A/N: Yeah, no idea whatsoever where this came from. All I know is that I keep getting beseiged by extremely angsty plot bunnies, and it is starting to unnerve me a bit, since last time I checked I wasn't any more angsty or emo than any other extremely overworked and sleep-deprived student...I blame Hamlet (the one in my head, not the one in the play), and Demitri, my paranoid Russian, who likes to get Hamlet worked up to new levels of emo. But this popped into my head last night and refused to leave, so I wrote it, completely ignoring all my actual work that I actually had to do; luckily I was able to get it all done this morning instead.
Warning: Author is not Catholic. Author is not even technically Christian except by extremely odd definitons of the word. Author is not responsible for wildly inaccurate depictions of confession and Catholicism in general, as the author was doing the best she could with what she remembered from movies and what she could find on Wikipedia. Author would also like to thank Roy (Happy Moogle Mustang), who is taking European History and verified that they did have Catholicism in Munich during this period. Finally, author would request no irritated reviews saying that Ed is an Atheist. Author knows that. Author likes that, as it is gives added emotional depth to Ed's character. Ed is still an atheist in this story, just one who is scared and lonely and has a moment of weakness. It happens to us all.
Disclaimer: None of my gods would answer my prayers to be made the owner of FMA. Maybe I should consider converting to Hinduism or something...
Forgive Me, Father
Father Erich shifted uncomfortably on the hard, narrow bench of the cramped, claustrophobic confessional. He slipped one finger under his tight collar to try to loosen it; it had only been two weeks since he'd been ordained, and he still wasn't accustomed to the vestments and various accoutrements. At least confession was finally over. It was a task always reserved in his church for the most recently ordained, and it had been his first time performing the Sacrament. He had been terrified the entire time that he would be denounced as a fraud, that the congregation would refuse to confess to him, that he would be confronted with something and have no idea what to do, but now it was over, the last of the line had filtered past him, and it had gone fine. Everyone had accepted him without question, and their sins had been the small, mundane sins he knew how to deal with – anger, gambling, lust, drinking, nothing extraordinary. His first time taking confession, and it had been easy.
The slight rattle of the door on the other side of the confessional caught his attention, and he almost swore under his breath as he heard someone collapse wearily on the bench; however, by the time he heard the click of the window being drawn back, he had regained his composure and merely sat, waiting for the person on the other side to speak.
"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 19 years since my last confession."
It was not overstatement to say he was shocked. Erich's church was in a fairly prosperous and pious part of Munich, and most people attended confession every week, at least every month; they might let a year go by in a case of illness or injury, but that was unusual, and someone that ill generally did not come back at all. Nineteen years…and the man didn't sound old, certainly not more than twenty or so…
"That is a long time, my child," said Erich, recovering from his shock enough to remember that the other person expected a response.
The young man's voice sounded embarrassed, and a little bit resentful, as he responded, "Yeah, well. It's been a long time since I've believed in God, Father."
"And have you found him again, my child?" Erich asked.
"I don't…maybe…no. Not really. No."
"Then why are you here?" Erich asked. It wasn't part of the script they made him learn in seminary, and it was probably against the rules, but he was genuinely curious.
"I don't know," the young man said softly. "But Alphons – my friend – he goes to Mass every week, and confession, and it seems to make him feel better. It helps him…and I don't know if it will help, but it's been a hard month. A hard year. I just thought…I don't know. It's stupid."
In seminary, Erich had been closest to Father Alard, a tall priest with a beard like a bear's and a tendency to start fights at dinner with the other priests. He had been expelled from the order when Erich was fifteen for challenging a piece of papal writ, but in times of stress and uncertainty, Erich more often remembered conversations he had had with the man after class than the doctrine they had filled his head with in class. This was one of those times, and he found Father Alard's gruff, angry voice echoing in his head; "Often enough, son, it's not really about us intervening with God, because most people can make peace well enough on their own. Most of the time, they just want somebody to listen to them, and tell them it's not that bad, and to feel like they've been forgiven. That's what's important."
Erich knew what he was supposed to tell this young man. He was supposed to say that he could only find forgiveness once he had accepted God. He was supposed to tell him to leave and come back when he was a Catholic. But he couldn't say that. There was something sad and desperate about that young voice that told him sending him away would be a sin.
