And another one! This one deals with Roy Mustang, Riza Hawkeye and the rest of the usual military suspects, and their new stations in Ishval.
Once again, please leave a review! Comments, criticism and anything else you have to add are all very much appreciated.
August 21st 1918
"No, listen! She's the one! I can feel it!"
"You say that about everyone," sighed First Lieutenant Breda, kicking up sand as he strolled along with his hands in his pockets.
"But I actually mean it this time! I met her when I was running the family shop and it was love at first sight! She didn't care that my legs didn't work! And now she's waiting for me to come home! At least, I hope she is… What if she gets lonely and moves on?"
"You know, the great thing about marriage is that I don't have to worry about those things any more," said Second Lieutenant Falman, taking in the desert scenery with a peaceful smile on his face. "I know my family won't get bored and run off, unlike your girlfriend."
"She won't!" First Lieutenant Jean Havoc glared around at his comrades as if daring them to contradict him. "She loves me!"
"I'm sure she does, Havoc," said Second Lieutenant Fuery, patting him comfortingly on the arm.
"No really, I'm happy for you," said Breda. "I mean, this one's even human, isn't she?"
Havoc marched on with his arms crossed, making a point out of ignoring the others. Roy Mustang heard Captain Riza Hawkeye sigh in exasperation next to him and allowed himself a small smile. He'd transferred his old team over to the East with him when he'd realised that he couldn't imagine working without them, but he knew doing so would bring a certain air of informality. Even as his officers bickered and chatted, military life simply wouldn't be the same without them. He'd handpicked them long ago to be his team and he wasn't about to leave them behind.
They walked on, surveying their surroundings. This was an official patrol and required a certain level of awareness, but Roy knew it was unlikely anything would go wrong. Ishval had been at peace for months now, everyone too focused on cleaning up and rebuilding to bother with fights or riots. Besides, there was really nothing to fight or riot about. Roy kept a firm but relaxed grip on the area, keeping the place running smoothly but not exercising too much control. Ishval, he knew, was not his home and he had no right to decide how it should be. His job was simply to keep the peace, uphold the law and help as much as he possibly could with the reconstruction. He owed these people that much.
They made their way slowly through the streets, people giving them a wide berth. Some Ishvalans still feared and resented their presence and Roy knew that was justified, but he tried to give them as little reason as possible to have a problem with him. They were here to worry about the city, not each other. Most of the people he passed barely even noticed him, too busy concentrating on their reconstruction. Some were Ishvalan, some were Amestrian volunteers, but all were working together to rebuild. There was a strange kind of beauty in that. As he observed the sun-drenched landscape full of slow but steady activity, something caught his eye. A child was running toward them, no older than seven, with fear and desperation written plainly across his face.
"Mr soldier, sir!" he panted, skidding to a halt in front of Roy's patrol. "Please help me!"
"What's wrong?" asked Hawkeye, bending down to speak to the child at eye-level.
"It's my little sister! We were playing hide and seek and she ran into this building that wasn't all fixed up yet! One of the walls collapsed and she can't get out! I'm so sorry! Please help!"
"Where is she?" asked Roy, suddenly alert.
Relief flooded the boy's face. "Follow me!"
He ran off in the direction he'd come from with the soldiers in hot pursuit. The district he led them to was one of the more damaged areas of the city, unsafe for anyone let alone children as young as this boy and his sister. The houses were all in various states of disrepair, some nothing more than rubble in piles on the floor. It was places like these that reminded Roy just how much work needed to be put in to restore this place to its former glory and just how far he had to go. The boy took them to a house with only three walls standing; the front left hand corner had collapsed inwards.
"She's under there!" he said, pointing to the rubble. "She's alive, she was shouting for help! Please get her out, Mister!"
He surveyed the rubble with a trained, critical eye and saw… rubble. "Falman, how should we go about shifting this?"
"The wall fell inwards from the outside, sir, which means the inner rubble is supporting the outer. If we start there then there's a high likelihood of it falling and further injuring the girl. We should begin on the outside and work our way inwards."
"You heard the man!" barked Mustang. "Get moving!"
