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Weird Autumn

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Ling was sat on his porch nursing a cold coffee and an aged head-ache when his new neighbour arrived. The house – if it could be called that – had been vacant for a year prior, so seeing a moving van pull up was something of a shock, and Ling considered crawling back inside and watching first from a distance. He was hardly a shy person, but his head was swimming with his politics assignments and any conversation that wasn’t ‘was Fuhrer Bradly an affective leader during his reign’ seemed more than he could handle.

The driver hopped out of the van before turning back, waiting for the resident to hop out and open the door. The man who came around the other side must have been just a couple of years older than Ling, sporting a trendy black undercut offset by his seemingly skin-tight shirt and leather jackets. His wrists were adorned with 2007 style punk tie-around bracelets, coupled with a gentle winged eyeliner, and to complete the absurdity he was wearing a cropped vest jacket with a fur collar. Were it not an invasion of privacy, Ling would have snapped a picture over to Ed because he couldn’t believe that anyone would wear that, let alone someone Ling would encounter. It was a good thing the stranger was attractive, as he could pull of the look about as well as it could have been.

In fact, it seemed as if he was exactly the kind of person to dress like that, and as he walked there was a confidence and ease in his stride which almost excused his fashion taste. He walked as someone comfortable in their body, the kind of confidence that drew people in, whether from attraction of envy. Ling tried not to be rude and instead focused on the cold swirl of coffee left in his mug, but at almost every sound his gaze betrayed him and looked back at the stranger,

The man, instead of going straight to the door, stopped at the back of the van and shoved one of the cardboard boxes full of his bric-a-brac under one arm, offering to take another off the van driver who had been lifting them out the car. Even carrying the cumbersome boxes, there was no awkwardness to his movements, probably due to the strength of his arms – look at them holy shit how much did he lift. With this he headed to the door, opening it and dumping the boxes in the entrance before surprisingly enough turning to Ling.

“You live there?”

Ling blinked, looking at his door adjacent to the strangers. Out here, there was only a thin metal rail dividing their section of wall and stairs, “Yeah.”

“Guess we’re neighbours then,” They grinned, and Ling couldn’t help noticing how his face seemed to glow just then, “Now’s a bad time, but I’ll catch you around, yeah?”

Ling could only nod in reply, watching the stranger disappear into his own apartment with the mover in tow. Once alone outside, Ling practically sprinted back into his house, closing the door and shooting a frantic text to Ed.

New neighbour moved in
Weird guy
Lemme come over n gossip?

It only took a few minutes for Ling’s phone to buzz. Perfect timing too, as he’d finished his coffee by then and was rearing to go.

Dude last time you asked to come and gossip you ate everything in the house

Also sure.

Ling grabbed the nearest coat, which had been strewn across the back of the sofa, and ducked out the building, hoping not to accidentally catch his neighbour on the way. The van was still there, with just one last box ready to be collected, but no one appeared to claim it while Ling passed by.

As was the way with student accommodation, everyone lived relatively close to one another, and Ling only had a five-minuet journey to get to Ed and Winry’s house. Originally Ling and Ed had intended to house share, but Ling’s family was well off enough to support him alone and when Ed finally asked Winry out that had been the end of it, although when Al moves out of halls he might end up sharing with Ling.

Mostly, Ling felt lucky to have been accepted so quickly, having befriended people who all knew each other prior to moving to Central. He had left his family behind and broken off with his girlfriend, all for the dream of a better understanding in Amestris, although whether this was of the world around him or himself he hadn’t quite decided yet; if it was himself, he was a long way from a break-through.

He gave a loud knock on the door and Winry answered, sceptical until she saw him, “Heyya there Ling, what brings you here not at dinner time?”

“Just here to gossip, that’s all,” He smiled and rubbed the back of his head nervously, “I don’t just only come for food!”

“Uh-huh,” She sounded unconvinced, but her face broke into a smile, “It’s alright, come on in! Congrats on using the door this time. Ed? Ed!”

A reply came from deeper in the house and they stepped inside, Ling kicking his shoes off on the welcome mat before gently closing the door behind him. He always enjoyed being round there’s, partly for the company but also just the vibe of their house, the strange combination of modern and old making it seem like the perfect family house; just rough enough around the edges. On the opening hall hung a corkboard will all sorts of junk – flyers for local events, a calendar and old family or childhood photos. Winry had bought Ed a polaroid camera for his birthday, and all along the edges were polaroids of their university experience, from boozy parties to more quiet and tender moments. Ling saw the photo of himself doing a keg-stand, and decided to quickly hurry along.

He followed Winry down the corridor into the living/dining room, where Ed was sprawled out on the sofa, looking as if he’d only just woken up. Scattered around the room were all sorts of miscellaneous items, chemistry books, cryptic notes, gears and springs and an array of tools. A mechanical arm was laid out, dismembered on the table, and it was only then that Ling noticed Ed had removed his. Must have needed maintenance.

“Can I see?” Winry had sat once more before the arm in front of her and Ling couldn’t help his curiosity, practically peering over her shoulder. Winry nodded and he stepped closer, admiring all the wires and fine tuning which comprised the arm.

Ed sat up, looking at Ling strangely, “You didn’t just come here to admire my arm, did ya?”

He smiled in return, “No, but it’s cool to look at.” Ling crossed the small distance between the dining table and the sofa, electing to sit cross-legged besides Ed, “You ready for the test?”

“Am I ever,” Ed groaned, resting his head back against the cushion of the sofa, “How about you, Lunchbox? You got anything up other than ogling your neighbour?”

“Shut up,” Ling rolled his eyes, pulling out his hairband so his head could rest comfortably on the cushion too, “You should have seen how he was dressed. His coat had a fur neckline, Ed. Fur. And he had these ridiculous round glasses that were hanging on his collar, I can’t even begin on them. They looked straight out of the 1980’s, or worse.”

“Yeah but you also worse a shoulder belt for like a year which really is barely one up from a fanny pack so,” Ed laughed, prodding Ling with his metal foot, “So what does he look like? Besides the fashion statement, that is.”

Ling thought back, trying to trace the stranger’s features in his memory, “I didn’t get a great look, but… Attractive, that’s for sure. He had huge arms dude, like guy must be a real gym rat. He had something on his hand, but I couldn’t tell what… I think it was a tattoo, although what of beats me. Undercut, strong jaw, the usual. Weird teeth, like shark teeth.”

“Sounds like you did get a pretty good look,” Ed grinned, “Are you going to start talking about his sandy, fluttering eyelashes and perfectly manicured hands next?”

They both just laughed, before moving on to other, more interesting topics. What Ling learnt was that Ed’s prosthetic pretty much needed repair every month since he was ‘rough with it’, especially with the sparring classes they do. Winry’s tone implied this was a pointed statement, but they just brushed it off.

“Al’s coming for dinner if you wanna stay?” Ed suggested.

“You could have just said dinner to make me stay,” Ling winked, “But that’s ages away, do you have any snacks?”

Ling stayed with them till the tired sun had sunk, but even through the meal he couldn’t but help cast his mind back to the strange man living next to him. He’d have to get their name at least.

Chapter Text

Breaking the still of the early morning, Ling was woken up to his alarm blearing ‘Like a G6’ on repeat. At the beginning of the semester he had signed up for the earlier classes, thinking that during the day he would be able to do more work on campus, but this was before he developed into a regular university student with crippling stress-induced insomnia. Ed often complained about his lab at 10, only to remember Ling’s 5am and just give him a pity-pat on the back. Ling’s class itself was basically dead; there were three regular students and a couple of random hungover attendees depending on if they could drag themselves out of bed that day. As it happened, there had been several times where he hadn’t made it to the seminar himself, but he was far too proud to ever admit it. Ling was painfully aware of the autumn days, too, as it was becoming darker every time he woke up, and when winter fell he’d have the walk guided only by streetlights.

At least he’ll be able to look at the stars, and besides currently with the leaves turning auburn and the low sunrise, it was incredibly picturesque. The street itself was lined with trees for some of the walk, so the ground was littered by crunchy leaves which, when no one was looking, Ling made a point to step on. The land in Xing was arid and dry, and beautiful as it was, the foliage didn’t compare.

With this in mind, Ling rolled out of bed with a groan, landing softly on a pile of laundry before gripping the bed frame and pulling himself up. Dreary, he began scrambling for clothes, digging in the pile at the bottom of his pretty bleak wardrobe. He managed to bundle an outfit out of off-white harem pants, a dark grey shirt and a baggy yellow jumper; comfort over fashion at its finest point. Hair up and shoes on, Ling had slung his bag over his shoulder and left in good time, the first hit of the cold air shaking his senses. In fact, he would be early enough for a coffee-shop stop. Perfect.

He stood there, enjoying the cool breeze through his fringe for the shortest time, before taking his first steps into the new day. It was only then, when he had already turned in the direction of his campus, that he heard a door close behind him and looked around, noticing his new neighbour stepping down and damn. Okay. Not what Ling was expecting. They were still wearing their usual too-tight shirt, but they had a plain baggy hoodie slung over the top, as well as comfy black sweat pants and a gym bag. His hair wasn’t the same slick-shape as yesterday but rather messy and looked ridiculously soft.

Ling realised he might have been staring when his neighbour came down the steps and towards him, “Morning, you heading this way?”

“Yeah, campus is this way,” Ling explained, examining the man now he was closer to him; definitely attractive, and the soft orange light only served to soften his features, “You live next to me, right?”

“Last I checked,” They grinned, “My gym’s right by the campus, if the map is anything to go off, so might as well head there together. Gotta socialise somehow, right? So, what’s your name?”

“Ling,” He went to stick his hand out, but realised how awkward that would be while walking side-by-side so quickly pulled back, “Ling Yao, uh, you?”

“It’s a pleasure, Ling Ling Yao,” they smiled, as if it was the first time that joke had ever been used, “The names Greed.”

“uh – I, sorry?” Ling blinked, did he mishear? Reed was a name, right? Maybe that was what he meant, or he had heard entirely wrong and it was something like Garry.

Greed only laughed, “Yeah I get that a lot, you know how hard it is to sign up for things with a name like Greed? Everyone thinks you’re taking the piss, I had to bring three different ID’s just to show the guys at the gym. Let’s just say that my dad’s got one hell of a sense of humour, huh?”

“I didn’t mean to be rude, I’m not used to your western names, honestly you could have played it off as normal,” Ling figured he could evade the awkwardness by making it a ‘culture’ thing. It worked sometimes; he convinced Ed he could barely speak English for a good three weeks until Ed caught him talking to Al. Greed however looked at him in a very transparent manner, the kind of ‘I know you’re lying’ look which some people have mastered. He didn’t follow it up, though, which Ling was thankful for.

“So where are you from?” Greed asked, and it was strange; he sounded genuinely interested, not just like he was attempting to make conversation.

“Xing, I used to live in the capital, but I came here to study, and honestly I can’t see myself going back for a long time.” Huh. He was taken aback by how easy it felt to just share that with Greed.

“Must have been pretty bougie, living in the capital,” Greed seemed distant, like his eyes had clouded over. It must have been a trick of the light, but Ling could swear for a second there that his irises were purple, “So, what, you some kind of prince? How come you’re here?”

“Something like that,” Ling shrugged light-heartedly, thinking about his extensive family. He knew there was money there, sure, and maybe a couple of hundred years ago the Yao clan really meant something in Xing, but now it was just the same as any other modern, rich and extremely large family. And as for why he came here, well, that was for him to know, “And I guess I just wanted a change of scenery, you know? Can’t stay in one place forever.”

“Cheers to that,” Greed grinned, and it felt as if they’d shared both nothing and also a lifetime of history. The dewy glow of the early morning had them both in high spirits, and Greed had held off on his usual snarky mightier-than-thou attitude that people got sick of. While he would never admit it to Ling, there was this budding sense of curiosity, like something had clicked between them and Greed wanted to know more. The walk became increasingly more pleasant the more they talked, as the awkwardness of transitioning from stranger to acquaintance began wearing off. He convinced himself that he was just humouring Ling, but when Ling suggested they grabbed a coffee while he still had time before class, Greed took him up on the suggestion.

“You’re new, right? So, you’ll need someone to show you around? This little place is the best, and it’s right in-between the gym and the campus, so neither of us are going out of our way,” Ling explained, as if he was justifying why he asked Greed to come with him. Maybe he was, “They’re also one of the few places that do a traditional Xingese Green Tea, but I like to save that for lunch. Plus, my friends work here, so sometimes I like to just make a tab I’ll never pay back.”

“Now that’s how you do it,” Greed laughed, and Ling was surprised by how friendly it sounded.

They stepped into the shop, a little chime announcing their entrance. The shop seemed surreal, a re-used and almost kitschy aesthetic, but it all tied together. Each table and chair were slightly mis-matched, but all thematically dark-wood, while the walls were all a light colour with plenty of pictures except for the stretch full of machinery behind the baristas and a dark feature wall patterned with old suitcases stacked on top of each other. Each bulb was a tinted reused glass, and some even still resembled the bottles they came from. Greed couldn’t but help thinking about how they probably served food on literally anything but a plate and made a mental note to ask Ling before he ordered breakfast there.

Behind the counter were two teens who looked way too awake for before 5am – hell, even before midday they’d look way too eager – and it was easy to glean that they were a couple. Both around the same height, the guy had ashy-blonde hair and olive eyes, while she stood as his antithesis with black hair and, seemingly, black eyes.

“Morning, Al!”

Alphonse, who had prior been knocking old coffee out the Siv, looked up suddenly, “Good morning, Ling! How are you?”

“I’m alright,” Ling said dismissively, scanning his eyes over the menu in case any new options had escaped his notice, pretending he wasn’t going to order the exact same thing as ever, “One americano, medium, please.”

“Coming up,” Al wrung it through the till while – Mei, her name tag said – turned to begin preparing it, “And who’s your friend?”

“Oh, of course! This is my neighbour, he moved in yesterday and we uh, bumped into each other this morning,” Ling looked at Greed as if confirming the past events which had just occurred, “I thought I’d show him one of the best places around.”

Al smiled gently at the flattery, but before he could ask Greed his order Mei chipped up from behind, snarking without even facing them, “Sounds like a coffee date to me.”

“What? No! We literally just met! I – “ Ling stammered, humiliated. He was going to have to move out, this was it. His new hot neighbour was now going to regret ever coming to central, and Ling’s friend count would remain stagnant.

“Of course, isn’t that right honey,” Greed slung an arm around Ling’s shoulder playfully, before quickly releasing when he sensed Ling tense up. Okay, maybe he had taken the joke too far, but Greed had just wanted to dispel how awkward it had gotten.

Ling laughed, his tone changing, “Oh sure thing, so, your treat, right?”

“You cheeky – “ He cut himself off, before admitting defeat, “Sure, my treat. Go grab a table and I’ll bring it over.”

Greed made his order, leaning in rather close to talk to Al, before paying and bringing their drinks over. He had gotten his own in a take-away cup, which Ling regretted not doing himself. He’d got them a stall by the window, and they sat discussing TV shows and finding a common ground as the time went past.

And if Ling lingered a little too long, was a little late to his class, he put it down to his own slow walking.

Chapter Text

Greed refused to accept that he enjoyed the morning with Ling. Not possible, his pride simply couldn’t bear it. There had been some awkward moments, of course, where the conversation lulled, or they overlapped while talking, but it didn’t ever seem to matter. Everything just... picked up, like it was natural. It was good to have found some company, however. He was hardly new to Central, but he had yet to let people know he was back, and besides, this was a new neighbourhood at least. He was glad to be in a separate part of central; the city itself was big enough, and it wasn’t just a cacophony of memories.

Even as he grabbed his gym bag and hauled it off, saying his farewells, the conversation rang in his mind. Ling had been curious, certainly, but tentative too. He had noticed Greed’s tattoo, if his gaze was anything to go off, but didn’t mention it; this Greed was thankful for. He wasn’t ready yet. Alphonse had been more than happy to accommodate for Greed as well, which was much appreciated, and he felt weirdly complete after his chance encounter with Ling. It had been a while since he’d had good company, and there was a good nature to Ling which counteracted Greed’s natural asshole state.

It didn’t matter now, anyway. He had entered the gym, a swanky and expansive-looking facility with big glass panels for walls and ‘inspirational’ videos projected on the balcony overhead. Overly happy people in blue and black gym clothes running on treadmills or grinning while cycling; it was nauseating. Despite this, Greed had a purpose for being there which he reminded himself as he signed his name for the sparring class. He still, miraculously, had a little spare time, as he must have misjudged how short the walk was. This was hardly a consequence, and he used it to buy a breakfast bar from a barely functional vending machine before he shoved his bag in a locker.

The directions the woman at the desk had given him were clearly intended for someone who already new the gym – there was no use saying it was past the dance studio and to the right of the Kith suit if he didn’t know where either of those were to begin with. When he did find the dance studio, there were no signs up for the suit, and he ended up walking in a convoluted circle before taking the correct left turn and stepping into yet another pristine gym room. A class of people had gathered in front of a teacher, who was standing with his back to the door. Well, barely a class – five people in mismatched gym clothes and bare feet. The instructor seemed to be giving an overly excited lecture on gym safety. No one looked particularly interested.

It would be rude to interrupt, sure, but Greed didn’t really give a shit, “Dolcetto!”

“You’re fucking kidding me,” Dolcetto spun instantly at the sound of Greed’s voice, his face painted in shock. There was a second of blinking and recollection, giving Greed time to step fully into the room, before Dolcetto grabbed Greed and yanked him into a tight embrace, “You bastard! You couldn’t have even sent a text!”

“Now where would be the fun in that?” He laughed, easily, but the swell of joy in his chest made it sound rather erratic, “I know, I know, I’m amazing, I’m the best, you’ve missed me so much.”

He could almost hear the eye roll, “And here I was hoping you’d changed.”

“Some things never change, like do you still pee with one leg up?”

“You’re a bastard, you damn well know I was joking,” Dolcetto pulled back, but still held Greed by his shoulder, disbelief evident in his expression. It was only now that Greed got a good look at his friend; he was definitely leaner than before, and the tight shirt under his keikogi only extenuated his lithe frame. His eyes were the same lively blue, and there was now a bleach blonde streak dyed in his coal-hair. Dolcetto turned and made a quick apology to the people who had gathered, asking if they could start the class slightly late which, when there were so few present, no one complained.

They moved to the other end of the room, standing by a stack of neon-red plush mats. Dolcetto had a dopey, doe-eyed look, “So why are you here? Like, in this room? But also, back in central.”

“Well, when I signed up for the gym here and saw you were running a class, I had to come by,” Greed had adopted a much more comfortable stance, hands on hips, looking up and down at one of his closest companions over the years. No matter how much time had passed since Greed was last in central, Dolcetto was still as loyal as ever and excited to see him, “As for Central, I figured it was time to come home. Deal with things. Take over the world. The usual.”

Concern furrowed Dolcettos brow, “Do your family know you’re here?”

“If they don’t now they will soon,” Greed sighed, “I’m sure I’ll have a visit from Envy or Lust sometime soon; but nothing’s impossible, maybe they’ll just leave me alone. It’s not like pops wants anything to do with me, thankfully.” There was a hand once again on his shoulder, but this time it was for reassurance. Greed ignored it, not out of spite, but out of the insistence that he didn’t need to be pitied or helped, “Besides, this is where I belong. Is the Devil’s Nest still here?”

“She’s as functional as ever, Martel’s been doing a good job keeping her going but most of the others have kinda abandoned ship, found other stuff to do, yknow how it is,” His voice panged with guilt there, knowing how he too had abandoned the bar for his new occupation, “Life catches up to everyone eventually. You should come down with me after the class, I’m sure everyone would be delighted to see you. You can introduce yourselves to the new regulars, let them know who they have to thank.”

Greed nodded, before noting that the sparring class looked rather bored and, hey, they should probably get the mats out and start the class or people might start demanding a refund.