"It's alright, my child. You will find God in your heart, I am sure. For now, maybe it would help you just to be able to tell someone what happened."
"Where do I start, Father?" the man asked him. "There have been so many sins…do I have to confess them all?"
"Not if you aren't ready," said Erich. "Just the ones that weigh most heavily on your heart. And you can start wherever you want to. Are you familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins? Those are usually a good place to start with."
The young man gave a laugh that was more like a barking cough, harsh and choking. "That's not very funny, Father. The Seven Sins…Lust and Gluttony, Greed and Pride, Wrath, Sloth, Envy…I probably know them better than you do. They're not a good place to start."
"Okay, then start somewhere else. It really doesn't matter." Erich heard the young man draw a deep breath, steadying himself for something painful.
"I hated my father. I still do, actually, although I'm on better terms with the old bastard now than I used to be. There were days I hoped I'd see him again just so I could have the pleasure of killing him in the slowest, most painful ways you could imagine. I think that was probably a sin, even if he did deserve it."
"What did he do to deserve that?" Erich asked him, awed by the depth of rage revealed in the young man's voice.
"He abandoned us, me and my brother and my mother, just disappeared without a word and never came back. She died, waiting for him, and I couldn't forgive him for that, even if he did have a good reason."
"God teaches us to forgive those who have wronged us, no matter what they have done; it is God's place to judge, not ours."
"Yeah. I never really understood that, though."
"Is there more?" There was a long pause, long enough that Erich began to suspect the young man was going to leave.
"I became a Dog of the Military. I sold my soul to the State, even though I knew they'd make me do horrible things, because I thought it would get me closer to what I wanted. I let them use me as a tool to hurt people and control them."
Erich was startled by that, as if he hadn't been shocked by everything this young man had told him. "How old are you?"
"Nineteen. I was a prodigy," and Erich heard a note of bitter self-mockery in his voice. "I didn't do it for myself, you know. I did it for my brother. I'd do anything for him. That counts for something, right? And I wasn't a very good soldier. I wasn't good at obeying orders. Still…I let them order me to do some terrible things. Because of me, a city was destroyed. Its people became rebels. There was almost another Ishbal Massacre…all because of me."
Erich felt a surge of irrational anger at a world that could make a boy younger than he was blame himself for a massacre, but quelled it quickly; it would only make it seem like Erich was angry with him.
"There is more?"
"I killed Greed, in the house of Dante of the Deep Forest; I drove a spear into his heart and watched him die, because he told me to. That was the first time I ever killed anyone, even if he wasn't…he wasn't really human. I killed Sloth, too, because she looked like my mother and she would have killed me."
Erich resisted the urge to recoil in horror. "What do mean, he wasn't human?"
"He wasn't. He was a homunculus. He didn't have a soul. You think I'm crazy, now, I suppose."
"Do you feel guilt, then, if he wasn't human?"
"Yes. I didn't think, until then, that I could kill anyone. Even if it was to save my own life, I still hate being a murderer! I hate that there's blood on my hands."
Erich sighed. This, at least, was familiar territory, in a land that had never not known war and violence. "If you killed them to save your own life, you are not a murderer. The taking of a life is still a sin, but there was no murder."
He could tell by the silence that the young man didn't believe him. He decided to just move on. "What else, my child?"
Another long hesitation, and this time, when the voice came back, it was shaking, and Erich could hear the tears under the words.
"I let a little girl die. Her name was Nina, and she was small, and happy, and perfect, and I loved her like a sister, and then she died. Her father…her father killed her, for a stupid, senseless, terrible reason, and I didn't realize until it was too late, but I should have been able to stop him, but I couldn't, and she died. I couldn't save her."
By the time the young man finished, Erich had tears in his eyes as well, and he was cursing the thin wall that divided the confessional; he wanted to hold this young man, to offer him comfort for what he had suffered. As it was, all he could offer him was words.
"I am sorry, my child. No one should have had to endure such a thing. I am sure you did everything that you could to save her. You should not blame yourself for her death. Was that the last?"
The young man made a small noise. "One more. Only one more. I don't…It is very hard to say."
