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The Flooding Dark, The Evening Strange

chapter 3.
How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.—Niels Bohr

"Tell me, Inscrutable Kitten, what next?"

Sitting at the table in Ilse's kitchen, Edward rested his chin on his automail forearm, laid flat, a woeful air as he allowed a tiny black and white kitten to stalk the fingers of his good hand. The room reeked of cabbage and the remnants of a an ill- advised sausage adventure. Ilse was puttering around, cleaning up dishes with the air of one to whom This Whole Event shall never be mentioned again. At least there was beer.

"Are you giving up already?" Ilse asked with prickly sensitivity as she scrubbed a burnt pot. Although she did not know anything of Edward's quest, she knew that he was searching for something and on that limited bit of data she considered herself an accomplice and advisor.

"No," Edward said glumly. "But I think I've hit a dead end. I need to regroup."

"Eat a cookie, you'll feel better."

"With beer?"

"Trust me, it works miracles." Ilse turned around with suds on her hands, wiping them off on her apron so that she could shake a finger at Edward. "And what do you mean, 'regroup?' That sounds suspiciously like nonsense."

"I had... a bad day, I guess you'd say."

Ilse snorted, returning to her labors. "In what way?"

"Well... I went to church." Edward got up, taking the kitten by the scruff of its outraged neck as he went over to the counter where the cookie jar was, fishing out a chunk of shortbread. He'd have to just try this beer and cookies thing.

"Ah, I can see the trauma already."

That was so non-hilarious that Edward didn't reply. Instead he took a large bite out of the shortbread and chased it with a swig of Ilse's finest. "Urg..."

"Give it a minute to settle. That's a folk remedy, not high cuisine."

"Why can't you peddle in herbs the way other, um, women do?" Edward sighed as the kitten jumped off the counter and went to round up reinforcements in the form of a half dozen brothers and sisters. "I bet you made up this remedy just now to punish me."

"Punish you for what?" Ilse's tone became suddenly deadly.

"For maligning... the church."

"There's nothing wrong with maligning the church, particularly if it is a Catholic church." Like that, the thunderclouds lifted. "What were you doing there anyway?"

Looking for ways to break into an ancient national treasure. "Looking down on the city from God's point of view."

"You climbed to the top of the cathedral?" Ilse sounded impressed, despite herself. "How did you manage that?"

"I have a... friend. He's studying to be a Jesuit. He showed me."

"Ah, that makes sense. Even in Germany the Jesuits have quite a bit of power."

"He's just a brother, though. A kind of monk in training." Edward flinched as he felt tiny little claws cut through his shirt as two of the kittens vied for supremacy over his hair.

"You think that even the lowest Jesuit doesn't have power? All your friend is incapable of doing is serving communion, as far as I know. That doesn't mean he can't scheme." Ilse looked over her shoulder. "I think you could use some scheming help, quite frankly. I don't want you to start moping around here all day."

Scar, scheme? "He's not that kind of person, I'm afraid."

"So what? He can still get you into places, right? He got you up to the top of the cathedral, and that's not easy to do."

Edward blinked, moving his tied hair to the front of his chest in vain hopes that it might deter his tormentors. Scar had access... of course. "You think he could get me into the library?" Not at all what Edward wanted, but asking about it was a safe way to probe.

"The church library? Bah. That's simple."

"Can he check books out?"

"Probably not," Ilse said with a considered pause. "I'm not really the best person to ask, but it seems to me that the Catholics are not casual with their documents, even the public ones."

"Hmm," Edward pretended to sound disappointed. "The church closes the doors so early. It would take me months to read what they've got, especially if I have to wait for my friend to be around to let me in." Maybe the cookie/beer combo was working... Edward was beginning to feel almost chipper.

"I bet he could sneak you the keys... if he weren't so scrupulous. Oh well. Maybe what you want could be gained another way?"

"Maybe," Edward said with the most put-on sigh he could muster. On the inside he was elated. Scar would be the one to help him...

... assuming he could get the man to agree, that was.


Scar's room at the monastery was on the second floor, with a small window facing the city, just over one of several back entrances. The window was too small for Scar to climb out, but not so hard for Edward, climbing in. After last prayers Edward tumbled in cautiously, after waiting to make sure he would not be caught in the act. He needed those documents, no matter what.

"Edward Elric!"

In the process of getting into his night clothes, Scar was barely dressed. In fact he was naked, although that changed in the whip of a moment as crumbles of fabric were hastily arranged to cover his groin. He looked absolutely outraged.

