"The library's closing in ten minutes, sir," the voice whispered.
Edward grunted automatically, sensing someone had spoken, but didn't register the words, too focused on the text in front of him. Someone came around the table, to stand by the side, and lean over. Not too far into his space, but far enough that a strand of red-brown hair hung down in the corner of his vision. He glanced up, startled. The girl beamed.
"Just wanted to make sure you heard me," she said.
"Heard...hunh?" Edward gaped.
"The library closes in ten minutes, and these are reference books. I can set them aside and you can pick up tomorrow morning where you left off," the girl told him.
One slim finger poked at leather-bound volume, and Edward swallowed hard. The girl seemed awfully close. Was it really necessary to lean so close? And she had huge green eyes, like Hughes, Edward thought, and squashed that comparison immediately. Hughes' eyes weren't nearly that pretty. Edward blinked, realizing the girl was saying something about getting coffee, but he was too distracted by the notion of thinking someone's eyes were pretty. It was all he could do to mutter a negative, an affirmative, hoping she'd figure out which was which.
And then he fled.
Three days of trying to work, and three days of bumping into the same girl. Edward wasn't even sure of her name, but he'd figured out she was a student librarian, doing volunteer work. Normally self-confident and assured, he found himself studying her lips when she spoke, unable to let his eyes wander up to meet hers, and strangely uncertain about letting his eyes wander a little lower. For once, it didn't bother him that his eyes were on the same level as her chin. It formed a comfortable excuse for not looking up when she happened to be in the same aisle as him, replacing books as he grabbed another tome. Which, he noted distantly, seemed to be a coincidence that had happened a great deal in the past three days.
She'd mentioned coffee a few more times, but each time quieter and less hopeful. Edward wasn't stupid, even if he was preoccupied with being waist-deep in researching some of the more obtuse references to the philosopher's stone. He was pretty sure she was trying to ask him out, or cajole him into asking her out. The problem was that he had no idea how to go about doing any of that, or what would happen next.
It was the morning of the fourth day, and he could feel the prickles on the back of his neck that told him the girl was somewhere in the same building. Edward realized he'd stared at the same sentence for five minutes, and got up with a sigh. Alphonse wouldn't be much help. There had to be someone who could give him some advice.
"And this is Alicia with her new dump truck!" Hughes sighed over the picture, then waved it under Edward's nose. Two more were sitting on the cafeteria table between them. "And look what she built in the sandbox! Her first castle! Brilliant, isn't she?"
Edward nodded politely. A few more minutes, he promised himself, and I'm transmuting every damn photograph into paper airplanes. "So," he repeated, through gritted teeth, "this girl keeps mentioning coffee."
"Coffee..." Hughes nodded sagely, tucking the photographs into his shirt pocket, and leaned back. His long legs stretched under the table, accidentally bumping Edward's feet, and the young man had to struggle to keep the scowl off his face. Hughes was too damn tall. He'd probably nudged Edward on purpose, just to rub it in, but Edward wanted the information badly enough to overlook it this once. Hughes was still nodding, a distant expression on his face. "First date with Gracia, I asked her out for coffee. It's a time-honored tradition for first dates."
"Date," Edward repeated, a little numbly. "What...what do you do on a date?"
"Do?" Hughes blinked, then laughed, a lazy sound. "Talk, then you go for a walk, maybe buy her flowers..."
Flowers, Edward thought. Wonder if transmuting them is cheating. Something in his chest prickled, remembering his mother's words. His father had always made flowers for his mother. He wasn't sure if he wanted to be making flowers for anyone else, not with that memory. Well, perhaps he would, someday. But probably not yet.
"Does it have to be flowers?" Edward's mind scrabbled for something more useful.
"Chocolates or candy is good," Hughes said. "And then there's the first kiss..." He sighed, a bit melodramatically. "And then, you're in love, and then..." Hughes whipped out another picture of Alicia. "Children! Ah, it's so wonderful being a husband and father!" He kissed the picture enthusiastically, before tucking it away again with a sharp glance at Edward. "That answer your question?"
"Uh..." Edward's mind was still back on the progression: coffee, candy, kiss, babies. "I'm not sure...Is that really how it works?"
"Of course!" Hughes looked smug. "Love is a wonderful, amazing thing. And that first kiss, no matter how many follow it...ah, that first kiss will always be a precious memory."
"But the part about babies..."
"Having children is a life-changing, fantastic, beautiful thing, Edward!" Hughes sighed, and Edward braced himself for another flurry of photograph mooning. Hughes didn't move, however, his eyes fixed on the cafeteria's ceiling. "You just follow your instincts, and they won't lead you wrong. It's not alchemy. There aren't any textbooks for this." He grinned, showing a bit more teeth than Edward liked. "If she's half the girl that Gracia is, she'll make a wonderful wife and mother."
