There wasn’t anything left for him, in those early days. Wandering the sands where he had once felt so at home, where memories of his mother making flatbread used to dance, now the memories screamed. He would look down and see blood. Blood that would never stop clinging to his hands. A hand which was not his. And memories would pour until he burned, and he had to close them off, lest he be swallowed by the sand as his people were. Put into a bottle, like water.
He left the sand. He travelled to Amestris, where he hunted those people who had preyed on those who could not. Covering his hands in that blood which would not leave.
Amestris was crowded, crowded with people convinced of their own beauty. Convinced that their way of life was good, and that they had done no wrong. People who could never know the warmth of the sun as he did, who would cower before its burn without knowing its pity. People who could not appreciate a life without tearing another down, so theirs needed be taken away. People who would never know the smell of ‘Umi’s spices, or if they did know it they would not have loved it as they should. The memories burned and he bottled them, like water.
He covered his eyes, in part to hide from the Amestrian government. In part to hide his memories from himself. Blue eyes seemed to follow him everywhere. No matter the heat of the sun, the relentless blue eyes chilled him. Robbed him of home, friends, family, and warmth. So he hunted, to give his people back the life that was taken from them.
He was called Scar by those people. He found that it suited him. Rugged, jagged around the edges, patched together, far from pure. Healed through refusal to be torn. Scar followed the Elric brothers until they could flee no farther north. Until the harsh blue eyes were not the only thing stealing away the warmth of the distant, wayward sun. With snow dogging Scar’s footsteps, home was as distant as that sullen sun.
And yet it was in that frozen place that Scar found eyes so like his own. Eyes that evoked ‘Umi and Shaqiq, but knew none of the wonders of Ishval. A man who had heard of the horrors of the war, and had seen relatively little of the oppression imposed upon their people. Eyes that somehow still hoped honestly for a day when their people would live and work together without prejudice.
After the mess, when the Fuhrer was dead and a new regime was in place, Scar was to work alongside Major Miles, in the rebuilding of Ishval and the preservation of their culture. As such, they ventured south together, back to where Scar’s footsteps had not traced the dunes in years. The ice of the north and eyes seemed to have settled into Scar’s bones. Before the warm desert Scar stood, somehow afraid that his bones had become brittle in his long absence, that warm sun would shatter him to embrace Scar again.
The Major evidently sensed his apprehension.
“Are you not excited?” He asked, somewhat intrusively. Scar turned to look slightly down at the Major, and frown. The Major, it seemed, would not be dissuaded by his silence. “To see your homeland again.” He clarified, as if confusion was the reason Scar had not deigned to answer.
Scar continued to frown at Major Miles, but he continued to stare back expectantly, with eyes so much warmer than the frost he came from. Scar sighed. “Have you seen my land before?”
“No,” Major Miles answered promptly.
“Then you will never understand the loss my country aches from.” Scar replied. He ignored the slight twinge in his chest pulled up by the partially hurt look his declaration had produced on Major Miles’s face.
“I do hope to learn.” Major Miles said, ever so sincere. Scar did believe him, but there was a rift that could not be emulated, no matter the empathy. Scar made a non-commital noise as he turned back to the desert, and they began the trek.
By the time they reached Ishval the sun and Major Miles both had begun attempts to thaw Scar, but he was resistant. The cold inside of him was a reminder of the roads he had travelled, and the innocent lives hurt and lost because of it. A strange sort of pride at his guilt and shame.
Ishval had been attempting to regrow on its own, and now without the tyranny of the old rulers it would be possible for some real progress to be made. Scar and Major Miles were given a room at a reformed barracks. After consulting with the local force three specific locations for the infrastructure rebuilding to begin were chosen. The first was a central road to connect the residential area of the town with the business and market quarters. The second was a children’s school, while the third was a collections of farms near the river.
Scar frowned when he heard of the farms. “Why haven’t the fields already been repaired?”
