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You've Got to Choose, a Wish or Command

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1.
May 20

Dear Mr. Mustang,

Dear Roy,

Dear Mr. Mustang,

Thank you for thinking to send me a graduation announcement. You looked very handsome grown up impressive in that class picture. I'm afraid I'd already missed the big event by the time I got your letter, and I imagine you've moved somewhere far beyond the Academy at this point. I hope this letter finds you, nonetheless, and I am glad to know that you are doing so well for yourself. I knew from hearing you and Father discuss the subject that state alchemists are very well compensated, but seeing it laid out in numbers like that makes it all feel more real.

Of course I doubt you were expecting me to reply to your card, much less attend the ceremony, since, by that point, I had already built up a pile of unanswered letters. I assume you only kept writing to me out of form because I was the daughter of your teacher benefactor family friend. I know that I have been incredibly rude. There is an explanation.

When I received your first letter, I was in the process of moving to East City. Once I had finished school, the village was lacking in opportunities, and university did not seem affordable appealing to me, so I decided to move on to the "big city". (Aren't you from EC? I didn't find any "Mustangs" in the phone book, but I realized your aunt could be married, or on your mother's side.) Unfortunately, it took some time for mail forwarding to catch up with me, and six months later, when I got all your letters in a stack, I was overwhelmed confused determined to reply fully to your correspondence when I could give it the attention it deserved.

Let's put those 'letter writing etiquette' skills from Miss Jillian's into action.

I am happy to report that I, like you, am also doing very well. I have a job at a law office, which has many opportunities for advancement, and allows me to use the skills I learned in school. You will remember the row Father and I had when I wanted to take bookkeeping and shorthand. He thought those courses were too menial for Berthold Hawkeye's daughter. But my practicality (and, I know you would say, stubbornness) won out and I am glad. I've already been promoted several times and when Mr. Collins, the clerk, becomes a full-fledged lawyer, I hope to convince the partners to let me read law in his place. East City isn't like back home. There are woman lawyers here, and. . .

Sorry, I got called into the office and lost my train of thought. I'm writing this on what's supposed to be my (twenty minute) lunch break, but it's really "time for Riza to cover all of admin while everybody else goes out." I don't mind, mostly, because packing a sandwich to eat at my desk is more economical, and it gives me time alone to read a book or – today – write a letter. But, for instance, just now Mr. Hardy called me into his office to take a memo, which is supposed to be the job of Mr. Collins except that Mr. C is on his regular three-hour lunch with his fiancée (who happens to be the daughter of Mr. H.) That's all fine, it's good for me to get the experience and also face time with the boss. Except that the clerk makes three times more money than I do (at least!) and how hard can his job be if he can throw it off on a seventeen-year-old whose name he doesn't know? And he doesn’t know. He just calls us all 'girl'. Sometimes he calls me 'Blondie.'

Sorry. That was supposed to be satirical. Somehow it seemed like a satirical portrait of the people in the office is something you would enjoy, and I hoped it would come off biting and urbane like the stories you wrote me about your drill instructors. I wanted to share something witty and oh-so-above-it-all, the way you do, and then one day when we're both famous our correspondence would be published and legendary. But I read back over that part and it's just whiny, and still, you know what? It's the only thing I've written that's even a little bit honest.

Nothing I wrote up there is a lie, but none of it's true, either. I've been promoted three times - because the boss keeps firing girls over stupid whims. I really could be good at bookkeeping and secretarial work, but the truth is they hired me for the front desk and kicked me back here because people kept complaining I didn't smile enough. They hire you to answer the phones and keep appointments but every man who walks through the door says, "Smile!" like he's entitled for your face to look however he wants it to look to make his day better. So at least I don't have to do that anymore, and I've managed to hang on this long as an admin because I'm willing to do everybody else's job. But nobody's going to hire me as a law clerk when they don't even know my name.

As for why I'm bothering to lie to you of all people about this – how do you think I'm going to react when you keep writing to tell me how fun the Academy is, and how much money they're paying you in exchange for taking the work that drove my Father to his grave and using it for a cause he'd never approve of? And yes, I know I'm the one who made that possible. That doesn't make it better.

I'm going to go outside and pretend to smoke a cigarette and punch a wall or something. . .

All right. Obviously, this was a shitty workday. I'm home, I've calmed down, I had a good cry in the shower with the water running so none of the other boarders would hear me through these tissue paper walls.

I'm not going to send this letter. But, just for the record (just for my record), I know why you're telling me how much money you make. I know you have good intentions, I know you think you owe me something but you're missing the point. That's why I need to write to you and convince you everything's fine.

I'll try again tomorrow.

- Riza

2.
June 10
Dear Mr. Mustang,

Dear Roy,

I need to start with an apology for not writing sooner. There was a mixup with mail forwarding and I've been extremely busy at work. I started a letter a couple weeks ago but I must have lost it and now I'm afraid they've shipped you out somewhere – or deployed, right? The proper word is deployed? – and I've missed you altogether. But you said I could always write you at Central HQ, so I'll just send this out into the ether and cross my fingers.

