The Simple and the Subtle – Chapter Three

Al settles into closer company with Gil and, as the year draws on, finds the key he needs—if he can use it. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Alphonse Elric, Scar

Al mentioned Gil-san’s thought, about divine geometry being very different than regular geometry, to Amos-san. Amos-san chuckled.

"Oh yes. Gil has a good instinct for these things. It’s a loss to us all that he probably won’t ever go on in his studies and join us here." His wave took in the whole temple, not just the corner of the porch that he and Al sat in.

"Mm." Al sighed a little. He thought it was a waste, too. They both had new lives; Gil-san should do something with his.

Nahal-san told him, while they screwed together pipes to plumb her sink, that Gil-san never stayed in the houses he built.

"Whenever he finishes one he gives it to some couple or family and moves out again, like he’s chasing the edge of the city," she said, grunting as she tightened down an elbow. "Here, hand me that long bit. It’s a crying shame. No one blames the boy for being a little off his head after what happened at the old city." She sighed, gazing down at the pipes scattered in the summer dust around them and, if Al was any judge, not seeing them at all. "I suppose that won’t be any good until he stops blaming himself."

Al hoped it would happen; he thought it would. Gil-san had been kind of scary, or at least it sounded like he had in all the accounts, but he’d also saved Al’s life and he’d been kind here and now.

Al was sleeping a lot better, now.


Al scrubbed a hand through his hair and sighed. "Why is the same thing drawn different ways?" he muttered to himself. Even after almost a year studying, he still found many of these things peculiar.

"So that we remember to look at the truth from more than one perspective," Alec-san said briskly from behind him.

Al jumped a bit. "Ah. Well, yes, I suppose so…"

Alec-san waved a hand. "You must remember, Alphonse-kun, all these drawings and descriptions are only metaphors. We can only see as much of the greater truth as our souls are prepared to see. If we could see it as it is…" his wintry smile flashed, "well, then we’d be one with divinity, yes?"

Al thought about that. "So, you’re saying that everything I’ve seen is… not really real?"

Alec-san snorted. "Of course it’s really real. It just isn’t complete."

Al frowned, puzzling through this new thought. "So it’s more like a… a parable."

"Exactly." Alec-san looked pleased.

"So why do different people see the same thing?" Al shot back.

Alec-san’s smile grew. "Because, Alphonse-kun, you aren’t the only one involved. What you see is telling the story along with you."

Al shivered. The idea that the Gate was talking to him unnerved him. He might only be able to remember dreams of memories, and almost nothing of the Gate itself, but he remembered fear.

Fear.

He frowned down at the sheaf of papers in front of him, the delicately colored and carefully labeled concentric circles and the dissertation below on their interrelations. "All these accounts and explanations… they all talk about joy," he murmured.

"Of course." Alec-san blew on a carefully copied page to dry it and pulled up a fresh sheet of paper, turning to the next page. "They speak of the pathways to completion, to perfection, if you will."

Al frowned some more, tapping his pencil against his chin. If that was so, then why was it only fear that he remembered?


"Not everyone studies that branch," Gil-san pointed out around a mouthful of nails as he attached the back to a new chair and Al cut up a handful of tiny potatos for dinner. "Even of those, not many seem to see this Gate. Perhaps you have to be prepared properly for it."

Al made a rueful face. "I guess we were about as unprepared as two people could get."

"It was irresponsible to allow children access to such learning," Gil-san growled.

Al’s mouth quirked. "So you mean Amos-san and Alec-san are being irresponsible now?" he teased. Gil-san glowered at him, but Al was learning that he did that regardless, and it didn’t always mean Gil-san was angry.

"You are not a child, Alphonse."

Al’s brows rose at that and Gil-san looked back down at the chair.

"Whether you remember them or not, those years left a mark on you," he said, quietly. "You were a child when I first met you. You are not, now."

Al scraped the potatos into their pan and watched them start to sizzle. "I suppose not," he murmured. It was, in a way, a sad thought. But he also found himself sneakingly pleased that Gil-san thought so.


Al went to sleep thinking of joy and memory and his dreams started out more softly than usual. He was running through grass with his brother and Winry. He was arguing with his brother over cheating at cards. He was playing marbles with a little girl and if, in the dream, his hands were metal, she still smiled at him and crowed with happy triumph over her small, glassy winnings.

Joy.

Wholeness.

A part of him thought the words and then he was standing in a galleried ballroom, filled with light and fire, and a feeling of perfect calm. His brother’s body was at his feet and he knew that Nii-san was dead. That didn’t change the calm. The part of him that knew this was a dream clung to that perfectly balanced heart with wonder, burying himself in it.

