Set during Greedling, Ed and the chimerae's time on the lam together after Ch. 83 and before the Promised Day.
When they'd started this stupid, hotel-free outdoor trek through the country, him and Greed and the chimerae, Ed had said to himself, eh, this is gonna be easy. Hadn't he survived a month on a deserted island when he was ten, equipped only with a little knife and one pair of shorts? He was tough. He was rugged. He could fall asleep anywhere. He could totally do this.
He was really surprised to find out that he sucked at it.
Ed poked the pole up into the hole at the edge of the tent flap, then slammed it hard into the ground. He looked it over, then glanced behind him to Darius and Heinkel's tents, already up and pegged out with annoying, military precision. Damn. His looked weird, kind of like it was at a funny angle. Goddammit. He was a scientist! If he could sculpt a sweet pole-arm with a flaming skull on the hilt out of pavement in ten seconds flat, how come he couldn't get a pup tent up right the first time? The flysheet kind of sagged. Maybe it'd look okay once he pegged out the guyropes? He took hold of a rope and pulled it out. The tent looked instantly better, so he pulled it a bit further, then popped a peg into the loop at the end, straightened up, and stamped it down hard.
In slow motion, the poles swayed inward. Ed flailed forward for them with a shout - and before he could catch one, the tent quietly imploded into a crumpled pool of canvas on the ground.
From his perch on a log on the opposite side of the campfire, Greed started up a slow, sarcastic handclap.
Ed flipped him off without looking up. Then he slapped his hands together and threw them to the ground. The tent sprang up, stretched itself taut - then there was a nasty ripping sound. Ed stopped the transmutation hurriedly. The tent held for a moment, and slowly collapsed again. Shit, he knew he shouldn't have done that. Understanding, decomposition and reconstruction: if he didn't know how to get a tent up right by hand, he couldn't do it with alchemy.
"Ooooh," said Greed. "Close but no cigar."
"If I wanted a goddamn radio commentary I'd - hey, you know what, I don't. Shut the fuck up." Ed pulled the collapsed tent apart, throwing the sheets and poles and pegs in different directions with satisfying violence.
"Hey now, you're my subordinate, remember? That how you talk to your boss?"
Come to think about it, it kind of was. Ed snorted, and got to work. These things were not made to be put up solo, that was the problem here. And getting Greed to help was like pulling teeth, plus he actually sucked at this worse than Ed. If Al was here -
Greed flicked a little clod of earth at him, and it landed in his hair. "Hey Elric! Want to show your leader a bit of respect, or want me to come over there and make you?" He held up a claw. Whatever. Greed had had plenty of opportunities to throw a punch or to ditch them, yet, no matter much shit he talked, he never did.
"Miss having a posse of fans to rub your ego, huh?" Ed commented, wrestling with the fly sheet.
Greed looked at him sourly. His mouth worked, but the comeback didn't appear. Ed felt a quick pulse of guilt. Damn, that was kind of a low blow. Why did Greed have to needle him the whole time? Ed remembered the old Greed as irritatingly laid back, cheerful even when he was taking a punch. Was it the bad memories that made the new Greed so twitchy and bad-tempered? Or maybe he just hated camping?
Done, he took a step back and surveyed the tent. At least Greed had finally shut up. Cautiously, he poked one of the poles at the top. There was a little wobble, but nothing too dangerous. Good enough.
Behind Ed, Greed made a funny noise, as if he was choking back laughter. Ed didn't look up, didn't give him the satisfaction. He grabbed his bed roll and crawled into the tent. Once it was set out, he gave himself a moment of peace to pull faces, and to dampen the urge to punch Greed right on the nose - ha, Ling would never forgive him if he broke it.
He emerged from the tent a little calmer. If Greed was going to carry on being a dick and trying to push his buttons, Ed wasn't going to rise to it. He could go for a walk, get some more firewood -
From the other side of the fire, Greed was staring at him, oddly intense, with his chin propped on one hand.
