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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.

Chapter Text

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Simon and Penny are due here any minute, and dinner isn’t ready. Charles got called into the ER, so he’ll have to eat and run, which means that I’ll be left alone with them. In the apartment that I share with my boyfriend. Filled with photos and other evidence of our life together. This isn’t going to be awkward at all.

While Charles is changing into his scrubs, I’m trying to finish up dinner. Pizza and salad, easy (or so Charles told me it would be). But he is normally the one cooking, and I barely get the pizzas out of the oven before they burn and, in my hurry, wind up burning wrist, which is far worse than it should be because, you know, vampire.

I hear the doorbell ring. Fuck. Of course, they’re early. (My country for some good British gentry, who know exactly when to arrive—never too early, never too late.)

“Charles, can you get that?” I yell.

“No, I’m haven’t finished changing. I’m not decent,” he yells back.

“You’re never decent, dear. In fact, you always look indecent, even in scrubs. It’s the burden of being beautiful. Now, please get the door!” I say as I rush into the bathroom to take care of my wrist. I don’t think I can cast a spell that will heal this burn fully.

“Your flattery won’t work tonight, Baz. Get the damn door.”

The doorbell rings again. “I’ll be there in a second,” I yell as I dig through our medicine cabinet looking for the antibacterial cream. I find it, hastily apply it, plus a gauze, and head to the door. I take a moment to look at myself, and I honestly look terrible. I haven’t seen myself look this pale since I was last in England. And it’s not because I haven’t fed. I’m simply terrified.

I run my fingers through my hair and open the door. I’m greeted by a smiling Bunce holding out a bottle of red wine and Simon with a six-pack of beer.

“Come in, come in,” I say, opening the door wider for them. “I’ll take the drinks and come back for your coats.”

Simon and Penny don’t say anything, just look around the apartment in awe. I have to admit that it’s probably a bit much. A large loft apartment with an open living and dining room and kitchen. One wall is entirely made up of windows (I do have shades so that I can avoid the direct light when needed). The other walls are a mixture of exposed brick and plaster. And I’ve spared no expense when it comes to my surroundings. It’s all leather and wood and wool, but it’s also warm and comfortable. This apartment is the one true decadence I allow myself—I figure if I don’t plan to return to my ancestral home, I’ll enjoy the one I make for myself here. I live rather simply (for a Pitch) otherwise.

“You’re still a posh prat, Baz,” Simon says, arching an eyebrow at me.

“Fuck off, Snow,” I say with a sneer. “And since when did you start cocking your eyebrow? It’s not a good look for you.”

Simon’s eyebrow drops, and he sticks out his chin just like he always does when he’s preparing for a fight (or pouting). I stand my ground and arch my eyebrow just to piss him off. Ah, this is familiar territory. We’re at a standoff, and Penny has gone a full shade of pale as she watches us. We size each other up for at least a minute. This is ridiculous, and I try my best to keep my composure, but Simon always barrels ahead before me. His shoulders start to shake, and he doubles over with laughter. That’s all it takes for me to follow his lead, laughing until I nearly cry. My nerves are clearly getting the best of me, but it feels good to laugh.

“Oh Bunce, did you really think we were going to tear each other to pieces this soon? At least give us an hour to reacquaint ourselves,” I say when I settle.

“Penny, I know it’s right awkward, but have some faith in us, please,” Simon says, wrapping his arm around Bunce’s shoulders.

“Nicks and Slick, it’s been four years since you’ve seen each other, and you still manage to make trouble,” she says before breaking into a relieved smile.

“Please make yourself at home,” I say as I grab their coats and hang them in the closet. (I lose myself for a moment in the smell of Simon’s coat. Cinnamon and bacon. Is that smoke?). “Charles will be out soon. He got called into work tonight, so he won’t be able to join us for long.”

“That’s too bad,” Penny says. “I really wanted to hear more about his magic.”

“What’s wrong with your wrist, Baz?” Simons asks.

“Oh, I burned it in the oven. Moving too quickly.”

“Here, let me see,” he says, gently taking my hand and unraveling the mess that is the gauze around my wrist.

“It looks painful,” he says.

“It’s nothing,” I say (far too breathlessly for my own comfort).

He runs his fingers lightly over the wound, and I can’t take my eyes away from his ministrations. I’m not as grey as I once was, but the striking contrast between his golden and my pale skin fascinates me. I’d forgotten how we looked together (not forgotten really, just struck it from my mind).

“Basil, are you okay?” Charles says as he enters the room, breaking our reverie. Simon and I jump apart, and I know I’m blushing with guilt or desire. Or both.

“Yes, fine. Just burned myself on the oven,” I say waving my wrist in front of him.

“Here, let me take a look,” he says taking my hand.

“It’s fine, really,” I respond.

“Basil, you’re flammable. Burns are never fine.” Charles takes my wrist and whistles. “That does look painful. Hold on,” he says and runs into our bedroom.

“Seriously, make yourself comfortable, this will only take a minute. And we can eat shortly,” I say as graciously as I can. Simon has already moved away from me and is exploring the apartment, looking at my bookshelves and photos. Penny smiles and follows him.

Charles comes back into the room with his wand in hand. (It’s made from an ancient willow tree that still stands on his family’s property. It’s long and lithe with a golden hue. Just like him.) He takes my wrist and says Kiss It Better, touching his wand to my wound, which slowly disappears.

Charles’ magic feels like a cool breeze and smells of the ocean—clean and crisp, saltwater and seaweed. I close my eyes and let his magic calm my nerves as well, and I forget about our guests, at least for the moment.

“Baz and Chaz!” Bunce suddenly squeals from across the room. “You have got to be kidding me,” she says and bursts into peals of laughter. “Oh Baz, has America stripped you of your refined taste?”

Bunce is referring to a tacky wooden sign, something you see on Pinterest or Instagram, with Baz and Chaz scrawled on it in flowy letters. Fiona bought it for us as a joke when we first moved in together, thought it was terribly funny.

“Oh Bunce, have some faith,” I say calmly. “It’s a gift from Fiona. And she spelled it something fierce—any time you try to take it down, it hangs itself back up bigger than it was before. It’s atrocious, but neither Charles nor I can figure out how to break the spell. And so, it survives.”

“It’s grown on me,” says Charles, laughing, “I love the sneer Baz gives it whenever it catches his eye. It’s rather endearing.”

“Fuck off, Chaz,” I say.

“Anything for you, darling,” he says and pulls me in for a proper kiss. All I can feel is Simon’s eyes boring into me, and I break away far sooner than normal.

“Okay, who’s ready to eat?” I ask, returning to our guests.

***

Dinner is a casual affair. We eat in the living room, pizza, salad, and drinks strewn haphazardly on the coffee table. We make small talk about the city, NYU, tips on where to eat and what museums they should see while they are in town. I try to keep this small talk going for as long as possible. I can tell Bunce is eager to ask more questions—and I have more for them myself—but I’d prefer to tackle them after Charles leaves us. It’s terrible, I know, keeping secrets from the man I live with, but there are things that are too painful for me, too close to my heart, to reveal to him, at least right now. Maybe someday.

A brief lull in the conversation gives Bunce the opportunity to pounce.

“So how did you two meet? You said it was at NYU, but I’m sure there must be a story,” she asks innocently.

“Oh, it’s a great story,” Charles jumps in before I can take control of the conversation. “So, I am part of a Wiccans club at NYU—it’s really a way for Speakers to find each other on campus, although we get a few talkers obsessed with witchcraft, which is a story for another time. Anyway, Baz showed up at a meeting one day about, a little over two years ago?”

I nod in response.

“He caught my eye the minute he walked into the room—surprise, surprise—so I decided to be his welcoming committee. But he was a total asshole to me. Acted like I was beneath him, a complete snob. I’m sure you can imagine.”

“Yeah, the more nervous or upset Baz is, the more of a snob he becomes. He’s both polite and a total arse at the same time,” Simons chimes in.

“Exactly,” Charles says laughing.

“I’m glad some things haven’t changed,” Simon adds.

I groan in response. This is utter torture.

“Anyway, I totally forgot about him after that first meeting. But then I see him again about a week later, wandering around the med school looking both ridiculously gorgeous and utterly lost. I couldn’t resist. I approached him again and asked if he needed any help. He was perfectly charming this time around, until he remembered me from the Wiccan meeting.”

“To be fair,” I break in, “I realized I made a mistake the minute I walked into that excuse for a magical gathering. I had no idea Charles was a Speaker—I simply took him for a talker looking to hook up, and I wasn’t remotely interested. At least, at the time.”

“Oh Baz, shut up and let Charles tell the story,” Penny says.

(Wankers, all of them.)

“It turns out that Baz was looking for one of my classmates, who provides help for certain creatures of the night,” he says wiggling his eyebrows.

“Blood. I was looking for blood,” I say, just wanting this discussion to end.

“Blood?” Penny asks. “What type of blood?”

“Human blood, what other kind would he want?” Charles ask, sounding as if any other type is a truly ridiculous concept.

“Human blood?” Simon asks, looking more than a little shocked. “Since when do you drink human blood, Baz?”

“Since I came to American five years ago,” I say matter-of-factly. “It’s a long story, but I discovered that there was a safe trade of human blood here.”

“And no humans are harmed in the process. It’s like a blood bank for magical creatures—humans donate blood willingly. All they know is that they are helping someone survive just not any of the specific details. It’s quite amazing,” Charles adds.

“But why did you start drinking human blood?” Simon asks again. “What changed?”

“I realized that I was essentially starving myself,” I say defensively. “Once I heard about these blood banks, I thought it couldn’t hurt to try it. And the difference, well, it’s lifechanging.”

“Other than your hair being shorter and you seeming happier than the last time I saw you, I don’t notice much of a difference.” Bunce says.

“You’re not as grey,” Simon says quietly. “You’re still pale, but you’re more alabaster, less silver. You look healthier.”

“Good words, Snow,” I say with a smirk (he grunts at that). “And I am healthier, stronger. I feel better. And I still haven’t ever bitten a human. In fact, my urge to do so is far less than it used to be.”

“Fascinating,” Bunce adds, looking at me as if I’m a scientific experiment.

“Anyway,” Charles pipes in. “To make a long story short, I offered to connect Baz with my friend in exchange for a cup of coffee together. It took me a full month to finally get him to make good on the deal, and I was able to convince him that I wasn’t some Wiccan talker. Once he found out that I was a Speaker, well, I think the attraction grew.”

Shit. That’s the last thing Simon needs to hear—equating my attraction to Charles with his magic (it wasn’t magic that attracted me to him—he’s gorgeous, kind, and funny—but his magic made him possible for me). It’s time to end this discussion.

“His nice hair and broad shoulders didn’t hurt either. Plus he’s good at football,” I add in quickly. “After coffee, our friendship grew, and here we are.”

“We moved in together about six months ago, and it’s been bliss ever since,” Charles finishes with a wink to me. “And with that, folks, I need to leave. The NYU Emergency Room awaits!”

Charles gets up, picking up a few plates and other dishes as he does. I follow his lead and join him in the kitchen.

“Are you going to be okay, Baz,” he turns to me with concern in his eyes. “You still seem a bit off to me.”

“I’ll be fine,” I say, grabbing him by the waist and pulling him into me. “I can feel Bunce’s eagerness to ask me a million questions, and I’m sure most will bore you to pieces. Go save a few lives, Chaz.”

He laughs, squeezes my ass, and heads back into the living room, where Bunce and Simon are helping to collect the rest of our mess from dinner.

“It was terrific to spend more time with you both,” he says, walking over and giving Penny a kiss on the cheek. “I hope we have a chance to see each other again soon,” he adds reaching out to shake Simon’s hand.

“Likewise,” Simon says.

“Don’t use too much magic tonight, Chaz,” Penny says with a wink.

“I’ll try my best,” he says returning the wink. I’ve joined them in the living room again, and Charles gives me a quick kiss. “I’ll see you around noon tomorrow.”

We all watch him as he leaves, and he gives us a quick wave as he heads out the door. Penny does a quick Clean as a Whistle to tidy up the rest of the room.

“Saltwater and seaweed,” Simon says quietly.

“What was that?” I ask.

“Charlie’s magic. It smells like saltwater and seaweed. It’s like an ocean breeze,” he says again.

“Yes, exactly,” I say. “Quite the opposite of mine.”

And then it hits me. Simon could smell magic. The last time I saw him, he had lost all ability to detect magic. The loss of his own led to the loss of all connection to it. Crowley, does Simon have his magic back?

“Wait, Snow, you can detect magic?” I ask.

He shrugs (typical).

“You smelled his magic.” I say insistently.

He nods. “I felt it, too,” he says. “It’s actually a bit overwhelming when you walk into your home, Baz. It’s a bizarre mix of fire and water, waves of warmth and cool rushing over you.”

I’m speechless.

“Baz, you can close your mouth now, otherwise we’ll be the ones calling you mouth breather,” Penny says, joining the conversation. “A lot has changed since we last saw you.”

“You have your magic back, Simon?” I ask quietly.

“Yeah,” he says, looking at me proudly.

“When?”

“About three years ago,” he says.

“Why didn’t I feel it?” I ask in wonder. “I should have felt it.”

“You did,” he says. I look at him, confused. “When we first shook hands at the bar. That shock? I know you felt it, Baz. You squeezed my hand in response.”

“I thought that was just, I don’t know, us. After all this time. I didn’t even think. It felt so familiar. Like a current . . . of course,” I say gasping as it all hits me at once. My knees give out, and I fall down onto the couch in awe and wonder.

Simon stands up then, closes his eyes puts his right hand to his left hip, and when he opens his eyes again, his wings and tail appear, along with the Mage’s Sword. It’s back. His magic is back, and it’s brilliant and beautiful and strong. It pulses through him, just like a current. You can literally see it pulsing through him—his wings and tail glow like burning embers, and his tawny skin glimmers, his moles and freckles shine like stars. He smiles down at me then, a truly genuine smile, one I haven’t seen since, well, our first nights together at Pitch Manor. I can feel the tears come to my eyes, but I don’t care. I’m so proud of him, so happy for him. I want to throw myself at his feet, worship him. I’m completely undone.

“Basil, are you okay?” Penny asks gently, coming over to sit next me.

I close my eyes and count to 10. I need to collect myself before I do something I’ll regret, like beg him to take me back, my current life and love be damned.

“Yes, Penny, thank you. I’m just a bit overwhelmed,” I finally say and open my eyes. “Simon, this is amazing.”

He nods, still smiling at me. Then he closes his eyes again, takes a breath, and the sword, wings, and tail disappear. He sits back down on the chair directly across from me.

“How?” I ask. Penny takes my hand in hers, grounding me in a way I haven’t felt in years. That brings tears to my eyes as well. Crowley, I’m a fucking mess.

“After I found out about my parents—they were mages, both of them—it just came back. I don’t know. I think it was connected to my feelings,” he says, looking intensely at me. “Once I knew where I came from, knew that I was born into magic, well, it just came back.”

“How?” I ask again.

“One day I just simply wished that my wings would disappear, and they did,” he says. “And then I thought about the Mage’s Sword, and it appeared, just like it always did.”

“Wait. Wait one fucking second! The Mage’s Sword! Simon?” I ask, Penny tightens her grip on my hand. I don’t even need to ask the question. It’s so obvious. Again, why didn’t I connect the dots?

He nods once, looking both resolved and sad.

“You are the real Mage’s Heir. He . . . he was your father?”

“Yeah. Yes, the Mage was my father. David Llewellyn was, is, my biological father,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Merlin, Morgana, and Methusula. Nicks and Slick. Eight snakes and a dragon. Fuck me,” it all comes bumbling out of my mouth at once. Simon guffaws as my response.

“Baz, is it honestly that surprising?” he asks with a smile. “It all makes perfect sense. How he knew where to find me. How he arranged for me to be in care every summer. How I could summon the sword. How he called me ‘my boy.’ I always thought it was simply a term of endearment for me, not that I was actually his boy, his son.”

“How do you feel about all of this? Simon, the Mage. Everything that he did to you. Everything that happened . . .”

“It’s okay, Baz. Really. I said I went back to therapy, and it helped me work out my feelings. It still hurts, all of it, but I think he thought he was helping me, helping our world. I’ve made my peace,” he says resolutely.

“And your mother?” I ask softly.

“Lucy Salisbury.”

“Lucy Salisbury? As in Lady Salisbury’s missing daughter?”

He nods.

“She was my mom’s best friend,” Penny pipes in. “Agatha is actually the one who figured it out. My mother showed Agatha and me a picture of Davy Llewellyn over the Christmas everything happened, and he was standing with my mom and Lucy. She was his girlfriend, and mom said she just disappeared. Agatha was so intrigued by Lucy, how she simply left the world of magic, that she stole the photo. A few months after we got home from our road trip, she gave the photo back to me. Thought my mom might want it. And the minute I saw Lucy, it finally hit me. It was if Simon was staring right back at me. The hair, the eyes. He looks more like Lucy than the Mage. It was unmistakable.”

I have a million questions, and I don’t even know where to begin. Simon Salisbury. Of course. The Salisbury family dates nearly as far back as mine, although their magic has weakened over the years. But there’s a history of strong magicians in that family, and it obviously manifested in Simon. My god, I saw Lady Salisbury nearly every time I went to the club. She always liked me, winked at me, made a comment about how handsome I was. I close my eyes and picture her face, see her smile. And I see it. I see him. It’s Simon’s smile.

“Lucy Salisbury,” I finally say. “I knew, know, her mother. You have her smile, Simon. How did I never see that before?”

“How did my mother not see the connection? It’s so obvious now, Baz, but we were all blind to it. We all assumed that Simon was a Normal and didn’t question the Mage, just took him at his word,” Penny says.

“What happened to her? To Lucy?” I know what the answer will be, but I still need to hear it.

“She died,” Simon says sadly. “Giving birth to me. Or at least that’s what we think happened. No one is here to tell us. But remember the night of the Visiting? I told you that your mother came back to see me a second time and held me, called me her Rosebud Boy, said she didn’t want to leave me. It wasn’t your mother, Baz. It was mine. Lucy. She came back to me. I know that now,” he says, tears starting to fall down his cheek.

I leap off the coach and move to Simon, sit on the coffee table directly in front of him. I can’t help it. I need to touch him at this moment as much as I need to breathe or drink. I take his face in my hands and just look at him. I wipe the tears away with my thumbs and search his eyes. There’s pain there, but also happiness, peace. Her Rosebud Boy. Of course.

“Oh, Simon,” I say, doing my best to keep our eyes locked. “I always knew you that no mother would willingly let you go, you absolute nightmare. You rosebud boy. (He smiles at that.) I’m so sorry she’s not here with you, but you have a mother Simon. A name. A home. You have a family.”

He nods, gives me a crooked smile, and takes a big breath.

“I’ve wanted to tell you for so long, Baz. I wasn’t sure if your family told you. I see them now, when I’m at the club with Lady Salisbury.”

“They never told me,” I say, finally letting go of his face. “I asked them to not tell me about you, to respect my distance. It made sense then,” I sigh and move to sit in the chair opposite of him.

“Simon Salisbury,” I say. “I hope the old families are wallowing in shame over how they treated you, especially mine.”

“I’ve been treated to some very good dinners, I’ll say that,” Simon responds with a grin.

“Of course, it was your appetite that needed to be appeased, Snow. I’m glad some things never change,” I say returning his grin.

We all sit in silence for a moment, not sure where to go from here.

“I’m dating Shepard,” Penny suddenly says, breaking our reverie.

I bark out a loud laugh. It’s the perfect nonsequitur. “Seriously, Bunce? Shepard?”

“Yes,” she says defensively. “He’s amazing and funny, and he knows all about our world. There’s no risk. And he has the most beautiful eyes . . .”

“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” I say, befuddled.

“Yes, I am,” she says proudly. “And he loves me, too. It’s why we’re here. To meet his family, he has cousins here. And I’m considering moving here as well, transferring to NYU of all places. Who knew you were here waiting for us all along!”

“This is fucking ridiculous,” I say, rubbing my hands through my hair. “Never in a million years did I expect you to find me at NYU of all places. I thought I may see you back in England on those few times I travel home, but never here. I guess you truly can’t escape your past, even if you try.” I sigh and collapse back into my chair.

“Baz, where did you go when you left England?” Bunce asks, her tone far more serious than it’s been all night.

“Nowhere that matters,” I say.

“Bullocks, Baz,” Simon says. “You didn’t just head to New York to find yourself. I know how self-destructive I felt after you walked out. . .”

Fuck that.

“You broke up with me, Snow, asked me to leave you alone. I did not walk out,” I say through clenched teeth.

“Fine. Whatever. I know how horrible I felt, and I can only imagine how you felt, you fucking drama queen. Where did you go?” he growls.

I sit and stew for at least five minutes, and Simon and Penny patiently wait. They won’t look away from me, and this is when I knew that they had this question planned all along. I knew it was coming eventually, but I walked right into it. (I’m pathetic. One evening with Simon Snow (Salisbury) and all my wits have left me.) I decide to follow Shepard’s lead again.

“I went to Las Vegas,” I say.

“I knew it,” Simon shouts, standing up. “I knew you went back to that fucker Lamb. King of the fucking vampires.”

“Yes, I went to fucking Las Vegas. Lamb was the only person who understood my situation. And I had nowhere else to go,” I shout back, leaning forward in seat, hands in my pocket. “My family wanted me to go home, to Pitch Manor, even if there wasn’t any magic there. But how could I go back there? To my mother’s ancestral home, when I was all but banished from the magical world. And I certainly couldn’t go back to you two. Lamb was my only choice.”

“How long did you stay with him?” Simon asks. He’s pacing now, and I can feel the anger welling up inside of him.

“I didn’t plan to stay long. I honestly just wanted to drink myself silly with fellow vampires, fuck a few Normals, suck them dry, and then kill myself in a blaze of glory.”

“Kill yourself, Basil? Seriously,” Penny says, leaning over towards me, worry lining her face. Simon has stopped pacing.

“Yes, kill myself, Penny. I had nothing left to live for, I had already lost everything,” I say.

“Oh, Baz, you hadn’t lost everything. You still had me, Shepard, Fiona . . .”

“But not me,” Simon says quietly. “You didn’t have me.”

“Exactly,” I say, utterly defeated.

“So what happened?” Penny asks.

“It’s such a long story, Bunce, please don’t make me tell it,” I say wearily.

“I need to know, Baz. I love you, you posh, privileged prat. I want to know what happened to you. Please let me back into your life,” she says, taking my hand. “We’re family, remember?”

And that’s all it takes. (I’m the world’s softest vampire, a sucker (ha ha) for those I love and a sentimental sap.) I sigh. “Fine, Bunce, have it your way.”

I tell them about how Lamb knew I was coming before I even made it to the Catherine hotel. He had minions waiting for me the minute I walked in the lobby, and they took me straight up to his room. He clearly didn’t trust me, but he was more fascinated by me than anything. I made a deal with him, told him I wanted to give this side of myself a try and abandon my magic. He laughed, called me a fool. “Magic is the side of you that matters most,” he said. “No vampire is as powerful as you. At least not yet.”

I told him that I could care less about power, but he took me under his wing all the same. He taught me about life as a vampire, fed me human blood just to see my reaction, but didn’t make me feed on humans. And I immediately knew that he was right—I was starving myself. Human blood gave me energy, strength, allowed me to stay in the sun longer. It was a necessity. But I still couldn’t bring myself to feed on humans. Lamb didn’t push and never forced me to change. I think he truly liked me, thought of me as more of a son than anything. So he taught me about the blood banks, where to find them. He also made me swear not to transfuse my blood, always ingest it. (He still hated the Next Bloods more than anything.)

We also tried to figure me out. I wasn’t like the other vampires. Most of them stayed roughly the same age that they were when they were turned. But not me. I grew up, entered puberty, and am still growing older. He made me tell him everything I remembered about the day I was turned, and he read every account of the event he could get his hands on. He thinks that they didn’t drain enough blood to kill me and were killed before they fully turned me. I’m essentially caught in limbo between two worlds. I am technically a vampire—I’m ridiculously strong and deadly, I need blood to survive, the sun burns me, crucifixes are noxious to me, I can’t get sick or be killed by normal human means. But I do age. We have no idea if I’ll die of old age or will stop aging at some point. It’s still a mystery.

Simon stops my tale at one point to ask if I ever fucked any Normals. He honestly has no right to be this angry, this vile (but I do appreciate the fact that the idea of my sleeping with anyone clearly riles him up). I refuse to answer him.

(I did sleep Normals, far too many. But it was out of desperation. I just wanted affection, to feel loved, but it only offered momentary bliss. Simon was who I craved, needed, and nothing could sate that desire. Lamb knew it, tried to find me bronze-haired, blue-eyed gods that I could play with. It worked, but only for a moment.)

“Why did you leave?” Penny finally asks.

“At some point, I forgot that I wanted to kill myself,” I said. “Lamb had the most amazing library, compiled over centuries, and I’d spend my days reading original Latin and Greek texts, even an original edition of Shakespeare. It was extraordinary. I rediscovered my passion for words and history, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to return to magic, figure out ancient spells. I wanted to live. Lamb helped me find joy in my life again, and I’ll forever be grateful to him for that.”

“Why did he let you leave?” Simons asks.

“He really didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t his prisoner, and he knew I wouldn’t share any secrets. I had already lost everything that mattered most. He just asked that I stay in touch. And I did. I do. I send him scholarly articles that I think he’ll like or ridiculous New York t-shirts from time to time.”

“You aren’t 100% vampire?” Penny asks, fascinated.

“I’m 100% Tyrannus Basilton Grimm Pitch. There’s no one else like me,” I say with a smirk and then add (with a arched eyebrow and a wave of my hand), “But we already knew that.”

“And there he is,” Simon says. “I knew that old Baz was in there somewhere.”

“Has America changed me that much?” I ask.

“Is it really so bad if it did?” Penny asks. “I have a thing for Americans (clearly), and it works for you. You look happy and healthy, Basil.”

Right. Until last night when Simon wandered down a random street and found me sitting in a bar. Once again, nothing turns out as planned.

“Okay, who’s up for more wine?” I ask, hopping up from my chair to escape my thoughts.

We spend another two hours or more drinking and talking, primarily Penny and Simon, who fill me in on their adventures. And it’s good. It’s so good. I’ve missed them so much. I can even look at Simon without it hurting (much). I had forgotten that he became my friend at some point along the way.

