Ed is trying very hard to pay attention to the tutor, who is currently explaining something about physics, but he's not really tracking what she's saying.
Instead, he's watching Bart.
He doesn't even know why. Tutoring is, surprisingly, the one time that Bart is quiet. Apparently he doesn't even really need the tutoring - he's already graduated high school, according to Jaime. No one really knows why he's still doing the tutoring, but he shows up every time.
(When Ed asked him about it, his face did something a little weird and he shrugged.)
He usually brings a book or something to keep his hands busy - he still somehow pays attention to the tutor too, but even if he can be quiet, he still can't quite manage to sit still. Bart doesn't seem to have a favorite genre - today's book is some sci-fi thing that Ed can't quite make out the title of. Last time was a romance novel, and the time before that was a biography. Once, he'd brought in a quantum physics textbook and spent the whole session reading intently, brow furrowed. By the end of class, he'd read the whole thing twice.
And that - that's where the problem comes in.
Because Bart is quiet.
And yet. Ed still can't stop watching him. His eyes catch on the line of his neck, the way he smiles when the book is funny, how he frowns when he's thinking. The way he always seems to be paying just enough attention to what the tutor is saying to participate in class - providing answers when no one else can, asking questions, making the occasional quiet joke. How his hand flies when he leans over the table, sketching things that Ed can never quite see, scribbles out equations and writes notes on something that is definitely not what they're studying in class.
Bart isn't doing anything that should be distracting, so the fact that Ed is still watching him is… it doesn't make any sense. It's just -
"Hello? Earth to Ed?"
He snaps out of his thoughts to find Bart leaning in next to him, waving a hand in front of his face.
"You've been staring at nothing for like, five minutes."
Oh. Yeah. He probably has been doing that.
"Sorry, I was just…" Ed starts, trailing off. Weirdly distracted by you, doesn't really seem like something he should say here, "I'm pretty tired, I guess," he finishes, weakly.
Bart grimaces sympathetically, then glances at the blank paper sitting on Ed's desk, "You wanna work together?"
Ed blinks a couple of times, his brain still lagging a little bit. "Yeah?" he says, like it's a question.
Suddenly, Bart's pulled his chair up next to Ed's and he's smiling so brightly and then he's turning his attention to the book sitting open between them. Ed's mind finally catches up to what's going on and he looks at the book too, remembering the assignment.
They're supposed to read The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton.
Their tutor thinks she's so funny.
They're supposed to be writing something about the symbolism of the book, but Ed hasn't come up with anything, because he's having a hard time focusing. Bart is a flurry of movement beside him, quickly scrawling out a page and a half, complete with quotes sourced from the book. Satisfied, he leans back in his chair, folding his hands behind his head, looking relaxed.
Ed turns back to the book, trying to focus, but he can't even pick out the words. He knows he had some idea of what he wanted to write, but he's drawing a blank.
Bart grins, "Should I call you Ponyboy?"
"Don't say it," Ed says flatly, shooting him a glare.
"Get it?" Bart asks, eyes twinkling mischievously, "Because -"
"Bart, if you finish that sentence, I promise I'm going to kill you."
"Because," he continues, undeterred, "You're gold."
"Because you're El Dorado."
"I hate you."
"The golden one," Bart croons, and Ed groans, picking up the book just to have something to do with his hands.
He determinedly ignores the way his heartbeat starts racing at the smile Bart is giving him, forces himself to glare at him, even though it's completely without heat.
The glare only makes Bart's smile brighter. "You gotta stay gold, Ponyboy."
"You're still smiling."
Bart says, "You're still smiling," and damn it, he is.
Hd tries, unsuccessfully, to bite back his grin, and says "That means nothing."
"I definitely don't," Ed shoots back unconvincingly, turning his eyes to the book, still open on the desk. He takes a few deep breaths, trying to get his smile under control and calm his thundering pulse.
"Sorry if I'm distracting you," Bart says, glancing over Ed's shoulder at his still mostly blank paper with a slight frown. "I can leave you alone if you want."
"No!" Ed winces at how quickly the word leaves his mouth. He's not entirely sure why the idea of Bart leaving bugs him so much. He must seem so desperate. "I mean, it's cool. I've been kinda spaced out today just like, in general. You don't have to go."
