“What the hell is wrong with you?”
Ed stumbles back as unyielding hands push his shoulders, and he curses and spits when blood splashes across his lips.
“Me?” he shoots back, spinning to face Ling. “What the hell is wrong with you ?”
A red ocean stretches out on every side of them, unending and unimaginably horrifying. Iron and salt and decay fills their noses and their lungs, and Ed can barely keep himself from vomiting then and there. Neither of them know how long it’s been, but it’s been long enough that they’re getting on each other’s nerves more than usual. Ed’s surprised it’s taken them this long to start fighting, if he’s being honest.
Ling huffs and sloshes through the blood, his back turned to Ed. “Never mind. Let’s keep going. There’s got to be some way out of here.”
“No way you’re getting off that easy,” Ed grumbles, but lets it go for now. No use to waste their energy arguing, no matter how abrupt and weird Ling’s outburst was.
He doesn’t see Ling again for weeks.
The next time they meet, it’s only for a brief moment before Greed takes over again. Ed’s left in the lurch, still wondering what the hell Ling had been accusing him of when they were in Gluttony’s stomach.
He follows after Greed and offers himself up to him, not only because he needs all the allies he can get, and can afford to swallow his pride this once, but because some part of him hopes to finally be able to set this small question to rest.
It’s still a few weeks before he really sees Ling. Greed doesn’t let him take over often, apparently. Ed kind of understands, but Ling’s on their side, so it’s not like he’d go running off as soon as he has his body back. At least, that’s what he hopes.
Ed’s awoken by his tent flap shifting open, and he has his arm turned into a blade before he’s even awake. Ling just gives him a sheepish smile, and the tension leaves Ed’s body and he relaxes back onto his thin bedroll. “What took you so long?”
“Sorry, he’s… well, you know. Greedy,” he states with a shrug as he crawls into the tent on all fours.
“Of course,” Ed scoffs as he props himself up, leaning back on his arms. Ling settles cross-legged next to him, with a serious look on his face. Greed always tends to look serious, but the way Ling wears it is different. There’s some concern there, Ed thinks, when Ling says:
“You’ve been wondering what I was asking, back in the stomach,” he says, all matter-of-fact, like he can read Ed’s mind. It’s been weighing heavier and heavier on Ed each passing day. He could’ve just brushed it off as some random outburst, but it felt like more than that, somehow.
“Maybe,” is all Ed will admit to.
Ling shoots him a smile that tells him he’s not fooled. “Why did you try to save me? Why would you jump in the path of danger?” He fixes Ed with a look that’s something desperate, something confused, something like awe. “I didn’t think you cared for me at all, and you would throw your life away–not only that, you’d throw your chance to help your brother away to try to save me?”
Ed can’t even think of a response, so he just sits there open-mouthed.
Ling’s sheepish smile returns and he scratches the back of his neck absently. “I’ve been thinking a lot about it, too. I still can’t wrap my head around why.”
“You’re my friend, idiot,” Ed says, throat tight remembering the hours they spent in the dark together. “And I’m not gonna let anyone die if I can help it, especially not a friend.”
“But back then, we weren’t,” Ling argues, propping his chin up on his hand. “Maybe now, maybe at the end of it, but I don’t think we were at the beginning. We had the same temporary goals. We were allies. But I was under the impression you hated my guts,” he adds with a laugh.
“Maybe a little,” Ed offers with an obliging smile.
Ling laughs again, and lays down with a huff, hands cradling his head. “That’s what I was wondering, though. How you could throw it all away for someone who means as little as me.”
“Ling…” Ed starts, looking down at him. During their time in there, he’d learned they weren’t so different from each other, and the revelation is coming back to him now. “Ling, you’re a goddamn prince, you’re worth more than I am.” Ling scoffs. “No, I’m serious. You’ve got a whole country waiting for you to come lead it, that’s not nothing.”
“And you have a whole country waiting for you to save it,” he shoots back. Their eyes meet for a moment, defiance in both of them. They’re just two kids with too much on their shoulders, but maybe they’ll be able to bear the burden better if they stick together.
Ed groans and lays down too, flipping on his side away from Ling as he pulls his thin blanket up to his neck. “Whatever, agree to disagree,” he sighs. “Just remember: you’re my friend, so I’m not leaving you behind, okay?”
He holds his breath as he waits for Ling’s response, the quiet and amused “Yes, sir,” he hears behind him surprises a laugh out of him.
“Good. Now get some real sleep before that asshole comes back.” There’s a hum of assent, but Ling doesn’t leave. Ed gets it, he thinks, and doesn’t say anything.
“I thought you’d left,” he whispers, a confused smile on his face. Ling is perched on the windowsill of the hospital room Ed’s been sharing with Alphonse. He looks like he belongs there, with the full moon backlighting him and a warm grin. Ed thinks, not for the first time in the many months they spent traveling, that Ling might be a little too handsome for his own good. And, that he wants to punch that stupid handsome face.
Ed slides from his bed with a wince, waving for Ling to follow. He can’t hear Ling behind him, but he’s used to that by now. He trusts that he’s following.
