Since I was eleven, I thought the only way I could be happy was with magic.
Magic, and Watford.
Well about a year ago I lost the one and I left the other.
And if you’d asked me anytime until last Christmas how that would be, I’d have said I would be miserable.
I mean, I am miserable sometimes. Just ask my psychologist.
But a lot of the time I’m not miserable. Or I forget that I am, or that I could be, or the miserable is just kind of blended through with everything else and it’s OK? Like, I don’t know, like the way the veins are in blue cheese – too much if you were to try to have them alone, not nice at all, but somehow if there’s other stuff around, it’s sort of just a savouring sharpness?
I’m not explaining this very well.
I’m happy, more often than not, I think – that’s the point. Even though I’ve left Watford and I’m just a Normal at a university; struggling to get to my lectures, highlighting bits of printed out power point, bitching about the WiFi in the library, catching freshers’ flu along with everyone else, and trying to avoid having people step on my invisible tail.
OK, so not totally Normal. But you’d be surprised how unexciting a tail gets, over time. I could at least have subconsciously summoned a prehensile one. Weirdly, that often seems like my most reasonable regret.
Regardless of how many extra vertebrae I’ve now got, or however the wings interact at their joints with my shoulder blades (Penny really wants some x-ray studies, I’m kind of over being poked for a while), I’m not magical any more.
And I thought magic was the thing that made my life worth showing up for.
But now I know that love is the thing. Was. Still is.
The thing about Watford was that people at Watford cared about me the way no one did at the children’s homes I’d been brought up in until that point. Or, “Not so much brought up as dragged up,” as Baz likes to put it when I don’t know how nutcrackers work or what a melon baller is for or that you’re supposed to use a butter-knife.
(He does often add, though, dryly, that instruction in the correct use of cutlery doesn’t really enhance a childhood as much as one might expect.)
And though I left Watford, though the magic left me – though I pushed it out back into the universe to heal the rifts I’d torn in it, my psychologist would tell me to say, to remind myself I had Agency In the Event – it turns out that people who cared about me were able to stick around, and them I didn’t lose at all.
And so when I’m in my flat, and we’re all watching Strictly Come Dancing, (Penny’s got a new bespangling spell out of Fab-u-lous Darling! – this show is watched by ten million people a week, it generates neologisms beautifully) and Penny’s lying on one of the sofas with her feet curled up under her, doing three things at once with different spells and correcting the grammar of the contestants and arguing with Baz about clothes at the same time…
And Baz is lounging with me, as we often sit, wedged at opposite ends of ‘our’ sofa, feet tangled together in the middle, him on his phone pretending he doesn’t care about the show and arguing back with Penny about it anyway…
… at those times I can feel the same sort of wonderful glimmering, simmering warm rightness that I used to think was all about Watford, or all about my power.
I used to think that Watford was always going to be the only place that felt like home to me. I used to worry about how I’d even cope when I left. Even though I had all these plans about how I’d marry Agatha and how picture-perfect we’d be, I never actually thought I’d feel like I belonged anywhere else.
My flat now, with Penny, four months after moving in, kind of feel like I think a home might. And I think that’ll grow, the longer we’re here, that’s my theory. It’s not like I have point of reference for private dwellings.
But the time that I feel belonging – the time when I feel safe, and grounded, and all that other stuff my psychologist likes me to find – that’s pretty much whenever I look into Baz’s eyes and see how he looks at me.
I know. My life, which was supposed to be the greatest heroic epic saga ever penned, is now a pop ballad as told by Taylor Swift.
But maybe that’s OK?
Songs are powerful things. Words but more so. The ones that succeed and get popular tend to be about things everyone feels. Generally, things everyone wants.
Sometimes I stick on Taylor’s Everything Has Changed on my mini iPod and listen to that chorus: I just want to know you better, know you better, know you better now… and I sing along, under my breath, whilst I’m taking notes in the university library, my pencil tapping on the page, my tail swishing away in time under the table, and I mean every word, pushing all this hope into it like it could still be a magic spell.
Because I want to know everything about Baz.
I want to know how he coped for so long living with his family, who don’t want to hear about who he is and seem set on pretty much straight-up ignoring it until he does the polite thing and changes somehow for them.
I want to know what it’s like to have a family.
I want to know when he realised he was queer, and how he can be so sure about it. Has he never wanted a girl at all? Has he wanted anyone besides me? At least enough to touch them?
I want to know how he wants to touch me.
