The Simple and the Subtle – Chapter Two

Gil does his best to make restitution and finds himself being drawn out by Al. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Alphonse Elric, Amos, Scar

Gil had not been surprised when Alphonse mentioned nightmares. The boy had died, been hauled back by his heels and bound to a suit of armor, tramped all over the country running after the false hope of the Stone, been transmuted into the Stone, and finally sacrificed those years of love and effort to be returned to true life. Nightmares were surely to be expected. He hadn’t quite expected his new houseguest to start up in the middle of the night, screaming, though.

He certainly hadn’t expected it to happen every night.

That wasn’t quite true, of course. Two nights, even three, in a week, Alphonse slept quietly. The others, well Gil was twice over glad he had no near neighbors here at the edge of the city and that doors and windows were shuttered tight now winter was on them.

He did wonder, once or twice, whether his teacher had known about this, and thought it proper for Gil to deal with.

Either way, it was fair enough resititution for the part he’d played. He leaned up on one arm, half awake, to reach across the space between their makeshift beds and shake Alphonse’s shoulder as he started to thrash around. Alphonse came awake with a harsh gasp, eyes wide and staring before he fell back against his blankets.

"Ah. Gil-san. Sorry."

"Mm, don’t worry," Gil mumbled, settling back into sleep already.

He barely remembered it in the morning, until Alphonse looked up from staring into his tea. "It really seems like there should be two circles on the Gate, not eleven."

It must, Gil decided, have been a dream of the Gate itself, last night, then, for Alphonse to break into philosophy at the breakfast table. Usually he waited and beleaguered the older men at the temple, in the evening.

Still, he probably owed Alphonse this help too. "Why?" he prodded.

"Well it’s only one step away from this world; there don’t seem to be any others in between."

Gil considered that while Alphonse wolfed down his toast. "I don’t think distance to divinity works in a straight line like that."

"Oh." Alphonse blinked and laughed a bit self-consciously. "Of course." He rubbed a hand through his hair. "I suppose I’ve been drawing arrays for too long; it’s hard to shake the habit of geometry."

"Most habits are hard to shake," Gil agreed quietly. The habit of revenge; the habit of wrongheadedness; the habit of solitude; they were all hard to shake.

Though Alphonse was making an impression on that last one, and Gil suspected that had been his teacher’s real purpose in lodging Alphonse here.

"Well, I can think about that more later," Alphonse said with that alarming determination of his, draining his tea. "What is there to do today?"

"Walls. There’s a new load of stone in."

Alphonse brightened, and Gil raised a brow at this rather odd response to the prospect of hauling stone blocks in the desert sun and stingingly dry winter air. "Good! I think the house frame is cracking in the east corner, I heard it last night, and I knew you wouldn’t want me to strengthen it."

"Thank you," Gil muttered, surprised all over again by Alphonse’s restraint; he hadn’t used a single flicker of alchemy since he’d come to New Ishvar. Of course, Gil probably shouldn’t be surprised. Alphonse had never had his brother’s brash edge.

Or, at least, didn’t have it in the same way.

As they walked through the outskirts to collect the first pallet of cut stone, Gil watched smiles come out everywhere in answer to Alphonse’s.

"Al-kun, you’ll come play with Rick and Leo later won’t you?"

"Alphonse-kun, I’ll have that book for you tonight!"

"Al, you and Gil will stop with us for dinner, won’t you?"

"If Gil-san agrees," Alphonse returned, laughing. Gil snorted softly.

"You can go without me."

"Yes, but Eli-san invited both of us," Alphonse told him, firm and scolding. "You should accept more often, Gil-san."

Gil’s mouth tightened. "I have no right."

Alphonse stopped in the middle of the street-to-be with his hands on his hips and glared. "Why not?"

Gil glowered down at his houseguest, though it never seemed to have quite the effect on Alphonse that it did on anyone else. "The price for what I have done is exile. I knew that from the start. I will pay it," he bit out.

"Even when no one is asking you to?"

"Some things aren’t required by other people."

"No, they’re just required by your stubbornness," Alphonse snapped, sounding thoroughly exasperated. "Gil-san–"


After a moment Alphonse sighed. "We should fetch the stone."

