Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: PG for dark themes and in-canon character death.
Characters: Edward, Trisha, Alphonse.
Setting: Pre-series AU. Based on first anime canon, but as an AU, it should work all around.
Summary: Edward's mother makes a deathbed confession that shakes his entire world.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: I'll be up-front and admit that this "Things That Never Happened" story somewhat borrows from myself. However, while it involves an idea I've used before, it's a very different variation on it… and perhaps an even creepier one. Trisha's suggested actions would be highly out of character in canon, so please bear in mind that this is (if you take the claims as fact) a rather extreme AU; and looking at unlikely, often-dark twists is, after all, the whole point of the "Never Happened" series.
This story is submitted as an extra treat (or rather a "trick") for APgeeksout in the 2014 Trick Or Treat Exchange. It also fills the prompt Families at both Genprompt Bingo and Hurt/Comfort Bingo, and the prompt AU: Other at Trope Bingo.
Edward Elric didn't need to be told that his mother was dying.
He knew it from the grim, tight-lipped anxiousness of the adult neighbors and friends who had gathered in their house. He knew it from the look in the doctor's eyes, each time the man came from the bedroom where Mother lay. He knew it from the quiver of Pinako's voice behind a feeble smile, as she reassured Alphonse again and again that everything would be alright…
And that was really the worst part. Seeing his little brother look up at their elders with desperate hope, pleading with words or just with his eyes for exactly that answer—even though Ed was sure Al knew the truth as well as he did.
It was for Al that Ed worried most. He knew they would be okay physically, because Granny Pinako would take care of them; but unlike him, Al was such a gentle, open-hearted boy. Ed feared that losing their mother would scar Al irreparably, tearing that naïvely innocent sweetness from him at far too young an age. He loved that quality in his sibling, and he needed it—needed it constantly, as an antidote to his own moodier temperament. He couldn't stand the thought of seeing any fading in Al's light that warmed his own soul.
He knew life was going to change now… but he just didn't want Al to change too.
"Your mother is asking to see you, Ed," Pinako said gently, as the brothers sat huddled together miserably on the living room floor.
Ed looked up in surprise. Until now, Mother had always called both of her sons to see her together, so he was puzzled at having been singled out. It was a sentiment Al clearly shared, judging by his own expression of confused and startled hurt.
"Don't fret, Al," Pinako said softly, resting her weathered hand on top of his head. "Soon you can see her too."
Al whimpered softly, but he made no protest. Ed gave his brother's hand a quick squeeze, took a deep breath to try to calm his racing heart, and followed another neighbor who escorted him to Mother's bedroom.
When Ed appeared in the doorway, the doctor glanced up from the bedside. Without a word, he stuffed his medical tools into his bag, and rose to make a considerate retreat. He brushed past Ed on his way out, his white coat smelling of antiseptic and cold metal.
Mother lay in the bed, as she had from the day she was suddenly struck by her illness. Her hands were folded over her stomach, and her face was turned slightly toward the door. In the morning sunlight that poured through the window, her skin was so terribly pale that it looked as thin and transparent as glass. Nevertheless, her eyes brightened a little when she saw her elder son.
"Ed." Her right hand moved weakly, sliding down from her abdomen to the top of the bedsheets, as her fingers twitched in a beckoning gesture. It was the best she could do now to reach out to him.
Quickly Ed obeyed the summons, moving across the room to take her hand in his own. "I'm here, Mom—it's okay. Don't try to move around."
"I want to talk to you. About Al." Mother's voice was faint but steady. Her green eyes, usually so full of light, were now shadowed.
"He's gonna be okay." Ed swallowed hard, wanting anything other than to say his next words… but he knew Mother understood what awaited her too, and there was no pretending otherwise. "I'll take care of him. I promise."
"I know that, Ed. But now there's something you need to know."
"What is it?"
"It's about your father. About… why you've never known him."
At those words, Ed tensed slightly, looking away from Mother's face.
The subject of his father was a faintly sore point to him. He had no memory of the man; Hohenheim had gone away before Al was born, leaving the boys to be raised by Mother alone. Since then, as far as Ed knew, there had been not one word from him. Mother would never tell the boys where he had gone or why, and as Ed grew older, that lack of explanation began to weigh heavier. Their life without him was not unhappy… but when Ed saw other children playing with their fathers, or found complex notes in Hohenheim's alchemy books that he didn't understand, he felt the absence of the man who was supposed to be there to love him and teach him.
