Simon couldn’t stop himself.
He’d gone for a run before practice because he was dead set on winning a place on the underclassmen’s team. Who cared if he was a first-year? Footie was basically the only thing he’d learned at the orphanage that had any use here at the Watford School of Magicks.
Well, that and dodging vicious roommates.
If he was honest, that was a second reason he’d ducked out of his room thirty minutes before practice was scheduled. He and his roommate had been at each other’s throats all day. They’d only lived together for a month, but this already felt distressingly normal.
His new friends had given him conflicting advice about how to deal with the roommate, Baz, and his constant sniping and jabs (more and more of which, it seemed, were becoming physical).
“He’s a bully,” Lucinda said. “Just ignore him. Don’t let him see that he’s getting to you—that’s what he wants. If you can pretend it doesn’t bother you, maybe he’ll stop.”
“Tosh,” Rhys insisted. “Fight back. Give as good as you get, or he’ll never back down.” And if you’re going to trust anyone on how to deal with a bully , Simon thought, you’d be wise to listen to the boy who’s spent eight of his eleven years strapped into a bulky wheelchair. You knew his apparently-easy popularity couldn’t have come overnight.
“Oh, Simon,” Penelope had said affectionately, tugging at the end of one of her copper-colored plaits. “Haven’t you learned yet that there’s more than one way through a flaming gate? Watch and wait, Simon. You’ll figure him out in time.”
So, trying to mash all this advice together, Simon had responded to the latest affront—a silencing charm on his alarm clock so that Simon slept through Fundamentals of Magic, his favorite class, and would have hours of weekend detention in punishment—by a) saying nothing in the moment, just stomping in his usual waking-up dudgeon to the toilets, b) detouring by the Invertebrates laboratory on his way back from the glaring-contest of their shared last class in order to pilfer a few dozen Fadeaway Fleas, which, upon returning to an empty room, he sprinkled deep into Baz’s sheets and slippers, and c) making himself scarce. He didn’t want to look Baz in the face just now.
The late-afternoon sun was a low glow through the clouds. The fields looked particularly green under that grey sky. Speeding up his running pace, Simon felt the stress of his classes and his nasty roommate fall away, his body and mind overtaken by the coordinated effort of propelling himself forward.
He loped across a field toward an ancient oak. He would practice his buttonhook turns, darting toward the tree and suddenly doubling back—a useful technique for dodging a sticky defender. The enormous tree would make a stalwart defender. As Simon sprinted toward the gnarled oak, he lowered his body so that he could plant hard, stop momentarily, and turn back the other way. But for some reason, his legs wouldn’t slow.
Aleister Crowley , he wasn’t slowing down. His body was crouched, but he was still running full steam ahead. Everything in Simon screamed—his muscles, trying uselessly to slow him; his brain, mapping a thousand suicidal trajectories; his churning heart. He was going to run into the tree.
Throwing himself to the side, Simon almost managed to dodge it. The rough bark caught at his shoulder and tore away a strip of his handed-down Watford FC shirt. The sting told him it might’ve ripped open his skin, too, but he couldn’t stop to check. He was still barreling headlong across the fields as fast as his legs would carry him.
Whatever magic was pushing him, his body still had to pull its share. Twenty minutes further into this breakneck run to nowhere, he was pretty sure his lungs couldn’t take it anymore. His legs couldn’t stop moving , yes, but running still took real effort.
Students were watching now, from the windows and steps of the great stone building. On the soccer pitch, the other would-be team members had assembled, and Merlin , they were watching too. Simon hoped they weren’t laughing, but he couldn’t slow down to see.
As he ran across the Great Lawn, a figure scurried toward him, waving frantically. Penelope.
“Can you help?” he yelled, running past her. “ What is it ?”
“I think,” she yelled as he circled back, “that it’s Pitch. Using that inertia spell from last week.”
“How do we stop it?” he hollered on the next circuit.
“You were there, Simon. An object in motion tends to stay in motion unless ...” He was too far to hear, but he remembered. Oh dear. He didn’t at all like where this was leading.
“You mean I have to run into something?” he demanded.
“Yes!” she yelled, distantly. On the wind, he thought he heard her yell, “Sorry!”
And if he was going to do this, he might as well get it over with. He veered away from the lawn toward the hedged gardens on the south side of the school. Mustering all his courage, he didn’t allow himself to swerve as he ran full-bore into the six-foot box hedge.
Unfortunately, the scratchy hedge wasn’t enough to stop him; he burst through it littered with cuts and still running. What finally stopped him was the first plant he encountered inside the garden: an ancient, thorny rose bush.
The thorns were just insults, though. The real agony was a thick, gnarled branch that gored him deeply in the hip, his body unwilling to stop until the gash had reached the bone and was spouting blood over his stupid, scrabbling legs that were still trying to obey some distant orders. Only when the pain finally registered, like a freight-train to the nervous system, did the spell relent and allow Simon to collapse on the petal-strewn earth.
Baz didn’t visit him in the infirmary, of course, so he never knew about the extent of Simon’s injuries. He saw the scratches and bruises that were still healing when Simon returned to their room the next week, but those vanished almost as fast as Baz’s muttered attempt at an apology. The boys were hurling curses at each other again (not the magical kind, just swearing and taunts) by week’s end.
The scar on his hip, though, took months to heal, and when it did, it was a brutish, ugly thing—a lumpy stripe that stretched shockingly white against his skin.
Fortunately, it was in such a place that it took little effort to hide, even from a prying roommate. It wasn’t that Simon was planning to hide the scar forever. He just didn’t want Baz to know that he’d marked Simon. Not yet.
If there was anything worse than waking up early (because your roommate, not content with silencing your alarm, had set it to five in the bloody morning), rushing through your morning routine in a panic (imagine that said roommate had also pulled the curtains shut and cast an "it's always darkest" charm), forgoing breakfast (because you peeked into the dining hall and saw that it was completely empty), and barging into the classroom, apology ready, only to find it empty, and running around in a state until someone woke up and kindly explained that you should check your watch (which, to add insult to injury, was on the wrong wrist), then Simon had yet to experience it.
With his luck, he probably would by the end of the week.
"That arse," Simon muttered. Penny grimaced briefly in sympathy and went back to copying down the math problem Professor Benedict was writing on the whiteboard.
"The guy's a toad," Simon whispered to Agatha in History. Agatha, who he knew only distantly, gave him an uncertain smile and turned back to Mage Harris the Mildly Constipated.
"He's such a stupid git," Simon told Rhys, who nodded understandingly and held a finger to his lips, lest Simon's rather forceful tone overpower Emmy Witkin's quavering interpretation of Robert Frost.
"I can't stand the prick," Simon said. "Oh, um, sorry, Luce." Lucinda, looking faintly horrified, assured him she took no offense, although she seemed to lose her appetite after that.
"What— you— I—" Simon stuttered, upon discovering that his Chemistry textbook contained small pressed crickets between the pages, which scattered and came to life, knocking over his beaker of, mercifully, still lukewarm water.
"Something on your mind?" Baz asked, smirking at him from across the table.
"You—you complete walnut!" Simon erupted. He slid off the lab stool, bruising his tailbone in the process, and lurched towards Baz. "You—"
"That will be enough, Mr. Snow," Professor Chilblains said icily, causing Simon to freeze mid-step. "You may take the rest of the period to calm down. In fact, I'll speak with your homeroom teacher. I think Professor Feng will agree with me that you would better spend the day benefiting your community."
Simon gaped at the professor. "Yes, sir." He grabbed his bag and left the lab, face hot with anger and embarrassment.
