This chapter explores Ed's view of his father more early on in the series, using the song "Stumbling in Your Footsteps" by Get Scared as a prompt.
Also, this chapter expands upon Chapter 42/Episode 20 "Father Before the Grave," and includes some lines only from the manga.
(I actually highly recommend reading it, because Ed and Hohenheim talk more in it than they do in the anime).
Ever since I first read/watched that chapter/episode, while I loved it, I was rather disappointed at how fast things go-how it immediately jumps from the grave conversation to Ed in bed, because I wanted to see Ed and Hohenheim interacting more. And maybe the grave conversation is supposed to take place at sunset, and/or maybe Ed didn't interact with him/went to bed after that...but in the anime the sky is pretty clearly blue, so I feel like there was at least some interaction going on that we missed. So I decided to write what that potentially could have been!
The study door was ajar. Little Ed ran past it without a thought…but as he passed, something in the corner of his eye flickered, and he stopped.
Something. A fleeting shadow, like hope. And his heart staggered.
He backtracked to the door, something in his chest bubbling, a word fluttering to his lips:
But it dissipated like smoke; there was nothing but an empty chair, and a few flies buzzing in the empty air. Disappointment tugged at his blushing face, before anger took hold, twisted in his chest, and he marched off.
That was stupid of him. How could he possibly think that man was back? It had been weeks now.
"Ed?" His mother popped her head around the corner. "Did you say something?"
"No, nothing. I just…thought I saw something," he mumbled as he marched up to her.
This wasn't the first time he'd seen this ghost.
Each time the front door creaked open; each time he saw a shadow across the lawn; each time something woke him in the night, or early in the morning, that word would rise in his chest and ripple onto his lips, and all too often he couldn't help letting it escape.
And each time Winry came in the door, or a stray dog walked by the porch light, or he found it was just Al coming back from the bathroom… the word would flicker and die.
The hope that planted that word there slowly unwound, a ball of yarn at the center of his chest getting smaller and smaller; a plant withering and dying.
The house was full of ghosts such as these.
Over time that thing in his chest that jumped and hammed at each passing noise, and plummeted into his stomach when there was nothing there, became tamer, less excitable. But it didn't just die… it changed.
In the fall it became something…instead of bright and warm, bubbling inside him, it was sharp, and burning; a painful heaviness sitting in the center of his chest.
After all, Icarus felt the warmth of the sun before he sank into the cold waters of despair.
And that word, so eager to flutter to his lips, he trapped in a jar.
Trisha felt a tug on her dress as she walked through the garden. She turned to see her son's golden eyes shimmering up at her.
"Oh, hello Ed!" She turned to him, holding the basket at her side. "What's going on?"
"Are you picking tomatoes?" he asked like his mind was on other things.
"Yes, I was going to make soup for us! You always loved this soup! Right?"
He scratched his head, frowning, then muttered softly;
"When's dad coming back?"
The abruptness of this question seemed to hit Trisha.
This wasn't the first time he'd asked this, nor the second, nor the third. Still, each time it hurt her a little more. She understood his reasons…but she knew Ed didn't. And she'd promised Hohenheim she wouldn't tell them…not that they could really understand at this age anyways.
She'd wait for him. But she hoped he'd come back soon, for their sons' sakes.
Her lips curved into a smile all the same—somehow—as she knelt down in front of him.
"Oh honey." She set the basket down, and put her hands together. "He'll be back before you know it!"
She smiled, yes…but it didn't quite reach her eyes.
"It's been months now." Ed muttered.
"I know." She petted his head. "I know its hard. You just gotta be patient Ed. I promise if you just keep waiting a little longer—"
"Yeah but…how long?"
"I don't know honey." The sadness tugged at her words; the sadness she was desperately trying to keep at bay. "But I know he'll come back."
He paused, looking at the ground, his expression twisting, like he didn't want to speak the words festering behind his lips.
"What is it?" She asked gently.
