The Rose Among The Thorns (New, on-going)
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Posted 7/25/10 , edited 8/6/10
2nd fanfic for forum.

This time it's much more geared towards Olivier.
Some names are unfamiliar, well, cos they're OCs~ :D
Let's just say I suddenly had this in mind and decided to have a go with it!
I hope y'all will like it though.

Well, let the story begin on the next post.

Ah, not forgetting the disclaimer!!

Disclaimer: I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist or any of its characters and places.
OCs are created mainly for this fanfic purpose.


Theme:Romance/Angst/Friendship
Rating: Teen and above


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Posted 7/25/10 , edited 7/26/10
The snow was light and it was closing in to evening soon.
A man stood atop the grey-stoned, towering walls,
accompanied by the whistling wind as it began to gently sweep his coat to its melody.
His grey eyes reached out towards the sunset as his mind wandered.

"I thought I'd find you here, Kazimir."

"Manya."

The lady crossed her arms with a huff and turned her eyes to the right.
"Ever since you came back, you've been looking out at that direction every time you come here."
She remained focused afar as she spoke.
"Why is that?"

Manya's hands tightened as a cold wind blew, enveloping every sense as she shivered in response.

"You should know better than to come up here in just these," Kazimir said,
as he walked over and pulled his coat over her.
"Stay indoors, will you?"

It was a brief moment but Manya felt close to him for the first time ever since his return.
Her eyes quivered as her thoughts ran, his eyes had returned eagerly to where it belonged.

"Ah~"
Kazimir held his breath as his gaze rested towards the south. His eyes softened.
Manya, who stood by his side, puzzledly followed his gaze and scanned afar.
They picked up a feminine figure from afar, as she marched along west atop the great wall.
It didn't take long for nostalgia to hit him as his memories returned fondly.


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Posted 7/26/10 , edited 8/6/10
Central Amestris, prosperous and home to the Fuhrer, where most of the high rollers reside.
Or so, that was what Commander Nikolai had wanted him to believe and he was there to find out for himself.
It was a long, perilous journey from home, a covert operation he undertook as a fledging, proving his worth.

The man of brown hair and grey eyes attracted curious stares from on-board passengers wherever he went.
Standing at six feet, he was glad he didn't have to look up at them and hold the weight but instead
towered slightly over most of the surrounding men and women.
The people weren't unfriendly, unlike the warmongers that his other officers spoke of.
They were very much just curious on-lookers who had never seen a man with grey eyes, or so it seemed.
It was smooth sailing and he had the calm seas to thank for, glad he didn't succumb to sea-sickness like the other unfortunate ones.

"(Vomit)," A tall man stood bent, his face was almost blue with perspiration, which almost seemed to add to the sparkles around him. Save for that lock of hair it would have been easier to call him bald. Kazimir wanted to help but was hesitant to approach him.

"Mm?" The stranger stirred lightly towards him and managed a sheepish smile. "Not used to ships, heh!"

Kazimir reached for his breast pocket uncertainly and pulled out some mints.
"Here, have some of these, they may help. And try focusing on something stationary, preferably far."

After some adjusting to Kazimir's advice, the tall man managed to hold a decent conversation
and the atmosphere started to jest slightly.
Kazimir continued to observe the people around him and especially his new acquaintance.
Coincidentally, he was also headed for central.

"What's your business with central? Are you here for visiting? Or to find a bride?" the tall man winked at the latter.

Kazimir grinned, "Haha, It has never crossed my mind to find a bride here. My trip is short. Besides, the women from home, makes the gentlest homemakers that any man would be content with. Anyway, how are the women like in Amestris?"

"Well," the tall man stood up now, beaming and faced the large south port of Aerugo.
"You should see for yourself when you get there! For now, let's have some Fish & Taters shall we?"

The port was bustling, of course, as expected of a trade country.
The smell of the sea and warm sunlight kisses, beckoned the passengers
as they disembarked towards a colourful market.
As they proceeded past several stalls, Kazimir noted the peace and tranquility of the southland.
The carefree jest and banter of everyday life seemed to pass him by,
like a colourful, motion-picture montage that captured him.
Unlike the cold and shrewd traders of the stories he heard when he was a boy at a marionette play.

As night fell slowly, Kazimir watched as some old gentlemen gathered amicably for a round of drinks and chitchat.
The occasional bottle of rum made its round that night on a make-shift table of wooden crates, with some cards
briskly distributed among players. The peaceful night wind caressed the people as it watched on as an invisible companion.

"It's peaceful here, isn't it?" said his tall new acquaintance, as he reached his eyes up to the sky.
"Well, things were a little different back then," he sighed, "But everyone's glad that things were ironed out in the end,
though not without a few sacrifices."
He turned to Kazimir and smiled, " Everybody wants peace don't they?"

Doubt began to plant its seeds on him as Kazimir laid to sleep.


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Posted 7/28/10 , edited 7/28/10
Both men watched as a train whistled, pulling out of the station.
"That one's headed west for Creta. We'll be taking the north rail, this way...er..
I believe we haven't formally introduced ourselves. My name's Alex."

"Oh yes, after all this while! You may call me Kaz."

"Well Kaz, it's been a pleasure knowing you," beamed Alex, as he shook his hand.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

An elderly but stout man of considerable height, stood by his office window,
overlooking a distant view of a busy city of smoke and dust.
The government building was a little forlorn, proof of its country's unstable military conflicts and public resentment, though it stood behind barbed fences.

The interior of the office however, fared better.
A bespectacled man, sat on one of the leathered armchairs, chewing on his cigar as his eyes observed his companion by the window.

