Chapter 1: maybe if i tell myself enough
It’s a Friday night, and so crowded I’m surprised I even hear the girl shouting at the end of my bar. But I do, and I instantly curse myself for the way my head snaps up in response. Six years. It’s been six years since I last saw him, and I still hear his name above everything else.
It’s not him—of course it’s not him, I made damn sure to go far enough away that we’d never bump into each other, and except for one little hiccup, that plan has been working out great. So has my life, honestly. Despite how it sounds. Six years since I left everything. Six years since I went so deep, even my family doesn’t know where I am. Six years since I skipped across the Atlantic without a word, six years since I started behind the bar at Kaimeera. Six years since the last time anyone anywhere held me accountable for anything. It’s been liberating, really. And, except for the occasional reminder, I don’t think about him at all.
I guess I could have gone deeper. Chicago is a far cry from London and it’s a good place to get lost, but it’s not like it’s off the radar or anything. And Kaimeera’s not exactly a non-magical bar—Thea, the owner, is a harpy, for Crowley’s sake, and I mean that in the literal sense. It’s sort of a catch-all for wizards and other creatures. There’s plenty of regular humans, too, but they’ve got to know about it; Kaimeera was originally a Prohibition-era bar, and they’ve kept the entrance a secret to the general public. It’s just an unobtrusive door handle in a back alley. You really have to know your graffiti in order to find it.
Chicago, I’ve found, is a lot more lax about us so-called monsters than they are at home. I still keep it under wraps, but it’s more out of habit than anything—nobody would bat an eye if they knew there was a vampire behind the bar, not as long as I’m getting the job done. And maybe not even then—it’s amazing what people will forgive you for, if you’ve got the right attitude, and the right amount of scorn in your smile. It’s even easier being in America. They go nuts over here for the British accent.
But I do try to do it right, all things considered. Currently, I’ve got a martini shaker in each hand, making drinks as fast as they ring up—look how far that fancy economics degree has gotten me now (although I do help with payroll sometimes, so I guess I got something out of it). The girl at the end of the bar catches my eye, ready to order, and I jut my chin at her in my best just-a-second nod. Despite my talents, I’m drowning here. Where the hell is Gabe.
I drop off the martinis and make my way down to the end of the bar, trying to look like I’m sauntering and not rushing desperately. The girl smiles at me, and I see that she’s found her friend—a big, burly guy with close-cropped dark hair whose bears absolutely no resemblance to any Simons I may or may not have known in the past. They appear to both be just human—normal, non-magical, non-monstrous human—but these days, it’s harder to tell.
Thankfully, they both just want beer, nothing fancy. I’m rattling off the selection when I feel a hand on my ass, closely followed by a graze of teeth against my neck. Gabe’s showed up at last.
He’s just enough off to the shadows in the far corner of the bar that nobody sitting at it can see what he’s doing, and I take advantage of this to quickly pull my lip back, flashing him a snarl full of fang. Just because I let him grope me in the walk-in freezer last week, he seems to think we’ve got some sort of connection.
He gets the hint and backs up immediately, hands in the air. I don’t like that self-satisfied smirk he’s got on his face—it’s a little too Who, me?—but I’m busy enough to let it go for now. “Sorry, Ty,” he says, cocking an eyebrow at me, and I don’t dignify him with a response.
They all call me Ty here. In this entire city, exactly one person knows me by my real name, and that’s how I’ll be keeping it.
The pair at the end of the bar gives me their order, and since it’s just beer, I figure Gabe can handle it. “Buds,” I tell him, holding up two fingers. “Bottle."
He nods, and kind of meanders off to grab them. Useless. He really is a remarkably subpar bartender.
If you ask him, Gabe will tell you he’s a chimera, and the irony isn’t lost on me—actually, a lot of the time, I wonder if that’s why Thea hired him at all. Like having an actual chimera on staff will lend some credibility to the name of the bar or something. Maybe he’s our mascot. It’s certainly not his bartending skills that got him the gig.
But, please. He’s really only half a chimera, which just means that he’s basically human. The only interesting thing about him is the leathery bat wings that grow out of his shoulder blades.
Honestly, those wings are probably the only reason I hooked up with him in the first place. That, and because apparently I excel at making terrible decisions.
Someone halfway down the other side of the bar is waving at me, wanting a refill, and Gabe is obviously not going to be much of a help, so I just turn my brain off and really get into the flow of bartending: mixing cocktails, pouring drinks, schmoozing just enough to guarantee a good tip, not enough to seem like I’m pandering. There’s something satisfyingly simple about it: a line of tasks to complete. My objective laid out plainly in front of me. Nothing to doubt or second-guess.
It’s not until nearly the end of the night that the hum of activity starts to fade and I’m left with an ache deep in my bones and a restlessness I don’t think I’ll ever be rid of.
At times like this, there’s only one thing that really works to dull the pain—not completely, and not for very long, but enough to take the edge off. We’re not far from last call and the bar is already starting to empty out, but I’m scanning the room, studying every remaining face. And—there. Sitting in the corner by himself, staring down into a glass of nearly melted ice.
His hair is more yellow than bronze, his eyes a few icy shades too light and he has no freckles to speak of, but it’s enough. It’s enough.
Trailing my fingers on the wood of the bar, I move to stand in front of him. He looks up. Our eyes meet, and when he doesn’t look away, I learn forward.
“So,” I say, raising an eyebrow. “What’s your poison?”
My bags are packed, my boarding pass is printed, my cab’s coming in twenty minutes, and I am as ready to go as I will ever be. I just have one goodbye to say before I do.
I’ve only been in California a few weeks, but it’s been good to me. The sun and the warmth don’t remind me at all of home, which I think is probably good for me, and they’ve made a new crop of freckles appear across my nose. It feels good, even just this small physical difference. It feels like a new start.
I leave my bags at the door and trek outside, blinking in the sunlight and raising a hand to my eyes. A small dirt road runs between the house and the barn, and I cross it in a matter of steps, jogging towards a small outside paddock.
Agatha is exactly where I thought she’d be. Her blonde hair is pulled back into a ponytail and she’s wearing breeches and boots, but she’s on the ground, standing in the middle of the ring. She’s got a chestnut horse on a longe line, and he’s cantering loosely on a large circle around her. I pause at the gate, not wanting to interrupt, but she looks up and sees me. I watch as she shortens the lead, making the circle smaller and causing the horse to break into a trot, and then a walk. He takes a few steps towards her, his neck arched, practically prancing, and she smiles, reaching out to stroke his forehead.
“Come on in, Simon!” she calls to me, and I do. The horse shoves his head into her chest, nickering, and she pulls on one of his ears. “He’s excited today,” she says absentmindedly. “I wanted to get all the bucks out before I try and ride him.”
I mock shudder. “Still terrifying,” I say, and she looks over her shoulder and smiles at me.
“No more than anything else,” she says, and I doubt this, but don’t say it out loud.
“You seem happy,” I say instead.
She looks thoughtful. “You know, I am,” she says. “I know this wasn’t what I was supposed to do—live on a barn in California, teaching riding lessons to put myself through vet school—but I’m happy. I get to wake up every morning excited about my life. I know it’s not exactly what my parents expected, and I know they wish I could get home more…it’s not perfect or anything, but it’s what I want.”
She looks so sure of herself, so confident, and for a moment it reminds me of what drew us together in the first place, reminds me why we were together as long as we were. We were never in love—I didn’t know it at the time, not until later, when I’d had the real thing—but we were still important to each other. I feel a deep surge of affection for her rise up in my chest.
“Good,” I say, as sincerely as I can. “You should be happy.”
She twists around so she can look at me head-on, tilting her head to one side. “Thanks, Simon,” she says, then pauses, biting her lip. “Look,” she continues after a moment, “I’m really glad you came to see me. It’s been, quite honestly, way too long, and it was really, really good just having you around and catching up. But I know there were some things we didn’t talk about…that it would have been really weird for us to talk about, all things considered, and I just…are you okay? Really?”
I don’t want to talk about him, and not just because it’s to Agatha. I don’t trust myself to say his name at all. It’s been years since I’ve even let myself think it, which is crazy in and of itself—years? It’s been years, and it can still floor me like this?
But no. Only when I let it. So I shake it off and say, “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Most of the time. Um, not perfect, you know, but most of the time perfectly okay. I just, well, didn’t turn out the way people expected either, you know?”
Agatha puts a hand on my elbow and says earnestly, “I think it’s amazing what you’re doing, Simon. This job is perfect for you, and it’s such a good thing.” She’s different now, then she was in school and I don’t just mean happier. There’s something softer about her now. Less pinched. Less worried. She gives my arm a squeeze, and then lets go. “Look at you. Still saving the world.”
I bark out a laugh. “Trying to, anyway,” I say. “Just a lot slower, now.”
She shakes her head. “You never needed magic, you know.”
“Oh, speaking of,” I say, and do a quick pivot. “Spell still holding?”
She inspects me quickly. “No sign of wings or tail,” she says. “And it’s been, what, a month at this point? I think you’re good.”
“I think so, too,” I say. “It’s a good spell. I just wouldn’t want them to pop out on the plane or something.”
“Oh, God,” she says, closing her eyes. She’s picked up swearing like a Normal, living out here so long. “Yeah, good luck trying to explain that one to the TSA.”
As if on cue, the cab pulls up and honks once. Agatha’s horse spooks a bit, popping his head up and dancing a few steps to the side. She tightens the lead and whispers to him and he pricks his ears forward, settling down. She turns back to me.
“Call me when you land?”
“Yeah, of course,” I say, stepping forward to give her a hug. She squeezes me hard with the arm not holding her horse, then kisses me on the cheek and steps back.
“I’ll see you at the wedding?” she says.
“Oh, the wedding!” I say, closing my eyes and laughing. “I keep forgetting. But, yes, I’ll be there.”
“I know,” she says. “It’s hard to believe they’re getting married.”
“I guess it’s about time,” I say. The cab honks again, and I look over at it. “I better go. Thanks, Agatha. For everything.”
“Of course,” she says. And then, like she really means it, “Take care of yourself, Simon.”
My throat feels suddenly tight, and I’m not sure I trust myself to speak. I nod once, lift a hand in a final farewell, and turn to jog out across the dirt road, through the sunlight, to where the cab is waiting.
Chapter 2: no place for the weary kind
Nothing much generally happens at Kaimeera in the afternoons—most of our clientele doesn’t show its face until after dark. At the moment, it’s just me and Thea here. She’s in the back doing payroll and I’m out at the bar, polishing glassware and preparing for the rush we’re bound to get later that night. I’m certainly not expecting anyone to come in, so it’s with no small measure of surprise that I look up when the door opens.
I almost drop the glass I’m holding. I can actually feel my jaw hanging open, because Aleister Crowley, the bloke who just walked in is unfuckingbelievably gorgeous. Not my type—not my type at all, seeing as my type is blond, blue-eyed, knockoff ex-boyfriend—but frankly, this is the kind of guy you break type for. He’s tall, taller than me, and broad-shouldered, with a heavy brow and a jawline that could cut glass. Deep brown eyes and dark, perfect skin. Which is to say, basically the exact opposite of what I’m usually after.
It occurs to me that I should probably stop gaping as he pulls out a bar stool and settles himself in. He’s looking at me too, though, sort of sizing me up, and he’s squinting as though he recognizes me and can’t place me. As if. Although, truth be told, he does look a little familiar. He’s probably a model or something, and I’m confusing billboards with real life. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Reminding myself that I have a job to do, I set down the glass, tuck the rag into my apron pocket, and walk over to him.
“What can I get for you?”
When he hears my voice, he smiles and leans back on the stool. “Whatever’s on tap,” he says. “And I’m meeting my fiancée here, actually, and she asked me to order some completely terrible-sounding thing for her—it’s like, bourbon, mixed with every single flavor syrup you have? She said you’d know.”
For a second, I just blink at him, dumbfounded. There’s only one person I know who drinks a concoction like that.
“Well, shit,” I say, unable to come up with anything better than that. Thankfully, he’s spared having to come up with a response to what seems, I’m sure, like an entirely bizarre reaction, because a second later the door opens again, and Penelope Bunce comes trotting around the corner.
“Hi Baz,” she says. There’s no one else in here, so I don’t wince when she says my real name, but it sounds weird to me. Rusty. “Catching up with Micah?” she asks, sliding onto a bar stool next to him after leaning over to kiss him on the cheek.
“That’s one word for it,” I say, and the guy—Micah—grins.
“He didn’t recognize me,” he informs Penelope.
“Oh, please,” she says. “Like you would have recognized him if I hadn’t given you a specific description.”
I shoot her a look, and she raises her eyebrows at me. Ah, Penny. Seeing her is always a mixed bag. Like a bear hug and a punch to the stomach rolled into one. I turn to get their drinks, suddenly flooded with memories, the way I always am when she comes by.
Penny found me three years ago. It’s not like she was looking for me—coincidence of coincidences, she was already living in the city, and had come into Kaimeera by chance, on the recommendation of a friend. Like most nights, I’d been behind the bar when she walked in, and it was like seeing a ghost. For her, too, I think, since we’d both just stared at each other in shock.
She’d hung around a little, until the end of my shift, when the bar had almost emptied. “He’s fine,” she’d blurted. “He…he misses you. But he’s doing okay.”
I’d set my jaw and hadn’t said anything, and maybe she would have left and not come back, maybe that would have been the end of that, if she hadn’t suddenly exhaled and said, “God, Baz, what are you doing here?” And it had been so long, so long since anyone had used my name, so long since I’d had a conversation that had any substance to it at all, that I broke. It didn’t help, either, that’s she’s always been so damnably easy to have a conversation with, even if it’s never about anything important.
She comes in every few months now. Just to hang out. We never talk about him—it’s a taboo, an unspoken agreement. I never see her outside of work, I don’t know where she lives, and until today, she’d never brought anyone with her.
It’s funny, though, even with all that, I think she’s still the closest friend I’ve got. I certainly know her better now than I did in school. Who would have seen that coming.
I mean, we got along just fine—surprisingly fine, actually—those last few months, and even more after, but we always had him in common. At the time, we could debate anything with each other for hours, but I never in a million years would have thought we’d have anything to do with each other without him. But then, I’ve never really been known for my faith in people. And if Penelope Bunce is anything, she’s annoyingly persistent.
Now, I go to set their drinks in front of them. Micah’s leaning off his chair, digging in his jacket pocket for something. I rest my elbows on the bar, just a few inches in front of Penelope, and gesture at him with my thumb.
“Nice work, Bunce,” I mutter out of the side of my mouth. “Way to lock that down.”
She smirks at me. “I know, right?” she says smugly, but her eyes are soft when she turns to look at him, and affectionate in a way that sends a ray of pain shooting through my chest. I shake it off as Micah straightens up, eyeing the drink Penelope is now stirring with a straw.
“What do you even call something like that?” he asks, trying and failing not to look disgusted.
“Suicide,” I say, at the same time Penelope says, “Pure imagination.”
“Candy is dandy,” I say, “but liquor is quicker.”
She points at me appreciatively, and then looks suddenly thoughtful. “I wonder…” she starts to say, but I cut her off.
“No way, Bunce.”
“What?” she looks wounded.
“You’re trying to make that phrase into a spell, I know you are. What would you even use it for? Who needs a spell to get drunk? Or to get diabetes, for that matter?”
“Well there’s got to be something,” she starts. “It’s too good not to be useful.”
Micah looks back and forth between us both, then tentatively reaches out for Penny’s drink and takes a sip.
“Brave man,” I say.
He swallows, looks briefly pained, then mock-gags before declaring, “Cotton candy moonshine.”
“Nice,” Penny and I say together, and it’s so easy to get caught up in the moment, in the banter, in the feel of camaraderie, in the ease of everything. So easy to forget why I left all this behind.
I straighten up, putting some distance between us. “So,” I say, rubbing the back of my neck, “what brings you in today?”
