Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Edward, Hakuro, Bradley, Alphonse, Hughes, Envy, Mustang. Brief appearances by Lust and Hawkeye.
Setting: First anime. Between episodes 24 and 25.
Summary: General Hakuro has questions for Ed about Lab Five.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt interrogation at Hurt/Comfort Bingo. I had long been looking for a chance to show General Hakuro being nasty, because he's really a villain who slips under the radar. (Almost no one seems to realize he was leading the soldiers who attacked Rose in Liore. In fact, given what's implied in later episodes, my personal assumption is that Hakuro fathered Rose's child.)
The soldier who relayed General Hakuro's request for an interview was extremely polite… but Edward knew better.
"I have no doubt you're getting as weary of this as I am, Mr. Elric. I ask you again: who else besides Scar did you fight with at Lab Five?"
"And I'm telling you for the fifteenth time—I was unconscious. I don't know who else was there."
Really, it was much more than the fifteenth time Hakuro had asked some permutation of the question. Only the phrasing and tone had changed in the last seven hours. He started out coy and persuasive, tried framing his words in a number of cleverly subtle ways; but as he continued to receive the same plea of ignorance from Ed, impatience and anger began to spill through the cracks in the man's façade.
"You're lying. We both know that. Stop playing games like a child, boy."
It was far from the first time Hakuro had tried that one, too. Probing for insecurity about Ed's youth was an all too obvious tactic. Make him feel like he's being an obstinate brat, and maybe he'll try to prove otherwise by telling the grown-ups what they want to hear…
Yeah, that wasn't happening either.
"The last thing I'm doing is playing games, General. You read the official report I wrote while I was in the hospital. That's all I can tell you, and it's not going to change, no matter how long you want to sit here repeating the same questions."
As he spoke, he shifted on the hard wooden chair he hadn't been allowed to rise from for hours. Although he tried to make the movement look nonchalant, it was hard to disguise the fact that his back was aching. His stomach was starting to growl, as well; and his mouth and throat were terribly dry. The light conspicuously directed down upon him was bright and hot, yet the single glass of water he had been given at the outset was long since empty.
Hakuro must have been fond of cheap crime novels. No matter what he chose to call it, this was an interrogation, plain and simple.
"Get it through your head that you're not helping anyone—least of all yourself." Hakuro leaned forward from the half-shadows where he lurked with a few of his low-ranking flunkies. "Even with Scar's abilities, one man couldn't possibly have created the destruction that was left at Lab Five. For the good of the country and our fellow citizens, I want to know who did. If innocent people end up being hurt by the criminals you're refusing to expose, that blood will be on your hands, Mr. Elric."
That was one of Hakuro's more unsettling arguments—because a part of Ed wondered if it might be true. Someone in high places was covering up dangerous truths, but how far did that conspiracy really spread within the military? Was Hakuro genuinely interested in the greater good of Amestris, or was he in on it too, and only trying to learn how much Ed knew?
Even before this, Ed sometimes wondered if saving Hakuro from the terrorist Bald had been such a good thing after all. Sure, it gained him the General's support in the State Alchemy Exam, but he was pretty confident his own skills would have won the day without that favor. Besides, Hakuro made Ed uncomfortable. Like the rest of his kind in the upper crust of the military, he was a politicking, unscrupulous snake without a shred of personal or professional character, who made it clear that he would do anything to advance his career. Furthermore, regardless of his wife and children, Ed had seen him lecherously eyeing female subordinates. It wouldn't have been at all surprising if Hakuro had a mistress or two in his proverbial closet—if not even worse skeletons.
No… Ed just couldn't chance it. He already suspected it had been unwise to confide in Lieutenant Colonel Hughes, who he liked and trusted—or at least wanted to trust. Much less was he prepared to reveal his knowledge of the homunculi to Hakuro, whether the man really cared about averting threats to national security or not.
"I'm sorry, but I can't help you, General. If you don't want to believe me, that's your problem."
The words came out in a sigh, as Ed closed his eyes and leaned his head against the unpleasantly blunt edge of the chair back. He fought the urge to reach up and scratch his left shoulder. The stitches were starting to itch where the Slicer Brothers had cut him.
He really wasn't in a condition for this. In fact, he hadn't even been formally released from the hospital. When Al got those crazy notions about false memories and ran away, Ed's departure to search for him was against the advice of doctors. Then a day of scouring Central for his brother, followed by a fight with those mercenary kidnappers and the armored incarnation of Barry the Chopper… What Ed needed more than anything right now was sleep. Not hours of sitting on a rock-hard chair under scorching lights, enduring a grilling he was certain Hakuro's superiors had never authorized.