The Eye flashed before him and doors opened. There was darkness beyond it, and light, and things Al couldn’t name. He stepped past the doors and held out his hands.

"Nii-san!"

His voice echoed and re-echoed and tiny, dark hands unreeled, reaching back in answer.

Knowing it was a dream, Al still flinched, afraid.

Within the dream, Al brushed the hands away, calm, and they recoiled.

His brother’s hands clasped his and Al felt himself unravelling, the power of his body spooling away and leaving only…

Him.

And he started, slowly, to walk beyond the Gate, beyond the hands and mocking, angry voices, towards the things without name.

"Haaah!"

Al’s eyes were wide open on darkness and there was a warm arm around him.

"Alphonse!"

Al dropped back down to his bedroll as if all the strings of his muscles had been cut at once. "I… I’m okay." He was shaking.

Gil-san didn’t comment, only rubbed Al’s back quietly while he caught his breath. Al pressed his forehead against Gil-san’s chest, grateful beyond words for the solidity of him.

"I remember," he whispered. "Something in the Gate. Something to be afraid of. But I wasn’t afraid. And past that…" he frowned, puzzled. "I don’t know what it was."

Gil-san’s voice rumbled in his chest. "Beyond the Gate is the Crown, isn’t it?"

Al stilled. "Oh." He could almost hear the click of thoughts coming together. "The Gate before the Crown," he whispered, eye wide for a different reason this time. "Peace. Joy. That… that balance. That’s the Crown. What’s at the Gate…" He sat up, catching Gil-san’s shoulders in his excitement. "What’s always in the Gate, what stays in the Gate, that must be separate! Of course!"

Gil-san eyed him thoughtfully. "As souls pass the Gate," he murmured, "perhaps some things must be left behind before we can go on."

"Everything that isn’t ready for that oneness, yes, of course!" Al nearly bounced. "It makes sense now!" He paused. "What?"

Gil-san’s eyes were gleaming in the dimness and a corner of his mouth twitched. "Did you wake up your brother, often, to discuss philosophy in the middle of the night?" he asked.

Al cleared his throat, flushing. "Ah. Sorry." He settled himself back down on his bedroll. After a moment he muttered, "Actually, yes."

Gil-san hmph-ed and a large hand ruffled Al’s hair a little before withdrawing. "I’m not surprised."

Al smiled shyly and snuck a little closer into Gil-san’s warmth before closing his eyes again.


"Hm. Interesting." Alec-san scratched his chin with the end of his pen, looking up at the ceiling. "I can only speculate, you understand, not having experienced these things myself."

Al made an encouraging sound, impatient, for once, with Alec-san’s pedantic precision. He got one of Alec-san’s small, frosty smiles for his pains.

"I would speculate, based on what you have told me, that these creatures in the Gate are indeed the remnants of souls that have passed through and beyond. Echos, if you will. Being without form or soul, being only scraps of will, of course they would be hungry for both body and spirit, if they find one they can reach. Living, presumably, rather than dead and passing beyond."

"Then," Al said slowly, "they don’t really have anything to do with the transmutation process at all. Or with passing the Gate to other worlds."

"Never having witnessed it, I can’t say. But the hypothesis does match your experiences." Alec folded his hands and regarded Al sharply over his knuckles. "The price you pay for transmutation, in strength or life, is one thing. But if these things truly are the will that returns in a homunculus, and if the homunculi are incapable of alchemy, then it follows that the bargain these creatures made with your brother to release your soul once they had captured you was their own and apart from alchemy as it is known to our world. They were likely," Alec-san conluded, "merely taking what they could get from children strong enough to open the Gate but not to guard themselves properly from what lies within it."

Al closed his eyes and took a slow breath for calm agains his sudden anger. "It does make sense," he said, low and even.

After a long moment Alec-san added, "As the Crown is perfect oneness, it also makes sense that the Gate is the point at which all worlds touch and join. How a living, embodied soul that does not seek the Crown can pass the Gate and move between with impunity, without falling prey to these creatures is a question we have not yet answered." His eyes sharpened still more. "Will you keep looking for it?"

Al’s chin came up. "Of course."

Alec-san’s smile was amused and, briefly, affectionate, and Al ducked his head, abashed.

"Well. After all, my dream might have given me a clue."

Alec-san raised his brows and made interested noises.

"In my dream," Al said, softly, looking up at the sunlight streaming in the skylight, "I wasn’t afraid."