to sleep, and not doing a very good job of it. Alfons shifted in his
bed again, searching for a comfortable position, unable to quiet his
body or his mind enough for sleep, though he wanted it. He sighed with
relief when he heard the door to the flat creek open and then shut. He
was back, at least. Alfons couldn't help holding his breath and
Edward poked his head into the room. The shaft of light from the hallway illuminated him from behind, so he was a silhouette with that shock of hair sticking up, in that way he liked. He stayed quiet, breathless for a moment, waiting.
"Psst," Edward hissed. "I'm back. Are you all right?"
"You sure? You don't need anything?"
"Go to bed, Edward," Alfons said.
Later, reading in bed, so restless he had given up on sleep, he heard movement in the hallway, Edward going toward the kitchen. He got up and crept behind him, followed him in, found him tipping his chamberpot into the sink basin.
"Didn't we agree not to do that anymore?" Alfons asked.
Edward pumped the faucet, smiled down at the sink.
"Yeah. I never stopped though."
"Neither did I."
They smiled at each other.
Alfons took a step: he sought the warmth of the other body without even thinking, but stopped himself in time. Edward rinsed the chamberpot and shook it out with businesslike efficiency before putting it under his arm and walking past him.
"Good night, Edward," Alfons said stiffly, after he had passed him. So he wouldn't have to see his face.
When Alfons returned home, Edward was banging about in his bedroom. He went to the door to find him pulling his small suitcase out of the wardrobe.
"So, you're coming with me then?" Alfons asked, secretly pleased.
"Yeah, of course I am," said Edward. "I can't let you go off on your own." He tossed the empty suitcase onto the bed and taking a step back, tipped his head back to look at the top of the wardrobe. "Yours is all the way up there."
Alfons entered the room, approached the wardrobe, stretched slightly on his toes to reach and grab the handle, then gracefully pulled it down.
"Your wool sweater is still in here," Edward said, looking at the wardrobe that they had shared for months. Little by little, Alfons had been removing his things and putting them in his own room. He pulled his sweater off the top shelf and stoodawkwardly still,holding itin one hand, the suitcase in the other.
"It'll be nice to get out of town," said Edward.
Edward was standing close to him, and took another step closer. Alfons could see the blue veins under the skin of his cheeks and neck, the blood under that pale wintry skin. In a few weeks, with luck with the weather, and time in the country, they would both have red cheeks and sunburnt noses, as they had when they had first met, last summer in Transylvania. Alfons wanted to see that again, Edward with the golden skin. For old times' sake.
They were standing closer than they had for some time; all of Alfons's senses were trained on Edward, those delicate veins he could see, and he could smell sweat, dirty hair, cigarette smoke...maybe the smell of another man on him. Whatever it was, he wanted to bury his face in his neck, bite him maybe, feel his lips against his neck, Edward's teeth on his earlobe.
"Won't it?" Edward prompted. "I've been thinking, and you're right, this laboratory sounds like it might be a good bet after all. They'll hire us for a few weeks, at least. Don't you think?"
"Yes, sure." Alfons looked at the small suitcase he held. "I'm glad you remembered this was up there. I wouldn't have thought to look."
"Hmm." Edward regarded him, then crossed his arms. "You'd better get cracking. I'm almost ready to go right now."
"I don't think so," said Alfons. "I can smell you from here. You need a bath."
Edward lifted his left arm and shoved his nose into his armpit.
"Whew—you're right...Guess I've been letting myself go without you around."
That wasn't quite fair; Alfons had been around. He'd just been trying to keep his distance, because they'd agreed to it. Well, Alfons had asked for it, and Edward had agreed to it, albeit reluctantly.
"You can come with me. If you want." Edward made the suggestion timidly, for him. It reminded Alfons of the very first days of their intimacy.
He resolved to be strong: "You can do it yourself."
"I know," Edward said. "Still, it would save me a lot of time."
Alfons's presence in the bathroom seemed superfluous once Edward was in the bathtub. He felt useless and self-conscious and leaned against the sink with his arms crossed. They had used to take baths together, to share the rare hot water, or at the very least, one of them would use the steam in the room to shave at the basin while the other bathed. He didn't really need a shave, he'd had one only yesterday, and a bath too, to be clean for his medical examination.
"Wash my hair?" Edward said, looking up at him appealingly, and splashed his hand in the water like a child. He had a square of wet flannel on top of his head, dripping water down into his eyes so that he squinted to keep it out.
Alfons moved from his place leaning against the sink and, sighing, began to roll up his shirtsleeves.
Taking the flannel off Edward's hair, he tossed it over Edward's crotch, covering him for decency's sake, and also, so he wouldn't have to be reminded about what he was missing. He rubbed the rough bar of soap vigorously between his hands to make an unsatisfactory lather, then began to work it into Edward's hair.
