The Father/Son Talk (revised)
Dusk settled over the hobbled together village, deepening the shadows and causing lights to wink on, one by one in the run down shacks the residents called home. The Promised Day had come and gone the day before and it had been by no small miracle that the country of Amestris had survived. Now all that was left was to pick up the pieces as best as possible, and move on with their lives.
But for Van Hohenheim, there was little to move on to unless he could mend his relationship with his sons. Alfonse was more accepting and had even begun a tentative rapport with his father, but Edward… Well, Edward would be more of a challenge and the master alchemist was unsure just how to go about breaking down the barriers between himself and his eldest son.
At the moment, he was sitting around a small bonfire with Ed and his son's two companions/bodyguards, Heinkel and Darius. The hulking pair sat either side of the young man, the three carrying on a quiet conversation between them. From the bits and pieces Hohenheim could pick up, they were talking about a truck arriving later that evening, bringing in family and friends of the citizens of the village along with a smattering of military people who were being sent to keep an eye out for any dissenters. At one point, Heinkel jabbed Ed in the ribs with an elbow as he said something to the younger man, causing Ed to flush red. A round of good-natured laughter aimed at Ed's discomfiture ensued, which only caused the young alchemist to roar at them in frustration.
Hohenheim took the time to observe Ed from across the flickering campfire and was struck by the fact the fresh-faced toddler he had walked out on so many years ago was now a man. It was almost like looking into a mirror, a portal into the distant past, back to when Hohenheim was an ordinary youth and a mere slave. In Ed, he saw himself at that age, with the same demeanor and intensity, giving the sense that beneath the relatively calm exterior raged a loosely controlled chaos. Like himself, he guessed Ed also made a regular habit of defying authority, thereby drawing much attention, just as Hohenheim had when he was young.
Judging by how Ed had grown into a striking young man, Hohenheim also assumed his son easily drew attention from the opposite sex. The elder alchemist smiled wistfully as old memories from his own youth resurfaced; the ladies had certainly taken to him easily and he'd eventually taken to flirting shamelessly when all the attention had gone to his head. Yes, the ladies had been very enamored with his handsome face and broad, strong shoulders…all except for Trisha that was. She had immediately seen through his flippant exterior and had fallen in love with whom he really was, even after it was blatantly obvious he was not a normal man.
And if the ladies were taken with Ed in the same manner, would he also become as flirtatious as his father? Had anyone ever spoken to Ed about the other gender, about how to treat them with respect and to never toy with their hearts, about the more intimate and infinitely more rewarding relationship a man and a woman could have?
Again, Hohenheim guessed no to all accounts. Given Ed's singular focus upon his sins along with finding a way to restore his younger brother's body, he most likely had never noticed any appreciative glances thrown his way. Being he never knew a male role model to turn to for advice while growing up, how would Ed handle such attention? Even though he'd never bonded with his sons, Hohenheim felt a stab of regret; he should have been there for them, to guide them and advise them. Ed and Al deserved to have a father in their lives.
But Hohenheim had no idea how to be a father. He'd walked out on his family long before he had a chance to learn, afraid of watching them age and fade away before his eyes.
The elder alchemist was pulled from his ruminations as Heinkel and Darius said their good-nights, stood and returned to the rough collection of houses that made up the slums of Kanama, leaving only Ed and himself at the fire. Perhaps it was time to try and reconnect with his son by at least making an attempt to be a father and give him some advice about the finer nuances of male-female relationships.
The older man sighed and cleared his throat, almost nervously.
"You've grown into quite a competent young man, Edward. I'm very proud of you. And your brother."
"What the hell do you care, old man," Ed muttered pointedly, not looking back at his father. He sat on an overturned wooden box opposite the fire, hunched over, elbows propped against his knees, "You weren't around to raise us so you sure as hell can't take credit for it."
Hohenheim hadn't expected a warm response, but his son's words still stung. But this wasn't the time for pride or to make up for lost time. "Still, you've done well for yourself, even if you have made the mistake of human transmutation."
"Shut up," came the half-hearted response. Still, Ed wouldn't meet his father's gaze.
"What do you plan to do with your life now that all this is over?" Hohenheim asked casually, as if trying to make conversation, "Will you stay in the military? Or will you return home?"
The older man detected a slight twitch of his son's shoulders at the mention of home. Was it due to the fact Ed had burned down their house or was it something else?
"Or is there a young lady somewhere, waiting for you to return?"
This last question earned Hohenheim a malevolent glare from his eldest son.
"What's it to you?!" Ed growled, "Besides, why would I tell you anything, anyway?!"
