Title: Science is an Art Form
Word Count: 12,768
Summary: An awkward scientist and a wild artist. It's said that opposites attract, but Edward has some trouble proving his theory. A woebegone account of wooing gone amiss. AH – AwkWard - Warning: Gratuitous use of suspenders.
F is the force, qa and qbare the charges of particles a and b, r is the distance between the particles and k is a constant, 8.99x109 (Nm2/C2). You should ignore the signs of the charges qa and qb to calculate the magnitude of the force.
It was in the early hours of a rainy Saturday morning that Edward Cullen had his Eureka. Like all previous major Eurekas in both his academic and personal life, everything had come together. It was a simple formula, Edward decided, feeling dense for not having seen it sooner.
It'd begun a few months prior, when he'd attended a lecture regarding art history. Art had always fascinated Edward—the way in which formulas and mathematics could be constructed into a thing of beauty, especially given the way in which most artists rarely considered mathematics at all. It was natural science. Meant to be. Instinctual genius.
Not to toot his own horn, but instinctual genius was something Edward could relate to.
But he'd found himself distracted by the boy—no, man—who sat directly in front of him. Edward wasn't so much fascinated by his hair, but rather the way in which the man would brush it aside, or fling it from his face, or use a puff of breath to blow it out of the way. Likewise, Edward wasn't so much fascinated by the man's arms, but rather the way in which the veins would cord and move from wrist to bicep when he pressed a pencil hard onto paper.
Edward spent much less time looking at the art projected on the screen at the front of the room, and much more time staring at the art that sat before him, all sinewy and shaggy and… cordy.
The man interested Edward.
It must have been this moment of—attraction?—that led to Edward's sudden and constant awareness of this man's presence around campus. Edward would spot him in crowded corridors and from across the courtyard, a blond head of hair bobbing along in the distance. Edward even began noticing the blond man's route to and from buildings on the weekdays. He could sometimes time his own route to coincide, hoping to steal a little glance at what color shirt he was wearing that day, or whether or not he chose to pull his hair back, revealing the soft edges of his jaw and one pierced earlobe.
It was frustrating for Edward to fixate so entirely on a person (He really wasn't much for socialization.), enough that he found himself here, in his laboratory at two in the morning, pulling his hair at the roots and begging the Deities of All Things Scientific to bless him with knowledge.
Why was Edward so attracted to someone he'd never met?
It was Coulomb's law, which describes the force on one charged particle due to another charged particle, which finally gave Edward his "light bulb" moment. It was a beacon in his cavern of perpetually awkward social ineptness.
The direction of the force vector on each particle is toward the other if the one charge is positive and the other negative ("opposites attract").
Edward had a plan. Well, maybe some wouldn't call Googling "How to Seduce a Man" a plan, and even fewer would call Googling, "How Gay Men Seduce Men" a plan, and even fewer would call Googling in a fit of frustration, "How a Man Can Seduce another Man And/or Determine His Sexual Orientation minus Porn minus Astrology minus Cross Dressing" a plan. (Women had it so easy.) But Edward had the scientific method on his side, and it had never led him astray. He already had his question. Now it was time to perform a little background research.
Shelly Cope from student relations was little help, as it would seem she was not swayed by Edward's smooth charm and shining manners.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Cullen—" she began.
"Please, call me Edward," he cooed.
She wrinkled her nose a bit. "I'm not sure how to say this without being rude, but… you have a little something…" She pointed to her front teeth.
Edward went about removing what would later prove to be a rather stubborn piece of broccoli from his teeth.
"Did I get it?"
"No, it's still…"
"No, I'm afraid… oh, that's—no, still there."
Supposing that charming the ladies wasn't in the stars for him on this day, he went with a pitiful and—might he add, exceptionally deceiving—sob story, in hopes that Shelly Cope would at, the very least, be a bleeding heart.
Jasper Whitlock was the blond man's name.
Edward sat in his laboratory that evening pining in the most dreadful schoolgirl sense of the word.
Slouched over his lab table, he tested the name on his tongue, "Jasssspurrrrrr," before snapping upright to salute, "Whit-lock." Edward found the contrasts off his full name greatly pleasing to his palette, what with the laziness of his first and the sharpness of his last.
Edward hit the streets. Well… he hit the campus sidewalks.
Okay… actually, he hit the student parking lot and waited for his pal, Ben, who actually made friends around here.
"Whitlock," Ben said, nodding. "Yeah. The artsy bohemian guy. Art major. I think Angela has sociology with him?"
Edward was wanton in his thirst for knowledge.
Where's he from? To which campus social group does he foremost conform? What music does he like? Does he live on campus? Does he own any pets? (Edward was terribly allergic.)
Yet, Edward couldn't bring himself to ask the most important question: Is he romantically available?
Ben, who was long ago accustomed to Edward's random tangential obsessions, obliged him as much as possible, which sadly, was not nearly enough to satiate him.
"I mean, I don't, like… really know him," Ben explained with no small amount of annoyance.
"But Angela knows him," Edward pointed out. "Maybe you could ask her."
Ben gave him a sidelong look.
Well, Edward had the sense to feel a sliver of embarrassment for his transparency, but it didn't discourage him at all.
Armed with Angela's number, a clean pad of paper, and a brand new ink pen, Edward tucked himself away into his bedroom that afternoon and dialed.
Not only was Angela Webber far more forthcoming with information, but she aww'd and ooo'd when Edward admitted having a possible romantic interest in the man.
"It's about time, Edward," Angela approved. "I never see you with anyone."
Since he was growing uncomfortable having his social flaws called to light, Edward got right down to business. "Music," he began. "What does he listen to?"
Angela hummed in thought before supplying, "I'm pretty sure he listens to all kinds of stuff."
Edward jotted open-minded with an approving nod. "Smell," he asked next. He had been around a few of the artsy bohemian types before, and though he was sure he could… overcome any… displeasing scents for someone he really, really, really liked—
Angela explained, "Hygiene is A-minus."
Edward considered questioning the "minus" before—
"He really needs to brush his hair more," she clarified.
Sometimes they used the grading scale, and she'd explain the given score when appropriate (Statistics major), and other times, she'd offer information without him even needing to ask. Furiously, his hand moved over the paper in such a way that the farther down the page he got, the sloppier his handwriting became.
He'd have to reprint it later.
When it was decided that Edward could exact no more information from Angela, he thanked her profusely and promised to keep her posted on any romantic progress.
But what Edward had learned threatened to dampen his spirits, as Coulomb's Law had proven to be more accurate descriptor for them than he'd hoped.
He and Jasper were complete opposites.
The following day met Edward with the reward of possibility. Edward surmised that, though he and Jasper were opposites, it was completely possible that—as the formula would suggest—they'd attract. it was time to make a hypothesis.
Edward was a handsome man, he knew. Sometimes, he'd take longer than necessary in front of his mirror when applying gel to his otherwise chaotic head of hair. He'd slick it down real tight (parted on the side, just so), and admire himself. He was physically fit, not an ounce of flab to be seen. He was tall(ish). He had a strong jaw. Nice lips. Though he wore glasses, it was plain to see that Edward had nice eyes.
The pressed khakis he often wore accentuated his backside, and… well, at the risk of seeming a tad narcissistic, he had to admit that he was stylish. (He'd noticed others staring enviously at his suspenders.)
Yes, Edward was confident in hypothesizing that Jasper would be attracted to him.
All he had to do now was… test the hypothesis.
Having it on good authority that Jasper would be attending the weekly campus social gathering known as "Friday night anywhere within a mile radius of campus" (again, opposites), Edward prepared himself for a night out.
He took longer than usual getting ready, paying special attention to which slacks he wore and which button-down was the most stiffly pressed. When all was said and done, he stood before his full length mirror, sharply dressed, grinning ear to ear in satisfaction.
Strutting toward campus, Edward basked in the attention random passersby threw his way—envious looks from the men, girlish giggles from the ladies. He stood tall, his chin held so high that he nearly had to look beneath his glasses to see the path ahead.
