I had a couple of ideas that I wanted to do something with but wasn't sure where else to put them. So I sort of mashed them together and put them here.
If Scar thought things would be quiet once Ed and Winry left, he was to be disappointed. Only two days afterwards, the Chang family caravan arrived, which was always a festive event. There was a brisk exchange of goods and information, not the least of which was the news of the upcoming Elric/Rockbell wedding. Master Liwei, head caravaneer, promised to carry the news back to Lady Mei and Master Alphonse in good time.
With that task completed, Scar then turned to facing the ordeal of having workmen underfoot as they connected the telephone and power lines that had finally reached Ishval. They carried in crates of equipment and miles of cables, and the process would likely take several weeks. A telephone exchange had to be set up in one of the two vacant offices of the administrative center and operators would need to be trained to use the switchboard. Several young women clamored for the available positions, and they were interviewed and tested by the telephone company supervisor who had accompanied the workmen. Those who were able to quickly grasp the workings of the confusing spider's web of cords and plugs of the switchboard were hired. Scar still harbored serious doubts about the whole thing, but it may have only been his instinctive distrust of modern Amestrian contraptions.
His main objection, though, was that he simply did not want to be that accessible to the outside world. But as he was so often reminded, his was a public office. He could not keep the number a secret. He took some comfort in the fact that Stoyan would be the one fielding any calls in his usual competent manner.
Ideally speaking, that is.
Throughout this time, Stoyan had fallen into a distracted and sullen silence. He was a quiet young man to start with, but he seemed to have gathered an air of melancholy around him. The reason was easily guessed at. Scar was sure the young man would get over Winry in time, but by the second week, he was just as moody as he was in the first. The change was admittedly subtle. His work didn't suffer. He was never rude. But he simply wasn't himself. Scar decided that he would leave him alone for now, and when Dejan privately voiced his own concerns, Scar advised him to do the same.
At the end of the second week, however, Stoyan strode into the khorovar's office and planted himself before Scar's desk in a state of subdued agitation. Scar looked up at him in surprise. He hadn't knocked or otherwise announced his entry, which was completely unlike him.
"Zhaarad Andakar!" he announced. "I want to join the priesthood!"
Scar sat back in his chair and stared at him for a moment. Stoyan glared back at him with earnest defiance. Then Scar shook his head, unable to hide his impatience. "Don't be ridiculous, Stoyan!" he said tersely. "A bruised heart is not a sign that God has called you."
Stoyan bridled. "But—"
Scar held up his hand. "No. You have other obligations."
Stoyan held on stubbornly. "What if I speak to Saahad Bozidar?"
"He'll tell you the same thing. He's turned away dozens before you. He is a gentle man, but he does not take kindly to having his calling trifled with. I would not advise it." Scar turned back to the papers on his desk. "Besides, you're too old to start now."
Stoyan's shoulders slumped in defeat, a picture of a lovelorn boy. Scar was torn between sympathy and irritation. "You'll get over her."
The young man looked unconvinced, but he said nothing more. He inclined his head and went back to the outer office. Thankfully, he did not bring up the subject again. But only a few days later, when Scar was walking home in the evening, he heard the rattling of a rickshaw behind him. He looked over his shoulder to see Miles being pulled up the road by Yoru.
"This is good enough," the colonel told his puller. He hopped out of the rickshaw and handed Yoru some coins.
The young man tapped his forehead in a salute. "See you tomorrow, Colonel!"
As Yoru turned his rickshaw around and loped away, Miles fell in step with Scar, giving him a wry look. "Do you know what your secretary's been up to?"
Scar cringed inwardly. "He said he had some errands to run for Naisha. Why?"
Miles chuckled, which didn't lessen Scar's sinking feeling. "A couple of hours ago he marched into my office and told me he wanted to enlist."
Scar pressed his hands to his face. "Shehai li Ishvala!" he muttered.
"Yeah, that's what I said." Miles grinned. "I told him that you could barely wipe your own ass without him—"
"Oh, thank you!" Scar growled.
