The children often wake me in the morning.
We have been here ten years, and sometimes it still strikes me as strange, waking to the yells and demands of half-a-dozen Ishbalan children. I had feared for so long that we would never have children again, after the war, that Amestris would crush us wholly under their boot.
But with sunrise comes the knocks, the shuffling feet outside my door. "Master?" one will finally venture, usually Seif, the bravest. "Are you awake?"
As I do most mornings, I sigh. "Yes."
"Can I say morning prayers today?" That would be Lowe, eager to live up to his namesake.
I poke my head out the window to greet their eager faces. "Not this morning," I say. "It's Vala's turn."
Lowe groans with frustration, but he falls into line behind me when I have washed and dressed and it is time to go to class.
Today the sun is shining and the air is crisp and cool. It will be hard to keep the children focused on their lessons; I don't envy their teacher. She smiles at me as I lead the children into the classroom. There are a few stragglers, but most of them have come in with me.
They like me; another thing I would never have expected.
Vala leads the students in morning prayers, while I nod and express approval. She is tall for her age, and it is not until she stumbles over the prayer that I remember she is just eleven. I take care to only correct the most egregious errors in front of the class; Ishvala will not mind, if their thoughts are true. And these children are as pure as fresh water, and so beautiful.
Tim and Miles tease me that I've gone soft. I suppose I have.
I leave the children to their classes and walk to the temple. I walk by the town physician's house on the way. Tim has grown Amestrian plants outside his home, red geraniums and blue wildflowers, and I smile at them as I walk by (more evidence of my sentiment, I suspect). Outside the house, the plants are the only indication left that the doctor came from anywhere but our lands. Tim himself is different, of course. His skin is still pale and burns easily in the sun; I have offered to heal his scars, but he always refuses. (He reminds me that there might yet be people interested in speaking with the Crystal Alchemist.) He insists we call him "Dr. Tim," and I believe Miles and I are the only Ishvalans left who remember his surname.
I smell something sweet; he must be making kataïfi again. He's developed quite a sweet tooth over the years. A day when Tim is busy baking is a day with no crisis on the horizon, and my steps lighten.
The temple is cool and clean, and my prayers and training seem easy today; the students listen, despite the distractions of early summer. I will be naming some of the novices senior monks in a few months, and today, at least, I am certain they are ready.
I never thought this would be my future, or the future of my people. Ishvala be praised for his mercy. On me. On all of us.
In the afternoon, the children again serve as my timekeeper. I hear their excited shouts as school is dismissed, and I put away my studies and walk outside to join them.
"Can we play today, Master?" Lowe asks. "We promise we won't fight."
"You always promise you won't fight." At times, they are even true to their word.
"I've got the ball!" Falim holds it high. Another debt I owe to Tim; the boy has asthma, and would be in bed were it not for the proper medicine. He has trained apprentices throughout our rebuilt home; almost every village has one, in addition to the midwives. We could have created a city, in this new land, but our strength is in small communities, and that is what we have recreated. We were not meant for cities; we prefer to see the stars at night, to know our neighbors as our families. To know every child's face and name. Every year, the elders meet, and deal with our issues as a nation. They meet with Colonel Miles formally - though he comes to our villages far more often than that - and manage the usual dull tasks of maintaining a nation.
I usually manage to avoid that meeting. The monks have their own meeting at the end of the year, and I fear I will be called on to lead it soon enough.
But today, I busy myself with the children. As we walk by "Dr. Tim's," I hear him call to me. "Good afternoon," he says. "Would you like some tea?"
"Perhaps later," I promise good-naturedly, and Falim shows the ball as explanation. "Unless you have snacks enough for us all."
He laughs. "Not today." His eyes meet mine. "But perhaps you'll stop by later?"
"Don't eat all the kataïfi," I chide, and he smiles in return.
We eat together more often than not; he is good company, and we both understand what it is to owe a debt that can never be repaid, what a gift our lives are.
I never thought I would be so grateful to know an Amestrian.
The children are on their best behavior today, happy to be free from classes and out in the sunlight, and the game goes well. Their impromptu scorekeeping is no more contentious than normal, and the only injury is a skinned knee, which I am capable of bandaging myself.
The smell of roasted lamb reaches me as I once again pass Tim's house. He still cooks it in the Amestrian style, with very few spices, but he picks excellent cuts of meat, and cooks it well. My mother would say the best cooking comes from love, not any style or recipe.
I wonder sometimes what she would think of my life.
Before dinner, I turn to my studies, to the letter I have received from Alphonse Elric. Both he and his brother are still making discoveries, and their compassion and ingenuity are still obvious. Al writes in prose as simple and straightforward as a warrior, and his illustrations are penned with an artist’s hand. Ed’s letters are more passionate, but usually terser, filled with underlines and strong, vigorous descriptions. He rarely bothers to illustrate a concept, assuming I will grasp the nuances immediately. At times, I have to take out a pencil and graph the arrays myself. I no longer practice alchemy unless in emergencies, but the Elrics' research calls to my conscience.
Ed is a father now. Perhaps someday we will meet his children, the grandchildren of the couple I killed so many years ago. From death, from pain, we have found healing and life. I am not sure it is an equal exchange, but there is no sense in dwelling on the past. My life is a gift, if an unearned one, and I will treasure it. I will do what I can to restore, for all I have destroyed.
Soon enough, it is evening, and Tim’s roast is ready, delicious as always. I confess, I am distracted; Al’s letter reminded me of the little girl in East City, the debt they still feel they owe. The only gift I could give her was death, and while I cannot regret that act of mercy, I confess she haunts me as well.
"Are you all right?" Tim asks.
"I'm fine," I say, turning my attention back to the excellent meal. He cooks rice in the Ishvalan style, with dried fruit and nuts, and I tease him that he cooks that almost as well as if he were raised among us.
"After a decade, I should," he teases back.
"I'm glad," I say. "That you're here."
He puts his hand on mine. "So am I."
For so long I thought only of my pain and vengeance. How different things are now. Ishvala be praised, I think, and take Tim’s hand. For in this bright, strange future, at least I have a friend who understands how far we both have come. "Do you still wish I had killed you? When you asked me to?"
"Not any more," he answers. "There's still so much to do."