Disclaimer: Anyway, so, yeah, Amestris is landlocked. Don't ask me where the beach is. In Aerugo, maybe? But my defense is that if the creator of this world can have jokes that take place at the beach, I can set a vignette there and ask you all to suspend disbelief. But she is awesome and wonderful and I'm just playing.
When most people go to the beach, they relax. They bring a lawn chair and a paperback thriller, or just a towel to lay on and sunbathe. Maybe a bucket of ice with drinks in it, or an umbrella.
Most adults, anyway. Kids bring a whole slew of brightly colored toys, which will drip sand all over the house where they are staying when they return from a day at the beach. Or rather, they make their parents bring all these things; they just play with them while they are there, blissfully unaware of the nuisance dragging so much stuff around can cause.
Roy Mustang brought a shovel and a five gallon bucket.
The shovel was not a child's toy that they sold in this beach town, either. No, it was a military-issue shovel that he'd nicked before leaving, and specifically brought for this purpose. No spur-of-the-moment whim; but then, most everything in his life was planned in advance; he was used to working that way.
He did not bring these items with him on the first day. They were not needed when all he was doing was scoping out the place, making sure he knew the lay of the land. He'd been traveling all day, and had just settled into his accommodations that afternoon. But the charts said it would be high tide soon, so he wanted to go and see the beach before dinner. The sun was low, but not setting yet. The perpetual breeze brought the scent of salty sea air to him long before he crested the dunes and saw the ocean. So much water.
He walked across the hot, loose, dry sand quickly, so that it would not have a chance to burn his bare feet. This dead area was his least favorite part of the beach; it reminded him of a desert. He'd never liked deserts. But once he reached the cool, firm sand near the water's edge, he slowed down. Now he took the time to take in his surroundings. Few children; most of them had been herded back to their houses, for naps and afternoon snacks and washing up before dinner. The sunbathers were still out, and he smiled; he would never begrudge the sight of young women exposing themselves to the sun's rays (and his sight) so willingly. One of the reasons he preferred the beach to the mountains. While nothing could compare to the cool scent and utter quiet of a pine forest…the view was less interesting.
But his favorite part of the beach was not the women decorating it. It was the boundary where the vast body of restless, quicksilver water met the implacable, ponderous land. It should have been a cataclysmic collision, resulting in utter destruction…and yet it was not, just a gentle lapping and a slight tug. To stand there, at that boundary, and feel the water and sand swirl about his feet as the sound repeated, over and over, was mesmerizing. He could do it for hours, and never get bored.
But that was not why he was here, tonight. Planned properly, the outer wall would be just at the high tide line, so that the waves would reach, but never breach, his fortress. An illusion of danger, or security, depending on whose side you were on. Roy was never on the side of the sea. He picked a high point, a slight promontory on the shifting topography of the beach. He watched the big waves spread their thin tendrils on either side of it, but never over. He walked down the beach and back, satisfied that the spot he had picked at first was most suitable. Finished with his reconnaissance, he made his way back for dinner.
The next day, he arrived at the beach early. Now, he was carrying his shovel and bucket. Roy was not a morning person, but he knew he would have to claim his spot early today if he wanted to have the whole area free of beach towels and chairs. For a moment, he contemplated the advantages of having a woman lying on a beach towel in the middle of his creation…but then dismissed it. Maybe later in the week, he could worry about aesthetics. Then, he wouldn't have to worry about arriving early, either. But today was all about grunt work.
He'd timed it well; the beach was only sparsely populated when he arrived, and most people were down near the water, not on his promontory. It was close to low tide; he had plenty of time. The lifeguard was just setting up his stand. Why couldn't it be a female lifeguard? Then he could at least fantasize about faking drowning. He sighed. Time to get to work.
He dug a moat first, throwing all of the sand onto what would become the large outer wall. The moat was several feet in front of the wall – sand was a finicky building material, and pits too close to walls would lead to collapses. He'd found that out the hard way years ago. This was where the real shovel came in handy. His back would complain loudly if he tried to do all this work with a child's toy. It would probably be rusted by the end of the week; salt water was not kind to metal. But he didn't care; he had no intention of returning it. He rested on the shovel now, and surveyed his work. He had a long wall, hastily thrown up, in approximately the place he wanted it. Now, for the outliers – hills that would be connected to the fortress, but probably remain partially autonomous. He tried not to plan out the logistics and commerce too closely for his imaginary towns, but such thoughts couldn't help but slip in, occasionally. He got back to work, glad his back hadn't started complaining yet. It would not do to overstrain himself on the first day.
