Something twists in Ed’s stomach as he watches Ling. This is the first time he’s seen the other teen seem legitimately serious, sweat running down his cheeks and mixing with blood from a gash there. A trail of pink across the angle of his jaw and the concaves of his neck, startling against his skin. His eyebrows are furrowed, teeth and tenacity bared. Muscles in his arms straining, he pulls the cable tighter with fluid, easy motions. Ling’s back arches as he yanks, muscles forming ridges near his spine, like a valley between mountains. They twitch and flex and pull as he moves and Ed wants to reach out and just run his fingers over—
That—that was a weird thought. He’s been well aware that Ling’s attractive, but hell, lots of people are attractive! But he’s never wanted to—touching someone is very different from just looking. Ed’s been very content with just looking. Ling shouldn’t be different… right?
He shakes his head a little. Scar is still standing right across from him and this isn’t the time to—Ed’s not sure what’s going on with him in regards to Ling. But now’s not the time to think about that. It’s probably going to keep him up tonight, but there’s not time to dwell on that right now. He can’t dwell on anything right now. Not even the slight twinge that’s running across his arm.
Ling is five when he receives his first soulmark. The jade green characters written sharply across his wrist. A platonic soulmate. The problem? Ling can’t read.
“Mā ma!” he calls, dashing over to her. “Mā ma! Look! ”
“What is it, Ling?” she asks, standing and turning away from the plants she’d been tending. She’s pulled her hair up, bangs still falling into her face. Her sleeves are rolled up too and she’s careful to not get dirt on her hanfu as she brushes her hands off in front of her. When her gaze finally lands on him, her eyes smile.
“Look!” he repeats, holding his wrist out to her. She sucks in a breath as she looks down at the little green mark on his skin.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she mumbles, gently covering it with her finger tips.
“What does it say?” he asks. Her dark brown eyes crinkle slightly as she smiles at him smally.
“ Cold rice ,” she says softly.
“‘Cold rice?’” he repeats, laughing. She smiles more.
He giggles more as she nuzzles his cheek. “I know,” he chuckles. “But I don’t know anyone named Lan Fan.”
“Well, you better find them,” she replies, smoothing out his hair with her palm. He grabs on to it and holds it against his cheek, wanting her warmth. Gently, her thumb rubs circles into his skin. “They’re going to be your best friend for a long time.”
Ed hasn’t felt this gross in years. Covered in a thin layer of dried sweat, dust, and dirt that’s now slowly being coated with blood. His stomach churns, trying to digest its own bile and the events of the day. The smell of boiling leather doesn’t help. He’s aching, laying for the first time in what feels like forever. His eyes feel syrupy, viscous from the buildup of grime on him and slowing his blinking. Though, it is just as likely that the exhaustion is slowly taking over him. He’s been in how many fights today? That’s probably why his arm protests so much as he raises it to rub the side of his face, freezing right above him. Somewhere over the course of the last few hours his left sleeve came unbuttoned. And there, plainly on his skin, is a new soulmark. Ed’s blood goes cold.
He’s only had two for as long as he can remember. One a slanted cursive and the other bold. Alphonse Elric. Winry Rockbell. Both a shade of sage green. He’s had them since he was a toddler, never changing, never fading, a constant presence. But here, on his wrist, is now a third. 要零. It’s splotchy, parts of it that familiar green, but more shockingly, also a lavender purple. Solid purple soulmarks are rare to begin with, but green and purple? He didn’t even realize that was a thing! He heard that soulmarks sometimes change colors, but two colors at once?
Sucking in a breath, Ed rebuttons his sleeve, slowly lets his arm fall back to his side, and stares up into the darkness. His stomach churns and he attempts to choke down the nausea. 要零 is burned into his retinas, the characters floating before him every time he blinks. He can’t read them, but instinctively, he knows what they say. Really, there’s only one possibility. Cautiously, he turns his head to look over at the other teen sprawled out across from him. Ling might be asleep, eyes closed and chest rising rhythmically. But as Ed closes his eyes, he can still see the way Ling’s muscles moved under his glistening skin, his arching back, and—
Something different coils in his stomach now, as he takes a deep breath and turns his head away. He didn’t—he hadn’t even gotten a chance to—does he like Ling? Sure, the guy had grown on him a little, an acquired taste. But, liking him enough for a soulmark. Ed’s heart hammers in his chest. Even when he was younger and had a crush on Winry, his mark for her hadn’t turned purple. He’s known Ling for a month! How is he one of his soulmates? And why? Ling isn’t even going to stay in Amestris long-term, why would they be—
Pain tears through Ed’s left leg, shooting, gnawing, nauseating. Phantom pain. Almost like he had broken the bones and shredded the muscles instead of losing the limb. “Fuck,” slips out of his mouth as he grasps the prosthetic. He sits up and presses his fingers onto the metal, as if that has ever helped. Another wave wracks through his leg and he shakily inhales.
“Ed?” Ling asks somewhere to his side. He doesn’t respond, squeezing his eyes shut and shuddering slightly. It’s climbing now, claws sinking into the side of his hip and slicing through his spine. Ed chokes down the rising curses as he clutches his leg closer to his chest. Why now? he thinks absently. Why does it have to hurt like this now?
“Are you okay?” Ling questions, placing a hand on his shoulder. Ed flinches involuntarily at the touch, but doesn’t pull away.
“I-it’s fine,” he lies through clenched teeth. His leg quivers, but he can't bring it any closer to stabilize it, to make the pain stop.
“What—what’s wrong with your leg?”
“Nothing,” Ed snaps, not looking up at Ling. “It’s just— ah! ” He curls forward slightly and his sentence fades into a gasp. “It’s just phantom pain.”
“‘Phantom pain?’” Ling echoes. Out of the corner of his eye, Ed can see him staring at his metal foot.
“Guess my body forgets that I lost two limbs sometimes,” he quips, as Ling shifts slightly.
“Oh,” he mumbles. Quietly, he moves around him, so that his right hip presses against Ed’s left. Ed’s breath catches in his throat and he hopes that Ling assumes it’s from the pain. At any other time, he’d laugh at the irony of all of this. He’s trapped with Ling just as he’s trying to figure out his feelings for him. What’s worse is that Ling apparently has forgotten the concept of personal space and now—
“Fu’s wife had a lot of joint pain when I was a kid,” Ling explains. “Her fingers were always the worst. But whenever they got bad, Fu would wrap his hands around hers.” He smiles smally at Ed. “She always said the warmth helped.”
“O-oh,” Ed stammers. He clenches his jaw as another wave of pain shoots through him. “Th-that was very… uh. How nice of him.” Why does he sound like a fucking idiot?
“Yeah,” Ling answers hesitantly, holding his hands out in front of him slightly. “Do you mind if I try to help?”
There’s just screeching in Ed’s head. No thoughts. Just screeching.
Evidently, he still manages to answer because Ling smiles a little and asks, “Where?”
“I-it’s phantom pain,” he stutters, breath shaking. His binder isn’t helping his attempts at breathing normally, surprisingly a little too small for him now. Between the pain and Ling and focusing on breathing, it’s all too much for his brain to handle. But Ling is patient, that small smile still on his face and his hands not moving. “So, th-there’s not really one spot.” He cringes as the pain shoots through him again. “But, i-if I had to guess… m-my stump.”
Seemingly completely unphased by this, Ling just nods. Then his hand starts to travel down Ed’s inner thigh. And Ed forgets how to breathe. Ling barely touches him, fingers grazing over his metal leg. “Does it start right here?” Ling asks blithely, his fingers gently pressing into the scar tissue.
“Y-yeah,” Ed answers, his mouth going dry. He releases his leg so that the angle isn’t so strange for Ling and puts his hands behind them both. As he does, Ling’s other hand comes and wraps around the other side of his leg, his fingers nearly touching.
It takes a minute, but Ed finally remembers how to breathe normally, his skin pleasantly on fire from Ling’s touch. Desperately trying to not stare at Ling, his heart races and he becomes increasingly aware that Ling can probably feel it. Ling with his long fingers and warm hands and muscular— no. Ed needs to not think about Ling’s arms when his hands are on his thigh.
Honestly, it’s a welcome distraction from the pain, despite… everything about it. He’s not sure how much the warmth helps, but the pain is gradually subsiding like it does normally. Al’s never been sure how to help when Ed gets phantom pains like this. He’s certainly tried, but he’s never figured out how. So Ed muddles through it alone and comfort now feels… strange, but also… oddly… nice in a way? Though he’ll never say it outloud.
“Is this helping at all?” Ling asks eventually, staring distantly at nothing. Ed pretends not to notice the light flush on his cheeks.
“Yeah, I think so,” Ed answers, despite his own thoughts. But then Ling turns and smiles at him.
“Good, I’m glad to hear it.”
Ed’s soulmark burns.
Ling’s throat feels raw. His chest aches, ribs and heart broken. He’s at least still standing, facing Envy and trying to figure out what he does now. Ed just got eaten and is possibly dea— no. Ed can’t be dead yet. The pang in his chest won’t let him believe otherwise. They’re going to die here, he knows that, he’s well aware of it, he’s accepted it; but it was supposed to be a slow starvation, together. Not Envy eating Ed and leaving Ling to just… what is he waiting for? Envy hasn’t made a move towards him yet. Not that he’s really complaining. His breathing is getting more and more labored as the adrenaline is starting to wear off and he starts to really feel the broken ribs.
Something settles heavily in Ling’s chest as he realizes that he wouldn’t have even made it this far without Ed. He fed him how many times when he collapsed? Then he carried him here, fed him his own boot. And now… Ling rubs at his face. He’s going to die here anyway. Despite Ed’s and Lan Fan’s and Fu’s best efforts, Ling is going to die anyway. Now the question is just how. Does he let Envy swallow him too? Should he try his best to escape and just starve later? Maybe drown himself in the blood? He’s heard drowning is peaceful. Honestly, he doesn’t want to die, but it feels like he has to make a decision to keep his dignity intact. He wishes he were more stubborn or smarter or something so that he could figure out a way out of here. He just wishes Ed was here. Ed was the one thinking through how to get them out, who knew leather was edible, who was keeping them both alive.
And now Ed is dead. Something cracks under Ling’s broken ribs. He hadn’t even fought back as Envy ate him. If he wasn’t dead then, he probably is now, suffocating inside of Envy. Ling blinks back the tears welling up at the corners of his eyes. He wishes Lan Fan or Fu were here. Not that he wants them to die too. He just wants someone here with him. He just wants—
A metal foot shoots out from Envy’s mouth, a large tooth coming with it.
