The way their lives worked, it took a while before anyone noticed anything was off with the new guy at all. Their lab was part workplace, part residence, and so succeeded in being completely neither; by the time Edward was entrenched, he was too invaluable to bitch about, anyway. But when you looked close, the signs were all there.
He had a china doll's face, round and perfect; unusual eyes that he never let anyone see for very long. "Medical condition," he said in that husky, unbroken voice of his, and maybe others bought it, but Alfons noticed Edward said that a lot, about his odd gait, about his stiff back. He always dressed impeccably, though obsessively, in long pants and shirts buttoned all the way up to the top even on sweltering days. Never, ever rolled his sleeves up. There was a rumor that he was a nancy boy, because he was so pretty and was never seen with girls, but Alfons didn't quite believe that either. Edward never got close to anyone, male or female. It was as if there was an invisible box he carried with him, keeping a careful several inches between him and the rest of the world at all times. Alfons had offered to help him with the back once, knowing what it was like to hurt after days and nights spent hunched over an engine chassis, and Edward had nearly jumped out of his skin trying to get away.
Edward kept to himself in a literal box sometimes as well, in a small room in the complex that was always meticulously tidy. Everything he owned seemed to fit in the small closet, except for one gigantic steamer trunk, which was always locked and never privy to discussion. He always locked the door when he was inside, even to change shirts, which others did right out in the hall. Didn't open it either, except for a few.
Alfons was one of them.
A sudden flurry of activity. It was late, and Alfons had not expected Edward to be asleep; neither was it entirely surprising that Edward was up to being startled.
"Who is it?" Voice high and suspicious. Alfons smiled gently and called back.
The door jerked open, a sudden hole in the hallway, and Edward's hand shot out, caught Alfons by the elbow and pulled.
"What do you want?" Edward asked, almost accused, the second they were both inside. Alfons noticed he locked the door, too—even before he knew Alfons's business.
Alfons felt momentarily sad for how hard this was going to be.
Edward had obviously been interrupted getting ready for bed, or perhaps had been lounging about in casual clothing—a hard thing to picture, but possible, Alfons supposed. He was wearing work pants on the bottom, but looser night clothes on the top, and it was that that clenched it.
Alfons had been waiting for Edward to slip, and there it was—the tiniest hint of brown straps, not skin-color, peeking out from beneath the wide collar of Edward's shirt.
"W-what?" Edward flushed, pulling the collar closer. Alfons felt sorry, again. It was likely Edward wouldn't have let anyone else in at this hour—not when he didn't have time to get things together. Edward, for whatever reason, seemed to trust Alfons implicitly.
"Edward, I know."
"Know what?" As predicted, being stubborn.
"About this," Alfons said simply, and reached out to tap Edward's chest.
The reaction was sudden and violent, Edward pulling away so fast that he hardly seemed human; more like some kind of beast cornered. Bared teeth in a startled grimace.
"It's okay!" Alfons was quick to say. "Edward, please..." There was no other way to do this and be fair, and oh god, poor Edward, it really was true...
Alfons reached down and pulled up the front of her own shirt.
As soon as it had started, it stopped. Edward's fear turned to shock, red complexion blanched to white. Alfons's chest bindings were well done, but it was still obvious what they were—what they were meant to conceal.
"Me too," she said simply. "Me too."
"What the fuck," Edward said, and collapsed weakly into a crouch. Edward didn't seem to want to meet her eyes, for some reason, and Alfons waited patiently. When still nothing was forthcoming, she sighed and dropped her shirt.
"My mother was always sort of an Amazon, to begin with," Alfons said simply. "Since I took after her, people were always mistaking me for a boy anyway. So when they told me girls can't be accepted in the higher level math courses, I cut my hair." She flicked her head toward Edward. "What's your story."
Edward said nothing, continued to stare anywhere but at her. Alfons began to get annoyed.
"You don't have to play stupid," she said, a little testier than she'd meant. "I wanted to let you know, that I knew. That you're not the only one."
"You think I'm a girl?!" Edward said, with a harsh, low laugh. "Wow. That's fucking rich. Shit."
Annoyance flashed to full-fledged anger.
"Come on, just drop it already! I saw the bindings! What are you so afraid of!? I'm not going to tell on you, we're both in the same position, dammit Edward—"
Golden eyes seared up into hers suddenly, and Edward sprang up, snarling. In one fell move, ripped the shirt off.
"No, we fucking aren't."
It was Alfons's turn to flush. And stare. Flat. Edward was embarrassingly flat. No, wait.
