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I actually wrote a Fullmetal Alchemist one-shot. Constructive criticism is very welcome - nitpicks very much included - as is feedback in general.

Title: If We Can Go On
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist (manga)
Characters: Dr Marcoh, Scar
Rating: PG for canon darkness and such
Word Count: 2,631 at the time of posting
Spoilers/setting: Set somewhere between chapters 77 and 78 of the manga (volume 19), looking ahead to some things to come.
Summary: A gen piece featuring Scar and Marcoh, both wondering in quite different ways about what the next step should be and if they're able and allowed to take it.

Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Fullmetal Alchemist were created and are owned by the glorious Hiromu Arakawa. They are used here without permission. This fic is not to be used for profit in any way and should not be reposted elsewhere without the writer's approval.

The village must have had a name once, and the forces of Briggs likely knew it, but none of the small, disparate band that had reached it on their slow journey south did. Nor did they know if it lay unpopulated now for the same reason that Baschool behind them did, the abandoned mines. Whatever the case, it was clear that nobody had lived here for a good long while. They'd stopped for shelter and with the vague hope of finding old cans or other edibles somewhere, as they were pretty much out of food again.

They'd managed to get a fire going in one of the buildings, where most of them were huddled now. Xiao Mei was sitting right next to the fire looking very happy to get her wet fur warm and dry. Mei and Marcoh sat close by as well, hunched up where it was light enough to read and warm enough to sit still, going once more through their notes and interpretations of Scar's brother's notes. Alphonse Elric was helping, now feeling much better and reassembled again, though of course he had no need for the warmth of a fire.

Miss Winry Rockbell and Jerso had just left to see if they could find water and more firewood, and maybe, just maybe, food supplies from somewhere. Scar and Zanpano were rummaging through the back rooms of the house also looking for useful things. (Nobody bothered with keeping the chimaeras in restraints anymore; they seemed trustworthy enough.)

It was still important to check the notes carefully, especially with regards to what Mei had to say about how they tied into her country's ways of doing alchemy. But in truth, they all knew the major breakthrough was behind them now, and lately all they could find had been confirmations their deductions were correct, as far as could be determined. It all made such very good sense, Marcoh felt, an unaccustomed sense of hope energising him despite the cold and lack of food. It also helped give him ideas on what he could do to help deal with the dangers they were in, with one particular enemy at least (Alphonse Elric's revelation that the Homunculi were made from Philosopher's Stones was incredibly helpful in that regard.) Though he couldn't quite work up to sharing those with anyone else yet...

"Marcoh. We need to talk."

He started slightly at Scar's abrupt words but nodded, put the papers aside and got up right away. Alphonse seemed startled, while Zanpano made a noise of curious surprise; but little Mei all but jumped in her seat, looking up at Scar and then at him, her eyes turning wide, alarmed.

"Mr Scar?" she said, her voice small and worried. She made as if to get up, but Marcoh waved her back down again, smiling as best he could. Mei subsisted, but her face stayed pale and anxious, and he could feel her gaze at the back of his head as they walked out of the room and the building.

Outside was a beautiful winter day. The sun shone bright in a clear blue sky, the snow glittering so much that he had to shield his eyes at first. Just a few steps out of the door, they met Yoki coming back from an excursion, muttering over something and carrying a sack that didn't seem to have much in it. He stopped as they went past, opening his mouth looking ready to complain about something, but then shut it abruptly, looking at the two of them like Mei had done. He mouthed some words Marcoh couldn't work out and looked more troubled than petulant. Marcoh nodded at him and gave a bit of an awkward wave, but it wasn't until they'd gone around a corner that he heard the sound of the door being opened and closed behind them.

Scar hadn't paused at all but was striding away, lifting his legs high in the deep snow. It hadn't snowed for awhile; Marcoh could easily see Miss Rockbell and Jerso's footprints. He couldn't help but notice that they headed in the opposite direction from the one Scar had picked. Hurrying to catch up, he thought it might well not be a coincidence that Scar hadn't said anything until Miss Rockbell had left their place of shelter. She was the only one Scar might, perhaps, defer to on certain issues. Some debts could never be paid.