"So what is your decision, Nikolai?"

The man at the window responded with a smile in his reflection.

Gogol's eyes narrowed behind his specs.
"I must remind you that the upper deck doesn't like to be kept waiting.
It seems your mind is not as swift as before, Commander." he snubbed, tapping his hilt.

There was a knock on the door as a maid entered with an aroma of fresh brewed coffee.
"Enjoy it while it's hot, Sirs. Will that be all?"

"Yes, that'll be all. Thank you," Nikolai walked over and settled opposite of Gogol.
The aroma rose and lingered between the two men. One of them appeared grim.

"Let's have a game of chess, shall we Gogol?"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"So this is Amestris."
It was a long ride from Aerugo and they were on their way, passing through South City.
As both men glued their eyes to the scenery from their cabin windows, Alex pointed out different landmarks and gushed about the places they would pass, like Rush Valley, where automail production was prevalent.

Kazimir, "Automail?"

"Yes! It's common knowledge for any automail enthusiasts and that place is also known as 'The Boomtown of the Broken-Down'!"

"But what is automail? I haven't heard of that before."

Alex squirmed,"Well ah haha...actually I may not be the best person to explain this to you but I think this will do in general terms. They're originally devices for battle armor but in years advanced, they
could actually be attached as an artificial body part should that be desired."

"Really?" Kazimir appeared skeptical at how advanced their bio-mechanic engineering was, reserving some doubts from not having seen one yet. The train was moving at a steady speed as it made its way past some dry, mountain areas they saw afar.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Alex and Olivier should be home by tomorrow right?" Catherine Armstrong chirped.
There will be an early birthday celebration for her and her siblings should return by then.

"I've picked this day so Olivier would have no reason to not turn up!"


Credits to wikia.com.
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Posted 8/3/10 , edited 8/3/10
A child ran up to Alex.
"Dear sir, please, could you spare some money?"
The scrawny little boy's hands trembled as he raised them up, with tired eyes that carried hope and clothes covered in dirt and stains.
"I haven't eaten. My sister too."

The boy looked away and pointed to a younger girl, who was looking intently at the two adults as he spoke.
She remained hiding behind the corner of a nearby building, while shying away in the shadows.
The huge man's eyes softened as he lowered himself to the boy's height, "Where are your parents?"

"Mummy's still sleeping and daddy's not back yet," the boy replied and he began to tug at Alex's sleeves to follow him.

Kazimir took his sister's hand as the boy led the two men behind the alleys.
The damp walls and pavements were evident of recent rainfall and a slight stench was picking up.
A lady in her thirties lay motionless on her side, with her back facing them. Her hair and clothes remained damp.
"Mummy, mummy! Wake up!"

The two men watched as the listless body remained limp towards any physical provocation.
"Oh no," Alex mumbled softly and quickly went to examine her.
"We need to get her to the hospital, fast!"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

There was a huge re-shuffle of manpower in the state military. Grumman's, or rather, the Fuhrer's men were everywhere, most at least had some control over the bases. Well, not Briggs, even with the new addition to join the ranks of Captain, subsequent to Buccaneer's demise. However, she had matters to take care of in central.

“Connor, you've been a great soldier of Briggs and Amestris. You may return to your family now. Go in peace.”

The porcelain urn emitted a radiance as some rays fell.

“General Armstrong?”

A nurse from the nearby military infirmary stood before her.
“Major Armstrong brought someone here and he said you should see her.”

“My brother?” Her eyes narrowed as her brows furrowed, “(Sigh)...”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I thought she was a goner but there's still some life in her,” Alex said in relief.

“I thought so too,” Kazimir replied, as he rested his palm softly upon the hair of the little girl who fell asleep next to her brother, huddling close by his side with one arm around his and the other around a teddy bear.
These were one of those few scenes that the foreigner found almost too familiar but still surprised with,
in a place like central, or so he thought. The past few days, lessons were pleasantly unfolded but today's subject
would be one of those rarely spoken of at home. Kazimir exhaled heavily after a deep breath.

The woman, whom they found earlier, had no place for refuge after their house was caught in a fire accident,
crumbling to ashes everything, along with their every belongings.
They had no relatives in central and it was hard for her to secure a job with two children in tow wherever she went.

“Who did you want me to see?” came a harsh tone.

The two men looked up.
“Ah, Sis!”

Kazimir watched as the siblings conversed briefly. The sister was much shorter than her brother.
Both had blonde hair. Both had a curl. Both carried themselves well.
But she didn't seem to exude that friendliness or warmth that Alex carried.
In fact, she was firm and intense with her words and gesture. As she walked over to the woman in the bed,
she placed the urn beside it. With her arms unfolded, she faced her back towards the corridor where Kazimir couldn't see her face.

“She was a housewife and I heard she was trying to secure a job,” Alex reached for his head as he suggested bashfully,
“There is an opening for a maid at home, so I thought she could fill in and the kids could stay too.”
Alex blinked a few times as he observed his sister.
Kazimir couldn't help as curiosity snapped and he glided over to Alex's side and leaned to take a peek.
Though all he could take in was her bangs that veiled half of her face.

“Fine,” came her reply as she spun to face Alex. “Mm?”



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Posted 8/4/10 , edited 8/4/10
Olivier had her eyes on him the whole time in the car and it was making him uncomfortable.
They made a turn at a bend and Kazimir continued to watch out the window, as some kids ran alongside a row of shops. The cheer outside didn't stop the clingy scene from the hospital to resurface in his memory.

"You know, I really don't have to be here with you all since it's a family affair," Kazimir tried, as he broke the silence.

