This is going to be a large ensemble piece, although I won't be able to squeeze absolutely everyone in. Anyway, it's all mainly for fun and fluff.
"We're going so fast!" Danika breathed as she continued to gaze out the window.
The train had picked up speed after leaving Ishval and its passengers, a few Amestrians and the rest Ishvalans, were getting settled in their seats.
With Mattas in his lap, Scar looked over Danika's shoulder as the scenery rolled past. It felt strange to be leaving Ishval again. To anyone else, it would appear to be an ordinary train trip. Dejan's family of musicians chatted and joked with each other. Dr. Marcoh was perusing the latest edition of The Amestrian Journal of Medicine. Dejan was laughing at some story Havoc was telling him. But nothing this well-meaning but somewhat unruly extended family did was ever ordinary. Or quiet.
It had been a trying morning. Scar had no idea how much luggage a family of five could produce. Aside from their clothes and the children's assorted paraphernalia, Rada had packed a basket full of food and another full of linens that she had embroidered as gifts for the newlyweds. Rada was also a month and a half pregnant and, although delighted, was feeling rather unwell and out of sorts, so Scar's question as to whether they really needed to take all this stuff was a bit ill-timed. She just gave him a look, all the answer he was likely to get. As a result, he felt it wise to say no more about it and dutifully carry everything. He even hired one of the rickshaw pullers to take Rada and the children to the closest access road where Havoc waited with his truck.
"Wow," Havoc observed as he helped load everything into the back of the truck. "I thought Eyla overpacked. Are you sure you really need all this stuff?"
Scar gave him a dark, weary look. "Yes," he replied tersely.
Then there were the children. Danika, thank Ishvala, was good as gold. Despite her excitement at this adventure, she could tell that both her parents were feeling a little stressed, so she made a point of being particularly helpful and cooperative. The twins were another matter entirely. They were becoming increasingly more mobile and, left to their own devices for barely a second, were off in a dozen different directions at once. Scar could hardly believe that he had once looked forward to when they could walk. He envied Miles, whose son Attar was a placid one-month-old infant and didn't squirm out of his swaddling at every available opportunity.
Scar looked down at Mattas. The little boy had fallen asleep with the rocking of the train. Danika had tired of gazing out the window and curled up at his side, opening up a book she had fished out of her bag. Across the aisle, Dr. Marcoh's chin had dropped to his chest. Scar finally allowed himself to relax. Having finally gotten this far, he felt as though a great hurdle had been cleared. Now he had their arrival in Resembool to face. It was not a big place, but there were still plenty of people there. He couldn't help but worry about how the locals would react to a train car of Ishvalans emptying out onto their station platform or whether his family would be harassed. Then, of course, there was—
Scar shook his head. His master would have told him to stop worrying about things that might or might not happen, or worse, conjuring up improbabilities. Don't try to second guess God, my son. If He decides to place an obstacle in your path, rest assured it's for your own good.
He looked to the seat opposite and saw that Little Winry was asleep as well in her mother's arms. He raised his eyes from his daughter's tranquil face to his wife's, and she smiled at him ruefully, but with warm affection.
"I'm sorry I was so short tempered this morning," she said softly. "You took it so well."
Her smile would always be intoxicating, and for a few moments, at least, Scar's worries faded into insignificance. "If that's your idea of being short tempered, I'll take it any day."
Rada gave a little laugh. "That's so sweet, but honestly, you deserve better treatment."
"My dearest love, you've treated me to much, much better than that," Scar told her with an emphasis that he hoped Danika didn't quite understand. "I have—"
"Ughh!" Naisha stormed past them toward the toilet. "I have to pee again! And I think I'm gonna puke!" She glared over her shoulder at Dejan, who sat with his feet comfortably propped up. "You did this to me!"
"I love you too, mother of my children," Dejan called back sweetly, then snickered to himself.
Scar turned back to Rada. "I have nothing to complain about."
Rada's smile grew enough to make her nose crinkle a little. At that moment Scar would gladly have let her beat him with a two-by-four.
It was nearly noon by the time the train pulled into Resembool. Since this was mainly a freight train, there were several trucks and even a couple of horse-drawn wagons waiting, as well as a number of people. Scar eyed them warily but distractedly. He already had enough to contend with since the twins woke up. He then noticed one familiar golden-headed figure.
Danika pressed her nose against the window. "There's Edward!" she said excitedly.
The train had slowed to a stop, Rada turned to look out. "How nice of him to meet us!" She frowned slightly. "What is that he's wearing?"
Scar took a closer look. Ed had on a somewhat shapeless, lumpy, off-white sweater that reached about mid-thigh. He held his arms tightly crossed in front of his chest as he peered at the train windows from the platform.
