right," Ed agreed. "I remember."
He stuffed the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth and straightened, stretching his back. "Let's go!"
Picking up the blueprints and his suitcase, he herded Winry to the back door and out into the yard. Piles of material she'd gathered to be used in the transmutation were all strewn around the cluttered rooms inside the building. They'd removed anything they wanted to remain unchanged as a precaution, and he set his suitcase down beside the rest of that collection and took a deep breath. This would be the biggest transmutation he'd done since...
Take another breath. He turned to Winry and grinned. "Brace yourself," he said, and she grinned back, her eyes glowing. God, she's gorgeous.
He walked to the building, clapped his hands together and pressed them against the worn, brick wall.
I almost forgot what it feels like, he thought. He'd done alchemy since his return, but the biggest stuff he'd done had been in the midst of battle, and he never had time to properly enjoy it under those circumstances. Concentrate, he reminded himself, letting his mind fill with all the details of what he was working to make.
The lines of the blueprint were like the lines of an array, burned into his brain with mathematical precision and logic. The architect had done a very good job — the house would be beautiful structurally as well as visually.
This is for Winry. This is for Alphonse. This is for... me. Yes.
This was what he'd wanted. For years and years and years. The meaning of the etched date and words in his pocket watch. The meaning of all his and Al's struggling. The meaning behind his desperation to get back from the other side of the Gate. Everything he wanted. All he'd ever wanted.