Author's Note: As soon as I finished chronicling the events leading up to Al's marriage in "Each Time You Look Away," I knew I'd have to write some more about him and Emily sometime. This fic started just the way "Each Time" started - with a daydream I never expected to develop into anything else. I've always thought Al would make a wonderful father, and at first my only problem was in finding someone for him to actually fall in love with and marry first. But once I found her in the form of Emily (who is not a Mary Sue, in case you were wondering), I came across another obstacle to giving Al the kids he wants. In figuring out a way to get around this, I also found the perfect place to use a name I've been wanting to use for an Elric for years, but have never been able to until now. The other names were pretty much made up on the spot, but I think they fit pretty well. Once I discovered I could use that name, I knew I'd have to write this. I don't feel like this is very well-written, because I churned it out over the course of two days, fueled by lots of tea and the need to get it posted on Father's Day. I don't think you necessarily need to have read "Each Time You Look Away" before this one, but it would probably help you accept Al's OC wife more easily.
This is my only hope
That the love that will not let me go
Will find its way back into your life
So I will not close my eyes
Until I see you by my side
Loving me tonight
- "Come Back to Me" by Trading Yesterday
Alphonse and Emily Elric had known from the beginning that they were going to adopt. Alphonse was afraid at first that it would be a touchy subject to discuss once Emily told him she was unable to bear the children they both wanted so much, but when he carefully brought it up the first time, Emily responded in true Emily fashion.
"Oh! Well, we can adopt, of course!" she said brightly, as though she hadn't spent half an hour sobbing in his arms from shame and grief when she had told him.
Alphonse was relieved, because he had always wanted to be a father. Ever since his brother had approached him with a bemused expression to tell him a baby was on the way, he'd wanted to experience that too. He'd seen Edward and Winry become parents, watched Nina and Trisha grow up, stood on the sidelines as Edward went through all the worries, joys, and stresses of fatherhood. And even when his brother complained, Alphonse could tell how happy he was to be a father, and how proud he was of his beautiful daughters.
It had been a terrible blow to learn that he would never be able to hold a small, warm bundle of life and know that it was his, his and Emily's, a miracle greater than alchemy itself. He would never be able to look at a son or daughter and fondly pick out all the family resemblances. It didn't diminish his love for Emily, or make him regret his choice, but a small part of him still regretted that they had to make this substitute.
They didn't dive into parenthood immediately; at first they were too busy becoming accustomed to the new routines of their married life. But as they passed their first anniversary, both began to think more and more often about the orphanage a two-hour train ride away. Emily would bring up the topic at various points in the day, as though picking up a constant thread of conversation that ran through every moment. "A boy or a girl?" she asked while washing dishes one evening.
Alphonse thoughtfully put a clean stack of plates in the cupboard. "A boy, I think."
"And it'll have to be a baby," Emily suddenly said the next morning as they got dressed. "I just wouldn't know what to do if I suddenly had a ten-year-old or something. I want to start from the beginning."
Alphonse surreptitiously looked over at her; she was sitting on the bed and pulling on her favorite pair of bright orange toe socks. Emily was always so cheerful that it was easy to forget the pain she had carried all these years. He hoped with all his heart that becoming a mother at last would heal that old wound. On impulse, he crossed over to her and kissed the crown of her wavy red head. She wrapped her arms around him and pressed her face against his stomach, the only sign that she was anything but her usual chipper self.
"Let's go today, honey," he murmured.
Golden Fields was small for an orphanage, but it was home to children from miles around. It was much closer than the large institutions in East City, and Alphonse wagered it was much more homely as well. There were only 26 children and ten babies living there, as opposed to the hundreds that he supposed must live in East City, and lack of funding for staff required the children to do chores as well. But from what Alphonse could tell as he walked up the drive with his wife, Golden Fields looked like a good place to grow up. As good as one could hope for without any real parents. An old, rusting swing set peeked through the bushes in one corner of the yard, and several children were running around, shrieking with laughter.
