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    Greed has finally shut up and let Ling front, thank God, and Ling is squatting in front of the fire just looking into the flames. It’s night, and the cold air beholds a cold, star-filled sky, but it’s not a priority for Ling to look up at the stars just now.

    Watcha thinkin’ about, kid?

    Ling scoffs. Like it’s any of your business.

    He finally gets tired of the crackling of the fire and looks at the sky. The afterimage of flames burns a ghostly blue copy into the darkness.

    And there’s the soft sound of bare feet against the forest floor, and Ling turns around in no hurry because he already knows who it is, and of course he’s right, because Edward is standing there, hair down and eyelids heavy from the residue of sleep.

    “Ling?” he says, like he’s not sure.

    All Ling has to do is nod, and he’s already moving towards the fire. Ed sits down right next to him and looks at him, just for a moment, before casting his gaze down on the earth.

    Ling looks at him with a lingering sadness in his eyes, takes a breath to say something and reconsiders.

    And every soul that was artificially injected into his body is screaming at him to say it, dumbass! but Ling can’t just say it outright, can he?

    So he grabs Ed’s left wrist, keeps his grip loose like he wouldn’t mind letting go, even though of course he would. Ed looks at him with a question in his eyes.

    “Dance with me?” Ling asks, and it’s answered soon enough as Ed gets up and fits his hand in Ling’s own.

    Even though no music is playing, there’s a hand on Ling’s waist now and Ed, pretty and still sleep-softened, is looking up at him.

    The first steps they take are halting, awkward. But they get into the rythm of the fire crackling and the world teetering on the edge of breaking, and for a second time has stopped and civilization could have fallen entirely and neither of them would notice, because there’s a solemness in every movement.

    Ed leans his head on Ling’s shoulder, and what was previously a dance at arm’s length becomes closer, and Ling’s hand is on Ed’s back now. It’s more of an embrace than something set to slow music.

    Their steps slow, and they separate, just to look one another in the eyes, maybe to confirm that it’s real. And there must be something in Ling’s head that seeps through into his expression, because there’s a lot of things left unsaid but nothing left unexplained when Ed cups his jaw with his left hand and kisses him softly on the lips.

    His lips are chapped from the winter air, and Ling revels in it.

    Before it becomes more than surface-level Ed pulls away and breathes softly, in, out on Ling’s cheek.

    And Ling still doesn’t know if he can say it yet, so he tangles a hand in Ed’s hair and kisses him again, and it’s still a little awkward and inexperienced but they’re both smiling. Ed opens his mouth then, his tongue presses against Ling’s closed mouth until he gets the hint, and maybe it’s a little weird to show love that way but it’s working out just fine for both of them.

    They separate again and there’s a little strand of saliva, like a silvery spiderweb connecting them, shining in the firelight.

    Ed catches it and flicks it off his hand. His lips are wet, too, but he doesn’t bother wiping them off.

    Ling smiles.

    Ed smiles back. It’s just another thing softened by the fire, but in that moment nothing could make Ling feel sad, because Ed is there and he’s beautiful.

    “Come on,” Ed says, and he has his hand in Ling’s — how did that happen? — and he’s leading him towards his tent.

    They go inside, and there’s a nest of blankets that’s perfectly Ed-shaped taking up most of the floor space. But somehow the Ed-shaped space makes room for the both of them and Ling has his hand on Ed’s hip, and it fits perfectly like they were two pieces of the same puzzle.

    And Ling thinks he can finally say it, so he buries his face in Ed’s soft hair and breathes it into his ear.

    Ed inhales deeply and presses himself closer to Ling. “I know,” he says, barely whispering.

    And of course he does. Ling brushes golden hair aside and presses another kiss to Ed’s neck. Not one last kiss, but instead the first kiss of the rest of their lives.

    Then he says it again, just because he can.