Nothing was going to stop him from going through with this.
"You can't come in," said the surly man blocking the door.
Edward pushed his glasses up, squinting at the testosterone behemoth standing between him and his… attractee. "Pardon?"
"There's a list. You aren't on it."
Edward chuffed. "A list? That's absurd. Since when are frat parties exclusive."
Luckily, Angela arrived, riding in like a modern day Androdameia. "Oh, this is my friend, Edward. He's cool, Em." With a smile to Edward and a glare at the man, she motioned him inside.
Edward jutted out his chest, took her arm, and strutted past the man who—Edward didn't even know why—began laughing uproariously.
To Edward's disappointment, Angela had come with a large group of people and didn't have the time (or the immediate capacity to remember) to return to Edward and keep him company.
He stood alone near the fireplace, watching the toes of his loafers with great interest.
All too soon, his abandonment didn't matter, because he spotted Jasper near the kitchen. It appeared as though he was entertaining a small group of people himself. Edward observed him with all the interest of a young boy scouting a toy in a shop window.
Jasper was an animated speaker—hands flailing in dramatic fashion—though his voice didn't carry. Edward liked that. He'd never been of a fan of noise. (He battled with the urge to jot down these observations on the nearest writeable surface.)
Instead, Edward—well, he might have been swooning. Angela had been partially right about Jasper's unkempt hair, but Edward decided that it suited him. Jasper was dressed casually—painfully casually—and Edward might have felt awkward about his more formal attire if it weren't for the formula.
Jasper was wearing a simple t-shirt, heather grey, which bore the logo of a popular candy manufacturer. It looked well worn and… wrinkled. His jeans hung from his body loose and low, and if Edward were being honest, he'd admit that the long thin scarf Jasper wore around his neck ignited a warm, kindred feeling.
Scarves and suspenders were basically the same thing.
Eventually, the crowd Jasper had been regaling began to thin, and Edward knew he had to make his move. Smoothing down his shirt, he lifted his chin and began his march toward the kitchen.
Edward had never felt so nervous—not even that one time in high school he had to give a speech in front of a whole crowd of peers regarding the merits of better illustrated anatomical references. (To his joy, they'd all fervently agreed, though he never quite understood all that snickering.)
When he reached Jasper, who was just coming to a pause in his conversation, Edward hesitated only briefly before extending his hand.
Jasper walked away. Vanished, really. It was almost as if Edward had been invisible, though Edward had been careful to raise his voice to an audible level. (People often complained that he murmured too softly.)
He wasn't sure what to do, so he stood stick-still as a throng of party-goers navigated around him, all heaving their newly filled beverages into the air with hoots of alcoholic triumph. After realizing his hand was still extended, he dropped it and turned into the kitchen, approaching the line for the keg with a somewhat withered posture.
"It's useless you know," a girl said, tapping him on the shoulder.
Said girl came to his chin and had inky hair, spiked around the bottom and clipped back with a plastic Halloween novelty bat clip.
It was February.
"Pardon?" Edward asked. The only word he could seem to speak tonight.
"Jasper," she clarified, gesturing to where he stood with her empty red cup. Her words carried a slur as she cozied up beside Edward. He was uncertain as to whether she was being friendly, or just wanted a better position in line.
"He's a heartbreaker, that one. I should know." She sniffed—not a crying sniff, but an indignant sniff. "I am a woman scorned."
He'd never really given consideration to Jasper's sexual orientation, though he figured he shouldn't have been surprised.
Edward's shoulders dropped.
"Awwww," she crooned, crushing his waist in a sideways, one-armed, buzz-driven hug. "Don't be sad, nerdy guy. It's not you, it's him. Bastard is too much of a free spirit." Another sniff of indignation
Edward stated, "A free spirit who prefers women."
The girl shook her head against his shoulder, sighing. "No. A free spirit who prefers no strings attached."
He felt his shoulders lift a bit. "So his sexual preference is—"
"—liberal." She sneered into her cup, as if the cup were to blame.
"Oh!" Edward grinned at this, feeling the buoy of his confidence return.
As he began to turn, the girl snatched his arm back, sending him wobbling to and fro until he gained his balance, disgruntled. "You're not his guy-type."
"Opposites attract, you know."
"He looked right through you," she pointed out.
"Sometimes, I talk too low, and the music was loud…"
She frowned then, tilting her head and inspecting Edward through glassy eyes. "Oh, you poor thing. You're just clueless, aren't you?"
He tried not to let his grimace show, but Edward began doubting himself. He knew better than to think his intellect extended to matters of human interaction. She was so comfortable and… quirky, and if she had once been with Jasper, then it went to serve that she knew best how to attract him. Shoving his glasses up the ridge of his nose, he released a huff and relented, "And how would one go about… getting him to notice them?"
Her beady eyes flickered down, and then up—and then down again—and then up again. She began giggling—quite uncontrollably. Edward was certain this giggle was definitely not of the swooning variety.
"You're wearing suspenders."
Edward mashed his lips together, hard pressed not to defend his impeccable tastes. "They give me distinction."
"Oh God." Her giggles turned to soundless, breathless wheezes. She wiped at her tear-filled eyes, collecting herself before deadpanning, "I'm going to help you, nerdy boy."
"Edward." He could not help but be terse.
"Right, Edward. You need blunter friends. Lucky for you, I'm drunk, bored, and have no chance of finding a designated driver."
That was how Edward found himself, ten minutes later, with his head shoved beneath the bathroom faucet. So crowded and smashed together were they that Edward glared at one of her exposed, star-tattooed hipbones, cursing under his breath.
"Do you have to be so—" grunt "—rough?"
She, with her deceptively little (yet vicious) fingers, responded just as shortly, "Do you have to use so much—" grunt" —product?"
Edward winced and whimpered through the torture of the impromptu hair shampooing. When she was done, his skin far felt more ashen than it had been upon entering, and she began ruffling it dry with a hand towel. Of course, that was before she found the hairdryer beneath the sink.
With sobered eyes and pinched lips, she diligently groomed his every lock, and Edward began to worry about the time.
"Pssh," she dismissed, fluffing his hair. "It's early. No one will leave 'til one at least."
Edward looked at his watch and determined he had exactly two hours to woo the object of his affection—not that he ever would, given the state his hair was in. For something that had just had a shampooing bordering on violence, it was sure messy, and he didn't like it one bit.
He couldn't help but fiddle.
"Stop fiddling," Alice chided, slapping his hands away. "We need to do something about these pants." She put a finger to her chin and stared pointedly at his ankles. "Why are they so short?"
"They aren't short," he insisted, turning his foot back and forth. The hem fell just above his ankle, as it should.
"They are short." She pulled the belt free of his trousers, allowing them to drop low on his hips. (The stress of applying to PhD programs had left him a few inches short of his usual size.)
"That'll have to do," she muttered begrudgingly. Then, she yanked the tail of his shirt from his pants, shoved the straps of his suspenders down, and snatched the glasses from his face.
Edward felt so abused.
"There!" she exclaimed, arms held high in victory. "You're pretty. Just his type!" She winked, nudged him from the room, and slapped him on the bottom.
He was uncomfortable. His slacks felt like they were about to drop to his knees at any second, and he couldn't really see anything that wasn't a foot or three in front of his face, which made finding Jasper quite the task.
When he finally did, Jasper was with another group of people. They seemed to flock around him—Jasper was charismatic, clearly. Edward joined the fringe of the group and did his best to remain still as he listened.
Jasper seemed to be winding down a debate with a brunette girl regarding Nostradamus. "Call me a sucker, but I buy it."
The brunette rolled her eyes. "No one's debating how much of a sucker you are."
The girls all tittered.
Jasper just smirked, shrugging.
Edward perked. Clearly, this was the moment to make himself known. "But then, when the sun burns the earth into an uninhabitable cinder in approximately one billion years, we'll all be embarrassed."
Now he was staring at Edward, but a bit strangely—intently.
Edward hated Alice.