When he completed the hill on the left (facing away from the ocean – that was one enemy he liked to keep at his back), he decided that symmetry kills and he needn't build the second hill today. That, and he was wiped; it wasn't often that he shoveled anything these days. He went to fill up the bucket several times, and drenched his whole creation sloppily with sea water. That should keep it from drying out too badly. It seemed unfair that the water was so far away at this time of the morning, but he knew it would be closer soon enough. He couldn't begrudge the distance now. But first things first; it was time for a break. He stripped off his t-shirt, emptied his pockets, and went swimming.
The water was blissfully cool after sweating in the hot sun all morning. He swam out to where the waves were breaking on a sandbar and just floated. It took him awhile to get back into the rhythm of waves – when to jump over them, when to dive through them, and when to just bob there letting the water drag him back and forth at its whim. But once you have the knack of that, you never really forget it. There were some other people swimming, and he acknowledged them with a nod or a wave, but did not speak to them. He did not come to the beach for company. There were plenty of people back in Central, if he wanted that. Not that he'd come on this trip alone, but his companions hadn't wanted to leave as early as he did that morning, and that was fine with him.
Refreshed, he dragged himself out of the water, and surveyed his work so far. The wall wasn't big enough. Before picking up the shovel, he considered his abandoned t-shirt. It would be sandy now…but his back couldn't really withstand hours of harsh sun. Back on it went. His friends had emerged and made their way down to the beach while he was swimming, but they had set up their towels and chairs a fair distance from his work. They knew his habits well, and had no desire to get mixed up in this. He was content to let them be – if they came to the beach to relax, that was their business. For him, this was relaxing. Though he supposed they took orders from him often enough to want to escape it during vacation.
He wandered over to them, in the hopes of mooching a cold drink. He was not disappointed…but that was all he got out of the trip.
"You can take off your shirt; you're on a beach."
"No, thank you. My shoulders burn easily," she replied, not looking up from her book.
She had not said "sir," but the tone implied it. It also implied, "Leave me alone if you know what's good for you."
"Does anyone want to help shovel?" he asked casually, trying hard not to use his wheedling voice. He reserved that for when it was needed. That, and everyone here had learned to ignore it ages ago.
"Do you want to play Frisbee?" they countered.
Drink finished, it was back to work. After completing this second round of shoveling, he was ready to move on to the next step. Two rounds of water-carrying later, the first child showed up. He stood there, watching Roy carry the heavy bucket of water, and frowned.
"What are you doing?"
"Building a sandcastle. Do you want to help?"
The boy nodded thoughtfully, and Roy made a point of clearing it with his parents first. He didn't deal with kids often – the only one he was really comfortable around was Hughes' daughter. Oh, and there had been Fullmetal and his brother, if you counted them as kids. Roy didn't. Pretty soon, the boy and his - cousin? young friend? - were carrying small buckets of seawater up the beach to his wall. The advantage of recruiting kids was that he got their toys, too. Meanwhile, he packed the sand to strengthen the wall, pounding it with his palms and forearms. It was finally beginning to take shape. Leaving the continued patting down of the wall to a girl who had been collecting seashells, he considered his options for molds.
He didn't like adding tunnels to his sandcastles; they unnecessarily weakened the walls. But carving out ledges where he could naturally fit a flat space…that was harmless. The two boys were eager to tell him what to do with the castle, so he listened to their ideas gravely. The best way to keep their attention focussed was to let them choose the direction…with a bit of guidance, of course. At his instigation, they roped in the kids with the best molds on the beach, so that they'd have something to put on the smooth level spaces that Roy was creating on the top of the wall.
He wouldn't get upset with them for leaving footprints in the wall, but he wasn't about to let them make the molds, either. He sent them for water (using their child-sized pails, of course), and taught them how to make the perfect sand for castles – fine and just moist enough. For now, they made the sand, with some quality-control on his part. Maybe tomorrow, he'd trust them to pack the molds tightly. But not yet. As a line of cubes and cones grew across the front of the wall, he noticed that the girl was still resolutely patting the wall, though not terribly effectively.
"Can you find some nice seashells to decorate the front?" he asked her, and she eagerly agreed, displaying her cache to him proudly. After informing her that none of them were as pretty as she was, he turned his attention back to the boys. Much longer, and they'd get restless and wiped out. He'd have to send them back to their family soon. But he wasn't quite ready to relinquish the molds to his new helpers yet, either, so that meant it was time for distraction.
