The house that Scar led Edward to was large but nondescript, on the opposite side of the town from where Edward was staying. Approaching, Edward felt a rare surge of nervousness... was he really prepared to meet twenty or thirty small replicas of himself? Most of the children were polio victims, but a fair number would be casualties of the recent war... missing limbs, blind, or tragically concussed; and, according to Scar, all but a few were without any kind of family support. None, however, had committed the sins he had.
Before Edward could truly wallow in his qualms, a cabal of around two or three mid-sized children filed out of the front door, demure and dressed neatly in sturdy clothes. The oldest, or rather, the tallest, was a girl who appeared to be about fourteen, and she stepped right up to Scar and hugged him. Her broad smile was attractive and almost hid the fact that she walked with a limp due to a foot deformed at the ankle. The other two children soon followed suit, a boy and another girl, both around eight. One had crutches and the other braces on her legs, but seemed to be ignoring these challenges in order to welcome 'Brother Timothy' charmingly, their high-pitched voices blending together into a cacophonous and fairly unintelligible greeting. It was a friendly scene of familiarity: one which necessarily excluded Edward, who waited by patiently and tried very hard to resist the urge to tug on his tie.
When the greetings were over, the children turned as one to face Edward expectantly. Scar waved him over and placed a hand on his shoulder, pushing Edward forward as if presenting a rare and exotic prize. "This is Edward Elric, a friend of mine." Scar's hand was heavy on the automail junction of his right shoulder, but the sensation was not painful so much as it was reassuring. "He wanted to meet you all. Please say hello."
"I'm Dora," the tall girl said with a listing curtsy, and then pushed forward the other two, who revealed themselves to be Carl and Nixie, respectively. Each child used voices both small and shy, but the way they employed their eyes was completely unpretentious and searching, revealing the kind of hungry curiosity that had not yet become stained by any guardedness. These children were, despite their wounds and flaws, still profoundly young. Suffering without sinfulness; was this what that looked like?
"It's a pleasure to meet you all," Edward said, bowing with a flourish. "We are here to feed your addiction to fine stories."
Predictably, this caused all three of the children to giggle, and Edward knew that he'd passed the first stage of the secret acceptability test. Scar gave Edward an approving, if mildly exasperated, glance, but before he could say anything the girl Dora insinuated herself between the them, taking Scar's left hand and reaching down to take Edward's right. As soon as her small fingers curled around the non-human automail she blinked and turned to Edward... but, instead of paling or becoming scared, she offered up a slowly delighted smile, as if pleased to discover in this stranger a kindred spirit. Following the smile she then gave him a curious look, seemingly to silently inquire as if his metal limb was a secret, her eyes darting to the side towards her smaller companions in an involuntary query.
"Yeah, go ahead," Edward said with a soft smile. "Tell them."
Dora lifted Edward's automail arm, causing Edward to instinctively make it limp as she shook it. Dora flapped his hand at the wrist as she waved it in excitement at her friends, causing a grinding noise to be elicited from the articulating points. Edward tried not to wince but he did give Scar a certain Look as Nixie and Carl circled around to play with the fingers of his hand as if they were a sophisticated and fascinating kind of toy, babbling about how it was just like (if not better than) the real armor that knights from the middle ages used to wear.
Before this could get to be very annoying, Scar placed his own hand over those of the prying children, and with a chiding look caused them to subside, drawing back with simultaneous blushes. Dora ran her fingers through her hair nervously, and then stepped forward, apparently deciding to smooth over the faux pas with a question. "Um... Mr. Elric? What happened to your hand?" Her nervousness was almost palpable, and strangely was enough to set Edward completely at ease.
"A bear ate it," Edward said airily, with offhand nonchalance.
"A bear?" Nixie said, eyes wide, at the same time that Carl dropped his jaw and said "For real?" in skyrocketing esteem, obviously preparing to worship Edward as one of his new heroes. Dora clasped her hands together in concern, appearing anguished and embarrassed for prying about something she considered to be an obviously delicate affair. "Oh, Mr. Elric..."
Edward met all these expressions in turn, giving Nixie a nod and Carl a wicked grin, before turning to smile reassuringly at Dora. Last of all he looked at Scar, and the raised-eyebrow look he was getting was something worthy of hoarding in his memory, because the man was priceless, simply priceless, in his inability to get used to Edward's gift for extemporaneous lying.
"My suffering was excruciating," he said, mostly for the benefit of Carl, who appeared to want all the gory details. "I think the bear must have been at least, I don't know, nine feet tall..."
"Do bears get that big?" Scar asked, sarcastically, but with an undercurrent of rich humor.
"If they're related to you, yes." Edward stuck out his tongue, and felt vindictive triumph when all of the children laughed. But then, Scar laughed too, so maybe it wasn't vindictive triumph so much as the regular kind. "In any case, the bear brought my days as a mighty hunter to an end, so now I spend my days plotting out ways to destroy the entire bear race."
