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herongale

The Flooding Dark, The Evening Strange

chapter 5.

The next three and a half weeks were absolute torture, on all scales. Scar had decided, unilaterally, that it would be best to postpone requesting the key for at least that long, so that it would not be suspicious when he finally did. This was one of only many personal flourishes that Edward had to endure as his plan was modified for, as Scar had pointed out, "optimal results."

When it came to plotting, Scar was a lot more hands-on and practical than Edward had expected. Although Edward had planned on seeing if Scar could find out how to open the tomb, the other man dismissed this idea as completely reckless and had ordered... ordered!... Edward to figure it out on his own, suggesting that he look into forming a relationship with one of the two regular custodians at the cathedral.

Although Edward had already done that, it had never really occurred to him that someone as lowly as a cleaning person would have knowledge of how to open the tombs... that seemed like something that would require another key and probably a high priest. Scar had scoffed at Edward's religious ignorance and had hinted at classist failings on Edward's part; attitudes that pissed Edward off to no end, particularly when he found out that Scar's suggestion had been spot-on. Apparently the Catholics thought nothing of entrusting access to certain holy mysteries into the hands of faithful laity, for the simple and depressingly prosaic reason that the seal on the tomb needed to be periodically checked in order to preserve the bones. Although Edward would have assumed that experts would be required for that, Scar had pointed out that all of the experts of note were off playing in France and Italy.

No, it had not helped Edward's mood at all when, after only the most rudimentary probing, the custodian named Bernard had given Edward not only a detailed description of the procedure involved in accessing the tombs, but freely catalogued all of the contents as he described their sublime beauty. Discovering through the testimony of a first-hand witness that there were piles of decaying manuscripts exactly of the type he was interested in was only moderately comforting, and it didn't even help to know that the next scheduled inspection was some five years off, even though that gave him security against the one part of his plan he'd never been to clear on... how to keep his theft from being discovered until a long time after he was gone.

There was something very, very irritating about Scar's lack of gloating when Edward finally admitted to him that he had been right.

The worst part, the absolutely worst, was Scar's insistence on being in on the break-in itself. Edward wanted the man to simply hand over the key and ask no questions when it was returned intact in a few days. Scar's opinion, however, was that it would look amazingly suspicious if he didn't actually go to the cathedral on the night he requested access for... well, whatever it was that religious people did when given a large and presumably holy space for spending their amazing amounts of guilt. Beat their breasts?

This had precipitated a furious, if quietly argued, fight in Scar's rooms one of the several nights that Edward found himself breaking in to go over the details of his grand plan. Edward wanted Scar to just go over to his apartment on the night in question and wait things out there, but nooooo: Scar had decided that someone needed to stand watch, ready to help out if necessary. Ultimately Edward was compelled to cave in (which he did very gracelessly), because under no circumstances was Scar planning on letting him get anywhere near to touching the key, a fact that drove Edward crazy. Not because it implied any limits of trust on Scar's part... the very fact that Scar was willing to go this far belied that... but because it deprived him of the autonomy that Edward felt belonged to him by birthright.

Maybe even more worse than the worst, worst of all was that there was no more sex or sex-like activities. Scar seemed completely uninterested in initiating anything, treating every subsequent visit by Edward as a kind of pre-op planning session, displaying a militant single-mindedness that outpaced anything he'd ever seen in actual military personnel (except, perhaps, Riza Hawkeye). Was this how a person became a terrorist, by treating oneself as a one-man army? Edward could almost envy Scar his facility in compartmentalizing his life so thoroughly, dividing shame from lust... and lust from action.

But after having had a taste of what it meant to have another person touch his cock, Edward found that mere masturbation had become a lot more frustrating (if no less effective). Locking himself into the bathroom so that the kittens couldn't watch, Edward would stand under the showerhead and jerk off violently. It pissed him off that Scar's body came to mind so much more readily than that of, say, Winry. Although Edward could safely say that Winry's face and look were burned into his mind, never to be forgotten, he'd never touched her in that way and that made fantasizing about her dull when compared to the fresh sensations his mind wanted to browse.

