Disclaimer: I do not own, nor ever will, Fullmetal Alchemist or the characters within.
Chapter 9: "Is this some kind of joke?"
General Roy Mustang sat, his elbows on his desk and his chin resting on his linked gloved fingers, with a thin folder in front of him. Edward Von Hohenheim's official Notification of State Alchemist Title stared at him and his eye followed the smooth and elegant calligraphy of a name that was becoming all too familiar.
In the name of the State of Amestris
the title of
is bestowed upon
Edward von Hohenheim
How many years has it been since I gave Edward his title notification? He was eager, willing, ready to carry everything. He had liked it. He had wanted it. Roy lowered his head, forehead resting on his fingers, remembering the bright stubborn golden eyes looking at him after reading his new title. Little brat. He hadn't had a damned clue.
Kain Fuery paused in the doorway and looked at his General. An air of gloom and sorrow hung around the still figure. He wondered how long the General had been sitting there and worried at his lip before taking a tentative step into the room.
There was no sign the General was aware of him so he took another step and coughed quietly. Nothing and Fuery began to frown. This was very unlike Mustang. Unless he was asleep and Fuery was just imagining the melancholic air from the man's posture alone? Fuery moved closer and gave a louder cough.
The dark head lifted and Fuery blinked at the paleness of the face that appeared.
"Yes?" The voice was rough and the dark eye glittered strangely before Mustang blinked and suddenly sat up straight. "Sorry Fuery. What is it?" The voice was smoother now and Fuery was left wondering just what had happened. Had the General been asleep or not? The transition had been too quick for him to decide.
"Several reports need your signature, Sir," Fuery said as he closed the distance to the desk. He put the files he was carrying on the corner of the desk.
"Thank you," Mustang replied in an absent manner and Fuery saw he was looking at the file in front of him.
"Sir? Are …are you alright?" Fuery was hesitant in asking but there really appeared to be something bothering Mustang and while he'd never normally have the courage to ask, things had felt different for Fuery since Edward Von Hohenheim had arrived. Von Hohenheim saw Kain Fuery in ways Edward Elric had never seen him, and Kain felt guilty to realise that he liked the way von Hohenheim relied on him and wanted his friendship.
Roy looked at the small man. Fuery was trying harder than any of them to see Von Hohenheim as someone other than Edward Elric. The tender-hearted nature that led him to bring in abandoned animals also had him trying to help misplaced people. And von Hohenheim was more misplaced than anyone. Misplaced or abandoned? Roy frowned slightly. From what Von Hohenheim had said so far, Roy felt he could be both. Would he stay that way or was it ever going to be possible for him to find a place here? Roy's eye flickered. Fuery was the only one trying to help von Hohenheim to find that place.
"Are you going to visit von Hohenheim later?"
"Yes Sir." Fuery looked a little confused at the sudden question. He hadn't been able to go yesterday and he was feeling slightly guilty about it.
"Fic said von Hohenheim would recover better with something to occupy him. Perhaps you could see Hawkeye and get her to choose and you can take it with you." Roy kept his face and voice clear. Fuery's query had surprised him. He hadn't thought he'd been letting anything show and he hoped Fuery would ignore the unanswered question. Fuery was not the sort to insist on answers. If it had been Hawkeye or even Havoc, Roy knew it would have been very different. Those two had entered into an unholy alliance as far as he was concerned. Ever since his unwilling return they had taken it upon themselves to look after him from a discreet distance but they didn't hesitate to lecture or question when they thought he was behaving differently.
"Yes, Sir." Fuery was still regarding him with a curious look and Roy just hoped the younger soldier didn't mention it to Riza when he spoke to her. Roy looked at file in front of him again and decided to see von Hohenheim now. It was only right that he be told of his title before anyone else and he would be able to apologise at the same time. That was not going to be pleasant.
"I'll be seeing him shortly and I'll tell him to expect you," Roy said and then cursed mentally at how formal he sounded.