Wife and mother, Edward thought. Oh, damn. I just wanted to know whether I should go have coffee with her...but I don't want to be a father. I have enough life-changing issues on my plate right now. Edward managed a smile for Hughes' benefit – wouldn't help to make Hughes think he hadn't been of some assistance. Besides, if Hughes' explanation was correct, then the only thing else Edward was going to get out of continuing the conversation were more pictures of Gracia and Alicia. With dump trucks.
Edward avoided the library for the next two days while he considered the situation carefully. It made sense, in an alchemical way, that bringing two items together would produce a reaction, if one considered lips to be like alchemical circles. The fact that this reaction was pregnancy and children was the part that left him more than a bit bewildered. He'd contemplated going to the main library, but he knew all the librarians there. Not only that, they were also mostly young, female, pretty, and tended to smile at him much like the girl at the National Alchemists' branch. It had him rather unnerved, wondering if they were going to mention coffee, too.
He tried, the second day, to surreptitiously find a book that covered the details of kissing, flowers, candy, coffee, and babies, but the closest he'd been able to manage was a thick book on biology. It wasn't a great deal of help in explaining much, and he sighed in frustration as yet another page rambled on in language even denser than his worst alchemical texts. Plus, there wasn't a single thing in there about coffee or flowers, and he wasn't sure if they were part of the equation. It might be like some of the more obscure alchemical research, where the alchemist had pre-reaction requirements that had little to do with the results, and everything to do with the alchemist's habits or superstitions.
Edward had finally left the library in disgust, wandering the streets as he continued to consider whether it was a worthwhile risk to return to the library and take the girl up on her offer of coffee. He knew he wasn't ready for children, but he wasn't sure how he could get around that. Hell, if he and Alphonse didn't have the means to take care of a kitten, they certainly weren't up for children. And children would probably mean the girl would be around a great deal. Winry was bad enough, Edward told himself. Then again, a librarian might not spend all that time drooling over his automail.
If she didn't find it bizarre and repulsive, he thought, a little glumly, and looked up to see he was standing in front of Colonel Mustang's door. Edward pushed the door open without knocking and trudged in, throwing himself down on the couch. Mustang was reading some paperwork, and didn't even look up. His pen scratching on the paper was the only noise as Edward waited, and berated himself for even thinking of asking Mustang. But Hughes hadn't been much help, and maybe there was a way to broach the topic without Mustang teasing him about it.
"Fullmetal," Mustang finally said, his low tones breaking the silence. "You gave your last report a few days ago. Unless you have news?"
"Sort of," Edward replied, his shoulders slumping. "No...not really. Colonel," and his voice turned a little wistful, despite his attempts to sound serious and grown-up. "I...I..."
Mustang sighed. "Spit it out, Fullmetal. I've got work to do."
"Work." Edward snorted. "You mean you've got Hawkeye breathing down your neck."
"It amounts to the same thing," Mustang conceded. "What's the question?"
"There's a girl at the National Alchemists' Library Branch that keeps mentioning coffee," Edward said in a rush.
He stared fixedly at the wall opposite the sofa, and waited for Mustang to start laughing. When no response came, Edward snuck a look to see Mustang looking at him, a bit surprised. The raised eyebrows eventually dropped, and Roy smirked. Edward groaned and leaned his head back on the sofa, his legs sprawled in front of him.
"Yeah, I bet you think it's funny," Edward muttered.
"So, take her for coffee," Mustang said, and shrugged. "That's your big question?"
"No..." Edward chewed his lower lip for a few seconds. "I talked to Hughes and he said flowers and candy are involved."
"They can be, if you do things properly," Mustang replied. He was silent, sheets slapping against the desk as he signed a few more papers, and flipped open a folder, reviewing the documents before looking up again. "If you want to get anywhere, it's just like anything else in life. For what you put in, you get something out."
"Equivalent trade," Edward mused.
"Gifts, compliments..." Mustang shrugged and leaned back, his hands clasped in his lap. "If you want anything in return, you've got to give those. That's what women respond to."
Edward thought about that. "What if...you don't want to...end up with everything?"
"Everything," Mustang repeated, sounding confused but somehow amused at the same time. "Define everything."
"House, kids, the lot," Edward replied, waving one hand in a general fashion. "If you just want coffee."
"If you just want..." Mustang frowned. "I'm not sure I'm following you."
"Hughes said you kiss a girl, and then you have babies." Edward sank down farther in the couch, glaring at nothing in particular.
Mustang coughed. "Technically, that would be one progression of events."