He and I are in the midst of recounting our favorite memories of the Minotaur’s lessons and Gareth’s ridiculous belt buckle at Watford when we realize that Bunce has fallen asleep. We decide to move into another section of the loft to continue our conversation. I take him to the area where I practice my violin (I play again, nearly every day), where Penny’s less likely to hear us. Simon explores the bookshelves, running his fingers over the trinkets and books I’ve collected. He stops at my music stand and opens up the current book sitting on top. A picture of the two of us falls to the floor. It’s from our first few months in London after Watford, and we’re sitting on the couch in his old apartment, leaning into each other and laughing. It’s my favorite picture. I look at it every time I play (when Charles isn’t around, that is). Of course, Simon finds it.

“I don’t remember ever seeing this picture,” he says, holding it up to me. “Where’d you get it?”

“I think Penny gave it to me. I don’t know when it was taken, but it captured a fleeting moment for you and I, Snow. It’s how I prefer to remember us.”

“Yeah,” he says and gently runs his fingers down the photo, stopping to caress my face. I swear I can feel his fingers caressing my face now, and I have to turn away from him.

“Baz?” Simon finally asks.

“Yes?”

“Why is your hair so short?”

“It’s not short,” I say. “It’s actually longer than it’s been in a while.”

“The back is shorter than I’ve ever seen it,” Simon says. “Why?”

“I actually shaved it in Las Vegas, some ridiculously trite idea I had that it was a new beginning. I grew out the front, but I’ve kept the back short. Shows off my neck,” I say with a smirk.

“I like it,” he says, seriously. “Will you play for me?” he then asks.

“What?”

“Will you play? Your violin? I’ve never heard you properly play it before.”

“I’ve had a lot to drink, Snow.”

“You’re a vampire, Baz. You can handle your alcohol.”

“Fine,” I say. (I’ll still do anything for him.)

I’ve been practicing a concerto for a while now, and I don’t need music to play. I pick up my instrument and bow, wiping my hands on my trousers before beginning (my palms are sweating, I haven’t been this nervous to play since my first recital). I close my eyes and begin. It’s a simple and melodic piece, and I soon lose myself in the music, letting the melody guide me. I don’t know how long I’ve played when I feel Simon’s fingers on my neck, gently running along my hairline. I shiver at his touch and stop playing, but he doesn’t stop. His fingers find the two small scars just behind my ear (scars that I had kept hidden behind long hair since I was five-years-old).

“Your scars. You can see them with your hair short,” he whispers. “I’m glad you don’t hide them anymore.”

He’s moved closer to me, is standing directly behind me, and I can feel his breath on my neck, hear his heart beating. The rhythm is familiar, luring me in, breaking down my well-built defenses.

“Were you ever with anyone, Simon?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, continuing to run his fingers along my neck. Gently, so very gently. I can’t stop shivering. “I’ve dated a few people, both men and women. I think we can safely say that I’m bisexual,” he says with a small laugh.

“Are you seeing someone now?” I ask more quietly than before. I don’t think I want to know the answer (I’m a blasted hypocrite, I know).

“No. No one has stuck. Not like Charles.”

“I love him,” I say, trying hard to stop the tears from falling.

“I know,” he replies, the sadness in his voice palpable. He drops his hand to my shoulder, and I reach up and wrap my own around his. “He really doesn’t know about us?”

“No. I never told him.”

“Why?”

“Because I can’t share that with anyone, except you. It’s ours to keep.”

We don’t say anything for a long while.

“I should go,” Simon finally says, dropping my hand and walking away.

“I’ll call you an Uber.”

We wake Penny, who manages to give me a sloppy hug before putting on her coat. Simon puts his arm around her, and she collapses into him. When the Uber arrives, I walk them out of the building. Simon settles Penny in the car and then takes a step forward, as if he’s going to come back to me, but he stops himself and climbs in alongside Penny instead. He looks back at me through the window, a sad smile on his face.

There is still no time safe for me to see you, Simon Snow. Nothing about you that doesn’t tear my heart out from my chest.

Chapter Text

I don’t see Simon and Penny for three days, but I do receive daily (sometimes hourly) texts from Bunce.

Bunce: I think we just saw Lin Manual Miranda on the subway!

Bunce: Simon loves Times Square (a photo of Simon washed in neon lights)

Bunce: Hello, Professor Pitch! (a photo of them smiling and pointing in front of NYU)

Bunce: Y didn’t U tell us street hot dogs R so good? Its Simon U probably guessed :)

Bunce: Meet us for drinks?! Shepard wants to see you. (photo of Shepard giving the thumbs up)

Bunce: Tell Charlie that I found his family’s name in a book on the Salem Witch Trials. Wicked!

I respond to some of them, ignore others. Charlie asks me if we want to invite them over again or go out to dinner, I say I’ll think about it. I think he’s confused by my response. I know I’m confused by my response. I’d love to see Bunce again, and I’d even like to see Shepard. But I’m not sure if I can see Simon again so soon. My heart feels too raw, too exposed. And it would be far too difficult to have him and Charles in the same room again. It’s just, well, confusing.

I’ve spent most of the last three days in my office at work, finishing up grading final papers before the holidays officially begin and exploring some new research leads. But my mind keeps wandering back to Simon. The sight of him with pulsing wings and a flaming sword, Crowley, it was breathtaking. And then I feel guilty, thinking I must have been attracted to his magic all along and that he was right to break up with me. But then I think about him during that year after Watford, and I know that I loved him even then. Maybe even more than before. He was hurting so much, and all I wanted to do was make him feel better, help him see how strong, clever, and beautiful he still was. But I didn’t know how. I gave him all that I could, all that I knew to give, but it wasn’t enough. My love wasn’t enough.

Breaking up was clearly good for both of us, which really shouldn’t surprise me. We were so young, had been through so much in such a short time. Our relationship was forged during times of trauma and pain. It gave us solace when we needed it, but it wasn’t strong enough to hold us together. We loved each other, yes, but we couldn’t really live with each other. Not until we figured out how to live with ourselves.

And that’s what I did. I figured out how to live with myself. I understand my vampirism and don’t hate myself anymore. I live as healthy as I can without willingly hurting anyone. I focus my magic into my research, my study, my vocation. And I found someone who loves me back, who shows me how much he loves me back, makes me feel wanted and appreciated every day.

Charles is a balm to my fire. From the moment we sat down to have coffee together, he set me at ease. His magic is subtle—you don’t notice at first, but you soon find yourself more relaxed, happier. It’s hard to explain, but it’s what makes him such a good doctor. His touch is immediately soothing. After years of antagonism, pining, and trauma, he was a welcome breath of fresh air (or a sea breeze, to be more precise). And his ability to tolerate, even soothe, my bad mood is one of my favorite things about him. My sneers, my jabs, it’s all for show, he knows, and he carries on as if all is well. It’s such an American trait—this ability to simply ignore what you don’t want to hear—but it usually stops my wallowing or complaining. He makes me happy.

So why in Crowley’s name did Snow show up now? Just when it my life was finally good, really good.

Charles and I had just moved in together. He had even gone home to England with me for the first time a few months ago, to Oxford. My family liked him, even my father (I think it was the future in medicine that my father really liked, but I’ll take what I can get). Fiona fawned over him, although I think she just liked his blond hair and green eyes, couldn’t stop commenting on them the entire trip. I saw my future with him. (Saw. That’s the important word isn’t it. Do I still want that future? Can a single evening with Simon change all my feelings that quickly?)

At this point, my plan is to lie low until Christmas Eve, when we’ll be in Boston to spend the holiday with Charles’ family. We’ll be there until after Boxing Day, which means I can conveniently put this episode of my life behind me. It was amazing to see them again, and it clearly provided some closure for me and Simon, knowing that we’re both okay again. If Bunce does come back to New York, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

*****

Charles is sleeping soundly next to me, legs intertwined with mine, arm draped across my stomach. I’m reading the latest issue of the New Yorker trying to lull myself to sleep when I hear a terrible racket in our hallway. I put down the magazine, deciding whether I need to inspect the situation. Just as I pick the article back up, I hear the racket again—loud whispering and what sounds like shuffling, maybe even a scuffle—followed by three loud knocks to the door.

I’m out of bed in a flash and opening the front door just as a hand starts to knock again. Shepard is looking up at me with a shocked look on his face. Standing behind him is Snow, who’s looking both sheepish and agitated at the same time.

“Shepard, Simon,” I nod coolly. “As lovely as it is to see you, I have a long day tomorrow and Charles has an early shift. Another time? Preferably not 2:00 am,” I say in my most polite voice and shut the door.

Simon catches the door before it shuts fully. “Baz, please, we need your help,” he pleads.

“It’s Penelope,” Shepard adds, sounding beside himself. “She’s gone.”

“What do you mean she’s gone,” I say with more concern. (I still don’t let them in.)

“She didn’t meet us for dinner tonight,” Shepard begins. “And we couldn’t reach her. We tried looking for her, but she wasn’t anywhere. And then, a few hours ago, we got a text from her phone. She’s been kidnapped,” Shepard says pulling on his hair (it’s longer than it was four years ago, less closely cropped).

“Kidnapped? By whom?” I ask incredulously.

“By a demon,” Shepard whispers.

“What would a demon want with Bunce?” I say barely concealing a laugh. This has got to be joke.

“It’s a long story,” Simon says. “Please let us in, and we’ll explain everything.”

I take a deep breath, weighing my options. Of course, I want to help Penny (that is if she truly needs help), but I also don’t want to get drawn into any trouble. Why does trouble always seem to follow Snow wherever he goes?

“Baz, please” Shepard pleads. “It’s Penelope.”

I open the door and gesture for them to come in. “Go to the living room. I’ll be right back.”

I quickly return to our bedroom to make sure Charles is still asleep (thankfully, he is), grab a jumper to put over my t-shirt (though I’m still in my pajama bottoms, oh well), close the door, and join my guests. They are both sitting on our couch looking the worse for wear. Simon is brimming with anxiety—I can see and smell his magic coursing through him, just underneath his skin (my god, he’s glorious, which is a terrible thing to ponder if Penny really is in trouble). Shepard’s leg is bouncing, and he’s still running his fingers through his hair.

“Tell me everything,” I say sitting across from them.

“We don’t have time for everything,” Shepard says. “We need to go. Now.”

“Go where?” I ask.

“To a warehouse in the Garment District. That’s where they have her.” He responds.

“How do you know? Did they tell you?”

“No,” he says, getting more agitated by the minute. “But that’s his lair, and it’s where they’d take her. I know it.”

“His lair?” I ask. “What do you mean his lair?”

“He’s a demon, for Christ’s sake, of course he’s got a lair. They all do,” Shepard spits out. He’s clearly annoyed with my questions. Okay, I’ll try another approach. I lean back in the chair and arch my eyebrow. I’m not doing a thing until I know what I’m getting into.

“Shepard knows this demon,” Simon jumps in. “He was cursed by him, years ago. Penny’s mom helped break the curse. And now the demon has taken Penny.”

“Let me get this straight,” I say calmly. “You were cursed by a demon, Shepard. Penny’s mom broke the curse. And now this demon has kidnapped your girlfriend as a form of revenge.”

They both nod at me.

“So what does this demon want in exchange for Bunce?”

“My soul,” Shepard says. “I promised him my soul before in exchange for my life. And now he either takes Penny’s life or I give him my soul back. It’s fucked up, man.”

“Clearly,” I say. “And why should this involve me?”

“We aren’t strong enough to fight him alone. We need you, Baz,” Simon says pleadingly.

“But why do you need to fight? If you love Penny, why don’t you just give him your soul back. He’ll let you live, I’m sure. Your soul won’t be his until you die. Or at least I assume that’s how it works,” I say.

“It’s not that simple,” Shepard says as he stands. “This curse was about more than my soul. I was cursed to wander until my death. I couldn’t settle down, have a family, anything. I gave up all of that to him.”

“Why?”

“Because I was stupid. And I just wanted to live. Instead of killing me on the spot—I met him at a crossroads at midnight, you know the drill—he gave me the ability to wander among magical creatures without fear of death as long as I didn’t settle and meet him at those very crossroads again in 25 years. It sounded like a grand plan to me at the time. But then I met Penny.”

“I see,” I say. “You want your life back because you want to share it with Penny now. Perfectly understandable, but I’m still not sure why you need me.”

“Like I said,” Simon interjects, clearly getting frustrated by my questions as well, “We aren’t strong enough to attack his lair. We staked it out before coming here, and there’s too many of them. Men or demons or both. If we stand a chance at getting Penny back, we need more strength. We need you.”

Well, fuck me. If I don’t help them, they’ll still try to rescue Penny, getting killed or maimed in the process. I don’t think all three of them would survive this unscathed. But if I do help them, well, I may not get out of the unscathed. Plus I’m thrown immediately back into the orbit of Simon Snow (I still can’t get used to Salisbury, he’ll always be Snow to me).

“What’s going on?”

Charles has now joined us in the living room, looking groggy and irresistible in his pajama bottoms and nothing else.

“Nothing, love, go back to bed,” I say gently.

“But there’s shouting, and Penny’s in trouble?” he asks.

“Yes, Bunce has gotten herself into a scrape, and Simon and Shepard would like me to help her.”

“Shepard?” Charles asks, waking up a bit. “I’ve heard about you. I’m Charlie, Baz’s boyfriend.” He reaches out to shake Shepard’s hand.

“Nice to meet you, Charlie,” Shepard says, giving his hand a quick shake. “Now, can we get back to my girlfriend, please?”

“You’re going to help, aren’t you Baz?” Charles asks me. “She’s one of your oldest friends.”

“Well, I’m . . . “

“Of course, we’ll help,” Charles says, now fully awake. “I’m a Speaker and a doctor. I may be useful.”

“Charles, no, this doesn’t concern you,” I say, jumping up and walking over to him.

“If it concerns you, it concerns me, Baz. When are you going to get that through your thick skull, you moron,” he says, tussling my hair. I’m smart enough to know I’ve lost this argument.

“Fine,” I say, turning to Simon and Shepard and sigh, “What’s the plan?”

Twenty minutes later, the four of us have taken my car (2016 BMW Coupe, Mineral Grey Metallic) to a deserted street in the Garment District and are scoping out the demon’s lair. The entrance is surrounded by four giant body guards, all at least 300 pounds and covered with tattoos.

“Hey, I know one of them,” Charles says excitedly.

“What?” Simon, Shepard, and I all ask at once.

“The first guy, the one in the biker jacket. He’s the guy I helped in the ER the other night, Baz. The one with the crazy tattoos?”

“Oh, right,” I say remembering. “But I don’t think that really helps us, Charles.”

“But it might,” Simon says. “What if Charles distracts them by chatting up the one he knows, and we three (pointing at me, Shepard, and himself) can sneak into the lair.”

“Wait, I’m not leaving Charles alone with a demon’s bodyguard,” I say.

“I’ll be fine, Baz. Not only am I charming as fuck, but I can also handle myself in a scrape,” he says defensively.

“There’s a difference between a row on a football pitch over a foul and this situation, Charles,” I say. “I won’t leave you alone.”

He doesn’t answer, just pouts.

“He’s right, Charlie,” Simon adds. “If you haven’t fought creatures like this before, you don’t really know what you’re getting into. How ‘bout you and Baz can distract them, and Shepard and I sneak in. We’ll find Penny and then send a signal when we need you.”

“What type of signal?” I ask.

“A bat signal?”

I sneer at him.

“Well, you are a vampire, Baz,” he says with a grin.

“Sod off, Snow.”

“I don’t know exactly what, but you’ll know when it comes. Okay.”

“Fine,” I respond. “I honestly don’t feel good about this. Our plan is sketchy at best.”

“Since when have our plans been anything but sketchy, Baz,” Simon says. “You know I work better when I don’t think too much.”

“So you’ve told me, Snow, many times.”

“Come on, guys, time is wasting. We need to get to Penny,” Shepard pleads.

“Right. Charles, are you ready.”

“As I’ll ever be,” he says, taking my arm in his. “Follow my lead,” he says and we’re off.

“What’s your plan?” I ask.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got this, Basil.”

Charles starts to weave as we walk, falling into my side, dragging his feet now and again.

“What are you doing?” I snap.

“Darling, you know how I get when I have too much to drink. I stop paying attention to where I am and start paying too much attention to you” he says, turning and kissing me passionately.

I’m surprised at first, but I quickly figure out his lead. I return the kiss with equal fervor and wrap my arms around his neck. I almost forget that this is a ruse until he whispers, “Okay, now let’s start walking again.”

We put on a good show, laughing and weaving across the deserted street. I can see the bodyguards take notice of us, closing ranks in front of the street entrance to the lair. As we get closer, Charles calls out: “Hey, can any of you tell us where we are?”

“Fuck off,” one of the guards calls back to us.

“Ah, come on, don’t be rude. We’re lost,” Charles says back to him and keeps walking closer.

“I said get out of here,” the guard calls again, more threatening than before.

“Wait. Wait a minute . . . don’t I know you?” Charles says pointing to one man standing toward the back of the group.

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” the man says. He’s a grizzly fellow, bald with a giant beard and ghastly tattoos from neck to fingertips (and I’m sure other places).

“No, I do. You came to the emergency room a few days ago. I set gave you a shit ton of stitches,” he says, his drunken act quite convincing.

The man looks at Charles quizzically and then recognition sets in. “Doc, hey, it is you!”

His demeanor immediately changes. He steps forward and reaches out his hand to Charles, which Charles takes easily, but a bit unsteadily.

“Thanks for your help the other night. I’ve never been treated so well in my life,” the guard says and the turns to his fellow demon protectors. “This is the doc I was telling you about.”

They all nod with looks of appreciation on their face.

“You look like you’re healing well,” Charles says, pointing to a row of stitches along the man’s upper arm. They almost fade into the tattoos, a few scabs the only think that sets them apart.

“Yeah, yeah, never better. I’ve never healed as quick in my life. I have no idea what you did, Doc, but it was amazing. And the way you handled that bitch of a nurse. Impressive.”

“Ah, Sheila. That’s right. I think your tattoos set her on edge,” he says. “She’s, well, let’s just say a Christian woman.”

All four of the bodyguards laugh diabolically at that. It’s unnerving to say the least, even to a dark creature.

“I know how to handle her,” Charles adds. “We’ve had our own scrapes from time to time, owing to my lifestyle,” he says and pulls me into his side. They all nod knowingly.

I smile and give Charles a lewd kiss, all teeth and tongue, gaining a few whistles in the process. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Simon and Shepard sneaking along the building, sticking to the shadows and heading to the door. I jump on the opportunity to keep these fiends occupied.

“I’m Baz,” I say, leaning out to shake hands with Charles’ former patient. “Charlie’s boyfriend.”

“I’m Edgar,” he says, taking my hand. “What are you two doing here? We normally don’t see many nice fellas like you in our neck of the woods this time of night.”

“We’re lost,” Charles picks up. “We were out at a bar, had a few too many, and decided to go for a walk. And here we are. Can’t find a taxi and aren’t sure how to get back to 6th Avenue.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Edgar says and starts to give directions to Charles. The other guards are walking away from us, having lost interest. Simon and Shepard aren’t quite in the door yet. I need to act fast.

“Charles,” I say slowly. “I don’t feel well,” and lean over as if I’m going to be sick.

“Hey bro, watch it,” one of the four henchmen calls, and all except for Edgar move to me, trying to shuffle me off of the property. At the same moment, I hear scuffling from inside the warehouse and start to panic, my heavy breathing adding to the show. The men are calling for Charles to help me now—they haven’t heard what’s happening inside. At least not yet, but they will. I close my eyes and draw on my magic. I feel the fire rise to my fingertips, waiting to be unleashed.

And then it happens. The door of the warehouse flies open and Simon comes barreling out with a goat-headed demon in his wake. He hasn’t called on his magic yet—no wings, tail, or sword visible—but he’s holding his own. He’s clearly in peak fighting condition and has a giant smile on his face. (The wanker.)

“Baz!” I hear Charles call to me, sounding worried. Edgar is now holding him back by the arms trying to assess the situation, and the three others are surrounding me. They’ve figured us out.

“It’s OK, Charles,” I say standing to my full height. “I’ve got this.”

My hands are by my hips now, palms out, flames at the ready. The henchmen stop in their tracks.

“Fire mage,” one calls out, but not before I strike. I lob fireballs at two of the henchmen. They duck, but their ranks are broken. Taking advantage of my speed, I turn, lobbing two more fireballs at Edgar, who lets Charles go in time for them both to duck. I can hear one making a move on me from behind, and I jump up and over him, landing directly behind him. (Lamb also showed me how to harness and use my super-human strength, but I rarely get a chance to use it. It feels surprisingly good--I feel like Neo in The Matrix. I think I like it.) The man turns, confused, and I throw flames straight into his chest, and he erupts. He runs into the street, rolling to put the fire out.

Charles has managed to separate himself from the fray, taking cover behind a garbage bin at the side of the building. I turn quickly assessing the situation. I can’t see Shepard. He must be inside. Simon has managed to take down the goat-headed demon and is staring into the warehouse with a determined look on his face. The three remaining henchmen have now realized that the action is happening inside and point their sites on Simon.

“Simon,” I yell, and he looks my way. He sees the henchmen, smiles at me, and nods once. He wings, tail, and sword suddenly burst forth. He takes a deep breath and raises his sword. The henchman back away from him amazed. They clearly haven’t seen anything like him before. I look over to Charles, who’s looking at Simon in shock, eyes wide and mouth open. Crowley, I’m in trouble now, I think before the henchmen look over to me again.

“Baz, you got this?” Simon yells.

I look over my shoulder at him, smirk, and call the flames to my hands again. He turns and rushes into the warehouse, his sword leading the way.

“Gentlemen,” I say, as I turn to three remaining men. “Shall we?”

I plant my feet, raise my arms and shoot flames straight at them. They turn and run, as the flames touch their heels. They circle the building and are lost for the moment. We’ll deal with them later if needs be—I was going easy on them anyway.

I turn and look back at Charles, who’s staring at me with a mix of awe and anger. It’s a surprisingly sexy look, and I want to walk over to him and snog him silly. Perhaps it’s not the right time. I walk over and take his hand instead.

“I have to follow Simon, Charles, he needs help.”

“I think he can handle it, Basil,” he says to me, his eyes narrowing in contempt. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It’s a long story,” I say, and he pulls his hand away in protest.

“One that I will tell you, but not now,” I say forcefully. I don’t have time to argue. “They need my help in there, and I won’t leave them. You can either stay here and hide or come with me. It’s up to you.”

“With you,” he says after a moment. I nod.

“Do you have your wand?” I ask. He nods again.

“Good. Have it at the ready, and stay behind me,” I say. I reach out and cradle his face in my hand for a moment. “We’ll be fine.” (I think I’m trying to convince myself as much as him.)

It’s chaos inside the warehouse. There are demons of various shapes and sizes (more goat-headed things, plus a few goblins (I wonder if Simon is a target for them here in America), and a variety of other frightening creatures). “What the fuck,” I hear Charles say behind me. “It’s fine,” I whisper back. “I’ve seen worse.” He snorts.

No one has noticed us so far, but I keep my fire at the ready. I also close my eyes and will my fangs to drop. If I’m entering this chaos, I better be at my worst.

Scanning the room, I finally catch site of Shepard, who is doing his best to sneak past the fighting and into a doorway at the back of the room. I need to make my way to him, help him in whatever way I can. Simon can handle the rest of the dark creatures here. (He’s always at his best when he’s outnumbered.)

I charge my way across the room, making straight for the door. I’m hoping that I can create a distraction to buy Shepard more time. I feel Charles grab onto my waistband and hold tight. Good. He’s close.

Demons and goblins start to run at us, and I use my hands as flamethrowers, clearing a path for us across the warehouse. Soon there are too many of them, and I have to abandon my fire and rely solely on my skills as a vampire. I lift demons out the way, rip throats when I can, slash and crash my way to the door, Charles always close at my heels. I can hear and feel him fighting off opponents behind me, but he never once cries out in pain or fear. I have to trust that he’s got it under control.

I feel Simon before I see him flying just above us. He lands directly in front of me, his back to us. Everything stops for a moment, as all attention focuses on him. He’s still and then collapses into himself, drawing his wings, his tail, his sword close to his body. And then he pulses once, unfurls his appendages, and the force of it crashes like a wave, knocking anything and everything down in its path. Except for us. He’s managed to protect me and Charles, keep us safe in his orbit. I’m absolutely stunned. It’s nearly identical to what it was like when he used to go off before, but it’s more controlled, more focused. It’s breathtaking.

Simon turns to me then and waves us forward. The three of us crash through the door and close it behind us as fast as we can. I cast Tight as a Drum, which should hold the door for at least 20 minutes but no more.

It’s dark in the room, and it takes a moment for me to catch my bearings, but then I see her. Penelope. She’s at the top of a tall, rickety platform, hands and feet tied, mouth gagged. And she’s bleeding, I can smell it from here. Treacle and vinegar overtaking my senses. (Thank Crowley I fed earlier today.)

“Pen,” I hear Shepard call, and he and Simon are immediately scrabbling their way up the platform to her. I grab Charles’s hand—he’s too stunned to move at the moment—and follow them up.

“Penny! Oh Pen,” Shepard is saying above her. He’s running his hands over her body, almost as if he doesn’t know where to touch her. “Is she okay?” he asks looking up at Charles.

“I don’t know,” he says quietly.

“Untie her hands and feet,” I say, leaning down to attempt to release the gag in her mouth. She’s still unconscious, and my hands are shaking in fear.

“Charles, come here, please,” I say gently. “Can you look her over? See if you can figure out what’s wrong?”

He immediately rushes over. He switches gears and is all business. He checks her pulse, listens for her breathing. “Her heartbeat is weak, but her breathing sounds good,” he says. All of us sigh in relief. Charles closes his eyes and holds his hands slightly above her head and then slowly runs them down her body. His hands are glowing, and the room suddenly smells like salt and seaweed. He’s using his magic, and it’s beautiful to behold. We all watch him entranced.

“She’s okay, no severe damage,” he says. “But she’s still unconscious, and I’m not sure why. We need to get her out of here.”

“She’s bleeding,” I say. “Can you see where she’s bleeding?”

“I don’t see any blood or feel a wound,” he says confused.

“But I can smell it. It’s overwhelming.”

“Turn her over,” Charles says, “carefully.”

We do, and we see it. Her shirt has been ripped open, and there are a series of diabolical marks on her back. They’ve been cut into her skin, and they are still fresh. That’s where the blood is coming from.

“They’re only surface cuts,” Charles says. “No wonder I didn’t feel them. There’s no lasting damage here.”

“Except for the scars,” Shepard adds. “She’ll be scarred.”

“But at least she has her life,” Charles adds, grabbing Shepard’s hand reassuringly. “That’s most important.” Shepard nods then, looking relieved. Charles takes out his wand and silently casts a spell as he traces the marks with his wand. They scab over immediately.