As Alphonse pulled open the front door, two more children raced out, and he smiled as they ran to join their friends. Emily slipped her hand into his, and they headed for the manager's office with hope in their hearts.
The interior of the orphanage was shabby, but clean. A little brown-haired girl who looked around seven years old was playing hopscotch on the tiled floor with a cake of soap. When she saw there were visitors she hastily went back to scrubbing the floor instead, peeking up at them shyly through her bangs. Emily wiggled her fingers at the girl as they passed.
Somehow, Alphonse had always pictured heads of orphanages to be thin, strict old ladies who never seemed to smile. Stout, jovial, and loud-voiced, Mr. Himmel was nothing like that image. He shook their hands warmly and moved a miniature tin tea set off a chair so that Emily could sit down. "Ahhh, these children," he complained with a fond smile as he poured the rest of the water from the kettle into a nearby potted plant, which looked as though it had died years ago. "Always leaving their toys about so I trip on them, and then looking ever so sorry and wondering how it could have happened."
"You seem to have created a wonderful home for these children," Alphonse said, looking at the walls that were covered with photos of young, smiling children.
"I do try," Mr. Himmel said comfortably, leaning back on two legs of his chair. "Poor little things lost their parents, their homes, everything familiar – I've always thought Golden Fields should try to replace that, as much as possible. Of course, nothing can substitute for a real mother and father." He nodded his head respectfully at them – or as respectfully as he could when he was lounging back against a window grimy with children's grubby handprints – and Alphonse's stomach fluttered with anticipation.
A father. He was going to be a father!
Once they had explained what they had come for, Mr. Himmel took them on a tour of the orphanage. It was obvious the children loved Mr. Himmel; several boys who were running around the corner to head outside paused long enough to give him a high-five, and the soap-hopscotch girl smiled at him. He whispered something to her that sounded like "tea party," and she suddenly gasped, dropped her soap, and scuttled off to Himmel's office to fetch her forgotten toys.
By the time they reached the nursery, Alphonse felt as though his heart had melted enough and he would be forced to adopt every child in the place. But the babies reduced his heart to a puddle that sloshed around in his chest every time he heard another babyish giggle or saw another slumbering infant. How would they be able to choose just one?
He felt a bit less silly when Emily hissed in his ear, "How expensive do you think ten cradles would be?" But even as he chuckled at her remark, they bent over a weather-beaten wooden crib where a baby lay, shaking a rattle and gurgling to itself.
The baby pulled a slimy fist from its mouth and gazed up at the two enormous heads bending over it, its large blue eyes gazing up at them. Then the baby smiled – a big, toothless, open-mouthed grin that displayed the utmost innocence and trust. And in that moment, they knew: This was the one.
Carefully, Emily lifted the baby out of the crib and held it close, beaming up at her husband. "Well?"
He smiled. "Yes."
Startled, Alphonse looked around at the door and saw a girl standing there, looking horror-struck. He thought she looked about ten years old, wearing a neat blue dress and her long black hair in a ponytail.
Before he or Mr. Himmel could do more than turn around, the girl rushed towards them and grabbed Alphonse's sleeve. "Please!" she gasped, tears beginning to run down her face. "Please don't take Franz away!"
Alphonse tried to calm her down, but she clung to his sleeve as though her life depended on it. "Please!" she screamed, her distress starting to make the babies in the room uneasy. "Take me too! He's the only little brother I've got!"
He stared at her, stared into her blue eyes that were so much older and more somber than her brother's. She couldn't possibly know what those words meant to him, or that she had echoed the words that would always reverberate in his soul. But he knew in that moment that he couldn't leave her here. He couldn't tear her away from her little brother.