“Alright guys, everyone got the health and safety brief alright? Okay good. Leading from that we’re going to start with the ‘Break Fall’.”

Sparring with Dolcetto was like riding a bike; they’d been practicing for so long, it was like an old rhythm. Greed was pulled up for demonstrations on the sheer bases he had tougher skin than most, and there was a sickly powerful nostalgia in his stomach as he pretended to lose or be subject to grapples.

In fact, the history of the Devils Nest was surrounded by the same dreadful yet wonderful nostalgia. When Greed was a young teen, it had been a glorified meetup spot in some convoluted back alley system, mostly used for skiving off classes or smoking pot. A lot of rejected and disheartened kids would gather here, like a rite of passage in the transition from child to teenager. Here, Greed liked to joke, was where functioning members of society went to die. These were the kind of kids caught throwing bricks into buildings or starting fights with shives they’d made ten minuets prior. Shady, broke hoody-wearers, ‘riff-raff’, old lady scarers. None of them could count how many times they’d broken the law or even if it had been worth it, just that it’s what they did.

Once they’d dubbed the alley as their second home, some of the older kids had found an abandoned tunnel leading down to the sewers, and it was here that they would congregate. Old irrigation sewers had been built when the city was first founded, but over time they were forgotten about and became a key part of the ‘shadow world’. It was far easier to hide in, and more comfortable with a roof over their heads, and so they’d sit, lazing around smoking and talking about how shitty their lives were. Roa was two years older than Greed and Dolcetto, which was significant enough to make him rather revered when the group was originally formed. This was also due to the fact they all knew each other first, although they expanded quickly when they befriended Martel, and then later Bido and Ulchi. Greed was, however, a natural leader, as charismatic as he was arrogant and avaricious, and even in his teenage years he had a magnetism people couldn’t resist. He found solace in others and the escape from his family, leading him to relying on the Devil’s Nest as a support network, while he’d nick cash from his father to fund their destructive habits.

As they grew up together, Roa and Greed began discussing whether anything could ever change, and while Roa was blunt in nature and speech, there was an untapped philosophy and intelligence he kept hidden. Often, in that decrepit hell-hole, they’d exchange dreams of bigger ambitions, an escape from their situation. It had been merely fantastical, the rebellion against their fathers and the country, the childish ‘Fuck The World’ attitude which kept the Devils Nest alive.

Roa’s family had forced him into the military as soon as legally possible, but he remained off active duty until he was eighteen. If he wasn’t stationed away, he would return to the Devils Nest, and when Greed stole funds from his father to illegally established a bar within the old tunnel, he helped invest in the set up. Greed was a fresh-faced sixteen year old drop out at the time, but he was smart enough to get the business started and knew all the right people for the ‘legitimate’ documentation. It became a safe-haven for all the outlaws and outcasts and had a pretty steady flow of customers outside of their circle as well. The underground storage area became a makeshift home for Greed and his friends, while Roa was connected enough to keep any suspicious activity or licensing breaches away from any officials who might care.

Weeks after Greed turned twenty, Roa was bludgeoned to death trying to pacify a riot in Leor, leaving the Devils Nest in his and Martels care. Greed however disappeared, barely even replying to messages.

And here he was, three years later, back sparring with Dolcetto like he hadn’t been missing. The adrenaline rush was just enough to keep the guilt at bay, but sometimes, when Dolcetto was just explaining, he’d recall their times as kids and his chest would tense up. He just wanted to keep busy and not feel the guilt of abandoning his friends, and it wasn’t like his move to Dublith was much better. Just meant an escape, really.

But he was here, in central, in this overly capitalist gym that charged three pounds for a bottle of water, with Dolcetto, and that had to mean something, right?

Chapter Text

It was a couple of days before Ling bumped into Greed again. Each section of Central was like its own town, as it had naturally split into ‘districts’ based on the sheer size of the city; this meant actually encountering someone around was less likely than one might think. Ling very rarely ventured outside of typical Uni areas, stopping only at cheap food stores and very rarely feeling the need to buy new clothes. Greed, however, seemed to always be out and up to something, but never in the local parts that Ling knew. Ling didn’t particularly try and leave when Greed did, although with the walls as thin as they were, he could hear when he was leaving so it wouldn’t be hard. Instead he was just sure that he’d see Greed as and when, never really forming a friendship but a more civil, neighbourly relationship, the kind that gave awkward exchanges in the street. Seemed feasible.

Ed, however, had told Ling about a Xingese store he’d heard of through Mai, which stored mostly imported foods as well as a few Amestrian variants. Ling didn’t ever go through the neighbourhood Ed had mentioned, but he’d been thinking more of home after talking to Greed about Xing. He’d learnt a couple of more simple dishes like mi san dao, but there were ingredients like adzuki beans which he had only seen in a small shop during a trip to Dublith, and they just weren’t worth the price of the train ticket.

It was this that led to Ling hopping a bus just off campus heading through the southern end of the capital. He’d been told which stop to get off, and even had a crudely drawn map, but he wondered if the saved minuets were really worth the bus fare; honestly, he could have walked it. There had been talk of setting up a tram system across central, but for the time being they were stuck with inefficient and always late buses.

It wouldn’t be so bad if they were cleaned, but there was a perpetual smell of ‘old people’ perfume and it was somewhat suffocating. The bus took them through mostly residential areas, where elderly men and women exchanged seats at practically every stop. Even the bus itself groaned under the weight of its aging existence, and Ling felt some solace when a young adult boarded, only to be instantly betrayed when they sat on the other end of the bus. Whatever. Ling sniffed and returned to watching the streets go by.

Where Ling got off was somewhat more decrepit than he’d anticipated. He knew central must have had poorer and richer areas but assumed that the streets themselves were at least more kempt. Here, the road was littered with pot-holes, while the outside of the buildings peeled like dead skin and gates rattled in the breeze. Each house was painted an old, off-cream colour which had been weather worn and stained. Further on, where the housing estates transformed into shops and broke into a highstreet, the road turned a cobblestone and each shop front, though equally worn, was individual.

There was culture here, too, Ling could feel the hardy nature before he even saw anyone. The air was full of sweet-meats cooking on street vendor stalls, alive with different languages and dialects and Ling even heard Xingese being spoken as he walked around the area. Energy seemed the thrum around him, a lively feeling of years of different experiences congregated in such a small block. There was a lane-system to the shops, which were all terraced and stacked together in a small street-row connected to other very similar street-rows with other such shops. The first place he approached was a Xingese take-out, which was nothing but thin slice of kitchen serving food from the window.

At least his Xingese was still good, Ling thought, noting that the signs hadn’t been translated, “Excuse me? Can I get a portion of Ma Po Tofu, please.”

The woman behind the counter smiled and nodded, “Coming right up.”

Ling could tell that her accent was from a different part of Xing to his – after all, it was a huge country – but it still felt good to use his mother tongue. It also meant that the Ma Po Tofu was going to be spicier than his usual preference, but he’d take it. Smoke and oil residue burnt off the pan and filled the air, and Ling indulged in the rich smell, letting the warmth fill his nose and lungs. The old pang of home stung his chest, but he couldn’t bring himself to move away either.

Instead, when his eyes began itching, Ling simply looked to the side, which is when he spotted Greed walking down from the other end of the lane. He was enthralled in conversation with a woman who was walking besides him, with cropped blonde hair and oversized camo trousers held steady by a tight belt, accentuating her figure. She had a thick tribal tattoo that came from her jawbone to just above her elbow and an alert presence about her, seeming to be looking everywhere while still holding polite conversation. Greed looked a lot laxer in comparison, talking with his wide, sweeping gestures and his natural ease in his stride. Ling took and paid for his Ma Po Tofu, half wondering if he should disappear into the crowd and avoid conversation, but Greed had already spotted him and gave him a wave, heading in his direction. The woman at Greed’s side instantly frowned, but Ling was the only one to notice.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Greed flashed a sharp-toothed grin, “What brings you to this side of town?”

Ling glanced at his take-out box quickly, “Food, mainly. I’ve been feeling nostalgic after talking to you about home.”

“I think nostalgia’s been going around lately,” Greed said, although this seemed more at the woman he was with.

She stared Ling down, uncertainly, “Making friends already, Greed?”

“You say that like I couldn’t,” Greed pulled a mock-hurt expression, putting one hand over his heart as if he was mortally offended, “This is my neighbour, Ling. Ling, this bundle of joy besides me is an old friend, Martel.”

“Charmed,” Martel said, bluntly. Her voice was distinctive, not quite a lisp a gravel undertone, like a snake might sound if they had been anthropomorphised.

Ling stepped out of the way of a customer waiting for their food, walking further away from the window and the sweet aroma of cooking food. From here he caught the thick smell of cigarettes coming from both Greed and Martel, as well as a subtle beer smell, like they’d been in a bar. Maybe they had – it’s five o’clock somewhere, right? “I was actually going to get some Xingese groceries, since I heard there was a couple of shops nearby which are good for that. It was nice to see you, though.”

“We can keep you company, if you want,” Greed suggested, looking at Martel for confirmation. She all but scowled in reply, “I mean, might be fun? Lookin through other cultures n shit?”

“Only if you want to,” Ling replied, politely. He would have to eat as they walked, though, or his food would get cold, but it felt rather rude to start while they were talking.

Martel shook her head, “I have to go back to the bar. God knows what state it’s going to be in with Bido in charge, the poor fuck.” She gave Greed an expectant glance, as if he too should agree. If Greed caught the cue, he ignored it.

“I’ll catch you back there later, then,” Greed smiled, and seemed to be genuinely oblivious. Martel said a quick goodbye and left, but Ling couldn’t but help think she stormed off.

“Is she okay?”

“Stressful day, I think. Hard running a business,” Greed frowned, watching her go. He evidently seemed worried, but didn’t care to elaborate any further, “So, food shopping?”

Greed seemed overly enthusiastic about the process, and Ling wondered how much he lived up to his name. Maybe he was just a massive glutton, but burnt it all off exercising? Ling’s daily consumption was insane, and he’d been referred to as a bottomless pit, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Greed had the same food-driven nature. He’d love to see Greed at an all-you-can-eat buffet and put his avarice to the test.

Ling and Greed wondered aimlessly at first through the lanes, overcome by the shops around them. Some of the dialects they recognised, Greed managed to read a couple of Drachman shop fronts, although his pronunciation was poor, but others were indistinguishable. As they walked, Ling ate his takeout and Greed told him details of Martel’s Bar, the Devils Nest. It was in general pretty vague, just nods towards it being founded a couple of years ago and the sort of seedy nature of the bar itself. His anecdotes were crude; tales of workers being caught fucking in the store room, or propositions from customers, but Greed had a knack for storytelling which made it flow like a resonate as a joke. It could have come across boastful, since Greed brought up people trying to sleep with him, but there was no self-reflection in his voice, and they were instead more objective tales, although Ling was sure that he had some arrogance to him.

“There it is!” Ling pointed at a small corner shop in a cross-road of the lane, the sign written in Xingese. He checked with the crumpled piece of paper in his pocket and nodded, more certain than before, “Coming?”

“Where else would I be going?”

“Good point,” Ling pushed down the slight embarrassment with a cough and walked into the shop. It was small, with three neatly and tightly stacked shelves taking up most of the floor. A man was sat behind the counter, and Ling gave him a wave, “Nǐhǎo”

“Nǐhǎo” The man replied, stiffly, eyeing Greed more so than Ling. Greed was far too big for the store, being around six foot, and despite being slim his fur collar seemed to broaden his shoulders. Greed seemed aware of this, too, awkwardly shuffling into and around the shop, trying to keep his long legs tucked close together. He had the grace of a new born deer, and it was almost endearing.

Ling spent a while pouring over the ingredients and snacks that had been imported, picking up the beans he’d been looking for, as well as some flavoured teas and sweet treats. He even found some Xingese cotton candy – dragons beard, as it was known as – which he hadn’t had since he was a young kid. Greed peered curiously over his shoulder at every item, but clearly couldn’t understand a thing on the labels. He was probably just assuming based on the packaging.

“What is this?”

“Flour.”

“And this?”

“It’s a type of sweet. They’re good, I was going to buy some, so you are welcome to one if you’d like.”

“Sure.”

Greed found some more touristy items, little keyrings and charms, and poked through the bowls while Ling continued to look around. He picked up a crystal and examined it, holding it up so the light filtered through and shimmered gently; Ling couldn’t help but think of Greed somewhat like a magpie, admiring each trinket which shimmered and treating them with care as he placed them down again. Ling joined him, his arms full of packaged food and ingredients, “What have you got?”

“Nothing,” Greed put back a little amulet dismissively, “They’re not really worth anything; just fool’s gold.”

“Well if you were looking for real gold you came to the wrong place,” Ling smiled, “Plus they’re not completely worthless. There, the one you were just holding? It’s intended to attract luck – and this one here is for wealth. You can get them to bring all sorts of things.” – Greed picked up another one and handed it to Ling to translate. It was a small wooden plaque on necklace, a pretty thing with tiny flecks of white paint detailing the dark wood and white lettering – “This one is for Love.”

“Oh,” Greed took it again and turned it over in his hands before putting it back in the bowl, moving away from the wall where the trinkets were displayed, “Ready to go?”

“Almost, yes, just need to ask about a price,” Ling smiled, walking up to the counter and holding up the cotton candy to the employee, “Duō shǎo?”

“4.50.”

“Hǎo, Xièxiè,” Ling paid for the items, waiting for the man to finish packing before thanking him again and accepting the bag. He’d collected a decent amount of stuff, although he knew with his appetite it wouldn’t last long, but it was better than nothing. When they left he instantly opened the cotton candy, hoping he hadn’t filled himself up earlier. He first offered turned and offered the package to Greed, who stared for a second before pulling away a piece from the compact pile of candy floss.

“I don’t think I’ve every tried cotton candy before,” Greed turned it around, holding the piece between his thumb and forefinger like it was planning to kill him.

“What kind of childhood did you have,” Ling gasped, joking, before taking a large portion and shoving it into his mouth. They were walking aimlessly, slowly, back in the direction they’d come from. It would probably be time to say goodbye soon, but Ling wasn’t going to mention that until Greed did.

“You want a real answer?” Greed quipped, raising an eyebrow, but he had a playful smile, “To be fair, I do dress like I was raised by a circus or something,”

“You mean you weren’t?”

“Fuck off,” He looked down at his outfit and brushed down his leather vest, almost self-consciously, before flexing his arms his to punctuate his point, “It looks cool. Gotta show off the guns.”

Greed’s cockier attitude was coming out more, but Ling didn’t complain; if anything, it meant he felt more comfortable with him. They reached the spot where they’d first bumped into each other, and the finality of their meeting hung in the air.

“It was fun catching up,” Greed rustled his hair thoughtfully, messing the back up from its styled appearance, “You got an AM class soon?”

“Same time as before, yeah. You heading gym?”

“Yup. Guess I’ll catch you then?”

“Sure. Have fun with… Marta?”

“Martel, and I’ll try,” Greed laughed easily, “She’s nice really, even offered me a job at the bar, so I can’t complain. I’ll catch you around, yeah?”

“Definitely. Zàijiàn.”

They headed in their separate directions, but Ling felt a strange assurance at the idea of meeting him for coffee again. He wouldn’t deny, he thought Greed was wonderful, and there was a strange kindness to him which had Ling curious. He hoped he could see it more soon.

Chapter Text

They were at the coffee shop again, the tired air stagnant around them. For once, despite the time, they weren’t alone. Some of the mature students that Ed knew were sat across from them, half-heartedly sipping at black coffees and muttering. Most of them looked unhappy to be awake, much less be there, and Ling didn’t exactly blame them. He knew there were bags under his eyes, too, and he felt his fatigue getting the better at them. There was only one who had any enthusiasm in him, a guy with glasses and stubble and way too enthusiastic gestures for that ungodly time in the morning. He was ranting about his girlfriend while everyone else half-listened; Ling didn’t envy them. Instead, he had Greed, who was slowly sipping out of a takeaway cup and not talking much. Greed could be brash occasionally, but he was good company, and the quiet was cherished.

He looked at the man across from him, taking in his features. It hadn’t really occurred to Ling before, when they’d first met, but there was something beautiful about Greed. It wasn’t just in the way he looked, although that wasn’t to be dismissed either. He had a sharp jaw line and long lashes, full, soft-looking lips, sure. Muscly. Tall. Tattooed and pierced with small scars across his knuckles, giving him that hot, dark but mysterious vibe and all of that was great, but there was something else. It was in how animated he was, how quick he was to smile or laugh or the quirks of his hand gestures. Ling wouldn’t deny, he thought Greed was wonderful, and if he was staring at him a little doe-eyed, well, there was no one paying enough attention to notice. No one but Greed, anyway.

“Are you okay?” Greed was leaning in slightly, looking for signs of life in Lings eyes.

“Hey, yes, sorry,” Ling rubbed his face irritably, trying to force consciousness back into his body. Greed’s concern didn’t waver, but Ling elected to ignore it instead, “Have you seen any good films lately?”

The older man huffed and shook his head, “Ling, seriously, what’s wrong?”

“No! Uh, nothing is wrong. I am okay, I just have some mocks coming up, that is all,” He smiled gently, knowing how tired he must have looked. It was a little embarrassing, to be caught staring by the person you were staring at, but he couldn’t deny he was exhausted as well, “I could just use a break at some point, that is all.”

Greed leant back in his chair, and one could visibly see the gears churning in his head. He sipped his coffee, winced, and then sprung at the idea he’d clearly just conjured, “I got it! Do they take names for your class this morning?”

“No, honestly I think they are meant to but since hardly anyone shows up, I figure the lecturer has given up,” Ling shrugged, resting his head on the palm of his hand. There it was again, Greed’s over the top enthusiasm, the kind that he masked with his crude jokes, like he was afraid of sincerity. Maybe he is.

“In which case, go home,” Greed instructed, giving no room for leeway, “And I’ll go to the class for you. I mean, what do I need to do, sit there and write what the guy is saying? It’ll be piss easy! Plus, I was just starting to like you, so you dying on me would be really inconvenient. Not to mention it’s hard to find a good neighbour who probably won’t call the cops on me, so go home. It’ll be fine.”

“That is… I…? Is that a good idea?”
Ling couldn’t wipe stunned expression off his face, even with effort. It wasn’t that the gesture wasn’t appreciated, or even wanted, but could he really subject Greed to that? Not to mention he had no idea what qualifications Greed had; would he understand half of it? No, he was a smart guy, that wouldn’t be a problem. But – but –

Something about Greed’s stern expression let Ling know he wasn’t going to win this one, “Of course it’s a good idea, it’s one of my ideas after all.”

He sighed and nodded, leaning down to reach into his bag and pulling out his notebook and pens, handing them over to Greed who took them with such severity it seemed like he’d just been tasked to deliver the One True Ring to Mordoor. It was endearing, though, despite how much Greed was trying to play it off as if it wasn’t.

“Careful, people might start thinking you are an alright guy,” Ling quipped as Greed tentatively put his work into his gym bag.

“You know I can retract the offer, like,” It seemed as if he went to flip Ling off, but decided against it, if his hand movements were anything to go by. Somehow, it felt more insulting to not been sworn at, as it suggested Greed didn’t know where their boundaries were. They’d get there eventually; all friendships have a trial period. It was also a little heart-warming to know Greed would subject himself to utter boredom at that time for Ling’s sake, despite not being close.

That was another thing; Ling wasn’t naive enough to overestimate what he meant to Greed. While it had originally seemed as if they had a kind of proximity bond, it quickly became apparent that Ling wasn’t the only person in the neighbourhood he knew, and there were others which he had a much closer relationship with. Greed had talked briefly about Dolcetto, and Ling had already met Martel in the Xingese marketplace, letting Ling know that his status on the friendship scale wasn’t as high as it first seemed. Greed had joked before that he just stuck around Ling ‘cause [he] was bored’, and while this was clearly just banter, it had struck a nerve with Ling. Was it a joke? Was it a veiled insult, or maybe even just a straight up one? Ling could feel his thoughts churning and put his head in his palms with a sigh, resting his elbows on the coffee table.

