chapter 13.

Five months later.

It was snowing outside, the sky a heavy, stormy grey that made the tiny flakes settling to the ground even whiter in comparison. It was the sort of weather that made Ed ache—a deep, nagging pain that threaded its way through every one of many old wounds, kept partially at bay only by steady, constant warmth.

Which was difficult to achieve, the boy reflected for what was far from the first time, considering that the gas had been shut off shortly after the electricity and plumbing, taking the heat when it went.

Not that it had proved any sort of surprise—after all, neither of them had held a job for the better part of two years, and most of what Alphonse had earned since they returned to Central had gone to pay for medical expenses. But knowing that it would come didn't stop the twinge of guilt every time Al went outside to haul in buckets of snow—dumped into the bathtub and heated with alchemy, it had been substituting for the water that the brothers couldn't pay for any longer.

It had been Ed, after all, who'd insisted they didn't need help from the Rockbells or that bastard Mustang, Ed whose pride had led to the frugal, independent life that they'd been managing. And that would change, perhaps, if ever it became a question of them going hungry—because his little brother still hovered protectively at mealtimes, still worried over the weight that hadn't yet been fully regained, and Ed suspected very much that there was a point at which Alphonse would simply put his foot down.

But they'd been getting along well enough, so far, the worst of their problems the bitter cold that had settled in with the snow. And Alphonse took care to keep the fire built up high so that he didn't ache too deeply, had even gone so far as to carry their blankets downstairs and deposit them in a pile in the center of the living room. Some nights, he would haul them back up to the bed before returning to help Ed make his awkward way to the second story—and some nights he'd declare it too cold for the two of them to leave the heat of the little fireplace.

It was one of the latter tonight, the chill deep enough that Ed hadn't even protested an arrangement that he knew was primarily to make him comfortable. And when Al drifted in from the kitchen, hands clasped around a pair of mugs that still steamed gently, he made room for the younger boy eagerly, grateful for the warmth.

"It's tea," Al warned him as the smaller boy lifted the cup one-handed to take a sip. "We're out of hot chocolate."

But whatever it was, it was warm, and Ed's first swallow was a huge one—a decision he regretted quite thoroughly a moment later.

By sheer force of will, the boy choked it down, regarded his brother with an expression that combined disgust and accusation. "You said it was tea!"

"It is," Al answered, drawing the covers up around them. "A different kind than usual, is all." And he took the first sip himself, offered a smile as though to prove that it wasn't utterly repulsive.

For several seconds, golden eyes watched the younger boy's face intently, outrage morphing into disbelief when the same disgust he'd experienced didn't become evident. "But it's bitter!"

"Well," Alphonse admitted, slightly apologetic, "We're out of sugar." The unspoken words hung between them: "And we can't afford more."

That spike of guilt intruded again, prompted Ed into taking another sip. And when it had settled into his stomach, distasteful as before but still blissfully almost-hot, he forced down a grimace. "I guess it's not so bad."

"Liar," his brother observed quietly—but there was fondness behind the accusation, and when he turned to look, the other boy's eyes were soft with affection.

"Yeah, well." The grin that worked its way onto his face was a mix of pleased and embarrassed. "It's drinkable." And he lifted the mug once more, golden eyes fixed on his brother's face as he took another sip.

He'd scarcely taken the cup from his lips before Alphonse was leaning in for a kiss—and the boy had time to consider, just for a split-second, that the tea was going to make a terrible mess.

He was right, of course. As soon as Ed opened his mouth for the tongue that slid teasingly along his lower lip, a drop of the liquid escaped to trickle down the edge of his chin. And when Al kissed him in earnest, slow and thorough and tasting as horribly bitter as the drink shared between then, it was only natural to try and pull the younger boy in closer.

But Ed's hand was closed around a thick white mug, and all it took was for him to tip it just a little too far.

"Brother!" Alphonse yelped, jerking back as the hot liquid scalded him.

"Fuck!" And abruptly, the cup was discarded on the floor just beyond the comfortable nest of blankets, ignored so that Ed's single hand could be put to use in attempting to sop up the spilled tea. "I hate this," he muttered viciously, reminded abruptly of the dragging frustration that'd been plaguing him for months. "As soon as my new automail's installed, I swear I'll—"

"Brother," Al interrupted, and the tone was mildly reproving. He batted Ed's hand away almost absently before setting to work the buttons on his now-drenched shirt free of their holes. "You know you need to be patient. Winry can't get to work on you until after you've recovered from the surgery."

