Back with his teacher again, Al takes up his studies; this time, though, he already knows some things won’t work. Drama, I-3.

Al wound his arms around his knees and rested his chin on them, looking down at the book open in the grass at his feet. His eye traced one more time over the sketch on the right-hand page. It was an ink sketch, brown with age, but he could see it in his mind’s eye, vibrant and glowing like a prism made of blood.

He dreamed of the color, sometimes, nights when he woke up sweating and threw open the window just to look up at the sky and know the whole world wasn’t red.

The grass rustled behind him and he heard his teacher’s familiar sigh.


He nudged the book with a toe. “It isn’t really what they say it is, is it?” he murmured.

“That depends on what they say it is.”

He smiled at her dry tone. The thought wouldn’t leave him alone, though, and he tightened his arms around his knees. “It doesn’t bypass equivalent exchange at all,” he stated. “It just makes someone else pay the price.”

Her hand rested on his shoulder, her shadow sliding over the open book as she leaned down. “Yes.”

Al’s hands tightened on his own arms until his knuckles were white, and he kicked the book shut. “All of this…” he swallowed and rasped “all of that, all for a battery!”

After a long moment of silence his teacher answered, “Yes.”

Al put his head down on his knees and shuddered. He might not remember anything but the red, but he could imagine. He could imagine five years, and soldiers at war, and cities in rebellion, and traveling with a jar of hope packed into the suitcase next to a bottle of madness, because they needed both just to go on. He could imagine his brother stumping down an endless road, stubborn as the sun, on a metal leg, swinging a metal arm.

He didn’t have to imagine his brother gone.

Her hand tightened on his shoulder. “Come on,” she said quietly. “Dinner’s ready.”

Al made a protesting sound. She expected him to eat right now?

She shook him briskly upright. “What is the first step of alchemy?”

Al sighed and gave her answer, instead of the book answer. “Acceptance.”

“I don’t know whether I can teach you to accept life, this time,” she told him, “but I can certainly make you accept stew.”

Al snorted. That was Sensei’s philosophy, all right.

More gently she added, “Attend to the moment, Alphonse. This moment is for dinner, not for regret.”

Al looked up at her with a rueful sigh, even as a corner of his mouth tugged up. It really wasn’t fair for one person to be right so often. “Yes, Sensei.” He stood and followed her obediently inside, dropping the book on the hall table as he passed. He’d get back to it later.

Because, whether Sensei approved or not, the one thing he was never going to accept was that his brother was gone for good.