"Thank you Sir," Fuery replied and Roy saw Fuery's face crease slightly. It was so hard to act as normal and he didn't know why. Just that one moment of reacting to von Hohenheim as if Edward Elric were there had somehow completely shaken his usual calm. A sleepless night hadn't helped and knowing that he would have to see him again today had not helped ease his unsettled mind. And now Fuery knew something was amiss.
"Was there anything else?" Roy asked knowing he was leaving himself open to Fuery's questions. But Fuery shook his head as pink tinged his cheeks and he looked away in embarrassment.
"No Sir." Fuery's voice was quiet and the embarrassment clear as he turned around and left the office. Roy ran a hand through his hair and leant back in his chair. Not for the first time he wished he knew what had happened to Edward Elric. Because facing that young man with that face was becoming the most difficult thing he could imagine.
Fuery watched Hawkeye sorting out some files for von Hohenheim and sighed. Something had been bothering the General but he hadn't felt brave enough to ask, even when the General had given him an opportunity. Besides he knew the probable reason anyway. It was the same with everything else lately. It all ended with 'ever since von Hohenheim arrived.' Fuery didn't think that was exactly true. To him it had all started since von Hohenheim had gone for the surgery. Up to that point he'd been visible, he'd been there and they could see the differences all the time. But now he was gone, hidden away for a while and any signs of acceptance were disappearing behind doubt and suspicion.
They couldn't ask before because they were being cautious and now when he wasn't there, they wanted to ask. They wanted to know. Every search they did came up empty. There was no record of him anywhere. The places he had mentioned didn't exist. Breda had jokingly mentioned amnesia yesterday and today Havoc had started searching for any record of anyone suffering from that. Havoc wasn't happy at coming up empty-handed so far and they all knew that Havoc could become obsessed if he didn't start finding something soon. Despite his easy-going manner he ran Falman a close second for knowing everything.
"What, Fuery?" she replied without stopping her sorting.
"Do you think that von Hohenheim has amnesia?"
"It's possible. No-one really knows much about the mind and how it works."
"It seems unnatural. That someone would just forget everything and everyone. How is that even possible? I can't see Ed ever forgetting Al." He let his breath out. "And von Hohenheim has all his memories and does things Ed never did."
Hawkeye turned and placed several files on the desk and looked at him. "Are you trying to convince yourself that he isn't Edward?"
"Yes…no…I don't know." Fuery sounded as exasperated as he felt. He looked at Hawkeye, worrying at his bottom lip before he said in a very small voice. "I like him, Hawkeye. I like von Hohenheim. If he is Edward, then what happens? Does von Hohenheim just disappear?"
Hawkeye looked at him for a long moment and then knelt down beside his desk to be at his level. "I don't think so. If he is Edward, how do you make him remember what he's forgotten? I think ... if that is Edward with amnesia, it will only cause more problems." Her voice was gentle. "Kain, it's okay if you like him. Without you, he'd be completely alone."
"There's Fic." Fuery felt the heat rise in his cheeks.
"Yes, but he also needs someone from here. Someone who will be his friend despite everything." Hawkeye paused. "It's going to take the rest of us some time before we're willing to accept him like you do."
Fuery put his head down on his desk, hiding his blushing face. "Everyone says I'm naïve and gullible."
"Not everyone says that. You're kind and gentle and you've got a soft heart. And if you ever need anything or anything happens, we'll be here."
"Thanks," Fuery mumbled as even his ears went red.
"And I'll need someone to help me with Havoc if he doesn't get any answers this time," Hawkeye said as she straightened up.
"Is he starting to get bad?" Fuery looked up.
"Yes. He was up half the night ringing the regional bases to double check all the birth records again."
"You should just shoot him," Fuery told her as he felt himself returning to normal.
"Waste of ammunition," was Hawkeye's dry response and Fuery was about to reply when the door opened abruptly.
"Where's the General?" Winry demanded angrily as she stepped into the office. "I need to speak to him."
"He's out at the moment," Hawkeye replied.
"When will he be back?" Winry almost growled in her throat.
"In a couple of hours," Hawkeye told her. "Winry, what's the matter? Why are you angry?"
