This house is the definition of a maze.
I probably shouldn’t have left my room—I’m not certain I can find my way back to it. Also, Penny would definitely agree: she’d tell me it’s rude to roam around your hosts’ house at well past midnight.
I can’t sleep though, Penny isn’t here to tell me anything, and I’m a man on a mission, looking for food.
I’ll just sleep in the kitchen if need be—if I find it first, that is.
And if I don’t, well; I haven’t been sleeping anyway, so one more sleepless night won’t kill me.
The not sleeping thing was a surprise, I think.
Everyone probably expected me to sleep soundly.
After all, when you complain for years that you can’t sleep because you’re scared your evil vampire roommate will drain you in your sleep, it’s not an unfair assumption to think you’ll sleep well without him there.
But Baz was missing.
And I didn’t sleep soundy.
I didn’t sleep at all, at least not in my bed. (I slept plenty enough during my classes. And that one time I crawled into Baz’s bed and cried myself to sleep only to wake up crying again, because his pillow smelled more like me than him by morning.)
Because Baz was gone. Baz was gone—missing—for five weeks, and I didn’t know where he was or what to do with myself.
Five weeks during which I stayed up every night, scouring the entire expanse of the Catacombs, looking behind every corner and in every hidden nook and cranny. (I found a tabby—had it been a black cat, I would have taken it back to our room and made Penny try to spell it in the morning, in case Baz had somehow cursed himself.) Five weeks during which I managed to get myself banned from the Wavering Wood for hacking up too much of the undergrowth, and confined to detention for being incapable of keeping my magic in control every time Baz’s name wasn’t called on the register.
Five weeks during which I didn’t sleep, because I physically couldn’t rest until I found him, until I was able to make sure that Baz was back in Mummers, safe and back in my life where he belonged. Five weeks during which I went crazy because I couldn’t for a single second stop thinking about him.
I have no idea how I managed to find him, under that bridge, rotting away in a numpties’ lair. I think it might have been my self-preservation instinct finally kicking in—that explanation sounds a tad more sane than I grew a pair of bright red dragon wings and followed two ghost ladies out the window into the night.
And anyway, it probably was self-preservation: I think I’d have lost all of myself if I went another day without holding him in my arms.
(He was the only thing keeping me going, and not just now. Always. He was my one constant. The thing I could always be sure of.)
I’d lose myself if I lost him.
So I had to find him.
And I did.
He was still Baz, logically, but he wasn’t Baz.
He was all wrong.
It took my brain a few seconds to even comprehend what I was seeing. That I was seeing Baz: that I found him, that that was him lying there, disgusting and looking like Death Himself, but still very much alive and breathing.
He was skinny—starved—, even more than I was when I came back to Watford after the summers, long limbs gangly and stick-like. His cheeks were hollowed out, eyes sunken in, surrounded by deep, purple bags and all fucking wrong. He was pale, skin cold and translucent and pulled taut over his features, so far beyond his naturally pronounced, sharp cheekbones.
There was blood on his face, his lips, his fingers and knuckles, mixing with dirt and grime and sweat and tears. His nails were ragged, chewed and dulled from scratching at the lid of the fucking coffin he was kept in, from clawing at his own skin. Pale lines criss-crossed the length of his neck, running from his cheeks downwards, marking his despair. The corners of his mouth were torn, his lips dry and bitten. He was covered in bruises (I didn’t know vampires could bruise—I guess that means he at least got enough blood, if nothing fucking else), down the length of his arms and legs; an ugly red bump on his forehead. The foulest of smells was clinging to him, probably (definitely) from the piss and shit he was laying in.
He was just a boy. A really fucking hurt boy.
His voice snapped me out of my staring. (That was all wrong too. Not a luscious, posh sound laced with condescension and an air of superiority; just quiet and raspy with disuse—or maybe with overuse, from screaming.) I lifted him out of there, hugging him to me as he released the most heartbreaking sobs. I kept him upright because he couldn’t stand, legs made of jelly. (There was something wrong with his left leg, too, because he didn’t even try to step on it.) I could feel every single one of his ribs under my fingertips—that’s when I started crying, too, and didn’t stop for hours to come.