“Open up, Envy! Your breath is killing me!” Ling’s stomach flips and relief washes over him. “I think I’ve got a way to get us out of here!” He stands, stunned, as Envy regurgitates Ed out in front of him.
“What do you mean you think you have a way to get us out of here?” the homunculus asks obviously just as shocked.
“I’ll explain in a minute,” he deflects, clutching his left arm. He’s gritting his teeth the same way he did with his phantom pain. “But Envy I need you to find as many parts of this mural as you can and bring them back here,” Ed says, nodding at the large stone behind him. Ling’s eyebrows knit together as he jumps off the platform he’s been standing on.
“Why should I do that, twerp?” Envy retorts.
“Because I think it can help us get out of here,” he grumbles back. “So unless you want to die in here—”
“Fine,” Envy interrupts, turning away. “But you better be right about this, runt.”
“I’m not a runt!” Ed snaps half-heartedly, as Ling finally makes it over to him. Ed exhales, mumbling under his breath, “Stupid fucking homunculus, I’m not that fucking short. Plus, I’m trying to get us out of here! They don’t need to fucking insult me like that.”
“Is your arm broken?” Ling asks, ignoring the other teen’s comments.
Ed sighs again and meets his gaze. Ling’s heart flutters. He’d never seen golden eyes before coming to Amestris, but he's certain these are the prettiest pair he's ever seen.
“Yeah. I don’t remember when it happened though.”
“Can I take a look at it?” Ling asks before he thinks. What am I going to do? he asks himself. I can’t do alkahestry! I can’t heal him! What would I even be looking for? Ed seems to have the same hesitations, tensing and pulling his sleeve down further.
“Uh, yeah, sure,” he answers anyway. As Ed holds out his arm, Ling tries his best to take it gently in his hands. It’s definitely swollen and tender, guessing from how Ed cringes a little when Ling touches it. But visually it’s still straight. The bone isn’t protruding and there are no funny angles anywhere. Maybe it’s just fractured? However, Ling broke his arm a few years ago and it still looked like it was in one piece but was very much still broken. Maybe he wasn’t the best person to judge this sort of thing. The most he was actually certain of is that they had put his arm in a cast to keep it straight while it healed.
In a vague attempt to sound competent, Ling confidently announces, “Well, it’s not broken too bad.”
“Oh, yeah?” Ed questions with a wry smile. “How do you know that?”
Ling shrugs because he really doesn’t know that. “I’ve broken my arm before,” he answers.
“So that makes you an expert on all broken arms?”
“Well, have you ever broken your arm before?”
“So then how do you know if it is or isn’t badly broken?”
The shorter teen is quiet for a moment, before grumbling a quiet, “Piss off.” Ling lets out a laugh.
“You sure are a sweet talker, Ed,” he chuckles, glancing around them. Continuing, he explains, “We’re going to have to try to keep it straight so it heals properly. If we can find some more sticks or something, I can tie my sarashi around them.” When he turns back, he finds Ed studying him.
“Alright,” he answers.
“Two should be enough, right?” Ed asks, several minutes later. Envy’s already brought back a couple of mural chunks and they’re gradually crawling towards an exit.
“That should be fine,” Ling answers. Nodding slightly, he says, “We should probably sit down.”
Ed nods in agreement and the two make their way back over to the pieces of mural in silence. As they walk, Ling sneaks a few quick glances at the other teen. He’s certainly grown over the past month that he’s known him. It might be his change in hairstyle, but his jawline seems to be sharpening and his cheekbones getting more defined as well. Ed is strangely attractive now. Well… maybe it’s not necessarily strange. His aloofness was off putting at first, but it’s grown on Ling. Probably just because it reminds him of Lan Fan in a way. And it wasn’t like Ling didn’t find Ed cute when they first met, but it’s just that. He was cute, but not necessarily attractive. Now, he suddenly has stopped looking like he’s eleven and Ling’s heart and stomach do a weird fluttery thing around him.
But it’s just a crush. Ling’s had plenty of those. Ed has a nice face and a smart mouth, but it's not going to go anywhere. As a prince of Xing, Ling shouldn’t be falling for an Amestrian and that includes Ed Elric.
“Hey,” Ed starts as they sit down. “Are… are soulmates a thing in Xing?”
Ling looks up at him. “Why are you asking?”
“I’m just curious,” Ed responds defensively. “You guys do alchemy differently, so I was wondering if soulmates were different.”
Ling unwraps his right arm slowly, cutting the fabric in half so it will go farther. His heart is doing that happy, hopeful flipping again. He shouldn’t want to be Ed’s soulmate. It would just… complicate things. “Yeah, we have soulmates. In Xing, their name will appear on your wrist and the color determines what kind of connection it is.”
“Same in Amestris,” Ed says. He’s quiet for a moment, helping Ling hold the sticks against his arm as he wraps them. After a moment, he continues, “Are purple soulmarks as rare in Xing as they are in Amestris?”
“Yes,” Ling answers nonchalantly. “I haven’t even met someone with one.” Ignoring the pang in his heart, he jokingly asks, “Do you have one? Is that why you’re asking?”
Ed rolls his eyes and huffs. “Fix my arm, dumbass,” he says instead of answering the question. But it’s enough of an answer for Ling. Ed has a romantic soulmate. And it’s not Ling. All the more reason to just let this silly little crush fade out and focus on the task at hand: immortality.
So Ling does what Ed requested, he ties what used to be his sarashi around the other teen’s arm as Ed watches Envy distantly. Then Ling unwraps his left wrist and almost forgets how to breathe. Edward Elric. He’s not perfectly literate in Amestrian, but recognizes the name automatically. Strangely, his first thought is, His name is Edward? Which, now in retrospect, he should have expected. But that’s overshadowed by his second thought. Why isn’t it one color? Ed’s name is written in plain, simple font across his skin, but it’s a patchwork of green and purple and looks remarkably different from Lan Fan’s name right above it.
Is that why he was asking? Ling thinks, almost hopefully, flipping his wrist back over and continuing with securing Ed’s broken bone. Why wouldn’t he just come out and say it then? His heart rate picks up and his mouth goes dry. Maybe his is just green. That might be why he didn’t think it was a big deal. As he tries to rationalize this entire interaction, the seemingly obvious keeps gnawing at him. What the hell am I supposed to do about having a soulmate from Amestris?
Ling is bored out of his mind, figuratively and literally. Greed apparently had kept them out all last night doing… something. Unless it seemed like there was actually something exciting happening, Ling only half-paid attention most of the time when Greed was in control. And nothing even resembling excitement had happened in the last month. It was just sleeping at night, walking through the woods, finding a new place to camp, listening to Ed bicker with everyone. Honestly, he thinks it’s boring and repetitive probably because he isn’t actually the one doing it. He spends every day watching Greed do it. He makes comments on things, sure, but no one else hears them unless Greed decides to share.
Maybe that’s why the homunculus took pity on him, or at least seemed to.
“Hey, kid,” Greed says. “I’m fucking tired. You take over.”
“Didn’t you sleep last night?” Ling asks, knowing he shouldn’t question it, but curiosity getting the best of him.
“No,” Greed grumbles back. “I had business to take care of last night.” The homunculus sighs slightly and begrudgingly states, “Will you just—do your thing, kid.”
Ling then finds himself in a chair on two legs, leaning against the wall of what seems like it had been someone’s kitchen at one point. Darius and Heinkel are mulling about, cleaning up the remains of breakfast. Judging from the feeling in his stomach, Greed hadn’t bothered to eat with them, or he hadn’t eaten enough. He’s well aware that the Philosopher’s Stone makes his body practically immortal, but dammit, Ling still wants to eat! Not that Greed has exactly listened to his complaints on this matter before. Sighing, Ling returns the chair legs to the ground and stands up.
“Do either of you know what Greed was up to last night?” he asks, moving himself out from behind a small wooden table.
The two men stare at him strangely before Heinkel seems to put it together. “He mentioned something about ‘surveying his domain,’ whatever that means,” the blond answers and Ling scowls slightly, confused.
“Are you the kid?” Darius clarifies, eyes scanning his face. “Lin?”
“Ling and yes,” he replies. “Greed said he needed some rest, so… here I am!”
“Well, it’s nice to finally meet you,” Heinkel states, a mildly bitter undertone.
“Yeah, here’s hoping you’re not as much of an asshole as the other one,” Darius adds. Whether that was in reference to Greed or Ed, Ling isn’t sure and doesn’t ask.
“Well,” he laughs, “I’ll try my best, but I make no promises.”
“You’re already better than Elric,” Darius says. Ling ignores the way his stomach twists.
“Speaking of,” he starts instead, “where is he?”
“Probably still sleeping,” Heinkel guesses. “He’s upstairs in the room on the right just past the stairs if you want to check.”
“Okay, thanks!” Ling answers quickly, hoping his excitement isn’t obvious. He’s careful to just walk to the stairs, not run. Albeit, his walk is much faster than normal. Nonetheless, he tries to climb the stairs at a normal pace, despite already being out of view of the two other men. His heart’s pounding and there’s a smile pulling across his cheeks. He’s in deep. Which is also why he stands outside of the door, strangely nervous. Not that that saves him at all.
There’s no sound coming from the other side. Some muffled shuffling, but it’s so infrequent and quiet that he barely catches it. Ed is a quiet sleeper. He doesn’t snore like Darius. He’s not fitful like Ling had been as a kid. He just sleeps, hand riding up his shirt to expose his stomach and drool pooling sometimes at the corner of his mouth. Not that Ling watches him sleep! He definitely doesn’t do that. He’s just happened to catch him sleeping quite a few times from sneaking through his hotel windows and just from traveling with him for the last almost five months. So it’s not weird.
Nonetheless, he’s not entirely certain Ed is actually sleeping, so he decides to check anyway. Taking in a deep breath, Ling opens the door.
He only gets the door half open when he freezes. Ed makes a noise like he’s choking, hands pulling his hair into a ponytail. A blush’s crawling over his face and chest, his arm muscles tense. Ling can feel his own face warm as his mind goes completely blank and he involuntarily glances down. Despite his eyes returning to Ed’s face just as fast, he still saw him; the tape on his distractingly chiseled chest, his abs, the scar on his side. All of which he wasn’t even aware existed until this moment. At the same time that his brain processes this, his heart flips and brings him back to reality.
