by Lady Norbert
A/N: Yep, Brilliancy has reached its conclusion. But don't worry - there's a new shiny story in this universe that you can enjoy. The Game of Three Generals is the final story in the Elemental Chess trilogy, and it's underway. In the meantime, I'm compiling a list of tropes about these stories so that once the third part is done, I can create a page about the trilogy at TV Tropes. (Yes, I am a registered troper, you can read my profile there!) If you're a fan of tropes and you have any suggestions, be sure to let me know. Thanks for everything, guys!
Endgame: The stage of the game when there are few pieces left on the board.
"What time is the train due in again?"
"3:00, Your Excellency."
Grumman huffs into his mustache, and paces the foyer once more. "It's confirmed that they're both on board?"
"Yes, sir. With a considerable entourage, may I add. I'm told that even the former Fullmetal Alchemist is accompanying them."
"Do you think I should receive them at Central Command?"
"Well, sir, what do you think is best?"
"Anderson," the leader of Amestris snaps, "if I did what I think is best, I'd never let her out of my sight again!" He sighs, and removes his glasses to rub his eyes. "I apologize. It's been a tense week."
"I understand, Your Excellency. No offense taken." The head of Grumman's household servants inclines his head. "Perhaps it would best put your mind at ease if you met them at the station directly, rather than wait for them to come to you?"
"You're right. Thank you, that's exactly what I'll do. Kindly ring Central and tell them to arrange me a car - tell them I want Armstrong for my escort, and no questions."
"Right away, sir."
Left alone, Grumman moves to the low table covered in framed photographs. Most of them are old - a portrait of his late wife, his daughter as a young child. He reaches out and, almost fearfully, picks up one of his favorites.
He spent quite some time dropping hints - perhaps not the most subtle ones - to Roy Mustang that he wanted to see his granddaughter installed as First Lady when the coal-haired alchemist became Fuhrer. Mustang always demurred, calling such notions "premature," but never dismissing the idea outright. Eventually, Grumman worked out that Mustang had every intention of marrying her eventually; her or no one, in fact.
And then Grumman himself was chosen to be the new Fuhrer.
He would have repealed the anti-fraternization law sooner, to make it easier for them, but other things had to take priority. Rebuilding the city, for starters. Rebuilding the country. There was also the matter of the military tribunal concerning the Ishvalan war, and he'd held his breath for weeks (or at least that's how it felt) until he knew for sure that his darling Riza was pardoned, that his incendiary protégé was likewise.
They got there in the end. There were quite a few false starts, but they finally reached the day in the photograph he now holds. Most days, it brings a smile to his face to view this picture; Riza, golden-haired and beautiful in her white dress, arm in arm with Roy, his black eyes softened by his happiness. He knows - everyone who was there when this picture was taken knows - how much they love each other. They rarely use the words, but they don't really need to use them; Havoc and Breda, who are normally part of his personal detail, told him once that they communicate without words on a regular basis. They understand each other that well.
Looking at their gilt-framed images, his heart clenches in his chest. They are the two most important people in the world to him.
How close he has come, in recent days, to losing them both.
And he didn't know.
Of course, they would try to keep him in the dark as long as they could. It's part stubbornness, part consideration. They don't want him to worry. He supposes he's grateful that they finally did tell him, or rather, allow someone else to tell him. Still, it has been difficult to accept. His beloved grandchild, his only family, abducted in an effort to get her husband to resurrect a genocidal conflict, only to have him collapse from fever and shock. Yes, they've both sufficiently recovered, now, to make the journey to Central. Yes, he will see them both with his own eyes, know that they are safe and whole. No, that does not make it any easier to bear, especially since the perpetrator remains at large and, one may assume, plotting.
The train is not due for at least another hour. It will be a long one.
"Major General Armstrong, you are a vision."
"Fuhrer Grumman." She salutes him coldly. "You requested me to accompany you to the railroad station."
"I did. At ease, General, we're old friends."
"I don't know about that, sir." She does, however, allow him a tiny smile.
"Close enough that I wish it had been more pleasant business that brought you to Central, at any rate."
"There is that. I'm pleased to hear that your granddaughter is recovered from her ordeal. Him too, I suppose."
Grumman chuckles, and feels grateful to Armstrong for making the quip that prompted it. He's laughed very little of late. "Still as besotted with my grandson-in-law as ever, I see."
"If besotted has had its meaning changed and now describes the feeling of I hope something eats you, then yes, as much as ever." Her visible eye has a wicked glint.
"Well, we'll just have to keep your adoration between ourselves, because you know Riza is the jealous type."
Armstrong always looks, when he speaks to her, like she isn't sure whether to laugh or not at his humor. She has that appearance now. Ultimately she opts to ignore it. "The car is waiting, sir. Shall we go?"
All the cheer vanishes from his demeanor. "Yes, I think so. Lead the way, General."
To a man, the military contingent arriving from Ishval snaps into a salute. His gaze travels over them. Havoc and Breda, Falman and Fuery; he's not surprised. Catalina. A lieutenant he doesn't recognize. Fullmetal, even though he's no longer technically military, salutes too. And in the heart of the formation, still looking weary but determined and calm, Mustang and Mustang.
