chapter 3.

It's a cheap inn, right next to the station. Al had already gotten the name of a more reputable one half-way across Berlin, but he knows that Ed isn't up to walking that far on that leg, and there had been no cabs waiting outside the station as per usual. He supposes it doesn't matter; tomorrow they'll be on a train towards Munich, and really all that he requires of this place is a bed and some relatively thick walls.

He dumps their suitcase on the dresser and spills Ed onto the bed, running his hands through his hair. Behind him, as he heads back to the suitcase to look for a toothbrush, Ed carefully undoes the prosthetic arm; it falls onto the bedcovers without a sound, and Ed swiftly bundles it up and pushes it over the edge. It lands on the floor with a clatter that makes Al jump.

"Ed," he says with a frown, and Ed smirks at him. "How is your leg?"

"Fine," Ed replies cheerfully; Al, not fooled, comes over and sits beside him.

"Let me see."

"It's fine, Al," Ed says, forcefully. Al scowls at him and pushes at his left shoulder; Ed pushes back and they end up sprawled over the covers, Ed face-down with Al kneeling on his back, having twisted his arm behind him and pinning it there. "Get off me—"

"I just want to look at your leg," Al says, and kisses the back of his neck. "Come on, Ed. Let me?"

Ed remains tense for a few long seconds, and Al lays a long line of kisses from the back of his neck, over his throat, jaw and cheek before finishing with his temple. Ed shivers slightly at the sensation, and then relaxes slowly, and even further when Al sits up and begins kneading the muscles of his back and shoulder.

When Ed is perfectly relaxed and sleepy, Al pushes him onto his back and undoes his boots. He drops them off the side of the bed, and Ed's trousers follow before he dips his head and hesitantly brushes his fingers over the line of Ed's metal leg, where it touches his skin. The content drowsiness in Ed's eyes vanishes sharply and he bolts upright, bracing himself with a hand on the sheets; Al shushes him, distractedly, and carefully removes the artificial leg, placing it gently beside Ed's arm.

The stump of Ed's leg is red and evidently painful, judging from how quickly Ed scoots back when Al's fingers ghost over it. "Ed," he says reproachfully, and Ed's shoulders stiffen. "It was rubbing again, wasn't it?"

"'S nothing," Ed mutters, pointedly not looking at him. "I just didn't put it on properly this morning. That's all."

"You should have said!" Al snaps. "We could have stopped in a public bathroom and you could have adjusted it, or something!" He runs both hands through his hair, well and truly exasperated by Ed's thrice-damned stubbornness.

"I didn't want to bother you," Ed replies, with as much of a shrug as he can do with only one full shoulder, and Al sputters for a few long moments. He pinches the bridge of his nose and takes a deep breath before turning back to Ed, and is surprised to see a moment of unguarded pain in Ed's eyes.

"What?" he asks, cautiously.

Ed shakes his head abruptly, dispelling the moment, and brushes one of his bangs behind his ear with his good hand. "Nothing," he says, with another shrug. "You just... reminded me of my brother. He always used to do that when he got fed up with me."

Al blinks at him, unsure what to say. He always is, whenever Ed mentions this elusive brother of his, and wonders if Ed does it deliberately. Well, he decides firmly, he has no intention of being distracted this time.

He scoots closer, kneeling in front of Ed; and, watching his face carefully as he does so, reaches out to touch the cut-off stump of his shoulder. Ed starts, then tries to jerk back; Al's other hand encircles his left wrist, pulling him forward instead, and he falls against Al's chest hard enough to bang his jaw painfully on Al's shoulder. "Ow," Al says with a wince, and then ignores this in light of the tension in Ed's shoulders, the way Ed shivers softly against his body. "Hey," he murmurs, rubbing his cheek against Ed's temple. With a muffled curse, Ed tilts his head and presses his face into the junction between Al's neck and shoulder; he doesn't resist when Al's hands slide slowly between them, and start undoing buttons.

Ed's left hand is gripping his shoulder tightly, though whether he means to draw Al closer or push him away is uncertain. Al decides to hope it is the former, and gently unpeels his fingers in order to slide Ed's jacket, waistcoat, shirt and undershirt off. "You wear too much," he accuses, and Ed's shoulders twitch in return.

Ed naked is a thing of beauty, despite—or perhaps because of—his many physical flaws. Al traces light fingertips over the broad scars on Ed's back, though he already knows exactly where each scar lies, and tries to guess where he got each of them from. Ed's hand returns to its grip on his shoulder, and his fingers twitch once, before he pulls himself away from Al's body.

