The Hard Truth

Author – D M Evans

Disclaimer – so not mine. All rights belong to Arakawa

Rating - Teen

Word count 2,531

Characters – Hohenheim

Timeline/Spoilers – actually spoilers for a relationship that is revealed in the last ten chapters of the manga so consider yourself warned. That said it actually takes place about 30 years before the main action give or take a year

Series - Manga

Summary – Hohenheim knows the hard ugly truth about himself but denying it would be worse than acting on it

Warnings – none

Author's Note – written for the AU challenge for fma_fic_contest. Honestly, I didn't think I would write one. AU's aren't something I'm really interested in and I'd consider this an AR truly. That said, after saying I wasn't going to write for this prompt, Hohenheim reminded me of the favorite alternative reality/theory I have about a certain character's parentage and that this would be the perfect showcase for it. Thanks to SJ Smith for help with that

XXX

Life shouldn't be this fragile. For all his power, Hohenheim felt like the most useless creature in the world. With trembling fingers, he brushed Li-Fen's cold cheek one last time. Surrounded by flowers, she almost looked like she had fallen asleep in a spring meadow but that was more a benefit of a mortician's skill, hiding the grayed skin.

Hohenheim hadn't been blind to the erosion of his attachment to this world. Over the centuries, he had never quite understood why women put up with him. The various women had kept him grounded but still, he was never sure what they saw in a withdrawn alchemist like himself, more than likely to lose himself in an experiment than in the bedding.

He should never have made Li-Fen leave Xing with him but his lover had a lust for learning alchemy that rivaled her passion for him. She had followed him without question, living with him in Central so far from her home. Now, she would be buried in a strange country. He wasn't good with this part of life. Hohenheim was usually gone before they aged and died. It was selfish and cowardly of him, he knew but the truth was, they all eventually tired of him long before they got too old. Li-Fen hadn't had a chance at that, a victim of the random violence that always seemed to swirl around cities no matter the century.

"Ma?" At his son's distressed cooing, Hohenheim shifted the baby on his hip, trying to shield the boy from looking into the coffin. The boy looked up at him with almond-shaped eyes, so dark they almost seemed black; Li-Fen's eyes. Hohenheim could see nothing of himself in the boy. He smoothed the shock of black hair down but the errant strands popped right back up again. His son had been born with a head full of hair, screaming his way into the world. Peng had grabbed the scissors from the doctor as he tried to cut the cord or so the man claimed. Hohenheim was inclined to believe it. Peng was demanding and, even at his tender age, too smart for his own good.

Hohenheim hadn't wanted to bring the boy to the funeral but who was there to watch him? At least his son was weaned if not potty trained but at only fourteen months what could he expect? Actually Hohenheim had no idea. He was no good with children. They frightened him. It had been a long time since he had one. He usually drifted away because, to him, children emphasized how inhuman he truly was. He was the Philosopher's Stone. Maybe seeking attachments to the world at all was his greatest sin. However, not having attachments now meant he knew no one that could have taken his son for the day of the funeral.

Not that it was much of a funeral, her family in another country. Most of the women in attendance were Li-Fen's few friends, other mothers of small children she had bonded with. Finally, one of them took Peng from him, hauling him outside while the boy tried to shove her pendant into his mouth. Hohenheim realized he was at the nub of his problem; he couldn't care for a baby. Outside of his utter discomfort around them, he knew he was too detached from the world to raise a child. Granted, he should think of these things beforehand but one thing hadn't changed in all his centuries of life; he was a man and sometimes the wrong body part did the thinking. He had loved Li-Fen and his son in his fashion but it was unfair to the baby to be raised alone by him. Hell, he had a habit of wandering off and not coming back for weeks, months, even years at a time. That wasn't good for a baby.

As he watched them close the coffin and followed them to the grave site, Hohenheim thought about the bright light that the world had lost too soon. He would miss Li-Fen and hated that he knew himself well enough to know that he would all too soon distract himself with his work, forgetting her. However, Hohenheim knew he couldn't so easily forget the huge problem confronting him now. He wondered what he could do. He had a little life depending on him and he couldn't fail his son.

