Author: Laora PM
In Resembool, Van Hohenheim finally learns the true meaning of home.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Family/Hurt/Comfort - Hoenheim - Words: 5,438 - Reviews: 15 - Favs: 43 - Follows: 3 - Published: 10-03-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7435796
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
i. to exist
When he was young, a lowly slave staring out at the vast Xerxesian sky, he had dreamed of being someone powerful, someone special.
Now, four hundred years later, he only wishes to be human again.
Time in Resembool blurs by, just as it always has. He has never stayed in one place for long, never formed any sort of relationship. He knows what, inevitably, must come to pass. His friends will grow old, while he stays just the same; they will die, while he lives on forever.
Forever is a long time—but then, he's had more than four centuries to come to terms with it.
But Resembool is different, in some strange way. Home may be the best word for it, but that doesn't make much sense. He has no home; he doesn't deserve a home; for all the sins he has committed, he deserves nothing more than to be a wandering, friendless shell of a man. Nevertheless, he buys a house on the very outskirts of town, holing up inside to study. He's not even sure what he's looking for anymore; nobody here shows any interest in learning alchemy, and he doubts greatly that the small bookstore in town will have anything to add to his vast collection. But despite the irrationality of it all, he still feels drawn to this small farming village.
He's spent centuries talking to each and every one of the souls within him (people—they're people—they're more human than he'll ever be), but never have they all been so talkative, so vocal. Stay here, they say. You're happier here than you've ever been. He knows they're right, but he also knows that, inevitably, he will have to leave. His happiness is nothing compared to everyone else's; whatever the people around him want, he will do. And he knows the people in this town think him strange—dangerous, even—so he only leaves the safety of his house when necessary, depriving himself of the contact he so desperately craves. (He's been craving it all his life, and nothing's ever filled the void.)
He wants it, needs it, but he can never have it. That is the only constant in the tempest that is his life: he must not taint the innocent. This is a life he would wish on no person in the world. Only he deserves such a wretched fate, for he was the one to overstep his bounds, to trust in something so obviously malevolent, to go along with the plan that he knew could end only in tragedy. He has paid the price in full...
(He's still paying it. He will always be in the shadow of its power.)
He can't count the number of terrible names he's been called as he's traveled the world, but he knows they're all true. He's used to it, now, this nomadic life; he settles down for a time, and then he leaves when people start realizing that something is...off. That's the way it's been for more than four hundred years, and it's not about to change just because he's grown attached to this village. He doesn't matter; he's a monster; it's better to let the humans (how he envies them) live out their lives in blissful ignorance.
He sees the way the men glare and the way the women whisper, and he knows that five years in this close-knit community is long enough. So he begins to pack up his belongings (a few clothes and mountains of books) and plans to catch a train within the week.
Of course, he should know by now that things can't always go according to plan.
ii. to be
That day—the day Pinako Rockbell burst through his front door, all wide smiles and flyaway hair and bright eyes—changes his life forever.
(Forever's a long time.)
She introduces herself cheerfully, saying she just moved in with her husband and son across the river. She already knows his name, because don't those old hags in town love to talk, and asks if he'd like to come 'round for dinner because they're neighbors now, and that's what neighbors do. He only stares at her for a moment, words lost to him as he tries to absorb the fact that she's talking to him, she's talking to him willingly, she's invited him to dinner, when nobody else has even so much as said hello.
Realizing Pinako's waiting for an answer, he gestures rather hopelessly around at the boxes littering his dark living room. He's packing up to leave, actually, he says. He's not too popular around town, and he expects she wouldn't want to waste time and food on someone such as himself—
But she interrupts him with a sharp punch on the arm. "You will be coming for dinner, and you will not argue. I've already made enough for four, and I'm not going to let it go to waste!"
So, rather confused, he allows himself to be dragged out of his own house, across the river, and toward a cheery yellow building. A young man with bright blonde hair is hard at work nailing up a sign by the front porch; he stops when he sees the two of them approaching, giving a cheery wave.