"I don't want to have babies, yet."
"I would imagine not." Mustang refrained from adding any other comment, though he looked like he wanted to. The door opened, and Hawkeye stepped in. Mustang nodded as she approached him, but didn't pause in his instructions to Edward. "Look, if you like the girl, ask her for coffee. Be sure to bring flowers, or candy, and compliment her a great deal. She'll like that. All girls do. And then―"
"But that's everything on the list," Edward cried, sitting up. "She'll kiss me then!"
"That would be part of the goal, yes," Mustang said, a little dryly.
Edward looked over to see Hawkeye giving Mustang a raised eyebrow, and Edward was pleased to see Mustang flush. The man looked almost guilty. Edward crossed his arms, refusing to lose his composure if it meant he could enjoy Mustang's discomfort a few seconds longer. Hawkeye was almost completely forgotten, in the midst of his intense thought processes on girls, coffee, candy, kisses, and babies.
"But if she kisses me, she'll have a baby," Edward protested staunchly. He could feel a headache coming on. The entire topic had taken him away from research for too long, and he was starting to suspect it wasn't worth pursuing. Girls were just bad news, obviously.
"Edward-kun," Hawkeye said, a bit reprovingly. "Forgive me for intruding, but it sounds to me like you're under the impression that if you kiss a girl, she will get pregnant from the kiss itself."
"Well, yeah," Edward said, startled. No one else had put it that bluntly, but that seemed to be the crux of the operation. He jerked his head towards Mustang. "Hughes said so, and the Colonel said it, too."
Hawkeye turned to Mustang with a disapproving glance, and Edward was intrigued to see Mustang shrink back in his chair. Hawkeye sniffed, and turned to Edward with a stern expression.
"Kisses do not get a girl pregnant," Hawkeye announced. "You have to have sex to cause a pregnancy."
"Sex?" Edward echoed, a bit faintly. That sounded familiar. Wasn't that what a kiss was, though?
It was as if Hawkeye could read his mind, and she shook her head curtly. "A kiss is simply the first step. For a woman to get pregnant, penetration must occur."
"Penetration..." Edward felt a bit like a parrot. Penetration, sure, he knew that word. But that would mean something would have to go in something else... Baffled, he could only stare at Hawkeye. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Mustang looking like he was trying to become one with the chair, and it amused Edward enough to get a little bolder. "Penetration of what?"
"The man inserts his erect penis into the woman's vagina," Hawkeye explained, sounding a bit bored, as though she were discussing the newest mission reports from the northern borders. "When the man achieves orgasm, his ejaculate carries sperm, which travel up the vaginal canal and into the woman's uterus. If the woman is currently fertile, the semen will fertilize the woman's egg, which then grows into a fetus. Do you want me to go into the specific biology of the process?"
"Uh..." Edward's mind was blinkered, and he could barely keep up. Vaguely he was aware his face was heating up, and his ears felt like they were on fire. "But a...the man...uh..."
"Pre-ejaculate also carries sperm, Edward-kun," Hawkeye said crisply. "So don't go thinking that if you pull out before orgasm that the girl won't get pregnant."
"Oh," was all Edward could manage to say. Suddenly he wished, for the first time ever, that he were shorter, not taller. Preferably something microscopic. A quick glance at Mustang was minor reassurance; the older man also looked like he wanted to crawl under something and hide. Matter of fact, Edward thought, seemed like Mustang was trying to do just that, under the desk.
"You cannot, however, get a woman pregnant from kissing, fondling, or oral sex," Hawkeye continued, implacably. "Nor will the girl get pregnant if she brings you to orgasm with her mouth."
"Her mouth?" Edward was quite sure his face had gone past red and into the deeper shades of purple. He stared at a button on Hawkeye's dress blues and wondered if there was a subtle way to transmute himself into a sofa cushion.
"A blowjob, in the colloquial term," Hawkeye said.
"A..." Edward barely had a chance to enjoy Mustang's discomfort, too busy putting the words together. Oral, mouth, orgasm, which would mean...his eyes went wide, as the visual fell into place. "Gyeeeeahh," he cried, stunned. It wasn't helping that other parts of his body were protesting that such an activity might be really pleasurable.
"Use a condom, Edward-kun," Hawkeye added.
There was no sign of Mustang. He was definitely under the desk by this point. Edward envied the sneaky bastard. Edward, meanwhile, was pinned to the couch, exposed to Hawkeye's sadism. There was no escape from this woman, and he cursed the minute he'd been so stupid as to walk in and think Mustang would be any help.