This is the first time I’ve seen Charles at work like this. His magic is so clear, so focused. It’s truly rejuvenating.

“Penny will whinge about missing your magic, Charlie,” Simon finally says. “It’s quite brilliant.”

“Thanks,” he says, looking up at Simon with a small smile, which fades the moment he catches sight of Simon’s wings. Charles then looks over to my chest, where my shirt is hanging open just enough to see the winged tattoo over my heart. He looks up at me after a moment, and I see something break in his gaze. Trust, love, respect, I don’t know. But our relationship has just shifted and not for the better.

Simon notices the shift as well and his eyes move to where Charles’s just were. When he sees the tattoo, a blush starts to creep up his neck and onto his face, rosy splotches breaking out across his cheeks. He won’t look at me, refuses to catch my eye. I stand and move to the edge of the small platform. This is why I wanted to avoid this tangle of people again. Too much history, too many secrets.

Shepard hasn’t noticed the wordless events taking place around him, focusing instead on trying to wake Penny. She still hasn’t regained consciousness, and we need to come up with a plan to get out of here before my spell on the door finally wears off.

“Shepard,” I ask gently. “Is there another way out of this place? We need to get out of here soon.”

“No,” he says shaking his head, while still cradling Penny’s head. “That door is the only way in and out.”

“Okay, well, we’ll have to fight our way out again,” I say. “Charles and Shepard, do you think you can move Penny?”

“Yes, I think so,” Charles says avoiding my eye.

“That’s not a good idea, Baz,” Simon says. “I think it will take more than the two of us to fight off the horde. And we haven’t even met the main demon yet—these are just his front line.”

“Well, do you have a better idea, Snow?” I ask, my annoyance growing. “You can’t fly us all out of here this time.”

“No, not yet,” he says, adding a growl at the end.

“So, Shepard and Charles grab Bunce, I lead the way with fire, you cover me, and we run for it. It’s our only option,” I growl back.

“But it’s not a good option,” he says, his anger growing.

“Well at least it’s a plan, which is more than you have to offer,” I say back with a sneer.

“Why are you still such an arsehole?” Simon yells.

“Because that’s who I am, Snow,” I yell back. “The posh, privileged prick, the arsehole, the one with the sardonic comment for any situation. Do you really think I had changed that much?”

“I had hoped, yeah,” he says stepping closer to me.

“I guess I tricked you once again, Snow. Happy now?” I say, stepping closer to him. We’re face to face, breathing hard, hands balled into fists.

“For fuck’s sake, boys, this is not fifth year at Watford,” Penny says groggily.

“Penny!” Simon says, forgetting me and dropping to his knees and hovering over Bunce. “Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not okay,” she says, wincing in pain. “Where am I?”

“You’re in a warehouse in the Garment District, and we’re going to get you out of here,” Shepard says.

“What’s your plan?” Penny asks.

“A girl after my own heart,” I say kneeling down to kiss her on the forehead.

“You don’t have one do you,” she says.

“Of course not. Would you expect any less? But we do have Simon and me. We’re a pretty good team when we’re not fighting,” I respond.

“Well then, get us out of here, please. Shepard? Are you here?”

Shepard pushes the rest of us away and cradles Penny in his arms.

Charles is just sitting on his knees at the edge of the platform, watching everything unfold with a puzzled look on his face.

“You’re right, Baz. I think I need to fly Penny out of here. It’s the only way to get her safe quickly,” Simon says.

“Right,” I say. “Shepard, Charles, and I will fight our way back to the front door and the car. Meet you back at my flat?”

“Yeah,” he says, leaning down to pick up Penny.

“Snow, wait,” I say. “Can you cause a distraction on your way out? Anything to give us a fighting chance?”

“Baz, have you forgotten? I’m always a distraction,” he says with smirk (He learned that from me. He never smirked before we were together.)

“Simon,” Charles calls out. “Here, take these,” he says throwing his keys to Simon, who catches them easily. “If you make it back before we do, let yourself in. There’s a first aid kit in the bathroom in case you need it.”

“Thanks,” Simon says with a nod. He and Shepard gently raise Penny into a standing position. She wraps her arms around Simon’s neck and leans over to give Shepard a kiss. “See you soon,” she says.

“Hold on tight,” Simon says to us before taking off. “I’m going to blow a hole in the top of the warehouse on my way out, and it might get a bit rough.”

At the same moment, my spell breaks and the door flies open, a rush of demons and goblins pouring through.

Shepard, Charles, and I kneel as low to the platform’s floor as we can. Simon lifts the Mage’s sword into the air, calls out Boom Goes the Canon. The roof of the warehouse breaks into a million pieces, and he lifts off with Penny at his side. She looks down at us for a brief moment, and they disappear into the night.

The demons are momentarily stopped in their tracks, taking cover as the debris lands below.

“Okay,” I say to Shepard and Charles. “I can lead the way, using fire and brute force to break through the line. Charles, can you cast any spells to help us out?”

He shakes his head. “I never learned any spells like that,” he says. “My magic has always been focused on healing.”

“That’s fine. Just stay close behind me and follow Shepard’s lead. There’s no one better at getting out of a scrape than him. On the count of three,” I say. They nod.

“One. Two. Three,” I shout and run down the platform stairs. I call my magic and cast a spray of flames in front of us, creating a small path forward. Charles and Shepard stay close behind me and do their best to avoid any of the fight.

It takes us at least 20 minutes to make it out of the warehouse, and I’ve spent nearly all of my magic and am covered in blood and gore. Charles easily handles himself in a fight and managed to pick up an abandoned pipe along the way, which he uses to slash his way through the mob. Shepard relied on wits and stealth alone. Luckily, we all make it out with only a few scrapes and bruises.

We waste no time after we leave the warehouse and keep running until we make our way to my car around the block. I use my last bit of strength to cast Make Way for the King and nearly fly the 15 blocks back to my flat, praying to whatever God will listen for Simon and Penny to have made back to my flat safely.

Chapter Text

“Simon! Snow! Are you here?” I call out even though I’m not on our floor yet.

Shepard, Charles, and I are running up the stairs to our flat, and I’m desperately trying not to use my speed. I know it will only make the situation with Charles worse than it already is. Thankfully Shepard pushes past us both, saying “Fuck this,” under his breath. He throws open the door (they’re here, thank Crowley).

I follow Shepard in as fast as I can, and I let out my breath when I finally see them. Simon and Penny are on the living room floor, bathed in the moonlight. Simon is sitting cross-legged, cradling Penny in his arms, his wings wrapped protectively around her. (He looks like a fallen angel in this light.) Penny is unconscious, again.

“Oh no, no, no,” Shepard cries when he sees Penny. He rushes to her side and holds his hands above her, afraid to touch her. “Charles, please, can you help?”

Charles pushes past me and kneels next to Simon, carefully checking Penny's pulse. “What happened,” he asks Simon.

“I don’t know,” Simon says hoarsely. “I was flying, and she was holding on to my neck tightly, not saying anything. But I know she was awake. And then I felt her arms go limp, and I looked down and her, and she was unconscious again. I flew her a fast as I could. I’m sorry,” he says, holding back a sob and looking up at Shepard. Before I can think, I find myself at kneeling at his side, hand on his back.

“It’s okay, Simon, you saved her. You got her to safety,” I say, reassuringly. I feel his shoulders relax just a little, and he leans into my side.

Charles eyes us suspiciously and then switches into work mode.

“Shepard, we’re going to move Penny into our spare bedroom. I’ll need you and Baz to lift her, gently, and lay her down on the bed. Okay,” he says. Shepard nods.

“Wait,” Simon says, closes his eyes, and his wings and tail recoil back into his body. Charles watches, and I can’t read his look. (Disgusted, maybe? Disturbed. I don’t know. I’ve never seen it before.) I take control of the situation and move to Penny’s side, gently placing my arms under her shoulders and trying to avoid the wounds on her back. Shepard grabs her legs.

“On my count,” Charles says. We then maneuver her into our second bedroom, trying to be as gentle as possible, not truly knowing what may be wrong. We lay her on the bed, and Shepard lovingly removes her shoes, but leaves her trademark knee socks (I’ve noticed that her skirts now fall mid-calf instead of mid-thigh, it suits her). Charles follows us in with his first-aid kit and wand, plus a handful of herbs and tinctures that he keeps on hard but rarely uses (he has quite a collection of traditional medicines—it’s a Bradford family tradition to meddle in herbology and other historical healing methods). After getting everything settled, he gently rolls her over onto her stomach. She remains unconscious.

“Shepard, I’m going to work on her back first. Will you remove her shirt, please?” he says gently.

I turn away from the bed to give them privacy.

“Is there anything I can do?” I ask Charles.

“No,” he says. “Why don’t you go and see to Simon. He looked like he was in shock.” He doesn’t look at me at all, just carries on prepping his supplies.

I sigh and walk back into the living room. Simon is still sitting on the floor in the same position as we left him. He looks stunned.

“Is she okay?” he asks. He looks as if he’s been crying.

“I don’t know yet,” I say. “But Charles is taking good care of her. I’m positive that she’ll be fine.”

He nods and brushes his hand under his nose. A sure sign he’s been crying.

“Are you okay Simon?”

“Yeah, fine,” he says. “Just feeling a bit dazed now that the adrenaline has worn off.”

“Simon,” I say, sitting across from him on the floor. “You can tell me the truth, you know.”

He looks at me then, and his eyes fill with tears.

“I thought I lost her, Baz, when I felt her pass out,” he says quietly. “I can’t lose her.”

“You won’t. She’s stronger than you and me combined, you know that. She’ll be okay,” I say, knocking his knee with my foot. He looks up at me then with a crooked smile. (I have no idea when I became the optimist of the group, but I can’t handle seeing him this way. It reminds me too much of the year before I left England. And I do know that Charles will take good care of her, no matter how he feels about me and Simon.)

We sit in silence for I don’t know how long, both of us too shocked and exhausted to say anything more. Charles breaks us out of our stupor.

“You were something to behold in there, Simon. Baz never mentioned your wings to me,” he says walking into the living room.

“Well, I wanted them gone the last time I saw him,” he responds, not really answering the question.

“You can sleep on the couch,” Charles says perfunctorily. “I’ll get you sheets and a blanket.”

I sit and watch as Charles goes to the bathroom and returns a few minutes later with bedding, which he places on the couch. He throws a t-shirt and pair of sweatpants over to Simon on the floor.

“You can change into these for the night,” he says, adding, “Baz, can you join me in our bedroom?”

“Yes, of course,” I say. I’m honestly terrified. He sounds exactly like me when I’m angry. know exactly what to expect when I go into our room, and I’m not looking forward to it.

“All good here, Snow?” I ask before leaving.

“Yeah, um, thanks,” he says, looking at me sadly. I smile at him reassuringly and then school my features on my way to the bedroom, closing the door behind me.

“What the fuck, Basil?” Charles asks angrily, wasting no time.

I don’t know what to say, so I revert to my standard defensive move and stand as cool and still as a statue. It’s a stance I don’t use as often as I once did, and I’m woefully out of practice. I need a diversion.

“How’s Penny?” I ask.

“She’s sleeping, but she’s still in shock. There shouldn’t be any lasting physical damage. Emotional, well, I don’t know. Shepard’s watching her tonight,” he says.

“Good,” I say.

“So why didn’t you tell me about Simon?” he asks, changing his tone to something a bit softer, a bit more defeated. “You essentially lied to me, you know.”

“I never lied. I just left out information. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Oh sure, sorry. As if that helps,” he scoffs. “He was the one you told me about? Your first love, the one that broke your heart?”

I nod in response.

“I should have known. The way he looked at you. Hell, the way you looked at him. There was an energy between the two of you I’ve never felt from you before. I thought you were simply surprised to see him again, but it was more than that.”

I still have no idea what to say. For the first time in my life, I’m truly speechless. No witty comeback, not snide remark. I can’t even look him in the eye.

“For Christ’s sake, say something! I deserve that at least!” Charles yells at me.

“I thought I’d never see him again,” I whisper and sit (more like collapse) onto the side of the bed. “He magicked himself those wings the night of the last Humdrum attack, used them to fly away from Pitch Manor and then straight into battle. When he gave up his magic, well, those stayed. He wanted them gone, but I never did. Not really. They were—are—magnificent. (He scowls at that. I can’t blame him.) Anyway, I got the tattoo when I decided to move to New York. I was finally letting go of my past, but I didn’t want to forget. I’m sorry that I didn’t, couldn’t, tell you.”

“Do you love him?” Charles asks.

“I never meant to hurt you,” I respond.

“Do you love him?”

“I never planned to see him again.”

“Do. You. Love. Him?” he asks through clenched teeth, emphasizing each word.

“Yes, I love him. I’ve always loved him,” I spit out, not quite yelling, but close. And I feel relieved. It’s the first time I’ve said those words aloud, and I feel like a weight has been lifted.

“Well, that’s just brilliant, Baz,” Charles says bitterly. “What a perfect way to start our life together. Baz and Chaz, my ass!”

“I told you that there was another person before, someone who was gone that I still loved. I was honest with you.”

“Yes, but I didn’t expect him to show up in our home.”

“Neither did I!” I yell, my emotions finally getting the best of me. I stand up to face him. We’re eye to eye, breathing heavily. I can’t tell what he’s thinking. All I know is that I didn’t mean to deceive him. And I want him to understand. (I know that’s unfair of me, but when has life ever been fair?)

“So what now?” he finally asks.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“No.”

“Well, let me know when you figure it out,” he says grabbing an abandoned sweatshirt from the floor and heading back into the living room.

“Charles, wait! Where are you going?” I say following closely behind him.

“To work. I have to be there in two hours anyway. I’ll be back after my shift to check on Penelope. After that,” he says with a sigh. “I don’t know.”

“Wait! Charles, please don’t go now,” I say, but I’m too late. He’s out the door before I can stop him. I stand looking at the door, pondering how quickly my life can fall apart. After a minute or two, I feel Simon behind me. (He must have heard the entire row, watched Charles as he left. I should have never let him and Shepard into my flat. I would be sound asleep right now with Charles curled around me. Aleister Crowley, what a fool I’ve been.)

“What do you want, Snow?” I growl.

“Just want to know if you’re okay?”

“Great. Never better. I’m living the dream,” I say as snidely as I can. I’m just so hurt and angry and confused. I haven’t been thinking clearly since the moment I saw Simon on the sidewalk outside of the bar.

“It’s been a long night. I think you need a drink,” he answers and saunters off into the kitchen in Charles’ shirt and (way too long) sweatpants

Still a bit dazed, I turn and wander back into the bedroom and return to my perch on the side of the bed. After a few minutes, Simon joins me and hands me a drink. Whiskey, neat. He remembered.

“How’s Penny?”

“She’s okay, in shock, but no lasting damage. Charles will be back to check on her,” I say and take a large sip of my drink. It burns all the way down. Simon nods and sits down next to me, and neither of us say a thing, an awkward silence filling the air.

“We still match, you and I,” he finally says.

“What are you talking about, Snow?” I take another large sip of my drink.

“We still match,” he says again. “Our mums both died for us. We’re magicians and something else, something more powerful. And we’re both still a fucking mess.”

“I’m not a mess, Snow. I had my life together until you showed up.”

“You called me Simon, earlier.”

“Sod off, Snow.”

“Bloody hell, Pitch, YOU had a tattoo of MY wings on your heart well before I showed up. Your life wasn’t as simple as you think it may have been.”

“I never said it was simple,” I sigh. “But I was happy.”

He’s silent at that.

“Why did you find me?” I ask. (I’m not sure I want to know the answer.)

“I didn’t mean to.”

“That’s not true. Penny admitted that you planned to find me at NYU. Why now? After all this time?”

“Penny wanted to find you, I didn’t,” he says. “I mean, I wanted to. I wanted to see you, make sure you were okay. Tell you about my mum, my magic. But I didn’t really think I was ready to see you. I wasn’t sure if I’d snog you or punch you.”

I snort at that.

“But then I saw you in that bar,” he continues. “Penny had stopped at the corner shop for some gum, and I was just wandering down the street, not paying attention to anything. And I looked up and there you were. You weren’t looking at me at first. You were on your phone, but I knew it was you. The way you were sitting with your legs crossed. The angle of your head, the shape of your neck, the way your hair fell in your face. It was you, after all this time. I couldn’t believe it. And then Charles joined you, and I saw the way you looked at him. The way you smiled up at him. You used to smile at me like that. For a short while at least. It hurt so much to watch, but I couldn’t move, couldn’t look away. And then you saw me, and I knew.”

“Knew what?”

“That I’m yours, Baz, if you still want me.”

No, no, no. Not know. I don’t want to hear this now. Not tonight, not after everything.

“It took me five years, loads of therapy, and a chance sighting in a foreign country to finally figure that out,” he says turning to face me. “I still love you, Baz. I never stopped.”

“I never knew you loved me,” I say, drowning myself in my drink and refusing to look at him.

“How can you say that?” he asks, shocked.

“Because you never told me. Not in words, anyway,” I respond. “Besides, how can you say this to me now? After what just happened? It’s not fair Simon.” I’m not angry, just exhausted. And lost. I don’t know what I’m feeling

“I know it’s not fair, but it’s true. And you deserve to know. After everything.”

I shrug at that, channeling my best Simon Snow.

“And I heard you say that you still love me,” he adds quietly.

“That was a private conversation, Snow.”

“Doesn’t matter. I heard you say it,” he adds stubbornly.

“Simon, it’s not that simple,” I say and set my drink down on the floor. I turn to him then, arranging myself more fully on the bed. “I had to let go of my past life, I couldn’t move on otherwise. I’m not sure if I can go back.”

“What part of your past life?” he asks.

I can’t stop myself from speaking the truth. We’re past pretenses now.

“You, Simon Snow. Always you.” I say. Instead of looking him in the eye, I look at the bedspread, smoothing out an invisible crease. He places his hand on mine, twining our fingers together.

“I’m sorry I was a terrible boyfriend,” he whispers. “That I couldn’t show or tell you how much I loved you. I didn’t know how. Not then. But I think I do now.”

“Simon . . .”

“Can I show you? Please?”

He then puts his hand under my chin and lifts my face so that I’m looking directly into his boringly beautiful blue eyes. I can see so much—love and sorrow and, I think, hope. I’d do anything for him. Anything he asks of me. Now, then, forever. (I’m so weak. Always weak. For him.)

I nod. (And say a silent apology to Charles.)

Simon reaches down and pulls my shirt over my head. I let him, not fully understanding what he’s doing. His hand runs a trail down my neck and over my chest and comes to rest over my heart, over his wings. My heart is beating so fast that if feels as if it will explode out of my chest. He looks up at me again. “Your heart. I can feel it.”

I nod again.

“I never felt it beat like that before,” he says utterly amazed.

“It’s the blood,” I whisper. “It almost makes me feel alive.”

“Baz, you are alive. You’ve always been alive.”

“And you,” I say. “The last time my heart beat this fast was when I saw you through the window of the bar.”

“Snow in the snow,” he says with a crooked smile.

He gently traces the outline of his wings on my chest. His touch sears, but makes me want more. More of this. More of him. He hasn’t touched me like this since the back of Shepard’s pickup truck. But it’s so different. He’s different. So confident, sure of himself. His hands move up my chest and cradle my face.

“I’ve missed you Basilton Grimm Pitch,” he whispers and then kisses me.

It takes me a moment to return the kiss, but when I do it’s as if years of pent up desire and passion flow through me at once. I tangle my hands in his hair and tug at his curls. I wrap my legs around his waist and pull myself onto his lap, getting as close to him as possible. He’s doing that thing where he pushes and pulls on my lips all at once, and it’s driving me insane. I can feel each kiss, each move of his lips, each swipe of his tongue deep in my stomach. His hands are exploring all of my body, moving from my neck to my back to my hips and back again, as if he’s refamiliarizing himself. Every place he touches me is charged with electricity. I can feel my fire come to the surface of my skin, responding to his touch. This is new, and it’s intoxicating.

“Simon Snow Salisbury,” I whisper, and he hums in response. “I’ve missed you, too.”

He stops to look at me then. His hair is a mess, his lips are swollen, and his eyes are hooded with desire. The next thing I know I’m on my back. Simon is on all fours above me, and I know he wants me to reach up to him. And I do. I reach up to him and desperately kiss him. When I do, his wings flare out behind his back.

“Show off,” I say, smiling as I keep kissing him.

“For you, always.”

This is both so familiar and so new—I know the exact spot on his neck that makes him moan when I kiss it, but when I swirl by tongue and nip at it, he collapses onto me writhing against my body; he knows how to make me melt simply by skimming his fingers down my stomach and around my hips, but when he cups my ass, I buck into him with so much force he yelps in surprise. This is farthest we’ve ever gone, physically, and I’m utterly lost in my desire for him.

When we finally join together, the energy between us connects in a current of heat and power. We stop then and stare at one another, wonder on our faces. This feels like the night we fought the dragon at Watford or saw the stars in our tower. But more. I can feel the current of our joined magic, running through me to him and back again. I swear I can see it pulsing under our skin.

“Baz?” Simon whispers, voice quivering, arms shaking as he holds himself above me. I know what he’s asking.

“I know, Simon. I feel it, too” I whisper back, pulling him back down to me.

And then the whole world disappears. It’s just me and Simon, moving as one, our hearts beating in time. Nothing else matters. There are no more words, only sighs and moans and magic. Everything we need to say—sorrow, loss, and love, so much love—evident in actions. After, Simon collapses and nuzzles into my neck. I’m breathless and weightless, but it feels as if my bones have finally settled. He is mine. I am his. We match. We drift off to sleep whispering years’ worth of lost endearments and tangled in each other’s arms.

******

I have no idea what time it is when I wake up. It must be late afternoon, judging by the angle of the sun over the Hudson. Simon is on his stomach next to me, arm splayed over my chest, his hand resting on my heart, covering my tattoo. His wings are spread over us, almost protectively, and his tail is wrapped around my leg.

I look up to check the time and see Charles standing in the door, face completely devoid of emotion.

“Get up, Basil. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re ready,” he says and walks away.

Chapter Text

I should be distraught. I should be out of my mind with guilt. I should be jumping out of bed and throwing myself into Charles’ arms. But I’m not.

It’s not that I’m not upset or sad or afraid of how much I’ve hurt Charles. I am, all of those things. But I don’t regret what happened last night. It was more than I ever imagined it would or could be. There’s always been something between Simon and me. The Crucible knew it. It may have taken me a few years, but I figured it out. Simon did as well, eventually (the thick idiot). It’s love and so much more. He’s still the sun, and I may no longer be crashing into him, but he’s still the center of my orbit. I can’t deny that, and it wouldn’t be fair to me, Simon, or Charles if I did.

But here’s the terrible thing—I love Charles as well. But in what way? Do I want to spend my life with him? I honestly don’t know. I do know that I don’t want to lose him, which isn’t fair to him and may not very well be my choice any longer. Seven hells, this is so fucking confusing.

I look over at Simon, who's peacefully sleeping on the pillow next to me, and my heart swells. He’s lovely. Auburn hair and tawny skin, freckles across his back like constellations. I want to trace them. I want to kiss him. I want to magic us away back to our tower in Mummer’s House and fulfill all of my adolescent fantasies. I get up instead, gently lifting his wing and arm off of my chest and gingerly unwrapping his tail from my leg so as not to wake him. When I stand, he moans softly and nuzzles his face into my pillow, a slight smile on his lips. It’s pathetic how much I love this bloody nightmare of a man.

I throw on a pair of trackies (yes, I started wearing trackies, Snow’s lasting influence) and head into the kitchen, bracing myself for the conversation ahead. Charles is waiting for me. He’s made coffee and is leaning back against the kitchen counter, legs crossed, patiently watching me cross the room towards him. When I reach the kitchen island, he passes a cup of coffee over to me as if this is a normal morning.

“Thank you,” I say.

“You’re welcome,” he replies.

“What time is it?”

“Nearly 5:00 p.m.”

“Weren’t you on a 12-hour shift?”

“Yes, but it was a quiet day, and I talked them into letting me go home early. I wanted to check on Penny. And you,” he says, looking at me expectantly. I look away.

We don’t say anything else, just sip and drink our coffees together. He’s waiting for me to make the first move, to apologize or grovel. I’m not sure either one would make him feel better. He looks tired, dark circles under his eyes and his golden blonde hair almost dingy. He often looks tired after his shift (and there was that late-night battle with demons), but I know it’s more than simple tiredness that’s affecting him. The more I look at him, the guiltier I feel. I’ve betrayed him, betrayed us. Merlin and Morgana, what have I gotten myself into?

“I know that saying I’m sorry won’t help anything, but I am sorry, Charles,” I finally say, setting my coffee down on the counter.

“You’re right, it won’t help, but I appreciate the gesture,” he says calmly, adding, “What happens now?”

I sigh because I honestly don’t know. And then I shrug.

“You’ve just slept with your ex-boyfriend, the person whose mark you bear over your heart, in our bed. Hell, he’s still asleep IN OUR BED. And you don’t know what happens next?”

I shrug again.

“Jesus Christ, since when do you shrug, Basil? Use your words, Professor Pitch.”

“I still don’t know what happens next,” I spit back at him. “I’m fucking confused by all of this.”

“Not confused enough to fuck Simon,” he barks out, his agitation growing. In true Grimm-Pitch fashion, I’m getting calmer by the minute.

“I didn’t fuck him,” I say coolly. “Fucking would imply pure physical gratification. What we did was much more than that, Charles.”

His face falls for a moment and then flares with anger. He balls his fists, and I swear he’s going to hit me. I want him to hit me. (The pain may clear my head. I want to feel something other than this confusion and guilt.)

“Do you want me to leave?” he says between clenched teeth. “Do you want me to kick Simon out? Fight him for your honor? Fight you? Just tell me what you want, you fucking asshole.”

“I want to drink a pint of blood and think,” I growl. “There’s too much magic, too much sage and smoke and saltwater, for me to think clearly.” (It’s true. I can still smell Simon on me, and it’s bloody distracting.) I turn to head back to the bedroom.

“Baz, don’t walk away from me,” he says.

I turn back to him. “I’m not walking away from you, Charles. I walking away from the current situation,” I say softly. “Please give me some time to figure this out.”

He doesn’t respond, just stares at me with that same broken look he gave me in the warehouse. “Please,” I say again more softly.

He nods once and then turns to look out the kitchen window.

Simon is getting dressed when I return to the bedroom. (He’s spelled his wings and tail away.)  He looks up at me when he hears me enter the room and smiles. All I can manage is a weak sneer.

