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Afterhours

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Simon

 

Baz doesn't appreciate my Uber rating joke. I don't think I've ever seen him so angry—he may be legitimately livid right now. 

 

"You fucking idiot!" he screeches. (Yep, definitely livid.) "This is all your fault!"  

 

"I think you have to admit this is at least half your fault." I can't help my smug grin; it's always funny when cool and collected Baz Pitch goes mad. Maybe that's why I push his buttons so often. “I mean, everyone knows you can’t throw up in an Uber. That's Uber 101.”

 

“I didn’t throw up in the Uber!” he protests indignantly. 

 

“You threatened to," I remind him, "and that's just as bad.”

 

“It is not !” he insists, his tone petulant and slightly whiny. “And what about you? You just had to go and spill your disgusting cinnamon poison all over him!”

 

“One, Fireball is like alcoholic candy; it's delicious.” I take the last sip out of my flask to prove my point, and Baz scrunches up his nose like a bunny rabbit. (It’s almost cute.) “Second, you’re the one who made me undo my seatbelt and switch seats, so, again, this is kind of on you.”

 

Baz lets out a growl of frustration. I laugh. 

 

"Call another Uber," he demands. 

 

I look around, and catch sight of a street sign: Clarendon Place. Recognizing where we are, I shake my head. "Nah, let's just walk the rest of the way." 

 

"Walk? Why the fuck would we do that?" 

 

"We're really not that far from home, now." I point over to the gates. "We're just straight across Hyde Park." 

 

"Call the Uber. Now," Baz orders through gritted teeth. 

 

I don't want to tell him I really can't afford another Uber. I've already spent too much money tonight: first on too many Jack and cokes, then on the disastrous Uber ride. Who knows how much our Uber driver will charge me for spilling all that Fireball on him? 

 

"If you want an Uber so bad, call it yourself," I snap.  

 

"Fine, I wi—" Baz pulls out his phone from his back pocket, and then frowns at it like it's personally offended him. "It's dead." 

 

"Well, then." I throw my hands up. "You're welcome to walk with me." 

 

He obviously doesn't appreciate my sarcasm, but he doesn't argue. He just sighs, resigned, as I pull up my maps app to figure out the fastest way to walk home. 

 

Damn. We are really all the way on the other side. Hyde Park is shaped like a rectangle, so going around will take a while. Though… going through would take a third of the time, so…  

 

I look over to the park. It's the middle of the night—practically early morning, now—so it's closed. But the fence isn't too high. If I take a running jump…

 

I go for it, using my upper body strength to force myself on top of the fence. Baz screams at me, "What the fuck are you doing?" 

 

"Short cut," I say, grinning down at him. (It's a nice change of pace; he's usually always three inches above me.) "C'mon, you're a bloody beanpole. If I can do it, you can do it." 

 

"Do what? Breaking and entering?" His voice is uncharacteristically high-pitched in his horror. It's amusing—it makes me want to keep teasing him. 

 

"I haven't broken anything." I gesture around me. "This is really just entering." 

 

"I'm not sure the cops actually care about that distinction, funnily enough," he says, bitterly sarcastic.  

 

"Suit yourself," I say, jumping down from the fence and into Hyde Park. "Have fun taking the long way home alone." 

 

Baz groans, rubbing his face in irritation. I think he's going to stomp away and tell me to go fuck myself. 

 

But then, all of a sudden, he's running towards the fence and leaping with stunning height. Expertly, he swings his leg around the top and lands beside me as gracefully as a butterfly. 

 

I'm taken aback for a moment—that was the prettiest thing I've ever seen. 

 

"Close your mouth and start walking, Snow. I want to get back before sunrise," he says, taking off down a path cutting through a grassy meadow. 

 

"Why do you always call me by my last name?" I call after him, jogging to keep up with his long legs. "I'm not one of your footie mates."

 

"Of course you're not," Baz replies cooly. "You're nowhere near talented enough to play on our team." 

 

"You don't need to be such a prat all the time, you know."

 

"Yes, I do. It's my personal brand." 