Penny hesitates, uncharacteristically nervous. She glances briefly at Micah, then back at me. “I, um,” she says, swallowing, “I actually have something I need to tell you. Micah’s here for moral support.”
Something clicks as I remember what Micah said when he’d sat down. “Wait,” I say, holding up a hand. “If it’s that you’re engaged, your fiancé here already spilled the beans.”
She blinks owlishly at me for a second before her face falls into a watery smile. “Yep,” she says. “Merlin, Micah, I wanted to tell him! We’re getting married.”
Perhaps if I wasn’t so caught up in my own feelings, I would have noticed it—her hesitation before answering. Her nervousness. I used to be able to spot a lie a hundred miles away. But not this time.
“Congratulations,” I say, meaning it, but I can feel the worry gnawing away in my stomach already. She’s not going to invite me, is she? I’m thinking. Who invites their bartender to their wedding? Past history aside.
Because I don’t want to say no. But there’s no way Penelope wouldn’t invite him to her wedding. And if he’s there, there’s no way I’ll survive it.
“You should play,” she’s saying to me now. “Your violin. At the wedding.”
She says it like she’s joking, and relief floods through me—whether she’s making light or not, it lets me roll my eyes and groan, “Oh, you wouldn’t want that. I haven’t taken that thing out of its case in years.”
I practiced last night until my fingers bled, until my downstairs neighbors pounded on the ceiling, until half the horsehair on the bow had come loose, but she doesn’t need to know that.
She smiles at me, a little sadly, and nudges Micah with her shoulder. “Well, we’re on a budget here,” she says. “Bad violin music is certainly better than an old CD of organ music, which is what we’re looking at currently, so open offer, if you change your mind.”
I know what she’s really offering me—a graceful way out—and I could almost hug her for it.
“I will,” I promise, meeting her eyes. “And I’m happy for you.”
She looks like she’s about to say something else, but then Thea comes bustling around the corner, shuffling papers.
It’s not true what they say about harpies. I mean, they are all women, and they do all have beaks and wings and talons and everything, but they’re not all hideous man-murdering beasts. They’ve been known to carry people off and dismember them, but only evildoers, and traditionally only people who’ve killed their family members, so the whole Pitch line has pretty much never had a run-in with them.
And Thea, who’s got her human glamor on, isn’t hideous at all, actually. She’s pretty in a very normal way: she’s got a wide forehead and a beaky nose, and an athletic build, though she walks with a bit of a limp because she’s more comfortable in the air. Her eyes are the only thing she can’t glamour, and they’re hawk-eyes, a searing yellow rimmed with black—but despite the intensity, she has a surprisingly kind face. She’s usually got her mass of nut-brown hair up in a knot, which softens her look somewhat, too.
She’s clenching a pen between her teeth, so she just waves to Penny and Micah, but then she takes it out to talk to me. “Oh, Ty,” she says, “I keep forgetting to tell you all this, but the adoption agency is sending someone by tomorrow. A social services worker, or something. To talk to my employees, see what I’m like as a boss and a manager, make sure me and Leila are fit enough to raise a magical child, all that. So you better make me look good, or you’re off the bar and bussing tables for the next year.”
She’s grinning as she says it, but I’ve known Thea long enough now that I can tell when she’s nervous. She’s been wanting a kid almost as long as I’ve been working here, and natural conception isn’t easy for harpies. It’s even worse for her partner, Leila, who’s half-Sphinx—hybrids as a rule aren’t generally fertile—so they’re trying the adoption route. And if you think it’s hard trying to adopt a kid as a Normal, try doing it when you’re half monster. It never would have flown back home.
It’s actually really too bad natural methods didn’t work for them, because Leila is probably one of the most gorgeous women on the planet. It’s the Sphinx in her—she’s got those high Egyptian cheekbones and golden skin, big almond eyes and straight black hair. She likes to tease me sometimes, saying we might be related—the Egyptian branch of the Pitch family did have quite a lot to do with the Sphinxes, back in the day—and all I can say is that it’s truly a pity neither of us will be passing along our genes.
On the other hand, it’s also nice to think that some weird little abnormal part-monster baby is going to get two sincerely great moms. So yeah, I’ll do my best to make them look good. Not that they need help.
Penny’s asked Thea a question about the adoption, so they’ve started talking intently to each other (she’s not just being nosy, Thea knows her fairly well as a regular after all these years, and vaguely as my friend, although I don’t really talk about my personal life at work) (although that could be because I don’t really have one), and Penny’s blabbering on about something, gesturing wildly with her hands. Thea can talk to anyone, which I suppose is why she opened a bar, and once Penelope gets going, there’s no getting a word in edgewise. With nothing else to do, I turn to eyeball Micah.
He’s eyeballing me right back. When he catches me looking, he cocks an eyebrow. He does it almost as well as I do, and I’m impressed despite myself.
“So,” I say conversationally, “stopped wearing those monstrously thick glasses, I see?”
“Ha!” he says, pointing at me triumphantly. “You do remember me.”
“It’s starting to come back to me,” I flap my hand at him. “It was our third year when you were an exchange student, forgive me if I don’t have the memory seared into my brain.”
“I remember you,” he says. “Despite what Pen says. I remember that we spent an hour and a half outside your dormitory trying to spell the window open because you locked Sim—”
He stops talking abruptly, and off to his side, Penelope has gone oddly still. He grimaces, and I ascertain that she’s kicking him in the shin.
Thea, always good at reading a situation, turns to me and says, “Got some O-neg in stock for you, Ty. Forgot to mention it.”
She may be bailing me out of an awkward conversation here, but I still scowl at her. The vampire thing may not be as taboo this side of the Atlantic as it is at home, but a lifetime of having to keep it a secret has made me wary about who knows it. Thea may know that Penelope knows about me, but she has no reason to think Micah does, and I don’t appreciate her bringing it up in front of him.
But Thea isn’t one to back down. She points her pen at me and says, “Don’t look at me like that, kid. I can still fire your ass.”
Well, there’s a reason that I like her as much as I do.
And the moment has passed—Micah is blushing a little, but Penelope is clearly determined to steamroll through anything, and I can’t help but love her a little bit in that moment, much as I’m trying to keep from having any attachments at all. But once that girl has decided you’re a friend, you can’t budge her. She’s like glue. Or herpes.
They hang out for a little while longer, just shooting the breeze. Penny tries to debate with me, and finally gets me started about the potential health code violations of serving blood on tap, which is something I’ll only talk about if no one else is in the bar (it’s a surprisingly nuanced issue, and I have a lot of opinions). I’m surprised at how much I like Micah. All these years of trying not to like anyone must have left me wide open in the neediness department. But he’s a lot like Bunce—easy to talk to, and full of wit, although he’s a little more grounded and calm than she is. It’s nice to watch, actually—he balances her out.
It’s early evening and people are starting to wander into the bar when she checks her watch and jabs him in the rib cage, gesturing towards the door. “We have to get going,” she says, and they both stand up.
Micah winks at me. “Good to see you again, Baz,” he says jovially, and a little too loudly. Gabe, who got here a few minutes ago, frowns in confusion—he’s never heard anyone call me that before. Not that it matters, really, but I like the distance.
Penelope wallops him in the shoulder, and he just takes it good-naturedly. “I’ll see you soon,” she says, and I know she will, she always does, but the way she says it, it sounds like a promise.
My flight is delayed (typical) so I don’t land until after midnight. But Penny’s there to meet me at the airport anyway, and it’s good to see her, so good. I feel like it’s been lifetimes instead of months, which is really all it has been, since she came home last winter for Christmas. But it’s been a long time since we saw each other for more than a few days at a time, and seeing her here, now, with my suitcases at my side and a job waiting for me, it finally feels like I’m coming back to something.
She barrels into me outside the airport, of course, the second she sees me, almost knocking me over, and the security guards are yelling at her because you’re “NOT SUPPOSED TO LEAVE YOUR CAR UNATTENDED, MA’AM” but she’s so happy to see me she’s practically crying, and I may be a terrible hugger but I’m still holding onto her as tightly as I can, and I’m not entirely dry-eyed myself, because she’s my best friend, and I missed her more than I let myself think.
“You broke your rule,” I say to her, once we’re in the car and speeding away from the airport.
“Which one?” she asks. “I have so many.”
“No hellos,” I tell her. “No hellos, because it’ll make the goodbyes harder.”
“Did you ever think, Simon Snow,” she says, changing lanes and then darting a quick glance at me, “that maybe I’m just not planning on us having any more goodbyes?”
I hadn’t. I’m so used to losing people, any semblance of permanence had never occurred to me. But she’s right—she’s settled here. I’m settling. Temporary might not be a thing we need to worry about anymore. I can’t stop the grin that splits across my face at the thought. But then I decide I don’t want to stop it—smiles have been few and far between for me, lately, and I don’t see any point in denying myself this one.
Penny’s talking a mile a minute at me, and I’m sort of drowsing asleep against the window as we speed down the highway. This time of night, it’s almost empty. (“Don’t get used to it,” Penny’s saying. “Worst bottleneck in the country.”) The lights of the city are slipping past the window, and I think of the stars I could see from the window of the plane and look up—Chicago’s nothing like LA when it comes to smog, but you still can’t see too many stars here. The sky’s a weird sort of orange color, but I find myself not minding it. It’s like the freckles. It’s different. A change.
We pull up to Penny’s flat—apartment, she says with a smirk, because she’s oh-so-American now—and she actually helps me haul my bags up, which automatically makes me suspicious, but maybe she’s just tired and doesn’t want me barging around at all hours, or stuck out in the cold (Merlin and Morgana, it is freezing here in January!). I’m still on California time, and I had that catnap in the car, so I’m surprisingly awake now.
Penelope’s stuff is half packed up. She’s all but living at Micah’s now, slowly moving her stuff in before the wedding next spring, and her plan is just for me to take over her apartment if I want it. Which I do, very much. Especially now that I’ve seen it. It feels like her.
She’s got a bedroom and a pullout couch. I move automatically towards the couch, but she grabs me by the shoulders and steers me in the direction of the bedroom.
“Don’t be stupid, Simon,” she says. “It’s yours. I haven’t slept here in months, and all my stuff’s out of there anyways. Besides, I made the bed up all nice for you.”
“Are you sure?” I ask, furrowing my brow. “I don’t want to put you out or anything.”
“Don’t be daft,” she yawns. “I’ll be fine for a night.”
She kicks me in the back of the knee, and I take that to mean there will be no more arguments tonight.
It really is good to see her.
In the morning, Penelope putters around the kitchen, haphazardly showing me where everything is. She’s got about fifteen different breakfast items set out for me, very pointedly, and I give her a very sarcastic thank-you, although then, of course, I have to ruin it by actually eating them all. She’s half-dressed for work in a crisp white shirt and smart-looking blazer, although the effect is somewhat ruined by the fact that she’s wearing flannel trousers on the bottom.
Come to think of it, I’m still not 100% sure what it is Penny actually does. Mostly school, I thought, until recently. I know I’ve asked her a million times, but she’s been fairly cagey. Something with the government, she’s said. Hard to explain. It’ll be easier to get it out of her now that I get to see her in person.
“I want to talk about your job,” she insists. “It’s pretty amazing, Simon. I can’t believe I never thought of it for you before.”
I breath out through my mouth. “Yeah,” I say. “My psychologist here actually got me thinking about it, you know—if there are magical psychologists, why not magical other things?”
“Magical social work,” she grins, shaking her head. “Unbelievable.”
“Yes, and,” I add around a mouthful of bacon, “the added bonus of I don’t actually have to be magical in order to do the job. Just be familiar with the world. And who’s more familiar with magic and orphanages than I am?”
She looks ever so slightly uncomfortable at the mention of orphanages, but I’m only just getting warmed up. “I mean, I know mages don’t abandon their children,” I say, “but you wouldn’t believe how many part-creature kids there are out there in the homes, all ready to wreak havoc when they get older. I mean, if I can just help some of them find homes, then it’ll feel…it’ll feel…"
Penny’s come around her counter to stand at my elbow.
“Like it was all worth something?” she asks quietly, giving my arm a squeeze. I turn my head to look down at her.
“Yeah,” I say quietly. “Like that.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Simon,” she says. “More than you know.”
All signs point towards this becoming an emotional moment, and I’m not sure I can handle that on my first day of a new job. I clear my throat. “So,” I say briskly. “I get to go to a bar on my first day of work, how’s that for a job perk? The owner’s looking to adopt, so I’m to go interview her and all her employees and everything. Have you heard of it? It’s not far from here—Kaimeera?”
Penelope has suddenly become very busy, bustling around. “I’m going to be so late for work, have you seen my trousers? They’re black…Um, Kaimeera, did you say?”
“Yeah,” I say, poking around the kitchen counter for anything that might resemble clothing. It’s just like her dad’s office in here—looks like a tornado’s passed through several times.
“Um, yeah, I’ve heard of it,” she calls from the other room, where she’s gone to switch clothes. “Popular with the magical set around here. Bit hard to find, though—what time are you going, maybe I can walk you there if I’m back early enough?”
“Early afternoon,” I say absentmindedly. “But don’t worry about it too much, I’m sure I’ll manage.”
She comes back into the room, fully dressed now, straightening out her jacket.
“I know you will,” she says, before kissing me on the cheek, and disappearing out the door.
All right. I didn’t warn either of them. So sue me.
Chapter 3: you show up like a hurricane / all hungry-eyed and weather-stained
happy new year's eye! Here's my end-of-2015 gift. we'll be back with chapter 4 in 2016 :)
It’s bloody cold in the walk-in cooler, although I guess that’s the point, and I guess it’s not like it really bothers me. I’m sprawled out on the floor trying to tap a particularly difficult keg. It wouldn’t quite as difficult if there weren’t as many half-empty liquor boxes scattered around, but Gabe was in charge of stocking the back today, and clearly, organization is yet another thing that isn’t one of his strong suites.
Though neither is keg-tapping, which is why he’s here, leaning in the doorway as I squirm around the barrels. He’s bugging me, actually. I’ve been trying to dial down on the whole, you know, attitude thing (I’m trying to blend in here, not stand out) but sometimes, it’s all I’ve got.
Well, I am a Pitch, after all. Even if I don’t go by it these days.
“You know,” I grunt as I twist the tap, “you don’t need to be here. We both know that you’re never going to learn how to do this.”
“No,” he drawls back. “I just like the view.”
Gross. I feel so objectified.
The tap is in, so I straighten up quickly, but he’s still smirking at me. I hate it—he’s so smug. Like I couldn’t out-smirk or out-smartass him in a heartbeat, if I was at full power. If I wasn’t trying to fly under the radar.
But alas, I am. So I just push past him, sparing a glance at Thea’s office door as I go. It’s closed—it’s been closed since I got here about an hour ago. She and Leila must be in there with the social worker for the adoption. I hope it’s a good sign, that they’ve been in there so long.
The bar is starting to fill up and I make the rounds, nodding at some of the regulars. Another night looms ahead of me, and I roll my shoulders, cracking my neck. Another night. It’s not a bad life, really. Perfectly fine. Nothing to look forward to, but nothing that hurts, either. Exactly the right kind of life for a half-dead (mostly dead) vampire millennial.
I grab a pint glass. Flip it around in my palm. Begin again.
Thea and Leila are lovely—earnest and kind. Thea, especially, puts me at ease almost immediately—I never would have guessed she was a harpy—and it should probably make me self-conscious, because, really, I should be putting them at ease. Or maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe I should be tough. We’re trying to figure out if we should give them a child here, maybe I should be trying to figure out their deepest secrets. Or whatever.
I don’t know why everyone keeps saying this is such a perfect job for me. I’m clearly a disaster at it.
I end up telling them quite a bit about my own childhood in Normal homes (What? They asked). But I’m just going to go with my gut right now. And my gut is saying that I kind of wish they were going to adopt me.
“Oh, gosh,” Thea’s saying, looking at her watch. “I didn’t realize we’d been talking so long. I should probably go check on things out there—but was there anything else you needed?”