I want to know what he looks like when he’s…
I want to know what he looks like when he’s having an orgasm, there you go - all specific and vocalized and out there.
In the time since we got together, I’ve been numb for a lot of it. After the whole thing at the White Chapel, I didn’t want to be touched at all, and I constantly wanted to be held. Simultaneously. Yes. Pretty unhelpful of me.
So we spent a certain amount of time just sitting together, feet to feet from opposite ends of various sofas in his house and Penny’s parents’ house and Fiona’s flat which then became his, and leaning in so our hands could tangle together between us, and Baz would sort of play with my fingers, trace them and stroke them and pull them apart like he was figuring out some new gadget or something. That was a pretty good way of being held, without being held, and actually it was pretty awesome, and sometimes I cried a little bit, or had to fight hard not to, and he’d just keep on stroking his fingers all over my hands, rough and sweet.
And after a couple of months had passed I got so I thought I would like being kissed again, and we did a lot of that. I cradled his face and pushed my fingers through his hair, like I’d wanted to so long without knowing it.
Sometimes I think about all those years in Mummers House when we could have been kissing instead of making fiendish plots to bring each other down. But then sometimes I think I wouldn’t have been ready until I was ready. If that even makes sense.
I did get to a place in my brain, finally, with help from the greatest crisis in the history of magic and a few other people’s personal tragedies, where I knew I wanted to kiss Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch.
And now I’m ready for more than that, I think.
I’m not certain. But the only things I’ve ever been certain of in my life turned out to be my life’s greatest lies.
No one has to have all the answers, or so I’m told. Whether they’ve ever been the answer to an ancient prophecy or not.
- - -
Both Baz’s and my university terms end for the Christmas holidays on the same day, and we meet up near the British Film Institute in the South Bank to celebrate.
Back in the spring, soon after the Leaver’s Ball at Watford, Baz took me along to some films here that were showing as part of the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. It was really strange walking around with him just casually and knowing people would still probably assume we were together.
“Yeah, because single gay men are never just friends who hang out,” Penny said when I told her that. “Or one of you could have been the straight friend there in solidarity! Or… well, people shouldn’t assume.”
I couldn’t figure out a way to explain to her what it was like to be somewhere where basically everyone was gay. Or perhaps I should say ‘queer’. There are a lot of words I could use, and even if I’m not a magic-user any more, I still know how important words are. Point was, I was used to everything being straight, me included, (although now I’m thinking maybe I thought I was straight because that’s what was expected of me, and me and expectation never had the healthiest relationship).
But there, that evening in the cinema, you could assume – rightly or not – that everyone around was like us. One way or another. And I sank down in my cinema seat and rested my head against Baz’s shoulder, because, well, because his shoulders are the right shape and it makes him smile, and I saw another couple in front of us – two older men, pensioners maybe, in matching rainbow tie-dye t-shirts - doing the same, and it hit me square in the chest in this way that I can’t explain to Penelope, or even really put into words now.
I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling different. And I wouldn’t trade how I feel about Baz for anything in the whole world, ever, but being in a relationship with another boy didn’t exactly add to any sense of fitting-in.
But there, then, I felt like I made sense.
Anyway, I liked the BFI, after that first trip, basically, and so we meet there quite a bit, and eat at the café and wander by the river and look at the graffiti in the sunken bit where the skaters go, and Baz says the words written there have some pretty decent magic buzz to them, and he takes my hand when we stand there, like he could push some of it back to me.
When I channeled my power through him, back when that was possible – that was one of the most breath-taking feelings you could imagine.
I do wish I could share that with him again.
But then I want to share everything with him.
Today, being mid December, it’s dark when we get to the café and once we’ve eaten our mince pies and had our tea we go outside and see all the buildings lining the river lit up like a diorama set in a black and white movie, and look at the strings of light bulbs strung like fairy lights between the dolphin lamp-posts.
It’s probably about the most cheesy time and place you could find to kiss someone, but I want to kiss him anyway.
I want him so much, it’s like the power of a small sun burning up inside me. And I say that as someone who pretty much knows exactly what that feels like.
I was the cracked vessel, though; I couldn’t hold all that power in me, couldn’t dream of controlling it.
I can feel like that with the wanting, sometimes, with the shaking intensity of the things I’d like to do and say with him, to him, for him, forever.
