Also, is it unreadably irritating that none of the three characters (Scar, Scar's brother, and Scar's brother's girlfriend) have a name?
Title: Exile [Scar, Scar's brother]
Rating/Warning: PG-13 for blasphemy and tattooing.
Summary: In the days after her death, what he hated her most for, more than for leaving him, was that she took his brother with her.
AN: I'm not sure I'm happy with this. but something has to get turned into tomorrow. Suggestions would be more than a little exciting.
In the days after her death, what he hated her most for, more than for leaving him, was that she took his brother with her. He had never believed the childhood stories of the monsters that looked and walked like men but had no soul, but after her death, he believed; his brother's body walked and breathed and ate, but his brother was not there.
His brother had been the clever son, the handsome son, things that he would never be, so instead he had became strong, but even his strength wavered under the weight of the endless weeks that his brother did nothing but stare sightlessly out the window that faced the street. Sometimes he watched beside his brother and saw neighbors going by, neighbors who were careful not to look in the windows as they hurried by, as if his house might contaminate them.
"It's not natural," he had overheard one man mutter to another, before, when she'd been sick. He'd learned being unseen in the crowd was the best way to go about his business without any trouble. "The things that boy is interested in."
"It's that girl's fault," one of the women said, and the other women all nodded sagely.
He'd had to slip away before he found out exactly what unnerved them about his brother, but 'it's her fault' was certainly a statement he agreed with. She'd encouraged the research, the books, the trips to the exile who lived far out in the desert, well away from normal, God-fearing people.
"You shouldn't worry," his brother had said, ruffling his hair, and he remembered how tired and creased the corners of his brother's eyes had been. "He's harmless, he just likes to talk. Talking never hurt anyone."
But talk was exactly what kept everyone else away while he struggled to find some sign of life in the shell of his brother that did nothing but stare out the window, not seeing the neighbors who refused to see him.
"I want the book."
His brother's voice sounded like a gunshot in the silence that had taken over their house since she'd left, making him nearly jump out of his skin. He stared at his brother, hardly daring to blink in case it turned out he'd finally lost his mind too.
"The book," his brother repeated, voice harsh and brittle. "The red one."
He was so stunned, he went and found the book buried in the welter of books scattered across his brother's desk, and returned to hand it to his brother before he realized what he was doing. He certainly never thought to check the title. Who the hell cared what book his was, his brother was talking again.
He fisted both hands in that thought and clung, as nothing changed besides his brother staring at the book instead of the window, turning a page once in a while.
More than two weeks after his brother had asked for the book, he asked for another. His brother's fingers were stiff from curling around the first book, but he slipped the new one into his brother's hands and laid the first nearby in case his brother should want it again during the few hours he had to go out each day.
With the request for the third book, his brother began to eat on his own again; his brother was through with this book in only a few days, and went to retrieve the fourth on his own. It nearly scared him to death to run into his brother in the hallway, his brother swaying a little and staring silently. Fearing that his brother's spirit was passing to the Great Beyond, he seized his brother's arm, relief washing over him when felt the wasted muscle shift under his fingers.
Even small victories were cause for celebration; his culinary skill was limited at best, since there wasn't anybody to ask for help, but he had kept himself and his brother fed with the same three or four meals for months, until the night his brother lifted his head and looked him directly in the eye for the first time since she'd left them, and said,
"I am so sick of eating this,"
and after a moment of shocked silence, he had laughed until tears gathered in the corners of his eyes, and that had made his brother smile a little too.
The glow of that perfect night had lasted until he had gone to pick up the books that were now scattered around their entire home, and realized that all of the books his brother had asked for had to do with the Forbidden Art.
He fought to shake off the chill of that realization, reasoning that his brother had been a scholar before, and would certainly still be one after he recovered completely. If curiosity was what Ishbala had chosen to put the fire back in his brother's soul, who was he to question what direction that curiosity turned his brother? There must be reason in His plan, he reminded himself, and put the books back in a neat stack on his brother's desk without further comment.
And if his brother never did yet venture outside, but stayed at his desk reading and making endless pages of notes in cramped handwriting, perhaps it was for the best.
"Not safe these days, is it?" more than one woman commented to another as he slipped by. He collected his news in bursts of eavesdropping only, but even he knew of the arrests and harassment in the cities further to the west, closer to the military.