She looks so hopeful, standing there, smiling at me, and I want to help her. It’s been such a long time since I’ve wanted anything.
“Nothing else I need from you,” I say, standing and smiling back at her. “I’ve got a couple of interviews I need to do—just character references, you know. Friends and employees and everything. But I can come back tomorrow, if there’s a better time.”
Thea grimaces apologetically at me. “It might be,” she says. “I’ve got two of my bartenders out there, Ty and Gabe, and I know they’d both be happy to talk to you, Ty especially is one of my best, but we get fairly busy in the evenings, and I’m sure they’re up to their elbows in tequila and loose change.”
“In case you’re concerned,” Leila throws in, snarky but affectionate, “there is no tequila at my workplace.” (She’s a lawyer, of course. No one’s better at talking in circles than a Sphinx).
“Noted,” I tell her, and she smiles languidly.
“I’ll walk you out,” Thea says to me. “You can at least meet Gabe and Ty. I’ll introduce you, we can figure out a good time for you to sit down with them. Ty’s the one I’ve been training on the books—he’s got quite a lot of management potential, actually, and we’re hoping to have him fill in for me, so I can take some time off for the baby…maybe dial back my hours here, you know.”
“Yeah,” I say, “yeah. Sounds great.”
“It’s not like we haven’t thought about it, you know,” she says hurriedly. “We trust him. He’s been here a long time, and he actually has an economics degree, it’s all on the up-and-up…he’s from England, too, actually, might be something for you to talk about there—”
“Thee!” Leila interrupts her, laughing, and comes to stand between us. “Breathe, babe. It’s going to be okay” She kisses Thea on the forehead, smoothing her hair away from her face. It’s an unbelievably tender gesture. Something constricts tightly in my chest, and I have to look away.
Thea sighs, and smiles, fluttering her hands against her thighs. “Right,” she says. “Well then. Come on, Simon, I’ll show you around.”
Simon’s already gone by the time I get back from work. I waste a solid minute and a half absolutely agonizing over what to do.
I can’t believe I just let Simon walk into that bar blind.
I can’t believe I didn’t warn Baz that Simon was in this country, even.
I’m a terrible friend. But I couldn’t tell either of them something without betraying the other.
It shouldn’t even have been a hard decision, is the thing! Simon’s been my best friend for half of my life, and Baz broke his heart. That first year, after Baz disappeared, before I moved to America, I didn’t think Simon was going to survive it. The number of nights I just sat there with him, letting him sob into my lap—and those were the nights that I saw him at all. I thought about not moving to America at all. I didn’t think I could leave him alone. But then he threw himself into school, he started to look less like a ghost of a person.
He was the one who convinced me to go, in the end. I wouldn’t have left if I hadn’t thought he’d be okay.
Micah was out of town the first night I came to Kaimeera, and that’s why I went. I was lonely and homesick and someone at work had told me about a magical bar in the West Loop, and I’d thought, well, why not. That first night, when I’d seen Baz in the bar…I was so angry, I wanted to punch him, or hex him. I wanted to light him on fire and warm my hands over the blaze. I wanted to call Simon and tell him to get across the Atlantic as fast as he could, because I found him, Simon, he’s alive, and he’s here. But I couldn’t. What if all it did was set Simon back three years? Send him into another tailspin?
And then Baz had looked at me, and every single angry, hateful thing I was thinking drained right out me, because I knew what heartbreak looks like. I’d seen it every day on Simon’s face, and here it was again, etched on Baz’s. He was a shadow of the boy I’d known before.
Simon needed me. But so did Baz. I couldn’t turn my back on that.
I still don’t know what happened between them—neither one of them will talk about it—but it’s as plain as day that neither of them came out of it unscathed.
I pace anxiously around my living room for a minute, not knowing if I should stay here until Simon comes back, or if I should go to Kaimeera and try to explain. To Simon. To Baz. To either of them. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe they won’t even see each other. Maybe Baz isn’t even working tonight. It’s not like Fridays are particularly busy days or anything. Oh, hell.
Maybe they’ve already seen each other, and it still doesn’t matter. Maybe they’re really past it, and they’ll have a polite and cordial reunion, and that will be that. It’s not like they’ve ever been polite and cordial before, but there’s a first time for everything, right?
Fuck this. I’m certainly not going to sit here until someone tells me what happened—I’ve certainly never waited on the sidelines before.
I grab my coat and run out the door before I can second-guess myself.
I’m working the well, making drinks as fast as Gabe can ring them in. He’s making the rounds along the bar, taking drink orders and schmoozing carefully, and while I can, of course, do that better than he can, sometimes it’s nice not to have to talk to people. To drop the façade and just work. Also, shockingly, Gabe is useless in the well. He can barely keep up with one drink ticket. He’d lose his mind if I rang in eight in a row, like he just did to me.
But I’m practiced, and I’m nimble (thank you, vampire reflexes), and it almost becomes a game. Until I’ve finished making the drinks in front of me, and no more tickets are ringing out of the machine. I look over my shoulder, wondering what, exactly, Gabe’s gotten up to, and I see him at the end of the bar, talking to Thea, and shaking someone’s hand, though I can’t make out who—Gabe’s infernal bat wings are in the way. Must be the social worker, who I’m sure I’ll meet soon enough.
I grab a few glasses out of the dryer so I can restock my station, and turn back to the well just in time to see Penelope come in. She’s flushed and panting, and it must have started snowing, because there’s a dusting of white across her hair and shoulders.
“Penny!” I say, and Crowley, my voice comes out unexpectedly enthusiastic. She caught me off guard—I don’t normally act this happy to see her. I clear my throat. “Twice in one week? To what do I owe the pleasure?”
She takes a deep breath. “Basil,” she begins, looking more worried by the second, and then from behind me, I hear Thea’s voice.
“Ty, do you have a quick second?” she’s saying, and I know this is important to her, so despite the curiosity that’s welling in me, I mouth Just a minute to Penelope before turning to Thea.
“Yeah, hi, what’s up?” I say.
“Oh, nothing much,” she says. “No need to do the interview until tomorrow or anything, but I just wanted to introduce our social worker—Ty, this is Simon.”
She steps aside, ushering him forward, and the glasses I was holding fall from my hands and shatter on the floor. A number of heads turn in our direction, and there’s glass everywhere, underfoot, on the shelves, sparkling in the dim lights. It’s a complete mess and we’re going to have to burn all the ice, by hand and not with magic just to be safe, and somewhere, somewhere, maybe there’s a universe where these things matter, but it isn’t this one.
I just stand here.
If the earth opened up and swallowed me right now, I wouldn’t be more shocked.
I—fuck. Fuck. I wish it would.
There’s no air in the room anymore.
Or I’ve forgotten how to breathe. Maybe it’s that.
Ah, well. It appears I’ve arrived at just the right moment, then.
Somewhere, vaguely, in the back of my mind, I know I’m supposed to be a professional. I’ve just shaken hands with a vaguely creepy bloke, but I still have to meet Ty, Thea says, and she talks about him like he’s her pride and joy, and then, there he is.
It can’t be. It is. Baz.
His hair swept back from his face. His eyes dark pools of grey in his face, which is more sunken and tired than I’ve ever seen it. But maybe not, maybe I’m just remembering wrong.
And if every detail of him wasn’t seared into my brain, maybe I’d believe that.
The bottom has dropped out of my stomach, and my tongue is thick in my mouth. I couldn’t speak right now if my life depended on it…and, oh, I’ve never been good with words…
There’s a ringing in my ears, and at first, I think it’s all in my head, but there’s glass on the ground, a thousand pieces of it, something real, and it’s almost a comfort to see it there, to know it’s not just me that’s breaking, again and again.
How can he be here?
I can’t be here anymore.
I can’t stand here looking at him, can’t be this close to him, can’t breathe the same fucking air he’s breathing without doubting every single choice I’ve made in the last six years.
I had reasons, I had…I did.
My world shrinks. It becomes nothing but bronze curls and clear blue eyes and that mole on his cheek. It’s the same, it’s all the same.
Simon Snow. Standing in front of me.
I can’t be here.
There is frost on my heart. I know because I put it there, I tended to it, I froze it more, and I don’t think I’ll live through a thaw.
I swallow the shock and the ache, and I feel my expression close. My spine straightens, and I square my shoulders. “Excuse me,” I say coldly, as coldly as I can, and I push past them. Thea looks shocked, Gabe looks bemused, and Simon…
I don’t know what his face is like right now.
Things start to happen very fast.
Baz comes shooting out from behind the bar like—well, pardon the expression, but like a bat out of hell. Thea and that other bartender, the smarmy one, look perplexed, though most of the bar patrons don’t seem to have noticed anything out of the ordinary.
Simon is standing in the shadows, and I can’t see his face. My heart thuds in my chest, and I will him to move, I need to see that he’s okay.
But then, suddenly, Baz’s fingers are locked around my arm, and he’s towing me behind him as he thunders up the short staircase and bursts out of the hidden door into the alley.
It’s snowing in earnest now, and he lets go of me almost immediately, throwing himself against the opposite wall. He’s agitated and jittery; it’s the least composed I’ve ever seen him. Worry rises in my throat.
“Baz,” I say, and it comes out a hoarse whisper.
He whirls to face me, and goes suddenly very still. There’s a predatory look in his eye that I haven’t seen before, and I don’t like it. His fangs have come out, and he’s trying to hide them, trying to make them go away, but it’s not working.
He’s normally so cool under pressure. Simon told me once that the more Baz is threatened, the more unruffled he gets, and I believe it, I’ve even seen it before. He can be unbelievably cold. Unbelievably cool. But right now, he’s a livewire. I don’t know what I was expecting—a cutting remark, perhaps, a cruel exterior—but it wasn’t this. I don’t know what this is.
“You knew,” he says hollowly, and it isn’t a question.
“Yes,” I say. “I knew. I didn’t tell you. I didn’t tell him, either.”
He turns his back to me. Says nothing for a long, measured minute.
Tentatively, I add, “It didn’t seem like it really had anything to do with me, in the end.”
When he turns back to me again, his eyes are stone. The snow is falling thickly in between us, but it has nothing, nothing on the ice his voice becomes when he finally says to me, “You should go back inside. I’m sure he needs you.”
“What will you do?” I whisper, and he doesn’t answer the question, just turns to hiss at me.
“Go, Penny,” he says fiercely. “He needs you.”
I hesitate. Then I take two steps forward, and throw my arms around him. He inhales once, sharply, but just once, and then doesn’t move at all. It’s like hugging an ironing board. But I hold on as long as he lets me, which is longer than I would have thought. The second he starts to move away, I release him.
He doesn’t say anything, just slips away, disappearing into the night and the storm.
I’m sorry, Baz, I think, shivering and reaching for the door. I’m sorry I can’t love you both at once.
I walk for a long time. I walk until, if I was human, I surely would have dropped dead of exposure. I walk until my feet go numb. I walk until the only snow I can see are the flakes swirling around me.
I walk until I don’t know where I am, and then I find my way back.
I’ve never run out on a shift before, and I’m sure Thea will demand explanations tomorrow. I don’t know what to tell her. I go back in tonight, just in case she’s still there, hoping I can come up with something on the spot, but she’s not. Just Gabe, wiping down the counters, a scowl plastered to his face.
He looks up when I come around the corner and throws his rag in my face. “Jesus, Ty, what the fuck was that?” he spits at me. “You just left. You left me completely alone in the middle of that zoo, do you know how shitty that was?”
“Oh, please,” I sneer at him. “You needed the practice.”
He looks taken aback by this, but follows me as I walk down the bar and towards the back. He’s jabbering at me as I go, but I don’t really hear him.
I need to forget, I need to forget.
I whip around and grab Gabe by the front of his shirt, my face just an inch or so away from his. Suddenly intrigued, he raises an eyebrow at me. I know it’s stupid, I know it will only encourage him when I don’t want to encourage him, but right now I’ll do anything—anything—to get Simon Snow out of my head.
So I tell Gabe to shut up. And I try my best to forget.
Chapter 4: ashes and wine
happy new year! here's my efforts from the first day of 2016, enjoy :)
Thea is livid with me. I knew she would be, but knowing it is different than experiencing it. She may be sweet, but you don’t want to get on a harpy’s bad side.
She actually hauls me into her office to yell at me, leaving a nervous-looking Gabe alone at the bar. (It’s fine. It’s the middle of the day. We’re not even open yet, we’re just cleaning. He’s fine.) She also takes her human glamor off while she screams at me, to great effect. I’m supposedly a terrifying creature of the night myself, but I’m surprised when I don’t immediately drop dead of heart failure.
After a bit, she’s calmed down enough that she’s dropped into lecture mode. “Look, I just don’t know what you were thinking, Ty,” she says. “You know I have a no-forgiveness policy when it comes to no-shows.” For a moment, my heart constricts, thinking she’s actually going to fire me, or possibly actually set me on fire, but she’s shaking her head. “The only reason I haven’t killed you yet—and believe me, I could throttle you for being so irresponsible at the worst possible time—is because Penelope told me that you all know each other from school and you and Simon have kind of a complicated history.”
The way she says his name. So casually. My face is a mask, and I know I probably look haughty when I should be looking contrite, but it’s all I can do to hold this expression.
Thea slumps down at her desk, putting her face in her hands as she does. Her giant birdlike wings shimmer as they disappear into her back, and her beak melts into her face. It’s really astounding magic, her glamor—no fuss, no wand, no words. Just a thought, and she’s different.
“Look, kid,” she says, swiveling to face me. “You know we love you. You’re like family. And you know we count on you here. And if you’re going through a hard time, we all want to be here for you, if you’ll let us. But I swear to Pliny, Ty, you couldn’t have picked a worse time.”
Crowley, it’s not like I picked it. How was I supposed to know the adoption social worker was going to be the damn Ghost of Boyfriends Past? But I know what she means, and guilt wells up in me. I look at the floor and mutter, “I know.”
“This is important to us, Ty,” she’s saying. “The most important thing we’ve ever done, and if they have to start the process over again, it could take years…and we just need to be able to rely on you here."
She’s right. She’s right. I know it’s always felt like there’s nothing bigger than…than Simon and me. But this is. So I swallow hard and meet her eyes. “I know,” I say again. “I can handle it. I’ll talk to him."
She cocks her head at me, like, Yeah, you sure as shit will. But then her eyes soften, and, unexpectedly, she stands and hugs me.
That’s two hugs in twenty-four hours. I must be getting soft.
I’m pacing back and forth across the floor of Penny’s apartment. I must look like a madman—jittery as an electric cable, my hair sticking up in weird thatches because I’ve run my hands through it so many times. Penelope is sitting on the couch, watching me. Impassive. And because I don’t know what to do but I need to do something, I yell at her.
“I can’t believe you knew he was here,” I shout. “I can’t believe you knew, and you didn’t tell me. Didn’t tell anybody.”
But of course, she’s Penelope, and she’s not going to let anyone yell at her, no matter how bad she may feel. Her eyes narrow, and she crosses her arms.
“Okay, first of all, Simon, rein it in,” she says, shooting me a withering glance. “I know you know that I would never do anything that I didn’t think was in your best interests, so you can stop looking at me like I killed your cat.”
I feel immediately chastened. I’ve really never been very good at staying angry.
“Second of all, there was no reason for me to tell you,” she continues. “I mean, I don’t know what happened between the two of you, because neither of you will tell me, but I watched you try to get over him for years, and I didn’t want to open up that wound again. And—” she hesitates, looking uncomfortable for the first time. “Well, he asked me not to tell anyone he was here.”
My brow furrows. “But Penny,” I say, a little hopelessly, “even his family doesn’t know where he is. They’ve been so worried—surely you could have just let them know he was alive.”