"So this is Van, is it?" he asks, wiping the sweat from his brow with his left hand and offering him his right. "It's a great pleasure to meet you! We've heard all sorts of stories around town—"
"All of them are horrible, I'm sure," he says, shaking the proffered hand and trying to hide his flinch at the sound of his name. He knows it's only natural to call someone by his given name, and that he should be rather touched that he's being addressed as "Van" rather than "Hohenheim," but the name itself dredges up memories of terrifying proportion.
But if they can't call him Van Hohenheim, what can they say?
So he says nothing about it, following Pinako and her husband into the house. There are boxes scattered everywhere, neatly labelled with everything from "bedsheets" to "radio." A small blur of blonde hair and red shirt barrels toward them, narrowly missing a lamp and running straight into Pinako's legs. "Urey! You know not to run in the house!" she says loudly, and Hohenheim is suddenly grateful that he isn't her son. Her face has transformed from easygoing to furious in the blink of an eye, glaring down at the boy—maybe seven years old—who looks appropriately remorseful.
'S'rry, Mom," he says, staring at his shoes for a moment before he apparently deems his act believable enough. He looks up at their visitor, his bright blue eyes shining in sudden excitement. "Are you Mister Ho?"
Pinako looks ready to scold her son again, but the man in question holds up a hand, barely stifling laughter. He doesn't remember the last time he's talked to a child - doesn't remember the last time any parent has let him near their child - and he's nearly forgotten what they're like. Being addressed as "Mister Ho" is probably the best thing he's heard in decades. It's not pompous or arrogant like Van Hohenheim. It's just plain, simple Ho.
He could get used to this.
"It's all right, Mrs. Rockbell," he says, letting a grin split his face. "I don't mind."
"Well, if you're sure..." she says, furrowing her brow for a moment before shrugging. "And it's Pinako to you!"
iii. to live
There has to be something magical about Pinako Rockbell, he's decided. She hasn't yet lived in Resembool for a year before even the stubborn-hearted start to accept him as part of the community. She's gone through the place like a miniature whirlwind, shaking any and all preconceptions about him.
Have you ever talked to him? Ever even seen him? He's a very nice gentleman, kinder than all your children put together, and have you seen what he can do with alchemy?
He still stays locked up in his house most of his days, poring over the old alchemy texts he's read a million times. He knows that there won't be any problems if he ventures outside—Pinako's assured him of that—but it's so deeply ingrained to avoid humans at all costs that even his friend's harsh encouragement cannot shake him.
They accept you, but you're still not one of them. Eventually they'll find out, and it'll all go to hell.
Finally, apparently frustrated by his obstinate seclusion, Pinako drags him to the local tavern. "You'll waste your life away if you don't do anything soon!"
(Oh, how he wishes that were true.)
But he allows himself to be pulled into town, instinctively flinching away from the others' gazes as they turn curiously. But he can detect no malevolence; soon enough, as Pinako forcefully seats him in a stool, he's greeted cheerfully by the bartender, asking what they'd like tonight.
Pinako doesn't even give him the chance to open his mouth; she loudly orders two of the biggest mugs of the strongest beer they have, announcing loudly that she's challenging dear ol' Van Hohenheim to a drinking contest. The bartender roars with laughter, and the other patrons of the pub gather excitedly in a tight circle around them. He can only stare around in something akin to terror as a huge mug is slammed in front of him, not quite sure what is going on. He hasn't ever been a regular pub-goer, but based on the name of the game—
From what he can gather in the few desperate seconds before the bartender starts counting down, his fiery, protective friend is the best drinker in all of Resembool. He groans at this realization, staring at the men surrounding him, nearly begging them to help. But nobody seems willing to come to his aid; they're all wearing identical face-splitting grins, exchanging bets on how many mugs he can drink before he admits defeat.
Well then. Honestly, he's never been intoxicated, terrified of how his inhuman body would react. He doesn't even know if he can get drunk. So he mock-glares at his friend next to him, more curious about how this will turn out than annoyed, and starts drinking the second the bartender yells zero!
