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How Shall I Love Thee When You are Gone?

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Simon Snow is standing on a sidewalk in the East Village.

I close my eyes and shake my head, thinking I must be mistaken. I open them again.

Simon Snow is standing on a sidewalk in the East Village looking directly at me.

I don’t know if he’s real or simply a figment of my imagination. I can’t take my eyes off him. I haven’t seen him or talked to him in nearly four years. Why would he be in New York? In December? In my neighborhood of all places? My heart is racing (or as close to racing as a vampire’s heart can be), and I can feel myself start to sweat.

Simon Snow is standing on a sidewalk in the East Village looking directly at me with a soft smile on his face.

It’s snowing, and the flakes are landing in his auburn hair (it’s exactly as I remember it, short on the sides and back, long curls at the top cascading over his eyes) and glistening on his shoulders. It’s a beautiful sight and too much to take in. I close my eyes and count to 10.

When I open them again, he’s gone. I exhale. (I didn’t even realize that I’d been holding my breath.) Figment of my imagination then, which doesn’t make me feel much better. I haven’t had a vision of Snow like this in ages. I think about him every day (I’ll never stop thinking about him). I used to see him in every auburn-haired and blue-eyed boy I’d see in the city, but that faded over time, especially since I started dating Charles two years ago. Simon Snow will always be a part of my heart, of my soul, but he’s not a part of my life any longer. I’ve moved on, let him go. And I finally feel settled. And happy. Charles makes me happy.

I look over at the bar where he’s ordering us drinks, and he catches my eye and tilts his head with a look of concern on his face. I wave my hand dismissively and turn back to the window to watch the snow fall.

“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” Charles says as he sets our drinks down on the table. He’s drinking his standard gin and tonic, I’m having standard whisky, neat. I take a large swallow and revel in the sharp, earthy flavor, followed by the comforting heat that makes its way down my throat. Charles reaches out and puts his hand over mine. “What happened?”

“I just thought I saw an old friend on the sidewalk. Someone from home,” I saw giving him a small smile.

“And?”

“I was mistaken. It just caught me by surprise is all. I’m fine,” I say and give his hand a slight squeeze, which he returns.

“So do you want to hear about today’s adventures in the ER?” he asks. He’s currently on ER rotation as part of his medical school training. I smile and nod at him, welcoming the distraction.

“We had a motorcycle accident today, and the victim was huge. I mean huge and covered with tattoos. Diabolical things, Satanic verses and ancient runes . . .” Charles starts excitedly.

I listen to him enraptured. He’s truly beautiful. Golden haired with distractingly green eyes. His hair is short cropped but with some length at the top, which he usually combs back away from his face. He’s tall (we stand nose to nose) and broad shouldered with footballer’s legs. (He loves football, and he’s damn good as well. We play on an intramural league together at NYU.) He has a few freckles that run across the bridge of his nose and on his cheekbones, and I know that they double in number in the summer. (Yes, I count them. On a regular basis.) He’s also a great storyteller, and I’m soon lost in his tale, laughing along with him as he elaborates on a dispute between him and a nurse who’s truly flabbergasted by the diabolic tattoos.

He’s in the middle of demonstrating how the nurse is trying to triage the man without actually touching him when I hear a familiar voice shout from across the bar: “Tyrannus Basilton Grimm Pitch!”

I haven’t heard my full name—or that voice—in years, and my stomach drops. I follow the sound of the voice and see Penelope Bunce standing in the doorway, wild hair covered in snowflakes, with a giant smile on her face. And behind her looking quite uncomfortable is Simon Fucking Snow. I wasn’t hallucinating.

Everyone in the bar stops talking and turns towards the door, including Charles. I’m frozen in place. I have absolutely no idea what to do.

“Tyrannus?” Charles asks, breaking me out of my stupor. “Seriously, is that what the T stands for?”

“Yes. It’s a family name,” I say, with a sneer (some things never change). “But no one uses it, especially no one here.”

“Aren’t you going to say something?” he whispers again.