To my surprise, Penny snorts. “Please,” she says. “He is not that well hidden. He’s in Chicago, for Morgan’s sake, still running in magical circles, it’s not like he’s living up a tree in the Amazon. I mean, please, I found him accidentally. And his dad’s a Grimm! All that wealth and power at his disposal? They could find Baz in a heartbeat. I think they just know that, right now, he doesn’t want to be found.”
I digest this. If that’s true, if his family could find him—really, if anyone with magic could find him if they tried—then that means he’s really just been hiding from someone without magic.
He’s been hiding from me.
I sit down.
This apartment really is lovely. I’m noticing it for the first time, sort of absently. It’s airy and bright, even with Penelope’s boxes scattered everywhere. Big, deep bay windows, high ceilings, exposed brick around one wall. There’s a rooftop deck, too, Penny says, though I haven’t been up there yet. I think I really could like living here.
Penny puts her hand on my knee, peering into my face.
“Simon?” she says, then bites her lip, looking like she already regrets the question, even though she hasn’t asked it yet.
“Yeah,” I say dully. “I’m here.”
“Are you still in love with him?”
I laugh hollowly. “What do you mean still?” I say. “Apparently I never was. He was just the thing I latched on to after a traumatic experience, like a security blanket. Desperate attachment, not love.”
Penelope looks horrified. “Simon!” she thunders at me. “Who the hell told you that? It wasn’t your therapist, was it, because if that’s the kind of bullshit she’s telling you maybe she isn’t as good as we thought she was—”
But I’m shaking my head. “No, no, it wasn’t,” I say. “It was Baz. It was the, um, the last thing he said to me, actually. That, and that I was just confused, that I didn’t know what I really wanted, that he was just convenient. He said we were codependent and needed to be able to live without each other. Then he left.”
Penny just stares at me, then exhales through her teeth. “That’s why you broke up?” she asks finally, and I shrug.
“You’d have to ask him, I didn’t see any of it coming. I don’t know if that was really it, or if that was just something he was saying—I didn’t even realize we had broken up, until he didn’t come back.”
Penny shakes her head, and I hear her mutter “Idiots,” under her breath. I don’t correct her. I just shrug.
“I have to go back and talk to him today, about all the adoption stuff,” I say flatly. “I don’t know what to do, Pen. My job, I guess.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” she asks, and I love her for it, but I shake my head.
“I think I have to do this on my own,” I say.
I go to Micah’s that afternoon, after Simon leaves for Kaimeera. He’s sitting at the desk in his bedroom, working on something, and I curl up in his bed and watch him measure soil samples or something.
It’s funny, all that encouragement my dad gave to Simon about going into magical ecology—looks like it rubbed off on Micah instead. Maybe it’s all those summers we spent in my dad’s lab with him.
After a while, he caps the last one and turns in his swivel chair to face me. “What’s up, Pen?” he asks, but like he really wants to know.
“Worried,” I say, but it comes out muffled because I say it into his pillow.
Micah grins, and stands. “Shove over,” he says, so I do, and he settles in beside me, his arm around my shoulders.
I did make time stop when I proposed to him, just like I said I would. Sometimes, at times like this, it doesn’t feel like I even need magic to do that. The moments with him just spool out, one after another, long and languid and perfect.
“What are you worried about?” he asks me. “Simon?”
I shove my face into his chest and nod. “And Baz,” I say. “And I’m worried that I worry too much about them, when I should be more worried about you or us or something.”
“Do you think there’s something to worry about, with us?” he asks, but he sounds amused.
“No!” I say. “But what if there was, and I didn’t notice, because I was paying attention to them instead?”
He laughs, and I feel it rumble through him. “They’re your friends,” he says. “It’s natural to be worried about them. And, trust me, if you need to worry about me, I’ll let you know. Although really I think you should probably be worrying less, not more.”
“I know,” I sigh. “It’s just that, once Agatha told me she thought I was jealous of their relationship because I wanted to be the most important person in Simon’s life, and I don’t want you to feel like…like he somehow means more to me than you do, or something.”
Micah kisses my temple, and I close my eyes. “I know he’s your best friend,” he tells me. “I know you love him. And I think there should be room for all kinds of love in our lives.”
“Okay,” I whisper. “Me, too.” Then, “I wish Baz knew that.”
Micah grunts in agreement. “He’s a piece of work, that one,” he says.
“He needs therapy more than anyone else I’ve ever met,” I say, then pause. “But I don’t feel bad.”
“For not warning him?”
“For not warning either of them,” I say. “Maybe it’s meddlesome of me, but I think it’s good that neither of them had any time to prepare. Whatever happens, they needed to see each other again. Even if it’s just for closure.”
“Oh, Pen,” Micah says. “That’s why I love you. Still fighting the good fight.”
“I know. It’s just like old times,” I say, before adding, “and I love you, too.”
I promised Thea that I’d play nice, and I promised that I would talk to him, and I will. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that I can’t do it without a million distractions. There’s no way I could sit down in a room with him and have a conversation, the way Gabe did. So I’m keeping busy.
Even so, I know it the second he enters the bar. We don’t open for a few hours, so I’m alone at the bar, just doing prep work—cleaning, folding napkins, cutting fruit, that sort of thing. I could do some of it by magic, I suppose, but Thea prefers the cleaning at least to be done by hand—more reliable, especially when it comes to things people put in their mouths—and I’m welcoming the distraction.
I don’t acknowledge him as he comes in. Don’t even turn around. My face is stone. My heart is stone. Be strong, Baz, I tell myself. You’ve survived worse than this.
I hear a chair scrape as he pulls it out, hear the wood creak as he settles himself into it. Then, and only then, do I turn around smoothly, just like I’d planned, cock one eyebrow, and say coolly, “Get you a drink?”
He stares back at me, almost defiantly, and says, "I'm working."
My stomach clenches. I force myself to hold his gaze as I say dryly, “It doesn’t have to be alcoholic, S—”
I bite the sentence off before I can say his name. I actually don’t even know what I would call him. His first name feels too intimate, since I only ever used it when I really meant it, but his last name just feels too familiar right now.
So I do what I’ve been doing for the past six years. I don’t call him anything.
Thank Crowley, he blinks first, and I allow myself to drop my gaze. Anywhere but his face. My eyes settle on his collarbone.
He’s been somewhere sunny. His skin is almost as bronze as his hair, and he’s got freckles on his broad shoulders—what I can see of them, anyway.
These are not things I’m allowed to notice anymore. That was my decision. But I notice them anyway.
“No,” he’s saying, like it’s not incredible, like he’s ever turned down food or drink before in his life. “Let’s just get this over with, shall we?”
My heart clenches like a fist.
This is what you wanted, Baz.
“Yeah,” I say. “Get it over with."
The first questions he asks me are fairly basic—what Thea’s like as a boss, how the bar runs, how well I know her and Leila. It’s as I’m tying up the trash that he hesitates, and says, “There’s just a few things I need to know about you.”
“Why me?” I growl, lifting the bag out of the can. “I’m certainly not trying to adopt a baby.”
“Well, no, obviously,” he says, “but your opinion doesn’t really count for much, if the agency doesn’t think you’re reliable.”
“Fine, whatever,” I say. “I have to take this outside. You can come with me if you must.”
I turn and head towards the door, and he gathers up his clipboard—oh, yeah, he has a clipboard, it’s fucking beautiful, third-year me would be having a field day right now—and trots after me. I catch one quick look of his face, and he looks exasperated.
Nope nope nope nope. Don’t look at him.
“Ask your questions,” I say over my shoulder instead. “I’m on the clock, here.”
“Um, okay,” he says. His breath puffs out in the winter air, but he doesn’t shiver. “Where were you, before you came here?"
I break my no-eye-contact rule to throw him a scathing look.
“Baz,” he groans, and it’s the first time I’ve heard him say my name, and I want to pass out. Or die. Or ask him to say it again.
“No,” I say. “Not answering that.”
“Standard procedure,” he says, showing me his notepad, and it seems it is. But I still don’t want to answer it.
“Fine,” I say as aggressively as I can. “But only if you go first.”
The moment I say it, I wish I could take it back. I don’t know why I said it at all, to be honest, but now that I have, I’ve got to follow this through to its end.
“Um, what?” he says, and I try not to look like I’m second-guessing myself.
“You heard me,” I say bullishly. “I mean, how am I supposed to know you’re qualified to decide who does or doesn’t get a magical baby?”
He rolls his eyes dramatically, and it scares me, actually, because I can’t be too familiar with him, I can’t let him be too familiar with me, or everything I’ve built will crumble immediately.
“Fine,” he says. “What do you want to know?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. I mean, what exactly are your qualifications? Did you marry a nice girl and adopt little monster babies of your own?”
He looks at me like I’ve grown three heads. “Um, no,” he says. “Penny’s tried to set me up a few times—girls and guys, by the way, since that seems to matter to you—but nothing took.”
I swallow. Remind myself that I have no right to flay Penelope later. Say, as coldly as I can, “So all your experience is from, what, school?”
He sighs. “Finished school, got Masters in social work, got job in Chicago-based agency, moved here. Anything else?”
I’ve just swung the trash into the dumpster, and as he says this, I drop the lid in surprise, causing it to slam shut. “Wait,” I say, spinning to face him. “You moved here? You aren’t just here, like, on assignment for a week?”
“Yeah,” he says slowly, like I’m thick. “Is that a problem?”
“I live here,” I say stupidly.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t know that at the time, did I?” he says, running a hand through his stupid, stupid hair. Then he looks at me, and one side of his mouth quirks up. “I don’t know, though,” he says. “It makes a certain sort of sense. It’s not like I’ve ever really known how to live without you.”
And I fucking lose it. Like I’ve never lost it before. I take two strides forward and grab him by the shoulders, my fingers digging into his upper arms. “Take it back!” I’m shouting in his face. “Take it back. You don’t just get to come into my life and say something like that, you can’t just barrel back in here and change everything—I didn’t ask for that—”
If I expect him to take this sudden barrage lying down, I’m sorely mistaken. He comes alive beneath my hands, shoving me off of him, then stepping towards me. It’s all I can do to hold my ground.
“Why not, Baz?” he spits at me, and his eyes are blazing, bright as the sun, and I can almost feel myself going up in smoke as he looks at me. “Why can’t I do what I want? You sure as hell do. I mean, I didn’t ask you to change everything either, but you were certainly fine making that decision on your own.”
I want him to stop. I want to punch him. I want to spell him back across the Atlantic and make sure he never darkens my doorstep again.
I want to kiss him.
But I don’t get what I want.
I don’t say anything, and he’s shaking his head in disgust, turning to go back inside, where I presume he’ll pack up all his stuff and leave Kaimeera for good. Which is exactly how it should be. It is.
I’d forgotten. How beautiful he is when he’s fighting.
The cold doesn’t bother me, but I’m trembling as he goes back inside. I wait for a while, but he doesn’t come back out. Tentatively, I push open the door and head back in to the bar.
To my surprise, he’s sitting at it, talking to Thea—she must have come in the back. “So,” I hear her say, “you got everything you need?”
“Just about,” he says, and then they both notice me standing there. He rises to his feet, and says, in a voice so level I could stack plates on it, “I have a few follow-up questions for you, though. I’ll stop by tomorrow, shall I?”
I dart a glance at Thea, who’s impassive. “Tomorrow’s Sunday,” I say. “We’re closed.”
“Perfect,” he says, zipping up his coat. “I’m at Penny’s, just come by tomorrow and we’ll finish up.”
He hands me an address, and I reach for it automatically, taking great pains not to touch his fingers as I take the piece of paper.
“She’ll be there,” he adds.
I look between him and Thea. I can’t go to Penelope’s. I can’t see him, even with her there. But I can’t say no, not with Thea here, not when this is so important to her.
I meet his gaze and nod. This time, it’s me who looks away first.
Oh, Simon Snow, what are you doing?
What the fuck was that?
I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m thinking.
I wonder why he stopped slicking his hair back.
I wonder what he’s so afraid of.
I don’t know what I think is going to happen tomorrow. Maybe I’ll finally, finally get some answers, even if I have to beat them out of him. Maybe I can finally get him to look at me like he sees me.
I don’t know. Maybe we really will end up killing each other, after all.
Chapter 5: falling is like this
so this was fun to write and also i'm sorry
He’s not coming.
I’m convinced of it. I could barely get him to talk to me yesterday, and we were on his turf—I don’t know why I thought I could get him to come here. For all I know, he’s going to cut and run again, and this time, we really will never see him again.
I can tell I’m driving Penelope nuts, even though she clearly doesn’t want to say anything. She’s here packing up a few more of her boxes—“A little at a time is all I can stand to do,” she told me—and I’m moving aimlessly around the apartment. I’m full of a weird feverish energy; I’ll sit down for a minute and then bounce back up, open drawers and close them again, rattle my hands against the countertops.
I didn’t give him a time, just the address, and as the day winds down, I regret this. “He probably won’t come in the morning,” I told Penny. “You know he doesn’t like the sunlight.”
She’s trying very, very hard to bite her tongue, and I appreciate it, because I know I probably don’t want to hear what she has to say right now. I know I’m being irrational, I know I’m setting myself up for disappointment at best, but there’s a storm brewing inside me, and it will have to come to a head eventually.
But night is falling, and he still isn’t here, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with all this energy if I don’t get to unleash it on him. Burn down the house or something, probably. (It’s moments like this—not that there are many—when I’m almost glad I don’t have my magic anymore. There’s so much going on in my head that I almost certainly would have gone off by now. Could have leveled the whole block or something.)
I think about the way he shouted at me yesterday, just a breath away from my face, and scowl. I’ve done such a good job, these past few years, not thinking about him at all, and I certainly didn’t ask for him to come pushing back into my life now, even if it’s just temporary. Especially if it’s just temporary.
It’s like I’ve been living in the darkness, and he’s a flare gun. Now all I can see are sparks.
I’m worrying away at an old afghan, absentmindedly picking away at bits of the wool, when the doorbell rings. And suddenly I am frozen.
Penny sets down the box she’s been taping and slowly, deliberately straightens up. She gives me a long, measured look. The doorbell rings again, and I can’t move.
“All right,” she says, and her tone is unreadable. “I’ll get it.”
I sit perfectly still as she clomps down the stairs, and perfectly still as she clomps back up.
The room seems smaller with him in it.
I’m still frozen as Penelope takes his coat from him—he doesn’t need it, I know he doesn’t really feel the cold, but I guess you get used to keeping up appearances. I know you do. He hasn’t looked at me yet, and I take advantage of that, drinking it all in, because now I can’t look away. He brushes his hair away from his forehead, his widow’s peak visible for a second. He bends slightly, elegantly, at the waist to knock the snow from his shoes. He’s just wearing jeans and a deep green button-up, nothing intimidating, but he looks untouchable.
For a moment, I’m reminded of our first day at Watford, the day we’d moved into our room. He was only 11, we both were, but he had the same way of standing there, taking up more than his fair share of space. Like everything he could see was his.
Now, he turns his head reluctantly, like he doesn’t want to, like it’s a compulsion, and our eyes meet, and something in my chest explodes. I’m on my feet in an instant because all that nervous energy is back, only it’s not really nerves, I’m realizing, but fury.
We’re standing a good ten feet apart, at least, but the air between us is taut and crackling. I don’t know what would have happened if Penelope hadn’t suddenly walked between us, wearing a coat and mittens and carrying a box.
“Well,” she says brightly, “good luck. I’ll see you later.”
We both look at her in abject horror for a long moment. Then Baz says, “You’re leaving?” at the exact same time I say, “I thought you said you’d be here tonight!”
“Yes,” she says to Baz, then looks at me. “I said I’d be here when Baz got here. I never said I’d stick around, though. I do have other things to do, Simon.”
I mutter something unintelligible, and she smiles gently at me for a second, then frowns at us both. “Don’t burn my apartment down,” she says to us, like she read my mind earlier. “Even if it’s only mine for a few more days. I want my security deposit back!” Then she flounces out the door.
