In the Company of Fools
It was the day of Ran Fan's surgery, but the screams that echoed about the streets of Rush Valley did not belong to her.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO HER?!"
"LING, GET THE HELL AWAY FROM THERE!"
"GET YOUR HANDS OFF OF ME!"
"Brother, Ling, you're going to get in the way!!"
Then a final roar from one Winry Rockbell: "OUT! ALL OF YOU! ...Except you, Al. You can help."
And thus the two males were booted out of the room.
Outside, Ed finally let go of Ling and they spent a moment glaring at each other silently.
Ling opened his mouth to speak, but Ed cut him off- "You don't have to worry. Winry knows what she's doing. She'll be okay."
At that, Ling seemed to forget what he was about to say, and frowned instead. After another moment, which they both spent calming their nerves, he crouched down and Ed leaned back against the wall. They watched the people pass by in the streets, many of them sporting metal limbs.
"...She did that to you once too, yes?"
"And she's been making my limbs ever since. You already know that."
Ed grimaced, remembering the humiliation of having his arm reconnected while Ling and his bodyguards watched him writhe in pain.
Ling seemed to be thinking of something else entirely. He spoke again, voice serious but controlled. "I have a question. I'd like you to answer it honestly."
"How much does it hurt?"
Ed blinked, then replied bluntly, "Worse than losing the arm in the first place."
"....." Ling's frown deepened, but with a stubborn confidence. "She is strong. She will survive."
Ed couldn't help but smirk at that. "Yeah, I don't doubt it. If I could do it when I'm eleven, I'd say she will too."
Ling raised his eyebrows. "When you were eleven? ...Just how did you lose that arm, anyway?"
Suddenly a loud shriek emanated from the building, sending shudders down both their backs. The citizens of Rush Valley simply continued going about their business, as if this were the most natural thing in the world.
It took about a minute for both of them to calm down again after that unpleasant reminder of what went on behind the wall. There heard some clanking noises of Al bustling about inside, but otherwise silence was allowed to settle once more.
Ed found himself with a dilemma. He didn't often tell the truth about his past to the people around him. Who else knew? Izumi-sensei, Colonel Mustang, First Lieutenant Hawkeye, Major Armstrong...most of the others were appeased with the lie that it had been the civil war that robbed him of his limbs. But now...?
He glanced at Ling. The young prince continued staring straight ahead. He couldn't tell if he was waiting for an answer or not. If he wanted to, Ed could just pretend that he hadn't heard the question, or that he'd forgotten that it had been asked.
But... Ed gulped. He couldn't deny that, despite how annoyed he was in the beginning, Ed had come to hold some respect for Ling in the past...was it only weeks ago that all that had happened? Unbelievable.
And...thinking back, after what they'd gone through, didn't Ling deserve to know something so basic? What harm would come of it, anyway? Didn't he...trust him?
"Who would trust a bastard with that kind of look in his eyes?!" Oh, what irony.
Ling looked up. "What did you say?"
Ed said it again, a little louder. He muttered, "M-my little brother and I wanted to bring our mother back to life. It was a forbidden act, and we failed. I...lost my leg in the trade, and Al, his body. Then I gave up my arm to attach his soul, and...that's about it. All that for nothing." He finished with what was meant to be a chuckle, but came out as a squeak. "It'd be laughably stupid if it weren't so serious."
Ling digested this slowly, not being familiar with their alchemy. Then he nodded. "Ah." And that was all.
That was all.
Ed wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but it wasn't this. Not...acceptance. Surely Ling understood how wrong they had been in doing that. By now he knew very well that Ling Yao was nothing but stupid.
He looked ahead again, and saw a group of children gathered around a shop across the street, marveling at the new style of racing bikes displayed in the window. He soon realized that they were his age. And yet for some reason he'd labeled them as 'children' in his mind from the start.
"That must have been difficult," said Ling.
Ed snorted. "Understatement much?"
"I almost died at that age too, you know," the young man went on. "I remember, I woke up in my sleep to find three assasins surrounding my bed. I only managed to survive because I'd hidden a dagger beneath my pillow that night. Needed many bowls of rice to recover afterward."
Ed was affectively shut up.
"I was still a fool back then." Ling looked down at his feet. "Ever since, I've kept a sword at hand whenever possible."
"Don't you...ever get tired of that?" It was an honest question.
"Don't you?" So was that.
And they had nothing more to say.
The first stage of the surgery ended at twilight. The two boys parted ways with a casual wave, the prince to tend to his guard fevered with pain; the alchemist, to his brother who couldn't feel pain at all.