The dark beer is bitter and burns as it goes down, but he's tasted worse; he's finishing off his first mug just as Pinako starts on her second. This, apparently, is quite impressive; men are whooping loudly behind him, and the bartender winks at him as he refills his mug.
He downs a second and a third mug before he starts to feel any sort of effect, and that's only a bit of lightheadedness. The game continues (this can't possibly be healthy...but this is more exciting than the last century of his life put together, so he ignore that for the moment) as Pinako gets more and more intoxicated. Finally—he's lost count of how many he's downed—his friend slips right off her barstool, crashing to the floor amidst raucous laughter.
It seems to take a moment for the situation to kick in, but when everyone finally realizes, the pub becomes unnaturally quiet. "Holy...shit..." the bartender says, finally breaking the silence. A quick tally reveals him to be the clear winner, evoking cheers and disbelieving screeches that are sure to wake the dead. But he waves off all the hands, the congratulations, the incredulous questions as he helps Pinako off the floor. Never in his life has he been the center of attention in such a fashion; after centuries of trying to stay inconspicuous, this near-riot is honestly starting to frighten him.
Finally, finally, he's able to break free from the crowd, walking down the street with shouts and cheers following behind him. He does his best to ignore them, though, turning his attention to his friend. He's practically carrying her, now; she's far too out of it to make it home on her own. She squints up at him for a moment, as if trying to remember who he is, before scowling deeply.
"Not even tipsy, ya bastard..."
"Guess I can hold my liquor, then," he says cheekily, a bit of his old bravado returning with the absence of the crowd. He's still rather shaken up about it all; last time he had wandered into town for a rare grocery trip, he had met nothing but glares and harsh whispers. Now, he's accepted, even honored, as a citizen of Resembool. He supposes this is, in part (entirely), thanks to Pinako, but—
His friend interrupts his musings abruptly, sending a lopsided grin up at him. "You'll get 'long just fine."
iv. to learn
He doesn't know when or how it happened, but Resembool is home.
It's been ten years since the Rockbells arrived and threw his life into chaos. But it's chaos that he welcomes with open arms; the friends he's made (albiet few), the memories he's helped create...he wouldn't trade them for the world.
Inevitably, though, he still feels like he's holding himself back. Nearly five hundred years of hiding, of pretending to be something he's not, cannot be swept away in a mere decade. He's reserved around everyone save Pinako, and even she does not know the whole story. Nobody else should have to share this burden. He's a monster; he has always been a monster; he will always be a monster. Now, it feels like he's a wolf in sheep's clothing, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Out of place. Unwanted. Unneeded. Just go away.
The worst part, surely, is watching them all grow up. Urey has grown from an adorable little boy to a handsome young man, courting his sweetheart Sara. He remembers clearly when he was just a little tow-headed boy; he would run around the house screaming for no reason at all, ignoring Pinako's furious reprimands. But that little boy is an adult now, going off to study medicine in East City with Sara, and he won't be surprised if they come back announcing an engagement. They'll be nineteen by then, and even he—called Clueless by many—can tell that they're totally smitten with each other.
...Which brings him right back to where he started. He shakes his head, staring up at Resembool's cloudless night sky from his perch on the Rockbell stoop. He has spent years in Central, in great cities with lights to illuminate the night, but he's always thought the stars were best. They remind him of Xerxes, and even if that is a country long dead, sometimes, if he focuses hard enough (or not at all), he can pretend...
"...Mister Hohenheim, right?"
A young woman's voice breaks him out of his thoughts, carrying over the muffled sounds of Urey's and Sara's going-away party. He turns as a girl about Urey's age sits on the stairs next to him. He thinks she looks familiar, but he's seen millions of people in his lifetime; he can't know for sure. He suppresses a shudder at the sound of the name the Homunculus gave him (even after all these years, he still can barely stand it) and smiles, nodding.
"Just Hohenheim is fine. I'm afraid I don't know yours...?"
