Author's Note: This is an idea I've been toying with for some time now. I've always loved father-son relationships, especially when they have reconciliation scenes. I really liked the one at the end of the manga/Brotherhood, but I felt like there was so much more that needed to be said between them. One line and a few tears could never be enough for me, so I decided to write my own addition.
If you want to see the brave, look for those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look for those who can love in return for hatred.
- Bhagavad Gita
Hohenheim's heart thudded in his chest as he walked to the end of the hallway, skirting around nurses that were still scurrying up and down, seeing to the casualties of the day. He had slipped away from the confusion once it was all over, returning to the slums and retrieving his battered suitcase so he could wash up and put on a clean shirt before he tried to locate his sons again. After all, Alphonse had been stuck in the Doors of Truth for years; his immune system was probably in shambles.
He had been overjoyed to see his boys back safe and sound, and had been most eager to give them one last visit, but now that the time was here he realized he was terrified. There hadn't been much time before now to try to sort out his shaky relationship with his sons now that they all knew the truth about each other. After all, their primary concern had been stopping the greatest evil Amestris had ever faced, and saving the lives of everyone they held dear. But now there was time...maybe not a lot of it; he could feel his body weakening with every minute now he was down to one soul. But still.
Then he stepped through the open doorway of the room he'd been directed to, and the pounding of his heart finally stilled. A soft smile found its way to his lips as he looked in and saw Alphonse sitting up in bed, hooked up to a dozen different machines and rubbing the sheet against his cheek with a blissful smile. Edward was nowhere in sight, and Hohenheim felt a guilty rush of relief. At least Alphonse would speak to him cordially.
"Dad!" Alphonse greeted him brightly, waving him in a little clumsily.
He came in and sat down in the chair by the bed. "How are you feeling?" He was painfully conscious of how Alphonse's cheekbones protruded and how his hands trembled. So different from the chubby toddler he had left behind.
But Alphonse didn't seem to notice. "I'm great," he beamed. "I'm wonderful. Perfect!" He met his father's eyes and his smile saddened a little. "You're looking at me just like Brother does, you know. Like it's your fault somehow."
Hohenheim looked down at his hands clasped in his lap. "I would be lying if I said I wasn't at least partly to blame. You've been through a lot, Alphonse. I'm just glad you're safe now." He tried to lighten the air a little. "So how does it feel to be in a normal body again?"
Alphonse's smile was slow and utterly contented. "You tell me. How does it feel to have your body all to yourself again?"
Empty, he wanted to say. Alone. Purposeless. But instead he sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Free."
"I know what you mean," Alphonse said, even though he didn't. "I can't believe it's finally over. I can...do whatever I want now." He sounded as though he were trying the words on for size, and liked the way they felt. He laughed a little, sounding almost giddy. "I can hardly remember what a normal life is like."
"It will come back soon enough," Hohenheim reassured him. "You're growing into a fine man, Alphonse. I'm so proud of you."
Whenever Alphonse smiled, it was as though Trisha smiled through him. He had noticed the resemblance even when Alphonse had been a child, but even with straggly blonde hair, cracked lips, and gaunt cheekbones, Alphonse still smiled like Trisha. When Alphonse held out a trembling hand towards him, Hohenheim closed his own around it without hesitation. He might be a lousy excuse for a father, but he could finally believe what Trisha had always tried to tell him. He wasn't a monster anymore.
After swallowing hard several times to contain his emotion, Hohenheim said softly, "I know I've never been able to do much for you or your brother, but...I just hope you know..." His voice died away. He couldn't continue. His old, shriveled heart swelled within him and all he could do was gently squeeze his son's frail hand between both of his.
"I do know, Dad," Alphonse whispered, his fingers making a feeble attempt at squeezing back. "I've always known it. Brother told me you were ready to give up your own soul to get me back, right? I probably wouldn't have ever forgiven you if you'd actually done it, but...that was all I wanted. Just to know that you loved us like Mom seemed to think."
Hohenheim laughed in relief, unable to speak, and took his glasses off to wipe his eyes.
"Um...Dad?" Alphonse's voice was hesitant, and when Hohenheim put his glasses back on, he saw that a faint blush colored his pale cheeks. "You know you said...you weren't able to do anything for us? Well, there was always this one thing...that I always wished..."
"What is it?"
The blush deepened and spread. "Can I sit in your lap?"
For a moment, Hohenheim stared at Alphonse, frozen with shock. He was suddenly reminded of his few years with Trisha before his calculations of Homunculus' plans had consumed his time. Evenings sitting on the floor, helping Edward build magnificent block castles, and Alphonse would wobble over to him, then sit down deliberately in his lap. Countless nights when their new baby refused to go to sleep until Hohenheim held him and let him rest against his shoulder.
"Yes," he breathed. "Of course you can."
It soon became obvious that Alphonse was in such a tangle of tubes and wires that Hohenheim would have to join him in the bed. After a few minutes of careful maneuvering, Hohenheim was comfortably settled in the bed, Alphonse curled up on his lap with his head leaning against Hohenheim's chest. Hohenheim sat there, his heart pounding again. He had never expected to hold his fifteen-year-old son in his lap.