I offered him my wrist, if he needed to drink, but he just shook his head and pressed his face back into my shirt. I opened myself up and steadily poured my magic into him, whispering nonsense and then spell after spell into his hair, trying to heal him as best as I could without accidentally hurting him further. I was terrified of hurting him further.
I couldn’t stop saying his name.
I fed him an Aero bar from my pocket, only for him to sick it back up over the both of us.
I didn’t bloody care.
I pressed him so close to me, one arm under his arse, the other in a protective band around his back, hand cradling the back of his head, and flew.
I brought him home. (Not home home—not to our room—, but to his family home.) I don’t know how we got to Hampshire, but it didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter, because I had him and I was never letting him go.
(He was going to be okay.)
I held him to me the entire time as he cried into my neck, body nearly limp in my hands.
And he held me back, when I screamed bloody murder as the wings dissolved from my back, one bone crunch at a time, breaking away from my shoulder blades in piercing pain, leaving me spasming.
And we held each other, as I yelled for someone to come help—”you can kill me later just please, please help your son”—, as his stepmum enveloped the both of us into a tight hug, as his father came and softly stroked his matted hair and as his siblings grabbed for his hands.
Even when he screamed at everyone to step back, to stop crowding him, to leave him the fuck alone, he didn’t loosen his hold on me. I didn’t loosen mine around him, either.
(It wasn’t anywhere near a strong hold, but it was there—he was there with me, both of us exactly where I think we belonged. Right next to each other. In each other’s arms.)
He’s sleeping now. I carried him up to his childhood bedroom, laid him down onto the bed, and let his family drain themselves as they aimed healing spells at him I’ve never heard of while I held his hand and pushed magic into him.
None of us left his side until he fell asleep—with the exception of Mr. Grimm, who stepped out of the room to call Baz’s Aunt Fiona. I was expecting him to simply let her know her nephew was home: maybe that’s all he did, I don’t know, but her glares when she did finally show up seemed even more vicious than usual.
They’re all asleep now, too. (They do need the rest if they want to cast over him again tomorrow.)
I can’t sleep, though.
I should be able to. I’ve found Baz.
I found him, and he’s here, and I’m here with him (kind of), and he’s going to be fine.
(I’ve got him.)
But I still can’t sleep. I want to be right there with him, still holding his hand. I know he’s resting and recovering, but I’ve been missing him so much and now I’m just missing him so much all over again. (So close but so far, and all that.)
So instead I’m going looking for food.
The corridors are lit well enough, little lights shining from the walls, so at least I can see where I’m walking—I still have no idea where the kitchen is, but at least I’m less likely to end up walking into something and waking the entire household.
(I think I’m on their good side now. Mrs. Grimm—Daphne—hugged me before she went to bed, pressing a kiss to my temple. (No one has ever kissed me there. No one has ever kissed me anywhere but on my mouth.) Mr. Grimm just stared at me after his wife left, then silently enveloped me in a strong embrace of his own. (I still haven’t processed that, Malcolm Grimm hugging me.) I don’t want to ruin that by interrupting their night—it’s nice. They’re nice.)
I grin to myself when I spot the grand staircase, because staircase means a way to get downstairs, and downstairs means closer to the kitchen.
(This entire gothic mansion of his is slightly terrifying, especially in the dark, but it’s incredibly pretty as well. The staircase is both of those things. The walls on either side are covered in old paintings: I want to touch them all, to look into their eyes to make sure they aren’t following me.)
(I want to see if I can find a painting of Baz. He’d look beautiful in oils.)
I can see light coming from the far end of one of the corridors when I reach the bottom landing; I don’t really think twice before walking towards it.
I stop on the threshold when I see Baz.
(Well, I found the kitchen. I apparently also managed to find Baz again—very much not sleeping.)
He looks so right there, sitting on the counter in pjs—a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, a glass of milk in hand, loose hair framing his features—, yet so wrong at the same time.
He’s sitting on the counter because he’s so weak he can’t manage to stand for more than a few seconds at a time. He’s wrapped in the blanket because he’s even more cold than he normally is, because even with seven fuzzy layers on, he can’t stop his limbs from shaking. He’s drinking milk because despite being starved for weeks he can’t manage to keep anything solid down, yet.
He’s just all wrong in general. There's no sinister-looking widow’s peak (his hair looks soft again, though), no sneer or eyebrow raise in sight, no sharp quip on the top of his tongue—he’s a shell of a man, both physically and mentally.