"All of them?" Dora fretted, her laughter faltering and then halting as she contemplated Edward's gruesome plans. "There must be some nice bears out there."
"Please don't kill all the bears, Mr. Elric," Nixie pleaded. "I'm sure they didn't mean it."
Twisting his face at the mouth, Edward winced as he saw that his cleverness had gone a little too far, and positively flinched when he saw that Scar was giving him a pained look, perhaps on behalf of the children and their sudden attack of humanitarian concern— but perhaps not. "I'm just kidding," he said, laughing to show his sincerity. "Really, I'm just a scientist. I don't really care what happens to the bears... at least, not the ones who didn't take my arm." The girls looked relieved, but Scar still showed vague hints of hurt. Oh well. If Scar wanted to read indictment into what he was saying... well, that wasn't Edward's problem, was it? The alchemist laughed a little more, annoyed that it felt so hollow.
"Why did the bear attack you?" Carl asked, tugging at Edward's arm, wanting to show that he, at least, was not phased by any of Edward's murderous plans, obviously willing to propel the conversation forward from whatever the girls were freaking out about.
"Because..." Mmm. Edward hadn't thought that far ahead. "Well, I was exploring its lair and it turned out that I scared it into thinking I was going to attack its cubs."
"Weren't you scared?" Nixie asked. Edward thought about the failed transmutation that was the real cause of his losses, and nodded quietly. It looked like Carl was going to chime in again, but before he could Scar interrupted them all.
"Let's go in," he said. "I'm sure everyone is waiting."
Inside the house was dark and darkly furnished, with drab wallpaper and chipped paint. The main hallway was cool, but soon the trio of children ushered Scar and Edward into a larger room which was warmed by a wood-burning stove in the corner. The red-painted walls were somewhat garish but there was an overall comfortable feel, with thick piled carpet underfoot and shabby but plentiful furniture scattered throughout the room.
On the couches and floor, the rest of the children were already gathered, with a young nun watching over them. The nun waved at Scar when he entered, who waved back and then walked over to a couch near the stove, picking up a toddler and swinging it into his lap as he sat down. The toddler clapped and laughed to be manhandled in such a fashion, and the rest of the children perked up noticeably. Edward was re-introduced, this time with Dora performing the honors, and after a bit more discussion about the bears he went to sit down, mingling in with the crowd of broken children after passing Scar the books he'd been carrying.
Before he knew it the kids were piling on, a couple of the smaller ones worming their way into his lap along with a contingent of about four or five similar children, all crowded near and waiting for their turn. It was a bit tricky for Edward, because he didn't want anyone to figure out about his automail leg (the functionality of which could not be easily explained, especially since he had an above-the-knee amputation with steel cuffed almost all the way up his thigh). But Scar had tossed him a pillow almost right from the start, and he used this to cover his thighs in the center of his lap. It was, to be truthful, a rather awkward way to hold children, but it worked and kept anyone from asking difficult questions.
Rickets; osteomalacia; disarticulated bones. One older child with a rare ascending neuromuscular disorder, progressively stealing the strength and intention from his limbs. Poliomyelitis in smoldering viral perfidy. These were a few of the many little failures of god. One of the children attaching herself to Edward was a small wizened child who was dwarfed by a profound failure to thrive for reasons that were not entirely clear, despite having a clear case of severe rheumatism. Perhaps it was the fever that attacked the heart. She confessed, in a whisper as Scar began telling the story, that she was actually seven, despite having the thin and tiny form of a four year old.
All of these were orphans, excepting Dora and Carl, who (as Edward had already been informed) had been abandoned by their parents as being too difficult to care for. Looking around, Edward saw exactly what he expected to see, but it was still troubling. What was it that caused human beings to be able to accept such miserable fates? Why weren't there more people like Scar, or like himself— those who raged against their pain, out of vengeance or for reasons of deep pride? It was lucky for the world, of course, that such sins were relatively rare. But still... a life of waiting and listening, of being cared for as one's body crumbled to pieces. That was living death. How could anyone accept it?
The children reminded him an awful lot of Alphonse.
Scar read, his voice strong and assured as he unwrapped the tale of Kay and Gerta, a rambling story seeming to be without discernable point as it proceeded from section to section. Edward sat up, holding the little girl in his arms carefully as he listened. The man's voice was really astonishingly lovely, deep and restrained. Gifted in a way that he probably didn't even realize, Scar's native accent blended with the German into a kind of music of speech. To his voice seemed to cling the power of the dead, whose burden the man always had been too conscious of carrying; it was seductive and persuasive, uncovering emotional meaning in the plainest of words. Lot's wife, a pillar of salt... Scar's voice was like the fires of Sodom, demanding attention even though the sound of it was completely destructive of the soul. It was too much purity and pain, too much for any innocent soul to bear... and yet, the children listened, enraptured.
