Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The three ancient magi who paid tribute to the Christ child, and who, in exchange, learned the secret of the gates of resurrection, and the gates of death.
After the end of his long day of sketching, Edward stood up, wiping sweat from his forehead with a careless, backhanded motion. He was dirty and exhausted, but felt oddly triumphant as he looked at the early evening sky. He had fought the good fight, and was about to finish the race; there was no way that Alphonse could outpace him now, no way that Alphonse could cheat him into paying a price that he never should be asked to pay.
...well, unless through some horrendous cosmic coincidence, Alphonse was simultaneously putting the finishing touches on a similarly work-intensive array. Edward smiled, ignoring the nausea such a thought invariably inspired. Coincidence was possible, of course, but he knew the odds were infinitesimal. He might as well worry about being slain by an errant lightning-filled cloud.
"Done?" Scar called out, from where he was sitting on a crumbling portion of the castle wall.
"Yeah... finally. Come look."
Scar joined him in a moment, offering a canteen of water as he moved to stand next to Edward. Feeling he deserved it, Edward finished off the last of it, drinking down the metallic-tasting, lukewarm water as if it were refreshing spring water delved from some legendary glacial source and newly delivered to his lips. He drank noisily and messily, letting water dribble down his chin as he gulped.
"Apparently the circle was a non-starter," Scar said, tone bland, gaze obvious. "You erased it?"
"No," Edward answered, giving Scar a wary look. "It's still there. Just... obscured."
"Really?" Scar squinted. "You're sure?"
"It is," Edward insisted. "It's necessary, after all."
"It's there, but not," Scar mused. "I guess that's one way to answer the whole 'where is it' debate."
Edward closed his eyes, took a deep breath. That was the whole point. Dare he try to explain the whole theory of grounding and cycling energy? Or the subtle importance of paradox? Again? "You know, you need to get this too. If your mind is wandering off on stupid shit, we'll end up reincarnated as frogs or something."
Scar turned a bit to give him a sideways glance. "Don't worry, I get it." Filling his lungs to capacity by taking a deep, deep breath, Scar forced a sigh. "I understand well."
"Good," Edward said, tossing the canteen off to the side and taking Scar's hand, tugging the man forward. "Let's do a walkabout. I need to check for errors."
"It's very impressive," Scar admitted, his gaze becoming analytical as he joined Edward in evaluating the array. "Quite different from anything I've ever seen before."
"That's just because you've never looked at astronomy textbooks, that's all." Edward said, with a little offhand shrug, but he couldn't hide the fact that he sounded a bit flattered. It didn't matter that Scar's experience with arrays was not anything that could be construed as 'extensive'... this was a very different kind of array, with layers of complication far beyond even the resurrection array he'd drawn with blood on his own body, the last time he'd performed alchemy in his own world. Edward was very proud. "It took me ages just to calculate the correct positions."
Scar intertwined his fingers with Edward's own, and squeezed. "I know." Saying nothing further, he turned with Edward to look silently at what his lover had wrought, walking slowly with the smaller boy as they did a full 360-degree surveillance.
At their feet was a complex scaling design, bounded on the outer extremity with a twisted serpent biting its own tail; an ouroboros twisted in moebius fashion. Cutting the figure acutely were the stylized ellipses, with one bold ecliptic defining an artificial horizon. Within its bounds was a scattering of precisely placed points. These were the stars of the sky, fixed and named in Hebrew according to a scheme that defined each visible star below a certain magnitude as one of the descendants of Abraham.
The stars were mapped to create an exact mirror of the sky as it would exist at sunset that night above this castle in Oberkirch, joined into the principle constellations of fall: Cassiopeia and Lacerta, Pegasus and Pisces. Andromeda. Aries. Grus. Scattered seemingly at random among these were the planets, the moon: wandering stars. From the head of the serpent was the origin of the mandelbrot set, waves and waves of chaos curling and circling throughout the design according to a completely separate calculation.
Around the ecliptic at twelve points were the ancient symbols of the zodiac; it was at the position of Virgo that Edward had written, in the bold letters of his home language of Amestris, the words "Edward Elric." His name; positioned at the precise cusp in time, and place, bounded by the gates of death.