After it slams behind her, silence settles around us. We both just stand there, looking at helplessly at the door, and then Baz whistles, a long, slow sound. “Bunce, busting out the tough love,” he drawls.
“Yeah, she’s good at that,” I say, trying not to sound stiff.
He bites his lip—it’s a very un-Bazlike gesture, and it distracts me for a minute—before turning to face me full-on.
“So,” he says.
It’s getting dark, but neither of us moves to turn on the lights. Penelope switched on one lamp before she left, and it’s casting strange shadows around us. He can see in the dark, and part of me thinks this might be easier if I can’t really see him.
“I didn’t think you were coming,” I say, and he actually flinches at the coldness in my voice—another unBazlike thing.
“I didn’t know if I was,” he admits, before coming around to the arm of the couch. He doesn’t sit, just gingerly leans against it. “I’m…I’m sorry for losing my temper with you, yesterday,” he says. “It was inappropriate. I’m happy to answer any questions you have.”
I hate him like this—I’ve always hated him like this. He’s the only person I’ve ever known who uses politeness as a weapon.
“Fine,” I say. I feel like we should be sitting, but neither one of us moves to take a seat. We just stay like this, half a room apart, facing each other. Battle stances ready. “We’ll just start where we left off. Where were you before you came here?”
He spends some time telling me about his economics degree. It’s all stuff I already know—after all, I was there when he was getting it—but I can tell he’s planned this all out. Making his background sound impressive without really revealing anything personal.
It works, though. It’s what I need. I jot down some notes, tick off the questions when he answers them. It’s all very cordial and professional, and I do the job I was sent here to do, but it feels like I’m on the verge of losing something.
Baz, for his part, seems relieved at the generic line of questioning, and that, too makes my blood boil. I’m getting to the end of my list, and he senses this, because he looks over at me, questioningly.
“Anything else?” he says, and I suck in my breath.
“Just one more question,” I say. “Why’d you leave London?”
It’s not what I mean, and we both know it.
“Simon,” he says quietly. “Please.”
It’s the first time he’s said my name, and that alone almost makes me back down, but I can’t. I find his gaze and hold it.
“We weren’t meant to be,” he says hopelessly. “It wasn’t real. It was just the aftereffects of a traumatic year, and you didn’t have anyone else to attach yourself to, so you attached yourself to me. I was just putting things right.”
It doesn’t sound any truer now than the last time he said it. “I’ve heard that line of reasoning before,” I say. “I’m not interested in it. Tell me the truth.”
He looks suddenly exhausted, but he has the grace not to keep up the charade. Instead, he just says, “No.”
“The way I see it,” I say, and my voice is brittle, “you owe me. So yeah, I’m going to make you answer that question.”
For a second, I think he isn’t even going to fight me, and it’s like he’s a complete stranger, like I’ve never known him at all. But then he widens his stance, crossing his arms. A muscle twitches in his jaw. “I’m sorry,” he says, finally not sounding it, “but you think I owe you?”
“Yeah,” I say, jutting my chin out at him and squaring my shoulders. I'm unshakable, when I want to be. “I do.”
“Care to elaborate on that one, Snow?”
Snow. It seems I’ve pissed him off enough now that he’s forgotten he isn’t saying my name. I feel a little swoop of victory in my stomach. But all the anger I’ve held at bay all day—hell, the anger I’ve held at bay for years—is rising again in me now.
“You lied to me,” I say, and I can’t believe I’m saying it out loud. I’ve had this conversation in my head so many times, but I never expected that he’d ever be standing right in front of me.
“What?” he says incredulously. “When?”
“Years ago,” I say, and my voice is climbing in volume. “I gave you an out then. I told it to you straight, and I said you could change your mind about us, and you said you wouldn’t. You promised you wouldn’t. And then you did.”
He’s already bristling with rage before I finish speaking, pushing himself away from the couch to snarl, “I didn’t change my mind! That’s not what happened at all!”
“Then tell me what did happen, Baz!” I shout, throwing my hands in the air. “Because I’ve spent the last six years trying to figure out why you just left, and I’ve got nothing.”
Even through the dim light, I can see the emotions warring on his face. “Don’t you think if it was something I thought you’d understand, I would have told you at the time?” he snaps.
“I think the statute of limitations on hurting my feelings is up,” I say. “I just need to know. Call it closure or whatever you want.”
He hesitates for the barest of seconds, and then says, “Fine. Fine. If you must know, it was my family. It was too much for them. I know the war never happened, but you were still the Mage’s Heir, and there was just too much bad blood there. Old prejudices run deep, you know, and the Families couldn’t handle it, and I had to make a decision and I chose them over you, and I’m sorry, but that’s the truth of it.”
“Wait,” I say, “that’s not true.”
He looks surprised that I’ve deduced this so quickly, which is a little insulting, because it’s not that even good of a lie.
“Yes, it is,” he says.
“No, it’s not!” I push. “Because, first of all, if you’d really chosen your family over me, then I doubt you would have felt the need to flee the country, and second of all, I had coffee with Mordelia last month, and all she did was talk about how boring the Families are now that they don’t have anybody to fight.”
“I—wait, what?” he says, taken aback. “You hang out with my sister?”
“Well, not like all the time,” I concede. “But you know, she’s a teenager, she’s a little rebellious these days. She checks in sometimes to see if I’ve heard anything about you—I think she thinks your parents wouldn’t tell her if they did, and she’s worried. Your dad doesn’t know what to do with me, as always, but your stepmum still sends me gifts every Christmas.”
Baz seems completely floored by this information, and I talk advantage of his momentary silence to say, quietly now, “So that’s twice you’ve lied to me about why you left. Third time’s the charm, yeah?”
He looks up. It’s an old truth spell, one I never would have been able to work even when I did have magic—it’s way too nuanced. But he recognizes it, and all the fight is draining out of him.
“Fine,” he says again, but it sounds different this time, heavier. “You aren’t going to like it. But if you really need to know, I’ll tell you."
“I do,” I say, and he closes his eyes briefly. Then he slides down onto the couch, resting his elbows on his knees, and takes a deep breath.
I suppose I was a fool, to think I could put this off forever. I usually don’t respond well to being cornered—I’ll fight my way out tooth and nail—but, for once, I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of fighting Simon. Simon, Simon, Simon. I’ve said his name now, and it appears I’m stuck with it.
I can’t believe he’s seen my family. That’s not something I would ever have predicted.
He’s waiting patiently for me to begin, quiet now that it’s clear the truth is forthcoming. And it is forthcoming, because suddenly I want to tell it. Want to explain, to absolve myself.
“I went back to Watford,” I said. “A few days before I…before I left. It had been a long time since I visited my mother’s tomb, and I just…I just like to check on it. And when I was done there, I just went to the Wavering Wood, for old time’s sake. Wanted to check out that place where we fought the chimera, remember?”
“How could I forget?” Simon murmurs, almost to himself.
“Ah, the deadly early days of our courtship,” I say, for some reason trying to make him smile, but he doesn’t, so I pretend I didn’t say it and keep talking. “I found Ebb’s grave, though. I forgot it was out there, it’s so deep in the woods, but I must have walked for longer than I thought. I found it, and her brother was there.”
“Nicodemus?” Simon asks, his interest suddenly piqued.
“Yeah,” I say. “Nicodemus, the vampire. But he was different. Almost completely wasted away—I swear to you, I could see the bones through his skin. And he was terrifying, barely more than an animal. I don’t know what he was eating out there, it couldn’t have been much—he’d even ripped up his own wrists, trying to get blood.
“He didn’t try to attack me or anything. I think even like that he knew he couldn’t win. He just sort of…burrowed into the ground next to her grave and stared at me until I left. And that’s when I realized how hopeless everything was, you know? That I was looking at my future.”
“What?” he’s shaking his head. “No. I don’t follow.”
I don’t know how to explain, but I try anyway. “That’s what a vampire who grieves looks like,” I say. “That’s what happens to a vampire who has lost everything. Who has given up. I don’t know if I’m going to live forever or not, but chances are it’ll be a really long time. And you—Simon, you’re so fragile. So human. You don’t even have magic anymore, but you were still the Mage’s heir, there are still people out there who hate you for that, not to mention every goblin and devil and Manticorps still out on a revenge run, and I just…just couldn’t figure out how to keep you safe. I couldn’t see a future that didn’t end with me as some sort of undead monster digging in the dirt around your grave, and I couldn’t…I just…”
I break off, running my fingers through my hair, and he’s peering at me through the darkness, inscrutable.
“What’s the point,” I say helplessly, “in loving something so fragile? So reckless? I just couldn’t bear to get to a point where I couldn’t live without you. I figured that if I cut and run then, it would be better for us both. Maybe we could cobble together some sort of life that way, something that wasn’t going to end in flames. I know after everything with the Humdrum and the Mage, I thought it was doable, but I was wrong. You were untouchable for so long, and now…you aren’t normal, you’ll never be normal, and I thought maybe if I wasn’t around, if you weren’t surrounded by so much magic, maybe all the things still hunting you wouldn’t be able to find you. Leaving was the only way—the only way—that I thought maybe we’d both have a chance to survive.”
“Wait,” he says, bewildered. “Wait. So you didn’t leave because you didn’t love me?”
“Simon,” I say, and I hate myself for saying it, because nothing has changed. “I left because I did.”
“Baz,” he says.
I can’t take it, I’m so full of everything I’ve tried not to feel for six years, and I just drop my head forward, pressing my eyes into the heels of my hand.
“Baz,” Simon whispers again, closer now, and then I feel his fingers on my wrists, and his mouth is the softest touch against my temple. It can’t happen. I can’t let it happen. But I do.
I lift my face out of my hands and he’s right there, crouching in front of me, his eyes blue and unapologetic and searing. For the longest of heartbeats, we just look at each other, and fleetingly I think, I can’t…
I don’t know who moves first. I don’t know if I slide forward or if he rises up. I just know that my fingers are suddenly hooked in the neck of his shirt, and I don’t care if it damns me, I don’t, I’m pulling him forward, and then his mouth, his mouth is against mine.
The fire from earlier has gone out of us both. There’s nothing angry in this kiss; it is slow, tender, cautious. He’s barely even touching me, at first, and then he’s touching me almost more than I can bear, and it's over, for me. The fight is lost.
At first, we just kiss like we’re remembering how.
At first, it’s a little tense and strange—we’re just standing in the middle of the room clinging to each other, colliding and breaking apart and colliding again. He’s still holding me by the wrists and I’m still holding him by the shirt. I think one of us is trembling, and I can tell he’s self-conscious, can tell he’s worried that I’m going to bolt again, and leave him standing here alone, but I won’t. I can’t. It is far, far too late for that—at least for tonight, I’m well past the point of no return. So, at first, it’s just this—the two of us white-knuckled and remembering.
Until: one of his hands goes to the small of my back, pressing me forward. The space between our bodies shrinks, and I inhale sharply against him, finally unclenching my hand from his shirt collar so I can slide it up his neck into his hair instead, like I’m not some kind of addict, like I haven’t been thinking about this since the first moment I saw him again.
The kiss deepens. I don’t know if he does it or I do. Maybe we do it together, I don’t know. I’m reminded, suddenly, of how good we used to be at this—I mean, not this, not just this, but reading each other. Choreographing all of our movements around each other. But either way, the kiss deepens, and this is the thing, this is the memory that I’ve been trying to kill for the past six years, and right now I can’t remember why. Everything else—everyone else—pales in comparison. For me, at least, this is all there is: a supernova. The thing that burns the world down and builds it back up again. Fire and ashes and snow.
In the back of my mind I know I shouldn’t be doing this, that it’s just going to be all the more painful later, but mostly right now I don’t care, because what do I need with logic when Simon Snow’s lips are trailing like a comet down my jawline? There’s no power on this earth that could keep my mouth away from his mouth, my skin away from his skin, now that we’ve begun.
He’s moving backwards across the room now, tripping over one of Penelope’s boxes, and I’m hauling him up again, throwing an arm around his waist and laughing, just once, a ghost laugh, against the side of his face, and then we’re tumbling through a doorway into what I assume is his bedroom, although I don’t really get much of a chance to look at it, and frankly, why would I, if he’s there to look at?
Moonlight is filtering through one of the windows, which means I can see him clear as day, and he can probably see me like I’m an oil painting (I don’t know, I’m not making any sense, I forget what darkness looks like). He’s falling again, but this time I’m falling with him, the two of us a tangle of limbs and hands and need. I’m up against the pillows of his bed and he’s landed heavily on top of me, one of his knees on either side of my hips, his hands splayed on either side of my head, his collarbone level with my eyes.
He pushes himself up, his face hovering just an inch above mine, and I reach up to close the distance. Then his mouth is sliding from my mouth to my neck, to my shoulders. His fingers are in the buttons of my shirt, and for every button he undoes he drops a kiss on the bare skin there, a line of them down my sternum and onto my stomach, and I’m arching my back in response.
Then he’s sitting up, and I’m sitting up to meet him, both of us fumbling for the hem of his shirt, and he bends forward so I can pull it over his head, and then the moonlight catches on the skin of his back, and I freeze.
“What?” he whispers raggedly, and I reach out, trailing one finger down the long, ridged scar on his shoulder blade. There’s a matching one on the other side.
I look back at him, and his face is open in the dim light. “I’ve been wondering,” I say, a little sadly, “what happened to your wings.”
“They’re still there,” he says to my surprise. “It’s not what it looks like. But they needed to be more…contained, in every day life. It took us a few years, but Penny and I—well, mostly Penny—came up with a spell to hide them, unless I really need them. But it was big magic, an you know that leaves marks.”
I’m still touching it, mesmerized. “Does it hurt?” I ask, and he catches my other hand, the one not on his back, and presses his lips into my palm.
“Not anymore,” he says.
I bow my head forward, bringing my lips to the edge of the scar, and I feel his hand come up to grip the back of my neck, his mouth land in my hair.
“I’ve missed you,” he says against me, and I feel it as much as I hear it.
I pull away to look at him. He’s kneeling on the bed, his hair a mess, his eyes on me, and because I’m weak, I’m already surging forward to meet him.
Chapter 6: and it's hard to dance with the devil on your back
I wake before dawn, completely entangled with Simon. He’s still sleeping, warm and soft against me, his chest rising and falling steadily. Joy and shame are waging a war within me, and, inevitably, shame wins.
But it’s still several long, long minutes before I can convince myself to move, to get out, to leave him. I have to do it now, I don’t think I’ll be able to if he’s awake—but I wait. Drink him in, or at least the parts of him I can see this close up—his bronze curls against my chest, his eyelashes, the bare, golden curve of his shoulder, dusted with freckles. My eyes are roaming over everything I touched with my hands last night, one last time. He’s beautiful, and it breaks my heart.
I love you, I think, but I don’t say it.
I’m sorry, I think, but I don’t say that either.
It takes everything I have in me—every carefully cultivated inch of scorn and independence and distance—to detach myself from his arms, and even more not to go back. But I manage, gathering up all my clothes as silently and swiftly as I can. If I’m lucky, I can get out of here before the sun comes up, and before he wakes up.
I’m not lucky.
I almost make it—I’m at the door, ready to go, when I turn to look at him. A parting glance. He hasn’t moved, but his eyes are open, and he’s watching me.
I am stone.
He pushes himself up on one elbow, his gaze measured. “So, what,” he says, and I think he wants to sound angry, but it comes out wounded, “you’re just going to disappear again?”
My throat is dry, and my voice comes out hoarse. “Pretty much, yeah,” I say.
“I don’t get it, Baz,” he says, balling his fists in his quilt. “I mean, last night—”
“Was a mistake,” I interrupt him, earnestly, trying to get him to understand. “Nothing’s changed.”
“How can you say that?” he explodes. “I just—I mean—you can’t—”
He’s at a loss for words, and I should seize the opportunity to leave, now, before he finds them, but I just let him bluster himself out until, finally, he takes a deep breath and says, “You can’t live a life, the way you’re doing it. It doesn’t work like that. You can’t just hide from things that may or may not happen.”