“I’m sorry, Baz,” he says, walking over to me. He looks delicious, even with his mussed hair and wrinkles on his face from the pillow. (He looks like he’s been well shagged, and my traitorous body starts to respond to his proximity.)

“Don’t be sorry, Simon. I did this. I knew what I was doing last night. I don’t regret it,” I say cupping his face with my hand. I close my eyes, enjoying the intimacy of the moment. (I know it won’t last.)

“What happens now?” he asks.

“Why does everyone keep asking me that fucking question? It’s not as if I’m holding all the cards here,” I say pulling away from him in frustration.

“Baz, you ARE holding the cards here. I think Charles and I are both at your mercy,” Simon says. (Crowley, when did he get so smart?)

“Well I don’t know what my next play will be yet, okay?” I say, all of my frustration rising to the surface. “I’m confused as fuck, and I need to drink. And think.” He nods and turns to finish getting dressed.

“Can I eat some breakfast?” he asks sheepishly, and my demeanor softens once again.

“Yes, Snow. Help yourself,” I say. “I’d just steer clear of Charles. You can imagine why.”

“I’ll go back to the hotel as soon as I know Penny’s okay,” he says. “I don’t want to make this any worse than I already have.”

“Simon, you didn’t make this . . .” but he’s out the door before I can finish my sentence. I hear him knock on our spare bedroom door and then Shepard’s voice inviting him in. I try to listen for Penny’s voice with no luck. I collapse on the bed and bury my head in the covers. The smell of our union last night envelops me (cinnamon, smoke, cedar, sweat, and so much more), and I groan. Merlin, please help me.

*****

I lean back against the cool wall of the Silver Center, where my faculty office is located, watching the world pass by on the sidewalk and taking a moment to clear my head. I’ve been at work for about an hour or so. I’ve drank my fill of blood (I have a stash in my minifridge at work. It’s labeled as kombucha, so most people won’t touch it) and have gone through all the motions of working, but all I can do is think about is Simon. And then I remember Charles’ face before I left, and my head gets fuzzy and my thoughts are a jumble.

The worst part is that I want to talk to someone about this, help me sort out my feelings, but there’s no one. I can’t go to anyone in my family, especially not Fiona. She’d just laugh at me—she predicted long ago that I’d never be able to get over Simon—and I don’t think I could handle her gloating today. Penny would be a wonderful sounding board (even though she’ll always side with Simon, she’d at least listen to me, I know), but I won’t burden her with this right now. I have friends here in New York, but they know nothing about my past and are all friends with Charles as well. Lamb? Seven hells, no. He’d tell me that I’m wasting my time on such fleeting, human emotions. If I can’t talk to anyone, I may as well drown my sorrows in a coffee and a cigarette (and test my long-held theory that this will all end in flames).

I push myself off of the building and start to head towards the bodega on the corner. Still lost in my thoughts, I immediately bump into someone on the sidewalk.

“Pardon me,” I say and look up into Simon’s surprised eyes.

“Baz! Are you okay? Did I spill on you?”

“What?” I ask, just now noticing that Simon’s hands are holding two Starbucks cups. “No, no, I don’t think so. What are you doing here?”

“I was coming to see you. Thought you might like some tea,” he says, holding up one of the cups.

“I was just going to get a coffee.”

He smiles and hands me the cup. I lift it up to my nose and immediately relax as the lemon and bergamot undertones of Earl Grey waft over me.

“Smells kinda like you,” Simon says. “I never noticed that before.”

I look up at him and nearly start to cry. (Why is he here? Why is he so thoughtful? Why is he so fucking beautiful?)

“Can I see where you work?” he asks, which drags me out of my thoughts.

“Yes, of course. Sorry. I’m not thinking straight,” I say.

“Yeah, I know. Me either.”

I turn back and head back into the building, Simon close on my heels.

“I’m on the fourth floor,” I say as I lead him to the elevator. The building is normally heaving with students, but with winter break upon us, it’s quiet, especially this late in the evening. When the elevator door closes, we stand quietly. It’s the most uncomfortable we’ve been together so far—we’re truly alone, but feel worlds apart. We sip our drinks quietly as we make our way to the fourth floor.

“Here we are,” I say as the doors open. I motion for Simon to step into the hall. As he does, I can feel how anxious he is. I’m anxious as well. He’s all I’ve thought about all evening, and now he’s here with me. I still don’t have any answers for him and being in such close proximity to him may be dangerous, emotionally speaking. “My office is 413, just up on the left.”

Simon stops outside my door and smiles as he reads the comments and messages left by my students. They range from “Have a great break!” to “Thanks for your help!” to the occasional “Veni Vidi Vici” or football club sticker.

“You don’t even like Manchester United,” he says pointing to a random sticker.

“Some of my students don’t realize there are multiple football clubs in England, but I appreciate the thought. It’s ridiculous, I know,” I say as I pull out my keys from my coat pocket.

“No, it’s not,” he says. “It’s not surprising that your students are charmed by you, Baz. You’re smart, British, and fit to boot.”

“Sod off,” I rolling my eyes and opening the door.

I turn on the light and set my tea down on my desk. I take my coat off and hang it on the back of my chair.

“It looks like our room back in Watford,” Simon says. “It’s pristine.”

“Regardless of everything that’s changed Simon, I still like my work space tidy,” I say with a sigh.

“It’s not a bad thing. Makes me feel at home,” he says.

It’s so bizarre to have Simon in this room. It’s the one place in my life that truly represents my new life—no connection to England or Watford. I haven’t brought any books from home with me here, no sentimental objects from the past. Everything is connected to my time in New York.  

“I never knew you appreciated my cleanliness, Snow.” I say sitting down.

“You prat, I appreciate everything about you.”

He turns and walks over to me then, placing himself between me and my desk.

“You mind if I sit?” he asks, motioning to my desktop.

“If I do, will it stop you?”

“No, but it’s polite to ask,” he says with a grin.

I laugh at that and push myself back in my chair giving him more room to settle himself on the desk. He moves a few papers on the desktop so as not to disturb them and crosses his feet at the ankles as he leans back.

“Make yourself at home, Snow,” I say.

“Thanks, Professor Pitch, I think I will.”  

I can tell by his tone that there’s more meaning behind his words than we are both comfortable admitting aloud. We lock in on each other’s eyes and neither of us looks away. The tension between us grows. We need to talk about last night, but I don’t even know how to begin. Simon, the courageous fuck, barges ahead like always.

“Baz, last night. . . . um . . . it was different.”

“What do you mean by different, Simon?”

“Well, I’ve, ah, slept with other people before,” he says, scratching the back of neck anxiously, “but it was never like that.”

I lean in and set my tea down on my desk. “No, Simon, it was never like that for me either.”

He looks relieved at my admission. “Then what was it?” he asks again.

“I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with our magic,” I say. He gives me a questioning look, so I take his free hand in mine. There’s a momentary shock when we first touch, and his eyes widen in surprise.

“Like that,” I say, “whenever we touch, particularly at an emotional moment, something connects between us. It’s always been there, Simon, but it’s more intense than before.”

“What does it mean?”

“I’m not sure,” I say, and I honestly don’t know the answer. “But I do know that it must be connected to the pull we feel towards each other.”

“Is it just a magical connection then?” He looks sad as he asks the question.

“No, I think it’s more. I think it’s because of the way we feel about each other just makes it stronger, allows it to flow more freely, powerfully.”

“Really?”

“Really,” I say definitively.

“But why didn’t we notice it when were together before I lost my magic?”

“I think we may have been focused more on all of the other things going on in our lives. Like discovering your latent bisexuality, fighting the Humdrum, debilitating depression. You know, little things.”

He laughs at that.

“Why are you here, Simon?” I ask, abruptly changing the subject.

“I wanted to see you,” he says, letting go of my hand. “And Penny wanted me out of the flat.”

“She’s awake?”

“Yeah, she’s still tired, but she’s feeling better. She knew about you and me, last night. Can you believe it?”

“How?”

“She said she could smell it the moment she woke up. Our magic, mixing together. It’s a little embarrassing, isn’t it?”

Now it’s my turn to snort.

“Anyway, I left after I made sure she was okay. Charles steered right clear of me, and I didn’t want to make the situation worse than it already was. I went back to our hotel and showered. And then I decided to find you. I needed to find you.”

“I asked for some time to think, Snow,” I say. “It’s not that I’m not happy to see you, but I do need some time.

“I know, and I’m sorry,” he says. “But I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened between us, the way it felt, made me feel. I just, I couldn’t stay away from you.”

I don’t say anything, just stand and move closer to him then. My head and my heart are still confused, but my body clearly knows what it wants. I lean in to kiss him but am stopped by the sound of the elevator door opening.

“Someone’s here,” I say.

“Is that weird?” he asks.

“Not generally, but it’s after 10:00 p.m. during holiday break. This place should be empty. Do you think it could be someone from last night?”

“I don’t know, why would they come here?”

“It was clear that Charles and I live in the city. We’d be easy to find.”

“You are memorable, Baz, but New York is a big city.”

“New York may be a big city, Snow, but the community of speakers and MAYBES is still close knit. They could find me easily if they asked the right people.”

“What do we do?”

“Just act normal, but have your magic at the ready,” I say, growing more nervous as I hear the person (or thing) approaching my door.

We go back to our original stance—me sitting in my desk chair, Simon leaning against the desktop. I’m pretending to grade papers, he’s leafing through a magazine. (Snakes and stakes, if I’ve gotten myself mixed up in the underbelly of Manhattan’s supernatural community, I may as well move back to Las Vegas.)

“Professor Pitch?” I hear a familiar voice say.

“Emma?” I reply, getting up from my chair to open the door more widely. “Is that you?”

“Oh, hi. Yeah, it’s me. I, um, didn’t expect you to be here, being so late and all,” she says. She’s in my Latin 1 class, one of my stronger students. I have no idea why she’d need to talk to me, especially at 10:00 pm on holiday break.

“Do you have a question about your grade? I turned them in earlier this week, and I can assure you that you did quite well, Emma. Nothing to worry about.” I say, trying to figure out just why she’s here.

“No, no, I, um. Actually, we, a small group of us, got you a Christmas present. And I was dropping it by your office before I left for break so that it’d be waiting for you when you came in,” she says, turning suddenly shy. She clearly didn’t expect me to be here.

“That’s kind of you, Emma. Please come in,” I say and motion her into the office.

She turns to me then, starting to say something and blurts out, “Jeans? Professor Pitch, you’re wearing jeans!”

Simon breaks into peals of laughter.

“That’s exactly what I said to him the first time I saw him in jeans,” he barks out.

“Really?” she asks, noticing Simon for the first time.

“Yeah. You don’t expect him to wear jeans, do you?”

She shakes her head at him.

“I first met him when we were 11, and I didn’t see him in jeans until he was 18. Couldn’t believe my eyes,” he says. “I’m Simon, by the way.”

“I’m Emma,” she says and smiles at him like he hung the moon. (I can’t blame her. It’s far too easy to fall into his thrall.)

“Simon is one of my oldest friends, Emma. Here’s here visiting for the holiday and wanted to see my office,” I say, trying to change the subject. “Now, you wanted to give me something?”

“Oh, right, yes. It’s nothing much really,” she says, pulling a small wrapped box out of her backpack. “Just a small gesture from our class.”

“Do you want me to open it now?” I ask, taking the gift from her.

“Sure, if you want,” she says.

I start to unwrap the package, and Simon moves over to get closer to the action. He’s grinning from ear to ear, completely enjoying this. The gift reveals itself to be my favorite tea, and I’m truly surprised (it’s took some effort to find it).

“Harrods Earl Grey? Emma, you shouldn’t have,” I say, smiling at her. She starts to blush at that, which makes me blush in turn and Simon grin even wider.

“Baz, it’s your favorite tea, right?” I look at him and smile, nodding my head.

“Baz?” she asks, “Not Basil?” (She pronounces it baysil.)

Simon bursts into laughter. “BAYsil is an herb,” he says. “Basil is this bloke, here.” He punches my arm at that.

“Simon, it’s a common mistake, especially here in America,” I say, reassuringly. “My full name is Basilton. It’s an old family name.”

“Basilton,” she says, pronouncing my name slowly, accompanied by a look that lets me know that I’ve just increased her crush on me tenfold.

“Emma, it’s getting late, and Simon and I need to head home,” I say scooting her out of the office (Simon is still giggling, the wanker). “Thank you so much for the tea. It’s lovely.”

“Merry Christmas, Professor Pitch,” she says on her way out the door.

“Happy Christmas, Emma,” I reply and shut the door as quickly as I can. When I turn around, I nearly crash into Simon. He’s directly behind me still laughing, but he’s eyeing me like I’m a snack.

“That was the most adorable thing I think I’ve ever seen, and fucking hot,” he says and then kisses me so hard that he slams me back into the door.

“Snow, what are you doing?” I ask between kisses.

“Snogging you in your office, Professor Pitch,” he says trailing kisses down my neck. It feels so good, so right, and I want to get lost in him like I did last night, but I can’t, not until I figure this all out. It’s not fair to Charles or to him.

“Simon, please,” I say.

“Please what?” he asks, clearly thinking I’m asking for more of him, more of this.

“Please stop. We shouldn’t do this here,” I say trying to break myself away from him.

“Afraid more students will walk in on us?” he replies, kissing his way back up my neck. “Where should we do this instead?”

“We shouldn’t do this at all,” I say more forcefully than I intended. That gets his attention.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I can’t do this now, not while everything is still so fucked up.”

“This is fucked up?” he says, stepping away from me and motioning between us.

“The situationis fucked up. Penny is still at the home I share with my boyfriend. I’m here with you, snogging behind closed doors, and I’m supposed to be packing to spend my first holiday with Charles’ family. Add the fact that we took out a den of demons last night, who may very well still be after us, and yes, it’s fucked up.”

He looks shocked, like I’ve punched him.

“I’m sorry I fucked everything up for you, Baz,” he says, refusing to look at me. He then pushes past me and walks out the door, slamming it behind him.

“Simon,” I yell following him, but it’s too late. He’s taken the stairs instead of the elevator, and I doubt he even heard me.  

****

When I get back to my flat, I find it eerily quiet. Charles isn’t here (not surprising), and Penny and Shepard must be sleeping. I collapse on a chair in the living room, lost as to what to do. I left my office shortly after Simon (the solace it offered me shattered the minute he left) and didn’t know where else to go except for home. I’m deep in thought when I feel my phone buzz. I dig it out of my pocket. It’s a text from Fiona.

Fiona: Six months and 23 days. Lasted longer than I expected boyo!

Me: WTF Fiona. I’m not in the mood for your games.

Fiona: This isn’t a game. Call me when you figure it out.

I throw my phone onto the coffee table and lean back into the soft cushions of the chair. And that’s when I see it. The hideous Baz & Chaz sign is gone. I stand up and walk over to the wall. The sign is on the floor. I lean down and examine it—there’s no way it could have fallen. Fiona’s spell wouldn’t let it . . . that is unless.

I drop the sign and run into the bedroom. The bed still isn’t made from last night, and my clothes are strewn on the floor where I left them. But half of the closet is empty. Charles’ half. I run into the bathroom, and every sign of Charles is gone. I turn and head back into the living room and nearly run over Penelope Bunce.

“He’s not here, Basil,” she says.

“I can see that, Penny,” I say back with a sneer.

“He left this for you,” she says handing me an envelope. I take it from her, hands shaking. I know what it’s going to say, but I tear it open all the same.

Basil,

If anyone would have told me a week ago that I’d be packing up my things to leave you, I wouldn’t have believed them. How can so much have changed in a single week?

I know you didn’t plan for this, didn’t expect this to happen, but you also didn’t trust me enough to share your full history with me. Perhaps if I had known about Simon, what he meant to you, I could have fought for you more. Or we could have sorted this out together. Things could have been different, but you didn’t trust me enough to find out. All I know is that I can’t stay here, not after everything that’s happened.

I thought you were the one for me, Basilton. You may still be, but nothing can move forward until you figure out what you want. When you do, let me know.

Charles

P.S. Penny knows where to find me if she needs me.

I read the letter twice and then let it fall to the floor.

“I’m so sorry, Baz,” she says and nearly crushes me in a hug (I have no idea how she can still be this strong after everything that happened). “I asked him to wait, but he wouldn’t. When he closed the door, the Baz & Chaz sign fell off the wall.”

“How long ago did he leave?” I ask, not returning her hug.

“Shortly before you got home. You just missed him,” she says, embracing me more firmly.

“Fucking Fiona and her fucking spells,” I say as I finally lean into her.

“Want to talk about it?” she asks, loosening her embrace but not fully letting me go.

“Maybe. I don’t know,” I say, breaking away from her and sitting on the couch. Penny slowly sits down next to me, taking care not to lean back too far on the couch.

“Do you need an extra pillow, Bunce?”

“Yes, that’d be brilliant.”

As I’m arranging the pillows to make her more comfortable, Shepard finally emerges from the bedroom.

“Okay to come out now, Pen?”

“Yes, Shep, he knows,” Penny calls.  

Shepard joins us on the couch, settling himself carefully next to Penny, wrapping his arm around her shoulders protectively. It makes my heart hurt watching them, reminding me of the intimacy that I’ve more than likely just lost.

“Are you okay, Baz?” Penny asks.

“No, Bunce, I’m not,” I say. “I blame Shepard.”

“What? How is the state of your love life my fault?” he responds.

“If you hadn’t gotten cursed by that demon all those years ago, maybe I’d be packing for the holidays with my boyfriend instead of reading a Dear John letter.”

“If I hadn’t gotten cursed by that demon, your asses would have been toast back in Nevada.”

“It’s okay, Shep,” Penny cuts in. “Baz is always an arsehole when he’s upset. It’s his defense mechanism.”

I sneer at the both in response. It’s either that or break down into tears, and I’d rather suffer that humiliation alone.

“Baz, are you that surprised? Honestly?”

“No, I’m not,” I sigh. “But it doesn’t make it hurt any less.”

We sit in silence for a few minutes.

“Did you see Simon?” Penny finally asks.

“Yes. He came to my office, but we didn’t end on good terms.”

“What happened?”

“I told him that I needed time, that the current situation is too complicated, and he wasn’t happy with the response.”

“Baz, he’d understand that you need time. What happened?”

“I may have said that the situation is fucked up, and he took it to mean that I thought we were fucked up, and, well, you can imagine.”

“Oh Basil. I didn’t think that seeing you again would turn your life upside down. Or at least not so quickly.”

“It’s not your fault, Bunce. I didn’t tell Charles about Simon, which was clearly a mistake. And it was my decision to sleep with Simon. I don’t regret it, but I’ve made my own bed, as they say.”

I can feel the self-loathing creeping back into my psyche. It’s been gone for a while, but it’s easy to welcome this old friend back into my life.

“Will you be okay? I worry about you,” she says softly.

“Don’t worry about me, Bunce. I’ll figure this out,” I say. “I’m more worried about you. How are you feeling?”

“Much better, thanks to Charles and Shepard. My back should heal, even though I may have lasting scars. I’m not sure if we can spell them away—they were made by magic darker than we may be able to fight. But I’ll be fine.”

“I’m glad,” I say, genuinely. “I was worried.”

“I know, Basil. Thank you for everything, especially opening your house to us,” she says as she squeezes my hand.

“Yeah, thanks, Baz. I’m glad we found you,” Shepard adds. “I forgot how truly terrifying you can be. I’ll just say that I’m stoked that you are OUR vampire mage.”

I bark a laugh at that. “Glad to be of service,” I say, mock-bowing to them both.

Penny and Shepard head back to bed. I make myself a cup of tea and plant myself in front of my favorite window overlooking the East River. I hear my phone buzz from across the room. I know it’s Fiona and that if I don’t respond to her that she’ll keep texting and then calling. I drag myself out of the chair to get my phone.

Fiona: FFS, Baz, are you okay?

Me: I’m fine.

Fiona: Liar. Do you want to talk?

Me: No. Let me sulk in peace.

Fiona: Snow?

Me: Salisbury.

Fiona: You found out.

Me: Yes. Why didn’t you tell me?

Fiona: Would it have mattered?

Me: No.

Me: Maybe.

Fiona: I told Malcolm that he fucked up when he mentioned that you were in NY to Bunce.

Me: If only your opinion carried more weight with him . . .  

Fiona: Smartass. Did you sleep with Snow/Salisbury?

Me: None of your business.

Fiona: You did. I knew it. Is that why Charles left?

Me: Yes. And the fact that I didn’t tell him about my full history with Simon.

Fiona: FFS, Basil

Me: Yes. I get it. I fucked up.

Fiona: Are you okay?

Me: No. But I’ll figure it out.

Fiona: I’m here if you need me Boyo.

Me: I know, Fi. Ta.

******

Penny and Shepard left this morning, and Penny promised to touch base before she and Simon head back home. She also promised me that she’d let me know how Simon’s doing. I need to reach out to him, I know, but I’m not sure what to say yet.

Today is the day Charles and I had planned to leave for Boston for the holidays. We hadn’t yet started our Christmas shopping—we were both too busy with school and work—so we had planned to spend the day downtown shopping, celebrating together before heading to his family’s house. We didn’t even put up any holiday decorations, and the flat is anything but festive. It’s probably better than way. I’m in less than a festive mood. And Christmas always reminds me of Simon, the first time we kissed, the first time for so many things between us.  

I still don’t know what I want to do. I know it’s my decision to make, but there’s no guarantee that no matter whom I choose that either one of them will want to be with me. I was trying to protect myself from my past, separate it from my life here in New York. My life with Charles. I should have known it was no use. The minute Simon Snow stepped back into my life, I lost all sense of rational thought. And now? Simon is leaving in a few days, and I can’t follow him back to England. There’s no purpose for me there, the Coven made sure of that. And I like my life here in New York. My work makes me happy. Charles made me happy. But Simon . . . well, he makes me more than happy. He enrages me, enthralls me, completes me. I’d do anything for him. But should I? Are we better off apart? We’ve both seemed to make a better life for ourselves without the other. Perhaps we are star-crossed lovers in every sense of the word. Oh, fuck it all.

I need to stop myself from thinking, so I spend the entire day cleaning my flat from top to bottom (without using an ounce of magic). I dust, organize my (newly empty) closet, rearrange my books, mop the floors, wash the windows. Anything and everything I can think of to remove any and all signs of the past few days. No scent of smoke or sage, no signs of injury or passion. Everything perfectly clean, perfectly in place. And then I sit down to drink my share of blood, along with an entire bottle of red wine while I catch up on my Netflix viewing. I gave up on Top Gear when Joey from Friends took over as host, but I figured with everything in my life going to hell, I may as well wallow in the ruination of my favorite reality show.  

I make it through a season and half (plus a glass shy of the entire bottle of red wine) when my phone rings. I figure it’s Fiona, so I ignore it (per usual). It rings twice more in the matter of 10 minutes and then the texts start.

“Give it a rest, Fiona,” I say as I (unsteadily) make my way over to the kitchen island where I left the phone. It’s not Fiona. It’s Charles’ mother, Meredith. The first thing I see are the texts, which become more and more urgent as they progress. “Baz, where are you and Charles?” “Baz, please call me.” “I’m worried. Please call ASAP.” My heart nearly stops. I listen to the voice mail, and they are just as urgent. Charles didn’t make it to Boston, and he didn’t let his family know that I wasn’t going home with him. His family is worried sick, and so am I. I take a deep breath and count to 10 to clear my head before dialing Meredith’s number.

“Baz, thank god you called. Where are you? Where is Charles?” she says the instant she picks up the phone.

“Meredith, I’m so sorry I didn’t get your messages earlier. I’m here in New York. Did Charles not get in touch with you?”

“No, I haven’t heard from him for two days. Why aren’t you both here?

“We had a change of plans, and I’m staying home. But Charles should have made it to your house by now. You haven’t heard from him at all?”

“No, nothing. This isn’t like him, Baz. I’m worried.”

“You’re right, this isn’t like him. Let me try to reach him, and I’ll be in touch as soon as I know anything. Will you let me know if you hear from him?”

“Of course, Baz. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“It’s going to be okay, Meredith. I’m sure he just had an emergency at work. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Merlin help me, where can he be? I immediately try calling him, and there’s no answer. And his voicemail if full. Never a great sign. I text him and then call the NYU emergency room. They haven’t seen him since his last shift (the shift from which he left early to come home and discover Simon and me tangled together in our bed). Fuck. Still no text. I’m starting to panic. This isn’t like him. Even if he doesn’t want to live with me, he wouldn’t ignore a worried text from me. Eight snakes. I’m circling around the kitchen island thinking of our friends and who may know where he is when I hear a text come through.

I pick up the phone, and it’s not from Charles. It’s a text from Penelope.

Bunce: Have you heard from Simon? We haven’t seen him since he left your flat yesterday.

Me: No. Not since he left my office. He isn’t back at the hotel room? Shepard’s flat?

Bunce: No sign of him anywhere. And he’s not answering his phone or his text. I’m worried.

My blood runs cold, and I swear my heart stops. Charles and Simon are both missing. Aleister Crowley, this is my worst nightmare.

Chapter Text

“We still don’t know anything,” I shout, throwing my pen across my living room.

“For Crowley’s sake, Baz. You’re the most English Englishman I know. Have you forgotten how to ‘Be Calm and Carry On’?” Penny shouts back.

“Fuck off, Bunce.”

“Look, man, I know you’re pissed off and worried, but please don’t tell my girlfriend to fuck off. She’s trying to help you,” Shepard says from his seat on the couch. I sneer at him.

“It’s okay, Shep, I take it as a term of endearment. He cares enough to give me his worst,” she says with a smile. I sneer at her, too.

The three of us have set up shop in my apartment, complete with a white board that Penny picked up from somewhere. We have two lists—what we know and what we don’t know—and right now, the only thing that we know is that Simon and Charles disappeared on the same night at roughly the same time, around 18 hours ago. The list of unknowns takes up an entire side of the board.

Penny and Shepard came over shortly after she texted me, whiteboard in hand. I’ve called all of my friends, magical and non-magical, looking for Charles. No one has seen or heard from him. I’ve also been in touch with NYU security to see if there’s any trace of Simon after he left my office. They were reluctant to share any information with me at first, but I turned up my Pitch to full force, and they gave into my request to check their video feeds. He left the building safely and then disappeared onto the crowded New York streets. We all know that this isn’t a coincidence and that this must be related to Shepard’s demon, but we know little to nothing about him.

“Shepard, please. Tell us his name. It’s our only lead,” I beg.

“I can’t, Baz. I told you that when you say his name—his real name—he appears. I won’t risk that. We have to find him some other way,” he says.

“How did you know where his lair was when he had Penny?” I ask, clearly annoyed.