"Why did he leave?" His voice was soft. "Were…Were we… not good enough for him?"
"Oh honey." She put her hand on his cheek. "Have you been carrying that around this whole time? Of course not." She pulled him into a hug. "You're perfect. And your dad knew that. You were the world to him. He just...had something he needed to do."
"What went wrong?" he mumbled into her shirt. "Was it something I said?"
"No, of course not!" She held him tighter. "Nothing went wrong at all!"
He wanted to believe that. He wanted to hold these words like precious jewels.
Once, he could have. Once these words had given Ed hope, made him look forward to tomorrow, be willing to wait. But she'd said them enough by now they were nothing but that; empty, flowery words.
If they were truly the world to that man, why would he leave his world behind? He'd had it all.
They were meant to be a kingdom, a fortress against any obstacle. But the king had got up and left his throne.
Adults always throw around such words when they don't want to tell kids a painful truth, thinking they're ignorant. Ed thought that was crueler than simply speaking said truth. Because the more they repeated those things…the more the truth behind them bled through the cracks in their smiles.
The truth that Ed could see behind her smile, the truth that made him begin to cry into her shirt today was that he knew he was never coming back.
Ed's footsteps were rough against the floorboards as he walked into Pinako's house.
Usually he would give her a pleasant hello, but his irritation was rather boundless at the moment;
"Hey I'm here. Sorry it took so long. Also a stray mutt decided to follow me home." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
Hohenheim froze, peering at him over his glasses.
"Edward! You had your brother and I worried sick!" She smacked him with a dish towel. "Next time call us!"
"Sorry." He scratched the back of his head. "I got dragged off on an…unexpected detour."
She pursed her lips. "Some top secret military mission no doubt."
Before he could respond, her eyes landed on Hohenheim and her expression fell. She glanced between them, and her voice was gentler as she spoke;
"I see you found your father."
"The bastard decided to materialize is more like it." Ed put his hands on his hips
"I wanted to warn you he was here…But you didn't exactly give me a chance."
"You need warning before seeing me?" Hohenheim looked strangely sad at this.
"Yeah," Ed threw over his shoulder, "a big blinking sign would have been nice."
"Well." Ed didn't wait for a response before he changed the subject. "I have sand in…places, so I'm going to go take a shower, if that's alright with you freaks."
They didn't have a chance to reply before he rounded the corner.
The floorboards creaked as he marched down the hall, and into the bathroom, shutting the door a little louder than necessary.
He groaned, kicking the empty trash can—(it went flying across the room, since he used his automail leg)—before pausing and leaning his head back against the door.
Closing his eyes, he let out a long sigh. Had he been holding his breath ever since he saw that man?
He hadn't been lying about the sand…but more than anything he just needed some space to breathe.
The news about Maria Ross, what the Ishvalans said in the Xerxes ruins, the Rockbells…and now Hohenheim showed up? After ten years he picked now? Not when they were in Liore, or Central, or even when Al was there too, nooooo. It just had to be in the three seconds he alone was here.
Three seconds…A day.
Was the difference negligible to Hohenheim?
That was the only explanation he could think of for why he might react the way he did today. Were all adults like that? He hoped he wouldn't be when he grew up. Did they not realize how the years felt to a kid? Maybe ten years wasn't much to an adult like him.
But to someone still growing up? Ten years may as well be a century. Childhood is the only time the years feel long; just a few hours to play is weeks in some fantasy world. Those moments get shorter as each year goes by, like a speeding train, and suddenly you start to see how many seconds you've wasted. Kids don't have that concept. Ed was just starting to understand it himself.
None of them could ever get those years back. They couldn't patch the memories up with the other sewn back into the gaps. Those years when they might have played together, ate together, practiced alchemy together…just been together. All that might have been was snuffed out when the door shut.
And today, now he walked back in like he left yesterday.
Who did he think he was?
Ed opened his eyes.
What was he doing again? Towels. Yes. He should probably get those.
