Secretly, Alfons likes staying at the lab later than Edward. He will never admit it, because he knows Edward prefers them to walk home together. But there is just something calming about being left alone in the empty room, the machinery dormant, test tubes shining faintly in the light of the setting sun, dust settling—all waiting for him to animate or not, as he chooses.
In peace, he collects his thoughts, clears his mind, gathers his patience (frazzled from a day of working with Edward in close quarters), and on the more physical end of things—arranges his notes and papers, documents his progress or lack thereof.
And then, he encounters a flaw in the theorem, a mistake in the calculations—and automatically turns, his mouth already open to ask what Edward thinks. But the lab is empty, and Edward is home alone, and then he remembers that though Edward will never admit to his loneliness, the pain of it is acutely visible in every movement, in every half-smile.
Suddenly, the calm of the laboratory seems less welcoming, the ticking of the clock grows threatening, counting down seconds to the end of his life, and he thinks, I will have an eternity of peace. Frittering away precious moments on unnecessary privacy is suddenly wasteful.
Hastily, he packs up his papers and rushes home as fast as his laboring lungs allow him to, his mind filled with conflicting images of Edward: silent and solitary, staring off into space, his heart and mind far away. Or soft and flushed, lips quirked into what just approached an honest smile, meeting Alfons' eyes with unfocused gold, heart beating beneath Alfons' hand, so close to his grasp.
Which will it be, tonight? He knows what he hopes for, what he always hopes for, and yet....
He prays for the day when he will return to a far-off Edward, and somehow miraculously find the words, the actions, to call him back from his imaginary world.
He has yet to succeed.
Gracia's shop is dark and closed. He skirts it, climbs the stairs, finds their door. Cold under his fingers the knob is stiff as usual, and maybe that is how Edward always knows the second he returns.
Acknowledgment of his return depends on other factors.
Tonight, practically the moment he steps inside, Edward is upon him, scolding. They are practically out of food, why did Alfons have to stay so late, if he is already staying late, why couldn't he have picked up something to eat on the way—Alfons looks pale, is he sure he is alright?
Alfons cuts off Edward's complaints with his lips, and Edward just melts against him. Amber eyes flutter shut in surrender, words muffled to soft sounds trapped in the back of his throat. Beneath his hands he feels the gradual relaxing of taut muscles in Edward's shoulders.
A wild hope flutters when he feels Edward's hands on his hips, tentative, reaching to hold him—hope that dies, as always, when after a few abortive tugs Edward lets go, drops his hands to his sides.
Today is another day that Edward will not pull him close, will not recognize that maybe Alfons needs to be wanted, and not just tolerated.
When they pull apart, Edward opens his eyes, looking to Alfons for—
Acceptance. Affirmation. Calls him to leave behind this mundane world of reality and follow Edward to a realm of light and magic and myth. Each day his resolve weakens, the tiny voice in his mind stubbornly saying why not growing stronger.
But his soul belongs to rocketry; he cannot give it to Edward, despite how much he might like to.
With every such rejection, the light in Edward's face dies, and the pathway of dreams closes once more, leaving Edward alone in his world.
Now Edward lets him enter the house, dulled, and ashamed of betraying such weakness.
And that is why, Alfons thinks, he stays late at the lab. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when utterly alone, Edward (who will never need Alfons) remembers, even if only for a short time, and wants.
Then, Alfons thinks of what it would be like to have this forever—whispered words of desire in his ears, a forehead resting on his shoulder trustingly, adoration in the movement of lips on his neck.
If only his time weren't so limited, he might have found the courage to take a breath and take the leap and follow wherever Edward might take him.
But his time is draining away, and there is not enough of him to give Edward what he needs and still have anything left over for himself. Selfishly, he takes what he can, and offers Edward false comfort in the shuddering aftermath.
They lie in bed, side by side but never touching, and Alfons wonders whether when they come together their camaraderie is an illusion, or whether they are both stubbornly clinging to the illusion of loneliness when they are apart.