 

I laugh at the sincerity in his voice. Despite what a shite turn the night's taken (and despite the fact that most of that is his fault), I'm feeling benevolent. There's something about the excitement of breaking into Hyde Park that has me a bit jazzed. Maybe it's the Fireball's warming me up inside, making me feel a little less angry and annoyed with him. Or maybe I just don't want to spend my last night with Baz Pitch fighting like we always do. 

 

"How about this," I propose, "just for tonight, we pretend we don't hate each other." 

 

He looks over to me. "You're calling for a ceasefire?" 

 

"Yeah. Let's have a truce." I shrug. "At least until we get back to our bedroom."

 

He pauses, considering. Finally he says, "Alright." 

 

"Alright," I repeat.

 

We fall into step together, though I'm nearly jogging to keep up with him. It's dead quiet in the park, and all I can hear is the clicks of his shoes on the pavement. I steal a look at him out of the corner of my eye and see that he's biting his bottom lip absentmindedly; it's a nervous habit I only ever see from him during exam season. 

 

My brain is scrambling for something—anything—to say. I just ask the first question that pops into my head. "So. Have you got a roommate for next term?"

 

He raises his eyebrow at me. "You don't want to fight, but you're bringing up roommates?" 

 

"If you can't manage not to start a fight at the mention of roommates, I can't help you." 

 

A smile is threatening to break his face, but he's suppressing it. It desperately makes me want to find a way to get him to laugh somehow. "I'm moving in with my Aunt Fiona. She's the worst." 

 

"Worse than me?" I ask, unable to help myself. 

 

He smirks. "Oh, much worse," he says, though his tone is almost fond. "It's like I'm the adult and she's the kid. She's thirty-nine going on twenty. It'll be a bloody miracle if I survive it." 

 

"Why don't you live with Dev, then? He's your best friend, right?" He's one of the only people I ever see Baz with—he's a bit of loner, now that I think of it. 

 

"He's my cousin, and he's an even worse menace to society." Again, the affectionate tone coupled with the insults. Maybe Baz is just kind of a dick to everyone, even if he likes them. "Where are you living?" 

 

"Penny, Agatha, and I got a flat together," I say happily. We're moving into the place tomorrow, and I'm thrilled about it—though, admittedly, I will miss living in the halls, just a little bit. It was like a big slumber party (not that I've ever had one before, but, still.) 

 

Baz's eyebrows scrunch so far together that he looks like he's got a unibrow. "You're getting a flat with your ex-girlfriend?" 

 

"Yeah," I say slowly, cautious of his judgey tone. "She's one of my best friends." 

 

"Are you still in love with her or something?" He's looking straight ahead at the trees on the path. From this profile angle, I can see how tightly he's clenching his jaw. 

 

"No… But, wait." Something occurs to me—the weird way he always acts when Agatha is in our bedroom, how much he looks at us when we're together, his sour mood tonight—and my stomach twists. I grab him by the arm to stop him walking. "Are you?" 

 

He stares at my hand around his bicep. "Am I what?" Baz asks. 

 

"In love with her!" I huff. 

 

"What?" He gapes at me. I was genuinely afraid the answer might be yes—but he's looking at me like I've gone absolutely mad. "I'm very clearly gay." 

 

"You—" I start, before I process what he just said. "What?" 

 

 "How did you not know that?" he scoffs. "We've lived together for a year." 

 

"I—" I feel like I'm on unstable ground. "You didn't tell me!" 

 

He shakes his head at me. "Yeah… but…" he says meaningfully, gesturing to himself. 

 

"What?" I ask, not catching his meaning. 

 

He raises an eyebrow at me—like that's an answer. I throw my hands up, because it's not. 

 

"Snow… come on." He points at himself again, more forcefully this time. 

 

I look at him—really look at him. His shoulder length black hair was slicked back at the beginning of the night, but it's fallen out and is resting in soft waves over the tops of his cheekbones. I let my eyes fall lower over his body; he's wearing a light pink button up, a blazer covered with pink roses, and dark blue slacks. It's all clean and tailored and fashionable.

 

Oh. 

 

"Baz, I'm not going to assume a bloke is gay just because he dresses well," I say, finally realising what he meant. "That's just not on." 

