The Gate was a cruel, cruel mistress.
It spat him out embodied, fifteen and lanky and growing fast, but with red-black pits for eyes, with the eight-point hooked array branded like some great wheel on his back, with his mind in foggy disarray and his soul aching, aching from loneliness, because his brother was nowhere to be felt.
When the great doors parted, the world beyond was empty and burning. He saw only blackness, but hot sand passed deep and shifting under his flinching feet, and sunlight covered him like drowning. He'd been cast out naked into the lit forge of the world. Tender pale skin scaled slowly red; he walked with his hands cupped protective over his cock, shaking with pain and thirst. He would die here, he thought, as time he could not count passed with liquid endlessness, as he shuffled an aimless death march over unmarked sands. He had shot too close to the sun, and he would die, here, in all this golden light he couldn't see.
Then, so unexpected he thought at first he might be going mad, a low voice called from the middle distance, suspicious, "You're Amestrian—what are you doing out here?"
He staggered to a stop, turned his head on instinct, but his tongue was leather in his mouth and he could not find words. He could hear soft sandy footsteps now; he swallowed dry, praying the Gate had still left him his voice.
"Ahh—you look like a deserter. I suppose you're not an alchemist, then?" Closer still; he croaked, it was a start. "They blinded you," the man murmured, a hint of pity now. He was in his shadow; perhaps he was taller? "Here." A hand touched his shoulder, strong and heavy and stinging against sunburn, and the first human touch he'd felt since he was ten; he reached to hold it on principle, yearning, and the man guided reddened fingers to his face. An introduction, he realized; a chance to see him. He fumbled round strong jaw, long narrow nose, before finding strange, cool, rough patches, tracing them round the bridge of his nose, over the delicate curves of his eyes, until he realized the shape of them, brushstroke X...
Kimberly's savage grin in the last moments of his life. Blackness spreading through the plates of him. The haunting emptiness of Lior abandoned, dusty streets, Lust lurking in the distance. And Scar, armless and bleeding and sacrificed, ending all his wanderings and pain in compassion.
"I gave you all of Ishbal," Scar wondered, "just to save your life."
When pure fresh water dribbled between his fingers he laughed for joy. He had never been able to do this before. Not even Brother could have done this.
"Did God," Scar asked softly, "mean for us to die?"
Because he, too, was alone in the desert, just half a skin of musty water, and the life Al was pulling out of the sand was by alchemy, the abomination.
But, eventually, Scar chose to live too. He'd touched him to the heart with the story, Al thought; he'd believed, Scar had let him feel the rough and ragged join from limb to limb, the lines of power in the half-formed Stone. And they drank until they lay bloated and grinning in the sand.
"This," he said once, "will help with the burns."
Al, realizing now as the stark fear of his first while in this world faded, how precious it was to have a body again, had been all but revelling in the constant throb of the burns, the blistering, the sand that got caught in every bit of him. It had hurt too much to dress himself, he claimed; but really, he didn't want to hide new flesh away. And Scar, he promised himself, didn't seem to mind.
The plant—he let him touch it, smell it—was stiff and succulent, broken into bits in Scar's hands, dripping with cool, watery juice. It felt like breeze on his sun-scoured skin; he squeezed Scar's hand gratefully, wrung out every bit of juice, rubbed it all over. And Scar helped him with his back, with the bits he couldn't reach. And when his right hand touched the circle on his back, they both started, grunting and yelping with the hissing flash of alchemical energy, the threat of distant doors, and Scar jumped back with a foreign curse, and they never dared touch arrays again.
But Scar still finished with the aloe on his back.
Al, untouched, twined ever closer; and Scar, exile, world turned on its ear by Al's words, accepted what strange comfort God and the Gate had given him. Al, butterfly trembling with the intimacy of being embraced by one he could not see, one he had to feel instead to find him in a black world, nuzzled the strong curve of Scar's neck.
When his tongue touched skin, Scar, desperate alone, did not protest.
Scar held him like he was made of glass, like his skin was sugar crystals, his hair silk. Scar tasted of sweat and sun-warmed linen, and he had to spit sand out of his mouth or grind it in his teeth, but that at least he was used to already, because sand got everywhere in the desert. And every gentle, hesitant touch of Scar's hands upon his back and arms, uncertain comfort, was the most important thing in the world.
"This is probably," Scar murmured, "wrong."
"But we're the only people for miles," Al whispered, hands finding their way up the curve of Scar's throat, over the hillock of Adam's apple, the cliff of jaw, to the warm soft lines of narrow desert-scoured lips. "We're the only people in the world."
The kiss was awkward until Scar slid a broad hand to the base of his neck to guide his fumblings, and then the kiss was tender savagery, warm forbidden wellsprings, and Scar was gasping, pulse fast under fine fingers at his throat.
It was still, Scar said later, wrong, but both of them had long ago forgotten what that was.
"Please," Al whispered, "please let me hear you."
Cast off at last from the nipple, after finally wrenching a long groan from a stoic, Al worked across some great tender expanse, paused, turned his hands about, giggled. The sound bubbled incongruous through mournful desert air.
"I think I'm lost," he chuckled, and if he had spread out his hands he would be found, but he didn't. "Please, stop being afraid. Please, we both want this..."
At last, with the gathering breath of courage, with the burning of the Stone against his scalp, Scar guided him down to his cock.
Slowly, Al explored every inch of it, felt it harden fully, soft skin like damp velvet against his cheek; realized he was cirumcised, startling bald by Ishbalan law; explored his balls, weighed them gently in his palms; finally wrapped his lips softly around the bare head of it, was rewarded by a long, tender, tremulous gasp.
Scar, he thought, as he learned the shape of him with his tongue, was still, perhaps, fighting for control; all the muscles in his stomach were tight, though the pulse in the crease of his thigh was beating fast; and he slid for just a moment off his cock and whispered, "Let go. Do whatever you want, just let me touch you, please..."
What he wanted, eventually, almost faster than Al expected, was to come, and his hips bucked strong with a long moan that Al felt through his bones, and it filled his mouth hot and dripping, but he sputtered, wrapped an arm round one hard thigh where Scar had hitched a leg up, laughed for joy because it was thick and bitter, but he could taste, he could taste him, he could feel him when he losed everything beneath him.
He hadn't told him of his brother's death. Hadn't told him of the Gate. Not until now.
Silence stretched, not entirely uncomfortable. He touched the face, familiar now; he could read expressions in the folds of the scar between lowered eyebrows, in the curves of his lips, by the angle of his head, the speed of his breathing. He felt sorrow now, deep and terrible sorrow, but tempered.
"If you came here," Scar said at last, "this must be the world as you wished it."
"I don't know," Al murmured softly. "The Gate—the Gate is cruel beyond imagining. I miss Brother. I miss him so very much."
"So do I," Scar breathed, unexpected.
"But," Al answered at last, "maybe."