One Summer's Afternoon

The first time they kiss, it is a disaster.

Most of the problem is that he doesn't at all expect them to be kissing when it happens. He's not ready. He's not really sure that he'll ever be ready. He's had second thoughts in few days since they first touched. Alfons likes him, likes to touch him, rather blatantly at times. He'll be sitting outside underneath his favorite oak tree, and Alfons will come sit right up next to him, catch his pinky with Alfons's pinky and lean into him ever so slightly. It's a little bit girly and Ed isn't sure what he should think of it. On the one hand, he always has liked to be liked. People praise his intelligence and it makes him preen; people drool after him and it sends a funny thrill down his belly and into his feet to know that he is an attractive man. On the other hand, he can't tell—does he like Alfons back? Enough to be doing this? He's always prided himself in being a fair person. Never got involved with anyone because he knew he couldn't afford it. And he's not sure, honestly, what it would mean if he can afford it now. He is going to make it home someday, he constantly tells himself. He doesn't have time for any of this, oak trees and summer days and a pale, bony pinky twined with his.

Then Alfons presses the issue behind the tool shed one night when they're out stargazing, and Ed is upset to realize he doesn't have the foggiest clue where to put his nose.

It starts off well enough. One moment he is looking up the Summer Triangle, the next he sees nothing but the stars in Alfons's eyes, a gentle, quirky smile that the boy only wears around him when they are alone. Pale hair all ghostly in the moonlight, and he shivers a little to realize that, like it or not, Alfons is drifting closer, and in the moment how do you think to say no? You don't, he discovers in a rush of horrified fascination, Alfons's breath hot and sweet against his cheek, watching smooth lips grow inexorably closer, and that is when he unfortunately forgets about his stupid nose. He tries to tilt his head up at the exact moment Alfons tips his to the side, and the end result is that they smack the bridges of their respective olfactory organs together and wind up cursing, each feeling like an idiot and not able to outright admit it.

"Fuck," Ed says, looking down at the ground, holding his throbbing nose. He looks over at Alfons out of the corner of his eye, but as usual Alfons has gone beet red and isn't about to say anything—it's written all over the embarrassed lines of his face.

Typical, Ed thinks, and spits at the ground in disgust. Sometimes he thinks the boy would be better off to join the circus as the Human Tomato, he'd make money that way and shit, as if he doesn't blush enough for it. Must be something about having skin that pale. Alfons does anything at all to raise his blood pressure and he's a walking sunset for days.

He considers that him being near Alfons raised the boy's blood pressure and it gives him that funny tingling feeling again, all the way into his toes.

"You okay?" he asks, and straightens up.

"Yeah," Alfons says. "Sorry." He has his head tilted back now and he's staring up at the stars, lost in them. Ed follows Alfons's gaze to Cassiopeia, the chair-shaped constellation in this new and unusual night sky—one of the many that Alfons taught him the name to, here out among tall grass and fragrant heather.

He steps up next to Alfons and hooks the pinky of his left hand around the pinky of Alfons's right.

"We'll get better," he promises quietly.

They do.

Much better, in fact. Alfons, it turns out, has a bold streak Ed hadn't imagined possible, but in the days following it suddenly seems like they're kissing everywhere—in the shed out by the old well, the attic Oberth is having them clean, even just now, most shockingly, the hallway right outside the kitchen, where Tilly is not ten feet away frying potatoes for their dinner. Quick pecks, little stolen kisses, but Ed cannot help the thrill he gets every time Alfons suddenly stops him and darts down to press their lips together. It's like the roiling feeling one gets from being on a boat or building up to a big transmutation. Ed can't ever quite figure out what he's supposed to do with his hands (put them down on Alfons's hips? up around his neck? too far to reach for the neck now, damn the bastard, he just keeps growing) but sometimes he's half afraid he's going to clap. So far he's avoided it.

Alfons catches him again in the washroom when they clean up after dinner and Ed actually does clap, buzzed as he is.

"You have such strange habits, you know that?" Alfons laughs at him, later in his bedroom.

"Like you don't, Mr. 'I color-code my notes'," Ed sulks. Alfons is flopped all the way along his mattress, stretching neatly from one end of the bed to the other, and he remembers his earlier grievance. "And you're getting too tall."

Alfons grins and rolls over onto his back. He has a disturbingly disarming smile.

"I can always lie down, if that intimidates you less."

Which of course, Ed himself can't take lying down. Manly pride dictates that he reply with a fist, so he jumps on the boy, making a great show of being affronted. They wrestle about playfully until Tilly yells up the stairs that if they're so eager to behave like heathens, they can just as well tussle outside with the animals. Both of them immediately freeze and call back a resounding yes, ma'am. Ed hasn't ever given her the occasion to test it, but in the back of his mind he feels utterly certain that this strange First Lieutenant look-alike could make good on her threat to throw them to her birds in the hen house. And well, being hurled headfirst out the back door is not the way he wants to start the night. He grins down at Alfons.