Fortunately, none of the rocks were too big to be moved by hand. The house had been built from mud-brick and had broken up easily when it fell, meaning that there was a large amount of small pieces. They worked quickly, the boy bouncing around next to them in anxiety and helping to shift some of the smaller rocks, and soon had a large amount of rubble piled up next to them.
"Alia!" shouted the boy, climbing up onto the remaining rocks. "Alia, can you hear me? Are you okay?"
"Brother!" came a weak little voice from somewhere under the rubble. "Please help me!"
It took the better part of an hour, but soon they had shifted enough of the ruins to help lift the small girl from under the remains of the house. She was shaking, covered in dust and immediately enveloped into a big hug from her brother.
"Are you hurt?" asked Hawkeye, bending down once again. "Is anything broken?"
She shook her head, still clutching at her brother. "No… no, I don't think so…"
"We should probably take her down to headquarters to get checked over," said Mustang. "Just to be safe."
Hawkeye wrapped the girl in her military jacket and steered her slowly back out onto the road. The boy ran up to Mustang and hugged him tightly round the middle.
"Thank you, Mr soldier! You saved her! My grandpa was telling me that Amestrian soldiers were bad, but you're not bad! You saved her life!"
"It was the least I could do," said Mustang, feeling a strange kind of pride well up in his chest. He'd protected someone. A little girl would grow up because of him and his men. The boy stood to attention and saluted him with a big smile on his face, and Roy allowed a small one to creep across his face as well. "You go and tell your parents to pick your sister up from the military headquarters, okay? She should be ready to go home once the examination's over."
The boy nodded and ran away, kicking up small puffs of sand as his feet struck the road.
The girl, it turned out, was weak and shaken but otherwise unhurt. She was cleaned up, given a hot meal and released to overwhelmed and thankful parents. An hour later, Roy sat in his office trying to think of reasons why he shouldn't fill out the paperwork and report the incident until a bit later. The office was a bit bigger than his old one in Central, with plenty of fully stocked bookshelves, chairs for any visitors he might have to deal with, a desk for his bodyguard and personal assistant and a large window with a view of the surrounding city.
"Brigadier General Mustang!"
Roy looked up reluctantly from the paper aeroplane he was folding, saw the man in the doorway and immediately leapt to his feet, snapping to attention. "Fuhrer King Grumman, sir!" he saluted.
"At ease, soldier," smiled Grumman. "And you can leave us in peace." He shooed the men escorting him out of the room and shut the door. "You'd think I didn't know how to take care of myself, all the bodyguards they insist on saddling me with."
"What brings you out East, sir?" asked Roy, trying to brush the paper aeroplanes out of view without looking too conspicuous about it. Nothing of interest had happened here recently; why was the Fuhrer himself making a personal visit?
"Oh, the usual," said Grumman, plonking himself down on one of the chairs by Roy's desk and making himself comfortable. "Just checking up on things. What kind of leader would I be if I didn't know my own country?"
"Good point, sir. Everything's going well out here, like I said on my reports. We had an incident today with some unstable ruins, but aside from that the repairs are ahead of schedule. A few Amestrians from outside the area turned up to help out, which made my job a lot easier, I can tell you." He sat down at his desk and started shuffling some papers, trying in vain to make it look more like a Brigadier General's workspace and less like a bombsite.
"Hard times do bring out the best in people," sighed Grumman. "I'm glad to hear you're doing well, Mustang. But that's not the only reason I came out here; I have an offer for you."
"Really? What would that be, sir?"
"Do you know how old I am?"
Roy looked up from his desk, eyebrow raised. "Is this some kind of test?"
"Oh no, nothing like that. The point is, I'm old. Seventy's just around the corner, if you must know. You wouldn't understand, young thing like you, but the old brain doesn't work quite like it used to."
"Really? Fancy a game of chess then, sir?"
Grumman laughed. "No, I'd hold onto that one win if I were you. I can still play some mean chess. But here I was, sitting in Central and lamenting my own inabilities, when I realised that I was surrounded by young soldiers far more capable than I. So I started thinking that maybe it was time to step aside and let the younger generation take over. And my thoughts turned instantly to you, Mustang. You should be proud."
Roy stared at Grumman, frozen to his seat. Was he really… could he be…
"Brigadier General Roy Mustang, I am officially offering you the post of Fuhrer King of Amestris. Do you accept my offer?"