'Benefiting his community' apparently meant cleaning out the Biology classroom. Simon scrubbed tables clean of decades' worth of graffiti, changed the water in the frog tank, and sorted the live slugs from the dead. (The trick was waiting until the senior student supervising him started playing Angry Birds on his phone and tossing out as many as he could get away with.)
All in all, Simon had plenty of time to ponder his revenge while completing these brainless and thankless tasks. By the time he was finished, not even a shower could banish the scent of slug poo and Muck-Away from his skin, but he was calm and cool-headed, and he had a plan. (Well, kind of, and he was still pretty angry, but whatever.) He went to his room and pretended to do the homework his friends had copied out for him.
Half an hour later, Simon heard the door open. He quickly formed a scowl, greeting Baz with all the rage he could muster.
Baz, the prat, just sneered at him. "Have a good day, Snow?"
"I had to sort slugs," Simon growled. "And they made me muck out the frog tank."
"Sounds like you had an unpleasant day," Baz said.
Simon deepened his scowl and got up, taking a step towards Baz. It was very easy to be angry again in Baz's presence. The boy was infuriating. He hadn't even meant to actually get angry, but he was helpless in the face of, well, Baz's face.
Baz gave him a wary look. "Something on your mind?"
That was the last straw. "Something on my mind ? I spent the whole afternoon doing dirty awful chores, I stink of Muck-Away, and I missed Music again ! For the fourth time this term! I'm going to kill you."
Baz mustered a smirk. "Now, the Roommate's Anathema—"
Simon, unable to control himself any longer, lunged at him. Baz only had the time to toss his satchel aside before Simon crashed into him. They hit the door, making it slam shut, and slid to the floor, rolling and clawing at each other. Simon managed to land a punch, earning himself an elbow in his ribs. They were too evenly matched, however, and neither could get the upper hand. Finally, Baz managed to scramble away, wiping at the blood dripping from his nose.
"What's your problem?" he managed.
"My problem? Are you kidding me? You set my alarm clock to four in the morning and put crickets in my textbook!"
"Five in the morning," Baz said, with his last trace of dignity.
"Does it matter? Why are you so— so evil?" Simon clenched his fists. "Does it come with the vampire territory or something?"
Baz froze. "What?"
"I suppose only the Roommate's Anathema stops you from drinking all my blood—"
Baz punched him in the mouth. "Don't talk about it!"
"Why not? Look at all this blood, Baz." Simon wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. "Huh, not that much. What's the matter, don't know how to punch? Not good enough for you?"
"Piss off," Baz growled.
"Ooh, what are you going to do?" Simon grinned. "Bite me."
"You twit—" Baz shoved him, and Simon staggered backwards, making sure that he was heading towards the dresser. "Do you even know what you're talking about? You nutter!" He gave another shove, and Simon hit the sharp edge of the dresser. Immediately, his trousers were soaked in dark red, which spread up the side of his white shirt.
"Ouch," Simon said lamely.
Simon's lack of acting skills went unnoticed. Baz stared in horror at the spreading stain on Simon's shirt. His face, flushed with anger and fighting, turned ghastly pale. "Oh no..." he whispered, and lurched towards Simon, grabbing his shirt.
"Geroff me!" Simon said, ineffectually batting Baz' hands away. "Let go!"
"I hurt you, you're bleeding, but it's okay, I can help," Baz babbled. He tugged Simon's shirt free from his trousers, and Simon, powerless in the face of Baz's panic, let him. "We'll just look at it, and stop the bleeding, and it'll be fine, everything's going to be fine—" he folded down the waistband of Simon's trousers, along with his boxers, and gaped at the old scar there. Covered in blood, it looked brand new. "Oh Crowley, I didn't mean to..." Baz trailed off as he noticed the little bag tucked against Simon's skin. "What the...?"
Simon pushed Baz's hands away and peeled away the now-sopping bag. "Frog blood."
Simon wiped some blood away from the scar. Once it was clean, it was easy to tell that the scar was not a new wound. "I took it from the bio lab."
"You tricked me," Baz said.
"Payback," Simon said, grinning fiercely.
Baz nodded. "Fair enough," he said dully. "You got me. Well done." He nearly ran towards the door.
"Baz? You okay?" Simon asked. This was beyond revenge. This was scary.
"Yeah, sure. Gotta wash the blood off my hands." Baz choked on the words, not looking at Simon, before fleeing the room.
Simon stared after him. Baz would probably lay off the pranking for a really long time, but his victory didn't feel as great as he'd thought it would.
Besides, he had an awful lot of cleaning up to do.
Simon was sick to death of Baz’s intrusions—into his books, his chest of drawers, his computer (which contained exactly zero things intended for Baz’s sight). The boundary-crossing had been going on for two and a half years; he’d thought by now he understood just how little personal space or privacy he could expect with Baz as a roommate. Last year, their fighting had reached such brutal peaks that it was actually frightening, so now he was trying—as hard as he could—to hold back. With each new violation of his privacy, Simon wrapped the rubber bands of self-discipline a little tighter around the mauling instinct and figured that this, at least, he could bear.
He was wrong.
When he came back from supper this evening to find Baz kicked back with black leather shoes up on Simon’s desk, coolly munching an Aero bar, all the rubber bands inside him snapped.
“Is that mine?” he demanded, lunging toward Baz.
“Are you quite all right in the head, Snow?” Baz asked, chomping off another segment. “I don’t expect much , but I’d think even you might recall your own desk.” He feigned a shudder. “And you certainly won’t find me resting my boots on my workspace.”
“You know what I mean, Baz,” Simon snarled. He crowded in over his scrawny roommate. Simon had put on height lately; even if Baz hadn’t been sitting, Simon would tower over him. He loomed closer to let Baz quake a little in the majesty of his wrath.
Baz peeled the wrapper off the last bit of chocolate and tucked it into his mouth, sealing the melty, mint-smelling sweet behind thin, bloodless lips. “I’m afraid I don’t follow at all,” he said. His low-lidded grey eyes were a silent dare. Inwardly, Simon sputtered, but what could he say? You’re stealing from me ? You’re invading my space and my life ? Stop fucking with me or I won’t be liable for my own actions ? Baz knew all this already. Obviously he did. That was the whole point.
“Beg pardon,” Baz smirked, when Simon stayed locked in the silent glare. And with showy fastidiousness, the git leaned around Simon to toss the wrapper in the bin.
In the bin, which already contained two other Aero wrappers.
Which meant that if these were Simon’s bars, Baz had eaten every last one.
Simon knew he wouldn’t be able to hold back if he stayed; he’d just embarrass himself ransacking the room while Baz crowed at his helplessness, or else bring the Anathema crashing down around his head by smacking that self-satisfied gloat off Baz’s face.
Instead, he stormed out, letting the door slam behind him. He wasn’t going to give Baz the satisfaction of one more word.
Simon found refuge in Rhys and Raj’s room across the way, where the two enthusiastically welcomed him into a game of Mage Tales. An hour later, when Raj had destroyed them both and they’d moved on to casting miniature explosions—which were definitely leaving some unhideable copper-green streaks across the ceiling, which everyone must have noticed but none of the giggling boys cared to point out—and when Simon, sprawled comfortably across Rhys’s bed shooting sparks at the ceiling with the two, was just lamenting the crap luck that had given him a nemesis for a roommate when others got actual friends , finally, he heard his own door open across the hall squeak open.
“Thanks, mates,” Simon said, and crept out.
As Baz rounded the corner of the long corridor toward the washroom, Simon slipped back into their shared room. He barred the door behind him.
First step, now that he was in his room alone, was to assess the damage. He’d resigned himself to losing the Aero Bars tied to the bed-slats and in the sock-drawer, so when he came up empty-handed from checking those places, though his stomach twisted sourly, he kept a cap on his fury. Maybe that would be the extent, he hoped.
