It was quiet and dark in the small classroom they were currently barricaded inside. They were huddled up against the wall between the windows and the door, their position an expression of their uncertainty. Ruby fidgeted against Luke, again. It was dark and she was cold and a little scared, not that she would admit it. He didn't seem to mind. Luke, being Luke, naturally tried to protect her and comfort her, like she was a puppy.
God, it made her sick to her stomach. She had panted after him for years, imagining that he treated her like a princess, that she was special and he just hadn't realized it yet. Then they fell into this whole debacle… or rather he found out about his "destiny" and she tagged along. No way was she going to leave the 'humanity saving' up to a grumpy old guy, a blind vamp and a barely out of his teens boy. Bloody hell! There would be a half-life uprising before tea!
So, for the foreseeable future, they were trapped in the eerie classroom waiting for Galvin to return with some artifact or another. On Valentine's Day no less! Sure, she didn't actually have a valentine this year but she could have gone to a club or something. She knew Luke and Mina had plans, she over heard them one day last week while she was in the stacks looking something up for Galvin. She got so aggro about them going on and on about destiny and love and which dish he would prepare for valentine's day that she shoved her headphones in and nearly deafened herself drowning out the conversation.
They looked a little flustered when she came out later but she said nothing on it and they looked relieved that she pulled out her headphones. They really didn't need to hide it from her she wasn't a child. Mina was a very attractive woman. She saw her appeal, it hurt that he hadn't talked to her about it but… it didn't seem like Galvin knew either. Maybe they were just keeping it secret for now.
She got a phone call early evening asking her to come to 'HQ' as she dubbed the stacks, that had a quick 'smite and goodnight' before they could enjoy their evening. So, figuring on an easy slay she got dressed for clubbing and headed out. When she got there they already had a plan. A very good plan in fact - a good, solid plan with forethought and books and… and… plans! But just the same as every other time they "went into battle" everything, and she did mean everything, invariably got arsed up at the onset.
Ruby, the tasty morsel that she was, had planned on leading the minions on a wild goose chase and giving Luke a chance to get close to their master. No such luck. As soon as they arrived at the abandoned University building something felt… off. They gathered their gear and entered from a side door.
Somehow the half-lives knew to expect them. The sarcastic comment was out before she realized it, "Hummm, a trap I wonder?" Galvin looked shocked for a moment then just gave her a half-hearted glare. Luke looked back at her with a sheepish smile; he remembered her mentioning that at the meeting.
"We don't have the right weapons. Keep'em busy-" and Galvin went racing right back through the door – leaving them there – alone – with no weapons that could work - alone.
Giving Luke and Ruby just enough time to glance at each other before breaking through the minions' ranks and running down the hall. Thankfully, the minions moved with a lumbering gait and were not so agile or quick as some they had come across in their 'daily battle to defend humanity' or some such rubbish that Galvin was always spewing.
Ruby secretly thought that Galvin read too many comics. Not that she didn't take the fight seriously or understand its dangers. Ruby just felt that Galvin was too overly dramatic when it came time for one of his speeches. Ruby would rather deal with the facts; she didn't need an editorial.
They tried several doors as they rushed down the hall; finally Luke found one and grabbed Ruby's hand to pull her inside. They were able to close, lock and barricade the door before the hoard started to batter on the door.
When they finished barricading the door they turned to each other, out of breath but smiling with exhilaration. Then Ruby saw the window, "Bloody hell!"
"Wha-" then Luke saw them too. "Galvin shouldn't be gone long. We just need to keep them busy, yeah?"
"Yeah." So they sat on the floor feeling the cold seep through their clothing and huddled together for what seemed like hours, hearing the growls and barks on the other side of the door. When the door suddenly began to splinter she jumped slightly and Luke put his arm around her drawing her into his embrace and placing a small kiss on the top of her head. Not entirely unusual for their relationship, just one of the reasons that made her fall for her friend.
Glancing up at him, she realized how close his lips were and she had the familiar urge to kiss him into oblivion, mentally distancing herself from that thought she took a breath then noticed something behind his head and her eyes widened. Of course! The air vents! Luke looked at her comically as if to say, "Its just me, silly girl," when she pushed away from him and stood. Luke sat at her feet staring at her blankly for a moment before following her line of sight.