The informant blinked in surprise. Major Miles tended to do most of the talking. “King Bradley had ordered that the farming tools be seized, in case they be used as weapons.” The young man explained, and took a step back at the anger beginning to consume Scar’s features. “They’ve gotten them back now, no harm done!”
Rage lanced through Scar. “No harm done? My people have starved while you sat on their only means to feed themselves. Innocent people have died in your contentment to sit, and you say ‘no harm done?’” There was a touch on Scar’s left arm. Scar spun, prepared to defend himself, but was stopped by the sympathetic red eyes of Miles.
“The past is gone, we can only help what now exists.” He said quietly.
Scar felt his anger bleed away somewhat, and was immediately ashamed of himself for doing so. He did not need sympathy, he needed to help his people. He turned back to the young man, who apparently had been backed to a wall. His eyes were wide and watery. He looked pathetic. Scar scowled as he spat “Scram.” at the small man, and found a little satisfaction in his hasty retreat.
For the next several days Major Miles and Scar worked side by side with volunteers and some of the force to fix the road. Clearing the remaining rubble, carrying gravel, and packing it flat. Roads in Ishval needed to support both trucks and animals, and be able to resist sandstorms. It was mind-numbing work, and hot, but there was a serenity in its monotony and the knowledge that Ishvalans would benefit from their labor.
Miles might not have been raised in the desert, but he took to the people remarkably well. Even with his skin— somewhat lighter than a full Ishvalan— burning in the sunlight, he easily made friends with the locals and police force alike. He was willing, and even wanting, to learn about Ishvalan culture and history. He was often seen talking to the poor, over-trodden folk who attempted to find refuge from the sun. He had a way of coaxing the people beneath the colorful low-hanging cloths surrounding doorways and windows into talking to him freely. He could separate himself from the Amestrian invasion enough to relate to the Ishvalans, and yet in the police force had a calming presence that made him immediately respected.
His mediator position however, did not render him incapable of work. He labored with all of the rest of the workers; volunteer Ishvalans and paid government Amestrians alike were encouraged by Miles’s easy dialogue and freely given kindness. It seemed that the hope the Major harbored might even have begun to rub off on all the denizens of the city.
There were a few times when Scar would look up from the craggy road and see Major Miles laughing at something someone had said, and found something bright in his chest. It made him uncomfortable, so he put it in his bottle, like water.
The familiar setting along with the burn of the sun slowly thawed the ice away from Scar’s bones. It had, of course, been suggested that the workers rebuild the road in the night, under the calm gaze of the moon. This had been overruled by Scar who argued that the night sometimes dropped into freezing temperatures rapidly. Major Miles noted that the sound would unnecessarily keep the residents awake, in his quiet way.
An odd feeling moved again in Scar’s chest as he nodded along. Something like… pride?
As the road gradually extended, day by day they grew closer to the business district, and smells from the market began to drift down to the workers. The smells of flatbread and spices floated on a sparse, dry breeze, causing Scar to look up.
For a moment ‘Umi knelt by the earth-oven, stoking the fire and turning the bread. Shaqiq ran into the room, blubbering about an animal stuck in the river. Unused to the rushing water, it had died just before Shaqiq could reach it to hold it above the surging surface. He cried at the loss of life, shaking in ‘Umi’s arms until the bread burned. Scar’s eyes stung at the memory.
A worker nudged his arm questioningly. Scar turned to frown at her, and at her raised eyebrows abruptly realized that he had been staring into space. A space currently occupied by a particular laughing Major. Scar took the time to point a scowl at the worker who had nudged him. Rather than backing off she made an indecipherable face in reply, something tinged with exasperation and perhaps amusement. Scar tried not to be a little offended at the lack of fear. His edge seemed to be fading. When had that begun?
When the work was finished for the day the diggers and pullers and packers all lifted their shovels onto aching shoulders, grimy with dirt and sweat and sun. They steadily made their way through the lower district, some residents waving cheerily to the worn laborers, many volunteers breaking off from the group to return to their families. The remaining laborers ventured farther on, into the upper district primarily occupied by the government buildings. Here their barracks waited, a cool haven promising some water and clean clothes.
