My dearest Riza,

This is my last letter, being written as I sit at Maes's graveside. When I'm done here, I'll bundle all these letters together and take them to the military post. I'm sure they'll hold them – either to give back to me later, or give to you if something happens to me in the next few days. I know a couple of women (naturally) who work there, and I can trust them to keep tabs.

When I finished my letter on the train yesterday, I could hear his voice giving approval. It was a late train, and my particular car was empty, but I heard Maes's voice anyway. I think he said something like "Well done." It was a bit confusing because he was either inside my head, or looking over my shoulder from the seat behind me. I didn't turn around because…well, I didn't want to find that there was no one there. He hasn't been coming around as often lately.

But I still couldn't resist, after he signaled his approval of my letter. I sort of leaned back in my seat and asked outright, "You're leaving me, aren't you?"

I couldn't see it, but I know he smiled. He said, "I think I've taken you about as far as I can, don't you?" I wanted to lie and say I still needed him to guide me, but he'd have known it wasn't true.

He was very gentle about things, though. You never really got to see that side of him. You saw the complete goof – rather more often than I liked, at the time. And you saw how he straightened up and really got down to a job when things were serious. But you never saw the gentle compassion – the times when I was crying, and suicidal, and he'd sit on the floor beside me, put his arms around me and let me cry, and then whisper all the good reasons there were to try to live just one more day.

That was how he was, yesterday on the train. I leaned against the window, and we talked for at least two hours. We reminisced about a lot of things we did together over the years. Some day I should tell you stories about our academy days, Riza. Even you might be a little shocked at some of them.

I was surprised at how many of our memories were good ones, despite all the tragedies. Maes and I had great times together. He reminded me that most of the times had been good, actually. Why hadn't I realized that before?

That's how I'll remember him, now. He was my dearest friend. He was a truly great man. And he's always going to be my hero.

When the train was starting its approach to Central, and dawn was just coming, I realized that it wasn't me and Maes talking any more – it was just me, leaning against the window, thinking and remembering.

So he's gone now. And I know he won't be back. Which is why I came here, to his grave, because even if he's left me for good, I sure as hell don't plan to leave him! I win this one, Maes. (Sorry, Riza, running joke. Tell you later, maybe.)

And now the future. No, forget the future – tomorrow I see you again! And I thought I had butterflies yesterday! Will you smile at me, or slap my face? Is Black Hayate still with you? Have you cut your hair? (Please tell me you haven't.)

I know we have work to do, tomorrow and beyond. If I get my wish, I'll be allowed to work with you again, you and the others – and this time you'd outrank me. Not that that would be much different, since you always ordered me around anyway, whatever our ranks were. And this time, you'd be responsible for the paperwork. I can see certain advantages already, to the arrangement…

But if that happens, then we'll face the old restrictions again. And the one thing I want most to say to you – the thing I've never been allowed to say, and wanted to tell you more than anything in life – it'll be forbidden. Again.

So I'll say it now, so you hear it from me at least once in our lives: I love you, Riza. You are the dream of my life, and the light of all my days. I've loved you since the day I met you, and will love you until the moment I die.

At least, finally, I now have a hope of being worthy of you. I'm ready for all of it. Whatever battles are coming, we'll win them.

I'd better get going now, and put these letters in safe hands.

Tomorrow! Wait for me, Riza!

Love always,