chapter 2.

It's too warm on the coach. Al's stripped off his coat and shirt, and opened the window next to them, but he's still far too hot; Ed has removed his coat and waistcoat, unbuttoning his shirt slightly, but refuses to bare his prosthetics to the world.

Al stretches lazily, curling his fingers above his head and unfolding his legs out as far as they will go in the cramped confines. He knows he can't really complain—Ed wanted to take the train from London to Dover, but he—stupidly—insisted that a coach would be cheaper and only a little bit slower. Still, at least they both agreed to hop from Dover to Calais by ferry, from there to Paris by train, another train to Berlin, a third train to Munich, and then to hitch a lift and drive for four hours out into the countryside where Al's family live.

"So, anything I should know about your family before I meet them?" Ed asks quietly beside him.

Al smiles and hides it behind his hand. "You'll like my sister. She's a bit of a tomboy, but she's uncannily sharp. And she's very, uh, violent."

"With what, wrenches?" Ed asks, the corners of his mouth twitching into a grin. Al casts him a quizzical sideways glance.

"Anything at hand, really," he says. "She once laid me out for three hours with an umbrella."

Ed lifts his eyebrows, a smirk bubbling beneath his smile, and says, "What about your parents?"

"Mother is all right," Al replies, hauling his bag onto his lap and beginning to rummage through it for his sandwiches. "She seems very small and innocent, but then you discover her firearm fascination."

"Ah?" Ed says, and grins as he accepts the sandwich Al offers him. "What's her name?"

"Elizabeth," Al mutters around a mouthful of ham and cheese. "Father calls her Eliza, though, after the character from Pride and Prejudice. She's German-born, but he's been teaching her English." He finishes the sandwich and licks his fingers thoughtfully. "We speak French, German and English in my family, though my English is the best. Father's from France, you see—he spent five years in America. Are you going to eat that sandwich?"

"You can have it, I'm not hungry," Ed says with a yawn. "So what's his name?"

"Jean," Al says, tearing another bite off. "He's always smoking, though Mother has taught him to go outside and do it. Feel free to make one of those oh-so-droll anti-French jokes the British are so fond of."

"I don't know any anti-French jokes," Ed complains. "Should I learn some?"

"Actually, father likes hearing them," Al says with a sigh. "He's a strange one."

Ed snorts, and then changes the subject with no warning at all. "So, Alphonse Havoc, huh?" he says, folding his hands on his lap. Al looks up sharply, and frowns.

"How did you know that was my surname?" he demands crossly, eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"I looked at my father's class list back when I first met you," Ed replies with another jaw-cracking yawn, stretching his arms above his head. Al scowls, looking out the window. Theirs is a strange relationship—they know so little about each other—but somehow it works, as though knowledge would throw a spanner in the works. He still doesn't know where Ed comes from, what he's doing, where he's going and why, for example. He knows that Ed used to be in the military—though why he left is a mystery—and that some kind of mistake cost him his limbs, and that he has a little brother he loves very much and wants to get back to. He knows Ed's mother is dead and his father abandoned them, and that Ed still hasn't forgiven the man. He knows, comparatively, so little, and yet he trusts Ed—loves him, even.

Well. His sister always said he was a fool. Better to be a happy fool with someone like Ed, than a miserable wise man.

"We're coming up to Dover," he says softly. "Have you got everything ready?"

"Yeah," Ed replies, shrugging his waistcoat and jacket back on. "You're handling the language stuff from now on—my French is abominable."

"I'm sure it's not that bad," Al protests with a laugh.

"It bloody well is," Ed retaliates, with a smirk. "The only things I know how to say generally run along the lines of such valuable and necessary day-to-day phrases as 'mon grandmere est on flambe'."

"Yes, I can see where that might be a problem," Al sighs, bundling his coat up in his arms and choosing not to comment on such little things as grammar and pronunciation. "Love you."

