I’m going to have to spell this imbecile back to bed if it’s the last thing I do.
The digital clock on the nightstand reads 02:58, and I nearly groan. He’s been doing this twice as often lately; getting up at a ridiculous time and never coming back to bed. I’ll find him the next morning, sitting on the couch with a bowl full of butter in his lap and his eyes closed, head tipped back, snoring softly. Once, I even found him on the floor, on his stomach, listening to music in his earbuds so loudly that I could hear it from down the hall.
I wonder which it’s going to be tonight.
Simon hasn’t been sleeping well these past few weeks. I tried to get him to take some melatonin tablets, but he refused. He said he was “never taught how to swallow pills”. I told him we could buy the chewable kind, but he shook his head.
“It wouldn’t help, Baz.” He’d said, not meeting my eyes. That’s another thing he’s been doing often; not meeting my eyes.
“It’s better than restlessness. At least you’ll be able to relax, Snow.” I tried to say it gently, but it came out traced with accusation.
“It wouldn’t help, though.” He said again, crossing his arms. I didn’t respond, merely sighed and went to the bathroom for a shower.
It wouldn’t help, Baz.
Nothing ever seems to.
Grimacing, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stand up, pulling back the curtains in front of the window. There’s no moon. There’s hardly ever a moon, it feels like, but I know that’s irrational. I know that’s irrational. I let the curtain fall back into place.
There’s no music blasting down the hall. Which is good, but also not. I might find him sprawled out on the on the loveseat with cereal crumbs in his hair, eyes darting around at every creak and groan the house makes. (I found him like that once. I had to step out for a few minutes and regain my composure.) (Seeing him like that was…too much.)
There’s no moon out, but there are stars. Brighter than city lights. There are three windows in the hall to our rooms, and each one of them has been opened by Snow and his constant need to have an outpouring of natural light. Tonight, I don’t mind. The windows are the only thing keeping me in the present instead of in that damned coffin.
I check everywhere. He isn’t in the living room. Or the family room. Or the dining room. I even think about going outside and looking for him, but it’s too bloody cold out for a “late-night stroll”, and I know that Simon hates being cold.
There’s rustling from the kitchen.
Fuck. How could I have forgotten about the kitchen?
I’m blaming it on being 3 in the morning.
“Snow?” I call, stopping in the doorway. It takes my eyes a moment to adjust, which is unusual since the kitchen normally has the most light coming through the windows above the stove. It’s just so abnormally dark in the flat. I’m used to waking up with Simon radiating warmth, to seeing him exude his magic without ever meaning to. To look at him smiling and feel the world around us glow.
It all got a bit more complicated when he gained his wings and lost his magic.
“Snow, are you—” Then, my eyes focus.
He’s a silhouette against the darkness. Hunched over the sink, hands clutching the rim like it’s the only thing tethering him to reality. He’s shirtless, as usual, but his skin doesn’t glow like it used to, and his wings dip further down with every breath he takes. He’s staring down at the garbage disposal.
Something’s not right.
“Simon,” It’s barely above a whisper. “What’s going on?” I step closer.
He looks at me with wide, wild eyes. His hair is parted in chunks where his fingers have raked through it, and his bottom lip looks dark. Bloodied, I realise, where he’s been biting it. He looks mental.
He blinks. Panicked. “Nothing.”
Then I see it.
Red. Around his eyes. Brimming them.
He’s been crying.
I cross the kitchen in a flash. He’s backing himself into the wall, his arms outstretched to stop me from touching him.
Stopping me from touching him.
It hits me like a bullet train. I stop walking, the energy making me sway forward slightly. “It’s—It’s me?” Fuck. I don’t mean to say it like that. To sound…hurt. Even a little.
His eyes widen as it slowly dawns on him. “What?”
“It’s me,” I say slowly. Calculated. Careful not to tip the waters. “You’re afraid of me.”
“Baz,” He’s saying all of his words fervently like they hold a thousand meanings within themselves. “No. That’s—Crowley, Baz, no. It’s not about that. It’s not even about you, it’s—it’s—”
“Answer my question: are you afraid of me?” Fucking hell. My voice cracks.