Maybe they were less innocent of the sin of hope than Edward had realized, and he was reminded of his own pride. Judging them for a lack of dreams, but forgetting that his own apparent transparency hid a wealth of occult goals. Yes, these children were like Alphonse, appearing to accept their fates... but that was merely a hard shell of salt to wear for the watching world. How could Edward even presume to know the dreams of children who were more broken than him? Innocence was an presumption. Perhaps even children, even these, had sinful hopes they would not articulate, were driven by the desire to spit in the face of God as they lived, intending to steal from life more pleasure than they had been allotted.
The Snow Queen kissed Kay with kisses of ice. Kay had fragments of a deforming mirror lodged in his eyes and heart. Edward listened, trying to ignore the distractions of Gerta's various adventures, wanting to find the attraction that Scar had for this story, and slowly, slowly... finding it. His lover, with unexpected power of body and voice, calmly reading a silly story that enchanted everyone.
It occurred to Edward, then, that there was one thing in that story of Pandora that he'd forgotten to mention, the one thing she had been able to hold back and retain for humanity. Hope.
All of these children. Sinners, like Alphonse. They, too, wanted more than they had been given, and even if they hadn't drawn a circle on the earth in an attempt to resurrect their losses, they still were striving. Humans were really amazing creatures.
"I'm glad I came," Edward said to Scar as they left, waving goodbye to whichever of the children who were strong enough to escort them to the door.
"Are you?" Scar asked, but his tone was not really doubtful as he gave Edward a pleased look. "They adored you."
"And I adored them," Edward said, leering at the man with an amusingly wolfish grin. "Of course, I'm coming back with you next time." He was carrying the books again, with the full intention of stealing them from Scar so that he could devour the rest of the stories overnight and pick out a favourite. "I'll read."
Scar nodded, twitching his lips into an involuntary smile in response to Edward's suggestive grin. "Very well. If you would like. So... what do you want to do now?"
As if Scar even needed to ask. They were walking towards Edward's flat, and it was highly probable that they would not be sharing a Sunday brunch, nor would they be deconstructing the events of the morning over tea. However, needless as it might be, Edward motioned for Scar to bend his head down, and the boy whispered a few suggestions into Scar's ear with a surreptitious swipe of tongue on the soft flap of the man's ear while he was at it, causing the Ishibalite to breathe just a little bit harder and walk just a little bit faster.
Maybe it was a good thing they couldn't hold hands in public like a regular couple. Edward wasn't even sure he wanted that privilege... it seemed like something one would do with a girl or a child, not with another man. But the freedom to touch, having that denied... it was a bit sexy. A lot of a bit sexy. He looked at Scar out of the corner of his eye, mentally undressing the man and indulging in some dirty fantasies that involved a fair amount of humiliation. Nothing he had to courage to ask for in reality, of course... Edward's bold imagination was tempered with a certain cautiousness. It was not easy for him to forget how much, exactly, it had hurt when Scar has fucked him. His body would reject what his mind wanted, but that didn't prevent Edward from thinking about it in exquisite detail, or considering what it would be like to ram his cock into Scar's ass, supposing for a moment that he could somehow even make it that far in.
Thinking about the improbable, Edward grinned as he thought about the surprise he wanted to reveal to Scar. All of his research into the mechanics of magic was almost done. There were still a few details to iron out, such as finding a suitable place for summoning the gate. However, he knew now the when (Equinox, fall or spring), he knew the how (a sephirot-like array containing his name as well as several other arcane designs), and even the why (mastering the powers of death via the sacrifice of some numinous portion of his soul). The chance would be risky. However, the really great news was that it was do-able, that Edward now had a calendar date to shoot for, and... best of all... he thought there would be enough time to teach Scar the details, so that the man could return along with him.
Edward decided he'd share his plans with Scar after the day's sex.
Of course, Edward knew that it would not be easy to convince Scar to give up his private purgatory and perform 'the sinful alchemy.' But, hell... how seriously could Scar be taking his penance if he was allowing himself the pleasure of periodic... nay, frequent... sex? Edward would try his hand at persuasion, using not only his voice but his body in order to convince Scar of the futility in meaningless suffering as paid out to a non-existent god, and he would force the man to admit, as his lover, to having found some measure of happiness in Edward's company.
Even if this meant exposing Scar's deep seated hypocrisy even further.... even if this meant pushing Scar towards treason to Ishibala.... Edward would give it a shot.
Certain habits of the prideful were not easy to overcome. Edward knew that his intention to supplant Ishibala in Scar's mind would be to manipulate the man into idolatry, replacing one god with another. He wanted Scar to give him that kind of priority of place, and even if Edward was not willing to return to favour, he lusted for this kind of control, a deep undercurrent of sin that he'd always had to contend with. Edward was well aware that his 'I know best' mentality was fairly paternalistic and controlling, and that his personal sense of entitlement and of being an exceptional being were the inciting causes of this attitude. But... even being able to analyse himself so accurately didn't mean that he was incapable of falling victim to the habits of his mind. Edward knew this, knew that he intended to break Scar in order to keep him, knew that this was kind of wrong but was unable to shake the feeling that despite the wrongness it was the needful thing to do.