Major Miles evidently noticed Scar’s hurry because he patted Scar’s shoulder with a smile. It was Scar’s right shoulder, at the the seam where the skin of brothers met. Scar tried not to tense or flinch away. That would be weakness, he told himself firmly. The Major took his hand off of Scar’s shoulder to open the door to their room, resulting in a pang in Scar’s chest. That is far more weak he told himself much more firmly, somewhat annoyed with himself.
The city being a desert and resting on the banks of a river with questionable sanity to say the least, all of the water given to the laborers, soldiers, police, and miscellaneous government officials was filtered. The effect of this decision left Scar and Major Miles rotating who got to use the water bucket first. There were benefits of scrubbing yourself both first and second, of course. He who went second was allowed to dump the bucket over themself. He who went first got clean water.
Scar tried almost desperately to ignore the squirming in his chest as Miles first removed his shirt to scrub away the residue of the road from his shoulders and chest. Scar found himself staring resolutely at a thin crack in the wall. His face seemed to be heating. He would try to tell himself that it was a fever, if it hadn’t happened many times before, reoccuringly, at times which Scar was adamantly not going to find the very obvious correlation between.
When Miles went to remove his pants Scar quickly left the room.
The next day the workers reassembled at the road just before sunup, divided the jobs for the day, and set about business. The day stretched long and hot, the work was repetitive. It was far too easy to get pulled into his own thoughts when working like this.
Scar stood straight for a moment to realign his back, and was treated to the sight of Miles laughing again. Did he never stop? A warm feeling he had not realized was taking up residence in his chest was squashed and turned green when a tall man, one of the laborers, slapped Major Miles’s shoulder playfully. Evidently the Major had told a very amusing joke, provoking the unnecessary action in the man.
The worker next to him lightly punched Scar’s shoulder to raise her eyebrows pointedly again. Scar knew that his glare was rendered ineffective on her, and so elected to simply ignore her. She rolled her eyes and got back to work.
When work finally broke for the day several of the men expressed a desire to see the market. Scar was pointing his head resolutely towards home, when the irksome little worker with no fear elbowed him. Scar intended to ignore her this time, but she elbowed him again. He ignored her. Scar was ready to try his glare again by the time the third dig came.
Scar turned, ready to ask her to move back or otherwise stop touching him, when she swung her head pointedly towards the market entrance. Major Miles was walking alongside the tall man who had slapped Miles’s shoulder. The little worker raised her eyebrows, questioning. Challenging.
Scar scowled, which only seemed to amuse her if her smirk was anything to go by, as he changed course for the market. Why? He has every right to walk with whoever he wants. It has nothing to do with him, I just want to eat proper Ishvalan food again, he told himself resolutely.
The market was not quite so lively now as it had been in the days of Scar’s youth, but that would change once the road was completed. Nevertheless there were many people milling around between swirling colors of cloth and spices, rainbows dancing in an arid ruin.
The smell of spiced flatbread again surrounded Scar, turning him into the shadows of an overcasting blanket. A low earth-oven was steaming, a jida stoking it watchfully. The bread inside smelled so much like ‘Umi’s used to make hers. The jida turned to Scar, her eyes pink with cataracts, and crows feet surrounding them. Scar wasn’t sure how well she could see him, but she smiled warmly at him still.
“You’ve been gone a long while, I would wager.” the jida called to him.
“Why put such stock in a stranger?” Scar replied, lighter than the words should have relayed.
Her answering smile told him that his words had not been taken unkindly. “The hungriest soul is the one that has tasted and lost.”
Her observation took Scar by surprise. He knelt beside her, as was respectful and a sign of attentiveness. Her smile held melancholy as she turned to her fire and stoked it again. “Don’t we all lose in our time?” Scar countered.
The jida nodded sagely, turning her attention back to Scar she returned “We do not all keep our pain so close to us as you do.”