"Mmm. Heh, or how about 'j'habite un carton'—"

"Ed, now you're showing off," Al says with a grin. He looks around briefly, then leans over and presses his lips against Ed's temple. His lover smiles but offers no other immediate response, and Al turns back to look out of the window.

A few seconds later, Ed's real hand fumbles over his before squeezing gently, and he hides his grin in the grimy glass.

Ed's mouth had tasted of alcohol and little else. He'd been warm, his weight pressing Al down on the carpet, his hand slipping up under Al's shirt to lie flat against his stomach. Al had clenched his fingers on Ed's shoulders, pulling him further down; their teeth had knocked together clumsily and their tongues scraped together. One of Al's arms had made its way over the back of Ed's neck, the other slipping between their bodies to fumble with the buttons of Ed's shirt.

And then Ed had pulled away, wiping his mouth with the back of his good hand, expression utterly mortified. "God—Alphonse—"

"You bastard," Al had whispered, breathless and wanting. "Come back here."

"I can't—it's not right—I shouldn't have done that, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry—-"

Al had pushed himself back upright again, scowling. The kiss had been hot and perfect, and something he'd been wanting for at least eight months, and it had been just—unfair, for Ed to get cold feet now, after building up all his expectations about this. "Come here," he'd repeated softly.

Ed had shaken his head, hunched in on himself a few feet away. "Al—I—god, I'm so—-"

In the apartment next door, someone put some loud music on the gramophone. It had filtered through the crumbling grey walls, a lively swirl of piano music and violin; the Bolero, if Al recalled correctly. He'd closed his eyes and taken a deep breath. His father had once told him that to appreciate the Bolero, he should imagine a woman dancing; her dancing became more and more provocative as the music's rhythm increased, heading towards its finale. He tried to picture that woman, but all he had been able to think about had been Ed and he moving, two intertwined blurring trails of heat and light in the blackness behind his eyes.

"Stop apologising," Al had said with a sigh, then opened his eyes and held his arms out. "Come here, Ed." When Ed had refused, he'd frowned and said, "I don't know if you noticed, but you've gotten me all turned on. Come over here."

Ed had blinked at him, and then shakily risen to his feet, crossing the few yards between them before crashing down on his knees within touching distance. Al had curled his fingers around the back of his head, pulling him close, and then he'd smiled. Ed had blinked at him and some of the misery and anxiety had left his face; Al had leaned forward, closing the last few inches, and kissed him.

The kiss had been soft, and slow. Ed had screwed his eyes shut, his usually infallible mask so far gone it was unrecognisable, and tentatively leaned into it, his tongue brushing Al's. Al had patiently coaxed him into more, until when their mouths finally parted Al had once again been flat on the carpet, Ed leaning on top of him. He had been warm, and comfortable, and Al had been in no mood to push him away. He had raised a hand slowly, watching Ed's face for any resurfacing of his fear, and settled it around the back of Ed's head, tangling his fingers into the warm tail of golden hair.

"I like you," he'd said, earnestly. "Do you like me, or don't you?"

Ed had ducked his head and Al let him, understanding, somehow, his need to avoid eye contact. And any hurt he may have felt had been negated a few seconds later, when Ed whispered against his skin, "I want you."

"Good," he'd replied, swiftly unbuttoning Ed's shirt; their waistcoats and jackets had been discarded hours before, and he wondered vaguely where they'd left them before he slid the shirt off Ed's shoulders.

He'd sucked in a breath at the fake arm, reaching out to touch it, and Ed had flinched, but made no other movement. He'd run his hand over the smooth, cold metal, frowning, and caressed the leather strap that kept it in place. "Did it hurt?" he'd asked softly, and Ed had looked away.

"Yeah," he'd said. "It did." He had tried to pull away a little, but Al had tightened his grip. "It's not pretty—-"

Al had leaned up and kissed the hard surface, knotting his fingers over Ed's back. "I don't care," he'd said, "about what you're missing. I think you're beautiful."

