A/N: Thank you to everybody who helped me with this and left awesome reviews, you guys are so awesome!
The body of this story has now been replaced with the edited/slightly rewritten version that was submitted to the fanfiction contest at Tsubasacon 2008. I'm happy to say that with everyone's help I managed to get second place! XD Not too bad considering I'd never written parental!RoyEd before...So, yes, thanks again everyone! Have fun reading it!
Disclaimer: it makes me want to cry sometimes, but I don't own FMA.
It was a Tuesday, two days after the Elrics had arrived in Central for Edward's annual assessment. Roy had often found that lunch was a convenient excuse to leave his desk behind without Lieutenant Hawkeye coming after him. If he were eating, she gave him at least ten minutes of peace. His morning so far had not been pleasant by any means and he sat in a rather empty corner of the mess, frowning slightly over the cramp in his right hand. The place was relatively empty, as it was still early in the afternoon and the clatter of dishes was minimal.
Roy was just finishing a large chunk of what he hoped was hamburger when he glanced up to see a familiar head of gold hair making its way closer to his table. The boy's eyes were set on another empty table next to Roy's and he watched as Edward ambled past him with an odd, weaving walk, not bothering to notice his commanding officer sitting two feet away from him. Roy couldn't resist the opportunity for a small pick-me-up.
"You're looking a bit unsteady, Fullmetal." Edward slowly paused, the movement somewhat delayed as he turned. He blinked and squinted a little, as if he were trying to look through a hazy window. He was having trouble focusing. Roy supposed the boy's mind was elsewhere, as it so often was. "What's the problem? Tray too big and heavy for you?"
Edward's gaze sharpened, a glare surfacing as he drew in a breath. Roy cringed inwardly, preparing himself for the familiar tirade he had earned. He was mildly surprised when the air Edward drew in was huffed back out through his nose. The glare deepened, and Roy noticed vaguely that the circles under the boy's eyes were dark next to his pale skin.
"Don't screw with me...m'not in the mood..."
"You're never in a good mood."
"Sure I am. Just not when you're around." Roy watched the boy sway slightly where he stood, his speech slurring a little. "Dunno what it is...something about your face always ruins my day." He grinned faintly, but it slid away as Edward felt himself droop a little and shook himself. "So...how long are you picking on me? I got stuff to do."
"I can go as long as you can, Fullmetal. We've got the whole day ahead of us." Edward was silent. He stared down at his tray, casting the food a look of annoyance as he swayed a little again. His response this time seemed to take a little more effort.
"...I don't..." He trailed off, seemingly unable to utter anything more.
"Is something wrong?" Roy's smirk faded, worry slowly creeping into his mind as he noted the way Edward had suddenly quieted. He knew something was wrong now, and frowned as he watched the boy shake his head slowly.
"M'fine...I just can't...head's kinda fuzzy." He fell silent. Roy watched as he stood and stared blankly at his food for several long minutes. He was beginning to wonder if Edward had forgotten the conversation was happening when suddenly the tray slid from his hands and clattered loudly to the floor. Edward ignored it as he stood blinking confusedly at his superior. His pale face was blank as he stumbled forward a step and tilted to fall into a crumpled heap on the floor.
"Edward?" With a jolt of panic, Roy surged to his feet. The boy didn't move as he crouched next to him and reached out to push him onto his side. Edward rolled back into place when he pulled away. "Edward!" He called again. There was no response. The shadowy circles beneath his eyes were much more prominent up close, Roy noticed as he shifted to get a hold of the boy's small body. Edward looked as if he hadn't slept properly in weeks, and his face scrunched together as he groaned in response to the sudden contact.
"Ngh...go 'way..." The voice was scratchy and hoarse. Roy frowned and shook his head, seizing Edward's arms with the intention of pulling him up. He forgot, however, to account for the extra weight of the boy's metal limbs and he had to try to pull the boy upright several times before he managed to hoist Edward from the floor. I'm going to need a chiropractor after this, he thought a little irritably. Struggling to maneuver him, Roy soon carried the boy with one arm behind Edward's back and the other under his knees. Quickly, his eyes scanned across the room, seeking out a familiar, trustworthy face that he could entrust the boy to.
