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The Bloom of A Flower

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He knocked just softly on the door, the knuckles of his fingers rapping lightly against the orange-brown office door, just below the shining, gold emblazoned nameplate that was fastened onto it with tiny screws at the corners.

Waiting for an answering call, he shifted anxiously from foot to foot, the bouquet of richly coloured flowers rustling behind his back. God knows why he felt so nervous—well, actually he did know. Stephen wasn’t the romantic type—better yet, he’d actively made his despise for Valentine’s day quite clear just a couple weeks ago, when they’d been strolling down the boulevard on Alexander’s insistence, and all the shops had already stalled out their Valentine’s collections and decorations.

So… why was he doing this again?

Oh, right: he wanted to do something special today. Show Stephen how much he meant to him—more so than he usually already did. Still, it was quite the gamble.

This wasn’t their first Valentine together. No, on the contrary: this was one of many, and Alexander was more than grateful for the fact that they’d seen so many come and go in their comfortable little condo on the third floor of the apartment complex that Stephen hated the look of, but loved for the fact that Alexander lived there—and after a little under two years of their being together, Stephen lived, too. Most years, Valentine’s day had snuck up on them without them noticing and before they knew it, it was too late to go out and buy something; Other years, they’d simply forgotten or agreed not to do anything. The last couple of years, it had been the latter—their jobs kept them too busy, that was all.

Not celebrating their love wasn’t any fun either, though.

Even though they never told each other overly much that they loved the other—they weren’t the type, even taking in consideration how soppy Alexander could be—Alexander really did love Stephen an awful lot, and even in Stephen’s grumpiness Alexander could tell the feeling was mutual. It was in the gentle ways that Stephen touched him, held him, looked at him from across the room. Even—and this was before they’d gotten together, mind you—when others told him he was a fool for falling for such a curmudgeon, this man that only grumbled and moaned, this killjoy, Alexander had seen past that and saw a loving side to the tall grump. Sometimes, it was almost overwhelming, how loved he felt by Stephen.

“Yes?”

The door handle creaked when he pushed it down at the cue to enter, pulling the corners of his lips up in a most charming smile before peeking his head around the corner. Stephen was seated behind his desk, eyes still trained on the open file in front of him.

“Hello, workaholic,” Alexander said with a chuckle as he stepped inside, careful not to show the flowers just yet as he closed the door behind him.

Upon hearing his voice, Stephen looked up and blinked. “Hello.” He went back to his papers as soon as he’d greeted him.

Most people would think it uncharitable to greet someone you knew like that, let alone your lover. Alexander was used to it, though, and he really didn’t mind it so much. It also came in handy what with the flowers behind his back: Stephen didn’t seem to notice them, as far as he could tell.

“Working tirelessly, I see?”

“Mmrph,” Stephen grumbled. “A medical file like this should be illegal.”

Taking a second look at the beige file-map splayed open on the desk, Alexander noticed that there were indeed an awful lot of pages included. “It does look like quite the file,” he admitted. He threw a sympathetic smile in Stephen’s direction when the man briefly looked up at him with a pained expression.

“I suppose something romantic at this point in time might be timed incredibly wrong, then?”

“Absolutely awful,” Stephen agreed, a scowl forming on his forehead.

“Well, that’s too bad.” Stepping forward, Alexander swung the bouquet from behind his back into Stephen’s view with another charming smile—one of his best, he’d say. “Because I’m going to be awfully romantic with you for a moment, just until my break ends, that is.”

Looking at the bouquet, Stephen blinked once, then twice, then thrice.

“Well, say something.”

Stephen sighed. “Alex…”

Alexander bit his lip. Well, it was to be expected—but still, it stung just a little. “You don’t like it?”

“I thought we agreed not to do anything on Valentine’s.”

“Oh, I know. But—” laying the flowers on a free spot on the desk, Alexander sat down on the edge, turned towards a frowning Stephen— “we have done nothing for years, Stephen. We’ve been together for how long, now? I’d like to do something special just once in a while—to celebrate us.”