I'm writing because I thought about you today.

They're running military exercises here in town – "here" means East City (I moved to East City. I have a job. I'd tell you more about that but trust me, it's boring); "they" means the Northern Battalion. Not the whole battalion, of course, but a few companies have traveled down here (according to the newspaper) to run joint exercises with Eastern Command. The Northies have been drilling in the city square. You can hear them all over downtown, the music and the chants and the rhythm of the marching boots. It's basically on the way to my office so I walked by there this morning and –

I knew you wouldn't be here, or, I'm almost certain that you're not here. The papers never say anything about alchemist brigades, but it's a matter of logic. The North is stable for now. The war is in Ishbal, and they'll have sent you where the war is. I try not to let this scare me. It does scare me, because, I know this is hard to believe from somebody who hasn't answered any of your letters before now, but it means a good deal to me, more than I can probably explain, for you to be okay. But then I remember that you've got so much power, and I should know that as well as anyone, of course you'll be able to take care of yourself.

I do hope that you are well.

I didn't go to the square thinking I'd see you. I was just curious. The drums and the horns, all that blue in the uniforms, the polished boots, and the sun glinting off the rifles. You don't have to be in love with the military (and you of all people know how I was raised, when it comes to the military) to be impressed by that.

I got a little caught up in watching, but I was going to be late for work, so I turned to leave and –

Before I tell the next part, I should make sure to say up front: I'm fine. Nothing bad happened. It was a little weird but I wouldn't call it bad. Tomorrow I'm sure I'll feel silly about the whole thing.

I turned to walk away from the square and I almost ran into (honestly, I think they deliberately got in my way, but I'm trying to give the benefit of the doubt) two men in uniform. They weren't from the Northern group; they're MP's from the local stockade, enlisted men, and I'm pretty sure I've seen these two around before. I never paid them much attention, because if you're a girl around here, you can't pay attention to every idiot who yells at you in the street. Still, they've definitely done that a few times when I went by and I just looked straight ahead and ignored them. Before today, it was always fine.

I don't know why it was different today. I suspect they were annoyed that I was paying attention to the out-of-towners when I never did to them. (Although what do men want you to do when they yell at you in the street? For just a second I imagined you were here so I could ask you that, and you would get a look on your face like, 'How would I know?' and then say something witty or tell me not to worry about tacky people because I'm better than them. I used to ask those kinds of questions because I knew whatever you said would make me laugh, and then I'd feel better.)

This wasn't so funny, though. These two men got in my way. I said, "Excuse me" and tried to sidestep them, but one of them, the shorter one, said he wasn't done talking to me. He put his hand on my arm and –

The next part was just instinct. Or, well, instinct and training, because Miss Jillian's Village School wasn't all shorthand and letter-writing etiquette. We had "What to do when a strange man tries to grab you," – which you'll remember from the time you made me demonstrate it, when I was arguing I'd get more out of judo lessons than ballroom dancing. This time wasn't as extreme as what I (accidentally) did to you. (Remember, we all agreed at the time, it was just a lucky throw, though I still was and am sorry about your ankle). But I was obviously quicker than he expected, and my shoulders were stronger (I still mostly have my muscles from rowing at school, and truthfully, this guy wasn't all that big), and when I was spinning out of his grasp, I guess I threw a little elbow.

After that, we stood still for a second, staring at each other. What was on his face was, "I can't believe she did that," and what was going through my head was, "Did I just hit a cop?" Because it's one thing standing on the street in broad daylight. He's not going to try anything too awful while people are watching, and if I'd been smart I would have just stood still and (this is probably pissing you off to read about but remember it turned out okay and nothing bad happened) let him humiliate me a little and he'd probably leave me alone. But if I gave these guys an excuse to drag me off somewhere – let's just say I was running down a list of people who would miss me and how long it would take them to know something was wrong, and I didn't like the answers.

This was all running through my mind, how these guys were just bullies – and not even very impressive bullies – and how everything Father had ever said about the military was right. But then I thought – and I don't know if you'll laugh at this or be glad, but I thought -- the military is also Roy, and it's all those beautiful ideas we talked about, the last time I saw him. Right that moment this guy was mad that I'd embarrassed him in front of his friend, and that was driving him, but maybe there was also some noble idea inside of him and I could reach that.

So I stood right there in front of him, I put back my shoulders and I stuck out my chin and I said, "You are Amestrian soldiers and that uniform should mean something. Please have enough pride in yourselves and your country to act like men instead of mean little bullies."

That's pretty much exactly what I said. When I go back to imagine myself standing there saying it, I almost can't, but I know it happened.

Now I'd like to be able to say that they were shamed and apologized, but – it's hard to tell exactly. The taller guy, the one who never touched me, he actually looked at his friend and at me, and he laughed. Not in a mean way, more like it was cute that I'd actually stood up to him. That didn't exactly make me like him, but I think his friend was about to back off. Probably. (Maybe?)