"What are you doing!"

Edward knew how to win this game. After dusting himself off and showing himself to the floor, sitting cross-legged, he looked up with raised eyebrows and an oddly pursed smile. "No, that's not it. What are you doing? You're naked."

The outraged simmered and soon became an expression of curdled disgust. Dropping his clothes to the floor in defiant calmness, Scar turned his back on Ed and began to calmly sift through his drawers, looking for underpants. His whole posture asserted "avert your eyes," and after a minute of withering silence he spoke up, voice acid. "Just one moment."

"You're circumcised," Edward commented.

Viciously Scar pulled on a pair of underpants, threatening to do severe violence to his own crotch with the quick jerky way he pulled them on.

"I'm not," Edward added helpfully. Edward uncrossed his legs, stretching them in the air in front of him while lifting his arms high with a yawn. Inside his shoes his toes were curled. It was that kind of stretch. "Neither is Al."

"What," Scar began, his words clipped caustically, "were you doing, looking at your brother's private parts like that?"

Laughter. "Er, private parts?"

Scar turned around, abandoning the rest of his night-clothes project. "I will not say unclean words." He was one finger-point away from shaking his fist balefully. "You know what I mean."

"The last time I saw Al's penis, I was eleven." Edward's voice had the slightest edge, as it did whenever he mentioned having been that age. "It's not abnormal for brothers. We used to swim naked in a lake near our house, in the summer."

"Sounds like fun," Scar said sarcastically, but with a slightly different and more appeased tone. Childhood memories were obviously one of his sacred things, and underneath the sarcastic tone was a real note of interest. "Why are you here?"

"I need your help." Edward preferred the direct and honest approach, which was his own kind of nakedness. It didn't take him long to explain about his research into this world's alchemy, and how all of his studies thus far had led him to Köln. Scar stepped over Edward's legs and sat down on his floor-height mattress, facing the smaller boy with an expression of almost courteous attention, which for him was a blank unreadable stare and stone silence. Most people would find it unnerving, but Edward continued on. The plan itself was simple; Scar would take advantage of his position to ask for time for private prayer in the cathedral at night. This would garner him a key, which Edward would borrow, and once inside he would break into the appropriate chapel and open the tombs. Describing the details was a matter of minutes; what took longer was Ed's need to describe, in painstakingly logical detail, the justification for such an action. Of course, Edward's justifications were not moral, but ethical, based not on any faith but rather on his own personal code.

Scar, unsurprisingly, had no questions. "I will think on it," he said finally.

Edward nodded. Of course. He expected that he'd have to beguile Scar into this, and that would likely take some time. Looking around the room and its spare furnishings, Edward made a show of changing the subject. "Do you like it here?"

"I have no complaints." Scar leaned forward, resting his elbows on his bent knees and cradling his chin with his knuckles. "Do you?"

This made Edward blink, but soon he was back to being the smiling golden boy. Whatever flash of emotion he had was expertly suppressed. It seemed that Scar could still surprise him. "I don't hate it."

"But you still want to go home."

Slowly, Edward stood up. This time there was no stretch, but instead he betrayed the kind of heaviness of movement not often seen in boys his age. "Yes."

It was some time before Scar moved at all. Instead, his eyes tracked to follow Ed's movements without actually inclining his head.

Edward looked down and waited for what he thought was the obvious response. It did not immediately occur to him that there would be none, but when it did a certain frustration dawned on his face. He was struggling against himself, trying to find the right words, but also trying to hold them in. He had not lived long enough to be able to win such a battle. Eventually, he blurted, "Don't you?"

"I don't care. Maybe."

Edward hadn't made it as far as he had by being stupid, or sentimental. At least, that's what he told himself. After all, hadn't he only allowed himself the luxury of missing his world because he had promises to keep? His expression lifted, losing childlike confusion and replacing it with his own sort of knowingness. "There are still people in Ishibal. Your people."

"I paid my debt to my people." With this, Scar stood up, stepping to stand a bit too close to Edward, purposefully looming.

"What about your debt to the people you killed?" Edward truly hated being forced to look up, so he didn't. His eyes remained fixed on Scar's chest, hard gold as he crossed his arms defiantly.

"Can you really ask that?" Scar sounded incredulous. Roughly, he grabbed Edward by the chin and forced him to meet his gaze. "I am paying my debt now."

Surprise, then outrage, then a complicated mix of less classifiable feelings painted Edward's face. This was not what he expected. Not at all. Where had his upper hand gone? How was it that Scar was able to tap into his own guilt so effectively? Of all the doubts that plagued Edward's mind, one was always foremost: Do I deserve it?