“No,” He growls. It makes the hairs on my arms stand up. “Never. It’s in my head. It’s all in my head. It’s nothing, Baz. Just—” He rakes another hand through his hair, and his next words sound like someone took a butter knife and carved into his vocal chords. “—go back to sleep.”
Ouch. Another blow to the vampire with the stilled heart.
“What’s in your head, Snow?”
“Nothing,” One word, two syllables. Vehemently. Desperate. Pleading. It’s horrible how it makes my heart go from already cracked to crumbled. Smashed. It’s too dark in the room to see him clearly, but I can see the slight twitch in his eyes, the small crease forming between his eyebrows. He looks dreadful. “I’m serious.”
There’s no heat beneath his skin, no fire or match ready to be lit. No pulsing air around him. It’s quiet, now. Simon Snow is a bloody uncertainty, no matter how well you think you know him. A bomb that you can’t tell is defused or not.
And suddenly the dark becomes all too real. Seeping into me like a sponge soaking up water.
Simon Snow, are you defused?
He stands there. He’d gradually regained his posture (although it’s horrid, it’s still better than a slump), and pressed his forehead against mine. (That means that I’m the one having to slump to meet his height.) I try to feel for any indication of a fever, but there’s none. His skin is nearly as cold as mine.
“You should go back to bed,” he breathes.
I close my eyes. Move my hands to cup his face. Wipe the wetness off his cheeks.
There’s sunlight streaming through the window and blanketing itself over the sheets. Simon’s face is smushed into the pillow, his hair spread out, damp from sweating off his nightmares.
I don’t remember him coming back to bed last night. He must’ve slipped in just after I had passed out.
I brush the pad of my thumb on his jaw. His eyelids flutter but don’t open.
It’s early. Not early enough for it to still be dark outside, but earlier than when I normally wake up. Simon’s usually up two hours from now, carrying a box of cereal and bumbling around the flat like a half-starved idiot.
“Love, wake up,” I say softly, tracing circles on his cheek.
“I don’t need to,” he replies, rolling his shoulders back, “there’s nothing waiting for me.”
I don’t know how to respond. That seems to happen more often; Simon will say something completely true and I just sit there, totally caught off-guard by his insensitivity.
He’s right. There is nothing waiting for him anymore. I don’t prepare extravagant Watford-esque breakfasts or send horrific dark creatures to greet him on his way out. We aren’t waiting for the day where we’re destined to be killed or kill each other, and I’m certainly not waiting for the day that he figures out that there’s nothing waiting for him anymore.
“I’m not a 1950’s housewife waiting at your beck and call, Snow,” I shift slightly away from him, shoving my pillow between us.
I had meant to be nicer this morning. Softer, because of what happened last night. I wanted to wake up and run my hands through his hair and kiss every part of his body except his lips just to remind him that I’ll always be hopelessly in love with him, but the truth is that I’ve never been good at comfort. I’m not accustomed to it. I aggravate. I’m used to aggravating people. I push people past the point of frustration to where they blow, and comfort isn’t one of my strong suits.
Comfort takes something else. It takes humility and understanding and everything I do have, but I’ve worked so hard to make it not visible on the surface.
“It’s a weakness,” Father would say, “and weaknesses have no place in the Grimm-Pitch family.”
Simon Snow is my weakness. Father knows that, of course, and even though he tries his hardest not to use it against me, I know he resents the fact that the Mage’s Heir has such power over me. But that's the way it goes with my family and the people we love, I think: my mother was his weakness.
“I know,” Simon says, rubbing his eyes open. “I don’t mean it like there will be nothing waiting for me, ever. I just mean—You know. Why wake up when there’s nothing waiting for me?”
“Because why would anyone wake up with that thought process?” I snap. “People can’t go around thinking, ‘I’m not going to do anything because there’s nothing worth my time’. Do you know how inhumane that is? Narcissistic?”
“I—I just—I didn’t mean it like that, I just meant—I just—Just—”
“Just what, Snow?”
“Came out wrong.”
“Actually,” I sit up and swing my legs over the side of the bed. “I think it came out the exact way you intended.”
I turn and almost make it off the bed before a solid arm snakes its way across my torso, holding me back.
Keeping me there.
He warm breath on my skin makes the hair on my arms stand up.