“Shit, sorry, I—”
“Fucking get out! ” Ed snaps, face redder than his jacket and voice raising an octave.
“Yes—sorry,” Ling mumbles, closing the door quickly behind him. He stands there, back pressed against the wood for a moment, trying to figure out what he’s supposed to do now. Do we have to talk about that now? Or are we just going to pretend it didn’t happen? Shit, if we do talk about it, does that mean we have to discuss the whole soulmate thing too? Ling groans slightly, rubbing a hand over his face. Greed obviously had seen his multicolored soulmark and had asked him what color Ed’s was. According to him, only one soulmate gets a multicolored mark while the other doesn’t, which was why he was curious. Part of Ling, honestly, doesn’t want to know. Even though he knows it’s the best option, he doesn’t want Ed’s mark to be green. He wants it to be purple and to have something unique and special with him. He wants to be more than just friends with him. It’s not realistic but—
Ling is only about four steps down the stairs when Ed’s door opens behind him. He stops, turning slightly to meet the gaze of the other teen. As Ling’s heart leaps to his throat, Ed’s face flushes a deep red again.
“What the hell do you want, Greed?” Ed bites, eyebrows knitting and arms crossing.
“It’s Ling, actually… and I just wanted to know if you were awake.”
The blond teen blinks. “Ling?!” His hands come up and run down his face. Groaning, he says, “Of course it was you… I don’t know if it’s better or worse that you saw me naked instead of Greed.”
“Well, I’ll let you see me naked too if it’ll make you feel better,” Ling responds, not a single thought in his head. Ed sounds like he’s choking again, eyes widening and face flushing. Why did I say that? he asks himself, more than mildly frustrated.
“I don’t—shut the hell up, you idiot!” Ling really wishes he could do that.
“We can just pretend that didn’t happen, Ed,” he responds, instead of following directions.
“That’s fine with me!” he responds automatically, but then hesitates, hand absentmindedly coming up towards his chest. “I just—I assumed you’d have questions about—”
“Hey,” Ling interrupts. “I wasn’t supposed to see that. If you want to tell me, you’ll tell me. Otherwise it’s none of my business.” Something like relief washes over Ed’s still flushed face as he looks down at his feet.
Nodding, he mumbles, “Yeah, okay.” Meeting Ling’s eyes again, he asks at normal volume, “Hey, do you know if Darius and Heinkel have eaten yet? I’m starving.” Ling can’t help but laugh, thankful that things still feel normal.
“So this is where you grew up, kid?” Greed asks, nonchalantly with his hands in his pockets. The sun has long since set and most of the houses have already put their lights out, making Resembool feel more sparsely populated than it is.
Huffing slightly, Ed simply answers, “Yeah.” No one prods further when he doesn’t offer more information.
“Are you sure your grandmother will be okay with us staying with her, Elric?” Darius inquires as they walk the path towards the Rockbell’s.
“She’s not my… yes, I’m sure,” he answers curtly. Honestly, he’s just tired. They’ve been walking since the sun rose this morning and all Ed wants is to fall into bed and sleep. None of the others seem to be bothered by his attitude though, or they’re all too exhausted themselves to even care. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. They’re almost there. Then he can flop on his bed and sleep for the next twelve hours.
The door only opens a crack. “We’re closed,” Granny barks from somewhere behind. Ed puts his hand on the door, pushing on it slightly.
“Granny, it’s me,” he says simply.
“Edward?” she asks, opening it fully to stare up at him.
“Yeah-heh,” he laughs slightly. “Long time no see, huh?”
“I thought you had gone and gotten yourself killed,” she replies bluntly. He scoffs and she ignores him. “Who are your friends?”
“I’m Greed,” the homunculus cuts in and Ed rolls his eyes.
“And these are Darius and Heinkel.” The two men exchange some brief greetings and Granny hums in response.
“Well, Ed, I haven’t touched anything in your room,” she says, stepping to the side to let the four of them inside. “But for the rest of you, I only have one cot and a couch available.”
“That’s alright,” Greed responds, “I don’t need to sleep.”
Granny scoffs, “Don’t go spouting bullshit to make me feel better. It’s unbecoming of a man.” The homunculus raises his eyebrows and glances towards Ed.
“I see where you got your mouth from,” he comments, elbowing Ed slightly. “But really, lady—”
“Call me Pinako.”
“ Pinako, really, it’s not that big a deal. I can sleep on the floor even if you need me too.” Greed smirks. “I’m pretty hearty.”
She stares at him for a moment, considering. Ed was well accustomed to that look from all the times he’d gotten in trouble over the years, the mild disappointment and thought shining in her eyes. After a moment, she finally sighs and says, “Very well. Follow me.”
A hand clamps around Ed’s mouth several hours later. He startles, grabbing it and muscles tensing for what he expects to be violence to follow. Instead, he’s greeted to lips brushing his ear and the whispering of, “It’s just me.” Ed relaxes immediately and shoves the hand away.
“Ling?” he mumbles back, turning to glance at the waxing gibbous moon out the window. “What are you doing? It’s the middle of the night. Why are you awake?”
Ling chuckles lightly, sitting on the side of the bed. “Greed was too afraid of your grandmother to try to sneak out and do something. So he let me take over.”
Ed smiles, sitting up. “Greed’s seriously afraid of Granny?”
“Well, he didn’t word it exactly like that, but it was implied.”
Ed covers his mouth slightly to stop himself from laughing too loud. “Okay, but why do I need to be awake?”
Ling looks away, shrugging slightly. “I just wanted to talk to someone, given that Greed’s going to take back control in the morning.”
“Okay,” Ed responds, moving his legs over the edge of the mattress. Twiddling his thumbs slightly, he continues hesitantly, “Anything specific or just…”
“Yeah,” Ling answers before going quiet for a while. Eventually, he looks up, not making eye contact. “That’s my name,” he notes, nodding towards Ed’s soulmarks. Ed’s stomach drops.
Taking in a shaking breath, he says, “Uh, yeah… it is.” Wordlessly, Ling pulls his sleeve up, holding it out slightly for Ed to see his name clearly printed across his skin. In a way, he’s relieved to see it, even though he’s pretty sure he’s experiencing organ failure: his heart skipping beats, breathing labored and hitching slightly, stomach twisting nauseatingly, head dizzyingly light. Given how many months had passed since his had appeared, he’d partially convinced himself that he was even more of an oddity, that he got a soulmark and Ling didn’t. That this was one-sided and that’s why his was multicolored. But now… now Ling is finally showing him and… it has blotches like his.
So as his brain struggles desperately to catch up with all of this, all he can manage to mutter is, “Oh.”
“Yeah…” Ling starts slowly. “I can’t exactly see yours, but I should let you know that mine is—”
“Green and purple,” Ed guesses. He can’t see the colors in the dark, but he can assume.
Ling blinks at him. “Yeah…?” he responds slowly. “Wait, is yours—”
“Yeah, it is,” Ed answers quickly, looking out the window. Somehow it’s easier to admit without meeting his gaze. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Ling lean back slightly and chew on his lip, clearly nervous. Part of Ed wants to comfort him, but he’s also trying to figure out what it means that the two of them are actually— potentially romantic soulmates. Seemingly, Ling is trying to do the same thing, silence settling between the two of them.
“I’ve noticed that it’s different here in Amestris,” Ling starts, tearing Ed out of his own thoughts. “But growing up in Xing, we were always taught to cover our soulmarks. For me, it was partially because my siblings were always trying to kill me and I needed to keep Lan Fan safe. But a lot of normal people also cover theirs… it’s deemed a bit more personal and intimate in Xing than it seems to be here.”
“Is that why you never brought it up before?” Ed asks.
“Yes… but in my defense, neither did you,” Ling retorts, elbowing him. Ed rolls his eyes and gives him a small smile.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t exactly get a chance because you went and turned into Greed!”
Ling chuckles at that. “Greed made it sound like only one of us should have a multicolored one.”
“Yeah, well, Greed’s an idiot,” Ed says, making Ling laugh more.
“I wouldn’t say that necessarily…” he tries to defend, still smiling.
“He broke your arm last week by falling out of a tree because he put all his weight on a dead branch.” The other teen clamps a hand over his mouth, muffling his laughter as Ed tries to ignore the twisting in his stomach. “Not to mention, he almost started a forest fire by putting a cigarette out in a pile of leaves.”
“I guess you’re right,” Ling manages, after he finally calms down a little. The silence settles back in, much more comfortable this time; although, it doesn’t last long. After a minute, something occurs to Ling that makes him chuckle.
“I guess it’s fine then that I saw you naked then,” he jokes, leaning in towards Ed a little. “Given that we’re soulmates and all.” Ed’s palm makes gentle contact with Ling’s cheek, shoving him slightly.
“Shut up, you bastard,” he mumbles, face warming.
“Let me joke,” Ling shoots back. “I still feel bad about it.”
“Well, don’t,” Ed fires back. “I’ve accidentally walked in on Darius and Heinkel using the bathroom several times now and you don’t see me joking with them about it.”
“How did you make that mistake more than once?”
“Listen,” Ed defends. “If I knew, it wouldn’t have happened more than once.” Ling laughs, flopping back onto the bed.
“That’s fair I guess,” he comments, eyes closed. He pauses for a moment, before continuing. “You know,” he smiles wryly, “ you’re kind of hot. ”
Ed rolls his eyes, hoping that he’s not visibly blushing in the dark. “Shut up, I am not,” he insists grumpily, pulling a leg up near his chest and holding it. The metal is strangely cold. “And why are we still talking about this?”
“Because I wanted to tell you,” Ling says, shrugging slightly against the bed sheets.
“I—” Ed cuts himself off, not knowing how to argue against that. He’s so used to people only noticing his height before anything else… He doesn’t think anyone has ever said he was attractive before. It’s always runt, or shrimp, or shorty, never… whatever. It’s not even like it matters. He doesn’t care! Even if it sounds really nice coming from Ling.
Instead of trying to reconcile with any of this, he scoffs and mumbles, “Yeah, whatever.”
“Edward,” Ling says, his tone gentle and schmaltzy. It makes him feel… gooey? But it doesn’t matter. Ling doesn’t even like him that way. So Ed doesn’t look over, but can feel Ling’s weight shift on the mattress next to him. After a moment, the Xingese teen continues, “I’m being honest, you know?”