Gil nodded agreement to that, at least, and ignored Al’s muttering about how well the blocks would match certain heads. He was starting to wonder whether Alphonse had gotten this way because of Edward or whether Edward had gotten that way because of Alphonse.

It was two loads later before Alphonse said anything that wasn’t to do with hauling and stacking.

"Gil-san, may I ask you something?"

Gil made a noncommital grunt, hoping Alphonse wasn’t going to badger him more about dinner invitations.

"Will you tell me how I met you?" Alphonse looked up as Gil’s hands froze over the mortar he was mixing. "You know so much about me, but I don’t even remember your name from the things people have told me about those years."

Gil could feel his jaw tightening.

"How did we meet, that you don’t want to tell me?" Al asked quietly.

Gil bowed his head over his hands. Alphonse had left off asking for so long, he’d hoped to not be asked at all. He should have known better. Sooner or later, it would have to be said. Gil took a slow breath. "You didn’t know my name, then," he said, voice low. "You called me Scar."

The broken beam Alphonse had been using to lever the stones up clattered to the ground. His eyes were wide, when Gil looked up. A flicker of dark amusement tugged the corner of Gil’s mouth up. "I suppose that transmutation gave both of us our lives back. I don’t know that it did either of us a favor." He looked away, not wanting to watch the shock in Alphonse’s face any more. "You’ve done more than enough work here, Alphonse," he gestured at the half-laid walls, mouth twisting with the double edge of his words, "if you want to go think for a while."

"I… I’ll… yes, for a while." Alphonse tidied his tools with a blank stare that didn’t see them, and walked away toward the temple, steps slow and halting.

Gil rested his forehead against a stone, eyes closed. He’d thought he already knew where he stood with the world. He hadn’t thought it would hurt so much to see that shock in someone’s eyes–to know it would unfold into fear or disgust.

It was only, he told himself sternly, what he should expect; it flowed naturally from his own actions and choices.

When he had made those choices, it hadn’t seemed like such a high price as it did now.

It didn’t take long before Amos showed up.

Gil’s shoulders tightened, but his teacher only picked up the lever Al had dropped and helped to lay the last row of stone. It wasn’t until Gil had poured them both a drink of water that Amos spoke.

"Well, it doesn’t seem that you think Al-kun’s life is unclean."

Gil flinched. "Of course it isn’t," he muttered. "He isn’t one of us, to live by our laws. Besides, his brother chose freely to make that sacrifice for him." Unlike the men Gil had killed to form the Stone. Not that he felt sorry for those soldiers, he thought stubbornly; they’d made their choices too. But the fact remained. "Alphonse wasn’t the one who killed and used the lives to live."

Amos took a drink and leaned back against Gil’s new wall thoughtfully. "No, he didn’t. Instead he took those lives and used them to bring his brother back from death." He tipped his head at Gil. "You still don’t think that was wrong?"

"It…" Gil’s thoughts stumbled. "The killing was already done," he said at last.

His teacher’s silence was eloquent of the inadequacy of this answer.

"At least those lives and deaths meant something in the end!" Gil finally burst out. "At least they did something worthwhile!"

Amos smiled at him. "So they did."

Gil’s eyes widened. "But I’m… I’m not…" Not worthwhile, not worthy.

His teacher patted his shoulder, heaving himself to his feet. "Well, perhaps I’ll give young Al a bit longer to work on it, then."

As Gil watched Amos walk back into the city he thought about the enthusiasm with which Alphonse threw himself into rebuilding Ishvar and the raw determination of his search for answers among the books of old and new learning and the stubbornness he already showed in trying to draw Gil out. It occurred to him, not for the first time, that his teacher had a ruthless streak.

It was late when Alphonse came back, and Gil watched his face warily, in the lamplight.

Al just smiled and set two loaves of bread and a travel-bruised pomegranate on the table. "We’re running out of bread so I stopped at Sarah-san’s. She said to take the fruit, too."

"That was kind of her." Gil fetched cups of water for them, waiting for the rest of it. He was sure there was more.

