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The Heart of A Man

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Heavy and hard is the heart of a king; king of iron, king of steel.
The heart of a man is a simple one: small and soft, flesh and blood.

 

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“Have I ever told you about how I got my own promotion to Brigadier General?” Führer Grumman asks as he captures Roy’s pawn, effectively breaking the Cretan Defense.

The General raises an eyebrow and moves his queenside bishop’s pawn forward.  “I can’t say I recall, sir,” he replies.

Their pawns are in a Caro Formation, which results in a long play. Their last was a fast-paced one just as he set it. With the Führer as white, it’s curious that the man set a slow one. It must be quite a story.

No matter. Roy just hopes that it doesn’t end up in another marriage proposal.

The Führer hums, “I was a very different man then, very ambitious.”

“Surely you were, considering you’re the most powerful man now.”

“Oh, but I was different. Back then I wanted power for power’s sake. It was only when I lost my most precious one that I realized that power should be used for the people. Else, what is it good for?”

It’s hard to think that the Führer used to be a power monger as he said. Grumman had always been supportive of Roy’s dreams. He’d been an advocate of peace, opting for compromise than subjugation. He was an active opposition during the Ishvalan War, he regularly sent for drafts of a treaty with Aerugo.

After a couple of moves, the Führer continues, “There was this very intelligent young man, an alchemist. He was doing research on gases and how to control them.”

Grumman takes another pawn and looks at him, “I’m sure as the Flame Alchemist, you know how exceptional that is.”

Roy takes the Führer’s knight and lets out some noise of affirmation through his nose.

“Yes… yes. The instant I learned about him I wanted to recruit him! A State Alchemist of his caliber under my tutelage would better my standing with the Top Brass.”

“So you got him with the program and you got your promotion. I expected more, considering…” The General gestures at the board.

He chuckles, “Quite the contrary. He declined.”

“And knowing you, sir, you’ve persisted.”

“Of course I did. I pestered the poor boy for months. And when it became clear that I could never entice him with the money and fame that comes with the job,” Grumman moves his queen to increase pressure on Roy’s defense on the kingside, “I sent my daughter to him.”

“Ah,” Roy takes a pawn with his knight, “Your daughter was military, too, sir?”

The Führer gives him a small smile, “Not at all. She was a woman of science, herself. Graduated with a degree in physics at twenty-six and with the aid of her fellowship at the university, got her second degree the year after that.

“She was very diligent, passionate about her work. Although, she never took a liking for alchemy; called it cheap for taking the easy way of making things happen.”

A grin forms on Roy’s face, “That may be the first time I heard someone say Alchemy being easy.”

“‘Alchemists use the energy reserves within them,’ she’d say. ‘I prefer to move particles by themselves. I doubt even your brightest can ever achieve such a feat.’”

The General raises his eyebrows and moves his rook to challenge the Führer’s queen. “Can she really do that?”

“Everything we know about radioactivity started with her.” Grumman offhandedly – or at least, he tried to be; it’s clear that he’s very proud of his daughter – says. He sighs and shakes his head, “But we’re getting off track. Where was I?”

“You sending your daughter to the elusive alchemist.”

“Right! Right, right, right,” Grumman scans the board briefly before saying, “Well, not so much as I sent her to him as I did him to her. My daughter was going to have a conference about handling highly volatile elements, you see. Just the kind that he needed for his research.”

“And being the kind soul that you are, you made this known to him.”

“Indeed, I did.” The Führer moves his bishop to support his queen. “I wanted her to inspire him as she always does to academic men. Many would woo her just as they met her. And often, they’d do so with their... scientific prowess. They’d apply for grants within her laboratory or – and the joke’s on them – would take the State Alchemist exam.”

“And let me guess, your plan didn’t work.”

Grumman slowly nods and retreats his bishop, “My plan didn’t work. But it didn’t matter because they became friends, of the sorts. And I could work with that.”

It’s silent for a few seconds. Only the soft tapping of felt on wood can be heard. Roy thinks that the story hasn’t been that bad so far. He can never truly judge, after all, he also had done some dubious manipulation in his past.

“I stole his research.” Grumman holds his hand up just as Roy’s head snaps up. “Now, I know how particular you alchemists are with your research. Perhaps stole is too strong a word. I merely had my men copy his work while my daughter unknowingly distracted him.”

“With all due respect, sir, that’s still stealing. You’re acquiring hard-earned work without the man’s permission.”

