Lofty stops so suddenly in the doorway to Albie’s that Dom walks straight into him.
”Oh,” Lofty says, as he takes in the soft music, how the patronage of the pub seems to be divided into couples in a way that’s not usually the case, and, if that wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the big, red, heart shaped balloons dotted here and there.
”What?” Dom gently nudges Lofty’s shoulder with his own to see past him, and when he does, Lofty can feel more than hear his deep sigh. ”Great,” he says flatly.
”I didn’t realise what day it was,” Lofty says, because he’s the one who suggested drinks, and what if Dom thinks he did it on purpose, knowing it’s Valentine’s Day. And it’s not like he didn’t know, he woke up this morning, noting the date, felt a pang in his heart, a little less sharp than last year, and got on with his day. A day that consisted of an unusually large number of patients, rounded off with three hours in theatre where everything that could go wrong did. Somewhere along the way he forgot what day it was, and when he suggested a drink to Dom as they were both scrubbing down after the surgery, he had completely forgotten it was anything but a normal night.
”We could go somewhere else?” he offers, turning his head to look back at Dom.
Dom shrugs. ”I doubt anywhere else is different tonight,” he says, frowning. ”And it’s just a drink.”
”Right,” Lofty says, still feeling slightly uneasy.
Dom goes to sort out their drinks, while Lofty grabs a table. He tries to find a larger one, in case someone else from the hospital comes along to join them, but there’s clearly been a bit of reshuffling going on in honour of the night, and he can only find tables for two. He settles for one close to the wall in the end, trying to ignore the balloon floating cheerfully above it. After shrugging off his coat he sits down, carefully moving the vase containing a single red rose to the side, so it doesn’t sit in the middle of the table. He reaches out to the lit candles, wondering whether he should move them too, but then again there are usually lit candles on the tables in Albie’s, so maybe it would be more obvious if he did move them. As he hesitates, a pint is set down in front of him, and when he looks up, Dom is by the table, looking amused.
”It’s fine, Lofty,” he says. ”It’s just a day like any other.”
He sits down, and Lofty wonders just how much of his redecorating Dom witnessed.
”Right,” he says, ”I just didn’t want things to be awkward, because of… ” because of their history, because of everything that’s left unresolved between them, because of the fact that they’ve started finishing each other’s sentences, because of how Lofty sometimes feels he might have missed out on the greatest thing that could have happened to him ”… because of everything,” he finishes vaguely.
”It’s not,” Dom says, smiling a little bit too brightly. ”Anyway.” He raises his glass toward Lofty. ”Happy random February day.”
Lofty can’t help but laugh. ”Happy random February day,” he says obediently, raising his pint to Dom.
”So, how’s Sheilagh?” Dom asks. ”Is she coming to terms with her stay at HCOP?”
”Not a chance,” Lofty says with a fond sigh. ”She’s complaining that she’s twice as healthy as the other patients.”
”She probably is.”
”She was asking after you today, by the way,” Lofty says. ”The handsome, charming Dr Copeland.”
”Well,” Dom says, looking pleased, ”your grandmother clearly has great taste.”
”It must run in the family.” The words are out of Lofty’s mouth before his brain catches up with them and he panics for a moment until he realises that Dom isn’t listening, instead looking at something behind Lofty.
”Oh please no,” he mutters.
”What?” Lofty asks, resisting the urge to turn around to have a look himself.
”Some bloke just got down on his knee.”
Lofty forgets how to breathe for a moment as Dom cranes his head to get a better view.
”Oh, thank god, he just dropped his fork.” Dom leans back in his chair and takes a sip of his beer. ”I can’t imagine anything sadder than proposing on Valentine’s Day. I mean, how cliché do you have to be do to that?”
”Uh, yeah,” Lofty says, tracing a line in the condensation on his glass to avoid looking at Dom. ”Sure.”
It would be so easy to leave it there, just to agree with Dom and move on, but he’s fairly sure it would come out eventually, so. ”I mean, I did propose to Alice on Valentine’s, but sure.”
Dom sucks in a breath. ”Lofty, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean… ”
”It’s fine,” Lofty interrupts. ”You have a point. I was trying so hard to make it perfect.” He looks up at Dom and smiles wryly. ”Maybe trying a bit too hard, looking back.”
”Can I ask, and you really don’t have to tell me, but what happened? With you and Alice?” Dom must notice Lofty’s hesitation, because he quickly adds. ”You can tell me to fuck off if you want, you know.”