 

Baz smiles at me, just a little bit. I feel a little dizzy—the Fireball must really be affecting me. 

 

I shake my head to clear it, and keep walking. "That's like you assuming I'm straight just because I like to wear trackies and snapbacks."

 

Baz

 

Is he kidding? 

 

I think he must be kidding. 

 

He doesn't look like he's kidding. 

 

I shouldn't comment on this. 

 

"Are you gay?" I blurt out. 

 

Damn my traitorous mouth and damn my stupid drunk brain. 

 

“Not exactly.” He shrugs. "I mean, I don't put a label on it. But I'm not straight." 

 

My brain can't form one coherent thought. Not one. 

 

“Ace,” I reply, though I don’t think I’ve ever used the word 'ace' in my entire life. 

 

A hush falls over us. I'm used to being quiet with him—we really don't talk much in the room, unless it's to snipe about his cleanliness or my lamp. But this silence feels heavier—meaningful. I have the irresistible urge to break it, though I struggle to find something interesting to say next. 

 

A gust of wind suddenly causes me to shiver, which prompts me to comment, "It's—uh—cold tonight."

 

The weather, Basil? I think to myself. That's really the best you could come up with? What is it about Simon Snow that destroys my ability to speak?

 

"Oh, do you want my coat?" he asks, so earnestly that my heart jumps up my throat. I shake my head no; though a part of me really wants to say yes, so I can smell his cologne around me. 

 

"Are you sure? You're a bit of a baby about the weather," he says, grinning slyly. 

 

"I am not!" 

 

He laughs. "Yes you are! The window?"

 

I glare at him. "You want that thing open when it's raining. That is literally insane." 

 

He laughs again, and then points in front of him. I realise that we've somehow already made it halfway through the park; we're coming up on the Serpentine lake. "What are the odds you jump in there right now?" 

 

"Pardon me?" I say to his retreating backside; he's strayed off the path, down towards the lake. 

 

"What are the odds? You know, that game where you say what the odds are of you doing something, and then we both say a number, and if it's the same number you have to do it." 

 

"I know how to play what are the odds. I'm just appalled that you think I'd risk frostbite for a childish game." 

 

"So the odds aren't good?" he asks, with his best rakish smile.

 

"One in ten thousand."

 

"I'll take those odds." He nods seriously. "One… two… three!" 

 

"Five thousand, seven hundred, and twenty one," I say.  

 

"Seven!... Damn it!” He yells, looking genuinely disappointed when he realises that seven is not my number. 

 

“Did you really think you were going to win when the odds were one in ten thousand?” I ask, struggling not to laugh at him. 

 

“Wishful thinking,” he says, and the devious light in his eyes grabs me by the throat, making it harder to breathe. “Now, ask me.”

 

“Ask you what?”

 

“What are the odds I jump into the lake?”

 

Heat rushes up my neck to my ears. Despite being roommates, we don't ever change in front of one another. Our first week of fall term, he came back from his rugby club practice, tearing off his jersey before the door behind him had shut all the way around. I spun around in my chair so fast, I knocked my Hydro Flask onto the ground. After that, he never tried undressing in front of me—something I've always been grateful for. I'm afraid the lust would have been written all over my face if he had (which would have mortified both of us). 

 

"Would you really skinny dip in there right now? It's got to be fifteen degrees." 

 

"So?" he asks. "I'm thinking one in ten." 

 

I swallow. A ten percent chance of seeing Simon Snow naked. "Alright. One, two, three." 

 

"Seven!" he yells just as I say, "Seven."

 

"Fuck!" he curses.

 

I throw my head back and laugh at the sky. "Do you always pick seven, Snow?" I ask through chuckles. 

 

Under the moonlight, I can see the deep scarlet blush colouring his ears and cheeks. "It's my lucky number." 

 

"Not tonight it isn't," I quip. "Tonight, it's the reason you're getting hypothermia."  

 

I think he's going to back down—that he's going to say that there's no way in hell that he's actually jumping into that lake. 

 

He doesn't; he just starts shrugging off his coat. 

 

"You're not really going to—" I start, panic and excitement warring in my lower stomach. 