It didn't matter, though, because right then both of these guys' faces – it was amazing, I never thought it really worked this way, but I could see their faces change because they saw something behind them that was absolutely terrifying.

Then a voice – a woman's voice – said, "Yes, my dears. What do you say? Are you men?"

I turned around and I saw her.

It's not like I didn't know there are women in the Army. Even back in the village there was a lieutenant who came from the local station house to talk to give us the 'Officer Friendly' spiel. And obviously, if there are woman officers, then the enlisted men have to do what they say. Still there's a difference between knowing that and seeing –

Well, part of it was seeing the guys react, but most of it was just seeing this woman. She wasn't super tall (taller than me, but that's not saying much, maybe as tall as you,) and she actually had kind of a delicate face and long blonde hair, so not generally what you'd call physically intimidating. Obviously, they were reacting to the stripes – and she had a lot of them – but it wasn't just that. It was the way she held herself – shoulders square, chin up – but not like she was posing. Like she was born to do this. And her voice, it absolutely dripped ice. You know that particular accent that very posh women have in films, that slow drawl they talk with, the way they look at other people as though they're insects and the only reason they're not being crushed is because they wouldn't be worth the trouble?

The way she talked was exactly like that.

I almost felt bad for these guys, even though I knew they were creeps and that they completely deserved it. Still. She laid into their manhood, and their parentage, and their general worthiness to wear the uniform, and when one of them tried to answer, she asked if she'd given him permission to speak and then he said she didn't and she told him she still didn't, and –

You get the idea. There was a man with her, too, and he was taller but he had fewer stripes and stood behind her and kind of to the side. It was obvious he was with her, and also that he wasn't going to try to interfere. At first I thought he might be as scared of her as the two M.P.'s were. Then I looked over at him – because watching the woman chew out those guys was getting uncomfortable – and I can't say we made eye contact, because he had on sunglasses. But his eyebrows went up and he did something that wasn't exactly a smile and wasn't exactly a nod. I've spent a lot of my life trying to read tiny signals off of people – with Father I had to, because it was so easy to set him off and it's not as though you were always the easiest person to understand - so maybe I'm wrong, but I swear this officer and I had a moment. Like, he saw this woman every day, and still he was every bit as impressed with her as I was.

Maybe I was reading things that didn't happen. Still. I bet nobody ever calls her 'Blondie.'

After what felt like a million years, and must have been longer for them, she told the two M.P.'s they were dismissed. You could tell they would have been happy to turn tail and run, but they saluted and walked off. Fast.

That left just me and the officer and her aide. I started to say, "Thank you," but she interrupted me and said in that same icy voice, "Don't expect too much out of the garrison. They're Amestrian military, technically, but discipline has obviously gone to hell." With that, she turned around and headed back to the square.

The aide followed her, but for just a second (and this is why maybe I wasn't wrong about us having a moment) he looked back at me and gave a little salute. At which point, she said, "Honestly, Miles, don't encourage the girl."

I didn't realize how shaken up I was by everything that happened, until I started writing it down. At the time, I went straight on to work, but I didn't do a whole lot all day. I'm usually very industrious and self-directed, but today I mostly moved papers around on my desk and hoped I looked busy. I'm pretty sure no one noticed. That was its own kind of reality check.

Then I came home and started this letter, because –

I don't want it to sound like I don't have anybody to talk to. I have friends (sort of) at work (though it's hard when girls keep getting fired, or else quitting to get married, and even the ones who aren't quitting yet just want to talk about how to get rich husbands so they can quit and after half an hour of that I want to go home so I can just read a stupid book.) I'm still in touch with some friends from school, and we talk on the phone sometimes, but what's going through my head right now doesn't feel like something I can explain to any of them.

I can't help thinking that if I hadn't been so stubborn and had written back to you before, I'd maybe have a phone number where I could talk to you. I figured I'd write it all down instead, but now I'm not sure what I'm trying to say or why I thought I needed to say it to you. I'll write my phone number on the top of this letter (it's the boarding house line, and a bunch of people share it, but if you leave a message I'll get it.) I don't know when this will get to you, if it will, and if it does, if you'll be able to call back. Or want to.

By the time you do, if you do, maybe I'll figure out what I have to say. Or maybe I'll have forgotten. Probably, tomorrow I'll feel silly about feeling weird today. Probably nothing in my life is going to change at all. I'm going to sleep now, and in the morning, probably, I'll wonder what I was going on about.

Probably, I won't even mail this letter.

- Riza

3.
June 11

Roy –

Well, today had more developments and rather than trying to re-explain the whole thing, I'm going to throw this letter in together with yesterday's. Assuming I decide ever to mail either one. I keep thinking this week is going to pass like a fever.

I went to work like any other Friday morning, although, like yesterday, I had trouble focusing. I did pick up a newspaper on the way in and, shuffling through it on my desk, I found a picture of the officer I met yesterday. Her name is Olivier Mira Armstrong, and she's a colonel with the Northern Battalion. Or, well, she's been a colonel. She's being promoted to Brigadier General and after they're done going through the South and East as part of these exercises, they're sending her North to take command of Fort Briggs. I don’t know much about the military, but even I have heard legends of how important and dangerous Briggs is. She's basically the headliner on this tour, and, on top of that, an Armstrong. So, you know, her family's had heroes in every battle in the history of this country, and on top of that they own half of Central City.