"Oh, Winry must have made that for him," Rada said. "She bought all that wool before she left Ishval. She said she was going to teach herself how to knit." She smiled. "And he wore it to please her! That's so sweet!"
"He looks cold," Danika remarked.
"He looks embarrassed," Scar said.
"Shh!" Rada warned him. "Don't say anything!"
Scar shook his head. "I can only feel respect for someone who has the courage and devotion to appear in public like that."
Getting off the train was going to be as much an enterprise as getting on it, just in reverse order. The twins were already getting fractious. It wouldn't be long before they were both wailing to be set on their feet so they could run rampant. Scar glanced up at their several bags on the luggage rack, trying to keep a tight hold on Mattas, who was squirming. Desperate times being what they were, he was forced to do something of which he was not fond. He had to delegate.
Being closest to the door, Miles had already gotten his suitcases out onto the platform and had returned to collect Vesya. "Miles!" Scar called out to him.
The Ishvalan officer turned to look back. "Yeah?"
"Can you take Mattas for me?" Scar asked.
Vesya was carrying her son, so Miles held out his arms. "Sure. Toss him up here."
Scar grimaced. "No." He looked down at the closest person to him as they crowded into the aisle. "Zita, pass him up, please."
"Sure." The young woman, one of Dejan's singers, took Mattas from his father and passed him up to another girl. "There you go!"
The toddler giggled as he bobbed from hand to hand, finally reaching Miles. "Okay, you little monkey," Miles told him. "You're with me."
Miles managed to get out the door and onto the platform before Scar could call out to warn him to not put the little boy down. He could only hope that Miles' military instincts would suffice. Danika shouldered her duffel bag and Scar stepped back as far as he could to let her get past him. He then waited for Rada to move into the aisle, Little Winry balanced on her hip, before he reached up to the luggage rack for their larger bags.
By the time he got to the door and started to step down, Miles was standing on the platform, helping Danika down the steps. He then turned to Rada, who was the first to notice that something was wrong.
"Miles, where's Mattas?" she demanded sharply.
With a frown, Miles looked down, quickly scanning the area around his boots, where Mattas was conspicuous by his absence. "Damn it! I told him to stay right next to me!"
"Miles!" Rada cried in exasperation, clutching Little Winry tightly and hopping down the last step from the train. She nearly spun around, searching the platform frantically. "He's only fifteen months old! He doesn't follow directions!"
Somewhat chagrined, Miles scanned the area as well. "He can't have gone far."
Scar quickly slipped past Rada, dumping their luggage unceremoniously onto the platform. "Yes, he can!" He strode away from the train, carefully searching the area. He caught a glimpse of a small figure running into the station house and he sprinted off in pursuit. He nearly knocked over a couple of locals stepping out of the door as he burst into the building. Mattas was already at the far end, nearing a wide open door that led to another set of tracks. The toddler saw his father coming and tried to dart away, but Scar quickly closed the distance between them, scooping the little boy into his arms. Mattas let out a deafening shriek, a mixture of protest and delight, or at least that was how Scar recognized it. To anyone who didn't know young Mattas, and there were quite a number of people in the station house who belonged to that category, they would think he was terrified. After the first wave of relief passed, Scar found himself surrounded by a crowd of Amestrians who were staring at him in astonishment. A bespectacled woman in a railway uniform stood nearby, gripping the handle of a broom and possibly considering it as a weapon. All around him he began to hear whispers of it's him! and it's Scar!
Scar drew himself up to his full height, returning the stares of the local citizenry with a grave, menacing scowl. He gathered Mattas close to him. "This," he informed the assembly in a dark, frigid tone, "is my son."
Mattas, Ishvala bless him, giggled and wrapped his small arms around his father's neck, conceding that he had been caught fair and square. Scar did not feel that he needed to offer any further explanation, and he turned abruptly and strode toward the door. As he reached the door, something caught his eye. Pinned onto a notice board right next to the exit was his wanted poster, still in pristine condition. Next to it was a picture of Yoki. Talk about adding insult to injury. He ripped the poster from the wall and stormed out of the building. He left Yoki's.
Scar returned to his family, giving Miles a dark look, to which the Ishvalan colonel raised his hands in a helpless gesture. "Sorry about that!"
"Take it as a lesson learned, Miles," Scar told him sternly. "Never drop your guard!"
Miles gave a nod. "Understood."
"Seriously, Miles. Not ever."
"I get it!"
"Mattas, you naughty boy!" Rada chided her son affectionately.
Mattas just waved his arms toward his mother, apparently not giving a single crap. Scar held him securely. "You're not going anywhere!" he growled.