They walked for about ten minutes, about as far as you could go through this place without leaving it entirely. Scar was clearly in one of his more taciturn moods, not saying a word the entire time. Looking over his shoulder at times and straining his ears, Marcoh could see no sign of getting followed by the others, which was a relief since it was mainly Mei he'd worried might do that. But while he couldn't really guess at what Scar intended, he felt reasonably certain that Scar also didn't want the Xingese girl to see something she shouldn't. Maybe that was why he was taking them so far.

Scar finally stopped on the top of a low hill, having passed through a clutch of evergreen trees. The town seemed to end here, by the edge of a field of snow with only a lonely broken shed at the far end.

Marcoh breathed in the cold air and felt it filling up his lunges: he thought of the oxygen flowing through his blood, the ins and outs of his respiratory system. He could still see the writing in Scar's brother's notebooks in front of him, the notes they'd taken down: they'd looked at them all so hard it was what he saw in his head before he went to sleep.

But it was good, that. He went to bed all tired out, fell asleep quickly and slept free of nightmares, most of the time.

He wasn't as good at silence as the other man, but this time he'd managed to keep quiet through the whole walk there. Even now, as they'd stopped, he tucked his hands inside his sleeves (they were cold despite good mittens) and waited until Scar felt ready to talk.

Scar crossed his arms over his chest. "We managed to crack the code," he said.

Marcoh smiled all but involuntarily. They'd really done it. "So we did."

Scar nodded, and went on. "You've done what you promised to do. We know now what my brother meant by saying 'There's something wrong with the alchemy in this country'."

"I didn't do it alone," Marcoh pointed out. "Alphonse Elric did just as much and Mei did the most, and you helped too."

Scar gave him a look that clearly said shut up. "That's not what I meant." He looked away again, breathing out white clouds. "You fulfilled your part of the deal," he said slowly, almost gently.

"But..." Marcoh stopped himself. Words like I want to help more...! died on his tongue. Scar was right, after all.

He looked down at his feet, swallowing. The good mood was gone entirely. "Does that mean I'm no longer of any use to you?" he said, doing his best to make the words sound sober and matter-of-fact. He felt as if pulled back to the dungeon in Central, as if both of them were, to that hellish place where this man had dropped in from the ceiling duct like an envoy from above. He'd turned out to be an angel of rescue rather than divine justice, at least for a while.

Scar's face gave little away, but his eyes were narrowing. "What do you think?" he said, his voice low. Did that mean he hadn't made up his mind yet what the next step was? Something about his body language did seem uncertain, in a quiet way. There was probably rage under the surface, but there was so much more control now.

Marcoh opened his mouth to give what first came to mind, a fairly self-effacing answer, but then stopped, trying instead for a more objective assessment when he next spoke.

"I could be of help," he said. "I'm still a skilled alchemist with a fair bit of knowledge, like you said before. And, and I would like to keep working on his notes some more. But… it's true, in main our deal is fulfilled." He laughed just a tiny bit: he'd never truly thought of it as a deal, from his point of view. "And..." He pulled up his collar tighter in the wintry weather, shifting his feet that were cold despite the warm winter boots. "...The Homunculi are still after me, I might be more of a liability because of that. I, uh, have started to think about what to do about that..." he looked over, back in the direction where they came from, "...and I got a couple of ideas that might work, but... I'd need some assistance to carry them out, and it would be a big risk to take."

In spite of Scar's outwardly much calmer demeanour, he felt even more as if the stone walls of the dungeon had returned, invisibly encircling them on this wide field of snow. Some things you can't ever escape, only postpone for a little while.

There was no reply now, though. So Marcoh cleared his throat and ventured, "You don't know what to do?"

Scar started slightly, looking just a bit affronted. "I'm... thinking things over," he admitted after a moment.

Marcoh looked down and away, taking out his hands from his sleeves and putting them in his pockets instead. "You know my life is still yours to take if you want," he said quietly, his voice not completely steady.

He glanced back just in time to catch a rare look of surprised passing quickly over Scar's features. Then his features set into a more closed look again, jaw tightening and eyes narrowing. "Is that your way out?" he said coldly.

