Ed woke to the sound of strange masculine grunting. He let go of Al who didn't even stir and turned around in the bed. Sun was spilling in through a strange low window, and the room smelled oddly of dust and raw wood. On the other bed, Roy worked to sit up, grimacing and uttering soft pained noises as he kicked his legs over the side of the bed. Roy noticed him and collapsed on his side. "Ed, please," he whispered. "Untie my hands."
Ed sighed, the horror of the night before came back. I did this to him. His suffering is my fault. The least I can do is untie his hands. But his mouth said, "I can't."
"I know you can," said the older man, frowning angrily. "You won't. I'm not going to run away, I just need them for a moment." There was desperation and pain, anger and humiliation.
Roy was looking a lot worse for wear this morning. His skin looked almost green and he had dark bags under his eyes. There were bruises across his thigh and up on one shoulder from the strap. More bruises darkened his upper arms and his forehead and chin. Stray strands of horsehair stuck to the dried semen on his thighs.
"You don't have to worry about me going anywhere," he said, carefully swinging one foot. The chain rattled a bit across the floor. "Please, I promise not to do anything that will get you in trouble."
"I can't," said Ed feeling like a total asshole. "Greed will find out." Ed didn't say that Al would tell Greed. Roy was angry enough with Al, and pitting the two of them against each other made no sense.
Ed couldn't blame his brother for taking Greed's side. Al had truly tried to stay faithful to him, but Ed had pushed his brother too far. Al would always put Ed's welfare first, even if it meant betraying him in the short run. Right now Ed couldn't argue that defying Greed, even in a minor temporary way, was harmful to his own welfare.
But Roy didn't need him to spell it out. He met Ed's eye, then slid off to Al, nodding. "Greed has his hooks in your brother pretty deep."
Ed looked over at Al, sleeping peacefully. Al had always supported him, but Al couldn't go against Greed right now. It was time for Ed to support Al for a change. "It's hard to fight Greed. After a while you get tired, especially when your efforts never pay off. And who is to say I should fight Greed anyway. He loves us, and I—" Ed blinked with surprise at the emotion. "I love him as well."
I do love Greed. Sometimes I hate him, too, but, maybe that's just a phase, like Greed says. Maybe I'll come to love this life. Ed looked over at Al again and fought the urge to muss up his dark blond hair. Who was to say if Al's resignation wasn't the sanest, most practical way to go? All Ed had to do was give in, and let Greed be his conscience. Was that so hard? It couldn't be harder than the watching everyone around him suffer.
Roy's shoulders heaved up. "I understand. You boys are young." He started struggling again.
Ed sighed. Roy was a lot like himself. He couldn't give in easily, something drove him on, even in the face of the impossible. Ed would have to be Roy's voice of reason, his anchor. He would have to play the roll that Al played for him. "If you keep fighting the fetters like that, you are going to give yourself sores. Those restraints were made for endurance play, but even they have their limitations."
Roy stopped, and made a frustrated grunt, and then resumed struggling in a different way. With great effort the man managed to sit up on the side of the bed, but only for a second, then he stood, a bit shakily. Ed knew only too well that the tail wasn't conducive to sitting. One was supposed to be kneeling or on all fours for it.
Roy stood staring hard into nothing for a moment, then his face contorted as though he were fighting some inner battle. Something broke and Roy briefly met Ed's eyes. "Listen, Ed, I REALLY need you to untie my hands. I don't think I can wait much longer."
"What do you need?"
Roy flushed, and stared at the window. "I need to use the bathroom." Roy gently nudged the chain that bound his ankle to the floor. "What am I supposed to do, pee in a corner or something?"
It was not beyond Greed to punish that way, forcing a person to break with toilet training was an extreme form of humiliation. Yet Ed suspected that Greed didn't have that in mind. Greed was usually fairly explicit in explaining his punishments and he hadn't mentioned anything like that the night before. Ed looked around and found the item needed under Roy's bed.
Roy looked at the chamber pot. "You are kidding me."
"You can pee in the corner," said Ed. "But I think if you do, Greed will find a way to make you wish you hadn't."
"Untie my hands," Roy outright begged.