"Condom," Hawkeye said again, slower, emphasizing each syllable. "A prophylactic, worn over the penis, which captures the ejaculate and prevents it from entering the woman's vaginal canal. You can buy them at the local pharmacy. If you're going to be exploring your sexuality, I would highly recommend you make sure you are protected. Not only is pregnancy a risk, but so are sexually transmitted diseases." She shot a look towards the desk. Mustang was still out of sight, but even the desk seemed to shrink back from the implied accusation.
"Diseases?" Edward's jaw was somewhere around his knees, his mind whirling with the information and pictures dancing in his head. Kissing, candy, chocolate, babies, condoms, blowjobs, and now diseases?
"Unprotected sex exposes you to every disease your sexual partner may have acquired from other partners," Hawkeye said. "So, Edward-kun, promise me you'll use a condom until you know your partner well enough to know her history, and have agreed to be monogamous."
"And that you're ready to have children."
"No," Edward cried, in a strangled shout. "No babies!"
"Then use a condom," Hawkeye replied, impassively. "Are we clear?"
"Uh..." Edward could only nod, his eyes wide. There was no way he was going to deal with that. The whole thing was a nightmare. Stick a part of his body in someone else's, and...do what? Just hold it there? Or...was he supposed to move around or something? And a condom? He'd have to go somewhere and buy this propo-something, and then everyone would know the Fullmetal Alchemist might be...having sex? The idea was mortifying, until he realized people might figure it out already just from seeing him buying candy or chocolate or flowers or coffee.
He decided, then, quite firmly, that he wasn't ever going to drink coffee again, with anybody. It was too risky. Doing so was obviously the first step towards absolute ruin. Edward realized Hawkeye was still waiting, and he managed to collect his scattered thoughts long enough to swallow hard and give her a pained smile.
"Clear, ma'am," he said.
The minute she nodded, satisfied, he ran.
Hawkeye watched the door slam behind Fullmetal, and shook her head. Turning to the desk, she rapped sharply on it with her knuckles. "You can come out from under there, now, Colonel," she told him.
"I can't believe you just said all that," Mustang said, his voice muffled. He didn't come out.
"I was not going to leave that poor boy believing that one kiss would get a girl pregnant," Hawkeye retorted. "Sir," she added, a bit belatedly. The attempt at respect was ruined, however, when she sniffed on her way out, saying just loudly enough for Mustang to hear: "Idiotic men."
Out in the hallway, Edward was making fast progress towards the exit. The sooner he could get back to the dorms and hide for several days, the sooner he'd be happier. Well, not happier, he amended. Less embarrassed, for starters. Take a break, he told himself, and hopefully the entire humiliating conversation will fade into the background. And if Mustang says so much as a single word to anyone about it, he swore to himself, I'll transmute that smirking Colonel into a small pile of kindling. Fix up that fire alchemy bonehead, something good, he declared.
A female voice behind Edward brought him up short. He spun to see Lydia Miller, the Wind Alchemist, waving at him. He'd dealt with her on a project a few months before, and although she was older than Roy, she was a decent person. Edward shoved Hawkeye's words into the back of his head, and managed a smile as Lydia approached.
"Fullmetal," Lydia repeated as she got closer. "Haven't seen you in awhile. Heading out again soon, I imagine?"
"To Liore, next week," he said, shrugging casually. "Mustang was saying he wanted me to check out their new wealth, or something like that. Rumors of improper use of alchemy."
"Right up your alley," Lydia said, smiling. "We should catch up, then, before you go. I was just about done here for the day. Want to join me for coffee?"
"Coffee?" Edward squeaked, and went through six shades of red in two seconds. "Ah...no! Got to go! Now!"
Edward took off at top speed, the door barely open before he was through. Lydia was almost surprised he took the time to yank the heavy front doors open, as it looked for a minute there like he was going to head straight through them in his panic. She could only stare at the door, shutting loudly behind the young man.
"Wonder what got into him," she mused out loud.
"Got into who?"
Colonel Mustang's voice came from behind her, and she turned with a start. "Colonel, didn't hear you there! Sorry," she apologized, snapping him a quick salute. He nodded, his eyes still questioning, and she flushed. "I don't know...I was chatting with Fullmetal, and said we should catch up."
"You didn't happen to invite him for coffee, did you?" Mustang's voice was even, but seemed mildly amused. He hefted the briefcase in his hand, and glanced towards the door. It seemed to still be shaking from the force of Edward's departure.
"Ah, yes, actually," Lydia said, even more confused with Mustang chuckled. She frowned, slightly. "Did I miss something? Did I offend Fullmetal somehow?"
"No, not at all," Mustang answered. He continued towards the front door, and she almost missed his last comment, as if said mostly to himself. "Bet he won't stop running 'til he gets to Liore..."