”No, I don’t mind,” Lofty says, and he doesn’t really. Telling Sacha about it all had forced him to really think about it for the first time since it happened, and after than it’s become easier to bear. He still takes a sip of his beer, though, just to buy himself a bit more time. ”Do you remember Lenny, Alice’s brother?”
Dom nods. ”He was the patient right, the reason Alice came in?”
”I fell in love with him,” Lofty says simply, because there isn’t really more to it than that. ”Nothing even happened, there was just this kind of… electricity between us. And I still loved Alice. I didn’t know how to tell her, I just knew that if I married her I would be lying to her for the rest of our lives. So I chose to end it in the worse possible way, and never showed up to my own wedding.”
”Did you talk to Lenny about it?” Dom asks softly.
Lofty shakes his head. ”Not until I saw him in the hospital.”
”Did he feel the same way about you?”
”Yeah. We kissed, and it was…” Lofty doesn’t even know how to describe it. It had been amazing, but more than anything it had been a relief. A relief that it wasn’t all in his imagination, so many pieces of the puzzle falling into place.
”Kissing patients, nurse Chiltern,” Dom teases him gently. ”I’m shocked and appalled.” He manages to get Lofty to smile, and his expression softens.
”But you haven’t seen him since?”
”It would never have worked. Alice knew all along, by the way. She told me. And I still loved her. I loved both of them.”
”I’m sorry,” Dom says softly, and Lofty shakes his head.
”It’s fine. I’ve dealt with it now, I’m over it.” He doesn’t add the ”because of you” that he could, but he suddenly wonders if things would be different if he’d told Dom about Lenny before, after they slept together, when Dom was panicking about the fact that Lofty hadn’t been with a man before.
”Okay,” Dom says, smiling a little. Then he leans back in his chair, looking determined. ”Now you get to ask me one intensively private question.”
Lofty laughs in surprise. ”What?”
Dom shrugs. ”Seems only fair.”
Lofty takes his time, studying Dom intently. He could ask about Isaac, of course, but he doesn’t want to hurt Dom by doing so. And besides, he’s not sure he wants to know more than he already knows about what Isaac did to Dom.
”You choose,” he says finally. ”Tell me one intensively private thing.”
”Sneaky,” Dom says, looking impressed. He thinks for a moment, and then he almost smiles.
”I don’t have any business mocking you for proposing on Valentine’s Day, since I proposed on the second most cliché day of the year, New Year’s Eve.”
Lofty stares at him in disbelief. ”Hang on, you proposed to someone?”
Dom hums in agreement. ”Very out of character, I know. I wasn’t at my best, at the time. And poor Kyle got mixed up in it.”
”Kyle? He was an agency nurse, right? I’m sure Sacha’s mentioned him.”
Dom smiles fondly. ”Sacha was definitely team Kyle. I think he thought Kyle was good for me. Which he probably would have been, if I’d given him the chance.”
Lofty frowns. ”It doesn’t really sound as if you were close enough for you to propose to him.”
”You have a point, there,” Dom says. Then he sighs. ”Kyle was lovely. He was sweet, and really clever, and I treated him horribly.”
He leans forward, crossing his arms on the table, biting his lip.
”New Year’s Eve that year was a bit frantic, to say the least. I was stuck in an elevator and had to drill a hole in the head of the fiancé of my ex, and…”
Lofty chokes on his beer.
”Hang on, you had do what to who?” he manages to get out between coughs.
Dom waves his hand dismissively. ”Oh, that part of the story makes me sound a lot better than the second half, so let’s save the details of that one.”
”Anyway, I was a bit emotional, and I just wanted to see Kyle, because he was the main reason I managed to get through it. And when I finally did find him, he broke up with me. Because he’d found out that I’d been lying to him about pretty much everything. About serious things.” Dom’s voice goes slightly brittle, the way Lofty’s learned it does when he tries to make a joke about something he feels bad about. ”Because I’m a horrible person.” He picks at at a piece of old wax on the side of the candle holder.
”Dom,” Lofty says softly. He covers Dom’s hand with his own, for a brief second. ”You know that’s not true.”
Dom shrugs. ”At the time, he was pretty much the only good thing I had. And I was so terrified of him leaving me that I asked him to marry me.”
Lofty winces. ”I’m guessing that didn’t go well?”