"There is no judgment, my child, except from God, and I am not God. You can tell me."
The boy's voice was scarcely more than a whisper. "I tried to bring my mother back from the dead. I knew it was impossible, I knew it was forbidden, but I didn't care. She was my mother, damnit! I was only eleven, and she was my mother, and I missed her so much…I didn't know what to do. I thought if I brought her back, it wouldn't matter, everything would be alright again…it was a terrible thing to do."
Erich knew he should have fled at that point, found a higher priest and prayed for the salvation of his soul, but a sick fascination kept him there. "What happened, when you tried to bring her back?"
"I failed, of course. You can't bring people back from the dead. But there was a price…I lost my leg…and Al…he's my little brother, and I love him more than life itself, and I made him help me, even though I knew it was wrong, and he paid the price, not me. He lost his body, because of me. I gave my arm to keep him alive, but it wasn't enough. Never enough to pay back for what I did to him. I gave him my life, and I still don't know if it was enough." The young man made no attempt now to conceal his tears; he sobbed openly and loudly, and Erich heard the sound of a fist striking the wooden wall of the confessional.
After several minutes, the shuddering sobs subsided, and Erich heard a shaking voice say softly, "That's pretty much everything, Father. What do I do now?"
"You have to repent for all your sins. You have to understand that they were wrong, and feel bad about it, and promise never to do it again," He said, slipping by habit into the explanation the priests had drilled into their heads when they were novices, just arrived, still practically infants. "Do you repent of all your sins?"
"Most of them," said the young man. "My mother, and Nina, and Lior…everything I told you, I will regret for the rest of my life. There is only one sin I think I can't repent for."
"What is that, my child?"
"I fell in love with someone I shouldn't have loved, and then I left them, because I had to; I didn't have any choice, even though it killed me. Leaving was probably a sin. Loving Roy definitely was. But I can't…I can't bring myself to think that falling in love with him was wrong, and I know I'd do it again. I'm sorry."
Erich knew he should have been disgusted at this, horrified, even, but when he thought about the other things this young man had confessed, it really seemed insignificant. And the tone of the young man's voice – there was great grief and sorrow, but also a fierce love, and who was Erich to tell him, after the life he'd lived, that it was evil to have the one person he loved? It was too cruel to take that away from him. Erich decided that it was better to just move on.
"That is alright, my child. It doesn't matter. It is enough, for now, that you repent for the sins you confessed to me."
"So what now? What do I do?"
"You must do penance, my child. You have to pray to God."
"I don't know any prayers," he said.
"I'll teach you," Erich said. "There shouldn't be anyone else confessing today. I can teach you the Hail Mary, if you will come with me."
After a second, Erich heard the door of the confessional slide open; he opened his own door, and saw the young man for the first time. He looked even younger than the nineteen years he claimed; his build was slender and delicate, and he was quite short, three inches over five feet, maybe a little more. He had long golden hair tied back in a neat tail, though his bangs still brushed his face, not quite obscuring his golden eyes. He was striking, to say the least, and Erich found himself staring dumbly, at least until the young man snapped his fingers in his face and demanded "Are you doing this or not? I've got things to do, you know."
Erich led him over to the altar and instructed him to kneel before the large golden crucifix that was the pride of their church. He then taught the boy the Hail Mary, going over each line until he was certain he knew it perfectly; to his surprise, it didn't take very long.
"What now?" the young man asked after he had recited it perfectly from beginning to end for the third time.
Erich thought for a moment. "I want you to say that prayer," he said, "A dozen times a day, every day, for six months."
"And that's it?"
"Thank you, Father."
The young man stood up stiffly, brushed off his pants, turned to the door. Just before he reached it, though, Erich called out to him.
"You never told me your name, my child," he said.
The young man paused for a second, as if considering the idea.
"Edward," he said finally. "My name is Edward Elric."
"God will forgive you for your sins, Edward," said Erich.
It was a very long time before Erich was able to forget the young man's last words, before he turned again and walked out the door of the church.
"God may forgive me, Father. But will anyone else?"
A/N: All those who review this story will receive an indulgence for all the sins they have committed in the past 3 days. (Warning: Author is not responsible should God back out of this deal and refuse to ackowledge your clean slate. Author is just full of it.)