Winter in Munich on the Earth side of the Gateway might as well have been winter in hell--but on Christmas Eve a tiny light of hope is kindled in Edward's spirit, thanks to Alfons Heiderich...(YAOI...
by the Binary Alchemist
DECEMBER, 24, 2007
Winter on Earth. Might just as well as been winter in hell.
I wandered the streets of Munich, wishing the bitter frost would gnaw into my bones and freeze my blood and let me join my beloved dead. My brother—oh, god! It hurt to think of losing Alphonse!—my Mom…and my Colonel.
To keep my sanity I sought and found a new obsession: rocketry and space exploration. I told my father, Hohenheim, that I would study with Professor Oberth in Transylvania. “No guarantees that it will get you back home, my son,” he fretted over a mouthfull of nails, hammering the lid on a crate crammed with extra prosthetics of his own design. I told him that if alchemy had let us down on the Earth side, science would have to provide the answers.
That’s when he told me about his goddamned portal stones. “I’m not ready to give up on alchemy. Not yet. I wasn’t born in this world, and once I arrived in London I was frantic to chase down any possiblity—any hope of getting back. I began making a series of array stones—half-finished Gateways, really—in an effort to make my way back to Amestris again.”
An armload of crisply starched shirts hit the threadbare carpet. My jaw must have been hanging down a foot. “Y-you…did…what??”
Yeah, I’d heard right. Stones on that side, created in hopes of hiding from Dante. Stones on this side too, matched near enough as he could guestimate. Figure out some way to link the damned things together…and you’re on your way home, boy.
Bullshit. I didn’t buy it. Wasn’t worth getting my hopes smashed over. “Fine. Great. Whatever. I’ll see you when I get back,” I told him. I boarded the train with a heavy heart, wishing by all the powers that I could reach across the sky and feel my brother clasp my hand…and see that damnedable smirk on Roy’s face, welcoming me home again.
… Instead my heart leapt up my throat at the sight of a pale German boy—just barely nineteen—who turned and smiled at me from the desk in front of mine and asked if he could fill his pen from my inkwell, as the one on his desk was dried out.
“ALPHONSE!” My god—the only thing that stopped me from clasping him to my chest was the color of his eyes—like the ironically named ‘forget-me-nots’—and that his hair wasn’t the warm caramel shade of my brother—a perfect blend of my father’s blond and my mother’s light chestnut.
“Al-fonzs,” he laughted a little, correcting my pronunciation. “And you—you are Herr Elrich, ja?”
“Uhh…ja. From London. Call me Edward.”
His eyes twinkled and he mined scribbling my name in the air with his empty pen. “Ja. As I said. Edvart. Meine English iss gut, yes?”
I offered the inkwell and scowled at him. “Your English sucks, Herr Heiderick.”
“Heiderich. Ich! Und your German iss disgraceful. You will be left in the dust in this class, Herr El-RICK.”
“The hell I will!”
We were both laughing now. God, that smile made me homesick. “I shall make a bargain mitt you, Ed-WARD. I shall correct your German. You shall correct meine English. Ve study together as friends, ja? Und we shall race to the top marks, und make Herr Oberth pleased.”
Die Rakete zu den Planetenraumen (The Rocket into Planetary Space) was published in 1923 by our teacher and mentor, Hermann Oberth.
I was the only non-German in the Verein für Raumschiffahrt—the Spaceflight Society. My plausible lie, however, was that my father Hoenheim had been living and teaching in London but my mother was from the Austrian-Germany borderlands, from a tiny village called Resembool. My German was passable—only just, but my fair hair and skin and even, angular features could be easily mistaken for Aryan instead of Amestrian. More to the point, I was a scientist, and my enthusiasm for Professor Oberth’s classes and high marks opened doors that otherwise would have remained firmly shut in the face of an ‘Englishman’. I wisely kept my mouth shut during political bickering, shrugged noncomittally when Britain’s policies were scorned and generally projected the air of a man without borders, neither embracing nor openly rejecting the rise of National Socialism.
My agenda was going home…and home wasn’t London. Home was with Alphonse---and Roy, if he would have me. It was bad when Dad was still around, but once he vanished again I thought I would sicken and die from loneliness. A world of familiar faces—but did any of them know my name? More than once I found solace in a glass of brandy at bedtime to numb the pain, not that it helped.
I mean, there’d be times I’d be walking down the strasse, catch a whiff of something delicious from the biergarten or some café, order up a plate of whatever smelled so wonderful. I’d take a bite…and put down my fork, pay up and leave, because it almost tasted like Mom’s stew, or Granny Pinako’s potroast, or even like those awful sausages they sold off the carts in the square near Central Headquarters—the kind you’d grab on the run when you didn’t have time for anything else. Actually, the German sausages, especially the white ones, were amazingly good…they just didn’t taste like home.
