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herongale

The Flooding Dark, The Evening Strange

chapter 7.

On the long day, Scar had all the time until early evening before he had to return. So Edward lay with Scar, relaxing for some time. They bathed, separately, and then lounged until Edward felt horny again. Then they had some more sex.

The post-coital thing, that was really something. And after multiple orgasms it seemed that the effect was additive. So now when Edward laid on top of Scar's body, he was fighting the strongest urge he'd ever felt to nap, nap even though he wasn't really that tired. This had to be an after-effect of all the hormones that had been secreted into his blood, some kind of barely receptive lethargy that felt both wonderful and maddening. Wonderful, because it would be soooo nice to sleep like this. Maddening, because he couldn't; if he fell asleep then Scar might too, and it seemed to Edward that part of his responsibility, as both a lover and as a comrade, was to make sure that Scar didn't get in trouble because of him.

So, then. Talk. Talk would keep them awake. Edward was curled on one side on Scar's chest, straddling the other man's belly and twisting his spine at the waist so that he could finger the practically hairless skin of the man's chest. Well, sure, Scar had hair... but it was baby-fine and almost impossible to see unless looking from up close. That must be one of those ethnic traits of the people of Ishibal. Even Edward had more hair, although not very much more... maybe it was half a millimeter longer? For the Elrics, at least, any robust ethnic tendency to body hair was neatly countered by a more specific genetic legacy (from his mother's side) of natural fairness and a fineness, almost androgyny of form. Shaving was something that neither Edward nor Scar needed to worry much about.

"Hey..." Edward whispered, covertly drawing alchemical circles since Scar wasn't looking. "Hey."

"Yes, Edward Elr... Edward?"

Edward kissed Scar's chest as the man fumbled his name, finding it kind of endearing. "Have you ever been in love?"

Scar, who had been stroking Edward's hair, stopped suddenly. Slowly Edward was coming to see the man's pauses as a kind of animal response, the shock of a predatorial creature suddenly confronted with an unexpected new object or thought. So Edward waited, allowing the man to collect his thoughts, wondering what he would say. It did not occur to him wonder if Scar thought he was asking if the man were in love with him, because he completely wasn't, and therefore no flush of embarrassment touched him. "...Yes," was the final, considered response.

Edward nodded, rewarding Scar's answer with another kiss. "Who was it?"

"I'm not sure I want to talk about it," Scar said. An unacceptable response; Edward turned his head to gently bite Scar's nipple, using just the faintest pressure from his incisors as a kind of friendly threat. The man needed to talk about it; there would be no sleeping allowed.

"Tell me," Edward whispered. "It's okay. I probably don't know her anyway."

Sighing, Scar did not resume petting Edward's hair. "But you do. Or, did. Well.... sort of..."

Edward sat up, shifting his groin so that he could sit on Scar's chest and look into the man's eyes. "I knew it!" Edward replied, not able to restrain a bit of gloating. "You loved Lust, didn't you?"

"Not her," Scar said with a negating shake of his head, closing his eyes against Edward's penetrating smile. "... who she used to be, though... yes."

"She was your brother's woman." Edward raised an eyebrow, and then moved to kiss Scar's neck. "You're pretty bad, do you know that?" Edward was finding it a bit hard to criticize, however, because he was so distracted by the deliciously even coloring of Scar's skin, so much better than any tan. "That's just... awful." His lips and tone, Edward hoped, were reassuring, even though he was finding it a bit fun to tease the man out of his congenital seriousness.

"I knew her first," Scar said, sounding defensive.

Finding a red mark where he had kissed Scar earlier, Edward went back in for a repeat performance at the same site. "Knew her... in what capacity?"

Scar frowned and didn't answer right away. Edward licked Scar's skin, laughing a little in triumphant delight. He was so good at this. It was probably criminal that Edward could be so right all the time, going directly for the hard questions that would leave Scar squirming. Just as he was doing right now.

"Come on," Edward urged. "I won't laugh," he said, although he was not really sure that he'd be able to hold back if the answer was too silly. How bad could it be, though? A woman was a woman. Knowing one was not any kind of crime, right?