No wonder those guys were intimidated.

Reading Colonel Armstrong's bio should have quashed my fantasy that I was ever going to have people react to me the way they (we) reacted to her. I could put in years in the military, but it wouldn't magically transform me into an Armstrong. Still. When I was lying awake last night, I kept thinking: I could be better than those two MP's. Arm me and give me a badge. Put me on the same footing as them. I might not have impressed her -- I doubt that's even possible – but I got the impression her aide respected me. I'll never grow up to be Colonel Armstrong, but I bet I could do Miles's job.

Can you see where this is going? I hope you're not laughing too hard. I also hope you're not appalled by the idea. Because when I was looking in the paper, it wasn't just to find out about who that officer was. I also found the details about the recruitment fair going on in conjunction with the exercises. At lunchtime I told the office manager I had an appointment, and, as many times as I've covered for her while she was dress shopping, she couldn't exactly complain. Then I went home, changed into my workout clothes, and went to the square.

You will have seen these fairs the military runs. They've probably made you staff them at some point, what with the walking recruitment poster we both know you are. (I'm glad this is a letter, so we don't have to go through you pretending to be modest and doing a very bad job of it.) I'd always steered clear, though, and I guess I imagined I'd stick out like a sore thumb.

It didn't help that the first people I saw were the same M.P.'s I ran into yesterday. I was walking by the grandstand, which they're setting up for speeches tomorrow. The people constructing it were civilian workers, and those two guys were darting in and out and under, and yelling about security like they owned the place. And, I guess, they're cops; they get to do that, and of course security is important. Especially with a civil war going on, and a lot of Ishbalans in this city, not to mention other people who don't like the military very much. I just felt bad for the workers, who probably knew what they were doing without these dumb bullies getting in their faces.

But once I got past them, it wasn't so bad. I wasn't the only woman at the fair, and I wasn't even the smallest or the youngest person. The main part was sort of a field day, with people showing how fast they could run fifty meters, or how far they could throw a hammer. All in all, you could tell, it was mostly a goodwill gesture for the city, along with the music and the marching, and fried food for sale. Reminding us of how great our military is and all that.

Still. If you wanted to take it seriously, you could get a card, and at each of the field stations, if you did well at the activity they'd give you a stamp. Then if you had enough stamps on your card, you could get in line at one of the recruiting stations. That's how they weed out the people who aren't serious.

There were some actual kids in line, and some girls who were clearly just hanging around to humor their boyfriends. But there were a few other women, my age or a little older, who looked in shape. Serious. I thought I'd seen one of them down at the lake (when I have a little extra money I sometimes rent a kayak to keep my rowing muscles from going to hell. If you really want to prove how much you can take care of me with all your government money, buy me a boat! I'm kidding about that, but only kind of.) I smiled at her and she smiled back, but neither of us tried to be too friendly, probably because we both knew there had to be a limit on the women they would take, and we'd be in competition with each other.

I did all right at the hammer throw, though it wasn't as easy as it should have been if I'd been working out every day. I used to be good at this stuff. My archery's still decent, too. You know I always thought the equipment was pointlessly hard to handle, but marksmanship is marksmanship.

Guns, though – I still know guns. They only had air rifles, which I understand for security, though the whole setup was so easy it was a little insulting. Still, I nailed the target shooting challenge, as far as it went, and I guess I did well enough for one of the recruiting sergeants to come over and look at my card. Then, though it's not in my nature to brag about myself, I mentioned that I had medaled in marksmanship for the whole region when I was at school. I heard somebody mutter, "Women's," under his breath, which is pretty stupid. A gun's a gun. Still, the sergeant walked me into the tent where the recruiting officers were, and he gave me a number and then -

If I'd been able to talk to you last night, you would have warned me about this part. First, they told me they don't take women for standard enlistment, which I guess I knew, and it's not like I wanted to be infantry, anyway. But it's still annoying -- the implication that I couldn't have cut it, although they said the reason was that they "lacked the resources," whatever that means. They started to tell me I could apply to be an M.P., or take the general service exam, but then they realized I was only seventeen, so they told me to come back in six months, after my birthday.

That's as good of an answer as I should have expected. My experience with the M.P.'s hasn't made me too keen to join them, and general service would basically be like what I do now, with more job security but worse pay. It was all a bit anticlimactic, but reasonable enough, and I could have (probably should have) been happy with that and gone home.

Right then, though, one of the female lieutenants from Northern walked by and I said, "What about her job?" The sergeant, who was nice enough, shuffled some papers and said she was a commissioned officer who'd been through the Academy. I asked him how I could apply to be a commissioned officer, and he looked uncomfortable and asked what my father did. I really wasn't prepared to talk about that so I blurted out that he was dead, and one of the other sergeants, who wasn't nearly so nice, came over and said the military wasn't a welfare service for orphan girls.