"Do you know what Al has done?"
"No. What are you talking about?" Hawkeye asked as both she and Fuery stared at Winry.
"He's gone off again! He said the General said he could go!" Winry's eyes were blazing and there was outrage in her voice. "How dare he let Al go wandering around again?"
"Come and sit down, Winry," Hawkeye said soothingly and tried to move Winry towards one of the chairs.
"I don't want to sit down! I want to know why he let Al go! Al says he's still looking for Edward!" Winry glared at them. "Why is he going off when that …that man is still here? He probably knows exactly what happened! Al's got to talk to him instead of running all over the country!"
"I believe Alphonse did meet von Hohenheim briefly and that it did not go well," Hawkeye said calmly.
"I didn't know that," Winry grumped. "Al never said anything." Her frown deepened.
"Where is Al?" Fuery asked.
"Somewhere on his way to West City." Winry sighed and suddenly dropped into the nearest chair. "He rang from some place. He left yesterday; he said he's already halfway there."
"I'll notify Western Headquarters and let them know. If he needs any help or a bed, then they'll be ready for him," Hawkeye said.
"I wish you'd stop pandering to him," Winry said rebelliously. "Knowing that you'll always be taking care of him just lets him keep on doing this."
"You know why he keeps doing this, Winry," Hawkeye stated firmly.
"I know. But it's been five years now. There has to be an end to it somewhere," Winry's voice rose slightly. "That man could have all the answers and Al could finally stop looking and come home. There has to be a reason he's here."
"Why?" Fuery suddenly stood up. "Why does there have to be a reason? Von Hohenheim is just as confused as the rest of us. Why do you have to blame him for something he can't help?" Fuery finished speaking and saw wide eyes of the other two staring at him. Realisation went through him and he felt himself go cold all over before he flushed from head to toes. He made an indeterminate sound and almost ran from the room.
"I'm not blaming him," Winry said almost blankly as she stared after him.
"Yes you are," Hawkeye replied evenly. "Von Hohenheim disturbs us all, but because you grew up with Edward, because you're family, it's harder for you to have any perspective. That's why Al will keep looking even with von Hohenheim here."
There was a long pause.
"I didn't know Fuery could get so angry."
"Von Hohenheim is his friend."
Winry shook her head. "I though Fuery was Ed's friend."
"He can be both," Hawkeye spoke without inflection but her eyes were sharp as she looked at the stubborn mechanic. "And I would say that Fuery is von Hohenheim's only friend."
Edward von Hohenheim cursed as the screwdriver slipped across the metal with a screech and dug into his calf for the third time in as many minutes. He shifted the arm he was working on into a better position under his flesh leg and took a deep breath before lifting the screwdriver again. He ached, from his back to his new ports to his head, but he was going to get that damned screw undone if it killed him.
Working on the automail with Fic had proven to be a great distraction from his thoughts. It had been surprisingly difficult at first to get the right balance to hold the automail in place with his leg and use his left hand without tilting to the side. Once he had that, it had taken him quite some time to be able to judge the pressure needed to use as too much had him tilting off-balance again. Hunching over made his back ache but after the first hour he found it fascinating as he tweaked and fiddled with wires and connections and watched them work from a single poke of his screwdriver.
Von Hohenheim knew a lot about the prosthetics his father had made but this automail was a complete eye-opener. There were similarities but automail had more connections and a more intricate connecting system. Von Hohenheim was fascinated by it and Fic had had to forcibly remove the tools and limbs from him last night to stop him from playing with them all night. And they had been the first things he had asked for this morning.
He didn't want to think too much on the General's words and he certainly didn't want to know why it had hurt so much. It had been an accidental slip. It hadn't meant anything. Von Hohenheim expected them all to do it at some point no matter how careful they were. It was to be expected. It didn't hurt at all. Much. He grumbled at himself. Yes, it had hurt and I'm an idiot for worrying at it. Von Hohenheim sighed. And he'll be coming here today. He's the kind of person who'll feel like he has to apologise, isn't he? I …I don't think I want him to do that.