Well, unless she'd been a prostitute... Edward bit his lip. Oh, god, if that were the case... he would not be able to restrain himself.

"She was my teacher," Scar said finally, his tone so uptight and formal that Edward knew that he really couldn't laugh, not unless he wanted to be hit. Apparently this was as sensitive an issue as... well, Edward's height (or lack thereof). Edward took a deep, calming breath.

"How old were you?" Edward asked, deciding to be curious and interested despite Scar's clear reluctance to talk about it.

"Twelve." Scar sounded sullen.

Aw... Edward felt all humor melt away, replaced with a kind of helpless pity and a burst of sudden affection. Probably she'd been like some kind of mother figure for him. That wasn't the kind of thing to make fun of, not even in his mind. It wasn't right. "How much older was your brother, anyway?"

"Thirteen years," Scar said, reluctantly, but a little less wounded-sounding as Edward's questioning shifted into softer tones.

"That's a pretty big difference," Edward said gently. That much, and it probably was like not having much of a brother at all, but rather a kind of quasi-parent. A tough position; if Scar's mother had actually lived long enough to raise him, it was questionable whether he'd have even known his brother that well. People in their twenties tended to be less interested in family and more interested in finding themselves, unless there was something wrong that forced them to take responsibility.

Like having no mother. "He never blamed you, I hope?"

"Never," Scar's voice was vehement. "He was a good brother."

Yes. Edward supposed he'd had to have been. "But still, he fell in love with your teacher." That must have hurt and felt a lot like betrayal, especially to someone so young. Edward closed his eyes. Sometimes, sometimes he enjoyed being right. But that often meant that he was good at guessing the unspoken words, and that gave him more sorrow sometimes than he really knew what to do with. So sometimes he hated it. "What was she like?"

"Wonderful," Scar whispered. "The kindest person I have ever known."

Edward kissed Scar on the cheek, a soft kiss with no tongue. "I'm sorry she died," Edward said, meaning it thoroughly. That was clearly the event that set Scar on his tragic course for vengeance. Not just because of his brother's actions, but because of his own sorrows. It would have been like... well, like losing a mother twice.

"Who's yours?" Scar asked, turning his head but not rejecting the lips on his face. "Who do you love?"

"I don't know," Edward said honestly, pushing the hair out his eyes as he considered the question. "I used to think it was Winry, and probably it still is... but I'm not sure."

"Who's that?"

"A girl I grew up with." Edward sat up and flexed his automail arm. "She made this." Taking his left fist, he knocked his metal shin. "And this."

"Is she pretty?"

Edward nodded, and made a face. "Too pretty. She knows it, too. Totally insufferable." Scar reached to stroke Edward's cock, and Edward arched his spine backward in pleased vindication. "That's nice, keep doing that."

"What does she look like?" Scar's question was idle and calm; now that the spotlight was off him and his quasi-pathetic, quasi-tragic juvenile love affair, he was looking up at Edward with some pleasure, one arm under his head to prop it up.

"Hmm... her hair is blonde, but lighter than mine... long. And she has blue eyes."

"A kind of girl version of you, then?"

"What?!" Edward stopped luxuriating in what Scar was doing long enough to give the man a deadly look of warning. "I said blue eyes."

"Totally different." Scar smiled up at him, and Edward was a bit surprised to see that the man was not immune to doing a little teasing himself. "I see."

"I don't think she's as pretty as Lust, though," Edward admitted, deciding to get a little of his own back. "Lust had a kind of... aura. A sexy aura." Sliding his ass back off Scar's ribs and onto the soft part of belly, Edward moved back in to lean over Scar, allowing his hair to curtain the man's face.

"It's not right to speak of the dead like that," Scar said, but his breathing was a bit deeper. Edward leaned in close enough so that he could feel the air leaving the man's mouth.

"You really did love her, didn't you?" Edward whispered, remembering the last time he saw the homunculus and how she had helped him fight his dead mother... Sloth. Hadn't she said, in the last words that he could recall, that she even had memories of being a woman of Ishibal? Edward decided that telling Scar this would be far too cruel. What good had it done him to learn that Sloth was able to remember little bits of her past as his mother, after all, other then to open up another avenue of deep guilt to explore? "I am sure she was worth it."