His eyes are that red colour they get when he's just about managed to suppress tears, and Al settles his hands on Ed's cheeks and tilts his head up for a kiss. It's slow and long and Ed hiccoughs twice, but it still has a sense of urgency, and Al isn't surprised that as soon as they break apart, Ed's hand fumbles with his clothes, too, untucking his shirt from his pants.

He lies back and lets Ed undress him, having already decided that he will not offer help in this. If Ed insists on thinking that he's a cripple, then he'll need to know the difference between being handicapped, and relying entirely on someone else.

Ed curses his belt, and leans down to pull the end of the leather strip through the buckle with his teeth. Al raps him sharply on the shoulder—"No teethmarks in the leather, all right?"—and then idly stretches his arms above his head, watching Ed pull it off, then rapidly unfasten his pants. They, along with his underwear, are dumped hastily to one side of the bed, and then Ed is back to fumbling with the buttons of his waistcoat, eventually again resorting to using his teeth to help. It takes a while to get Al undressed, but Al never once stirs himself to offer assistance, merely watching quietly.

Once Al is naked Ed pauses, uncertainly, and Al smiles. Ed's never been on top before. At first he didn't have the experience, but then he didn't seem to want to be; this will be a new experience for them both. "The oil's in the suitcase, Ed," he offers, after a few minutes have been and passed.

"I know that," Ed replies, but he's blushing. Al smiles and tips his head back to stare up at the ceiling, more to spare Ed the embarrassment of being watched while he hops, one-legged, over to the room's dresser, than anything else.

Ed falls onto the bed on the way back, face a bright red, and Al studiously avoids meeting his gaze. He carries on staring up at the ceiling while Ed puts the little murky bottle, purchased in one of Leicester Square's more... unique shops, on the floor by one of the bed's legs. He crawls over to Al, and there's a certain hesitance in his motions; Al folds his arms behind his head and pointedly glances down at his chest. Good grief. With the amount of time he's done it for Ed, he thinks dryly, there should be no excuses for not understanding the basics of foreplay.

"Where do I start?" Nervous, though trying to hide it. Al doesn't sigh, or tut, or roll his eyes; instead he unfolds his arms and brushes the back of the fingers of one hand over Ed's cheek.

"Your mouth, my chest. Suck. You can suck other parts of me later, but this is generally a good start. You don't need to do much, I'm already half-way there," he adds, gesturing to his groin. Ed blushes furiously, and Al can only conclude it must be a British thing. They're all astounding prudes over there—although having said that, he's not entirely certain Ed is British. It doesn't explain why he still blushes like that, though, not since Al taught him how to give good oral sex over three months ago, with plenty of practical examinations.

He doesn't have time to think any more, however, as Ed's mouth closes gently over one nipple. It feels wonderful, all warmth and wetness, and he feels a spike of lust shooting through his crotch just at this much contact. Maybe it's Ed's blushing virgin act, or maybe it's just Ed himself, but Al knows from past experience that Ed can get him harder than anyone else without even trying.

He shudders as Ed clumsily nips at the hard little bud, and moans softly as his tongue swirls around it. Ed pauses, raising his head from Al's chest, and Al makes a frantic 'carry on' motion with one hand. He writhes slowly on the sheets as Ed sucks and teases and nibbles first one, then the other, of his nipples, and Ed has to break away to watch him, obviously aroused by the sinuous, sexy motion Al makes so unconsciously.

Ed crawls up Al's body to kiss him, and Al tips his head up to bare his throat to his lover. Ed takes the hint and ducks down, kissing and nipping at the sensitive skin, while Al clings to his shoulders and shudders helplessly underneath him, feeling the heat of Ed's hardness dangerously close to his own. Ed must be feeling this, too, because he pushes Al's head up to nibble on his jaw, and then dips his hips, bringing their groins together in a motion that makes Al gasp and spasm, bucking wantonly up against Ed's lean body.

Ed suddenly chooses to slide down Al's body, hand slipping through the sweat slicking Al's skin and leaving trails behind as he goes. He stops at Al's groin, and Al is just blearily pushing himself up onto his elbows to demand he do something when Ed laps lightly at the head of his cock.

Al's gasp is enough to tell Ed that he is ready. He sits back, ignoring a slurred protest, and carefully leans over the edge of the bed to grab the bottle of oil. "Roll over," he says; making a sharp motion to that effect with his hand, and hearing the oil slosh inside the bottle as he does so.

"Why?" Al asks sleepily, and Ed scowls.

"Because I have most of a leg missing, Al," he says curtly, and Al rolls over without another word, spreading his legs quietly over the sheets. This is going to leave one hell of a mess, Ed thinks glumly, and wonders how much they'll have to bribe room service not to talk about it. Al twitches, then, and his attention is back on the here-and-now; he clamps the bottle between his thighs, and squeezes as he unscrews the lid. "Uh, Al?"