Von Hohenheim twisted the screwdriver. Better to concentrate on what he was doing rather than wondering about the General. He'd never gotten anywhere through second-guessing or being impatient. He'd learnt that there were some things he just had to accept as they were. "Doesn't mean I have to like it though," he muttered wryly as the screw finally gave way and he smiled in triumph. He looked up, smile still in place as the door opened.
Roy tried to drag out the trip to Fic's as much as he could. He decided to walk rather than be driven there. He tried to walk slowly but found his steps getting quicker as he got closer. Looking in windows didn't help. And his last resort, meeting some of the admiring glances being sent his way just didn't slow him down. He hadn't been interested in women for a long time now and it was impossible to suddenly feign something he didn't feel. Even the men he saw didn't distract him. He sighed. He didn't understand why he was hurrying to see the one person he was most reluctant to see.
He hadn't solved anything by the time he arrived at Fic's shop and he missed the smile Fic gave to his absent-minded greetings. He pushed open the door to von Hohenheim's room and felt a jolt in his chest as he saw the smile. Never had he seen that expression on that face. Even as the almost glowing expression faltered when von Hohenheim recognised him, Roy still felt an itchy feeling under his ribs.
"General." The single word broke his stasis both mental and physical and he stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. Von Hohenheim looked wary, Roy thought and he didn't blame him.
He looked at von Hohenheim as he moved closer and realised that for once he couldn't see Edward Elric there. Von Hohenheim was wearing a loose shirt and shorts. The flesh leg bent slightly with an automail arm under it was pale but well formed. The stump of his other leg with the bandaged port was visible. The loose shirt was partly unbuttoned and the sleeves rolled up. With his hair loosely held back he appeared to be relaxed and comfortable. He wasn't hiding anything. His stump, the little glimpse of a scarred chest, it was all there to be seen. Von Hohenheim was completely unself-conscious of how he looked.
Even though von Hohenheim's eyes were wary, he made no attempt to move. Ed would have straightened up, he would have pulled the sheet over his leg and he would have glared at him. Edward Elric would never have let anyone other than his brother see that kind of smile. Roy could still see it clearly in his mind and he let his breath out.
"I want to apologise for yesterday," he began and saw von Hohenheim begin to shake his head. "No, I need to say this."
"I… you don't need to say anything, Sir." There was a dusting of pink across the blond's cheeks and the wariness had gone from his eyes. "It's not like you meant to say what you did."
"That may be true, but it was insensitive of me and I should not have forgotten myself to treat you like that." To Roy it looked as if von Hohenheim was embarrassed and it was yet another twist to remind him that this was not Edward Elric. That blond monster would have been gloating as soon as the first words were out. Von Hohenheim looked down at the screwdriver in his hand and Roy saw him frown slightly as he pressed it against the automail arm.
"Everyone will do it at some stage. I expect it." von Hohenheim looked up suddenly. "I resent it and I know it will keep on happening."
"But you know something else?" The golden eyes were clear and unshadowed. "When you forget who I am, I get to see someone else as well. You walk around me so carefully until you forget and see me as him. Then you become different. You become the stranger."
Roy didn't know what to say. He hadn't thought much past apologising because he hadn't known how von Hohenheim would react to it. The embarrassment had been short-lived and while he hadn't said he accepted the apology, Roy felt he wasn't completely ignoring it. But von Hohenheim's comments startled him. He hadn't considered it from the other side before and von Hohenheim was demonstrating a degree of acceptance that he had not expected. Without thinking Roy held out the folder he was carrying and sat down in the chair by the bed.
Von Hohenheim took it and opened it slowly, the wary look coming back into his eyes as he stayed looking at Roy for a moment before looking at the single page in the folder.
"Is this some kind of joke?" von Hohenheim asked in a strangled voice and the face that looked at Roy seemed torn between outrage and confusion.