He still looks a step away from death.
(How did he even get here in his state, with his limp, covered in enough sleeping spells to knock a baby hippo out?)
He casts his eyes down the second he notices me.
He’s been avoiding my eyes. We’d stared at each other for a lifetime before he whispered my name and I hauled him to his feet. He hasn’t looked at me since.
He hasn’t said anything to me, either, since then. (I don’t need him to, though.)
For once, I don't take it personally. I know he’s mortified. I can’t much imagine anything could hurt his pride more than being found in such a state, after needing to be saved from a coffin guarded over by numpties. By me, especially.
I need to make sure he knows nothing has changed, though. I need him to know that I’m not disgusted by him. That I was disgusted, but not by him, never by him. That I was disgusted by the fact it happened, and that it happened to him. That seeing him like that broke my heart and made my blood boil at the same time, because someone fucking dared do this to Baz Pitch.
I need to show him that I’m not scared of him—only ever scared for him, from now on.
“What are you doing?” I’m speaking softly, and I’m not sure it’s only because I don’t want to wake anyone up. (They should be far enough away.) Maybe it’s because I don’t want to spook him. (Don’t want him to be scared of me.)
(Or maybe it’s just because it’s Baz, and I’m soft for him, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to be anything other than soft towards him.) (I don’t know how I managed it until now. How I could have possibly thought that this boy deserves anything other than softness and love.)
“What, Snow, already accusing me of plotting, are we?” There’s not an ounce of bite in his voice—and he’s talking to me!—, just exhaustion and resignation. I walk towards him and take the glass out of his hand, placing it on the counter next to him.
“Can I?” My body slides itself between his knees, my hands finding their place on his hips under the blanket when he nods, letting me crowd into his space.
His head drops to shoulder as I start rubbing my thumb in gentle circles into his skin. He’s still so cold.
He sighs. “I just wanted tea.”
Oh. So the milk wasn’t because he couldn’t eat without being sick. It was because he was too weak to even make himself a cuppa.
I don’t like that explanation any better.
“Where do you keep the tea?”
He sighs again and lifts his head as I step away from him slightly. He moves his arm as if it were made from lead, lifting it slowly, heavily, pointing towards the general vicinity of a neatly organised shelf a little to the right of his head.
I smile at him even if he can’t see me and pull the blanket closed around his shoulders.
I fill the kettle and pop it on, rooting around on the shelf until I locate the tin labelled ‘Chamomile’. (Penny sometimes marches me down to the kitchens and demands someone makes me a cup of chamomile tea if I’m particularly worried. Apparently it’s supposed to help; I have a feeling Baz could use its help.) It’s an old tin, rusty around the seams, with an equally old, yellowing label, but the neat writing is easy to make out, as if someone traced the older letters before they faded from existence.
The corners of my mouth tug up at the sight of the little flower drawn crookedly in a purple crayon in the corner and my heart swells as I run my thumb over it. Baz has four kid siblings but somehow I still know, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, that he was the one who drew it. And it’s precious.
He is so precious.
I drag my eyes away from him and back to my own hands. There’s a tea strainer hanging from a hook I roughly scoop the dried flowers into while I attempt to locate a cup. There are none left out on the counter or in the sink, like there are at Penny’s or even Aggie’s house, so I walk back over to Baz and take his milk glass. (Sure, it’s not a teacup and I’m sure Baz would berate me for it normally, but I doubt he’ll care too much right now.) (I wish he would care—that he would berate me for serving him tea in a glass—, because that would mean he’s coming back to himself.)
He doesn’t react at all, though. I’d worry he’s fallen asleep—his head’s fallen heavily forward and he’s slouching, folding himself over his own lap—if I couldn’t hear his soft, awake-speed breaths, if I couldn’t see the barely there flutter of his eyelashes as he blinks.
I let my fingers run up the side of his thigh gently. I’m fairly certain he can see it more than feel it over all those layers, but that’s enough for me for now. I just want him to know I’m still here.
That I’m not going anywhere.
Or at least that I’m not going anywhere in any way that matters, because I do kind of have to go back to the other side of the kitchen for the kettle.
I drink the rest of his milk in one gulp—it would be a waste just washing it down the drain—and run it under the tap quickly.