“I was worried when I came to New York, afraid he’d find me after the curse was broken. I asked around about a shape-shifting demon, which lead me to the Garment District. Then it was easy to figure out which warehouse was his that night. But this time it’s different. He still hasn’t contacted us—last time we heard from him within an hour or two. I think he wants something more than my soul this time around.”

“We right pissed him off,” Penny adds. “This is about revenge.”

“Penny, let’s go over what you remember again.” I say.

“Baz, we’ve gone over it time and again. I didn’t see anything or anyone other than the same crew you did. Shep’s demon didn’t reveal himself to me.”

“You may have seen him, Penn,” Shepard jumps in. “He’s a shapeshifter, remember? That’s what makes him so dangerous, you may be talking to him without even knowing it. He has a thousand faces. It’s how he survives.”

“Where did you meet him again?” I ask Shepard.

“On one of my trips out west.”

“So why is he here in New York?” Penny asks.

“No idea. Maybe he wanted a change of scenery, headed East like me and Baz.”

 “We must be missing something,” I say, running my fingers through my hair. “Someone has to know how to find him. How many demon lairs can there even be in this city?”

“More than you think,” Shepard adds.

“Baz, why don’t you know more about the magical creatures in the city?” Penelope asks.

“Other than needing a supply of blood, I try to lie as low as possible, Bunce. I had enough of magical creatures before I moved here to last me a lifetime. Ignorance is bliss, or so I thought.”

The three of us slump down into the various chairs of my living room. My phone has been going off for the last few minutes, but I know it is Charles’ mother checking in. I have no news for her, so I simply ignore the texts for now. I know she’s worried sick, but I can’t bring myself to disappoint her with no additional news.

Bunce gets up to add another list to the things we know, “Demon appears when his name is called,” and steps back reviewing the board with a confused look on her face. She looks tired. She has barely recovered from her ordeal, and we’re already back in the middle of a mess. Shepard watches her every move, ready to come to her service when (and if) he’s needed.

There’s a sudden knock on the door, and we all stop to look at one another. I raise my eyebrow, Bunce nods, and I’m at the door in two seconds flat. I count to 10 (I don’t want to give my vampire self away that easily) and open the door with a schooled look on my face. I’m greeted by a tall man in a dark suit and a fedora hat, head turned at an angle so that his face is in shadow.

“Basilton Pitch?” he asks without lifting his head.

“I’m Basilton.”

He hands me an envelope. “Don’t be late,” he says. As he turns to leave, he flashes me a dazzling smile, all white teeth and red lips. And green skin. Goblin. He makes his way to the stairs before I can ask him any additional questions. (After all of Simon’s escapades, I know better than to follow a goblin.)

“Who was it?” Penny asks.

“Goblin,” I say. “He told us not to be late.”

“To what?” Shepard asks.

“I imagine we’ll find out,” I say, ripping open the envelope. (This is the second sealed envelope I’ve gotten in two days. They’ve lost their charm.)

Inside are three tickets that say:

St. Luke’s Theatre

8:00 p.m.

And nothing else. I show them to Penny and Shepard.

“It’s Christmas Eve, how can there be a performance tonight?” Penny asks.

“I think this one’s for us alone,” I say.

“Yep, sounds like our demon,” Shepard says.

****

We’re at the theatre at 8:00 p.m. sharp. It’s on the edge of the Theatre District, but it’s quiet. A few cars pass us on the street now and then, and passers-by are few and far between. There’s no sign of life at St. Luke’s—no lights, no cars, no one outside. Nothing.

Shepard immediately walks up to the front door, and it’s unlocked. “After you,” he says, looking far less confident than he sounds. Penny grabs my arm before I head inside.

“This is a trap, Baz,” she whispers.

“I know it’s a trap, Bunce, but what choice do we have?”

“Do you have a plan?”

“When have we ever had a plan?”

“But that’s when we had Simon. He’s always been braver than any of us. And a much better fighter.”

“You do know, Bunce, that Simon never would have survived without you by his side all these years. Besides, we’re two of the most talented mages around . . .”

“Plus vampire strength,” Shepard adds.

“Yes, plus vampire strength. We’ll find them both, I promise you,” I say and take her head in my hands, gently kissing her on her crown. “I love them, Penelope, I won’t let them down. Or you.”

She brings her hands up and holds mine in place, looking up at me with fear in her eyes and nods.

“Now,” I say as I straighten my cuffs (I’ve dressed for the occasion—navy suit, pink shirt (open one button too far), cufflinks, my best black leather boots. It is the theatre, after all). “The show must be about to start.”

I walk into the lobby, trying to hide how terrified I truly am in my typical façade of confidence. I have no idea what we’re about to find or who we’re about to fight or whether Simon and Charles are even alive. Penny is nowhere near her full strength, magically speaking, and it’s doubtful that Shepard can talk us out of this mess.

The minute all three of us are in the lobby, the lights come on at full force. We all blink as we try to adjust to the abrupt change. Other than the lights, there’s no sign of anyone or anything. And then I smell it—cinnamon and bacon, sea breeze and saltwater. I follow the scent straight to the theatre doors and start to push them open.

“Baz, wait,” Penny says.

“I can smell them, Penny. They’re here,” I say and continue to open the doors.

I walk into a small theatre. The room is completely dark, except for the runner lights that lead you down to the stage below. I hear Bunce and Shepard enter the room before I feel them behind me. Penny reaches out to take my hand, and I squeeze it back. As soon as I get my bearings, I see them. Simon and Charles are both tied to chairs on the stage floor. Charles is struggling and looking in my direction—he must have heard us come in—and Simon is slumped in his seat. Enraged, I run to the stage as fast as I can, hearing Bunce call, “Baz, no” behind me. The minute my feet hit the stage, the lights come on—three spotlights, to be exact. One on each of us.

I hiss at the bright light—it’s not sunlight, but it burns just the same—and shield my eyes.

“Basilton Pitch. How nice of you to join us this evening,” says a projected voice. It’s smooth and deep, almost musical. Shepard whistles to get my attention and nods his head. Right. His demon. Merlin, help me, I pray to myself before answering.

“How could I turn down such an intriguing invitation,” I say to the back of the theatre. “Besides I had no plans this evening, seeing you stole my date,” I say motioning toward Charles. I still haven’t taken a good look at either Charles or Simon, but the smell of brown butter is overwhelming. Simon is bleeding. It’s all I can do to keep myself from running to him. I can also hear Charles struggling—he’s gagged—but I don’t dare look his way. At least not yet.

“Date or dates, Mr. Pitch? From what I’ve gathered recently, you’re keenly interested in both of these gentlemen,” the voice says from above.

“I must admit that I do have a type,” I reply (I haven’t said truer words in my life).

The voice laughs at that. The laugh would almost be comforting it I heard it in any other situation. And I need to get the fuck out of this situation.

“As much as I’d love to continue this stimulating conversation, I’d much rather get on with the show,” I say.

“Would you?” the voice replies.

“It is Christmas eve, and I’d like to make it home before Father Christmas arrives.”

“Ah yes, Father Christmas. Are you sure he’s coming this year?”

“Well, I guess that depends on your perspective,” I say and catch Penny’s eye. She’s waving her hand at me, encouraging me to wrap this up. I arch an eyebrow at her, willing her to understand that I’m trying here. The smell of Simon’s blood is overtaking my senses, and I can hear Charles’ heartbeat increasing with every minute that passes. He’s terrified.

“I imagine that our recent visit to your warehouse didn’t put me in your good graces,” I continue.

“Yes, about that,” the voice says. “I honestly could care less about the demons and goblins you and the dragon boy killed. Hell, I could care even less about the Speaker you rescued or the fact that I lost a soul. I’m interested in something much more unusual, more powerful, more useful to me.”

“Really? And what might that be?”

“You, Mr. Pitch. It’s not every day that you meet a vampire mage.”

And there it is. The trap.

“You are something of a legend, you know. Ever since that Renaissance Faire years ago, I’ve been looking for you. A vampire-killing vampire. A fire-wielding mage. You’re too good to be true. The Next Blood tried to get you, but they’re too idiotic to hold onto someone as powerful as you. I tried convincing Lamb to give you up, but he likes you too much and has been around too long to fall for any of my tricks. And then you disappeared. Until a few days ago.” His tone takes a turn, now more menacing than comforting.

I’m trying hard to control my breathing, to stay calm, but I know what’s coming next. He’s going to ask me to trade my life for Simon and Charles. Give myself up willingly to be used for whatever dark purposes he wants of me. And here I thought I could avoid the dark side of magic, but it finally caught up to me.

“I’m an associate professor at NYU. I teach Latin. I play the violin, go to bed early on most nights, love Earl Grey tea, and am not-so-secretly obsessed with expensive cars. There’s truly nothing special about me,” I say trying to stall. Penny and Shepard have now split up, moving to opposite sides of the theatre, and I need to give them time for whatever they are planning.

“I’m not in the mood for games, Basilton, especially after the many years I’ve spent looking for you. You have two choices: Give yourself to me willingly, and I’ll let your golden boys go free, even the winged mage. Or you and your friends will all die here, tonight. There’s no escaping me, Basilton. Shepard may have tried, but his connection to you is the only reason I’ve allowed him to live this long.”

I don’t say a word, just try to look as incredulous as possible.

“I’ll give you a few moments to think it over. And to say goodbye to your boys.”

I immediately turn to Charles then and finally take him in.  He has a cut lip and a black eye, but otherwise looks intact. I run over to him and take out his gag.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” I ask, kneeling down in front of him to get a better look. He’s scared and the worse for wear, but he looks okay. I sigh in relief and get to work on freeing his hands.

“Baz, you idiot,” he says. “You walked right into the trap.”

“I know, Charles, but have some faith in me, please.”

“I do,” he says softly, and he leans in and places his forehead on mine. I take his hands and squeeze them. He squeezes back. “It’s Simon I’m worried about,” he says. “They beat him up pretty badly.”

“He’s bleeding, I can smell it. Do you know what they did?”

“No. They kept us in separate rooms. I didn’t even know he was here until they brought up both out on the stage. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to get you both out of here.”

“Please don’t give up yourself for this,” he pleads.

“Who said anything about giving up? I’m going to get you both out of here, and then I’m going to kill this fucking demon,” I growl and make easy work of shredding the ropes that held his arms and legs in place. I help him stand and turn around too look for Penny and Shepard. I see Penny to my left, making her way towards Simon. I shake my head at her. She looks at me like I’m insane.

“Once more into the breach, dear friends,” I call to her. It’s not magic, just a clue as to my next move. It takes her a moment, but I think she finally understands. I have a plan. To fight. It’s not a good one, but it’s a plan all the same. (Please, Bunce, please remember your Shakespeare! It’s Henry Vfor Crowley’s sake.)

“Charles,” I say. “Are you ready?”

“Ready?” he asks, confused.

“Hold on,” I say and then I fly. I heed every lesson Lamb ever game me—don’t think, follow my instincts, feel my power—unceremoniously throw Charles over my shoulder and carry him to safety behind Bunce, who has her ring at the ready. Charles looks at me in shock (sadly, I hid far more than my love for Simon from him), but I can’t take the time to process what he may be thinking. I can see a legion of goblins entering the theatre. (Of course, goblins. They’re always present whenever Simon Snow is involved.)

“Bunce,” I say. “Cover me.”

She does. She starts throwing stunning spells as fast as she can—Buzz Off, Dead in Your Tracks, Hold the Phone—she’s not killing anyone, but trying to slow them down, give me time. She’s hedging our bets in the hope that Simon will wake soon. I hope she’s right.

I make my way back to Simon (no more than 3 minutes have passed, maybe 4, and I know my time is running out, know that the demon is watching and waiting for my next move). Simon is still unconscious. I move as quickly as I can to free him while being as gentle as possible and whispering to him. (Simon, love, please wake up. We need you. Are you okay? I’m here, love, I’ve got you. I’ve got you.) When I’ve removed the last of the ropes around his arms, he collapses to the floor in a heap of limbs and tangled curls. I can see the blood now, seeping down his side. I don’t know if he’s shot or cut or what, but he’s bleeding freely, and the scent of it is overpowering. The last time I saw him like this was in a desert in Nevada, and I’m immediately taken back to that moment.

Simon is on the ground. His hair is a mess. He doesn’t have a sword.

I let out a blood-curdling howl and throw myself to the floor, turning him over as gently as possible. I put my hand on his wound, trying to staunch the bleeding. He doesn’t respond to the pressure. He doesn’t respond to anything.

Simon is on the ground. His hair is a mess. He doesn’t have a sword. His heart is beating, but he’s losing too much blood.

He looks so peaceful, so young. He looks so pale. I don’t know what to do. I look up at Charles and Penny, and I can feel the tears running down my cheeks (I didn’t even know I was crying). They look at me helplessly.

Simon is on the ground. His hair is a mess. He doesn’t have a sword. His heart is beating, but he’s losing too much blood. I can’t let him leave me. Not again. Not like this.

I cast every healing spell I know—Get Well Soon, Good as New, Right as Rain, Time Heals All Wounds—but nothing works. His heartbeat is fading, and the goblins are closing in on us. I look up at Penny and Charles again, and I know the spell I need to use. (I’m sorry, Charles. So sorry.)

I pull out my wand from my sleeve, summon all of my magic, and cast Kiss it Better. I lean down and kiss him. First on his forehead, then on his lips, and work my way, down his chest until I’m directly over the wound. I place one last kiss where I think the bleeding begins. I can’t see, but I can feel the magic working under the skin, and the scent of his blood fades. The wound must have closed. I move back up to his face, and his eyes flutter open.

“Baz?”

“Yes, Simon. I’m here.”

“It’s a trap,” he says. His voice is rough and scratchy. “Shouldn’t be here.”

“I’m exactly where I need to be,” I say, brushing the curls out of his face.

He looks at me then, his eyes taking a moment to focus. He reaches his hand up to my cheek and whispers, “C’mere.”

I lean down just as he reaches up to me. He moves his hand to the back of my neck and pulls me into a deep kiss. I’m no longer afraid of hurting him, pouring all my love into him instead. I forget about everything except for the feel of his lips on mine and the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. I haven’t lost him. He’s alive. Simon Snow is alive. And I love him.

“Basilton!” I hear Penny scream from the side of the stage. I break away from Simon and look up to see the goblins nearly upon us. Simon sees them, too, and slowly stands up. I follow.

“Okay, love?” I ask.

“I’ve been better,” he says.

“Stay behind me.” I can feel him nod his head.

I take out my wand and circle it above my head, summoning all the energy I can muster. I can feel the heat of the fire that’s circling above me. It can’t hurt me, I know. I may be part vampire, but I’m more mage than anything else. I may be flammable, but so is everyone—and everything—else in this room. I’m about ready to unleash the blaze when I the demon’s voice blares out of the speakers.

“Enough!” he bellows.

The goblins fall back, and I drop my wind. The fire disappears.

“You’re full of surprises, Mr. Pitch,” he says. “I expected you to be the hero, free your golden boys, but the fire. I haven’t seen anyone summon a blaze like that for decades. I’d like to get a closer look at you.”

I hear him then, a series of slow footsteps making their way from behind the stage. It takes a moment, but I finally see him. The goblins part to let him pass as he works his way to the center of the auditorium. He’s tall and is wearing a crisp brown suit. He’s, well, he’s gorgeous. Looks a bit like that bloke from Love Actually and Ten Years a Slave(Charles knows his name).

“Yes, now I see your magic. It flows through you, fire licking at your fingertips, running through your veins. You and I could make an amazing team, Baz. Okay if I call you Baz?”

“Only my friends call me Baz. I’d prefer you use Basilton.”

He laughs at that and nods.

“You see, Basilton, I collect souls. And If I lose one—if a curse is broken (he looks to Penny) or someone misses a deadline—I send these goblins here, along with a few other demons, to collect. They aren’t always successful. But with you working for me, I’d be unstoppable. And you. You’d be a god,” he says and licks lips.

“Don’t fall for it, Baz.” It’s Shepard, and his voice is coming from the top of the auditorium. He’s standing by the doors through which we entered, and he’s managed to thread something—a broom handle, a pipe—through the door handles, essentially locking us all in.

“Oh Shepard,” the demon says. “You are still so naive. What do you know about the likes of us?”

Shepard answers before I can form a response, and he somehow manages to strike up a fucking conversation with this demon, recounting how Penny’s mom managed to break the curse. He’s throwing serious shade.

“Baz, do you trust me?” Simon whispers behind me.

“Of course, Snow.”

“Good. Just listen to my voice and follow my lead, yeah?”

I nod. He then wraps his arms around my waist, and I can feel us lift off of the ground. The ceilings are no more than 25 feet high, but Simon’s managed to fly us at least 15 feet into the air, where he hovers. I grab onto his arms, trying to hold on.

“It’s okay, Baz, I’ve got you. You need your hands free, okay. Have your fire at the ready.”

I look down at the demon is looking up at us with a smirk on his face. The goblins are clearly scared. (I hate to admit it, especially as a time like this, but Snow was right. They are a fit lot.) Charles and Penny are looking up with a mixture of surprise and awe.

“Penny,” Shepard calls, cutting of a demonic diatribe. “You know what to do.”

I Just Took a DNA Test,” Penny says with magic, pointing her ring at the demon. He transforms before our eyes, taking on his true shape. He’s tall and thin with wraith-like limbs. His (it’s?) skin is the color of parchment paper and looks just as thin, and his mouth is hole, an endless black hole. His eyes are black, almost like mirrors, reflecting the world back to itself. He doesn’t speak, but emits a low hissing sound instead, and I can feel the atmosphere start to change. It’s almost as if he’s sucking the life out of the room (J.K. Rowling must have known about this demon. It’s the closest thing to a dementor that I’ve ever seen.)

“Now, Baz,” Simon yells behind me. “Now.”

I straighten my arms, open my hands, and unleash a whirlwind of fire onto the demon below. He erupts into flames. Simon then pivots so that fire engulfs the entire theatre, igniting the goblins one by one. I see Shepard dive behind a row of chairs as goblins storm the doors trying to escape (unsuccessfully).

I can feel Simon’s magic pulsing through me, holding me aloft, fueling my flames. I feel more alive than I ever have before, and it’s both glorious and terrifying. Our combined magics have made us . . . a dragon. A fucking dragon, wings, tail, and now fire. It all make so much sense now. We fit together. We work together. I look at my arms, and they’ve disappeared. I am fire incarnate. I don’t know where my body ends and the flames begin. Penny is watching us in awe, and I can see her chanting what must be a protection spell, because the flames can’t seem to touch her or Charles. Shepard is still protected behind a row of chairs. The demon is gone, engulfed by the fire, and the goblins are burning below us.

Suddenly, the fire burns out, and I’m falling to the ground. Simon’s arms are still holding me tightly, but all of the energy has left them. We land, hard, on the theatre floor. Simon has somehow wrapped his wings around me, cushioning the blow. He’s landed on top of me, and he lifts his head up to look at me.

“Wicked,” he says before passing out on my chest. I hear Penny cast Make a Wish, and the fire disappears.

“Simon,” I say, shaking him gently. “Simon, please wake up.”

He’s listless.

I try to untangle myself from his wings so that I can flip him over and see what’s wrong, but I’m stuck. He’s wrapped around me too tightly, and all of his weight is holding me down. I could push him off, I’m sure, but I don’t want to risk hurting him.

“Penny,” I call. “Help!”

Charles makes it over to us first. “What’s wrong?”

“He passed out, and I can’t wake him,” I say desperately. “And I can’t move—his wings have me trapped.”

He nods. “Are you hurt?”

“No, I don’t think so,” I say. “But Simon had a wound on his side earlier. I stopped it from bleeding, but I’m not sure if I did much else. He could be bleeding internally.”

“Okay, okay. Let’s try to turn him over, and I’ll try too see what’s wrong,” he says calmly. “Shepard, I need help.”

Shepard runs to the stage just as Penny appears.

“Baz, are you okay? Is Simon?”

I can’t answer her. It’s all too overwhelming, and I need to see Simon, find out if he’s okay. While three of them work on trying to maneuver him onto his back, I take solace in running my fingers through his curls. I whisper to him, “You saved the day again, you courageous fuck. You absolute nightmare. You beautiful, rosebud boy.” I have no idea if he can hear me, but his heartbeat is slow but steady, which I take as a good sign.

“Baz, we’re going to need your help,” Charles says after a minute or two. “When we lift Simon up, can you roll to your side, freeing his wing?”

I nod. On the count of three Charles and Shepard lift Simon, and I roll over. Penny pulls his wing out from under me, the three of them gently roll Simon onto his back. I scramble out from under him. He’s moans as they settle him on the floor, his face winced in pain. “Baz,” he whispers, fingers scrambling to find me.

I take his hand and lean down to whisper in his ear. “I’m here, Simon. I’m here. Stay with me, please. Hold on.” He doesn’t open his eyes, but he settles, his face relaxing. Charles is seated at his feet, watching the scene unfold. This can’t be easy for him, forced into this bizarre love triangle against his will. I look up at him, and his expression is soft, sad. I crook my head at him, trying to express an apology through my eyes, movements. He nods once, resigned. Simon moans again, and all of my attention focuses back to him.

“We have to get him out of here,” I growl.

“WE have to get out of here,” Shepard interjects. “Either more demons or the police will be here soon. We have to move.”

“How did you get here?” Charles asks me.

“We drove. I’m parked across the street,” I reply.

“Okay, it’s going to be risky moving him, but I don’t think we have another choice,” Charles says. “Shepard, do you think you and I can lift Simon?”

“I can take him,” I say. “Charles, you can drive.”

“Fine,” he says. “Let’s go.”

“Simon, I’m going to life you up now. It may hurt, and I’m sorry. We’re getting out of here, love,” I whisper to him before I lift him as gently as possible into my arms. I stand and balance him against me. He’s not quite dead weight, but he is nearly listless. He leans his head against my shoulder, and his tail wraps around my leg.

Shepard and Penny take the lead, moving dead goblins and other debris out of the way. Charles follows behind.

“My keys,” I call back to him. “They’re in my pack pocket.” Or at least I hope they are.

Charles reaches out to grab them (thank Merlin they’re still there) and then presses forward ahead of us, making for the car.

We make our way out of the theatre and cross the street to the car. I can hear sirens in the distance.

“We need to move,” I say.

Shepard opens the back door for me, and I slide in, carefully maneuvering into the backseat to avoid hurting Simon. Penny slips in on the other side of me, and Shepard hops in the passenger seat.

“All in,” Charles asks from the driver’s seat.

“Go,” I growl from the backseat, where I’m cradling Simon in my arms. Penny’s reaches over and grabs his hand, holding it tightly. We catch each other’s eyes, and I can see how worried she is.

“It’ll be okay, Bunce,” I say. “You know how strong he is. Besides, I’ll kill him myself if he decides this is the time to leave us.” She smiles, looking relieved.

We peel out of the parking spot and into the street just as the lights of the firetrucks stop in front of the theatre.

Charles takes a quick right turn, Penny casts Make Way for the King, and we fly through the streets of Manhattan, the Christmas lights reflecting off of Simon’s golden curls

Chapter Text

The smell of coffee and a familiar voice wakes me.

“Mom, Mom, slow down. I’m fine, really. I’ll be home by dinner tonight, I promise,” I overhear Charles say from the living room.

Right, it’s morning. Christmas morning. Charles is here, and Simon is sleeping next to me.

I can hear Simon’s breathing—slow and steady as his heartbeat. And I thank Merlin that he’s okay, that he’s still here with me. He’s sleeping on his stomach, and his face is turned away from me, but his wings are spread wide, surrounding me, and his tail is still wrapped around my right leg. We tried to unwrap it when we got home last night, when we were safe, but he wouldn’t let go of me. Every time I tried to leave Simon’s side, change or take a shower (I’m still dressed for the theatre, although my suit is now a more singed grey than blue), his wings and tail would pull me closer to him. I’m not surprised, really. When I think about the aftermath of destroying the Humdrum and defeating the Next Blood, well, Simon and I were inseparable (at least for a time). So I stayed with him, even though I knew it clearly upset Charles to leave us together in the bed he and I once shared.

I spent the night wrapped around Simon, counting his heartbeats and doing my best to comfort him (and me, let’s be honest). He never fully regained consciousness, but Charles assured me his injuries weren’t life threatening. My Kiss It Betterspell worked—it had stopped his bleeding—but he had lost a lot of blood. Charles thinks our grand finale (you know, the part where we became a dragon, flames and all) wore him out completely. And he was kind enough to cast a few additional healing spells to avoid any lasting damage. (I know that all physicians have to take the Hippocratic oath, but I truly believe Charles went above and beyond his duty last night. I’m sure that no one would have blamed him for walking away from us the minute he was able. Crowley, he’s a good man.)

As much as I want to stay in bed this morning—both to remain as close to Simon as possible and to sleep (I’m bloody well exhausted after everything)—I know I need to talk to Charles. He’s going to leave soon, and I can’t let him go without at least apologizing to him again. I reach down and gently start to unwrap Simon’s tail from my leg. Thankfully, he lets me. I then throw my legs off the side of the bed, trying my best not to disturb him. I’m nearly at the door to our bedroom when I hear Simon call.

“Where’re you going?” he asks groggily. At the sound of his voice, my body suddenly relaxes, letting go of the tension I didn’t even know I’d been holding.  

I turn and kneel down next to him. “It’s okay, love. I just need to talk to Charles. He’s going to leave soon, and we have a few things to sort out,” I say.

“Come back?”

“Yes, of course. I’m not going anywhere. Sleep Simon, you need it.” I lean down and give him a kiss on my favorite mole (the one on his left cheek). He smiles and burrows himself into the covers. “Smells good, like you,” he says as he drifts back to sleep.

I quietly walk out the bedroom and find Charles sitting in my favorite spot in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee and looking out the window. It’s a beautiful, clear morning. Seeing him like this, relaxed in the kitchen, makes it hard to comprehend everything that’s transpired over the last few days. I’m reeling from it all, and I can’t imagine what he must be thinking or feeling now. I clear my throat so that he knows I’m here.

“How’s your mother?” I ask and take the seat across the table from him.

“Relieved,” he says, but doesn’t look at me.

“What did you tell her?”

“That I ended up having to work a double shift and then fell asleep in the on-call room at the hospital. And that my phone died.”

“Did she believe it?”

“I think so. She still doesn’t understand why you didn’t know where I was—I told her that you assumed I had made it home safely—or why you aren’t coming with me today.”

“What will you tell her?”

“I’m not sure yet. But I’ll think of something by the time I make it home,” he says with a heavy sigh.

“And your eye?” I ask. It’s still a nasty shade of purple, even with the healing spells he and Penny cast last night.