But somehow—through a combination of Aryan stubborness and a richness of spirit so like my brother’s, Heiderich made headway against the darkness that kept threatening to swallow me up—if I didn’t drown myself in alcohol first. I kept swinging wildly between hope and desolation and while he didn’t understand he would share his meager supper with me, listen to my ‘absurd tales’ of otherworldly alchemy and science and sit with me in the tiny room we shared in the boarding house until I passed out or—yes, damn it—cried myself to sleep. He reasoned that I was half mad from the grief of losing my brother and mother and—let it be whispered so softly!—a male lover during the Great War. He, too, had buried his dead and told his beads softly on Sundays for their souls. If I wrapped my heart around outlandish fantasies to keep at least somewhat sane, so be it. He learned to overlook my eccentricites and focused on the pleasure of intellectual discourse and a mutual obession with our research.
My father had returned to Munich and rented out a small flat above a flower shop. “You must come home for the holidays, and your roommate is most welcome,” he told me. I’d have balked, prefering to hole up in the local library, but when Alfons learned of the invitation he told me stoutly that we should go. “So many families in Germany are torn apart—so many boys have lost their fathers. It would be a good thing for you to be with him, ja?” What he couldn’t bring himself to say was how much he missed his own father and older brother, whose bodies were never recovered from the battlefields of France. Dad wired the train fare to us and with great reluctance we jammed ourselves into the third class compartment of the last train out of town…
---from the alchemical diaries of Edward Elric
December nights in Munich glowed with candles and soft carols rang from the rafters of even the poorest of homes. The smell of coffee and liebkuchen—love cakes—spiced with ginger—a bite for you, a bite for me, we share this together, ja? For there is not quite enough to go around this winter. Not enough food. Not enough coal. Not enough blankets.
“Alfons, I’ll set up my room for you—“
“No Dad—it’s okay. Alfons can stay in here with me.”
“Are you sure, boys? Alfons, it’s no bother, really. You’re our guest—“
“Nein vielen Dank, Professor Elric. It is very kind of you. Edward and I will most likely wish to talk much of the night. Please, be comfortable in your own bed. We shall be quite fine, danke.”
Ed squirmed and muttered and fretted but managed to endure that god awful midnight service, just so he could hear Heiderich’s warm tenor in the choir. Stille Nacht, Heilig Nacht…and they raced each other home in the snow until they stumbled on the ice, falling together, laughing fit to burst, lying in the snow like mad drunkards. They rolled and yelled and wrestled and stuffed frosty handfuls down each other’s backs until Alfons pinned Edward’s shoulders, shoving him down, laughing as the tip of his nose disappeared, pressing him down until he was submerged completely, his golden ponytail wet and stringy with draped over the crusted whiteness.
“Lemme up, you son of a bitch!”
“Make me, Ed-WARD!”
“Gerrroffme, damn you!”
“Haaahaaa! This time Germany beats England! Ahaahaaaa!”
“Son of a-- oh…ohhhhh.”
The rich blue scarf Gracia had knitted to match his clear blue eyes was coiled around and around metal fingers that pulled him down..down…below the breast of the snow, which trickled down their flushed faces. Before he let Edward up, Alfons had gently licked the crystal flakes that clung to Ed’s cheeks and eyelashes
When they got up, Edward didn’t punch him…
“Don’t forget to hang up your stockings boys.”
Edward had rolled his eyes with cynical disdain as the young men shook the snow out of their hair. “I can’t believe he’s saying this, huh, Alfons? It’s not like we’re children, for chrissakes.”
“Well…they are rather damp, mein freund. Perhaps Herr Hohenheim is suggesting that we let them dry on the hearth overnight, ja?”
Hohenheim glanced at his son. Edward’s eyes seemed a little too bright and Alfon’s normally pale cheeks were ruddy and flushed. They’re up to something, those two. They look guilty. Ah well, he sighed inwardly, they are hardly children. If they have found some pretty mädchen to pursue, who was he to subvert their plans? He preferred that they not bring young ladies to their room tonight—but better that, perhaps, than to have some zealous papa burst in and possibly shoot them. No, he was most uncomfortable, but Ed had that mule-ish look on his face, daring his father to argue.
“At least sit down and share some of this delicious liebkuchen Frau Gracia had baked for us—oh, and the coffee’s on. Warm yourselves up a little—“
“Dad, we’re fine. Just put it on a tray, we’ll take it to the room, This Schweinhundt shoved me in a snow bank and now I’ve got ice down my back—“
“Ja, and who was it threw the first snowball at me?” Heiderich was laughing now. “And I was dressed in my best for the midnight mass—“
“—which was boring as homemade sin, needless to say, although you didn’t sound half as awful as I thought you would.”