“Well,” I say, and we both hear it, the iron in my voice—I sound like myself again, which is to say, I sound like an asshole. “I’m not really alive, though, am I?”
He just gapes at me, and I steel myself and turn my back on him, letting the door shut behind me. And then, in case he gets any ideas about following me, I do the worst thing I can think of, and spell his bedroom door locked behind me.
He’s hammering on it almost immediately. “Baz!” I hear him shouting through the wood. “Baz, for fuck’s sake, let me out—we need to—”
I don’t. But I do leave my wand on his coffee table before I leave—I don’t know why. Some sort of gesture, or a demented calling card, because I’m a mess and can’t bear not to leave a piece of me behind.
The sun’s still not up, but it’s close enough that I can feel it prickling at my skin, already stinging.
Me, I’m burning up inside. I’ve been walking for a while now, but it doesn’t really seem like I’m getting anywhere—I keep turning around, then turning around again.
Is he right? Am I digging my own grave, here? Or do I just want him to be right, because I’m weak, and I don’t want to live without him?
I think of Nicodemus, thin and grey, snarling in the dirt around his sister’s grave.
I think of Simon, glowing in the moonlight, his fingers caught with mine, his mouth on my neck.
I think, I’ve survived loss before, and I don’t know which side of the argument this justifies.
I’m struck with the bizarre feeling that I can’t figure this out on my own, that I should call Penny, or maybe Thea, and tell them everything, and see what they have to say, and that in and of itself is terrifying, because doing things on my own is all I know how to do, and I don’t know what it means that I want to ask for help now.
But the idea sticks in my head, and it feels good, suddenly, to have a goal, a game plan. Simon’s probably already called Penelope to magically unlock the door for him—yeah, whoops, I’ll also deal with that later—and Thea might be a better choice, anyway, since she’s not personally invested in this.
I stop walking in circles, destination chosen, and head towards Kaimeera. I’ve only taken a few steps, though, when something literally drops from the fucking sky to land beside me.
My heart races into overdrive, but years of practice mean that I don’t even bat an eye, just turn my head slightly to the side to see who it is.
It’s Gabe, of course, his bat wings fluttering as he tucks them in. He looks disappointed that I didn’t scream.
His face is pinched and pale in the predawn light, and he’s giving me the once-over.
“Early morning, Ty?” he asks, smirking. “Or late night?”
“They’re all late nights,” I tell him, curling my lip up. He’s always been smarmy, but he’s particularly distasteful to me today, with the taste of Simon Snow still on my tongue.
I lengthen my stride, trying to make it clear that I don’t want to walk with him, but he keeps pace with me and he’s talking again.
“Hey, so, that social worker,” he’s saying to me now, “Thea just called him Simon, but do you know who he is?”
I stop walking and look at him warily.
“Simon Snow,” Gabe says. “Thought you’d know about him—wasn’t he a big deal in England, a few years ago? Kind of a legend—I mean, we grew up hearing the stories about him over here, same as you.”
I don’t say anything, just turn and stalk off again.
“Ty!” he calls after me, “Ty!” Then, “Basilton.”
I don’t even hear him move, and normally, I hear almost everything. When I turn around, he’s right there, just in front of me, and he’s smiling a wicked smile that’s full of teeth.
“I thought so,” he says, and there’s a syringe in his hand that I don’t know how I didn’t see before. And his fist is coming up faster than I thought possible, and the needle is sliding into my neck, and the second-to-last thing I think before the world goes dark is Oh, for fuck’s sake, and the last thing is Simon.
I’m going to kill him. Really, I’m going to kill him. I’m going to tie him up so he can’t disappear and then beat some sense into him. Or maybe just LoJack him.
It feels like he’s been telling himself the same story for so long it’s become a habit. I understand what he’s saying, I do, but it’s the kind of logic that only works until somebody else starts poking holes in it. And you can bet that’s what I’ll be doing as soon as I catch him, because despite everything he said, I’ve never been more sure that this isn’t over.
Of course, first, I have to get out of this room.
I brace myself and ram my shoulder into the door, but it doesn’t budge. I’ve tried everything I can think of—picking the lock, removing the hinges—and nothing. Baz’s spell holds (that bastard).
The window opens, but I’m four floors up; I’m honestly on the brink of knotting all the bed sheets together when I hear my phone ring. It didn’t even occur to me that my phone was in here—I assumed I’d left it on the couch—and I dive immediately towards the sound. I find it under my bed, on its last ring. It’s about to die, and the charger, of course, is in the other room, but I snap it open, hoping there’s enough juice left for this.
“Simon?” Penny sounds frantic on the other end, and I sit up so quickly I smack my head on my bedframe.
“Ow—yeah, what is it?”
“It’s Baz,” she says. “He’s gone.”
“Yeah, I know,” I say, rubbing the tender spot on my head, “and he locked me in my room, can you come let me out? Wait, how do you know he’s gone?”
“What?” she sounds confused. “What are you talking about, you have no way of knowing—hold on, I’m coming over.”
“Okay,” I say, “and, hurry, because—” There’s a beeping sound as my phone dies in my ear, and then there’s nothing left for me to do but wait.
Thankfully, Penelope shows up about fifteen minutes later. “Simon!” I hear her shouting. “Come out!”
“I can’t!” I shout back. “I’m in here, Baz spelled me in!”
She mutters something, and then I hear her Open sesame! the door, and the lock clicks open. Grateful, I stumble out.
She looks flushed and worried, giving me the once over. “Have you been stuck in there all night?” she demands. “Why didn’t you call me?”
“Of course I haven’t been in there all night,” I say distractedly, lifting up couch cushions in search of my charger. “He didn’t lock me in until he left this morning.”
Complete silence. Belatedly, I realize what I said, and look up at Penelope, who’s staring at me with her mouth open.
She starts to say something, then stops, then raises an eyebrow at me and says, “He was here all night?”
“Um,” I say guiltily. “Yes.”
She nods once, impassively. “Long interview,” she says, and I exhale.
“Yeah,” I say. “Something like that.”
She sighs, and settles down on the couch. “So that’s what you mean when you said he was gone,” she says, her brow creasing. “That’s complicated. Thea called me. She said he hasn’t shown up for work today.”
I move to sit down next to her, shifting uncomfortably, and notice the wand on the coffee table. It’s his. I pick it up, almost absently, twisting in through my fingers. “Well,” I say, “we didn’t exactly part on the best of terms, but—”
“Simon,” she says, holding up a hand to stop me, “that’s not all. I mean, believe me, I’m dying to know what happened, and I’m definitely going to pump you for information later, but this is actually bigger than that.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, and she takes a deep breath.
“Gabe’s gone, too,” she says, all in a rush.
“Gabe…the other bartender?” I ask, perplexed. “What are you saying?”
Penelope chews on her lower lip. “Okay,” she says. “You know how I never talk about my job?”
“Yes?” I say, because I have no idea how any of these things relate to each other.
“That,” she says, “is because I’m not really supposed to talk about it.”
I digest this. “So…” I say slowly, “then why are you talking about it?”
“Because Baz is in trouble,” she says. “And it has something to do with you.”
Oh, Crowley, you’ve got to be kidding me. First the numpties, now this.
I mean, seriously, why is it always me getting kidnapped? Surely Bunce could take a turn at being the damsel in distress once in a while? Wellbelove, at least, was always good for that. I kind of miss her.
I feel groggy and achy, like I’m waking up with a bad hangover. My head is spinning, and it takes a few minutes until I can get a bearing on my surroundings.
The first thing I notice is that I’m in a cage. It’s about twenty feet tall, open at the top and suspended in the air, but whether by magic or mechanics I can’t tell. Beyond the bars, it looks like I’m in a large, abandoned warehouse. The light coming through the windows is pale, but it’s not stinging the way morning sun does—I must have been passed out in here for most of the day.
There’s an acrid sort of smell in here, and it’s making my head hurt. I can see movement just beyond the floor of my cage, and I haul myself to my feet, clutching the bars to stay upright,
In a bizarre way, there’s almost something invigorating about this. I must be completely mental for thinking it, but it’s just that I’ve done the same thing every day for the past six years: worked and slept and kept my head down and stayed alive. Stayed alone.
But now…the stakes are raised, my chips are down. My brain has begun to whir, working in ways it hasn’t worked in years, like a muscle being stretched. For the first time in years, I am suddenly so alive.
Maybe it’s the imminent danger. Maybe it’s the fact that, last night, I slept tucked against Simon Snow, and my blood is still singing in my veins at the thought of it. Either way, there’s a certain kind of energy that I haven’t felt in years crackling down my spine. And when Gabe drops through the top of my cage, his bat wings folding into his sides as he lands, I realize that I was wrong, this morning, when I told Simon that nothing had changed. I have. Already, I feel the last vestiges of Ty the bartender fading out of me.
Gabe and I square off. He’s posturing, his shoulders back, his jaw working. I stand perfectly still, tilting my chin up just enough that I have to look down on him.
“Bet you’re wondering what you’re doing here,” he sneers, and he’s such an amateur it’s almost laughable. I can tell he wants me to be confused, or afraid, or maybe to say something like You’ll never get away with this! Ty the bartender has always just sort of kept his head down, brushed off Gabe and his advances. But Baz Pitch? Baz Pitch could eviscerate him.
So instead of cowering, instead of saying any of those typical captured-hero things I know he wants to hear, I just lift an eyebrow. Flick an imaginary piece of lint from my sleeve. Slowly reach out to tap the bars around me before I look back at him and drawl, “I don’t know, Gabe, isn’t the whole cage thing a little extreme? Online dating not working out for you?”
“I—what?” he says, disconcerted, and it’s so satisfying, that he doesn’t know me at all.
“No, I mean, I appreciate your dedication to the classics,” I tell him. “Kidnapping’s very Beauty and the Beast, isn’t it? I mean, I think we can all agree that I would, of course, make an exquisite Beauty.” I pause and give him the once-over, before saying, “I’m not entirely sure, though, that you’re quite intimidating enough to be the Beast.”
“What—no—stop it,” he says, looking frustrated. “This isn’t about you.”
“Hmm,” I say, leaning my shoulder against the bars and crossing one ankle over the other. “You could have fooled me.”
“No!” Gabe says. “It’s about Simon Snow.”
Ah. Now that’s interesting. I thought they’d just deduced who I was and were holding me hostage for some misguided attempt at sucking ransom money out of my family.
I don’t let my face betray my surprise, instead looking out across the warehouse. There are a number of figures bustling around. Most of them seem to be working on something beneath my cage, which should probably worry me, but I’m struck first by the fact that, like Gabe, they all have leathery bat wings extending from their shoulders.
I glance back at him, narrowing my eyes. “You aren’t part chimera at all, are you?”
He smiles coldly and shakes his head. “Devil,” he tells me. “I’m from a sect in Eastern Europe. We’re distantly related to vampires, actually.”
“Well that can’t be true,” I say, letting my lip curl, though I’m wracking my brain trying to remember what I learned about devils in school. Something about blood magic. “Devils are supposed to be handsome.”
“You didn’t seem to mind,” he growls at me. “More than once, if memory serves.”
And I throw back my head and laugh, because he can’t touch me, even like that. “Please,” I tell him. “The best you ever were was convenient.”
He’s getting agitated—his wings are furling and unfurling on his back, and I can’t actually risk him leaving before I know more about what’s going on. “What, exactly, do you want with Simon?” I say.
“Oh, don’t do that,” he says. “We’ve been preparing for this for a long time. Simon Snow, the Mage’s Heir, the most powerful magician in generations. Do you know what we could do, with power like that?”
It is blood magic that they’re known for, I remember that now. They feed off of power, from mages and other creatures, by, among other things, sacrificing them.
“And what connection do you think I have with him?” I ask, and Gabe scoffs.
“Please,” he says. “We’ve been researching him for years, we know who you are. You’re the bait.”
It’s a good thing, I think ironically, that I left the way I did this morning. If I hadn’t, there would be a chance that Simon would have realized something had happened to me. Maybe he would have been tempted to come to my rescue. As is, I’m sure he’ll just think that I’ve disappeared. Run away again. Turned my back.
This morning, it hurt to know he’d think of me like that. Now, it’s a relief—it means he’s safe.
I give Gabe as pitying a look as I can muster. “All that research,” I say, “and I’m afraid you’re wrong on two very vital points.”
“Really,” Gabe says, folding his arms.
“Mmm,” I say. “Well, the important one is that Simon Snow doesn’t have magic, not anymore. Didn’t you hear? Burned it all out, defeating the Humdrum.”
But Gabe is shaking his head. “Doesn’t matter,” he says. “Power like that, it’s in the blood. It doesn’t matter if he can access it or not—it’s left a mark on him, and we can use that. It’ll be power like we’ve never tasted before.”
“Right,” I say. “Well, doesn’t matter, anyway. You picked the wrong bait, you know. I’m nothing to Simon Snow. I haven’t been anything to him for a long time. So you might as well let me go and go about tracking him down some other way.”
Gabe blinks at me. “We were never going to let you go,” he says. “Snow’s endgame, yeah, but you? The vampire mage?” He takes a step towards me, leaning forward to whisper in my ear, “You’ve got a fair amount of power in you as well.”
He turns his head and licks the side of my face, and in one swift motion, I let my fangs descend completely, open my mouth, and hiss. It’s a vicious, animal noise, and I don’t like to do it often, but it does the trick—he stumbles back, looking, at least for a second, afraid.
“All right,” I say, trying to sound as bored as possible. “Ritual sacrifices. Wouldn’t be my first. Still doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to help you capture him though. Like I said, I’m not high on his priority list, these days.”
But Gabe doesn’t say anything, just tilts his head back, opens his wings, and takes off, shooting through the open top of the cage.
Explains why they keep it open, I guess.
There’s a skylight just above me, and for a moment, he’s silhouetted against it. I track his progress as he descends, landing lightly on the balls of his feet several feet away. He pivots to face me and salutes, smirking, and suddenly, I’m uneasy, like I’ve forgotten something important.
I don’t like the look on his face.
And then he turns and lets out an awful, guttural screech, and the half-a-dozen or so other devils echo it back at him, a horrible, crescendoing cacophony that bounces off the factory walls. As it dies, I hear the sound of a match being struck, smell the unmistakable smell of smoke, and a bonfire suddenly bursts to life beneath me, the tops of the flames just inches from the bottom of this cage. At the same time, a door bursts open and two more devils march in, dragging something between them.
I clench at the bars, straining to see, and realize two terrible things at once: first, that the way this particular sect sacrifices its victims is by fire.
And second, that the thing hanging limply between the two new devils is Simon.
Chapter 7: bold heat of a raging fire / come and light my eyes
He’s alive. And not even out too deep—he’s already coming awake, shaking his head and rubbing the back of his neck. It looks like they didn’t bother which whatever drug they used on me, just knocked him out the old-fashioned way.
They fly him up over the top of the cage and drop him in (it’s really bloody inconvenient that this thing doesn’t have doors, although I suppose that’s the appeal for them) and he gets unsteadily to his feet. Nothing matters anymore, so I don’t hesitate even an instant before rushing to his side and slipping an arm around his waist to help him up.
“Baz?” he blinks at me. “Hi.”
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this, Snow,” I say, and because I’m myself again his name comes easily to me now.
He lifts his head, looking out around us. “I can’t remember ever meeting quite like this before,” he says.
I grin. “First time for everything,” I say, and he chokes out something that’s half a laugh, half a grimace. He’s leaning against me, panting, and when I look at him in concern, he makes a face at me.
“My ankle,” he explains. “I landed on it funny.”
“Here,” I say, and help him slide down so he’s sitting with his back against the bars and I’m crouching beside him.
He looks up at the skylight and the open top of the cage, still breathing heavily, and asks, “Can you jump that high?”
“Ha,” I say. “No.”
