A.N. This was inspired by two things. First, a fic called Growing Pains by Screaming Argonaut. All the awkwardness and humor was infectious. For anyone who enjoys reading about Ed and puberty, I highly recommend! The second inspiration was on Deviantart, a fanart called Subordinate by Schreiend where Roy and Ed are walking through what looks like headquarters in military uniforms, sharing sneaky, secretive grins which I chose to interpret as platonic rather than the blatant RoyEd it appears to be.
The bathroom of his military dorm was in shambles. Humidity filled the tiny room from wall to wall and the whole place reeked of shampoo and wet teenager, both made worse by the fact that the windows were shut tight. Warm water formed great big puddles on the tiles as if someone had stepped right out of the shower and paced around without a care, and the towels had been left in a haphazard pile, smears of bright crimson staining the cloth. The shower door sported a partial handprint, but the worst of it was pooled in and around the sink with flecks of red splattered on the foggy mirror.
Ed looked up from where he was leaning over the counter, clad only in loose-fitting slacks and armed with a razor in his left hand. Innumerable nicks along his jaw bled heavily as he arched both eyebrows quizzically at his commander's astonished look. "What?"
"W-What do you mean what?" Roy exclaimed, still reeling from the initial shock while he willed his pulse to slow to a more reasonable rhythm. He had nearly gone into cardiac arrest at the sight of all that blood, but now that he had located the source, he was having a hard time finding the words to express his fury. "What did—how did this—what the hell did you—?"
"Chill out, I'm almost done," Ed griped and turned back to the mirror. "You'll have plenty of time to perm your hair or whatever the hell it is you do in here…"
Roy strode forward and swiped the razor out of Ed's hand, ignoring an irate protest. "Almost done with what? Carving your face off?"
"Give that back!" Ed snapped, making a grab for the blade that Roy held just out of reach. "I need it!"
"What you need is to be locked away in a mental hospital, you brat!" Roy retorted. "Do you see what you've done to yourself? And to the bathroom! It looks like a murder scene in here! I only let you stay here because you promised to stay out of the way and not make a mess of things—"
"And what could you possibly need to shave for anyway? I know I said the higher-ups frown on untidiness during these inspections, but I'd take a little baby fuzz over—"
"Look!" Ed shouted, suddenly distraught. He grabbed the front of Roy's sleeping shirt and yanked him down, presenting his mutilated face for inspection. "Just look!"
Roy sucked in a deep breath to keep shouting and ended up letting it all go again, blinking in surprise when he realized what he was seeing. That certainly wasn't baby fuzz. That was full-blown facial hair sprouting from Ed's face, slightly longer strands jutting from his upper lip like whiskers and fading to a less noticeable stubble on his neck and cheeks. Its light golden color had prevented Roy from seeing it at first. He took Ed's chin in his fingers and turned his head this way and that to get a look at it from every angle, amazed by how such a tiny change made Ed appear so much older. Like a man of seventeen or eighteen rather than the fifteen years he actually was.
"I'll be damned," Roy murmured to himself.
"That's what I said," Ed growled and slapped his hand away. He shot his reflection a loathsome look and then switched his glare to Roy. "What're you smirking at? This isn't funny!"
"Of course not," Roy said, smiling broadly. "In fact...it's splendid!"
"Fullmetal, facial hair is a sign of masculinity!" Roy exclaimed with aplomb while Ed spluttered in disbelief. "You should be proud of yourself. Now we know for sure you're a man!"
"Hey, who're you calling a girl, you freak!" Ed said hotly. "And I'm not proud! This is the worst day of my life!"
Roy couldn't hold back a chuckle and clapped him on the shoulder. "I hate to say it, but it's only going to get worse from here. This is only the first step in a harrowing journey fraught with—"
"It's not that, you ass!" Ed howled in anguish. He braced his palms on either side of the sink, staring into his own face in despair. "I look like him!"
The silence rang in Roy's ears as he felt his own humor ebbing, along with his grin. It was one thing to hear from Al about his brother's abhorrence of their father, one thing to see Ed become terse and snappish each time the man was mentioned in his presence...but now Roy watched his young subordinate slump over the sink with his head in his hands, fingers raking his hair as a tight, wretched sound escaped his throat. Until now he hadn't fully understood just how deep those feelings went—a festering wound that refused to close.
And now this. Roy had only seen a faded photograph of the man in the Rockbell home years ago, and back then he had seen a vague likeness in the gaunt, empty-faced child in the wheelchair. But now as he examined Ed's profile, the relation was clearly evident. Hair and eyes the color of burnished gold, a strong and angular jaw and prominent nose. And with a start, Roy realized it wasn't only Ed's face that had changed these past years, but his body as well. The thin, wiry build was beginning to fill out, becoming more muscular and much broader in the shoulders. The top of his head was level with Roy's collarbone, and he couldn't for the life of him remember when that happened.