"—and then I told him to get lost. He tried to argue with me, saying that the military needed more Ishvalan officers," Miles went on. "I told him the military didn't need Ishvalan officers simply because they were Ishvalan." He shrugged. "Mind you, we could certainly use officers like him, but I knew why he was there and I knew he'd regret it. That fire in his eyes was not a surge of patriotic spirit."
"I appreciate your help, Miles." Scar let out an impatient sigh. "I'm going to have to sit him down and talk to him. He's taking this too far."
"Oh, he'll be okay," Miles replied dismissively. "I've seen worse cases. Pretty soon, he'll be too busy answering your phone to think about Winry."
That was not necessarily a comforting thought.
Over the next several days, Stoyan kept to his duties conscientiously, if not particularly cheerfully, but he made no other mention of wanting to be either priest or soldier. The workmen continued their labor, managing to not be too much of an irritation. They were industrious and polite, and Scar was even starting to get used to them. Near the end of one day, Scar was putting away his work when he heard a tap on the doorframe of his office. Stoyan stood in the doorway, somewhat less melancholy but no less determined looking. At least this time, he knocked.
"You can go ahead and go if you want, Stoyan," Scar said, hoping to fend off whatever was threatening to emerge. "I'll lock up."
The young man shook his head. "That's not it, Zhaarad."
"I didn't think so," Scar muttered under his breath.
Stoyan stepped further into the office. "I want to go to school," he said. "To university. I want to study music."
Scar's first reaction, an instinctive one, was to say no. But then he sat back and considered the young man thoughtfully. Other than having to find a new secretary, he really couldn't find anything wrong with the idea. He almost wished he had thought of it himself. "Have you spoken to Dejan?"
"Not yet. But he's mentioned before that Shua has made friends with some of the teachers at the University of Central City." A smile pulled at Stoyan's mouth, something Scar hadn't seen for a while. "They play together at their favorite taverns. They've told him that they have the best music department in the country. I'd like to go there."
Before Scar could reply, Stoyan continued with growing eagerness. "I could get a degree and come back here and teach music! I mean really teach it! And I could learn how to compose! Actual concert pieces based on Ishvalan music! And I—"
Scar had to smile. "You've convinced me, Stoyan. I think you might even be able to convince Dejan, although you're going to be sorely missed."
"I'll be back," Stoyan replied, somewhat impatiently. "And I'll come home during breaks. But I thought I would write to Shua and have him help me find out what I need to do to apply." His eagerness faded somewhat. "And…I'll need money for tuition."
"Mm." Scar thought for a moment. "I don't think you'll lack for that. I understand that the Ishvalan Foundation has funds set aside for scholarships for deserving young Ishvalans. I can't think of anyone more deserving than you." He gave a decisive nod. "I'll personally contact Mrs. Bradley."
Stoyan practically glowed. "Thank you, Zhaarad!"
The telephone system was not yet functional, so they had to depend on the mail to put things in motion. Thanks to the Ishvalan Foundation, Stoyan's tuition was covered. He would travel to Central and stay with Shua, who would introduce him to members of the university faculty. His acceptance was as good as guaranteed.
Much to Scar's relief, Stoyan seemed to have forgotten all about Winry in his excitement. Dejan was not so happy.
"This is a disaster!" the lanky musician moaned as he threw himself onto one of Scar's couches in an attitude of despair. "He'll be smack in the middle of all those college girls like a kid in a candy shop!"
"You can't deny him this opportunity, Dejan," Scar told him firmly. "Besides, he'll probably be too busy studying to worry about girls."
Dejan snapped his fingers and sat up. "Dad'll keep an eye on him for me!" He heaved a sigh of relief. "Ah, that makes me feel better!"
Rada sat down next to him. "Mika seems to be taking it well."
"Hmm, well, on the outside, maybe," Dejan said with a wry look. "She knows how important this is to Stoyan. But I've caught her looking a little teary-eyed a couple of times."
"Does Stoyan even know what your intentions are?" Rada asked.
Dejan looked shocked. "Of course not! I don't want him to know how I'm trying to plan his life for him!"
"Let Stoyan plan his own life," Scar chided his friend. "And if Ishvala wills it, he may yet marry your daughter."
Dejan frowned glumly. "Well, Ishvala had better keep a close eye on that boy, too!"