I steel my emotions and stand as nonchalantly as I can (even though my knees feel weak) (of course Simon Snow still makes me swoon). “Penelope Bunce,” I finally respond with as little emotion as I can muster. “What brings you across the pond?”

“I knew it!” she squeals and rushes across the room, barely dodging tables and patrons, and throws her arms around my neck in a bone-crushing hug.

I nearly fall backwards into my chair but then I smell Penny’s unmistakable magic (sage) and hear her once-familiar heartbeat, and I return the hug just as fiercely. Crowley, I’ve missed this woman.

We pull apart laughing, and I take her face in both of my hands and just look at her. (My steely countenance has clearly failed me.) I have so many questions I want to ask, so many things I want to stay, but I can’t find the words. I opt for a simple kiss on the forehead instead. She looks up at me smiling with tears in her eyes.

“I’ve missed you, Baz,” she says.

“Me, too, Bunce,” I respond softly.

After a moment, she breaks away from me and calls for Simon, who’s been hanging back by the door. I finally gather all the strength I have and take a good look at him. He takes my breath away. He looks the same as he did the last time I saw him, but so very different. His hair, his eyes are the same, and he still has the same three moles on his right cheek, one above his left eye, and one just to the right of his Adam’s apple (my favorite). He’s grown a bit, more broad shouldered and completely fit. As fit as I’ve ever seen him. As he walks over to us, I notice that while he’s clearly uncomfortable, he’s more confident than I’ve seen him since our Watford days and the demise of the Humdrum. Crowley, he’s still beautiful. My heart is beating faster than I’ve ever felt before.

“Hey, Baz,” he says with a slight smile once he joins us.

“Hello, Simon,” I say as calmly as I can, thankfully I’m still good a hiding my nerves.

I don’t smile at him—I don’t think I can. I’m too mesmerized by his presence to register anything other than outright shock. He reaches his hand out to me, and I’m immediately thrown back to the first time we met at 11-year-olds on our first day at Watford. When the Crucible brought us together, he extended his hand to me in this very way. I didn’t take it all those years ago. I was too stubborn, too prejudiced against him, too much of a snob. I take his hand now.

The moment we touch there’s a current of electricity, but I don’t let go. Neither does he. We lock eyes instead and both tighten our grips, solidifying our connection. Years of history and heartbreak and questions, so many questions, pass between us, but we both don’t say a thing. Every instinct in my body is urging me to take him into my arms and kiss him, and I’m about to give in to them all.

“Uh-hmmm,” Charles finally coughs, breaking the spell between us. I let go of Simon’s hand and turn back to my boyfriend, who’s clearly annoyed that I haven’t bothered to introduce him to these strangers.

“Yes, of course, I’m sorry,” I say. “This is my friend Charles Bradbury. Charles, this is Penelope Bunce and Simon Snow, my closest friends from home.”

Charles extends his hand to Penny first. “Charlie,” he says with a charming smile. “Only Baz calls me Charles.”

“Well, Baz has never been one to dispense with formalities,” Penny says with a smile.

“Tell me about it,” Charles laughs. “You should see our apartment, everything in its place at all times. It drives me insane,” he adds, looking over at me and winking. And there it is. Simon and Penny know that I’m living with Charles. Snakes and stakes.

Simon briefly glances over at me before taking Charles’ hand, and I nearly combust right then and there. This is a moment that I never thought would happen, not in any lifetime. My past and my present loves in the same room, shaking hands. Conversing. Merlin, Morgana, and Methuselah.

“I roomed with him for nearly 8 years, believe me, I understand. And it’s Simon Salisbury, actually,” he says with an easy-going smile. One that Charles returns just as easily.

“Salisbury?” I ask, confused.

“Yeah,” he shrugs. “It’s a long story, but I finally found my parents and a real last name.”

“That’s amazing, Simon,” I say with a smile, one that’s truly heartfelt and genuine. I want to know more, but I have no idea how to ask.

“Please join us,” Charles says. “We’re just having drinks after my shift in the ER, and we’d love the company.”