Greed looked at him cautiously, clearly unsure of how to approach the situation. Brow furrowed, he leaned forward, trying to examine Ling’s facial expression. Ling was hunched pretty far over the small table, and Greed’s drink was practically between his elbows, so it didn’t take much for Greed to be close to Ling, trying to see if he was okay. He smelt kind of like lemons, Greed noted. Must have been his shampoo. When Ling pulled back, feeling an invasion of his personal space, his nose brushed Greed’s, and the closeness made both of them blush and pull back quickly.

“I’ll get you another drink, on me,” Greed coughed, getting up from the table and quickly walking to the counter. Alphonse was staring at him as he approached, and Greed was clutching at the strings of his bravado uncomfortably. Ling didn’t even muster the strength to glance over, just tried to focus on his hands rather than Greed’s form. Was it too late to move? Find a new neighbour? Experience the slightest embarrassment and scarper away? Yeah, maybe. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t both pulled back simultaneously, like the accidental contact was something shameful. It had only been a brush, nothing too bad, so why had Greed run away? Ling tried to shake his senses back before he became overwhelmed. What a bad time to be prone to overthinking.

Al laughed loudly, dragging Ling’s attention towards the counter. It seemed that Greed’s natural charm worked on pretty much anyone, and they were enthralled in conversation. To his side, where the mature students were sat, he heard someone raising their voice and chairs scraping. The man with the glasses and stubble, who had been enthusiastically talking prior, had approached Ling’s table with an all-knowing look on his face.

“Y’know, that’s a good guy you’ve got there,” His tone had a serious infliction, and Ling couldn’t tell what his vibe was, but he whipped out his phone and showed a photo of a pretty girl with short hair, instantly melting, “But he’s not as good as my girlfriend!”

“Maes, enough. No one wants to hear it,” Behind him, a guy with dark hair and a heavy expression had grabbed ‘Mae’s’ shoulder. Ling recognised the name now, Maes Hughes, a friend of Ed’s. He was always described as both a handful and also the nicest guy you could meet, “Sorry about him, unfortunately he’s usually like this.” He was examining Ling closely, lips pursed, “You’re fullmetal’s friend, aren’t you?”

Ling had heard people refer to Ed as fullmetal; some on-going joke about his automail, apparently. He nodded, trying to place where he’d seen the man talking to him.

“You seem like an alright guy, so let me give you some advice,” He snapped his fingers, glancing at where Greed was at the counter, “I wouldn’t be so quick to trust someone like him. The Devil’s Nest is bad news, it’s chocked full of drug addicts and misfits. Not to mention his families got a string of trouble attached.”

“And you’re one to talk, or have you forgotten about Christmas’s working girls?” Greed had slinked over, unheard, and there was spite dripping from his voice. He regarded the stranger with distain, noticing now that their friends which had been sat down had now come to stand behind him. Greed had situated himself behind Ling, half crossing his arms despite the drink he clutched in his left hand.

The stranger turned and only addressed Ling, as if Greed hadn’t just approached, and Ling suddenly felt highly uncomfortable about being sat in between them, “I’m just saying watch your back, that’s all. Let’s go.”

The group, like a pack, moved out, and Greed regained his seat with a sigh, sliding over a small ornate mug for Ling. He’d ordered the Xingese Green Tea, and Ling felt a pang of gratitude, “Thank you. What was that all about?”

“Mustang had a run in with my brother a few years ago. Guess he still blames me for it. What a pain in the ass,” Greed lent back, his disdain clear. It seemed that his anger had outshone his embarrassment, which was something at least, “If he’s going to be like that with everyone I meet I might as well pack my bags now. Still he’s not wrong, my family do have quite the knack for starting trouble, whether I’m involved or not.”

“That is hardly your fault,” Ling agreed, cooling the tea with breaths in between talking, “Have you tried settling things with him?”

“I haven’t really been in the area to do much settling,” Greed shrugged, looking at the entrance to the shop as if they were still there, “I guess expecting a fresh start somewhere I used to live was rather naive. I’m sorry that they interrupted.”

Ling waved his hands flippantly, “Do not worry about it, you could not have predicted that. Besides, it sure does make the morning more interesting.”

“I think I’ve had enough excitement for one 5am,” Greed hummed agreeing, before he zoned out. There was an aged expression on his face, the kind of far away look people gained from years of hardship, and it was almost painful to look at. Haggard, tired, and yet still so animated when everyone was looking. Ling couldn’t explain the sudden, warm flurry in his chest, and pinned it down to his tea being too hot.

“Are you okay?” It was Ling’s turn to be concerned, scrutinising him, “Maybe you are the one who needs to go home.”

“Hey, no takesies backsies. Besides I’m just not focused, don’t write me off just yet,” Greed tutted lightly, getting out of his head and back into the coffee shop. He hadn’t quite recovered since Mustang’s appearance, and there was a bitterness to his expression, but he kept his seething to himself as he swirled around his cup, “Although I don’t know what the guy with the glasses wanted.”

“I think he was just saying that we were a good duo? But mostly he wanted to brag about his girlfriend. That was the main reason he came over,” Ling turned to where the door was, “What kind of run in did he have with your brother anyway”

“The murdery kind,” Greed joked, but didn’t go on to elaborate, “It hardly matters now, anyway. Not my business and frankly not my problem. So, about films.”

And with that the conversation was concluded, and they began their usual routine of learning interests and exploring tastes. Greed would, it seemed, consume pretty much any media around, and had similar binge-watching habits to Ling. His taste wasn’t refined either, he’d watch any sort of film or TV series as long as it would provide some kind of entertainment, where as Ling preferred more light-hearted work such as comedies or indie films. Ling’s guilty pleasure was period dramas. Greed’s was MTV shows like Catfish.

An alarm went on Ling’s phone, letting him know class was soon. Greed perked up eagerly, seemingly looking forward to going into the lesson, and it occurred to Ling that Greed may have wanted to go to University. Maybe he was a regretful drop out? He’d have to ask him at some point.

--

 

That was how Greed ended up sat in an almost empty class room, scribbling furious notes about how the political climate in Amestris had shaped it’s economic and social reforms. He didn’t even have time to stop and think about what he was writing or why the hell he’d even offer to do this, for the seminar went way too fast for him to break concentration.

When he was on his own walking home, he chocked it down to a protective instinct. Seeing Ling looking so tired had upset Greed, somehow, and he needed to help in any way he could. Greed could feel self-loathing creeping in, and an unwarranted fear. What if Mustang had influenced Ling’s perception? Greed was difficult company, and could be quite scathing towards his friends, something Dolcetto had pointed out some years ago. Maybe he fundamentally wasn’t a good person. Sighing into the cold morning, Greed forced the ideas out of his head. He’d drop off the work to Ling sometime in the afternoon, to give him time to sleep. For now, Greed just wanted to go home and distract himself.

Chapter Text

Ling was thankful for the break. His chronic fatigue had been getting the better of him, and the exhaustion in his bones was beginning to ache. Dragging himself up the small steps and into his apartment, he didn’t have much time to contemplate between the sofa and his bed, but settled for upstairs anyway. It would be more comfortable to collapse amongst his blankets, and his heating unit barely warmed the living room. Yeah, come to think of it, the prospect of the sofa was pretty daunting. Grabbing the rail that ran along the stairs, Ling hauled himself up, almost physically dragging his body with every step.

The haziness began to sink in. He swayed ever so slightly, blinking at the blurry line of steps and trying to focus. Gritting his teeth, he took his hand away from the railing and instead put them on the stairs, padding his way up slowly on all fours. It wasn’t the most dignified look, sure, but it would get him up to safety and that was what really counted. When he reached the top, his bedroom was just off to the side and he pulled himself up, yanked off his bag, shirt and jumper, which were unceremoniously tossed on the floor, before he collapsed straight onto the bed and blacked out.

-

Buhm Buhm

“hm?”

Buhm Buhm

Ling heard the offending knock again and opened one eye cautiously, taking another drowsy second to recognise the sound as not in his dream. He cursed to himself, considering just drifting back to sleep and pretending he wasn’t home.

“Hey, Siri?” The familiar noise chimed, and he continued, “Can you please text Ed and say if that is you knocking on my door I will personally escort you to the seventh realm of hell.”

“Your text reads ‘If that is you knocking on my door I will personally escort you to the seventh realm of hell. Are you ready to send?”

“Yes, please.” The phone pinged once more, an indication that the message had been sent, and Ling sighed. He’d woken up on his stomach, the left side of his face smushed into the pillow, and his hair had knotted and tangled from the hairband. He wriggled his hands to the side of his chest and pushed himself up, forcing consciousness to fully return as his head felt fuzzy, unprepared for the transition into reality. Ling stretched as he climbed out of bed, pulling his hair free and grabbing the closest shirt to him, a slogan crop top. It was yellow besides the white block in the middle, in which the negative space of yellow text read, ‘Babe’. He slung it on without much thought and shoved his phone into the pockets of his harem pants before following the accursed sound.

A see-through section on the door sure would be helpful, he mused, staring at the dark wood and shadow as he went down the stairs. Instead, it would always be a surprise, and while Ling wasn’t the most paranoid person, it could easily be someone with a knife. Or a gun. Or just someone really motivated by murder.

Instead, when he swung the door open, it was Greed. He’d changed out of his gym gear and was wearing his leather trousers and a tight, long sleeve shirt with a deep v neck and string connecting the sides and hanging over the ‘cleavage’ area. It looked suspiciously effeminate, but Ling wasn’t really bothered by that, and besides it looked good. A small ‘huh’ escaped Greed’s lips when he saw Ling, his eyes doing a quick sweep of his loose clothes, the bare stretch of muscly abdomen and midriff and his hair hanging over his shoulders.

The horror that Greed was looking at him in such an unkempt and unpresentable state hadn’t quite hit, because Ling just couldn’t figure out why he was there in the first place. He’d never come by before, and while Greed had only been his neighbour for a couple of weeks, it still seemed like a strange habit to begin now. Greed, for his part, looked incredibly flustered, and it was almost as if… No. Ling shook the idea out of his head as quickly as it showed up, refusing to give it any merit; that was a stupid idea. It wasn’t happening.

“What time is it?” Ling rubbed his eyes, suddenly acutely aware of how sunny it was outside.

Greed instantly shoved his hand into his pocket to grab his phone, before realising he had a watch on, “Around 2”

Ling thought for a second before sighing, “Shit. I was asleep for longer than anticipated. It is fine, I just- are you okay?”

“Huh,” Greed was looking at him incredulously, “Yeah I just, uh, didn’t know you swore. Here I was thinking you were just an innocent kid.”

“I am, what a year or two younger than you? You realise that, right?”

“It’s a habit, if you’re younger than me, you’re ‘kid’. Dolcetto is also a kid to me. Martel’s older than me but she’s still kid too, she’s an exception,” Greed shrugged nonchalantly, before lifting his hand, producing a wad of paper. Ling stared at it, blankly, before looking back at Greed, the gears churning in his head, “It’s the notes I made, I hope they’re alright. Didn’t realise you did so much on King Bradley, I could tell you a thing or two about him.”

“Oh right, thank you so much! It is appreciated, genuinely, I hope you were not too bored. And yeah, it’s our module at the moment. Have you studied him before then?” Ling wiped his dreary eyes and took the papers from Greed, thumbing through them idly. His handwriting was a neat cursive, and the notes he’d made were extensive, almost excessive. On the back was a doodle of a cow.

Greed laughed and waved his hand dismissively, “No, me and school didn’t exactly get along as such. Good ol’ King was my half-brother, although I knew him as Wrath. All the family shit was pretty hidden from the media.”

“I – what?” He frowned, crossing his arms and leaning on the doorframe gently, “You know I am not that gullible, right?”

“Huh?” Greed stared at him for a moment, a confused expression painted on his face, before it contorted into something between bemused and incredulous, “You think I’m taking the piss, huh? I’ll find some of the family photos sometime – infact, I might have some on an email or something, give me a sec…”

Greed pulled out an expensive-looking smartphone and began searching and Ling rolled his eyes, “Do you want to come inside for a bit? I have some coffee too, if that sweetens the deal.”

He barely nodded, just followed Ling into his apartment, still scrolling furiously. Ling abandoned him in the lounge to boil the kettle, and once it had heated up and was being poured into two plain mugs Greed marched into the small space triumphantly, displaying his phone screen. Surely enough it was Bradley and Greed from a few years ago, wearing a two-headed jumper with the large font, “this is our ‘get along’ shirt” over the chest. Bradley was clearly the older sibling, standing taller than Greed and already having the touches of a moustache; it must have been the Christmas before he was assassinated. Greed was pulling away more in the photo, his head recoiled to the other end of the collar as if physically touched Bradley would infect him. Neither of them looked especially happy to be there.

“Wow, what was that like? And, uh, I am terribly sorry for your loss” Ling examined the screen incredulously. It looked like a Christmas photo, with them standing in front of a grand fireplace with fairy lights strung along the mantelpiece, and half out of frame was a large, bald younger kid.

“And you thought I’d lie,” Greed scoffed, taking his phone back and shoving it into his trouser pocket once more, “Messy, in general. Wrath was alright when he was younger, but Father got way into his head, ended up being kinda an asshole by the end of it. Didn’t deserve to be shot down but that’s what happens in those circles really.”

“…Wrath?”

“What? You thought I was the only one with a dumb fucking name?” Greed laughed, loud and cheerful as was his way, “No, when I skipped out there were all the sins but Pride, although who knows now. Lust goes by Solaris, and Wrath went by King, but other than that, they’re all the deadly dumbasses.”

“Do you get on with them?” Ling handed back Greeds phone and began stirring milk into his coffee. Once that was finished, he slid a mug over to Greed, who eyed it for a second before accepting with a soft thank you. Greed had made himself comfortable by leaning on the counter, and Ling hopped up to sit next to where he was leaning. This close, he could smell Greed’s deodorant – Lynx. Guess his bad decisions weren’t limited to fashion.

“I get on with Solaris the most, I’d say. Gluttony’s hard to talk to, kid’s not really all with it,” Greed blew on his drink gently, taking a sip and wincing before placing it back down gently, “Envy and Wrath both stabbed me, so they can fuck off, and Sloth left home when I was young so hard to say.”

Ling hesitated a second, uncertain of what to say next. There was a fine line between empathising and being self-centred and Ling knew he was teetering in the middle, but something Ed said a lot was ringing in his head. Equivalent exchange. Give as you receive, and vise versa, “I understand what you mean. My dad wanted to bring back the old clan law of fighting for approval and status between me and my siblings, and a few of them took that to heart. Thankfully not many, but I was put through a lot of sparing and training in preparation.”

It had been his ex-girlfriend, Lan Fan, who taught him how to fight, but that didn’t seem important to mention. Some of them were fond memories, even when he came out battered as hell, it had all been building or rewarding in a sense.

“Welcome to the ‘Bad Dad club’,” Greed raised his mug and cheersed Ling, flashing a sharp-toothed grin, “On Wednesdays we have interventions, on Thursdays we have a bar crawl for when the intervention inevitably fails.”

Ling laughed into his coffee, sipping slowly but maintaining his view of Greed.

“Anyway, sorry I didn’t finish much but I do have to dash now, I’m helping Martel open the bar tonight so I’m going in early to relearn everything. If you want to catch me sometime then you’re welcome to drop by the Devils Nest,” Greed pulled a box of matches out of his pocket and put it on the counter, besides his barely touched coffee.

They went slowly through the house as Ling escorted Greed out, “It is alright, I understand. It was a pleasure catching up, and I really do appreciate you making the notes for me, thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” Greed stepped out the door, putting one foot on the step below but turning his body round to say his goodbyes, “Seriously, don’t mention it, I have a reputation to uphold.”

With a wink he turned on his heels and went down the steps, looping round the rail to hop up his own and disappearing into the arch that concealed his door from Ling’s. Ling closed the door and went back to his coffee, eyeing the notes. It was an incredibly kind thing for Greed to do, more so than he’d expected, and he felt somehow comfortable around Greed despite not knowing much about him. For the first time since he started uni, he was looking forward to his morning classes.

Chapter Text

“You need to repaint that sign.”

“You need to get a new jacket.”

“You need to change your attitude,” Greed lifted two huge beer kegs, one in each hand, out the van and started traipsing them into the bar, “I thought you liked the jacket?”

“I liked you. The jacket, unfortunately, was attached,” Martel wrapped her arms around a keg and carried it inside, following Greed.

“Aw, you don’t like me anymore?” He was joking, but there was a mirth in her voice that let him know he should be careful. Ulchi and Doc grabbed the kegs off him and brought them into the backroom while he went and got more. Even after all this time, the devils nest still ran like a well oiled machine. Bido was watching eagerly, and whenever Greed stepped out the door he would follow from a distance.
Greed had left Ling’s early to get to there for the delivery, and now in the low sun and cool air they were transporting the kegs and crates ready for service. Martel had been at odds with him since he got back, but besides their trip into the Xingese market they hadn’t spent much time together. Greed had been put on the same shift rota as Blondie, and was becoming increasingly sure that Martel was adamantly avoiding him.

“You know that’s not what I meant,” Martel huffed, slamming down the keg and hovering there for a second, before grabbing it once more and taking it to the store room itself, pushing Ulchi out the way.

Greed sighed, rubbing the back of his neck and watching the space where she’d left. Dolcetto came through the doorway, locking eyes with Greed and shaking his head, letting him know exactly what kind of mood Martel was in. Great. Greed turned to Bido besides him and shrugged, “Do you know what’s up with her?”

Bido didn’t, and Greed just patted his head reassuringly as he went to grab the rest of the delivery. Dolcetto followed out, leaning on the wall and watching Greed cautiously, “You should talk to her, y’know. She hasn’t been like this till you came back.”

“Yes, very helpful,” Greed snapped, before resting his head on the van, feeling the cool press of metal. Bido crept up and put a hand on Greed’s back, and he smiled at Bido reassuringly, “I’m alright lil dude, don’t worry.”

He pulled back and sighed, returning to the job at hand. Dolcetto made no move to help him, simply observed instead, “I guess I thought when I’d be back, it’d be easier. Like nothing happened.”

“You skipped out. For two years. You can’t expect that to not hurt, especially since it was just after Roa,” Dolcetto wasn’t accusing, but Greed didn’t look at him as he carried the rest of the delivery in. Dolcetto and Roa had a deeper connection than anyone else, and it hadn’t escaped Greed’s notice that Dolcetto wore his old dog tags, “No one here is blaming you, either. We all wanted out after that. But you can’t expect that to not hurt, especially since we all thought you weren’t coming back. You’d always said we were your property, and it never felt like it until that moment.”

Oh yeah, that old schtick. Greed went to say something but Dolcetto cut him off, “No, it’s alright. We know what you meant, even if you didn’t even know then. But what I’m trying to say is it fucking sucked, for all of us. Martel just held out hope for longer than some of the others.”

Dolcetto, though he wouldn’t say it, never gave up hope. Martel gave him slack for being weak, but he considered it loyalty. The thing about Greed, especially for misfits and outcasts, was he was easy to love. He was the pinnacle of strength and confidence, the man who knew how to get what he wanted or needed, and he attracted them. Everyone at the Devil’s Nest loved Greed, maybe even, they were all in love with Greed, and to be left behind by someone like that… It wasn’t something that was easy to forget. Bido still watched him like was going to disappear into thin air.

“Talk to her. She needs it. You’re not getting out of this one without it.”

Greed sighed, but he knew Dolcetto was right, “When did you wisen up?”

“Someone around here had to, I just got lucky,” Dolcetto laughed, “If you need a mediator, let me know.”

“It’s alright, I’ve got one here,” Greed rattled the crate of booze bottles he was carrying under one arm, before turning to Bido and picking him up under other arm, “Okay, I got this. She won’t be mean to me in front of Bid.”

