chapter 2.

So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed

And they shipped us back home to Australia

The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane

Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla

And as the ship sailed into Circular Quay

I looked at the place where my legs used to be

And thank Christ, there was nobody waiting for me

To grieve, to mourn, or to pity

And the band played Waltzing Matilda

As they carried us down the gangway

But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared

Then they all turned their faces away

"This is worse."

"What, sir?"

The air was dry and cold, the wind bitter. Hawkeye stood shivering in one of the only skirts she owned, staunchly holding her salute against the wind and resisting the urge to huddle up for warmth.

The colonel probably didn't even notice the temperature. Although he was particularly sensitive to the rain. Hawkeye would have offered him a tissue, if she'd thought he would accept it.

The rest of the funeral party had already left, succumbing to the cold and the urgency of other work. Even Gracia and Elysia were gone, the former bravely swallowing her tears for the sake of the latter. Only Roy had remained, and therefore, by default, Hawkeye. It wasn't her job to do so, nor did she distrust him so much to believe he needed a babysitter, but she understood better than anyone ? save Hughes, rest his soul ? that the colonel was not as impenetrable as he liked to imagine. Especially when he was feeling guilty.

He had been standing over the grave for a half-hour now, fists clenched inside his pockets. Their conversation had been, to that point, minimal.

"Worse than what, sir?" Hawkeye repeated.

Roy did not turn around as he addressed her. "Pick something," he ground, the misery thick in his voice. "Pick anyone. We could have afforded to lose anyone else, even me. Anyone but Maes."

"Mm," Hawkeye acknowledged, neither questioning nor assenting. The limits of her position, not to mention her respect for the colonel, prevented her from saying much else. She understood grief in the same way as did the rest of the military, and knew that the newly dead are always the most essential people in the world. Once they are gone, those who remain face the excruciating need to convey, to anyone who will listen, why this is so. Now Roy was confronted with the brutal task of trying to explain the injustice of Maes's death.

He continued, haltingly: "This whole scheme was his to begin with. He knew it long time ago, in Ishbal, and he tried to teach me, too. I didn't learn. It took the war to change my mind. And when I finally understood, he was right there with me, in the same room, and we agreed to work towards it together. It only looked like my idea." Roy's shoulders stiffened. "Everything was his. I was just carrying it out."

Hawkeye narrowed her eyes. "You're still carrying it out," she declared. "Sir."

He shook his head vehemently. "No." Bile rose in his voice. "I haven't learned anything. I'm still just a tool, a vessel, for someone else's idea. Without a hand to move it, a tool is useless." He swallowed hard, eyes fixed on the grave. "Without Maes, I'm useless."

Hawkeye frowned. She had withstood the colonel's melancholy patiently, secure in the knowledge that it must eventually fade, leaving behind no permanent damage. But this self-deprecation breached the threshold of acceptable behavior. Her position as Roy's lieutenant — and, she liked to believe, his friend — demanded she do something about it.

"Excuse my insubordination," she asked, tone subtly bitter, "but if you believe in an idea, isn't it yours as well?"

He didn't answer, and she debated continuing. Roy was in pain, and she had no right to render his survivor's guilt even heavier with a lecture. Perhaps she was overreacting. Perhaps, given time, he would recover on his own ? his ego had always seemed buoyant enough to protect him. But she had sensed something massively perverted in their exchange, and she could not just let it go. "Sir, I may not have known the brigadier general that well, but I'm sure he would disagree with what you're saying. The general... Maes showed you a goal, but because you've worked to achieve it, it's your goal, too. You wouldn't care so much if it wasn't. You won't stop believing in it just because you've lost him." Her voice softened. "That's why your men believe in you."

Her words fell on silence, swallowed by the still-soft earth, or perhaps robbed by the wind that was pushing the sun from the sky. For what felt like an interminable amount of time, Roy gave no indication that he had even heard her speak.

Finally he murmured, back still turned, "You know you're allowed to, lieutenant. Stop believing in me any time you want."

"I don't choose to," she replied quietly. "I trust you, and your goal. So do the rest of your men." She sighed, with a soft incredulity. "Roy, do you honestly think any of us would follow you if we didn't think you believed in your own dream? Or if we didn't believe in it as much as you do?"

