Mei and Yoki could venture out among people in a way that Scar and Dr. Marcoh could not. Hopefully, however, when their group split in two for the journey north, there would be no need for anyone to expose themselves to unnecessary public scrutiny. What little funds they had had been pooled and scraped together to purchase supplies for their trip north. The acquaintances Scar and Yoki had made in the city's back alleys were also kind enough to provide a few things.
The climate they were headed toward would be rough, but Scar had handled it before and had no doubt he could manage it again, making sure more resources were put towards seeing that Mei and Marcoh were appropriately dressed and supplied (Mei deserved it; Marcoh he wasn't ready to let go of just yet). Yoki might complain, but he was tough and more tenacious than he liked to let on.
"So, this is it?" Mei asked as they prepared to go their separate ways for the time being. Her furrowed brow showed her mild apprehension at breaking up their group (or, perhaps, more specifically, at leaving Scar).
"There may not be any time to waste." Scar trusted he would meet her again at the place they had chosen. Reassurances, he thought, would only serve to undermine the confidence of his companions. He would move forward believing that this was one step on his journey he could trust to turn out right.
Mei gave a small nod, holding back a frown. Her many braids shook like willow branches in a breeze.
"One last meal together," Marcoh proposed, "Breakfast before we go."
"Can we?" Mei looked to Scar for approval of the plan.
He considered the concession. The dawn was still nestled around them. …If it were only a few minutes… "Fine. But eat with haste. And no cooking."
They huddled on the back steps of a haberdashery half a block from the train station. Yoki pricked his finger on a utility knife and stifled an inconvenient yelp, letting it trickle out as a whine, while Scar tore chunks off a day old loaf of bread.
Xiao Mei plucked pieces out of her mistress's fingers. Yoki chewed and sucked on his injured appendage in equal measure.
An uncomfortable silence cloaked their meal until once again Marcoh was the one to speak up. "This tastes wonderful."
Yoki squinted at Marcoh like he was crazy. Mei and Scar cast equally curious, but less judgmental glances his way.
"I think everything must taste better when you're free," the doctor attempted to explain himself, "No matter what they brought me, while I was a prisoner of the homunculi, it was difficult to eat at all."
"Well, it's best to be free and eating well," Yoki sniffed, aspiring to his lost position and pride, "There's hardly any breakfast that can compare to one made for you by your own personal chef."
The smile that started on Mei's face spread first to Marcoh's and then to Scar's as he realized the purpose of his initiating this conversation in the first place. "How extravagant," he remarked, though he made no move to put the discussion to an end.
"I could afford it. …And, you know, it was the sort of thing I deserve," the former military man insisted.
"What did you eat?" Mei asked.
"Omelets. Cretan sausage. Toast made out of fluffy, fresh bread topped with strawberry jam." The memory brought a smile to even the usually sour-faced Yoki. "If I had known that I would lose it all I would've gone all out and tried topping my hot cocoa with gold flakes."
"Oh, for shame," Marcoh put his hands to his face. It was such a ludicrous idea taking him by surprise that Scar let out a snort.
"Fine," Yoki huffed, "Maybe Mr. Marcoh thinks it's lovely eating apples and bread in a cold alley, but I'm sure the two of you would rather be somewhere else eating something different."
"If I were back home, Xiao Mei and I would be eating with my grandparents," Mei replied, beginning in a stern tone, but softening as her thoughts drifted to the picture painted by her words, "Some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins would be eating with us, though the exact configuration would depend on whether anyone were away on business at the imperial court. There would be tea and rice porridge, of course, and depending on what else was available, we would have some vegetables too or fried strips of dough."
Without the same frame of reference, it wasn't as vibrant a scene in the minds of the men surrounding her, but Mei's fondness for her subject was unmistakable. "That sounds interesting. And lively too, with so many people gathered together," Marcoh mused.
"Oh, well, our clan doesn't have much, but there's always one another. Family ties are probably the Chang's number one resource." It was a sort of embarrassing thing to say. "W-what about you, Mr. Scar?" she pushed the focus onto someone else as Marcoh began to make some remark about how sweet that was.
"Ah," Scar had expected that after the conversation had begun they would ask him in turn, but the inquiry had swerved in his direction rather suddenly. Marcoh seemed to view his slight distress with some amusement. "It- it's been a long time now since I've had any meal that could compare to that."
Mei's round eyes widened in concern as the presumed fate of Scar's family came to mind. "Y-you, Mr. Scar, you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"There would have been tea for my family too. Mint green tea, most likely. In what I imagine when I think of the best breakfast I could be having, I'm back home with my family- my parents and my brother. The bread we'd be eating is baked by my mother and we'd having it fresh and warm. …Traditional Ishvalan loaves are flat and round compared to what I've seen here," he explained for his companions' benefit, "At breakfast we might have them with cheese or butter and honey, but we eat eat the same sort of bread at other meals as well with other foods. …And my father could be counted on to bring out a jar of olives."
"…I'd rather be eating any of those other things right now," Yoki brushed the last few tiny crumbs from his hands to the ground for birds to find.
"But it made this meal last longer to discuss them, didn't it?" Marcoh suggested.
"You're right about him," Yoki leaned conspiratorially toward Scar, muttering around his hand in a stage whisper, "This one is trouble."
"Dr. Marcoh, you're going to make everyone homesick!" Mei chided him, though the smile on her face was so wide the idea that this was all that bad of a circumstance was hard to take seriously even as a hint of tears glinted in her eyes.
"We should go." Scar rose. They had spent enough time here. The feelings that had been roused within him were a painful, confusing mix. "I'll trust that you while you're looking after one another you can manage to get him back for me," he addressed Mei fondly.
"I'll try," she promised as Scar turned to go his way, Yoki scuttling belatedly after him.