The Devils nest, at first, didn’t seem like a big place. The seating area and bar was large, but it spanned only one room, without an upstairs. Downstairs however, in the staff only area, it exposed a large underbelly of different rooms. The storage rooms were the closest to the bar, but once beyond that point there was a long stretch of corridor which opened into a living quarter, and then at the end stairs dropping further underground. There was a passage into the sewer below them, blocked off for hygiene reasons but not impossible to get through, as one could never be too cautious. Greed’s brother, King, had made the Devil’s Nest a target for military speculation, and would have raided the damn place if some Briggs fool hadn’t put a bullet between his eyes.

Martel was in Greed’s old room – her room, he reminded himself – one of the smaller rooms but the closest bedroom to the bar. It was clean, with an exposed brick wall feature and black accents. She was sat on the double bed moping, and only sighed when she heard him come in, “Everything tidied up alright?”

“All but these,” Greed set the crate down at the bottom of the bed, before putting Bido on the floor behind him, gently. He grabbed a bottle of beer and opened it with his bottom teeth nonchalantly, passing it to her. She regarded him with an uneasy eye but accepted, “I spoke to Dolcetto a bit, the soppy fool. Is my jacket really that bad?”

She sighed into the bottle, moving along slightly so Greed could come sit besides her, which he did. He got himself a drink, in that he cracked upon a bottle of vodka and drank it straight from the bottle. Greed was many things, but good with emotion was not one of them. There was an awkward pause as they both thought about what to say, “I don’t expect you guys to forgive me, I skipped out and even when I was here I treated you like shit, and... Ah, fuck.”

He sighed, and she looked down at her hands, her fingers peeling at the bottles label.

“No, you didn’t. You were a right narcissist sometimes, sure. And annoying. And greedy as hell,” She scoffed slightly, the first smile she’d cracked for him in a while, “And that was the problem. For most of us, you were the only person who didn’t, until you left. And now you’re back.”

“Now I’m back,” He echoed, taking another shot before handing her the vodka. She took it on her other hand, before offering her beer to Bido, who took it and sat on the floor in front of them.

“Did you bring Bido in so I wouldn’t shout at you?”

“Shut up,” they laughed, awkwardly but affectionately, “I’m sorry I’m no good at this. I want to be what you guys needed, what I should have been for the past couple of years.”

“I know,” Martel said, matter-of factly. Greed looked at her curiously and she made a flippant gesture, “Everyone here knows what you want before you do, you’re the densest man out there. We all knew you wanted friends, even if you wouldn’t say it. We know you want to make things right, and just the fact that you have come to terms with that means you’re improving. Doing better.”

“You’re nicer than you think,” Bido chipped in, probably trying to be helpful.

Greed groaned, “My poor fucking reputation’s really taken a beating today. But at least you guys know that, and I don’t have to say any of that shit.”

“Sorry I bugged out on you, it’s not your fault. Well, it is, but there’s nothing that can be done right now about it. Just give us time to adjust to you again, alright?” Martel asked, Greed nodded, “We love you, bitch. We ain’t ever gonna stop loving you, bitch.”

“Huh? Is that a meme? Did you just quote a meme in the middle of our heartfelt reunion?”

“Reunion’s over, it’s time to work. Come on,” She hopped off the bed and extended a hand to Greed, who took it and stood up in tow, “I think we’ll be alright.”

They didn’t do emotion often, and when they did it was always brief. Martel had no interest in letting her problems interfere with the bar, and it was one of her most admirable qualities. Greed had an undying amount of respect for Martel and knew her both as a terrifying and wonderful force, but it equally meant that for her to be upset, he must have affected her deeply. He washed the taste of guilt from his mouth with a final shot of vodka, before leaving it behind and bringing the crate upstairs with him ready for restocking behind the bar. Martel went to the storage room to begin stock rotation, while him and Bido carried on to the Devil’s Nest to open shop. Dolcetto had allowed a few of the regulars to come in early, as was common, and it was setting up like a slow night.

-

It was halfway into service when Solaris came in. Greed was in the process of trying to balance a slice of lemon on Dolcetto’s shoulder while he was distracting talking to a customer – a game played frequently behind the bar on the quieter nights – when he heard her hello and jumped out his skin, dropping the lemon and subsequently losing. Dolcetto would have laughed, if he too hadn’t been startled by her appearance. Greed didn’t say anything but slunk to the side of the bar she’d perched herself, throwing a towel over his shoulder and scrutinising her expression.

“Oh come on, that’s not a very nice way to greet family,” She hummed, resting her head in the palm of her hand, elbow on the bar, “I was wondering if you would come back at all, Greed the Avaricious. How did conquering the world go?”

“It turned out to be too small for me, I’m just going to have to settle with the galaxy,” He shrugged lightly. She seemed in a good mood, but he’d learnt a long time ago not to let his guard down around her, “How’s it going, Lust the Lascivious?”

Solaris frowned, but didn’t comment, “Father’s been asking about you. He hasn’t caught wind that you’re back yet, but one of Mustang’s boys has been rather sweet on me recently. Imagine my surprise when one minuet, he’s wishing me a good morning, and the next he’s saying you’re causing a scene in a coffee shop with some xingese boy. I thought I’d come check in case he knew what he was talking about, and what do you know?”

“First of, correction, Mustang interrupted my morning,” Greed remembered the fear of seeing Roy stood before Ling. While he wouldn’t ever lie, there were details about himself that he’d prefer to omit while making new friends. She rolled her eyes, and he affirmed, strongly, that he really was telling the truth, and Ling would probably vouch for him, “Now would you please order something, or I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

“That’s not a rule here,” She sighed, “I’ll have a tequila sunrise, and yes I’m aware that’s not on the menu, but I don’t care.”

Good to know she hadn’t changed, Greed thought bitterly, but drew a shaker from beneath the speed bar, filling it with ice and searching for the ingredients. Her gaze never left him as he worked.

“Something else that I found interesting about this, is that you were in a coffee shop to begin with, so either you’ve suddenly acquired a taste for it or you have a taste for the boy. If he’s got your attention, he must really be something, I look forward to meeting him,” Solaris’s eyes narrowed, and was it just him or had the temperature just dropped ten degrees?

“Leave him the fuck alone,” Greed slid her the hurricane glass but regarded her coldly, “He’s not a fucking part of this.”

Greed realised too late he’d given her exactly what she wanted – a reaction. She sipped her drink politely, “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

He just shook his head and cleared the ingredients away, trying to excuse himself to the other side of the bar, but Solaris leaned over suddenly, grabbing his arm, “I came here for a reason, Greed.”

“Yeah, to piss me off. You got what you wanted.”

“No you fool,” She let go, but stayed stood up, “Father’s been rather erratic lately. We have a new brother, and the eclipse is this winter. Just make sure he doesn’t find out you’re in central, or he might try and rope you back in. Wrath may be gone, but he’s still convinced that the end is coming. Keep a look out, if Envy finds you, you won’t be so lucky.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I’m not emotionless, and I damn well know you aren’t, so be careful,” She downed her drink and stood up, preparing to go.

“Y’know, in another life, you would have made a good sister,” Greed huffed, taking her empty glass. She gave him a brief likewise before heading out.

Greed ground his back teeth, churning his thoughts. Ling was on his mind, now that he knew Solaris had her eyes on him; what if Envy did the same? Was Ling in immediate danger, or was that a warning for the future? Was living besides the kid a hazard, and if so was he better of moving back into the Devil's Nest's basement? He went to express his worries to Dolcetto, but the man was one step ahead of him.

"If you need to leave, do," Dolcetto put a reassuring hand on Greed's arm, looking him dead in the eyes, "I know what you're thinking. Go. I'll hold the fort."

What Greed had done to deserve friends like him, he'd never understand. Greed gave Dolcetto a firm hug before bolting out, not even bothering to collect his jacket from the staff area. He saw Solaris heading down the road in the opposite direction, and she gave him a telling look as she disappeared into the night. She'd learnt all she needed from him, and he knew it too.

Chapter Text

Night had crawled in, and Ling was perched on his sofa, blanket drawn over his shoulders, whooping Ed at Mortal Kombat X in his living room. They’d missed the last couple of gaming nights as mock exams and midterms had dawned in, but now amongst the stress of it all, this was a much-needed reprise. The world had darkened around them, and for the most part the only light was the blue glow of the screen and the occasional orange drown of a car passing by. Ed had scarfed three pots of instant noodles between rounds, and was sprawled across the majority of the sofa, his legs sprawled out in front of him, automail foot resting on the coffee table. Ling, for his part, was on his haunches, feet on cushion, propped up and fixated on winning.

‘FINISH HIM’

“Fuck off!” Ed groaned, tossing his head back, looking ready to throw the controller across the room. Ling laughed easily, watching Kitana decimated Ed’s Sub-Zero on screen. They’d always had a competitive friendship, ever since Ling jokingly bet a tenner that he could take Ed in a fight. That had resulted in his automail being completely destroyed, and for Winry’s sanity if nothing else, they channelled that competitive streak into video games. Ed turned to look at him, before his eye caught something outside and he frowned, “Someone’s out there?”

Ling followed his gaze, and against the darkness he could see someone standing on the street, back to the window, body facing the road, but head turned to the side, staring down the pavement. They lit a cigarette, the small red light bright against the dark backdrop, “Must be Greed, out for a smoke.”

“Oh really?” Ed wiggled his eyebrows, earning him an eyeroll, “Think he’d want to come join?”

“Don’t you dare.”

“It would be the neighbourly thing to do,” Ed grinned, the gears churning in his head. He’d grown curious too, since Ling had been spending his morning walk with his neighbour it seemed only fitting, as the appointed best friend, for him to investigate, “Come on, it’s freezing outside, and it looks like he doesn’t have a coat.”

“He lives literally next door,” Ling hissed, crossing his arms. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to talk to Greed, but they’d already seen each other and it felt almost invasive to ask him in; like there was a quota on how much time they could spent together.

Ed was watching outside intensely, seemingly transfixed on Greed’s outline, “If you don’t, I will, and then he’ll know you’ve been gossiping about him.”

“You would not.”

“Do you want to test that?”

Ling, for one, knew that Ed was a man of little shame and indeed absolutely would do that, so reluctantly sighed and got up from the sofa, unfolding himself and shoving his remote in his place. Ed gave him a, ‘that’s the spirit’ pat as he passed, which Ling ignored defiantly. He made sure to put the door on the latch before stepping out into the cold night. Ed would be watching from the window, but they wouldn’t be able to see him through the darkness of the lounge. Fantastic.

Greed jumped at the sound of the door, his bare arm crossed over his torso, gripping his other elbow. In that hand, his tattooed hand, he was holding his cigarette to his lips.

“Hey,” Ling went down the steps, barefoot, before sitting at the bottom, staring at his neighbour cautiously. Greed nodded at him as a form of hello, but kept his gaze outward, observing the outside world. He seemed tense, if his posture and long, harsh drags were anything to go from, “Are you alright?”

“Huh?” Greed looked back round, as if his voice had brought him into the present finally, “Yeah, sorry, long day.”

“Do you… want to talk about it?”

He looked at his feet, tossing the finished roll-up to the floor and grinding it into the slabs with his shoe. There was a stretch of silence, and Ling went to speak once more but Greed cut him off before he could, “It’s stupid shit. Family stuff. Don’t trouble yourself with it.”

Greed walked over, coming to hover near him, finally engaging in conversation, “You haven’t seen any weirdos around? Maybe long ass green hair, about my age? Or maybe a short guy? Round, bald, large nose? Tatted tongue?”

“I… cannot say I have, sorry,” Ling looked up at him. This close he could see how damn haggard Greed looked, a sort of mental exhaustion that had seeped out. His jacket had been ditched, and he wore a simple black vest and skinny jeans. It was a good look, although not especially weather appropriate, “Why? What tattoo should I look out for?”

“Matches mine. You see anyone with an ouroboros tattoo, let me know, alright? They’re family, I’m not just getting you to look at strangers,” Greed laughed, but it sounded forced.

“You have a matching tattoo with your family?” It might have been rude to ask, but from Greed had said, they didn’t seem like a close-net, full of love household, and Ling’s curiosity beat him to it.

“Trust me, I fucking hate it too,” Greed rubbed the back of his hand uncertainly, “My dad did it. To, uh, all my siblings. I don’t know how old everyone was when they got theirs, but he did mine when I was 11. Hurt like a bitch, I’ll tell you that for nothing. Hey, you ever wondered what happened to King’s eye?”

Ling winced at the thought, imagining what kind of man would brand his children. There was so much he wanted to say to Greed in that second, that he was sorry for what happened, that he wanted to know if he was okay, if his siblings were, if that was all they’d faced or if their house was once of toxicity. However, nothing was said, and the silence communicated more than he possibly could have. He grimaced into the night and Greed caught his disdain but didn’t react; instead he crossed past Ling, intent on heading back into his apartment. Acting entirely on instinct Ling reached out, holding Greed’s hand before he could go. Touch was something they hadn’t explored yet in their friendship, and Ling focused on the tattoo, too embarrassed to see Greed’s expression, “Me and my friend are playing video games, come join us?”

“Do I have much of a choice?” Greed huffed, but there was no malice to it. Ling released him, only now looking up to see a soft smile greeting him, “Sure thing, kid, but it better not be something shit.”

Ling pulled himself up the stairs, leading them to the door. Greed was on the bottom step when he reached for the handle, but this time it was Greed’s turn to grab him, his hand wrapping around Ling’s wrist. They faced each other, and Greed said, very simply, “Thank you.

Chapter Text

Ling hadn’t intended to be brooding for the past couple of days, but his mind refused to stop. It was an inescapable anxiety, from working through his political module on King Bradley, to hearing the soft thrum of soft-grunge music from Greed’s bedroom into his – it was as if the universe was drawing attention to Greed’s presence at all times. What did he mean about his siblings? Was he, as Roy had suggested, an unsavoury character, or was this a result of the negative treatment by his family? Why was Ling so caught up on someone he barely knew anything about? It was infuriating, this sudden fixation without any known cause, and it was becoming increasingly frustrating as each day passed. When Ling cast his mind back, they’d only spoken a handful of times, but Greed had still become an invasive presence in his thoughts, like he was occupying his head somehow.

At least they seemed to get on, it wasn’t that Greed was grating his memories or anything. Greed had enjoyed the video game night, from what Ling could discern at least, and had left when Ed did sometime past midnight with a promise to catch Ling before his next morning class. The days between Ling had spent in his life’s routine; hanging with friends, studying and being engulfed by regular young adult anxieties.

Now he was laying on his back, waiting for his alarm to ring and signify that it was time to get up, as he couldn’t bring himself to crawl out of bed at three am. Sleep was making a stranger out of him, and he huffed, trying to think of something productive to do. Revise? His brain definitely wasn’t awake for that. Go for a run? He’d fallen out of the routine of working out, but he didn’t fancy showing up to class a sweaty, gross mess. So maybe not running, but a walk could be nice? He groaned into his pillow lightly, as if that would drown out his feelings of incompetence.

It was only then, once he’d given up with his muffled vocalisation of defeat, that he heard the slightest ping of a guitar being played. Ling lifted his head slightly, trying to place where the music was coming from. It was an acoustic, and he realised that where his house was a terraced with Greed’s, their bedrooms must have been next to each other. Great, he thought bitterly, another reason to have Greed in his head. The song was almost unrecognisable at first, being an acoustic version of an otherwise dance track, and the guitaring stopped abruptly, a mistake having been made, before it picked up again. Ling could hear the low, shaky tones of Greed singing, a deep hum on the other side of the wall, and if he leaned in close, moved across and strained, he could probably hear it…

Ling sighed, giving in to his interest and shuffling himself over the best, propping his head up so his ears were no longer covered by the blanket pulled up to burrito him. He recognised the tune more clearly, now, definitely an old dance track, although slowed significantly to adjust to the acoustic guitar.

“Everybody’s looking for something,”

Something about hit Ling’s stomach like cold shot of water, a bolt to wake him up. Once again, he was struck by how damn low Greed’s voice was, certainly more so than his usual day-to-day tone, and while there were a few notes where it quivered, it was smooth singing. A voice like warm honey, he might describe it as, or melted butter. Something you could be engulfed by or let yourself drown in contently. Sleep has completely escaped Ling’s head at this point, and he wondered if he pressed his ear against the wall would that make the sound clearer.

“Some of them want to use you, some of them want to get used by you,”

He could hear the awkwardness in the voice, too, as Greed played catch up in his words and fell out of rhythm with the guitar, but still retained his soft and warm vocal presence. The song that Greed apparently felt appropriate for 3am was a slow cover of ‘Sweet dreams’, and Ling sighed. If Greed was feeling particularly musical, he’d stick some headphones on and sleep for the hour before he had to get up, but for now, he could indulge in just one song. That wasn’t a sin, was it?

“Some of them want to abuse you, some of the want to be abused.”

Ling could imagine Greed as the asshole with a guitar at a party, the kind who rocked up as someone’s plus one and broke out into a solo acoustic jam sesh the minuet the music quietened down. Equally, he had a too-cool-for-you vibe that suggested he wouldn’t even go to the party, or at least that was how Ling pictured him. In actuality, he had no idea what a party with Greed would entail, but it didn’t stop his mind from wondering, thinking up scenarios at one of Ed’s gatherings. Maybe the party had wound down, and perched on the other end of the sofa was Greed, strumming on the guitar, eyes closed, mouth open…

“Sweet dreams are made of these…”

Ling felt the cold pit in his stomach warm up slightly and threw a pillow over his face, hiding his embarrassment from no one in particular. Okay, since his brain was evidently going to betray him, music it was. For the first time the motivation arose to stand up and he practically ran to the other side of the room, scooping his headphones off the desk and plugging them into his phone in record time. He’d already had them on his ears before he’d got back under the covers, letting his spotify shuffle pull him suddenly from the slow drawl of Greed’s voice into whatever trap or house remix started blasting in turn. Whatever it was, it was loud and obnoxious and exactly the perfect distraction.

And in less than an hour, he’d be seeing Greed. The universe really wanted him to notice Greed, huh?

That hour was spent lying there, watching the ceiling and letting his music drown out the potential to hear his weird, eccentric and hot neighbour singing at a stupid time in the morning. It left him once more with his thoughts, though, bringing his mind back to the ouroboros tattoo. Did it mean anything at all? It was a weirdly specific symbol to choose, and Ling would have to research the significance at some point. He had a feeling that immortality was somewhere in the mix, or maybe self-sufficiency, but poetic symbols and artistic interpretation was hardly his area of expertise. Ed had got into old-school alchemy in his recent studies, and with all the weird symbols and diagrams he showed Ling, he’d probably have some indication of what it meant – Ling made a mental note to ask at a later date. Ling almost felt guilty, as if finding out would reveal some deep hidden secret, but his budding curiosity was beginning to blossom at the back of his mind.

He did, however, want to ask Greed as well, but didn’t feel they were close enough for him to begin asking probing questions. Don’t take more than you can give, he reminded himself, once again recalling Ed and Al’s personal philosophy of equivalent exchange. But what did he have to give that could equal someone else’s sadness?

Before he could delve further into that chain of thought, his alarm blasted down his headphones, snapping his quickly into reality. With a groan he took them off, please to hear that at least Greed’s early-morning jam had finished, as he too was probably up and preparing for the day. Ling forced himself out of bed with as little enthusiasm as he had, almost forgetting to change boxers in his lethargic attempt at getting dressed. He settled for a simple oversized sweater and harem pants, fully aware he had other, more presentable clothes, but not caring enough to put an outfit together. His hair was combed through and drawn into its signature high ponytail, and he stared into the bathroom mirror for a while, as if looking for something he couldn’t find. Ling used his forefingers to squish in his cheeks, moving his expressions manually before putting his fingers to the corners of his lips and forcing a smile. Defiantly not his best look, he sighed, finally defeated. With a gentle pat to his cheeks he shook his head awake, rubbing the residue of sleep from his eyes as he left the bathroom and headed downstairs.

