“Why do I need to wash?” Ed’s indignant voice rang out through the small creek-side clearing. “It’s not like we’re going to see anyone else, and I’ll just get dirty again anyway!” The two men in front of him slowly moved forward, blocking his escape routes as he was forced backwards towards the running water. “You guys aren’t the boss of me!”
The blond man gave a disgruntled sniff in response. “When you have the heightened sense of smell, Then you can decide how often you need to bathe,” Heinkel retorted, his and Darius’s expressions uncompromising and devoid of mercy. “Now take a swim, or we’ll throw you in clothes and all,” Darius added. “Damn teenage boys,” Heinkel muttered.
“Ugh Fiiiiine,” Ed huffed, “If it gets you guys to stop acting like you’re my father. Actually,” he reconsidered, “I would love if you would start acting like my real father, and Never speak to me at all.” He turned to a figure with improbable bangs and a black ponytail watching with vague amusement from off to the side and jabbed a finger towards their dusty face. “Hey wait, how come you’re not hounding Greeling over there to bathe too?”
“He’s a lost cause, his scent is going to set off our animal instincts no matter how much he washes,” Darius answered, making shoo-ing motions towards the water.
“Aw come on! Hey look, how long has it been since you washed your clothing, Greed? It’s all crusty around your sleeve-“
“DON’T TOUCH ME” Greed yanked his arm from Ed’s reach, face spasming in something like… agony. Ed held his hands up in surrender. “Hey woah whatever you want, just asking-“
“Well butt out, brat, I’m in charge, I decide what happens to my things,” Greed growled, veins in sharp relief on his forehead. Glowering, he turned to stomp off into the trees, fists clenched at his sides, breathing labored. After leaving the range of easy hearing, he suddenly slammed his fist into an adjacent tree, embedding his shielded hand deep into the bark.
Damn it… He wrenched his hand free and sank against the tree, struggling to get his breathing under control for several minutes, steadfastly avoiding looking at his right sleeve, which indeed had some dark rust grime caked on. Is this going to become a habit? Greed jerked slightly as Ling’s voice intruded on his turmoil. You won’t be able to storm off every time someone looks at your arm too closely, if you’re not going to Tell them about it you should at least wash- I don’t need your advice, human. Greed bared his teeth and, mentally turning away from the cross-legged prince, strode back to where his (newly squeaky clean) subordinates were getting into an argument on whether red was the new black.
Ed looked up curiously at his return, but made no comment. Apparently, this guy really loved his coat, Ed could relate to that.
After a space, Darius spoke up. “So, thanks to Gluttony here, we don’t have any more food. How are we planning on fixing that? We can’t exactly go into town this close to central, being wanted fugitives and all.”
Greed snapped around. “Oy, my name’s Greed, get it right-“ Darius cut off the homunculus’s angry retort. “Not you, the other guy.” Greed blinked, then resumed his aloof pose on the edge of the group with a “Tch.”
Ed sported an expression of superiority. “It’s a good thing you guys have me, I survived on a deserted island when I was nine with only what my brother and I could hunt and scavenge, so you could say I know a few things about surviving in the wild.” He leaned forward and regarded the rest of the group smugly. “So just do as I say, and we’ll have enough food in no time!”
The chimeras looked deeply skeptical. “Did you go that entire month without bathing too?” Heinkel asked.
“Shut up! I don’t want to hear any more judgment from you, Lion Guy!” Ed jabbed a finger angrily at him.
“It’s Heinkel, get it right kid!”
“Hmmmm, we might have a problem.” Greed’s voice cut smoothly through the bickering. He sauntered over to stand in front of Ed, haughty attitude solidly back in place. “I give the orders here, remember?” He leaned down until his face was uncomfortably close to Ed’s. “Or did you already forget, you are my subordinate now?”
Oh right, because you know so much about Amestrian wildlife, oh all-knowing one? Greed ignored Ling’s needling, but unfortunately it looked like the short alchemist had a similar thought. “Well Greed, let’s hear your plan for getting more food, I’m all ears!” Ed didn’t flinch from the pointed teeth in his face, continuing slyly, “Hey why don’t you let the princeling take the wheel for a bit, he might actually be useful for hunting, being able to sense animals and all that jazz.”
Greed grinned. “Oh, that’s not ever happening again, this body is still very much mine, now and forever. Now,” he straightened and looked down on Ed with an expression that easily outmatched the other boy’s in superiority, “I order you to find us food.”
Oh very smooth, you just can’t resist a pissing contest, can you?