"It's...not that bad," Roy lied quickly, disturbed by the dawning realization that Ed was...growing up. It had to happen sometime, but he couldn't help a strange twist in his heart as he wondered what happened to the twelve-year-old spitfire he found in Resembool all those years ago.
"I can't believe I didn't notice until now," Ed groaned into his palms. "I mean, I noticed. It must have started weeks ago, but you could hardly even see it so I just left it alone. And then...and then I woke up and it was just there. Like it all popped up overnight!"
Roy sighed and swept his fingers through hair still disheveled by sleep. "Well, that's what happens when you're a teenager. All the hormones start kicking in and..."
Ed's head snapped up, eyes blazing. "Don't you dare tell me this is normal! There's nothing normal about looking in the mirror and seeing that bastard's face!"
"Are you really going to do this, Fullmetal?" Roy said impatiently, not in the mood for adolescent drama this early in the morning. "Come on, even you're smart enough to understand that you can't choose your parents, nor how their traits are passed on to you."
"Easy for you to say," Ed grumbled, his words spiteful and bitter. "You're probably one of those guys who got spoiled rotten by his parents. And once you started growing up and looking like them, they were fawning all over you, telling you how proud they were..."
Roy noticed his reflection become grim and fought to control it before Ed noticed. Both his parents had died when he was a toddler. He would wager Ed remembered far more of his father than Roy did either of his parents. But he saw no reason to share that information. It wouldn't do any good to dredge up that old hurt just to make Ed feel guilty on top of being steeped in his own misery.
He stepped back and peered at the clock in the other room. The inspection wouldn't officially start for another hour and a half, but since it would take so much time to get everyone lined up in formation, they were expected down on the parade grounds in about thirty minutes. Minus the time it would take them to get through the line in the mess for breakfast, there was actually only about ten or fifteen minutes before they absolutely had to get going.
And to think, Roy had thought making Ed spend the night at headquarters would make this inspection less of a hassle. At least this way he wouldn't have to call Al repeatedly at the hotel to get his brother's ass out of bed and hope Fullmetal would make it to headquarters on time with a wrinkled uniform tucked under his arm. Ed had viciously opposed the idea at first until Roy informed him that his rank allowed him a dorm with two separate bedrooms connected by a common area. Then Fullmetal had waxed eloquent and long about abuse of power and all the while making himself right at home by flinging his suitcase in a corner and leaving his shoes in a haphazard pile by the door on the way to bed. Roy had dutifully hung up their uniforms in the closet, neatly pressed and ready to go, and set the alarm early to be sure they wouldn't be late before retiring himself, confident he had done all he could to ensure the inspection would go off without a hitch.
He should have known something would come up, he just should have known...
"I've got to get rid of it!" Ed cried in desperation, interrupting Roy's musings when he yanked the razor out of his hand.
Right away, Roy caught his wrist again and steered the metal away from his skin. "Look, there's no time now. You'll just have to deal with it later."
"I'm not going outside like this!" Ed said fiercely, not releasing his grip on the blade. "I'm not! They can do the damn inspection without me!"
"Need I remind you of the consequences of skipping inspection?" Roy said in exasperation. "Are you really so eager to take latrine duty for the next few months?"
Ed merely made another attempt at wrestling the razor away from him, nearly slicing the bridge of Roy's nose with his flailing. At last Roy kneed him in the ribs and managed to pry the blade away. He kept a precautionary hand on Ed's chest to hold him back.
"Come on, Mustang—!"
"Just wait a minute," Roy barked, and mercifully Ed lapsed into sullen silence. He considered his options and heaved a defeated sigh. "At the rate this is going, you'll end up slitting your own throat. If I show you how to do this correctly, will you calm down and act like less of a child for a change?"
Ed's eyes flicked to the razor suspiciously. "You're not going to try and...?"
"I said I'd show you," Roy said in exasperation. "You're fifteen years old, you can damn well shave yourself."
Ed crossed his arms and shifted from foot to foot, teeth grinding as he seemed to wrestle with the knee-jerk instinct to deny that he needed help of any kind. But one more sideways glance at his scruffy reflection seemed to decide him. "What do I have to do?" he muttered grudgingly.
Roy pushed past him to get at the cabinet. "It's more a matter of what you should have done. First of all, you skipped the shaving cream."
"Does that matter?"
"If you'd used it, all this might not have happened," Roy informed him, waving at the blood as well as the visible irritation marks on Ed's skin. He grabbed the small bottle of shaving cream and some fresh hand towels, but paused when he spotted a razor in the cabinet. He peered at the one in his hand in confusion. "Did you transmute this?"
"Not like I was gonna use yours," Ed scoffed in revulsion.
"Aren't you a little old to be worried about cooties?" Roy teased, snickering when Ed colored. He took his razor from the cabinet and set it on the counter before him. "Just use it."