Do I deserve to go home?

Something about Edward's response caused Scar to soften, lessening the pressure applied to the bottom of Edward's chin, although he did not remove his finger. It was maddening, how the man could be so modest about his body and so casual about personal space. Edward could now look down if he wanted to. "How does this.." Edward gestured, encompassing somehow not just the room but the entire monastery with a sweeping movement of his heavy steel arm. "How does all this help?"

"Penance." Scar slowly stepped back, towards the window Edward used to smuggle himself in. His finger dropped away from Edward's face, leaving the faint memory of warmth. "Is this what friendship means to you?"

"No"

"Maybe you should go."

"Can I.. can I come back?"

Scar began to shake his head in reflexive negation, then stopped, and shrugged. Again with the maybe.

After Edward dropped to the ground and found the road that would return him to his apartment, he rubbed his chin and sighed. Nothing had been settled, which he had expected. However, things hadn't quite gone his way either. Which he had not.


Three days later Edward decided to risk a return visit, this time under the revealing light of day. The monastery was not in the city proper but rather three miles out, deep in the surrounding farmlands. The landscape reminded him much of Risenburgh, gently rolling hills with sprawling squared off parcels of land.

Summer was coming; Edward could feel it in the moisture of the spring morning, a kind of heat that wanted to burn, curling around his body like a promise. Every time that Edward went on a longish walk he wondered why it was something he didn't do more frequently. The unpaved dust of the road encouraged lazy indolence, the thistles and bright flowering weeds attended to by a fair number of bees and other insects, of both flying and creeping varieties. Buzzing silence reigned. Birds with calls that were different enough from the calls that he remembered at home kept Edward's sense of being in a foreign land intact, but the scene was more familiar than different. This was the kind of day that Alphonse had best liked for playing hooky when they both had been young, begging off studying transmutation arrays despite Edward's serious objections.

Edward kicked at a loose rock and sent it skittering ahead of him on a tangential path. Every day pressed on him more heavily than the last, never letting him forget the urgency with which he had to work. Assuming that he'd resurrected Alphonse properly, now it was a race between his own abilities and those of his brother. Scar had been right; Edward was surer than sure that if Alphonse was alive he was working on a way to get Edward back, and if Edward didn't act quickly then Alphonse most certainly would.

Edward was willing to lose both of his remaining limbs, or a piece of his very soul, to make sure that it was he and not Alphonse that would pay the price of reunion.

Soon enough the wall of the monastery came into view, a building that Edward had already scoped out quite thoroughly and which stood at the crest of a broad hill as a place that was now as familiar as any in this new world. It was not ancient but it was old, and sprawling. A compound made of crumbling stone. Edward wondered a little how it was that Scar ended up here, how he had managed to be taken in and accepted despite his complete lack of familiarity with the world.

Leaving the road to take the stranding pathway meandering up the hill, Edward sighed, breathing heavily. Above him the sky was gorgeously blue, and the clouds were billowy and white. This served only to brighten the day's mood. Edward hoped that Alphonse still felt temptation on days like this.

The stone wall enclosing the monastery was only about four feet high... tall enough to define the boundary without really obscuring the view. However, because of the angle of approach Edward didn't really see beyond it until he was right there, taking the circling path around to the opposite side where the entrance was. There was the back exit leading to the gardens, and Edward smiled as he looked at the acres of recently tilled ground, barren of any vegetation. The smell of turned earth was very strong. Edward wondered what fragile crop that the monks had planned... obviously they had waited until all chance of frost had passed. A few of the brothers were out and appeared to be sowing seed.

It didn't take long for Edward to recognize one of them as Scar. The man was not wearing his typical westernized attire, instead dressed in a simple white robe over which he'd draped a dark red length of cloth, twisted around his body in a fashion clearly Ishibalite, clearly foreign. The rest of the monks wore robes but with only a simple belt at the waist. Edward raised his eyebrows; he wasn't aware that Scar would be willing to dress in so openly an alien fashion, nor that the Jesuits would allow it.

Edward wondered if it would be possible for him to scale the wall while only using one arm; he shouldn't do anything outside of that parameter. He wanted to sit on the edge, but setting for himself this limit Edward found after a few strained attempts that the wall was too high. Edward shrugged and then moved on, continuing on his original plan to present at the gate. Hopefully the hospitality that Father Ernesto had offered was still something he could take advantage of... his stomach was gurgling hungrily.