He hated her with the fire of a million uninhabitable-earth-cindering suns. He had looked just fine before, but no, she'd had to go and muck up his perfectly laid plans, making him appear sloppy and unattractive, and now there was no way Jasper would even consider—
"I'm Jasper," the man said, extending his hand with a thin, slanted smile.
Edward loved loved loved Alice.
He took Jasper's hand with no small amount of awe, as if meeting a legend or a myth or a Nobel Prize winning scientist.
"Edward," he shook Jasper's hand for perhaps longer than was entirely appropriate.
Jasper had slightly rough, cold palms. Edward pulled his hand away one moment shy of finding himself in an awkward situation. "Art major, right?" he squeaked, flushing when he realized that he'd revealed information he shouldn't rightly possess.
Jasper didn't seem to notice or mind. "Third year," he stated, a proud lift of his shoulders. "How about you?"
"Physics—and Chemistry. Double major."
This seemed to intrigue Jasper. "I've never been especially interested, except for microscopes. God, I love microscopes. I used to save up all kinds of stuff in high school to sneak into the lab. Have you ever seen a strand of hair under a microscope? I'm sure you have, but… it's really cool, right? You know what else would probably look cool?"
Edward was smitten.
As they conversed, he was disappointed to find he had a little problem with articulating… well, anything. Of course, it helped that Jasper could apparently hold a conversation singlehandedly, and as he gave his animated gestures and slanted grins, Edward hung raptly on his every word.
Sadly, all of this animation brought the bulk of Jasper's forearm directly into Edward's line of vision. He found himself transfixed by his arms—the blonde hairs that swept down the side, the blue veins that crept to the crook of his elbow, and most notably, the way in which his muscles would expand whenever he made a fist.
Jasper looked strong.
Distracted, Edward didn't notice where the conversation had shifted to until the word "semen" snatched his attention.
"That's one I was always sad about. Just couldn't find a good way of transporting it and I had a thing about jacking off in the boy's room. Could never do it. How about you, Edward? Ever seen semen under a microscope?" Jasper's tongue curled, touching the corner of his lips.
Dumbly, Edward nodded.
Jasper held his stare—searching, perhaps? Edward wasn't certain how to respond or what to say. He found himself paralyzed under the blond man's green eyes. How to make the next move? How to show his interest? Edward berated himself for not having asked Alice's advice with… flirting, at the very least.
Before he could be reduced to an eyelash-batting moron, Jasper thankfully blurted, "D' you wanna get outta here, Edward?"
On the outside, Edward offered only one, cool nod.
(But inside, he was squealing!)
It was only when they began to weave their way through the crowd and out of the frat house that Edward realized how Jasper swayed. He hadn't noticed how much the blond man had been drinking, and though he hadn't really seemed wasted, Edward began to wonder exactly how lucid he was.
"You don't talk much," Jasper astutely observed on the short walk back to Edward's apartment (Jasper had rowdy roommates, which would make conversation apparently impossible).
"Sorry," Edward responded, looking at the asphalt shyly, though he felt a prickle of excitement at being prompted to begin doing so.
Until Jasper concluded with a grin, "I like it."
Eagerly, Edward nodded, lips pressed dutifully together. If Jasper would rather a listener as a companion, then Edward was overjoyed to supply himself.
When they reached his building, Edward fumbled for his keys, unable to hide his enthusiasm for finally getting Jasper to himself, in a quiet place where he could more intimately explore his fascination.
Once inside, Jasper did a little loop around his living room (tastefully decorated in a minimalistic way).
"You don't have any art." He frowned as he assessed the bare walls. "Not even photographs."
Edward's skin colored as he watched Jasper's eyebrows pinch in the center, a disappointed kind of expression. "I only recently moved in," he lied.
Truth be told, Edward had never been much for nostalgia. He had some of his awards and ribbons mounted in his laboratory, but he had no immediate need for photographs of his family. He had an exceptional memory—brilliant, some said. Owning artwork seemed frivolous. Art was meant to be seen in galleries with special lighting on special occasions. It didn't behoove Edward to have that kind of decadence at his every whim. He was too busy.
"Ah." Jasper nodded, came to a pause in the middle of the living room, and lifted the scarf from his neck. His eyes locked with Edward's, who then gulped and tried to decide how best to begin their evening.
But then Jasper walked closer, a calculating squint to his eyes exaggerating his long, light lashes. "I can't get a read on you."
Edward's head cocked to the side, brows drawn. "A read?"
His guest's cheeks expanded with a puff of air before he shrugged, rolling his eyes. "Hey, it's late, and I'm about one hour from being dead to the world, so may I be frank?"
Edward instantly nodded.
"You wanna give me some head?"
"Oh." Edward spent a moment shuffling his feet, considering this… proposition. He supposed he should have seen that coming, what with Jasper being a man—a less than entirely sober man—an attractive man—a presumably popular man—who had been out on a weekend night, socializing for a purpose.
He was looking for something immediately physical.
Edward himself wasn't fond of oral sex. He'd given it twice—once to his old high school Dungeon Master, and once to his freshman roommate when he first arrived on campus.
Neither had reciprocated.
The experiences had left him wanting and bitter. But, he supposed, unlike those other times, Edward really liked Jasper, and he found some sense of excitement in bringing him pleasure without expectation.
"Okay," Edward decided, unable to suppress the smile that spread his mouth into a goofy D.
Jasper beamed, gave a soft hop into the air, and gushed, "Awesome!"
While he led him down the hall, Edward peeked over his shoulder, giddy at seeing Jasper within the confines of his space. He suited the interior of Edward's home, brightening what Edward had just come to realize was the otherwise drab ambiance.
He flicked on the light to his room, and praised himself for being a tidy person when Jasper flopped backward onto his large, neatly made bed.
Briefly, Edward worried that perhaps—given Jasper's obvious drunkenness—he was taking advantage of him. He felt a morsel of guilt settle in his belly as he watched Jasper spread an arm above his head, resting on his elbow with heavy eyes.
But before he could give it further thought, Jasper unbuttoned his jeans. Tucking his other arm beneath his head, he waited.
No kissing then.
Edward licked his lips, undeniably nervous. It had been years since he'd been intimate in this way, and he felt the weight of his inexperience addle his hands with little, nervous tremors when he reached for Jasper's waistband.
He found Jasper to be more thick than long—or so he thought, until he took him in his palm and, with an airy sort of moan filling the room, it began to grow.
Edward enjoyed hearing that moan, though. He also enjoyed feeling the weight of Jasper's hand on the back of his head, pushing him closer to his lap. He most enjoyed the sensations of Jasper's fingers, carding through his hair and caressing the shells of his ears.
The slow, wet sounds of Edward's mouth against swollen flesh echoed in the dim room, mingling with the little whines that slithered from the back of Jasper's throat. Edward, feeling emboldened and praised, threw all of his enthusiasm into the act, preening whenever Jasper would take a moment to tightly encourage, "S'good."
Regardless of his enjoyment—something that had admittedly been lacking from his previous experiences—he was relieved when Jasper yanked himself from between his lips and erupted across the pale, quivering planes of his stomach.
Edward's lips had been starting to cramp.
As he fetched the necessary supplies and began to clean his belly, Edward wondered what it must be like to receive. And, not that he had any expectations, but he hoped that maybe (just maybe?) Jasper might be obliged to show him.
It was then that Edward heard Jasper's deep, contented snoring.
Edward awoke with a deep nuzzle into the fabric below his cheek. He'd fallen asleep curled into Jasper's side, his head resting on the sleeping man's chest. He'd listened to his heartbeat for an hour before dozing off himself, and Edward had to confess, if only to himself, that he felt a definite sort of affection—not just attraction—for Jasper Whitlock.
Sadly, Edward was nuzzling nothing but the comforter.
Jasper had once again vanished.
He paced his hallways and checked every room, hoping for some kind of note, or at the very least, evidence that Jasper had stepped foot inside his tiny drab world at all. But of course, there was none. Jasper Whitlock was a free spirit, and the previous night was simply no strings attached fun.
So Edward found himself back at square one, pining away in his laboratory, staring at his blackboard and praying to the Deities of All Things Scientific.