"... Bit of help here?" Al raises his head from the duvet and turns to look at him, and he holds the unscrewed bottle out, sheepishly. Without another word, Al takes it and tips the amount he needs onto Ed's palm, then screws the cap back on before dropping it on the bed and resuming his original position. Ed mutters brief, slightly embarrassed thanks, and situates himself between Al's thighs, cautiously reaching out to touch.

"Go slowly," Al says quietly, without even turning to look back at him, and Ed gulps as he slips the first oil-slick finger into him up to the first joint. Al starts, and shivers. "Cold," he says, in response to Ed's muted note of inquiry; Ed leans forward and kisses the small of his back.

Al tries not to let any discomfort show, either on his face or his body language, but he can't help flinching when Ed pushes in a bit too fast. Seeing this, Ed whispers an apology, but to be honest it wasn't really painful as much as unexpected. Ed is stretching him comparatively gently to how Al did it the first time they had sex, and he knows that he has no grounds on which to complain. It doesn't hurt when Ed adds a second finger, or a third, especially not when he finds—ah. Ah. That's good.

"Al?" Ed asks, worry in his voice. "Are you okay? You've stopped moving—"

"'M fine," Al slurs. "I should be all right now."

"You're sure?"

"Just hurry up before I kill you out of unsatiated lust," Al says, turning to grin over his shoulder. There's still a little bit of a blush on Ed's cheeks, like he's currently not fumbling for the little bottle of lube; Al leans over, unscrews it, and puts more on his hand for him. Ed mutters terse thanks, stroking the liquid over his cock, and Al smiles as he puts the cap back on and drops it off the edge of the bed.

"How are we going to do this?" Ed asks abruptly, and Al looks back over his shoulder again, lifting his eyebrows. "I mean..." he gestures at the stub of his leg and Al frowns, then pushes himself back up. "Al?"

"You've still got a lap, haven't you?" Al asks dryly as he straddles it. Ed's eyes are wide, and Al rubs his cheek mildly against Ed's own. They're such beautiful eyes, he thinks, with that wonderful bright golden gleam to them that can say so much sometimes. He grips Ed's shoulders, lower legs flat on the bed on either side of Ed's thighs, and very cautiously, lowers himself down. Ed snaps out of his daze and remembers himself enough to guide himself in, and Al gasps at the penetration. It doesn't hurt, but it certainly feels odd—longer than Ed's fingers, and bigger. Ed wraps an arm around Al's waist and Al pushes out slowly as he goes down, to make his lover's cock reach a better angle, and finally comes to rest, panting helplessly.

"God," Ed whispers in his ear. Al moans softly as Ed's single arm flexes, and he remembers to carefully push himself up, using Ed's shoulders as supports. Ed may be seemingly quite small—something he's learned never to say aloud—but he's strong, and the muscles in his arm are firm and well developed.

Not unlike another part of Ed, Al thinks with a wince as Ed's arm tugs him down and the blond thrusts into him. This motion carries the promise of pleasure, though, and the pain of initial penetration is fading thanks to the stretching Ed gave him, and the oil coating his cock only helps. Soon there's only a vague sense of discomfort, a warning that he's going to be aching like a bitch in the morning, but for now, with Ed's thrusts sending a wave of something warm from his fingertips to his toes, it's worth it.

"Al," Ed says softly, trailing off on a gasp. Al grits his teeth and moans as Ed hits the right angle, screwing his eyes shut and clawing slightly at Ed's back with the blunt stubs of his fingernails. "Al. Are you—nngh—are you o—okay with this?"

Al doesn't answer; he's so far gone he doesn't even hear what Ed is saying. He whimpers at Ed's next thrust, tipping his head back and baring his throat, and moans as Ed kisses the line of sensitive skin. "Yes," he breathes, and then growls against another stab of pleasure.

Ed chooses to accept this as his answer and leans up, meeting Al's mouth with his for a last kiss. A few more thrusts, steady, firm; and he's coming, still buried inside Al, lost in the pleasure but some small part of him retaining enough sense to be embarrassed at being the first to reach orgasm. He doesn't let himself remain in his daze for long, letting his hand slide slowly down Al's shoulders, over the sharpness of his collarbone and down his chest, then his stomach, to capture him in a firm grip, and begins to pump slowly. It doesn't take very long for Al to tip over the edge, going boneless as he comes; Ed catches him quickly with the one arm and supports him, easing him back slowly to lay him down on the bed and pulling out of him before collapsing, spent, by his side.

