Alfred flops against the table, his pencil falling from his hand to the floor. He groans theatrically. “Ludwig, help me study. I don’t understand any of this shit.”
Ludwig rubs his forehead with the palm of his hand and dips to pick it up. “You’re actually better than me at math. If you would just apply yourself you could help us both out and explain this better than Ms. Iliopoulos did in class.” He slides him his pencil.
“Man, it’s so fucking funny that you call her that instead of Ms. I, but it’s also probably why you’re her favorite.” He flicks the pencil back towards Ludwig.
“Alfred, focus.” He hisses, pushing the pencil back again. “I call her that because it’s her name, and I’m not going to study with you anymore if you keep being a nuisance. I want to get some sleep tonight.”
“I can keep you up in more exciting ways if you want.” He wiggles his eyebrows, spinning the pencil with a hand.
“Shut up.” He flushes. “Do your homework.”
“Ugh, fine. You’re no fun.” Alfred sits up and runs a hand through his hair.
His glasses fall crooked across his nose, and despite his best efforts to tame it, a shock of golden blond springs back up. It makes him look like a comic book character, square jaw, bright eyes and all, and Ludwig’s heart stutters in his chest. He shakes it off and forces his gaze back to his paper.
Alfred continues. “Can’t we take a break? We’ve been doing homework for hours and hours and hours. I’m going to die if I don’t stand up and kick something.”
“Don’t kick something.” He grumbles under his breath and scratches down the next equation.
“Can we at least take a quick walk? It’s good to stand up and do shit between assignments. We finished history already, so I think we deserve at least one break. Or maybe we can raid the fridge and eat something. Like those bread things your mom bought? I’m fucking hungry.”
He stares at the singular x^ 2 on his paper, his irritation spiking as his concentration dwindles. Maybe Alfred is right. Maybe he does need a break, but he knows that if they pause, he’ll never finish at a reasonable hour.
“No,” he says.
“Jeez, okay, I’m going to take a break if you aren’t. Come find me if I don’t come back in an hour or two, or when you decide you want a break, too.”
“You better not be gone for more than fifteen minutes.”
“That’s barely long enough to take a shit.”
“God, Alfred, you’re disgusting.”
“Whatever, dude, you know you love me.”
“Just go take your break. I’m trying to be productive here.”
Alfred snorts and pushes out from the table. “Okay, okay, sorry, Mr. Straight As. I’m leaving.”
“Good.” Ludwig rolls his eyes, no real bite to his tone. “Oh, and by the way, if you eat all the snacks, I’ll throttle you.”
“Then maybe you better come with me.”
Alfred shrugs and saunters out of the room.
Ludwig gnaws at his lip, glancing at where he’d disappeared and back to his paper. Chips, chocolate, coke- it does sound awfully appealing, but he’d already said he wasn’t interested. Ludwig exhales in frustration, scribbling down the next step. Quadratic equations should be easy for him by now, but for some reason, his mind won’t let him factor. It’s only number twelve- less than half the assignment.
Alfred pops unbidden in his mind’s eye, grinning with all his perfect white teeth, and Ludwig throws down his pencil. He leans back in his chair and looks to the ceiling, praying to any higher power for his unhelpful problem to cease to exist. He’s stopped bothering with denial, but the more he accepts his hopeless dilemma, the more hopeless it seems to become. Alfred Jones is the most beautiful boy he’s ever met in his life, but it’s never changed the fact that he rarely focuses on his school work, eats all of Ludwig’s snacks and is, worst of all, unquestionably straight.
He erases number twelve. Five minus seven does not equal three.
By the time number twelve is completed, he's surprised to have heard no shouting from the kitchen or exaggerated sounds of chocolate consumption. It seems that Alfred has genuinely decided to let him work in peace, and it’s almost disappointing.
He stares at number thirteen for all of five seconds before he starts towards the kitchen. Maybe Alfred is right. Maybe a few minutes of break won’t hurt after all.
When he pads onto the tiled floor, Alfred is nowhere to be found, but he’s clearly been present. New chocolate wrappers are crumpled in the trashcan, and someone’s left out a full cup of coke. He smiles despite himself. Alfred knew he’d come looking, but at least, he’d poured him a glass. He grabs it and sips, wandering towards the back door.
