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ornithological and insect symbolism in post-modern alchemical theory

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When Ed hits puberty with the force of a thousand stallions, the entire office notices it.

It’s almost impossible not to, after the initial disturbance.

“Edward?” Roy asks, for about the seventh time, using Ed’s real name in lieu of his title, because he’d stopped responding and started staring fixedly out Roy’s window about ten minutes ago. Roy had also tried dismissing him five separate occasions with three different tones of voice.

He’d seen people touch and startle Ed… or at least, he saw the aftermath. Even something like throwing a piece of crumpled paper at his head ran the risk of Ed defensively making a wall out of the flooring in Roy’s office, or automatically targeting the threat.

(Sometimes he’d think about that at night, halfway deep into a bottle that was embarrasingly full when he got it. He knew what war fatigue looked like, knew what it looked like on his skin, or on Maes’ or Riza’s. He just wished that he couldn’t see it getting worse every time Ed came back to report and, inevitably, get sent out again.)

(There were a lot of reasons for him to go to hell. Massmurder of thousands of people vs the slow destruction of one already traumatized boy’s psyche? It should be nothing to his conscience.)

(He thought maybe he’d kill himself if one day it was.)

Al was probably his best bet, but Al was all the way in Central.

Roy saw Ed’s eyes twitch for the first time in what felt like hours of his own indecision and an increasingly loud exercise in futility. That was when, rather belatedly, Roy realized Ed was looking out his window.

He turned, to see what was so interesting, and saw nothing but several soldiers practicing their sparring. Could Ed be interested in their separate styles of fighting? But no, Ed was better than any of the men and women practicing out there. What else could it be then?

Ed’s face was flushed red, no wonder, they were in a heatwave and the fourteen year old was in four layers with metal limbs. And he was… talking?

Roy cautiously stood and approached, just close enough to pick up on what he was saying.

The periodic table.

He looked back out the window.

He looked at Ed’s face.

He looked at Ed’s dialated pupils.

He looked outside his window, at the several shirtless and all sweating soldiers in close physical contact with each other.

Against every disgusted bone in his body, he glanced down at Ed’s pants.

“Aaaugh!” he yelled, stumbling backwards. Ed startled out of his daze, and stumbled back with his own yell.

“Sir?” Hawkeye appeared like magic, and Roy pointed indignantly at Ed. Her eyes ran over the boy once, flicked to the window, to the terrified look on Roy’s face, and then back at Ed. “Ah.”

“How long have I—” Ed started, then shook his head, and tripped over his feet walking out of Roy’s office. “Bye Colonel, bye Lieutenant, gonna just—go do something now, bye!”

It was possibly the most polite and tactful exit that Edward had ever made.

“Riza,” Roy said, his voice bordering on hysterical. “It’s not my responsibility to—”

“No, sir,” Riza said firmly, and headed towards Roy’s phone. “I’m borrowing your phone, sir.”

“Oh thank God.” Roy turned back to his desk and collapsed in his chair. Riza patted him twice on the shoulder briskly.

“Maes?” Riza said when the line connected. There was a brief pause while Hughes no doubt started talking about Elicia. “No time, I’m afraid.

“How comfortable are you with giving the Elric boys the birds and the bees talk?”

***

Maes Hughes was a giant disappointment to all parties involved, and was not, in fact, at all comfortable or good at giving someone the talk. It would have gone better, Roy insisted, if he had not started it by asking the Elrics if anyone had ever talked to the boys about birds and bees. Maes responded that even if he was the only parent in their social group, Elicia was three years old and also would not attempt to engage him in a serious discussion on insect and ornithological symbolism in post-modern alchemical arrays.

It was agreed unanimously that the Elrics would never recover if Hawkeye tried to discuss it with them. For one thing, she’d never experienced the influx of hormones exactly as a young man might, and for another, she was asexual and thus had not experienced the influx of hormones as most teenagers might. Valman and Feury were never even seriously considered.

Roy was considered more seriously, but ultimately vetoed on grounds of being a terrible person to try and discuss anything seriously with Edward without causing property damage. He was also vetoed on the grounds that he was the most likely to throw up, pass out, or start teasing Ed in a particularly spectacular failure at lightening the mood.

Havoc was, eventually, their only option.

“Sure,” he said, chewing on the end of a cigarette. He was not taking the policy change that forbid smoking indoors with the utmost dignity, as much as he liked to think he was. “I’ve had to explain to every one of my siblings that Father Christmas wasn’t real, can’t be much harder than trying to tell Edward about his changing body.”

Havoc turned back to the paperwork in front of him, somehow completley oblivious to the dire straits he had just been thrown in.

***

“So, boss,” Havoc said, plopping down in the booth towards the back of the restaurant that Ed had chosen while he retrieved their sandwiches from the counter. It wasn’t the best food, but it was fast, cheap, and didn’t have a wait staff to walk around interrupting delicate conversations. “You know why we’re here?”