"You've gotten spoilt," Alfons said, but Edward had, he realized, cleverly softened his resolve for him. He did like it when Edward let him take care of him. It made him feel useful, and needed, even if the truth was his help wasn't entirely necessary. It made him feel like someone would miss him when he was gone.
He helped Edward out of the bath and as he sat on the edge of the tub rubbing his former lover dry with a flannel, he realized what a manipulative bastard he had become. He rubbed the long strands of hair dry between his hands and the flannel, wanting more than anything to do what he had used to do after their baths together not long ago, kiss that neck and bury his face in the clean hair. When wet and loose the hair fell far down Edward's back, hung there like rope made of yellow gold. How lucky he'd been, to have had such a beautiful lover. And he'd thrown it away.
Suddenly Edward had leaned back against him and tucked the top of his head beneath Alfons's chin. He knew, Alfons thought, that he couldn't resist this, and automatically leant his cheek against the damp hair. Clean and naked: all Alfons wanted to do was throw his arms around him and squeeze. Edward knew this of course; by now they knew each other quite well, or at least, knew the way their bodies reacted to one another. What went on in their minds was another story. Before he knew it, Edward had reached for his hand and placed it over his cock, which was getting hard, and just held it there. Because Edward knew he liked it like that, slow and teasing, waiting, waiting, while Edward was too impatient for that. But now he was doing everything right.
It was too late, of course, to pull away now. There was nothing for it but to allow himself to respond, to feel himself get hard and enjoy it, to hold Edward's cock in his hand, smell his clean hair, put his free arm around his chest and rub his palm against Edward's nipple. Edward's breath began to catch and hitch, and then he began making those dear little noises at the back of his throat, mnh mnh mnh.
Alfons felt himself go entirely. It had only been two weeks, barely two weeks, but he was useless. He began to kiss Edward's neck and shoulders, let his hands run over his body. Like an addict undergoing a relapse, the need suddenly became sharp and fierce. Their bodies fit together so perfectly like this, like two puzzle pieces, Edward fit against him like he was meant for him, a missing piece found. Edward's hand came up behind his head, grabbed the back of his hair and pulled hard.
That was it. Alfons stood up and as quickly as possible pulled off his own clothes, hastily leaving them to get soggy in the steamy puddles on the bathroom tiles. He climbed into the tub, then reached up and pulled a smiling Edward down with him. The bath was now empty of water, just slippery with a soapy film, stained with grit and needing a scrub. He didn't care, all he wanted was this: he lay down in the deep tub, parted his legs and threw his bent knees against the sides of the tub. Edward sat at the other end, looking damp, and charmingly flushed, his single arm wrapped around his single bent leg, smiling wider than Alfons thought he had ever seen him.
"I've broken your resolve," Edward said. "That was too easy."
"Just shut up and do it," said Alfons, throwing his arm over his eyes.
"You miss me?" smirked Edward, and Alfons could feel him sliding closer, could feel the heat of his body as their skin touched. A little sound as Edward arranged himself, then, what he had been hoping for, a soft tongue circled the top of his cock, then the mouth gently closed around it.
"This doesn't mean anything," Alfons forced himself to say, even as the tongue delicately slid down the shaft of his penis and kissed the inside of his thigh.
"Sure it doesn't, bastard," said Edward, but there was no real malice in his voice.
Alfons made sure to give Edward a kiss afterward. He felt that his obligation was at an end once he had seen Edward back to his bedroom, but Edward sat down on the edge of the bed they had so recently shared, wrapped in the flannels, and looked at him with those big expressive eyes, an inscrutable smirk on his face. It could mean, Fuck you. It could mean, Stay with me. It could mean anything. It was all he could do to turn and leave the room as quickly as he could without actually breaking into a run.
Back in his own room, he peeled off the sodden shirt that had been on the bathroom floor and sat down on the bed. He coughed; there was a draught in the room, he could hear the wind whistling through the closed window. His fingers were beginning to feel chilly, a let-down after the furious, steamy warmth of the bathroom. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his damp trousers and felt a piece of paper there. He pulled it out, unfolded it. It was the letter from Herr Doktor Ries, informing him of the results of his tests and that he must report to the hospital for admission immediately. He crumpled the letter and tossed it on the unruly pile of papers that cluttered his tiny desk in the corner.
He looked at the train ticket to Passau he had bought on the way home, lying on the bedside table. Tomorrow he would be going to Passau. With Edward. That last part caused a thrill in his belly that surprised and embarrassed him.
Outside the sky was inky black now, illuminated by the dim streetlight and a luminous gibbous moon, floating like a half-deflated ball high in the sky. It was pleasant to imagine tomorrow night, he and Edward alone in a train compartment, the gentle rhythm of the train hurtling through time and space, alone, in the dark. With Edward.
He was sure that tomorrow he would be able to recall all the very important reasons why it wouldn't be a good idea for them to kiss.