He's a sinner, and he knows it. If there really is a God, and come Judgement Day Edward will have to face Him, he knows he will be dragged before the Lord chained and shackled like a criminal should be. Still, he can't seem to stop himself, and isn't consoled that his mistakes arise from feeling, from passion. He loved his mother, and for attempting to bring her back, was punished by losing his leg. He loved his brother, and Alphonse suffered for his mistakes—and then Edward consigned him to imprisonment in an unfeeling suit of armour, trapped him in cold steel, and merely lost his arm in the process. He should have learnt from this, but he doesn't seem capable of doing so.
The bedroom of his cramped little apartment is cold, picking up the chill from the late October air. Ed scowls—he will never get used to the weather here; it is so damn unpredictable, though 'wet' is generally a good description. He rests his fake shoulder against the windowpane with a sigh, then his head. He'll move away when these horrible prosthetics start to pick up the chill, but suddenly he is tired, tired of always chasing after his goals and injuring innocents in the process. He's done it, over and over again; his mother, Hughes, Al—and he's failed Al in so many ways, he feels almost nauseous just thinking about it.
"Admiring the view?" a voice behind him inquires, the vaguest hint of a German accent encroaching upon the words.
"This is London," Ed says dryly, "Any time you can see something through the rain, it has to be worth admiring."
"It's not that wet," Not-Alphonse says, coming to the window. "I mean, it didn't rain last night."
"No, it just rained yesterday afternoon. And yesterday morning. And the day before that. And the day before that."
"April showers?" Al offers with a laugh, as he idly combs his fingers through his hair. It's still wet from the shower, but the ends—down to his shoulder blades, now—are already dry, turning the honey-gold Ed knows so well.
"It's October, Al."
"Fine, fine." Al pushes off from the window, beginning to raid their chest of drawers for a pair of shorts. He lets the towel wrapped around his hips slip to the floor as he gets dressed. "Ed, are you going to stay there forever?"
"Mmm. I'm thinking."
Al pauses and frowns slightly, absently brushing a stray lock of hair behind his ear with a free hand before he continues fighting with his shorts. "What about?"
"Home, I guess," Ed says softly. "And my little brother."
"Oh." Al succeeds in pulling the shorts up, and then looks hesitant as the silence stretches out awkwardly.
"You got a letter from your sister this morning, by the way," Ed mutters, after a little while when the lack of speech begins grating on his nerves.
"From Winry?" Al perks up, and grins brightly. "What did she say?"
"No idea, haven't opened it," Ed replies casually. "I left it on the table."
"Oh. Be right back." Al vanishes, and Ed watches him go then stretches lazily. His right arm is indeed picking up the chill, and absently he rubs it as if to warm it, though he knows that's pointless. He should get in bed, he knows; it's dark outside as well as wet, and there's no heating in this devastated apartment, not since he failed to pay the last bill. Al wanders in before he can leave the window, though, still reading.
"Give me a moment," Al says impatiently, turning the letter onto the other side. When he finds no writing there, he folds it back up and slips it back into the envelope. "She's getting married on the twelfth of December, and she wants me to be there."
"Do you want to go?" Ed asks, and Al frowns.
"Yes, you." Al points the envelope at him. "You are my boyfriend, though I'd appreciate it if you didn't let that slip—my father may be liberal enough to give his blessing to Winry's marrying a Jew but I don't think he'd like this—and I'm not going back to Germany for six weeks alone."
"Don't argue, Ed." Al—normally so sweet and polite—can be ferocious when he wants to be, like now.
"Okay, okay," Ed replies around a yawn. "I'll go with you. Hohenheim's in Munich, anyway, and I probably should drop in on the old sod."
"That's a nice way to talk about your father," Al says with a half-smile. He drops the letter on the bedside table, picking up a hair band and twisting the half-dry mop into some semblance of a ponytail.
"Yeah. Well, he did—"
"I know, I know. He abandoned you, your brother and your mother when you were small, and you've never forgiven him, etcetera, etcetera," Al mimics. "Honestly, Ed, I've heard of long grudges, but this one's lasted since you were...?"
"Two," Ed says reluctantly.
Al makes a small noise of amusement and tweaks his ponytail a little, before flopping down on the bed. Ed takes a seat next to him, unbuttoning his shirt with the one hand. Al watches, but doesn't offer him any help with this; he knows it won't be welcomed, fiercely rejected. Still, Ed doesn't object to Al's helping him removing the prosthetics, laying them carefully under the bed. He used to sleep with them on, once, before he realised that Al honestly didn't care about him missing two limbs.
"Ed?" Al asks after he switches the lights off and climbs back into bed.