“I’m sorry,” I feel his face press into my lower back. After a few seconds, after I realise that he’s got me right where he wants me, he says, “You’re the only thing worth waiting for. I’ll wait for you.”
He should. I spent nearly half my life waiting for him, so the least he can give me is a few minutes wait. A few minutes where I get to see Simon pine. For me, no less. I wonder what he’d look like? He’s not much of a sulker, but I know he thinks a lot, even if he says he doesn’t. (I wonder if he said that just because he didn’t want me to ask what he thinks about.) (I wonder if it’s me.) I should make him wait.
But I won’t. (Can’t, rather, but I’d never properly admit it to myself.)
Making—Crowley, seeing—Simon wait would be like Watford years all over again. Silently pining and then scampering off. I can’t go through Watford like that again. Like a fucking damsel stuck in a tower and looking down at the world beneath, at everything they can’t touch.
I glance back and down at him. His legs are pulled up, his back straight, and he’s lying vertically across the bed to get to me. His eyes are closed, and I can feel his hot breath against my skin where my shirt had ridden up.
Merlin and Morgana, he shouldn’t have this kind of hold over me.
“You also wait for scones in the oven to bake,” I skin my fingertips over his curls, dragging until the base of his neck. “So, I don’t take that as a compliment.”
“Mm, s’pose I do,” I’m not sure he hasn’t fallen back asleep. It is devastatingly early for both of us, and I’m nearly positive he just wants me to stop talking and lie back down with him.
It’s a bit awkward, but I do. His arm is still wrapped around my waist and his head is directly behind me, so I have to twist uncomfortably to avoid crushing him. He rotates his body so that he’s lying parallel to me. I grab at the sheets and pull them over us. My pillow is still shoved between us, so I shove it back under our heads.
He’s practically snoring by the time I get situated across him. Mouth open, eyes still, face void of his usual creases.
I let myself look at him. I let myself enjoy it for a little bit, the way that he breathes like he’s trying to not take everyone’s breath away. I consider counting the moles on his face, and then I reconsider counting his freckles if that means I get to look at him longer. It almost feels like back in Watford when I would watch him needlessly when he was asleep, when I felt the most distanced from him.
“I’m always waiting for you, y’know,” Simon mumbles, bringing his arm over his head and letting it rest there. It scares the shit out of me because I’m not expecting it.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean, like, waiting for you to stop feeling bad for me. Or leave. There’s nothing interesting that’s going to happen now, since I’m not the chosen one anymore. I’m just—Just a one.” His morning speech is slurred with sleep. He grazes over h’s and cuts of vowels when he’s tired.
I remember the night of our Leavers Ball when Simon had said the exact same thing.
“Hey,” I nudge his chin with my thumb. “Simon Snow, I chose you. I’m never going to stop choosing you. That isn’t how choice works. Or love, for Crowley’s sake. I’m with you, to have and hold, for richer and poorer, through thick and thin, in sickness and health, for better or worse.”
Simon cracks open an eye. “Are those wedding vows?”
I sneer halfheartedly. “Irrelevant.”
He’s grinning. It’s not the kind that you see when you’ve just won a football match, but rather the one that you do when you’re thinking about a bittersweet memory.
“It won’t be,” he mutters, lifting his arm from over his head and draping it around my waist, tugging me closer.
“For now, then,” I say.
“For now. We’ll think about the now and leave the rest for later.” I press into him, feeling his hands skim over my skin. Tracing words I’ll never get to hear, patterns I’ll never get to see. It sends shivers down my spine.
He moves until we’re nose to nose, and I can feel his heart beating in my chest. “Tell me what we’ll do now.”
“Now?” I swallow, and it must be a whole scene because he glances down at my throat. “Now, we’ll kiss.”
He’s still grinning. It’s a marvellous sight. “Yeah?”
And then I take him by the back of his neck.
It’s a week later when the second nova happens. He’s sitting on the floor before the fireplace, staring at the dying embers. Looking. Searching.
I’ve just gotten back from a late-night business class Father is forcing me to undergo. It’s horribly tedious, and I know he only wants me to do it for bragging rights to the Old Families, but I do it anyways to take my mind off whatever funk Simon and I have been going through.
