Warnings: Mild blood and language. AU. Hinted Al/Winry.

Author's note: This story was written for one of the 25 Papa!Roy/Ed themes from the Hated_Guardian community on LJ, as posted by mabis. I started writing it before the manga ended and just decided to finish it. Certainly not my best, but I like the concept.

Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to Fullmetal Alchemist, nor am I making any money from this work of fiction.

-#7:Alphonse-


Roy was working late in his office when the telephone rang. "This better be important," he stated in lieu of a formal greeting. Considering the hour, he felt confident that it was not anyone he needed to worry about feigning respect for.

An unpleasant feeling began to coil in his chest as soon as he heard the familiar voice speak on the other end of the line. Somehow, he just knew this would not be one of their usual conversations.

"General…? It's Ed. Look, I need you to do something."

Roy had been too surprised by the boy's solemn tone to make any smug remarks about the sudden request. He knew this was not the time for that. Edward had only asked for his help directly a few times over the years. Whenever he did, it was always something important and rarely was it entirely for himself.

In any case, Roy already knew that he would help the boy in any way he could. "What do you need?"

Ed released a quiet, relived sigh. "Go to the hotel where Al and I were staying. I left a package for you at the front desk…"

Roy frowned in confusion. The unnerving feeling in his chest was growing stronger. "Why would you-?" He cleared his throat and spoke in a more commanding tone, "Fullmetal, what's going on?"

"You'll understand when you open it. I trust you to handle the rest on your own."

Roy was too shocked by the sudden declaration of trust, spoken without the usual edge of sarcasm or irony, to interrupt the sixteen year old.

"And Mustang…? I'm not sorry, not really, but-" There was another small sigh. This was the kind one releases when they have given up on trying to find the right words. "Just understand, it has to be this way."

There was a soft click before a dial tone sounded and Roy realized that Edward had hung up before he could react. He stared at the phone in his hand as though he could somehow will Ed's voice to replace the dull tone resonating through it.

Then Roy's mind caught up and he was out the door and in his car before he was even aware that he had decided to move.

Sure enough, there was a large sealed envelope waiting for Roy at the front desk of the inexpensive little hotel Ed liked to stay in while in Central. The concierge told him that Edward left it for him that morning before leaving with the armored man he always stayed with, and that no one had seen them return.

Still wondering why Edward would not simply tell him whatever it was he needed him to know, the General thanked the concierge and headed to his car. There, Roy wasted no time in opening the envelope. He found a letter inside, as well as what appeared to be a formal report and some blueprints.

The letter was simply addressed 'Roy Mustang' in a familiar hand, and so the raven-haired man opened that first.

Mustang,

I'm going to give Al his body back tomorrow…or tonight, if I just called and told you where to find this. I'm sure it will work, but I don't know that I'm going to be in a position to handle the aftermath, so I'm leaving that to you for now. I want you to know I didn't plan on involving you like this, but there isn't anyone else I can trust to handle it right. /i

Roy paused, unsure of just what he was feeling at that moment. The uneasy feeling was churning in his gut harder now that he knew what the boy was up to, but there was also a sense of gratification swelling in his chest at the fact that Ed had finally decided to trust him…unenthusiastic though his admittances might have been. The General took a deep breath and tried to calm his thoughts as he turned his attention back to the letter.

When I first arrived to take my State Alchemist exam, you told me to tell everyone that I lost my arm and leg during the Eastern Rebellion. Well, everyone bought that, so I figure we should just elaborate on it to explain the rest now. The state knows that my research has included bio-alchemy and Xing's alchemy, so it would make sense that I've been focusing my research on alchemical medicine, right?.

I'm going to say that Al was injured like I was, only he was left with some weak organs instead of missing limbs, and that's what started my quest. Instead of trying to get his body back, we can just say I was trying to heal him. I put together some bogus blueprints with help from Winry, describing the suit that's allowed Al to visit me while I researched.

That's right, 'visit'. We're going to say that Granny Pinako is and has been Al's guardian, but that he just visited me frequently, which is why so many officers met him or saw him sometimes. It would seem weird if you suddenly had another ward that no one knew about and Granny will make sure no one gets any ideas about using Al. The only ones who could really argue with that explanation, once Granny and Winry confirm it, are you and your direct subordinates.

Roy sighed. While there was another show of trust in that last comment, it was clear that Ed's faith in him had its limits…not that he could blame the boy. He knew he hadn't brought Edward into the State Alchemist program with the right intentions. It was also true that with Pinako in charge of the younger Elric, no one could ever misuse Al the way Roy had used Ed. Deciding that it was not the time to let guilt catch up to him, Roy looked over the blueprints.

