Ed should have remembered this from that month on the island, back when he was a kid: you can only be in the great outdoors so long before you start dreaming of hot showers. And of dumping the people you're travelling with in them.
Darius and Heinkel, seasoned military men, were not receptive to Ed's suggested solution. "Undercover," said Darius, rolling the word round in his mouth. "What do you understand the word to mean, Hein?"
"On the lam," said Heinkel. "Wanted men. Public enemies. I guess it would be pretty nice of us to just book ourselves into a hotel, though. Save the authorities a lotta legwork."
"Hey, while we're at it, we could just take a stroll through the local barracks with our arms in the air. That'd be fun."
"Yeah, yeah," Ed cut them off. "You're so smart. Look, this town's so small it hardly exists. How's the army gonna find us if the army isn't even there? These people don't even get the newspaper." Their faces were impassive. Ed spread his arms. "C'mon! You have superpowered noses! How can you put up with this? It's just a stupid, chintzy, old lady little hotel! It's one night, just one night of actual beds and actual bathrooms with actual running water and soap. You need it! You smell like ass! I smell like ass!"
Darius shrugged. "A newsflash for you, kid. Jail smells like ass."
Greed, by comparison, was easy to persuade. "You stink," Ed said to him.
"Ugh, don't talk to me about it," he said, folding his arms. "I smell like a human. So do you, since you're asking."
Ed grinned at him, conspiratorially. "So ... what do you think of the idea of us all just booking into that hotel on the edge of town for the night? They have bathrooms. It totally says so on the sign."
Greed seemed to be struggling with himself for a moment, then he said, "I've already suggested the idea to my insubordinate subordinates. They offered me the advice that it poses a risk. I suppose they make a good point." It was hilarious, the way he tried to make it sound as though he was in charge here.
"II'l help you persuade 'em." Ed bounced on his heels.
"Right," said Greed. "What's the catch?"
"You agree to let Ling out for the night."
Greed rolled his eyes and tutted, but he still stuck his hand out to shake on the deal.
Together, they headed back to make their case.
"We want to go to a hotel," announced Ed.
"We do indeed," added Greed.
"And we won't shut up about it until you guys give in. Which you so will by an hour after sundown. Why not just give it up right now and get some damn peace from our yapping?"
Darius and Heinkel shrugged. Ed knew he had them there. They were all about getting some damn peace from the yapping.
"All right. So long as our room doesn't have a connecting wall with yours, Fullmetal, we're good."
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Ed, unwisely bristling out of pure reflex.
"You think that's bad," said Greed, "Try having a party line in your brain."
"Max What?" said Greed.
"Power," muttered Ed, reddening, "Max Power." Shit, it had sounded like such a good fake name when he said it in his head.
"Sorry, kid," said Heinkel, "But that sucks. I'm not checking into this hotel with Max. Pick a new one."
"What's your big super superspy alias, then?"
"Mr. John Smith. He's Richard Jones."
"Smith and Jones? That's pathetic. They're gonna see you coming a mile away. You tell 'em, Greed." It was always so weird how he and Greed ended up on the same side in these arguments.
Greed looked at them sidelong. "You're Leopold, he's Gibbon."
"Ha ha," said Darius. He didn't actually laugh, just said the words flatly.
"I see what you did there," said Heinkel.
"And Fullmetal," continued Greed, "can be —"
"Dirk Blade!" Ed got in quickly. Heinkel snorted. Darius cackled. Greed just grinned and shook his head. "What the hell's the problem with that? It's —"
"Badass?" said Heinkel.
"Manly?" offered Greed.
This trip had officially been going on for far too long.
The hotel room kind of smelled like cabbage, but Ed was so beyond caring.
He slammed the door shut, threw his pack on the floor, and then threw himself on the bed without even taking his boots off. Oh my god, hotels were awesome. He'd been so spoilt all those years he'd been travelling with Al, hotel after hotel on his bottomless State Alchemist's salary. Now they were stuck trying to eke out the lump sum they'd withdrawn from his account the day they went on the lam. Greed kept trying to talk them all into pulling a bank heist, and one day Darius and Heinkel were going to agree just to make him shut up about it.