“At the time, I felt entitled. After meeting my daughter, he’d made impressive progress. Seeing as I was the one that brought them together I felt like I had the right.”

Roy must have a grimace or some other because the Führer next says, “Go ahead. Say it.”

“Say what, sir?”

“That my reasoning was shit.”

“I don’t see the reason to, sir, if you already know it yourself.”

“I thought that if I couldn’t get the alchemist to the military, I could just give them the alchemy. I wanted that promotion so badly.” Grumman sighs and he moves his queen in a precarious position. The old man hasn’t realized as he got lost to his memories. Roy moves to prepare for an attack.

“What happened next– I never saw coming. My daughter has always been married to her work. She never had the time to date, so I had her set up with the then-Brigadier-General Raven’s son. We had a plan. But then she came to me one evening and told me she was pregnant.”

The Führer rolls one of the captured pawns on his fingers. “She didn’t have to tell me, I knew it was his. She still did tell me after telling me that she loves him. And apparently, he loves her too.

“We had a plan and I wanted her to get rid of it. Words were said. We screamed at each other. I have forgotten most of it, really. The only thing that I remember clearly is the image of her back as she was leaving. She slammed the door so hard that the glass on it cracked.”

The Führer left his queen wide open and Roy takes it.

“I told the alchemist that she was playing him all along in hopes that if he were to turn her away, she’d come back home.” He let out a mirthless laugh and focuses back again on the board. “I guess I underestimated their love because the next I’ve heard of them, they got married by a river. There were only two witnesses, one officiator. According to my source, she was wearing her dark blue laboratory outfit.”

Grumman wipes a hand below his nose and sniffs. “I have had done a lot of things I regret. But what I regret the most is not being able to walk my daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.”

Roy keeps quiet. They are down to four pieces. A queen-versus-pawn play with Grumman’s pawn on the sixth rank.

“They left and hid out West. My wife always had a weak heart; she died a few months later. Eventually, I had my promotion. The alchemist’s research was distributed among interested State Alchemists: those that dabbled with combustion alchemy, air-toxicity alchemy. And goodness knows you remember how the Top Brass used them during the civil war.”

The General clenches his jaw but says nothing. He moves his queen to try to trap the Führer’s king.

“It was years later – just a bit over two decades, in fact – that I heard of them again. I’ve learned that my daughter died of pneumonia, complicated by anemia. The alchemist died, too, sometime after. And they orphaned one beautiful, kind, brilliant daughter.”

His opponent escapes and after a few more moves, they—

“It seems we’ve reached a stalemate,” Grumman guffaws loudly as if to shake the melancholy off his skin. “You were so close to winning, my boy!”

“I believe it’s now 102 wins, 1 loss, and 33 draws.”

“So…” The Führer says as they reset the board, “What was your take away with that little story of mine?”

“That we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our interpersonal relationships for power. But I assure you, sir, that I am capable of maintaining good relationships with my men. And I even call my mother once a week because she insists on it.” He rolls his eyes at the last sentence.

“Ah, but that wasn’t the lesson I’m trying to teach you,” the old man curls one end of his mustache over his right pointer finger.

“And that would be… what, sir?”

“You should take a page from my daughter’s book and get yourself married!” Roy groans but Grumman continues, “I know you’re doing hard, important work. But what’s the harm of doing it while you’re happy?”

The General opens his mouth to reply but three raps on the door interrupt them.

“Enter,” the Führer calls on the person outside.

“Sir,” a very familiar voice says, “Hel— Brigadier General Mustang?”

“Captain.” And true to his initial recognition, Riza Hawkeye stands before him with her hair down and in a long, black skirt and a red sweater, striped with golden sun designs – very much alike to what the Führer is wearing.

She raises her arm half-way, seemingly unsure whether she should salute her two superior officers.

The Führer saves her the trouble, “At ease, my dear. Now, did you need something?”

“I just wanted to make my arrival known before I go down the kitchens to help Nana Carolyn.” She shifts her gaze to Mustang and clears her throat. “Will the General be joining us tonight, sir?”

“Now what did I say about formalities during our off-days? Besides, it’s high time we tell him this secret of ours, don’t you think? He’s practically family.” Grumman winks at her and Roy sees a faint pink over the Captain’s cheeks.

“Right. Sorry… Grandfather.”

Roy blinks.

Hawkeye is resolutely staring – glaring, more like – at the Führer. She continues, “And my question?” She looks back at Roy and her gaze softens minutely. “Will you be joining us for dinner, sir?”