Food was easy enough to grab, as he’d saved a cold pasta salad from the night before which would serve nicely for lunch, and he swiped his wallet off the counter for the inevitable coffee him and Greed would be having. Mentally he checked all the items, before grabbing his shoulder bag containing university supplies and stepping out into the dark chill of the morning.

On the horizon, a new sun was peaking out, the soft gold slowly rising from behind houses and city structures. Ling thought it might be nice to visit Xing. There were parts of the desert where, without light pollution for miles, one could see the whole galaxy, and the morning break was equally as beautiful. He pushed the homesickness down, trying to appreciate the back-drop of the city.

“Mornin!”

Ling turned to see Greed coming down their joint steps, repping his usual gym attire and carrying his large sports bag over his shoulder. Even as he was approaching Ling could see how tired his face was, and if the spontaneous music concert that morning was anything to go off, he hadn’t been sleeping well.

“Good morning, ready to go?”

“Whenever you are,” and with that they set off together down towards the coffee shop and their own, personal destinations. Ling wasn’t sure if he wanted to mention the singing last night, for fear both of seeming invasive – after all, he had been listening in to the mans bedroom, albeit not intentionally – and also in case Greed decided to never play when Ling was home. Equally, it was something Ling just couldn’t shake from his head, and he walked quietly as he mulled over why it had impacted him so strongly.

“Hey, you awake in there, pissant?”

“Piss-? Yeah, sorry, just haven’t been sleeping so well,” Ling rubbed his bleary eyes, yawning quietly. The way they walked brought them past a railed park, and he took a small pleasure from stepping on the autumn leaves that had pooled around the perimeter. Greed seemed to be stepping slightly harder, too, if the increased noise of crunching leaves was anything to go by.

“Yeah, can’t say I’ve been sleeping tons, either,” Greed spoke though a yawn, stretching upwards when they hesitated at a road, “Ended up strumming the ol guitar for a bit, although I suppose that wasn’t very neighbourly of me.”

“I had headphones on, I would not worry about that,” he reassured. It was a half-truth, “You play?”

“Occasionally, and not well,” Greed laughed flippantly. Ling would disagree there, from what he could hear it sounded pretty damn good. The deep sounds of Greed’s voice filled his head once more and he could feel the heat rising to his face, “Mostly soft rock, really. I always wanted to learn the piano, too, but that was Wrath’s thing, since he was meant to be the big-wig.”

The mocking tone at the end indicated an old sibling rivalry that Ling was hesitant to mention. It would be reasonable to assume that Greed’s siblings had been bothering him lately, although for what cause Ling was uncertain, but it didn’t feel the appropriate time to begin questioning old memories either.

“It panned out alright, though. I’ll show you my guitar sometime, she’s my baby,” Greed grinned at him, beaming with a long-founded pride, “I used to have this small shitty thing that Solarise was given by a boyfriend or something, and I went out busking enough to raise the money for a real beauty.”

“I would love to see it sometime, I have no musical talent, so I am always envious of people who do,” The last instrument Ling had played was a recorder when he was a child, but that didn’t seem like pertinent information he had to divulge. Greed would probably laugh at him, anyway.

“Never too late to pick up an instrument,” Greed said firmly, “I’ll teach you the basics sometime if you’d like.”

“I cannot say I will be very good, but I would like that.”

Greed seemed satisfied with that and nodded slightly, possibly already considering how he would approach the task of teaching a complete novice. They walked in a comfortable quiet, letting the still of the morning put them at ease. Slowly life was beginning to appear around them, a car would pass by, or a man with a dog would cross a road they were passing, a reminder or the world that existed around them. Somehow, Ling found himself so enthralled by how such a large city could be so peaceful. He noticed Greed looking at him, occasionally, but neither of the said anything.

They reached the coffee shop in good time. Al was working behind the counter but was working alongside a stranger rather than Mei. He greeted them, cheerily, as they passed to claim their usual table by the window. Mustang was there with Hughes, and a blonde man Ling didn’t know the name of. Greed visibly bristled, but slung his bag onto his seat defiantly, choosing to sit with his back to the men.

“I’ll order the drinks,” He suggested, “Black coffee?”

“Yes, please,” Ling went to get his wallet out and give Greed the money, but he’d already wondered to the counter. Weird. Ling looked up and caught Mustang’s eye, who regarded him with a cold stare. Yikes. Roy and Ed were friends, from what Ling could tell, and he’d heard that despite his cold nature, Roy was a softie underneath it all. Despite that, he didn’t like the animosity at such an early hour and settled for looking through his phone as a form of distraction. Ling actually wondered if Greed and Roy were similar in that aspect, as they both put on a cold exterior. He wasn’t certain about exactly what kind of man Greed was underneath, but there was something good there, that much was a given.

“One hot cuppa bean juice,” Greed put the takeaway cup in front of him, pulling him from his thoughts once more. That had been happening a lot this morning.

“Thank you,” Ling accepted it gratefully, taking a sip instantly. Before university, he would have winced at the scold – now, he was far too adjusted to coffee to let that bother him, “How much do I owe you?”

“Huh? Nothing. Take it and shut up,” Greed shrugged, leaning back in his chair. He had pulled his chair back from the table to rest his right foot on his left thigh, the other leg stretched out and in between Ling’s feet. He’d certainly made himself at home, but his eyes continued to dart to the door.

It wasn’t the first time Greed had bought his coffee, but beforehand he’d leeched off him as a joke. Now, with it being a completely unprompted and kind gesture, it felt different.

Ling drummed on his cup, contemplating what to say. There wasn’t much that had happened, not in the past couple of days, anyway, but he didn’t want to continue the pattern of small talk, “No luck seeing any of your siblings, by the way.”

Greed frowned at him, and he wondered if he’d said something wrong, “After you said, uh, to look out for them.”

“Oh, yeah. Right. Yeah that’s cool then, it’s a just in case scenario,” Greed sighed and took a sip of his drink, using the seconds to collect himself, “I spoke to my sister the other day. Solaris. She came into the Devil’s Nest.”

“Was it nice to see her?”

“Of course not,” Greed scorned, before shrugging, “It wasn’t awful though. I think I mentioned before she’s probably the one I have the least problems with. I actually think she was trying to be nice, for once, but it’s near impossible to tell with her.”

He looked like there was something more he wanted to say but was holding off. His apprehension only made Ling’s tension rise, and he tried to compensate with conversation, “Well, at least it went well? Or, as well as it could have gone, I suppose, if it seems that she is trying to be nice. I –“ he saw Greed staring at him, blankly, and huffed, putting his head in his hands, “Sorry. I don’t know what I am saying. Ignore me.”

“Are… Are you okay?”

“Tired,” Ling sighed into his palms, before rubbing his eyes and straightening himself back up again, “I am just rambling, sorry.”

He’d been so trapped in his own head that when it came to external conversation, it felt almost unnatural. Not that he was especially lonely, he had his close friends and good company, but this early in the morning, where he was too tired to force down his anxieties, he was unable to order his sentences. It was just frustrating, and he didn’t know how to explain that.

“Wanna hear a joke?” Greed waited a beat for the idea to be shot down before continuing, “Jesus loves you is a great thing to hear in Church, and a terrible thing to hear in a Mexican prison.”

“That was terrible,” Ling groaned, but he laughed, too. And really, that was what Greed was looking for.

“Why’d ya laugh then?” Greed had a sharp-toothed grin on his face now, as he had clearly lined up a few more jokes, “Did you hear about the police station that got its toilet stolen? They’re investigating, but they’ve got nothing to go on.”

“Please, stop,” He laughed, rolling his eyes and sipping his coffee.

“You haven’t heard the worst part, when the toilet got nicked, all that was left was a whole in the floor. They’re looking into it.

“Jesus Christ.”

They quietened down for a second, before catching each other’s eyes and laughing, far too loud and obnoxiously for that time. Still, the only people there were Mustang’s group, and Ling doubted Greed cared if he disrupted their morning. Ling was once again struck by how much Greed lit up when he was laughing and felt himself… flushed. Weird.

The time in the shop was slowly running out, and it would be time for their inevitable goodbyes. Ling should, at least, get Greed’s number, or social media, or… something.

“Looks like I’ll be hitting the gym soon, Dolcetto’s class will be starting soon, although it’s been a pleasure,” Greed had checked the time on his phone, and went to put it back in his pocket. Now or never really.

“Can I get your number?” Ling regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. That was really fucking smooth, he thought sarcastically, “I mean like, if you wanted to hang out not for coffee. Like then I could invite you properly to video game nights, or if you need to make a noise complaint… or…”

He looked helpless and Greed simply watched him, bemused, “Man, buy a guy a drink and suddenly he’s all over you.”

Greed winked for added affect before putting his phone on the table, pulling up his contacts, “Stick yourself in there, I’ll text you so you’ll be able to save mine from there.”

Ling nodded, taking it gently and typing in his full name and number. It felt weirdly formal, as most of his contacts and joking nicknames, more so on accounts such as facebook. Still, he was grateful Greed accepted the request without too much awkwardness and walked out with him. They said their goodbyes at the door, before splitting off in different directions. Ling had almost arrived at his campus before his phone pinged,

What’s the best part about gardening?’
‘Getting down and dirty with your hoes.’

A few seconds later, this was followed up with the afterthought,
It’s Greed, by the way’

Apparently, Ling had invited himself to be subject to terrible jokes at any time of day, but he couldn’t bring himself to mind.

Chapter Text

It was the following Thursday when Ling received a text from Greed that wasn’t a painful pun, or a conversational message based on said joke. Instead, it was an invite to a housewarming party being held at Greed’s as his, to quote, ‘bitch ass’ had finally unpacked (despite living there for several weeks at this point) and he wanted to celebrate. According to the text Ling was more than welcome to invite Ed, or bring another plus one if he so wanted, and while booze was provided, it was advised to come with extra, so he could get ‘utterly shitfaced’ should he choose. The party was to be the following day, and Ling figured it was for the best he wanted to go, or the noise would drive him mad in the night. Greed had been singing the past couple of mornings, as he’d become more of an insomniac in the recent week. He’d grown rather fond of the singing, but it certainly didn’t help his already disrupted sleeping schedule.

It was also nice to be considered in the invitations, as while he felt he was becoming relatively close to Greed, at this early stage in their friendship it was near impossible to tell. Any form of validation or indication of their friendship was more than welcome, especially when Ling felt such an unexplainable magnetism towards Greed.

“Hey, Ed, fancy going to Greed’s party tomorrow?”

Ling, Ed and Al were gathered in the group area of the library, as it was one of the few zones in the building where talking was allowed. They were almost alone amongst the flurry of tables and bookshelves, besides a couple sat at one of the window desks and a cold-seeming, scary blonde woman in the opposite corner of the room. Ling had made eye contact with her accidentally earlier and was adamantly avoiding her direction ever since. Ed had previously been engrossed in a book on the chemical compounds of a human, as he’d opted to take the biology-based module for this term, and he looked dazed as his concentration was broken. Both Ed and Al had an innate ability to focus solely on a singular thing, and it made Ling twitchy just to observe.

“Shark teeth’s having a party?” Ed thought for a second, tapping his pen on the desk as he processed the information, “Yeah, should be free, although I’d have to check that I didn’t have a date with Winry or anything I’d forgotten about.”

Al finished his note-taking before politely interjecting into the conversation, “It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve done that,” He smiled at his brother before directing his attention at Ling, “You and Greed sure spend a lot of time together, huh?

“Yeah, cause Ling’s got the hots for him,” Ed laughed earning him a scolding look from Ling.

“And what gave you that impression,” Ling replied, a little too defensively, “He is just my friend, and since we live next to each other, it is easy to meet up. Besides, we both have early morning arrangements, so it is convenient.”

It sounded forced even in his head, and far more so when spoken allowed.

Ed looked highly unconvinced but, for once in his life, kept his potential crude comment to himself, “I met him at the gaming night round Ling’s. Seems kinda questionable, but there’s nothing wrong with him so far as I can tell, so he’s good with me. He’s funny enough, too.”

It felt almost like a sibling approving of their brother’s new boyfriend, but Ling chalked that down to his own interpretation of Ed’s tone and moved on instead, “Come to think of it Al, you would be more than welcome to come along, if that is something you would like.”

“You think?” Alphonse thought for a second, putting his biro to his lips. Al was a fresh-faced 18-year-old at this point, but his quiet disposition meant that people often assumed he avoided the party scene. In actuality he didn’t mind partying, but was more neutral towards it than Ling and Ed in their first year of uni, when they embraced the ‘down it, fresher’ mentality, “I think I’d like to meet him properly, if he’s going to be around for a while.”

Al gave Ling a telling look and he huffed, his breath ruffling his fringe, “You both suck, I am moving back to Xing.”

“Toodles,” Ed waved his hand mockingly, “We won’t miss ya.”

“Nice knowing you,” Al shrugged, laughing, and Ling rolled his eyes, accepting defeat. At least, if they got their mocking out their system, maybe they’d manage to avoid those jokes in Greed’s presence. Greed had only spoken to Al during their exchanges in the coffee shop, but the idea of integrating him into Ling’s friendship group was both appealing and terrifying. His friends were the closest thing he had to family this far away from Xing, as his childhood friend Lan Fan and her old man Fu were miles away at this point. He wondered if he should include Mai when considering family, but decided to wait to have a functional friendship with her first before extending his brotherly nature.

“Is this seat taken?” Ling glanced upwards and made eye-contact with Roy, who had his hand on the chair besides him and a textbook shoved under one arm. Ed nodded nonchalantly, being completely oblivious to the tension emitted from Ling, “What are you discussing?”

“Ling’s neighbour,” Ed replied flatly. His attention was straying back to his studying, and Ling’s pointed grimaces were going unnoticed. Apparently, whatever underlying disagreement between Greed and Roy was unknown to the Elric brothers. Ed and Roy had been friends for a while, although Roy’s superiority complex often led them to butt heads, but also meant Roy often had Ed’s back, even if he wouldn’t admit it.

“Is that so?” Roy’s interest had been peaked, but he was remaining apparently neutral to the situation. Mustang pulled up a chair and made himself comfortable, placing his book before him and resting his chin on his hands, facing the brothers but casting a stray glance at Ling occasionally, “I saw he was in town again. I suppose you guys wouldn’t have met him before he skipped out last time.”

Al yawned, scrawling some lazy notes but clearly disinterested in his work, “I don’t recognise him, no. Sounds like you two had a history, then?”

Ling could feel an uneasy tension rising in his throat. He felt almost like he was betraying Greed, somehow. Greed had disclosed to him the nature of his brother’s death, and other such things about his siblings that weren’t general knowledge, because he trusted him. And now, learning second hand from Roy would be taking too much, learning about a life that he wasn’t yet entitled to know. He could feel his teeth grinding but said nothing.

“You could say that, although I had more problems with his brother, but the whole family is trouble,” Roy punctuated his sentence with a pointed look at Ling, who stared him down in reply, “Although unfortunately, seems that my friend Havoc has a thing for his sister.”

Solarise, Ling thought idly. The one he got on with vaguly.

“Guess it’s a season for love, eh, Ling?” Ed grinned, apparently deciding to phase back into the conversation. Ling scowled, muttering a quiet I hate you and hiding his face with his hands. His cheeks felt weirdly flushed.

“That’s the thing,” Roy began fiddling with the edges of his textbook, deep in thought, “They’ve been quiet for ages as a collective. The last they were heard from was half a year ago, when Gluttony stole from a bakery, and now both Greed and Lust have cropped up on the radar. It’s rather uncanny, don’t you think?” Roy turned to Ling, an accusation in his voice, “You might be getting in over your head.”

Ling’s phone pinged. It was Greed, no doubt with another terrible joke. He turned it so the screen faced the table, but not before Roy had noticed, “You seem to have a rather unhealthy interest, Mustang. Whatever you think is going on, or whatever scheme you believe is in the works, I assure you has nothing to do with Greed.”

“We’ll see about that,” Roy regarded him coldly, “For your sake, I hope your right.”

“Never the optimist, were you? Y’know the world isn’t actually out to get you, right?” Ed frowned, “Besides, sounds like whatever’s got you all twisted up is old news, so I wouldn’t worry.”

With Ed’s reassurances, Ling felt a little more relaxed. It was strange, this belief that there had to be something big or nefarious going on as someone had moved home. Roy didn’t concede or admit to being paranoid, but he shrugged and gave up, deciding there was no convincing the three of his personal beliefs. It was a shame, though, as Ling still had that uncomfortable feeling in his chest just by being in Roy’s presence. Perhaps it was just that weird sense of betrayal, like he owed Greed his allegiance. Dear god, he needed to sort his head out. In the lapse of peace, he turned over his phone, looking at the messages he’d received,
‘Why is an opened bottle of Champaign like an orphan?’
‘They’ve both lost their pop!’
‘Also any RSVP on the party? Looking forward to seeing you - smashed! >:)’

“Hey guys, was that a yes or no to the party?” Ling looked at the two who both had the same startled expression on their faces, as the concept of the party had completely passed them by once Mustang appeared.

The brothers exchanged a look between them, holding a silent conversation – Elric brother telepathy, Ed had drunkenly dubbed it – before nodding in sync, “Yeah, we’re down, right Al?”

“Yup, count us in, if that’s okay,” Al added on sheepishly.

Ling began typing back, ignoring Roy’s attention, ‘Hey Greed, I am down to party! : ) Get Lit as Shit fam. Ed and Al are downzo too.’

His phone pinged almost instantly in reply, ‘Hell yeah! Catcha l8r alig8r!’
‘P.S, please never say “lit as shit” again. Thnx.’

He smiled at the screen affectionately, before shoving his phone in his pocket, declaring a mental end to that conversation. He did really need to study, after all, and he still hadn’t gone over the notes Greed had done for him, so he sprawled them out on the table and began sorting through. Mostly it was word for word annotation of whatever was on the board or the lecturer was saying. Occasionally, a sentence would have a blank patch in where he must have fallen behind. What Ling found more interesting, however, was the interjection of Greed into the writing. When the text talked about Bradley’s miraculous survival of a terror attack on his train, which had blown up one of the rail bridges, Greed had followed this sentence with his own account in brackets. ‘Bradley wasn’t actually on the train. The public thought he was, but he was actually with daddy dearest. The attack would have killed him and his family otherwise.’ While including this in his essay work would have made him look like a conspiracy theory nut, it was interesting to learn what exactly was going on behind the scenes of the political climate. It did remind him of Greed’s connection to the outside world as well, which was strange. He was a man who embodied broken family and an impoverished childhood, but for Bradley to have made it to his political status, Greed’s family must have held a lot of clout.

Instead of following his familys footsteps, Greed started a bar and crawled his way through the world. Ling reflected on his own childhood upbringing, his father or rather lack of, but still he relied on their money to house himself alongside student finance. He hardly worried about draining his father’s resources – the man could feed the whole of Xing’s poor population should he choose – but he wished he’d made it more for himself. There was something about his reliance on his family that reminded him he hadn’t fully grown up as much as he had wanted to, or even thought he had.

“King Bradley, huh?” Roy looked over the papers on the desk, idly, “What an ass.”

“Not his biggest fan, then?” Ling asked, trying to keep a friendly tone. He remembered Greed mentioning Roy and King having a rather unfortunate encounter after to coffee shop incident, but he hadn’t elaborated beyond that.

“I’d say. I worked as a military chemist for a while, kind of an internship alongside my studies,” Roy looked off into the distance, as if reminiscing, “One of my good friends joined me during the studies, and he was constantly manipulating and using us. Something to do with his Father’s mad schemes, I’d imagine.”

So, it was a personal vendetta then. At least Ling now had some more context, although the information was shrouded in mystery in itself, “Their father sounded awful, from what I’ve heard.”