The clattering tray had attracted a fair amount of attention. Curious stares came from the surrounding tables, but no one moved to offer assistance. Roy stood and stared back at them, inwardly cursing at them, until the characteristic din began to fill the room once more. For one brief moment he almost felt the beginnings of panic as he realized that he didn't quite know where to take the boy. His continued glancing around almost frantically for several moments. Relief flooded him as he spotted his lieutenant, Riza Hawkeye, weaving around the tables toward him, her face twisted into a frown.
"Sir," she greeted simply. Her gaze flickered to Edward and one thin eyebrow rose questioningly. "What happened?" She moved to take the boy's face into her hands, peering thoughtfully at him as she felt his forehead and cheeks.
"He just dropped. He was standing here talking to me–kid looked terrible–and he just...dropped." Riza gave him a nod and stepped away, satisfied.
"He looks tired...he's not feverish...my guess would be that he's exhausted. I think we should assume that's the problem until he wakes up and we can talk to him about it. You should take him back to his hotel, let him get some rest." Riza was a sensible woman, and more often than not, she was right about these sorts of things, which was something Roy knew very well. He nodded back to her and moved to the door, Riza trailing after him as she cast a reproachful frown toward the crowd watching them go.
A short while later they found themselves confronted with a very upset suit of armor. The sight of his older brother limp in the arms of his commanding officer worried Alphonse the moment the hotel room door was open. "Brother! What's going on? What happened to him!?"
"Al, let us in."
"Your brother just needs to get some rest," Riza soothed as Roy pushed his way into the room, crossing silently to the bed against the far wall. She could hear the younger Elric shaking, a faint rattle echoing somewhere inside him. Smiling reassuringly, she curled her arm around his.
"What's wrong with him?"
"Alphonse," Riza called to him gently, pulling his attention away from the bed. The hulking boy turned bodily to face her, but his helmet stared away from her. Riza called to him again, and the glow of his eyes swivelled hesitantly to look down at her.
"Edward's fine, he's just...very tired. Now...he and the colonel didn't get a chance to eat lunch. Why don't you and I go find them some food? Something better than they'd get in the mess." He looked at her silently for a moment before his gaze drifted to the bed again. Roy was swearing and trying to pull off Edward's boots. "Alphonse, I don't know what sort of food your brother likes. I need your help..."
"...He'll eat anything..."
"Come help me anyway. It won't do much good for you to stand around waiting for him. At least this will help the time pass, right?" She smiled again and he looked a little less worried. "He'll probably be awake before we get back."
"Of course, Al." Gently, Riza tugged at him and he moved reluctantly toward the door.
"O-okay...if you're sure."
Left alone in the silent hotel room, Roy stood uncertainly over the small bed. He had expected Hawkeye to follow and lend a hand, but instead she had decided to set herself to the task of distracting the younger brother. That left him to deal with Edward. It was a good thing the kid was unconscious.
He looked down at the bed. The covers had been kicked onto the floor at the foot of the bed, and he wondered vaguely how many days they had lain there. This made things slightly easier for him and he sighed as he bent to retrieve the thin blankets. At least he wouldn't have to wrestle them out from underneath Edward. The boy never stirred as he flapped them out over his body.
Roy felt that he was finished (what else was there to do, really?), but he knew he couldn't really leave yet. Hawkeye would tear him apart if he didn't at least wait for her. It probably wasn't a good idea to leave Edward unattended either, just in case something happened. Sighing again (and feeling quite irritated), he pulled a small stool from where it had stood inconspicuously in the corner across from the foot of the bed. Edward had made the stool himself, Roy guessed from the gaudy skull motif flowing along the legs. He couldn't help rolling his eyes a little. Maybe one days he'd help the kid refine his taste in decor. Situating it next to the wall and the bedside, Roy perched himself on it carefully, noting with glee that it was much too small for a full-sized adult such as himself.
