Hoenheim let the familiar scents of Resembool engulf him as he read over and over the name on the grave. Trisha Elric. They were never married, not officially. The stone was engraved with her maiden name. He hadn't any name to give her anyway, but one bestowed upon him by a monster.
A decade ago, he left her in order to stop that monster. How much closer was he to doing so now? Did it even matter anymore, when his home was in ashes, his sons were crippled, and Trisha was gone?
He tried to tell himself that it did. He'd spent ten long years painstakingly plotting out a nation-wide transmutation circle, calculating the circumference of a shadow that would not appear until the moon eclipsed the sun. He'd travelled to every point and used the souls of his friends to draw the alchemic crests. It was all done in order to prevent another Xerxes. It was done for every living soul in the country of Amestris.
He had hoped that when he returned, he could have lived in peace with his family. Now, all he wanted to do was die and be with Trisha.
He had no right to do so, not yet. He was beholden to the world, because the creature that now threatens its existence was born from his blood. He had to end it. He would sacrifice to save the others, to somehow atone for his sins. A family, a home, a future he had dreamed of for centuries. He had sacrificed. He had.
Hoenheim found the dates below her name. Birth and death. The years blended into one for him, but he remembered the exact day he left home. She had died in the same year in which he had left. Edward was only five years old. Alphonse was only four.
He pushed aside the guilt that he had not even learned of her death until years after the fact—that he had been absent at her funeral and never once returned after reading her name in the obituaries of a scrounged newspaper—but could not stop his own mind from punishing him with one question:
If he had stayed, would she have lived?
Could he have saved her?
Her illness had come quickly—the doctors of Resembool tried everything, but they only succeeded in prolonging her life for a few more months.
Could he have saved her?
There were cases in cities large as Central, he knew, of people dying from the disease that took his Trisha. Even the best doctors in Amestris struggled to combat the virus; no single mother in a rural shepherding town had a chance.
Could he have saved…?
Yes. He had centuries' worth of alchemic experience and practically founded the medicinal arts of Xingese alkahestry. He had the Philosopher's Stone as well, if it came to that. If Hoenheim had stayed, he most likely could have saved her life.
"I'm sorry, Trisha." The words died on the wind as soon as he spoke them, but he spoke anyway. It was all he could do, frozen otherwise in some forlorn paralysis his scientific logic could not explain. He wanted to kneel before the stone and cry, but he didn't. He wanted to pretend he was in the loving peace of Trisha's arms, but couldn't. The millions who shared his consciousness were leaving their respectful silence; some murmuring sympathy at Hoenheim, less-reserved others voicing their impatience with the delay. The tempest was returning, swelling in volume, but Hoenheim stood clinging to whatever moments he could with memories of the woman he had promised and failed to return to.
There were footsteps in the graveyard. He hadn't heard the stranger's approach over the wind, nor would he have cared. Aside from Pinako, few in Resembool seemed comfortable interacting with the mysterious alchemist with golden eyes.
When the footsteps pounded to a stop in the autumn-dry dirt of the cemetery, however, he looked up from Trisha's grave.
He met his own eyes.
The boy's fists were clenched, his jaw working soundlessly, speechless now that he'd spat out his father's name in incredulous outrage. His eyes—golden irises, the expression of a phenotype once possessed by long-lost Xerxian bloodlines—darted from Hoenheim's face to the gravestone and back again. It was then that Hoenheim realized just how much he had sacrificed ten years ago.
Trisha had kept her word and waited for him, and she had died bound to that unfair promise he asked of her. Trisha, who never reviled him for what he was—who alone made him feel human—had also kept her promise to keep the truth of his body from their sons. This boy was the same being that used to hover at his elbow peek at his notes, the same child that once smiled at him so blindingly while in his arms that he forgot to be afraid. The fist he held at his right was now of metal; as he planted his boots in the dirt, Hoenheim wondered which leg was the one the Rockbells had had to give him because the Truth demanded such cruel payment from a child.
Van Hoenheim stood before the judgment of his son, struck anew by the weight of the price he thought he was prepared to pay. Trisha was gone. His first true home since the destruction of his country was burned to its foundations. And in Edward's loathing eyes he saw the dream he'd once truthfully confessed to the Homunculus disappear. All he had ever wanted was a family. If he had only done things differently when he had the chance, perhaps he could have salvaged it. Saved Trisha. Stopped Edward and Alphonse from breaking the taboo. Been a father.
But time marched relentlessly on, as heartlessly as it had ever done for him, sweeping away that dream and the love of his sons.