"Yes." Scar's breath mixed with his own, his very life in the word. "Yes."

"Winry is actually beautiful," Edward whispered, moving to kiss Scar's... forehead. He thought about going for the lips, but at the last minute lost his courage. "Very beautiful. Don't ever, ever tell her I told you that, though."

Scar nodded, accepting the chaste kiss by reaching up to finger Edward's throat. "Does she know about Alphonse?"

"Does she?" Edward's tone was very, very soft. "Sometimes I think she it the only person, other then myself, who really knows what living in the armor is— or was— like for him." He smiled sadly. "Alphonse was always in love with her, from the earliest I could remember."

"Oh really?"

He nodded. "We used to get into fights about who would get to marry her, when I was six or so. But it turns out she didn't want to marry either of us. What a loss for her, eh? Too... mmm, immature. She said, anyway."

"I'm sure she was not so mature, herself." Scar agreed easily, touching one side of Edward's voice box, and then the other, touching the bumpy cartilage as Edward felt himself assaulted with a need to swallow.

"Absolutely not. Mechanics are not made to understand the workings of scientists, anyway."

"And vice versa?"

"We understand the workings. We even understand the motives... Alphonse and I." Edward sighed a little, and Scar stroked him, finger going down his chest to his cock. The feeling was delicious. "We just never could understand the drive."

"I think she loved you," Scar said, smiling with a look a bit sad. "I think she loved both of you. Probably she just could not choose."

"Maybe." Edward nodded, and then moved down so that he could play again with Scar's cock with his mouth. "Maybe."


It turned out that the kittens never made an appearance in the bedroom. With lazy obedience to the passing of the hours, Scar eventually got himself dressed. Edward watched from the bed, and only when every scrap of clothing was in place, did he get up to do the same. The whole process took some time, and it was a good quarter hour later before the two men were on their way out the door. Victim of a nap deferred, Edward yawned a little as he walked Scar down the outside stairs.

And there was Ilse, stomping down the walk, carrying a small bag of groceries and cursing prolifically.

Edward pointed her out. "Look, there's a blonde woman. Do you think that makes her look like me?"

"All you yellow-haired people look alike to me," Scar said, with a small shrug, but the tiny hint of a smile on his face prevented Edward from snorting out a protest.

"Edward!" Ilse called out, clearly ready to ask him to grab the groceries, when she saw Scar standing there. She looked up, gaping. "Damn, you're tall." Her attention shifted to Edward, never one to stand on ceremony. "Is this your Catholic?"

"I'm afraid so," Edward replied, stepping forward to take the groceries without even being asked, using his left hand to take the bag by the handle. He didn't mind helping out when Ilse forgot to browbeat him into it. "He loves kittens, too."

Thumbing her chin, Ilse stepped up to Scar and look him up and down carefully as Edward moved to take the groceries inside. "You're properly set up, not like the runt over there," she said loudly, leaning to make sure that her offhand remark was heard loud and wide. "It's a shame you're religious."

"Runt?" was the last thing the alchemist heard Scar say. Edward slammed the door behind him, plunking everything down in Ilse's kitchen, and moving quickly to go back outside and tell off that old shrew with some really good insults he'd stored up for just such an occasion. However, on his way out he became distracted by a pile of kittens sitting near the fireplace.

So that's where they were. The mama cat was dozing underneath them all. It was... an infestation of cuteness.

"Come here, you," Edward said, picking up the Al kitten by the scruff of its neck, waking up everyone as he took the squirming bundle outside. "Look," he said, waving the kitten at Scar as if showing off a prize fish he'd just caught.

Scar didn't say anything, but his eyes became suspiciously soft and shining as he held out his palms. "Take him," Edward instructed, showing off the flap of skin at the neck. "And hold on tight. I don't want him to run off."

"Are you looking for a cat of your own?" Ilse asked, all potentially flirtatious behavior replaced with that of a shrewd kitten-giver-awayer.

Scar didn't answer, instead holding the little bundle of fur up near his face and examining it carefully, doing exactly as Edward had instructed except he was also supporting the kitten by its bottom. "Does he have name?"