I don’t bother drying it, not beyond what rubbing it quickly on my shirt can achieve. I plop the strainer in, pouring the hot water over it, then go back to the tea shelves and lift the honey pot down.
There’s a teaspoon already in it—seems rather unfancy, if you ask me. I’d have expected a family like the Grimms to use honey dippers, or maybe solid gold spoons, at least. The whole dollop goes directly into the tea.
I lift the cup by the rim, trying to not burn my fingers in the process of trying not to spill it. I place it down by Baz’s side again, reaching towards him immediately. I have no idea how long I’m supposed to let the tea seep, but I figure it’s going to take a little more than a few seconds.
(Maybe I should have used magic. I’m pretty sure those spells are more for warming up tea than for seeping it, though. And Baz deserves a cup of tea that’s made with care, even if it’s a cup that’s not as good as a magic one would be.)
My body finds its place between his knees again, fitting itself back in front of him automatically.
I give him the chance to push me away—he doesn’t.
He really is folded in over himself, as if he’s trying to make himself as small as physically possible. This close to him, I can see the tension in all of his limbs, can feel how strongly he’s holding himself. One of his hands by his face—he’s biting his nails, I think—while the other crossed in front of him, gripping his sides, fingernails digging into his own skin.
My breath catches in my throat when I realise he’s literally trying to hold himself together, sheer will no longer enough to stop himself from falling apart.
My fingers slot between his, pulling them away from his mouth and to mine instead. He probably spent the entire time I was making the tea biting at his skin and chewing his nails, because his fingers are bloody again. Half of his nail on his thumb is missing, and deep tears run around his cuticles.
Each one of his knuckles, then each one of his fingertips, gets the smallest of kisses, while I keep thumbing at his palm. And then I press another round of kisses into his skin, pushing the smallest amount of my magic into him, breathing out, “kiss it better!”
With the other hand, I’ve been rubbing random shapes into the little bone that juts out violently from his elbow. As soon as he loosen under my fingertips, I press myself even closer to him. He straightens just enough that I can fit myself into his arms, tucking my shoulder under his chin. (I want to knock his chin up so that he finally looks at me, but I don’t. That’s not really what I want anyway, and that’s not what he needs.)
I drop his hand so that I can wrap both my arms around him instead, pulling him closer to the edge of the counter, towards me.
My heart squeezes in on itself when I feel his nose burying itself in my curls. I bury mine in the soft fabric over his shoulders.
He smells like Mummers, like our room, like Baz—like him, like home.
I wasn’t even the one in danger, but I know I’m safe now.
I know that Baz is safe now, because he’s here, with me, and I’m never letting him go.
We stay like that, silent, breathing each other in, until I remember the tea. Baz gets a kiss on his collarbone before I pull away, just far enough to grab the cup and pass it to him. I’m probably staining the worktop when I leave the sieve just lying on it, dripping with leftover tea, but I really don’t give a fuck.
The tea’s only lukewarm by now, and it’s probably way too strong with the amount of time I left it to brew, but Baz doesn’t seem to mind too much. He clasps the glass in both his hands, the liquid rippling from side to side softly from his tremor.
I go back to rubbing circles into his hips again while he sips at the drink slowly (I stare at him the entire time—he’s so beautiful), continuing even after he finishes his cup. He’s not moving, not saying anything, just staring at the cup now resting limply from his hands by his thighs.
I let him stay like that for a few more minutes, before dragging my hands to his wrists. I swipe my thumbs across his pulse point before lifting the glass out of his hand again, pushing it to the side while the fingers of my other hand thread themselves between his own.
“Bedtime,” I announce, “c’mon.” I give his arms a soft tug when he doesn’t react, then repeat myself when he still doesn’t move. “Baz. Basil. Come. You’re supposed to be getting your beauty sleep.”
He shakes his head minutely.
“Yes. Yes you are, Baz, you have to rest.”
He shakes his head again. “I can’t.”
His voice is so very soft, I have to lean in until I’m a breath away from his face to hear him clearly.
“What do you mean you can’t?”
“I mean I fucking can’t!” I jerk slightly at the sudden volume of his voice, but I don’t move an inch away from him. I can see him biting at his lip as he starts shaking his head again.
“Sorry.” His voice is back to a whisper.