Scar should not have to live out the rest of his life alone. No one should. This, this was the truth that gave Edward conviction. Happiness was a goal worth pursuing, even for those who lived lives steeped in sin and who seemed determined to wallow in guilt.
Peeking at the front of Scar's trousers, it was pretty easy to imagine that the man was becoming aroused just by the promise of sex. The cock was where Edward's power would begin, but he hoped that it would not end there. Narrowing his eyes, Edward thought carefully about how he'd need to approach this. It would need to be the most masterful seduction of his life, over before Scar even knew what had happened. Licking his lips, Edward took a deep breath. It was a challenge he would enjoy very, very much...
Interrupted from his reverie, Edward was not immediately able to attend to the meaning of Scar's question, blinking as he turned to give the man a curious glance. In response, Scar pointed towards Edward's flat, which was now in sight. Up on the landing just outside of his rooms, all the way up on the third story, a man was standing and staring out over the street. A tall, blonde man, with hair tied back in a disturbingly familiar manner.
"Oh, fuck." Edward started kicking the ground, grinding his teeth in frustration. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."
Scar stopped walking and turned to look at Edward, and before Edward could delve deeply into tantrum territory he was caught up short by the look in Scar's eyes. "Does this man threaten you, Edward Elric?" Scar sounded calm, his voice measured... but he was crouching slightly, and it occurred to the alchemist that unless he reigned in his petulance he might have to witness the spectacle of the Ishibalite running off in few seconds in order to beat Hohenheim Elric into a pulp.
"That's... that's my father," Edward said, closing his eyes and shaking his head in bitter, embarrassed frustration. It was not fair... he was still hard, for fuck's sake.
"Your... father...?" Scar straightened, abandoning his fighter's stance and biting his lower lip. "I don't understand."
"Yes. My father, regarded as one of the most accomplished alchemists of all time, the great Hohenheim of Light. Fucker." The man in question appeared to spy Edward out, and began to wave, a cheerful welcome that made Edward see red.
Scar crossed his arms and turned to face Edward, not appearing angry but certainly weighing Edward with a gaze that was uncomfortable to bear. Ever since the revelation of the manner of Edward's death, Scar had seemed to accept the fact of Edward's secretiveness, not pressing for anything more than what the boy wanted to reveal, nor blaming him for the facts that would come out accidentally, like this. But still... Edward knew that keeping the existence of his father in this world from Scar suggested a major lapse, and knew that Scar could not be too happy about finding it out this way. "Perhaps I should go," Scar said finally. "You'll want to... talk."
Edward kicked the street again. "See? This is why it's so unfair!" he said, shaking his fist at the sky, and then he spun to face Scar, prevented from grabbing the man by the shirtfront and pulling him down to face-level only by the fact of his father, who happened to be watching everything. "Look. Yes, I do need to speak to him. So yes, you should go. But we'll talk about this later. I promise." His erection was subsiding, replaced by growing fury. "This had better be good," he said, speaking to Scar but with eyes and growl directing his last comment to his father.
"I see..." Scar said, slowly uncrossing his arms and losing his speculative frown. "Yes. I'm sorry that I will miss the chance to meet him, but I understand." Bowing slightly in farewell, a gesture that Edward was not sure whether to read as mocking or respectful, Scar turned and began to walk away, slowly, still using the pace that he adopted whenever walking with the smaller alchemist.
"Damn," Edward whispered to himself. Shaking out his muscles, Edward turned from the man to march resolutely towards his flat. Whatever the great, great Hohenheim wanted, Edward was not planning on letting it keep him long.
"Why are you here?"
Ungraciously, Edward had offered to let his father in, glad that he'd done the laundry since the last time he and Scar had had sex (not that he was in the habit of sleeping in come-stained sheets, or anything... but sometimes the smell from the laundry basket in the corner really got to be rank with the drying human secretions). Directing Hohenheim to sit down in a couch in the corner, Edward started up a his tiny stove in the corner so that he could boil some water for tea. The room was soon filled with his father's perfume, the sweet and deceptively pleasant smell of hidden rot.
"I haven't heard from you in a while, and was getting worried," Hohenheim said, looking out the window with his characteristically zen imperturbability.
"What about a letter? A telegram?" Edward took out a cup and saucer and set them on the table near his father. There was a sneer in his face that was reflected in the meaningfully leaden tones of his voice.
"Well... I wanted to see you."
"What for?" Edward went to collapse on his bed, refusing to stand either on ceremony or politeness. He did not see the point in making this easy for his father, and certainly didn't want to expend the effort trying.
