A FullMetal Alchemist fan fiction by Hitokiri-san
A/N: German Ed, German Roy. This is a mutation of my original idea and has strayed as far from what I had in mind as possible. History students, please spare me for not knowing the situation Germany was in in 1923, all that I know is that it was one hell of a confusing time when it is impossible to judge who was in charge, much less the German ranks at that time. That is why I have no way of giving a rank to Roy Harnack.
18th September, 1923, 2:07 pm
He had been reluctant to enter the Elric household, at first.
Gloved fingers traced over the mahogany door for a moment, pondering. The metal knocker was there, lying right beneath his outstretched hand, waiting to be used at any moment. He could already imagine a golden head poking out with a trademark scowl, the young man grinding out a less than friendly verbal greeting.
What the hell do you want again?
The seething expression on Elric's countenance as he slammed the door in his face was not something that he could forget easily. It wasn't as if he had never seen the boy in a fury before – the man was already accustomed to random things chucked at him, once in a while, when he had been bold enough to make a crack about the teenager's lack of vertical development. At other times, the boy would occasionally remind him just how much he hated his guts, or how he desired to punch the arrogant smirk off his worthless face. But those remarks were always accompanied by a touch of nostalgia; as if those words were addressed to a hidden persona behind his face, and not the man called Roy Harnack. And he in turn would smile and shrug in response, quietly file these moments away in his heart. Elric had always struck him as a rather odd creature, but he supposed it was the way most scientists were.
There was something unusual about the Elric boy's calm recognition of his presence, he'd known so from the start. It was a time of tumult, after all, and people had good reason to be wary. Elric, though crude and sometimes sarcastic, never seemed to suspect him in the least; which was rather unusual considering how the boy often evinced mistrust to various people around him, even to his own father. The man did not intend to pry, though; he was not in a place to ask such personal things. More importantly, it had nothing to do with his cause. Elric was a puzzle yet to be solved - it would even be a thrill to solve that particular puzzle, but the time was surely not now, when he still wanted something from the unsuspecting lad and could not afford to lose him.
Yet there were times when some part of him insisted on telling him that it wasn't the first time he'd met Edward.
That, of course, was illogical; the man had ignored that particular notion, preferring to turn back to his usual mode of practicality. He still had use for Elric; and, being the expert in the social field, he had learnt to avoid sparking the boy's already short fuse in hopes of gaining his trust in the long run.
But even the most careful of men could err due to lack of knowledge, and Harnack was no different. To him, seeing those golden orbs light up with the intensity of being betrayed, and those pale features scrunching up in utter revulsion was an entirely different experience, leaving the military officer rather stunned in its wake. (and when was the last time that he had been stunned speechless? He couldn't even remember. ) The porcelain cup, which Elric had been raising to his lips a second earlier, shattered into pieces; a shove, a slam, and suddenly he was out of the door. Elric's angry curses trailed doggedly behind him, muffled by the closed door.
And he'd only uttered one sentence to provoke that reaction.
"Are you interested in joining the army?"
That was when the dormant volcano erupted.
They'd met in the vast winding garden of the university; the boy heading home with notes piled high in his arms – various notes on rocketry and machinery, the significance of which was known to him alone. The man had been lying in wait for him at the next corner, deliberately knocking down the pile as he passed by, if only to stall time for a proper introduction.
His name is Edward Elric, the intelligence officer had supplied after saluting, a wry smile gracing his lips as he studied the scowling photo on his file. The kid's been utterly famous around the university, challenging professors and squashing their theories right before their faces. That was why the old farts seldom liked it when he visited.
Rocketry seems to be his specialty.
Rocketry. He had rubbed his chin in thought. That sounds utilizable.
He had to hide a knowing smirk as a large string of cuss words radiated behind him, the boy bending down to gather his scattered papers. That was one hell of a fiery temper that the kid had, the officer had told him ruefully. Somehow, he was amused to find that it was true.
It took a while for Elric to finish collecting his papers. It took another while for him to turn around in order to snark at the culprit.
And when he finally did, Elric had promptly dropped the pile in astonishment.
"My apologies, sir. You must be Mr. Elric." His formal greeting was nicely greeted with an open jaw. Elric blinked, bronze eyes widening in the midday sun. " I have heard much about you. My name is Harnack."
He'd held out a hand, Mr. Elric did not take it.