 

"A bet's a bet," he says. He kicks his shoes off, not breaking eye contact with me. He unbuttons his jeans and shoves them down with his thumbs through his belt loops, so that he's in front of me in just his pants. I swallow so loudly, I'm afraid he can hear it. 

 

I don't know what I was thinking—Simon Snow never backs down from a fight. 

 

"Okay, okay," he says, like he's bracing himself. Then he reaches to the back of his neck to tug off his T-shirt, and I'm gifted with the sight of his tawny golden skin in the moonlight. He's got a mole on top of his hip bone that I've never seen before, and I have to force myself not to stare at it. I know it's not the alcohol that's got my skin feeling warm. 

 

Oh god. Is he going to take his pants off?

 

I'm not sure if I'm relieved or disappointed when he doesn't continue to undress. Instead, he just turns around and sprints into Serpentine Lake in his pants, the water splashing his calves before he dives underwater. 

 

When he comes up for air, he screams like a child. "It's cold!"

 

"What an unexpected turn of events!" I yell back, giggling to myself. I don't think I've ever laughed this much around him. (But I've also never seen him in just his pants before, so apparently there's a first for everything.) 

 

He comes running out of the water, and the sight of him half naked is even more staggering when he's soaking wet. The lake water clings to his torso and leaves his curls in a soggy mess on his forehead. 

 

Not kissing him takes every ounce of my will power. He looks so endearing and sexy and good right now, and he's ' not straight,' and maybe, just maybe, he'd like it if I grabbed him by the back of the neck and—

 

That lustful train of thought is drowned out by total indignation when he starts shaking like a dog, getting droplets of dirty water all over me. 

 

"Snow!" I protest. 

 

"What?" he asks sweetly. His teeth are audibly chattering. "It's like not like I've got a towel." 

 

"That doesn't mean I want to be your towel, you git." 

 

That, unfortunately, sparks a mental image of myself wrapped around Simon Snow, being able to feel every inch of his skin, touching his soft curls and tracing his moles and—

 

Nope, not going there. 

 

Snow is already mercifully throwing all of his clothes back on. The T-shirt sticks to his chest, and it's a lovely sight; I'm selfishly disappointed when he zips up his coat over it. 

 

"Are you done being ridiculous yet?" I ask, and his eyes light up at my teasing. 

 

"Not sure," he says playfully. "Let's see where the night takes us." 

 

Anywhere you want, Simon Snow. 

 

Simon

 

I'm shivering from the chilly lake water, but I can barely actually feel the cold. There's a happy buzz vibrating across my skin that has me practically skipping down the path. 

 

We cross the bridge, and I spot a bronze gold building among the thicket of trees. I point it out to Baz. "Hey, doesn't that look like a cowboy hat?"

 

"What?" Baz says, before following my gaze. "Are you talking about the coffee house? It's not shaped like a cowboy hat, Snow. That's just a fresh take on pagoda architecture."

 

I have no idea what that means. "I think it looks like a cowboy hat. Or a sting-ray—you know, with the way it's all wavy like that?" 

 

"Your brain seems like a really weird place to live."  

 

"Shut up," I say. "Let's go check it out."

 

"Check it out? What are you—are you serious?" he splutters as I hop the five foot fence, careful to avoid the pointed spikes. 

 

"We're already breaking and entering by being here. In for a penny, in for a pound." I shrug—casually, like I don't care what he does. 

 

Except—I kind of do care. He's been almost nice to me since we got to Hyde Park. Like the magic of a 4 a.m. adventure is turning him into a different person. Like it's turning us into different people—the kind who laugh and talk and dare each other to do stupid things. I don't want the night to end, and I'm not above dragging it out. 

 

He sighs like it's a sacrifice, but he puts his hands on the fence with an approximation of a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. He throws his leg over, and he's so tall that he barely has to jump to get over the short fence. 

 

I want to ask him if he was a Russian gymnast in a past life, but I swallow the stupid question down as we approach the building.

 

"I've never been here," I comment. 

 

"Makes sense, considering it's not open yet. It's still under construction." 

