Characters: Mina, Galvin, Luke, Ruby
Pairings: Rupert/Mina, Luke/Ruby
Summary: Mina hasn’t thought about Valentine’s day in over a century...
“Are you actually allowed in here?” Luke asked as they walked up to him, and Mina could sense the frown of displeasure on his face. She got the distinct feeling that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with them turning up at his college like this, not liking his two worlds meeting in such a manner. Which was understandable, she supposed, but ultimately something he would have to get used to. There was no real separating the life of a hunter from his ‘normal’ existence; they would clash no matter how hard he tried to keep them apart. And in her experience, that coming together tended to be an unfortunately painful one.
Next to her, Galvin simply shrugged.
“It’s a public building,” he reasoned, apparently not bothered by the scowl that was undoubtedly on Luke’s face.
“So,” the younger man said with a sigh of resignation at the fact, “I guess this means you’ve found the nest.”
Galvin really shouldn’t sound so pleased about that. Yes, it was breakthrough in their investigation, but it did mean that they had a difficult night ahead of them.
“You could have just phoned and said,” Luke pointed out. “You don’t normally have any problems phoning me at any time of the day or night, no matter what I’m doing.”
“They’re gremlins, Luke,” Galvin said bluntly, ignoring the boy’s sarcasm. “They’re kind of good with electronic stuff. If they know we’re onto them they could have easily got into the phone lines. We don’t want to tip them off.”
“Yeah all right,” Luke whispered urgently, sounding irritated, “keep it down!”
He had a point, Mina reasoned. They were in a crowded corridor by the sound of it and Galvin could be a little more subtle about things. Although ‘Galvin’ and ‘subtle’ were two words she’d rarely, if ever, had occasion to put together in all the years she’d known him, and she saw little reason for that to change now.
She expected the American to come back with a gruff quip about how Luke’s birthright was more important that his social life, but the boy was essentially rescued by Ruby’s arrival before Galvin could speak.
“What are you two doing here?” she asked without ceremony, giving Mina cause to wonder if ‘Ruby’ and ‘subtle’ were destined to be two words that would never meet either. Galvin’s bluntness though came from a dedication to his cause. Ruby’s often seemed to be a sheer lack of thought.
“Business,” Galvin explained, apparently heeding Luke’s plea to some extent. “We’ve got some work to do tonight.”
“Great,” Ruby said dismissively, as though she had far more important things to consider in her life. “Luke, did you see anyone around my locker?”
“I found this there.”
Luke’s grin was virtually audible.
“Someone’s got an admirer,” he teased.
Mina felt Galvin huff out a short laugh.
“Are you sure it’s for you?”
“There’s a note!” Ruby protested, sounding offended by his need to question that.
Mina, on the other hand, was simply annoyed by the fact that she had no clue what was going on. Her age had brought her great patience but even she had her limits. It wasn’t like she was exactly desperate to know the ins and outs of Ruby’s social life, but being kept out of the loop in a discussion was simply rude.
“What are we talking about?” she snapped impatiently, unable to hide her irritation.
Galvin squeezed her hand a little, almost like an apology.
“Ruby got a flower,” he explained.
“It’s a rose,” the girl in question pointed out scornfully, as though he was being stupid and didn’t know that.
Mina smiled slightly as all became clearer.
“Ah, yes. Valentine’s Day, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Ruby confirmed. “Don’t suppose they had that in your day, did they?”
Mina knew she hadn’t meant any harm in that. A slight dig perhaps at Mina’s age but there was no real malice there, just more evidence of the slightly fractious relationship they’d developed. Which, Mina realised, made her own guilt inducing response rather unfair.
“They did actually,” she said quietly, speaking before she really thought. “But I haven’t had cause to celebrate it in quite some time.”
There was an awkward silence and Mina immediately wondered why on earth she’d felt it necessary to say such a thing. It was hardly Ruby’s fault that her husband was long since dead.
“Sorry,” the girl muttered, sounding suitably chastised. “I’ll see you all later, yeah? Gotta go and find out if Tina knows anything about who left this.”
Mina felt like she should call Ruby back and tell her that her apology was not needed, but the girl was gone before she found the right words.
“Luke, will you see Mina back to her car,” Galvin said, trampling over the remaining awkwardness with his businesslike manner. “I’ve got a few things to do.”
She left out a slightly indignant huff of scolding.
“I do wish you wouldn’t treat me like baggage to be passed around.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he soothed, patting her arm. “But it’s raining again and I thought I’d give Luke the opportunity to get a lift home. I mean, you know what teenage boys these days are like – they’re even more precious than girls when it comes to getting their hair wet.”
She smiled, shaking her head in amused fondness as Galvin said his goodbyes and strode off, not giving Luke a chance to protest on behalf of his age and gender.
The younger man muttered something under his breath that sounded rude, and then fell into step close beside her, gently steering her in direction of the exit. He didn’t take her arm like Galvin would, that wasn’t really his style. Instead his hand hovered somewhere behind her elbow, holding her lightly whenever they came across stairs or another obstacle. Letting her look after herself but being support if she needed it.