Again, he made no reply. But his shoulders shifted just enough so she could catch a glimpse of his eye, damp beneath the curving shadow of his beret.

"No," she filled in for him. She was actively fighting to suppress the exasperation in her voice. Hawkeye would never understand how one man could simultaneously embody such massive superiority and inferiority complexes. "We wouldn't. It's our dream too. We're not tools, either, and we're working just as hard as you are to push you to the top."

She thought she saw the eye narrow before it disappeared. Roy stood for another long, silent moment, head down, eyes on the tombstone. Hawkeye shivered as the wind picked up again.

Then, abruptly, he straightened and turned fully to face her. His face was haggard beneath his beret, like a mask of damp ashes. But it was a pallor of resolved exhaustion rather than fragility. "It's odd, lieutenant," he said. "One of the last pieces of advice Maes gave me was, ?Get yourself someone to support you.' I didn't know what he was talking about."

She gave him a curious look. "What do you mean, sir?"

"Well, according to you, I already have an entire department full of supporters."

Hawkeye nodded. "It's true, sir."

"But then what could he have meant?"

"... I don't know."

"Well. Neither do I," he agreed. Sighing, he tilted his head back towards the heavens, where the clouds were slowly unveiling the first stars.

"I guess I have an obligation to uphold this dream they're all infatuated with, don't I?"

"That you do, sir."

He paused.

"When I become Fuhrer, Riza, I'm going to set everything up exactly as Maes would've wanted it."

She smiled. "You do that, sir."

And now every April I sit on my porch

And I watch the parade pass before me

And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march

Reliving old dreams of past glory

And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore

The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war

And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"

And I ask myself the same question

The Fuhrer did not attend the parade. Nor did the general.

Those who knew them suspected the second predicated the first. The Fuhrer thrived on ceremony, and along with his reputation for bureaucracy, he had cultivated a love of red tape. The general, however, was a minimalist. And in unessential matters, the general always had the final say.

Actually, to say they did not attend the parade would not be entirely accurate. They were present, but only as spectators. The Capital's residential district, where the march was being held, offered numerous vantage points from which the parade could be viewed without the intrusion of the paparazzi. The military's two highest officers were thus very literally head-and-foot above their subordinates, perched inconspicuously atop the sloping canopy of a streetside fruit-vendor. Dressed in civilian guise, they easily passed for an everyday couple enjoying the festivities in one another's company.

Below them wound the parade, a kaleidoscopic wave barely constrained by the wire-strung posts erected to define its route. It hardly deserved its martial classification: in fact, the only visible evidence that the march honored the anniversary of a military truce were the soldiers who swelled its ranks, bumblingly jovial if young, pensively nostalgic if old. The rest were civilians. These attended in all shapes, sizes, colors, and costumes: children draped in colored streamers and trailing paper kites; cliques of teenagers fashionably arrayed; capitalizing vendors wearing their wares on their backs; capitalizing politicians wearing suits; capitalizing streakers wearing nothing; families; couples; tourists; dogs. Marching bands, shouldered by the pressure into Roman tanks, performed a cacophony of brass reveilles as they plowed up the streets turtle-style. Cadres of mounted soldiers paced at the nuclei of the few coherent squadrons. And religious groups, strutting beneath their respective banners, jostled for proselytizing space.

The Fuhrer, gazing down at the chaos, was silently glad he had not participated.

"What a mess," the general remarked disdainfully. "Who did you let organize this one?"

He feigned hurt. "What, you don't like it?"

"It's a breath away from being a mob. I know we're laxer now, but this is a little extreme." She surveyed the march with the brief intensity of a falcon, frowned, then gave him a questioning look. He squirmed, and she smiled. "Ah. I see. You let Cain do it."

He shrugged helplessly. "He begged me to."

"And you capitulated. You're getting soft." It was a cheerful accusation, however, and as she made it she lay her head on his shoulder, just to be sure he didn't misinterpret.

"Mm," he replied, squeezing her hand. "Yes, I am certainly a warm and caring guy. That's why I make an excellent Fuhrer." He grinned self-righteously. "I am the people's Fuhrer!"