Edward was a guy.
A few more sullen moments and Alfons realized what it was about Edward. Other than being suddenly, and very violently, male. His chest was muscled but imperfect, split on one side by an ugly mass of scars, and what Alfons had thought was a chest binding was really a leather and metal mass that swallowed Edward's whole shoulder—no, was his shoulder. His entire arm was...was...
"Happy now?" Edward groused, looking distinctly uncomfortable now that he had processed the fact that he was completely without shirt. "I'm not a fucking girl."
His entire arm was some kind of machine. "Edward, what happened!?" Alfons asked.
Edward fidgeted, looked even more uncomfortable. "Old injury." The right arm flexed a little, stiffly, and Alfons was fascinated.
"How does that...move!?" She asked, peering close.
It really appeared to be a prosthetic, but it flexed on its own just like a real limb...well, not quite the same. It moved a little slower than Edward's left arm, and the motion was a tad bit choppier. She remembered now the conversations they'd had about Edward's stiff shoulder, about him being a lefty. So this was really the reason.
Edward bit his lip and shied away, clamped his real arm over to hold the false one. "I—I don't know, to be honest," he said just a little too quickly. "My father made them for me."
Edward jerked his head toward the trunk, the one that never opened. "There's replacements. They're not very sturdy."
Alfons nodded eagerly. "Wow...can I see it!?"
Edward shook his head. "No, I uh...they're under development, he's still working on them. It's a big secret. You know how it is."
She was disappointed, but nodded. It was too bad, but she could certainly understand. "Ah, trade secrets, eh?"
He blinked at her, then smiled shakily. "Yeah, you could say so."
Edward cleared his throat. "So, uh, what about you?"
Alfons's turn to blink. And flush. "What about me?"
"How did you get like that, and why did you think...why did you think I was a chick?" Ed's face darkened, and Alfons wondered the wisdom of answering.
"Well, I thought I explained that first one already," she said. "Nobody would deal with me at the university, so I came back with my cousin's name."
Alfons gave him an exasperated look. "Yes, seriously...do I have to paint you a picture, or do you need to see them again?"
Edward's ears heated so fast Alfons wondered if they functioned as radiators. "No, uh, I'm okay."
"Anyway, as for why I thought you were in the same boat...well, you always took such pains to cover up. I thought maybe it was because you were like me...you had something to hide."
Edward fingered his ruined shoulder, frowned a little. "Well, you're right there, I do."
"Yeah," Alfons said, a little awkwardly. And dammit, academically she did realize that one couldn't be
right all the time, but still, it hurt her pride more than she wanted to admit that she had been so completely off mark.
Edward's face crumpled, and she wondered what she'd said.
"Well, sorry to disappoint you," he said curtly, and reached for his shirt. He whipped it off the floor with a vengeance, like he was trying to cut the air with it. "But I'm not a pretty little thing like you."
"'Little?'" Alfons raised an eyebrow.
Normally, Edward could take (a tiny amount) of teasing. Right now he just scowled and averted his gaze.
"Oh, fuck off."
Alfons wasn't sure if she should be thrilled that Edward (very male Edward, very shirtless Edward) had just called her pretty, or worried that he seemed so upset. She went with the latter.
"What? Edward, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," he groused, struggling to tug the shirt back on over his head. "Not your fault. I expected it."
"Expected what? I—" Belatedly, Alfons remembered that while she certainly found gears and machinery fascinating, it was not generally something other girls were into.
"Oh. Oh dear, Edward, I didn't mean it like that!" She protested. "It's actually really interesting!"
Edward paused in his fight with the shirt, gave her a rueful grin. "Yeah? I knew another girl who said that once."
Alfons wasn't sure what the strange coil of jealousy was doing in her gut. "Yeah?"
"She loved my arm more than me I think, beat me upside the head with a wrench if I got a scratch on it." Inexplicably, he was smiling at this. "She was good people."
"Oooookay." Alfons shook her head. "Whatever you say."
Edward narrowed his eyes. "What? You got a problem with my friends?"
"No, but my friends don't give each other head wounds." Alfons smiled. She looked at Edward's shoulder again. "But I think she was right about that prosthetic. You know, something like that could change the world. I'm serious."
Edward's eyes softened a little. He looked strangely...guilty?
"I mean it," she continued, approaching slowly. "So many people, once they get into a chair it's the end of them...this is really amazing stuff. I can understand why you don't want to show it yet, but I hope you will as soon as it's ready."
"Yeah," he swallowed. "I'll do that."