After cleaning up the spilled trash, and putting the can back, he walked over to the cupboard above the toilet to pull one down—(…the rest fell on top of him in the process—no it wasn't because he was short).
When Ed saw Hohenheim at the grave, he'd been sure it was a ghost. It was the right place for one, after all. Even a living one.
Over the years he'd seen far too many ghosts of Hohenheim to believe the man standing there was anything corporeal. He was too angry to allow him to return at the moment he was least needed.
After reorganizing the towels and setting his by the shower, he pulled his hair out of the messy braid he'd made, catching his reflection in the mirror as his hair fell across his shoulders.
"We have the same look."
Ed scowled at the mirror, balling his hand into a fist.
That's all he had to say, after ten years?
"We do not have the same look." He muttered to the mirror.
They may not have the same style…but he couldn't deny they had the same hair and eyes.
He was almost granted the mercy of forgetting. Made sense, considering how long it'd been since he'd seen his ugly mug.
Proceeding to the shower, he turned on the water, the faint hissing filling the room as steam rose, warming the air.
This wasn't the first time he wished he had inherited more of his mother's features. More than once his mom mentioned how he and Al looked like their father. That had made her happy, and once upon a time that was enough. But now that they were alone, he lamented the fact that he had his father's features instead of hers… he'd much rather people saw her when they looked at him.
He took off his clothes, throwing them onto the floor and stepping into the hot water. The warmth spread through him, like a cure to the bitter cold piercing his chest. Sighing, he closed his eyes and put his hands on the back of his neck, letting it trickle across his face.
So long since he'd seen his ugly mug.
Ten years. It may as well have been a century.
The last time he'd seen him it was through the wide eyes of a child, looking up at this towering figure with his back turned. Those cold, gold eyes, looking down at him. Saying nothing at all as he left them to grow up on their own.
He had grown up since then. He'd done and seen things adults couldn't bear to look at. And he'd stopped seeing Hohenheim through those eyes; those eyes that gazed up hopefully, sure the adults have all the answers, wondering why he did this, assuring himself that man had some logical explanation that he'd come back one day to give them. And they'd forgive him. Some hope he would come back and fix their future. That he wasn't a bad man.
Now he knew he wasn't a saint, nor a good man who had simply gone astray. It was much simpler than that;
He was just a fool.
Ed reached over and grabbed the soap.
That was all. There was no deeper reasoning. No explanation to be had. He was just a fool. Some deadbeat dad who couldn't even be bothered take care of his sons. He chose to save himself, instead of saving them. Left them to make sense of it all on their own.
So that's what he was doing; making sense of it all. And the sense he saw was that he was a selfish bastard, nothing more.
Their mother had once said that they were the world to that man.
If that was true, he'd had the world right at his feet…and he'd walked away. He had it all, and he stepped off the planet. He hoped he fell into a black hole.
Was it so hard for him to stay, and take responsibility for his kids, and own up to that fact that they were his own, despite the fact that he was a fool? Even a fool could try his best.
Was the look in their eyes so hard to bear?
Today, he hoped it was. Ed hoped his eyes haunted him as much as Hohenheim's gaze had himself. He hoped he could still taste them on his tongue those ten years. That he could never truly spit them out.
That wide-eyed, shimmering gaze of yesterday had become a fire of glass no one could put out, or shatter.
He knew that no one was going to take care of him. No one was going to comfort him when he cried anymore. The only one who would look after him was himself—(well, and Al too).
—Yet… the moment he saw him, he was hit with a shrink ray. Those wandering eyes, wondering thoughts—
—Dad? I-Is that you? After all this time?—
—Why did you leave? What are you doing back?—
And that resounding desperate plea from long ago he'd done everything to deny, to block out…
Please come home again.
The house was empty. So, unbearably empty. A hollowness that bored into his chest and made a nest there.
When the thunder rumbled outside, the house shook with it; the wind whispering through the corridors.