With nothing better to do, he let his eyes roam over the room. A window was positioned above the bed, with dark curtains pulled across to firmly block the cheerful sun outside. They cast a soft darkness over the room. The space inhabited by the Elric brothers was surprisingly clean. A few papers littering the small table in the center of the room and a wadded up shirt on the floor were the only visible signs that someone had was staying there. There was also an old, battered suitcase leaning against the bedside. Edward and Alphonse had little to no possessions between them, Roy reminded himself. It shouldn't have been a surprise that they were cleaner than most kids their age.
Eventually his gaze fell back to Edward. The kid still looked terrible, despite the sleep that held his face in quiet repose. The circles beneath his eyes had not lightened and Roy couldn't help wondering if they were actually bruises. He winced mentally. The whole situation was a little unsettling. Edward was always so lively despite the burdens he carried. Those burdens were probably what was causing him to do this to himself, the reason he had reached his breaking point. How stupid of him...
A frown twisted itself onto Roy's face and he scooted his stool a little to rest his back against the wall, his head falling back to bump gently against it. Listening to the soft wheeze of breath in the bed, he waited.
Riza tried not to look too doubtful as she stared into the shopping basket hanging from her arm. Cookies, potato chips, instant noodles...she felt like she might as well be buying a pound of sugar and a bar of soap to feed Edward. It would probably have the same effect on his body as all this other stuff. Should he really be eating this way? Her brow furrowed slightly as she glanced up to Alphonse. "Does your brother usually eat like this?" she asked. The armor next to her was picking carefully through a shelf, searching for a box of vanilla wafers that wasn't dented or crumpled. After a quiet moment he looked back down at her, the light of his eyes dimming a little as he considered the basket's contents.
"Well...these are all things he likes...usually, though, he eats in the mess hall when we're here. Like today."
"And what about when you're traveling?"
"Sometimes we stop at restaurants or inns, but most of the time Brother just takes what he can get. He likes to save money when we can."
"I see." Riza nodded to herself. It made more sense, hearing these things from Alphonse. Edward, like most teenage boys, wasn't picky about what went into his mouth. The problem was, it didn't seem that much was making it far enough to be in his mouth. Now, Alphonse was simply picking out foods that he knew his brother enjoyed, rather than things he would actually need. Riza couldn't help smiling at the thought. It was sweet that he wanted to please his big brother like that. Still, she had to work something healthy into that basket. "Alphonse? Are there any foods your brother likes that are good for him?"
"Um..." Thinking for a moment, he found some undamaged wafers and dropped a small box into the basket. "He likes apples."
"Good." Briskly, Riza turned and set off along the aisle. He followed her obediently, clanking loudly. A few turns brought them to a non-descript corner of the small market where several tables were piled with fruits and vegetables. She scanned over the tomatoes, carrots, and bananas before coming upon a small pile of apples. "Ah, here. Alphonse." He moved to stand next to her. "You should get these for Edward once in awhile, since he likes them. At his age he should have plenty of foods like this. The red ones are best, just as long as...Al?" She had been rifling through the pile when she paused to glance toward the boy beside her. The light of his eyes had faded to the point of being nearly invisible and he stood with his helmet bowed slightly.
He wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to her. For a moment he had let his mind drift away from what he was doing, and suddenly all sorts of unpleasant scenarios were swirling through his mind. They said Edward was tired...but what if he was sick? What if it would take weeks for him to get over this? What if (he barely dared to let this thought form) he didn't recover? It wasn't smart, he knew, to dwell on those sorts of things, they would only make him panic but they came unbidden. He could hear himself begin to tremble. Riza turned to face him. Frowning, she reached up and gently tapped her knuckles against his breastplate. "Alphonse!"
"Oh! Um..." Giving a small start, he shook his head slowly from side to side as if to clear it. He lifted a gauntlet to rub sheepishly at his helmet, relieved that she had pulled him from his thoughts. "Are you alright?"
"I'm sorry, Lieutenant. I was just thinking. I'm worried about Brother...Do you think he's doing any better?"
"I'm sure he's fine." Riza smiled and turned back to the fruit. "And the colonel's there with him. He's not alone, so you don't need to worry."
Helpfully, Alphonse turned away to retrieve a small paper bag, which he held open for her. "But...aren't you always saying he's incompetent?"
