Simon Snow never puts on music.
Nothing you can dance to, anyway. He’s absolutely rubbish at dancing, even when I’m leading him around the room—he looks like some kind of newborn calf learning to walk. His hands are never in the right place. His feet always get tangled up, and there’s at least one moment when I think he’s going to send both of us falling to the floor. His tail usually winds around my thigh at some point, like an anchor or an anvil, weighing our movements down until we’re moving so slowly that I’m not entirely sure we’re moving much at all.
But tonight, he’s put some music on. (Something classical and sweet—I’ll have to get the name from him so I can practice it on my violin. So I can remember this moment forever.) And he’s dancing with me. And I think that I might be living out my life’s greatest dream and that I’m going to keel over dead from it all.
He breathes in sharply, and I brace myself, steadying the both of us as he begins to falter. When he’s regained his footing, he looks up at me and grins, and a light blush dusts its way across his cheeks. I kiss the places where his face has pinked up, and all it does is cause the pink to deepen into a rose.
Simon Snow. Dancing with me. Blushing harder when I kiss his cheeks. If someone had told a younger me that this was my future, I’d have thrown them into the moat with the merwolves or lit them on fire.
“What are you thinking about?” Simon asks, pulling me closer. The movement sends us out of time with the music, and I shift us before we start moving again. We’re chest to chest now; I can feel him when he breathes. His eyes are shining in the lamp light—they’re practically glowing in his face, two bright blue beacons sucking me in.
“You,” I say.
“You,” he says. As if it’s the simplest thing in the world. (He does that a lot. Say mushy things like it doesn’t take any work.)
I don’t say anything to that. I just continue to follow his lead as best I can. I’m shite at dancing—they don’t exactly give you lessons on it in the care homes—but when he looks at me like he is now, like I’m something special and important, well…it makes me want to do things like dance with him until I’m good at it. It also makes it hard to breathe sometimes, but I’m trying to get better at that. At breathing and staying in the moment when he looks at me so intensely that I can read everything he’s not saying.
My therapist says that it’s perfectly normal for me to be overwhelmed by his emotions sometimes. That happens to a lot of people who don’t really…like themselves, I guess. It’s hard to accept that someone else does, and it can be scary. But we’re working on it.
Like now: I treat it like a fight. I stand my ground and look back at him and hope that he can see everything that I’m not saying, too. That he knows I love him and that I want this, even on the days when it seems like I don’t. I’m not backing down; neither is he. Not unless I ask him to. (He’s so good—I still don’t understand why he likes me. Why he keeps choosing me every day. If I think about it too hard, my chest begins to hurt and my tail starts whipping around, and I can’t afford to buy Penny another replacement vase, so I try not to think.)
“What about you, love?” he asks gently, turning me out for a spin. I’m clumsy and stumble through it, but he’s still looking at me the same way when he pulls me in again.
“You,” I answer honestly. “Us.”
“You,” he says softly. “Us.”
I don’t say anything back; I just hold him a little tighter.
Simon gets upset sometimes when we’re open about things. When we’re being soft with each other. It’s like it overwhelms him and he doesn’t know what to do now that he can’t go off anymore. It just sits and festers inside of him with no outlet, and he starts breathing all quick and sends his tail all over the place. (Bunce has come home to many a broken statue or vase. She usually either magicks them back together or makes Simon go buy her another.)
I try to follow his lead most of the time on the emotional stuff now, except when I know that hearing it will help him more than hurt him. If he allows us to be open, I’ll be open. If he shrinks back down, I’ll shrink myself down too. I’ll do whatever I have to do to keep him here with me, comfortable and laughing and—and choosing me. Because him choosing me every day is some kind of magical feat that I’m not ready to spell loose.
“Oh?” I say, dipping my head down to plant a kiss on a mole right next to his ear. “What about me? My dastardly good looks? My flawless ability to dance? I can’t blame you, Snow. I am quite a catch.”
I look into his eyes again, hoping to catch something in them. Sometimes, if we’re being soft for a second, I test the waters. I see if he’ll take the bait and lead us away from vulnerable territory—or if he’ll let us fall into it, just for a while.
He’s having a good night, I think, because his next words are, “That, plus how much we love each other.”
I gulp down the lump clotting off my throat and turn away, allowing my hair to fall in front of my face so he can’t see my skin heat up. A hand finds my chin and turns me back around, and then I’m looking at him as he pushes my hair back. Really drinking him in because it seems like right now he’ll let me, and I don’t know how long this Simon is going to last. How long he’s going to be okay with me holding him and memorizing him.