While he was no expert, Roy could see that the designs would stand up in theory. It appeared that the two child prodigies had combined their arts to devise a portable respiration system and a muscle amplifier similar to Automail, which would allow a very weak person to walk temporarily. Ed and Winry had even included air filters that would account for Al's strange voice and an IV line to account for why he was rarely seen eating.

It did not appear to be something that the average Automail mechanic or alchemist could put together, so it would make sense if another pair were to try and fail at duplicating the device exactly. The kids also added a couple small flaws to the plan, with notes that the suit would require steady maintenance and would only work for relatively short stretches of time without placing the user's health at further risk due to strain.

Roy could not help but be impressed. Aside from the brilliance of the design, it seemed that four years of exposure to the General's machinations had taught Edward a thing or two about creating a viable cover story. With a twinge of pride adding itself to the emotions churning inside of him, he returned to Ed's letter.

I also included a report to you, describing my 'research' and 'goals' and informing you that I was going to put them to the test. They should sound reasonable enough to explain Al's condition, but difficult enough that other alchemists won't try it out for themselves. I saw Al's body that night I fought Gluttony, and it looked weak. Everyone will probably think it was either from his previous condition or a result of the transmutation not being as good as I'd hoped.

If you think anything doesn't sound right, go ahead and change it…just let Al and I know what we need to say if we're asked about it later. I don't want anyone to get suspicious. I won't risk Al getting stuck in a lab.

Roy paused again, this time to glance over Fullmetal's research report. As impressive as the blueprints were, they were nothing compared to the bio-alchemy theories Ed had come up with and -in several places- proven. Mustang briefly considered suggesting that Ed go into alchemical medicine after this, but he quickly decided not to get ahead of himself.

The theories were complex but sound, which did not surprise Roy, and they just managed to toe the line between bio-alchemy and human transmutation. For that reason alone, most alchemists would be too wary to ever test Ed's theories. Any that did would put themselves into a coma from the drain if they tried anything as difficult as what Edward was suggesting. However, it would allow the average alchemist -once they studied the basics of bio-alchemy and physiology- to heal various minor injuries and illnesses, or to perform some impressive first aid that would likely buy the time needed to get an injured person to a doctor.

The military would be quite pleased, doctors and alchemists alike would be amazed, and the people would benefit from the new medical techniques. Roy felt more than a twinge of pride now. He was deeply proud of the boy. With a small, pleased smile on his face, he returned to Ed's letter once more.

The smile dropped almost instantly as the unnerving feeling from earlier decided to rear up again with a vengeance.

If anything happens to me, just play it off as a rebound and make sure Al gets to Resembool. Do not let him become a State Alchemist…ever. If you do, I swear -dead or alive- I will find a way to kick your ass.

Thanks for everything, you bastard General with a god complex. I hate to say it, but I couldn't have done it without you. You might just make a decent fuehrer after all.

~Ed.

Roy quickly stuffed the letter into his breast pocket and drove straight to his office. Once there, he alerted his subordinates and contacts to locate the Elric brothers. He was not surprised to find that they hadn't purchased train tickets, nor had they been seen at the station. Something told him they hadn't gone very far.

The General answered his phone again a little more than an hour after Edward's call, expecting it to be one of his men with another report. He did not expect to hear a frightened and breathless teenager whose voice he could not place.

"I-I need…to speak to…General M-mustang. My brother…gave me this number…in case- In case-"

Roy blinked, suddenly realizing who the owner of the foreign voice was. "Alphonse?"

i"G-General! B-brother said…to call you…if anything…w-went wrong. Ed won't…w-wake up. I-" The teenager swallowed thickly, and Roy suspected that he was swallowing his pride as well as the fluids he was no longer used to producing. "I don't have…the c-coordination…or the strength…to carry him anymore… Please, he's…bl-bleeding to death! I ca-"

"Where are you?" Mustang interrupted the boy. His heart felt like it was trying to jump out of his chest and his stomach seemed to have dropped to the floor. "Just tell me that and keep pressure on Fullmetal's wounds. I'll take care of the rest."

"O-okay. We're at…T-tucker's old house. We knew it…was empty and out…of the way…but close enough…to get help…and Ed-"

"All right Alphonse, just save your strength and do what you can for your brother. I'm on my way." Roy was walking out the door and barking out orders before Al had hung up the phone on his end. "Breda, Hawkeye! Follow me…we're getting Fullmetal and his brother. Fuery, contact the hospital."

Several hours later found Roy pacing the hospital's pristine hallway, ignoring the feeling of déjà vu. Ed had been hospitalized more times over the past four years than Roy cared to think about. However, this time was different, because this time, no one could guess what had happened to the boy.