Ed looked briefly mutinous before sighing angrily. “Right, boss, whatever you say, I would have never done that on my own.” If he wasn’t so hungry himself, he would’ve refused on principle (spite). “Lion! Gorilla! I’ll show you how to make snares, and then there’s a bush with edible berries we can collect I noticed just up the stream.” Ignoring the chimera’s indignant protests about his nickname use, he continued pointedly, “Or if Someone wanted to make themselves useful, they could start gathering now!”
Greed chuckled as the dysfunctional group moved off in search of flexible saplings. It did feel good to have subordinates again, made it easier not to think about the hole in his psyche, and other… things…
So, what are you waiting for, let’s go pick some berries! Greed rolled his eyes. No, brat, that’s what I have underlings for. And for the last time, there’s no “let’s” anything, it’s only me and mine- Berries! Berries! Berries! Greed grimaced in annoyance. Shut it, I’m not picking anything, you don’t get a say in- BERRIES BERRIES BERRIES BERRIES- OK FINE GOD JUST SHUT UP. Ling smirked in satisfaction as he stopped pounding his fists against the “floor” in his shared mindscape; he’d been letting his sinful parasite off easy as of late, but the rush from finally having some time in control of his own body was wearing off. So, he instead reverted to his favorite method of entertainment: being annoying as hell. Also, he really wanted berries.
“I got to hand it to you, Fullmetal, you actually do have some practical skills.” Heinkel held the fruits of one of the snares, the small team having reconvened after an afternoon of foraging.
“Hey, what do you mean ‘actually?’ You do know I’m the youngest state alchemist since Ever, right?” Ed looked up resentfully from where he was arranging kindling.
Darius looked over from where he was gathering flammable materials from the clearing. “We sort of got the impression from Kimblee that all alchemists are mostly useless outside of their alchemy.”
Ed looked puzzled. “Huh? Whaddya mean?”
The two chimeras shared a look. “Kimblee doesn’t know how to tie a tie,” Heinkel responded, getting his knife ready to skin the rabbit. “He always made one of us chimeras do it for him.”
“He’d stare at you the whole time with that creepy slit-eyed smirk of his,” Darius added, scowling, as he dumped a pile of sticks next to Ed. “Worst part of being in his detail.”
Ed smiled patronizingly. “Oh come on, worse than being ordered to attack innocent alchemist prodigies?”
“Yes.” The two answered in unison.
“Wow hey rude!” Ed huffed. After a few seconds his face brightened, and he snickered at some private joke. “Well of course Kimblee is an idiot, he eats rocks!” He continued laughing to himself as his companions looked at him blankly, but he didn’t elaborate. Darius, however, inexplicably got the urge to repeatedly wash his hands.
“So,” Heinkel said, changing the subject, “Are you planning on sharing those?” He turned to face Greed, who was lounging next to a pile of berries in excess of two feet tall.
The homunculus chuckled. “I’m Greed, remember, sharing isn’t really my deal.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “I guess I need to be more specific when I give directions, did you pick the whole bush or something?”
Greed rolled a blueberry between his fingers. “And what if I did? I take what I want, and I want everythi-“
“Yes YES you want EVERYTHING good god we know! You say that every five minutes! Yeesh if I’d have known how annoying you were going to be, I’d have just taken my chances storming central alone and be done with it!” Ed’s rant gained volume until he was punching his right fist into his log bench with every word.
Greed raised an eyebrow, looking unconcerned. “You seem like you’re hungry, kid. Here.” He slid a leaf with a handful of berries in Ed’s direction, with an air of extreme benevolence. “Can’t have you all getting scurvy now, can we?”
Ed narrowed his eyes. Even this paltry show of charity seemed very out of character, coming from the guy who’d threatened to dissect his brother when he didn’t get his way. Was it a trick? And what was this scurvy nonsense, why did he care…? The revelation hit Ed like an Armstrong punch: Greed thought he owned them now. He saw them as possessions. And he wanted to keep them in good condition.
“Hey kid, what’s with that expression, it’s just berries. Here’s some for you two, Heinkel, Darius.” Greed magnanimously held out small leaf-plates towards the chimeras preparing to cook the newly skinned rabbit.
“How generous,” Darius said sarcastically. “You can leave ‘em over there, we’ll get ‘em later,” Heinkel said absently, trying to figure out the best way to skewer the rabbit carcass.
Greed looked faintly confused, as if this wasn’t the response he’d been expecting. “Oh come now, no thank you?” He smirked crookedly.