But, that also means that most days I’m up early and back home late. Out the door before dawn and back after nightfall. On the nights that I find Simon still awake on his phone in the middle of the loveseat, those are the nights that we sit together, not talking, and get as close together as we can. His hips on mine. My hands running down his back. His face in the crook of my neck. It’s never enough, though. No matter how close, it could always be closer. Could always be worse.
Not any worse than tonight.
“I can still smell the fire,” he says softly. Gently. Like it’s a weapon that he’s using to protect someone with. Like the wind blowing on your face. Simon never uses his words like this. Carefully.
It scares the shit out of me.
“It’s long died out.” A whisper.
I sit beside him and push the hair off of his forehead. His face is hot like he’s running a fever. There’re horrible bags under his eyes, and the shadows dancing on his face made it seem like they were bruised.
That’s the funny thing about shadows; everyone expects them to be cold, and when they aren’t, it isn’t really called a shadow, now is it?
“Your eyes look burnt,” And teary, I almost add, but I don’t. I don’t want to know why. The whole room smells like fire. “Simon. Look at me.” I don’t want him to look at me.
He looks at me.
That’s what he is.
A shell. Nothing like the boy I knew days before, plagued with unrelenting paranoia. A desolate shell. The hollow remains of something once filled.
I can’t look him in the eye. Instead, I cup his cheeks in my palms and blink back the tears brimming my eyes and push down the tightness in my throat that’s threatening to suffocate me. Of all things, of course, it had to be my love for Simon Snow that would kill me.
“It’s your turn,” Simon says, closing his eyes and leaning his head into my palm.
“My turn to do what?”
“To save me.”
I sneer, but it’s useless. He can’t see me. This is what my walls coming down feels like.
The fire flickers and cracks, and in the silence, it sounds like far-off thunder on a calm night. Thunder that could shake the earth. His shadows grow more solemn with every second that passes when I don’t answer.
“We’re going to manage, Snow,” I never had this quite happen to me before. Where my voice sounds distant and unlike my own. Crowley, he’s really crawled beneath my skin. “Somehow. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”
Simon nods his head slowly, and slowly his curls find their place back on his forehead. Everything finds it’s way back into its place.
“I’m not—I’m not a…--mage. There’s no reason for you to love me anymore.”
To fucking shit with that. I had heard that line so many times before, and never once did it cease to anger me. Stop loving Simon Snow? Simon fucking Snow? I couldn’t stop loving him even if I tried. To fucking shit with that.
“Simon,” I hold his jaw, just like the way he held mine when we were in the forest. There’s some jagged stubble scattered around his chin, and it rubs against my fingers like sandpaper. I don’t let go, though. “I chose you. I’m never going to stop choosing you. That isn’t how love works. And if it is—Well, if it is, then I’m going to change love.”
Simon opens his eyes. They’re full of blue and hurt and pain. If I were Simon, I’d growl. If I were Simon, I’d do something spontaneous and show him just how much I fell for him. If I were Simon…well, I’m not Simon.
“You can’t do that, Baz,” he says.
I imagine telling him about the nights where I would lay in bed and watch him fall asleep and feel myself fall more in love. Or about the time when I figured out I loved him, and I knew it would end in some sort of catastrophe, but I couldn’t help it. For Crowley’s sake, I imagine telling him that my whole life is built off of me changing my love.
“Snow,” I say instead. (I never quite do what I imagine.)
“You’re going to be okay,” I say. “I’m…--" I choke out the word that’s been hardest to say, even think, with Simon around. “--sorry.”
I don’t know if I believe it.
I don’t know if he does, either.
“Don’t say sorry,” His breath is hot against my wrist, but it’s stabilising. It reminds me that he’s still alive, he’s still Simon Snow, he’s more than I’ll ever be.
He leans his face into my hand and closes his eyes, swaying slightly. His hair is on fire tonight, burning with the inescapable capabilities that the night held, but I can see that it’s slowly flickering out. Just like the embers in the fireplace, Simon Snow is running out of ways to combust.
He, too, is steadily dying.
And that fact is burning me alive.
I stop cold, my bow hovering over the strings.
Simon Snow has never called me darling.
I turn, and he’s right there behind me, a hesitant smile on his lips. I could drop my violin right now, watch it shatter on the ground as I pull him to me and kiss him senseless. Take him by the shoulders and never let go.