“‘Bout what?” Ed retorts. He’s well aware he’s being surly and it’s partially on purpose, feigning ignorance for a conversation he’s been completely present for just to try to end it.
Ling sighs heavily beside him. “You’re impossible.”
“Well, you’re stuck with me,” Ed answers plainly.
The other teen hums slightly and goes quiet for a while. Crickets chirp loudly outside as moonlight continues to pour in through the window. The mattress creaks ever so slightly in rhythm with Ling’s breathing. Outside of that, it’s quiet. Ed’s not entirely convinced Ling hasn’t fallen asleep. He rolls his eyes realizing he’s going to have to shove him off his bed just to go back to sleep. Damn prince, waking him up in the middle of the night just to fall asleep on his bed. Soulmate or not, he’s fucking annoying. Huffing a little, Ed lets his metal leg hang back off the bed and turns to look down at Ling, who is definitively not sleeping. He’s staring at Ed, some weird, amative look in his eye.
“I think I’m okay with that.”
“Edward, it’s almost noon! Get up, you—oh!” Ed’s grandmother shouts. Ling startles awake about halfway through her first sentence, sitting up and staring at her wide-eyed. When she notices him, she cuts herself off, staring back at him in surprise. It takes Ling a moment to process the fact that he’s actually the one in control, not Greed. He was certain the homunculus would take back fronting in the morning, but he’s strangely quiet still.
“I thought you had run off last night,” she comments, stepping back slightly in shock. It takes himi only another moment to remember that he’s in Ed’s bed, pressed up against the wall and that’s why his grandmother is staring at him like that.
“Why the hell would you think that?” Ed asks, rubbing his eye and not sitting up. He’s on his side, turned away from Ling.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” his grandmother clarifies, making direct eye contact with Ling. He’s getting the feeling that Greed might not have gotten off on the right foot with her. Maybe I need to pay attention more when Greed is in control, he thinks, though he’s a little surprised, given the homunculus’ intense friendliness most of the time; however, Ed’s grandmother seems rather… perhaps abrasive is the right word. He wants to believe she softens when you get to know her, but he’s not so sure on the accuracy of that. She’s known Ed his whole life and he’s fairly certain she’d call him all sorts of names to his face.
“Huh?” Ed groans, face falling back into the pillow. Ling’s stomach flutters. He wishes Ed could try to not be so pretty. It’s making the soulmate thing all the harder.
“She’s talking about me,” Ling offers helpfully. Ed stiffens next to him, evidently forgetting he is there. “I’m Ling Yao, by the way,” he adds with a smile. Ed’s grandmother’s eyebrows furrow as Ed finally sits up and stares at him, wide-eyed.
“That’s not how you introduced yourself last night,” she comments, gaze carefully shifting from his face to Ed’s.
“Oh, that’s because I’m a homunculus,” he explains. Ed inhales sharply and looks over at the woman in the doorway.
“I can explain! N-none of this is what it looks like,” he says quickly, hands waving slightly. Turning to Ling, he seethes, “Can you at least try to be less up front about that?”
“Nope,” he responds with a wry smile, causing Ed to roll his eyes.
His grandmother just blinks at the two of them, incredulity plastered across her face. “You sure are an idiot, ” she says, turning to walk away. “Lunch will be ready soon.”
“What the hell do you mean I’m an idiot?” Ed calls after her, swinging his legs over the bed and standing up. His long, blond hair is loose around his shoulders and swaying as he runs to the door. Leaning into the hall, he shouts crossly, “Granny!”
“Get dressed and come eat. Both of you,” she responds brusquely, voice echoing from somewhere down the hall. Ed groans in response, rubbing a hand over his face and shutting the door behind him. Ling’s heart rate spikes, hopeful as Ed walks back over to the bed. Putting a hand on the mattress, Ling watches him crouch down, digging for something.
“Could’ve sworn I left the damn thing here,” he grumbles after a moment.
“What are you looking for?” Ling asks, uncrossing his legs.
“Nothing… just my—aha! There it is!” Ed says triumphantly, pulling an unidentifiable piece of black fabric out from under the bed.
“What is that?” Ling asks again. Ed pointedly ignores him this time, in favor of turning his back to him and taking off his shirt. Ling’s eyebrows knit together as he laughingly inquires, “What happened to you feeling weird about me seeing you naked?”
“Shut up,” Ed groans, pulling the fabric over his head. As it stretches over him, Ling can see that it’s a tight tank top that stops about halfway down Ed’s ribs. “My back is different from my front.”
“If you say so,” Ling drolls, “I like the view either way.” He tries not to cringe at that, closing his eyes instead. Honestly, he wishes he could stop more of the words that come out of his mouth before they leave. The problem is so much worse around, Ed.
“Sh-shut up!” Ed stammers, throwing his wadded sleep shirt. As it makes contact with Ling’s face, he continues, “You’re not funny, you asshole!”
Ling laughs a little, tossing the shirt to the floor and keeping his eyes shut. “I wasn’t trying to be.”
“I—yeah, whatever,” Ed grumbles, his shirt audibly dragging over his metal arm and belt buckle clicking slightly. “You’re still an asshole, you know?”
“What’s near vermillion turns red and what’s near ink gets stained black,” Ling laughs.
“The hell does that mean?” Ed demands, some other article of clothing hitting Ling’s neck. He continues chuckling, shoving it away.
“It’s like your bird metaphor here in Amestris.”
“Bird metaphor?” Confusion drips off of Ed’s voice, making Ling laugh harder.
“Yeah,” he manages in between giggles. “Birds of a flock have feathers or something.”
Ed is strangely quiet, assumably staring at him from across the room. He doesn’t even shift his weight at all. Just quiet. Until finally, he barks out, “You mean ‘birds of a feather, flock together?’”
“Sure!” Ling answers with a shrug. Ed frustratedly sighs, metal foot thudding against the floorboards. He’s well outgrown it at this point, the automail several inches too short for the rest of him. Everyone’s noticed his crooked stance and slight limp, which is how they ended up here. Honestly, Ling’s happy for him. He’s well aware of how much Ed’s height bothers him, so he can imagine it feels good now. Not that he would ever say that to him, knowing that the Amestrian teen would take it as an insult rather than a genuine statement. Part of Ling wonders if he’s difficult on purpose, like he’s keeping everyone at arm’s length.
Unexpectedly, Ed tugs at Ling’s left sleeve. “C’mon, you jackass, let’s go eat.”
Hohenheim is… not what Edward had been expecting. He’s still a jackass and a dumb one at that, but actually talking to him is different. It’s strange for a myriad of reasons. Partially because his father still gives him that uneasy look since he realized he wasn’t Alphonse. Also because Ed had avoided him like the plague during his time in Resembool. So to make himself feel better, Ed gets one (1) punch in.
From the ground, his father shouts, “You could’ve at least warned me you were about to slug me! And with your metal hand too!” Ed just hums in reply, keeping his back to him and pretending that he’s readjusting something in his hand from the hit. Standing and closer now, Hohenheim continues, “I see you’ve made a new group of friends.” He says it like he’s actually interested. He hesitates for a moment before adding, “It’s ‘Edward,’ right?”
“Yes, it’s Ed, ” he growls back, not looking at him still.
At the same time, Darius starts saying, “We’re not—” only to be cut off by Heinkel saying, “It’s more like we’re on the same sinking ship.”
“That’s right,” Greed adds. “Guess you could say I’m the capt—wait, did you ask what his name was?”
“Uh…” Hohenheim responds brilliantly. Ed feels his face warm as he rolls his eyes, scowl pulling at his mouth. Darius and Heinkel exchange a look, something like disappointment creeping into it. Ed’s just glad they’re not looking at him. He doesn’t want their pity.
“Now I can see why you hit him!” Greed laughs. “I thought my old man was bad. You don’t even remember your own kid’s name!”
“Well,” his father defends, “he hasn’t been Edward for very long—”
“How do you know that?” Ed interrupts, turning to face him finally. “You haven’t been around long enough to even ask when I even changed it!” Hohenheim quiets in response, mouth pressed into a firm line.
“He has a point,” the homunculus chuckles. “Even his soulmarks say he’s Edward.” The chimeras share another look, desperately confused this time. Ed doesn’t want to explain that or most of this really to them. He’s hoping they’ll just assume it’s Winry or something. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care. It’s just whatever.
Hohenheim takes a deep breath. “Well, evidently, I haven’t been a very good father, but… thank you for taking care of my son.”
Ed wishes he could spontaneously combust.
“What do they say?” Ed asks, cuddled into his mother’s lap. She smiles down at him, still holding her list of soulmates out for him. One gray and one lavender name break up the sea of sage on her wrist.
“Well, this one is Winry’s mother,” Mom starts, pointing at the first one. “We’ve known each other our whole lives and I don’t remember even getting this soulmark… like you and Winry.” He giggles a little. “This one is for Ms. Molly… you know the lady who brings us eggs every week.”
“Yeah, of course, I know her, Mom,” Ed replies. He points to the gray one. “Who’s this?”
“Cecilia,” she answers quietly. The smile fades from her face a little. “She was my little sister… she passed away when she was very little.”
“Oh…” Ed replies smally. He’s not exactly sure what it means to pass away, but he has a feeling it’s why her name is gray instead of green.
Continuing and smile returning, his mom reads, “This one's for Mrs. Pinako… Winry’s grandmother, you know—”
“Of course I know Granny, ” Ed interrupts in a fit of laughter. Mom laughs too, pressing a kiss to his cheek.
“Well, then you should also know Ms. Lucy and Mr. Amyas,” she chuckles, finger moving down to the next two names. “They’re my best friends from school.”
“They smell weird,” he responds, crinkling his nose. He never did like the smell of cigarettes. They came over often, sitting in the kitchen with Mom while his father tried his best to avoid social interaction. Of course, lots of Mom’s friends did that, they just stood out for the smell.
“Oh hush,” she says, hugging him close. “It’s not polite to say that to people, dear.”
“But they do!” he insists. Her fingers suddenly come up to his side, tickling him as he squirms out of his lap. “Mo-om!” he protests through a fit of giggles, but she’s relentless, tickling him until he finally manages to wiggle free and race to his room.
She never did read her purple soulmark aloud to him, but he would read it later, well after dad left. Van Hohenheim. It only ever made him angrier.
“So, you’re my soulmate, huh?” Ling asks, crinkling his nose at the girl standing in front of him. Lan Fan glares at him quietly. “What? Can you just not speak or something?”