Then it dawned on me that they asked about my father to find out if I came from money, and so I said, "Basically, if I want a commission, I have to buy one?"

"Not exactly." The sergeant sighed. "But you need a sponsor. And to get a sponsor –"

"I would need money." Because this is what they'd been getting at. I realized I'd been too naïve to understand how the system worked. At the same time, I felt like a jerk, because the sergeants must have come out of the enlisted ranks and probably their families couldn't afford commissions either. It sucked for them, too, it just sucked differently.

"Or special circumstances," he said, and that was the point where it all started to click. Because I'd had in the back of my mind, "Roy got into the Academy. Roy got a commission." Unless you were hiding it well, you didn't have any high connections, and I know you didn't have the kind of money they were talking about.

So I just blurted it out. "What if I was an alchemist?"

Suddenly, all of the recruiters were looking at me. Suddenly a lot of things made sense. It's not that I then and there decided you were only ever with my family to learn alchemy so you could get ahead in the Army. It's not like you ever made a secret of how ambitious you are, either. Up until today, though, I saw it in idealistic terms, wanting to be in charge so you could do good. I never thought that there must have been a time when you looked at yourself and saw somebody without family name or connections or money and worked out exactly what you could do to get ahead. But now I've stood there in your shoes.

I can't decide if it makes me like you more, or less.

Don't worry. I didn't tell them anything. I thought about it. I thought about showing them my back and pulling up my T-shirt and saying, "You want alchemy? I'll show you alchemy." (Can I write that? Does somebody in the Army read your mail? I'll scratch it out before I mail this. If I end up mailing it. I'll probably rewrite everything in a big letter when I figure out what's going on and you won't have to know what a head case I am these days.)

I wasn't really ever going to do that. But I bet I could have convinced them to sign me up as an alchemist. I was twelve when I closed an alchemy book for the last time, when I swore to Father that if he was determined to train an alchemist he needed (you're welcome) to find somebody else. I could have faked it, though. I could still lay out basic arrays, and cite famous texts. After all the time I spent listening to Father and his old alchemist friends run their mouths, I could fool anybody who wasn't an actually alchemist into thinking I knew something, and their alchemists, if I've guessed right, are off fighting the war. Once I'd hooked them, I could wash out, and they'd assume I was a really bad alchemist instead of a really good fraud, but I'd be in and they'd have to give me something to do. "Isn't it lucky? She's good with guns."

And if I absolutely had to be an alchemist? I bet I could really do it.

That's not what I said to the recruiters. The sergeant said, "Are you an alchemist?" and I answered, "No, I was just asking what if I was." At which point, they were obviously done with me. I mean, they gave me a form and told me I could come back tomorrow and talk to a different set of people, but they didn't say it in a way that made it sound like it would do any good. So I said "Thank you" and walked away before I burst out laughing at how funny the whole thing was.

Maybe whether I care enough to come back tomorrow is part of the test.

On the way out, to top everything off, I almost ran into the two MP's from yesterday. They were walking in while I was walking out. I stopped and they stopped and we had that moment of recognition. I guess I learned my lesson because I just said, "Good luck," even though it made me a little sick to my stomach to think about guys like that being officers and ordering people around. It's bad enough that they're cops.

I kept walking, quickly, and one of them started to call after me. But then he turned away like he saw something, and I looked up to realize I was standing next to Lieutenant Miles.

"Hey," he said. "You." His smile was so quick and so slight, and he still had the sunglasses on so I couldn't see his eyes. So I thought he smiled, but I might have imagined it. Then he said, "Those guys again, huh?" and for a second I was afraid he was going to lecture me about how I should avoid going to places where I could run into people who liked to bother me. But instead, he said, "Some M.P.'s impress us enough that they can get officer commissions." The way he said "some" pretty clearly meant "not these guys." Then I know I really smiled (it made me think that all the people who come through the office and yell at the receptionist to smile more ought to try saying something nice to her to actually earn it). He smiled, too (though still in that tiny way) and I decided Ii wasn't wrong, the other day, about us having a moment.

After that, Miles asked how I was doing – it was like he was happy I was there but couldn't figure out exactly why – so I ended up blurting out the whole story. (Well, I left out the part where I asked about alchemy.) I tried to be straightforward and not whiny or digressive (I did better with him than in this letter, I hope). I did my best to make it clear that I had done everything I was supposed to do, but the whole process was frustrating. Then he asked to see my card, and when he read it he said, "Huh," in a way that I think meant he was impressed.

"Well, Riza Hawkeye," he said. "I'm going to be in town for another week, and –" Then he stopped and looked at me, and – at this point I figured I was reading him pretty well, and I've been looked at like that before. I know what usually comes next. So for a second I thought he was going to ask me on a date. I'll be honest – if he had, I would have said yes. Since I moved here, I haven't been asked out by anyone I wanted to go out with (though I said yes sometimes anyway, because if you say no enough it seems like the problem is you.) I couldn't say whether I actually liked Miles, at this point, but at least it seemed we understood each other.