"It's a bit embarrassing, but... I don't have much time left." Hohenheim smiled, closing his eyes and brushing his (gloved) fingers through his hair, the look of someone admitting to the heartbreak of halitosis and not the near advent of the end-stage in his terminal disease.
Edward shifted his eyes to look at his father. "How do you know?"
"The decay is spreading," Hohenheim said with a sigh. "Very soon it will extend into my face." This was reported with all of the intensity of an explanation of the next day's weather. "I didn't want you to see me after that happened."
Hmm. Edward wanted to sit up, then, and look at his father, but after having decided to lie down like a spoiled child, he was going to stay the course. "I... see."
There was a long moment of silence, and then Hohenheim coughed, not out of sickness but to catch Edward's attention. "Because of this, I won't be able to support you for much longer. So, I wanted to offer you what help I could."
"Don't worry about that," Edward said, covering his eyes with his automail forearm, voice a bit gruff. "I'll be fine... well, I know what I need to do, anyway."
"Oh really? That's... good to hear." Despite the words, Edward could detect a touch of sadness from his father, which caused Edward to squeeze his eyes tight. The man... his father... really had wanted to help.
"You can still come back with me, you know. It doesn't matter if you're... dying." Edward tripped over the word 'dying', not comfortable actually saying it but not wanting to replace it with any lesser euphemism. "Al would still want to see you." Uncomfortable in revealing so much weakness— Alphonse's weaknesses were also often his own— the small alchemist launched into a detailed description of all of his findings, not bothering to water down any of the technical details because he was sure that his father would understand well everything that he was saying.
Edward spoke quickly, a bit nervously. Convincing his father was not the same kind of thing as seducing Scar; for his father, even if he still held a certain amount of contempt, Edward always held an annoying undercurrent of awe. The man was over four hundred years old, after all.
Hohenheim heard out Edward patiently, and when the water started to boil he motioned for Edward to remain where he was, standing up and serving himself the tea that his son had made for him. Taking his teacup with a well-practiced air, Hohenheim appeared to decide to forgo the couch that he'd been sitting in so that he could hover over Edward's supine form, meeting his son eye to eye as he sipped the bitter Earl Grey. This was a man who always took his tea straight. "There are things you still don't know."
"Well... yes. But at this point I've determined that those things are probably unknowable, so what's the point in worrying?"
"They're not unknowable. You just don't know them." Another sip of the tea, another flash of that ecumenical calm.
That was certainly true, although Edward made a face as he was forced to acknowledge his limitations. "Do you suggest I wait even longer, pursing answers that might be impossible for me to find?"
"Not at all. But you could ask me." The tone of Hohenheim's voice was quiet.
There was a brief pause as Edward absorbed this. "You know the price that will be extracted?" Edward sat up, looking at his father with widening eyes. "You know what giving up my name will entail?"
Sitting down at the edge of the bed, Hohenheim nodded, and it was impossible to deny that even though he looked wise and sad he also looked a bit smug. There were some ways in which father and son resembled each other quite closely, and the ability to take pleasure in knowing something that no one else did was definitely a shared trait. "It's a price I've paid, so... yes." The smugness faded. "I have not always been known as Hohenheim."
Was that surprising? Maybe. Edward hadn't really thought about it before. "What was your original name?"
"I don't remember." The look in Hohenheim's eyes was distant but intense. "Don't you see, Edward? Your name is not something you can hold on to secretly. It really, really... dies."
"Is that all you've forgotten?" That didn't seem like such a big price, not if there would be Alphonse on the other side to remember it for him. But, what if... Edward felt his eyes widen. "...I'll forget everything?"
"No. Probably not everything. However, the gate takes many important things." Hohenheim set down his tea on a nearby side-table, taking Edward's automail hand. "This is a lesson you already know. The price of passage... it is not, it is never... cheap."
"Will I forget Al?"
Edward frowned, frowned deeply. "That seems unfair."
"You and Alphonse have become trapped in a cycle of sacrifices. Unless... well, you could end it now, by refusing to sacrifice any more." Hohenheim sighed again, and then reached up to touch Edward's face. It was a fatherly touch, tender and regretful. "I'm sure you already know that."
"No. I still have to try," Edward said quietly, voice breaking a bit even though he'd passed puberty a long time ago. "I can't leave Alphonse all alone. I'd rather he have me, even if I don't know him."
"And what happens when he gives up his own memories in an attempt to resurrect your own? There is only so much that sacrifice can buy for you. Things do, after all, fall apart."
Net loss. Entropy. The disintegration of the universe, of all universes. "The center cannot hold, eh?"
Edward stood up and took out a cup, pouring himself some tea. He didn't bother to find a saucer. "Does this mean that you couldn't come with me, even if you wanted?"