They don't say anything for a few minutes, simply concentrating on letting their breathing slow and the world return to normal. Time seems to slow whenever they have sex, but in the downtime, Ed can hear normal life continuing as though nothing had happened. A car horn sounds just outside the window. The couple in the next room launch a vicious argument. The light bulb just above their bed flickers, but doesn't die, and through it all he's made painfully aware of Al's presence. The other man is curled against him, skin slick with sweat and stomach spattered with his own come; Ed can feel the slickness of it on his own hand and chest, and reminds himself that he needs to clean up. Al is breathing steadily, eyes half-lidded, and for a while Ed is content simply to watch the rise and fall of his chest. Alphonse's skin is the same shade as his Al's would be, he's sure, and his hair—though longer at the back—is cut the same.

The resemblance brings a sudden pang of—something, in his chest. He's not sure what, exactly—nostalgia, guilt, desire; he's been living on a combination of those things since he and Al first met, and by now he's forgotten how just one might feel. It hurts, a little, seeing his brother-but-not, someone so similar but different. This Al never had to go through what Al did, untouched by the kind of suffering Alphonse Elric endured, and he's not sure whether that is the most attractive thing about him.

He wonders a little, staring up at the buzzing light bulb, why he let himself do this. He knows, objectively, that this Al isn't his brother, and thus it's okay—for a given value of 'okay'—to touch him, kiss him, fuck him. To take advantage of him, as an outlet for his own sick, perverted lust. He wonders if this is a good thing; even if he'd restored Al and hadn't ended up on this side of the gate, he knows there would be no way he would have ever let himself succumb to his desire, no way he would ever have seduced his brother into his bed like he did with this Al. Mind you, he thinks, it wasn't like it took a lot of seducing. This Alphonse had come willingly, taking control out of his hands when his inexperience had seemed about to destroy the moment. Since then he'd been patiently tutoring Ed in what to do, and how to do it, with a kind of ease that spoke of a great deal of practical experimentation, and that wasn't the Al he'd left back home.

Back before he stopped lying to himself, back when he'd just started sleeping with Alphonse, and was in denial about his feelings for his own Alphonse—he'd gone to a Catholic confessional. He hadn't known why, at the time, though later he'd come up with plenty of reasons; the anonymous nature of the confessional, the priests sworn to secrecy, and a need to talk where none could hear. He didn't believe in God, he'd told the middle-aged priest as soon as he sat down, but he thought he needed help. The priest had hummed, and then laughed, surprising Edward considerably. "You may not believe in God," the man had said, a light Scottish accent diluting his words, "but He believes in you."

It probably hadn't meant anything to the priest, just a throwaway comment by a man so secure in his so-called 'faith' he couldn't even contemplate the prospect of being wrong. They had discussed religion together, not quite getting round to talking about the things he'd originally came to talk about, but Edward had thought about it on the way home; hands in his pockets against the winter chill, padding through the dark streets of Camden Town, past whores and drug-dealers and closing-time students, pissed out of their heads and spilling out from the pubs, headed back to their dorms. Did it really matter, ultimately, what you believed? The priest believed in God, couldn't imagine a world without one. He'd believed atheists were like small, lost sheep, waiting to be swept back to the path of reason by God the shepherd. While Edward found the idea vaguely insulting, he couldn't help but think about it. Beliefs dictated what people did, what they thought or said, how they lived their lives, and it didn't really matter whether they were wrong or right. He hadn't believed in the Gate, but it hadn't really cared about what he believed, just took and took, and gave so little in return.

His brother had believed in him, and had been betrayed. Al's reward for his misguided 'faith' had been six years, six years he'd spent trapped in cold grey steel due to Edward's pride, Edward's arrogance.

He didn't believe in this world's Alphonse, but that didn't matter, since he believed in Ed. Maybe this would be a version of Al he wouldn't destroy. Maybe this would be a version of Al he would be able to help.

He'd quickened his step, arriving home shortly before midnight. Alphonse had been waiting for him, sitting at the kitchen table. There had been a power cut, and the lights had gone; Alphonse had been illuminated in the light cast from a half-dozen candles, wavering and flickering, ever-changing. "Where did you go?" he'd asked softly.

"I needed to think," Ed had replied, peeling off his coat. When he risked a glance over his shoulder, Alphonse had been smiling. The other boy—no boy, really, but a man like himself, now—had licked his thumb and forefinger, and then pinched out all but one of the candles.

"Come to bed with me?" he'd asked, his tone both hesitant challenge and clumsy, sweet invitation. Edward had smiled: acceptance.