That word had long since died on his lips; he'd long since stopped seeing Hohenheim out of the corner of his eye; his heart had long since stopped jumping at each passing noise.
Yet, now, when he walked by the kitchen, sometimes he thought he could still smell Mom's soup. When he strode through the garden he was sure he saw a flutter of her dress. When he lie down to sleep, sometimes he swore he heard the wind whisper "Goodnight," and felt a kiss on his forehead.
And though that thing in his heart had hardened, the warden of his lips never pardoned, when he saw a shadow across the lawn or heard a stray noise, the image of a man with golden hair and eyes flared up to his brain.
It wasn't him. It couldn't be. He was never coming back. He forgot about them, left them to rot away, and for that he didn't deserve the courtesy of these far-fetched wonderings.
But the house was so empty. And the hollowness burrowed into his chest.
So that night, after hearing his parents' voices echoing through his dreaming head. Something in Ed broke.
He threw off the covers and stood there in his room, breath heavy on his chest.
The buzzing in his body wouldn't let him go back to sleep, or lay there doing nothing. Something was vibrating at the frequency of everything he was made of. The resonance animated his legs, carried him through the moaning hallway, down the stairs of that big empty house, and into the yard, where the rain was pouring down.
He ran, his bare feet getting cut on pebbles and sticks.
Was he crying or screaming? All he knew was that humming in his body just kept getting louder.
He tripped on a rock and fell to the ground, his hands smeared in the mud. But he didn't get up.
That resonance manifested in his throat. And at last he knew he was screaming.
It started with wordless sounds rending the air, like he was some wounded animal caught in a trap, until finally it manifested into words;
"Where did you go, you bastard?!" He roared. "Why did you leave?! Why did you leave us?! Leave mom?! Were we not enough for you?! Huh?! What did you have to lose?!"
His breath cut through his chest in gasps as he sobbed onto the grass, his tears mixing with the rain, the dirt and grime coating his hands and knees.
The thunder rumbled in reply.
This house had once been an illustrious kingdom. They made castles out of couch cushions, cathedrals out of books. They were lead by a perfect king and queen whom they would follow to the ends of the earth.
Until the king packed his things, and left his throne, his riches, his people too. Shut the portcullis, and was never seen again.
Until the queen lie bleeding on the checkerboard floor.
"Mom…please…" His voice was barely a drip of rain now. "Please come back, Mom."
The kingdom lie in ruins, a crumbling echo of what it once was.
Their kingdom had lost its king, and now its queen too. Two lonely knights wandered the board alone. Who was left to lead?
The word was less than a breath:
Tears streaming down his face he sat up and yelled to the grey, grumbling air, the reverberation in his lungs louder than that thunder, "PLEASE COME HOME AGAIN!"
He fell back down, breathing heavily, shivering, finally realizing just how cold he was.
"I promise to be good." He murmured. "Let us show you we're good enough for you."
The sentences ran out, and finally into the dirt there was only word breathed over and over:
Until, at last, that word was gone from his lips.
He put the soap back and moved on to the shampoo.
The moment he saw Hohenheim before that grave…
He felt so small.
And he hated feeling small.
Hohenheim's eyes hadn't changed one bit. He may as well have walked straight back through the door that day.
That look from when he left was a scar across his mind, one that still burned when the nights were long enough, and the days were hard enough. He almost searched his body for the mark.
Even though the anger was sizzling on his tongue, bolstering him up, making him feel superior, he couldn't help but feel so tiny.
"You were hiding the memory."
Said so casually, reading him like a book when he'd looked at less than a page. He wanted more than anything for him to be wrong.
—(But when your house is full of ghosts, the only way to keep them from following you…is to burn it down)—
No How have you been, Edward? No I'm sorry I left, Edward. Not even a simple explanation or apology. Were those two little words so hard to say?
Ed felt so sick to his stomach.
He leaned forward, closing his eyes, resting his automail arm on the wall, the water draining through his hair.
He wanted to wash it all away, this day, the scent off his skin…erase the connections. But no matter how hard he scrubbed, the traces wouldn't come off.
