He had hardly slept in days.
Well, more like years, really. Since the revelation that Pride was a homunculus, since the private accusations that Fullmetal was behind their creation and the public accusations of corruption, deceit, death, since he had sidestepped the anvil that had landed squarely on Fullmetal's head—he had only been able to sleep when utterly exhausted.
Knowing that he had sent a sixteen-year-old to prison had that effect.
But he really hadn't slept in days, and not because of a gnawing conscience. It had felt good—dirty, but good—to clean out the worst of the top brass by simply slitting throats.
He had taken the dictatorship as he'd always promised himself, at the fantastically young age of thirty-six. The history books would call him the youngest Amestrian dictator of all time, before he turned the power over to the people, where it had always belonged.
He'd known in the back of his head that it would be a lot of work, but reports were rolling in from military outposts all over the country of skirmishes and minor riots. The first order of business was locking down the country under his name, making it clear to the Xingians and Drachminians that he intended them no harm (but by all that was good if they took it as a sign of weakness he would burn their countries to the ground), and gaining public support—or at least apathy.
After that, he could turn to the matter closest to his heart: the release and retrial of Edward Elric.
At the moment, it was too big a risk—a painful admission, but one that had to be made. Fullmetal was a mass murderer in the eyes of the public, and to release him this soon would turn the tide against him so fast he'd have whiplash. He might as well undo all his work: there were those who would kill him in a heartbeat, men that he could only contain but not destroy, and then where would Fullmetal be? Stranded in prison—truly stranded, without hope.
PR, we need PR, he kept telling himself, but at this point he didn't think he could string more than two sentences together.
He needed a nap. The couch in the corner of his office was looking very good at the moment.
Fuhrer Roy Mustang rubbed his eyes and looked up to see Brigadier General Hawkeye holding the door open. "Yes, General?" Mustang asked wearily.
"Miss Winly Rockbell is here to speak with you, if you wish."
For heaven's sake, anyone but her, Mustang thought wearily, but if there was anyone with whom he had better speak, it was the daughter of two parents he had slaughtered, the best friend of Fullmetal. "Send her in," he said.
His reluctance must have shown, because a wave of that distant affection Hawkeye put out periodically suddenly hit him in the soft look she sent his way. "Sir, if you're tired, I can tell her to come back tomorrow."
"No," Mustang sighed, stretching his arms over his head. "If anyone deserves immediate attention, it's Miss Rockbell. Just ... some more coffee, if you will," he said with a smile.
Hawkeye nodded. "Yes, sir." She closed the door behind her.
Mustang took the short time available to get up from his chair and walk around, trying to decide what side he wanted to show the girl—girl? She's twenty-one now, soon to be twenty-two.
He had just taken a seat in one of the sitting chairs in front of his desk when the door opened, admitting Miss Rockbell clutching a mug. Mustang rose to his feet, and Miss Rockbell bowed even as Hawkeye slipped past her with Mustang's favorite mug (chipped and blue). "Your coffee, sir."
"Thank you, General. Miss Rockbell, please. Take a seat," he encouraged, gesturing to the other chair in front of his desk. He sat and Miss Rockbell quickly followed suit. Her hair was done up in the same bun that Hawkeye favored, he noted; her figure had filled out, and she looked like a young woman rather than a young girl. She was eying her mug as if it was fascinating.
Mustang took a sip of coffee. "To what do I owe this visit?" Although I suspect I already know. Miss Rockbell had written several times, all regarding Fullmetal's release, and now that he was in a position to do something about it ...
She looked up at him furiously. "You know why I'm here, Fuhrer, sir," she said, tears in her eyes. "You got what you wanted. Now get Ed out of prison!"
Roy pressed his lips together and gave her an even, neutral look. "I wish it were that easy," he said slowly. "There is nothing I want more than to save Fullmetal from that hellhole."
Judging from the startled look on Miss Rockbell's face, she hadn't expected that sort of response.
