Alfons has always been entranced by mysteries, obsessed with solving puzzles. From earliest childhood his mother found him taking apart small household appliances, trying to figure out how they were made and what made them work as they did. He has ever been fascinated by the far-away stars, dreamed of not only beholding them from afar, but somehow traveling into the sky to be with them, to see their glory from up close and discover the secrets they held. It was no surprise to anyone, really, that he would take an interest in science, study engineering, and go on to dream the grandest dream that the men of his age could conceive.
He knows everything there is to know in the field of rocketry, of thermodynamics and propulsion physics. He can reverse-engineer an unfamiliar engine in a matter of hours, and he can read the most technical of blueprint drawings as though they were a newspaper.
But there's still one thing he can't understand, no matter how hard he tries, and oh, he does try. He cannot figure out Edward Elric, and the mystery only renews his determination for the study.
Alfons is a scientific man, and Edward is his paradox.
And he is a paradox. At times Alfons cannot fathom his ignorance of the subject matter, of certain fundamental scientific principles. He seemed never to have seen an internal combustion engine in his life. He is slow to grasp the significance of energy transformations, he has no notion of aerodynamics at all—and some of his ideas about chemistry are primitive beyond belief, backwards.
There is no academic institution in all of Europe who would turn out such a poorly prepared scholar. Edward is always vague about where he received his education, and Alfons suspects that he hardly received any instruction at all except privately, from his famous, yet eccentric father.
Yet at other times, Edward displays a genius so startling, that it leaves Alfons humbled in its wake. It is not just natural brilliance—although he has that too in plenty, racing ahead to absorb an entire university's worth of courses in a scant few months—but also some mysterious means of insight, some unfathomable source of inspiration. More than once he has glanced at a design that has frustrated Alfons for months, maybe even longer—and with a few casual words, reduced the entire foundation of what Alfons thought he could do with it to rubble, while rising up a new and even more fantastic idea in its place.
Alfons is an artistic man, and Edward is his muse.
At first he took in Edward out of pity, compassion—it was obvious when the boy turned up on his doorstep that he was at the end of his rope. No family, no connections, no money, no resources at all; only a battered suitcase full of notes, a trunk stuffed eerily full of spare prosthetics, and a hunger in his stomach that bordered on starvation in his eyes.
He took him in, and allows him to stay free of rent, for in all this time Edward has still acquired no funding, heard nothing from his distant and estranged father, established no job. It's not surprising, that last; this time of poverty is hard for everyone, and there are too few paying jobs for the hale and experienced men, let along one maimed and drifting youth. But it does make their situation harder, eking out an existence for two on an income hardly suitable for one, to say nothing of their experiments; if not for the charity of their landlady, the kindness of the greengrocer down the street, they would have starved long ago.
He took him in, fed and sheltered him and granted him the dubious pleasure of his company, and Edward has clung to him with a surprising fierceness, considering how standoffish the boy is with others. Yet as the months creep by, Alfons has come to wonder if he does not need Edward even more than Edward appears to need him.
Because Edward carries with him a hint of the alien, of the exotic, that defies the dreary mundanity of their existence. He speaks only in bits and patches of his past, but his injuries, his nightmares give mute testimony to experiences far beyond the ken of a simple German university student, struggling with machinery. His hints of genius speak of something transcendental; his scars bear witness to trials of Biblical stature.
Alfons is a religious man, and Edward is his sacred talisman.
Although nominally a Deist, like so many of the great thinkers who preceded him, Alfons has never really had it in him to believe in the myth of a great Creator, an all-powerful deity who wills the universe into existence. Science is too practical, too ordered to allow such an irrational being as that to exist.
Edward denies the existence of God too, but his is a different kind of atheism. Where Alfons' disbelief is a quiet thing born from lack of evidence, Edward's defiance is a thing of passion, of rage. He denies God so vehemently, so violently that it gives Alfons a glimpse of some strange, strange old pain inside him, something that makes him wonder to himself as to its source. It is the very passion of Ed's denial of God that leads Alfons secretly, in the dark of the night, to doubt his own doubt.
With Edward's presence, in the brief flashes of his brilliance, Alfons can believe for the first time that anything, anything is possible. His dreams, always so high-off and distant, seem almost close enough to touch, bare thoughts and words away from completion. With Edward's words, the weakness of his body, the dulling certainty of his death, the grey dismal apartment around him lifts away; and the space between them is filled with stars, singing in the perfect harmonies of celestial physics.
He comes to live for those moments; fleeting contacts during the days, the touch of a hand on a shoulder that forms a bridge from him to eternity.
Alfons is a dying man, and Edward is his lifeline.