An enclave of all men... not such a strange concept to someone habituated by military life, where for every Riza Hawkeye there were at least fifty Jean Havocs. Edward was welcomed warmly by the man at the gate after mentioning the name of Father Ernesto, and ushered into a small chapel just inside the main building where he was asked to wait.

Here there was a portrait of the Madonna, a particularly fine one of a style not familiar to Edward. Madonna or Ishbala... different names for the same non-existent goddess.

She was still very beautiful.

"Aha.... there you are."

Snapping out of reverie with all the practiced skill of someone used to being interrupted in his thoughts, Edward turned around and shot a smile towards the sound of the familiar voice. "Ciao, Father," he said.

The man, Father Ernesto, stood at the chapel doorway with a pleased, welcoming grin plastered over his face. "Chemist... it is good to see you again."

Edward twitched his right shoulder, a purposeful gesture that helped him to remember to lock his arm into uselessness, and to keep his language strictly German. By now the transition from private to public face was practically automatic, triggered by the slightest intrusion. "Thank you. You too, sir."

"You are here to see Brother Timothy, I presume?"

Timothy... Timothy... Edward blinked in thought over the name, trying to recall whether there were any famous Jesuit scientists under that name... but was struck soon with a cold shock of realization. Timothy must be Scar's religious name. Offering a smile that he was afraid must look a little sickly, Edward swallowed and then answered. "Yes, of course." The pause was minute, the slip-up small... but Edward castigated himself silently nonetheless.

"He's working the fields right now. Shall I call for him?" Father Ernesto's return smile was cultivated, and almost impossible to read.

"It's not urgent."

"Ah." Dropping the smile in favour of a more thoughtful look, the Jesuit priest circled around from the door to take a seat next to Edward. "May I ask you a question?"

"Certainly." Adopting an attitude of urbane insouciance, Edward sat back, looking the other man in the eyes as calmly as possible, purposefully forgetting his previous blunder. No matter what question the man threw at him, he felt more than equal to the challenge.

"What is the nature of your association with Brother Timothy?"

Odd... "We're family friends." Didn't Scar mention that the first time he'd been introduced to the man?

"You grew up knowing him, then?"

Edward shrugged. "Well, yeah." If he considered that he'd first met Scar sometime soon after he got his State Alchemist's watch, there were ways that could actually be construed as true. "He was more of a friend of my brother, though." Edward liked using facts as a way to obscure truth; it was so much better than lying.

"I see," Father Ernesto said, nodding. "What do you think of him?"

Interesting... Edward guessed that Scar's oddness had a way of being obvious; although he'd been around Scar enough to know that the man was able to muster a passable command of German, the former Ishibalite attacked the language with a faint, unplaceable accent, and clearly retained stubborn loyalty to some of the customs and practices of his own world. Maybe Father Ernesto didn't quite trust Brother Scar. Barely blinking, with the lazy look of a predator basking in sunlight, Edward raised his eyebrows. "I think he's great," Edward said, with a dry tone that he hoped made it difficult to decipher if he was being sarcastic, or totally serious. "How about you?"

"He strikes me as a faithful man." Father Ernesto spread his hands out, palms up in a 'what can you do?' gesture. "But that's not what I was driving at. I want to know what he was like... before." The man allowed his question to trail off, looking off into the distance and gifting him with the kind of meaningful pause that religious sorts were so good at. He was probably killer in a confessional.

Annoying. But this was his chance, if he wanted to take it, to set his sights higher. Father Ernesto, with his educated logic and political manner, was probably a surer target for manipulation than Mr. Maybe. Tapping the index finger of his left hand against his lips, Edward considered the question. "You should ask him that," Edward said quietly, finally.

Not perturbed, Father Ernesto clapped a hand on Edward's shoulder. "I have. And now I'm asking you."

Alphonse was his goal, his one and only priority. How much was he willing to use Scar to that end?

Is this what friendship means to you?

The problem was that Scar took him seriously, took his offer of friendship at face value. To betray that for Alphonse's sake was not something that Alphonse would like, and separated from his brother, Edward felt more keenly than ever the weight of Alphonse's ethical code, the implicit judgment he'd receive if he did something too questionable in order to advance his own ends. Sighing, Edward looked down at his hands. He just couldn't find a way to get around it: Alphonse wouldn't like it if he sold Scar out, or used him in any way that might end up hurting him. "Don't you trust him?"

Instead of answering. Father Ernesto stood up and walked towards the portrait of Mary, turning around to face Edward from the front of the chapel. "You handle this kind of thing very well, I see."