Alfons hadn't realized she'd gotten so close until she saw his Adam's apple move, realized that she was practically right on top of him. He was almost comically shorter than her, her perennial problem; even if she could dare to date she would never have anyone to match her height. Edward seemed to match in a weird, backwards way, though—he was the right height to fold against her chest and not let go. She had thought of doing that sometimes, when she'd still thought he was girl—platonically, a sisterly impulse, she'd told herself—but especially now that he was bared and masculine, it was even harder to ignore the urge.
Oh lord, let her not just do that without asking, it would be horribly rude.
"C-can I see it, please? If I promise not to tell anyone else." She covered, attempting to explain why she was lingering in his space. He nodded slowly and dropped the shirt, bit his lip and looked to one side, cheeks tinged scarlet. She reached a hand out, and pressed the fingertips lightly to the junction of metal and flesh.
He shuddered a little at the contact, swallowed audibly. She furrowed her brow. The feeling was like nothing she'd ever experienced before, puffy scar tissue and then rough leather, smooth metal, all transitioning into each other. Edward scrunched his eyes close and she looked at him sharply, concerned.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah." He didn't sound okay. He sounded stressed.
"You sure?" She asked skeptically. "You sure it doesn't hurt?"
"Yes!" He insisted. "Jeez, I'm not a baby!" He did sit down when she urged him, though.
She slid her hand a little further along the irregular curve of his injury, and watched in fascination as his eyebrows lifted, his shoulders quivered yet again. It was unusual for her attention to be on the person just as much as the machinery. Normally, the curve of steel was more interesting.
"Hold your arm out," Alfons demanded, back to business as usual, and watched him jerk a little. He talked a good fight, she granted him that, but as with all his bluffs it was obvious if you paid attention that he was treading on thin ice. His amazing prosthetic was steady as a rock, but his real arm was twitching a little. So tense.
Alfons felt again a little twitter in her belly and she masked it with a smile, let go of him for the moment.
"May I sit down?" she asked. He nodded slowly and she started easing herself down onto the bed; then he reversed the motion, began shaking his head no.
"Alfons..." he said, and shied away a little. "It's late."
"I'll be quick," she promised, and it was true. She had already surmised there was little she could actually learn from this, not without time to dissect and permission to remove this weird pseudo-cloth covering (was that really cloth, or some strange synthetic skin? Alfons certainly understood why Edward wore gloves all the time now). She leaned around behind him and peered, fascinated, at the joining from the back. It was symmetrical to the front; the entire thing a dish-shaped socket where the prosthetic fit in. A replacement socket mimicking the normal shoulder, but if that was the case, then how had...
He hissed as she attempted to slip her fingers into the crack between arm and socket, and withdrew immediately.
"Sorry," Alfons said.
Edward was bright red now and looked somewhere between furious and scandalized. "Alfons-" he growled.
"I said I was sorry!" Alfons said quickly, and gave the shoulder a careful rub. "I didn't know it hurt. But you shouldn't tense so much; it can't be good for you. You're tense all the time, and some people have noticed." At least, Alfons had noticed. "Does it hurt often...is that what you're still working on?"
Edward dropped his head and Alfons noticed guiltily that her friend was not paying much attention to the fact that she was still prodding at the edges of his prosthetic. Apparently he couldn't feel anything in the false limb itself.
"You should go, okay?" he rasped. "I'm not a chick, I've got a metal arm, is there anything else you want to know or do I have to wait for you to start picking my brains apart, too?"
"Sorry," Alfons breathed again and ducked her head. "You said I could look-"
"LOOK, not put your hands all over—how would you feel if I grabbed you in the—" Edward's hands started out toward Alfons's chest then stopped short, flailed briefly before retreating to his lap. His glower increased.
"Sorry," he said in a tone that indicated he thought he was dirt. "I forgot you were a...well okay, I remembered, but shit, this is just fucking weird." Alfons nodded, not entirely listening. She blinked for a few long moments, trying to reconcile the information she was getting.
"So me touching your shoulder...it's like being grabbed in—" she looked down at her bound chest briefly, then routed around to a gentler expression. "—a very sensitive region?"
Edward looked at Alfons like she was something that had just crawled out from under a rock. "YES," he hissed, nostrils flaring. "It attaches to the nerves directly; not as good automail, but good enough."
"This other stuff," Edward waved the question away. "Anyway, yeah, it sucks."
Alfons bit her lip. It hadn't looked like it 'sucked'.
"What are you doing," Edward said, a few seconds later, sounding strained.