"I'm not sure I've ever seen you move that fast," Ed remarked as he stepped up to them, his arms still trying to camouflage his sweater but also displaying the fact that one sleeve was considerably longer that the other. "Welcome to Resembool!"
Scar thrust the wanted poster in Ed's face. "Some welcome! So much for your country's so-called gratitude!"
Ed jerked his head back to focus on the paper. "Oh…well…uh…"
Rada stared at the poster and gasped. "Oh! Oh, I don't believe this!"
Scar turned to see the uniformed woman striding up to him. She jabbed a finger at the poster he still had in his hand. "That is railway property!" she cried in a frantic tone. "It is strictly against regulations to deface, destroy, or remove railway property from railway premises without an official directive from railway management!"
Before Scar could reply, Rada stepped past him to angrily confront the woman, waving her hand at the poster. "Why do you still have this? This is the provincial governor of Ishval! The Amestrian government decorated him as a hero! I know Resembool is a small town, but didn't you hear about that?"
The woman with the broom drew herself up. "Of course I heard about it! I know exactly who you are! Resembool may be a small town, but we're not a bunch of ignorant hicks! We stay just as current with the news as any big city! But rules are rules!"
She held her hand out, but Scar pulled the poster possessively closer. The woman let out a deep sigh, her shoulders drooping. "Listen. I'm awfully sorry! It's nothing personal. Not at all. As a matter of fact, it's an honor to have you visit our little community." She looked from Rada to Scar pleadingly. "It's just that I'm due to retire next year, and if I have a spotless record, I'll get a bonus on my pension. I've always passed even the most sudden surprise inspections with excellent marks. If I don't have all my proper signage and notices on display, I'll get dinged. I promise that as soon as I get official notification—which, I'm afraid," she added with a rueful shrug, "sometimes is a little slow in coming—to remove the posters, I'll take it down and throw it away." She held out her hand again. "I promise!"
Scar considered her for a moment, then looked at the poster in his hand. With some reluctance handed it back to her. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, Amestrian bureaucracy being what it is."
The woman rolled her eyes. "Like you wouldn't believe! But, it's my bread and butter." She bobbed a little bow. "Thank you for understanding, Mr. Governor." She ventured a little smile. "And may I say you have a lovely family! But," she added, holding up a finger, "regulations state that small children must be supervised at all times while on railway property. Just so you know."
"I'll remember that," Scar replied dryly as Mattas tried to climb over his shoulder.
The woman marched back to her station house and Ed smirked at Scar. "Feeling a little foolish right now?"
Scar gave him a narrow look, making a point of running his eyes up and down Ed's sweater. "You're asking me that?"
Ed scowled and opened his mouth, but Rada stepped in. "Well, I think your sweater is lovely!"
Ed looked down at himself and gave a weary, resigned sigh. "That's nice of you to say that, but you know that's not true. It's horrible. But now that you've seen it, can I take it off? I'll just tell Winry I got too warm."
Rada shook her head. "She won't believe you and you'll hurt her feelings. She must have worked very hard on it."
"Well, yeah, she did, but…" Ed shrugged helplessly. "You should see the wedding dress she's been working on."
"Oh, really?" Rada asked cautiously.
"Hey, Fullmetal! What poor deformed critter did you skin for that getup?" Havoc cried from across the platform.
"Okay, that's it!" Ed reached down to pull up the bottom edge of the sweater and struggled out of it. "I've already gotten enough crap from Mustang."
"He's here already?" Scar asked.
The neck opening of the sweater was a little snug, and it took Ed a moment to pop his head out, but when he did, he nodded. "They got here about an hour ago. Him, the former lieutenant, and their baby, not to mentionthe major general. And her husband," he added, a bit incredulously. "I never met the guy before in my life, but the minute he stepped in the house, he acted like he's known me for years. I'm starting to believe him."
Rada laughed. "That's Shua, all right. It was so kind of Winry's grandmother to offer her hospitality like this. I'm looking forward to meeting her."
"And she's looking forward to meeting you," Ed returned, glancing at Scar, who only frowned slightly.
Wadding up the sweater and tucking it under his arm, Ed surveyed the crowd of passengers assembled on the platform. "Wow," he remarked. "Looks like half of Ishval showed up."
"Hardly," Scar replied. "Just my family."
Ed gave a snort of a laugh. "Same thing."
:) :) :)
Major General Armstrong stood on the top step of the front porch of the Rockbell house, gazing down the road. She was out of uniform, dressed in black wool pants and a grey sweater that looked rather better on her than Ed's did on him. She leaned on the railing, her fingers drumming lightly against the wood. It was nice and quiet out here. Not the majestic silence that settled on the snow over Briggs, but the rustling of the crisp wind of a southern winter over the pale grass was pleasant.