I can hear the fire crackling below us, and I tilt my head to look. The flames are growing higher, and the smoke looping away from them has almost reached us. They’re building it bigger yet. I hiss in displeasure, and look back at Simon.
“Along those lines, though,” I say, “now would be a really great time for you to get your wings back.”
He stares at me for a second, then scrabbles at his waistband. I raise my eyebrow at him.
“Stop it,” he says, then drops his hand and sighs. “I stuck your wand in my pants earlier—” Both eyebrows, now, and he scowls at me “—but they must have taken it when they brought me in here.”
I swear, and lean back against the bars beside him so our shoulders are touching. “Well then,” I say, then turn my head to look at him. “How’d they find you, anyway?”
“What do you mean?” he asks. “They didn’t find me, I came.”
“Wait, what?” I say, pushing myself forward. “What do you mean, you came? Like, on purpose?”
“Yes,” he says, looking at me like I’m thick. “Obviously. Gabe went after Thea, too, you know—” I must look panicked, because he hastily adds, “she’s fine, he was just delivering a message. He told her that if they didn’t hand me over, then they’d kill you.” He shrugs. “There was no choice, really.”
I’m struggling to process this. “So you just—you just—”
Simon shrugs again. “Well, Penny told me not do—do you know what she does for a living, by the way? She like, works for the government or something, it’s like magical law enforcement, she says she’d explain it all to me later. Anyway, she told me just to lay low and that they’d take care of it and get you back and everything.”
I’m staring at him. I can feel my mouth hanging open, and I close it, swallowing, before thundering, “And why didn’t you do that?”
“Baz,” he says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, “you were in trouble. Of course I wasn’t just going to wait around and see how it all turned out.”
I’m still staring at him, and he’s looking back at me, and he says, “What?” and I say, “You stupid idiot,” and he starts to protest, but he doesn’t get very far because I grab him by either side of his face and drag his mouth down to mine.
Always. He’s always so idiotically brave.
“God, Baz,” he says a minute later, when I let him go. “I should have known it would take imminent death for you to see the light.”
“Yeah, about that,” I say, frowning. The devils are beginning to circle around the fire in a way I don’t like at all. “How’re we going to get out of this one?”
For the first time, I see him look nervously at the rising flames. They aren’t close enough to burn us yet, but the floor of the cage is starting to get warm. “We just have to hang on,” he tells me. “Penny’s coming. They’ve had a plan to take this whole place down. We just have to wait.”
I start to tell him that waiting around to be rescued is my least favorite plan when a tendril of smoke curls into the cage and I start to cough, which is sort of weird in and of itself, because I don’t generally.
But then it doesn’t stop. The cough grows more violent, turning into a hacking sound so powerful it sends me pitching forward onto my hands and knees, my chest heaving. Simon, who’d first looked up in concern when I’d started coughing, now slides forward on his knees in alarm, bracing me by the shoulders until it stops. When I look up, there’s blood on the floor of the cage in front of me. I wipe the back of my hand across my mouth and it comes away red, streaked with grey.
Simon looks at me, and the panic in his eyes scares me more than anything has yet. “What’s happening?” he whispers raggedly, and I shake my head, because I have no idea. But Gabe, of course, always right on cue with the terrible timing, has appeared in front of us again. He doesn’t come into the cage this time, just hovers right outside it, the flames licking the soles of his shoes—devils are impervious to fire, those bastards—and gives us the most sickly sweet smile I’ve ever seen.
“We’re just about ready to begin,” he says. “I’m sure you’re wondering what’s going on—” I start hacking again, and Gabe stops, waiting for me to finish. Simon’s arms tighten around me, and now I’m the one leaning against him, breathing heavily. I’ve got a mouthful of blood, and I spit it at Gabe—it sizzles in the flames.
“Power rituals are a serious business,” Gabe intones. “Stealing from someone as powerful as Simon Snow—well, that requires quite a bit of energy.” He doesn’t move, but his eyes flick over to me as he says, “So that’s where you come in handy. The energy we take from you will provide us with what we need to take it from him.”
My whole body suddenly spasms, and Gabe’s grin widens. “We’re burning silver nitrate in the fire, by the way,” he says. “You inhaled it with the smoke. It should weaken you enough for our magic to take effect. And once that happens, well. The end shouldn’t take long. After all, vampires are just so very flammable, aren’t they?”
I’m shuddering now, and Simon’s gripping me so hard it hurts, but I look up and lock eyes with Gabe. “Watch your back,” I growl at him, my voice as low and as hard as I can make it. “Because I’m go to flay you.”
“You’re going,” he says, “to die.”
“That hasn’t stopped me yet,” I say, and hold his gaze long enough to unnerve him, although the effect is somewhat ruined when I immediately start coughing again.
Still, though, he looks disconcerted, and flaps his wings a few times. A handful of sparks blow into the cage, and Simon literally throws himself on them to stamp them out.
“It takes some time,” Gabe says, and I can’t tell if he means this as a comfort or a torture. “The ritual. About twenty minutes to set up. But then you’ll go fast. So if you’ve got any goodbyes to say, boys, I suggest you do it now.” And he’s gone.
I’m going to watch him die.
After everything, this is where it’s going to end—he’s going to die in my arms, in the middle of an inferno.
I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming.
All that talk—all his fears about outliving me, and it looks like I’ll be the one outliving him. I mean, probably only for a few minutes, but still.
The fire is blowing higher around us now, sparks shooting in between the bars of the cage, and I crawl to the middle, dragging Baz with me, trying to keep him as far away from the fire for as long as possible. Around us, the devils have formed a circle. They’re dark smudges on the other side of the flames, and they’re chanting, a low, chilling sound.
Baz is sprawled across my lap, alternately coughing and trying not to cough, and I’m twisting my fingers in the back of his shirt, his collar, his hair.
I don’t think Penny’s going to get here on time. I should have told her I was coming—maybe we could have worked out a plan or something—but I didn’t trust her not to stop me.
Baz convulses against me and I tighten my fingers in his shirt and bend over him, my face near his ear, and because I don’t know what else to do, I’m talking.
“You’re wrong,” I’m saying, and the words are just falling out of me, everything that’s been rattling around in my brain since last night. “I mean, maybe you are right, maybe something will happen one day, maybe we won’t grow old together, maybe we won’t grow old at all—”
He chuckles weakly, turning his face towards me and saying into my shirt, “Fairly certain we’re not getting any older than the next few minutes, Snow.”
“Yeah, well, even if,” I press on, “you’re still wrong.”
His fingers are working against my thigh. “How so?” he says, his voice thick.
I drop my lips to his shoulder. “Baz,” I whisper. “Nobody lives forever.”
“Not helping,” he mutters, and I close my eyes tightly.
“I just mean—I don’t think anyone really gets a happy ending. Things just end, they do, and there’s no telling how or when. But that’s no reason not to—in fact, that’s all the more reason to make the middle as happy as you can.”
He shifts against me, turning just enough so that he can look up into my face. “If last night was my last night,” he says clearly, “I’m glad that’s how I spent it.”
The chanting around us surges louder, and something snaps in the fire, sending another wave of flames toward us. I throw myself over him, trying to cover as much as his body as possible. Heat scorches the back of my neck and I hold onto him, terrified he’ll go up in smoke the second I let go. But the fire retreats, and he’s still there, his face oddly flushed—he’s always so pale—and his hair falling into his eyes.
It takes some effort, but he pushes himself up until he’s kneeling across from me, gripping my forearms. He steadies himself, then slides his hand up my arm, gripping my neck and pulling me forward until our foreheads are touching.
“Love you,” he says simply. “Always have. Always will.”
And then heat rips across my back, shocking and searing, and all I know is pain.
He cries out, and arches away from me, and I don’t know what’s happening, don’t know what’s hurting him. A shock of adrenaline courses through me and I slip into a crouch, my eyes locked on him as he curls into a ball—
—and then I see it. A tremor runs down his spine, then another, his back arches and then curves again, and his shirt rips as something red and membranous rips through.
It’s his wings. I don’t know how, or why, but his wings are growing again, and I’m suddenly struck with panic, that the devils will notice, that they’ll stop us before he’s able to fly.
We need a distraction.
The silver nitrate has done a number on me—I’m pained and lethargic, can barely see straight, but stubbornness and determination propels me forward. I throw myself against the bars of the cage, as high as I can—it’s a risky move because the fire’s all around, and one stray spark could light me up like a firework, but I need to be seen.
“Gabe! Hey!” I bellow, loud as I can, and the chanting doesn’t stop but I see one of the devils raise his head to look at me.
“You’re a shitty bartender!” I call out, and even though he thinks this is just noise, my last stand, my laugh into the void, I see his face twist into a snarl. One of the other devils shoots him a look, and he goes back to chanting.
“I mean,” I call out, wrapping my hands against the bars and ducking to one side to avoid a whip of heat, “I get it, you know, it was just your cover, but it’s funny, because you’re a shitty supervillain, too.”
He’s twitching, now, and Crowley, I’m not even lying, he really is terrible at this—it’s far too easy to get under his skin.
“You’re dead, Ty,” he howls at me. “What are you still fighting for? You’re about to die.”
“Yeah, maybe,” I call back at him, “but before I do that, let me give you a piece of advice, just one monster to another, you know.” Even from here, I can see him gritting his teeth, and, praying that my timing is right, I shout, “Pro-tip: never lock the good guys up together!”
I throw my arm out without looking, and, like we’d planned this, Simon’s there to grab it, dragging me towards him, and I lock my arms around him and his great dragon wings beat once, then again, and he’s hauling us both into the sky.
I twist my neck to look down, to see if the devils are after us, but suddenly the door to the warehouse bursts open below us, and in what is probably the most fortuitous timing incident of this century, a barrage of mages, dressed all in black, spill inside. I spot Penelope in the crowd, her arm extended, purple ring glowing brightly, and I smile—Gabe doesn’t stand a chance.
The skylight looms in front of us and Simon ducks his head, his shoulders rounding, and I have just enough time to pray that it isn’t reinforced before we’re bursting through. It shatters around us with a high, tinkling sound, and the air is full of glass and the night is full of stars and we’re flying, we’re flying, and we’re so alive.
Chapter 8: just a chance that maybe we'll find better days
Well, that's a wrap.
Thanks everyone so much for reading this, and for saying such nice things!! I had such a great time working on it--it's been a whirlwind. <3 <3
For a long time, we just fly.
I’m nearly unconscious, shaking and clinging to him, and at some point he sweeps me up, holding me like I’m a child—my knees crooked over one of his arms, my head lolling against his neck. Normally, I’d protest this, but I’m fading in and out, and it’s easier just to tuck myself into him (an impressive feat, actually, since I’m a good three inches taller) and let go. It feels like hours that it’s nothing but stars, stars, stars, and Simon, singing in my head.
But vampire constitutions heal quickly, and the farther away we get from that smoke, the more lucid I get. And it doesn’t take long until I notice that he’s trembling with exertion.
“Simon,” I say, alarmed. “Simon! We have to land!”
But he sets his jaw and I feel him grip me tighter. “No,” he says.
“Crowley, Snow,” I say, pushing at his chest. “Why not? It’s fine, we got out, and Penny and her crew are taking care of the rest. But if you don’t land right now you’re going to fall out of the sky and kill us both.”
“No,” he says again, fiercely, like the moron he is.
“Why not?” I demand.
“Because,” he says, “if I let go of you now, how do I know you won’t just disappear again?”
“Oh, Simon,” I breathe, dropping my head back against his shoulder. “Look. It’s been a hell of a day. We’re both exhausted. Can we just…go back to your place and figure everything out in the morning?”
He looks surprised by this—I don’t know why, it’s not like I’m planning on letting him out of my sight. But, finally, he nods.
We land on the roof deck of his building, and Simon nearly falls over the second his feet touch the ground. His wings melt into his back almost immediately, and I can see the twin scars once again on his back, through the tatters of his shirt. I put his arm around my shoulder, propping him up, and slowly, painfully, we make our way inside.
His shirt has practically disintegrated, and mine’s covered with ash and blood. I peel it off, casting it on the floor, but that’s all the cleanup I have energy for. The two of us fall into his bed, and I swear I’m asleep before I’m even fully horizontal.
It’s still night when I wake up, and the first thing I notice is that I’m alone in my bed. For a moment, I think my heart actually, stops, but then I see the note stuck to my pillow. Roof, it says, in Baz’s slanting, elegant handwriting.
Pulling the quilt off my bed, I go to find him.
He’s standing on the far side of the roof, his back to me. He’s stripped to the waist and leaning forward on the railing, and even though I’m the one with the shoulder scars, he looks for all the world like a fallen angel, pale and bowed in the dim light. I shiver just looking at him—it’s cold enough that I can see my breath in the air—and pull the quilt tighter around myself. We’re too close to the city now to really be able to see the stars, but the lights from the skyline glow in the distance.
“I thought you’d gone,” I say once I get close, and he shakes his head, reaching out to sling an arm around my neck and pull me to his side.
For a while, we just stand there, huddled together, looking at the city lights. I wonder if he can tell that I’m steeling myself to speak—I don’t want to scare him off, but there are things that need to be said.
Finally, I take a deep breath, and say, “I can live without you.”
Baz drops his arm from around my shoulders, looking startled and then hurt. “Oh,” he says, but I’m already talking again.
“No, that’s not what I mean,” I say. “I mean, obviously you can live without me, too—we survived. We’re fine. So yeah, I can live without you. But that life isn’t really one that I’m interested in.”
He’s looking at me intently, almost curiously, and I can’t tell if he understands what I’m saying, and I need him to understand.
“I don’t care if you think it’s doomed,” I say. “My life is bigger with you in it. It means more. And, not that I necessarily think you’re right about this either, but I’d rather have a big life than a long one.”
He doesn’t say anything, not right away, just looks back out at the skyline, but his hand finds mine in the folds of the quilt, and I press closer to him.
“I don’t think I ever really believed it was real,” he says, his eyes still on the distant lights. “You and me, I mean. I just—it was something I wanted, for so long, and it seemed possible that I could ever really have it. I was just, I don’t know, waiting for the other shoe to drop, I guess, and then I just…tried to beat it to the punch, I guess. To get out before it could break me.”
“What about now?” I ask, tightening my fingers in his. “Do you believe it now?”
And finally, finally, he turns to look at me. “Yes,” he says, and I feel my pulse jump erratically. “Don’t ask me what’s changed, because I don’t know, but yes. Maybe it’s because I tried to do what I thought was the right thing and let you go, and you came back to me. Maybe it’s because now that I’ve lived without you, I know for sure I don’t want to do it anymore. But yes. I believe it now.”
I want so much for that to be true. And I think it is—I know he means it now—but he’s always been so mercurial. There’s no easy solution here, no magic on this earth that can guarantee things will work out, that he won’t be afraid again, that I won’t be haunted. It will just have to be us. Making it work. Day by day.
“I can’t fix you,” I say slowly, because I need him to know that, and if there’s anything I’ve learned from all those years of therapy, it’s this.
“I don’t want you to,” he says, and his voice is level.
“I know we’ve both been through a lot,” I continue, “and there’s a lot you need to deal with, and a lot that I need to be deal with, and just, a lot of work. And I can’t do it for you, and you can’t do it for me. And if this is going to work, you’re going to have to talk to me—and, preferably someone else, too, because I can tell you from experience that this is a lot to deal with without a little bit of professional help.”
He’s looking at me kind of funny, managing to seem proud and miserable at the same time, and I squeeze his hand and say, “What?”
Baz shakes his head, a little sadly. “You’ve changed, a little,” he says. “I mean, you were always brave, but it’s somehow…more, now. I’m sorry I missed watching it happen.”
I don’t tell him that if he hadn’t left, it might not have happened, because that feels like giving him too much credit, and besides, he’s already speaking again.
“Can you really forgive me for that?” he says, like it hurts him to ask, like he’s afraid of the answer. “For disappearing? For all of it?”
“Well, yeah,” I say, feeling like I maybe should have led with this part. “I’m in love with you.”
