They'd been right to say screw it and light the fire. It was New Year's Eve, right? Even if someone saw, who'd bother to come look? Plus, stealth was no good to you if it turned you into a popsicle.
From his spot on the dark hillside, Ed shivered reflexively. He was finally warming up, or at least half of him was. His back, turned to the fire, was uncomfortably hot; his front, turned towards the lights of the town below, still felt frozen. He tugged down his hat and wrapped his coat closer around his body.
Next to him on the grass, Greed shifted. He'd claimed, as usual, not to feel the cold. For a few minutes back there, they'd almost had a civil conversation going. Then Greed had done one of his sudden shifts of mood; turned snappish, then silent. Well, that was fine with Ed. He was cool to just sit here quietly and watch the show.
From the direction of the town, there was a distant crack like the firing of a gun. Seemed they'd started up again, then. From somewhere far below their spot, there was a distant crack. A little spark of flew upwards, high into the sky, trailing a thin tail of light behind it. Then it detonated with a dull sound, splintering into a shower of glittering sparks. They shivered in the air for a moment, then faded and fell.
"Is this as good as it gets in Amestris, firework-wise?" Ling said from next to him.
Ed jumped, then tried to cover it up. "Whoa," he said. "When d'you get here?"
"Greed's bored of my whining, apparently," Ling said. "He's turned in for the night."
So that was it. Good work. Ed raised his left fist without looking, and Ling tapped his own against it.
Another couple of rockets went up. These produced more of a disappointing little twinkling cloud. Ed preferred the big bangs.
"Seriously," said Ling, "I don't mean to be rude, but these fireworks are really mediocre."
Ed shrugged. "This is just some podunk little town. In Central, they have this huge display every year, in Unification Square in the middle of town. Supposedly awesome. Never been."
"We have fireworks for New Year too. You probably got the idea from us. Of course, the most stunning New Year firework display is supposed to be the one put on for the Emperor. It's in his palace grounds, of course, but that's in the middle of the capital, so the whole city gets to watch it. I've never been. Although I'm sure it's much better than Central's."
"How the hell d'you know which is better without seeing either?"
"My country invented fireworks."
"My country invented kicking your ass."
"I doubt it did. You lost the last two times we sparred."
"You tickled me! Dirty tactics."
"It still counts as a win," Ling said loftily. "Don't knock dirty tactics. They've saved my life many times."
"Sure, survival," Ed said. "But if you're just trying to accurately verify who out of two people is definitively the most badass, you need a fair yardstick. So."
"Ah," said Ling. "Your yardstick again. You're obsessed with that thing." He leaned into Ed's ear. "I can assure you I find it quite fair," he muttered, in that low voice that, bastard that he was, he must know went straight to Ed's crotch.
Ed tutted at Ling and leaned his head back out the way. But he was grinning.
"I love the smell of fireworks in cold air," said Ling.
"We can't smell them from here."
"I know that. But I remember." Ling took a good sniff of the cold air. "The smell always reminds me of New Year celebrations. The fireworks, the dinners, the dumplings. I can't believe I'm going to miss it."
"You're technically missing it right now."
Ling shook his head. "It's in two months' time. Different calendar. How come you have your New Year in the middle of winter, anyway? It's so depressing."
"Why would I even know that?"
"You should celebrate the end of winter at the end of winter, that's what sensible countries do. Anyway, I was in the middle of reminiscing about the dumplings. Dinner is on its way, right?"
Ed had to love the way Ling thought dinner was going to wander along under its own steam. "Lion King and Donkey Kong are out getting it. Greed and I were supposed to break camp." Which Greed had done with the minimum of effort.
Another round of fireworks went up. These rockets detonated into blossoms of purple - and a moment later, detonated a second time, each single spark crackling into a halo of tinier sparks. Ed grinned and applauded.
"That one was actually quite good," Ling acknowledged as the sparks rained down. "They're a very ancient art, you know, fireworks. We've had them in Xing for at least a thousand years."
"How is that possible?" said Ed. "Fireworks need gunpowder, and firearms weren't around a thousand years back."
"Simple," said Ling. "We invented fireworks first. Gunpowder was for fireworks before it was for guns. The military application came later."
"I guess the science of it all is pretty simple," said Ed. ""Charcoal, sulphur, saltpetre, then boom."
"It's the art of making a good firework that's complicated, I suppose," Ling said. "Isn't it always like that?"
"Not always," said Ed, "but in this case I'll give you it. Like, how d'you make the different colours? And what do they use to get them to explode outwards so the pattern's so spherical and neat?"
Ling shrugged. "I'm not that much of an expert. I just like them."
"What about those flashbomb things you guys used to carry?"
Ling sighed. "I miss those. No idea what's in them, though."
Ed put his chin on his hands, flicking through the possibilities in his mind. "Potassium burns purple!" he exclaimed. "I bet that's it, they add different metals depending on what colour they want." Another spark flew upward and detonated into an orange bloom. "That one'll be calcium!" said Ed. The next firework was red. "Lithium! I can't believe I never seriously studied this before. Bet I could make my own."
"Ed, I'm not so sure that's a good idea -"
"Says the man with flashbombs in his pocket."
"Ed, you're not me. If you blow your nose off, it won't grow back."
"Spotted that already," Ed said sourly, wiggling his automail hand at Ling. But yeah. Point taken. At some point, he should probably learn to recognise and avoid fun alchemical experiments that were likely to blow up in his face.
"Next New Year," Ling said, "I wonder where I'll be?"
"The capital, right?" said Ed. "World's sweetest firework display."
Ling nodded firmly. "So I hope. And you? In Central, for the world's second best firework display?"
Ed nodded back. "We'll go together, Al and Winry and me. They have this big night market full of food. Mulled wine, chicken on a stick, doughnuts ..." He stopped. It didn't feel right. It was like he was taking their reunion, their victory, for granted already. He couldn't do that. And they felt so far away right now. Where were they right now? Somewhere warmer, he hoped.
"It's all right to look ahead," Ling said quietly into the silence. "Better than looking behind, anyhow."
Ed laughed shortly.
"You know how we greet each other at New Year, back home? Like this." Ling offered him a few syllables of Xingese. It sounded good, whatever it was. "May you realise your goals," Ling translated. "May your wishes be fulfilled. Happy New Year, Ed." He leaned in, put his lips to Ed's. When Ed closed his eyes, Ling seemed to take it as a cue to make the kiss a deep and thorough one.
"Happy New Year," Ed said when they parted. "You totally made up the part about the kissing."
"I never said I didn't," Ling said, then tackled him to the ground.
Ed briefly considered telling Ling about mistletoe, then reconsidered. The stuff grew around here; if Ling ever got ahold of any, then Ed would truly discover the limits of his ability to be a pain in the ass. Better to just lie here by the fire and carry on doing what they were doing. This might, most things considered, not be the greatest New Year's Eve, but Ed was at least spending it among friends. And making out with someone. That part didn't suck either, Ed thought, slipping his hand down to grab a handful of butt -
Something dropped heavily onto the ground next to them.
Ed detached his mouth from Ling's. They both turned their heads. Cheek to cheek, they looked at it. It was a brace of dead rabbits.
It was somewhat too late to break apart and pretend nothing was happening. So Ed just lay there: resigned, mortified, and half-covered in possessed foreign royalty.
"Happy New Year, boys," said Darius, without discernible enthusiasm. "May your days be merry and bright. Now, stop smooching and start skinning."