Hohenheim looked up, startled. "Of course not. I do have a new name now, you know. And new memories." Remaining at the edge of Edward's bed, he leaned forward to pick up his own tea. "My memories of your mother... Tricia... those could be used to pay the price. " He looked down, sadly. "I could come. But I'm afraid, for me, the price is too high."
Stung, Edward stepped over to the window and opened it, looking out. Might he have to give up even his memories of his mother in order to be reunited with Alphonse? That seemed entirely possible, and entirely cruel. To remember everything else, except that... how would it change him as a person? "Is there any other way?" he wondered, feeling the familiar bite of despair.
"None that I know of," replied his father, coming to stand next to his son and look out the window.
Remembering how angry that he'd been at his father for holding back the information on this world's magic, now Edward felt that he understood why his father had done something so seemingly cruel. "How much longer do you think you have?" Edward asked, careful not to blink, his eyes welling up so that his vision became somewhat watery and unsure.
"A few months," Hohenheim said. "Maybe a year."
And then Edward would be alone, bereft of all family. "I have to go," Edward said, trying very hard to keep his voice even. He took some tea, swallowing hard. "Alphonse will just have to... remind me. Of mom. And of myself." He did not want to let Alphonse die alone. He would notlet him die alone. "That's all."
Hohenheim nodded, with a small smile. "Good. I'm glad. I did not intend to dissuade you." His father finished his own tea with one long swig. "But... I think you deserve to know the price of something, before you pay. I don't know of any reason for why you should be denied that."
Edward closed his eyes. "Thanks. Father."
Hohenheim set down his cup, nodded like Buddha, wiping his hands against one another as if wiping off crumbs. "Now... tell me who that man was, the one that was walking with you. A friend of yours, I presume?"
A faint but palpable blush rose to Edward's cheek. "...Yes." Could he say more than that? "Yes."
Despite all initial intentions, Edward spent the entire day with his father, and the entire next day too. In fact, his father stayed in town for a fortnight, and Edward decided to put up with the obnoxiously pervasive smell that was a part of who Hohenheim was, and had his father sleep on the bed in his own place while Edward stayed the nights on a cot borrowed from Ilse.
It was a good two weeks. Edward shared with his father every scrap of stolen research he'd been able to find, and with a map and several bottles of beer at hand, the two Elrics had been able to derive the latitude and longitude for several likely inter-universal gates. There were a few here in Germany, and Edward focused on those, deciding at last on a remote location rather south of Westphalia in the remnants of the Black Forest, in a place where villages were scarce and— hopefully— people were scarcer.
Edward missed several scheduled meetings with Scar during this time, and because the time with his father seemed so short he decided that it wasn't necessary to go find his... lover... to let him know what was going on. After all, the man had actually seen his father, hadn't he? From afar, sure, but Scar was not stupid. Surely he'd figured out that all planned liaisons would have to be tabled, that Edward was now occupied with more important concerns than tawdry (if sometimes glorious) sex. Hohenheim Elric was not a perfect man, but he was family, and in Edward's world family always had priority.
If this was to be the last time that he ever saw his father, Edward planned to make the most of it; and if that meant the kind of compartmentalization of his life that ended up being a little hurtful to... some people... well, so be it.
Hohenheim proved to be extremely informative and it was actually fun talking to someone who was as up to date and intelligent as he himself was. Edward wondered, with not a small amount of regret, what it would have been like to have this man around while he was actually growing up. But those kinds of thoughts made him angry, and reminded him that he was supposed to be hating his father for being such a despicable family abandoner, and admiration mixed with sublimated fury was a kind of nauseating and complicated set of feelings to experience. So, even though it made Edward surprisingly sad to see his father go, it was also a kind of relief. Watching the man depart on his noon train to Munich had been hard, but harder still would be to face a life of always having to experience the kind of dissociative dissonance that time with Hohenheim Elric invariably inspired.
So. Two weeks and one day following the Sunday of Hohenheim's appearance, Edward found himself doing something he hadn't needed to do for a long time... sneak into Scar's monastery in the middle of the night. It felt so illicit, so wrong, to liaise with the man this way, when there were more mature options available. Surely, however, Scar had given up on looking for him at their regular meeting places. The man should now be expecting something like this, if all of Edward's predictions were correct. Licking his lips, Edward thought about how sweet the sex would be, after having it deferred for so long. Any serious conversations would just... have to wait.
Dropping down to the desk was no longer a matter of guesswork, and so Edward was able to slide into the room silently. He'd forgotten about the Al kitten, however, and the tiny little thing started to meow imperiously when Edward started to make his way across the floor, wanting to be petted and played with and enjoying this novel midnight interruption. After a moment's thought, Edward picked up the kitten and tossed it into Scar's toilet chamber (it was too small to be called a bathroom) and shut the door, ignoring its many protests. Edward was not surprised to find, once he could see, that Scar was already awake and sitting up in bed, waiting for him.
