This story takes place between chapters 83 and 84 of the manga, during the mostly off-page winter that Ed went on the run with Greedling and two grumpy chimerae.

bob fish

One Foot In Front of the Other

"You know," said Ed, as they tramped together around the edge of a pasture, "you used to be much easier to get along with when you were someone else."

"He misses you too," said Greed, one hand pressed to his heart, teeth bared in a nasty smile. Then he half-slipped in the mud, just managing to right himself before he went down. Ed felt smug. Greed's boots were made for posing in a dark bar; Ed's were made for long journeys with a heavy pack (and not to add two inches to his height, thank you very much). Ahead of them, Darius and Heinkel ignored the bickering. They did a lot of that.

"I didn't mean Ling, jackass. I meant you. The old Greed was a hell of a lot less of an ass."

"The old Greed never had to put up with the crap I get. You know he used to have minions who did what I told them to and liked it?"

Ed noted the pronoun shift and grinned to himself. "Yeah, I remember. We met each other — you forgotten?"

Greed frowned. "What? We met?" He stared ahead into the middle distance for a moment, looking almost uncomfortable. "Oh, wait. Yeah, you were a real little shit. I liked you." For a moment, his expression cleared and his face lit up with mischief — then that little flash of the first Greed was gone again, shuttered down in a scowl. "Eh, he was such a sap. It's no wonder he got himself killed."

They walked on in silence for a few minutes, in the grey light of a cloudy autumn day. With map and compass, Heinkel led them along a trail into a wood. Ed tramped aggressively through the mulch. Greed picked his way along, trying to look above it all but still getting mud up the legs of his pants. Darius and Heinkel marched confidently on their stupid long legs, and slipped further and further ahead of Ed and Greed.

Occasionally, the two of them would draw level, and Ed would discreetly flick his eyes over to Greed, checking out his expression. That frown kept deepening. As it did, Ed's heart sped up by increments. He knew the signs now. He'd been watching Greed since the day they joined forces. Had it really only been a few days ago? It felt like months. It felt too long. Ling had said, that day, that he got back in control because Greed was freaking out about something. Sure enough, during the last few days of travel, there'd been a few of these little moments, where Greed seemed to slip below the surface of his mind, to sift through memories, or to struggle with Ling. Sometimes he'd mutter as they walked — was he talking to Ling? To himself? Ed knew Ling wasn't a quitter, he couldn't be, if he quit now Ed would pull him out of Greed and kick his royal ass for him ...

Ed had been quietly taking note of these moments, trying to work out if they were getting more frequent, or if he could find a pattern. A few things in particular seemed to set Greed off: old memories, talk of the future after the Promised Day, the notion of friends. One time, two days ago, the firewood had been too damp to catch, and Greed had gone off on a rant to an unimpressed Darius and Heinkel about what crappy minions they were. Then, right in the middle of a sentence, his voice had gone quiet and pained, and vanished in a croak — and for a moment, Ed had seen Ling looking at him. A little jolt of shock had shot through his core. It had definitely been Ling — there for just a moment, and then gone. Greed carried on with his speech as if nothing had happened. Darius and Heinkel showed no signs they'd even noticed. Did Ling even know Ed had seen him?

Ed deliberately turned his mind aside, tried to practise the art of patience. Which, historically speaking, he sucked at. He watched the patches of yellow, late-autumn sunlight on the ground — of course the sun would come out, now that they too deep in shade to enjoy it — and wondered for the eighth time that day what Al was doing right now, this second. He was probably just kidding himself about Greed looking weak, Granny always said a watched pot never boils

Greed suddenly growled and shoved a hand to his temple. He backed into a tree and leaned there, panting. "Fuckin' — prince —"

"Ling!" cried Ed. "I knew you could do it!" He grabbed Greed by the shoulders and shook him vigorously. "Hey, Ling, Ling! It's me! Come on, fight him, don't leave off now!"

He waved a hand in front of Greed's face, as if he was trying to get someone's attention through a window. Greed looked at him narrowly for a moment, then hauled off and punched him across the clearing.