"I just don't see the point in trying to see if there's anything I can say that might perjure him," Edward shrugged. "I mean, how are you going to know that I'm not lying?"

"My, my," Father Ernesto said. "You're even more interesting than you look." The man was smiling again.

Something about this exchange seemed off to Edward; there was something going on here that he just could not parse. "Yeah, well, thanks," Edward said, brushing aside the compliment with barely disguised annoyance. "You're prying," he said bluntly. "Why?"

"I wanted to see what you'd do," Father Ernesto said, and damn it all if the man wasn't chuckling. "I admit, I'm surprised."

"Surprised." Edward replied, tasting the word. His tone was a bit short. The man had wanted... what? "You were testing me?"

"Yes," Father Ernesto said. "Didn't you think I might find it a bit odd that you'd ask for me, instead of your friend?" Although the man's voice was merry, his gaze was searching and serious. It reminded him a bit of Maes Hughes. "I wanted to see if you'd be willing to compromise your loyalty in order to get whatever it is you want." Tilting his head to the side, Father Ernesto dropped his smile and adopted a less mannered look. "Do you find that unfair?"

How could he find it anything but? "You had invited me to discuss science," Edward said, levelly. "I'm here for that."

"Actually, I had invited the man you know of as Scar to bring you," Father Ernesto replied, just as levelly. "Do you think I would have forgotten?"

"Scar..." Edward gaped, blinking in surprise. Not Timothy, but Scar. "How do you...?"

"I am told you do not believe in the Bible," Father Ernesto cut in, not sounding at all shocked at Edward's surprise. "Perhaps you are not then familiar with the book of Timothy?"

"I read it, once," Edward said, warily. He had never felt so displaced; this conversation had taken a severe turn for the surreal. "I'll read anything... once."

"Well, let's see if you recall this." Father Ernesto raised a finger in lecture style. " For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good. Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God." The look of the priest was subtle. "What do you think of that?"

"I think it's a pretty bleak way to look at humanity," Edward said, reaching across with his left hand to clutch at his automail arm. He had to remember not to move it. "I hope you don't expect me to be surprised if that's how... Scar... sees the world." Or himself. It was everything he could do, to keep himself from curling his automail fingers into a fist. "He's told you about me?"

"Yes," Father Ernesto said, walking from his position next to the Mary-portrait to stand near the window in the corner, looking out over the fields.

Silence that stretched into minutes. Edward closed his eyes, thinking. When he spoke, his question was simple. "When?"

"The day after you broke into his room," Father Ernesto said, tone implying that he fully understood the reason Edward asked. "The day after you asked him your favour."

He could not... He would not... Edward bit his lip. There were some things which would be absolutely unforgivable. Was it possible that Scar had betrayed his whole agenda? Yes. But it was not safe to jump to conclusions. For the sake of Alphonse, and the sacrifices he wanted to save his brother from, he would not make any assumptions, nor speak recklessly at the risk of ruining everything. He would not be so careless. "I see."

"You really are grown beyond your years," Father Ernesto said, a note of real admiration in his voice, a sound of respect he hadn't heard from the man before. "Do you know why your friend chose the name Timothy?"

For that cynical verse, probably. "Because he hates himself?" Edward could not keep the faint touch of bitterness from his voice, and his eyes. It was killing him, not knowing if his entire mission here in Köln would need to be scraped.

"No, child," Father Ernesto said, the tone of his voice gentle. Priestly. Edward could tell; there was a real difference between the way the man was talking to him now, and how he'd talked to him before. Oh, why hadn't he seen it then?

It sounded like the man wanted him to say more, but Edward was at a total loss. "I give up." Opening his eyes, Edward shook his head. "I admit it; I do not understand religious people." He felt his face fall into a familiar look of resolve. "What do you know?"

"I know you have asked Brother Timothy for a favour. He has not told me what it is, however."

"Did he tell you what I am aiming for, at least?"

"No," Ernesto shrugged, then raised an eyebrow. "You might not have my trust, yet. But you appear to have his. He says that this is your secret and will not share it."

"How long have you known that he's not.. from here?"

"Since the day we took him in." Father Ernesto turned back to looking out the window. "Timothy was a follower of Paul, who was one of the apostles and martyrs of the early church. He was of mixed background... a bastard if you will. The letters that Paul wrote to Timothy were full of warning and strong words, but it was in the middle of the last chapter of his last book that your friend found a verse that had meaning for him, and it was from that verse that he decided on the name. Would you like to know it?"