"Hi, you," Edward whispered, coming in close. He went for a cuddle but was rebuffed, Scar choosing instead to push him down into the mattress and lean over him, holding Edward down heavily by the shoulders. "Hey..."
"I didn't invite you, Edward Elric."
No, he hadn't. "I invited myself," Edward whispered, purposefully sounding turned on, wiggling suggestively under the man's grip. "My father left for Munich today."
"That has nothing to do with me," Scar said, his weight on Edward's shoulders variably painful but invariably heavy. "Isn't that right?"
Nothing to do... Edward almost spluttered, wanting to call the man on his ridiculousness, but this naked display of Scar's strength pulled him up short. Something must have been wrong, for the man to be in such a snit. "That's cruel," Edward said, narrowing his eyes but speaking with an even voice.
"Where were you, then?" Words like drops of mercury, quicksilver and poison and dripping with liquid conduction, transmitting a malignant energy that was more than a little vexed. Scar was, it seemed, furious.
"I was with my father. You knew that."
"And... nothing." Curling his lip into a superior smile that the smaller boy did not bother to hide, Edward raised one eyebrow. Spending time with his genius father had made him less than desirous of putting up with foolishness. "What are you driving at?"
Seeming to take inordinate pains to compose himself, Scar released Edward and instead hovered over him, hands pressed flat into the pillow on either side of his head. The man had a warning look in his eyes that hinted that no mere petting or teasing would set things right, which was okay, because by now the mood was totally spoilt. "Do I not deserve even the least amount of courtesy, Edward Elric?" The man appeared fit to explode, which for Scar was not a particularly benign look.
"What? I told you I'd be spending time with my father."
"That was two weeks ago."
"...so?" Edward shrugged. "Is that too much time to be spending with my family?"
"Immaterial. You... you...."
"I was worried."
...Worried? Shit. Edward closed his eyes. He hadn't planned on that, but he should have. "Why?"
"No word. Nothing sent." In the hard and meaningful way that Scar had for saying everything, the man ripped into Edward with a pre-emptive rejection of pretense. "What if you'd died? Or... left?"
"You care about things like that?"
"What? Of course." Scar's tone was absolutely scathing. "Most non-alchemists do."
Did he have any right to expect to drop seamlessly back into Scar's life after dropping out so precipitously? If they had been mere acquaintances, the answer would have been 'of course.' But in this case Edward had been hasty, far too hasty, and the boy flushed to find himself so defenseless and unprepared.
The man was indeed his lover. And deserved better.
""I was... distracted." Edward said softly, looking off to the side.
Scar leaned in, and it was obvious by how irritated that he sounded that he was trying his hardest to reign in some serious rage, "So distracted you couldn't spare a few minutes to write a letter?" Scar shook his head. "Perhaps your people taught you to think such selfishness is acceptable, but mine did not."
How much should he say? How much was he willing to let Scar in on? With a sigh, Edward bit his lip. Considering what he owed the man, any amount of honesty at this point would be trivial in comparison to what they'd shared. But still... Edward was the kind of person who liked to keep the serious business of his family separate from everything else in his life, and it felt... really, really needy, to admit to family problems. He didn't want the man to see him as small and weak. But... maybe that would be better than sustaining Scar's contempt.
"He's dying," Edward said, careful not to make his voice sound accusing, trying to prevent himself from sounding needlessly sullen. "My father... is dying."
When Scar made as if to drew back, as Edward expected that he would, the small alchemist was careful to reach forward and touch the man's face, forbidding him to leave. Let Scar think it was a longing touch. In reality it was nothing more or less than an apology.
He should have sent word.
"I'm... sorry to hear that. Edward."
Lifting his body up so that he could pull his lover closer, Edward started to kiss the man's neck, but his kisses were far more tender than any prelude to sex. Scar's whole body shuddered at the touch.
"It's okay," Edward whispered. This was just the beginning of what he needed to do, and Edward experienced an intensification of his own guilt. Scar was his lover; this was a truth he had to face head on. And for that to be real he had to treat the man with more than casual honesty. He'd have to put that relationship ahead of his immediate lust.
Which meant breaking the man in order to save him. Being who he was, Edward had done much worse in his lifetime in the service of what he thought was right. It was not going to be easy, however.
"He... he came to help me. I've figured out... mmm... how to go home." Prophylactically Edward put his arms around Scar's waist as he confessed, placing both hands on the broad muscles that tightened bilaterally from the spine; he would keep his lover close and not let him back off, not willing to allow the man to do that after the announcement that Edward could abandon him yet again. But Scar did not seem inclined to move away, even though he moaned quietly into Edward's skin, turning to force a kiss onto Edward's body. The man began unbuttoning Edward's shirt.