Ed reached over and swiped his leaf, shoving the berries into his face. “Mmghph, you expect us to be grateful for literal scraps? We’re not your lackeys at Devil’s Nest, Greed.” The hanger was strong with this one.
Greed’s expression abruptly darkened, spasming painfully as he clenched his fists. After a few seconds he replied, “I can see that, brat.” He deliberately turned away from the group to stare off into the approaching sunset. …They aren’t, you know. People are different, different circumstances, you can’t expect people to react the same. Just because people act differently doesn’t mean they’re worth less- Shut it, I don’t need your philosophizing.
Ed eyed the small mountain of fruit, preparing to swipe some more handfuls when Heinkel called over to him. “Hey camping expert, how’s the fire coming?”
Ed’s eyes widened as he remembered what he’d been doing before he got distracted. “It’s going fine, get off my back!” He crouched down next to the makeshift firepit and checked where he’d been attempting to light some wood shavings with friction. Oh good, some embers had already built up.
Darius piped up, “Because, you know, we can’t have the fire too late or the light will give away our position, we need to cook this before the sun-“
“OK OK I KNOW IT’S COMING” Ed channeled his irritation into rolling the firestarter stake between his hands as fast as he could, igniting the shavings in a matter of seconds. “There, see? Who’s useless now!”
“Hmm I don’t know,” Darius eyed the small lick of flame Ed was carefully feeding twigs into. “I feel like the Flame Colonel could have done that faster-“
The (second) fire was starting to smolder down with the sun as the small group finished their dinner of rabbit and blueberries, Greed finally convinced into sharing by the astute observation that his hoard would rot before they would finish it at the current rate. See, now you look like the good guy, and they’ll think it’s your idea! Because they know you’re the last person to share food, brat. Now stop trying to steal control of my limbs so I can eat in peace. Hee hee, they’d be right! And those were my limbs first! I want to eat too! Yeah well that’s too bad.
On the next log over, Ed, the front of his clothing still somewhat dusty, as if he’d been restrained into the dirt after attempting an attack on someone, was animatedly describing every shortcoming of one Roy Mustang he could think of. “-never does any of his actual work, he just struts around pretending he’s important!” He waved a leg bone for emphasis. “And he’s even bad at that, I totally saw him trip trying to look cool coming down some stairs, and he didn’t even manage to break his stupid neck.” He took a disgruntled bite of rabbit. “Awfully inconsiderate of him if you ask me. Oh yeah, the bastard also blackmails children, can you believe it?”
“Huh, I guess that explains it,” Heinkel said.
“Explains what? That Mustang is a little b-“
“No,” Heinkel cut Ed off, “it explains why you don’t like him.” Darius threw a rabbit bone into the fire, chiming in, “Yeah it just sounded like you were jealous or something before.”
Ed sputtered in reply, “Hey Excuse you, I am definitely not jealous of that idiot-”
“Did he blackmail you about your brother?” Greed’s curious voice broke over Ed’s angry ranting. He was back to watching the proceedings of his underlings with detached interest after his bout of sunset-watching.
Ed’s head whipped around. “Hey, butt out, that’s none of your business! And don’t think I’ve forgiven you for what you threatened to do to Al, you greasy bastard.”
Hey, my hair isn’t greasy-! “Oh yeah, sorry about that, that was strictly business kid, you were just standing between me and something I wanted.” Greed was remarkably blasé about having threatened a 14-year-old with dissection. “I figured you’d see reason that way,” -Wait Greed Is my hair greasy- “not only would you have saved your brother if you’d given me what I asked for, but you’d also have gotten information you badly wanted,” -Greed please you really need to bathe- “it’s not my fault your convictions or whatever didn’t allow you to compromise.” Greed placed another rabbit bone on the small pile next to him. “I still don’t get what that was about, why refuse to trade when I had something you wanted? When it would save your brother? And don’t tell me you didn’t want it, even if your brother hadn’t literally begged for a chance for you to negotiate, I could see it in your eyes.” Greed tilted his head back and regarded Ed with interest.
Ed clenched his jaw with quiet fury. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” he growled through his teeth. Alphonse… The last he’d seen of his brother had been his silver back disappearing into a blizzard to warn Winry’s group of danger at Briggs. His throat tightened as he thought about them, were they able to escape? Were they safe? And was this inhuman abomination suggesting he didn’t care… “It’s like I said,” he nearly snarled, “you kidnapped my brother and hurt my teacher, no good person does that, and I don’t negotiate with bad people. I’m here now because there’s bigger things at work, not because I think you’re worth following.” Ed crushed the bone he was holding in his metal fist and threw the shards into the firepit, continuing with his rant, “and didn’t you say you don’t lie? You say you don’t hurt women, so what was the big deal breaking my teacher’s hand like that? You do remember, don’t you?”