“I do love you, you know,” he whispers roughly. I know how much it’s taking him to say this, to look me in the eyes while he does it, and it makes my heart clench. “More than I thought—than I thought that I—that I—”
I kiss him. And I hope that he knows that I know.
He kisses me. And it all kind of…fits.
This. Dancing with him in mine and Penelope’s flat. Letting him look at me like he’s trying to take all of me in. I wish I could let him do this more often. I wish that it didn’t hurt so much sometimes. I wish—
I wish that I could give him everything he wants me to be.
But it’s so bloody hard sometimes. It’s hard to—to do this. To stand here and let him touch me and hold me and show me that he loves me. I don’t know how I’ve managed to get him to hang around for so long. I’m not easy to love. I’m not…
I’m not the Chosen One anymore. I’m not even magic anymore.
Simon Snow, a stain on the World of Mages. A weight around Baz’s ankle.
I know he doesn’t think that. I know he doesn’t. But why shouldn’t he? What have I done that makes me worthy of this? I’m not worthy of being loved like this. This isn’t a love I was meant to have. I was supposed to get by on halfhearted kisses and holding hands with someone who’d rather look across the room, and then I was supposed to die. That was supposed to be it for me. This…this is a life I lucked into.
Baz can tell I’m thinking something I shouldn’t be. (Of course he can. He knows me. He…anyway.) When our lips part, he raises his eyebrows at me like he’s afraid to really ask. And I know what he’s doing: he’s letting me decide. He’s handing the decision off to me.
Do we talk about it?
Or do we ignore it?
We’re already here. I’m already against his chest, and he’s already got one hand on the small of my back, lightly grounding me. It’s not like…well, it’s not like it has to be a big deal. Does it? If we don’t make it into a spectacle, then maybe we can—I don’t know, maybe we can talk about this. For a minute. Just enough to…to…to get it out in the open. To release it, so it’s not just lodged here inside of me anymore.
Maybe I can be the good one. The one who tries to fix it. The one who tells him how much I don’t want this to end.
Maybe I can finally be fucking brave.
Simon Snow, for the first time in ages, chooses to let out what’s inside his head. I can see it in the way his eyes go sharp and the way he steels his jaw like he’s getting ready to go into a battle: he’s about to talk to me. Really, truly talk to me. I would cry if it wouldn’t disturb this moment.
It takes him a minute, like he’s psyching himself up, and I’m careful not to show him how much I want this. How much I’ve needed for him to just let me in. How desperately I want him to—to just be open, for once in his forsaken life, and not care if other people get hurt.
I don’t care if he hurts me.
I’m tired of him hurting himself.
Hurt me, Simon.
Tell me what’s going on. Let me help.
Let me hold it for you. I’ve got room to spare.
When I finally find my voice, I let it all come free.
It tumbles out of me like I’m going off. But there’s no smoke this time; no magic, no fire, no red bubbling up around us. It’s just me and Baz. Dancing together in a cramped living room. Holding onto each other like we’re the only things keeping us afloat.
He is. That. To me, I mean. The thing keeping me from sinking too deep.
I decide to tell him that too.
My words come out all clunky and fast (I’ve never been good with words, ask anyone), but they’re coming out. It feels like—like—like they’re flying out of me. You know? Like they were in this hole in my chest, but now I’m flooding the hole with water, and they’re being forced to make an escape, and the only way out is through my teeth.
(I don’t know why everything is an escape or a fight with me.) (I mean, I do. But I don’t know why everything is. Maybe that’s the only way I can communicate: through fighting.)
I tell him all of it that I can manage. I don’t look into his eyes while I’m doing it; that’d be too much exposure. I’d see the look on his face, and I would clam back up, and it would be over. Instead, I squeeze my own eyes shut and push my forehead forward into his chin and say it all to his Adam’s apple. When I’m done, I sneak a peek and watch it bob up and down like he doesn’t know what to say. And then I move forward and kiss it because I can.
I miss this. Kissing him everywhere I didn’t realize I could.
I catch a stripe of collarbone jutting out from his shirt; I bend down and kiss that, too. He sucks in a short breath, and his grip on me tightens just slightly.
He’s missed this too, I think.
“Thank you for saying all of that to me, Simon,” he whispers gently against my hair. He’s pulled us closer together, as close as we can get; if I tilted my head up and slightly to the right, I bet our lips would touch. “I can’t fix it. But I am here, love. I am here. And I will be here and choose you for the rest of our days if you will let me.”
I bring my head up.