From the ground a few feet away, Ed put a hand to his chin. Had the bastard got him with the Shield? He sat up, and sure enough, saw the dull sheen of carbon skin crawling up Greed's arm. Greed was still leaning against the tree, breathing hard with his head tipped back. "You did this — deliberately," he managed. "You little sneak. You were trying to — get me confused. Give him an opening." He ground the back of his head into the bark. It looked like it hurt.

"Whatever. Greed, this is your identity freakout, crisis, thing." Ed rubbed his bruised jaw. "Nothing to do with me. You deal with it." It was mostly true. But getting Greed irritated and confused, Ed had decided, was the best way to give Ling some back-up. It also seemed to make travelling with the guy a bit more bearable.

Greed wound his hands into his hair and screwed his eyes shut, panting. The Shield was retreating back down towards his fingertips. "No —" he grit out, "Nooo, nothefuckyou don't. We had a deal, you brat!"

He was not talking to Ed.

By the time Ed had sprung to his feet and sprinted over to the tree, Greed had gone quiet. His head was down, his chest rising and falling rapidly.

Ed put his hands to Greed's shoulders. He took a cautious look down, and his jaw throbbed nervously. Greed's hands were relaxed and open by his sides. Ed tilted his head down, looked up under Greed's bangs — and there, he saw a familiar, shaky grin.

Ed watched cautiously as the head came up. Ling was still smiling, eyes half closed, pale and sick-looking. But it only took one look to see that he was himself. Ed felt his heart squeeze itself, then expand.

They stayed like that for a moment, in silent triumph. Then Ling reached out and patted the side of Ed's head, thumb behind his ear and fingers curled at the base of his skull, almost as if he wanted to make sure Ed was there. His expression shifted: from the silly grin, to cunning and absolute triumph. Ed squeezed a shoulder. He could feel his own grin making his cheeks ache.

Ling nodded at him. "I did it," he said quietly. Ed would have taken his hands from Ling's shoulders, stepped back and given him his space, but Ling put a hand up to his forearm to hold himself steady as he leaned against the tree. Ed let him have the support.

"It's weird," said Ed, "How your face looks so different when you're you. I mean, it's the same face, why would ..." He shrugged and grinned again. Ling's returning smile and nod was full of warmth. I get it, that smile said. Ed liked it when people got things, when you didn't have to haul out the words for them.

The smile filled his belly with a peculiar energy. Excited, happy, hopeful. Ling could do it, Ed thought, they could do this thing. They were going to win.

For another long moment, they stayed frozen in place: eyes locked, Ed's hands on Ling's shoulders and Ling's holding Ed's wrist and the back of his skull. Some kind of energy was racing along the circle formed by their bodies. Ed felt it in his belly, hovering and darting. They both breathed fast. The sensation was oddly familiar. Exactly what it reminded him of didn't occur to Ed until Ling put the lightest, most delicate pressure on the back of his skull, and he found himself continuing the movement automatically, tipping his head and shoulders and relaxing forward, far, far too close to Ling's dumbass face. I didn't start it, he thought desperately, as he registered, too late, exactly what he wanted to do. It's just

For the first few moments, they connected only at the lips. Their mouths nudged each other softly, shifted, then opened. Then —

When Ed had imagined the act of kissing before, it had been neater, more like a dance than this wet, messy clashing of tongues and teeth. But then, this was what kissing really felt like, wasn't it?

Their teeth clicked. They stopped and started a few times, trying to find a better angle. After a few moments they seemed to get the hang of it, to find the right fit or the right rhythm, and suddenly, it got a whole lot better. Their lips and tongues moved with each other. Ling's fingers tangled in Ed's hair, pulling at the roots. All the nerves down his spine were catching light. So good. Ed sucked air in through his nose, dizzy. Ling's mouth tasted sort of metallic. Was that the homunculus thing, or — Ed started listing the composition of saliva. Ling pulled Ed's head forward, cupped in both hands, and Ed registered, irritated, that he rather liked being grabbed at like that. Electrolytes, he thought, that'd be it, like iodine and magnesium ... He put his arm around the back of Ling's shoulders to pull them together himself. Still, he thought, the actual volume of electrolytes is pretty negligible. Perhaps it would be the mucus in saliva that caused the metallic taste, what was in mucus again? Glycoproteins, he thought vaguely, as Ling's hand crept around his waist and his own right leg tangled between Ling's.