"Stop asking me to do that, Roy." Ed was getting annoyed. How could he impress on the man just how incredibly bad an idea it would be to release Roy from his punishment before it was completed? When Ed had done that, Greed had outright tortured him, and HE was family. With Roy, Greed wouldn't stop with a broken leg. "I'm not going to untie you, or undo anything Greed chooses to do to you. Nor will anyone else. You can stop asking."
Roy lowered his head. Then with great effort he tried to move the chamber pot into position with his feet. Ed suddenly understood the problem. "Here, I can help you with that."
Ed lifted the pot up and held Roy's penis in position until he was done. The look on Roy's face was somewhere between bliss and agony. When he was through Roy turned abruptly, to pull himself free of Ed's hand, obviously not wanting to be touched any more than he had to be.
So this is what Greed meant when he said that Al and Ed would have to take care of Roy's needs. Roy wasn't just uncomfortable, he was utterly helpless. Ed imagined that as a high ranking military man, Roy wasn't used to being so defenseless. The dildo added another layer of restraint on Roy, making what little movement he was still capable of punishing. If Greed's intention was to crush Roy's ability to fight, he'd done a pretty thorough job.
Ed went to the window and pushed it open. There were no bars on it, but it didn't matter. The arrays he'd placed himself were more than enough to prevent Ed or Roy from escaping that way. Careful not to allow any of his body over the lip of the sill, Ed dumped the contents of the chamber pot out to the grass below.
"This is primitive," he said. "But that's what we deserve, I suppose."
"I fail to see how I deserve any of this," said Roy gruffly.
"You embarrassed Greed. Now he's embarrassing you in return," said Ed. "Don't be ashamed, Roy. We've all been where you're at, at one time or another. Even the chimera's have messed up and gotten punished."
The look of disgust and horror on Roy's face made Ed feel a little sick. "It's not like this on the outside is it," he said.
"No. Not remotely."
Ed felt his stomach tense. "Well, it's what it's like here. If Al and I can get used to it, so can you."
Roy remained awkwardly in the middle of the room, debating whether it was worth the pain to shuffle the foot or so back to the bed. "How long do you think Greed is going to keep me like this," he asked.
"Until he kills you, or you become family, I guess."
Roy closed his eyes. "How do I become family?"
"Be useful. Be pleasant." Ed considered. "Honestly, be you. Be the you that you presented yourself as when you came in. And thank him for everything he does for you."
"Thank him for kidnapping, beating and raping me?"
"Be flattered that he sought you out, grateful that he didn't just kill you, and appreciate the great sex."
Roy sighed. "I'm sorry, you know."
Ed couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. "Why are you apologizing to me?" he asked. "I'm the one who got you in this mess. If it weren't for me writing those stupid letters, you'd be at home right now, and Al and I would be back in our own bed looking forward to another day of making arrays."
"I'm sorry that I couldn't be your savior, Ed. I really meant to get you free of Greed. I underestimated him. And I didn't listen to you."
Ed nodded. "True. But I don't know if it would have turned out any better if you had listened to me. You'd still be stuck here with us, servicing Greed with your body. He'd have figured out you'd lied to him eventually. He'd still have been pissed."
Roy hung his head. "Ed." He said after a moment. "I'm really thirsty."
Ed quickly found the pitcher and poured a glass. He held it to Roy's lips and tipped it up. Roy sputtered and choked, water flowed out over his chin on the floor. When his coughing died down, Roy nodded his head towards the glass again. Ed tilted more slowly this time and finally found the right angle. Roy drank the glass down. "More."
Ed repeated. Three glasses later Roy seemed satisfied. "I want to lie down," he said dully. Now that he'd accepted his helplessness, asking for help seemed to come easier. Ed helped Roy waddle back to his bed and eased him back down on his stomach. It was the most comfortable position to be in.
Al let out a soft moan and then stretched. "Good morning Brother, Good morning Roy."
Roy turned his head away and ignored Al.
Al yawned sleepily. "He still mad at me, you think?"
Ed sat back on the bed and gathered Al up in his arms. "I think he's mad at all of us right now, don't take it personally."
Al relaxed and cuddled Ed for a moment before kissing his neck. Ed felt a stir of lust. Something about the affectionate way Al curled against him always made Ed's breath grow quick and his skin break out in pleasurable goose bumps.