"Yeah?" Ed raised his chin, defiant, and wiped absently at the little trail of tea that had slipped by during the kiss. "Well, I still say I could've managed sooner—four months is a long fucking time to be a cripple."

The shirt fell open to reveal a pale chest, and slender fingers kept moving. "You were hurt, brother." And that tone was serious now, bronze eyes intent in a way that made Ed feel both chastised and cherished by the same gaze. "And if the doctors say that you need four months—four years—four decades—before you're healed enough under the ports for new automail, then you're going to wait."

But the bite behind the words was lost on Edward as his brother's shirt came open the rest of the way, as pale hands bundled the fabric up and put it to one side. Golden eyes drifted quite unabashedly to the smooth expanse of skin that had been revealed, frustration at the spill effectively forgotten.

"Brother!" Al scolded. "Have you even been listening to me?"

"Maybe," the smaller boy offered, noncommittal. His gaze flickered up to his brother's face, and a grin not even slightly apologetic twitched at the corners of his lips. "Can I help it if you're distracting?"

And that earned him a blush, a warm flush of dusky rose that worked its way across the pale skin of the younger boy's face. "It was wet," Al protested, "I wasn't about to keep it on."

"Am I complaining?" And he leaned in for another kiss—had to wrap one arm around his brother's neck to keep upright without a second limb to support him, had to throw his weight against Alphonse just so that he wasn't off-balance. But when bare arms settled about his waist to hold him in closer, Ed found that he really didn't mind.

It was the lack of air that forced them apart a moment later, left them panting softly, forehead to forehead, eyes burning.

"Brother," Al began, softly—but he didn't get further than that, because the smaller boy was kissing him again, heat and urgency poured into the contact in equal measures. Bare seconds more, and Ed felt whatever protest there had been fade away as fingers plucked at the hem of his shirt, slipped up and under the fabric, leaving trails of fire where they ghosted along his flesh.

He shivered under the touch in spite of himself, pressed in closer when gentle fingertips found his spine. It was difficult to think clearly beyond the searing intensity of the kiss, difficult to focus on much of anything but the want that grew, coiling, inside him—but when they broke apart again, he managed to put one thought, at least, in words: "Less clothes," he insisted, "Now."

Alphonse laughed quietly in response, and the smaller boy felt his face burn under the smile that accompanied it, amused and fond and wanting. "Anything you say, brother."

"Yeah, yeah," Ed grumbled, pushing himself away from the younger boy's chest with his sole arm, "Be smug about it." A moment later, he'd grasped the hem of his shirt and was pulling upward, squirming to aid the process, half dreading the cold that was sure to set in with the loss of clothing. It was awkward, but he'd had practice, and a moment later he was bare from the waist up, shirt sailing through the air to land in a careless heap someplace halfway across the room.

But by the time he'd accomplished that much, Al was setting his pants out by the tea-damp shirt—and before the smaller boy could get started on his own, before he could even think that the chill of the room wasn't so bad with the fire burning brightly nearby and the heat of his brother's body, Alphonse had leaned in once more.

The younger boy began at the junction of throat and jaw, lips working a line of slow, wet heat down his neck and to the collarbone. Ed shuddered under the attention, letting his head fall back as his brother used the hand still at the small of his back to lower him to the blankets.

And when he felt the weight of Al's body settle over him, added pressure on the erection already beginning to ache trapped within the fabric of his pants, Ed lifted his hips into the contact eagerly.

He wouldn't think until later about what, precisely, this ought to mean—wouldn't consider until he woke the next morning, warm and sleepy, that it had been the first time a part of his mind hadn't recoiled in terror at being pinned, despite the fact that it was only under the comfortable warmth of Al's body.

At the moment, Ed was lost in the feel of his brother's touch, swept up in sensation as Al mouthed his way down to swipe his tongue lightly over first one nipple and then the other. And he would be grateful for that, too, the next morning—glad that, as the younger boy took one of the hardening nubs between his lips and rolled his tongue over it teasingly, there was nothing in his mind but pleasure.

"Al," the boy whimpered, reaching with his hand to thread fingers into short, soft hair. He wasn't sure, precisely, whether he meant to keep his brother there or urge him further downward—but apparently, he needn't have bothered, because the younger boy wasn't taking requests.

It was with a languid, maddening slowness that the progress of lips and tongue returned back up to his collarbone, mapping out every centimeter of flesh before working their way down to pay the other nipple equal attention.

"Al," he gasped again, squirming beneath the assault.

And the touch broke off for a moment, just long enough for him to catch sight of the amusement dancing through bronze eyes and creeping onto the corners of those deliciously wicked lips.