Sometimes Edward and Scar met during the day, too. Usually for coffee or a lunch. No covert actions were discussed during these meetings; instead, Edward spent inordinate amounts of time drawing Scar into his world of Alphonse-related broodings. It sometimes occurred to him that such talk might be boringly repetitive, but Scar seemed to have endless interest and therefore it all seemed okay. These were just about the only times that Edward wasn't on the brink of either strangling or raping the man, even though it still sometimes felt surreal to be keeping company with someone who had once blown up his artificial arm and half of his brother's body without breaking a sweat.

When the chosen day finally arrived, Edward was hard pressed to maintain his authentic atheistic cred because of an almost irresistible impulse to get down on his knees and praise every god that he had ever heard of for the fact, the joyous fact, that he had managed to get through all this time without committing a capital felony on his co-conspirator and one-time-only sexual partner.

Breakfast was yogurt (a milk-product of dubious repute), lunch was sandwiches and grape juice, and dinner was postponed for strategic reasons. By four in the evening, Edward feared that he was far too anxious to eat, filled with nausea and bilious worry. What if something happened to Scar? Like... what if he tripped over his robes while planting his strawberries or whatever and ended up with broken wrists, a bite through his tongue, a smashed nose, and probably seizures and a subdural haematoma? What if he got caught up in reading St. Augustine's Confessions and became so moved by all the hair-shirting that he started to cry like a baby and forgot the time? Or what if he met up with this world's doppelganger of Alphonse (Edward just knew there had to be one) and, inadvisedly besotted, had strapped the poor boy to a bed and was busy sucking his dick? These were the kinds of thoughts that made him want to tear out his brain.

At ten minutes after four Edward left the flat and made his way to the strategy café, a place where he'd hung out many times in the past few weeks which happened to be conveniently situated within visual inspection range of the entrance to the cathedral. This was the place he'd spent so much time with Scar (and even more time on his own), polishing his cover persona as an eccentric and brilliant scientist who happened to be harmless, completely harmless, thank you very much. So, it would not be unusual for him to study there now, study in such an abstracted way that no one would think it odd that he stayed until dusk. When the café closed, Edward would leave, but only to go to the strategy restaurant just down the corner, where he would take his usual spot near the window and gorge himself on sauerbraten until he puked.

Discretely, Edward took notes. Each person who entered the cathedral was documented, given a identifying cipher such as "red hat" or "questionable pinstripes," carefully annotated in the back cover of the book he was pretending to read. Whenever that person left, Edward would find his code and cross it off. This way he could keep a running tally of whoever was coming and going. Initially, Edward planned on doing this from the crack of dawn on the day in question, but Scar had pointed out (in annoyingly smug fashion) that he'd never be able to sustain that kind of level of surveillance without looking suspicious. Scar would know about stalking, Edward supposed, so he took the man's advice (albeit reluctantly) and started later in the day, despite carrying a nagging fear that some superhuman churchgoer was escaping his cataloguing. Every now and then a person left who had not been on the "input" tally, and those people were vengefully written in a column entitled "SEE?" which he intended to show to Scar sometime in the near future, after the mission was complete.

Once Edward saw Bernard locking up the cathedral, he settled his tab and, very casually, went to hide in some bushes (unfortunately not very close to the entrance). To the best of his knowledge, every person entering had been accounted for, and the cathedral was now empty. It took some time for him to find the confidence to cross the open court of stone and stairs... but eventually he did, made occult by the lack of strong lighting. Tonight the stars were not out, concealed by thick clouds. Not far from the main entrance was a recessed alcove; dressed in black with bright hair covered with a hat, Edward felt himself relatively obscure and safe as he waited for Scar to arrive.

Without a watch, Edward could not know the time, but it was probably around ten o'clock when Scar arrived. Edward watched in silence as the man crossed the courtyard unhurriedly and went directly to the front doors, letting himself in. Edward waited about five minutes before he followed, moving swiftly but holding himself upright, as if he had every right to be there. Standing under the vaulted entrance framed by foreboding statues of the church's saints, Edward restrained a shiver. Carefully he tested the far right door; swallowing nervously, he let himself in.