"At ease," he says, and they relax their stances. A bit of shuffling allows Riza to step forward; he extends his arms, and she walks into his embrace. "Riza..."
"Hello, Grandfather." She's slightly muffled by his shoulder.
"Oh, my darling..." He pulls back and looks into her face, searching. "Forgive me. I don't have the right to be this way, after being a stranger to you for so long, but..."
"It's all right." She gives him a small smile. "You're allowed."
He hugs her again, tightly, then looks over at Roy. "And you, my boy...got sick again, did you?"
"Better now, thank you, sir."
"Good. The rest of you - well done. But don't get complacent, we've a ways to go yet." Grumman finally releases his granddaughter and turns. "We're heading to Central Command. I want to be brought entirely up to speed on everything; I got some more information from Major Armstrong when he brought the turncoat, but I want to know whatever remains that I don't know already."
It's a tense meeting, and not just because Generals Mustang and Armstrong are both there.
Major Armstrong, Brosh and Ross join them in the Situation Room, and everything which is known by anyone is laid out for universal understanding. It's safe to say that things are serious. The full extent of Acheron's plans and resources is unknown, but his use of Sikorsky on the inside is a particular cause for concern because, as Ross puts it, who else may be involved?
"I want none of this going beyond those present in this room," says Grumman. "Those of you seated at this table are the only ones I personally know to be fully trustworthy - wait. Who are you?"
"Lieutenant Paul Douglas, sir."
"One of yours, General Mustang?"
"Yes, sir. Douglas is the one who discovered that something was amiss in Ishval. It's because of him that we caught Sikorsky."
"I see. All right, if the General will vouch for you then that's good enough for me." He looks at them all keenly. "Don't breathe it to another soul. We don't know how far into the military this corruption may go, but after what we all saw a few years ago, I'm not taking any chances."
"We need to start doing recon as soon as possible. Mustang, you still have your old contacts?"
"Most of them, at least. I'll get in touch with Madame as soon as possible."
"Fine. The rest of you, dismissed - get a good night's sleep. It might be the last one any of us get for a while. We'll reconvene here at 0800."
Friendly goodnights are exchanged among the group, and they slowly start to file out. Grumman detains Roy and Riza; Fullmetal, he notes, lingers near the door. "Roy, call your mother and tell her I'll send a car. You two are staying at the house with me - she can come to dinner and we'll see what information she can give us. I know she can be trusted, so I'll leave it to your discretion how far you want to bring her into the loop."
"Fuhrer Grandfather, sir," says Riza, "if we're staying at the mansion, I have to ask a favor."
"What's that, my dear?"
"Fullmetal, sir. We were only able to persuade his wife to return to Resembool by promising that we - that I - would keep an eye on him."
"Ah! Of course, he's welcome to stay there as well." He beckons to the golden-eyed man, who stops loitering and joins them properly. "After I invited myself to your wedding, I think giving you a few nights' worth of hospitality isn't too much to ask."
"Thank you, sir."
Madame Christmas doesn't have much in the way of information to report, but she's grateful for the sight of her foster son. "Another fever, Roy-boy?"
"It's fine, really. I'm better now; they found the cure I needed."
"Hmm." To Riza she says, "Are you sure you're all right?"
"The girls and I will keep our ears to the ground, but I don't know what we'll find."
"At this point, anything would be a help," Grumman tells her. "We're lucky we got the kids back in one piece."
"The kids?" Roy repeats, looking amused.
"Quiet, you. When are you coming to the new place, Grum? I have your usual in stock."
"I'll keep that in mind. Maybe once this is all sorted and these two are back in Ishval." He sees Roy and Riza exchanging glances, and chuckles quietly. "Let's have dinner."
They do, with Grumman being cheery and playful throughout. It's only after the meal, conversing privately with Madame, that he stops being jovial and gets serious. "You haven't heard anything at all?" he asks her.
"Nothing. I'll check with the girls, but they probably would have told me about it - at the very least, they'd have mentioned that accent if it's as thick as you say."
"We've got the board set up and the best pieces are in formation," he muses, "but it's a lightning round against an unseen opponent. Too many unknown variables at this point. We can't afford any gambits, that's for sure."
"You sound like my son." She gives Grumman a searching look. "They are all right, aren't they?"
"I think so, but I haven't known what happened much longer than you have." He looks troubled. "From everything I've been told, we came damn close to losing them both."
"That's what I thought you were going to say. So what now, Grum?"
"I don't like sitting in a foxhole and waiting for the enemy to make the first move. We're going to have to draw him out." He shakes his head. "I'm getting too old for this."
"This would be a bad time to retire."
"Let myself be stalemated when the game is just beginning? Perish the thought. No," and the Fuhrer's eyes glitter, "no. We'll use this situation to the best advantage we can, Madame. Can I interest you in a game of chess?"
"With you? Always."
"That's how we have to look at what's happening. It's another game of chess." Settling the board on the table between them, he adds, "If we do this right, it might just turn out to be a true brilliancy."
"I will drink to that."