Marcoh opened his mouth, then closed it, needing to think. He felt confused: he'd been so sure Scar would understand this immediately. "No..." Yes. "I mean, not if I can help it," he said gently. "Only... only if there was no other way to, to stop them from using me again. But it's not up to me." And what is your way out, Scar? he couldn't help but think. To burn yourself out until you get cornered and killed by a whole army battalion? Except he didn't do that anymore, not really. As far as Marcoh knew, Scar hadn't killed a single State Alchemist since they had met, and now preferred to knock out Amestrian soldiers rather than exploding them.

He shoved his hands down deeper into his pockets, his legs starting to get a bit shaky now. His heart rate had sped up considerably. He tried to control his breathing. Then he found himself wondering why he did that. Why did it feel important to appear calmer than he was in front of Scar? That didn't change anything.

Scar said, suddenly, "If I–" and then he stopped, abruptly. His head was turned low; he was looking down at his hands, both of them.

In a low, level, but unusually fast tone, he went on to say, "My brother. My master. Even that part-Ishvalan up at Briggs, Major Miles... they all want me to go down a path I don't think I can take." His face twisted, looking troubled, with anger beyond it. "It's not a bad path," he muttered. "Someone needs to take it. But I – can't–" (...)

And then he straightened, quickly closed the distance between them, took off the glove on his right hand and –

– and for the third time Marcoh felt the hand of destruction on his face.

Thoughts fled, panic coursed through him in an uncontrollable wave despite everything, and then he was pushed away from that, his body sweaty and trembling but that was just one more thing to feel. Everything grew hot and thin and close and shivery and incredibly compressed, the sensations so wide and deep one could drown in them: the crisp dry air, the smell of snow in sunlight, crows cawing a way off, the wet cold snow that had managed to slip inside his left boot, his roaring pulse, the strong warm hand pressed tightly against his forehead... sharp and vivid, they might be the last things he'd ever sense (and there was, perhaps, still a part of him that wanted that: the end of nightmares).

He gasped and took a shaky breath, one more, and one more still, throat hurting. Feet still on the ground, yet he hang suspended. And now the hand upon his face was trembling too, and he was vaguely, fuzzily aware he wasn't the only one breathing unevenly.

He couldn't say how, he could never have said how, but he knew all the same a fraction of a second before the grip of Scar's hand changed, before it relaxed and, one more long second later, let go of him altogether. Eyes still closed, he stumbled back a step on wildly trembling legs, opening his eyes and leaning forward with his hands on his knees just in time to keep his balance. Marcoh could really have done with somewhere to sit, right then. There was a reason he'd sat down on the floor of his cell before asking his request of Scar, back then, and it was by no means solely because of humility. He'd never been a very fearless kind of person.

For the next few moments, he just focused on steadying his breath and not toppling over, before he finally felt steady enough to straighten up. Scar must also have taken a step back, as the original distance between them was restored. He'd turned half away, his glove back on and both arms just hanging down at his sides. He looked back now to meet Marcoh's look, then looked away again, his face oddly blank.

"I think... I think you can find it," Marcoh breathed out a shaky voice.

Scar crossed his arms over his chest, not looking at him. He tucked both hands under his arms as if he was cold. "Find it?" he said impassively.

"The path. Your path." Marcoh's breath hadn't quite calmed down yet, and his heart was still pounding. He coughed to clear his throat.

Another long pause, then Scar took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, his shoulders sinking, some of the tension leaking out from his frame. A figure contained, with a certain harmony, if not peacefulness, to his movements.

"Maybe. Maybe, who knows?" he said quietly. Then he shook himself. "Anyway, let's go back." He got started, adding over his shoulders, "Once we're back you can tell everyone what you've been thinking of about the Homunculi."

"All– all right." Marcoh got going, head spinning just a bit as they made their way back. The crows seemed louder, now, and the smoke coming up from the one house in the village seemed terribly inviting. It was still so quiet.

Only a few days ago, he'd witnessed Miss Rockbell walk up to this man and start to bind the wound on his left arm. She had said that was what her parents would have done. A terrifying kind of strength, a compassion – if that was the word for it – almost ruthless.

He raised his head and lengthened his steps. Scar's pace was slower this time, so he didn't have to hurry quite as much, but he still needed to push his aging body just a bit to keep up with the tall Ishbalan.

And do you keep sparing me because it's what your brother would have done? he wondered, and did not dare ask.

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