Ed had blushed a brilliant red, and Al had laughed—a genuine laugh, a real one, one he hadn't felt since he'd left the familiarity of Germany for the cold hostility of these Londoners. "I like you, Edward Elric," he'd said, when he'd calmed down a little. "I think I want to keep you."

For some reason, these words had had a deep effect on Edward. He'd risen, pushing himself up and off Alphonse, and gotten to his feet. "You can't keep me," he'd said, beginning to re-button his shirt. The task was obviously difficult with just one hand, but the prosthetic hadn't been delicate enough to be much help in the action.

"I want to," Al had said with a frown. "What's the harm in that? You don't have a—god, how do they say it—commitment-phobia, do you?"

Ed had laughed self-mockingly. "I might have," he'd said. "Hohenheim did."

Al hadn't said anything, just looked at him, and Ed had relented.

"I made a promise," he'd admitted, after a while. "I promised myself that I would do anything to get back... home, to my little brother, and I—I can't have both you and him."

"Says who?" Al had demanded, pushing himself up onto his feet, too. "Why can't you have us both?"

"It just doesn't work that way," Ed had replied, and touched his cheek with a warm, slightly calloused hand. "I like you, Alphonse. I do. But it's not fair to my brother if I stay with you, and not fair to you if I leave you for him."

Al had looked down and said, quietly, "I've liked you since I first saw you. Now it's too late, Ed." He'd picked at his finger nails and added, in a low voice, "I love you."

"Fuck," Ed had said, and thrown himself down onto the sofa. "Fuck."

Al had wavered for a few minutes before cautiously taking a seat next to Ed. He hadn't tried to touch the stranger, with his gold eyes and hair and his fake limbs; he'd drawn his legs up onto the sofa and hunched up, wrapping his arms around his knees and hiding his face, and had tried his best not to sniffle.

He'd nearly jumped out of his skin when a gentle hand landed on the nape of his neck, beginning to rub softly. And when Ed shifted to close the gap between them, thigh pressed to thigh, and rested his own cheek on Al's shoulder, he'd been struck completely speechless by surprise.

Ed hadn't seemed to be in any hurry, either. He'd continued rubbing the back of Al's neck soothingly, and had reached over and placed his artificial hand onto Al's knee; when Al dipped forward a little, he had found Ed's eyes screwed shut tightly, mouth a hard line.

They had sat like that for hours, long after the noise of the city died out. The gramophone next door had sputtered and died, and Al had heard his neighbour curse it, hit it, then leave it alone.

Ed had been the one to break the silence, still not opening his eyes or lifting his head from Al's shoulder. "Do you know," he'd said, a little wistfully, "just how much you remind me of my brother?"

Al had caught his breath. He hadn't been stupid, or naive, even then. "If that why you don't want me?" he'd whispered. "Because I remind you of your brother?"

The corners of Ed's mouth had twitched downwards, and his eyes had opened slowly, a hazy, thoughtful gold. He hadn't looked at Al when he'd said, "He's my only brother."

"I'm not him," Al had replied swiftly, mind a total blank. "I'm not him, Ed. Please don't feel guilty." He'd unfolded one arm from his knees and snaked it under Ed's fake arm, to brush one of his bangs gently out of his face. Ed had turned and blinked at him, and Al had smiled, fingers sliding over Ed's skin before his hand had come to rest on Ed's cheekbone. "Please don't be guilty," he had repeated softly.

Ed had sucked in a deep breath—almost like a suppressed sob, only Ed never cried—and leaned into him again. Al had tucked an arm over his shoulders, and snuggled him gently. And somewhere in there it had gone from him holding Ed to him gently pushing Ed back on the sofa, unbuttoning his shirt to mark the scarred skin beneath it with his tongue. Ed's fingers had wound around the back of his head; he'd looked much younger than he really was when he'd said, "I don't know what to do."

Al had nibbled his lower lip before saying, "I do. Trust me. Let me take care of you."

