There were times when he was sure he was in hell. It made sense to him that God would punish him for his sins, not just because he'd used forbidden alchemy, not just because he he'd allowed himself to be come a tool, an object of death and destruction, but because part of him hadn't hated it. Had liked it. Had liked the way the cursed arm made him feel: strong, potent, righteous. He'd even like the subtle way it invaded his brain, slipping in and giving him knowledge—not about the things he wanted to know, but the things IT wanted him to.
The Philosophers Stone wanted to be made. It had eaten at his reason, played on his religious fervor, stoked his anger, and pointed him in the direction it wanted. It wanted souls—the most potent he could find. Oh it wouldn't turn down any soul, but the ones it craved the most were the ones with the most potential to channel Alchemy. How kind of Amestris to mark them.
He had resisted it at times. Had used it's own power to destroy the 5th lab, when it had come close to reassembling itself. It had hated him for that, had brought back the pain. He endured. For a while. Eventually his resolve fell apart.
It was just easier to do what it wanted. Even as he dragged stones through the street of Lior, knowing that God would hate this, even as his muscles protested and tore from the labor, he'd felt relief. And it was easy to justify what he was doing. All he had to do was look at Rose and he knew that the world would be a better place once his victims had left it.
There was relief knowing that he wouldn't survive the making either. That at last his suffering, his indecision, his chance to save himself would be gone. He'd be finally free.
It had been partially out of pity, but largely out of selfishness that he'd foisted the Arm off on Al. The Arm had accepted his reasoning. Had gleefully gone along—but left with one last insidious stroke to his mind. One more job left. Do it, my love.
His mind had been weak. His body exhausted and the arm's power, to heal him, to push him, to keep him functioning was also missing. He dragged through his last mission a true convert to the stone, the last shreds of self preservation stripped from him.
When the world turned lavender and his body ripped apart, he felt peace, knowing that he would face the same fate he'd sentenced so many others to. He looked forward to unthinking oblivion.
But that was not to be. Instead a gate appeared before his mind's eye, and he felt a thousand wriggling, boneless arms wind about him, grasp him firmly and pull him in.
And here he was, in a grey nothing land. Hell. Or possibly limbo. But certainly not the nothingness he'd hoped for. Whenever They left him, he would walk—endlessly, towards nothing, from nothing. It didn't matter. They always found him. He couldn't get away.
His body was intact. One of the first things They did was to fit his old arms back on. Not THE Arm, but rather his own flesh that Kimbly had stolen. Lovingly, they caressed the juncture where his arms had once ended. They seemed to delight in the way he'd looked at his limbs, flexed them, and curled his hands. The way he'd touched his own skin in amazement.
But They didn't leave him intact. When They visited, which was erratically, They'd often borrow something of his. Limbs, eyes, internal organs, he never knew what they would take next. They left behind gaping holes that didn't bleed or heal and pain that never eased.
He'd scream at them, calling them demons, cursing and damning them. They seemed amused by this. After a while They brought the parts back, and then caressed him as if to express how sorry They were to cause him so much distress.
No matter how much he yelled at them They never seemed to understand that the caresses were worse than the pain. The black cool arms slid over his skin, gently, softly, massaging him unrelentingly, until he gave them what they wanted. And once he came, horrified and disgusted with himself, They would leave him alone for a while—until the next time.
And he'd start walking again.
He was surprised when he saw Edward sitting naked in the mist, whole, marked with alchemy circles on his arms and chest and forehead.
"Scar?" asked Ed.
That's the name the military had given him. He accepted it. Scar sounded like sin and sin was what he embodied. His old name belonged to an innocent, faithful boy. He had no right to it.
"So, we meet in hell," he said, sitting down next to the boy.
"This isn't hell," Ed said. "It's the Gate. I've... I've been here before—three, no four times now. I seem always to be coming back."
Ed was an Alchemist, a sinner, so it made sense that he would be sentenced to hell as well, but his remark about being here before was confusing. "They let you go?"
"Yes. They like to trade. They find it entertaining to offer things to humans, but they don't trade fair. I don't know why I keep coming back. I always am hopeful that one day I will come out on the better end of the deal. I always think that there can't possibly be anything They can take from me that I would value more than what I'd gain. I'm always wrong. They let me go, but I keep coming back."
"Maybe that's why they let you go in the first place."
"Possibly." The boys shoulders heaved, his golden hair slid free to his chest.
"What are you here to trade for this time?"
"My brother. I died. He sacrificed his life for mine. I want him back."
"So you are offer your life for his? Doesn't that negate his sacrifice?"
"I don't want to live without Al."
Scar nodded. The demons must love to watch these boys' agony, playing them off against each other the way They did.
Edward suddenly stiffened. A black seething mass appeared in the mist, growing sharper and more defined. Scar could see eyes, and teeth, but mostly hands. Like a wave, they were on them, slithery fingers finding Scar's arms and legs, not really pinning him, but letting him understand that they didn't want him moving.
They were more violent with Ed, engulfing him completely in a writhing mess. He heard Ed's choked cries, but could do nothing for him. After a few moments they withdrew, a dozen or so of the nebulous forms continuing to hold the boy and caress him.
They never spoke, but they listened, and they could make themselves understood when they chose. Now they were wondering what Ed wanted. Scar sensed their curiosity and amusement.
"Bring back Al. Give him his body back, I offer everything. Everything."
It was what they were hoping to hear. Scar felt their pleasure, and a hint of mischief. They turned to him next. What did he want?
"Let me go. Let me pass on."
They responded with reluctant acceptance. A black hand slithered across his cheek, petting him. Then ominously he sensed a touch of amusement. They'd let him go... for a price.