“Fell out of bunk at work. I’ve done it before, so she won’t question it.”

“That’s right, I forgot about that tumble,” I say with a brief chuckle. “Your cheek was bruised for at least a month.”

“Well, I need to check on Simon,” he says standing up, ignoring our shared memory.

“When are you leaving?”

“Soon. My car is still here, packed with all my things. The goblins took me before I made it to my car.”

“Charles, look . . . “

“Baz, please don’t. It’s not that I’m not angry with you anymore, but I’m more sad than anything else. Seeing you and Simon last night, what you became together. . . you just fit. Two parts of the same whole. I don’t know,” he says and shakes his head. “How can I ever compete with that?”

“It’s not a competition, Charles.”

“No, it’s not. You are meant to be with him, Basil. I see it, know it in my gut.”

“I know I’ve already told you this, but I didn’t expect Simon to come back into my life. You weren’t a placeholder for me, someone with whom I could bide my time waiting for Snow to arrive. I do love you,” I say sadly.

“I know. And I love you, too. But I think we may experience that love a bit differently now, don’t you?”

I nod in response.

“Let me see to Simon one last time before I go.”

“Thank you, Charles,” I say without looking at him. “For everything. I don’t deserve your kindness, your help.”

“No, you don’t. But I can’t leave without making you regret the loss, at least a little bit.”

I turn to him then, and he smiles sadly at me. I reach out and take his hand and bring the inside of his palm to my lips. “I’ll always regret it,” I say quietly. He caresses my cheek and then walks away.

I stay in the kitchen and look out over the river. I have no idea what time it is. I have no idea where Shepard and Penny may have gone. I do know that Charles will leave soon, as will the others. And I’ll be alone again. Truth be told, I deserve to be alone again. What I did to Charles is unforgivable, regardless of how true my feelings for Simon are.

I hear my phone ring, and I nearly jump out of my skin. I had forgotten it was still in my pocket.  I expect it to be Fiona or my father, but it’s neither.

“Hello, Lamb, to what do I owe this . . .  “

I’m cut off by a litany of questions and curses.

“What the fuck is going on in New York? Did you seriously take down one of the oldest demons in North America? With your dragon boy? Are you fucking insane? I mean, I always knew you had a death wish, but this, Basil?”

“Happy Christmas to you, too, Lamb. It’s good to hear your voice.”

“Oh, cut the shit, Baz. What happened?”

“It’s exactly as you described. Simon and I joined forces, turned ourselves into a literal dragon and unleashed a reign of fire the likes of which our world has never seen. It was quite exhilarating, I must admit.”

“Baz, be serious. If word has reached me already, you know that you’re in some serious trouble.”

“Why? Because we killed a demon who literally ate people’s souls? Don’t you think the world is a better place this morning?”

“Yes, but it’s not that simple, you know that.”

“All I know is that this demon tried to hurt the people I love most in the world, and we didn’t let him. He attacked us. I didn’t seek this out, Lamb.”

“Dear boy, you were a legend—the vampire mage who disappeared—but you’re real now. Creatures are a jealous, power-seeking lot. You know that.”

“I do, but I don’t want any power. I want to be left alone, study Latin, drink blood in peace.”

“Baz . . . “

“Lamb. Can’t you help me? Use your connections, your influence? Convince others to leave me be?”

“Do you think it’s just that easy? That I can use my vampire thrall to subdue the entire magical community of North America?”

“Yes, I do.”

I feel can the sigh he makes into the phone, and I know I’ve won him over.

“Wait, Lamb, how did you find out? I didn’t think there were any survivors.”

“There are always survivors, especially when it involves goblins.”

“Fuck me.”

Lamb laughs then.

“It won’t be easy, you know.”

“What?”

“Cleaning up your mess.

“I know.”

“Trouble may still find you.”

“I know that, too.”

“Consider it an early birthday present.”

“Not a Christmas present?”

“No, Christmas doesn’t mean anything. But birthdays? Well, those are special, especially to a vampire as old as me.”

“Thank you, friend.”

“Don’t thank me yet. Now, about Simon?”

“He’s in New York.”

“Cleary. And?”

“He’s as lovely as ever. And he has magic again. It’s beautiful to behold, Lamb.”

“You finally slept with him, didn’t you? Was it everything you ever expected?”

“And then some.”

“I can only imagine. And Charles?”

“He’s left me.”

“He finally figured out the tattoo, I take it. Well, it was bound to happen. What’s next, Basil?”

“I’m still trying to figure that out.”

“There’s always a room waiting for you at the Catherine, you know that.”

“I do, but you know I can’t bear to leave my flat in Manhattan. My view of the river is the envy of the neighborhood. Thank you, all the same.”

“Happy Christmas, Basil. I’ll let you know if I hear of any trouble brewing.”

“Happy Christmas, Lamb.”

Seven hells, I don’t deserve any of the kindness I’ve received this morning. But I’ll take it all the same.

I desperately need to take a shower—I smell like Simon’s blood and smoke—but I need to drink first. I pull out a pint from the back of the refrigerator, pop it in the microwave for a precisely 45 seconds, and pour it into my Yeti. (Yes, I own a Yeti. They’re terribly effective.) The whole ritual is so mundane that you’d think I was prepping coffee for my morning commute instead of a pint of AB Negative to quench my unspeakable thirst. I’m settled back into my seat in front of the window when I hear them.

“Charles?” Simon says.

“Hmmm,” Charles responds. (He must be checking Simon’s blood pressure from the sounds in the room.)

“I, um, well, I never meant . . . I mean. Fuck.”

“Take your time.”

“Sorry, I’m better with actions than words, especially when I’m nervous,” Simon says sheepishly.

“Well, your recent actions have spoken louder than words, Simon.”

“Yeah, I deserved that.”

They’re silent for a moment or two, and then “I’m sorry, Charles. I didn’t plan for this to happen.”

“That’s exactly what Baz said, but it doesn’t change anything.”

“I know, but you deserve better than this, mate.”

“I’m not your mate.”

“Right. Well. You still deserve better.”

“That’s not the way the story ends, Simon.”

“But you make him happy in a way I never did. You’re, um, you’re good for him.”

“If you’re trying to convince me not to leave Baz, you’re too late.”

“You’ve made a life for yourselves here. He and I, well . . .”

I can’t hear anymore—I’ve already heard too much. Is Simon really trying to convince Charles to stay with me? After everything? I quickly make my way to the bathroom and turn on the shower as hot and as high as it can go. I strip and step into the steaming water and let the nearly-scalding water burn away all of my thoughts.

*****

I stay in the shower until the water is nearly cold, hoping that Charles will be gone by the time I emerge. What I failed to realize in my rush to avoid Simon’s and Charles’ conversation is that I currently have no change of clothes in the room with me. “Fuck all,” I say as I pull on my suit trousers and jacket. At least I’ll be decent enough for the quick trip to my bedroom (just in case Penny or Shepard turned up again).

I open the door and am greeted by the sounds of Christmas carols and the smell of mulled cider. I walk into the living room and find Penny and Shepard decorating a rather small, pathetic looking Christmas tree. Simon is sitting on the couch watching them work.

“Baz!” Penny calls when she sees me. Shepard just looks at me with a huge grin on his face. “Merry Christmas,” he calls over to me.

Simon turns to look at me, a small grimace of pain on his face until he sees me. Then he grins from ear to ear. “Happy Christmas, Baz!”

“Happy Christmas?” I say slowly.

“We figured we could at least make the most of day,” Penny says, walking over to me.

“We went back to my place this morning and packed up all of this,” Shepard says motioning to the decorations around us, “and brought it over here. We deserve a celebration.”

I’m stunned, speechless.

“Well say something, you prat,” Simon says.

“I don’t know what to say,” I whisper, then, gathering my composure, “Thank you. It’s lovely.”

“You’re welcome,” Penny says and throws herself into my arms and then squeals. “Baz, you’re barely dressed! And your hair is wet!”

“I know, Penny, I didn’t have any extra clothes in the bathroom,” I say, finally letting myself laugh. “I’ll be right back.”

I rush back into my bedroom and pull out a change of clothes, jeans and my favorite sweater. Cashmere, deep hunter green. Nearly the same color as the suit I wore on Christmas in Hampshire all those years ago. (I almost pick another sweater, thinking this might be a little too on the nose, too sentimental for the situation, but decide to let sentiment lead the way. It is Christmas after all.)

“Déjà vu,” I hear behind me. I turn to see Simon leaning in the doorway.

“Excuse me?”

“You, walking out of a bathroom, bare chested in the remnants of a suit. Remind you of anything?”

“Las Vegas,” I say too quickly. “That’s a memory I’d rather forget.”

“Yeah, me too,” Simon says. “That was the moment I knew I lost you.”

“Simon, you never lost me.”

“Yeah, I did,” he says. “Let you go, didn’t I?”

“You did, but I’m here now.”

“Baz, I’m leaving tomorrow.”

“I don’t care about tomorrow, Simon. It’s Christmas, and you’re alive. We are all alive. Let’s enjoy it.”

He flashes me a dazzling smile. “Yeah, al ’right then.”

“All right then,” I say and give him a closer look. He looks tired, has purple circles under his eyes, and a little worse for wear. He’s moving slowly, and I can tell the remnants of his wound still bother him, but he’s relaxed. And happy, it seems. He’s also wearing the same clothes he was wearing last night.

“I don’t have any Christmas gifts, Snow, but I can give you a change of clothes.”

“Sure, that’d be great,” he says and walks into the room, closing the door behind him.

There’s no way he can wear my jeans—I only wear slim fit, and Simon isn’t, well, slim (but he’s fit)—so I dig out a pair of dark gray joggers and one of my old Watford long-sleeved football jerseys and throw them across the bed to him.

“Finally getting me into one of your jerseys,” he says with a smirk.

“Consider it your Christmas gift to me,” I say. “It’s the least I deserve for rescuing you.”

****

In the short time Simon and I were in my bedroom, Penny and Shepard have managed to fully decorate the place. Lights and greenery on every window, ledge, bookshelf. There’s a roaring fire in the fireplace, and a bowl full of Christmas crackers on the coffee table. Penny and Shepard are curled up in a blanket on the couch, gazing at the whole scene.

“This is a beautiful bit of magic, Penny,” I say, in awe of the transformation.

“Hey, I helped, too,” Shepard says. “Don’t forget that festive tree in the corner there.”

“Yes, Shepard, the tree makes the room,” I say.

“No need to be sarcastic about it,” he mumbles. He still hasn’t taken to my sense of humor, and I can’t blame him. I should probably tone down the sarcasm after everything that’s transpired over the past few days (besides it is Christmas).

I walk over to them and wrap my arms around their shoulders. “I love it, festive tree and all. Thank you both.” Penny squeezes my arm in response, and Shepard pushes me away with a grin.

“God, I’m starving,” Simon says from behind me. “Please tell me you have scones. Or sandwiches.”

“Snow, why do you think I’d have scones? I wasn’t planning on being here over the holidays, I barely have any food.”

“Baz, come on, you’ve got to have something. I’m literally starving,” he whinges.

“Simon, do you think I’d have decorated for Christmas and not thought about the food?” Penny says getting up and heading into the kitchen, where she starts to line up a series of grocery bags on the top of the kitchen island. “Shep had already bought everything for a proper Christmas feast. If you’re hungry, come help me cook.”

“I knew there was a reason I’ve kept you around,” Simon says before he embraces her. Penny tries to push him away, and he winces in pain.

“Oh Si! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she cries. Simon grins back at her.

“You brat,” she says swatting at his head. After a brief tussle, they end up in a proper embrace.

“I love you, Simon,” Penny says.

“I love you, too, Pen,” he responds. “Now, about those scones . . . “

****

We spend the whole day cooking, eating, popping Christmas crackers (Shepard particularly enjoys the bad jokes inside and forces us all to wear the crowns), and lounging around the flat. It’s a true respite from recent events. (We don’t even discuss what transpired yesterday. I think we’d all prefer to forget about it, at least momentarily.)

Penny and Shepard leave early in the evening. They still need to visit with Shepard’s family (he has cousins in Brooklyn) and want to spend some time alone together before Penny and Simon fly out tomorrow. Penny and I embrace for an embarrassingly long time, promising to keep in touch. Shepard and I plan to get drinks in the New Year. I hate to admit it (and I never will), but it hurts to see them go.

Crowley. Simon and I are alone for the first time since he visited me at NYU.

“Mind if I stay here tonight?” Simon asks. “Staying at the hotel by myself tonight doesn’t sound too inviting.”

“Of course, Snow,” I respond. “I’d like the company.”

“Good,” he says, heading into the kitchen. “Need anything?”

“Please don’t tell me you are going for more leftovers.”

“No,” he says defensively. “I was going to make some tea if you’re so curious.”

“Then, yes, I’d love a cup.”

While Simon turns the kettle on and rummages through my kitchen looking for the tea, I turn my attention to the fire. I add two more big logs to the pyre, grab my wand, and cast Burn, Baby, Burn, which results in a roaring blaze. I turn off all of the remaining lamps, and it makes quite the romantic setting. (This wasn’t my intent, really, but I guess it can’t hurt either. It is my last night with Simon).

“Are you trying to seduce me, Basilton,” Simon says as he walks into the living room.

“Oh, Snow, we are long past seductions.”

“Hmmm. Too bad,” he says as he gingerly settles himself (and our tea) on the rug in front of the fireplace. “Join me?”

I grab a few pillows from the couch and throw them on the rug behind Simon before I sit next to him. He hands me my tea, our fingertips brushing as we exchange the mug. The now-familiar bolt of electricity passes between us, and you can feel the tension build, but neither of us seem willing to address it. We sit in silence watching the flames instead.

“Déjà vu,” Simon finally says.

“That’s the second time today. What can it be now?”

“Well, this isn’t the first Christmas where we ended up sitting in front of a fire together, is it?”

“You’re right, Snow,” I say. “But if I remember correctly, there was a lot more snogging the last time we did this.”

“That can be remedied,” he says, waggling his eyebrows and nudging me with his elbow.

“Very seductive, Snow,” I say pushing him away with a laugh.

We return to comfortable silence for a bit longer, but I can’t stop myself from bringing up the one topic that’s been eating at me all day (and it’s not existential despair).

“I’m sorry, Simon,” I say.

“For what?”

“For getting you kidnapped. I know what it’s like to be taken and hurt and used, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, especially you.”

“If we’re being honest, this whole mess is really Shep’s fault, right?”

“Well, technically speaking,” I say, chuckling a bit, then turning serious again, “but you and Charles were bait to lure me, and I have a hard time not blaming myself for that.”

“Baz, it’s not . . .” Simon tries to counter, but I cut him off. I have to get this off my chest, and it may be my last chance.

“Simon, it is. I’ve accepted what I am, figured out how to live my life on my own terms, but I’ve still been hiding too much about myself, about my past. I didn’t tell Charles everything about me, hid the most intimate parts, and I was in denial that I could slip past the world of magic and creatures unnoticed. It wasn’t just my past that caught up with me.”

“Yeah, I get it, but you don’t need to apologize to me. Besides, I love what you are. There’s no one like you, Baz. You called me the hero of the story all those years ago, but I actually think it may have been you all along.”

“Bullocks, Snow. I’m still the villain in this tale. I abandoned my family and friends, lived with vampires in Las Vegas, drank human blood, lied to my boyfriend and then cheated on him, and . . .”

“Baz, don’t you see that we’re both the hero and the villain of this story. We’ve both done amazing things, and terrible things. And we’ve both fucked up royally. All those years I was saving the world, I was actually destroying it. All of those years I thought you were plotting against me, you were actually a confused teenager trying to hide who you were, how you felt. At the end of the day, we’re just two blokes trying to find our way.”

“How did you get to be so intuitive, Simon Snow?”

“I told you, loads of therapy, Baz. You should try it.”

I harrumph in response.

“Look, we’ve both killed and lied and hurt those we love the most,” Simon says. “And maybe that’s okay. Well, it’s not okay, but it is part of our story. And it’s not over yet, yeah?”

“Was trying to convince Charles to stay with me the next chapter of your story then?”

“Fucking vampire hearing,” he curses. “And no, it’s not. I just wanted him to know that I didn’t plan for this to happen, didn’t come here to win you back. And I assumed that you might want to remain in this relationship. You hadn’t indicated otherwise.” (He’s right, the tosser.)

“So what happens next?” I ask quietly.

“I think you start by telling me about your tattoo.”

“What about it? I think it’s meaning is pretty obvious.”

“I’m not so sure. I mean, I know it’s about me, but why did you get it? You’re the last person I ever imagined with a tattoo, Baz.”

I sigh and fall back onto the pillows, my tea forgotten at my side. I’d rather not share all of my secrets—some things are mine alone—but not sharing them has gotten me into far too much trouble of late. And it’s Simon. I’d still cross every line for him. I love him.

“I got the tattoo before I left Las Vegas,” I say. “It was the last thing I did before I got on the plane to New York. I told you that I wanted to start my life over, but I couldn’t fully let you go.”

Simon shifts positions, stretches out and lies on his side next to me. He brushes the hair out of my face and nods, either in acknowledgement of my confession or in encouragement. I don’t take the time to think about which.

“Maybe I had spent too much time around tattooed vampires, but I got the idea that if I kept you with me physically that I’d be able to let you go emotionally. And I think it worked for a time. It doesn’t make any sense now,” I say rubbing my hands over my face. “But it did at the time. I told Charles that it was my talisman, my good luck charm. And he believed me. Until he saw you and your blasted wings.”

“Can I see it again?”

“Now?”

“Yes, now.”

I cock my eyebrow at him.

“Come on, it’s Christmas, Baz. Please?”

“Fine, you numpty,” I say sitting up and lifting my sweater over my head. I lie back down, and Simons scoots close to me again. He traces the tattoo with his fingers, and his touch still burns.

“I never knew you liked my wings,” he says quietly.

“They’re part of you, aren’t they? I love everything about you, Simon Snow. I always have.”

“I’d like one, too,” he whispers.

“What?”

“A tattoo. In the same spot.”

“Really, Snow? Don’t you think that’s a bit, well, predictable?”

“Maybe, but I don’t care. I liked the fact that you carry this bit of me with you. I’d like to do the same. Keep you, with me.”

“I guess I can’t stop you, Simon. I’m sure Fiona could hook you up with a good tattoo artist back in London.”

“Can’t you do it?”

“Excuse me?” I ask, sitting up.

“I’d like you to do it, here, tonight, before I leave.”

“Snow, I’m not a tattoo artist.”

“But you are a mage.”

“I don’t know any spells for that!”

“I’m sure you can figure it out.”

“Simon, do you even know what you want?”

“Fangs.”

“What?” I say again for the umpteenth time tonight. (If I’d been drinking tea, I would have spit it all out at him.)

“Kidding,” he says with a grin. “I’d want something with stars, I think. And maybe fire.” (Thank Crowley for that.)

“Are you serious about this?”

“I am,” he says as he sits up and takes his shirt off. “Anytime you’re ready.”

“Simon . . .”

“Baz . . . you can do this. I want you to do this.”

I let out a loud huff and lift myself up to find my wand. It’s on the coffee table behind me (I had hoped that it would have taken more of a hunt to find it—I need some time to think this through.) I settle back down next to Simon, wand in hand.

Think, Pitch, think. I run through every old sonnet and verse that I know—in English, Latin, and Greek—but nothing really fits.

“Baz, you’re thinking too hard,” Simon says and runs his thumb down my forehead, right at the spot that creases when I think. “Why don’t you practice a bit. Maybe a spell will come to you.”

“Not a bad idea, Snow,” I say and lean over his chest (his freckles and moles are sparkling in the firelight, and I have to stop myself from kissing each and every one of them). I then start to trace a small flame (like the one on my family’s crest) directly over his heart with my finger. And instead of sparks, I add stars that lead directly to one of my favorite moles on his chest. I start to repeat the drawing, and he starts to giggle.

“Tickles,” he says, pushing my hand away. I grab his hand and hold it in place over his head. “This was your idea, Snow,” I say. “You need to sit still.” He looks up at me, eyes clear and blue, and nods once. When I feel him relax, I let go of his hand and start to trace the design again. Simon let’s out a small sigh at my touch.

And then it hits me. It’s such a simple spell, but it should do the trick.

“This may hurt,” I say, looking up into his eyes.

“I’m sure I’ve had worse. Plus, I trust you.”

I don’t bother to grab my wand, I can feel my magic at the tips of my fingers, itching to get out. I cast PEN to PAPER,and when I start the design again, a thin black line appears where my fingers pass over his skin. It looks more like a brand than a tattoo, but the effect is the same. Simon’s watches in awe as I work, and he keeps reaching over to push my hair back when it falls in front of my face.

When I’m done, I sit up to admire my handiwork. I have to admit that it’s pretty fucking good. My face must reflect my feelings in the moment, as Simon says, “Let’s just add tattoo artist to the list of thinks that you’re good at, Pitch.”

“Glad to know you still appreciate my superiority, Snow,” I say with a smirk. “Want a better look?”

“Yeah,” he says. I stand up and offer him my hand, which he takes. I pull him up to me, and we’re standing so close that I can see myself reflected in his eyes, flames flickering behind me. Neither of us move, completely caught in the moment. I want to kiss him, but he pulls me towards the mirror in my hallway instead. His tattoo almost glows in the darkness, a remnant of my magic, I think.  “Wicked,” he says when sees my handiwork. “It’s perfect.”

I stand behind him so that we’re staring at our reflections in the mirror and then move to the side, so that you can see my tattoo as well. He catches my eye and grins. “See, now we really match.” I grin back, I can’t help myself.

“Let’s go back to the fire,” I say and take his hand.

When we’re both settled again, I ask him if it hurts. “A little,” he responds.

I grab my wand, cast Kiss It Better, and gently kiss the flame and each of the stars over his heart. He sighs, again, at my touch, and I can feel his body shiver.

“Can I kiss you, Baz?”

I look up at him and nod. He quickly pulls me up so that I’m hovering above him and then takes my face in his hands, lifting himself up to meet my lips.  

“Can I touch you again? Be with you?” he whispers between kisses.

“Oh Simon,” I whisper back. “You don’t have to ask.”

Chapter Text

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

Snow is falling, people are staring, and Penelope Bunce is sitting in a taxi with an annoyed look on her face.

Simon Snow is standing on a sidewalk in the East Village snogging me senseless while his oldest friend grows ever more furious with each kiss.

I drag my mouth away from his but keep our foreheads pressed together. I know I need to let him go—my selfishness to keep him with me as long as possible has nearly wreaked havoc on his travel plans (Bunce will never forgive me if they miss their flight)—but I can’t break away from him yet. It’s too soon. How can I let him go now that I just gotten him back?

Simon Snow is standing on a sidewalk in the East Village snogging me senseless while his oldest friend grows ever more furious with each kiss, and I refuse to let him go.

The loud blare of the Uber’s horn finally startles us apart.

“Oi, Penny,” Simon yells. “Fuck off for a minute.”

“Always so eloquent, Snow,” I say with a smirk.

“Such a prat,” he says, pulling me in for a final kiss.

“Text me. Call me. Write me,” he says when we part again.

“Of course,” I say. “I promise.”

He smiles and walks away from me to get into the Uber. The moment he’s out of my sight all of the warmth in my body disappears, and I feel empty inside. I can’t bear to turn and look at him for fear of breaking down entirely (or chasing after him like a lost puppy, I’m not sure which is worse). I start to walk back to my car parked around the corner instead.

“Hey Baz,” I hear him call. (The best laid plans . . .)

I turn back to him, and he’s standing with one foot in the Uber, the other on the sidewalk, still smiling at me. He’s so beautiful it takes my breath away. “You love me, yeah?”

“Yes, Simon Snow Salisbury. I love you.”

“Good. I love you, too,” he says and swings himself into the car, all confidence and swagger. The car takes off from the curb the moment the door is closed, and it quickly disappears into the flood of New York traffic.

***

When I make it back to my flat, I pour myself a whiskey and throw myself onto my living room couch. The Christmas decorations that Penny and Shepard put up yesterday remain, and the evidence of my evening with Simon is strewn around my living room (various items of clothing, misplaced cushions, various pictures and other items knocked about). Let’s just say that the erotic grope fest I always dreamed about as a teenager finally became a reality. The reverence and sentimentality of our first night together quickly evolved into pure carnal gratification, and I’m a bit sore (but good and well shagged).

Too tired to do anything productive, I find my wand and light the fire, pull a soft blanket over me on the couch, and drift off to sleep still smelling Simon’s smoky sweetness all around me.

I wake up to my phone ringing, and I immediately grab it thinking it may be Simon.

“Hello?”

“Basilton, my boy. Happy Boxing Day.”

“Oh hello, father.”

“Were you expecting someone else?”

“No, sorry. I was napping, and the phone startled me. My apologies—it’s good to hear from you.”

“Yes, we had expected to hear from you yesterday. I hope you had a lovely Christmas with Charles and his family.”

“Yes, well, about that. Charles and I are no longer together.  We broke up last week, and I spent the holiday at home with friends.”

(I may as well rip the band aid off.)

“Oh, Basil, how very disappointing.”

“Actually, the day was quite lovely.”

“Don’t be smart, Basil. Charles was a good man, and you seemed happy for once. Daphne will be devastated.”

“Yes, well, she can join the club. It’s not how I envisioned things turning out either.”

“And Mordelia was hoping to get a tour of the Emergency Room. You know how macabre she can be.”

(Seven Hells. Father, Daphne, and the children will be visiting me over the New Year holiday. I completely forgot in the midst of everything else.)

“She certainly is making the most of having a surname like Grimm,” I say trying to make a joke, but failing dismally.

“Our flight arrives on Thursday at 1:00 p.m. sharp,” he says, completely ignoring my sad attempt at humor. “Will you pick us up? Or would you prefer we take a cab.”

“My BMW only seats five—four really if you want to be comfortable. I’ll reserve a car to pick you up and text you the details later today.”

“Good man.”

“’Right. I’ll see you on Thursday then.”

“Yes, see you on Thursday,” he says, followed by a quick, “I am sorry, Basilton, about Charles that is.”

“Thank you, father. I am too. Safe travels.”

Fuck it all. I still have three days until they arrive, and I’d much rather dream of Simon than think of anything else. So I do.

***

My father and I are sitting in my living room both nursing a Scotch. It’s his last night in New York, and he sent Daphne and the children back to the hotel to get some rest before traveling tomorrow.