“Play me something.”
“What do you propose, Snow?”
He smiles, and I want to set the whole place on fire. “Something that only I’ll hear.”
My fingers are suspended in the air, waiting to start playing, but my mind’s drawing a blank. Any Sonata wouldn’t be enough. Kiddy songs? Simple lullabies, common melodies? Out of the question. I know that he’s never going to ask for this, for me like this, or to play him something that only he’ll hear. It has to be utterly perfect.
I remember a song from my childhood. It was my grandfather’s before he passed away. He would take me into the library and teach me each measure of each line, day after day, no matter how beyond my experience level it was, until it was burned into my brain. He taught me how to play. He let me fall in love with the instrument and the pain of playing it. My grandfather was a worn, exuberant person who loved ideas and concepts much more than reality itself. He told me that I was his confidant.
“Tyrannus, you’re my confidant. When you’re old enough, you’ll give this song to your own confidant. Share it with them as though you would a secret because that’s what this song is, Tyrannus; a secret.”
I played it at his funeral.
I haven’t played that song in years. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of it was from muscle memory, from all the times I had stayed up past my bedtime practising. Practising until the tips of my fingers were bleeding and my wrist felt fragile enough to snap off with one wrong move.
It’s a lovely song, one that I would have more confidence in playing if he had given me a warning beforehand. I’m not quite there with the vibrato, so I try to accentuate each note with the sudden fortissimos or pianissimos.
And all throughout, I’m looking at him. Gauging his reaction. Taking in how his eyes dip when there’s a lull and then opening suddenly when I press down harder on my strings. I relish the feeling.
When the last note sounds, I make sure to hold my bow far over the fingerboard for a dream-like sound and lift up slowly so that the note resonates in the air for a few more seconds.
I make sure to pronounce my words carefully, “I haven’t played that song in years.”
“Glad to know that I pass as mediocre.”
Crowley, I’ve never seen Snow transfixed before. He’s actually gawking at me. Mouth open, wandering type of look in his eyes. I could do it. I could lose all inhabitants and kiss him right here and make an utter buffoon of myself.
“No, not—not great great. Brilliant. You’re brilliant,” he breathes, saying the words as if he can’t help it. “Do you play like that all the time?”
“No, Simon,” I drop my violin from my chin. “Just when you ask me to.”
“I’m being serious.” The right and foul git. I think he means it. He shakes his head, his curls shaking along with him. “That was brilliant.”
It wasn’t, not really. I nearly went sharp a few notes, and I rushed an entire section. Simon will never know that, of course, but I’ll have to live with the fact that I didn’t play as well as I could have. “Thank you.”
I set my violin back in its case and begin to untighten the bowhairs from my bow.
He walks over to me and pushes the bow down lower and lower until I’m forced to look at him.
“Baz,” I meet his eyes. “I mean it. You’re completely wicked.”
“Plotting vampire, is it?” I cock an eyebrow. His hands are still on mine, and they’re not as warm as they were before.
“What? No. You’re just—Just simply brilliant.” And then he gives me one of his sincere, toothy grins that pushes his cheeks up all the way to the crinkles around his eyes. “I’m speechless.”
“That isn’t far from usual.”
“Sod off,” he lightly shoves my shoulder. “I’m trying to give you a compliment.”
I fall towards him, my eyes dipping.
“I know,” Softer than I intended. Sweeter than I knew I could be. “I know. It’s a bit hard to take a compliment from the only person who gives you feedback.”
“Everyone should hear that song.”
“Maybe they will.”
“Because, my love,” I dip forwards, my lips brushing the shell of his ear, whispering, “You’re my confidant.”
“He wasn’t in the apartment when I came home,” I switch the phone to my other ear and hold it there with my shoulder, typing furiously on the computer about what to do about a missing person.
“He’s not a child, Baz. He’s probably just gone out for a meal or a drink or something.” Bunce’s voice rings through the receiver, raspy and thick with sleep. I feel a bit guilty, then, for waking her up, but it’s an emergency. Penelope Bunce has dealt with worse matters.