Scattered over all was a fine red dust.
"What do you think?" Scar asked finally, voice quiet, when they reached the place where they started. "Is it ready?"
Eye darting here and there, Edward made some quick final assessments, and after a moment or two longer, he nodded. "Almost. There's just the one last thing."
"Mmm," Scar said. Edward knew that the man didn't really have to ask what that one thing was. Scar held close to his own name as if it were tabooed, and Edward knew that to give it up to him now, even in writing, would hold a cost. It was not surprising that Scar felt hesitant... Edward gave the man's hand a little reassuring squeeze.
"I can't read your language," Edward said softly, reminding him. "And I won't remember it anyway. It's okay."
"Perhaps," Scar said, letting go of Edward's hand, holding his own out. "Chalk?"
It took every ounce of self-control Edward possessed to refrain from warning Scar against spoiling his drawings as he handed over the stubbed white chalk, but he did nothing to repress the wince as Scar turned around and began picking his way through the design. Fortunately, Scar was not clumsy, and managed to find the spot with Edward's name without incident, careful not to disturb the shadow figures in red phosphorus or the bolder lines drawn in white.
Watching anxiously, Edward at first did not process Scar's next action; pocketing the chalk, Scar pulled a pocketknife out of his pants, and with a quick motion almost too fast to see, the man cut himself deeply along the fleshy part at the base of his right thumb, dripping blood into the array.
This was the kind of thing that made Edward wish that life worked in slow-motion. The array flashed briefly, a crackle of green light, and he felt his eyes widen and his body tense in reflex horror, even before his mind could process what Scar was doing. The nausea that he'd felt only briefly before returned, intense and constant. Rage and hatred bubbled up in him like a cauldron, wiping any and all affection he had ever dared to feel for the man in one, single, horrible moment of realization.
What was this? What the fuck was this? "What are you....?" Edward began, voice shaking, and he took a step forward.
Scar looked up at him, voice low. "That's dangerous," he said, even as he held his wounded hand close to his chest. "Don't come any closer." Blood seeped over the man's white shirt and trickled down his left hand, and it was red, too red, impossibly red. Scar met his gaze and stared at him warningly, a look so hard that it returned Edward to himself... the boy stood stark still, snapping suddenly into focus, instantly apprehending one thing: Scar, his lover, had betrayed him.
"You..." Edward said, enmity ringing in his voice, which was deceptively calm. No matter what Scar thought he was doing, no matter how he thought he might be helping, with this one action he had, quite probably, ruined everything. He hoped to fuck it was a whim; he would kill the man if it was a whim. But if it were something else... something premeditated, some opaque plotting or theory of which he had no knowledge... he would do more than kill him. He would find a way to shred his lover's soul into a million tiny bits, so that the very universe itself would forget that he existed. If Scar thought he could get away with delaying his quest by one day, let alone months or even years... if he thought he could keep Edward from Alphonse, out of jealousy or ignorance or even, fuck, out of love... the man would pay. He would pay so hard and so much that no one living or dead could do anything but tremble at his fate. "How dare you?"
Scar was looking at him so steadily, so calmly and with such self-assurance that Edward bit his lip in absolute rage. "Penance," Scar said at last. "It was you who reminded me of its true cost, and worth."
You are very difficult... And maybe a little unfair.
Edward remembered a kiss on his forehead, and almost involuntarily reached up to touch himself there. "You... you don't know anything," Edward said, cold and furious, clenching his hand into a fist once he saw where he was moving it, and holding it firmly at his side. "I don't care what...and why you think that..." He stopped, paused. "It doesn't matter. You are an idiot, and a fool." Blood on his lips. "And I hope you go to hell."
At this Scar looked away, but not with shame. Resolution. Edward shook more, shook so hard he teeth were clattering. Looking down, Scar dipped his left index finger into the pulpy gash of his hand, and then the man leaned forward, drawing a stroke of blood... directly over Edward Elric's name. "Remember," Scar said quietly. "I care for your brother too."