Roy did not know how the gate that Edward told him about worked, but he never wanted to experience anything like it if that was what one had to pay for it's knowledge. The boy had somehow lost his Automail -ports and all. Roy would never forget the sight of a pale, shaking Edward -sans two limbs- lying in a large puddle of his own blood. Roy thought he might have been fine if he had seen the same fire in Ed's eyes that had been there upon their first meeting, but the boy was unconscious, which worried him even more. From what he had heard, Edward remained conscious the first time he lost his limbs.

The only thing that Roy knew for certain was that whatever Ed had done and gone through to get his brother's body back, he had succeeded.

Alphonse was suffering from mild atrophy and borderline malnutrition, but otherwise seemed to be perfectly fine. The doctor who spoke to Roy expected that the younger Elric would be able to leave the hospital soon, although it could take a year for him to fully recover. Of course, the physical presence and current condition of Alphonse Elric led to the next issue that the two teenagers had foreseen.

As Edward's guardian, Roy was the only person who needed to be contacted about or involved in anything concerning Ed's condition…but the hospital staff needed to find the legal guardian of Alphonse as well. Ed had been right; it would seem odd to suddenly claim Roy had a second charge that had never come up over the years, and it was clearly Ed's wish to send Al back to Resembool to recover. Besides, Roy knew the Rockbells would care for the newly healed teen and they would need an Automail engineer for Ed once he was well enough to undergo the surgery again.

Therefore, Roy did the only thing he could; he named Pinako Rockbell as Alphonse's guardian and gave the nurse at the front desk the Automail Engineer's phone number.

"Excuse me, General Mustang?"

Roy paused in his pacing and musing to turn to a nervous-looking doctor McCabe. He wondered if perhaps he had been a little too forceful when he, Havoc, and Hawkeye came in with Edward and Alphonse.

"We've just finished up with Edward…he's been stabilized. I know you requested a private room for him and Alphonse, but I wasn't sure whether you meant one room for both boys or a private room for each?"

"Put them together." Realizing how dominating he probably sounded to the already flustered physician, Roy added a brief explanation. "They'll only hurt themselves trying to reach each other if you separate them."

The doctor smiled slightly at that response. "Very well…it will only be a few minutes before you can see Edward then. One of the nurses was able to contact Mrs. Rockbell, but she will not be able to arrive until sometime tomorrow, I'm afraid. The nurse said the poor dear sounded rather startled to hear of Alphonse's condition."

Roy felt a hint of a smirk pull at his lips, "I'll bet she was." His mouth straightened abruptly as he spoke again. "What can you tell me about Edward's condition?"

Dr. McCabe's expression sobered immediately as well. "I cannot hazard a guess at to what removed his Automail like that. His wounds didn't even look the way I would expect them too, judging by how he lost them in the war. It's like parts of him just…disappeared.

"In addition to the shock and blood loss, his body is completely exhausted and malnourished. Whatever he went through tonight, it took its toll on him." The doctor frowned deeply and Roy wondered that the man would never know just how right he was. "If his body is this strained, I can only imagine the state his mind will be in when he wakes. You may want to consider-"

Roy interrupted coolly once he knew where the other man was going with his suggestion. "I'll consider and make arrangements for whatever Edward needs once he's awake and I can see for myself how he's doing, thank you."

Dr. McCabe seemed a little unnerved by Roy's sudden return to his commanding, no-nonsense tone, but he quickly regained his professionalism. "Of course; I apologize. I know you'll take proper care of the boy. You've always shown so much concern for him in the past. I imagine you must be rather anxious to see him."

Roy frowned slightly; he had always thought he kept his concern for Edward hidden well. Of course there were a couple of occasions when he slipped. That had been enough for his closest subordinates to figure it out, and naturally Hughes had been able to tell from the get go, but that was different from a doctor who had only seen him a dozen times at most.

A nurse approached them then, smiling coyly at Roy as soon as she laid eyes on him. She handed the doctor a file without even looking at the man. "Edward is all set up, Doctor There's no change in his condition. Margaret volunteered to help Alphonse get cleaned up; she's with them now."

Dr. McCabe looked confused by the nurse's behavior for a moment, before he rolled his eyes and looked over the file she had handed him. He nodded to himself, satisfied, before speaking. "Very well, General Mustang, you may see your ward now. Nurse, show the General to Edward's room and then see to your other patients."

Roy followed the nurse to the private room, not paying any mind to her attempts at flirtation. Fortunately, she seemed to understand that he was simply too concerned about Edward to notice her. She smiled when they reached the door. "I looked over his file, you know. He's a tough little guy. You shouldn't worry so much."