Alphonse discovered it was harder than it looked to be a father. As much as he had longed for it, he found he wasn't ready. When they went over to Edward and Winry's for dinner the day after they brought the children home, Edward drew him aside. "Picked up another stray, huh?" he said, shaking his head and looking at the girl who was shyly greeting Nina and Trisha. "You know, they say that's one of the harder ages to-"
"Tabitha is his sister," Alphonse broke in. "How could I break them apart? They're all they've got."
They shared a look, and Edward said no more. He just squeezed his brother's shoulder and went over to tickle Franz's toes.
At first Alphonse thought Franz was harder to care for than Tabitha. In the beginning, Emily was always rushing over to Winry to consult her about something, and even when they knew what to do, it took a lot of work to take care of him. He had to be fed the right kinds of food, they had to change and wash his diapers, and then they had to make sure he didn't get into mischief once he learned how to crawl.
But Franz was generally a happy baby, and he took to them as though they were his real parents. He would look up at Alphonse, smile his huge, precious grin, and Alphonse would feel like a father. It didn't matter that the tufts of hair on his head were black and his eyes were deep blue; Franz loved him, and showed it every day.
Tabitha was almost eleven, but she seemed much older because she took care of herself so well. They didn't have to remind her to brush her teeth, go to bed on time, or eat her carrots. She would come down in the morning, well-groomed and dressed, and politely eat breakfast with them before excusing herself from the table. Edward's warnings about her being difficult to raise seemed unfounded; it was obvious she had been raised well, and she had been forced to learn to care for herself at a young age.
But at the same time, she was ten times more difficult than Franz. As long as Franz was kept fed, clean, and rested, he was happy. But the only times Alphonse ever saw Tabitha smile were when she was with her baby brother. He tried to be understanding; Mr. Himmel had told them the children's parents had died several months ago in a fire that had destroyed their home. Alphonse remembered how grief over his own mother's death had crippled him at first, and how the weight continued to drag him down years later. But then, his brother had been there to distract him with alchemy and the hope of seeing her again. Tabitha's brother couldn't do that. Maybe he'd already forgotten his real parents.
Alphonse had hoped he could get along well with Tabitha. After all, Nina and Trisha were about the same age, and they had always been friends and playmates. But those two were lively, talkative, and shared his love of alchemy. Tabitha never said much, preferring to sit quietly by herself and work on a sewing project, or else help Emily with chores or looking after Franz. He couldn't relate to her, and she didn't seem interested in helping him do so.
The distance between them became even more apparent to him the first time he returned after his usual month of work in Central. In the meantime, everyone seemed to have grown used to this new phase of their lives. The three girls seemed to be exploring the possibilities of encoding alchemic research in a cross-stitch sampler, Tabitha sewing for them even though she had to keep asking them what a flamel was or how to spell molybdenum. Emily had her started on some kind of project in the garden – something about melons, from what he could gather – and she had started school in the single-room building in town that Nina and Trisha went to. Gerrold, their cat, refused to sleep anywhere but on Tabitha's bed, Winry was teaching her how to bake pies, and even Edward (who had been with Alphonse the whole time) seemed instantly able to make her laugh.
This was his daughter, adopted or not, so why did he feel so left out? He tried to come up with fun things to do together, but when they went on picnics or fishing trips she went off with the girls or Emily. When he heard she was having trouble with her math homework, he tried to help her. But even though she got all the right answers in the end, there was a palpable tension between them – an awkwardness, as though he was a stranger who pretended to know her and she was afraid to tell him otherwise.
Maybe he was a stranger. Maybe he was just stupid for thinking he could be a father to someone who already had one.
Often, on the last night in Risenpool, Alphonse and Emily would lie awake late into the night, talking. When he remained silent for several minutes, Emily propped herself up on one elbow. "Al? What's wrong?"
Alphonse sighed. "Tabitha."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know her. And she doesn't know me." And suddenly, those words choked him, expanding painfully in his throat till he could hardly breathe. Not wanting Emily to see his emotion, he quickly rolled onto his side, facing away from her.