After turning off the water, he reached out from the curtain to grab the towel, ruffling his hair with it, drying off and putting his clothes back on, carrying his jacket over his shoulder.
As he passed by, the mirror taunted him;
You'll never be free from him.
When he reached the door he hesitated, his fingers flickering before the doorknob. He bit his lip, wondering if he should go out there at all.
He didn't want to see that man, to talk to him.
It'd been so long.
The look on his face as he left was burned into his mind. When he saw him again, before that grave, for a moment that memory was all he could see. How could that tape, so long stuck in one place, suddenly be moving again? Talking and walking like it wasn't defective for ten years?
What could he possibly say to him? What should he say to him? What did he want to say to him?
Nothing. Said the wrath that hadn't been put out by the water.
Everything. Said the little boy in the rain.
He took a deep breath before venturing into the hall, and a long exhale before entering the kitchen.
Pinako was standing at the sink in an apron, stirring something, while Hohenheim sat at the table cleaning his glasses—(ya know, not helping her, like the bastard he was).
Ed threw his jacket on the back of a chair, determinedly not looking at Hohenheim, and walking up to Pinako.
"Can I help you with anything, Granny?"
"Sure. Keep stirring this for me." She pointed to the pan of the stove, then added, "You should feel right at home."
Ed looked into the pan to see it was full of bean sprouts.
"WHADDYA TRYING TO SAY, BEAN SPROUT LADY?!"
"I MEANT WHAT I SAID, YA MIDGET!"
The house soon bounced with their indiscernible shouting match.
After they'd exhausted the topic, Ed stirred bitterly, and leaned over, whispering out of the corner of his mouth,
"So do you have any idea what the hell he's doing back?"
"Beats me." She muttered. "I've got the same information as you, kid; he just decided to show up one day."
A few sprouts fell on the counter and sizzled as he gave him the stink eye over his shoulder.
"Who does he think he is?" he grumbled, "Showing up without so much as a warning..."
"You're one to talk."
"Well…Like it or not he is your father, Ed. Maybe you oughtta trying talking to him."
"What, you mean like before he decides to jump ship again?"
"I can hear you, you know." Hohenheim's level voice broke through.
"Yeah well—good." Ed grunted and stirred more vigorously, but didn't continue the topic.
After a moment's silence, Den clicked over to them and lay at Ed's feet, whining slightly.
"Hey, buddy." He switched stirring hands to pet him. "Is something wrong?"
"…Animals have never much liked me." Hohenheim answered softly.
Ed smirked, scratching Dug behind the ears. "Good boy."
"Alright, that should be enough, thank you." Pinako took over. "Sit down, Ed. Supper's just about ready."
"Oh." He backed up, remembering that staying for dinner entailed actually conversing with that man. "Well, on second though I…I'm actually not that hungry."—(which wasn't a lie).
Pinako looked at him over her glasses like she knew exactly what he was thinking.
"Sit. Down." She enunciated.
Ed surveyed the room and sat in the spare chair against the wall, facing away, putting his hand on his chin.
After a moment Pinako grabbed the back of the chair and dragged him into the spot opposite Hohenheim.
"You're strong for an old lady!"
"You're weak for a young man."
"Wh—I'm plenty strong!"
"Maybe if you drank more milk." She put a glass of it in front of his plate. "You'd be stronger."
"So we meet again ya bastard." Ed scowled.
Hohenheim looked like he was about to speak when Pinako clarified, sitting beside him,
"He's talking to the milk."
"Ah!" His tone shifted. "It appears you and I have something else in common!"
Ed looked between the two like he was about to start a self destruct sequence.
He grabbed the milk and tried to chug it, but quickly failed and ended up spitting it out.
"Nope." He coughed, milk dribbling down his chin. "Still can't do it."