He gave them control of the outlier hill, letting them plan where to build roads and where to put molds. He let them make the molds, too, which gave the hill a rather derelict, abandoned look. But he insisted on patting down the flat spaces and directing them, easing them into the work so that tomorrow, they'd be more efficient.
Now that the tide was coming in, more people stopped to watch them work. The kids squealed any time a wave came close to washing the moat. As that happened more and more frequently, Roy frowned. Had he misjudged the high tide mark around here? He checked his pocket watch, which was in a small pile with the other items he'd divested himself of while swimming – keys, wallet, lighter and hat. It was simply later than he'd thought; no problem. He finished the molds along the wall, and returned the toys to the child who'd joined them latest. The two boys played in the moat, and the girl stayed to watch whether or not her seashells would survive the coming tide.
Roy was tempted to turn the front wall into glass. A few controlled blasts, and the sand would melt into smooth blobs… he'd tried it - once. It had made a wonderfully durable sandcastle, but he'd been awakened in the middle of the night by MPs pounding on his door – apparently someone walking the beach in the dark had stepped on the walls, and needed to be taken to the hospital for stitches. Roy had been tempted to retort that destroying other people's sandcastles had a price, but opted for a contrite apology instead. So, no glass this time. But he shouldn't need it; he'd learned how to plan for the tides better since then.
It worked beautifully. The sea snuck around the outlier hill, and washed up against the wall….but never went over it. He'd placed it perfectly. Once the thrill of high tide subsided, and the waves no longer surged forward to fill the moat, the kids left. He decided it was time to rejoin his group, but they were packing up anyway.
He was, of course, a perfectly normal person that evening at dinner. No one would guess how he'd spent his day. He did not talk about his sandcastle, nor did he comment on how everyone had avoided him for the duration of the afternoon. The only slightly unusual thing he had done was to buy a ball of twine and take it home with him. He always immersed himself in everything he did, and now that meant conversations and food and drinks, none of which was hindered by his early start in the morning.
The next day, he slept in. After breakfast, he found some chalk, cleared off the counter, and drew an array. He found the baling twine he'd purchased the day before (perhaps not everything was planned in advance), and turned it into what looked like a small rope ladder. Then he took his bucket and shovel, and went down to the beach. His sandcastle of the day before was demolished – the low walls had footprints all through them, and every single mold was smashed.
Roy was not perturbed; he had known it would not have survived the night. They never did. It was an opportunity to build a different castle today. He was pleased to find the two boys waiting for him. He got right to work shoveling, and sent them to fetch water. They were enthusiastic when he explained his intention to make three hills instead of just one today. They'd connect the walls to the back hill to make a triangular fortress. Or rather, he would – he never made children do the heavy shoveling. He was careful to leave a gap so they could easily enter and exit. After all, the hill of the day before had been as tall as them, so it would be like having a play fort built of sand.
He found a piece of driftwood that was still sturdy enough, and used that to thwack at the walls today, pounding them into shape. Much easier on his hands, which were sore after yesterday. He learned that the boys were in fact cousins, and lived in the same town. A few more questions, and he knew all about their families, their pets' names, their bedtime, how often they came to the beach, and their favorite meals. He wondered if he had been so obliviously trusting at their age. He smiled wryly. That was the whole point, wasn't it? To make a world where children could be trusting, and men like him wouldn't slaughter them for their foolishness.
The girl with the shells brought her older sister today, and they both set to work on patting down the main wall without being told. A father introduced himself to Roy, and asked if his kids could help with the impressive sandcastle. Roy readily agreed, though wondered why everyone was always so unduly impressed. Of course a grown man with a real shovel could make a more impressive mound of sand than a kid with a little plastic one. There was nothing special to his project…he was just one of the few people willing to do it. He turned the shovel over to the other man briefly, while he went back to pounding the walls. The front wall was ready for castles, so he sent the boys for water to make sand for the molds. They were using different molds today, because the kid from yesterday had not come down to the beach today. Today, the boys were able to make it correctly, with only slight modification by him. He showed them how to pack them tightly by slamming the mold into the ground, and they enjoyed that part. He restricted his role to actually placing the molds on the wall. Meanwhile, the new kids were busy shaping the three hills. They built roads and grottos, leaving room for a giant bucket-mold on top of each one. Roy obliged them by making them. The little girl from the day before took an interest in decorating this new landscape, and her older sister taught the other kids how to make drip pine trees from a bucket of sand and water.