"…Perhaps I should call your brother in here."
For the first time in the entire ordeal, a thrill of fear shot up Ed's spine. His eyes flew open and he flinched upright, his fingers tightening on the arms of the chair. Even as he moved, he knew the reaction was exactly the kind of tell Hakuro was looking for—but he just couldn't help it.
In spite of the horrendous damage to Alphonse at Lab Five, Hughes and Major Armstrong had done their best to preserve his secret. Al had the good sense to play dead when he was carried out, giving the appearance of nothing more than a mangled and very empty hulk of metal. Afterward, Hughes and Armstrong quietly fostered the rumor that he had abandoned his armor and hidden in the ruined lab, to be found later by Hughes himself. It wasn't a perfect cover story, but it shielded Al from any further exposure of his nature… or so they had hoped.
But if Hakuro brought Al in for questioning, he might become curious or impatient about the younger Elric's concealment within steel. He might want to see what injuries had been sustained by the presumed body underneath. He might even demand that Al remove the armor altogether, just so he could read the facial expressions of the boy he meant to interrogate.
And if a man like Hakuro learned the truth about Alphonse, about the human transmutation that made him as he was, sealing his soul in a shell that possessed strength without pain…
It could pave the way for another Lab Five—and this time it would be Al who would become a number, just as the Slicer Brothers and Barry the Chopper had.
"Al can't tell you anything," Ed snapped quickly. "He was there, but he wasn't with me."
"If that's true, it gives me even more reason to believe he could have seen things you didn't—and according to what I've heard, that armor he wears didn't get so badly damaged just by taking a walk around the block."
"I highly doubt that. The damage described to me isn't consistent with Scar's usual pattern." Hakuro stepped forward into the light, fixing Ed with intent, narrowed eyes. "Perhaps you don't want to see justice done to the people who nearly killed you and your brother, but he might feel otherwise."
"Al's a civilian! You don't even have the authority to question him!"
"I can and will do whatever it takes to ensure national security!" Hakuro's voice rose as he gripped the chair arms and leaned into Ed's face. "If you refuse to do your duty to your country, I can break you just as easily as I helped make you—and you won't go down alone."
The implied threat to Al felt like a tangible thing, heavy and hard. Ed clenched his jaw tightly and stared back at Hakuro, golden eyes burning as they stared up into the General's brown ones. He would have liked nothing better than to punch that angry, arrogant face.
Now he was sure it would be no good idea to tell Hakuro of the existence of the homunculi… even for Al's sake.
"…Well, then." Hakuro breathed deeply and straightened, turning away from Ed. His voice was cold and brittle as glass as he addressed one of his subordinates. "Lieutenant, I believe Mr. Elric's brother has been waiting outside in the hall. Will you please ask him to come in—"
"I don't believe that will be necessary, General Hakuro."
The words emerged from the large, sterile room's darkest shadows, near the door at the far end. Footsteps followed as the unnoticed observer moved closer: taking shape as a tall, uniformed figure with dark hair and an eyepatch.
"Füehrer Bradley…!" Hakuro choked. "How long have you—?"
"Long enough." Bradley's one eye focused a level gaze on Hakuro. "I commend your zeal for your country, General—but in this case, I'm afraid it's been misplaced. I'm conducting my own investigation into Lab Five and its destruction. No outside inquiries will be authorized, as they may interfere with the results uncovered by my own team. That includes your questioning of Mr. Elric."
Hakuro gaped in dismay. "But sir—"
"I've read his report, and I'm satisfied that he's given as full an account as possible. Furthermore, he was subjected to quite an ordeal, which I'm sure he's still recovering from—regardless of what he may say," Bradley added with a smile, as Ed flushed darkly. "Simply by exposing the situation at Lab Five, Mr. Elric has rendered a great service to his country. We should respect that, and allow him to rest. Therefore, General… this interview is now at an end."
What followed was a moment of dumbfounded silence.
A man who genuinely believed in his own cause might have argued for it… but Hakuro was not that man. For all his self-righteous windage, he loved his career more than his country. He had questioned Ed out of a desire to learn things he could use to his advantage, but he would never have the conviction to pursue a matter if doing so might cost him instead.
If Hakuro's retreat wasn't so utterly predictable, Ed might almost have been disappointed to see it.