Expecting everything to be black, Edward had forgotten about the candles, the prayers of fire left behind by the faithful. There was the feeling of a winter night festival in the light, ruby and blue as it glittered through colored glass. More candles than Edward would have imagined were lit; and there was Scar, dropping coins in the collection box so that he could light more, distant in the echoing silence of the vast church.

The man had almost no money, but Edward knew for a fact that the little stipend he did have went almost entirely here; it was rare for Scar to drink more than tea when spending time with Edward, even now that the alchemist had brow-beaten Scar into a Dutch-only payment policy. And now he was at it again.

"I like that light," Edward said as he stepped up behind Scar, who turned to face him, expression unreadable. As usual these days, Edward's eyes were immediately drawn to the healing cut on the right side of Scar's chin, the gash only recently closed and still scabbed over. It was not pretty. The good thing was that it didn't extend to the mouth or nose, and that it was a relatively clean wound, only slightly jagged. But it seemed more than shameful that rationale for the name 'Scar' was now restored by the work of Edward's hand: the wound would certainly leave a mark that the man would wear for the rest of his life.

"Do you? Good." Scar held up his lantern, not yet lit. "I have this if we need it."

"Probably we will." Edward made as if to step closer, but then paused. To cover his near-slip, Edward dug into his pockets and pulled out a few small coins, dropping them into the collection box and then lighting a few candles. Already he could feel his bile rising, all of the annoyance that he'd nurtured over the varied, disruptive ways that Scar was interfering with his life coming to the fore. Scar's matter-of-factness made clear that what had happened the one time that Scar had become so... familiar... with him was anomalous, unusual. Edward, who had been more than willing to assign at least some level of comradely meaning to the whole affair, felt more than a bit insulted that Scar seemed to assign no meaning or think about it at all. Even the wound was never mentioned, and Edward hadn't yet found the nerve to ask how Scar had explained it away.

"I see," Scar said, after a prolonged pause. "Shall I light it now?" Cool, professional indifference.

"Please." Edward could play this game too; had, for the last several weeks. Hostility masked as politeness marked his retort.

Orange, ugly light wicked into being, drowning out the evanescent flicker of the gentle candlelight. Scar turned from Edward and started to walk towards the main aisle, going further into the nave of Kölner Dom. Edward followed, staying on the outskirts of Scar's parameter of artificial light. He did not need Scar to lead him to the shrine, but there was an attraction to staying behind and being led... Edward's stomach was fluttering nervously again. He wanted so, so badly for this to turn out well, and feared the oppression of a hostile universe wanting to frown upon his goals and condemn him to a lonely, brotherless fate. Although not religious Edward could not help but be a bit superstitious, and it seemed to him that his own strong desire could somehow defeat him if he did not keep it assiduously in check.

Once situated in front of the golden tomb, Scar turned to Edward. "I can help if you'd like."

"That's all right." Edward held out his hand. "Just give me the lamp and sit over there." Edward pointed to some pews nearby. "I don't think this will take very long."

Retreating into the role of an audience member, Scar stepped out silently, doing what he was told although his face wore a judgmental frown. Edward took a deep breath, wanting to say something more, but his priority was clear. Examining the tiny gold figures on the tomb, Edward decided to wipe Scar and his dourness from his mind. There were two panels; the smaller on top for Caspar, and the larger for the part of the tomb that contained Melchior and Balthasar. Edward reached forward and felt for the hidden seam, and after a minute of careful probing found the first latch.

Opening the panel was easy, but after that was done Edward was at a bit of a loss. Shining the light on the inside revealed a jumbled mess of artifacts plus a smooth rounded object that could only be the top of a skull. It would not do to just start feeling around in there; Edward didn't want to accidentally cause damage to the remains of the dead, whoever they might be. Experimentally, Edward tugged on the platform at the base of this part of the tomb, and was surprised and not a little bit relieved to see that it could be pulled out.

Bones, gold relics, ancient wealth, and the scent of spice. Under the heel bones of the dead was a moderate sized folio. Edward picked it up and carefully opened it, slowly pulling out one sheet of paper by the edge. The paper was like rice, ghost-transparent and slightly rough. Hebrew letters peeked out at him, familiar to him as the work of a kabbalist. Edward had seen many lesser such works already, and his fingers tingled.

A tear came to his eyes. This looked authentic, real.