Realizes he has Alfons pinned.

That image suddenly means a lot more to him than it used to. He scrambles off Alfons's hips immediately and apologizes, though judging from Alfons's reaction he's gotten the picture also. Ed's ears are hot, like twin radiators, and he doesn't need to look in a mirror to realize that he's probably just as flushed as Alfons right now.

"Sorry," he says, though Alfons just nods, looking preoccupied. He has his hands clasped in front of him, one thumb rubbing absently against the other. It's what he does whenever he's thinking about something particularly difficult. Ed worries the inside of his cheek himself, also trying to put the pieces together. They're both men... what the fuck are they supposed to do, alone in a room together, one straddling the other and the one beneath looking up with that surprised, anticipating expression? He has an excellent understanding of anatomy, and a roughish hypothesis of how to work two bodies together, but textbooks have no meaning in the face of actually feeling these things. Alfons's hands against his already feel so completely different from how he perceives his own touch. Would it be like that with both of them naked? Would it hurt, maybe? Alfons has callouses at the tops of his palm, etched in from wielding tools and assorted heavy labors. Ed shivers a little as he envisions those rough patches elsewhere, inside pants, sliding along delicate skin.

And to look over at Alfons next to him and realize, from the intensity of his thumb-twiddling and the increasing smile across his face, that he's thinking the exact same thing...

This is too much, a helpless part of him thinks. He should have other thoughts in his head, thoughts of home or physics or rockets or something, but right now the full brunt of his obsessive side is fixated solely on this. This this this, the tilt of Alfons's smile and the tired way his hair droops into his eyes, and the way he feels that spark of creation whenever their lips meet.

He tilts his head a little more toward the other boy, thinking, and realizes Alfons is trying to steal a kiss again. He's willing to let himself be distracted.

Of course, as brazen as they are, it's only a matter of time before they get themselves caught.

It is the middle of the day and it's too hot to nap outside; not cool enough to contemplate anything else. Except perhaps this, Ed with his back against the blessedly cool wall, and Alfons in front of him, shirt unbuttoned two or three notches to reveal an awfully tempting gap. Alfons keeps trying to lick all the sweat from his neck and Ed is contemplating sticking his hand down Alfons's shirt, and they are so caught up in the hot, hotter, hottest that they scarcely have any warning at all when the door to their right suddenly creaks loudly and opens—Oberth walking in, and they just barely have time to jerk their lips apart, none to spare to separate. Oberth sees them, Ed's prosthetic hand still clasped tightly to Alfons's real one, and he nearly drops the papers he is holding.

"What in god's name—"

Alfons drops his hand like he's been burned, and the sound he makes is hopeless. He takes a step back and for once he isn't blushing. He's shock white, looks like he might be in imminent danger of passing out.

Oberth's dark eyes are narrowed, burning, on them and he is not a stupid man—Ed knows that look, used to see it over expense reports and fights in debriefing sessions, and he knows with numb horror that he has to do something.

"Wait! This isn't —" Edward says quickly, grasping about for straws. Finds one. "There's this girl," he says, giving Alfons a hard stare. "Alfons likes her, but he doesn't know how to ask her... I was instructing him!"

It is an absurd lie, ludicrous, but if there's one thing he has learned over the years it's the human mind's predilection for swallowing even the most impossible lies, if they will allow one to continue disbelieving the truth. The wheels in Oberth's mind turn visibly, and then he looks to Alfons.


At least for this part, the acting goes well. Alfons's own natural embarrassment dovetails with what Ed has just said, and he buries his hands in his face. Appropriate, Ed hopes, for a man who has just been caught with his hand in another's. He wishes he understood the rules of this place.

"Winifred," Alfons groans. "We see her all the time but she never even gives me the time of day."

Oberth blinks a bit. "The engineer's daughter?"

"Yessir," Alfons says mournfully, and Ed nods slowly, considering. It is all truth, of course—the girl ignores Alfons, because every time Alfons goes round to her shop Ed has been with him. He's felt her watching him out of the corner of his eye, and he can't tell what he thinks about that. Her blue eyes and blonde hair could have belonged to Winry, if Winry had been given to wearing long dresses and hats when she went out into the market.

A sudden pang of homesickness strikes him, and he fights to keep it down. This is not the time, and he already knows it is most definitely not the place.

"You do realize she's English," Oberth says to Alfons. He still has that disapproving frown.

No matter, Ed spies an opening. "Yeah, that's why he came to me," he says in the boldest tone he can muster. "My English is better." A forced eye roll. "I keep telling him he just needs to stop pussy-footing around with love notes, girls don't like a guy who's bashful, but he doesn't ever get it. I was trying to give him an object lesson." And now to pad the deal. He swallows his pride and turns wide eyes up on Oberth, hoping that perhaps in this case the man proves to be as much like the bastard as he looks.