"No," Ilse said, at the same time that Edward said "yes." They looked at each other, and then reversed their answers, contradicting one another again. This caused Scar to eye both of them.

Edward stepped forward. "No, he doesn't have an official name. But I named him Al."

"Ahh." Scar began petting the ball of fur gently, not seeming to mind as it batted violently for his nose. "I can see the resemblance."

Ilse looked at Edward. "You named him after someone?"

"Another kitten," Edward said, shrugging, putting his hands in his pockets and suddenly feeling embarrassed. "A very big... kitten."

Scar petted the kitten fondly for a few minutes, seeming oblivious to the world. But eventually he held it out to Ilse, not swinging it around like Edward had but rather as if presenting the woman a fine and rich gift. "I'm sorry. But I don't think I can keep anything like him at the monastery. I'd love to, though."

"Think about it," Ilse said. "Find out for sure."

Edward brushed his floppy, damp hair back, trying not to sound eager. "Yeah, find out."

Scar gave Edward a funny little look, and then nodded. "We'll see."


Three keys have not been handed over to any messenger: of childbirth, of resurrection, and of rain.

The hours of studying were long, long. There would be no opportunities for mistakes, and Edward knew that the critical component of alchemy... or, as this world called it, magic... was in understanding. Everything important flowed from that, and as Edward delved deeper into this parallel science of the miraculous, certain insights were won by him. Often Edward forgot to eat, and his sleep time was becoming more and more fractured... it was only the fact that he continued to schedule visits with Scar that he maintained any appropriate connection to time at all.

Days, and then weeks, passed.

Like alchemy, magic seemed to lack the power to create life. Carefully translating from Hebrew the words of the texts he had stolen, reading along as he went, Edward slowly he pieced together the mystical aspects of this world's power. It seemed ironic to him that all of this information was couched in the language of faith, but perhaps it was not that surprising... the great British anthropologist of myth, James Frazier, had pinpointed sacrifice as the turning point in the evolution of magic... and in this world, sacrifice had become inexorably tied to the gods.

Alchemy had its roots in sympathetic magic, a simple association of like with like, superstitious and spurious connections of certain powers with certain objects, along with the belief that to manipulate the world was to draw a line between unrelated things and bind them together. But somewhere along the way an important piece of wisdom was gained... in connecting things to imbue one of them with a certain quality, that quality had to be stolen from the object to which the connection was made. That is, if it was to be granted to the object that the magician wanted to transform.

In one world, this process was called Equivalent Trade. In another, Sacrifice. And in such difference of words, the severing of perceptions had occurred. Trade was something that could be achieved with the tools of natural law, but a sacrifice was something that needed to be offered up... and for humans, what universal entity existed for the receiving of such sacrifices, if not their own self-made gods?

Edward used to be able to make spears out of sand. The price, the trade for that? The energy of the human soul, stolen from the world of sacrifice.

It was all quite interesting. Edward sat in his pajamas in bed, surrounded by reams of papers and reference books, wearing glasses from time to time for when the text was particularly small. When he studied, Edward locked out the kittens, not suffering to allow them anywhere near the priceless manuscripts. He kept water and a few bites of food on a table by the bedside, but always he washed his hand both before and after eating, wanting to prevent unnecessarily accelerated destruction of the papers from any excessive oils on his fingers. Actually, Edward ended up using his automail arm a lot, as he flipped from page to page, jotting barely-legible notes on separate blank sheets of paper with his uncooperatively messy left hand.

Of all the types of sacrifice that the humans of this world had created, few schools of mysticism had been able to produce true magic: one such was that of the Jewish Kabbalists. This was because the basic concept upon which it was based was similar to the core concept of alchemy... trade between objects, or worlds, as mediated by the understanding of a skilled practitioner who happened to know the tools for the trade. In both worlds the tools were written, but also in both worlds they were tools that could be written on, or contained within, the body— for the tools were mere symbols, and symbols could be transcended.