Greed’s expression had hardened during Ed’s tirade, however he let out a laugh at the last statement. “Gahaha! You think I went after your teacher? I just stood there! It wasn’t my fault she punched me hard enough to bust up her hand like that!” He leaned forward, good humor back in his expression. “What an incredible woman, I can see why you’re so bothersome to fight, with a teacher like that! She just went through my chimeras like paper-“ Abruptly Greed’s demeanor shifted again, the smile falling off his face as he turned his head away, shaking it as if to dispel unwanted memories.
Ed eyed the homunculus after his sudden silence, and when no more comments were forthcoming turned away himself to stare into the smoldering remains of the fire. Of course teacher had overextended herself, that was the only way she ever got injured… His thoughts idly drifted, and he wondered what she’d say if she saw him now, allied with three former enemies, one of whom had kidnapped his brother? He smiled to himself. If he was being honest, she’d just be happy he wasn’t working for the military any more. And he was doing this for Al, Ling had said something about using the gate that Father bastard was supposedly going to open to get their bodies back, and he still had to get whatever other information that cat-eyed jerk had. He’d need to be smart about that, he thought, glancing at Greed’s turned back, bastard would probably ask for something in return. Alphonse… Wish you were here… Ed’s eyes started drifting closed.
Greed my dude my buddy my good old pal greedy boy, it seems like something is bothering you, would you perhaps like to talk about it? No. Are you suuure? I can be a very good listener! No. Ling rested his chin in his hands and braced his elbows on his knees. Are you reeeealy sure? Because it would seem at every mention of your past life, you start getting all moody! And we can’t have that! C’mon, you can talk to me! Leave me alone, I don’t need to talk to anyone. Oh, but I can’t leave you alone, remember? I’m always right here! And now I’m here for you! Quiet, insolent human, I don’t need your yammering and I don’t need you. Ling widened his eyes into a sly expression. All right then, so you’re just planning on ignoring your memories and feelings forever? I can see more than you realize you know- Shut up, pissant! You know Nothing about what I feel. Greed rose to his feet in an irritated jerk, glancing over at his new subordinates. It looked like Darius was gently trying to get a very tired looking Ed to move to his makeshift bed (leaf pile) they’d each prepared earlier.
Greed turned away from the little group and began to walk into the darkening forest, his coat billowing behind him. Heinkel’s voice called after him. “Hey Greeling, or whatever, you should get some sleep, Darius is taking first watch.” Greed waved dismissively over his shoulder. “It’s Greed, get it right. And I don’t need to sleep. I’ll be back in the morning.” With that, he strode off with the air of someone searching for the perfect tree to moodily perch in for the night.
“Nngh, nuhh… hgnds…” Ed rolled over in his restless sleep. “Wi’ry… no.. no… Al… ALPHONSE!” He jolted upright out of a nightmare, hand reaching out for something he could no longer see. He had another brief moment of panic in the darkness before he remembered where he was, and… why he was there. He was there because he’d failed, he’d failed to stop Kimblee, he’d failed to find Al again, he’d failed to keep Winry safe, and now she was either in chains at Briggs, or still in the company of her parents’ murderer…
A massive snore broke him out of his unpleasant thoughts with a jump. Who, what!? Oh yeah, Gorilla Guy snored. How was that even worse now than when they’d been sleeping in the car? Ed rubbed his hands over his face, then felt around for the lantern. He probably wasn’t getting back to sleep at any rate, might as well take a walk. Judging by the stars, it looked to be around…3ish in the morning? He’d gotten out of practice reading the sky to tell time since he was nine. Finally finding the lantern, he clicked the dial to the lowest setting and turned it on.
Immediately two pinpricks of light became visible a bit further in the trees, much, much too high off the ground to be the eyes of a fox of racoon. “Whu! Hey! Stay Back!” Ed lurched to his feet, increasing the lantern’s brightness to reveal-
“Calm down, Elric, it’s just me,” Heinkel said, sitting with arms crossed on one of the logs around the firepit. “And turn that light down, we don’t need to attract attention.”
Ed stood blinking, halfway to an exaggerated martial art pose, before gathering his wits and dimming the lantern. “Yeesh Lion Guy, you could’ve told me your eyes could do that creepy animal glow thing,” he said resentfully, trying to cover his embarrassment.
