Title: Sleepless
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G.
Characters: Mustang and Alphonse. (Parental!Roy!)
Setting: First anime, not long after Ed became a State Alchemist.
Summary: Mustang finds an unlikely common ground with Alphonse.
Disclaimer: They belong to Hiromu Arakawa. I’m just playing with them.
Notes: Stories that depict Mustang having a fatherly relationship toward Ed are very common, and it’s something I love—but I’ve noticed those fics almost always tend to leave Al out of the equation. It’s a pity, because I think it would be fascinating to explore how Mustang’s paternal impulses toward Al would be both similar and different. This is an attempt on my part to do just that.

 

Sleepless

 

Roy Mustang started awake with a gasp, the ungloved fingers of his right hand tightening for a reflexive, panicked attempt at a snap—only to be thwarted by the pen clenched in his grasp.

It took a few seconds for the disorientation of waking to pass. His heart was hammering, and his stomach felt a little sick. He blinked and sighed and rubbed his stubble-shadowed jaw with his left hand, glancing around the room with a guilty awkwardness, even though no one was there to witness his lapse of self-possession.

He was alone at his desk in his own office. He wasn’t back there. It had all been years ago now…

But still he felt the heat of desert air and blazing flames, the grit of sand and the stickiness of blood, as if it had been only a moment ago.

Roy swore inwardly. He could always tell when it was going to be one of his bad nights, and this was the worst in months. He was glad he had dismissed Lieutenant Hawkeye—he glanced at the clock on the opposite wall—nearly two hours earlier. With the exception of Maes Hughes, she understood these nights as no one else did, but he still didn’t like having her around to see them.

This was the real reason why he often dozed and dawdled through the day, only to spend the night with the paperwork that still waited to be done. It was an excuse not to go home, not to lie on his bed in the dark, while his unconscious mind painted the inside of his eyelids with blood and fire.

Even so, it still crept up on him sometimes.

Scowling with vague and futile anger at himself, Roy dropped his gaze to the papers in front of him—and then he swore out loud. In his waking flinch, he had evidently dragged his pen across the half-completed requisition form, trailing a long black slash of ink over its surface. He would have to redo the whole thing.

First things first. He wasn’t going to get anything done without more coffee.

Slowly Roy stood up, stretching his arms and rolling his shoulders to work out the kinks from the cramped position he had drowsed off in. He picked up his cup that now contained only cold dregs of coffee from hours earlier, and exited his office, heading for the briefing room down the hall where the nearest coffeepot was located. He always hated the coffee he made himself—Hawkeye did it so much better—but at this hour of the night, it was likely his only chance of getting anything fresh.

As he stepped out of his office, he could see that the light in the briefing room was on, and the door stood open. Raising a curious eyebrow, he moved down the hallway, and peered inside.

For a brief moment, the room did not register as occupied at all, because his not-fully-awake mind was slow to recognize the inert mass of metal at the table as a person… but then he realized his error, with a flash of startled guilt.

“Alphonse,” he murmured huskily, as he edged into the room with an odd feeling of hesitation.

At the sound of Roy’s voice, the huge suit of armor ceased to be inanimate, roused from a deep concentration on the documents spread over the table. The steel hull straightened, the chin of its helmet lifting to angle a glance upward, and Mustang felt his eyes make contact with the presence that glimmered behind the eye slits.

“Oh—Lieutenant Colonel Mustang.” Alphonse Elric’s disconcertingly childlike voice resonated from the steel monster, and with a noisy clatter he rose from his chair, offering a small bow. “Good evening, sir.”

“More like morning,” Roy corrected with a hollow smile, gesturing for Al to resume his seat. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

In point of fact, Roy had known Edward Elric and his younger brother were back in town. If he hadn’t spent a sizable chunk of the afternoon trying to dredge a report out of Fullmetal with a minimum of attitude (both Ed’s and his), he might have gotten a refreshing enough nap to stave off his lurking night horrors. He was only surprised to see Al because, at that hour, he had thought both boys would be settled in the officers’ barracks.

Al shrugged slightly and sat down, armor plates scraping. “Brother wanted to look up some information, but he was tired after the long trip here and his report to you—so I’m doing it for him. I can tell him what I’ve found in the morning.”

Roy stifled a derisive noise on his way to the coffeepot. He wasn’t sure tiredness was really a defensible excuse for a military officer to be as cranky as Ed had been earlier… but then, the kid was only twelve years old. He probably had an early bedtime.