It was not.
As he drew open the desk drawer with the secret compartment—his last, most secret store, where he always kept a treat in reserve, not so he could eat it but so that he would always know, in his neediest moments, that it was there —he felt a sinking feeling of bottomless rage. The compartment had been compromised. There was no candy here, only the bedraggled stuffed mouse that was his one memento of the orphanage, and a few grimy pence—the entirety of Simon’s pocket-money till next month’s instalment of the tiny allowance granted to the school’s scholarship students.
This month, there’d been a special offer, and he’d been able to buy four bars for the price of three. Other than the one he’d eaten on the walk back from the shops, he’d stored them all. Simon loved the knowledge that he had chocolate waiting for him, chocolate of his own, that he could choose any time at all.
But now he couldn’t. He felt furious and adrift.
“Fuck you, Baz,” he growled to himself. “I’ll show you. I’ll show you to mess with me again.”
He had no idea where Baz kept his valuables hidden. Heck, Simon wasn’t even sure where Baz kept his shoes. He was pretty sure Baz cast some kind of weird protective glamour over his stuff; Simon tended to have a pretty good memory, but nothing of Baz’s ever stuck in his mind.
He opened Baz’s top drawer, which revealed stacks of neatly folded shirts. He closed it. He opened another drawer only to see more stacks of shirts. He closed it. He opened another, and the same sight greeted him.
It was then that he thought to drop a pen atop the shirts; sure enough, when he opened yet another drawer, the contents were exactly the same, down to the pen, which Simon was bitterly pleased to note he had neglected to cap, and which was bleeding black ink into one of Baz’s crisp collars.
It was obvious that a glamour was preventing Simon from seeing the chest of drawers as it really was. Searching by hand would do no use.
Tosser , he thought, angrily flinging Baz’s pillow at the wall. How can I get back at you when you’re two steps ahead?
Then, he checked himself. Even now, years into his Watford education, it was so easy to forget his magic.
He produced the wand from the depths of one of his pockets.
“ Come out, come out, wherever you are! ” he whispered. He heard rustling noises, but nothing seemed to move.
He tried again, louder, focusing his mind on the chocolate bars that he knew Baz must stash throughout the room. The rustling on Baz’s side of the room grew louder.
On the third incantation, a chocolate bar rocketed out of Baz’s wardrobe like a bug that’s been throwing itself against a window that has suddenly flown open. It crunched against the ceiling and plummeted to the floor.
There must be more, though, he thought. Indeed, upon repeating the spell a fourth time, Simon summoned three more chocolate bars—two from that infernal chest of drawers, one from behind Baz’s headboard.
He kept going. Aero bars shot at him from all corners of the room—from inside photo frames and behind books, in hidden panels Simon had never suspected. By the time the stream finally abated, he’d extracted a barrage of dozens of chocolate bars.
Of course, he thought bitterly. The Pitches probably send them to him by the case, but the wanker steals mine .
There was no question about what he needed to do now. He mounded the bars on his bed, tugged open the wrapper of one, and bit in. The chocolate had never tasted sweeter, lighter, creamier, than it did in that moment. Maybe it never would again.
He was on bar five—at which point, they had already ceased to delight, beginning to taste over-sweet and a bit waxen on the tongue—when Baz banged on the door.
“Let me in, Snow.”
Simon said nothing. He peeled the wrapper from a sixth bar.
“Let me in!” Baz hissed, pounding. “Snow, if you know what’s good for you...” He was controlling his voice, of course—gods forbid anyone should know Baz Pitch wasn’t getting his way for once.
“Sod off,” Simon yelled back around a mouthful of chocolate. “I’ll open up when I’m good and ready.”
“Good and—” Baz cut off. There was a pause, and then a hideous, gleeful, knowing cackle. “Simon Snow, are you eating my Aeros?”
“S’what ’f I am?” Simon mumbled defiantly around another enormous, melty mouthful.
Baz kept thumping at the door, and Simon kept stuffing in chocolate and felt the pressure building in his chest. He wanted to hide himself from Baz and to punch him in the face and to cram sweets down his throat till the things he loved became horrible too.
Barring that, he just wanted to eat all Baz’s sweets.
On bar ten, the eating had crossed from mildly unpleasant to truly distasteful. By bar fifteen, he was gagging a little at the thick slime of minty chocolate that lined his mouth and throat; his stomach was leaden. But he couldn’t let himself stop.
There was a hushed conversation outside; obviously, Baz had called in his cronies, and they were preparing to lay siege. It only added fuel to his determination.
By bar twenty, though, the glut of chocolate was tumbling like a millstone inside him. With each revolution, he felt queasier. He groaned. He hated to sick up, hated the burn in his throat and the empty ache in his belly after, but there was no way around it.
Shoving the remaining bars into his pockets so he could dispose of them in the bathroom rubbish, he yanked the door open to reveal a wall of surly boys in pyjamas. Niall. Malcolm. Alan. Dev. Behind them, Baz leaned against the opposite wall with a toothbrush peeking out of his pocket and cruel triumph gleaming in his steely eyes.
“Now see here,” smirked Malcolm, grabbing Simon by the collar before he could shoulder his way past. He dragged him in close. Simon could smell the night’s stew below the sharp mint toothpaste— so much worse than the chocolatey mint that was gagging Simon—on his tepid breath. “You think you can mess—”
Whatever Malcolm had intended to say, it disappeared under a torrent of rising chocolate and bile. Simon embraced the spasm in his muscles, let them unload freely. The quantity was prodigious. Swearing, Malcolm leapt away like he was being burned rather than drenched.
They’d get him back, Simon reflected as he unburdened himself of the rest of his stomach contents in the privacy of the loo, but for the moment, he’d won.
Simon had a Problem, and it was a stupid one.
If you looked at the Problem, which was currently tucked between two pages of the ancient leather-bound book he was trying (really hard) to study as he flopped comfortably across his bed, you would immediately understand the stupidity of it.
The Problem looked stupid. It smelled stupid. The words of it, when he said them in his head, actually sounded stupid. Simon knew it was idiotic to even consider following through on the Problem, but he also knew, when he risked a glance at his rigidly studious roommate scribbling away at the desk across the room, that he wouldn’t be able to resist.
He’d found the Problem that morning in the library. If the creased makeshift bookmark was a true indication, no one at Watford had had call to research oral histories of Hungry Grass since early in the last century. On finding this odd bit of paper, which smelled far too strongly of some combination of dried peppermint and roses, wedged between pages 302 and 303, Simon immediately lost interest in Irish faerie gardens.
Setting the book aside, he had carefully unfolded the crumbling strip of paper. It was archaic. It was cutesy. It was a Problem.
The tattered page had clearly been torn from the century-old promotional pamphlet that came with some Captivating Concoctions brand hair balm. Below the directions for its silly little spell, it dimly twinkled a promise of "abundant, aristocratic curls," with the added benefits of increased durance and hex protection when enhanced with a hearty splash of their Curl Tonic.
This was so stupid. Obviously, whoever had the page as a bookmark in the first place had thought so; they’d torn it out of some pamphlet and stuck it here to mark a page they’d never look at again. It was just another dumb promotional spell. Antique, sure, but otherwise kith and kin to the tagline spells you’d see in the adverts in the Daily Mage ; corporations would tweak a spell till it fit their proprietary product, then offer the magic free as marketing.
So, why had something in Simon wriggled with glee when he read this one?
Perhaps it was the word aristocratic . His eyes lingered on it. He and Baz hadn’t come to blows once this year, but they were sniping double-time. It seemed like every other comment from Baz (when Baz wasn’t casting noise-canceling charms around his own workspace and ignoring Simon entirely) was a jibe at Simon’s lack of class and culture.