That felt very good, and Edward's body ached with longing. Who could have ever imagined that such a simple thing would be so painful? "Come with me," Edward whispered, his touch echoing the whisper in the cobwebby way that he explored his lover's body, fingertip motion light but voracious, feeling the man up everywhere in a slow but insistent manner.
"Edward..." The vibration of sound from the man's deep voice tickled against his skin. "I can't..."
A lesser person might say 'why not?' but Edward already knew what Scar's objections would be, so he didn't bother. A less confident person would beg with a soft 'please,' but that was not Edward's style either. "Should I let Alphonse die alone?" he asked softly.
"No... no. You must go..." Scar's insistence was almost heartbreaking, but it was also stupidly self-sacrificial. Edward knew from the beginning that the man would not make any attempt to hold him, but that didn't mean that he couldn't accuse the man of it in order to lay his lover's selflessness bare. Licking his lips, Edward closed his eyes as Scar began to kiss his small frame, mouth hot on the thin wall of his chest, tongue finding the dips between ribs and outlining the cage surrounding his lungs and heart.
"Should I let you die alone?" Edward whispered, his tone soft and hiding the dare implied in such a question.
"Stupid," Scar replied, continuing to kiss him but slowing down, inclining his head to look up at Edward's chin. "Stupid.. boy..."
"Should I?" His tone and associated touches were persistent. Edward would win this. He needed to. Even knowing... even knowing that this would take some of the man's memories, just as it would take some of his own. Ultimately, it was not just, not right, for Scar to die alone so far from his people, away from the earth in which his family and everyone he loved were buried.
But this man was not his brother. It should not hurt so much, to force him.
"You can't stop me," Scar said, this time with a small growl. "This is the price I must pay."
A tear ran down Edward's cheek. The man was so predictable, which meant that he knew how to parry this argument. He didn't want to have to be so cruel, however. He had hoped, even though the hope was faint, that he'd be able to avoid this. "You're a hypocrite," Edward accused, touching the man's neck and forcing him to look up and see his tears, wanting Scar to misread in his guilt a kind of childish sorrow.
"What's wrong?" Scar sounded surprised.
"You only suffer when it is convenient for you," Edward whispered. Even though he didn't believe it, these were powerful words to say. "You are willing to pay some prices, but that doesn't stop you from finding pleasure in my body... when you want." Edward closed his eyes, hating his own hypocrisy. It was not right to manipulate the man, but here he was, doing it anyway. "I don't think Ishibala is much impressed with your talk-only sacrifices, when the only thing you really do is sin."
"What do you mean?" It was too dark, but from the way that Scar was pulling back, Edward could tell that the man was probably going pale. His voice sounded pale, if that was even possible.
"You say this world is your penance, but I don't see it." Edward bit his lip, bit until it bled. The pain, it was necessary, if he was to continue. "You've killed in the thousands. You are a murderer. And what is the price you pay? Some praying and a lot of sex?" It was so unfair to say these things, especially since Edward didn't even believe in penance. But he knew that Scar did, knew that the man would take seriously these accusations, and think on them until he found a way to be right with his goddess.
It was highly possible that they'd never have sex again.
"I don't understand..." Scar whispered, but not in the voice of someone who wasn't getting what was being told to him, but rather with the gut-wrenching sorrow of a person who expected an attack, this attack, but not from this quarter. Edward knew that Scar had come to trust him, and he was taking that trust and using it to twist a knife in the man's heart.
"I won't let you die alone," Edward said, his voice hard, the voice of the adult inside of him, the strong person most people forgot that he was. "I won't allow it." Even if it meant destroying the man's faith in his own ability to ask for redemption. If Edward believed, even for one moment, that such redemption was possible, he probably would not dare do this.
"You are very difficult," Scar said, pulling back altogether and looking away. "And maybe a little unfair."
"There is a price," Edward said, allowing a reluctant tone to creep into his voice. "A price for traversing the gate. It... takes your name, some of your memories. If you feel you must suffer, pay this price. With me." Reaching out, Edward put a hand on Scar's shoulder, resisting the urge to touch the man more. "But I will not let you get away with thinking that if you die here alone, that you've done enough. That is both too much, and not nearly enough."
"I don't have a name..."
"Of course you do. You remember it, don't you?" Edward paused. He hated to lecture. But then why was he so good at it? "But if you really believe in what you say, let it be taken from you. For real."
For a few minutes, the only sound to be heard in the room was Scar's deep breathing, and the occasional desultory scratching of the trapped kitten, looking for a way out. Edward wanted to kiss the man, take him down and hold him. But he couldn't, and shouldn't... not if he wanted to hold on to any credibility or influence. It was very, very hard to wait out the man's silence.
"I see," Scar whispered, and then he turned around. Surprising Edward, he leaned forward to kiss the boy on his forehead. "Go. I need to pray on this."
Standing up Edward moved to leave, not saying another word. He had won, he already knew it. But the taste in his mouth was bitter, bitter.