"I saw them," a man only a few years older than him bragged, older men nearby shaking their heads in disapproval. "The trucks were huge and black, and the men were grey from the road dust, but it couldn't hide how pale their skin was. And their eyes were huge and weird, like they could see right through me! It gave me the creeps, I tell you!"
"State Alchemists," one of the older men muttered, and he edged closer to hear, even though the words made his stomach twist. "They're coming with the military now, I hear, perverting Ishbala's lands with their Forbidden Art…"
"Ishbala is deserting us," someone else growled, making the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "If we root out the blasphemers among us, perhaps he will return and protect us!"
He hadn't stayed to hear anymore, but had run home as fast as he could, chest tight with exertion and fear. His heart had leapt into his throat when he opened the door to their home and found his brother gone.
He searched through all the rooms, calling his brother's name, but there weren't enough places to be to make the search longer than a few minutes. Real panic was beginning to wrap cold fingers around his limbs when he heard the door crash open behind him. His heart was pounding so hard in his ears as he spun around that couldn't even hear the words of explanation that his brother, standing in the doorway, was offering. The wind that had made the door slam whistled lowly; a storm was coming.
He was too old to launch himself into his brother's arms as he did then, but he couldn't get any air into his lungs until he sank fingers into his brother's forearms hard enough that his brother protested.
"What's wrong?" his brother asked tersely, grief having stripped his gentle voice so that now everything he said was a string of flat monosyllables. "I went to get this."
His heart, which had been slowing, picked up again when the book his brother was holding fell open a little, revealing hand-drawn circles and triangles, the ink faded and pages yellowed.
"Brother…" his grip tightened against his brother's arms until his brother shook him off, but still he couldn't get the words out to ask, to warn his brother about what he'd heard in town. His brother, stepping past him and leaving him alone in the doorway, had nearly gotten the whole way out of the room before he managed to at least choke out, "Where were you?"
"The desert. With the exile," his brother answered over his shoulder, then continued into his room.
The exile. His fingers were so numb they could barely grip the handle of the door to shut it against the wind that was whipping sand across the threshold.
When his brother fell into one of his restless sleeps in the dark of the early morning, he crept in to his brother's room, bringing in the dimmest lamp he could find, and pulled his brother's notes out to examine them.
His brother's spidery script had given way to a cramped progression of circles and triangles, twisting and stretching across the crinkled pages in unions that made his stomach churn. He traced one pattern with a fingertip, telling himself that the buzz across his skin was in his imagination.
The sound of his brother's voice startled him, and the page slipped from his fingers and fluttered back to the desk. His head felt too heavy to lift his gaze from the floor as he turned, and for the first time he noticed the chalk marks skittering across the floor of his brother's room, shapes drawn and smudged out and redrawn, pouring across the ground and beginning to creep up the walls.
He was standing in a twisted helix that made his skin crawl, but there was nowhere to move his feet that would be safer.
"I can bring her back," his brother said, and that made him lift his head at last, to find his brother perched on the edge of his bed, hair wild and eyes glittering in a way that had nothing to do with the lamplight. His brother was naked, and the tangled sheet slipped off him as he moved, revealing a swirl of dark lines inked into his hip, sharp like they have been carved there.
He fled outside to be sick, kneeling in the sand with grit digging into his palms, and he hated her even more now that he realized she hadn't taken his brother with her; she had simply refused to leave at all.
The Forbidden Art was a delicate process, and he could have done any number of things to disrupt his brother's attempts to bring her back. But in the end it was easier to do nothing, to stay away as long as possible, and to ignore the sounds and the smoke from his brother's rooms when he was home, even when it stung his eyes.
"…he had pale skin and eyes," a traveler told a knot of people who had gathered around him. Their eyes were glued on the traveler, making it easy for him to hide among them. "Called himself an alchemist. He tried to pay his way through town by fixing up a few broken knickknacks, but they showed him what we do to blasphemers in our cities…"
He tried to imagine the glitter of his brother's eyes set against pale skin, then pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes until he saw spots to drive the image away. Tension stretched thick across the streets, making people gather in knots to put their shoulders against it, speaking in quick whispers, to close for him to join in and too quiet for him to make out the words, depriving him of even momentary escape from the persistent panic that scraped at the edges of his thoughts
It was almost a relief the day he came home to find his brother drenched in the blood, his brother's eyes stretched open so wide from horror that it looked as if his skin might split. There was no hiding the thing his brother had created in their house, even if he had possessed the strength at that point to try. Even if he had rubbed out every single one of his brother's blasphemous circles, the thing would have remained, a pulsating mass of flesh and dark, curling hair.