Then again, Al was a year younger, and his demeanor now at half-past-awful A.M. was bright and well-mannered as ever. As different as their personalities were, it was a wonder those two were products of the same upbringing.

As Roy mechanically went through the motions of setting coffee to brew, his mind continued to idly ponder the steel-clad spirit behind him.

After several months of watching him at Ed’s side, Roy still hadn’t quite decided what to think of Alphonse. Of course, he knew Al’s secret: at its core, the soul trapped within that frightful metal exterior belonged to a mere boy. Yet knowing the reason behind his outward contradictions did little to help Roy figure out how to treat him.

In spite of his imposing form, Al was always so quiet and respectful that he was strangely hard to notice sometimes, especially in the presence of his blustering brother. His steel body endowed him with incredible strength, yet he was loathe to even swat a fly. He was almost as brilliant as Ed, and they both had witnessed the same evils in the world, but Al still approached most everything in life with an open innocence that was nothing like Fullmetal’s moody volatility.

A faint smile twisted across Roy’s lips. There were moments when he wished it was the humble, obedient younger brother he had recruited as a State Alchemist instead. But then, even if Al would be better at following orders, and even if his physical powers would better endure the rigors of the military, the key difference was that he lacked the unnatural gift Ed possessed: alchemy without transmutation circles.

…No. When Roy considered it more deeply, it was really the difference of temperament that made the title of Fullmetal Alchemist belong to the older Elric. Ed was hardened in a way Roy could never imagine Al becoming; he was capable of things Al could never do, not just alchemically, but emotionally. For all the horrors they had gone through together, it was Edward who had somehow experienced something… more.

In the end, it seemed Al’s nature revealed more about his brother than himself.

While the coffeepot commenced its merry gurgling on the counter, Roy sidled closer to the table. His glance swept over the papers in front of Al. They were upside-down from his perspective, but he could make out some rather dry statistics about the types and amounts of raw material requisitioned by the State Alchemist at a far-flung military post.

Interesting. Roy wondered what sort of paranoiac pattern Ed might be looking for. Whatever it was, it didn’t surprise him that the headstrong boy had “neglected” to mention it earlier that day. Really, the Lieutenant Colonel should have reprimanded him for that stealthy investigation… but he was far too curious to see what kind of explosive result Fullmetal might touch off with it. Given the dramatics that already graced his still-short record, it was almost inevitable that his latest pokings-around would stir up another hornet’s nest.

And just as inevitable that Roy could spin it to his own advantage.

Of course, letting Al share Ed’s access to classified military information was technically verboten—but Roy was content to look the other way on that, too. The brothers obviously worked well together, and he doubted Al was inclined to cause trouble on his own.

He was just a little perplexed as to why Ed would let Al wander off to do research in the middle of the night.

“Those records will still be there in the morning, you know,” Roy remarked kindly, after a long moment’s consideration. “I’m sure you’ve had a long day, too. You should be getting some sleep.”

At that, the armor reared back a little, and Roy perceived a clear sense of discomfort in the way Al shifted and stared down at his huge leather hands.

“I can’t sleep,” the boy answered, in a very small voice.

The words sounded to Roy like a mere expression of youthful restlessness and obstinacy. He frowned, trying to effect a tone of fatherly advice. “You should probably still try, even if you’re not tired.”

“No, you don’t understand. I mean I really… can’t sleep.” Al’s helmet tipped upward in a darting glance. “Even if I wanted to… I’ve never slept for as long as I’ve been in this armor.”

Roy stared at Al in a moment of thunderstruck silence, wondering how exactly he had missed that fact in his months of familiarity with the Elric brothers.

“I’m sorry,” he faltered at last, unsure of whether he should apologize, but unable to say anything else. “I—didn’t know.”

Al’s spiked shoulders hunched in a rueful shrug, and he returned his attention rather deliberately to the file folders in front of him. “It’s okay. I’ve had a long time to get used to it.”

His quiet resignation only added to the impact of what was already an overwhelming thought. It had been nearly two years since that terrible night when Al’s flesh was torn from him. Had he really never known a moment’s sleep since then? Somehow Roy had assumed that a mind or spirit would still need some form of rest, even if it existed in an untiring, inorganic body. Yet if such a body physically prevented the mind from ever being able to shut down at all…

Roy was suddenly awed by the fact that Alphonse had remained so perfectly, painfully sane.