He didn't ask me that, though. Instead, he looked at the paper, and looked at me, and said, "How serious are you about this?"

"I guess I'm –" I started, and realized that wasn't going to do. So I stuck out my jaw and said, "I'm very serious."

"Come back tomorrow and find me. I'll try to make a case for you to get in and see Colonel Armstrong." This, this was better than a date. This was somebody finally acting like what I wanted mattered, and I was suddenly grateful that he didn't just use the excuse to ask me out. (Even though, annoyingly, this made me like him more. All right, Roy Mustang, I'm now pretty sure I'm not sending you this letter.) Then he said, "Look. Miss Hawkeye. It would be great if we had a perfect system and the best candidates came out on top without having to get somebody's attention, or call in favors. But that's not the world we live in."

"We can't all come from the famous Armstrong family," I said.

That was a risk, it was a little bit cheeky, but it got a tiny chuckle out of him. (I figured this was the equivalent to a loud belly laugh from anybody else). "Very true," he said. "Though I'd avoid saying that to the Colonel. It's – pretty much understood."

At that point, Miles had to go take care of something else, and I went on home before I wore out my welcome. I went straight to writing this letter, still not sure what I want to do about tomorrow. Part of me says I'm on a lucky streak and I should ride it. The other part says I shouldn't push my luck any further, and I probably don't want this anyway. There's even a little part that wants to go find Miles and say, "Forget about me joining the stupid Army, but I'm fine if you want to take me to dinner."

I wish I could talk to you, but I don't know if I want to yell at you or ask for your advice.

I still can't decide if I'm going to send this letter.

I guess it depends on what happens tomorrow.

- Riza

4.
June 12

Roy –

Today wasn't what I expected. The outcome was good. I think it was good? But there were some ups and downs and I'm still processing.

I should start from the beginning.

I swore I'd let myself sleep in today, but apparently I'm not capable. I woke up before dawn and went running, then down to the boathouse to row, and after I got home and took a shower it was still only 8:00 a.m. I am terrible at lazy Saturdays. I wanted to see Miles and (maybe) the Colonel, but I didn't want to look too eager. So I decided to walk to the square, but take the long way around and stop at my favorite coffee stand.

That's when I started noticing something was off. You've lived in EC, so you'll know the best cheap coffee and sweet pastries are by the farmers' market Beggars' Row – which, despite the name, has gone from solidly middle class to dangerously trendy. That means the Ishbalan immigrants who actually run most of the shops can't afford to live there -- I couldn't afford to live there – but when the shops are open, it's the biggest concentration of Ishbalans close to city center.

I tell you that because I don't know how much it's changed since you lived here, and because when I tried to go get a coffee, not only was the shop closed, the whole street was blocked off. There were M.P.'s there, but also officers with insignia from East City Command, and even some of the Northern troops. Nobody seemed to know what was going on, but I noticed that everybody they had lined up and were talking to was in traditional Ishbalan clothes or just looked, well – let me put it this way. One glimpse of me, the pale little brown-eyed girl, and they let me through.

I felt wrong about it, and then I remembered I was on my way to try to join the military so they might send me to Ishbal to shoot people. Not these people, the people who smiled at me every day when they sold me coffee, but I wasn't sure I would feel comfortable explaining that to them. I wasn't sure I'd eat there anymore, if I was wearing a uniform.

I remembered how much Father hated the Army. I thought how much it sucked to be these people who were just trying to do their jobs, and getting hassled because the Army happened to be in town. I kept walking toward the square, figuring it wasn't such a sacrifice to go without coffee.

As I got closer, though, even more streets were cut off, so I circled around the front near where the grandstand was. I regretted it as soon as I walked in because I remembered this was where I'd first seen those M.P.'s, yesterday, and it would just be my luck to see them again –

And just when I was thinking that, I saw one of them, the shorter one, crawling out from under the platform of the grandstand. I saw the back of another uniformed man, probably his friend from before. Unlike yesterday, though, there weren't a lot of other people around – there really wasn't anybody else around this end of the square – and I decided to back up and go another way. They didn't seem to have seen me, which was a relief.

I could pretend that I had a strong hunch right then something was off. But honestly, the bad feeling I was getting had less to do with those guys and more to do with how people were concentrated toward the middle of the square. I wanted to avoid being alone with the creeps, but I also wanted to see what everybody was doing. As I went around the side and toward the crowd at the center, I could hear someone on a megaphone telling everybody to remain calm. That really should have been my cue to go home but, well, if I'd been driven by a great instinct for self-preservation, I wouldn't have been there trying to convince the Army to take me, would I?

A lot of people were leaving, though, so I ended up pushing against the crowd. Even while the loudspeaker said that we should remain calm and normal activities would resume momentarily, I heard somebody say 'suspicious package' and somebody else say 'bomb,' and at that point the crowd got louder and faster and I –

I slipped out. Or, I stopped beside the stone steps of one of the big buildings, pressed against it for a minute to get away from the crowd, and then pushed myself up on the wall and stood where I could get a look over the whole square. From there, I could see the area that was cordoned off, where there were military vans and dogs, and a lot of people in uniform standing around. A flash of blonde hair looked enough like Colonel Armstrong that I eyeballed a potential path through the crowd, took a breath and headed in her direction.