What was he... what did he...? Edward felt his lips curl and his eyes water from the rising bile. A touch on the cheek, a hand on his body... "You're ruining everything," Edward said, hard tones still holding even through he felt as if his body would crack under the restraint. "You know nothing, you have no idea..."
"The truth," Scar said, cutting him off, even as he laid down another stroke of blood, making longer the line he had just drawn. "I saw it, when I died. Ishibala showed me."
When he died.... Edward was about to sneer something cruel, something negating, something damning... when something caught him up short. The truth... the Truth.... that was something of the gate. Alchemy.
But there was no truth that Edward knew of that would make Scar's actions make sense, none. "Go on," Edward said grudgingly. He might still have to kill Scar... kill his lover... for Alphonse's sake. It did not matter if it were through accident, or malice aforethought... if Scar prevented him from seeing his brother again, the man would have to die. But for the sake of the Truth... the truth which had hands, which had taken his brother's body for him, and which was his sworn enemy... he'd at least listen.
"You think there are seven sins. But there are many more than that," Scar said, continuing the slow, painstaking process of writing lines with his own blood. "Despair, fear. Ignorance." The man was kneeling carefully, so so careful not to disturb the surrounding lines of chalk. "Isolation."
"Isolation is not...."
"Of course it is," Scar said, his voice tight... with pain, or something else. "It is more than cause of sin, or effect of sin. It is sin. Because... because it is wrong to isolate one's self from the common fate of man."
"What do you mean?" Edward felt he could not possibly hate the man more than he did at this moment, for talking religious and philosophical nonsense while so much, so very damn much, was at stake. Scar's tongue in his mouth, the man's mouth on his body... Edward's tone of voice transmitted utter scorn, and his body felt as cold as the dark side of an occulted moon.
"Ishibala told me that alchemy is no more wicked than the wind, or the sky... that my people were mistaken, and had sinned grievously against her for thinking so. The holocaust of my people was the price we paid for that ignorance."
If so much of his own life wasn't personally at stake right now, Edward would give voice to his scorn at that idea, pointing out that murder was worse than hatred, and that this sins of his own people were far more disgusting and wrong, no matter how nicely parsed. But he would not give Scar that satisfaction... he would not give him anything. The man would have to dig his own grave, all by himself. "Yes," Edward said at last, eyes hooded, tone uncaring. It hurt him, now, to remember the way that he'd exalted in the man's touch, hungered for his body. "Whatever you say."
Surprisingly, Scar smiled, but his smile was filled with bitterness. "No, I do not believe my people deserved to die for that sin. And obviously, I cannot forgive what was done to them, no matter what the justification. But... judgment for one is judgment for all." The man paused, exhaling, and his voice carried the strain of much hidden, pent-up emotion. "There is no such thing as a salvation that picks and chooses... no such thing as a redeeming grace that discriminates one from another." Scar continued to write, his blood drying dark on the stone. "Ishibala refused to damn me, despite my many sins, because the damnation of one is the rejection of all."
"I'm not seeing how this correlates." Edward coughed, and then hugged his arms tight to his body. "Get to the point."
"The problem with the way you practice alchemy is that you forsake your humanity... here, by giving up a piece of your memory, and there... back in our world... by shedding a piece of your soul." Scar finished with the first letters of whatever word he was writing down. "This is not right."
"I never gave up my soul."
"No? Then why did you come to need Alphonse so much? Was it not because he reminded you of the things you'd left behind?" Scar hissed a bit as he dug deep into his wound. "It occurred to me, when you told me of what you'd need to give up in order to return to him, that you would make yourself more dependent on him than ever... and that, in turn, your dependence would invite Alphonse to make an even graver sacrifice on your behalf. A cycle of loss. Tragic."
"I wouldn't let him," Edward said, a tear coming to his eye. Scar should not be able to hit so close to home. It hurt too much, and was unfair, terribly unfair. He did not want to be seen this nakedly, did not want to be judged by this man who found it so easy to betray him. And for what? For why? It made no sense.
"Your plan, to return with me, was always unrealistic," Scar said, and for the first time his calm tone broke a little, even as he continued to write.