"Apologizing," Alfons said simply, kneading a hand in smooth, careful movements down the center of her friend's back. "You never let anyone help you, you know that? Does this help any? I keep offering and you never let me."
Edward jerked away suddenly, raised his hand—then dropped it, looking upset.
"You're not being fair," he said, jaw tight.
"Why not?" Alfons challenged, though she felt vaguely guilty. She knew it was not the best thing for her to push the boundaries like this, but Edward already knew...in a perverse way, she couldn't get herself into any more trouble, really. She had already given him her identity, he held her secret in the palm of his hand...it wasn't like she had anything else to lose.
"I'm rubbing your shoulder that hurts," she informed him matter-of-factly. "How is that not fair?"
He loomed up in her vision suddenly, strange eyes large and terrible, and two hands, one metal, one flesh, seized her wrists, brought them together in front of her.
"Because I can't do that to you," he snarled, and then let go of her hands as if he'd been burned.
"Fuck," Edward spat.
She remained silent for a moment, not sure what she could say.
"You come in here, tell me you're a chick," Edward continued, in fine ranting form, and Alfons barely kept herself from rolling her eyes. She had seen this before. "No, first you tell me I'M a chick, then you tell me you're a chick, and then you wanna poke at the arm, and then you wanna start rubbing my shoulders cause I'm 'tense', damn right I'm tense, all this time I think you're a guy and I figure I was going crazy, and now you're just not fucking being fair and WHAT ARE YOU DOING-"
Alfons's hand had returned to his back and was rubbing slowly in circles. "You like this, don't you?" she asked softly.
His head jerked back. "What!?"
She kneaded a little deeper. "I want to be able to help you," she said truthfully. "That's why I came up here. You're always so distant, from all of us...I thought it was because you were, well, you know." Alfons gave him a sheepish grin. "Like me. I was wrong. But now you know my secret, and I still don't know anything about you...other than that you like this."
Kneaded her fingers in harder and watched as his face twisted into a startled grimace. "Is it really just the arm? It isn't, is it. What else is there, Edward? You can let me in."
For a moment, it almost looked like he was going to say something. He looked down at Alfons and there was the strange feeling he was looking through her, a vacant, strange expression on his face. Then he frowned a little and shook his head, and instead leaned in—and very gently—brushed his lips against her forehead.
"There," he said, almost defiantly. "Happy now?"
"Almost," she said, and grabbed his chin. His eyes widened, and before he could pull away, she bent down and pressed her own lips firmly against his.
"This wasn't what you were going to tell me," she sighed against his lips. "But I can live with that."
Edward made a very brief, half-hearted attempt to squirm away, but it wasn't like there was anywhere to go. His eyes darted briefly toward the door and then back to Alfons. She kissed him again and ensured his eyes stayed on her, then ran a hand heisitantly back to the seam of that fascinating prosthetic. He opened his mouth for that one, enough to let her slip her tongue inside, and now she was swallowing sounds.
"Shh," she breathed needlessly, and was surprised when he did quiet, as if the noises had a switch that could be toggled. His mouth worked harder against hers and his hands clenched at her shirt, fisted in it. She reflexively pulled away.
He looked up at her with hurt eyes and she got a grip, remembered that for better or worse he already knew. As a gesture of good faith, she smiled and reached up for the top button, began to unfasten her shirt. He looked briefly incredulous, then actually reached up to help with it. Bold. Alfons liked that.
That prosthetic hand was really quite dexterous.
The shirt came off, then the bindings; he faltered at that part and started looking decidedly nervous again. Alfons leaned over and kissed him some more to persuade him, tugged his hands over to her stomach and let him touch there for the time being. Warm and lukewarm fingers traced around her belly button, laced fire down through her thighs; it was a curious thing, actually feeling the difference between those two limbs. Alfons hissed and ripped the last layer of binding from her body, hypersensitive to the feel of the air around them and the heat radiating from his body. She decided to use that.
She threaded her fingers through Edward's hair and guided his head to one of her breasts. He made a brief, startled noise at the nipple pressed against his lips before hesitantly latching onto it the way she was encouraging him to. Alfons hissed and made sure to let him hear the little throaty sounds, because it had been so long since she had been able to let them hang free, and they were sore and sensitive under his slick tongue.
He managed to catch the tip of her nipple between his teeth and that tore it; she arched and made a real sound, caught unaware. Edward released her breast with a pop and surged forward all of a sudden, pressing her back against the mattress, snaking his arms around her back and burying his face into her shoulder like his life depended on it.