But he could never fool Emily. "Don't cry," she whispered, rubbing his arm. "Please don't."
Of course, those words made the tears fall. Alphonse let the despair wash over him for a moment, but then he pushed it back and ran a hand across his eyes. He rolled back to look at her. "What do I do? I just want to be a good father."
"I know." She brushed away a few more tears with her thumb. "Maybe the problem is that you're trying too hard. You've always wanted to be a father, and it shows. Maybe Tabitha thinks that's all you care about. That you don't actually care about her."
"But I do care about her."
"So show her that. Do something to show her that you want to be her father, not just a father."
Alphonse peered at his wife in the darkness. "When did you get so smart?"
She chuckled and kissed him before curling up into a more comfortable position against his chest. "You're cute."
The next time Alphonse returned to Risenpool, he took a detour, so he didn't come on the usual five-o'clock train with his brother. Instead, his train got to the station at ten, and by the time he walked home, it was already eleven. He'd told Emily not to wait up for him, so the little blue house was dark and peaceful when he quietly let himself in. Hoping he wouldn't wake anyone up, Alphonse took off his shoes by the door and tiptoed up the stairs with his suitcase.
He was about to sneak into his bedroom, when he heard a soft sound that made him stop short. At first he thought Franz was fussing, but then he realized it wasn't coming from the room that was probably supposed to be a large closet but they used for a nursery. No, the soft sound of crying came from Tabitha's room.
The door was slightly ajar, so Alphonse tiptoed down the hall and slowly peeked in. Sure enough, the sniffling grew louder. It was hard to see with only moonlight, but Alphonse could just make out the dark outline of a small body in the bed. He tried to inch inside, but he'd forgotten the suitcase he still held in his hand, and it bumped against the edge of the door.
Tabitha made a startled sound, but Alphonse whispered, "It's just me." He stepped in, shut the door, and turned on the bedside lamp. A soft, golden glow lit up the room, and he set his heavy suitcase down at the foot of the bed. Tabitha quickly wiped her eyes and pulled the covers up to her chin, but he could see more tears pooling in her eyes already.
"What's wrong?" Alphonse whispered, sinking down onto the bed next to her. "Did you have a nightmare?"
She shook her head and turned away from him. At first he thought she was going to pretend to go to sleep, but then she muttered, "Franz said 'Mama' today."
Alphonse grinned, wishing he had been here to hear it. "He did?"
"Which means he doesn't remember our real mother."
That wiped the smile off his face completely. "Oh..."
Tabitha buried her face in her blanket and began to cry again. Alphonse rubbed and patted her back in a soothing motion, wondering if he was only making things worse. When she kept crying as hard as ever, he pulled her into his lap and crawled under the covers as well, resting his back against the headboard and wrapping his arms around her as she cried.
He rocked her back and forth in his arms, patting her back and resting his cheek on the top of her head. He did the same for Franz when he refused to go to sleep, and just as with Franz, Tabitha soon quieted down. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve and sniffed miserably before mumbling, "Not just Franz, either. I c-can't even 'member their faces..."
Alphonse took his cue. He pulled the suitcase closer with his foot, then heaved it onto the bed. He set Tabitha down by his side as he bent over the case, and felt her curious eyes on him as he rummaged around in it. "I put it right in the top," he muttered to himself, shoving dirty clothes to the side. Everything shifted around on the train.
Finally, he found what he wanted: A square, heavy package wrapped in glittery silver paper. "There we go," he said, handing it over. "Happy Birthday! A few days early, but..."
Tabitha actually giggled, which was more than he'd been hoping for. "My birthday's next month."
Alphonse clapped a hand to his forehead, pretending to be dismayed. "Great, you mean I have to get you another present? Oh well, I guess you can get a head start."