Scar was confused at that. He had left behind his pain and memory, put everything that ached into a bottle, and shoved it away. He had not stayed past burying his family, but most of the survivors had stayed. Stayed in the crouched remnants of homes and lives, wandered through the bloodied streets which sand swept away. The jida sensed his confusion and cut it short through pressing a hand to Scar’s right arm. If his eyes stung he would blame it on the dry air.
“Your love of family has made you fear it.” She said with a finality that told of the lack for want of an answer. Fear family or fear love? Scar wanted to ask. The gaze of the jida slipped over Scar’s shoulder, staring with a widening smile to something or someone in the distance. Scar would have assumed it a memory, had it not been for the embarrassed throat which was cleared behind him.
Scar turned to see Miles standing there, evidently having been caught watching the exchange from afar. Scar certainly did not feel triumphant at the sight of the tall worker being completely unable to hold Miles’s attention.
The jida reclaimed Scar’s heed with the question “Will you take some bread?” At Scar’s confirmation she pulled bread from the oven. When Scar made to grab it she snatched it back chuckling, “Money first, I’ve got to make a living you know.” Scar huffed out a small laugh as he fished out a coin from his pocket. The jida winked as they traded, advising “You will give your friend some, yes?” Though phrased as a question it was most certainly a command. Scar took it as such and found himself smiling mildly. She had reminded him of his own grandmother.
Scar stood with a bow before walking to the still observing Miles, stopping in front of him. The tall worker seemed to have given up and wandered off.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. The bread smelled so nice.” Miles explained himself, somewhat abashedly.
Scar found himself not believing him, but being amused all the same. “You have a good nose. You have not been to Ishval if you have not had the flatbread.” He informed Miles importantly. Scar offered the bread to him as Miles laughed. Miles accepted it graciously and bit into the bread. His eyes widened and he hummed around the bread. For the first time in a long while Scar found himself thinking that the warm squiggling in his chest was not more pleasant than sufferable.
The two meandered through the market for the remainder of the evening though Scar had no more money to spend, talking a little. Neither were men of exceptionally many words, though they found that the stretches of silence between them were warm.
The road was finished soon after that, and reconstruction on the school began. Less workers were needed for the task, and Scar found himself quietly victorious when the tall worker was told that he was unneeded for that particular project. Repairs upon the school were largely indoors, so the sun was not so deathly hot.
Many of the children around the city had nothing to do in a day besides look for scraps and cool shade, so even when the school was not in session many could be found wandering the school.
Often times while working the voice of the teacher explaining lessons would wander down the halls, along with the voices of children muttering who thought themselves unheard. It lulled him into memories of sitting in class with Shaqiq, pulling faces at one another behind the teacher’s back. Scar tried to stop a willy chuckle from leaving him at the thought, but thought better of it. There was no harm in remembering a brother fondly.
Scar took to talking with the children during his lunch break instead of eating. He had gone a long time without food many times in his life and thought it no burden. It was one such break when he had forgotten to watch his time. He had become immersed in telling the children an old Ishvalan folktale, laughing at a comment from one of the children, when he became aware of a presence in the doorway.
Scar was immeasurably embarrassed to find Miles leaning against the frame, smirking at Scar. He also became abruptly aware of the three children sitting cross-legged around him, one tracing the tattoos on his right arm, one sitting in his lap, and still one more child hanging on his shoulders.
Scar cleared his throat as he felt his face heat. “Alright al’atfal, that’s all for today.”
Many of the children groaned. “You didn’t finish the story!” One of the boys complained while most of the others nodded along aggressively.
“I will finish it tomorrow.” Scar promised.
“Mudaris wants you back in class.” Miles contributed.
The children scrambled off of Scar so that he could stand. One child immediately grabbed each arm, yelling that he should carry them. He scoffed and rolled his eyes before he hoisted them into the air and carried them down the hall to the classroom, the other four children an entourage. Scar ruffled a child’s hair as they walked sullenly into the classroom, prepared for their scolding for being late.