Fuhrer King of Amestris. Fuhrer King of Amestris. The very position that Roy had been working towards his entire life. All these years of scheming and planning and fighting, studying alchemy and climbing the career ladder, and now here it was, right in front of him. He remembered standing in Ishval years ago with Maes Hughes, looking up at Bradley and swearing that someday he would be up on that podium wearing the title of Fuhrer. Someday, he had promised, he would have the power to protect the ones he loved, and now that power was so close he could almost taste it. All the blood, sweat and tears had been leading up to this one moment. All he had to do was say yes, to accept Grumman's offer, and he would have succeeded. He would have done what he'd promised Hughes he would and all his work, pain and sacrifices would have been worth it.
Grumman looked at him expectantly as he sat, speechless. "Do you need some time to think, Mustang?"
He opened his mouth, realised he had nothing to say and closed it again, then fumbled around in the muddled recesses of his brain and managed to string together a sentence. "No, sir."
"Fuhrer King Grumman, I respectfully decline your offer."
Grumman's eyebrows almost shot off the top of his head. "But why not? Isn't that what you've always wanted?"
"It is. But I don't think I'm ready for it quite yet. I'm not nearly experienced enough to lead an entire country. Besides, I've caused a lot of destruction in my life, you know." He gestured to the window behind him. "See all those ruined buildings? I don't know how much of that was my work, if any of it, but it doesn't matter. I still contributed to the destruction of this place, and I can't in good conscience rule it before I've helped to reconstruct it. I need to help these people rebuild their lives before I can take the seat of command." He allowed a smile to creep onto his face. "I need to fix my old mistakes before I can go off and make new ones."
Grumman stared at him in silence for a few more seconds, then burst out laughing. "Roy Mustang," he managed between roars of laughter, "you really are something, you know that?"
"So I've been told, sir."
"Very well then," he said, becoming serious again almost instantly. "I respect your decision. I suppose this old fogey's not completely washed up just yet. I'll keep this country running until you can take it from me, Mustang. I'll keep going so that you can catch up."
And with that, he stood up, straightened his uniform and strolled out through the door, pausing only to wink knowingly at Roy before disappearing around the corner.
There were a few moments of silence.
"Go on, then," said Roy, turning to the blonde woman who'd been watching this exchange from behind her desk, silent and unmoving. "Let's hear it. How stupid I am for giving up what I've been fighting for all this time, how everything I ever wanted was right in front of me and I turned it down, how I'm a hopeless idiot and you should shoot me right now. Let's get it over with."
"Why would I say that?" she asked. "I think that was a very noble thing to do."
Now it was his turn to stare at her. "Really?"
"Really. I think you've changed a lot in the past few years."
"For better or for worse?"
"For better. Definitely for better."
He smiled and chuckled under his breath. "Yeah, well, don't let it get around. I have a reputation to uphold, you know."
"Will do, sir."
Leaving his desk as messy as ever, Roy stood up and strolled over to the window. Being on the upper floors, it had an excellent view of the surrounding district. He could see the streets and houses of Ishval, all built of mud-brick and all the same dusty ochre colour. People milled around outside, seemingly oblivious to the sun beating incessantly down on them. Some of them were native Ishvalans, working to rebuild their ancestral homes, and some were Amestrian volunteers, helping them despite their differences. The houses themselves were in varying states of disrepair; some looked fine while some were little more than rubble, and Roy knew that other districts a little way away from here were still almost entirely razed to the ground.
But as he looked at the harsh, desolate landscape, the angry sun, the ruined city, he saw a strange kind of beauty. This land refused to lie down and die. He'd noticed it before, when he was helping to destroy the very place he was now working to rebuild. No matter how much they threw at it, the desert just sucked it up. Here was a place with fighting spirit. Even as half the city lay in pieces on the sand, its people still worked to slowly but steadily build it back, stronger than ever. To the inexperienced eye, this land was already dead. But Roy knew that underneath the rubble and sand lay a will to live, the strength and courage to keep fighting for survival.
Yes, there was definitely a lot of beauty out there.
And he realised, as Riza came to join him at the window, that there was a lot of beauty in here as well.