"So," Grumman said as he observed the young boy reading furiously in the corner, "how long has Roy been interested in alchemy?"
Chris grunted. "Ever since we had a state alchemist in here the other week. He did one little transmutation and Roy-boy went all starry-eyed. He's been studying up like a madman ever since. Now he's saying he wants a teacher."
Chuckling, Grumman brought his glass up to his lips. "Looks like we've got another little state alchemist in the making, huh?"
Chris shot him a dirty look. "Don't even joke like that."
"Sorry," the General grinned. "Military minded man, you know."
The bartender scoffed and took a drag of her cigarette. Secretly, she was quite pleased with Roy's newfound interest in alchemy. She was glad to see the boy take an interest in anything, for once. Roy was by no means stupid, but he was never really enthusiastic about his studies. Yet for the past three weeks, all he could talk about was learning alchemy. She had never seen him this passionate about anything. Still, the thought of having it used for military purposes made Chris shudder. Even if her nephew was to discover some previously unknown talent for alchemy, she would rather down her entire stock of vodka in one go than let him abuse it.
Reginald chuckled again, but there was no grin to accompany it this time. "Believe me, I'm right there with you. I'm not a big fan of alchemy, either."
Chris raised an eyebrow. "A military minded man such as yourself? I'm shocked."
Grumman ran his finger around the rim of his glass. "The military has very little to do with it, actually. My daughter married an alchemist."
Their section of the bar suddenly got very tense. Chris slowly rubbed the butt of her cigarette into the ashtray, even though it was far from close to being out. "I'm sorry about Lyan, Reg."
Reginald had known Chris Mustang since his early days as an officer. The name "Madame Christmas" was spoken through reverent whispers throughout Central headquarters, but her information was as expensive as it was hard to come by. Though they began as nothing but names on sheets of paper to one another, they soon went from contacts to close friends. Chris had been one of the first ones to hear about Lyannia Grumman's illness, and the very first to hear about her premature death.
The General grunted in assent. "We had started growing apart even before she got sick." His voice had now lost all of its signature enthusiasm. "This man she married — Hawkeye, his name was — he was never much for the military. Neither was Lyan, to be honest. But when they started dating he began putting all these ideas in her head…" Reginald's grip on his glass tightened. Chris tensed up, but he soon let out a deep breath which she took as permission to relax. "Anyway, she started writing less and less." He took a large gulp of his drink. "I have a granddaughter, you know. I've only ever seen her once, just after she was born. After Lyan died, that man — he refused to have anything to do with me. Won't let me see her. She probably doesn't even remember me. I'd give anything just to know how she is."
Chris' eyes strayed purposefully elsewhere. The reason she liked Grumman so much is that their conversations outside of work were always light and pleasant. However she couldn't fault him on this one. Roy wasn't even her own, and she didn't know what she would do if she lost him. So that's where she looked instead; to her little boy devouring textbooks in the corner like a man possessed, and she smiled. Not because she was proud, though she was, but because she had an idea.
She took another cigarette out of the case. "Say Reg," she grinned mischievously, a smile that always got Grumman's attention, "what if I said I had an idea that could benefit the both of us?"
"Roy-boy!" Chris said as Grumman grabbed his coat and left. Roy snapped to attention immediately. "I've found you that alchemy teacher you've been looking for!"
"Well?" Reginald said as soon as the bell above his head chimed to signal his appearance. "Did it come?"
A puff of gray smoke curled lazily from Chris' lips. "Yeah, it's right here," she said, waving a thick brown envelope. "I haven't read it yet."
Grumman hurried to the bar and waved his hands impatiently. "Well, open it! Read it!"
"Alright, keep your shirt on," she grumbled. She slit open the top of the envelope with one long red fingernail and extracted a sizeable piece of parchment. "Dear Madame,
Sorry it took me so long to write. It took a lot of time to convince Master Hawkeye to take me on, like you said. But I did it, and I think I've finally settled in. Master has been giving me a lot to research, and Riza — Master Hawkeye's daughter — has been teaching me how to play chess."
"She likes chess," Reginald croaked, a bit of pride apparent in his voice.
Chris smiled approvingly. "I'm getting along well with everyone here. I took a picture with that camera you sent me — ah damn, that was going to be a surprise…"
"Camera?" Grumman yelped suddenly, "what camera?"
Madame Christmas smiled. "I sent Roy-boy one on the off chance he might — ah, well, let's see…" she dug deeper into the envelope and pulled out a photograph with a few words scribbled hastily on the back. She smiled. "Yep. Here you go." She handed him the photograph. Grumman snatched it eagerly from her hands.
The entire right side was obscured by a blurry face trying to outrun the camera flash, but on the left side there was a very old house and a very pretty girl. Young and smiling, her bright brown eyes glowing over a demure smile and arm raised, waving right at him.
"Riza," was all he said, and a tear carved its way down his cheek.