"Sure."

" For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." Father Ernesto coughed a little, then continued. "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course. I have kept the faith."

"It is good, I suppose, that he is so confident of his salvation," Edward said, not bothering to cover up the trace of relief in his voice. Scar had not betrayed him. He could forgive the man any amount of illogical silliness, so long as he did not do that. "It does make me wonder how it is possible that he can be so conflicted, if that's how he sees himself."

"Ah, but he doesn't." The priest sighed. "That is simply how he wants to be. He wants more than justice. He wants to be justified."

Edward looked up, the bitterness fading from his eyes. "Don't we all?"

"Indeed we do." Father Ernesto favoured Edward with a respectful look, quite different from the way he had evaluated him the first time they met, even though then he had clearly been impressed by Edward's mental powers. "I will tell your Scar... our Brother Timothy... that he can help you if he wishes." He took Edward's automail hand. "He is seriously considering it." A smile, urbane and courteous. "Stay for dinner. We have much to discuss regarding Herr Schrödinger."


It turned out to be a long and exhausting day. Edward had a lingering lunch with Father Ernesto debating laws of refraction and reflection, the genius of Archimedes, and whether Fermat was a fool for assigning the principle of shortest light time. Edward thought it needlessly anthropomorphic to assign light any motives at all... light did not want to be fast, per se... it didn't care so long as it radiated according to its nature. Father Ernesto, however, was of the opinion that perhaps speed was indeed fundamental to the nature of light, and therefore the principle was not so stupid. In the end both men agreed that Schrödinger's math seemed to work, either way.

The idea of energy radiating in waves of curved light had many attractions to Edward. If he were not committed to returning to Alphonse, Edward would have rushed himself to Berlin just so he could see in person the marvelous ability to photograph particles as invented by those mysterious far-off Americans.

Late in the afternoon Scar returned with the others from his outdoors work, and had been called by Father Ernesto to greet Edward briefly before going off to cleanse himself in preparation for dinner. Edward thought he'd get a chance to talk to Scar then, but it ended up that he was seated along with the superior members of the order while Scar had to sit with the other novices, and during the long and entertaining dinner Edward was grilled within an inch of his life regarding colloid solutions and the work of Richard Zsigmondy, a German chemist and one of his supposed contemporaries. Apparently all of that talk about physics was a mere warm up... considering that chemistry was Edward's claimed specialty, he was asked to defend or refute all sorts of important recent work in the field.

Fortunately Edward had been keeping up in his spare time.

After spending a tipsy hour after dessert gloating jealously over the considerable roentogram collection that the Jesuits had amassed and pointing out the various flaws in technique, Edward was ready to go home. Scar had been invited over to observe Edward's mini-lecture, but he watched silently as befitted someone who didn't have the first clue about science. Edward did not want to overstay his welcome so he made as if to excuse himself, and discovered that there was a bit of controversy over whether he was fit to walk home alone, particularly considering his disability and his inebriated state. Ultimately it was decided, without his particular consent but also without any serious objection on his part, that Scar would escort him back to the city.

Dusk had passed and the dog star risen by the time that Edward and Scar exited the monastery. Jupiter in Capricorn, Mars in Sagittarius, and Venus following its own errant course as usual.

"How could you tell them?" Edward asked as he navigated the path, although his voice had something far less than an accusing edge as he swayed a little. "Are you stupid?"

Scar was holding a lantern. "I'm not gifted at extemporaneous... logic. Not the way you are."

"By 'logic' you mean 'lying,' right?" Edward burped, and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "There are lies that are good for the soul, you know."

"Like telling yourself that it's okay to break a taboo?" Scar stepped forward to steady Edward's gait by taking the boy by the arm. "I know that one already, thanks."

Edward examined Scar blearily. "You are a hateful, hateful man."

Scar merely shrugged and continued to maintain a grip on Edward, waltzing the stumbling boy forward with skilled perseverance.

Edward looked up at Scar, trying to see if he could make the muscles of his lips smile. He made several faces until he found the right one. "It's okay. I forgive you."

"Your forgiveness, it means so much." Scar did, however, return the smile, looking faintly pleased and even a bit flushed. "If you tolerate alcohol this badly, Edward Elric, why do you drink it?"

"I think it's required," Edward answered loftily, just before he tripped over a clod of dirt and pitched forward, prevented from a disastrous spill only by the intervention of Scar's grip on his arm. Edward felt something in his automail knee grind. "Stop."

