Al visits home and tells everyone about how his studies are coming, and Rose talks sense to him. Drama, I-3

Al ignored the rattle of the train wheels to scowl over his notebook,
certain at the bottom of his heart that his notes weren’t going to
do him any good. Plenty of people wrote about the Stone, but as far
as he could tell no alchemist, in four hundred years and more, had
written down anything about the Gate. Given his own experiences, he
supposed he couldn’t blame them, but still…! And Sensei must agree
that his books were a dead end, or she wouldn’t have loaded him on
the train for a visit home without a single book to his name except
one volume of poetry he’d bought a year ago and hadn’t opened since.

The whistle announcing the next stop was a welcome interruption. Even
more welcome was the sight of both Rose and Winry waving at him from
the platform.

"Winry!" he called, grabbing his suitcase and jumping down the stairs
as the train slowed. "You got a break too!" He grunted as she more
or less tackled him into the side of the train, and grinned. He was finally as tall as she was.

"Of course I got a break!" She hugged the breath the rest of the way
out of him. "You wrote and said you were coming home to visit, what
else was I going to do?"

She took him by the shoulders and held him off to arm’s length to look
him up and down.

"You look good," they said at the same time. There was a pause
and then laughter, and Al was glad for that, because his observation
had been a bit shyer than hers. Winry was wearing charcoal
overalls, instead of her old light blue ones, and she
looked… older. Which she was, of course, and she’d always been a
little older, but now she was a lot older and…

Well, she looked it.

Rose came to herd them off the platform, laughing softly herself. "Come
on you two, let’s go. I left bread in the oven, and you know Pinako-baachan
won’t remember to take it out if she’s working on that new knee for

Al swung his suitcase as they walked, noting the little changes in the
fields by the road, listening to Winry talk about the new alloy mixes
she was experimenting with. It was good to be home. Sensei was great,
but this was home.

He got through dinner and the dishes, which he’d volunteered to help
Rose wash, before Pinako-baachan beckoned him back to the table with
the stem of her pipe. "And how’s your work going these days?" she asked.

Al sat back and looked at his folded hands for a moment. "I’ve made progress
this year," he said at last, quietly.

Rose set the teapot on the table and kicked off her sandals as she sat
down, curling one foot up under her. "You don’t sound very happy about it."

Al drew a finger down the side of his cup. "Sensei is pretty sure I’ve
already made the breakthrough I need. But you couldn’t tell it by me;
as far as I know, all I have is some really strange dreams." He shrugged,
rather uncomfortable with the whole thing. "So, um, don’t worry if
I get kind of… loud when I’m asleep. It’s nothing."

"Al…" Winry frowned. "What kind of dreams?" she asked softly.

Al’s mouth twisted and he took a quick drink to keep her from seeing.
"Well. Sensei thinks I’m actually reaching the Gate when I’m asleep.
That I’m seeing my own memories." He attempted a light tone.
"So I guess I have something back: memories of the dreams, some of them." He winced at the
darkness in Winry’s eyes and groped for a way to get off the topic
of his nightmares. "If the things the Gate takes away include memories,
I can see why there isn’t more written about it, I suppose, but," his
mouth tightened in genuine irritation, fear buried in scholarly ire,
"you’d think scientists would know better! I mean, honestly, it’s the
most basic experimental good sense to keep notes of everything, even
if you don’t know what they might be good for yet." He crossed his
arms and scowled, reminded all over again of just how unproductive
the past months had been.

"So nothing mentions this Gate at all?" Rose asked, curiously.

Al slumped bonelessly over the table, stretching his arms out along
it, comforted by the familiarity of the smooth, battered wood under his hands. "Nope." He sighed, drawing
concentric circles on the wood with a fingertip. "The only books
that mention anything like it are old Ishvarite philosophy texts, and
they’re not about alchemy." He frowned and tapped his finger. "I’m
not really sure what they are about, actually. Just that it’s definitely
not science."

"Well, you could ask the Ishvarites," Rose pointed out.

Al opened his mouth and then stopped with his jaw hanging there until
Winry tapped him on the head. "Al? You still in there? A bug’s going
to fly into your mouth, you know."

He closed his mouth, pausing only to stick out his tongue at her for
old times’ sake. "Rose-san, you’re brilliant!" He chewed on his lip,
and muttered, "Only the Ishvarites never talk to alchemists, I wonder
how I can get them to…"

"You’re not asking about alchemy," Rose stated. "You said it yourself;
you’re asking about philosophy." She smiled at him. "You and Winry
are just alike, you know. Always so focused on the practical. Sometimes
you forget to look up."

She looked up, herself, as laughter and excited barking drifted in the
window. Al thought her little Christopher was probably playing with
the new dog Al had helped Winry pick out two years ago; Den sounded
a lot gruffer than that, these days, and was too stiff to run around with a young boy. Rose’s mouth tilted. "Sometimes
the problem isn’t what you think it is," she said quietly. "You
don’t want to miss the moment it turns into something else, just because you
were concentrating too hard on what it used to be."

Al thought maybe she wasn’t talking about alchemy or the Gate any longer.
But the tightness in Pinako-baachan’s face indicated that might
not be the best thing to point out right now. "I’ll try not to," he

Rose shook herself. "Well, good then!" She poured Al another cup of tea and smiled at Winry. "Any problems you have that I should solve while I’m at it?"

Winry laughed. "I’ve gotten better! I haven’t even forgotten to eat because I’m working more than once in the last couple months." She paused. "Well, maybe twice." Another, slightly fidgety pause. "Definitely not more than three times!"

Al relaxed in the warmth and laughter of the kitchen, and the thought that he might have a way forward again.