"... and so, what? You're going to... what?" Edward looked down, watching as Scar worked to cover Edward's name with something else, some other writing. It hurt too much. How could the man do this to him? "Go on your own?"
"I am sorry you think so little of me," Scar said, his voice so soft that Edward could barely hear it. "No, that's not it."
"I don't intend to go... at all."
What? Why destroy the array then... what... "Then... what the fuck are you doing? What the crazy fuck hell do you think you are going to do?"
"I will pay your price with my name, and my memories." The man stood up. The writing was done... a short word, jagged with blood, impossible to make out from this angle. "It will work."
Just know that... I did what I felt that I had to do. I am willing to pay the price.
"Stupid," he said. "You have no idea..."
"It will work," Scar repeated. Scar stepped forward, right up to the edge of the array, where Edward was standing. "I will ransom you. This is my penance. This is the truth I learned."
"I... I don't understand..." Edward said, looking up, his voice barely above a whisper. The anger Scar had inspired was still there, still fresh and insistent, but now it was poisoned with complicating factors, things that made him feel far too unsure. Just last night, he was holding and being held by this man, enjoying sex with him. The memory of that touch... he had resolved to sacrifice it. It was right, and just, that this was the price he'd have to pay.
"I don't want to isolate myself from humanity any more," Scar said. "I want you... and Alphonse... to be free."
He wanted... Edward had spent so long, getting used to the idea that he'd have to return to Alphonse without knowing him, that he'd have to greet his brother as a stranger. And now Scar was offering... would it work? Edward shook his head. He didn't want it to work, not at the price quoted. He didn't want Scar to do this, didn't want to accept such a gift at the expense of the annihilation of all that Scar was. It made him still so angry that the man would do this, but the anger flickered and shuddered like a fire deprived of oxygen. Edward struggled to hold onto his outrage, not sure if he wanted to fan it back into life. "No," Edward whispered. "No."
"It's too late," Scar said, his eyes filled with the very loneliness he decried as sin. Hypocrisy... or merely weakness? "There is no time to draw another."
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.
"How did you feel," Edward asked, "when your brother gave you his arm?"
"Guilty," Scar answered, with no hesitation, almost as if he expected the question. "But the guilt is irrelevant. Because that was a choice my brother made without me, a long time ago, so that I could live. I made this decision without you, and if that makes you feel guilty... I don't care." The man looked down, and away. "At least you will be alive. You will be... you."
"You're so... we were going to do this together. Why won't you...?"
"You never should have asked for so much," Scar said, reaching out of the circle, wiping blood on Edward's cheek as he cupped it with his uninjured hand. "Nor should you have been willing to return to Alphonse with so little."
"Not right," Edward whispered, shaking his head. "It's not..."
"You know nothing of justice," Scar said, shaking his head. "And less of mercy."
Scar reached out with his maimed hand, taking Edward's good left hand in his own, turning it over and revealing a palm already sticky and reeking of iron. Because Scar's hand was now cupping his, he could feel the way the other man shook, feel the weakness that came from his self-inflicted injury. Like this, now, it was all too real, and suddenly Edward realized that it could work... that Scar's plan of replacing Edward's name with his own was not foolish, that it would work flawlessly. The truth of this was stunning, and made Edward want to retch. How possibly could Scar be willing to sacrifice so much, on his behalf?
"Let me do this for you," Scar said softly. "There is no home for me now, and the people I loved best are all dead. Don't you think it is time for me to join them... just as it is time for you to return to your brother?"
"It's wrong," Edward said, but he did not stop Scar as the man pulled out his small pocketknife and, with an almost tender motion, drew it over the palm of his hand, a shallow cut that soon became deep. It stung.
"I have one wish," Scar admitted, even as he turned over his hand, and grasped Edward's in a gesture that had ancient meaning. Their blood mingled, and drops of it fell to the ground inside the array, thus bringing down the invisible barrier that Scar's blood had initially created. Once again, the array crackled with energy, activated by the life being poured into it. "It is very selfish."
Scar drew him into the magical circle-that-was-not-a-circle. "What's that?" Edward asked, stepping to stand next to this man who had been (and for the moment, still was) his lover.