”He told me I needed help,” Dom says, scrunching his face up. ”Which he was probably right about, but I didn’t exactly appreciate it there and then.”
”And now you’re in counselling” Lofty says lightly.
”And now I’m in counselling,” Dom agrees. ”And Kyle’s married, so I think it’s obvious I got the better deal in the end.” He rolls his eyes at himself. ”I don’t mean that. I met Kyle last year, and he was lovely as always. As was his fiancé.”
He sighs and drains the last of his drink. ”You have to let me tell you the whole drilling a hole in the head story one day, so that I can restore your faith in me as a human being.”
”You know I think you’re amazing,” Lofty says. He tries not to sound as sincere as he is, but he fails, judging from the way Dom blinks, his face going carefully blank. Their eyes lock, Lofty’s heart speeding up a fraction, and then they’re suddenly interrupted by a loud moan. The couple at the table next to them, who have been moving closer to each other all evening, have now abandoned all sense of decorum and are kissing heavily, their hands suspiciously absent from view.
”I think maybe it’s time to call it a night,” Lofty says, flustered, at the same time as Dom’s more succinct ”Yuk!”
They quickly grab their coats and head outside, the cold air hitting them like a wall. The night feels strangely unfinished, and Lofty focuses on buttoning up his coat to avoid showing how disappointed he feels. But when he looks up, Dom is studying him so intently it almost makes him uncomfortable. Dom tilts his head to the side.
”Lofty, what are we doing?”
”What do you mean?” Lofty says, instinctively feigning ignorance.
”Never mind,” Dom says tiredly. ”See you tomorrow.” He turns away, and Lofty watches him for a moment with regret, before resigning himself to the fact that it’s probably for the best. He starts to walk away.
”Actually, no,” Dom says behind him. ”This is stupid.”
Lofty turns back, and when he does, Dom is right there, and Lofty can’t even bring himself to be surprised when Dom kisses him, because even though he’s far from sure this is a good idea, he knows it is inevitable. Dom draws back, far too soon, and Lofty steps closer to him, kissing him again. Dom’s coat is unbuttoned, and Lofty wraps his arms around Dom’s waist under the fabric, as Dom grabs the lapels of Lofty’s own coat, pulling him closer. Someone wolf whistles at them, and Lofty breaks away, leaning his forehead against Dom’s, trying to catch his breath.
”Hey look,” Dom says quietly, and when Lofty opens his eyes, Dom nods toward the sky. Lofty looks up, expecting fireworks or a shooting star, or, considering their track record, a helicopter crashing towards the ground. But there’s nothing. Just the dark evening sky, a couple of stars blinking here and there.
”The universe didn’t collapse onto itself,” Dom whispers theatrically, widening his eyes.
Lofty knows when he’s being mocked, but he doesn’t mind.
”Of course it didn’t,” he says, matter of factly. ”We make our own luck, remember?”
Dom’s smile is ridiculously fond, and Lofty has to lean in to kiss him again.
”Come home with me,” Dom says quietly, quickly as if he’s nervous to say it.
Lofty goes still, and Dom quickly adds. ”Just to sleep. I’ll sleep on the sofa if you want me to.”
Lofty definitely doesn’t want him to, but it’s probably the smartest thing for them to do, so he just nods. His heart skips a beat at the sight of Dom’s relieved smile.
”You know what this means though, right?” he says as they start walking. He feels lightheaded, almost giddy. ”Our anniversary will be on Valentine’s Day.”
Dom stops dead in his tracks, looking stricken. ”No, no, no,” he says immediately. He pulls his phone from his pocket, checking the time. ”It’s not that far until midnight. Can we not just pretend this all happened on the 15th.”
”Nope,” Lofty says. ”It’s all red roses, balloons and little heart shaped chocolates from now on.”
”Yeah, I don’t really do all that,” Dom says reluctantly.
”I do, though,” Lofty says cheerfully. ”I do all of that.”
”I already regret this,” Dom says.
”No you don’t.” It’s ridiculous, Lofty thinks, how sure he suddenly feels of this, but he does. He leans in again, giving Dom a quick kiss, and when he draws back Dom seems a little bit dazed.
”No, I don’t,” he agrees, smiling helplessly.
”Good,” Lofty says, taking Dom’s hand to drag him along. Without hesitating, Dom intertwines their fingers, and Lofty can’t stop a huge grin spreading on his face. ”Now, how do you feel about hearts in skywriting?”