Ed thought he saw Hohenheim's mouth quirk up slightly, but it was quickly overshadowed by the realization that he was staring at him. Not in a you're-talking-so-I-should-look-at-you way, but a ah-yes-a-test-subject kind of way.
"Your eyes stuck, old man?"
Rather than apologizing, or stopping—(like a normal person)—he adjusted his glasses to get a better lock on. "This is the first time I've gotten a good look at your automail."
Ed looked at his own arm, realizing there was an unfortunate side effect to taking his jacket off. He looked back and forth from him to Pinako, as if she'd rescue him.
He'd never felt embarrassed about his automail before—actually, it was pretty badass, if he said so himself. But Hohenheim's scrutinizing continued to be that shrink ray—why? He didn't care what he thought…
"Pretty nice, handiwork, huh?" Pinako jabbed him with her elbow.
"Yes, expert craftsmanship." Hohenheim responded absentmindedly.
"Wouldja quit examining me!"
Hohenheim finally broke his lock, resuming eating. "Pinako said it was your leg too."
"What, you want a fashion show?" He spoke through his food.
"No, no that's fine." He said like it was a genuine offer. He took a bite of food before continuing. "So your leg was taken when you tried to transmute your mother, and your arm when you transmuted your brother's soul into one of my suits of armor, yes?"
Ed swallowed roughly, turning to Pinako. "Did you tell him everything?!"
"Well…He does have a right to know."
"Since when?! He doesn't have a right to anything when walked out on us!"
"How old were you?" Hohenheim plowed on like he couldn't hear them.
"Eleven." He answered through gritted teeth.
"That's rather impressive. You were able to bind a soul at just eleven? There's not many who could do that at thirty."
It was the first time someone said that that he didn't think sounded impressed at all.
"How is your brother doing? I would have liked to have seen him."
"As well as he can be without a body." He muttered through his food again. He couldn't really taste anything.
Hohenheim paused before asking softly;
"…Why did you do it Edward?"
Ed nearly choked, jerking his head up, his eyed widening. Was he really asking him this, now?
"Why do you think?!" He stabbed his food without intention of bringing it to his mouth.
"Didn't you know the risks?"
"We didn't care!" His voice rose, and he stood up, his chair groaning against the floor. "It's not like we had anyone here to—oh I don't know—give us a reason not to!" He paused, then said in a normal volume. "No offense, Granny."
Hohenheim said nothing. Even though Ed was standing over him, as his glasses shimmered in the light, he still felt as though he was being looked down upon.
That look, that look from when he left, never leaving his face, that look that made him want to punch him—(he would have, if Pinako wasn't there)—
"I'm going to bed." He grunted quietly, turning around.
"But you've barely touched your food..." Pinako pointed out gently.
"I've lost my appetite!"
Ed just caught the words "He's rather hotheaded, isn't he?" before he slammed the bedroom door.
It was then he noticed how almost every part of his body was tense.
He leaned back against the door, this time sinking all the way to the floor, putting his hands on his face, digging his fingers in his hair, the tenseness translating to trembling.
Once upon a time he waited weeks for him to come back. Once upon a time, he wanted more than anything to just talk to him—he'd take a mere moment. To talk about something, anything.
Now that he was back, he could barely stand to be in the same room with him.
The buzzing in his body made him want to run out into the fields and scream again, to punch him over and over until he was beaten bloody. But this time he remained in place, a creature frozen in ice, trying to break out, shaking in his crystal prison.
Now their kingdom had become more than just a ruin, or an echo of itself…it was a bone yard.
Ed said he wanted to go to bed, and he did, but apparently that translated to 'lay awake in bed for hours.'
He didn't know how many had transpired when Hohenheim came in. Ed didn't directly see him, but he knew it was him. For one thing, Pinako would never be so creepy. He didn't even do or say anything, he just came, and left. Pervert.
…And the worst part of this day wasn't seeing him again, it wasn't the anger broiling in his gut…
It was that as he sat up in bed, staring at the door…for the first time in close to ten years he could taste the putrefied remains of that word on his lips.