“Yes, please do,” I add formally. “We’ll grab the drinks. A cider for you, Simon?”

“Yeah, thanks,” he says a bit surprised. (I don’t know why he should be—it’s his standard alcoholic drink. Or at least it was.)

“Bunce?”

“Red wine, please.”

I nod and head over to the bar and order, hoping to take a few moments to pull myself together. What in the hell are they doing here? How did they find me? Why did they find me? And Snow (that heartbreakingly gorgeous fuck) has parents! And a proper surname (one that’s terribly familiar). I don’t even know where to begin.

“Need help?” Charles says wrapping his arms around me from behind and propping his head on my shoulder.

“Yes, please,” I respond and lean into him.

“So you really did see an old friend earlier, huh? Was it Penelope or Simon?” he asks.

“It was Snow.”

“Salisbury,” Charles corrects me.

“Right, Salisbury,” I remember.

“Are you okay, Baz? You aren’t your normal composed self,” he says with concern.

“No, I’m not,” I say honestly. “Two people whom I haven’t seen in years just walked in off of the street. Two people who were a huge part of my life but to whom I haven’t spoken in five years are sitting at our table. What could be more normal than that.”

“Duly noted,” he says, squeezing one last time before letting go. “And I can’t believe you didn’t tell me how attractive Simon is. It’s a bit unbelievable—I always pictured him, I don’t know, mousier?”

I have no idea how to respond. Would “Yes, the lost love of my life is beautiful beyond compare, but I’ve settled for you” be appropriate? Probably not. “Well, after you live with him for 8 years, his charm wears off a bit.”

He laughs, thankfully.

“I have no idea why you haven’t kept in touch with them, but that’s for another time. Let’s go have fun with old friends. I can’t wait to hear all about you as a teenager. I’m sure you were a real wanker, as you Brits say,” Charles says, grabbing the drinks with wicked smile.

I turn around and catch Simon’s eye. He’s clearly been watching us. He doesn’t look away, just looks at me thoughtfully. I wish I knew what he’s thinking. I wish I knew what I’m thinking. I look away and return to the table.

“Now that we’re settled, can you please tell me what you two are doing in New York City, specifically, this bar?” I ask, cutting to the chase.

“It’s a long story,” Bunce starts.

“Well, you’re sitting at our table enjoying a drink I bought for you, I think you owe me an answer to at least one question,” I say with a smirk. She shakes her head in annoyance, sighs, and continues.

“Simon and I had planned to come to New York to visit Shepard for the holidays . . . “

“Wait, Shepard’s in New York?” I interrupt.

“Yeah, for a little more than a year now,” Simon chimes in.

“Why didn’t he contact me?” I ask.

“Really? Really, Baz? We had no idea you were here!” Bunce comes back forcefully. “You never contacted us, never let us know where you were or if you were okay. We tried looking for you, but your family was no help and you left no trace. We ultimately stopped because we figured—and respected—that you didn’t want to be found.”

“Point taken, Bunce,” I respond quietly, knowing that it’s true. She has every right to be upset with me. And to put me in my place. I take a moment to straighten my pant leg and collect my thoughts.

“Who’s Shepard?” Charles leans over and asks me.

“I’ll explain later. It’s a long story,” I say and reach over to squeeze his hand. I can feel Snow’s eyes on me once again.

“So,” she begins again. “Simon and I have been planning this trip for a while now, and my mother happened to mention it to your dad during a cov . . . um, club meeting last week. Your dad then told her that you were studying at NYU and that he was planning a trip to see you in the New Year.”

“Of course, he did,” I say, shaking my head. “My father has never quite understood our particular situation.”

Simon snorts at that. I kick him in the leg (old habits die hard), and he nearly falls off of his chair. He kicks me back, but I steel myself for the blow and barely move. I can see him side-eye me, but I’m trying so hard not to call any more attention to us as possible. Charles is already giving me a curious look.

“We told Shepard, who then did a bit of digging, and he found your name listed on the NYU website as a graduate assistant. We were planning on ringing you up at uni.”