Control. Alfons struggled only briefly, being larger and probably more experienced, but ultimately gave up. Edward was trembling and seemed to want to be rubbing against her, so Alfons let him. He attacked her throat, chin, cleft of her collarbone with teeth and tongue, panting slightly, and she could feel a hard lump pressing into her hip.
Alfons slid her hands up his back and rubbed a little at the junction between his prosthetic and his body again. The response was phenomenal. His entire body arched into her, a solid line of tension drawn from head to toe, and she, encouraged, slipped the tips of her fingers very briefly into the junction itself again. A ragged gasp tore its way from his throat and she withdrew them quickly to keep from being pinched.
"I like this construction," she murmured, and enjoyed the feel of him scrabbling at her, licking at her, in general losing it. Alfons had on rare occasion experimented with people—while they were perfectly wasted, but she was competent enought to remember the rules of keeping her clothes on, watching the chest. It had never been this desperate. Their mouths met again, and for a moment even she was able to forget the tight control that normally kept these things compartmentalized safely. He stole the breath from her lips.
She couldn't help it, she wanted to see more of that. She ran her short nails down along the edge of that junction and was surprised to see him shudder, and then shrug her hand away.
"C-can't," he shook his head inexplicably, and despite what they were already doing somehow managed to look shy. "If you do that—" Face went entirely scarlet.
Oh. Ohhhhh. Alfons slid her hands down lower and clenched them over his lower back, willing herself to be nice. She was not sure why the junction of man and machine intrigued her so much, but she did not want to embarrass him. As lovely as he looked. She petted him softly and whispered gentle things, hoping to reassure him; she was not really sure if that was helping or not.
There was a hand fumbling awkwardly at the front of her pants.
Alfons gasped at the sudden thrill of electricity running through her legs, swallowed and shivered as he lifted up enough to tug them down a little. His eyes were fixed on hers suddenly, twin feverish suns, and his attention was focused with the same intensity he gave ballistics equations. He didn't ask permission, just looked briefly nervous before sliding his fingers (the human set, she registered distantly) lower into territory only Alfons had ever previously breached.
That. was. nice.
She pressed her hips up a little toward him, rubbed insistently against his fingertips, ohfuckrighthere, dammit, no lower, ohfuck, yesthere. He had an awed expression on his face and Alfons wanted to snap at him but really, she probably had that same goofy grin on her face, too. Her whole body was one big smile.
Edward rubbed haphazardly for a few minutes, sometimes touching her in the right places, sometimes not, and she wriggled and squirmed and tried to keep the pressure steady where she needed it to be, until finally his fingers twisted somehow and that was it, heat was pouring into her through a white-hot pinhole. She let out a shaky wail. When it was over, he buried his face into the crook of her neck and pressed his groin against her insistently, pleased as punch with himself and grinning like Christmas.
"That was good," Alfons said thickly and wrapped one arm around his right side. Slipped the other down between them. He pressed his groin appreciatively into her hand and smirked at her, expectantly; she gave him what he wasn't expecting. Without unfastening his pants at all she molded her hand around him and stroked (were they all so heavy? would it be like that without the fabric in the way?), and moved her other in for the kill.
With his groin held fast in one hand, she stroked solidly and decisively along the line of his prosthetic, as many times as it took. It did not take long.
"Oh FU—" was all he got out before he spasmed hard against her, trembling all over with an expression she thought might have burned itself onto her retinas. If she had looked like anything like that when she had come, she could understand the smug look.
Alfons continued to stroke until it was clear he was overstimulated, let up and just waited for him to come back to himself. There was wetness pressed against her hand now instead of hardness, and for a while there was nothing else but the sound of their breathing.
After a time he rolled off her and murmured something unintelligible and exhausted sounding, and she only figured it out from the hand on her hip tugging her toward him. Alfons curled up against him, still feeling residually tingly, and pressed an open mouthed kiss into his fine, silky hair.
"You okay?" she asked, nuzzling him softly, and he swallowed hard, fussed a little at his pants.
"Yeah," he replied. "You?"
"Never better," she said, and it was true.
She got up and fetched him a towel because he needed one, though her legs wobbled unsteadily; he rolled his pants off his hips and flushed a delicious shade of red in more place than one. She stared for a good long while, though not just at the soft pink organ.
"...you have more," she breathed, stars in her eyes as she stared at the obviously false leg, and Edward tilted his head then, a strange look in his eye.
"Alfons," he said slowly. "Do you mind if I ask...if 'Alfons' was your cousin, what is your real name?"
"Huh? Winifred..." she replied, and wondered why it was that he groaned and nodded.