Tabitha already looked much happier than before, and Alphonse watched her tear off the wrapping paper with satisfaction. At first, Tabitha looked confused at the leather-bound book lying in her lap, but when she opened it her eyes flew open. On the front page was the last family photograph her family had ever taken. The mother held a bundle that could only be Franz, and the father stood with a hand resting on a younger Tabitha's shoulder.
Tabitha stared hungrily at her family for several minutes, and soon started to cry again. Finally she turned the page, only to find that the entire book was filled with photos of their family, especially her parents. "I went to your hometown," Alphonse explained as she turned the pages of her life. "Asked everyone who knew your parents for pictures. I just wish I could've found more."
Tabitha shook her head silently, running her finger across her parents' wedding picture.
Putting his arm around her again, Alphonse held his adopted daughter close. "I don't want to replace him, Tabitha. I can't replace him. But I do want to be here when you need me. I want to take care of you."
Slowly, Tabitha raised her head and looked him in the eye. "Why did you adopt us?"
"Well," Alphonse sighed, getting more comfortable under the covers, "Emily and I aren't able to have children of our own, and we wanted kids so much. So we decided to adopt instead."
"But why us? I mean...I know I begged you to take me..." She looked down at her hands in her lap, rolling the edge of the sheet between her fingers. "But why did you pick Franz?"
He smiled and squeezed her shoulder. "Because we loved him. And we love you too, Tabitha."
She stared at a picture of her eighth birthday, with her parents beaming at the camera on either side. "How? How could you love us when you didn't even know us yet?"
"Hmm." Alphonse wondered how to explain it. He'd never really stopped to think about it before; it had all seemed to happen naturally without him noticing it, just as he couldn't remember a time he didn't love his brother. "I guess you're right – a lot of the time, the people we love are the ones we've known for a long time. I love my brother because he's been my best friend since I was born. And even with Emily, I met her and got to know her before I decided to marry her."
He looked down at Tabitha and took a moment to reflect that he did love her. It was more than just liking the idea of being a father. Even though they hadn't had much luck with seeing eye-to-eye, there was a warmth in his chest when he looked down at her. He wondered now if it was the same for every father – that the first time he looked into his daughter's eyes, he decided right then and there that she was the most beautiful girl in the whole world and he was going to love her with all his might. "But for you and Franz...I chose to love you from the beginning. I didn't know a thing about you – I had no idea what you were like. But I decided that I was going to care about you, that I was going to care for you, because you're mine now. You don't have to think of me as your father if you don't want to, but I still love you." He rested his cheek against her soft hair. "Every beat in my heart is telling me that."
Tabitha remained quiet for a while, looking at a picture of her and her father laughing about something. "He used to call me Bunny," she said wistfully.
Alphonse chuckled softly. "Bunny? Where'd that name come from?"
"Papa liked playing around with names and words. So first he called me Tabit-ha, then Tabit-haha, then just Tabbit. And Tabbit sounds like Rabbit, so...Bunny." She would have continued, but she broke off with a jaw-cracking yawn.
Smiling, Alphonse snapped his suitcase shut again and slipped out from under the covers. "Okay, Tabby-Cat," he said, gently pulling the photo album from her grasp and setting it on the beside table. "Time to get some sleep."
He had never tucked a child in bed before, but he had seen his brother do it enough times that he knew what to do. He pulled the covers up tight, smoothing them under Tabitha's chin. Then he bent over her, kissed her on the forehead, and whispered, "Good night."
If he hadn't felt her lips move against his ear, he might have doubted what he heard. "Good night, Dad."
As hard as Alphonse tried to slide into bed quietly, Emily still woke up. With a murmur, she moved closer and wrapped tired arms around his waist. "Welcome home." After a moment or two, she suddenly sat upright. "Al! Why are you crying?"
He rolled over and held her as tightly as he could while lying down. He tried to speak, knowing she was growing more worried with every passing second, but at first no sound would come out.
Finally, between his tears and the enormous grin on his face, he gasped out, "She called me Dad!"