Ling's hips shifted forward.

After that, Ed abandoned the pursuit of science.

A short time later — a minute? ten? who knew? — Ed's rational brain kicked itself back into life. So here he was, up against a tree in the woods, making out with his friend, the annoying, possessed foreign mooch. Ling's body was flush against Ed's, moving against him, and Ed was moving back, grinding almost. Ling now had one hand up the back of Ed's shirt, roaming over the knobs of his spine. Ling smelt a little sweaty, and something else, good and uncategorisable. And Ed — shit, he was getting hard. Right. This was just nuts, the whole thing was nuts. He should say — something or other.

He pulled back, and was surprised at how difficult it was to speak, or indeed to do anything at all but return to the kissing. His lips were buzzing as if he'd taken a blow to the mouth instead of the jaw. Ling's lips were redder than usual, swollen and almost bruised. Ed had done that. It felt a bit wrong, thinking it. And then it felt exciting, which in turn felt like it should be sleazy or something. Was this okay? Was it selfish? Ed looked at Ling's half-closed eyes, at the stare that said I get it — and that wanted things. Ed wasn't used to being looked at like that, but for all his twitchiness, he couldn't look away. He stared at the lines of Ling's cheekbones and the straight, deep black arches of his brows and realised, with a flip of utter panic, that the guy was beautiful. Worse still: not objectively, not-my-kind-of-thing, painting in a museum beautiful, but the compelling, breath-stealing, sneak into your jerk-off thoughts kind. How the hell had this happened? How the hell had this taken him by surprise?

Ling moved a hand out of Ed's hair, and traced his forefinger very lightly around Ed's ear and down the line of his jaw. He rubbed his thumb across Ed's lips, and muttered, "I don't know how long I can stay in control here. Listen, in future, if you want to pass messages to me, just tell Greed. I'll hear it all straight away."

Ed shifted his chin up, shrugging off Ling's hand, and said, "You can tell what's going on? Can you see stuff too? Is it — does it hurt?"

"It's a little like being at the cinema. Stop looking at me like that, we do have cinemas in Xing, you know, I think our films are better than yours too, more subtlety, more romance." Then he seemed to register Ed's expression properly, and smiled sadly. "To tell you the truth, it sometimes gets a little noisy in there."

"Noisy? You mean, like the souls in the stone?" Ed's mind started working. And he hated what it was turning up. He'd seen the souls in Envy, had used them, had almost become one of them. They weren't truly separate entities any more, just fused together in a howling, conjoined, agonised morass. They had nearly absorbed him ... must they be trying to do the same to Ling? Oh fuck. "Ling," he said urgently, "are you —" And his sentence ended halfway through, in a muffled vowel sound. Ling was kissing him again. This time he was in charge, and there was nothing sloppy about it. It was slow, careful, intentional.

For a beat, Ed's mind was wiped clean. Then — he got it. Ling's struggles were his own. They understood each other. And Ling wanted to be here, doing this with Ed. And if it was helping him somehow, giving him peace, or something to fight with? Ed's hand moved into Ling's hair. It was thick, smooth, a little knotted from the tie. Ed let himself be kissed until he felt boneless and dizzy — Darius and Heinkel must be half an hour away by now, but who cared? — then pulled Ling down to kiss him back. He let Ling flip them around so that his back was pressed hard against the tree — there was a twig poking him in the ass, but fuck it —

Something slammed into his stomach, hard and fast.

Ed dropped. He curled up at the foot of the tree, trying to get his wind back. Even when all he could see was the knees down, he could tell that this wasn't Ling in front of him any more.

Greed's face hoved into view sideways, sharp-eyed, harsh lines around the mouth. He was still flushed from Ling's kiss. Ed shifted backwards and tried to sit up.