"Brilliant Ruby! S' why I love you." He stood on the teacher's desk and looked at the metal grate that covered their way to freedom. Ruby was already pulling out her keys. Looking down he noticed her unhooking her pocketknife to use as a wedge. When she looked up he was smiling at her and waiting patiently.
Feeling a blush come to her cheeks she handed it over then looked nervously over to the door that continued to rattle. The half-lives in the hall could hear them moving around in the room. What would happen if the noise in the room stopped? Would they try to find another way in? Perhaps they already were…
She had to do something quickly because he would have the grate off after a little jiggling.
When Luke looked down it was to see Ruby kicking off her shoes and ripping her sweater off. She tried not to blush; she was an adult and wearing a camisole after all. He stared for a moment too long then when she began tearing it slightly he quickly looked down at his own feet. Wonderful, he couldn't even look at her. "Wha-" his voice cracked slightly, "What are you doing?" He shuffled slightly on the desktop holding the grate.
"We need to make them think we are still in here until they get through…. Then I want them to think we escaped through the window." With that she opened a window and rather artfully placed most of the remains of her sweater across the sill. Then she walked back over to the door and shifted the desks they had piled in front of the door a bit to make some noise. The pounding on the other side renewed force.
Ruby turned towards Luke and figured what the heck, she sauntered up to him and then ran her hands up the front of his thighs. Luke startled and almost took a step back but Ruby gripped his pant leg and stopped him from falling off of the desk.
"Gim'me," she said as she let go of one leg to hold out her hand.
"What?" his voice just a little higher than normal.
"My pocketknife you klepto. You stole my last one too… and my last lighter." He smiled a little sheepishly and handed her pocketknife over after transferring the weight of the grate into one large hand. She checked the blade then slipped it into the front of her jeans. She stood in front of him and shivered slightly. Almost forgetting her state of near undress. The cold was sneaking in through her little white socks and her arms had broken into gooseflesh because her only cover was a lavender camisole that the hem barely met the waistband of her jeans.
He reached his free hand down and helped her up onto the desktop. They stood close together and he rubbed his hand up and down her arm noticing the goosebumps.
"You should go first then help me up." Ruby said not making eye contact.
"Sure. Whatever." He pulled his hand away and used it to help him slide the grate into the dark crevice above them. Then he hoisted his way up into the vent sliding his legs in and backing up so that he could hang the top half of his body out of the rafters to assist her.
Ruby stared at him awed. She forgot how much strength he packed into his slim frame. Shaking her head she reached up to his hands fully intending on using a gymnastics maneuver to jump most of the way when she got another idea. "Hand over your phone, Luke." Knowing it was better not to argue he wriggled around until he could get it from his pocket.
She reached up and snagged it. She drew her cell phone from her back pocket and called his phone with it. The ring tone for her made her smile, some light and fun trilling bird sound. She answered his phone, locked the keys and put it into her back pocket. Luke watched, still not questioning her. That made her feel good because he knew she had a reason for it.
She hopped off of the teacher's desk and walked to the makeshift barricade. She changed the setting on her phone to 'speaker' and put it on the floor close to the door so that the sound would travel easily. When she turned around it was to see Luke staring at her with a goofy smile on his face.
Checking his phone once more to make sure the call didn't drop; she spoke quietly into the mouthpiece. "Gosh, Luke, Whatever shall we do?" She affected the old Hollywood 'Damsel in Distress' voice. Which made him snicker quietly. Then he held his hand down to her again. She smiled and quickly crossed the room scaled the desk. She grasped his arm just above the wrist and jumped catching the edge of the vent opening with her other hand. She barely had a chance to pull herself up into a jackknife position before he was pulling her completely through. They made eye contact, surprise on both their faces.
"Eh, it's been years I am a bit rusty."
She thought she heard him mumble something under his breath.
She slid ahead of him in the shaft and looked back. He was carefully trying to lodge the grate back into place. She looked ahead of her and couldn't see much so she pulled his phone from her pocket and used it as a torch.
Luke moved up behind her and whispered, "Well…"
"Alright don't get your panties in a twist. Just getting my bearings, yeah?"