“Now that I’d believe,” Roy turned to Ling and there was something almost remorseful about that, the way you might feel guilty about hating a dog for biting you once you find it’s owners had mistreated it, “Nothing about a family like that screams happy upbringing.”

Ed’s ears pricked at that, “Is that humanity I hear?”

“You say that like I have none,” Mustang sighed, a downcast expression befalling him, “I just think you should be careful, that’s all. Now if you don’t mind me, I need to meet up with Hughes, or he’ll come here and then no one will be able to study in peace. Not to mention I just made eye contact with Olivia, and if I don’t get out of here soon, she may very well stab me.”

“No kidding,” Al laughed lightly, “Tell Hughes we said hello, and pass our hellos on to Gracia too.”

“Yeah, since he’ll no doubt gush about her for hours,” Ed outstretched his leg, rocking on his chair gently, “Oh, and say hey to Riza, too.”

He winked as he said this but Roy had the dignity to ignore him, collection his things and hurrying away. He paused at the door and looked once more at Olivia in the corner, who all but snarled at him, and he left. Ling sighed heavily, letting his head rest on the table as relief flooded his body, the awkwardness of the situation passing by. He could feel Ed poking him with his pen, but didn’t even flinch at the impact.

“I need a nap, that was exhausting,” Ling sighed, trying to focus on the papers his head was resting on. The words were far too close to his eyes, and were nought but a fuzzy black outline in his central vision.

“He was in an odd mood,” Alphonse remarked, a question in his tone, “Does this have something to do with what happened in the shop last week? I didn’t really overhear anything, but it seemed tense.”

Ed raised an eyebrow, suddenly wanting information to compensate for feeling excluded in whatever potential drama was happening. Ling sat himself back up and cast his mind back to Greed and Roy’s altercation, “I do not know exactly what it is between them, but I wouldn’t exactly say Greed is Roy’s biggest fan. I believe it has something to do with Bradley, but whatever mad scheme Roy believes in I could not tell you.”

He hesitated for a second, thinking about Greed’s recent, more anxious state, “Actually, there may be some merit to what he was saying. Greed told me to keep an eye out for people with a homunculus tattoo, who I believe are his siblings.”

“The serpent that eats its own tail, huh? A strange tattoo,” Ed turned over a page in his notebook and began a base interpretation of the design. He drew a foul-headed creature with spikes down its spine and an almost gothic appearance, were it better drawn. Once he’d finished scribbling he held it up, his free hand pointing to his work, “Like this?”

“Your taste is ghastly,” Ling huffed, shaking his head. He turned over one of his note pages and copied what he remembered of Greed’s hand tattoo, a far simpler design. It was shaky, as the first thing he’d drawn in a long while but looked similar enough to the original. He then slid this across the table for the Elric’s to observe.

“Mines cooler.”

“Greed has that on his hand, right?” Al pulled it towards himself, recalling serving him at the counter. Whether Greed had any others was uncertain, but with how frequently he wore bare arms, it was pretty clear to see the rest of them were bare. It was a strange position for a tattoo too, especially someone’s first as it would go over the thinner skin and ligaments. It was only then that Ling remembered it wasn’t voluntary and felt a little sick looking at his sketch. He simply nodded in response to Al.

“You feeling alright, Ling?” Ed frowned at him and he sighed, nodding once again. It seemed that his once perfectly masked emotions were becoming a lot more visible, especially in recent weeks, although he couldn’t quite explain why. Well, he had a feeling it was to do with his new neighbour, but that thought was pushed as far away as possible.

“Just a little woozy,” Ling replied, gesturing vaguely to his forehead. He still suffered from bad migraines and bouts of fatigue, especially under strain or without food, but he also frequently used it as an excuse when he was mentally tired. Often the fatigue would start with a small, aching sensation in the base of his skull, and spread into an all-consuming migraine, coupled with anything between a slight black out to full on fainting. It was how him and the Elric brothers had met, as Alphonse was visiting with Ed on one of the Open days before Uni and found Ling passed out on the way between talks. When the start of first year came around, and Ed was integrating himself into the university, he saw Ling passing by and recognised him, resulting in the friendship they had. Ling hated having an autoimmune disease, but he was thankful something good had come of it, at least. And, once again, it sure was useful to have a medical excuse to get out of social situations, “I might head home and finish off these notes, if you two don’t mind?”

“Not a problem, take it easy man,” Ed fist bumped him and Al gave a kind wave before he headed off, out of the labyrinth that was the library. He stopped by the vending machine on his way out, unnecessarily wasting his student finance on overpriced chocolate, before leaving the building. Their main campus was surprisingly small for a university that offered such a wide variety of subjects, but a large part of this was due to the fact the more speciality subjects, as well as arts, had their own mini-campuses closer to the city centre. It made finding student accommodation easier, as most people selected housing depending on which campus they lived on, but also meant that remaining students on the main campus were a hodgepodge mix of different humanities and sciences.

Ling’s gazed lingered a little too long on the coffee shop, letting himself reminisce as he walked. Things were certainly changing, although it was hard to tell if they were good changes. It had to be mid-autumn at this point, and he could feel the transition into winter in the air, both in the chill crawling in and the tense atmosphere. There was an eclipse to come in winter, too; he was looking forward to seeing it.

As he walked, he let his mind wonder to what Roy was talking about. He seemed… paranoid, at best, but potentially for good reason. No doubt there was nefarious happening’s in Greed and King’s family, especially in the way King ruled as he was notorious for his cruel and manipulative tactics. But, to imply that Greed’s moving was somehow in conjunction with that, based on a family he didn’t talk to, who had treated him poorly… Ling just couldn’t see the connection. He let himself wonder about what it must have been like, to see in the news that your brother had been shot. What it was like to be related to the leader of a country.

Wrath, Ling reminded himself. Wrath with a tattooed eye. While he did feel pity for the man’s untimely assassination, he was equally glad Wrath was a man he would never have to meet, for he figured they probably wouldn’t have agreed on how to rule.

He got home in good time, despite his wondering mind, and instantly made himself comfortable, pulling off his shirt and letting his hair loose, pinging the band onto the kitchen counter. Ling could hear clutter through the wall, a faint rattling of what he imagined was metal pans moving or some other kitchen equipment, so Greed must be home, too. Working late nights at the bar meant that Greed often ate earlier than most, not that Ling knew this.

Ling flopped on the sofa, kicking his shoes off and sipping a glass of water, booting up his Nintendo. While he fully could have spent the valuable time spending, he just didn’t fancy it, and decided to take the time to just relax instead.

Somewhere in his fifth or sixth lap, there was a loud knock on the door. Ling paused for a second, listening. It was very rare that someone knocked, as his friends often preferred to just call him and skip the wait, so who it could be was uncertain. He considered throwing a shirt on, but if it was just a postman or something, he couldn’t say he cared too much. With that in mind he hopped back upright, and went to investigate.

As it happened, it was Greed, holding a sizable bowl of nachos. Greed opened his mouth, likely to explain why he was knocking, but his eyes strayed up and down Ling, gouring on his loose hair and body in the few seconds he had to admire. Ling suddenly felt very aware that he was shirtless infront of his hot neighbour and felt himself flushing, but refused to acknowledge this, or even the situation, to save face. Greed pursed his lips for a second, trying to hold Ling’s gaze as he spoke, “I, uh, made too many nachos. Do you, uh, want some?”

Ling blinked, looking at the bowl presented before him. They smelt good, honestly, and the cheese was nicely gooey and melted across the tortilla crisps, “Yes, please, they look great.”

He smiled gratefully, taking them from Greed with a slight bow of his head. Greed hesitated at the door for a second, as if he had more to say, before saying a quick ‘goodbye’ and ducking back to his own accommodation, hoping the bar between their stairs rather than wasting time in going around. Ling rather wished he’d lingered a little longer but pushed the feeling down to enjoy his newly acquired nachos. He could deal with that feeling later.

Chapter Text

Greed was standing before a full-length mirror, running his hands through his hair to coat it with wax, pushing it upwards to form his ‘iconic’ hairstyle. He still had a good three hours before the party officially started, although Martel and Dolcetto were coming earlier on the pretence of helping to set up, but mostly just for kicks and company. In that time, besides the clearing he’d done, he’d spent a large amount of time fixated on his appearance. Today, Greed had put on eyeliner, neat and small wings on either side of his eyes and topped off the look with mascara. Nothing fancy, but enough to feel like he looked good.

As much as he focused on his own reflection, he found himself obsessing on all the little things wrong with his outfit or hair or if he looked like he was trying to hard, and it was infuriating. Vanity was, in all fairness, one of his many vices, but Greed collected vices the way other people collected pottery. Usually, his nonchalant attitude extended inward, rather than just being a façade, but lately it was harder to keep a cool head. Greed kept letting his mind drift to exactly why he was caring so much. God damn it, why’d he have to be shirtless? , Greed hissed, not entirely sure if it was in his head or spoken allowed. Who the hell opens the door shirtless? He pulled at the bottom of his mesh shirt, stretching it out and grimacing when it rode back up again.

He must have been caught ogling; much like humility, subtlety wasn’t something Greed did either. Despite this, he wasn’t foolish; he knew that this feeling went deeper down than physical attraction, but damn it all he just… Wasn’t that guy. He hadn’t been in any substantial relationship, well besides Dante but that hardly counted, and beyond her his only experiences with intimacy were through flings or short affairs. As if his relationship status wasn’t enough to make him undatable, with such an unhappy family history… Greed sighed at himself, looking at the sad sack of a human before him. An unlovable mess of barely even a human.

He touched his shoulder where the second set of tattoos had been branded into his skin, circles and lines near his collarbone that curved over his shoulder and met on his back. There were more on his stomach, too. He remembered feeling proud of those, for not being as afraid at the gun the third time round. He’d told Ling about where his Ouroboros had come from but hadn’t divulged the others. It was the same damn source, same shitty father with his mad, religious ideologies, but the memories were far worse. His had been done at the same time as Solarises, he remembered, as they were around the same age at the time. His hand at 11, his shoulders at 12, and his stomach at 13. Father had explained their meaning at some point, he was sure of it, something about the soul travelling through the body. Greed had blacked the memory out, mostly deliberately, but he remembered the feeling if he looked at them for too long.

Greed had considered getting new tattoos to cover them up, but after so many years, he still couldn’t shake the fear out of his head. He saw the ribbons of ink and it was his scared thirteen-year-old self staring back at him. The mesh on the shirt was thin enough that the lines couldn’t be determined from the netting, and for that he was grateful, but knowing they were there was enough.

And what would Ling think if he saw them? What would he think of Greed? Greed rubbed his Ouroboros uncomfortably, an old nervous habit. He’d had a long time to get used to the sight of himself, but he never let anyone else get too close; Greed remembered a mans nails clawed across the tattoo line once, and he kicked him out of bed for it. He sighed, deciding the mirror was doing him no favours and decided to finish his tidying.

His room was as neat as a hoarder’s room could get; lovingly full, but still organised. There was a large double bed taking up the centre to back, coated in excessive blankets and pillows, and along the sides of the walls were shelves of miscellaneous items, mementos he’d collected or gifts he’d been given. For music alone, he had an old cassette tape, a vinyl player and records, a large speaker system with an auxiliary input (which he would be taking downstairs for the party) and a stolen CD player. Propped up in the corner was his guitar, and besides that was an individual clothing rack with his favourite items. He had a walk-in closet as well, which was originally an en suit bathroom until the previous tenants ripped it open and redecorated. Shoved under his bed were his old possessions, mementos too precious or bittersweet for keeping out on display. One of his proudest items, though, was a matchbox sat on his desk. On the front was the Devils Nest logo, and he’d kept it as a symbol of his freedom from Father and his siblings.

So much for that, he thought bitterly, remembering Solaris’s warning. What good was freedom if it was temporary? There would be a time he’d have to confront them, certainly, but tonight was for getting black out drunk and just having some fun.

Greed lugged the speaker-set downstairs and propped it in the kitchen, close enough to the lounge that the music could be heard but not intrusive. Lined on the counter besides that were several bottles of spirits – vodkas, whisky’s, some dark rums, and a few lighter schnapps as well – as well as a variety of mixers. He realised he should have bought some beer too, and ice for the whiskey, but then figured he’d done his duty as host sufficiently enough. He checked his phone and noticed a message from Ling, confirming that he would be bringing Ed and Al along with him. Greed had thought Ed was hot-headed and arrogant, sure, but they were also in a heated video game competition, and Greed decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’d also consider Ed’s fashion sense questionable, but each to their own, really.

If Ling liked him, he couldn’t be all bad. Greed shook the thought from his head as soon as it entered; Ling made the mistake of hanging out with Greed, his choices in company were questionable at best. He figured he didn’t need to reply to that and instead messaged Dolcetto, asking if him and Martel would like to come earlier since he was bored already. Just as he was finished typing, his phone began buzzing with a call from an unknown number. It looked familiar, somehow, and he answered after a couple of seconds; it was more socially acceptable than doing so straight away.

“Hello, brother dearest,” Solarise chimed, and he already disliked this conversation.

“How’d you get my number?”

“You have literally never changed your mobile, I’m just the only one who bothered to keep it,” She sighed at his idiocy, and he paused for a second. Come to think of it, he’d always just changed his phone, but the SIM was the same… Huh. Oops. When he didn’t say anything, and she’d relished enough of the silence, she cut to the chase, “I heard you were having a party tonight? Something about a housewarming?”

Greed hesitated for a second, an old panic boiling in his blood. This time, when he asked, it was a lot more hesitant, “And how did you know that?”

“Roy sure likes the sound of his own voice, and his men are good listeners. If I had to guess before that it came from the Fullmetal brat,” He could picture her, as she was, one hand twirling a lock of black hair, the other holding the mobile. Probably propped at the elbow on a table she was sat besides, a self-congratulating smirk on her face, “Funny how word gets around, huh?”

“Who the fuck is fullmetal?” Greed rubbed his forehead, careful not to touch his eyes and ruin his makeup, “y’know what? I don’t actually care. First, stop using some poor sap to torment me, secondly, just stop talking to me. That would be dandy.”

“Aw, you think this is all about you. Cute, but misguided. There are bigger things at play here beyond your little drama and funnily enough my date is irrelevant. My point, in all of this, is that I specifically warn you to lay low, and instead you insist on throwing a party. Are you trying to get yourself and that sweet little Xing boy killed?”

There it was, using Ling as a weapon against him. Greed felt his chest tighten, a reminder on why he couldn’t have a normal relationship, and grit his teeth, “It’s a party. It’s fine. I don’t know what you think will happen, but I can hold my damn own. And besides, how am I meant to trust you? How do I know that you aren’t feeding all this back to Envy?”

“Because,” She sounded irritated, talking slowly as if he was stupid, “If I was, Envy would be there already. I’m watching out for you, you moron, although Heaven only knows why.”

And, in that moment, Greed knew she was telling the truth. If Solaris did want him dead, or wished him harm, his family would have already come to his house or the Devils Nest. Instead, she was letting him know what information was getting out and, more importantly, how, so he could keep an eye on himself. Greed frowned, processing the information, “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s in it for you?”

Solaris sighed, her fingers tapping on a table, “I’ll get back to you on that one; I’m not too certain myself. The thing is, you managed to escape, despite everything. Despite Wrath coming after you, despite Envy’s attempts to track you down, you have been able to give yourself a chance at normal. Even Sloth is still under Father’s thumb, as much of a useless stoner that poor boy is. I suppose, a part of me is jealous of that,” She laughed, but it was a breathy, humourless laugh, “But I know how important that is, and I don’t want you to lose it.”

That had hardly been what he was expecting. While he was in the family, Lust was always eager to do what their Father wanted, despite the cruel treatment. Her head had been filled with how to manipulate men and use them, how to get what she wanted and use her body as a weapon. When Greed had left, he’d extended the offer for her to come with him and she’d turned him down, and had even helped Envy hunt him at first, as well as punish him for stealing from Father. It wasn’t remorse for those actions, they’d been through too much for empathy, but she had a chance to look after her family, and that’s what she chose. Greed felt a sudden swell of respect for her, as well as a comfort in that he had someone on his side, “Hey, Solaris?”

“What.”

It wasn’t a question, she was finished with the conversation, But Greed continued anyway. Who was he to give a shit what she wanted?

“Thank you,” There was dead silence over the phone, as if she was registering the words, “Truly, I mean it. Thank you.”

She hesitated once more, before giving a sharp, “Don’t mention it.”

The call cut out. Greed looked at the screen, before saving her number under ‘Sister’.

Dolcetto had sent a confirmation text that he would be there earlier, as his presence was wanted, and Greed sighed, relieved. At least, with Dolcetto to talk to, he’d have a voice of reason to process the information. Martel unfortunately was covering the bar until Doc got in to work the night shift, so it would just be the two of them setting up for an hour or so. Greed hadn’t fully reconnected with Martel after their little heart-to-heart, but they were functioning at least, and that was more than he could say for them previously.

Greed began doing idle chores around the house, such as breaking up his moving boxes and chucking them into recycling. He hadn’t got the television set up fully, and began poking at the wires, but Dolcetto knocked on the door before he’d managed to figure out what the problem was, saving him from his domestic nightmare for another day.

He threw the door open excitedly and pulled Dolcetto into a hug, the usual greeting between the two of them. Dolcetto reciprocated with the same enthusiasm, pulling Greed in closer and grinning, “How’s it going, dumbass?”

Greed pulled back first, looking his friend. Unlike Martel, him and Dolcetto had fallen back into their old easy friendship, which was aided especially by the sparring classes in the morning. They often swung round each other’s for lunch once the lessons were finishes, bruised and aching and laughing. After their introductions were over, Greed jumped straight to the organising.

“So, I’m thinking, drinks station here,” Greed took Dolcetto into the kitchen and gestured vaguely to the selection of spirits he’d bought, the back out to the lounge and pointed at his coffee table, “Vodka pong here-“

“I love it already,” Dolcetto affirmed, nodding seriously. He knew there was something bothering Greed, but waited through the house tour and party preparation, when the conversation had lulled and they were standing in the silent lounge, before bringing it up, “What’s going on with you, boss?”

“I’m really not your boss anymore,” Greed rubbed the back of his head, staring at the cups they’d put out for ‘vodka-pong’.

“You are in here,” Dolcetto pointed to his chest.

“Gay.”

“Okay, fuck off,” Dolcetto sighed, choking down a laugh, “But also on the lease, you still technically own the Devils Nest, even if you don’t run it anymore. So, what’s up, Landlord?”

Greed hesitated. He thought about his tattoos, his internal conflict between how he felt about Ling and how he needed that distance to protect him, how his time away from central had messed him up, and he didn’t know how to say it all at once. He put his hand to his chest, gently, tapping his heart, “There’s just a lot going on.”

Dolcetto put a hand on his shoulder, letting him know he was there for support. Greed was torn between gratitude and feeling weak. Before he could elaborate further, Dol asked, “Is your sister bothering you? After she appeared in the bar you’ve been looking a little… I dunno, wired?”

“Can’t say I’ve slept well after that,” Greed sighed, thinking about his insomniac guitar sessions and manic cooking. He was lucky Ling was such a good neighbour, and whoever it was on the other side of him must be deaf or dead, “She’s not actually as much a problem as I thought, infact, I think she’s helping.”

“Uh… Are you sure?”

“No, but it’s the only thing that makes sense, I’ll explain that much later,” He shrugged, thinking back to his sister and all she’d said, “Although I don’t trust Envy or Gluttony to not show up any second. Think I’m getting paranoid.”

“No one blames you, Boss,” Dolcetto had seen some of the worst of his family, and it was no secret that it was Bradley who got Roa killed. He could have pulled away from the Devil’s Nest – should have, in Greed’s eyes – but there they were, “And I get it. You don’t feel stable, don’t feel like you can settle down,” Dolcetto gestured to next door with his thumb, “But it’s alright, ay? I don’t know what happened the past couple of years, but you’ve got us again, alright? And nothing’s gonna happen to you or the Devils Nest, fuck whatever your sister’s crazy ass is saying.”