Riza stifled a laugh and took the bag from him, twisting the end neatly together. "I do say that, but he's not completely useless. Now, we should find something with protein. He likes meat, doesn't he?" Alphonse nodded and for a moment his worry seemed to pass. The two of them set off down the aisles together.
Roy wasn't aware that he had dozed off until a soft groan roused him. Blearily he stretched, loosening the kink in his neck that had developed from sleeping at an odd angle. His eyes felt impossibly heavy as he glanced around the room, his gaze falling across the gently shifting form next to him. He was fully awake in an instant when the day's events filtered quickly back into his mind.
"Uhn...Al?" Edward's soft voice drifted toward him, its usually bright tone dull and clouded. The lack of response from Roy's end seemed to worry the boy and he called again a little louder. When there was no answer yet again he seemed to decide that he was alone. He breathed a barely audible sigh. "Jeez...'m so tired..."
"It's no wonder. Someone of your size should take better care of themself. You've only got so much energy in that little body of yours." Roy quipped. The bump under the covers that was Edward stiffened.
"'Crap' doesn't even begin to cover it." Roy couldn't help the small burst of anger he felt. The kid caused enough problems for the rest of them, did he have to cause them for himself too? Several quiet curses were muffled by Edward's pillow. Thinking to play the role of the responsible adult (which wasn't something he did often) Roy crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. "Edward." Real names always seemed to have a certain power over children. Roy had received his fair share of such warning signs in his younger days and he found it quite satisfying to see the Fullmetal Alchemist tense at the address. "Look at me, Edward."
"Edward, do you really want me to physically drag you out of bed so I can look you in the face? I will." A sigh, huffy and irritated, blew out at him. Slowly, Edward turned, and Roy saw the bleary amber eyes glaring at him through the mess that was the boy's bangs. "What is the matter with you?" he couldn't help snapping at him, even though he knew it would only provoke the boy into being more contrary. Edward's eyes narrowed.
"What is it now, you idiot?"
"Do you have any idea what you've been doing?"
"Of course I-"
"You collapsed in the middle of the mess today, I had to carry you here, Hawkeye's out trying to keep Al distracted so he doesn't go into a panic over you...how can you be so stupid!? Honestly!" His voice was rising with every word. Some of it was anger, some of it was annoyance, but most of it was concern. A small notion was tugging at the back of his mind. Has he been in this condition while he was dealing with all those assignments I sent him out on? He couldn't even make it to the table for lunch!
"I...collapsed?" Edward asked quietly. Roy paused at the soft sound, slightly surprised by the worried expression that passed over what he could see of the boy's face. Edward closed his eyes, thinking. "Nope...don't remember that one."
"That's no surprise. From the look of you, you were barely functioning."
"I can't believe this! Wait...why did you carry me? Don't do it again, pervert, don't ever touch me again!" His face reddened beneath the blanket. Roy supposed that the words were meant to vent his embarrassment over being carried like a little kid. At least he was well enough to get upset.
"Stop being childish."
"I'm not!" he snapped, his face scrunching in annoyance. The covers fell away as he squirmed and flipped over again, turning his back on Roy. For the briefest of moments, Edward's face had flashed into sight and Roy was able to catch a glimpse. The boy's brow was creased with worry and his amber eyes clouded with guilt. It was an expression he wore often and one Roy had come to know very well. It was the face of someone who knew they were doing something wrong, but didn't intend to do anything about it. It was strange, but seeing that expression made the small, burning anger inside Roy Mustang turn into a hollow ache..
Roy was definitely not good at this sort of thing, especially when he was dealing with kids. There was no sense arguing with Edward. They were both so stubborn that it would accomplish nothing. He sat quietly for a moment, watching the boy across from him curl in on himself, cursing brokenly into his pillow. It was time to calm down and actually handle the situation.
"Ed?" he called quietly as he leaned forward to grip the boy by his small shoulder.
"Ed...when was the last time you got a full night's sleep?" It wasn't hard, Roy noticed somewhere in the back of his mind, to suddenly speak so gently. Edward ignored him. He shook the boy's shoulder lightly. "Hey..."