Roy nodded and offered her a weak smile before entering the room. His eyes found Edward immediately. The teenager was still pale and unconscious, but now that he was cleaned and bandaged, he looked more like the determined young alchemist Roy had come to know. He had to agree with the nurse; the kid had survived worse…he would pull through.

Roy sighed and approached the blonde's bed. Some machinery nearby told him that the boy's pulse and breathing were strong and steady. He took his gloves off and laid one hand over Ed's only remaining one.

Even though he doubted he would wake the boy, and quite honestly would like to have him conscious to answer a few questions, Roy lowered his voice when he spoke. "You always find new ways to torment me, don't you, Edward?"

"They always do," said a kind, elderly voice from the other side of the room.

Roy turned and saw an elderly nurse with a mothering smile, holding a tub that was filled with shampoo, a sponge, scissors, and a large amount of long, matted hair. The tag on her uniform read Margaret and Roy recalled what the other nurse had said before showing him to the room.

Obsidian eyes darted past the nurse to the other bed in the room, where a teenage boy with freshly cut and cleaned hair was watching Roy curiously.

Roy had seen a few photographs of the Elrics when he first met the boys after their failed transmutation five years prior. He had not bothered to truly study them, but had seen enough to know that Edward had his father's coloring painted over his mother's features. Alphonse, he now knew, was the exact opposite. Although his large bronze eyes matched his hair perfectly just as Ed's golden ones matched his own locks.

Roy looked to the nurse before she could think that he was staring. The woman looked at Alphonse fondly as she spoke. "Quite the improvement, isn't it? He looks like a proper little gentleman now."

Al hid a snort under a cough and Roy just caught himself before he could arch an eyebrow. While the word 'little' fit Edward -despite his protests- the word certainly was not meant to describe Alphonse. The teen was clearly several centimeters taller and notably broader than his older brother. The corner of both the conscious males' mouths turned up at the thought of how Edward would react to that fact.

"It is definitely more suiting," Roy stated with a nod to the nurse. "You did an excellent job."

"I cut my husband's and son's hair for years," commented Margaret with a beaming smile as she handed Alphonse a small mirror.

"It shows," Al stated with a grin as he looked over his reflection. Roy noticed that the teenager's eyes studied his own face as much as his hair. Finally, the teen handed the mirror back to the nurse. "Thank you."

With another smile and some mothering words to Al about calling if he needed anything, Margaret left the room to allow Roy some privacy with the boys. As soon as the door closed behind her, Roy turned back to Edward, even as he addressed Alphonse. "You're voice is deeper."

"Yeah…I guess I got to skip the whole change process that Ed had to go through," commented the teen. His voice was rough, but Roy was not sure if that were due to his unused vocal chords or if it was natural. A moment of silence passed before the bronze-eyed teen broke it. "Erm…General?"

"Hmm?"

"Do you know what happened?"

"You mean, tonight?" Roy turned his head to look at Al; the boy nodded. "I received a call and a letter from Fullmetal. Between those and the condition we found both of you in, I know enough…for now. I'll be asking your brother a few questions when he recovers though."

Alphonse nodded again. "Why didn't you call Dr Knox when you found us?"

"Is that what you expected me to do?"

Another nod followed before Al added, "Well, not Ed."

Roy grinned down at the slumbering blonde beside him. "He really did think this through beforehand…about damn time he learned to do that." His gaze flickered to the door before resting on the sleeping boy again. "This way, the hospital records will further back our statements when the time comes that someone might want to question what happened."

Roy did not add his thoughts that Edward's story and false records were so thorough he had not needed to worry about explanations for their condition. Not that that would have stopped him from bringing them in if they needed treatment, but it would have been harder to come up with a story on the spot and then back it up on his own.

Roy did not trust to chance such a statement being overheard, not while the military was still adjusting to new commanders and so many were competing to fill in the gap left after they had cleared out all the corrupted officers. Instead, he gently squeezed Ed's hand and smiled slightly when the unconscious boy sighed.

He heard Al yawn tiredly. "You should get some sleep, Alphonse. You need to regain your strength and I'm sure you'll want to be well rested when Mrs and Miss Rockbell arrive tomorrow."

Roy could hear the grin in Al's voice when he replied. "I wonder what Winry will think of me now…" Another yawn sounded before Roy could hear the teen getting comfortable in the crisp hospital bed. "You'll keep an eye on Ed…?"

Roy didn't know if the younger Elric meant for the night, for the duration of Edward's recovery, for the remainder of the young alchemist's term of service, or even something more permanent. As he watched Ed sleep, Roy knew the answer was the same in any case.

"I will."