“So how’d you find me here?”

“Of all the gin joints in all the world. . .” Charles chimes in, having no idea that his cinematic reference is just a bit too on the nose. Penny eyes him curiously.

“Total coincidence,” she says. “We wanted to see the Village, and Simon just happened to see someone he thought was you in a window. I didn’t believe him until I saw you myself. You’re unmistakable, Baz. That hasn’t changed.”

I roll my eyes.

“Really. No location spells? No Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are?” I ask incredulously, and Penny’s eyes nearly bug out of her head.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Baz. Spells, indeed,” she says trying to laugh it off, but ends up sounding terribly uncomfortable.

“Don’t worry,” Charles cuts in. “I know that you are all Mages, and I know what Baz is as well,” he says. “I’m up to speed on most everything except for Shepard.”

Penny and Simon are speechless. They both look at me like I’ve gone completely insane, and I savor the moment, taking a long sip of my whisky.

“You two underestimate me,” I sigh. “Charles is a Speaker. We met at NYU and discovered that we had, shall we say, similar gifts.” I watch as the information sinks into the ridiculously thick brains of my two oldest friends (well, one friend and one love of my life).

“What do you mean by everything, Baz?” Simon asks cautiously.

I know exactly what he’s thinking. He wants to know what Charles knows about us, our relationship. It’s a good question without an easy answer. As Shepard taught us all those years ago, state the truth and leave out the sordid details.

Before I can respond, Charles leans in closer to the three of us so as not to be overhead.

“I know that Baz’s mother was head-mistress at Watford, your alma mater, and murdered by vampires. The same ones that attacked him. I know that Watford was run by a totalitarian fascist prick who used you, Simon, to do his dirty work. That you and Baz were roommates and that you hated each other until you didn’t. That three of you made a pretty amazing team when push came to shove. And that Baz is essentially banished from his home community because of his eating habits. Am I missing something?” Charles rattles off, ending on a rather defensive note.

Simon juts his chin out (no, please don’t let him pick a fight), takes a drink of his cider, and finally says with a shrug, “Sounds about right.”

We’re all silent for a few minutes, nursing our drinks. I can’t look at either Charles or Simon. Bunce, thankfully, breaks the silence.

“So you’re a Speaker, Charlie?”

“Yes,” he smiles and relaxes a bit. “I’m originally from Boston, and my family was one of the earliest settlers to the Colonies. Magic still runs pretty strong among us, particularly healing magic. It’s one of the reasons why I’m in medical school. If I can augment my magic with scientific knowledge, I can help a lot of people.”

“Fascinating,” Bunce replies. “I’d love to hear more about your work. What are the origins of your spells?”

“Whoa, whoa, Bunce, before we go down this rabbit hole, I have a few questions myself,” I break in.

“Fine, but I first want to know about you. What are you doing at NYU?”

“Well,” I say, drawing out the word as I think of where to begin. I can’t mention the fact that Simon Snow (Salisbury) ended our relationship, broke my heart, and left me an emotional wreck (Charles doesn’t know about any of that). “After everything, I dropped out of LSE and decided I needed some time to figure out my next move. New York seemed like a great place to start over, so I enrolled at NYU and took whatever struck my interest. Within a year, I had enough credits to declare myself a Classics major.”

“You’re following in your mother’s footsteps, aren’t you?” Bunce asks excitedly.

“Yes. I guess I am,” I say, surprised. “I’m studying Classics and linguistics, and my plan is to finish my doctorate and teach. So here I am, soon-to-be Professor Pitch.”

“It makes sense, doesn’t it?” Simons says, blue eyes lighting up (Crowley, I forgot how gorgeous he is when he smiles). “You always were better than anyone at Greek and Latin, and you actually liked it. You used to smile when you did your Greek homework. Who does that?” he says laughing.

“It’s perfect, Baz,” Bunce adds. “Your father must be so proud.”

“Well, he wasn’t too happy at first, with me essentially ensuring that I’ll live off of my family allowance for the rest of my life, but he’s proud of the connection to my mother.”