He pushes it open, and his eyes land on Alfred rocking back and forth in a chair on the porch. Alfred glances in his direction at the sound of the door, but he doesn’t greet him with anything more than a nod. Ludwig squints at his somber expression and walks towards him and the chocolates on his lap.
“Are you just sitting here and thinking?” Ludwig asks, reaching for a chocolate.
He sits in the rocking chair beside him and pops the chocolate in his mouth. Alfred stares off into the yard. Ludwig follows his gaze to the oak tree, its leaves swaying in the back and the birds chirping in its branches. The sun sends dappled shadows on the grass, and light filters onto Alfred’s face in oblong splashes. Serious doesn’t suit him, and Ludwig is quickly growing uncomfortable.
“Are you okay? Oh, and thank you for pouring me a drink.” He tries again. It’s odd to be the one initiating the conversation.
“Uh huh. Welcome.” Alfred nods, sliding the chocolates onto the table in front of them. “And I dunno. Sort of. I guess.”
“Did something bad happen?”
“No, but do you think I’m stupid?”
“What? No? You’re very smart. You only act ridiculous sometimes, but you’re smarter than me. I think school just might be difficult for you because it’s so monotonous. It’s boring for me, and I even like regimented predictability.”
“I’m not smarter than you, but thanks.” He stretches his arms above his head, rolling his ankles in little circles. “Sorry. I just got thinking, but hey, Lud, you know how you’re… gay?”
Ludwig’s heart stops for a dreadful second, his fingers going numb against his glass. Did Alfred know?
“Er, yeah. What… What about it?”
“I think I… Uh, I- How did you figure that out? This probably sounds really dumb, but how’d you know you weren’t into girls?”
“The same way you know you aren’t into men.” Ludwig shrugs, relieved to hear it’s this and not anything regarding his feelings towards Alfred. “I’m not attracted to them. I think some girls are cute. Eliza is beautiful, but it’s more of an observation than anything else.”
“But I don’t know that.”
“Of course-” Ludwig stops, his eyebrows raising. His heart flutters in his throat as hidden hopes and locked dreams rattle in their cages. He forces them down. It doesn’t mean a thing when this likely has nothing to do with him at all.
“No, I don’t know that I’m just into girls. Like I don’t know. It’s not like I want to bang when I see a good- a hot guy? But I don’t know. Does it count if it’s just one person? Being bisexual?”
He feels like he’s dying.
“It’s your identity, but what do you mean? Is this recent?”
“No. It’s- fuck, it’s, I don’t know, it’s been like this for a while now. I didn’t say anything because it was weird? Not that being… gay is weird. But it was- I don't really fucking know. I think this guy is really… hot I guess? But it's not just that. I thought for a while that maybe I just wanted to look like him or some shit, but it's like a crush? Like butterflies in your stomach whenever he smiles. I want to-” Alfred groans. “I don't know. What the fuck is happening to me?”
His throat constricts. The sun is too warm on his skin, and Alfred's blue eyes burn like sunspots through his heart. It could be him, but why when they knew so many better looking, kinder, more talented people? Why when it could be Kiku with his soft smile and witty jokes? Feliciano with his boundless energy and magnetic creativity? Ivan with his cooling presence and sharp tongue? Francis with his flamboyant confidence and effortless beauty? Too many better choices, too many easier friends. Besides, why would Alfred tell him anything if it was him?
“It sounds like a crush.” He barely registers his own voice. “Do you know if he's interested in men? Do you want to pursue him?”
“Yeah, he's not straight, and yeah, I think- No, yeah, I want to really fucking badly. I'm just scared it would ruin our friendship because I really care about him, and- I don't know, Lud. I'm so fucking confused. What would you do?”
Suppress all emotion and die, he thinks. “Is he open to dating?”
“I think so?”
Ludwig wants to take Alfred's hands in his own and look him straight in the eyes. He wants to tell him he's wanted to kiss him since freshman year, that he's never stopped wanting. He swallows down every sticky, choking feeling crawling up his throat. But he still feels sick to his stomach.
“You should ask him about his love life. If he seems open, it’s always better to tell them the truth. You can get it off your chest and move on, and if not, you can pursue it.”
“Okay.” Alfred's eyes bore into his soul. “You're single, right?”
“Yes.” And he will be until Alfred Jones exits his life.