XXX

Hohenheim had never met Chris at her home before. He knew her from her business. No one was better at tracking down information than she was. Hohenheim wondered if Chris might be ex-Military Intelligence, given her skills, or perhaps just came from one of those families heard about in folklore where all the family members helped their kin in a vast criminal enterprise. When he learned that she took in orphans, he leaned toward the latter explanation.

Chris leaned against the porch railing as he came up the walk. The way her long black hair curled over her shoulders and her breasts pressed against the deep blue tunic she wore made him rethink his choice about how she ended up in her career. He could easily see her as a military spy when she was younger. A few young girls played on a tree swing in the backyard.

Chris swung off the porch and met him, holding her hands out. Hohenheim handed Peng over to her, trying to not lose his grip on his squirming child even as the heavy satchel he carried dragged Hohenheim's arm down. Ever curious, even about strangers, the boy went to her, his eyes wide as he stared into her face. Peng reached out a little hand and touched her cheek. "He's darling."

"He's smart as a whip," Hohenheim assured her. "He's not very fussy but he doesn't like to sleep at night. He's usually only good for about two or three hours of sleep at a time but quick stories tend to put him back to sleep."

"Consider me warned. What's his name?" She headed into the house, beckoning for Hohenheim to follow.

The living room she led him to had toys scattered all over. "Peng, though maybe something less exotic might be in order," he replied.

Chris nodded. "Are you sure about this, Hohenheim?"

"I can't care for him, Chris. He deserves a stable life," Hohenheim stroked his son's hair. "I know my limitations even if I hate them. I don't want to give him up but I have to. You'll take good care of him."

"I'll do my best. I have mostly girls." Darkness veiled her face as she gazed down at his son. "They seem more disposable to people. At least you care enough to try to do something for him instead of just dumping him on an orphanage's doorstep."

"He is my son." Hohenheim shrugged. "He deserves the best."

She blushed faintly. "Glad you think so. I don't have a child as young as him here but we'll make do. Some of his older 'sisters' will help out. It'll be good."

"The only request I have is, when he's a little older, find him an alchemy teacher." Hohenheim opened the satchel, revealing books. "If he takes to these. I think he will. I just get that sense from him. I know that's silly. He's just a baby but I have a feeling he'll be great some day." His own cheeks pinked up where it wasn't hidden by his beard. "Or is that just a father talking?"

"The father and the alchemist in you, no doubt. I'll make sure of that," she said, her intelligent eyes gleaming. Hohenheim got the distinct impression she'd like an alchemist in the house.

"Thank you, Chris." Hohenheim leaned in and kissed Peng's forehead. "Goodbye, Peng."

Chris followed him to the front door, Peng squirming in her hands. "I'll take good care of him, Hohenheim. He's family now."

"I know you will. I'll send someone by with his clothing and toys."

Peng squawked 'Da' a few times as Hohenheim walked away then began wailing. He forced himself not to look back. Hohenheim knew his son would be in good hands with Chris Mustang. That knowledge did nothing to stem the flood of tears that washed down the planes of his face as he walked off, his son's distressed cries in his ears. He'd come back for him one day, Hohenheim told himself.

XXX

Chris knew where she'd find Roy. Five years old and he'd rather be holed up somewhere with chalk and one of the alchemy books Hohenheim had left. The boy was sharp, far sharper than she anticipated. He listened to all her lessons so intently it was easy to forget he was a mere child. As expected, Chris found Roy in the basement, scrawling on the floor.

His dark eyes brightened when he saw her. "Mom, look." He pressed his hands to the floor where he had chalked an elaborate design. He pulled the cement into a tall, shapely vase, leaving a small, cracked crater behind in the flooring.

Chris smiled, squatting down to get a better look. Her knees protested and she sighed; she was getting old and fat. "It's very nice, Roy. Can you put it back the way it was?"

His face fell. "You don't like it?"

"I love it but we can't have things growing out of the floor, now can we? It would be dangerous." She stroked his back.

He sucked on his lower lip, considering that. "But I want to make one for you to keep."

"Well, can you do this with rock? There are plenty of those by the stream. You can get Cara to take you down there," Chris suggested. She didn't want to discourage his talent.

Roy brightened back up. "That would be easy," he proclaimed. "What can I make you, Mom?"