"The punch actually wasn't for being a bad kisser. Although let me tell you, kid, you could use some practice there. The punch — I want you to get this right — was for fucking with me. The prince and me, you stay out of that. That's our fight, not yours. You're working for me, Elric. I keep my dogs on a long leash, but I don't put up with betrayal. And I don't like people who go back on their word. Got it?" Greed toed him gently with a boot.

Ed nodded. He hated to, but he got it. Fuck Greed for appealing to his sense of fairness, fuck Ling for making him stay out of the fight. Dammit.

Greed's arms came under his shoulders to help him up. Ed tried to shrug him off, stumbled, then just took it. Greed smelled like Ling. Ed hated this.

"First kiss, huh?" Greed was grinning now. Ed was so not in the mood. He shoved his hands into his pockets and said nothing. "Nice choice, you got good taste there." Greed kept a companionable arm around his shoulders. Ed shrugged him off and hunched his shoulders. Greed chuckled indulgently. Why the hell was he in such a good mood about this, anyway?

That evening, he didn't think it over so much as replay the whole bizarre experience in his head, again and again as he struggled to pitch his tent, and as he plucked the wild ducks Heinkel had brought back with — ew — teeth marks on the necks. That had been his first kiss. With Ling. He was definitely not counting the half-a-second that had been with Greed. Had Ed really liked it? He stared at Greed across the campfire while he bit into a duck leg. That was Ling's mouth, his teeth. Ed looked, and evaluated, and kind of glazed over a bit. Then Greed started making kissy faces at him, and Darius and Heinkel laughed, and Ed found himself threatening violence and blushing miserably.

For the couple of days after that, the experience just echoed in his head, quick flashbacks that came to him as he chopped wood or tramped through the fields. Ling's fingers on his scalp. The way kissing felt, invading, compelling, almost wrong, almost like fighting. How impossible it had been to stop once he'd started. Three days after the kiss, in his tent late at night, he found himself jerking off to the memory, and to the thoughts that fizzed from that memory, the other places that his brain decided he wanted to feel Ling's hands and mouth. He shook from the thought, from the shock of feeling what he wanted. Ed's fantasies had been vague, half-formed things, before all this.

Still, it wasn't that he didn't know what it felt like to like someone. In fact, he already liked someone. He liked his mechanic. The weird thing about this whole Ling thing was that it somehow made him want Winry even more. Before, his thoughts of her, even just to himself, had been half-aware: her cheeks and little mouth pink from the cold up in Briggs, her hair brushing his chest as she worked on his arm, his gallant attempts not to talk to her increasingly compelling cleavage. He'd even tried to ban her from creeping into his brain when he jerked off — what kind of sleazy creep would do that to their friend? — but she'd just snuck straight on back. Now, he was starting to see how that worked, to measure with some trepidation the power of his own desire. Having kissed, he knew he wanted to kiss her. Having found himself scarily close to third base, he was sure that he wanted to find himself there with her. That is, if he ever saw her again. But he would. Because they were going to win.

In other ways, this was kind of confusing. Apart from the fact that they could both annoy the shit out of him, Ling and Winry weren't exactly similar people in most ways. For example, Winry was a girl, Ling was a guy. There was that. This wasn't exactly a surprise — even Ed's vague jerk-off fantasies had let him know that there might be a part of him that could get into guys. Here it was, then.

It was strange, all this stuff. Before, he'd always assumed that sex, romance even, was something that was going to happen to him way in the future: after all this shit was sorted out, after Al had his body back, when he started this other life he was going to have. Now, he was realising that in a way, it had already happened to him, more than once. And that he wanted more of it. A lot more. And that he did not want to wait.

Ed spent his days treading warily around the unspoken knowledge that for him, there might not be any after the Promised Day. He would fight to survive with everything he could spare. But for Al, and for Amestris too, he knew he'd fight even harder, give every inch of himself. He could die doing this. It might happen. He aimed himself squarely at winning, he was going to kick that Father guy's ass, kick all their asses, pull Al's body from the Gate, spit in the Truth's eye, but — it might happen. Today, he looked ahead, towards the dark ponytail hanging down a stolen back, and he found he felt greedy.