"You mean you are Roy Harnack." Was the boy's incredulous reply. There had been something in the boy's eyes that he found difficult to comprehend then - half bitter, half wistful; an expression that gave Harnack the impression that he was not looking at him, but beyond him into an unforeseeable world; that he resembled someone in Elric's remembrance, so far away in the past that it had been obscured with the fog of melancholy, but never forgotten.
An ironic smile bloomed to match the incomprehensible expression in the scientist's eyes; it was an expression Roy would be used to seeing, in a frequency more than often.
Harnack had blinked at the boy's knowledge of his name, and assured himself that it was quite possible that Elric should have heard of him from the university, the public, or whatever famed person that he had contact with.
After all, he was pretty sure that Elric did not have any telepathic power that could allow him to read a person's name on his face. And thus assured, he began engaging the still bewildered teenager in a light conversation.
The man had invited himself to tea at the Elric household shortly afterwards, where Elric greeted him with a surprised frown, gestured him in, and went into the kitchen to make him tea. His father, whom he knew by the name of Hohenheim Elric, acknowledged his presence with a more subdued frown and cold, polite words. Tea was served, conversations on neutral topics were exchanged; and by the end of the day, Harnack had gathered a few pieces of valuable information about both father and son.
The Elric boy was not entirely displeased to have his company, Roy had found, even when he'd advertently revealed that he belonged to the Reichswehr. The boy had probably known that the first time he set eyes on him, he realized. Still, the man wasn't sure that Edward had understood what that was, except that it was one form of military, or armed force, or whatever. But then, he wasn't sure that the boy even cared.
It was obvious that Hohenheim was not thrilled at the idea of Edward speaking to him at all – not many parents were thrilled at the idea of their children being involved with the country's armed forces nowadays, and that he could understand - but that didn't matter. Edward was smart, was a rare genius. Given time, the boy would be able to fly a rocket into space.
Given friendship and instructions, the boy might be able to launch the said rocket against a hostile country. All for the good of his country, all for the strength of Germany.
At least, that was what he had thought.
Get out of my house, now! Out, bastard!
The youth's angry shout had attested to the fact that Roy's plan wasn't going to pan out as smoothly as he'd intended. He stumbled a bit on the doorstep, staring at the hard, polished surface that banished him from the Elric boy's sight, that proved him as an unwelcome visitor in Edward's realm.
But then again, Harnack thought, he probably shouldn't have broached the subject this bluntly. Maybe it was the strategic mistake, and not the question itself, that had roused such a violent reaction out of the boy in the first place.
Or maybe the Elric brat was just too damn unpredictable for his own good.
18th September, 1923, 2:11 pm
As it turned out, he didn't really need the metal knocker any more than he needed invitation to enter Edward's house. The boy had a way of anticipating his presence around the house every time he came around, and, with perfect timing, Edward would always yank the front door open with a scowl, as if he was rather unappreciative of the other man's sudden appearance. Harnack knew better, having built up immunity towards the crudeness of Elric in general, and that look of his in particular.Ed, however, would habitually leave the door ajar, brewing his guest a cup of coffee while letting Harnack enter of his own accord.
And while he'd irked Elric a few days before, this ritual of theirs didn't seem to be affected. The front door flew open with the force of a mad rhino smashing into a wall, and Ed poked his head out from behind the wood, a drunken glower…a drunken glower? …gracing his features. His pale countenance was flushed beet-red, golden orbs dimmed to the colour of rusting metal. Edward looked…wretched; there was no other way to describe it. That in itself was a very rare sight indeed.
Harnack was so taken aback that he didn't catch the slurred "come in, bastard." originated from the teen's lips. Nevertheless he went in, seeing that the boy had already vanished indoors and had yet again left the door open.
Edward had been drinking, that was painfully obvious. His house, which had formerly been kept to a certain degree of stateliness by Hohenheim, now resembled an alehouse struck by typhoon; the boy himself was in the kitchen, fumbling unsteadily for the pot of coffee perched somewhere out of his reach. By the looks of it, he was either going to miss the coffee pot altogether and trip himself up, or upset the pot and scorch himself with its contents.
Neither sounded too good to Roy at the moment, so he ran to the lad's rescue; snatching the pot from the cupboard and away from Elric's outstretched hand. Edward favoured him with a dark glare, but in the drunken state he was in, it didn't contain much rancor.
"What is it now, bastard?" the boy seemed to have made up his mind to be particularly rude today, but Harnack was more intrigued by his incoherent state than any display of rudeness. He knew for a fact that Edward was never into alcohol – it tempered too much with his scientific research and, according to Edward, didn't taste good to begin with. Something was bothering the boy, and he was about to find out exactly what.