Now that he'd been successful, Edward found that he didn't want to just attract Jasper—though the fact that he had was certainly giddying. No, Edward wanted more. He'd enjoyed sleeping next to him, being close to him, having the promise of learning more about what made Jasper Whitlock, the Art major, tick.
When Edward called Angela and explained his predicament, she made it all seem so matter of fact.
"Just be yourself. You're funny and sweet and smart. It's impossible not to like you."
Well, she did have a point.
Alice, the total opposite of Angela, had forced him to conform to whatever it was society saw as trendy and popular. But Edward was more than the clothes he wore and the way in which he styled his hair. He had substance, and it was clear to Edward that Jasper was missing just that in his life if Alice was correct about his "guy-type."
With a new resolve, Edward enacted Plan B, which was to plainly do nothing. Keep it simple. Natural. If ever he should happen upon Jasper around campus, he would make it a point to interact and be himself.
Though some would argue that using his previous observations to anticipate where Jasper would routinely appear on campus might not have been completely accidental, it was practical.
Edward was a fan of working smarter, not harder.
So as not to appear "clingy" (Angela's main—and entirely unfounded—concern), he gave himself a five day margin for what was now being referred to in the laboratory as "The Day of Reckoning."
By the time Wednesday finally reared its head, Edward was an emotional wreck. He'd been staying up too late in the lab (doing nothing even resembling productive), ill with eagerness for this day.
Figuring it best to catch Jasper before lunch (in the event things progressed to a lunch- date level), Edward strategically placed himself before the student cafeteria, where Jasper tended to frequent.
His target soon glided across the courtyard, as ever, with a group in tow. Edward sighed upon sight of him, noting Jasper's hair pulled back into a sloppy ponytail, a paint-stained t-shirt clinging to his torso.
Alice, who was accompanying Jasper, noticed Edward first.
He smoothed his shirt, raised his chin, and ignored the girl's panicked expression when he stealthily intercepted their path.
"Jasper," Edward greeted with a bit of manufactured surprise.
The blond man paused in step, barely offering him a glance as he answered, "Uh, hey." Jasper slid right, and then left, and when it was clear that Edward didn't really intend to let him through, he met his gaze with a scowl. "Excuse me."
"It's me, Edward," he clarified, jabbing a finger into his sternum.
Jasper gave two blinks before a flicker of recognition appeared.
Somewhat goofily once again, Edward grinned.
Then, a brighter flicker of recognition. "Oh, right. Edward." Jasper's forehead creased as his eyes dipped down Edward's body—and then up again—and then down again. He turned to Alice and cringed. "Yikes! How drunk was I?"
Before Alice could intervene, Edward defended himself. "Not that drunk." He was certain he hadn't taken advantage.
Almost completely certain.
"You looked… different," Jasper explained, his nose wrinkling the slightest bit.
Edward's face colored when he realized the other people were still there, observing with varying degrees of… amusement? He conceded in a nervous mumble, "Maybe, a little."
The brunette girl he'd seen with Jasper that night released a sudden laugh. "Oh my God. I remember you! No accounting for taste, eh Whitlock?"
The rest of group snickered with her.
Jasper's brow puckered into a dour crease. "Come on, I was tanked. We've all had a little coyote ugly at one point."
As if Edward were once again invisible, the crowd meandered around him, following Jasper as he passed.
Alice had the saddest eyes. The saddest, sympathetic, knowing eyes.
But Edward wasn't going to give up so easy. He followed for three steps and tapped Jasper on the shoulder.
"What?" Jasper snipped. Fortunately, his group of friends entered the cafeteria without him—with the exception of Alice, who stood near the entrance, shifting restlessly from foot to foot.
"I was hoping that—" Edward gave a small gulp at Jasper's evident annoyance. This was turning out nothing like he'd planned. "—that maybe we could get lunch. Or something?" He was positively sweating now.
Jasper's face softened. "This weekend—that was just fun, you know? Blowing off some steam. A one night thing."
Edward nodded, agreeing, "You're a free spirit, yes. But we didn't really get a chance to get to know one another, and I was thinking that—"
Jasper, who had apparently run out of patience, barreled over Edward's anxious mumbles like a steamroller. "Okay, truthfully? Aside from the fact it was a one night thing, it was a fluke, know what I mean?"
Edward could offer no reassurance that he did.
Jasper growled under his breath. "I don't know how to say this without coming off as a superficial prick, but you, Edward, are a one."
His jaw dropped. "You're really going to make me say this out loud, aren't you?"
Edward stared, waiting.
With a flare of his nostrils, he explained, "You are a one, on a scale of one to ten, ten being someone I'd actually want to lay. Got it?"
Alice hissed, "Jasper, for the love of God!"
It took Edward a moment to find his voice, but when he did, it was strained with hurt and humiliation. Nevertheless, he answered, "Got it."
Alice's acerbic reprimands were lost behind him in the flurry of his escape.
Edward stared dully at his blackboard, his eyes flickering across the dark surface. He memorized his late night scrawl—the loopy J's and rigid W's. He wondered where he went wrong, but then, the results were never wrong.
It was just that Edward had failed to prove his hypothesis.
That night, he cleared his blackboard. He shoved his notes deep into the back of his desk and vowed to never report the conclusion of the experiment.
He was too ashamed.
He had never been absent a day in his academic career, an achievement which he proudly boasted, and yet, Edward couldn't face people. Therefore, he didn't attend classes that week. He ignored Angela's calls, and then Ben's, and then his mother's, and then his father's.
He binged on Chinese, determined to gain back those few inches he'd lost over the months while granting gross attention to his PhD and fellowship applications. He showered, but he didn't care to slick down his hair or primp in the mirror. In fact, Edward couldn't look in the mirror at all.
None of those girlish giggles had been real. They been laughing at Edward—he could see that now. The men, they didn't envy his appearance. They were awestruck by his total unattractiveness.
Edward had never felt so ugly before.
One by one, the carefully woven threads of his existence began to unravel, revealing all that he'd been too cowardly to see. He'd wasted his youth on laboratory science and work and experiments and goals, and had nothing to show for it but a few trophies, grants, and computer-generated GPAs.
He was a one.
Really, he was less than a one—Jasper had been generous.
It was no surprise to find Angela on the other side of his door come the weekend. He would have ignored her, but all of the obnoxious pounding greatly unsettled his numbed state.
"What happened?" Angela exclaimed, aghast as she took in his unkempt appearance.
Edward gave a sniffle. And then another. "I have a cold." But then he saw her looking at him, and he just knew she was contemplating how very ugly he looked. He stifled a sob against her shoulder in an abrupt hug.
At first, she just sat with him while he suffered through his cold symptoms, but all too soon, she was dragging the truth out of him, bit by painful bit.
"What a mean, vain, pompous little asshole," she seethed, startling Edward.
Angela never cursed. "He's wrong, Edward. You are a ten—more than a ten. You're too good to be graded on a scale like a piece of meat." She flung her hair over her shoulder and pinched her lips into a sneer.
But Angela was just being nice. It was in her nature to fix. Besides that, Angela had been with Ben since high school and was a rare exception to the usual rule of human nature. She had seen past Ben's terrible acne and braces and chose to love who he was underneath.
No one does that.
Conversely, Edward had been seduced by Jasper's good looks, only to find that Jasper was ugly on the inside. The contrast of aesthetics versus personality would have almost been intriguing if it hadn't been so devastating.
On the next day, when he was awoken at noon to yet another knock, he figured it'd be her once again. Fearing she may have come armed with ice cream or some equally clichéd and insultingly feminine foodstuffs, Edward answered his door in nothing but a robe and his ornery disposition.
Several blinks revealed Jasper's blurry shape.
Though he was the very last person on the face of the entire earth Edward wanted to see, he held the door ajar and fumbled his glasses onto the bridge of his nose.
Jasper was a definite ten. "Sorry to just… drop by, but I didn't have your number and—"
"Whaddya want?" Edward's voice was still hoarse, thick with sleep (and his cold).