Scar turned his gaze back down to the previous room, where Miles was watching pensively, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Scar returned to him, feeling his face heat once more. As they walked together to the construction site Miles commented “The al’atfal are very fond of you.”
“Little tyrants, they’ll laugh at you behind your back.” Scar countered, but he could not keep the fondness from his voice. Scar found that for the first time since the war had begun he was smiling openly.
A few days later, when school was not in session, Scar was hoisting two children around the school again. They shrieked with joy as the other children called for their turns. Scar laughed, turning a corner so that the hoard of followers could not catch him.
He stopped abruptly. There was a familiar smell in the air, that of alchemy. Scar saw the edge of a transmutation circle drawn onto the floor of a room, recognized the type of alchemy; combustion.
Scar heard himself shout, saw himself spin, throwing the children from his arms away from the room. He broke a wall as a shield, but the blast was powerful. He heard himself hit the ground, heard children yelling, and then saw white.
When he awoke it was to blurred vision, vague white outlines, and a terrible headache. His vision began to clear, and he found himself inside of the white medical wing of the barracks. A healer was standing near him, checking his pulse.
Scar tried to ask her something, but all that came out of his throat was a garbled grunt. His throat burned and constricted, feeling as if he had swallowed the contents of a large hourglass. The healer quickly retrieved a jug of water, poured a cup, and helped Scar drink.
“You are very lucky” She informed him. “With all of that rubble you could easily have been crushed.”
“I feel as if I have.” Scar replied testily.
“As I say, you were very near it.” the healer answered smoothly. “You have three cracked ribs, two broken, a concussion, skin scraped from your left arm, and second degree burns over most of your left leg.” Scar was informed.
“And the al’atfal?” Scar remembered “were they hurt?”
The healer’s face softened. “Your improvised wall at least did the good of protecting the children, if not yourself. They are all fine.”
Scar felt himself relax a moment before tensing to ask “And Major Miles? He was in the area.”
For some reason the healer scoffed at his concern. “Oh he should be here any moment, a messenger was sent once you woke.”
Odd. “How long have I been unawake?”
“Nearly three days. It’ll be three this afternoon. You should eat once —”
But her advice was cut short as the door flew open. Again Scar tensed, this time for a fight rather than worry. And wasn’t that amusing? He hadn’t felt worry for a long time. Angry shouting brought Scar back to the present, and he realized that the person who had thrown open the door was none other than Miles.
When did I start to call him ‘Miles?’ It took Scar a moment to make sense of the shouting. When he did process it he found himself bewildered.
“Idiot, you could have gotten yourself killed!” Miles was shouting.
Scar replied as succinctly as he could “Better me than the al’atfal.” He had learned that sparing words was often the best way to communicate.
Miles sighed heavily, his frustration seeming to bleed out of him, and pressed the back of Scar’s hand to Miles’s forehead. It was a surprisingly intimate gesture in Ishvalan culture. Perhaps he did not know. Scar glanced at the healer to see her reaction. She seemed completely unastonished, and in fact was looking decisively at a sheaf of papers.
“How much damage was done to the school?” Scar asked.
Miles opened his eyes, and again Scar was impressed by them. A very deep red. So very warm. Scar realized that Miles had been talking.
“Could you repeat that?”
Miles chuckled softly as the healer gave an odd cough. “You have a concussion.”
Scar nodded “She told me.” He said wisely.
Miles nodded softly along with him. “I said that the wing was mostly destroyed, but you’re the only one who got hurt, and the rest of the school is undamaged. There were no gas lines in the area, and we found the residue of a chalk circle. We surmised that the cause was alchemy.” Scar nodded in agreement. “We’re following up on that lead, and Central is sending a state alchemist to finish the school. The two of us are on leave until you’re healed.”
Scar frowned, feeling a bit befuddled. “Why the two of us?”
“The state alchemist will finish the school ahead of time, so it would be wise of you to heal until the next project starts. In fact, it would be absurd of you to do anything else. I have that time off because the state alchemist doesn’t need my help, and because you’re my partner.”