"Aw, don't worry about a thing. My family would be glad to see you. My father would be happy to share his stories with you." Alex said.

"It would be rude to turn down an invitation, Mr.Kaz. Besides, it wouldn't hurt to attend a party, right?" 
Olivier added, her eyes narrowed.

"Er, the more the merrier!" Alex helped. His sister had always been aloof towards his friends or people he met 
but this time she had her attention on his new friend more than once. 

"Please, call me Kaz."
He tried to smile and averted her gaze quickly. It was getting warm in the car and he was glad for the stop at the gift shop, as he stepped out for a breather. I guess I should get something for the birthday girl too, he thought, as he stood before the glass window display. It was visually stunning just taking in the display and its interior, helmed by an equally charming owner. He watched from outside as Alex picked up a locket in his huge hands, he chuckled, that man is really a big teddy bear isn't he?

"Where are you from Kaz?"
He froze as Olivier stepped up beside him. The same chill seemed to accompany every time she brought about a question or when he noticed her eyes held on him. He swallowed.

"Someplace...far from here, where shops like these are rare, haha."

"And where is that?" came a quick and sharp response, before defeating him with another blow. 
"You're from Drachma, aren't you?"

He found it hard to breathe normally as he caught her reflection on the window, claiming its hold on him.
Kazimir pondered silently while he let his eyes travel sideways towards her shadow.
It wasn't for a few seconds and he felt himself dragged to a corner behind the building, 
where droplets of water start to hover and fall in the dim light between them.

"I know those eyes," she sneered. "Too bad you ran into me, Kaz?"
The light rain got heavier and this time it brought along a flash and its thunder.

"I'm a man of peace." 
She drew her sword and waved its weight swiftly towards his throat.
The cool metal of her sword on his skin added a touch of the chill surrounding them.
At the flash of a lightning, Kazimir swiftly subdued her hand on the hilt with his and resisted some distance for him to take on the other. Her grip tightened on his clothes as she struggled to pull him towards her blade. Both of them had a hard time balancing their footwork on the already slippery path, as small puddles of water had started to form in the unevenness surrounding them. This woman is really strong, he thought to himself, though he managed a final heave and lined her against the wall behind him. It really helped that he was taller than her. He released her grip from his clothes and pinned her hands to the wall. Their clothes were damp now, with the rain still dripping from their faces.

"Look, please listen to what I have to say," he said. "I told you I am a man of peace and so are most of our people. We do not share the like-minds of some of the people from our government. I bring your people no harm. I'm just here, in Amestris, to travel and see how it is like, living outside of our country. And I could tell, from the past few days with your brother, Amestris is neither a dominating country, like the stories we heard nor its people, like the warmongers that were spoken of. But, if you draw my blood this day, those stories shall live with me in all its truth." He cleared his throat and slowly released his grip over her only when she stopped resisting, glad that both of them were unscathed in the process. She eased her arms to her side and sheathed her weapon. The thunder continued to roll softly in the sky.
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Posted 8/5/10 , edited 8/5/10
"Which do you believe in more, Gogol? Strategy or tactics?"

Gogol rose his gaze from the chessboard between them, while he continued to tap his fingers on the table.

Nikolai continued when there was no answer.
"In other words, would you prefer setting and then achieving long-term goals or maneuvering?"

Gogol raised an eyebrow and settled back into his seat.
"It takes abilities and skills for tactics, isn't it?"

"Is that so," Nikolai replied, inching his head closer, over the chessboard.
"I thought you'd say that really. But, these two can't really be separated, they're intertwined. One cannot do without the other, Gogol. It's how you deploy them."

"So what's your point, Nikolai," The bespectacled man crossed his leg over the other and reached for his cigar box, not far from his cup of tea and was disappointed to find it empty. He made a face and reached for his drink instead. Nikolai observed as the vapor from the warm drink surfaced on his spectacles as he blew it.

"Expensive habit isn't it, cigars? Sometimes you need to weigh the necessities in life and give up wealthier choices, old friend."

Gogol looked up with his cloudy-covered frames.
"Yes, they are expensive and it takes a heavy maintenance to keep it up! But please get to your point Nikolai because you're still not answering my question!"

The commander fell his gaze on the chessboard and its pieces and gave a wry smile.
"Well perhaps, you haven't been listening or watching..."

Gogol, who was now busy wiping his specs, darted a look at the commander and followed his gaze. The game had progressed for awhile now and most of the black pawns were gone.

"Giving up the little ones to protect the bigger ones, Gogol?"

"Hmph, and what about you? Trying to protect all that surrounds you, even if they hold little meaning to the game."

"Don't...underestimate the little ones, my old friend. They are as important like any other." Nikolai heaved a sigh and closed his lids.
"I will not sacrifice anyone or anything for the 'bigger' future, Gogol. And...I'm not favorable of wars."

"Nobody is, Nikolai. But don't you want a bigger Drachma? Amestris is rich and is the center of all trade."

"Drachma is big enough, bigger than Amestris. In fact, it is huge enough for either far too many problems or...if you're optimistic, opportunities."
Nikolai nestled comfortably back into his seat and raised his gaze to the map hanging on the wall behind Gogol.
"Drachma is but a fraction of the world, my old friend. Why not learn from the world around us and make amicable ties instead of mercenary ones. Instead of taking from others, why not see what Drachma has to offer to others. A lesson to be learnt from Aerugo, Gogol. She had previously spent hugely on troops and artillery just to defeat South Amestris but failed and have since returned to trading bronze and copper produce that is rich from their country. Diplomatic and friendly relations between both countries have since formed. We should move on from our closed-door policy." Nikolai stood up and walked to claim his hat and trench coat from a rack near the window. He looked outside and noticed a chauffeur getting out a car for a smoke.
"Try to cut down on cigars, Gogol," the commander turned to his friend. "It is not good in long term. Besides, you're compromising a good part of you. That is my answer."