She flushes cherry red. "Oh, I'm sorry! I'm Trisha Elric, I'm friends with Urey and Sara. I just came to say good bye before they go away to East City..." She trails off, her face drooping. He feels rather awkward, unsure of what to do. He's avoided creating close bonds with others for just that reason—inevitably, they will have to part. The heartbreak wouldn't be worth it...
(In most cases, that is. Resembool seems to be full of exceptions.)
"They'll only be gone for a year," he says, trying to sound comforting. He has never had to do something like this before—unless he counts cleaning up a scraped knee here or there - and he really has no idea what he's supposed to do. "It'll go by so quickly you won't even realize they're gone."
She smiles shakily, but a stray tear rolls down her face. She swipes at it, her face turning even more red, as she continues—"I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm bothering you with this, we don't even know each other...I just couldn't stay in there any longer..."
"There's nothing to be sorry about," he says, hesitating before putting a tentative hand on her shoulder. "It's natural to be upset when someone you love is leaving. But you can always call them or send them letters, right? And when they come back, it'll be as if they never left!"
Trisha doesn't respond for a moment, and he worries that he might have said something he shouldn't have. But then her smile grows more concrete, her green eyes regaining a bit of vibrancy. "You're right, you know...I'm just..."
"You don't need to explain yourself," he said, patting her shoulder comfortingly. "Everyone gets upset sometimes. You can't just bottle it up."
She looks at him now, straight in the eye, and smiles even wider. But before either of them can say more, Sara calls for Trisha from within the house, asking her to come back in for the toast. Her smile turns sheepish as she stands up, offering a hand to him, but he shakes his head.
"I think I'll stay out here a little longer..."
She shrugs, gives a little wave, and retreats back into the house. Not five seconds later, Pinako appears seated at his side, pipe in mouth as always, giving him a stern glare. Just as her son has grown up, time has not left her untouched; she wears glasses now, little round things that look totally ridiculous, and there are laugh lines around her mouth and eyes.
(Just as she's aged, he's stayed the same.)
"What'd I do?" he asks incredulously as she continues to glare. He made Trisha feel better; isn't that a good thing? And anyhow, shouldn't Pinako be inside for her son's toast—?
"I've been putting this off for a few years, now," she says, pausing to blow a few smoke rings before continuing. "I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, but it's just strange. I've grown up, and Urey and everyone else, but you haven't. You haven't aged a day since I walked in on you packing up to leave."
He's sitting very still now, hoping against all odds that this isn't happening. Just when he thinks he's made friends, when he thinks he has some semblance of order in his life, Pinako has to be herself and put two and two together. If he's honest with himself, he's surprised that this didn't happen earlier; even if he was in his mid-thirties as his appearance suggests, he would surely look older after ten years.
It was only a matter of time, he supposed... "That's right," he says slowly, hoping in vain to put off the inevitable.
"Would you care to explain why that is?"
His friend's probing gaze almost makes him crack then and there. One part of him wants to be done with the lies, to just spill it all to her and hope she accepts it. But the other part is far too anxious; he's been hiding this for nearly five hundred years; it's not easy to just crack that shell and lay his soul (souls) out for all to see.
Apparently he looks just as lost as he feels, for Pinako's gaze softens a bit, and she puts her pipe down on the step. "You're...not aging, right?" she asks, her tone much gentler than before.
He nods mutely, unable to force his throat to create words. It's as if there's a blockade to his lungs; it's difficult to breathe; Pinako's going to have to guess her way through this, because he doesn't think he could talk even if he tried.
"How long?" she asks, her eyes growing wide as she tries to process the implications of this. He can nearly see the cogs in her brain turning, now, as she looks him over, her gaze lingering on his hair before settling back on his eyes. "How old are you?"
He swallows with great effort, willing himself to speak. There's no turning back now; she knows this much; she'll either accept it or hate you for it. He swallows again, this time to bite back the anxious nausea clawing at his stomach, and says, "I lost count somewhere after four hundred fifty."