"Love you." And he snuggles up close at this point, arms around Ed's torso. He's warm, and smells familiar; Ed's heart constricts sharply, but he bites his lip and closes his eyes rather than respond.
His last thought before he falls asleep is to wonder whether his Al will be like this, too.
"You can't stay here all night, Edward," Hohenheim had said, leaning back in his chair.
"Just another hour?" Ed had pleaded, briefly looking up from his book. "I think I might be onto something here."
"You know you can come back tomorrow, and the day after that. Put a bookmark in and leave it on my desk. I want to go home and have something to eat, and I'm not leaving you behind."
Ed had glared at him and opened his mouth to say something, and Hohenheim had sighed, recognising the hurtful remark before Ed could voice it. He had leafed through his internal mail while waiting for Edward to say it. It would probably be something along the lines of 'didn't stop you before', and he knew that was true, and that he deserved it, but still...
The expected remark had not arrived, though, and Hohenheim had looked up to see his son staring past him, face abruptly pale. Confused, he'd turned to see what his son had been looking at to see—"Alphonse," he said in surprise.
"Ah—you recognise me, professor?" the boy had asked hopefully. He'd blushed slightly, and shifted his weight from foot to foot.
Not Edward's Alphonse, then. This was one of his second-year students, a bright boy with a wonderful eye for physics and mathematics both. "How can I help you?"
"I came to hand in my assignment," Al had said, awkwardly holding out a thick file. "I know you said it isn't due in for two weeks, but I thought if I handed it in early you could mark it and let me know how I can improve it in time for the final deadline."
Hohenheim had taken the file, opening it and scanning through the contents briefly. "Hmmm. Typed, I see."
"I borrowed a type-writer," Al had offered. "My handwriting is a problem, so I thought—But if you don't like, I could—-"
"No, no, it's fine," Hohenheim had waved his concerns away, turning back to his desk. "Have a seat. This should only take me half an hour."
"Aa—thank you, sir!" Alphonse had stammered, bowing deeply. "Ah—where should I-?"
"You could come over here," Edward had interrupted, and Al had looked at him for the first time.
There hadn't been any instantaneous sparks of attraction, at least not on Al's side. Ed's expression was carefully blank, but something in it must have said something to Al, because he smiled a little and hedged his way past Hohenheim's desk, crouching down next to Edward. Hohenheim had watched them for a moment, but Edward had been courteous and little more; presently he turned the radio on—the BBC were broadcasting some MP's long-winded speech about something or other—and leaned back in his chair, leafing through the sheets of paper.
"Hello," Alphonse said politely as he reached for one of the books Ed had strewn the floor around him with, flipping it to examine the title. The word had been pronounced with a German slant to it, and Ed had tipped his head and regarded Alphonse, thoughtfully.
"Guten tag," he'd replied cautiously, and Al's head had snapped up, eyes wide.
"Sie sprechen Deutsch?" he'd demanded, the edges of his mouth creasing into a light grin, and Edward had laughed.
"Nein, noch nicht sehr gut," he had admitted, and Al grinned good-naturedly.
"Dann sollen wir Englisch sprechen?" he offered, and switched immediately back into that tongue. "I'm impressed—most Brits struggle with French, and many don't bother learning German at all anymore, what with the Great War and all."
"I'm not British," Ed had said, mouth twitching. "My name is Edward."
"Very British name," Al had replied with a laugh. "I'm Alphonse. So, where do you come from, Edward? America? You don't sound it."
"Maybe." Ed had hedged, folding his hands into his lap, and Al had raised an eyebrow. "So, are you a student here?"
"Mmm. Mechanical Engineering, undergraduate. Second year. I've been in England since before the war, though, but my father only recently sent me the money to get into Cambridge—I'm sorry, stop me if I talk too much. It happens. So, what are you doing?"
"Nothing," Ed had replied with a yawn, stretching his arms above his head. "Hohenheim's my father. I'm just borrowing his library."
"Oh," Al said, and bit his lip. "So... why are you interested in Applied Mathematics?"
Ed had snorted. "I have a scientific heart, for all my lack of formal education," he'd answered, with a quick and easy grin that Alphonse had hesitantly mirrored. "There's something I can do with this stuff. I've been separated from my little brother, and I can use it to get back to him."
Alphonse had wordlessly taken Ed's notebook from his lap and leafed through it. "Not without carrying the y here, you can't," he'd said, tapping a finger on the equation in question before blushing. "I'm sorry. That was rude of me."
"It's fine," Ed had replied, and his smile had been infectious, teeth gleaming white. "This branch of maths isn't my strong point."
"It's not really mine, either," Al had muttered, ducking his head. "I'm only good at it because I study harder than everyone else, and soon that edge is going to disappear."