I’ll show you upper-crust , he thought now, nipping another quick glance across the room. Baz, leaned head on hand above his own desk as he wrote, had probably cast another silencing charm to insulate himself from any sounds that might remind him he actually lived with someone else.
“Baz?” he ventured.
“Baz,” much louder.
He plucked a wooden chess-piece from his dresser and tossed it over. It sailed over Baz’s shoulder and bounced on his desk, producing a satisfying startle response from Baz, who whirled with murder in his eyes.
“Sod off, Snow,” he said, voice cracking under the strain of self-control. “Rest assured that even my restraint has its limits.”
“ Your restraint?” Simon fired back, ready to hash out the last few weeks of Baz’s nefarious deeds. Even without the fisticuffs, Baz had always been total shite as a roomie. But Baz had turned back to his desk and clearly couldn’t hear him through the muffling effects of the charm.
Simon tried to read his book again. He really did. He copied out a few passages that seemed to indicate that Hungry Grass sprouted around the same time as a community let go of traditional farming techniques, which might support his and Penny’s argument that faerie mischief correlates with periods of increased industrialization. This seemed useful. He hoped Penelope would think so; after all Baz’s “brainy Bunce and Simple Simon” jabs, he was determined to pull his weight this time around.
Then he tried to turn his mind to maths, but he found he couldn’t. He couldn’t escape the smell of that ancient beauty spell; even with the history book closed on the floor, the too-strong mustiness of that antique perfume tickled at his nose.
He picked up the apple on his bedstand and ate it down to its core. Then he shook out the seeds and flicked them across the room, one at a time, in hopes that one would strike Baz or his desk. None did, but he was pretty sure Baz noticed.
Baz, back to him, tied his hair efficiently back at the nape of his neck and flipped to a new page. “I suppose I should be nostalgic for this,” he called over his shoulder. “If prevailing rumors are true, I’ll be losing my roommate to one of Sir Bleakley’s detentions for the next fortnight of evenings in consequence for your latest misdeeds.” He chuckled nastily down at his book.
The git didn’t even turn around. Simon could have flung something at him—something bigger this time, a book or a bedside lamp—but he was learning to hold back, wasn’t he? (He knew he said this every year, but things really were different since the end of last year, when Baz’s boys had cornered Simon on the back stair. Malcolm had choked Simon out and when he’d come to again, it was to find that Penny’d showed up and cursed the lot of them into concrete shoes. It had taken actual jackhammers to remove them; Malcolm had retched with terror, and even Baz had had the decency to look especially colorless and unhappy.)
Instead of throwing anything, Simon slid the deteriorating sheet of paper from the book and studied it again. It was a simple spell, the sort of thing one could do with even a rudimentary magical education, but Penelope was always impressing upon him the importance of knowing a spell forward and back before you attempted it.
He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t. It was true that he’d be serving the detentions. It was manifestly unfair that the teachers happened to stumble in on the aftermath of the exorcism—the part that looked most like pure vandalism, what with the bloody messages on the wall and the smoldering draperies—but it couldn’t be helped. He’d made some promises of secrecy, and if Simon Snow was anything at all, he was a person of his word. Anyway, the point was, he really didn’t need more trouble in his life right now.
“When will you outgrow the nonsense, Snow?” asked Baz. He was shaking his head, and all Simon could see was the way the light danced off the sleek, sanctimonious gloss of his tied-back hair.
Not today , Simon thought hotly. That did it. The git deserved so much worse than this, but this would hit Baz where it hurt, right in his vain, pompous core. Before he could stop himself, Simon took his wand in hand.
The noise-canceling charm meant Simon didn’t have to be quiet. He yelled the words of the spell like they were a curse. “ Curly locks, curly locks, wilt thou be mine? ” he hollered, and as he felt the power of his spiteful magic snake into the wand, he pointed it across the room at Baz.
When the spell hit, shimmering golden around his head for a moment like a jeweled hairnet, Baz seemed completely oblivious; he turned another page and scrawled something in the margin. The magical net glimmered softly away.
Honestly, Simon thought, after all that wind-up, the spell was a little disappointing. It had clearly done something — Baz’s hair didn’t have the same hard sheen as before—but it wasn’t the floppy, looping curls the advertisement had shown. Or if it was , he realized suddenly, of course you couldn’t tell with the hair pulled back.
He should really do his maths, but let’s be real, that wasn’t going to happen right now. He needed to see what he’d done.
Hopping out of bed, Simon strode across the room and grabbed for Baz’s ponytail. You would think Baz would have figured out by now that blocking out Simon’s sounds removed an important line of defense. Maybe it just leveled the field a bit, though, Simon reflected as Baz’s hand shot up inhumanly fast to jerk his hand away.
Simon had managed to loop a finger around the the elastic band, so when Baz pulled his hand free, the black cloud of hair sprang loose. Baz rose to his feet, still clutching Simon’s wrist, and glared down at him.
“What in Crowley’s name do you think you’re playing at?” he demanded.
Despite Simon’s being the older of the two, Baz had shot past him in height this year. “Beanstalk,” Simon called him, when he was feeling generous, “Orthanc” when he wasn’t. He tilted his head back to give Baz a long-in-coming piece of his mind for his utter uselessness as a roommate, but then Golden Dawn , he saw it: coiled in thick, lustrous masses, that frame of jet-black hair bobbed in ludicrous counterpoint to the pale blaze of Baz’s wrath.
“Snow?” Baz demanded again, angrily shoving a stray curl out of his eyes.
Simon was transfixed.
How had he not considered that his Problem, once acted upon, might become a much, much bigger Problem?
How had he not considered that a furiously angular T. Basilton Pitch with swaying, heavy curls might be a sight from which it would be impossible to drag his eyes?
And honestly, how had he not considered that he had no idea how to counter the curls? Penelope was going to kill him for his carelessness.
Or no, actually, not unless she was quick about it. Because right this moment, Baz seemed to be piecing together the unfamiliar tickle of that taunting little curl on his forehead and the unruly tangle at the edges of his vision, and yes, he was definitely going to kill Simon long before Penelope got a chance.
“What have you done , Snow?” Baz growled, low and full of menace; Simon could almost hear the fangs.
Wrenching his hand free, he ran for his life.
Simon froze in the doorway. Baz lay on the floor, sprawled in a patch of late afternoon sun, asleep. A vampire. Sunning himself like a cat. Ridiculous. His inky hair lay fanned out about his head, his shirt rucked up, his chest rising and falling gently. Simon quietly shut the door, then found himself leaning over Baz, fascinated. Baz had obviously been revising. Papers lay strewn around, some in half organized stacks, some crumpled angrily into balls. Baz hadn't been joking when he'd been complaining about this assignment, apparently. And now he'd worn himself out. Simon still felt incredulous at the sight. It was like seeing the Prime Minister in his underpants or something. Baz's face, usually furrowed into a frown or screwed up in a disgusted grimace, was smooth, calm. He looked vulnerable somehow. His lashes were long and dark against his pale skin, and Simon felt an odd twisting in the pit of his stomach. Why had he even noticed that?
Almost against his will, his eyes skimmed Baz's mouth: soft looking, lips parted in sleep. The graceful line of his throat, the curve of his collarbone, visible now as Baz's tie lay loosened against his chest. The way his waist tapered to his narrow hips and— Crowley , Simon thought, what am I doing ? He stumbled back to his side of the room, heart pounding in his ears. What. What was wrong with him? Heat flooding his face for reasons he either didn't or wouldn't understand, and he made sure to clatter around as loudly as possible putting his things away.