Olivier Armstrong stood in the center of the group of officers. Miles lingered just behind her, toward the edge. When I got close enough, I waved. He looked at me, then shook his head, like "not now." I breathed again, then waved again, and he must have been thinking, "This girl can't take a hint," but he whispered to the man next to him and stepped my way.

"I'd go home if I were you," Miles said. "Today's going to be a zoo."

"Nobody's hurt, I hope?"

He spread his hands. "Miss Hawkeye, I'm sorry, I can't say anything." I was afraid he was revising his opinion of me from 'plucky go-getter' to 'pain in the ass with an inflated sense of her own importance'.

I knew I was risking an upgrade to 'paranoid, self-important pain-in-the-ass' but I said, "Lieutenant, I saw something."

His voice had a hard edge that I'd never heard before when he answered, "Let me guess. You saw the bombers, and they looked Ishbalan."

"No. I – think it's something different. There was a bomb?"

Miles swore under his breath, angry at himself for confirming this, then stepped close to me and said, in a low voice. "It wasn't active. We don't know if we're dealing with incompetents or fakes. Though why anybody would fake this except to put us through our paces and make sure every Ishbalan in East City gets their windows broken –" He shook his head again.

I said, "It looks like all the soldiers are on this side of the square while you're investigating?" I didn't want to tell him how to do his job or anything. But I was wondering.

"Or on Beggars' Row. Like I said, it'll be a zoo all morning, then business as usual. The Colonel gives her speech like nothing happened –" He looked toward the grandstand, where the speakers would be.

"Meanwhile who's watching the grandstand?" I asked.

"We swept the whole place when we found the first bomb. Since then, the M.P's –" He slowed down, and I could tell he understood what I was getting at. ". . . some of whom have no love for me or the Colonel." Then he frowned at me. "Miss Hawkeye, what did you see?"

"Lieutenant," I said. "It might be nothing but I think you should get your own people and check under the grandstand."

I wish I could describe the next few hours as an action-packed adventure with me as the star, but it didn't work that way. What happened instead was that Miles went to talk to Armstrong, while someone Miles was in charge of walked me off to a tent. I sat there for a long time, and I wasn't sure if it was okay to ask for a glass of water or if maybe I had been arrested.

Every once in a while someone came and asked me a question – once they brought a book with pictures of all the local M.P.'s and asked me to pick out which ones I'd seen. I had no idea of what was going on outside and one of things I did was make up different versions of this letter in my head, with different endings. Some of them were scary ("As you may have heard, much of East City was destroyed by crazy bombers while I was sitting around trying to prove a theory that turned out to be totally wrong!") and some were pathetic ("They threw me in jail for filing a false report. I think they will let me go if a reliable alchemist bails me out and promises to keep an eye on me so I don't get anybody else in trouble").

Obviously, this is not one of those letters.

It was Colonel Armstrong and Lieutenant Miles who eventually came to me. She stood in front, with him behind and to the side, the way I'd first seen them.

"You've got good eyes, Riza Hawkeye," Miles said. "Good eyes and good instincts."

The Colonel turned to him for a second, like she couldn't believe he'd had the nerve to talk before she did, but then she gave a little smile and said, "You, Miss Hawkeye, were in the right place at the right time. On multiple occasions. More than a few found that circumstance suspicious."

"I didn't," said Miles.

"Your champion here," Armstrong said, with a little eyeroll, "did not. I concurred with Miles. Being in the right place at the right time is a gift. So is knowing what to do about it."

Then Miles explained what they'd found. There was another bomb under the grandstand, right where the Colonel would have been speaking. The local garrison had been in charge of security, and their commander admitted that the two officers I'd identified had been allowed to come and go, by their friends, even though they hadn't been assigned to the detail. They didn't have any reason to be fooling around under the podium, in other words. Once they were questioned, separately, they had raced to throw each other under the bus, both for the nonfunctional decoy bomb and the more powerful one in the grandstand. They'd claimed that neither bomb was actually supposed to go off, but that the plan had been for them to discover the explosives at the last minute and be hailed as heroes.

A court-martial might or might not decide to buy this, and they might be saved from a firing squad by the fact that the second bomb, also, didn't appear to be functional. Miles's tone suggested he put this down to their incompetence, more than harmless intent, and Armstrong sounded like she'd rather devise creative punishments of her own. Still, most likely, they'll end up doing jail time and, because there were other witnesses and their own confessions, Miles managed to leave my name out of it. It looks like I won't have to go to court, although, as the Colonel put it:

"The Academy would certainly let you have time off to testify if you needed to."

I said, "The Academy?"

Then Armstrong stared at her lieutenant and said, "Miles, after the strings I had to pull to get your girl here a commission, she had better actually want it."