“And you should see how the students take to him,” Charles adds. “As you said, Penelope, Baz stands out, and his students notice. He has a gaggle of undergrads—men and women—that follow him around campus, leave him notes on his office door, bat their eyes at him,” he adds, batting his own eyes in demonstration, making us all laugh. “It’s ridiculous.”

“Enough about me,” I say, changing the subject as quickly as I can. “I want to know about you two. Tell me everything.”

Bunce starts.

“I’m in graduate school, too, but I’m studying popular culture and linguistics. I want to better understand how spells endure. I have two years (plus a dissertation) to go, but my mom has told me that there’s a spot for me at Watford whenever I’m ready,” she says proudly.

“A girl after my own heart,” I say affectionately. “I’m not surprised that we’re essentially studying the same subject just from opposite ends of the time continuum.”

“We have so much to catch up on, Basil. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conversations with you in my head. No one gets as excited about language and elocution as you do.”

My heart nearly bursts with her admission. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do the same thing. I’ve missed Bunce’s mind, her magic, her sheer willpower, even her whiteboards, but most of all, I’ve missed her friendship, our conversations. I reach out and squeeze her hand. She wipes a tear from her eye.

“Snow, it’s your turn. What are you doing now?” I say more confidently than I feel.

“Salisbury,” Charles chimes in.

“Thanks, mate,” Simon says coolly (a bit too coolly) to Charles, adding, “But Baz has been calling me Snow for more than a decade, I don’t mind.” Then, turning to me, says, “I went back to uni after you left, and therapy. Took my studies seriously this time around. I ended up liking psychology and graduated with honors. And now I work with kids like me—kids in homes, without families, trying hard just to survive. I’m right good at it,” he says proudly.

Truthfully, it’s more than I ever could have dreamed for him. It’s perfect and fitting, and he’s making a difference, still standing up for everyone. God, I want to kiss him. (I am well and truly fucked.)

“Still the hero, you courageous fuck,” I say quietly.

“Yeah, I guess,” he says with a shrug, picking at the label on his cider.

“Simon’s also been working at Watford,” Penny jumps in. “My mum hired him to teach combat skills to the kids. It’s an extracurricular, and they love him. He teaches everything from fencing and sword fighting to boxing. It’s amazing to see how good he is with the students, especially the first and second years.”

Simon has found his calling, and he’s still part of the world of magic. No wonder he seems more confident. He did it. He did exactly what he said he was going to do when we last saw each other—he found his place in the world. I guess breaking up with me really was what he needed. Simon Snow, it still hurts to see you this happy.

“I’m so happy for you, Simon,” I say.

He smiles shyly and takes a swallow of cider. I haven’t forgotten the production that is Simon Snow swallowing (it’s truly a beautiful sight), but I have forgotten the effect it has on me. I can’t help but stare.

“Are we ready for another round?” Charles asks, breaking our reverie.

“Wait. What time is it?” Penny suddenly asks.

“About 8:45,” I say after checking my watch.

“Shite, we were supposed to meet Shepard at 8,” Simon says, standing up and grabbing his coat from off of the back of his chair.

“He’s won’t be annoyed with us when he finds out why,” Penny says, standing and grabbing her own coat.

“How long are you in New York?” Charles asks.

“Until Boxing Day,” Bunce replies.

“Well, if you’re free tomorrow night, please come over to our place for dinner. I’d love to get to know you better, and I can tell that Baz already misses you both,” Charles says. My stomach drops once again, and I throw back the rest of my whisky to hide my surprise.

“Yeah, we can do that,” Simon replies.

“Great, give Baz your cell number, and we’ll text you our address. Let’s plan on 7?”

“Perfect,” Bunce says and pulls out her phone.

I pull out my cell phone, and Penny and I exchange numbers. I then give her a hug. Simon and I simply offer a friendly nod to each other. They leave with a final wave to me and Charles and disappear arm-in-arm into the snow. It already feels like a dream.