Never had he felt so close to Alphonse. Surely this, if anything, was true tikkun, true restoration. Touching the words was like reaching out to his brother, the gate that separated them palpable even if invisible. Theurgy through sacrifice of pieces of the soul was the promise and the threat, the only true magic this world had to offer. The careful letters bleeding into the page, painted in shadowed gold that gleamed tremulously in the spitting lantern light, holding words that promised power. This was power that Edward would make his own.

"One out of three manuscripts secured," Edward called out, reporting to Scar the status of his search, not able to completely smooth the emotion from his voice.

No response. Well, who cared what Scar thought anyway? This was good news and Edward stood unashamed, if tearful. So close.

Restoring the bones that the church claimed belonged to Caspar, Edward went to work on the other two tombs and had similar success. Really, it all seemed so easy. Dusting the last folio off and putting it into his knapsack, Edward experienced an odd mixture of elation and feeling cheated. The simplicity of the task made all of the work he'd gone to beforehand seem so cheap... if the information contained in these manuscripts was what he expected it to be, having his search turn out so well at the end seemed like an unsatisfactory ending. Edward had to remind himself that there was still much left to do; having the manuscripts was one thing, but translating and understanding them quite another. This was not the end, really, just an end. The real conclusion would be when he held his brother in his arms again and knew that he was real, alive, and hopefully whole.

"I'm done," he announced, and then walked over to where Scar waited, watching him silently. "Let's go."

Instead of standing up, Scar gave Edward a look that was almost sad. "Can we stay a minute?"

"What for?" Edward found it hard to keep the edge out of his voice... he was eager to look at the paperwork as quickly as possible, and had thought that he'd go with Scar back to the monastery to decompress before getting to work. Hadn't Scar had enough time to pray, if that's what he wanted to do?

"I... I don't expect I'll be seeing you again," Scar said quietly. "I just wanted a moment more." He stood up, looking away. "But you're right. We should go. This is... selfish of me."

"Selfish?" Edward felt his lips tingle numbly, all sense of irritation fleeing.

"I'm sorry, Edward Elric." Scar began to walk away slowly, head held straight without turning. "I'm sorry you had to tolerate me, even after..." A pause, a shrug, indicating what could only be broken sentiment. "But now you have what you need."

"Tolerate you?" Edward hefted his knapsack and quickly followed Scar, grabbing his arm from behind.

The man stopped. The muscles under Edward's hand twitched but he was not pulled forward. Under those muscles were bones, bones not unlike the bones of the dead. "At first I thought you liked... what I did. But now I know that I was wrong. I apologize." A sigh. "I hope I have made up for it some, but it is best that I am left in your debt. Easier for you, not to have to see me again."

Edward blinked, his cruelly biting desires of the past weeks becoming plain, the fulfillment of his frustration now bearing fruit in: rejection. But, rejection on false pretense, based on wrong data. "I liked it," he said, cutting to the core with hesitating conviction.

"Please don't pretend. It's... insulting."

Insulting? That was Edward's line. He had worked himself into sublime fury over Scar's supposed indifference, only to have it thrown in his face. "I mean it," Edward said, and underlined his sincerity by leaning forward, resting his forehead on Scar's back, feeling a pang as his cock pulsed with passion that demanded to be unleashed. Hollow laughter rose in his throat and was unwillingly released. "And here I was wanting to rape you all this time."

Edward winced as soon as the words were out. The word 'rape' didn't sound so good when said out loud, and he wanted to take it back. Too flip, too aggressive, and kind of mean.

The lantern was pulled out of his hand and set down with a clang as Scar turned around quickly. This flowing motion was followed by Scar placing both hands on his shoulders and forcing him to step backwards until his back clanged into one of the large marble columns that were the main support of the cathedral. "You are very strange," Scar whispered, his voice resonating with harsh and complex undertones. "I do not think I will ever understand you at all." Scar pressed his body against Edward's, overwhelming him with warmth and need, lips pressed to the top of Edward's head with weight like stone after an apparently aborted attempt at kissing him on the cheek.

"Let's stay a minute, after all," Edward whispered, pressing his cheek into Scar's chest and his left hand onto Scar's flank, stroking with burning friction through the other man's clothes, slow enough to make his fingers itch.