"What?" Ed said, irritable. Then, a moment later, realising, "Oh."
Ed rummaged in his rucksack and found a can of beans, a tin-opener, and a fork. Then he wandered around the edge of the fire and flopped down on the log next to Ling.
Ling smiled with one side of his mouth, as if both sides would be too much effort. He said quietly, "Hey."
Ed bumped his shoulder lightly with a fist. "Where've you been?"
A small, tired laugh. "How long has it been this time?" Greed always drawled; but Ling sounded his consonants with aggravating, textbook care, the tiny hint of an accent somewhere in his vowel sounds. It was kind of good to hear him.
"Ten days. I thought you were supposed to be getting better at this?"
"I am. Greed's very annoyed about it."
"I know. He keeps bitching to us about you."
"He's trying to build the walls higher, to stop me breaking through so often. I've offended his dignity. But it's too much effort for him to keep up permanently. I think I'm doing quite well."
"Can he hear us right now?"
Ling put his head on one side, as if he was considering it. "No. He's retreated. I think he's sulking."
Ed waved the can of beans and started opening it up. "Room service, mooch. If you can hang on a couple hours, there should be rabbit-on-a-stick too. Lion King and Donkey Kong are catching dinner for us right now."
Ling pulled a face. "Greed doesn't eat enough for me, he always picks at his food. You'd think he'd have a bigger appetite given the name, it's so annoying. I'm still growing! I keep telling him, I'll end up stunted, how am I supposed to cut an imposing figure as Emperor if I'm all —"
Ed clapped, perhaps a little more aggressively than he needed to. He cupped the can of beans in his automail hand, and it started steaming. He stirred it briskly and held it out to Ling.
Ling reached for it eagerly - then yelped, snatched his hand away and shook it. "Look!" He showed Ed his hand, pouting. Shiny, pink new burn marks had raised themselves on the pads of his long fingers. A moment later, they faded neatly away.
Ed snorted. "There. All better." He set the can down on the log between them.
Ling flopped down so that he was lying on the log, long legs straddling it, propping himself up with his elbows. He shuffled his hand down into his jacket sleeve, cupped the can with the sleeve, and started hoovering up the beans with the fork.
It took Ling about ten seconds to finish up the can. Looking suddenly much more energetic, he sat up and slapped a hand down on his thigh. "Well! It wasn't much, but supplies must be low, I can appreciate that! I'm looking forward to the rabbit, I hope they bring enough, Greed doesn't eat properly, you know, even though I keep telling him —"
"Yeah. You said that three seconds ago."
"Well, it's very trying." Ling looked a little rattled. Ed was a bit unnerved himself; forgetfulness wasn't a good sign that Ling was keeping himself whole.
Ling set the empty can on the ground, swung his leg over the log, and scootched closer to Ed. He put his head on Ed's shoulder and butted his forehead gently against Ed's neck. "Eddd ..."
Ed looked at Ling through the corner of his eye. Ling was giving him that look, the exasperating, stray cat, feed-me look. It was so fucking lame. Ed had no idea why it always worked.
He rolled his eyes. "What, right now?"
"Why not now? Your friends are out, and I've told you before, it does me good. It helps me concentrate, it helps me hang onto this body longer." It always made Ed's stomach clench a bit when Ling said that, this body when it should be my body. "And I really want to be here for the roast rabbit."
Ed could feel himself giving in. He shoved a hand through Ling's bangs, ruffled them so they stuck up even more. "'Kay. You're on." He jerked his head at his tent.
Ling hopped upright and disappeared into Ed's tent so fast that Ed half-expected to see a little cartoon cloud of dust behind him.
Ed got up, stretched, and followed. As he crouched and popped his head through the entrance, Ling's arms came quickly up under his shoulders, flipped him over and threw him forward lightly. He landed on his back on top of his sleeping bag. Ling surged forward and sat on him, straddling his hips. The move hadn't been a total surprise - but these days, Ed found himself wanting to let Ling win one every so often.