"No. You're now known as the Forged Alchemist." Roy took a deep breath. He had half-expected this reaction. "You demonstrated an ability to break down and separate the various substances in those materials. You transmuted steel from them and you recombined it all afterwards. Your name comes from what you did at the practical, not from anything else."
"It just seems rather all-encompassing." Von Hohenheim stared at him. "Why do I need a title?"
"All State Alchemists have one. Often people will know your title but not your name. Alchemists have a habit of becoming their title. It is never chosen lightly. If you want to see more meaning to it than it has, then that is your decision. It's your name. It's up to you what it means to you, and to everyone else."
"Fuery said you were an alchemist too," von Hohenheim said without thinking.
"What's your title?"
Everything stopped for Roy. He had never had anyone ask before. No-one had needed to ask. His face, his gloves had all been so well known and infamous. For years he had carried the weight of it until that night when everything had changed, and he had slipped away to the North and left his gloves behind along with everything else. Roy looked down at his plain white gloves briefly before he lifted his head. The single dark eye met the curious gaze of von Hohenheim. "I am the Flame Alchemist."
"Flame. So you use fire." Roy could almost see von Hohenheim's mind at work as the young man spoke. "You'd need to carry a flint or something to create a spark with you all the time to use it. Hmm, with an array in place…" von Hohenheim paused. "It seems to be very unstable. How do you keep control of it? What array do you use?"
"I don't use it any more." Roy's response was abrupt and he leant back in the chair crossing his arms and bringing a leg up over his knee.
Von Hohenheim blinked and then stared. The man had closed down straightaway. Von Hohenheim knew enough to be able read basic body language and everything about the General's posture was telling him that the man did not want to talk about it. Questions crowded into his head and he wanted to know. His eyes flickered. Was this how it was for them? Wanting to know about his past and having to hold back because it would be too impolite, too intrusive? But he had agreed to start talking and the General was going to tell him about this other Edward. Maybe the General would talk about himself as well, although it was a bit hard to imagine someone like the General opening up enough to share something that was probably very personal from his reaction.
Von Hohenheim realised he was staring and didn't know what to do. The unasked questions hung between them and he was suddenly struck by his presumption that he could even get answers later. This was his Commanding Officer. His General and he'd been rather casual in his manner ever since he had entered the room. Some of that was because the General had not been behaving as he usually did. And von Hohenheim was having trouble seeing him as the General even though he was in uniform. There was a person there too, not just a General, and watching him withdraw so abruptly and without pretence reinforced that. He looked down at the paper as he felt himself blushing again.
He looked at the name again. Forged Alchemist. Forged, forgery. Despite what the General said he couldn't help but see two sides to that name. If it was up to him to make the title his own, he knew which one it would be, but he didn't know if he would be able to completely wipe out the shadow of the other one. He let his breath out and idly looked at the thick almost parchment-like paper it was written on. It was quite impressive. He froze and then held it up higher.
"Pale white and black with false citrine, imperfect white and red. The peacock's feathers in bright colours, the rainbow in the sky above. The spotted panther, the green lion, the crow's beak blue as lead. These shall appear before you in perfect white, and with many others. After the perfect white follows the grey and false citrine also." Von Hohenheim read the words embedded on the page, following them as he turned the paper around. He frowned. "It's not quite the same," he muttered.
Roy watched as von Hohenheim dropped the page and shifted with a slight wince, reaching for the books piled on the table beside the bed. With sure fingers he managed to lift the top three and put them on the bed before reaching to get the next three. Then he picked up the seventh book and put it in his lap, bringing his stump close to help support the book. He flicked through the pages of a book that looked old and well-read. Roy looked at the books. They were all the same. Leather-bound and old and well-cared for. He couldn't read the faded words on the spines from where he sat but he felt his fingers itch. It had been a long time since he'd seen books like these and he had always loved old books. Scraps of ribbon were threaded through several of them obviously marking pages. One looked more worn than the others.
"Here it is." There was pleasure in Von Hohenheim's voice as he looked at his book. "It is slightly different, but that's probably from the translation."
Roy frowned. "You're talking about the words on the emblem?"