"Yeah," she paused a moment because he didn't snark back at her. No banter. When this was over she was going to find out what was bothering him.
She was able to barely make it onto her hands and knees and crawl along the vent. She felt bad for Luke because he had to do more of a military crawl through. She passed several openings, glancing in before stopping. Luke came up behind her and placed his hand on her back. She lay down on her belly to give him room to maneuver in the tight space. He slid up beside and slightly on top of her to glance into the slats of the grate.
Ruby pulled the phone to her ear and could still hear repetitive pounding on the door. "How will we ever escape?" she said once again with her damsel in distress voice. Luke smiled and they listened a moment longer.
They both looked into the classroom below and saw the lab tables. It might be their best chance.
Ruby shifted around to get onto her side, she had got get the knife from her pocket to jimmy the faceplate from the wall. As she turned over she tried to ignore the closeness to Luke. She slid her hand onto her pocket and could feel his thigh shift against her hand. She shivered.
Pulling the knife from her pocket she flicked it open with a practiced movement that always got a fascinated look from Luke. He never understood her ability with a knife. She was rubbish with firearms but damn comfortable with a blade. He grasped the inside of the vents with his fingertips so that the faceplate didn't crash into the room below and draw unwanted attention. Ruby ran the edge of the blade along the seams, occasionally twisting the knife slightly to create more of a gap.
Suddenly they heard a crash from the phone and both stopped to hold their breath. Ruby picked up the phone and they waited. There were several growls and yipps. They were in. Ruby quickly turned the phone off and jammed it into her pocket while Luke began to slowly push the faceplate off. Once loose he tilted it and pulled it back up into the vent ahead of them. He slid forward in the vent so that he could lower himself down first.
He slid his legs out and slowly extended his arms so that he was hanging by just his fingertips then dropped to the ground, making almost no noise at all. He gestured for Ruby to come down and she attempted to do the same. When her legs came down and she began to lower herself she felt Luke grip her waist and place her on the ground. He kept his hands on her waist a moment longer as if to steady her.
She turned towards him with a quick, "Cheers," and noticed that his hands still hovered close to her hips as if he was contemplating placing them there once again. He shook his head and the moment was lost. "Sorry, tired," he said by way of excuse. She merely nodded. What else could she say? Fancy a shag when we're done fightin' evil? Not likely.
Ruby quietly made her way to the door on her socked feet while Luke went to the windows. They had made it nearly to the other end of the building to where they could see the parking lot. Ruby crouched down by the door and looked through the space just below the door. No shadows. Then she listened. She could hear some noise down the hall but nothing close to their end of the building.
The windows didn't open out in this room. They were the old fashions school windows that opened in and down. It would be difficult to escape from them but not impossible. She shivered once more now that she was out in the open again. The vents had been much warmer, stuffy but warm.
Luke must have noticed because he grabbed her arm and pulled her into his chest, wrapping his arms around her and rubbing her back. "Thanks, it's a bit chilly. In'nit?" She asked quietly with her face pressed against his chest. He nodded and continued to rub her back softly chaffing the skin about her shoulders and lower back. He was wearing a simple t-shirt. Not much more than her and didn't seem to be as effected by the cold as her. In fact he was radiating warmth.
She was looking through the glass pane when she saw headlights approaching from the back road. "Galvin's just arrived."
"Right." He stepped away.
She reached into her pocket, pulled out the phone and dialed his number.
"It's Ruby," She whispered. "We're down the far end of the building. Just don't blow us up or anythin', alright?"
"Yeah, Think you can distract them so I can get in behind them?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." She hung up on Galvin's laughter. "Ready to play bait again?" Luke just grunted in acquiescence. He was resigned to it. They armed themselves with various weapons, if you could call a meter stick and a large metal math compass weapons.
With their meager arsenal they crept towards the door. Luke quietly turned the doorknob and led the way into the hall. They looked at each other once then started yelling insults down the hall at the dog like minions. The words: bitch, worthless cur and chihuahua, may have been used a great deal and with great disdain.