A minute. A few. Alphonse could spare him this, surely.

Scar was pressing his groin against Edward's, bending his knees to find the right place, which was hard because whenever he had it Edward slipped sideways against the rounded back of the marble column. This happened several times, and Edward felt himself grow hot even as the touch Scar wanted remained tantalizingly out of reach. Growling a bit, Scar put his hands under Edward's arms and lifted him up, spinning around. Before Edward knew it he was set down on the seat of a pew, brought up to a standing height slightly higher than Scar, looking down with wonder that had no time to become outraged. "Wha...?"

"Like this," Scar whispered, pulling Edward down so that he was the one bending his knees, if only a little. The arms wrapped around his waist held him tight enough to create resistance, and understanding dawned as now he was able to grind his cock more comfortably against Scar's. The other man was easily as hard as he was. Edward wrapped his arms around Scar's shoulders and bent Scar's head forward, chin to chest, so that he could bury his face into white hair, fragrantly clean but also with the faint scent of the oils of the scalp, a scent as indescribable as it was instantly identifiable. The last time Edward had experienced anything like it was before Alphonse had become the armor, in those too-brief times of innocence when they used to sleep in bed together.

It was not like he'd ever done this with Al, however. Edward moaned, the sound echoing accusingly through the massive structure of the cathedral. God, if he existed, was watching.

They rubbed their bodies together like this for a while, and it felt good, so good, even if insanely perverted. Sweat dripped from Edward's forehead and underarms, his whole body damp with desire and overheated in all of the clothes that were currently constraining him. Scar was sweating too, although not as much, his body apparently accustomed to higher levels of heat and ethnically less endowed with the kinds of glands that made people with skin as pale as Edward also more vulnerable to discomfort from all kinds of warmth.

But... it wasn't going to work. Not like this. After a bit, panting, Edward pulled back, pushing Scar from him gently even as he raised his hand to touch the cut he'd made so many weeks ago, feeling the increased heat from heightened blood flow as the man's skin worked, even now, to heal itself. Scar looked up at Edward, not flinching even though the wound was probably still smolderingly painful. Brown-red eyes met Edward's, and the stare that seemed fixing to beat him down was intense. Scar still kept his arms around Edward's body, holding him like he owned him, holding him up and bringing him close.

Scar was looking up at him, and Edward looking down. Edward touched the bones under the skin, marking a line from jaw to cheekbone and then up to the temples, over the forehead and between the eyes... the spot where the man's former scar used to cross. It had been an unusual scar, not like any normal wound-mark, too superficial and smooth and also too clearly demarcated. Alchemical, in fact. Exploring Scar's face caused the man to loosen his almost desperate hold on Edward's body, and eventually the Ishibalite stepped back and put his fingers under the front of Edward's waistband. "I could..." Scar started, looking down.

"Do it," Edward interrupted breathlessly.

Scar nodded, not looking up. "Hold on," the man whispered as he started to open the front of Edward's pants, with a bit more skill than he'd had the first time around. Not more practiced, obviously, but a bit more confident. "Hold on to me." Obediently Edward leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Scar's shoulders, lowering his head so that he could put his mouth on the other man's neck. Scar's muscles were so thick; it was like they were made to be bit. Edward opened his mouth and treated Scar to the saliva from his tongue as well as the encircling of his teeth, wanting to mark...

"Careful," Scar cautioned, even as he pulled out Edward's cock, handling it cautiously. "I can only cover up so much..." Damning the priests, the world, and all the gods who might be looking on, Edward retracted his teeth reluctantly and resorted to kissing instead, lips soft and needy. He couldn't even suck, then, which was totally unfair. Looking down, Edward decided to distract himself by watching what Scar was doing.

It turned out to be well worth watching. Edward panted as Scar gripped his penis between the fingers of his right hand, holding the palm of his left hand up in front of the cock as a kind of shield. Apparently there would be no coming all over Scar's street clothes. Scar's fingers, which were probably large enough to jerk off a cock the size of his forearm, were quite carefully arranged to give Edward the maximum sensation possible, thumb rubbing over the top of his penis and tugging the foreskin back and forth while the first two fingers squeezed along the length. The motions were all synchronised, so that Edward felt his cock pulled forward in a motion that was approximately like thrusting. Edward loosened his hips and helped, a low whine beginning at the back of his throat as he thrust forward in turn, wanting to tag something substantial and poke into something soft and giving. Why couldn't it be Scar's mouth down there, or...