"Another fine vase like this one." She gestured to it. "So I can put flowers in it."

Roy made the vase smooth back out into flooring. "I'll pick you pretty ones."

Chris caught him in her arms, kissing his cheek as he squirmed. "Thank you, Roy boy."

He ran off, howling for Cara. Chris looked down at the array. If she knew where Hohenheim had gotten off to, she'd contact him and tell him how his son had turned out. She wished she could tell Roy who his parents were but that had been part of her agreement with Hohenheim. He could know who his real mother was but no mention of his father. Roy wasn't really old enough to start asking but occasionally he did ask her if his mom and dad would be happy with him, tears in his eyes; those tears were contagious if she wasn't careful.

There was another promise she had to keep. One day, Roy would be a fine addition to her communication web but he had rare talent and Chris knew she wasn't the one to encourage it. In her line of work, she met a lot of people. She headed upstairs, intending to call one of the alchemists she knew. Chris thought that Hawkeye might want a young apprentice once Roy was old enough. Her son had the potential to be extraordinary and Chris had every intention of nurturing all his many talents.

XXX

Hohenheim stretched, shifting his weight on the worn red brocade train seat. He was heading back to Central with a thought to maybe covertly peeking in on Chris Mustang just to see how his boy was doing. He wondered idly if the boy knew how to read yet or was he still more interested in his stuffed toy. Bored and stiff muscled from the long train ride, he got up, making his way into the dining car.

Hohenheim found an abandoned newspaper on one of the tables. After ordering tea, he claimed the paper, squinting at the date. His eyes widened. Surely that had to be a joke? Could ten years have passed so quickly? His boy was already a young man and he missed it all. Hohenheim knew he honestly hadn't had a clue to the passing of time and felt oddly reassured that his long-ago decision to give the boy up was the right one. It was perfectly clear that he was so far removed from other humans that he could barely relate.

Sipping his tea, Hohenheim mulled over his options. He could still try to observe his son, provided the boy was even still with Mustang. He hadn't ever thought to contact her to make sure Peng was all right. Well, that wasn't entirely true. He had intended to but he hadn't realized that it was years, not weeks, that had gone by.

Hohenheim glanced up, realizing the train had come to a stop. "Where are we?" he asked the passing porter.

"Resembol. We'll be here a while. There's a dead cow on the tracks. You might want to get out and stretch your legs," the man said.

Hohenheim decided that was a good idea. When he left the station to check out the surrounding town, he was overwhelmed by the smells of hay and sheep. There were benefits to bucolic scenes like this but for his purposes cities were usually better. Still, there was no reason not to explore. Hohenheim found himself at a fruit seller's. The strawberries looked delicious. His hand collided with someone else's as he reached for them. He gazed into pretty eyes then smiled. "Sorry."

"That's all right. There's plenty." She echoed his smile.

"Ladies first." He stepped back a pace so she could have easy access to the fruit. "I'm Von Hohenheim."

"Trisha Elric." She held out a hand to him and he shook it. "Are you staying in town?"

He glanced around. "I was headed to Central but I haven't been in Resembol for a long time. I thought someone I knew once lived here now."

"Oh?" She turned her attention back to selecting a container of strawberries.

"Pinako Rockbell."

Trisha laughed. "Dr. Rockbell is still in town."

"Hmmm, maybe I will change my ticket and stay for a while," he mused, as interested in the pretty lady before him as he was with reuniting with his old friend. "I'm sure there's a hotel some place."

"Gerritsen's Inn," she replied. "It's just down that way. There's usually room."

"Thank you. And dinner, any suggestions?"

"Not much choice around here but the inn has a restaurant," Trisha replied, obviously studying him.

"Would you like to have dinner with me?" He smiled. "Consider it payment for the advice and for me trying to steal those strawberries out from under you."

A blush rose up her tanned cheeks. "I'll think about it, Mr. Hohenheim."

"I'd be honored if you did," he replied. He knew he should feel guilty for getting derailed, flirting with this sweet young lady. Still, he really did want to see Pinako again. What would it hurt to delay in Resembol for a few days? He had already lost ten years and he really didn't plan on identifying himself to his son. It wouldn't be fair to Peng. Checking on the boy could wait a few more days.