He's been telling himself, time and time again, that he's attracted to this Al because of who he is as a person, not because of who he reminds Ed of. But sometimes, when this Al does something that reminds him sharply of the other Al, he'll know that's not true. His feelings for the two Als are blurring, meshing together smoothly, and that frightens him. He's not the type of person to desire his own brother, not after everything they've been through together. It's wrong, and sick, and perverted; he feels almost nauseous with guilt just thinking about it, just thinking about the sex he just had with this Al and imagining his brother in Alphonse Havoc's place.

He squeezes his eyes tight shut and swallows against the shame. He's not a monster. He'd never simply take and use this Al as an outlet for his incestuous desire. That would be even worse than simply wanting his brother in the first place, since with the latter, he's only fucking himself up, while with the former this world's Alphonse will suffer for it, too.

"Ed?" Al asks softly beside him, and he starts in surprise and guilt. Al pushes himself up on his elbows, leaning over him, and lightly brushes his nose against Edward's. "You still think you're a cripple now?"

It takes Ed a few minutes to realise what Al's talking about, distracted as he was, and only remembers when Al lightly strokes long, cool fingers over the swollen, irritated, reddened flesh that is the end of the stump of his leg. "That's what this was all about?"

"Mmm," Al replies mildly. He leans over and presses his lips against Ed's; a tender, loving motion. "I just wanted to prove a point, really, though the sex was of course extremely welcome."

"And what point would that be?" Ed inquires, lifting his eyebrows haughtily. Al smiles and pushes himself back down, to snuggle up against Ed's body, fitting one of his legs between the remnents of Ed's and using his shoulder as a pillow, an arm draped heavily over his chest.

"That you're not a cripple," he says after a little while. "Cripples can't do what you do, you know."

"Cripples can't have sex?" Ed says, and then smirks. "Al, even if I was missing all four limbs I could still—"

"Not that," Al interrupts swiftly. "Well, not just that," he adds after a moment's thought. "I mean, you are independent. You don't need to rely on anyone for day-to-day tasks, like bathing or eating—"

"—Except for the bits where I have to get someone else to cut up my food for me," Ed says sourly, looking away as if that could hide his humiliated blush. Al rears up and frowns at him, but he can't refute that statement; with only one hand, Ed ends up chasing the meat around the plate with his knife more often than not. Al, who cooks most of their meals, cuts it up for him in the kitchen before he even serves it, knowing the metal hand isn't sensitive enough to close around something as small as a knife or fork.

"All right, you can't eat... politely," Al says with a dismissive wave, after taking a few seconds to think of the word. "But with the prosthetics you can cook, and you can eat well enough, provided you're not expected to dine with the King of England. You can walk, you can run, you can read books, you can write, talk, dress yourself, and fix a broken radio; you don't need help with these things. As you just proved, you can fuck me, I can fuck you, and as you've shown before, you can use your hand and your mouth perfectly well for sex. You can—"

"All right! That's enough, already!" Ed's blush has travelled past his cheeks, down his neck and shoulders, and is spreading over his chest; Al laughs and slides a hand down to twine with his. "You made your point," Ed mutters.

"Still think you're a cripple?"

Ed hesitates before answering, not wanting to lie to Al, not when he's being so earnest and trying so hard. On the one hand, he has always thought of himself as a cripple, since he lost his limbs in the first place. Even having the automail didn't change his mind; he was always aware that the brittle steel prosthetics could break at any time, and though he knew intellectually that they were much tougher than his real limbs, it still felt like they were much more delicate.

On the other hand, Al has a point. He can cope well enough with just an arm and a leg, though things are made much easier if he has the prosthetic leg. He hates this fake arm, useless compared to automail, and has used every excuse he can find to not wear it; he's gotten on just fine with only one hand, in the two years he's been here.

"Yes," he says eventually, stretching. "But somehow, the thought doesn't sting so much anymore."

Al looks conflicted for a moment, evidently expecting either a 'yes' or a 'no', but eventually he smiles, and leans over to kiss Ed again. "Go to sleep," he orders, pulling and tugging on the slightly-soiled, mostly-rumpled covers to get them wrapped tightly around Ed. "We have to get up early tomorrow, for the train."

"All right," Ed replies, stifling a yawn. "G'night, Al."

"'Night," Al says softly, slipping out of bed and into the bathroom to fetch some rags. When he returns, Ed is drowsy; he flips the covers back and hands Ed one of the rags, to clean himself up with. When this is done he dumps the rags and switched off the lights, and by the time he returns Ed is fast asleep. Al smiles and climbs into bed too, curling tightly around Ed, and breathes in the scent of his hair. "Sweet dreams," he whispers, before closing his own eyes.