Not an admission, but definitely not a complete denial.
"Just curious," Hohenheim responded mildly, "You're about the age I was when I started to show interest in girls. I thought perhaps you might have found someone special." A brief thought crossed his mind, one that might bring a little levity to the conversation, "Unless…there's a special guy in your life…"
It was rather amusing to watch as Ed's face changed from ghostly white to a furious red in a matter of seconds and the master alchemist fought back the urge to chuckle.
"FUCK YOU!!" Ed fairly roared back when he'd finally found his voice again. The teenager's hands clenched into fists so tight that Hohenheim could hear the faint sound of the servos in Ed's automail arm whine in protest. "I don't…don't…lean that way!"
"Now, now, no need to be foul mouthed. It was a perfectly legitimate question." Hohenheim smiled magnanimously at his son, "Some men aren't interested in women, that's all."
"Well, I prefer wom—" Ed abruptly fell silent, as if someone had pulled the plug on his train of thought. He seemed to settle on crossing his arms over his chest defensively and thrust his lower lip out in a pout. Snapping his head to the side, he refused to maintain eye contact with his father.
Ah-ha…there is someone special. I wonder who she might be..?
Time to try a new tact.
"Rose seems to like you a great deal. She speaks very highly of you," Hohenheim offered, "Perhaps she's the one waiting for you?"
This earned the older man another scathing glare from his son.
"What the—you're suddenly nosy for someone who never had anything to do with my life!"
Hohenheim scratched at the back of his neck to cover up his uneasiness. He didn't think he'd ever get completely used to Ed's direct manner. Would Ed have been a kinder, more patient person if he had stayed to raise his son?
"She is very pretty and seems very fond of you."
"She's older than me and she's no more than a friend."
"But Edward, sometimes older women can be good for a young man like you. They can teach you many things a younger woman hasn't had time to learn."
Again, as the implications of what his father said hit him, Ed went pale.
"You pervert." It was a muttered response this time.
"Or you could move to Xing with your friend Ling. If he were to become Emperor, I'm sure he could set you up with your own harem, if you'd liked. That way you wouldn't have to choose. Imagine Edward, you'd have your choice of some of the most beautiful women in Xing, all at your beck and call."
Waves of hostility fairly rose from the young man but Ed still held his ground.
Hohenheim heaved a quiet sigh. Obviously, his attempts at humor went straight over Ed's head.
Such a serious young man.
Fine. If Ed wanted to play it serious, so would he.
"I know you have no reason to listen to me, and I do not blame you if you don't. But I want you to learn from my mistakes as well as my successes." Hohenheim sat up straight and looked directly at his angry son. "I've known many women in my long time on this world, and didn't always treat them with respect when I was younger. I never treated them as playthings or used them, but neither did I stay with just one woman. I learned to, no, I wanted to do that when I met Trisha.
"Always keep in mind that a woman wishes to be treated kindly, with reverence. She prefers to be romanced and treasured, and would rather you ask her permission when you wish to do more than merely hold her hand. And you should always listen, truly listen, to her. These are only a few of the many things I learned from your mother."
Ed went to open his mouth to retort but Hohenheim didn't give him a chance.
"Always, always be gentle and attend to her needs. All her needs. Treat her as an equal, as if she's you're best friend. As a matter of fact, some of the best matches develop out of friendship."
"WILL YOU SHUT THE HELL UP, ALREADY?!! LALALALALA!!" Ed's hands flew to his ears as if trying to shut out his father's words. He squeezed his eyes so tightly shut that his face screwed up into an almost grotesques expression.
Had it been the "attending to her every need" remark or the "best matches develop out of friendship" remark? Either way, Ed's reaction was way over the top.
Wait, wasn't he friends with Pinako's granddaughter?
So, maybe he had a thing for the fiery—and very pretty—Rockbell girl. Didn't Al mention they grew up together and that she was the one who created Ed's automail? If the girl—what was her name? Winly? Windy?—was anything like her grandmother, she could stand up to Ed's volatile temperament and even make him toe the line.
It should be interesting to see how Ed reacts if she's brought up…
Hohenheim waited patiently until gradually, Ed calmed then fell quiet. Ed gave him the evil eye upon noticing his father was now silent and only smiling back. Tentatively, the young alchemist removed his hands from the sides of his head.
"Edward, even you cannot deny the fact you're a handsome young man. Certainly there's someone who's interested in you," the older man added once he was confident his son wouldn't block him out again.