“Grandpa said we’re not supposed to talk about it,” she hisses, brown eyes hidden partially by her bangs. His own mom had said the same thing, but he didn’t get why they couldn’t talk about it at all. They were in private! The adults were in the other room. Who was going to know that they were talking about it.
“Why not?” he asks.
“Because Grandpa said not to!”
“I don’t care what your grandpa said!” Ling fires back. “I’m going to be emperor of Xing one day so I get to make my own rules.”
“But you’re not emperor yet!” she yells back at him.
“Yeah, and you’re just… a girl! ” he retorts, all out of arguing points. Lan Fan stiffens, glare hardening.
“What did you just say?” she seethes. He doesn’t like the look in her eye, but repeats himself despite his better judgment.
“That you’re just a gir—” Her first connects with his mouth, cutting him off. He stumbles back, just as her leg whips around, making contact with the back of his knee. As soon as he’s on the floor, her knee is in his stomach and Ling, at the age of five, has a brilliant moment of clarity.
Lan Fan is scary.
“What is going on?” Old Man Fu booms, lifting her off of Ling. She looks strangely ashamed, caught. “How dare you lay a hand on the young lord!”
“But Grandpa—” she starts softly.
“But nothing! It is our family’s job to protect the Yao family at all—”
“Old Man Fu,” Ling interrupts and the older man goes quiet.
“Young Lord,” he says. “I’m sorry for my granddaughter—”
“No, it’s okay,” he insists. “I deserved it.” Fu looks at him in flabbergast, blinking rapidly a few times. Making eye contact with Lan Fan, Ling gives her a smile. She’s scary, but as the pain subsides, he realizes that she can teach him how to do that too. Obviously, that makes her his best friend from here on out. “I called her names so I deserved it.”
“Young Lord,” Fu tries to persist, “Just because you—”
“But also I want her to teach me how to flip people over too! It hurt a lot but it was really cool,” Ling finishes, smiling wider. Fu just puts a hand to his forehead and groans.
“You’re leaving?” Ed asks, trying to keep his voice even. Al’s lips press into a firm line as he meets Ed’s eyes. He knows. He shouldn’t be surprised that he does; his soulmarks are very plainly on display and Ling’s are too. But the realization still sends anxiety clawing through him. Ed barely knows what having a multicolored soulmark means and the more people that see it means the more people that can wonder or look it up and figure it out before him.
“Yeah,” Ling answers, his smile not wavering. “We need to get home so we can bury Fu.” Lan Fan closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, leaning on Ling slightly. Some part of Ed guesses that the green Xingese name above his on Ling’s wrist is hers. It makes sense, especially as Ling wraps an arm around her shoulders loosely, as if he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.
“Oh,” he says, hoping his tone doesn’t betray the ache that settles within him. His brain is scrambling to say more than that, but thankfully he doesn’t have to.
“Shit,” Ling swears to himself, taking his arm back and patting himself. “Does anyone have anything to write with?”
“No,” Ed answers quickly, readjusting his hold on Al slightly. “Why? What do you need to write down?”
“Can’t you just alchemy me a pen or something?” Ling asks, tone light and joking.
“I just gave up my ability to transmute, asshole,” Ed fires back. Ling laughs, cheeks reddening slightly as Lan Fan places something in his hand.
“Yeah, sorry, I forgot,” he mumbles, walking over to the brothers. “But,” he starts, grabbing Ed’s left arm.
“Hey, what are you—” Ed protests, trying to yank his arm back as Ling presses the wet charcoal to it.
“—that’s not excuse for you—”
“Stop! Don’t write on me!”
“—not to write to me,” Ling finishes, still drawing characters down Ed’s arm. “There!” Something twinkles in his eye. “That’s the address to the royal Xingese palace. Send me a letter as soon as you two get home.” Ed wants to smack him.
He gawks for a moment, blinking in confusion. “Why’d you write it on my arm?” he demands incredulously. “This is going to smudge and rub off way before we get to Resembool!”
Ling just laughs at him, ignoring the question. “You’re impossible, Edward Elric.” Something pulls in Ed’s stomach and chest.
“Yeah, right. I’m delightful,” he says, scowling without feeling. He lets out a breath, unable to really be mad at him. Raising his fist up, he smiles smally. “I’ll see you later, Ling.”
Ling’s knuckles meet his, resting there for a moment. “Yeah… I’m counting on it.”
“I know you weren’t told we were coming,” Ed repeats for the nth time that hour. “But as I’ve already said, we’re here two days early so if you could just get Lan Fan or Mei or—”
“No,” the guard answers simply. “Emperor Yao is not expecting visitors today. Please, leave.” Ed wants to scream out of frustration. The skin on his leg still aches, burnt from his automail. He’s tired and hungry and covered in a thin layer of sand. All he wants is to take a bath and sleep for a few hours inside the palace, where they are guests because Ling invited them via letter a few months ago.
“Brother,” Al starts, placing a hand on Ed’s shoulder, “we can just find a hostel. It’s not a big deal.” Ed just groans.
“I know it’s not a big deal, but we came here to see Ling and Mei and—”
“Edward,” Major Armstrong tries to interrupt.
“—it’s not our fault that we got here early!”
“It sort of is,” Al mumbles under his breath. As Ed opens his mouth to respond how it most certainly isn’t, his eye catches someone ascending the stairs. Lan Fan.
She’s with two other women who are each carrying an armful of scrolls and chatting amicably between each other. Her eyes are turned towards them, listening to the conversation but not quiet joining it. But second after Ed’s gaze lands on her, she looks up, meeting it. And she freezes.
“The Elrics?” she shouts in disbelief. The other two women look at her, then at them, and back at her. “How are you here two days early?” She blinks and then turns to her companions, saying something to them quickly in Xingese. Their eyes go wide as they look back at the brothers and the Major before quickly rushing past them and in through the doors.
“Hey!” Ed demands. “How come they get to go inside?” He’s blatantly ignored as Lan Fan approaches the guard, some exchange ensuing that Ed can’t follow.
“It’s very opportune that your friend happened to be coming back just now,” Armstrong observes, readjusting the luggage on his shoulder slightly. Ed will admit that it’s nice to have him here if only for that.
“Yeah,” Ed mumbles, shifting on his feet slightly. The conversation between the guard and Lan Fan doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and she sighs exasperatedly. From somewhere within the palace, Ed faintly hears a door being slammed and wonders what happened.
“Please, wait here,” Lan Fan says, turning to them and holding her hands up. Running footsteps echo behind her, gradually getting louder. “I can get this sorted.”
“That’s alright, we can wait,” Al assures her, smiling slightly.
“Why can’t you just escort us in right now?” Ed asks, trying his best to not be short with her. Al smacks his arm for it anyway. He’s aware that this isn’t her fault in the slightest, but it was a long trip and he’s exhausted. So even this mild inconvenience feels all the more aggravating.
Lan Fan sighs. “I—look, it’s standard protocol. We must protect the young emperor—” the footsteps are getting closer, faintly echoing off the walls. “—so we can’t let people in unless they are expected for the day. But, I’m going to go get Ling and this will all be sor—”
“Alphonse!” Mei screams, bursting through the doors and nearly tackling him down the steps.
“Mei,” he says in partial surprise and excitement, hugging her back. She’s grown quite a lot in the eight months since they’ve last seen her, her head now coming up to Al’s shoulder. As his brother starts in on the story of how they got there early, Ed suddenly realizes there are still footsteps very quickly approaching.
Before he can react, arms wrap around him as a body slams into his, lifting him into a spin. A string of curses spill from his mouth, arms pinned to his side and struggling. Brain entering fight-or-flight, he instinctively pulls his automail leg back and makes harsh contact with the person’s knee before even looking at who it is. He promptly lands on his ass, falls backwards down the stairs, and bumps his head a stone step. Several voices are shouting above him as he rubs at the goose-egg already forming and tries his best to sit up. He hasn’t even stopped to consider who could possibly have been hugging him before making eye contact with Ling Yao, laughing his ass off.
“That wasn’t very nice,” he jokes, rubbing at his knee.
“Then give me some warning next time, you bastard!” Ed snaps, something soft eating at his anger. Ling’s eyes, warm and genuine, crinkle at the comment. The shouting has finally quieted and Ed is well aware of multiple sets of eyes on them. But for some reason, it doesn’t seem to matter.
The guard says something to Ling in Xingese. He waves his hand blithely and gives some short reply before lookin back up at Edward. “I’ve missed you,” he says, watching as Ed stands up and offers him a hand.
“Of course you did,” he responds, helping Ling up, “because I’m a goddamn delight.” Laughing, the other teen rests his head on Ed’s shoulder for a brief moment. Despite himself, Ed’s a little surprised to find that he’s tall enough for Ling to even do that.
“You sure are,” Ling says.
“I can’t believe you kicked me with your metal foot,” Ling comments later that night. He’s draped himself over Ed’s bed. They’d spent most of the night catching up in the library. But Mei has long since gone to bed, Al following suit not long after. Lan Fan left them with the express promise that Ed wouldn’t let Ling die. Not that he needs protection, but he took the excuse to have some time alone with Ed.
Ed sits with his back against the mattress, one of Ling’s legs swinging slightly next to him. “Yeah, well,” he grumbles in response, “don’t surprise me next time.” Ling chuckles softly, fingers absentmindedly rubbing at the injury. Ed is quiet for a while, but the mattress dips a little and Ling guesses that he’s looking at him. “Is your knee alright, though?”
Ling rolls his head towards him, eyes closed but brows raised. “Yeah, I’ll be fine,” he answers casually. “It’ll probably bruise a little, but I’ve had worse.”
“Oh yeah, like what?” Ed asks jokingly.
“Got shot in the head once,” he responds quickly. The mattress dips more and Ling feels part of Ed’s arm brush against his thigh.
“What? When did that happen?” he asks, obviously shocked.
“When I was fighting Fuhrer Bradley,” Ling answers, chuckling slightly. He supposes that Ed really doesn’t know that story. Honestly, the events from that day have all sort of blurred together and for some reason it felt like Ed had been there for that. Or just Ling wishes he had.
“Yeah? How’d that happen?”
“Oh, I think just some soldier shot me. I heard someone call me a monster…” Ling shrugs a little, swinging his foot a bit more. “But considering that I died for a second, I don’t remember it that well.” A dry laugh escapes from Ed.