The commander left his office alone to his friend and a spinning ceiling fan.


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Posted 8/6/10 , edited 8/6/10
The blonde general marched up the wet, marble steps, adding a trail of water droplets behind from her drenched state. She brushed away some stray strands of damp hair as she entered the main hall, where most of her family were already gathered and as she guessed, probably waiting for her.

"Where did you both head off to? And why are you alone...and...drenched?" Alex shot, as soon as she came through.

"I heard about a new friend. Alex said that he's with you. Where is he?" Catherine asked and Olivier shot Alex a look.
Her parents and her two other sisters, sat and listened quietly at the 'passing-game'.

"Well, I assumed he was with you since both of you were gone the minute I returned? Where did you head off to anyway?"

Olivier sighed, "I need to get off these wet clothes. I'll join you after I'm done."

"But...,"

Olivier shot her a stare as she headed for the stairs and Catherine decided to let her have her way for now. Alex held a puzzling look on his eldest sister, as his gaze followed her suspiciously.

"Hmm, something must have happened," he suggested, as he paced to and fro behind a sofa with folded arms.

Catherine observed her brother as he continued in deep thoughts. She sighed and crawled
back on the long sofa beside her mother and nestled close happily, as Mrs. Armstrong wrapped her arm around the birthday girl.
"Do you think she forgot my present?"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Olivier pulled a crisp, casual shirt out from the wardrobe and a pair of pressed pants that hung close by it. She laid them on her bed as she started to dry her hair with a towel.
Her sword laid close by her as usual, at the edge of her desk, nearby at hands reach. It leaned against the early evening's light that basked in by a window, glistened by droplets of water that started to abandon it, for their preference of the carpet below.

Outside the manor, a lady was seen drawing the curtains from her room as she got ready to dress. As she hung her uniform and coat up on the wardrobe door to dry, she realized her sleeve was missing a button.

Her family could hear her coming as her close steps drew their attention. Alex held his stare and waited for some response as she sat down opposite him, in which her silence prolonged.

"You haven't answered me."Alex replied, frowning his brows impatiently.

Their butler arrived suddenly with a small envelope and a tiny box.
"Miss Olivier and Miss Catherine, you have an envelope and a present for you respectively."
He smiled. "A man dropped by minutes ago and presented these."

Olivier's eyes widened as a button fell out from its opening.
"Where's he?"

Catherine squealed pleasantly and was all smiles when she covered the tiny box within her hands. The box was velvety purple, fastened with a small tag that hung on a thin, silver thread, which read 'Happy Birthday'.

"H-he left as soon as he left these behind. Is there a problem, Miss?"

"Wait, don't open it!" Olivier exclaimed, as Catherine pulled it's thread and uncovered its content in all eagerness. The box lid fell off and a pink, paper rose sat prettily in its tiny compartment, staring at its new owner and the rest of her surrounding family as they inched closer.

"It's...a paper rose!" Alex commented. "There's something else in that box."
He placed the paper rose into his little sister's hand and picked up a small, folded note.

Dear Alex's sister,

I'm sorry this gift couldn't be anything more on a short notice.
So I sincerely hope this little novelty, that is popular with
young girls back home, will serve well as a gift for you today.

This is formed by a square piece of paper, I heard from your
brother that you have a kind heart and love gardening.
Flowers of different kind, hold different meaning and message.
I hope that you'll continue to grow hopes and spread the goodwill
to others with your hands and flowers.

P.S: I'd also like to thank Alex for his warmth and kindness he
has shown me. Your people has also shown me that we are all
not so different. And that strength comes in all sizes, regardless
of men or women. It shall live with me and rewrite a history of
Amestrians never known before in my home, in time.
Thank you.

Yours truly,
Kaz


Alex's eyes widened and softened as he began to tear. Catherine smiled.
"He must be a good man, Alex."
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Posted 8/6/10 , edited 8/6/10
The cool wind blew hard as he battled the chill against his skin. His damp clothes clung
snugly and uncomfortably as he stood outside a bakery, looking in. The baker, was a man in his mid-thirties, happily packing up and getting ready for home in the evening.

A woman by the entrance called out, “We're close for the day, Mister.”

Kazimir pulled his collar closer and stepped close enough to speak with her and brought his face near the display window. “I need to speak with the baker, it won't take long.”

“K-Kazimir?” The baker froze for a second and then quickly signaled him inside.
The kitchen was moderately lit and well-kept.
“This is my wife, Patricia. I can't believe it's you! What is your purpose here?”

“First, I would really like a change of clothes and a warm meal if possible.”

“Come on upstairs then.”

It took awhile to get settled and the night was deeper.
“This stew is good,” Kazimir complimented, as Patricia left for bed early with the kids so the men could catch up between themselves. There was a pause as he drank.
“You got married, Dariusz. To a good wife, and had kids too,” he smiled.

The baker heaved a sigh deeply and drank from his cup.
“There are a few of us who can't return, Kazimir. And won't. So if you insist,
we'd have to put up our own fight.” His glare looked more sober then ever.

“And I can see why. With good reasons too,” Kazimir replied, finishing the rest of his beer.
“I'm not here to take you home with me so you don't have to worry. I'm here, so that...in the future...Drachmans can do what you have already did, openly.”
Both men smiled.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The little Armstrong marched towards her eldest sister's room and stood at the doorway.