Edward's eyes opened wide as it occurred to him. Fucking. Real fucking. Men could do that. Had been, for fucking centuries.

The idea of conforming to historical precedent, coupled with the masturbating he was getting, was enough to make Edward spontaneously come. Sticky white semen shot out from his cock into Scar's palm, covering the wrist down to the fingers with glistening grossness. Edward gasped, collapsing forward and becoming totally relaxed as Scar's handjob motions slowed and finally stopped. Words... Edward wanted words. The first that flashed through his head were 'I love you,' but these he did not say, catching himself just in time before saying things he totally did not mean.

Because, he did not love Scar. Sure, he liked this. A lot. And also he was growing to like the man. But love him?

That was ridiculous. Very, very ridiculous. The only people Edward really, truly loved were Alphonse and Winry and Aunt Pinako. He had loved his mother, too, loved her with the full force of his idealism and youth. Maybe, maybe he also loved Sensei. But not anyone else, not really, and certainly... certainly... not Scar. Edward would not be at all surprised to find out that Scar didn't really love him either. So words of love were out, and would need to be stringently guarded against, because Edward felt his will to be quite weak just after orgasm. Still breathing hard, Edward searched for something, if not meaningful, at least something. "I... I..."

Scar pushed Edward back and into a standing position, steadying the boy's wobbliness by placing his right hand on Edward's shoulder. Scar then lifted his left hand to his mouth, and with his eyes meeting Edward's he started to lick his own wrist and the heel of his hand, cleaning up Edward's come without making a single face at the bitter taste. That was so sexy and hot that, even spent, Edward moaned. Transfixed.

One thing was certain, Edward didn't want to have to wait a whole month before this happened again.

Reaching forward with his automail arm, Edward cupped Scar's hand, first to support it and then to draw it forward. Sucking up come was degrading, and if Scar was going to do it then Edward would too. That was the sort of thing comrades did, and Scar was his friend now. Edward licked the rest of the semen off, not bothering to hide his own curled expression of distaste, and was rewarded with a return moan.

Oh yes. Scar must still be hard. "Do you like this?" Edward asked, deciding to let Scar dry off his now clean fingers by lifting the man's hand to his hair and encouraging him to wipe. This was not by-the-books penetrative sex, but it was dirty and perverse. It seemed a shame not to call it sex, really. Edward leaned in, and daring much, put his tongue in Scar's ear.

"Yes, oh yes..."

Whatever it was, Edward adored it.

"I have an idea," he whispered, leaning back to mouth the words, before finishing his lingering lick. Edward then jumped down off the pew, short once more, and went to buttoning up his pants. Picking up the lantern he promptly extinguished it, and then grabbed his knapsack, arranging knapsack over his right shoulder and lantern in his right hand. "Let's go."

"Now?" Scar said, voice strained and heavy. Getting rid of the light meant that he could only judge Scar's body by the faintest flicker of violet-tinged light limning his form, faint from the far away candles. Edward could only guess the look that Scar must be wearing on his face.

"Yes, now," Edward said, reaching forward to rub his hand against Scar's belly, drawing a line from navel to cock, and then turning to walk out down the aisle towards the entrance of the church. He would make the other man follow him like a dog, and that would make Edward feel so sick and wrongfully perverted that maybe he'd get turned on and hard all over again.

In fact, he started to feel it, a little, the first sensation being a blush that just could not leave his body. Edward wanted to whistle as they passed by the madonnas and the crosses and the racks of glowing candles. He wanted to dance as they passed the pews and the stained-glass saints, looking down in black colorlessness without even starlight to give them life. He wanted to sing, as they stepped under the organ pipes that hung heavy over the back wall. Scar was following him and would not stop, would not leave him, would not go away never to see him again. It was triumph, like beating God, even though Edward didn't believe that God even existed.

Denial was sweet.