“Not only a heretic, but a heretic with an ear of tin—“
The two young men bickered back and forth until Hohenheim burst out laughing. “All right, that’s enough. There’s enough hot water in the boiler for you to get yourselves washed up before bed and I’ll put some extra blankets in Ed’s room. Have a good night, boys—and Merry Christmas!”
“Fröhliches Weihnachten, Professor Elric!”
Ed shivered as he scrubbed his skin half raw with the lukewarm water in the wash basin—the pipes had only groaned when he tried for a bit of water from the tap. He stared ruefully at his reflection—the thick straps and canvas that bound his prosthetic arm to his shoulder seemed only slightly uglier than the scars that criss-crossed his pale chest. Do you really want him to see this? Would he still...? Could he touch…What will he…?
“Damn it!” he swore, eyes smarting. “What the fuck. Either he’ll accept this or—“ Resolutely, he flipped off the light, threw the oversized night shirt over his head and made his way down the chilly hall to the bedroom.
“Alfons?” he whispered.
“Ich bin hier, mein Freund.” A warm voice in the dark. “Waiting for you.”
That first kiss in the snow, so soft and tentative, had been a promise of more, it was understood. The way Alfons had gently licked the snowflakes from his eyelashes and cheeks…the way Ed’s hands had curled around his slim shoulders, drawing him back, catching that sweet bottom lip between his own for just an instant before letting Heiderich go. Now it was the young German who advanced, looking grave and oddly beautiful in his faded night shirt. A trembling hand stretched out to brush against Edward’s shoulder, coming to rest over his heart. “Mein lieber Freund…forgive me…” He lowered his eyes as he drew a little closer, so close that Edward could. “I know little….not enough, but—“
“Be quiet. Just…let me…” Move, damn it! He cursed his mechanical limb, willing it not to clout his companion in the head as he fumbled, awkward in his need to embrace his friend, yet so embarrassed, so afraid that the first real touch of metal and wood and rubber skin would cause Alfons to recoil in disgust.
Alfons, divining his companion’s embarrassment, closed the distance between them. A low chuckle of delight as Edward’s arms settled around his waist. “Ed-ward,” he whispered, “you did not remember to push me away when I gave a kiss to you in the snow. You will do it now? Or,” the voice became soft and husky with need, “may we be together, if you also wish it?”
Edward raised up on his toes, just a little. “Ja,” he muttered against the hot, silky mouth that tasted deliciously of sweet coffee and spicy gingerbread, sweeter still when those lips parted so that they might taste one another fully.
The only other man Edward had kissed tasted of whiskey and smoke and spice---and the unshed tears that only Edward would detect of the countless other men and women who had embraced Roy Mustang. He tasted of unshed tears, and when Edward buried his face into the curve of his Colonel’s neck he swore he could catch the faintest whiff of despair—yes, and desperation and profound loneliness. It wasn’t something he could put into words, but it was there, tangible to senses sharpened by love and longing.
Heiderich tasted so sweet, so clean, and he smelled like fresh air and snow and hope, even in the face of the crushing blows the Allies had struck his beloved Vaterland. This was a man who believed in a future for his nation, who had set optimistic eyes upon the stars, not the squalor and bitterness around him. This was a pure soul, damn it—and Edward has lost his purity at the age of ten when he saw his only brother dissolve before his eyes, crawling on his bleeding stump towards the writhing mass of twisted bone and pulsing meat that he had animated in his selfish obsession to revive his mother.
As they kissed, he drank that purity straight from the fountain of Heiderich’s heart.
Shy of this new emotion between them, they did not dare to touch, not quite yet, but it was enough. More than enough.
“I don’t think he’ll question it too much. We’ll just make sure to be discreet.”
“That will be hard, Mein lieber Freund …”
“I know. I know.” Edward rubbed his cheek contentedly against Alfon’s chest, sighing as his body began to relax—just a little—for the first time since he kissed Roy Mustang farewell in the grimy alley behind the brothel—the only place they could embrace away from the all seeing Eye that would follow Mustang’s every move, right up until their final, deadly showdown in the Presidential Palace. “Th-thank you, Alfons. For everything. For not, you know, punching the shit out of me for feeling--”
“Shhhh….mein Ed-WARD. Close your eyes. I shall be here if you have need of me.”
“I do need you,” Edward mumbled drowsily. “More than I like to admit.”
The small head on Alfon’s chest became heavy as he began to sing, oh so softly in German…
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht….
Once they had closed the door behind them Hohenheim had tiptoed back to his room, returning to the chilly parlor with two small wrapped parcels and a branch of evergreen jammed into a pot of dirt caged from flower shop downstairs. Once Gracia understood what the older man was planning she lent him a handful of pretty mercury glass baubles and a small string of twisted silver paper. “These are for trimming wreathes, so they shouldn’t be too heavy.” She also gave him bunches of evergreen trimmings and a tray of freshly made liebkuchen for Christmas morning as her own gift.