The blond man sighed. “You didn’t ask. And it’s Heinkel, kid. Do I need to start wearing a nametag?”
Ed waved his hand. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m going for a walk. And before you ask no, won’t go far, don’t worry.” He turned to start making his way up the small hill next to their campsite.
“Hmph. Don’t make me come after you if you get into trouble, kid.”
Ed trudged his way up the hill, keeping the lantern mostly covered with his jacket so only enough light to see his feet filtered through. Reaching the top, he sat down in a patch of grass and switched the lantern off. The surrounding countryside was almost completely dark, with only a few distant lights from isolated cabins. If he squinted, he could maybe see a slight brightness on the horizon from Central’s lights. He wrapped his arms around his knees. Central… That’s where all their problems were, the homunculi, the corrupt government, ‘Father…’
And where were Al and Winry now? He had the sudden horrible thought they might think he was dead, if they’d heard about the mine collapse he was in. Shitshitshit… No no no this wasn’t how it was supposed to be, they were supposed to meet up, no, None of this was how it was supposed to be, Winry shouldn’t have been at Briggs in the first place, she was supposed to be safe in Rush Valley, he and Al weren’t supposed to have gotten split up… Al was supposed to be here, be here for when he woke up in the middle of the night, be there to talk to, to tell Ed about the new book he was reading, the meteor shower he’d seen, waking up wasn’t supposed to be this lonely…
“Enjoying the view?”
Ed nearly experienced his second premature heart attack of the night, jumping to his feet before tripping on a root in the dim starlight. “Gah! Ow! GREED IS THAT YOU, YOU BASTARD” A light chuckling from a nearby tree confirmed his suspicions. “Did you follow me or something, you creep?” Ed dusted himself off before feeling around for the lantern, turning it on to reveal a dim shape in the lower branches a few trees over, a shape with bright red… reflective eyes… He shuttered the lantern.
Greed’s voice drifted down as he replied, “Naw, I didn’t follow you, I’ve been here all night. It really is the best view, and of course, I only want the best.” Ed rolled his eyes.
“Hey, I wanna talk to Ling. We weren’t finished when you rudely interrupted last night in the safehouse.” Might as well take a shot, Ed figured. He certainly didn’t want to talk to Greed about anything at the moment.
“I told you kid, that’s not happening,” Greed said nonchalantly, “And besides, brat’s asleep now anyway.”
Ed looked over questioningly at his unseen companion. “Wait, he sleeps? Don’t you not need sleep?”
Greed chuckled again. “I don’t need sleep, but your friend’s mind still does, for whatever reason. You mortals are weird. Good thing though, else I’d have no peace and quiet.”
Since Ling looked like a dead end, and Ed had no desire to try to wrangle information out of a homunculus in the wee hours of the morning, he decided his stargazing was done. “Well this was fun, we’ll have to do this again never! Enjoy your darkness hills,” Ed said sarcastically, gathering his jacket and beginning to walk back to camp.
You should talk to him! Greed twitched on his perch. Weren’t you supposed to be asleep, brat? Well now I’m awake! Ling reclined in his place in the roiling mass of souls in his shared mindscape, his hands behind his head. C’mon, you guys have a lot in common! It sounds like you both have terrible fathers, you could bond over that! I don’t need to “bond” with anyone, I’m already their boss so I’ve got what I wanted.
Ling smirked knowingly. Mmmhmmmm riiight. Anyway, it’s not healthy to keep all your thoughts inside you like this! And you’re Clearly not able to deal with them on your own, you can’t even Think about your past without getting all moody! And that’s not good ‘boss’ behavior at all! Are you mocking me, brat? Oh heavens no, I would never! Oh, I know! Ling sat up and clapped his hands together. Tough guys like you need to punch it out when you’re having emotional talks! That way it’s manlier! And since you can’t really punch Me, you’d just be punching yourself after all, you could try Ed! Just start punching him, or better yet mention how vertically challenged he is, and he’ll punch you back no problem, and then Ta-da! You can talk about your feelings without being vulnerable! Greed pinched the bridge of his nose. Not happening, brat. Now go back to sleep and leave me in peace. Hmmmm Fine, but don’t worry, I’ll be sure to bring it up again in the morning! Had anyone been there to see it, Greed’s expression might have been described as “very done.” As the voice in his head (finally) quieted he lowered his hands from his face and turned to where the faint hint of dawn was showing at the horizon.