Somehow, he was sure that had nothing to do with his former invitation for the boy to join the Reichswehr. The boy was made of harder stuff than that.
"You are drunk, Mr. Edward." He told the swaying boy matter-of-factly, bearing his coffee back to the living room before he could spill it. "Did something in your research with Mr. Heiderich go wrong?" That was the only reason he could think of.
"What the hell is it to you?" Edward snarled, kicking a few empty wine bottles out of his way as he tried to follow the man out of the kitchen. The lad was in imminent danger of losing his balance, but Harnack didn't move to help him, seeing that the effort would not be appreciated. Ed leant against a horizontal surface, golden eyes hot with fury as he continued, "prying into our research so that you can one day turn our rocket into a lethal weapon?"
Harnack froze, before covering it with a condescending smirk.
"You think too highly of your own achievements, Mr. Edward."
Elric snorted in disdain, nailing him with unfocused eyes. "Yeah, do I? If my research can't get you anywhere, why else would you bother visiting a common scientist every damn day of the year? Why else would you put up with my temper and all that stuff if it's not going to get you a promotion? Equivalent trade, isn't it." The fire in his eyes quelled a little then, that something from before settling in the orbs.
"You want to get to the top. Want to get to the top in order to change this country for the better. I should have known that from the very start. But I managed to realize that only after you asked that particular question. Isn't it ironic, the same question being asked twice." Edward was falling into a litany of some sort, smile strange and nostalgic as his gaze went beyond Harnack again, back into that hidden dimension only he could see; though the man doubted if that dimension was in actual existence.
"You've always been ambitious, Colonel."
Having no intention to inquire Edward what "Colonel" had meant, Harnack stared back into his coffee. He had a feeling that their conversation was going to spiral into complete incoherency where this particular topic was concerned. But yet…Edward had been right about him, his aspirations. Edward had saw through his intentions from the beginning, yet had accepted his feigned friendship. Somehow that made it easier to pretend that Elric's hurt feelings hardly qualified as his fault.
Now, in drunken hopelessness, Elric had finally confronted what he'd denied for this long. That he was used, in another world, for some other person's purpose – the same purpose, even. But Mustang had actually cared for him, for him and Al both, under a manipulative and smug-to-the-point-of-disgusting façade; that he could not deny. He had not been able to deny it even in the world of alchemy; but being the gruff alchemist that he was, he preferred to cover it up with loud complaints and childish tantrums. And now, away from that world with no one to care, he found it even harder to deny.
The colonel, despite having a use for his talents, had cared for him and his brother; giving them hope when they had none, urging them on when the future became too bleak to pursue. Edward hadn't been able to decide then, in his inner mind, whether Roy represented a father figure, a considerably older brother, or a friend – in an odd sense- to him. Though, of course, he would admit to none if asked. He had his own pride, after all.
Which was why Edward found it equally difficult to realize that Harnack had never cared for his welfare at all. Though perpetually distracted by his quest to return home, the boy was not an idiot; he knew, logically, that the German could not have approached him out of simple goodwill. Harnack had come to him because he was utilizable, with the most prominent factor being his scientific knowledge (wasn't that the initial reason that Mustang had come for him, too? But then, his most prominent strength had been his alchemy.) But fact was fact - and he had to acknowledge that he could not turn to Harnack for support, because it was dangerous to be dependant on someone he could not trust; he could not reveal to Harnack the same truth that he had informed Heiderich, for fear that the man would use it to his own advantage - like turning him to the German army which, as Ed had learnt to understand, was a million times worse than the Amestrian one.
Harnack, meanwhile, raised a slender brow at his smaller companion over his last remark. Apparently he'd decided to tough it out over Elric's cards-on-the-table words. The Elric brat was too articulate to be royally drunk, he thought.
"I'm afraid I do not understand what you mean, Mr. Edward."
"Oh, you do, bastard," retorted Edward sharply, snatching a pile of something from the bottles-strewn floor and slamming it on the desk the way a drunkard would slam a finished glass on any given surface. The man raised another brow in question as he glanced at the papers before him – pages after pages of notes on rocketry, too intricate for his mind to even begin deciphering. Elric usually valued his notes better than tossing them around the place.