"Gil-san," Alphonse said, softly, as he peeled the pomegranate, "will you tell me what happened?" He looked up, honey-colored eyes dark. "No one else was there."

And so no one else could tell it. No one else could explain the dreams, if Alphonse had dreamed about it. Gil set down his bread; he doubted he’d be able to eat through this. "I had planned to lure soldiers into Lior and create the Stone with their lives. For the sake of all the citizens who had been killed, the people of Lior were willing to let me do it. You and your brother stumbled into the middle of it, though. You and one other. The Alchemist who did this," he gestured to the scar across his face, "and you were too close. When he tried to kill you, by transforming you and breaking your blood seal… I made you the focus of the Stone’s creation instead, to preserve you."

He watched Alphonse’s fingers, breaking the pomegranate seeds into smaller and smaller clusters, as he spoke. He didn’t want to watch Al’s face, and perhaps that was more cowardice, but he didn’t think he could finish if he was looking Alphonse in the eye. Alphonse’s eyes were far too expressive.

"After it was done," he finished, "I was left with a whole body and the empty desert and nothing else. I…" his hands clasped hard around his cup, "I had thought to make the Stone for revenge; to carry out a destiny. But it seemed to me, then, that whatever there was of my old destiny had passed to you." He was silent for a moment before adding, voice low, "It was then that I realized how heavy I had made it. I’m sorry."

"Yes. So am I. But I’m glad, too."

Gil finally looked up from Alphonse’s fingers, stained a little red with the seeds’ juice, to see his housemate looking reflective and not shocked or disgusted at all.

"I wish those soldiers hadn’t died," Alphonse said, softly. "But you saved my life. And what you did saved my brother’s life, too. And I can’t help being glad for that." Alphonse looked directly at Gil and smiled, eyes clear. "I wish you hadn’t. Thank you, Gil-san."

Gil felt himself settle into stillness with those words. It was not forgiveness Alphonse offered. It was more real than that. "So do I," he said, quietly. "And you’re welcome." His own sincerity surprised him.

Alphonse pushed a wooden plate with half the pomegranate seeds on it across the table. "I suppose I should tell you what came next. I only really know it from what other people have said, but I know Nii-san and I ran for it."

Gil listened and ate the sweet, crunchy seeds one by one. It was late by the time Al finished, and Gil felt tired–more than tired, wrung out.

He also felt more at peace than he had for a long time.

He turned over new thoughts, as they cleaned up. "You and your brother succeeded in your search, last time," he said, finally. "But the cost was one I think you wouldn’t pay again."

Alphonse nodded firmly as he swept away the fresh stone chips in the bedroom and unrolled his bed. "The Stone isn’t the right way. I know that, at least."

"Knowledge might be, though," Gil offered, knowing that he would once have denounced any outsider seeking the old knowledge of his people. "You are… welcome here for as long as you search." He started to unroll his own bedding and hesitated. He’d long since moved his bed across the room, next to Alphonse’s, the easier to wake him from nightmares.

Alphonse smiled up at him, smoothing his bedroll, and it struck Gil that that was what he had wanted, why he had spoken: to see Alphonse’s hope, undamaged. That hope seemed… very important. "Thank you for that, too, Gil-san." Alphonse helped unroll Gil’s bedding the rest of the way and patted it briskly into place beside his.

Gil lay down silently, accepting Alphonse’s wordless assurance that it was well.

He was surprised to wake the next morning from a sleep unbroken by nightmares. He had expected telling over some of the ugliest parts of Alphonse’s lost past to call to those memories.

Then again, perhaps it had. Alphonse slept quietly, but his arms were wrapped tightly around one of Gil’s and he refused to let go. After a few gentle tugs, Gil gave in and turned on his side to settle Alphonse against him more comfortably until the boy woke. His mouth tugged up helplessly into a faint smile as Alphonse relaxed with a sigh and moved closer.

Gil lay and watched the light grow slowly outside the window, thinking back to another life when his older brother had read him to sleep on stormy nights and stayed with him, safe and warm.

He was smiling for real by the time Al woke and stared at him with wonder in the morning sun.


A/N: Those who are wondering how on earth Scar can be here should read Long Enough.