Ed said, "Never happy unless you've got your shirt off." Ling had stripped his shirt and jacket off already, and was looking down at him with a face full of delight and cunning. The hand with the tattoo was resting lightly on Ed's belt buckle.
Ed propped himself up on his automail arm, stretched his other hand behind Ling's head, and pulled him down into a kiss. They fell together onto the sleeping bag, bodies flush against each other, hands everywhere already.
Heinkel sniffed the cool evening air. He stretched his head up, put his ears back, and yawned cavernously. "Ah, peace and quiet."
Darius scratched the back of his head. "So. Who'd ya say is the most annoying out of the three of them: little Fullmetal, Greed or the prince?"
Heinkel shrugged. "Eh."
Darius nodded. "Eh." They walked on, in cheerful silence.
Ed had no idea what had happened to his pants. Ling seemed to manage to do this every time, to get him naked somehow when he wasn't looking. But then, Ed kind of sucked at multitasking when he was making out. It was like when he was reading, he got so absorbed in what he was doing that you could throw a brick at his head and he probably wouldn't notice until it hit.
This time, he'd been nosing over Ling's shoulders and back. He was kind of fascinated by how Ling was built so different to himself: slim and stretchy like one of those freaky Eastern cats, fine bones and long limbs and lean, ropy muscles. When he'd first met the guy he'd thought he looked really weedy; but Ling was strong. Ed had pushed his nose around the hollow above Ling's collarbone, smelled the good, human smell of sweat, licked a bit and moved up to the spot at the corner of Ling's jaw, because it always made him go crazy when Ed put his mouth there, and that was hilarious. Ling had squeaked and wriggled and put his head down, Ed had moved his hands and mouth on to the curve of Ling's back, and then he'd felt suddenly cold and looked away from the smoothly shifting muscles to find - no pants. Or boots and socks either. Okay, he got how Ling could get the boot off the automail without him noticing, but how did he do the other foot?
His underpants were still on; for some reason, Ling was endlessly amused by the strange Western concept of boxer shorts. Ling pinged the waistband; Ed rolled his eyes. Ling himself never seemed to bother with underwear, Greed or no Greed. Ed sort of got how that would work okay in the baggy pants - not that Ed would want to fight with his tackle swinging around freely - but in his Greed outfit, that was just odd. Did homunculi not chafe or something?
At any rate, at least it streamlined things now. Ed pulled Greed's stupid pointy boots off Ling's feet, undid the fly of the expensive suit pants and shimmied those off too. That was much better. Naked, Ling looked much more like himself. He sprawled happily for a moment, then launched himself back into Ed's body space, stopping when they were nose to nose. Ling gave him a slightly cross-eyed smile and pulled the tie from Ed's hair, combing both hands through it.
Ed tapped Ling on the head, cautiously. "He's not —"
"I told you, he's sulking. We're alone." Ling wrapped himself round Ed, shuffled deliciously, and bowled them both over again. They landed in a sprawl of limbs, Ling on top of Ed. His left hand circled Ed's human wrist and pinned it to the ground.
Ed shifted under him, testing the grip. "Okay, but —" Ling cut him off by grinding against him and scratching his free hand down Ed's exposed left side. Ed twitched and made a noise in his throat. The scratching always got him.
They rolled on the bag for a few moments, kissing hard. Then they crashed into the wall of the tent.
It wobbled dangerously. For a moment Ed thought this was going to be a repeat of that time three weeks ago when the whole tent came down on top of them. Ling had just carried right on, even smothered by a ton of canvas. Anything to get him out of helping to fix the tent. This time, though, the poles held up.