Scar didn't understand what Edward meant at first and continued to tug Edward forward, but Edward stood stock still and retrieved mastery over his arm with a violent tug. "I said, stop."

"What's wrong?" Scar asked, voice strangely small. "You don't want..."

"It's not that. It's just... fuck." Edward bent his knee experimentally, and heard again the telltale moan. "I forgot to oil my bearings." Edward had forgotten this for over a month now, actually. Winry would absolutely kill him.

"Is your leg broken?" Scar sounded appropriately horrified.

"Broken? Come on. I have the greatest automail mechanic of all time. I just need to tune things up." Edward felt himself shocked into a slightly higher level of sobriety for the moment. Gingerly, Edward stepped forward, leaning over to brace the affected joint with his hand.

"Does it hurt?"

"These things never do." Edward took another step, totally hobbling. "Damn, this is going to take all fucking night."

"You can't walk on it at all?" Scar was full of helpful suggestions, it appeared.

"No, I can. I just... I shouldn't. At least not normally." Edward sighed. " I can't afford for it to break." The thought caught him with creeping terror. What would it mean to really be a cripple? For good, with no hope of a fix? Edward shivered. Yep, that was enough to drive the effects of alcohol away, conquered by adrenaline. "This is okay." Edward took another step, favouring his leg with a lot more care than he really needed to, always far more solicitous to his artificial limbs when they were in danger of breaking than when he actually needed to care, when they were working just fine. This had happened to Edward once before in this world, but even that had not been enough to shock him into regular daily maintenance.

Scar watched as Edward took a few steps like that and then shook his head. "That's no good. I can't take all night just to make sure you get home safe."

Edward waved Scar off. "Wait some and then go back. I'll be okay, really. I don't need a keeper." Edward grinned, his eyes glinting in the lantern light. "Anyone who wants to rob me is going to be shocked, utterly shocked, when I pulverize them... with my fist." Edward curled his automail hand into a fist and brandished it lovingly, with an insane little laugh. "Fist!" Okay, maybe he was back to being a bit drunk. Edward wished he had more control over his body's chemistry than this, but oh well.

Scar stepped in front of Edward and knelt down, patting his shoulder. "Get on. I'll carry you."

"No way." Edward blinked, and then turned beet red. "No. Fucking. Way." Edward was no child requiring a piggyback ride, for fuck's sake.

"I'm sure you'd do the same for me," Scar said dryly. "So come on."

"That's... humiliating. I'd never." Edward shook his head violently.

"Never live over the shame of getting home safely so that you can fix your leg and get back to working on what is really important to you? I see."

There was a very meaningful pause. "I hate you."

"I think you must be my best friend ever," Scar said with a little sarcastic edge to his voice. "Now get on before I have to knock you unconscious and carry you anyway... in my arms."

"You wouldn't!"

"Oh, try me." Scar stood up and started to walk toward Edward slowly.

Edward suddenly had visions of Scar carrying his unconscious self back to town only to realize that he didn't know where Edward lived. Damn, the man was just not thinking. "Fine, fine. I'll do it. But only because you'll get lost otherwise."

"Lost?" Scar stopped, looking confused. Edward took advantage of the moment to get behind Scar and press down on the other man's shoulders.

"Get down here," Edward grumbled.

Scar complied, bending to one knee and leaning forward. If there was even one wisecrack, even one, Edward would take his automail fist, his very fist, and box Scar's ears. Edward put his arms around Scar' neck and then, after a moment hitched himself onto the other man's broad back. Scar twisted his arms around Edward's legs and stood up. Suddenly Edward was seeing the world from Scar's vantage.

God, he hoped he was heavy. Crushingly, impossibly heavy. The kind of heavy that made grown men cry, or perhaps sparkle, as best fit their wont. Edward wanted Scar to have tears of pain in his eyes as he moved forward, the path to Köln becoming the man's own personal Golgotha, crowned with the thorns of Edward's total ruling immovability.

Scar stooped forward at a very acute angle, bending as if Edward weighed no more than a feather, leaning towards the lantern where he'd set it down. "You carry the light." Edward grasped at it with his automail arm and picked it up viciously, holding it out as far from Scar's face as he could. He tried to resist the urge to beat the man on general principles. It was so unfair.

"Can you see?"

"Um... not really." Scar turned his face and Edward could see the blind dazzlement in the other man's uncomfortable squint. Well... it was not Edward's fault that his arm was not made of some resinous polymer that stretched to a reasonable distance.

"Put me down a sec."