“So,” he said, almost conspiratorially, as they headed through the busy corridors, “do you think Ruby liked the flower?”
Mina frowned, catching a giveaway in his tone and coming to a conclusion that left her feeling oddly ill at ease.
“It was you?”
He sounded like he was smiling but not exactly with loving fondness. She instantly had her suspicions, but she decided to ask just the same.
“I thought you two were only friends.”
“We are,” he said, almost dismissively. “But I thought she’d get a kick out of it. After all, everyone likes to think they’ve got a secret admirer, don’t they?”
Mina had to remind herself that Luke was both a boy and young. Apparently, still completely oblivious to Ruby’s feelings for him too. She didn’t for a moment think he meant any harm by what he did, but he could still unwittingly cause a great deal of it all the same.
“You shouldn’t tease her like that,” Mina warned quietly, her discomfort about the matter making her feel as if she should say something. She and Ruby she weren’t exactly great friends but she had no desire to see the other girl heartbroken. And she would be if she realised that Luke had sent the flower only to discover that it was meant as a joke of sorts.
“Oh come on,” Luke protested, clearly still not seeing the problem. “It was only a bit of fun.”
Mina shook her head.
“I don’t think she’d see it that way.”
“Compensating for something?” Mina asked sweetly, an amused smile on her face as Galvin asked her to pass him the biggest pulse gun they had.
“Now, I could make a joke here about how I’m used to handling large things,” he pointed out lightly, simultaneously ensuring the weapon was in full working order before he slipped it inside his coat, “but I know how you feel about that kind of humour.”
“It’s very uncouth,” she agreed, although she was still smiling.
The large door to the Stacks opened and she heard footsteps that she quickly recognised as Luke and Ruby’s entering down the stairs. Mina instantly set her face in the serenest expression she could muster, quashing the troubled feeling she’d had regarding them all afternoon as it bubbled up again upon their arrival.
The feeling wouldn’t go away though and she struggled for a little longer, trying to decide whether or not she should keep herself out of their personal affairs. In the end, her conscience won out though. She still felt like it wasn’t her place to say anything, but her she was too uneasy about the matter to just let it go. Poor Ruby didn’t deserve to be treated so ill. With a little allocation of the correct tasks, she sent Galvin and Luke off into the Stacks and gave herself a moment to talk to the girl alone.
“So,” she said with feigned nonchalance, pretending she was just making small talk as she loaded another gun, “did you find out who sent you the rose?”
“No,” Ruby said and it was hard to tell if she was disappointed or not. “Probably just one of the girls messing around for a laugh.”
Mina felt definite relief at hearing that. It certainly was one of the best conclusions that Ruby could have come to.
“Yes,” she agreed, keen to cement that idea in the girl’s head, “that does seem most likely.”
Almost immediately Ruby seemed to take offence at that. Maybe it was because she thought Mina was having a dig at her or maybe it was because she hadn’t really wanted that theory confirmed. Either way, her tone took on an instantly annoyed edge.
“What? Because no one would want to send me flowers unless it was some kind of joke?”
“I didn’t...” Mina began before quickly giving up. She had no desire to get into an argument with Ruby and frankly she suspected that whatever she said would be the wrong thing.
No, she was better off going out there and facing the gremlins. At least they wouldn’t try to bite her head off.
Mina had no idea what time it was when she and Rupert finally arrived back at her home. Nearing dawn she suspected, the bird song just starting and the air seeming to have warmed just a little.
Once inside, Rupert headed straight to the bathroom, undoubtedly going to fetch the first aid kit. They’d escaped pretty lightly during the extermination of the gremlin nest, but he’d apparently sustained a few scratches that could do with cleaning. She, on the other hand, headed for the kitchen. After their exertions that evening, they both deserved a drink.
She’d been in her current home for many years and was acutely aware of all its characteristics, even though she’d seen it on less than a handful of occasions. That was why, the very instant she stepped into the kitchen, she stopped, knowing that something was different. After a moment of tension she concluded that it was nothing sinister and relaxed a little, but the frown didn’t leave her face. There was a new smell she realised after a few seconds more thought, and she had a suspicion about what it was.
Walking over to the counter, she carefully slid her hands along it until she found something that didn’t usually belong there. Pulling off her gloves, she felt the cool outline of a glass vase and leaning forward she smelt the heady perfume of roses.
A hint of a smile lit her face and she turned her head towards the doorway.
“I assume they’re red.”
Rupert didn’t bother to ask how she knew he was there. He’d got used to the fact long ago that she was simply more aware of him than anyone else.
“Why do you say that?” he asked, stepping fully into the room.
“I always found you somewhat of a traditionalist,” she explained with a fond smile, running her fingertips lightly over the soft petals, giving her mind a better idea of what they looked like.