Baz awoke with a start. "Whassit—Snow?" The rasp in his voice did nothing to dispel the strangeness in Simon’s chest, but when Baz continued to grouse about "bloody gits tromping around like elephants" Simon felt the world right itself on its axis again. This was familiar. This was what Baz and he were like together. Cheerily, he made a rude gesture at his roommate, and resolved to put the whole surreal interlude out of his mind.
This really hadn’t been the plan.
It wasn’t as if Simon hadn’t noticed Raj—how could you miss him? He’d always been something of a looker, dark-eyed and brooding, but he’d been a mate . Then, over the last year he’d joined the tennis team and gained a few inches, and the noticing had shifted, well, perceptibly . He’d wasn’t boyishly cute anymore. He’d almost overnight become handsome and powerful, with a devilish twist at the corner of his lips when he smiled—which had become less frequent but more pronounced—and muscles that stood out when he lifted heavy things.
They had done so just a moment ago, in fact, forearms bulging prettily when Raj, white sleeves cuffed above his elbows in anticipation of manual labor, had grimly handed over one of the two metal pails of soap-water they’d be using to scrub the befouled floors of the Biologickal Specimens Annex—a room disused since it had been rapidly shuttered, without a cleaning, in response to humane-treatment protests three decades earlier—as the terms of their respective detentions.
Simon knew exactly why he was in detention (and he fairly well deserved it for the stupidity of having held onto that ogre’s toenail, like it was some fanboy’s souvenir, instead of destroying all evidence of his involvement) but had no idea what Raj had done to earn the punishment.
This was the third and final day of their detention. Penelope and Rhys had patted him sympathetically as they parted ways after class, grimacing at the task ahead of him; Baz had sneered that he’d better wash off before he came back to the room this time; and Agatha, smelling of pears in blossom, had pecked at his cheek and whispered that she hoped he might have a bit of time later in the evening, if the cleaning didn’t take too very long.
He’d hoped so too, he had said. He had meant it.
And that was why this was all wrong.
He’d relieved Raj of the offered bucket and trudged after him down the narrow corridor past the Invertebrate, Vertebrate, and Supervertebrate labs to the distant Annex, gearing up for another long evening spent slopping suds about and wondering if Sir Bleakley was bluffing when he said he’d know if they tried to get out of it with Next to godliness spells (and struggling not to stare whenever the light caught in Raj’s heavy eyelashes).
He’d expected a dull evening of awkwardly averted gazes, followed by a quick shower, some sweet and tender kissing with Agatha in the gardens, and a typically unnerving exchange of jeers and silences with his roommate before bed, if Baz was even in tonight.
He had not expected Raj to drop his bucket with a clank the moment the door had swung shut behind him, nor the wry set of his brows when he crossed his arms across his chest.
“Well, Simon,” he’d said. “Enough fucking about. Are we, or aren’t we?”
Simon could have asked; he could have pretended he didn’t know what Raj was on about; he could have said no. But Raj was smirking, and for a moment, that smug crease beside his nose was all Simon could think about.
“I suppose we’d better,” he said, instead. “I mean, just this once?”
“Then come here,” Raj commanded.
The imperative made Simon’s breath catch in his throat, but it wouldn’t do to let on. He strode over with more force than he felt, clutched Raj by the arm—oh Crowley , the biceps—and leaned in.
Raj’s face always looked so hard that the softness of his lips was a shock. They were eager, yes, and firm and controlling, but at the same time, the skin felt so new and delicate and perfect against his own that Simon melted into it. Raj was here and real, and Simon felt him everywhere.
He let Raj’s tongue play into his mouth. Each small foray sparked chills he could only suppress by holding him closer in some illusion of control. He licked back into Raj. Raj in his arms felt like a jumbled mass of opposites—the long, hard body vise-tight against him, his ridiculously soft mouth; the ice of the long fingers, still cold from hefting that pail, on his jaw, and the heat of their paired breath; their tongues slipping silky-wet across one another even as a rough chin raked his own.
He hadn’t thought about that—about how kissing a boy would mean stubble. He felt a fleeting sympathy for Agatha, who must suffer a certain amount of roughness from him, no matter how recently he’d shaved—Baz was always giving him shit about his stubble, but it really wasn’t his fault. Just because Baz apparently managed to maintain perfectly smooth skin till bedtime didn’t give him license to ridicule Simon for the capricious hairiness of his genetics.
He could just see Baz rolling his eyes from the next mirror over as they shaved over their little porcelain sinks in the washroom—as they’d taken to doing side by side most mornings since their beards had begun to come in in earnest. Simon wasn’t quite sure why it had become a tradition; Baz usually groused at him and cut him down, and Simon occasionally got back at him by nicking himself and leaning too close just to watch Baz’s nostrils flare and his face lock in disapproving rigidity at the smell of Simon’s blood.
He was gripping too tightly, he realized, practically forcing himself onto Raj; Crowley , he had shoved the guy all the way against a high workbench that pressed them even closer together. Fortunately, Raj didn’t seem to mind. Simon had never been so aware of another person’s arousal; it was incredibly alluring. One of his hands had of its own volition coursed up into Raj’s thick, dark hair and was curling into a fist, crushing Raj’s face against his own, crushing their mouths so viciously close that Simon could taste the blood pulsing inside his own lips.
“Fuck, Simon,” Raj gasped against him. “You’re so fucking hot.”
Maskelyne’s minions , Simon was going to choke on his own tongue, which was trying to be all places at once—in the warm confusion of Raj’s mouth, taking Raj into his own, licking against hard teeth (he wasn’t sure whose; it really didn’t matter), lapping against Raj’s throat—
He had to break away for a moment.
Raj was panting hollowly, his eyes closed. His dark brows and darker lashes stirred a suppressed frenzy in Simon.
When he lurched back in, yanking at the handful of hair in his fist, kissing rough and furious into Raj’s inviting malleability, he felt a flicker of shame.
It’s okay, he told himself, sliding his hand down to grasp the back of Raj’s long neck. He and Agatha weren’t exclusive—they were only barely even dating. This was fine. It was beyond fine. It was magnificent; he pulled back a tiny bit, just enough that the kissing went from crushing to caresses—gentle tugs and pulls of lips on lip, a floating, insistent, demanding restraint that felt somehow even more maddeningly intoxicating, like the less he had of Raj’s mouth on his, the more he felt it.
It was not unlike his friendship with Baz, he surmised, letting his lips graze the prickly jut of Raj’s jawline—if friendship was even an adequate word. The closer they lived, the harder they’d treated each other, and the more Simon had resented and hated (and sometimes even feared) his roommate, but now—now that Baz was out at all hours prowling and hunting and doing whatever else vampires did when they were trying to keep the specifics of their blood-sucking proclivities secret from their roommates who of course have figured everything out already, how could they not— now he almost missed him sometimes. He hadn’t realized, for example, quite how often he fell asleep watching the long line of Baz’s throat in the moonlight, trying to catch a rise, trying to make out, for once, whether Baz actually required breath.
Raj was making strange sounds, Simon observed indistinctly, rather as though he were being plucked alive and very much enjoying the process. Simon realized with a start that the sounds seemed to be triggered by the abuse Simon’s teeth and lips were inflicting as they bit and sucked with merciless ferocity at the base of Raj’s throat. He had never in his life kissed anyone this way. Where had that fierceness come from?
He didn’t care. He didn’t need to know. He bit deeper and harder into the tender skin of the neck, teasing and caressing with his tongue, coaxing stranger and wilder noises from an almost-incoherent Raj.
In short gasps that sounded like they required great effort, the sounds gradually resolved into words.