"Patience, brother," Al scolded, and leaned down to resume where he'd left off.

He took the little nub between his teeth this time, keeping the pressure light—and when the tip of his tongue traced lightly over the edge, the combined sensation wrung a moan from Ed's throat.

And perhaps, the older boy though hazily, the sound was what he'd been waiting for—because Alphonse resumed his downward progress, then, setting Ed's skin on fire everywhere he touched. And he seemed intent upon touching everywhere, the boy realized with a distant sort of alarm, hips arching helplessly as that tongue dipped into his navel, wet and scalding.

"Al," he tried again, and couldn't quite keep the note of pleading from his voice. "Hurry it up."

He felt the rush of air against his skin as the younger boy laughed softly—very nearly pushed himself to sitting and demanded that his brother stop being such a fucking tease.

But Alphonse was rearranging himself, settling further between his legs, and a moment later, any remaining thoughts were scattered by the feel of those lips pressing a kiss to his still-clothed erection.

"Like this, brother?" came the question—and Ed would've called him on that too, the bastard, because the younger boy knew very well what he was doing—but just then Al began mouthing him through the fabric, and all that came out was a groan, low and needy.

"Pants," he managed to gasp. "Off."

And Al was willing enough to comply; a moment later, there were hands at his waist, unfastening the constraining garment, working him free—and then a hot, searching mouth over bare flesh.

There was no word caught up in the strangled cry that left Ed's throat—no thought behind it to make it coherent, even if there had been. There was simply wet, and heat, and that wonderful, wonderful tongue working its slow way over his length.

Golden eyes that had fallen shut under the force of the pleasure opened to slits again by force of will, traced their way down to watch the expression of intense concentration that had settled over his brother's features. So lost in the sensation was he that it took a moment to realize that Alphonse had taken himself in hand, was stroking in the same teasing rhythm that he'd set for Ed.

"Al," the smaller boy attempted, broke off before he'd really started as a moan forced its way from him. It was impossible to think when his brother's mouth was still moving on him, impossible to form words when all he really wanted was to thrust up into that staggering, breathtaking heat.

"Al," he began again, "You don't have to—ah! I-I can—" Ed struggled for air, couldn't seem to breathe well enough to manage the words. "W-we can—"

And abruptly, the sensation ceased, drawing a whimper of mingled frustration and disappointment from the smaller boy's throat.

Al's eyes were in front of him, then, bronze depths warm with desire. "The oil," the younger boy panted, plainly ill-pressed to control himself, "Is upstairs. Do you want to stop long enough for me to go and get it?"

Ed had to swallow hard at the sight of his brother's face, so openly filled with passion, could only shake his head a violent no, throat too dry to make a proper response.

"Good," Al answered, the word lengthening into a hiss as he reached to wrap fingers around his own erection once more. "Neither do I."

And it might have been the depth of the want in his brother's voice, or the fact that he could feel the younger boy's quiet sounds of pleasure now, vibrations that worked their way through nerves already stretched to the limit by warm, slick heat—but regardless, he was fast approaching a steep, sharp edge, struggled to hold back.

"Al," he panted, "Al, I—"

And then the younger boy was pulling back, was closing his lips around the very tip of him, was suckling gently as though it was a piece of candy—and very suddenly, the sensation was too much.

It crashed over him with a force strong enough to make the world a swimming sea of white, mind unable for a moment to comprehend anything beyond the clenching tremble of the muscles in his thighs and the waves of bliss that burned their way across his senses. It was only when he'd settled back to earth that he realized Alphonse had followed him over the precipice, was making keening, wanting sounds that would've had him hard again, if he'd been able.

And then everything was still save the crackle of the fire and the harsh, jagged sound of heavy breathing.

"Fuck, Al," he managed, after a minute.

Just a heartbeat more and his brother was crawling up to lay beside him, pressing skin to skin and reaching out to pull him closer. The younger boy must've taken a moment to clean up, Ed's mind noted absently, because the stomach snugged flush against his hip was only a little damp—and then he closed his eyes, and let lucid thought give way before the realization that they were close enough for him to feel the slowing beat of Alphonse's heart.

By the time the younger boy spoke, he was drifting on the edge the edge of sleep—wasn't sure, in fact, whether the quiet words were from waking or a dream. But Ed mumbled a response anyway, a drowsy "Love you, too" that may or may not have been coherent enough to be understood.

And when he felt Al nuzzle in to press a kiss to the place where his shoulder met steel, the boy suspected that it didn't matter. After all, his brother already knew.