“He would’ve told me. Left a note or sent a text. He wouldn’t just leave.” All the Google searches say the same thing: it isn’t considered a “missing person case” until after 48 hours, and it’s only been a few minutes. But none of the Google searches knows Simon like I do, they don’t know that this isn’t something he would do.
“Have you tried calling him? He’s not the best with answering but he’ll pick up if it’s you.”
His phone was in the bowl by the front door, piled underneath other things like car keys, keychains, gum wrappers. I saw it right when I came in. That’s when I knew something was wrong. “Do not categorise me as an imbecile.”
“Maybe he was summoned by the Humdrum,” Bunce teases, and I nearly chuck my phone at the wall.
“Bunce,” I say through gritted teeth, “not the time for insensitive jokes.”
She sighs, and I can almost see her condescending face right now. You’re being paranoid. “I wasn’t being insensitive, Baz. I’m sure he’s fine. Cast Scooby-Doo, where are you if you’re so worried.”
“I can’t. You know that that spell always leaves a trail.” I consider it, though. Following the trail of magic to him. It’s tempting but highly dangerous and almost 100 per cent certain to expose the magick world to the Normals. I can’t risk it.
“Well,” Penelope says now, her voice cutting through my thoughts. “There are other spells than that one that don’t leave trails. There’s probably something in Spanish that Micah taught me that could help. I could teach you some Spanish spells if you’d like—”
“Penelope,” All four syllables. I don’t mean to sound so desperate, so needy, but—as much as I hate to admit it—I need help. And I’m willing to stoop so low as to ask for it from Penelope Bunce. “Please.” I glance out the window across the room, silently pleading to see Snow walking outside, coming to tell me that he’s okay, he’s okay, there’s nothing wrong, he’s okay.
“Okay, Baz, fine.” I can practically hear her thinking out loud, mutter possibilities about where he might be. I catch words like “park” or “a few miles”, but she doesn’t continue onto a sentence with them. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him often. We Skype and text, but I don’t know about him anymore. You’re his boyfriend, shouldn’t you know where he’s most likely to run off to?”
I stay silent. I don’t have enough time to explain to her about the novas, or how Simon’s been increasingly worrisome the past few weeks. Telling her about Simon’s recent insomnia and mild PTSD episodes would only make her panic, and two people panicking in this situation wouldn’t result in progress being made.
“Baz? Are you still there?”
“Where do you think he could be?”
“Crowley, Bunce. If I knew, I wouldn’t be calling you, now would I?”
“Think, Baz.” She says. As if I haven’t been thinking the whole time we’ve been talking.
Simon’s mentioned that we’re only a few miles from his last home, and that passing by there makes his chest feel hollow. (He’s never said that, but the look on his face tells me more than I need to know.) There’s a park next to our flat, but I would’ve seen him out the window. Down the street, there’s an Indian place that he seems to enjoy thoroughly, but I severely doubt he’s gone at 01:47 for a late-night curry. A year ago, when I was visiting Bunce and him in their flat, he had taken me around the city for a “touring date”. He told me that sometimes he just liked to walk around and look at all the places he’ll never know.
“Bunce, I’ve got it.” Before she can say anything that’ll mess with my train of thought, I hang up, discarding my phone on the couch beside me.
I push my computer off my lap, distantly aware of it crashing to the floor, and narrowly avoid hitting my shin on the corner of the coffee table as I jump up and start rushing out the door, hastily slamming it behind me, and trying to let my mind catch up with the rest of my body.
The night is cold with ghosts deep in the shadows. I should tell them to fuck off. Or ask them to help me find Simon. (I wouldn’t, though. Ghosts are dodgy in the best of times.) I don’t bother going back and grabbing my jacket.
Nothing could warm me up now.
I walk along the abandoned pavement, watching the lamplight brighten and dim every time I pass underneath. There’s no breeze, nothing besides the ambivalent snow falling on the road. Christ, is it so cold that snow is able to fall? I hadn’t noticed.
I turn a corner into a dark alleyway, pausing to listen. It’s quiet. Simon once told me to never walk down an alley with noises I couldn’t explain, or little pinpricks of light that I didn’t know where they ended.
“You don’t want to meet the end of that cigar, Baz. And you definitely don’t want to know what’s behind those noises. Just—Just listen for a second.” He’d said.
Just listen for a second.