"Unless you have any advice for us, sir? Surely you know more about women than the both of us put together."

His ploy works. Oberth gives them one last, penetrating look, and then his eyes ease a bit. Ed can't tell if that's because he's decided to believe them, or because, like the bastard, he's just decided to file the truth away for an opportune moment to hold it over his head. Either way, he doesn't care, so long as Alfons will stop looking at him like that. His distress is distressing.

"I think I might be able to help you," he says jovially, clapping a hand around Alfons's shoulders. "Don't let the good wife find out though, I'm sure she'll think you're far too young to be hearing from me." He starts to guide Alfons away, Alfons looking like a small thing trapped, and Ed lets them go, feeling relieved but also again, a bit helpless.

Oberth pauses in the doorway, gives Alfons's shoulder a friendly thump.

"You know," the man says, chuckling quietly, not facing Ed but somehow he feels the man is watching him just the same. "When I joked that Edward was your woman, I never meant seriously."

Definitely, definitely holding over his head. Ed groans and drops his face into his hands.

No matter what the world, apparently the bastard is always a bastard.

For appearance's sake, Alfons does indeed ask Winifred on a stroll the very next day. To his dismay, she accepts, and they walk up and down the boulevard chatting warmly, her arm hooked discretely around his. The research group cheers them on from the sidewalk whenever the happy couple ambles past.

Edward stays at home holed up in his room, biting hard on his pillow and pretending to study.

He doesn't get to see Alfons for almost a week—they'd mutually agreed they needed time apart to let the situation cool off—but each minute of it wears on him. He finds himself looking for Alfons, missing his company. Familiarity breeds contempt, so they say, but absence also makes the heart grow fonder. Ed wonders if that is the sage's subtle way of saying that love destroys men's minds.

Because this is love, he thinks faintly, or at least something like it. Alfons tosses a pebble against his window early on the morning of the eighth day and he jumps out of bed so fast he takes the sheets with him, his entire being focused on how fast he can dress and get himself downstairs. Five minutes, it turns out, but only because he stops to brush his teeth. He knows exactly what they'll be doing the second they get out of eyesight, and he's exactly right. Alfons holds out until the oak tree, and then they twine and he pushes Ed up against it.

"What about your new girlfriend?" Ed teases between breaths. They are kissing so hard that's actually rather difficult.

Alfons relents for a moment. "She broke up with me."

"She did?"

"Yes." Alfons's tongue on his again, and there is that rolling feeling... he no longer wonders what to do with his hands, because by now he knows. In the pre-dawn light, Alfons's pale hair has an unearthly beautiful tint, and Ed reaches one hand up to run through it while the other keeps him grounded, anchored on the knobby corner of Alfons's hip.

"Seems she's waiting for another," Alfons says, staring at him meaningfully, and Ed gives him a faint excuse for a smile.

"She'll have to wait a long time then," he says, and kisses Alfons again. He doesn't want to think about Winry, the real one, waiting at home by a tree like this, on a hill just as green that he might never see again. "Maybe forever."

Gives him a better grin then, trying to think positive. "Still, it's a shame. You made a handsome couple, everybody said so."

"In another life, perhaps," Alfons grins back, and runs his hands up Ed's back. "This time around, you are mine."

So possessive. Ed looks at him for a moment, not sure what to say.

"Do you know how you sound when you talk like that?" he asks, a little choked up. There's that funny thrill in his belly, and it runs all through his toes, his fingers, lips, everything. "Girly—"

"Like someone in love," Alfons whispers, and his cheeks are hot and red, but when Ed pulls his head down he does not move away.

They come together again, and again, and again until eventually all he can hear is the sound of their breathing, and all he can feel is everything.

Later—much later—they are lying on their backs, listening to the bees drone, basking in the cool shade of the oak tree. They have a brief conversation about the shapes of the leaves—why is it that some oaks have pointed leaf tips and others are round?—before they revert to the usual shop-talk.

"Oberth thinks it's possible, liquid fuel," Alfons says, and his brilliant eyes are shining. "With the new nozzle design."

He looks up at the sky and smiles back at it, rumpled by the morning but undefeated. Alfons's mind is ever-expansive, obsessed with the universe and everything in it, and he turns the force of that dream toward Ed.

"Can you imagine, Edward? Seeing other worlds?" He looks up at the sky again and reaches his hand out up, up, up toward the sun. "Even once before I die, I would like to make it out there. I would give anything... wouldn't you?"

Ed simply nods and leans closer, listens to Alfons chatter about rockets and spaceships and the planet he's going to name after them, because surely even light speed they'll conquer in time. He is going to go home someday, he thinks, but maybe, just maybe, he can take Alfons with him. And if not...

They hook pinkies in the grass and Ed hums in tempo with the wind through the tree branches, an old song from Risenburg.

He has time enough for this.