And his gaze snaps to mine, like it’s all he’s been waiting to hear, like I hadn’t just walked into the mouth of Hell to get him back, like it’s ever been possible for us to be anything else.
“I’m in love with you,” I repeat, because this is also something that I need him to know. “Makes the rest of it seem easy.”
I can feel myself smiling, despite the cold, despite the stress of the day, despite the last six years, despite everything. I’m smiling, and he’s ducking his head to laugh, and after that, really, it seems there isn’t anything left to do but kiss him.
Really, the weirdest thing about all of this is that Penelope secretly works for the government.
“It’s not really a secret,” she tells us, a week or so later. “It’s more like, I’m not supposed to talk about it.”
“Pen,” Simon says around the sandwich he’s scarfing down, “that’s the definition of a secret. Look it up.”
She eyes us both. “No,” she says, “a secret is what the hell you two have been doing holed up in here.”
Simon chokes on the end of his sandwich while I cross my legs and say primly, “Recovering.”
“Laying low,” he adds, once he’s swallowed.
“At least you know neither of us works for the FBI,” I say, and Penelope rolls her eyes.
“I don’t work for the FBI!” she protests. “I work for the DMR!”
Simon and I exchange a look. He cocks his head at me, and I shrug. “And that would be the…” he says, looking back at Penelope.
“Department of Magical Relations,” she mutters. “It’s a branch of the FBI. Stop asking me about it, I’m really not supposed to talk about it. All you need to know is that we’ve spent a long time tracking down that group of devils, and it’s nice to finally have them all locked up. They’ve been suspects in a number of disappearances, and we’ve been watching Gabe for years. The whole reason I ever went to Kaimeera in the first place was to keep an eye on him.”
“Wait,” I say, “I thought you said a friend from work told you about it!”
“I believe I said someone from work,” Penelope says delicately. “As in, you know, my boss.”
“And I thought you kept coming to hang out with me,” I humph.
“I did,” she assures me. “Fringe benefit.”
She’s finishing up the last of her packing. I guess she’s been doing it mostly the slow way, just to be safe (“And because it’s easier to find things if you pack them yourself,” she’d said), but she seems to have finally gotten fed up with the whole thing, because when she came in today, she’d just waved her ring at the piles and the boxes have been handily packing themselves for the past twenty minutes.
Something whips past my face, and I turn my head in time to see one of my shirts tucking itself into a box.
“Hey!” I say, snagging it by a sleeve and pulling it out. “Don’t pack my stuff.”
“Don’t leave your clothes lying around, then,” she says, and Simon chortles, then stretches his arms over his head to crack his back.
Penny’d come by this morning partly to pack and partly to check up on us. She also returned my wand, saying they’d found it with a bunch of other things at the devils’ hideaway, and I’d asked her about the spell she’d done on Simon’s wings.
“Oh, that,” she’d said. “Well, you kind of gave me the idea, actually, Baz. I mean, we made a regular spell that will cause them to disappear and reappear, but I was thinking, well, what if he’s somewhere without magic, and he needs them? So I built in a failsafe. He didn’t know about it until you used it, because I wasn’t completely sure it would work. It’s a variation of the On love’s light wings spell, remember when you used that one at Watford? It’s kind of messy—the regular spell doesn’t hurt him so much—but it gets the job done.”
“Wait,” I said, “so because I told him I loved him, his wings showed up?”
“Yep,” she said, looking positively giddy. “Cool, right?”
“Well, it certainly saved our asses,” I said. “Except, is this going to happen every time I tell him I love him?”
“Only if you’re in danger.”
“What if he’s alone somewhere though?” I asked her, grinning at the thought. “Does he have to confess his love to himself?”
She had scowled at me. “Oh, shut up,” she said. “It was just a whim. I didn’t say it was perfect.”
Now, Penny counts her boxes, and Simon, probably out of habit more than anything, stands up to see if she needs help. I watch the two of them as they snipe fondly at each other. It’s amazing, I think, how quickly we’re falling back together after all this time, all of us—like it’s second nature, being together, like all that time in between was just a dream, or a blur.
I mean, it’s not perfect, of course. There’s still a lot we have to work through, and a lot Simon and I have to relearn about each other. And on some level, he’s still angry with me, for leaving the way I did, even if he understands it, and it’s going to be a long time before that goes away. I have to prove to him every day that I meant what I said, that I believe in us now. That I know cutting and running isn’t an option. It’ll take time, but I think he’s trusting me more every day.
I think I’m trusting me more every day.
It’s funny, I’ve been trying not to be Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch for so long that, sometimes, it’s hard, sometimes, to slip back into his skin. Some things are easier than others, though. It was easy enough to reacquire a taste for expensive things. And being obsessed with Simon Snow? Well, I don’t even have to try.
His old magical therapist was based in Chicago, he keeps reminding me. He thinks I should see her. He says I really did a number on myself the last few years, and I need somebody else to help me sort out my feelings.
I still hate the idea—as much as I did years ago—but I’m also starting to think he’s right. That maybe, if I had a better way of sorting things out, I wouldn’t tie myself all up on knots the way I do.
Simon made me call my family yesterday, too. It’s been a long time coming, that’s for sure, but it was still hard to pick up the phone. Daphne answered, and she cried when I told her who it was. I talked to Fiona, too, and every other word out of her mouth was a curse, but that’s how she shows affection.
There are a lot of people, it turns out, who I need to make amends to.
They wanted me to move back, but I’m staying here, at least for a while—Simon’s got a job here, and I’m not ready to leave Kaimeera yet, not when Thea’s going to need so much help when the baby comes. My father was surprisingly supportive of this. He says small business ownership is a valuable skill to have. I told him I wasn’t exactly the owner, but he said to take it one step at a time.
We are flying over to visit them next month, which I think will be a good thing. Mordelia made me promise to bring Simon with me. They really did hang out while I was gone (so weird).
Simon comes back from carrying Penelope’s boxes out to her car and kicks the front door shut. There’s snow in his hair—must be coming down again.
“We’re having brunch with Penny and Micah tomorrow,” he says, and I frown at him.
“Brunch?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah,” he says, nodding. “It’s a big deal. Buffet-style. All the Bloody Marys you can drink.”
“You know,” I tell him, “just because it has ‘blood’ in the name doesn’t mean I like it.”
He grins, and flops down beside me, his legs over the arm of the couch and his head against my thigh. I absently brush the snow out of his hair with one hand. “You’ll like it,” he says.
“Well that’s tomorrow,” I say. All the snow is gone, but my fingers are still in his hair, lazily moving through the curls. “What do we do now?”
He quirks one corner of his mouth and looks up at me. “Lay low?” he suggests, and I groan, but, really, it’s not the worst idea he’s ever had.
We’re all better than we used to be.
I’m better at keeping my mouth closed. Micah says having a job I’m legally not allowed to talk about helps with that, but I also like to think I’ve grown up a little. I was never afraid to voice my disapproval about Simon and Agatha’s relationship, but I’ll keep my reservations about Simon and Baz to myself. It’s not the same thing, anyway. Simon and Agatha never had what he and Baz do, first of all, and also, I don’t even really have that many reservations. I mean, I worry about them, of course. It’s not always easy to watch them try to find their way back to where they were before, and I’m constantly wanting to jump in and help, but they have to figure it out themselves. Micah says sometimes not saying anything is the best thing I can do. He says that if I’d told them the truth at the beginning, maybe they never would have found their way back together at all.
Simon’s better at dealing with things, in general. It really makes me proud, watching how he handles himself these days. He used to be such a livewire—too thin, too unfocused, too anxious. But he’s got a poise about him now that he never used to have. A self-awareness. I think something about his job helps with that, too—he gets to help people. He gets to see the effects of what he does.
Baz is better at letting us in. At asking for help when he needs it. I think I would have been more suspicious of him, for Simon’s sake, if I wasn’t seeing how hard he really is trying to be better. And if I hadn’t found him at Kaimeera when I did. But I’ve seen a lot of Baz, the last few years, and I know him better than I ever did before, and that means I have more sympathy for him than maybe I would have, before. It means I know what he looks like when he’s hiding, and when he’s trying not to hide.
I think about the old days sometimes (Listen to me, I sound like such a has-been). But those days at school, when we were teenagers, when Simon and I (and sometimes Agatha) were constantly fighting some new terror (and sometimes Baz), when I was just trying to keep him alive. And, later, that last year, Simon and Baz and I, just hurtling madly on towards the end of the world, trying to hold it all together.
It’s not like that anymore.
I’m sure there will be moments of it again. Simon’s always going to be remembered as the Chosen One, and for some people in our world, that makes him something to be exploited. Baz is always going to be a Pitch, and a vampire, and a troublemaker, and none of those things lend themselves to a quiet life. I’ve thrown myself right back into the thick of things, hunting down lawbreakers. But it’s different now. We’re not children anymore. We’ve got more support than we ever did before, more stability, more sense. Everything just feels different. Like it’s how it’s supposed to be.
Like we’re all really going to be okay.
Six months later
Penelope, because she’s Penelope, gets married in purple. She looks beautiful.
Everything’s beautiful. I don’t really have anything to compare it to, because it’s my first wedding, Normal or otherwise (I’m willing to bet there’s at least a little less magic at a Normal wedding, though). I sit with Agatha, who cries through the entire ceremony and then vehemently denies it (“It’s just allergies, Simon.”).
I don’t sit with Baz, because Penelope convinced him to play his violin. He’s been standing off to their side for the ceremony, his shirtsleeves rolled up, his violin under his chin, his eyes closed. If I’m being honest, I find myself watching him even more than Penny and Micah.
He doesn’t normally play in public like this, and I have no idea how Penny talked him into it. He says he lost a bet. I kind of think she just asked him nicely. Either way, he plays as they walk down the aisle together (both ways—Penelope did away with most wedding traditions, saying she can give herself away, and also that she has too many siblings to worry about bridesmaids).
We’ve all flown home for the wedding. Baz and I came a week early, so we could go up to Oxford to visit his family. It’s a little weird, as always; Baz’s dad still doesn’t know what to make of us, but his stepmother is always lovely, and now that his siblings are getting older, there’s at least always someone fun to talk to. Even his Aunt Fiona is coming around (I think). She’s hard to figure out, sometimes. But as long as we don’t talk politics, she doesn’t seem to want to kill me too much.
The reception is at an estate in the countryside outside of London—Agatha’s parents own it, and letting Penelope use it for their wedding is their gift to her (My gift was a coffeemaker, so I’m feeling a bit inadequate, but it’s fine).
Right now, I’m sitting at a table with Thea and Leila, who made the trip over. They say it’s their last hurrah—the baby is coming at the end of the summer, so they’re not planning on taking any trips for a while.
The baby’s half djinn—they’re definitely going to have their hands full.
The table is draped with a white cloth, with a swarm of little lights floating over our heads, like magical fireflies. People have started to filter onto the dance floor, and I lean back into my chair, watching idly. Thea and Leila excuse themselves, heading out to dance, and a moment later, Penny collapses into the seat next to me, Micah sliding down on the opposite side of the table.
“My feet hurt,” Penny says, and I grin.
“How does it feel to be Mr. and Mrs. Bunce?” I ask, and she shoots me a dirty look.
“Very funny,” she says, although Micah is laughing good-naturedly.
“What?” he says, when Penny shoots him the same look she just sent me. “I could be a Mr. Bunce. Your dad is fun.”
I don’t think I’ve ever thought of Penelope’s dad as fun before, exactly, so this is probably a good sign.
“Where’s Baz?” Penny asks me, and I gesture over my shoulder at the dance floor.
“Dancing with Agatha,” I say, and Penny and Micah exchange a look.
“That’s…super weird, Simon,” Penny says.
“Why would that be weird?” I say, looking over my shoulder at them. They do look lovely together—Agatha all golden light, Baz dark and sleek, both of them elegant and graceful. I watch as he spins her around once, then says something, and she laughs.
“This isn’t going to be like that time you saw them in the Wavering Wood together, is it?” Penelope asks suspiciously.
“No,” I scoff. “Completely different scenario. I mean, please.”
It’s a perfect day outside, warm and cloudless, and the sun is beginning to set, casting an orange glow over everything. The doors are open, and a light breeze is blowing in, momentarily lifting the curls off my forehead. Micah leans over to whisper something to Penelope, and she laughs, then looks at me.
“We’re going to dance,” she says to me. “You coming?”
“Nah,” I say. “Don’t want to third wheel the newlyweds.”
Micah looks up over the top of my head, smiles, and says, “I don’t think you’ll have that problem.”
A second later I feel a hand on my shoulder, and I turn in my seat. Before me, Baz straightens his jacket and extends his other hand to me. “May I have this dance?” he smirks.
“Not a chance in hell,” I say, but I put my hand in his.
Wellbelove really is an extraordinary dancer. Not that this comes as a surprise.
I sweep her around the dance floor—it’s been a long time since I’ve done this, but the steps are coming right back—and she says, “So this is a bit of a surprise, Basil.”
“Dancing?” I ask, and she smiles gently.
“You asking me to dance,” she says. “When’s the last time we interacted, eighth year at Watford?”
I wince. “I probably deserved that,” I say.
“Well,” she concedes, “maybe not. I mean, when you told me that you were wrong for me, you could have mentioned that you were, you know…”
“Lusting after your ex-boyfriend?” I finish idly.
She laughs once, lightly. “Yes,” she says. “It kind of gives the whole thing a different tone.”
“Well, I couldn’t,” I say. “It was a secret.”
She shakes her head. “I think we have more in common than we thought, though. Other than, you know.”
“Simon?” I finish for her, twirling her under my arm, and she laughs.
“Yes,” she says. “Neither of us turned out the way everyone expected.”
I’m mulling this over as I drop her off at her table and turn to find Simon. He’s sitting at a table with Penelope and Micah, facing the open door, his eyes half-closed. Micah sees me coming and winks, and he and Penny get up, heading off to dance. I nod at them as they pass. “Evening, Mr. and Mrs. Bunce,” I say.
Micah roars with laughter, and Penelope scowls at me. “Your boyfriend already made that joke,” she growls, which only causes Micah to laugh harder.
But then here’s Simon, close enough for me to touch.
“Snow,” I say, “may I have this dance?”
His smile makes my knees week, even as he tells me, “Not a chance in hell.”
But he takes my hand and stands up. I start to lead him towards the dance floor, but he doesn’t move, his hand tightening in mine, pulling me to a halt.
“Let’s do something else instead,” he says.
I raise an eyebrow at him. “Oh, stop,” he says. “Not that. Come on.” And he tugs me after him, out the door and onto the grounds.
The sun has gone down, leaving a strip of orange along the horizon, and stars are already beginning to pepper the sky above us. Simon tilts his head up to look at the sky, and I look at him, the two of us just walking hand in hand through the field. There’s nothing but rolling hills around us, stretching on and on into the dusk.
Then, without warning, he bolts. His hand is still locked on mine and he drags me with him, but I’m not expecting it and I trip after several steps, knocking us both to the ground. “Oof,” he says, as I land heavily on top of him, then, “Baz—” and I’m laughing and asking him what he thinks he’s doing, the oaf, and burying my face in his neck, and he’s throwing his arms around me.
“Don’t you ever just want to run?” he asks me. “For the sake of it?” And I bring my mouth down over his, because it seems like the right way to answer that question, or maybe just another way to ask the same question.
Maybe there are no happy endings. But that doesn't mean there's no future. And suddenly I understand what he means, and it’s that this, this—tangling myself with him on a field full of heather, the sounds of a wedding spilling out of a building behind us and the world growing dark and calm around us—is enough. He’s enough. And that alone is worth anything that may or may not come.
And then, all of a sudden, he’s on his feet and running again, not away from anything and not towards either, just moving for the sake of moving. I pause for a second, watching, and then dart after him, laughing, the wind rushing in my ears, the stars wheeling overhead, and Simon Snow in my line of sight, always just within my reach.