"I can hear your heart beat," Alphonse said sleepily.
He had never expected to get another chance.
Ed finally managed to escape the doctors' scrutiny and made his way back to Al's room. They'd insisted on giving him a local anesthetic and digging out the remaining metal shards from his right arm, as well as patching up his left arm (which was the only wound he really needed seeing to, honestly, it was like they thought he couldn't handle a few dozen cuts and bruises). When they'd brought out the tetanus shot, he'd almost bolted then and there, but he managed to restrain himself when he reflected that if they tried to chase him down, they wouldn't have time to look at the next guy, who looked like he needed new bandages in several vital areas.
He was more than ready to get back to his little brother, make sure he was doing okay, and maybe even get some shut-eye, but when he stepped through the door, he froze in his tracks. Hohenheim sat in the bed, holding Al in his lap. And even though Hohenheim looked rather sheepish and Al looked up with a smile that made his heart ache, he felt...hurt. Almost jealous. For most of the day, he had been the one to hold Al close, to make him smile like that. Ever since their mother had died, he'd been everything to Al. And now he saw the man he had hated for years creeping into his brother's heart. Stealing this moment of joy.
"Brother, come on," Al said, and despite himself he smiled. It was so wonderful to hear Al's voice again without any echoes. Al held out one faintly trembling hand, and used his other to pat the empty space on Hohenheim's other side.
The smile instantly vanished. Hohenheim looked away, but Al didn't move. It was amazing how piercing his gaze could be, even now that his eyes weren't red lights shining from a helmet. "Please, Brother?"
Ed sighed and gritted his teeth, but he knew it was no use. He just couldn't refuse his little brother anything, especially not now. He kicked off his shoes and went around to the other side of the bed, climbing in under the covers. He took the hand that Al held out to him and smiled reassuringly, but he sat stiffly, touching Hohenheim as little as possible. He had already acknowledged that Hohenheim wasn't as bad as he'd always thought of him growing up, and couldn't deny anymore that Hohenheim did care for his sons. But still.
After a few minutes of silence, Hohenheim awkwardly pulled his arm out from between them and let it hang over the back of the bed, but thankfully he didn't try to put it around Ed's shoulders. Ed tried not to think about it too much and contented himself with running his thumb over Al's knuckles, grinning to see Al close his eyes to savor the sensation.
But soon, it became obvious that the old man was crying again. Sheesh, it was like every time they talked to him he burst into tears. Ed glanced uncomfortably up at Hohenheim, who was staring at the ceiling and letting his tears roll into his beard. His joy at having Al whole again soured with the awkwardness of not knowing what to do with a father who wouldn't stop crying.
Finally, Hohenheim found his voice. "I don't deserve this," he said in a choked voice. "I don't deserve such happiness."
Ed wanted to agree with him just out of spite, but instead he just grumbled, "Is it really that bad?"
"It's all my fault!"
Ed shot a glare up at Hohenheim, thinking his father was mocking him, but then he realized that Hohenheim actually believed it.
"I never should have left you. Then you wouldn't have found it necessary to try to resurrect your mother...you wouldn't have lost so much...or given up so much to get it back. You would never have had to go through so many hardships, just to be in this position now. I'm sorry. Edward...Alphonse...I'm so sorry..."
It was strange. A week ago, Ed would have agreed with him wholeheartedly and thought nothing of it. These were the words he had always hated Hohenheim for never saying, and he'd always imagined the vicious pleasure of wringing these words out of him at the mercy of his fist. But now that Hohenheim had actually said it...it rang false.
"That's not true," he said softly. "Even if you'd been there and told us not to do human transmutation, we still would have made the same mistakes. Our teacher told us not to, but we didn't listen to her at all. We just continued down the path we'd already chosen and disregarded every warning."
He took a deep breath and considered his next words, thinking back over the long years of the bitterness he'd hoarded in his heart. It had been his only shield from the pain of loss and betrayal. Closing his eyes, he let his breath out and let go of it all. The hatred, the bitterness, the cold resentment. He pushed it all deliberately aside and watched it fall away. It hurt, acknowledging at last the betrayal of watching his father step out the door and never return, to believe for so many years that Hohenheim didn't care at all. It hurt, but he opened himself up to it anyway.
"We ignored our teacher's warnings," he continued after a moment. "But I don't blame her for it. I don't hate her. So...I don't hate you either, Dad."
Hohenheim shuddered with an audible sob, but Ed didn't look up. He let out a long sigh, feeling suddenly exhausted. It was over. There was no reason to run anymore. He finally relaxed against his father's side, resting his head on Hohenheim's chest and settling against his warmth. When Hohenheim tentatively wrapped his free arm around him, Ed didn't push it away.
Al was beaming at him, tears shining in his eyes, and Ed smiled shyly back, squeezing Al's hand. Hohenheim kissed each of his sons on the top of the head, then lay back with a shaky sigh. "Thank you," he whispered.
Ed closed his eyes and let sleep overtake them all. It was kind of nice, now that he'd gotten used to it. It was like having a family again.
When the brothers woke the next morning, their father was stiff and cold. His hair had turned grey and his skin was already starting to flake away. But Theophrastus Bombastus van Hohenheim died with a smile on his face.