 

The coffee house is covered in glass windows, except the front, which is missing a wall altogether. Inside, it looks like a café in progress—there's a white shop counter with empty glass containers atop it. There's something spooky about being in this half-finished building in the middle of the night, and something distinctly wrong about breaking in that makes it all the more fun. 

 

By the way Baz's eyes are gleaming, I can tell he thinks this place is intoxicating. He'd never say it—though that doesn't stop me from trying to goad him into it. "Wicked, huh?" 

 

He hums and walks behind the shop counter. "It's perfectly adequ— Oh." He huffs a laugh at whatever he's looking at. 

 

"What?" I ask, and follow him around the counter to see what's got him so amused. 

 

Under the countertop, there's a fridge full of beer and wine. 

 

I pull on the fridge handle to find it's not locked. "Oh my god," I say. "Do you want a pint?" 

 

"Yeah, sure," he responds, his voice dripping in sarcasm. "Why not add larceny to our list of crimes tonight?"  

 

"Right! Why not?" I use the countertop to pop the cap off a Guinness, and take a chug. "I need the alcohol blanket; I'm still cold.

 

"Then you shouldn't have jumped into the lake," he deadpans, arching a dark eyebrow at me.  

 

"Come off it, you liked that." My voice comes out far more flirty than I intended it to; I don't know who it shocks more—me or Baz. I catch a faint blush on the tops of his cheekbones and it sends a thrill through my chest. "Plus, you're always cold, and always uptight, so you could use the alcohol." 

 

He frowns at me. "I'm not uptight.

 

I scoff. "Please. Three weeks into our first term, you took duct tape and split our desk in half so I wouldn't take up more than exactly fifty percent of the table." 

 

"Before I did that, you were taking up at least eighty percent of what is supposed to be a shared desk!" he complains petulantly. "I could barely do my homework!"

 

"Still super extra of you," I argue.  

 

"I think it was a perfectly reasonable response. If I'm forced to live with a human tornado, I need to at least have my boundaries," he says, sounding totally sincere. I shake my head. He's such an arsehole. (Though, I think I'm starting to like it.) (Or maybe I'm just sleep deprived.) 

 

"If I make this a bet, will you drink then?" I ask, with a roll of my eyes. "I bet you that I can down a beer faster than you." 

 

"I'm not drinking beer," Baz scoffs. 

 

I'm about to argue with him—but then he reaches into the fridge and pulls out a bottle of rosé. I grin, happy I've won this round (and found a way to keep him here longer). 

 

"Let's see if you can chug for longer than it takes me to finish this beer?" I suggest. 

 

"Oh, I know I can." He smirks, characteristically cocky.  

 

"On three?" I ask, and he nods. I count down, and we bring our bottles to our lips at the same time. 

 

When I finish the Guinness, I slam it down on the counter. He's still going, with his head thrown back, eyes closed, and his lips wrapped around the neck of the wine bottle. The image is almost sensuous. 

 

Before I can dwell on that thought, he stops drinking with a slight cough; the bottle's a third empty now. "I can't believe I just drank wine with a twist off cap," he says, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve. 

 

"Is that against the Posh Prats' Rules of Conduct?" I ask, leaning against the counter.  

 

"Yes," he says. "Rule 61: only drink French vintage wines from the good years." 

 

"I can't even tell whether you're joking right now." 

 

"Only halfway. By the way, this whole situation," he says, gesturing to his wine and my beer, "is worse than you bringing a flask to a bar. It's proper chavvy." 

 

"Having a flask is practical, you fucking twat," I snarl. "Some of us need to do shit like that to save money." 

 

He doesn't have a response to that; he just looks at me, surprised by my sudden hostility.

 

I should just drop it. We're on a truce, and this night is going so well. But once the bitter feeling wells inside of me, I'm not sure how to suppress it. So I decide to just let it all out. 

 

"You know..." My voice is a bit rough, so I clear my throat, and then take a deep swig of beer for liquid courage. "You're kind of an elitist?" It comes out more of a question than I intend; so I keep explaining myself. "That's why you hate me, right? Because I'm a poor scholarship kid and you're…" I gesture to him. "Rich and posh and fit." I did not have to add the part about him being handsome; I bite my tongue to stop myself from talking anymore. 