;) ;) ;)
The workmen finally completed their work, leaving Ishval "on the grid," as they put it. The telephone on the desk in the outer office did not ring itself off the hook, as Scar feared it would, especially now that he no longer had a secretary to answer it. But other than a few times when Miles called him from the fort, mainly just to see how well it worked, the contraption was mute. Miles explained that it would be a while before the number of the government offices in Ishval would be published. With the thought of that brief respite in mind, Scar continued with his work between school and his office for another quiet week.
One afternoon, he heard a rustling from the front office, the sound of a light footfall, and the scrape of the legs of the desk chair. Scar got up and looked out through his doorway to find Mika sitting at Stoyan's former desk, her chin propped glumly on her pile of school books. She glanced up at Scar, a little apologetically.
"Can I do my homework here?" she asked.
Scar smiled. "Of course you can."
"Thanks," she mumbled, her chin still resting on her books, which she made no move to open.
Scar stepped up to the desk. "I miss him, too," he told the girl gently.
Mika shook her head. "Not like I do!" she replied in a heartfelt voice.
Scar raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps not. But you're still a bit young to be entertaining thoughts like that."
Mika looked scandalized. "I'm not thinking about stuff like that! Gosh, Zhaarad Andakar!"
Scar looked away, trying not to laugh. "Sorry."
Mika's pout reappeared. "He's been with us my whole life! I just miss him being there." She gave a sniff and buried her face in her arms on top of her books. Her voice came out muffled. "It's like the sun decided to not come up in the morning."
Scar reached out and smoothed her hair. "Surely it's not that bad."
"It is so!" She lifted her head. "And he's probably gonna forget about me with all those grownup college girls he's gonna be around. And they're gonna think he's so interesting 'cause he's Ishvalan and good-looking and smart!" She dropped her head back down on her books with a small thud. "I'm doomed!" she groaned.
Scar nearly groaned himself. He prayed to Ishvala that Danika would never get like this. "You're not doomed," he chided wearily. "He asked you to write to him, didn't he? That should keep him in mind of you."
Mika considered this for a moment, then broke into a smile. "And years from now, we'll take out all the letters that we wrote to each other and read them over again! And it'll be so—"
The girl gave a little shriek and jumped as the telephone on the desk rang jarringly. They both stared at it, Mika with fascination and Scar with repugnance. It rang again.
"Let me answer it!" Mika cried suddenly. "I can take over Stoyan's job!"
"No, Mika! I'll—"
Mika ignored him and snatched up the receiver before he could stop her. She cleared her throat softly, leaning away from Scar's reach, and put the receiver to her ear. "Thank you for calling the offices of the khorovar of Ishval!" She pitched her voice a bit lower, making a good attempt at sounding mature and sophisticated. "How may I help you?"
Scar watched her with trepidation as she sat listening to the voice on the other line. She frowned with annoyance. "No, this really is the khorovar's office…no, Greta does not live here…No, I'm not pulling your leg…Well, I can't help that! Maybe Greta didn't really want to talk to you!" With a look of disgust, Mika dropped the receiver back onto the cradle. She looked up at Scar with a somewhat contemptuous, knowing expression. "My friend at school—Yarisa—her big sister is one of your operators, and she's not the brightest star in the sky. She should know better than to let calls through like that. You should let me handle them. You have important stuff to do."
Scar stared at her, mystified and impressed. "You…uh…still need to go to school."
"Oh, I know!" Mika replied cheerfully. "But I could come over here after school and answer your phone and stuff." She gazed up at him beseechingly. "Can I please?"
The telephone rang again and before Scar could even react, Mika grabbed the receiver first. "Greta still doesn't live here! You really need to—" The girl fell abruptly silent, and her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. "Oh! Yes…yes it is!" She cleared her throat again. "Uh…thank you for calling the—" She suddenly smiled and let out a giggle. "Oh, hello, Brigadier…it's Mika!" She straightened up in her chair importantly. "Yes, I'm the khorovar's new secretary…oh, I should ask!" She looked up at Scar. "How much are you paying me?"
Scar held out his hand. "Just give me that thing, Mika!"
"Here's Zhaarad Andakar," Mika quickly informed the caller.