"I don't know, okay?" Edward snapped without looking at him. "A...a couple weeks? Maybe a month? I don't always have time for that sort of thing. I take naps once in a while when I can get a chance."
Once in a while? Worry knotted itself around Roy's stomach for what felt like the fiftieth time that day. "And when was the last time you ate?"
"A bite or two doesn't count. I mean when was the last time that you had a real meal?" An irritated growl filtered through the blanket. Roy ignored it long enough that the boy gave in and answered.
"Few days...three maybe. I don't really get much chance to do that, either."
The soft tone of his voice shook a little, though whether from anger or exhaustion Roy couldn't honestly tell. He could see what was happening now. Lack of sleep and food was wearing the boy down. Pushing himself this hard, it was really only a matter of time before something like this happened. "Edward?"
"Will you let me ask you something?"
"That's gonna depend on the question."
"Ed...why are you doing this to yourself?" An inward cringe seized Roy and he braced himself, waiting for the fit he was sure would come. He knew the boy would refuse to talk about it, would demand that the subject be dropped immediately because it just wasn't any of his business. Any number of ridiculous (and somehow perfectly reasonable) responses would come flying at him. The only thing that came at him, however, was a soft, almost inaudible sigh.
"It's not important." There was something in the way he said it that sent warning signals off in Roy's head. Whatever it was, it was definitely important.
"Isn't it?" Roy reached out again to take his shoulder. Edward shook him off.
"Don't touch me..."
"Okay, fine." Silence fell over them again. For several minutes both of their eyes stared unseeing through a crack in the dark curtains. When Edward spoke again, the words were so faint that the older man almost missed them.
"Alphonse?" Edward shifted a little and nodded. "What do you mean?"
"I...it's not like I'm depriving myself out of guilt or anything like that, so don't bother starting on that." Slowly, he moved to sit up. His weary body dragged until he had positioned himself with his back against the headboard and his legs pulled to his chest. He propped his arms on his knees, casting an occasional glance toward the older man. "It's more like..." He trailed off, thinking for a moment. "I can't leave him alone."
"You wouldn't leave your brother, we all know that."
"No, that's not what I mean!" The snap in his voice wasn't entirely intentional. It was more habit than anything, but he reigned it in instantly. "I mean at night. He can't sleep. I know he tries not to let me know, but how can I not notice? He's always been the kind to get lonely easily, you know? Having to sit up all night by himself...I just can't stand making him do that."
"It's good of you to try to take care of him like that." Roy offered. The ache in his chest warmed for a moment. What was that? Pride, maybe? He wasn't sure. All he received in return for the compliment was a scowl. "But that doesn't explain you not eating."
Edward dipped his head, resting his forehead against his arms. "Yeah...that. To be honest, it's nothing to worry about. Sometimes I just get so focused on things that I forget."
"For three days?"
"Yeah. There's so much to do, and I'm trying to get it done as fast as I can. Not just for Al, but for the both of us, really. The sooner I fix things, the sooner I can get away from you people and live like we're normal...I just keep thinking...hoping...We could have a home, stay in one place for more than a few days. I'd be willing to give up a lot more than a few meals for that."
"That's what you've been doing, Edward."
"What?" Wide amber eyes turned on him and Roy mentally kicked himself.
"You've always known that this wasn't going to be easy. A kid your age should never have to deal with this stuff."
"I'm not a-"
"I know, I know." Roy smiled, in spite of the weight of the situation. Propping his chin on his arms, Edward narrowed his eyes into a light glare. "I'm really not very good at this sort of thing. You know: talking." The boy gave a small, amused snort. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, well...even with all the things you're doing and facing, Ed, you still need to take care of yourself. You're not getting any rest, you're not feeding yourself...if you keep it up you can do some serious damage to yourself. Would you really do that with your brother depending on you? Not only that, but looking up to you, as well? He probably won't tell you, but I'm sure it hurts him to see you in such bad shape. He worries constantly, he doesn't need this too."
It felt to Roy like he was giving a speech. He wasn't used to expressing concern for others, but from the way that the boy next to him slowly lifted his head and stared at him, he supposed it must have had some feeling in it. He was glad.