How very sweet of him. Totally unnecessary of course, but sweet all the same. That must have been what he’d run off to do earlier when he’d left the college. He had been rather evasive about it when she’d asked him where he’d gone.
There was a small thud as he put down what she assumed was the first aid kit. Then his large hands rested gently on her shoulders as he stood behind her. She felt his breath on her neck before he leant and kissed her cheek.
He moved away and she heard the sound of an opening cupboard.
“You do know that I’m not a fan of commercialised pagan festivals, don’t you?” she pointed out, feeling the need to use a light tone to suppress the momentary loss she felt without the warmth of him behind her. There was no need for her to be silly about this. They were only flowers after all.
“Yeah,” he reasoned, placing two glasses down on the work surface, “but you won’t tell me when your birthday is so when else am I supposed to buy you flowers, hmm?”
“A lady doesn’t like to be reminded of her age,” she reasoned flippantly, only partially joking. “Particularly once it’s reached three figures.”
Birthdays were meant to be a celebration. They rather lost their shine however when you knew they could be infinite. And besides, she had no real desire to celebrate still being alive long after her time should have rightly ended.
“I wouldn’t dare mention it,” he promised, either not catching her hidden meaning or choosing to not go down that route of conversation. She heard the sound of him shrugging his heavy coat off before there was a short, surprised intake of breath, as though he hadn’t expected the obvious discomfort he found himself in.
“Are you all right?” she asked, with an instant frown.
She assumed that he wasn’t too badly hurt, but he clearly was rather sore and he could be awful stubborn about admitting when he was injured.
“Fine,” he muttered, although he didn’t quite sound it. “Damn stupid clawed, little-”
“Let me,” she said, moving to him in one easy step.
She did remember him cursing in pain during the fight, only to reassure her that one of the gremlins had swiped at his midsection but that it wasn’t bad. She suspected that was the injury causing him problems though. Her fingers quickly found the resulting jagged tear in his shirt, and pushing them beyond that, he indeed winced when she discovered and prodded at the deep scratch marring his warm skin. He was right, it wasn’t too bad, but it was better to be safe rather than sorry.
Grabbing his shirt, she tugged it out of his trousers and lifted it up a little without ceremony.
“One bunch of roses and you’re anybody’s huh?” he joked, although there was a clear tension in his voice, his breath suddenly seeming uneven.
She kept herself composed however, refusing to be embarrassed. She was only tending to a wound after all.
“Hold this up,” she instructed, handing the material to him as her fingers carefully sought out the first aid kit. Inside, she found some antiseptic and a cotton pad, wetting the material before running it thoroughly over his wound.
He flinched and she couldn’t be sure if that was from the sting of the liquid or simply the surprisingly intimate contact. He didn’t make a sound throughout though and nor did she, concentrating on the resonance of his deep breathing and on finishing her task.
Ignoring the warmth of him.
Once she was done, she stood back.
“There’s a shirt in my spare bedroom wardrobe,” she offered, “if you want to change.”
He mumbled out a rather embarrassed sounding ‘thanks’ and headed off. She sighed in frustration, hating such awkwardness between them.
By the time he returned however, finding her in the lounge now, he seemed to have composed himself once more. He certainly had no problem with sitting close by her on the sofa, calling her an angel when she handed him a glass of wine.
He even rubbed her sore feet for her as he watched some awful film, muttering about her wearing sensible shoes for once. She firmly instructed him however that if he ever saw her in trainers, he was to kill her instantly. There were some standards she simply wasn’t willing to compromise.
Common sense told her to keep quiet on the matter, but the events of the day – Luke and Ruby, her own words about having had no reason to celebrate the occasion in many years – played on her mind and made her wonder something she couldn’t seem to forget. In the end, she asked the question just to satisfy her insistent mind.
“Didn’t you ever want to find someone else?” she queried gently, trying not to make the question sound too intrusive. Like he didn’t have to answer unless he wanted to. But she did want to know; he was a good man and he’d spent the best years of his life alone apart from her. It didn’t seem right and it bothered her that she might have been partly to blame for it. That he’d held back from his own life to remain with her.
The question had come completely out of the blue but it didn’t seem to throw him. In fact, he seemed to know exactly what she meant.
“I’m quite happy with what I’ve got,” he reassured, without a moment’s hesitation.
“And what’s that?”
“Expensive bottle of wine, cheesy movie and some not entirely unattractive woman who people might think I’m dating.”
She couldn’t help but smile, settling down a little more comfortable as he stroked the sole of her foot once more. She refused to acknowledge how domestic it felt.
“I’m glad I can be of service to your ego,” she teased, nudging his thigh a little with her heel.
If she’d been feeling braver, she might have asked him if he’d like it better if he could tell people they were actually dating, but that was wildly inappropriate and clearly too large a step.
Instead, she decided, next year would be the one where she sent her very first Valentine’s card.
Now, she just had three hundred and sixty five days to pluck up the courage to sign it.