With no understandable reason offered to him, the only conclusion he could make was that their father had simply abandoned them—and it was inevitable that some bitterness would creep into such a void as time passed.
"Does that really matter?" Ed muttered, without looking up. "If Dad doesn't care enough to come back to us even now… what should we want with him anyway?"
"But he is here with us, Ed. He always has been."
A soft gasp caught in Ed's throat. His eyes darted back to Mother, widening in confusion.
"This will be hard for you to believe, but your father's soul is… very, very old." Mother smiled ruefully. "He was first born hundreds of years ago—and even then, he was the greatest alchemist in the world. He discovered a way to transmute his own soul. He realized he could use that method to leave his body when it aged, and become young again… by being reborn."
This quiet, matter-of-fact claim was almost impossible for Ed to absorb. He stared at Mother with astounded bewilderment—and deep down, a slowly growing trace of a torturously ominous feeling. "What are you talking about?"
"It's very simple. In each of Hohenheim's past lives, when he grew older, he would take a woman to bear a child for him… and when the woman conceived, he transmuted his soul into the fetus. Then the child that was born would be him—and when he reached puberty, his memories of who he was would return. Young and strong again, he could pick up his work where he left off. In this way, he's lived on for centuries."
Ed's shock began to give place to the first churnings of a queasy horror. Unconsciously he took half a step back, withdrawing his hand from Mother's grasp as he did so.
"No… that can't be. It's not possible—and even if it was…!"
"Listen to me, Ed. I know you may think it sounds terrible, but… Hohenheim had to survive. He has enemies who are as powerful as he is, and just as able to prolong their lives. He's the only one who can fight them—and he's been doing it ever since his first lifetime. If he didn't live on to keep them in check, what they could do to the entire world would be… unthinkable."
"And what you're saying isn't?" Ed snapped. He clutched his temples, fisting his fingers in his short blond hair, and shook his head sharply. "You're trying to tell me that… that I'm my own father?"
At that moment, Ed was far too overwrought to realize the fatal flaw in the logic of that assumption.
"No." Mother took a deep breath, and it rasped slightly in her lungs. This lengthy and emotional talk was trying what remained of her strength. "When I found out that I was going to have you, Hohenheim was away, hunting his enemies. He wasn't able to come back until after you were born." She paused, searching Ed's eyes. "So you see, that was why… we had another child."
The words were a hammer blow. They seemed to physically strike Ed in the gut, staggering him. He slumped back against the wall, staring at the woman who had raised and cherished him all his life; yet now, he felt as if he was looking at a total stranger.
It took everything that was in him not to turn and run to the door. To run to Alphonse: to look at him and hold him, to convince himself that the monstrous words his mother was saying were not true.
It couldn't be true. His precious brother could not possibly be a mere vessel for their father's soul. He couldn't be the reincarnation of a man who had given them life for no other reason than to use their flesh for himself.
"…How could you?"
The words spilled numbly over Ed's lips. It was a question that stood whether Mother's claim was true or not. Even if it wasn't, Mother clearly believed the fantastic story Hohenheim had told her, about his immortality and his quest to protect the world… and she had willingly agreed to let him usurp the body and soul of her own unborn child.
"I loved your father. I still do." Mother smiled brokenly. "You won't understand that now. But someday you will, when Al is older, and the memories of his past lives as Hohenheim come back to him. When you know him for who he is… then you'll see."
She said this with a sense of fond hopefulness that was terrifyingly close to glee. Ed's stomach flopped, and he pressed his fist over his mouth, choking back the whimper of horrified disgust that was quickly rising in him.
"I'm only sorry that I won't be there to see it when he remembers himself… But that's why you had to know these things, Ed." Mother fixed a chillingly firm gaze upon her firstborn. "His enemies will be looking for him, even now. If they find him before his memories and skills return, he won't have a chance. You have to protect him, and prepare him to face them again."
All Ed could think then was that his mother was surely mad.