“Wait!” Raj was panting. “Gods, please, Simon, just wait .” Tugging his arms away just long enough to prop himself against the workbench, he hoisted himself atop it; then, sitting there like a gloriously disheveled king, he hooked his legs around Simon’s waist and dragged him back in. They were closer now, so close. This could go anywhere Simon wanted. “All sorted. Carry on, then.”
And he leered into Simon’s face with such familiar scorn that Simon was ready to fling himself into the pearlescent swell of those storm-tossed grey eyes, ready to yield—
Raj’s eyes were brown .
They were brown, and they were bright and hot and locked on his.
Raj was kissing him now, his neck, and none of his thought processes mattered at all—all that mattered was hard tooth and wet air and the pull, the pull of himself into someone else, the possession, the giving in... Raj’s fingers crept past the band of his belted trousers, and oh no, oh sweet Aleister , the hard, gnarled skin of the old scar sang under his touch.
“Wait!” Simon exclaimed, shoving away. “I can’t, it’s not right, I... I’m...” ...desperate for more, I want to be touched, there , anywhere, but not... not by just anyone.
“You’re thinking of someone else,” Raj breathed, with quite a remarkable amount of self-possession, Simon thought, for a person perched on a workbench with necktie and hair rumpled and face painted in the lurid red tones of lust.
“I’m not... I mean...”
“You are.” Raj ran a hand down Simon’s trembling chest.
“How...?” Simon began.
“I don’t at all mind,” Raj went on lightly. “It suits you. And I trust you don’t find me offensive .”
Simon would have protested, but the tilt of Raj’s brow made it clear that Raj was well aware of his own desirability.
“You seemed to like this,” Raj said, his fingers twisting into Simon’s tie and tugging him back till he was close enough that Raj could latch back on to the untested flesh of Simon’s throat.
Simon shuddered at the thrill that jolted through him.
“Sorry,” he muttered, even as he arched into Raj’s lips. “I just ... I don’t want to be thinking about ...”
“Then stop thinking,” Raj said mildly, nuzzling deeper into the underside of Simon’s jaw. Simon was dissolving into the softness, the light flurry of kisses against his neck, but that wasn’t why he was shivering, he realized; he was shivering in anticipation, because any moment—he felt, he hoped, he knew — these tender touches would turn to punctures, hard and sharp and clean as briars in dew. He was ready for the shock; he was ready for the pain. Claim me , his mind whispered, and— oh.
Dear Crowley . He was waiting to be bitten.
As was so often the case, Simon found his mouth speaking a truth he hadn’t yet recognized. “I can’t stop.” He shook his head to see if the thought would go away. It didn’t. No matter how hard he willed the ideas gone, all he could see was grey-eyed mockery.
He kissed Raj one more time, flush on the lips. It was a kiss with finality: firm, resolute, devoid of promise. It was a kiss of thanks and a hard farewell.
“Go,” he said, looking delicately away from the ravage he’d made of the poor boy’s neck. “Really, please do. I’ll do the scrubbing alone.”
But Raj stuck around and pulled his share, and Simon tried very hard not to think about anything at all alluring or uncomfortable—nothing but the odd satisfaction whenever a forty-year-old crust of grime peeled loose to expose the fresh grey tile below.
Around midnight, they’d had enough. Checking warily for observers, they cast a few Next to godliness spells after all and exited, careful not to let their sodden mops mar the sparkling room.
Simon shook Raj’s hand on the way out. Raj raised a finger to his lips—a silent pledge not to tell. About the kissing or the cleaning? Simon wondered, but didn’t ask.
It was late, and Simon was restless. He couldn’t go to Agatha, and he couldn’t go to his room, so instead he snuck out of the fortress for a run.
He hadn’t his running kit, of course, but this uniform was in a state already from the muck of his detention, and his shoes were almost wrecked anyway, so he set out at an easy clip toward the woods.
The air was thin and clear, the night starry. Lungs full of piney breath, he felt his head begin to lighten; his sight, which had felt unaccountably dull for hours now, began to sharpen.
He had looped around the outbuildings and was headed back when he saw a lone figure in the distance. He ran closer, cautiously. The figure was moving toward Watford from the woods, moving slowly and awkwardly, almost as if it were limping.
He edged nearer still, wondering if it was dangerous. Should he run back and alert someone? Should he hunker down in the shadows of the laundry building and observe it till he knew more? Should he—
“Snow?” the creature called, in a narrow, strained voice. “I know you’re there.”
Of course Simon had to run over.
Baz was in bad shape. Something had happened to him in the woods—what it was was unclear, since Baz refused to say anything about it except that the blood staining his chin and chest wasn’t his, don’t you worry yourself on that account. But he was paler than usual, his pallor apparent in the stark contrast of the blood, and wounded so that every step seemed to cost him untold pains that made him bite his lip harder and blanch a shade whiter.
Ignoring Baz’s protestations, Simon ducked under his roommate’s arm and looped his own arm around his roommate’s back.
“Don’t be a git about it,” Simon said, “I don’t care what happened, I’m getting you back.”
At first, Baz went rigid under his touch, but after a few dozen jerky steps in which the effort of not leaning into Simon’s shoulder made his gait even more painfully awkward, he relented and let Simon take a little of his lurching weight.
As they staggered up the stone steps together, Baz whispered, “You think you know everything, don’t you?”
“About you?” Simon shrugged, knowing Baz would feel it through his arm that now lay heavy across Simon’s shoulders. I know you’ve been hunting beasts in the woods and that something or someone turned on you; I know you’re not invincible even though you’re closer to it than I’ll ever be; I know you can smell Raj on me, and that you can feel that my heart’s going a bit too fast right now to be just the effect of the run and the lugging you around, and that you probably suspect a linkage between those two circumstances, but probably not the correct one; and I know, thank Crowley, that at least you can’t read minds. “I know enough.”
Seventh year magic was hard. It felt like there was supposed to be a year between sixth and seventh, maybe sixth and three quarters or something, but no, the level of difficulty skipped straight from "challenging but doable" to "bloody horrible, you don't really need sleep". The author of Simon's Interpersonal Magics textbook had tried to make things nicer using humorous chapter titles and clip art. It hadn't worked.
He hadn't even tried with telepathy. It just said "Chapter 6: Telepathy", like Dr R. U. Aukeigh had simply given up. As much as Simon hated the little puns ("I Hexpected Better", really?) the lack of a stupid joke boded badly for him. Even with Penny's help and Baz's reluctant study sessions, Simon was falling behind.
"Who would like to try the spell first?" Professor Hugo asked, and Simon jolted out of his reverie. He really needed to pay better attention in class. Looking around, Simon saw that everyone's hands had gone up. Too late, he raised his own.
The professor's gaze fixed on him, and a slow, perverse sort of smile slid across his features. "Mr. Snow," he said, to faint, but audible, groans from the rest of the class. "And Mr. Pitch. I'm sure you'll balance each other out. You can be the control group."
Simon gulped and got up from his chair. "Control group" sounded like trouble. Across the room, Baz scowled and strode to the front of the class.
"We haven't got all day, Mr. Snow. Hands up for the pair that will use the restricted spell?"
Simon stood next to Baz, head down to avoid all the stares and giggles, and whispered, "What are we doing?"
Baz shot him an alarmed look. "You weren't listening? Crowley, this'll be—"
"Mr. Pitch, Mr. Snow, kindly save your gossipping for later," Professor Hugo said, as Penny and Agatha joined them at the front of the class. "For those of you whose attention tends to wander, I'll go over the specifics again. We are going to practice casting a simple mind-speaking spell. Group one will cast it as is, creating a telepathic link between the two casters, while group two will use the narrower version of the spell, which allows the user to speak with each other, but does not allow access to most thoughts. The spell for group one is 'penny for your thoughts.' The spell for group two is 'think of me.'"