I keep walking, sure to keep looking over my shoulder. The floor is grimy and probably mucked up with whatever discards people have thrown out their windows, and my shoes keep making squelching noises whenever I lift my feet up. The two buildings beside me seem to be hunching towards each other, sagging with the weight of time. (Or the weight of the snow. The downfall has gotten increasingly substantial.)
I round out of the alley, turning a hard left and continuing down the street. There’s a woman sitting on the curb, either intoxicated or high, rocking back and forth and muttering things too low and too diluted for me to compartmentalise.
She looks up when I pass, fazed, but I’m already looking away.
I walk until the pavement starts to narrow and the windows on the buildings are shattered and boarded up with plywood, until the snowfall overhead coats my hair and eyelashes, until my thighs feel numb from the cold.
I tell myself that I’ll stop at the next bend of the road; the next lamppost; the next alleyway. I could have stopped at all of those places, but I don’t. I keep walking. Past a telephone booth with weeds growing in the inside. Past a traffic circle.
Then I stop.
And that’s when I see him.
Sitting in an abandoned bus stop, elbows on his knees and head in his hands. He’s wearing three layers of sweatshirts, but from here I can see him shivering. His bony wings still stick out beneath all those layers, outlining them against his back, making him seem less like a human and more of a hastily put back together Frankenstein.
He’s okay, he’s okay, there’s nothing wrong, he’s okay.
He ducks his head and lets his fingers run through his hair.
He’s not okay.
“I don’t think this bus stop is in service anymore,” I say. Loud enough for him to hear, but not be startled by.
He jerks his head up, hands still in his hair. “I’m not planning on going anywhere.”
“That’s very counterproductive for the bus stop,” I hug my arms around myself; it feels like it’s just plummeted 20 degrees. “Snow.”
“Not if it’s not in service.” He drops his head back down. I take that as an invitation to join him on the bench, wiping the snow off the top of my head, and then his. His hair is deeply wet, probably with melted snow, and colder than the air around us.
The wind has picked up around us, though we can’t feel it. I can. Cutting through my clothes like a knife, pressing the blade against my throat. There’s a lamppost above the bus stop—how convenient—and it’s casting eerie yellow light through the transparent glass onto us.
“You could’ve been mugged, you know.”
He’s completely folded over on himself now, his curls nearly touching his knees. “Didn’t bring anything with me.”
“I’m used to the risk.”
I sigh. It’s involuntary, obviously, but Simon doesn’t seem to know that. He turns his head to the side and glares at me. (Half-heartedly, but still. The intent is clear.) The yellow light makes his eyes turn a murky, underwater-type colour.
“Come home with me,” I say. I’m trying not to plead, but just a few minutes ago I thought that he was a candidate for a missing person case. “We can stop for something on the way back.”
He sits up and rests his back, neck, head on the glass behind him. I want to reach over and run my thumb over his cheekbone, to press my nail into his skin until it leaves an indent of a crescent moon. To smooth the side of his hair down and let the snowflakes melt on my fingers.
“You don’t have to talk,” I say softly, watching him closely. He scowls. Either to me or the world, and I’m not sure they’re any different to him. It’s a horrible look on him. All dark shadows and sharp angles. “I’m not going to make you. If you don’t want to talk about it, we won’t talk about it. Crowley, I’ll leave if you want me to leave.”
There’s a silence that falls over us. I’m not unaccustomed to silences with Simon; they happen more often than not. I’ve learnt to find solace in these silences, the kind that you look for within grief and mourning to comfort your pain.
I let my palm rest on his thigh.
He stares at it, unflinching. A curl escapes his fingers and falls ever so elegantly on his forehead, springing back and forth for a moment before settling.
One second passes.
Slowly, he turns his head to look at me, not blinking and lets his own hand fall on top of mine. If anyone were watching, they’d be so curious as to why these two boys were doing everything in slow motion, handling each other like they’re fragile China.
He still isn’t blinking, and his neck has gone rather stiff. At first, I think it’s because of the cold, but if anything, the cold would only make him blink more.
That’s when I notice it.
There are tears in his eyes. Brimming his bottom eyelashes.
I’ve never seen Simon cry before, not when it’s really mattered. Not when it wasn’t an effect of something I had done. There used to be a time when one of my main intentions was to make Simon cry. To respond to him with sharp-edged comebacks that made him either tremble with anger or sob with hurt.