"I—can I come in?"
His eyes narrowed in suspicion. The apartment was less than tidy and just as ugly as he was. He really wasn't in the mood to entertain. "No."
Jasper didn't seem especially shocked by his response. Instead, he ducked his chin and began, "Look, I feel terrible about Wednesday. What I said was… harsh and unnecessary. Inexcusable, really. I was hoping to apologize." Jasper glanced up at Edward through the thickness of his blond lashes.
So it was pity.
"There's nothing to apologize for," Edward dismissed. "You were only being honest."
If someone had been honest sooner, then maybe Edward could have been spared all this humiliation.
Jasper frowned. "No, I wasn't. I was just… caught off guard, I guess. You aren't really…" He gave a vague gesture. "You know."
"No, I don't." Edward wished Jasper would stop assuming he was a mindreader.
A familiar annoyance flashed in Jasper's eyes before he sighed it away. "You aren't really a one, okay? You're not—I mean, I didn't mean—what I'm trying to say is that…" He took a pause to thoughtfully conclude, "You're just fine the way you are, you just aren't really my type is all." After a slow exhale, he added, "I'm sorry."
Edward didn't doubt his sincerity in the least, but it didn't make him feel any better. Whose type was he? And would they be his? He doubted it.
"I accept your apology," he assured, more anxious to retreat back into the gloom of his apartment than anything.
Before he could close the door, however, Jasper's hand shot out, stopping it with a gentle palm. "I—really? Because it was a pretty douchey thing to say, and you looked so..." He winced. "I hate shallow people. It really bothered me." Jasper held out his hands, palms up, helpless.
Edward began to question his theory about Jasper being an inwardly ugly person. A bad person wouldn't have felt an ounce of the guilt evident on Jasper's face, and though a decent person would have, it took a truly good person to choose the discomfort of apology over simply letting that guilt fester and dissipate without intervention.
"Maybe you'd let me buy you a cup of coffee?" Jasper suggested when all had gone silent for a beat too long. "As friends." Edward didn't miss the significance of inflection put upon the word "friends."
He mulled it over as Jasper stood and waited, searching his face for any sign of forgiveness.
Edward ultimately decided, "Could we do it next week?"
"Whenever you'd like." Jasper grinned.
They exchanged phone numbers before Jasper shuffled away down the hall, his shoulders a little lighter.
Edward decided he didn't really mind that Jasper's actions were driven by guilt, and perhaps a bit of pity. Once the door closed, Edward flew around his apartment in a haste to get dressed. He pulled on a pair of pants and a random shirt that he paid no mind to.
And then he set off for his laboratory, where he could record his rapidly forming Plan C.
"This is sad, Edward." Indeed, Alice Brandon looked very sad.
"I could pay you," he offered, pausing to await her response.
She chuffed. "I don't want you to pay me. I just… you deserve better, see? You should expend all this effort on someone who likes you for you."
Edward rolled his eyes. "Yes, likes me for me, recycles, saves puppies, yadda yadda yadda. Your heartfelt advice has been duly noted. Are you going to do this or not?"
The whole reason he'd come to Alice in favor of Angela was to directly avoid such lectures. It had occurred to him that Alice had been right all along. Where Angela's advice to be himself had failed, Alice's advice to alter himself had succeeded.
No scientist could deny cold, hard facts.
At Alice's frown, Edward explained, "I am who I am, there's no changing my essential genetic makeup. I'll always love math and cheerios, and I'll always hate germs and beets. But maybe if I just… made the outside more aesthetically appealing to him, then he'd be more inclined to… get acquainted with me." Edward didn't find his plan so deplorable. Jasper was an artist. He thrived on appreciating beauty. Of course he'd never give pedestrian Edward the light of day. Edward concluded, "Plenty of good things are marketed in pretty packages."
Alice sighed, bowing her head.
Sensing her coming defeat, Edward begged, "Please?"
They spent the whole day in the city, pouring through shops that Alice deemed worthy of his business. Edward had never been one for frivolity, so he felt no remorse in spending an abundance of his savings on his new package.
Shoes were apparently quite important, and pants were even more important than those, and shirts were even more important than those, and accessories were most important of all. Come the next morning, he had all kinds of new goodies to anticipate trying on before his mirror.
Before they went back to campus, Alice took him to Demetri, the most chic stylist in town. He was bossy and curt, and had an accent that Edward couldn't even place.
"We do not jellll zee hair. Repeats!" He wagged a finger in front of Edward's anxious face.
"No hair gel," he quickly obeyed.
"We do not partzzzz zee hair. Repeats!"
When he arrived home, Edward threw away his hair gel. He was convinced that Demetri the stylist would somehow know if he kept it.
Edward wouldn't say he felt confident as he approached the small coffee shop on the edge of campus. He was still breaking in his new shoes, shifting himself around in his longer, looser trousers, and trying with all his might to not be perpetually frustrated with his disheveled hair. His shoulders—and quite curiously, his posture (who knew?)—lamented the absence of suspender straps.
No, he wouldn't say he was confident, but he was less miserable than when he'd known how very one he was.
He pushed his glasses up his nose upon entering (Alice had insisted Edward not abandon his eyesight in favor of vanity), and anxiously searched the space. Jasper had sounded rushed on the phone, so Edward supposed he might be a bit late.
That was fine, he decided, taking the time to calm his nerves and steady his hands. He ordered a glass of water (so as not to taint his breath), and waited.
Jasper was thirty minutes late, but Edward hadn't even considered leaving. His green eyes searched table to table until they landed upon Edward's, doing a bit of a double take.
"You look different every time I see you," Jasper observed, taking the seat across from him, winded and smiling.
Edward willed his cheeks not to color. "I just… like trying new things."
"Yeah? That's cool. I used to go through a new look every week in high school. Invigorating, isn't it?"
Edward nodded, carefully sipping his water.
Jasper ordered his coffee (one of those fancy espresso things), and turned to him, apologizing, "Sorry I'm so late. Sometimes, I get so caught up in painting I forget if it's night or day."
Edward's eyes glittered. "I do the same thing!" Catching the unusually high volume of his voice, he hid a cringe. "I mean, in the laboratory. I can't even count how many times I've walked out of that place at sunrise."
Jasper barked a laugh. "I like how you say that."
"Luh-bore-uh-toree. It's almost affectionate. Like, you could save yourself some syllables by using the conventional lab-ruh-toree—or even just, lab—but you put you put more consideration into it. I'm rambling, shut me up." He squinted with another laugh, and Edward joined along, less embarrassed by Jasper's observations than he usually would have been.
Jasper made it feel like a compliment.
"So you have like… eh… a studio?" Edward pried.
"Kind of. It's on campus, so it's not mine, and I have to share it with six other people, but we're pretty harmonious. I have my own corner. Very protective of it. Whenever my acrylics go missing, I go completely mad." Jasper was good at rambling. In fact, he did so for a good ten minutes before he caught himself, grimacing. "Sorry, I'm told I have a habit for hijacking conversation. You talk now."
Edward seized under the pressure of his waiting gaze. "I like Cheerios?"
Alice took forever to answer her cell phone. So high strung was Edward that when she finally did answer, he assaulted her with a mortifyingly high pitched greeting.
"It was perfect!" he gushed, falling onto his bed with a "plop"—just like Jasper had that night. Edward sighed half-dreamily.
"Yay! When do you wanna start having his babies?" she teased.
He scowled at the phone, grousing, "Don't be a killjoy. Don't you want details?"
"Aren't you going to give them to me regardless?"
He reported all about their conversation regarding school and home and boxed cereals and syllabic interpretation. He didn't leave out the part where Jasper tied his hair back, lifting and flexing his arms as he did so, and leaving Edward speechless for many moments.
It was only when he attempted to twirl his finger around a non-existent phone cord that he realized, gasping in horror, "Oh God, I'm a teenage girl."
Alice hummed. "That's okay. Jasper likes his boys a little on the feminine side."
"I am not feminine." Edward was willing to do a lot to attract Jasper, but that was a hard limit.