Ed relaxed a bit, dropping his hands back into his lap as his shoulders twitched in a half-hearted shrug. "Dunno," he muttered as if uncomfortable with the subject, "Never really paid much attention." He glanced away, out into the dark shadows of the woods, his face coloring slightly, "Besides, girls aren't too crazy about the automail."
Ah-ha. The automail.
Hohenheim saw his opening. "Surely that can't be the case. Not all women are put off by a man with automail."
"Yeah, right," came the derisive reply.
The elder alchemist moved in for the kill. "What about the Rockbell girl? She's exceptionally pretty as well as being an automail engineer. I also believe she likes you a great deal. I met her when she and Al came to Liore. She seemed very sweet." Hohenheim tapped his bearded chin with a finger as if trying to recall some detail, "And whenever your name was mentioned, she seemed to get this…faraway, almost longing look in her eyes. I think she likes you. Much more than just a little."
A strangled noise came from across the cheery little fire and Hohenheim looked over to see his son fighting back a fit of bewilderment. Ed was quite the sight with eyes as wide as saucers and his mouth hanging open. Momentarily, Ed's jaw worked feebly but he still didn't produce a sound.
"I should think you two would make a very good match!" Hohenheim added with an innocent smile, "You're both about the same age and you did grow up together. And she certainly wouldn't be shy of your automail!"
"Why you—" Ed finished the sentence with an inarticulate noise.
Oblivious, Hohenheim continued on, "You should ask her out sometime, Edward. Just remember what I told you about how to treat a lady. But just because you two have known each other all your lives, that shouldn't be an excuse for you to neglect her needs."
"YOU—YOU PERVERT!" Ed roared as he jumped to his feet.
Looks like I hit this one right on the nose. He's certainly overreacting far too much for his interest in her to be merely casual.
Hohenheim noted in passing that Ed's face had turned a glowing red. He watched passively as the young man took a handful of his own hair in each hand and yanked on it mercilessly in frustration.
"Edward, I was merely suggesting—"
"NOT ANOTHER WORD OUT OF YOU, OR I SWEAR I WILL BELT YOU AGAIN!!" Ed emphasized his intent by shaking an automail fist at his father. With that, Ed stormed off toward the collection of ramshackle houses, fairly stomping his feet with each step.
Such a temperamental young man. So very much like myself at that age.
Hohenheim heaved a small sigh of regret as he watched his son walk away to leave him alone at the dwindling fire. He had hoped, if only slightly, that he'd be able to connect with his eldest son but he knew it was never likely to happen. Too much time and distance had taken its toll.
Resigned to this indomitable fact, the tall man rose to his feet and started back toward the village. Being he no longer had the rejuvenating effects of the souls that had once shared his body, he was exhausted, both mentally and physically. They were gone, used in the battle against the original homunculus, and Hohenheim hoped that perhaps he could now age and pass away like a normal man, finally free of his immortal life. But that would mean eventually, Ed and Al would no longer have someone to watch over them as he had once done so, even if only from a remote distance.
Years of regret, for all his deeds, for not being there for Trisha or his sons when they needed him most rolled about in his head and caused a wave of melancholy to sweep over him. So many centuries, so many regrets, but at least one fact did cheer him a bit; he had defeated "Father" and saved the country his children and friends lived in. They could now live in peace, free of threat, and he had paid back his debt to the many souls that once resided within him.
Hohenheim's feet chose a path that took him not through the center of town, but closer to its periphery. Whether it had been a lifetime preference to stay in the shadows or that he simply wanted to be alone, the master alchemist wasn't sure. But his steps eventually brought him to the edge of town where the main road to Central passed through and Hohenheim was brought out of his lamenting reverie when a large, military personnel transport truck went by. He just barely arrested his stride in time to keep from stepping out in front of the lumbering vehicle as it turned in front of him and rolled toward a small dirt cul-de-sac within the houses on the fringe of town. The large truck's brakes screeched slightly as it came to a complete halt and a moment later its motor fell silent. Two military personnel climbed down from the cab and went to the back to help the passengers as they began to disembark.
Hohenheim experienced a moment of confusion as he came out of his musings and back to the present, watching as people began to climb through the canvas flap and down from the truck. There were a few military uniforms in the mix of passengers along with roughly dressed civilians, a crate of chickens, and a large brown and black dog, and the master alchemist watched quietly as they all went their own directions into Kanama. But while watching a mother and child walk away, Hohenheim caught the movement of something red and black as it came out of the shadows and stopped at the edge of the culd-de-sac.
It was Ed.