Bart bites the inside of his cheek, looking at Ed with a weird sort of intensity. Ed feels self conscious under his heavy gaze, and then Bart seems to shake it off, shrugging. "You sure?"
"Yeah. I like hanging out with you, Kid."
Bart's mouth falls open, looking… surprised? His eyes are wide and there's something soft in them that Ed's not sure he's seen before. "Yeah?" he asks, with a small smile.
"Yeah. As long as you never call me Ponyboy again," Ed replies easily.
"I'm not making any promises."
"I'll teleport you thirty feet in the air and then drop you."
"You'd have to catch me, first."
"I think I can keep up."
"Oh, can you?"
"I'm pretty sure I can."
Bart looks at him for a long moment before shrugging. "Well, even if you do, I have accelerated healing. Although I do admit, it's kinda flattering you'd go to all that trouble just for little old me."
Ed's cheeks burn, but he laughs in spite of himself. "Don't go getting an ego about it."
"Me? An ego? Never."
"I can't believe I'm friends with you," Ed groans, but he's still smiling.
"I guess my charms are just that irresistible, huh?"
Yeah, Ed doesn't say. "Never mind. I'm never speaking to you again."
"Gasp! You've broken my fragile heart, Eduardo! However will I go on?" Bart asks, flinging himself across the table dramatically, like a damsel in an old movie.
Ed snorts. "Did you really just say 'gasp' out loud? Instead of, y'know, actually gasping?"
"I'm too wounded to remember how to gasp."
"That's not a thing that happens," Ed replies, deadpan. He grabs his pencil and jabs Bart with it to get him off of the table and off of Ed's classwork.
"And now he stabs me! Cassie! Gar! Are you seeing this? He's attacking me!" Bart calls, but he sits back in his chair without a fight.
"I am one hundred percent sure you deserve it, Bart," Cassie calls back, not even glancing in their direction.
"Not you, too! I can't believe these betrayals! Gar, please, tell me you're on my side."
Gar doesn't turn around either. "Nope!"
Bart gasps. "I've been abandoned. Deserted. Forsaken by those closest to me."
"I see you've remembered how to gasp," Ed snickers, ignoring Bart's affronted glare. He returns to the paper in front of him and out of the corner of his eye, he sees Bart sit back in his seat, grabbing another book from his bag - a fantasy novel, this time - with a small smile on his face.
It takes Ed awhile, but he finishes the paper. By the time he looks up, Gar and Cassie are long gone, but Bart's still sitting next to him, book in hand.
"What time is it?"
"Hmm?" Bart glances up, startled. Before Ed can repeat himself, the words seem to catch up to him, and he checks his watch. "Like, a little after five?"
The tutor leaves at three fifteen. He's been there almost an extra two hours.
Bart is still there with him.
He's not sure what to make of that.
Bart stretches, and his shirt rides up just a bit. Ed's eyes catch on the small strip of skin that's temporarily exposed before he shakes his head, looking literally anywhere else.
"Man, I didn't realize how late it had gotten," Bart says, yawning. His stomach rumbles audibly, and he grimaces. "I really need to eat. Wanna come?"
He offers Ed his hand to help him up from his seat, and Ed stares at it for a moment before remembering he'd been asked a question.
"Uhh.. Yeah, sure?" he says, taking the offered hand and standing up. He's not sure why it came out like a question.
Bart smiles at him, bright and happy. "How do chicken whizzees sound?"
Ed groans. "Man, I had a bunch of those yesterday. I do know a really good taco truck nearby though. You in?"
"Lead the way," he replies, letting go of the hand Ed hadn't realized he was still holding to gesture expansively, bowing his head.
Ed starts walking, Bart falling into step with him, talking animatedly about the book he'd been reading. Ed bites his lip against the smile that threatens to take over his face and guides him to the truck.
Ed orders two tacos, and Bart gets a truly appalling amount of food. They wander over to a railing looking out over the ocean to eat. The view is really nice.
Bart shovels his food into his face disgustingly fast.
Somehow, though, Ed's not as grossed out as he should be. In fact, this might actually be one of the best nights he's had in awhile. He looks back out at the ocean with a contented smile.