To read the words which contained the power he needed, Edward found himself going through pages and pages of... bible commentary. At first it drove him absolutely insane. It was not logical and clean, not like the scientific papers he had become accustomed to reading. But in between all the crazy and somewhat scandalous stories of the early people of YHVH (such as all the humans having sex with angels, the incestuous love triangles, or the discovery that it used to be acceptable for girls to be married off at the age of three, as Rebekah had been, to an obviously stalwart founder of the faith— the lecherous forty-year old Isaac), Edward was finding hints of compelling truth. That which was commonly styled as the power of God was nothing more than the ability to make fruitful that which had been thought of as impossibly barren. The power to spin life out of nothingness, to connect the gates separating world from world— and life from death— using nothing more than the power of God's own holy name.

But what is a name? A name is simply an incantation, power encoded into sounds and lines.

This, this was the truth that even the Kabbalists tiptoed around, because they shared with their less mystical Jewish brethren a reverence for God that Edward was not at all burdened by. God did not exist. By trying to access a power outside of themselves, it was no wonder that people had been unable to find the keys to childbirth, or resurrection, or rain. But through hard-bought experience and many, many losses, Edward knew something that most people didn't: the only power that man had to spend was his own. As finite and as limited as that might be, it was real power.

Power didn't have to be just about destruction, fire, and death. Power could be healing, but only at a cost.

In the world of the living there were six gates, corresponding to the six directions: up, down, north, south, east, and west. Like a ladder these gates were connected. But this was not the whole story, nor the sum total of gates to which there, theoretically, might be access. Edward considered the following passage:

Rabbi Yehudah opened, saying Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Have you seen the gates of deep darkness? (Job 38:17). This verse was spoken by the blessed Holy One to Job when he saw Job tormenting himself over divine justice.
Come and see: Job said "he will slay me (lo ayahal)"— written lo, no, with an alef; read lo, in Him, with a vav, encompassing all.

The blessed Holy One replied, 'Am I the one who kills human beings?' Have the gates of death been revealed to you? So many gates stand open on that side, controlled by death— all concealed from humanity, who are unable to protect themselves from them and are unaware of them.

Have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Who are the 'gates of death?' And who are 'the gates of deep darkness? Actually, 'death' and 'deep darkness' are one, a single coupling: death, as has been said, Angel of Death, as has been established; tsalmaret, darkness, tsal maret, shadow of death, riding upon it, its shadow and potency, coupling as one single nexus, becoming one.

All of those rungs issuing from them, linked with them, from their gates. As is written above: lift up your head, O gates! (Psalm 24:7)— those gates being rivers and streams, six directions of the world— so too there are gates on the other side, well known rungs ruling the world. Gates of death, gates of the shadow of death— one female, one male, the two of them as one.

All this the blessed Holy One declared to Job in response to all the words he uttered: so whoever goes down to Sheol rises no more (Job 7:9)— and all other such words. The blessed Holy One said, Have the gates of death been revealed to you?

For some, the words might be read as a warning. But Edward... Edward saw in them an invitation. His answer to the question, 'have the gates of death been revealed to you?' was... different... from that of most people. Unlike someone like Job, who had been a sufferer and complainer but not much of a doer, Edward's answer to the hypothetical God questioning him was not No, but Yes.

Yes, Edward had seen the gates. And yes, he had risen from them.

That was the inherent mystery of magic, the door barring it from being effectively practiced by most people. Because what few had ever found the will to go so far, to descend into death and rise up, bloody, taking back power as a prize? To do so one had to be both a scholar and a warrior, but that was not enough— in the end, to perform the kind of alchemy that Edward needed to learn, there needed to be something more substantial than wisdom, something stronger than idols or gods created by man. Edward needed words, the words that spoke not to his fellow man but to the universe... words that would entreat for him, words that would send him home.

And for this... there was only one word with enough power: Edward's own name.

If God (who did not exist) would not lend him the keys to His own holy name, then Edward would simply have to use up the power in his own.

To master the Angel of Death, and its attendant shadow, Edward would give it his name as passage fee. And then he would go to Alphonse, knowing that to go home might do little more than send him to death in his brother's arms. But that... that was necessary. That was justice. Because Edward knew the truth now. He knew the truth. He did not want his brother to pay that price, and would prevent it by whatever means necessary.