Hands in his pockets, the young man looked about nervously as if fearful of being caught. He stood, shoulders hunched as he looked about, every movement betraying his just how torn he was for even being here to meet the truck. Eventually, Ed's attention fixed on the group of people pooling in the little town square, as if looking for someone in particular.
Not wanting to be spotted by his son, Hohenheim ducked back into the shadows and peered around the corner of a hobbled together dwelling. Ed was still looking about periodically, his body language practically broadcasting his disquietude. Apparently, whatever he was up to, he didn't want anyone else to know about it.
Then a recent memory came to the elder man's mind, 'Oh, yes, Edward's friends did mention there was someone coming for him. I wonder…'
People continued to climb down from the back of the truck, helping each other to the packed earth of the road, slowly emptying the vehicle. Ed seemed to become more restless as time passed and the number of people began to dwindle. Just when Hohenheim believed there was no others left on board, a young woman with long, sunny blonde hair pushed back the canvas flap and looked about, her eyes searching the small group of people for someone specific.
"Winry?" It was Ed's voice that carried to him and the older man realized it was the Rockbell girl that had come in search of his son. He watched as Ed trotted up to the truck and gazed up at the young woman with an odd expression.
"Ed, you're alright," her voice was soft, full of relief. She smiled down at the young man with obvious affection and bent toward him as he reached out for her. She allowed Ed to take her by the waist and lower her to the ground, then the pair stood at arm's length for a long, awkward moment, her hands still clutching his shoulders, his hands still grasping her waist. It was Winry that broke the tense moment when she touched a hand to his cheek and trailed her fingers down to his chin.
"I was so scared, so worried." Her voice wavered, then a quiet sob escaped her lips.
The look on Edward's face was priceless; again Hohenheim fought back the urge to chuckle. His son's eyes had gone wide and once again his jaw worked soundlessly.
"Winry?" he finally choked out, his voice a squeak of panic, "Why are you crying? I'm okay, everyone's okay!"
"I know, you idiot!" she laughed/cried back, "Don't you remember what you told me? That the next time you made me cry it would be tears of happiness?" She slapped playfully at his chest, bringing a scowl to the young man's face "These are tears of happiness."
"Violent woman," he muttered then looked askance, his face coloring.
Winry pulled back a bit and tenderly touched his automail arm. "Oh, Ed… I'm so sorry. Your arm, you didn't get your arm or leg back."
"I returned Al to his body," Ed replied firmly, calmly as he turned back to her, no trace of regret in his voice, "I did what I set out to do."
"But Ed, you were supposed to get your limbs back, too." She erupted in a fresh round of tears.
Yet Ed didn't respond with panic. This time he reached up with his natural hand and dabbed at the flood of tears that coursed down her cheeks. "It's okay, Win. I don't mind. Besides, I have the best automail mechanic in the world."
She smiled crookedly up at him then slipped her arms around his neck and lifted herself onto her toes to press her lips to his. "Thanks," she whispered ignoring Ed's resulting fluster. "Now," she continued, her voice stronger, more in control, "just what have you done to my automail, Edward Elric?" When her victim began to bluster, now in his defense, she poked a finger into his chest, cutting him off, "Don't give me that! I can hear it! You've damaged the hydraulics in your arm! AGAIN!" There was now a distinct warning tone in her voice.
"But nothing, mister! If I had a sens for every excuse--!" She was silenced as he took her face in his hands and drew her into another kiss, this one a little less innocent. At first, her eyes flew wide in surprise, then slid shut as she melted into him and returned his tentative kiss.
Surprised by this unexpected behavior from his son, Hohenheim at first frowned in confusion. Ed didn't seem particularly comfortable around the opposite sex yet here he was, sharing a kiss with the Rockbell girl. Then a delighted smile swept over his face; he had read his son correctly - there was no more perfect match for him. He could now carry on and no longer need be concerned for his eldest son's welfare. There was someone in Ed's life that could take care of him.
With that thought in mind, Hohenheim sunk further into the shadows, allowing the young couple their privacy. He chose a different path back into the village, one that would take him to his meager accommodations, but not alert Edward to his presence. A new wave of exhaustion, one borne of relief, overtook him. He had to rise early next morning to travel to Central and visit his youngest son, now restored, and the young Xing prince who was recovering from the ordeal of Greed's exit from his body.
Regardless of whether or not he ever managed to develop a relationship with him, Ed would be fine. He had Al, Pinako, and most importantly, Winry to look after him.
"Isn't young love grand?" Hohenheim sighed to himself as he thrust his hands into his coat pockets and disappeared into the littered streets of the shantytown.