There’s a small balcony overlooking the hospital’s courtyard, and Ed leads them there. It’s the middle of the night, and the yawn he can’t stifle down makes that all too clear. “Sorry,” he manages to say through it.
“Don’t be, I shouldn’t be bothering you this late. You’re still recovering.” Ling puts a hand on his shoulder and guides him to one of the stone benches–something Ed’s all too grateful for. They sit there in the cool spring night, enjoying the peace they’d been robbed of over the past year. They finally have a chance to breathe.
“I thought you’d left. It’s been a week, I was sure you’d be back in Xing by now,” Ed starts, elbowing him with his right arm.
“We were laying low and gathering supplies,” he explains, stretching his legs out far in front of him. “We’re leaving at the end of the week. Fu was cremated, so there wasn’t much of a rush.”
Ed turns to him, mouth downturned and searching Ling’s face. “I’m sorry, I know you wanted to bury him.”
Ling waves his hand dismissively, frowning too. “It’s easier this way. At least we can still bring him back.” The silence stretches between them again, and Ed focuses on the wind as it blows through the leaves of the large tree growing in the courtyard, just so he doesn’t have to look like he’s avoiding looking at Ling.
“So, the end of the week, huh?”
“Came to say goodbye?”
“For now,” Ling sighs, but Ed can hear the smile in his voice. “This isn’t the end, you know. We can see each other again.”
Ed sighs too and closes his eyes, letting his head rest against the stone wall. “Don’t kid yourself. You’re gonna be an emperor, it’s gonna be nearly impossible. Can’t believe you’re leaving me,” he scoffs, trying to play it off as a joke. But it’s not, really, not to him, and he can feel the tightness in his chest again.
“Ed,” Ling starts, reaching out to rest a hand on his skinny forearm.
He takes a deep breath, and keeps his eyes closed. It’s always easier, if he can’t see. “You ever have nightmares of that place?” he asks, throwing his question to the wind. If Ling doesn’t answer, that’s fine. He didn’t have to.
“Of course I do. I probably will for the rest of my life. Why are you asking this?” There’s concern in his voice, more concern than Ed’s still guilt-ridden self can take.
Ed brushes the hand off and leans forward, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands. “I don’t know,” he admits, voice thick. “You’re the only one who really gets it, I think. Who gets what we’ve been through, y’know? And you lived with Greed for so long, you’ve been through hell, too. I guess ,” he whines, and pulls his legs up onto the bench. He runs his hands through his hair and lets out a frustrated noise. “Hell, I just don’t want you to leave when we were just getting to know each other. This is lame, but I feel like I kinda need you here, cuz I can’t talk to anyone about some of this stuff.”
Ling’s quiet, and Ed still won’t look at him, so he has no clue how Ling is feeling. He almost doesn’t want to know. He almost wants to run away, or yell, or punch something, but he forces himself to sit there and wait.
“I get it,” comes the quiet response, and he whips his head around. There’s a sad smile on his face, and his eyes look a little brighter than before. “No one will ever really know what we’ve been through, save a few. But no one will ever truly understand unless they’ve been through it alongside you, right? No amount of trying to understand will remedy that.” Ling ducks his head and weakly punches Ed’s shoulder, huffing a dry laugh. “Truth be told, I’ll miss you, too. But I need to go back. For my family.”
And Ed understands then what he only half-knew before. It’s his family he’s fighting for. Ed knows how important that is more than anyone. “Yeah, of course,” he says, voice tight. “Sorry, I’m being selfish, wanting you to stay.”
“It’s okay to be greedy,” Ling comforts with a laugh. “He told you that, remember?”
Ed can’t help but laugh, too. It’s bitter, because as much as he hates to admit it, Greed is yet another person he misses. Silence covers them like a blanket once again, and he lets his eyes slip closed, exhaustion seeping into his bones again.
Ling brushes his knuckles across his arm so lightly he could’ve missed it, had his new arm not been so sensitive to touch. “Ed?” he asks, and there’s a wariness there, so much so that Ed thinks something’s wrong. “Can I be selfish too, for a moment?” Ling asks, and leaves him no time to respond.
His answer is cut off by chapped lips pressed against his, and his breath gets caught somewhere in his chest, and he stiffens up so much it must feel like Ling is kissing the bench they’re sitting on.
Ling pulls back with a guilty smile and Ed realizes he had his eyes open the whole time. Ling opens his mouth to apologize, presumably, but Ed refuses to give him a chance. He licks his lips and pulls Ling back in with a hand on the back of his neck and it’s better, this time. It’s softer, it’s warmer, and it takes his breath away for an entirely different reason. There’s intent. There’s something Ed can’t find the words to describe.
They pull away with twin smiles, and Ed punches Ling softly in the chest. “The hell was that, idiot?”
“A promise,” Ling answers with ease. “Now we’ve got a reason to make sure we see each other again, right?”
Ed lets his head drop onto Ling’s shoulder with a disbelieving laugh, squeezing when Ling holds his free hand. “Guess so, huh?”