The pack of half-lives lumbered down the hall and the when the first dog-like creature got close enough she smacked it on the nose with her meter stick. Surprisingly, the creature let out a yelp then backed up into another ending in a tangle on the floor, where they began to fight each other. Before a third creature was close enough to approach a blinding blue light filled the hall and the last thing Ruby remember before she hit the ground was the felling of a shock wave as it knocked her into the wall.
She woke up in the car on the way home with her head in Luke's lap and Galvin's trench draped across her. She groaned as her head pounded and shifted her head slightly to look up at Luke. She couldn't see him clearly they were stopped at an intersection and a streetlight shone behind him. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I spent the night on a bender." He huffed a laugh. The car started moving and she could occasionally see glimpses of his face, only parts because the night was too dark or her head was worse off than she thought.
"You're spending the night at mine. You took quite a knock to the head." Luke had moved from his mother's flat a few months ago. He didn't have to explain his presence or appearance anymore and their relationship was less strained.
"No it's okay. Galvin you could just drop me at th-" She tried to sit up and fell right back into her previous position.
"I think you might be concussed. You are coming home with me - no arguments." Galvin never said a word.
"What are you sorry for?"
"Don't you and Mina have plans for Valentine's day? It's still early. You can still go out." She was rambling and she knew it. "I'll get out of your way…"
He just shushed her and she was feeling to dicky to fight about it.
When they got back to Luke's flat, he and Galvin helped her out and onto her less than steady feet. She swayed and Luke took one look at her pale face and barely glanced at Galvin before scooping her up into his arms and starting towards the door. She wrapped her arms around his neck and put her head on his chest. "Sorry, Luke." He just shushed her again.
She noticed Galvin following them up the stairs.
He stopped at the door and let her legs slid down his body but held her close to him for support. He dug his keys from his pocket and unlocked the door. Galvin stood quietly behind them and for the first time she realized he looked a little uncomfortable. Ruby couldn't help but think that he was angry about ruining both of their evenings. She tried to give him a smile to say she was sorry but he never looked at her face.
The door swung open and Luke lifted her once again in his arms and started for the couch. Luke placed her on the couch and immediately reached for the bright blue blanket draped along its back. He covered her gently then turned to Galvin.
That was when she realized that Luke and Galvin hadn't spoken a word to each other or made eye contact until this moment. Galvin stood looking uncertain then placed Ruby's shoes on the floor by her feet. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out her cell phone and placed it on the coffee table.
"Thank you, I doubt they'd give me another phone." Galvin's eyes shot up to meet hers and for the first time gave her a weak smile. "Sorry I ruined all of your evenings, tell Mina too. I'll just have a kip and I'm sure I'll be fine." He looked confused for a minute then looked up at Luke who said nothing. She closed her eyes, exhausted.
She could hear them walk to the door and then the occasional whispered word.
"…wakes up…about her."
She had a moment to feel a little guilty then she fell asleep.
Ruby startled awake a few hours later from a dream she couldn't remember. Luke was there seconds later looking down at her in concern. The room was very dark and it took her a moment to remember where she was.
Luke had turned out most of the lights leaving only the soft light of the upstairs hall to filter down the stairs. Ruby could just make out the features of his face through the fringe on the edge of the blanket.
"You okay?" He said as he sat and pulled the blanket a little further down so that it rested under her chin.
"Yeah. Sorry. What time is it?" She blinked a few times trying to focus her eyes.
"Half-past eleven. You only slept for an couple of hours." He tucked a strand of my hair behind her ear and she could feel his warm fingers trace the shell of her ear before pulling back. When he did her eyes focused on the arm as it retreated to his lap. He didn't have a shirt on. Ruby tried not to look; she always embarrassed herself when she looked.
"S' early still," she slurred, her voice still weak with sleep. Her head was still tender where she must have collided with any number of surfaces, but she didn't have a headache anymore.
Ruby stretched her back and she pulled her arms from beneath the blanket to reach them above her head. She should get up.
She moved to sit when he pushed her shoulders gently back to the couch. "Rest."
"I'd like to visit the loo." This time he didn't stop her from sitting up. Once she was sitting and not feeling quite so dizzy he helped her to stand. She could feel all the aches and she knew that she would be several, delightful, shades of purple come morning. Ruby waved him off; honestly, she thought, he was acting like a mother hen.