He doesn't know which is worse: Alfred staying his closest friend and dating someone else or Alfred leaving his life forever. Both are too painful to consider.
Ludwig frowns. “This isn't relevant though.”
“Why not? Are you open to dating right now?”
Yes and no. Yes if your name is Alfred. No if you’re anyone else.
“Alfred, can we not talk about my love life?”
“Who is it anyways? And why are you only telling me now?” Ludwig's heart thumps wildly in his chest, his words dropping like anvil strikes on hot iron. He can't stop. “I thought we were best friends.”
“I haven't-” His face crumples, hurt writing itself across his features. “And yeah, we are best friends! I only told Kiku, but that's because I didn't want to mess anything up with you.”
Ludwig bites his lip hard. “You told Kiku before me.”
It makes sense. Kiku is the better listener. Kiku is the better friend. Kiku gives better advice, and Kiku isn't disgustingly horrible with anything emotional.
“Lud, no, it's not like that-”
“Then what is it like? How come-”
Alfred stands from his chair and in a heartbeat, his lips are pressed against his. Ludwig's mind runs blank.
Alfred's lips are burning, his breath puffing against his mouth and his hands balled up in his shirt. Ludwig leans forward, craning his neck to meet him and slinging his arms around his neck. He tastes like coca cola and chocolate. His fingers thread through the soft locks of Alfred's hair, and he tugs him closer.
“Lud-” Alfred yelps, but before Ludwig can process what's occurring, Alfred tumbles into his lap.
He blushes bright red, his hands gripping the back of Alfred's shirt and Alfred's knee between his legs. They’re chest to chest, and Alfred is just a breath away.
“I'm sorry-” Ludwig starts.
But Alfred laughs and slides his knee up beside his other until he's kneeling on the chair between his legs. He cups his face with his hands, his careful fingers brushing against his cheekbones, and Ludwig inhales sharply.
“Wait, so do you like me, or do you just usually kiss back people who kiss you out of instinct or some shit?” His face is flushed a healthy pink, and he's grinning wide. He looks like a vision, and Ludwig's heart is threatening to beat out of his chest.
“I like you.” He admits.
“Good because you were the guy I was talking about, and it's why I didn't tell you sooner, and also, do you know how distracting you are when I'm trying to do my math homework, and you're here chewing on your lip with that cute little crease between your eyebrows, and how much it makes me want to kiss you?”
Ludwig gapes, his thoughts scrambled in an incoherent mess.
“Is this bad? Should I get off?”
“No, it's good.” He quickly amends. He runs his hands through Alfred's hair with reverent awe. He traces down his neck to his shoulders, marveling at his warmth and his weight against him, and Alfred shivers beneath his touch. He bites his lip. “It's good.”
And it is, and Alfred is staring at him like he's announced he's a real live superhero, or he's promised him a trip to the moon. He's warm and real and bright, his eyes sparkling behind his dark frames and his hair fluttering in the breeze across his face. Alfred smiles, their noses brushing for an instant, and Ludwig's stomach does somersaults in his middle.
“See. When you do that it makes me want to kiss you and never think about math again.”
“You can. Kiss me, I mean, if you want. Actually-” Ludwig sets his hands on his glasses and slides them off. Alfred blinks, and without them, his eyes go almost bluer. He’s beautiful, but he always is.
Ludwig sets them on the table to their front and smiles. “Okay. Now you can if you want.”
“Whatever you want, Lud.”
Alfred cups his jaw in his hands and kisses him tenderly. He sighs against his mouth, his thumb running along his cheeks and his chest pressed against his front. It feels like fairy dust soaking into his skin, burning at his lips and his skin and his chest wherever Alfred touches. His hands slip to his waist, and he squeezes his hips gently, the contact tingling like stars beneath his grip. It feels like stardust and promises fulfilled beneath the full moon, inexplicable joy washing over him like lapping waves on the seashore.
Alfred breaks away, his cheeks flushed and his hands settled in his hair. He laughs and turns until he's sitting in his lap.
“Can we do this more often?”
Ludwig grins, wrapping his arms around his middle and tucking his chin above his shoulder. “Only if you promise to teach me how to do that damn assignment.”
“Good. And now that we're dating, we can have more fun breaks than just stuffing our faces with junk food.”
Alfred reaches back, his hand finding Ludwig's cheek. “If you want.”
“We're dating.” He agrees.