*****

I couldn’t sleep when we got home. I tossed and turned until Charles kicked me out of bed. I sit with a cup of tea by our window that overlooks the East River and replay all of the events that led to this moment.

Simon Snow officially broke up with me five years and a little over four months ago. And, like always, he tried his best to protect me from getting hurt, tried to lay all the blame at his own feet. But I was to blame as well, even though I refused to admit it at the time. Merlin, we were barely 20 and had no idea what we were doing.

After returning home from our blasted American road trip, we made our way back to Watford, where I was immediately taken into custody by the Coven. The video of our adventures of the Renaissance Faire had gone viral (as we predicted), and I was well and truly fucked. Penny and Simon were in trouble, too, but they managed to get by with a severe reprimand. In the end, their discretions didn’t matter—I was the real focus of everyone’s anger. Tyrannus Basliton Grimm Pitch, the sole heir to one of the oldest magical houses in Britain, outed as a dark creature; action must be taken. I was kept under house arrest with the Wellbeloves (the Coven still can’t quite bring itself to trust the Grimm-Pitches) until they decided what to do with me.

An emergency meeting of the Coven was called, and my father made a moving appeal to grant me mercy, citing that I was attacked as a child, given no choice in the matter, and still managed to meet all the magical expectations laid at my feet. He also noted that I was the last remaining Pitch descendant, never hurt humans, and openly killed vampires. His plea worked, and I was more or less banished from the world of Mages. I wasn’t stricken from the book or neutered like Nicodemus (thank fuck), and I still had my wand. But I was told that I could never return to Watford and that I forfeited my magical status, including my rightful place on the Coven once my father retired. I was devastated to put it mildly.

Simon, Bunce, and I returned to London after all the mess was over and I was released, and we were a miserable lot. And any of the love that Simon showed me in America had all but disappeared. I knew he was still traumatized by everything, struggling and hurting, but I was hurting, too, and I had no idea how to reach him. How to talk to him. There were only so many ways that I could tell him I love him (without actually telling him that I loved him, what a fool I was), but it didn’t matter. The words I knew were coming (that had been hanging in the air since the day we left California) finally came.

“Baz, I think I need to be alone,” he told me.

I told him that I’d spend more time at Fiona’s, give him space.

“No, I mean not be your boyfriend, your terrible boyfriend.”

And then it all came out. He told me that he finally recognized that he wasn’t of my world any longer and that he couldn’t go on pretending. Said he wanted to finally get rid of his wings and tail and try to start over. Without magic. Without me. (Not without Penny, mind you. Just me.) He told me that he wanted me to be happy, to live the life I deserved without him weighing me down. But he never told me that he loved me. I knew at that moment that my charmed life had officially ended.

I couldn’t say anything in response. I just sat, straightened an invisible crease on my trouser leg, and cried silently while he talked. When he was done, I stood up, walked to the door, simply said, “Goodbye, Simon Snow,” and left. I heard his growl all the way down four flights of stairs.

Four days later, I dropped out of LSE and booked a flight to Las Vegas. I planned to die. To lose my virginity, feast on human blood, and then immolate myself in a blaze of glory. But, once again, my life didn’t work out the way I planned. Somehow, I wound up here, in New York, finally living a happy, fulfilling life. That is until Simon appeared out of the snow.

Charles’ familiar shuffle jolts me out of the thoughts.

“Come back to bed, darling,” he whispers into my ear as he lightly runs his fingers over my chest, over the only mark I’ve ever willingly made on my body—a tattoo of dragon wings directly over my heart—and his touch stings. I told him it that the wings were my talisman, my good luck charm. He believed me far too easily (I’ve managed to keep Simon’s dragon appendages a secret so far).

“I’ll be there in a minute, love,” I say. “Once I finish my tea.” He kisses my neck and goes back to bed, looking far too good in a pair of low-hanging pajama bottoms. If I were in my right mind, I’d follow and shag him silly. I’m clearly not (in my right mind that is).

I sit and look out over the East River instead, imagining a winged Simon Snow rising with the sun.