"I want you to remember that I existed," Scar said. "I want you to go back to your home and remember the time that you spent with me here."
That much was painful to contemplate. But it was not an unfair thing to ask. "I should have guessed," Edward said, tone wondering and resentful and a little bit rueful, with flashes yet of an unquenchable anger. His eyes moved to the letters of Scar's name. It was in the Ishibalan language, which he could not read. "I totally should have guessed you'd do something crazy like this."
"True," Scar said, and he used a finger on Edward's chin to divert attention away from the blood writing and onto his face. The man began to smile, a slow blooming smile that was practically childlike in its guilelessness. "I was most worried that you might."
Why... ? Well, fuck. The sex should have been the tip off. On-again and off-again zealots only appeared to be illogically capricious, it seemed. "I don't think you'll die, you know." Edward said with an accusing frown. "You'll live, and have no memories, and die of starvation or something." His hand throbbing, he stepped a little closer, pressing his face into the lower part of Scar's chest, smelling the clean, woodsy scent that had become so familiar. "Probably, you'll suffer, quite a bit. That's just not right. It's not... fair."
Scar continued to smile down at him, not daunted by Edward's logic, or doomsday scenario. ""I told Father Ernesto everything, you know." Edward wrenched his head up to gave him a warning glare, outraged and embarrassed, and Scar corrected himself. "Almost everything. I will be rescued if somehow I survive this."
He'd told Father Ernesto...? Was nothing sacred? "I... I don't understand you at all," Edward whispered, holding onto Scar tight, eyes turning to the name on the ground covering his own. As long as there was light in the sky, he would look at it, and try to remember the design even if he could not translate it into sound. Was it possible that he could keep track of something like that? Probably not, and it suddenly seemed very important. "Give me your knife," Edward commanded, as calmly as he could.
"What for?" Scar began, but all Edward did was raise an eyebrow. Like Scar had any right to question him after being so outrageous; it was time to take advantage of his slight moral edge. Slowly, with visible transition of the man's smile into a look of perplexed concern, Scar handed over the pocketknife. Edward took it with his automail hand.
"I'm going to cut myself now," Edward said, as he began raising a thin welt on the inside of his forearm that soon began to trickle tiny drops of blood. His cuts were crude and quick, in a few moments he had replicated all of the major lines of Scar's name. "There," he said, looking up challengingly when done. "Your name." If Scar was going to give it to him, well... the least he could do would be to take it.
"I see," Scar said, and the smile was almost gone, replaced with a look far more wavering and unsure. "I don't think you needed to do that."
"You want me to remember you, right?" Edward said, voice hard and challenging.
"Yes... but..." Scar floundered for a moment, trying to find an appropriate objection.
Edward shook his head, unable to sort out his feelings. Gratitude mixed with frustration, and anger... so much anger, because there just was no time. Around them, the phosphorus dust he'd scattered over the array even now was beginning to rise. Edward would be parting from this universe soon. Parting... alone. He wanted his memories, of course, he wanted them as much as he wanted to breathe... but (and this was only surprising because he hadn't really spelled it out for himself) he also wanted to see Scar again. He thought they'd have time together yet, time to get to know each other all over again. Maybe they would never be lovers after this, but he'd hoped that they'd at least relearn to be friends.
Alphonse would have helped them both, surely. Didn't Scar know that?
"Enough," Edward said, pulling Scar down for a quick kiss, rushed and yet heartsick because he wanted it to last longer. Scar put his hands on Edward's neck, and Edward could smell the blood. Scar kissed him back: a proud kiss, a man's kiss. In a moment they parted. Edward looked up, and he felt his face twist into an unfamiliar expression, his whole body clench with something like anticipatory grief.
That was that. Whatever would happen next, this chapter of both of their lives was over.
Edward considered quickly the matter of last minute revisions. He now stood within the boundary of his circle, and with the spilling of blood, the ritual had already technically begun. Summoning the appropriate aspect of consciousness was not difficult for someone of his seasoned abilities; even in another world, alchemy under the rubric of magic involved rites of the mind for which he had always been preternaturally gifted. In a way, having Scar act as sacrifice instead of agent would make things easier... Scar's state of mind now became a matter of almost trivial inconsequence. Taking a deep breath, Edward pushed gently on Scar's chest. "Let's begin," he said.