A little gasp escapes her mouth, and he's sure that if she were holding her pipe, it would be in pieces on the ground. "No..." she breathes, her eyes impossibly wide, begging him to say deny it. But he can only nod again, watching her face for some sort of reaction, some sign that he needs to run. In an emergency, he knows which books he has to take with him; he can be on a train in an hour if he's quick. Hopefully that wouldn't be long enough for the riots to form...
But she gives no indication of terror or hatred; there is only horrible, horrible pity. He's not quite sure what to think of this; he's never had to deal with such an emotion before; he can only stare, wait for her to say something, search for some indication of her intentions.
At long last, she shakes her head and pulls him into a tight hug. It's so unexpected, so unlike Pinako, that he's unsure of what he's supposed to do for a moment. Tentatively, he reaches to embrace his friend in return. They're there for a moment longer before she finally breaks away, her eyes unusually bright. "I'm so sorry..."
"I've had centuries to get used to it," he says, more alarmed about her reaction than anything else. "It's not that big of a deal anymore."
(Lies. But she doesn't need to know that.)
"But..." She trails off, apparently unsure of how to continue. That horribly lost look is still on her face, and he can barely stand it. Seeing the strong, capable Pantheress of Resembool so unsure and scared...
He takes the initiative, turning her toward the open doorway. "Urey and Sara are toasting now, right? You don't want to miss this. He's your son—go enjoy your night with him. Don't worry about me."
She opens her mouth for a moment before closing it again, looking troubled as she stands up. "If you're so sure about yourself...at least...don't...don't break her heart," she says, looking him in the eye again for a moment before turning and walking slowly inside.
v. to love
He doesn't think he's ever been so happy in his life.
It's been a year, now, since that talk with Pinako, and eleven months since he asked Trisha Elric to dinner. The two of them are standing by the train station, waiting for Sara and Urey to return from East City, and Trisha is nearly bouncing with excitement. "Do you think he's proposed yet?" she asks him, a grin spreading across her face. "Sara's been waiting for it long enough..."
He only shrugs, smiling as well as he watches the flash of gold on her left hand catch the sunlight. Trisha's hoping for a double wedding, he's sure; she's such close friends with the two of them that she wouldn't have it any other way. And in a small town like Resembool, such a thing would be greatly celebrated. (He can only hope that the wedding overshadows any lingering suspicion surrounding him.)
He told Trisha a few months after they started seeing each other that he wasn't...quite...normal. He spared her the horrible details of Xerxes and the transmutation that cost more than a million lives, but she knows—and readily accepts—the fact that her fiance has been thirty-five for the past four hundred years. In addition—much to his surprise—she insists on not calling him by his name, instead addressing him as "dear" or some other variant. It's minor, but it makes all the difference in the world to him; the fact that she picks up on such small things...
He's so sure he's made the right decision that he could burst out into tears of joy then and there.
At long last, the train rolls into the station, and Trisha jumps up from their bench, dashing toward the train to look for Urey's shock of bright blonde hair amidst the crowd. She apparently sees him after a few moments, for she gives a little squeak and runs toward them, holding her left hand out for them to see.
"Sara! Sara! Guess what happened while you were gone?"
He follows at a more sedate pace, unable to hide his wide smile as Trisha and Sara squeal over the ring. Urey meets him halfway, a sort of smirk on his face as he watches the two women. "Well, that wasn't there when we left," he said, elbowing him in the side. "Didn't know you two even knew each other—"
"We met at your party," he replies easily, an easy grin adorning his face as Trisha turns toward him and beams. "I asked her out to dinner a month later."
"Aww, that's so sweet!" Urey's grinning now, milking this for all it was worth. After all, he never missed a chance to mess around with Mister Ho. "So I suppose we're doubling up, then?"
"Only if you've got the guts to ask Sara," he grins. "Or have you surprised us all and done it already?"
The two women come dashing up, both faces glowing with excitement, both left hands adorned with rings. "C'mon, dear!" Trisha grabs his hand, her face radiant, and pulls him off toward the countryside. "We've got weddings to plan!"