It was only a matter of time before they started asking for a tunnel; the gap in the back just wasn't satisfying. At this point, Roy brought out the rope ladder, and told the kids they could make a bridge anywhere they wanted. He preferred bridges to tunnels, but if they insisted, he'd let them put a tunnel in one of the low back walls. He asked them what they wanted to name the nearly-finished fortress, but of course they could not agree. Suggestions were all over the board, from real fortresses like Briggs, to the fortresses in the make-believe war movies the children watched, to the names of the houses lining the beach. Roy hoped he wouldn't have to carve "Seashell Haven" on his masterpiece, but let them talk about it. Finally, they settled on "Wave Breaker," and he used the driftwood to write the name on the smoothly-packed sand of the front wall. He left the kids to continue working on the smaller walls, and took a swimming break. The other man had long ago retreated to the shade of an umbrella. Apparently, he hadn't come to the beach to shovel sand, and only partly to play with his kids.
Roy's week continued in much the same way. Each night he left the beach, the castle was reduced to ruins, and each day he rebuilt it, changing it slightly, but leaving the walls and hills in the same basic place. On the fourth day, he bought all the kids ice cream, telling them that he had to feed his workers. They all grinned at him, even the new kid who spoke not a word of his language and had learned to help by mimicking the others. That night, Roy ventured back down onto the beach at night, to just walk up and down the shoreline in the wet sand, without the sun beating down on him. He enjoyed the silence (or rather, lack of words – the ocean is never silent), and was glad he had people to share the experience with. He kept the hat and t-shirt on all through the fifth day, even wearing the shirt swimming, because his skin was getting quite red. Very little shoveling needed to be done, until the kids decided that the back hill looked like a dragon's head and needed to be made into one. Then the entire wall was his body, and he needed legs. Each castle along the wall got to have a seashell added to the top of it, to represent spikes. Roy hoped they would hurt the feet of whoever was stomping on their castle each night. He had noted the footprints were barefoot. On the sixth day, Roy finally conceded, and the kids happily built not one, but two, tunnels – one in each side wall. When the tide came up, it greedily rushed in through these openings, flooding the middle of their fortress…but the tunnels did not collapse, despite all his dire warnings.
On the last day, he propped the shovel against a shed and left the bucket with it. He went down to the beach and just hung out with his crew. He made a point of indulging them in Frisbee and later kite-flying, and just went swimming when they insisted on laying around on towels. Some of the kids were still working on the sandcastle (or what he'd left of one). He went over to check out their work. Predictably, they'd started excavating the front wall, making the structure as weak as it could be. There would be little left the next day. But that was fine; he wouldn't be there, and he noted that they were using the proper mixture of water and sand in their molds. So, something he'd taught them had stuck. Perhaps. A hand on his arm let him know it was time to go. He said goodbye to the kids, and wished them a good rest of their vacations and safe trip home and all that. He felt like he was babbling, but he really just wasn't any good with talking to kids. He didn't tell them to come to Central; he knew he'd never meet them again.
Every day, the lifeguard had noted his efforts. So far, he had kept himself from saying anything. Roy couldn't blame him; if he were the lifeguard, he'd be spending more time flirting with the young women than talking to an old man about his sandcastle (no matter how impressive). Not that he was old yet, he hastened to tell himself; just older than the young lifeguard. But today the lifeguard must have gotten bored, or at least decided that the effort to continue biting his tongue wasn't worth it.
"You have a desk job, don't you?" he asked as Roy was packing up to go. Why was it that the guy who brought nothing down had to carry all these towels back?
"You could say that," his wife answered, a smile tugging at her lips.
He smirked back. He'd had one for awhile, but being Führer, he got away from the office even less frequently, no thanks to her.
Author's Note: This story is not really a work of fiction. It's autobiographical, sorta…except it's about my Dad. Almost everything not related to alchemy or womanizing happened to me in real life, though not all in the same trip to the beach. So, I apologize for making it into a fanfiction, but I thought it might be a neat way of looking at Roy's philosophy of government - leaving a legacy for the next generation, etc.
Strangely enough, Roy Mustang reminds me strongly of my father. I'm not sure why. My father is not 29 (and has not been since I was born), does not slack off at work (ever), and harbors no secret ambitions to become President. Nor has he ever been in the military or held political office. And I DON'T think of my dad as sexy, because that would just be wrong. He is not a tease or a ladies' man, but happily married for longer than Roy has been alive.
However, he does have dark hair, boyish looks, insanely good luck, and a wonderful mix of playful immaturity and responsible dedication. His manipulation of his teenage children is certainly toned down from how Roy treats Ed, but I can at least recognize something in those mind games. His college tales are totally the type of thing Maes and Roy would have gotten up to at the academy. And this one, too, seemed to fit. Even if my father is a structural engineer, not an alchemist.