"As long as you know," Scar replied softly. "This is primarily for you."
A tear rolled down his cheek before he even realized his eyes had become wet. For him, more than for Alphonse... that was the implication, of course. Edward nodded. "I get it."
The sunset was fading in the west, twilight rolling in and over them with all the power of night. The red dust rising was beginning to glow white, taking on the light of burning flames, coalescing into small points like stars. For alchemy, this was hardly an extraordinary effect, but having been divorced so long from any whisper of power, to stand in the center of a miniature replica of the universe was an incredible thing.
The greater universe, Edward could make no claims on. But within the bounds of his magic the former Fullmetal Alchemist had devised a lesser universe which he could, hopefully, manipulate at his whim.
According to some schools of religious and philosophical thought, travel between universes was simply a matter of transferring consciousness. And for most people, perhaps this was true. But between this world and his own, one Edward had already died... killed in the exploding fire of a fallen zeppelin. Edward had already transferred his body whole to this world, as a side effect of his resurrection array for Alphonse. Unless he wanted to drag someone from his home world to exchange places with him, there would be no transferring back.
To return, Edward would have to unmake his body. And somehow, through the magnitude of his sacrifice and the force of his will, he was to remake his body on the other side. For this to work he would need to invoke the hidden powers of the gate, those hungry shadow creatures that cared for nothing except an attractive trade.
Setting aside his anger, and his loneliness, his despair and his fears, Edward dropped his arms to his sides. He was ready.
Before him, Scar stood like a revenant, pale in the fading light of dusk. Edward found it hard to stifle his pity for the man, and harder to smother his affection. The anger was still there, of course, and probably always would be... but Scar was giving him a remarkable gift. It was something worth loving the man for.
Great powers! Only in overwrought Sir Henry Rider Haggard novels did magic come accompanied by long speeches of droning, deathless prose. One reason so much of this world's magic failed, in fact, was that most people were unable to hold the appropriate levels of concentration while reciting pages of interminable incantations. Without oaths to Osiris, or curses from Isis, or conversations with Sekhet the cat-headed, or any bullying of Set, Edward raised his hands. Only one word was necessary, really, and that was something he could speak in the silence of his own mind.
The phosphorus light surrounding them was unnatural, with a faint tinge of green. It was the color of fireflies, or plankton stirred in some dark warm southern ocean. Although his place in the actual universe was an insignificant one, Edward felt important. He was Alphonse Elric's brother, He was Tricia Elric's son. These facts had meaning, and his intention was clear.
I want to go home.
Beyond the array was a world where crickets chirped, where bats darted, where humans lived and died. It was not his world. The stars in the sky were not his stars.
The giving powers of the universe were always, always hungry.
As taught by the texts of the Kabbalah, Edward knew some important things. For instance, from the Bible he knew that the son that YHVH had asked Abraham to sacrifice had been a grown man at the time of his fathers testing; that Isaac had submitted willingly to the binding, agreeing to his own death as the price of his father's obedience. Just as Scar was willing to pay the price from him, Edward was willing to submit to his own destruction. This did not make him more calm, however, when the light surrounding him coalesced into a single roused entity.
One last flicker of a glance towards Scar. The man stood still and straight as the shadows gathered around him, and even though he looked brave, he also looked... very lonely. Edward felt his body stutter, his heart race, and he looked down, and away.
I thought that Ishbala might lead you here.
Scar had known, known all along that things would end this way, given visions of the truth of his own future in much the way that Edward had been shown glimpses of the future of all humanity. But knowing how it would end, only Scar himself could choose how he got there. Edward closed his eyes. Perhaps it could be said that the man had loved him for a time, and in his own fashion.
Perhaps it had even been love, for a time.
Alright. The light was him, in negative space. The gate was himself, in the hole he'd create by leaving this universe. All he had to do, really, was step inside.