She made it to the bathroom and flicked on the light. She shut the door then leaned against it briefly. Taking a big breath she pushed away from the door and looked in the mirror. Gawd! She looked awful. Tugging at her hair until it wasn't sticking out quite so funnily. She used a dampened tissue to wipe off her smeared makeup and used some mouthwash. After seeing to other necessities she washed her hands and opened the door.
The living room was well lit so Ruby hit the bathroom's light switch to turn it off. She didn't see Luke ahead of her so when she stepped out she looked left into the dinning/kitchen area and what she saw made her heart drop.
She hadn't noticed it earlier but there were delicate, white linens on the table and a vase full of red rose buds. The table was set for two and there was a small flat box on one of the red charger plates. Luke had outdone himself. She hoped Mina appreciated the care he was taking with the set up. He deserved the best and she wished him happiness with her whole heart. Despite what she told others, and herself, she would never fall out of love with Luke.
The man himself sat at the end of the table still shirtless and now she could see he had changed into pajama bottoms. Luke sat with his hands in his lap, his head down and his shoulder hunched; he looked so disappointed. Well the night was still young. She could give him the rest of it anyway.
"I'll head out now…" He looked up at her sadly. God, she thought, I'm leaving already, enough with the puppy eyes, she could only take so much, "You should call Mina. She could be here very soon."
"Mina?" He stood took a step forward.
"For Valentine's Day." He took another step. "You did have plans, right?" He looked confused and now she was confused. "Right?"
"No, not with Mina," He was walking steadily towards me now. He still had half of the room to go.
"Oh. I just thought…never mind..." she mumbled. Well that explains why they weren't telling anyone about their relationship – there wasn't one. Mina must have had a vision about the girl he was supposed to be romancing tonight. That explains all the fate and destiny talk... It also makes sense that she might be giving him insight into some romantic gestures. Now she felt even worse.
Mina would understand the postponement of the date… this other girl would have no idea. Great, just great, his new girlfriend, or 'destiny' as Mina called her, was going to hate her. She was never going to see her best fr-
Oh wow. Luke stood right in front of her bare-chested and looking slightly uneasy, but more importantly bare-chested. She started to salivate, literally. 'Look away!' Her brain screamed. With a jerky motion she looked down at her feet, her socks were really dirty. Ew.
"I, ah, I wanted to talk to you about that…" he took her hand she almost pulled away but his had was so warm and solid around hers that she allowed him to lead he over to the couch. He sat down and pulled her down as well. He put his arm around her pulled her against his side. He was quiet for a moment as if he didn't know where to start. She heard him inhale deeply then clear his throat. "Promise me you aren't going to hit me."
"Okay," she hesitated, "I won't hit you." Ruby had a feeling she knew what he wanted to tell her.
"I had planned to tell someone how I felt about them tonight." She stiffened and he rushed on, "I really care about this person and I don't ever want to loose them. I'll take them any way I can get them. As a friend or more…hopefully more. I've felt this way for a long time and only just forced myself to face it. Mina helped me with that. She told me some things that I hope to hell are true. Now… now I just need to know how you feel."
Luke wanted her blessing. He was asking for his best mate's blessing. He wanted her advice and support. Ruby felt her heart break all over. She didn't know what as worse knowing that he was in love with someone else or knowing that he was asking her to be happy for him. Ruby couldn't help but think this was bad karma from a past life.
Taking a deep breath she pushed away slightly to look up at him, she needed to convince him it was okay, "Luke," she hesitated, "Of course I'll support you in anything you do Luke. If she makes you happy then go for it, Romeo. She's mad if she doesn't care about you too." She gave him a small smile and looked down suddenly because her eyes began welling up. She suddenly remembered her tiny cami.
"Ruby…" she blinked then reluctantly looked back up at Luke to see the soft, serious look in his eyes. "I meant you Ruby. I love you. I wanted to tell you how I felt and I wanted to know how you felt about me. If you felt the same way."
"What?" She croaked. Eyes huge and questioning. A tear may have slipped out but if it did Luke quickly brushed it away as he caressed her cheek.