Sex with Al was like sunshine in the morning: something luxurious and pleasant and comfortable to look forward to. Al never pushed, never demanded, and almost never talked. He didn't need to, Ed had every expression, every movement of his body mapped out in his mind. He knew exactly when Al wanted him to kiss his mouth. When he wanted Ed to reach down and stroke his cock. Al, in turn, knew exactly the right way to pinch Ed's nipples—just so firm. Al knew the precise spots on his neck and shoulder where Ed loved to be gently bitten.
They each had their preferences—Ed for roughness, firmness, and Al for softer, ticklishly light touches. Al giggled happily when Ed pushed him back down into the mattress and lay on top of him, lapping at his lips, cheeks and chin with the tip of his tongue. Ed thrust hips against Al's and rubbing their growing erections together. The delightful not-quite-enoughness of the contact drove Ed crazy in a really nice way.
Al meowed happily, and Ed laughed. That was a Greed touch, dating back from the earliest days of their lovemaking. Greed knew Al liked cats, and coached Al to behave like one whenever Ed touched him in a way he really liked. Ed was supposed to bark, but that hadn't caught on as well. In fact, Greed had never really settled on what animal he wanted Ed to be, but Al was definitely a cat. Greed even had a special tail made for Al alone.
"What are you two doing?"
Ed pulled himself up on one arm and looked over at the man in the other bed. Roy was still on his stomach but was looking in their direction. His expression was—what, shock, surprise? Something complicated.
"We're making love," said Al. "We usually do this in the morning."
"You two are brothers, aren't you?"
Ed felt an old pang.
"Yeah," said Al. "If it bothers you look the other way." Al pulled Ed down for another kiss. Ed hesitated just a moment. For a fraction of a second his mind rebelled at the thought of touching his brother like this. Then he pushed the thought from his mind and resumed kissing his brother with ardor.
It felt good.
Incest is wrong. It was Winry of all people who first told them that, one day when they were eight and seven. They'd been showing her "tricks" they could do with their penises. She'd been revolted and told them not only was it wrong to show her what they had in their pants, but it was wrong for them to be helping each other play those "tricks" as well. This had come as a rude surprise. Ed liked to play "tricks" with his brother. It felt good, and Al didn't seem to mind.
At first Ed didn't want to believe it, so he asked their mother. She confirmed Winry's admonishment: brothers weren't supposed to touch each other's private parts. He'd then told Al this. Al hung his head and blushed. "Oh—I guess we better not then." He was disappointed, too.
Three years later, Greed had turned that rule on its ear. It had been Al's 10th birthday that he chose to start them down that path again. As Al blew out the candles on his cake, Greed patted his back gently and said, "Look, you are into double digits now. Today you are a man."
Al flushed with pride, and so did Ed, even though Greed hadn't said anything like this to him when he'd turned eleven the month before. Still, it stood to reason, that if Al was a man, than Ed, being a year older, would also be a man. Sure enough, Greed included Ed in his hug.
"As men," Greed continued, "you get to do grown up things. I have a special treat for you."
Ed and Al had looked at each other, grinning, wondering what sort of special treat Greed had in mind.
"Tonight, after dinner, you will both come to my room, and I will show you a special game just for men. Are you excited?"
Ed and Al both nodded. Ed had visions of strategy board games, which were his favorite. Al vaguely hoped a pony might be involved, though even he couldn't justify what a pony would be doing in Greed's bedroom.
Greed's game had taken them both by surprise. Greed called it the "touching" game. It involved taking all their clothes off and touching each other's bodies using various body parts. Most of the touching was done with the hands, but sometimes it was lips or tongues. Ed recalled thinking that it was a very strange game, there didn't seem to be any rules or way to win. Still, it felt interesting and it seemed like fun until Greed told them to touch each other's penises.
Ed had jerked away with surprise. "We can't do that, sir," he said.
Greed had looked irritated. "Why not."
"Because, that's wrong. Mom told us not to."
Greed humphed. "Well, your mother was wrong."
Ed felt a burn of anger. Mother was never wrong. She was their MOTHER! This "touching" game was very similar to the "tricks" they'd played when they were young. Ed even knew the name for it. Incest. In fact, the "touching" game seemed a lot like what he'd heard of sex, except that he and Al were both boys, and wasn't sex supposed to be a boy and a girl?
"I don't think I want to play this game anymore," Al said.
Greed looked at both of them, his eyes narrowing. "I think you are both being silly. Just do what I tell you to, and you will both enjoy it, I assure you."