With an expression that managed to be both deflated and falsely contrite, Hakuro spread his hands. "Just as you say, sir… Gentlemen, you're dismissed." The last was addressed to his lurking flunkies, all of whom looked rather shell-shocked, and were more than happy to make a hasty escape from the presence of the Füehrer.
"Now, then." Proceeding to ignore the punctured-looking Hakuro as if he didn't exist, Bradley turned to Ed—who felt more than a little stunned himself. "While I'm sure the General's heart was in the right place, I must apologize for what has undoubtedly been an unpleasant day for you. I suppose it was my own fault, in not acting sooner to restrict unauthorized investigations into Lab Five. By all means, you're free to go."
Füehrer Bradley was like that: he had a gift for making people's heads spin.
Ed briefly doubted whether his legs would hold him if he tried to stand up—either because of his astonishment, or the exhausting effects of the long interrogation, or both. Even so, he made the effort and managed to get on his feet, although he might have splintered the chair back a little by gripping it too hard with his automail hand. (Not that he had any pity for that particular torture device.)
Bradley clapped a friendly hand on Ed's shoulder, and began to steer him lightly toward the door. Ed followed along like a sheep, too confused and embarrassed and just plain tired to do anything else for the moment.
He wanted to see Al, first of all. Then he wanted water, food, and about twelve solid hours' worth of sleep, in that order.
And somewhere in there, he also wanted to know how exactly the Füehrer had gotten involved.
Beyond the door, Alphonse was pacing anxiously, his great steel frame rattling up and down the hallway. The moment he saw Ed, he rushed forward and seized his elder sibling in a hug, almost sweeping him off the floor.
"Brother! Are you okay? What happened?"
"…Nothing happened." With faint chagrin, Ed peeled Al off of him. Then, striving to effect an innocence that his troubled soul did not feel, he shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. "Just General Hakuro flapping his lips all day—asking questions I couldn't answer. It wasn't fun, but I guess the guy was just doing his job. Or thought he was."
"No doubt, but I'm afraid the General overstepped his authority somewhat," Füehrer Bradley offered. "Since you were never officially released from the hospital, you're technically still under medical care. It was against protocol for Hakuro to subject you to an interview like this without a doctor's clearance. You would be within your rights to file a formal complaint, if you wish."
Ed flinched. "Uh—that's okay. Let's just forget it. I don't plan on hanging around Central long enough for that kind of paperwork." He glanced up at Bradley, a little hesitantly. "But I would like to know one thing, sir. How did you hear about this—interview?"
Bradley chuckled. "Let's just say someone passed the word along to me. I suspect he wouldn't like me to divulge his name."
"Uh-huh…" Ed's expression briefly flattened.
"Thank you anyway, sir," Al chimed in to the Füehrer, bobbing a small bow. "Ed's been through a lot in the last few days. He won't say it, but he really needs some rest now."
"Of course. For the time being, I suggest you return to the hospital… but this time, make sure all of the proper release forms are in order before you leave." Bradley turned his smile from Al to Ed, and it seemed to twist somewhat more slyly under his mustache. "Well done once again, Mr. Elric."
Still more than a little distracted, Ed saluted and murmured a thank-you. Then he looked up at Al, exchanging a nod with his brother, and they set off down the hall.
As the Elrics disappeared around a corner of the hallway, Füehrer Bradley turned to face the discreet footsteps that approached him from the other direction.
"My thanks again for calling this matter to my attention, Lieutenant Colonel."
Although Maes Hughes stood rigidly at attention, a faint grin tweaked the corners of his lips. "Yes sir. To be honest, I wasn't expecting this to get your personal attention—but I appreciate it."
"Mr. Elric is a valuable young man… and when General Hakuro seizes on something he smells a personal profit in, he can be like a dog with a bone." The faintest undercurrent of hardness crept into Bradley's previously jovial tone. "More importantly, there is the possibility that Hakuro knows far more about the subject of Lab Five than Mr. Elric ever will."
Hughes blanched. "You actually think he might have been involved in the research that was being done there?"
"It's impossible to say at this time. Until my investigation is complete, almost no one is above suspicion of complicity. That's why it's vital to prevent outside interference in this case." Bradley smiled abruptly, giving Hughes an amiable clap on the shoulder. "By alerting me to Hakuro's probe, you might have averted the chance for a guilty party to tamper with evidence. I can assure you… it won't be forgotten."
"Er—yes sir." Hughes shifted and stiffened slightly, as if gathering his nerve. "Then if you think I could be useful to you… I'd like to ask that you assign me as part of your team in the investigation."