“Mm?”

“You've forgotten it, haven't you?”

“Your present will be here tomorrow,” Olivier stated shortly. “Go to sleep now.”

“Tomorrow?” Catherine was puzzled and noticed her sister holding a button. “How come he sent you a button?”
Catherine attempted to enter her room but froze her steps when Olivier looked annoyed as she got up from her chair to close the door.

“I don't have to answer that. Now go to sleep.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The infirmary was quiet and the two children slept against each other by the empty bench, within sight from their mother's bed. The woman stirred lightly as her eyes began to take in some light in the dimly-lit area. She pried herself up with her frail arms and managed to sit back comfortably against some pillows. She looked around confusingly at the spinning, ceiling fans and dropped her gaze towards an approaching nurse, who signaled for a doctor immediately.

"Mrs. Connor, I'm Dr. Jalen. You are at a military infirmary. How are you feeling?"

"Who brought me here? And where are my kids?" the woman managed feebly.

"Major Armstrong brought you here. Your kids are asleep at that corner. He will be here in the morning to brief you so it'll be good if you could rest, as there is still a long night ahead."

The woman glanced towards the bench and made out two silhouettes briefly at the distance, before it started to get dark again as her lids fell.

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Olivier Armstrong remained by the bed, while her brother spoke with Dr. Jalen. The two children stood on the opposite and shared a private conversation as they shared their gaze of the blonde general. They would take their eyes off her only when either of them whispered to the other. The little girl said something into her brother's ear and then giggled as she returned her gaze again. She stared sweetly at the lady general while biting her lip and holding onto her shabby teddy bear. She walked over to Olivier's side and looked up at her.

"Are you a commanding officer?" the little girl asked.

Olivier blinked and replied, "Yes, why?"

"My daddy's in the may-lay-tary too."

"It's military, Poppy!" her brother corrected. "Mi-li-ta-ry"

"(Giggles) Mee-lee-tery," she repeated after her brother and looked up again.
This time she tipped on her toes and tried to reach her neck higher as her eyes spotted a gleam on Olivier's shoulder.

"Is that a star?"

"Yes," the general found herself wondering where this conversation would lead to and hope her brother would return soon. It was getting warmer and she tugged a little at her collar as she looked to the spinning fan above. Working up a sweat this easily would never happen in Briggs. She was surprised she would carry on this conversation without flipping out!

"Can I have one?" the little one persisted. "You have three."

Olivier turned her eyes annoyingly towards her new friend and crossed her arms, "No! Try reaching for it when you get to my height!"

The girl bit her lip and balanced on her toes again and reached her fingers towards Olivier's shoulders, which fell short by a few centimeters.
"It won't take long," she grinned confidently, as she fell back to her height and marched smugly back to her brother's side. Olivier's eyes widened as she gaped for awhile, wondering if she should laugh or flip out!

“Mr. Teddy Bear!” the kids shouted as Alex returned. The big man blushed as the children ran to him. “Your friend came by early this morning. He brought us some bread for breakfast.”

“My friend? The man who was with me?”

Olivier turned towards them abruptly as she ran her thoughts.
“Where is he now?” she asked.

Poppy looked squarely at her at first but her eyes sparkled as she pouted her lips cheekily to avoid a giggle.
“Why do you want to know? You like him don't you?(giggles)”

Alex stifled hard for a laugh before slapping his sister with his reply.
“That's...something I'd like to know too.”

Olivier glared at him intently but decided to waive it aside when she realized something.
She would have to at least start somewhere.
“Alex, I'm going somewhere. Settle things here and I'll see you later at home.”

“Hey!” Poppy called out. “If you promise to give me a star, I'll tell you where he went.”
Olivier halted her steps and looked over her shoulder. Poppy smiled and skipped forth to claim her prize but Olivier continued her way.

“Hey! I know where those bread came from. He didn't say but I know! It's that bakery just a few shops down from where we used to live.” She rattled on excitedly as she ran after Olivier and held out her hand when she caught up.

Olivier looked seriously at her. “I knew that before you told me.”

“No way!”

“Hmph, that wastepaper basket holds enough for me to know. Now stop bothering me!”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“What are you staring into space for?”
Dariusz was behind the counter as he observed his friend looking out at the street of passing crowd. Kazimir just kept silent as his gaze traveled to the jars of sweet biscuits lined up on the opposite shelf. And then he asked,“How many were sent before you?”

“Mmmm,” Dariusz did a finger count. “They started after they changed the Fuhrer. They probably thought he's just a geezer and could easily take him down. Especially when he's just warming his seat, things won't settle too quickly yet then. But they're wrong about one thing, the old man's been consolidating his power for sometime already. Even before their civil war it seemed.”

“Do we...have people in the state military here?”

Dariusz took a deep breath, “For those of us with blue eyes, it might be easier to get enlisted. But so far...” His eyes darted to the door as it chimed, a new customer arrived.
“We've got one here now.”

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“Mrs. Connor, I'm Major Armstrong.”

The feeble woman asked for some water. Her children gathered close by now and Poppy tried to climb up next to her.

“Would you like some food as well, Mrs. Connor?”

To which she accepted gratefully. Her appetite returned and it was a good sign to the doctor, who informed Alex that she was cleared to return home as soon as she was capable to travel. That news however, was bad news for Connor's wife and their children. It meant not having a roof over their head and starvation as well.

“Mrs. Connor,” Alex began. “I have good news and bad news.” He studied the woman for awhile. She had finished her meal and some glow had returned to her face.
“Jason, could you take your sister away for awhile? Your mother and I need to talk. Thank you.”