There was something about Greed's tone of voice that scared the hell out of Ed. He met Al's eyes, and knew all fun had gone out for both of them. They continued to touch each other because Greed told them to and they were terrified of what he'd do if they didn't. When Greed told Al to lick Ed's penis, Al had shuddered with disgust, but went down on his knees and complied. Greed watched and touched his own cock and directing all the while.
After a while Greed seemed to be satisfied and let them go back to their room.
The next day they found out that the "touching" game was something they'd be playing a lot of. Night after night the game evolved a bit, until the fifth night Ed was told to touch inside of Al's butt. Al hadn't liked that at all. Later that night, in the safety of their shared bed, Al had hugged him tight and had whispered, "I don't want to be a man anymore. Please tell Greed we want to play another game instead."
Ed shuddered knowing exactly what Greed would say to that.
"Al," Ed had whispered back. "Let's do what we planned."
"Let's get mom back."
Al had sat back smiling. "Yeah, and then she can take us away."
"And we can see Winry and go to school and fly kites."
"And we won't have to play the 'touching' game anymore," said Al.
Of course, that hadn't happened. Sloth was not their mother, and as soon as Ed's wounds healed shut, the "touching" game resumed—only this time the one touching was Greed.
"Are you ok?" Al asked, lifting his mouth from Ed's cock. "You aren't getting hard."
"Sorry," said Ed. "I got distracted."
"If you hurt—"
Ed DID still hurt, but not the way he had yesterday. His bottom protested when he shifted his weight too much against it, but it wasn't just a constant throb. He needed to get his head in the right place, or Al would be disappointed, and damn if he wasn't going to let his own stupidity get in the way of the one thing he truly liked about living in Greed's house.
"No. Go, it feels good."
Al went back to sucking. It did feel good. Really good. Over the years Al had gotten quite adept at it. Greed was right, once they got used to it, they didn't mind playing the touching game anymore. They'd come to play it on their own when he wasn't around. They'd been scared the first time they were caught, but Greed had not only approved but had all but insisted they continue.
Ed looked over at Roy. Roy was watching still. His face had gone thoughtful. Ed wondered if that's the way he had looked when he'd watched Al fuck Roy. Well at least he and Al were willing, that should make it a whole lot easier to watch.
Al swung around so that Ed could suck on him as well. Ed lifted his head so that he could run his tongue up the underside of Al's cock, from the wet slit to the base, nosing aside his testicles for a moment before sucking one in, and gently mouthing it. Ed's hand followed like a ghost, a finger along the underside of the cock to the base, but then closing into a fist and pulling back upwards. Ed moved his mouth to the other testicle and ran his tongue over it in wide strokes.
Meanwhile Al sucked, holding the base of Ed's cock and moving his hand in time with his taut lips. Every so often, he'd stop and draw back to run his tongue over the top of the glans, poking at the slit with the tip and gathering up what he found there, before taking the head back in.
Ed heard a faint mew from the other bed. He turned his eye and caught Roy pressing his lips together. A thought occurred to him. Greed was going to wake up pretty soon and when he did he would want Roy to pleasure him in some way.
"We should really be teaching Roy how to do this. He's going to need it when Greed wakes up."
"Mmm," agreed Al. He pulled off of Ed's cock with a moist pop. "You are right. He said he'd only sucked a few people off years ago." Al then resumed his sucking.
"That's quite okay," said Roy. "I'm sure I'll do fine. You two don't need to teach me anything."
Ed considered pulling himself away, but no, this was his morning pleasure and he wasn't going to deny himself it. If it took Roy a little longer to suck a second come out of him, so be it, more practice would be better anyway, especially with a patient partner—something Greed rarely was.
Ed took Al in his mouth mirroring his brother's movements. After a moment they fell into a pleasurable sync, and it almost seemed as tough he were sucking himself. The intensity ramped up quickly, then. Almost too quickly.
"God," muttered Roy from the other bed, but Ed ignored him. This felt too damn good and he wasn't about to let Roy's sensibilities get in the way of it. As long as they lived under Greed, Greed's word was law. Greed said that doing this—Ed used his hands to push Al's hips down so that he could take the whole of his length deep in his throat—was a way to show love. Ed loved Al, he loved him goddamn it. And he loved doing this.