Bradley shook his head gently. "Unfortunately, you aren't exactly unbiased in the matter. I'm aware of your great fondness for the Elrics. For that matter, you're in a position to help keep an eye on them, which is far more valuable. It's quite possible they could still be targeted by those responsible for Lab Five."
Hughes smiled wanly. "Keeping an eye on those boys is a tall order, sir… but I'll do my best."
"Good man." Bradley patted Hughes' shoulder once more. "Please feel free to bring any other concerns to me. My door is always open to you, Lieutenant Colonel."
With that, inclining his head gracefully, Bradley sauntered away down the hall—leaving Hughes to stand staring after him, in the mild daze that was a common aftereffect of his presence.
The Füehrer made his way to his own office. He unlocked the door, stepped inside, and carefully locked it again.
"What took you so long?" an irascible voice grated from behind his desk.
"Military politics are a delicate thing, my dear Envy." Bradley eyed the genderless creature whose feet were propped lazily on his desk blotter. "Instead of complaining, you should be extremely grateful that Lieutenant Colonel Hughes sent me word of Hakuro's questioning of the Elrics. Hakuro may be a pompous fool, but in his own self-serving way, he is a patriot. If young Fullmetal had actually revealed anything to him before I intervened, carrying out our objectives might have become far more difficult… Get down."
Envy harumphed loudly as he vacated Bradley's chair. "Just because you get to play general…"
"He's right," the velvet voice of Lust chimed in from across the room, where she lounged on the sofa. "Yet again, Fullmetal's stubbornness and lack of trust did us a favor."
"Yes, but there's someone else whose suspicious nature is far more concerning." Bradley settled in behind his desk, wincing at a twinge in his muscles. He was feeling them more these days. It was a tremendous nuisance to be a homunculus whose body was designed to age.
"Lieutenant Colonel Hughes. Even though I gave him a good reason for the restriction of investigations into Lab Five, I doubt the man will be satisfied. He's a patriot himself… and his care for the Elrics will give even more incentive to his curiosity. For the moment I may have been able to cast suspicion of Hakuro into his mind, but if he begins looking—as I'm certain he will—it won't take him long to rule Hakuro out. And then his questions will turn elsewhere."
Reaching up to his cheek, Bradley peeled off his eyepatch, and blinked against the sudden brightness of the light on his inhuman retina.
"…Yes, I think we had better keep an eye on our friend Hughes."
The other two homunculi exchanged a glance. It was Envy, now lurking by the door, who smiled viciously.
"Leave that to me."
When Roy Mustang picked up his ringing telephone, the first thing he heard was a familiar young voice calling him an offensive name.
"I'm delighted to hear from you too, Fullmetal," Roy said caustically, holding the phone a little farther away from his ear as a precaution. "What kind of trouble have you gotten into now?"
"Don't play dumb with me, Colonel. I know you're the one who called in one of your precious favors to leak the word about my little chat with General Hakuro. You think I can't take care of myself with an idiot like him?"
Roy frowned, straightening in his chair. "Ed—"
"I'm sure Hughes just couldn't wait to tell you all about what's been going on here. Well, it's none of your business! You just stick to doing whatever it is you do out there in that dead-end of an East City, and stay out of it. I'm fine—and I don't need your help."
The Colonel's mind raced. He was obviously missing some very important facts that Fullmetal believed he was in possession of—and just as obviously, something significant had occurred in Central. Most troubling of all, Maes hadn't seen fit to inform him, even though it involved his nominal subordinate Edward.
This was going to take some sorting out. But in the meantime, as long as Ed wanted to blame Roy for having a hand in aiding him…
"I'm hurt, Ed," he said dryly. "You're so unappreciative."
Some inarticulate noises came over the line. Roy wondered briefly if Ed was having a stroke.
"Is there something else I can do for you?" the Colonel asked politely.
"NO!" Fullmetal exploded, and the connection died with a slight bang as the phone at the other end was slammed down violently.
"What was that about, sir?" Lieutenant Hawkeye inquired coolly, as Mustang thoughtfully hung up.
"…I'm not sure yet. All I do know is that something serious has happened—and for some reason, Maes is keeping me out of the loop." Roy scowled. "I don't like the sound of that one bit, Lieutenant."
After a moment of troubled consideration, Roy picked up the phone again, and began dialing the number to Maes Hughes' office in Central.
© 2013 Jordanna Morgan