It always felt like a sucker-punch to the chest.
Now, it feels like a bullet to the gut.
“Snow,” It comes out harsher than I intend, but I move my hand out from under his and cup the side of his face. The skin is colder than my hands have ever been, but there’s a deeper sort of heat within. If I were to strip the first layer of his skin off, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his blood boiling underneath.
He leans his head into my palm, letting his eyes flutter shut.
‘It’s your turn.’
‘My turn to do what?’
‘To save me.’
“Snow,” I say, slightly more vehemently.
His eyebrows knit together, a seeming look of suppression. He still doesn’t open his eyes. “Stop reminding me.”
“Reminding you of what?”
He looks pinched, like those rats I drain late at night. “Who I am. Who I’m supposed to be.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I sneer, jerking my hand away. He flinches and opens his eyes. “You’re Simon bloody Snow. That’s your name. You’re not supposed to be anything besides Simon Snow.”
He growls. “But that’s just it!” A tear falls from his eye and trails down his cheek, stopping to hang from his chin. He doesn’t wipe it away. “I’m tied to it. Every prophecy was talking about me, Simon Snow, the saviour of the World of Mages. And I failed, Baz. I failed the only thing I was destined not to fail.” His voice breaks on the last word.
Yet again, he’s caught me off-guard.
I let my mouth hang open, breathing in the chilled air. A car drives past us on the road; I follow it with my eyes. It’s so bloody cold tonight, I’m not even sure why people would want to be driving in this kind of weather.
“You’re not a bloody prophecy, Simon,” I spit, suddenly coming to my senses. “You’re not a concept that has to be fulfilled. Merlin and Morgana, when did existing become too mundane? You stopped the Humdrum. You saved people from losing everything. You sacrificed your magic for the World of Mages. You did everything that was expected of you. What more do you have to prove?”
He looks at me, all heavy-lidded eyes and lips trembling from the cold.
He looks at me, and he doesn’t glow.
He looks at me, and I look back.
And I nearly shatter from the weight of it.
Then it’s all happening in a blur: Simon’s in my lap, straddling me, nudging his face in the crook my neck; me, wrapping my arms around his waist and holding onto his shoulder blades; the world, trying to be still. A shudder racks through his body, so strong that it shakes mine along with him.
I run my hands up and down his back, to his shoulders down to his hips. It’s useless, though. It’s not like I can warm him up. His hands are clutching my shoulders, tangling in my hair, desperately trying to ground himself. He shivers, and I pull him closer to me. Every time he breathes, his chest pushes into mine. His breath gets in my mouth.
“It’s okay,” I rub my thumbs in little circles at the joints of his wings. He hasn’t stopped shaking, and there’s a wet patch where he’s sobbed into my shirt. I can clean it later. “Love, it’s alright. Somehow. You’ll be alright.”
I can’t tell who I’m telling that to.
Simon doesn’t respond, but I know it’s more of a can’t instead of won’t. I know that if he still had his magic, he’d be going off by now. Taking the whole town by storm. Obliterating everything in a five-yard radius except me and this bus stop.
It seems to stay like that for a while. His shaking dims to an occasional tremble, but I don’t trust myself to let go quite yet. This is the closest I’ve gotten to him in weeks—possibly even months, and I’m too vain to let him go. He used to tell me that he likes this, right here, right where he knows I’m not hurting anyone and no one is hurting me. (He told me that after a few drinks, the night after going to a gay bar. These pricks were staring at us—me—the whole night, and I couldn’t stop smelling Simon’s residual “about to go off” smell in the air.)
He’s staring at me.
He’s lifted his head from my neck, and now he’s staring at me. His eyes are rimmed with redness—either from his crying or the dry air—and he still looks pinched. Something in my stomach twists. It’s a long, slow twist, like my body thinks the pain is pleasurable when it’s really, really not.
“Baz,” He breathes. Like it pains him. “This isn’t—I’m not.” Exhale. “I’m sor—"
“Shh,” I move my arm, tugging the hair at the base of his neck.
“I just—” He rasps.
“Simon,” I hold his chin. “Look at me.”
I’ll save him.