Ed came, but Al didn't slow down, continuing to bob his head in quick strokes until Ed had finished, then drawing quickly away before hypersensitivity set in. Ed continued to deep throat his brother for a few minutes longer. Soon enough Al grabbed his hips in a tight grip and whined. Ed drank down what came. It tasted disgusting as always, but even that unpleasantness was perversely pleasing. Somehow it always made Ed feel like more of a man to be able to swallow without hesitation.
Al rolled a way content. He then looked over at Roy. Ed followed his look. Roy's eyes were huge. Roy stared at the two of them for a moment longer and then hit his head against the mattress a few times as if trying to shake something out of his head.
"Greed will be waking up soon. Did you see what we were doing, Roy? Think you can do the same thing?"
"I think I've seen enough for one morning."
Al stood up, stretching. He wandered over to Roy's bed and ran his hand down Roy's back in a soothing manner.
Roy jerked away then hissed in pain. "Don't touch me."
Al sighed. "He was like that last night, too, when I spent almost forever getting him prepared. You know," he said turning to Roy. "You really should be thankful I did that. You'd be bleeding something awful right now if I hadn't."
Roy pushed his face into the mattress. Then after a moment he turned his face back towards them. "I understand what you were trying to do. Let's leave it at that."
Ed felt torn. He doesn't want us touching him, even to help him. Ed could sympathize. It was much like him not wanting Al to rat him out, even though the consequences of his actions were much, much worse when they weren't caught quickly.
Al sensed Ed's hesitation. "I don't want to see him screaming in pain."
Ed shuddered. Why the hell had he sent those letters? It was messing everything up. His stupid need for independence would have even gotten in the way of one of the few things he truly liked about living with Greed. Ed knew if he ever had succeeded in breaking away, he and Al would no longer be able to have sex with each other. Incest would once again be wrong. So why did he keep fighting? If he understood the imperitive in himself, maybe he could help Roy overcome it as well.
Al totally misinterpreting his reaction. "I can do it, if you can't."
Ed shook his head. "We both should. He's as much my responsibility as yours."
Somewhere in there Roy had lost the thread of their conversation. "You both should what?"
"Show you how to give head the way Greed likes it," said Ed.
"That again? Don't bother," said Roy. "I'm sure I can figure it out."
Ed smacked his head. "It's not like fucking, Roy," he said. "There is more to it than just lying there and letting him do what he likes. Giving proper head takes some technique."
"You are assuming I want to give proper head."
Ed shook his head in amazement—he's so like me. A couple of years ago, I was thinking the same thing—that if I was just BAD enough, Greed would stop asking for head. "It doesn't work that way," Ed said aloud.
"What doesn't work what way?" asked Roy truly perplexed.
"He's not going to leave you alone just because you are a lousy lay."
"No," Al agreed, gently stroking Roy's hair. "He just works on you harder until you learn." Roy pulled his head away.
"I bit him once, early on," said Ed. "I was mad."
"That was dumb," said Al.
Ed nodded. Dumb was an understatement. Futile would be a better word. "He healed up right away. It didn't even hurt him that much."
" Ed had to give head to almost everyone in the family including me until he got it right."
Ed rubbed his throat. "My jaw was sore by the end of that day. It wasn't fun."
"You were a mess."
Roy stared at the two of them in horror. "So you are saying that if I give him what he wants, he's going to molest me less?"
Al and Ed looked at each other. "Well—" said Al.
"You are still a novelty," said Ed. "So I would expect him to want you pretty frequently for a while. But after a while, yeah, he'll move on. You'll go into rotation with the rest of us. A couple of times a week he'll want you—not every night. And he won't do the whole fuck you into the floorboards thing."
"And he's a lot nicer if you are good," said Al. "Okay, I'm ready. Are you going to cooperate?"
Roy shook his head. "I'm not going to cooperate. I'll learn the hard way from Greed if I have to."
Ed sighed. "Please, Roy. It's our job to see to you. Don't make our job harder."
He knelt by the bed. Roy shot him an angry look. "We'll just give you a few pointers, that's all. It will make it easier when the time comes. Trust me."
Roy sighed. "You," he said. "Not him."
"Me, that's fine," said Ed. "Get up on your hands and knees." Then he stopped, realizing he'd said something stupid.
"Well, I will as soon as you free my hands," Roy said dryly.