He allows himself to be dragged back to Pinako's house through the bright afternoon sunshine. He has eyes only for the beautiful woman before him; she is perfect in absolutely every way. He will never deserve her, never be as wonderful as she is, but maybe, maybe, he can allow himself this little pocket of happiness.
vi. to trust
Family, he quickly realizes, is a lot harder than it looks. Trisha—bless her heart—is hard at work in the kitchen, preparing everybody's lunches at the same time. Meanwhile, he's left with two very small children, one a year and a half and the other only a few months old, both screaming their heads off for no apparent reason.
He knows Al probably wants to be rocked, to be sung to and fed, and Ed is most likely screaming for lack of attention, but he's always been hesitant to hold his children. They're part Trisha, which makes them perfect; he does not want to taint that beauty with the touch of a monster such as himself. He knows it's illogical, and Trisha and Pinako and Urey and Sara and everyone else would scoff at the idea, but he can't shake the thought that I'm not worthy of this.
He hesitates for several more seconds before finally, hesitantly (as he does with everything involving his family. They're all so fragile) lifting Alphonse from his bassinet, holding him awkwardly against his chest and making what he hopes are soothing noises. Al's squeals quiet somewhat, but Ed's increase in volume, as if he's indignant that his little brother is getting all the attention. He sighs, walking toward the rocking chair and grabbing Edward's hand as he goes. The toddler's screams silence instantly, and he stares up at his father as if he's not quite sure what he's doing.
I'm a father. I'm a father. I'm a father.
It's such a strange concept to him, though he knows it should come naturally. He helped to create these two children, these objects made of pure perfection. He, a being made up of all the imperfections of the world, a freak who shouldn't be alive, a monster not fit to live among humans...helped bring about such wonderful new life.
It's so hard to grasp.
The two of them take slow, careful steps—Edward still isn't quite steady on his feet yet—until they finally reach the chair. He sits down, setting Al on one leg and hoisting Ed to sit on the other, rocking slowly as he sees Trisha do so very often. Alphonse is totally silent now; he looks down in alarm, but he seems to be nearly asleep, eyes half-lidded and small chest rising rhythmically. Edward stares at his little brother for a moment as well, as if contemplating whether he's still Al, before turning his attention to his father. "Papa."
"Yes, that's right," he says, rather unnerved as his own golden eyes are mirrored in his son's. "I'm your Papa, and Momma's making food right now. And your little brother Al is asleep right here." He points as well as he can to the slumbering infant in the crook of his left arm.
Ed nods very seriously, as if this information is of the utmost importance. "Papa 'n Momma," he says, "'n Al 'n Ed."
"Very good!" Hohenheim lets a small smile slip onto his face as Ed grins hugely up at him; then, the boy flings his arms around his father's neck, hugging him close. He can't help but let his smile grow wider, more relaxed. He's still rather unsure about the whole idea of parenting, but he'll do his damnedest to make sure his sons never live through the hell that he did. Even if he's a monster, even if he should be cast out as a pariah and never spoken to again, his sons love and trust him.
He's never deserved such a thing, but he has received it anyway. He'll do the best with what he has. This family—and every other family in existence—deserves to be protected with every resource mankind has to offer. Such a perfect thing cannot possibly be threatened or destroyed.
Ed lets go of his neck, settling back down against the arm of the chair and yawning hugely. He can't restrain a yawn himself; though the day is barely half over, it seems that all three of them are exhausted. Checking one last time to make sure his (innocent, wonderful, perfect) sons are secure on his lap, he leans his head back and soon falls asleep.
My contribution to the 3 Oct. 11 anniversary :3
Mister Ho is kind of a ridiculously hard character to write...but I think I did him justice~ The kind of...detached-ness is intentional; when you're almost five hundred years old, surely everything that's happening in the world around you is rather glazed over? :)
And what apparently Hohenheim and Trisha didn't legally get married? That's probably because Hoho's not exactly in the system...but I'm sure they still had an unofficial ceremony :3