This is just a little side story that didn't really belong anywhere by itself. What can I say? I'm embarrassingly attached to my OC's.
Professor Abernathy held out a paper that had a brilliant red 100% written across the top. "Nicely done, Mr. Dimitar, as usual!" he murmured.
The young Ishvalan gave an inclination of his head. "Thank you, sir. Have a good weekend."
Stoyan tucked the graded exam into his satchel and headed out the door, joining with the other students in the hallway. He attracted much less attention than he did a few months ago when classes started at the University of Central City. Back then, he was openly stared at. Aside from being the only Ishvalan in the entire student body, at twenty-two he was the oldest freshman these ivy-covered walls had seen in a long time. There were some who had whispered that perhaps he was a little backward and had been held back in school. It was pointed out by others that not only was he enrolled in honors classes, but he had probably been forced to put his education on hold while he was exiled from his homeland.
He soon dispelled any other preconceived notions about himself and his people. If he drew attention now, it was usually in admiration. He was at first considered to be exotic, but his simple, solemn courtesy made him much less so. Some of his classmates even began to seek him out for help with their mathematics homework.
But the music department was his favorite haunt. He studied basic theory. He signed up to be in the choir for a Masters student's choral conducting class. He sometimes brought his Ishvalan instruments to play for his teachers. He attended student concerts and recitals whenever he had the chance. He was at school from early morning to late afternoon every day, catching the city bus at the end of the day to head home to the apartment he shared with Shua. When he got home he took private lessons on the violin and piano.
A number of other students occasionally took the same bus as he did, and on a drizzly day after the beginning of spring, a couple of young ladies boarded the bus just behind him as it stopped in front of the university. As they settled in a seat across from Stoyan, one nudged the other then leaned out of her seat a little.
"It's Stoyan, isn't it?" she asked.
Stoyan looked up from his book to find a pair of bold, inquisitive green eyes gazing at him. He didn't recognize her from any of his classes, rather someone who was on the periphery, either in the library or the cafeteria. She was certainly noticeable. She always dressed stylishly and had her black hair cut in a short bob. He gave her a polite nod. "Yes, that's me," he replied.
She thrust out her hand. "Arabella Woodrow!" She gave a nod toward the girl sitting next to her. "This is my chum, Nancy."
Nancy, a quiet, retiring young woman, gave a self-conscious little wave.
"It's a pleasure to meet you both," Stoyan said, shaking her hand.
"Well, gosh!" Arabella remarked matter-of-factly. "What nice manners! I'm telling you, I like to consider myself a modern girl, but I don't mind a little old fashioned courtesy. Boys these days! They're simply too full of themselves. Not like you!"
"Oh…well, I suppose was just raised that way." Stoyan wasn't necessarily used to "modern girls," although Naisha could be considered one.
"Of course you were." Arabella gave a little tilt of her chin toward the violin case that sat Stoyan had across his lap. "So, you're a music major, aren't you?"
Stoyan nodded. "With a mathematics minor."
The girl looked impressed. "You certainly are busy, then!"
"I like to make the best use of my time," Stoyan replied. "I don't want to disappoint anyone back home."
"Oh, I disappoint my folks all the time," Arabella sighed, not sounding in the least bit remorseful. "Particularly since I changed my major to drama." She flashed him a brilliant smile. "I'm thinking of Bella Wood as a stage name. How do you think that would look on a playbill?"
Names were a tender subject to Ishvalans. Unless she was ashamed, Stoyan didn't see the point. "It would save ink, I suppose."
Arabella let out peal of musical laughter. She reached across the aisle and smacked him lightly on the knee. "Oh, you're devastatingly handsome and funny! I like that in a man!"
Stoyan could feel his cheeks mantling. Considering the dark hue of his skin, it was unlikely that Arabella could tell, but he felt as though his face was glowing.
She gave him an admiring look. "Your parents must be terribly proud of you!"
Looking back down at his book Stoyan answered quietly, "I'd like to think they would be, but they died in the war."
The boldness in Arabella's eyes faltered and she drew in a quick gasp and put her hand over her mouth. "Oh! Oh, golly! I'm so sorry!"
Stoyan lifted his shoulders a little. It was something he had finally come to terms with. "A lot of us lost our families, but we made new ones." He smiled. "Those are the people that I want to make proud of me."