“Fair enough, I guess,” he says, taking his arm off of the bed. “To be honest, I don’t remember a lot about losing my limbs either.”
Ling sits up to peer at him from between his eyelashes. “Really?” Ed shrugs, not looking back at him.
“Yeah,” he says. “I read somewhere that it has something to do with my brain trying to protect me… but it feels so long ago now that I might have just forgotten.” Ling’s brain wracks itself for everything Ed has ever told him about himself. He knows the Elrics were incredibly young when they lost their mother, but when they tried to bring her back?
So cautiously, Ling bites his lip and asks, “How old were you?”
“Eleven,” is the simple answer. Five years ago. Ling tries to think back to his own life. He can’t remember much from that age, but also nothing nearly as significant as losing two limbs happened to him. Hell, even his mother is still alive. Not sure what to say in response, he slowly lowers himself onto the floor next to Ed.
“I don’t need you pitying me,” Ed grumbles, readjusting himself slightly. He doesn’t quite shift away, just reduces the points of contact between the two of them.
“I’m not,” Ling replies softly. He wants to reach over and take the other teen’s hand and just hold it for a while, but he’s been beat up enough today as it is. Instead, he decides to comment, “You know, you haven’t really shared much about your life.”
“Neither have you,” Ed shoots back, elbowing him slightly.
Ling laughs. “Okay, well… what do you want to know?” Ed’s hair audibly brushes against the sheets as he whips his head towards Ling.
“What happened to your mom?” Ed asks after a beat of silence.
“She’s still alive,” he answers, trying his best to hold back laughter. “She just lives with the Yao clan still.” He pauses for a moment. “You know, if you want to come back for the New Year Festival, you could meet her.”
Ling hums for a moment, trying to remember the date. “About four months from now.”
“Alright,” Ed says noncommittally. “I’ll think about it.”
Despite his best efforts, Ling smiles at him. “She’d really like you, you know?”
“Yeah?” Ling can practically hear the smirk and eyebrow quirk.
“Yeah. She can be pretty spitfire herself,” he says, turning towards Ed. “After I met Lan Fan, my mom actually taught me how to fight. It was just self-defense, but I wouldn’t be as good as I am today without it.” He pauses for a second. “I miss her a little. She visits every once in a while. But I miss her.”
“I miss my mom too,” Ed adds quietly, just under his breath. Ling’s not sure if he even realizes he said it because he just as quickly at a normal volume deflects, “Wait, what do you mean she taught you self-defense after you met Lan Fan?”
“Oh, Lan Fan used to beat me up all the time when we were kids.”
“What? You’re kidding! Lan Fan? ”
Ling laughs at his disbelief. “Yeah-heh, I was quite a scoundrel when I was younger.”
“You’re a scoundrel now,” Ed quips. Ling reaches out and shoves him, much more feeling going into it than he intended.
“That’s very rude to say to the Emperor of Xing, Edward Elric,” Ling jokes as Ed shoves him back.
“Yeah, well it’s true, you bastard.”
From where he’s leaned back against the floor, Ling shifts all his weight onto one arm to cover his heart with his hand. “You wound me. I can’t believe my own soulmate thinks so poorly of me.”
“Stop being dramatic, you insufferable asshole,” Ed laughs, grabbing Ling by the wrist and pulling him upright. “You know I don’t mean it.”
“I know,” he answers honestly. Exhaling slightly, he leans over and rests the side of his head on Ed’s shoulder, warmth radiating off of the other teen. “I missed you.” Ed tenses, from the comment or the physical contact, Ling isn’t sure, but he doesn’t move either way.
“I missed you too,” Ed confesses begrudgingly, the words sounding like they catch in his throat slightly on the way out. Ling chuckles.
“Wow, I never thought I’d get that out of you,” he teases.
“Shut up or I’ll take it back,” Ed bites as he relaxes.
“Nope, no taking it back,” Ling insists, sitting up. “You said it and I am going to remember this for the rest of my life.”
Ed scoffs, his clothes rustling as he crosses his arms. “Whatever… You’re an asshole. You know that?”
“Birds of a flock have the same feathers, Ed,” Ling replies, biting his bottom lip in an attempt to not laugh at himself.
Ed shoves him. “You’re not funny, you jerk! You’re only further proving my point.”
“Well, you still missed me,” he replies. Ed just groans a little and goes quiet. After a while, Ling settles back into his side, putting his head back on his shoulder. The Amestrian teen is much more accepting of the physical contact this time around. Eventually, he unfolds his arms and Ling can feel the muscles of his arm move a little. Opening his eyes a little, he watches Ed trace small patterns into his automail leg. Circles, figure eights, little swirls. His fingers are long and littered with scars and Ling wonders what they would feel like between his own.
“So, uh,” Ed starts awkwardly, breaking Ling from his thoughts as he lifts his head up. “I-is there anything you want to know about me?”
“You, uh, earlier… you said I don’t share about myself.” He shrugs and Ling smiles, giving it a moment of consideration.
“You don’t have to answer this, but I’m curious. Is there a story behind the name ‘Edward?’”
“What do you mean?”
“You chose your name, right?” Ed nods. “What made you choose it?”
He’s quiet, finger tracing patterns much faster now. He very pointedly avoids eye contact, so Ling looks away. He closes his eyes, accepting he won’t get an answer and letting it go. It doesn’t matter. He loves him. One unanswered question won’t change that. Ling wants to know everything about him and spend every night with his head on his shoulder and his hand in his. So he accepts the quiet, listening to the steady rhythm of his soulmate’s breathing.
“I don’t know,” Ed says eventually, exhaling a little. “I was seven when I picked it out… pretty sure I just liked the way it sounded.” Ed shrugs and pauses for a second. “There’s really not more to the story than that.” He chuckles a little, “Well, other than Winry’s and Al’s soulmarks changed before I got to tell them myself. They had both known for a while that…” The hesitation makes Ling look over to meet his eyes. “You know I’m trans, right?”
“I know,” he says reassuringly. Ed nods a little, breaking eye contact and staring up at where the wall meets the ceiling.
“Yeah, okay… well, anyway, they had known for a while, but were still really confused when my name changed in their soulmarks.” He laughs a little at himself. “Al told me that it sounded like an old man’s name, but it grew on him.” Ling chuckles a little with him.
“Well, I like it,” he says and Ed rolls his eyes. Ling takes that as his cue to try to get Ed to break a little more. “And I like you.” As expected, Ed’s cheeks flare red.
“Shut up,” he mumbles. Ling laughs.
“What? Am I not allowed to like you? My soulmate?”
Ling smiles, feigning consideration. “No… no, I don’t think I will.”
“ Mom, this is Edward, ” Ling introduces in Xingese. His mother’s eyes have been trained on the golden-haired teen for a while now, examining him curiously. Ed stiffens a little at the sound of his name and he gives her a poor excuse for a smile, nervous. Ling elbows him. “Could you try to make a good first impression.”
“Hey, I am trying—”
“Edward,” Ling’s mom interrupts, clasping her hands in front of her and giving him a bow. “ It’s nice to meet you. ”
“ It’s nice to meet you, ” he replies, his Xingese choppy. He at least got all the tones right. Ling had made him practice during the trip here, despite Ed’s insistence that he’d be fine. He smirks a little to himself that it seems to be paying off given how anxious Ed is now.
Ling’s mother gives him a look, before turning her attention back to Ed. “ Ling says you do alkahestry. Are you any good? ” Ed’s golden eyes go wide, mouth hanging open in dumb confusion and wildly unprepared to hold a real conversation in Xingese. Ling sighs a little. Ed got really lucky that he’s good looking because he sure isn’t good at first impressions.
“Mā ma,” he starts, looking away from his soulmate. “ He’s from Amestris. It’s alchemy over there. And he doesn’t speak much Xingese. ”
She hums slightly, giving Ed another once over before turning her attention back to her son. “ I thought you said he was learning. ”
“ Yes, but Amestrian and Xingese are very different. It’s going to take him more than two days to learn. ”
His mother tucks a strand of her graying bangs out of her eyes, glancing at the other festival-goers. “ I just want to get to know my son’s soulmate is all, ” she explains. Ed has shoved his hands into his pockets and is doing his best not to stare, standing off to the side. “ Lan Fan was easy. And I know he’s… new, but… ” She sighs. “ How am I supposed to get to know him when I can’t even talk to him, tiger cub? I know he’s your soulmate, but I worry. You have so many responsibilities and I don’t want some boy to get in the way of those. ”
“ Mom, I’ll be fine, ” Ling insists. She smiles at him smally, placing a hand on his cheek.
“ I know, tiger cub. I know, ” she says, pulling his face down gently to place a kiss on his hairline. Ling’s face warms as he realizes that Ed had glanced over at them. His mom pats his face, glancing between him and Ed. “ He’s cute, but he’s short, ” she comments.
“Mā ma!” he scolds, knowing he’s probably flushing deeper. She shrugs in return.
“ I’m just saying! I know you don’t want to do the whole… ” She waves her hand dismissively. “ ‘Harem thing,’ as you called it, which I don’t understand. It’s tradition, not a harem. I was never in a harem, Ling. But since you don’t, all I’m saying is that soulmate or not, you could do better. ”
“ Thanks, mom, ” Ling responds sarcastically. She pats his shoulder softly and smiles at him.
“ I’m sure you’d like to show Edward around, so I’m going to go back to your grandmother. You know where to find me if you want to talk more, ” she says, planting another kiss on his cheek.
“ Okay, Mom, ” Ling responds. “ I’ll make sure to come see you and Grandma before I go back to the palace. ”
“ I’m counting on it, ” she states, walking away. Sighing, Ling turns to find that Ed has somehow gotten himself roped into a conversation with several people that Ling doesn’t even recognize. Ed’s arms are crossed and he seems to be doing his very best to not slug the man who keeps taking steps closer to him. As Ling approaches, he catches bits and pieces of what the man is saying. He’s clearly intoxicated, speaking in thickly accented and fragmented Amestrian about how Amestris should be restructuring the government after the coup d'etat.
“I need to borrow him,” Ling interrupts, placing a hand on Ed’s shoulder. He jumps slightly at the touch, but relaxes again once he makes eye contact with him.
“Oh,” the man says, starting to say something else, but Ling cuts him off.
“ Thank you! ” he says in Xingese, quickly guiding Ed away. Once they’re out of earshot, Ling comments, “You looked like you wanted to hit him.”
“That’s because I did.”