The mass withdrew into the mist and Scar and Ed were alone again.
"Why do you return if they are unfair to you?"
"I never remember," Ed said. "They always take my memory of what happens here before I go. They return it when I come back. And once I'm here, there is nothing to do but to ask them for something and to give them something in return. They won't let me move on until I do."
A form staggered out of the mist, resolving itself into a boy, naked, hugging himself and shivering. They were back, too, but curiously They weren't touching the child. They surrounded him on three sides encouraging him to move forward, but seemed reluctant to force the issue.
"Al!" cried Ed, rising to his feet and launching himself at the other. Scar looked closer at the boy. His hair was a darker blond, and he seemed far younger than the fifteen years he should be, but it very well could be Ed's brother. Ed grabbed him and held him, lifting the boy off the ground and spinning him three quarters of the way around.
"Ah," said Al, stepping back when his brother released him. "Brother, I can feel you! I'm human!"
Ed ran a hand down Al's arm and Al shuddered. "Does it hurt?" Ed asked concerned.
"Sensitive," said Al. "Brother, why am I flesh? Why are you here? They told me they'd let you live. They took the philosophers stone. Why are you still here?"
"I came back for you, silly."
Al's brows rose. "I don't want you to die." He spun and looked at the mass. "It's not fair! You can't do this to us. I gave you the stone, it should be worth SOMETHING! Let him live, I beg you."
Amusement again. Yes, they'd let Ed live, and Al have his flesh and Scar move on to what comes after death. But they wanted something.
"What do you want," Ed asked.
A flash of vision made Scar stagger. He looked at Al with horror. They couldn't possibly...
But they did. Scar suddenly realized that Al had been deprived of all but the crudest physical sensations for five years. Pain and pleasure were beyond him for a third of his life. Now he was restored, wrapped in virginal skin, unused to coping with sensation. They wished to explore his new senses. They wanted to push the boy to his limit and see how his mind coped. And they wanted Scar and Ed to help.
They would allow some latitude—Scar could be rough or gentle, but he would touch the child, make him feel something. That or he would remain there, with them, for however long they desired. This would be as much a test of him, Scar realized, as it would be of Al. Al would merely have to endure. Scar would have to choose.
Scar looked over at Ed and saw him similarly struggling. "You are sadists," he growled. But then his shoulders heaved in resignation.
Al's eyes were wide. "Will I remember this, afterwards?"
No, the seething mass promised. No one would remember but Them. They petted Ed and Scar. Be good, They wanted. Don't fight. No one will be hurt in the end. Everyone will be happy.
"It's ok," said Al to both of them. "If it's what They want in return—it really isn't much. Not like an arm or a leg. It's nothing I'll miss. I won't even remember it's been taken."
The hands on Scar were pushing him now pressing him towards Al, holding his arms, attempting to force him to touch Al while not touching him Themselves. They didn't want their experiment spoiled, Scar realized. They wanted Al's first touches to be human and only human.
Ed had already acquiesced. Stroking his brother with little or no encouragement from the hands. The kisses they shared moved from chaste to heated quickly. The promise of forgetfulness and a return to innocence breaking down their inhibitions. What happened here, stayed here, They promised. Do as you desire.
With Scar they were more forceful. Scar had no desire to molest Al or Ed. But They were insistent. One last sin, and then he too would return to innocence. Give in. Feel. Take. Enjoy. He could feel their desire curling about his mind, robbing him of reason.
I'm weak, he thought. I have always been weak. It has always been my desire to do another's will. My brother's, God's, the Arm's. And now Theirs.
They showed him what they wanted him to do, and he shuddered. The boy was so small and he so large, even with his best efforts it would hurt. And that was precisely why they wanted him to do it. They assured him no permanent harm would come to Al. Any damage would be healed.
Just do it. Give in.
And he did. It felt good. And when Al cried out, he merely held him tighter, but didn't stop. Ed did his best, taking his brother in his mouth, trying to distract him, and turn his pain back into pleasure. Perhaps it worked, because Al grew quieter, except for grunts. They watched and were pleased.
Pleasure built to its inevitable peak and Scar forgot to care about Al. His only thought during his final thrusts were of how wonderful it felt. But as soon as he finished he felt the weight of yet another sin on his soul. His right arm, which had curled around Al's shoulders was wet.
Ed choked suddenly and Scar was reassured by what the boy spat out on the ground. It couldn't have been too bad for Al. Suddenly he found Al toppling backwards on him, limp. He caught the boy and laid him down.
The hands swarmed in immediately, pulling Al away, back towards a door that had not been their seconds before. Ed jumped to his feet, trying to follow, but was held back.
"You promised," Ed cried out. "We did what you wanted, you promised we could be together."
But They indicated They had made no such deal. Al would have his flesh, and Ed would live, that is what They promised. They did not say that the two would be together.
The door vanished. Al was gone, beyond reach.
Another door appeared, some distance away in a different direction. Ed tensed and fought, but the hands would not allow him any ground. They sliced through his arm and leg as easily as if it were soft clay, pausing only to heal the stumps. They then forced him through the door.
"Why did you separate them?" Scar asked. "They did as you wished. Why are you still holding them apart."
So they will come back to us, They replied. So eventually they will have to return here. We are not done with them. But we are done with you.
Scar's back prickled and he turned around. Sure enough there was a third door. Larger and more ornate than the other two. The crack that had formed was full of light.
They petted Scar gently. We liked you. We will miss you. But we keep our promises.
"What is beyond?" Scar asked. Would it be heaven? Hell?
A new life, they promised. A fresh start. Innocence. The door opened fully, and without regret, Scar walked through it, all his sins forgotten.