Greed didn’t miss the implication there of him settling down with Ling but decided to glance over it. Martel called, then, to let him know she was outside, and it was only then that he realised how much time had passed. Once she was there, too, he sat them both down on the sofa and briefed them on what Solarise had been saying, the implication that there was, potentially, danger ahead, but also that she wasn’t to be considered the top enemy there.

“Question,” Martel stuck her hand up like in a classroom, “If she’s not the bad guy at the moment, would I, theoretically, be allowed to sleep with her if she was down for it?”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Greed facepalmed, while Dolcetto just broke into hysterics.

“Like I know she’s your half-sister and all that but also, Christ she’s a stunner, you know?” Martel shrugged unapologetically, “Like, not even saying I could seduce a 10/10 like her but, potentially, if she did ever drop her standards, would I be able to swoop in and pick them up?”

“For one, I really, just, don’t want to know about this,” Greed hissed into his hand, “Secondly, don’t put yourself down you beautiful bastard, and finally, I reveal this very important detail in that the sibling who has previously thrown knives at me now no longer, potentially, wants to throw said knives, and you’re more interested in getting in her pants?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t care, you’re free women, do what your heart desires, just please spare me the gritty details,” He grimaced, before remembering Roy’s man. Havoc, was he? “Although, I think she’s got a boy -toy at the moment.”

“What a shame. Guess it’s back to you wingmanning, Dol.”

“Ah shit, I’m a fucking terrible wingman,” Dolcetto sighed, “Besides, top priority at the moment is setting Greed up with that student he’s fawning after.”

Martel perked up, instantly, at that comment, “Fuck yeah! If you and Ling aren’t banging by the end of the winter, we’re leaving the Devil’s Nest.”

“Degenerates, both of you. What’s to say I even like the kid, anyway?”

“You talk about him all the time,” Dolcetto said, bluntly.

“And you followed him round the Xingese market like a lost puppy,” Martel agreed.

“And you see him in the mornings before class, and text him after class, an-“

“Okay, fine, I fuckin get it,” Greed cut Dolcetto off, not even bothering to argue with him. Greed wouldn’t – couldn’t – lie, and they both knew it. Truly, his best and worst quality rolled into one.
They passed the rest of the time between then and the party in a similar fashion, joking about what girls to set Martel up with, why exactly Greed was attracted to Ling, and if Dolcetto was going to get with anyone, who it would be. It was easy conversation, honestly, and helped Greed forget about some of his morning anxieties; exactly what he’d needed. As the later evening began rolling in, Bido was the first to arrive in preparation for the party, early but fashionably so. He wore his best outfit, a pair of harem pants, boots and a vest, and everyone praised him highly. It was refreshing to see him out of his cloak, at least.

Ulchi came in next, followed by Blondie. Doc was next, having shut the bar down earlier as asked, and a bunch of the Devil’s Nest regulars came in alongside them. Izumi made it, too, which Greed was happy with. She’d stormed in once and kicked him straight in the face for being too loud and drunk early in the morning, as it was scaring customers away from her boyfriend’s butcher business, and he’d instantly respected her and been terrified of her in equal measures. About an hour in, people had flooded in steadily, and slowly dispersed around the ground floor, drinking from plastic cups and holding polite conversation.

Greed could feel his nerves frying when another fifteen minuets crawled by, until the knock on the door rang through the longue and he opened it to Ling, Ed and Al.

Chapter Text

Ling could practically smell the booze before the door opened, but once it had swung and Greed was there, the pungent smell if vodka hit him secondary to the sight of his neighbour. He looked… Good. Better than usual, even, as there was no denying Greed was a good-looking guy. Ling had come to accept that reality the day they met but confronted with him with his mesh shirt and gentle makeup, Ling felt his heart in his throat. They stared at each other, neither quite willing to break the silence between them in the small moment there. The music and hubbub of party was a faint thrum in the background, and it was only when Ed moved up to the top step, intent on heading into the house, that Ling snapped to reality. The seconds of peace were broken, and all other sense hit Ling at once; the noise, the smells, and the vibrations thrumming through the air sending a shock through his nerves all at once.

“Hey there, guys, good to see you!” Greed grinned, extending his arms in an eccentric greeting, “Glad you could make it.”

“Yeah, good to be here,” Ed smiled back, nudging Ling with his elbow.

Ling looked at his hands, where he was awkwardly carrying a bottle of Smirnoff in one and the empty, cleaned nacho bowl in the other, “Likewise. We come baring gifts.”

Greed took the bottle with a nod of approval, before taking the nacho bowl and leading them into the house. There were a lot of miscellaneous people, mostly a couple of years older than Lin, all huddled in different parts of the house and holding their own conversations. A game of vodka-pong was in full swing, and Ling recognised Martel at the forefront of one of the teams, scoring a shot as he went past. The other team were losing badly, if the lack of cups on their side was any indication, and the man drinking scowled as he did so.

They went into the kitchen, equally full of people, and Greed dumped the bowl into the sink. There was an array of small snacks out on the counter, and Ling made a mental note to return to the kitchen once Greed had returned to the fray of the party. Ed and Al simultaiously gasped, confronted with a woman in the kitchen.

“Teacher?!”

Izumi broke her conversation with Doc to look at them, surprised – but pleasantly so – to see the Elrics there, “Oh, hey boys, what are you doing here?”

“What are we doing here?” Ed parroted, blinking, “What are you doing here?”

“Socalising,” Izumi shrugged, unblinking, before reaching her free hand out – for the other was holding a beer bottle – to Ed in a greeting.

Ed took it, smiling, but the moment was short lived. She gripped tightly and yanked suddenly, stepping sidewise as she did so, resulting in Ed going flying to the ground, “You’ve gotten slow.”

“And you haven’t changed at all,” Ed grumbled under his breath, but saw the grimace on her face and gulped, quietening down.

Greed, who Ling had forgotten was behind him, let out a harsh bark of a laugh, “Sorry, what did you teach them again?”

“Physics and chemistry, mainly, although I think physics should have a hands on approach, so martial arts was included,” Izumi shrugged before her attention shifted to Al, who flinched.

“Well, I think we’ll leave you to your reuninion, hey Ling?” Greed suggested, nudging his side. Ling nodded and stepped backwards, exiting the kitchen and leaving them to ‘reminisce’.

“How did you meet her?”

“I was stumbling around drunk after drinking in the Nest, ended up disturbing her customers in the morning so she kicked me in the face,” Greed tapped the side of his cheek, where a small, pencil thin scar lived, “Where my head was spinning from drinking I fell like a ton of bricks. She picked me up, patched me up, gave me some water and sent me on my way. Don’t think she meant to hit that hard, but in all fairness, I did put a whole in her door by mistake. Hey, Dol! Come meet Ling!”

They’d gone into the longue, where the majority of the guests were hovering. The man who had been losing at vodka pong earlier perked up upon being called, and he crossed over, walking straight into the sofa as he did.

“This is Dolcetto, he’s a long time friend of mine,” Greed grabbed Dol’s shoulder, affectionately, before realising just how much Dol was swaying and instead started manoeuvring him to the sofa edge to sit him down.

“UH, I think you mean best friend,” Dolcetto poked Greed’s chest, and Greed ruffled his hair affectionately. It was the gentlest Ling had seen him.

“Well, you are a bitch, and dog is mans best friend,” Greed snarked, before looking at Ling, “You should see how he pees.”

“Why, is that what –“ Dolcetto burped, loudly, before continuing, “You always bring up to new people? Why? At least let me start with some expectation so I can disappoint them myself.”

Ling laughed, soft if not a little awkward, “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, anyway. I’m Ling.”

“I’ve heard good things,” Dol smiled, reaching out a wavy hand, “A lot of good things. All the time, in fact, so –“

Greed put his hand over Dolcettos mouth, “Okay, that’s enough from you.” Dolcetto laughed into his palm, and Greed looked over to Martel for help. She caught his eye and shrugged, before scoring another shot in Pong, this time against Ulchi. If this continued, everyone would be wasted except for her.

“Okay, Dol, you stay here, you need to slow down on the Vodka, buddy. Hey, Ling, can you keep him steady for a second?”

Ling nodded and took Greed’s place at Dol’s side while he disappeared into the kitchen. Dolcetto looked up at Ling, curiously, “Hey, here’s a question for you, what is it about you guys that you like so much? Cause, don’t get me wrong, I fuckin love Greed, like he’s a sound guy, but not a lot of people see that. Or, not enough, at least. But you two just seem to click, even though you’re really different, so whatca think’s the reason for that?”

And it was strange, because Ling didn’t have an answer. He could list reasons he liked Greed, things he’d enjoyed when they’d hung out and the way their routine worked together, but he wasn’t entirely sure why he liked Greed as much as he did. There had just been a moment when they’d met, where he felt comfortable around him faster than he did most people. He tried to order these thoughts to reply to Dolcetto, but Greed returned with a glass of water before he got the opportunity to.

“Here you go, buddy, take it a bit easier, okay?” Greed handed it over and patted Dolcetto’s face. They left him to sober up a little bit on the sofa, as cheering erupted on the pong table. Martel had won another round, “Hey, Ling, wanna play a round?”

Ling looked at the table, before glancing into the kitchen. Ed and Al were engrossed in a conversation with Izumi, and this was his best opportunity to integrate with Greed’s friends, “Sure thing. Teams or singles?”

“Single, I reckon I can take you,” Greed winked, before taking Martel’s place at the head of the table. She began filling up a fresh round of cups with shots, although she also put two glasses of water on the side for both of them after Dolcetto’s early defeat. They flipped a coin to decide who should go first, which Ling won, and the game began.

He was handed a wet ping pong ball and eyed up the cups on Greed’s side of the table. The ball had to bounce, once at least, before landing in, and he aimed for the middle of the table. It struck, lifted and landed in the first cup of Greed’s triangle. Greed’s friends cheered excitedly as he drank, and Martel put a five pound wager on Ling winning, which Dolcetto and Ulchi both contended against, raising her a tenner, although in Dolcetto’s case, that was far more motivated by loyalty than it was sensibility.

Greed missed his first throw and hissed as Ling stooped to pick it up, missing his second shot but only narrowly, hitting the rim of the cup as it went. 8 cups still on Ling’s side, 7 on Greed’s. Greed took a second to recalculate after his first miss and got the second throw in. The next couple of shots they both got in, and Ling finally missed a shot after drinking four cups of vodka, leaving them both with four left.

At this point, it was anyone’s game and there had been a small crowd amassing to watch them. Ling could feel his old martial arts training coming back as he worked, all of the time practicing his accuracy and dexterity. Even in his spare time he was always training, remembering the warm Xingese nights with Lan Fan throwing knives into plastic cups. They would hop down from his balcony and walk to the village outside the capitol where her grandfather lived and break things in the junkyard. It had been there where his older brother had attacked him; the memory hurled him back, quickly, and he jolted, missing the shot. Greed grabbed the ping pong ball and scored, and Ling was thankful for the drink to wash the old memories down. It also put him on the losing side of the game, which he brought his thoughts back to the game and woke up his competitive spirit.

It got down to Greed having two cups, Ling having one. At this point, Ling and Greed could both feel the familiar warmth of the vodka in their system. Six shots of vodka wasn’t enough to get Greed drunk off, but was enough to mess with his aim, and he missed. Ling caught the ball before it bounced off the table, throwing it and scoring. They really got down to the wire.

Greed knelt, looking at Ling’s cup from the angle of the table. He’d already missed once, so knew he needed to adjust his aim somehow, but with the fizzy feeling in his head it was harder to establish how exactly, “Alright, I got this. Just you watch, Ling.”

He stood back up and confidently threw the ball at the table. It bounced once, twice, hurled towards the cup, but hit the rim, riding across it for a second before falling off and onto the table. Greed groaned and his peers booed, extatically. Ling picked up the ball, threw it, and, in one graceful shot, got it into the cup, ending the game. Greed covered his face with his hands, defeated, before drinking the vodka. Martel cheered, collecting her winnings from Ulchi and Dolcetto, congratulating Ling as she did so.

Greed went around the table and shook his hand, “Alright, I’ll admit that was a good game, but I’ll get you next time.”

His breath stank of cheap spirits, but Ling didn’t mind, “Guess you could not take me after all.”

There was a beat as the implication settled between them before Greed laughed, “Yeah, I guess not. You got a good arm on you, that’s for sure. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m going to need a beer to wash all that down. Vodka’s fun and all but it tastes like nail polish remover.”

They both went into the kitchen, and Ling grabbed a handful of crisps to snack on while Greed poured himself a beer from small keg set up by the sink. Ling opted for cider, grabbing a can and cracking it open in his right hand while he ate with his left. In the light of the kitchen he could see Greed a little better, at it felt like the first time he properly saw him. This was his element, he was surrounded by his friends and was practically glowing – Greed was more alive than most people Ling had met in his time. He wondered, briefly, if him and LanFan would be friends, before smiling. No, almost definitely not, and it would have been hilarious.

“Were you alright back there?” Greed had finished pouring and was stood with his back leaning on the counter, at his friend intently, “There was a second or two where you just, looked like you’d seen a ghost or something. Which I mean, I’m not going to discredit if you say you did, nothing’s impossible and all that shit, but… you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I just had an unpleasant memory come back, that’s all.” He felt that of all the people he could tell, Greed would probably understand more than anyone else, having seen how protective he was with his friends, but an old feeling of shame resurrected itself and he said nothing.

Ed found them in the kitchen, having disappeared into the party to socialise. He’d taken his coat off and his automail arm was in full display, instantly catching Greed’s eye.

“Whoah, that’s cool,” He leant in closely, disregarding personal space in place of curiosity. Ed stepped away slightly, looking at the arm that Winry had crafter for him, “Mind if I take a closer look?”

“Uh, sure I guess,” Ed lifted it up and Greed held his wrist, running his finger over the metal to investigate.

“What’s it like, not being able to feel in your hand? Must be pretty sweet, no pain or anything,” Greed wasn’t trying to be rude, but he struck a nerve and Ed pulled back.

“It fucking sucks,” Ed scowled, “And it’s not painless in the slightest. If it rains the joints ache, if it gets too cold the metal could give me frostbite, if it’s too hot it burns to touch – it’s fucking awful. The recovery process takes a year, not to mention losing and arm in the first place.”

Ed’s face was flushed red, both from anger and alcohol, and Greed rubbed the back of his neck, turning to Ling to mutter, “Shit, I guess I was being insensitive.”

“Hey, I uh, didn’t mean to upset you or anything, I’m sorry for your loss. I just think it would be cool, but I don’t know the circumstance or anything, so uh…” Greed trailed off, looking a little out of his comfort zone suddenly.

“You’re damn right you don’t,” Ed huffed, joined suddenly by Al, who had heard him raising his voice. Al suggested they moved out the front for a minute, so Ed could cool down – figuratively and literally. Greed looked a little defeated when they left, rubbing his forehead and sighing.

“Oh man, I really cocked that one up, huh? That’s a shame, I’ll have to make it up to him sometime,” Greed turned to Ling, and it was the first time they’d got the chance to properly talk, as when they were playing there had been too much of a crowd. Most of the guests had moved into the longue or hall, or were smoking outside the front door, and now with Ed leaving it was just the two of them in the kitchen.

“Ed is quite hot headed, but he’ll get over it soon, I would not worry too much,” Ling reassured, seeing how drastically Greed’s mood had downed in those few moments, “If it helps, I made the same mistake when I started talking to him. One of my good friends in Xing has an automail arm, and so I thought it was a good way to lead a conversation.”

Greed had drunk his beer a little too quickly and refilled, “It’s an easy mistake to make, I guess. Not that I can judge, I can get the same with my tattoos.”

Ling looked at the Ouroboros, before noting the plural. So, it wasn’t just the one on his hand? He remembered how Greed had acquired his ink and felt sick all of a sudden. He washed down the bad feeling with cider, but it didn’t help the uneasy ill feeling in his stomach. There wasn’t anything he could say to remedy the situation, or to undo the pain that Greed must have gone through, but he still felt it was important to say something in support, “I am sorry about that happening.”

“Why, you weren’t the one who did it,” Greed poked him, laughing, “C’mon, it’s not big deal, cheer up would ya? I need to do the rounds and check on everyone, I’ll come back in a bit once I’ve seen everyone’s alright. I haven’t seen Bido in an hour or so, so I think he’s scarpered upstairs to get away from the noise.”

With that Greed disappeared back into the belly of the party, grinning as he slid through the groups of people and chatting idly to them. Ling considered following, but with the music in his body and enough drink in his system, he was feeling rather overwhelmed. He had so many things to mull over and consider. The memory of Lan Fan had brought back a lot of old, repressed emotions, and he decided to let the negativety pass before he walked into the party once more. That, and he needed a few more drinks first. He finished the cider in peace, and cracked open another one when Martel walked in. Strangely enough she’d made fast friends with Alphonse, and only broke from their conversation when she noticed Ling alone in the kitchen.

“Hey, pass me one?” She sat on the counter opposite him and he tossed her a can which she caught with ease. They cracked the drinks open simultaneously, but she didn’t drink hers straight away, “So, Ling, how come you’re not out there having fun?”

As if to punctuate her sentence, laughter erupted from the lounge. He glanced in that direction and sighed, staring into the small opening of the can, “I am unsure. I Just… have a lot of things. In my head.”

Getting the words out were harder than he’d expected, and he realised that mixing cider with spirits was not his brightest idea. Martel looked at him sympathetically, “I think everyone here can understand the sentiment. Hey, have you ever killed a man?”

Ling looked up quickly, the question taking him back. It struck him in that second just how sad she looked, even with her comforting half smile.

“Cause I sure have. Killed my dad in self-defence when I was a teen. Would have spent my life bouncing from prison to prison if Greed hadn’t covered for me, given me an alibi and a place to live. A lot of people here have demons and things they’re not proud of, half of us spent so much time running away from our past we forgot how to live in the present till we found each other. So just remember that, whatever you’re carrying, you’re surrounded by people who understand.”

Ling sipped for a second and thought. The drinking was making his tongue looser, and he sighed, “My friend lost her arm because of me. We’d snuck out to go mess around, I wanted to get out of the capital for a bit. One minuet we’re smashing bottles with a slingshot, next minuet there’s a knife being thrown at us. She shoves me out the way, and it goes straight through her arm. The doctors tried to save it, but it was paralysed from nerve damage.”

“Was that back in Xing?” Martel asked. He nodded, “So, are you running away from that?”

“I guess so,” Ling drank a little faster this time, and felt the old woozy feeling in his head. Martel was becoming harder to concentrate on, and when he went to elaborate on what he said, he couldn’t remember what he was going to say. Martel got up and gave him an encouraging squeeze on the shoulder. It was funny how different she was here, compared to when they’d first met in the xingese market.

“It’s alright, kiddo, you’ll figure it out. Just remember that you can’t run forever, and that’s alright. Now, you should go find Greed. He told me he was gonna swing back for you, but I think he’s got distracted somewhere,” Martel gave him a playful punch to the shoulder, and Ling nodded, staggering off into the party.

He wondered past the groups of people, looking through the faces, but failing to spot Greed’s amongst them. Blinking, he carried on down the hall, until he felt the draft from the front door being propped open. He slunk out, half closing it, and spotting Greed sat at the bottom of the stairs, having a smoke. Ling walked down the steps, drawing his shoulders in at the cold, and joined Greed, sitting on the cold stone and stretching his legs out over the pavement.

It was a cold evening, as the autumn chill had come into full effect, and Greed was still just wearing his mesh shirt. As if hearing Ling’s thoughts, Greed took a deep drag of his cigarette and said plainly, “The smokes keeping me warm.”

Ling coughed, being in such close proximity to the tobacco, and Greed made an effort to blow the smoke downwards, out Ling’s face, “Is alright, I think the ciders the only thing keeping me warm.”