"Yes. I thought I recognised them. It's from Ripley's Twelve Gates. Its part of his Compound of Alchemy." Von Hohenheim tapped the book in front of him and read out the same passage as was on the parchment.
"Pale and black with false citrine, imperfect white and red,
The Peacock's feathers in gay colours, the rainbow which shall go over,
The spotted panther, the lion green, the Crows bill blue as lead.
These shall appear before you perfect white, and many more others.
And after the perfect white, grey, false citrine also,
And after these, there shall appear the red body invariable,
Then you have a medicine of the third order of his own kind multipliable."
Roy listened. Von Hohenheim's accent thickened slightly and his voice softened as he read and Roy found himself listening to that rather than the words. The differences between the texts were minimal and Roy wondered why von Hohenheim was interested in them. That array and those words had been used on many official documents for years. Roy vaguely remembering seeing them on his State Title Notification.
"It's said you can make a Philosopher's Stone if you follow all the steps," von Hohenheim continued casually and Roy stiffened in his chair. He stared at the oblivious blond who was smiling at the book. "I've always loved this book. It's almost like a poem to read but it's so full of everything I love about alchemy."
"May I see it?" Roy asked as he felt his stomach rolling. Edward Elric had spent every waking moment of four years concentrating on finding that Stone.
"Yes, of course," von Hohenheim said as he passed it over. Roy looked at the soft cover and hesitated before he opened it to the title page.
'The Compound of Alchymy. Or the ancient hidden Art of Alchemie: Conteining the right & perfectest meanes to make the Philosophers Stone, Aurum potabile, with other excellent Experiments. Divided into twelue Gates. First written by the learned and rare Philosopher of our Nation George Ripley, whereunto is adioyned his Epistle to the King, his Vision, his Wheele, and other his Workes, neuer before published.'
Roy struggled through the archaic spelling and lettering and noticed the publication date of 1591. This book was that old? He carefully turned the pages and found himself reciting the first verse.
"Calcination is the purgation of our stone,
And restoration also of its natural heat.
Of radical humidity it looseth none,
Inducing solution into our stone most mete.
Seek after philosophy I you advise
But not after the common guise,
With sulphur and salts prepared in diverse ways."
"I think I have one of his other works here as well," von Hohenheim said after Roy had finished. "It's almost a shortened form of the Gates but much more poetic."
Roy looked a bit askance at the page. How could this teach anyone how to make a Stone? Where were the formulae and calculations? This was not how he was used to reading about alchemy. This sort of alchemical text was strange and confusing. It seemed to have little in common with alchemy at all. He looked down the page. He could understand some of it but the rest baffled him. It was as if he was reading someone else's coded notes. He looked at von Hohenheim and saw the young man shifting the books around with his one hand. Without thought Roy leant forward and picked up a couple from the pile intending to help spread them out.
A fluttering of paper had him looking down. A sepia coloured photograph had slipped from one of the books in his hand and he stared at it. Hohenheim of Light stared back at him and Roy barely noticed the young boy at his side as his eye shifted to the cover of the book. He had seen that circling snake symbol before.
"Ouroboros," he murmured. "What joke is this?" His voice became stronger as he shook the book and looked at a startled von Hohenheim. "What is the meaning of this?"
George Ripley: (1415?-1490) was an English alchemist.
Compound of Alchymy was first published in 1591 in London by Thomas Orwin.
Author's Note: Research really is a bad and distracting thing… I spent several days going through Ripley's works and his Twelve Gates is probably one of the most interesting things I've ever read… closely followed by the Ripley Scrowle … I now have several ways to make a Philosopher's Stone thanks to him… and all this reading has given me bunnies for several of the other fics… but I will try not to quote as much as I have done this time…
I want to say thank you to everyone for being patient with me as my updates are taking longer than they should… I really do appreciate knowing you're waiting patiently and it does keep me writing…
I also want to say a big thank you to Mjus who has started translating this fic into Swedish…chapter one is already up… she sends me chapters in this strange language along with lists of translations and it is absolutely wonderful… thank you so much…