I move his hands so that I’m holding both of his in one of mine; his fingers are long, but my hands have always been bigger than his. (They fit together perfectly, like mine were made for the sole purpose of holding his.) “It’s alright,” I say, stroking his cheek gently as I cup the underside of his jaw.
His hair tickles the back of my hand as he melts into it.
He’s silent again, for a long while. I don’t push him. “I—” His breath comes out shaky. “I can’t sleep.”
“Did Daphne not have enough magic left when she spelled you?”
He shakes his head again. “No, it’s—it’s not that. I—”
I don’t stop rubbing my thumb over his knuckles.
My heart breaks all over for the thousandth time today at those words, because Baz is not the type of person to admit to something like that unless he’s truly terrified. Probably even then not.
I’m going to tear every numpty I ever come across to tiny pieces until one of them can tell me who made them do this to Baz, and then I’ll skin that person alive.
I take a deep breath and relax my jaw, my limbs. Going off isn’t going to help Baz in any way whatsoever. Skinning can wait; Baz can’t.
My fingers find their way into his hair, stroking at the little hairs at the nape of his neck. He drops his head into my shoulder and I snake my arm around his back.
“I’m scared that if I— it was so dark and— and if I— every time I close my eyes it’s just so dark and–and–and I was so scared. It was so dark, and I— I was so hurt and so hungry and so scared.” He lets out a sob. “I’m still scared Simon, I’m so scared.”
I have to turn my face into his temple to stifle my own cry. Baz, oh Merlin. Baz. I clutch him to me tighter.
“I don’t want to close my eyes because what if when I open them I’ll be right back there, in the c— in there, in the dark, and it was so dark and cold and I couldn’t move and Simon, I can’t go back there, I'm going to die, I can’t.”
“Sleep with me.”
I say it automatically, without a second thought—without a first thought, even, because I don’t have to think about it. (I said I’m never letting him go, ever.) The words are out of my mouth before I make the conscious decision to say them, but they don’t surprise me.
They visibly surprise him though, because he moves away from me so fast I nearly tip forward.
I right myself, letting my hand drop from his neck to his shoulder as he stares at me. (He’s looking at me, and it makes me smile. I hope he sees all the love I have for him on my face.) His eyes are still all wrong, swimming with tears and still dimmed, terrified, but they’re his eyes, the stormy, pavement grey, and he’s looking at me. And that’s good enough, for now.
“What?” he asks.
I step even closer as I say, “sleep with me. Let me sleep in your bed, or come sleep with me in mine.” His face is now sandwiched between both of my hands, his holding onto my forearms. I brush the teartracks away. “Actually no, scrap that, let’s go sleep in yours. Mine has wraiths and I don’t like them.”
He snorts involuntarily at that, and I have to grin.
I shuffle closer. It feels like we’re making up for all the hours—all the years, honestly—of missing eye contact.
“You aren’t there anymore, Baz, you’re here now. You’re with me.” A brush of thumbs again (his cheeks are warming up), then, “I won’t let anything hurt you ever again. I’ll be right there next to you the entire night. And when you open your eyes, I’ll still be right there. And you’ll know that you’re right here too, Baz.”
He looks down again when I touch my forehead to his. (He’s always taller than me, and he’s supposed to be even taller now, on the counter, but he’s fallen into himself so much that I barely have to lift off my soles.) “You’re going to be okay,” I murmur to him, “I’ve got you.”
He gives the smallest of nods, “okay.”
I offer him a small smile in return, then grab him gently by the waist. He throws his arms around my neck as I lift him gently off onto the floor. (Déjà vu.)
The material of my shirt bunches up around my neck, Baz fisting into it. I caress his head gently, running my fingers through the length of his hair. (I was right. Soft.)
I nose at his temple, pressing a kiss to the underside of his jaw, lingering there for just a few seconds as I pull him closer. “I’ve got you.”
He burrows his face deeper into my neck, his entire body slumping even more towards me as his knees buckle out from under him, arms falling limply down my shoulders.
I grab him softly and straighten him by his elbows. “C’mon, Baz. Take me to bed.”
The corners of his mouth tug up the smallest bit at my cheeky smile, and I can’t help but grin at him again. He will be okay. (Of course he will. He’s Baz. Baz’ll be okay. Always. He has to be.)