"Look here, Mister Harnack…these are what you wanted all along, isn't it? Go on, take 'em. Give them to someone smart and make your own damn continental rocket. Bomb down the whole city of London for all I care. Just leave me alone already." The boy made a vague wave with his real arm – prosthetic one slumped over the side of his seat – as if dismissing his once-cherished research as trash that he'd rather not see again.
Something was very wrong there; and Harnack could now guess what. The science project that Edward had been so enthralled in must have gone so wrong, must have failed so badly, that the boy had given himself up to complete dissipation. The working notes didn't matter as much anymore; the project was over and the boy couldn't bring himself to care.
The army officer wisely removed a bottle of half-empty alcohol from the teenager's reach, ignoring the half-muttered threats that Ed made under his breath. He needed Elric more or less sound, and not drowning in alcohol, in order to get the whole story out of him. " The project, Mr. Edward. What went wrong?"
"What went wrong?" Elric's smile was nearly manic, "why, nothing went wrong. Alphonse and I…we had a breakthrough yesterday. The moon wasn't our target...never was...what's a bare, rocky planet to me anyway?...We were trying to predict how long it would take to fly a rocket to somewhere farther than the moon. Alphonse said – I couldn't object – it would take at least fifty years. Fifty damn years, Mustang." He said, facing Harnack with a bitter chuckle.
Harnack wasn't quite impressed, though the reason behind Elric's agony became clear. Science was no magic after all, it needed time and effort and genius. Especially the last criteria. Edward was a scientist – though the man knew he could be utterly restless and impatient sometimes – he should have understood that fact more than anyone else, right? Edward should have known better than to rush and get upset over something he could not hope to achieve in the short run.
He would have pointed it out to the lad, if not for the fact that Edward had now buried his head in gloved hands, shaking uncontrollably.
"Fifty years…Colonel…where would everyone be then? Would Al still be waiting for me? Would you? Maybe they would have forgotten about me then, gotten on with their lives. Who could blame them?" There was a certain tremor in the boy's voice; Harnack didn't know if he was crying. "Am I to remain in this damned world forever?"
"Mr. Edward…" That was it, the incomprehensible monologue he had predicted. He had no idea what the boy was ranting on about. There was one thing he could understand, though barely.
Edward Elric, the almost solitary scientist, was homesick.
Edward wanted to scream at him, to demand that he call him Fullmetal, or Ed, or Edward, because no one in his world would ever call him "Mr. Edward"- not that foreign, colourless name; to demand that he stop looking at him with such patronizing eyes, that he smirk at him, make some jibes about his height, because that was what the Colonel always did…
But no, Roy Harnack could never be Roy Mustang, though they shared the same face, the same annoyingly throaty voice. If anything, Harnack was more different from Mustang than Heiderich was from his brother. Harnack would never smile warmly, humanly at him the way a certain Colonel would smile at his youngest subordinate; would never scream at him for not asking for his help when the boy needed it. Wouldn't greet him with a sarcastic "Fullmetal, which city did you burn down this time?" and command that he move on when he was lost mourning a child-turned-chimera's death.
Harnack could never be Mustang, just as Heiderich could never be Al. He had been living on incomplete dreams all along, hoping that one day, one day, he could shed the dream like a useless piece of snake skin and return to the world where Alphonse would greet him with a delighted cry of "Nii-san!" and Mustang would tilt his head, smile, and drawl "What's taken you so long, Fullmetal?" in that typically smug way only he could manage.
"I don't want you; I don't want Alfonse. I miss my brother.I..." Ed's words were lost in a sob, rendering them nearly inarticulate, "I want to go home."
Crying was not a taboo then, because Mustang was not here to berate him for not being able to move on, because Al was not here to be worried at his emotional breakdown. He was alone, so alone, that nothing – even his pride – mattered anymore. No one here would be intimate enough to him to tease him about wailing like a baby, that he understood with an aghast certainty.
There was a small noise of shifting materials beside him; and just as softly, a pair of arms was laid across his shoulders. Through his own sobs, through the silence of his house, Mustang's voice came to him with a familiar warmth that would seldom surface at normal times, but could be eerily comforting once it was used.
He didn't know whether it was Harnack's apology for something that was never his fault to begin with, and was probably as confusing to him as the rest of Edward was; or it was Mustang's voice, reaching across another dimension, across the impermeable Gate to sooth him, to ask forgiveness for failing to protect his youngest charge. It wasn't important at the moment, because both of them had owed him nothing. They just had the misfortune of existing in the same world as he had.
It was his fault alone, and he knew it.
All he could do was cling to that single notion and let his tears fall.