Scar dropped Edward gently, and Edward carefully extinguished the light. Fortunately there was a full moon and the sky was clear. "Let's sit here a minute and then go when you can see well enough not to drop me."

Edward did not sit down, however. Neither did Scar, who did not seem to see the motions that Edward was making, first inviting and then commanding him to sit. Eventually Edward gave up in disgust, and inclined his head upwards to look at the mantle of blackness supporting and sustaining the stars.

Together they waited, the moon shining over a scene cool and quiet. They stood still and side-by-side, succumbing to the natural human impulse to scan the night sky. Scar made a small, deep noise when a meteor burned in radiation from Lyra, a fizzling droplet of light that described a most satisfying arc. Edward swayed, his eyes adjusting to the scarcer light with increasing acuity. If there were no moon perhaps the path of the galaxy would be easier to see, but without the moon it would have been impossible to move without the help of a lamp. The moon was helpful but also an obstruction, brightening up the night earth at the expense of the universe beyond, closing down the ceiling of the sky and defining more narrowly the limit's of man's sight. Even light, it seemed, functioned according to the laws of equivalent exchange.

After a few minutes Scar again kneeled and Edward moved forward silently and wrapped his arms around Scar's neck, to be hefted once again. Maybe it was not so awful to be carried... not at night, anyway, when the dark hid much and no one was likely to be around to see.

Although Edward had wished for it and resented it for it being not so, he came to find it comforting that Scar didn't seem to find him heavy. The man did not shift to readjust Edward as the miles passed, not even once, and Edward found himself getting sleepy because of the unchanging pace and the warmth of Scar's body... not to mention the residual alcohol pickling his brain.

Edward decided to rest his eyes a bit.

"Where next?" Scar whispered at one point, and Edward blinked. Somehow he'd dozed while Scar was tending to him and now they were in the city, well past the open and unguarded gate.

Giving a few simple instructions, Edward shook his head to wake himself up, feeling a kind of careful embarrassment as he realized that there was drool on Scar's shoulder. "See? Lost." Maybe it would dry up before Scar noticed. "Aren't you glad you didn't knock me out?"

"I wasn't really going to do that," Scar confessed. "That was a bluff." The man sounded as if he was admitting to highly classified tactical information.

"You don't say," Edward whispered. It was almost charming that this was the extent, probably the full extent, of Scar's deviousness. "Turn left."

A few people did see them as they passed, but not enough to make Edward feel like this was all a horrible mistake. Bed was calling, and Edward was glad that he was almost there. So glad, in fact, that the very thought of it was enough to wake him up some. Scar smelled like... well, like soap, and a little like sweat. A warm smell for a warm body... Edward shivered a little.

After several turns and many hundreds of yards of cobbled streets, Edward spied the house where his flat was and pointed it out. Scar walked him all the way into the gate and (after further instruction) up the outside stairs, stepping quietly so as not to wake Ilse or the other tenant (an irritable retired violinist who seemed to hate all of humanity).

"Here you go," Scar said quietly, stopping in front of the door painted in peeling blue paint.

"Signed, sealed, and delivered," Edward replied, sliding off Scar's back slowly. "...Thanks."

Scar turned to look down at him, tilting his head sideways. "Did you have a good day, Edward Elric?"

"It was interesting." Edward fingered his automail arm absently. He still felt tired, dead tired. But somehow he was reluctant to just go in. "Yes."

"I hope Father Ernesto was not too hard on you."

"No... not really." Edward stifled a yawn. "I bet he was a punk like me, back in the day."

"There's no such thing," Scar said softly. The other man leaned back on the unsteady railing and looked up at the stars.

"As what?"

"A boy...mm, punk, like you." Scar said quietly, still looking away but then turning his head towards Edward, investigating him in full. His voice sounded almost nervous. "You're... very unusual."

Edward wrinkled his nose and grinned. "That's either the nicest thing you've ever said to me, or the most ridiculously brazen."

"You pick," Scar said, his unfathomable smile returning no answer.

"All right." Edward winked and then yawned, this time in earnest. It appeared that he could not help it, his body ruled in all instances. The reluctance heightened as he realized that sleep was inevitable. "I think I need to crash."

Scar nodded, and then paused. "I... I won't be at church this weekend. But I'll be there the next." Hesitantly he put forward his hand in farewell. The pale light picked out the other man's features like those of a carved Syrian relief. "Until then?"

"Alright." Edward took the hand and shook it, and then stood and watched as Scar walked down the stairs and towards the street. He did not turn in until the other man rounded the corner at the far end of the street.