The Simple and the Subtle – Chapter Four

Gil assists Al and has a bit of an epiphany, and finds some peace with his past. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Alphonse Elric, Scar

Gil wasn’t entirely surprised when Al came to him and asked for help. That didn’t mean he didn’t have misgivings.

"Are you sure Shifu wouldn’t be a better choice?"

Alphonse looked stubborn. "I need to not be afraid. If I’m afraid of the Gate, I’ll just keep running away from it and forgetting and I’ll never be able to find Nii-san through it." The stubbornness shifted into the earnest entreaty Gil was far more wary of. He had fewer defenses against it. "Please, Gil-san. I do think it should be you."

Gil stifled a sigh. He wasn’t at all sure he was ready for the burden of that trust, but if it was laid on him already he couldn’t bring himself to break it. "Very well."

And so he found himself sitting beside Alphonse’s bedroll in the middle of the day, one of Al’s hands clasped in his, while his young friend sought, by all accounts, creatures that would happily devour his body and soul.

He hoped this would be enough to give Alphonse the courage he needed.

Gradually Alphonse’s breathing slowed and evened. His eyes stopped flickering under his lids. Gil watched the sunlight creep across the floor and waited, sinking himself in the patience he had once employed to hunt and kill. He thought this was a better use for it.

Abruptly, Al’s hand tightened on his. Gil leaned forward, intent, frowning, carefully tightening his grip in return. Alphonse’s eyes were moving again, now. When his breath stumbled Gil couldn’t keep from resting a light hand on his hair and speaking in a bare whisper. "Alphonse. I’m here."

Al should know that, whatever he faced, he was not alone. Gil knew too well how that felt to leave someone he knew lost in it.

Alphonse’s grip on Gil’s hand firmed and he drew in a long breath.

It wasn’t long after that he relaxed, bit by bit, and his eyes opened, dark and dazed. Gil brushed light, flyaway hair back out of them and waited.

Finally Alphonse looked up at him and smiled. "Thank you." The smile grew wider, gained a triumphant edge. "It worked! I found it and I remember!"

Gil smiled back. "I’m glad."

Al hauled himself up off the bed, wobbling just a little, and rummaged for his notebooks, muttering to himself as he scribbled and chewing the end of his pencil. Gil stood and went to see about some dinner. He was hungry and he’d only watched.

As he pulled out bread and onion to cut, he found that he was still smiling.

Gil couldn’t deny that he was very impressed by Alphonse Elric. Days turned to weeks and still Alphonse burned with the light of his discoveries, focused and intent. Gil often had to remind his housemate to take a break to eat.

And even in the midst of his ferocious research, Alphonse turned a hand willingly to the neverending chores of building New Ishvar. He sawed wood and laid pipes, helped paint and mortar, heaved blocks cheerfully. The house they stayed in was finished, and Gil wondered if he shouldn’t move on as usual. But somehow he didn’t want to disturb Alphonse, didn’t want to dislocate him when he seemed so close to finding what he needed.

Didn’t want to leave him behind either.

So he stayed and soothed his vague discomfort over it by going out to work on newly laid foundations each day. Many days Al came with him, and if Alphonse banged his thumb every now and then when he was thinking too much about his latest reading and not enough about where the nail was, most of the citypeople were indulgent. By now everyone knew of the outsider who had thrown himself so whole-heartedly into their studies that even Alec approved of him. If Alphonse still gathered a few dark looks in the evenings, when he joined the everlasting debates on the temple steps, there were only a few.

If Alphonse still woke, some nights, shaking and tense, Gil found some satisfaction in the knowledge that Al could sleep calm the rest of the night as long as Gil held him.

His hands could do something besides destroy, now.

His teacher found him stitching canvas into window covers against the deepening cold of winter nights.

"It seems you’ve decided to stay in one of your houses, finally."

"It’s Alphonse’s house, too," Gil answered, eyes on the canvas.

"So it is. Many of our people approve of that young man." This was said in such a bland tone that Gil looked up, wary. Amos was smiling at him. "Many of our people approve of you, too, you know."

Gil looked down again. "I shouldn’t… I don’t have the right…" It was harder, lately, to say the words with conviction.

Amos sighed. "Do you think the proper restitution for bringing death is to create still more absence in all our hearts?"

Gil bit his lip.

Amos reached over and gripped Gil’s shoulder with a hard hand, shaking him a bit. "Stop being so stubborn, boy."

Gil managed a small smile for his teacher. "If you wanted me to become less stubborn, are you sure you should have housed Alphonse Elric here?"

Amos laughed. "He’s just stubborn enough to match you." He leaned back in his chair and added, "Many of us would be pleased enough if he chose to do so for longer."

Gil shook his head, trying to ignore the twinge at the thought of Alphonse leaving. "He won’t stop searching for his brother, wherever that takes him."

"Mm. Journeys usually end in returning, you know." Amos’ eyes on him were dark and thoughtful. "If they last long enough. Maybe the both of you have further to go."

Gil sat, after his teacher left, hands smoothing the canvas. The memories of his last journey were dark ones, and he knew many of Alphonse’s were also. He had to wonder, just a little, if the return was worth that kind of price.

Gil woke a little as Alphonse turned restless, reaching out to rub his back. Al’s tossing increased, though, and the sounds he made were desperate and stifled, and Gil roused all the way.

"Alphonse." He gathered Al close, calling his name quietly. "Alphonse. Wake up."

Al woke with a start that was half a scream, sitting up with a jerk. "Seal… close…" he panted, eyes wide and blind.

"Alphonse," Gil called again, quiet and insistent.

Al’s eyes finally focused on him. Gil started a bit himself as Al flung himself back down, burrowing into Gil’s chest, shaking. "I was changing," he choked. "It was almost at the seal. I was almost gone."

Gil remembered the steady creep of corruption over steel armor, moving toward a small seal drawn in old blood. That certainly explained it. Gil rubbed Al’s back silently.

"And then… I changed again," Al went on, muffled. "I was back, I was all right. There was just this… light inside me." After a slow, shaky breath, he looked up. "You saved me."

Gil made an uncomfortable sound. "It was the only thing I could think of that might halt the process." And it wouldn’t have been needed if any of them had just been more alert to what that insane State Alchemist was doing as he died. Al could have been spared all of it. Although, if he had, he could never have saved his brother, nor been saved himself. Of course, neither of them might have been in that danger if Alphonse hadn’t been turned into the Stone. But then neither could have been restored… Gil tried to make his thoughts stop spinning. Done was done and he couldn’t pick apart the threads of the past.

Al managed a tiny smile. "Thank you."

Gil looked down at him, mind still full of causes and consequences. "For what?"

"For everything."

After a long moment, Gil breathed out and smiled faintly in the dark, feeling the whirl of his head and heart settling. "You’re welcome," he murmured.