Not the Direction of Gravity

Al stumbles over the clue to finding his brother that he was looking for, in a way he didn’t expect. (Continued after a seven year hiatus, I recommend re-reading the first two stories in the arc.) Drama with Angst and Philosophy, I-3


"Alphonse! Get out of this house and take a walk!"

Al looked up from his desk, blinking. "But… I’m studying…"

Sensei put her hands on her hips. "I know. You have bags under your
eyes I could pack for vacation in, and the last time we sparred I wasn’t
even breathing hard." She
pointed a commanding finger at the door. "Out!"

"But…" Al glanced out the window, protests taking on a faint note of
desperation. "It’s about to rain!"

She folded her arms and just loomed. Al sighed and marked his place
with his pencil. "Yes, Sensei. It’ll probably do me good, right?"

Her mouth twitched and she put a hand on his head, half ruffle and half
swat, as he passed her. "And quit stealing my lines."

Al picked an easy path, down by the lakeshore under the trees where the
light rain wouldn’t get him too wet. Sensei was probably right. His
brain felt so full it might spill if he moved too fast, and his thoughts
jostled against each other. He was pretty good at modern alchemical
codes, but he’d been reading much older texts, and if you went back
far enough it was as much philosophy as science and every statement
seemed to mean at least three different things at once. Probably more,
actually, but he had threes on the brain; it was Trismegistus’ fault.
And Salmon’s. Mercury meant spirit meant animal, and where did that get him?

He toed a stone in the path, not kicking it, just rocking it in its bed
of dampening dirt. Now that he was actually outside and didn’t have
a book in his hands, he wanted to do something physical. A swim would
be nice; the sound of the lake’s wavelets against the shore was soothing
and tempting. He held out a hand and watched a few raindrops patter
down onto his palm, thoughtfully.

Well… since he was going to get wet anyway…

Al stripped down to his undershorts and hung his clothes on the branch
of a maple that looked dry underneath. He shivered a little as he waded
in; it wasn’t full summer yet, and the water wasn’t exactly warm. He
was laughing under his breath though. He didn’t act on impulse too
often, usually he had to be the sensible one.

Maybe now he could see why Nii-san spent so much time grinning.

He sighed softly and launched himself out into the water, stroking toward
the huge boulder some glacier had left halfway to the middle of the
lake. He would see his brother again. He would. A few years was nothing;
he could keep looking a lot longer than that. Apparently, he already
had once.

His breath felt like it was filling his lungs all the way up again by
the time he reached the rock. He turned over and rested his head in
a hollow and floated, looking up at the sky under his lashes. The rain
made it look like the sky was coming down to meet him.

Well, after all, the dusty old philosophers and the shiny new scientists both agreed
that all the world was one, in the end.

He wriggled his toes in the water, reminding himself that he wasn’t studying
right now. Maybe it would help divert him if he paid more attention
to sensations. He took a moment to do so and chuckled. It felt very
strange, once he noticed. The rain speckled down on part of him, busy
and distracting, while the rest of him was underwater and barely felt
the occassional current or the passing of a wave.

Come to think of it, his brain felt an awful lot like that. Al let his
eyes drift half shut. Odd that thoughts could have sensation, too.
But there was definitely a much-less-jostling part in there, underneath.

The more he thought about how the quiet part felt, the quieter everything
got. Thoughts drifted instead of jostled. Symbols floated instead of
flickered. The circled dot, for the sun, for the Eye, and for gold,
and that made sense since "gold" meant inclusion. The inside
of a circle. All the stages in one, destruction and creation together
and that was life, wasn’t it? The process of living was alchemy. Everything
became something else from moment to moment, but somehow it was all
still there. That was life.

And life was perfection. Always perfecting everything, refining until
each thing was itself.

Sensei knew that. Al smiled, in the floating stillness, with the
satisfaction of that thought.

Maybe Nii-san did too. Those last lines in his notes: "The Gate
is in every living heart". Living. Yes. And it all connected,
because the circled dot was also the Eye, and Nii-san had drawn the
eye in his first notes about the Gate, hadn’t he?

The simple circled dot in Al’s head gained more lines, a curve above and below,
and a glory radiating around it. It wasn’t sketched anymore, though.

He looked closer.

It was… carved.

He reached out to run his fingers over the texture, which was weirdly
slick and sharp, and another line appeared, running straight down the
middle. He realized that the eye was carved on a slab, and the slab
was really two slabs. It was… a door.

It cracked open.


Al jerked and floundered wildly for a moment before he was sure his head
was really above water. He clutched the rock, panting a little while
the adrenaline burn died back to a sizzle in his blood.

Had he just fallen asleep out here? In the water? He was lucky
he hadn’t drowned!

Wait, no, he’d been thinking something. Something big. Al chewed on his
lip, trying to remember, but all he could catch hold of were fragments
of ideas about gold and circles and life. He pounded his fist, lightly,
on the stone, annoyed. "Damn damn damn damn damn!"

Finally he let it go and pulled in a deep, calming breath. He’d have
to try to catch hold of it again tonight, as he was falling asleep,
and hope he could hold on to enough to write it down. For now, he’d
just work off his annoyance by swimming back to shore, and maybe not
mention this to Sensei. If she knew he’d ‘wasted’ his exercise time
thinking, she might get more direct about making sure he got more physical


Izumi scrambled out of bed, ignoring Sig’s grunt as she planted a hand
on his stomach for leverage.

Al had screamed.

She strode down the hall and threw open his door, eyes sweeping the room
for any threat. But there was only Alphonse, bolt upright in bed, eyes
huge and dark and staring at nothing. She came and took his shoulders
gently. "Al? Al, wake up. It’s all right."

She hoped she wasn’t lying.

His hands closed on her arms hard enough to bruise. "Empty,"
he gasped, sounding like he’d been running for miles, and maybe for
his life. "It echoed. Inside me was empty and it echoed!"

Izumi slid further onto the bed and cuddled Al as if he weren’t almost
as tall as she was. As if she could enfold and protect him. Her lips
were pale and tight as she stared over his head into the darkness.
"It’s all right," she murmured again. "You’re here. It’s now. There’s
no echo now, right?"

The desperate tension in him unwound just a little, and he started shaking
against her. "I… yes. I mean, no. I mean…"

"Shhhh." Izumi stroked his hair, sifting her fingers through the springy
strands. She had almost hoped she was wrong about what he meant, but
no such luck. She sighed, resting her cheek against the top of his
head, rocking him a little as the shaking grew worse and the shoulder
of her nightgown started getting wet.

He’d found it. Or it had found him. And in the morning she’d have to
try to figure out how. Try to find some way to keep the idiot boy from diving head-first into the Gate after his stolen memories and
destroying himself with his own brilliance.


But for tonight they could both pretend that she could protect him, and
that everything would be all right. And if the world could spare them
both just a little kindness, maybe he could sleep out the night safe
in her arms.



This was written on 9/24/06. Yes, I know. Yes, it took me this long to give in and admit I wasn’t going to finish the arc, and post what I have.