"No, ok, off the bed, on your knees by the side. This is inconvenient."
Ed and Al helped Roy down. It was a painfully slow struggle, but eventually he was was on his knees. Roy hissed again but not with pain. "That tail tickles. Please?"
Al, looking for some way to get back in Roy's good graces, immediately pulled the sticky strands away from his thighs, and gave them a quick rub. Roy's face relaxed.
It was awkward, no two ways about it. Ed pressed his knees against Roy's sides to help support him, and he used his hands to keep him balanced, but there was no doubt at all that Roy's capacity to take the lead in this was severely limited. Without his hands it would be difficult to give Ed's organ the stimulation it preferred. Deep throating was a lot to demand of a novice. Still there was something Roy could learn.
"Are you ready?" Ed asked.
"No," said Roy. "But I guess, yes, if you feel it's necessary. I'm ready."
Ed pulled Roy's head forward. "Start by licking, up and down the shaft, all around, but mostly the underside. Do the balls too. Long flat strokes, use your whole tongue, not just the tip." Roy attempted to comply. Ed had to hold the head and move it. Greed would have no trouble doing making Roy's head go where he wanted it, Ed realized. No trouble at all.
Ed felt a jostling by his leg. Al grabbed Ed's knee and lifted it up and pushed himself between Ed's legs as well. Roy jerked back a little. "What?' He turned his head. Ed turned his head to see past Roy's body. Good idea!
"Ah!" said Roy his eyes going wide as Al forced himself between the bed and his body in order to take Roy's semi-flaccid length in his mouth.
"Now do to me, what Al is doing for you."
Roy stared at him a moment but then lowered his head and complied. He continued to lick for a bit, but then took the head in his mouth. Ed felt the scrape of teeth.
"No," said Ed, resisting the urge to shove Roy away. Sudden jerking movements might just bring those teeth down on him. "Cover your teeth with your lips."
Roy complied. He began tentatively bobbing his head.
"Suck, Roy," instructed Ed holding his head and guiding the movements. Roy sucked. For a while they kept it up but then Roy spat him out. "My mouth is tired."
Ed resisted the idea of slapping him. "You are whining," he said. "Just continue."
Roy looked angry, but then resigned, and took it back in his mouth. He was getting better. Ed gave him as complete feedback as he could. "Yes like that, more pressure, suck harder now. Now stop and use your tongue again, yes."
Roy was really trying to do his best. After the bit of rebellion, he settled down into a rhythm which gradually became more enthusiastic. Roy spontaneously took more of Ed's length. It felt really good, even without a hand to help extend the stimulation. Ed couldn't resist thrusting forward.
Roy gagged and drew his head sharply back. Ed felt the faint scrape of teeth before his cock pulled completely free.
"Damn it, Roy, " said Ed. That was scary. Unlike Greed Ed's cock WOULDN'T instantly heal if Roy clamped down on it. "Ok, BREATHE in first. Then breathe out and try."
It took quite a few tries before Roy was able to take more than just a few inches. There were tears in his eyes by the end, and Ed knew that they had nothing to do with his emotions. Finally though Roy was able to shallowly deep throat for short periods of time before gagging and needing a break.
Roy was damn lucky to have them to practice on. Greed wouldn't see a need for breaks at all. Although this felt good, Ed had resigned himself to the fact that he wasn't going to come from what Roy was doing. The rhythm was too slow, too random, and frankly Roy just wasn't stimulating enough of him for long enough periods of time. Greed would be rougher and more demanding, and would shove Roy around until he did get what he wanted.
Ed had almost completely forgotten about Al when Roy jerked his head off again, luckily without using his teeth, and coughed. His face screwed up as if in terrible pain then he let out his breath. Roy looked surprised for a moment then gritted his teeth and said "Al stop, stop."
Al giggled and shoved his way out. He rubbed his neck. "Dang it, I think I got a crick."
They all heard footsteps coming up the way and looked briefly at each other. Ed pulled Roy up on the bed quickly by his arms, Al caught his legs and swung them around, then both boys deftly scampered to their own bed before the latch flew back.
But it wasn't Greed who greeted them. Martel looked at Roy, then turned to Al and Ed and said. "Breakfast is ready."
She turned away leaving the door open. Ed and Al looked at each other and both burst into laughter.