"Why do you care?" The question was unexpected and it caught him off guard. He knew Edward well enough to know that it was a bad idea to admit that it was because there was no one else to care about them. No mother, no father, not even a legal guardian. And Father figures (including the one that was still active in his life) weren't high on Edward's list of tolerable life forms anyway.
While Roy had been considering all this, Edward's chin had dropped back to his arms and he looked away. "Thought so."
"Don't want one of your pawns killing himself off, do you?"
"Edward, you know that's not it."
Roy sighed and rubbed his temples, suddenly tempted to lose his patience. This wasn't a direction he wanted this conversation to go. "Believe it or not, Edward, I actually care about what happens to you. Your brother too. All of us do. You may not realize it, but there are a lot of people supporting you..."
"Look, just drop it, okay? I really don't want to deal with this right now."
"No, I won't drop it. Not until you start taking care of yourself again." Edward sighed and scooted down into the bed, curling further in on himself and staring at the older man. A scowl crossed his face, but it was faint as his irritation faded into weariness.
"Ed...you should at least do it for your brother." Edward hesitated, working it over in his head and Roy knew he'd hit on the right tactic. It was unfortunate that he hadn't thought of it earlier instead of keeping Edward awake with questions.
"Taking care of myself...in other words...remembering to eat and sleeping a little more?"
"A lot more."
"What makes you think I'm going to do any of that...stuff?" Edward was starting to droop again, much as he had earlier. Roy was glad that there was no swaying and slurring speech this time around and that the boy was safely in bed.
"I know you will. You're not that stupid."
"...Jerk." Roy grinned and watched the boy's amber eyes attempt to glare at him. The effect was somewhat lost when they closed involuntarily for several seconds.
"Go to sleep. I'll wake you when Hawkeye gets back with the food." Edward grunted sourly as Roy reached out to ruffle his hair. Within seconds they had fallen silent and Edward gave in to sleep. For what seemed a very long time Roy stared at the peacefully sleeping boy he was trying to take care of. The warmth in his chest was glowing a little brighter. A soft smile remained on his face until footsteps sounded in the hall outside the door and he expertly rearranged his expression into one of boredom. He turned as Riza and Alphonse edged quietly into the room, their arms cradling several small bags.
"Oh good, you brought the entire market home with you." He whispered. There was no need, Edward was deep enough in sleep that they could have been yelling across the room at one another and he wouldn't have noticed.
"No, just a few things." Alphonse corrected, completely missing the sarcastic observation. Roy rolled his eyes as Riza set her bags aside and tiptoed to his side.
"He woke up long enough to smart off to me. Dozed off again a few minutes ago." Riza leaned forward to look more closely at the boy, her elegant fingers gently brushing his hair from his face.
"That's good. I'm glad he's getting his rest, at least."
"You taking care of lunch, lieutenant?"
She made a face at him. "Not for you, I'm not...Noodles and chicken for Edward, though. Maybe an apple pie. I hear it's his favorite." She lingered over the still form of Edward for several seconds, pushing and stroking at his hair. Alphonse was busying himself in the small kitchenette near the door and she took the opportunity to both mother Edward and cast several long, interested glances in Roy's direction.
"What?" he asked, finally noticing. She cocked her head, appearing entirely innocent despite the glimmer of approval in her face.
"Your face is different," she said. He stared blankly at her. "I think you may have been enjoying yourself sitting here with Edward.." Riza had a knack for making observations that were not far off the mark. This was one of those observations. Roy scoffed instantly.
"Me? Enjoying babysitting this brat? I thought you knew me, Lieutenant."
"I do know you. That's the problem sometimes." Riza sighed as if he were trying her patience and pulled away from Edward, leaving to help Alphonse put together a decent meal for his brother. He watched her go before looking back toward the bed. The boy was deep in sleep now, his face smooth and calm. It was rare to see him relaxed at all, let alone totally unguarded. Roy didn't notice the smile return to his face, nor did it occur to him that it was only there because of the reckless thirteen year old child in front of him. He did know, however, that of all the pressing things he had left undone that day, none of them could compare in importance to the child curling in on himself beneath the thin blankets that shielded him from the world.