"However," he continued, taking another sip of coffee to let himself think. "At this point, it would do more harm than good to—"
"How can you say that? Every day he spends in there is harmful!" Rockbell's fingers clenched on her mug. "You haven't visited him. You don't know. He's ... it's changing him. He's so much harder than he used to be. He—he has no perspective!"
She took a deep breath, and Mustang was tempted to interject, but he held his tongue. Let her run out of steam. Let her release her rage. It's things you know you need to hear, anyway. It hurt to hear the words, but it was nothing he hadn't told himself over and over.
"You have no right to talk about what's harmful and what's good! You're only thinking of your own position!" Miss Rockbell glared at him, then dropped her eyes. "Sir," she added belatedly.
Mustang shook his head slightly. It shouldn't have amused him to have an honorific attached to the end of the sentence, but he was tired. "There's no need to call me 'sir', Miss Rockbell," he said in a low voice. "You're right." He hesitated, choosing his words carefully. "In name I am the Fuhrer, but my power is only a week old. It's nothing but a miracle that the entire country has not broken into all-out civil war. I am doing my best to keep it that way at this point, but please, Miss Rockbell, try to understand my position."
She was looking at him now, still visibly furious, but also listening. He took a deep breath. "If I were to release Fullmetal to—"
"His name is Edward Elric. Can you say that?" Miss Rockbell interrupted him.
Mustang looked at the mug in his hands for a moment before looking up at his visitor again. "Edward, then," he said softly. "Imagine, Miss Rockbell, what would happen if I were to release Edward today. He is accused of—convicted of!—mass murder and dangerous transmutations. I am a new leader. It would appear to be nepotism of a sort, since we are known compatriots in the first riots. No, please, let me finish," he said, holding up a hand when Miss Rockbell opened her mouth to protest.
"I cannot risk losing public support at this point. Not only for my own sake, but for Edward's as well. If I am brought down by riots, by civil war ... I will be unable to release Edward at all." He rubbed his eyes again, willing to show that weakness. Miss Rockbell needed to see it, he thought as he looked up. "I hope that time isn't far off," he added gently. "Sincerely." I wish it were today.
The look Miss Rockbell was giving him now was more speculative. "I hate your methods," she said after a moment. "But it looks like I don't have any choice but to go through them, do I?" She reached into the bag over her shoulder. "Here—it's a petition from nearly everyone in Risenbul, requesting Ed's release and retrial. We know he's not a mass murderer. And I'm sure that plenty more people out there know the same!" She lifted her chin.
And a plan began to form in Mustang's mind.
He examined the petition—it was quite formal—and looked up at her. "You truly believe that," he said evenly, sipping his coffee again.
"Of course I do! Don't you?" Miss Rockbell demanded. She still hadn't touched her own coffee, he noted.
"Miss Rockbell," Mustang said softly. "Prove it to me. And then you will prove it to this country." She shot him a bewildered look, and he elaborated. "Put his name in a favorable light in the public eye. I will do the rest."
Miss Rockbell frowned at him. "Why are you relying on me to do this?"
"For the same reason that I cannot release him today." Mustang gave her an even look. "Please, Miss Rockbell. You do not have to trust me to know how much this will help him."
Miss Rockbell stood up abruptly. "You promise me, Fuhrer Mustang!" she said sharply, tears at the corners of her eyes again. "You promise me you'll get him out!"
"I promise," Mustang said fervently, standing as well. He laid his mug aside and reached into his pocket, offering his handkerchief to her.
She took it angrily and wiped her eyes. "Now it looks like I don't have any choice but to trust you." She sniffled and thrust the handkerchief back at him. "Don't disappoint me."
Her bow was curt and not as deep as her first one before she whirled and left, as if she couldn't stand the sight of him any longer.
"I won't," Mustang said aloud, watching her go.
I will use you, and I will protect you. I'm too used to playing the villian to let you get to me.