Can you stay in love with the person you’ve met when you were both eleven? Can you stand around at eighteen, just starting out on life, and feel like you’ve found the answer to yourself already? Half my university friends – and I do have them, even if I don’t know any of them very well yet – spent their first few weeks of term trying to make long distance things work with their boyfriends and girlfriends from school, and are now planning to break up over the holidays.
“You’re thinking a lot,” Baz tells me now, and reaches out to lift up the edge of my woolly hat and push my fringe to the side. He likes to do that, for some reason, and I like to let him. “Careful, could strain something.”
“I’m thinking it would be ridiculous to kiss you here, like we were something out of a Richard Curtis film,” I tell him, truthfully. I like saying that sort of thing aloud - it makes him twitch. And blush, if he’s remembered to feed. He’s got a sort of ad hoc scheme for that now, which Penny helped with, involving a liaison with our borough pest control department. I think he might actually be being paid something.
“And,” I add, “I’m thinking I don’t want to kiss you at all if you’re just going to insult my intelligence.”
He blinks at me. The fairy lights reflect back at me in his blue-green-grey eyes.
Baz is pretty sure becoming a vampire meant he lost his soul. Well all I can say is that if that’s the case, a soul’s clearly not all that important, in the end, to being all the best parts of a person.
“What is there to insult?” he says now, just to make me regret thinking nice things about him, and laughs and skips back out of my way when I go to shake him. I manage to clobber him on his right ankle with the bony lump on the end of my tail, though. It’s very satisfying. Even though the tail is spelled invisible most of the time, he’s getting better at reading what I’m going to do with it from the rest of my body, and generally gets clear out of range in time.
We make our way further along the riverbank, till we’re outside the Festival Hall, and there’s a little orchestra out on a raised podium there, in coats and Santa hats, playing Christmas music whilst some people with plastic buckets collect for Shelter.
Baz has taken my hand. His gloved fingers slide against mine. “Cheesier and cheesier,” he says, smiling, and murmurs something softly.
“What was that?” I ask him, looking up as gentle flakes of snow start falling out of the cloudless sky to complete the scene and to the delight of the children running about climbing the Modernist sculptures. “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know?”
“No, ‘Tis the Season,” Baz shrugs. “I haven’t known many good Christmases. At least,” he says and squeezes my hand again, looking away slightly the way he does when he is – or would be – blushing, “at least not until last year.”
I can lean in and kiss him. I just can. The fact of that is so awesome that sometimes I do it when I’ve really been meaning not to.
- - -
My Christmas plans terrify me.
It didn’t have to be like this. The Bunces invited both Baz and me to come and have Christmas with them, after all.
And it wasn’t like that seemed like the worst idea. I think for me - and for Baz too though you won’t catch him admitting it, because apparently needing to appear cynical beyond belief is part of the symptom cluster of vampirism – there is a fascination in the idea of a family Christmas where loads of people in some way belonging to each other are noisy and affectionate and messy and joyful, and actually like each other just as they are.
But on the other hand, I don’t want to be Exhibit A for who or what I am, and as nice as the Bunces are, the whole time I was staying with them after the White Chapel I knew they couldn’t help but take an academic interest in everything I did, and how I was recovering and changing without my magic.
Maybe next year. Really maybe next year.
But since it’s not like Baz is running up north to his family – and he does miss them, no matter what he says, because you don’t have to like something to find it weird when it’s not around – we have the chance spend Christmas together. Just the two of us. As a couple.
As a kind of family? Even if it’s a small and weird one?
If reality TV has taught me one thing, it’s that waiting an entire year between your first kiss and actually sleeping with someone is not particularly normal.
But I’m just Normal. Not normal.
(Magic joke. Baz likes it.)
We have, literally speaking, slept together. We did that on that first night, a year ago, at his family’s house. He curled into me, something I’d never thought to want, and everything I thought I’d believed in twisted upside down and rearranged itself around him.
And it’s not like I didn’t get into it during that first contact. Not like I didn’t feel an urge to move in close to him and rub up and just chase the way he was making me feel all the way to end.
I felt that with Agatha too, sometimes, that sort of urge. That feeling isn’t special by itself, exactly.
In fact the difference with Baz was how much I was afraid of it. Not because of the gay thing, or not because of that most of all.
Because I felt like touching him was so important. Because I wanted to get it right.
I still do. And I’m still terrified I’ll get it wrong.
And I’m scared that even if I get it right, I might not like it. I’ve never had sex. I’ve never tried to touch someone else that way. I love him – I love him so much – and I definitely fancy him something rotten, but that doesn’t make interacting with the actual… plumbing, any less daunting.