This was a horrible, horrible idea. "Um, Professor—" Simon began.
"Is anything about the spell unclear, Mr. Snow?" Professor Hugo asked. Simon shook his head. "Good."
"It's just that I'd rather not have anyone read my mind, sir."
"Then you should not have volunteered," Professor Hugo said. "Don't worry, it fades after a few minutes. Which, of course, you already knew, because you listened in class."
"Um, sure," Simon said.
"Excellent. Now, point your instrument at your partner and say the spell. Remember, concentration is key. The mind is a delicate thing."
Simon shuddered and concentrated extra hard. Imagine a lifetime of someone in your head! Pure torture. He pointed his wand at Baz, flinching only a little when Baz did the same to him. He and Baz were okay these days. Why, only yesterday Baz had given Simon his pudding cup, instead of dumping the pudding into Simon's shoes, as he would have done a few years ago... Simon shook his head, clearing his thoughts. "Penny for your thoughts," he said clearly, right along with Baz. Behind him, Penny and Agatha cast their own spells.
For a moment, there was nothing, and then Simon got a headache like the worst brain freeze you could ever imagine. It passed after a few seconds, leaving behind the thought 'ow, I did not sign up for this'.
That wasn't his thought.
'I should hope not. The spell works.'
"Very good," Professor Hugo said. He turned away, facing the rows of occupied desks. "We will now see if the spell actually worked. Look alive, this is the best part." He beckoned Penny over and handed her a whiteboard marker. "Miss Bunce, please write down a word on the whiteboard. Miss Wellbelove, turn around, if you will."
Agatha turned away from the board, grinning. Penny wrote "basorexia" on the board in her neat, looping cursive before capping the marker and handing it back.
"Miss Bunce, please tell Miss Wellbelove what you wrote. Mentally, of course."
Penny squeezed her eyes shut, and a second later Agatha said, "Basorexia." She blushed a little, and when Penny came to stand next to her, their hands brushed. The class clapped, oblivious to the blooming romance.
'About time, too. I'll have to look basorexia up in the dictionary. Bunce, always getting one up on everyone. Deserves it, she works hard enough. My leg itches. Bum. Ugh, no, think about something else, Simon's in my head. Not bum... not bum... Hugo in a 1930s bathing suit...'
Simon whipped his head around at Baz. "Stop," he hissed. "I really don't want that in my head."
"I don't want it in mine, either," Baz said, and the endless flood abated. "You're getting my stream of consciousness. That's the spell."
"But did it have to be Hu— um." Professor Hugo was looking at them. "It works, professor."
"Ah, but we require a demonstration, don't we?" Hugo addressed the class, and everyone cheered. Simon glared at the floor, trying to stave off Baz's rising horror. "Now, Mister Pitch, please read this card. Not aloud, of course."
Simon braced himself for the deluge of Baz's thoughts. 'I carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)i am never without it... Really. e. e. cummings, how original. And it's only his most quoted poem ever. And why the hell are we doing love poetry in Interpersonal Magics? Is this some kind of irony? Real cute, professor. Hey, Snow, how's this: I carry your fart with me. Here is the foot of the foot and the butt of the butt and the, uh, spleen, no, that doesn't rhyme— eye! The eye of the eye of a spleen called life.'
Simon couldn't help it. He giggled, and Professor Hugo swooped down on him like a particularly musty avenging angel.
"Mr. Snow, would you care to share with the class?"
"I'm sorry, sir," Simon said, struggling to keep a straight face as Baz continued to butcher the poem with glee. "I don't think Baz likes e. e. cummings too much."
"I see. Mr. Pitch, would you care to read from the card I gave you?"
Baz cleared his throat. "I carry your heart with me, by e. e. cummings." Baz's poetry reading voice, tinged with a laugh, sent a shiver down Simon's back. He supposed he was lucky that it hadn't been Yeats or Tennyson or... wait, Baz was listening, wasn't he? He was encouraging Baz's snobbishness. Baz, stop being such a purist. Isn't this weird? Kind of like talking to yourself with someone else in the room, and suddenly addressing them. You don't really have to draw their attention, though, do you? They're already listening. You can't not listen to thoughts. Why did you call me Simon before but Snow when you were talking to me? Baz?
The hum of Baz's thoughts, mostly listening to Professor Hugo explain about mental links with an undercurrent of amusement at Simon, went suddenly silent.
'Mind your own business, Snow.'
Don't be mean, I was just curious.
"May we sit down, professor?" Baz asked, cutting off Hugo's lecture.
"Yes, yes," the professor said absently, and picked up right where he'd stopped. "Now, you see, what Poe would have discovered had he not been careless with his mental link, is that it greatly enhances..."
Simon slunk back to his seat at the back of the class. He hadn't meant to pry, but it was hard not to with another person in his head. He opened his notebook and pretended to take notes, filling the margins with little tornadoes.
Slowly, Baz's hold on his thoughts loosened, and Simon's mind was filled with them again. It was strange how there was nothing antagonistic in Baz's thoughts towards him, even though they bickered frequently. And Baz helped him study, and Simon helped him surprise Niall on his birthday. Maybe they were friends.
Abruptly, Baz thrust the memory of the fight they'd had the previous week into Simon's head. They'd both ripped into each other's weak spots with precision, and Baz had slammed him against the wall. They'd snarled at each other until Simon wrested himself free and ran off, speechless with tears.
The memory was so harsh that Simon flinched, pen skidding across the page of his notebook and onto his desk. Lucinda, sitting to his left, looked at him concernedly, and Simon smiled weakly at her.
It hurt, although the pain faded quickly, leaving only the understanding behind it: back off. But Simon didn't want to back off. He hated that he and Baz danced around each other unless they were fighting. He wanted to be— no, he wanted to be friends. Carefully, he offered Baz an imagined scene in which they shook hands instead of snapping at each other, preventing the fight, and added, plus, we made up afterwards. So there.
'Sorry, it's just... I want my privacy back.' Baz's thoughts were stilted. 'Not your fault. My fault that I hurt you.'
Simon understood. Although the spell wasn't as bad as he'd thought it would be, the feeling that he had to constantly monitor his thoughts was stressful. He was kind of used to monitoring his thoughts about Baz, though...
Baz's thoughts radiated curiosity, and then, quickly, apology. 'Sorry, obviously you don't have to share.' There was a little hurt there, but Simon was too relieved to look into it.
Baz turned his attention, rather pointedly, back to the lesson, but it was only half on Professor Hugo. The other half was idly running last week's argument in the background. Simon watched with morbid curiosity as he and Baz shouted. Baz slammed him into the wall and—
Simon yelped and turned huge eyes on Baz, who hunched over his desk. What Simon could see of his ears and neck was red.
That had definitely not been part of their fight!
"Is there a problem, Mr. Snow?" Professor Hugo asked, frowning.
Simon squirmed in his seat at the sudden attention of a classroom full of bored students who have found a distraction. "No, professor, it's just that..."
"I'm still hearing Baz's thoughts," Simon mumbled. His cheeks warmed.
The professor stared at him. "Mr. Snow. Did you miss the part of the lesson when I said the spell only lasts a few minutes?"
"It hasn't been that long..."
Professor Hugo sighed. "Class is almost over. Since either you or Mr. Pitch made a hash of the spell, you will both stay until the end of the lesson. After class you may both go to the infirmary and ask for a Mindblock Mixture."
"Yes, sir," Simon said. He glanced at Baz, who hadn't looked up from his desk.
After Professor Hugo resumed scribbling on the whiteboard, Simon, holding himself stiffly so as not to allow himself any reaction to Baz's thoughts, he replayed Baz's addition to the fight. Baz slammed him into a wall and kissed him. Baz slammed him into a wall and kissed him.