Ling laughs a little at the honesty, letting his hand fall from Ed’s shoulder to his back and helping him navigate the crowd.
“There’s so many more people here than there are in Amestris,” Ed comments as they weave their way through.
“This is just the Yao clan,” Ling says, smiling over at Ed. “You haven’t been to the market outside of the palace yet.” Ed seems to grumble something in response, but Ling doesn’t catch it. They push past people who don’t even so much as glance at them. It’s nice to be back where he grew up, where no one bats an eye and where he’s just Ling instead of Emperor Ling.
Eventually they find a relatively private spot near a small patch of trees, stopping underneath one.
“So,” Ed begins, glancing at Ling with a playful glint in his eye. “The Emperor of Xing still gets embarrassed by kisses from his mommy?” Ling elbows him.
“Oh, shush,” he retorts. “I wasn’t embarrassed.”
“Sure you weren’t,” he teases. “That’s why your face got all red.”
“You are such an asshole sometimes,” Ling says, looking at him. He just laughs.
“She didn’t seem to like me very much,” Ed states seriously after a moment, eyes scanning over the people passing by. Ling shrugs.
“She’ll come around, eventually,” he replies, looking over at him. He’s glowing in the dim lighting, his eyes and hair brighter, shining against his tan skin. His hair is pulled back into a ponytail, accenting the sharpness of his jaw line and the curves of his cheekbones. Ling’s stomach flutters, wanting to reach out and take his hand, cup his face, kiss him. Instead, he simply says, “It’s not like you’re going anywhere.”
Ed smirks a little bit and elbows Ling gently. “No, you’re stuck with me, Ling Yao.”
The train between Amestris and Xing is completed a month and a half after Ed turns eighteen. Meaning, Ling is coming to Amestris for the first time in two years. And Ed is… weirdly nervous. He’s well aware it’s going to be fine. Mei has come to visit several times already so having Ling as a guest shouldn’t be any different. Nonetheless, Ed’s stomach is doing its weird flipping thing and he’s restless.
“Jeez, Ed,” Winry complains, looking up from the sketches she’s working on. “Could you sit down? Your pacing is making me anxious.”
“I am not pacing,” he retorts, stopping in the middle of the living room.
“You’re pacing,” Al deadpans, eyes not leaving his book. Ed scoffs, flopping on the couch next to him. His brother side-eyes him for the slight jostling, but doesn’t comment.
“You just spoke with Ling on the phone two days ago,” Winry says. “I don’t get what you’re so nervous about.”
“I’m not nervous,” he insists. “It’s just Ling, why would I be nervous?”
“That’s what I’m asking, Edward,” Winry says, eyebrows crinkling.
“I’d be nervous that he collapses from hunger again on his way here,” Al comments passively, turning a page, but not moving his thumb out of the way. He’s definitely not reading, Ed realizes, groaning slightly and sliding down the couch instead of pointing that out.
“Al,” Winry scolds, “don’t give him more to worry about!”
“Well, Ling is Ed’s soulmate. That’s enough to worry about already.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Ed snaps, looking over at his brother. Al finally makes eye contact, glint in his eye and brows raised.
“I’m just saying that the two of you get in a lot of trouble together.”
“We do not,” Ed argues, sitting back up.
“You two almost lit the roof of the palace on fire the last time we were there,” Al retorts, closing his book.
“That was an accident!” Ed hesitates, trying to figure out how to win this. “And that has nothing to do with us being soulmates! You and Winry are my soulmates too!”
Al gives him a not quite disappointed, but definitely mildly irritated look. “Brother, you know that that’s different.”
“No it’s not—”
“Ed, stop being obtuse,” Winry interjects. “We know you and Ling are dating! Even if you won’t just come out and say it, we can see that your soulmark for him is purple. It’s okay to just admit that things are different between you two!” Ed chokes on his own saliva. Somewhere between the nightly phone calls and weekly letters over the last eight or nine months, lavender had gradually blotted out the sage of Ling’s name, leaving only small patches of it to peek through. He swallows thickly.
“We’re not dating,” he insists, ignoring the rest of her statement. Winry groans.
“Edward, it’s fine! Do you really think that Al and I are going to judge you for that?”
“What? No! I just wanted to make it clear that we aren’t dating!”
“You call him every night, Ed,” Al adds, staring at him.
“Yeah, and you get all dopey when you get a letter from him,” Winry says, rolling her eyes a little.
“I do not—”
“But even if you two aren’t dating like you keep insisting,” she interrupts, “you still like him! Otherwise you wouldn’t have been pacing all morning and acting like a mother hen while getting the house ready for him!”
Just as he opens his mouth to refute all of that, there’s a knock at the door and Ed is on his feet and opening it before he even gets a chance to process what he’s doing. Really, he’s just grateful for the excuse to leave that conversation.
“Ling!” he says, stumbling backwards as the other teen nearly tackles him in an embrace. It’s been two years but he’s still not entirely used to being greeted that way.
“Hi, Ed,” Ling laughs softly into his ear. Pulling back, he looks him in the eye and says, “It’s good to see you again.”
“Yeah, it’s good—”
“Ling!” Winry greets, pencil lead smudged across her eyebrow. “It’s so nice to see you! How was the train?”
Ling releases Ed in favor of giving Winry a quick side hug. Ed leans back against the kitchen table, watching Ling ramble to her about the train and wave at Al and playfully ask about when they’re eating next. Something about just looking at him warms Ed inside and he doesn’t try to ignore it this time.
“Thank you, Mrs. Pinako. You’re a wonderful cook,” Ling says to Granny as Al collects his plate.
Granny huffs a little. “Well, considering you ate nearly five servings of it, I’d hope it was good. You’d think they’d feed you better as the Emperor of Xing.” It’s almost easy to forget that that is him. Emperor of Xing. Especially as he sits next to Ed at the kitchen table in casual traveling clothes, hair in a messy bun, and chin resting on his knee. It’s easier to believe he’s just some seventeen-year-old from Xing than the Emperor.
Ling laughs. “Yeah. It’s a two day trip by train so they make sure to ration our food on the way here.”
“Well, it’s nice that they feed you, at least,” Winry comments. “There’s a couple of train lines around here that you can be on for the majority of the day and food’s still not allowed.”
“That was always so annoying,” Ed groans. “I was always starving by the time I got to Central.”
“Didn’t make it better that the train usually was late due to sheep either,” Al adds, standing at the sink.
“You children and your traveling,” Granny mumbles, getting up from the table. “I’m going to bed. Wake me if you need anything.” With pointed eye contact with Ed, she adds, “Don’t burn my house down.”
“Jeeze, Granny. You have no faith in me, do you?”
“Goodnight,” she says instead of answering. Before closing her door, she states, “And Ling, it’s nice to finally meet you properly.”
“You as well,” Ling replies, a smile pulling at his cheeks.
“Well,” Winry starts, standing up as well and breaking the momentary silence. “I need to finish working on the arm that Mr. Hadley wants by the end of the week.”
“Have fun with that,” Ed tells her, as Al tells her goodnight and turns the sink faucet on. It’s quiet for a moment, water running and the light clink of dishes. Ling puts his foot back on the floor, straightening slightly.
“Hey, Ed, do you want to show me that thing you told me about in your last letter?” Ling asks, locking eyes with him. He’s giving him a weird look. Ed blinks, brain wracking for the contents of their last letter. He doesn’t remember having anything to show him.
“What thing?” he asks, eye brows knitting.
“I don’t remember exactly,” Ling answers purposefully, motioning with his head in the direction of Ed’s room. “It was something about some research you were doing.” It clicks.
“Oh, uh, yeah, sure,” he stammers, getting up from the table. “Al, do you need any help with—”
“Nope,” his brother interrupts, failing slightly at nonchalance by giggling a little. “Go entertain your guest, Brother.”
Ed rolls his eyes slightly. “Yeah, okay.”
He then silently leads Ling up the stairs and down the hall, back to his room. As Ed stops to turn the lamp on, Ling collapses onto his bed, sprawling out his limbs and getting comfortable. Ed rolls his eyes. Casual. It’s fine. Totally not suspicious or implying that this is anything more than two friends. Hanging out. In a room together. Platonically.
“I’m guessing you didn’t actually want to see my research,” Ed says simply, heart pounding.
“Oh, eventually, I’d love to look at it. I just wanted to catch up with you,” Ling answers, grinning at him.
“We spoke on the phone two days ago,” Ed huffs, shoving Ling’s leg over so he can sit on his own bed. “And we’ve been catching up since you got here.”
Ling chuckles and props himself up on his elbows. “It’s not the same and you know it.”
Ed just sighs and agrees, “Yeah, I know.”
“I’m really excited for the Sheep Festival,” Ling says genuinely.
Ed laughs. “You really shouldn’t be. It’s nothing compared to what you guys do in Xing.”
“Oh, please,” he insists. “You told me about how much you used to love it as a kid. I’m excited to see what it’s all about.”
“Sheep,” he deadpans back. Ling lets out a snicker at that, laying back down on Ed’s pillow. His stomach flips a little, wanting to climb on top of him and kiss that stupid grin on his face. He’s so close, Ed can just reach out and touch him and melt into his best friend. But instead he keeps his hands in his lap and eyes mostly forward.
Keeping his arm partially over his eyes, Ling eventually asks, “Do you remember when your grandmother walked in on us sharing a bed?”
Ed flushes, embarrassment surging through him at the memory. “Don’t remind me,” he groans. “You know, after that, she had a talk with me about safe sex practices.” Ling lets out a guffaw. “I’m serious! She really thought we were… I don’t know, hooking up or dating or whatever.”
“Better than my mom,” Ling chuckles. “She told me I could do better because you were too short.”
“What?! I’m not even short anymore! We’re practically the same height, Ling!”
“Not according to her,” he quips, moving his arm to smirk at Ed. Sometimes he really just wanted to smack him.
In lieu of physical violence, Ed scoffs, “Whatever… Wait, is that the reason she doesn’t like me?”
“Of course, she likes you,” Ling states, sitting up suddenly. “Do you not like her?”
“I—what—I like your mom, Ling,” Ed stammers, caught off guard by the question. “She just always seems so judgemental. It just feels like she doesn’t like me sometimes.” Something like relief comes out in Ling’s sigh.
“That’s just because she adores Lan Fan.”
“Yeah, well, Lan Fan’s had almost an entire decade’s worth of more time than me to win her over,” Ed complains, leaning back against the wall and over Ling’s legs. He probably squishes them slightly, as Ling removes one to drape over Ed’s lap.