Ed slowed from where he was trying and mostly succeeding on putting half a hoagie in his mouth at once. He swallowed in a gulp that looked painful, and then shrugged. “Dunno. Figured Colonel was too chickenshit to say somethin’ to me so y’all drew straws and now you’re here.”

Havoc made a so-so gesture with his hand and took a sip of his lemonade. “You’re growing up fast.”

Ed’s eyebrows wrinkled as he tried to figure out whether that was an insult, a compliment, a statement of fact, or a segue.

“…thanks?” he ventured.

“Mm.” Havoc took another sip. His goal was to have to piss by the end of this conversation. Edward would be able to tell if he was lying, but he wouldn’t make Havoc pee himself.

Probably.

He tried not to remember that the little guy outranked him, but somedays it was harder than others.

“Look, I’m gonna be blunt, boss. We’re here because the Colonel is too chickenshit to tell you himself that you can’t be getting boners in his office during a report. Eventually he’ll call you on it in the worst kind of way because he’s an asshole, and then you’ll level the building with all of us inside, and I gotta at least leave a widow when I die, you understand that, right?”

Edward, for the first time in his life, had managed to choke.

Havoc graciously gave him the heimlech, watched the chunk of sandwich hit the wall opposite them with a weird sense of enneui, and then sat back down.

“Y’alright boss?”

“Don’t call me boss when you’re talking to me about boners!” Ed said, a hysterical edge to his voice, but the volume the quietest that Havoc had ever heard.

Right. Teenager. Changing body. Embarrassment.

“Helps to think about bad shit, but don’t go full hog bad, more like, your grandparents having sex.” Havoc tried not to laugh at the face Ed made, and succeeded by the skin of his teeth. “And try not to get angry, that can make it worse.”

“I’m supposed to not get angry?” Edward hissed, sounding as if the world had betrayed him. With what a control freak the boss was, hell, maybe it had. Havoc couldn’t imagine someone as driven as Ed being distracted by something like hormones before he’d seen it himself, and if it was weird to him, it must have been unbearable to Ed.

Especially when he couldn’t even get pissed at what was happening to him while it was happening.

“Only when you’ve got one!” Havoc ammended. “Not in general. Unless anger does it for you, in that case, maybe.”

Ed dropped his head into his hands.

“Does it get better?” he asked into his gloves.

“Yeah,” Havoc said after a pause. “Kid as smart as you, you’ll figure it out in no time. Until then, maybe just start carrying your jacket around instead of wearing it. Just in case you need a little bit of cover, you know.”

Edward groaned unhappily. Havoc drank half of his lemonade.

“I’m not gonna lie, your teen years in general are going to be terrible for this. It’ll happen in the literal worst of times. You don’t interact with many pretty girls, places the Colonel sends you, so you’ve got that on your side at least.”

The lemonade had started to kick in. Havoc hadn’t expected it to be this long of a conversation, figured Ed would fuck off screaming at him, or maybe chase him from the restaurant.

“What if,” Ed started, peeking up from his hands in a strangely childlike way. It hit Havoc, despite having been talking to Ed about puberty, for the first time that day how young Ed really was. “What if it’s not just… pretty girls.”

Havoc’s mouth thinned, but not from disgust. First confusion, and then— concern.

“Then you’ll need to be really fuckin’ careful boss.” Havoc placed a hand on Ed’s shoulder, gripping him lightly. “It’s not bad, and you’re not broken, so if you’re thinking that then you better stop right now or I’ll send Hawkeye and Hughes after you. But most people, they won’t understand that. And you can’t fight all of ‘em, especially not if you get a dishonorable discharge.”

Havoc shook the boy lightly, and Ed’s hands fanned up to cover his face, but Havoc could make out the red cheeks and slash of golden eyes through his fingers.

“You’re about as different as they come, Ed. People your whole life are gonna be telling you you’re too clever, you’re too angry, you’re too obsessive, you’re too broken to be doin’ the shit you do before you eat breakfast. And they’ll be wrong.” Havoc cracked a smile. “I mean, it wouldn’t kill you to count to ten sometimes before opening your mouth or clappin’ your hands.”

Ed shoved him off, but a smile was fighting at his lips, as clearly uncomfortable as the praise and advice made him.

“Shut the fuck up, Havoc.”

“That an order, boss?” Havoc said, and drained the small bit of lemonade in his glass.

“You fuckin’ know it,” Ed said, sliding out of the booth, not even seeming to realize that he hadn’t finished his food. “Your lunch break’s gonna be over soon, you should get back instead of lecturing me.”

Havoc opened his mouth to reply, but Edward shook a finger.

“Nope. They’re not gonna take ‘I drank too much lemonade’ as an excuse either.” Edward turned, raising a hand in a lazy wave goodbye over his shoulder as he walked away, calling: “Get your ass back to work, Havoc!”

Havoc snorted, and headed for the bathroom.

“You’re most welcome, boss,” he said as he slid inside the door.