"What are you good at?" Ed had asked, closing his notebook and absently sticking a bookmark in the textbook he'd been arguing about with Hohenheim before Al's arrival.
"Art," Al had said, and laughed. "Don't ask me how I ended up doing this course, I don't know either. It's a very long story."
"Why don't you tell me over a drink?" Ed had asked, eyes glittering softly, and Al had blinked at him just as Hohenheim called, "Alphonse. I'm finished. Come over here, please."
"I'd like that," he'd admitted with a grin as he rose.
"Goddamnit, it's too early," Ed hisses as he wriggles further into the blankets.
"It's eight-thirty, I'm going to be late; get up now if you want to see me before I leave," Alphonse calls through the bedroom door, and then Edward can hear him resume rushing around in the kitchen.
"Damnit, Al," he grumbles, but thus bribed he struggles out of bed and glares at his prosthetics; eventually he compromises with himself and straps the leg on, rising and staggering into a seat at the kitchen table. "What do you have today?"
"A lecture with Professor Jackson and a tutorial, then we have a practical in the afternoon and I'll need to check out the library—I won't be back until five-thirty. What are you going to do?" Al demands in between cramming toast into his mouth with one hand and struggling with his shoelaces with the other. His accent is more prominent in the mornings and in times of stress, like now, and Ed smiles into his mug of coffee.
"I'm going to try looking for a job again," he says, at the mere idea his tone changing to a monotone born of many failed efforts. "We need the money, and there has to be someone who doesn't mind a cripple."
"You're not a—Ed. Stop wallowing in self-pity." Al hastily swallows his mouthful of toast and leans over to kiss the furrowed, puckered scar tissue where Ed's right arm should be. "Don't bother looking for work—we're leaving for Germany soon, we'll be there for six weeks, and you can look for a job when we come back. The rent's all paid up, right?"
"Yeah," Ed says, still marvelling at the gesture and how unconsciously it was made. "We're covered for the next two months."
"Good." Al's moving, grabbing his coat, which he'd flung over the back of a chair when he got home last night. "I don't mind what you do today, but please try and get dinner ready for the time I come home—jacket potato should be okay. And don't do anything stupid, Ed."
"Like what?" Ed protests, and Al kisses him briefly on the forehead.
"Like annoy the landlady like you did last week. Or get yourself arrested for loitering with malicious intent. Again."
"That was an unjust accusation!" Ed protests. "I maintain that I wasn't loitering with malicious intent, although I will admit to loitering with perfectly average intent."
Al snorts as he tugs on the lapels of his coat to straighten it. "Of course. See you later, okay?"
Ed watches him leave, fingers drumming the mug of coffee, and smirks to himself. In a moment he'll go and put that damned false arm on before getting dressed and heading to the public branch of the university library, but for now he's content to sit with his coffee, and a lazy sensation of peace.
"What's wrong with you? Al? You're mooning like a lovesick schoolgirl. Have you heard anything we've said so far?"
"Russell, that's not nice."
Al had snapped out of his daze, blinking at his two best friends. "Sorry," he'd said, picking at his sandwich. "I was miles away."
"We noticed," Rosanne had replied with a laugh, brushing one of her bangs behind her ears as she dipped her spoon into the restaurant's tomato soup. "Thinking about that boy again?"
"Edward," Al had replied, giving up on the sandwich. "We went out again last night to the Three Lions."
"Bad place to go for a fifth date," Russell had observed through a mouthful of ham sandwich, without looking up from his own notes. "The beer tastes like piss and the food isn't much better."
"It was the eighth time, not the fifth. And it wasn't a date!" Al had protested, sitting up, then slouching again and beginning to tear pieces off his own lunch. "I mean, I like him, I just don't think he likes me. Not, you know. Like that."
Rosanne smiled into her battered copy of Doctor Faustus, and Russell spared him an amused, slightly tolerant look before returning to his notes on the human digestive system.
"Oh, stop that," Al had said glumly, pillowing his chin on his hands. Russell—a second year medical student—smirked and reached out to poke him with his pen.
"What I do in a situation like this," he'd said firmly, "is to just kiss 'em."
Al glared at him. "This is another man, Russell. He might not even be interested. And besides, I'd hardly take your advice when it comes to this sort of thing, anyway."
This time it was Rosanne who made an incredulous sound, raising her eyebrows. "Al. He's kissed you. What more does he need to do?"
"Rose, we were both thoroughly wankered on that cheap vodka at the time," Al had said, waving a hand dismissively. "And I still haven't forgiven you for selling it to us at that extortionate price, Russell, you stupid git."
"I have to make a living, Al," Russell had replied cheerfully, flipping a page of his notes over. "I'm only in the second year of a long and gruelling medical course—-"
Rosanne had rolled her eyes. "If you ever end up as my doctor, I'll swear off medicine for life. I'd rather die of tuberculosis than imbibe anything you prescribe."