Jason took his sister's hand and left uncertainly as he turned back a few times, picking up his steps only when their mother nodded encouragingly to go along. Poppy edged his side and whispered, “I think that lady officer is cool. I like her!”

Alex cleared his throat as he settled down on a stool he pulled from nearby.
“Good news is, you have a job now,” he smiled. “which is inclusive of accommodation and food. Something that my family had decided since we have an opening for a maid. My sister knew Connor, he was her subordinate. Now...your husband...” The hard part came.

“Wait...,” she paused him. “You said...'was'...” Her voice was starting to shake as she brought her hand over her mouth. “Is he...?”

Alex dropped his gaze to the floor and bit his lip.
“Yes, I'm afraid so. He was a great soldier.” Alex bent down and pulled out a drawer, where an urn sat. He carried it out and sadly placed it in the widow's hands.

“Mummy?”
The children stood by a curtain panel and looked worryingly as they watched their mother give in to her emotional claim. The widow pulled the urn close to her heart and wept bitterly. As the children approached, Alex walked quietly aside to give them a moment while he waited.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I need a word with you.”

Kazimir stood up from a stool and turned to face her with his hands in his pockets.
“Was that button a correct match? Oh, I hope your sister liked the gift. Though I didn't expect you to get back to me so soon.”

“You wanted to be found anyway.”
She narrowed her eyes and darted it across to the shop owner.

“I'll...leave both of you alone for awhile...” Dariusz blinked. “Just don't break anything!”

Kazimir nodded with a smile. “Thanks.”
“You heard the man, it'll be better if we take this somewhere else.”

“Fine.”

They settled for a cafe nearby, where business was slow and they were the only customers.
A sloppy waiter served their drinks and slipped away as soon as he did.

“I don't remember asking you to stick around town, Kaz.”
“I have my reasons for staying.”
“You do know that you're in no ordinary position to. I spared you back there and then but I could have also...”
“You spared me then because you chose to.” he smiled.
“Excuse me?”

Kazimir leaned forward with his elbows on the table.
“It was you who decided to hold the truth of your people, not the lies that we've been fed since the day we were born. Somethings aren't meant to stay hidden since its truth prevails. In truth, you chose not to draw blood unnecessarily, without prejudice. In fable, you would have killed me without mercy.”

There was an awkward silence as they studied each other. Two well-dressed ladies approached the cafe from across the street and took the table behind Olivier. They sat quietly as one of them signaled to the waiter. Olivier broke away from his gaze and raised the cup to her lips and he did likewise.

“You could have lied to me back then, why didn't you?” Olivier spoke between sips.

“I wanted the truth.” he replied, throwing his gaze aimlessly to her hand on the table.
“Truths may be daunting but after being fed with lies for the whole time, a hunger grows naturally to overcome it. Besides,” he looked up now to meet her eyes. “lies would only make things worse between us. I want to stay true.”

“Gasp! Awww....”
Kazimir raised a puzzled look at one of the new customers behind the general.
“Wait, I know that voice,” Olivier muttered to herself. She looked over her shoulder and found herself face to face with her two younger sisters, Arm-e and Strong-ko! Her eyes widened. “What are you both doing here?” she demanded as she pushed herself up on her feet.

“Oh dear, we saw you from a distance with this gentleman, so I suggested coming over, mm-hmm! Sorry to disturb you two lovebirds here!” Strong-ko gushed. “Don't mind us...but...what's your name?” she cooed.

Olivier, “You're starting to annoy me both of you, We're not lovebirds!”

“Oh dear me! I'm so sorry Olivier but...he doesn't look like he minds!” Arm-e cooed as she winked towards Kazimir, whom by now, is battling an urge to smile amusingly, though he had to admit it felt pleasant for a change this time in her presence.

“...” The general turned to the Drachman. “I suppose I'll have to see you again...” she muttered annoyingly before marching away in the opposite direction of the approaching waiter.

“You know where to find me,” he called out and watched as her figure drew further at each step.

“Missing her already?” The two sisters cooed.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Now, if everything is settled, you're most welcomed to join us home as I've already mentioned earlier. That's only if you're comfortable with it.” Alex said.

The widow was certified to leave. Her children huddled close by her at each side and Poppy's eyes were puffy and red like her mother's, sobbing as she clung onto her mother's dress and teddy bear. Staring at the major, she walked up to him.“Will we see her again?”

“Who?”

“That woman officer. I like her.”

Alex smiled.

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The children gasped in awe and stuck their heads out the vehicle as they approached Armstrong manor. The mansion was huge with its walls whitewashed and stood proudly as their guests arrived.

“What is that sound?” Poppy exclaimed, as soon as she got off. The sound came from the backyard and the little girl yearned to explore the vast property, taking away her momentary sadness.

Mrs. Connor, “Poppy, no.”
Her brother grabbed her hand quickly before she would run off on her own. The little girl made a pout and Alex couldn't help smiling.
“I'm so sorry, Major. My daughter is easily inquisitive and active.”

“It's alright, Mrs. Connor. Children are meant to be curious and active!”

“He is right, hahaha!” boomed a voice from the steps above them.
Philip Armstrong and his wife had joined them, along with two maids. The Connors bowed.

“When my kids were little, they were more than curious and were extremely active! Especially my daughter, Olivier and son, Alex here,” he beamed. “Well, Welcome to Armstrong Manor.” The old Armstrong chuckled as the little girl shied away behind her mother's dress. “Don't be shy, little one. This is your new home now, hehe.”