She rolled her eyes. "Cute title. Reminds me of something... 'the people's alchemist,' wasn't it?"

He smirked. "The major wasn't using it. And I felt it was appropriate to the new order." He paused to nestle his head atop hers. Then he continued, a little more soberly, "No, truthfully, I was thinking of abandoning the title 'Fuhrer' altogether."

He felt her shift against him in surprise. "To what?"

"I don't know yet," he admitted. "But I wanted Lior to be the last conflict settled by a Fuhrer... . And by a military."

She inclined her head toward the parade below, the small religious archipelagos drifting within the greater surge. "I doubt that's going to happen," she murmured. "You can cut alchemy out of the military, but you can't cut conflict out of the world. It's inevitable, and it's just as inevitable that we're needed to curtail it."

"I know that," he replied testily. "I just mean that we now have more options. Which we're going to fully exhaust before we try anything else." He sighed, running his free hand through his hair. "And even if it does come to war, I still don't want it fought by a Fuhrer."

"Ah," she said. She craned her neck to look him in the eye. "And why is that?"

He responded with a question. "Well, how did you feel under the last Fuhrer?"

"Used, of course," she stated automatically. "Like a chess piece. Maybe the queen, because she has to spend all her time protecting the king." She flashed him a smug smile. He grumbled, but didn't dare deny anything. "Or as you would put it, a tool," she continued. "We all were, because that was nature of the military of the time."

With a rakish smirk he leaned over, caught her in his arms, then drew her securely into his lap. It was revenge for her remark about the queen, and she accepted it with a winner's nonchalance. "And how do you feel about the current Fuhrer?" he murmured into her ear.

"That he's a scoundrel and he's fishing for compliments," she replied drolly. Chuckling, she planted a light kiss on the underside of his chin. "But also that he's right." She paused. "Partially. The title 'Fuhrer' is wrong because people will remember what it stood for. But it's also wrong for another reason." Her voice hardened, staunch but sympathetic. "The position itself should be abandoned. We don't need a single person in charge of the military. Then it is only a chess game."

He pulled away a little so he could look at her steadily. "You mean I should abdicate?" he asked.

She shrugged as best she could, lying against his chest. "No, just demote yourself. We've already changed everything else about how the military works. This should be the final reformation."

The Fuhrer's face tightened pensively. He glanced down at the ongoing parade, the rabble of discordant color and motion that streamed relentlessly up the pavement with an autonomous enthusiasm. She noticed his gaze and lifted a hand to his cheek, turning his eyes away from the street and back onto hers.

"No," she told him firmly. "It will never get like that. We're not tools, but we're not animals either. We're only human, and that's the whole point." She gestured to the parade. "The reason we made you Fuhrer was to prove that we could treat our soldiers as more than weapons, and still avoid turning into that."

"Yes," he agreed. "We succeeded, too."

"We did." She looked at him meaningfully. "Because a military doesn't have to be a military dictatorship to be effective."

"I know, I know." He nodded reluctantly.

Her voice was as unyielding as her eyes. "Then say it," she implored.

"The reason I became Fuhrer was to prove we didn't need a Fuhrer."

She smiled. "Exactly."

The Fuhrer responded with a pouting look. Like all powerful men, even powerful reformers, he had enjoyed his prestige. However, he understood the greater necessity in giving it up; all true reformers know that successful reformations begin and end at the top. The general was, per usual, correct. "All right, then," he surrendered. "You're right. I officially abdicate first thing tomorrow." There was regret in the declaration, but also relief. "Starting tomorrow, I'm general Mustang."

The other general laughed. "Ed will be happy to hear that."

"I'll bet he will, the cocky little nuisance."

"Mm." She nestled her head into his chest. "You know, I can think of someone else who would have been happy to hear that."

His eyes narrowed momentarily with curiosity, then brightened in surprise and recognition. "Yes," he murmured. He held her closer as he agreed: "I think he would have wanted it this way."

And the band still plays Waltzing Matilda

And the old men still answer the call

But year after year more old men disappear

Some day no one will march there at all

I'm going to become Fuhrer. I'll change the way this country runs.

That is the only thing I can do.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda

Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me

And their ghosts may be heard as you pass the Billabong

Who'll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me?