The front door opened behind her and she heard a familiar step on the wood of the porch. She didn't look over her shoulder, but she smiled.
A pair of tawny brown arms encircled her waist and tightened around her. "There's my little snow bunny!" Shua purred near her ear.
Olivier's smile grew as she leaned back against him. It was still something of a mystery to her. Or perhaps it wasn't a mystery at all. He was so unlike any man she had ever met. She had failed to intimidate him, which made him both infuriating and fascinating. But once she got past the swagger and the popinjay façade, she found a warm, loyal, loving man with whom she didn't have to be the ice queen.
"Can't wait for the family reunion to come to you?" Shua asked her.
Olivier gave a snort. "It'll be a step up from the last one."
Shua gave a mischievous chuckle. "Oh, admit it, lass. You had fun."
"I'm not sure I'd categorize it as fun," Olivier replied drily, patting his forearm. "And it was your idea to go, not mine. I wouldn't have gone otherwise. I have to admit, though, it was fun shocking my horrible cousins."
"Ah, that's sweet, Ollie."
"Actually," Olivier went on, "I came out for some fresh air. I was beginning to gag on the stink of baby powder."
"I think she's a sweet little mite," Shua replied. "The spit of her father."
"If you mean small, whiney, and bad-tempered when she gets damp, then you're right. She's just like Mustang." Olivier looked off down the road again. "Makes me appreciate Mika that much more. She's smart, talented, well-behaved, and house trained."
"Oh, to be sure, Mika's a treasure! But there's another grandchild on the way, so you'd better get used to babies, Ollie," Shua told her with a chuckle. He gave a contented sigh, resting his chin on the top of Olivier's head, holding her close. "What more could a man ask for?"
Over the whispering of the breeze over the grass, there came a faint but clear sound of the chanter of a bagpipe. A few moments later, voices could be heard joining it.
"That's them," Olivier remarked. "Remind me to not recommend them for stealth operations."
The two carts appeared around a stand of trees and headed up the long dirt road that led to the house. Several of the riders waved and some of them let out a high-pitched ululating howl, which Shua answered back.
Olivier winced. "Not in my ear!"
The clopping of the horses' broad hooves slowed as the carts finally drew up to the front of the house. Danika stood leaning against the railing of the cart and gazed wide-eyed at the house.
"This is where you live, Zhaarad Edward?" she breathed.
"Well, I've been travelling a lot lately, but yeah, this is my home base," Ed replied.
"It's huge!" Danika spread her arms wide.
Ed chuckled a little. "It's pretty roomy," he said. "Not quite big enough to hold everybody, though." He looked over at Dejan apologetically as he got down from the other wagon. "You're all welcome up at the house, and we'll take you into town later on. I hope you don't mind."
Dejan waved a hand. "Not at all, not at all! I love staying in hotels! There was this one place we stayed at when we were on tour. They left these little mints on the pillows—"
"Dejan, stop yakking and help me down," Naisha said wearily. "Unless you want me to jump."
Dejan quickly held up his arms. "Don't you dare!" He carefully lifted Naisha from the wagon and set her on her feet. Then he turned back to Ed with a grin. "Anyway, I know you had to accommodate the quality first."
Naisha gave him a sharp poke with her fingernail. "You're just as much quality as anyone else!" she chided.
"Thanks, sweetheart." Dejan rubbed his shoulder. "Let's just say I'm outranked." He turned and flung his arms out as Shua came down the steps. "Dad!"
Shua pre-empted his son's embrace by grabbing him in a one-arm headlock and kissing the top of his head. Shoving him aside, he held his hands out to Naisha. "Nai, honey, don't you look radiant!"
"I feel fat," Naisha pouted, clasping his hands.
"Same thing, love." Shua kissed her on both cheeks. "You always were too skinny."
"Djaari!" Mika cried as she jumped down from the wagon and threw her arms around Shua. She looked up at him wistfully. "How is Stoyan? Did he get all my letters? He hasn't written back much."
"That's because he's busy as a dozen bees, sweetheart," Shua said. "He's up to his elbows in entrance exams." He tilted Mika's chin up. "But don't worry. He reads every one of your letters, so don't stop writing. He'll write back when he can. He did ask me to give you this." Shua bent down and kissed Mika on the cheek. "I know it's not the same coming from your granddad, but you get the idea."
Mika giggled and hugged her grandfather tightly. "Thanks, djaari!"
"If you're here, Dad, who's keeping an eye on Stoyan?" Dejan arched an eyebrow. "If you know what I mean."