“That is true,” Ling laughs. “But, what matters is that I like you better than Lan Fan.”
Ed forgets how to breathe. “I—what?” he chokes out, staring at Ling wide-eyed.
“I’m not joking,” Ling says seriously.
“I didn’t think you were,” Ed replies, shifting slightly to face him more. “But you’ve known Lan Fan your whole life, you bastard. I don’t think I can outrank her just because…” He trails off, words catching and dying in his throat as Ling unwraps his wrist. Ed’s name is still written there, plain as day, only it’s lavender with green speckles now. His heart nearly stops in his chest. He’d noticed a while ago that his own mark had been doing the same, but to see his name written that way makes something in his brain malfunction. And elation burns through his organs.
“I think I’m allowed to like you a little more,” Ling says softly, staring at Ed.
“No, you’re not,” Ed half-heartedly insists, trying to breathe properly. Laughing, Ling bumps Ed’s shoulder with his forehead and readjusts himself so he’s sitting on his legs.
“You are unbearable, Edward Elric,” he tells him earnestly, endearment leaking through his smile. Despite the hope rolling through his guts, Ed tries to make himself believe it’s schmaltzy, overly emphasized in some attempt to be annoying.
“Piss off, you—”
“Can I kiss you?” Ling interrupts, leaning forward and staring at Ed intently. Ed’s head goes completely empty, lungs pausing, heart stopping, mouth falling open slightly. Not even blinking, he just gawks at Ling. It’s as Ling starts to move back, panic replacing the fondness in his eyes that Ed’s brain finally processes what was said.
Not bothering to even respond, Ed yanks Ling in by the collar and kisses him. He weaves his fingers into his hair, loosening Ling’s bun as the other teen frantically grabs onto Ed’s shirt with a sharp exhale. Ed twists a little, bringing his legs up onto the mattress to better the angle, to get closer to Ling and the warmth radiating off of him. Taking it as a cue, Ling pulls back for a moment, sitting up to move his legs out from under him. Ed uses the opportunity to unclench his fist from Ling’s collar so he can cup his cheeks. He chuckles smally at the gesture, covering one of Ed’s hands with his own as he brings their lips together again.
It’s gentler this time. Ling’s mouth softly moves against his as his thumbs rub over the back of his hand and forearm. Ed relaxes into the touch, letting his brain catch up a little. His nose presses into Ling’s cheek slightly, the faint smell of something floral and the hand soap from the bathroom downstairs. He’s vaguely aware that his lips are chapped as they brush over Ling’s, but his brain is too preoccupied to care. Especially as Ling’s hand trails his arm, working its way down his side and fingers hooking into one of his belt loops, tugging him forward slightly. Ed’s breathing hitches and he pulls back to meet Ling’s eyes, pupils blown wide.
“Are you okay?” he whispers, letting go of Ed’s belt loop.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Ed replies, eyebrows knitting slightly.
“We’re not going too fast?”
“No, yeah, no, I’m fine. I promise, Ling,” he reassures, pressing another peck to Ling’s lips. Ling smiles into it, placing his hand on Ed’s side. Heat from his palm seems to emanate through him and Ed feels like he’s melting. Then Ling bites Ed’s bottom lip gently and pulls slightly.
“Can I take your shirt off then?” Ling murmurs, voice low with an unanticipated huskiness to it. Ed’s breath catches in his lungs, his brain flooding with the memory of Ling’s hands around his thigh, pressing into the skin there, pressing into his back at the festival in Xing, desperately wanting that contact to be skin-to-skin. Because Ed recklessly wants to touch and be touched that it frenzies his brain a little.
“Fuck yeah,” he breathes, already moving to undo his buttons. He only gets halfway down when Ling lifts it up and over his head.
The second his shirt is off, Ling’s lips are on his again, his hands running up and down, exploring Ed’s sides and abs and back. Ed burns. Ling’s calloused fingers are like a match running down his spine, igniting him like he’s made of paper. He’s honestly not certain he won’t disintegrate, gasping involuntarily as Ling’s palm brushes over his stomach.
Bracing his hands on Ling’s shoulders, Ed straddles his lap and moves his mouth to work along Ling’s jaw. Ling’s breathing hitches and he braids his fingers into Ed’s hair, pulling it slightly from his hair tie. His other hand rests on the back of Ed’s shoulder, thumb slipping under the edge of his binder.
Sitting back slightly, Ed mutters, “I want to keep my binder on.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” Ling replies, hand moving automatically away and leaning back in for a quick kiss. “Do you want my shirt off?”
A breathy laugh escapes Ed. “Hell yes,” he replies, trying his best to keep his voice down. He would probably spontaneously combust from mortification if Granny or Winry or Al walked in on them right now.
Ling just grins at him as they both reach to start undoing the belt around his happi. Ed’s stomach flips at the sight; it’s dopey and warm and just so endearing that Ed can’t help but smile back with another chuckle. If this were anyone else, Ed would find this all to be a bit mawkish, but he doesn’t care. Instead, he moves one of his fumbling hands to tilt Ling’s mouth back up to his. Seconds later, Ling is shrugging his shirt off, flinging it to the floor and fingers returning to Ed’s hair. As Ed’s fingers start to wander across Ling’s chest, Ling inhales sharply and pulls Ed closer to him, resulting in them both falling against the pillows, heads bumping, teeth clanking, Ed cursing.
Propping himself up on one arm, Ed pulls back. “You okay?” he asks, staring at Ling beneath him. He stomach twists, fighting the urge to just let his mouth trail kisses over Ling’s jaw and neck and chest and figure out what sounds might come out of him when he does.
“Yeah-heh,” Ling laughs. “I’ve dealt with worse… It helps that I’ve got a pretty good view from right here.” Ed’s face flushes.
“Shut up,” he grumbles.
“Make me,” Ling smirks and Ed’s impulse control goes out the window.
Their lips collide, Ling inhaling sharply and fingernails digging into Ed’s scalp a little. His other hand drops to the side of his thigh, clutching the metal and tissue there. Ed’s only vaguely aware of some noise that arises from his throat at the touch. His arm shakes a little, trying to keep himself from completely crushing Ling underneath him as he lets his other hand run down Ling’s chest and side. Ling seems to gasp, squeezing his thigh and swiping his tongue across Ed’s bottom lip. Rubbing his thumb over Ling’s stomach, Ed opens his mouth. The kiss dissolves into a flurry of spit and tongue, until Ed has enough and pulls away in favor of working his way across Ling’s jaw.
“Edward,” Ling sighs, his hand grabbing his shoulder for support. Ed shivers. His name has never sounded so nice. Ling’s fingernails scratch his skin a little, his pulse quickening against Ed’s lips.
Just as he reaches the nape of Ling’s neck, Ling tugs on his hair gently, stammering out, “H-hey, can we stop for a minute.” Ed lifts his head up, removing his hand from Ling’s side.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, sudden worry gnawing at him.
“Nothing, you’re fine. I just…” Ling hesitates for a second. “Where are we going with this, Ed?”
Ed blinks, heat rushing to his cheeks. “I—uh, well, I—this is the farthest I wanted, I don’t—”
“That’s not what I meant, Ed,” Ling laughs nervously. Ed’s eyebrows furrow.
“What the hell did you mean then?”
Ling swallows thickly, blush creeping along his cheeks as well. “Are we a couple now? I mean, do you want—”
“Yes,” Ed answers quickly and then hesitates. “I mean, only if you want to be.”
A blindly grin stretches across Ling’s face. “Of course, I do.”
“You two were up late last night,” Al comments. Ling partially ignores it in favor of sitting at the table and letting Ed respond.
“Yeah, and how would you know?” Ed asks sharply.
“Because we could all hear you two giggling through the walls,” Pinako grumbles. Ling bites the inside of his cheek to keep himself from saying anything or laughing uncomfortably as Ed makes a noise like he’s choking. “I’m actually surprised you’re up this early,” she continues, taking a sip of her coffee.
Ling shrugs, “I wanted breakfast.”
Al’s eyes bounce between the two of them for a second before locking with Ling’s. “Okay, Ling, be honest with me,” he starts, setting down his fork. “Are you two dating?”
“Al!” Ed scolds, nearly dropping the two plates he’s filling in order to smack his brother’s shoulder.
“I’m just curious! You’re grabbing him breakfast! You’d never do that for anyone else. Plus, you were up all night talking. I just want to know!”
“Yeah, we’re a couple,” Ling answers blithely.
“Ling!” Ed yells as Al nearly knocks his chair over standing up.
“Ed!” Al shouts right back. “Why didn’t you tell me? We just had a conversation about it yesterday—” Footsteps are thundering down the stairs behind them. Pinako sighs next to him, mumbling something about how loud teenagers are into her coffee as Ed yells at his brother.
“I heard everything upstairs!” Winry announces, somewhere behind him. Excitement drips off her voice as she continues, “Ed! When were you going to tell us?”
“I don’t know,” he rebuts, blush deepening and voice gradually going up an octave. “Eventually! I don’t get why it matters to you guys so much!”
Alphonse and Winry then do their best to attempt to talk over each other, reprimanding Ed for something to do with lying and being open with them. Ling’s really not listening, instead focused on how red Ed’s cheeks are getting. Laughing a little, he gets up from the table and walks over to take the plates from Ed. As their fingers brush, Ed stiffens a little.
“Hey,” Ling interrupts, “leave him alone. It’s honestly not that big of a deal. We can talk to you about it later, but I just want to eat breakfast right now.”
Winry huffs. “Fine. But I want to hear the full story. You better call me back down once you’re done eating,” she demands, heading back towards the stairs.
“Yeah, you have a lot of explaining to do, Brother,” Al states, sitting back down to finish his food. Ed takes a plate back from Ling, piling food on it for himself.
“Thanks,” he mumbles, barely above a whisper.
Smiling at him, Ling bumps his hip into Ed’s with a wink, causing him to stumble. “Of course,” he replies. Ed’s face somehow gets redder as he grumbles something under his breath that Ling doesn’t quite catch. Instead of asking, Ling sits back down at the table, Ed joining him a moment later.
Ling looks up and smiles at him. Ed quickly drops the eye contact, glancing at his brother and shoving a forkful of egg into his mouth. But under the table, Ed bumps Ling’s foot with his own, returning the affection in his own way with a quick glance.
Ling’s never been more in love.