Alex reached for her tiny hand, “It's a little close to evening now and will get colder later on, so let's not stand here and get inside, okay?”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Some problems cropped up, Miles. I'm extending my stay at Central for a little longer and it might take a while. Any reports at the border?”

“No, General. Why do you ask?”

“Hmm, it's nothing for now,” she tapped her fingers. “That'll be all.”

The phone ended on a click. It wasn't safe to speak at Central Office. She had decided to give it a little more time to see where it went. She would not hesitate should Amestris' safety be compromised in any way.

A chauffeur was waiting.
“Home, General?”

The general nodded as she stepped in the vehicle. The blue sky was getting deeper in the night. The Connors should already have settled in by now and the family should be having dinner. Olivier regarded the sealed document in her hands and placed it above a box which sat beside her on the car's seat.

It didn't take long to reach the bend near their manor and the lights from the house that greeted her. The black vehicle pulled up near the front steps and the engine rumbled through a short lived silence. She could already imagine the chatter that she would face for being late and so forth as she climbed the marbled steps.

She could pick out Alex's voice as she neared the dining hall. A maid shuffled quickly to greet her and signaled another to set up a place at the table.
“Good evening, Miss Olivier. Tonight's soup would be Cream of Portobello. Would you prefer chicken fillet or veal for your meat, Miss Olivier?”

“Ah, Olivier! You're home at last!”

“Veal, please. And leave this in my room, thank you.”
She nodded towards the old Armstrong as he raised his glass, “Father.”
A glass of wine was filled as she took her place among the guests at the table, disregarding Poppy's lit up face as she noted most of the rest. There was one however whom she least expected.

“WHAT are YOU doing here?”

“Miss Olivier, well, I was...”

“How rude Olivier! I thought that it would be nice to invite him to dinner since he paid for our drinks and yours too! You left without paying!” exclaimed Strong-ko, leading all of the other eyes on the table to her eldest sister.

“Because I knew he would!” Olivier defended, darting her eyes at him as he bit into his dessert innocently. There were raised eyes on the table and they began darting back and forth between the two. An awkward silence fell between casual comments as Alex tried to fill in the void. The jest soon picked up as glasses were refilled.

“We need to talk.” She stood beside him and her tone was low and barely audible to the rest, engaged in their silly banter and jokes.

Dinner was over and from where he sat, he could see her icy, blue jewels looking right at him, within a short breathing distance. “Did you hear me?”

Kazimir smiled and wiped his lips.
“Please excuse us,” he addressed the others, though few took notice.

The lady general turned quickly and made her way through a side corridor that revealed the kitchen. “Leave us!” she ordered to the remaining servants in there. There were unwashed crockery piled up near the sink where the servants left them.

Kazimir took a place at the end of the kitchen island and waited for her to speak when they were alone. The general paced herself to a halt where the distance was comfortable.
“(Sigh)~So tell me.”

“I thought it would be easier for me to get in touch with you this way since the bakery is not really a good place.”

Olivier's eyes narrowed.
“Is there something I should know?”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The two emerged from the kitchen after a while and attention was already waiting.
“Prepare a room for him. I'm hiring him as a temporary personal butler!”
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Alex,“Why did you hire him, sis?”

“Yes, he reports only to me.”

Most of the rest had either gathered in the hall or to their rooms. Her tea was left to cool on the table and a few sheets of coloured paper were briskly left about. Olivier found herself observing her sister as she folded a long strip of paper over and over.

“Look!” Catherine held up a pentagonal shape and started pressing in its sides.

“Are you keeping something from us, sis?” he tried again, in a low whisper.

Olivier sighed and got up. Her eyes were closed as she spoke.
“I'll be in my room. Do not disturb.”

Her room remained the way she left it, except for the box and rolled document lying on her desk that she had the maid brought up previously. She went over to it and carried it in her hands.

(Knock, Knock)
“I hope I'm not disturbing you.”

Mrs. Connor, “No, please come in.”
The widow swept her fringe neatly to the side as she widened the door.
Poppy, who was talking to her teddy, hopped out of bed and skipped to Olivier as the general stepped in.

“Shoo, I need to talk with your mother.”

Mrs. Connor,“What can I do for you, Miss. Armstrong?”

“Here,” The general placed some belongings into her hands. “This belonged to your husband. It's Corporal now, Corporal Connor. He's been a great soldier. I believe you've received his urn. There were too many who died, it wasn't possible to send their bodies back so the government decided to cremate them instead so that it was possible to have them transported back to their families.”

The widow regarded the document and the uniform tenderly.

“It mentions his courage as an Amestrian soldier and his promotion to his recent rank.”
Her eyes fell towards Poppy who was listening by the side. She could tell that her eyes were getting red again.

“Is daddy not coming back?” the little girl began to sob. There was a pause between the adults and the little girl ran out of the room with her teddy in her arms. Poppy passed down a long corridor and entered a random room. The door was opened and the lights were on. She closed the door as Kazimir was passing by.

“Don't,” Olivier called out as he was about to open the door. She approached the puzzled man and twisted the knob as she got close.

The girl was sitting on the floor with her knees up to her chest and her teddy bear facing her. “Daddy said he'd bring a star home for me,” she managed between sobs.

Olivier looked at the girl for awhile, then walked over to a nearby desk and took a thin, long strip of paper and started folding, with her back facing her. Poppy sniffed and watched her from behind. After awhile, Olivier looked over her shoulder.
“Come here, smart pants.”

Poppy went over and waited by her side. The woman turned and held up a fist.
“Something I should have given you sometime ago,” she paused. “Hold out your hands.”