Roy blinks again. “I, uhm—?”

“He will, my dear.” Grumman’s grin is wide and his eyes are twinkling behind his glasses.

The Captain nods. “I’ll have someone get you when dinner is ready. General,” she gives him a look that he interprets as I’ll talk to you later. Then she narrows her eyes at the Führer, “Grandfather.”

Then she’s out the door.

Roy blinks, this time he keeps his eyes closed for longer.

“I usually have dinner with my granddaughter on the eve of the Winter Solstice.” The amusement on the Führer’s voice is clear. “I hope you don’t mind the company.”

“Captain Riza Hawkeye is your granddaughter,” Roy says as if by stating it out loud can make it more believable.

“Yes. We kept it quiet for obvious reasons. Nobody knows beside her, the staff of the estate, and Lieutenant Catalina. Now that you’re privy to this information, I trust you can be as discrete as the aforementioned?”

“O-of course, sir. Wait— Catalina knew before me?”

“Ah. That one was a mistake on our part. She wasn’t supposed to know.” The Führer shrugs. “Don’t be mad, General. My granddaughter wanted to tell you but I told her not to. You didn’t need to know.”

He scoffs, unbidden. Hawkeye is his adjunct and most trusted ally, not to mention, his oldest friend. Like hell, he didn’t need to know.

Grumman smirks and lifts an eyebrow, “Something the matter, General?”

“No, sir. Although, I am curious. From what you said, you must have reunited with Hawkeye five or six years ago and kept your relation hidden ever since. Why tell me now?”

The Führer smiles and, instead of answering, stands up to go to his desk. “Do you remember what I asked of you before you got transferred to Central?”

Roy scratches his cheek and adjusts his collar. Oh, boy, he does. And he was hoping that the old man won’t bring it up. He coughs once. “Believe me, sir, when I say that Captain Hawkeye and I are merely colleagues with a purely professional relationship.”

Grumman looks up from where he’s flipping various folders. “You two are the worst kept secret in Amestris, you know. Everyone knows that you two are way beyond being mere colleagues.”

He rubs his face, deluding himself that the heat he feels is from the friction and nothing else. It’s bad enough that his subordinates had repeatedly teased them so. But the Führer – or better yet, Hawkeye’s grandfather?

It feels worse because it isn’t true. They’d never cross that line. But goodness knows he wants it to be true.

“And even if I – we, the Captain and I that is – do, er, accept your offer, there is still the matter of certain policies in place.”

The Führer finally finds what he’s looking for. He approaches Mustang and gives him a folder.

Roy opens it and his breath hitches as he sees the title: PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE 134—FRATERNIZATION OF THE UNIFORM CODE OF MILITARY JUSTICE.

“Permission to speak freely, sir.” The Führer gives him the go and retakes his place in front of him. “You’ve been in-seat for only nine months. I don’t think it’s wise to restructure the bylaws so soon. Especially for something,” he wets his lips, “self-indulging.”

“Lieutenant General Armstrong thinks otherwise.”

“You’ve spoken to her about this, sir?”

“If you had read further down, General, you’d see that she’s actually the main proponent. Now,” he opens his palms up towards the document, “I don’t know her personal reasons for it but the reason she gave on paper is very convincing. Her proposition calls for utmost professionalism and a good work ethic from the applied parties. And it is iron-clad on disallowing power abuse. If approved, then officers can have intimate relationships with one another, provided they meet the given conditions.”

Roy skims the proposal. He fiddles with the corner of each page, reminding himself that this is real.

“I hope that this means I get to walk my granddaughter down the aisle on her wedding,” the Führer says, wistful. He taps the side of the forgotten board twice. “It’s your move, General. White goes first.”

He closes the folder and sets it aside. He doesn’t know what to say, what to think. He runs his fingers through his hair. He moves his pawn to E4. The Führer moves his to E5. He moves another pawn to F4.

“A King’s Gambit. It’s been a while since you played that opening. You used to play it in almost every game.”

“I’ve learned, sir, that aggressive plays are unwise against you.”

“And yet, here you are, setting up one.” The Führer accepts the gambit.

A move later he asks, “What makes you think I deserve your granddaughter, sir? After… after everything I’ve done?”

Grumman folds his hands. Seconds tick by as both men stare at the board. No one moves, no one speaks. That’s the greatest issue, isn’t it? What gives him, a mass murderer, the right to love? To be loved?

“Do you think that I deserve my granddaughter, General? After everything I’ve done?”