God, Ed was so sick of this shitty tent, of goddamn Greed and his smug stolen face, of dirt and crap in the joints of his automail, of feeling grimy and stinky the whole time, of the freezing cold nights. He really wanted to bitch to Al about all of it. This had to be the longest they'd ever been apart, and god, it felt like losing a limb. And Ed should know. And the next time they saw each other was probably going to be with the world falling down around them, only one day to stop it, and Winry wouldn't leave the country, Granny wouldn't leave, and it was maybe their one chance to get Al's body too, they had to be ready, had to know more -
Ling cuffed Ed's cheek lightly. Ed frowned, remembering what he was supposed to be doing. "Stop that. Stop thinking." Ling put a finger under Ed's chin, tilted it up, and squinted at him fiercely. "You can think any time, I can think any time, it's all I do these days —"
Ed muttered, "Don't order me about." But his fingers still curled around Ling's wrist, all on their own.
Ling said, "I can't help it, being royalty you know, command comes naturally."
Ed bit back a response about how little commanding Ling was doing these days, now that he'd rolled over and handed his body to a smirking monster. It wasn't really a fair shot. Instead he just snorted, and put his automail hand flat on Ling's back to draw them closer.
Ling said, in that velvety whisper that he seemed to delude himself was seductive, the one that made Ed's stomach do an annoying little flip, every time, "Let's not think. Let's not think right now, just for a little bit. Let's just feel." It was amazing how he could just come out with stuff like that, it was like he'd had his sense of embarrassment excised at birth or something.
Ed headbutted him gently. "You're so freaking cheesy."
Ling raised an eyebrow. "My words are like cheese? That's a funny compliment. What does it mean?"
Ed rolled his eyes. "It's not a compliment, doofus. It means —"
"But you like cheese. Your people go crazy for cheese, you all eat it at every single meal, why would cheese mean not good —"
"Ling?" Ed eyeballed him and put a hand to the inside of Ling's thigh, right at the top. "Shut up." Ling sucked in a breath, grinned, and shut up.
Darius hefted a full canvas bag over his shoulder. "Well, that should do it for tonight. Shall we get back to the kids?"
Heinkel picked a stray bit of fur from his teeth with a claw. "Nah. Let's give them a few minutes. My money's on the prince showing up today - Greed had that spacey look earlier. "
"Screw their hormones, I want to eat."
"C'mon. Remember being that age?"
"Eh. Wouldn't be that age again if you paid me. But now I think about it, if the prince is in, we're gonna need a couple more rabbits."
A few minutes later, Ed and Ling lay tangled together under the open sleeping bag, both quiet for once. Ed was scratching the back of Ling's head, and Ling was stretching and wriggling gently, his fingers shifting over Ed's spine. Ed said, "Feel better?"
"Much better." Ling put his head on one side, pushed his nose behind Ed's ear. "More at home in myself," he said. "But now I'm really hungry again."
"Reckon you can hang on long enough for the rabbit?"
Ling nodded, and nipped at his ear.
Outside the tent, something dropped to the floor with a loud thump.
Heinkel's voice said loudly, "Huh. We lost the brats. Maybe they went off to drain the lizard. Lizards."
Darius said, "Together? Like high school girls?"
Ed muttered, "Shit." He rummaged through the pile of clothes on the groundsheet, and shoved Greed's pants at Ling.
A few moments later, Ed popped out of the tent, hair still down and shirt untucked. "Hey!" He raised a hand to Darius and Heinkel. "Ling's here! We were talking, only in the tent because it was warmer in there and Ling was cold, and —"
Heinkel narrowed his eyes sceptically. Ed looked around; Ling had sauntered out of the tent, barefoot and bare-chested, wearing his jacket over his shoulders like a cape. He looked at Ed in confusion, as if to say, what's all the fuss about? Ed glared at him, then decided to just cut his losses, shut his mouth and sit down.
Darius reached into the canvas bag by the fire, got something out and slung it at Ling. Ed watched as Ling caught it automatically, and then took in the fact that it was a rabbit: not roasted on a stick, but flopping in its original, furry packaging.
Ling said hopefully, "Couldn't I do the vegetables? I'm very good at chopping fast, it's the sword skills."
Darius said, "What vegetables?"