Something warm and perhaps golden filled Scar’s chest at the words. He could feel sleep closing around the edges of his vision again. He kissed Miles’s knuckles goodbye, guided by the golden feeling, before slipping again into darkness.
The next few days passed by in a mixture of confusion, fatigue, hunger, and boredom. Scar would have been very frustrated with his inability to do anything had it not been for Miles stopping in at least once a day to check in on him and tell him about any new developments. Three days after waking Miles told Scar that the perpetrator had been caught.
The man was an Amestrian who was not content with the suffering already born by their people. A man who wanted the Ishvalan people to be slaves for Amestria. “He meant to destroy the school and then the new road as some sort of power-play, but your wall changed the heat flow. It knocked him out of his circle, and he had to find a hole to lick his wounds in.”
“You seem agitated by him.” Scar observed.
“Are you not?” Miles asked, sounding surprised.
“Yes, I am angry. He tried to destroy our work, and yet he had no reason to destroy. Still, I am usually agitated by people. You are usually calm.”
Miles looked almost bashful before clearing his face and explaining “He hurt one of my men, and you are right. He had no reason to destroy anything.”
Scar smiled faintly.
Four days later the medical wing finally released Scar to go back to the room shared by him and Miles. Scar hated being useless. He was still told to change the bandages on his leg every day and those on his arm at most every other day.
The first night back in his room he was unable to bend his arm enough to unwrap the bandages on his mid-thigh. Miles walked in the door, back from the police station. His eyebrows scrunched in apparent bemusement as he crossed to the bed opposite to watch Scar struggle a few moments.
“May I help you?” He asked, calm and soothing as ever.
Scar huffed. He hated asking for help. It showed weakness, but deeper than that it caused another to toil over Scar’s own trouble. Ordinarily, perhaps from anyone else, Scar would have denied. He would have brushed them off and taken care of his pains himself. Systematically, steadily, monotonously. For some reason Miles’s compassionate gaze made him hesitate and reconsider.
Scar had not asked for help, Miles was offering. Asking in fact, if he was allowed. No great trouble would come to Miles if Scar accepted his help. Slowly, almost cautiously, Scar nodded his consent.
When work began again over a week later and his leg was nearly completely healed, the workers gathered and headed towards the river together. Many of the workers seemed to be more cautious than ever around Scar. Almost as if they were afraid to go near him. Had Scar done something to alienate himself again? Since he had last seen the workers he had not fought with anyone, and could think of nothing he might have said to offend the whole lot of them. No matter how hard he thought on it, he could not expose whatever it was bothering the workers. The only thing that had happened was the explosion.
Did they suspect Scar of creating the explosion? There was no sense in that, Scar was one of the few attempting to repair the school. The mere idea of potentially harming the children was loathsome. Perhaps the workers’ distance was imagined.
When they reached the river Scar breathed deeply. Here was an old memory; the smell of water against the sand and mud, papyrus decaying to give life to others, goats, and burning lamp oil as the sun began to rise. The sound of rapids lapping against the bank, calling cranes, and goats beginning their cries for food.
There was very little food now, however. The fields they passed showed signs that the irrigation lines had been dug out by bare hands. With the government holding their tools there was little else that the starving farmers might do. Their crops fed the entire city, it would be a blessing to all to have them restored. The government was lending its money to the restoration effort, so the farmers would not be required to pay for anything.
They neared the first farm that they were to repair, and Scar balked a moment. This farm was familiar. There was once a proud house standing there, painted with turquoise birds and plants. Now the roof was threatening to cave, paint had long since been rubbed away by the sand with no money to reapply it.
Scar was torn from his remembrance by a long-since familiar shout of “Sadiq!” Scar dropped his pick just hurriedly enough to catch a young woman in his arms. “I have not seen you since the war, what happened to you?” She asked, pulling back from the hug to look him in the face. She had lost weight since the war, her eyes still sparkled but they held the darkness of stress and sleeplesness around the edges. Her eyes stopped on Scar’s left arm, covered in swirling tattoos, and filled with tears. “I see. You do not need to explain.”