"Yeah yeah. Cut to the chase. Ultimate progress report?"
Edward beamed. "He said there was a party on Friday—"
"At Paul's," Alice correctly deduced.
"Yes, and he said I was welcome to come."
He'd been invited.
"You do realize that doesn't mean—"
"—I know it's not a date thing," Edward assured. "Just as friends."
The more Edward considered that word in relation to Jasper and his infectious laugh, the more he thought he might be okay with expecting nothing more.
Until the party.
It all started out just out fine. Edward found that he easily adapted to the atmosphere once he observed and adjusted himself appropriately. People drank at these parties, and so he did too. People also talked and laughed and looked busy and happy, and so when Edward found Jasper, he did his best to mimic those as well. Jasper introduced him once, and then curiously, other people began to actually engage him.
He felt a little popular.
He didn't even cling to Jasper's side as strongly as he'd originally felt the inclination to. Instead, he followed the tide of the gathering, greeting people as they greeted him. He might even say he made a friend or three.
But he hadn't anticipated a very significant factor of Coulomb's law.
If charge a is in the presence of several charges b, c ... the force that a feels is the sum of the force vectors due to the remaining charges.
In this case, c's name was Peter. He was a tall(ish) man with dark hair and even darker eyes. He had pale, flawless skin, and enough teeth to frighten a small child. Jasper spent most of the night gravitating around him, sending him meaningful looks and slanted grins.
Edward knew that grin.
He sulked from afar. Jasper didn't even bid Edward a farewell as he slipped from the house, Peter in tow.
Edward didn't sleep that night. He tossed and turned and imagined Jasper asking Peter if he wanted "to give him some head." He did his best to accept this place he'd found for himself—something Alice referred to the next day as "The Friend Zone."
Sadly, these emotions only further burgeoned as the weeks passed. Jasper's various circles had accepted Edward as somewhat of an eclectic mathematician (He hadn't had the heart to correct them.), which suited him just fine. He was able to hang about without seeming clingy or creepy, and whenever Jasper would saunter up to them in the courtyard, he'd seem pleased enough to see Edward fitting in among his peers.
As a friend, Edward should have been satisfied with the relationship. It was casual and refreshing, and though they always seemed to be in the company of others, they still conversed regularly and enjoyed doing so. But since Edward still harbored both attraction and affection, every moment with Jasper was tainted with impatience and longing and, as he'd come to find—loneliness.
And Jasper—well, Edward didn't want to be offensive, but he had to admit—Jasper got around. After Peter came Kate, and then Felix, and then Irina, and then Charlotte, and Edward had quite enough pressure competing with his own gender, but to add another?
He was rapidly disillusioned.
Night after night spent in his laboratory yielded no answers. He considered every course for winning Jasper as a companion, and when all of those options were one-by-one dimissed, he even contemplated how to rid himself of the attraction all together.
His dismay was growing ever apparent.
"What's with you?" Jasper asked one day. He'd nudged him in the side as they sat in the cafeteria, various degrees of chatter occurring on either side of them.
Edward gave a weak smile. "Nothing. Why do you ask?"
Jasper supplied, "You've been far away, or—I don't know, maybe you're always like that."
He lifted a shoulder. "Maybe."
"So, hey. I have a question." Jasper turned his entire body, easily gaining Edward's full attention. "Are you seeing anyone?"
He straightened, imperceptibly (he hoped). "No, why?"
Jasper leaned in closer as he explained, "Well, I have this friend who's kind of interested, but I wasn't sure if you were…" His voice lowered to a discreet whisper. "…into girls."
Just as quickly as he'd straightened, Edward sagged. "Not especially."
"Oh, right." Jasper nodded and pulled away, taking with him the scent of something astringent and… painty. "I'll let her down easy." With a dimpled smile, he winked, faced forward, and gave a faint shake of his head.
From across the table, Tanya Somethingoranother jutted her bottom lip into a pout.
"I know that look." Alice's bag landed on his table with a resounding clank.
Edward peered at the bag, giving it an inquisitive poke. "What on earth do you have in there?"
"Pewter skulls. Like I was saying, that look? Yeah, that one, with the puppy-dog eyes and the poorly-exfoliated skin. I know that look."
Edward evaded, "What are you doing with pewter skulls?"
"I'm decorating my kitchen tonight. That look, right there? He's broken you." She propped a palm on either hip, her naval piercing protruding from beneath her small shirt.
"Don't be dramatic."
She ranted, "I tried to warn you, right from the beginning, but no. Now I have to sit by and watch you brood about it, because I feel irrationally responsible."
"No one is responsible, Alice. He's just not that into me."
Her jaw fell. "Did you just make a pop culture reference? See that? You're not even the same person I met three months ago. He's changed you. Broken you." Irate, she paced while animatedly seething, "I could eviscerate his testicles. Tear him limb from limb, shove his dick down his throat, and just—" She strangled the air in front of her.
Edward was moved. "Aren't you the scorned woman?"
Huffing, she finally settled beside him on the sofa. "I liked Jasper, sure. And he did scorn me, but—" She gnawed at her bottom lip, shy. "I was more upset about the rejection than the person rejecting me. Besides, you two make sense to me. Like peanut butter and jelly. I've become oddly… invested."
"Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you," Edward lamented. "There comes a point where I have to call a spade a spade. Jasper isn't interested."
Saying the words aloud was almost physically painful, but Edward couldn't deny the truth in them. He'd done everything within his power to make himself more appealing. As Alice had pointed out, he'd altered himself to suit Jasper's tastes, and still. Nothing. He'd already begun to gradually revert to his old, comfortable habits.
The suspenders had made their grand return a week prior.
Edward wasn't broken. He was exhausted.
"I'm sorry," Alice whispered, grabbing his hand and giving it a squeeze. She looked for all the world as if she might weep, but Edward found it in himself to muster up a small yet sincere smile.
Maybe he'd failed with Jasper, but he'd made more genuine friends along the way than he ever could have hoped for.
Classes were about to let out for the summer, and he was required to run an inventory on all of his equipment. When this was mentioned to Jasper in passing, Edward was surprised to hear his curiosity.
"What's it like? I never really paid attention to the science department."
Edward went out on a very long, very vulnerable limb. "Would you like to see it?"
He'd never invited anyone into the laboratory before.
Jasper seemed to sense this significance (maybe he was just as particular about his corner of the studio), because his face grew serious. "Are you sure?"
Since Edward could see no harm, he nodded.
"I'd like that." Jasper smiled, looking rather touched.
Edward took him that night, when he knew most of the staff and students would already be gone for the day.
Edward, grinning, watched as a wide-eyed Jasper followed the clean room procedure, lips all pressed into a grave, concentrated line.
"This is yours?" Jasper asked as Edward led him down the long corridor and into the middlemost laboratory.
Edward ducked his chin, clarifying, "Well, not mine. It's kind of like your studio. I share it and… I supervise a research group."
He watched as Jasper studied his surroundings, sweeping a fingertip across a stainless steel table. "What do you do research?"
"Whatever's funded. Currently, electrical transport measurements of nanostructures, but next year it could be something completely different."
Jasper's eyes narrowed as he took this in.
"Sorry, that's probably confusing. Or boring. Or both."
"Not boring," Jasper insisted, smiling.
Edward led him around the facility, pointing out various notable sights.
"This is where I usually spend all my time." Edward eventually led him into his little office, which was rare for an undergraduate to have.
Jasper stood, hands in his pockets, as he regarded the clean blackboard that had once held the curvy and rigid script of his name. Edward immediately flushed.
"I'm not sure what I was expecting. Beakers and microscopes, I guess."
"We have closets full of those. And—" Edward gestured to his treasured, antique brass microscope, which his father had given him for his thirteenth birthday.
"Bitchin'," Jasper admired, gently prodding it, and thankfully making no comments about semen.
His fears that he'd bore Jasper were quickly laid to rest—especially when they passed a photo of the nearby observatory.
"Can you get in there?" Jasper asked, pointing to the building.