Ed had smiled, closing his eyes, and Al hadn't understood what he'd meant when he'd said, "You've been doing that for years."

> Someone taps him on the shoulder, waking him up, and it takes a while for Al to reach full awareness. He blinks hazily at the man who woke him; Ed is a warm weight on his shoulder, snoring, and distantly he notices that the scenery outside the train window is slowing.

"Excusez-moi messieurs, nous sommes arrivés a Berlin," the man—wearing the uniform of the French railway staff, Al notes blearily—says, drumming a pencil on his notepad.

"Merci," Al replied, and has to force the word around a jaw-cracking yawn. He nudges Ed with his elbow, until his lover, too, opens his eyes.

"Vos billets, je vous pris."

"In your coat pocket," Ed mutters when Al begins a frantic search for their tickets. "I told you I should have them. You forget everything."

"Ssssh," Al snaps, blushing fiercely as he hands the tickets to the inspector. The man rips them in half, and hands the stubs back to them.

"Merci." He turns to go, and Al realises belatedly that there's something he forgot to plan.

"Excusez-moi monsieur, nous cherchons à nous rendre à Munich."

The man eyes them both—this bronze-eyed boy with the German lilt to his words, and his companion, with his unnerving gold eyes. He doesn't get paid enough for this, he thinks and pinches his nose. "Dirigez-vous au bureau d'information, plus loin dans la gare."

"Merci beaucoup," Al says with a relieved grin, and Ed snorts. The ticket inspector touches his hat and inclines his head to them, then moves onto the next carriage.

"What's he say?"

"You really should learn French at some point, Ed," Al sighs, and stands up to haul their suitcase from the overhead rail. "I asked him how to get to Munich, he told me to try the information desk in the station. That's all."

"Je suis un poisson rouge."

"I worry about you sometimes, I really do. Here, take this," and here he dumps the suitcase on Ed's lap, before straightening and tugging on his coat.

It's raining when they step off the train, a dull, thunderous roar on the corrugated-iron roofing. Al pulls his hood up with a deep sigh and sticks his hands in his pockets while he tries to get his bearings; Ed puts the suitcase down and massages his right shoulder as he waits. Finally—"This way," Al says, and Ed picks the suitcase up again and trails after him.

He leans against the counter while Al talks with the man staffing it. His German is much better than his French, but learned from a textbook; only occasionally does he try to speak to Al in his native tongue, and thus he isn't very good at catching words and phrases. He's hungry, too, and is thankful when Al pulls away with a cheerful, "Danke!"

"Is there any chance of catching some food?" he complains, as Al heads purposefully across the station towards the ticket-purchase desk.

"Yeah," Al says with a yawn. "The train to Munich leaves tomorrow morning, so we can stay here overnight at an inn and eat dinner in a restaurant. Ed, try to keep up—-"

"Trying," Ed says through gritted teeth some distance behind him, and Al practically skids to a stop and swivels to look back at him.

"Oh," he says, and presses his hand to his mouth before heading back to give Ed a hand up. "What happened?"

"I told you," Ed snarls, cheeks burning at the indignity of it all as he climbs slowly back to his feet, "I can't walk fast with this leg."

"I'm sorry," Al tries, attempting to take the suitcase from him. Ed stubbornly pulls it out of reach and starts walking forward again; he's limping, though, and obviously. Al frowns at his back, a little hurt by the abrupt dismissal but mostly annoyed at Ed's stubbornness.

Half-way to the ticket desk, Ed buckles again. He doesn't say anything when Al slips an arm under his shoulder to support him, or when Al picks up the suitcase, just tilts his head down, bangs hiding his face, and mutters, angrily, "God. I hate being a cripple."

Al wants to kiss him, hold him, make him stop feeling like this, but he can't; they're in the middle of a busy station. Instead he sets his jaw and promises himself that he'll teach Ed what he is and what he isn't, tonight, if Ed will let him. Until then, he simply squeezes Ed's shoulder softly, and helps him towards the ticket desk.