No one wanted to die, not really. Sure, sometimes people wanted escape, and sought after death as a release from unrelenting suffering. But who would choose oblivion over an end to suffering? People gave away their lives for the simple, depressing reason that they lacked the will, or the power, to find a way out of their pain. And thus with Edward... he would die if he had too, if that meant saving Alphonse... but he wanted more than that.

So... he would have to keep studying, and studying hard. He would find the truth that he wanted to know, and do his best to discover the full price before paying it. That was only smart; that was how adults managed in the world.


"Why did you make me wear this hideous thing?" Edward complained, tugging at the necktie intent on strangling him. "I don't see why anyone will care."

"Well... they won't." Edward and Scar were walking down the early morning streets of Köln, the sun only barely risen and few people out, because it was a Sunday and everyone was sabbathing. Scar was dressed in his usual severe blacks and whites, looking rather sharp despite the plainness of his clothes. He too was wearing a necktie, one of sanded black silk. The man carried a few books, bound by a leather strap. "I just thought it would be nice if you dressed up properly."

"You thought?" Edward stopped, kicking at the cobbled street. "I'm doing this for you?"

"Basically... yes."

Edward lifted his hands up to undo the tie violently, but Scar reached out to put a hand over the boy's automail arm. "I thought you couldn't use this thing in public?" was the man's voiced concern, but his unvoiced 'concern' was sweet and smirking.

Reluctantly Edward dropped his arm, forcing it to hang limp. Damn. Usually he was so good about it, too. "I can take it off one-handed," he informed Scar brittlely, making as if to do just that.

"Don't," Scar said, and the fake sweetness was replaced with real pleading. "It's important, honestly."

"When do kids fucking care what people are wearing?"

"That's not the point." Scar took a deep breath. "They might not mind, true. But they'll notice if you make an effort."

Every other Sunday, it turned out, Scar was forgoing the joys of Latin tedium and orgiastic organ-playing in order to tend to children at an asylum for the lame. Against every one of Edward's expectations, Scar had actually braved the wily knowingness of Father Ernesto and had asked for permission to keep a kitten, the Al kitten, as a favour to Edward. Perhaps the man had tried to frame this as THE favour that had been asked of him, but Edward hoped that Scar was not that stupid... there was no way that a person with Ernesto's acumen could possibly be drawn in by such a transparent ruse.

Edward wished, he really wished, he knew what all that Scar was admitting to in his weekly confessionals.

In any case, somehow Scar had gotten Father Ernesto to agree, but the agreement was conditional on Edward's offering up a visit or two to the asylum where Scar served. The overt reasoning offered was that Ernesto hoped Edward's success story as a thriving scientist would be inspiring to the children, but Edward suspected that there were covert attempts afoot to convert him from committed scientist to faithful Catholic Jesuit priest. Not on Scar's part... the man seemed completely uninterested in evangelizing any faith, native or otherwise. No. Higher powers than Scar were fascinated in Edward, fascinated by his obvious gifts and his potential for giving an impassioned and appealing testimony because of his status as a cripple.

Edward could feel the distant powerbrokering and subtle manipulation here, and resented it. But for Scar— and the kitten— he'd endure wearing the damn tie. Besides, how awful would it be to spend some time with kids? Surely they had no terrible Machiavellian agenda.

"What do you want me to do, anyway?" This was probably the fifth time Edward had asked this.

Scar shrugged. "Whatever you want. You can just listen to me read, if you like."

Edward blushed, furious and yet a little turned on. Scar's advice was non-advice, anti-advice... it seemed to take everything that the meaning of the word "advice" contained and shook it on its head. Besides, the idea of sitting in a group of kids as one of them was just infuriating. "Maybe I'll read and you'll listen," Edward threatened. "How do you like that?"

"If you like," Scar said, repeating himself, but he stopped to smile at Edward, face lighting up with the kind of affection that only seemed to flare up whenever Edward was being particularly transparent.

"What do you read to them, anyway? The bible?"

"Sometimes."

"Damn, that's dull." Edward thought about all the begets and begats and went into mental spasms, his cerebrum twitching with horror. "Why torture them like that?"