Scar took the receiver from the girl and held it to his ear. "Brigadier Mustang?"
"There are child labor laws in Amestris, you know."
"I've made no such decision yet," Scar replied, glancing narrowly at Mika, who giggled and quickly opened one of her schoolbooks to hide her face.
"Well, sometimes it's good to keep it in the family," Roy said with a chuckle. "So, are you having fun with your new toy?"
"Oh, really? Miles has already called me, and Havoc rings me up at least a couple of times a day."
"How can I help you, Brigadier?" Scar prompted him, a little impatiently.
"Ah, yes. Well, I actually meant to get in touch with you sooner, but I figured I'd wait until your phone system was up and running. Do you remember our conversation when I was out there last? I said I would be in touch with you when I got back here."
Scar thought for a moment, then frowned. "Yes, I remember. You seemed to have some sort of idea. I'm not sure I like all your ideas. This telephone business, for one thing."
"You'll appreciate the necessity of it someday, trust me."
Scar rolled his eyes. "So what is this latest idea of yours?"
Mika glanced over the top of her book at Scar. He stood silently with the telephone to his ear, an increasingly solemn expression growing on his face. After a few moments, he said, "I'll have to talk to Rada first. And Danika, of course…I can see your reasoning behind it, and it's good of you to go to the trouble…yes, but it could cause more trouble than it's meant to solve…I'll let you know in a few days, after we've had time to think about it…Thank you, Brigadier."
Scar set the receiver back in the cradle and considered it with a somewhat troubled frown.
"Is something wrong?" Mika asked after a few moments.
Scar shook his head. "Not really. Just…well, sometimes it's best to bury the past, and sometimes it's best to dig it up." He looked at the girl. "The trick is to know which."
:/ :/ :/
This wasn't official military or government business, so Roy left his uniform at home, and when he showed up at the door of the Ruhad's, Rada greeted him with a kiss on the cheek like a family friend.
"It's good to see you, Roy! I was just about to fill the teapot. Want some?"
"Tea sounds great!" Roy replied. He turned toward the low round dining table off to the left of the front door. Mattas and Little Winry were cruising around it, babbling happily to each other. "Hello, you two!" he called to them.
Fascinated by nearly everything, they toddled over to Roy and took hold of each end of the belt on his overcoat. They started pulling him toward one of the cushioned benches around the table. "I'll…be over here," he told Rada.
Rada smiled at him and headed for the kitchen. "How is Riza?"
"Oh, she's doing all right," Roy said. The toddlers pulled him around the table a couple of times. "She's due next month, you know. That's why she didn't come with me."
"That's understandable." Rada poured out two cups of tea. "But I'm surprised you'd want to leave her."
"That's why I drove out instead of taking the train." Roy dropped onto one of the benches to avoid tripping over Mattas. "I'll be driving home first thing in the morning."
"I'll pack you some food to take with you. And I knitted a blanket for your baby. Don't let me forget to give you that." She moved over to the bench where Roy sat and handed him one of the cups. "There you go."
"Rada, you are entirely too good to me!" Roy said with a grin. He set the briefcase he was carrying on the table to distract the twins before reaching for the cup. "And I wanted to thank you for letting me do this. I realize it might have been a little presumptuous."
Rada glanced at the briefcase, and Roy thought he glimpsed a flicker of unease in her eyes, but then she smiled. "I should be thanking you, Roy. I know you mean this as a kindness." She sat down across from him. "I was surprised at how quickly Danika agreed to it. I wouldn't have thought she was ready for this, or if she ever even would be, but I think Andakar understands her better than I do. I think she also wants to be as brave as he is," she added.
Roy nodded. "She's certainly a remarkable little girl. I hope my kid turns out like her."
"Oh, goodness, Roy!" Rada laughed, standing up and heading back to the kitchen. "You deserve a honey pastry for a compliment like that!"
"I won't turn that down!" Roy said readily. He pulled his watch from his pocket. "School should be getting out soon, shouldn't it?"
"Oh, yes." Rada came back with a plate of sticky, paper thin pastry layered with ground almonds and honey and cut into triangles. Before the twins could pounce on them, she picked one up and split it in half for each of them. "They'll be along any time now. Then, if you don't mind, I'm going to take these two across the street and visit with Naisha until you're finished."