"Your confidence is awe-inspiring," Russell had exclaimed, blue eyes wide in that innocent look that charmed far too many of his fellow student's girlfriends. "But unfortunately, my dear Rose, surgeons generally don't prescribe anything. Except maybe dissection."
"Surgeon, general practitioner; what's the difference? You'll end up sleeping with the nurses and fathering a whole hoard of bastards either way, chauvinist." Rose had balled up her lunch wrapper and threw it at him, and Russell caught it with a wounded sigh.
"Rose, dear heart, you make me so sad. Now I shall have to burn all the ballads of love I wrote for you and fling myself off the top of St Paul's Cathedral." Al had laughed, ripping another bit off his sandwich and tossing it casually into his mouth.
"Please do," Rosanne had said, almost wistfully. "If your musical skills are anything like your artistic ones, then the world will be spared a fate worse than death."
Russell had turned to Al with an expression of great suffering. "Alphonse, see how she wounds me? O, are all Spanish beauties as cruel as you, my dearest Rosanne?"
"Only to you, Russell Tringham," she had replied, a smirk playing at the edge of her mouth, and then started, as the great clock outside struck one. "Oh, bother," she'd said, stuffing her notes back in her school satchel and counting out five pounds. "I have to go—got a meeting—-"
"Not your bloody Suffering Jeanette meetings again," Russell had groaned.
"Suffragettes," Rosanne had corrected with a scowl, brushing one of her bangs behind her ear—a nervous habit.
"I don't know why you're still supporting that stuff," Russell had complained. "You already got the vote in 1918."
"Do I look like a thirty-plus-year-old property owner?"
"No, Rose, you look like a twenty-one year old Spanish aristocrat, studying English in a prestigious foreign university because of your father's immense wealth—-"
"Russell. Leave it there," Al had cut in quickly, interrupting the developing argument. Rosanne had scowled at them both, then turned sharply on her heel, flinging her bag over her shoulder, and stalked off.
"I don't know what she's so upset at," Russell had snapped, mouth a tight line as he stuffed his notes into his text book and slammed it shut. "She's had it easy—-"
"Russell. Not now."
Russell had opened his mouth to say something, and then frowned, stuffing his book in his own bag. Al had put his sandwich down and reached for his tea, absently stirring it. A shadow grew behind him, and without turning his head, he asked, "What have you forgotten?"
"Nothing, I hope," said Ed, taking Rosanne's empty chair. Russell had blinked at them both and Al started, and then blushed; his earlier casualness vanished at the appearance of this beautiful familiar stranger.
"W-What are you doing here?"
"The coffee," Ed had said by way of explanation. "I can't brew a decent cup to save my life. What are you doing here, Al?"
"Lunch," Al had replied, cheeks flushed furiously. "I mean, that's what I was eating, of course, heh, I'm not now, um, I—-"
"Oh," Ed said, reaching over him to pinch a bit of his sandwich. "Mmm. Tastes good. So, are you going to introduce us?"
"Ah—'course—I'm sorry, Russell, this is Edward, um, Elric—-"
"'Edward 'Um' Elric?'"
"—Don't make fun of me—Um, yeah, Ed, this is Russell Tringham—his father's head of reconstructive surgery at Queen Mary's."
"The hospital in Sidcup?" Ed's eyebrows had lifted slightly, but his smile was warm. "So... what's—-"
"A branch of surgery designed to repair the faces of those severely mutilated in the Great War," Russell said. "I get that question all the time. So you're the Edward Al won't shut up about?"
"I guess so," Ed had replied cheerfully. "And you're the Russell Tringham who sold him the cheap 'Russian' vodka?"
Russell had tried not to look shifty, but failed miserably. "So... where are you from? Al never said."
"Somewhere very far away from here," Ed had said, evenly.
"Maybe I've heard of it," Russell had retaliated quietly, and the two were watching each other with an intensity Al didn't like. "My mother travelled to all sorts of places. Please, try me."
"Believe me," Ed had said with a small smile, "You've never heard of this place. Anyway, it was interesting meeting you; Al, I've gotta get back to the library—you want to meet up later?"
"Sure," Al had agreed softly. "Your place, at six?"
"Why not? Bring something to drink. Nothing you bought from Russell, thanks. Later," and he'd ruffled Al's hair before leaving, almost without thinking about it. Al watched him leave, and then turned back to Russell.
"I don't trust him," the boy had said almost immediately. "He's a rotten liar, Al."
"I like him," Al had whispered, picking again at the sandwich. "I like him a lot."
"Be careful," Russell had said, and that was all he would say on the subject for the rest of the day.