Arabella returned his smile. "Well, it does you credit!" Her bold look came back. "So, tell me, Stoyan, do you have a girl back in Ishval?"
"Uh…" Stoyan wasn't naïve. He knew he was being flirted with. It was flattering, but it didn't feel right. "Sort of," he replied finally.
Arabella gave a light laugh. "Oh, dear! Don't you know?"
Stoyan smiled, mostly to himself. "Oh, I know, all right."
He didn't try to explain it to her. She probably wouldn't understand, being a modern girl. He managed to steer the conversation back to school for the remainder of the bus ride, and it was something of a relief when Arabella and her friend got off at their stop. His stop was several blocks onward, and he got off at the corner where Shua's apartment building stood.
Mrs. Bruno, the concierge, gave him a motherly smile as he came through the front entrance. His piano teacher, Mr. Gesell, met him on the stairs with a pat on the back. He reached his apartment just as Mrs. Hughes stepped out of hers. She gave him a pleasant smile.
"Oh, good! There you are!"
"Hello, Mrs. Hughes. How was your day?"
"Not bad at all," Gracia replied. "Shua gave me a call a little while ago. He said he'd be going out after today's session, and unless you'd like to join him over at Federico's, he said to not wait up."
Stoyan nodded. If Shua was meeting friends at Federico's, it meant he was in a particularly festive mood and wouldn't be home until well after midnight. "I think I'll stay in tonight."
Gracia made a little smirk with one eyebrow lifted. "Are you sure about that? It's Friday night, after all."
Stoyan smiled. "I'm sure. It's been a long day."
"Well, I just put a chicken pot pie in the oven," Gracia said. "Come on over for dinner."
The aroma coming from the Hughes apartment was very tempting. "Thanks, Mrs. Hughes. I think I will."
"Oh, good! It'll be ready at about quarter to six."
"Right. I'll be over then."
Stoyan turned to the apartment just across the hall. Shua used to live next door to Mrs. Hughes, but when the two bedroom apartment across the way became available, he moved into it in anticipation of Stoyan's arrival. Stoyan unlocked the door and stepped inside. On the floor was that day's mail and he bent down to scoop it up. It was mostly for Shua, but there was one envelope addressed to him from Ishval, and he smiled.
He put down his violin case and his satchel and sat in one of the wingback chairs in the living room. Opening up the envelope, he pulled out the letter, which looked to be about three pages long.
"…Naisha's not feeling so bad anymore, and she and Dad are getting really excited about the baby. They've pretty much decided on the name Maya if it's a girl, but they're still trying to figure out a boy's name. Naisha wants Shayur after her father, but Dad keeps saying he wants the name Vashto, who was supposed to be this grotty old tavern keeper he used to know. He's not being serious, of course, and I'm pretty sure that if I get a baby brother, his name will be Shayur…"
Stoyan grinned and chuckled a few times as he continued reading the letter. Mika never seemed to run out of things to say, even considering what she could write about but didn't. Except for when she ended her letters with Love, Mika, she never talked about love. But really, she didn't have to. Whether she meant to or not, it came shining though in her simple, funny, touching stories. She filled her letters with every little detail about what was going on in Ishval because she knew he would be homesick. It was the best thing she could do for him.
As much as Shua or Dejan liked to think so, it was not a secret. If he mentioned it, they would deny it hotly. No arrangement or agreement had been made. He would not be held to it. But someday, at least six or seven years from now, it was desperately hoped by a number of people that he would make Mika his bride.
Anyone else might have felt resentful or trapped or angry. But he didn't. It wasn't even out of gratitude or a burden of obligation to Dejan. He liked Mika. He'd cared for her ever since that terror-filled night when they had to flee Ishval under the noses of the Amestrian military. Dejan shoved his three-year-old daughter into Stoyan's arms while he helped one of the girls to her feet when she had fallen. Mika had wrapped her little arms around his neck and held on tight. She didn't cry or even make a sound. Despite how scared he was, it felt good to have someone trust him like that. That trust had never faded and the bond that formed never broke.
Yes, he had lost his head for a little while over Winry Rockbell, something that he looked back on with embarrassment and regret. He acted like an idiot and he must have hurt Mika's feelings. He would make it up to her. When she came of age, he would go home and marry her, but in the meantime they would be best friends. It was a comforting thought. Someone like Arabella Woodrow might not understand, but he and Mika understood, and that was all that really mattered.