Poppy did as she was told and a paper star fell into her palms. The little girl kept her head down as she brought the little gift closer, beneath her face. She peered at the gift through blurry vision and stingy eyes.

“Your daddy kept his promise too.”

Kazimir was leaning on his back against the wall, with his arms folded when she left.
“That was handled pretty well,” he said.

“It was nothing.”

A smile curled up fondly on his lips as he watched her go.
“I had my reasons for staying and now it seems, I have another.”
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The big man was standing beside the white column, with his arms folded. He faced against the light, as the morning rays invited themselves in through the proud but defenseless glass windows. It was after breakfast and he knew Alex would have questions for him. The new butler walked slowly towards him, clad in his new black and white outfit, which he would have to make do with temporarily. The big man turned his head, without smiling as he would this time and waited till Kazimir got close.

Kazimir bowed. "Good morning, Young Master Alex."

Alex looked squarely at him and blinked.
"How did you both get so acquainted? It sure didn't take long. And something smells fishy!"

"Hmm? Ah, It must be Franz in the kitchen! He's cooking Filet de Poissons with Tarragon Sauce for lunch today."

"No! I don't mean that! I mean..."

"You meant what, Alex?" Olivier marched quickly over between them and picked up her coat from her butler's hand. As she signaled for him to follow, Alex caught his shoulders.

"Where are you going? I'm not done yet!"

"He's MY personal butler, Alex. He follows no other orders but mine alone." A smug look followed. "Kaz."

The puzzled brother looked on as both of them made their way out of the front door, leaving only the sound of the door and their shadows wiping off from where he stood. Alex hung his head slightly and heaved some disappointment. He just couldn't make out what was going on and what his sister was so tight-lipped about.

"Young Master Alex?"

It startled him a little from his thoughts.
"Oh, Mrs. Connor."

"Please, call me Elicia, Sir." she replied with a warm smile. "Is everything alright? You're not wearing that smile today."

"Huh?"Alex looked surprised.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Sir. It's just that... you usually wear a smile with you wherever you are." she replied. "I do hope it returns soon."
Elicia bowed and continued her way to another room.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The general had the window opened slightly today. It was a fine day and she wanted a share of it in the car. The black vehicle turned at a bend and met a stronger breeze, which unsettled her hair, lifting her bangs briefly, exposing a side of her and made her whole. For that short moment, Kazimir had taken in the whole scene as he sat opposite her and although brief, he felt as if he would carry it with him for some time.

"I hope you could keep your eyes on the road instead(cough)!" she blinked her eyes to a corner and held him in her stare.

He smiled, "Not if I have a better view."

"..." Her eyes narrowed but went back on the roads as the car stopped.

“We're here, General.”

A signboard reading “Smith Grocery” stood on an easel at the side of the pavement, where Kazimir alighted. The store looked deep from outside but well-lit. A handful of customers picked up a moderately-sized basket on their way in.

“This is where your family shops?” the new butler asked, as he bent down to the window.

“No, this is where I drop you off!(Cough) Get some things before you head back to the manor. I don't have to tell you what to do from here.(Cough cough)”

“Thank you.”

Olivier looked at him and then to the chauffeur. “Be back before dinner. Elicia will need some help with the laundry. That'll keep questions at bay.” The car pulled away in a bumpy ride and a trail of smoke was quick to follow.

Kazimir tipped his hat and made his way around the shop for awhile and left by the back entrance, entering the alleys. It didn't take long to find the familiar route that led to the bakery.
A freshly baked aroma beckoned as he stepped through the back entrance.

“Kazimir!” Dariusz exclaimed. “Where did you go? I was quite worried back then.”
Patricia looked in from the other side and popped in briefly when there were no customers.
“Hi, Kazimir. We thought you left. Did you eat?”

“Yes, I did. Thank you,” Kazimir laid his hat at the corner of a table and his hands close by.
The woman left the men alone.
“Who was that lady?” Dariusz whispered. “I didn't know you knew any Amestrian officers. She seemed high-ranked.”

“A friend I made on the way. I won't be coming so often from now. You'll be safe,” he said. “ Something for the kids and your...beer supplements.” Kazimir grinned as he placed a packet of chips and some chocolate bars on the table, their colour standing out from the rest of its dull surroundings.

“Hahaha, thanks.” Dariusz replied, as he placed a hand behind his friend's ruffled hair.
“But do come around sometimes, alright?”

“Will do.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The grocery was busy by noon and the sun was high up in the sky. He could make out the lines from various conversations among the people as he passed them by, old and young. He went through the front door this time, with a fairly large paper bag in his arm. It's time to head home.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The records room was neatly kept and had a pretty extensive collection, as folders sat in their shelves for inspection.
“Where do I find information about Drachma politics?”

A young, bespectacled woman looked up from her table.
She pushed back her chair and gestured towards a shelf as she approached Olivier.
“This way, General Armstrong.”

“Mm?”
The records were located pretty far from any of the rest of the shelves, laid near the window and only the middle shelf was dedicated to it.
It was a minor space and a cloud of dust unsettled as she pulled up a folder.

“(Cough cough)”

“Sorry about this, General!” Sheska tried frantically to brush the dust off the general's clothes.

“Leave it.(Cough) It'll be better if I could have these folders to the desk over there. I might take awhile.”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was already close to dinner time and most of the clothes were out and hung at the laundry yard. The scent of fresh, clean clothes permeated its surroundings as the clothes flapped freely in the windy symphony.

“Thank you for helping, Kaz.” Elicia mentioned as she bent down to carry her little girl.

“Don't mention it. It's also my job.” he replied. “I only did what Miss Olivier wanted me to.”


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