"Some of it's pretty good," Scar said with another shrug, anti-emotion to couple with his anti-advice. "They really like Revelations."

Edward raised an eyebrow, deciding to pull out the big guns. "Hmm... 'And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.' The Whore of Babylon stuff? That?" He laughed. "You should be shot for reading porn to impressionable children."

"It's not... it's not what you said. It's a... a guise."

"I think the word you're looking for is 'allegory'. No matter. The youth of Germany shall forever be corrupted." Edward shook his head, pretending to be overwhelmingly sad. "But you know what? I'd read them that."

"We're not trying the Bible today," Scar said, attempting but failing to secure a neutral tone as he appeared to grit his teeth. "So don't even think about it."

"Maybe some Dorothy Parker poetry, then?" Stepping up in front of Scar, holding out a hand to halt him, Edward smiled and began to recite some trendy English verse:

In youth, it was a way I had

To do my best to please,

And change, with every passing lad,

To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know,

And do the things I do;

And if you do not like me so,

To hell, my love, with you!

Scar didn't at all get it, of course, because Edward spoke in a foreign tongue unfamiliar to him, but clearly the man knew a mocking tone when he heard it. Narrowing his eyes, Scar kept walking and pushed Edward out of the way, shoving him to the side with a glare.

"I will not allow you to contaminate the minds of innocent, impressionable children with your godless, bawdy-sounding rhymes," Scar said, shoving the books at Edward and forcing him to take them. "You will read these, if you want to read."

Edward took the books by the strap, smiling at Scar intently and licking his lips as he turned to follow his lover down the street. Not bad, for a narrow-minded wanna-be prude. Not bad at all. "The Brothers Grimm? Hans Christian Andersen?" Edward held the books up before his eyes to read the gold-embossed lettering on the spines. "You're reading fairy tales?"

"Is there a problem with that?" Scar still sounded irritable, and so when Edward caught up with him he made sure to bump into Scar's body before taking up his position walking side-to-side, a friendly nudge.

"Not at all. I've never really read any of these before, though," Edward admitted, a little reluctantly because he liked to be known as an omnivorous scholar of unparalleled depth and breadth of knowledge. Hadn't he just proven his chops with both a bible quotation as well as currently popular imported (and racy) poetry? It was all Alphonse's fault, really... Edward had developed the bad habit of studying late and waking early, only sleeping a few hours every night because it used to give him more time to entertain his brother, and this meant that he was always, always reading something these days. Even when he was not technically studying.

"They're... nice," Scar said, a small flush creeping like a vine over his body.

"Oh? Do you have a favorite?"

"Yes."

Edward bumped into Scar again, shifting his hip so that it slid into the other man's thigh, a brief glancing touch... the maximum level of outdoors flirting allowable. 'Which one, smartass?"

"... The Queen of the Snow."

Edward had heard of that one... under a different, totally non-lame title. Narrowing his eyes, Edward gave Scar a look. "You mean The Snow Queen?"

"What's the difference?"

"One's the title, the other is just... ridiculous."

"I see," Scar said, and then he began to mutter in the Ishibalite language, words that Edward couldn't even begin to understand. It was a language he'd never bothered to learn. Edward felt somewhat ashamed for showing off his abundantly generous facility for language, including that of German, and the shame was even more acute for feeling a desperate curiosity about what, exactly, Scar was saying about him in those words that he did not know.

"That's the one I'll read to them, then," Edward said, repentantly. "Would you mind?"

"I am a foreigner here," Scar said slowly, ignoring Edward's question. "More so than you."

"True." Edward looked down, embarrassed. "Look, I'm sorry..."

".. and I do not have your kind of brilliance." Scar started walking more quickly, his longer legs making for a punishing pace. Edward would almost have to run to keep up, and he did, starting to feel angry in turn.

"So?" Edward caught Scar's eye, turning to flip Scar a aggrieved look and making sure that the man noticed that he was breathing harder, pumping his legs in a jog. "I'm smart, but you're fucking tall. Slow down, hot shot."

Twisting his lips to the side, putting them together tightly, Scar stepped back to a normal pace... except, as Edward noticed, it was not really his normal pace, but one that was carefully measured so that Edward could keep up without straining. He'd never really paid attention to that aspect of Scar's gait before.