Ling didn't show up until ten days after the kiss. By that time, Ed was resolutely trying to keep the whole business out of his mind, unless he was safely in his tent with a handkerchief. Jerking off in the woods was such a pain. Too many stinging nettles.

Ling ate up all the leftovers from lunch and got through a couple of their stash of canned stuff while they updated him on their travels. It turned out he knew most of it already from watching. Then Ed and Ling locked eyes, got up, and took a rapid walk away from Darius and Heinkel, into the empty fields. By the time Ed realised they hadn't even given an excuse, it was too late.

Never mind that right now. As soon as they were out of sight, hidden by a dip in the ground, Ed cupped Ling's face in his hands, leaned in and kissed him, with some enthusiasm. It was pretty much exactly how he'd remembered it. Which was to say, wonderful, awesome, his new favourite hobby. Ling kind of tasted of canned beef — but hey, after a few weeks on the road, Ed was finding himself a hell of a lot less fussy about meat out of a tin.

After they pulled away to breathe, Ling grinned and said, "Oh, good! I liked it before, I was hoping you'd want to —" Ed cut him off with another kiss, put an arm around Ling's waist, and pulled them both down into the long grass.

Almost immediately, Ling's hands were undoing his coat. That was cool. And sliding in to start popping the buttons on his shirt. That was — well, cool. But wow. Pretty quick. Although, maybe they didn't have a lot of time here? They knocked elbows, and Ed slid his hand down to the outside of Ling's thigh, to get it out of the way and give Ling some room to work here. Ling's hands paused, and he tugged on the shirt, squinting intensely at him, his head a little on one side. It looked dumb. It looked — gah — cute. And — oh, he was waiting for Ed to — confirm or something. "Yeah," said Ed, sounding out of breath to himself. "It's cool, do it." Ling grinned at him, the sneaky, happy, stealing-your-food grin. Then he started pulling at Ed's buttons again, so much faster, almost fumbling.

And that, pretty much, was that. It was a relief that it was just going to happen now, no suspense or run-around or argument to get through first. A relief, and also kind of on the terrifying side. They ground against each other and pulled at each other's clothes for a while as they kissed. Ed had no idea how to get Greed's stupid sleeveless shirt off, so he just shoved it up until it bunched around Ling's armpits. It was so strange to touch and be touched like this: wonderful and unnerving, bizarre and immediately, fantastically right. It made him shiver. Ling's skin felt smoother than he was expecting for a guy, not that Ed had much to go on here. His bones were smaller than Ed's. Feeling those lines of wiry muscle and flesh under his hand made Ed think of all the times he'd seen them in beautiful motion in the middle of a fight, Ling's dumb, show-off, badass moves. Had Ed been looking without noticing he was looking? It was a weird thought.

And on that, Ed felt a hand at the zipper of his pants. He was just able to take a few moments to be absolutely shit-scared before he found himself exposed to the cold air, with his pants around his thighs and another person's hand circling his dick.

Ah, fuck.

Ed had thought it would just feel pretty much like jerking off, but for some reason, it was easily a hundred times better. For a moment, he just lay there, senses contracted to the ache and the shiver and the delicious tension. But Ed felt certain that he wasn't the sort to just lie around — and Ling might be short on time, it didn't seem fair to wait. Having — right! — successfully talked himself into doing the right thing, Ed reached over to the waist of Ling's pants, popped the button and slid down the zipper, then reached in his slightly shaky left hand to take hold of Ling, warm and hardening. Ed hadn't been entirely sure whether he wanted to do this, right thing or not — but then Ling made an noise, a voiceless little "ah", and just like that, somehow, Ed's nerves and uncertainty gave way to an absolute, crazy delight.