"I planned a whole evening for the two of us. I'd take you to a club under the guise of being single but together… we would dance and I would hold you close. Then we would head back here and I would surprise you with a late dinner and tell you… well, everything."
"You did all this… for me?" He nodded but looked nervous. She grabbed the back of his head and brought him in for a fierce first kiss, suddenly very glad that she used the mouthwash. She pressed her lips to his and took his bottom lip between her own kissing that first, by itself, before tilting her head and licking the seam of his lips for permission.
He cupped the back of her head gently with one hand and his other hand was splayed between her shoulder blades pressing her close. He opened his mouth for her and gentled the kiss by softly massaging the back of her skull. After several long moments he pulled back slightly and pressed their foreheads together, his breath caressing her face.
"God, you gave me a scare tonight. I thought one of the half-lives got you once my vision returned. You were so still… it scared Galvin too." Then he snorted. "Although, I think he was pretty flustered about your attire too." She could feel the blood heat her cheeks. He pulled back and gave her a wicked grin. "Not that I'm complaining. It was the sweetest torture being with you tonight."
Ruby cocked her head to the side, waiting for him to elaborate.
"I thought I was dreaming when you pulled your sweater off. Great color by the way, it looks smashing against your skin," he glanced down and so did she. Huh. You could see right down the front of her camisole. "Then you went all sexy with the walk and the hands… I almost fell off the desk." She giggled at that. "I also had the sublime pleasure of watching your ass undeterred for several minutes." He grinned at that, like he won a prize. "But since we were in a life threatening situation… well it wasn't like I could fully enjoy it."
Ruby smiled, "Yeah, I know exactly how you feel…" Then she thought of something, "You said something about food?" Luke laughed and stood, helped her up and led her to the dining room table and the place setting with the box, gesturing for her to open it.
Picking up the box she realized it was heavier than it looked. She pulled up the lid and the chandelier lights caught on the contents just perfectly, two lovely jeweled hair sticks. They were a honey colored wood with stones of bright emerald at the end. She looked up at him quickly meeting his eyes, "They're beautiful. Where? How?" She was at a loss for words.
"They are very special, a family heirloom actually," Luke stopped her when she began to protest. "I knew they had to be yours…look…" He took one from the box then pulled the very end with the jewel and a very thin blade began to slide out from a very tiny sheath. "The will look lovely in your hair and keep you safe. I would love to see you wear them some day." He placed it back in the box and closed it. Setting it aside on the table.
"Of course, I'd be honored. They are amazing, thank you… I- I didn't get you anything…" She looked up sadly into his shining blue eyes.
"Yes you did. You love me right?"
"Of course I bloody well do! I have for ages! Longer than you know, pillock!" He laughed as she gave him a light shove.
"Okay, okay, I get it. I was a just little slow on the uptake, eh?" He turned away and headed towards the fridge. He began pulling out various container and stacking them on the counter.
"Nope, you stay where you are I'll have it all ready in no time."
He shook one container, opened it then placed its contents into a medium sized salad bowl. From the second, third and fourth container he took out the contents and arranged them on awaiting plates very quickly. All of the Tupperware containers ended up in the sink.
He opened the refrigerator again and pulled out a bottle of champagne. He brought that and the bowl over first then returned with the rest of the plates. Ruby couldn't have been more surprised. He made them an indoor picnic with all of her favorite foods: a cold seafood pasta salad, fruit salad, tomatoes, hummus, cheese and pita bread. Simple but well thought out.
She smiled up at him and looked into his beautiful eyes, "Thank you." He really thought this through. She kept trying to tell herself that she wouldn't cry but she had a feeling her eyes were shiny.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Ruby." He leaned down for a kiss and just as his lips met hers she leaned her head back and it connected with the back of the chair. She hissed in discomfort and he pulled back. "I'll get you some Ibuprofen." As he turned to walk away he stopped and said, "You really were brilliant tonight, you know that right?" then turned and walked to the bathroom.
That warmed her heart almost as much as knowing that he loved her – really and truly loved her. She gently rubbed the back of her head feeling the knot that had already formed and mumbled to herself, "Why am I always the bait?"
"That's easy… You're just so tasty." Shocked she looked up at Luke who had a devilish smile on his face.