Valentine’s Day really couldn’t have come at a worse time, Greg thought. After their plans for their first Valentine’s day had been snowed out, and last year’s date ended with a trip to the hospital (note to self, make sure Myc’s dinner does NOT contain any sesame oil) Greg had been determined to make this year unforgettable in a good way. He’d made reservations at their favorite restaurant back in November and spent his Christmas money on a new tie and sport coat. But as January came to a close he realized, cursing his luck, that February 14th was a Wednesday, and smack in the middle of midterm week. Greg had a Spanish test Wednesday morning, and Myc had an exam in one of his political science classes on Thursday. Myc, god bless him, was always a nervous wreck the day before an exam. It seemed that no matter what they planned, Valentine’s Day was destined to be a failure.
But the fourteenth dawned sunny and warm and as Greg left his apartment that morning, he wondered if the universe might be throwing him a bone. Temperatures had climbed into the upper 60s all week, with Saturday’s forecast predicted to hover around 73. It was an unusually warm winter even for Virginia.
And this warm front might be just what Greg needed to make up for the last two years and ensure that his boyfriend had the best possible day. An additional dose of Vitamin D could be enough to put Myc in a good mood. Hadn’t they learned something like that in biology last week? Vitamin D makes you happy? Or was it just the sun that makes you happy? Well, whatever it was, Greg took hope in the cerulean skies and early blooming daffodils as he walked, daydreaming, into the foreign language department.
His Spanish test went smoothly, and that coupled with the gorgeous weather put Greg in an excellent mood for bio later that morning. His face lit up when he arrived at the classroom and saw Mycroft was already there.
“Hello, love,” he smiled, greeting Myc with a kiss. He dropped his backpack to the floor and sat in the seat next to Mycroft. “Happy Valentine’s Day. How are you?”
“I am well.” Mycroft twirled a pen between his fingers. “Professor McCormack cancelled for today and Friday because of a conference so this is my last class for the day.”
Greg smiled. “That’s great! You excited about dinner tonight?”
Mycroft nodded. “Yes, I’m looking forward to it.” He smiled, but Greg wasn’t convinced.
“Something’s bothering you.” He pulled a notebook from his backpack and then sat back to let another student pass by. “Is it that test tomorrow?”
The smile faded from Mycroft’s face and he nodded. “You know me too well.”
“I’d hope so, after two and half years.” Their professor entered the room and the other students began to settle as Greg leaned over and whispered, “You’re gonna be fine. You’re the smartest person at this school and you have nothing to worry about.”
Mycroft looked at him doubtfully. “You have too much faith in me, Greg.”
Greg shook his head. “You have too little faith in yourself.”
Before Mycroft could reply, a slideshow about the integumentary system appeared on the screen at the front of the room and put an end to their conversation.
After the lecture, as they exited the hall with streams of other students, Greg took Myc’s hand and pulled him over to the fountain in front of the science building. It had been drained for the winter, but that only made it even better for stretching out and enjoying the day. He sat on the edge of the fountain and threw his face back to the sun, eyes closed and lips parted in a smile.
“Isn’t this weather just perfect?” he asked.
Mycroft shrugged. “It’s nice, I suppose.”
Greg’s eyes opened and he gazed at Myc. He had one hand across his brows to block the bright light, and his red hair was gleaming in the sun. “You suppose?” Greg asked. “Do you remember two years ago when there was three feet of snow on the ground and the sidewalks were iced over and campus was shut down all weekend?”
“Well…isn’t this better?”
“I guess so.”
Greg shook his head, amused but not deterred. “Hey, you don’t have class right now. Do you want to go get lunch?”
Mycroft kicked a pebble into the grass. “I’d like to, but I need to go study for my test tomorrow.”
Greg raised his eyebrows. “You have all afternoon to study. I think you can spare a half an hour for lunch.”
“Well I’m already sparing a few hours this evening for dinner.” He dropped his hand and dug a pair of sunglasses out of his messenger bag.
“Which class is the test in?” Greg asked, reclining even further until he was lying down completely. He closed his eyes again and threw one arm across his face.
“Theories of International Relations.”
“The theory is it’s bullshit. Everyone pretends to get along but nobody trusts each other. Oh, and North Korea might blow us all to pieces. There, you studied. Can we get lunch now?”
“It’s much more complicated than that.”
“Mmmm, pretty sure it’s not.” Greg sat up. “Please, Myc? You just look so cute in that green polo and your sunglasses. Don’t make me wait until this evening to spend time with you.”
Mycroft sighed, his face creasing into a frown as he considered. After a moment, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Gregory. I need to study.” He watched as Greg stood up, a defeated expression on his face. “But I’ll be all yours this evening.”
Greg nodded, suppressing a sigh. “Okay. Come on, I’ll walk you to the library.” He swung his backpack up onto his shoulder and took Myc’s hand in his, twining their fingers together.
“Are you upset, darling?” Mycroft asked as they strolled down campus walk.