It’s been a lovely visit, enjoying the best of all that New York has to offer, including watching the festivities in Times Square on New Year’s Eve from the comfort of the family’s hotel room. Mordelia and I were able to spend some quality time together exploring local bookshops and shopping in the Village, and Daphne is, well, Daphne (sweet and supportive). The sheer insanity of hosting five precocious children has taken my mind off of Simon (well, not entirely, but I haven’t been wallowing in self-pity over being alone, again). He’s texted me every day, letting me know he arrived home safely or sending random notes about his daily life (along with a few drunk texts on New Year’s Eve that made me blush). It’s been truly lovely.

And now here I am, finally alone with my father. I know this will be our annual question and answer session—him inquiring about my life and future plans, me providing vague answers that won’t satisfy him. We’ll end the conversation with a sarcastic remark from me, a raised eyebrow from him (yes, it comes naturally), and we’ll shake hands. It’s all terribly exhausting. I sit patiently with my legs crossed and hand stroking the crease of my pants (a mirror image of the man sitting across from me) and wait for it to begin.

“How are your studies, Basil?” he begins.

“Going well. I had a strong group of students this semester, and I’ve finally decided on a topic for my dissertation.”

“Good, good,” he responds (without asking me to go into any more detail, typical surface scratching).

“The flat is quite nice. You seem to have done well for yourself.”

“Thank you. It’s my one indulgence, thanks to my allowance. My university paycheck keeps me quite comfortable, otherwise.”

“Yes, yes, good,” he says. I know this is leading somewhere, more than likely to Charles, but I’ll let him drag it out if necessary. “And Charles has officially moved out?” (Bingo.)

“He has, right before Christmas.”

“Is this a permanent change?”

“Do you mean to ask if I want to continue our relationship? There’s no reason to beat around the bush.”

“And there’s no need to get short with me, Basilton, but yes, do you see a future with him? Despite the current situation?”

“I’d love to be able to say yes, but the honest answer is no.”

“Why the abrupt change? It seemed as if you two were very much in love.”

I’m not quite sure how to answer this. I don’t think that “Well, Father, the mage’s heir (and literal son) popped back into my life, I lost my mind, shagged him silly, Charles found out, and here we are” will work. I take a slow drink of my Scotch as I mull over my answer.

“Well, my life took an unexpected turn,” I finally say.

“And I imagine Simon Salisbury may have played a part,” he says coolly, knowing he’s hit a nerve (I try not to flinch).

“Did you expect any less when you shared my whereabouts with Mitale Bunce?”

“Yes, well, that wasn’t my best move, but I don’t see why my briefly mentioning your location would lead to a sudden parting with Charles.”

“I’ve spent nearly the last five years avoiding my past, father, and your verbal slip sent Simon and Penelope Bunce straight to New York.”

“But I still don’t see why this impacted your relationship with Charles. Simon was your past, Basilton. Charles was your future, or so I thought.”

“Snow may be a part of my past, but he was never truly absent from my life.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do I have to spell it out for you?”

“Yes, please, enlighten me.”

“I love him, father,” I say, sitting forward in my chair. “And seeing him again, all these years later, having finally become the man, the mage, he was meant to be, helped me realize that I still love him. I always will.”

“But he’s David Llewellyn’s son . . .”

“And Lucy Salisbury’s son as well. Why does that matter to you after all these years?”

“David Llewellyn tried to erase your mother’s legacy, destroy our family’s history. Simon Salisbury was complicit in that.”

“That is utter bullocks, and you know it,” I say, letting my temper flare. “Simon endured more abuse at the hand of the Mage than anyone. That pathetic excuse of a man let his own son suffer each summer in care homes and then used him to do his dirty work. Simon did what was expected of him, but when we finally realized what the humdrum was, he gave up everything to save the magical world. Everything. He killed his own father, and it nearly destroyed him. Crowley, it nearly destroyed me.”

When I finish my ranting, I sit back in my chair, brush my hair out of my face, and wait patiently for the response. I have no idea what to expect.

“I see,” he says. “But I still don’t understand this connection between you. Why would you give up your future for a childhood crush.”

“Did you not hear what I said?” I yell, my temper flaring once again. “I love him. I’ve always loved him.”

“What does always mean, Basilton?”

“Simon Snow has been the one steady thing in my life. I lived with him longer than anyone else, and our room in the Mummers House was more of a home to me than anywhere else in this world. (He physically recoils at that, and I know I’ve hit a nerve.) I can’t explain how it happened or why, but I fell in love with him somewhere along the way. He’s the most courageous, selfless person I know, and he’s always accepted who I am, never made me feel like a monster.”

“Basilton . . . “

“No, I need you to understand. He loved me for who I was—the portentous snob, the imperious know-it all, the sarcastic bully, the vampire mage. All of it.”

“Then why did you leave him all those years ago?”

“I didn’t leave him. He asked me to leave because he thought I’d be happier, and he was so wrong. I left and found a place where I could be as self-destructive as I wanted. I honestly didn’t expect to survive without him or move on, but I did. Or so I thought. When he found me here, well, I realized that I never really was over him.”

“But he’s gone again. I don’t see him here with you, and I can’t imagine you are going to give up your life here in New York, not after everything.”

“I haven’t figured it all out yet,” I say defensively.

“And what if you don’t figure it out? What if you’ve lost Charles all for a sentimental romantic diversion. What happens then? If I understand correctly, the last time you had a fall out with Simon Snow, I didn’t hear from you for nearly a year. I won’t have that happen again.”

“I’m nearly 26 years old, father, I can handle myself.”

“Dammit, Basil,” he says, standing angrily. “I’ve nearly lost you far too many times than any father should have to endure. I will not lose you again.”

“You have five other children father, what does it matter?”

“Because you are my ONLY child with your mother. My last connection to her, and I cannot survive . . . “

He stops and turns away from me, and I think he may even be on the verge of crying. The last time he cried in front of me what at my mother’s funeral. I’ve modeled my icy demeanor after my father, and seeing him like this is unfamiliar, uncomfortable. I don’t know whether to embrace him or leave the room.

“I think I may feel the same way about Simon that you felt about mother,” I say quietly to his back. “I can’t just let that go. He came back to me after all of these years. I have to at least try to make it work.”

We don’t speak for at least five minutes. I continue to nurse my drink, and he just stares out on the Manhattan skyline. Perhaps the fact that he hasn’t left yet is a good sign. Maybe he’s finally heard me.

“You are not a monster, Basilton,” he finally says, “and I’m so sorry if we ever made you feel that way. I didn’t know what you needed, so I raised you the only way I knew how. And I’m proud of the man you’ve become.”

“Thank yo . . .” I start to say but find myself more choked up than I expected (I didn’t realize what hearing those words would mean to me). I clear my throat and start again. “Thank you, father. You didn’t make me feel like a monster, but you didn’t necessarily make it easy for me to be my true self.”

“Hindsight is 20-20, as they say,” he says turning back to me. “There’s much I would have done differently when it came to raising you, son. I know I can’t change the past, but I do want to ensure that we are part of your future.”

“I won’t disappear again, I can promise you that. But I can’t promise you that Simon won’t be part of my life.”

“I may not understand your attachment to him,” he says, “but I think I can appreciate how you feel and what he means to you. If he makes you happy, Basilton, I’m happy.”

I nod, and he returns to his seat and picks up his forgotten drink. We sit in a comfortable silence and nurse our drinks. It’s the most honest conversation I think we’ve ever had, and it feels good to finally feel as if we understand each other. When he finishes, he stands to leave. I follow closely behind and grab his coat out of the hall closet and hand it to him.

“Happy New Year, Basil. I hope you find what you’re looking for,” he says as he swings his coat on and shoots his cuffs (and people say I’m dramatic).

“Happy New Year to you, too, father. I’m glad you finally made it to New York.”

“Indeed,” he says and pats me forcefully on the back as he leaves.

“Let me know when you arrive in London,” I say as he walks down the hall. He waves his hand in acknowledgement but doesn’t turn around.

I watch him make his way to the stairwell and close my door once I hear him leave the building. I pour myself another drink and sit at my favorite window overlooking the East River. As much as I enjoy the peace and quiet, I also realize that I’m lonely for the first time in a very long time. But it’s not just companionship that I crave, it’s Simon. My desire for him is palpable—I feel it in the ache in my heart, in my bones. I miss the light he brings to any room, the sound of his voice when he laughs or growls in frustration, the feel of his hand in mine, the pulse of his magic as it surges through me, my own magic humming in response. Crowley, I forgot what it’s like to be with him.

Even just the sound of his voice would put me at ease, I think, so I pick up my phone and dial his number without thinking about the time difference or the fact that I may be waking him up. Of course it goes straight to his voicemail:

“Hey, it’s Simon. I can’t talk right now or I can’t find my phone, either is possible, but I’ll call you back when I can. So leave a message, yeah? After the beep.”

“Good morning, Snow,” I say after the beep (I’ve always been good at following instructions). “I’m sorry to call so early. I just . . . I really want to hear your voice. Call me when you can.”

It’s Saturday, so he shouldn’t have to work, but I imagine he might like to sleep in on the weekend. I don’t expect to hear from him for hours, so I set my phone down and start toward my music room to distract myself with my violin when my phone rings.  It’s Simon, thank Crowley.

“Hello, Snow. I didn’t expect to hear back from you so soon.”

“Baz, are you okay? Is everything all right?” he jumps in, the worry evident in his voice.

“I’m fine. Just a bit melancholy is all.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m much better now that I hear your voice.”

“Did anything happen? More goblins?”

“Crowley, Snow, can’t a bloke just want to talk to the person he loves?”

“Oh. Yeah. Yes. Right. I guess I’m out of practice when it comes to this love thing,” he says sleepily, followed by a rather loud yawn.

“You’re tired, Snow. Why don’t I let you go back to sleep—you can call me later.”

“Bullocks, you need me now. I’m just still waking up is all. What time is it in New York anyway?”

“About 1:00 a.m.”

“And you’re still up?”

“Well, my father just left my flat after our annual chat, and I’m still a bit keyed up.”

“How is Malcolm?” he asks, and I can hear the sarcasm in his voice.

“Surprisingly understanding, which is what has me flustered.”

“Why?”

“We talked about you, about us, and I think he finally understands.”

“Understands what?”

“How I feel about you.”

“Oh. And he’s good with it?”

“I don’t think he’ll be asking you to have dinner at the club anytime soon, but I think he accepts our relationship. Who I am.”

“You mean a gay vampire mage in love with the son of his deceased arch nemesis.”

“Well, if you put it that way we truly are a Shakespearean tale, Snow.”

“As long as I’m Romeo in this scenario, I’m good.”

“Does that make me Juliet?”

“If the shoe fits . . .”

“Fuck off, Snow. I’d rather be Mercutio and die a poetically tragic death.”

“Ever the drama queen.”

“Well, I do have flair,” I sigh, and he responds with a breathy laugh, and I can feel myself relaxing into the conversation, and it feels so good. So familiar.

“So what are you doing now?” he asks, and I can hear a siren blare in the background.

“Where do you live, Snow?”

“What?”

“Where do you live? Your flat? What part of London?”

“Oh, Haggerston. Why?”

“I never asked you that while you were here. I used to know everything about you.”

“Baz, you know more about me than anyone else in this world, even Penny.”

“But not really, not now. I want to know where you live, where you work, who you work with. What pub do you frequent? How often do you go to Watford? Who are your friends? I can’t be part of your life, Simon, if I don’t knowabout your life.”

“Just means you need to come visit me,” he pouts.

“Simon, please, indulge me.”

“Right, yeah, so, um, my flat isn’t anything special like yours. But it suits me, lots of light and a nice kitchen. And I’m right across from a great shop that sells bacon doughnuts. Have you ever had a bacon doughnut, Baz?”

“Can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure,” I respond with a grin even though he can’t see it. I’ve made my way back to the bedroom and settle myself on the bed.

“Well, you’re well missing out . . .”
Simon’s voice washes over me, and while I can’t feel the heat of his touch, his warmth envelops me and makes me feel more at home than I have in ages.

****

“Where the fuck am I, Shepard?”

I’m standing in the middle of a rundown bar in Brooklyn surrounded by a sundry of unsavory characters—demons, vampires, pixies, mages, a few humans with far too many tattoos. And they are all staring at me like I’m their worst enemy. If Lamb’s estimation is correct, my reputation has clearly proceeded me.

“You’re at The Rabbit Hole,” Shepard responds with a smile.

“Yes, I know the name of the bar. But what type of bar is it?”

“It’s a bar for magical beings. It’s where I get all of my great information on the underworld here in the city. Wicked, isn’t it?”

“You’ve been hanging around Simon for too long,” I say with a sneer.

“Baz, come one. You told me yourself that you’ve separated yourself from the magical world for too long. I figured tonight was your chance to fix that.”

“Even if it looks as if everyone wants to kill me?”

“Don’t worry about that. They’re just a protective bunch.”

I hate to admit it, but he does have a point. The magical world clearly knows about me by now, so there’s no point in hiding.

“Fine,” I say with a sigh. “Get me a drink, please.”

We settle ourselves in a grimy booth in a corner of the bar where we can watch the comings and goings of the patrons. Shepard recounts his holiday adventures, which involved bailing one of his cousins out of jail, an emergency trip back to Omaha to visit his mother who had taken ill, and a fortuitous run-in with a gambling racoon, whose wits didn’t quite match his bluster. He has me doubled over in laughter by the end of his tale, and I can see why Penelope fancies him. Like Charles, he’s a breath of fresh air in our all-too-stuffy magical world. His enthusiasm and openness match Bunce’s intellect and cunning. Merlin, they are a dangerous pair.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you laugh this hard, Baz,” Shepard says. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you laugh at all.”

“Well, I do have appearances to keep up, Shepard. My reputation would surely suffer if my soft heart and appreciation for a good yarn were well known,” I say. He chuckles at that.

“You’re a tough nut to crack, Baz, but I think it’s worth the effort.”

“Thank you,” I reply. “And I can understand now why Bunce fancies you as well. You’re a good match for her.”

He gives me a shy grin and picks at the label of his beer bottle. “Can I ask you something?” he says without looking up at me.

“Of course,” I respond.

“If you’re a vampire,” he starts, “and your flammable, why didn’t you burn up at the theatre. I mean, I know you’re a fire mage, and the fire was coming fromyou, but you and Simon were completely enveloped by the flames, Baz. I couldn’t tell where they ended and you began. How did you survive?”

“Ah, that’s an excellent question. I’ve thought about that very point over the past few weeks, and I’m not sure if I fully understand it either. I’ve always been able to control fire, and as long as I’m in control, it doesn’t hurt me. The minute it’s out of my hands, well, that’s a different story. I’m not sure if it was a combination of my magic mixing with Simon’s . . .”

“Wait, your magic can mix? What does that even mean?”

“Simon and I discovered years ago at Watford that he can share his magic with me, and I can use it to bolster my own.”

“That’s fantastic.”

“Yes, it is. When we’re together, when we touch, I can feel his magic make its way into me, and my own responds. Whatever happened that night at the theatre was a combination of our personal power working together as one. Perhaps Simon was able to protect me—he’s always used his magic to protect others—and maybe that’s what happened that night.”

“It makes sense,” he says, voice full of wonder. “I’m not sure if the world has ever really seen anything like the two of you. Or at least that’s the word on the street. People think you’re untouchable, Baz. The vampire who can survive the flames.”

“Well, let’s put that reputation to some use,” I say, desperate to change the subject. (It’s still a bit overwhelming for me to fully process.) “There’s a ratty pool table in the corner, and I used to be rather good at billiards (thanks to Malcolm Grimm). Shall we strike up a game or two?”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” he says and jumps up from the booth. “I’m not the greatest pool player, but I can hold my own.”

I gently slap Shepard’s back after I’ve maneuvered myself out of the booth. “Good man,” I say and saunter over to the table.

Let’s just say that we make a damn good team. We give up playing each other once it’s clear we’re not equally matched, but Shepard takes the opportunity to strike up games with our fellow patrons. Between my skill and Shepard’s ability to sweet talk nearly anyone, we don’t lose a single game. Within a few weeks, we’re regulars at The Rabbit Hole, and it feels good to have finally have a friend in New York who knows me, secrets and all, and to finally find my place in the local magical underground.

One Friday night in February, I catch sight of familiar green eyes and golden hair in the middle of a game and end up scratching the game-winning shot. It’s the first game we’ve lost in a month.

“Everything okay, Baz?” Shepard asks concerned.

“Yes, fine, just caught sight of an old friend,” I say, trying to hid my annoyance at losing the game and nerves at seeing Charles for the first time since Christmas. Shepard follows my gaze and whistles quietly when he sees Charles.

“Need a minute?” he asks.

“Yes, thank you. Wrestle up a rematch if you can.”

“No problem,” he says and squeezes my arm in support as he walks over to the pair of pixies who think they’ve truly bested us (how soon they’ll learn the error of their ways).

I run my hands through my hair and school my face as best I can before I walk over to Charles, who is sitting at the bar nervously playing with a beer coaster.

“May I buy you a drink?” I say over his shoulder.

“Depends,” he answers, turning to face me. “Will I be obliged to face you in game of pool?”

“Only if you’d like to,” I say with a shy smile.

“Sure, Baz,” he says returning the smile. “Have a seat.”

I order us our standard gin and tonic and whiskey. He nods his head in thanks to me when his drink arrives, and we sit quietly for a few minutes. I take him in as best as I can from the side, and he looks as wonderful as ever. His golden hair gleams under the lights, and his cheeks are ruddy and covered in a fresh batch of freckles (he must have been skiing recently). I catch a brief whiff of sea breeze, and I immediately start to relax. Seeing him doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, but the pangs of guilt still manage to take hold.

“I’m surprised to see you here, Charles,” I finally say.

“I could say the same thing about you,” he says, turning to the side to face me.

“I have Shepard to thank for introducing me to this charming establishment,” I say and meet his gaze.

“I kept hearing rumors about a pair of unlikely pool sharks, a vampire and talker. I suspected it had to be you, but I didn’t quite believe it. I thought I’d check it out for myself.”

“Yes, we discovered that my skill and his personality make quite a winning combination,” I say with a laugh.

“Had I known you were so good at pool, I would have brought you here ages ago,” he says joining in my mirth.

“How are you, Baz?” he asks once our laughs fade.

“I’m well,” I say. “Work is going well. I’ve made progress on my dissertation, and I’ve clearly found a new past time.”

“How’s Simon?” he asks, more quietly. I knew we couldn’t avoid this subject, but his question still hits me in straight in my chest and unleashes a rush of guilt that I can taste in the back of my throat (its bitter and metallic).

“He’s well,” I respond (I don’t want to divulge any more than I have to).

“Are you together?”

“As much as we can be in our current situation.”

“Do you plan to remedy the situation?” he asks, emphasizing situation a bit too much.

“I’d like to, but it’s complicated. I’m not welcome in his world, and he’s got no anchor in mine. We’re still trying to figure it out.”

“I see.”

“And how are you, Charles?” I ask, changing the subject.

“I’m as well as can be expected. I found a new place up in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s not as convenient for work, but it suits me and is close to friends.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Truly,” I say.

“Well, it’s nice to see you, Baz,” he says, throwing back his drink, leaving only the ice cubes and slice of lime. “Take care of yourself.”

“You, too, Charles,” I say, as I watch him slide off the barstool and slide on his peacoat. He turns to leave, but I reach out and grab his shoulder, stopping him in his tracks.

“Charles, what is it? I know you didn’t come here for a brief chat,” I say gently. He turns but refuses to meet my eye. I take my hand off of his shoulder and wait patiently for an answer that may not come.

“I just needed to see you,” he whispers, still refusing to catch my eye. “I miss you.”

“I miss you, too,” I say. “But I’m not sure if seeing each other is what either of us needs right now.”

He nods in response. “I know,” he adds. “I couldn’t believe that the rumors were true, but I had to find out, see for myself. I didn’t think about what would happen if I actually saw you.”

“I’m glad you came,” I say. “I’m happy to know that you’re doing well.”

He smiles at that and schools his features. “Best of luck with everything, Basil,” he says and walks out of the bar in a rush of seaweed and salt. I don’t move until I hear Shepard call from across the bar.

“Game on, Pitch!”

I return to the bar, down my whiskey, and make my way over to our rematch.

****
Fiona: Boyo! WTF are you?

Me: On my way. A student caught me after class.

Fiona: Priorities, Basil. I haven’t seen you in months. Get your ass to the bar.

Me: Patience, Auntie.

Fiona: Fuck off.

I can’t help but chuckle to myself as I fight my way through the crowds to Fiona’s favorite bar in the Village. Riling her up is nearly as much fun as Snow, and I can imagine the look on her face and the curses she’s throwing under her breath as she impatiently waits for me at the bar. (I enjoy this far too much, I know. I’m disturbed.) I finally make my way to the bar and have managed to make it inside without her noticing me. I can see her scanning the sidewalk for me. I sneak up behind her and hope that her vampire hunter skills are on hold for the night.

“How rude of you to start without me,” I say from behind her.

She turns around quickly with an annoyed look on her face, which is quickly replaced with one of love.

“Basilton, you arsehole,” she says as she pulls me into a bone-crushing hug.

“Fiona,” I sigh into her hair. “It’s good to see you.”

“Let me look at you,” she says, stepping back and giving me a good once over. I take off my beanie (It’s been a cold March.) and brush my fingers through my hair.

“Your hair’s shorter,” she says judgingly. I raise my eyebrow in reply.

“It suits you,” she gives in with a smile. “You look good, Boyo. A sight for sore eyes.”

“And you look like vampire hunting has been treating you well,” I say. “Is that coat from the latest Burberry collection?”

“Jealous?” she asks with a glint in her eye.

“Not at all, but if you can afford that coat, you can afford to buy your nephew a drink or two.”

“Fine, drinks are on me tonight. Go find us a seat.”

I find us a nice high-top in a corner of the bar where it’s relatively quiet. It’s been ages since the two of us have had any quality time together, and I want to be able to actually hear our conversation.

“To the last of the Pitches,” she says as she hands me a drink. “To the Pitches,” I say, raising my glass.

“Now, give me the rundown. I want to know everything that happened to you over the past few months. Start with the arrival of Simon Salisbury and don’t leave anything out. I need to understand why you gave up that blond-haired beauty of yours.”

“I didn’t give him up, Fiona.”

“Prove it,” she says, which is my cue to begin. I take her through all of the events of the last four months, ending with the most recent developments in my graduate work. She only interrupts me twice—once to complain about the Salisbury’s newfound status in the magical world now that Simon is in the picture, the second to lament the loss of the Baz & Chaz sign (I honestly think she fancied it, despite the cruelty of its magic).

“So you’re with Simon now?”

I nod.

“Are you happy?”

“I’m not happy about the ocean between us or the fact that we still haven’t quite figured out how to make this work, but I never stopped loving him. Seeing him now with his magic, his confidence, I fell in love with him all over again. So, yes, I’m happy.”

“Good. Because I think I know something that will make you even happier.”

I raise my eyebrow again.

“Did you and your father have a heart-to-heart when he was here in January?”

“I guess you could call it that,” I say hesitantly. “Why?”

“Well, Malcolm Grimm finally grew a pair and confronted the Coven about your status in the magical world. He must have been bloody convincing, because you’re back in, boyo.”

“What do you mean back in?”

“You’re welcome to reclaim your rightful status as the heir to the House of Pitch. You can return to the Club, to Watford. You can even claim your spot on the Coven when the time comes.”

I’m utterly and completely shocked. For the first time in a long while, I have absolutely nothing to say.

“Shocked are you?”

“How? I thought I got off lucky, why would they go back on their decision?”

“Like I said, your father made a convincing argument. You’ll have to ask him exactly what he said. All I know is that you can come home, Basilton. That is, if you want to.”

“Home,” I repeat. She nods.

“Who knows?”

“No one aside from the Coven and your immediate family. Salisbury doesn’t know if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I’m not worried,” I say testily. “I’d just like to be the one that tells him.”

“I know. And I wanted to be the one to tell you.” She leans across the table and takes my hand in hers (it’s an uncharacteristically sentimental move on her part, but it’s welcome all the same). “You’ve lived through too much in your short life, Basil, and I think this new development might make up for that. At least you’ll now have a choice on the life you want to lead.”

I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes, and Fiona squeezes my hand in response. “Take your time, let the news settle in. I’ll be here for you if and when you need me.”

I nod and turn my attention to my drink as I try to pull myself back together.

“Now, please tell me if it was worth waiting all those years to finally shag Simon Snow.”

“Fiona!”

“What? I had to watch you pine for the bloke all those years, the least you can do is let me know if he was a good lay.”

“What do you think?” I ask coyly.

“I think if he fucks as well as he fights you’re a lucky man.”

“A true gentleman never tells.”

“Well played, boyo.”

We talk for another hour or so before I walk Fiona back to her hotel (she refuses to stay with me, preferring Soho to the East Village (or so she says)), and we make plans for the morning. She’s here for the next 10 days, and I want to make the most of our time together.

Despite the chill in the air, I decide to walk back to my flat. I need to clear my head and let the news from home settle in. I need to call my father and thank him. But more than anything, I need to tell Simon. A whole world of possibilities just opened up for us. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready to join the Coven, but I do think I’d like to see him in his element back at Watford. Truly appreciate the man he’s become and the life he’s built for himself. Crowley, I think I’m finally living that charmed life I’ve longed for.

***

Me: What are you doing in May?

Simon: Don’t know. Y?

Me: No reason.

Simon: Prat.

Me: Nightmare.

Simon: Baz???

Me: I’m coming home.

Simon: Really?

Me: Yes

Simon: Fuck me

Me: I intend to . . .

Simon: Seriously. U R coming to London?

Me: Yes, love.

Simon:  😍😍😍

Chapter Text

I’ve been standing at the Watford gate for the last 20 minutes completely paralyzed. I can’t decide whether to get back into my car and drive back to Fiona’s flat or to attempt to enter the grounds of my alma mater. The last place I saw my mother. The place where my humanity was stolen from me. The place where I met and fell in love with Simon Snow Salisbury. So much of my life is wrapped up in the world behind these gates, a world that has been closed off to me for years. I logically understand that I’ve been welcomed back to the magical community--Fiona and my father have more than convinced me. So why can’t I take this final step and place my hand on the gate so that it will open for me again?

Maybe it’s the damn motto: “Magic separates us from the world. Let nothing separate us from each other.”

The irony of these words isn’t lost on me. How many years did the Coven exclude people from Watford because their blood wasn’t from a small circle of families? Or they were part mage and part other magical creature? As if the wonder of magic wasn’t enough to connect us. My own family, my mother, was complicit in the exclusion of magical creatures (let’s be honest, creatures like me) from these walls for years. Maybe the Americans have it right after all--value your independence and make your own way.