But I go and face what I’m scared of head on, because that’s how I was taught to deal with things when I was eleven, and I’ve not found a better way yet.
“There’s hours until Dr Who,” I tell Baz when we’ve finished seconds of our Christmas lunch. Well. His seconds, my thirds. To be fair he probably pre-loaded on something red and iron-rich before I arrived at his flat.
Which is good. Because for what I’m thinking of next he’s going to need a decent blood volume.
At least I think so. This is one part of my theoretical future sex life that Google can’t help me with. If this is what it was like for basically everyone before the internet I’m amazed people ever figured out reproduction, to be honest.
Putting my courage to the sticking place, so to speak, (I’m pretty sure that means something that isn’t a spell to help wrap presents properly, but Penny uses it for that), I get up from the table and take his hand.
“Want to come and hang out on the sofa with me?” I find myself asking. I meant to say ‘bed’, but at the last moment I’m scared again, and I want to go for something I do know, and I’m ready to do the PhD on getting-worked-up-fully-clothed-on-a-sofa-with-your-undead-boyfriend.
“OK,” Baz says, but narrows his eyes at me like he knows I’ve got a plan. We spent so long suspecting schemes in each other that it’s a hard habit to break, I guess.
Plus, I do have a plan.
I kind of love that it has to be my plan. That Baz has been waiting all this time until I was feeling ready to move further. That’s something I would never have even thought about two years ago. There are so many things you don’t know about needing to want, that no one ever teaches you. And I suppose if you’re lucky, you find out you want them through getting them, not going without.
“Sofa, and then, maybe…” I make myself add, and have to stop and feel my own flush rising. And I flush horribly badly, till my freckles are eaten up.
Baz puts a hand out and caresses the side of my face. He likes it when I blush, I think.
I hope he does. Because I have feeling it’s going to be a feature of the next half hour or so.
“Maybe what, Simon?” he asks me softly.
Baz calls me by my name pretty much always, now. ‘Snow’ is for when he’s feeling sardonic, or teasing, or superior, or wants to get my attention. And that covers a lot of the time. But ‘Simon’ can still come out just casually, like ‘Do you want skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, Simon?’ or ‘Simon, did you say extra anchovies?’ or whatever.
(I only really like full cream milk and I hate anchovies, but I knew he was a knobhead before I got into this.)
Sometimes, though, he says ‘Simon’ softly and carefully and like he means it, and that’s how he’s said it now.
And I want my answer to be so suave and cool.
“And maybe then you could unwrap me, next?” I say, and then I want to bury my face in my hands.
Except, he gasps and sort of falls over on the spot a little so I might have got away with it.
“I could do that, I suppose,” Baz says, and the next thing I know I’m on back over the arm of the sofa and I’m being kissed and kissed.
Baz wasn’t the best kisser, when we started out. I mean, his kisses were the best I’d had, all the same, but I had to show him a lot of stuff.
He learned quickly. And then he went and discovered things I hadn’t even known about myself.
He’s nuzzling behind my jawbone, and into that place just under my right ear where it feels so good, and I move involuntarily, and then remind myself that this is the day I’m going to go with this, and let myself move on purpose, pressing up against his lovely weight, where he’s warm with dinner and my own reflected body heat.
He swears at me, mouthing the words into my skin, and pushes his body down to meet mine, and he definitely took on enough blood today and that’s not entirely new, either - feeling him hard against my thigh - but it’s sending all kind of shivers through me to think I’m going to try to do something about it for him this time.
I push Baz up and off me, gently, and pull my sweater over my head, then start undoing my shirt buttons – I did wear an actual shirt, just for him, because he’s a bloody snob and he appreciates stupid things like that.
When I look up, maybe a little nervous, he’s watching me with his mouth slightly open. His fangs have popped, but he doesn’t seem to have noticed, which I’m glad about.
I’m aching with wanting him too. It doesn’t scare me, the fangs thing. He could hurt me when we’re together – so what? I just have to trust that he’d never do it, and that’s not so different from how anyone else is placed in a relationship, when you get down to it.
I go round the sofa and lie down on it properly, watching him, hoping he’ll come and kiss me again soon before I feel like too much of an idiot.
“Simon,” Baz says, breathless, and he moves forward and then stops, strips his own top half, and comes down to press against me, his feet braced on the floor, exploring with his hands, which I keep thinking is going to be as bad as being tickled but somehow gets me just as wound up in a totally different way.