The mattress felt so damn good that Ed could have sworn he was floating on it.
"Ugh," said Greed, leaning against the wall. "Smells like old lady, and that stain on the carpet looks suspicious. Glad I'm not sticking around. Not my kind of place."
"Cool with me," said Ed. "We got a bargain. Let him out."
Greed tutted. A moment later, the mattress shifted and Ed opened his eyes to see Ling squinting at him from a few inches away. He reached out and ran his thin fingers through Ed's somewhat greasy bangs. Ed grinned at him, and he scootched forward and murmured into Ed's ear.
"I want ... a bath ... soooo much."
Hey, wait up a sec — but Ling was already skipping into the bathroom.
That was not how this was supposed to go. Ling was supposed to mooch food first, then sex, then the bath. Since when had Ling been so picky about that kind of thing? Was Ed grosser than usual? Had he thought Ed was gross the whole time and not said anything about it? And why the hell was Ed worrying about this at all?
"I fixed up this whole thing!" yelled Ed. "You better be grateful!"
The sound of running water came through the wall. Ling's head popped out the door. "Ooh. I know what. We should get some room service!"
The hotel had four rooms, total, only two of which had bathrooms attached. It took three attempts at calling reception before Ed managed to catch the owner at her desk. When he did, he was not entirely surprised to discover that they did not, in fact, do room service.
"Ling!" he yelled through to the bathroom. "No room service!"
"Fullmetal, pipe the hell down." Darius's voice echoed distantly through the wall. Looked like Lion King and Donkey Kong had gotten stuck with the adjoining room after all.
Ed wandered into the bathroom. Greed's clothes were piled in the corner. Ling himself was in the bath — about four inches under the water, eyes closed, hair bobbing up to the surface.
Ed's response was about equal parts shit, don't drown and can't leave him alone for a second. He hauled Ling's head and shoulders out of the water and shook him vigorously. Ling's head nodded for a moment, and then he started coughing. He looked round at Ed, confused, hair plastered to the side of his face. Then he spat a thin stream of water straight in Ed's eye.
"Low blood sugar," Ling said weakly, "it's very inconvenient."
"So how come it never bothers Greed? It's the same body."
Ling didn't reply for a moment. He just gave Ed the look. Prior to knowing Ling, Ed had only ever seen that look worn by pathetic, adorable stray kittens, usually while Al was holding three in one gauntlet and gesturing with the other gauntlet at their appealing little faces. Between them, Al and Ling had made Ed permanently suspicious of cats.
"Thanks," said Ling brightly. "Greed says drowning feels rather nasty." Crap. Now that Ed remembered, he could have just left him there until he regenerated, that'd teach him.
"You owe me," said Ed. "'Cause of the hotel room, and I just saved you from drowning, and as soon as I've had my turn in the bath, I'm heading off to the square to buy us schnitzel and fries from that food place. That's like, three separate things." He folded his arms. It definitely had to be him who went out for the food. Two of them would draw more attention, and if Ling got the food in on his own, Ed's schnitzel would arrive at the hotel room in Ling's stomach.
Ling put his head on one side for a moment, as if he was trying to process Ed's words. "Ah, sexual favours! I thought you were just being generous." Ed rolled his eyes. "But I'm happy to oblige!"
He looked, Ed thought, a little bit too happy.
Ling Yao was in a good mood. He'd been saved from drowning, he was full of stodgy Amestrian food, and he was squeaky clean. He had a hotel bed for which he was not paying and he was currently sitting on it, between Ed's spread, very naked legs, with a bottle of lavender hand lotion from the bathroom. To cap it all off, Greed was asleep. Well, asleep or snooping, Ling could never quite tell which. It was usually best not to enquire.
As Ling smeared lotion on his fingers, Ed watched his hands, round-eyed and with the most hilarious look on his face: mouth curving down deeply at the corners, a little outraged, a little unnerved and a little intrigued.