Scar nodded with a quiet “Thank you, Chaiza” and turned towards the group of workers, only to notice again that nearly everyone had backed substantially away from him and, oddly, an almost annoyed-looking Miles. The little worker with the incessant eyebrows showed no such reserve, winding around Scar confidently to introduce herself to the farmer. Scar was mildly amused to see Chaiza blush at the little worker. They would get along well.
The work was again divided up, and Scar was set to work again with the Eyebrow Girl, as Scar decided to dub her. Working in the fields was a welcome situation. It was satisfying to feel the water spread down the lines of wheat, sugarcane, and beans. There would not be as much hunger for his people in the coming years, and it was alleviating to know that Scar had done what he could to help them. Scar stood to realign his back a moment and saw Miles working in the next field over.
He remembered with an uncomfortable clarity when at the edge of the desert, Scar had told Miles “You will never understand the loss my country aches from.” He now felt something very close to shame at the memory. Miles often spoke to those whose homes had been destroyed in the war, to those who could not find employment, those who were starving. He listened to all of their stories, all of their complaints, all of their suffering. It stung, but Scar did not want to bottle it up. It was not water, not something pure and bright. This was a memory that needed addressing.
Wondering how to go about bringing it up, Scar again thought of the workers avoiding him. He realized that he was still staring at Miles when Eyebrow Girl elbowed him in the ribs and lived up to her name. Perfect.
“Why do the others avoid me?” Scar asked concisely. “More than they normally do.” He amended. Eyebrow Girl simply gave the ground a pointed look until he huffed and turned back to his plowing.
“Probably because they don’t want to accidentally tick off the Major.” She informed him then.
Scar looked again to Eyebrow Girl, puzzled. “There is no sense in that.”
To further Scar’s confusion Eyebrow Girl laughed. “You were knocked out, you didn’t see him when you were hurt.” Her smile faded. “He was honestly terrifying. He’s usually so… peaceful?” Scar nodded his understanding. “And then when you got hurt, he… well, he sure wasn’t going to let that man get away with it. The Major was in the head of the jury. You know he got a closed trial?” Scar nodded, Miles had mentioned it. Something about not wanting to increase the rift between Amestrians and Ishvalans. Eyebrow Girl shook her head with a rueful smile as she returned to her plowing as well, saying only “I wouldn’t want to be in that man's position.” Something like smugness, or perhaps pride, curled in Scar’s chest.
That evening when the work was done for the day and the men headed towards town Scar spotted an old dock dipping out into the river. It was rare to see something which had not been destroyed by the war, and nearly as rare to see anything made entirely of wood. The memories attached to the dock tried to surface. Scar pushed them down and they pushed back, swirling inside of his bottle. Perhaps it would not hurt too grievously to indulge a little.
Scar ambled over to the dock and sat at the end where, after removing his shoes, his toes could graze the water. The night-lilies would bloom soon. He had sat on that dock with ‘Umi when he was very small, watching the lilies bloom and hearing the toads start to sing. The sand of the desert sometimes turned the water brown or even yellow, but this evening it was a peaceful and calming green. He took a deep breath, inhaled the rapidly cooling air with its notes of mud and old plants, and found himself relaxing.
Behind him came the sound of a softly cleared throat. Scar twisted to see Miles watching him. He always seemed to be there when Scar least expected it. He gestured to the space next to himself, signalling to Miles that he could sit next to him if he so wished. Miles accepted the silent offer and took his place to Scar’s right. He continued to watch the water and breathed deeply again. He was a small bit embarrassed to find that the smell of Miles was as welcome as that of the river. Less embarrassed than he would have expected of himself.
There had grown a familiarity between them, what with sharing a room, working together, exploring the market together, cleaning Scar’s burns, and the rationed bathing water. It reminded Scar of his earlier concern. He found that he did not want to break into the silence, like a fear that the familiarity would shatter with it. Logically it was foolish, so he steeled himself.