"Why can't I use that one?" Ed whined.
Roy tested the edge of the blade with his thumb and winced when it drew blood. "Because this one is clearly more dangerous. Did you have to make it so sharp? You're stubble isn't going to put up that much of a fight."
Ed grumbled under his breath as he snatched up Roy's razor, turning it over in his hand. "I swear, if I catch some kind of disease from you..."
"I haven't used it in months, and I washed it thoroughly," Roy assured him, passing him one of the hand towels before joining him before the mirror. He eyed the gruesome mess in the sink and turned on the faucet to rinse it out, letting the water run. "Now wash your face up first with warm water. I usually shave right after I shower, but thanks to you, there's no time for that now."
"Not like I asked for this," Ed muttered as he wet the washcloth and started scouring his face brutally. He winced when one of the cuts reopened and thereafter scrubbed with more care. Roy threw the hand towel over his shoulder and followed suit, one eye always on the clock. He squirted a liberal amount of foam into his palm and handed the bottle to Ed who, ever the scientist, turned it over to read the label.
"Use as much as you want," Roy said in resignation. "Believe me, I went through plenty when I was first learning."
Ed pulled his damp hair back in a quick, messy ponytail and began lathering an impossible amount of cream over his neck and face. By the time he was done, he resembled a large golden cupcake. But Roy wasn't about to say it to his face. Ed glanced over in hesitant curiosity as Roy slapped some cream over his own nearly imperceptible stubble. "Did...did someone show you how to do this?"
"Not quite, no," Roy explained while he washed the blood from his razor. "I got into the military academy when I was fourteen. When you live with forty other teenagers who are also going through puberty, you kind of figure these things out."
"Hm," Ed mused. He fiddled with Roy's razor, eyeing it with deep mistrust until he finally raised it only to be stopped yet again. "What now?"
"Excuse me for making sure you don't scrape your face off," Roy retorted. "Now watch. You don't jab it. Tilt it at an angle so the blade slides against your skin."
Under Ed's grumpy but watchful gaze, he demonstrated with a few deft strokes across his cheek then nodded at him to try. Ed's lips twisted in uncertainty as he placed the razor against his face and, slowly, dragged it down, clearing a somewhat straight trail through the lather. He poked the exposed skin doubtfully and grinned when he found it smooth. "That easy?"
"That easy," Roy agreed, relieved he had caught on quickly. "Just go slowly, and watch out for those cuts. And make sure you shave in the same direction the hair grows."
"Prevents razor burn, Ed. If it gets out of hand, you'll feel like you washed you face with poison ivy."
Ed took a few more experimental swipes on his other cheek and seemed to garner a little more confidence. "So you do this all the time?"
Roy tipped his head back to start on the underside of his jaw, moving with the ease of long practice and pausing every so often to rinse the blade. "Every other day, about. I can afford to let it go once in awhile, but with the way yours is growing, you may need to make this a daily routine."
Ed scowled, clearly not taking to the idea. He leaned closer to the mirror and a few nimble flicks erased the whiskers just under his nose. He watched in satisfaction as the long hairs made circles in the sink before slipping through the drain and out of sight. "Take that, you little bastards," he said vindictively.
"Am I going to have to listen to this commentary the whole time?"
The only response he received was a faint grunt before Ed turned his full focus on his reflection, making the most comical faces as he waged war on those little scraps of fuzz. Roy allowed himself a tiny smile and very carefully continued his own ministrations with the overly sharp blade. A comfortable silence fell as they settled into a rhythm, trading off the faucet to rinse their razors. He noticed with some amusement that Ed kept peeking at him out of the corner of his eye and attempting to copy his technique. He would stop the second Roy looked his way, but that just made it all the more entertaining when Roy pointedly let his attention wander only to snap his eyes back to try and catch the kid in the act. Ed would give him an utterly blameless What did I do? sort of look before flashing a bright grin and returning to the task at hand. It was just shaving, but like with everything else, Ed seemed determined to get it right the first time.
And Roy could almost admit it was more fun this way. It didn't even feel like they were commander and subordinate anymore. More like comrades, except more intimate than that—similar to and yet entirely unlike shaving alongside, say, Hughes. Perhaps it was Ed's youth or the fact that this was his first experience with something most adults dismissed as mundane or the fact that Roy had been the one to teach him...
It's the sort of things fathers do with their sons...
His reflection's eyebrows flew up as that thought drifted through his mind, the razor pausing in its movements. And a memory followed right on its heels, back when Hughes had first found out he was going to be a father to a girl. He had been ecstatic, sure, but that hadn't stopped some wistful lamenting on all the things he wouldn't be able to teach a daughter. About chivalry with women, about the rough-and-tumble sports only boys could play, about shaving...