"Do you honestly think I could beat you in a race, unless I cheat?" Edward asked, feeling like he was laying his soul, his very soul, bare. "Some things just can't be helped."

Scar took a deep breath. "I know. That is an accurate thing to say. But still..."

"Still, it's not nice for me to make fun of you by talking above you in languages you don't understand, or to laugh at how you sometimes screw up the ones that you do?" Edward sighed. "I know that too. I really am sorry."

Scar nodded, and then turned away from Edward. "Sayeh shoma sangine shoudeh," he said, carefully pronouncing the words. "Your shadow is heavy on me," he translated, sounding sad. "Too heavy. That's what I said, in my language."

Oh. "I'm not someone you should want to live up to, you know," Edward said. "It's not like being smart has won me any prizes at life." He looked down at his arm, blowing air out of his nose in a suppressed, self-mocking laugh. "Quite the opposite."

"There is a story... a kind of fairy tale, but for both children and adults, that the people in this world have. It is for telling big stories, stories about the gods. I don't know the word..."

"Fable? Myth?"

Scar considered the two words, weighing them with the consideration of a person who, lacking in native understanding, was careful to be precise. "Myth," he said at last. "Yes. Anyway, it is about a man who steals fire from the gods, and who is punished by being chained to a mountain where he is eaten alive by birds."

"That's Prometheus. One of the Greek gods, actually..." Edward trailed off, feeling stupid for being so smart. Did he not know when to just shut up?

"You are like that," Scar said. "Isn't that what being an alchemist is like?"

"Maybe..."

"Perhaps the closer you get to stealing the secrets of the gods, you have to suffer. Maybe that is the price. But... but that is not like me. I never stole any secrets. I merely... unleashed them."

"Like Pandora?" Edward closed his eyes, bit his tongue, hating himself for being the biggest show-off showy person in the world.

"I don't know who that is."

"Another one of the... never mind. Well... She was the first woman, created to punish Prometheus through his brother. She was given a box and told not to open it, but Prometheus' brother let her... and in that box were all of the horrible things that can afflict mankind.. plagues, evil thoughts, everything. The Philosopher's Stone is a kind of Pandora's box, isn't it?" Edward paused. "You created it, and then gave it to my brother... I guess, mmm... that would make your analogy very fitting."

"I do not like being compared to a woman," Scar said stiffly.

"But she was so good looking," Edward said earnestly. "It's a compliment, really." Stuffing his hands into his pockets, heedless of the damage this was doing to his image as a person with a non-functioning arm, Edward made a face. He felt like something inside of him was goading him to continue, goading him to be witty and funny instead of understanding and kind, and he hated it. "You know, I'm not that smart," he said presently.

"And I'm not so stupid as to believe that," Scar replied. "False modesty is cloying."

"No." Edward shook his head. "That's not what I meant. I am stupid in that I make the same mistakes over and over again. I'm afraid..."

Scar looked at Edward, meeting his eyes for the first time in minutes. "You're afraid?"

"Yes. That I'm doing it again. ...What if? I want to go home, but what if that turns me into a monster? It could, it totally could. Or... or, it could extract some price from Al, some price I haven't calculated, but something that would punish him further. What if it did?"

"Are you giving up?"

Edward felt his eyes harden and his voice was glinting as he spoke. "No. Absolutely not."

"Then don't worry about what might happen," Scar said, but he did not shrug or make any of his usual noncommittal gestures, instead walking next to Edward with eyes that looked up, looking at the sky and the heaven beyond it. "Those who want to steal something big, like the moon, or fire, must be willing to pay for it. This is the one thing I know to be true." Scar's voice held deep, compelling, even heart breaking passion. "You and your brother, you are in it together. Do not worry about what price might be extracted from him, because he is willing to pay that price too. You... cheapen... yourself, and him, to wish it to be otherwise."

Edward mmmed, taking his hands from his pants slowly, quickening his pace just a little so that it would be more of a compromise walk. "Why don't you read the story?" he said softly. "To the children. I'd like... I'd like to hear it."

Smiling, finally, the man looked away.