It’s slow-going. I’ve got my arm around his waist and his is placed back around my shoulders. He walks in slow motion, slouched and stiff, dragging his feet. I can feel the way he shifts his body weight into me with every step, trying to put as little pressure on his injured foot as possible. (No spell managed to fix that yet, but we’ll keep at it. I’ll keep at it, until he’s not hurting anywhere anymore.)
“Baz,” I whisper into his ear. It’s right there by my mouth if I just turn my face towards him slightly. “I’ll carry you.”
His hair swings across my face as he shakes his head.
I don’t push it. He carries on, one step after the other and I’m filled with such immense wonder and love for him that I suddenly can’t remember ever feeling anything else towards—for—him.
He really is so strong. (He’ll be okay.)
I turn my head again, pressing a tender kiss to his face once we reach the bottom of the stairs. (I think it lands somewhere near his temple.) He grabs the railing with his free hand. It shakes with his effort to hold himself up.
When we finally reach his bedroom door, he turns to me, both his arms suddenly thrown around my neck. His knees give out a moment later. I don’t let him fall, lifting him up with one arm. In perfect imitation of just a few hours ago—a few hours feels simultaneously too little and too much time—I use my free arm to coax his legs around my waist.
His entire hold on me is so weak, but I’ve got him.
I carry him gently over to his bed, laying him down. Bum first, then his back and lastly his head. (He gets another kiss, to his cheek this time.)
He stretches his legs out as I scoop the blankets out from under him. The one he had wrapped around himself fell somewhere in the process of us getting here. Baz was more important than picking it up, and he’s still more important, so I’m not going back for it. It can wait until morning. Or someone else can pick it up.
I unfold the blanket from the end of his bed instead and lay it down onto him. As carefully as I can, I gather the thick duvet and arrange it around him, tucking it around his shoulders, then throw the last blanket around him, too.
He’s nothing more than a slightly lumpy form with jetblack inky hair spilling out onto his pillow right now.
I climb over to the other side of the bed and lie down, facing him. I push the bedding away until I’m only covered with the top blanket, then reach over to Baz’s hip. I pull him towards me slightly, just enough to get him to roll over, out of that stiff position.
“Are you comfy, Baz?” I prompt, and I can feel the bed shift alongside him as he bends his good knee and brings his arm up, adjusting his head on the pillow.
I smile at him, reaching tentatively across the tiny distance between us. “Can I hold your hand?”
He closes his fingers around mine instead of answering me. (Though I guess this answers it well enough, too.) I give them a gentle squeeze, adjusting our hands so that they’re lying comfortably between our faces, our palms and elbows touching.
My other hand comes up to his face, brushing his hair away from his eyes, and I push myself up so that I can press one last kiss to his crown.
(I did the same thing earlier, before leaving his room after he fell asleep. I didn’t care who was watching. (Mrs. Grimm just smiled softly at me.))
I don’t pull away as I whisper, “can I turn the light off?”
He takes an audible breath and his grip on my hand tightens, but I feel him nod once, a short up-down motion under my lips. I reach over to the bedside table and flick it off. (It’s one of those old lamps, with a fabric shade with threads dangling around the edge, and a string for a switch. So posh.)
“Simon!” His voice sounds so panicked I immediately touch my free hand to his cheek, bringing my forehead to his as I lie down.
“Shh, it’s alright, I’m here.” Then, just to make sure I’m not making him feel crowded, I add, “is this okay?”
“Mmhmn,” he hums, “yes, just—. Simon.” He’s still breathless, but he sounds a little less panicked. “Just— Please don’t let go.”
(As if I could.)
“I won’t. I won’t let go. I’ve got you, you’re safe, I promise.”
I sweep my fingers over his cheekbone, then over his knuckles with my other hand.
“I’ve got you.”
I’m never letting you go.
“I’ve got you, darling.”
(And I do. I hold his hand the entire night through, not letting go as I bring myself up to my elbow, head falling to my shoulder to watch him, patting his hair gently. (Maybe I’m a little scared he’ll disappear, too.) When he starts whimpering, I lean down closer and whisper to him until he calms down. And when he opens his eyes, I’m right there next to him.)
(I still can’t sleep, but that’s okay—I don’t sleep, but Baz does, and I’ve got him, and I’m never letting him go.)