Roy's hand paused as he lifted one of the pastries. "You're not staying?"
"No." Rada shook her head with a wry smile. "I'm not nearly as brave as either my husband or my daughter. That's one face I don't ever want to see again." She lifted her head and looked toward the door. "I think that's them now."
Roy heard footsteps outside, one set measured and steady, the other lighter and rapid. The latch lifted and the door swung open, and Danika rushed inside ahead of Scar. The girl stopped and gazed at Roy, her eyes wide and solemn.
Scar stepped up alongside her and placed his hand on her head. "Greet our guest, Danika," he reminded her gently.
"Hello, Brigadier Mustang!" Danika breathed, a little nervously.
Rada herded the twins toward the door, giving Scar a kiss as she passed him. "I'll be over at Naisha's," she said. "Let me know when you're done."
Roy patted the cushion next to him. "Come and sit here with me, Danika," he said. "You can help me eat these pastries. I don't think I can finish them all by myself."
Danika gave the pastries a wistful, anxious glance, but shook her head. "Not right now," she said.
Roy smiled and slid the plate aside. The poor kid probably had too many butterflies in her stomach to eat. "We'll save them for later, then." He opened up his briefcase and pulled out a manila folder and set it on the table before him. He turned back to Danika. "Now, are you sure you're ready for this?" he asked her. "Nobody's going to make you do this if you really don't want to."
Danika gazed at the folder on the table for a moment with a slight frown on her face. Then she looked back at Roy. "No, it's okay," she replied, trying to make her voice firm and almost succeeding. She sat down on the bench next to him. "I'm ready."
Roy nodded with approval. "'Atta girl!" He glanced up at Scar, who moved closer to the table, standing by Danika's side. Scar gave him a hint of a nod.
"I went all the way down to the basement of Central Command," Roy went on in a lighthearted tone for Danika's benefit. "There's a special room where we keep a whole lot of old papers and files and other stuff that we just don't seem to want to part with. That's where I got this." He tapped the folder. "And when we're done with it, I'll take it back to Central and give it back to the nice old guy who works down in Archives, and it probably will never see the light of day again."
Danika waited in courteous silence, but she began to swing her feet, a sign that she was impatient.
"Let's get on with it," Scar prompted Roy quietly.
Roy cleared his throat. "Yes, of course."
He slid a finger under the cover of the file and lifted it. Inside was a stack of papers clipped neatly at the top with a pair of metal tabs. It was an ordinary personnel file, except that there was a large red stamp printed diagonally across the top page declaring this person to be deceased. But his photograph still gazed out from the upper right hand corner in glossy black and white. Kimblee had a ghost of a smile on his lips, as though amused, perhaps in anticipation of the opportunities that were opening up to him to use abilities that, outside of the military, might get him arrested or institutionalized as a madman. The person taking the picture had absolutely no idea what the joke was.
Roy turned to study Danika's features, trying to gauge her reaction. He wasn't really sure what he had expected. There was really nothing in the photograph to evoke horror, particularly from someone who was seeing it for the first time. Roy stole a glance up at Scar, whose face was set in grim silence. Others had their own associations with this image. He looked back at Danika, who had a thoughtful little furrow between her brows.
"Well?" Roy asked her finally. "What do you think?"
Danika tilted her head a little to one side and pondered an answer. "He's sort of…ordinary."
Roy almost chuckled. "You sound disappointed."
Danika looked up quickly. "Oh, no, I just…I don't know…I guess I thought he'd look…scarier."
"Not to look at," Scar remarked, then added, pointing to the file, "But remember, Danika, this is all that's left of him."
Danika frowned and considered the photograph once again. After a few moments, she said, "Um…aren't I all that's left of him?" She sounded as though the thought struck her as disquieting.
The two men exchanged a glance. The look in Roy's eyes said, she's yours, say something!
It took Scar a second or two to deliberate, then he said, "If Kimblee had any measure of goodness in him, he left it all behind in you, Danika."
Danika looked up at him, and for the first time since she came through the door, a smile grew on her face.