It was incredible, the adaptability of a young mind. They had witnessed it in an even more horrific extreme with the chimeric Nina Tucker, but Al was not so different in that respect. He had accepted an inhuman existence that would drive almost any adult to madness and self-destruction, learning to cope with it better than some people coped with entirely ordinary lives.

…For Ed’s sake. To stay by his brother’s side, to protect him and comfort him.

For a moment, Roy wondered what it was like to be loved like that.

He glanced thoughtfully at Al. Beyond the vague reminder of horror in the fact of his sleeplessness, its morbid fascination was undeniable. If one could become used to a life without sleep, it surely offered some unique advantages. The boy was demonstrating one benefit even now, diligently working through the night while frail bodies of flesh were lost in slumber.

What intrigued Roy more was the thought that, without sleep, there couldn’t really be any unconscious part to Al’s mind at all—the part of the mind that forever lay waiting for darkness, for the chance to revisit one’s most terrible memories while the waking mind was dormant.

Slowly Roy stepped to the table and sat down across from Al. When the armor looked up at him, he shrugged and swallowed, studying Al with a cautious and slightly guilty curiosity.

“What’s it like?” he asked carefully. “Never having to sleep.”

He thought he heard the faint sound of a nonexistent sigh beneath Al’s chestplate, but he couldn’t be sure. After a brief moment’s thought, Al folded his gauntlets together on top of the papers in front of him, his chin slanted downward pensively.

“It’s lonely,” he admitted quietly. “All night, every night, just sitting with no one to talk to… there’s too much time to think. Sometimes I have work I can do, or something to study—but you’d be surprised how much you can’t get done when everyone else is asleep. Mostly I read, but that… isn’t always enough.”

Although Al’s tone was calm and somber, Roy could sense the real pain underlying his words. Feeling sympathy for the kid, he didn’t want to push the subject any more and depress Al further… but he couldn’t resist broaching the subject that was really on his mind.

“At least… you don’t have to deal with nightmares,” he said tentatively. “After everything you’ve been through—I suppose they’d be pretty bad if you did have them.”

The soft soul-light behind Al’s eye slits took on the faintest tinge of scarlet. It was a subtle sign of shifting emotion that Roy had learned could mean many things, but he detected no anger behind the boy’s undeservedly ominous visage.

“Do you know what not sleeping has made me realize, sir?” Al asked. “When people sleep, it helps their minds… put away their bad memories. They’re still there, and they still hurt sometimes, but they’re farther away somehow. Sleep changes the way you remember things. But I can’t do that now… so my memories don’t change. All the bad things Brother and I have seen since I’ve been this way—I still remember them exactly the way they were when they happened. They get easier to think about as time passes, but… they’re always with me. They’re so much closer to my mind than they would be if…” Al dropped his gaze. “If I could just go to sleep for a little while.”

The intensity of the sad wistfulness in Al’s voice made an ache throb in Roy’s heart. He struggled to find the right words to say, but before he could speak, Al continued in a stronger tone.

“That’s why… I’m glad my brother can still have nightmares. Even when it hurts to watch him shaking and crying for me in his sleep. Because I know his mind won’t be in that place where the memories are for long—and when he wakes up, it’ll be better. The memories won’t just stay with him then, the way they do with me.”

Roy knew then that there was nothing he could say.

Alphonse waited in an attentive pause for a reply from the Lieutenant Colonel. When none was forthcoming, he gave a little shrug, and politely turned his attention back to the documents in front of him. The silence that took possession of the room then was weighty; after a moment, Roy realized the coffeepot had ceased its noise. Feeling a little awkward, he slipped away from the table to fetch his cup of brew.

He had never considered—never imagined. And now, his increasingly infrequent night visits to past sins seemed a small price to pay.

In the middle of spooning too much sugar into his cup, Roy made an impulsive decision. He quickly finished preparing his coffee, carried it to the table, and set it down with a conspicuousness that caused Al to look up at him.

“I’ll be right back,” Roy said, and hurried from the room.

Returning to his office, he tucked his pen into his pocket, and gathered the armful of reports and blank forms that sat glaring at him on the desk. Then he retraced his steps to the briefing room. He reclaimed his seat opposite Al without a word, and spread the paperwork before him, taking a grimacing sip of his bad coffee.

Al’s helmet tilted at him curiously, but the boy said nothing. After a moment he refocused on his own papers, turning a page.

The two alchemists sat working until dawn in their own silences… but Roy could feel the unseen smile from the other side of the table.


© 2011 Jordanna Morgan