 

Baz doesn't reply, so I look over to him to gauge his reaction. He looks shocked—his pink lips parted in surprise and a worried set to his eyebrows. 

 

"You really think that?" he asks. I'm not sure exactly which part he's referring to—but I meant all of it, so I nod.

 

"Simon," he says, and the sound of my name in his mouth is like a shot of whiskey in my veins. Strong and invigorating. "I'm sorry. I never meant to make you feel that way. That's not… I don't think less of you for any of that." 

 

"Oh, so you think less of me for another reason?" I mean for it to come out teasing, but it falls flat, so the hurt in my tone is plainly evident.

 

To my surprise, he shakes his head vigorously. "No, I don't, honestly. I'm just… kind of a git. Especially with… new people, I guess. It's not… I don't hate you." 

 

Baz's expression is so open and vulnerable I can't help but believe him. (Plus, I don't think I've ever heard him struggle so much to find words. That's usually my problem.) His eyes are filled with some kind of emotion I can't put my finger on.

 

I feel like we're on the edge of a cliff. One false move and we'll fall off. I kind of want to see what happens if we do. 

 

But the moment is shattered by a loud crash in the near distance. We both freeze and look up over the counter to see several figures coming towards us. 

 

Baz curses and immediately starts sprinting. I get up to follow him, lagging behind by ten seconds so I can take the time to shove a couple beers in my coat pocket. With the wine bottle still in his right hand, Baz jumps one-handedly, gripping the flat part of the fence and kicking his legs up to his side. I run at the fence full speed, grabbing the top with both my hands. I accidentally grab the fence by its pointed spike with my right hand, and when I put my weight on it, it pierces skin. I let out a pained sound involuntarily, and it makes Baz stop in his tracks. 

 

"Are you okay?" he asks. His eyes widen at the sight of my bleeding hand. "Shit." 

 

"I'm fine, I'm fine," I assure him. "Let's go. Now." 

 

As nonchalant as I've been about all of our crimes tonight, I don't actually feel like spending the night in jail. But when I look over to the approaching individuals, expecting to see the old bill in black vests, I notice the three people are covered in blood. And smiling. 

 

What the hell?

 

A girlish voice calls out from the darkness, "All right, boys?"

 

The group comes into the light of the lamp post. I realise they're all young—maybe just a year or two older than me and Baz—and that one of the boys is lugging a bulky video camera over his shoulder. 

 

"You guys break in, too?" the girl asks, and I realise the blood on her neck and clothing must be fake. The boy next to her has pale makeup on and fake fangs in. "We're filming a short horror film here. Place is cool, yeah?" 

 

I laugh, relieved that we've not been caught by police officers—just some fellow trespassers. "Totally. Someone—maybe the construction workers? I don't know—has left alcohol in the fridge over there if you guys' are interested." 

 

"Snow," Baz warns me—like he's not standing there holding the evidence of our theft clearly in his hand. 

 

"Wicked," the girl says with a cheeky smile. Then, she notices the blood on my palm—the real blood—and her grin falters. "You okay, mate?" 

 

"Yeah," I say. "It looks worse than it feels." 

 

"We need to go find a first aid kit," Baz says, frowning at the blood trail that trickled down my forearm. "It's going to get infected." 

 

"Think we're gonna stumble upon an A&E in here?" I tease. 

 

His eyebrows are still knitted together in concern. I think he's being overdramatic—it's just a superficial cut—but I don't take the piss out of him for it anymore, because his anxiety over me is unexpectedly sweet. 

 

"Here," the camera guy says. He ruffles through his backpack and pulls out a plain white T-shirt. "Use this to wrap it up." 

 

I thank Camera Guy, and Baz takes the shirt from him. He sets the wine bottle onto the floor for a moment to wrap a makeshift bandage around my hand. I'm glad he's looking down so he can't tell I'm blushing from the proximity (though, if he called me on it, I'd blame the alcohol). 

 

As we walk away from the cafe and film students, I turn to Baz and say, "You know, I think you'd look better as a vampire than that guy." 

 

He laughs, and it fills me with warmth.

 

I vow to find a way to play the sound on a loop all night.