It was pretty damn difficult to concentrate like this, with Ling's hand doing what it was doing, but Ed tried his best to keep up a rhythm. The whole time, he watched Ling's face, nervous that Greed would suddenly show up. It was weird how seeing the other person go crazy felt so good: how it somehow, obscurely got him going even after the tension inside him had spiralled and exploded. It was unnerving, wonderful and not quite wrong, all of it: the noises he heard himself making, Ling's whispers and the way he shook and bit his own lip at the end, even seeing his own come on Ling's bare chest. It was all fine. Better than fine. This was sex, then. Like kissing, it was strange and it was kind of messy, but who gave a damn, because it was fucking amazing.

Then he was lying with his pants half-down and his coat and shirt open, feeling numbed and buzzing, with one hand still inside Ling's undone suit pants. There were spears of grass sticking into his butt cheeks, and the air was chilly. He didn't care. He couldn't move. His skin fizzed and prickled with the cold. He felt like every inch of him was lit up like an electrical grid, conducting energy from somewhere outside of him. Ling's head was on his shoulder. It was strange to think that, from a certain technical perspective, he could now say that he'd lost his virginity in a field, while on the lam, to Ling Yao, twelfth heir to the Imperial Throne of Xing, idiot and homunculus.

"So, you done that before?" Ed moved Ling's head off his shoulder, and propped himself up on one elbow to look at him.

Ling's smile was smug and irritating. Ed kissed it off his face, then leaned back to let him answer. "Oh yes," he said cheerfully. Damn. "But mostly with girls."

"I" — Ed screwed up his face — "haven't. With anyone." He added, lamely, "I've been really busy. Getting Al's body back and everything."

"There's a harem at my clan's palace." Bastard. Then Ed's words seemed to belatedly register. "I'm honoured to have been your first! Tell me, did you enjoy it? I'm told I'm very good."

Ed narrowed his eyes at Ling. What was he supposed to say? He shrugged. "Yeah. It was pretty good. Was I okay?"

Ling moved over to him with a look he'd previously seen on his face when Ling was attempting to chat up Winry. And her boss. "You're very beautiful," he murmured in Ed's ear.

Ed shoved him away, irritated to find that something in Ling's voice had gone straight to the pit of his stomach. "What, you're trying to seduce me? You just got a hand job, you're doing this in the wrong order, loser." Then it occurred to him that Ling had dodged the question. "Wait, was it not good? Did I do it wrong?" How could he even have done it wrong? He did it himself often enough, didn't he? He went to fold his arms defensively, then stopped himself in time and wiped his hand on the grass. Yeah, he must have done something right.

Ling put his head on one side for a moment. "It was very nice. Thank you. And you know, it takes a while to pick these things up."

Ed huffed out breath through his nose, angrily. Ling laughed and squirmed under him. "I had very good instructors. And I'd be happy to give you a few hints."

"What?" Right, that was it. Ed had the sinking feeling that he probably wasn't up to going again, right now. He completely ignored it. He flipped himself over to straddle Ling, pinned him down and kissed him with great concentration. Ling lay there and took it. Ed moved his mouth and started nipping at the corner of Ling's jaw, and then his earlobe. Ling made a hilarious squeaking noise, so Ed did it again, long enough to pick up that he liked it. He bore down on Ling, kissed his way down his jaw and went in for his mouth again, and — hey, wait a minute here. He pulled back. Ling's eyes were nearly closed, just slivers of purple-black peeking out from under his sparse lashes. His expression was fantastically smug.

Ed leaned into him and grinned, full of a new kind of power. "I know your game," he muttered into Ling's ear. "You can't play me." It wasn't just a boast. It was a challenge.

"I bet I can," Ling whispered, rubbing a thumb over Ed's nipple. Ed drew a sharp little breath. Then he looked Ling in the eye. His smile was broad and cunning, his face sharp and beautiful. They both knew the game. It was a new one for Ed, but hey, he picked things up fast.

Ling placed a slow series of little kisses down Ed's neck, over his collarbone. Ed let him. "I don't know how long I have this time," Ling muttered, "But I'll be back. Believe me. Could we carry on with this for now?"

Did he mean like, right this minute, or the next time he got his body back? Ed didn't like to ask. "Yeah. I mean, if you want to. Is it helping?"

Ling flicked his tongue across Ed's nipple. Ed groaned. "Wonderfully," said Ling. "It really is."