But that’s not right either. There is wonder and power in our magical community, and for years the wonder was lost here at Watford. The Mage may have wanted to open the gates to all magical creatures, but he also stripped magic of its beauty, its soul, and used it to build his own power. Magic is not a means to an end, and it shouldn’t be a tool used to gain control over others. Simon had to bear the burden of such magical megalomania.

Magic is the source of our power, yes, but it’s also embedded in our hearts and souls. It's our history, our culture; we should study it, share it, savor it. It’s an honor to be a mage, to truly harness the power of words, prose and poetry. That’s what I discovered again in Lamb’s library and my studies at NYU, and that’s why I can’t walk away from these gates. Our parents may not have gotten Watford right, but maybe we can. Or at least we can try.

My hands are shaking when I finally wrap my fingers around the wrought-iron bars. I hear the loud click of the gate’s lock as it opens and finally release the breath I was holding. I smile as I push my the gates open and step across the threshold into Watford, to home.

I park my car in the faculty and staff lot (I am a Pitch after all) and slowly walk my way towards the courtyard, reacquainting myself with every familiar detail. The Weeping Tower and the White Chapel loom over this part of campus, but I can clearly see Mummers House and our tower, Simon’s and mine, out of the corner of my eye. I have no plan of action, no particular destination (other than eventually finding Simon), so I let myself wander.

“Basilton Grimm Pitch, it’s a pleasure to see you on campus again,” I hear a voice call from behind me.

“Headmistress Bunce,” I say as I turn around. “It’s a pleasure to be back at Watford.”

“Please, Basil, it’s Mitali. You are too close to my daughter to use such formalities with me,” she says with a warm smile. “It’s good to see you.”

“Thank you, Mitali,” I say hesitantly. (I honestly prefer formalities, it just makes moments like this so much easier.)

“Walk with me?”

“Yes, of course.”

She leads me into the heart of campus, past the chapel and catacombs (my heart feels a tug as we pass my mother’s resting place), and towards the Wavering Wood.

“You look well, Basil. New York seems to have been good for you.”

“Yes, it was. It is. I’ve made a home for myself there, especially at NYU.”

“Indeed. I’ve spoken to your advisors at NYU. Not surprisingly, they have nothing but wonderful things to say about you. They even went so far as to say that your command of classical literature is almost magical,” she says with a broad smile.

“That’s ridiculous,” I say with a smile of my own.

“I know. If only they knew the truth of it,” she adds mirthfully.

“May I ask why you were speaking with my advisors?”

“Well, Basil, I was doing a bit of research. You see there’s an opening at Watford next fall. We need a faculty member to teach elocution, Latin, and Greek.”

“You can’t be serious, Mitali. You want me to teach here, at Watford? Me?” I say incredulously.

“Of course I do. I’ve never taught a brighter student, Basil--please don’t tell Penelope I said that)--and I want to provide my students with the best education possible. Why wouldn’t I want you to work here, to share your gifts with young mages, to follow in the footsteps of your family?”

“But I’m a vampire.”

“And I suffer from migraines. We all have our crosses to bear, Basil.”

“But won’t the families be afraid for their children?”

“Why on earth would they be afraid of you? You’ve never hurt a human, and you’re a known vampire killer. You’re no more dangerous than the Minotaur.”

“Mitali, I . . . “

“You don’t have to answer me now. Just think about it. I would be honored to have you teach here at Watford, to work with you as a colleague, to welcome you back home,” she says, stopping and placing her hand on my shoulder. (Merlin, she looks so much like Penny right now it’s uncanny.) “Besides, you have family here, Basil, people who love you.”

She turns then, and I realize that we’re at the football pitch. Simon is currently at mid-field setting up cones in a series of rows. I can’t stop the gasp that falls from my lips when I see him. Merlin, Methusula, and Morgana, he’s gorgeous. The sun is out, and his bronze hair is gleaming. And he looks so alive, so free, so comfortable.

“He’s been waiting for you, Basil. He was literally shimmering this morning, knowing you would be here soon. I haven’t seen him so full of magic since he was a teenager.”

“I’ve been waiting for him, too,” I whisper. “Always.”

“I’ll leave you to it, then,” she says softly. “I need to know by the end of the month. About the job offer. Do think about it,” she says as she turns in a flurry of robes and brown, frizzy hair.

I know that I should be processing the job offer that was just presented to me, but I can’t take my eyes off of Simon (my sentimental heart winning over my sharp intellect once again). I talk to him everyday and Facetime him at least once a week, but it’s been months since I’ve seen him, and all I want to do is throw myself into his arms and snog him senseless. But I’ve also never seen him like this. He’s focused and relaxed, smiling as he’s setting out the cones. Simon is truly happy, and it’s irresistible.

I stealthily make my way across the pitch until I’m a dozen or so feet away from Simon. Luckily, he hasn’t heard me yet--he’s too focused on pulling sparring items out of a giant duffle bag. “Excuse me,” I call. “I’m afraid this pitch is reserved for the Watford Football Club members only.”

He stills and slowly stands.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he says as he turns to me, “but posh prats aren’t allowed on the pitch, regardless of club status. House rules.”

His chin is jutted out in that stubborn way of his, but his eyes are sparkling as they roam over my frame. Challenge accepted, Snow.

“Excuse me? Do you know who I am?” I reply, channeling my best Malcolm Pitch.

“Tyrannus Basilton Grimm Pitch, sole heir to one of the oldest magical families in England,” he says wryly. He starts to say something else, but then stops himself, a slow grin breaking out on his face.

 

“Pitch on the pitch,” he says, his grin growing, the numpty.

I want to snort it’s so ridiculous, but I manage to maintain my composure.

“How very original, Snow. How long have you waited to say that to my face?”

“Longer than you can imagine,” he whispers, his gaze sliding from mirth to desire.

“Try me,” I say and walk slowly over to him, stopping inches away from him.

“You’re home,” he says softly as he brings his hand up to cup my cheek.

“I am now,” I say just as softly and turn my head to kiss his palm, that now familiar jolt of electricity greeting my touch.

We’re here, Simon and I, at Watford. Together, like I’ve always wanted.

I want.

I want.

Oh, I want so much. I want to pour my heart out to him. I want to wrap my arms around him and never let him go. I want to ravish him with words and kisses until we’re both a sodden mess of tears and sweat and bliss.

I start to close the last bit of distance between us, when I hear them. A gaggle of Watford students running and giggling and calling out for Simon.

“Show us your wings!”

“Bring out your sword!”

“Do we get to use real weapons today?”

“Can you really fly?”

In a heartbeat we’re surrounded by the gaggle, which is made up of first or second years at the oldest. They are looking up at Simon as if he’s hung the moon. And he’s looking down at them with an equally fond look in his eyes.

“Oi, back off mates,” he yells at them with a huge smile. They do.

“Okay, let’s get started, yeah?,” he says and moves out of my orbit to center field. He looks over at me and shrugs, a small apology for the intrusion. “Today, we’re going to learn how to spar!”

He’s greeted by cheers and fist pumps. I slowly walk my way towards the stands. I intend to watch this entire show. Before I can sit down, one of the children calls out to me: “Who are you?”

“That’s my good friend, Baz. He’s visiting from America,” Simon says.

“How do you know Simon?” another one asks me.

“We went to school together, here at Watford,” I call out and start walking back over to them.

“He was my roommate. I can still remember how the Chimera pulled me to him all those years ago. He refused to shake my hand then, the prat,” Simon explains and winks at me.

The children look back over to me with dirty looks, a few even boo at me. I sneer at Snow, who breaks into laughter. The children follow his lead. (Crowley, I need to spend more time with my siblings. I’m woefully out of practice when it comes to preteens.)

“Are you Basilton Grimm Pitch?” a smart looking young girl asks as she walks up to me.

“I am,” I respond. “How’d you know?”

“I know your sister, Mordelia. You look like her. Plus I heard Headmistress Bunce talking about you today. Aren’t you a vampire?” she asks again.

I’m truly taken aback by her question. No one has asked me about my vampirism so directly (outside of Simon that is). Seven hells.

“Yes,” I say (no need to beat around the bush with her). “But I’m first and foremost a mage, and Watford is my home.”

“Baz is one of the most powerful mages around. He can throw fire! With his hands!” Simon says, mimicking my flame throwing technique (poorly, I dare say.) The kids ooh and aah. “But don’t be afraid of him. He wouldn’t hurt anyone, vampire or not, despite his sneer. His bark is worse than his bite, believe me.”

“Sounds like Mordelia,” the girls says, more to herself than me or Simon. She turns and joins her classmates, and I try my best to hide a smile. It’s good to know Mordelia is carrying on the family tradition (she may not be a Pitch by birth, but she’s definitely a Pitch by nature) (let’s just hope that I’ve had more influence on her than Fiona).

“Can we spar now?” one of the older boys calls out, clearly bored by this line of questioning. Simon smiles at me and nods, takes a breath and pulls out his sword. And then he’s off.

I honestly don’t think I’ve enjoyed myself this much in a long while. Watching Simon with the children is truly a revelation. He has the ability to get them to pay attention to him, follow his instructions yet still give them enough freedom to have a bit of mischievous fun. Within an hour, he’s managed to get them all into pairs, sparring with each other, while he hovers and adjusts and demonstrates his technique. He’s always been a protector, willing to sacrifice himself for others, but today has proven that he’s a nurturer and teacher as well. I can’t help but think of Ebb and her goats, how much she loved them and how much she loved Simon. Maybe she saw a bit of herself in him all those years ago. And he just looks so fucking happy. It fills my heart with pride to watch him.

After another 10 minutes or so, I notice the kids start to get a little restless. Simon might need a little help keeping everything under control, so I make my way over to him again.

“Decide to join the fun, Baz?’” Simon asks.

“I thought you might need some help finishing up.”

“I’m good, yeah. But we may need your help with something a bit more fun,” he says. “Oi, Jack, bring me the football from my bag.”

A first year with ginger hair and wide eyes takes immediate action, finds the football, and kicks it over to Simon.

“‘Fancy a match?” he asks, wiggling his eyebrows at me.

“Snow, I’m not dressed to play football,” I say.

“Baz, stop fussing and just have some fu. . .” he starts, but I steal the ball from him and take off down the field at full speed before he can finish his sentence.

“Bloody tosser,” he calls after me, but I’m long gone. It feels good to run again, here on this pitch. The ground is so familiar, and I’m flying down the field, dribbling the ball with ease. I can hear Simon running behind me, plus what sounds like a small herd of elephants behind him (I imagine it must be the children, but you never know here at Watford). When I’m about 5 yards away from the goal, I line myself up and bend the ball into the top left corner of the net. I turn, fists in the air, and am immediately tackled by Simon. Snow lands on top of me, and I revel in the weight of his body on top of mine (control yourself, Basil, there are children present).

“You always were a showoff, Pitch,” Simon says smiling.

“When the shoe fits, Snow,” I respond. He laughs and leans down towards me, and I think he’s going to kiss me, but he puts his hands on either side of my head and pushes himself back up. (Tease. I’ll make him pay for this later.)

“Who wants to try to beat Baz?” he calls, and the fun begins.

We play for 20 minutes or so and once the game is over (I win, of course, but not without a fight--those children are vicious) and the last of the children have made their way off of the pitch, I slide up behind Simon and whisper into his ear, “Can I kiss you now?”

He turns and looks up at me, the sun lighting his bronze curls on fire. He looks unreal, like a Greek god come to life. If I wasn’t already in love with him, I think this would be the moment that I’d swear myself to him forever.

“C’mere,” he whispers and pulls me into a bone-crushing embrace, crashing his lips to mine. It’s good. So, so good. LIke it always is. And I lose myself in the feel of his lips, the swipe of his tongue, the heat of his breath.

“I’ve missed you, Simon Snow Salisbury,” I say sometime between kisses.

“Mmmm,” he hums back, “me too, so much. Can’t believe you’re really here.”

“I never thought I would be again,” I say.

He stops kissing me then and takes my face in both of his hands, leaning it down to look directly into his eyes. “You belong here more than anyone, Baz. It’s your family legacy, and it’s about time the Coven came to their senses.”

“Ever my champion,” I croon and bring my forehead down to meet his.

“Well, I am the hero of this story.”

“Yes, you are,” I say and kiss him again.

***
We spend the rest of the afternoon puttering around Watford, visiting the kitchen (Cook Pritchard tuts over us both, and the sour cherry scones are still delectable), the library, and various classrooms. We’ve managed to avoid any spot of particular meaning to us--Mummer’s House, the Catacombs, the White Chapel--but then Simon leads me back towards the Wavering Wood.

“Where are we going?”

“We’ll be there in a second,” Simon says, pulling me along. We cross into a particularly beautiful stand of Sweet Chestnut trees, and I see it. A small gravestone in the middle of a brief clearing. Simon stays along the edge of the clearing as I walk up the grave. As I get closer, I notice a few random, sentimental statues of lambs, nestled between the grass and the stone, and it all becomes clear. I lean down and read aloud, “Ebeneza Petty, Beloved Daughter, Sister, Friend, Protector of Watford and its Goats.” I look over to Simon, and he’s smiling at me with tears in his eyes.

“Did you do this?” I ask.

“Yeah, at least the headstone, And the statues,” he adds with a shy smile. “They buried Ebb here and marked the grave with a stone, but they didn’t honor her like they should have. I had the headstone made a few years ago. She deserved it.”

“That she did, Simon,” I say walking back over to him.

“Sometimes the goats even come up here to and sit next to the stone, like the know she’s here.”

“That’s lovely,” I say, and he shrugs in response. “Who watches the goats now?”

“No one,” he says. “Mitali lets them roam free in the wood. I’m pretty sure she uses magical wards to keep them here at Watford. I visit them when I can.”

“You miss her, don’t you.”

“Yeah, I do. But I can still feel her presence here. It’s like her love of Watford was absorbed in the land, the atmosphere.”

“I think you’re right. Love is a powerful spell, and Ebb truly loved this place.”

He nods and looks up at me. I take the opportunity to wipe his eyes, and he smiles, taking my hand and holding it to his cheek. I can feel him relax into me, and I know he’s wanted to share this with me for a long while. I don’t know how to thank my father enough for giving this part of my life back to me, allowing Simon to finally share this with me. (Merlin, he must have made quite the case with the Coven.)

“I have one more place to show you,” Simon says, lowering our hands and turning back towards Watford.

We walk through the woods for another 10 minutes or so and make our way into another clearing that I’ve never seen before. It’s truly lovely, the ground is covered in lush grass, the trees opening up to the sky. And in the middle is another simple gravestone. Simon joins me this time, and he reads the memorial aloud: “Lucile Winifred Salisbury, Beloved Daughter and Mother, It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”

“Simon, love,” I say and wrap my arms tightly around him. He embraces me just as tightly.

“The mage, my father, is buried here, too, a bit deeper into the Wood,” he says without letting go of our embrace. “When I found out about Lucy, well, I had to honor her death in some way. My grandmother told me how much she loved the outdoors, and I immediately thought of this clearing.”

He steps away from me and kneels down in front of the grave.

“I come here a lot and speak to her,” he says sadly. “I hope she can hear me and that she knows I’m doing okay or that I’m learning about her, what she was like as a child, her favorite foods, how much she loved my father.”

As much as I still hate David Llewellyn, I don’t utter a word, wanting Simon to feel secure enough to share this moment with me.

“I know it’s hard to believe that anyone could love the Mage as we knew him, especially at the end,” he says standing and turning to me, “but it does give me comfort knowing that they loved each other once. That my parents loved each other enough to make me.”

“Oh love,” I say and pull him to me once more. He begins to cry in earnest. “Simon, you brilliant nightmare,” I whisper into his ear. “You’re selfless, generous, courageous, honest, and forthright. You are the Greatest Mage not because of your power but because of your willingness to always see the best in everyone. Anyone who can warm this dead heart of mine is surely made of love.”

“You’re not dead, Baz, how many times do I have to tell you that?” he mumbles into my shoulder.

“See? You’re doing it now, you courageous fuck.”

He laughs at that.

“Now, can we go visit my mother so she doesn’t think I’ve abandoned her alone with the rats?”

“Yeah, Baz, I’d like that,” he says, taking my hand once again and leading me out of the woods and back to Watford.

*******
Our visit to the Catacombs and the Tombes des Enfant was cut short, so we decided to venture back to Mummers House and our tower. (Simon, the sentimental fool, has been bringing fresh flowers to my mother’s tomb whenever he comes to Watford. When I saw the bouquet and found out who it was from, well, I was so overcome with emotion that I had to leave, promising mother that I’d be back soon. Crowley, who’s the true sentimental fool in this scenario?)

As we approached our old home, Simon’s grip on my hand grows tighter. We haven’t been together in our old room since the night the Mage was killed. Simon’s never returned--I can imagine it’s too painful for him.

“Snow, we don’t have to do this, know. As much as I cherish the years we grew up together at the top of that tower, I’m happy for it to remain a memory, especially now that we’re together,” I say, stopping him before reaching the entrance.

“I’m fine, Baz, really. I want to do this. I need to do this,” he says, jutting out his chin in that way of his. I know there’s no changing his mind.

We open the doors to Mummers House together, walking across the threshold at the same time. I’m immediately overwhelmed by the smell, old wood and teenage boy. Seven hells, how did I never notice this before?

“Fuck me, it stinks in here. Did it smell like this when we lived here?”

“I don’t remember,” I say, wrinkling my nose. “You’d think I’d have noticed the smell, but maybe I was too focused on getting you to go off to pay attention to much else.”

“Yeah,” Simon says with a laugh. He’s not outwardly nervous, but I can hear his heart beating faster now that we’re inside.

“Race you to the top?” he says with a smirk. (That’s my Simon, always running directly into a difficult situation.)

“You’re on,” I say and launch up the stairs, taking them two by two (this I do remember).
I make it to the top of the stairs in a flash, but Simon’s not too far behind me.

“Fucking vampire,” he huffs when he reaches the top. He’s resting his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath. I can’t help but chuckle.

“It’s not funny,” he whinges at me.

“I respectfully disagree. I’m a vampire, Snow, did you really think you could beat me?”

“No, but I thought you’d at least give me a fighting chance, you tosser.”

“Well, old habits die hard,” I say walking over to him. “But I really just prefer seeing you all hot and bothered, Simon. It’s always been a fantasy of mine--you sweating in our tower all because of me.”

“Cheeky bastard,” he says and tries to open the door, but it doesn’t budge.

“Blood offering,” I remind him. I take his finger in my hand and gently run it along my incisor, drawing blood almost instantly. Simon looks both surprised and fascinated.

“‘Didn’t even hurt.”

“Good,” I say follow suit with my own finger.

We run our bloody fingertips over the door, leaving twin trails of blood. Simon tries the door again, and it opens for us easily. He takes a deep breath and walks into the room. I follow closely behind.

“Merlin, it’s just as I remembered it,” he says, standing between our old beds and turning in a circle. “It still even smells like you.”

“You’re right, it hasn’t changed. I think they must have sealed this off after the Leavers Ball. I don’t think it’s been touched in years.”

“I wonder why?” Simon asks.

“Maybe Headmistress Bunce didn’t want to risk putting another pair of hotheads at the top of a tower.”

“Yeah, we did make everyone’s lives pretty miserable.”

“Especially our own.”

“Yeah,” he says with a chuckle. “We were such arseholes to each other.”

“Sexual tension,” I say and give him a good nudge on his shoulder.

“What’s that for?”

I don’t answer but walk closer to him and nudge him again.

“Baz?”

I step even closer and, when I nudge him this time around, the backs of his knees hit his old mattress. I give him one final push and he collapses back onto the bed in a haze of confusion. I don’t even give him a moment to get his bearings, before I straddle his lap, pin his arms above his head, and lick the length of his neck from collar bone to chin.

“I’ve wanted to do this to you since I was 15 years old, Snow. Maybe longer.”

“Took you long enough,” he says with a smirk.

“Me? You were the one who didn’t figure out you were bisexual until you saw me in a pair of jeans.”

“Well, I was a bit busy saving the world of mages. And maybe a bit depressed,” he pouts.

“Simon?”

He looks away from me.

“Simon?” I say again, rolling my hips.

He smirks at that but still won’t look at me.

“Will you look at me and let me kiss you?”

He does, and I do.

We snog for Merlin knows how long. It may not be fulfilling every sexual fantasy I had about Simon Snow in this room, but it’s bloody perfect.

“Baz?” Simon whispers between kisses.

“Hmmm?” I hum into his neck.

“Why didn’t you fight for me when I broke up with you?”

“What?”

“Why didn’t you fight? You just walked out of my life and disappeared.”

“Why the actual fuck are you bringing this up now?” I ask, untangling myself from his limbs and sitting up at the foot of his old bed.

“Don’t know,” he says, sitting up on his arms. “When you said that you wanted to do this since you were 15 it just got me thinking about everything.”

“Does it matter now, Snow?”

“Don’t call me Snow, not now.”

“Why does it matter after everything, Simon?” I say and call feel the anger pooling in my stomach.

“Because it fucking hurt, you disappearing. I broke up with you, yeah, but that didn’t mean I wanted you to fall off the face of the earth.”

“Oh, it hurt you did it?” I hiss, no longer able to control my anger. “Did you ever once think about how you hurt me? How you told me that you wanted me out of your life because you wanted me to be happy. When the only thing that ever made me happy was you! You’re thick, Simon, but not that thick.”

“I get it, Baz, I was in a bad place, but why did you give up so easily?”

“Because you gave up on me. After everything. You were my tether to the world, Simon. You made me want to live. And you gave up. So I did, too.”

My chest is heaving, and I can’t stop the tears from falling, but I can remove myself from the situation. So I do.

“Baz, wait,” I hear Simon yell after me, but I’m reeling from the turn of events. This is not how I expected the day to end, and I have no idea how we got here. Maybe it’s that fucking room--we never could do anything but fight in that blasted tower.

*****
I’m sitting on the hill overlooking the grounds at Watford when I hear Simon approaching me. It’s been hours since I ran out of the Mummers House, and I’m still miserable. I wound up running to the Catacombs without even thinking and drowning my sorrow in a few grave rats. (Thank Crowley, I’ve given up that habit.) I couldn't bring myself to visit my mother, not in my current state. And I eventually wound up back here. I could have driven myself back to Fiona’s, but it just didn’t feel right, leaving Watford--and Simon--like this. So here I am, pouting on a hillside under a sky full of stars. (At least I haven’t lost my dramatic flair.)

I feel Simon stop immediately behind me, but he doesn’t say a word. I don’t either, figuring it’s his turn to break the ice.

“Hey,” he finally mutters.

“Hello,” I respond coolly.

“Would it help if I said I’m sorry?”

“Maybe. A little.”

“I’m sorry, Baz, truly. I didn’t mean to bring up such a terrible memory. I just couldn’t stop my mind from going there, and it just came out.”

“I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have run off.”

He sits down next to me, knees to his chest, and his arms wrapped tightly around them. It’s May, but it’s still chilly here on the top of the hill, and I can feel the heat radiating off of Simon despite his chill.

“I hated myself, you know,” I finally say.

“What?”

“After America, I hated myself. What I was, what I’d done to my family, to myself. And I hated that I couldn’t make you happy.”

“Baz . . .”

“Hear me out, Simon, please,” I say, and he nods. “I loved you more than anything, but I didn’t love myself, or even like myself. I was wallowing in my own self-pity, and you breaking up with me just made it all even more real. I honestly didn’t know how to fight back.”

“Baz, I’m sorry. I didn’t even think, I was so caught up in my own trauma.”

“Don’t be, Simon. I honestly think you breaking it off was the best--and bravest--move either of us made. We never had a normal relationship. Our feelings developed in fire and war and magic and death. The love we felt was real, but we were dealing with so many other things at the time. I needed the last five years to truly find out who I was, to like myself for the first time. That’s the only reason I can be here with you now, like this.”

“Can this ever be normal, Baz?

“Well, I don’t think either of us will ever be normal, Simon, but I think our relationship can be.”

He hums in response to that, and we sit in a comfortable silence, enjoying the view.

“Do you regret it?”

“What?”

“This. Us.”

“Never. Why would you ask that?”

He shrugs (typical).

“Simon, I deserve more than a shrug.”

“You had a life in New York. When I saw you through that window, you looked so happy, Baz. I don’t think I’d ever seen you look so at ease with yourself, so relaxed,” he sighs. “I just want you to be happy.”

“I am happy, Simon. I’m beyond happy. I regret hurting Charles, I regret being a coward and never truly processing the depth of my feelings for you. But this,” I say, grabbing his hand, “I’ll never regret.”

“So you still choose me?”

“I will always choose you, Simon Snow.”

He takes my hand and brings it gently to his lips. I take the opportunity to scoot closer to him and wrap my arm around him, absorbing his heat. After a few minutes of peace, I take the next step.

“Mitali Bunce offered me a position at Watford today.”

“She did?” he asks, clearly surprised.

“She even called my advisors at NYU.”

“What position?”

“Teaching elocution, Greek, and Latin. It’s opening up next fall.”

“Are you going to take it?”

“I’m considering it.”

“What about your degree from NYU? Your life there? Your flat?”

“Well, I’m done with coursework, all I need to do is finish my dissertation, and I can do that from anywhere. My life is here now,” I say and tighten my arm around his waist for emphasis, “but I’m still keeping my flat. I love it too much to let it go. Shephard will watch it for me, I’m sure.”

“You’ve really thought this through.”

I nod.

“If I take this job, can I stay with you?” I ask quietly.

“Like be my roommate?”

“We’ve already been roommates, Simon. I was hoping for something more.”

“I know that, Baz. I may be thick, but I’m not daft. You really want to try this? With me?”

“I do.”

“Well then, yeah, yes. Stay with me, Baz, move in with me. Live a normal life with me. Well, not normal, normal . . . “

“I understand, Simon. Let’s wake up together and make breakfast, fall asleep watching Dr. Who, get a cat.”

“Or a dog.”

“Or a dog, yes. Let’s just be together. Finally.”

“I like the sound of that.”

We lie back on the cool ground and look up at the night sky, a comfortable silence enveloping us again. Simon grabs my hand, and I can feel that pulse of electricity, only stronger than before.

“Twinkle, Twinkle,” he whispers.

Little Star,” I say, with magic, and finish the verse. I can feel our magic flowing between us, a solid, pulsing current.

And just like it did all those years ago, the sky envelops us, and we are floating among the stars. The only thing grounding us is each other. It’s still a wonder, our magic, how our power combines into something fierce and breathtakingly beautiful.

“Do you want me to pull back?” Simon asks.

“No. Never,” I answer, strengthening my grip on his hand,

This time, he doesn’t.