“I’m sorry.” He announced. In his effort to overrule his foolish fear Scar had overshot a mite, his voice coming out far too loud. He narrowly resisted the overpowering urge to put his hand to his face.
When he dared to look Miles seemed a bit concerned. “For what?” He sounded cautious.
“Before we left Almaren I said that you could not understand our people’s pain. I have realized that it was imprudent and incorrect. You have been nothing but kind and honest.” He clarified, staring resolutely at the water swirling around his toes. “I wish to offer you the same generosity.” He informed Miles rather stiffly. Why was his face so hot? The night air should have been cooling him by then.
Miles hummed peaceably, acknowledging his offer, and likely his stuttering embarrassment. “Well then, would you concede to tell me about your arm?” Scar started. Of all the things he might have expected to be asked about, his arm was not one of them. Miles noted his reluctance and immediately amended “You needn’t tell me. I understand if it’s too personal.”
“How much do you know about it already?” Scar inquired.
“Only that the tattoos are solely on you arm,” After a moment of silence, “and the fingernails are shaped differently on either hand.”
Aw, very perceptive. “Yes. As I imagine you’ve guessed, this did not originally belong to me.” He flexed his right fingers and saw a look of trepidation move Miles’s features. “I did not steal it.” Scar proclaimed, feeling somewhat defensive.
“I did not think that you had.” Miles answered quietly, unfazed.
“It… it was my brother’s. I wouldn’t have accepted it, but I was unconscious. I couldn’t stop him, the fool. I never could control him.” Scar said with a humorless laugh. “ This arm is a reminder of the suffering that I could not stop. That is why I could not stay here. I abandoned our people to find revenge. Shaqiq would have been so disappointed. And now I am alone. Any good memory I had is tainted and thrown away.” Scar became aware of an arm slung over his shoulders, and wetness in his eyes. When he looked to Miles he saw his tears reflected in those eyes. Eyes that were so warm, too warm to look at. Scar closed his own to hide from them. He could not stand the distance, and pressed their foreheads together. Miles did not pull away, even upon contacting his ‘x’ scar.
“You are not alone anymore. You have not abandoned your people, you are here now, helping them. You saved all of the children in that school. Your work will feed your country. I do not think your brother would be disappointed in you. Perhaps it took you some time to find the path he wanted, but now you are here, helping. And if your memories cannot be salvaged, you can make new ones. It will never be the same, yes, but it does not mean that you cannot go on.”
Scar wiped away his tears, and found to his own surprise that he was not ashamed of them. Miles rubbed at the nape of Scar’s neck until he was ready to reopen his eyes. In a moment of indulgence Scar decided to lay his head on Miles’s shoulder. Miles did not push him away, instead moved his arm from Scar’s shoulders to his waist to pull him closer. They sat a long time, listening to the river and watching the moon rise over the dunes. Miles hummed an Ishvalan lullaby he must have learned from one of the jidas.
The lullaby warmed Scar, reminding him of ‘Umi, holding a crying Shaqiq as the flatbread burned. She had sung this lullaby. Somehow, instead of hurting, it warmed Scar.
After a time spent simply experiencing Miles humming and the river passing, Scar straightened. “I want to go home.” He announced quietly but clearly. Miles nodded and stood, offering his hand hand to Scar. He accepted it gratefully, and pulled himself to his feet. They ended up facing one another, barely two inches apart. Their hands did not separate. Before he could think otherwise, Scar pressed their lips together. The kiss was enthusiastically accepted and returned, though it was not greedy or impatient. It was much like Miles; calming, sweet, and warm. Scar was not sure how long it went on, but when they pulled apart their lips were visibly red, even in the darkness.
Scar’s bottle of memories broke that night. First they bled, and then they washed and soothed. Miles was forever patient, helping Scar mend from his old life and self. The sands still held screams, but they were echoes now; baked away by the sun and healing in the water of the fields.