"Don't fret about that, son," Shua replied with a wink. "My neighbor Gracia promised to keep him out of trouble. She and little Elycia are the only female company he's been keeping."
"Baata Ollie!" Mika broke away from Shua and ran to hug Olivier.
Olivier put her arms around the girl, one of the very, very select few she allowed to use any diminutive form of her name. Somewhat to her surprise, she had grown genuinely fond of her Ishvalan family, probably because they were so different from the Armstrongs. Either that or she just had a thing about Ishvalans. But she was especially fond of Mika. They were both firstborn daughters, they were both carrying on their families' traditions, and Mika was soon to be the older sibling of a possibly annoying younger brother. Mika was also the only living person who was allowed to refer to her as baata, and that was after some coaxing on Shua's part.
"Hello, General!" Dejan greeted her cheerfully. "How's my wicked stepmother?"
Olivier allowed him to kiss her on the cheek, her blue eyes narrowing to give her stepson a warning but mostly warm look. "Don't push your luck, sunshine."
Dejan gave her a grin reminiscent of his father, something he knew would get to her. "Wouldn't dream of it!"
Naisha spread her arms out limply. "Olivier, dearest!" she whined in a parody of Amestrian society ladies. "How are you? Haven't seen you in ages!"
Olivier maintained a dignified look as she and Naisha went through a pantomime of kissing the air next to each other's cheeks. Then they both chuckled.
"Well, you don't look fat, but I don't know where this 'radiant' business comes from," Olivier said.
Naisha shook her head. "Me either. I feel pukey and I could murder a jar of pickles right now."
"I brought some, Nai," Rada called as Scar helped her down from the cart. "I'll get them out as soon as we get inside."
Miles and Vesya stepped up to Olivier. The colonel saluted. "General!"
Olivier turned to her former subordinate. He wasn't wearing his dark glasses and she was glad to be able to see the warm look in his eyes. She returned the salute. "Colonel! It's good to see you again!" She turned to his wife, a woman she once held in contempt but had grown to respect, Vesya having demonstrated that kindness could be a strength. The two women exchanged a smile and Olivier nodded toward the bundle in Vesya's arms. She really wasn't that interested in babies, but in this case she would make an exception.
"So this is Miles Junior?"
Vesya beamed proudly as she pushed the edges of the blanket away from Attar's face. "Yes, it is! Would you like to hold him?"
Normally, Olivier would recoil at such a suggestion. But this was Miles' baby, after all. She took a closer look at him. Attar gazed back at her with solemn ruby-colored eyes. Well, at least he didn't reek of talcum powder.
"I…uh…haven't had much practice," Olivier remarked, giving them fair warning.
"Just pretend he's a mortar shell," Miles suggested.
Vesya gave a little roll of her eyes. "Just keep his head supported in the crook of your elbow."
She carefully transferred Attar into Olivier's arms, and the major general stood awkwardly rigid at first. Then, as she realized that she wasn't going to drop him and he wasn't going to explode, she relaxed. Attar stared at her, fascinated.
"Well now, young man," Olivier asked with mock sternness. "Are you going to grow up to be a silver hawk of Ishval or a Briggs bear?"
Attar stirred and gave a little squeal, waving a tiny fist. Olivier looked at his parents.
"I don't speak baby. Was that a yes or no?"
"I think that was a 'wait and see,'" Vesya said with a smile as Olivier handed Attar back.
A small figure appeared at the top of the steps. "Well, what are you all dawdling around out here for?" Pinako demanded. She waved at the group. "Come on inside! There's coffee and apple pie waiting!"
"Ooh!" Naisha hurried toward the steps. "Apple pie and pickles!"
"Sweet Ishvala!" Dejan groaned in disgust as he followed her.
Pinako stepped aside and surveyed the procession that went past her. She seemed neither surprised nor put out by the number of people pouring into her house. She just puffed on her slender little pipe, making a mental head count. Then she turned and looked down at Scar, who was hesitating near the bottom step, letting the others go ahead of him. He raised his eyes and met Pinako's and she considered him for a moment with only a small tilt to her eyebrow. Then she jerked her head toward the house.
"Come along, then!"
Scar let out a barely audible sigh, then he felt a firm shove in the middle of his back.
"You're not afraid of a tiny old woman, are you?" Ed jeered under his breath. "Go on inside!"
Scar glared narrowly at him and fought an impulse to trip him as he bounded past. That would be childish, for one thing. It also wouldn't endear him to the tiny old woman who had just gone inside the house. Scar went up the steps toward the open door, ready to face the inevitable. God's judgment came in many forms and sizes.