'Sorry.' Baz's apology repeated, again and again, to himself and to Simon. Sorry sorry sorry.
Simon, however, wasn't in the mood for accepting apologies. He was in the mood for jumping up and down and dancing around the room, and if only Baz would get his head out of his ass, he could explain.
Of course insults would work. Why couldn't Baz ever listen? They could have, well...blushing furiously, Simon sent Baz one of his own fantasies. The ones where they kissed and held hands, not the...other ones. Was it possible to cook your own brain by blushing?
'No, it isn't. You like me, you like me, you like me, this is so undignified, I can't believe you're hearing my thoughts, you like me! Are you sure? Why are you asking this, Pitch, are you serious, get a grip, are you seriously looking a gift horse in the mouth?'
I like you. Simon grinned at his notebook. I promise.
They spent the rest of class, a mercifully short five minutes that still felt like forever, driving each other into little bursts of happiness. Whenever one of them came up with something particularly mushy or sexy, the other lost it just a little more.
Still, when the bell rang, Simon waited until most of the class had left to get up from his seat.
"Are you alright, Simon?" Penny asked, when he lingered over packing up. She came over to his desk, Agatha trailing behind her like a children's cartoon following a good smell.
"Yes, fine," Simon said quickly.
"Are you sure? You were a bit... odd... in class."
Simon nodded furiously. "I'm sure," he said.
'Honestly, she's going to find out anyways pretty soon, right? I mean, if you didn't have Penelope's nose in your business you probably wouldn't be alive now, so don't get me wrong, I'm grateful, but she's an expert by now and she's going to find out, so if you want to keep it secret, not that I do, you might want to be a little less obvious, at least for now. You're redder than a tomato.'
"I see that having Basil in your head isn't too bad after all," Penny said, suddenly, and Baz's head popped up.
"How—" Simon began.
"Your eyes were unfocused," Penny said.
"You have hearts coming out of your ears," Agatha added. "Like a cartoon."
"I'll just leave you two to it, shall I?" Penny said, looking over her shoulder at Baz, who saluted. "Better get to the infirmary."
"We'll get right on that," Simon promised.
"C'mon, Pen, it's lunchtime," Agatha said. "Bye, Simon. Have fun with your booooooyfriend." She winked at him and pulled a protesting Penny out by her backpack.
"You're one to talk," Baz called after them, vocalizing Simon's thoughts. He slung his bookbag over his shoulder and glanced at Simon, who stuffed everything on his desk into his bag willy-nilly in his hurry to get to Baz. Maybe they could hold hands.
'You have extremely low expectations. I'm going to kiss you as soon as you can't hear my thoughts, that's just embarrassing. That is, only if you want to kiss. We don't have to.'
Simon just grabbed Baz's hands and let his thoughts speak for himself. It took them a little longer than it should have to get to the infirmary.
The same icy rain that had curtained down onto the pitch all afternoon was still sluicing against the windowpanes. Simon sprawled across Baz’s bed, loose-limbed, mind floaty. He’d taken as hot a shower as possible, and he still felt cold. But Baz’s sheets were rumpled and comfortable, smelling of laundry soap and Baz. Simon decided he couldn’t be bothered to ever move again, much less get up to drag an extra duvet from his own bed. All the way across the room. Too far.
There was the rattle of the door, and then Baz came in, trailing stream and the scent of his pretentious body wash (the one Simon would never admit to liking). Simon watched Baz through half-shut eyes. He was wearing a threadbare vest that was undoubtedly Simon’s, and the unbearable and perplexing sexiness of the tight cotton paired with Baz’s ridiculous silk pajama bottoms made Simon’s head spin. Never mind the lean muscle of Baz’s bared arms, or the sharp jut of his shoulders.
“Hey,” Simon croaked, his voice raw from shouting across the soggy football pitch. Baz quirked an eyebrow at him and rummaged around, putting away his shower things. “Come here,” Simon said petulantly when he got no immediate verbal response. “I’m cold.”
“Get a blanket then, you lazy sod.” Where once there would been venom, there was now only fondness in Baz’s voice. Thunder rumbled outside, and Simon, eyes fully shut now, felt Baz tug the duvet out from where it lay crumpled under Simon’s legs. Normally, Baz was scrupulous about making his bed. Simon smirked to himself as he remembered the reason for the dishevelment, and softly pressed his thumb to the hickey blooming in the hollow of his throat. Simon always got keyed up before matches. Baz had recently figured out exactly what helped calm Simon down. Simon had learned what arching his bare neck does to a vampire.
“Don’t we look pleased with ourselves,” Baz said, and Simon could hear the sardonic curl of Baz’s mouth.
“Git.” The word was a lazy exhalation of breath, without force or malice. Baz hummed in response and slid into the bed, pulling the duvet over them both. His feet were cold from the dorm floor and Simon hissed as they tangled with his own. “Still cold,” he fretted again.
“Shh,” was all Baz said, but he pulled Simon flush against his chest, and looped an arm around Simon’s waist. Baz quieted for a moment when his fingers brushed the irregularity of Simon's scar; and he spread his hand over it, as if in silent apology. Simon knew Baz still felt guilty about it. Simon disagreed with that, but he declined to dissuade Baz from his habit of soothing the area with his lips and tongue when their snogging got especially heated. The very memory of it kindled fizzing warmth low in his belly, and Simon couldn't stop himself from making a deep, fluttering sigh. Baz snickered. “You sound like a lovestruck girl, Snow.”
“Not a girl. That part’s inaccurate," Simon slurred, warmth slowly seeping back into his bones. He wasn't quite sure what was coming out of his mouth. He felt drunk on warmth, on exhaustion, on the way Baz went very still for a moment, then buried his face against the back of Simon’s neck.
“Ponce,” Baz whispered, and his voice was very soft, almost trembling. Simon stroked his fingers along Baz’s arm. Baz was quiet for a moment, then began to disentangle himself from Simon and get up. Simon whined in protest and grabbed Baz’s wrist, opening his eyes to glare at him.
“Stop that, come back.”
Baz worked Simon’s hands loose. “Your shin splints—”
“Not that bad, come back .” Simon hadn’t even been paying attention to the throbbing ache. But Baz had gotten up, folding the duvet back from Simon’s legs. Simon blinked owlishly up at his boyfriend as Baz dug through his schoolbag, producing his staff.
“I’ve learned a new one,” Baz murmured, and ran his hand down Simon’s calf. He pointed the staff. “Sticks and stones.”
Simon took a sob of an inhale as the pain he’d been ignoring flooded out of his body. The sudden cessation of it made tears prickle in his eyes. Or maybe it was the idea that Baz would ferret out a spell just to soothe Simon’s aches like this. Such a small thing. He pulled at Baz, desperate. Baz laughed into Simon’s hungry kiss, and their bodies slotted together again under the warmth of the duvet.
Simon had grand plans about what he wanted to do to Baz to thank him, but as Baz left a trail of kisses down Simon’s collarbone, Simon felt his body grow increasingly weighted with exhaustion. His eyes were too heavy to open.
“Baz. Want’d..it t’be good for you…”
“Shh,” Baz told him, for the second time that night. Then, “You’re always good for me.”
Simon wanted desperately to respond to that—to the naked affection (or perhaps something more ) in Baz’s voice, but he couldn’t. He was falling, falling, and the bed was so soft beneath him and Baz was so warm against him, and he slipped further into the sweet dark. Tomorrow , he thought, just before he went under. Tomorrow I’ll somehow manage to tell him how bloody mad I am about him — how much I lo —
And then, he was asleep.