…Of course. That was it. Mother was delirious in her sickness. Still yearning and regretful over the man who abandoned them, she had built up this insane story in her own mind, distorting even her love for her sons to convince herself that Hohenheim had never really left her after all. It was the only possible explanation.
Ed took a deep breath. Forcing every trace of expression from his face, he stepped closer again, but still hovered just out of reach.
"I see," he half-whispered. "It's okay, Mom. Don't worry… I'll take care of everything."
Mother's eyes darkened. "You don't believe me—but it's true, Ed. And so is the danger. If you don't believe in who Al is, and that his enemies are still looking for him, how can you protect him from—!"
"I will protect him. I always will."
The reassurance did not calm Mother. She struggled up a little against the pillows, trying with whatever strength she had left to reach out for him, as her shaking voice rose in volume. "Ed, you have to believe…!"
Her disturbance was evidently heard by the doctor in the hallway. The door opened, and he hurried into the room, to lean down beside the bed and place a restraining hand on Mother's shoulder. She fought his grip, tears streaming from her eyes, and continued pleading for Ed's belief as her elder son backed away toward the door.
"Don't blame your father before you understand, Ed! Just hide Al, and keep him alive until his memories come—and then you'll know!"
Unable to bear any more, Ed turned and ran from the room.
He ran straight to Alphonse. Only for a moment, he glimpsed shock and grief on Al's face, as his little brother assumed the worst; and then his arms were around Al, crushing him in a desperate, possessive hug.
You're not him. You're my brother. You're only my brother—and that's who you always will be.
Al struggled to break out of Ed's grip, to run to Mother's bedroom, but the elder sibling did not release him. As painful as it was to deny him one last living glimpse of their mother's face, he couldn't let Al see her now; couldn't let him hear a word of her madness, if she dared to speak it to him. He clung with all of his might until Al stopped trying to pull away, and just sagged limply against him, breaking down in heart-rending sobs.
A few moments later, the doctor stepped into the room, his face grave… and Edward knew Mother was gone.
The burial took place two days afterward, atop a windswept hill in the Resembool cemetery.
Many mourners came to pay their respects. Mother was well-liked in the community. Edward tried to remember her as the sunny, gentle person they had all known—rather than as he saw her last, crazed and desperate in the delusions of her dying breaths.
And yet, her words still haunted him.
Throughout the service, Ed stood numbly, not hearing the eulogies as he struggled inside himself to put his thoughts and emotions into place. Next to him, Alphonse sat on the ground with his face against his knees, curled into a ball and awash in tears of inconsolable sorrow. Ed only wished he could grieve that freely and purely, without the confusion of those final horrible moments with Mother roiling in his mind.
As much as he tried to convince himself that the things Mother said were irrational and impossible, they had instilled in him a crawling paranoia he couldn't push away. The what-ifs slithered insidiously through his mind. What if they really were in danger from old enemies of their father, even if none of the rest of it was true? And what if…
What if, somehow, it was true?
Ed looked down at Al beside him. When they grew a little older, could it truly be possible that Al might cease to be the little brother he loved? Could his sweet-natured, innocent mind be overtaken by the memories and will of a man who had intended them to be nothing but his alchemic raw materials?
A shudder passed through Ed, and he shook his head sharply.
No. It's not true…
But even if it is true, I won't let it happen. I won't let you become him. I promise, Al.
With the sun beginning to sink lower, the mourners around them started to disperse, solemn figures turning to descend from the hillside and go home. Some of them paused to offer well-meaning but useless words of condolence to the boys. Ed barely nodded his acknowledgment of their sympathy, barely glanced up at faces that were familiar to him, but felt as hollow as strangers now.
Then, as the crowd thinned, he caught a glimpse of the only two people he had noticed who truly were strangers: a svelte raven-haired woman, and a bald-headed, grotesquely fat man. They were standing apart, and the woman's gaze seemed not to be on Mother's grave, but on the two young brothers.
When Edward blinked, they were gone.
A chilly breeze whispered across the hilltop. Ed shivered and crouched down next to Al, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.
You're all I have left, Little Brother. No one is ever going to take you away from me.
Not even our father…
Not even if he's you.
"…Come on, Al. It's time to go."
© 2014 Jordanna Morgan