Greg shook his head. “I mean, this isn’t my first choice way to spend the afternoon, but I’m not mad at you if that’s what you’re asking. You’re always anxious before tests.” He squeezed his hand. “Just promise me you won’t get too worked up, love. I know you know that material inside and out and I don’t want you stressing over nothing.”
“It’s not nothing, Greg, my GPA—’’
“—is going to be just fine.” Greg stopped just beside the library doors. “Look, it’s a gorgeous day out and I don’t want you to miss it. Promise me you’ll take a break and go outside at least once today.”
For the first time that afternoon, Mycroft’s face opened in a smile. “Alright. I promise.”
“Thank you. I’m picking you up for dinner at 6:30 so meet me outside your dorm then.” Greg kissed him goodbye. “And good luck studying this afternoon.”
“Thank you, love. I’ll see you tonight.”
Mycroft became so wrapped up in his work that the afternoon slipped away before he had the chance to go out and enjoy the weather. He told himself it was an accident, as he hastily packed up his messenger bag and headed to his room to change. He hadn’t meant to ignore Greg’s request. It simply got lost on the list of things he needed to do.
His mind was still swirling with E. H. Carr’s argument for realism as he unlocked the door and dropped his things on the desk chair. He shook his head, trying to clear it of academia for the day. It was 5:45 and he needed to select an outfit for his dinner date.
Greg had booked reservations at J Brian’s Taproom, a local Irish pub. It was a comfortable little place, budget friendly for the broke college kid stereotype that Greg absolutely was. It was casual enough that Mycroft didn’t generally worry about dressing up—he still dressed nice , mind you, just not necessarily at a level his parents would deem appropriate.
But tonight …tonight was different. He knew that Greg was doing everything he could to make it perfect, and the least Mycroft could do was dress the part. He pulled open his closet door and began sifting through various shirts and slacks. If it were up to him, they’d have at least dressed within the same color palette, but Gregory had been mischievously evasive when Mycroft had asked what he was planning to wear. He took a purple button down from it’s hanger and considered it. Purple used to be the color of royalty. Royalty that was self-interested and power-seeking. Like all states in realist theories, just focused on protecting themselves.
“No, no, NO .” Mycroft shook his head and replaced the shirt in the closet. He would not ruin this evening with his worry over tomorrow’s exam. He ran his hands over his face, willing himself to forget about international relations for now. Greg was right, anyway; they all pretended to get along but no one actually did. “And North Korea could blow us all to pieces,” he muttered to himself.
“What was that about North Korea?”
Mycroft turned to see his roommate Alex coming out of the bathroom. “Oh, nothing. Sorry, just talking to myself.”
“Do you have a PoliSci test tomorrow?” Alex asked.
“Yes. I spent all afternoon reviewing for it, but I still don’t feel ready.”
Alex made a face. “You never feel ready. And yet you always pass with flying colors and a comment from the professor about how impressed they are.” He slid a notebook and his laptop into his backpack. “Aren’t you and Greg going out tonight? You should focus on that. Get your mind off the test for a few hours.”
“I know I should,” Mycroft sighed. “I just can’t get out of my head.”
“You have to,” Alex asserted, sliding into his sweatshirt and picking up his backpack. “You’re going on a date on Valentine’s day and you need to go enjoy it for all of us single people. We live vicariously through you, you know.” He smiled and clapped Mycroft on the shoulder as he opened the door. “Seriously, though, have fun tonight. I’ll be studying with Katrina till 11 if you need the room.” He punctuated this statement with a wink.
Mycroft smiled. “Thank you, Alex. Good luck with your studies tonight.”
“If everything goes well, there won’t be any studying, but thanks all the same. I’ll see you later.” Alex pulled the door shut behind him, and Mycroft turned back to his closet.
In the end, he settled on a powder blue button down and olive slacks. Greg always said the shirt brought out the hints of blue in Mycroft’s grey eyes, and it was a nice complement to his red hair. Oxblood dress shoes and his grandfather’s watch completed the outfit. He was on the front porch of his dorm at 6:25, and Greg rounded the corner a few minutes later. As Greg darted up the stairs, Mycroft’s eyes settled on his approaching boyfriend, and he was fairly certain that his heart stopped.
Gone were the jeans and band t-shirts that made up the majority of Greg’s wardrobe. Instead, he wore neatly ironed khaki pants, a black dress shirt, a white tie, and a gray blazer. His floppy brown hair had been combed neatly into place, and as he moved further into the light his eyes fell on Mycroft, face splitting into a grin. He paused on the top step and twirled, the hem of his jacket flaring out.
“Well?” he asked. “Do I clean up nice?”
Mycroft forced himself to breathe. “Yes. You are…stunning. Simply stunning. I rather feel underdressed.”
Greg’s eyes dropped to his shoes as he smiled bashfully. “Thanks, love. You’re not underdressed at all. You look amazing.” He stepped closer, placing a hand on Mycroft’s hip and pulling him in for a kiss. “You ready to go?”