Having given myself permission to move my hips, now I can’t make them stop, and I’m racing through the heat so fast I’m actually afraid I’ll come to the finish here and now, in my boxers.
Baz pulls back from me, panting, and lets his hand come to rest so his thumb presses into the dip at the base of my throat. He brushes the skin there, and I thrust up again into thin air and I want.
“I can…” he says, and presses down with his finger, draws a line down the middle of my breastbone, down over my stomach until he gets to my navel, and everything in me twitches. “Look at that,” he says, his voice full of wonder, and apparently forgetting that, from this angle, I can’t look at myself at all.
On his finger goes, and over the few dark hairs that make a trail down and disappear under the waistband of my trousers.
“Can I?” he asks me, and meets my eyes.
“Bedroom first,” I tell him, and start trying to get up myself.
When we get to my room, before I can turn to ask anything, Baz comes up behind me and plasters himself over my back, hands rubbing at where my wings connect to my back, which makes me shudder and moan and arch back into him.
He’s hard against my arse. I could want that, I think. Not today, but sometime; a new thick, deep fuel to the fire of my wanting.
“Fuck!” I cry out, because Baz has put his mouth to my wing-joints, and there’s just a scrape of tooth, maybe even the edge of a fang – I like thinking that, why would I like thinking that? And it’s so, so good.
I twist around in his arms and reach for his belt, pulling him in again. Our hips brush together and he blushes up again and I dare say I do too, and I kiss him for a bit, just standing there, and we grind and pant and sigh.
“Clothes off,” I say, when I can. “It’s the plan!”
“Wouldn’t want to interfere with the plan,” Baz says, all fake serious, and squeezes at my arse and so I pinch his nipple.
And his eyes roll back in his head and he stumbles again.
“Serious balance issues today,” I say, filing away that information to think about later. “I think you’ve had too much brandy butter.”
“I’ll give you brandy butter.”
“You already have. Well, you bought it from Waitrose, which I suppose counts.”
“We can do whatever you like. I know you had a plan, but, if… if you’re nervous, if you want to stop any time… Just let me know, OK?”
His eyes are so stupidly gorgeous when he looks at me that way.
I want the rest of him to be gorgeous too. I want to know all of him better. Now.
“Take your trousers off,” I tell him, and my voice has gone all hoarse and funny. “Boxers too.”
And then we’re both stark naked, and I’m looking at Baz and it’s…
All kinds of words, and before I can think of any more I step forward and lift my hand to cup his erection, feeling the weight and heat and girth I guessed at from looking, and he chokes and falls forward into the curve of my shoulder, and it’s like a magic power and sizzling in my skin as that ever was.
“Simon,” Baz murmurs into my shoulder, and he mirrors my action, touches me, and I suddenly get why he’s struggling to breathe or stand or see.
“On the bed,” he urges. “On the bed, it’s better, come on, Simon.”
And then we’re stark naked together and lying on a bed, rolling around, and I don’t think anyone’s found the words yet, anywhere, for how that feels.
Baz gets his hand back into the space between us, lines us up and strokes us together, and it’s like going off used to be, the rising surge, inescapable and sort of unthinking and amazing.
And it knocks me flat. All I can do is press my forehead to his and try to keep breathing.
We’re connected. We’re sharing this. Right now this is us both, and this is everything.
He lasts longer than I do, which I dare say I’ll be hearing more about. Maybe he’s been sorting himself out alone more than I have, these last months.
That, actually? That’s another good line of thought to put a pin in, right there. My list is getting longer and longer. I used to have lists of things to try and forget, and now it’s just lists of things I want.
And more than half of them you could just file under ‘Baz’.
“I want so much with you,” I tell him now, gasping.
And maybe he hears the anxiety in my voice, or reads it in my eyes. Historically, he’s tended to figure out my emotions a couple of days before I even know I’m having them.
He reaches out – with one hand and then pulls back and reaches out the clean one, and I kiss his palm for it.
He reaches out and strokes my face.
“Haven’t I always been able to take on whatever you could throw at me?” he asks, soft.
I push up against his face with my face – anything else seems like too much movement – and manage to angle in right for a kiss.
And after a while I’m feeling like maybe I want to try all this again, because it turns out I do like it, all of it, all it could be.
I’ve always been a fan of second helpings.
I reach out for what I want, for the place where I belong.
And he reaches right back for me, arms open.
- - -