Roy mirrors the Führer and puts his chin over his folded hands. In turning away his daughter, Grumman might have had started a series of chain reactions. One of which led to Hawkeye growing up with a dead mother and abusive father, and eventually ended up with her enlisting and facing the horrors of war.

And to think that he wanted her daughter to have an abortion. The General exhales sharply at the thought of a world without Riza.

No one is deserving of my granddaughter, General,” he continues. “We both know that. Ask me what you really want to ask me.”

A moment passes. Then another and a half. “Are we allowed to be happy?”

The Führer drums a beat on his fingers. The General leans back to his chair and puts his hands in his pockets. He plays with a loose thread on his left pocket and the old man lets out a long exhale. They stall, afraid and unsure of the answer.

“You don’t think you deserve happiness because you feel morally responsible for countless murders during the Ishvalan Civil War, correct?”

“I am responsible, sir. And not just that. I have hurt her so much.”

“But it is the main reason.”

“I suppose so, sir.”

The Führer clicks his tongue. “For someone who wants to restructure the country’s government, I expected you to at least have learned the fundamentals of Ethics.”

“I have, sir,” he insists.

“Then you should know that you, in particular, were not to be blamed for that war. By your reasoning, then everyone who served then should be punished.”

“Exactly, sir. We’ve slaughtered them like animals. There’s no… There can never be pardon for that.”

Grumman shakes his head. “The blame lies on those who ordered it to happen, who made sure that the killing continued.”

“I could have stopped. Abandoned my post. I was just too much of a coward.”

“And be labeled a traitor? Gutted and made an example of deserters?”

“Major Armstrong—”

“Major Armstrong has his name. His father was a full general. What did you have?”

Roy clenches his fist. “I still rather have died.”

“So why didn’t you leave?”

He laughs, hollow and disjointed. He admits with head hung low, “Because of my arrogance. I thought that I… Heh, that I can make the world a better place. I can’t do that if I were dead.”

“And look at where we are now. Most of the corrupt high-ranking officers are gone. You’re rebuilding Ishval. How more can you atone for the sins that aren’t even yours to bear?”

He starts to counter again but Grumman speaks over him. “Listen. There simply are things that you cannot control. And these external factors can affect the moral quality of our actions.

“You can take all the blame you want. However, you should realize that you were neither a hero nor a monster, but rather just a man who was forced to do the things you did. Maybe then you could blame yourself less.”

“I wasn’t—” He tries, again.

“Weren’t you?”

The Führer pinches the bridge of his nose. When Roy doesn’t speak, he carries on. “Personally, I think what matters most is the person that you’ve become. You continuously worked to make yourself better. Always pushing to your limits to achieve the best version you can be.

“And if you really have studied Ethics as you say, then you should know that according to Virtue Theory, living as such means that you would inevitably do good things. And you already have. You’re a good man, Roy Mustang, and you are entitled to your own happiness. It’s only right.”

He stews on his mentor’s words. He smiles a little. Every now and then the old man would actually impart some words of wisdom. He hates to admit it but, maybe, his mentor has a point.

Grumman looms over the board and makes a move. “As for your transgressions towards my granddaughter, I have no jurisdiction over them. You would have to talk about your issues among yourselves. Although, maybe you should have a mediator. You and she have this annoying habit to take more blame than you ought to. I can’t have you two keep on making yourselves unhappy!”

Roy nods absent-mindedly. He tries to remember his plan and moves his white-space bishop. “If you don’t mind me saying, sir, but I’m still not sure why you would want me to be with your granddaughter. Surely there’s someone better and more worthy of her.”

The Führer lets out an exasperated breath. “General, tell me. Do you love her?”

“Yes,” he answers, not missing a beat.

“Do you want her to be happy?”

 “Yes.”

“Then you’re the best man I could ever hope for. As for being worthy of her,” Grumman shrugs, “she’s the only one who can attest to that. But everyone with eyes can see that she loves you too.”

Roy bites the inside of his cheek, feeling the heat come back with vengeance. He ignores the giddiness bubbling on his chest and focuses on the game and attacks and attacks and—

The Führer roars a full belly laugh. He extends his hand, beaming and proud. “What a great game!”

He shakes his mentor’s hand. “102 wins, 2 losses, and 33 draws.”

Just on time too. Someone knocks on the door to tell them that dinner’s ready. They clear up the table and Roy stands a little bit too fast. Eager to see his captain again, he follows the Führer out.