Ling put his lower lip out. "We'll get scurvy, you know. Aren't monkeys supposed to be omnivorous? You don't just have to hunt things, you could look for fruit and mushrooms too, and maybe asparagus, I like that, we'd have a much more balanced diet."
Darius said, "Ape. Gorillas are apes, not monkeys."
Heinkel said, "Must be nice to have servants to do all this crap for you."
Ling squinted intensely down at the rabbit in his hands and made a wistful little noise, as if he was hoping it would spontaneously grill itself, or perhaps transform into a bowl of noodles. "Yes," he sighed, "It really is."
Just over an hour later, and dinner was served. Heinkel handed around portions of meat on sticks. Ed demolished his first helping in a few seconds and picked up another from the fire. The edge taken off his hunger, he looked up to see how Ling was getting along. Where food was concerned, you really had to watch the guy if you wanted to keep any for yourself.
Ling was sniffing his portion of meat suspiciously: head down, eyes hidden, his lip curling a little bit.
Ed said, "Greed, if you don't like it, go catch us a fucking souffle."
Greed looked up at him. His violet eyes reflected the firelight like a cat's. He held his rabbit leg at arm's length, pulling the edges of his mouth down into a frown. "Ugh. Country food. Your kind of thing, farmboy. I got more sophisticated tastes."
Ed said, "You're a dick, Greed. Ling really wanted the roast rabbit."
Greed shrugged. "Can't let him have everything."
Ed felt his cheeks heating up. He muttered, gruffly, "You better not have ..."
Greed snorted. "Like I'd wanna look. I told you, I got sophisticated tastes, you fumbling little teenage puppydog."
Heinkel jerked his head up and said, "Kids, kids. Some of us ran around the woods like asses to bag this gourmet cuisine."
Darius added, "And if you two noisy little brats don't shut up and let us eat it in peace, we'll just drop you in the river."
Ed snarled, automatically, "Little?" At the same time Greed yelled, "Brat? I'm two hundred years old, monkey-man."
Darius and Heinkel just looked at them with a kind of weary threat. Darius's shoulders hunched. Heinkel's hair puffed out from his head, like the fur of an angry cat, and his nose flattened a bit. He pushed his spectacles up.
Ed looked down and pushed his lower lip out, and tore a big chunk of meat from his rabbit leg with his teeth. Greed folded his arms and looked off to one side, as if to imply that the whole exchange bored him unbelievably. They both shut up.
Two hours later, and Ed shifted sleeplessly in his thin, crappy sleeping bag. He pulled the opening tight around his neck and shoulders to lock out the chilly air, feeling the lumps of packed earth through the hard sleeping mat. He was wearing every layer of clothing he had, right down to gloves, hood, and a dumb woolly hat, but still, his nose was so cold it ached, and the arm brace was freezing the rest of him like he'd put a bag of ice on his shoulder. The tent still smelled like sex. He'd vaguely thought about airing it when he turned in, but he didn't want to let in the biting night breeze. Weirdly enough, the smell was kind of comforting.
Greed would be somewhere outside, poking at the fire, or maybe walking the perimeter of their camp, or dozing warily with his back against a tree. And somewhere out there was Ling, too: shackled to the walls of his own mind, picking away at Greed's resolve, waiting for his next opportunity with a steady patience Ed would have never believed he had.
That was what this part was about, wasn't it? Patience. He thought of Al, wherever he was, journeying on alone in the shell of himself, steady and centred as always. Winry, at her workbench in Rush Valley, working through the hot night. Hawkeye, cleaning her gun by night, and by day pouring tea for the monster she was plotting to destroy. Mustang, swivelling his chair in his empty office. Ran Fan, gritting her teeth through shredded nerves, the drill into her bones and the new weight of steel on her shoulder. And all the others. They shared a burden, all of them, despite their separate goals. They were all pointed at the same target, counting down the days. Ed imagined them as a constellation, scattered points linked by a common purpose. He pictured threads of light running between their lonely stations, joining them all up into an array.
One more step, one more day. In his mind, Ed marked a notch into a tree.