He saw just enough of it past his brother's shaking shoulders to haunt him forever.
"I brought her back," his brother muttered, over and over, sinking fingers into his shoulder until pain shot down his arm, but he gritted his teeth to keep from crying out and pulled his brother away from it, his brother's rambling doing nothing to drown out the hideous wheezing of the thing behind them.
The men who came after he dragged his brother out of the house disposed of it somehow, but he neither asked nor had any desire to know how or where. They disposed of his brother as well; his brother was now the man who lived far outside of town, the marked one, the exile.
The relief was in the numbness that filled him in the absence of his brother. No one spoke to him or came near him, leaving him in a silence that covered everything like a sun-warmed blanket. He had more than enough sound during the nights, when his dreams were filled with the scratching of chalk and the labored breathing of that thing, hidden behind his brother's back.
The return of his brother was worse than either of his brother's leavings, at both her death and his brother's exile.
"Abomination," their neighbors sneered at him when he was forced to go outside. They had been content to ignore him in his brother's absence, or merely to mutter to themselves, but now he was the outlet for all their fear and frustration, the scapegoat. After the quiet, every noise seemed magnified, echoing through his brain until there was no relief from the pounding headache it gave him.
"You're the reason Ishbala has abandoned us," one woman spat as she tugged her children well out of his path.
It didn't matter that they were the ones who had called his brother back, begged him to use his knowledge of the Forbidden Art to produce a Philosopher's Stone. They abhorred his brother for doing things they were too terrified to even think about, and they feared him for living too close to his brother's blasphemy.
Perhaps he was a blasphemer, helping his brother to commit sins against nature and God. His brother's eyes had not lost their glitter, they burned hotter if anything, and the inked lines crept over more and more of his torso as if they were growing on their own, wrapping over his brother's shoulders and thighs in thick, dark curls, like her hair.
"The research," men demanded when he went outside, since he was the only one who did, "how is it coming?"
But it didn't matter whether he brought news of progress or stalemate; either was equally terrifying. News of the ultimate blasphemers, the State Alchemists, and the names of the towns burning marched closer to them by steady increments, but unlike him, they were far out of cursing reach.
"There's a man who can lay hands on you and blow you from the inside out," a girl who had fled from one of the attacks told anyone who would listen. People scuttled by her without stopping, dodging the grasp of her twitching hands and her staring eyes. "And one who snaps his fingers and like THAT," she tried to snap but her hands were shaking too badly, "like that, you're ashes. Ashes!"
She giggled, a high thin noise, and he skirted around her with as much space as he could manage, keeping his eyes on the ground.
"This town is going to die, isn't it?" he asks one night, asking of the air more than of his brother. He is sitting at the table, the heat of the day pressing down on him even now that the sun has set, watching with dull horror as his brother, across the table, inks yet another coiling line down over his left arm with a needle.
"Yes." His brother surprises him with a lucid response, looking up, and the spark of humanity in his brother's eyes, that had once given him so much hope, now sickens him even more than the madness or the alchemy. His brother's hand stills, needle frozen a few millimeters from his brother's skin, and he watches the dark ink sliding down the metal in thick droplets. "But it's all right, I'm almost done."
"It won't save them." It isn't a question; he isn't sure exactly what his brother has been doing, or even whether it involves the Philosopher's Stone at all, but he can see that the focus his brother has turned onto the people of Ishbal is not for their protection.
"Nothing can save them." His brother's lips twist into a sneer and he bends back over his work, mumbling, "but their deaths will never be forgotten. Not by anyone."
The moment passes, and his brother returns to murmuring notes to himself, and he sits motionless as the night bleeds into the grey of early dawn, and when he closes his eyes, the drops of blood and ink that drip from his brother's skin are the same color.
"There," his brother announces, startling his eyes open to see his brother drawing the needle out of the inside of his wrist a final time. His brother flexes his fingers, and the black lines writhe over his skin. "It's almost over now."