Roy's stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch, a gut reaction at the very thought of fatherhood. Most of him was of the firm opinion that he was far too young to even consider children, especially with the rest of his career still before him. And meanwhile another part whispered that twenty-nine was pushing it and he would be a fool to let the opportunity pass him up and what would happen if he ended up regretting it once it got to be too late...?
"What's up with you?"
"Nothing," Roy said hastily and tried not to look too carefully at the oddly domestic image they made, standing together with twin razors and foam on their faces and Ed looking at him with his usual punk attitude tempered by the tiniest bit of concern. He set the razor aside and leaned over to rinse off the remaining lather. Roy dried his face off and motioned for Ed to do the same while he took some aftershave from the cabinet. "I expect you know what this is. I usually don't use it, but the alcohol will help with your cuts. Careful, it..."
Ed splashed some aftershave in his palm and slapped it on his bare face. At once he let out a high-pitched yowl and snatched up the nearest towel to scrub off the offending liquid.
"Gah, you couldn't have said that a little sooner?" Ed said crossly, rubbing his reddened cheeks with a wounded look. He ran a careful hand over the rest of his face. "I missed some spots..."
"It's hardly noticeable," Roy said with a quick look at the clock. "We've only got a few minutes. Go get dressed while I finish up in here."
"Fine," Ed muttered, throwing Roy another bemused look as he was ushered out. They had made quite a mess, but there was no time to give the place a thorough cleaning. Roy settled for a cursory wiping of the counter and mirror and every other surface Ed had managed to get his blood on. The towels, he dumped in the laundry basket. They would probably just be thrown away, but Roy didn't want to be the one caught explaining bloody towels in his trash. He used a wet comb to get his hair under control and then went to collect his uniform, noting that Ed had retreated to his own room to change.
He was just buckling on the last of the medals when the door cracked back open and Ed poked his head out. "Don't laugh," he warned with gritted teeth and let the door fall open the rest of the way. Despite Ed's time in the military, Roy hadn't yet seen him in full uniform. He tended to be out on assignment all the time and therefore absent from any event requiring one. So Roy allowed himself a moment to take in the once-in-a-lifetime sight of Fullmetal swathed in military blue rather than his usual, bold red and black. The austere color seemed to tone down his usual fire and make him far more approachable, and his neatly braided hair perfectly matched the decorative cord on the jacket. It was a precise and exquisite image that would make the higher-ups preen at having taken such a young State Alchemist into the fold.
Odd how the very thought could make Roy feel so irritated, not to mention just the slightest bit protective. After all, only he knew the truth of it. Ed's loyalty resided with his brother, and he would only play the military's game for as long as it took to achieve his goal. In that way, he wasn't all that different from Roy.
"I don't like this," Ed mumbled, fiddling with the many pins and buckles. "I feel...weird. Like a kid playing dress up."
"You look fine," Roy assured him. He knocked Ed's hand away so he could correct an upside-down ranking pin. "Just quit slouching and you could almost pass for a real soldier."
"I am a real soldier," Ed reminded him flippantly.
Roy raised his head, lips curving into a smile. "No, you're not."
Ed considered him in thought before he also smiled a little ruefully. "I guess not, huh? Not like I act like it half the time."
"Try all the time. Do you even know how to do a proper salute?"
"Uh uh, not gonna work," Ed said with a devious grin. "Did Al tell you that questioning my skills was the best way to get a salute out of me?"
"Worth a shot," Roy said with a careless shrug. Ed took a deep breath and stepped back into the bathroom to see how he looked in the mirror. The cuts had finally stopped bleeding and most were hardly even visible. Ed rubbed a small razor burn on his neck in discomfort but stopped when Roy came up to the mirror as well, scrutinizing his reflection one last time.
Finally, he sighed in relief. "I don't look like him anymore."
Roy was inclined to disagree. Looking at him now, he could hardly recognize the boy from three years ago in the young man before him. God, in the same number of years he would be eighteen and a full-fledged adult. So much could happen in such a short amount of time, and Roy found himself wishing fervently that the next few years would bring about Ed's greatest wish to see his brother restored. Perhaps he was asking for the impossible, but if someone could go from a broken, crippled child to this in that time period, Roy was inclined to believe that nothing was impossible.
But instead of saying all that, he merely smiled playfully and nudged Ed's shoulder. "Nope. Now you look like me."
"I do not!" Ed protested, howling his indignation as Roy left the bathroom and made for the door. He held it open, expecting Ed to be right behind him, but the kid was still standing in the bathroom with an odd expression. Tentative fingers touched his clean-shaven face and then the front of his jacket as he swept another searching gaze over the young major in the mirror. Whatever he saw brought a crooked smile to his face.
"Yeah," Ed said abruptly, sweeping out of the bathroom and bypassing Roy with that smile still in place. "I guess it's not so bad after all."
Roy couldn't bring himself to ask if they were still talking about the uniform or not.