"Of course." They were only open to the public on the weekends, but Edward was on shining terms with the entire department and could no doubt use the facilities unhindered.
"Have you ever been?"
"I went there a few times my freshman year, but then… things got busy, you know." Jasper looked away, drawing a pattern into the lab table.
Edward was pretty sure what had occupied most of Jasper's time.
Uncertain, Edward struggled against the impulse to wring his hands together when he asked, "Would you like to go?"
Jasper's lips lifted into a grin. "Okay."
They spent most of the walk in silence, one or the other making the occasional comment about astronomy. Actually, Edward couldn't ever recall hearing Jasper say so little.
It didn't last long. "Starry Night has always been my favorite painting. It's a little cliché, and honestly, I'm not big on post-impressionist era stuff, but I feel kind of nostalgic about it. It was the first painting to really move me." Jasper regaled Edward with art-speak as they stood beneath the large dome of the observatory, waiting for an errant cirrus cloud to pass.
"Who's your favorite painter? Or… do you have one?"
Edward gave great consideration to Jasper's question before replying, "I've always enjoyed Picasso's use of geometry."
"Cubism, yeah? I've never been good at that—more of a realist. What you see is what you get."
Edward cracked a faint smile. "I thought you weren't shallow?"
"I never said I wasn't shallow. I said I hated shallow people." Jasper pivoted his head, enough for the light to catch on his profile and exaggerate the serious set of his lips.
The silence following was weighty, uncomfortable.
"I like you, Jasper," Edward finally confessed. And just so there was no room for confusion, he added, "As more than a friend. And I know I'm not your type, but…"
He had nothing to really add to that.
Instead, he was honest. "I just figured you should know."
Frankness was Edward's last resort, and though he hadn't planned to make himself vulnerable to yet another rejection, he found that he was unable to help it. Looking at Jasper in the softness of starlight made him physically ache to have him.
"Yeah, I know," Jasper revealed, confirming Edward's all-along fears. "I've always known."
"Oh." Edward didn't look at the sky or at Jasper's softly illuminated features. He stared into the blackness, awaiting the sting of dismissal.
It was swift and gentle. "You're plenty cute, and… I do like you, Edward. A lot. But—and this isn't about you not being my type—but you and I want different things, and it wouldn't fair for me to just… indulge. You want more than that. Deserve more than that. I just can't offer it."
Edward had no argument. He'd be unable to have a casual, sexual relationship with Jasper. He needed commitment and exclusivity and all the things free spirits were never willing to give.
With logic came a bittersweet sort of acceptance. It was nobody's fault. Opposites might attract, but at the end of the day, they were still fundamentally contrary.
Edward conceded that it was time to let Jasper go.
"Could I ask a favor?" All the pretending in the word couldn't mask the sadness in Edward's voice.
Jasper's eyes were sympathetic. "Anything."
The sounds of Edward's shuffling feet saturated the room, paralleling his words with soft rustles. "I never even kissed you." He felt a little selfish for asking, but couldn't regret it.
A sidelong glance revealed Jasper's sad smile. He came close enough to graze Edward's elbow with his own. "Can I kiss you?"
The air crackled following Edward's nod, partly with anticipation, partly with anxiety. Jasper's palms found his face, framing it as his scent grew closer, until finally, their lips touched.
It was a tactile sort of experience—the roughness of Jasper's stubble, the softness of his inner lips, the grainy, sponge-like texture of a sudden tongue. Edward cupped the back of his neck and drew him closer, deepening the kiss and sending wafts of breath through his nose, and then across Jasper's.
The static in the air multiplied and effervesced with their smacking lips and soft shifts against one another. Edward felt like the sky above him—dispersed into millions of sparkling points of light, illuminated and radiant.
As their tongues touched and caressed, something raw and tender settled into the pit of Edward's belly. It was heavy and needing—lust and something else. It forced their mouths closer, smashed their noses together, made the air between them damp with shaky, hissed panting. Jasper weaved his fingers through Edward's hair, pushing his head nearer and nearer. Edward hoped he felt it, too. Their chests met and cleared the distance between their hips, which revealed mirroring, tented trousers.
Edward pulled away, his overwhelmed gasp laced with a mewl.
Jasper staggered back one step—and then two—but he never really gave much attention to the sky in the silence that followed. He was too busy staring into the same blackness that Edward had moments before, his face set into an unreadable, blank expression.
When they left the observatory, Edward went north, and Jasper went south, where polar opposites belonged.
Something was awry with the universe that week—this proved it. It gave Edward a faint sense of foreboding, like whenever white buffalo or two-headed kittens were born.
"What do you mean?" Edward asked, attempting to feign distraction as he made notes into the margin of his physics book.
"He asks about you," Angela explained.
"And he stares," Alice added.
The two women stood before his sofa, side by side in the ungodliest of alliances.
It wasn't that Edward doubted their honesty, it was just that—
"He's sooo lovesick," Angela crooned. "Like a puppy."
"Like a horny, evil, lovesick puppy," Alice agreed.
—It was just that the two women often had romantic delusions of grandeur.
Edward sighed away their suspicion. "Let me guess. He's asked what I've been up to, and he waved at me once or twice. Like a concerned friend might?"
Edward had gradually removed himself from Jasper's social circles. He still saw Jasper around campus, here and there, but only offered small waves from a distance. Therefore, it made sense that Jasper would inquire as to Edward's sudden absence.
He felt no ill will toward him. If anything, the affection he'd already had seemed to swell, warming his chest with every passing reminder of Jasper—it was just tainted with a bit of sorrow now.
No, he didn't distance himself out of bitterness. It simply felt rude and intrusive to remain, and if Edward were being honest, it was difficult for him to be near Jasper at all.
"He asks all kinds of things," Angela defended, though the way she gnawed on her lip suggested that perhaps she was beginning to question her own observations.
"No." Alice shook her head, stubborn. "He looks at you even after you wave, and the look on his face is—" She put a palm to her chest and emitted a wistful sort of sigh. "And he didn't go home with anyone the last two whole weekends, Edward."
This bolstered Angela's confidence. "Yes, she's right. Lovesick."
Edward didn't really buy it, but he found himself looking for these signs they'd spoken of.
The next morning, he waved to Jasper from across the courtyard. Jasper had his hair down (Edward couldn't decide which way he liked best) and a zip-up, hooded sweatshirt hiding whatever paint-speckled tee he was sure to be wearing.
Curious, Edward walked for a few more seconds (eight and three quarters, to be exact) before chancing a discreet glance over his shoulder. His eyes found Jasper's just in time to see them flicker away.
Had he been looking?
Edward couldn't be sure, but he was certain that he could expend no more effort indulging in hopes. The tender, smarted sensations that still plagued his chest were a constant reminder that Edward needed to focus on Edward. He'd already put himself out there—courageously, he gave himself ample credit—again and again.
He couldn't afford to entertain the notion that Jasper's feelings might have changed. Moreover, the more distance Edward put between himself and Jasper, the more Edward was able to once again settle into his drab yet comfortable routine.
If he tried very hard, Edward could almost convince himself that Jasper Whitlock was little more than a passing fantasy.
It was especially difficult to deny Jasper's existence when he sought Edward out.
Edward was in the laboratory the day before finals were to end. It was all but deserted, and Edward enjoyed the peace, having decided to hunker down in his office and get a head start on research for an essay he'd been independently writing for publication.
The knock startled him enough that Edward almost dropped his slide onto the floor.
From across the large, dimly lit lab, Jasper waved through a window.
"I figured you'd be here. I hope you don't mind," Jasper explained when Edward invited him inside.
"I don't mind," Edward replied, but worried, "Is something the matter?"
His suspicion grew as Jasper hefted a large, veiled… something beneath his arm, and waddled himself sideways into the lab. "Well I had something for you, but you weren't home and—and I never see you around. I mean, I see you around, but you're never around around."
Edward dipped his head, shoved his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and remained mute.
Then, Jasper's eyes, with the accusing. "You know, after that night… I didn't mean you had to vanish. I was hoping we could still be friends." In a softer voice, "I like you."