"Ed, just trust me a moment. I've never steered you wrong on these things, have I?" Ling punctuated his argument with a slow stroke up the length of Ed's cock, hoping to get Ed distracted enough not to concentrate too hard on what Ling's other hand was up to. Ed tipped back his head and half-closed his eyes, giving in without acknowledging it.
Ling circled his finger for another moment, then pressed it inward slowly. As he did so, he mentally burnt an incense stick for any hypothetical Amestrian sex gods who might feel like blessing him in this endeavour.
Ed exhaled harshly and gave the ceiling a very sceptical look. After a few moments, he said, "Look, I told you, I'm not really into —"
Ling smiled, and carefully curled his finger. Ed's head shot off the pillow, and he groaned loudly.
From the connecting wall came the distinct sound of something heavy being thrown at a wall.
Got it first try, how good did that make Ling? Very good indeed. Or possibly, he should thank imaginary incense and Amestrian sex gods? He wouldn't want to annoy them, being gods and everything, but surely they wouldn't begrudge him a little smugness?
"What did you do?" said Ed, breathlessly. He was frowning, staring up into mid-air with one hand fisted in his bangs. "That felt" — he exhaled — "was it some weird-ass ninja sex thing? Is it something to do with qi? You really need to explain that properl-"
Ling repeated the motion, and Ed choked off in mid-sentence. It was adorable the way he always tried to intellectualise sex, it really was. And so was how easy it was to distract him.
Ed raised himself up on his elbows, and looked down at his own crotch, as if he was hoping to somehow see what was going on inside him. He frowned, shifted his hips very slightly. He pulled a little face. Ling waited.
"Okay, do that again." Ed raised a finger. "Don't go crazy, I'm not giving you the go-ahead here. Just — one more time. As an experiment." Ling obliged. Ed twitched, and took a sharp breath.
"There's something — a thing up there. All men have it." Ling pressed gently at the thing in question, to see what sound Ed would make this time. It was another little gasp. How hard would Ed hit him, Ling wondered, if Ling told him how cute he looked right now?
"A thing? You're so articulate."
"I don't know the word for it in Amestrian," said Ling loftily. "It's hardly my fault, I didn't know I'd be doing so much of this. My girl Yin calls it the 'little chestnut'."
"That's really not helpful," said Ed, settling back onto the bed. "I need proper anatomical terms here. Maybe it's like, a gland or a bunch of nerves or something? There's a whole bunch of stuff up there, I just didn't know any of it was, y'know, sensitive. I'm definitely gonna have to look this up when —"
More adorable intellectualising, Ling thought as he started work again. This time, he kept it up for a while, pressing his nose into Ed's hip and enjoying the good clean smell of his skin, and the shuddering and the funny noises that Ed was trying to muffle in the spare pillow. "You see?" He propped himself up on one elbow, so that his lips hovered an inch or two above Ed's cock. "It's like I always say. If you just relax, and keep an open mind ..."
Ed put the pillow aside, looked at him, panting, and made a vague, acquiescent sound. Ling smirked at him, and lowered his head.
"Four of a kind," said Darius, placing his cards down and taking a celebratory swig from his beer bottle.
"Pffft," said Heinkel. "Nice catch." He leaned further back in his chair and took another look over his hand for a moment, but Darius knew he was doomed. It was good to be him right now. He was enjoying a quiet evening of hanging out without having to babysit the brats or knock their heads together. He was winning at poker, to the tune of two packets of cigarettes and the last stick of beef jerky; he had a cold beer in his hand, the prospect of a night's sleep in an actual bed ahead, and better yet, a chance to do laundry. Sometimes it sucked that they couldn't have spliced him with a gorilla that sweated a little less.
The clock in the corner ticked. Heinkel went to set his cards down.
Then the quiet was shattered by a cry that reverberated through the wall.
"Lingwhatthefuck! Get your teeth off the goods!"
Darius sighed hugely, pulled off his other boot, and pitched it hard at the connecting wall.