I promised I did – I had all that time to think about it – and I thanked her, and she had to go, and then it was just me and Miles.

I thanked him, too, a lot, though I said I wasn't sure I actually deserved to get in the Academy for ratting on fellow soldiers.

"For saving fellow soldiers' lives, you mean?" he asked. "Not to mention the amount of grief you've saved every ethnic Ishbalan in this city. And, from a purely selfish point of view, you've kept my life from getting a lot harder." Then he took off his glasses and – I guess I'd worked this out, or at least suspected it – I was looking into his deep red Ishbalan eyes. "On my mother's side," he said.

"Your eyes look nice," I said. "I mean – shades are cool, but the eyes complete your face. You shouldn't always hide them." I could feel myself smiling.

"I wish it was that simple," he said.

"Everybody's life is complicated. Maybe yours more than most but – we'll have time to talk about it all, I hope?"

"I hope so, too. But for right now, probably, you're ready to go home."

So that's the day I had. Maybe this wasn't the best way to tell it, but I'm still working on getting all of this to feel real. Not that everything's settled. Things could change. It will still take a couple weeks to get all the technicalities worked out. Meanwhile I can fantasize about dramatic ways to quit my terrible job.

When everything's settled and certain, then I'll send you all of these letters.

I absolutely am going to do that.

- Riza

5.
August 1

Dear Roy Goddamn Mustang,

I'm staring at a pile of letters I've written and haven't sent, next to a pile you sent me that I haven't answered (there's a new one since I last tried to write you, which at least tells me you're alive even if it's gratingly nonspecific as to where you are and what you're doing.)

Still. The accumulation of noncorrespondence between us is starting to tell me something such as, for instance, if you spend enough time not doing a thing you supposedly want to do, it's likely you really don't want to do it.

I'm not going to send you this letter. I'm not going to send you any of the others I've started this year, either. I'm going to keep them close, where I keep things that are important, and maybe one day when this all matters less than it feels like it does right now, I'll be able to show them to you.

Right now, though, I seem to be writing this for myself. The Academy came through. I'm shipping out for basic training tomorrow, and starting classes in the fall. The two not-exactly-bombers from East City pled guilty and were either so remorseful or so incompetent that they'll just be spending a couple years in the stockade. The story didn't get out beyond a few people.

East City is mostly back to normal. As far as I know. I got out of there as soon as my papers came through and I gave notice at work. I had all these grand ideas about telling everybody off on my last day at the office, but once I knew I never had to see them again, it turned out I didn't care all that much.

For the last two weeks, I've had a proper vacation. I'm staying at the lake house that belongs to the parents of one of my friends from school. (You'll remember Melanie from how she used to giggle uncontrollably the whole time you were in the room. There's really a lot more to her than that, though I doubt I'll ever be able to get her to prove it to you.) We go rowing together every morning, and other friends sometimes drop by. All in all, we've had some good talks – though all of them eventually seem to devolve into, "The Army, Riza? Really? Wouldn't it be better if I just set you up with a nice boy?" I've mostly stopped trying to explain it.

I did have dinner with Miles a couple times – once before he left East, and once when I went to Central to see General Armstrong get her stripes. They were supposed to be professional dinners and, it turned out, they actually were. He's a kind man and we really do get each other, but – both of our lives are complicated and once I get my commission there's the whole 'fraternization' issue and, on top of all that, I'm still only seventeen.

That brings me back to you. Roy Goddamn Mustang. I met people in Central who know you, and I'm told that's what a lot of people at the Academy called you, and I'm starting to like the sound of that in my head. Equal parts impressive and ridiculous. It fits you, but it also makes you seem more of a concept and less of somebody I used to know, used to share a kitchen table with. Somebody to whom I owe an explanation for my choices.

I understand where you're coming from when you write to me about how much they're paying you to do alchemy, about the house in Central that has too many rooms, that you don't even get a chance to live in half the time. You've got a story going in your head where I gave you – where, really, Father used me to give you, but you see it as the same thing – everything you needed to live that life.

Now you think you owe it back to me. If I'd just give you permission to ask, you'd share the money, the privilege, and the house with me. The bed, too. I didn't miss that part. That's my favorite part, to be honest. The only time I can think about these marks on my back without feeling the pain of the needles is when I imagine lying in bed with you, your fingers and your mouth tracing over my skin. Sometimes I even let myself forget what that would be: a transaction between you and my Father that happens to have my body in the middle of it. It's not that I don't believe you really like me. I just don't see how it would be possible to forget about the rest of it.

That's why I'm making another choice. I've kept thinking of how I'm going to tell you, until I finally realized that I'm not. Part of that is because, the more I think about it, the more I can't imagine you'll like the idea. And that doesn't matter. I'm not doing it to make you happy. I'm not doing it for you at all. I keep thinking one day we'll meet and you'll see who I've become, and what I've done with my life, and that will make you happy because you'll see this is right for me. Because I can do it well. Or just because I don't need your permission to do it.

Or maybe you'll never find out.

I can live with that too.

- Riza Hawkeye