Edward hid the contortion of his features by running a hand through his hair. "I don't think us being friends is a very good idea."
"Why not?" Jasper sounded—and looked—almost wounded.
But Edward had been wounded, too. "Peter, Kate, Irina, Charlotte, Garrett, Felix, Tanya—"
Jasper's frown deepened with each name Edward spoke, until eventually, he winced. "I guess I didn't know it was that… serious. Jealous-type serious?"
Edward assured with less embarrassment then he thought possible, "It was pretty serious."
A deep crevice formed between Jasper's eyebrows. "…was?"
It immediately disappeared. "Oh."
Abashed, Edward hastened the conversation elsewhere. "What's that?" He peered over Jasper's shoulder, toward the something, which had been placed with care onto one of the lab tables.
It was odd then how Jasper acted, shoving his fists into his pockets and rocking on his heels, eyes flickering nervously about. "It's a painting."
Edward's mouth formed a little, excited 'o'. "A painting?"
"Well, I know you like cubism, and I'm not very good at the whole… geometry thing… but I was inspired so I decided to take a crack at it. I thought maybe—" Edward had never seen Jasper blush before. "—since you don't have any art in your apartment. You could, you know. Hang it up. If you liked it—I'm not very good," he repeated.
"I'm sure it's good," Edward assured him. "Can I see it?"
Jasper gnawed on a lip, as if he might decline, before finally stepping aside.
The first thing Edward noticed upon carefully removing the paper wrapping was how Jasper had halved the canvas. One side was filled with warm colors—oranges, reds, and yellows—and the other, cool colors—blues, greens, and purples.
"It's a face," Edward declared, grinning, but then… "No, two faces. Right?" He didn't want to further Jasper's creative insecurity.
"Two faces," Jasper verified, standing a careful distance away from it, fidgeting. "They're close, though—"
"No, I see it. They're—"Edward assessed the image thoroughly, noting how the triangular nose of one overlapped into the other.
Jasper confirmed, "Kissing."
He reminded himself that it was just art as he turned, catching Jasper's gaze and smiling broadly. "It's amazing! Not very good," he mocked, scoffing.
Something flashed in Jasper's eyes—something confident and bold. "It's called The Spark, see?" He came closer then, seeming less afraid of the canvas than he had moments prior. He pointed to where the two halves met, tracing the connection that ignited into a bright sodium yellow.
"The, uh, blue one looks… sort of sad?"
Jasper lifted his head, nodding. "Sad but… primary. The orange one, here—he's divided—yellow and red. A secondary color. They can't make green, like they should—like they both want to."
Jasper's lips slanted. "Not exactly. Just… tainted. Inopportune, if you will. Bad timing? It's all very hard to illustrate." A loud exhale made a strand of hair flutter from his forehead. "But the spark between them—see it?"
"Yellow was looking for the spark with the red—made himself orange. But now that he found it with the blue…."
Edward offered a soft smile in understanding, but Jasper—
Jasper just held his gaze, as if waiting. "Yellow doesn't need the red anymore. Know what I mean?"
It was fitting that Edward was, as ever, inside his laboratory upon a very significant eureka. He felt his face warm at needing to ask, "Just so we're clear, this—" He gestured to the canvas. "—is a thinly veiled metaphor for… us? That kiss before…?"
But Jasper didn't laugh at Edward like he probably should have. His voice grew to a quiet, intimate whisper, eyes dark and secretive. "I wasn't imagining that, was I?"
Edward, eye's fixed to the canvas, gave a gentle shake of his head.
He heard Jasper's lifted hand before he saw it—saw it before he felt it—one cool palm pressing his cheek. There was a delicate, exploratory peck on the corner of Edward's lips.
They both sighed.
A closer kiss, mouth against mouth, pinch against pinch, tongue-tip against tongue-tip once Edward had the wherewithal to respond.
Then Jasper's face was gone—just enough so that when Edward's eyes opened, he could see the blurry, distorted shape of Jasper's heavy lids and slackened mouth.
And then Edward was being pushed and pushed and pushed, and when his hip collided with the lab table behind him, he gave a hiss. But it was swallowed by Jasper's mouth, quick, sharp kisses that knocked Edward's glasses askew.
Jasper's whole body was pressing against his—practically undulating into Edward's pelvis—Edward, whose hands were trembling, searching for shirt fabric, clutching him closer, grasping, clawing as that raw, tender, needy weight returned to his chest.
He'd never had so much tongue inside his mouth before.
"Tell me we're alone," Jasper begged, abandoning Edward's mouth in favor of his chin and neck and collar bone, and really anything and everything, all at once.
Edward could only wheeze in response.
But then Jasper's hands were yanking on his shirt, pulling it from the waistband of his trousers, dipping underneath it. One hand curled to Edward's back and dropped… down… and that cool palm was suddenly beneath his pants. Jasper grabbed a handful of Edward's flesh and—
"I want this," he breathed, husky and wanton.
Edward's entire body seized.
"Relax, I didn't mean right now." A wet, tongue-laden chuckle into his ear. "You do give really amazing head, though."
Edward jumped back onto the table, but only to scramble away, landing on the other side with an ungraceful crash. "I can't." With plentiful strain, he crossed his hands over his erection.
Jasper looked stunned, panting and red-lipped. It took him a full ten seconds to respond. "You do understand that I was basically saying I wanted to be with you."
"And that I wanted to be… with only you."
Edward nodded again.
Jasper's shoulders fell. "Then… do you not want me?"
"I do!" Though it was a physical battle to do so, Edward lifted his chin and maintained his stare. "Alice says I'm not supposed to… do that… until I've received at least three times." With a sure nod, Edward gave his groin a respectful squeeze.
He'd promised it and Alice both.
As if Jasper could look anymore confused. "What? Why?"
Edward explained, "Alice says the universe needs balance, and since I've given more than I've received, I've turned myself into a—" Edward lost a bit of his posture while quoting her, "a sexual doormat."
Since Jasper spent many pensive moments absorbing this, his words were carefully chosen. "That's not altogether unreasonable?"
Edward's eyes went wide and wider and wider. "Really?"
"Well yeah." Jasper's lips made that same slanted grin that Edward adored. "It's only fair, and it's not as if I wasn't planning to."
Edward took a moment to squeeze himself once again, making certain this wasn't some sort of laboratory-concocted fantasy gone too far.
He was definitely not dreaming.
Buoyed, Edward did his best not to jump into the air when he softly gushed, "Awesome!" But he did scuttle himself over the lab table in such a fashion that his shoulders arrived even before his feet did.
Jasper resumed his heavy, feral kisses, pressing Edward against the table once again. Before he slipped the suspender straps from Edward's shoulders, he popped one, snapping it against a nipple.
"I like those."
Edward was going to make some distracted, slurred comment about distinction, but Jasper dropped to his knees, therefore rendering speech a ridiculous concept.
The touching over the pants was almost too much, but the touching skin-to-skin made Edward's teeth sink into his lip. He'd never been touched like that before—like they wanted it.
In their mouth.
Since having Jasper's tongue loop out to taste him rendered standing yet another ridiculous concept, Edward collapsed onto the table. Jasper followed, making Edward vanish between his lips, and then appear, and then vanish, and then appear, and then vanish. It was better than he ever imagined it, all wet and warm, and the way Jasper pursed his lips so very tightly—
Edward's belly coiled.
Jasper's eyes flicked up.
He didn't have a chance to warn Jasper before he began twitching and jerking and releasing and—
Well, Edward was a bit embarrassed.
But Jasper didn't seem to mind. Rising, he winked. "One down. And when we get back to your place, I can knock out number two."
Edward had his pants up faster than Jasper could say "Hey, is that a microscope?" He didn't even bother with the suspenders. "You get the painting, I'll cut the lights."
Jasper stole another kiss on the way out, long and wet and full of wonder. However, Edward didn't need to wonder about that crackle of electricity. Not because he had a lot of experience kissing other men, but because Edward was a scientist.
He knew chemistry when he felt it.