“Excellent.” Greg smiled and kissed him again before taking Mycroft’s hand in his own and leading him to the street where he’d parked his car.
“Did you get lots of studying done?” Greg asked as they passed under some low hanging branches on the way into the restaurant. It certainly felt like spring, but the trees had not yet begun to bud.
“I did,” Myc answered.
“And how are you feeling about it now?”
He sighed. “Like you said, I’m always anxious before a test.”
Greg nodded as if that was what he expected to hear. “You’re gonna do just fine, love.” He pulled open the door and Mycroft murmured a thanks as he entered the pub.
Inside, it was almost unrecognizable. The usually quiet establishment was a buzz of activity with the surge of celebrating couples. Waitresses darted between the kitchen and their tables, dodging each other with an agility Greg could only dream of. He followed Myc to the hostess stand, shooting a smile at the frazzled woman in charge.
“Hey, how are you tonight?” he asked.
She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and straightened a name tag that said Paige . “I’m well thanks, and yourself?”
“We’re doing alright. We have reservations. Should be two for ‘Lestrade.’”
Her eyes darted over the tablet in front of her. “Ah, yes, there you are,” she said, locating his name. “Would you like to dine inside or outside?”
“Outside sounds great.”
Paige made a note on the tablet and collected two menus, leading them through the back door into the courtyard behind the restaurant.
It was dark out, the sun having set hours ago, but the courtyard was easily visible under well placed lighting. Strings of twinkle lights hung from every tree and draped in nets over the bushes, blinking slowly. Each table was lit by a cluster of squat candles. Old fashioned Narnia-style lamp posts lined the yard, bathing the atmosphere in a romantic glow. The whole scene felt rather magical.
Paige led them to a table and handed them their menus as they sat down. “Eliza will be your server tonight,” she informed them. “She’ll be right with you.”
Greg thanked her and opened his menu. “What do you think you’ll have?” he asked, glancing up at Mycroft.
“Probably my usual.” Myc looked over the menu briefly before closing it and setting it down. He sat back in his chair, eyes staring unfocused into space.
Greg’s brow creased. “You alright, love?”
A beat passed before Myc turned to him. “Sorry?”
“I asked if you were alright. You don’t seem…yourself.”
“Oh, yes, I’m fine. I’m…” he shook his head. “…sorry. Just thinking about the exam tomorrow. I’ll stop. Tell me about your day.”
Greg looked him over, taking in the tired eyes, the tight mouth, and tense shoulders. His hands were fiddling with the silverware, smoothing napkins, straightening the candles. He radiated nervous energy.
“If it’s not a good night, love, we can come back this weekend or something,” Greg offered. “I know you’d rather be studying.”
Myc shook his head, resolute. “I want to be here with you. I won’t think about it anymore. I’m all yours.”
Greg studied him a moment longer. Finally he shrugged. “Alright then. If you’re sure.”
Despite his promises, Myc spent the whole meal as a prisoner of his own mind. He was distracted and unfocused for the rest of the evening. Greg didn’t blame him. He blamed the universe for tricking him into false hope with the warm weather.
The ride back to campus was quiet, and Mycroft was surprised when Greg didn’t follow him up the front steps of his dorm.
“Are you not coming inside?” he asked. “It’s only 8:30. I have a bottle of wine we could open.”
Greg shook his head. “That’s alright. You need to study for that test, so I’ll let you be.” He smiled, trying not to let on his disappointment with the night’s events. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Oh…alright.” Mycroft rubbed his forehead. “I suppose that’s best. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
They kissed goodnight, and Mycroft watched as Greg climbed into his Jeep and drove off. He swore softly to himself. He knew how badly Greg wanted a perfect Valentine’s day—just one—and Mycroft couldn’t even give him that. Greg was disappointed, however much he tried to hide it.
There had been no trouble getting reservations. The atmosphere had been perfect. The food was amazing. They couldn’t have prayed for better weather. Greg had even bought himself a new outfit for the occasion. It would have all been perfect if Mycroft hadn’t gone and ruined everything.
Stupid , he thought to himself, stupid, stupid. You can’t even get out of your own head long enough to give your boyfriend a nice date?
He sighed, resisting the urge to attack a nearby bush. Instead, he turned and headed for the door. Why couldn’t he have been better company tonight? Why did he only care about himself? He didn’t even know how Greg’s Spanish test had gone.
He paused at the door to his room and reached into his pocket for his keys. The key ring had snagged on the lining and stubbornly refused to leave his pocket. He yanked, frustrated, until it came loose, tearing a hole in the pocket and sending keys all over the floor.
“Why does this night refuse to end?” He groaned and bent to the floor. He gathered the keys in his hands, making sure they were all accounted for: house key, room key, car key, firebox key….
He stopped as his fingers brushed over the last one in his palm, small and brass. Exactly like his house key but imprinted with a star. He unlocked the door, still staring at it, as a new idea took shape in his head.