Soon as the stockings were dry he shoveled a fat orange in the toes and then crammed them full of nuts and wrapped candies before admiring his handiwork. This first Solstice in Munich—correction, Christmas—was going to be a scanty one—but everybody was a little bit hungry this year. He had managed to get his hands on a small goose, which Miss Gracia had offered to roast for him alongside the one she’d be sharing with her parents downstairs. That and some mashed potatoes, roasted turnips and carrots and a tiny bit of stollen—that was a finer feast than many would be sharing that winter.
He was about to turn in himself when his attention was snared by the muffled sound of panting. Edward had never been a delicate boy, but young Heiderich had had a bit of a cough earlier.
Returning with a blanket from his own bed, Hoenheim gently cracked the door to the boy’s room. The soft sounds that carried out into the hallway now, evidently, had nothing to do with asthma.
Face burning, he closed the door quietly. Then he gathered his coat and headed out into the darkness of Christmas eve. Even in the bitter cold, even on the eve of Christ’s birthday, he reasoned, there might be at least one woman—or even a man—who might accept a bottle of imported French brandy as payment for services rendered…and gratefully received by a lonely man, so very, very far from home…
Just before breakfast he heard the soft whimpering again. When the boys emerged, dressed and flushed and grinning, Edward looked happier and more animated than he had since crossing to the Earthside of the Gateway. Although the uncommon parallels between this young German boy and his own dear son in Amestris made him uneasy, ‘Liebe ist Liebe’ he reminded himself as the boys eagerly tore the newspaper off the matching leather bound notebooks and fountain pens he had wrapped for them—black for Edward, deep brown for Heiderich…
…and three years later I buried him. Shot in the back, just for helping me escape to my home—to my brother and my Colonel. “Cut your hair,” I ordered Alphonse. “Take his passport and clothing. Take his name for now. We’ll get Noa to get us past the border and meet Herr Lang in France, like we planned.”
“Are we really going to America, brother?” Al asked, scissors hacking away at his long ponytail.
“We can’t stay here,” I told him. “Not the way things are. ‘Sides, we’ve got to find that bomb, and Lang says the Americans might find it before we do. Maybe they’ll listen to reason and not try to use it on anybody.”
I sent Al down to the strasse, suitcase in hand. Before I handed the keys back to Gracia, I sat down on the shabby mattress that had creaked and groaned under our bodies as we clung together, the boy who loved rockets and I.. “Abschied, meine Liebe -- mein Alfons. Vielen Dank. Ich werde nicht vergessen -- nie.” I pressed his pillow to my face, faintly flecked with spatters of blood. I didn’t want to forget the way he smelled—not ever.
I knuckled the tears out of my eyes, drew a deep breath, and locked the door behind me.
I still have the journals my father gave us that Christmas morning. I still remember that look on his face that mournfully predicted ‘nothing good will come of this, my son’. Doubtless he’d have said the same thing—and worse—had he known of my love for Colonel Mustang—and the tiny flame of hope that stubbornly refused to be extinguished, even as I crossed between the worlds. Roy is my heart. I waited a lifetime to find him again. But Alfons gave my life back to me. If it hadn’t been for meine Liebe, I might not have survived long enough to find my Colonel, to see him reborn, to claim him as mine, damn it.
But even so…even so…I make my excuses on Christmas Eve and find some quiet place to light a candle. Not to some god I don’t believe in, but to a personal saint, to the boy who saved my life. A boy who loved rockets, his country and a crippled madman who babbled endlessly of another world. A boy who, like my father, did not hesitate to sacrifice his life to reunite me with my brother. A boy who asked so little—who asked only that I not forget him…and I won’t.
The church was nearly empty between the evening service and midnight mass. The man glanced furthitively around, as if waiting for the ceiling to rip open and for a bolt of heavenly vengeance to strike him to the ground. A cynical grin lifted one corner of his mouth.
The sexton noted that the man did not take a seat, heading directly towards the bank of candles that flickered before the statue of the Sacred Heart. The man dug in his coat pocket and slid a few quarters into the brass collection box at the Lord’s feet. Taking up a taper, he lit the topmost votive before pinching the wick of his taper and laying it beside the sand tray beneath the votive stand.
The lights of the Chrismon tree, just to the left of St. Joseph, shimmered on the man’s pale hair as he pulled off his hat. He nodded briskly towards the Christ Child, rosy and benevolent in his manger before the altar. “No offense,” the man told the Infant. “But this isn’t for you. This is for him.”
The voice was soft, a light, velvety baritone so faint that only the candles and the Child could hear him—at least, on this side of the Gateway….
“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht….”