On the morning exam results were delivered, Epsilon hadn't even showed yet - in fact, she was still on the toilet - when her housemate Tiffany came barging into the bathroom.
"Epsilon? You in here?"
Annoyed, Epsilon responded. "Kind of busy, here."
"Oh, sorry, it's your exam results is all. I'll just leave them on the sink!" The slam of the bathroom door signaled Tiffany's exit from the room, and Epsilon finished up quickly, washing her hands before opening the envelope. Her expression swiftly turned to one of horror. That couldn't be right!
"Woah there!" He laughed, then his expression quickly sobered, noting the look on her face. "What's wrong?"
"I got a B! That's never happened before, ever. How did I mess up so badly?"
"Relax. It had to happen sometime. Not only are you in a difficult degree course, but you were taking the maximum load they would allow you to take. Getting a B was pretty amazing, to be honest. I know a lot of the students here would have flunked out."
She nodded. What he was saying made sense. She still felt as if she'd failed, though.
"Come here." He pulled her close in a hug, and she nestled her face into his shoulder, letting him hold her. They stayed that way for several long moments, until he spoke again. "Don't you have a bus to catch?"
"I'll see you when you get back?"
"Yes. And thanks, for everything."
After term break was over, Alpha rented a small house just outside of the heart of campus. Money was still tight, but she really needed the privacy if she was going to focus enough to do well in her class this term. Her and Brendan had discussed renting a house together, but they'd ultimately decided that they weren't ready for that yet, so he chose to stay on at Malan Hall, for the next term at least.
The night before final exam day, Epsilon was busy studying, as usual, not noticing that Brendan had finished reading his novel and was now pacing the kitchen. She only noticed her boyfriend when he planted his hands firmly on the table and looked down to her with a somewhat bemused expression.
She looked up, startled. "Huh?"
"What are you doing? You're not going to get a better grade by cramming the night before your exams. At this point, you either know it or you don't, and all you're doing is stressing yourself out."
She opened her mouth to protest, but he reached across the table to her textbook and gently closed it, setting it down.
"I'm serious. Go get ready for bed, I'll give you a massage or something before I go back home."
"You should stay," she whispered.
"Yeah. You know we'd talked about maybe staying together, next term, so it makes sense to work up to it a bit."
He gave her a quick peck on the lips, then drew back, smiling. "Sounds good to me. My first exam isn't until after lunch, so that gives me time to run home and get ready. Come on, let's go to bed, you need sleep."
"What's wrong?" she asked, fearing the worst.
He reached around to the back of her head, fumbling at her hair. For a moment she wasn't sure what he was doing, then it became obvious as her hair fell down onto her shoulders, the clip placed on the bedside table.
"You weren't really going to leave that in all night, were you?" The teasing smile was back, and Epsilon laughed, shaking her head.
"No, I just didn't think to take it out yet. Sorry, I was just worried that-"
He cut her off with a finger to her lips. "I told you, stop worrying. If you're going to worry, I'm going to leave."
"You don't have to pretend it doesn't feel good."
She blushed, which just made him laugh a bit more, his hand moving around to her back as he held her closer. They lay there for a few moments before he spoke again.
"Yeah," he admitted. "Does that bother you?" His expression was serious now, looking down at her.
"No. You're older than me, I always figured you'd have experience. Why would it bother me, if it was before we met?"
"It was," he assured her. "High school, the first time, and a few girls since. I don't regret it."
"I really don't, and I'm glad you're okay with that. You know it doesn't make me love you any less."
"I know," she said quietly, pulling him down to kiss him again, her free hand moving down to fumble at what little clothes he was wearing.
She nodded. "Yeah. I've waited long enough to be sure. I want this, with you."
The next morning, she sat up, and immediately wished she hadn't. She had a sick feeling in her stomach, and something behind her eyes was starting to throb. Of all the days to come down with something, why today? She gritted her teeth and stood, getting dressed in the dark so as not to aggravate a possibly-murderous headache. She glanced back at her sleeping boyfriend as she exited the room, smiling weakly. He was probably going to catch this too, since she'd surely been contagious last night.
"Are you okay?"
She shook her head. "I'm coming down with something. You've probably got it too."
"It was worth it. Seriously, though, did you want to go lay down?"
She shook her head. "I'll just stay for a bit, I know I've been a complete shut-in this term."
She nodded. "You're right. I'll call you tomorrow, okay?"
He nodded back and kissed her forehead, only letting go of her once he was sure she was steady on her feet.
As she walked home, the pounding in her head continued getting worse. The summer night air, almost unbearably humid, made her feel as if she was trying to breathe underwater. Suddenly, she stopped dead, letting out a low groan. She'd promised Natalie that she would check on her experiment that night, and start the next stage for her. If she didn't go do that, half a term's worth of work would be ruined. Sighing, she changed direction, walking slowly along the seemingly-unending sidewalk to the lab.
She opened her eyes.
~ * ~