Ling dragged out the ‘s’s too much, hearing his own slur as he spoke. Despite what he said, he was shivering, and Greed stubbed out his cigarette, using both his hands to rub Ling’s arms and warm him up, “Better?”

Before he could even reply, Ling shivered violently, and Greed sighed, slinging an arm around Ling’s shoulders. Ling could have pulled away, but chose not to, instead he moved himself closer to Greed, so their legs were touching. He turned to observe Greed, who had himself moved to reach down, picking up a bottle he’d brought out with him and having a drink. Greed’s eyes in the sunlight were blue but here, with the red tint of the street lamps, they reflected a soft lilac colour. Ling was enthralled by them, and they made Greed look like something other than human.

One thing the party had taught him was that Greed was a very physical person, and showed his affection through touch more than words, and Ling hadn’t reciprocated much in the time they’d been friends. Physical contact was not Ling’s strong point, and here he realised he wanted to reach out and touch Greed but didn’t know how. Drunkenly, he went to put his hand on Greed’s leg, before realising how that would be inappropriate and opting instead to hold the hand that was slung over his shoulder. The one with the tattoo, Ling thought idly.

“Are you still cold?”

“Mmm not sure,” Ling hummed, resting his head fully on Greed’s chest. He could deal with the embarrassment of the situation tomorrow, right now he was cold and Greed was so damn warm and comfortable.

“Hey, don’t go to sleep on me,” Greed said, but there was a laugh in his voice and he sounded as warm as he felt. It was too late for that, as well, as Ling was already nodding off, and Greed sighed, squeezing Ling’s hand affectionately. Greed could feel his heart thumping harder than usual, and he rested his chin on Ling’s head, closing his eyes and letting the moment sink in. It was so comfortable, and Ling fit in his arms like he was made to be there, and it struck Greed with such a sudden and painful sadness as this was something he couldn’t have.

Greed would eventually move and take Ling inside, somewhere he could rest, but he waited first, listening to the party beginning to unwind behind him and thinking about a life just out of his reach and in his arms all at once.

Chapter Text

When the morning came, Ling awoke in an unfamiliar room, greeted first by the light filtering in and second by a pounding headache. His limbs felt heavy and groggy, as if his blood had turned into tar, accompanied by a nauseating churning in his stomach. A hangover. Even when looking at himself, clad in his clothes from last night – all bar shoes – and sweaty, it was clear he’d had too much to drink. Ling sighed, pulling the covers higher to hide himself from the light and resign to a bedridden day, until it struck him that the covers weren’t his own. Even more disoriented, Ling poked his head out once more, this time observing the room around him. It was not dissimilar to his in shape or design but decorated with far more bric-a-brack. He didn’t recognise anything at first, until his gaze fell upon a rack of clothes in the corner of the room, and a familiar fur-lined leather jacket was hung up amongst other statement pieces. All of a sudden, the sickness in his stomach was accompanied by a hot flush of embarrassment, and Ling didn’t know if he wanted to curl up entirely or jump out the window and escape.
With all the will in his body Ling forced himself to sit upright, contemplating his next plan of action. He could easily get out the window and climb into his own apartment, but something told him that wasn’t the socially appropriate action. He would be able to play it off as he left early, but even that could be misconstrued as rude, and he wasn’t sure where Greed was, meaning he could be aware that it was a lie.
Instead he hesitated in bed, attempting to recall the events of the night before; it was a snapshot of different moments; all close but slightly out of reach, like something stuck under the bed which you can’t grab, but brush with your fingertips. He remembered playing beer pong but using shots of vodka instead. Then there was Ed getting upset with Greed, something to do with his automail, and a conversation with Martel, although he couldn’t recall if that came before or after Ed’s outburst. He had a vague recollection of the cold air, a smell of smoke and hands helping him up the stairs and into bed, but other than that, the night was veiled with uncertainty.
Taking that into account, Ling accepted he was going to have to socialise and pulled himself out from the covers, neatening up the bed as he did so. A glass of water was sat on the bedside table, presumably for Ling to have, and remembering how Greed has acted last night only affirmed that it had been Greed who helped Ling into bed. Greed’s style of rude humour and his brash vernacular was poorly veiling a genuine care, and it was a pleasure both to see him being so gentle with Dolcetto and the gang, and for him to treat Ling in the same ilk. His shoes had been placed at the foot of the bed, and Ling collected them, taking in the smaller details as he did so. He had a feeling he wouldn’t see much of this room, and found himself looking through what was on display, noticing what had caught Greed’s interests and his style. A lot seemed to make sense, fitting with Greed’s rebellious nature and ‘edgy’ personality, but a few, more sentimental pieces stuck out. On the bedside was a framed photo from the Devil’s nest, with Greed centre of the photo while his friends were all gathered around, all posed beneath the sign for the pub. It was clearly a few years old, based on everyone’s faces, and standing taller than everyone else was an ox of a man with thick white hair and a military uniform on. The frame was white, and around it where messages wishing Greed a happy birthday; so, a present, then. Ling admired it, wondering what it felt like to be so loved by so many people. It seemed that Greed was easy to love, and a small palpitation in his chest told him to bury that thought back to where it came from. He refused to be pining over his neighbour, especially one who in no world would want him. Although, there was that time at the door…

Once more dismissing his thoughts from his head, Ling padded across the room and went downstairs, curious about what he would find. Already on there stairs there were plastic cups scattered, and a pile of abandoned coats that people had wondered off without. He peaked into the living room, where the makeshift pong table had become nothing but a clutter of bottles and glasses. The floor was dirty from feet traipsing inside and out, and the whole room downstairs had a distinct smell of booze and smoke, not dissimilar to a bar. Much to Ling’s surprise, Greed was passed out on the sofa by the window, face down in the cushions. One of his coats – a large black parka with a lined hood – was thrown over him clumsily, most likely by someone equally as drunk. There was a half-smoked cigarette tucked behind his ear, and his arm was hanging off the sofa, hand a fist on the carpet. It felt invasive to stare, so Ling looked around the room instead, searching for signs of life.

“Morning,” Ling jumped, clasping his hand over his mouth so as not to wake Greed. Dolcetto was standing in the hall connecting the living room and kitchen, a smirk on his face and a mug of coffee in his hand. Ling cursed himself silently, for usually his senses told him if someone was nearby. Hungover, however, this clearly didn’t work, and Dolcetto looked smug as he stared. He took a sip, looking Ling dead in the eye, before speaking again, “Coffee?”

“No- actually, yes, please, if there is some spare,” Getting his composure back, Ling followed Dolcetto into the kitchen, careful not to knock a bottle or can as he walked, “How was the rest of the night?”

“If I remember it, I’ll let you know,” Dol laughed, ruffling his already messy hair. He was in a set of clothes that didn’t quite fit him, and it was a strange look compared to his previous, well fitting gia, and Ling wondered if he was borrowing those clothes or if he’d brought them, “Tell you what, though, it was nice to see someone else as gone as me, you’re a bit of a lightweight, huh?”

Ling flushed, trying to recall how much he’d had, “No, not normally. I just, haven’t been drinking much recently.”

Dolcetto gave him a telling look but said nothing. He’d filled the kettle with water and they were stood waiting for it to boil, neither of them too sure what to say, “You and Greed seem to get on well, though.”

“I think so, or I suppose I hope so,” it was as true as answer as any. He appreciated having a neighbour he could be friends with, and enjoyed the time they had, although it was never easy to decipher Greed’s feelings. Dolcetto and Martel seemed to be very deeply connected to Greed, and it was strange being such an outsider, but that came with time over anything else.

“Enough to introduce you to everyone, at least,” the kettle whistled to a halt, and Dolcetto put a good scoop of instant coffee in a mug before adding the water and stirring, “And to meet your friends, which is an important development in any relationship.” Ling went to comment, uncertain of the implication, but the coffee was handed his way before he could, “Sugars in this cupboard and milk’s in the fridge if you want it, I’m going to go wake up sleeping beauty. You’re welcome to come watch.”

Ling poured a drop of milk in before following Dolcetto, who had already got to the living room and was crouched by the sofa, contemplating. He poked Greed a couple of times, who failed to respond at all. Dol tipped his head to the side, curiously, as a dog might upon hearing a noise it didn’t understand. He turned Greed’s head over, so it was facing them. Greed’s makeup had smudged around his eyes, giving his undereye a dark, deepened effect. Dol huffed lightly in amusement before turning to Ling.

“I can’t decide if I want to be nice or not,” Dolcetto explained, “Like on one hand, I could wake him up super gently, or I could just blow up his nose, which would be funny, but cruel. Have you done that to someone before? Oh, it’s fun, cause the air comes out their mouth.”

“That can’t feel very pleasant,” Ling observed, uncertain of how to approach the situation. He couldn’t say he was inclined to be cruel to Greed, but also was aware that close friends were often far more rough and tumble, and let Dolcetto decide what was best, “Depends how hungover he’s going to be.”

“True, he can be a humorousless bastard when he’s hungover, though I can hardly fault him there,” Dol turned back to the body slumped over the sofa, plucking the cigarette out from behind Greed’s ear and sticking it behind his own, moving his hands to nudge on Greed’s shoulder, “Hey, boss, up and at em, come on.”

Finally, Greed responded, if only in a vague and indistinguishable murmur of protest, “Oi, come on, are you Greed or are you Sloth you lazy dickhead?”

More protests, but louder this time, and Greed moved, lifting his arm to shield his eyes, most likely from both the light and the reality of waking up. Dolcetto’s nudging had got more aggressive at this point, and quickly, Greed grabbed his forearm, shoving it off him defensively and snapping awake. Dol seemed completely unphased by this and stood up, resting his hands on his hips, “Welcome to the real world, Boss.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Greed yawned, stretching to click his back and shoving the parka onto the floor. He was still wearing his mesh shirt, but it had crumpled up in his sleep, revealing a muscular abdomen. Greed stared at the ceiling for a second, rubbing his forehead and willing himself awake, before looking back at Dolcetto. It was only then that he noticed Ling standing in the background, “Huh? Oh, hey, Ling…”

“Morning,” Ling said, uncertainly. He felt like an intruder and wanted to retreat into the kitchen, but instead just hesitated in his place, “How’s your head?”

“Haven’t had any complaints,” Greed winked, before hissing and rubbing his temples, bravado gone. Dolcetto moved away from the sofa, grabbing a handful of discarded cups to begin the clean-up, “Hey, how are you all spry this morning, you were paralytic yesterday?”

“Come on, when have I ever had a hangover,” Dolcetto laughed, “Your fault for taking too good care of me, I couldn’t if I wanted one.”

Greed huffed, touching his hand to his face uncertainly. He pulled a lighter out of his pocket and touched behind his ear, surprised when he came back with nothing. Finally, Greed sat up, determined to investigate his missing smoke. Dol had left the room to dispose of the cups and was back, taking the cigarette he’d pinched from Greed earlier and offering it to him, “You’re up, congrats.” Dol then turned to Ling as if to offer an explanation, “Can’t leave him like that or he won’t get off the sofa. And no smoking in the house, go on.”

Greed had already lit it but got up, striding past Ling and standing outside the front door. Ling trailed behind, and the touches of a memory came back to him. Something about being outside; he remembered first how cold the night had been, and then suddenly being enveloped by something warm. Greed took in a slow drag, resetting himself, “How’d you like the party?”

“It was alright, or, what I remember of it was,” Ling admitted. He hadn’t been drinking in a long time, and it had certainly hit him harder than expected. He used to be able to do keg stands.

“Sounds like a good night then,” Greed grinned, pleased with himself, “Everyone seemed to like you, too, especially Martel. Although, Martel seemed to really get on with Al, for some reason. Unlikely friendships everywhere, I guess.”

Ling thought for a second, defintetly recalling the two talking together. He’d opened up to Martel as well, more than he had anyone recently, and it left him with an uncomfortable feeling. Whether he could trust her or not was yet to be determined, “What happened with you and Ed? You seemed to have really upset him, from what I can think anyway.”

“No one told me he was sensitive about his cool robot arm,” Greed waved his free hand dismissively, before frowning, “That one was my mistake. I should have guessed; people don’t exactly go cutting their limbs off for fun. At least now I know why Izumi calls him fullmetal.”

“Roy does, too,” Ling pondered, “But you are right, it’s hardly a fun story.”

He received a curious look for that one and considers telling Greed. Ed had been open about it, and it would at least help Greed understand the situation… Ling bit his lip and sighed, “I only know what they have told me. Ed and Al’s mum died when they were younger, and their dad worked a lot, so it was just the brothers most of the time. The two were playing about while Hohenheim was at work, playing in their dad’s study, messing with one of his older science experiments, and it catches light. Whole place goes down in flames, Ed gets out with a ruined leg but Al ‘s trapped, so he goes back in and pulls him out, losing his arm in the process as well. Nothing is left of the house, either.”

“Jesus,” A gust of wind ignited Greed’s stub of a cigarette and he huffs, throwing it to the floor and grinding it with his shoe, “So he has a metal leg too, I’m presuming? Hardly a fun morning story, huh? Guess I should have expected that one. Well, thanks for the run down, anyway. If Ed cools off with me a little, I’ll give him my apology.”

“Hey, Boss, where do you want these bottles?” Dolcetto appeared in the hallway, suddenly, encumbered by beer bottles. Apparently, he had been clearing up the whole time.

“I’ll tidy, don’t worry about it,” Greed stepped back indoors, closing the door behind him. Ling hadn’t moved and, when Greed stopped at the door, the two were incredibly close, with Ling’s head practically touching Greed’s shoulder. The taller man didn’t appear to notice, however, and simply slid past Ling on his way in.

“Would you like me to help at all?” Ling offered, suddenly feeling able to rationalise staying, instead of excusing himself to go home.

“No, I think me and Dol have probably got this, but thank you.”

“Ah, oh, oh no,” Dol ‘dropped’ what he was holding, suddenly, grabbing his forearm and frowning, “Damn, I don’t think I can, I, uh, just really hurt my arm, I mean,” He winced, once, for effect, “That really sucks. I’d love to stay and help but looks like Ling is going to have to take my place.”

Both stared dumbstruck at Dolcetto, with Greed quickly mouthing ‘What the fuck are you doing’, only to receive a cheeky, obvious wink.

After that Dol said his goodbyes and slunk out the house, still holding his arm to feign the pain he was in as he escaped. They both saw him off before returning to the chore at hand. Ling looked at anything in the room except for Greed, debating whether to begin with the kitchen or the lounge, as both appeared to be in a similar state of disrepair. Greed, however, looked down at himself, tugging at the mesh shirt he was wearing, “Actually, if you don’t mind, I’m going to run upstairs and have a shower, I think I need it. You don’t need to tidy, as well, by the way. You’re welcome to go if you’d like.”

“It’s not a problem, and I’m happy to help, I helped make the mess after all,” Ling smiled sincerely, earning a small grin in reply. Greed slunk away to go clean up, making a quick, ‘you’re welcome to join me’ joke before laughing and disappearing upstairs. It felt strange, being left in someone else’s house unattended, but comfortable, too. Like they’d crossed some real physical boundaries in doing so and could be more open with each other as a result. Ling began collecting the party debris from the lounge; filters, tobacco pouches, cups, napkins that had hard with last nights spilled beverage, the occasional package of food. He collected all of it and took them on individual trips to the bin, beginning to hum as he worked. From upstairs Ling could hear the faint sound of running water, a reminder that he wasn’t alone, and a strange content feeling settled in his chest. It had a very domestic feeling attached to it, and he couldn’t quite express why that satisfied him so much.

Ling was also convinced there was a part of the night missing. Standing out while Greed smoked this morning had been so painfully familiar, and a memory was begging to resurface, but whatever it was refused to manifest. He also, while knew it was Greed, couldn’t fully form the memory of Greed helping him up the stairs and into bed. Which one of them had taken Ling’s shoes off? When had Greed put the water on the nightstand? Ling almost gave up, tossing the remains of the garbage away and preparing to take out the bin when, suddenly, a memory struck him.

Pitch black. They had stumbled up the stairs and Ling had his forearm on the doorframe, trying to steady himself. The floor under him was swinging from side to side, and it was hard to focus on anything. Greed had an arm coiled around his waist, while his other one was on Ling’s chest, keeping him upright. With the combined effort they walked over to the bed, and Ling wasted no time to collapse onto it, falling face first onto the pillows.
“Hey hey hey, come on, you can’t sleep like that. At least take your shoes off, here.”
Greed helped turn Ling onto his back, and Ling was staring at him stupendously while Greed undid his shoes and placed them besides the bed. Ling was trying desperately to make out Greed’s features in the blanket of darkness, but it was almost impossible.
“Y’know, you’re so NICE!” Ling forced himself to sit up, so he could say this directly, as if it made it more serious, but he was swaying as he spoke. Greed helped get Ling’s legs onto the bed and stood up, but Ling grabbed Greed’s hand, “You don’t want to be nice, but you are. Super nice.”
“And you’re drunk,” Greed pat Ling’s face affectionately before going to pull his hand away, but Ling tugged it in protest, “C’mon, Ling, let me go.”
Ling began talking, but it came out in Xingese. He stopped, “I forgot the word in English. It’s, uh, not wait. I don’t want you to wait with me.”
Greed hovered in place, indulging Ling. He didn’t pull his hand away, either.
“Stay with me!” Ling said, first excitedly and then, far more sincerely, “Stay with me?”
The question took Greed back, but he sat on the edge of the bed, “I’ll have to go downstairs soon, but I’ll stay here for a bit. I’d feel better keeping an eye on you at first, anyway, don’t want you throwing up and dying in your sleep, and-”

Ling’s brain snapped back into the present at the sound of Greed coming downstairs. He couldn’t believe his own actions, insisting that Greed stayed in bed with him, and a hot flush of embarrassment crawled over his face, just in time to be faced with the man himself. Greed was wearing his usual get up, but his hair was floppy and wet, and he looked far more radiant than usual.

“Hey, sorry for disappearing, but man I needed that. Still feel like the ass end of a bar, though.”

“I think you look good,” Ling offered, quietly. Greed was taken aback for a second, before flashing a sharp grin.

“Well of course I do, have you seen me?”

As it turned out, they made a good team. Ling and Dolcetto had already cleared the base level of rubbish, and with that gone it was sorting the recycling, washing the carpets and floors and de-oudering the house. The whole process took a couple of hours which were spent mostly in easy conversation, not unlike their mornings together. Ling spoke of Xing and the stories of Lan Fan and Old Man Fu, who he missed dearly, while Greed indulged him with a few of his own family stories. Greed hadn’t got on with his numerous siblings, but he had a special rivalry with Envy, as they were the only two fully blood related children in the family, and ‘Envy is just a shitty version of Greed anyway’. Greed talked a little too fondly about breaking Envy’s nose in a fight when he turned 14, and Ling decided to let that one slide.

“I’ve reconnected a little with Solaris, too,” Greed rested his hands and chin on the handle of the mop, “Or, Lust, even. Helps contextualise things.”

“How has that been?”

“Nerve wracking, to say the least,” he admitted, “I’m meeting her sometime next week for lunch, like civil adults. Never would have imagined it.”

“I hope it goes well, at least,” Ling finished his sweep of the kitchen and stopped to look around, finally appreciating the work they had just finished, “It’s looking great in here.”

“Looks better than it did before the party, that’s for sure,” Greed agreed, before looking at Ling, “Thanks for the help, genuinely. I couldn’t have done this without you.”

“Do not worry about it,” Ling grabbed his coat and headed for the door. He’d thoroughly enjoyed the time they’d spent together, but he was exhausted and ready to collapse; besides, there was still essays to be writing and books to be reading. Greed let him out the front door and Ling hopped the railing onto his steps, “It was a pleasure.”

“If you ever want to party, you know where to find me,” Greed looked like he had more to say, but held it back, and they said their respective goodbyes. Though they had both closed their doors, the memories would not so easily be ignored.