"…and for God's sake—"

"Don't talk about politics. I know, Chris, I know," Roy drawled.

Chris stopped and put her hands on her hips. "I'm very serious on that last point, Roy. You can be an absolute monster in all other ways, and I'm fairly sure you could make up for it somehow, but your ideologies are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and we all know how differing ideologies tends to bring out the worst in people." She sighed. "I know you've noticed—he's stopped writing. He's settled on the issue. You'll either be his student, or I'll know why not."

"I'll be his student, Chris, I promise," Roy assured his aunt and foster mother. "I've studied, I've talked with you, and I remember. I've done all I can for now."

With another heavy exhalation, Chris nodded. "I know you have, Roy. But you're my responsibility; my only real family. It's the first time you'll really be out on your own, and in rather unfamiliar territory."

"But not completely." Roy smiled. "Just remember, Chris: you raised me." He kissed her cheek. "And you did a damn good job."

Chris's own grin was somewhat rue-tinged. "Sometimes, I wonder if my having raised you really is a good thing. But you're smart, capable… and rather handsome, I must say. Any new impression of you will be a good one, I'm sure." She handed him a small package. "The girls decided to give you a picture to remember them by, and you will have to write once and a while to keep this old woman appeased."

"I will," promised Roy, "But you'll have to dig out the dictionary."

"Smart boy." Chris raised an eyebrow, impressed. "My Xingese isn't so rusty that I won't be able to get the hang of it, I bet. Not unless you've been taking secret lessons."

Roy shrugged. "Meilin and Li-Jun still practice with me sometimes." Roy chose not to mention that a not-insignificant portion of this was curses and epithets, though he was sure Chris could probably guess—the girls she took in often came from hard situations. However, they had also taught him several ways to code what he wanted to say. Chris's establishment was first and foremost a place to gather information, after all.

The conductor called for boarding. Roy grabbed his coat from Chris and seized his trunk, then dropped it and turned to give Chris one final hug, feeling her slip another small bag into his hand as she finally kissed his cheek. "I'll make you proud, Chris."

Chris tried to look impassive, but Roy knew she was beaming when she told him, "You already have, Roy."

Roy tried not to think on it too much, swallowing the small lump building in his throat. He climbed aboard and found a seat next to a window near where Chris still stood. "I'll be home in a few months for Winter Solstice!" The train lurched forward. "Bye, Chris!"

He watched her wave for a moment, then turned and settled in, remembering the bags in his hand. He unwrapped the picture frame and smiled. All of the girls had grouped together and were smiling, a few laughing, some making faces, others making gestures, and all of them Roy's sisters.

The other parcel was several small containers of Roy's favorite dishes. There was also a small card that read, "Because train food is awful." It bore the signatures of the few girls who were exceptional at cooking, though Roy suspected everyone had pitched in at some point. There was also a note from Chris, reminding him, among other things, that the rest of his things should arrive within the week.

Roy unlatched the rolling trunk he'd brought with him and took a notebook out. He flipped to a random page, comforted by the somewhat neat rows of Xingese characters interspersed with other thoughts in his spiky Amestrian hand. Already, he was beginning to feel homesick, and was annoyed with himself for it.

Surely this was the right choice, wasn't it? Mr. Hawkeye was an alchemic powerhouse and mastermind, if one who scorned the government more publicly than he probably should… No—politics had to be kept out of this at all costs, or it would never work.

It was going to be different, Roy knew, and the thought rather excited him. He hadn't seen Mr. Hawkeye or his daughter in several years, and if they'd never really warmed to each other, Roy doubted Mr. Hawkeye would have agreed to even give Roy a trial period as a student if he disliked Roy much at all.

"I hope you know what you're doing, Roy," Chris had murmured the other night. Roy was unsure whether he'd been meant to hear it or not, but either way, it was too late to go back now.

"I hope I do, too," Roy sighed, shifting in the seat and pulling out a book. It was going to be a long journey.