By the looks of it, Stephen’s expression did soften just a little at hearing that. Still, he said, “Don’t we celebrate us every day we wake up next to each other?”

A sweetly crooked smile tugged on the edges of Alexander’s mouth. Oh—he could be romantic, in his own way. “I know that, and we do, but sometimes a little something special could be nice, too.”

Shifting a tad uncomfortable in his seat, Stephen seemed to be mulling on what to say. Apparently at least sixty-five percent satisfied, he said, with a grimace, “You know how I don’t like things like this, though. Why do you insist on them?”

Alexander rolled his eyes, but not terribly unkindly so. “Because it’s nice, Stephen! James and Francis can, why can’t we?”

“Because James is a little puppy in need of constant validation, and Francis is just that to him,” Stephen stated matter-of-factly with a concerningly straight face.

“Oh—Stephen!” spluttered Alexander, swatting Stephen’s shoulder with the back of his hand.

“What? It’s the truth,” he shrugged. “I like the boy, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he trails after Francis every second of the day.”

“ “Boy”?” Alexander quirked an eyebrow in disbelief, and ducked his head to emphasize it. “He and I are nigh-on the same age, and well in our forties, if I may add.”

Stephen shrugged again. “Different personality—makes a big difference.”

“If you say so,” chuckled Alexander, leaning closer to Stephen, basking in the easy company of him. “But really, Stephen—It’ll be nice, trust me.”

As he watched Stephen take him in with the trained, searching eyes of a true surgeon, Alexander smiled softly. Like only partners of several years could, he could tell almost precisely what the man was thinking—probably much to Stephen’s dismay, as much as he liked to keep things that could be kept private, private. He could tell he was weighing his options, fairly and honestly, for he knew that as much as Stephen loathed Valentine’s, he loved him, and didn’t want to hurt him if it could be avoided. He’d been proven as much over the years, time and time again. It made his heart flutter and his cheeks colour to this day.

Heaving a great sigh, Stephen said, “Well, I suppose…” The small twitch of the corners of his lips didn’t go unnoticed to Alexander, either, even if it was just a little strained.

“Ah, see—I knew you had a heart of gold.” Alexander smiled as he slid off the edge of the desk and back onto his feet, walking around to the back of Stephen’s chair. He laid his hands on Stephen’s shirt-clad shoulders and lightly rubbed them over the fabric, warming the skin underneath.

“I’ve not got much planned—”

“Thank the heavens.”

“—but I did have something special in mind for dinner,” Alexander near-purred in Stephen’s ear as he massaged his shoulders, which very much had the desired effect of Stephen relaxing under his hands. “Followed up by a special film while cozied up on the sofa, and perhaps some extra romantic activities.”

Stephen almost choked on thin air. “Oh?” he managed in a thick voice.

Giving his shoulders a harsher, chiding squeeze, Alexander snorted. “It’s not porn, you filthy animal.”

“You’ve got your own phrasing to blame for that.”

“Perhaps.”

Turning around, Stephen looked at him incredulously. “You did that on purpose.”

Alexander grinned at seeing the look of minor shock on his face. “When do I not?”

“Please remind me why I put up with you,” Stephen grumbled as he turned back around, once more busying himself with the abominable medical file.

“Oh—” Alexander sighed in a mock-wistful tone as he let his hands slide off Stephen’s shoulders— “because you love me, dear.”

He stole a kiss to Stephen’s temple for good measure, grinning like a wolf when Stephen glared at him.

“Unfortunately.”

“Do put those flowers in a vase,” he said as a he walked back towards the door, throwing Stephen a wink from across the office. “They’re far too pretty to let them go to waste, and they match your eyes so well, too.”

As he peeked around the door for a last time before closing it behind him, he caught a brief glimpse of the small smile on Stephen’s face as he looked at the flowers on his desk.